The WesterlandsNear 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?”
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?”
“…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—”
“—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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.