Credit to MandTeKad who is serving as co-author on this story (along with working in the backroom for my other series).

As always, this chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with every level above tier 1 having seen a draft version, and the highest level seeing the redrafted form, around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago. Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.


Fanfiction, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to turn off email alerts for chapters with the only mention of this coming on their Twitter account!

Please remember to go into your account and turn email notifications back on if you wish that to start happening again.

Drums of Dust

… …

(Circa 296AC)

Loud banging dragged me from the soothing, relaxing confines of sleep. I blinked as the fog in my mind cleared and I realised the banging was coming from the door of my cabin. Slowly, the ravages of slumber still affecting me, I turned. Or at least I tried to.

My eyes shifted to what was stopping me from rising only for them to widen rapidly. My right arm was trapped under the sleeping form of Asha Greyjoy. The only things protecting her modesty were the sheet that was around her waist and her hair which partially obscured my sight of her reddened breasts. My eyes wandered lower and saw faint red marks on her waist and memories of the night before came rushing back.

When we'd gotten to my cabin, Asha had pushed me onto the bed and then climbed on top. As her tongue fought mine for dominance, we tore at each other's clothing and once naked enough, the battle fully began. Asha was anything but a quiet or obedient lover and every round of the night, every action was warfare. Though, in the end, I had control of all but a few battles, and in those I let her take control as Nym distracted me by kissing me, whispering sweet nothings into my ear or in one case, sitting on my face.

Nym was, surprisingly given her persona, almost docile in bed. Not to the point of being a hidden submissive, but simply in that she preferred slower, gentler fucking to the warfare favoured by Asha, or the passion shown by Ari. After my first time with Nym, I'd wondered internally how she and Asha managed to temper their very different sexual preferences, though several rounds of combat later I learnt my answer when the pair granted me some rest and entertained themselves. While they'd not done so for my enjoyment, I certainly had delighted in watching them together. At least until I'd re-joined them in my sheets.

Another bang at my door drew my attention back to the present. Or at least the present that didn't involve me sharing a bed with two naked and beautiful ladies.

"Make it stop." I turned to my other side as Nym murmured and then pushed into my side. Unlike Asha, Nym had nothing covering her and I marvelled at her form before gasping as Nym shifted and her leg brushed against my groin.

I didn't know if it had been intentional or not, but another bang at the door raised my hackles. "If that is not the Stranger or another Death god at the door, they will get the pleasure to soon meet them," I grumbled before slowly extracting myself from my companions.

I crunched my feet on the rug that lay next to my bed, though before moving I found my boots and shirt, which were discarded elsewhere on the cabin's floor. By the time I'd found and slipped them on, Ymir had risen, growling in annoyance as he moved to my side.

I ran my hand down his side as I walked to the door, though not before unsheathing Red Rain on the chance this wasn't someone from the crew, another half dozen bangs having occurred in the time it took me to get something on and reach it. "What?!" I snarled while keeping my voice low after pulling the door open.

Garreo froze for a second, though that was more likely because Ymir was growling at my side than my tone. "Begging your pardon, Captain, but we got a problem." I glanced over his shoulder, though it was hard to see what was happening as while there were a few lanterns on the deck, the crew seemed to be doing their best to avoid the light. "Barrelman spotted a ship creeping toward us."

I wanted to look up to the crow's nest, but the short corridor between my cabin and the main deck prevented that. As would the dark, moonless night. "Guessing they are not friendly?"

Garreo shrugged. "Hard to tell on a night like this. But they be coming right at us from astern and not running lights." He paused as if considering something. "Was hoping you might be able to confirm if we got a problem."

I grunted to bite off the chuckle that threatened to escape. I'd not mentioned anything about my skinchanging to him or anyone else onboard, but there'd been enough hints from Garreo to suggest he suspected I had a way to see further than any other could. "Not on a night this dark," I replied, cursing slightly that Rian was still away. However, I could feel our bond strengthening, meaning he was coming closer and returning from wherever he flew off to seek a mate. "Ready the crew just in case."

Garreo bared his teeth in a grin. "Already doin' that. Just wanted to wait before interrupting you and your friends before letting you know."

"Currently they are sleeping," I replied with a chuckle. "I think I wore them out. Still, if we are going to have guests I better wake them. I think our Ironborn will enjoy making new friends on the sea."

Garreo chuckled darkly before nodding and turning around. As he moved through the short corridor leading to the main deck, I closed the door to my cabin and turned. When I did, I was greeted by the sight of the ladies sitting up on my bed. Asha's legs were barely covered by the sheets while Nym was holding her side of them to her chest. "What happened?" my stepsister asked before yawning.

"Seems we will be having guests," I replied as I moved toward the pile of clothes. While I'd get my armour in a moment, I needed clothes underneath. "Sadly, that means having to postpone the next rounds for a while."

"Guests?" Asha mumbled as she stood, leaving her natural beauty exposed for my eyes to feast upon. "What?"

"Aye, though sadly not the kind we will enjoy," I said as I slipped my legs into my breeches. "Or perhaps we might, but we cannot bring them to join us here." As I continued I tightened the belt for the breeches and then turned toward where my armour was kept. While I'd not expected to need it on this short voyage, I'd still brought it. Now it looked like that choice was a wise one. "Once I am properly attired, I plan to thank them for disrupting our sleep."

"A fine idea," Asha commented with a chuckle. As I picked up my gambeson I turned back to see her moving for her clothes. "Been a while since my axe has tasted flesh." She turned and bent over, collecting whatever piece of clothing it was she was after. My eyes naturally drifted to her arse, and the red marks that were still there from our earlier activities. "Eyes up sailor!" Asha called when she caught me watching. "After dealing with these guests, you can have another shot at this," she wiggled her arse at me, "if man enough to do so."

I laughed. "I think after last night, you know I am up to that challenge." I turned back to my armour after securing the gambeson. While I had all of it with me, I was reluctant to wear full-plate. Not only were we fighting on a vessel, but it was night-time. Yes, I'd fought for a short while in armour on the Windchaser before, but then I'd just been filling in gaps in the line. This time, I'd be leading the battle from the front and with that meaning I'd be near the edge of the vessel and it being pitch black, I had to find a balance between protection and ease of motion if I was knocked overboard.

Making my decision, I collected the hauberk, figuring the chainmail shirt would offer decent protection without weighing me down too much for my water magic in the event of going overboard. Yet, even as I pulled the shirt over my head, I mentally selected the parts of plate armour I'd wear. The helm was a given, as were the gauntlets and sabatons as those would protect my hands and feet respectfully. Anything else would depend on how much time we had before the attackers arrived.

After securing the sabatons, I turned and saw the girls were changed as well. While Asha was placing her axes into her belt, Nym was securing an array of knives against a leather chest piece.

"We will be fighting with you," Asha said as she saw me looking. "Not going to hide in the cabin and simply wait for you." As she finished she moved toward me.

I had little issue with Asha fighting, as she was Ironborn. When she'd been made a ward of House Martell, she'd already been fourteen and beyond simple training, I knew she'd gone on raids. She's likely seen more naval battles than I had, at least in this life. However, my issue with Nym. While she was skilled with smaller blades, she wasn't built for frontline battles. Instead, she favoured getting close with her looks and striking when her target's guard was down. "Nym?"

My stepsister looked at me. "If you two are fighting, then so am I." Her tone left little room for argument.

"Fine," I said slowly as Asha slid my first gauntlet on. "However, I want you to stay behind Asha and not get drawn away from the cabins. Keep them at your back and be mindful of everything around you."

"I know how to fight," Nym shot back. I sighed, wondering how to phrase my reply.

"Not in a battle like this," Asha countered as she tightened the straps for the gauntlet. "This isn't the yard but chaos and carnage the likes of which you have yet to see."

"I am not hiding away here!" Nym shot back, showing the fire I'd seen in her sisters, cousin and father at various times.

Before I could reply, an idea came to mind. As Asha picked up my second gauntlet I turned to my armour, though what I picked up wasn't anything from that. "Here," I said as I turned back to her holding my weirwood bow. "Take this. This will let you fight without getting too close."

Asha paused as Nym came closer. While I wasn't happy about letting anyone use my bow, I'd take Nym using it over losing her. While she wasn't on my level with a bow, she knew how to use it. The only issue might be if she could draw it at all. However, that was removed as she gave the bow a few test pulls, drawing it back just far enough to shoot.

"Heavy, but it shall do." I nodded, accepting Nym's words and picked up the quiver. None of the weirwood arrows were inside as they, like the extra sections of wood and shavings were kept in my room at Sunspear. So far, I'd not made a call on what to do with the extra wood, though ideas were still running around my thoughts.

"Good." I turned Asha as she slid my second gauntlet on now that my hand was free. "I know you want to be in the thick of the fighting, but I need you to stay near the cabins and watch Nym." Asha paused, and for a moment I thought she might argue.

"Fine, but you owe me afterwards."

I chuckled and nodded. "I'm sure we may both enjoy that." I looked over at Ymir. "Stay with them." He whined, making clear he didn't like my order. "No. Stay, you have no armour and I need you protecting them."

Ymir stood tall and snorted, and I gently patted his head with my gauntleted hand.

"Still not sure how that works," Nym remarked as she came closer, her gaze on Ymir. "But I'm not complaining. We will keep an eye on him, not to worry."

"Aye, been waiting to see the beast in action," Ymir growled. "Save that anger for those who attack us," she said with a smirk. "I will try and leave some for you," Ymir grunted and pushed against her leg.

"So's he," I said as I watched the odd interaction. Asha and Ymir had been wary of each other ever since he'd come to Sunspear. It seemed the promise of blood and carnage let them find common ground. Well, that and Ymir might well consider Nym and Asha another two of my mates.

I shifted the fingers in the second gauntlet as Asha finished securing it. "Seriously, all of you stay safe. I would rather not lose any of you."

"Falling in love already?" Asha remarked as Nym came closer and pressed her lips against mine. I slid a metal hand around her waist and pulled her in, forcing my way into her mouth.

I pulled back after a few seconds, leaving her breathless, and looked at Asha. "No. Just prefer to return to a warm bed with companions than have to mourn your passing."

Asha nodded as Nym collected herself. "You had better come back in one piece," she said softly, a hand resting against the mail over my chest before she leaned closer. "You still have some of me to claim." The whispered words were accompanied by her gently squeezing my arse.

My eyes widened as she pulled back, a mischievous smirk dancing on her face. "With an offer like that, I would kill the Seven themselves to return to your side."

… …

I leaned back, letting the pirate overextend. Then, as his axe sailed harmlessly past me, I brought my blade around in a rising cut. Red Rain severing his arm and sending another splurge of red mist into the air. My blood hummed in delight as he screamed, though the sound ended with a gurgle when the axe in my other hand slammed into his throat.

I roared as fresh blood soaked into my new weapon as I yanked it free. Before the body had fallen to its knees, I was moving, hunting my next target. Around me, chaos reigned as my crew fought the fools who'd disturbed my rest. I shifted as a blade surged toward me. The offending arm sent flying, but I kept moving. That prey was falling, someone stealing my kill as the point of a blade punctured their chest.

A challenging scream drew my focus. Someone was moving at me, an axe in both hands. They swung one blade and I snarled, backstepping. The second came around and I lunged. Red Rain lived up to its name as it sent a shower of blood flying as hand and axe were severed. I snarled as I stepped in, trapping his other arm before sliding red rain almost lovingly across his stomach as his guts fell and pooled around my feet.

Letting go I spun again, seeking new flesh to feast upon only to snarl as my eyes spotted something. At the edge of the carnage, someone was holding a bow. Their eyes were aimed away from me, yet when I saw where they were looking as they pulled another arrow, I felt my rage surge. They were targeting what was mine.

I caught sight of Asha driving her axe into the back of scum as Ymir ripped out their ankles. Behind the pair, Nym let another arrow sail from my bow. Yet, while they were holding their own, none saw the threat, which only incensed me more.

I roared and rushed forward, as he knocked the arrow, I threw my axe. The weapon spun through the air, slamming into the bow just as the string was pulled. The fool stumbled, falling onto the steps, though I was upon him before he could recover. He grunted as I drove Red Rain down, piercing his pathetic excuse for armour without issue.

My blade slid up, slicing his insides, before ripping free near his throat, sending blood and guts onto the deck. Sneering, I left him to gurgle out his last breaths in agony.

Glanced at my pack, seeing the one Asha and Ymir had been taking down on a heap on the ground, along with others. A surge of delight rushed through me at knowing my mates could defend themselves, and I turned, looking for my next meal. Yet as I surveyed the deck, I saw only a dozen still standing. I took a step forward, toward the nearest man only to blink. He wasn't prey, but one of mine: my crew.

I shook my head, clearing the rapture of battle from my thoughts and then surveyed the deck. A shout of victory erupted from my crew, joined soon by one from myself and a howl of delight from Ymir. As the moment passed, I moved forward, Red Rain remaining in my hand in case one of the bodies around me wasn't dead. "Secure their ship!" I called out to Garreo, who appeared unharmed. As he turned to shout orders, I saw blood on the leather on his shoulder had been severed with blood seeping into the armour and shirt below. He turned back to me as others moved toward the vessel that had pulled alongside before the battle commenced. A glance by me at his shoulder drew a smirk and a quick roll of the arm from him to show it wasn't a major wound.

Accepting his action as proof he was fine, I turned and, after stabbing something in the pile of flesh around my feet moved, called out. "Search the bodies! Take everything of worth and toss the trash overboard!" the crew hurried to obey. I approached the cabins, seeing a smiling Asha and a happy but distraught Nym. Yet my first focus was on Ymir as he sauntered toward me, proud of himself.

"Hey there boy," I said as I fell to a knee, my free hand running along his fur, checking that the blood there wasn't his. "Have fun?" Ymir whined in delight as he leaned into my touch, and I could sense his delight at having tasted battle for the first time.

"He did," even as my hand kept looking for wounds I looked up as Asha and Nym approached. Asha had a hand on Nym's back, helping my stepsister as she looked unsteady on her feet. Not an unexpected event given it was her first battle. Possibly of any sort.

"From what I saw, I bet you did too," Asha added with a wide smile that made clear she'd enjoyed herself as well.

"What can I say," I began with a smile. "Battle gets the blood flowing. Almost as much as spending a night, or day, or both, with beauties like those in front of me."

Asha laughed while Nym smiled. While still unsteady, the spark I saw in her eyes made clear she was as excited even while she was shocked by the carnage of battle. "We would be more than happy to make that happen," Asha said as she ran a hand through my hair. I growled at the action, making her laugh again. "First though, clean up. As much as I enjoy a good fuck after a fight, I would rather not have the blood of your victims on me." She leaned closer and inhaled before making a face. "Nor the smell of whatever caused that."

I stood and used the hand holding Red Rain to tap my chest. "By your command." That made both laugh, yet it was the look in Nym's eyes before she let Asha guide her back to my cabin that caught my attention. For all that, the battle had unnerved her, the fire in her eyes, as they ran over my blood-soaked form, made the desire inside me grow. Though this time it wasn't battle I sought. At least not the kind I'd just emerged from.

As the pair walked away, Asha glanced back over her shoulder before smirking. The last few steps before the pair disappeared down the corridor to my cabin were taken up with my eyes glued to their derrieres and the way they swayed.

A whine from my side drew my focus once that delectable sight was gone, and I looked at Ymir even as my free hand patted his head. "Aye, they want some more of the wolf," I remarked to him. He barked in agreement, and I chuckled. "Go on then. Quite sure, unlike me, they will wash you before bed." Ymir bounded off after the girls, which made me chuckle as he'd not even given me a look to see if I wanted him to stay. "Traitor," I muttered as he disappeared down the corridor after the girls.

"Capt'n," I turned to see Caddar behind me. He'd come onboard as helmsman after Garreo was promoted to Frist Mate. "We got three no' dead who claim'n they're worth somthin."

"Doubt that, but let us see what they got." These bastards ruined my sleep, though I couldn't deny I'd enjoyed the battle and that I'd soon enjoy a re-run of the previous evening if the looks Asha and Nym had given me when they'd left were any indication. Still, they'd attacked and threatened what was mine and it seemed some still hadn't learnt the error of their ways.

I glanced toward the cabin, wondering if I should call Ymir back. The threat of a direwolf, even one not fully grown, would certainly be useful in loosening tongues. However, I decided against it. I felt better having him near the ladies as they unwound after a battle. Plus, I felt I could be very persuasive. Especially as I was still covered in the blood of these survivors' former shipmates.

"They better have something worthwhile," I remarked as Caddar led me toward the forecastle where the trio were under guard from six of my crew. "they are keeping me from a good fucking."

… …

… …

Even before the crew had tossed the ropes to the deckhands, I leapt over the side. Landing in a soft crouch on the wooden pier, I turned and looked toward the dock, trying to spot the dockmaster.

It'd taken a few days to sail back to Sunspear, though some of that had been taken up with securing the pirate vessel in a small, isolated inlet just out of sight of Sunspear. The trip back had been quiet, and I'd spent most of my time in my cabin enjoying the pleasure of the company of Asha and Nym.

As the Windchaser was pulled to the dock, Ymir leapt over, landing at my feet. "Show off," I remarked at the ease he displayed with the jump. I glance back at my ship to see Nym and Asha waiting to disembark as the crew prepped the ramp. I pushed them, and images of the pair in various positions of delight and nakedness out of my mind and turned and marched toward the dockmaster.

When I reached the end of the pier various merchants moved closer. It was easy to tell which were local or not as those who knew me lowered their heads and stayed still. Those that didn't looked between me and Ymir and in some cases backed off as I stalked forward.

"In a hurry this time, are we?" The question came from the dockmaster, Stuar Blackhood. He was the younger brother of the captain of the Shadow City's city watch while their father was lord of a minor holdfast about halfway between Sunspear and the Water Gardens. The house was young, barely over a hundred years old, but steadfastly loyal to the Martells and I'd gotten to know Stuar over the last few years as I'd come and gone from the docks on the Windchaser.

"Aye. The voyage was beneficial," I replied as I came to a stop near him, ignoring his guards as they tensed at my forceful approach. And at Ymir who growled at them when they tightened their grips on their swords. "Though I had to come back early due to an issue." Stuar frowned and leaned closer as my eyes drifted to my ship, seeing Asha and Nym step onto the pier. "While anchored about two days sail from Sunspear, we were attacked by pirates."

"Since you're telling me this, I assume they are no longer a threat?"

I chuckled. "Aye, they paid for their mistake. That said, their First Mate was captured and after speaking with him, I felt I needed to return and bring the matter to Prince Doran."

"Ah." Stuar snapped his fingers and a guard stepped closer. "Prince Oberyn's son has a prisoner. Get three men and escort them to the palace cells." The guard nodded and moved away, three others quickly coming to join him as he moved onto the pier leading to the Windchaser. "Because of this, I feel I must thank you for once more denying my son's request."

I took a second to turn back to face Stuar, watching how the guard only stopped to allow Asha and Nym to pass. I turned back to Stuar and smirked. "Aye. I think Jekar might even agree." Stuar laughed and nodded. "Though given how badly prepared the pirates were that even my companions managed to kill some, I feel your son would have been safe. And had a story to tell the girls."

Jekar was only a little older than Prince Trystane, but he'd gravitated toward Beron since I'd brought the son of Ned Stark to Sunspear. The pair had bonded over the sea and tales of Corlys Velaryon. So far, I'd say he was Beron's closest companion, though I would admit I'd not spent as much time with my cousin as I'd like since he'd come to Sunspear. Between keeping Ari happy, training and other odd errands, I'd been kept busy in the palace.

"Yes, that is true. Still, I am glad he didn't have to face pirates at such an early age."

"That lot was not even worth getting out of bed for," Asha countered Stuar's remark as she and Nym came close. "Though I will admit it certainly lit a fire in you later," she added as she moved next to me and slapped my arse.

I chuckled darkly as I gripped her wrist before she could remove her hand. "Careful, little Kraken or I'll have to show you again where your place is."

Asha smirked at my words and tried to pull her hand free, but I countered and pulled her closer, trapping her arm behind her body. Nym laughed and I glanced down to see her watching us, one hand on Ymir's head scratching him just behind the ear. Before I'd bedded her and Asha, Ymir hadn't let her approach so easily, but ever since the battle he had. Though I felt it had more to do with my bedding both girls before the battle than fighting at their side. He'd behaved the same with Ari and Sarella, with the only ones he let approach easily without issues were Ty – at least before she'd departed – Alysanne and Beron. That was likely as all three had been around him as I'd nursed him back to health in Winterfell.

"Promises, promises," Asha whispered huskily, drawing my focus back to her.

I growled and pulled her closer, pressing her breasts against my chest and towering over her. Her smirk grew, accepting my challenge and I felt the urge to claim her here and now. However, before I could, Stuar coughed. I leaned down, as if to capture Asha's lips, only to push her away with a laugh. "As much as I would enjoy reminding you of your place here and now, I have work to handle." I turned to Stuar. "I shall need someone to clean the decks of the Windchaser. Blood is hard to remove with just seawater."

As Stuar nodded, the guards reappeared on the pier, a tired, dirty man missing several fingers being roughly pushed between them. I snarled as he looked up, a faint hint of defiance in his gaze, though that faded as he saw me watching him.

The only reason he was still alive was that even though I'd gotten much for him about where he was based and who he served, I felt he was hiding something. While I could attempt to persuade him, I knew I didn't have the experience to take things that far. It had never been something I'd learnt in my time with the SBS, focusing instead on infiltration and surveillance tactics.

Thus, I'd brought him back with the intention of, if he was willing, asking Oberyn to teach me how such things were handled in Westeros. I was all but certain there was no limit to what I could do, beyond common decency, but it was better to see from someone I suspected was skilled in the art of interrogation than muddle along and risk losing the source of information before I was sure I'd learnt all I wanted.

… …

… …

I looked around the courtyard, enjoying the pleasant breeze that was blowing through Sunspear as I lazed around the morning after returning to the city. I'd woken up late as Ari had been quite insistent that I spent my night with her, and we'd soon been joined by Nym and Asha meaning by the time sleep had taken me I was worn out. Not that I was complaining mind you, as sharing a bed with three beauties with such different looks, personalities and kinks was something I'd not forget any time soon. Still, it meant today was going to be a generally quiet one.

I'd spoken with Oberyn and Doran briefly the night before about an unintended guest I'd brought to Sunspear and how I'd come upon him, and Oberyn had promised we'd speak with the man after lunch. The two men had private business to attend to first, which was understandable. Thus, I had wandered the palace this morning before arriving in a courtyard housing some of the children under Doran's care.

The main ones in this yard had been the Northern trio. Also present were Jekar and a few local children from minor lords or orphans of the Greenblood. About an hour ago Vorela, one of the slaves freed when I'd been knighted, had come into the yard to serve us and Wylla and Alysanne had insisted she remain. She'd been reluctant to do so until I said I'd cover for her if someone came looking. While Vorela and her older sister Eirnela were nominally working for the Martells, it was semi-accepted that they preferred to serve me alone. Something many had joked about.

Vorela had been nervous about sitting with trueborn girls but had quickly been drawn into conversation by Alysanne and Wylla to the point I felt she might soon consider the Northern pair friends. However, all thoughts of what was going on in the yard – including Jekar and Beron asking me for another retelling of my naval adventures – dropped from my focus as I felt a familiar presence brush against my mind.

I stood, smiling at learning Rian was back and wanted to see how he'd grown and changed since I'd last seen him.


I turned to Alysanne who'd noted I'd stood, and saw Wylla and Vorela – along with many others – were looking my way, wondering why I'd suddenly stood.

I smiled at her and her friends. "Sorry. Just remembered there is something I need to handle." I took a step away, not wanting to detail things publicly. While Alysanne knew of my skinchanging, the others didn't, though I planned to bring Beron in on it soon. Since Robb could skinchange – though he'd only achieved it through dreams with Quicksilver before I'd left Winterfell – and the other Stark children could in canon, I wanted to determine if Beron could. For that though, I'd need to think of a young creature to gift him for training, and the same for Alysanne. The pair would be here, if nothing went wrong, beyond when Ned and his children had found the direwolf pups in canon. Of course, there was a chance that wouldn't happen because of my actions, but until I was sure an event hadn't happened, I worked on the belief that the event occurring was the most likely outcome.

I could see Alysanne wanted to ask more, but a soft whistle from high above drew my attention. And likely others as well. Overhead I saw Rian circling the palace. "Hey! Rian's back!" Beron called out only for another, smaller eagle to pass overhead as well.

"And he brought a friend!" Jekar added, earning a few coos from the girls in the yard.

"That's what you have to deal with?"

I turned to Wylla and chuckled. "Well, it is now." I looked at the others in the yard. "I shall be back as soon as I can. And Vorela, you can stay here and relax. I will talk with Ricasso, so you shall not get in trouble for staying here." The fair-haired girl blushed at me singling her out – as she always did – and managed a weak nod of thanks that I'd speak with the Seneschal on her behalf.

I left the courtyard and moved into the palace. The corridors were generally empty bar regular guards and servants going about their business. As I passed near the throne room, I overheard Doran as he held court, but didn't linger to hear what was being discussed today. I'd heard some murmurs in the Shadow City that Doran seemed distant and cold toward his people, however, I knew that wasn't true. He cared just as much as Oberyn about the people but seemed to prefer maintaining his distance. That said, every few days he held an open court where any in the city – or the lands under the direct control of the Martells – could petition him about an issue. On days when something of greater importance occurred, he assigned his cousin, and the castellan of Sunspear, Manfrey Martell, to hold court in his place. Seeing how Oberyn and Doran treated their people and comparing it to how others from the books and show had ruled, was helping me learn what sort of public persona I'd like on the off-chance I ever gained a holdfast to rule.

As I reached the stairs leading up to the quarters in the Tower of the Sun, Ymir came bounding toward me. "You missed him too huh?" I asked as Ymir brushed against my leg, making sure my hand stopped behind an ear. I chuckled and scratched for a moment before climbing the stairs. "Fine, but I doubt he has anything for you." Ymir shook in response and fell in behind me as I climbed the steps.

On each floor, guards were stationed, and I caught glimpses of staff working. None reacted until I reached the floor with my quarters – and that of my stepsisters. There the guards tensed for a second as I stepped out of the staircase, though they relaxed once they saw me. That meant they were older, regular guards as the newer ones still tensed whenever Ymir was around, which was a semi-common event in Sunspear and the Shadow City. Ymir was large – passing any hunting dog I'd seen in Westeros but not fully grown yet. Still, many knew that a direwolf lived in the palace of Sunspear which made him something of an attraction.

In the Shadow City groups of children, if they weren't working, dared each other to approach. Neither Ymir nor I had an issue with it, and I made sure Ymir allowed the youngest to come close enough to pet him. Their parents often seemed unsure of this, but since I was seen as the son of Oberyn, most had no issue with it. At least not beyond the natural fear any parent would have about their child approaching an alpha predator. In the palace, various lords and nobles who visited spoke of wishing to see the Wolf of Dorne, to which Oberyn almost always asked whether they meant Ymir or me. Normally, they meant Ymir, but few of the Dornish lords had an issue with me or my position in the Palace. Some of those from further afield in Westeros had, or at least the way my stepsisters and I had positions of importance in the palace seemed to irritate them, but none said anything openly against us.

I took a dozen or so steps to reach my quarters and I saw Erac nearby. While he was no longer my watcher, my mother had worked to ensure he remained a guard near me. Which I was fine with as he never mentioned – as far as I knew – the fact I wasn't spending many nights in my quarters.

I nodded at him as I reached my door, and pushed it open. After waiting for Ymir to enter with me, I closed it and then tensed. Ymir sniffed the air and the faint sound of someone in my chamber reached my ears. When Ymir didn't tense, I figured it was someone he knew and moved calmly to my bedroom – the balcony with Rian's stand was on the other side – even as Ymir moved to his bed. However, when I pushed the door open, I paused.

"Well, this wasn't what I expected to find here," I remarked as my eyes drank in the sight in front of me. My bed was currently occupied by the delectable sight of Ari's naked form, though she wasn't alone. Another girl was under her – something a moan of desire confirmed – and Ari was enjoying herself exploring her current bedmate's body.

My eyes travelled over Ari's legs to her shapely derriere, seeing the glistening of desire from her core. However, before I could step closer or enjoy the sight any longer, Ari turned. A wide smile spread on her face as she saw me even as she licked her lips. "Cregan," she said as she shifted on the bed, crawling toward the foot where I was standing. "I hadn't expected the servant to find you this quickly."

"Yes, I can see that." Another moan, this one of yearning, drew my gaze from Ari to her companion. Ari moved just enough, letting me see the delightful naked form of her handmaiden Ambre. The orphan of the Greenblood girl was breathing heavily, panting in a way that made her chest rise and fall that all but demanded I sate her desire.

"Are you going to join us?" Ari asked as one hand slid up Ambre's leg, drawing a needful groan from the handmaiden as she pushed her leg toward the princess.

My eyes feasted on the sight in front of me, and I took a step toward Ari's embrace only to stop as a popping sound came from the balcony. "As much as I want to, there is something I must handle first. Which is why I came here without anyone telling me to do so." I stepped toward the balcony even as Ari pouted in ways that inflamed my passion. "However, if you can keep yourselves entertained for a short while, I shall return with due haste."

"I will hold you to that," Ari said as her hand continued moving up Ambre's leg, her nails now leaving faint marks as they trailed over the other girl's thigh. "Ambre here has grown rather impatient to sample what you have to offer and while I can keep her passion sated for a time, I feel nothing but the touch of the Bloody Wolf will cool the flames within her. And me," she added as she placed a finger to lips and gently suckled it.

I shivered at the sight. "I will return as soon as I can, my princess." I bowed as I finished before slipping through the curtains that separated the balcony from my bed chamber. While there was a door, because a cool breeze regularly blew in due to my chambers being a decent way up the tower, I rarely closed it.

As I stepped onto the balcony, I saw Rian's stand was still empty, and he wasn't on the edge. A whistle from the clouds drew my attention even as an accompanying pop followed a second later. I knelt next to a small cabinet on the balcony and opened it. As I retrieved a jar from inside, I felt a rush of air. As I stood and turned I saw Rian standing on the balcony's stone railing.

"Ah, so this is what draws your attention more than me," Ari commented as she stepped through the curtain. She held a bedsheet against her chest, though loosely enough that it barely covered her buttocks. She smiled as she saw my eyes enjoying the curves of her frame. "Though from your gaze, I suspect it was a hard decision."

I chuckled. "Aye, it is. And if not for what you were doing on it a moment ago, I might comment on how you were dirtying my sheet."

She moved closer and pressed her body against mine. "If you wish, I could remove it." Her free hand gently squeezed my groin.

"As much as I long to see what you hide once again, I would not suggest that. While we are high, anyone looking up may see I have female company on my balcony." That wouldn't be a big issue to most as it was known I was Ari's only paramour. Well, only male paramour as Ambre's presence on my bed – and that we'd been joined by Nym and Asha last night – proved at least some of the rumours of her bedding other ladies were accurate. Though if she did let the sheet drop, the only hint any would have that something was going on was when the breeze helped it take flight.

"Would that be so bad?" Ari asked as her fingers played with the hem of my trousers.

"No, but if I do not greet Rian and his mate, he might not forgive me."

Ari blinked. "Mate?" A whistle from above drew our attention and as we looked, a second Sunfyre eagle swooped down, coming to a stop at Rian's side. "Oh! So that is why he left. He grew jealous of us and sought company for himself." The newcomer was smaller than Rian – hardly a surprise even if it would've been one to her as females were generally regarded as the larger of the breed – and the thinner white line that ran over the feathers confirmed it was a female.

I laughed as my free arm slid around Ari's waist. "Not sure that is entirely true, but it seems he has found some companionship."

Ari smiled and looked at the pair of eagles. "Yes, and I for one am glad." She took a step toward Rian only to stop when his mate – who I'd have to think of a name for – spread her wings and made popping sounds.

I used my hand on Ari to pull her back. "I don't think she is used to people, which is why I grabbed this." I held up the jar in my other hand. While Ari and the female eagle didn't react, Rian did. He leant forward and emitted a low, but powerful whistle.

"Aye, I know you want some mate." I took my hand from Ari and used it to open the jar. Rian's head tilted as I pulled a small piece of dried meat I kept in the jar. They'd been dried to last longer, and I'd found Rian had developed a taste for them, even if he did prefer to hunt his food he never turned down a treat. "Ready?"

He whistled loudly before shuffling away from his mate. He turned, facing away from me but I knew he could still see me as he had nearly three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees of vision. I rolled my shoulder and tossed the strip of jerky into the air. Even before it left my arm, Rian took flight. He dropped below the edge of the balcony before soaring upward.

As he climbed, Ari pressed into my side. She always enjoyed watching Rian grab a treat from the air, and I felt her hand slip into the jar signalling she wanted to toss some meat as well.

I smiled brightly as I sensed Rian's enjoyment and pride as he raced higher than the meat. Then, as the jerky lost momentum, he turned and swooped down. With his wings pulled in tight, he shot like an arrow for the jerky. Just before passing it, his wings spread, and his body shifted. Talons easily gripped the strip and with his treat caught, he flapped back to the balcony.

As his mate watched, he lowered his head and took the jerky into his beak before tossing his head back and swallowing the treat. The moment it was gone, he turned to me. "Someone is greedy," I remarked as I readied a second piece of jerky. "Though given the beauty at your side, I can see why you want to show off."

Yet before I could toss a new strip, Ari threw the one she'd taken. Both the eagles took off as the meat stopped climbing before they rose. "I see he needs to learn that a lady comes first," Ari remarked with a smirk.

I laughed at her words and tossed my strip into the air. "I assure you that I am under no such misconceptions," I said as I turned my full attention to her, my free arm sliding back to her waist. "Something I am more than willing to prove to you once more."

The hand on her chest moved, letting the sheet protecting her modesty, not that she had much, drop. Even as the breeze caught and pulled it toward the edge of the balcony, my heart raced at the feast before my eyes. "Then do so." A hand pulled my head down to her as our lips crashed against each other. She hopped up, wrapping her legs around my waist even as I fumbled to place the jar down.

Ari knocked it from my hand, causing it to smash on the floor and send the meat within spilling out. "you shall have to pay for that," I commented as I broke the kiss, and my now free hand joined the other on her arse.

Ari smirked and leaned forward. "Make me," she whispered before biting my ear.

… …

… …

As I neared Doran's solar I took a moment to compose myself. While he and Oberyn had been receptive to my initial plan to extract information from the captured pirate, and Oberyn had helped to do so, I wasn't sure how this follow-up meeting would go. Nor could I get the images of how far Oberyn went to gain information from the pirate, or how successful he'd been out of my mind.

Watching Oberyn interrogate the pirate had been eye-opening in the sense I'd confirmed that there was no line considered too far. That said, the larger reveal was the second part of Oberyn's process. The first part, which took most of the morning, was determining the pirate's physical limits and then keeping him there so he answered any question Oberyn posed to him. I had thought that I'd drawn a decent amount of information from him on the voyage home, however watching Oberyn work for barely an hour showed me how wrong I was. Yet it was the session that took place after lunch, from which I'd just come, that had been the most interesting.

After letting the pirate drink some wine, Oberyn had sat and spoken calmly with the private for some time, until changing tack and asking more cutting questions. To my surprise, the pirate had answered almost every question put to him truthfully, though in a few cases, Oberyn had to change topics and seek the information he wanted from a direction. Still, the pirate had spilt everything he knew about Dustspear and its ruling lord: the Grim Prince. He'd even changed a few details he'd given to Oberyn or I in earlier sessions. After leaving the hall before Oberyn headed away to wash, I'd asked about how he'd achieved that, and my father had pulled a vial from his clothing. He'd explained that it was a concoction he'd developed himself after studying at the Citadel. By combining various poisons and remedies, he'd created something that worked as a truth serum; or at least something that made the drinker more pliant. Sadly though, he wasn't willing to give me the recipe for the serum, at least not until he was confident I could make it.

Having collected my thoughts, I moved into the corridor that led either to Doran's solar or the throne room. The side passage was one only available to family members and close confidants. A nod from one guard was accompanied by the other pushing the solar's door open.

As I walked inside, Doran turned from the window, and upon seeing me, smiled. "Please, be seated." I lowered my head slightly before taking a seat on the other side of the desk that dominated the room. Doran moved easily to his seat, which had a high back topped off by two engraved crossing spears.

The ease with which he moved was a sign that unlocking his magic was helping his condition. He no longer needed a cane on certain days to move around and was able to come and go from a room with no help. Maester Caleotte was at a loss as to what had brought on the improvement in the prince, and Doran seemed to enjoy keeping the representative from the Citadel in the dark.

"Now," Doran continued once we were both seated, "you wish to discuss the increase in pirate activity on Dornish trade through the Narrow Sea?"

"Yes, My Prince." I began, showing respect for his title and position. While I didn't need financial support as I felt I had enough coin to afford what I needed for my plan, I wanted his support. Even if, as I expected, that couldn't be openly revealed. "As you are no doubt aware, I, Nymeria, and Lady Asha were attacked a little under two days sail north of Sunspear while anchored in a supposedly safe inlet but a few days ride from the Water Gardens. That we would come under attack so close to the Gardens and Sunspear is…"

I paused as the door behind me opened. Turning I saw Oberyn step into the room. His hair was slightly messed, and he was wearing different clothes from when we'd spoken with the pirate not long ago. It had barely been an hour since he'd finished speaking with the pirate using his serum, and there'd been no fresh bloodshed, so why had he changed?

"Forgive my tardiness," Oberyn said as he pulled a chair to the side of the large table, taking a corner on Doran's side to make clear that I was speaking to both Princes of Dorne instead of him being a neutral observer. "I was delayed when I returned to my quarters." He smirked as he spoke, locking his eyes on me. I blinked as I realised what had delayed him, but pushed those thoughts to the side. I could get back at him for bedding my mother easily enough. Either Nym and Sarella would be up for some fun later, possibly even with Ari and Asha.

"I trust the questioning was beneficial?"

Oberyn chuckled as he looked at his brother. "Yes. While he lived, the man was most forthcoming once we established a rapport." He glanced at me. "Something I suspect Cregan has already used to alter whatever his pitch regarding the pirate issue is."

"It has, Father," I replied, matching his smirk with my own. "And I am thankful for your help in discovering the information, and tutoring me in how to extract such information."

Oberyn swatted the air as he chuckled. "Please. That man and those with him threatened you, Nymeria, and Lady Asha. If they had succeeded, I'd have lost a daughter, a son and my brother a ward placed with him by the crown. For that alone, his life was forfeit. Though I must commend Cregan for bringing him to Sunspear. Without that, we would not know the strength of the pirate behind the attack."

"Indeed. While none would have cared if you had executed him at sea, keeping him alive was a wise move." I lowered my head, accepting their praise. "Now, please continue what it was you wished to say before my brother joined us."

"The pirates that attacked us sailed from Dustspear, under orders from the island's lord, The Grim Prince. If you might recall, that was the same lord who commanded the force my father and I encountered on our return from the North."

"I had thought his forces had been weakened over the years."

"They have, My Prince. Thanks to your decision to rebuild the fleet in Sunspear, his power has waned. That said, he still commands nearly three hundred men and ten vessels with which to raid solo ships or small convoys that ply their trade through Sunspear. They also have set up slave operations on Dornish soil."

"Something I remember well," Oberyn remarked, a dangerous inflexion in his tone. "Those we saved and remained here have settled in well. Especially the sisters from Essos, even if they prefer to serve only you."

I smiled at the gentle tease. I wouldn't deny his claim, nor the teasing that had come from Ari and others about the pair having eyes for me. However, I doubted that anything would happen as the pair were still struggling with what they'd endured as slaves.

"I am simply glad their torment is over." I returned my full focus to Doran. "Beyond his forces, we learnt up to fifty slaves are held on Dustspear. Their fates are undoubtedly darker than anything those we freed endured."

"Slavery is an abhorrent practice. Indeed, it is one of the laws every lord, be they a Great House or a newly landed knight, upholds without question. Much like Guest Rights." An image of Walder Frey passed through my mind at that reference. "However, even as Prince of Dorne, there is little I can do to counter slavery or privacy, in the Stepstones. If I move against this… pirate lord," Oberyn seemed reluctant to call the Grim Prince a lord, "then it would draw the attention of King's Landing, Myr, Tyrosh and possibly even Pentos and Volantis. While Dorne is stronger now than it was a decade ago, we couldn't counter such a force."

"I understand that my Prince, and agree entirely. However, while a sitting Lord, or even a second son," I added with a glance at Oberyn, "could never move against this so-called prince, I, a simple bastard with sufficient coin conceivably could. As my father is aware, the ship that attacked the Windchaser was not sunk. It's currently secured close, but not too close, to Sunspear. My First Mate along with a dozen men remain there, repairing and refitting the ship under my orders. With the coin I still have from my tourney victory, and the first return on our investments in the Shadow City coming in, I can easily hire, perhaps fifty men and a crew for the second vessel."

"Even with those forces, the Grim Prince would greatly outnumber you."

"He would if all his forces were gathered in one place." As I replied I let a vicious smile creep onto my face. "However, luckily we have just learned that is not the case."

Doran turned to Oberyn, looking for confirmation. "My son is correct, brother. However, the figure includes the thirty killed attacking the Windchaser. There are also three outposts established on Dornish soil amounting for fifty men, though likely more."

"Assuming each outpost has one vessel, and another is at sea with a crew of twenty, that's anywhere from a hundred to one-fifty that are away from Dustspear," I added on, hoping to sell my plan.

Oberyn nodded. "While I planned to send word to Lords Santagar and Warth to clear those outposts, Cregan asked me to stay my hand until after we spoke. Hearing his words, I think a delay in sending the ravens might be an option."

Doran grimaced. "Those outposts on Dornish soil are an insult. Normally I would order the ravens sent immediately, but I can also see Cregan's thinking on the matter, provided the full details of your proposal appeal."

I smiled, glad I at least had him considering offering vocal support. I knew before coming here that martial support wasn't going to happen. The reasons Doran had given earlier were true. Still, so long as he approved my initial plan for Dustspear, I hoped he might be more open to financing the second part of my plan. Though that only mattered so long as he agreed to the initial assault. "Attacking Dustspear is a worthwhile endeavour. Even if all I do is raze the two small settlements the Grim Prince has, which lay at the northern and southern tips of the island, that would cripple the pirate haven closest to Dorne, and I wager, distract other pirates as they fight to control the deserted island."

"I cannot fault your logic. However, what is your reasoning for wanting to do this?"

"While I have been raised in this palace, and could, possibly, spend my life here without worry, I am a bastard. Without fame and fortune, that would be all I could ever be. Even if, by some act of the Gods, Arianne wanted to wed me when she becomes Princess of Dorne, the lords would never accept it."

"I think you undersell how widespread your name is," Oberyn offered, though he did nothing to disagree with my statement.

"Perhaps, but even if I have the blood of two First Men houses dating back to the Long Night, and was raised by House Martell, in the end, I am still a bastard. My prospects for life are limited to either serving in the household guard or like Daemon, serving as a sworn shield. That… holds little appeal. I want to travel, to explore. But to do that I need a name that carries some weight. Unlike many, my fate, my worth to the realm is not given, I must make it. Dustspear could be the first step in doing so, in determining my fate."

I leaned back, letting Doran consider my words. Silence fell over the room as he did even as I turned my thoughts to reasons I couldn't reveal. The Others were the first true threat to this world I'd have to face, but not the only one. Something the dream that accompanied my magical awakening had revealed. Thus, I felt I needed a power base to work from. If I'd taken being trueborn, then I might well have had that. However, in that case, I'd be all but trapped in a set location, unable to move as freely as I felt I could as a bastard. Even as a second son, my actions would affect my house. Something proved by Oberyn when he was briefly exiled to Essos after the duel with Lord Edgar Yronwood.

No, I was happy with being a bastard. Especially one with links to two Great Houses and blood of another house dating back to the First Men. That said, I accepted I needed a powerbase, and after listening to Beron go on about Corlys Velaryon, my thoughts had turned to another linked to him. The Rogue Prince, Daemon Targaryen. Before the Dance of Dragons, the pair had taken the Stepstones and Dameon had ruled as king there for a short time. While he hadn't cared about holding the Steps, I felt it might work for me.

Yes, it was dangerous to do, especially as none bar myself, The Three-Eyed-Raven, some Wildlings and the Children of the Forest knew the Others were starting to move. But even if I couldn't take the Steps, attacking various islands to clear them would earn my reputation that I could use to gather a force for what was to come.

"I can understand your desire to seek a name for yourself, to choose your path," Doran said slowly as Oberyn gave me a faint, but approving smile. "However, I doubt your mother will agree, nor my daughter. Also, even if you cleared the entire Stepstones, you must understand that my daughter's hand may still be beyond your reach."

"I am aware of that, My Prince," I replied calmly. It was hardly a surprise that Doran felt I might be doing this to win Ari's hand. From what they knew, it made perfect sense that I'd try. However, I felt I knew his plan for her and while she'd not be marrying Viserys – even if he survived Drogo, I'd do everything I could to ensure he never laid a hand on her – they didn't know that. Hells, even with Viserys dead, I wouldn't be getting her hand, so long as Doran lived. Not unless I was a lord in my own right.

"Then, on the terms you've laid out, I grant my support, hidden as it may be, for your plan." I smiled, happy he accepted the plan, only for him to lean forward. "However, one thing that you failed to mention is when you will make your move. The longer the captured ship remains near Sunspear, the greater chance there is that the Grim Prince discovers its capture." Again, Doran grimaced, finding the Summer Islander's title offensive.

"I am aware of this, My Prince. With your permission, I need access to any charts that you may have in Sunspear with a focus on the layout of Dustspear and nearby islands. While I know where the pirate havens are, an idea of the land of the island would help finalise my plan of attack."

Doran nodded, pleased that I understood the need for intel before acting. "I will have Maester Caleotte grant you access to any charts we have. I shall also send out feelers for any willing to, perhaps, work and settle in a hazardous location. I assume after the island is captured, you will be seeking carpenters, masons and the like?" I blinked, not expecting that which made him chuckle. "While you have spoken of only razing Dustspear, you are too smart to not be considering holding the island. Either as an unofficial extension of Dorne or for yourself. Either condition is acceptable to me as I gain an ally in the Steps."

"I… have given that some thought, though I was not going to bring it up until after the Grim Prince is dead and the island under my control. Mainly as I was unsure how you might react to the move."

Oberyn laughed, drawing my attention. "As my brother said, having an ally on the closest island in the Steps is something useful to us. As you said, we cannot take it, but you can, and your loyalties lie with your family. And lovers. While you may not be accepted as a house under Sunspear, we would be willing to use your new holding as an operational base for the Dornish fleet and as a layover for traders seeking shelter beyond the shores of Dorne." He leaned closer. "I might also know of several willing to accept your offer of coin and battle. Ones that stand more chance to stay loyal than others gathered from the streets." I nodded in thanks.

"How long will you need to prepare?"

"No more than a moon," I replied to Doran's question. "As you said, the longer the ship remains hidden, the greater the chance Dustspear learns of it. Though most of the time left is studying the land and hiring blades."

Doran leaned back into his chair. "Very well. We shall speak again before you sail, until then the matter is to remain undiscussed with anyone else. My daughter, nieces and our Northern guests must not hear word of this, else the venture may lose my support."

"Yes, My Prince."

"Is there anything else related to this venture you wish to discuss now?"

"No, My Prince."

Doran nodded, accepting that and placed his hands on the table as if to stand, only for Oberyn to lean toward me. "Since we are in private, I feel this is as good a place as any to bring up another of your recent adventures." He smirked as he spoke, making me wonder what was amusing him so much. "I understand that before the attack you bedded Nymeria and Asha. That now makes four of your sisters who've succumbed to the charms of the wolf. How many more of my daughters do I have to watch fall into your clutches?"

The smile was still friendly, but there was a hint of danger in his gaze. "I have no intention of bedding any more of my sisters, Father. Though it should be said that Tyene, Nymeria, and Sarella all bedded me."

Oberyn leaned back and laughed. "Yes, that is true." He reached forward and clapped me on the shoulder. "I know neither they nor I share blood with you, at least not yet." I ignored that as I had no interest in being a father yet, "but it warms my heart to know I've raised you as my son." The hand on my shoulder tightened. "However, I do hope you remember the words we had regarding Tyene's heart and understand how it extends to all my daughters."

"I remember them, Father." I kept my voice calm as I held his gaze. "And if the positions were reversed, I might say something similar regarding my mother. However, I know she is happy with you."

Oberyn's lips twitched at my retort, but it was Doran who cut in after chuckling. "As much as I enjoy watching this family interplay, I feel I must end it now before I hear things about my daughter that no father should."

"Yes, My Prince," I replied after gulping as I remembered I was fucking his daughter on a nightly basis, and that he was aware of that. Oberyn seemed amused by my reaction, though any concern about his warning left my thoughts as I left Doran's solar. Instead, they turned to my sisters, or at least the ones younger than myself.

I had no intention of bedding any of them, even if one eventually wanted me to. The oldest, Elia, was ten. She reminded me of Arya in many ways, though where Arya wanted into the yard, Elia preferred the stables. The girl was already a good rider and I'd seen her out-ride several pages and younger squires in races. Hells, if she'd been born a man, I'd mistake her for a Dothraki with how comfortable she was in a saddle.

Obella was the next in age and while more reserved and willing to sit through lessons with a Septa than Elia, had a habit of spying on others. Oh, she called it hiding for others to find her, but the girl enjoyed saying things she overheard to the point I wondered if there would one day be things she heard that might get her into trouble.

The next two, Dorea and Alia, were almost inseparable and I often found the pair hanging around the yard watching those inside. They were too young – thank the Gods as I'd kill the first boy to try anything with either – to be interested in the fighters, so I wasn't entirely sure why they were there, but so far, it wasn't an issue.

The others, Loreza and Sarisa, were too young to have developed any clear characteristics. Well, beyond, like their older sisters – by which I meant from Elia down – enjoyed sitting with me and listening when I told stories. Sometimes I made them up by adapting snippets of stories from my former life to fit Westeros. Others I pretended to tell them how Rian and Ymir saw the world, which always made them laugh as Ymir seemed to dislike me telling them what they smelled like to him.

Yet for all, I knew I'd kill anyone or anything that threatened them. Just as I would for my mother or those I shared my bed with. They were my family, my pack, and I'd do whatever it took to protect them. Even from threats that might never become one such as the pirates of Dustspear.

… …

… …

Spotting a chance, I brought my right arm around, powering the axe I was wielding. While Daemon got his shield into position to deflect the strike, the force the weapon generated forced him back slightly, and as it bounced off his shield, I saw a slight dent left behind by the strike.

However, I couldn't enjoy the damage done as Daemon adapted quickly. His blade surged forward, and I was forced to use my blade to parry the attack. As I did that, Dameon pushed his shield forward, using it offensively. The only thing I could do was move as the axe wouldn't do anything to block the shield. However, that left me slightly off balance and exposed once again, reinforcing that the idea of dual-wielding sword and axe against someone with Dameon's training as a knight wasn't a wise choice.

Then again, while I wasn't taking it easy in this spar – the fourth one I'd had with Daemon in the last six days – I was experimenting with styles that I felt would serve me better on Dustspear. The chance of running into someone as well-trained as Daemon was unlikely, and I was more likely to run into pirates with smaller, weaker shields that an axe would be useful against. While I'd also spent time training using a bastard sword two-handed, that wasn't a style I was focusing on. Not until I was able to have Red Rain reforged into something that would work better for my preferred blade. Thus, I was sparring most in the odd dual-wield style of sword and axe, something Daemon was enjoying as I wasn't great at it.

This was proved again as Daemon took advantage of my movement to slide his blade – which had disengaged from mine at the same time his shield had come forward – through the gap in my defence. I brought my axe round to knock the blade away, though before I could connect, the tip of his blade grazed my armour. The blow wasn't painful as the armour absorbed it easily, but it was yet another attack he'd landed on me, which made me glad we were training with blunted blades. Of course, if we'd have been using live steel, then I'd have brought out Red Rain which may have allowed me to close the distance.

Before he could strike me again, the bit of my axe crashed against his blade. I was pleased with that as I twisted to try to bind the blade with the beard of my axe, snarling as he disengaged with a slightly less sure grip.

Even as that happened, my blade was moving and it struck his sword, forcing it down as I stepped forward. That was a move he'd used a few days ago to end a spar, and now I wanted to return the favour. The small moves we'd made let me slip inside his defences and my axe was already moving, regenerating its momentum for a painful blow.

However, before my axe could strike his armour, he pushed forward under my centre of gravity with his shoulder planting in my stomach. With how my arms were positioned, there was nothing I could do to stop him, and I was sent tumbling back. As I tumbled my arm hit the ground and the axe flew from my loosened grip. Thankfully, I managed to keep my sword in hand even as I made sure to roll with the fall.

The position left me exposed, and as Daemon's blade caught the light, I rolled, barely avoiding the blade as it slashed the ground. As the roll finished, I pushed myself up, knowing the longer I remained on the ground, the more certain my defeat would be. However, before I'd gotten much further than my knees, something slammed into my back, driving me helm-first into the ground.

I coughed and blinked, trying to clear the dust from my throat and eyes only for something to smash into my shoulders, driving my back into the dirt. It was followed by two more, each stopping me from doing anything but kissing the ground.

"Stay Down!" Daemon shouted as another blow struck the rear of my armour. I coughed as more dust and dust got into my mouth and nose. The only good thing was that he was using a blunted weapon, as anything sharp would've stood a chance to break through the armour. Even as another blow landed, I felt a fire to escape this punishment and return the favour spark to life within me.

As the next blow landed, I turned with it. My arm on that side collapsed, letting me roll. As I did, my other hand brought up my blade, which had until then been trapped under my palm. The blade only made faint contact with his armour as I rolled, nowhere near enough to damage even if the blade had been sharp, but that was fine. The move had kicked up dust, and using Wind Magic I sent that dust shooting up at his helm.

Daemon stumbled back, coughing. As he did, I scrambled to my feet and then, with both hands on the hilt of my sword, attacked. The urge to take him down, to bloody him growing with each passing moment. Yet, before my attack could land, he shifted, resetting his stance. Thankfully, he wasn't able to fully prepare, and his blade was knocked from his hand by the force of my swing.

Yet, even as his sword clattered to the ground, he countered. His shield slammed flush against my forearm, jarring my arm, and causing me to go to a single-hand grip. After managing to counter the momentum the blade had built up from my previous attack, I brought it back around even as he slammed his shield into me again.

I was knocked back, off balance from my attack starting as he struck me, and my arm flailed out. Daemon shifted his shield, slamming the edge into my hand and causing my weapon to clatter to the ground.

As I steadied myself, I caught him smirking from behind the rim of his shield. Rage burned inside me, and I was struggling to remain in control as I ripped my dagger out and braced. When the shield moved, I dropped low and rushed forward.

I smirked as I slipped past the shield and as I collided with him, I wrapped my arms around his waist and pushed upward. He might've been older, stronger and – as much as it pained me to admit – better skilled than me currently, but I could still fight him close in.

Daemon was lifted into the air, and I tackled him to the ground, bringing our combined bulk down on his back. A grunt of pain was ripped from his lips. "Fuck!" he called out in pain. I pulled back an arm, and my blade came down only for him to use his free hand to grab the blade. His armour protected him from my blade, which would've been true even if it had been sharpened.

My free hand came down and slammed into his helm. Yet, as the blow landed, he twisted his hand and rolled. As I fell off him, my blade was wrenched from my grip and a moment later his shield slammed into my side, forcing me from him.

I ended up looking at the clear blue sky, but before I could right myself, Daemon and his shield came into view. The rim of the shield came down, aimed at my neck. My hands grabbed hold of it, stopping it before it could strike my gorget, yet before I could attempt to slip free, he shifted his weight, placing most of it on top of the shield.

My grip slipped as my hands were forced down into my neck and I gulped, trying to draw in as much air as possible. Even as I fought to keep the edge of his shield from pressing down on my armour, I watched him lift a free arm and then slam it down on the top edge of the shield.

"Stay fucking down!" He snarled as my hands were crushed down on my gorget, and while the armour didn't give, I could feel it pressing down on my neck and trapping my bruised fingers. I gulped, trying to take in as much air as possible as I struggled to stop Daemon from pressing his full weight onto his shield. Each gulp was harder to take than the last as he continued to pound on the top of his shield, trying to drive the lower edge through my neck.

I scrambled as best I could to escape even as my blood grew thick, and my vision clouded. I felt my mind slip away, releasing something wild and untamed. I knew I wasn't prey, but the predator. "AARGH!" I roared in defiance, finding a new urge to escape. I twisted rapidly, doing whatever it took to escape, and felt my heel crash into something.

That had Daemon's weight shift, lifting the shield fractionally and I struck out again and, with what feeling remained in my fingers, pulled the shield to one side. Daemon was knocked off-balance and as he fell, I brought my knee up and struck him wherever I could.

Even as he hit the dirt, I rolled toward him, one arm swinging over to slam into his armoured side. I felt my armour vibrate with the force of the strike, yet as I found myself on my knees, my other armoured fist came flying around, crashing into his hand, and breaking his grip on his shield.

My fists blurred together as a need to dominate the one who'd challenged my right to rule, who threatened my status burned in my veins. The world faded away as all that mattered was pounding the challenger until they couldn't rise again. Until my foe lay broken and dead at my feet.

My head snapped back as something struck me. It was followed by a blow to my chest. I was driven back slightly, and when my focus snapped back to the challenger, I saw him kneeling like me, fists ready to fight. I leapt forward, my fists striking out even as blows landed against my armour. The metal sang with each blow, but I didn't care. All that mattered was beating my foe until they understood who the true alpha was.

… …

I slumped back on my heels, all energy drained from my body. I panted heavily as everywhere hurt and my ears burnt from the sound of metal striking metal that reverberated through my armour. I was going to be bruised all over, possibly even had a few cracked ribs, but I could survive it. And seeing Daemon in the same state, I smiled as I realised I hadn't lost. I hadn't won, something partially confirmed by the pain I felt when I smiled, but for the first spar ever, I'd not had to tap out.

Of course, as the bloodlust and fury faded from my mind – driven away by exhaustion more than rational thought, I understood how close I'd come to giving myself over to the beast. To the rage inside. I knew I had anger issues brought on by my body going through its teenage years and amplified by my wolf and dragon traits, but this had been something else. Something bestial.

I blinked, clearing my sight, and looked at Daemon. He collapsed a few metres from me, only still sitting thanks to an elbow that he was leaning heavily on. Someone was near him helping to pull the helm from his head, but I couldn't quite focus on who.

Someone came close, and I tensed as their hands moved to my neck. Yet, as they moved around, I knew I couldn't stop them. I simply didn't have the energy to do so. As they did whatever they were doing, I watched as Daemon's helm was pulled off. There were slight, but clear, dents in his helm from where I'd struck him. Yet, any enjoyment from seeing that was tempered by the blackened skin that emerged from underneath. As my eyes took in the bruising of his face, and the wince as he moved slightly, I wondered how bad I looked under my armour.

My helm moved. I tried to shift to stop it, but every inch of my body hurt. I winced as a part of the helm scraped against my face and then blinked as my vision, no longer confined by the narrow slit to protect my eyes, faced the full might of day. Yet, as the spots in my vision cleared, I saw the sun was no longer overhead, having instead dropped low enough that it was hidden by the wall of the yard.

"This is not what I expected to find when called to the yard." I turned my head slowly as Oberyn spoke, pushing through the pain that even that slight movement caused. "However, after witnessing the middle of your brawl, I saw no reason to step in and end this debacle." As he spoke, Oberyn's gaze shifted between me and Daemon. "Now that you have reached a point where neither can continue, and I hope burnt out whatever fuels this bad blood between you, you will talk. You are knights of Dorne and my former squires, not a pair of wild, untamed beasts!"

Oberyn's tone dropped the longer he spoke, until by the time he finished, the threat in his words was backed up by the venom of a trained and experienced killer. When he looked at me, I nodded, showing I understood him and hatched as Daemon did the same. "Good. After the pages have given you water to quench your tiredness, you are to stay here and talk about your issues. Eventually, Maester Caleotte will arrive with others to help you remove the armour and tend your wounds. For both your sakes, I hope the Gods ensure that happens before my niece learns of this debacle and releases her wrath upon you." While I didn't fear any physical or verbal assault from Ari, I knew that once she learnt of this, she'd do her best to verbally rip me a new one. "I assure you that it is safer to face the Black Dread in his prime than an enraged Princess of Dorne."

With his piece said, Oberyn turned and marched away. Two pages came over to Daemon and I, carrying jugs and goblets. Even though it hurt to take it and speak, I thanked the page for the goblet and drank. I smirked when Daemon coughed from gulping down his water too fast but remained silent as I savoured the cool, refreshing sensation of water sliding down my throat and soothing the pain inside my body.

Once the water was finished; I handed the goblet to the page and saw it was my cousin Edric Dayne. He offered me a small smile, before glancing at Daemon and then scampering away.

"Fuck!" I turned to Daemon, making sure to move slowly, and saw him slowly lifting and rotating an arm. When he caught me watching he stopped and stared back. "I know you hate to lose, but where the fuck did that come from?" as he finished he grimaced, no doubt from pain racking his body.

"You!" I shot back, only to grimace at how much that hurt and the copper taste in my mouth. "Ever since I came to Sunspear you wanted me dead," I added, though with less volume than before and with a wince at how broken I sounded. Dameon stared at me, and as the seconds ticked away, I felt the embers of my rage flare. "Well? WHY?!"

A second later Daemon coughed. A second and third followed soon after, joined by more at ever-decreasing intervals. That was when I realised he was laughing at me. Those embers inside ignited and I could hear the call of the beast demanding I strike him down for his insolence. Thankfully, my body was too tired to respond – thanks to that brawl that had gone on for hours – and my mind was clear, so I remained where I was, waiting for his response.

"That is what this was about?" Daemon managed to get out as the coughing laughter died down. "Why do you never stay down when I beat you?" I nodded and he shook his head, only to grunt in pain. "You really fail to understand, don't you? You never saw what everyone outside your new family did?" He seemed to shrink as if the tension in his body suddenly left him. "Like me, you are a Sand, but they treat you like one of them. They took you in and let you eat at their table! Hells, after the Greyjoy Rebellion no one called you out for your folly that almost cost the Princess and your mother their lives! No, because you got fucking lucky, they praised your bravery! They brought you closer and Prince Doran treats you better than he does his firstborn son!" Dameon lifted his fists even as rage seeped into his words.

Daemon stopped and looked down at his shaking arms as if seeing them for the first time. I stayed still, wondering what he was thinking, watching as he slowly regained control of his anger.

"Do you know what it feels like, to watch your hopes, dreams and desires just be deemed secondary to a complete stranger by your own family?" He asked, his voice slow and steady, but unable to fully mask his rage and pain. "To see someone you love and cherish look at another the way you want to be looked at?"

"Arianne is above both of our stations, sooner or later she will marry those…"

"I KNOW," Daemon cried, cutting me off. "I know. But is it too much to dream? I have seen the way she looks at you, and tell me, when she follows through with her duty to her station and grows to love someone else, how would you feel then?"

" unsure". I replied. I knew what Prince Oberon and Doran intended for Ari, who they intended for her to marry. Yet the idea of that insane wanker being near Ari, touching her, marrying her... It turned my stomach and a faint growl slipped from my lips.

He laughed and pointed "And there it is, the savagery of a Northman. Is this how you intend to reward them? By acting like a wild untamed fucking animal!" His arm dropped and the fury in his voice fell away. "And yet, even after this, they will still love you. Oberyn, Arianne, Doran…" He paused and shook his head once before lifting a hand to his forehead.

He sighed and shook his head. "I was, I am envious of you, Bastard of Starfall. Not just because of how the Princess and others look at you, but of how everyone seems to bend over backwards for you. To grant you whatever you want, whomever you desire. How your life has played out as if your life is nothing but a story where a bastard can rise high enough in a station that they can be treated as equal to their pureblood brethren."

"You had, you have, the same place!" I shot back. "You were treated as Oberyn's son before me. Hells, you were also his squire. Now, as a Dornish bastard, you serve as Ari's sworn shield! Yet you complain about the Martells treating me well, about me having all the breaks. Yet it is you, not I, that Prince Doran has protecting his daughter and heir! If you dislike that I am a bastard in a prominent position in the palace, look in the fucking mirror!"

When I finished my response, I leaned forward and started coughing. Every cough felt as if I was being impaled by a dozen lances, and when the burst ended, I saw blood pooling on my armour. I looked back at Daemon, expecting him to be angry. Instead, I found someone who looked three times his age, even with the bruising taken into account.

"Do you really think that?" Daemon asked slowly. "I may have been Princess Arianne's Sworn Shield now, but I am always the Bastard of Godsgrace. Named by my uncaring father after a man who would always be my better in his eyes." he paused and looked down at his hands, encased in metal gauntlets. "I have learnt to accept that, to accept my station, to love and care for my true family in secret. Knowing that the woman I once desired would never look at me as I once looked at her. Yet, just as I was slowly coming to understand that, perhaps even beginning to accept it, I saw how Prince Oberyn treated you. How Prince Doran seemed to train you as if a trueborn son of House Martell. Someone almost on par with Prince Quentyn by many. I watched as Arianne ignored my feelings, dismissed them even, to show you compassion. Even when you placed her and others in danger."

He paused once more, taking time to settle his thoughts before holding my gaze as he spoke again. "I understand now that I was jealous of that attention. While I understand and accept that Arianne no longer feels for me as I once did for her, I struggle to let go of my issues with you. To see you as anything but the favoured and spoiled child." He spoke softly even as his gaze hardened. "Yet I cannot trust you around them, not when your rage, your animal instincts continue to overwhelm your mind. You're a danger to the Martells, my family. You lose control too easily and lash out like the wolf of your father's sigil. Until you reign in. that temper, you'll always be a danger to them."

I held his gaze for a few moments before sighing. "Aye, I know. And I'm trying to get a handle on the anger. I really am. But it feels like the last few years… It's gotten worse." I knew that was more a result of Blood of the Dragon's Flames than being a teenager, but it wasn't exactly something I could just come out and say. Not without sounding like a fucking madman. "I mean, I've got control most of the time, but when that control slips…"

"Yes, I know well what that leads to," Daemon finished with a chuckle that almost turned into a groan as he grimaced. Slowly, being careful of how he moved, I watched him stand. I did the same, ignoring as best I could the pain that burnt over my back as I moved.

Once we were both standing, he moved slowly toward me. His hands stayed low with the palms open as he approached, which was the only reason I didn't shift into a combat stance. Well, that and I knew that if I tried to fight again today I'd risk serious injury.

"I can no longer hate you for how life has played out around us. Your actions, as much as it pains me to admit, have never intentionally placed my family, our family, in danger. However, until you learn to control your anger, your rage, I can never truly trust you."

Once he was close, he stopped and raised his hand. I stared at it for a time before slowly extending my hand. As we shook, a small, pained smile came to his face. "As much as it pains me to admit, and if you say I said this to others, I will deny it until the day I die, you are good, Cregan. I mean, I am better, but that's because I am older." We both smirked and then made a face as pain racked our bodies. "With time… you might be better than me, maybe even match Prince Oberyn. However, until you learn to harness, to focus this rage inside, it will never happen."

"Aye, I know," I said as we stopped shaking hands. "And about this… I am sorry about not tapping out when I lost. It was stupid." I looked away, my eyes drifting toward where I knew the sea was. "I just need to push myself. I need to be ready."

"For whatever it is you and Prince Doran have planned?" I turned back and saw the faintest of smiles on Dameon's face. I suspected he'd have chuckled at my shock if it wouldn't hurt to do so. "You might think you are smart and keep whatever you are up to hidden, but people talk. The palace, for all it belongs to the Martells, is full of hundreds of people. It was not much effort to overhear enough that confirms you have spoken with Doran several times since your most recent return. Nor that you also spent an inordinate amount of time with Maester Caleotte. At least when the Princess was not dragging you into whatever room she had decided on for that day's fucking." I smirked, remembering the last such session from this morning, and the state I'd left Ari in before heading to the yard. However, I was drawn from those thoughts Daemon stepped closer. "Just what exactly are you up to?"

"If Prince Doran allows, I will tell you on two conditions," I replied. He took a moment to consider before nodding. "First, you cannot tell Ari and second, you have got to spar with me each day until I next leave Sunspear."

Daemon held my gaze as he considered my words. "Fine, though if the Princess asks me directly, I will not lie for you."


Daemon shook his head as I saw Maester Caleotte step into the yard, a frown on his face. "Then you have my word as I knight. Now let us speak to Prince Doran so I might know what in the name of the gods are you up to?"

… …

… …

As Caddar manned the wheel I took a final, long look back at Sunspear. It was around three-quarters of a moon since I'd brought my plans to Doran, and I was finally underway and had said my goodbyes to everyone.

My mother had been the least happy about my leaving, and for the last few days before I sailed I'd found her hovering near me when I was in public. While I could live with that, I wasn't sure Oberyn was doing as well. Since the reveal of my plans to my extended family, my mother had been giving him a shoulder so cold that even the Others might've avoided it. Oberyn, to his credit, accepted it with grace and neither showed it around the younger children.

Alia, Sarisa and the younger Sand Snakes were only told I was leaving on an important mission and had extracted promises from me to bring them gifts back. I wasn't sure how I would fulfil those requests, or the ones that came for others like Beron and Alysanne. They'd been more understanding of my need to leave even if they didn't know the full details, though the pair had been distracted by me showing myself skinchanging into Kaa. When I'd told them they might be able to do the same thing, and hinted Robb was learning to do so with Quicksilver, the pair had leapt at the chance. Thus, under my orders – which Oberyn knew the reason for – the pair were to spend time in the stables with the same horse each day, or with a pair of peacocks Doran had been gifted recently from the new Sealord of Braavos to help ensure Dorne kept ordering her vessels from him. Yet, for all my plans for my cousins, or steps Doran was taking to strengthen Dorne, the memories that played in my mind the most centred on my older stepsisters and Ari.

Neither Nym nor Sarella was overly emotional about my departure, but both had ensured I enjoyed one more private time with each of them before I left. Something that I'd enjoyed with Asha and Ari as well. I'd also enjoyed a foursome with the princess, Nym, and Asha which was something I'd never forget, though last night I'd spent the evening alone with Ari.

Ever since learning of my plans, she'd been turned on, enjoying the fact I was tempting danger with my actions. That night had been… energetic. Yet, when the morning had come, we'd spoken about why she felt I was doing this. I hadn't denied her belief that I was doing this to earn her hand, nor did that idea offend her. Hells, it had almost resulted in us fucking away the morning. We hadn't, as we both had duties to perform, but it was clear when I'd said goodbye that when I returned she was going to try and fuck my brains out.

"The provisions, weapons and men are secure," Daemon said as he climbed the short flight of stairs to the quarterdeck. "The men seem in good spirits, but who knows if that will last when their loyalty is based on coin." Ever since our dragged-out spar, or at least the heart-to-heart we'd had at the end of it, we'd reached a place of, if not friendship, then common ground. That said, he wasn't here by choice, but by order of Arianne. I couldn't help but smile when Daemon had grudgingly told me his orders were to ensure my safe return to Sunspear as it seemed the heir to Dorne wasn't interested in finding another paramour.

Having him here was nice, as it gave me a blade I could not only count on when the cards were dealt, but he was someone I could trust. At least as far as not stabbing me in the back and stealing my ship. while I felt the men I'd hired wouldn't do that, I couldn't be sure. Bronn was loyal to coin only while Irraro considered me his employer due to my part-ownership of the Sunset Rose. The men those two had brought – totalling eight not including themselves – were the ones I considered more valuable than the rest. As such they and Daemon would form the core of any unit I kept near me though currently, the pair were onboard the captured and converted pirate vessel that was sailing slightly behind and to the port of the Windchaser.

"It's what we have," I replied as Daemon stepped onto the quarterdeck. At his heels came the large black mass behind indicating the only being I trusted more than Daemon or my crew on the Windchaser had decided to wake from his snooze. Of my animal companions, Ymir was the only one I was bringing with me, though I had no plans to use Ymir in combat to capture either settlement on Dustspear. While he now had chainmail armour that had been adapted from some worn by sand steeds, I wasn't willing to risk him in combat.

Rian was spending most of his time with Riona: the name I'd chosen for his mate. The pair had made a nest on an empty balcony high in the Tower of the Sun and with Riona having laid an egg less than a week ago, Oberyn had taken steps to ensure the room the balcony they were using was restricted from any bar himself, Doran, or Ari. Of the trio, I felt only Ari might head into the room as she'd spent time slowly earning Riona's trust with dried meat and fish. While she'd never have the connection I had with Rian, she wanted to eventually have Riona trust her enough to come if asked.

As for Kaa, while the forests of Dustspear – something along with the discovery the island had once had a quarry along with some farms had surprised me – would be an ideal hunting ground for him, he had even less protection than Ymir. Oh, using Kaa to scout a settlement had great appeal, but not when battle was soon to occur at that location.

"Oh, I am well aware and agree," Daemon said as Ymir bound passed him and pushed against my side, moving so my hand was able to scratch his ear. "For what it is worth, I think this plan of yours is a good one. Risky as hell for sure, but if you pull it off you will secure your place at Prince Doran's table completely along with earning fame, fortune and the attention of many a maiden." I looked up from Ymir to see Daemon smirking as he finished.

"What, are you feeling jealous that when we pull this off I shall get the fame and you will go back to being Arianne's sworn shield?"

He snorted and shook his head. "No, not now. If you had asked me that a few years ago, when I still sought the princess' hand, then maybe. Now though, I am content. I have an important role in a visible position, a lady who I hope to woo and wed when we return, and someone to ensure I never grow lax in my training." He tipped his head to me at that bit. "Plus, I will not have to try risky ventures like this to make my name."

"Then I am happy for you, though one day it won't be you pushing me, but the other way around."

He laughed and looked out to sea. "Never going to happen."

"Keep telling yourself that," I retorted by turning and glancing back at Sunspear. We were far enough away that while the palace could still be seen, even with my enhanced sight, I couldn't make out features on the buildings. I'd return soon, the first step in making my name and path – at least the one I wanted to take before and after the Others were beaten – completed.

My gaze turned northward, toward where Dustspear roughly lay. There, in the shadows of land once conquered by Daemon upon the back of Caraxes, the first steps in my plans lay. And when the Grim Prince fell beneath my blade, a new lord would rise in the Stepstones. However, before I could openly reveal my name and sigil – something Ari and Alysanne had still to let me see – I needed to work secretly. That was why, in homage to Daemon and my father, the banner of the Rogue Viper would fly over Dustspear before the year was out.

… …

… …

A/N: And now, the games begin as Cregan begins climbing the ladder.

… …

This story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own and Royal Road.

If you're interested in joining the discussion of this story but joining the Discrod server for Game of Kingdoms, seeing other servers where I'm active, or supporting my work - and thus getting to see chapters in either draft or completed form anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months in advance - consider following the link below.

linktr .ee/ussexplorer

... ...

Regardless if you join the discord or support my writing, I hope you enjoy the story and suggestions, valid criticisms, and ideas are always welcome.