Jaime lay there on his silk bed staring vacancy at the ceiling feeling numb all over his body. He could thank the lack of pain to the Milk of Poppy administered by the Maesters treating him. The extensive injuries he suffered from Dragonfire have only worsened during his escape from the Riverlands. His whole body has been in excruciating pain and now only the Milk of Poppy holds that pain at bay.
'There is medicine for physical pain but what medicine can heal the soul?' Jaime thought, sorrow and despair battling within the confines of his mind for supremacy.
He was not blind to the happenings of the city. After all, how could he miss the incessant shakings and screams of pain and despair within the city? Even in the confines of the Red Keep under the influence of pain-numbing medicines, he could feel something horrible has happened. At first, he thought the Targaryen boy attacked the capital with his dragon. His fear only grew when his inquiries remained unanswered by the servants and Maesters treating him remained silent. He suspected he was given the Essence of Nightshade at some point because he slept soundly the whole night.
Now, he was wide awake but was no closer to finding out the truth. It was early morning and the shaking has stopped. But, he could still hear the wails of agony from the city. If the Targaryen was responsible for what was happening he could not afford to stay too long in the Red Keep. It'd only be a matter of time before the armies of the Targaryen boy occupy the capital. Before that happens he has to ensure Tommen escape from this hellhole.
Jaime's ears picked up a sound coming from outside the door. Hearing this he immediately closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. The door to his chambers opened but Jaime remained in his bed waiting to see whether this was friend or foe. He listened keenly and he could hear the footsteps closing in on his bed.
He was relieved to note that it was his sister's voice. Half his worries melted away. His sister's presence suggested that the Red Keep has not yet fallen into enemy hands.
"Your grace, Ser Jaime might still be under the effects of the Essence of Nightshade."
Jaime put his plan to greet Cersei on hold when he heard Qyburn's voice join the fray. He knew Qyburn was Cersei's creature through and through but he decided to pretend to sleep.
"Is he hurting?"
Jaime heard his sister ask. He could hear a hint of concern in her voice and that let him feel something for his twin and lover. Despite all her faults he could not help but feel something for her.
"I'm afraid so your grace. Ser Jaime suffered extensive injuries and his unsanitary conditions while travelling with these wounds have not helped in the least." said Qyburn.
For a moment, there was silence in the room. Jaime waited for a bit but the two were not keen to continue the conversation. He was just about to reveal himself when Cersei spoke up giving him pause.
"I presume the Tyrells are secure?"
"Of course, your grace. Once we had Lady Margery and some key guests under our hold the Reach knights surrendered. Those who resisted were delivered the King's justice."
Jaime was confused by Qyburn's words. Why are they concerned about the Tyrells of all people? Shouldn't they be worried about the Targaryen attacking the city?
"Where are Margery and her lickspittle ladies in waiting?" asked Cersei.
"Imprisoned in Maegor's holdfast your grace with ten guards watching over the whole lot. They will be kept separated from the outside world as long as you desire." said Qyburn.
"What about Mace Tyrell?"
"Captured and thrown in the Black Cells as you ordered, your grace."
"The septons and septas?"
"Their heads now line up the castle walls on pikes."
The more Jaime heard the less he could fathom the situation at hand. He knew Cersei harboured strong feelings against the Tyrells but he was quite confident his uncle would curb any foolishness on her part.
"There is one other matter your grace. What shall be done with Lord Kevan's body?" asked Qyburn.
Hearing this Jaime was shocked to his core.
"My uncle was a traitor but he is my family. Burn him and have his ashes interned where the Sept of Baelor once stood."
"As you will, your grace."
Jaime heard the shuffling of the feet. He peeked through his eyelids to see Qyburn about to leave the chamber.
"One more thing before you leave, Qyburn."
"When will the Wildfire stop burning?" asked Cersei.
"Whenever you prefer your grace. The potency of the substance guarantees it will burn for at most two more nights so long as there are things that catch fire near its vicinity."
"Good. Let it burn for a few more nights. Those urchins were breeding like rats in those shit filled streets. The city will smell better without those undesirable elements."
"As you wish your grace." said Qyburn.
Jaime lay there on the bed struggling to come to terms with the things he learned in the span of a few minutes.
"You can stop pretending to be asleep Jaime."
A shiver passed through his body and he noted that pain was once again flaring up here and there. Opening his eyes he turned his head sideways to face his twin sister who merely sat beside him with a peculiar look on her face that eluded him at the moment.
"You were never good at lying or subterfuge. You have always shirked power to play knight while I was born with the ambition to rule. It was unfortunate that I was born a girl while you turn3d out to be a boy. The gods and their cruel jokes."
Jaime looked at his sister with growing horror.
"What have you done?" he asked, taken back by the madness shining in his sister's eyes.
"I did what should have been done by our traitorous uncle. He stood by and watched as I was dragged through these streets naked while street urchins threw filth at me. He stood by and watched as the Tyrell harlot and her traitorous family tried to take Tommen away from me."
"Cersei, you… you monstrous fool!" Jaime bit out before being forced to clench his teeth as pain racked his body from head to toe.
Cersei didn't take his reaction well causing her to slap Jaime right across his left cheek.
"I'm not the monster. You facilitated the escape of the monster who killed our son and father. The monster in our family has always been our little brother who has planned all this to kill me and my children just like he killed our mother. But, I see through that little beast's plans and I'll do whatever is necessary to protect my family."
With that said, Cersei marched out of the chambers leaving Jaime to stare helplessly at his sister's back from his bed.
It was quite the tremulous journey they have been having, Tyrion gathered.
Scores of ships had sailed out from Dragonstone carrying the armies sworn to the Queen. The Unsullied under Grey Worm was being sailed into the large ports of Duskandale where Lord Renfred Rykker would welcome them. The Unsullied would then block the Rosby road and cut off King's Landing from northern parts of the Crownlands. Grey Worm and Lord Rykker were then supposed to take Stokeworth, Massey and Rosby thereby putting pressure on the capital. The plan also included blocking King's Landing by taking control of the King's Road.
There were two objectives to the whole campaign.
One, cut the Lannisters from the northern Crownlands. Two, cut the Riverlands from the Crownlands forcing Daeron Targaryen to the table. Tyrion gathered the self-proclaimed Targaryen king will be eyeing to strike at King's Landing once he dealt with the Freys. He hoped to take the capital well before Daeron Targaryen gathered control over the entirety of the Riverlands. There was also the chance of the Westerland army riding out of Goldentooth to engage the Riverlanders in battle. It was a slim possibility but he wouldn't put it past his family to attempt something like that seeing as Ser Daven Lannister was named the Warden of the West by his dear sister.
Although an accomplished knight, Tyrion remembered Daven is no strategist. If he remembered correctly Ser Daven had also sworn vengeance against the Northerners for his father's death. Or maybe, his sister would ask Ser Daven to march the Lannister armies to King's Landing. If something like that were to happen, a negotiation with Daeron Targaryen would be fruitful.
However, these were all plans for the future.
At present, Tyrion was engaged in another facet of their strategy regarding the Crownlands. The long years of Targaryen absence had dried up the support of Huse Targaryen in Westeros. However, one place remains a Targaryen stronghold for the loyalists despite attempts from just about everyone ranging from Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon, Hoster Tully and his dearly departed father.
Tyrion took in the moss-covered land in the distance from a rowboat. The land was covered with thick trees as far as his eyes could see. If it wasn't for the small group of people waiting by the shore he'd have thought they were rowing in the wrong direction. The northernmost part of the Crownlands lay sprawled out before him, famed for its ancient trees as old as the Age of Heroes and with a history of hardened warriors who remained unconquerable even for the Andals. The lords of Crackclaw Point were assembled at the shore waiting for their arrival and Tyrion was more than thankful for the company of Ser Barristan by his side.
"It seems the lords of Crackclaw Point are gathered to greet us Lord Celtigar." Ser Barristan commented, standing tall donning the white cloak and armour of the Queensguard.
"I sent a boy to notify the lords Brune, Cave, Hardy, Pyne and Boggs of her grace's arrival. They are all Dragon's men in Crackclaw Point. If a Dragon calls for them, they'll answer." said Lord Ardrian Celtigar.
Tyrion was not so fond of the Lord Celtigar mostly cause the man spoke against him in the sham trial. But, he'd have done the same if he was in Lord Celtigar's position. The Red Crab was taken captive at the Battle of the Blackwater. Having bent the knee to Joffrey the Lord of Claw Isle was quite dependent on his sister's good graces in case of retaliation from Stannis. Even though he understood all this, Tyrion found it hard to shrug it off. In the back of his mind, he was searching for ways to have the Red Crab discredited in the Queen's eyes.
He found himself having the same feeling when he was made Hand of the King. There was quite a lot of power involved and he spent each day fighting to keep every shred of power afforded to his position. With the arrival of Queen Daenerys in Westeros, it stands to reason his position in court is in jeopardy.
Tyrion was acutely aware that he held no personal power as he was not a Lord with land holdings, gold or even men to support the Queen in her war to reclaim the Iron Throne. He was relegated to be just her advisor and in Westeros, someone without titles is without power.
This was not the case in Essos where his strategies and knowledge held a unique value for the Queen. But now, the situation has changed. Queen Daenerys is surrounded by lords and scions of the loyalist Houses. As the Queen spends more time in Westeros, she will only get surrounded by more and more Houses outside of the Crownlands. As her demesne widens by the allegiance of more lords the chances of her replacing him also widens. She'd be forced to reward those loyal lords who contributed more to her campaign in the form of armies, castles and gold. In such a scenario, it required of him to prove his support and advice to be of more vital importance than the other lords lest he becomes just a footnote in the annals of history.
Tyrion does not intend to become just a name in some dusty old tome written by a Maester of the Citadel. He intends to live out the rest of his life with a legacy of his own making that'd stand out from that of his father and his family. For in the end, what else could be the greatest revenge of all against his father and sister other than living his life to the fullest extent?
"I've heard tell that Crackclaw men are difficult to handle." said Tyrion, keeping an eye out to either side of the rowboat.
The waters were getting darker as they rowed towards the shore. It reminded him of the dark waters of Valyria sans the smoke.
"Crackclaw men are hardened by the land they live in. They have to contend with poisonous reptiles and other predators their whole lives. They hunt more than they farm and most importantly they don't like foreigners coming to their lands. In the times of Targaryen Kings we Celtigars were charged with collecting taxes from the northern Crownlands. If ten men are sent into their midst it was lucky to have two return." said Lord Crackclaw.
"Should I be worried?" Tyrone asked, a little bit of trepidation entering his mind looking at the gathered men on the shores. As the boat drew ever closer he could make out more men on the shores, all armed to the teeth for a bout of steel.
'I should've insisted on taking two more rowboats full of Unsullied soldiers.' he thought, looking at the single boat containing the Unsullied soldiers accompanying them.
"Have no worry Lord Tyrion. I know most of these men. They fought beside Prince Rhaegar at the Trident most fiercely. They will not harm those under the Targaryen banner." said Ser Barristan.
Tyrion took one look at the banner held by a small village boy from Dragonstone. He hoped that was enough for Crackclaw men to not slit his throat. He gathered Lannisters were held to higher standards than Celtigars in Crackclaw point. Crackclaw men would probably fight each other for the honour of mounting his poor head on a spike.
Tyrion moved closer to Ser Barristan as the rowboat finally slipped into the shore. He carefully stepped out of the boat after the men properly pushed it all the way into the sandy shores of Crackclaw Point.
"Lord Eustace. It has been many years."
Tyrone watched Ser Barristan greet a brown-haired man who looked unimpressive at first glance. The man had a scar running above his left eye and that gave him a dangerous look.
"Lord Eustace Brune is the lord of Dyre Den." explained the Red Crab.
"An old acquaintance of Ser Barristan, I presume." Tyrion commented, observing the lord of Dyre Den introducing his two sons Edmund and Rhaemund Brune to the Lord Commander.
"The man fought beside Prince Rhaegar at the Trident under Ser Barristan. So many good men died that day. Very few survived."
Tyrion eyed the Red Crab out of the corner of his eyes. With grey hair and tired old eyes, the Lord of Claw Isle looked one step away from keeling over dead. Though, Tyrion would not consider old age a deterring factor in politics. The Red Cab might be old but Tyrion found the man calm and collected. There was intelligence behind the man's eyes and Tyrion could feel this man is tempered by his age.
'Perhaps that's why I feel a bit threatened in his presence. Or maybe, my extended leave from Westeros has dulled my mind.' Tyrion mused.
"Well…well…well… What do we have here? A lion has wandered into our lands, my lords."
Tyrion was startled to note a red-haired man whom he found was Lord Decker Pyne moving towards him with an unfriendly look on his face.
"Surely you jest Decker."
Another lord joined in, a man of great height that made Tyrion strain his tiny neck to get a good look. It was Lord Drekk Cave, a lord rumoured to have giant's blood in his veins.
"It surely is the dwarf of House Lannister. Halfman, the Smallfolk call him. Look at the scar running through his face." Lord Cave said, pointing at the scar that split Tyrion's face in two.
"Your sister will give us quite a sum of gold for your head dwarf. What do you say to that Halfman?"
"My sister has poor tastes. She should have asked for my cock. My cock could satisfy her better than my head." Tyrion snarked.
"Ha! You are funny dwarf. Shame you were born a Lannister." said Ser Edwyn Boggs.
"I'm the funniest Lannister you can ever find." Tyrone gave a shallow bow.
"Lord Tyrion is a valued advisor for Queen Daenerys. I'd refrain from making threats on his person." Ser Barristan warned, a stern look gracing the Lord Commander's visage.
Thankfully, that made Lords Cave and Pyne back down.
"Speaking of the Queen there has been some strange rumours. We captured a few Lannister soldiers wandering into our lands that claim there is a Targaryen with a dragon in Riverrun. Lord Celtigar would have us believe King Aerys' daughter took Dragonstone. We do not know what to believe Ser Barristan." said Lord Eustace Brune.
"Aye. Truth is hard to come by these days. So, tell us true Lord Commander. Separate the wheat from the chaff." said Ser Edwyn Boggs.
"See for yourself." said Ser Barristan before looking to the sky.
The shadow that covered them whole and the flap of the wings let Tyrion know the jig was up. He along with everyone else rushed to make room as the Queen landed her dragon on the shores kicking up sand and dust. The mighty roar Drogon let out before lowering its head made the Crackclaw lords flinch. Even Tyrion, who had long gotten used to the dragons found it hard not to feel fear looking at the largest of the Queen's dragons.
Drogon's stay at Dragonstone seems to have made the dragon grow out more. A single look at Drogon is all it'd take for the Queen's enemies to flee.
Queen Daenerys climbed down from her saddle after releasing the chains that secured her on the dragon's back. Her amethyst eyes glowed in the sunlight as she made each measured step. The dragon standing behind her let out a low growl as if threatening anyone who dared to hold ill-will against its rider. The Queen's beauty was only outshined by the power she was exuding. Tyrion could see that even the most hardened lords like Cave and Brune were intimidated by the Queen.
"It is said the Black Dread was so big that the mighty dragon could swallow a Mammoth whole. Drogon is certainly not as large as Balerion. But, he is strong enough to destroy the gates of King's Landing. I need to know whether I can call on the lords of Crackclaw Point to take back my home from the Lannisters."
The Queen words were measured and clear leaving no room for misinterpretation. It was clear as day what she was asking.
Lord Brune and his two sons took a knee.
"We know the oaths we swore. Our blades are yours to command as it has always been."
With the glaring sun and the rumbling seas as witnesses, the lords of Crackclaw Point gave their allegiance to the Targaryen banner.
Now, the war begins!
"What makes you so sure we need to follow the Green Fork Archmaester?" asked Samwell, confused as to why Archmaester Marwyn was insisting on finding the Green Fork.
"I have my reasons Samwell. Do as you are told." came the reply from the Archmaester who was known as The Mage in the Citadel.
What they should do is find the Northern army and what better way is there other than going to Riverrun? After all, Riverrun is where Jon and his dragon was last seen. Surely, the Tullys would know the whereabouts of his friend.
However, the Archmaester insisted on finding the Green Fork and Sam had the misfortune of taking a wrong route at night. How he managed to veer off the Kingsroad was one of the mysteries that'd keep him awake at the many nights to come. Now, he was not sure where they were and that bothered him quite a lot. The sun was going down in the distance and the last thing Sam wanted was to end up on some unknown land where they could be attacked by bandits or other wild animals. So, Samwell urged the horses to move fast dragging the cart along an unfamiliar road with no sign of people anywhere.
A few hours later Sam concluded they were truly and hopelessly lost. It has been hours since he saw a living thing. The farther he went denser the woods became. This kit a raging flame of fear in Sam's heart. After the war, the Riverlands has been filled with bandits. The state of constant warfare between the Lannister aligned armies and the Stark aligned forces has created lawlessness in the land. The deserters from both armies as well as the local bandits were free to terrorize the Smallfolk, travellers and merchants all over the countryside.
"Archmaester, we are lost." Sam managed to croak out looking around the blanket of darkness with obvious fear.
"On the contrary, we are exactly where we are supposed to be." came the cryptic response from Archmaester Marwyn.
Sam frowned before parting the veil of cloth separating the Archmaester and himself to get a look inside the cart. Sam was greeted with a silvery light that somehow was being contained inside the cart despite its obvious brightness.
Sam's eyes widened in recognition as he took in the familiar shiny black stone.
"Glass candle." he breathed out in awe at the beauty of the object.
He had of course heard rumours as a child about the mythical object that the Valyrian sorcerers used. There was even a story where a young Dragonlord using the Glass Candle to find his lover who went missing in the mountainous terrains near the Fourteen Flames. But, never did he imagine that he'd see one with his own eyes. Of course, he was aware the Citadel held some Glass Candles but he assumed they were fake.
Apparently, he was quite wrong. Quite wrong indeed!
"Indeed it is and look, even Little Sam here finds it fascinating." said the Archmaester.
Samwell eyed the small child held in Gilly's arms who was smiling and giggling at the light emitted by the Glass Candle. It was a tremulous journey for all of them especially Gilly and Little Sam. He worried they might come across some unfortunate event but so far they've been bereft of any threats. That doesn't mean there were no troubles along the way. The Archmaester had fallen ill halfway through their journey. Sam had worried for the old man but somehow he pulled through. Even Little Sam and Gilly were left untouched although there were days where Little Sam would cry without a stop.
Food was also a problem. Prices were soaring for a loaf of bread in the Crownlands as the fear of a new war spread among the populace. It also didn't help that Braavos was exerting its power on the merchants because of the Iron Bank's ongoing conflict with the Crown. The Reach was being stretched thin by fighting the Ironborn on the seas while fighting the Golden Company in the Stormlands and keeping an eye on Dorne. The last he heard, there were some skirmishes along the Marches.
"Go forward Samwell. We are just shy of a few feet to our destination." said Archmaester Marwyn, never taking his eyes off from the silver flame.
It is said, those who are gifted with the power of sorcery could light the Glass Candle and even use it to see far beyond what normal eyes could perceive.
"What do you see Archmaester?" Sam asked curiously.
Sam waited for an explanation but the Archmaester once again preferred being cryptic and short in providing answers. Letting out a sigh he adjusted the flame in his oil lamp to get a better view of the road before coaxing the horses.
Sam carefully guided their cart through the road but soon he began to hear some garbled noise up the road. He strained his ears to listen but to no avail. Therefore he sped up the horses hoping that there was a house or an inn nearby where he could ask for directions or perhaps even stay the night if necessary.
As he rounded a turn he could see there was light ahead on the road. Excited he led the cart straight towards the light but as he drew closer he realized there was something horribly wrong. A man was rushing towards them screaming his lungs out for help.
It took a moment for Sam to read the situation. When he did, he immediately pulled the reins and made the horses stop. He was about to guide the horses to turn around when Archmaester Marwyn stopped him.
"What…? Don't you see…" Sam trailed off as he heard a distinct growl from the woods to his immediate right.
A beast jumped straight out of the woods and caught the running man between its jaws. The man screamed as the huge beast tore open the man's neck. He flinched as the man let out a horrible scream as blood rushed out of the man's neck. But, Sam couldn't spare time to worry about the man when he noticed the beast turned to eye him. He stared into a familiar pair of golden eyes and the lamp's light gave him a good look on the grey fur of the beast.
"Oh, I believe you missed the others right there." said the Archmaester pointing to the dark woods where Sam was troubled to note stood three smaller wolves with different shades of grey fur and golden eyes.
The horses were spooked by the sudden appearance of four predators and he struggled to control them. The three wolves howled before rushing at the downed man and began tearing out limb after limb. Sam had to turn away from the gory sight as the man was eaten alive by the pack of wolves.
The sound of hooves made Sam and Marwyn look ahead. A rider was closing in on their position wholly unbothered by the gruesome sight. The rider forced the horse into a trot upon nearing a shouting distance.
"I've watched you closely for many days through the glass candle, my dear child. You have been leaving quite a trail of blood in your wake. Then again, it is in your nature to be vengeful to those who harmed your pack." said Archmaester Marwyn.
Samwell looked between the unknown rider and the Archmaester in confusion.
'Do they know each other?' Sam mused.
Then the rider decided to throw the hood back and Sam took a close look at the features. He was quite started to find a girl under the hood. Stormy grey eyes that held not a hint of emotion stared back at him. It was a pair of eyes he was quite familiar with. The dark hair and the sharp features of the face struck a chord of familiarity within Sam. He eyed the direwolves busily gorging some ten feet from him and then he looked at the mysterious rider.
A gasp escaped him as he realized the identity of the rider. How could he ever forget Jon's description of his younger sister?
"You are Arya. Jon's younger sister!"
The morning sun was blessing them with much-needed warmth. The night was far too cold for Arya's liking. Even now, moss hung loosely in the air making every breath she took made her take in the chilly air. Spending time under the hot eastern sun of Braavos might have slightly impaired her body from taking in the cold.
But, she was of the North. She'd learn to live with the cold once more.
"I can't believe you are alive. You don't know how much it means to Jon when he finds out you are alive and well."
Arya eyed the portly man riding the horse cart. She could see why her brother made friends with this one. Unlike the Southerners, she could feel this one has a touch of honesty in him.
"You know, your brother tried to escape the Night's Watch when the ravens came to the Wall about the war. He would've ridden day and night to King's Landing to rescue you and your sister if it wasn't for me."
Arya looked sharply at Samwell Tarly at that promoting the poor guy to stutter out a defence.
"Well, me and you know…some other friends. Jon would've broken his oaths and the Watch would have hunted for him as he would become a deserter."
Arya shook her head and stared ahead.
"I'm glad he didn't." said Arya.
"If Jon had come south he'd have died like mother and Robb."
"Oh." Samwell fell silent after that.
Arya stared ahead, pondering how different everything has changed. She could still remember the warmth of her father's embrace and the protection she was afforded in Winterfell. The Arya Stark of that time felt like a stranger to her. Just as she has changed she was sure her siblings have also changed. Jon was now calling himself a Targaryen while Sansa was now the Lady of Winterfell. She'd be surprised if the changes stopped there.
"So, those people that you killed. They were bandits huh?"
Arya eyed the loose tongued friend of her brother making the man squirm uneasily.
"No. They were Lannister soldiers." she answered despite getting a bit irritated.
"Oh. They were bothering you?" Samwell asked.
"No. I killed them because they are Lannister soldiers. What more reason should I have?" she asked before speeding up her horse a bit to avoid further conversation.
As she thought, Samwell Tarly is of a good sort. She might have even liked him at a time. But, she was not here to make friends and lead an honourable life. There is only one goal she could see with her eyes. The total annihilation of her enemies and a select few names she kept in her mind.
"Cersei Lannister, Ilyn Payne, The Red Woman, Thoros, Beric Dondarrion, Walder Frey."
These names would not be easily forgotten. Though her list had some modifications over the years since she first started, this would be the ultimate list. Maybe, she'd add some more names in the future but for now, the current list would suffice.
A screech pierced the chilly air and suddenly her horse pulled back as if afraid of something. Even Nymeria and her pups howled from the woods. She could feel the instinctual fear from Nymeria through their bond as a full-grown dragon was seen flying high in the sky.
A bright green dragon, with no rider on its back.
"So, you are finally here." Arya mused as she stared mesmerized by the dragon flying in the sky. No doubt, this is Jon's dragon.
She could feel the childish excitement at the fact that she was seeing a dragon with her own eyes. It has always been a dream of hers to be like the warrior queens Visenya and Rhaenys. She had always found them fascinating and now, a full-fledged dragon was right before her eyes. Her grip on the reins of her horse tightened as she looked into the distance. The time has finally come to reunite with her family.
To read in advance; pat(r) eon. C (O) M/Dragonspectre
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