A/N: Chap 25 review responses are in my forums as normal. And now we get on with the ruling of a kingdom.
Chapter Twenty-Six: Queen's Justice
The Seven Kingdoms had no legal code.
There were neither barristers nor attorneys. No judges, nor legal courts. There were people held in the cells under the Keep that had been there for months without ever even the possibility of trial or determination of guilt. Some were being held because they said something a Lannister didn't like; others on accusations of more serious crimes.
Taylor's blanket pardon that released all the prisoners scrubbed away the symptoms, but did nothing for the underlying problem.
Valyrian law was talked about, but Taylor couldn't find any actual written laws from that period, just a common understanding among those she queried. The queries themselves were met with confusion. None of the nobles could understand or even see the need for any type of legal code.
Law was whatever the highest ranking member of the nobility in an area said it was. Usually that meant death, regardless of the crime. Murder someone? Die or go to the Wall. Rape someone? Die or go to the Wall. Steal a loaf of bread because your kid's starving? Die or go to the Wall.
And for nobles? Through trial by combat, the Seven Kingdoms believed as a literal truth that might made right.
King's Landing had no sewage system.
Aside from the horror of killing thousands of people and coming close to burning down the entire city, the firing of Flea Bottom also revealed massive, open cesspits that held raw sewage from all over the city. Nor was it all just sewage-Flea Bottom also housed the tanneries and the butcher houses and the other stinky professions that were necessary to the city, but which smelled so bad they were relegated to the poorest section of the city. No one thought twice about the fact that their meat was being prepared right next to the cess pits.
King's landing had no healthcare. At all.
This was demonstrated by the fact that ordinary people and Taylor's own Unsullied acted as medics during the worst of the treatment. If not for Taylor's healing and instructions, none of the injured would have survived at all. In a city whose streets were littered with human and animal dung, even small cuts could lead to death.
These weren't situations that Taylor could solve by bringing in consultants. No one in the world was any better. Sure, she'd heard that Volantis had barristers and a sewage system that dated back to Valyria, but their legal system was based on caste. If you were a slave, the punishment was always death. The severity of the crime simply determined how long they took to kill you.
That was why, the morning a week after she took Dragonstone, Taylor climbed onto Temeraire's shoulders and began flying across the Reach. She'd convinced Saphira and Elliot to remain around King's Landing with the promise of daily sheep.
It was an eye-opening experience. Flying down the low, broad river plain known as the Reach brought home why the Tyrells were so filthy rich, and why the Dornish hated them. Farms lined the Mander River. She saw lots of watermills along the many small tributaries and creeks that ran through the land. It looked ancient and settled and sedate, despite the recent violence that saw thousands of men dead.
Temeraire started to tire out near Cider Hall, at the intersection of the Cockleswell and Mander Rivers. At the moment, it was under Dornish control in her name. She saw the Sunpsear banners over the modest castle, and a second banner of sand-colored fabric that featured what looked like an iron gate. Dornish soldiers on the walls saw her approaching. Like most normal people, they reacted in alarm.
She had Temeraire bank around and came to a relatively gentle landing in what looked like a tourney field near the castle, opposite the idyllic village that nestled opposite of the castle away from the rivers. Once landed, Taylor had to admit the castle builders at least took into account the risk of flooding. The curtain wall of the castle formed an embankment that kept the rivers from flooding over into the town.
The field she landed in was, itself, a flood plan.
She climbed down and undid Temeraire's saddle. "Stay close, okay love?"
The ever-growing dragon growled his assent. She hadn't taken more than a dozen steps when a line of five knights in full plate armor rode out of the castle, followed by five more horsemen in mail and helmets. The banner flapped on its lance behind the lead rider. The man wore the same symbol on the surcoat over his armor. He rode to within a few dozen feet before dismounting. Even in fully plate, he the dismount look easy. Behind him, the other knights also dismounted. All six men removed their helms, revealing Dornish men with sun-kissed skin and dark to tawney hair. All six knelt down before her.
"Your grace, you honor us," the leader said. He appeared to be a healthy man in his mid-forties, with a broad chest and shoulders, tawney hair and a powerful block of a face. "I am Lord Yronwood of Dorne. At Prince Doran's direction I hold these lands in your name."
"If the full fields I saw from Temeraire's back are any indication, you're doing an excellent job of it as well, Lord Yronwood," Taylor said. "I'm on my way to Old Town to scare the Citadel into sending me some Maesters I can corrupt into something useful, but Temeraire got tired."
Tradition dictated that she could not specifically ask for a bed. But likewise, tradition dictated that she didn't have to. Lord Yronwood stood, having done his obeisance. "Then, your grace, it will be my honor and privilege to host you for the evening, should you wish it."
"That would be marvelous, Lord Yronwood. Thank you!"
The previous owners of the castle and the surrounding lands, the Fossoways, had a tragic story. They abandoned Stannis Baratheon shortly after the Blackwater, bent the knee to Joffrey, and then were killed almost to a man when Prince Oberyn Martell and the Dornish host fell on Mace Tyrell and his relief column.
The female members of the Fossoways who had travelled with Tyrells were currently being held at a convent while Taylor tried to figure out what to do with them. Yet, even though the castle was conquered by the Dornish, the entire staff were the same people that served the Fossoways. The nobility changed, but the small folk who actually got things done remained the same.
So it was that the seamstress who came to create a dress for Taylor that evening was a bastard of one of the dead Fossoway knights, and her assistants were born in the village outside the castle. They 'oohed' and 'ahhhed' at her black-gold eyes and tall stature. The tallest of them barely reached her chest. One of the women, full grown if a day, barely topped four feet.
They had a dress fitted and prepared for her in two hours. When they were gone, more castle staff came with buckets of steaming water they poured into a wooden cask bath. The girl assigned as her chamber maid stared in shock at Taylor's many scars as she bathed. She didn't say a word, at least not then.
Taylor had no doubt she would later.
Lord Yronwood went all out for the feast. The main hall of the castle was actually about the size of Taylor's old living room back in Seattle. Two tables ran it's length, while a high table sat facing them. The lord of the castle graciously offered her the high center chair before seating himself to her right. To her left was Yronwood's only son, Cletus.
Cletus. He even had a lazy eye, though otherwise he was as handsome a young man as his father.
The lad had dark hair and fiery eyes, with skin that was more bronzed than dark. He was probably only a year or two younger than Taylor and stared unabashedly at her as she sat. "Don't worry, Ser, I shan't kiss you," she said to the boy.
He blushed brilliantly. "My loss, your grace. I was just thinking of Queen Nymeria."
"That's sweet," Taylor said. "The legends say she was a very beautiful woman. When I was born, the gods could either give me their power, or their beauty, but my body could not contain both. You can see which they chose."
Lord Yronwood and several of his vassals who heard laughed at the quip. "Power has its own beauty. That beastie of yours, for instance, is a magnificent creature."
"You know I won't give you Casterly Rock just because you say sweet things about my dragons," she told the man.
She had nothing to prove to these men. She could sense Yronwood's loyalty not to her, but to Doran Martell. And with Doran's public support and declaration for her, that made Yronwood and his vassals hers.
"Your grace," Lord Yronwood said after the last of six courses had been served. "All of us here had listened to your many wondrous deeds. If it pleases you, could you tell us of the Battle of Torturer's Deep? The Ironborn have been enemies of Dorne for ages, and I speak for all my men when I say the ending of the Grayjoys is a story to be heard from the source!"
She looked out across the tables at the watching, attentive knights and men at arms. "You want to hear how Balon Greyjoy attacked in the dark like a coward, and how his few surviving men ran liked whipped dogs?"
The whole hall answered with a resounding "Aye!"
All in all, Taylor thought the night went well.
The closest thing that Taylor could compare Oldtown to in her own experience was Paris. While King's Landing had a little bit of a London vibe to it, Oldtown sprawled across both sides of the Honeywine River like a slowly creeping infection of stone and wood. Despite its size, though, the city was still surrounded by high, sturdy-looking walls.
And on the southern side of the wall, Dornish forces were arrayed with siege works. A fleet of twenty of her ships formed a blockade across the Whispering Sound.
Damn it all, Oberyn said he'd taken all of the Reach!
She could see men scrambling on the walls at the sight of her dragon. More importantly, she saw some very large scorpions. Taylor didn't fear one or two-she could easily deflect them with the Force. But there were large scorpions set up almost every twenty feet along the wall.
They were expecting a dragon.
"Let's go talk to our people," Taylor decided. Temeraire growled his agreement and banked away from the city before flying toward the arrayed Dornish forces.
The Dornish were just as alarmed by her approach as the Hightower men. Fortunately, they didn't try shooting at her as she brought Temeraire down behind the lines of catapults to the lines of tents.
She'd dressed in Targaryen chestplate-a gift from Prince Doran himself, and her heavy kilt. She wore woolen breeches under it simply because of her riding. When she climbed down from the saddle, Dornish nobles were already riding toward her, just as Lord Yronwood did.
Taylor hadn't memorized all of the sigils of the various noble houses, yet, but she'd made a point of studying at least some of the Dornish houses. The man approaching her was a knight of House Dayne, renowned for their fighters.
To her utter shock, the man said, "Go back to King's Landing. We don't need you here."
Well, that wasn't going to work at all. If nothing else, Ser Barristan had beaten into her head that a queen could not tolerate open contempt. To do so was a sign of weakness that would haunt their reign until they died.
She flicked her hand and sent a kinetic push that struck the man hard enough to send him flying off his horse in a clatter of steel. He hit the ground hard, while around him the six knights that had accompanied him tried to contain their startled mounts.
"I'm fairly certain that Prince Doran told you who I am," Taylor said as she walked toward the floundering, breathless knight. "And I'm fairly certain he would not be particularly pleased with one of his knights embarrassing him and all of Dorne in the presence of your Queen. But he's not here right now to chastise you. So, it falls to me to teach you manners, Ser."
When the man caught his breath, he rolled off his back and scrambled to his feet. His hand went to his sword.
"I am your queen," Taylor said in a cold voice, feeling a surge of impatient anger. "Pull that sword and the next time you hit the ground it will be beside your head, instead of with it."
"I'm a son of House Dayne!" the knight said. He drew his sword regardless. "You would not dare!"
Taylor didn't think for a moment that the son of a bitch would actually call her bluff. But through either arrogance, stupidity, or some combination of the two, he had. And suddenly Taylor found herself in the terrible position of having to execute one of her own men. She could almost hear Ser Barristan warning her not to make a public declaration she was unwilling to act on.
To do so would end her reign quickly. As powerful as she was, she could not run a kingdom alone. She sighed angrily. "Very well, ser. Make peace with your gods, you've forced my hand."
Before he could say anything in response, she summoned the Force and surged forward, faster than the knight could follow. She lit her saber just long enough to slice through the man's sword, his gorget, and his neck. His head fell to the ground with a dull thud, followed by his body.
"It sickens me that I had to kill a knight of Dorne," Taylor said, not bothering to hide her anger. "My uncle's support of my claim is of paramount importance to the Kingdom. But such behavior is not acceptable. Do any of the rest of you wish to speak against your queen?"
"Nay, your grace," one of the surviving knights said. He dismounted and removed his helm, revealing typical Dornish features of black hair, dark brown eyes and sun-kissed skin in a face significantly prettier than her own. He knelt down before her. The other knights quickly did as well.
"Ser Deziel Dalt, knight of Lemonwood."
Not a great house then. "Ser Deziel, I received correspondence from Prince Oberyn that Oldtown was taken. My last understanding was that he had moved the bulk of his forces north to secure the Westerlands. Why am I now seeing an active siege here?"
The pretty knight sighed, glanced at the headless body, then back at her. "Lord Hightower's daughters are very beautiful women, your grace."
"Which ones did he…?"
"All who were within the city, your grace. Including the married ones."
Fuck everything. "Ser Deziel, you strike me as a man who isn't an idiot. How many men have died because of that man's penis?"
The wording caught the knight off guard for a moment. "We lost two hundred in the initial skirmish before Lord Hightower sealed the gates."
"Right. Prepare a flag for parley, and put that man's head in a basket. Who was he, again?"
"Ser Gerald Dayne, of High Hermitage."
"Will he be missed?"
"Prince Doran's natural daughter, the Princess Arianne, is also a very beautiful woman."
"Will he be missed?" Taylor asked again.
Ser Deziel shook his head. "He was an angry man, your grace."
The Dornish hated straightforward answers. What she received was probably the best she could hope for. "Right. Let's get this siege wrapped up, shall we? I'm going to need a Targaryen standard. Just in case the big, black fucking dragon wasn't enough to tell them who I am."
Ser Deziel blinked a moment, then suddenly smiled. "Truly, your grace, it is a shame Prince Oberyn is not here to see his niece. I think he would enjoy your company!"
Ser Deziel assembled a party of ten knights who rode behind her. To her pleasant surprise, they even managed to put together a reasonable standard with her 'family' symbol. Taylor for her part put on her delicate gold headpiece, since she planned to look like a queen when she went to brow-beat the Citadel into giving her Maesters.
As they approached an ancient, sturdy stone bridge, made with such exacting craftsmanship she could barely see the seams between the massive cut stones, the Hightower party rode through the open gates. They had a lot more than ten knights. She counted fifty armored men righting behind the elderly Lord.
Leyton Hightower himself rode without a helm at the head of the column. He was a vigorous but obviously older man, with a curtain of straight white hair that hung from the sides and back of his otherwise bald skull. Hard, glittering blue eyes stared at her standard for a long moment, then to the distant field where Temeraire was happily flaming and devouring sheep. He rode to the edge of the bridge, perhaps fifteen feet away from her own party, and no closer. He did not dismount.
"Lord Hightower," Taylor said with a nod from her own borrowed mount. "Thank you for speaking with me."
"Your grace." Despite his age, the man's voice sounded deep and strong. "I'm surprised my city isn't on fire."
"To be honest, Lord Hightower, I came because I wanted to steal some Maesters. I wasn't aware of the renewed hostilities. I'm rather upset by the whole affair. Instead of burning one of the greatest cities of my kingdom to ash, I hoped we could instead reach a satisfactory conclusion to this whole affair. I understand you and your family were wronged. Tell me, Lord Hightower, how can we make this wrong right?"
"Ser Gerald Dayne's head on a pike!" the man said.
"Will a wicker basket work instead?"
Ser Deziel's timing was perfect. The moment she said 'basket', he rode past her with a basket over his lap. He didn't hand it to Lord Leyton, but to one of the knights behind the man. The selected knight took the basket, lifted the tarp over it, and showed the head to Lord Leyton.
"Much was kept from me, Lord Leyton," Taylor said. "And Ser Gerald was in no hurry for me to find the cause of this fight. Before I even knew the man's name, he dared insult me and draw steel on me, his queen. I beheaded him myself. It was only after that I learned how badly he'd wronged you."
The old lord stared down at the head, then back to Taylor. "The stories say you are quite the warrior, your grace. You personally killed the Reaper of Pyke?"
Taylor winced. "In truth, Lord Leyton, I killed most of his men with a dozen of my Unsullied. Temeraire over there is the one who killed the Reaper. He got a piece of Balon's skull stuck in his teeth. It was a bother getting it out. Dragons have very bad breath; I can assure you."
Taylor sensed surprise and even some mirth from Hightower's knights. The lord himself kept his face blank. "Your grace, you may not be aware, but you are currently holding several of my kin. My Daughter Alerie, and her daughter Margaery, and my daughter Denyse, are being held hostage at King's Landing."
Shit. This is Margaery's grandfather.
"Margaery is an exceedingly beautiful young woman," Taylor said. "She's also the one who murdered King Joffrey. She did so with aid from Lady Olenna Tyrell and Lord Petyr Baelish."
Hightower blanked. "You would make such an accusation of her? What proof…?"
"Lord Baelish confessed it, Lord Leyton. When confronted with his testimony, so did Lady Margaery and Lady Olenna. But I'll admit, it places me in an interesting position. Joffrey was my enemy. More importantly, he was an amoral, murderous little bastard and a pretender to the throne. He was a Lannister, through and through, without a drop of Baratheon blood. Lady Alerie and Lady Denyse I would be glad to return to you unharmed. But Margaery is a difficult case. She is very ambitious, that one. Much like your youngest daughter. That ambition led her to commit murder. What else will it lead her to?"
Taylor didn't know everything about House Hightower, but she did know that the woman who drove Jorah Mormont to selling serfs into slavery was Leyton Hightower's youngest daughter.
Lord Leyton's face could have been carved from stone for all the emotion he showed. But his surface thoughts were of regret and sadness. "The Motherhouse of the Seven stands within these walls," Lord Leyton finally said. "Return my granddaughter to me, and those other ladies with her who cause you to be in an interesting position, and you have my word that they shall end their days in righteous contemplation of the gods. I shall get them all to the Motherhouse."
Get thee to a nunnery. A part of Taylor hated what she was doing. Margaery was smart, beautiful and ambitious. On Earth, she would be an actress or politician (or politician's scheming wife). But here, she was a threat to Taylor's rule.
"Lady Margaery and Lady Olenna are the only two that are of concern, Lord Hightower. Unfortunately, I cannot allow the Tyrells to regain Highgarden, but neither do I wish to punish the innocent. I'll have all of the Tyrell and Hightower ladies and children shipped to you as soon as I return to King's Landing. In return, my lord, this conflict must end. Enough men have already died for Ser Gerold Dayne's vanity. I will have your oaths, your loyalty, and you will have my peace."
"Agreed," Lord Leyton said.