Once, this place was burnt black.
When dragon fought dragon. Their fighting was a dance. A fire … capering back and forth to murderous music. They stormed this place, starving in both bellies and sanity. They wanted justice. They wanted finality. The Shepherd led his flock of smallfolk here, so to slay the beasts within. And that is what they did.
The Dragonpit went with flames, burning brightly upon Rhaenys’ Hill. Taking every beast inside - dragon and man - with it.
Reconstruction commenced two years after the rebirth of dragons and one year after another war was fought between them. It was one of the first major acts issued by King Baelor II. “Rebuild”, was his word. Rebuild The Dragonpit. Rebuild House Targaryen. For a return of dragon meant a return to form. The ages old dynasty - rejuvenated.
It was something he instilled in his two children. King Baelor reminded them daily just who they were. They … were power. The blood of Old Valyria. And those before them had lost their power. When the dragons began being born smaller and smaller, House Targaryen shrunk with them. When the dragons eventually stopped being born altogether ... Well.
A powerful house was almost no more.
King Baelor II would not let it happen again. It was their time. He would raise his house from the ashes and when he was dead and gone … his son and his daughter would light the fire once more. And they did.
It was quite a fire they lit.
A second dance.
Though this time, The Dragonpit survived it. For the most part. Much could not be said for the beasts, for after the war when Baelor’s son had won … he replaced The Shepherd. He came into the pit with his men and with his children. He made them watch as he slit the throats of each dragon. Whether they were freshly hatched or decades old. He killed them. He killed all of them.
A few were spared the slitting. His. His heir’s and his daughter’s. And he kept some of the eggs. Unhatched. Waiting. Once the dragons laid dead … in their pools of red, the son took the eggs and smashed most of them. He ordered his men to do the same.
Baelor’s only son … Maekar.
Became known as The Eggbreaker.
His father had told him of his power. Of the power of dragons. Maekar thought that power too much. Too dangerous. A wildfire. House Targaryen was built on winged beasts and Maekar knew how easily it could be brought down on winged beasts too. If his sister could turn his whole whole family against him …
Anyone else with a dragon could.
The Pit was still a home, however.
Years and years of renovations were finally completed. The dome that once enclosed it - refurbished. Painted beautifully by some of Westeros’ best tapestry artists. They painted dragons flying high, backed by summer’s bluest sky. Free.
The aging white dragon looked up at it. It was a calming sight, always. Maybe it reminded him of days of old - when Maekar flew him through the clouds. That seemed so long ago. Ayrgar, was his name. The dragon. A Valyrian name given to him by his bond’s grandfather. He was the first one to hatch at Summerhall. The first proof of magic’s working. It was fitting that he was but one of two left.
His long tail readjusting its position, wrapping around him like a fine cloak. His head now rested on the dirt ground, breathing ever so slightly. Nostrils flaring in and out. No one truly knows what goes on inside the heads of these creatures. Maesters, since the rebirth, have attempted study but …
No one knows.
No one may never know.
Do they think?
Do they feel? The way man may feel.
Ayrgar breathed heavily. In and out and in and out. His eyes closed for a second before opening and closing and opening again. He looked relaxed. Tired, maybe? Relaxed and … ready. The beast’s eyes shut for a final time.
His nostrils stopped their flair.
His whole body - limp.
The flame inside him … extinguished.
The dragon was dead.
And The Dragonpit grew darker.
Summerhall amazed under autumn’s touch. He stared at it from horseback, as he and his small retinue of men approached from the west. The castle had always been magnificent, with its tall standing spires that resembled ragged dragon teeth and its stained glass that covered the structure in shimmering colour. However,
He could not believe how beautiful it was in the fall. He’d never seen it like this. The forest that surrounded Summerhall was no longer filled with shades of lush green. Its trees were turned to reds and oranges and the most crisp golds.
The palace looked as if it was enveloped … in fire.
When the morning wind’s gust came through the trees, the fire burned.
The flames danced.
Titus Hightower loved it when they danced.
He steadied his horse as the steed faced the blazing gust. The wind - carried with it - crippled leaves and a bitter coldness. Winter’s unrushed approach. The horse neighed, in unease. Titus ran his fingers through its knotted brown mane. “Hush.”
He told it. “It’s alright …”
The whisper turned a sigh, like the leaves their colour. A sigh that matched the tune of the morning’s wind. Titus’ chest felt tight. As if it were being strangled with reins. A second sigh escaped his lips in an attempt to … calm himself. He felt as much unease as his horse did. Though Titus’ nervousness was not at all brought on by the wind.
He breathed in,
He breathed out.
His heart pumped quick. Beating alongside each clop his horse took towards the castle. He continued to pet his horse’s hair.
That was the animal’s name. Pride. A name given to him by Titus’ lord father, all those years ago when the horse was just a gift.
It was one of his lord father’s favourite words. He was a proud man. He still is a proud man. A proud man that ensured all six of his children were proud too.
“Have pride in yourself … and pride in your house.” Titus remembered the teaching. Pride was drilled into Titus’ skull.
He hated the word. He hated the name. Stupid horse.
The wind came to a still and his horse eased.
But the cold did linger.
Titus looked back behind him ( and his horse ).
The men who followed him weren’t his own. He didn’t have his own men. They were all part his father’s and part Lord Fossoway’s. They had congressed at Cider Hall, before moving on towards Ashford. After Ashford … came Summerhall. There were two men on horses right at his back. Another behind them and then several more atop a mare-drawn carriage that pulled supplies. Supplies. He found humour in that.
It was drink.
Fossoway cider. Their golden kind and their recently developed fizzy red, made from the freshest of apples pulled from their trees. He hated the stuff. It was too sweet. The fizz was too much too. But, alas -
It wasn’t for him.
Nothing ever was for Titus Hightower.
It was for the council.
Perhaps his father wished to lighten the sobriety of the voting lords and ladies in a hope that they’d messily scribble the name ‘Aegon Targaryen’ onto their parchment. That was whom his father backed. Whom House Hightower backed.
A mindless man who could not speak a single word. That was who was to be King. A dumb silent cripple who’d act as a mask for the true power in King’s Landing.
“How is she?” Titus called back to the carriage that trailed. There’d been a severe lack of chatter on the way here. Not that Titus didn’t mind, but …
A voice replied back. The voice of a soldier, sporting a red apple on his chest plate. Titus blinked, “Uh … the wine.”
“The cider … I mean.” Titus fumbled.
“Why are you calling the cider a she?”
He blinked again,
“And what do you mean by how is it? It’s cider. It’s in its barrels. It’s sitting there. It’s fine.”
Titus nodded his head slowly. “Um … good. That’s … good.”
The soldier looked at him with much disdain, before spitting a large white glob of spit onto the road below.
Titus looked forward.
A place of power and of utmost prestige. A place of magic. For that is what it was that brought the dragons back. Hatched from their stone eggs. Creatures dead for an age were given new life. Fire in their lungs.
Ready to breathe terror upon the world once more. That was … what … forty years ago now? Titus had seen several dragons through-out his twenty eight years. Fascinating creatures, but frightening ones. Dangerous ones.
He remembered the war. The dance.
Ten years ago. It seemed as if it were a fortnight ago. He could still picture the carnage, in his head. The debris. The rot. The charred bodies scattered black. The cries and the screams and -
His chest still tightened.
Perhaps that was why it was so tight? He did not fear the wind. He feared the dragons. The beasts and their silver haired tamers.
Perhaps it was neither of those things.
Perhaps he just … feared seeing his father again, even if it had only been two nights since they last spoke together.
He took his hand from Pride’s hair,
And placed it on the rein.
Striking it so that the horse fastened its pace down the road.
The budding sunlight dimmed as he and his Pride got closer to the castle. The red and orange and golden trees providing much shade and much darkness.
His heart still thumping hard.
Before he entered the fire.
Wicks were lit with struck matchsticks, and tables upon tables were laid out. Several dozen servants did as such, cluttering each sitting with the cleanest porcelain delft. A simple silver goblet - bejeweled with jade - was filled to its brim with red wine. It almost would’ve spilled over if it weren’t for him putting his wrinkled right hand over it.
The servant stopped,
“Apologies, Lord Hightower. I didn’t mean t-” The pourer shut it, then restarted. “I-Is there anything else I can get you?”
Gwayne found his fingers grasping around the goblet, raising it to his lips. He took a sweet sip and swallowed.
The swallowing was followed by an exhale of relief.
“This is all one needs, boy. Seven thank yous.”
Was his reply. Lord Gwayne Hightower’s reply.
The boy made himself scarce.
Leaving Hightower to his wine and to his thoughts. He took a second sip. This time holding it in his mouth for a moment longer. Swivelling the juice on his tongue. He mulled over the taste. Sour. Bitter. A Dornish, definitely. Which made sense ...
Summerhall was on the edge of the marches and it wasn’t like Arbor Red was abundant as of late.
Thanks to the hellish Grape.
The drink sliding down his throat, almost stinging it.
He sat in a velvet coated chair at the top of the room. The Grand Hall. A grand hall indeed, for a grand council. But it could’ve been grander. Larger. He knew they’d be lucky if they were able to fit all the lords and ladies in it.
He would’ve had this council in King’s Landing … or Oldtown. Harrenhal, even. He was certain Lord Quincy wouldn’t have minded the company. But alas,
It was not up to him.
None of this was.
The council had not yet begun and it was already a sham. The whole gathering - a sham. Called upon by two peacocks ready to flaunt their coloured feathers. Bidding for a throne that did not belong to either one.
The bastard and the pillow-biter.
The latter being family. His daughter’s second son and her last. She birthed him and he was rotten. So rotten that she could not survive the night. Born rotten and aged rotten. Like a bad brew of wine. Lord Hightower sipped,
“The Lord Hightower? In the flesh, is it?”
A voice called forth.
The misplaced frown on Gwayne’s lips formed a wide smile. Bearing teeth. His signature grin. “Brother!”
He stood up, almost spilling some of the red from his goblet as he did. He did not care though. It was Dornish.
Cheap and plentiful.
Where Gwayne was plump and short, his brother was thin and tall. Meryn’s long bush-like beard was the opposite to Gwayne’s streaky moustache that curled at each end. Meryn always wore drab clothes and dull armour, whilst Gwayne’s were ever vibrant.
Popping in the brightest of colours.
He was as much a peacock as the two boys vying for their dead father’s crown.
Behind his brother was another familiar figure, one he oft saw in King’s Landing. His nephew, the lord commander of Maekar’s kingsguard. “Ser Axell, my dearest nephew.” He greeted him, the wide smile widening.
“How was Estermont? I hope your mother is most well.”
Meryn butted in,
“That’s Gerold, brother. Axell wears the chain. Gerold wears the sword.”
Gwayne chuckled at his mistake,
“And they say age brings with it wisdom. I have yet to see any.”
Meryn and Ser Gerold laughed along with him at that. When Gwayne’s own laugh died down, he finished the goblet off and slapped his hand against his nephew’s back,
“Come, the two of you, let us walk.”
“And Ceryse?” His brother asked as they strut down a winding hallway, that led to the castle’s grand stairwell. Summerhall’s interior was as stunning as her exterior. She was one of the most beautiful things to ever be built.
“She is recovering from a chill and sends her finest regards.”
“A chill, good brother.”
Meryn smiled smugly, “Does she take her wine iced now?”
The two brothers shared another laugh. Ser Gerold remained silent on that one however. “Did you find camp easily?”
Gwayne asked, already knowing his brother’s answer. Of course they did. Gwayne had made sure that there was a Hightower sigil standing tall for every twenty steps a soldier took. “We could not miss it, brother.”
Was Meryn’s reply.
“We were one of the first hosts here, after all. And you know me, brother. I must make a spectacle.” Gwayne chuckled lightly.
His brother joined him once more before retorting,
“Any other spectacles in store for us this evening then?”
Gwayne gave him a wink,
“I have one or two tricks up this sleeve.”
As they got to the grand stairwell, fine crafted by Myrish labourmen, Gwayne’s eyes darted around the landing. The room was surprisingly not a bustling one. Not a soul but the three of theirs lingering around.
No little bird.
No spider dangling from its web. They were alone. As alone as one could be in a place this packed with life.
“It depends …” “On what?”
“Circumstances.” Gwayne answered, looking at his brother and his brother’s son. Meryn looked puzzled however,
“What circumstances? Come now, Gwayne. Do tell all.”
“Only … circumstances. My lips are sealed, brother.”
“They shall be sealed until the speeches.” Gwayne smiled.
“Do you think the boys will prepare fine speeches? I don’t think the bastard is known for his eloquence. Baelor neither.”
The brothers laughed.
“Fineness may bless them yet.” Gwayne said.
Meryn gave a shrug,
“I do doubt it, brother. Nothing compelling can come from the lips of base borns and third borns.”
Gwayne scoffed at him,
“Said the fourth born.”
The trio began walking up the grand stairwell. Gwayne’s hand running along the carved bannister with each step he took.
“You’d be surprised, Meryn.”
He said as he got closer to the top. “At what?”
“At the things a man can say or do when they want something so fiercely.”
The three men now stood at the top of the stairs. Gwayne lifted his arm slightly, pointing one fat finger at the closed white door protruding from a corridor’s end.
“Why must we do this, Mel?” Aethelmure groaned in exasperation. What normally was a voice as strong as the irons he worked was reduced to a mewling kitten, a mockery of the Lannister name. A tall figure draped in thin clothing suitable only for bed lounged in anguish on the dais of his private tent. His sole company being a woman of smaller stature, busying herself with golden dresses. Aethelmure Luceon stole a glance at his wife’s barely clad form, his misery alleviated for seconds before the woman twisted to face Lord Lannister.
Melantha Lannister rolled her eyes and positioned a dress of golden silks to obscure her shame. “You would rather miss out, Luc?” Opposite of her husband’s tanned skin, Melantha was a pale feather with dashing, dark locks that refused to straighten. Her eyes were dark pools in which Aethelmure could never discern what lingered just beneath the surface, yet alone her hidden depths. A quirk of her lips enticed Aethelmure to action on the worst of days, her wisdom a form of medicine that outstripped elixirs any maester could conjure up. “Besides the birth of a crown prince, what greater occasion could there be? Imagine the pageantry, the diplomacy, the treachery!” Her voice lilted with excitement, but even today she could not rouse her husband from this mood. Her smile fell and Melantha thrusted the golden dress forward, “Will this be pleasing to the eyes?”
The brooding lord flopped from the dais, giving a quick shake of his head. “I would much rather you and Marbrand be my envoys, I may then return to the Rock without…”
“..Fun having, yes, you do hate to enjoy yourself.” Melantha finished for her husband. The daughter of Lord Serrett shook her dress again with an additional pout, but her husband seemed ignorant of her plight.
“Be not so cruel, were we in the West, this jaunt of yours would be of no burden. However, this is Summerhall, we face the whole realm and its scrutiny.”
Unphased, Mel retorted. “And let them see a lion then.”
“Lions do not stray from their territory unless they’re starving.”
A pause, then the pale woman shook her head and loosed a chortle. “You know lions now, Lord Lannister? What do they eat?”
Aethelmure’s face reddened, before the man lunged forward and grabbed hold of his lady wife. She shrieked in surprise, pushing on her husband but Aethelmure Luceon’s grip was firm. “Nosy little ladies,” His voice was low as he attacked her neck with hungry, sloppy kisses. Melantha twisted and groaned, her protests muted on the ears of her husband.
“You’ll soil my dress.”
“You’ve brought many others,” Luceon said, his voice was low and husky.
“This is my favorite,” Melantha’s struggle increased, “I’ve saved it for today.”
That drove Aethelmure forward. “I care not for today, we should be well beyond this place and in our warm bed.”
“I’ll geld you,” She shot backwards after a throaty moan, “I mean it as well. No bastard will ruin my dress.”
Her stern words had little effect on Aethelmure as he grinned down at his wife, “Who would’ve known a little bird has such a nasty caw?”
Before either could continue, the tent flaps rustled. Aethelmure had a moment’s notice before a house guard stepped in cautiously, averting his eyes the moment his lord and ladies’ activities became clear without confusion. “A-a thousand apologies, my lord Lannister. Lady Lannister,” He hastily added, resisting the urge to stare in Melantha’s direction. They fell upon the back of the shifting Aethelmure.
“Look away, damned if I am to be stared upon like this!” Luceon insisted, forcing the guard to stare at the carpeted floor beneath him.
Melantha pushed off her husband and fell beyond the privacy of the tent’s chamber, protected by two thin walls of linen just thick enough to hide a silhouette. Luceon scrambled likewise, twisting to show his back to the man and folding his arms in towards his chest. “Yes, well?” He snapped in frustration and embarrassment. “On with it.”
The man gave a quick retort, his knees giving clear indication of his uncertainty on stepping in on his liege lord in such a position. “Lord Lucion Marbrand is on his way, he told me to… Make certain you were ready for him.”
With shut eyes, the Lannister drew in breath. He had hoped to convince his wife to turn around before seeing Marbrand. Arguing with both at the same time was frustrating on the best of days. A pair of peacocks, they were all too happy to torment their lord. “Very well, you may be gone.” The guard needed no further orders before letting the flap close behind him. Aethelmure spared a glance at his person before shuffling for his cot. There was no time to be made fully decent, but Luceon could very well find more fitting articles to shelter his form in. He dressed himself in a red robe with golden tassels and dove white gloves.
“Make yourself decent, Marbrand will be here.”
“Oh thank you my lord, these ears seemed deaf against such hefty barriers.” She jolted from her hiding place, the dress of golden silks adorning her form as she presented herself.
The shimmering glint of hard steel flashed before his eyes, the cold bite of metal against flesh pressing delicately upon the folds of his pale throat as two hostile eyes glared at him accusingly from the centre of his vision. Eyes, that had it not been for their telltale violet sheen, he might not have recognised as his own. They were tired, as tired as he felt inside, though he couldn’t help but curse them for that fact. Was not fatigue a show of weakness? Did the dark circles around his eyes not call attention to the meek and fragile man that wore them? Or was it the opposite? Did the obvious signs of weariness give him a more experienced look? Did they show him to be a hard worker, who would not yield in the face of the foul beast of exhaustion, and would willingly risk great discomfort in the name of working for the betterment of the Kingdom?
The fact that such pressing questions had caused him many a sleepless night was but one of many subtle ironies that was lost upon Baelor the Bastard.
He raised a hand, attempting to caress the bridge of his nose, and relieve some of the anxious tension that he’d managed to accumulate merely by looking at the pores and imperfections of his own face, though before he could do so, he felt the warmth of foreign flesh swat him away.
‘Try not to move, Prince Baelor. It should only take a second, you don’t want to cut yourself.’
An empty title meant to stroke his pride, but it still felt good.
He drew in a breath, opening his mouth to mutter something in the way of apology, though he could see from the fussy nature of the servant’s face in the mirror that it was not wanted.
‘That’s right, nice and still.’ The blade scraped down his throat, bristles of hair collecting upon his naked chest. ‘We’ll have your face smoother than a babe at its mother’s teat. Very regal, just like your father.’
Like his father.
That was what he wanted.
Prior to this moment Baelor’s face hadn’t seen a razor since the terrible accident that had befallen King Maekar. It was a sign of respect, at least, that’s how it had been intended, and Baelor had worn a beard like a widow might don black. A show of mourning. A show of solidarity. Some little indication that he cared.
Compensation for the grief that he didn’t feel.
Something to stave off the guilt that he did.
Baelor had loved his father, or he had tried to, though Maekar Targaryen had hardly made that an easy feat, given the many walls that he placed around himself, both personally and emotionally. The bastard owed everything to the late King; his life, his home, his wife, his very existence, and deep down, he knew that being a King’s bastard was the greatest blessing that the Seven Gods had even given him, even if they had added some trials and tribulations to keep him on the beaten track.
Why was it then, that he felt so little at the man’s passing?
A few days after his father had succumbed to his wounds, Baelor had started to feel a tightness in his chest, a restriction, almost as if his lungs were filled with smoke, or a viper had coiled itself around his throat. At first he had thought that he had come down with something, an illness or ailment, like those that had been common in the summer months, though consultation with Grand Maester Axell had told him it was nothing to be concerned about.
He had called it grief, said that it was only natural for a man to feel so nauseous, and light headed after losing someone so important to them. It was the body’s way of coping.
But Baelor knew that couldn’t be the case.
If that was true, then why couldn’t he bring himself to weep at his father’s passing? Even in the privacy of his own chambers. Why couldn’t he truly accept the condolences of well wishers at the funeral? Why had he felt so alive when the news had first reached him?
Why was he here at Summerhall, plotting, in this time of apparent mourning, to take his father’s throne.
But that wasn’t about his father.
That was about him.
Feeling the relief against his face, as the blade finally made its last stroke, and moved away, Baelor his hands against his cheeks, touching the smooth skin where once bushy hair had stood. It felt good, not just the texture of air upon his face, but also the weight that had been lifted from his shoulders.
The period of mourning was over.
‘You like it, Prince Baelor? I must say, you look much cleaner now.’
‘I do.’ Baelor nodded, giving himself a final once over in the mirror.
‘And would you like me to do your hair, next? It would be no hassle, and I’m sure you want to look your best. No?’
‘I’m afraid not today.’ The bastard scratched his chin with one finger, pulling himself out of the sitting position, and brushing loose hairs off of his chest and onto the floor. ‘I fear we may not have time, between my other duties, though might I ask to retain your services in future? I fear I am hopeless at keeping myself well groomed on my own.’
‘Very good, my Prince. Your father always did find my talents particularly to his liking. I worked for him for nearly three decades, you know?’
‘Quite impressive.’ Belor moved himself over to his dresser, picking out a fresh doublet in crimson and black, the servant rushing over to help him dress himself properly. ‘Perhaps your services will be rewarded. If I become King, my dearest might think to ennoble you for services to the realm. Mae never did like my beard.’
‘If, my Prince?’ The servant finished fastening to the doublet’s cuffs, allowing Baelor a second to scowl at himself in the mirror.
‘When.’ He stuttered a little. ‘I meant when.’
‘Very good, my Prince. I shall look forward to it.’
Baelor scowled again. ‘Speaking of my dearest, I must be off. We are to break our fast with Prince Maekar, and I would not wish to be late.’
‘Very well.’ The servant gave a deep bow as he moved on with his other duties, Baelor running his hand down the doublet to smooth out any wrinkles before vacating the room. Today of all days, he needed to look his best.
It was not hard to navigate his way to the private dining area, even in a palace as foreign to him as this one, Summerhall may have been a beautiful castle, though it was not a huge one. Himself and his brother had quarrelled on the matter extensively when determining the location of this council in the first place. Their council.
King’s Landing might have been more centralised, and Harrenhal much larger, though neither could claim the honour of having rebirthed the dragons. A show of power. Something to remind these lords why they bent the knee in the first place.
Baelor pushed himself inside, a little disappointed, though also a little relieved to find that he was the first of his siblings to arrive.
He took a seat, instinctively pulling out a chair near the table’s centre, and gently sitting himself down, practicing, for a moment, the proper posture so that he might seem taller, and more fearsome; a strange game to play amongst one’s own kin, though it made Baelor feel a little more secure. A little more confident.
The bastard allowed himself a moment to reflect, staring forward at the table where only he sat.
For a few seconds, his eyes flickered to his father’s seat, the proud oaken throne carved with a depiction of the fiery rebirth of the dragon.
It wasn’t time.
He let out a yawn, running a single hand through his silver hair.
As Ser Alyn Barrowton sat on that rather imposing slab of rock a good distance from their camp, half-heartedly sharpening his trusty cutting knife, with boots wet and muddied from being out so long in this blighted rain. There was little he could do to stop the mind from wandering, to question the events that had come to pass and to curse the day he’d left the sandy shores of the Reach for this land the seven had so long forsaken. Of the peoples that inhabited these isles it can be said that they were much like the castles they’d constructed, reveling in their commitment to ugliness. Their towns they turned into abominations, fashioned from that same monotonous grey-black stones which dotted the landscape for miles upon miles as one traveled its length. Life was never meant to thrive in these isles, for other than the occasional fishing village with perhaps more sheep than people, there existed nothing but salt-water, gravel and despair.
It so happened that while in this state of deep reflection, there was a great deal of activity at the camp, the fire was lit out, horses mounted and blades left the comfort of their scabbards. Barrowton was only alerted to this when a man-at-arms rushed to his side. Apparently they’d got another one. This then, seemed to be the only small pleasure in his life of late, and he was determined to take full advantage of it. Thus, the burly Reachman raced the rest of his company to the little hovels situated nearby, almost forgetting to get his still soggy boots back on before mounting the destrier.
As Barrowton and the singular man-at-arms riding at his heel reached what passed as a village in those parts, following the dirt road that forked just ahead, they’d find a cloaked figure awaiting their arrival in the dead of the night. The man was known to most in the troop by now, a local that went by the name Cadwyl. He was a shady figure to say the least, but he’d proved useful enough and so he was tolerated, though you’d get the feeling that he would sell his own mother for a few silver stags if given the chance and that didn’t sit very well with many of the men.
“Your men stormed in already Ser Knight.” He began, in a voice as slimy as his figure. “Its the second house on the right, but before you go, you should know that my price has risen. Their kind are becoming much harder to find, which as you know means more tongues need to be kept qu-”
Before the man could finish, Barrowton threw a pouch his way, which he fumbled around with in much excitement. It seemed to have shut him up for a while. After having waited a bit in front of the aforementioned hovel, the rest of his men scurried out, only this time they carried with them an older ironborn dressed in a long and dirty grey robe, his mouth and hands bound with cloth. The man didn’t resist, which made the whole ordeal much more enjoyable.
Perhaps the one good thing about the Iron Isles was that you were never quite far away from a body of water, a boon as far as they were concerned. A light trot away from the village led the band of kidnappers to a secluded spot near the coast. There the man was deprived of the ill clad vestments of his order, a priest of the drowned god through and through. Then came the good part, by the neck this frail old man would be dragged to the icy waters usually by one of the other men in Barrowton’s command, but this time he’d do the honors. You could expect their hapless victims to flail around a bit and offer protestations at about this time, but they often never did. They all just had that same steely expression in their eyes, the righteous eyes of a true believer. But, keep them under the water long enough and you’d see it all wither away as they gasp for air, as they grasp for that last bit of life left to them. In a way Barrowton was doing them a favor, he was bringing them closer to their ‘Drowned God’. How awkward it must be for them to find the stranger in his stead.
The sept of Lordsport was a queer structure, although small and rather secluded its seven walls gave off an ethereal white hue, a feature that set it apart from the rest of town. Indeed, its presence like the faith itself seemed foreign. It was constructed for the most part, to benefit the many traders and artisans that travelled from all over the mainland in order to sell their wares. An uneasy exchange of wine, barley and draft animals followed in their stead, the mills of the isles endlessly supplying the numerous smithies in town, forging the tools and weaponry to be bartered. As one makes the faithful decision to enter that sept however, even if it is only to find respite from the chaos surrounding it. The real bounty of the structure is revealed, inside were seven stained glass windows each depicting an aspect of the one God. Where a greenlander's art would be more vibrant, these windows were coloured entirely in elegant black, white and grey. The name of the glassblower responsible for such a vision was lost to posterity, but there could be no doubt that they were ironborn, for they depicted the Seven in the image of the people of these isles - strong, sturdy and uncompromising. This then was physical proof of what the future as Rodrik imagined might hold, a sign that perhaps all his efforts were not futile after all.
The man responsible for that house of worship was a septon that went by the name Gelmarr, an old islander that looked more a corsair than a priest. Unlike the septons Rodrik met in the mainland this Gelmarr had some rather interesting ideas on matters of faith, for one he rejected the doctrine of exceptionalism, now that most of the dragons were gone and the Targaryens no longer dragon riders why should he not? After all they were just as much man as any other westerosi. On other things the septon urged a liniet hand, “For long” he said “have I thought these isles impervious to our shared faith, the very land rejecting the seven like it does the plough. Its great lords and ladies too stubborn to see the light, but you have given us hope, some semblance of it at least. Take time to understand the faith you are asking the ironmen to leave behind, do not challenge its most important traditions and we might still have a chance.”
Indeed, the young Rodrik was so taken by that man that Gelmarr became a constant fixture at the castle, much to the ire of his wife, who found the man to be rather distasteful, along with most things ironborn. It was a boon then when the lords of the realm were petitioned to gather at Summerhall, a brief foray into the mainland might do her good. Besides, Rodrik wished the Iron Islands to show greater involvement in the happenings across the kingdoms, a large ironborn contingent would send the right message. And thus, the vassal lords were asked to raise their retinues for travel, the ironborn would once again cross the mander. With little bloodshed this time, it is hoped.
"Silence" Gill muttered under his heavy breath. Behind him were his five men, brave fools all of them. At a slow pace, it had been six hours since they've started crossing the long bridge and they were just about to reach the gates that led inside the mountain, which haven't been closed for over a decade, since the calamity flew over the mountain range, straight to the Moons' peak, the once proud stronghold of House Arryn, now an empty vessel for the beast to live in. Gill and his men weren't the first to make this short journey and they wouldn't be the last. Small raids happened from time to time, going inside and live as quickly and silently as possible. Bring the gold, bring the food, bring the important documents, learn where the monster is sleeping. Those were just a few of the many reasons why they were here. Not because Lord Robin had ordered them to do so, the kind noble would never put someone in this situation. The ones who made this journey were nothing but people wanting the promised gold or criminals that decided to come instead of taking the black. Whatever the mission was or the reasons why they had come, now they needed to work as one, silently and quickly.
"We're here, boys." Gill whispered, now that they were under the big archway, just a few steps and they were inside the beast. He waved at his men and gave the signal to enter. Quiet, the men walked through the empty halls, the ground broken with long scars, traces of the beast. A tear of sweat fell from Gill's chin. He swore he heard the little tear hit the cold pale stone; such was the silence that ruled inside. But Gill knew, they were not alone. A behemoth laid dormant, somewhere, but where exactly? A previous party had come and stated that the beast slept in one of the bigger rooms of the Eyrie, where it was warmer. Another one had confirmed it. Even so, the men couldn't lower their guard down. Many parties have left the Eyrie without a problem, but one thing had been proven. When one dies, they all die. It was either an absolute success, or a haunting failure.
"We are almost at the kitchen, boys." Gill's heartbeat accelerated as he leaned against the wall and peeked inside. The once lively room that freed an amazing scent that brought water to the mouths of the noble and commoner alike was now in ruins, broken plates and tools on the floor. It wasn't here. Gill looked back to the men, all their eyes wide opened and shaking, terrified. He gave a thumbs up and walked inside the room. "Tom, Robert, bring the barrels" The two tall and muscular men that were behind the group made their way forward. "Jons and Petyr stay and be the lookouts." The three men nodded, and each positioned themselves behind the tables and walls, looking at the corridor for any signs of the monster. Meanwhile, Gill and his other two men that carried big wooden caskets behind them like backpacks walked towards the other room, where the storage room. Another careful peek and it was empty. This is where the dragon had most of its food, but now it was empty, all eaten by the beast. Empty, except for the four barrels resting there, like the ones Tom and Robert had brought. The two put their ones next to them. "You think the explosion will be enough to kill it?" Tom asked and Gilled shook his head, "Will probably only scratch it, but the ceiling might. This kitchen is located to the side of the castle. According to the builders. If this section collapsed, the rest of the castle will remain unscathed, such is the might of this fortress." Gill responded.
"In any case, I don't wanna be anywhere near this place when it happens. Come, our last stop is the vault." The men gathered again and at the same silent pace left the kitchen and took the stairs that guided them deeper, to the heart of the castle. A couple hours passed, the men's nervousness growing more and more for each minute spent. They passed through the library, many of the shelves on the ground, with their books spread, although many more still stood tall. Because of Lord Ethan's passion for reading and poetry, the library had grown and become a wonder itself, probably second only to the Citadel's. However, even if they were not disturbing the lack of noise, the men were now impatient and wanted to leave, now more than even. They all felt like they had overstayed their welcome, so they rushed their visit to the library and went straight to the Arryn's vault, its heavy metal door now open, fruit of a previous raid. Inside were tall mountains of gold bars and giant bags of coins, the wealth of House Arryn, or at least a part of it. They stood there in a daze, hypnotized by the sheer amount of fortune that their lords had. They couldn't even understand what they were seeing, how much someone could have. Only Gill payed no attention to it and ordered them to open their bags and start to fill them with the riches inside. After what felt like an eternity, the men were ready to leave. "We have to be careful. I know we are all wishing to get the fuck away from this place, but we can't be rushing things like we have been. Everyone, calm down and follow my lead."
Without a sound, they walked out of the vault. The weight of the gold and the noise it produced, obligated the group to be even slower than what they had been. It would be an entire day before they would see the end of the bridge once again. Gill took a deep breath and in a low whisper said “Alright, men. Let’s go we are almost there.” Gill was the only person of the group that been inside the Eyrie before, that was the reason he acted like the captain of the bunch. In fact, he had lived inside as a servant with his wife, who died during the calamity ten years ago. That’s why he knew these hallways like the palm of his hand. But even if he knew where they were, it all felt so different. It was like a nightmare version of the castle, claw marks, pillars knocked down, broken furniture. Dust and nature had claimed the hallways too. It was too much for him. He now just wanted to leave. This place didn’t only look like a nightmare, it was one. “Gill?” Tom asked and broke him free from the thoughts that had started to drown him. “I apologize, I was lost in the past. I’m good now, thank you.” Step by step, corridor by corridor, they were now closer to breathe fresh air. However, each time they reached a corner and had to peek, they held their breaths in anticipation, their hears almost falling from their chests. Their heartbeats were loud now, their breathing heavier and heavier, their bodies covered more and more by sweat. They want to get out of here. They had to.
They finally reached the library. Between the corridors of shelves they moved. Gill in front, he could hear his breathing louder and louder. It was heavy, it was deep, it was hurting, it was loud, it was… inhumane? Gill stopped suddenly, the others did too. His body wouldn’t move, he couldn’t even lift a finger. He had felt like this before, many decades ago, during his sleep, where he was paralyzed and couldn’t even muster enough strength to scream for his mum to come. Petrified, body cold as stone, he only felt tears coming to his eyes. “Gill, what is it?” One of the Jons asked, under his own heavy breath. He hadn’t realized what Gill had, in fact, none of the group had. This loud breathing wasn’t made by them together, it couldn’t be. It was too, unnatural. Too animalistic. Gill didn’t respond, he couldn’t. He could only move his eyes to the left and see beyond the cracks the books left between them his own reflection on a silver round screen. A single tear left his eye before the following screeching roar, loud screams and the sound of heavy gold falling on the ground, until finally, silence ruled the Eyrie once again.
The call went out. A Steward of some kind rotating the names on the list in front of him as knights and minor lords shuffled their way past each other into the main hall of the golden palace. The sounds of metal armour crashing upon the wooden floors, most likely leaving a permanent mark. None of them were important, but it made Maekar feel important. They all had the same ritual as they approached, bowing in deference to their Prince - their King - before ranting off some kind of oath or a wish of good health. This one was a hedge-knight. Scum, essentially.
He loved it when they bowed.
He didn’t care what they said.
Maekar sat by the mahogany table, squarely in the center, with two knights hovering around him. In truth, he didn’t really care for their topic of conversation either, but today was a good day.
Pleasantries could be extended.
“What do you think, Maekar? Still beautiful? Or a hag? Taxwell’s spawn probably sour over time like a grape.”
The Stormlander queried the Prince who simply shrugged him off, drinking water out of his silver goblet. He had asked for gold.
“Does it matter?”
The knight shook his head, returning to conversation with the Tyrell whom he could no doubt wind up further still.
Why were they talking about her? This was his day. Not anyone else's. If they wanted to talk about some Reachman’s bitch then they could do it in their own time. Not his. The thought infuriated him. Made his blood come ablaze like fire. They cared more for the woman who would sit meekly next to him on his throne rather than the one who sat upon it. He knew they despised him, he knew they couldn’t care less. They just liked the power his grace gave them. Nothing more than the hedge-knight that pleaded before him now. Scum.
This was his day.
“I’m done with this lot.” He looked to the Steward, who nodded in return, a grim look upon his face.
“Tell them all to go kiss Lord Tyrell’s arse instead. It seems to be in fashion.”
He didn’t so much as say goodbye to his “friends”, walking out of the room as the rabble opened up like a river does for a bridge, allowing him to pass unhindered. He had a breakfast to attend. Though he would much rather he didn’t.
Maekar did not stop for the men who gave him blessings, or the banners that stood tall beside tents. As if he needed their blessings for his birthright. For his loyalty to his family and his brother.
Summerhall was ugly in the fall. The palace seemed merely an extension of the forest around it, as opposed to the man-made structure it was. Nature reclaimed it day by day, festering and poisoning the wonder that it is. The trees and the walls became one, taking away control of the building bit by bit until he was trapped by them. Thieves. Beautiful, some would cry. Symbolic, he would declare. This land needed to be tamed. And these banners, much like the trees, needed to learn their place.
Yet he had no fire to burn them down.
The sight was clear from some metres away. Baelor. The would be usurper. The man who had called this Council along with him so that he could pull the Kingdoms into his arms and destroy a three centuries old dynasty. At least he had ambition. But daddy wouldn’t be here to give him validation for it. He simply smiled upon the approach.
“Baelor. You are as handsome as this palace in the autumn leaves. You should lend me your shaver, I don’t seem to have a good one.”
He patted the bastards back, rubbing his own chin, hairless and smooth. A lie.
The seat gave way to his body as he leant back in it, clearly where his sister was meant to be, but now where he would separate them. As father should have done years before. No formality in his slouch as he stared intently at his sister's husband.
“Where is our dear sister? Sunbathing? She should be careful, lest she become too sour.”
He had no intent of taking this charade seriously. Baelor had betrayed him. His sister had betrayed him. They knew exactly what they had done, and they knew exactly what father would think. His corpse was barely cold before the knives came out to stab him in the back. The cowards. May they choke on their family breakfast. No doubt that is what they wished upon him. At least he’d look them in the eyes before challenging them, as opposed to getting a Council to do it for him.
“What a wondrous affair this is. So many bright, vibrant banners.” He looked towards the Targaryen sigils as they flew in the wind.
“So many more of them than I was expecting. Why have two, when you can have three, eh?”
This was his day. They would just have to be reminded.
She was choking, gasping desperately to draw breath when none would come. Her fingers clawed at her throat.
When they drew back, she realised why she couldn't breathe. Blood dribbled from the gash in her neck which cut her ear-to-ear, picking up pace at an alarming rate.
Did she deserve this?
Maegelle sat up in bed sharply. At the same time, her hands flew to her throat, fingertips edging across the flushed skin as though she was afraid of what she might find. As always, there was no wound. But she was still not calm. Out of instinct, she dropped one hand to reach to the space in the bed beside her, only to find it empty. She wasn't sure why she'd expected it not to be.
It was for the best. She'd told her husband that she hadn't had her nightmare in months.
Something was wrong. For one, the dream hadn't been that vivid since she was a girl.
Usually, she woke up before her throat was slit.
And, for the first time, she'd been murdered by--
Violet eyes, glassy with confusion, turned on the two girls waiting expectantly at the foot of the bed. They were small, and often reminded Mae of a pair of little birds. Moving in tandem, they cocked their curious heads to the side, watching. To see what she was going to do.
Always, eyes on her.
"You were having a night terror," the tallest piped up.
"Then you should have woken me." Mae's tone was cool as she slipped from between the tangled blankets, trying to hide her embarrassment.
"It's dangerous to wake someone from a nightmare."
"No, it's dangerous to wake someone if they're sleep walking." She breezed past them to the mirror. In it's reflection, she could see the short one turn an accusing glare on the other. They seemed to have disagreed on what to do.
It didn't matter anymore: Mae was awake.
But though the dream was gone, she didn't feel safe.
At Mae's request, the girls had left her in peace after drawing her bath. The water lapped at her skin as she sat hunched over, knees drawn tightly to her chest, gazing at nothing. Thinking. Time passed and she found herself on her knees. She took a breath so deep that it felt like her last, and plunged her face into the water.
Though there was nothing to look at, Mae forced herself to open her eyes once submerged. She leaned down, deeper, until the water filled her ears and she could no longer hear anything besides the odd muffled noise. Her eyes fluttered shut again and she stayed, in her awkward position, at peace.
She stayed until it was no longer physically possible, until her lungs screamed for air.
There was a moment where she wondered what would happen if she refused to indulge them.
Maegelle dressed herself that morning, combed her own hair, pinched her cheeks for a little colour. The last time she remembered having complete and total help with the process had been the day of her wedding: after that, she'd started to politely decline assistance. In her teenage years, Mae had become skeptical of others. Everyone had a motive, some reason for exchanging pleasantries with her. She didn't want to take risks, not anymore.
Truth be told, Mae was terrified of losing parts of herself in other people.
Her mood lifted as she went to meet her brothers, though guilt at the idea she could be hours late without realising gnawed at the pit of her stomach. Or perhaps that was just hunger. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell. One hand laid gently atop it.
She'd almost forgotten.
I'll tell him later.
Just the two of us.
Privately, she'd hoped to catch her husband before their brother arrived, but lack of timekeeping skills had stolen away that opportunity. The first smile of the morning flickered to life as she neared the table and noticed the way the boys -- men -- were sat.
Well. For reasons such as this, they'd always be boys to Maegelle.
"I hope I'm not interrupting." Mae arched an eyebrow, considering her move. Move. Like they were playing a game.
Were they, now? Had it already started?
Or was it ongoing?
Only the three of them were at the table. Nobody was going to stand in her way.
Without taking her eyes off of Maekar, she settled herself down in Baelor's lap, and looped her arms around his neck. Finally, she turned her gaze to him and frowned, brushing her thumb across his cheek. "You got rid of it."
Maybe she was reading into things that weren't there.
She smiled. "I like it, but you already knew my personal opinion on the beard." Glancing aside, she picked the chair she'd move to when the novelty of her little show wore off. Though she was enjoying the comfort she'd found, coupled with the idea she'd found a way to counteract her little brother, there was probably an argument against her professionalism to be had.
"What have you two been talking about, then? Everyone seems to be arriving. It's quite an affair, isn't it?"
There were already empty chairs at the table.
Mae wondered if there would be any more vacancies after the new King was crowned.
Mulch and loose soil wafted through the gentle currents of the rushing river, peaceably lapping against the disturbed bank, and giving the water a brownish hue, obscuring the murky depths below. On a usual occasion, it would seem only natural that the riverside be littered with townsfolk, either collecting water from the stream in order to fill their kettles, or bathing themselves in the dirty brook, though today these people were conspicuous only in their absence.
Not that they could be blamed for their own disappearance.
Where once the ruddy faces of hardworking ne’er-do-wells and laymen had gathered, now a foreign force seemed to have amassed, equally as unwashed and rustic, though these newcomers were strangers to this land, an invasive presence, whose unwelcomeness in these parts was made equally as clear by the boarding of doors, sealing of windows, and hiding of loved ones as it was by the cowering of all those whose paths they crossed.
It was strange to see Ironborn this far along the Mander. Stranger still to find them without axes in hands, and dressed in silken robes, rather than the boiled leathers and iron half-helms that was their usual attire, though no amounts of sheep's clothing could truly conceal the wolves beneath, nor could it hide the bemused confidence of the retinue as they eyed the scarpering villagers with great interest, especially any young maid who might have made the unfortunate decision to choose the present as an appropriate time to gather water from the stream.
Even outside of their isles, the Ironborn were a foul and unruly people.
They’d only stopped for a few hours, their mission twofold: both to water their horses and gather the appropriate supplies for the continuation of their journey, and so that his Lordship might revel in the marvels of another small town Sept, wooden and decrepit as it might be.
The dozenth Sept they’d visited since they’d first abandoned their boats up river only a few days prior.
The novelty had certainly worn off.
It wasn’t that Alannys Greyjoy didn’t consider herself a pious woman. Quite the opposite in fact, it was impossible to spend so long under the careful gaze of Lord Gwayne Hightower without developing a certain affinity for the Seven Gods, even if that affinity was similar to that developed between a victim and her kidnapper. However it was equally impossible for one to maintain the illusion of bemusement after seeing so many tiny hovels passing themselves off as Septs.
Impossible for most. But not for Rodrik.
The Lady Harlaw had left her brother to his praying, giving him to the company of an elderly Septon who had been frightened almost half to death when he had first seen the contingent approaching, though had managed to steel his nerves just long enough to offer the Greyjoy Lord a tour of his little dioceses. Not that it was big enough to warrant one.
Instead, Alannys found herself perched gently upon the bank of the stream, her boots laying discarded to her left, as she dipped her bare feet into the water below, allowing the river’s pull to gently lap against her toes, like the kisses of a hundred tiny fish. It was peaceful: the first peaceful moment she’d had in months after her and her brother’s not so gracious return to the Iron Islands, and it brought her back to the simpler times. Times where she might be perched similarly upon the edge of the Honeywine in Oldtown, watching playfully as one of Lord Beesbury’s boy attempted to impress her by wading into the river and wrestling with the young Lord Bulwer, or sitting beside the Lady Hightower as she was talked at about the private affairs of other, more important, ladies.
Of course, Lord Beesbury’s boy was not here now.
Rather a slew of much less friendly faces.
Alannys hitched up her skirts, pushing her feet downwards so that they could feel the rough stones of the bottom of the stream. It was fairly shallow, only reaching to her lower thigh, though she could still see the loose debris of the river start to scuff the hem of her dress. Not that it was of much bother, it was doubtless that somewhere amongst the heavy carriages of luggage, there was a suitable change of clothes, and even if not, it was unlikely anyone would notice a scuffed dress amongst the court of the dragon. Alannys was no stranger to going unseen.
The Greyjoy waded further into the stream, feeling a chill rise up as the water continued it’s progress, washing against her bare legs, though she was unperturbed, her target resting upon the river’s other bank, having crossed in a more traditional manner over the rickety wooden bridge that hung precariously above the water, threatening its own collapse at any moment.
‘Sigfryd!’ She called out, arms swashing upwards in order to hit the larger man with a large splash of water, shooting her husband a crooked smile.
She couldn’t read his response.
That had been a problem, recently, or rather, had been a problem since first they’d wed.
When they had been young and foolish, they’d played a lot on the beaches of the Iron Islands, and in simpler times, their mothers might have watched on in shock as the two of them wrestled and fought in the water. She’d called him Siggy, and he would pull her hair, and call her names until she cried. But they had been childrenback then, stupid and still finding themselves, and it was pretty clear what they really felt about one another.
Now, not so much,
It was strange. When she’d first been shipped off to Oldtown as Gwayne Hightower’s newest ward, she had thoroughly hated the experience. She had fought tooth and nail to get back home, and had dreamed that Sigfryd would somehow find a way to climb up the great Hightower of Oldtown and rescue her from her fate. Of course, in such dreams, Sigfryd had two arms, rather than the limbless stub he now possessed, though Alannys found the gruesome details to be quite off colour for the romantic tales she had liked to spin herself in her mind, and the Greyjoy was nothing if not a romantic.
Now things were different. She’d grown to love Oldtown, and all the people therein, and the Iron Islands just seemed so foreign to her: not her home any longer.
Even the people. Even Sigfryd. Things were different. Things were strange. Things were bad, and even the accompaniment of Rodrik hadn't helped to lessen the harsh stares and barely concealing grimaces as they were treated as foreigners in their own home.
Brushing herself off, Alannys pulled herself out of the water and onto the other bank, letting her skirts fall again to conceal her soggy legs, sidling up to her husband.
‘I think we should be in Summerhall in a few hours.’ A lot of business. Not much personality. ‘Rodrik just needs time to… Rest.’
Thin, almost skeletal, with ivory locks. His eyes a dim lavender. He sat - more slumped - in his chair positioned right by the room’s widest window. Staring out of it, with a glass-like glare. A gaze that had nothing behind it. Unthinking. Unblinking, and silent.
Ser Ambrose watched him from an adjacent bed, whilst nibbling at acorn nuts - those of which were sequestered neatly inside a little blue pouch. Ambrose was in full armour, of course. Sitting at the bed’s end instead of in it … for once. His hand slithered into the pouch and took a nut. He made a fist, suffocating the thing like a small animal before - Crack.
His fist disappeared and the acorn laid bare and busted. He ate it, chewing noisily. Before taking the remnant shell and hurling it across the room. It landed - with a snap - against Prince Aegon’s shoulder.
Though he did not even flinch.
“Disappointing.” Ambrose muttered to himself, quietly. As if somehow Aegon would be able to process his words if heard. A moment passed. Then another one followed. And - Another.
The hourglass’s sands were swallowing boredom. Sheer and utter boredom. Until the knight found his fingers back in the bag and fastened tightly around another acorn. Fist. Crack. Munch. Throw. The empty shell hit against the side of Aegon’s head this time ...
Producing the tiniest response in the fashion of a head shake.
“We’re getting somewhere at the least.”
This is how it was, so?
This is how Ser Amaury Ambrose would spend his thirtieth name-day. A day he was never truly fond of, to be fair. As he shared his date of birth with the celebration of the dove. Usually a day where one seeks peace and seeks truths. Now,
His name-day happened to also coincide with this bloody council. A game of pick and choose. It was ridiculous. There was a legitimate son, with a mind that was - for the most part - not mush. Yet he was being passed over for a bastard and for a …
Ambrose stared at Aegon. Egg.
He wondered what it was the cripple was looking at. What kept his stare? Could the man stare? Staring required will, and Aegon had none of that whatsoever. He was just …
A dragon with a numbed mind and a weak body. He was nothing more than an animal. A pet King Maekar kept around, even when each breath said pet took was a disservice to Maekar’s house and lineage.
It was disgusting.
His fist was once more with acorn, but this time Ambrose did not even attempt to crack it. He just backed up his arm and swung, releasing the nut and sending it angrily towards Aegon. Why crack a nut when you can crack an egg.
The hard shell connected with The Prince’s head, and he let out an unintelligible groan. Randomised noises with no sense inside the sound.
“Shut that hole, fool.”
Ambrose stood up from the bed, annoyed by the incoherence. “I said shut-”
A hiss came.
And Ambrose stopped, immediately. He looked to his left, beside the bed. An opened doorway that led to a side balcony which overlooked Summerhall’s lake. A creature crawled through, the size of a small horse.
Egg’s protector, next to Ser Ambrose. A smaller dragon than the others, for reasons Ambrose could not understand. Mayhaps the beast had stunted growth like his Prince had. Mayhaps Maekar knew his son and heir would be a lackwit and made him cradle an alike egg. No matter his size however, Vamion was still a dragon.
Still a monstrous being with an endless hunger. He swaggered in across the tiled flooring, his gold coloured scales mirroring the sunlight that came through the open doorway … and the window Aegon watched.
He flapped his bat-like wings, hovering above the ground for several moments.
Until he landed - with a thud - on the bed.
Ambrose fell away from the bedside,
Making sure he was far enough from the fiend. Vamion stared at the knight with eyes the colour of Dornish limes.
Blinking in rapid amount, much unlike his master.
“What do ya want, huh?”
Ambrose asked it. Expecting some kind of response, but the dragon was as quiet as his Prince. Apart from the odd hissing sound.
Vamion continued to blink at Ambrose,
Before it slumped down onto the sheets and nuzzled at the blue bag of acorns. Seizing them for himself.
The doors that led out to the corridor opened.
Lord Gwayne Hightower was its opener. His brother followed closely behind him, and Lord Commander Gerold behind him.
Ambrose towered over all three of the men, but he instantly fell to one knee. “Lord Commander.” He greeted his sworn brother.
“My Lords’ Hightower.”
Gwayne The Fat smiled widely at him, “Ser Amaury. How goes your noon?”
“It goes, my lord.”
The chunk of lard waddled past him as he knelt and headed straight towards the broken prince, surrounded by broken shells. “Good King Aegon!” Hightower started,
“You look well. I see you’ve been feasting on acorns. How splendid. I hope you’re getting your fill.” Egg, as per usual, did not issue a response.
He only sat.
And continued to stare out the window.
“We have a titanous day ahead of us, my boy. Have they bathed you yet? You must be looking your best tonight.”
Gwayne prattled on to his grandson,
Turning his eyes to Ambrose. “Have the girls come to wash him?”
“Not yet, no. Jeyne … I think … was in the kitchens last I saw of her, my lord.”
Gwayne shook his head,
“That girl loves shirking her duties.”
Don’t we all.
Gwayne stood by the window, blocking the light coming in. He hadn’t even addressed the beast on the bed linen, but … Ambrose assumed Lord Hightower was too used to dragons to notice. The knight wished he could have said the same.
“Lord Commander Ax- Gerold. Ser Amaury. If you could perhaps leave me in the company of my brother and my grandson. We have business to brood over.”
Lord Commander Gerold nodded,
Ser Ambrose did the same before getting up from one knee. “Is there anything you require of me, Lord Hightower?”
“Hmm … find Jeyne. Find the girls and have them come here at once to draw the tub. Then get yourself some lunch, lad.”
“Of course. I will do so with … haste, my lord.”
He started for the door leading out into the corridor. His boots clicking gently against the cream coloured tiled floor.
“Oh, Ser Amaury.”
The oaf called after him.
Ambrose, who had ducked under the doorway, looked back at his lord paramount.
For five brief, yet peaceful minutes, Baelor sat alone, head in hands as he rested in an almost waking slumber, not paying much heed to the servants who had already started to lay out platters of various fine and exotic dishes onto the table in front of him, even as the enticing smells began to waft themselves right under the bastard’s nose.
It was a trap.
As a child, Baelor had developed a strong affinity for sugar, a sweet tooth that could allow him to devour an entire pile of honeyed-tarts without even a second thought, though now he had grown wiser to the siren’s song. Sugar might have been alluring to a chubby young boy, raiding his father’s pantry alongside his little brother, but nobody wanted a fat King. Sacrifices had to be made, and unfortunately sugar was the first to take the stroll down traitor’s walk.
He’d worked hard to paint the image of himself that wouldn’t cause people to shy away in disgust, and he couldn’t allow that to be shattered a fresh tart. No matter how invitingly they looked up at him.
Instead, Baelor opted for something much less appealing, a bowl of onions, beets and green beans, as harsh on the eyes as it was on the tongue, but at least he’d feel accomplished after eating it.
The little victories were sometimes the most rewarding.
He’d only stuck a single fork into the platter when Maekar arrived, the booming voice of his brother carrying itself from one end of the room to the other; never one for much subtlety, though Baelor beamed at his arrival.
Maekar seemed well, confident and well rested, the exact opposite of how Baelor felt inside, though his brother had always been much better under pressure than he. He couldn’t help but feel a little jealous, the little nagging voice that always plagued his waking thoughts attempting to compare himself to his dear brother.
But judging the pair of them was a task best left to the Lords of the Seven Kingdoms.
‘Rafe is the best, he served father for nearly thirty years, as he’s want to tell you, though I’m afraid you’ll have to fight me for him.’ He could feel his brother’s hand upon his back. It was a reassurance, knowing that despite everything that had happened, and everything that was about to happen, the two of them could still laugh together in such a manner. Maekar had always been good to him.
‘Mae must be running late, you know how she is, but perfection takes time.’ Grinning, Baelor watched as Maekar took the seat directly to his side, a little surprised that he had not left space for their sister, but welcoming the intimacy nonetheless. It seemed fitting that he wanted to be close, not least due to the shrinking size of their family. He suspected that Maekar had taken their father’s death worst of all, and it made sense that he needed companionship now, though Baelor did his best not to meet his brother’s gaze at that moment.
What if he finds out how little you grieve? What if he knows your shame?
‘I haven’t had much of a chance to talk to people yet, what with how quickly everything’s been going.’ Had Maekar? Had his little brother already started to promise and cojoule? It seemed unlikely. Maekar was still in grief, and even Baelor had found himself feeling a little dirty thinking about begging for votes so soon.
And Maekar is a better man than you.
Baelor felt a sudden tightness in his chest, a convulsion, the bastard reaching out his hand to grip onto his goblet, disguising the sudden attack of panic by drowning it away with drink, feeling a cool sour liquid dripping down his throat.
It was refreshing, a hippocras cider from somewhere deep in the Reach, too sweet for most others to stomach, though Baelor had taken a liking to it. It felt a little dangerous. A little bit like cheating.
It was at that moment that Mae made her presence known, Baelor doing his best not to choke up a little of his drink as he coughed up a greeting, watching the familiar form of his wife saunter over to the pair of them, giving the two a once over before Baelor felt the pressure of her body resting into his lap.
‘Not interrupting at all. We were just getting started.’ Baelor spluttered out as he looked up at his wife, feeling her smooth hands rub against his freshly shaven face.
‘I thought it was time for a change. A new day and all that, I’m glad you like it. You’re looking radiant as every.’ He grinned, eye flickering between his wife, his brother, and his breakfast.
‘Maekar was just talking about the same thing, all these banners really do help to make the place seem small.’
A mouthful of green beans.
‘Have you talked to anyone yet? I worry we’re not showing ourselves to be the most gracious of hosts. Though I suppose this is officially Maekar’s palace.’ Home territory.
The dawn had broken not long ago, but Melara had already decided she was not fond of Summerhall. Granted, there were few places she was fond of -- she was a stern critic, after all -- and so it wasn't particularly surprising. But the environment had put her in the strangest of moods, and the steady flow of gin to her cup was doing little more than aggravating that.
She sat and watched one of her daughters, Meredyth, fuss and preen as she adjusted her hair for what appeared to be the millionth time. Her others had flocked together, or so she assumed, though she wasn't certain she'd spotted Alys in the gaggle that had left to explore. Melara's children were the best thing her husband could have given her, a neat little pack of perfect faces. Their confidence and independence was refreshing, but it did leave Melara feeling a little redundant. Perhaps that was why she'd welcomed Meredyth waking her in a panic over her appearance.
Another long drink from her goblet as Meredyth began to tug at the neckline of her dress until she was all but spilling out of it. Melara chuckled to herself. Had she looked this desperate when she'd been the same age? Probably. She couldn't chastise the poor thing, though: it worked.
"You know, I do want to find where your father's gotten to; I'm not sure he's going to be impressed."
"I don't care. Absolutely everyone who matters is here, and I want to make a lasting impression," Meredyth tossed her hair proudly over her shoulder, a scowl of displeasure marring her face.
Meredyth was not the best of her children, though it felt unpleasant to think so. She was a beauty, undoubtedly, but that was it: besides her good looks, she had nothing. No intelligence, no kindness, very little wit. One day, she'd either make a man very happy, or ridiculously miserable. But she reminded Melara, in part, of herself.
And she needed to be needed. Just a few more times.
With a sigh, she refilled her cup, and rose. "Stop messing, now. You look lovely. Truly radiant."
Her mind was elsewhere. Hopefully Maxwell had seen Alys.
It was time to find out, anyway. If anyone needed her, it was him. For some reason, although it was what she wanted, the thought made her lip curl in distaste.
"Come, come. Let's find your father."
They didn't have to search for long, which was a mercy in itself. Meredyth, with all the charm but none of the subtlety, had quickly made a habit of waving her fingers and fluttering her eyelashes at any poor man who passed by. Suddenly, Melara had changed her mind: she didn't want to be needed, and when keeping the girl out of trouble became somebody else's duty, she'd be perfectly content. The day couldn't come soon enough.
Alys was set with the perfect match. Her current goal was to get the rest of her children set for life, too. Because the Heavens only knew it'd be her job, no matter what anyone else thought.
"Darling, are you lost? Or looking for something?
He was just standing. In this land of opportunity. The Hightower banners were higher and brighter and more plentiful than his.
Melara curled her fingers around her husband's arm, the other set still clutching her goblet. She smiled. "It's an important day. You haven't told me what your plan is. Who you're going to support in all of this. I can guess, but I'd like to know. Just for my own peace of mind."
They'd disagree, probably. Not that she'd tell anyone.
"Isn't it obvious?" Meredyth piped up, coiling a lock of golden hair idly around one finger. "I mean, it's not really difficult. There's one who might as well be dead, and then a bastard, and then the only other legitimate son, who you also have proper ties with. I don't understand why we even have to be here."
No tact. No subtlety.
"Shh, now. I'm speaking to your father," Melara coaxed, but the girl was already distracted with her waving. "Where's Alys? I haven't seen her."
The sky blue flag adorned with the pale falcon flew tall and proudfall, connected to a long wooden pole carried by a knight of House Arryn. Behind him were the lords, the twins Ethan, Warden of the East, with his dashing smile and Robin, heir to the Eyrie, flashing a cocky smile of his own. Both on two white horses, Ethan had his wife sitting in front of him, the beautiful Emberlei, his arms warped around her while his hands were on the reigns. Behind them, the Arryns' cort stood, some on foot, others on their own horses. "We're here, my beautiful muse" Ethan said as he pecked a small kiss on his wife's neck. "At the demons' den" he asked as pulled her closer to him until his chest was touching her back. He whispered in her year "Remember tonight... for it is the beggining of always" he whispered in her ear. "For gods sake Ethan, stop with the quotes, even I can't hear you no more. If I was Emberlei I would have left you already" Robin sighed giving the signal for the court to start walking, since the gates to Summerhall were now opening to give them entrance. Ethan smiled "Now, now brother. We must try to find a little flower in this garden of thorn-If you don't shut up about metaphors I'll make sure you stay with the rest of the army camping outside." Robin scoffed and Ethan laughed. "Right, Robin, I'll stop." he winked at his wife and gently kicked his horse on the side for it to start walking.
The twins had let most of their army back at home of course, both to defend in case of a greater calamity and because they couldn't exactly bring thousands of men to a council. Deciding the next king? Easy choise for the brothers: whoever came to their ancestral home and purified it would be backed by them, it was that plain and simple. For those that refused, as Ethan once read, the darkest places in the seven hells are reserved for those who maintain neutrality in times of crisis. Summerhall was a beautiful castle, but being a place meant for vacation and not ruling, it lacked the defense capabilities of fortresses such as Storm's End or Highgarden. A curious choice for a meeting, almost too carefree for the brothers' tastes. It's like they weren't worried of a sudden ambush from one of the clashing parties. Could they even trust any of the great Houses? Targaryens aside, could they trust the greedy Lannisters? The thorny Tyrells? The poisonous Martells? Robin hated being here and Ethan shared the same feeling. Their men needed them back in the Vale, a new raid had been sent to the Eyrie. They didn't heard them for an entire week and they had to go without any news. Gill was a trusted servant of House Arryn and both the twins feared for his wellbeing. Soon they would receive a raven or a falcon that would reveal the sucess or the lack of their mission.
The silvered coloured company made its way inside. Not only did House Arryn had the most skillful knights of the country, they also were beautiful adorned. With tall wings on the back and feathers on the helmet, they looked divine and intimidating. Ethan and Robin were not in armor like their bannermen, but were also wearing expensive clothes, of a rare white silk that came from Essos, with beautiful blue feathers adorned. Ethan had two long earrings, one with three silvered falcons and one with just a feather, in silver too. As for Robin he had just one gold earring, a small one, barely notable. Leaving their horses in the stables, the lords and Emberlei introduced themselves to the servantswaiting for them. "My Lords, my Lady" an old servant, with a well cared beard greeted them. "It is our pleasure and honor to receive you at Summerhall. If you could please come with us, I'll take you to your rooms." The twins nodded and followed the well mannered man, probably a servant that had lived here for his entire life. At least he seemed to knew the halls and was an optimal tour guide. He explainned where everything was, the gardens, the bathrooms, the other lords' rooms, even the kitchen if they ever felt hungry. They also took a brief look inside the chamber where the council would take place. After about forty minutes of getting used to his summer castle, the lords finally reached their own quarters. "Here we are, my lords and my lady. To the right is Lord Robin's room. To the left we have Lord Ethan and Lady Emberlei's. In the name of the royal family and their humble servants, we hope that you find your stay to be a calm and satisfying one. Good evening." He bowed and left. "I'll leave you two for now. Try to not cause any trouble brother. I still have to take care of a few things. See you later Ethan, Emberlei."
After the servants carried their bags inside and helped Ethan and Emberlei make themselves home, Ethan sat on the bed "So, my muse. What do we do now? A bath would be nice don't you agree? This trip sure made us sweat."
An energetic youth playfully ran around on a vibrant field of green. It would have been a dark night if it had not been for the large full moon and stars that shined overhead. It was a warm summer night. In his hand the youth held a stick, he had tied his long black hair back so that it did not get in his way as he swung it around. He pretended that it was a warhammer, like the one he had seen his father held. He had worked up quite a sweat as he ran back and forth pretending to battle off an entire army on his own. Last night it had been the iron born, this night the more ancient half fish half human ancestors of those iron born had come back for revenge. “Ours is the Fury!!” The youth shouted as he swung his stick down in a particularly dramatic fashion. He puffed out his chest with pride after he just executed the leader of the fish men.
His mother could not help herself from chuckling as she relaxed on the hill of flowers. Her beautiful white hair was messy from a disturbed sleep. Her bright purple eyes looked at her son kindly and with pride of their own. He turned to look at her with a joyous smile on his face. “Look mother, as long as I am here to defend us nothing will ever harm you!” The youth spoke as he rushed towards her. They embraced each other in a hug. “Are you sure? Will the Grey King not be mad that you have killed even more of his children?” She spoke softly to him, barely being able to sleep did not mean that she was not exhausted. The youth puffed his cheeks out at that. “Well then I will just have to crush his head in too! I am much stronger than that Naga Sea Dragon or whatever!” She kissed her son on the forehead. “I have nothing to worry about then. Thank you Cregan.” He nodded earnestly.
She looked up at the stars above. “Look Cregan, there.” Her son followed her gaze with eyes full of wonder. “What is it? What is it?” He asked in a voice full of innocent excitement. She explained in a calm manner. “It is the King's Crown, look at the shape that they make, do you see? There are many collections of stars like this, the Maesters call them constellations.” The youths' eyes widened. “What does it mean?” He asked without taking his eyes away from it. His mother tried to respond the best she could. “Well it depends on who you asked, the Maesters say the Wildlings have a different name for it and think it had an entirely different purpose. And well I suppose each person that looks up at it takes their own personal meaning from it.” The youth scratched his head at that. “So it doesn’t mean anything then?” She chuckled again. “I suppose you could say that. But is it not natural that one thing might mean many different things depending on who it is? Think of your father for example, to you he may be your father but to another he is their Lord, and to the King he is their subject.” The youth nodded his head thoughtfully. "I see..."
Mother and Son sat in silence for a while. Until she finally asked him. “So Cregan, does it mean anything to you?” That seemed to surprise the youth. “Ehehe, well…” He flushed a little as he grinned nervously. “It is okay, if you do not want to tell me you do not have to. It is personal after all, remember?” She spoke reassuringly. The youth nodded in a relieved manner, he plucked a little at the grass they sat on. “Mother…” He spoke anxiously. “Yes?” She responded gently. “Do you think we could look at the stars like this more often?” He looked away to hide his embarrassment. She let out a full laugh this time as she tussled the youths hair. “Of course we can Cregan. I would love to.”
The Lord Hand awoke in his bed with a headache. Those had become more and more common after the passing of King Maekar. He sat up with a struggle, holding his head in his hands all the while. He could feel it pulsing, he kept his eyes shut so he did not see everything around him spin lest his stomach lurch. If he threw up on their bed Bella would never forgive him… She sat at the desk placed on the side of their bed, on it there was a fairly large mirror and a collection of items that she seemed to be using for various things. He had never paid much attention to them; he just assumed they were all going on her face in the end.
“Good morning.” She spoke to him in a welcomed quiet but comforting voice.
Cregan nodded. “Good morning.” It was not the worst in recent memory, however it had been far from the best. Yet there was an odd sense of nostalgia too. Last night he had been as tense and rigid as he had ever been, but this morning... He could not help but feel warm and relaxed. On today of all days. Perhaps he had dreamed of something pleasant. If only he could remember it, he would have liked to hold onto that for the rest of the day. He slowly picked himself up off of the bed, with great effort keeping himself stable.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to ask the Grand Maester to bring you something? I am sure he has some sort of medicine that could help you.” Bella Cyrelle Baratheon nee Lannister rose from her seat, she had already gotten dressed. She had tied her golden hair up into a bob, it looked very elegant and almost regal. Her beautiful blue eyes reminded him of a clear summer sky, her fair skin was soft. She had gotten her dress made recently, it was a deep red, very formal.
“Hightower?” Cregan shook his head slowly. “No I can do without him knowing anything of that sort.” That brought a smirk to Bella’s face. “What? A bit paranoid? Don’t trust those Hightowers do we?” Not really. He thought to himself. “Of course I trust the Grand Maester. But with everything that is going on. He does not need the distraction.” He heard her sigh. “My love, your health is not a distraction.” Cregan winced in pain as he took a step forward, things started to spin despite his efforts avoiding it. Bella looked at him with a now familiar look of worry. He lowered his head a little. “I will ask him about it myself, ok Bella? Once this is all behind us.” By her reaction he could tell that she would rather him talk to the Grand Maester immediately.
The two of them silently enjoyed each other's company in silence as Cregan got dressed for the day. A white undershirt with a black doublet would do fine, a golden stag was embroidered into it. He then put on the breeches and boots that he wore at court in Kings Landing. He then picked up the clasp that signified his position of Hand of the King, which he placed in the same place he always had, over his heart.
"How does breakfast sound?" Bella asked. "I am sure I will be able to keep it down by the time it is made." Cregan spoke curtly. I hope. Bella smiled "Alright then I will go and arrange the food to be made." Cregan nodded acknowledging it before she made her leave.
Once she was gone Cregan slowly walked over to the desk that by their bedside. He took a seat as he opened up the drawer. There was a bundle of papers within that he had brought with him from Kings Landing. He had spent much of the journey reading them over and over again. Some were old, some were newer. He sighed as he looked over them. Reluctantly he shut the drawer and made his own way out of their bedroom, that had been kindly been given to them by the Prince of Summerhall.
He walked the halls with a rather cranky look about him, a bad habit that he had fallen into recently. At least it made the guards he passed straighten themselves up a little bit more as well as making whichever servants he came across work a little bit more diligently. No doubt very temporary things that passed on as soon as he was out of their sight. Cregan made his way to his children's chambers two smaller rooms that were not too far way from his own. He greeted a servant that was nearby, requesting them to let his children know that they were to join their parents for breakfast if they wished. And if their uncle could be found then he too was more than welcome to join them as well as whoever he wished to bring along.
Maxwell just stood there in the garden. From this point he could oversee most of the garden and his campment. The sun warmed his neck. Maxwell always stood with his back towards the sun so he wouldn’t get blinded by the light. In the corner of his eyes he saw the grey and white banners of House Hightower moving slightly in the wind. It irritated him, there were too many banners. People were tripping over them. More to the center, next to the Hightower campement was his own campement. It was not fancy decorated with banners. It served its purpose and Maxwell considered it stylish.
He didn’t like sitting there next to Gwayne Hightower but he arrived just shortly after the man. It would be illogical to find a spot somewhere else and waste land. From the center of his view to the other corner was the garden. The garden was beautiful and served its purpose, but wasn’t as beautiful as Highgarden. Maxwell could smell the roses and other flowers. They were placed illogical, thus the smell of each flower became mixed with the others and weren’t getting their full potential.
Maxwell heard the soft sound of water moving, it relaxed him. To someone who didn’t live at Highgarden, the sight of the Lord just standing there would be considered weird. People at Highgarden were just to it. Maxwell was thinking. Many thoughts raced through his mind, many scenarios were worked out, every possibility and move was considered.
For many people, such as Fat Gwayne, it would be a simple choice. Lords who didn’t think with their mind but with their lust for power made wrong choices. There were so many possibilities and factors to be considered. There was only one given fact; Aegon could simply not be king. There would be a regent assigned and the regent would rule.
With the current scenario, dumb Gwayne would become regent. That outcome was not a good one. Gwayne wouldn’t be a good regent and he was already old so that would mean in ten year there would be another council for a new regent. However, Maxwell had already come up with a plan to surpass Gwayne. Baelor and Maegelle formed another faction. A bastard and his half sister. An illegitimate son and a daughter. It was a weird combination, but not that strange considering the Targaryen family. From the information Maxwell had gathered they were decent. Maxwell had no relation to them. They got a dragon, a powerful factor.
And then there was Maxwell’s favorite option at the moment; Maekar Targaryen, base-born son and no dragon. With him, the reign of the fire breathing dragons would end and there would be only fair skinned dragons with exotic eyes. Maekar would marry his daughter Alys. They could become a powerful couple with the right tutoring. Tutoring that had to be done by Maxwell of course.
Maxwell reached down to the glass of gin that was standing on a side table. He tasted the gin. It was still young, probably just a few years old. Maxwell loved the taste of gin. It was one of the best things the Reach could offer at the moment. The gin trade benefited the Reach. The improved roads, villages and farming materials upped the production. The big Lords of the Reach weren’t happy tho, something Maxwell found very fitting for them. The improvements had to be paid by tax money. The lords only saw the raised taxes and not the raised income, which was actually higher. They couldn’t think.
The sound of the water was drowned out by two women approaching. They came from behind, but Maxwell could hear by the weight and timing of their steps that it was his wife Melara and their daughter Meredyth. Meredyth was lovely, but she was just that. Melara however was powerful, a smart mind who he could spar with.
“Of course I am not lost my dear, I am just thinking about this council” He replied to her first question.
Her second question asked to him was answered by their daughter. She didn’t have the needed tact. Maxwell smiled when she was corrected by Melara. He would turn this into a learning situation for her.
“There are many things to be considered, Meredyth. Of course we have Maekar who is going to marry Alys, however, that hasn’t happened yet. The arrangement was made by the king and me, but the king is dead. He is a base-born son of the late king, but he has yet to learn what it means to be king. You cannot say that about the prince Meredyth, the prince is alive, just not like us”
Maxwell continued “Maegelle and Baelor are also an option, they aren’t backed by any major house yet, they will have it difficult.”
He stared again at the camp of the Hightowers bordering his own. The grey and white banners were really getting on his nerves
“To answer your question my lady, I haven’t made my mind up yet. There are too many unstable factors. I will have to wait on the others. To play this game the best way, we have to wait” Maxwell knew that this wasn’t the answer Melara wanted to hear. She was a woman of action. Only Maxwell knew that backing someone this early in the game could be disastrous. Before he knew it he could be stripped of his Paramountcy and that was something he really didn’t want to happen.
The Northern Contingent - Summerhall
Lord Rodrick Stark
The wind had a bite to it. Not the ferocious mauling of the Northern winds mind you, but instead a Southern nip, like comparing a wolf to a ferret. Still its presence was comforting, something from home. Perhaps it had followed them, the cold comforting wind, diminished as it journeyed further and further from its home, past rivers and forests, castles and towns, until here it was, at the home of Summer. And yet still it made its presence known, a comforting hand on the shoulder of Northern sons and daughters. The smell of last night’s rain was still heavy in the air, the damp mossy smell filling Rodrick’s nostrils, he closed his eyes for a moment, the smell was universal, he could of been in Moat Calin, or the Wolfswood after a storm had passed. But he was not. The North had been left far behind, and this land was alien to him. His eyes opened. One dazzling blue, the other a milky ruined grey, the flesh around it puckered with scar tissue, it staring sightlessly from within its socket. The structure looming before them however was impressive and vast enough that just the one eye sufficed. Summerhall, the seasonal home of the Targaryens, far from the stink and crowds of King’s Landing. It was a castle in name only, there was little practical about it, Intricate, vast, beautiful and… empty.
The Dragons were mostly dead, reduced to wild beasts that ravaged the land, and seemingly tied to them, the Dragon Kings were equally reduced in number and scattered. Left with two, a choice of a bastard or an imbecile. This was the second choice that had been presented to the land. The first had resulted in smoke and fire, destruction wreaked upon the land. And Rodrick had let it pass on by, the last Northerner to descend to fight in a war of dragons had met his untimely end with his Winter Wolves. He had fought like a berserker of old, and carved a swathe through the Southerners, earning his place in the annals, but still he had died. What happened south of the Neck was of little concern, the North had been dealing with its own problems. Rodrick’s left eye twitched momentarily, the bite of the axe returning, a flash of phantom pain, and then nothing again, back to familiar darkness on that side, passing like a bad dream. But the time to watch and wait was gone, he had known as much from the opening words of that Raven’s message. Two claims, a trueborn son left as little more than a husk, who could rule in name only, and the bastard born, who had no right to claim whilst the true born still drew breath. This was not just a squabble between rivals, this was a question of whether the Dragon’s rule of Westeros would survive the end of the year, and the spillover from any of the answers to that question was not one that the North could escape from.
The journey had been long, and not without a measure of discomfort, wealth only went so far in improving the journey, the weather had been rotten, the going slow and it wasn't even a journey he was keen on. A quite unfortunate combination of factors that had resulted in his mood deteriorating rapidly after crossing at The Twins. As Summerhall hove into view however he felt his spirits lifting, not for the destination, but instead for the end of the journey being in sight. His son and wife had been far more adept at this it seemed. Whilst she may have set roots in the north, Sybell was still a southern flower, a rare beauty amongst the harshness of the North. Words had been muttered by some of the older Lords at the prospect of their marriage, how a proper Northern lass would have been better, more iron in the bloodline. Rodrick had made sure such mutterings were short lived however. Despite their differences, and their frequent time apart, he had found in her a loyal and loving wife, who beneath the soft trappings, had a spine of solid iron. It was the figure next to him however that he had a harder time being with. Brandon Stark, the Wayward Wolf, the Heir to Winterfell and the North, and more often than not a mystery to Rodrick. The son who had left them all to… well wasn’t that the biggest question of all, what he had sought or achieved through his long absence. Recently returned he did not recognise the figure that rode next to him, the young boy at Winterfell was gone, and in his place a sallow youth, the length of their conversation over the journey could be measured in minutes, and the depth in mere inches. This was going to present as much of a chance to try and reconnect, to decipher what he was, whether Rodrick would be any happier once he discovered the true Brandon would be another question.
“Keep your position here at the head of the collum, I’ll return soon enough with your mother, better to have us ride in as a united unit, the South is no place for us to enter piecemeal, a united front… that’s what’s needed,”
He clapped his hand on his shoulder, firmly gripping it for a moment, a clue towards the power that was there behind the outwardly ruined and rugged exterior.
“Oh and keep Morgan close to you. I promised his late father I’d look after him, he’s spent the last 2 days looking as if he’s going to fall of his horse at the first possible opportunity,”
He wheeled his horse round and moved away from the vanguard, past the various banners of the houses accompanying them, the Giant of Umber, the Merman of Manderly, and the Flayed Man of Bolton as some of the principle 3. Other Lords had simply provided retinues led by family members, remaining to govern at home. But still the force was on the larger side, more than just a perfume laden delegation. Past the main force the carriage came into view. Lumbering along before the numerous supply wagons, it was a behemoth, wheels splashing through the mud and water, carried by a team of 4 horses. He knew inside it was cramped and stuffy. But it was still a luxury that few could afford. He swung himself off his horse, the driver of the carriage bringing it to a slow halt, not that it was actually capable of anything faster. His boots slapping against the mud he braced a foot against the carriage and swung the door open, the daylight flooding in. He offered his hand inside, a smile cracking on his features, despite the sincerity of it, it no longer reached his left eye, the scars twisting this way and that.
“Our journey is finally over my dear. Summerhall and the Lords and Ladies of the south eagerly await our presence… or something along those lines. I wondered if you join us at the front, stretch your legs. Show them Ladies they pale in comparison to the jewel of the North,”
Sybell most likely wouldn’t come along easily, but a few honeyed words always helped a little, something he had to learn the hard ways. A permanent scowl and darkened words didn’t exactly do a great deal with her.
The Wayward Wolf Three years. For three years Brandon left home, wandering Westeros, seeking honor, glory, and fame. He sought to be like the knight's of legend, defeating foul villains, saving fair maidens, and all in the name of the Seven. It all seemed so...perfect. Life was so boring in the North, the South had to be better! It seemed so exotic at the time, his mother's stories entrancing the young boy. Going past the Neck felt like he was entering a whole new world! Surely the world was exactly as the stories said it was, right?
Unfortunately...they were wrong. Dead wrong.
All Brandon found was poverty, depravity, and oppression. He found out quickly that a knight-errant's job was to protect the common folk from themselves, but not from the nobility. It was just improper. Brandon found this out the hard way, after he was nearly hung for trying to stop a local Lord from ravaging a woman. He only escaped after he convinced the man that he was indeed the son of Roderick Stark, and that killing him would bring down the Hammer, so to speak.
Brandon didn't speak much of his journeys. It brought back too many bad memories, pieces of the true nature of humanity etched into his mind. Mix into this his already strained relationship with his father...and you get a socially awkward, wallflower of a man, forced to live in his much more famous father's father large, imposing shadow.
Which was the exact thing Brandon was doing at this very moment. He followed Roderick closely, his dark brown mare jerking a bit under the Stark as he soothed the horse. Artys, as he had named the horse, could be quite the jittery thing, just like her rider, but Brandon was always able to soothe the creature without much issue. He was doing just this when he heard a familiar, gruff voice speak to him, the Wayward Wolf nearly soiling his breeches before he realized it was just his father. Brandon felt his heart sink at his father's orders. "Me? Leading the retinue? Oh, God's..." Brandon simply nodded, swallowing nervously as he looked around for Morgan...oh, Seven Hell's, Morgan, the annoying prick. The entire trip South, he'd done nothing but talk about his sister, Shyra, and how she was a fine young lady without a husband. Brandon wasn't much interested, for the reasons that he didn't want Morgan as a brother-in-law, and Shyra was just sixteen years old, and Brandon was almost twenty five. While it was normal for women to marry older men, Brandon wasn't much of a fan, and thankfully, his parents allowed him to remain free...for a time, at least. Even he was aware he would need to take a lady wife soon, or forever be remembered as a complete and utter failure of a Stark.
With a long, weary sigh, Brandon pulled Artys besides the efemminate Umber, feeling his awkwardness building before he said, "So...I...trust you've decided who you'll vote for, yes Morgan?" Brandon was terrible at small talk, and since it seemed all people were talking of now was the vote, it seemed a good topic. Except Brandon, poor, poor Brandon...he didn't even knew who was in the race. He knew there was...a mentally challenged one, a...a bastard, maybe? Oh! And then the one without a dragon... Something the Eggless. It's not like this mattered. His father would vote regardless, so whatever Brandon might have thought was utterly trivial. Plus, it's not like Roderick would listen to Brandon regardless, given their...differences.
Oh, dear, this is going to be a nightmare, isn't it...?
This entire succession business was a bloody fucking mess. Ever since his father took up banners in the name of Maegelle Targaryen, Bryant's life had been utterly miserable. Not wanting to die, he of course swore loyalty to the King after his victory, but a resentment still remained! If the Targaryen's could just stop fighting one another every decade, Westeros would be a much better place, and his job would be less stressful. But alas, Bryant was without a boss, and if a new ruler wasn't chosen soon, then he'd be without a job...frankly, that sounded great at the moment. Just be done with all the bullshit and go back to Raventree Hall with his children. That's all Bryant ever wanted: a happy family and a happy life. Unfortunately, he only got opthe former of the two.
Lord Blackwood sighed as he looked over the manuscripts one last time. He'd spent the last few days making sure that there was absolutely no way any of the candidates for the Throne could possibly be disqualified, thus making this affair even more complicated. His dark eyes were heavy, with bags large enough to hold a dragon egg in each one. It had been a long several days, the poor Master of Laws only getting a few hours of fleeting sleep before he went back to work, thanks to how utterly absurd and vague Westerosi inheritance laws are. But it was done. At long fucking last, it was done. Bryant almost cried at the sight, clutching the parchments tightly as he stood up suddenly from his desk. The best office he could muster was the library, since he needed to be within reaching distance of every law book imaginable. He pushed open the door of his library, taking in the silence of Summerhall while it lasted. Whoever decided Summerhall would be a good place to host every Lord and Lady in the Seven Kingdoms is a bloody fucking idiot. And to think they'd be the one sitting on the Iron Throne soon...
After a short walk, Bryant found himself at the door to Grandmaester Axel's room. Despite working with the man for...who knows how long, Bryant didn't have much to think about Axel. Sure, they got along, but the dark haired Blackwood never progressed beyond professionalism, which is just what Bryant wanted. He took a minute to adjust himself, brushing the thick locks of black hair out of his face, adjusting the brown jerkin he was wearing. He looked like he just walked out of a tavern after a long night of drinking, and he honestly felt like it after doing all that paperwork. Finally, he gave three sharp knocks on the door, opening the portal as he peeked his head in to say, "Uh, excuse me, Grandmaester? Have some papers for you." After a customary moment of waiting for Axel to bid him in, Bryant entered, looking around the Grandmaester's accommodations as he handed the man about a half dozen pieces of parchment, saying in a dull, exhausted tone, "That's everything. Unfortunately...it seems like the candidates are both legitimate in their claims, as dubious as they are. You'd think after three hundred bloody years, someone would make succession laws that didn't make you want to throw yourself off the castle walls..." Bryant let out a sigh after his little rant, feeling a bit of the tension he'd been holding in leave his body. It felt...good. Bryant leaned against whatever wall was nearest too him to avoid hurting his legs that had just now walked more than he had during the entire three day long binge on Westerosi law. The Blackwood rubbed his tired eyes once again, before looking up at the Grandmaester to ask, "So...who do you think's going to win? I'm not getting man, but my money's on the bastard. No one would vote an imbecile to become King of the Seven Kingdom's, and the third one doesn't even have a dragon, as arbitrary as the requirement is." Bryant didn't name any of the candidates, as he couldn't remember their names, and enjoyed it that way. He only remembered names that were important to him: in this case, his co-workers, and the person paying him, and since the Small Council lacked a King, Bryant wasn't remembering any names until someone was crowned. Which, judging by how most things amongst Targaryen's went...
"You're lookin' more and more like Jeyne everyday."
That had been the last thing Morgan had heard from his little sister before he'd left home: he looked like a teenage whore. A pretty one, but judging from her snickering, she hadn't meant to compliment him. Nobody ever did. Thanks to Shyra -- who had been left behind to watch over the place in his absence -- Morgan had joined the party even more sullen than he'd intended to be.
He hated travelling.
And horses, and most of the other Northern men.
Inconvenience. Heat. Cold.
Aside from the odd jeer, people had left him alone for much of the journey. It'd been a blessing at first, but Morgan, fickle as ever, had quickly decided it was worse. For some reason, his so-called peers thought he was incapable of joining in with their small talk, and their jests and jokes. Which he was, but only because he was on another level, a superior one. That idea had returned him to his original position: it was good that nobody was interested in holding a conversation with him.
Except for Brandon, of course, who'd listened and engaged at regular intervals. Bless his heart. He was a good man. Morgan often liked to think that they were similar. He was sure Brandon would be thrilled at the comparison. Though, obviously, Morgan was much less socially inept.
"What? Oh, I suppose. Well, I want to wait and see." Morgan shrugged, glancing to the side to flash the boy a smile. He awkwardly patted his own horse's neck, wrinkling his nose when his fingers brushed a spot that felt suspiciously wet. As he drew his fingers back to wipe the mud off on a cleaner area, he continued. "It'll be fun, though, won't it? Plenty of new people to meet."
Morgan was excited. There were going to be so many Houses that he'd never seen in the flesh before present. He wanted to see the rumoured most beautiful girl in the Reach, and see the clothing everyone wore, and see a dragon. Well, both types of dragon.
"What about you? Don't tell me you're going to go soft on me and say that the braindead one deserves a chance. Sometimes the heir just shouldn't be the firstborn, it's not logical."
Ironically, that was what Shyra -- amongst other people -- had always said about him.
During those early years of Rodrik’s captivity at Oldtown, he had not known much outside its giant cobblestone walls. The hightower, namesake of his adoptive family would become the nesting ground of this exiled prince. Of course, Rodrik could never be completely barred from the winding alleyways of the city and its promised pleasures, but that would be the extent of his adventures. It was as if an invisible force prevented him from making his escape, was it fear that stopped him? Did this young scion of the kraken dread the thought of dying?
Rodrik’s earliest memory, before he became that feared corsair or timid greenlander, came from back when he was just a plump, blackhaired, comely little child intent on celebrating his seventh name day. Unable to comprehend why his mother could not be there to tell off his little sister for having eaten the last of the lemoncakes. None consoled the little boy, or told him why, all he had was that singular moment alone with one he would call father. Of which he remembers only those eternal words, repeated ad infinitum in their interactions hence, what is dead may never die.
Young Rodrik Greyjoy hadn’t shed a single tear at his mother’s funeral.
Memories, it would seem, are curious things then, just as they embed themselves in the mind of one so young, they find purchase in the lands oft traversed, in the hovels left abandoned and the villages once bitten twice shy. It had not been long since the ironborn had sailed up the mander, their blades bloody and ships laden with loot. It must’ve been puzzling to those that witnessed the spectacle now, Blacktyde, Boltley, Harlaw and Greyjoy dressed in their silken livery, on board their dreaded longboats, with no weapons to bear.
They spent little time trotting around on the mainland, an ironborn on a horse was a pitiful sight indeed. Stopping only to water their horses and barter for supply, never outstaying their welcome. The young lord would have to be content with surveying a mere fraction of the numerous septs big and small along their path. Besides, there was not much in the way of conversation that the men of faith responsible for such structures were ready to offer, most seemed intent on replacing their priestly garb for the rughspun tunic of the smallfolk at the mere sight of Rodrik’s retinue. The words they were able to muster, seemed to be for the most part the same tried and tested drivel rehearsed to perfection, “And this land m’lord was bequeathed to the faith by the dearly departed lord so-and-so, a pious and generous man that the seven surely favour in death.”
This was not to say that conversation was particularly riveting amongst the ironborn themselves, old Lord Botley was keen on pointing out the constant flow of trade Lordsport was enjoying under his stewardship, prodding to see if a lessening of the tax burden could be secured. Lord Blacktyde would at the slightest provocation recount his war stories, which were surprisingly less about war than about the lord’s own sexual prowess. In the rest, Rodrik sensed a certain distance, those who he’d once considered to be his greatest friends had adopted a coldness which was difficult to shake off.
The Ironborn had made camp a short ways away from a nearby sept which proved much the same as the last, its septon a tired old man with little to offer, both to his flock and to this strange Ironborn lord that professed his own faith. After having spent the obligatory few moments in the house of the faithful, Rodrik returned to his troop, a certain sense of boredom having taken hold of the man. Just then a cacophony of cheering could be heard from somewhere in the middle of camp. A crowd of onlookers had surrounded three men-at-arms and a certain Lord Sparr who were engaged in a game of finger dance, something Lord Rodrik hadn’t witnessed in a long while.
“Why don’t you join us Lord? Unless the Lady Hightower disapproves that is!” bellowed one of the men, Rordik couldn’t tell who, he was much too interested in the axes whizzing past the participants. It did garner more than a few chuckles however, It’d have been doubly so if they’d known that the Lady Hightower certainly did disapprove, but that was not about to dissuade Rodrik, especially after a challenge such as that.
The trick was to catch the axe or leap over it without missing a step, he’d seen men lose more than their fingers playing the game, and yet it would seem that it remained popular throughout the ages, why? It was beyond him. What followed was certainly a sight, the men-at-arms were more than able to do their part, catching the spinning axes in their fingers with all the grace of pentoshi courtesans. Despite having been rather rusty, Lord Rordrik was able to hold his own, being as careful as one can be in such situations. It was after all a game of attrition, all one had to do was wait for someone else to fumble, to miss a step. And miss a step they did, Lord Sparr it would seem was not cut out for the dance, in trying to catch one of the axes that flew his way the man sidestepped, itself a violation of the vague rules of the game, but worse still the toe of the flying deathtrap went through the man’s index finger. Immediately of course, lord Rodrik asked for someone to be sent to patch the wound, but Lord Sparr seemed in no haste to have the wound looked at. In fact the man was more inclined to laugh it off.
They took his delivery of cider, first of. Not a single welcome was issued nor even a gestural bow or wave. The heir of House Hightower got nothing. His father’s soldiers clad in iron and ringlet chainmail came forth. Barrel by barrel and cask by cask, unloaded. Carried off in bulk to the castle’s kitchen quarters. The men who traveled with him unhorsed and wandered off, likely gone to find hard bread to gnaw and a tree to piss on. Leaving Lord Titus Hightower to his Pride and to his thoughts, both he had little of.
He let loose a sigh and turned his eyes towards his father’s camp. Surveying every inch of it. Erected tents coloured cheaply grey dotted the grounds surrounding Summerhall. A splendid showcase of Hightower’s strength and of Hightower’s prestige - at court and throughout The Seven Kingdoms altogether.
Beyond the greys, he spied greens. House Tyrell. The Lords Paramount. “In title only,” Titus’ father would speak. Lord Gwayne knew he was the real power in The Reach. The Reach knew too. Titus had the biggest of boots to fill.
It was a shame he had such small feet ...
Out of the corner of his eye, came a little lad wearing an orange garb - not reminiscent of the colours of the cloaking forest surrounding them. It was more of a brown-ish orange. An orange that did not treat his sight sweetly.
Titus said, pointing a thin finger at the child. The boy’s eyes widened,
“Yes. You. Take my horse, will you? Tie him to a post or … put him in a stable, if there’s room.” He studied the young urchin with splashes of mud painting his face. Poor lad. In that moment, Titus imagined him as a simple orphan. Most likely illiterate. Perhaps a bastard with the name Storm? Working tirelessly under the staff of Summerhall.
The boy replied. What?
Titus felt his jaw slack, though he quickly picked it back up. “Pardon?”
“I said … no.”
“You w-will do as I tell you to, lad.”
The child’s brow furrowed itself,
“No I will not, hilt head.” “What?”
“Do your ears work, ser? Or does the shape of your hair simply deny them use?” The boy asked. “I said no … I will not take your horse, hilt head.”
He finished his words with a protruding of his tongue, tormenting Titus. Titus, still saddled upon his horse, could not comprehend what exactly it was that was occuring. He was the heir to Oldtown and this demon-child was throwing towards him sass. He had to take some drastic measures. Titus had to get mean.
He began. “Y-You little … shit.”
A voice beckoned. It belonged to an impressive looking bald man, standing at least higher than six feet tall - which was taller than Titus. The man’s shoulders were broad and the most masculine. A dark stubble dressed the bottom of his chin. Titus recognised him from … somewhere. It took several moments to figure out where, but -
“Gwayne, what in seven hells are you up to?” The man asked the urchin as he approached them. “Have you been rolling round in dirt again?”
When he stopped,
Titus and he stared into each other. Oh no.
The lad hugged his father’s leg in a panic and began to bawl. Freshly squeezed tears streaming from his tightly shut eyes. “Father, father …” The child croaked, weeping. Oh, heavens.
“The f-f-funny lookin’ man on the horse c-called me a shit.” The boy stuttered through his supposed sadness. A mummer’s affair if Titus had ever seen one. The father looked to his son and then back to Titus Hightower, before addressing him …
“Lord Titus? Is this the truth?” Oh no.
He didn’t have the time nor the wit to concoct some grand lie. A seamless storybook tale as to ensure he was not in the wrong. “I--”
Fumbling was a specialty. A talent the most talentless could possess. “I’d never use such l-language, Lord Mullendore. Especially not within the presence of children, no …”
“He tried forcing his horse upon me, father.”
The boy added.
Lord Mullendore, one of his father’s vassals, raised an eyebrow to him.
“I simply thought of … your son … as a stableboy. It was - uh - truly my mistake, Lord Mullendore. It … has been so long since I’ve last seen you a-and your boy. And this journey, as you know, has been most exhausting. So … my apologies.”
Titus felt his face gone red. Like the leaves and like his delivery of cider. Lord Mullendore stared him up and stared him down. A silence lingered between the two of them as the boy wiped away his lizard-lion tears.
Titus, in his awkwardness, broke the quiet. Looking straight at the fuming lord. “Do you know … where I can hitch my horse?”
An hour passed, and a horse was roped to a post outside a tent. His tent, to be exact. Titus did not receive the lavish luxury of sleeping within the walls of Summerhall - the castle he admired so much so. Instead, he was given … a tent. A sizable one. Big enough for a small man. He was instructed that it was his right after his Pride was dealt with,
When he met his mother’s brother. Ser Merrell Costayne. A well ventured knight now soldiering under Titus’ father.
From there, Titus took off his leathered boots - ignoring the smell of unwashed feet - and laid his head down upon his feathered cot. He blinked once. He blinked twice. He kept on blinking until he could not no more. Sleep finally catching up with him and rewarding Titus for a journey well traveled. He slept for minutes.
Before his tent was no longer just … his.
“Did I wake you?”
He woke to those words. The bitch asking them as if she did not already know the answer. His older sister ( oldest now, with Phyra gone ) stood at his flaps, guarded by three men dressed exotically. One wore an orange turban and the other a long cream gown-like tunic, whilst the other wore revealing suede armour that mannequined his biceps. Titus’ eyes fluttered open with disappointment. He longed for but a moment’s more rest. He sat up,
“Not whatsoever, Helicent. I was only resting my eyes.”
He rubbed them with the ins of his fists, so to clear them of their sleep, before looking right at her. She looked extravagant as per.
Dressed in black and gold, like an expensive widow. She always was more their mother’s daughter than their father’s. The Costayne in her weighed heavier than The Hightower, though that did not stop her from flaunting the name.
Not like she needed to flaunt it … being the mistress of Sunspear. “Oh … I am so glee ridden that I didn’t, young Titus.” Young Titus.
“What do I owe the pleasure, sister?”
Helicent remained at the tent’s open flaps, surrounded by her men. Her husband’s men, it seemed more like. “Can a woman not pay her little brother a visit?” She asked. “Her only little brother.” She added, with a pleasant sting.
“My apologies, Helicent. It is just … been some time since you’ve paid that visit.”
“Things have been quite busy, Titus. I know you get lost in the triviality of riding around The Reach with your friends and your women, but I have sands to run. A husband to help.” Friends.
Titus wished her words were true. “Apologies, once again.”
“Stop apologising, young Titus. Of course there’s a reason I’m here.” Helicent inched a little closer towards him as he sat on the cot - before continuing,
“Put your boots on and walk with me.”
“Because Ser Merrell told me you haven’t even seen father yet.” “Have you?”
“We briefly discussed politics earlier this morning when the sun was not so high. He has me very busy, even down in Dorne.”
“So briefly. I said. There is much more that does need to be discussed. Between me and him and me and you … and you and him. This is an important day after all.” She stared at him, her expression like stone. Ambiguous. She continued,
“He is with our uncle in Aegon’s room, I do believe. They’ve been in there for a while, so I say we visit them. Discuss these things as a household. As two households, even.” A small smile crept upon her face but her eyes resembled a doe.
She looked down at his boots and the smile was lost, “I will give you a moment.” Helicent swiftly turned to face the opposite way and just like that … her and her trio of men were gone from his tent. Titus considered lying down once more and letting sleep cradle him.
But he could not do that.
He could not do that even if he wanted to.
“How fares Dorne?” Titus asked, breaking ice. They walked through the camp. His boots squishing on the wet muck beneath them. His sister led their walk, him following and her trio behind him. They were crossing the border of the camps, where grey tents coloured green.
“Sunspear is thriving. We recently hosted Prince Ordello, come all the way from Pentos.”
“Did he now?”
“Have you met him? He is … surprisingly not as charming as I expected.”
“Hm. Is your husband with us?”
“No. He is still in Sunspear.”
“How will he cast a vote then?” Titus questioned.
“Through his dear wife, of course. His council could not seem to decide a claimant to back, and I was coming all the way here anyway … so two birds were bludgeoned with one stone.”
“He doesn’t trust his councilors' counsel, but he does his wife’s?”
“A wife’s counsel is the most important counsel a man can receive, Titus. Perhaps if you slid a wedding band upon a girl’s finger already … you would realise that sooner.”
Titus let out a dry chuckle,
“You know me and sliding.”
Helicent continued, “Besides - do you not think me capable of casting a vote for our future king?”
“You’re certainly … capable. It is just a bit boring, since we all know your vote and our father’s vote will very much resemble one another.”
“And should they not?”
They stopped by a garden, bursting with rose bushes. Flowers that, though beautiful, were in the midst of somber deaths. The summer had been a long one, so it made sense that the coming winter was the same.
Long and harsh and dreadfully cold.
Titus eyed a white rose before saying,
“I … don’t know.”
“You should.” Helicent’s eyes were hidden daggers. “If Aegon is King, then our father is regent. Our father rules. Why would you not want that? Why would you not want to elevate our status in Westeros even more so?”
Titus’ mouth ran dry.
His eyes watching the rose. It’s snowdrop petals almost glistening under the sunlight. It was a thing of beauty. And soon …
It would be gone.
“I just … it does not seem fair.”
Helicent laughed, “And why doesn’t it?”
“You know well why, sister. Prince Aegon, Mother bless his gentleness, is not fit for a king.”
“And who exactly is? If a bastard sits the throne, then we’re inviting every single Flowers to unseat their fathers. Same if it were a third born. We are lucky our father only has one son.” Helicent eyed him,
“Aegon is heir, afflictions aside. If King Eggbreaker did not wish for his heir to follow him in rulership, then he would have disinherited him years ago. But he did not. Aegon gets my vote. My husband’s vote. Sure, our father profits from it but when the day ends and all is done … tradition has not been broken. Broken tradition leads to broken houses.”
Titus looked down at his boots, letting out a small sigh. He knew she was right, but he could not help the unscratchable itch that plagued him. He stared at the soggy ground, the trampled blades of grass. He felt Helicent’s fingers grip his chin,
Bringing him back up to view her.
“Head high, Titus Hightower.”
“Now, come. Let us further on, little brother. If I have to talk to one Tyrell, I’ll drown myself in a puddle.”
Steel serenaded steel.
The grounds of Summerhall sang out with clinks and with clanks. The swords that swung were dullened, but that did not diminish her drive to win this faux duel. She parried to avoid a stab, his sword being caught in hers. “You’ve gotten better, that’s all I will say.” Her sparring partner complimented her as he shuffled his feet backwards on the grass. He was bigger than her. Taller, and most definitely stronger. There was also the dangling appendage in between his thighs, something she herself lacked -
Not that she dreamed of having his. They danced together, in this battle of theirs. The most dangerous dance. He tensed his shoulders, one of his tell-tale signs … and she knew the oaf was about to strike. He did.
Swinging his sword at her with a low sounding grunt, almost scraping her right arm. She had seen it coming, though. She was ready to side step and miss his hit. She grinned when she did so, “And you have gotten clumsier. Has father been neglecting you of your lessons?” Her voice had a mocking tone, before she let out a laugh.
He laughed with her, “Fuck right off.” He waved his sword around, passing it from his right hand to his left hand. Acting as if he was some water dance hailing all the way from across The Narrow Sea. He was trying to show off, of course. Trying to impress her …
Their agreement was a simple one. Spar. That was it. He would spar with, whether on the road or in King’s Landing or back at Storm’s End. Or … here, in Summerhall. He’d help her improve her swordplay, when he could. But,
He was still a young man, without wife. And Lucinda Baratheon - a young lady, without husband. They were both livestock to be wed. A fact she always kept at the back of her thoughts. Hidden behind her feelings about having children and her strange dislike for some of her relatives.
“Lady Lucinda, Lady Lucinda!” She heard an echoing, coming from the large arch that led into the castle’s small courtyard. It was Joy. Septa Joy. The woman of the habit who was sometimes more of a mother than the one that gave Lucinda life.
Lucy stuck her sharpless sword into the muck and pursed her lips at her partner. Ben Wensington. “I guess we’ll pick it up in the evening?”
“Isn’t there … you know … some sort of council going on in the evening?”
She put her hand to her chin and rubbed it in jest. Her pale green-blue eyes reached toward the autumn’s sky,
“A council, you say? Why …” Her hand dropped and she focused back on Ben. “I don’t recall such a thing? Though that might explain why we’re all here, hm?”
“Excellent theory, my lady.”
Her fingers carefully caressed the hard pommel of the training sword - stuck in dirt. Ben watched her as she did it and bit his lip. Lucinda rubbed down towards the hilt before quickly reefing her hand off of it,
“I’m coming, Septa.”
Septa Joy was short and middle-aged. She had brown eyes with flecks of gold topaz in them. Lucinda assumed she had blonde hair, being from The Westerlands and all. Though she had yet to actually see the woman’s hair. She never saw her without her robes on,
Which she was partially thankful for.
“Your father wants you at breakfast.”
The two women walked down a thin corridor with walls that almost glistened in their silverness. The inside of Summerhall was half elegance and half magnificence. Certain parts of the castle reminded Lucinda of a cave she once visited down on the rocks by Storm’s End - the stone shining. Dazzling. The men who built this place were gifted.
She felt as if she was surrounded by talent, and by ancient magic. “My father doesn’t want at anything, Septa. He’s one of the most passive men I’ve ever known.”
“Do not start with me this morning, my lady. I am bucketing sweat under my garb, because I’ve been running from left to right trying to find you.”
“Well … I’m sorry for that, Septra. You did not need to go through so much trouble.”
“You’re always so much trouble though, my lady.”
Lucy looked at the woman of the cloth, and they both shared a quiet giggle. The corridor led to a bright open room, surrounded by stained windows depicting Aegon’s Conquest and before that even. The room was unfurnished apart from the painted glass windows. The only other thing in it was a door that led to another room. “How does the sword training go?”
As they walked towards the door.
“It’s alright. Lord Wensignton’s son continues to be ever helpful.”
“You know … you could ask your father to get a proper trainer? Who was that man he brought in to train Orryn when he was a boy? Ser … something?”
Lucy got to the door first and stopped,
“I could, but I told you I do not want to.”
“Why not, my lady?”
“No reason, Septa. Just that … this is mine. Learning this is all mine. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn and to do and ... “
Her hand wrapped around the door’s handle. “If my father hires a swordsman, then my father hired a swordsman to teach his daughter. I don’t want that to be the tale, Septa. I want it to be … Lady Lucinda sparred and lost and sparred and lost until she got good and until she won.”
“I understand, dear.”
Joy and Lucinda exchanged smiles before the latter pushed the door inward.
Inside the room was a small table, surrounded by chairs. More stained windows, draped in fine curtains. Unlit candlesticks, and a wooden stairwell that led to the upper level Lord Baratheon had procured for his immediate household.
Lord Baratheon. Her father.
“Good morning. Sorry for my timing.” Lucy greeted her family. Her father sat at the head of the table and her mother beside him. Her brother and her uncle occupied the table as well. It looked as if they had just begun eating. Lucy looked back at Joy and nodded at her, before she closed the door on the woman.
The Stag’s daughter started for her own chair, at the opposite end of the table … facing her father. “I was out practicing with Wensington’s son. The castle grounds are … truly something else.” She said, pleasantly.
She sat down and then pulled her chair in, tucking herself into the wooden table. A servant placed a bowl in-front of her, filled with warm broth. She picked up a spoon and nibbled at it. Picking through the flotsam within her brown. Seared mushrooms and squeezed dry tomatoes. She suddenly was not very hungry.
Not to say she had been starving to begin with. “Could you pass the bread rolls?”
They were plated up against her brother’s spot.
A silence. “Orryn.”
He passed her down the plate and she picked the prettiest roll, before he placed them back down. The roll was fresh baked and radiating warmth. She dipped it into the bowl, having it thread the broth for a few moments.
Until she deemed it soggy enough, and took a bite. “Did you all sleep well?” She asked, breaking an awkwardness.
“I won’t tell a lie, my backside was strained when I woke. Summerhall is such a beautiful castle but Prince Maekar would do right in investing in more comfortable bedding.” She talked as she chewed, but made sure that her mouth was essentially almost shut …
So she didn’t look like a total savage.
She dipped the bread in once more.
She looked at the man to her right of the table, “And how fares you, uncle? Any newborn strands of grey hair we should know of? Do tell.” Lucinda joked. It may have come across dripping in snark, but that was how she always addressed Garon. He never seemed to mind.
The trip had been long but not unpleasant. Besides, it wasn't as though Emberlei had never been on a long journey before; as a child she'd loved to travel, and had often visited places outside her family home. Now, her connection to the rest of the realm was her letters to various penpals, and the story she was attempting to write at night by candlelight.
Being brought along to this particular event had excited her to no end, so much that she'd almost bounced right off of her husband's horse during the trip. Rather than sitting alongside Ethan, she began to pace back and forth, wringing her hands to stop herself gesturing wildly. Suddenly, she had an uncharacteristic energy she hadn't possessed since her younger years.
"We can bathe if you'd like! But I don't want to stay here on our own for too long, we'd miss so much! Oh, imagine all of the people we can meet today, just imagine it!" Emberlei exclaimed, finally running back to her husband and clasping his face between her small hands. She beamed as she released him, and dropped down to take a seat beside him.
There was much on her mind beside generic interest and curiosity: she was -- as much as she wanted to just observe and explore -- a woman on a mission. Her father, bless his heart, had told her exactly who he wanted to win this succession contest that had been conjured. Emberlei herself didn't feel educated enough on the subject to give her own opinion, but the few tidbits of information she'd received made the whole situation sound like fiction. She had come to decide a handful of things.
An heir trapped inside his own body was easily romanticised, but not a practical choice.
A bastard backed by a grown dragon was strong, but in danger of becoming a tyrant.
A true-born son was the logical option, but not when he was marrying into a house whose position was rumoured to be unstable.
But she had never met any of them, and didn't want to pre-judge. What she wanted more than anything was to listen, and make up her own mind: not that it mattered. Her father had made up his mind already, and she had come in part to vote on his behalf. Well, to vote for who he assumed he meant.
Quincy Wode had wanted to see Maegelle on the throne. Emberlei hadn't had the heart to explain that that wasn't an option. So she planned to say he was voting for her husband, which was the same thing in her mind. Even if anything swayed her own opinion in the mean time, she wouldn't steal his vote. She couldn't.
Emberlei prided herself on being a good girl. Woman.
Her gaze flicked back to her husband, and she took her hands in his with a smile. "Do you know who your brother plans to pledge his support to? I felt it'd be overstepping boundaries to ask him while we were on our way here. But I'd love to know."
Brandon nodded at Morgan's words, scratching the back of his head nervously as he said, "Yeah...new people...I can't wait..." The thought of meeting new people terrified the Stark. Hundreds, literally hundreds of people he didn't know, who probably knew him, all from a completely different culture. And to think his mother was in that very same situation herself...he let out a weary sigh as Morgan kept droning on and on, Brandon's mind drifting as white noise filled the air. His mind thought of all matter of things. How it actually felt like the North, how he didn't actually have to vote, how a soldier behind him was just a few steps off tempo with everyone else... God's, why did he have to be off tempo?! Just absolutely everything that wasn't Morgan speaking rushed into the poor man's mind.
It was after he hears the word "braindead" that he realized he wasn't paying attention, his head shooting back to Morgan as he tried to piece together the conversation he'd miss. Something about...soft...braindead...firstborn...after a bit of thinking, Brandon supposed Morgan was asking about his opinions on that poor...Aegar? Aegon? He couldn't remember. It hardly mattered. Brandon recouped himself, clearing his throat as he stuttered, "W-well, uh...I suppose my opinion hardly matters, since my father will be voting..." He tried to avoid saying too much, and revealing he knew little to nothing about this whole affair. He also made sure he didn't bring you anything about inheritance or siblings, as Brandon knew that would set Morgan off to bragging about his sister...Shyra? Yeah, Shyra. Morgan was constantly trying to marry his dear sister off to Brandon, and Brandon, being socially inept, get determined to marry at his own pace, stayed silent. Speaking of which, Brandon realized he'd need to actually guide the conversation if it meant keeping the Umber from mentioning Shyra. Brandon looked around, panicking inside as he thought of anything he could talk about. Uhhh...the weather! That's it! He swallowed, turning back to Morgan as he said, "So...the weather is quite nice today, yes? Better than up North, at least." He gave a nervous chuckle, before silencing himself and just shutting up. "Damned fool..." he thought. "How are you going to be Lord one day if you can't even manage basic small talk?"
Ethan hid his disappointment while his wife showed her excitement. What was there to miss, really? How could she have such interest in meeting people who had abandon Ethan and Robin when they needed their help the most? For an entire decade, no army came for them, no Targaryen answered the brothers' pleas. Ethan had no interest in talking with these lords and ladies, spending his days with false smiles out of courtesy. All he wish was to leave this place, it mattered not who sat on the thrown at the end of the day, for no one would come to help his land. As warden of the east, it was his job to protect his people, he was the protector of his realm. If he had no such title, neither his brother nor him would have come today, to this meeting. They simply needed to try one more time, one last effort to call for aid. It it failed, if he could have a say in it, he would never see this southern faces ever again. Even so, Emberlei was showing an aura that had been ages since he had seen one like it. Even in bed she hadn't show this much enthusiasm. But what can a man do but satisfy his wife's wishes, it was his duty as her husband.
"Alright, we'll skip forward the bath." he decided as she sat by his side on the bed and held his hands, staring at him with her beautiful eyes and the little smile that he fell in love with. She surely would be overstepping if she had asked Robin, and some could make a good argument that she is still doing it when asking it to Ethan, like he would spoil his brother's decision. However, Robin's decision was not only his, but his brother as well. But since it was a mutual decision, Ethan could talk about it, since it was his own too and not a secret of Robin. "My muse.. our decision has not yet been set in stone. We really need to see how the Targaryens will act and see if... you know... their interests align with ours. I am sure your father will back us and we can count with his vote correct?" A tough question, but one that needed to be asked now that they were alone, far from any unwanted ears. He pulled her closer and warped his hands around her waist. "I am sure we can count with your father on this too. Afterall, my love, our families have always aided each other for this past decades." he gave her a gentle kiss on her belly and looked back at her, waiting for her reply. She would never lie to him, he knew she would be honest. Furthermore, he trusted her family, her father. They couldn't not back House Arryn on this matter. They could not vote for someone that wouldn't help the Vale, could they?
It was adorable, the way Brandon could barely string a sentence together in Morgan's presence. Then he asked about the weather, and he became just another man again. Morgan sighed, glancing back down at his mud-ghosted fingers as he tried to focus on not toppling from his stupid horse.
"The weather's fine," Morgan replied shortly, only to swiftly pursue his original point of inquiry. "I asked for your opinion, not your father's. You can tell me. We're friends, right?"
That was what everything Morgan did was riding on, that the two of them were friends. It was logical for them to be -- they were a similar age, and from the same region -- but he'd never truly been sure of where they stood with one another. He hoped he'd know, soon.
He knew his sister's opinion, of course. She'd always been vocal about what she thought of everybody, no matter their status. It was one of the many things he hated about her. Not that Morgan cared, but his sister was undecided on Brandon. Often, she'd expressed concern that he'd turn out like Morgan, and commented on what a waste that would be: there was a reason he barely listened to the girl. Two reasons, in fact. She was a bitch, for one, and then there was the fact that most of the North would prefer her as the head of House Umber. It was ridiculous, in Morgan's eyes.
"Regardless of the vote, although I still want a proper answer," he began, "Shyra's been asking after you. She thinks you're just wonderful, you know. A real hero."
Actually, the whore didn't think much of most people.
But Brandon didn't need to know that.