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The Testimony of Septon Terrence

298 years after the conquest of Aegon the Conqueror, the fifteenth year of the reign of King Stannis Baratheon, First of his name.

Today it has been fifteen years since the crowning of King Stannis Baratheon, first of his name, and as I muse upon the justice of the Father I come to ask myself, has any dynasty had so auspicious a beginning as the Baratheon line? Robert the Breaker was a man without equal, a man who forged his legend before most men learn to shave. Was there ever a man more fit to be king? His skill in battle was unquestioned, his mind quick and clear, and his heart sure to turn any foe into friend. Who can doubt the greatness of King Robert the First? Look no further than the men of greatness who he attracted to his cause. I do not need to tell you of the Lords Stark, Arryn, and Tully, who risked their lives for him at every turn, or how even Barristan Selmy, that noble and loyal soul, pledged allegiance to him after crossing their blades only once. I think that in coming seasons we shall mark the passing of the years not from the conquest of Aegon, but from the rise of King Robert.

But the Star of Robert the Breaker fell. His greatness was too much for this imperfect world to support, and the waters of the Trident are forever richer for his noble blood having been shed there. Maidens everywhere wept with his fall, and all men of learning wrung their hands and wondered, what was to become of the realm? What man born of woman could ever equal King Robert? Aerys would lose the throne, but who should replace him?

For it was sure that Aerys' tyranny should meet its demise ere long. Such cravens and lickspittles as Aerys had attracted were no match for the constellation of greatness that had risen as one man to oppose him. But Stannis Baratheon was a thousand leagues away, besieged by the most fearsome of Aerys' supporters, Lord Mace Tyrell. Ah, Lord Mace, whose heart is too generous by half, and who still supported Aerys even when all was lost. But in warring against Robert the Breaker and his brother, he nearly caused calamity upon the whole realm. For what should have happened, if King Stannis had fallen then at Storm's End?

But the gods are kind and the King lived and came north to be crowned. What sort of a man is King Stannis? That was the question on all men's lips, for the King had not been known outside the Stormlands ere then. They soon had a swift answer, for with him to King's Landing the King brought hundreds of his loyal men, of common blood but possessing noble hearts, and these men were as great a testimony to King Stannis as any host of witnesses could be. King Stannis did not have his brother's force and humor, but every man who knew him worshipped at his feet.

But such testimony is now unnecessary, for every man knows the greatness of King Stannis the Stern Stag. Who does not know that he smashed Lord Tywin Lannister's host at the Battle of Hobb Hill, striking down the Old Lion in single combat? What bard does not know the song of Queen Cersei's vile treachery or the breaking of the Iron Fleet? What other King can claim so long a list of accomplishments? King Stannis has fought and won, he has shown mercy and shown justice, and through it all, he has won the love and loyalty of the realm. Fire and Blood forged the Iron Throne, but Aegon the Conqueror himself could not sit half so comfortably on that Throne as King Stannis does.

I travel now with the Royal family as they go to visit the Queen's family in the North. Everywhere we go the smallfolk greet us with smiles and celebration, for they know it is to King Stannis that their prosperity is owed. The Queen, too, they love, and how could they not? For she is as fair and beautiful and kind as a woman can be.

Some unworthy men of the cloth cast doubt upon the piety and faith of the King and Queen, but the common folk are a better judge than any corrupt Septon. The King and Queen are as near to an embodiment of the Father and Mother as any two mortals could be, and I can personally attest that the Queen is not slack in her attendance to prayer. The King does not pray in public, but that is his pure and humble spirit. He refrains from the common assembly only because his fervent prayers would disrupt the worship of others, and his piety could never allow such a disruption. Is it not known that the treachery of Queen Cersei was revealed to the King in a vision as he prayed privately?

This family of the Queen's are no godless pagans either. I have corresponded happily with a Septa Mordane of Winterfell who speaks in the warmest of terms concerning Good Lord Stark's household. They worship the Old Gods, as is their right and custom, but they worship the Seven as well, with the sort of eagerness found only among newfound believers. And indeed, their veneration of the Old Gods does not lead them to wickedness, so why should it be held against them?

Who can speak ill of Stannis Baratheon's rightfulness? Even the Targaryens, such as are left of them, acknowledge the truth of Stannis' claim. Viserys the half-year king gladly exchanged his name for a cloak of black and a Maester's chain. Rhaenys, daughter of Rhaegar, married Prince Renly and rides with our party even now. The only Targaryen that truly remains is young Daenerys, the ward of Lord Stark, and the report of her is most encouraging. Let those who mock at mercy take heed, for Stannis' generous spirit has earned him loyalty in every quarter.

Every man and woman of Westeros supports the King, and the gods as well, for why else is his reign followed by the greatest summer in living memory? We have had peace for a decade, and there is no reason why we should not have peace for a decade more. It is easy to forget that for all his great achievements and wisdom, the King is yet a young man, and will have decades more to rule. And after him come his children, demure and humble and serious. Truly, the line of the Baratheons will be like a summer that has no end.

Stannis' lip curled as he surveyed the paper. "Sweet lies mixed with truth," he stated firmly. "I should rather have my name slandered."

They stood in the solar of Castle Black. Davos had come by way of Eastwatch a few days before along with a ship full of supposed Targaryen loyalists that had recently been caught in a plot on Driftmark. In truth, the traitors had been executed and the men were his. The King had decided that the lands North of the Wall had been too long ignored by the Seven Kingdoms, and Davos obeyed. The Royal Party had come North along the Kingsroad, stopping in Winterfell for some weeks, and the tales that Davos had heard of Stannis' time there had given him considerable pause.

"The book may be full of lies," Davos replied evenly. "But at least our Septon Terrence does not seem to be working against us."

"Be they friend or foe, Terrence's masters in the Starry Sept will be the greatest threat to our rule in times to come. Their corruption is preferable to the rot that the Lannisters had enabled, but do not think I am blind to how easily they might turn on me or my son."

Davos looked away. Stannis' son. Prince Davos Baratheon. That name would always be a sore point with him. He did not like the attention the name garnered, even if Davos was a right and ancient name of house Baratheon. "You esteem them a greater threat than the Targaryens?"

"Which Targaryens?" Stannis scoffed. "That house is dead in the male line and even if Aegon were to reappear, Dorne would not support him. It would be easier to put a Blackfyre on the Throne. Septon Terrence had that much right at least. The only Targaryen left is Daenerys, and my claim is better than hers in any case."

"But Daenerys..." Davos remembered himself and stopped. "Your Grace," He continued after a moment. "I've heard the tales, same as anyone here at the Wall. It is unlike you to avoid the topic so long. Are the rumors true?"

"I will say nothing on the matter," Stannis replied, his voice sharp. "These walls have ears, and I will not be the source of rumor. For now, all you need know is that I have no fear from that quarter. The rumors that concern me are these tales of Kings Beyond the Wall and dead walking amongst the ice. Are those rumors true?"

"Yes," Davos replied simply. "There is disagreement about particulars amongst them all, and many of the stewards and builders deny it, but every one of the rangers acknowledges the truth. I am sure that Lord Mormont has already shown you the writhing hand he keeps in that cage of his. Something deadly with blue eyes stalks out there in the haunted forest, and the wildlings are gathering into massive warbands in fear. There are even reports of giants and mammoths on the move. If it's grumpkins and snarks, your Grace, it's a pack of bleeding large ones."

Stannis did not reply immediately but paced to the window. Davos followed a few steps behind. The King's jawline ground against itself as they looked over the yard below. Beneath them in the practice yard, Renly was squaring off against Benjen Stark in the yard. Of all those assembled, Renly's wife was perhaps the least interested in the outcome of the duel, as she idly chattered with the Queen. Stannis' sons, Davos and Edric, were not nearly so calm. For Edric that was no surprise, the boy was always cheering at tourneys, but to see dour young Davos so excited… that was a rarer pleasure. Davos caught a brief smile from the King.

The match itself was over in seconds, with Renly the victor, and then they set about preparing for the next round.

Davos drew in a breath. "You know, Your Grace, the men here told me that you're only the second King of the Seven Kingdoms to come to the Wall."

Stannis did not reply, but his posture indicated that he listened.

"The Wall has stood for eight thousand years without the unified support of the Seven Kingdoms," Davos continued, "I've no idea what's out there driving the wildlings mad, but the Wall will be better supported than it ever has been." Davos paused. "I am no great General, your Grace, but the Wall seems like a pretty solid fortification."

Stannis' brief smile returned brighter and stronger than before. He looked younger, these days than he had a decade ago. "You do not even know the half of it," Stannis supplied. "Walk with me, Lord Seaworth."

Castle Black was not large, as fortresses went, and the halls were mostly empty. They wound through the narrow corridors until they exited near the stables, where a dozen of the Stormguard and Richard Horpe were guarding one of the stalls. Davos frowned. Two guards or three should have been sufficient to guard the stables if it had only been the King's horses that were of concern. What had the King brought North with him? Davos did not give voice to his thoughts, his mouth dry with worry.

"Your Grace," Horpe said, bowing to the King. "Lord Seaworth," His bow to Davos was considerably more shallow and accompanied by an ironic smile. "Have you come to see the tiny terror?"

Stannis merely nodded, and the guards moved to unlock the stable. As the door swung open, a small gasp escaped Davos. A slip of a girl, silver-haired and purple-eyed, sat on a stool to the side of the stable, her bare feet resting on the hard-packed earth. On her lap sat a scaled serpent, with tiny wings curled about it. The girl looked up at them in surprise when they entered.

"Your Grace!" the girl nearly squeaked. She moved as though she meant to rise and curtsey, but thought better of it as the creature on her lap shifted.

"You may stay seated for now," Stannis stated coldly. "We are not in public and this conversation will be easier if we do not wake the dragon. I have brought with me my Master of Whisperers, Lord Davos Seaworth. You will have heard of him, I expect?"

The girl swallowed uneasily, and Davos felt a pang of shame. Times were better now. Did people still fear him? He smiled encouragingly to her. "We have met before, but you were rather younger then, Daenerys."

She laughed nervously but looked back to the King immediately. There was fear in those purple eyes, but she was not so fearful of the King as she had been of him. Perhaps that was a good thing. "You have made your decision, then, regarding my Viserion?"

She meant the dragon, Davos realized. He knew what his decision would be. Dragons were creatures of songs, and in Davos' opinion it was best if they remained as creatures of song. How many years would it be before the beast on the girl's lap ate a man? How long before it burnt a city to the ground? The girl may love the beast, but Davos saw little more than a dog in the early stages of madness, soon to become dangerous to all. Surely Stannis would agree. Dead the Targaryen cause might be, but a dragon could make a claimant out of anyone.

"The dragon lives," Stannis said flatly. "With one condition."

The girl sighed with relief and bowed her head. "I am your loyal subject, your Grace."

"Therein lies the problem," Stannis stated, a snarl creeping at the edge of his voice. "Subjects are prone to rebellion, and rebels cannot be allowed to have dragons."

The girl's eyes reddened as though she were about to cry. "Your Grace," She pleaded. "I have never once acted against your realm. I am not ambitious, Lord Stark can tell you that much. I..."

"How long do dragons live, Daenerys?"

She looked down.

"Balerion the Black Dread lived for nearly two centuries. Even if I could trust you, can I trust your children? Your great-grandchildren? Or should I lock you in the vault again and hope that no other dragonseed claims your dragon?"

"What can you possibly ask of me?" Daenerys cried. "What can I offer you? You say you have a condition, but there is nothing I can do for or against you except give my word?"

"Aye, there is nothing you can do," Stannis said simply. "But that is the way of the world. Neither strength nor cunning nor virtue have any value when the fates are decided, and it serves little purpose to complain of it. Better to accept what comes, and live without regret. It is a bitter lesson to come by, but learn it you must if you would be Queen."

The girl's face went white. "Queen?"

"The dragon lives if you consent to marry my eldest son," Stannis replied.

Daenerys swallowed nervously, and the beast on her lap rose and circled about her neck as though sensing her agitation. "Your Grace," She said, breathless. "This is not an honor I had looked for."

"I know that," Stannis spat. "If you had sought it, I would not have made the offer. Power follows duty and duty is a curse. Anyone who hunts after power is either a fool or a blackguard, and while I live I will allow neither to come near the throne. But if you swear to become one with my house and serve my son loyally as his wife in a few years' time, I will allow you to keep the dragon. Elsewise, we shall kill it now and you shall be permitted to live out the rest of your days in the Maidenvault."

"The Maidenvault?" Davos murmured. Had not they done away with using that building for such a purpose? Until recently they had planned on Daenerys marrying some minor Northern Lord's son to diffuse any claim that Aegon might have. Provided Aegon ever appeared that is.

"Young Daenerys has discovered a knack for reawakening dragons," Stannis explained. "Her talents will either be bound to my house or else they will die with her. And before you ask, no, I would not trust her to the Faith."

"I will do it," Danerys said, interrupting. Her pale skin had gone red with heat. "Your Grace, I mean. I will marry the Prince, I..."

Davos thought a moment about Stannis' eldest. Shy, clumsy, with his overlarge hands and feet and his father's jawline. It was hard to imagine him married to a beauty nearly five years older than himself. But stranger marriages had found love, in time, and time they would have if the gods were good. The King had many years of prosperity yet.

"Why?" Daenerys said eventually, still flushed and pink. "Your Grace, forgive my impudence, but why? You say that you do not want power for yourself, but why then should you desire a dragon? I cannot believe that you need one to rule the Seven Kingdoms."

"I don't," Stannis replied simply. "Not now. But the world is changing and I am not blind to it. Warlocks in Qarth seize power, the Dothraki unify under a God-King, and nameless terrors spill out of the Lands of Always Winter." A bark of a laugh escaped him. "Do you think I can afford to ignore all this? When a dragon is born in the crypts of Winterfell as a comet streaks across the sky, do you think that I can turn a blind eye? Legends are walking the earth again, and my children will either walk among them or die."

Davos supposed that no one in the Night's Watch could complain that Stannis was ignoring the danger North of the Wall. Whatever these Grumpkins and Snarks were, Davos felt sorry for them.