So yeah, kind of a long wait between chapters, apologies for that! But hey, real life is getting in the way in a hard way. So, I can't guarantee that I will continue on a four week update, but I'll be trying to update every four to five weeks. So I ask for patience as I try to juggle young kids in diapers and school, job and everything else that goes along with all that fun stuff. Not much to say outside of that though…so yeah. Thank you to everyone who has alerted to this story or added them to your favorites or left a review. Thank you all for your continued support! Your support really helps me keep going! And just as a note, this chapter a bit of a faster pace, just because we're getting to the start. I feel like I've laid a good foundation for what is to come, so now, after this chapter, we can begin!
And lastly, shoutout to my beta reader and brainstorm partner Tellemicus Sundace. Lastly, I do not own Disney, nor am I Lucas or Martin; I have no ownership of A Song of Fire and Ice, Game of Thrones or Star Wars. This is purely for fun with no profit being made. And with that out of the way, let's get to the chapter! Stay safe out there everyone!
For generations beyond counting, Highgarden had been considered the heart of chivalry in the Seven Kingdoms. It was a title that those within Highgarden held with pride. Their knights, even their guardsmen, kept themselves cleaned and their armor polished. Their manners were always impeccable. And as the leaders of the heart of chivalry, House Tyrell, the Defenders of the Marches and High Marshals of the Reach, had to be the example that was set to all. The sons were always trained to be knights and hold themselves to the highest levels of honor. While their daughters taught themselves how to be the absolute perfect lady. And ever since he was little, Willas Tyrell had fought had to keep that image that had almost been necessary. Even after his leg had been injured and he'd been unable to ride or fight, he dedicated himself to learning how to be the best possible Lord he could.
But now, after months in the North, Willas was starting to question the need for such…extravagance. With the amount of coin their people shelled out for polish, or on the newest trends of fashion, or the newest alteration of steel, they could easily pay to feed half the realm for years. It was…wasteful. And if he could see it, he knew without a doubt that his future wife would see it as well the moment she stepped foot into Highgarden. 'It will certainly be an interesting day when my future wife, Lady Sansa, finally steps foot in her new home. Margaery's new handmaiden from the North has already made her distaste of the waste clear. But she lacks the authority to truly change things. But Sansa? By the gods…things will never be dull around here.'
"And Loras as absolutely positive about this…news?"
Giving himself a shake, Willas forced his mind back to the here and now, which just so happened to be a family meeting that his grandmother had called after they'd received word from Loras about a certain development that was still not widely known. The only member of their family who wasn't present was Margaery, as his sister was out with her handmaiden from the North pursuing another one of her passion projects to aid the orphanage that was located within Highgarden. The one who'd asked the question had been his father, who had gone almost white at the news and was trembling slightly.
"Of course he's positive about it," Willas's grandmother, the matriarch and unquestioned voice of House Tyrell, scoffed. "He may enjoy playing with the fancy stick of his far too often, but he is not a fool. He would not have sent word if he wasn't certain of what he was sending. Especially not when concerning such a matter."
The news that his brother had sent to them was news from the North, and something that only a very select few in the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms knew about, though he was sure that was about to change very soon. "The North…have discovered how to forge Valyrian steel…new Valyrian steel." His father muttered, finally giving voice to the very topic that had brought them all together. Though then his eyes went hard, and he glared at the matriarch. "And you, my children, were right in the midst of Winterfell while this discovery was being made! And you didn't even know?"
Willas wasn't entirely sure what had brought on such a change in his father, but ever since they'd returned from the North, his Lord father had become much more…well…competitive with his grandmother. And while Willas would openly admit that his grandmother could be a bit…overbearing at times, she was incredibly wise and should not be dismissed as readily as his father had been doing as of late.
"Watch your tone, young man," his grandmother warned, narrowing her eyes at his father. "I may have one foot in my grave, but I can still use my other foot to boot you in the arse if need be, Mace. Though, I will admit that we were underprepared to deal with the Sorcerer, and by extension the Starks, when we set out to the North."
His father pursed his lips and huffed. "Well, I suppose that it is all well and good then that we managed to secure the eldest Stark girl as Willas's future wife. We'll have to send a good Septa North to ensure that she is well trained and ready to do her duties as the wife to the future Lord of the Reach."
"We won't be sending a Septa to Winterfell, father," Willas countered almost immediately, drawing a sharp look from his father.
"The Starks themselves put that clause in, that the girl is to receive proper instruction on her future duties as the next Lady of House Tyrell."
"Yes, they did," Willas nodded. "But Lord Stark made it very clear to grandmother that a Septa would not be tolerated nor even allowed into the North. And I will not allow you to alienate my future wife or her House. Grandmother and Margaery have already compiled a list of suitable candidates for the position, mostly fellow Ladies from the Reach. Once a decision is made, we will send a raven to Winterfell and let him make his choice of which one."
His father huffed and shook his head. "Surely, they are not insisting that we send a true Lady of the Reach to the North? It will be years before the girl comes of age and you two marry beneath the Seven. We cannot ask any of—"
"I already have," his grandmother cut in, leveling a hard look at his father that quieted him immediately. "I've sent out over a dozen ravens to those I thought might be suitable, all high-ranking ladies with the Reach. They have all responded as well. Not only did each of them respond with a 'yes', but most were also almost begging me to give them the honor and asking how soon they would need to depart for the North."
His father could only blink in confusion. "They…They have? But…why?"
"Why?" his grandmother scoffed. "Do you really need me to spell this out to you, Mace? Sansa is to be the next Lady of House Tyrell, the next Lady of the Reach. She will be the mother of our family's next generation that will one day take over once Willas has passed the mantle on. What fool wouldn't do anything for the chance to get in close to her while she is still young? To teach her and form a bond with her? Such a bond, if form properly, can last a lifetime. And when it comes time for Willas's and Sansa's children to start marrying, who do you think the girl might lean towards?"
"But why would anyone want to leave the Reach for the North? And be gone for years? Even during the summer years?" Mace questioned.
"Because they can see past their next meal, Mace," his grandmother replied. "But we are not here to speak of Sansa's tutor, Willas and I will handle that later. Right now, we are here to discuss this new development with the North. According to the letter Loras sent us, it wasn't necessarily the Starks nor the Sorcerer who can truly be credited with figuring out how to forge Valyrian steel. That honor seems to belong to one of the Sorcerer's students…and one of Robert Baratheon's bastard children at that."
"A bastard, the king's bastard to be sure…but still. Who would have ever thought a bastard child would be the one to figure out how to forge new Valyrian steel after centuries of the most learned men and blacksmiths across the lands have tried and failed," his father added, shaking his head as he begun to pace back and forth. "Surely the boy had help? And the Sorcerer is just…letting him take the credit?"
"The Sorcerer isn't that kind of man, father," Garlan stated, speaking up for one of the first times since they'd come together. "If the Sorcerer does something of note, and this is something of note, you can damn well bet he won't simply let others take the credit. Nor does he take credit away from where it belongs. And not to mention, I spoke several times with this bastard, Gendry, while we were in Winterfell. He might be a bit, well, slow. But I honestly have not seen a more natural blacksmith in all my years. He not only repaired my armor after our trek north of the Wall, but he even pointed out some faults to it that not even I had considered. And don't forget, Gendry might be a blacksmith, but he is also an Acolyte of the Sorcerer. Meaning he has access to this Force of theirs and is capable of doing things that no other blacksmith in the world would think possible."
"Regardless of whether he had help or not, according to what we know, this Gendry is the only one who currently knows the full process of how to create Valyrian steel," his grandmother said. "We have time. Even if the Sorcerer hoards those with magic with a greater zeal than a mother hen. But once the boy is ready…every House of note across Westeros and Essos will be throwing every of everything they have at the boy hoping to entice him. Gold, status, daughters, sisters, mothers…hells even men if that is his fancy. Then there is also the unknown of what the King will do once the boy is of age. He might be a bastard, more than likely by some whore or common girl. But the King will no doubt legitimize him as soon as he is capable of doing so. So we must be ready to meet and exceed whatever offer the boy receives. In the end, he must be tied to House Tyrell and Highgarden in some manner."
As they all began pondering just how to entice the young lad into their service, a hard knock on the door interrupted them. "My Lords, my Ladies," the guard posted outside called in through the still closed door. "The Maester is here, he says that he has a raven from the North."
"Send him in," Willas said immediately, hoping that the raven was from Winterfell. Sansa might still be a girl, but he had truly taken a liking to her and he could easily see himself coming to love her after they were married.
When the new Highgarden Maester slowly made into the room with his head held down, Willas couldn't help but cast a glance towards his grandmother. When the Order of the Guiding Hand had been exposed within the Maester Order, their own Maester had been implicated in their involvement. But before he could be taken for questioning, the man had apparently decided to end his life. Though Willas had his doubts about that. No one seeking to end their life would go about the act by downing every painful poison they had before throwing themselves off a low tower and right onto a rack of spears. He suspected that his grandmother had a hand in the man's demise, though he had never questioned her about it.
"Forgive the intrusion, my Lords, my Ladies," the Maester mumbled, not looking up while holding out a raven's scroll. "A raven from the North. For Ser Garlan."
Willas had been about ready to rise and take the raven, but then stopped when he heard that it was for Garlan and not him. "For me?" Garlan questioned, getting up and heading over to the Maester to take the scroll.
"Why would the Starks be sending a raven to Garlan?" their mother, Alerie, asked as Garlan unfurled the scroll.
"The raven did not come from Winterfell, my Lady, but rather from the Dreadfort," the Maester answered, drawing a sharp look from their father, who quickly dismissed the Maester with a wave of his hand, a dismissal the Maester was almost tripping over himself to follow.
"The Dreadfort?" his father questioned. "Isn't that the keep where Lord Stark sent those wildling savages to? I didn't even think they knew how to read and write."
"Don't belittle the Free Folk father," Willas said, feeling the need to interject as his brother had gone oddly silent as he read the letter over and over. "And please don't refer to them as 'wildlings'. Sure, there are still many north of the Wall that live up to the reputation of the wildlings, but most do not. Especially not those amongst the number that swore themselves to House Stark so that they could build a better life for themselves. Isn't that right, Garlan? …Garlan?"
All attention had turned to his brother, who was staring at the letter with a completely shocked expression on his face. "It's…It's from Karsi… She… She had a son… My son."
One could've heard a pin drop with how silent the room suddenly became. That was of course until his father yelled louder than Willas had ever heard him do so before. "WHAT?!"
Giving himself a shake and after handing the letter off to Willas so that he could read it over, Garlan turned and faced their father, "Karsi, she's a former chieftain of the Free Folk under Lady Val Norfolk, and she is the Captain of the Guard at the Dreadfort. We, well, we grew close after what happened north of the Wall and…and she just had my son."
Reading the letter over quickly, Willas looked up at his father's face, which was starting to turn a unique shade of red. "You…You…Ser Garlan the Gallant…begot a bastard child upon a wildling savage!? Are you out of your fucking mind!?"
Willas was stunned, as was everyone else in the room. His father rarely, if ever, cursed or even yelled. Especially not at his own family. Garlan was so taken aback by the sudden hostility that he was seemingly at a loss for words, "What? I – well…yes, bu—"
"What does the savage want?!" their father shouted, rushing over and all but ripping the letter out of his hands. "Coin? That's it, isn't it? She's trying to get as much coin as she can from us or perhaps even set herself up here as if we would ever allow such a savage to come within a hundred leagues of Highgarden!"
"What? No! Karsi is not like that, father!" Garlan shouted back, finally regaining his wits as he strode forward and snatched the scroll out of his father's clenched fists. "She doesn't want gold or titles or anything like that! The letter was just her telling me of the birth of our son! She understands the stigma our son would attract here in the Reach, so she has decided to raise him in the North. But she wants me to be part of our son's life! That's all!"
The whole situation, between his brother finding out he was a father to their own father's reaction to the news, had thrown Willas so bad that he could do little more than watch as his brother and father faced off against one another. His father, while clearly taken back by how quickly Garlan had jumped to Karsi's defense, wasn't backing down. "She doesn't want coin?"
"No," Garlan replied swiftly.
"And she's not planning on making her way here to our home with the bastard?"
"No," Garlan hissed, this time taking a step towards their father. "Because she knows that this—this here—is the type of reaction her and my son's presence would create!"
Their father nodded. "I see, well then, if that is the case then there is no issue. However, the issue of this bastard will remain private within our family and will not be spoken of again."
"Don't be a fool, Mace," their grandmother spoke up immediately. "This is our chance to better our ties with the North—"
"At the expense of our reputation, mother!" their father shot back, shaking his head and turning to Garlan. "I'm not saying you have to completely deny your bastard's existence son. Merely that word cannot spread. The Reach is known throughout the land as the beacon of chivalry and for our respect to the Faith of the Seven. And we, as the rulers of the Reach, must be the example, not the exception to this. You may visit the bastard if you wish, but it must be done in the North. He cannot come south. Nor can his presence be known…especially as I am currently working on a betrothal for yourself and the Lady Leonette Fossoway. If word of your bastard reaches the ears of House Fossoway, the betrothal will more than likely fall through and even if it doesn't, the terms for the betrothal will not end in our favor."
"I…see," Garlan replied lowly, his hands clenched so tightly that they were shaking. "Excuse me…I feel the need for some air." And without waiting for an answer, Garlan immediately turned and marched out of the room, throwing the doors open with such force that they rebounded off the stone walls and nearly hit the guards that'd been posted outside.
Sighing, Willas got to his feet. "Where are you going, Willas?" his mother asked as Willas made his way towards the door.
"After my brother," he responded loudly, before adding in a much quieter voice so that it wouldn't be heard. "Someone in this family needs to care about our actual welfare and not just our value."
It didn't take him long to find Garlan. Ever since his brother was little whenever he was upset by something he always retreated to the same place. The training yard so that he could take his frustrations out on whatever unfortunate training dummy got in his way. And that was exactly where Garlan was now, hacking away at a training dummy with such ferocity that bits of cloth, straw, and wood were flying in response to each of his blows. Leaning back against a nearby fence post, Willas watched in silence as his brother worked out his frustrations on the dummy. It took a long time. But after decapitating the dummy with a heavy strike, Garlan stabbed the tip of his sword into the ground before turning towards him. "Willas."
"Garlan," he responded simply, nodding towards the decapitated dummy. "Are you alright now?"
Scoffing, Garlan shook his head. "No, I'm fairly fucking far from 'alright', brother. I was just told by our father that not only can I never bring my son—my fucking son!—to see his family's home, but that he's also working on arranging a betrothal for myself."
Frowning, Willas mulled over just what to say to his brother. "You knew that this was a possibility, brother," he said. "You've known ever since you were young that your wife will more than likely be chosen for you. And you bedded Karsi knowing this as well…and you know full well the potential consequences that come with bedding a woman."
"I know, brother! I mean…I knew all of that when Karsi invited me to her tent that first time, hells we even spoke of it before I allowed anything to happen. Her response was that she wasn't looking to 'steal me' nor I her, she just wanted a good tumble. Then that just kept happening night after night and…shit. I just don't know, brother."
Walking towards Garlan, Willas put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Do you love her, brother?"
"I respect her, Willas," he answered almost immediately. "I mean, after learning more about the Free Folk and how they must live. What Karsi had to go through to get where she was? I mean, how could I not? And I honestly could see myself with her as my wife… But… Even now… Even after she's had my child, my son. I don't know if we'd spent enough time together to say that I truly 'love' her. But I do know that I care for her. And, I can be blunt with you, brother… If I had my choice, I would much rather marry a warrior woman like Karsi than some delicate Lady who faints at the sight of a bloody nose."
Patting his brother on the shoulder, Willas let his hand drop to his side. "I can't put a stop to the betrothal, brother, not fully. But these things can be…delayed for a long time. Just let grandmother and I work on it. You and Loras might be the warriors of the family. But grandmother, Margaery and I are the game players here. And when the time comes that I can fully take on the mantle of Lord Tyrell… Well, things can change."
Biting his lip, Garlan nodded. "And…what about my son?"
Smirking, Willas motioned for Garlan to walk with him out of the yard. "Father only prohibited your son from venturing into the Reach. He never said anything about you visiting him in the North. My betrothed will still be calling Winterfell her home for years yet, it wouldn't be unusual for a member of my family to travel to the North to get better acquainted with my future wife. The Dreadfort is just a few days ride from Winterfell, if I remember correctly. Not only that but remember what else we've heard. The King is planning a grand tourney to celebrate three-hundred years of a united Seven Kingdoms. A tournament that will not be held in the Reach and one that many will be expected to attend. Especially a new House like the Norfolk."
Pausing mid-step, Garlan stared at his brother. "I'm not sure just who is the worse of you three, brother. You, Margaery, or grandmother. But I am certainly glad that all three of you are related to me."
Standing on one of the many piers stretching out into the Bite from White Harbor, Jon Stark's gaze lingered to the south as he felt the cool, comforting touch of the cold northern wind passing him by and billowing his cloak around him. Despite being back in the comfort of the cold, Jon felt an ache in his chest. A sense of loss. And it was with no small amount of surprise that he found himself missing the warmth of Dorne. Or rather, missing just who the warmth brought. Arianne. His betrothed. His future wife. "How long do ya plan on standing here gazin off to the south, Jon Stark?"
Glancing sideways, Jon caught sight of fiery red hair waving in the cool wind. "Don't tell me you don't feel the same, Ygritte," he said with a knowing smirk. "You've wanted to head back south ever since we left Sunspear."
Smirking, Ygritte came up to stand beside him. "Well, I can admit that I miss having so much fun between those silken sheets in Dorne, and the way they dress was certainly appealing to me eyes. But the heat…I don't think I will ever get use to that fuckin heat…though if it means stayin with ya and Arianne…then I suppose that I can find a way. Though if ya keep broodin like this, I might start to think that you prefer her instead of me."
Reaching out, Jon wrapped his arm around Ygritte's slim waist and pulled her close. "I love you both equally, Ygritte," It was the truth, he truly did love both Arianne and Ygritte, and he could no longer see a future where he was not without both. "Please don't ever think I prefer her over you…comparing you to her… It's like comparing the beauties of sunrises and sunsets."
Smirking, Ygritte moved in close and pressed her lips to his. "Keep sayin nice things like that…and I'll be takin ya right here and now, Jon Stark." Giving him one more quick peck, Ygritte moved back and looked towards the south. "But me question remains, Jon. Why are we still here? We've been back in the North for days now and you won't let us leave this…city. Even knowin that yer brother will be marryin soon, ya still refuse to leave this place."
She wasn't wrong. Four days ago, when they'd first arrived back in the North, Jon had wanted to do nothing more than head immediately for Winterfell, especially as he knew that his brother's wedding was set to occur soon and that the Lords and Ladies from across the North were already beginning to make their way towards Winterfell. But something was holding him back. Something he couldn't quite identify in the Force was telling him that it was necessary for him to stay in White Harbor. Though for what reason he had no idea. He just knew that he had to stay here for now. And so, he delayed his return to Winterfell. And Lord Manderly, being a good Lord and host, had taken his words to heart about his need to stay and had decided to postpone his own trip to Winterfell till Jon was ready to leave. Which was now putting even more pressure on Jon to leave as he was holding up one of the major Houses of the North.
"Just a bit longer," Jon said, though he wasn't sure just who he was trying to convince at this point. Ygritte or himself. "Something is coming…I just don't kn—"
The sounding of the harbor bell announcing the arrival of an unknown ship on the horizon cut Jon off. Straining his eyes, Jon stared off towards the south. He could just barely make out what looked like three ships slowly approaching from the Narrow Sea. But at this distance it was impossible for him to tell any more than their number. 'Not enough for an attack…but who are they? They're not trading vessels…'
"Come on," Jon said, motioning for Ygritte to follow him as he made his way towards the main dock of White Harbor, figuring that if the vessels intended to dock, that was where they would go.
By the time the two reach the dock, the ships had come close enough that Jon could make out the sigil embroidered across the sail. A sigil of what looked like a lion, only without a mane and covered with stripes. A sigil that he recognized yet had seen only once before in his life. "Send a runner to New Castle," Jon commanded of a nearby guardsman. "Inform Lord Manderly that we have guests arriving from Volantis."
"Volantis?" Ygritte questioned as one of the guardsmen went running to inform the Manderlys of their arriving guests. Though Jon was sure that they were already aware of them. "Isn't dat the land were Talisa be coming from?"
"Aye, it is." Jon nodded as he watched the three ships continue to make their way towards the dock.
Ygritte stared at the ships in contemplation. "Are they here to try and steal her back?"
Frowning, Jon watched as two of the ship lowered their sails, leaving the third to approach alone. "No. If they had come meaning to take Talisa back by force, then they would have brought far more than this."
As the ship drew close enough for Jon to start making out the individual sailors onboard, they were joined by Ser Wylis Manderly, the heir to House Manderly. "Whitewolf," Wylis nodded in greeting, using the name that many amongst the North had taken to calling him as of late. "Or should it be 'sandwolf' now?"
Jon shifted uncomfortably. Despite his best attempts at stopping it, news of his impending betrothal with Arianne had spread like wildfire. And the reaction to the news had been, well, mixed. There were some amongst the North that were clearly looking down at him for marrying outside the North. Others who seemed to wish him well. And others who seemed indifferent about the news. House Manderly, at least from what he could tell, seemed to want to wish him well, but he could clearly see that they were not entirely pleased that he had been betrothed to someone not of the North. No doubt because they were hoping that he would be betrothed to one of Ser Wylis's daughters instead.
"No, I will always be a 'whitewolf'," Jon answered, fixing his gaze on the ship that was just about to dock. "No matter if I am in the North or not, I will always carry the North in my heart. And I will always be one of the First Men and a man of House Stark first and foremost."
"Strong words, lad," Ser Wylis nodded in approval. "Remember them, even when yer in the warmth of the south. Now, let's see what new shit storm these visitors are bringing with them, shall we?"
'I think I have a good idea,' Jon thought as he watched the sailors from the ships throw their heavy ropes to the dockhands so that the ship could be tied off.
Letting Ser Wylis take the lead, Jon and Ygritte fell into step behind the large man as the three of them made their way towards where a gangplank was being lowered from the ship to the dock. As soon as the gangplank touched down, three guardsmen immediately made their way down. 'Tiger cloaks,' Jon realized as he observed the men with green stripes tattooed onto their faces arranged themselves at the base of the gangplank. 'Well…I guess that solves just who has come. As far as I know from what Talisa has told us, the Tiger cloaks only act as guards for one very specific group of individuals in Volantis.'
Once the guards were in place, a trio of individuals, a man, a woman, and a young boy no older than Bran, appeared at the top of the gangplank and began making their way down. Jon's suspicion about just who had arrived was immediately put to rest as soon as he got a good look at the three. The woman was the true give away, as she looked almost exactly like her daughter. Sharing a look with Ser Wylis, who no doubt realized just who these three were, the older man of House Manderly gave him a nod, silently allowing Jon to take the lead in this matter. Understandable, considering this was a matter regarding House Stark.
As soon as the man stepped foot upon the dock, Jon immediately stepped forward, keeping a fair distance from the tiger cloaks to not draw their ire. "Honored Triarch," Jon greeted the man, using what little High Valyrian he'd learned from Talisa. "I am Jon Stark, son of Lord Eddard Stark and brother to Lord Robb Stark. On behalf of House Stark, I welcome you and your family to the North."
The man in the lead stopped almost immediately upon hearing Jon speak. Taking the moment of pause, Jon carefully examined each member of Talisa's family. Her mother looked almost exactly like her with only a few wrinkles near the corners of her eyes to show her age. The Triarch reminded Jon a lot of his father. A man who had been hardened by what he'd seen and was not one to play words and would rather let his actions speak for him. But as for the young boy, while he tried to hold himself to the standard his parents were setting, it was clear he was in awe with everything that he was seeing. Something which Jon could understand. He was much the same when he had visited Volantis for the first time. "I was not expecting to be greeted by a man of House Stark so soon upon our arrival." The Triach replied in the common tongue, much to Jon's relief. "Nor did I expect a member of House Stark to speak High Valyrian."
"Lady Talisa is a fine teacher, honored Triarch. Though I fear that is all that I can speak as tongues are not one of my skills," Jon replied, to which he heard Ygritte murmur something that sounded like, 'Arianne and I disagree on that'.
"My daughter has always been one to teach others," the older woman stated proudly. "I am the noblewoman Marquess Maegyr, wife to Triarch Malaquo Maegyr. And this is our son, Maliki."
Nodding his head, Jon returned the greeting in kind. "It is an honor to meet you, noblewoman Maegyr, young Maliki. May I introduce to you all Ser Wylis Manderly of House Manderly and heir to White Harbor. And this is Ygritte of the Norfolk." Jon had almost introduced Ygritte as 'of the Free Folk', but he thought better of it at the last minute. She was technically no longer of the Free Folk north of the Wall, but rather of the Norfolk that had taken up residence in the Dreadfort under Lady Val Norfolk.
The two elder Maegyr's both gave Ygritte little more than a passing glance before seemingly dismissing her as unimportant and instead focusing their attention on Ser Wylis. The dismissal caused a surge of anger within Jon, and he didn't need a mirror to know that his eyes flashed yellow for a moment before he managed to regain control of himself. He could tell that Ygritte was equally unamused as she just continued to stare at the trio while Ser Wylis made his introductions to the visitors. "—of course, my father would be more than pleased to house you and yours while you are here in the North, honored Triarch," Ser Wylis was finishing up by the time Jon finally came back to the conversation at hand.
"Your offer is appreciated, but there is no need," the Triarch responded with a dismissive wave of his hand. "We will be making our way towards the Stark lands and this…Winterfell as soon as our things are unloaded, and we are ready to depart."
Ser Wylis nodded his understanding, "I can understand your want for haste, honored Triarch. Might I suggest that we share the road together? House Manderly was planning on leaving on the morrow for Winterfell to pay our respects to our future liege Lady in person. And the young Lord Stark here has been away from his home in Dorne for several moons and is ready to depart as well. Perhaps we might all travel as one? The Wolf Rangers keep the roads clear, but it is still better to travel in numbers."
For a moment, Jon was sure that the man would turn down the offer, but after seemingly thinking about it for a moment he nodded his acceptance. "We will agree to your request. One night, Ser Wylis, Heir of White Harbor. And then we will be leaving for Winterfell regardless."
"Understandable, and I can assure you that House Manderly will be ready to depart at first light," Ser Wylis nodded before turning his considerable girth and motioning towards New Castle. "Now, if you may permit me, I will escort you to New Castle and the Merman's Court so that you might meet my father and rest your heads for the night."
The Triarch nodded, and without him even having to say a word, the Tiger cloaks behind him immediately arranged themselves into a triangle pattern so that there was one of them one each side of them and one behind them. As they began the walk, Jon noticed that Talisa's brother, Maliki, kept sneaking glances towards him. After catching him for the third time, causing the young man to duck his head and redden, Jon spoke up. "Is there something you would like to ask me, young ser?"
Maliki cast a glance towards his father and mother, but both continued looking straight head while listening to Ser Wylis explain the different areas of White Harbor. "I – I've heard that the Starks have…magic? Do you?"
Smiling, Jon held out his hand and wordlessly summoned a small pebble off the ground and into his outstretched hand. His actions didn't go unnoticed by the Triarch nor by his wife as both ceased their conversation with Ser Wylis and started obviously paying attention to him while not actually turning their heads towards him. Using the Force to hold the small pebble aloft, Jon waited until Maliki reached out and grabbed the stone before letting go. "Aye, I have been gifted with the Force. Just like all my siblings. And even Ygritte here has magic, though of a different type than my own."
Maliki's eyes widened as he leaned forward so that he could glance at Ygritte, who was on the other side of Jon from him. Never one to be shy, Ygritte held up her hand with the amulet. A small rivulet of fire formed around her hand, dancing between her fingers and then disappeared.
The act caused a stir amongst the tiger cloaks, or at least as much of a stir as Jon had seen from them so far, which even then was only one of them murmuring something about 'rallor', or something along those lines. Jon wasn't sure what it meant, though he sure he would ask Talisa when he met her next, but apparently it was enough to cause Malaquo to turn and silence the guard who said it with only a single hard glance. Maliki looked like he was about to say something, but his mother's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"That is quite a gift you have, young lady," the noblewoman said, no longer seemingly dismissing Ygritte's presence. "Tell me, what is the status of your family? Are you noble born? Betrothed to someone, perhaps? Or are you a guardswoman for the young Stark Lord here?"
Ygritte shook her head and lowered her hand. Even though she was once considered a 'wildling', she did have a sharp mind. She immediately knew what the woman was heading towards. "Me family died when I was but a girl, and there be no 'nobles' as ya kneelers call them north of the Wall. Me gifts are ones from the gods, the true gods of the First Men. I ain't no guardswoman for Jon Stark here, but he did steal me. He and his betrothed…and what a fun stealin it was. Again, and again, again in so—"
"I believe you have sated my wife's curiosity, Ygritte of the Norfolk," Malaquo interjected. "However, I do believe that my son is just a few years shy of hearing of your activities. And I would appreciate you keeping that thought in mind."
"As ya say, honored Triarch," Ygritte bowed with only a hint of mocking in her voice.
Shaking his head, Jon and Ygritte continued to follow the group towards New Castle. As they entered the castle grounds, Jon's only thought was how quickly he could break away from the group so that he could get a raven to Winterfell as quickly as possible.
Staring at his reflection in the mirror, Robb Stark pulled at his doublet, making sure for the twentieth time that morning that everything was perfect. 'Everything's right. Freshly shaved and hair cut correctly. Lightsaber on my belt…No fraying on my doublet or any dirt…Gods…Stop! I think I've spent more time standing in front of this thing than Sansa!'
"For the twentieth time this very morning, Robb, you look fine," Talisa spoke up from behind him, making him start slightly as he'd forgotten she was even in the same room as he. Which she of course immediately took note of. "What's this? Did I give the great and powerful Young Wolf of Winterfell a start? Or is it simply that you forgot I was in the room with you? Oh…whatever shall I tell my father, that my chosen husband would so soon forget about me in favor of his own reflection."
"Gods, woman," Robb sighed, though with slight humor as he turned to the woman he fully intended on spending the rest of his life with, "and here I thought that a wife was supposed to support her husband in all things?"
"Perhaps," Talisa shrugged with a playful grin cross her own face in return. "But then again, we are not husband and wife yet, are we?"
"Yet," Robb countered with a smile, but just as he was about to lean in to try and kiss her, a knock on his door interrupted the two of them. "What is it?" he asked in exasperation.
"Apologies for intruding, milord," one of the Stark guards said through the still closed door. "But a runner just came by. The banners of House Manderly have been spotted and will be in Winterfell soon, milord."
Robb's nerves, which had begun to dissipate thanks to Talisa's teasing, came back tenfold as the knowledge that he was about to meet his future wife's family hit him. "Thank you," Robb called out, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm himself. "I wonder if it's too late to run out and join Lord Nox's training in the Wolfswood."
Two days past, Lord Nox had taken all of his acolytes; Sansa, Arya, Bran, Joy Lannister, Shireen Baratheon, and Gendry Waters, out into the Wolfswood for training. It was a training that both Robb and Jon had endured and barely survived years ago. But given the choice before him…he was truly considering that reliving said training might be easier than what he was about to face.
"None of that," Talisa scolded him. "You've faced down assassins, wildlings, creatures of legends, your own bannerman, and a nightmarish training by the Sorcerer that I can't even begin to comprehend. You can handle meeting my family. And trust me Robb, my father and mother will approve of you. My mother will because she will think you are of high enough status for me. And my father will respect the fact that you have distinguished yourself on the field of battle. And even if they don't approve of you…Well, it doesn't matter. I've chosen you, Robb. I've chosen the North. And nothing and no one, not even my own family, will change my mind."
Smiling, Robb looked at his future wife. She may not have been born in the North. But she was as much a Northerner as any woman he'd met. "Aye," he nodded, holding out his arm for her to take. "Then let us go and meet your family, soon-to-be-Lady Stark."
In seemingly no time at all, Robb and Talisa were out in the yard alongside their father waiting for the arrival of their guests. Shortly after their arrival, Robb's heart threatened to leap out of his chest as he saw the banners of House Manderly make their way through the gate and into the heart of Winterfell. Robb immediately spotted Lord Manderly in the lead, which wasn't the greatest feat known to man given the man's size. Honestly, Robb was impressed that the horse the Lord of White Harbor was riding was able to stay upright, though he would never say that part aloud. Next he spotted his brother Jon riding beside the Lord of White Harbor. His brother looked…good. His skin was a touch darker than when he'd left, but he would know his brother anywhere.
The last member that was riding near the front was an older man that Robb did not recognize, but he knew him almost immediately. 'Triarch Maegyr…Talisa's father.' While Talisa's father was a touch older than he would've thought, the man reminded Robb a lot of a Northern Lord. Even from this distance he could tell that Talisa's father was a man for action over words. Once they were within the main yard of Winterfell, his father took the lead and walked forward to greet their guests. "Jon, son," his father said, greeting Jon in a warm embrace. "It's good to have you home, son."
Jon smiled, and nodded his head, "it's good to be home, father. Brother, you're looking well. And you as well, Talisa…or should I say soon-to-be-goodsister?"
"I see the Dornish have rubbed off on you a bit, brother," Robb smiled, embracing his brother before letting him go and turning to greet Lord Manderly, who was just finishing getting off his horse while simultaneously greeting Robb's father.
Giving his own greeting to the Lord of White Harbor, Robb braced himself as he turned to the last member of the lead trio. "Triarch Malaquo Maegyr," his lord father greeted the man, just as a woman and a younger lad, Talisa's mother and brother, walked forward from one of the carriages that'd been part of the retinue. "Welcome to the North. I am Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and Lord of Winterfell. This is my son and heir, Robb Stark. I would offer you and yours bread and salt, as is custom when receiving guests in Westeros."
The Triarch nodded and remained silent as several servants walked up to present their visitors with bread and salt, hereby granting them guest rites under the laws of gods and men. "Interesting customs you have here, Lord Stark." The Triarch stated as he ate the offering.
His father's face betrayed nothing as he spoke. "Perhaps, Triarch Maegyr. But they are part of the laws of gods and men that govern these lands. And only a fool would seek to violate those laws."
"Indeed," Talisa's father nodded. "Even in Volantis, we have heard tales of what happened to those who last violated your 'guest rites', as you call them. And we have no desire to follow in their example."
"Then why have you come, father?" Talisa spoke up for the first time since the group had arrived.
The Triarch turned his attention to his daughter, and Robb could've sworn he saw a hint of sorrow in the man's eye when he glanced towards Talisa. But it was gone so quickly that he wasn't sure it was even there in the first place. "Is that really such a mystery, Talisa?" the Triarch asked. "Despite our disagreements, you are still my eldest, and only, daughter. Do you really think that I would not move the heavens and earth to be here to see you wed?"
Robb knew Talisa well enough to tell that she was moved by the sentiment, even if she didn't show it. "Thank you…father," she said with a small smile before turning her attention to her mother and brother. "Mother, Maliki."
The young boy clearly couldn't hold himself back anymore as he threw himself forward, arms outstretched as he made a dash for Talisa. Talis immediately opened her arms and grabbed her brother in a tight hug, lifting him off the ground as she did. The young boy started excitedly speaking in High Valyrian so fast that Robb couldn't follow anything the two were saying to each other. Letting them have their little reunion, Robb straightened himself and turned his attention to Talisa's father. Unsure of what exactly to say, and not wanting to just stand awkwardly waiting to be addressed, Robb gave a slight bowing of his head to Talisa's father. "Honored Triarch Maegyr. It is an honor to meet you. Talisa has told me much about her family and I look forward to getting to know my soon-to-be wife's family more intimately."
Robb had stood tall before King Robert, before the King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder, and before many of his own fierce bannerman without blinking an eye or feeling such nerves as he did in this moment. But standing before Talisa's father, he found himself far more nervous than ever before. "So, you are the boy that thinks he can take my daughter away from me and marry her without my say so?"
Robb found himself getting defensive, not just for his own sake but for Talisa's as well. He was no boy. He'd bloodied himself in battle, led his bannerman in times of peace in his father's place, and dispensed justice when it was called for. And while he might be a 'maid', he was not ignorant nor wholly innocent. "I may not have your years, honored Triarch, but I am no boy. As for taking your daughter, no man can take your daughter. She is far too strong of a woman for that. I am fortunate to have the honor to say that she has chosen me to be her husband. And, yes, I fully intend on marrying your daughter within the close of the sennight, honored Triarch."
Talisa's father narrowed his gaze at him, clearly trying to intimidate him. But Robb held firm. He would not back down. Without warning, the Triarch smiled and nodded. "You've got some strength to you, young man. I still don't know if you are truly worthy of my daughter's hand, but that is more the father in me not wanting to part with my daughter. But…she certainly could've done far worse in her choice of suitor."
"Where's the Sorcerer?"
All eyes in the yard turned to the smallest within their group. Talisa's brother, just now realizing he'd voice his question aloud and in the Westerosi tongue, suddenly looked sheepish as he tried to hide behind his sister from the looks his father and mother were giving him. Smiling, and being reminded slightly of Arya, Robb squatted down in front of the boy and gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "You must be Maliki? Talisa's told me a lot about you, especially the mischief you like to get yourself into… Quite similar to my own brother and sister, Bran and Arya. In fact, I think you three will get along quite well. As for Lord Nox, he is out in the Wolfswood imparting his lessons upon my brother, sisters, and the other Acolytes. They should all be returning this very night. And if you wish to meet him, I will be more than happy to introduce you."
The little boy nearly jumped in delight. "Yes! I – I mean, umm…Thank you, Lord Stark. I would…appreciate the…introduction."
Smiling, Robb reached a hand out and ruffled the young boy's hair. "It would be my pleasure, young ser. Perhaps until Lord Nox returns, you might like to see the rest of Winterfell?"
Maliki nodded enthusiastically and grabbed his sister's hand. Clearly, he was not planning on being parted from her anytime soon. "A fine idea, young man," Talisa's father nodded before turning and barking out a few commands in High Valyrian, prompting several of the servants…or rather slaves, behind him to start unloading the carriages. "Why don't you go with them, my dear? While you see what our daughter's future home has to offer, the elder Lord Stark and I have things to discuss. In private."
Robb wanted to be part of whatever talks were about to happen between his father and Talisa, but he also recognized that these were not talks between two of the nobility, but rather between two fathers whose children were about to be married.
"Of course," his father agreed. "Chambers have been prepared for you and yours. As well as you and yours, Lord Manderly. The servants will show your people where to place their belongings and where they themselves can lay their heads at night. Robb, take your time and show them everything. Jon, we will talk later about what happened in Dorne. Honored Triarch, if you will please follow me, I will show you to my solar."
Watching everyone begin to disperse, Robb felt a lump form in his throat as he watched his father and Talisa's father walk off together towards the main keep of Winterfell. For some reason, the fact that Talisa's father was now here and talking to his own father about their upcoming marriage just made the whole situation seem more…well…more like it was happening. That really didn't make sense to him, yet it was what he felt. Breathing to steady himself, he looked for his brother for support, only to find him being dragged off towards the Sorcerer's Tower by Ygritte. And based on the look on both his brother and the spear-wife's face…he would be getting no help from either for quite some time yet.
"My lady, young ser, and Lady Maegyr," he said, holding out his arm Talisa to take, which she immediately did while still holding onto her brother's hand. "If you will please follow me, I believe we shall start at where Talisa and I will be wed. The godswood."
Ned Stark was no stranger to dealing with difficult or even awkward conversations, but the one that he was about to have been already starting out far more difficult than he could've imagined. While Robb and Talisa were showing his future gooddaughter around Winterfell, Ned had retired to his solar with the Triarch so that the two men could have a discussion between fathers and their children's upcoming wedding. The man was much as Talisa had described him. A hard no-nonsense man that was straight forward and to the point. Even though they'd only just met, Ned knew that, slavery aside, the Triarch would've been a fine Lord of the North.
Once the two men were sequestered into his solar, with both Stark guards and the Tiger guards standing vigil outside, Ned wordlessly offered the man a cup of Northern liquor before the two settled in before the burning hearth in the room. Malaquo nodded his thanks and took the cup, giving it a tentative sniff before a slight sip. "Interesting," the man muttered, staring at the cup, "I've heard of your Northern liquor before arriving, and I'm pleased to see that it lives up to the praise it's generated. Not ale, nor wine…if anything I would liken it to a type of drink made in Yi Ti from a local crop they have called rice."
"I have not heard of that," Ned replied calmly, taking a drink as he did so. "Ours is made from the sweet sap from several types of trees found primarily here in the North. But I doubt you've request to speak with me in private just to talk about alcohol."
"Straight and to the point, I respect that, Lord Stark."
"Ned," Ned offered. "Those I consider my friends, and those who are my family use my name while in private."
He caught the slightest bit of a smirk from the Triarch, "Ned then. And I am Malaquo while we are in private. And the matter of family is why I am here after all. So, let us talk family, and the joining of our two families."
"Aye," Ned nodded. "Do you have objections to your daughter marrying my son and becoming the next Lady Stark?"
"On principle, I do not." Malaquo said simply. "Your son appears a good man. And I know my daughter. She would not choose a fool to spend her life with. She's far too strong-willed for that. But you and I both know that marriage between our children is not such a simple thing. Negotiations, dowries, political repercussions, trade agreements...all the other horse shit that nobles and those with even the slightest bit of wealth deem important. The isolation and slight hostility of the North to outsiders is well known, even in Essos. And my daughter is to lead your people one day as Lady Stark. Will she be respected? All these things must be solved before a union between our two children be finalized."
Nodding, Ned finished his cup and set it aside. "Then let us begin. Firstly, your daughter's status amongst the North. What you say is true in that many in the North are wary of outsiders. Mostly this comes from centuries, millennia even, of those from outside the North trying to force either their authority or faith upon our people. But we are not fools. Talisa, it would be a lie to say that many were not wary of her when she first arrived. But she has made her place here within the North, both amongst the smallfolk and the nobles. I've seen her cower some of my most headstrong bannermen with but a single glance. And while I will not lie and say that some will not be overly pleased with her becoming Lady Stark, there are none that will disrespect her. She's done far too much for the North and her people for that. And while I will not say that I know your daughter through and through, she is not the type of woman to be disrespected."
"That's good to know." Malaquo nodded, seemingly put slightly at ease. "Now we come to the question of her dowry then. While not as much a custom amongst the wealthy of Essos, bridal gifts, or dowry as you understand them, are still expected. For one such as my daughter, traditionally she would be gifted over a dozen slaves to help with her new household. But knowing my daughter and the North as I do, I doubt such a gift would go over well."
"No, it would not." Ned replied, still repulsed by the idea of slavery. A repulsion that'd only grown since listening to the harrowing tales from some of those who'd escaped slavery and made their home here in the North. "There are no slaves in the North, nor in any other part of Westeros."
"I know, which is why I was fairly surprised to see a number of 'marked' individuals in both White Harbor and even here in Winterfell and that small town outside your walls." Malaquo replied with a knowing look.
Ned didn't back down from the challenge. "There are no slaves here in the North. Every man, woman and child who calls the North their home is free from whatever chains that might've bound them in the past."
"I have no intent on pressing the issue of escaped slaves, nor will I be pressuring any exile who might be helping said slaves set up a new life here in the North," Malaquo stated placatingly and knowingly at the same time. "In fact, I would say that I have even be so inclined to aid an exile who just might be shipping more than goods from the place my daughter calls home."
Ned could read through his words easily enough. Malaquo knew of Domeric, or more specifically he knew that while Domeric was technically an exile, he was still in service to the North. Though the fact that Malaquo was all but saying that he'd been helping Domeric in his mission of aiding escaped slaves to the North was…odd to say the least. "Forgive my saying this, but why would the leader of people who thrive on the slave trade have reason to see those same slave's escape?"
"Politics. It always comes back to the shit games and politics people love to play," Malaquo spat. "An example perhaps. There was a rising figure within the Elephants, think of them as a rival House so to speak. The man was making a fortune in selling very high-quality tapestries. Well, it turns out that his success was due to three slave girls who were incredibly skilled. The man constantly bragged about how his slaves, even though he couldn't name them, could out do anyone else in their trade. And he was right. He was making a fortune on their work. His aspirations started turning from coin to political power. He was gaining momentum with some rather…well distaste full practices and laws. Then one day his three slave girls that practically gave him his fortune just…disappeared. Unable to replace them, within two moons turn his estate crumbled and he lost all the political momentum he'd had. No one could figure out what happened to those three slave girls. But my guess is that someone made sure that they found their way to an exile, who then perhaps spirited them away. And curiously enough…I noticed two of those slave girls working in White Harbor and the third working here in Winterfell. I wonder how they could've gotten here?"
The story was far more convoluted than Ned would've liked, but he could see the meaning through the words. Malaquo had sabotaged a rival of his by taking away his greatest assets that built his fortune and spirited them away to the North through Domeric. "Others would've sought an easier path," Ned countered, thinking of the likes of Tywin Lannister or the Mad King, who would've simply just had the girls killed.
"Perhaps," Malaquo nodded. "But despite what many may think, not everyone who owns or deals in the slave trade simply kills slaves on a whim. It's illegal in Volantis to harm a slave without due cause, especially if it is a slave you do not own. And besides, those girls were beyond talented. Disposing of them permanently would've been a waste."
Leaning back, Ned drummed his fingers against the armrest of his chair. "So your solution to not providing a dowry for Talisa is instead to not interfere with what is happening in Essos. Which is something that you are already taking advantage of to gain leverage over any potential rivals that might come your way."
"In part," Malaquo nodded. "But I also seek to aid in the expansion of your trade in Essos. As it stands, Northern trade, even through your exile, is limited to Braavos, Pentos, and a few other places along the coast of the Narrow Sea. I control the Tigers within Volantis, and with that comes control of the Tiger guards. I will have in writing Volantis's commitment to aid in the trade of items from the North deeper into Essos. Provided of course that Volantis has a preferable trade arrangement on all goods from the North."
The deal was decent. And it benefited both sides. The North would be able to continue its task of freeing slaves, with a layer of added protection as Malaquo would not want his involvement made common knowledge. And they would also be able to make further inroads into their trading with Essos. And while some might say that they didn't need Essos for trade, Ned was of the mind that one could never have too many trade partners, especially during the winter years as it would prevent certain parties from trying to take advantage of them during desperate times. And they would also gain the protection of the Tiger guards of Volantis for some of their trade routes. And as for Malaquo, he would maintain a way to harm his rivals by getting rid of key slaves of certain nobles. And he also gained the prestige of having made a beneficial trade deal with the North.
"Acceptable," Ned nodded, holding out his hand. "I will have my steward write up the agreement in terms of trade. As for the slaves, I believe such a thing would be best left in words only."
Smiling, Malaquo immediately took the offered hand, sealing the deal by word. "We have an accord, Ned Stark of Wintefell. Now, tell me about the marriage ceremonies of the North? I fear my knowledge of Northern culture is limited at best. Though I did try and read up on what information I had available to me on the voyage here."
Resting in her tent, her eyes gazing at the dragon egg laid out on the burning brazier before her, Dany pondered her life. She had never thought that she would find herself as she was now, wife to a great Khal of the Dothraki and owner of not one, but four dragon eggs. Yet here she was. And truthfully her life was not horrible. In fact, she would go as far as saying that her life had improved in droves since she decided to take Khal Drogo as her husband. Jon's advice had proven true. And while Drogo did indeed match many of the stigma's attached to the Dothraki, he was also protective, caring, challenging, and encouraging of her and her wishes. Even if said wishes went against what was considered 'tradition' for a Khaleesi. And most importantly, he listened to her. He wasn't just amusing her till she gave him what she wanted, she could tell that he was genuinely interested in her, her ideas. It was a very pleasant change of pace from her life when it was just her and her brother.
"Khaleesi, do you wish to ride today?"
Just barely managing to keep herself from jumping, Dany tore her eyes away from the egg on the fire and towards her three handmaidens: Doreah, Irri, and Jhiqui. Each of whom were staring at her with worry. "No," Dany replied, shaking her head while her hand went to her midsection. "I don't feel myself this morning and would prefer to rest. Unless Drogo is looking to ride, then I will join him."
"The Great Khal has not decided to ride yet today," Irri responded while Doreah knelt next to Dany beside the fire. "Yet the sun has yet to fully rise, it is likely that he will ride with his bloodriders before the sun is high in the sky."
Listening to Irri, Dany had put Doreah almost completely out of her mind as she turned her attention back to the egg in the flames. Yet that changed as Doreah's slim hand firmly, yet gently, cupped her breast before moving down and pressing on her stomach. "Doreah!" she gasped, starting and moving back from her handmaiden's touch.
"Forgive me, milady," Doreah nodded respectfully, her hand still outstretched. "May I ask how long it has been since you last had your moonblood?"
Dany went to answer her, but her words died on her lips. She honestly did not remember when she last had her moonblood. She remembered at least one instance since her marriage to Drogo…but since then…she couldn't remember. Doreah took her silence as all the answer she needed, while behind her both Irri and Jhiqui beamed at her. "I know the signs milady, Khaleesi. Given the life you saved me from. And given that you and the Khal both have a…veracious appetite for pleasures of the flesh, I am honestly surprised it took this long for the seed to take hold and bring forth a child in your womb."
"A child…so soon," Irri smiled. "Truly, our Khaleesi and Khal are blessed by the Great Stallion for the seed to take hold so quickly."
"Yes," Dany nodded, her hand resting lightly atop her stomach, where she now knew a child lay within. "Blessed indeed…go and inform my husband and brother of my…condition. I – I wish to be alone for a time."
Her handmaidens immediately got up and left to go and tell her husband and brother the news of her pregnancy. Now alone, Dany's eyes glanced towards the egg that was in the fire, then drifting over to where her three additional eggs lay. She'd taken Jon's lessons on the Valyrian's dragons to heart and had decided that she would only try to hatch a single egg. The rest she would leave for her children or descendants to hatch. And now, now she had a child in her womb. A child who would one day lay claim to one of the other three eggs and become a dragon rider. 'Jon told me that the Dragon Lords of old took what made their enemies strong unto themselves to make themselves stronger,' Dany thought with a small smile, her hand rubbing her belly. 'My child, the child of perhaps the greatest Dothraki Khal shall take their lineage of the Dothraki and become the greatest dragon rider ever. And together…we will rebuild the Valyrian Empire here in Essos. Bring back the glory of my ancestors.'
Smiling at the thought of once again bringing about the glory of Valyria to Essos, Dany was forcibly broken from her thoughts at the sound of a strangled cry, followed quickly by her tent flap flying open and a person falling face first into her tent.
Rising to her feet, Dany's heart thundered in her chest as she instinctively reached out for the Force, only to faulter as she saw her brother, madder than she had ever seen him, standing just within the flap of her tent. "How…How dare you send this…this whore to summon me like a common fucking servant!"
Dany looked down and found herself unable to move as she looked at the face of her handmaiden Doreah. A face that had a large red mark that was already starting to darken staining the side of her face along with a split in her lip. Her fear and uncertainty that'd caused her to freeze disappeared. Replaced with a rage she had never felt. "What. Have. You. Done…Brother?"
Her brother, either not noticing or not caring about her anger, snarled and gestured wildly towards Doreah. "This whore came to my tent, my tent! And dared to try and summon me! Me! I am the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms! I will not be summoned by some whore by you of al-"
Dany didn't need to hear the rest. Lashing out with her anger, Dany slashed her arm through the air as if she were backhanding her brother. Even though he was clear across the tent and out of the reach of her arm, he was not out of the reach of the Force. Her attack took him full in the chest, sending flying with his arms and legs waving about trying to do anything to stop himself. But he was hopeless to do anything as he landed hard on the ground a fair distance from her tent. His momentum causing him to continue rolling back through the dirt even after he hit the ground.
Holding out her hand, Dany helped Doreah rise to her feet before marching out of her tent with her anger still raging through her being. Just outside her tent, a crowd had begun to form, watching as Viserys coughed and spit out a mixture of dirt and blood as he tried to regain his footing. "D–Dany…"
Frowning, Dany cut her hand down through the air like it was an axe chopping wood. In response, Viserys was forced back to the ground face first with enough force to push all the air out of his body. Just as she stepped forward to further her lesson, a second commotion in the crowd gave her pause as she felt a familiar presence approach quickly.
Keeping one eye on her still struggling brother, Dany turned just in time to watch her husband break through the crowd. Drogo's face, and entire being for that matter, was screaming how pleased and…happy he was. An odd feeling from her usually hard and stoic husband, but there was no denying what she was sensing. And his joy fought back against her anger, dimming it slightly. But then his expression faltered as he noticed what was going on, and just who was on his hands and knees before her.
"My sun and stars," Drogo said in the Dothraki tongue. "Did he harm you?"
"No," she replied, her words coming out slowly as she was still not completely fluent in her husband's tongue. "But he…violated my commands and…raised a hand against my…servant."
Glancing past her husband, she eyed his four bloodriders who were standing just behind Drogo. "Get my brother to his…feet. And bare his back to me."
The four hesitated, but a quick nod from Drogo was all it took to make the men move. Despite Viserys's protests, he was in no position to resist as the four larger men grabbed his arms and forced him to his feet. Roughly turning him so that his back was towards Dany, they then made quick work of his coat and shirt by ripping them from his body, exposing his back to her and Drogo. Feeling calmer than she should, despite her anger, Dany slowly and purposefully walked up to her husband. Reaching to his waist, she slowly undid the bindings of his belt before removing it from his person. The belt was made of leather, and incredibly heavy due in no small part to the gold coins, disks and other trinkets that covered almost every bit of the leather.
Sensing a feeling of approval from Drogo, Dany slowly walked over to where her brother was still struggling as he tried in vain to turn around enough to see what was happening. But her husband's bloodriders were more than strong enough to hold him in place. "Dany!" Viserys cried. "Wha–What are you—?!"
"Doreah. How many times did he strike you?" She asked, slowly turning the heavy belt over in her hands.
Doreah, who'd managed to regain her composure to a point, stood beside Dany. "Six times, Khaleesi. Thrice upon my face, and thrice upon my body."
Nodding, Dany held one end of the belt and let the other swing free, almost touching the ground. "Jhiqui, speak my words exactly as I say them." She said, giving her handmaiden a moment to step up before speaking loudly and clearly with Jhiqui translating her words so that all could understand her. "When I took Doreah, Irri, and Jhiqui as my handmaidens, I declared that any action taken against them would be considered an action taken against myself. This was not made in jest. And not even my brother was exempt from my words. My brother struck what is mine six times. Therefore, he shall be struck six times in return."
Swinging the belt forward to build momentum, Dany brought the heavy gold and leather back, swinging her arm around and above her head before bringing it down with as much force as she could muster. The gold and leather struck her brothers back with a loud hit, accompanied by Viserys's screams of pain as the gold on the belt dug into his flesh, leaving welts and even a few slight cuts. She wanted to stop after that first strike, but she knew that she couldn't. She had to be strong. She made a decree, one that even her brother was not safe from. Should she show him mercy that would not be granted to others, then she would lose respect amongst those who were now her people.
Pushing aside thoughts that she was punishing her brother, Dany instead focused on Doreah, on the pain she'd suffered at this man's hands instead. Swinging the belt forward then back, Dany brought the belt back down upon Viserys's back, crossing her first strike. Viserys screamed and his knees buckled, but her husband's bloodriders refused to let him collapse to the ground as their hold on him strengthened, keeping him on his feet until the end of his punishment. After laying the sixth strike upon him, Viserys's back was a mess of welts, cuts, and bruises.
Her breath coming out in a quick pants, Dany wordlessly held the belt out for her husband to take. And when she did the bloodriders let go of her brother, who promptly collapsed in a heap on the ground, panting and moaning in agony. "Do not make me repeat this lesson, brother." Dany said, doing all she could to hide the pain she truly felt at seeing her brother in such pain.
"You see the strength of my Khaleesi!" Drogo proclaimed loudly, holding the bloodied belt high so that all could see it. "That is the strength of the Dragon Lords of Old! And now she carries my child! A child of the Dragon Lords sired by the Dothraki! The Stallion Who Mounts the World!"
All around them, the Dothraki began hollering and whooping in elation. And Dany let herself be enveloped by their joy, using it to push aside what she'd just done to her own brother. Feeling Drogo's strong-arm fall across her shoulders, Dany allowed herself the slightest of smiles as Drogo turned her away from her still moaning brother and back towards her tent for a more…private celebration. Though she was sure that their celebration would not exactly be private as many amongst those present had already begun their celebrations in clear view of everyone.
Yet despite the elation through the crowd, there was one who was not joining in the celebrations. One who was frowning as they realized that Daenerys Targaryen was with child and knowing what they had to do now and knowing what would more than likely happen once their news reached certain ears. But despite his misgivings, Ser Jorah Mormont knew that he had no choice in the matter. This was his only way home. So, hardening his heart, Jorah turned his back on the celebrations and went looking for some ink and parchment so that he could send this news back to Westeros and the Iron Throne.
Leaning back in his seat, Nox idly floated a small sphere of stone back and forth through the air as he organized his thoughts on the onslaught of findings and events that'd seemingly come upon him faster than a blizzard on Hoth. Jon was now betrothed to Arianne Martell, which was good. A further tie between the North and Dorne for when the darkness came. And perhaps even more should his vision prove true. Then Robb's wedding to Talisa, and while it had been a typical northern marriage, it was far more significant than most perhaps realized. Now, through Talisa, they had a tie into Essos. A tie right into a large and well-trained fighting force whose leader had an instinctual want to keep his daughter safe from any potential threat. And while they hadn't revealed the full nature of the threat coming from the North to the Triarch, Nox had no doubt the man would mobilize every man under his command once the White Walkers came knocking on the Wall.
Then there was also the news from the Dreadfort. Val had managed to settle her people well into the mostly abandoned holdfast. And while there were a few disputes, sometimes bloody, between the Norfolk and the established Northerners, it was nothing that she couldn't handle. But the bit of news that Nox was far more interested in was the fact that Karsi had given birth to a child. A child born of her brief fling with one Garlan Tyrell. This was not something he had thought might happen, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, as it were. The child was another bridge between the North and the Reach, beyond Sansa's betrothal to Willas. And the more ties there were between the North and the other regions of Westeros, the better for when the time came.
Yet despite the ties being formed, Nox still felt ill at ease. He could feel the darkness gathering, and not just the darkness north of the Wall. There was a darkness brewing in Westeros as well. War was coming. Despite the ties being cultivated between the individual regions, war was on the horizon. Yet despite feeling it in his very bones, he could not even begin to guess when the war would occur or even what would trigger it. All he knew was that it was coming, and much of his careful planning over the years would mean little more than bantha shit once it came.
And then as if thoughts of the ties being cultivated and the impending conflicts weren't enough, they'd also recently received two missives from King's Landing. The first had been from Robert, and it was a notice that was being sent throughout all the Seven Kingdoms. It was a notice of a grand tourney that was to be held at Harrenhal within the year. A tourney to celebrate three-hundred years of Westeros unification under the Iron Throne. And it was made very clear in the letter that at the very least a representative in the form of the Lord, Lady, or heir was expected to attend the several weeklong celebrations.
The second letter had been one that was for Nox's eyes only. A letter from the new Grand Maester, Jeorge, on behalf of the King. The king had contracted what the Maester described as 'sickness of the lungs', which honestly could've been one of a hundred different aliments that Nox could think of just off the top of his head. But after reading through the symptoms, he knew exactly what was plaguing the King. Tuberculosis. A difficult to cure disease even within the Empire and the Republic. And a sure death sentence here on this primitive world with little in terms of medical advancement. The Grand Maester was seeking any advice he could give in the curing of the sickness, but honestly at best, even using a combination of the Force and what meager medicine he'd managed to scrape together, Nox would only be able to slow the spread slightly, giving the King maybe a year more of life at that. There was a chance that Sansa could perform the healing, as she had shown a far greater aptitude for the art than he ever had. But that chance was slim to nonexistent. Healing physical injuries through the Force was one thing. Healing diseases or even a common sickness was quite another. And without proper training in the art, training that Nox could admit he was struggling to give the girl, it was far more likely that she would do more harm than good should she make the attempt.
"Still brooding, my love?"
It was a testament to just how distracted Nox was that he hadn't even registered Nyra's presence until she was almost right on top of him. And it was a further testament to how much he'd changed that he hadn't immediately lashed out on instinct at her pseudo-ambush of him. "Aye," he nodded as he watched through his sightless eyes as his wife made her way behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders before she started applying light pressure to his shoulders and back.
Moving slightly so that she would have a better angle, Nox let himself relax slightly as his wife's hands worked their way across his back. "You're getting very good at this," Nox muttered as he felt his back relax under her touch. "Have you been making your way to Winter Town without my knowledge and picking up a few skills from some of our newer arrivals?"
The freed slaves from Essos had indeed been a boon to the North. So many skilled laborers that were eager to make their way in their new lives had begun spreading what they knew. Builders. Artisans. And even whores. Though it was the whores that'd surprised many. The former pleasure slaves were versed in more than simply having sex. They were trained to give pleasure through multiple avenues. One of which, that Nox truly appreciated and knew was catching on fast, was the art of massaging. In fact, non-sexual acts from the former pleasure slaves and whores had become so sought after that the brothel in Winter Town and White Harbor had had to divide their workers in half. Half continued their normal whoring, while the other half offered non-sexual services.
"That is for me to know and for you to ponder, Alim," Nyra replied teasingly, pressing down on a particularly sore spot on his back and taking a moment to try and work it out.
Smirking, Nox used the Force just enough to knock his wife off balance. Catching her in his arms before she could fall, he twisted and pulled her into his lap. "You should know better than to tease a Sith," he said, tightening his arms around her and enjoying the feel of her bottom resting against his lap, especially when she shifted and pressed herself against him.
"Hmm, but I find I do so enjoy teasing you, Alim," Nyra smirked, a feeling he knew all too well seeping off of her through the Force, "and I do so enjoy these consequences you speak of. Perhaps you can…demonstrate them to me again. At length."
Just as Nox was about to give his wife another proper demonstration, he paused as he felt a familiar presence on the outskirts of his attention enter his tower. "Of course he would interrupt now," he all but growled, drawing a look from Nyra. "Ned just walked into the base of the tower and his making his way up."
Nyra made to stand, but Nox merely tightened his hold on her and brought her right back down onto his lap. Nyra went red, but didn't try to move again. Not even as the Warden of the North knocked on the door to his solar a few minutes later. "The door's open, Ned," Nox called out, having been tracing small circles on Nyra's hip and making her face, and other parts of her body, heat up.
Ned came into the room, and immediately stopped just inside the doorway as he obviously saw the position that Nox and Nyra were in. "If this is a bad time, we can discuss things later," Ned said, quite tellingly trying to directly avoid the scene before him.
Nyra managed to slip free from his grasp and get to her feet, smoothing out her dress as she did so. "Forgive my husband, Lord Stark. He lacks proper etiquette at times. I will leave you to discuss what you need to with my husband, my lord." Bowing her way past Stark, his wife quickly made her way out of his office, sending him a sensation of promise through the Force as she reached the door. Despite her affinity with the Force being limited at best, his wife had learned quite quickly how to communicate with him without even having to say a word. And with that sensation resting in the back of his mind, and other parts of his person, he wanted this meeting with Stark to be over with quickly.
"Well," Nox said, summoning over the decanter of liquor and two cups from across the room and setting each of them up with one. "Seeing as how my afternoon is suddenly free, what can I do for you, my friend?"
Ned made his way towards him, taking the empty seat and downing half of his glass of liquor in a single gulp before idly turning the cup in his hands. "The King's Grand Tourney at Harrenhal."
"Ah," Nox nodded, leaning back. "I take it that the ghosts of the past are making you uneasy about returning to that place."
"Aye," Ned nodded, downing the last of his drink and holding it out for another. "Sansa is delighted with the prospect of heading south. And the others are interested as well, though Robb is…understandably distracted with Talisa now and enjoying his time as a newly married man. I would let them all go and stay behind as the Stark in Winterfell. But I know Robert, he will not take to my absence well."
"No, I doubt he would," Nox added. And considering what he knew of the man's condition, Robert was more than likely hoping to use this tournament as a last chance to see his oldest friend and brother in all but blood. "And while I know you don't care for these types of events; they are important for a number of reasons."
"I know that," Ned sighed, holding his cup out for another splash of the liquor. "House Stark must make an appearance…along with yourself and Nyra as Lord and Lady Nox. And I would not wish to deprive my children the chance to see more of Westeros. Yet there must always be a Stark in Winterfell."
"Then the choice is obvious," Nox shrugged. "Jon. He's a Stark, in blood and through legitimization. Those in the North respect him enough to listen to him. And you know his character. Despite what others might think, he would never seek his brother's future seat. Besides, you've given him a far…warmer prospect for his future. And I doubt that Jon, knowing what he knows now, would truly want to spend time with some of those who will be in attendance."
Ned didn't drink his second cup, preferring instead to stare down at the contents in contemplation. "Your thoughts are my own. Yet, I still fear upsetting Jon with the decision."
"No, you don't, Ned." Nox sighed, setting his cup aside. "You know as well as I that he will agree to it the moment you ask it of him. And he won't feel even the slightest bit of disappointment in not being able to go with you all. Well, perhaps a slight bit, but only because he will be separated from those he loves for a time. But who will stay and who will go to this tournament is not what you came to speak to me about, is it?"
"No." Ned replied simply, taking a breath, and downing his second cup in a single pull. "This morning, I…felt a disturbance. It was…not unlike the one I felt years ago when the Iron Born first began their rebellion. But at the same time, it was almost…as if it were a warning. Not of something that happened, but rather something that is about to happen."
"Because the game, the true game, not the one played for that gaudy and uncomfortable throne in the south, is about to begin," Nox stated, which drew a curious look from Ned prompting him to explain further. "Do you believe that we have been playing the game this entire time, Ned? No. All we have been doing over the years with the training, voyaging, and creating bonds were all mere precursors. We've been creating the pieces that will be playing and setting the board. And now, you're sensing that the game is about to begin in earnest. But don't be mistaken. We and the White Walkers are not the only players sitting at this table."
Sighing, Ned buried his head in his hands for a moment to gather his thoughts. "Then we need every advantage we can get. Have you managed to translate the writing in my ancestor's tomb?"
"A fair amount of it," Nox nodded. "I still have not been able to decipher just why your ancestor came to this world from the greater galaxy. Nor do I know what exactly it is that he was trying to build in his last years. But I believe it is something that he brought with him from the greater galaxy, or at least the idea of it anyway. However, despite not knowing what it is he was trying to create, or perhaps recreate, I have learned of where this 'final creation' of his is located."
Ned immediately perked up at that. "Where is it?"
Smirking, Nox picked up his cup and leaned back in his seat. "The Force works in mysterious ways, Ned. We just learned that the King is planning on hosting the largest tournament in the history of the Seven Kingdoms at Harrenhal. And Bran the Builder's last creation is located on the Isle of Faces in the middle of the God's Eye."
Clutching the small box of oils and incense tightly to her chest, Ros following the Captain of the Winterfell guard through what seemed like a maze of passageways, avoiding seemingly everyone and everything as they walked. At first, she'd been thrilled when her madam had come and told her that none other than Jory Cassel had come to call upon her, but when she'd come to him, fully prepared to give him her best, he calmly told her to put on a cloak that would hide her face and gather what she needed to apply her full trade and then she was to follow him.
This was, unusual as the madam preferred, for the safety of the girls, for anything to happen in the brothel. But considering who was asking, both Ros and her madam didn't find reason to refuse the request. So quick as she could, Ros gathered a what few oils and incense she had to her name, the cost of which was worth nearly full moons turn of work, and followed Jory out of the brothel and towards, what she'd assumed at the time, were his personal quarters. But as they made their way further and further into Winterfell, she slowly came to the realization that they were not going to his quarters. Especially as they left what she knew was the soldiers barracks behind and entered the main keep through a servant's passage. 'Theon perhaps?' she wondered. 'No…He prefers Tyna over myself or even anyone else it seems. But then…who? It can't be one of the Starks. The elder boys are either now married or promised, and the last boy is far, far too young. Then…who?'
After one of the longest walks of her life, Jory stopped before a set of doors and gently knocked on the wood. She couldn't make out the voice within, but Jory could and made to open the door for her. Giving him a thankful nod, and eager to end her wonder as to who had called for her, Ros stepped past Jory and – and nearly dropped the small crate she'd had in her hands. She was in the Lord's chambers! And sitting no more than a dozen paces from her, bent over and writing on a piece of parchment was none other than the Lord of Winterfell himself!
"Lord Stark," Ros greeted the man awkwardly, trying to bow while keeping her hold on her valuables while also trying to figure out just why she'd been called before the Lord of the North himself. A man who'd taken no interest in any woman outside the Lady Stark since he'd returned from winning the Rebellion against the Targaryens. 'I haven't broken any laws…I haven't disappointed anyone or made issues…Why would he call on me?'
"Ros, correct?" Lord Stark said, saying her name and nearly making her shiver at hearing his deep voice.
"Aye, milord," Ros nodded, doing all she could to keep her nerves steady. "Um, you…you wished to speak with me, milord?"
"I do," Lord Stark nodded, setting his quill aside and looking up at her for the first time. By the gods…his eyes were like ice! Yet, still there was a warmth to them that made her shift her legs as desire built within her. "I…have need of your…services."
Ros blinked. Sure, she was prepared to offer her services tonight for whoever had called upon her. But never in a hundred years would she have even dared to think that the one seeking her services would be the Lord of Winterfell himself! Quickly composing herself, Ros's mind work quickly to figure out what type of services the Lord Stark would want. Most seeking her services just wanted a quick moment of relief. However, others often sought more. They didn't just want a quick moment of pleasure; they wanted a companion for a brief time. Lord Stark, she reckoned, was of the second type. And having figure that, the next question was just what type of companion he wanted? Aggressive? No. Passive? No, definitely not. A comforting body? Yes…yes. Based on the way he held himself, she could tell he was tied tighter than a sailor's knot. He needed comfort. A body to support him tonight. To take away his burdens if only for a short time.
Setting her small box aside, Ros slowly and purposefully reached up to the ties of her cloak and undid them, letting the heavy cloak fall to the ground revealing herself to Lord Stark. She heard the slight hitch in his breath, she had to keep herself from smirking in triumph. Lysana, a recently escaped pleasure slave from Yunkai of all places, had decided to do what she knew best and took up residence in the brothel here in Winter Town after arriving in the North. And while they were wary of her at first, the girl had a lot of good advice. One of which was that it wasn't what you weren't wearing, but rather what you were wearing that could drive a man, or woman, mad with lust. And she'd taken that advice to heart and purchased a set of lace underclothes from White Harbor for special occasions. And this certainly counted as a special occasion.
Approaching Lord Stark slowly, Ros reached out with her right hand when they were within arms reach of each other. Placing the tips of her fingers against the back of his hand, Ros slowly trailed her fingers up his arm and to his shoulders and back as she moved around behind him. It was awkward with his chair in the way, but Ros was able to set both hands on his back and, using her thumbs and palms, began working the muscles in his back. She chose this approach because, despite clearly not being a maid, Lord Stark was clearly as nervous as a maid boy on his first time. But the moment her hands started working his back, Lord Stark immediately began to relax beneath her touch, bringing a smile to her face. Leaning close, she pressed her breasts against his back and leaned forward so her lips were right next to his ear. "You carry the weight of the North on your shoulders, Lord Stark. You protect us all and ask for so little in return. For this night, milord, let me be the one to help you carry your burden."
She could feel Lord Stark slowly relax. He'd even let his head roll down as her hands worked his muscles. Soon enough, they were on his bed with him shirtless and face down while she worked oils into the muscles of his back, arms, and legs. Each time she got a moan or groan of pleasure from the Quiet Wolf sent a thrill right to her core, causing her to redouble her efforts get more from him. Her body was slick from the oil as she rubbed him down with not just her hands. "Onto your front, Lord Stark," she said, more than slightly breathlessly as the Quiet Wolf rolled beneath her, leaving her straddling his hardness. 'By the gods! Madam wasn't kidding when she said that all the wolves were blessed by the gods in more ways than one!' she thought as she couldn't help but grind herself against him.
When she looked up into her eyes, she froze. His grey winter eyes were gone. Replaced instead with dark yellow wolf eyes. Eyes that he supposedly only had when he was angry…but she knew that look well enough to know that he was not angry. But rather almost completely lost to his lust. Yet despite the clear lust and his wolf eyes…he remained still…hard…but still. 'Gods…what does it take to make him lose himself! I – I want him to lose control! I need him too!'
Leaning down, Ros let him feel her completely as she brought her lips once again to his ears. "You don't need to hold back tonight, Lord Stark. Let go of yourself. Do what you want…Let me be the one to carry your burdens tonight."
To emphasis her point, she let her tongue sneak out and trace his ear. And that was his breaking point. Before she knew what happened he had flipped the two of them, tore her small clothes, and entered her in a single hard thrust. 'Gods! Blessed indeed!' she nearly screamed, wrapping her arms and legs around the Lord Stark, urging him to give her everything he had. Ros wasn't sure how long exactly she lasted, but eventually the sheer pleasure and force behind her night with Lord Stark got the better of her and she went completely limp and passed out.
By the time she finally awoke, she could just barely make out the beginnings of sunlight filtering in through the shutters of Lord Stark's room. Smiling and stretching in the bed, Ros took a moment to simply enjoy the sensation of the best night she'd ever had doing what she did. In all of her time working, she could honestly count on one hand the number of times she'd peaked with others during her services. But last night with Lord Stark…she'd peaked more times than she could count! And unlike most men who spent themselves and were done. Lord Stark just kept going! He must've spent himself at least five times at least! Gods…It was a wonder that the late Lady Stark ever left the marriage bed! Or that she'd born only five wolf pups.
That thought brought her up short as a hand traveled to her womb, where she knew Lord Stark's seed was in. As tempting as the thought of carrying a wolf child was, she was no noble-chaser, a whore looking to bare a noble bastard in hopes of an easy life. She would have to make sure that she drank moon tea today…and tomorrow. Perhaps a whole pot!
"I've had food prepared…I thought you would be hungry after last night."
Cracking an eye open, Ros spotted Lord Stark sitting beside the bed, unfortunately fully clothed. Sitting on a small table beside him was a tray full of food, some of which had been eaten showing that the Quite Wolf had not waited for her to break his fast. "I tried to wake you, but you were sleeping soundly."
Smirking, Ros sensually rose from the bed, letting the covers slowly slip down her body to reveal herself to him once again. Though he'd already seen all of her, and then some, last night, she still felt a thrill go through her at seeing him stare. "I'm quite…ravenous, milord," she said, crawling across the bed towards him. "But not necessarily for food right now. Perhaps we might…share some more time together?"
Unfortunately for her, the Quiet Wolf's eyes didn't change like they did last night, which told her all she needed to know. "Would that I could, but I have duties that must be seen to," he said before producing a small coin pouch and setting it on the table beside the food. "You are free to eat your fill and even bring some back with you if you wish."
The dismissal was clear. And while part of her was disappointed that the best night of her life was coming to an end, she knew better than to press her luck. "Thank you, milord. Your generosity is most becoming." Keeping her smile in place, she got up from the bed and went about gathering her now ruined small clothes and heavy cloak.
By the time she was dressed in what she had, Lord Stark had vacated his seat, giving her a place to sit and eat. Lord Stark made for his door, but then stopped and turned back towards her. "I…offer my apologies if I was too…forward with you."
The sincerity in his voice made Ros smile. He was by far from the roughest man she'd had. But unlike most, Lord Stark was able to walk the line between pain and pleasure with an expert's precision. "You did nothing I did not wish of you milord. If anything, I need to offer you my thanks for the best night I have ever had."
She smirked as she saw the small swell of Lord Stark's chest. It never hurt to inflate a potential client's ego. And in this case, she wasn't just doing so for the sake of it. She truly meant it. "If…if I should have need of you again…"
Now Ros was smirking fully. "You need only send work milord. Both the madam and I understand discretion, better than any of the other girls at least. None will see me come and go if that is what you wish."
"You have my thanks, Ros." Lord Stark nodded before motioning towards the foods. "Help yourself. And should I have…need of you again I will send word."
Picking up a biscuit, Ros closed her eyes and enjoyed the taste as Lord Stark left her to eat. 'The best night of sex in my life and a fully cooked castle meal after…I could get used to this.' She thought as she picked up the coin purse and emptied its contents. She was expecting her normal rate for a night. But what she was not expecting was the several heavy gold coins and handful of silver that fell out. 'By the gods! I can use this to easily replace what was used or damaged last night…and still have more than enough left over to not have to work for full moons turn!' Smiling she began playing with the coins on the table. 'Let Tyna keep the Greyjoy…honestly, he isn't that great of a lover. If all goes well, I'll have the Quiet Wolf himself as a patron from now on!'
Sitting with his head in his hands, Jon Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie and Hand of the King wallowed in despair as he stared blankly at the tome laid out before him. Everything had been going right. The land was almost completely unified, ensuring that the dragons would never again take hold of the Seven Kingdoms. Cersei had married Robert, tying the Lannisters to the Iron Throne. His appointment as Hand, along with Robert's relationship with Ned Stark had ensured the North and the Vale would always side with them. And with Ned came the Riverlands through his marriage to Catelyn. A strong alliance, but not the complete unification Jon truly wished for. No. That had taken years of effort. But it had paid off.
The Iron Isles, always willful and thumbing their nose at the Throne, had been severely and soundly dealt with to the point where it would be generations before they ever attempted to go back to the Old Ways. Then Sansa Starks betrothal to Willas had tied the Reach and the North, and hence to the crown though he knew without a doubt that Olenna's true motivation in arranging such a betrothal was to clear the way for her granddaughter Margaery to be the primary choice for the next Queen of Westeros. From what he'd heard of the girl, she would indeed make a good Queen for the realm. And recently, word had reached them of the confirmed betrothal between Jon Stark and Arianne Martel. That was a fact that had caused no small amount of relief in Jon. While it wouldn't bring Dorne back into the fold fully, it would ensure that should Dorne try anything, their land would be fractured by the simple fact that their Prince Consort was a Stark.
Robb Stark had also served his purpose in providing security to the realm. While Jon would've preferred if the Heir to the North had married a Lady from Westeros to help solidify ties within the realm, he could not fault the boy's choice in bride. In fact, his union to this Talisa Maegyr had given Westeros an unintended boon in that it took away Volantis as a potential ally to the Beggar King, Viserys Targaryen. Jon had even started to play around with the idea of approaching Ned about betrothing his own son Robyn to Ned's last daughter, Arya. Word had reached him that the girl was…difficult and headstrong. But, honestly, Jon thought that she would do well for his soft son. She might end up ruling the Vale for a time, but he was confident that one day Robyn would come into his Arryn bloodline and make sure that the girl was put in her proper place.
There were also dozens of other betrothals, fostering, and other relationship building exchanges that he was working on. A potential match between Ned's last son and Stannis's daughter or perhaps even the former bastard Lannister girl, both of whom were in Winterfell much to the plans benefit. And with the crown children they had their pick of the litter as it were. Afterall, no House would dare turn down the opportunity to have either a Prince or Princess marry into their House. All he needed to do was convince Robert of the benefits and the land would be completely unified. And for the briefest of moments, he saw a glimmer of hope. The sight of his plans finally being complete. But now…now it all laid in ruin. And he had no idea how to fix this mess.
'There is no fixing it,' he despaired. 'This will be war. A war that will tear the realm apart once again. Just as it was torn apart during Robert's Rebellion and during the Dance of Dragons. And this time…I will not be around long enough to try and fix the mess that is made. Why…no…how? How could they be so…so stupid!'
Laid out before him was the book he had requested from the Grand Maester, the Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms. A compendium of the members of each great House within Westeros that was continuously being added to with each child born into said House. And it was currently sitting open on the pages containing the lineage of House Baratheon, all the way back to the House's founder, Orys Baratheon. And each male, or even female, born of the Baratheon line had one thing in common. No matter the mother, if their sire was a Baratheon, then the child would be born dark of hair and blue of eyes. All save for the very last entries in the book. 'Joffrey Baratheon…gold of hair and green of eyes.' Lannister traits through and through.'
Perhaps if it had just been one of the royal children, then Jon would have not paid the matter any mind. But all three of the royal children were the same. Gold of hair and green of eyes. All their mother, and none of their father. Or at least the man who should be their father.
When he'd first come upon the suspicion of what Cersei was doing, his first instinct was to immediately bring his findings to Robert. But he put that to the side almost immediately. He had not lived this long and achieved as much as he had by being foolish. And accusing the Queen, and a Lannister at that, of adultery against her husband the King would be as good as throwing the realm into immediate war. So, he had bided his time and made subtle inquiries regarding the King's other children, his bastard children. If he was going to expose Cersei for the crimes, he knew she was committing, then he needed proof that not even Tywin Lannister could refute.
It'd taken several moons, but eventually he'd managed to track down almost all of Roberts bastard children. From there, he made inquiries on the children's appearance and that of their mother. And just as it had for centuries, the Baratheon seed held strong. No matter the mother, each of Robert's bastards that he'd managed to find were all dark of hair and blue of eyes. There was now no doubt in his mind. Cersei was not only committing adultery, though with whom he did not know but he did have suspicions, but she was trying to pass off her children as Robert's children. Adultery and treason.
But even knowing this, he was not able to act. Not yet. For every one Baratheon or Arryn guardsmen in King's Landing there was one Lannister man. And while the Goldcloaks were far more reliable than they had been under Janos Slynt, they could still be bought. And even the combined fortunes of the Baratheons and Arryns could not hope to compete with the gold mines of the House Lannister. As galling as it was to admit, Jon needed more allies before he could expose the Queen for her crimes. Specifically, he needed the one man in all the Seven Kingdoms, perhaps all the world, that could give Tywin Lannister pause. The Sorcerer himself, Alim Nox. Jon's plan was to approach Ned, as he was the only man that the Sorcerer showed even an inkling of listening too, during the King's Tourney at Harrenhal. Once he had Ned on his side, then they would get the Sorcerer to fall in line. And once he had the Sorcerer on his side, he would publicly denounce the Queen during the tourney for her indiscretions. There would be a trial of course, perhaps even a trial by combat. But he was confident that between Robert and Ned, they would be able to convince either Ser Barristan or even the Sorcerer himself to stand as champion for the crown.
But the issue with his plan was the timing. There was still a fair amount of time, moons, until the highborn of Westeros even began thinking of heading for Harrenhal. And there was also the issue of succession to consider once the Queen had been ousted and the false royal children revealed. Ideally, Robert would name a new queen and sire a child immediately, but with Robert's age and sickness, that was unlikely to happen in a timely manner. Which meant that Stannis was the King's heir, and more than likely the next King of the Seven Kingdoms. And he was another that Jon needed on his side.
To his surprise, when he'd approached Stannis about his findings a day past, the man had not seemed surprised in the least. Apparently, after meeting and interacting with Robert's bastard in Winterfell, Stannis had begun suspecting something was off with the royal children and had been quietly conducting his own inquiries. Stannis had agreed to Jon's approach; however, he was not keen to the idea that he would need to return to Dragonstone until the matter was settled. It'd taken the better part of a day, but in the end, Jon had managed to convince Stannis to see things his way. Should word get out of what was happening, he had no doubt that Cersei would take steps to silence him and to remove any potential threat to her children's false claim. So until the matter was settled and Stannis was officially named as the future King of Westeros, it would be best for him to retreat to the one place that Cersei, and Tywin, would have difficulty reaching him.
"Lord husband…are you planning on staying here for the night or shall you be coming back to your chambers tonight?"
Glancing up, Jon frowned as he saw that his wife, Lysa Arryn, had entered the Hand's Chambers seemingly without him even realizing it. There was no great secret that their marriage was not one of love. He tried to do what he could for his wife, but honestly after years and years of trying to appease her, he'd simply given up. And the years had not truly been kind to her. Her Tully beauty had faded fast. And there were more than a few tales going around the city that she was a bit touched in the head due to her many miscarriages. Tales that he tried desperately to snuff out, but privately he would admit that the tales were truth. Truthfully, if it hadn't been for the fact that Hoster would've withheld the Riverlands support during the Rebellion, and if he hadn't been so desperate for an heir, then he would have never married the woman.
"I will not be returning to my chambers tonight," he said, closing the book and putting it out of sight. "And I will not be calling on you tonight. I have far too much to do. You may go."
Lysa's eyes remained impassive as she nodded. "As you say, Lord husband. I shall take my leave of you tonight."
"One thing," he said, stopping Lysa just as she'd turned around to leave. "Lord Stannis will be leaving King's Landing in the next few days to return to Dragonstone. When he does, he will be taking our son back with him to foster."
Lysa turned around so quickly that Jon was sure she'd torn her dress. "What?!" she screeched. Not screamed, screeched. "You can't!"
"Yes, I can and I have," Jon replied evenly, trying to keep a hold on his temper as he faced down his wife. "It will be good for him."
"No, no, no, no! You can't take him! You can't take my Sweet Robyn away from me! I won't let you!"
Years of putting up with his wife's antics, as well as the stress of what he'd uncovered about the Queen and the royal children, finally caused him to break as he slammed his fist down against his desk. "I already have!" Jon yelled, rising to his feet. "This decision does not belong to you, wife. Robert's upbringing is my decision! Mine, not yours! You have coddled him so much that I'm almost ashamed to call him my son! He will go with Stannis and learn how to be a proper heir, away from your meddling! And, you wife, you will remember your proper place and not question me again! Am I clear?!"
Jon had rarely, if ever, raised his voice to Lysa. He'd always given her plenty of room and rarely called upon her to take care of his needs. But now he could see that in doing so he'd done her a disservice as she'd clearly forgotten her place as his wife. He should've been far firmer with her years ago. Something he would have to make sure his son clearly understood, especially if his negotiations with Ned worked out for his second daughter's hand. "But…But Robyn… You just ca—!"
"Enough. I will say no more on the matter," Jon cut in sharply, eyeing her with a hard look as he retook his seat. "Once Stannis leaves in a few days. And I will grant you a few days after his departure to spend time with Robert before he follows suit and departs for Dragonstone. After he is gone, I believe it would be best for you to spend some time with your father and brother in the Riverlands."
"I – I understand," Lysa nodded diminutively, like a good proper wife. "How long shall I be visiting my father and brother?"
"Till I call for you," he responded simply, grabbing a few pieces of blank parchment so that he could begin writing down several sets of instructions. "That is all I have for you. You may leave for your chambers."
"Yes, lord husband," Lysa nodded, her eyes downcast as she turned and left him alone.
'She will understand in time. This is the best for Robert and for the future. My son will learn under Stannis, the future King of Westeros. And in time he will be betrothed to a daughter of House Stark. And knowing what I know about that girl, Robert will need a firm hand and a strong will to turn her into a proper wife and mother.' Setting aside such thoughts, Jon focused on his work, barely acknowledging his squire Hugh as the lad brough him some refreshments later that evening.
Early the next morning, after only a moment of sleep, Jon joined his wife to break his fast before the start of the day. Lysa was clearly subdued after their conversation last night and did little more than pour him his morning drink and serve him his food before taking her place beside him and picking lightly at her own meal.
"I have a small council meeting starting soon," he informed his wife as he finished off his meal. "See to it that Robert is informed of his future fostering and then escort him to the yard for his lessons."
"As you wish, my lord husband." Lysa nodded solemnly, getting up and leaving the table after eating less than half her food and only taking a few sips of her drink.
Finishing his own food, Jon got up and made his way towards the Small Council chambers. Yet as he walked, he couldn't help but feel a slight…chill in the air. 'The summer years have lasted for a long time…Perhaps one of the longest either. It would only make sense that the fall years are finally coming upon us,' he thought as a slight shiver went through him. 'Still, I will have to ask the Maester to confirm the changing of the years. If we truly are coming upon the fall years, then we will have to take more steps in arranging proper accommodations for the visiting lords and ladies during the tourney to come.'
Arriving in the small council chambers, he was only slightly surprised to see that both Stannis and Robert, the latter of whom was eating some bread with a cup of wine in hand, had beaten him to the meeting hall. "Lord Stannis, your grace," he nodded, greeting each man in turn before taking his seat.
Sharing a look with Stannis, the three men sat in relative silence as the King broke his fast. Stannis was as stoic as always, but Jon had known the man long enough to see that he was still uneasy about keeping the truth from the King. 'One day he will know,' Jon thought as he tugged at the neck of his tunic, feeling both a slight chill and heat running through him. 'But that day is not today.'
Quickly enough, the rest of the members of the Small Council arrived and Robert called a start to the meeting. As they talked about the matters of the realm, Jon started finding it harder and harder to pay attention as he kept feeling a shift between a chill and a wave of heat. "Lord Hand…Are you alright, my Lord?"
Blinking, Jon shook his head, only just now realizing that all of the members of the Small Council, including Robert, were staring at him. "I'm fine," he responded, though it was in a slight rasp as he felt a cough tickling in his throat. "Change of the seasons…and I did not sleep much last night."
"Shit, Jon. You're not a young man anymore. Hells, none of us are, save for my little shit of a brother here," Robert said, waving a hand towards Renly, who didn't even seem to mind the mild insult that'd been delivered to him. "If you got a chill or a fever, just fucking say so and we'll meet later when it passes."
"I'm fine, your grace," Jon replied, reaching for the pitcher on the table and pouring himself a cup of water before turning towards Varys and trying to remember what exactly the eunuch had been discussing before he lost track of the conversation. "Lord Varys…I believe you were saying that you've had word from your spy in Essos regarding the Targaryens and the Dothraki?"
Nodding, Varys folded his hands together and placed them on the table. "Yes, Lord Hand. And I fear it will not be welcome news. Our spy has confirmed that Daenerys Targaryen is pregnant with the child of Khal Drogo."
Jon had to force himself to pay attention as Robert sat up straighter in his seat. "I thought you said that you had your little birds flying to take care of this issue Varys?"
"I have sent them out, your grace," Varys replied calmly. "However, getting close enough to do what needs to be done is difficult. Viserys, while he stays on the outside of the camp for the most part, is still not easy to reach. And I have had no luck in convincing any of my birds to make an attempt against the Khal."
"Get it fucking done! I don't care how much gold you have to spend or what titles you need to promise! I want one or both of those fuckers dead before that whore whelps her horse-lord brat!" Robert growled at Varys before turning towards the Grand Maester. "Jeorge, how much time do we have before Drogo turns his horde towards Westeros, now that the whore is pregnant?"
The Grand Maester leaned back and thought about his answer. "Drogo will wait until his child is born…then perhaps another a few moons after that to make sure that the baby survives. Given Daenerys state of childbearing…I would say that we have at least a year until Drogo truly begins to turn his atten—"
Jon's hand slapped down hard against the table as his vision spun. His body began sweating, yet he felt colder than he'd ever felt in his life. He could vaguely hear Robert shouting something, but he sounded so far away despite the fact Jon knew they were in the same room. He tried to rise to his feet, but his legs failed him. The moment he put his weight forward, his knees folded and last he saw was the stone floor rushing up to greet him.
Waking in the dead of the night, Nox felt his Nyra murmur in her sleep and wrap her arms tighter around his exposed chest, her head resting on his shoulder. Reaching out with the Force and trying to find what woke him, Nox immediately found his answer as he felt the slight disturbance. It was slight, the passing of one from the land of the living to becoming one with the Force. But it was significant. Like ripples in a pond. Immediately, Nox knew what had happened, and what it meant. 'And now, the game truly begins.'