Responsible for the Impossible: The Royal Family
Preparations for the arrival of the Royal Family were behind schedule. Of course, seeing as the raven had arrived late with news of the Royal Family's arrival, there was little to be done but to hurry up, and pray that the royals suffered a slowing but entirely non-serious delay. The cooks wrestled with their ingredients, the maids struggled to keep the castle spotless, and the Lord met the young Lady Dresden in a battle of wills.
"I am not wearing that," she vowed, fire in her eyes as she looked up at her Lord Father.
"You have to," Lord Dresden told her, exasperation in his voice, and his eyes locked onto his daughter's nose. "With your growth spurt, it's the only proper gown that will fit you."
The gown in question, a soft, yet thickly tailored deep red dress, with a high neck and long sleeves that projected an air of refinement in how it clung to the arms and flowed about the body, lay spread across the bed. Lady Margaret eyed the dress once again, before she shook her head, turning her nose up at it. "Just because 'proper ladies' wear gowns doesn't mean that I need to. I could put something better together in twenty minutes!"
"Maggie..." Lord Dresden sighed, before rubbing a finger and thumb into his eyes. Defeated, he abandoned the argument he had only half-gathered in his mind. "Did you have something in mind?"
The glint in her eye as she turned to look at him said it all.
And so it was that on the day that the Royal Family approached the Starstone Hall, Lord Dresden stood in front of the open gates leading to his castle, awaiting the ferry that was necessary to bring the Royal Party to the island, and for the party to ride the remainder of the five miles between the Hall and the docks.
Beside him, and looking far too pleased with herself by half, in his opinion, Lady Margaret Dresden smirked. She was clad in a dark black and red robe that matched his own, small pieces of brown leather armor that served more as fashion statement than protective wear worn in thin pauldrons, down her torso in what could only be called a display of form over function, and a single, comparatively tough piece lightly guarding her back in the only real concession to defense. Her manner of dress was much like her father's, save for the absolute paranoia that went into the physical and magical crafting of his own leathers, and idly, Lord Dresden wondered what the royal family would make of that, with ideas and perceptions shaped by their experience with the snake pit that was King's Landing.
Behind the last two Dresdens south of the Wall, Ser Michael stood in his polished plate, with an easy smile fixed to his face, beside whom stood his wife, with a frown to match Michael's smile aimed at their Lord, dressed far too improperly, for her tastes, to receive the King.
A gathering of ten or so guards in chain and leather armor that, while not shining and new, was evidently well cared-for stood behind both the Dresden family, and Ser Carpenter with his wife Lady Charity. The Carpenters stood without their young, all the Carpenter children either deemed too immature by their mother to greet royalty, or already gone from the castle to seek their own fortunes.
The castle's Maester, Maester Waldo, whose chain hung heavy with links of many colors, stood behind the Lord Dresden and to his left. Two silver links hung nearly hidden beneath his robes, marking him as adept with, but no master at, the healing arts. He had a single link of black iron for ravenry; though he generally found the birds to be pleasant company, he dismissed the 'advanced' teachings in the art of ravenry to be wastes of time. A pale steel link and a link of Valyrian Steel marked the time he had spent convinced that he and he alone might rediscover the secret to forging the finest blades in Westeros, in his youthful arrogance, though he imagined that what he had learned through studying what Lord Dresden could do was worth far more than what he had been taught of sorcery while pursuing the Valyrian Steel link. Bronze and copper, for Astronomy and History, as well as yellowed gold for economic acumen, among some other, lesser known links that marked him as better-educated than a great many people of Westeros, including a fair few Lords and Ladies of the land.
They were not waiting long after midday before the royal party came into view.
At its head rode a pair of Baratheon men, so known by the banners they bore, a crowned black stag on a field of yellow, staring down at the Dresden men and women with royal disdain. Right behind them, the regal lions of Casterly Rock gazed upon them from their own banners, men loyal either to the Queen, or her Lord Father, Harry didn't much care which. After the lions came the guards that had ridden out to meet the King's Party, Captain Murphy at their head, with a practiced calm look on her face that set Lord Dresden to gritting his teeth in preparation for the worst.
Finally, a man large in presence, stature, and girth rode up on a powerful black destrier, an angry beast bred for battle, which barely tolerated the indignity of being held back for so slow a party of draft horses, walking men, and carriages. From atop the muscled black beast, the man whose messy beard hid the sagging of his jowls raised a hand to halt his party, as his queen and children exited the finely-crafted carriage that they had ridden up in.
All around, the people of the Starstone Hall dropped to their knees, leaving only the Lord and the young Lady Dresden standing.
Sketching a deep bow, the Lord of the Starstone Hall solemnly spoke. "Your Grace. Be welcome in my Hall, warm at my hearth, and contented at my table." Beside him, Maggie bowed similarly as he introduced her. "My daughter and heir, Margaret Dresden, Your Grace."
As his family moved to stand beside his warhorse, King Robert gave a quick nod from atop the monstrous mount, a small curl of distaste to his expression as the lord bowed before him. It was difficult to tell if it was for the act, or for the man performing it.
"Yes, yes, and all my children are right here," he grumbled, waving a vague hand at two boys and a girl, all yellow of hair. "Enough of all that," he rumbled, dismounting his horse. "Let's get inside, it feels like something's bloody watching me."
The children all seemed more than prepared to move behind solid stone walls, judging by the looks on their faces. Queen Cersei, however, appeared to be holding a stern frown on her face through sheer force of will, allowing very few flickers of uncertainty to break through her carefully constructed mask of confidence.
In spite of himself, Lord Dresden was impressed. He had heard horrible things about the Lannister family, and so did not expect to like the woman, but he knew from experience that it took a strong will to force oneself forward through the sort of creeping dread that Demonreach assaulted any who walked its shores with, let alone to maintain a straight face while enduring it all. The woman was strong, even if there was every chance that she was a vile human being, and for that, she had earned some small measure of respect from the Winter Knight.
"One moment, husband," she said. "Thus far on our journey, every Lord that we have met has offered control of their hall to their rightful king."
Lord Dresden looked at her. After a moment, he realized that she was waiting for his response, no doubt to bind him with his own words.
She can keep on waiting, He thought with vicious satisfaction, noticing the slight flash of annoyance in the woman's eye, in how her nostrils flared.
Lord Dresden firmly believed that the only way to win these wars of words and verbal assaults was not to play, whenever one could choose not to.
"Your point, Cersei?" The King did not much care for these games of semantics and politics, or for whatever point his wife was making. Not when his skin was crawling, not when his hands itched to close around some castle-forged steel, in spite of the fact that his current enemy was not a physical one.
"My point, my lord husband, is that your vassal has done no such thing here."
A cool smile took shape on Lord Dresden's face, as King Robert's face turned to his, brow furrowed somewhere between confusion and annoyance. "I have extended you guest rite. I have opened my hall to you. I don't believe that there is any necessity for me to do more."
"Where is your respect for your king?" Queen Cersei demanded. "What kind of vassal does not offer all that they have to their liege?"
"Queen Cersei," Lord Dresden said, remaining just within the bounds of respect to one's ruler. "Dating back to the Age of Heroes, one of the only demands House Dresden has made in exchange for our loyalty is that there always be a Dresden to fill the Starseat, and to watch over the Starstone Hall. It was this way for the Kings of Winter, when the Starks united the North under their rule. It was this way for the Lords and Ladies Manderly, when they came to the North and became a power to be feared by land or sea. It was this way for the Targaryens, when they came raining fire and blood from the heavens."
"The last time I checked," the Queen said, with an expression caught somewhere between a sneer and a smirk, pausing with her mouth hanging open for just a moment as she allowed suspense and expectations to build around her, "I was not a Wolf, nor a Merman, nor a Dragon. I am a Lion."
Lord Dresden's smile sharpened. "There has never been a Wolf in the Cold Iron Chair, Queen Cersei. No Wolf, no Merman, and no Dragon has ever taken it from us by force, or won it from us through guile, much less been granted the right to sit the Starseat out of respect, or some petty show of dedication and submission. I see little chance that a Stag or Lion will find themselves in that chair any time soon."
Stepping so that he was no longer between the Royal party and the gates to his long, stout hall, he took a moment to eye his men at arms in the yard, and the knights and guards the party from King's Landing had brought with them.
Almost every single one of the men in both of their contingents were tightly gripping their sword or spear. The only exceptions that he noticed in his own soldiers were his sworn sword Ser Michael, who tried to defuse the tension between the nearest group of Dresden men facing off with those wearing livery stamped with Stags or Lions, the captain of his personal guard, Karrin Murphy, whose loose grip upon her blade, and cool, evaluative eyes spoke of more danger than those of most present, and his Maester, Waldo Butters, who only ever kept a dagger at Lord Dresden's insistence, and whose hands were shaking too much at the thought of fighting the Crown's soldiers to reach under his robes to find it.
"Quit the dick-waving with my wife, Dresden," King Robert commanded, breaking through the tensions with unseemly ease. "Your King needs wine, and to get out of the open." His statement was punctuated with an uneasy gaze directed at the tree line, unnaturally thick for so small a Northern island, not so far from where he still sat his horse. His shoulders tensed, before he tore his attention away from it, and to the assembled men at arms and knights. "All of you, put your swords away!" The King thundered. "We're guests here, and the first man that doesn't act like it can sleep outside!"
At his words, a shiver crawled up the spines of some of the weaker-willed men in the Royal party. Lord Dresden fought down a grimace. Being outside, alone in the dark with no walls or flames to ward off Demonreach pressing on one's mind was not his idea of a restful night, even if he was considered by the island's spirit to be part of the island, and therefore unnecessary to attack in such a way.
Thankfully, he and his family before him had long since made it clear to Demonreach that those who called the island home were to be considered as part of the island, so far as that first line of defense went. And while the island didn't like it, it also didn't hate the idea of a fully functioning keep acting as an extra layer of protection between the Starless Cells and any who might try to free its prisoners from Demonreach's stewardship.
That did little for anyone foreign to its shores, though. Getting behind the walls of the Starstone Hall would help, surely, as having a few feet of solid rock between you and the source of your fear would set anyone at ease to some degree. The threshold that had woven together over the generations of Dresdens living there, too, would keep out the very worst of Demonreach's influence. But again, that was only behind the walls, and the King's threat would strip offenders against his will of even that.
"As you command, Your Grace," Lord Dresden acquiesced easily, sketching a brief bow before signaling for his men to fall in line, leading them and the royal party through the open gates, and into the great hall of the modestly sized castle.
The feast was an interesting affair.
King Robert, deep into his cups, and halfway down the shirt of a buxom serving girl, was red faced and jolly with laughter and raucous cheer. While he was not the only one—he was a rather powerful man, after all, and charismatic to boot... King Robert had never before found himself without others willing to share in drink with him, and it was unlikely he ever would—his table was largely solitary in its cheer. His wife and children, as expected, sat in the place of honor, the high table prepared just before the steps that raised the Cold Iron Chair to hold court over all present, while King Robert sat with a table full of his more jovial men-at-arms and sworn swords, in a comfortable corner of the hall.
Lord Dresden had hesitated to sit with the Royal Family, rather than in the Cold Iron Chair, where he could watch the entirety of the feast and deal with any troubles that were brewing, long before they truly became problems. But the idea of leaving his daughter alone to face off the Lady Lion of Lannister and her three cubs had killed his hesitation.
"So, Lord Dresden," The Southron Queen of the Seven Kingdoms asked, "how is it that you manage to keep smallfolk across the continent so certain that you're some powerful, all-knowing mystic?" The gorgeous blonde's smile was stunning in its insincerity.
"It's very simple," Lord Dresden began, the air of someone about to tell an oft shared and rarely refused story enchanting his words. "To put it clearly, by being a powerful, all-knowing-"
"Mostly-knowing," Lady Maggie cut in with a roll of her eyes.
"Mostly-knowing," he allowed, "Mystic. Your Grace."
"Well," The Queen said, "If you have some magic trick to share, we all would be delighted, I am certain."
"I hope that, should I find reason to perform a working on your behalf, it is a kinder sort of magic than usual. The last time I needed to use The Art in earnest, it was a matter of life and death."
"Oh?" A new voice asked. "And what was it this time, the grumpkins or the snarks? I must confess, I don't know which is more active this time of year."
Dragging out a chair and climbing into it, Lord Tyrion Lannister joined the high table, sitting between his niece Myrcella, and his nephew Tommen.
Lord Dresden sighed. "I fail to see what's so difficult about believing magic to be real, Lord Tyrion. One hundred and fifty years ago, dragons flew through the sky. Before that, sorcerers and practitioners worked steel and stone in Old Valyria, and before that, the restless dead walked these lands on their endless hunt of the living. Castles stand today that Bran the Builder would have found impossible to raise without some eldritch power at his beck and call, and-"
"And you sit in your humble hall with all the power to do the same?" Lord Tyrion asked with little humor in his voice. "With the ability to craft more Valyrian Steel for your fellow Lords, and to put down any fell creatures that might break down The Wall or rise out from their graves?"
Lord Dresden gave a brittle smile. "One man, even a wizard, can only do so much. Someday, maybe, I'll craft such wonders as they have, but my talents and interests both lean more towards defending my people and teaching my daughter what little I know."
At this, Lords Dresden and Tyrion both looked towards the young Lady Maggie. The Queen's brother had a mirth in his voice as he spoke, after a quick gulp of wine. "And so your tale includes your daughter too? My queenly sister is right, I think that we would all love to see some magic. My Lady Dresden," he addressed the young woman as she fiddled with the straps of her leather armor, desperate to avoid engaging with the prince seated across from her. Handsome though he was, he was not kind to her in conversation throughout the day. Maggie had been more than a little disappointed upon first meeting him, before his taunts and barbs gained more frequency, and targeted her and her family specifically, rather than whatever servants were in his way.
Once he had done that, she had been angry. But her father had taken her aside when the Prince went to practice with his crossbow in the modest training hall their keep held. Her father had told her that the royals would not stay long, and that they couldn't afford to offend the ruling family of Westeros anymore than they could starting a war with the Iron Bank. And she understood, though she was more than a little displeased to be left as the host to so miserable a person to be around.
At least she'd been allowed to keep Mouse with her, no matter the complaints Prince Joffrey made of the 'stupid mutt.' Because even if he was going to rule the Seven Kingdoms one day, Demonreach was hers, would be hers alone, seeing how terrified he and all those Southron Lords and Ladies and Sers and Servants were of the island she had come to as a girl of eight, the North that raised her as surely as her time across the Narrow Sea in Braavos. Demonreach was her home, and not even the King and Queen could push her father off of his throne here.
So long as she was in the North, she would never need to bother with the Crown Prince again, outside of some distant, vacant ruler she need only say was her liege. No matter what they thought, nobody ruled the North but the Lords born of winter. Eddard Stark was king in all but name here, and even he controlled nothing of Demonreach and its vassal lands and towns.
It was these thoughts that occupied her head, and assuaged her anger at the arrogant child that would one day rule the world through both the day and this dinner.
And so at the Imp's prompting, she was caught out, surprised and confused, having missed the entirety of the conversation before that moment. "M-my Lord?" She stuttered, immediately cursing herself. She had learned better than that, been taught and drilled on etiquette and controlling herself well enough that such failures in communication should not have happened.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure, my Lady Dresden," The Imp smiled, the expression charming, in spite of his deformity and mismatched eyes. "I am Tyrion of House Lannister. I was wondering, my Lady, if I could trouble you for a demonstration of the skills your family is rumored to possess."
Lady Maggie did her best to read the small man's expression without ever allowing her eyes to meet his for more than a moment. He seemed earnest, but… "Rumored, you said," she repeated. "Do you not believe then, my Lord?'
"Sharp mind, your daughter has," Lord Tyrion laughed again, raising the wine glass that hadn't left his hand the entire time he had sat at the table, and that, in fact, he had brought to the table with him, to salute Lord Dresden with. "I have some trouble in believing things being fantastical when far more mundane, more likely explanations exist."
Young Lady Margaret's head tilted to the side. "If that's the case, there's no real point in showing you anything, is there?" She asked, "Not when there's always something 'more likely' than magic."
"Very sharp mind, my daughter has," Lord Dresden smiled proudly. "And added to all of my standard reasons, I would prefer not to flaunt our sorcery in front of the King. As I am sure you know, he has… problems, with anything that can be connected to Old Valyria, even with the most tenuous thread." With a small wave of his hand, Lord Dresden swept the matter aside. "I will not be made a spectacle of in my own hall, if I can help it. There will be no demonstration today." The words were harsh, but his tone made the matter into something of a joke.
And of course, that was when the screaming started.
AN: I feel a little bit bad now, honestly, what with the whole cliffhanger thing, seeing as my updates are so infrequent, but this is already longer than the other chapters on this fic by a fair bit, and it's been so long since I've posted anything, that I figured I might as well post it now!
In other news, I now have a Pa treon (FF.N deletes that word/url if I write it out in whole, so here we are with the space) that I hope you'll consider supporting me through, if you like my work! All fanfics that I write will remain free to view and read for all, this is just in case you all like what I do and want to help me meet expenses! I have the thing set up in such a way that payments go through per-upload, rather than monthly, so nobody gets ripped off by my slow updates. My name there is the same as here, Monkey Typewriter, so give me a look-see if you like!
Edit: Respaced first three quarters of the chapter, and very minor edits in word use. Thanks for the tip on the spacing issue, Sociopathic-Anarchist!