Chapter Fourteen

Mid 53 AC

Eastwood

Aelon POV


As I calmly walked through the corridors of my Keep at night, stealth and silence were my best allies. The past hour had been arduous as I struggled to tame the greatest challenge I had ever faced. For several turns of the moon, I persevered, through sleepless nights and bone-deep exhaustion. And now my task was almost complete.

Little Edwell was asleep. I silently entered his nursery and placed him gently in the crib.

My child. My heir.

He had arrived in this world screaming at the top of his lungs, his silver hair and violet eyes clearly marking his Valyrian heritage. And since the day he was born, he had become the apple of my eye. Never had I ever imagined that I could love any person as much as I loved my son.

Baby Ned was a lively boy, for lack of a better word. His excitement and enthusiasm knew no bounds and we realised quickly that he absolutely loved being carried around the castle in the middle of the bloody night.

The boy refused to sleep at a reasonable hour. And it drove his nursemaids to despair. And yet, since his birth, it was as though he brought new life to my household. The maids and guards adored him. With his chubby cheeks and pudgy little hands, he was doted on by every person in my Keep. He already had his mother wrapped around his little finger.

Elena herself had been over the moon. With little Ed now in our lives, we had truly bonded greatly over our mutual love for him. While it was now clear that there might never be true love between the two of us, there now existed a healthy level of mutual respect and dare I even say, friendship between the two of us.

I gently closed the door to the nursery behind me. It had been repeatedly pointed out to me that I had nursemaids to take care of Ned during the nights and that it was improper for a Lord to perform such lowly tasks, but I could not bring myself to care. During the day, my duties kept me busy enough that I rarely got to spend time with my son.

The occasional nighttime walk with my son that I was able to squeeze in was the highlight of my day and I would not give it up even if the King himself commanded me to do so.

Ned's birth had been much celebrated in my lands. His birth, having occurred barely a month after the Buckler incident, had brought a much-needed cause for celebration and joy to my lands and people. The birth of an heir was always cause for joy, but more so for a House as nascent as mine.

And it could not have come at a better time. The Buckler incident, while devastating for the people at the mine, had been an overall victory for House Eastwood. The entire incident had proven that House Eastwood had the political and military might to back its economic power. With an heir being born, House Eastwood's future was now secure.

Ned's birth had also had other significant effects. For one, Lady Larissa had decided that she wished to be present in Eastwood to help raise her first grandchild. Her presence had been welcome as she had been a pillar of support to Elena who had been initially struggling with the trials of motherhood.

With her presence in Eastwood, she had taken over much of Elena's responsibilities at the Keep so that Elena could better focus on caring for little Ned. Previously, I had had little interaction with my goodmother, but over the many moons that she had spent with us, I had found myself developing a fond affection for the Velaryon Lady.

I wandered through my Keep, deep in thought and eventually made my way to the balcony from where I could view the entirety of Eastwood. It had become one of my favourite spots in the Keep and many a sleepless night would find me standing here as I looked upon the town.

I could scarcely believe that over five years had passed since I had arrived at Eastwood. And somehow in those five years, I had found myself with wealth, power, prestige, a wife and now a son.

And that was the crux of it all.

I now had a son.

And that had changed things more than I could have ever imagined previously.

When I had first arrived in Eastwood, I had never sought to become extremely powerful. My whisky and other innovations would bring me wealth enough to see me fairly comfortable and influential enough to ensure my survival. And that had been my goal. But now, now I had a son. And survival was no longer enough.

When I first held Ned in my hands, I vowed to myself to ensure that he would want for nothing in the world. That he would be safe. But this was Westeros. A goddamned cesspool of villainy, disease and war. Treacherous Lords, constant warfare and skirmishes, famine and disease-infested this continent and my children would never be safe here. Of Jaehaerys's children, almost none actually lived to see old age. Whether it was due to war or disease, if even the Royal Family suffered such tragedy, mine would never be safe in this world. I would have to change it. If I wanted my son and any other future children that I might have to grow up safe, I would need to make this comparatively savage land safer for them.

Earlier I had been satisfied with building up my wealth and improving upon my lands and following my meta knowledge, but now I have to be more ambitious with my plans. I knew to a fair extent what was going to happen but I made sure to get bi-annual updates from the citadel regarding big events to make sure there's no huge butterfly effect. If there were any changes in the timeline I would have to have some plans to counter any adverse butterflies.

I slightly feared what would happen if King Jaehaerys was less competent than canon. Or even worse, if his competence had been exaggerated in canon.


Mid 53 AC

Eastwood

Aelon POV

"Let us get started, then good sers and lady," I said as I looked up at my unofficial council.

With the Buckler incident having occurred some moons ago, the birth of little Ned and the harvest season, my council and I had been exceedingly busy these past few turns of the moon. Elena had even decided to join us today as Lady Larissa had volunteered to take care of Ned for the day.

Warren was the first to speak, "Well my Lord, there is much to report. Firstly, I am happy to report that the road from Eastwood to Daegon's Valley is finally complete."

That was good news. My budding road network was finally shaping up. The road from Southwood to Eastwood was completed quite some time ago. But in the grand scheme of things, that road had been the smallest of my endeavours. There was little distance between Southwood and Eastwood, and the road in question had primarily served as a test of sorts to ensure the efficacy of concrete and that my men would be able, skilled and experienced enough to handle longer and more complex road projects.

However, with the road to Daegon's Valley now complete, I would finally start seeing dividends on my investment. The Southwood road cut travel time in half and that was across reasonable terrain, Daegon's Valley was the farthest of my towns and in a mountainous region to boot.

"Already, several villages have sprung up along the road where trade will undoubtedly see a substantial boost in the near future," continued the Steward.

Just these two roads had cost far more time and money than I had initially projected. It had been my hope that I would have been able to get the Stormtower road-ready as well by this point, but unfortunately, that had not been possible. My knowledge from the previous world allowed me to know that this summer would be a particularly long one. But already the weather was changing slightly and Maester Armon was predicting that Autumn would be upon us within a few turns of the moon.

With Autumn, the vicious storms the Stormlands were infamous for would also strike and that would not be a conducive time for constructing a new road. My plans were thus placed on hold until next summer which if my memory served would be an extremely short one.

And that would be a nightmare altogether.

A relatively short spring and summer in 57 and 58 AC would be immediately followed by a long and harsh winter during which the Shivers, a plague that had killed thousands of people in Westeros, would ravage the lands. I wasn't sure exactly but it likely rivalled the Black Death in lethality. I think at least three Small Council members died and a substantial portion of King's Landing's population perished as well. Preparing for that was currently my number one priority.

"That is excellent news Warren, have the toll collection points been established as well?" I turned my attention back to the topic on hand.

"Indeed my Lord, as per your instructions, we have kept the toll nominal enough that it would be affordable to the average smallfolk. Higher tolls will be charged on larger consignments of goods and even more so on luxury goods," responded Warren.

"And what of our grain stores?" I said as I turned to Elena.

A curious expression crossed her face as Elena responded, "Well Aelon, as per your instructions we have begun stockpiling substantial amounts of grain for the winter, although with the Gods having blessed us with such a long summer, we may not need such a substantial stockpile."

That would have been the case if I were stockpiling for just one winter. But as I knew from canon, we would have only one harvest before the next winter struck. Stockpiling grain today would allow me to not only comfortably feed my own smallfolk during the next winter but also maintain substantial enough reserves that I would also be able to export grain to the other Stormlords.

"Thank you, Elena. Maester Armon, how goes the testing of the new plough?" I said as I turned my attention to the greying Maester.

"It is performing as per expectations my Lord, and that alone is a miracle. The plough will undoubtedly improve productivity several times over and will allow for more land to be farmed once its use is more common. Already news has spread among the smallfolk about the new miracle plough and there is much demand for it," replied the Maester

The Dutch Plough, or as I had named it here, the Eastwood Plough. The design was something that I had only had a vague idea about when I had realised that it did not exist in Westeros. I had hired many craftsmen over the past year to lend their expertise to aid me to design the plough. After nearly a year of experimentation, failures and frustration, we had finally produced a working prototype a few weeks after I returned from Storm's End.

Armon and I had spent the last few turns of the moon extensively testing the prototypes in different fields and soils and the initial results had been extremely promising. The biggest issue, however, had been cost. The Dutch Plough was more complex and required better craftsmanship.

"How goes production?" I asked.

"We currently have nearly two hundred ploughs in storage and our craftsmen are working full time to produce more. Due to the need for secrecy, we have only employed four trusted craftsmen and their apprentices."

I hummed, "And the cost?"

"Driven down substantially my Lord once we implemented the assembly line method that is employed at Eastwood Soap. But even so, it may still not be affordable to poorer farmers."

And that was the crux of the matter. In Westeros, lands to farm were abundant. The problem was that farming and tending to even a few hectares was beyond the capacity of a single-family.

My first reform, four-field crop rotation, had improved the productivity of lands currently being farmed by a single farmer, enabling them to increase their yield from their existing lands. Nearly four years had passed since I had first introduced the concept in Eastwood and it was now the prevailing method across my lands.

My second reform, the Eastwood Plough, would allow farmers to plough their fields much more efficiently and with greater speed which would, in turn, allow them to farm more land due to the time saved.

But even then, the Eastwood Plough was costly to make and not exactly affordable to the poorer farmers who would benefit the most from the device.

"Announce a subsidy for the plough. House Eastwood shall subsidise fifty per cent of the cost for each plough purchased in the next six moons. That should incentivise the smallfolk to purchase and employ the new plough quickly. While the initial loss will be substantial, if the use becomes widespread soon enough, we should see significant results in the next harvest." I replied after some thought.

He nodded as he noted down my instructions, "Additionally my Lord, I have received word from the Citadel, they state this long summer is drawing to a close and that autumn shall be upon us soon enough. It is likely that the next harvest shall be the last before winter arrives."

I nodded. That lined up with my own knowledge of canon.

I turned to Serwyn, "And how goes the reconstruction of the mining village?"

"It is almost done, Aelon. Most of the settlement was razed to the ground and we have built back much of it. I also took the opportunity to improve the mining infrastructure which had initially been developed in a rather haphazard manner, but should now be more efficient," replied my goodbrother.

I nodded along, "And security?"

"Ser Morden has been coordinating with myself for that. The Guard that you ordered has now been outfitted and trained and are capably maintaining law and order in the village and managing the patrols on the border."

While a small settlement would generally not merit a full guard, the lessons from the Buckler incident were still fresh in my mind. The mine was a strategic resource and thus required better security. I had also neglected earlier to patrol my border with Bronzegate which had backfired quite spectacularly last year.

"And is everything up to the mark Ser?" I asked the grizzled Master of Arms.

"Not all that bad my Lord considering that the men have only a few moons of training. I have appointed some of the veterans of the Eastwood Town Guard as officers and they are doing well enough to whip the lads into shape," replied the Knight.

"And what news of the new constructions in Eastwood," I said as I turned back to Serwyn.

"It has been difficult, Aelon. The masons are struggling to use concrete for constructing buildings. Getting it to work with the roads was difficult enough, but this seems to be an even tougher task. Although we have made some breakthroughs recently, it is unlikely that we will be able to complete the ordered construction projects before winter arrives."

That was unfortunate.

With the plans for the Stormtower road shelved until next summer, I had found myself with a great deal of supply of concrete, but no demand for it outside of the maintenance of the existing roads. So I had given the order for concrete to be used to construct better housing and infrastructure within Eastwood.

"Very well, continue working on it. I expect to see results soon though."

"The ale business is performing rather well though Aelon," piped up the Tarth.

Frankly speaking, the ale was not something I was overly concerned about these days. With ale production having reached a point wherein I was able to comfortably supply my own people as well as Tarth a few moons ago, I had turned my attention away from it, much like I had with Eastwood Soap. In the case of Eastwood Soap, however, it was primarily because Elena had taken an interest in its running and was managing it rather well. It tied in well with her charitable endeavours within Eastwood as it was now becoming an integral hygiene tool in my land in addition to generating substantial employment.

Like soap, ale was also a high volume business, but with extremely small margins. Despite producing thousands of barrels every month, the profits were minuscule in comparison to Eastwood Whisky.

I had entered the space primarily in response to the Bucklers' taxation policy. While the tax still stood, with my own production ramped up, it no longer affected me. Since then, with my own needs met, there was little in the business that needed my personal attention. The business was still fairly profitable and generated employment in Eastwood so I had let it continue and assigned Serwyn the responsibility of overseeing it. My interest piqued, I gestured for him to continue speaking.

"Well, as all of you may be aware, we recently reached a production level where we are now able to meet the needs of Eastwood and Tarth. Well, recently I reached out to my friend Ser Evan Connington of Griffin's Roost and he has stated that his family may be amenable to purchasing ale from Eastwood instead of Bronzegate."

That made me pause.

"How do you know Evan Connington?" Was the only response that I could muster. Ser Evan Connington was the son and heir to Lord Connington. His elder brother had died of the pox a few moons ago and the second son had become heir. Ser Evan had attended my wedding and I had found him to be a fairly pleasant fellow although I had not spent much time with him much to my chagrin when he had gone and become heir a short while later.

"Evan and I were fostered together for some time at Rain House with Lord Wylde. I fostered there for just over a year before I was forced to return to Tarth for….reasons," undoubtedly because Lord Wylde must have deemed him hopeless in the yard and sent him packing.

"But Evan and I always remained close. When I wrote to him of the incident with the Bucklers, he wasn't very happy in the first place with the Bucklers for their actions last year. Furthermore, purchasing ale from House Buckler has proven to be rather costly for Griffin's Roost due to the distances and terrain involved. I sent a few barrels of ale over to him last moon as a name day gift and it turns out that he and his father found the quality of our ale to be better than that of Bronzegate," said my goodbrother in a nonchalant manner that belied the cunning sheen in his eyes.

This was a game-changer. For the past few turns of the moon, I was struggling to think of a way to punish Bryce Buckler for his words and actions. And yet, I had found that there was little I could do. Already trade between our Houses had practically ceased. Undoubtedly that had hurt the Buckler coffers, who unlike me had been unable to create alternate trade channels yet.

While I had initially toyed with the idea of dominating the ale industry in the Stormlands thereby breaking the Buckler monopoly, it had not been feasible in practice as even Edwell had refused to broach the topic with his father citing that although House Eastwood had enmity with Buckler, House Errol did not. Since then, I had more or less abandoned the idea.

But now, if I could get Griffin's Roost onboard, that alone would be a substantial loss to House Buckler. There was little doubt in my mind that such Serwyn had undoubtedly placed some amount of pressure on his friend to convince him to back me in this as opposed to the Bucklers. And undoubtedly Serwyn would profit from it himself as he received some part of the profit from the ale business.

And Griffin's Roost would undoubtedly prefer buying ale from me over the Bucklers. While the distance between Eastwood and Griffin's Roost was a little lesser than that of Bronzegate, the lay of the land was much better from Eastwood. The route from Bronzegate to Griffin's Roost was a rocky, mountainous area that was far more difficult to traverse than the relatively flat coastal plains that made up the route from Eastwood to Griffin's Roost.

"And how would we go about this? I'm assuming that we will have to scale up production rather quickly," I added as my mind raced to consider all the factors involved.

"Which would not be a problem at all. The initial plans for Eastwood Ale had envisaged large scale distribution, so much of the apparatus is already in place. A few more men would need to be hired and more grain would have to be set aside for production, but aside from this, everything necessary is already in place," replied Serwyn.

"And what kind of production timeline are we looking at?"

"We should be able to meet the demand from Griffin's Roost within five to six moons at the very latest. Evan just requests that we give him two moons notice so that he can terminate purchases from Bronzegate."

"And are there any other requests that Ser Evan may have with regards to our agreement?" I said as I levelled a stern look at Serwyn. The effect was immediate as Serwyn fidgeted nervously in his seat.

"Well, there is just one thing you see, Aelon. Ser Evan requests that we provide a small discount on our exports of charcoal to Griffin's Roost for the duration of the upcoming winter."

That made sense. Ceasing purchases from Bronzegate would undoubtedly anger the Bucklers, even if it was more profitable for the Connington's in the long run. But even then, Ser Evan would undoubtedly want a little more to compensate him for the troubles that Lord Buckler would undoubtedly cause him. And a discount on charcoal for the upcoming winter would no doubt be adequate compensation.

Charcoal was an expensive product. And I was the only one manufacturing it in great quantities in the Stormlands, making it a very valuable export. Even more so during winters when demand for charcoal skyrocketed. Even a small discount would substantially impact my coffers if the winter extended for a long time as was generally the case with winters that followed a long summer. But therein lay my advantage, I knew for a fact that the upcoming winter would be a short one. And when it ended, so would the discount.

I internally crunched the numbers as I mulled the proposal over in my head. Eventually, I nodded. The long term benefits of getting the Connington's to buy ale from me would most definitely outweigh the short term loss I would face from the discount on the charcoal exported to Griffin's Roost. Moreover, there was the added benefit of delivering Bryce Buckler a metaphorical kick in the nuts.

"Alright, you have my approval. Write to Ser Evan, inform him that we agree to his terms. The discount shall be provided, but it shall only last for the duration of the upcoming winter and no further," I said as Serwyn nodded near frantically as he noted down my instructions.

"Warren, how goes the construction of Keep in Durran's Rest?" I asked my steward. Pursuant to my agreement with Ser Bruce, I had given the order for a small stone Keep to be constructed in Durran's Rest, which was one of the larger villages in the southern region of my lands, for his son Ser Benjen Buckler.

The costs for the construction of the Keep would be deducted from the additional taxes that the young Knight had agreed to pay over the course of the next few years when he had visited Eastwood to finalise our agreement a few turns of the moon back.

Benjen seemed like a decent Knight. He was in his late twenties and had served as a Knight in Ronnal Baratheon's mounted unit for several years. According to Ser Morden, who had served alongside him at Storm's End before he was assigned to me, he was good with a sword and a decent man.

On meeting him myself, I had been able to better gauge his character and found Ser Morden's judgement to be more or less on point. The lands he was to be assigned were fairly productive and having a Knight to protect and administer the lands would only be beneficial in the long run.

"Ahead of schedule my lord, I believe it should be ready before the end of this year as per your orders," replied the Steward proudly. And the man had much to be proud of. His younger son Fred was an Acolyte in the Citadel and had forged his first link just a few sennights ago while his elder son, George, had ridden with me during the Buckler incident and had acquitted himself well. Ser Jarett had knighted him soon thereafter.

"Is there anything else?" I stated as I looked around the table.

"Well, there is one more thing. My cousin Beric has been engaged to marry Lady Ella Errol of Haystack Hall, news that I was very surprised to receive especially considering, last I remember, there were talks ongoing to have him marry Lord Wylde's daughter," she said as she looked at me while smiling.

I just smiled enigmatically. Truthfully, this had in fact been one of my plans that had come to fruition recently. One that I had been working on ever since the Buckler incident. Beric was Lord Brynden Tarth's second son and had been knighted and granted a Keep on the eastern coast of Tarth several years ago. With the surge of trade from Tarth over the past couple of years due to our alliance, he had suddenly found himself a most eligible bachelor, even though he was not a lord.

Edwell and I were friends, and through our friendship, I enjoyed excellent relations with House Errol, but those bonds were fragile, whereas bonds of blood were not. Edwell's youngest sister was of the same age as me and unmarried. Beric was now an eligible enough bachelor to merit a marriage to a daughter of House Errol.

Such a marriage would tie all three of our houses together and solidify our budding alliance creating a power bloc to challenge the existing dynamic. Prior to my ennoblement, the Buckler-Fell-Trant Alliance had dominated the politics of the Stormlands. Gallowsgrey, the seat of House Trant, was west of the Buckler lands, along the Crownlands border. I had little in terms of dealings with them as the distances were great and any trade would have to go through Buckler lands. Furthermore, with Bryce Buckler married to Lord Trant's sister, relations between our Houses had never been great.

Even with House Fell, despite them being my immediate neighbours, and even though I had made multiple overtures to improve relations with them, their close ties to House Buckler had worked against me. With the current Lord Fell being married to Bryce Buckler's daughter, the three Houses were closely tied together and had dominated the politics of the northern Stormlands for several years.

It was this power bloc that I sought to challenge and eventually overcome. After the Buckler incident, I had spoken to Edwell, and while they were initially reluctant to so overtly challenge the BFT (Buckler-Fell-Trant) Bloc, the benefits of being allied directly with Tarth and in turn with me clearly outweighed the cons. With Elena's help, I had traded a few letters with Lord Brynden, and eventually, he had sent a proposal to the same effect to Lord Adam Errol.

Now my devious political plan was finally near fruition.


Evenfall Hall, Tarth

Late 53 AC

Aelon POV

As I sat at my table in Evenfall Hall, watching the newlywed couple dance together, I could not help but think, 'I do love it when a plan comes together.'

It was the wedding of Ser Beric Tarth to Lady Ella Errol, a union between two noble houses of the Stormlands and one which I had played no small part in creating. With the engagement being confirmed a few turns of the moon ago, the wedding had occurred soon after the final negotiations were concluded. I had arrived with Elena and Serwyn a few days ago, leaving baby Ned in the capable hands of his grandmother who cared little for attending the wedding of her nephew by marriage.

The past few months had rushed past in a whirlwind of events. Little Edwell was growing at an alarming rate and had recently learned how to crawl. The energetic little hellion would drive his nursemaids and mother spare as he frantically crawled away into every nook and cranny the minute he was placed on the floor. It was adorable. I missed him already.

But coming to Tarth had been worth it. Not only did it make Elena happy to return to her family home, but it also gave me the opportunity to meet with several of my Noble friends and allies to discuss trade and politics.

Already Lord Brynden and I had had many a productive discussion regarding the operations of the Eastwood Tarth Trading Company. With trade booming in the Crownlands and the Vale, we had decided that it would be prudent to make greater overtures in the Riverlands where demand was steadily increasing.

While I possessed no influence or contacts in the region despite being from the Riverlands originally, Lord Tarth was well acquainted with Lord Mooton of Maidenpool. House Tarth apparently had historically held excellent trade ties with the Mootons of Maidenpool. It was decided by the two of us that if Lord Mooton was amenable, we would offer him the same deal as the one we had the Graftons, albeit with better margins for us as there was already existing demand in the region and Lord Mooton would only be facilitating sales and transport.

We had also discussed the necessity of expanding the Eastwood-Tarth Trading Company's fleet as trade had now reached a point wherein our existing fleet would soon be struggling to meet the demand. I had agreed to fund the construction of an additional five galleys and carracks which would be owned by House Eastwood and leased to the Company much like House Tarth's ships were. In turn, Lord Brynden would also fund the construction of an additional fifteen ships along the same lines. After all, logistics and transport were his responsibility, not mine.

With the additional ships, the Company's fleet would possess a strength of nearly fifty trading galleys, carracks and cogs. While still minuscule in comparison to the eight fucking hundred trading ships possessed by House Redwyne, it was still nothing to scoff at.

My ruminations were interrupted by sounds of clapping as the newlywed couple finished their dance. Remembering my manners, I turned to Elena, "Would you honour me with a dance my Lady."

She smiled lightly as she took my hand, "If I remember correctly, someone was a terrible dancer at our wedding night."

I blushed lightly, recalling with some shame and embarrassment my conduct during our wedding, "Some things never change my Lady," I said as I swept her onto the dance floor, with noticeably more skill and grace that I was supposed to possess, "But you'll find that some things do."

As we swayed lightly to the music on the floor, I could see the surprise and curiosity on her face as we danced.

"Your mother's been teaching me," I answered her unasked question. And that was the embarrassing truth. Larissa, as she insisted I called her, was a perceptive woman. She knew that as a young man who had not been raised in a Noble household, I had not received the same education that all lordlings received. Sure, Maester Armon had covered etiquette in our lessons, but there were things that were not taught by the Maester, but instead by the Lady of House. Things such as dance and courtship. Needless to say, it had been beyond embarrassing.

In other words, the Velaryon Lady had clearly sensed the rift between myself and Elena, and conveniently blamed it on my lack of a noble upbringing and taken steps to rectify the same. It was a reasonable conclusion, as hardly anyone could possibly think that the actual reason for my behaviour was due to the fact that I was a man with modern sensibilities reincarnated into a young lad, whose mental age was actually closer to forty. But even then, the Lady had a point. Through her lessons in courtship and etiquette, she had already shown me certain fundamental errors that I had made with regards to my relationship with Elena. Errors that I was now working on fixing.

We danced for a few more minutes as more couples joined the dance floor, in the distance I noted Lord Adam Errol, who as the father of the bride, looked flush with pride and happiness. Pride was evident when he had purchased twenty whole barrels of Silver Label to be served at the wedding. Obviously, I had been more than willing to accommodate him. Hopefully, serving Eastwood Silver Label at weddings would become a Stormlander tradition soon enough.

Elena and I had met with Lord Adam and Edwell the night before when we had dined together. Edwell had been beyond honoured that we had named my firstborn after him. We had spent much of the time discussing interesting topics relating to politics and governance, topics regarding which the elder Lord was a fountain of information. Eventually, we had cut the small talk and dove into the meat of the matter. Namely, our political alliance and the road from Eastwood to Haystack Hall.

With regards to our alliance, it was clear that Lord Adam did not wish to rock the boat too much initially, although I was sure that he would be very much in favour of it in a few years time. As Edwell informed me later, that was primarily due to the fact that Lord Adam's aunt was married to Lord Bryce Buckler's uncle. The marriage had been ultimately childless, but Lord Errol was reluctant to make any overt moves against the Bucklers when such a familial link existed, tenuous as it was.

Fortunately, it seemed that the lady in question was over seventy years old and her health was rapidly failing. As long as she did not pull an Aemon and live to see a hundred years, I was not too worried about her myself. With autumn due to arrive any day now and winter not that far away either, I was not too keen on making any overt moves myself.

The four of us still managed to agree on easing restrictions on trade and facilitating an agreement to coordinate the export of crops outside of our lands. Essentially we would coordinate our agricultural efforts to ensure that we grew our crops in conjunction so as to ensure that there was no overlap between our exports. It would not do for both of us to focus on growing the same crop and then find less demand for our excessive supply.

By carefully forecasting the demand, and coordinating our agricultural produce every season, we would be able to carefully control the supply in a manner that more efficiently met the demand, thereby maximising our profits. My model was very similar to the one employed by OPEC in the modern world. Although they did the same with Petroleum instead of crops, the economic principles were the same, and moreover, easily adaptable to Westeros.

I was under no illusion that our model was perfect. It would take many years of experimentation before we would be able to achieve our objective. But even so, it was a step in the right direction. Between Haystack Hall and Eastwood, even prior to my agricultural reforms, we accounted for nearly thirty per cent of the Stormlands' agricultural output.

With the advent of crop rotation, which was now slowly gaining popularity in Errol lands as well, we now accounted for nearly thirty-five per cent of the total output. With the Eastwood Plough now finally being deployed in the field, and the Eastwood Crop Rotation method becoming more common practice in Errol lands, I was hopeful that in a few years, we would account for almost half of the Stormlands' agricultural output.

However, the main focus for the evening had been on the road from Eastwood to Haystack Hall. With the sheer amount of trade between our Houses, a road would be a definite boon. Eventually, after much negotiation, we had finally reached an agreement. The road from Eastwood to Haystack Hall would be built by my builders and workers, while being aided by Errol men, using concrete and the costs for the same, along with the maintenance would be shared by both Houses in the ratio of the length of the road in each of our lands.

A surveyor would be appointed to assess the best route and accordingly determine the length of the road and the share of each House towards the same. Frankly, the deal could have gone better. While the financials were solid, I had hoped that the Errols would contribute more men to the project. With the amount of manpower that I would need to pour into this project, which was due to begin once winter ended, my road to Stormtower would again be delayed.

The wedding party soon came to an end. The bedding ceremony was called for and the bride and groom were carried to their quarters. Neither Elena nor I participated, I being held back by my modern sensibilities and Elena by having no desire to strip her cousin.

As we returned to our quarters I turned to Elena. She seemed happy. Not only was she at her family home but she was also attending the wedding of her cousin. She turned to me, a hint of nervousness in her expression, but joy overshadowed it somehow, "Aelon, I'm pregnant."

I really need to invent condoms.


A/N

Hi All,

We have really loved and appreciated the response and criticism (constructive and otherwise) from you guys over the past few months. We would like to hear from this community more frequently and are thus adding the link for our discord server here so that you can join in and participate in our discussions and help shape this story better.

We've also decided to create a side story thread to add a few canon short stories and POVs to enrich the readers' experience. One such chapter will be going live very shortly. We would love for you all to participate in this as well by submitting your own ficlets and chapters for the DNW Universe. The link is in my profile as this site is disgusted by links.

Once again, we thank you all for your amazing response. Your comments, advice, recommendations and criticism have constantly encouraged and pushed us to be better writers.