Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Arnorian
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Arnorian

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The Dornish Marches - Castle Larkwood


William


The sun was sinking over the jagged expanse of Red Mountains, as the shadows lengthened over the valley. William stood quietly atop the keep, leaned against a merlon. He read through the missive once again and nodded to himself.

It was war then, House Tyrell had called the Banners and every landed knight would be expected to follow his liege into battle. Therein lay the dilemma, a man could not afford to send a token force, but neither could he afford to leave his hold undefended.

Especially as whoever had handled those would-be raiders was still somewhere to the north. Still Larkwood had stout walls, a strong keep, its own spring and two trebuchets behind the curtain wall. Before an attacker ever got that far, he’d have to cross a moat and a barrier of stakes that lay before the castle.

He smirked, one good thing about his little spit of land’s rocky ground was that it meant a place like Larkwood would be damned hard to try and undermine. Harder for a tower to make its way over the boulder littered earth as well. As his small castle was built into the lichen-covered granite of the foothills, a besieged force could only really come at it one way.

Still he’d need to leave behind a competent enough force to maintain patrols and keep any would-be marauders off his farms and villages. He turned at last to his steward, a paunchy man with greying hair and rheumy eyes. The old man bowed and the mail-clad armsman next to him, followed suit.

“Donal, Beric,” he said, “I have been summoned to war, so . . . I will take four score bowmen on horse and mules with me. I will take two score billmen. Donal, as my steward, you will administer my lands until such time as I return.
“Beric, you will serve as my Captain and see to the defense of my land. Should you both serve well, I will grant you knighthood upon my return.”

In doing so William hoped that he could keep power divided between two men who competent enough at their roles and hopefully keep them from trying to take power for themselves. Though he was fairly certain neither of them knew about the sally port below the old garderobe in the eastern tower. Beric and Donal had never given him a reason to district them, but no March Lord took unnecessary risks.
The two men took their and William turned to his squire.

“Harlyn, you will ride with me, should you prove yourself in what’s to come, I will knight you and grant you lands.” He said.
Harlyn took his leave and William turned back to valley before him. Fields of amber grain rippled in the wind and he nodded approvingly. This year’s harvest would be good, his smallfolk would prosper and he had another good year to see him through the winter. All the more vital now that he didn’t know what exactly what was to come.

Why had the banners been called and who were the Tyrells looking to make against? If the king was truly dead, as it was rumored, then that meant that Maegor would be to the one to return and take the throne. And who would contest such a man? Only a fool would march against something like Balerion the Black Dread.

But there was more than Targaryen with a dragon . . . William lay awake the rest of the night, turning the possibilities over in his mind. It was one thing to hold to an oath, another to suffer the same fate as those who fell at the field of fire.
As before, the dawn had yet to break when William finished his morning routine. He donned his armor and strode down to the rough-hewn stone of his courtyard. William surveyed the waiting column of riders for a moment and nodded shortly. A little over a hundred men on horseback, some on mules, most with remounts. Many of which had come from the ambush of the Dornishmen.

He vaulted into the saddle, ignoring the ache of tired muscles and turned to his men. “Lads, the Tyrells have called that banners and that means coin and loot for each and every one of you.”

The waiting archers and billmen cheered at the prospect. A cold and early morning could always be brightened at the thought of extra pay. There was never a soldier who didn’t relish the thought.

“We ride light and swift, we stop when the horses are done. If all goes well, we’ll reach Oldtown in under a fortnight. There, I’ll buy you all good tents and provisions for what’s to come.”

That brought another cheer and William donned his helm and raised his gauntleted hand to the waiting sentry. The portcullis slowly rose with a groan of metal and the darkened wood of the old drawbridge fell into place with a dull crash.

The column of riders filed out of the gate and a moment later a second column under Beric rode east, where they would slowly ride north and then turn back to the castle. William ensured his shield was ready, where it hung from his war saddle and that mace and sword were loose in their sheaths. Then he urged his riding horse onwards, steadily increasing the pace until the riders were moving a steady canter over the rolling hills, as the first light of dawn slowly made its way up over the swordlike crags of the Red Mountains.
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by SunsetWanderer
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SunsetWanderer woke moralist

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The Westerlands
Near the Source of the Tumblestone River






Everything changed when the message was offered to her by one of the runners from the Bank. Attached was a note from Heath, the apprentice she had showed her badly drawn black bird with three eyes and asked him to look into it, knowing his connections to the Citadel in Oldtown. Lady Lorelai, my former instructors at the Citadel were VERY curious how this question came about. They’ve asked you to reach out to them. Below is the letter they sent to you in response.

Lorelai felt as if the world fell away from her as her green eyes danced over the neatly written letter from the Archmaesters of High Mysteries and History. ”A very curious inquiry, Lady Lorelai. The Three-Eyed Raven, or Three-Eyed Crow, was largely associated with the Children of the Forest and the First Men.” There was half a page of summary on the wars between Children and First Men, of weir woods, wargs. Where one Archmaster used words like legend and myths from pre-history, the other Archmaester used other, far more alarming, words. Old Gods. Avatar of the Old Gods. Greensight. Future, past, ancient magics.

The more she read, the worse it got, the more she felt as if she might fly away from the earth below her at any moment. The parchments were refolded, tightly, and placed safely on her person.

“…you alright?” Her body nearly jumped as her eyes looked up at Keeno after he asked the question.

“You’re shaking,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Remember that tree we found?”

His eyes grew suspicious, “the one with the face in the cave opening?”

“We need to go.”

He nearly laughed, “No problem we’ll leave first thing tomorrow morning, and…” It was then, looking at her face, that he stopped, looking as if his heart had collapsed into his stomach. Then he nodded, slowly, “…alright, okay. Let’s go now, but change, first.”

She knew what he meant. It wasn’t the dull brown cloak he minded, that would be fine, but it was the dress underneath. When it was just the two of them in the open country, he preferred she not look exactly like every soul around expected Lorelai Lannister to look like. Her hair was pinned up and tied off with a strap of leather, and riding leathers worn from dust and age, frayed threads and discolored edges.

The trip was starlit and windswept; it was little different than heading to Oxcross, until the low mountains of the Westerlands came into stark silhouette against the night sky, lit only in the pale milk glass shine of the half-moon hanging overhead. Then their horses took a sharp, northern, turn into what seemed like the face of those low mountains.

In the dark, the ride seemed more treacherous to her, but Keeno seemed completely unphased. The horses will know what to do, she reminded herself, content with the thought and the knowledge that there was nothing but flat plains right up to the mountains and hills. The grass thinned and interspaced with dust and rock, as the country began to transition the further from Casterly Rock they got.

It was at least an hour between the sharp northern turn from the road before they saw the ghosts on the distant horizon. The stood as black remains of what had once been a memory of a town, the kind of memory that few even bothered to remember these days. “It was a stranger sight in the light,” she marked.

Keeno snorted, “Only you would find a ghost town more disturbing in the light than in darkness. Stay close, I saw no signs of life last time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t now.”

He wasn’t wrong. There was ever the odd bandit group in the area and ghost towns of the Westerlands. The empty vessel of what had once been a town was situated at the opening of a massive canyon, in the shadow of the mountain, and on the far side of the tallest of the low mountains of the west, if she was right, would have been close to the source of the Tumblestone River.

Keeno went slowly, leaving the horses tied to the half-collapsed wall of one of the outer most building of the ghost town, a hut now opened to the elements from caved in roof to southern wall. The mountains were a great wide stretch of stone and darkness set under the blaze of starlight and the moonlight that seemed only half as alive as it might normally be. By the time they were close, Keenu’s blade was sheathed.

“I don’t see any signs of life.” He said it as if he were only half satisfied, as if there was still doubt, “Still, let’s be careful.”

The entrance to the mine was on the hill above the town, carved out of the stone of the mountain face on the right side of the canyon, before you even entered the steep canyon itself. Timbers were sound, and the bones of mine were fair enough. Keenu went about foraging for a makeshift torch. Lighting it was a matter of the kit he always kept in his saddle bag, the firestarter retrieved when they went back for the horses.

“Better to keep the horses near the entrance of the mine.”

In the mine he continued to question the framework of the mine, and their direction. She laughed, even if softly, gently, at the nervous man, “I learned mines when I learned to walk, Keeno. My brother and I would spend far too much time exploring the ancient mines under the Rock.”

“Your home is a strange fucking place.”

It made her laugh louder, “True enough, but I can tell you this mine was well designed. If it was abandoned, it was likely abandoned because they thought it ran dry.”

“That explain the way the floor collapsed under us and we found that hidden hollow?”

True enough. The hidden hollow was a shock. Quite frankly, Lorelai had seen nothing like it, ever before. It wasn’t unusual for her to explore the ghost towns of the Westerlands. They’d found bandits before, they’d found half-mad squatters, but they had never found undiscovered hollows in mountains before.
“I think it has to do with the source of the Tumblestone River. That explains the water of the small lake. A hidden fork of the Tumblestone in the stone. The green. The birds we saw. I didn’t smell bats.”

“You can smell bats?”

She grinned, “You can smell their droppings.”

His face twisted, “Lovely, Lorelai,” he said with a sigh as he might have suddenly regretted leading the way, “left or right?”

“Right.”

He looked back, “Sure?”

“I told you; I know mines. The power of the Westerlands, of House Lannister, is utterly dependent on them. Yes, I’m sure.”

“Oookay ‘absolutely normal’ noble Lady. Want to explain why there’s only one tree?”

Lorelai blinked. “What?”

A puddle splashed as he stepped forward, his head having to duck so he didn’t hit rock dipping down just low enough to brush him otherwise, dipping the torch with him, shadows shifting as he did it, “Well, I’m thinking, the hidden river explains the hollow, the little lake…but not the tree.”

“The opening at the top allows light. Light, water, air…the roots twist into the rock itself.”

He slowly paced forward before her, his turning this way and that, as if a caution and care was so deeply entrenched into him that not even the safety of a subterranean world could ease him. “The place of that tree doesn’t look odd?”

“Odd?”

“…yes, like it was put there on purpose. It’s only one tree. Out of the entire hollow. It’s on a protrusion of the rock, like it was put atop some great platform, like a throne in the middle of this hollow over the lake below. You said the Archmaester of Mystery—”

“—Higher Mysteries—”

“—whatever. My point, you really don’t think this thing was hidden here by someone?”

She hadn’t. She hadn’t, at least, until now. The collapsed stone allowed a rough sort of ramp that he went down first, and helped her down after. The light ahead visible almost immediately at the end of the small natural tunnel of stone. The light of the torch reflected brightly through here, as deposits of obsidian rolled out of the otherwise pale, rough, stone walls.

The torch was stuck into a small open space of two faces of rock coming together, holding it upright with a tight grip. The moonlight was enough, shining on the mossy, grassy, path of stone leading out and up like a primordial ramp, then stair, to the tree of white bark, blood red leaves, and agonized face staring at them.

“Okay. What now?”

I don’t know, she admitted to herself only, giving Keeno little more than a shrug. “I just feel like I need to be here.”

“…sure. I’ll look around. Maybe there’s some smaller, normal, trees or bush around for kindling. Maybe I can start a small fire.”

She heard the sound of beating wings and turned to the tree before and stationed above her, and the hidden lake below. She neared in the silvery moonlight, watching the face of the tree stare at her with its deeply cut, anguished eyes. She nearly fell when she was at the base of the tree; not from the ground below, but the sudden cut of the sound.

CAW! CAW!

Her hand reached out to the trunk of the tree, stabilizing herself against it as she looked almost straight up and saw it. The big black bird, staring at her, three eyes. “…you’re a crow, not a raven.”

”Fly or die, Lorelai Lannister. Fly or die.”

When she looked back over her shoulder for Keeno, he wasn’t there. The large hollow wasn’t there. Not even the moon remained, replaced by a sunlight that wasn’t warm to her skin, in an air that felt cold to her lungs, but not to any other part of her. Looking forward she blinked, the heart tree gone.

Here was nothing but a little valley surrounded by green covered stone that tumbled into the valley as rocky hills on all sides. The wind was harsher, louder, and off in the distance the low rumble of a waterfall. Dark stones stood in audience, arranged in a pattern she had never seen before.

At its center, a weir wood.

“It’s too soon, and you’re not the boy. Why are you here?”

Lorelai’s eyes blinked to her left to the man’s voice, maybe ten paces before her, watching the valley as he sat upon one of the hills. He sat shirtless, short, half-kept, reddish hair atop the man’s head. With his back to her, she never did see his face.

“…who are you?”

He never looked back at her. He only nodded forward, towards the rocks, towards the weir wood she saw for the first time only now. Surrounded by small, dark, figures that appeared half nature, half child. “What are they doing?” she asked, seeing the man for the first time. Her head snapped back to the seated, shirtless man. “How are you…” Her voice trailed, head snapping back towards the weir wood at the sound of muffled screaming.

When the black shard was pressed into the man's chest, Lorelai’s hands went over her mouth to cover her gasp.

“They will regret it. They always do. And you…”

Everything froze as the world went black and white. It was a moment before she realized it; the starless sky above, the winds so sharp and so cold the chill she had felt within her before was still spreading like a fire through every inch of her, in and out. And the man…his skin was pale grey-white skin, sinewy and stretched taut across his thin, tall frame. His wore armor that looked to her eyes as thin as a single sheet of ice, a delicate thing that reflected the little light that remained to the creation around her in hues of blue, pale red, purple, and always, white, then again shifting as he moved towards her.

Behind him stood endless shadows shaped like men. She went to run, but felt herself frozen, unmoving. The only thing she heard was wind, and screaming…it wasn’t until he stepped closer still that she realized the screaming was her own, and that of the bird’s shriek.

Her screaming was everlong, an echo that seemed to her to span infinite, reverberating within her, colliding with another scream in her own voice, an endless chain reaction of screams and silence that might have reached forever, had her eyes not opened.

Her body snapped at the sudden gasp of air. Panic clinched her as she flailed, only to find herself restrained.

“Stop, Lorelai, stop…”

She saw only moonlight until the shadow came to view. The shadow was truer, and warmer, like her skin suddenly, until her vision began to focus and…”Keeno,” she breathed, heat flooding her face as her green eyes sobbed and her body tensed so tightly she felt she might snap, her lungs rabid, gasping for every panicked breath in a hard pant that only worsened, and worsened.

“I’ve got you, calm down, Lorelai…LORELAI!”

His scream was nothing but a whisper as she felt herself fall, past the stone, past the water, and into a pool of neverending darkness, unconscious.



It had been some hours since the burnings, and an uneasy quiet still gripped the halls of Casterly Rock. There were no great parties - no performances by the mummers, and no songs echoing through the eve. Instead, there was only silence. Servants, guests and courtiers hurried past one another with awkward stares and quick whispers. Loreon was suffocated by it, as if the silence was some tangible thing grabbing at his neck.

He had been in his room, staring into the embers of the fireplace that slowly dimmed - Kinvara offered kind words, patient with him as she always was, but in truth he barely heard her. Am I truly Azor Ahai? Why did I let them burn the Septon? Was the vision real? Why didn’t it save Aegon? Would he save Westeros from darkness? Did Lysara want more offerings?

Questions raced through his mind. It was driving him mad. Am I mad?

“Come with me to bed. You are tired, my love.” When he gave no reply, Kinvara stepped lightly toward him, setting her hand against the back of his neck. Still, he stared motionlessly into the dying flames. A peaceful, blue glow filled the room from the moonlight that crept in through the windows as the light from the fading fire began to retreat.

Undeterred by his silence, she circled around him and knelt to match his eyeline. Her hazel eyes met his, and she took one of his hands in both her own. “You need to sleep.”

Broken finally from the prison of his own thoughts, his lips pursed to a slight smile. He held her gaze for a while - it had always been her eyes that he found most captivating. A soft sigh of defeat followed. He had never been strong enough to argue her for long. “Yes, sleep. I know. I’ve just been…”, his gaze drifted to where the fire once burned, now dimmed entirely. “… do you believe her - Lysara? I saw something in the flames, I saw m-“

“I think.”, she interrupted quietly. “That you are Loreon. That you are lord of these lands. That you are my love.” With each answer, she knelt closer, before finally setting a kiss on his lips. “Is that not enough?” She pressed upwards, keeping hold of his hand to pull him alongside. “Come, to bed.”



He lay awake beside her, staring upwards to the ceiling. It had been decorated over the years, stories and legends carved into the rock. There was Lann the Clever beside a Lion greater in size than any man - the tale of how he came to win Casterly Rock from the gullible Casterly’s, of course. There was famed warrior Tybolt the Thunderbolt, Lancel the Lion who conquered half the Reach, Gerold the Great who burned the Iron Islands… their legends continued, forever remembered. Men could rise and fall, but their names would never die.

He wanted to be among them. He had ventured across the Narrow Sea and retrieved Brightroar. He had survived ambushes, ancient tombs, lifeless desert sands, exotic beasts and terrible seas. Surely, he would be remembered as one of their greatest, alongside Lann. Loreon, the Lion of Lannister.

…but, what if he could be more. His thoughts turned again to the promises of Lysara. That he was a Champion of Light, and that he would be the saviour not just of his house, but of all Westeros.

Sleep eluded him.

In search of some peace and perhaps answers, he snuck from bed while Kinvara slept, careful not to wake her. He found himself pausing for a moment while he observed her sleeping form. Maybe she was right. Maybe he had enough, already. The urge to stay crept at him, but was soon after batted away. There was one he had to see. His sister, Lorelai, and once his greatest confidant. She would have wisdom for him - and then he would decide whether to content himself with his life.

Loreon found his white destrier in the stables and rode hard into the night. His golden armor replaced by a subtle outfit of browns and blacks, a thick riding cloak wrapped about him.

Strapped to his saddle, Brightroar accompanied him - as it always did. The greatsword was a bit over half his size when stood beside him, but surprisingly light, owed to the Valyrian steel used in it’s forging. The pommel of the blade was the head of a roaring lion with a full mane, entirely of gold. Red leather covered the hilt, with yet more gold etched throughout.

He could not be sure how much time had passed as he rode, though darkness still claimed the nights sky above. Only the moon and stars lit his path forward, galloping at pace with the mountains of the Westerlands on all horizons.

Eventually, the shapes of abandoned shacks and large mining constructions of pulleys and towers came into view. This was one of the many towns that had long since been abandoned in the Westerlands, once thriving towns that had gradually emptied once the mines had dried. This particular one was not so far from Casterly, and if he remembered correctly, it was where he would find his sister. She had thoughtfully left word before leaving, as she often did, and he regretted that this would be the first time he had ever gone to see her in this way. When they were children, they were closer than any and rarely found apart. He remembered promising her that they would travel the world together, that she would see the Titan of Braavos and the long bridge of Volantis. Instead, he had left her behind to face a life of relentless duty. It was she who cared for their father as he grew weak, who alone carried the pain of her promised’s death, and who inherited and cared for the network of informants, spies and agents passed to her. She deserved her brother, but he had not been there for her. It was not because he did not wish to be - rather, that his shame from leaving had made him sooner to avoid her in the halls than to speak with her. He had not once written to her while in Essos. She thought he was dead, they all did. Why didn’t I write to her?

Coming upon two steeds, tethered beside the entrance to a mine carved into the rock of a mountain, Loreon hitched his own and dismounted - lifting the sheath of Brightroar and wearing it across his back. He recognised the town, vaguely, and some hazy memories came to his mind. It was possible he’d come here with Lorelai many years ago, he’d lost track of all the old mines they’d explored - but, then again, so many of them looked the same. He pressed on, starting toward the entrance of the mine.

The small cloaked form watched from a distance. Though she wore a simple cloak and riding leathers, she was out of place, her movements too loud, her attempt to conceal herself in vain. The princess called up memories of hiding through the Aegonfort, playing with her siblings, but it was painful, and the stakes had been so low.

It had been absurd to take off after the Lord Paramount. Melony had told her as much before she grabbed a stablehand’s cloak, threw it around Rhaena’s shoulders, and urged a dagger into her hands. The Princess had sought him out to confront him over the failure of the sacrifices, but when they instead saw him hastily heading to the stables, alone, they decided instead to pursue him.

Lady Piper had held Rhaena’s hand between hers, and for a moment, that had nearly been it - a wordless goodbye. Her friend’s sad eyes stared back at her, tears that threatened to pool over. ”I had so been looking forward to seeing you again, my princess. I had hoped…Well, now is not the time nor will it be for a while.” She could not go with her friend, there was something else she needed to see to, but there would be no dissuading Rhaena from this task.

The princess, full of sorrow and longing to feel anything but the gaping void inside her, pulled her hand away from Melony, cupped it to her friend’s cheek. ”I loved you. Join me, in whatever comes next.” She stood on her toes, pulled Melony to her, their lips touching tentatively at first. A remembrance of sweet youth when neither had known any better. Innocence and desire, a hunger that threatened to consume Rhaena and engulf Melony with her. Lady Piper gave into it, let herself be carried away in the moment she had long hoped for again. She was taller than Rhaena, broader than her, and with ease she wrapped her arms around the broken princess, pressed her against the wall. But sense returned to her and she pulled away reluctantly, a sad smile across tingling lips. ”I love you still, I will go where you go for as long as you want me. But go, find Lord Lannister, before he gets too far ahead.”

Rhaena had picked up the path easily enough, urged the horse onward to the abandoned village where two other horses awaited Loreon and now her. How odd. She followed him from a distance, attempting to stay low, attempting to step quietly. Loreon, at least, did not seem to notice her.

She ducked into a building when the Lord began to turn as if to orient himself. A hand grabbed her from behind, rough and forceful, turned her to face him.

“What have we here, a little lady skulking about?”

Rhaena screamed, eyes wide with surprise, before the man’s hand clamped down over her mouth and nose.

The scream pierced through the air, startling him as he spun around on his heel. The three horses next to him huffed and stirred uncomfortably at the sudden noise. Around him, there was no sign of movement. There were a few smaller buildings in the immediate vicinity, but only one that remained mostly intact - the remains of what once served as the storehouse for minerals and metals retrieved from the mine.

He stepped toward it, slowly, with the crunch of dirt and loose rocks under each quiet step. It hadn’t sounded like Lorelai - but if not her, who? Maybe it was her. The possibility spurred him forward and his pace quickened, though Brightroar remained in its scabbard across his back. Soon he came to the open doorway, the door itself likely long missing. It was pitch black inside, the intact roof blocking any illumination from the moon - and the boards on the windows similarly ensured a dark interior.

Wait.

There were boards on the windows.

Realising his mistake only too late, a feral roar came from within the building as a figure emerged speedily from the shadows charging toward him. ”GRAAAAH! The wind was knocked from his chest as the man bashed his shoulder squarely against his torso, knocking Loreon onto the dirt with a solid thud.

A few strong kicks landed against the side of Loreon’s body in quick succession, before the man lunged down to grab at his chest - that was his mistake. Loreon broke the grab, rolling to the side and springing to his feet. An arm wrapped around his neck, trying immediately to pull Loreon backwards, but it was broken after a few strong elbows to the stomach behind him. Now, the two faced one another, circling silently for a few seconds against the dark sky. His attacker looked in thirties, give or take, with long scraggly hair of dirty brown and unkempt stubble. Their clothes were ragged, frayed and torn with mismatched boots. Bandits.

The bandit made the first move, lunging with a lazy punch that was easily avoided, but his second strike landed solidly against his jaw. The taste of blood filled Loreon’s mouth. The man was slow, uncoordinated but strong, the way most peasant fighters tended to be. More lunges came toward Loreon, these avoided more easily as the man began to tire and as Loreon increasingly found his footwork, dancing across the dry soil beneath their feet. He remained on the defensive, absorbing a few more strikes against his chest and shoulder.

It was a mistake on Loreon’s part that allowed what came next, stepping too slowly to the side as the man suddenly flew toward him with another enraged yell, his coarse hands grabbing Loreon’s neck and slamming him against the remains of a nearby wall. With his strength, he lifted Loreon from the ground, squeezing tightly at his neck, watching as the Lannister’s skin turned almost the same shade of red for which they were known. Loreon brought both hands to the unguarded face of his attacker, his thumbs pressing immediately against his eyes. Hard. The grip on his neck loosened before breaking entirely, blood starting to pool around one of the man’s eyes.

The bandit lunged again and, this time, overstretched. He gave Loreon an opening, who tripped the man and circled behind to fall atop him. His hand grabbed for a nearby rock, and he brought it down on the back of his skull. Again, and again, until bone gave way to make a bloody pulp.

Content the man was dead, Loreon dropped his shoulders in exhaustion - the rock falling from his bloodied hand. He sat atop the body for a few seconds longer, before finally pressing himself upwards - and, finally, lifting Brightroar from his back. The clean Valyrian blade glistened in the moonlight, and he trudged toward the open doorway of the warehouse yet again. He made it through the door this time, before another man emerged from the shadows - this one, in only a few flashes of steel, was cut down in seconds.

The sound of another scuffle emerged from the back of the warehouse. Loreon followed the sound, the pitch black of the interior making it impossible to see much further than his extended hand. Finally, the source of the noise revealed itself as he came upon yet another broad-shouldered man grappling with a slender figure, trapped in his arms.

Rhaena twisted under the man's hold, her arm again igniting with pain, tempered enough by adrenaline and fear. She could no longer do anything but let out muffled cries, and each time, the ruffian's hand clamped harder across her face. She could feel where fresh bruises would form, and fear gave way to anger. Her body twisted and she brought a leg up, an attempt to kick the brute's knee but succeeded only in putting them both off balance. It was enough to loosen his hold on the princess and Rhaena used it to scramble a few feet away.

The man quickly recovered and caught her again by the shoulder. He wrapped one arm firmly across her chest holding her to him, the other again across her face, quieting her. His face, dripped with sweat and smelling of stale alcohol, pressed against Rhaena. “Don’t try running off again girl.” He breathed deeply, the noise unsettling. “Pretty thing like you can’t go to waste.”

Both froze at the sound and sight of a man entering the room. “Don’t go far.” He growled into her ear before pushing her to the side to approach the man directly. Enraged at the the threat this pissant man had hurled at her, she pulled her dagger at last and lunged at the man as he approached Loreon, distracted from anything else. She was too small to knock him over, but she caught him by surprise, the dagger plunged into his back below his shoulder. He grunted in response but Rhaena was already pulling her arm back and stabbing again, lower this time as the man pulled away, bent. He dropped to his knees as Rhaena stumbled backwards and caught herself on an elbow, the dagger plunged deep into the bandit’s back.

The disturbing sound of laboured, guttural breaths came from the figure on his knees. His gaze had fallen to the ground, and it was likely he never even saw the swing that cleanly separated his head from the rest of his body. The headless corpse remained upright for a few seconds more, before crumpling forward - blood pooling at the neck. “I think I’m supposed to say some words before executions, but…” Loreon spoke between heavy breaths of his own, only gradually finding his composure after the protracted earlier brawl. “I can never remember them.” With that, he set the tip of Brightroar against the ground, leaning against the lion-headed pommel for some momentary support. One of his cheeks had swollen slightly, his lip now held a deep gash, and his usually pristine hair was loose, and unkempt - rogue strands falling out of the practical man bun and down across his forehead. Regaining his breath, he leaned forward to lift the knife from the corpse’s back - extending it toward the girl, “I think this is -“, he cut himself off once he finally realised who was standing before him, lilac eyes meeting his own.

“…Rhaena?

"Princess." She snapped back with a glare before reaching out to take her weapon back. She glanced at the beheaded body, as if to ensure he actually was dead. Her heart rate slowed back down and as her adrenaline fueled rage crashed, she crumpled in on herself. A wave of nausea nearly overtook her. The sacrifices, death, Melony, it all came rushing in again. She wanted to blame Loreon, his failure to save Aegon, but all she could do now was look up at him, small, afraid, and exhausted. And grateful. Gods, she had nearly gotten herself killed.

“There aren’t any more of them,” Keeno’s voice became the last dagger in the darkness, cutting through the awkward and intense silence the two found themselves in all of a sudden from his position in the doorway, “…I’d know. Lorelai was still cold and unconscious when I left her, so I need to get back to her. Follow, or don’t.”

His tone stayed low, but there was a softened edge to it, an undertone of sympathy to both after their sudden ordeal. With that, he turned on his heel, and walked back towards the entrance of the mine, where his new torch resided, the first one already exhausted.

Loreon spun to face the doorway in what was yet another surprise on this eve. Usually he liked surprises, especially when they were sprung by Kinvara. Tonight, though, they had all been solely horrible. “… that’s my sister’s man. Hells is going on.”, he asked no one in particular. And why was she unconscious?. He started to follow after Keeno, checking over his shoulder to see that Rhaena followed. “I thought you were my sister. What are you even doing here?” He ahem’d, finally making a point of her previous insistence, finishing his question with, “Princess.

“It’s Keeno. We have names, you know,” he said even as he walked away, hearing them scurry to follow, wondering to himself only two things:

How did this man survive Essos? And were they all very sure he was related to Lorelai?

Rhaena ignored the question as she stood and dusted herself off as if it would do anything to remove the grime of the road or the blood of the scuffle. None of this was making any sense at all. Lorelai here? That's why he had taken off with such haste? Who was this woman? She caught up to Loreon, though every bit of her body ached in the effort. There was no good answer to the impetuousness that had brought her here. "I suspected you thought to flee when you failed…me."

A tinge of regret crept in at his earlier teasing when she spoke. It had been a long day, but one in which she had lost a brother and a husband. Unusually among Westerosi, the point of one man being both didn’t evoke disgust or contempt in him - only a deeper regret. His lips pursed into the shadow of a sympathetic smile as they followed after Keeno. “…no, no, that’s not it.”, he sighed, “… and I can’t know why it didn’t work, but I am sorry. He was a good man, didn’t deserve what came to him.”, he said without actually knowing the boy at all, but it seemed like the sort of thing people said to one another after a loss. At least he knew the latter part was likely true - how could he have deserved what the poor fellows wrought? He opted not to let a silence linger as they walked, “But, no. I did not ride to flee. Only to clear my head, and… find Lorelai here. Haven’t spoken with her, not properly, in a while. We used to…”, he clicked his tongue. “Ah, doesn’t matter.” He divulged more than intended, perhaps. “But I don’t know what’s happened to her, only that if he was relaxed enough to leave her side, she must be well-enough.”

Keeno just stopped, abruptly, the sound of fire from the torch hitting air in a fiery whoosh as he did, illuminating his face as much as it did anything in that moment, and the restrained panic of his dark eyes, “She told me to see if I could find wood for a fire. I found some in the mine itself, but then I heard her scream like I’ve never heard her scream—I’ll understand if you’re not that familiar with her these days, but let me tell you, she’s the last woman I expect to hear scream for no good reason. By the time I got back to her, I got there just in time to catch her as she fell, her eyes were white as snow, and her body……”

His eyes fell, and instead of raise back to the man, Keeno simply turned and made his way down the rough ramp that had resulted from the floor collapse the first time Lorelai and he had trekked through the mine, “She was freezing cold, shivering, but she was completely dry and…well…does it feel cold to you? She woke up enough to realize I had her, and then she was out again. She hasn’t woken up…shit, she’s at that fucking tree again.”

Keeno dropped the torch at the opening to the great hollow of the mountain, and sprinted with the sound of chain and footsteps towards the standing Lorelai Lannister, touching the base of that great heart tree once again. Before he got close enough her free hand rose, palm out, towards him.

She said…something, but far as they both were now, Loreon and Rhaena wouldn’t have heard it. There was a low exchange between before her head turned, eyes opening, and saw the pair near the entrance. Even without hearing it clearly, there was little mistake in what word came from Lorelai Lannister in that moment, looking at the two surprise guests.

Shit.

There was still a slight shiver to her body as she descended the rock outcropping that led to the heart tree in the center of the great hollow of the mountain, like a great hall within the very belly of the hill that had once been full of gold or silver, or just enough of both to warrant the mine, but not enough to warrant it’s continued use.

Her eyes were between the two as she rubbed her hands, exhaling into her cupped hands for warmth as she nodded to the two, “Princess, brother, Keeno started a fire over here. Come, just us.” Keeno passed behind her as she stopped to greet them with a slight chatter to her teeth even as she spoke, to throw some more wood that had been part of the mine when the floor collapsed, and a little wooden cart left behind he had smashed into enough pieces to be used for firewood. It was dry, but too much, and it seemed to burn hot and fast.

“We won’t have the fire for too long,” was all he said, as he sat next to it, back to his stoic silence.

Loreon was the first of the two to step forward, his eyes darting about the great cavern, illuminated both by the fire and the moonlight from the opening above. He hadn’t seen the like before, and certainly nothing had come close to this in his childhood exploration of mines. Instinctively, the adventuring spirit within him came to the surface. The bridge of rock that led to a sole weirwood as if it were a throne? Not likely by chance. “What is this, a Godswood?”

He brought his arms tightly across his chest, the flash of pain from his movements and the dull, thus far continuous pain in his bruised cheek, were both forgotten as his mind wandered. “…hardly the place for a tree to grow naturally, is it? Maester Luton used to spin stories about these…”, he moved past the small group at the fire to look more closely at the weirwood. “…of the children and their songs. He claimed they had something to do with our Godswood, in the Rock.”, a quick huff followed as he stood at the bottom of the rocky outcropping that led to the weirwood, turning back to face the fire and those assembled at it. “Then the Andals killed them all, and burned their trees.”, he concluded bluntly. “But not this one, mh?”

He meandred over to the fire. “Typical. I come to you for answers, and now I only have more questions.” His tone was half-amused, lighthearted as it often was - even if there was an underlying unease. He was supposed to be the one with secrets, what had Lorelai been up to?

He knelt at the fire beside his sister, his eyes of emerald-gold scrutinizing her out of concern more than any suspicion. “Keeno told us what happened.” He waited only a few seconds, not long enough for her to formulate an answer, before he prodded further. “… are you alright? Why are you even here?”

“Oh, did he?”

Lorelai’s head gave a quick snap to Keeno, her gold-flecked green eyes looking only at Keeno Sylhan, the kind of tiny smile that looked anything but actually happy on her pale pink lips, even as her body continued a slight shiver, though the teeth chattering seemed to ease next to the fire.

The man didn’t immediately look up, but instead, only slowly nodded his head for a few moments before finally looking up to face Lorelai’s gaze, “I did. Do you really blame me?”

That seemed to soften her immediately, her smile becoming warm as the fire they were next to, the husk in her voice deepening just a touch. “…no,” she said, softly. It made sense when she thought about it. What would the two think if Keeno led them to such a place, with her unconscious on the ground?

Any number of things. None were good. They didn’t know him like she did. “Princess,” she began, still looking at Keeno with that small smile, before her eyes shifted over to the younger woman, “it may be best if we get you back to the Rock. I’m certain Keeno could get you back safely.”

To Loreon she gave only a quick look, but a look he might recognize: it was the same kind of look she’d give him in their youth, something along the lines of, ‘later.’

Rhaena slowly took in the sight of the cavern and massive weirwood at the middle of it. It was enough to stop her in her tracks, she had never seen anything quite like it. Though she heard Loreon musing, his words passed over her. Stories from childhood filled her head and she recalled being told the ancient magic of this land was different than the magic of Essos and the Freehold. She closed her eyes, tried to feel if there was anything to it. It was in vain, there was nothing here any more than there was in any other godswood she had seen. Maybe one day, thousands of years ago, but it was surely gone. Dead.
Her eyes opened when Lady Lorelai spoke. Slowly she turned and took in the scene. Brother and sister reunited, there was a distance there that she had heard when Loreon spoke. But it was obvious to her they shared a closeness much like her and Melyssanthi had, or her and Aegon. Her lips trembled a little. She was so tired, returning to the Rock would make sense. But what had she accomplished coming out here, what peace would Casterly bring?

Her head dropped. "Lady Lorelai, thank you for the offer." She chewed at her lip and surrendered to fatigue over anger. "Lord Loreon, when you return," she emphasized when, "I'd like a word."
“Get home safely,” was all Keeno said as he stood, the concern in his voice more than evident; he hated leaving Lorelai normally. Now, however, he was even less comfortable with it than normal. “Both of you. Follow me, Princess.”

Once they were gone, Lorelai let out a deep sigh, and laid down on the stone and moss below, holding the parchments in her hand closest to Loreon up for him to take even as she lay down on her back, eyes drifting closed again. “Read.”

Loreon had recognised the look, which only served to further pique his interest. He barely registered the parting words from the princess as his mind raced the consider the possibilities of her being here - though, he did offer Rhaena a nod of simultaneous acknowledgement and farewell. His eyes now darted through the lines of various parchments, and he haphazardly flicked between the different items, devouring the information as quickly he could. Three-Eyed Raven, Children of the Forest, Ancient Magics… and an accompanying amateur sketch of the aforementioned raven. After a few minutes of silence, he bundled the parchments and scrolls together and set them loosely beside his sister with a huff.

“Quite the read.”, his gaze fell back upon the weirwood. He was sat next to Lorelai still, as he had been when quickly absorbing the reading materials. “… and all connected to this Great Other I’ve heard so much of from Lysara.” His tongue clicked a few times against the roof of his mouth in thought. First Lysara, and now his own sister? Was this a sign? His own vision remained fresh in his mind. His gold-flaked emerald eyes to Lorelai now as she lay beside him. He saw some of his own features reflected in her face, and they both had their fathers eyes. The shadow of a nostalgic smile started to play at the corners of his lips. They had used to spend hours in mines, talking about their futures and the adventures they’d have - but, neither had quite imagined these particular circumstances. The reality of the present - of the recent sacrifices, of the years he’d spend away from his family, of the coming darkness - soon wiped away the growing smile.

He let the silence linger a little longer. Where was he even supposed to start? He’d start with her, he finally decided. “So. We’re at an old Godswood, or something like, and you’ve been researching all of…”, his hands lifted at a few parchments, “… this. What’s going on with you, Lor, why is all this in your head?” Had a vision come to her, too?

“I flew, Loreon,” she stopped, for half a heartbeat realizing the utter sound of madness it must have been, before she continued, deciding not to care, “The bird came to me, and I flew. Above the Rock. Above the West. Past the Riverlands the North. Past the Wall, past endless forests shrouded in snow, past the frozen shore and the great blue-white rivers of ice and the dead plains where nothing grew or lived, to the curtain of green and blue and gold light at the end of the world, dancing in the infinite of the forever night’s sky…I saw the damned.”

Her cheeks burned as tears flowed again, her gold-flecked green eyes tightly shut as she saw it all again…and again, and again, and again, and again. “The dead and the damned, just standing, waiting to march on us, waiting to bring the long night back across the world. Where once there were Children and forever forests, now there was only ice and snow and death and darkness…he saw me. He didn’t know me, but he…he wanted to.”

She breathed, heavily, in, and out again, as the past week caught up to the future she saw, where she was found in the middle of the two tidal forces of fate, crushing her between them. “…if this is the last time we see one another, Loreon…I love you. You never wronged me. You never left me behind, you just…left,” she finished, opening her eyes to the moonlight and rock above.

“I’ll never be an adventurer. I’ll never be a hero…I’m just a girl who misses the love of her life. Go and survive, Loreon. Just make it out alive.”

It’s all any of us can do now.

He was quiet and still as she spoke, offering little by way of reaction - not to the tale of the dead she told, nor to the revelation that they may not see one another again. Everything she described fit with what Lysara had told him. The long dark was coming, after all - and if she was right about that, then maybe she was right about him, too. She continued to speak, but while he heard her, he was not listening. Not truly. His thoughts had already started to spiral.

He had sailed the Narrow Sea, explored a foreign continent and recovered Brightroar - and now, he knew that he was the Chosen of R’hllor. The Others, the Long Night, all of it was real. It had to be, what other explanation could there be for his sister’s vision? On this point, Loreon gave little thought to this beyond confirming what he believed to be his own role. Not once did the consideration of why his own sister had recieved such a vision cross his mind, nor did the meaning of any of what she saw. For Loreon, her vision only had one purpose - to prove what Lysara had told him, and to finally confirm in his mind that it would be his destiny to save Westeros from the coming evil.

He would be Loreon Lannister, the wielder of Brightroar, the Lion of Lannister and Hero of Westeros. His name would never die.

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Mina Tyrell // @Espada Emi




The Sept of Upper River Road had not been what Dake had expected. Instead of just serving one or two Septons of the Sept, he found himself running around what the Faithful called the septry—the Septry of the River as the Faithful called it. The Sept, itself, was part of it, but there was more to it: there was the common hall, the infirmaries, the scriptoriums, the dormitory, the kitchens, a brewhouse, the cells, the gardens, the Sept, and the small Sept. And that didn’t even include all them other outbuildings.

Rarely did Dake find himself helping an actual Septon, of which there were more than two, he learned. Instead, there were Protectors and Holy Brothers, though mostly they just called themselves brothers, and even then, there was an Elder Brother apart from the Septons and the Proctors and the rest of the Brothers. Dake didn’t understand it all yet, but they just told him to listen more than he talked and respond to someone asking something of him with “Yes, brother” or “No, brother.”

He helped with the garden some days, but mostly he scrubbed floors when he wasn’t helping in one of them infirmaries. Brother Stohl told him the Sept of the River had the most, and largest, infirmaries in the Reach, maybe all of Westeros. The bile and the blood and the vomit and the spit and the piss…Dake didn’t know all them bodies held so many things, and he was used to the streets of Oldtown. But Dake didn’t waiver none, Brother Stohl called Dake blessed by the Seven because nothing seemed to turn his stomach.

The worst of it was the early mornings, but Dake got pretty good at waking up before even his mother, often sneaking out and making it to the Septry in time for the morning prayer. Because if you didn’t make it to the early morning prayer, you didn’t get to break your fast with the brothers, and Dake liked the stew the brothers typically had in the morning. After that was the work.

But after that was the mid-day meal, which was usually the same vegetable stew. After mid-day meal he’d sometimes be told to see Proctor Robin in the scriptorium. Dake wasn’t allowed to touch anything down there, but he would scrub floors, and the Proctor and Brothers who worked there would show him numbers and letters. Dake could write to ten, which made Brother Otho proud, cause none of them other ‘street boys’ did that half as fast as Dake was able to do it. The faster and more he learned, the more Dake was told to go work in the scriptorium, and Dake liked Brother Stohl the best, but the infirmaries were full of groaning and crying and sometimes worse.

The scriptorium was quiet, peaceful like. Dake liked that. It was Brother Otho who tapped his shoulder today as Dake went about scrubbing the stone floor, whispering in his ear about someone asking for him. They wasn’t allowed past the gatehouse ‘cause they was a girl, said Brother Otho. Dake rushed, ‘cause if the Proctor caught him gone too long it’d mean trouble, Brother Otho warned him. But at the gatehouse he was met by Septon Arlo. Arlo was old, thin, with shoulder length white hair and a blind eye…but he was the nicest man Dake ever met ‘sides Brother Pater.

And Proctor Robin wouldn’t do nothing if Septon Arlo said it was okay. Septo Arlo looked out for all the other boys in the Septry, too.

“Dake? You have a visitor,” The Septon said, as he moved aside, and motioned the Brothers at the gate to let the visitor into the gatehouse. Dake blinked when he saw Cissy.

“They don’t have girls here, Cis.”

“Go on,” Arlo gently urged the girl, with a calm tone and warm smile, like he was everyone’s grandsire, “you are safe here, child.”

Something wasn’t okay, though, Dake saw it. Dake could always see that kind of thing, and Cissy’s skin wasn’t usually so pale, and she never looked scared. Nothing scared her, except maybe Big Bill. “What is it, Cissy?”

The girls big eyes went to the Septon, to the Brothers of the Gate, before slowly falling back to Dake, “It’s your mum, Dake, you gotta come quick.”

Silence was the response. Dake just blinked, again, thinking…he’d seen his mother this morning. She was tired, but she was always tired, her labor was long and hard, she always said, but she was glad to do it, she also always said.

“Go, Dake. You may return on the morrow, I will explain it to Proctor Robin.”

Dake felt himself nod and leave with Cissy. Outside the gate she took his hand, which just made him feel more confused. Cissy didn’t hold no hands, but now she was squeezing his, “What’s wrong with—”

And then it just burst out of Cissy, like a cry that was all hushed talking, like she was afraid they’d be heard, “Big Bill needs your help, Dake! He said only you can help him, said it’s about your mother, and there’s gold in it. Real gold, Dake. But we got to hurry!”

Dake just ran with Cissy after she all but pulled him along by the hand at first. Dake tried looking back when he thought he heard someone shout out to him, but Cissy just yanked all the harder, leading them quickly down an alley, down a shortcut.

Scrapstone Alley once wound behind the North Silver Street. Disease had cleared out most of the shops and homes that had boxed it in tightly on its southern side, leaving Scrapstone Alley wider than most streets in Oldtown in some places. Though it was mostly mud and exposed foundations with nothing left on them instead of cobblestone, there were still one of two buildings that had been gutted by fire, or further disease, or banditry. The Square of Scrapestone was the largest ‘square’ of the alley. Its where Big Bill had held court for the past two years, after stabbing another, older, street urchin in the neck to take control of the band of urchins they called the Scrapestone Boys. Where once it had been makeshift seats and benches and tables filled with urchins of nearly all ages, some of the bordering buildings used for hideouts and makeshift brothels of the girls ruled by the Scrapestone Boys, when Dake and Cissy got closed, they saw now the square was bordered only by the mail and blue cloaked members of the Oldtown City Watch. At least a dozen of them.

Death and blood was everywhere. Big Bill’s body was broken and bloody, headless, thrown aside his big chair. All the others boys and girls Dake knew for years were laying around, some looking asleep, others with heads missing, or giant gashes flowing with guts and blood where they had once been whole. In Big Bill’s old big chair was a large man, shoulder length black hair, face covered in black hair. He didn’t look old, but he didn’t look young, neither, to Dake. Dake turned around, but his heart sank when he saw more of the City Watch when just moments ago had been the alley. Dake knew a trap when he saw one. When he looked to Cissy, she wouldn’t look at him, even as the members of the Watch behind them grabbed him, lifted him, and carried him forward to dump him at the feet of the large man wearing the uniform of a City Watch officer.

The man’s eyes were black, and seemed to smile in a way that didn’t hold any joy.

“Hello, Dake,” the man said sternly to him, before his black eyes looked up and past Dake, to Cissy, “dispose of her.”

Dake tried to move, but felt only a fist upside his head, sending him spiraling to the ground of mud and blood, all he could see was the officer’s booted feet. All he could hear was the screams of Cissy…before, suddenly, he heard steel, and then heard Cissy no more.

“M’Lord, ask Septon Arlo, ask Septon Pater, please M’L—”

Silence came to Dake in the form of a heavy gloved backhand from one of the two who’d threw him down.

“I know of your favors, urchin. Given not by the Seven, but by a certain sinful noble lady. But worry not, Dake. Your mother will live, your mother will keep her place in the service of her merchant master, and you will be forgiven for your sin of acting as a pawn of such sinful nobility…and in return, you will tell me how it is you got to Lady Vittoria’s inn on Port Market Street. How you managed to sneak past the patrol of the City Watch. Tell me this, young Dake, and forgiveness will be given to you.”

Mina had wasted no time in saddling back up and riding to the Septry of the River as she was bid. She was still running off of the electric high of what had happened at her father’s great tent earlier this morning and it wasn’t until she pulled up to the gatehouse and asked after Dake that her mood started to deflate a bit. She’d just passed him, said the old Septon with a milky eye as he pointed the lad out, running hand in hand with a pale street girl away from the sept on some urgent business about his mother. Mina wheeled around, trotting forward and shouting after Dake, but the girl just tugged him away down a side alley. Cursing, Mina leapt off her horse and went after the two before she lost them completely. If something was wrong with Dake’s mother, Vitta would want to help the boy further, she was sure.

Fortunately, the two younger children’s trail wasn’t hard to follow. The alley lead to a wider one, disused, worn and muddy with visible footprints. Mina slowed as her eyes caught their tracks, not just to better follow them but because of what surrounded them. Dake and the girl had left the freshest footprints, but they were overlaid onto a background of bigger, heavier prints, dozens of them, made by what looked like sturdy, hobnailed boots. Mina stopped completely, closing her eyes and focusing. A Water Dancer must learn to sense danger and see with more than her eyes, that’s what Master Athos had taught her, and something about this already felt wrong.

Yes, she wasn’t sure how she’d missed it before, but there was an unmistakable smell in the air too. Blood and spilled viscera, coppery and nauseating like someone had been doing a bad job slaughtering animals...or people. Mina shivered and moved more carefully, and as soon as she spotted the first blue cloaks she ducked quickly out of sight, pinned flat against a husk of a burned out building as she took in the scene.

There were children’s bodies littering the square, some with guts spilled and giving off the foul odor she’d smelled moments ago, some headless, some twisted and broken, all in pools of blood and mud and gore. The blue cloaked guards, a dozen of them visible, ringed the sight of the massacre uncaringly. Their eyes were fixed on the young boy sprawled on the ground rather than at the horror around them. If the girl slumped limp and blood-soaked at the feet of one guard currently wiping off his sword blade was anything to go by, the reason for their indifference to the hideous crime was plain enough. Mina fought down a wave of cold terror and nausea, breathed in, breathed out, trying to center herself. Now was not the time for fear. She could still save Dake. Besides, the bearded man towering over the boy had just mentioned ‘Lady Vittoria’. He might well be a threat to her sister.

Mina steadied her shaking hands and slipped away from her hiding spot. She could do this! The guards were distracted by Dake and she’d practiced stealth by sneaking up on tree cats in the forests off the River Mander. Quiet as she could, Mina slipped by the guards at the outer ring of onlookers and pulled her thin Braavosi blade from its sheath. Stalking up to the man who was still cleaning his blade of the girl’s blood like she’d stalked any number of animals, she readied herself to deliver a clean thrust to the gap in the armor near his neck.

Dake heard the words as they left his body, unbelieving he was saying them. Was his mother really even still alive? What had Cissy been screaming when they killed her? Mostly, his mind circled and circled around the same question that left him stunned, barely able to think, barely able to understand this was real life, that this wasn’t just a bad dream: Dake would’ve told the man whatever he wanted to hear. So, Dake told him, and when he was done, he finally looked up, and stared into the man’s black eyes.

“Why, m’Lord? I would have told you.”

The man sighed, a great weight upon him, his voice turning into a tone of wisdom, of a master taking a hard lesson to an apprentice, “They were criminals. Rapists. Murderers. Thieves. Your friend, the girl? Caught last night snatching the purse from a man of the Watch visiting the brothel her own mother worked at, as the man took his pleasure. Street urchins, Dake, do you not see?” His body shifted, from a comfortable seated position into Big Bill’s big chair to leaning forward, knees on his thighs, gloved hands clasped tightly together before him, half-helmed head lowering to bring his eyes almost level with Dake’s.

“You thought a sinner from the nobility was your savior, though you were wrong, I will give you that at least you tried to turn away from this life and serve the Faith. But these…things?” He said, raising his head up and unclasping his hands to motion all about, at the corpses of street children around him, “They had no sinner to save them, Dake. All that awaited them was a life of crime and pain and sin. Instead, we have given them the mercy of a death for a noble cause, in service of the Seven, for justice and the peace of the city. Their struggle is over, they now bask in the glory of the Seven. Grieve them, boy, but be glad to know their struggle has ended. The very sinful noble that saved you called banners to raise an army to oppose the Faith. Today, Oldtown will see just how mortal this ‘Ardent Maiden’ is.”

“Lady Vittoria is good, m’Lord, please. She protects the Realm, she—”

“—is an afront to the natural order as given to us in the Seven-Pointed Star itself. A sinner and hypocrite who says she dedicates herself to the Faith, while only serving her House and herself. The very creature who would raise an army against the army of the Faithful. Is this the person you would tell me is so virtuous, boy?”

Madness took him, as he didn’t blink before he heard himself say it, as he looked at the bodies around them, “...she wouldn’t have done this.”

The Commander of the City Watch stood suddenly, the song of steel ringing out as he drew the short sword that rested upon his hip, hanging from his belt, “The Stranger has bid you to come and see, Dake, and so it seems only then will you understand. Goodbye, child.”

In truth Mina wasn’t sure she could go through with killing anyone in cold blood, even supposing the man in front of her had killed children. It was different, skulking like this and committing to it deliberately, rather than defending herself in the chaos of a battle. But hearing his commander rave so coldly about her sister, about sin and slaughtering children, then watching him draw steel on Dake, her resolve and anger solidified. She stabbed out with her blade, quick, clean and forceful just like Master Athos taught her and shouted “Run!”

Alaric’s eyes narrowed in on the sound of the voice, and Dake saw the man…smile, like he’d seen a welcome surprise. The rest of the Watchmen just seemed stunned, but Dake didn’t so much as breathe again before he darted past the Watch Commander. Steel flashed as the man swung the blade after him, but it was a hair late, and Dake weaved between two Guardsmen who took bad angles in the chase, leaving both behind him. A single look over his shoulder was all he gave, enough to see the two guardsmen re-gather and start after him—while their Commander made a deliberate pace in the direction of the other voice, the one Dake didn’t recognize. He hadn’t time to waste, he had to lose the two men on him, and he had to make it to his mother before they did…if she was even still alive. Dake ducked into one of the empty shells of a building and went quickly up a barrel and into a hole in one of the floors, the kind of shortcut he knew that the two watchmen would not. He went out the window to the left and was quickly on another rooftop, his boots simple things but better and with more grip than his old ones. The Brothers had given them to him just two days prior.

He had failed the Septons. The Proctors. The Brothers. He couldn’t go back now. All the hope Lady Vittoria had given him was just gone, like that, because of a Watch Commander and an order. His face was wet and hot as he ran, and it wasn’t until he flew down to cobblestones that he realized…he was crying.

“Dake?”

Loud Lonnie stared at him, confused, from the door of his shop…but Dake just looked at him for a moment, felt nothing but shame, and kept running. It wasn’t until the pot shop that he wheeled around a surprise hay wagon along the side of the building and up back stairs, only to find the door open, certain they’d already gotten to her. What felt like tears before nearly took him to a sob before shock splashed upon him as he went through the door…and saw her there, shoving things into a basket.

He walked to his mother and cried and tried to tell her all of it. She probably heard none of it, as he blabbered and sobbed, hugging him close for a moment before lifting his chin to look her in the eyes.

“Babbet told me. Now let’s go, we’re going to King’s Landing where my sister is.”

She didn’t sound surprised, only determined. And yet again today, Dake just felt confused. A confusion that only deepened when he heard steps on the stairs, and saw a figure darken the doorway.

It was a girl, barely taller than he was, clean, except for sweat, and…the blade. The reddened blade.

Mina stood there in the doorway, panting slightly after the chaos and tumult of running full tilt after Dake. She reasoned he knew these streets and how to run and hide in them a lot better than her, so she’d followed him as he fled. Now she found herself awkwardly looming with a bloodstained blade in his doorway. She held up her free hand, trying to show she meant no harm.

“Sorry, I’m here from Lady Vittoria. Wanted to make sure you were safe. She’ll want to help, I think.” Mina made a half-awkward bow-curtsey. Then she remembered she was still holding the bloody blade and flicked it clean before wiping it down against the sheath and stowing it, Braavosi fashion. She didn’t think about how that just spattered more blood across the floor, couldn’t focus on the blood at all. Nor how the blood had gotten there, the man she’d killed, how she could feel the jerk and gasp from him as he’d died on her blade. But now that the running was done it was getting harder to ignore. No, best to focus on helping Dake and his mother.

“Lady…VITTORIA? TYRELL?!”

Dake’s mother exasperated a loud whisper, and she did it quickly, turning to stare at her child. “Why would she want to help? Dake of Blackcrown…why would…what did I tell you about the nobility? Do you not remember…”

Her voice trailed as her son’s eyes welled. The woman looked breathless in a terror of shock as she looked back to the girl in the door, “…and you? Do I even want to know what you are? Do either of you know the danger we are in? The Faith and the Watch have eyes everywhere. There is nowhere safe in this city.”

“They’re gonna kill her, mum.”

His mother's face twisted in confusion, but for a moment, until realization dawned further fear, “Kill her?” The words the woman wanted to say didn’t come, instead, her features seemed to soften as she looked at the hurt, scared, boy of hers, “Dake, I’m not even sure the dragons could kill that girl. She’s surrounded by an army. And what of us? What do we have to protect us but this girl assassin sent by this noble lady?......how did you come to find service with the Septry, Dake?”

The boy frowned, and his mother sighed. “Gods. And you never told me.”

“Wanda, I’m starting to hear…” The man who appeared walking up the backstairs was tall, but too simply dressed and he smelled of a tannery, short blonde hair and small blue eyes regarding the scene he stepped into carefully, “The wagon is loaded, everything is covered in hay.”

“This chest,” Dake’s mother said, shutting it, moving aside so the man could take it and load it. As he lifted it, the boy’s mother stepped forward and placed her hand on the man’s arm, “I’m truly sorry.”

Sadly, the man smiled, “I’ll be in King’s Landing as soon as I can get there. You two go…or three,” he said, awkwardly, before carefully moving himself, and the chest, out of the door and to the wagon.

Dake’s mother just stared at the assassin, “You can hide in the wagon with us. The man watching the gate we’re going out of is a friend. We’ll make it out, but we must hurry.”

Mina nodded, face twisted into a grimace as she put together just what her sister’s charity had wrought for these folk. “My thanks. I’m sorry.” It was all she could think to say. She didn’t bother correcting the woman’s assumption that she was an assassin, nor try to explain herself. It would take time they didn’t have and it could wait til they were safely away.

“Let’s go. Now,” the boy’s mother said, with the kind of courage and determination only a mother with a child in danger could provide.

“Lead the way.” Mina agreed, inwardly resolving to herself that she would do whatever it took to protect these two and fix her sister’s mistake.


Hidden 11 mos ago 11 mos ago Post by Arnorian
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The Duel


Garin:


By the time he reached the open field to the east of the camp, it seemed as though nearly everyone had arrived. Formed around the green sward in a rough square, the crowd of mercenaries, smallfolk, travelers and townsfolk made a crude sort of tournament field. Garin smiled grimly behind his visor, he’d fought in worse.

In the distance, he could make out the faint, but unmistakable shape of a dragon against the midday sky and it seemed as though fingers of icy fear had dug deep into his heart. He was only a child then, but he still remembered the horror of the Hellholt and the King’s Wrath. He’d once seen Maegor fly into Pentos, when his oldest was a small child. Rylla had been awed by Balerion and even asked if she could go and pet the fearsome thing. Garin had felt only terror and he was not ashamed to say so. Only a fool would ever willingly go up against a dragon and he was thankful that so far, he’d been lucky enough to avoid such a thing.

Opposite his position, the crimson knight stood in a suit of gleaming plate that had been chased with gold and filigreed in silver around the edges of the different plates. Perhaps not quite the mix of fine artwork and good armor that a Targaryen prince would have, but certainly a fine harness nonetheless.

In contrast, Garin looked almost drab as he turned his warhorse and sat waiting on the western side of the field. A hulking figure in black armor, with an evil-eyed brute of a warhorse under him. If this had been some puppet show, he’d have been the villain.

But this was Westeros and evil was often masked in beauty. To Garin, it seemed that in Essos, you knew where you stood. As a mercenary you could assume everyone wanted you dead. But here? Wanton cruelty was often carefully cloaked under fancy names and titles. Though he’d long since lost any hope of a name and title himself. His late father had taken an inordinate amount of delight in taking both of things from him.

Yet, if he had chosen duty and family over Martella, he would have never held Rylla in his arms for the first time, heard her first words or helped her to learn to walk. Little Myrna would never had cried tears of joy over that thrice bedamned cat of hers. Now he was here, as the Tyrells and Lord Tarly watched, with their retainers.

Garin’s family smiled as their lord father and husband rode past, but they remained silent and dignified, in a way that even the scions of a great house would have been hard pressed to match. Even little Myrna was very solemn, though she held her spotted cat close. The kitten for its part, bore its mistress’ grip with the patience of a born saint. Lady Vittoria, for her part, looked as grim and serious as any knight on the outset of battle.

More people, from the meanest peasant to great lords trickled in. Garin supposed it had been a boring few days and people had nothing better to do. The master of the lists droned on and some doddering old Septon croaked out a prayer. All because some fool boy had made a joke about the wrong person.

Well, if a man only defends what he loved when convenient, then he doesn’t truly love, I suppose. Garin thought.

The master of the lists stepped back and looked at the two knights, one clad in black and the other in darkest red.

“Garin Sands and Ser Jorin Upsley, I hereby give you one final chance to set aside your grievances and reconcile yourselves in the eyes of man and the Seven.” He said.

As he spoke, a woman in a green and blue gown stepped forward and tied a red ribbon around Ser Jorin’s rerebrace, just below the crimson of his surcoat. As she stepped back, Garin saw the hopeless look in her eyes as she stared his way before turning and stepping back into the onlookers.

Garin had seen that look before, usually in the eyes of a town’s citizens after his men had stormed the walls. Unbidden, his thoughts turned to what Lady Vittoria said and he swore under his breath. The Dornishman raised his visor and glanced at his onlooking family, where they stood next to the Tyrells.

“Milord, if Ser Jorin wishes to make peace, then I will not stand in his way.” He said, his voice carrying on the gentle breeze.

Ser Jorin looked back at the woman who had gifted him her favor and then slammed his visor down and raised his lance to the gleaming steel of his cuisse.

I imagined so, Garin thought as he closed his visor and took his own lance.

The master of the lists raised a burly hand and brought it down with grim finality.

As one, the two opposing knights raked back their spurs and their warhorses exploded into motion, churning the black earth under their ironshod hooves. The grass rippled in the wind and birds sang as they soared overhead, against a cloudless sky. Surcoat and caparisons rippled back from armor as the warriors rode full tilt. It was a beautiful moment, more so for the contrast against what came next.

This was no ordered duel or joust with all the pageantry and splendor of a regulated tournament. Both men rode well, and it seemed to all present that master and steed moved as one. But that skill was not there for spectacle or to please the crowd. It was a moment that would have fit seamlessly into the most brutal battle. There was no chivalry to be found on that field. Just two grim killers doing what they had been trained since childhood.

Ser Jorin set his lance into place at the last moment and Garin, in a feat of great strength, rolled the heavy length of ash up and over Jorin’s own. But Jorin was no novice and he’d learned his brutal craft in a school as unforgiving as Garin’s. At a touch of his knee, his warhorse side-stepped mid-gallop as he leveled his lance at the eyeslit of Garin’s helm.

There was a breathless pause.

The two knights slammed together with force that bordered on divine wrath. Both the heavy war lances bent and then shattered into clouds of splinters. Garin reeled from the shock, stretched almost prone over the high cantle of his saddle.

Ser Jorin was knocked to the side, so that at one point, his helm was almost level with his stirrups, as he flailed and scrabbled for purchase. The shattered crest of his helm went arcing into the crowd and landed in the plump hands of a very surprised merchant, who had been trying to protect his face more than anything else.

It might have almost been comical, had the two not been fighting in deadly earnest. But this was no tourney, where a man might ride to the end of the lists and reset for the next pass. Their destriers bugled in fury as they spun on their hooves and then reared, striking with their teeth and hooves against flesh and barding. Their ears lay flat against the steel of their chanfrons and their nostrils flared crimson, as they fought with the same unrelenting brutality of their masters.

Despite the tremendous impact, both knights were veterans of many such clashes and hauled themselves back into their seat. Garin ignored the roiling pain in his skull with the skill of long practice and caught up his warhammer from his saddle. He pushed against his stirrups and leaned forward as his mount reared again, screaming in rage.

As Ser Jorin’s bay leapt to meet the attack, Garin brought his warhammer up and over, seeking to crush Jorin’s helm. To all present, it seemed like a whirlwind of steel and horse. Sparks flew from clashing weapons and dented armor. Torn caparisons and surcoats whirled as knight and rider fought with no mercy asked or given. In the blink of an eye, both men had given, parried and dodged nearly a dozen different blows.

Neither one showed any kind of restraint, warhorse and warrior alike were struck where the opportunity presented itself. At one point, Garin’s dagger flashed in the sun as he grappled in the saddle with Jorin. For a moment, it seemed like the fight would be over as quickly as it had begun.

But then, Jorin snagged the cuff of Garin’s gauntlet and whether by luck of skill, was able to break the Dornishman’s hold and had nearly dragged his foe from the saddle. Garin, for his part, pushed off his own saddle with his free leg and hauled Jorin over the right side of his bay horse and into the churned up earth.

Their warhorses continued on, snapping and striking at each other with their hooves like a man might box. The crowd rippled back as the two destriers almost barreled into them. Unable to keep a hold on Jorin, Garin rolled away from his enemy and to his feet. Jorin had leapt upright and charged, his dagger clutched in a reverse grip. Garin, dagger and hammer lost, drew his longsword and struck in one smooth motion.

Jorin might have died right there, but his left foot slipped out from under him on the slick grass. Garin’s blade rang off his helm, in a shower of sparks, instead of piercing the eyeslit. Jorin surged upright again as Garin set his shield and sprinted to meet his enemy’s charge.

Garin nearly fell, as Jorin levered his shield up and nearly upended him, before Garin kicked his legs and regained his balance. His shield lost to him, Garin reversed his grip on his blade. Holding the gleaming steel of the longsword halfway down the blade in a gauntleted hand, he struck like a Dornish adder and managed to foul Jorins next attack.

By then his lungs were burning, every muscle in his body had moved past feeling as though it was on fire and to the point where they felt like they belonged to someone else. Garin planted his feet, as Jorin grappled with him. With all his might, he lifted the armored bulk of the red knight with a titanic roar. As the dagger nicked his eyelid, Garin took a breath and exerted one last burst of the battle fury that still gripped him.

Even for a younger man it would have been a tremendous strength, though he only lifted the crimson-clad warrior a handbreadth into the air, it was enough that he was able to lever and then throw the armored bulk of his foe. Jorin landed with a crash of steel, his dagger pinwheeling away into the crowd where people frantically dodged the falling blade. Garin half-straddled, half-fell over his enemy and wrenched the man’s visor open.

Jorin’s face was pale and at some point, the exertion of the fight had caused blood to run from his eyes, nose and eyes. Garin placed his gauntleted thumbs next to the red knight’s eyes.

“I have strength enough left, to crush your head, lad.” He said with surprising gentleness.

Jorin blinked and then set his jaw, clearly expecting the worst.

Garin nodded shortly. There was time, he would have never have even thought about what to do next. He’d certainly done far worse. From the corner of his eye he could see that the two warhorses, their rage spent, had wandered off to different ends of the field and were quietly grazing on the thick grass.

“But if you yield, you can see the woman who gave you that favor again.

“You fought well, no one here can deny that. Let’s leave it at that and we can go our ways.” He said.

Jorin blinked and then nodded slowly. “I yield.” He rasped.

The red knight rolled to his feet and slowly limped to the woman who waited for him. She took his armored arm over her shoulder and if his plate-clad bulk caused her any pain, she showed no sign of it as she helped her man to their pavilion.

Garin stood up slowly and then tottered over to his family, while his squire led his exhausted warhorse. The master of the lists pronounced the matter settled, but Garin didn’t hear him. Not wishing to injure them, with his armor, he carefully patted his wife and daughters on the shoulder. Myrna smiled and then tottered off with his great helm on her head, where it rested on her shoulders. Though it had been a solemn day, he couldn’t help but laugh at such an absurdly delightful sight, the damn thing was nearly as tall as she was. Even Rylla smiled, before she ran to help her sister extricate herself from the helm, when she walked into someone.

Martella simply nodded, her expression both relieved and . . . pleased? Proud? It was hard to say really.

Garin set aside his gauntlets, ran an aching hand through his sweat-plastered hair and bowed slightly to the Tyrells.

Lord Theo said a quick word to his eldest daughter, before nodding to the men around him, and departing the field under the accompaniment of men-at-arms. Vittoria Tyrell wore no armor, only the green wool dress with the high collar and the full-length arms, the skirt of it falling to her booted ankles. Next to Lord Theo had been Vittoria, Davos Baratheon, Thaddeus Rowan, Dennet Tarly, Ryam Redwyne, Lord Elmo and Garrett Tyrell.

But they hadn’t been the main focal point of the little group. Even most of the eyes assembled that looked to their group weren’t on Theo, but Vaera Balaerys. At one-point Vaera had put a hand on Vittoria’s shoulder, and leaned in to say, “Breathe, Lady.”
Vittoria chuckled at Vaera’s gentle jape, but there was seriousness to it, Vittoria would admit. Plate armor might have made her appear more comfortable than she currently felt watching the stupid, silly, childish affair.

Towards the end, all she heard was, “Ow,” though that came from Davos Baratheon, whose arm she had taken and started to dig fingers unknowingly into out of the stress of the moment.

When it was over, a wind of relief exhaled from her body, and her shoulders visibly relaxed, “Thank the Seven that madness is over.”
Vittoria walked over and spent some time speaking with Ser Jorin and his people, who to her surprise, actually wanted to speak with her in a matter that was almost pleasant, given the circumstances of the moment. It was only after that did Vittoria make her away across and greet Garin and his family.

“Myrna, caution being a girl who puts on armor—it tends to stick with you longer than it probably ought to,” she gave Martella a tiny hint of a smile before giving large, exaggerated, eyes of relief to Rylla, “This was fun,” she said to the woman her junior, but not far behind her, “let’s not do that again.”

Before she left she leaned closer to Garin, and whispered something short, before taking a few steps away only to turn back, remembering something else, “Sunset. My father’s pavilion,” she made sure to inform him, before continuing on to find Lord Elmo, and proceed to the Citadel, while Rowan and Tarly went to gather the rest of the Order and get them out of Oldtown.
Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Vanq
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Keeno took a moment to retrieve his discarded torch, and bring it life again, explaining himself in a soft tone to the Princess now by his side, “The Lannisters grew up in mines, they like to explain, so I’m sure they can safely find their way to the entrance without this,” though soft of tone, there was still a hint of mischief at the corners of his mouth as he lips nearly curved into a smile, his dark eyes looking up from the torch to hers before he nodded, “I’ll lead, slowly.”

Slowly, he emphasized, to give her assurance he had in mind her injuries. His tone was as gentle as it had been with Lorelai, a tone few but Lorelai ever heard from the typically silent, ever watchful, man. At the entrance to the man he simply passed his horse, explaining, “We need to look around first.”

It was then he went back to the small building where he had found Loreon and Rhaena in a fight for survival. “I want to be sure there are no more surprises. I hate surprises.” He stalked both areas, the one where Loreon defended himself, and the one where Rhaena defended herself, with the assistance of Loreon. It was in the latter area that Keeno sighed, “Shit. See the floor? The blood pooled? It hadn’t pooled enough for you or the Lord to step in it.” He explained, slowly bringing the torch over the pooled blood, right over the boot prints now in the blood, “There was a third.”

Keeno followed, stepping carefully around the pooled blood, the sharp smell of blood and the smell of worse when a man lost his life was ignored as he followed the boot prints back to the first room, where they grew fainter, mixed with dirt. “Every time he steps, some blood comes off the bottom of the boot. Not the biggest boots, either, maybe a small man, maybe a woman.”

He followed it out a partially collapsed wall in the back, noting a bit of blood on a half-fallen wall, “jumped out here.” Keeno followed, hopping over the wall, but stopping and turning around to carefully help Rhaena over and down to the dirt, too, then he continued his hunt. They were nearly twenty yards away from any building when he stopped and held the torch to the ground. “Our third person got on their horse here. Bandits wouldn’t come back, not even with more men, assuming they know more men. They don’t look for fights, they look for easy prey, and they were probably hiding out here because few, if any, ever come this way at night.”

His eyes scanned the horizon, where the valley turned into hills that crashed against mountains. “Come on, let’s get our horses.” Rhaena’s lesson was over. He retrieved his first, since it was closer, before walking it and her to where she had left her mount. Keeno helped her up, and there was nothing awkward about his movements; he had helped injured people up on mounts before, that much was clear to any observation. His voice always soft, his tone always gentle with her, now.

She followed behind him silently, uncertain of what to make of the man. Trust should not have come easily, but what choice was there. Nothing of the night made sense, and she could not run much longer. Rhaena would need to return and deal with Aegon being dead. The thought was pushed from her mind as she trailed behind Keeno and his light. The mine was too confining and she breathed a heavy gasp of fresh air when they left them for the abandoned town again.

A feeling of dread came over her, and it was of some comfort for the man to investigate first. Rhaena followed in his wake, eyes darting to each spot he called out, her eyes lingering on the pool of blood and flashes of the man's hot breath against her neck woke her again. Easy prey? She wanted to challenge such a thing, she was a dragonrider after all…a dragonrider with no dragon. Prey.

"I hope he becomes prey to something worse." She muttered quietly, mostly to herself, as they finally made their way to their horses. Rhaena shifted in her saddle, bruises and strains that seemed to pull at her every muscle. What she'd give for a soft bed and endless sleep.

"You didn't want to leave her." She spoke up for more than noise of agreements for the first time as they urged their horses onward, away from the ghost town. "Lady Lorelai." Rhaena clarified as if there was any doubt who she meant. She picked at the skin around her nails as she loosely held the reins. "Our…" The word stuck in her throat. "My whitecloak, he will blame himself for not being here tonight."

Even as his body moved with the motion of the mount’s gait, Keeno kept his eyes on the horizon, before sweeping them to Rhaena. Taking in her words, the way she said them, and just as importantly, what she didn’t say. At the idea of the bandit becoming prey to something worse, he simply snorted, “There’s nothing worse than the life of no one, having nothing, trying to take from anyone they can. No, that man lives his punishment every single day. If it’s even a man. What if it’s a woman? What if it’s a child? Those weren’t the tracks of a full-sized man.”

Then and there, Keeno Sylhan fell into silence, watching the horizon, watching the stars to keep track of where they were headed. At the eventual break of silence that he didn’t want to leave Lorelai Lannister, he offered a suppressed chuckle, eyes kept strictly upon the horizon. “Of course, I didn’t want to leave her—I like her,” he said, finally looking into Rhaena’s eyes again, mouth half-smiling.

“I know a lifetime about what it takes to protect someone at the highest possible levels. So, when I decided my life was over, that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing…I just walked away. And I kept walking, otherwise I would be dead. I came to the end of the known world, I came to Lannisport. The King of the Rock thanked me for news of Essos, but otherwise rejected me. Tytos rejected me. It was only Lorelai who took a chance on me. And for someone that takes a chance on you, she pays better than I could have imagined…I’m not a white cloak, Rhaena. I don’t do it out of duty. I don’t even do it out of gold anymore. I do it because she deserves it. She’s good, I see virtue in her where I just don’t see it in the rest of the world. She’s smart.”

Then, even as the country became something closer to familiar to what it looked like close to Lannisport and the Rock, Keeno stopped his horse and looked directly at the Targaryen young woman. Letting out a heavy breath, letting out the truth with it, “It’s not all fucking fire and blood, Rhaena. You don’t need the dragon. You don’t need the white cloak. If you think you do, you’ll never be free, and you’ll never be able to protect yourself. You need your wits. You need your determination to survive. The dragons, the white cloaks, the crowns…yeah, that’s great, but that’s extra. Think that dragon would’ve saved Aegon’s life? Ask yourself…are you really sure about that? I’m pretty sure Essos saw countless dragon lords get mobbed and murdered, dragon and rider, for nearly a century after the Doom.”

Keeno sighed, looking back to the horizon, digging heels into the mount and pulling reins tight, starting the horse again at a slow pace, “No I don’t like leaving her. But she’ll be alright. Because she’s smart. Because she’s capable…I’ve made sure of it. And if someone does kill her?...I’ll fucking avenge her. Believe that. Now, let’s get you back to mourn and come to terms.”

Not duty, not money, but respect? Rhaena knew little of Lorelai Lannister. Though she had heard whispers that it was Lorelai who had arranged their rescue, tonight in the cavern had been the most words they exchanged since she had taken refuge at the Rock. But that only raised more questions for her, what kind of person could engender such loyalty? Would Ser Robin be by her side were it not for sworn oaths and duty?

She urged the horse onwards, behind Keeno, barely noticing the passing landscape. While she had taken off after Loreon in haste, now, she found herself wishing for more time. Everything was chaos in her head, flashes of fire and blood. Light played at the horizon, hints of the coming sunrise. What would happen if she just kept riding, ran from it all, shed the weight of everything that threatened to suffocate her completely. But it wasn’t who she was or ever could be.

“Not all fire and blood?” She spoke with a force that took even her by surprise. “My grandfather brought these kingdoms to their knees with fire and blood. It is who we are, who we are destined to be.” Her voice rose, a shrill desperation as if the core of her being was called into question. Whatever had happened in Essos after the Doom was not of concern. It was different, it was why they had left with the foresight of what was to come. “How can I be anything else?” Her anger peaked again, threatened to swell into rage but Keeno had proven to be kind. To be worthy of restraint. It wasn’t his fault, but he was the only one there to bear the brunt of it. “I am nothing else.” She whispered it, saddened and then angry in turn at the sadness.

Keeno Sylhan smirked, "Sure, Princess," he said, though the title didn't fit the man's tone, "that's really working out for you."
She could not run nor hide from her blood. She would not. “I have no more time for tears.” Rhaena kicked her horse's sides, urging it from its easy pace to a full gallop. Casterly lay ahead of them, and there was much to be done.
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A Pleasant Jaunt

The Kingswood


A few days of travel with the Baratheon host had done little to quell the Stars. For most of them it was shown in quiet glares, or the way they accepted rations only to seclude themselves in small whispering groups. Ellyn spent much of the day riding with Rogar, though she found his manners irksome. He owed his position, his power, everything, to the same people who had caused her to lose everything. And he had no idea, surely would dispute it if pointed out. She remained quiet unless direct questions were asked of her. And most of the time, even that seemed to be done to raise a round of laughs. But as each morning broke, she still found herself riding up to join him. Punishment for her sins, she told herself to submit to it again each day.

They had stopped for the day again, the forest pressing against them. Night fell quickly and yet she laid on her cot, having refused any offers of more suitable tents, wide awake. She stared blankly, wishing for sleep that would not return to her. Her heart beat too loudly, too quickly, her hands clenched and released as she tried to ground herself again in reality. It had seemed too real just moments ago. The knights that had led them not to allies in the Reach but to enemies in Dorne. How had she not recognized the Marches, or the Boneway? Men draped in the purple and cream of House Dayne who ambushed them only to have Rogar pull her from her horse, with that smug smile and laughter as he tossed her to her family’s knights. Dawn, ripped from her hands, smashed into a million pieces that glittered and glowed one last time before dying in the sand, scattered to the winds.

Her senses returned but unable to close her eyes without seeing it play out again, she dressed and left her tent to try and find peace in the coolness of a spring night. Ellyn knew that Baratheon men would be on guard, but at least they kept their distance from her tent. To her right, she knew she could find Septon Mal, but this night she couldn’t bear to wake and burden him again. She walked past him, few others out in the night beyond the few armsmen she passed. Her steps held no purpose, no known path, just one in front of the other until she found herself at the outskirts of their camp. There was something dreadful about this forest. The way it loomed and imposed itself all around them, the same sense of being unwelcome, unwanted, that had followed her her entire life. A chill ran down her back and she hugged her arms around her body though the warmth did little to quiet it.

One of his men drew near, perhaps it was the natural path of his patrol or perhaps he sought to disturb her quiet reflection. Regardless, Ellyn broke the silence first. “A quiet night.” She didn’t turn to look at the man. “Where is Ser Rogar, does he sleep unperturbed or is he somewhere out here, keeping watch with you?” She wasn’t sure why she had asked, perhaps nothing more than to get the image from her dream out of her head. When the answer came that he could be found on the opposite side of camp, her feet seemed to again move her on their own accord.

The cool night air was as refreshing as any drink that could be provided on the march like this, and whenever either was available, Rogar had little struggle staying awake. While he often remained awake to spend time more socially with his men, for now Ellyn’s later suggestion was correct, the young noble standing watch alongside a small gathering of sentries, keeping an eye on the forest line behind them. Unbeknownst to the men of the faith they shepherd, Rogar and some of his more keen eyed men-at-arms had found some of those who had fled rather than be taken into Baratheon custody. Far from a successful escape, they had instead been discovered shot through with arrows, slain by someone far less forgiving than either Lord Baratheon or his son, it would seem. The small Baratheon host now erred on the side of caution, that this may be someone hostile to both groups, such as a new bandit lord who had little love for either the faith or nobility. Either way, it gave them an outward threat to keep sharp again, and helped maintain discipline.

“Sorry, mi’lord, that’s all threes,” A voice that had all the enjoyment of not being sorry at all carried across to Ellyn as she approached, followed shortly by an overacted sigh of exasperation from Rogar.

“I am quite sure you’ve weighted these, you know.” It was the kind of accusation made in jest though, and with a laugh and shake of his head, the Baratheon heir handed a few coins over to one of his men, who stooped low towards the ground evidently rolling a set of dice in a space cleared among the long grass. The sound of someone approaching from within the camp didn’t stir the man with the dice, nor the other two official sentires who’s eyes didn’t waiver from their task, but Rogar did turn, a smile of amusement crossing his features.

“Ah, my lady of many colours, how do you fare this evening? Put in a good word with the Seven for us yet?”

Her brow creased as she glanced from the man rolling dice and back up to Rogar. Exactly where she was told he would be, doing his duty and still finding a way for the first words out of his mouth to rankle. Seven. Still, much to her own surprise, a soft noise close to a chuckle escaped her. “You’d be better asking Septon Mal for that favor, he believes redemption is possible for all.” Her hands ran along the edges of her bodice, sturdy fabric, if worn and faded. “It’s lady of prisms,” Ellyn’s voice was quiet in embarrassment over the vanity of needing to correct him, “that my people call me.” Her eyes snapped to one of the nearby men who had either coughed or stifled a laugh. Her cheeks reddened, though she prayed that in the darkness it wasn’t noticeable.

“I’ll leave you to your games.” Ellyn pulled her hands away from fidgeting and clasped them in front of her. “Unless you’d like to join me in walking the rest of the perimeter?” Foolish woman. She chided herself instantly at the suggestion and willed herself to walk away before he could answer. But even she could grow tired of only hearing passages from the Seven Pointed Star in answer to her loneliness and fears.

"Ah well, my lady, you have quite taken the suggestion out of my own mouth, I was about to leave these miscreants to themselves and see about the rest of the camp." Rogar smiled, sharp but mostly kind eyes catching the blush on the woman's cheeks even if the other men present were a little too focused on their duty or their games to do the same. The young noble lent down to smack the shoulder of the arms man knelt beside him, "That means you have to start doing your job, Hanald." Which after only a brief grumble, was an order otherwise followed swiftly.

"Come along then, Lady of Prisms, let us make sure there are no demons or grumpkins nestling in the shadows." With a smile Rogar drew closer, before denoting with a sweep of his hand the direction they should take, before setting off himself, pausing only to allow her to fall in step with him, taking a path only just within the flickering sentry lights of the camp.

"I don't think I have much hope with your Septon, he doesn't seem to like me." Rogar spoke in a hushed tone as they walked so as to not startle any of the sentries they passed near, but it hardly seemed to check the easy confidence with which he spoke. "So you may have to start believing in my redemption for me to have a chance."

There was something pleasing in the way he so easily managed his men, how quickly they responded. Her family name had done little to endear people to her; she led in spite of it. She assumed that his men followed him because of his name. Perhaps she had been hasty in her assumption. “I wouldn’t say that, he just finds you unnecessarily sure of yourself.” Mal had not exactly shared that with her, but he had not disagreed with her assessment when she had complained to the septon. Ellyn turned her head enough to watch for his reaction.

“And I think you underestimate us - me.” Her eyes were somber again, her voice hushed. “You wouldn’t be the first. Maybe you can start to redeem yourself by changing that.” Her lips flicked upwards, barely. “Is it that I’m a woman, or that I’m Dornish that bothers you more?”

“My grandfather had great respect for the Dornish, even when he hated you. My mother was the last Storm Queen, she might even have lasted a while, had her own men had more mettle. Believe me, my Lady, if I underestimate anything about your merry band it is not on account of yourself.” Rogar’s tone did not change even as his words were serious, ever leaving it open if he was being truthful, as they continued to walk the perimeter. He had not been lying to his Marshall when he spoke positively of her appearance, but much as he would rather be watching her than the rather more tiresome expanses of dark treeline, he did his duty all the same. Rogar hadn’t been able to shake the idea the party was being stalked, and while he doubted the Faithful knew either, he couldn’t entirely discount they were aligned with whoever it might be.

“What is there to be unsure of, my lady? My grandfather was a bastard born, he died the lord of a Kingdom. My father’s lords expected him to be weak, and in his first month as Lord of the Stormlands, he crushed a Dornish and rebel host more than three times larger than that which he commanded. Neither men let their doubts hold them back from changing the world. I don’t plan on being the exception.” It was a legacy that many would feel great pressure for, perhaps even chafe against, or crumble beneath. Rogar seemed to wear it with ease, and despite keeping his eyes on the treeline, he still smiled with an expression no doubt meant for her. “What more proof of the Seven’s Blessings do I need?”

She shook her head, a hard, crisp movement that nevertheless sent some strands of raven locks tumbling. One day she’d take shears to it, but for now she combed her fingers through her hair, pulling and pushing them back into place. “Your grandmother should have, could have, ruled in her own right as her ancestors had done for countless generations.” Ellyn stopped herself from fully verbalizing what was still whispered in some places. “My home did not bend the knee and yet I still carry my father’s shame in a way few others can understand.” What a burden it had been for him, fleeting moments of happiness upended by reminders everywhere the dragonfire that had destroyed their home and place in the world. “You are lucky so far, Ser Rogar. With age and battles of your own, maybe you will see if it is the Seven’s Blessings...or just that luck.” She spoke with a dry wryness, an attempt at lifting the weight from her words through the bitterness she felt.

It was better to not dwell on things that only raised her ire or that would threaten the uneasy peace between them. “This forest is like none I’ve ever seen.” Ellyn stared ahead, into the darkness of the forest, barely able to see beyond the initial treeline. It was spooky, unsettling, though she had refused to admit that to any but Septon Mal. “Some of my scouts had found bodies further into the forest, when we first made our way through here. Villagers refused to discuss it when we asked. Grumpkins, or bandits I wonder?”

“She could not, something many devout in the Faith would argue, but not for those reasons. None can lead without loyalty, for then you are master of nothing but yourself.” Rogar mused, an element of severity to his tone as there was movement among the trees, his hand drifting to the hand axe strapped to his waist with no sudden movement. Then the foliage rustled again, and he was convinced it was nothing but the activity of nocturnal creatures of the wilds. “These are mystical woods they say, where the royal stags of old first blessed the Stormlands with the majesty of the White Hart.” His tone did not rise as he discussed these matters of the past, clearly a man, for all his jovial nature, took his studies and history seriously. Even then, before he spoke again, a smirk turned his lips, and his vision flickered to her in full, “Although now I suppose the only Crowned Stag in these woods is me, and I do so hope you’re not planning to mount me on a wall.”

The north’s feelings about women leading was an unending annoyance. Ellyn had little love remaining for her homeland, but at least her sex wasn’t the reason she could never return. The sting of rejection still hurt, all this time later, and now she would return to them and surely they would justify themselves with her failure. Her companion’s jest landed while she wallowed in self-pity and doubt. The damnable smirk across his lips that she stared at with sad eyes a second too long before turning away from him, from the mystical forest, from whatever stories that had filled her head. This had done nothing to quiet her mind for sleep.

“No, not yet. Perhaps when you’ve matured more, you’d be worthy to mount.” She left him behind to finish his watch on his own. The sun would rise soon enough, another day too long spent in the saddle, and only foolish words to ring in her head.
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The Starry Sept had not offered her comfort in many years, and today it offered only grief, regret, and shame. Her eyes passed over the black marble walls, the stained glass windows of the seven pointed star, the altar where her kings had been anointed; where she had been wed. Now it was where her father would lie in vigil. It was as if someone had reached into her chest, wrapped a mailed fist around her heart, and squeezed. Ceryse was alone, or nearly alone, as the Silent Sisters tended to her father’s body. It wasn’t right for her to be here, but no one had barred her entry. She was still queen of the realm.

It had not even been a day since she had seen him last. Manfred had looked at her in such a way that all the earlier vitriol and anger melted, at least for a moment. The shame had come instantly, no longer a woman of middle years but a girl shirking in the shadow of her father’s disappointment; of his love for her even as he should reprimand her again. They had not apologized, had barely spoken a word to one another. His aged hand, wrinkled and stiff, had found hers and wrapped tenderly around it with a gentle squeeze. It had been enough. Now, Ceryse wished only she had said everything that had been in her head, floated across her tongue, only to be stopped by obstinate lips, unwilling or unable to swallow her pride enough. Had she even said she loved him, when they parted at his chamber doors? The scene played over and over in her head and she wished she had wine to wash it away.

It hadn’t been his fault, though she had blamed him and everyone else for the pain and shame she had been dealt by the Seven, by Maegor, by fate, by awful luck. Ceryse was already dressed in black, simple silk, no ostentatious adornments of fire or dragons. The brief rage-induced euphoria of the night after she had left her father had been dashed so quickly when she was disturbed from her slumber. She had never strayed before. Not for all the time that Maegor had done as he wished, not for any of the time that he had ignored her and her bed. It was impulsive, all of it, though men would whisper that she had been in her cups she had been of clear and sound mind. Everyone had a breaking point. And the Volantene man had been so eager to prove himself a worthy sin. She had been woken having barely slept, still entangled in sheets and limbs, to find that her world had shifted completely.

It was her fault, she would be blamed. They accused her of giving the dragons cause against her, now she had killed her father. She tried to find a way to defend herself against what she knew would be said but could only find herself agreeing with the invented charges. Self-loathing reinvented itself as rage renewed against all those who had wronged her, that had led to this exact moment. The Hightower flame burned brightly within her, perhaps it was not fire and blood, but it could burn all the same.

The gloved hands rested atop the star-shaped crystal pommel as the longsword touched the floor with a gentle clank, the man in armor and mail and robed with rainbows gave a deep breath, before a deeper sigh. The Grand Captain of the Warrior’s Sons, Ser Morgan, once of House Hightower, held a deep voice with a pained tone, “Fool man, may the Father judge you justly.”

Though it took him a moment, after a few prolonged moments, Ser Morgan tilted his shaved head in her direction, and spoke quietly, “Is it true? Did he and his forsaken foster daughter really threaten the High Septon with an army? I mean, I can believe the man who was once my father was an overly proud, overly brash, arrogant brute…but even that seems a step too far for him.”

There was another beat, but one far shorter, one that came only with a hair’s hesitation for him to add, “…you didn’t really…with the Volantene man, it’s just the things being said…”

“All of it is true.” She whispered it sharply, unsure if her voice would carry enough for him to hear her admission and regretted it instantly. “Our uncle,” presumptuous pride still to deny him his title, “had earned the threat.” Her relationships with her family had grown so strained, tattered and beyond repair. She lifted her head so her gaze could meet his cautious eyes. He didn’t really want to know the truth, did he? Such a highly honored man of the Warrior’s Sons, sworn sword of the Faith, but his judgment as a brother would wound her more. “My husband takes a second wife and I am to be judged for one small moment of…respite?” Her head shook softly. Servants had seen them together, it would not take long for the truth and then some to spread across all of Oldtown. “Haven’t I been punished enough?” She looked past him again, to where her father lay. “Damn him to seven hells for leaving us this way.”

The bitterness in her voice cracked. “What will you do now, Morgan? Family or Faith?” Her eyes were earnest, searching his face for the boy she had once known.

“Seven Hells, father…”

The Grand Captain of the Warrior’s Sons closed his eyes and sighed, once more, a level of frustration boiled by a hot undercurrent of anger, the leather of his gloves making a small sound as his grip upon the blade’s pommel and handle tightened. The longsword clanked against the ground once more, though this time, not as gently.

“The High Septon,” he said it, sharply, correcting her lapse of addressing the man who was also their uncle by his proper title, “is the voice of the Seven on our mortal plane. There is nothing the Seven could have done to warrant being threatened with an ARMY, Ce—your Grace.” He all but grunted her title, teeth clinched, not wanting to descend to the level of letting emotion get in the way of what was right. His nostrils flared, and his head shook, a small, quick, thing of a man in his thoughts, “no, Manfred Hightower always had an ego the height of the Hightower. And her…”

He gave a low, scornful, breath of a chuckle, “You well know her arrogance from how she was in her youth but from what I hear, every victory she has claimed, however dubiously claimed, likely belonging to Den Tarly or Thad Rowan, has only seemed to make her worse. Your husband may not even have the ego she does. At least he was exiled.”

Outward his breath came again, as if Ser Morgan was venting the heat inside him, to find an inner calm, “A sin in response to a sin is still a sin, your Grace. We will see to it that your husband is held to task for what he has done. You cannot degrade yourself, you are the Queen of Westeros now, and we will protect you.”

He nodded, firm, before his head turned to meet her eyes at the question of Faith or family, “You would ask me that? We both know Martyn is a fool who worshiped the flawed man who sired us. Martyn will simply go right along with whatever things that man promised that unnatural girl. And that being an army against the Faith?...I am the Grand Captain of the Warrior’s Sons, your Grace. I cannot abide such a thing.”

A rebuttal stuck at the tip of tongue, the boy was long gone. Worn away by a pious zeal that she would never understand. The hypocrisy was endless, but his confidence in himself and his beliefs did nothing except throw fuel back onto the fire. “How dare you. Vittoria has more than earned her reputation, exceeds what is spoken of her while lesser men try and claim her glory for themselves.” The woman she would have loved to call sister or even daughter was hers alone to judge, and only for the girl’s own benefit. Where was she now? Had she already heard that Manfred had died? She prayed the girl found a few more moments of peace.

The comparison to Maegor struck her like a slap across her face. Redness crept up her neck. Protection, from what? A husband who had abandoned her? “You are Morgan Hightower, always a fool-headed boy and now a fool-headed man who’s replaced his mind with blind faith.”

Before she could trade any further barbs, she caught movement from the corner of her eyes. No one else should be here. They shouldn’t even be here. Ceryse turned her head to see several septas behind her and to their sides. Her eyes narrowed, brow furrowed, the hair on the back of her neck bristled. “I am the rightful queen of Westeros, bonded by marriage to the dragon to whom the faith bent and anointed. You will do as your queen commands and escort me back to the High Tower. Now.” She commanded, but rage edged her words with something too much like desperation.

His head bobbed to the side in a side-ways half-nod, “Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I wrong her. I am just a man, fallible as any other, I do not claim to be anything else, but I do not threaten the Faith with an army…as you say she has done.“

In the wake of her growing anger, Ser Morgan stared at the dead man in the center of the great Sept, the man who once seemed as large to him as the Hightower. To the woman who was once his sister, he sounded only sad. “Vanity and pride are no weapons in the Light of the Faith. We are all equal in the eyes of the Seven, your Grace.”

The figure that appeared was taller than the Grand Captain though slightly thinner, his armor more plain with black boots, gray mail, gray plate, and gray half-helm with a woolen blue cloak. The only thing marking him any different than any other member of the City Watch was the blue lining of the breast plate, and the golden clasp fastening his cloak. His eyes were so dark they were pools of ink, matching the hair that fell nearly to his shoulders, and the full beard that covered his face.

He moved with a grace that seemed as uncomfortably natural as a storm on the distant horizon. The voice that followed was chilling, calm under any circumstance.

“She’s in the city, and we know how to get close to her. It’s time.” Black eyes moved with a preternatural calm to meet Ceryse, with a smile that seemed to haunt full lips half-hidden under mustache and beard the color of starless, moonless, night sky, “So good to have you with us, your Grace.”

Ser Morgan lifted his longsword, and followed the other man out, leaving only Ceryse and the Septas.
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LadyRunic The Laughing Raven

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Elayne Rivers| Lord Lucas, Jeyne, and Hanna Harroway

The great Targaryen keep was a bold structure, or it would be when it was finished. As of now? It was a nestling egg with a fledgling city that reminded Lord Lucas Harroway more of a ramble of desperate smallfolk than a proper city. He had traveled to Westeros and Essos in his young years. Having seen Oldtown, Braavos, Myr, Tyrosh, Lys, even White Harbor, and Sunspear. In those days it had been as his father's envoy and then later as one of the men who had fought for King Aegon when the kings bent their knees and offered up their crowns or, in the case of his land's former owner, offered up their lives. He scoffed at the sight out of the window which opened into his quarters. A militant set up with furnishing for business and not pleasure. His bones grumbled about it as he moved across the room to sit on the heavy chair behind the desk and study the three women before him. Girls. Two were of use, the third a bastard he should have had the decency to drown in the God's Eye himself.

"Jeyne," The shorter of his children gave a guilty look, it was good for the girl to recognize her failings. Though he thought perhaps those might be turned to advantages if he could secure her a marriage in the North. Not a wealthy land by any means, but it would suit if a better offer did not come along. Particularly if he could see of a Stark or Manderly would take her for a wife. "I understand you are eager to get yourself seen by the dragon riders of Essos, but I will have no more of this sulking about the city. You are a daughter of my House and a young noblewoman who has yet to find a husband." His hand thumped the table. "I could care less what you do once you have one, so long as it is only your husband you entertain, but you will keep yourself confined to the Keep until then!" His glower was a fierce thing and Jeyne flushed with what appeared to Lucas as shame. He did not care to or simply did not notice, the shaking fists of outraged clenched to her sides.

Lucas was a prideful man, proud of his house and children. He wished them to marry well for the glory of the Harroway name as their sister had and thus perhaps he missed just how willful his middle daughter was. She was wild, but still his daughter and by the logic of the Lord of Harrenhal she would abide his word.

He frowned at his smiling youngest daughter, she looked particularly pleased to be there. Her large eyes only underlined her beauty, she was to marry very well if his wife was successful. Until then, he was to keep looking for alternatives and for Jeyne's future husband. It would not do for his youngest to marry before her sister. If worst came to worst, there was a knight brother or cousin of the Arryns that surely wouldn't mind a wife. "Hanna, stop simpering. You are not a wench like that one." The pale thing that stood back a bit flinched and Hanna sniffed indignantly. "There was a raven from Harrenhal, your mother is going to the Arryns to see if she can marry you to a relative of theirs if not the heir of the Vale himself. For all that they may frown on your sister being a second wife, a link to the throne is a useful tool. If she cannot find a marriage there, she will find one amongst the Lannisters or Tyrells-"

"You would have us marry stewards who struggle to hold their lands?" Hanna's tone was disgusted as she looked aghast at him. Any glee at the thought of marrying an Arryn was gone at the mention of the Tyrell house.

"I would have offered you to the Hightowers had not Alys married Maegor as his wife. They will not consider it for the so-called insult. The Conqueror had two wives! Why not the Prince? He needs an heir and a spare! If he would take a third wife I would give you to him as well and expect a child within the year!" The Lord of Harrnehal glared at his two daughters, his form leaned over his desk as he jabbed a finger at the door. "Out! Jeyne, keep to your lessons and your games with needle and thread. Make yourself into a proper woman!"
---

Jeyne, unlike her sister who protested loudly merely nodded as she and Hanna retreated the heavy door closing behind them. There was nothing she could say. Jeyne knew her father, he would accept nothing but obedience from his children. Perhaps they could simper and smile and reason him into a new gown or a new dancing master but not a new marriage when he thought it best for the House. It was as their mother said, men only wanted one thing and it was disgusting how true it ran.

For her part, Hanna only argued for the sake of it. Both of the sisters knew it. While Jeyne wore dresses of fawn browns and greens that gave her free movement, Hanna wore lace trim, silks, and stains that held tight to her figure and led the eye while still being proper enough. Her large doe eyes and pert lips were painted with the barest touches of powders and dyes while Hanna kept her reddish brown hair in lavish coils. Jeyne could admire her sister for that, her own red hair deepening as she aged and let loose while at court to its wild curls and tumbles. Her mother could never stand it, and so kept hers in a long braid that was the constant work of her servants.

"He is insane!" Hanna declared, flushed and pouting. "Me! Marry a Tyrell?!"

"He said mother is speaking to the Arryns." Jeyne pointed out, desperate to slip away from her sister's tantrum. Yet she didn't dare, if she disobeyed her father’s direct order he would have her locked in her rooms only to trot out like the prized broodmare she was for potential buyers.

"I suppose that is well enough." More than well enough, Hanna had gone on about the young man for a solid month. Longer perhaps, it was luck that got Jeyne away from her ramblings. Wincing she let Hanna gush and quote poetry about the Heir to the Vale. The middle of Harroway's mind was on other things, things across the sea and wide plains. She wanted something out there. Adventures like Damon had! Not to be trapped in stone walls and prattle at about the Seven and how she should be more maidenly!

Her thoughts strayed to the Ardent Maiden, that rose-coated woman who could swing a sword and command men. It was a glorious place to be, yet if she dared tried for such herself? Her father would lock her away in Harrenhal and declare her mad. Worse he might hand her over to become a Silent Sister. Grimacing, she tried to think of other, less terrible fates. For even a silent sister would be better than Hanna detailing the number of children she would have with Artys Arryn.
---

The lord of Harroway House was in a temper. Again Jeyne had gone off without his leave to fuss about the city, and again Elayne and the Harroway men-at-arms had to find her among the street muck of King’s Landing impersonating a lad. Worse, she had been jovial with a knight and the Harroway name had been recognized again. That had put the Lord into a fine fit of temper, but the recent news of Ser Osric’s flight into the Blackwater and Elayne’s part in it, something the Qoherys bastard had hoped would go unnoticed with the involvement of Vaera Balaerys being so integral, had turned into something of great gossip for the rumor mill. This meant the original debate had gotten wildly out of hand and the true story would do nothing to soothe the lord’s temper.

She was expendable and had blackened his name by association as a Harroway servant, daughter, or whatever position would advance the family. It always seemed to depend on the mood of Lord and Lady Harroway. A good marriage would make her daughter, a bastard but accepted. A scandal would leave her as a servant. This seemed like one of those ‘servant’ times.

“I care not if you wish to ply your feminine wiles with men.” The Lord remained sitting behind the desk that was spread with trade agreements, finances, and correspondences. His hand had thumped the surface hard enough several times to send some of those parchments down to the floor covered with Myrrish carpets. “You are just a whore as your birth entailed, it would be impossible to expect aught else out of a bastard.” The words were harsh and stung the pale woman as she gripped her hands before her. His growl had settled from the raging roars he had given his two daughters. There were no hours-long lectures from this man, it would do no good for their image after all and he had business to do. So his lectures and furious temper were often direct and would hit the person right where it would sting the most. For Hanna that would be her potential marriage prospects, for Jeyne her wild and willful pride would imply she would ruin herself, for Elayne her status as the bastard of Harroway.

The man continued, “But I will not have it with the knights of Houses. Hedge knights if you wish, but Ser Osric is a potential suitor for my daughters. If he would agree to take you for wife, I would only encourage it or even give you to that Balaerys woman for a mistress if she wished you. You are a tool to further the future of this House if we can find any use for you, as repayment for spending so many years tending to your needs you ungrateful bitch.” His voice rose in fury as he slammed his fist against the table again. “Causing a scene on the streets and encouraging Jeyne’s outings! Speaking to your betters like the Balaerys! Will you dare spread your legs for the Targaryen Princes? The King? Hoping they will grant you favors to better yourself?! I tell you now, go right on Whore of Harroway. Go and ply your trade and I will see you in the brothels rather than return when your patrons tire of you! I am already drafting an apology to Ser Osric for the besmirch to his honor and offering you compensation! If he takes you for a wife, I’ll lose a potential match for Jeyne!”

That startled Elayne, that the lord would offer her hand in marriage to a knight? To the Ser who had tried to seduce her to his rooms and hardly the other way around? Her eyes widened and an already pale face only turned white. “My Lord, I did not-! I tell you truthfully, I could do nothing to stop Lady Vaera Balaerys nor did I plan the encounter. Ser Osric-”

Her words halted in her throat as the Lord of Harrenhal pushed himself to his feet, glaring at the woman across from him. He had never liked Elayne, never cared for the child forced on his wife by the Qoherys Lord of Harrenhal. It had been perhaps a blessing that the outlaw had slain him, saving Lord Lucas from disgrace for killing his lord or leaving him alive. A puzzle of thought that still ate at the man. He knew Catelyn hated him for not protecting her, for allowing the Rite of First Night to happen, and for this bastard child to exist. Lucas had been sworn to the Lord of Harrenhal at that time, a knight to the man, to have stopped it he would have forfeited his life and his honor. An honor he had lost while allowing it and having this wisp of a woman reminded him of that loss every time he saw her pale figure ghosting the halls. He would have left her for the Silent Sister had she not been damned useful with her younger halfsisters. A potential marriage was there too, to gain the loyalty of a knight or perhaps a merchant. If a Lord would have her? So be it. But for all that potential use she still woke the worst of anger in him. That reminder that he had been impotence when his wife had been taken. The gall of this girl to speak so to him! “I do not care if he did or did not. You blackened our name by simply existing. Mocking my wife’s honor by walking about our halls. Perhaps I should have sent you with Damon as he asked. He said the Volanteen lords would find you perhaps beautiful enough to engage in trade with us.”

Elayne couldn’t help a word of protest from her lips pointless as it might be. The thought of being a pawn for that man was far worse than marriage to Ser Osric. Even for the risk of rousing the ire of the Lord of Harrenhal, she had to plead her case for it not to be so. “Damon-! To the Vonlanteen-! My Lord, I beg you. I truly did not-” Her soft and desperate pleas were cut off by a wooden figure cracking across her cheek.

Stumbling back, stunned, Elayne, clapped a hand over the cut. The wooden dog clattered the floor, its head dented by the force of the throw. Lucas was red in the face as he glared at the woman. “Keep your mouth shut. That is Ser Damon Harroway, bastard.” His voice was a graveled growl as he stomped about the desk. “I do not give a damn what you think or say. Your words are just as often lies as your fathers were. You are a woman with a snake for a tongue and vile seeping from your lips. You will get out of my sight, and stay out of my sight. Make yourself a useful marriage or go find a ship to Lys where women like you can use that vile to snipe at each other.” Hauling the woman by her arm, he threw her from his rooms and past the guards. “If you are brought to my attention again, I shall see you charged for thieving. The loss of a hand or an ear will dull that tongue of yours.”

Elayne hit the opposite wall and stared as the door shut. Her lips were thin as she felt blood spill down her cheek. It was a small cut, the bruise would be worse. Nothing she could not hide with a few of Hanna’s powders though it would earn her a beating if she was found filching them from the girl’s stash. Just as it would earn Hanna one for having them. Though Lord Lucas would look the other way so long as he didn’t ‘know’, if he was forced to acknowledge that his daughter practiced such low-born techniques, as he called them, she would be facing a rage. There was simply no pleasing the man if you had breasts and a pretty face.

Gaining her feet the woman retreated to tend to herself and kept her tears at bay. Her cheek hurt like the Stranger kissed it. She had been hoping to stay out of the Lord’s sight while on their travels here since Catelyn had urged her to be taken as an attendant for their two daughters. That had been a feat enough, but for Jeyne to suddenly pull out that willful pride of hers and want to explore? Elayne could only pray to the Mother that the girl learned to keep her head on better and that avoiding her father’s wrath was worth her discomfort. If she had not found Jeyne, Elayne would be facing a Lord in a higher of rage. If she had gone with Ser Osric? The Lord of Harrenhal would surely have sent her with Damon, something the latter had whispered in his threats and promises.

She was a tool to the House. A tool that could be broken and needed no replacement. She knew the Lord of Harrenhal kept mistresses in Harrentown and about the God’s Eye. She knew that Ser Jon, his heir disapproved, and that Lady Catelyn looked the other way and spat her fury at the servants and demeaned her daughters and the women about her pointing out flaws that she held. Ducking into one of the niches, she slumped against the wall and wiped away the blood. The cut was closing and would heal in a day or so. It had merely been a sharp edge of the statue. Her tears were not stopping however, Elayne was not a warrior. Not a cold woman and the thought of the future that the Lord of Harroway and his ‘merchant’ son pressed upon her made the Rivers girl panic. She did not wish to be trapped in a marriage where her husband would see her only as a thing of beauty for as long as that lasted then tossed aside or the more likely option? Tossed to the whore houses in Volantis for a price. That was what Damon most likely had in mind. He would leave her there to gather information for him.

By the Seven, Elanye missed Elmo. The young man had been a breath of fresh air in Harrenhal, now sent to the Citadel he was gone and no longer a safe space she could duck into his rooms to ‘clean’ or attend to any of his needs to ‘help’ him. It had been a way to avoid the others in that last year, she would ‘help’ while he talked about his studies and discussed things with her. A rather one-sided conversation but one she missed dearly. They could not return to Harrenhal soon enough, at least there she could disappear into those melted towers and be forgotten!
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The Eyrie



Collab by @LadyRunic and @Vanq


The arrival of Lady Catelyn Harroway had sent the Eyrie into barely controlled chaos. Though her arrival had been planned for months, Artys was supposed to have returned from his progress already. It had been hotly debated between Hubert and Elys over whether to even extend such offers of marriage alliance to a House that had allowed their daughter to be taken as a second wife. Now, the key son, the heir to the Eyrie, was stranded in a distant city-state. It was not an auspicious start to such matters.

Hubert’s reasoning had eventually won out over Elys’s reticence after many weeks of the Crone praying in the sept, appealing to the Seven for guidance. Just as Maegor, imperfect and aberrant as he was, had been used as a tool for justice in righting the grievous sin of kinslaying, so too could the Arryns forge and form faith by joining with the Harroways. It was a precarious balance between crown and faith that they had balanced since rising to lordship. It was delicate and neither lord nor his sister were fully convinced it was the best option but correspondence had been sent and arrangements made.

Now they had welcomed the woman, they planned and plotted with their Maester and other advisors on the best path forward without Artys in the Vale. Surely he would return within the next few months and be pleased to meet his intended then. Their second son was a disgraceful lost cause, but Andar was a smart lad. There were talks with House Grafton of Gulltown over the need for more direct contact between the Eyrie and their city. Andar had proven himself a talented diplomat and mercantile minded in his handling of affairs with the sworn house. Lord Grafton had been effusive in his praise for the boy even as Lord Hubert sought to exert greater direct control over the port city.

All of which had been shared in correspondence. They thought young Hanna would make a lovely match for Artys by the way in which her mother wrote of her and of what they had heard from their own courtiers. Osric was of course of marrying age as well, though they worried that he had made an undesirable reputation for himself. Hubert and Osric had not seen eye to eye ever, and his father’s second wife had coddled the boy too much. At least he had worth in being a great warrior. Lady Elys thought he would do better in service as a white cloak - eventually. Hubert had finally gained agreement that if the Harroways were insistent, it was a sign from the Seven and they should not dispute it.

The family gathered with Lady Catelyn in a small solar following an unusually luxurious feast. Spring had provided a bounty and much of the castle was glad for the visitor in giving a reason to imbibe at last. Hubert sat behind his desk, strong and aged wood. It had served countless kings before him. He ran a hand over the wood, in thought. “While I hope we come to happy understanding between your family and mine, you are of course welcome here as long as you wish. My lady-wife would be most happy to have you accompany her tomorrow.”

Elys spoke up, seated across from Hubert and next to Catelyn, wrinkled hands folded together on her lap. “The Eyrie still requires much work to restore it after winter, but we hope you’ve found it as beautiful as we do, in your short time here.” The crone did not offer a smile though there was a warmth to her words. “It is a shame that Artys has been delayed in returning. It has been some time since he would have passed through your lands on his progress, but surely he made a good impression at the time.”

The Lady of Harrenhal was a small, stout woman but she held herself with pride. She was after all the mother of a Princess and the wife of a wealthy lord. With a son and two daughters already, she had done her due diligence and perhaps would do so again. This trip had been considered foolish by the Maester as he had warned her that she might be with child, but both Jeyne and Hanna were of age. They needed husbands and soon.

"It is lovely and refreshing after the Riverlands." Catelyn had been borne to those lands, having been a Bracken before her marriage, but she had to admit the soaring mountains of the Vale made her appreciate firm land. "I can imagine that one loses track of time seeing the wonders outside of Westeros, my Lord's second son being a rather renowned sailor after all. Damon has lavished our halls with delights." There, they could see to that as well. For all Damon was a troublesome lad, he had his uses.

"Your son left quite the impression on my daughters, Hanna was quite put out that her father could not pull an entire tourney out of his cloak for the occasion. Really, My Lord, your house has fine cooks and finer children. I could hardly be made more welcome or delighted by such auster company." Catelyn smiled at the Arryns, she truly hoped they could come to an agreement for one child, Jeyne could find a suitor at court perhaps. Another Prince? There were still two younger sons.

Hubert and Elys shared a look. They had never been close as children, but the past few years had brought them together. Lord Arryn turned his attention back to his guest. He considered himself the father of this family, not only of his sons, but of all his siblings and their children wherever they may be. He too would be father to whatever woman his son wed. He would guide them with the Seven’s light. Particularly with some of the…less desirable elements within House Harroway. Not a thing to discuss with the woman before him, of course. “Yes - Damon. We’ve heard tales of his adventures even here, or perhaps it was from coming ashore in Gulltown.” He shrugged his shoulders casually, his brother Osric and Damon would seemingly be of a mind and he was glad that the knight had only seen fit to carry on in King’s Landing rather than take off across the sea.

“Artys may be young but he has a sharp mind and a decent sword arm. When he returns we shall celebrate with a tourney, down in the valley.” Elys prodded, a celebration for a return and celebration of a betrothal. No need to wait for such things either, better to be wed, bed and done with it. Life had shown her how swiftly it could all be swept away. The old lady patted absently at the arms of her chair, her head nodding along as she spoke, in agreement with herself. Yes, if they came to an agreement here and now it would be best to begin the arrangements most quickly. The Crone had shown her the wisdom of such a match and she would do whatever she could to clear the way for it.

"A tournament you say?" Catelyn seemed interested. Hanna would find it to her liking to be wed at a tournament she could claim was in honor of her joining with House Arryn. "My daughter, Hanna, is a fine girl of figure and grace with skill enough at being a lady I could only wish I had possessed such in my youth." To be more to the point, the Lady of Harrenhal wished she had Hanna's skeptical mind and willingness to do her duty for the family. She had argued but had done as her father, Lord Bracken, had bid. All Catelyn had gotten out of the deal was a bastard spawn and a husband who held her in contempt.

But this was not the time to dwell in those matters, rather she needed to secure this marriage as promised and do it fast. "My daughters all know their duty. An heir and a spare at the minimum, and they will see to it until the task is done. If I may be blunt, Lady- Lord- Arryn, you know the realities noble women are faced with. We are to have heirs and spares then accept our husband's will." The words were more towards the Lady of the house. "My daughters will not begrudge a husband and will do as they must for the family they are wed into."

Lady Elys nodded softly, it was rare for her to share much of the trials the Seven had seen fit to test her with. “Yes, Lady Catelyn, it is true. We are tested time and again, but we must look to the Mother. I assure you that your daughter would be well supported in seeking her guidance.”

The Lord of the Eyrie nodded, well aware of women’s troubles but not keen to dwell on such matters for long. “There are women here to aid her in such things. And with my own wife having given me six healthy sons, Artys has been raised to see how men should treat their wives.” It was no love match between him and his wife, but she respected him and he cared for her, each in their own way.

"Though your mention of Damon in Gulltown has recalled to me." Her husband might disagree with this move but it would put the wretched girl out of her sight and if Hanna kept a close hand on the bastard all the better. "We have among our numbers a woman of fair beauty and mild temperament. Of noble get and sired by Valyrian blood," Catelyn edged her words about acknowledging that bastard born of her womb. The child she had borne under a hope that had turned to ash. "Your handsome knight, Ser Osric? Perhaps he would wish a comely wife. Marriage often can settle a man especially when it is to a comely woman." And the Riverlander hated that fact.

It was a struggle to keep his face flat, to keep his brows from furrowing up, knit together, as they wished to at the mention of his brother. A third son, blessed indeed by the Warrior, but cursed with a wildness that refused to be tamed. “A good woman would perhaps be able to temper my brother.” His fingers flexed at the discomfort and he looked to his sister for her aid.

Lady Arryn’s attention remained firmly on their guest however, a thoughtful look to her face as she blinked slowly. “Our brother has all the valor of the Warrior, of course.” She spoke carefully. “But he has less to offer a girl of any standing.” Whispers of the Valyrian-blooded bastard had of course reached them over the years; court gossip spread faster than ravens at times. “We think he may prove himself in service to the crown, as a Kingsguard.” Let that settle it if there remained any concern on if the Arryns swore themselves to the Faith or to the Dragons.

Hubert picked up from his sister, while the last thought was barely off her tongue. “And even if not, I’m afraid that anywhere he would settle would not be of a standard for such a woman. When we come together to celebrate Artys’s return, perhaps the woman could attend and meet Andar instead. He’s a smart boy with a good head, less boisterous than my eldest, but I intend to pass him our family’s stake in Gulltown.” Nevermind their plans to expand their reach in the city, plans that had not yet come to fruition and that he would not dangle as a promise of wealth.

“Perhaps, the young woman would be more than willing for such a match and your son will have a fair wife. If he finds it acceptable, then by all means my lord husband will most certainly agree to the match,” The Lady of Harrenhal nodded in thought though how Osric would fare as whitecloak was something that she would not mention to this family. The man was known to be a rake among the women of Westeros and the vow to forgo any wives or children would be interesting. Of course, that any man had kept it was undoubtedly due to the peerless Visenya. The woman was as cold as the North and just as imperious as any of her House has right to be. It would take a very stupid man to stand up to her when he was in the err of breaking his vows. “I must admit it will do good to less the number of family about Harrenhal, my son Horas will take a wife in a few years and it is with luck that I suspect Damon will be welcomed home with a third nephew. Pile the numerous cousins of my Lord husband on top of us and I suspect that Harren the Black built the castle so big just to hold his family while enjoying some silence nevermind dragons!” Perhaps it was bordering the line to speak so, but Catelyn no longer wished to speak on Elayne Rivers, that bastard girl who shone with a beauty that she could not deny. Well! Deny it she would not! She would make sure the girl was separated from Harrenhal and forgotten!

The uncomfortable topic of Osric fell away and both Arryns took a long breath of relief. “We know too well how crowded it can be when a family has such luck to have so many children.” Hubert offered in agreement, though he would not speak of it so bluntly. The same hands that laid Harrenhal to ruin had restored order in the Vale. Such interesting tools of the Seven, though now was not the time for such musings.

“And sometimes, family who has long left returns to the fold.” Elys offered with a wry tug at lips. She had never thought to return to her family, and certainly not to see them raised to Lords of the Eyrie. One could never guess at the will of the Seven. “Well, let us begin plans for this celebration so that we may have many more to come in joining our families.” Her fingers tapped lightly at the arms of her chair. With all the unrest that brewed, with Prince Maegor across the sea in exile for some time still, the aged lady was pleased that in this instance, it seemed unlikely for the Eyrie to be graced again with dragons. But she kept the thought to herself, it would be of no benefit to air her distaste. “Notice should be sent soon, I expect that it will only be a few months before we are welcoming Artys back.” And Sharra, though the Maiden seemed cursed to always lurk in the shadows of her siblings.

“That is, if all is agreed to at least move forward with agreement between us, Lady Catelyn. Our Maester will be pleased to assist you with anything you need in sending word back to Harrenhal.” Hubert offered firmly.

“A raven to my husband and celebratory plans shall be underway.” Lady Catelyn Harroway smiled and nodded in agreement. This was going extremely well, especially if she could see Hanna wed to a Paramount Lord and that useless wretch scattered to the leavings of this great family with a single cast. She had not liked how the people of Harrenhal looked to her, how Damon seemed to let his gaze linger on the girl. “He will be most delighted.”
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Dragonstone






After bathing the Rahl girls pulled out their most somber outfits. Pheynix brushed Cassiopeia's hair, getting all the snarls out. "Nixie, that means that Viserys is King now, right?" Cassie asked her older sister as Pheynix smoothed a small amount of sweet oil on the ends of Cassie's hair.

Wiping her hands on a hand cloth Pheynix quirked an eyebrow at her baby sister. "What do you think rūs mandia1?" Setting down the cloth Pheynix swept her hair over her shoulder and began to comb it in long smooth strokes. Her raven tresses puddled in her lap cool from the bath and still slightly damp but not dripping. Her hands moved swiftly as she tightly braided her hair in a complex twisted half up half down. The braid was wrapped in a tight twisting weave around her head like a crown while leaving half of her hair down to float and wave down to her knees.

Cassie’s dress was charcoal gray bordered in black lace along the skirt, and high collar as well as peeking out of the cuffs on her wrists. The charcoal gray silk shimmered with buttons of jet down the left side stopping at her hip. The skirt fell in a graceful column to touch the floor. Nix, while working on her own hair decided that she would also braid her baby sister’s hair.

Crossing the room in bare feet in just her shift Nix stepped up to her sister who was fully dressed and sitting looking out the window. “Ivestragī issa gaomagon aōha ōghar2.”

Hen rhinka3.” Cassie smiled and nodded quickly, responding likewise in Valyrian. The girls had been speaking Valyrian well before any other language, their accents were melodic, liquid and rapid.

Hands flew through deep mahogany tresses and braided Cassie’s hair into a similar coronet on her head, the difference being that Nix put all of Cassie’s hair up leaving only a few strands on the side of her face to frame it. Satisfied with her work Nix stepped back and looked her baby sister over. “Ao jāhor gaomagon. Māzigon se dohaeragon issa4.” Cassie nodded and helped Nix with her more complicated outfit.

The dress was a deep purple that was so dark it was almost black. Fitted tightly in the sleeves to just above the elbow where embroidery in silver thread looped and curled in a never ending, never beginning pattern around the sleeve that rippled down in loose folds to cover the hands, if placed at the sides. The neckline was a gentle modest curve with embroidery of shooting stars that seemed to chase each other around it. Tiny seed pearls made the silver thread shimmer in the slightest light.

Snuggly fit to the waist the dress in front starting just under the bust was an extensive painstaking representation of House of Rahl’s standard. The two rampant birds of prey under eight stars that were rendered in embroidery and small black seed pearls and amethysts. From the waist down the deep purple skirt flowed freely to the floor, the stars that chased each other embroidered on the neckline were echoed at that hem.

The girls fully dressed finally made their way hand in hand with soft steps and the smooth rustle of silk. Neither spoke as if the sad hush of the place deterred much more noise than the soft whisper of fabric, the muffled step of one who would tread lightly and or the hushed rush of breath. The still sadness was like a living thing that no one dared to disturb. At least none but the Royal family.



Grief threatened to subsume her into nothingness. Visenya had urged her to have strength, but had fled the island on Vhagar before night had fully fallen. The widowed queen stood atop the Sea Dragon Tower and looked down. The sounds of the ocean crashing into, battering, the island felt as if it called to her. She was Velaryon, her family was of the sea, not of the sky, not of dragons or of fire and blood. Aenys was gone. Aegon ripped from her. Beneath the many layers of grief, fear grew.

The sea sang to her, urging her to be embraced and consoled within its violence. In the distance, circling the island, she could hear Quicksilver begin her mourning anew. Slender fingers curled against a stone parapet, her knuckles scraped and bloodied in the effort to stay standing. Alyssa could only see danger ahead, and her remaining children would need her. She stepped back from the edge, away from the sweetness promised to her within the waves.

A voice broke through, and she realized, belatedly, that it had been addressing her for some time.

“Yes?” Her voice quivered, unsteady, weak. The queen turned, her black gown billowing and swelling around her, dwarfing her into a void. Viserys stood before her, dressed in black, pale but blotched with red. She gasped at seeing the boy, and a fleeting wish that they could flee rather than lay the too-heavy crown on his head crossed her mind.

The prince sniffled, rubbed at his face, and then straightened awkwardly. “A ship from Volantis arrived this morning.” The boy’s frown deepened. “And the septon says everything will be ready for this evening.” His eyes closed, tears spilled out regardless. “For father’s funeral.” He breathed deeply, exhaled roughly. “When I am crowned -”

His mother cut him off. “Not now. Let us get through this day first.” Now was not the time for visitors yet they were here, and they were a strong family to keep in good graces from the free cities. “We must present a strong face to our guests. Go and greet them, even in our grief.” She knelt down to her boy, her hands gently caressed his shoulders. “Even in our grief we cannot look weak.”



The boy who would be king sat in the Great Hall, word had been sent that he would greet the Volantene visitors. Alyssa could not stomach it, though he wanted his mother. Needed her. He had sent her back to her chambers with a septon so the maester could see to her. He would welcome his guests with Edwell’s assistance, and then finish preparing for the funeral. His body shook with the effort of keeping his grief at bay. He steadied himself as the great red doors opened in the dragon’s maw and his guests were guided in.

Sesīr isse mundagon jēdi, issa sȳz naejot ūndegon ao. Ipradagon se mōzugon kostilus.5” He greeted the guests with as much formality as he could muster, servants moved around him to guide them to their seats and offered refreshments.

Cassie had been looking around while holding onto Nix's hand loosely as they wandered into the great hall. She smiled at the mythical and real beasts that graced the castle. Were times happier then she would have employed her cousins to help her seek out each wee beastie carved into the stone. Blinking Cassie looked at Viserys who had spoken in their mother tongue. She found his accent charming. Her family used the mother tongue constantly and she supposed that if she had lived here she might have that same accent.

Watching her sister Cassie blush, Nix smiled to herself and answered Viserys. "Kempa iksos se pāletilla, īlon shifang.6 How kind of you to greet us. I am Pheynix Rahl and this is my sister Cassiopeia Rahl. My two brothers have yet to join us so their introductions will have to wait." She smiled at Viserys.

Melyssanthi came around the corner at the introduction and moved to her brother's side. "Greetings Rahl cousins. I am the second oldest of the late King Aenys, Melyssanthi. Our eldest sister, Rhaena, is currently in the Westerlands but shall be returning shortly." She noted the Rahl girls had dressed to reflect the somber occasion and noted that they were the finest quality. Simple in design as to not detract from the girls themselves. "Of course you are welcome to join us for the funeral in the evening."

Nix inclined her head. "We are honored to be included."

Cassie sat down near Viserys. "I like the decorative beasts that grace the architecture. How many are there?" She asked him a pointed question to get him talking.

Neither of the Rahl brothers had been very interested to bathe. Afterall, they had washed after training but after the water had been prepared, both couldn't deny that not having salt within the liquid was much better. But, because of the delay neither was ready to be presented at the time of their sisters. Castor had undressed and redressed as he was quite happy with the outfit he had picked out upon the ship but he did change his brother's attire. He kept the Rahl colors prominent but the black was far more pronounced and a deep satin that almost seemed to an abyss. It truly reflected the shock of the white blonde hair and was far more fitting for the situation at hand.

Dressed and ready, the two brothers were led to the Great Hall where Castor could hear his sister already. Both Rahl's stopped at the entrance as they were introduced and gave similar bows before going to stand by their sisters.

It took a moment, once the pleasantries were out of the way, to make sense of the question being asked of him by the girl who had introduced herself as Cassiopeia. The boy’s soft violet eyes, reddened still, ticked up in a questioning look before he glanced towards his sister. He caught himself thinking that she was rather pretty, half a heartbeat later and he knew he had left her question lingering for too long unanswered. Viserys shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Too many too count.” He spoke softly, his head dropped down, eyes staring at his hands that fidgeted in his lap. An imagined slap to the back of his head brought him back into proper posture. Aegon’s reprimands on being too meek echoed. “They are everywhere here, this castle was built with fire and magic, you know.” He did love this story, where others found the castle foreboding or grim, he had been intrigued by it and a small child, and caught between the eldest and youngest of the children, he had often explored its halls and crevices on his own. “Some of them look like they could break free of the stone.” He used to imagine that too - unlocking long buried magic and bringing forth a new line of dragons to claim and bond. Foolish musings of a childish imagination.

He picked at the skin around his nails as he looked over the brothers that had joined them. A fleeting moment of distraction, he could feel the weight of it already. Guilt. Viserys ignored it to look back into Cassie’s eyes and make as bold an offer as he could muster. “After my father’s funeral, I could show you as many of them as I know about.” He tried to offer a small smile and hoped that it succeeded though he felt an uncomfortable warmth at his neck, a flush across his cheeks. He hoped his sister had not overheard him. He did not know why it felt embarrassing, but he was certain he would be mortified if she had heard.

Putting on what she liked to call the "big baby girl eyes" Cassie looked over at Nix who was struggling not to grin and who nodded her head. "I would love to see them. Maybe we can discover a few more you have not found? Oh and I want to hear about how this place was built." Cassie's eyes sparkled with the excitement that dangled before them.

Sharp eyes watched the interaction between Cassiopeia and Viserys. Nix gave Castor the side eye and bumped his hand, tipping her head toward the two youngsters when she caught his eye. She made the movement so subtle that it was almost undetectable by anyone not aware of her mannerisms. They had come to Westeros in the disguise of trade but really looking for spouses for all their siblings and cousins, save for the little ones. From Aster down to Andromaeda, which frankly was a lot. They were going on a grand tour around Westeros to all the noble houses. They had a large list that would take them some time to work through.

Looking back over at Melyssanthi the question was addressed. "Perhaps you and your mother could help me with the list I have for our travels at that same time tomorrow, your Highness."

Blinking Melyssanthi focused on Nix since she had been staring at Castor without realizing it. "But of course. What sort of list?" Melyssanthi was intrigued by the mention since she had not helped plan Rhaena and Aegon's tour. Her opinions were not qualified at the time. But right now a virtual stranger was asking her opinions.

The reprieve was brief for Viserys, and he suspected for his sister as well. He watched her from the other side as she stepped into a role he had only ever seen Rhaena play. He wished he had her confidence to act, rather than the furtive attempts he kept at with the girl at his side. He pushed away his plate at last. The food on it was largely untouched, a few bites here and there, but the Prince’s stomach had turned with each swallow. It wouldn’t be right to be sick in front of his guests. He was, though, pleased to think that he would have her by his side following the funeral and feast. The boy had nodded enthusiastically to her offer, there were many stories he could tell her about Dragonstone.

He wasn’t sure how much time he had allowed to pass when he saw guards at the door, speaking to someone from outside it. Viserys knew what it meant though, that it was time for him and his sister to finish preparing themselves. No more time for the luxury of forgetting that their father was gone. The young prince grimaced and gave swift apology to Cassie for it. “I have to go now.” He paused, his face contorted in a way that too clearly showed his struggle to find the words. “You, I hope…I will see you later.”

Viserys dropped his eyes, afraid for the girl to see the tears that again threatened to spill over. He did not look back to see if Melyssanthi followed after him. He let the castellan guide him away, back to his rooms, no words exchanged though he felt the man’s heavy eyes on him.


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Dragonstone

Collab with @Vanq, @Ezekiel, @LadyRunic, @Almalthia & @Apoalo


The family and guests had gathered on a wind blustered plateau of Dragonmont. Dragonstone was visible in the distance, its black stone dragons foreboding, but fitting for the somber occasion. Just five years ago, they had all gathered here in fiery farewell to Aegon, the Conqueror. But there were those of blood who were missing from the somber affair. Alyssa was torn between her grief and fear that had only steadily grown when Visenya had not yet returned. What could delay her - more tragedy or malicious intent? Moment to moment it mattered nothing at all in the face of her tragedy, and then threatened everything she had left. She had not shared her decision with Melyssanthi or Viserys, but quietly that afternoon she had begun arrangements to be able to flee Dragonstone quickly, if necessary.

Half a dozen dragons circled overhead, their cries and bellows began each time with Quicksilver, with Fyresong and Dreamfyre close behind. Young dragons followed behind them, some hatched less than a decade ago. All seemed to grieve in unison with their blood, even those that had not yet been bonded. Viserys stared up at them, lost in the thought of the great need he now bore to claim one. Quicksilver to carry on his father’s legacy, or perhaps one of the younger ones to grow in might and power together. Though his youngest siblings held claim to the two youngest dragons that circled above them, the egg placed in his cradle had never hatched. His destiny still waited for him to take it.

Four dragons descended at last, without Balerion or Vhagar to dwarf them, they were formidable even as they delicately landed surrounding the pyre. Quicksilver, Fyresong, Vermithor, and Silverwing. Viserys waited, his eyes still skyward and watching Dreamfyre. His eldest sister’s dragon. The pale blue and silver dragon stood out against the dusk sky, but she showed no sign of landing. She circled, higher and higher, leaving the other flying dragon behind with a scream that pierced the quietness that had fallen. And then she was gone, west towards the bay. West towards the mainland. He wondered if she would, at last, fly until she found her rider.

Melyssanthi felt the confusion and loneliness in that one cry from Dreamfyre as she searched for Rhaena. Melyssanthi was lonely as well. Heart sore and gritty-eyed she met the blue eyes of Fyresong who gave a low rolling purr to comfort his mistress. She smiled weakly.

She would take flight after the funeral. Melyssanthi had decided that enough was enough and she was getting Rhaena back. Not to mention reuniting Dreamfyre with her mistress. While the Rahl family was a pleasant diversion her issues with not having Rhaena around sat heavily in her mind. They had never been apart this long and her thoughts turned ever toward her best friend and sister.

Alyssa placed her hand on her son’s black-clad shoulder. He was too small, built like his father, his grandmother. “We must begin.” Her eyes looked down at the boy, then past him, the pyre surrounded by dragons. Aenys looked so small as well, wrapped in the white funeral shroud, the outline of his body just barely visible. She ached for him, for more time with him, to return the happy times before he was king and they were young and reckless. To see the light shine in his eyes with mischievous glee. The way he would run his thumb along her cheek and jawline with tenderness. The queen was lost in her thoughts and brought back to her senses only by a man on horseback riding full force towards them.

“Balerion and Vhagar have been sighted, flying fast from the east.” The man dismounted before his horse had fully stopped. He stumbled forward with his message, out of breath, his horse laboring beside him.

Melyssanthi’s heartbeat shuddered for a moment. Maegor and Visenya. I feel uneasy. Her thoughts swirled with possible situations that ranged from unlikely-Maegor sobbing at the pyre of the brother that he felt ultimately banished him-to the more likely-Maegor petitioning to be Viserys' Regent. Somehow Melyssanthi felt that neither of those would be options that her Uncle entertained. She could not say why but the feeling of something looming. Something heavy and dark, like a large fat spider waiting in her web.

Edwell Celtigar, castellan, stepped forward and spoke a command in a tone that was clear - it was a request that he would not hear denied by any other present - “We will begin when Queen Dowager Visenya and Prince Maegor have arrived.”

The words of warning and stalling proved prophetic in the imminence of their nature. No sooner had the words slipped from the steadfast Celtigar than any note of his proclamation was swept away by a sound louder and more destructive than the crash of thunder.

The wharbling, reverberating cry of Balerion resounded from the sky above, crashing down onto the obsidian-like rock of Dragonstone and reverberating across island and sea. The vast creature was a storm all of his own, the beat of his wings, even when gliding, casting off currents of air. The smaller dragons, many formidable beasts in their own right, raised up to regard the sky from which they had only descended moments prior, but none offered a counter challenge. The Black Dread had returned to his roost. With a surge, and still some way from the island, the sweep of the monstrous creature’s wings broke from above the cloud cover, followed shortly by a smaller, but still vast, secondary shape. Already the distance between them and those on the ground was reducing at an expedient rate, and those narrow shapes in the distance were soon giving way to the colossal forms of the Conquering dragons.

Those vast wings tucked close, and both dragons dove towards Dragonmont. Late in the flight, Balerion disappeared from view by the scope of the cliffs, before the great beast appeared to rise up, as if from the Sea, casting the funeral procession into shadow as the shape of his from rose over them, the banners of House Targaryen sent into rustling flight by the sweep of air in his wake. When Balerion touched down, even in the controlled glide, the ground shook beneath him, and the great beast let out another roar, this one echoed by the other dragons, before his neck swept low to allow the descent of his riders. Three individuals were atop the monster’s back, at the fore was the Prince himself, already unbound from the chords of his saddle, and perhaps even tighter, the grip of the woman behind him. Armsmen from among the retinue of the Dragonstone household approached to assist in the dismount, while Maegor leapt clear of the saddle without aid, he soon directed them to aid Alys and Tyanna, not halting himself to do so as he strode forwards, towards the funerary pyre.

He had no words, not of comfort or triumph, for the assembled family, instead he passed them all, arriving at the foot of the pyre. Blackfyre, the sword his brother had once granted to him, then attempted to take away, was pulled free of his belt, the point placed towards the ground, as the towering form on Maegor knelt, his eyes on the body that had been a half-brother, half loved.

Visenya was barely slower than her son in dismounting, Vhaegar coming to a similarly well executed halt a little beyond Balerion, but she did not follow her son, instead waiting at the rear of the funerary procession, her hands, and what was held between them, hidden once again by the sweep of her cloak around her armoured form.

The aerial maneuvers of The Black Dread were inspiring, whether terror inspiring or awe inspiring or both depended on the staunch will of the person. Pheynix found the sight riveting. While she was of the mind that she did not need a dragon to be deadly she could admit that they were beautiful creatures. As Balerion alighted and Maegor with, not one but two women climbed down the dragon. One his second wife Alys and the other…

Pheynix straightened as she recognized the second woman. Tyanna of Pentos. The viper was thought to have poisoned her competition in the brothel she resided in. Not to mention the rumors of sorcery that hung around her like a choking cloud of perfume. She was not the most beautiful woman but it was said that her voice was bewitching. Pheynix, while never having been intimate with anyone, had older brothers that had; and explanations from a frank and no nonsense woman like her mother meant that Pheynix knew what men and women did together. Her mother had explained it in detail, but had also explained that while men did not have to be chaste the expectation was that women came to marriage untouched. It was a double standard that few rose above. Still it was shocking to see a whore at a funeral.

Alys was delighted to feel Dragonstone beneath her feet. Her hands had clasped tightly to her husband and Prince on the flight from Essos. If he had been a lesser man she would have left bruises, flight was wonderful she would say. It was delightful, a true show of Targaryen power and the power of their dragons. Privately she hated the lurching and the sickening glimpses of what laid far below. So very, very far below. Moving to stand to the right and a step back from the Dowager Queen Visenya. Her eyes watching the body of her former King, a pang hit her. He was so young to have been taken, and so young to have left such a mess behind him. Dressed in the dark reds and blacks, she folded her hands before her wind ravaged skirt. No veil that covered her tumble of curls would have survived and with that in mind she had ignored the bit of fashion. Bowing her head to the pyre that would be consumed in flame, she kept the smile from forming on her lips. The King is dead, long live the King.

Tyanna followed after Alys, her head held high for she cared little for the last rites attended to here. She was an outsider and she would not cower behind it. The courtesan of Pentos had not enjoyed travel on dragonback, nor had it seemed like the beast much cared for her. There was an ill ease of acceptance borne only out of Maegor having accepted her behind him. She stayed by the woman’s side, the heaviness of her black gown, buffeted by the wind on the plateau, but nearly as unmoving as her expression. Dark eyes took in the scene before her, never had she seen so many dragons in one place. Calm facade or not, she felt nearly gleeful within. She momentarily caught Visenya’s eyes, narrowed her own, then every so slightly dipped her head. That woman would be something to contend with, eventually. For now, it was enough to offer her support to the princess, though she doubted the sincerity of the grief displayed. Tyanna admired her ease at slipping into the role, the deftness of the charade. She gave Alys’s elbow a reassuring squeeze and turned her attention to the family that grieved sincerely.

Narrowing eyes at her Uncle's flashy entrance, Melyssanthi looked past him to the two women he had brought with him. Never one to be called bright, it looked like Alys had decided not to tie her hair up or cover it in some way so as to not look like a nest of brambles on her head after riding Balerion. Her skirt completed the fashion statement of carelessness in her appearance. Aunt Ceryse would never have come looking like a tangled mess.

Melyssanthi's attention was caught by her striding Uncle. She watched as he knelt at her father’s unlit pyre Blackfyre drawn and point resting on the ground. She looked back toward her Great Aunt Visenya and stretched out a hand in familial love, in appeal to have her close.

Some had called her cold, but Visenya had never been such. Her life raged and broiled with the heat of Dragon flame, she did not allow petty affections to stray her from her path, but that was a different matter entirely. One hand moved from the concealment of her cloak, taking the hand of her great-niece. Her eyes moving from the procession instead to the young woman who sought her touch. To Visenya, two separate events were to occur this evening, and for one of those, she could provide her family some comfort.

At the other end of the procession, alone but for the presence of his brother and his pyre, Maegor remained in place. How long a time passed meant little for him, for the kneeling figure of the Prince wrestled with the force of the moment. They had never been alike, at many times they had fought and been to each other as enemies would be, but that had not changed that they were family. Some part of Maegor considered that perhaps his more recent bond with the Dragonlord ruler of Volantis had some basis in the bond that could have been between himself and Aenys. Vhandyr was no doubt a greater man in deed and act than Aenys, but in many ways they were more alike to each other than they were to Maegor. It was those thoughts that ultimately enshrined the plan that his mother had suggested to him. The weakness of compassion could be forgiven in those that still had the strength to act, and while Volantis may have been blessed with one who could, Westeros had not.

The Prince stood, his hand on the pommel of his royal blade, casting his eyes now directly to his brother atop the pyre, who had died while he was in exile. The words were barely a whisper when Maegor spoke them, but they were loud enough.

“Balerion, to me.”

The great vast form of Balerion unfurled from his place at the rear of the ceremony. The process was as long as any in the history of burials on Dragonstone, the full conclave of the Targaryen household extended back from the pyre of Aenys, but even still, Balerion’s vast neck extended over all of them, until it reach to a fraction behind the Targaryen Prince. Maegor lifted one hand, placing it to the side of Balerion’s snout. A tender moment between rider and dragon, a bond which the Prince had with no other being.

His next words were louder, no element of subterfuge, as they carried over those present.

”Dracarys.”

The heat roared beside Maegor, a wash of fire and destruction that would give even his other kin pause, so close as he was to the adjacent maw of the Black Dread. Maegor, however, did not flinch. He allowed the pain to wash over him, the searing of his skin and the heat beneath his armour as Balerion bathed his brother in flame. The wood caught immediately, no slight spattering of sea spray could even delay the fire of Balerion. Aenys form was obscured in an instant, the same flame that had forged the Iron Throne utterly consuming both Pyre and King in a cascade of inferno.

“And so it is finished.” Maegor spoke, as much to Balerion as any other present, before the dragon retracted his long neck, residing once again at the base of the slow rise up to the still burning pyre.

Hot silent tears rolled down the stoic face of Melyssanthi who held her Great Aunt's hand in solidarity. She had been wrong to blame her. Melyssanthi had called her to help and Visenya had done what she was able to. Fate had been cruel and taken her father as well as her brother. She was perversely glad that her Uncle had usurped her brother's duty to burn their father's body. Rubbing in the fact that Viserys did not have a dragon would have been overkill and with Rhaena not present it would have fallen to possibly Melyssanthi. None of the dragons would have listened to Viserys.

Balerion did not frighten Cassiopeia. No. Dragons had always fascinated her. So to see so many all together was fascinating. She saw the assembled people flinch as a great gout of dragon fire poured from the maw of The Black Dread and she stared entranced at the flames.

You could almost feel the grief pouring off the family as the once Aenys of House Targaryen, the First of His Name. King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men. Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm burned. So much tragedy has struck the Targaryen family. First Aegon then his father. As Pheynix thought this the old phrase her mother used to say came to her. Trouble comes in threes. Looking up at Maegor as he said it was finished she looked puzzled. Of course it is finished. The man is dead.

Just how many Dragons did the Targaryen's roost on Dragonstone? It was an impressive sight, and one that spoke of the current power of the House. Castor doubted that anyone could match them now or ever, but in the back of his mind he figured that had always been the case. The Freehold, his ancestors had used their dragons well to conquer vast territory and amass great power, only to be undone by their own greed. But while the dragons were impressive, Castor was focused instead on the people, as it was people that the Rahl family specialized in dealing with. Be it in negotiation, blackmail, or spying. The Targaryen's were obviously grieving, but some more than others and when Balerion appeared and deposited his three occupants Castor could almost feel the tense air that had suddenly appeared.

He remained silent, a sympathetic look on his face even as he briefly scanned his siblings. Pyxis was as always unusually calm, an eerie calm as if he had seen a dozen funerals and was immune to grief. And the boy had given warm and supportive smiles to the Targaryen children if they looked his way. Cassie was enamored by the dragons, while Nix seemed very thoughtful. All in all, Castor was content that they presented themselves well and now all there was to do was to continue that.

Viserys had attempted to stay brave in the face of his uncle and his aunt’s return. But his uncle calling fire, Balerion setting his father’s body ablaze, was too much for the boy. His hand found hers and he folded it beneath her fingers. Alyssa wrapped an arm around her son but stopped herself from pulling him to her. Even in the moment of watching Aenys’s mortal form burned to ashes, she needed him to still show some strength. Seeing her brother by law again before her brought a hard lump to her throat. That he had not only traveled with the cause of his exile, but another woman? Damn the gods for taking a good man.

Alyssa knew she should approach Maegor or Visenya but she stayed unmoving, letting the wind whip at her. Her eyes met Quicksilver’s and she turned her face skyward. Bonded or not, she thought they had come to an understanding after her many years of being with Aenys. The dragon dropped its head and shook out her wings. Her snout nuzzled against Fyresong before backing away and crying out one last time as she labored to take to the sky. The young dragons looked after her and quickly took to wing as well, as if they were eager to be away from their ancient cousins.

Viserys at last spoke, his words just barely audible to his mother. “I want to go back.” His face had scrunched up in a twisted attempt to stem the flow of tears. His face was wet and red though, perhaps as much from frustration as from grief. Jaehaerys and Alyssane were being tended to by a septa, Alyssa looked back to the robed woman and gestured to gather them together. It was finished.They could deal with everything else in the morning. A funeral feast had been planned and undoubtedly there would be much drinking for everyone else. No matter how much she wanted to drown herself in cups, she would need that time to finish planning.

Alyssa turned her and Viserys away from the pyre away from her dead husband’s family. Let them sit with the ashes when they had seemed to care so little for him in life. Her eyes pressed together at the thought, for she knew Visenya had tried to do so much for them. Tried and failed. Damn the gods.
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I have been made a prisoner by my own flesh and blood because of you.
Right this wrong.
– Your Jehar


She had written, torn, and re-written the message countless times that day. It pained her to put words to paper and beg that man for help. She tasted bile at signing the name that he had given her when, briefly or not, he had seemed besotted or at least consumed by a lust for her. She hated seeing it in black ink, the way it glistened wetly in the dim candlelight. Her hands trembled above it, wrestled with the impulse to shred it once more and burn every scrap as if she could burn it all out from her memory.

But she had no friends here. Locked away by her brother, for protection he swore to any who questioned it. Ceryse knew better. She had been a play piece for her uncle and they sought to use her again. Gods, she hoped she would live to see them understand how grossly they overplayed their hand.

It hurt more that there were no whispers of what Vittoria or House Tyrell were doing. Had they abandoned her too? Or did they fight to retain their control of the Reach over the machinations of the High Septon his lordly family? It was those questions that at last gave Ceryse pause to roll up the missive and secure it in it’s waxen holder rather than set it to fire once more.

She had already wasted days in blind fury. Her bedchambers looked as if they had been looted after a siege. Gowns were still strewn about from her initial protest and refusal to go the sept for quiet reflection. Ceryse had at least allowed the maidservants to clean away the broken glass and pottery from when she had upended a table in a moment of rage at being barred from exiting without the escort of half a dozen septas. Hideous women who tutted and tsked at her for thinking to defy a most holy knight of the Warrior’s Sons.

Beneath the anger loomed the fear that gnawed at her in the quiet hours of night until she passed into fit-filled hours of restless sleep. If half the rumors were true, the heir dead and king dead or dying, then the peril was great. Maegor would not waste such an opportunity. What good was she, having already been discarded? Ceryse slammed her hands to the desk and muffled a cry of anger. If Maegor received her message, and if he decided to act on it - surely his pride would not allow him to ignore it no matter if he loathed her, she would make him pay for hell she had traversed because of him.

When morning came her escort was surprised to find the princess dressed conservatively in a simple gray and pale green dress, awaiting their arrival. Ceryse’s eyes passed over them, nonplussed at the suspicious glances they shared between them. “I would like to go to the sept for prayers. Then a walk in the garden for better airs and quiet reflection.” Her voice was flat, void of the anger of previous days. She hoped she sounded broken. They were right to be cautious and the princess knew if not that day, then the next or the one after she would at last find a way to get her message sent on to Dragonstone. The consequence of it being intercepted was not lost on her. She would let them think her meekened, be the dutiful daughter of Oldtown once more and bide her time.

Ceryse had been made a play piece to move about a board long enough. She had learned the most important lesson from her husband, to take what was hers.
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The Great Hall was empty for a King’s funeral feast. The death of a king should have been a momentous affair, but word of the event had barely traveled, if it traveled at all, from Dragonstone. The arrival of the Volantenes had been unexpected, or perhaps, simply forgotten if word had been sent in advance. Lords and courtiers from Dragonstone and Claw Isle milled about the room. Driftmark’s house was noticeably absent from the affair. It had been organized in just a few days, and even in the midst of grief it weighed heavily on the widowed queen that it seemed none in their seven kingdoms knew of what occurred. They should have been receiving a long line of nobles to offer their condolences, prepared to offer their oaths to the next rightful king. No matter if the coronation would not take place for some time.

The hall was somber, but there was a tension that permeated it, even voices kept low reverberated as murmurs, layered on top of one another, and formed into a persistent, gruff rumble. Tyanna was not the only outsider present, and hers was not the only unexpected presence. She looked over the Volantenes, the illustrious family Rahl, and dark lips pricked up in a sneer hidden behind a goblet of wine. Nothing more than scavengers who sought to pick at the bones of a dead empire. Others in attendance had the look of diluted Valyrian blood, but she could see the play that Maegor - or Visenya more likely - had taken. The exiled prince had no time to organize something this quickly and his mother, for the brief time that Tyanna had met her, had shown herself to be a shrewd woman. She would be a problem. The widowed queen and dragon’s spawn, well perhaps Maegor would remove that threat all on his own. And if not, they would prove no trouble to her.

The Pentosi courtesan wondered if the prince had noticed that the youngest two children had been removed from the hall early on in the feast. Tyanna had watched the way the widowed queen had tried to subtly have them carried away, both children seemingly asleep, but she could see through the charade. Was the queen smarter than given credit for, or had someone tipped her off? It was a thought for later in the evening.

Her eyes moved on from the royal family, to the others in attendance. She watched for who drank too much, who ate too much, who spoke too loudly, who seemed uncomfortable. Everyone handled the job of being a courtesan differently, but for Tyanna - and many others no doubt - it was a means to an end, and they had to excel at reading their clients. She was always watching, waiting to see who could be drawn into a web and who could be trapped indirectly. Her touch was never gentle, but it could be subtle.

The night lingered on, her goblet never refilled yet never empty as she nursed the crimson wine. Few approached her, whether it was her severe expression or general apprehension towards Maegor, she could not know with any certainty. Likely both, she mused.

She was the equal and better of all who were gathered here, save her husband and his mother. Alys studied the throng that had gathered on Dragonstone for the funeral feast. King Aenys was gone, burned to ash and left to float away on the sea breeze. A fitting end to a man who always moved which ever way the wind last blew. It had been his failing, as Alys had seen it, that he had sent his brother away. The real hand at his side. The power that held the realm in awe.

Not that she dared to voice these opinions in even so much as a glance. The nieces and nephews she had gaing in marriage to Prince Maegor always seemed to look through her, to judge her for every little flaw. Perhaps she should have braided her hair, but the pull of those heavy locks made her head ache and let the wind of Balerion’s wing tangle it. She was married the mightiest of Princes, one who would be King. His son grew inside her. His heirs would be hers to nurture. It was all as it should be and those whelps of a weak King would have to learn. Unless their father weaknesses moved onto them. It would make sense, blood did tell after all. Lifting a goblet to her lips she sipped its contents. This gathering was a final farewell, and she hoped by the end of it? It would become a welcoming feast to the new King. To someone more fit than a mere boy to rule Westeros and it’s unruly, ill-kept lords.

Her eyes flickered to the woman she had brought. Her lover, her mystic. A woman who would help her bear a child into the Targaryen line. A fine and strong son so much like his father. “Grand isn’t it? All these noble lords turning out to the death of their monarch. In life they hardly dared show such solidarity." She noted, her goblet swirling the contents as her low voice contemplated the lot of lords with reproach.

Her head turned to Alys, eyes slowly moving over the woman’s face as she spoke. Tyanna offered a knowing nod in response. She needed to be careful now, in how she tugged at the webs she had laid. Her fingers drummed against the table, a discordant beat to the background thrum of guarded conversation. “Lords flock to strength, judge them but use them." It was truth enough for most women, much less the duo of a second wife and foreign whore.

The unseen marks beneath the clothing Maegor wore pulled and tugged at his nerves in a manner that was akin to pain, but for him, was fuel. The lines of his recently parted skin, barely large enough to draw blood in the act of inflicting them, strained at each other. Countless marks, each providing the tiniest spark. It kept him from being comfortable, but comfort was a trapping of fools, those who allowed themselves to be distracted. Instead he sat among family and guests as the moments passed by. With each passing second, the plan was put into action. He pondered if his mother’s agents had even already dispatched the Ravens, messages they had been instructed to send by other members of the family ignored, none but that which Visenya had willed.

His eyes swept across the room once more, settling for long moments on both Alys and Tyanna. The desire for both beat strongly, if not as much as that of the coming moments, but not enough to entirely discount the simmering fury Tyanna had provoked. Perhaps that was even why he looked to her last, but longest. The great hall of Dragonstone heaved with guests, more so than he could remember, yet their noise mattered less to him, far less, than the sharp pulls of pain on his skin, and the weight of destiny. How so many could gather to mark the passing of his brother, and not to aid the throne, or save the throne’s lost relatives, galled him. Not from care, but at the lack of power already that his family could command.

“Enough of this dance." Maegor growled, the words starting under his breath, but somehow the threat still carried, a pulse of anger and strength that rippled out from him, through the pool of nobility that was the chamber. “Such prattle, while the Kingdom burns with a fire not our own."

"I married strength." Alys replied to the woman, her eyes flicking her husband. The man was less than pleased by the throng that had shown up for his brother’s death. An understatement. But she had seen Maegor’s eyes linger a tad too long on Tyanna and did not care for it. A knot of jealousy snarled in her mind. "Use him? My dear, I know better." Using the King to be would bring his temper upon her if she admitted it. Thus she knew it would best be a careful dance of asking and desire.

Visneya’s eyes fell upon her son with a steely impression, but it was far from the reproachful look one might expect from an outburst of such. She was prepared for the moment that was finely upon them. She had already been standing, discussing matters with a member of House Velaryon, a conversation of little note, but she valued what limited dialogue she had in her mother tongue. As Maegor himself stood, the powerful frame of the Prince demanding attention even away from herself, she paced along the outside of the room, rising to stand atop the raised dias upon which the seat of Dragonstone stood, empty, surveying those who had gathered in its halls.

“When my brother’s realm turned against him you were not at his call, but now you circle his grave. Perhaps you wish to get your talons into his Son." With some force, Maegor’s hand lashed out, the untouched goblet before him jettisoned from the table, striking one of the lower tables with enough force as to dent the gold of its making. “But Dragons are only feast for carrion when we are dead, and there is life in us yet." He pushed his own chair away, the long cloak of his house draped across his shoulders as he moved the short distance to rise onto the plinth behind the high table. He feared no grave threat from those assembled that the loyal houses of Velaryon and Celtigar could not handle. Indeed, many of their number were aware of what was to come, the whispered promises of Visenya in their ears as Maegor paced to the seat of Dragonstone, his mother’s form still obscured in the darkness beside it.

“My father brought unity to Westeros, when he found you, you were ruled by a hundred mewling lords and petty kings, the Ironborn ravaged your lands, the Free Cities mocked you for your weakness." Fire burned in the violet pits that were Maegor’s eyes, the intensity of his gaze writ as much with purpose as Fury. “Those days have returned, but I will set things right, in the manner my father did. All I promise you now, is Fire and Blood." With that, the Prince knelt before the seat, and Visenya moved from the shadow, her own cloak finally cast away to reveal what she had held in her hands since arriving on the island. The Crown of the Conqueror, the red gemstones reflecting the light of the room’s fires and she raised it high above herself, before placing it down upon the brow of her son.

“All Hail His Grace, King Maegor, First of His Name, First of his Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm." She spoke the words with a volume that seemed to swell from within her, not a desperate shout, but a final proclamation of an ambition that was a lifetime in the making. As she did so, there was a chorus, not just of voices, but of drawn weapons, the Men-At-Arms of Dragonstone, as well as Driftmark and Claw Isle joining their steel to her call. The tradition was to kneel, but this is what she had forged for her Son who would bring these blades upon Westeros. It helped, as well, to remind those honored guests in the room, in whose hands those swords were.

She had married strength, she had bedded strength and with the grace of gods and her husband’s virility Alys would bear strength that would sit that seat. That would wear that crown and wield the sword. That would fly a great dragon and further the Targaryen line of her King. A small smile played about her lips as she watched and pressed a hand over her womb where surely life would gather and thrive in time. “All Hail." She whispered with fierce pride and joy as she watched the men stand and draw their blades. Souting for her husband to rule and while he did? She would be a Queen. Her father would be delighted and her mother would urge for many children to come from her as there were dragons in the sky.

Let the lesser children of Aenys cry out over their father. He had been weak, unfit to rule a realm newly minted. She raised her goblet subtly and gave a sideways look to the witch she had brought across the sea. “I must carry and birth strength. We, two, shall see to this and if you fail? There are the Septas and Maesters and others would gladly seek to take a favored place at my right hand. So, we must not fail." For it would not be Tyanna herself who suffered but Alys as well. The Hightower wife had borne no child and so he had taken her. If she failed him as well? Another would fill her position, and that would do nothing to quash the whispers of ‘this whore of Halloway’.

The intruder from Pentos relished the moment for what it was, power seeking to topple power, men eager to spill blood over some pissant title, blind to what lay just beyond their vision and understanding. She watched Maegor briefly, but looked beyond him to see how the child would react. Her head cocked to her side to listen to Alys, but her eyes remained on the small boy and his mother. The widow had her son’s arm in a tight grip, her mouth pressed to his ear clearly in a fierce whisper. The courtesan wondered what passed between them, youthful eagerness to challenge his uncle no doubt. That would be blood shed too easily, but perhaps…Reckless indignation was an easy thing to manipulate.

“I will not fail you." Perhaps she had seemed distracted, but Tyanna heard Alys’s comments for what they were. She could appreciate the woman’s ambition, no matter the distaste for having to lower herself to any degree of deference. She leaned in, eyes still watching the scene unfold before them, but her lips brushing against the now-queen’s ear. “But you will need to trust me, no matter the efforts needed to succeed."

Alyssa held Viserys tightly and pulled him back. How quickly these men forgot their oaths. Aegon had made Aenys his heir. Aenys who had six hale and healthy children to carry on the blood of the dragons. But those present, her own family’s sworn swords, eagerly lifted their voices in support. “Now is not the time." Her words pressed into her son urgently as she sought out where Melyssanthi was. The girl was more stubborn was Viserys, a fire within her that Alyssa loved and loathed. She prayed that either her or Aenys had managed to instill some amount of sense as well.

She wanted to flee the room, but saw quickly enough guards even at the servants’ doors. Fear rose up her throat, acidic and sharp. Would those blades be turned on her, on the rightful heir? No, she needed time. The widowed queen swallowed her anger, her pride, her grief, and dropped to a knee. Viserys looked at his mother in dejected confusion, and at last, knelt beside her.

As her uncle spoke of the lords of Westeros Melyssanthi had to agree. She wished she had thought to say it. Lost in thought she had been quiet and subdued, unusual for a girl with as much fire as her. A small smile played about her lips but soon broke and faded as her uncle made his move.

The great Aunt that, earlier that day held Melyssanthi, seemed to apparate like a ghost of Dragonstone from the shadows behind the throne. She carried with her the instrument of the destruction of Melyssanthi's family. The crown. Which seemed to weigh more even now than when her father was newly dead.

As the gloomy day ticked by Cassiopeia looked around the room at the lords of Westeros. Her family had been placed, much to her sister's chagrin, near the "Pentosi charlatan" as her sister muttered. Which placed them near "Mad Alys", as Cassie likes to call her. There was something off about that woman. She wanted to be nearer to Prince soon to be King Viserys but she also did not want to be underfoot or appear clingy.

Seeing the subtle shift in the tension of Maegor as he spoke and knelt Pheynix laid a hand on Castor's arm discreetly. The brother and sister made eye contact. The conversation between the two was instinctual and instant. While no words were spoken both knew how to communicate silently.

Blinking Melyssanthi watched her Great Aunt crown her Uncle and heard the draw of steel ringing within the hall. The ringing turned into the roar of a dragon, then the roar of a wildfire, then the rush of blood from a heart that raced. Images of blood on the throne staining it red flashed in her mind.

Shaken by the vivid imagery and sounds, Melyssanthi paled and put a shaking hand to her brow. This place was full of fools. Fools who had broken oaths and would follow a hothead with no heirs. Fools who could not see that the small folk started their Militant uprising because of the great hothead they let be crowned. His greedy licentious polygamous ways put House Targaryen in the fix it was in. Yet no one called him on it. They let him be a bully. They let him take and take and take. Rhaena would make a much better ruler than a malcontent fool who could not keep his prick to his first wife and could not keep his pernicious grasping hands off that which did not belong to him.

Melyssanthi let herself seem ill; she would not kneel unless he wanted to start out showing off his tyrannical side. Now was not the time to undercut the fool, at least not fully. She was greatly outnumbered and would need to regroup to knock him down from his high horse. But she was leaving and no one was going to stop her. She just needed time to get to Rhaena.

The Rahl children did not even bat an eyelash as swords were drawn and voices raised for Maegor. As the room dropped to a knee or knees the Rahl family stayed seated. Maegor was not their King nor Prince. They had no reason to "bend the knee" so to speak. Bow or curtsey, yes. Kneel like subjects, no. Besides that Maegor had dishonorably jumped the line of succession, not that any of the Rahl family were in a position to debate such a thing. Far too many imbeciles with swords in the room for such level headed discussion. It would have been smarter and less debatable if he had set himself up as Regent till Viserys came of age, or rather if he came of age.

“No."

Behind the crowd of unwarranted deference, came an aged voice suddenly sure of itself.

“This is not the way of things."

Men did not part, but turned and sneered at who had been a singular voice in defiance of the farce that played out. Maester Gawen pushed himself forward, a meaningful look passed to Queen Alyssa, to the rightful King Viserys and his sister Princess Melyssanthi. The chain around his neck had seldom seemed so heavy as it did in the moment.

“A youthful prince, beloved by the people, murdered. A benevolent and just king dead within days of the tragic news. And now, his brother, exiled by the King’s own will, returned within days to usurp the throne from the rightful king. What curious timing." He spoke as he walked, his breath growing heavier with the effort to speak loudly enough for the hall to hear and, he prayed, heed, his words. “If Aegon the Conqueror wished you to rule, he would have named you heir. Cede the crown to the rightful heir, and let us shout his name to the realm. Long live King Viserys."

The old maester could feel the eyes of the room on him, but it was Maegor, monstrous in front of him, and that conniving mother behind him. He had followed the Seven faithfully enough for his many years, surely they would move the faithful and lawful to action against this.

Alys paused from her kneel at the outcry of ‘no’. It was in truth not a shout or a desperate wail as she might expect but a solid refusal. Steady as could be wished and from a Maester just as well. Her fingers twitched as she recalled the one thing that seemed so obvious with Maegor. That one simple thing that this Maester was treading upon.

One did not deny the dragon. One did not deny Maegor. Already the crown was there and the Dowager Queen had said it plain. King Maegor. Now this tottering old fool was going to seek to deny her husband, and her by extent, the crown.

For what? A child king? He was a boy and boy lords were already notorious for their lack of care for the land from what she had seen at her mother’s side. A boy king would be far worse. So this man wanted them to show weakness before all and set a boy where now a man stood? One fierce with Blackfire in his hand and with Balerion as his mount as his father before him? Her lips curved into a small smile. No, this plea from the wisened scholar would fall short. It must, for it would be insanity to accept.

“Losses brought about by weakness." When Maegor’s voice rose in response to the aged Maester, it did not bellow with anger as he had been famed in the past. It was as if a new presence had settled over him in the brief moment of his nascent Kingship. The brittle roar of flame was replaced with the cold determination of steel. “My father entertained your customs when it suited him. For the moment, they are suited to our cause no longer." The dark stone of the dias echoed the metallic tread of Targaryen as he moved from the raised platform to the channel in which the Maester stood, lingering upon the steps, giving an even greater impression of their difference in heights. “It is a shame my brother ruled with such counselors in his time, perhaps this matter with the Faith could have been addressed without spies and sympathizers in his inner circle." Maegor’s eyes did not sit on the Maester as he made this claim, instead moving around the room, an accusatory glare intended for the Westerosi lords in attendance. Much of his chagrin was shared by those sworn directly to House Targaryen, who in recent years had earned no small amount of hostility from the very same source.

“You have, at last, proven useful, Maester. Where you failed my brother as a healer and adviser, you now demonstrate to those assembled here the price of failure." Blackfyre was free in a moment, indeed, the weapon had not been sheathed, the impossibly fine edge of the blade worn free at the belt of Maegor. It was a downward motion, as if the King had moved to knight the man before him, but instead of resting on the point of his shoulder, the movement carried onwards. Valyrian steel rent through flesh and bone with little more resistance than the air. The brutality of force was at odds with the grace of the movement, such that the body itself seemed to hang in the air, unaware that its head was no longer attached. Then in the next moment the arterial spray began, and what had been the Maester slumped to the ground.

The shock of silence did not last long, before a young man of House Velaryon took up the call.

“Long Live His Grace, Long Live The King!"
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Port Market Street was filled with roughspun and steel. What started a glare and a shove turned into posturing and shouts. The Faith Militant swelled in pride and posture. The Knights of the Golden Rose simply stood their ground. In the center of it, Lady Vittoria and her intended, Lord Baratheon, were having a heated discussion with Morgan Hightower. It should have stayed that way. It would have stayed that way.

Then from somewhere up high the sound sent a shockwave through the haze of noise and kinetic tension: thrum.

No one quite knew where it came from, or what it was…but she did. From a nearby second story overhang, Vaera Balaerys saw it. Before the bolt even flew, her face tightened, and her jaw set in a kind of anger that was never a good thing—not for her, not for those around her, not for anyone. But the moment the woman’s howl of pain echoed?

The very heartbeat that crossbow bolt hit Vittoria Tyrell and the sound of pain clapped through the crowded street like a shock of thunder in the dark? Vittoria screamed in pain as she fell. The Faith Militant and their poor followers cheered, jeered, and hollered. The Knights of the Roses howled in anger.

Vaera Balaerys howled in pure bloodlust heat. By the time Baratheon, Tarly, Redwyne, and those closest to the fallen High Marshall closed in like a shield of armored men, the melee was already aflame. The ground was bloody by the time Vaera was on the street, across it, and bathing dragonsteel in the blood of the Faithful.

At first they barely saw her; their eyes so focused on the Knights of the Rose, they almost missed the smaller but lethal woman in leather and mail cutting through man after man, leaving limbs and guts and brain in her bloodlust wake. By the time they realized she was behind their line and cutting them apart, the Knights of the Rose were showing their thorns. Maybe not even fifty of Vittoria’s knights were ignoring every command given to them by anyone that might try to give it.

This wasn’t the battlefield, and their High Marshall was down, bleeding. It was now a bloody free-for-all melee between Faithful and Noble Knight. Tarly tried to scream something. So did Hightower. No one heard. They wouldn’t have listened even if they had. Vaera didn’t even notice Vittoria’s inner circle start to move her off the street, or that the City Watch started to come in from behind the inns the Knights of the Rose had stayed out, coming from some hidden maze back-alley access to the street pulled from the terror of a child named Dake.

No, in that moment, all Vaera Balaerys noticed was the dark eyes of the tall, armored, man slowly pushing through bodies towards her, wearing armor that looked like an officer of Oldtown’s City Watch. Dead men stood between them, swaying and falling and crying out in misery as they collapsed from the bite of Valyrian steel.

“YOU SHOT HER!”

Vaera pointed with a Valyrian dagger in her off-hand. Lord Alaric thin lips smiled as he pushed a dying man out of his way and draw the longsword he carried. Her booted heel slammed into the side of his knee as he checked a quick thrust from her sword, snarling in pain as he unleashed an elbow that caught her between neck and collar. It was almost enough of a shock to allow the pommel of his blade to crash in her fine Valyrian featured face but for a last moment back stumble, and a quick rediscovery of her balance allowed her to simply turn away from one heavy cut, and side step another, landing her off-hand dagger a taste of the man’s blood along his left side, cutting straight through his mail under the breastplate of the City Watch.

Vaera smirked, winked, and Alaric straightened; outright denying pain access to his mind, murder in his black eyes.

---

“GET HER UP!”

Dennet Tarly bellowed as Vittoria Tyrell looked sheet white and blind drunk in pain. She was trying to say something, but nothing was heard as Davos Baratheon kept her either on her feet, or just off them, secure in his arms and following right behind Tarly. Ryam Redwyne was a pale figure in pale armor, round shield and sword acting in the kind of precision that a knight his age had no business possessing. The Faith Militant went for Vittoria, to take her, or to finish her—it never mattered. They never got close with Ser Ryam holding them off like the jaws of a dragon.

Tarly felt a pang of relief until he saw the men pouring in from the back alley behind the inn weren’t Knights of the Rose, but City Watch. “COME DIE, CUNTS.” The giant of a man unleashed his large blade, discarding the sheath to the ground as if he would never, ever, have need of it again in this life. One swing, two, a giant shove throwing two Guardsmen reeling in reverse, and more blood. Vittoria Tyrell screamed.

Stop! Stop it!

For the first time in years, no one listened to the Lady’s commands. The mammoth Tytan of the Wilds berserkered his way through a wall of flesh and steel, taking a Guardsman up by the back of the collar, and smashing him like an egg against the stone wall of the nearby inn, smearing blood and bone and death against the inn that had been their refuge in the city. Spears hit the giant of a man, but only a prick or two before Tarly cut them down like boughs to be splintered before him as the men worked their way off the street and towards the back alley.

The Tytan twitched as crossbow bolts bit into him, Tarly directing Redwyne to switch them him as they moved one bloody, besieged, step at a time. Redwyne’s shield and blade began to offer some cover to the massive wildling turned Knight of the Rose, though the sweat and the blood were beginning to slow the man as they neared the alley. As the Faith gave chase, the Knights began to fall in upon them, crushing them between the anvil of their ad hoc flank and the hammer of Dennet Tarly’s armored fist and longsword.

“Shut up, we’re saving you, love,” were the words Davos Baratheon offered his pale and growing paler betrothed High Marshall of the Reach, in a tone equal parts anger at her attackers, and irritation at her stubbornness, “stay alive, woman. Up, keep moving,” he said, pulling her up as her eyes rolled back, and he feared poison on the bolt given the coming and going of full consciousness on her pretty face. If something were to give him hope in that moment, it was the awe striking display of martial prowess before him as Ser Ryam Redwyne made every step, every motion of that shield, and every flash of steel against Guardsman look as if Ryam were moving at twice the speed of their attackers.

Behind them Dennet’s brutality was unleashed, as the man nearly the size of the wild giant named Tytan helping Ser Ryam up front bathed the wake behind them in blood. Before long there was nothing between Dennet and the push of Knights of the Rose that had collapsed on the flanks of the Faithful trying to reach Lady Vittoria.

---

“FUCK!”

Vaera Balaerys growled as her eyes rolled in searing pain, the length and reach and technique of the Watch Commander allowing him a piercing strike into at her left side. What felt like a gush of sweat or water at her hip was blood, and she knew it as her pretty purple eyes narrow, and her mind simply shut down the pain. She was too stubborn, she was too determined, and her legendary pain tolerance was on full display as she left a badly angled blow from the tall man deflect off her mailed upper arm, allowing Valyrian steel to bite at him again.

Once became twice, became thrice as she moved in a blur of quickness that the melee should have long robbed her of. The imposing figure growled low in anger and pain as fury nearly caught his mind…but to her surprise, he simply stepped back once, then again. She nearly moved forward before she saw it out of the corner of her eye; dagger and sword catching the Faithful coming at her from either side with just enough to allow her to stumble back.

When her back ran into something, someone, behind her, she cursed to herself and prepared for the worst. What she found was Knights of the Rose surging around her. “Get to her!”

“She’s off the street, get to your DRAGON!”

Saeryx. The sound burned through the street as screaming began, and heat emerged. Fuck. Black and purple spread like a midnight shadow over the street overhead. Dragonfire had half the street ablaze before any of them knew what was happening. By the time Vaera looked forward again, the tall Watch officer was gone, and half the Faith with him. She nearly tripped over the dead as the ground trembled upon the dragon’s landing.

Before she moved, she grabbed the Knight who had told her to get to her dragon, who told her Vittoria was off the street, “IS SHE ALIVE?”

The man nodded, and exhaustion atop relief flooded into her body. “Thank fuck.” She barely recalled making it back to Saeryx, but the dragon craned his neck to all but scoop her up. Dragonfire had a way of ending a melee, leaving both sides of the street burning as the Faith pulled their dying and dead to safety, while the Knights of the Rose did the same.

All she could imagine was the face of the tall, dark, man. And the image burnt into her mind of him letting loose the bolt that struck Vittoria Tyrell. This wasn’t over, she had a feeling, and in the back of her mind she had some idea that perhaps it was just beginning…but for now it was time to leave the Reach.

It was time to head for the Rock.
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Casterly Rock was still and dark in the silvery moonlight of the Sunset Sea. Lorelai felt uneasy as she watched the sea rumble and roll far below the balcony of her private bedchamber, wrapped in a crimson silk robe, and little else. Sleeplessness had clutched her mind and body, the echo of a cawing raven haunting her nearly as bad as the face of the dead, or the screams of the burnt.

Loren was wrong. She knew it in her soul, she felt it in her heart. Everything she had told him had missed its mark with her brother. There was so much work to be done if she was going to have any chance at keeping the Westerlands from blood and fire. The grief of a Princess, the loss faith in both the Faith, by some, and the Rock, by others.

It should have consumed her. It should have ignited her to action…it didn’t. Instead she saw only the endless blue of the man’s burning gaze, his icy, crystalline armor and the crown of horns upon him as he said it again and again in a cold rage that she knew would never die:

They started this. I will end it, all of it.

Had he said those words? Had she just…understood his mind from the very manner of his gaze? She couldn’t, in the darkness and shadows of the silent, far too early hours of Casterly Rock, even remember. There was too much to parse, there was too much she had seen, too much she’d been told.

What hope did she have of understanding what any of it really meant? The raven with it’s three eyes made little sense. The flight of her mind from Rock to Lands of Always Winter, far past the Wall, made even less sense. And the sight of the little, forest, people stabbing the man with the burning blue eyes?

Fever dream, maybe?

She nearly chuckled but for the sound. Her head snapped behind her, and in the shadow a figure emerged. Another trick? Another vision? Another damnable bird? It was too late that she realized none of that.

Worse; a man. She stepped further away from the doors that led to the balcony, until the small of her back hit the stone ledge. In the pale moonlight she saw a face she didn’t know, but a look she had seen before: murder.

“Your Lord Uncle sends his regards, Lady Lorelai. He knows the secrets you keep. He wants to silence your whispers.”

The steel all but glowed in the moonlight as he drew the long dagger that looked impossibly sharp to her emerald eyes. She didn’t gasp, her lungs seemed to refuse the notion on principle. It wasn’t the fearless pride of a lion, but the sheer shock of a young woman with a mind dizzy from everything that happened and was suddenly happening with a finality that had a hard time, for some reason she couldn’t explain, accepting.

“…you’re a pretty thing, shame it has to be like this.”

Emerald eyes stopped watching him. Instead, they fixated on the dagger, and the way the moonlight played off it, dappling and shadowing as he rose it high and stepped out onto the balcony.

Neither of them heard the sound until it was too late. The sound was light enough, but the very pattern of it grew into a cacophony of inevitability: footsteps of a dead sprint coming from within the private bedchamber. By the time the assassin heard it and his heard turned, it was far too late as Keano’s body flew in the air and landed a devasting kick straight into the midsection of the would-be assassin.

The hired killer screamed as his body flew, flipped over the stone ledge of the balcony, and went flying to his doom in the blackwater of the early morning Sunset Sea waves below Casterly Rock.

Lorelai Lannister was still blinking when Keano moved into the room, retrieved a wooden chair, and hurled it over the ledge of the balcony, sending it, too, flying down to the blackwaters of the Sunset Sea. First the splash of the surely dead would-be assassin, then shortly after, the second splash.

He stood there, watching, his brown eyes flickering this direction and that—getting a full picture of every other balcony and window he could see upon the Sunset Sea facing side of Casterly Rock. When he seemed satisfied, he let out a deep breath, and finally looked at her. "You need to go.”

“…I’m oka…wait, what?”

Confusion hit her like a freezing ocean wave. He simply, calmly, repeated himself, “Two splashes. You can stay dead for a while if you disappear now, but it has to be NOW.”

“Stay dead? You saved me, Keano, I don’t—”

His right hand suddenly had her by the left arm, his brown eyes staring deep into her emerald eyes, his voice slowing, tone dropping,
“Lorelai, we’ve practiced this. Get to the drainage room. Change. Make your way to the servant’s stables. The boat is always ready at the tollhouse dock. Go.”

“But—”

“—GO!...I’ll deal with your Uncle, and meet you where we always planned, or else we’re both dead.”

---

Shouting began as Lannister men began the chain-reaction of reporting the splashes. They feared someone falling from a balcony, but it was far more than that. Tytos was awake, quill and cup and tankard upon the small desk tucked away into the corner of his private chamber within the Rock as he began to hear the shouting.

He seemed certain the vile dead was done. A heavy sigh fell from his lips, and his eyelids fluttered closed for a moment, as if in some small prayer of regret, or final farewell. It didn’t matter. His eyes were barely opened, his mind already back on the quill and the cup of wine, simply moving on, waiting for the guards to reach his chamber and alert him to the certain tragedy that had befallen his niece, Lady Lorelai Lannister, in the overly late hour.

Then the hand was over his mouth, and the grip upon him was more than he could struggle against in the short time allowed before the low voice hit his ears so quiet it was no more than a whisper, the cold edge of vengeance upon the tone that would be among the very last things Lord Tytos Lannister, Castellan of Casterly Rock, would ever hear.

“She loved you, so much,” Keano, the once Sorrowful Man finished, as the blade wrote the bloody end on this night, instead of the assassin and quill of Tytos Lannister. The grip was gone, but there was no calling out from Tytos Lannister, there was barely a sound at all as the blood began to rush a crimson pool around the golden wine cup of the Castellan of Casterly Rock.


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The room was empty but for the slight figure of a young woman and the hulking figure clad in white. Her body visibly quivered and shook, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, fingernails dug into her skin leaving harsh half-cresent marks.

She was alone except the protector who had done little to protect her from anything. He had failed her, failed her brother, and father, failed the realm. He had been taken to task for his failure and offered nothing in his defense. He had failed, no matter the reasons, death had surrounded the princess. It had pursued her relentlessly and still seemed unfinished. Now they stood in silence. Ser Darklyn, stony-faced but eyes reddened, and Princess Rhaena attempting to compose herself.

The other ladies had been denied entry to her chambers, and though they fretted, nothing had changed their princess's mind. Her decision to separate herself from them had been an impetuous, subconscious desire to spare them from her curse. Melony Piper had been found dead but Rhaena's horror at the matter was all too quickly washed away by dark words on dark wings.

Her father dead and her uncle proclaimed king. It has been madness when the news was read. The princess had stayed unmoved for so long that when the initial chaos subsided all eyes had turned to their royal guest. The girl in mourning. The girl who had burned their Septon. The girl, who many quickly surmised, could be their queen. The silence had turned to whispers, overlapping and shifting in turmoil as the men in the room began to plan.

It should have felt like a greater moment. But she whispered it at first. No. She did not want this. She had barely wanted to be Aegon's queen even when that had felt decades away. She wanted to fly, she wanted to be splendid room, in a bed piled high with soft pillows and gentle friends, with her dear brother alive and well and Melys to tell her new gossip. It's what she had wanted.

Then she had wanted the men to stop. The same rage built within her, like when she had held the torch to the old man. The whispered no turned to an angry wail. "Let my uncle have the crown. I want blood." She had left, turned her women away, had tried to turn away Ser Darklyn, and closed herself away.

She needed her dragon, but even in her rage she knew that little Dreamfyre was not enough to take on the whole of the Faith. She needed me , she needed ships. She needed Lord Loreon and she hated it. Rhaena could feel the men looking for ways to use her, her status, her blood. They were fools. The Faith had to be dealt with and Viserys was of fire and blood but a child with no dragon. She feared her uncle, but so would the traitorous septons. If they were fools, they would learn to with their dying, tortured last breath. At night she dreamed of fields of burning men, clad in their rainbow cloaks or dirty gray robes.

Self-imposed seclusion did little but to deepen her anger and she lashed out at the only one there to bear it. Until even that was interrupted. Rhaena tried to turn them away, the incessant knocking at her chamber doors. They did not leave no matter what Ser Darklyn demanded. He opened the door and exchanged terse words that Rhaena could not hear. The door shut and she could hear him approach.

"Lord Tytos is dead. Lady Lorelai is dead."

Rhaena, twisted and released herself from her grasp, a fresh wave of horror across her face. It had not been so long ago since their odd encounter in the abandoned mining town. Now she too was gone? And Loreon's uncle? Surely it was the Faith's doing. Pity and sadness she pushed to the side, if they wished to use her, she would use them.

"I'll see Lord Loreon, now."
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Arnorian

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Ser William


William and his company rode on through the day and into the night. At last, as the thickening clouds began to obscure the moon, William gave the order to halt. His exhausted men dismounted and began a quick watch in woods to the east of the road. There they formed a loose circle in the cover of the woods and thickets. The horses were picketed in the center of the cold camp and seen to. That task done, those on watch were relieved and the soldiers dug wearily into their rations.

Once the last man had curled up beneath the shelter of his cloak, William set aside his armor and took what sleep he could. He was used to the harshness of life on the campaign or hunt. But damn if the night didn’t seem unusually cold. Still the thickness of his gambeson should be enough.

He leaned against the moss-covered bulk of a fallen tree and found what comfort he could. At last, he drifted off to sleep. The moon shone weakly through the clouds, its light filtering down the skeletal branches of the bare trees. The wind seemed to whisper as it passed from the mountains and over the marches. But to William’s mind, it seemed eerily familiar.

He was standing in a great field of white and snow fell thick and heavy all around. No matter which way he turned, the endless cold stretched on in every direction. He drew up the hood of his cloak and started to try and find shelter, but there was a familiar crunch as he moved. He glanced down and saw that he did not stand on old snow. But rather, he was gazing upon an endless field of bleached bone. The falling snow rapidly filled his tracks and he felt as though his heart would leap from his throat.

The wind seemed to bite and grasp at him with claws and talons of frost-covered iron. Beyond, through the veil of the swirling snow, he caught glimpses of shadowy things moving in the darkness. Hoping perhaps they were friends and might offer him the promise of shelter and warmth, he staggered towards them.

There was something farther, so vast that even the storm and darkness couldn’t fully obscure it. A great cliff or bulwark, made of white stood before him. It seemed to reach up beyond the clouds and into the heavens. But its intimidating presence offered no solace, merely the same terror of a foe pouring through a breach in a curtain wall.

Again, William halted with a thrill of horror. He had come upon a short rise in the bone-covered earth. Before him stood thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of men and women. Or things that had once been men and women. Their flesh was black and blue, covered in frost, like something buried for a long time under ice. The snow-covered horde stretched from horizon to horizon and beyond the great white of the ancient bulwark.

Here a half-starved peasant shambled forward in tattered rags. There a portly merchant stalked heedlessly through the snow. Once proud knights now rode on skeletal mounts, bearing rusted blades and the shreds of ancient banners. Bony apparitions in bronze and fur-lined garments milled about, clutching stone and metal axes.

Creatures like giant spiders made from ice skittered over the frozen land and chittered as if in cheerful mockery. But for all their differences, William saw that every single one of them had eyes as blue as ice in a winter sea. And all were fixed on him.

Screaming in terror and hate, he drew his sword, but then he saw that his fingers were little more than bones attached by withered sinew. The lifeless flesh black as a moonless night. William stared at his notched blade and in the rusted steel, he could see his own lipless grin. One eye socket in that rotted visage was empty. But the other stared back, bright blue and cold. The howling winds rose, like the cold and mocking laughter of a world inhabited only by hate-filled wraiths.

William surged up from his blankets, dagger in hand, his chest heaving. He looked wildly around, his heart racing so fast he feared it would burst from his ribs. But all was quiet, his men slept peacefully or stood at watch. The horses stood asleep or quietly grazing on the sere grass, within the grove their masters had claimed.

After another moment, William slowly sank back against his cloak. But he would find no more sleep that night. The night gave way to a silvery dawn and William was glad for even that pale, weak light. His men rode on in silence, perhaps discomfited by their lord’s dour countenance.

For another nine days, it went like that. The men rode hard and fast, pausing only to change horses and check equipment. The mountains and tree-shrouded hills fell away from the marches. The terrain slowly turned to the misty expanse of moor and bog. Gradually, the land became one of gentle hills and stirrup-high grass. Small villages, cottages of stone and thatched roof stood from the rich earth. Grapevines and orchards stood thick amidst the farms and homes. Short fences of piled stone marked fields and pastures. Here and there, a cloaked and hatted figure raised a hand from plow or staff, to wave at the column of riders. Most simply fled or kept their distance.

Ser William paid them little mind, though he did return their greetings. After all, it didn’t do to let the smallfolk display better manners than a knight. But besides the troubling dream, no, that didn’t do it justice. Nighttime visions of horror aside, he had other tasks to attend. William drove his men as hard as he drove himself. Sleep held no refuge for him and being one of the first knights to arrive at the summons, would stand him in high favor. As his father once said, he was worth the most who did the most.

At last, they paused their headlong ride and waited a half-day to rest both man and horse. Equipment and clothing was washed, brushed and dried by small fires. The horses were curried and soldiers bathed quickly in the cold flow of the surging Honeywine. Once William was satisfied, he mounted up and signaled the column of riders forward. He led his men back south and east to the Roseroad, and Oldtown.

The day was bright and not a cloud in the sky. Birds sang and cattle lowed in the fields. A gentle breeze rolled over fields of golden wheat and the river ran like a stream of molten silver in the morning sunlight. Nonetheless, William found himself vexed by a nameless fear as they rode past a gibbet. A flock of ravens took flight from the creaking wood, their raucous cries filling the air. William turned away from the empty gaze of the eyeless corpse that still hung there, though he could not say why.

He forced his mind from troubling thoughts of half-remembered dreams and turned in the saddle to survey his men. Though it was a small force compared to what some other lords could raise, it would do. Their harness gleamed brightly and the banner streamed back over their passage, its colors seeming to burn with an inner fire. As he rode on, he could see banners and pavilions across the land. Columns of riders and footmen grew ever more present as the different companies closed in on Oldtown.

Well, he would never have arrived before those lords who dwelt closest to Oldtown. Nonetheless, his long and swift ride would no doubt garner the recognition that it deserved. Moreover, there might still be room left in town. An inn with a decent wall and courtyard would be far better than a camp out in the open, surrounded by the rest of the army. Some lords were better than others, but more often than not, camps bred disease like dead and dried timber fed wildfire.

William and his column of riders snaked through the narrow, cobblestoned lanes. Though they had started preparing to leave before dawn. It was past midday when they made it through the crowds. Travelers, camp followers, merchants and traders lined the streets and air smelled of spice, dung, woodsmoke and cooking meat. Whores and beggars stood nearly shoulder to shoulder as they plied their trade.

But what stood out most to William, aside from the clinging moisture of the summer heat, was the scent of flowers. Everywhere he looked, flowers. A riot of brilliant blooms grew high and thick along the lanes, from clinging vines and hanging over the sides of high pots and stands. In the distance, the proud bulk of the Hightower stood above all, like the elegant trunk of a mighty stone tree.

No doubt it had been this way centuries before and no doubt, it would be so when William’s descendants had long since crumbled into dust. If such a fate was still possible. Again, the nagging memory of a skeleton, staring at its reflection in the rusted half of a broken sword, tugged at his thoughts. William shook the thought away and halted before the pillared entrance to a small bank.

Now the real work would begin. Before he or his men even caught a glimpse of the foe, they must be provided for. That meant water, medicine, the services of Maesters, fodder, horseshoes, equipment, boots and a host of other things men at war needed. And all that meant money spent.

Carrying a chest full of coins was one thing, but William had considered such an eventuality and brought writs with him. Now those sealed scripts served him well. From bank to merchant, to lender he went. At last, he had what he needed.

The inn was a place known as the Blue Hart. Its prices were far above what it merited, due to the influx of travelers and soldiers. But it was near the main gate and the lane was wide. It had stables aplenty, a handful of guards and a high wall all around. William oversaw his men’s needs. Though he didn’t know or care that his men saw him as a right cold bastard, they also knew that they’d never starved under “William the Ice Dragon.”

Horses were stabled, groomed, fed and watered. Hooves were trimmed and shoes replaced. Weapons and armor were inspected and maintained. Newly acquired pack mules and carts were fed and checked for any flaws or injuries. Cots and beds were readied. At last, the men fell on the evening meal with gusto. It was plain fare, a stew of roasted barley and oats with chunks of lamb and onion. But bread, cheese, ale and apples, it would serve well enough. Most of all it was hot and filling. Soon enough, a song was struck up by the fire, as guests and soldiers alike joined in.

William, after a hot bath, donned his finest clothes, strapped on his longsword and rode out from the inn with his squire, two archers and as many billmen. He halted long enough to inspect the men who’d finished eating and replaced those who stood first watch. Satisfied with his company, he turned his horse toward the keep and his lords. After leaving instruction for the night’s tasks and ensuring his men were ready, he rode out from the inn. Though he doubted he’d merit much of their time, it would still be prudent to make his introductions and hand in his report.

So it was that William and his escort rode down the winding lanes, working their way through the milling crowds, hooves ringing off the cobblestones. Despite whatever shreds of fearful dreams might plague the back of his mind, he looked the part of a nobleman of Westeros. Splendid in the richness of his garments, proud and haughty as he looked down on the world from the back of his horse. Most of all, cold, aloof, supremely arrogant and always conveying the imminent promise of violence. For all its deadly elegance, the gleaming length of the blade at his side had only one purpose.

— — —

Jasper


The shop, a generous name for the room shoddily built on to the back of an inn of ill-repute, displayed nothing to identify itself. It didn't need to, word had spread - of both its efficacy and its discretion. The little business of curiosities had only taken root a year past and yet it saw a steady stream of clientele. Men and women of coin, but also of desperation.

It was barely past midday and already Young Jas had seen to a knight with a cursed itch, a young lady afraid to ask her family's maester for moon tea - again, a merchant's courier seeking an ancient relic from the time of the children of the forest. From time to time, a young man of similar age to Jasper would enter, poke around and then slink out. A challenge, undoubtedly, from his friends. The shop of curiosities carried a reputation. The sandy haired man paid them no mind. It was the novices from the Citadel who piqued his anger unabashedly. Those men, so frequently treated poorly by the acolytes above them, saw in Jasper a target. Until they needed something from him, of course. Rates for men from the Citadel ran double or triple.

His partner in the shop, a woman of an age with his mother, found his distaste for the maesters-in-training amusing. He had met her the night he had left the Citadel, just a few months after his arrival. Branda the Bat, some had called her. The young Arryn had no idea where she had come from, and though she was not always fully lucid, he found her a pleasing companion. At least she normally did not judge him as his peers did, nor ignored him as his family had. She was the first person he felt could be himself with, to share the darker things that had fascinated him since childhood. Things he thought the Citadel would appreciate but had not. At least, not as a novice.

As the sun began to dip downward, a finely clad man entered their little establishment. Anger seemed to envelop him and Jasper groaned, audibly. It was not the first time someone had shown up to blame them for something some woman in their life had done. Or perhaps they had sold a relic or some magical trinket that had not quite lived up to its fabled promises. Branda, so very skilled at self-preservation, was suddenly no where to be found though she had just been whispering in Young Jas’s ear. That woman would be the death of him.

Hands were around his neck and shoulders, lifting his stout body out of his seat before he could think of even meekly asking if something was wrong.

“YOU.”

Jasper felt the sting of a wealthy hand snap his head back.He felt a trickle down his lip and slowly realized it for blood. Blue eyes narrowed in anger at the crude handling. “Good ser, surely - “

“What seven-forsaken swill did you sell to my daughter!” The man’s face clouded his vision and in a stupor, Jasper took notice of odd pustules formed about the man’s lips. He grimaced, much to his aggressor’s disdain.

“Only what she would have asked for, perhaps to rid herself of an unwanted ailment?” The young man gasped between words. “We only seek to help, here.”

— — —
Ser William


William had continued on, riding through the milling crowds, past other retinues, lines of wagons and herds of livestock. In a way the crowded bunches of city-dwellers, travelers, soldiers reminded him of a some living organism.
He paused and cursed under his breath. As the Hightower drew near, its black stones reminded him of nothing so much as the cold peaks of ice-shrouded mountains, glinting in the light of a fading sun. The bustling streets had brought to mind another kind of teeming swarm. William was not a superstitious man, but these half-remembered vespers in his mind, like pieces from a dream within a dream, would not let him rest.

He drew on a narrow side street, one lined with vines, hanging pots and great stone planters full of sun-kissed blossoms. His looked at him curiously and he shook his head. No doubt they’d wonder even more. But he was their lord, let the smallfolk gossip if they liked. A falcon cared little for the bleatings of whatever it had caught in its talons.

He sent two of his men to see what they could learn from the various travelers and vendors. The sun began to lower and the midday heat became sweltering. William’s remaining men dismounted at a nearby tavern and filled their bellies on cheap ale, lentils and pork. At last, his two scouts returned, with answers. They weren’t the first men to have been sent to answer strange questions for a noble master and a place as big as Oldtown, there was always someone who could render the right services.

They had learned of a few places and one that both men had heard of was a small shop behind a certain inn. Well, it would be a start. If it led to nothing, William could eliminate it and move on to another. Or at least someone that could help, would learn a lord that needed their brand of aid.

If he was lucky, he might be able to resolve these foolish half-memories and be at the Hightower. Perhaps he might even be able to stay for a feast. Such an occurrence could and often paved the way for a lesser lord to be a greater one. He’d never find a wife of good standing out in the marches. If a nobleman didn’t advance himself, he stagnated. Contentment was for smallfolk who could never conceive of anything more than their lot.

With thoughts of personal glories and expanding holds in his mind, William rode back through the ruckus, to halt before the ramshackle old inn. For a moment, he was glad he’d spent the extra coin and found accommodations that were less . . . well, the place liked the kind of spot where many a poor fellow had been stabbed in his sleep, or worse.

He swung down from the saddle and stalked down the narrow alleyway, a hand on his sword and one eye on the densely packed layers of dripping cloth that hung over the trash-strewn lane. Two of his men followed, falchions loosened and ready for anything. His remaining soldiers dismounted and formed a loose circle near the mouth of the dank street and waited.

William was pleased he hadn’t needed to say anything and made a note to award his men for their hard work later on. He ducked inside the squalid little shop and straightened to see a large man, holding who he presumed was the shopkeeper - a blonde man with blood trickling from his mouth - by the collar and screaming at him.

For his part, William leaned back against a cleaner-looking section of wall and smirked slightly. If a man wished to brawl with the lower orders, like a peasant wrestling swine, it was hardly for him to judge. He raised an eyebrow with the kind of aristocratic disdain that came from a lifetime of examples and practice. The two men William had brought along paused and stood near the door, watching the scene unfold and waiting for their lord’s command.

“My good, Ser . . . If you wish to make yon shopkeeper pay for his sin, of which I’m sure they are many, I certainly will not stand in your way.

“Though, I would ask that you leave him able to talk. I may have a use for him.” Ser William’s drawl was the epitome of noble hauteur.

But for all his acting the part of a dillenate nobleman, William’s dark were as cold and hard as stones in a frozen river. His fingers were never far from the hilt of his dagger. For while he truly had no regard for someone he deemed lesser, the man with the strange growths around his mouth was a large sort. Ser Marston had not survived the marches and the Dornish by taking needless risks. A man accustomed to violence would have noticed the slight shift in the knight’s weight and the way both of his blades stood a finger width from their sheaths.

----

Jasper


Jasper looked beyond the man who spewed spittle in his face. A minor lord of some sort, or landed knight by the look of him, by his posture, by the condescending manner in which he spoke. Not the easiest clients to deal with, but a welcome reprieve for the current situation he found himself in. Where had that damnable woman gone though? It was only because the disgruntled man was distracted that gave young Arryn a moment again to wonder at her absence. Perhaps it was for the best, she tended to put off those of better breeding.

The man’s grip loosened, barely, and Jasper pulled himself the rest of the way to freedom. He brushed at his neck and shoulders with great indignation at his clothes - once fine looking - crumpled and wrinkled, speckled with drops of blood. “If your daughter is the client I am reminded of,” and surely there had only been one other person who had entered with such markings on their face in the past week, “it was no moon tea or some other dark potion. Only a balm to soothe the irritation you seem to have as well.” He cleared his throat with a grumble. “A silver moon and I’ll have a dose prepared for you, ready in the morning.” Nevermind that he had only charged the daughter a mere silver stag.

The angry man took a moment to think over the situation, nodded brusquely, and tried to exit with a look of disdain for the whole ordeal. Jasper struggled to keep the string of curses from spilling out. It seemed unlikely his new customer would take kindly to it. “Now, with that settled, what can I do for you?” He grabbed an off-white linen and dabbed at his lip with a wince.

Marston considered his next words carefully and tried to think of a way to explain things without sounding a fool or a madman. He stood from where he’d leaned against the wall and moved closer. At last, he decided to say what he thought would give away the least amount of information. Careful to keep his voice and expression neutral, he stepped closer to the shop’s proprietor.

“I was told that you might understand . . . visions. Or that you know of someone who can.” William said at last.

“I see.” Jasper flopped himself back into the stool that he had been sitting on quite comfortably before being so rudely interrupted. “Hah, well, perhaps I see. Visions are a fickle thing.” He smiled, caught himself at the pain from where his lip had split, and settled into a thoughtful expression. He hated anything to do with this sort of thing. Telling a person what they wanted to hear was damn near as likely to leave them unhappy as telling them what you actually thought it could mean. And unhappy clients could prove far more violent than the one who had just left. Worse, this was Branda’s expertise, or so she claimed. And occasionally even seemed to be right about. Seven, why did it have to be a vision and not some moon tea for a mistress or manticore venom for a rival.

Perhaps a more straightforward tact would be best. “What do you hope to do with knowledge of what your vision means? Avoid a dark future, win a hefty sum of coin or land?”

William ran a calloused hand through his course, dark hair and shook his head. He was beginning to wonder what he was doing here. There a great deal many things he to complete and this mummer’s farce was . . . well, just that. But he didn’t leave, though he wasn’t sure why.

“I-I don’t know,” he said with a harsh sigh, “it’s like- I can’t truly describe it. It’s as if I can halfway remember something I overheard a stranger recount, from across a tavern room.” William smirked grimly.

“I suppose that makes little sense, but . . . oh seven hells, man. Here: I can remember a skull-faced warrior staring into a broken blade and the horror he felt at seeing his own visage in the steel. There was a great bulwark, like unto a snowy mountain. But below it were shadows moving through a storm of snow and icy winds.”

Even with such a broken recounting William felt an unfamiliar thrill of fear travel down his spine and a part of him felt as though he’d said too much.

Well, that was unexpected. Jasper cocked his head in a moment of true curiosity. Normally those who came in about their visions were, well, different. Dreams mistaken for divine signs or nightmares for dark omens. How interesting that this seemed to be neither. More investigation was warranted, beyond just drawing out a hefty payment.

“Are you of first men blood, m’lord.” It was not Jasper who spoke, who’s face suddenly turned downward. The voice belonged to a woman who appeared silently at the client’s side. Her eyes were wide, and in the moment Jasper again understood why so many found her off-putting with her hair unkempt and clothes off kilter though there was no one thing particularly glaring. All the little things that added up to feeling uncomfortable in her presence, to feeling as if your eyes could not hold her gaze or even cast upon her for long before wanting to slide off, anywhere else. His luck was dire today.

“Memories of these things are strong in that bloodline.” She sucked her teeth. “And of the children, but they are long dead, yes. Long dead.” Jasper watched as she drew far too close to the man for comfort.

“Yes, well, blood of the first men or not, it is an interesting vision. And now you’ve met Branda as well, my...co-proprietor.” He gave her a look, half-pleading, half-reproachful, to back away. “Have you had this vision more than once, lord…” He let the statement trail. He nearly never asked for names, not in this line of business.

William shook his head. “No, no, just the once. As for my family, I am an Andal.

“But I will say this, whatever that . . . thing was, it was no dream. Or at least, it wasn’t purely that. I could feel something out there in the darkness. It saw me and reached out for me.” He said.

No matter his interest, Jasper offered only a shrug in response and another sideway glance to Branda. The woman tutted at him in response, he took the swift shake of her head to understand she had nothing more to offer, for free, at least. “To dream once and be so moved is an…unusual occurrence. There is always talk of prophecies and portents - that we only need to find a key to unlock the meaning. I’m afraid I have no key nor potion or poultice to solve your mystery. The young falcon cleared his throat for overwrought effect. “I don’t know how heavy the cost will be to uncover the meaning. In this line of business as well, I’m sure you understand, we do not trust in ledgers but in coin - arrange to have this sum delivered within two days and we will begin looking into this matter.”

Jasper pushed a slip of parchment indicating the amount he spoke of and waited to see the man’s reaction, waited to see if he had a correct read of the lord’s standing - low - and of his funds - better than most who entered the humble shop. He knew already where to start, a new novice, but one who the young Arryn was sure had connections beyond his rank or years.

----

Ser William


After a moment’s tense thought, William nodded shortly.

“I shall return to my inn and one of my men will be along to ensure your payment.” He nodded shortly and turned to leave. The knight paused and turned back at the door.

“Mark my words, boy. Should I find you’ve taken my money and taken me for a fool. I will exact a price from you, that you’ll be ill equipped to pay.”

With that, William stalked back out onto the city streets, his mind awhirl with thoughts and possibilities. Still, perhaps he had found something.
Marston had attempted to go back the way he came, but the swell of traffic forced him to turn aside with an irate sigh and he found himself riding through Pot Market Street with the five men of his escort. As he rounded a bend in the cobblestoned lane, he drew up and immediately turned to find another route.

Before him stood men of the Faith Militant, knights of the Golden Rose and what had to be none other than the Lady Vittoria. Though he’d only ever seen the Tyrells from afar, at a tourney once, he’d been trained in heraldry like any other knight.

It was then, before William had a chance to try and find a way out of what experience and instinct told him were nothing less then disaster waiting to happen, there was the familiar sound of a bolt tearing through the air.

Several things happened all at once. The Lady Vittoria fell, vanishing from sight in the press of the men around her. A woman with the clear look of Valyrian descent and the blade to match, stormed into the melee and the city watch came pouring in like a swarm of ants.

In the blink of an eye William considered all that was happening and made a decision. He and his men were lightly armored at best and carrying only their arming swords or longsword, in his case. But they were on horseback. So William signaled his handful of soldiers to form up in a line and charge head on into the swirling melee.

Ironshod hooves rang and sparked off the street as Marston and his men rode to the aid of the Tyrells. Smashing into the flank and rear of the watchmen and soldiers of the Faith, their few horses shattered the loosely grouped crowd of surging men.

Men flew back and screamed from the impact of charging horses. A man in a watch cloak twitched as a plate-sized hoof caved in his face with a gout of blood. Another ran a few more steps, his head sailing through the air as William’s blade swung back in a crimson arc. William and his men struck with a desperate speed born of fear and desperate rage. Steel flashed and rang in the sun.

In the space of a few heartbeats William’s sword was notched on both edges and caked in dripping gore. At his frenetic signal, his soldiers turned and ride in a circle around the Tyrell knights, clearing a rough half-moon space, lined with mangled corpses. Though William hadn’t taken his warhorse, the courser beneath screamed her fury and lashed out with hooves and teeth.

A man swung a billhook at the legs of the man riding next to Marston. Ser William raised his blade up, over and punched out the tip of his blade. The watchman staggered back, screaming pawing at the gushing ruin of his nose and eyes. A man in the heraldry of the faith grabbed at his bridle and then reeled back, clutching at the spurting stumps of his wrists. One Marston’s archers took his head as he rode past.

William drew up behind the Tyrell men and his horse scrabbled for purchase on the blood-slicked pavers before she found her balance. In that brief moment, William and his men stood in an island of calm amidst a sea of chaos.

The Watch Commander strode forward against the dragonrider and from where William stood, it looked at though that fight could go either way. Near that duel was another man in armor, who had to be none other than Morgan Hightower.

William made up his mind and spurred his horse forward from the ranks of the Tyrell men. He couldn’t reach the Lord Commander of the watch. But doing something about Hightower might just turn things to advantage of the side he seemed to have suddenly taken.

Morgan Hightower had time to turn and see William’s blade flash towards his eyes. Though he flinched back, Marston’s blade still bit into the side of the man’s face. Morgan Hightower fell back, supported by his men as they dragged him away from the swirling melee. Though his eyes and nose were spared, Ser William’s blade would leave the man with a deep scar over the bridge of his nose and under his left eye. And William saw the hate glittering in the wounded man’s eyes as he was borne away. He knew then that he had made an enemy for life and it would only end when one, or both, of them were dead.

Before the press of bodies could halt his charge and the soldiers of the Faith could drag him from the saddle, William turned his courser and spurred his way back to friendly lines, jumping the sprightly little mare over the formation of Tyrell men. She landed with her hooves splayed and sank down to her rump. Though William lurched in the saddle, he was able to maintain his seat.

There was a rush of air and William looked up in time to see something he’d never once seen as more than a small figure against the sky. The dragon Saeryx had landed and the beast’s head reared. William cursed and urged his men to follow him. A feeling of dread formed a cold knot in his gut and he rode with his men to the front of the retreating Tyrells as they sought to flee what was coming.

Marston and his soldiers had time enough to form a loose wedge and outpace the retreating Tyrells before there was a rush of air.

Then, fire and fury. A great gout of surging flame poured down the street like a river from the blackest hell. Wood splintered and exploded with thunderous cracks, cloth flared like lightning bugs on a warm summer night. Men screamed, ran and fell as flesh was charred to the bone and steel ran like water.

In the ensuing pause that followed, Marston turned his men and tersely ordered a halt. So it was that Ser William threw in his lot with House Tyrell as he and his handful of men covered their retreat. While a dragon bore its rider away and the Lady Vittoria was carried back to safety.
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The Swords and Stars

with @Ezekiel @Vanq @LadyRunic @Thayr @Almalthia


The city had been in turmoil since the return of the dragons.

Shadows that stretched across a whole district of the chaotic city had been cast from the sky as Balerion and Vhagar had plunged from on high, sweeping low around the steadily rising towers of the nascent Red keep.

Many had cheered, but many others had known fear or outrage, perhaps both. When Maegor had set his standard upon the hill, much of the common folk had flocked to the King. The people of King’s Landing tended towards those who had benefited most, either in prosperity or simple survival, from the conquest, and so few had sour feelings for the banner of the red dragon. For many, concerns about the brutality of the then-Prince in far off Essos, and memories of his work as Hand of the King, were instead cause for hope. A strong hand, or a fist, to quell the times of trouble that had swept across the continent.

The noble manses of the young city were notably lackluster in comparison, even those who had little reason to chafe against the rule of House Targaryen might indeed have much to protest about what some had already called a usurpation, in complete contradiction to the laws of the seven which had governed inheritance in Westeros for thousands of years.

Maegor’s stance was clear, just as Aegon had forged an exception for his marriage, Maegor had forged an exception for his inheritance. The realm could not be governed by children, when it was so threatened by treason and banditry.

Those who did not accept this, and especially those who worked against the continued rule of House Targaryen in its whole, were not so easy to placate. Little more than a day after the King’s arrival, the representatives of the Seven within the city had called for Maegor to relinquish his crown, and when they did not, they had called for their most sacred trial as recompense. The Trial of the Seven. Seven swords against Seven swords, to decide the fate of the realm.

Court, or at least, what could be considered it, had assembled to hear the King’s response. He had not deemed fit to give proclamation from the relative privacy and security of the Red Keep, but instead the sprawling outer slope of the hilltop, exposing both nobility and small folk to matters of state.

“Who then, will fight for your King?” The King spoke with a voice which carried over the hillside, with an easy sense of volume which did not turn his words into a desperate shout, a cold fury in his eyes boring into the assembled nobility that he addressed. When silence was his response, beyond weak shudders and the turning down of eyes, something close to amusement wormed it’s way onto his face. How dreadful they must think me.

“I will, your grace.” A voice rose from the crowd, but not from the assembled nobility, instead, further away from the King and the mount. A common voice, articulate, but bearing no sign of formal education. There was a murmur of shock, a few gasps, and perhaps a few laughs, as a man stepped from the well drilled lines of the House Targaryen footmen.
“I been a king's man since I was a boy. I mean to die a king's man, if so be it.” The man continued, as he knelt on the ground before the King, offering forwards the simple sword he carried.

Maegor regarded the man, in the red and black of his household, for a handful of moments, before the grim visage of the King nodded in acceptance.

“This bean shames us all! Are there no true knights here? No leal men?” A voice rose up from the ranks of the Kingsguard, as one of the white cloaks stepped forwards, likewise, coming to a knee before the King.

One of the more stoic onlookers of the events took a step forwards from the crowd of nobility. A towering man of great stature, the Lord of House Baratheon had not been cowed by the presence of dragons, for he had spent much of his life in their company. Durran had waited, so as to not swing matters on the merit of his own name, but to delay further would be close enough to renouncing the close bond his own house had with the Crown. He was already dressed in armor, a fine suit of dark metal broken up by the flowing tabard of his household. Durran had not been long in the capital, for matters had held him in the Stormlands, but now that his son was seeing to local matters, he had deemed it more important to represent himself at court, a decision that now seems prophetic in its timing.

“House Baratheon stands with the throne, and so I shall stand with you, your Grace.” He did not fall to his knees as the others had, but bowed his head to the new King, the severity of his gaze clear for all. Victory was not a sure thing, and there were more gasps and murmurs than even at the volunteering of the lowborn, for a Lord Paramount to risk his own life for such a trial, but there was little that could be done to ignore the blood shared between them.

The Warrior of House Arryn had spent days laid out in recovery from the harrowing events that grew in absurdity each time he retold the tale. Until, blessed by the Seven undoubtedly, word reached him in his sick bed of the true dragons’ return to the city. He watched the scene unfold, Prince Maegor - King Maegor - challenged before him. He whispered too loudly an uncouth remark about the first who pledged his honor. But it was Lord Baratheon who spurred him forward to action.

He briefly considered his brother’s disapproval, the warnings he had been given and largely ignored anyways. No, Osric was certain that his grim brother would come to see the benefit of being decisive here. And, perhaps the newest woman to steal his heart would take heart as well. And if not her, certainly her father would find him a worthy match for his daughter. His eyes scanned the crowd for a moment, unable to find her in the mass. He would find her later, when he would be bloodied but victorious from battle.

“Ser Osric of House Arryn stands with our king.” He pushed his way forward to stand beside Durran Baratheon. It wasn’t enough to just offer his sword. “You brought justice to the Vale, an act we will not forget. My sword-arm for you!” He turned, exaggerating his search again through the crowd. “And in victory, my Lady Rhoelle, I will pledge myself to you.”

The scene laid out was one that would be told again and again, songs would be made of those men who came out victorious. Horas felt his father’s hand on his shoulder, restraining him from taking that fatal step forward. He did not know that his father planned to step up himself, while no longer keen with a sword the Lord of Harrenhal had his duty. Maegor, now their King, was also their family by marriage of a sister and a daughter to the Harroways. The House could not just let this challenge to him go without an answer. Yet that answer could carry a high cost.

So it was with the youthful impression that he was immortal that Horas shrugged off his father’s hand and drew the sword at his side. Though only a squire, he stepped forward and drew his sword. His father behind him looking grim. His sister’s faces polite masks, though Jeyne’s eyes were daggers into Horas’s unguarded back. “Your Grace! My sister wed you. Though I am but a squire, I will not let this insult go unpunished! Through Fire and Flame, I’ll see these dogs meet the Stranger.”

The Lord of Harrow’s hand, once clasped on his youngest son’s shoulder, now dropped to clasp Hanna on hers. It was all he could do. This was going to be a melee and brawl to the death and his youngest. Not even a knight was stepping in to do battle where stronger men would pause. With luck, Maegor would refuse Horas’s the honor and if that blow fell heavy. His boy would be put out of the way of danger. It was a father’s failing to want to see his sons grow tall.

Damon the Devout wanted to sneer at the bootlicking that was going on, but kept his face passive. The Warrior Sons, his fellow brethren, his brothers in arms were blessed by the Seven to take down the vile usurper. Maegor would find his end here and a more worthy man would rise to the occasion to lead Westeros into a faithful era. Directing the Warrior Sons chapter in King's Landing had been his pleasure and to have Maegor crown himself and demand things like a child was a bit of a surprise. He had thought Maegor would be less childish about this, but no the polygamous ungodly usurper was intent on getting his way and if it took attempting to cut down the whole of Westeros; Damon believed he’d do it.

One of those who stood in the ranks of the watching nobility was, much to the chagrin of those standing about him, not like the others. Of course that's what every noble might think, but it was quite true. A smile grew across the man's face, one hand grasping hard at his blade nestled in scabbard, his long locks wispy in the hill's wind. He was Ironborn and, quite simply, he felt truly alive with the proposition laid bare before him. It was a moment of history brought on by chance, by his pulling into port for cargo. When he saw the dragon above, he knew it was history before him. The tall reaver's breath came ragged at the thought. Smallfolk and even a riverlander to say their support before he, though? It was nearly intolerable. Harlan Smokestone cried out, gruff islander tones a far cry from the formalities of those before as he stepped forward in the crowd to draw his blade in salute. "What is dead cannot die! King Maegor, I know you. I know the screams of the Dothraki widows from your justice, and it was beauty. I will kill these snakes who pretend to be men for you."

The King surveyed the increasingly vocal crowd before him with an intensity that was unwavering, the deep violet glare leveling equally on those who swore their swords to him, to those who stood by and those who would draw against him with equal unyielding judgment. He would remember it all. Some of those who's voices had joined their cause to his he felt little point in committing to memory, he didn't not expect them to last, but spattered among them were notable warriors he considered a boon to have. The Baratheons were a towering lot, the martial skill of his father's bastard brother with the sturdy build of the Durrandon's. The Ironborn was the closest thing to a true surprise however, and already some of the crowd murmured in discontent. This was a sacred rite of the faith, yet a follower of their Drowned God had volunteered himself to fight.

"Men of all lands understand their duty." Maegor finally spoke, his vision set on the Ironborn. "No greater sign of the folly of their treason could be present, those who fight with me assure the victory of our righteous cause. Those who stand against us, the Kingdom will know as thieves and traitors." With his words, Maegor dismissed the wider crowd, the men at arms of House Targaryen working to disperse the smallfolk even as the nobility made their own way. Those who had chosen to fight for their king were permitted to remain as they prepared for the fight to come.

Maegor paced some way from the others for the moment, looking out across the city. His city. The moment of solitary thought passed however, as the armoured form of his mother appeared beside him. Without speaking, Maegor removed the studded crown of his father from his temple, handing it over to Visenya, who clasped it in both hands as she had when she first passed the Kingdom to him.

"I will crush them." His voice did not carry, but nor did it boom across the landscape as it had before. He did not speak the alternative, such was his conviction, but still he carried on. "Rhaena, take it to her, let her burn it all, be queen of whatever ash remains." Visenya nodded, on this she was agreed. She wouldn't have entertained the idea of the trial, burning the traitors instead, but she was not her son, and she knew he would never abandoned the chance to show his strength and his cause. She had little hope for the rest of the potential heirs, but the young dragoness was the least terrible option before her, should her unthinkable fear happen.

She stood in her own silence for the moment, before simply adding. "Kill them all, then burn their nest."

As the crowd began to disperse, the Knight of the Vale, the Warrior’s chosen vassal if he believed his elder brother, took in the gravity of the moment. No matter the bravado he displayed, and he thought he did so flawlessly, beneath it he also knew the danger that lurked. He had only just returned to sparring after the unfortunate incident with the dragon lady. Misfortune turned to highest fortune once they were victorious. He looked to Maegor Targaryen, first of his name, a swell of respect and longing in his chest. What fortune indeed to prove himself to king and faith.

He knew only some of the other men who had stepped up, and while he had at first been intrigued by the man called Bean, it was the Ironborn that drew his attention most. No true knight, a heathen, it was not so long ago they would have waged war against one another in the riverlands. With one last look to the King and no sign of Rhoelle, he approached the man instead.

He would have clapped the Ironborn’s shoulder, but as he drew closer he was thwarted by just how large the man actually was. Unusual, nearly a giant of a man, Osric wondered if it would be an aid or a hindrance on a battlefield - or their trial. He instead opted to clap the man’s elbow and was pleased it was only soreness and not sharp pain that traveled up his arm. If Maegor accepted him, then who was he to disagree? “Have you ever fought a proper melee, Ser…” Osric drew it out. “Well, probably not a ser, eh? Which isle will be naming all their sons after you when we’ve won?” The smile was easy, though hints of fading yellow bruises were visible yet on his skin.

Harlan turned, looked down at the knight, his mind rolling through which one of the crowd the man actually was. One of the Riverlanders, that's who it was, and the colors on the man's tabard gave the Ironborn pause to wonder which, exactly, the man was. Wait a damnable moment…, no he wasn't a Riverlander. The accent didn't match, the more he talked, and now he could see the man's true colors. He bore Arryn's, as plain as they may be compared even to the half-moon of Smokestone. Of all the things to approach he it would be an Arryn, Harlan thought ruefully, though he gave but a narrowing of the eyes to the shorter knight.

"No such thing as a proper melee. Nothing proper about butchery, be it pigs or men. But yes, Arryn, I have." He gave pause to the second question, meeting the smile of the Valeman with a snort after a breath's moment. "My house doesn't know I’m here. Not precise, anyways. It'll be a time before the Iron Isles knows, another time still before word reaches Lonely Light, and time still before it reaches home. White Rock will feel pride, maybe…but no. I don't think they'll name sons after me. No matter whether I stand beside Maegor or the Drowned God himself, they'll not name sons for me, not for killing a few men of the Seven. It'll be a fun day, though. A good day."

He looked back to the Arryn, away from the misty thoughts that had seemed to strike him. The man seemed bruised, somewhat, yellowed and issued. A strange thing to choose after having a tussle, that was for certain. "I am Harlan, younger brother to the Smokestone."

“Never heard of it.” Osric spoke with a snap, but not dishonesty. He had never been one to pay attention to memorizing the details of small houses or realms. "But after today, friend, I’m sure your name will be sung. Even if your people don’t!” The grin remained, toothy and accompanied by a gruff laugh. His brother would surely turn purple when he learned that a drowned god heathen supported Maegor to victory. Perhaps it would be enough to return home himself, a task he’d avoided for too long.

“A good day indeed but probably no need for killing. We’ll knock them around good, no doubt. No doubt at all. The Faith will take it as a sign that the Seven smile on our King, and we can get back about our business.” He nodded to himself as he spoke, full of confidence. Perhaps some would die, there was always a risk, but he was sure that much of this was for show. The Faith bent before, they would again. He didn’t need some rough sellsword like Harlan of White Rock instigating matters worse.

His gaze fell at last on a woman in the distance, unmistakable in her form. “And when this is all said and done that woman will be in my bed to melt away the pain and bruises, no doubt.” He arched a knowing eyebrow up towards the Ironborn. He’d make good on his declaration, but after a taste first.

The Smokestone man gave pause, half smiling to himself at the nature of the man. He seemed to think they would only beat the others, and force them to yield honorably. There was nothing exactly honorable about fighting though, not in Harlan's opinion. "Don't lie to yourself. Maegor wants to kill them; he's not a man to make meager efforts, nor leave his challengers alive to remember their failure. Remember…I pledged to kill the snakes and the King did not correct me. And as for the others…they want to kill Maegor. They understand how dangerous he is, how angry he is. Letting him live would mean they would die later. No, Arryn…there'll be dead men. It will be a good day."

He chuckled a little, then, a rough chuckle deep in the chest. "Hopefully your woman can stitch your wounds, too."

Osric shook his head but pressed his lips tightly. Perhaps a few dead, the ones who were barely more than farmers. He was certain of it and even more certain now that while Harlan’s sword arm would be beneficial, he was beneath the Arryn knight. Afterwards though…”We’ll put some coin on it, how about? When the dust has settled and you see I have the right of it, you can buy me another roll with the one they call the Flame of Lys.” With a deep breath and a long exhale, he gave one final look to the man. “I’ll bet an additional stag that we’re in the whorehouses with our enemies singing and drinking. And after all that, my woman can tend to me.” He grinned and clapped his ally’s elbow once more in departure. He was bored of the small prattle, best to not allow himself to think too poorly of a man he’d be fighting beside, best to leave before his opinion grew worse.

“As you galavant about which whores you mean to see to, I mean to declare myself a Ser after this.” The young Horas Harroway strode to the two. His all too common brown hair and eye forgettable as his sharp face was like that of a common fox had a wicked flicker in his eyes. “A knight for defending my sister’s husband and King? You both will get pity from the whores for a night, I’ll get the glory for the rest of my life on this side of the Narrow Sea and beyond.” For surely Damon would take the Ser KingsShield, or whatever nonsense was given him, across the sea and on his many travels. It was something as a point of pride with the younger Harroways to follow the example of their Captain brother. “But you, Arryn. I know you. My father spat your name a few times over that incident. How does the water of the Bay taste?”

“Bah,” Harlan spat on the ground, chuckling just a bit deep in his chest, “I won’t get any pity from the whores in this town. I’ll garner my satisfactions from Riverlander women, pup.” He loomed just a tad over the young Harroway, smiling though it rarely touched at his eyes. Harlan could sense something in the air, though he wasn’t sure of what exactly it was. “Would you know of any fresh ones, Harroway?”

Osric’s attempt to leave was cut short. “Watch your tongues.” He spoke to both but with his eyes on Harlan. Harroway was barely more than a boy by his estimations, and a surly one, but he was the King’s kin by marriage. The Ironborn, that one didn’t understand the way of things. He had no standing to speak that way. Whatever cause Harroway had over his recent…adventure…was a concern for after the trial. He just needed to prove himself here and any rumors or unhappiness would be put to rest. The Arryn knight ignored it, mostly. “Bay water is refreshing, nearly as much as the air rushing around you while on dragonback.” He gave a toothy, confident grin. “Nothing either of you could relate to. May the Warrior favor you as much as he has me.” He was done with their jostling and set off to prepare for the coming trial, daydreams of his future good luck playing vibrantly in his mind.
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Volantis

Some time after the Dothraki Horde burned: Part I







The Arryn woman had taken to passing time by roaming the palatial Rahl estate. It was so different from her home, from any of the castles or towns or cities that she had traveled the past few years. Volantis was foreign in nearly every way and the short amount of time spent here had done little to make it any more familiar. The haze of smoke, of burnt flesh - horse and man, still lingered in the oppressively hot air. Even the Volantenes had seemed bothered by it, if only briefly. From pirates to a Dothraki horde, to watching two massive dragons shadow the city in departure, Volantis kept surprising her. The great beasts and their riders’ departure, she eventually learned, was to where they were supposed to be. She had watched them disappear into the smokey sky and wished that she could join them. How cool and refreshing the air must feel, at that height and speed. How wonderful to just be somewhere else.

But...But Volantis was not all that bad, not to Sharra at least. Not for the moments that she caught herself smiling, for what felt like the first time in ages. Artys still moped about, though he was less sour with each new day and treatment of their hosts. It made it more bearable for her, there was no love lost nor gained, at least.

In the quiet of the morning, as she walked quietly through a courtyard, the din of a waking city barely audible from behind thick walls, Sharra found herself blushing at the thought of finally asking to accompany Aster to the City proper. If or when his duties allowed, she quickly reminded herself. Silently she replayed the conversation in her head until she felt confident that she would get the words out without pause or hesitation.

Her other concern, what to do about the Rahl’s other guest, that was a thought she pushed aside. It had been nearly two years ago and certainly it was possible that the man’s wife had died. Or that she was simply incorrect in her remembrance of House Harroway. But it pricked and prodded at her til she was certain that Damon Harroway in fact had a wife back home in Harrenhal. At least, he had when they had visited. She had yet to bring it up to Artys who had barely deigned to notice anyone at Harrenhal beyond the pretty slip of a girl, Jeyne.

She had been happy to be out of the Westeros-styled dress, but it was difficult to get used to the bareness of Volantene fashion. Sharra fidgeted, as she paused to sit near a small pond, her hands tracing over her arms, though at least the neckline was high and clasped through with large golden necklaces. Somehow, they had found nearly a wardrobe’s worth of pale blue dresses, some nearly white, others a color that would have matched the Eyrie’s summer sky. She dipped her fingers into the water, not as cool as she wanted nor as warm as she expected. Lost in her thoughts, she did not notice when she was no longer alone.

No, not alone. Damon leaned against one of the pillars that supported the slightly overhanging balcony above him. The manse, a manor of a house that would be the equal of any in Westeros, was built to cope with the heat of the southern region. The air that coursed through the halls tugged at the white shirt that was loose under his leather tunic. A study bit of tailoring that glinted with hints of wealth in silver and gold embroidery. It was how Damon liked to show his wealth. Hints, well made over flashy. It was the flashy stuff that proclaimed you had something to steal, that something would be made of mostly gilt rather than sturdy steel. Certainty in what could be born.

Something he lacked with Sharra Arryn. The woman was far more keen than Artys. The lad being more of a morose boy, much like his nephew Elmo. A boy more interested in books and his own gloom. Crossing the paths, he stood behind the woman and appreciated her beauty. Her form was lovely and he felt a pang of desire towards her. It was a shame his pirates, when they had been his pirates, hadn’t come across her ship when they were prowling the sea. She would have been a prize and an Arryn? He would have had a claim to that Lord Paramount seat. Power, more than his father and elder brother possessed.

“My Lady Arryn, I hope I did not startle you." The roguish smile that lit the green eyes and broke across the scarred face. “I was only admiring the beauty that dwells within Volantis. Truly, is it not a wondrous place." He studied the pond with its rippling surface. “Will you do me the honor of walking with me, my lady?" His arm was offered towards the woman with a bow that would put any gallant knight to shame. “Tell me how your travels have fared?"

Her eyes darted upwards and widened at the interruption. Damon Harroway, think his name and he appears? Uncomfortably, she placed a docile and pleasantly meaningless smile across her reddened face at being caught unawares. “My Lord Damon. Our host’s estate is marvelous in a city such as this." She side-stepped any untoward comment and reluctantly tose to place a delicate hand atop his arm, barely touching. Demure, meek, unquestionable in her motives.

Softly she sighed at the thought of their travels again. “For an unintended destination, our travels have been better of late." A few steps in silence and she at last offered in return, “And you, my Lord, I hope your time with our generous hosts has been favorable as well? Or do you miss the Riverlands?" What could he know of her beyond her name, few seemed to know much of anything beyond that of her. The whispers and rumors of just what had occurred in the Vale, of betrayal and sin and royal justice that had upended her entire world.

A deep chuckle came from the corned second son of House Harroway. Here he was reaping rewards and gaining a foothold outside of his family’s influence. A wife of the Rahl’s family would do his image good in Essos and put him in good standing with the Triarch of Volantis he hoped. From there he would find a good harbor for his ship. His lovely, honest ships. Not a lout on them with loose lips and a less than proper skill with a weapon. He had seen to carefully shaping his crew for his flagship, the ‘Lady Melrose'. The name of his lady love he told some, to others it was his dear mother, or that it was a lost childhood friend killed by Gargon the Gross. In truth, the ship was nothing more than a ship to Damon. He put more effort into it as it was his personal ship. Fast and quick to dance across the waves with him and with a crew that he had handpicked.

Again.

“Indeed their estate is." He let the compliment slide off her shield and drew her on a walk through the gardens with slow easy steps. Not leading her away from the public eye, but not allowing any near. A private word did not require eavesdroppers. “My time here seems extended and I find myself glad of it. The Riverlands can be a bit crowded even in Harrenhal with two uncles, their children, and my father, brothers and their children." He winked at Sharra with a sea man’s weathered eye. “Though with Alys married to Maegor, and my other sisters looking for prospects of their own… Perhaps I shall bring one to Volantis?" He had thought about it, though the ‘sister’ he would bring would be nothing more than a silver-haired whore to trade for more of a foothold and to use as a spy. Not that the Lady Sharra needed to know such.

“So will you be attending the ceremony? Apparently I am to take a wife." Best to strike the blow while they were out of hearing. He could craft his lie and be done with it. Already he had sent word with one of his ship and most closed mouthed people, namely the sort that was good at carrying messages. Soon, Minisa would be on a ship and that son of his would stay in Harrenhal. If the woman had an accident at sea? Well, he had produced the required heir on his end, he could take time making a spare with the Rahl sister.

She could at least sympathize with what it felt like to live in crowded halls. Though, she thought with disbelief, it would take a far larger family to make the halls of Harrenhal feel crowded to most. Sharra mulled over his words and tried to hide any reaction. She had become quite good at that, at least, a blank face to give away little. So what if others found her aloof or cold. At least she was spared the awkwardness. Except for Damon Harroway now, who’s attention on her grew more unwelcome the more he shared.

“How thoughtful of you, to think on your sister’s matches. Your father must appreciate your help managing these matters." Her eyes glanced around, others milled but none drew close enough to hear and she was certain her escort knew that. Her discomfort grew, she let her free arm drop to her side, extended enough to brush her fingers over flowers as they passed.

“Take a wife?" The young falcon struggled for appropriate words that would give her reason to get away. An error already in losing grasp of her tongue for that fleeting moment. “I had not known, or I had thought..." Her lips pressed together tightly before smoothing once again. “Apologies, what I mean to say is what wondrous news for you, my lord. My nephew and I would be honored to attend, of course."

“That I was married?" The man gave a twist to his lips that was little less than a scoff. “Minisa Butterwell and I were never suited to one another. A wife my father had picked and… my brother had favored." Had, past tense. So the games would begin and Damon hoped to play them to his advantage. Though there was no lie there, he had seen Jon give Minisa’s favoring glances. Desire? Perhaps. That the man could be so devout and yet long for women other than his wife. A wife that much as he styled his own, let her wiles wander to another that was not her lawful husband.

“Alas, a great many things can happen in a short frame of time. I have had trusted news that she fell ill and passed. A widower, though I might have been since our wedding. You, as the kin of a Lord Paramount, must understand the needs of rank and the privileges we garner?" He gave a sigh. “Well it is as it is, and I have no wish to let my father pick another wife for me that will scorn my love of salt and sea, for something more pious."

As if many marriages were of men and women suited to one another, no, such was not their place. At least she had been spared so far the indignity and awkwardness of it all. The Maiden, wasn’t she? Whether it was said as a cruel jest or some lofty ideal.

Still, her face stayed reddened not just from heat but continued embarrassment at the slip of her tongue. And now, what could she possibly offer to a man who seemed wholly unperturbed by the death of a woman he was sworn to. “Should I find a sept, I will light a candle for Lady Minisa’s passing, and for you that the Crone will guide you to a true match." Something remained unsettled within her, though she was lost as to pinpointing it. A silly exercise, and one that she should not pursue, it mattered little to her own situation.

“You are a man of the sea though, my lord. Tell me, do you think we will find passage soon to Pentos? Our hosts are kind but Artys has business to attend to and we have been gone from the Vale for so long now." Sharra spoke the words but felt little longing of her own to return to the Eyrie. What else was she to do though, Artys would return, likely wed, and she would again return to the shadows.

The cool shadows of the gardens within his home were a favorite retreat of Aster. The calm cool meticulously plotted oasis had been a favorite since he was young. He and his siblings knew all the little hiding places which was where he was currently observing Sharra and Damon. He had every intention of revealing himself when it had just been Sharra but now he watched the interaction between the two. Not hearing the conversation was irritating but he did watch the faces and the reactions of those who had not realized they were being watched. Thankfully his mother had made her spies, which included her children, learn to read lips as well as come up with hand gestures that were a language unto themselves. Sometimes he marveled at how brilliant his mother really was.

Time to interrupt. Sharra looks like she could use a rescue. Quietly, slowly and softly Aster climbed out of the shadowed recess of the garden making his way to Sharra and Damon. Smiling he swiftly ran over the pieces of conversation that he had been able to read. The words didn’t bother him as much as the expressions and the words. He found that he enjoyed watching the Westerosi peoples, probably because they were not connected enough to realize that they had walked into a house that specialized in spying. His family was the equivalent of Master of Whispers to the King across the narrow sea. Riss would just be starting his tutelage with mother and learning what the rest of the family did.

Striding up to Damon and Sharra and greeting Damon with a polite acknowledgement, “Lord Damon," but bowing his head to Sharra with a private smile all for her, Aster greeted her. His gray eyes sparkled and his deep dimple flashed. “Good morrow gevie mēre1. How was your night?"

At the mention of lighting a candle for his ‘dearly departed wife’, Damon maintain a composed look though he wanted to smile. He doubted that Sharra Arryn bought the story completely but he could hope this would lead her down the path of thought he desired. Going to answer, he gave a slight frown as the young Rahl, Aster, interrupted. That he had approached so suddenly and seemed to favor the Arryn was troubling. Still the captain answered with the ease of continuing an interesting conversation. “I think it is possible and would be more so if one was not adverse to travelling overland and the risks therein. If you were to take boat from Pentos, so to say? I have no reason myself to rush home, but that route would be clear of the Stepstones. As for going through them? It will rely on how fed up the Dornish and the Three Cities will be of the vermin soon."

Her hand that had barely rested upon the riverlander’s arm slipped away suddenly at Aster’s entrance. Sharra, ever appreciative at how easily they all switched to the common tongue for their benefit, had yet to ask what his greeting meant. Her mouth formed words too slowly, her tongue lagged at the polite thing to say. At least she could be glad for Damon to fill the silence, her awkwardness shifted to fretting about their conversation now revealed. “It seems there is no path home but to wait longer." She hoped the relief in her voice was read as one wanting to avoid another brush with piracy, but the crimson that flushed her neck worked hard to betray her.

“Lord Aster, a pleasure to see you this morning." Sharra offered, blue eyes briefly meeting his. “My nephew has been eager for news from the Vale or of the conflict at sea calming. Perhaps he will be luckier with the first." Her fingers fidgeted at the side, playing with the loose layers of fabric that hung from her waist. “I had a thought to accompany him, but he worried for my safety. Your gardens are a welcome diversion though."

Smiling Aster responded to Sharra. "It pleases me that you, Lady Sharra, share my view on a most pleasant diversion that every generation of Rahl’s has improved upon." He was normally quiet and didn't speak much because he found it wasn't needed often. Rather he'd become accustomed to not having to speak to get his point across. He wasn't austere, far from it, rather just oddly expressive and understood easily when he wanted to be.

However Sharra was an interesting enigma. She was beautiful and intelligent. His mother had commented on the fact. Often. It wasn't like the man was blind or deaf. Just willing to take it as slow as she seemed to need. "We have received word from Westeros. It seems rather more of the ramblings of a mad man than facts. Aegon was killed in a riot of people that claimed to be working in the name of the Faith. Aneys collapsed and is dead. Heartbreak some say. There were whispers about some priestess of R'hllor being directed to some sort of ritual in the Westerlands. Finally Maegor was crowned king and the Faith are against him. It sounds too much like the ranting of a mad man to me." His deep voice turned over the words like dark rich velvet.

Damon listened with one polite ear. He did not approve of the news he was hearing, it proved too much that the Rahls were indeed the information gatherers who had taken his ships and hamstrung his own privateering. Yet, if the Realm of his birth was in chaos? All the better that his father and elder brother might leave Harrenhal to him. A man could rise far if they were smart and with the alliance with the Rahls? If everything went well, he could use the connection to bolster her strength under Maegor. There was little doubt there the man had seized the Throne. Damon personally thought that the younger Targaryen had been a better fit for the throne from the start. A decisive hand to hold together the kingdom his father had made. Aenys had been too soft, of course he had sired plenty of children, but such a thing was the domain of womankind. If they lacked the ability? Who was to blame a man for taking another wife better suited to him. Damon himself was following that example.

“It does not sound so mad." Damon interjected his gaze seeming to drift across the gardens. “The Faith has been on edge since Maegor took my sister as his wife and the King married his son and daughter. That there are those who took the Faith of the Realm into their own hands… Fanatics tend to get aggressive and this is most likely nothing but a corrupt Septon and his gaggle of small folk. The lords will stay silent if Balerion once again crouches behind the Throne."

Her vision narrowed, black and fuzzy, a hand to her abdomen, her legs weak. Damon was flippant, but it was heavy news to hear. What would they return home to? How would her brother react? They had only held their position for a scant few years. Did it even matter to her? “I..." She stammered for a moment before her vision cleared and she took a deep breath. “I think I would like to sit for a little while, and break my fast. I was too eager to be out in this heat still, I’m sorry, my lords."

They retired to a large room with a vaulted ceiling and a large woven rotating device that spun drawing a breeze through the room. The room was quite cool due to the strategically placed cuts in the ceiling that allowed light in and heat to escape. The view was spectacular and open fully to a shaded balcony that looked over from a high height as if looking down from the Eyrie. The whole of Eastern Volantis could be seen all the way to the black walls.

The walls of the room were an intricate stone carving that seemed to have no seams. The carving told a story that was echoed in the wading pool tiles. Mythical animals cavorted on landscapes that climbed arches for deeper alcoves across from the open balcony. The columns that seemed to frame the view rather than break it were carved much like the walls. The stone seamlessly blending into the ceiling and floor.

The Doom was clearly pictured with a bird that looked like it was part dragon part peacock looking on crying. The strange bird was pictured throughout the room and where it touched it seemed to bring prosperity, or rather, pointed out prosperous events. The stone was set with gems that twinkled like stars catching the light and moving the eye around the room.

Sheer fabrics dampened hung so that the glare from the reflection of mirrored surfaces used by other Volantenes. The fabric defused the light and kept the room cool. Woven mats were also dampened and set around for the same reason. Not as cool as the pool, which was a favorite item of the Rahls and was how their wealth was expressed. For nearly all places that people would spend time in boasted a shallow pool or fountain. Water in a desert was the epitome of wealth.

Beside the pool was a light repast of fruits, nuts, cheeses, flatbreads and meats sliced so thin that you could almost see through them. Containers that held cool water, juices and wine. Light sauces were in containers set decoratively around.

A lovely slender dark haired woman sat in a chair with her bare feet dipped in the pool looking out at the city. As the trio entered the room the woman turned her gaze on them, a small smile hovering on her lips. She wore a flowing gown of light filmy material that matched the jade green of her eyes. Her age seemed to be indeterminate save for the way she carried herself with all the maturity and alacrity of lifelong knowledge she had gained.

Pointedly she swept over the trio and pinned Damon with a lazy smile and the quirk of a sardonic brow. She sipped her drink and appraised the man who could be her next husband. "He's decent looking, at least, perhaps even good looking closer or with less on..." She tossed over her shoulder keeping her eyes on Damon seeing how he took to the teasing. There was a barely audible sigh and groan from both Lyra and Darkin who were seated in a nice shaded area.


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It took all of a few hours for Melyssanthi to be so tired of the bootlickers that she made sure to make a mental list for vengeance. Every slight, plentiful in their number; real or imagined, on her or her family was magnified and fed her rage like oil poured on a bonfire. But did she let on how she felt? No. The serene smile or expressionlessness of her face did much to fool others. Those that were not her mother or siblings.

Waiting. That is all the days following were full of after her Uncle usurped the throne. Melyssanthi’s patience was wearing thin and it was getting harder to pretend submission. Thankfully the day came that Maegor and Visenya left, thankfully they left with the two women behind that they had brought with them. Alys Harroway and Tyanna of the Tower were less than savory companions and Melyssanthi was glad that they had left.

Their departure had brought a storm. A vicious powerful storm that lashed at Dragonstone with a fury that matched the inner workings of Melyssanthi. Being Targaryen she knew the passages that were unknown to those outside the family. The fortuitous storm swept in just after supper was served and beat its wrath upon the island as the sun set and the night deepened. The flashes of lightning were the only brightness for the mere moments that the flashes split the night. Melyssanthi on bare feet moved swiftly and silently in a tight passageway to her younger brother Aegon’s room. He no longer needed anything within it. However she could use some of his old clothes.

The hidden panel slid away from the wall silently and Melyssanthi held her breath as a flash of lightning illuminated the room. Empty. Thank the gods for a mother who had yet to let go. Slipping into the room, Melyssanthi quickly pawed through her brother's clothes and pulled out a black outfit that looked like it would fit her. Stripping out of her chemise and robe she quickly pulled on Aegon’s clothes. They were loose around the waist and a little long at the ends. Cinching the pants as best she could with a belt and rolling up the sleeves, Melyssanthi sighed softly, shaking her head as she tucked the pants into the boots she had brought with her. There was no way she was going to be able to fit Aegon’s boots.

Seeing a bag that was bigger than the one she had brought, Melyssanthi picked it up and smiled at the fact that it was cured as to be weatherproof. She took it as a sign that Aegon knew that Rhaena needed her. She stuffed another pair of pants, a couple of shirts and a knife in the bag as well as her own bag which was smaller and full of jewels that were hers. Melyssanthi paused and thought. Didn’t Aegon have leather armor that might be my size? Again pawing through her dead brother’s things she finally found the set at the bottom of a chest and she knew she had to leave immediately. She wanted to be able to get out of this prison and there was only one shot.

Melyssanthi was headed to her sister Rhaena and no one was going to stop her. However she couldn’t stand to let her mother worry about her. Slipping back into the passage she made her way to Viserys’ room. Quiet as a mouse she slipped in and woke him covering his mouth so he didn’t squeak. “Tell mother I love her. I’m taking Fyresong and we are leaving. Tell mother to do the same and not to be stupid because it’s only a matter of time till they kill us.”

His eyes were huge and Melyssanthi knew he was paying attention. “Do not let her tell you that Maegor or Visenya would not kill their kin. You saw him kill the Maester. You know the story of Grandmere. You know they never recovered her body. Think why that is.” She whispered harshly and shook Viserys gently hoping to get her point across. “You know Grandmere was more beautiful and well loved then Visenya. Tell mother you need to flee to a house that will make sure that succession stays true. Remember those that were here are not to be trusted. I love you all. Go to our mother as soon as I leave. I will create a distraction.” She kissed her brother on the forehead and slipped out into the passage that she had been using to escape notice of the guards who had turned on the royal family.

Pressing her luck Melyssanthi knew someone was bound to find that she wasn’t in her room and her feet moved ever more swiftly as she put the second part of her plan. She just hoped that the storm held. She felt the walls and floor shake with the crack of thunder as she came to where she had to pass into a corridor to the bridge that led to the dungeons. She was sure that those who weren’t outright killed had been locked up. No one would be out on the bridge in a storm, no one would tempt fate as much. No one but a desperate Princess.

Racing across the corridor her boots made little noise due to the fact that they were designed to be flexible for riding and running. Melyssanthi flung herself at the door to the bridge and opened it just as a loud crack of thunder sounded reverberating in the Stone Drum. The bridge was slick and as Melyssanthi moved forward she was soaked to the skin, flinching as the night flashed and the rain lashed in a stinging angry torrent. Making it across the bridge she flung open the door to the dungeons.

“By the Mother! Were you trying to frighten me to death?!” The voice called out as Melyssanthi practically fell into the room.

“That would have been by far too convenient.” Melyssanthi snarked before she thought better of it. The voice came from a young man perhaps a few years older than herself. Thankfully her near drowning meant that she didn’t resemble herself as much as she normally did. But now that she was here she had no idea how to get the keys from him or if there was even anyone to release as a distraction. She opened her mouth to order him to give her the keys and for him to leave as the door opened again.

In stepped a tall woman who reached around the Princess and a blade flashed followed by the sound of a soft gurgle from the man. “I assume you want the keys he has, cousin. Apologies Garrik. Wrong place, wrong time.” The blade was pulled out and the woman stepped around Melyssanthi.

“Who… how…?” Pheynix watched the Princess gape and for once looked out of pocket. Smirking Pheynix pulled off her hood and pulled down her veil.

“You know sneaking just is not your thing Melys.” Pheynix gathered up the keys that Melyssanthi had been looking for. She didn’t like that she had to kill the man. He was just following orders. “Let us get this done.” Pheynix moved past the now dead Garrik pulling her hood back up and pulling her veil back into place. Twirling the keys Pheynix heard Melyssanthi huff and hop over the body softly. Quickly the two women made their way down to where the guards and nobles that were loyal to Aneys were being held.

“Princess?” The question warbled and seemed to hang in the air; like a soap bubble floating in the air. Both of the women looked over at the guard that was in the cell. “What are you doing here?”

“Prison break so that the royal family can get out.” Pheynix stated as she unlocked doors and people filed out. “Go cause chaos.”
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