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34: North to the Sun

… …

(Circa 297AC)

I stood on the deck of the Red Kraken, my eyes closed as the stiff, morning air washed over my face. I'd already broken my fast and checked in with Garreo about how today's sailing would go. Clear skies and a slightly favourable wind meant we were making good time and there was no hint of pursuit.

Since we'd left The Whores, Daemon and I had taken shifts – twelve hours each – of being on deck in case anything happened. Bronn and Cayde were doing likewise on the Coral Howl, but so far, after four days of sail, there'd been no sign for the bow of any ship sailing after us.

With the chaos I'd left in The Whores, that was what I'd expected, but given the last battles hadn't gone our way, though they could've gone far worse, I wasn't taking any chances. Still, with clear waters all around, I knew today was when I'd sort out something I'd been putting off ever since we'd left The Whores.

My eyes took in the sails, and knowing I'd not get a chance to do so later, I summoned my magic and pushed the wind into the sails. The shift was indiscernible from what was already there, but it was a simple and effective way to practise and improve my Wind Magic without drawing attention to it. Since we'd left Northpoint, I'd lifted that branch to Level 45 by doing this, and while it was a minor thing, it was working so I'd continue it whenever I could.

Turning, I walked along the deck, heading toward the series of cabins under the quarterdeck. I gave Garreo a nod, letting him know I'd be in the main cabin. the Captain responded with a nod of his own, and as I stepped through the outer door, I paused as I reached the doors for the two smaller doors. Normally these would be for the First Mate and Helmsman with the Captain taking the main cabin, but with myself and Daemon onboard, the latter two were bunking with the crew under the main deck.

Knocking on the door to Daemon's cabin I waited for him to answer. The sound of someone tiredly pulling themselves from their bunk was followed a few moments later with the latch being shifted. Daemon's head came around the corner, his eyes heavy and his hair dishevelled making clear he'd been asleep or just about when I'd knocked. "Wha?"

I smirked, amused to see him so out of sorts. Normally, like any good knight and fighter, he was alert and ready, but given I'd forced him from a wanted sleep, that wasn't the case this morning. "Will be in my cabin for some or most of the day," I replied. "Doing certain things." To make clear my intent, I summoned a small ball of fire to appear floating over my palm.

It took a moment for Daemon, his mind still sleep-addled, to understand what I was implying. "Oh, right." The words came out in a mumble, and he stepped back, planning to close the door.

"Garreo already knows I will be busy, and Ymir will make sure no one enters." I got out before the door was closed in my face. At another time, that might've annoyed me, but I understood he wanted to rest and, I hoped, would remember my words when he woke fully. I laughed at the closed door and moved to my cabin.

"Hey boy," I said as I reached the doorway, it had been pushed open earlier by Ymir coming back after a morning stretch. "Almost home." While I was fine on the sea, and found it relaxing, Ymir didn't. He had nothing to do and nowhere to run, so he spent most of the time snoozing in the cabin. though like me, I felt he missed the Windchaser.

The captain's cabin on the Red Kraken was decent, and the bed comfortable, but the décor wasn't what I approved of. Nor was the fact that it was smaller. The Windchaserhad a larger cabin, and bed which I'd put to use on a few nights, with room for Ymir to stretch out and not get in the way. That wasn't true here, at least not the part about having room to move around an outstretched Ymir, and I knew he longed to get off the ship and stretch his legs properly.

A small chuckle slipped from me as I realised I'd referred to Northpoint as home. The settlement was only a few moons old, at least under my management, but already I considered it, and the entire island, mine. There was a lot of work to do there, right up to the lack of many of the creature comforts one would expect in a decent castle or holdfast, to say nothing of somewhere like Sunspear or Winterfell, but it was home. I wasn't a lord, at least not one that anyone in Westeros or Essos would recognize, but it was my holding, and it had greater potential than those of many landed knights in the Seven Kingdoms.

Perhaps one day, I would be recognized by Doran or even the Iron Throne, and made to kneel before them, but if that day ever came, I intended to hold more than just a single island with one village. In time, I hoped that Northpoint could turn into a town with other villages taking root on Dustspear, but like the idea of kneeling before the Iron Throne, those were something I didn't expect to happen for many years to come.

While I didn't have a large number of men, I was returning with nearly five hundred from The Whores, having set out with two hundred. When combined with what had returned already, and what had remained in Northpoint, I had comparable manpower to a minor holding, such as the Daynes of High Hermitage.

I smirked as Ymir pushed against my hands, wanting more scratching, at the faces Gerold and Gurner Dayne would have when they learnt I had a larger fighting force than them. though what they had that I lacked, at least officially, was quality. Daemon and I were the only knights, though Bronn, Cayde, Jaeronos and a handful of others were on or near that level, but none were loyal to me. Daemon was here because of Ari, while the others were loyal to my coin.

I had ideas for how to ensure greater, more permanent loyalty, from them, but like those for Dustspear, those were a long time from being brought into the open. For now, I simply had to ensure they were paid on time – not an issue given the riches I'd taken from the Grim Prince and the smaller, but not insignificant treasure taken from The Whores – and keep making them want to fight for me.

"I will not be under long," I said to Ymir, focusing on the present, "but I need you to keep me safe while I slumber. And protect me if anything does happen." Ymir gave what amounted to a half-grunt, half-bark in response, before circling the room.

Knowing I'd not have much time to reach the bed before he took up the entire floor, I moved quickly, pulling off my shirt and dropping it over a stool near the bed. Red Rain was placed down on the bed, against the bow of the ship. While it was highly unlikely I'd need the blade when I woke, I wasn't stupid enough to leave it out of reach.

Once I was down to my breeches, I slipped under the covers and opened the small blue notice that had been in the corner of my vision for nearly two days.

Standard Trait Point Gained!
Special Trait Point Gained!
You have reached 20000 skill levels. This means you now have 1 StTP and 1 SpTP to spend.
Good work!

Available Traits
Current skill level total: 20000
This grants you 1 Standard Skill Point (StTP) and 1 Special Trait Point (SpTP).
You have spent 1 StTP and 1 SpTP.
StTPs are listed normally.
SpTPs are underlined.

Traits available for purchase:
Alchemic Compatibility
Bestial Bonds
Boosted Book Learning
Boosted Martial Learning
Boosted Mana
Boosted Stamina
Earth Compatibility
Gift of Tongues
Hints of the Lost (Free Cities)
Hints of the Lost (Planetos)
Hints of the Lost (Westeros)
Hints of the Lost (Valyria)
Magical Sonar
Necromancy Compatibility
Over-boost Mana
Over-boost Stamina
Prophetic Dreams
Shadow Compatibility
The Price of Blood
Water Compatibility

Be aware that when selecting a trait, your body will go through some form of alteration on both a physical and mental level. Because of this, a time delay can be set for how long it takes for a change to initiate.
For Standard Traits, this results in a loss of consciousness for a period ranging from three to ten hours.
For Special Traits, this results in a loss of consciousness for hours to days, along with a varying but constant level of pain as your body undergoes some changes.

If two traits are chosen to activate at the same time, the timeframe for both is doubled and added together. If three traits are taken at the same time, then the timeframe is tripled and added together.

When the notice had first come in, I'd gone over the lists, checking to make sure that none of those that had been there before had changed, and then focusing on the two new options. The Price of Blood and Alchemic Compatibility replaced Blood of the Dragon's Flames and Wind Compatibility respectfully, and were, in differing ways, interesting.

While it was highly unlikely I'd take Alchemic Compatibility any time soon, it was a curious one. Beyond unlocking Alchemy as a skill, and adding it to my overall Skills list, it was from what I could tell, an odd mix of my overall magical ability, and my skill with medicine, potion-making, and poisons. The only surefire Alchemical recipe I knew of was for Wildfire, and while knowing how that was made and worked was interesting, it wasn't something I could see myself spending a Standard Trait point on.

If there was a way to grant the Trait to others, I knew that Oberyn would've loved it. However, I couldn't do that, and thus, based on my needs and intentions, I was going to take Boosted Mana. The increase in my ability to draw upon and sustain my magic, even if it was limited by whatever event was causing issues. I suspected that it was the Red Comet, which was due in 299AC, however, I needed any advantage I could get for the next two years. Of the Standard Traits, Boosted Mana represented the best choice, and with me rushing to get Wind Magic to Level 100, that only made it more appealing.

As for The Price of Blood, I was concerned and intrigued in equal measure. It would unlock, as the name hinted at, Blood Magic, and grant 10 levels instantly in the branch, but beyond that, and gaining an affinity with it not unlike what I had with Wind Compatibility, there were no clear indicators as to what was on offer. Instead, it spoke of how, after taking the Trait, my mind would be unlocked to the potential of Blood Magic. That suggested it wouldn't just drop a bunch of rituals into my head. More likely, I'd have to study and ponder on the matter until things became clearer.

It wasn't certain that I'd take that Special Trait, but only Gift of Tongues and Hints of the Lost (Westeros) came close to being of any use. The latter there though would, knowing my luck, place something of importance and use in a section of the Seven Kingdoms where I couldn't easily reach it. Still, the Special Trait could wait as I didn't need or want to be unconscious for days on end if I took both traits together, and clicked on Boosted Mana.

Trait Selected!
Boosted Mana chosen.
Are you certain?

I rolled my eyes, looking at the familiar warning. I understood why it was there, but already it was getting old, and with a sigh, I concentrated on the 'Yes' option.

Trait Confirmed!
The user will be rendered unconscious for a minimum of six hours until Re-Alignment is achieved.
Alignment Commencing

… …

… …

A smile was spread wide across my face as the Red Kraken slipped around the rock outcropping that marked the harbour of Northpoint. Not only did this mean we'd made it back safely, but seeing the Windchaser again brought me relief. When it and the two cogs, the Ilaerah's Luck, and the Pride of Saltbrook, had sailed off from The Whores with little to no escort, there'd been a fear in the back of my mind that they might be intercepted by pirates. That they hadn't was a weight off my shoulders, and while it would be several days before I set sail again, I was already looking forward to the larger, more luxurious cabin on the Windchaser.

All three ships were docked in the harbour, as was a single longboat. The other vessel that I'd left behind to guard Northpoint's waterways had been spotted about an hour ago as we'd neared the settlement. Adding them to what I was arriving with me, and my fleet had doubled in just numbers, never mind that every galley was capable of carrying around twice the crew of a longboat, while the two war galleys were three times that of a longboat in crew. And that was ignoring the increased firepower of the scorpions on the various galleys, or the stores below decks to carry extra men if the need arose.

Thankfully, my manpower had gone up in line with my fleet so I wouldn't be sending out warships under-crewed. Provided there'd not been any loss of life on the trio of vessels that had left The Whores early, and before considering if any slaves wished to join the settlement or military ranks, I was looking at close to seven hundred fighting men all told, and while at least a hundred would have to remain in Northpoint for the next phase of my plans, that left me a large force with which to move forward. That said, if the chance arose, I'd take on any sellsword willing to sign the pledge all my men obeyed as most of my force were pirates, and about as trustworthy as a rat on a sinking ship.

As the Kraken moved closer, the helmsman being guided by a crewmember from the longboat, I saw that not every ship would be able to dock at the same time. That was fine as I planned for the galleys to join the protective cordon around Northpoint, which would allow the longboats to focus purely on fishing, at least until dedicated boats could be built or bought and brought over from Dorne. All that the lack of room at the piers meant was that my ships, bar the war galleys and the three cargo vessels currently docked there, would have to rotate their times at one of the three piers in Northpoint.

In time, the piers could be extended, or new ones built, but for now, the other vessels would have to dock in the harbour – at least as best they could – or along the coast. That would be good practice for the men for future attacks as I doubted we'd be able to sail into many ports under a false flag as we'd done in The Whores.

For now, I was going to have to rotate the ships and men as needed, with priority given to vessels most in need of repairs that could be handled without beaching or removing the vessels from the water. Thankfully, none seemed to be in critical condition, as they'd all been checked before we'd left The Whores, but I wanted the fleet in as close to full fighting trim as possible before I moved onto Redwater. Nor were there many supplies or freed slaves to disembark from my fleet. Almost all of those had sailed with the Windchaser and the cogs when they'd left after my sacking of the third island of The Whores.

Those cogs would be extremely useful in the future. Not just with ferrying supplies to Redwater for the next campaign, but hauling supplies and trade between Northpoint and Sunspear. As much as I'd love for the settlement, and Dustspear in general, to become self-sufficient, there simply wasn't the manpower or infrastructure to allow that to happen now. Probably not even for a few years, but the base was there and all I needed was time, luck, and skill for the island to develop into something worthwhile. Of course, the more it grew, the greater a target it would be for pirates and other raiders, like the Ironborn, to attack, which was why I had, and would keep, a large Watch around.

The issue with the Watch, as with the men now under my command, was that the majority lacked morals and training. At least working cohesively when attacking anything other than traders or pirates. That would change as every new man would be put through their paces before we attacked Redwater, but I hoped that I could find another few dozen skilled sellswords with at least acceptable morals to join before the attack began. Bronn, Cadye, Jaeronos, and Oberyn had all put out feelers to the contacts they had, at least those that hadn't come in the first batch for attacking The Whores, so I expected a few more blades would be waiting for me in Sunspear, though I wasn't sure of how many.

While all those on Captain's Pay, bar Irraro and Caddar, were still alive, many of those below them that had been on the verge of promotion when we returned, had been lost. The majority fell in the ambush and battle that my fleets had encountered when sailing for the central island in The Whores. Those men needed replacement, but I'd leave much of that to Bronn, Cadye, and Jaeronos as they knew the men best.

The battle Cadye had encountered wasn't, like the one I'd sailed into, an ambush, but an already raging fight between two groups of pirates. He'd tried to ensure the fleet avoided the skirmish, but the other commanders had, fearing Cadye's forces were reinforcements, or a third party making a move, attacked. In the carnage that followed, and lacking the power of my fleet, only three of the vessels that had been with Cayde managed to escape, one of those was abandoned before they reached us at the southernmost island of the chain, but at least he and some of the men with him had made it back.

Neither of the pirate groups Cadye had encountered bore the flag of Aeron Indarys, which was why I felt it wasn't something planned for him like the ambush on my fleet had been. That was the only minor upside as I knew many of my men would have surrendered instead of fighting to the death. That meant whoever captured them, if they didn't just execute or enslave them, would quickly learn that they'd sailed for the Rogue Viper from Dustspear.

The hope was, that while those Pirate Lords might deduce that I was responsible for the chaos in The Whores, they'd be too focused on recovering, and battling Pirate Lords nearer to them, that they'd not make a play against Dustspear. Yet, on the chance they might, I planned to leave a larger Watch in Northpoint with an enlarged defensive fleet. It wouldn't stop a dedicated attack, but it would discourage raiders.

The only upside, and it was a small one, of my men falling into the hands of Pirate Lords, was that when I sailed for Redwater I could do so under the banner made for me by Ari and Alysanne. The pair hadn't been happy when I'd chosen twice now to not take the various shields, overcoats, and banners they'd had made with my sigil upon them, but the third time was the charm.

Also, once Redwater fell, or even if I was forced to fall back after only raiding much of it, it would confuse the other Pirate Lords as The Bloody Wolf and The Rogue Viper would appear, at least for the time being, to be two different new players in the Stepstones. The problem with that island was going to be size and scope.

There were three Pirate Lords there, each controlling territory and men to match what the Grim Prince had held. The difference was, unlike the Grim Prince with his placement of small bases on the Broken Arm – which had been shattered at the same time I killed the Grim Prince –that the Lords of Redwater kept their forces close. Not as many trade vessels went past Redwater as Dustspear, so they focused more on securing and holding their territory than raiding further afield.

A hand clasped my shoulder, drawing me back to the present. "Looking forward to dry land?" Dameon asked as he and Ymir joined me amidship, near where the docking planks were deployed. Unlike the galleys and longboats, the war galleys had three such points along each side to handle the larger number of men and cargo that needed to be moved between the ship and shore.

"Aye, as is Ymir," I added as the direwolf slipped around me and under my arm, forcing me, as he intended to scratch him behind his ear.

Daemon chuckled. "Yes. It is clear to all that the beast wants off more than we do." He turned and looked at Northpoint. "Be nice to put this behind us."

"I do not intend to stay here long," I said as the deck planks were lowered. Almost at the same time as the Coral Howl docked on the other side of the pier. "I want to attack Redwater soon before storms can move in," I added as I walked down the plank, Ymir having raced ahead as soon as the railing was cleared for disembarking.

"How soon?"

"Inside a moon," I replied as I stepped onto the pier. Ymir was already rushing down the wood, wanting to get back on solid ground, but I was going to wait. Bronn was standing at the edge of the railing on the Coral Howl, waiting for the deck plank to be lowered. "First I need to see how things are here, handle the slave situation, and a myriad of other little issues. Once that's finished though, I plan to return to Sunspear."

"Sunspear eh?" Bronn called out, having begun to walk down the plank from the Cowl. "Looking forward to that." He smiled widely and clapped his hands. "There is this lass there I want to visit again." The smirk on his face made clear what his intentions were. "And I know you have a few waiting for you," he said to me, "and as for this cunt," He added slapping Daemon on the forearm. "Have you plunked that little flower yet?"

I ground my teeth, not liking the comment about Alysanne. Bronn was being Bronn, but talking about her that way wasn't something I liked. Nor did I like it when he spoke of Ari or the others I slept with in similar tones. However, with Alysanne, there was always this voice at the back of my head, warning me of the danger of someone learning the truth about her parentage. As far as I knew, none in Sunspear were taking the story she and Ty had used for Alysanne slipping from Winterfell seriously, but the fact it was there meant Doran and Oberyn would be curious about the matter. Something that would have them press my mother about, yet I'd not caught hide nor hair of any hint they saw Alysanne as anything more than Ned's bastard daughter.

What was probably helping with that was that she was keeping her egg hidden. I knew of it and had subtly asked her about it when we'd spoken. She'd assured me it was kept in a locked box that was under her bed, the key for which always remained on or close to her person. With Ty gone, still serving her penance for her role in Alysanne's apparent kidnapping, that kept the circle in the know extremely small, something I'd impressed on Alysanne to not expand.

"Lady Alysanne, might I remind you, is the daughter of Lord Eddard Stark, ward of Prince Doran, and a cousin of Cregan's," Daemon replied, his tone low and aggressive. "She is, unlike the women you frequent, someone special. Someone worth taking the time to woo and know, and not simply tossed down for a quick fucking."

"Maybe, but nothing a girl doesn't like better than a good hard fucking. Cregan knows what I mean." When he mentioned my name, Bronn gave me a shoulder tap, though I ignored him, my thoughts still on Alysanne. Or more accurately, her egg.

The Price of Blood should offer a way, or at least the path to a way, to hatch the egg. Failing that, I expected to provide a way to bond a dragon to a rider. I wasn't planning to even attempt that for several years, but when the Others came, a dragon was going to be a game changer. Or at least it would be once it was grown. Unlike what the show had suggested, dragons didn't grow insanely fast. The records I'd read suggested it took anywhere from a year to three before they could take a rider, and easily over a decade for them to reach a size where many, if not all, normal weapons were of little to no threat to them.

"This girl from YiTi," Bronn continued, unaware of my thoughts, "is something special. She does this thing with her tongue that is just…" He brought his fingers to his lips and kissed them, making clear how good whatever it was the girl did was. "I cannot wait to fuck her again." For good measure, or I assumed that was his intent, he thrust his hips.

Daemon and I laughed at the behaviour, letting any anger from his earlier comments about Alysanne slide. Bronn was rough as fuck around the edges, but he was a good man and a brilliant and brutal fighter. I did wonder, though, when he mentioned a girl YiTi if it was the same girl I'd seen outside the Sunset Rose. If so, then I couldn't fault Bronn's tastes. If I wasn't involved with enough ladies to keep me satisfied almost every night, I'd have been interested in seeing just what that girl knew.

"I know Cregan here has someone he longs to see as well, eh?"

I smirked at Bronn. "Several actually. Preferably at the same time," I added, returning fire in this game of teasing and boasting. It was an open secret that I was Ari's paramour, both among my senior men and many in Sunspear, but the fact I was bedding others wasn't. Daemon knew the truth and was accepting of it, his focus entirely on Alysanne. Even to the point that I'd not heard of him visiting a brothel to relieve stress.

"Lucky bastard," was Bronn's comeback after a moment where he imagined what I had. He moved closer with that almost ever-present smirk widening as he neared. "Still, because of you, your tricks, and this magic cock of yours," I stepped back, not letting him grab what he intended, "we are all becoming filthy rich."

My hand moved to push his aside. "Unlike my father in his younger years, I keep my proclivities to those of the opposite sex," I said with a smirk that matched his. A semi-gentle push had his hand move away from me.

"Same. Though I have heard a few of the men wonder if it is your face, those eyes, and the silken words you use, that helped you get between the legs of so many noble ladies."

"Ignoring that most of them are not highborn, my secret shall remain between me and my ladies," I turned, and took a step toward the island only to stop and look back over my shoulder at the sellsword. "Unless that is, you want to watch me work my magic on your YiTish lady friend."

"Fuck you!" Bronn shot back, though with little anger in his tone. His arm swung out, but I'd put just enough distance between us that it was easy to avoid the half-hearted strike. "Keep your pants on when not in the palace so the rest of us can have our fun."

"You never know," I shot back as I saw Jaeronos at the end of the dock, "You might learn something if you watched me and that lass of yours." I heard Daemon laugh behind me, which seemed to draw Bronn's attention, letting me focus on Jaeronos.

While there was a smile on his face suggesting he was glad to see us, there was a tension in his body language. When combined with the two guards, each with a hand near their blade, it suggested something wasn't right.

"I take it from your laughter that the raid went well?" he asked once we were closer.

"More or less." I glanced at the men at his side as we grasped forearms, my other hand drifting toward Red Rain. Behind the trio I could see Ymir turning, sensing my apprehension. "Something the matter?" behind me, I heard Bronn and Daemon come closer. The two men beside Jaeronos were men I'd hired in Sunspear for the initial assault on Dustspear. Indeed, both had been recommended by Jaeronos, which had me a little concerned that something was about to happen.

"More or less," Jaeronos replied as we let go of each other's arms. "Just had a small incident while you were away. Because of that, I had to heighten the Watch's alertness." I raised my brow, questioning for more information. "About a quarter-moon after you sailed, the Silent Raider spotted two longboats approaching the island from Westeros. The Captain chose to return and warn us instead of trying to engage."

"Smart," I commented, making a note to learn the captain's name and if, as I suspected, this story had a good ending, ensure they were given a bonus. While anyone with half a brain would back off from a two-on-one battle, competence was worth encouraging.

"It was," Jaeronos continued as Daemon and Bronn reached my side. "With the knowledge that the ships had landed, and that they bore the flag of the Grim Prince, I had the men prepare. The villagers, at least those present, were taken to shelter. However, those out hunting, or moving to the quarry, were out of reach and I had to leave them. Better to keep the men here than send some to search and protect them." I grimaced, fearing I'd lost Darrok, Jeran, or one of their men. Getting those skilled workmen was a huge bonus for developing Dustspear, and to lose them now would be a disaster. As would losing any of the settlers. "They attacked on the second night after landing, but we were ready. Lost less than a dozen men, including two villagers who wanted to fight. Most of their men either died in the attack or surrendered. Some ran into the forest, but their boats were found and brought closer to here. They're in good condition and can be added to the fleet after a change of banners."

"Did anything come from those who surrendered?"

"Bar that they came from outposts along The Arm, nothing of value. Though those that held rank are still around for further questioning."

"Prince Oberyn did say the lords along the Arm would attack those outposts when we assaulted Dustspear," Daemon offered. "It is possible the men in one or more of those ports managed to slip away before an attack arrived."

Jaeronos nodded as Daemon spoke. "Yes, that was my thinking on it." He turned back to me. "Those still alive await your judgement, and the ships, as I said, are now part of the fleet." He smirked as his eyes drifted beyond me. "Which I see has grown considerably to the point we can't berth them all."

"Those that need repairs will get preference. The rest can drop anchor in the harbour. Also, have the crews practise assault landings. They will need practice for Redwater. That said, the raids were, overall, a success, though not as great as I had hoped."

Bronn scoffed. "Nothing ever goes perfectly. We got more men and ships and caused the pirate lords there and on other islands problems. Most of the men will be little better than meat shields, but that just means more bodies for our enemies to target instead of me."

"Was that an offer to stay here and train the new men? If so, I would be happy to console that YiTish lass of yours."

"Fuck off and fuck your princess," Bronn shot back, though any anger in the tone was lost as the rest of us laughed at his expense. He joined in with a chuckle of his own before continuing. "I am going to Sunspear and nothing you say or do will stop me."

"We will sort out who will remain later," I said as the first of the men on the Coral Howl, which were a group of a dozen slaves we'd freed on the fourth island that had then survived the ambush. "For now, we need to work on housing the new men and guests. Preferably for the former, far from the villagers. They might have bent the knee, but I trust them half as far as my youngest sister could throw them." that drew some chuckles.

"Most of the buildings left standing are repaired so we have the room to spare," Jaeronos offered. "Should be fine for supplies as well. The farms are far from ready, but there's plentiful fish, berries, and game. Not to mention the food and drink brought back from your raids. At least for a few weeks. After that, we might have issues."

"Ugh," Broon groaned, "enough about the boring stuff." He moved forward, cutting in front of me and speaking to Jaeronos. "For now, I want food, drink, and the comfort of the nicest whore on the island."

Even as I laughed once more at the man's blunt, self-focused approach, I wondered how wise an idea it was. While I was fine with celebrating with Bronn, Daemon, and some others, having several hundred former pirates, fresh to the island and likely not thinking my rules were law imbued with drink sounded like a recipe for disaster. I couldn't, however, deny them drink, so I'd have to ensure they were kept even further from the villagers, and that the Watch had clear orders to prevent issues.

I knew that eventually one of the men would break my rules. All I could hope was that it was a long time in coming and that when it did happen, it wasn't a major rule they broke. Until then, all I could do was limit the chances for trouble and see what happened.

… …

… …

"Thank you for this," I said to Stalleo as he sat across from me in my solar. "Before you go, I need to ask, is there anything you might know that could be of use? No matter how minor it may seem."

Stalleo's eyes flickered from me to Kaa, who was absently resting, as normal, around my neck. The bloodflower viper had almost as much of an effect on others as Ymir did. At least when I allowed the metre-plus extremely venomous snake to rest around my neck like some sort of ornament. Until they saw Kaa move, many thought I simply wore a dead snake to play into my title as the Rogue Viper, but the moment they saw Kaa move for the first time – or if they'd forgotten about his presence – their reaction was always enjoyable.

The eyes of the former lieutenant for Lucian Koros flicked beyond the viper to the men at my sides. Daemon and Cayde stood behind me, the former probably standing as if he was guarding Ari, the latter, from the sounds I was hearing, enjoying a pomegranate that had come from a grove discovered when the remains of the Grim Prince's men had attacked the island while I and others were in The Whores. Already plans were in place to gather seeds from the grove so that a grove could be nurtured closer to the settlement.

Bronn would be, if he had recovered from the festivities last night, beginning the training and testing of the new men alongside several of the older and better-trained sellswords in my forces. Last night's party hadn't gotten too unruly, and I'd only had to knock out two of the new men for overstepping their bounds with either me or the villagers. Another man had lost a hand for thieving after he tried to rob one of the whores after his time was up.

The pirate was dumb enough to admit to it publicly, leaving it easy to determine judgement. He, along with a handful of others who had broken minor rules I'd set in place, still retained use. They, along with men that either I or my commanders were uncertain about, would be assigned to the vanguard of every assault I carried out in Redwater. With luck, the dumb fool would get himself killed by the enemy, but if not I'd have to ensure he didn't return to Northpoint.

Jaeronos was, at his request, continuing to work as the commander and mayor of Northpoint, finding something enjoyable in the position that he hadn't expected. If things went well with Redwater, I might consider making Jaeronos the military commander of Northpoint, but that and appointing proper officials wasn't an immediate issue. Still, I'd promised Jaeronos that he'd be with us on the assault on Redwater. As much as he seemed happy to manage the settlement, I'd hired him for battle, not administration.

"No, mi'lord," Stalleo replied once his eyes returned to me, though he cringed, and his eyes darted to one corner of the room as the sound of teeth scraping on bone echoed around us. Ymir had enjoyed his night as well, having headed out into the forest almost as soon as we docked. I hadn't seen him return during the night, but the carcass that had been outside the door to my building made clear he'd had a successful hunt. Currently, he was gnawing on the leg of the boar he'd caught during the night.

While I'd rather not have the smell of the dead animal in the solar, Ymir's presence and actions were effective in ensuring Stalleo, and the three before him that I'd spoken to, were honest in their words. Even Daemon, who'd known Ymir almost since I'd had him, was sometimes concerned by the direwolf's size. At the size of a pony, yet if felt, with room still to grow, it was odd that more people didn't cower or back away in fear when he moved around. However, that might be because, even at his size, he could move with the silence and grace that only an apex predator could achieve.

Honestly, the only people who never showed fear of him were my family and lovers, and the young of Sunspear and the Shadow City. The former because Ymir understood they were part of our pack, and the latter because, as much as he'd never admit it, Ymir was a giant softy at heart. A direwolf he may be, but at the chance of getting petted and scratched by dozens of small, weak hands, he'd roll over and submit. The parents and guardians of the children were fearful of letting the children so close to Ymir, but the lowborn knew they couldn't do much if Ymir did turn, while those of higher station would have to protest to Doran and Oberyn should anything happen. Yet in the two years that Ymir had been bonded with me, he'd never attacked anyone I'd have not approved of.

"Then you are dismissed," I said to Stalleo once his eyes came reluctantly back to me. "Though if, over the next few days, you remember anything, please mention it to myself or one of my commanders."

"Yes, mi'lord." Stalleo stood, and then, his eyes struggling to remain on me as I lifted a hand to stroke Kaa, he bowed awkwardly. Like other former pirates, he wasn't used to such formal responses, but since last night the new men understood that I wasn't just a simple sellsword, but the Bastard of Sunspear. A few even knew of me as the Bloody Wolf and the story of how I'd killed a dozen Ironborn while I was a child to save the Princess of Dorne had spread – again – through the settlement.

I offered a nod in reply and then watched as Stalleo moved away. He was slow at first, careful to not venture too close to Ymir and his chew toy. One of the new men who'd somehow been up before I had made that mistake when I'd stepped out into the morning air. At Ymir's growl, the former pirate sprinted away, and just before he'd slipped from view, I swore he'd soiled himself.

"I wonder if we might one day meet a man not in some way wary of that beast," Cayde remarked with a chuckle as the door closed behind Stalleo.

Cayde had seemed forlorn when he'd met us at the southernmost island in The Whores, and angered with himself at this failure to save more of the fleet under his command. Some of those who'd died had been men he'd known for many years, so their deaths under his command wounded him.

I'd spoken with him briefly before we'd left, making clear I didn't blame him for the losses, and that it was my mistake and overconfidence that cost us so many ships and men. I'd next seen him last night once we were back in Northpoint, and since then there'd not been a hint the disaster of that battle still haunted him. While he seemed fine now, I'd be watching as carefully as I could, without alerting him, to ensure his head was in the right place going forward. He was a capable fighter and commander, the latter worth more, so having him battle-shy, at least when sending men to die, wasn't what I needed.

"So far only my father seems as at ease with Kaa as I am," I replied as I checked over the notes I'd added to the collection as Stalleo had spoken. "But there are few men like my father. Plus, if any fool tried to challenge Ymir, I know Ymir would enjoy educating them on their mistake." Ymir growled in agreement, making me chuckle as I looked at my notes.

I could've asked Daemon or Cayde to make them, but they might have felt it was beneath them to act as my scribe. I was fine with doing it myself for now, but when we returned to Sunspear, I'd ask around, perhaps with Maester Caleotte and see if any of his helpers and scribes had a sense of adventure. While I'd love to bring a full Maester to Northpoint, as Dustspear wasn't under the control of the Iron Throne, nor was I even a landed knight with a holdfast, then that wasn't something I'd get now. Perhaps in time, but for now I'd have to make do.

One option I had considered but had dismissed due to the unlikelihood of it, was finding a disgraced Maester or trainee. Qyburn was an obvious example, and for all his moral flexibility, he had been a Maester until he took his research too far for the rest of the Citadel. The reason I'd dismissed him was that I had fuck all idea of where he was and what he was doing currently.

I could reach out to the Free Cities, but the longer it took for any of their leadership to learn of my action in the Stepstones the better. That said, the one place I'd not be looking for any learned help was Volantis and their fire priests. While I was sure I could learn something regarding my magic from them, I didn't want any of those insane fanatics near me. I had a few worshippers of R'hllor in my ranks now, but those men were joining the vanguard for Redwater as the sooner those crazies were dead the better the world would be.

"Yeah, rather not see that again," Cayde muttered, his mind probably travelling back to the few fools who'd tried to run while we'd been in The Whores. Ymir had hunted every one of them down, taking pleasure in dragging out their deaths. Those who remained had, with the pained, dying screams of their former compatriot in their ears, bent the knee quickly after that.

"On topic, while our intelligence on Redwater has not improved, at least we now know more about the Shrouded Isle."

"Aye, we do," I replied to Dameon, looking up from my notes.

Stalleo was the fourth former commander or lieutenant of a Pirate Lord that I'd spoken to today, and some gaps in our intel on the largest island in the Stepstones were slowly being filled in. I now knew not only which areas of the island Lucian Koros and The Bloodhawk controlled, but the locations of many, if not all, of the ports they held around the island, along with the names and locations of the two minor Pirate Lords on the island.

Amusingly, both minor Pirate Lords were bastards from Westeros. Crann Snow held a single port, and nominally the mass of the island that rose from its midpoint and pointed north. Though given that the Pirate Lords focused their attention on their ports and fleets, I doubted he had much close as to what that land contained. Snow was also, for all intent and purposes, subservient to the Lucian Koros.

Gravy Pyke was the other minor Pirate Lord and had two, possibly three ports under his control, and held the northeastern tip of The Shrouded Isle. His location made him more important than Snow, but he was still subservient to a more powerful Pirate Lord, in this case, Lucian Koros. Pyke's location, at that northern tip, controlling the northern entry to the channel that lay between The Shrouded Isle and Bloodstone and the Bone Breaker Isles, ensured that while he didn't do much raiding, his position was important enough that none of the Pirate Lords on Bloodstone, could move to against him without weakening their defences.

As for the two major players on The Shrouded Isle, Koros had more territory and men, the Bloodhawk's men were regarded as the more fearsome fighters. Plus, the Bloodhawk and Blood Serpent on Bloodstone had some form of agreement, which I was calling the Blood Concord, to avoid battles in the Bone Breaker Isles that separated their territories. Instead, they focused their attention on Koros and Aeron Indarys respectively.

They still engaged each other elsewhere though, so my actions in The Whores shouldn't cause them to engage in open warfare soon. While their weakening of each other would be useful, I wasn't in a position to exploit, whereas Koros and Indarys were. The last thing I wanted was for there to be a single Pirate Lord with a large island at their beck and call. That would seriously fuck up my plans.

The other thing I'd learnt was that my appearance, including taking Dustspear, wasn't common knowledge. They respected me for how I'd taken the island and then launched a raid on the Whores. It was a bold move, one many wouldn't take, but the former pirates that I'd spoken to so far had been clear that they understood why I'd attacked. Causing chaos to distract others bought me time to build and consolidate.

The four I'd dealt with so far today were split between having followed Koros and The Bloodhawk, and all agreed that my actions would stir the pot between their former bosses, and Indarys and The Blood Serpent on Bloodstone. Once they had learnt of my connections to Sunspear, it appeared they understood my plans stretched to more than just one island in the Stepstones.

Because of that, and their curiosity about how I became The Bloody Wolf, I was now certain I'd fly under the banner designed by Ari and Alysanne. Two different players appearing in the Steps at roughly the same trying to take over wasn't uncommon, and the confusion it would cause when others thought of The Rogue Viper and The Bloody Wolf as separate people was something I'd exploit.

Eventually, the truth would come out, as would my connection to Sunspear. While I didn't care if the Pirate Lords learnt this, the issue arose when King's Landing and the Free Cities did. At that point I'd be pulled, willingly or not, into the Great Game, though if all went well, I had a year, perhaps two, before that happened. Though, unless something major happened to change things, then the first arc that I expected would be starting. I was under the clock to get as much done as I wanted in the Stepstones before Robert rode for Winterfell, but I'd known this was coming when I'd chosen to enter this world and selected Ashara Dayne and Brandon Stark as my parents.

Looking back on it, and with my in-world knowledge, I'd have been wiser to choose another time frame, perhaps growing up as a contemporary of Oberyn instead of his adopted son. However, there was little I could do to change the past. Instead, I had to live in the present and, if all went well, shape the future.

A knock drew my back to the room, and a second later the door to the solar swung open, exposing the face of Chresten. "Next man's ready, mi'lord."

He was one of the original sellswords who'd fought to take Dustspear but was now acting as a senior member of Northpoint's Watch. While he and the others who I'd assigned to the Watch hadn't been happy to miss out on the possibility of loot from The Whores, I'd given them a ten per cent increase in their wages for each month they spent in the Watch. Since the coin taken from The Whores was minimal, and the danger here far less, I suspected many were happy now with the assignment and I hoped many, if not most, would want to continue serving in the Watch.

I did plan to rotate them out with others who'd fought in The Whores, but I had to be cautious as I didn't want to leave Northpoint undefended, nor have the Watch composed of too high a percentage of former pirates. That would destroy what I was trying to build here.

"Thank you Chresten." The sellsword nodded and moved back, allowing the next former officer of a Pirate Lord to enter. This one was Jaenor, and he'd bent the knee when I'd taken a port belonging to The Bloodhawk. His name and accent placed him as from Essos, with me suspecting he grew up in Myr, but I couldn't be certain of that. Nor his loyalty as the port he'd joined from was on the fourth island, and we'd only attacked one other port before Aeron's ambush. "Please, be seated," I said, indicating the chair on the other side of the desk.

"No need to be fucking nice about it," Jaenor growled as he stepped forward. The anger in his tone and body vanished when Ymir met Jaenor's aggression with some of his own.

"Easy, Ymir. The man is not looking for trouble. Were you?" I asked, my hand gently stroking the underside of Kaa's jaw, making him flick his tongue out.

"N-no, mi'lord," I smirked at Jaenor's burst of concern. If he was stupid enough to express anger when entering a room with three others, a direwolf and a metre-long viper when unarmed, I had to wonder how he reached his former position.

"Now," I began once he was seated, "As I'm sure you know, I'm speaking with everyone who recently joined my cause."

"Like we had much of a choice," Jaenor snapped back. The hostility had me adding him to the list for the vanguard force on Redwater and drew an annoyed hiss from Kaa. The viper slipped forward, using the arm I had on the desk holding my quill, to slither forward.

Jaenor backed up into his chair, his eyes watching as Kaa slid onto the desk. With my other arm, before he caused an issue, I pulled some of my notes out of the way and allowed my snake to move toward the unruly former pirate.

"The choice you had was simple," Daemon said, shifting forward slightly. I didn't have to look to know his hand had slipped to the hilt of his blade. "Serve and, perhaps, find honour, or die like a dumb bitch."

Jaenor snarled at Daemon, though the aggression disappeared when Kaa resumed his forward movement. Daemon wasn't the sort to make such blunt comments, with that being more Bronn's style, but it seemed he disliked this former pirate as much as I did.

"Easy Kaa," I said, my hand moving forward to tap the crown of Kaa's skull. "This man forgot his manners for a moment. He did not mean anything untoward with his tone, did you?"

"N-no. Forgive me, mi'lord."

"Good, now," I said, lifting Kaa so he could return to his resting spot around my shoulders, "this is nice and simple. Just tell me everything you know about your former employer and any of the other Pirate Lords in the Stepstones."

Eventually, I'd have to delegate this job to others, especially if the same percentage of men surrendered to me when we attacked and took Redwater. I just wasn't sure who would handle it. The only one I was certain that wouldn't be handling this was Bronn. He'd get bored of it after a single interview and probably goad a pirate into attacking him to alleviate his boredom. As much fun as that would be to watch, I needed the manpower that former pirates brought me. At least for now.

Dipping the quill in my other hand into the ink, I waited for Jaenor to speak, curious what new intel, if any, he'd provided. And if he'd make another mistake and display his distaste for me and my operation.

… …

… …

As the Windchaser sat outside the harbour of Northpoint, I looked back at the settlement. The Pride of Saltbrook was just emerging from around the rocky outcropping that protected the harbour, the galley that would serve as its escort slightly further behind. The Ilaerah's Luck and her escort were already alongside the Windchaser, and once the Saltbrook emerged, the fleet of five would set sail for Sunspear. While I waited for that voyage to begin, I played over the events of the last six days since we'd returned from the blitz of the Whores.

I'd not managed to speak to every pirate that bent the knee, though I had spoken to every one of them from the rank of sergeant or Helmsman upward. The rest of the interviews, which I doubted would bring any useful new intel on the situation, had been fobbed off to my captains. Daemon and Bronn had taken the first few days, but as they were now sailing with me to Sunspear, Cayde and Jaeronos would finish them off.

I'd have preferred to have Cayde come to Sunspear, to grant him the chance to unwind and reset his mind away from the Steps, but Bronn had drawn the long straw signalling his return with me and Daemon. My fellow knight didn't have to draw lots for returning, as his duty was to protect me under orders of Ari. If I returned to Sunspear without him, then she would be concerned, as would Alysanne.

From the interviews, the only new intel that I'd gained after the first day was about the situation on Obsidian Sands. That island lay to the east of Bloodstone and, unlike what I'd first believed, was controlled by two pirates: Marys Valtaris and Jaerenys Tarlarys. The pair both came from Essos, but that was where any similarity ended.

Valtaris, who was known as The Greenhand as his ships and banners with a hand printed on green, supposedly hailed from Volantis. Like Salladhor Saan and The Lotus Prince, Valtaris chose not to attack and raid passing vessels. Instead, he extracted tolls to either be left alone by his men or, for a larger fee, be escorted through the Steps and protected against other pirates.

The fact that Valtaris, Saan, and The Lotus Prince seemed to not be focused purely on piracy, meant that they were the most likely of the Pirate Lords to at least be cordial to me if we met. At least in theory as you could never tell what someone was like based on rumours. Still, none of the trio were current concerns, though I knew I'd have to consider Saan and The Lotus Prince once Redwater was under my banner.

Many of the former pirates I'd spoken to had suggested this made him less than a Pirate Lord. However, given that Valtaris had ruled his lands for going on thirty years, I felt he'd earned the right to be considered a senior Lord of the Stepstones. He was certainly a more respectable choice than the other Pirate Lord on Obsidian Sands.

Tarlarys held the northern half of Obsidian Sands and had only risen as Pirate Lord in the last three years. He'd come onto the scene with over twenty galleys, and swarmed the northern part of the island, driving back Valtaris. Valtaris, working with others it was claimed, had managed to stop Tarlarys, and the pair were in a state of permanent skirmishing ever since.

One thing that stood out about Tarlarys was that he came from Tyrosh and arrived with a fleet of seemingly brand-new galleys. That had many of the pirates I'd interviewed, along with me and my captains, believing it was a play by Tyrosh to take control of another island in the Stepstones. They already, from what we'd learnt, controlled the Pirate Lord of The Saffron Reach, and a play for another island, especially one that regularly extorted tolls from them, made sense. Since Tarlarys had failed, and no new ships had appeared to bolster his forces, it seemed the Free City had abandoned him. Still, it was something I'd have to be wary of if the time ever came to take Obsidian Sands.

I did hope to take most, if not all of the Stepstones, but I knew that would be hard to achieve. The Free Cities, with a focus on the former triarchy of Myr, Tyrosh, and Lys, would violently oppose my actions. As might Volantis and King's Landing. Allying with one or some of them would ensure the rest declared open war. The most likely outcome was bending the knee to the crown, but there was fuck all chance I'd do that to Joffrey if sat upon it. Hells, if the choice was between him and waiting for Danerys, I knew where my banner would fall. And that was before considering that she'd, unless things went massively different, have three fucking dragons at her command.

As the Pride slipped fully around the outcropping, my thoughts turned to the settlement. Northpoint was developing slowly. The farms were coming along, with the test crops beginning to show shoots if they were meant to. By next year we'd know what worked best and begin rotating the fields. A channel was being dug from the river to divert some water for irrigation, and while it wasn't clean to drink – the channel was made of mud though I hoped to change that in future – it was ideal for crops.

The foresters had cleared the trees back far enough that it would be hard for anyone to attack Northpoint as I had when I'd taken it, and the walls along the earthen walls were being slowly raised and strengthened to provide further protection. There were a handful of tree trunks in the hold of the Luck that I planned to sell to sawyers in Sunspear. While the sawmill was almost ready in Northpoint, it lacked the blades and axes needed to allow my sawyers to cut and shape the wood. Those I'd be purchasing in Sunspear, along with weapons for the assault on Redwater.

Darrok had returned to Northpoint yesterday and informed me that the quarry was slowly being drained and would soon be ready to resume work. Or at least it would if the path to it was clear, and they had mules or donkeys to haul the carts with stone to the settlement. Thus, those beasts of burden were now on my shopping list. The same issue arose with the mines, or soon would as Jeran claimed all two of the mines were in a state that they could resume, after repair work, operations by the end of the year.

Jeran had brought samples of the rock he'd found in the three mines with him, and I was taking them with me for analysis. Jeran was certain that the two main mains held good deposits of iron, but he admitted that he wasn't as skilled in making the determination official as a master miner would be. The third mine was one Jeran wasn't sure about, but he understood that it was possible, if uncommon, for gems to be found near iron veins. I had to rely on his knowledge there as my understanding of mining and minerals was, at best, pitiful.

Regardless of what the third mineshaft held, the fact the other two were sources of iron ore, then, so long as it was of suitable quality, there was potential for some industry to develop. The issue, as with just about everything linked to Northpoint now, was manpower.

So far, I'd had those under my military command helping out around Northpoint and the nearby land, but I knew that couldn't last. I'd need almost all of the men to attack Redwater, never mind hold the massive island. That meant the villagers would be stretched in trying to handle everything themselves. I did hope there'd be more willing to risk moving to Northpoint from Sunspear or from elsewhere in Dorne, and perhaps the Seven Kingdoms, but I doubted there'd be many wishing to move on this trip. So long as one of the cogs continued regular voyages between my island and the Dornish capital, then I felt that manpower for the settlement wouldn't be a major issue for long.

Some of the most recently freed slaves were going to stay on Dustspear and attempt to make a life of it there, though the majority wanted to sail for Sunspear. Understandably, they wanted little to nothing to do with the Stepstones and the painful, if not horrible, memories they held. Still, to protect the few who'd remained, I'd arranged accommodation as far from where my new fighters were housed.

While selling raw materials of uncut trees and iron ore to Sunspear would bring in some coin, I wanted Northpoint to be self-sufficient. Not just for industry but for food as well. While it was all well and good relying on fish and what the farms produced, I wanted to see if we could develop livestock farming. I didn't expect to find any such beasts for sale in Sunspear, but the thought was there as the island was teeming with life.

While Dustspear wasn't as hot as Sunspear and eastern Dorne, something helped by the strong sea winds bringing fresh rain and cooling breezes, it wasn't as temperate a climate as The Stormlands, never mind The Reach. Yet, the island, through methods and reasons I didn't know, had many of the same beasts in its forest. Deer, boar and rabbits were all plentiful on the island, and while that could provide meat for us, I didn't want to over hunt the beasts. The more we did that, the less there'd be in future, and the further from Northpoint – and Southpoint if it was developed – hunters would have to venture to find meat. And the more likely it was that Ymir grew restless and might attack a farm animal.

Perhaps I was thinking too far ahead, with the threat of the Wildlings, the Others, and Danerys' invasion of Westeros, all events that should and likely would occur in the next five to ten years. However, I didn't intend to die in any of those battles and wars, and as such I wanted to make the islands in the Steps that I took into one where I could settle down and live. While I didn't know what the future would hold, I did hope one day to marry and have kids. I knew that I'd never truly settle down, but having a stable, well-developed, and protected base to return to was something I wanted. Otherwise, at least to me, what was the point of adventure?

… …

… …

"Ugh. Aargh."

The sounds slipped painfully from my dried and cracked lips as I slowly regained consciousness. While my name came to me easily, everything else, like where I was, or why every inch of my body – inside and out – was racked with pain didn't. All I could focus on was that pain. It felt as if I was pulled in a million directions at once. Everything, everywhere hurt insanely. I couldn't focus on what was worse, or where I was.

So much pain.

My bones, muscles, sinews, and everything else roared in rebellion at whatever had caused me this torture, seven hells even my teeth hurt. The flares grew strongest around my skull as I fought, and failed, to force my eyes open.

Wanting to move, to do something that didn't involve the agony rushing through me, I rolled to one side. The muscles, limbs, and everything else there somehow reacted with even more anguish, but at least it allowed me to focus on one point, on one area of torture.

Yet, that was as far as I could go, as much as I could take, and I lay there, on my side, wanting but unable to call out, to move, to do anything to end the suffering I was enduring.

Time lost meaning as I endured, but eventually, I felt the torment ease. The pain was there, but it was slowly, excruciatingly slowly, fading away. Enough that, I was able to force my eyes open. Though the moment light slid in, I regretted the decision as it set off a new source of torment as my eyes reacted to having to process light. Though there wasn't as much light as I expected.

Something was there blocking the light, pushing it back, and I felt more than saw, something massive move closer. Against my wishes, and ignoring my protests, my arm lifted, moving to meet the shadow encroaching upon me. Fresh agony surged through me as whatever the shadow was pushed against my hand, and I felt my fingers slide through something familiar.

Focusing on the familiar sensation, I pushed aside as much of the pulsating pain that echoed throughout my body. drawing on the familiarity, I found my memories, my thoughts. That was Ymir pushing against me, checking I was well, and I was in my cabin aboard the Windchaser.

"…" A greeting died in my throat as another source of distress rippled through me. Knowing I needed to warm and wash my throat, and probably my mouth and lips, I gulped a few times, forcing whatever moisture was in my mouth down my gullet. That done, and continuing to ignore the wracking tremors from my body, I prised apart my protesting lips, and ran my tongue along them, grunting in response to more sources of pain.

"H-hey boy," I managed to get out when I tried to speak again. My hand, pained as it was, felt comfortable resting against Ymir, and I demanded my fingers move, to scratch him and let him know I was recovering.

Every time I took a new Trait something like this happened. My body was being altered on a structural level, and in ways I didn't understand, and no way would that never hurt. While the pain from taking a Standard Trait was manageable, and I was only under for a few hours, this was the second time I'd taken a Special Trait, and like Blood of the Dragon's Flames before it, The Price of Blood exacted a painful, longer toll on me.

Each Special Trait had taken more than a day of being unconscious for the effects to kick in, and both times now when I'd woken, I didn't know where I was or what was going on. The pain that rushed through me slowly passed, but it would take time and I now had to accept that each time a Special Trait was taken, I'd been out of things for some time; both during the Trait altering my body and for several hours when I awoke.

Ymir stepped closer, resting his large, fur-covered head on my bed, letting my arm reach over to his other side and scratch behind that ear. His tongue flicked out, as he watched me. I knew what he intended, and would hate it, but in my current state, there was nothing I could do to stop him. Which I suspected was his intent.

My eyes closed as his maw moved toward my face, and I felt his thick, rough tongue drag itself over my face. I hated when he did this or drooled over me, and normally I'd stop him, or redirect him toward someone else to slobber. Eventually, he pulled back, and I removed my hand from over the back of his neck.

I had tried to grasp his fur, to pull him back, but even at full capacity, that could be a struggle. Ymir was around two years old, and still had room and bulk to grow into, yet when he wanted something, it wasn't through physical strength that I stopped him, but by force of nature. Given my current condition, I lacked the aura needed to force him back, which he'd just taken advantage of.

"Really?" I asked as my hand ran over my face, pushing the drool away and then slowly, cautiously opening my eyes. Ymir looked back at me, his head tilted to one side as if to say 'Why, yes, really' and I could sense his amusement. After a snort to confirm his amusement, he turned and padded away, finding his spot in the centre of the cabin.

I rolled onto my back, the pain from the alteration of the Special Trait continuing to lessen. Now it simply felt that every muscle and fibre in my body was tired and in need of a good rest. I knew that was true to a degree as I'd have exhausted my reserves of energy with the change, which was why, once I was able to, I'd sit up and see what was on the table near my bed. Daemon should've left something there for me, and, I hoped, Ymir hadn't eaten it out of boredom while he lazed around my cabin.

At some point, he'd have stepped onto the deck, if only to relieve himself, but for most of the time I'd been under, he'd have remained close. Watching over me while I underwent the changes.

The Price of Blood had been, of the Special Traits, the most appealing, even if I held concerns about Blood Magic. The rumours and stories of what a bloodmage could do, or at the very least, had supposedly been able to do back before the Doom, were enough to scare someone to death. Legends said that the Valyrian used Blood Magic to create all sorts of vile, twisted creatures to serve them, including dragons.

I wasn't sure how much truth there was in that myth, as there were hints in legends and lore that suggested dragons had existed before the rise of the Freehold, but Blood Magic was something that held appeal. At least relating to the ability to potentially birth a dragon.

Alysanne's egg, if it was still viable, would be capable of being birthed. The issue was that I'd have to learn and discover how to do so. outside of Volantis, I couldn't think of where in Essos or Westeros I'd find a bloodmage, so taking this Special Trait, and the boost of ten levels in the branch of magic, was the next best thing. Something that was confirmed by a small notice, that was dismissed as soon as it was read, that confirmed The Price of Blood had been aligned with me and was now active.

Closing my eyes, I looked inward, trying to find the changes within me and find the new source of power that should dwell within me. Time slipped away as my mind pushed aside the weaker forms of magic that ran within me. Water, Wind, and Earth Magic weren't what I was after. Nor was my ability to skinchange, even if there was always this question of whether it was possible to shift into the mind of a dragon.

At my core, glowing brighter within the threads of power that I mentally regarded as the tapestry of my existence, the heat and warmth of the strongest magic I held, and the one that was wielded most tightly to my being, guided me inward. The Fire Magic within me wasn't what I was seeking, but there was a commonality between it and Blood Magic.

I had to search carefully in the flames of my soul that defined my existence until I discovered what I was looking for. There, attached but distinct and far weaker, was something new. It radiated power as all magic did, yet even though it was by far the weakest thread of me that hummed with power, the potential depths reminded me of a yawning chasm.

Focusing on this magic, and ignoring the calming, power-promising flames that I needed to return to one day to remove their blockage, I let my mind open, curious about what I'd understand. The Special Trait had promised ten levels in Blood Magic, along with some affinity for the branch, and in the spark of new magic, I saw glimpses of potential power.

I'd known before taking the Special Trait that Blood Magic would be different from anything I'd studied before, but sensing the raw, unrestrained, slightly terrifying energy radiating from this spark, made it clear how much I'd underestimated what I was in for. This wasn't something like creating a firestorm to level a city, this was, if I could understand the swirling chaos of the dark blood my mind was showing me, something so much more.

I pulled back, some fear creeping into me at what I'd unleashed within myself. At some point, I'd have to see what physical changes, if any, The Price of Blood had brought forth, but there was no doubting that on a metaphysical level, change had happened. And as much as what I was seeing scared me, I was drawn to the power more than I feared it.

Curious if I could do anything with my now unlocked and boosted branch of magic, I refocused on the new spark within me. Concentrating, I swore I saw shifting red flickers inside the spark. Images of what may be. Wanting to learn more, I picked something I felt was linked to Blood Magic: the creation of Valyrian Steel.

There was no shift in the flickers, at least nothing I could discern, but that wasn't entirely unexpected. Valyrian Steel and its creation was something that was lost with the Doom, and before then would've been guarded carefully by the ruling families of the Freehold. That the Targaryens, who were a minor family from the Freehold, hadn't known the secret made clear the importance of the rare, magically forged metal. Perhaps Blood Magic wasn't the key to the creation of the metal, but I felt it had to play some role. All I could for now was hope I lived long enough to discover that.

Shifting my thoughts, I considered how one might birth and bind a dragon to a rider. That was a more attainable goal. While seeing anything in the spark was difficult, I swore I saw hints of shapes forming. The only shape that made any sense though was one I assumed implied the need for a dragon's egg, which was something I already understood. That was, at the very least, a step in the right direction, at least as long as I wasn't misunderstanding the power that resided within me.

Shifting thoughts, I concentrated on ways I could enhance myself. Blood Magic should, in theory, allow one to do that. The flowing patterns of red inside the spark shifted again. It was harder now to make out anything than when I'd thought of birthing a dragon but easier than understanding what, if any connection, Blood Magic had with the forging Valyrian Steel. While not wonderful, I felt I could, with time, effort, and meditation, learn enough to at least be able to attempt something to improve myself.

The question would be, with the Traits I'd taken before I'd been reborn if I could push myself beyond the limits set in place by those traits. I was due to turn fifteen soon, which would lift my physical limits to 24 for Strength and 28 for Agility. It was going to be another three years before the last of the limits were removed and I could work toward my peaks of 32 and 38.

While, when I was younger, those limits helped ensure I wasn't insanely strong or flexible as a child, now that I was fighting regularly, it was going to be an issue. 20 was the upper level for the average person, but few in this world were born average, and that was excluding cases like the Clegane brothers or Robert Baratheon who was said to wield a warhammer so heavy Ned couldn't lift it. Any advantage I could get, that didn't fundamentally change the way I moved, fought, and thought, wasn't something to ignore, even if the method to gain it might offend some.

Thoughts like that though, weren't something I wanted to dwell on. And while what I might be able to learn and do with this new branch of magic was already developing in my mind, I knew I couldn't spend too much longer on them. A fact reinforced by the loud, pained grumble of my stomach.

Opening my eyes again, I took in the ceiling of the cabin, spotting, even in the faint light of whatever time it was outside, the knots and grooves in the planks. That was a gift of my boosted sight with Rian. That had come with reaching Level 5 in our bond, and with that now standing at Level 9 I wondered what boost I'd gain when I maxed out the connection at Level 10. I'd had Kaa there for a few months now, and while at first, I'd not been sure of what the maxed bond offered, after so many battles and spars, I felt I understood.

From the bloodflower viper, I'd seemingly gained an almost unnatural ability to react to danger. I couldn't sense it coming any easier, but when I knew about it, I could react faster than I should be able to. Far faster than my agility should, even when I finally maxed it out, be able to manage. It had taken a few battles for me to truly master it, and while it didn't grant me a clear way to counter a lack of skill against a superior opponent - such as Bronn or Dameon when we sparred - it helped me respond in combat so quickly that it had already helped me a few times while battling in The Whores.

Another rumble from my belly had me focusing entirely on my room. Or more specifically, the table upon which some dried meat and berries rested – somehow ignored by Ymir – along with a flagon of what I hoped was wine.

As I took my first bite of the meat, ignoring the final vestiges of pain from the alignment, I wondered how Rian was doing. The egg should've hatched by now, but from what I'd learnt it would be anywhere from two to four moons before the chick left the nest for good. While I hoped that Rian's progeny was, like his father, a fast developer, I wouldn't force Rian to leave with me. As much as I wanted him, and his scouting potential, with me when I sailed for Redwater, forcing and keeping a parent from their newborn or young child – species be damned – was a cruel thing to do.

After another few bites, I turned my thoughts to the crew. While Daemon would've covered for me, the men would be wondering why I'd not left my cabin for a day. It was unlikely that any rumours might've sprouted, but better for them to know I was well than to let fear and doubt creep into their thoughts.

If I was right, we had three, perhaps four days before we reached Sunspear and docked in the Shadow City. The men would enjoy their rest and relaxation, as would I. However, as much as the idea of spending a month locked in a room with Ari, Nym, and Asha to relieve pent-up desire sounded wonderful, I knew I couldn't linger too long in the Dornish capital. Still, I knew that for my time there, I'd enjoy myself and the pleasures of the flesh it would bring.

… …

… …

Several days later, just as I'd predicted, the small fleet had reached Sunspear and now we were being led into the docks of The Shadow City. Unlike last time though, as I was sailing with five ships, I wasn't able to dock in the area reserved for members of House Martell or honoured guests. Well, the Windchaser could, but not the rest of my fleet. As such, we were being led, by a pilot for the harbour, to a pier able to handle the entire fleet in one go in the main trade dock.

I stood near amidships with Ymir, watching as the crew tossed the mooring lines over the side, and then saw the dockhands grasp them and begin to pull my flagship closer to the pier. Like normally, I was unwilling to wait for that though, and after placing a hand on the railing, and the other on Kaa to secure him around my shoulders, I leapt over the side.

Landing in a crouch to protect my legs, I saw the workers generally ignoring me, though a few did glance my way at Kaas' furious hissing from my sudden movement. I wasn't the only person who did that, nor the most impressive. That right, at least with my forces, belonged to Ymir who landed beside me. He might be the size of a pony, perhaps a little beyond that now, but he landed quietly with a grace and skill that no man could match.

"Show off," I muttered as he turned to face me. His head tilted to one side, tongue hanging out, and looking to all the world as nothing more than a house pet and not the massive direwolf he was.

"M-my lord." I turned to the voice and found a sandy Dornish man approaching cautiously. His clothes marked him as someone above the dockworkers, which suggested he was at least the master of this pier if not someone higher up the chain. "Ser Cregan," he continued only to stop as Ymir also turned his way and Kaa's tongue flicked out, tasting the air, "Prince Oberyn awaits you in the Dockmaster's office."

My brow rose at hearing that. While someone coming to greet me wasn't unexpected, that it was my father was. Unless he had been near the docks and been alerted to my arrival, his presence was a potential concern. "Thank you," I replied, giving the man a nod after schooling my features to hide my confusion.

The man gave a quick bow and then turned. Words were given to the various men on the pier, suggesting I had been right in my assessment of his function. Turning around, I saw the Pride of Saltbrook moving alongside the Windchaser on the other side of the dock while the Ilaerah's Luck was further back, awaiting confirmation that my flagship was secure before docking.

The two galleys were beside the latter cog, awaiting their turn to dock, and my mind once more turned to their defences. While each galley had a pair of scorpions on their bow, and the war galleys four along with two more amidships, I wanted to increase the firepower of my fleet. Beyond giving my trade vessels and flagships increased defences with some scorpions, I wanted the warships to have a greater capacity for ranged combat. The issue was finding and purchasing enough such weapons and ammunition before I left Sunspear.

While I could, in theory, simply walk into a shop that built such weapons and purchase whatever they had available, in practice I couldn't. Most of what was made was for previous orders, and while I'd left orders for a half-dozen to be constructed before I'd last sailed from Sunspear, that wasn't enough for my purposes. I'd have to hope that the workmen had the spare capacity to manufacture most, if not all, of those I required before I returned to Dustspear.

I'd also have to check with the blacksmiths and merchants to see what extra weapons I could acquire. As with the scorpions, I'd placed a small order for maces, axes, bows, shields, and the like before I'd sailed. Those should be ready, but they wouldn't be enough to outfit my much larger-than-expected forces, and it might be an issue to get enough made before we left.

While not a poor city, The Shadow City wasn't close to the resources for the manufacture of wooden or metal weapons or armour and because of that, I'd not purchased too many weapons for collection now when I'd last sailed from the city. Now, after the blitz of The Whores was over, and my fleet and army larger than I'd expected, I'd have to hope that the blacksmiths, fletchers, and the like could meet my requirements in time.

If all went well, then the ore Jeran had asked me to bring for examination would meet the standards needed. While I'd prefer to export finished weapons and tools, I'd settle for selling the resources for now. Still, with the two cogs in my fleet, and my expectation to only take one with the Windchaser to Redwater, I'd be able to run semi-regular trade voyages to and from The Shadow City. Not only would that help with establishing Northpoint as a trading location, but it would allow any that wished to move an easy way to do so. Hells, until the settlement passed three thousand, I expected I might subsidise the cost of transport for new workers, craftsmen, and their families.

The sound of metal on wood had me turning, thoughts on weapons and Northpoint slipping away, to see Daemon walking down the deck plank of the Windchaser. "My father awaits me in the Dockmaster's office," I said as he neared the pier. "Can you and Bronn do what needs to be done here?" That would be making sure the freed slaves were taken to somewhere to stay and, like those before, given some coin to start them on their way, and seeking merchants willing to purchase what we'd brought for sale.

"Aye, I think we can manage it," He replied with a smirk.

"Good, I would hate to have the Princess wonder what had befallen her sworn shield. To say nothing of my cousin," I shot back teasingly. It would take me time to fully accept Dameon's interest in Alysanne, and hers in him, but so far I'd not had reason for concern. Yes, it had barely been half a year since the issues with Daemon had been resolved, but in that time the friendship we'd had in my younger years had been restored. Strengthened even, with the continued combat where we'd fought at each other's side.

Daemon's smirk grew at the mention of Alysanne. "I suspect that the Princess will be too preoccupied by your return to notice mine," he replied with a chuckle. One that I returned. "Though before I head to the palace, I wish to explore the markets. While Lady Alysanne is not expecting a gift, and there was little we found during the recent battles that was worthy of her beauty, perhaps a small memento would not go amiss."

I nodded, biting back a remark about his intentions. That he was willing to stay the course and woo her properly, and not simply try and sweet-talk his way into her dress was a small sign he was taking their courtship seriously. Plus, he knew well that if he hurt Alysanne, then beyond having to deal with me and Ymir, Doran would be furious as she was under his protection. And that was without even mentioning Ned's response if Daemon hurt Alysanne in any way.

While, due to her real parentage, Alysanne would normally be expected to marry the first son of a major house, few knew the truth. To the outside world, as a bastard, a match with Daemon was a good one. Certainly, it was a higher standing than becoming the paramour of a high-ranking lord somewhere. That wasn't a dig at Lady Ellaria, or myself since I was officially that for Ari, but I felt Alysanne deserved more than that.

While I hoped it never happened, there was a chance that the truth of Alysanne's parentage would come out. At that point, if she was still unwed, then there would be moves to marry her to a son of various houses. Targaryen loyalists might be willing to rally around her for the throne – something more likely if her egg was ever birthed – while Baratheon and Lannister forces might want her married to someone unimportant, if not killed outright.

The only downside to letting this relationship play out, at least at the current time, was that it would place Alysanne squirely in Doran's control. For now, that seemed unimportant, but I felt Doran still held suspicions about Alysanne's parentage and could use that for whatever plans he was developing. That said, if things went even half as well as I hoped, then I had a way to remove Alysanne and Daemon from Doran's control without causing an incident, and thus get my cousin, and her potential dragon, under my control.

That, however, was a matter for the far future. For now, it was safer for all if we remained pawns in Doran's control, or, in the case of Alysanne, Beron and Wylla Manderly, loaned pieces from Ned. Even if the man preferred to not play The Game, he was a player and a very bad one at that.

"I wouldn't tarry too long," I said to Dameon, not letting my thoughts linger else he thought I disapproved of his pursuit of Alysanne. "Rumours of you spending a long time in the Shadow City, wooing every maiden you see, would break her heart and leave us in an awkward position."

Daemon threw his head back and shook it while he laughed. "While I admit that I have been known to enjoy the company of many in the City, I assure you that those days are behind me. My eyes and heart yearn for only her, which is something you cannot claim."

"No, but I'm fine with that, as is the Princess and those who join us." It wasn't a competition, but I did enjoy rubbing it in the faces of others who teased me about Ari that she wasn't the only lady in the palace to frequent my bed.

That had Daemon laughing loudly, and he clapped me on the upper arm, avoiding where Kaa was resting. "Yes, you might just be right! Now, get going," He added, the hand on my arm giving me a friendly shove. "While he has less power over us now, it is not wise to keep a Prince of Dorne waiting, especially when he is your father."

While his face stayed amused, there was the slightest inflexion in his tone when he referred to Oberyn as my father. Given the tense situation he had with his father, Ser Ryon Allyrion, the heir to Godsgrace, and that Dameon had been close to Oberyn for a long time, the tension wasn't a surprise. Hells, Daemon only spoke with Ser Ryon when the man visited Sunspear, or when as Oberyn's squire, Daemon had been to Godsgrace. From what I knew, Ser Ryon hadn't offered any words in support of Daemon's knighting, nor his position as Ari's Sworn Shield.

I nodded and clapped the arm he was pushing me with my hand. Turning from him, and after seeing Bronn near the railing aboard the Pride of Saltbrook, giving the sellsword a nod, I moved down the pier toward the docks. Kaa rested comfortably around my neck, my hand coming up to scratch him under his chin while Ymir padded along behind.

Most of the workers moved out of our way, and a few watched Ymir cautiously. While he was known to almost all in the city, many hadn't seen him in the flesh, and the large, clearly dangerous predator walking around near them had many a man nervous as we passed. What also probably didn't help was that, due to the heat of Dorne, he was panting, which left his maw and teeth longer than my fingers – including fangs which were almost as long as my hands – exposed for all to see.

"Ser Cregan!" I turned to the speaker and smiled at seeing the boy rushing toward me.

"Jekar," I said as the son of Dockmaster Stuar Blackwood came to a stop near me. "Did your father send you to greet me?"

"Yes," he replied only for his smile to slip slightly. "Well, no I, uh, volunteered. I wished to speak with Ser Daemon about, um, a private matter."

My brow rose at hearing this. While I'd seen the pair speaking when I'd last been in Dorne, I hadn't realised the pair had struck up a friendship. "He should still be with the ships," I said, gesturing along the pier. "As before we have freed slaves that need help settling in, however, I know he will have time for you."

"Thank you, my lord," Jekar replied, giving an awkward, and out-of-place bow. "My father and Prince Oberyn wait for you in Father's office." I watched as he hurried down the pier toward my ships. He'd never bowed to me before, at least not since I'd told him he didn't need to do so, but perhaps my father's presence on the docks had made him forget my words. However, his calling me a lord was something he'd never done before. I might have a holding now, but it wasn't one recognized by Dorne. At least it hadn't been before I'd left, and I hoped it still wasn't. having to kneel and swear my lands to Doran now would make the next few phases of my plans for the Stepstones extremely difficult to pull off.

There was a chance Jekar was playing nice in the hopes I'd take him as my squire. I knew there were some, including my cousin Edric Dayne, who wished for that position. However, given my young age, and the battles I would soon be in, I was reluctant to have even a page serve me, never mind a squire who'd have to follow me into battle. Still, it would help with maintaining my armour and weapons.

Putting the matter to one side, I moved through the docks, heading toward Stuar Blackwood's office. As I walked, various merchants came forth, either to flock their wares or offer gifts to myself and Ymir. Many of those gifts were meant for Ari as, while it might not be public knowledge, it seemed the Princess had been slightly melancholy for the last few moons. Some gifts offered carried words suggesting I should work to improve the heir to Sunspear's mood once I reached the palace. The gifts for Ymir were gone devoured before I'd even taken a half-dozen steps away from the merchants who'd given them.

While it was nice that the people here liked me, I knew it was more because of my connections to the Martells, with the focus on Ari and my father. While Doran and Ari were liked by the people of The Shadow City, Oberyn was loved by them. Hells, I'd seen women bring their babes to him so he might touch them as if it would offer them a blessing of luck.

I didn't have to face that, but by the time I'd reached the Dockmaster's Office, I had an armful of gifts, along with the names and faces of those who'd given them. While repaying them for the gift would be insulting, I'd find a way to ensure they received extra business from my men or the palace as thanks for the offerings.

Stuar's assistant, upon seeing me enter the office with the armful of gifts, was nice enough to help stack them on their desk. After giving the man coin to purchase a chest and ensure the items were ready for delivery to the palace when I was finished, I knocked on the Staur's door and then stepped inside.

"Back again, Ser Cregan?" Staur asked as I closed the door. Like my father, who was draped over the guest's chair in the office, he wore a wide smile. Yet there was something in Oberyn's look that concerned me. as if the source of his amusement was me, or something I'd done. The pair held goblets in their hands, and on the desk was a bottle of Dornish Red, one that, as my eyes caught the label, I knew had come from Sunspear's private stocks.

"Aye. While not as successful as my last voyage, in terms of coin and land, it was still a victory."

"Yes, I saw that when I spotted the vessels sailing behind the Windchaser," Oberyn replied, holding up his goblet in respect. "Or more accurately, my daughter and niece saw. If not for other matters, it would be they who would greet you today." The twitching of his lips, along with the widening of Stuar's smile, all but confirmed that something was up, and I was the butt of a joke I'd yet to hear.

He stood and moved toward me, leaving the goblet on Stuar's desk. "My brother will be pleased to hear of your successes," he said as he grasped my forearms, entirely unconcerned by Kaa's hissing at the sudden movement that Oberyn's actions brought to my shoulders. "And I know your mother, and others will be overjoyed at your safe return." Of everyone I knew, Oberyn was the only one entirely unafraid of Kaa or Ymir, which was in keeping with the projected devil-may-care air he had. That and, at least for Kaa, Oberyn had been drinking small quantities of the bloodflower viper's venom for years now. It might not save him if Kaa sunk his fangs in, but it granted him protection few in Westeros had.

Before I could reply, or even grasp his arms in return, he pulled me into a hug. Kaa hissed loudly, his head lifting from one shoulder to glare at the one who dared disturb his rest. When my father pulled back, he searched my eyes for something and then laughed.

"Is there perhaps a joke that I'm unaware of, father?" I asked, ignoring the sinking feeling that was growing inside. Something was up, and I worried that while Oberyn was happy about it, I might not be.

"No," Oberyn replied, as he patted my arms. "Well, yes, but it is nothing alarming, I assure you," he added as he stepped back. "Your mother for one is overjoyed, at least most of the time, and cannot wait for your return to the palace."

He moved to my side, ignoring the look of panic that I knew had raced across my face, and reached out a hand to Ymir. the direwolf moved forward, accepting the friendly scratch under his jaw. "I see Ymir has grown larger in his time away, and I sense, proved his place as a predator once again." As if understanding the praise, Ymir lifted his head slightly and shook his neck, as if he was a lion. That removed the concern from my face and drew another bout of laughter from my father.

"He has indeed, father."

"Good. Now come, the palace awaits."

I was gently dragged to the door by Oberyn, but as I moved I looked back at Stuar. "My men freed more slaves on this voyage. Your son is likely there still speaking with Ser Daemon."

Staur nodded, his smile growing at the mention of Daemon. "I shall have men meet and escort your guests to lodging in the city." I gave a nod of thanks, but no reply could be given as I was out of the office a moment later.

"Have the chest delivered to me," I said, managing to toss a Silver Stag to the assistant before my father had me outside the Dockmaster's building.

"Come along," Oberyn said as he moved to mount a horse waiting for him. Another was brought to me by a guard who'd ridden with him. "Our family and others are most eager to hear of your latest adventures. Indeed, since the Windchaser was sighted nearing the city, there has been a veritable buzz around the palace."

Oberon laughed loudly, no doubt at the growing sense of fear within me. something was definitely up, and while I was concerned about what it was, I knew it wasn't anything fateful. At least not in the sense that I'd soon be heading to Ghaston Grey or The Wall. Whatever it was that awaited me in the palace. So, pushing aside my reluctance, I rode beside my father; Ymir taking the lead and clearing a path for us.

… …

… …

A/N: Yes, a bit of a cliff-hanger, but that was a good place to cend things.

The Standard Trait was chosen by my supporters while the Special Trait was picked by myself and MandTeKad based on the direction we wish to take the story.

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This story is cross-posted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own and Royal Road.


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