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.

If this is the first chapter you've been alerted to in several months, blame FFN. While the system is working again, it was offline for about three months.

Dreams of Dust

… …

(Circa 297AC)

I stirred slowly in bed, shifting to get my long hair off my face, the first rays of morning light slipping through the thin curtain that blocked the bedroom from an attached balcony breaking my sleep. As the fog of slumber slipped from my mind, I remembered that I wasn't in my bed, nor was I alone.

As I'd expected even before I'd set foot in Sunspear, never mind after I gifted Ari the Valyrian steel necklace, once the evening feast celebrating the safe return of me, Ser Daemon, and our men, was over, Ari had dragged me to her quarters. Now, she hadn't leapt over the tables and pulled me away in front of those at the feast, but the moment I'd slipped away, claiming a need to relieve myself, she was upon me.

It took us longer than normal to reach her quarters, even while using the various passageways hidden from any but House Martell and their most trusted advisors, mainly as we'd struggled to keep our hands and lips away from each other, but we did eventually arrive. Which was when we discovered that, due to us being continually distracted by each other, we'd been beaten to her room by two others.

Nym and Asha had been waiting on Ari's bed, and given their state of undress, had grown bored of waiting and started without us. While Ari had acted annoyed at their presence, Nym had silenced her with a kiss that enflamed passions. the four of us had then spent the rest of the evening, and several hours through the night, exploring and enjoying each other's bodies.

I was tired from last night's exertions, but as had been the case throughout this life and the one that came before it, I woke with the sun. The only upside of that was, unlike in the North, or my former life, the sun in Dorne rose at roughly the same time every day.

Lifting my head, I saw the various positions of my companions and considered how I would slip from their grasp without waking any of them. Ari was rolled up against one side, one hand resting over my heart, the other on my stomach while one of her legs was draped over mine. Nym was on my other side, her hands in similar positions to Ari's, though, unlike the princess, Nym's grasp was firmer. While she wasn't clingy while awake, when asleep she did enjoy holding her partner; something Asha and I had teased her about. Though today the issue was that her second hand was a touch lower than Ari's. so much so that if I wasn't careful I might well hurt myself trying to slide from her grasp.

Asha was on the other side of Nym, taking the dominant position she often did when with Nym. One arm was around Nym's chest, pushing my stepsister's breasts into my arm. The other hand had reached over and was resting on Nym's arm, almost as if she wanted to make sure I was still there as well.

With no sheets over any of us, my eyes feasted on the flesh surrounding me, and the subtle but distinct differences between the trio. Ari was the shortest by far and the softest. Now, that wasn't to say her curves were defined or her muscles underdeveloped, but compared to Nym and Asha it stood out. Asha's paler skin also stood out against those of the Dornish ladies around us. Now, her skin had tanned some while in Dorne, but not much. Not even to the extent mine did, never mind that of the radiant bronze of the daughters of House Martell.

As I enjoyed the sights before me, a faint grumble from my stomach accompanied an urge to relieve myself. After considering how to slip from the clutches of the three ladies, I eventually managed to escape the bed without waking the trio. Once up, I stretched, getting the nightly kinks out of my limbs, and making sure to keep my eyes away from the bed behind me. While it amused them to see, I disliked walking around at full mast.

Slipping from the bedroom, I stepped into the main chamber of Ari's quarters, noting the state of the place. Clothes were discarded everywhere, though I saw Red Rain resting in its sheath upon the central table of the room. Nearby it lay the gifts I'd given the trio and other pieces of jewellery we had been wearing last night. Ari's necklace was draped over my blade, and beside it was the ruby ring and axe I'd gifted the other two.

Asha had wondered why I'd given her an axe – one with intricate detailing engraved into the wooden shaft – instead of jewellery. I'd replied that I felt she'd prefer a weapon over a gem, but if she'd rather have something like Nym, I could arrange it. The speed with which she'd pulled the axe toward her had made me and others laugh. The axe had been slipped through her belt during the feast and was waiting on the table when Ari and I reached the room last night. Along with every stitch of clothing, either of the other two ladies had worn to the feast.

After relieving myself, I moved toward the wash basin. While the trio in bed would likely want a repeat of last night's performance, I didn't want to return to them without first cleaning up a little. As I washed, I wondered how Sarella and Ty were doing.

The latter was, from what Doran and Oberyn told me, serving with the Silent Sisters somewhere in the Reach. Apparently, Doran had felt if she went anywhere in Dorne Ty might get favourable treatment as Oberyn's daughter. I didn't know where in the Reach she was, but if I had to guess, I felt Doran would've sent her to either Oldtown or Highgarden. While Ty was being punished, in Doran's place I'd have instructed her to listen for anything interesting regarding the major families of the Reach or the Citadel.

Ty would return later in the year, and I knew the next time we met, we'd have to speak freely with each other. Her actions in the North had been incredibly ill-advised. Things had worked out in the end, with Alysanne being allowed to travel to Sunspear with Beron, but that didn't excuse how badly the two girls had handled things. While she was a bastard, Alysanne was still – to the world – the bastard daughter of a Lord Paramount, and what happened could've easily been seen as a kidnapping. Thankfully, Ned hadn't reacted as other lords might – and some of that, I felt had come from whatever Alysanne had written to her father, though I didn't know what was in that letter – but it could've been so much worse. If that had been Sansa or Arya, then my fears might well have come to pass.

Thankfully they hadn't, and with time away from Ty to reflect on the matter, I understood I'd vastly overreacted. My anger – possibly clouded by a perk and trait – had been uncalled for. For that I needed to apologise to Ty, however, I wasn't sure if I could accept her back into my trust. It had been my mistake with revealing magic to Alysanne, and then bringing in Ty to help that – I felt – had led to the pair concocting their plan, so there was blame to go around. However, Ty's choice not to tell me of the plan until we were almost at White Harbour was something I still struggled to accept.

Whenever we next met, we'd have to speak freely with each other and see where we now stood. I wouldn't deny that every time I thought of her, I felt a stab of pain at her not being by my side, but her choice to keep the plan hidden from me meant I had to think carefully about if, or when, I'd bring her back into my bed and confidence.

Still, she had the trust of her sisters and cousin, which if she was in Oldtown, might be of use to Sarella. The youngest of the first generation of Sand Snakes – as in, those who weren't also children of Ellaria Sand – had left for Oldtown not long after I'd set sail for Dustspear. By now she should be somewhere in the Reach, posing as a boy. Since the Citadel didn't accept women into their ranks Sarella was going to have to hide the truth of her gender.

She'd been planning to study at the Citadel for many years, and while I felt she was smart enough to do so, the fact women were denied had always seemed like an obstacle too high for her to overcome. That didn't mean I hadn't supported her in learning everything she could, but I had thought she'd given up on her dream. Apparently, I had underestimated Sarella's desire for knowledge, and now could only offer a prayer to the Old Gods to ensure she wasn't discovered.

Taking a cloth to dry my face, my thoughts turned to the Citadel, and the various rumours I'd heard about their ability to shape the destiny of Westeros. The most common stories I'd heard, inside and out of the palace, was that the Maesters – or at least a good chunk of them – had in some way engineered the Doom of Valyria, the death of dragons and the overthrowing of the Targaryen dynasty. While I could, possibly, accept the last one – the practice of incest was an insult to the Faith, of which almost all Maesters would've been brought up with – the former two were just, to me, ridiculous.

Magic hadn't been driven from the world by the Doom or the death of dragons. Me and the Martells were proof of that. Though it had obviously done something to weaken magic in the world, to the point creatures that needed it like dragons, had died out. Now, from what I knew, the Red Comet was a factor in how Daenerys birth her dragons – there were, I felt other factors at play, but I wasn't sure of what they were– and I hoped that it was the event that would remove the limits on my magic, which was preventing me from taking Fire Magic beyond level 100. However, since that was still a few years away, I couldn't be sure until the comet arrived.

Placing the cloth down, I turned and walked back into the main chamber.

A faint panicked squeak had me stopping in my tracks as I saw Eirnela at the central table. Given the jug and filled cups she'd just brought, it was obvious why she was there. As she looked away and moved to place the table between us, I remembered I was naked, which given what she'd endured before I'd freed her, was likely something that terrified her.

Now, there had been times when she'd had to enter a room where I wasn't fully clothed – since she and her sister chose to serve me or Ari more than anyone else – however, each of those times, she'd knocked before entering and I'd covered myself. This time, she'd likely knocked and having not got a reply, assumed we were all still sleeping.

"M-m'lord," She all but squeaked out, caught between the requirement to meet my gaze and the fear brought on by being around a naked man. From the table, I caught a distinct smell, suggesting the three cups she'd brought were filled with moon tea. That made sense as while Ari having a child out of wedlock wasn't as unacceptable to the Dornish as the rest of Westeros, it was better if the first child she bore was her heir and not a bastard. As for Nym and Asha, while they might like being around the younger Sand Snakes, neither had shown any interest in becoming a parent.

"Just give me a moment," I said before turning and moving to where my shirt lay. While it wouldn't cover all of me, given it reached halfway down my thigh, it would be enough. At least so long as I wasn't distracted by anything. "I am sorry if my state upsets you," I said as I reached down for my shirt.

"Th…" Eirnela stopped as I collected my shirt. "It does not, My Lord. I was s-simply surprised by your arrival."

"I am not some random noble, Eirnela," I said as I pulled the shirt over my head, the soft silk sliding over my skin without issue. "I know and understand why you avoid most other men besides myself." Once the shirt was on, I turned back to her. Her eyes glanced low before she remembered I was now watching her and turned away. "It was my mistake for walking around as I was."

She nodded, for whatever reason unwilling to respond verbally. While others might be offended, I accepted it. I'd not probed about what she and her sister had endured at the hands of the pirates, but I knew it was traumatic enough that I was the only man they were comfortable serving. To the point that Oberyn had stepped in during a feast several moons ago when a visiting trueborn from the Stormlands had tried to get handsy with Eirnela.

"Do you have any other duties to perform here?" I asked, hoping to let her slip away without further embarrassment or fear.

"No, My Lord," she replied, her eyes staying on my feet.

"Then off you go. I shall make sure the Princess knows you delivered her morning tea, and that you returned to your other duties."

"Yes, My Lord. Thank you." She curtseyed and turned toward the door. Though as she did, I caught her gaze rising. Not enough that it met my eyes, but enough to suggest she was perhaps curious about something.

I stayed still, letting her slip from the room, before moving toward the table. A chuckle slipped from my lips as I reached the jug and started pouring myself a goblet of wine. The smell from the filled cups was strong enough now that I was certain they contained moon tea.

"When are you going to bed her?"

I lowered my goblet and turned to see Asha standing in the doorframe to Ari's bedchamber, not a stitch of clothing on her. My eyes drank in the delightful sight before me, noting the marks that I or others had left on her last night. While I savoured the sight of her, her eyes did likewise to me, and an amused, possibly vicious, smirk crept onto her face.

"Do you think I have tired of you and the others already?" I asked as I placed the goblet on the table. "Or that I prefer a meek lamb over a wild kraken?" I added as I stalked toward her, as a wolf might stalk a deer.

Now, Asha was no deer, and every time we joined – at least when given the time and space to do so – it was a fight. Of the girls I'd bedded or had been brought to my bed by Ari in the case of a few handmaidens, Asha was the most aggressive. Every time we mated, it was as animals, where one had to achieve dominance. Though I did sometimes allow her to appear as the dominant one, we both knew the truth. I was always in control, and it seemed Asha enjoyed that. At least when it was me, as with Nym and Ari she was the more assertive partner.

"Good response," Asha said as I neared. Her hand reached out, gripped my shirt, and pulled me toward her. I was glad it didn't rip as the thing was expensive, however, any thoughts on my clothing were driven from my thoughts as her lips crashed against mine, trying once more to take control.

As I returned the kiss, forcing my tongue past her lips, my arms slipped around her waist. A faint grunt of enjoyment slipped from her lips my hands grasped her arse, and as I lifted, her legs rose and locked around my waist. "Now," she said, breaking the kiss to appear unwilling to let me take control, "get me back in that bed and fuck me hard enough that my ancestors hear me."

… …

… …

Later that day, after lunch and as the sun began its slow, languid journey to the horizon, I was walking through the corridors of the Tower of the Sun. At lunch, Doran had stated publicly that he wished to speak with me privately about the details of my battles to remove a pirate threat to Sunspear. Thankfully, he'd been gracious enough to allow me and those with me time to eat fully. Due to Asha's sounds, Ari and Nym, as expected, had woken this morning and we'd resumed our activities from the night before. So much so that we'd gone completely past breakfast and Eirnela had needed to bring us food to break our fast.

Several people had noted our arrival as a group to lunch, though outside of Oberyn's teasing barbs, few said anything about it. At least not loud enough that the hall could hear. Many of Ari's ladies-in-waiting gossiped quietly among themselves, often giggling whenever I glanced their way. The same for true of Wylla, her ladies-in-waiting, and Alysanne. For most of the meal, we'd not given any hint about why we'd all come in together, though Nym, apparently growing annoyed with the whispered conversations going on, had decided to make things clear. After stabbing a side of lamb with her knife, she'd take a bite from it before offering the lamb first to Asha and then to me.

That action had, as she intended, silenced a lot of the whispered conversations. Possibly because it was an open secret that I was Ari's paramour, yet Nym had just made clear that I was also with her and Asha.

The people seemingly confused by Nym's actions were Beron, Trystane, and those with the young prince such as my cousin Edric Dayne. Beron was older than Trystane and his friends, but had slipped into their group when I'd left as there were few boys in Sunspear or the Water Gardens his exact age and Beron was now Oberyn's squire. While Beron didn't follow the Faith, since I'd been knighted it turned out he wanted to be as well, which amused Oberyn and Wylla. That said, I felt he didn't realise how it would look to Wylla to choose to become a knight when her house was the only major Northern one to follow the Faith. Nor how it might appear he was doing so to seem a better match for her.

Still, the possible relationship between the two Northern second-born children was a matter for another time. Reaching the doors to Doran's solar, I knew the conversation I was about to have was what mattered currently.

The guards outside saw me approach, shifting since I had Red Rain sheathed at my side, though they relaxed once they noticed who I was. While most people didn't wander the halls of Sunspear armed, thanks to being Oberyn's son in all but blood, and someone trusted by Doran and Ari, and was now a knight, I was given leeway to do so.

Still, entering the solar armed wasn't something I was allowed to do, and once I was at the door, I unbuckled my sheathed blade and held it up to the guards. One took it from me and then knocked on the door.


After Doran's command, the guard pushed the door open and as I stepped inside, followed, handing my blade to my father. Oberyn was sitting at the corner of Doran's desk, a small smile on his face.

"You summoned me, My Prince?" I asked with a bow even as the guard moved back toward the door.

"I did indeed," Doran replied calmly. "Please, sit."

As I sat, Oberyn leaned forward, that almost trademarked smirk where he knew more than someone else on his face. Behind the pair, taking a position of prominence at least for this was the Grim Prince's goldenheart bow. I didn't know if either had tested it, but its display was a sign from Doran, that I hoped meant he was pleased with how the battle for Dustspear had gone and would be receptive to the next stage of my plans. "I must admit to being surprised that even with the summons, you were able to escape the clutches of your companions."

I smiled softly, well used to his teasing. "If not for Prince Doran making clear at lunch that he wished to speak, I fear they might have found ways to ensure I could do nothing but remain with them." I bit back further comments as, while Doran was accepting of me being Ari's paramour, I doubted he wanted to listen to innuendo regarding his daughter and heir.

Doran let my statement hang, almost as if waiting to see if Oberyn would reply. When he didn't, the Prince of Dorne spoke. "First off, on behalf of House Martell, and all of Dorne, you have my thanks for the removal of a threat so close to our shores." I lowered my head, accepting the praise. "The question now turns to how you wish to proceed with your new holding. From what I have learnt, you left behind men to hold the island."

"I did indeed, My Prince. While the island is too large to garrison with even all the men I sailed with, the northern point, where the Grim Prince made his base, remains under the control of my men. They should be able to maintain control until I return. However, before I do, I will need more men; and not just sellswords."

"Yes, when we first spoke of your plans, you hoped to develop the island into something more than a pirate bastion. I take it, those plans have expanded after your time there?"

"They have, My Prince, though it might be easier to explain my thinking by first detailing the lay of the land."

Oberyn leaned back and bent down. "For that, I have come prepared." He picked up a large sheet which, after Doran allowed, he unrolled on the desk. As I helped him weigh the corners down to keep the scroll open, I saw it was a map of Dustspear, though one that lacked much detail. Beyond the location of the two settlements the Grim Prince had used and a few other scant details the pirate Oberyn had interrogated several moons ago, the map was empty. As in nothing more than the outline of the island.

"Sadly, the former ruler of the island was not very forthcoming with details for the Maesters. I hope the new lord of the island might be more helpful."

I chuckled at Oberyn's comment and then took the offered quill and inkwell he passed to me. "I think I can. Now let us see," I said as I started filling in details, starting with the general layout of the settlements.

… …

I leaned back from the map, taking in the much fuller – though still sparse – map. "That is about all I can remember, as while I was more cautious of wild animals or patrols than the lay of the land," I said as I put the quill down. It had taken what felt like an hour to fill in the map with details of paths we'd taken on the trek from south to north on the island and what I'd seen when we'd sailed around the western shore. "I shall have some of the men come into the place over the next few days to see what they know, along with the captains of the Windchaser and Trickster." It was unlikely any could offer an improvement on what I'd given, but perhaps Caddar or his First Mate could fill in some of the blanks for the western shore.

Doran and Oberyn both looked at me, impressed with what detail I'd provided. "Did, perhaps, some of this information come from Ymir?" Oberyn asked as I added notes about what animals might be in the forest that covered most of the island. "And I think the captains might know of useful locations to either beach a vessel or fish."

"For the former, aye, the ability to smell what he smells when he hunts makes it easier to work out the animals present. Though I admit that him bringing an adult boar into camp the last night was a surprise." Of course, thinking about Ymir reminded me how the food since that moment of sharing his mind when he killed was affecting me. I'd hoped the blandness of food would've passed but it remained even through the feast last night and lunch today. Perhaps it would clear in time, but it was making me cautious about warging into him whenever he wasn't nearby.

"I would suspect a cargo of them was brought to the island at some point," Doran offered, taking my thoughts from Ymir. "While not often transported alive, if they were to be taken to be hunted elsewhere, then it is plausible."

"As you say, My Prince. As for fishing locations, I expect there to be several around the island, which will help us become self-sufficient."

"A task that, based on what you have reported, is looking more plausible than it had when you first mentioned the idea before departing last year." Doran looked at the map, his hand running through his beard. "The issue will, as you are aware, be workers. Any who join as a sellsword likely will not be willing to help farm or fish. As for repairing the settlements, and expanding them inland, you will need skilled men. Finding a mason should be simple enough, though it will take time for them to arrive in Sunspear. Sawyers, carpenters, and others skilled with wood are more troublesome."

"I might be of some help there," Oberyn cut in, his smirk widening into a smile. As Doran and I turned to him, he continued. "Just after Cregan left, as you know brother, I sent out a missive to the Lords of Dorne. I wanted to see if any young apprentices, preferably those with skill and a desire for an adventure, would be interested in a venture being arranged in Sunspear. I kept your name from the missive, brother, to avoid any thinking we are behind Cregan's plans for Dustspear, but some men have filtered in. The last party came from Godsgrace, which is why Daemon's father is here."

"That explained why Ser Ryon was vague about his reason for visiting," Doran commented, seemingly putting another matter to bed. I hadn't realised Daemon's father was in Sunspear, but given I'd been preoccupied since returning by three lovely ladies, it wasn't surprising I'd missed some seemingly minor details of the court. "Still, I am surprised you were so certain of Cregan's success, and the will to follow through on his intentions for Dustspear."

Oberyn clutched his chest as if his heart was failing. "Brother, you wound me," he said with mock pain. "I trained Cregan, I trained Daemon. I knew they could take Dustspear with the men under their command. While Cregan is young, and there is much he still has to learn, you knew this plan would work. Else you would never have supported it, and risked angering Arianne." My father turned to me, a wide smile on his face. "While I have yet to speak with the men who came with Ser Ryon, I know that groups have arrived from Lemonwood and Spottswood, so there is a chance a sawyer is among them."

"Aye, likely," I replied with a smile. Those two keeps were so named as they were locations of the only two woodland areas in western Dorne. Now, there were forests at other locations along the various rivers brought life to the deserts of Dorne, and forests in the Red Mountains near Starfall, but the two 'wood' named keeps were the main sources of lumber for Eastern Dorne.

That lack of wood was one reason I'd been intrigued by the density of the forest on Dustspear. While I couldn't be sure the trees growing there would make good timber, they should be, which would create a market for at least one resource from the island. Now, at first, I might have to ship the down trees back to Sunspear, or possibly Lemonwood further south, to be converted into timber, but with time, and security, I knew a skilled tradesman capable of turning trees into timber would come to the island seeking work. Depending on the stones that came from the abandoned quarry, the same might well be true for that as well.

Now, at first, I'd have to keep back most of the resources to rebuild and repair the various settlements on the island. However, the fact I could see how the island's economy could develop, meant the path forward was visible.

"Provided there is a skilled sawyer interested in joining your settlement, Sunspear would be interested in purchasing any excess timber."

I smiled at Doran's words. "I had hoped as much, My Prince, and I can assure you the terms would be beneficial to us both."

Doran chuckled. "Yes, I am sure they will be."

I looked back at the map, taking my time to see how little of it was filled in. Thanks to Ymir I knew the forests covered much of the island, but I didn't know what else might be hidden there. Once we were back, I'd be sending out surveying parties to see other potential ways the island could grow. First though, the focus would be on the northern settlement, which still needed a name. I didn't know how many non-sellswords would sign on at first, but I had no plans to develop the southern settlement until the northern one, along with any farms and the quarry were up and running. In time, the southern settlement would hopefully focus on trade with Dorne while the northern settlement would have a more military slant, however, such plans were for further into the future.

"Now, since it is clear you plan to develop Dustspear into a true holding, I feel a need to enquire as to your plans regarding the rest of the Stepstones. Word will leak that Dustspear has a new master, and if the pirates sense weakness, they will attack seeking to crush you before you become a threat."

I smiled deviously at Doran when he finished speaking. "Well for one, My Prince, Dustspear is not held by Cregan Sand, but by the Rogue Viper."

"Fitting," Oberyn remarked with a chuckle.

"Now, I know the name shall not hold for long, nor will others not quickly place the link between the Rogue Viper and Sunspear, but I only need a few moons to secure my position. Any longer than that will be a bonus, but I do not intend to sit on my laurels and await an attack."

"Where do you plan to strike next?"

My smile grew and I looked again at the map. It might only have Dustspear on it, but that was enough to lay out my next plan. "The obvious targets are The Whores, Grey Gallows, and Redwater," I said, tapping the appropriate edges of the map in turn. "The Lord of Grey Gallows, from what my prisoners told me before they faced justice, recently lost a major skirmish to a pirate from Bloodstone over part of The Whores. Redwater, meanwhile, is currently contested by three pirates, all of whom claim to be the island's Lord."

Oberyn leaned forward, drumming his fingers on the desk as he looked at the map of Dustspear. "From what you have said, it would seem Grey Gallows is the best target. However, due to its location in the Steps, taking it would place you in danger of attacks from almost every direction. Perhaps even cutting any force off from support in Dustspear."

"Aye," I agreed with a nod, "and while the Whores are unclaimed, they are contested by at least four pirate lords, with none able to gain much more than a foothold in the small chain of islands." My hand moved to the eastern edge of the map. "Which is why Redwater is my next true target."

"The island is at least four times that of Dustspear, and the plans used against the Grim Prince will not work against all the pirates there."

"They might even unite against you," Doran added, "and crush your forces before you could gain a foothold."

"Aye, they well might, My Prince. However, before striking at Redwater, or even targeting any vessels linked to the Pirate Lords there, I plan to raid, properly this time, The Whores. If I can drive each of the groups currently contesting the island back, then they'll all seek to reclaim their lost holdings to avoid being seen as weak. That would draw the focus of the Pirate Lords of Grey Gallows, Bloodstone, and The Shrouded Isle to this chain and each other. Especially if I fly flags of the other pirates during the attacks."

"Clearing the Whores would bring chaos to that area of the Steps, for certain. However, might it affect the lords along the Broken Arm?"

"I do not feel it would, brother," Oberyn replied before I could. "Knowing something of how such people think, I would wager a sizable amount of coin that those pirate lords whom Cregan drives out of the Whores will return in large numbers. As he said, so as to not invite a challenge to their power." Oberyn turned, smiling at me as he understood the plan I was laying out. "And while those pirates, and perhaps even one of those on Redwater, move for The Whores, you move against Redwater. I assume the pirate who controls the southern tip of the island?"

"Possibly. Though I will have to evaluate as things progress."

My father leaned back, his fingers rubbing along his jaw. "A risky plan to use your men to first clear The Whores. However, if you are quick enough about it, and can sow confusion as to who is behind the attacks, then the pirates may do as you expect. Which would leave you unchallenged from the north while you strike east."

"That is my hope, Father."

"You will need more men than you had for Dustspear, but if you are even half as careful with those men as Daemon tells me you were on Dustspear, I feel you can take Redwater. Holding it, however, might be an entirely different proposition."

"That is a bridge I shall cross when I come to it. It does not serve me to focus that far ahead. Not when the early road is fraught with danger."

Oberyn chuckled. "Well said."

Almost as one, we turned to Doran to learn his opinion on my plans. "On behalf of Sunspear and Dorne, I cannot officially offer my support for these attacks," he said slowly, measuring his words. "The danger posed by the cities of Essos learning we directly back you is too great. However, as your uncle, I and your father will do what we can, under the table, to help you prepare, and will offer prayers to the Gods that your venture is successful."

"That is all I could hope for."

"As Oberyn says, holding Redwater will be a challenge, as you cannot leave Dustspear undefended. However, I feel that taking Redwater will be the more difficult task. Still, if all you can do is raid the island and clear the pirate infestations there, along with those on The Whores it will greatly benefit all of us."

"If the riches on Redwater scale with its size, then I might have contacts in Westeros and beyond who may be of use," Oberyn offered. "They certainly will not be cheap, but the company I founded during my brief sojourn in Essos is still led by those I knew, so they should be open to a contract. Provided that they are not employed elsewhere."

"If they are free and trustworthy, then I would be willing to speak with them," I said.

Now, while Oberyn had mentioned repeatedly, he had founded a company in Essos and had many adventures with them while in exile to Essos just before and during Robert's Rebellion. However, he hadn't ever told me the name, perhaps feeling it was more worthwhile for me to determine who it was myself. So far, I had only an inkling of which company it might be, but even if it was a small one, a company of experienced warriors wasn't something to dismiss out of hand. That said, I would if the leaders of the company were the sort to break a contract, or seemed inclined to not follow any rules I put in place.

… …

… …

The meeting with the two Princes of Dorne ran on for a while after that, as we talked about how I planned to develop Dustspear, how that might be achieved, and what my plans beyond Redwater were. Eventually, though, it ended as both had other business to attend to and once allowed to leave, I'd returned to my quarters and spent some time with Kaa.

While it was hard to judge his emotions as he was far more alien in how he thought than Ymir or even Rian, I felt he was happy I was back. I also set plans with a servant to ensure he was ready to come with me to Dustspear. With the island under my control, I wanted him at my side. Beyond feeling empty when far from my companions, I planned to continue milking his venom and mixing it into my drink.

Oberyn had started doing that several years ago, as he said it built up a resistance to most other poisons. Given I now had a tracked skill for Poison Resistance, there was wisdom in his words, and I'd continued doing so once I learnt how to milk a snake's venom. While I used Kaa's because he trusted me to hold him, it was more because his venom was more potent than it should be that made him more valuable for milking.

Oberyn and Maester Caleotte had commented on that fact, and I knew my father had used some of Kaa's venom in the poisons he concocted. Hells, I'd seen Ty do so as well, at least before everything had happened between us and she'd been sent to the Reach for a year.

Still, while Kaa would be returning with me and Ymir, Rian wouldn't, which was why I was now climbing the stairs in the Tower of the Sun toward the room where he and Riona had made their nest. Maester Caleotte had given me texts detailing the life cycle of eagles, specifically Sunfyre eagles, and from that, I knew the egg wouldn't hatch until after I left for Dustspear. Even then, it would be several moons – perhaps even up to half a year – before Rian would trust his child to leave and hunt on alone.

While I'd miss Rian's ability for aerial reconnaissance, I'd miss more the comfort of knowing he was close by. Still, just as I wouldn't with a human, I wouldn't force him to choose between me and his new family. His happiness was more important than my need for his skills.

Thoughts about Rian slipped from the forefront of my mind as I reached the floor containing the balcony where he and Riona had nested. While the guard outside the room was expected – as Arianne had placed that there before I'd departed to take Dustspear, seeing Daemon there wasn't.

"Arianne is inside?" I asked as I approached.

"Yes. I've been told that she and others spent considerable time here while we were gone," Daemon replied with a smile. "Perhaps she felt a need to be close to Rian due to your absence. Perhaps your reconnecting was not as effective as it sounded."

I laughed at his words, glad to be at a point where he could joke about such things, and that our friendship had been restored.

The guard at his side – Deston my mind supplied – shifted as he saw the sheathed blade at my side. However, as Daemon was unconcerned about Red Rain, Deston, had to allow it, and I pushed at the door, being careful to not have it creak.

As the door closed, I turned and saw the main chamber was empty. However, voices drifted on the wind from the bedroom, which made sense as like many of the quarters in the Tower, the balcony was attached to that room.

"…so much older than me." Alysanne's voice was the first to reach me as I neared the door to the bedroom, which was slightly ajar.

"Daemon might be older, but that is a minor issue," Ari replied, a slight edge to her tone. "I know of many girls who are married to men older than them. Ser Ryon Allyrion's wife is my age, yet Ser Ryon is Daemon's father." A sigh loud enough that I could hear it out here slipped from her lips. "It is far more uncommon for the lady to be older, such as what I have with Cregan."

"He might be young, but from the sounds echoing around the Tower last night and this morn, I would say he's skilled between the sheets." I held back a cough of shock at hearing that comment from one of Ari's ladies-in-waiting. If I caught the voice clearly, I'd say it was Jelissa Fowler commenting on my skill.

"Oh, he is very skilled," Ari replied quickly, an amused tone to her voice. "Be it with his cock, hands, or tongue."

A round of giggles and coughing echoed out of the bedroom, and I was caught in two minds. While it was amusing to overhear Ari speak of my abilities to others, some of whom were very attractive, I was eavesdropping. Before anyone could speak again, I stepped back from the door and coughed.

That ended the sounds from the room, and I stepped back toward the door. "From the laughter, I take it you are not alone, Princess?" I asked as I placed a hand on the edge of the door.

"No, I am not," Ari replied. "And we are decent enough that you may enter." I pushed the door open and saw that apart from the three I'd already identified from their voices, Jynessa Blackmont – my second cousin through my grandmother – and Allyria Dayne were also present.

"Forgive me if I am interrupting something private ladies," I said as the girls all looked up at me. Alysanne and Allyria both looked away, their cheeks reddening, but Jelissa and Jynessa both looked at me as if I was a nice steak. "However, I had hoped to check in on Rian and Riona."

Ari smiled warmly at me from where she and the others were sitting on the bed. "I had expected you to come here after my father was finished speaking with you. Though I admit, I had expected that to take most of the afternoon."

"As you can see, it did not, though it was a rather detailed, if private, discussion." I turned my gaze to Alysanne. "I had not expected to find you with the Princess, cousin."

Alysanne tried and failed to meet my gaze. Ari seemed to take pity on her, and after placing a hand on my cousin's leg – which had her flinch – she spoke. "Alysanne wished to discuss a private matter with us. One for which a more experienced voice was needed."

"Ah, then I hope I have not in some way come at an inopportune time?"

"No, there was nothing said that I feel would offend your ears," Ari replied before licking her lips. "Though perhaps your cousin might wish to discuss another matter with you over the coming days." Alysanne seemed to want to sink into the bed as if embarrassed by the focus now on her.

"Perhaps we can speak later, with less of an audience?" I suggested, to which she nodded. I then looked at the others on the bed. "Aunt, I hope you are well."

"I am, thank you, Cregan," Allyria replied with a small smile. "And I am happy you have returned safely from your mission to protect Dorne."

"Do I not warrant a greeting, cousin?" I turned to Jynessa to see her smiling at me, a spark in her eyes that drew me in. While not on the level of Ari, Allyria, or even Alysanne, she was an attractive lady; and not yet married or betrothed.

"Our blood link is distant, Lady Jynessa, shared through our grandparents," I said back, not rising to her invite with anything more than a basic response. "Nor did I foster with your family, as is the case with Alysanne."

"That is a shame, still, we are both in Sunspear. I would be remiss if I failed to spend time getting to know my cousin. Princess Arianne speaks very highly of you."

"While I am flattered you feel that we might become close, and by the Princess' kind words," I gave her a nod which drew an amused smile from Ari, "I am unsure if time will permit us to grow closer. Prince Doran will surely find more use for my skills."

If she came with Ari to her bed, and it was very clear that she had chosen this without any prompting or seduction by Ari, then I wasn't going to kick her out. However, bedding a trueborn daughter even one who was third-in-line like Jynessa – was far different, even in Dorne, from bedding a bastard daughter. And carried far more risk depending on the parent. Which is why I was trying to lower any hopes she might have to let me bed her.

What I had with Ari was different as I was her paramour, and Doran had given his blessing for what we shared to continue. There were caveats, but those were a considerable way away if they ever came. Doran's intent to marry Ari to Viserys was doomed to fail, and not just because I felt the insane prince's fate was set.

"And was that what you spoke with him about today?" Ari asked.

"Alas, Princess, but your father was quite clear that I was not to discuss the matter with any bar him or Prince Oberyn," I replied with a smile. I'd enjoyed teasing Ari about my initial plans for Dustspear and figured I might do the same with the next phase of my plans. At least until we could speak privately. "Now, if I might have my leave, I wish to check on Rian and will then depart to allow you to continue whatever it was you were discussing before I arrived."

"Rian is currently away hunting," Ari said with a smile of her own, "though from what I have heard, he never has to go far to find a suitable meal." I smiled, remembering the moment with the fishmonger yesterday. "Riona, I believe, is resting while she warms the egg."

"Then I shall return later to see if Rian has returned." I bowed deeply. "Until later Princess, ladies." Turning on my heels I walked toward the door of the chamber, leaving the group to return to their discussion.

If it had it right, Alysanne had brought up Daemon and the gift he'd given her. This room made sense to discuss the matter as it was a private location, and with Daemon outside, he wouldn't enter without knocking loudly, giving Alysanne time to shift the topic.

At some point, Alysanne would speak with me, as I had grown up with Daemon and, I felt, she respected my opinions. So long as Doran had given permission for Daemon to pursue her, and that Ned was made aware of Daemon's intent by letter, then I wouldn't stand in the way. Though that didn't mean I wasn't expecting Beron, Wylla, or possibly both, to come and speak with me about the blossoming relationship between the two bastards.

As I slipped from the room, I smiled in amusement at Daemon. He frowned as I passed, wondering why I'd done that, but never said anything as I walked away. What happened between them was none of my business, at least so long as he respected her. Which, after growing up around Daemon, I knew he would.

… …

… …

I looked up from my seat at the trio of men standing on the other side of the table I was sitting at. They had weaponry, which was more than some that wanted to sign on with me, and some armour, but overall, there was nothing impressive about them. Still, at this point, what I needed was bodies for my military, and this trio, along with others I'd seen this morn, were interested.

This was the third time I'd helped in the tent with recruiting sellswords. While I could've left it to Cayde and Jaeronos, I felt I should put in the hours for it as well. Not only would it let me – and by extension, Ymir, who was lazing against my chair – meet the new men under my command, but it would show Cayde and Jaeronos that I was willing to do the same menial work as them. I hoped that might help ensure further loyalty in them, as I'd be relying on them – and Bronn and Irraro – more heavily once we were back on Dustspear.

"You understand, having heard the terms of employment with me, you shall be away from Dorne, and any family you might have, for at least half a year?"

"Aye, we do, mi'lord." The reply came from the largest of the trio who was about my size, though with broad shoulders.

"And that, any action you take that violates the rules you just had read to you, then you accept the judgement passed down by myself of one of my officers and any order given to you is to be obeyed, no matter how odd it sounds?" I added, gesturing at Cayde at my side. He'd just read, for about the thirtieth time this afternoon, the rules I had every man wanting to fight for me had to agree to and sign as proof.

Those rules were, in the opinion of Cayde, Jaeronos, and Oberyn, more expansive than most sellsword companies would use. While many of the rules were obvious – obey your superiors, don't steal from your fellow warriors, set pay rates for various ranks – some were more, in a sense, controversial. The biggest example of that was the rules regarding rape – be it actual, or caught in the attempt to – or murder of a prisoner. Anyone caught doing such crimes would be summarily executed.

While Oberyn considered my ideals noble, he mentioned that stopping men from raping and pillaging after a battle was hard to achieve. More so in Essos than in Westeros, but it did happen in the Seven Kingdoms. The most recent example being Robert's Rebellion. Cayde and Jaeronos had expressed similar concerns but they, along with Daemon had signed the contract below me.

Daemon it seemed was coming, both as Ari wanted me to stay safe and because he'd admitted that he enjoyed the adventure. At some point down the road, if things went mainly how I hoped they would, he'd be forced to choose between continuing to fight at my side and serving as Ari's sworn shield. Thankfully, that day was a long way away.

Another major ruling had been slavery, or even creating something that was slavery in all but name. There, any man proven to be forcing another person to serve them against their will would be stripped of all pay – which would be given to their victim – and then executed. While I didn't think that would be a major issue, it was one I had to put down to separate myself from the Pirate Lords of the Stepstones. And it was the one rule no one that had signed had shown any issue with.

"Aye, mi'lord," the same man repeated with his cohorts nodding in agreement.

I stared at the trio, and gently petted Ymir. He lifted his head and gave the trio a sniff. A short snarl came from him, but that was all he did before lowering his head back onto his paws. "Very well. Speak to the scribe there and listen to him repeat the rules. If you still accept them, then tell him your name, and when he asks you, place a mark next to it confirming you understand and accept the rules and my command over you."

I watched as the trio turned and moved over to the second table in the tent we'd pitched near a large square in the Shadow City. There a hired scribe sat with Eddin. So far, Eddin wasn't giving me any reason to distrust him, nor was Ymir suspicious around him. Already Ymir had expressed disinterest in seven men who had wanted to sign on, when I'd mentioned that my direwolf didn't trust them, three had walked away, insulted by the comment. The other four hadn't and while they'd signed on, I'd made sure their names had an extra mark.

That mark was added to any that Cayde or Jaeronos had concerns about as well, and those men – who totalled eight so far after five days of hiring – would only be brought along if I felt I needed them right away. If they came, then they'd be assigned as separately as possible, or, if there was a need for it, placed on suicide missions. Not that they'd learn the mission was that before they were sent of course.

"How many now?" I asked as Jaeronos pulled back the cover to the tent, letting the next potential recruit in. Behind him, a line of perhaps twenty were waiting.

"Seventeen today," Cayde replied as he placed three more marks on the parchment on the table. "Brings us to about a hundred fifty so far."

That wasn't bad, though most of the first fifty were the men from Dustspear and the crews of the Windchaser and Trickster. Crews for the other vessels were being hired, and they'd also be signing the contracts, but I wasn't placing as much focus on that this early as I wanted an idea of how many sellswords I could get first. Nor were there concerns about how to enforce the rules as time passed and the company grew. Or when someone broke one of my major rules and I had to execute them.

Though I knew it was only a matter of time until that happened,

… …

… …

I followed Ari and Alysanne into Ari's chamber, and if not for knowing why we were entering, I'd perhaps worry Alysanne was about to admit something that would cause issues between me, her, and Daemon. Thankfully that wasn't the case, so I wasn't worried, though as we entered and I saw the rolled-up fabric resting on the table in the centre of the room, I became curious.

"You have to promise not to laugh," Alysanne said as she picked up one side of the fabric. Ari collected the other, though she wore an amused smile, looking forward to what was to come.

I watched the pair lift the fabric, which didn't appear heavy and noted that while Alysanne was seven years Ari's junior, the height difference wasn't pronounced. Most of that was because Ari was short as she unfortunately hadn't inherited her height from her father, who while not as tall as Oberyn, was a bit above average when he stood to his full height. Amusingly, the only clear difference between Alysanne and Ari was that the princess had matured into a beautiful young lady whereas Alysanne was in that awkward stage of being a teenager.

"I promise," I replied as the pair moved away from the table. While I remained externally calm, inside I was worried about what the pair had made for me as a personal sigil. Worrying images of an insane mixing of the colours and symbols of Houses Stark, Dayne, and Martell flooded my thoughts whenever I considered what the pair had been up to. Now, I knew that whatever they'd created wouldn't be anywhere near as bad as what I'd dreamt up, but the concern that I'd one day march into battle wearing something hideous hadn't ever left my thoughts.

"Ready?" Ari asked though it was more to Alysanne than me. After my cousin gave a weak nod, showing her fear I'd hate what they'd created, they removed a hand each from the fabric and unrolled it slowly.

As it unveiled itself slowly before my eyes, the distinct black outline emerged first, tracing the star and tail of House Dayne. Yet, this rendition differed—violet instead of the customary grey, swirling in an elegant circular manner. My gaze swiftly shifted to the grand yellow sun, tinged with crimson, encircling House Dayne's star. The flames danced atop the sun, their separation revealing a spectrum of colours beneath. Amidst my admiration for the seamless fusion of the two sigils, the heart of the emblem came into view.

At the very core of the radiant sun, lay the tranquil countenance of a black direwolf, its vivid azure eyes capturing my attention. A grin formed on my lips as I recognized the subtle nod to Ymir in their design, yet unmistakably drawing inspiration from House Stark's sigil. The sigil boasted a richness of hues, surpassing the usual composition of a house emblem. In my time, I've witnessed more ostentatious personal sigils during the Gulltown tourney, but those were few in number.

Often, when combining the sigils of two houses, the resultant design either awkwardly melded the colours or adopted a peculiar amalgamation. And when three houses were involved, it often resulted in a quartered design, favouring the most significant house with multiple sections. These creations, while logical in concept, often appeared chaotic to me, leaving the banner's focal point ambiguous. However, the creation crafted by Alysanne and Ari was devoid of such complexities and was, in truth, truly remarkable.

"Well?" Ari asked with a smirk, and I realised I'd been staring at the banner for perhaps too long without commenting. While the princess seemed amused by this, Alysanne had grown nervous, as if afraid I wasn't happy with it.

"This is good," I said slowly, taking a step forward and placing my hand on Ymir's head. "No, scratch that, amazing." A wide smile dominated my face as I looked at Ari and Alysanne. "Thank you."

Ari turned to Alysanne and smiled, almost as if to let her know she'd been worrying for nothing, and I saw Alysanne's shoulders slump in relief.

"We, uh, we wanted something that used the colours of House Stark at first," Alysanne explained as I let my hand slide over the rest of the banner, marvelling at how the star and its tail in a light purple didn't detract from the design even though the purple shouldn't have worked with the black and yellow that dominated the sigil. "But that just failed. The Princess suggested changing the colour."

"It was your idea to use Ymir though," Ari cut in, shifting the credit to my cousin. "And had the idea to make the eyes blue to confirm it."

I turned to Alysanne and gave her a wide, warm smile. "He and I thank you for that."

"Wel... EEP!" Alysanne was cut off as I reached for and pulled her into a half-hug. As she flustered against me, Ari chuckled, which had me turn to her, giving her a smile that promised a more personal thank you later.

"This is amazing," I said as I released Alysanne, ignoring the fact her face was redder than Dornish wine. "Thank you." My cousin nodded, not trusting her voice. I turned back to Ari. "Princess," I added with a lowering of my head. While I wanted to hug and kiss her, and doubted Alysanne would mind, we weren't alone, so decorum meant I couldn't.

"You are more than welcome, Ser Cregan," Ari replied before gently nibbling her lip in a way that sent a pleasant shiver down my spine. Even without the gesture, the desire in her eyes left no doubt she wanted me to thank her in a more personal way, though we understood that would have to wait. "Apart from this banner, I had a handful of shields and surcoats commissioned with the sigil upon them. They should be ready before you next depart."

"You will be leaving again?" I turned to my cousin, who blinked and brought her free hand to her mouth at realising she'd spoken out of turn.

"Yes," I answered, stopping her from apologising when neither I nor Ari needed one. "After my success on Dustspear, Prince Doran has need of my blade and those who sailed with me, for another matter of security. Though this time we will likely be gone for several moons."

"I, I see." She turned away for a moment as if contemplating something. "W-will Ser Daemon again be travelling with you?

"I am uncertain of that," I replied, choosing not to comment on her bringing up Daemon for the first time around me. It'd only been about a week since we'd returned to Sunspear, so whatever was going on between the pair was still young, and Alysanne would need time to put her thoughts in order regarding Daemon's interest. "While I would like a blade as skilled as his at my side, he is the Princess' sworn shield. She decides where he goes, not I."

Ari chuckled as she gestured for Alysanne to help her roll up the banner. "I could, perhaps, allow him to sail with you again. However, I feel I will need persuasion to permit it." I took a step toward her, knowing exactly how she wanted me to convince her.

"B-Beron's jealous!" I stopped my approach to Ari at Alysanne's blurted words. Alysanne's cheeks had reddened further, either from realising that she'd let slip her interest in Daemon, or from the interaction between me and Ari. Or possibly both. "He wants to sail with you," she managed to get out, explaining her initial remark.

"Aye, I expect he does. However, he is here as a ward of Prince Doran. Sending him into battle with me, when he is not my squire would be impossible, and would place him in great danger. That is something I, Prince Doran, and your father would not wish to see. Still, when his time as Prince Doran's ward has passed, and if I am still fighting on the seas, he could choose to join me of his free will. If he is not otherwise occupied."

Beron's desire to sail with me was something I was well aware of. I'd taken him out once on the Windchaser before I'd departed for Dustspear, and he'd asked a few times to do so again. While my vessel, and the others under my command, were currently not being put to sea as they were being repaired and upgraded under the watchful eyes of the Dockmaster, he had come onboard. Beron's love of the sea, even if he still got seasick, was why, in the end, I'd decided to gift the book of Gahaelor Baeliar's adventure to Sothoryos to him instead of Maester Caleotte.

The Maester hadn't been happy about a child getting such a rare book, but Beron had shown intelligence in using that to his advantage. He'd been happy for Caleotte to copy the book, though on the condition that Beron was allowed to read any books within Sunspear detailing expeditions and adventures beyond Westeros' shores. Doran had accepted that condition, with a caveat that the books Beron could read were done so only with his approval and under the watchful eye of Caleotte or one of those who assisted him.

"Oh," Ari said, snapping her fingers, "Wylla wishes to speak with you. I believe the mermaid has grown tired of waiting for the wolfling to realise her interest."

"I am unsure how much help I can be there," I replied, chuckling at the image of Wylla trying to flirt with Beron. She'd likely be unsure of how to do so, and Beron would easily miss the signs. "And I don't think the ways you and your cousins tempted me while I grew up would work for those two." Ari laughed, remembering the constant innuendo she, Ty, Nym, and even Sarella had used against me.

Still, I would do what I could to help Wylla. Outside of being a good match based on their houses, the pair were similar in how outgoing they were and got on well. Now, there was a chance the pairing would be denied, but the only way I could see that happening was if Wylla's older sister, Wynafryd was betrothed to Robb. However, from the short time I'd seen the pair around each other, Robb had no clue how to speak with Wynafryd, and with the Manderlys being followers of the Faith, I felt the other Northern houses might prefer a 'proper' match for the Heir to Winterfell.

It had never been said when, due to Alysanne and Ty's actions, we'd stayed in White Harbour longer than planned, but I felt Lord Wyman understood this. That was the only reason I could come up with Wylla being sent to foster in Dorne along with Beron. Well, unless he hoped to somehow snag someone like Trystane for Wylla. Still, I felt Beron and Wylla was a match worth helping to secure, and if it happened, it might earn me goodwill with Ned and Lord Wyman.

"How are your lessons going?" I asked Alysanne, shifting the topic as the three of us worked to re-roll the banner.

I spent what time I could with her, Beron, Wylla, and the others that had come with them, but I simply didn't have the time to do so as much as they might like. Most of my time was taken with planning, training, or sating the needs of Ari, Nym, and Asha. Often at the same time. Plus, with me leaving as soon as everything was ready, I'd have even less time to bond with the Northerners.

"Good," my cousin replied slowly. "I still dislike all the proper stuff that Sansa does, but at least the ones here are never as… strict as Lady Catelyn and Septa Mordane." I saw a hint of a smile come to her face as she continued. "Plus, here I am allowed to train in the yard without glares from the Lady of the keep."

"While my mother is not here, she would never stop you from learning what you wished," Ari commented. "And with my cousins all trained by my uncle there, it would be presumptuous for us to deny that right to others."

"I am thankful for that, Princess," Alysanne said, dropping her head in thanks. "Though I wish Sarella was still here. She is a great teacher on the range."

"Sarella has left on a personal errand, though I cannot say when she might return." Ari's reply was vague and polite, which it had to be as if anyone caught a whiff of Sarella's intentions, she could be in danger. "Though perhaps you might ask another for help. While not as gifted as Sarella, Ser Daemon is good with a bow, is he not, Cregan?"

"Well, he is not as good as me," I commented, drawing giggles from the girls, "but he is good. And I have seen him offering Edric Dayne and others help when in the yard together."

"W-would he not be busy with his duties?" Alysanne asked, trying to downplay her interest in the idea, and failing horribly. When Ari had mentioned Daemon, my cousin's eyes had widened comically, and she'd looked away to hide her feelings on the matter.

"I am sure I can spare him for some time each day," Ari replied. With the banner now rolled up and placed on the table, she moved closer to me and placed a hand on my arm. "With Cregan back, I am sure he would be willing to handle some of Daemons' duties to allow him time to tutor you." Ari's nails dug gently into my arm, making it clear she wanted me to go along with this. And possibly as a hint that she wanted me to guard her in a more intimate manner.

"As always, I am at my Princess' command," I replied to Ari before focusing on Alysanne. "Ser Daemon is a good warrior, and I am sure he would be willing to help you if you wish. When next I see him should I broach the matter?" I hoped she'd be willing to do so herself, but if not, I was happy to help things move along between the pair.

Alysanne's eyes got glassy as if she was lost in her thoughts for a moment. "N-no. I, I think I can manage that myself." She shifted her gaze to Ari. "Thank you for the suggestion, Princess." When she spoke, she curtseyed, and while it wasn't particularly low, Ari seemed unoffended.

"There is no need for that, Alysanne," Ari said, slipping closer to my cousin. "While we do not share blood, you are Cregan's family, and I consider him family. That is enough for me, while we are not in court, for you to not need to be so formal. Plus, I believe we are becoming friends, yes?"

Alysanne smiled. "Yes, Pri… Arianne. Thank you."

The two hugged, though it was difficult for Ari as she was still at my side. As they did, I gave Ari's arse a gentle squeeze, letting her know I was happy for her helping Alysanne. Whatever happened between my cousin and Daemon was up to them, but so long as he didn't hurt her – which I doubted he would – then I wouldn't get involved. And perhaps if something did develop, it might encourage Daemon to ask to be released as Ari's sworn shield.

While that would remove protection for her, she could find another in Sunspear easily enough. Plus, it would mean Daemon fighting at my side, and given his skill, and the fact he was the only one with a basic understanding of what extra abilities I had among my men, that increased my chances of survival.

… …

… …

I stood in the yard, watching Alia and Dorea as they nocked arrows on their bows. "Remember, never hold the string against your chin for too long," I remarked as the pair pulled on strings, aiming the small, blunted training arrows they were using. "Aim dead centre, release some breath and let loose."

As I finished, the pair did as I instructed, and the arrows flew toward their target: me.

After quickly tracking their movements through the air, I reacted. Leaning to my right, the arrow Alia had shot sailed past me harmlessly, while lifting my left leg resulted in Dorea's shot impacting the dirt of the yard. While it wasn't obvious to either of them or anyone watching, I was using Wind Magic to gently redirect their shots.

It wasn't much of a change, but it was a subtle, steady way to practice the magic while spending time with my sisters. Plus, it was the next step in my training with this branch of magic beyond simply trying to sense the movement of the arrows in the air. Now, I couldn't move them much, at least so far, but even an inch or two movement of an arrow could be the difference between life and death in battle.

"Alia, remember to steady the bow before loosing your arrow," I said as I re-set my footing. "Dorea, while I appreciate the attempt, stick to targeting my gut," I added, patting my stomach. "Once you can do that, then we can see about you trying to make me limp."

The pair chuckled at my comment even as they pulled the next arrow from their quivers, which let me review how I'd ended up standing in the yard letting my young sisters take potshots at me with the smallest bows in Sunspear and blunted arrows that wouldn't do anything more than sting – when fired by the girls – if they hit me.

Several days ago, after a sparring session with Oberyn – in which, as always, I got trounced – I'd been heading to the armoury to return my training equipment. Having to do that myself was the downside of not having taken even a page yet, but it was what it was. Regardless, when I reached the armoury, I saw drag marks in the dirt. Curious as to the source, after putting the training blades away, I followed the trail. Which was when I'd found the pair with weapons taken from the training armoury in hand. Well, more accurately, being dragged behind them.

The question of how they'd gotten into the armoury was one I'd passed along to Oberyn when I'd take the matter to him, but apparently, the girls had found it unguarded, and seeing a chance, had decided to borrow weapons for themselves. Now, Alia had been a touch smarter, going for a bow, though the shortbow there was almost as tall as her. Dorea however, had taken a fucking morningstar. When I'd asked why she'd taken it, she'd replied that she wanted to smash some oranges in the garden with it.

After recovering from the imagery of her running around the gardens trying to smash oranges with the morningstar, while the servants and whomever her minder for that day chased after her, I'd promptly made them return the borrowed weapons. After that, I'd taken them to find Oberyn. If I'd taken them to my mother or Ellaria, they'd have been heavily punished. However, I didn't see anything wrong with them wanting to learn a weapon, nor did Oberyn. After recovering from the laughing fit my story brought on Oberyn had decided that while I was in Sunspear, I would handle the training of my young sisters.

At first, I'd not been pleased with the decision, but I'd quickly seen how I could use it to my advantage, and now into the fourth day of training, I'd taken Wind Magic up nine levels to Level 37. The first few days, I'd worked on trying to sense the arrows in the air, playing off the odd ability that I'd discovered on Dustspear where I could sense a potential threat. I believed that ability came from my bond with Kaa, as the one with Ymir hadn't passed Level 5, and reaching that level with Rian had gifted me sharper vision.

From today, I'd started gently shifting the air around the arrows, trying to divert their flight. The results so far were mixed, but with time I should be able to do that, and I hoped, slow incoming fire enough that any that did hit barely scratched me even if unarmoured.

"Remember, using a bow is all about staying calm, finding your mark and then, when the shot feels right, loosing the arr…" I said to the pair as they nocked their arrows, though I was forced to stop when Alia let off a rapid shot, one that hadn't been aimed. The arrow was never going to hit me, but I didn't want her disheartened and used some magic to let the arrow carry further. "While I appreciate the idea," I began as the arrow slid to a stop just before reaching my foot, "you're no wh…"

I paused again, though this time it was because of that odd ability to sense a threat kicked in. I turned to where my instincts were telling me, and my eyes widened as I saw a wooden training dagger flying toward me. Leaning back, I lifted my hand, using magic to slow the weapon before grasping it out of the air.

As I gripped it, I looked beyond, seeing Nym and Asha standing there, smug smiles on their faces while Nym used another dagger, one of many she kept hidden on her person, to idly pick at a nail. "I wasn't aware you wished to join our session, sister," I said slowly, tossing the training dagger up into the air.

"I'm not sure you want me shooting at you," she shot back, wearing a smile that reminded me of her father, and somehow looked a million times better on her lips. "Though that wasn't me."

My gaze shifted to Asha, the Greyjoy girl smirking as she picked up another training dagger. "While I enjoy the extra challenge, what have I done to warrant such an unprovoked attack?" As I spoke I saw my younger sisters whispering to each other as Alia nocked another arrow.

"Oh, you have done nothing to anger me today," Asha replied with a smile before licking her lips. "I simply wanted you to know we were present as Nymeria wished to see what exactly you were teaching her sisters." The faint sense of danger sparked again, though far weaker than when Asha had attacked.

Since it was coming from the general direction of my sisters, I knew their intent before I turned back, though seeing the two arrows flying at me, both bound for my chest, was unexpected. I reached out with the wind to slow down one arrow while the dagger came up across my chest to knock the other away before I reached out and grasped the slower one with my opposite hand.

"First, well done for targeting my chest," I said as the two stared at me with wide eyes.


"Second," I continued, cutting Dorea off, "while I have not yet taught you that lesson, I'm impressed you tried to take advantage of my distraction." I tossed the arrow in the air, just as I'd done with the dagger mere moments before. "However, you have a long way to go to be able to get the drop on me," I glanced at Asha, "as do you, my dear Kraken." While I'd been talking she'd picked up a bow and nocked an arrow, though thankfully she'd yet to draw the string.

Seeing she'd been caught, she smiled widely and un-nocked the arrow. "Got to keep you on your toes," she said as she placed the arrow back in the quiver.

"And here I thought you preferred it when I was on my back," I shot back, drawing chuckles from her and Nym. I turned back to my younger sisters, not wanting them to think about my reply for too long. "Now, provided others are finished interrupting us," I jerked my head toward Nym and Asha, making Alia and Dorea giggle, "perhaps we might return to our lessons?" I dropped the training arrow on the ground, beside many of the other arrows the pair had shot today. "And remember, if either of you manages to strike me, you get the first choice of whatever treats the kitchen is cooking for tonight's meal."

The pair started whispering excitedly to each other, likely over what treat they wanted, though so far neither had hit me. Until today they'd struggled to consistently get their shots close, but I felt from today I would allow at least one to score a hit. It would likely be Alia as, apart from sharing blood with her, she was the one who'd tried the snapshot. Though to ensure no hints of favouritism, and because the idea of Dorea smashing oranges with a morningstar was one I'd enjoy seeing, I'd let her score the strike tomorrow.

As the girls nocked new arrows, Nym and Asha moved away, over toward where, among others, Ari was resting. Those with her continually talked among themselves as they watched me tutor my sisters. I didn't know what they were saying, but the looks I caught Ari sending me made clear her feelings about watching me teach the girls.

… …

… …

As the Windchaser slipped around the rock outcropping and the lookout tower upon it that watched the seas around Sunspear, I looked out to the water. Ahead of us, the Trickster and four of my fleet were moving, their sails unfurled to make use of the good northerly wind blowing today. Our sails would soon do the same, and the small force would sail to Dustspear.

Onboard the six vessels were every sellsword I'd hired – totalling about two hundred and fifty men – and a dozen skilled labourers. Some of the men I was uncertain about were with them, but they were distributed throughout the fleet, with those that signed on together sent to different ships. The Captains and men that I, Cayde, or Jaeronos trusted had orders to monitor those men in case they became an issue.

Another thirty men, along with Jaeronos and the rest of the workers – including a group of whores, chosen by Daenora, who saw potential in opening a brothel on Dustspear – would come on three more boats. That third boat was a hired vessel and crew for transporting many of the workers, their gear and supplies that would be needed to develop and expand Dustspear. I had considered keeping them on retainer, to carry trade between my island and Sunspear, but at this early venture, I didn't feel that was needed. While not ideal, the vessels I had would be able to move some trade, and once things had developed, I could revisit the idea of hiring a specific vessel for trade.

I was impressed with the number, if not the quality, of sellswords I'd hired, and from the workers I'd lucked out on. Apart from three young apprentice sawyers, and two apprentice miners/quarrymen, I'd got a trained stonemason. They, and in the case of three of them, their partners, would be a massive help in developing the island quickly, as would the handful of workers who came from farms along the Greenblood. The rest of the workers weren't skilled at anything particularly useful – if anything – currently, but were willing to sign on to an adventure.

While it had cost me a fair amount of coin to hire and pay the sellswords and workers, I was still comfortably covered. Just over half of what remained of my coin was staying in Sunspear. Oberyn had my permission to use some of it to expand the investments in brothels and taverns in the Shadow City, though I knew he didn't need my coin to do that. Still, that he and Doran were willing to allow me to continue to invest in those projects was a sign of their trust in me, and how I'd grown from a pawn in Doran's hand in the Great Game.

Now, I had intentions to become a major player myself but for the time being, I was content to be a piece Doran could use. That ensured his support, as under the table as it was, and protection to a degree, and allowed me to expand my interests with a powerful patron backing me.

Doran's intent of seeing me as a useful piece in the Great Game may well have been why he allowed me to keep the lion's share of the coin taken from the Grim Prince. Oh, he'd taken all the trade goods and most of the jewellery as his share, but the coin he'd left for me. What wasn't left behind with Oberyn was secured in a chest in my cabin, and would cover wages for everyone for, if things didn't go to fuck, perhaps half a year.

If things went even close to how I intended, then I'd double my treasury before even moving on Redwater, and thanks to favourable terms with Doran on lumber from Dustspear, had reached an agreement where I'd take an even greater share of the coin from whatever I raided on The Whores. Normally, this wouldn't have been the case, and Doran would've simply paid me for my service, and that of my men, to sweep The Whores clean. However, given my intentions lay beyond simply clearing the small grouping of islands, I'd managed to convince him to allow me to keep the rewards from the raid. Beyond that, such as whatever I took from Redwater, the bounty would be almost entirely mine. Clearing The Whores still served Dornish interests, at least compared to moving on Redwater and other islands further from the Dornish coast.

I turned around, shifting my gaze to Sunspear, and easily picked out the Tower of the Sun as it rose skyward from the palace that sat above the Shadow City. Overhead I could see a bird circling the tower, which was either Rian or Riona as Rian had long since claimed the alpha role of any bird that flew over the palace and city. I chuckled, remembering when Maester Caleotte had come to me, asking me to ensure Rian stopped trying to hunt his ravens. It had taken some work, but I'd gotten the concept through to him that ravens, and the other hunting birds kept in Sunspear, weren't prey. Though I sensed Rian enjoyed tormenting them on occasion to reassert his dominance of the palace's airspace.

Ari would be somewhere in the Tower, possibly even in the room taken over by the eagles, and already I missed her company and that of Nym and Asha. And the handful of handmaidens that Ari had convinced to join us between the sheets. Thankfully, none of her ladies-in-waiting had tried to do so, but the looks a few had given me before I'd sailed away suggested they regretted not doing so.

"We have barely left the city and already I find you longing for your bed?" I turned at Daemon's voice as I saw him – and Ymir who bounded up ahead of him – climbing the steps to the quarterdeck. "Or perhaps it was the company you left there that had distracted your thoughts."

"While I do miss the warmth of their touch, I'm sure they can amuse themselves the next time we return," I replied, holding out a hand for Ymir to brush his jaw against. Around my shoulders, Kaa hissed, not liking the distraction to his rest.

Many considered it insane for me to move with the poisonous, and rather large – he was over a metre long, and would likely keep growing – snake so close to my neck, however, Kaa was bonded to me, and his mind was melded to mine. I knew this for certain as I'd reached level 10 in my bond with him. That was, according to the Interface, the highest level a bond could reach, and because of it, and the fact his mind was smaller than mine, we were now bonded to such a level that when I slid into him, our thoughts were nearly one and the same.

My thoughts returned to Sunspear as Ymir ignored Kaa's hissing – though I smirked when I saw it made Daemon pause. Like me, he also added a small amount of poison to his drink, though when he'd first done so with some of Kaa's venom, he'd spent half a day in the privy.

The most emotional reaction to my departure had come from Alia and Dorea, with my mother being the next most upset to see me depart. The girls had been upset thinking their training sessions were over, but Oberyn had confirmed he'd take over the sessions. That had pleased the pair, though I'd seen Septon Dontar and Septa Rosyn scowl at the reveal. Frankly, if the pair had an issue with Oberyn training his younger daughters to fight when the elder four were all skilled in a specific weapon, then they'd picked the wrong damn kingdom to serve in. That said, I'd love to see Oberyn's face if the pair had the balls to ask the high Septon to suggest a trueborn lady like Alia shouldn't learn weapons of war. And to read his response to such a letter.

My lovers had been calm, but given I'd spent most of the previous day with them besides my time training, and sated their needs through the day and night, that was fine. Oddly, Edric Dayne had been the most upset male about my departure, though there was logic to that.

Apparently, the heir to Starfall wished to become my squire, and while I wouldn't mind training my cousin, I knew it was unlikely to happen. Just as I'd dismissed the idea of Daemon taking Edric, I had to dismiss myself. I was a bastard, even if one from House Dayne, and to his mother, the idea of a bastard training her son, and the heir to Starfall, would be insulting. Still, even after explaining how unlikely the idea was, he'd sent a raven to his father, and my uncle, Lord Aldric, asking if he could squire for me.

Beron was also upset, but I'd promised him that, if I could, I'd bring him back another gift from this voyage. I'd also given my word that when next I returned, he could join me for a day's sail on the Windchaser, even going so far as to suggest he might consider inviting Wylla along. He'd clammed up at that, but the way I'd caught him glancing toward the Manderly girl suggested he wasn't opposed to the idea. However, anything more than spending time together would have to wait on letters of approval from Ned and Lord Wyman. I didn't know if Beron had written to them, but sensing a chance to repair the damage done by Ty and Alysanne, I'd sent a letter to the Northern lords suggesting it was a match worth considering, and that I felt the pair enjoyed each other's company. I wasn't sure if Ned would agree, but if he did, then it might nip in the bud the issues having Robb and Sansa betrothed by the time of Robert's death caused.

"And what of you?" I asked Daemon as he moved closer and looked back at Sunspear as well. "Do you miss the company of a certain someone?"

Daemon smiled and ran a hand through his hair. "I believe I might," he said slowly, a smile coming to his face. "I do not know if Lord Stark will grant me permission of her hand, but I hope he does."

I'd seen the pair, often with Ari acting as a chaperone – though I doubted many realised that was the dynamic in play – walking through the gardens of Sunspear over the last week. It was clear something was beginning to spark between them as, when we'd departed Alysanne had spoken quietly to Daemon and, unless my eyes deceived me, passed him a small cloth. One that was tied securely to his belt.

"I hope he does. Sadly, neither of you nor even myself, have much chance of a lordly match. Beyond it being another way to solidify bonds between Dorne and the North and piss off the other kingdoms," Daemon chuckled at that suggestion, "I feel you will be a good match for my cousin." Which was why, in the letter to Ned I'd also mentioned Daemon's interest. How he reacted to that would be an interesting insight into how he saw Alysanne, and what his plans were for allowing her to live a normal, non-Iron Throne-centred life.

Letting silence settle over us, along with two of my bonded companions and Daemon, I watched Sunspear slip away. The sails of the Windchaser slowly unfurled, taking us away from our home toward, I hoped, a new destiny.

… …

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A/N: Cregan's Person Sigil can be found at imgur : / a / 5TO5Jkf

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