Hello there. After almost a year of absence, I'm back to try my luck with this story. To be honest, after the final season of Game of Thrones my interest in anything connected A Song of Ice and Fire was pretty much dead. The sheer laziness of the writers for that final season just left me wondering why I'm writing anything when the people who earn a fortune doing this spend less thought on their storyline than a lovesick SanSan shipper...
Well, I've spent some time away from this fandom, then I've taken the time to reread the first three books and now I want to try this again. But make no mistake, coming back to this storyline after nearly a year isn't easy. With this short chapter, I want to find out two things. Can I pick up the story where I've stopped last year and most importantly, is there any interest in me continuing this story? So here I present you a tidbit of what was supposed to be the next chapter. Let's see if this can still work...
As the sun slowly rose over the mountains, the castle Ironoaks slowly awoke from its cold slumber. For most of the night Dorea had been unable to find sleep, so now, in the morning hours, after she had finally succumbed to exhaustion, she had an even harder time getting up.
The bed had been so hard and uncomfortable, that she had spent hours trying to use her magic to make the darn thing even remotely fit to sleep in. The furs that had been added to the coarse sheets had done nothing to make the situation any more bearable, as the cold night wind began to blow through every crack in the walls and doors.
How the people in this castle had not frozen to death or succumbed to pneumonia was beyond her understanding at this point.
But just as Dorea had finally found a few short hours of sleep, her rest was rudely interrupted by a knock on her door. She wasn't sure what reply she had mumbled in her sleep-addled state, but the door swung open almost immediately and a group of female servants entered.
They were followed by two men, who carried a large wooden bathtub with them, which they placed in the center of the room, before the eldest of the maidservants, shooed the men out with due haste.
"Good morning, milady," the maid greeted far too cheerily. "Lady Rowena expects you for breakfast soon, so we have prepared a bath for you and some suitable dresses for you to wear."
"I... what?" Dorea asked as she had barely managed to raise her head enough to see the woman.
Then her eyes found the bathtub and the slew of servants rushing in and out, with buckets full of steaming hot water. One after another they came in and left until the bathtub was filled.
"Mya, you will stay here to assist me with Lady Dorea, the rest of you out!" the old maid exclaimed sternly.
She clapped her hands twice and all other servants acted immediately. With a loud thud, the door closed once more, leaving Dorea alone with only two of the servants.
"Now milady, let's get you all prim and proper to meet with Lady Rowena."
Dorea could only groan in response, as she dragged herself out of the bed. She would have needed a few more hours of rest to feel like a human being again, but she was in no position to insult her current hosts by refusing to see them. For the moment she would have to play nice, at least until she had a chance to learn more about this world she was now in... Hopefully, the information will be worth the torture these women were about to put her through...
An hour later Dorea felt thoroughly clean and utterly disturbed by the experience of getting cleaned and dressed by servants. She had always been alone, always self-determined and able to do everything by herself. Having someone else wash her hair or help her get into a dress straight out of a nightmare would forever be a memory that would haunt her.
But at least her suffering had pleased her hosts, judging by the indulgent smile on the lips of Lady Rowena, as another servant ushered Dorea back into the great hall she had been in the night before.
This time Lady Rowena was the only one sitting at the table, as servants rushed in and out of a door to the side of the room to bring food and drinks.
For a moment Dorea stood still, assessing the situation she was in. The room was large, with only a hand full of people in it and guards standing at the main entrance. Even in her current dress, which was far more restrictive than anything she would usually wear, escape would be easy. That calmed her somewhat, as she finally approached the lady at the table.
As she got closer, she had a close look at her current host. Lady Rowena Arryn. Elbert's aunt... no, the wife of his uncle, not his aunt by blood. Or was she? She did look remarkably like the young knight. The same blond hair and aristocratic features. Her face looked softer than his, less weathered, despite the visible lines that age had left on the woman's face. Her eyes were blue, like Elbert's, and watched her with a similar curiosity.
What surprised Dorea more, though, was the absence of Lady Anya. Lady Rowena was only a guest here at Ironoaks. Elbert had mentioned that he had come here guarding his aunt, who had come to Ironoaks for a visit.
"Good morning, my dear. I hope that you had a good night's rest, after this awful day you've had," Rowena greeted her warmly. "Please, join me for now, surely there is much you'd like to ask."
"Thank you," Dorea replied cautiously before she sat down next to the lady.
"Please, help yourself to whatever you like. You must be starving. Elbert has already told me all about your ordeal. You've been quite fortunate that he and his knights had arrived when they did."
Dorea decided to ignore that last comment. She was quite able to defend herself and though none of the people had seen her do it, she had defeated three of those raiders by herself and she would have defeated the rest of them as well. But she also knew that it was better to keep her mouth shut. A lesson she had only learned far too late in her life after her big mouth had caused her more harm than good.
Instead, she focused on the food before her. She was indeed quite hungry after more than a day without eating anything and the food on the table did look quite enticing. That nagging voice in the back of her mind wouldn't leave her alone though, always telling her to not trust strangers and be wary of their gifts. She ended up casting a quick spell to check for poisons and potions when Lady Rowena was distracted by a servant. Of course, none of the food on the table had been tampered with.
"Where is Ser Elbert?" Dorea asked as she wondered why the servants had only prepared this table for two guests.
"Elbert and his knights have left early this morning to protect the villages closer to the mountains. Those awful clans have become far too bold in recent years."
There was worry in the lady's voice, as she spoke about her nephew. While Lady Anya had seemed to be at odds with the young knight, Elbert's aunt seemed to genuinely care for him.
"Has he seen a healer for his wounds?" Dorea asked. "Especially that cut on his side seemed to bother him more than he had let on."
The worry on Lady Rowena's face only grew, as she heard about this. "He has not. When he came down to this hall not long ago he assured me that he was fine and ready to ride."
"From what I have seen, the cut wasn't deep, but the itching is aggravating and distracting. Not to mention the risk of infection due to dirt getting into the wound," Dorea muttered, "Why is it always the men who think they can ignore their wounds and walk them off..."
"You have been educated in the healing arts yourself, yes?" Lady Rowena asked, "Elbert had mentioned that before."
"I've had proper training, yes. There are only a few health-related issues that are beyond my current skill."
She could say that with no small measure of pride. She had learned a lot in those years since the war. While her friends had moved on with their lives, married and started families, she had devoted nearly all her waking moments to her new craft. She had finished her training in record time, earning herself a place among the best healers at St. Mungos. Not that this meant anything now. She still had her skills, but the rest of her past life was likely meaningless now.
"That's a very impressive claim," Rowena said, her ever-present smile yielding no information whether or not she believed a single word Dorea had said. "Maester Bors would surely love to speak with you about this. Maybe you can even convince the man of doing his job properly once my nephew returns."
And there it was. A small moment of truth. Lady Rowena was kind, but also protective of those she considers close. She and Dorea have at least that in common.
The kindness, however... Dorea was not sure whether or not anyone except for her closest friends would ever consider her to be kind. All the people in Britain ever saw was either the savior or the bane of their very existence.
But Lady Rowena wasn't just a kind noblewoman either. There was a ferocity in this woman before her, that was carefully hidden behind the veneer of propriety and calmness.
"I will see what I can do to convince the man," Dorea replied. "But if I may ask, where is Lady Anya? It seems kind of odd to sit in the great hall of her castle for breakfast without her."
Lady Rowena was silent for a few moments, as she looked towards one of the large windows, adopting a somber look. Dorea had seen this plenty of times before. Something must have happened.
"She is... busy. Her father has been ill for a long time and recently his health has deteriorated even more. We fear that he isn't long for this world," the lady replied, as she adopted a mournful look. "It is quite sad, I've known Lord Lymond for many years, ever since I had first accompanied my father on a visit to Ironoaks many years ago... But I don't want to burden you with such dark thoughts. You are a guest of this keep."
"What ails the lord? Maybe I can help," Dorea offered.
It was almost like a reflex, to offer help immediately when she hears of wounds or sickness. Her first teacher had called it the essential requirement for becoming a healer. The utter will to help others. Most of her fellow apprentices had lacked this will, instead, they had come for the prestige connected to an apprenticeship at one of the world's foremost magical hospitals. Only three in ten finish the apprenticeship and only two would remain to work as healers for more than a year before wandering off to less exhausting pursuits.
"It's kind of you to offer, but I fear Anya is not in the most agreeable mood. The strain of lordship is taking its toll on her and once her Lord Lymond has passed, she will have to work twice as hard to keep the lesser lords and knights of this demesne from forgetting their oaths."
Such is the fate of women, not just in this world, but in Magical Britain as well. Struggling to gain what men are given with a firm handshake and a bawdy joke. Dorea had experienced it herself in St. Mungos and Hermione had faced her battles in the Ministry...
"But I'm sure that Maester Bors will welcome the chance to talk with you about all kinds of things. His curiosity knows no bounds," Rowena assured before she called for a servant to clean off her plates. "But I'm afraid I will have to attend some duties now. But please do come and see me later today. There is much I would like to hear from you. It is so rare that I get a chance to talk to someone from across the Narrow Sea."
"Of course..." Dorea replied hesitantly. The Narrow Sea... now if only she knew more about that... and the lands on the other side.