The Bounty

"Death! Death! Death!" The raven shrieked, two beady eyes flitting around the solar. The impudent bird flapped dark wings, shaking snowflakes off glossy black feathers, as it strutted around, waiting for Robb to scatter a handful of corn kernels on the wooden desk. In an instant, the raven croaked with triumph before dipping a curved beak to gobble down the offering.

Jon sighed. The raven was clever, almost too clever. It was large, similar in size to the white birds sent out by the Citadel to mark a change in seasons, and the oldest in the Winterfell rookery. The dire wolves, enjoying the chilly autumn air near the open windows, ignored the antics but the raven puffed up at the attention of the others in the room.

"What do you think that means?" Robb stared at the preening bird. Sansa's letter on the mustering of the Northern bannermen sat unread next to a pouch of corn.

"It means a raven will do anything for food. Keep feeding him after he cries death, and he will never stop." Jon ruffled the feathers. Most ravens preferred meat. This one enjoyed fruit and corn, and was bold enough to connive a payment for its flight.

"So you don't think the words carry any weight?" Robb asked warily.

"A raven mimics how others speak. With letters about the threat beyond the Wall, and the Red Women preaching about the Great War, it is not surprising the bird speaks of death."

"It could be an omen." Robb argued. "Like the dire wolf mother, killed by a stag's antler. Old Nan told us that ravens were the messengers of the Gods."

He shrugged in reply. "Let us say it is a prophecy. What does it mean? Bran dreamt of a cowled rider on a pale mare. That was likely the plague coming to reap many lives. We found the cure. We already know that there is danger. We do not need a raven to tell us that."

"Melisandre approached and gave me a warning. She sees you surrounded by skulls, and to be wary of knives in the dark." Robb said.

"Can't the witch say who wields these knives?" Arya asked irritably. "That way, we might be able to do something, and not just wait to be attacked."

"She sees visions in the flames. That does not mean she knows what will happen in the future. If she did, then Stannis Baratheon would be sitting on the Iron Throne. The Red Woman may have certain powers but the gods only grant so much. Else we would be ruled by priests and sorcerers. R'hllor is only one of many gods in Essos." Jon said.

"I don't trust Melisandre. She took Edric Storm's blood. I don't believe in her Red God. Syrio Forel, my dancing master, told me that there is only one God, and his name is Death. And the only thing to say to Death is not today." Arya said.

"Life is more than not dying. Death is all around us. It is not to be shunned, but a part of our world. The Stranger is not the Great Other. He will not be denied." Jon replied.

"We need the Stranger to bless our enemies. We lost ten thousand in the Riverlands. That doesn't count the Boltons and Freys who betrayed us. The toll would be greater had you not trained the Wintertown Boys to serve as healers to the Northern army. The North cannot afford to continue bleeding." Robb said.

"That is why we need help. The North is outmatched by the Others. The gold from the Iron Bank could buy us sellswords. And if we go further east, we will find dragons." Arya said.

"Sellswords have never won a war in the Seven Kingdoms. Dragons have, but there are many cities between here and Meereen. What if Melisandre is right and Death is waiting for you in the Free Cities? There is danger in the unknown." Robb said.

"There is danger here too, particularly if we do nothing." Jon took out a faded scroll with a map marked with the Nine Voyages of the Sea Snake. The longest route was the second to Asshai at the border of the Shadowlands. "To the North, an army of the dead will try to cross the Wall. To the South, the Iron Throne will seek revenge for their losses and humiliation in the War of the Riverlands. Are there more enemies east? Possibly - but Arya is right. We have to do something. Sitting here and waiting for the Red Woman and her followers to save the day would be foolish. If I am wrong, then give Stannis the glory as Azor Ahai. But if the Others smash the remains of the Baratheons, we will need allies. And that means going into the unknown."

"If that is the case, then you take all possible precautions. Take Stark guards with you and Arya. Many knights will be happy to join you in this journey."

Jon shook his head. "You need swords and spears to defend the Wall against the Others. I do not know how long the trip will take. After the fighting in the Riverlands, the bannermen wish to stay at home and rally their people. That is doubly true for the Riverlords and Valemen who swore oaths at Winterfell. Besides, stealth will serve better than steel in Essos. Arya and I will have Nymeria and Ghost for company."

"Take the Hound with you as well. Clegane is a good fighter, and loyal. There is something else. To sail to Slaver's Bay and Meereen will require the best ship and captain available in the North. I have asked Sansa to send Asha Greyjoy here."

"Can we trust an Ironborn?" Arya asked.

"To sail a ship? Yes." Jon said. "For other matters, we have to see. Asha Greyjoy is bold and proud, but these are good qualities for a sea captain. She is well liked by her crew."

"She can be a prisoner in Winterfell or a free woman sailing the Summer Sea." Robb said. "We know what she will choose."

The loud hammering woke Tyrion up from a fitful slumber. He cracked open a bleary eye, and wished to the Seven that he had drank more wine last night. A few more cups of Arbor Gold and he might sleep longer. In the past, the view from the second floor of the Kitchen Keep had been pleasant - the Godswood, the Maidenvault, and a courtyard of fat and happy pigs, too content and stupid to know they were about to be slaughtered for the morning bacon. Now, the pigs had scattered, disturbed by the construction at the wall overlooking Blackwater Bay.

A year ago, the White Sword Tower stood at the corner before being obliterated by wildfire. Tyrion did not regret the events of that tumultuous day. He had never wanted to marry Sansa Stark. His father's plan of attempting to claim Winterfell through the girl's womb had been foolish and would likely have cost Tyrion his head. He was quite happy to have survived. After discovering the immense caches of wildfire in the secret tunnels, it was clear that Snow could have killed them all, many times over. Maegor's Holdfast with its moat and thick walls might have survived. The rest of the Red Keep would have been smoking rubble.

His father, Lord Tywin, had ordered the reconstruction of White Sword Tower. The new building would not be a slender four story cylinder but a great drum tower, wider than it was tall, crowned with iron ramparts. There would be spacious apartments for the six brothers of the Kingsguard and the top floor would be richly decorated, suitable for a Lord Commander who would lead armies on behalf of the Iron Throne. Jaime hated the idea. Tyrion did not like it much either.

Jaime's distaste was based on the history of the order as captured by the White Book. To his brother, the white cloaks were more than just swords for the crown. They were a brotherhood of knights who dedicated their lives to the king. Honorable. Selfless. Dutiful. Not the brightest of men, but they were sworn to serve, not to rule. Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. Ser Ryam Redwyne. Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, and the finest knight of his time. Jaime's idols never cared about silk sheets, personal comfort, or splendid quarters.

Tyrion's objection was far more prosaic. He understood why his father wanted a grander and larger tower - to show that despite recent setbacks, House Lannister was the richest and most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms. There was a problem though. The Iron Throne was out of money. Before dying from a crossbow bolt, Lord Varys said that power resides where men believed where it resides. That might be true but gold was different. Gold could be counted.

He sat down at the solar to break his fast. Tyrion poured a cup of wine carefully, as not to stain the thick ledgers with food or drink. Baelish's accounts as Master of Coin were already a mess. The records of the brothels were riddled with fabrications like the receipts of the royal treasury.

The scent of meat roasting over a fire, caused his stomach to rumble. It would be hours before the leg of lamb, basted with mint, garlic, honey and dried cherries, was ready to eat. Tyrion ordered the maid to bring a hot meal from the castle kitchen. The heavy tray of warm bread, poached eggs, fried sausages, and honey duck was welcome. The disheveled sellsword with a bruised face and a black eye was not.

"What happened to you? Late night at the brothels?" Tyrion spread blackberry jam over a buttermilk biscuit.

Bronn grabbed a sausage with his right hand. The exposed knuckles were scuffed and the skin was scraped and bloody. "I was at Cobbler's Square this morning. Don't you know what is going on in this damned city?"

The riots were over but signs of the damage and destruction remained. Tyrion had not left the safety of the Red Keep for weeks. The smallfolk and merchants had no love for the Lannisters. "That is what I am paying you for." With Baelish and Varys dead, the Iron Throne had to rebuild a network of spies. He had no doubt his sister and father were trying to do the same.

"One of your uncles, Ser Harys Swyft, was trying to collect the poll tax. He called a meeting at the Broken Anvil…"

Tyrion interrupted. "Harys Swyft is not my uncle. He is Ser Kevan's good-father. He managed somehow to marry his plain daughter into the Lannisters. His only achievement."

Bronn gave every sign of annoyance. "Do you think I give a fuck?"

"Well, carry on." Tyrion helped himself to the duck breasts soaked in honey and accompanied by pears poached in wine. The fat of the rich sauce glistened on his lips.

"Swyft harangued the craftsmen and guild leaders about the tax. He said if their districts were short, they would have to pay for anyone missing."

"That was the wrong thing to say."

"No shit, Dwarf." Bronn helped himself to a cup of wine. "They started throwing rocks. That was alright - we had shields. But then some arse brought tar from River Row."

"They tarred and feathered Harys Swyft?" Tyrion was too shocked to take a bite of the light biscuit.

"The mob tried to tar and feather anyone collecting the tax. Three Lannister guards were beaten senseless. The city watch ran away rather than face the crowd. They stripped your uncle of his fancy silk cloak and threw tar on his breeches and doublet. We got him out of there before they could roll him onto a bed of feathers."

"I am sure Ser Harys will be grateful to you. He might give you lands for a reward." The sigil of House Swyft was a blue bantam rooster on a yellow field. Tyrion wondered if the feckless Harys appreciated the irony. A good feathering would make the soft and fat knight more like the banner of a blue chicken. Then again, the knight of Cornfield was not a clever man.

"Harys Swyft is crying like a child to the maester. He will never collect a poll tax again. Why is this so important? The tax is only two groats a head. Is two groats worth a revolt?"

"Two groats is a copper star. Seven stars is a silver stag. Seven stags is a silver moon. And thirty of those make up a gold dragon." Tyrion had known those numbers since he could talk. A Lannister knew the price of everything.

"I can count just as well as you. I can't read but I am fond of coins. And getting paid." Bronn had finished his cup. "Are you raising taxes for a war? Why else would you shear the smallfolk?"

"We are replacing the old taxes." Tyrion explained. "Just a temporary measure, until the Crown's funding returns. Before the war, Baelish collected three types of taxes - custom duties, fees for offices and titles, and a land tax."

"But none of those have gone away. The Tyrells are in King's Landing, and those rose fuckers are rich. You don't need money for sellswords without a war. So, why a tax on the poor?"

"The plague is over but trade is down, particularly in Oldtown. There are no offices to bestow. The revenues from the land tax have dropped by a lot." Tyrion admitted. "The North doesn't pay, the Reach insists that the Riverlands are exempt for several years, given how much the towns, castles and fields suffered from fires, floods and the war. No tax is collected in the Stormlands. With Baelish dead, the Valemen claim they have already paid the Eyrie. The Iron Throne must have money. Else how can the king pay for guards and servants?"

"Seems like the Iron Throne is paying you plenty." Bronn noted. The maid had brought in more plates, given that it was getting too late for breakfast. Spiced squash, baby spinach dressed with apples, crumbled cheese and pine nuts, and white beans with bacon accompanied the main dish of quails drowned in butter.

Tyrion gestured for his sworn sword to join him in the meal. The food would distract Bronn from the true reason behind the poll tax. The Braavosi demanded payment in gold and silver, not debased coins. Revolts could be put down but the Iron Bank would have its due. Lords bent the knee to kings but kings had to submit to banks, else their reign would be cut short.

The late and unlamented Varys and Baelish were quite similar, Tyrion thought. They were both ambitious and cunning, using their positions as Small Council members to advance their were underestimated due to their low birth and viewed as unsavory but helpful to those in power. The Spider's trade was secrets dribbled into eager ears. Baelish provided something just as seductive - gold.

Littlefinger had an abundant supply of gold, raised from the Lannisters, the Faith and the Tyrells, borrowed from the Iron Bank, and produced by adulterating gold and silver with copper and tin. It was easy to agree to requests for more money. It was much less pleasant to say no.

Thanks to Baelish, Tyrion was forced to play the miser. Ser Jacelyn Bywater wanted funds to hire more watchmen after the riots. The crown did not have any coin to spare. The High Sparrow demanded the repair of septs burned in the war. Septs were quite low in the list of priorities. No income came from the Riverlands so the Iron Throne could not help reconstruct the castles, marketplaces and towns put to the sword. Tyrion barely had enough to cover the needs of the harbor masters and customs collectors.

No one in King's Landing gave a shit about the problems of the crown. Everyone looked out for themselves. That was evident in the plans for the royal wedding. The Tyrells would marry the Rose of Highgarden to his nephew. His sister Cersei and Lord Mace expected Joffrey's nuptials to be a grand affair, rivaling the Golden Wedding of Alyssa Velaryon and Rogar Baratheon. It was pointless to note that Jaehaerys and Alysanne had a far smaller wedding and a much happier marriage. Tyrion tried his best but his thoughtful comments fell on deaf ears.

"Do we really need seven singers? How many versions of the Rains of Castamere does my father need?" Tyrion asked.

"Seven if the Lord Hand had his way. Seven is a holy number for the Faith. Seven kingdoms. Seven Gods. So we have seven singers during the seventy seven courses." Olenna replied.

Joffrey did not rule over seven kingdoms. Only the Westerlands, the Reach and the Eyrie could be seen as truly tied to the Iron Throne. The Iron Islands were in revolt, the North had broken away, and the Stormlands were rudderless. As for Dorne, the Martells were absent from King's Landing. At least, they had not declared for the North.

"Do we really need seventy seven courses? No one can eat that much food. No one will even notice if we serve half as much."

"Well, my son Mace might disagree." Olenna said. "What do you wish to cut, Lord Treasurer? The swan poached in saffron and peaches. The giant pigeon pie. The crabs boiled in fiery Eastern spices. Or the whole roast peacock stuffed with dates?"

"All of it. Or at least have less in each course. One can only eat so much swan, heron, pheasants, pigeons, quail, and peacock before it all tastes like chicken." Tyrion said.

"No one attends the royal wedding for the food." Olenna said wryly. "I did not come to King's Landing to dicker over my granddaughter like a fishmonger." "But the cost! Queen Margaery would be better served if her reign started with less debt."

She glared with barely concealed contempt. "Joffrey's reign will be short without the Reach. House Tyrell will pay for the singers but the Iron Throne for the other entertainers. The Reach will pay half the cost of the food. I am sure House Lannister can find enough money for peacocks and swans. If not, then take it from your bannermen. Your father knows how."

Tyrion was still musing about the royal marriage when a page bought the summons from the Hand of the King. The tower was ruined, the top floors marked by black ashes and gray soot. Green dust and small fissures marked the scorched walls and discolored stone. A more sensible man would have knocked the structure down, and built new foundations, undamaged by wildfire. His father was not sensible. Tywin Lannister would not wait to rebuild. His pride was too great to work from the Kitchen Keep or a barrack house.

Tyrion made his way to the solar. The chamber was bare of any wall hangings, steel mirrors, and woven tapestries. The elegant desk had been replaced by a massive and sturdy oak table. The fireplaces were bricked up. Lord Tywin would not tolerate any secret passages in his tower.

Tyrion sat down with a thick leather bound book on his lap. It had only been a few weeks but with Baelish's death, he had made considerable progress in unraveling the Mockingbird's trails. Unfortunately, many led to nests in Essos, far away from the reach of the Iron Throne.

"You met with the Tyrells today. Why hasn't this wedding taken place already?" Tywin did not bother to look up from the letters on the table.

"I spoke to Lady Olenna about the costs. The Reach will pay for half, but even with that, the expenses will be considerable. Seventy seven courses… "

His father scowled. "I do not care to discuss Joffrey's wedding planning. That is for fools like Mace. The Tyrells are dragging their feet. They are slow to send out ravens, and many of their most important bannermen will take weeks to arrive at King's Landing. By counting coppers, you give the Reach more time to intrigue against us."

The plague ended less than a moon ago. That had been the real reason for the delay. No house would send their lords and heirs to the Red Keep until that threat was over. Tyrion knew that it was imperative for Joffrey to wed Margaery soon. His nephew had a thin veneer of charm but the mask would only hide the boy's cruelty and sadism for so long. "We need Tyrell gold. We barely have enough funds to cover the Red Keep's expenses."

"Even with you melting down the groats and using the copper for stags?" Tywin asked sharply.

"The Iron Bank expects their payments in pure gold and silver. They refuse to take our coin. Tycho Nestoris brings in Qohorik smiths to weigh and appraise the bars. We cannot cheat them. Baelish borrowed far more gold than we can repay." Tyrion answered.

"Delay our payments then. The Iron Bank is a fearful enemy but even they need time to muster a force capable of threatening the Iron Throne." Tywin grimaced.

"No, they don't." Tyrion replied forcefully. "The only thing the Iron Bank needs to do is to weigh one of our coins in public. When it is revealed that the dragons and the stags have been debased, we are fucked. No merchant from the Free Cities will take payment in our coin. The sea captains will take their trade elsewhere. And anyone who holds old coins will refuse to spend them. It will be as bad as the War in the Riverlands. Worse. A war in the Riverlands is far away for many in the Seven Kingdoms. But destroying the value of their coins - that everyone understands. We are fucked if the Iron Bank reveals Baelish's secret."

"Your secret too. You are the Master of Coin. The new silver stags you minted are mostly brass and copper." Tywin sneered.

The blame for the coinage fiasco would fall on him. Tyrion could not even deny it. He had given the instructions to the four Keepers of the Keys at the royal mint. He wondered what names they would throw at him. Demon Monkey of the Mint. The Thief of Casterly Rock. The Brass Bandit. His father had gotten him into this mess, by forcing him into this office. Somehow all the shit in House Lannister fell on Tyrion.

"How much gold is left in the treasury?" Tywin demanded.

"Ninety thousand dragons, give or take. Enough to host a large tournament, to honor your appointment as Hand of the King." Tyrion quipped.

Lord Tywin pushed forth a written note. "This is an order of the Iron Throne, declaring Jon Snow a traitor to the crown. It condemns him for the murder of Petyr Baelish, Lord Protector of the Vale, and declares his life forfeit."

"A nice piece of paper. How will you enforce it? Snow is in the North. No army would dare march to Winterfell to take his head." Tyrion replied.

"The king will not need an army. The Iron throne will pay for Snow's head or proof of his death. One million gold dragons."

That was a staggering amount, more than two years of taxes for the crown. "We don't have that much." Tyrion attempted to argue.

"One million dragons. As a bounty for his death. We will send out the ravens today."

"This is a treacherous path. Jon Snow is Rhaegar Targaryen's son. He cured the plague. Attempting to kill him like this will provoke many in the Seven Kingdoms, not just the North." That much gold would lure out assassins, traitors, and desperate men - a foul and base way of suborning murder. Like the failed Red Wedding, this ugly affair would stain the Lannister name.

"Jon Snow is dangerous to us. Daemon Targaryen would be worse. Traitors will flock to his banner. He must die. Once Snow is gone, our enemies will cower and bend their knees. Why have the Tyrells delayed the royal wedding? Why did the Martells disappear back to Dorne? They plot against the Iron Throne." Tywin declared.

"Everyone plots against the Iron Throne. That is the main occupation for nobles - how to advance their family's interests. The great houses will see what you are doing, Father. If you can send hired killers after Jon Snow, they will all wonder if their heads are safe."

Tywin scoffed."There is a tool for every task. The Tyrells and Martells can be bought with titles and marriages. House Stark cannot. Trade increases between the North and the Free Cities. Snow needs to die. Better now than before he brings a war again to King's Landing."

The War in the Riverlands had never reached King's Landing. His father must be thinking about the Wildfire Wedding and the ensuing humiliation of House Lannister. Typical – Tyrion thought. Tywin only cared about his legacy, not his children. The clash between wolf and lion had not gone well in the Riverlands. Now a dragon had appeared and made the North stronger. My father fears that the Lannisters would lose. And then his great legacy would crumble to ashes. Behind the bluster, Lord Tywin was afraid of the wars to come.

"And what of the million gold dragons?" Tyrion asked.

"The Lannisters always pay their debts. But after the prize is awarded… "

Lord Tywin did not bother to explain further. Earning a reward did not mean keeping it. The Lannisters would pay to keep their reputation but after the gold changed hands…. Tyrion despised his father but he understood.

The dire wolves enjoyed lolling about on the quarter deck, in the shade of the lateen sail at the mizzen mast. It helped that the carrack was a hundred and fifty feet long, a sturdier and broader version of the Sea Snake, Corlys Velayron's three masted flagship. From the raised stern, Jon could see the crew busy at work, checking the rigging and windlasses, loading fresh water and supplies, and hauling bales of cloth, hides of furs, and barrels of whiskey into the spacious hold.

He waited as Arya tried out the far eye. The series of seven brass tubes extended out, until the eye was as long as a short sword. Closed, it was shorter than Needle. She turned her gaze to the woods overlooking the town.

"I can see raven's nests on the soldier pines over the ringfort." his sister said.

"The far eye should be able to bring an object ten times closer. At sea, that means you can spot a ship ten miles away." Jon added.

"A boy on top of a crow's nest might be able to see that. Or at least five miles" The Hound said.

"The cabin boy would see a blur. This would let you see the color and sigil on the sails."

"It is true." Arya said. "I can see brown spots on the green and blue eggs."

"The glassblowers of Myr make far-eyes but this one is better. Every sea captain should have one." Jon said.

"I will take that." A long-legged, dark-haired woman dressed in a tunic and breeches of quilted leather and brown wool made her way up to the quarterdeck. She was escorted by Robb Stark and several guards but her hands and legs were free. A wicked smile crossed her wind and sun chafed face as she took in the eight wooden spokes of the ship's wheel. "How does this work?"

"The wheel connects to an axle on the spindle of a tiller chain. The chain is hooked to sheaves and pulleys under the deck. It steers and controls the rudder so the captain can command the vessel from the quarterdeck." Jon said.

Asha Greyjoy's face flushed red. "So this is a carrack. No oars, but a lot of sail. This ship has a broader beam and deeper hull than most. Where are the captain's quarters?"

"The quarterdeck is the roof of the main cabins. The captain would stay here, along with the most important passengers." Jon answered.

"Lady Asha, we still haven't decided whether you will be the captain." Robb interjected.

"Any nitwit could sail from here to Braavos. Even a Manderly or a Flint knows that a ship avoids the early autumn storms in the Narrow Sea by going east and south on the Shivering Sea. But if you plan to go to Meereen, you need a real captain."

"We call on the Iron Bank. Beyond that, our plans are still undecided. I wish to meet my aunt, Queen Daenerys, but that will depend on our reception in the Free Cities."

"A Targaryen reunion." Asha grinned, "But first, I have conditions, your grace."

"Conditions? You are our prisoner!" Robb said.

'You need a captain, not a captive." Asha replied bluntly. "Your house wants to take back the Iron Throne. I want Pyke and the Seastone Chair. The Targaryens need loyal vassals. Appoint me your Lord of the Iron Islands."

"Loyal? When have the Greyjoys ever been loyal? Theon turned his cloak on House Stark. Your people have been raiding Bear Island and the Stony Shore for years." Arya cried out.

"Why do we need House Greyjoy? The Targaryens could appoint a lesser house to rule, one that would not shield reavers and rapers." Robb added.

"My father Balon Greyjoy died at Pyke. My nuncle, Aeron Damphair, called for a kingsmoot - the first one in a thousand years. There, the captains of the longships choose the next King of the Iron Islands. No heir to a lesser house or greenlander would ever win that contest. The Ironborn respect those who are strong at sea. We are krakens." Asha declared.

"So Theon is the new Lord of the Iron Islands?" Robb asked.

"Because he is my father's son? Those are the laws of the green lands. Men fight and die for the strong, not the weak who are softened by peace. Theon has lived too long from the sea to win a kingsmoot. No, nuncle Euron will win. And Euron Crow's Eye is no friend of the North."

"Euron? I fought him at Ironman's Bay. His ship was full of freaks with their tongues cut out. His war horn brought down the walls of Seagard. He wrecked the other longships so that he could escape from the battle. He is a monster, not a king." Robb said.

"You don't know the half of it. Euron is a beast in human skin. He raped Nuncle Victarion's wife as a joke. He tortures, kills, and mutilates for pleasure. My father suspected him of slaying their brothers. He brags of consorting with sorcerers, shadowbinders, and warlocks. He makes the Mad King seem kind. Euron would rape the world and then burn it all down." Asha said.

"Why would anyone follow your uncle? How does he even have a crew, let alone nobles who will declare for him?" Robb asked.

"He takes no plunder. Euron does not care about gold or pearls, only death and destruction. Men are easily led by the promise of loot and glory. They think with their cocks." Asha said.

"Men are fools. Anyone who follows Euron will have a short, nasty, and brutish life. There is no glory to being hung in a gibbet or being gelded and beheaded. I will not allow the Iron Fleet to raid and rape peaceful lands. The time of Black Harren is long past." Jon said.

"Then make me your man. Let me serve you as Lord of the Iron Islands."

"A trip to Braavos is not worth the title of Warden or Lord Paramount. But serve me loyally, and I will be generous. You are a better choice than Euron or Theon. I have conditions as well." Jon handed her the brass far-eye. "My enemies must be defeated - not just the Lannisters, but any who threaten the North and the Seven Kingdoms. My allies must agree. That may include Queen Daenerys with her dragons. And third, there will be no return to the Old Way. Piracy and plunder are no basis for stable rule. There will be no thralls or salt wives."

"I agree with your grace, but the Ironborn are a rowdy and unruly people. A firm hand is needed to control them, and even then.."

"The Old Way will end. The Greyjoys can choose that path willingly or suffer the consequences. I don't have time now to deal with the Ironborn. But one day I will, and then there will be blood. The Iron Fleet are long boats, right?"

"Mostly. The Black Wind is a long boat. There are a few galleys." Asha asked.

"The sides of a long boat are three to four to feet above the water. The carrack, fully loaded, has sides a dozen feet high. The quarterdeck is taller. There are many places for missile weapons. No captain will attack a taller ship from an open boat. It would be murder for their crew. A carrack can carry dozens of scorpions, crossbows, and spear throwers. There are deadlier options - burning pitch, quicklime, wildfire."

"And are these weapons ready?"

"No. It takes time to train marines and build artillery." Jon admitted. "We need to test the size and strength of the scorpions, and how to brace it against the ship so there is no recoil. There is much to learn but make no mistake - when the fleet is ready, the North will sink any pirates on its shores. Then there will be no negotiation. The IronBorn will change or die."

"I hope that will not be that soon." Asha said wryly. "What did you name this ship?"

"The She-Wolf. Brave, fierce, and deadly. The first of the Northern fleet." Jon turned away to attend to the carrack.

Lord Tywin had not bothered to call a meeting of the Small Council. The Hand certainly could have forced through the issue. The Lannister votes were secure, the Dornish were missing, and Mace Tyrell had no spine. Instead, Tywin had announced the bounty on Jon Snow's head to the full court. The proclamations had already been prepared, giving the maesters an early warning. No doubt that was why the Queen of Thorns and many knights in the Reach attended.

"A million gold dragons? For the death of the man who cured the plague. This is not going to end well." The Tyrell matriarch cried.

"Snow is a traitor to the Iron Throne." Tywin perched uncomfortably on the remains of the Iron Throne. The swords had cracked and melted from the wildfire and several blades, the darkened metal twisted and burnt, hung over the makeshift velvet seat. It looked like the jaw of a dragon.

"Jon Snow saved your life, Lord Hand. Without his elixir, you would have died - like many here. Like the High Sparrow. Like the knights and soldiers in King's Landing. The smallfolk, the sea captains, the merchants of the Free Cities - all of them know his name." Olenna said.

"It was Petyr Baelish who brought the cure from Essos to King's Landing. Snow killed the Lord Paramount to claim credit." Tywin said to the disbelief of many in the Great Hall.

The nobles knew that was a bald-faced lie. That was his father's plan - to lie, lie, and lie some more so that somehow the record could be erased and rewritten. Repeat a lie often enough and people might view it as the truth. Tyrion doubted the deception would work. The ink was dry. Jon Snow changed the game by declaring himself a Targaryen. The Lannisters had no support from anywhere but the Vale and Lysa Arryn was a mad cow.

"The Master of Coin was haggling with House Tyrell over the royal wedding. Does the crown have a million gold dragons? That seems a vast amount given the Iron Throne does not want to pay for a few singers." Olenna said.

Tywin sneered. "Of course, we have enough gold. If we didn't, we could raise taxes. There are ways to squeeze money out of smallfolk and merchants."

"Well, don't expect more gold from the Reach. We have more people than the other Kingdoms, and have paid our fair share of this damnable poll tax." Olenna turned to leave. "I doubt many Reachmen are eager to collect this prize. We have seen disease plague our lands many times. We know the value of this elixir."

Tyrion noted with amusement that his father grinded his teeth. They were fortunate that Joffrey was not present. The king might have thrown Olenna into the Black Cells for insolence but then the Lannisters would lose an ally. But with friends like Lady Olenna, who needed enemies? House Tyrell would stab the lions in the back if the dragons offered a better deal. They were like the Lannisters, only with flowers, and better singers.

Tyrion departed the Great Hall after his father dispatched half a dozen maesters with ravens. Heralds were riding to the plazas and squares of King's Landing to cry out the king's order. Already the Red Keep was abuzz with activity. By sundown, all the residents of the capital would know about the bounty. In a few days, the news would spread along the Trident, the Kingsroad, and the Mander. In a fortnight, the ravens would reach the North and Dorne. And then, what would happen?

How would the North retaliate for the order? Would the Starks try to have Tywin or Joffrey killed? The defenses of the Red Keep could be breached by a spy or an assassin. Jon Snow had proven that once already. No, such treachery did not suit his character. The boy might be a lost Targaryen prince but he had been raised as the son of Ned Stark. Stark had been too stubborn and hidebound to adapt to the game of thrones. That might also prove to be Snow's downfall. He was too valiant and noble - qualities suited for songs but not for kings. The Lannisters had been unable to match the North on the battlefield. Knives in the dark were a different matter. Honor did not matter if you could poison a dragon.

"This is a disgrace. How can the Iron Throne pay gold for murder?" Jaime said with anger, speaking so loudly that his words rang out in the Kitchen Keep. Even without Varys and Baelish, there were spies everywhere in the castle.

Bronn rolled his eyes. The sellsword knew better what crimes kings and lords committed. Bronn had murdered plenty of men for coin. That was how he became Tyrion's sworn sword.

"Father has ordered people killed before. He has just never been as honest about it." Or as desperate. In the past, the promise of recognition or a spit of land had been enough to induce the murder of Elia Martell and her children by Lannister knights. Tyrion wondered if his father had contacted a few Northmen and been rebuffed. Dragons grew more dangerous with age.

"A million gold dragons!" Bronn said. "I could be Lord Bronn of the Blackwater and build myself a great big fooking castle. Maybe even three. One on the Rose Road, one on the Kings Road, and one on the Rush. A lady in each castle….."

"I wouldn't get too excited." Tyrion had taken the two into the sitting room of his quarters. He poured three cups of Dornish Red. "You wouldn't live to see the castles finished."

"What do you mean? Will the Starks kill me?" Bronn asked.

"I would worry about another great house closer by." Tyrion drank his wine. "The Iron Throne does not have a million dragons to spare."

"Seven Hells." Bronn exclaimed. "I thought you Lannisters claimed to always pay your debts."

"We pay them. But if the killer dies soon after receiving the bounty, well, that will be no surprise. Murderers do not live for long, unless they wear crowns." Tyrion quipped.

"Kings have died too for their crimes." Jaime said grimly. "Did you have a part in this, Tyrion? Did you come up with this foul plan?"

"This ugly chicken was hatched by the head of House Lannister. Father doesn't listen to anyone. He will do anything to advance our family. I was tasked to come up with the gold dragons."

"This is a travesty. Facing Daemon in battle would be better and fairer. Ordering his murder, and then stealing the gold back will shame our house." Jaime said.

Fairness had nothing to do with this plot. "Be reasonable. Snow is a danger to the Iron Throne. The Targaryens lose only when they are divided, have no dragons, or are mad. Preferably all three. But this prince is not mad, his aunt has three dragons, and if the two unite, we are dead. What happens to House Lannister? What will happen to Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen?"

"They will be spared." Jaime shrugged. "Maybe not Joffrey but Myrcella and Tommen will not be killed. Prince Daemon is not our father or his grandfather. I saw him in Maidenpool. He is a good man and the true heir to the Iron Throne."

These were extremely dangerous waters. Tyrion held up his hand for silence, and walked to the hall to make certain there were no passing servants. He returned only after he was certain, making sure to shut the door tightly. "Jaime, you cannot say such things."

"Why not?" His brother replied. "We know Daemon didn't kill Baelish. He cured the plague. He walked through fire. He gave the secrets of the elixir away. That is what a king should be."

"You have met Snow twice. He might be a great king." Tyrion admitted. "He might also turn mad. Many Targaryens have. Is that worth the risk? House Lannister already has the throne. Plus, we may never know if his parents were married or not. He may be a Snow or a Blackfyre. The lords of Westeros do not want a bastard to take a crown."

"Do not speak to me about bastards, Tyrion." Jaime said. "Joffrey and Tommen do not have a better claim. No one does. Daemon Targaryen is Rhaegar's son, the Last Dragon. He deserves to rule the Seven Kingdoms."

"Deserves has nothing to do with power. The man with more swords, gold, and allies wins the crown. The ravens have already been sent out. It is too late. Our family must win or die."

"Not like this." Jaime prepared to leave the solar. His goblet of wine stayed untouched. "I will not be a party to this abomination. I will not disgrace my vows. A knight of the Kingsguard must serve the rightful king."

"Jaime! Jaime!" Tyrion called out to his brother's back. The door slammed shut.

"Let him be." Bronn said.

"He is going to do something stupid. Honorable but stupid." His brother had always been rash and headstrong, eager to slash his way through any trouble.

"Of course. That is who he is." Bronn shrugged.

"Stupid? I suppose so, but that's why he should listen to my pearls of wisdom." Tyrion took Jaime's cup for his own. There was no need to waste wine.

"That's not what I meant." Bronn sharpened a long dirk with a whetstone. "Your brother has always wanted to be a knight. Not like the shitty ones in King's Landing. Not Meryn Trant or Boros Blount or Mandon Moore or that Kettleblack fucker."

"That would be hard. Those four are all dead." Tyrion replied. Three died in the explosion at White Sword Tower. The last one was killed in the royal sept and stripped of his armor.

"He wants to be a knight of songs, not to murder enemies or beat girls or hire assassins. He still believes the white cloak means something." Bronn said.

Jaime's childhood idol had been Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. Ser Arthur had been Rhaegar's closest friend, and the finest knight of his time. Jaime had joined the White Cloaks when they had been good men, loyal and true, and their vows had been for life. They died fighting for their kings. The world had changed. "None of us get what we want. Dreams rarely come true." Tyrion knew that very well.

"Well, my dreams are a lot of gold, and a castle." Bronn kicked up his feet.

"Gold is easy. Honor is hard." Tyrion worried about what Jaime would do.

The She-Wolf carried a dozen sails of different sizes and shapes. Some were square but most were triangular, lateen sails capable of taking wind on either side. The foremast and the mainmast had large square sails but the top sails were lateen, as well as the sail on the mizzenmast, closest to the stern. Unlike a cog or a galley, the carrack could sail into the wind.

Arya did not quite understand how the many sails worked together. To deal with a headwind or crosswind, the carrack would tack back and forth, a zig-zag motion where the bow turned toward and through the breezes to change course. A crowd had gathered in the harbor to watch as the crew practiced how to maneuver.

Asha Greyjoy stood on the stern, surveying the three masts and multiple decks. Dressed in a plain sleeveless leather jerkin and black breeches, the Ironborn captain was comfortable in her element, receiving reports from the first mate and the bosun. Her cabin boy, a brown haired lad with a sharp nose, wide mouth and pointed chin, stayed by her side. Wex Pyke was mute but he was quick-witted and was well liked by the Winter Town Boys. There were quite a few on the carrack - Gerry and Chett - and many Little Birds. Asha had no objection to their presence. They knew more about the She-Wolf than she did.

"It is a lovely ship." A young girl said on her left. She was accompanied by an older man with thin browning hair, a salt and pepper beard, and a plain face worn by years of sun and sea.

"Lady Shireen."

"The proper title is Princess Shireen." The Onion Knight said firmly but with kindness.

"Her father is not King in the North." Arya said bluntly.

The girl turned and curtsied. Despite large jug-like ears and a square jaw, Shireen Baratheon might have been pretty, if not for the scarred gray and black skin on her left cheek. "The title does not matter. I have never seen a ship like the She-Wolf. Is she named after you?"

Arya blinked in surprise. "I am not the only female Stark. But if I had to guess, it would be my aunt, Lady Lyanna. My father told me that she was beautiful and brave."

"It is a lovely ship." Davos agreed. "The Fury is as long as the She-Wolf, but requires a much larger crew to man the oars. A war galley is fine near shore, but for a long trip, this carrack may be more suitable for deep waters."

The She-Wolf could handle heavy seas and lengthy voyages. It was more than a merchant ship though. The carrack was a capable warship. "Shireen, how long have you had greyscale?"

The girl tensed up slightly. "Before I could remember. I was an infant when I caught it from a Dornish merchant ship."

"Have you asked my brother to look at your face?"

Shireen opened and closed her mouth, like a fish. Davos put a hand on her shoulder. "Maester Cressen said nothing could be done."

"Maester Cressen is not my brother. Shireen, you should ask him."

"I did not want to trouble your family. Your brother has been very busy with the ships, he leaves soon, and my father has no love for him." the girl babbled.

Arya waved away these concerns. "Jon does not give a shit what your father thinks. He would help you if he could. His departure means you should ask now. Why wait?"

"If he could spare the time…"

Arya took the girl's hand. With Davos following, they walked up the gangplank and went up the stairs. The Hound allowed them to pass into the quarterdeck where they saw the dire wolves and the one-eared black tom. Balerion snarled briefly before losing interest.

Ghost was by her brother's side. Jon was showing Captain Asha a large leather bound book. "Record the trip in this log. Dates, the speed, and weather."

"What for? I am not a maester." Asha replied.

"The log is the duty of the captain. You need to track the voyage of the She-Wolf."

"The Citadel will not care about a short trip to Braavos. I am not Corlys Velayron on an expedition to Yi Ti." Asha japed.

"How do you know? Braavos is only the first stop. There are many unexplored places in Essos." Jon said.

"And do you plan to travel to the Shadowlands and the Jade Sea?" the Ironborn grinned.

"Some day. Why should we not sail beyond the sunset? I have a thirst for exploration and knowledge. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than written by maesters at the Citadel. Why limit ourselves to what is known by man?"

"Jon." Arya interrupted the exchange, tugging on her brother's arm. "Can you heal Shireen?"

"Lady Shireen? Is she sick?"

"No, stupid. She has greyscale." Arya pointed at the girl's dark cheek. In the sunlight, the patch of skin looked slightly reptilian.

"She had greyscale. My understanding is that Shireen was infected very young. Is that true?" Jon asked.

"Yes, Prince Daemon. I was a babe when a Dornish trader brought it to Dragonstone." Shireen curtsied more deeply.

"Come closer, my lady." Jon took out a small lens and placed it over his right eye. His hand touched the girl's cheek carefully.

"There is no chance of you catching greyscale, is there? Because if it spreads on the boat…" Asha asked with concern.

Jon shook his head. "She caught the disease as a child. These are scars from the illness. She cannot infect anyone."

"King Stannis has consulted many healers. None of them could do anything." Davos said.

"I can understand why." Jon replied. He put away the seeing eye.

Shireen sagged. "Does this mean I can never be healed?"

"That is not what I mean. The elixir can treat animalcules, but there are none on your cheek. Greyscale is more than a simple disease. Prince Garin used magic to bring down the Sorrows. I would need to unlock that magic to heal you fully. It does not exist in the North."

"Magic is a queer thing, not to be trusted." Davos shuddered.

"But it exists. In certain places like Essos, it is stronger. There were glass candles from Valyria at the Citadel. The maesters say the candles cannot be lit, but they are wrong. The Freehold rose due to sorcery, for better or worse." Jon mused.

"My uncle, Euron, trafficks in the dark arts. He surrounds himself with warlocks and sorcerers. Lord Harlow told me once that Euron is often drunk on shade of the evening." Asha grimaced.

"That is not magic. Those are the tricks of mountebanks and charlatans. Real magic can create or destroy empires." Jon said. "Do not give up hope, Lady Shireen. One day, I will find the cure and heal your face. But today is not that day."

The ravens had departed King's Landing. The king's order reached the Riverlands first, where the lords and knights cursed Joffrey as a bastard and an usurper. The letters flew fast and furious between the towns and castles on the Mander, and arrived at Highgarden where Ser Garlan and Lady Leonette rested with their newborn child. The Tyrells were not amused but Willas put the blame on Lord Tywin and not the boy king. At Casterly Rock, the Lannister bannermen dreaded the start of the next war.

The ravens had yet to reach Sunspear, Winterfell or Essos before the She-Wolf left port. One bird got lost and found its way to a smuggler's port in Cape Wrath at the edge of the rainwood. There, Euron Greyjoy, when he was not brutalizing his motley troop of fools and freaks or partaking in foul rites and blasphemy rituals with half mad warlocks, cackled over the bounty. The warships of the Iron Fleet prepared to sail. The Crow's Eye did not care about gold but killing a dragon was a prize worthy of a kraken.

Author's Notes

The raven is based on Jeor Mormont's raven, who has an uncanny ability to always say the right thing. The three words the raven says most are King, Snow, and Corn.

The motives and reactions of Robb, Arya and Jon are different. Robb plays the role of Lord of Winterfell to guide the North through the storm. Arya is not a cold blooded killer but she believes in action. Jon has to deal with the legacy of the Targaryens.

Despite winning the battles, a lot of Northmen died in the war. Even a victor suffers large losses. History focuses on battles, but hunger and disease resulted in more deaths. For example, there are stories that Genghis Khan was shot by an arrow or fell off his horse or even stabbed by a captive princess! Historians now think Genghis Khan died of the bubonic plague. Many Mongol khans died of drinking, disease or murder by their relatives.

In the books, Tyrion lives in the Kitchen Keep after being kicked out of the Tower of the Hand. The most extravagant food is in the Cersei and Tyrion chapters, highlighting the enormous wealth of the Lannisters. Other houses have less elaborate meals although I suspect the Tyrells and Manderlys love their food. I particularly like the contrast between descriptions of seafood in Braavos, the Sisters, and the Iron Islands.

Tarring and feathering originated in the 12th century. It was first mentioned as a punishment for theft in the navy under Richard I, when he went on a crusade. It is not clear how much it is used as a punishment in the middle ages but it became popular in the Americas, famously applied to custom collectors for the British.

The first record of the poll tax was in the 14th century. It was actually quite successful, but very unpopular. The first poll tax was raised at 4 pence per person over the age of 14. It raised 22K pounds. To put that in perspective, the cost of maintaining English garrisons in French cities was 36K pounds a year, during the Hundred Year War. The poll tax led to the great Peasant Revolt of 1381, which lasted a month.

In the books, the Iron Throne is 6 million gold dragons in debt. Half is from the Lannisters. Two million is to the Iron Bank, and the rest is the Faith, forgiven so the Faith Militant can be formed. In the show, the debt is consolidated to the Iron Bank. That makes the Season 7 Episode where the Lannisters pay off all the debt by sacking Highgarden absurd. Kings did not have 6 million gold lying around, let alone dukes. First, wealth was held in land, particularly for a non trading economy like the Seven Kingdoms. Second, the numbers are astronomical. To give a rough sense, the ransom for King Richard of England was 150,000 silver marks. Now a mark may be a relatively large coin - almost ½ a pound, but silver is much cheaper than gold.

GRRM makes the game of thrones about family intrigue and crimes (incest, murder of children.) But financial crises have done more to bring down kings. In particular, a spiral tends to happen. King is short on funds, then declares XYZ a traitor and takes lands and titles. Other nobles join XYZ who brings in support from a foreign king.

Tyrion believes that exposure of the coin debasement would lead to both inflation and contraction. The contraction comes because when your medium of exchange becomes untrustworthy, everyone freezes. As for inflation, that is obvious, and the prices would go to the point where you have shortages. The four prizes for the Tourney of the Hand totalled 90,000 dragons.

"There is a tool for every task, and a task for every tool." Tywin Lannister is referring to the use of the Mountain and Vargo Hoat (his dogs of war) to terrorize in the Riverlands. It also foreshadows using Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to plan the Red Wedding.

Tyrion is most like his father. He is shrewd, perceptive and ruthless. Peter Dinklage is a fabulous actor but Book Tyrion is far darker than the show character. Either they forgot in Season 8 that people die in war, or all of the characters become hypocritical idiots. You can argue that at the end, Tyrion becomes Tywin - Hand of the King to a madman. Personally I hope the Three Eyed Crow's reign ends in fire and blood.

The ship's wheel started at the beginning of the 18th century. (1700s.) It was right near the end of piracy in the Caribbean. Before that, people would steer with a rudder.

In a preview chapter of The Winds of Winter, Euron claims to have killed three brothers. Balon died falling off the bridge. Two others, the oldest and the youngest Greyjoy sons, died as infants. It is possible that Euron is lying to torture Aeron, or that this is a fever dream. The Damphair has been force fed shade of the evening to witness a vile blood sacrifice. Euron is a horror show.

"These Tyrells are only Lannisters with flowers" is what Dontos Hollard tells Sansa when he is trying to spirit her away for Baelish. Of course, Dontos is hardly a credible source. In the books, the Tyrells were ambitious but kinder than the Lannisters. Olenna does kill Joffrey at a wedding but he would have been a horrid king. By reputation, Garlan and Willas were friendly.

House Peake famously had three castles. One of them, Dunstonbury, was taken from the Manderlys. House Peake lost two of the three castles, after the first Blackfyre Rebellion.

It is hard to assess how much a castle would cost. Edward Longshanks, one of the strongest kings of England, built several imposing castles in Wales. Conwy Castle took four years, and the cost, including town walls, was 15,000 pounds. Presumably, that would be less than 100,000 dragons but then again the Hound won 40,000 dragons for a tourney.

"Ugly chicken" is how Tyrion refers to the Red Wedding. The quote is "I have no doubt Walder Frey hatched this ugly chicken, but he would never have dared such a thing without a promise of protection."

The longship was a multipurpose vessel that was cheap, fast, and durable. They were rugged, and with good sailors, could handle any climate. Galleys were ineffective outside the coasts, and somewhat unstable in storms. Once people figured out how to build carracks, that became the main ship of war and trade. The carrack developed into the galleon. Of course the Age of Sail also came with the age of guns, and you need large ships to hold cannons.

The She-Wolf is named after Lyanna Stark. It will play a future role. Sailing technology is not quite clear in the book. Corlys Velayron was a great mariner, as was Elissa Farman. The Sun Chaser, Elissa's ship, was a carrack, designed to explore the oceans.

I don't buy Samwell Tarly's cure of greyscale. I am not sure I understand why they wrote that into the TV series except possibly to give Jorah some airtime.

Cape Wrath is a place in the highlands of Scotland. In Westeros, it is a peninsula in the Stormlands that borders Shipbreaker Bay. These are the lands that Ser Davos receives, so it could have ports for smugglers.