My thanks to MandTeKad who serves as a sounding board and beta for this and my other stories.

To those on the story's Discord server for checking the chapter about 2 weeks ago for any mistakes that might have slipped through. Hopefully, all of them have been corrected.

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NOTICE: Sorry for the delay on the chapter. First personal issues came up, and then one of the other sites I posted to complained about my Star Wars story breaking their rules when most of those rules are jokes and ignored by 99% of the stories they have on the site. Hells, I suspect they'll complain about the first scene here given the ages of the characters in question...


35: Unexpected Additions

… …

(Circa 297AC)

"Well?" Asha demanded as she stood across from me, one arm draped protectively over her belly. "Don't you have anything to say?!" I looked at her, my eyes drifting from her face to her stomach and back as I tried to process what she'd just revealed.

When Oberyn, who was in the room with my mother and their paramour Ellaria Sand, had met me at the docks, and been excited about something, I'll admit I feared I'd impregnated Ari. This, however, was both better and worse, as while I'd not left Ari with an unexpected surprise, I'd done so to Asha Greyjoy.

That it was her that would carry my child, and not Ari and Nym was a shock, as while she was a regular in my bed, the other two were the more insistent that I fuck them, with Asha often preferring to enjoy her time with whichever one I wasn't directly fucking. At least during those times when we weren't all going at it as a group.

"Um, congratulations?" I replied, my mind not quite catching what I was about to say before the words had slipped from my mouth. Asha stepped toward me as I understood my mistake, and a moment later I took a step back. "Oh," I muttered, one hand coming up to rub my jaw where she'd punched me, as I turned my head back toward her. Normally, I'd have stopped that and then pulled her close before distracting her in certain ways, but it was that behaviour that had possibly resulted in her carrying my child.

"That is what you have to say?! Why you…" she took another step toward me, though I shuffled back quickly, my hands coming up to defend myself from the understandably upset woman.

"I think," my mother began as she stepped closer and I turned, readying myself to block Asha's next attack, "that Cregan is simply overwhelmed by shock at this surprise." I nodded as my mother slipped between us, hoping to ease some of the fury in Asha's eyes. A faint, stifled chuckle drew my attention for a moment, and I saw Ellaria had a hand over her mouth. While she was trying to restrain her amusement, Oberyn wore a smile that they'd likely be able to see in King's Landing.

"Yes," I said, returning my full attention to the furious, but gorgeous, Ironborn lady who was glaring daggers at me. "I mean, when my father met me at the docks, I was unsure what had him so amused. This," I gestured toward her, "was not what I was expecting. Not that I am upset," I continued, not wanting Asha to get the wrong idea, "I simply was not expecting to be a father yet." My words seemed to soothe some of Asha's rage, and I wondered if she feared that I might choose to abandon our child. Even ignoring that Oberyn would have my head – possibly both of them – for such an action, I wouldn't. I could already feel a need to protect the progeny growing in her belly, though other matters kept that sensation down.

"Do, we, um, have to contact Lord Victarion or Lord Rodrik Harlaw?" I asked as Asha continued to cool. With Balon dead, Victarion was the head of House Greyjoy while The Reader was Lord of the Iron Islands. That said, from the few details I'd heard about how things were going with the Ironborn, Lord Rodrik was struggling to maintain control as he wasn't a hard follower of the Drowned God nor the Ironborn way.

"Fuck no!" Asha replied though I couldn't be sure if the venom in her tone was directed at me for my suggestion or the two lords I'd named. From what she'd said on the occasions we talked, she liked her uncle, Lord Rodrik, having fostered there as a child, and wasn't against Lord Victarion as head of House Greyjoy. That said, she did feel that right should go to her, an urge that Ari and Nym supported even though I knew she could never inherit. "Leave my family," that word sounded almost like a curse, "out of this!"

I wondered if she would perhaps be forced to marry some old Ironborn lord as a way to secure their alliance for Lord Victarion. If that were the case, I knew I'd need to instigate a duel to ensure it didn't happen. Not because it was the Ironborn way, but because she, like Nym and Ari, were mine and I'd remove the hand and head of any man who touched them.

"Unfortunately, we cannot," Oberyn cut in, his mirth fading away. "While your uncle had no choice in you becoming a ward of House Martell, the change in your condition is one he must be informed of." he moved closer and gestured toward Asha's belly. "I regret even more that because it was a decree from King's Landing that made you our ward, they must also be made aware of the situation. It is unlikely that they will order you returned to the Iron Islands, but we cannot attempt to hide the matter."

I noted that, as normal, my father refused to refer to Robert as King, instead choosing to talk of the capital as the throne. It was a subtle change; one few had picked up on – or at least commented on in my presence – but a smart way to handle matters of the realm without addressing House Martell's grudges toward Houses Lannister and Baratheon.

"This is all your fucking fault," Asha groaned as she looked at me, weariness in her tone.

"Before I last sailed to Dustspear, I seem to recall that it was you and Nym that dragged me to bed," I fired back with a smirk. That angered Asha and she took a step toward me, the passion that drew me to her on full display.

"You little," she began as she neared, but my mother was still between us. As she managed to slide around my mother, I moved forward.

Grasping her raised hand, I pulled her closer. "My apologies for my words," I said as my other hand slid around her back, though I made sure to not pull her too tightly against me, just enough that the arm over her belly couldn't do much in retaliation. "I spoke with the intent of inflaming your fire, which serves no purpose here. Merely my father's influence."

"Leave me out of this," I heard Oberyn say, but my focus was on Asha, and the storm raging in her eyes. I hadn't expected to bed her, but now that I had, even without her carrying my child, I knew I wasn't going to let go. Her passion, her rage spoke to me – both the Wolfsblood and the Dragon's Flames – and I'd kill any that tried to take her from my side.

"But you do share the blame, darling. Cregan has seen and learnt this from you," Ellaria offered even as the rage in Asha's eyes shifted, moving from fury to desire as she saw how I looked at her. "Along with the tendency to bed women he should not."

"Well," Oberyn began with a chuckle, "I suppose you are correct there, my dear lady."

"Lady Ellaria and I are always right, dear husband," my mother commented even as I pulled Asha closer, wanting to taste and claim her once again. The Ironborn girl licked her lips as the hand I'd grasped to stop her from striking me pressed against my chest.

I glanced at my parents and Ellaria. The trio were looking at us with expressions that mixed amusement, pride, and joy, and I knew all three were about to comment on how I now held Asha. "Look," I said, turning back to the Greyjoy, "I know this," my hand that had earlier grasped her to protect myself drifted lower, settling on her hand over her belly as I spoke softly to her, "was never planned, and I am far from ready to be a parent but, no matter what comes, I will do all I can to protect and raise them beside you."

"I expect that, you ass," she shot back, though with none of the venom that had been there minutes before. "And I will be carrying this to birth." I felt the hand on her belly begin to slowly move around. "I have no choice. The moon tea failed, and it's been nearly three moons since we…."

"Fucked like rabbits?"

"Oberyn!" My mother snapped, slapping her husband on his upper arm.

"What? Am I wrong," he shot back with a growing smirk. "And if I remember, you complained about the noise coming from my niece's room. At least on the nights where it does not seem to excite you or Ellaria." He winked as he finished, though I groaned, dropping my head onto Asha's shoulder even as she buried her head into my chest.

"Gods," I muttered into her clothes, "Can you please stop?"

"Why?" he shot back, and I turned my head to find him smiling like a maniac. "Today is a glorious day," He added, spreading his arms wide and encompassing my mother and Ellaria. "I have another grandchild on the way, and I shall be present for the birth this time!"

I grunted, understanding that. Obara had borne Benjen two children that we knew of; Torrhen and Meria, though both had been born in the North. We'd met Torrhen when we'd last been in the North, with Meria being born near the end of the year after we'd left Winterfell.

"I know it is too early to consider names," My mother said slowly, a smile spreading across her face as she looked at me and Asha, "but while you are in Sunspear I hope you might think of some. It is custom in Dorne for the name of a son to be chosen by the father, and the daughter by the mother. With your campaign in the Stepstones, we cannot be sure if you will be here for the birth."

I looked at Asha. "If I can manage it, I shall be here. But before I go, I will leave some names with you all," I continued turning my focus back to Asha. "I know this was never planned," Asha snorted at that, "but it seems the Gods have decided to make us their playthings." I already knew the Gods, or whatever was posing as Gods, and the powers that had brought me here, were doing that but no one needed to hear that. "Regardless of how we ended up here, I swear by the Old Gods, that I will do all I can to help you raise and protect our child." I was just repeating what I'd said earlier, but this time I was making it clear to all that I had no intent of abandoning my child, be they bastard or trueborn. That might be acceptable to some, but even without being raised by Oberyn, I'd never allow it.

"Good," Asha replied, offering me the first smile since she'd revealed her pregnancy. "I… Even if I had the choice, I feel I want to carry this child to term. I am not sure what sort of mother I might be…"

"Brilliant."

"… but I know you will make a good father," she finished, her smile growing at my faith in her. "We will teach them, be they boy or girl, how to fight on land and sea, and be ready for all this world may throw at them." Her hand came up and she jabbed a finger into my chest. "But do not think for one second that this means I want to marry you."

"Thank the Gods for that," I shot back with a chuckle. "I fear I would not survive the bedding."

"Probably not," Asha agreed after chuckling. "However, I would make sure you died a happy man." She gave me one of those wicked, dangerous smiles that I adored and set my passion racing.

Asha wasn't a traditional beauty like Arianne, Nym, or even Ty, but she was far from unattractive or unappealing. There was a fire, a desire in her that called to me, and like a moth to a flame, I couldn't resist it. The child she carried wasn't intended, but it was mine and I'd burn the world and everything in it, if any threatened my child. Not even the Gods would stop me from moving heaven and earth to protect my progeny.

… …


… …

(Doran Martell's POV)

As he waited patiently in his solar for Cregan to arrive, Doran cast his mind l, going over how the bastard of Brandon Stark and Ashara Dayne had changed things. Doran had predicted some, but not all of those changes, and yet, as he looked over the young knight's life, Doran found little that didn't in some way advance the plans he and Oberyn had.

Doran chuckled, remembering how, when he'd first heard of the northern bastard, he had wondered if it might be possible to ensure Cregan became Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. It wouldn't have taken much to have Ashara swear that they were married in front of a weirwood. However, that idea had been discarded almost instantly. The Usurper sat on the throne, and Eddard Stark had been confirmed by the false king as Warden of the North, and given all that Ser Cregan had altered in Dorne from those early days in the Usurper's reign, Doran now found himself glad that Ser Cregan was baseborn for he feared what changes the young knight might've brought if left to rule the North instead of shape things in Dorne.

Returning to Lord Eddard, Doran felt no anger toward the current Lord of Winterfell. He respected him for standing up against an unjust decree, and that respect had grown when Doran learned of the Lord of Winterfell's reaction to the brutal actions of the Lannisters and their men in King's Landing on the day it fell to the Usurper. The sheer audacity of the Lannisters filled Doran with a simmering rage. If their roles had been reversed, and King Aenys had called for Doran's head, Doran would've rebelled. Seven hells, if not for Elia and her children being held hostage in the capital, Doran would never have sent Dornish men to fight for the Mad King. The thought of his kin dying in such a pointless conflict stoked the anger that lay just beneath his composed exterior.

With the war over, Doran had to work on weakening the Alliance between the Starks, Arryns, Lannisters, and Baratheons, and when Lord Eddard returned to the North – after returning Dawn to House Dayne – Doran had his way to begin the process. Cregan and the connection Lord Eddard felt toward his nephew, going so far as to send his brother Benjen to Starfall, had opened that door further than Doran would ever have been able to do otherwise.

While there had been some unfortunate events brought forth by the connection to the North, the obvious example being when Doran had almost lost his daughter and the future queen of Westeros to the Ironborn, it had generally worked in Dornish favour. Even that incident had benefited Dorne, as by fighting beside the Usurper against a common foe, it gave the impression to Lord Jon Arryn that Dorne accepted the stag on the Iron Throne when that would never be the case.

Through Cregan, Dornish influence had grown in the North. Obara was wed to Benjen Stark, and through him, controlled Moat Cailin, the only land route into the North from the South. Doran had not enjoyed needing the seal of the Usurper to have Obara named a Martell, but it was but one small part of the larger plan to remove the Baratheons and Lannisters from their false positions. Dornish influence in the North was only growing stronger as the second son of Lord Eddard, along with his bastard daughter and one of the grandchildren of the Lord of White Harbour – who was now a major trade partner of Dorne – was fostering in Sunspear. With the confirmation of the betrothal of Beron Stark to Wylla Manderly, Doran now had more influence with and respect from their Lords which would be useful when war next came to Westeros.

Another change Ser Cregan had brought about was with Oberyn. The marriage of his brother to the sister of Lord Aldric Dayne had secured the support of one of the major houses of Dorne while showing that they wouldn't be ignored because of their connections to the Targaryens. Doran could still recall Elia's letters where she spoke of Ashara, and how she saw the daughter of House Dayne as the younger sister she'd never had. Hells, Elia had even, at one time, considered having Aegon squire for the then Ser Alebert, heir to Starfall. That hadn't happened, but by approving the match – after ensuring with Oberyn that it was one he deserved – Doran had secured the loyalty of the Daynes and, through them, the western edge of Dorne for when the Targaryens returned to Westeros. It had also brought forth a useful change in Oberyn.

Both Doran and his brother desired revenge for what had happened to Elia and her children, Yet, while Doran was happy for Oberyn to be the wild, attention-drawing brother while he worked in from the long grass readying to strike, Cregan and Lady Ashara had, along with Ellaria Sand helped distract Oberyn from any rash action, Cregan might not share blood with House Martell, but he was every inch Oberyn's son, and over the last few years had settled well into the role as the son of the Red Viper. Going so far as to play on that title for the one he used to assault and capture Dustspear.

The next change, and the one Doran most approved of even if, as things were progressing it might well become the most difficult to control, was the one that Arianne had undergone. For many years she had been difficult, particularly when Doran's wife, Lady Mellario had returned to Norvos. Yet, after first taking Cregan to her bed, Arianne had become more focused and dedicated to learning how to rule, even going so far as to offer suggestions to Doran's Council.

That would be needed when it was time to wed her to Viserys Targaryen and have her take her place as queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Doran feared that when that time came, removing the Bloody Wolf from his daughter's side would be tricky, yet, with the great gift Ser Cregan had brought and continued to bring to House Martell, it was a problem Doran was allowing, and even, however dangerous it might be, to grow.

The heritage of House Nymeros Martell, brought to them by Princess Nymeria of the Rhoynar, and long thought lost, had been returned to them by Cregan. While Doran could not now, and likely never would in their lifetimes, be able to publicly thank the Bloody Wolf for the gift of returning the magic of the Rhoynar to the last of its royal blood it was something Doran wished he could do. Until then, he would support Cregan in his plans, be that in the Stepstones as he worked to expand the reach of Sunspear, or in fostering bonds with the next generation of Northern nobles.

Of the three Northerners fostering in Sunspear, it was not the now betrothed pair of Beron Stark and Wylla Manderly that held most of Doran's interest, but the bastard, Alysanne Snow. Cregan and Lady Ashara had both sworn to the Gods that they did not believe the girl was anything but Lord Eddard's bastard. Doran, however, was uncertain if he believed them. Lord Eddard was, unlike the Usurper, Brandon Stark, or Oberyn before he settled down, not one to seek comfort outside his marriage.

That he would, between King's Landing and Starfall, move to collect his bastard daughter and take her north was an odd move. Doran had placed it to one side, not thinking about it again until the bastard arrived in his throne room. The actions that had led to Alysanne Snow being in his court were troublesome, so much so that Tyene Sand had been dispatched to Oldtown to serve a year and a day with the Silent Sisters. However, it had not only strengthened the bond Doran had forged with Lord Eddard, as the Warden of the North had approved of the punishment given to Tyene but placed the probable daughter to Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark in his hands.

Yet, for all that Doran was slowly suspecting that Alysanne was indeed the daughter of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, he knew she was no threat to his plans. The Seven Kingdoms had made clear several times over the centuries that they would not follow a Queen on the Iron Throne. Still, Alysanne might have some role to play in events to come.

When she had first arrived in Sunspear, Doran had thought she, like his daughter and others, would find herself under the sway of Ser Cregan. However, in an unexpected but useful development, it seemed her attention had, with Cregan's blessing, shifted to Arianne's sworn shield: Daemon Sand.

Even if she was never confirmed as the daughter of Rhaegar, a match to Ser Daemon was a good one. As bastards, neither had much opportunity to rise far in the world, as it should be. Add in that Ser Daemon was loyal to House Martell, and Alysanne was under Arianne's wing, then a potential threat to the Targaryens, when they returned, had been turned into a possible tool.

Lord Eddard had, if Doran's suspicions were correct, gone to extreme lengths, including besmirching his honour, to protect his sister's only child. If it were ever revealed that Alysanne was a daughter of the dragon, the Usurper would want her dead, which Doran knew Lord Eddard would never allow. Doran did not expect the North to rise in support of the Targaryens when they returned, but having them remain at best out of the war, and at least reluctant allies of the Baratheons and Lannisters, weakened the Usurper's base.

Doran allowed himself a gentle chuckle as he considered the way several pieces had fallen under his control, and every one of them could, to varying degrees, be traced to Cregan. The greatest of those pieces was the return of magic to House Nymeros Martell. Yes, it seemed Cregan believed the Starks could regain their magic, but in The Great Game, the ability of water magic was a more powerful tool than being able to enter and control the mind of a beast. The fact Doran no longer needed even a stick to move around was, to him, proof of that.

Yet, for all the changes that now benefited him, there was one thing that continued to concern Doran. That was how, by comparison, his son Quentyn paled in comparison to the bastard. Lord Anders wrote frequently, speaking in glowing terms of Quentyn's growth and maturity, even hinting that his daughter Gwyneth would make a fine match for the boy. The problem was that from spies Doran and Oberyn maintained in Yronwood, Doran knew that while Quentyn was improving, Cregan had long ago left him behind, leaving Quentyn choking on the dust of the steed taking the bastard to glory. From the more recent reports Doran had read, Quentyn had learnt of Cregan's growing fame and had grown to resent the boy for it.

When it came time to wed Arianne to Viserys Targaryen and have Quentyn named heir to Sunspear, Doran would need a way to either remove Cregan from the board or ensure he was kept clear of his children. Or at least his older ones. That was why he was awaiting the young knight today, as while the plan was in its infancy, Ser Cregan's focus on the Stepstones presented Doran was a way to shift his pieces around without, hopefully, having to sacrifice one that had grown from a simple soldier into a useful knight and commander. That said, even if Cregan fell in the Steps, Dustspear could be taken and maintained by Sunspear while the carnage and chaos of Ser Cregan's campaign would weaken the strength of the pirates there when it came time for Viserys to return and claim the Iron Throne.

Doran looked at the goblet of wine on his desk, and with his musing over and time until Cregan arrived, he lifted a hand. While he lacked the skill of his daughter or the creativity of his brother, Doran was still a water mage, and the wine floated upwards into the air, slowly taking on the shape of a snake. Oberyn might be the Red Viper, but it wasn't the loud, bright snake that should concern someone but the quiet one that moved slowly and unseen until it was ready to strike.

A knock at the door turned Doran's attention to the matter at hand, and after lowering his hand and having the wine snake return to the goblet, he spoke. "Enter."

The door was pushed open, the large frame of Aero Hotah being the first Doran saw. The man had come from Norvos with Lady Mellario, but when Doran's wife had returned home over their disagreement over Quentyn's fostering with Lord Anders and Arianne serving as cupbearer of the former Sealord of Braavos, Aero had remained. Doran had asked Aero why he'd remained and the Norvosi had explained that he'd done so to ensure the safety of Arianne.

As the door opened further, the young man Doran had been expecting, stepped forward and Doran looked over Ser Cregan. He wore a loose shirt, purple to draw attention to the eyes that came from his mother, and open enough to bare most of his chest. Over his shoulders, Ser Cregan wore a cloak of black, and Doran knew it would be emblazoned with the sigil created for the young knight by Arianne and Alysanne Snow.

Most bastards chose to either invert the colours of the parent that came from a noble house, or quarter a standard that used the sigils of both parents if each was trueborn. Arianne and Alysanne had created something different, and yet there was little Doran could find to fault their creation. Perhaps it was a touch overly dramatic, but the choice to represent each of the houses Ser Cregan was connected to was a fine one. As was basing the direwolf that dominated the sigil around Ymir, the black of the wolf matching Ser Cregan's hair for shade if not intensity, while the piercing blue eyes of the massive beast drew attention to the centre of the sigil.

As Doran knew Cregan wouldn't marry Arianne, he prayed daily that his daughter would not bring forth a bastard with the Bloody Wolf, he was relieved that his prayers had been heard and answered. His daughter was not carrying Ser Cregan's child, and for that he was grateful. That dubious honour had fallen to Lady Asha Greyjoy. While House Greyjoy no longer ruled the Iron Islands, Lord Rodrik Harlaw did, and he was Lady Asha's uncle. Because of that, Ser Cregan now had connections, albeit tenuous ones, to three houses with influence over different sections of the Seven Kingdoms.

Doran had sent ravens to Lord Rodrik, Lord Victarion Greyjoy, and Lord Jon Arryn in King's Landing telling them of Lady Asha's condition. No reply was expected from Lord Victarion, as the man had not responded to a single raven sent with details of his niece's time in Sunspear, but Doran knew Lord Rodrik would respond and, because it was the Throne that had made Asha Greyjoy a ward of House Martell, he expected something from King's Landing as well.

"You summoned me, my Prince?" Ser Cregan asked once he was halfway to Doran's desk.

"I have," Doran replied, "please be seated." As Ser Cregan moved forward, Doran gave Aero a nod, letting the Captain of the Guards know he could close the door. "I do hope I have not pulled you from anything important?" He asked once the young knight was seated.

"No, My Prince. I was just spending time with Lady Asha and my mother," Ser Cregan replied. "Might I presume that her condition is why I have been summoned?"

"It was. At least in the main," Doran replied, drawing a nod of understanding from the Bloody Wolf. Young he might be, but Cregan had a keen mind, one Doran had helped shape and nurture over the years through cyvasse and discussions while a game was played. "Privately, I am sure you can determine another reason why we are speaking in my solar."

"Without overstepping, I suspect you wish to know my intentions for the Stepstones after my recent campaign."

"Yes, that is another reason why I summoned you, and one we shall get to in due course," Doran replied, leaning back in his seat. Ser Cregan's brow creased, meaning he was entirely unaware of Doran's primary reason for the summons, which was something Doran was going to enjoy. "First though, I should ask how you and Lady Asha are handling the change in circumstances."

Ser Cregan laughed, though it lacked some humour. "As well as could be expected, My Prince, though, with a night to ponder the matter, I am certain now that I look forward to being a father and being able to guide my child."

"Words every parent should speak and hold true," Doran commented, remembering people – highborn and lowborn alike – who didn't heed those words. "Will this change your plans for the future?"

"No, My Prince. If anything, it has me more committed than ever."

"Good." Doran nodded, pleased at those words.

His Seneschal, Ricasso had told him over their morning briefing that the wood and stone brought from Dustspear had the potential to be of immense value to Sunspear. Or at least that was what the Master builder and blacksmith had told Ricasso last night when summoned to the palace after examining the samples Ser Cregan had brought from Dustspear.

The cost of importing quality timber and iron from elsewhere was something that held the Shadow City back from growing as quickly as Doran wished. While Dustspear was a fledgling colony, it was another source of resources to be brought in, and Doran knew favourable terms would be easy to gain from Cregan.

"Are you aware that I have sent ravens to Lady Asha's uncles as well as King's Landing?"

"Yes, My Prince. My father explained that yesterday, and while Asha is perhaps more set against informing others of her condition, I know you could not avoid the matter." Ser Cregan's expression dropped slightly as he continued. "I only wish my father had been less… jovial about the matter than he was."

Doran chuckled and picked up his goblet. "Yes, my brother has been amused at becoming a grandfather again ever since Maester Caleotte confirmed Lady Asha's condition."

"Understandable, My Prince," Ser Cregan replied as Doran took a sip of his wine. "Though I fear how the Throne or Lord Rodrik might react."

"I do not believe you have much to fear there," Doran answered as he lowered his goblet. "Lord Rodrik, nor Lord Victarion Greyjoy, has any power to demand Lady Asha's return. As for the Throne, I do not believe The Hand of the King will pass the matter along to the Small Council or the Iron Throne. Even if he did, from what I have heard of our King," Doran disliked calling the Usurper by that title, but it was always wise to pretend he submitted to the rule of the Baratheons when speaking with any bar his brother, "he would be impressed more than insulted that you placed a child into Lady Asha."

Ser Cregan made a face, though no comment came to explain it. Doran was certain the young knight held a similar position regarding the Usurper and his Lannister backers as Doran and Oberyn held. However, he was not going to press on the matter until the time was right, if it ever was, to bring the knight in on the plans he had for the Seven Kingdoms.

"Lady Asha and her brother, Theon, might be wards of Sunspear and Winterfell respectfully, but their placement was determined by the Throne, not by the houses involved. To overturn that decision would undermine the authority of the Throne; something the Hand of the King will work diligently to ensure does not occur."

"That is a relief, My Prince. While Asha and I have no intent to marry, we want to raise our child together."

Doran nodded, accepting the words. It was an unusual situation, but with Cregan being a bastard, the chances of a marriage to a highborn lady such as Asha Greyjoy – even if many in the Seven Kingdoms didn't consider the Ironborn noble – were slim. In most cases, after the child was born, or perhaps even before, a marriage would be arranged for Lady Asha to an elder Lord or highborn knight who would not complain about having a soiled lady as their bride.

"Then I shall offer prayers to the Gods, New and Old, that your child is born strong and your wishes for them granted."

"Thank you, My Prince." Cregan lowered his head at Doran's words, though Doran knew the young knight would not want the prayers to go to the Seven. Cregan, like the Northerners who now resided in Sunspear, worshipped the Old Gods. Septon Dontar considered their beliefs in the Old Gods heretical and had demanded the boy be converted, or sent away after Oberyn had married Lady Ashara. A subtle threat to summon Lord Eddard Stark by Lady Ashara – and an implication he might take the matter to the Iron Throne – had ended the Septon's public demands, though Doran knew Dontar still spoke out against the Old Gods during sermons.

Eventually, it could be an issue, but with Cregan's star rising, and the support of himself, his brother and daughter, Doran knew there was little Septon Dontar could do to alter the opinion of Sunspear's court. Still, some Lords and Ladies had expressed, if not concern, then worried interest, about the influence of the Old Gods within Dorne.

"Before we turn to speaking of your recent campaign, and plans for your next one, I wonder if you have perhaps given any thought to taking on a page or squire?"

Ser Cregan's eyes widened for a moment, making clear the question had caught him unaware. "I… I had not, My Prince, at least beyond start thoughts. Beyond my age and relatively new knighthood, what I have done, and will be doing, to secure Dornish interests, makes me reluctant to consider either position. It might leave me needing to pay my men to clean and prepare my armour and weaponry, but at least they chose to follow me into battle. A situation I am unsure I would wish to offer to one unknown to the horrors of combat."

"Your intent is a fine one and does you credit, Ser," Doran commented, drawing a nod of appreciation from the young man as he showed another hint of intelligence and thoughtfulness that Doran had found lacking in many of the Lords and Ladies of Dorne. To say nothing of those from beyond the Red Mountains. "However, while a boy becoming a squire or page might not truly comprehend the dangers of war, their fathers do, and it is they that have the final say on with whom a boy will train." He paused there, letting the matter sit for a moment and took another sip from his goblet. Cregan waited quietly, as Doran wanted, though he made no move to drink from the goblet prepared for him. "While you are newly knighted and young, your star is rising in my court, Ser Cregan. Your return this time might not match that from taking Dustspear," Doran glanced to one side, indicating the shelf where the skull of the Grim Prince rested, "however, you have coin, prestige, and influence that many would hope to exploit by having you take their son as a page or squire. Such as the dockmaster of the Shadow City."

Ser Cregan took a moment, going over the point before he replied. "Jekar is a smart boy, My Prince, and I understand he trains with others, including your son Trystane, in the yard. However, I believed he had more intention to become a sailor than a knight."

Doran allowed a faint smile to creep onto his face. Once more Cregan was displaying an intellect and wisdom far beyond his years. That had Doran relieved that he had not gone through with his plan to make the boy the Lord of Winterfell. From all he had heard, Lord Eddard had done well in the role, but it was clear he was focused more on maintaining the North than advancing it, to say nothing about preparing it for the next war whenever that came.

"Do you, perhaps, my Prince, have a candidate in mind for me to consider?"

Doran's smile grew as Ser Cregan understood where he was being led, but laid the groundwork to deny Doran's suggestion. "I do. Two have been brought to me and while both names might have crossed your mind, I am uncertain if you gave them the consideration they deserved." Doran leaned forward, wanting to observe Ser Cregan's reaction to the names. "How would you feel about taking Edric Dayne as a squire," Ser Cregan seemed to freeze even as Doran continued, "or perhaps my son, Trystane?"

"My Prince?"

Doran leaned back and laughed, enjoying the shock that covered Ser Cregan's face. Bastard he might be, but the young man was hard to catch unawares, and those few times Doran or Oberyn had, he'd recovered quickly. Seeing him lost for such a long moment at the names Doran had put forward was something Doran would enjoy telling Oberyn of when they next spoke.

He would also speak with his brother about enhancing Ser Cregan's education toward unexpected information. While he was now recovering, the surprise and shock made clear that the names had not been ones Ser Cregan had considered deeply. If the Gods remained on his side, Ser Cregan had a role to play in events to come, and Doran needed the young knight – and possibly future Lord – to learn to school his reaction to shocks better, else those better trained in playing The Game would be able to exploit him. Just as Doran was doing now.

"Is there something about my suggestions that offends you, Ser Cregan?"

"No, My Prince!" Ser Cregan's reply was swift, showing even unbalanced, he wasn't out of the game. "It is simply that… the names you suggested were not, as you said, been deeply considered by myself."

"But you had thought about taking the boys?"

"Yes, My Prince. Edric is heir to Starfall, and thus will one day be one of the most powerful Lords in Dorne while your son is a Prince of Dorne. It's just that, to be blunt, My Prince, I am a bastard. Taking either as a squire would insult their houses, and those who had also hoped to take the boys as squires to secure friendships and alliances with Houses Dayne and Martell."

"If you were but a simple bastard, with no fame, name, or fortune, what you have said would be true. However, you have all three. You are a bastard of a Great House and another House with good standing, you have earned honour and glory before you were a page, and as a knight, have moved to earn a name worthy of the title you bear. A Stark by blood you may be, but you are the Bloody Wolf of Dorne and a knight whose name and glory, as I have said, are rising high in my court. Many beyond the red sands might fail to see your skill, valour, and vision, but I do."

"You honour me with your words, My Prince," Ser Cregan responded, and Doran wondered how he would deflect the attention and the offer. "I would be honoured to simply consider your son or Edric as my squire. However, I must remind you, My Prince, that I will soon be entering battle against men with little honour or civility. Taking either boy into such a situation is a risk I am uncertain I am willing to consider."

"Having a page or squire enter battle is a concern every knight, at least those who are worthy of the title, has to consider." Doran's thoughts raced to the mad dog of Tywin Lannister. One day, Gregor Clegane would pay for what he did to dear Elia, but that was not today. "Your plans for Redwater, and I suspect for all the Stepstones, are bold, and will see you and any man with you, be they knight, sellsword, or squire, placed in danger. That said, I have faith in your plans, and your desire to protect your men from needless death, as befits a good commander."

If Cregan was caught out by Doran hinting that he might become the Lord of Dustspear or even the Stepstones, he didn't show it. "I am honoured by your faith in my ability to lead, My Prince."

Doran's lips twitched. Ser Cregan had caught the suggestion that he might become a Lord but was smart enough to not dwell on it when other matters were at hand. "The honour is mine for having your allegiance. The taking of Dustspear and the defeat of the Grim Prince has proven your worth to the entire court. The offer to take Edric and Trystane as squires is a way for myself, and Dorne, to reward and recognise your actions, and make clear to all your importance to House Nymeros Martell."

Ser Cregan lowered his head, accepting the praise, though when it rose Doran caught a flicker of confusion in the young knight's eyes. "Forgive me, My Prince, but squires? As in both of them?"

Doran's smile grew. "Yes. I understand your confusion, while it is not uncommon for a knight, especially one from a powerful and rich house, to have multiple squires and pages at the same time, for one born a bastard, it is. Taking both, which I hope you shall do, is a sign to all regardless of your birth status, you have importance and influence within Dorne." Doran lifted his goblet and took another sip. "While young Edric is my page, even with the improvement in my health," he lifted his goblet toward Ser Cregan, thanking the man for the help with that issue, "I will be unable to take him as a squire and see to his training. I have spoken to Edric of this several times in the last year, and each time when asked for another to squire for, your name is the first he mentions."

"I am honoured he thinks highly of me, but I fear his father, Lord Aldric, would not approve of the change. Lady Joenne more so because I might be seen as a threat to her child becoming Lord of Starfall."

Doran chuckled as he placed the goblet back on his desk. "Thanks to your mother, I'm aware of your goodaunt's concerns about your status and religious choices, however, the choice is not hers. Thanks to the efforts of your parents, and young Edric I suspect, Lord Aldric has granted his permission for you to take Edric if you so desire. With his second son serving as a page for Lord Beric Dondarrion and two more children, he feels the dangers of sending Edric with you is acceptable."

"Then I would be honoured to train the next Lord of Starfall," Ser Cregan replied; a flicker of something unspoken in his eyes. "However, I have concerns about training your son. Though he is not in line to inherit Sunspear, he is a Prince of Dorne. The honour of taking a prince as a squire is one I feel I may not be worthy of in comparison to others."

"Many have spoken to me about the chance to train Trystane. Do you perhaps feel unworthy because you lack the land and title compared to the Lords of Westeros?" Ser Cregan nodded slowly, a hint of uncertainty in his eyes.

Doran suspected that the young knight was being careful, lest he think Doran believed he was hoping to be made the Lord of Dustspear. Doran could, in theory, make him so, but he would not, at least not yet. Placing part of the Stepstones under the control of Sunspear would bring the wrath of many of the Free Cities, as well as King's Landing. While plans existed to remove the Usurper, they were far from ready to begin, and as such Doran had to be careful with each step he made.

"Then you undersell yourself once again, Ser. Young you might be, but your mind is sharper than many Lords and Ladies three times your age. Your skill with the blade is, when age considered, impressive, and your ability to plan and command actions with an ability to see beyond the immediate area hints at an advanced understanding of warfare." Doran leaned forward, his hand moving toward his goblet. "There is, also, as you have shown others in my family, something I feel you are uniquely qualified to teach my son." As he spoke, the remaining wine in the goblet rose into the air, moving around to ensure it caught Ser Cregan's gaze.

"The magic of the Rhoynar is not exactly my speciality, My Prince," Ser Cregan replied, his hand lifting as a small firebird appeared in his palm. "Either your daughter or brother would be more suitable for his magical training."

Doran nodded, lowering his hand, and returning the wine to the goblet. "Perhaps," he began as Ser Cregan flicked his fingers out, dispelling the firebird, "but my daughter could only train her brother in magic, not the other areas that are required for a knight. As for my brother, adding Trystane to him, when he already has your cousin as a squire, carries the risk of insulting your uncle in Winterfell." Doran knew Cregan would know that was flimsy reasoning, but he was also intelligent enough to not attempt to correct Doran's comment.

"Yes, My Prince."

Doran's smile grew once again. "Good," he said, leaning back fully into his seat. It was clear Ser Cregan was accepting of taking both boys as squires – mages too if Edric had any of Cregan's skill with magic though Doran hoped that was not to be the case – but the decision had to be his and not Doran's. "I understand your reluctance to consider, to say nothing of taking, one or both boys as squires. However, before you reach a final decision, might I suggest observing and speaking with the pair to determine their interest? They should, if I have the time right, be in the yard beginning their morning training under the eye of Ser Orland."

"Yes, My Prince."

Doran nodded, signalling that the meeting was over. "We shall speak again tomorrow," Doran said as Ser Cregan moved toward the door. "Consider your choice of which boy, or both, you shall take, and we will also discuss your next campaign."

"Yes, My Prince," Ser Cregan replied again with another bow.

Doran watched the young knight leave his solar before turning his thoughts to the near future. Cregan would take both boys as squires; Doran was certain of that. To do otherwise would insult Lord Aldric and himself, and Cregan was too intelligent to make such a fateful error. The boys, if all went as intended, would learn well under the tutelage of Cregan and Daemon, who Doran knew would return with Cregan to Dustspear.

The Bastard of Godsgrace might be Arianne's sworn shield, and expected to protect the heir to Sunspear, but Doran knew that to his daughter, Ser Cregan was more valuable to protect with the danger he was in. He did not agree with her logic as to why she sent her sworn shield with Ser Cregan, but he did approve of her making clear the importance Sunspear placed on Ser Cregan.

Beyond a new source of materials for the Shadow City, Dustspear served as a bastion of Martell might into the Stepstones. If Cregan succeeded in taking Redwater and other parts of the Stepstones, then his influence, and by extension Doran's, would spread through a vital channel for naval trade. As that happened, others in Westeros and Essos would come to notice Cregan, and Doran was not willing to surrender such a useful, and growing more powerful, piece he had been cultivating. Perhaps he might not even wish to lose him later, but a knight was worth far less than a king.

If, by chance, bad fortune, or a lack of skill, Ser Cregan fell, then Dustspear would be secured and integrated into Sunspear's sphere of control. Provided he was ready, Doran planned to place the island under Trystane's command, thus ensuring Martell domination of the seas near the Broken Arm.

There was, Doran knew, a chance that Trystane would fall in battle, and the thought weighed heavily on him. Still, it was a risk he was prepared to take. Trystane was third in line for the Spear Chair and thus a minor piece, albeit one that carried value. Ser Cregan understood this and would ensure both Trystane and Edric were protected from the worst of the battles. Yet no one, knight, prince, or king, could predict the future. If Trystane fell and Ser Cregan did not, it would be interesting to see how the knight managed the situation and how it might sever the bond he shared with Arianne. Though severing that bond before the arrival of Viserys Targaryen would be beneficial, Doran felt the Gods would ensure Ser Cregan moved heaven and earth to see that Trystane and Edric survived to be knighted.

… …


… …

(Cregan's POV)

I walked slowly through the corridors of Sunspear, making my way from Doran's solar in the Tower of the Sun to the yard where my potential squires awaited. Though calling them potential squires wasn't right. As much as I was still coming to terms with the offer to take one of Edric Dayne and Trystan Martell as a squire, I knew I'd have to take both, otherwise, I'd offend the house whose son I didn't take.

Edric was one that I'd considered long ago about taking, as it meant I had a chance to complete the A Morning Blade. I'd long since accepted that I'd never become the Sword of the Morning, but I could finish that objective by training someone else who earned that title. Given Aldric had two sons, the odds that one of them would become Sword of the Morning was high. While Arren was the more likely choice, as a way to placate him when Edric became Lord Dayne, I wasn't going to ignore the chance that Edric could earn that honour.

Still, I was surprised that Lord Aldric was allowing me to train his firstborn son. While he never had any issue with my status, nor did my grandmother, my goodaunt, Lady Joenne fucking despised me. She hated that I was a bastard and that I worshipped the Old Gods, with the latter the bigger issue as Joenne was so fervent in her belief, that she reminded me of the 'arse-kissing' fanatics that represented the worst of religion in my former life.

I hadn't spoken to either of them since I'd left Starfall following my mother's marriage to Oberyn, but it seemed my mother had remained in contact. That she and Oberyn had spoken in support of me taking Edric as my squire was an unexpected, but not unwelcome, display of trust and support. I'd known for a while that Edric was interested in becoming my squire, but because of his mother, and my status as a bastard, I'd dismissed it. Now it seemed the option was on the table, along with the unexpected chance to train a Prince of Dorne.

I'd not had much interaction with Trystane, save via Edric, and even as third in line to control of Dorne, training him was a great honour. Just as I had when it'd been suggested by Doran, many would question the choice of allowing me to train Trystane, yet Doran was right in his words. Trystane would have the potential for magic, and while Ari and Oberyn were far more skilled with that branch of magic than I – the last I'd seen, Ari barely held the advantage, though my father was far more creative in how he used magic than my lover – neither was entirely suitable to train him. Not without raising various questions about why Trystane was with them.

While I had suggested Oberyn to Doran when the offer to take Trystane was made, now I saw another, a major flaw with it. Beyond the fact that it would divert my father's focus from Beron. If Doran felt the best person to train his second son was his brother, then it questioned the skill and honour of the Lords of Dorne.

Now, having a bastard train Trystane would still be questioned, but given my closeness to the Martells – going so far as being Ari's official paramour – and my recent successes in the Stepstones, Doran would likely spin it as a reward for my efforts to secure Dorne's eastern waters. It also signifies that my allegiance was with Sunspear, making it harder for others to gain my support; be they Lords of Dorne or other major figures in the Seven Kingdoms.

I didn't know when word of my taking Dustspear, or position in Ari's bed, would reach the ears of people like Tywin Lannister, Varys, or Petyr Baelish, but I knew it would. The only advantage I had currently, beyond Doran's patronage, was that every person on Dustspear now, or would sail with me when I returned, was highly unlikely to be a spy for anyone but the Martells. Thanks to my growing skill at sensing when someone was lying – along with the skills of Bronn, Ymir, and Kaa – I felt I should be able to limit the number of spies who entered my domain for at least the next half year. Beyond that, if my plans were still moving, then the focus on the Iron Throne, along with the Free Cities, would turn my way. I had ideas for how to manage those issues, but I wouldn't need them for some time yet, which was a good thing as they were still barely out of the initial stages of conception.

Still, returning my thoughts to my future squires, while Trystane would be able – barring some disaster –to harness water magic, I wondered if Edric might have some potential as well. From what little I understood, magic flowed through blood – in both a genealogical sense and directly for Blood Magic, which I now had taken the first step toward learning. While I'd been inserted into this world by choice, the magic in me, at least the base potential for it, would've had to exist in some form in my parents for it to pass to me. Skinchanging came from Brandon Stark, along with Wolfsblood, but my affinity for Fire Magic didn't. Provided whatever power that had inserted me here had considered the matter – and I'd be shocked if they hadn't – then that potential must flow in the blood of House Dayne.

Given no female member of House Targaryen had ever married into House Dayne, then the magic either came from some other Valyrian bloodline – which was possible as according to records a handful of Lords of Starfall had married Ladies from Essos with Valyrian features – or it had existed in some form in the blood of House Dayne going back millennia. I'd have to be cautious about how and what I showed Edric, but I already knew that, once I was clear of Sunspear, and had them under my control, I would begin their training.

Before that, however, I needed to see what I was working with. Doran's suggestion to speak with the boys, and the less-than-subtle hint that I should head to the yard, allowed me the opportunity to watch, evaluate, and test my squires before they knew they would be joining my service. Now sure of my thoughts and plans, I walked faster.

As I moved through the corridor of Sunspear, I saw Eirnela. The former slave gave me a shy nod and smile as I passed, and while I didn't turn, I swore I felt her gaze remain on me as I walked away.

When I finally emerged at the yard, I saw several of the older boys sparring under the watchful eyes of Ser Orland Lightbright; Master-At-Arms of the palace guard. My attention was drawn to the grey direwolf that one boy wore, and I watched for a moment as Beron fought against a taller, and it was clear to see after only a few moments more skilled, fellow squire.

As the spar continued, the older boy pushed his advantage and quickly forced Beron to concede the spar. While both had fought well, the gap in skill, size, and power was enough that Beron had little chance of victory. Still, the older boy – who I recognised as Barrian Fowler when they lifted their helms – had taken longer than needed to win. Several moves before his winning slash, he'd had the chance to thrust his blade forward and catch Beron on the inside of the elbow. While the swords they were training with were blunted, a blow there would signal the end of the spar as in real combat, armour on the inside of the joint was often weak enough that the arm could be rendered useless with a well-place strike.

Ser Orland walked toward them, though he offered me a nod, which I returned before he began speaking to the young nobles. Ser Orland was brother to Lord Darick Lightbright, the Lord of Sun's Keep, a small, but important holdfast on the route between Sunspear and Ghost Hill. Their sister, Lady Alyse, served on Doran's Small Council as Lord Treasurer, while Jayne Lightbright – Lord Darick's third child – was one of Ari's younger Handmaidens, and had formed a bond with Alysanne and Wylla Manderly.

I moved closer, spotting younger boys practising in another section of the yard. "Ser Orland, I hoped to speak with the two under your watch," I said as I neared him and the squires. Both turned to me, wide smiles coming to their faces.

Ser Orland nodded and turned toward the younger boys. "Edric! Trystane! Come here!" I winced at his volume, but given the sound of steel clashing against steel that echoed around the yard, it made sense he'd have to raise his tone to be heard.

"I take it you were expecting me?" I asked with a chuckle as he turned back to me.

"Yes. Prince Doran sent word that you would be here this morning to speak with that pair." He gestured over his shoulder toward where the two he'd called for would be. "Finally time to take a squire, eh?"

"Aye. Prince Doran was persuasive in making clear I needed one," I replied to him before looking at the two squires already nearby. "Beron, Barrian, how are you today?"

"Very well Ser Cregan," Barrian replied first, smiling widely. "I won again!" Beron's shoulders slumped, making clear he wasn't happy to have lost; perhaps more so, as I'd seen it happen.

"First, I have made it clear to each of you that there is no need to call me by title when not at a formal event," I reminded. Beron was family while Barrian was one of the few boys close to my age – he was about half a year younger – and as such, one of the few male friends I had in the palace. "As for your spar, remember that you are older and further along in your training than Beron," I replied, wanting to ensure Beron didn't feel despondent. "And, if you were more aware, you should have won the spar earlier."

"Ser Cregan is correct," Ser Orland said, drawing the attention of the pair. "If either of you are to compete in Prince Oberyn's nameday festivities next moon, then you must continue training. Come, let us leave Ser Cregan to his business."

"If time allows, I will speak with you later," I said to Beron since I'd yet to spend much time with my northern cousin since returning to Sunspear. Given the revelations of last night and now this morning, that was hardly a surprise, but I knew I had to make time to catch up with Beron and Alysanne.

"Okay." Beron turned and moved off with Barrian behind Ser Orland while stepping toward the other side of the yard, seeing the two boys I was here to speak with emerge.

The pair were sweating, suggesting they'd been training for some time before I'd arrived, but as they approached they spoke quietly to each other. There was an excitement in their movement that had me thinking they suspected why I was here to speak with them, but I wasn't going to just name them my squires. I wanted to toy with them a little, see if I could make them sweat before granting them the positions they wished for.

"It has been brought to my attention that after a year since my knighting, I have yet to take a page or squire," the eyes of both boys lit up as I spoke, and Trystane gave Edric a gentle, but excited tap with his elbow. "From what I hear, both of you are of an age to become a squire. Edric," I turned to my cousin by blood, "while you have served well as Prince Doran's page, he is aware of his… inability to complete your training, and has asked if I might be willing to take over." My cousin was trying to remain calm, but he was rocking from one foot to the other. "Apparently, you were aware of this for longer than I, and have spoken to your father. He is open to the idea."

"Yes!" Edric snapped, pumping his fist, while Trystane's expression slipped, fearing disappointment.

"However," I continued, instantly dampening Edric's excitement, "when we spoke of your situation, Prince Doran offered forth another for the position. That of Prince Trystane," I said, looking at the young Martell, "your father has told me that you, for reasons I have yet to fathom, believe that being the squire to a bastard is one worthy of your station. I am curious to hear of your reasoning."

"I…" Trystane stopped and licked his lips. As he collected my thoughts, he reminded me of myself when Doran had first mentioned the idea of taking to squires to me. "You may be a bastard, Ser Cregan, but your station is rising high in Sunspear. Many, including myself, feel you would be a suitable match for my sister when she becomes Princess of Dorne. Even if that is not to be the case, because of the fame of your deeds, you are a knight many admire and respect. Unlike Edric, I might not share a bond in blood with you, but I consider you family as much as he does."

I chuckled, seeing hints of Doran in that answer. "Wise words for one so young, but expected of a prince," I replied, giving him a small nod to further indicate my respect for the words. "And I am pleased you chose to not launch into an overly long speech that many a Lord seem to enjoy when in your father's court." The pair chuckled, as intended. While they were trueborn, they disliked those speeches whenever an important visitor came to Sunspear, and a feast was called. Listening to those Lords, Ladies, and nobles from across the Narrow Sea, speak in grandiose terms about Doran, Sunspear, and Dorne was always a fucking bore. "However, a squire is not measured by their ability to twist words, but by other ways. Including your skill with a blade."

I turned there and looked toward where Beron and Barrian had begun another spar. It was still early, yet already I was seeing mistakes in Beron's stances. It was to be expected as he was young, but it left him open to Barrian's attacks. As an idea for testing my future squires formed, I took a step toward the sparring boys.

Edric and Trystane, after a moment's hesitation, fell into step behind me. That meant they understood the role they'd soon be taking involved them having to follow without being told, though the murmured whispers that reached my ears made clear they'd yet to learn to remain silent while following.

"Ser Orland," I called out, drawing the Master-At-Arms attention. "Might I borrow these two?"

Ser Orland frowned, wondering what I was up to, but allowed it with a nod. "Beron! Barrian! Head to Ser Cregan!"

The pair moved back, ending their spar – which Barrian was again winning – and moved toward me, the visors on their helms lifted so I could once more see their faces.

"Beron, I take it you have grown tired of losing to Barrian during spars?" My cousin growled, his wolfsblood warming, before giving a single, terse nod. "Good, then I have a challenge for you that should if you are up to the challenge, grant you two victories. At least, if you are willing."

"I am Ser Cregan."

"Excellent," I said, clapping my hands together and turning around. "Edric, Trystane, I wish you to, in turn, spar with Beron here. I do not expect you to win, but I want you to show me what you are capable of." The pair nodded firmly, ready to prove themselves to me. "Beron, I want you to test them."

"Yes, cousin."

I stepped back, wanting to have room to observe my future squires as they took on my cousin. The two boys were busy speaking with each other, arguing over who would go first, as Beron pushed down his visor and moved to start the first spar.

"Who is to take them as squires?"

"Begin!" I called out once Edric was ready to face Beron. As steel clashed against steel, I responded to Barrian's question without taking my eyes from the spar. "Prince Doran has made clear his thoughts on the matter, as has Lord Aldric," I replied without directly answering Barrian. "I am merely testing the pair under the Prince's instruction."

"Ah. As you say, Ser Cregan." Barrian fell silent as Beron thrust forward. Edric brought his shield up, but instead of deflecting the blow away, took it head on. Without the strength, size, or skill to tank the attack, Edric stumbled back.

"I notice your spars with Beron have been decidedly one-sided," I commented as Beron pushed his advantage, though as he did I spotted flaws in his movement that a better-skilled fighter, be they knight or sellsword, would exploit.

"He has skill, but he's too wild, too reckless, though even without that, I have other advantages over him."

Grunting at Barrian's assessment, and finding nothing wrong with it, I watched Beron swipe low. Edric danced back, choosing to withdraw rather than block or counter. Perhaps that was all he knew to do, but it surrendered the initiative. "Perhaps, once I have finished assessing the boys for Prince Doran, you might be interested in sparring with me?"

"I would be honoured, Ser Cregan."

I scoffed as Beron continued to press his attacks, displaying the aggression Barrian had just spoken of. "While not the closest of people, I consider you a friend, Barrian. As I have said before, when not in court, or around some high-strung noble, there is no need to use my title."

Barrian chuckled. "True, and I accept the challenge, my friend."

"Good, but do not think I will be going easy on you."

While I watched my cousins spar and waited for Trystane's turn, I thought about Barrian. The boy had come to Sunspear five years ago with one of his sisters, Jelissa.

Barrian was about half a year younger than I was, and though not as comfortable with war, I felt he would be knighted within a year. I'd need to learn his plans once his time in Sunspear ended, but if he was interested, I'd happily accept him—and a handful of other third and fourth sons of Dorne—into my ranks. Those boys had little chance to inherit a keep unless through marriage to a young lady who ruled her own. They would be young and inexperienced, but having more knights in my forces would be greatly useful and would show that I remained fully loyal to Dorne.

To be clear, I had no intention of betraying Doran or conspiring with Ari—who would never consider it—to take over Sunspear. However, I didn't want to remain a simple but valuable piece under Doran's control. It would take time, effort, and a few small miracles, but if things went even reasonably well, I could step out as a player myself.

Until then, I needed the protection of Sunspear, and by training the future Lord Dayne and a Prince of Dorne to knighthood, I ensured that protection remained. It would also raise my profile beyond the red sands, bringing me, I hoped, into contact with others that I could use to slide from under Doran's thumb. At least enough that I would stop being a simple piece and instead someone he had to consider a fellow player; hopefully one he considered an ally.

If by some insane twist of fate – which given my luck was possible – Viserys wasn't crowned by Drogo but instead returned to Westeros with an army, then I'd also need protection. The Beggar King was a reckless, vain, jealous fool, and the moment he knew of my connection to Ari, he'd want my head. Better that, if that moment ever came, I had the land and forces with which to counter that threat. Or any of the dozens of other potential threats that existed to me and my family, right up to the one posed by what lurked beyond The Wall.

… …


… …

(Daemon Sand's POV)

To any who looked at him, Daemon would appear a sea of calm as he walked with his companion on the paths that led deeper into Sunspear's Godswood. Yet, on the inside, Daemon was a torrent of emotions that, if he'd been told of a year before, would've been laughed off. He was Ser Daemon Sand, Bastard of Godsgrace, and Sworn Shield of Princess Arianne Martell, not some love-struck fool. However, that was exactly what he was, and it was because of the lady walking beside him: Alysanne Snow.

Lady Alysanne, whose skin was as pale as her name, was the first lady Daemon had been around, save the whore Prince Oberyn had taken him to for his first time, who made him so nervous. Yet, if one were to look at them, they would fail to see how. Daemon was a man of two and twenty, and had wooed and bedded dozens of ladies – and even a few men – in his life, yet Alysanne, a girl of four and ten, who had only flowered inside the last year, continually made him feel as if he was once more a child taking his first steps in the art of romance and seduction.

When he had first turned his eye toward the Northern bastard, Daemon had planned to make her nothing more than another notch in his belt. While not trueborn like some of his other conquests, Alysanne was one Daemon could see would mature into a rare beauty: one, in his eyes, unmatched in Dorne. Yet, for all that, his primary reason for showing interest in the baseborn daughter of Lord Eddard Stark was to spite her cousin, Ser Cregan Sand.

After learning of Alysanne's reason for being in Dorne along with her brother, Beron Stark, and the tale of how that had occurred, Daemon had been enraged. Once more, in his eyes, Cregan had been forgiven for his actions while others – in this case, Tyene Sand – had been punished.

Ever since the Ironborn Rebellion, and the near-loss of Princess Arianne – something Daemon had long blamed Cregan for – Daemon had been intent on having the wild, untamed wolf exiled from Sunspear. Yet, for all his words to Prince Oberyn, Arianne, and others, that bastard wolf had wormed his way further into the graces of House Martell, and Daemon had set forth to seduce the northern girl for revenge.

However, in the days that followed her arrival in Sunspear, as Daemon watched Alysanne from a distance, learning what he could to earn his way into her sheets, his plans changed. The girl was attractive, and just beginning to blossom into something beautiful, but there was something special there, unworthy of being tainted by the simple need to bed her to spite her cousin. By the end of the first moon with the Northerners in Sunspear, Daemon had changed tack, and begun to speak with her simply to better know her, and at the very least befriend the winter rose that was blooming in the Dornish heat.

Late last year, Daemon had put his issues with Cregan to bed, and while he had hurt for several days after that fateful spar and brawl, Daemon was pleased that Cregan had taken longer to recover. Venting the anger that he felt toward the wolf allowed him to see that, while his anger toward Cregan was deserved, he had allowed it to fester and turn into loathing. Critically, the younger knight understood his flaws and wanted to correct them, so much so that he had turned to Daemon to help, which quelled the last vestiges of the rotting hate Daemon had held. Upon then learning of Cregan's plans for Dustspear – and Daemon now knew and understood, beyond – had sparked a fire in Daemon as well.

He enjoyed the position he had as Princess Arianne's sworn shield and the prestige it brought. However, the thought of battle, of testing his steel against others for fame and glory, called to him, in the same way it did, amusingly, to Cregan. He had wondered how he might find a way to accompany Cregan on the adventure, only for Arianne to order him to go and protect her paramour.

A year ago, Daemon would have been incensed to do so, but when they had sailed at the end of the last year to take Dustspear, Daemon had been ecstatic at the opportunity to taste battle. More so that Cregan had given him a position of importance in the forces; not because of his position as the Princess' sworn shield, but because the younger knight respected his skill and counsel.

However, when Arianne had told Daemon he was to sail with Cregan, Daemon had found a part of himself reluctant. And that, he had come to understand while they had sailed, was because of Alysanne. The girl had, without him realising it until the eve of battle on Dustspear, slipped her way into his heart and he found himself wanting to grow closer to the young she-wolf. So much so that he had, even though it was not needed, spoken to Cregan for permission to pursue her.

Daemon could admit that he was surprised Cregan allowed it, going so far as to speak well of him to Alysanne's brother and father. Daemon feared that Lord Eddard Stark would deny permission for Daemon to pursue Alysanne, yet no word had come from the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North for or against their potential union. Still, he worried what was developing with Alysanne would not be allowed as, in the eyes of Lord Eddard, he was nothing but a minor bastard in Dorne whereas Alysanne was, even if she was a bastard, his daughter.

While Prince Doran had granted permission for Daemon to begin courting Alysanne, he was on eggshells that either Lord Eddard would write and deny him the chance to woo Alysanne, or that he would somehow destroy what was slowly growing between him. Stories of his past exploits, given by ladies Daemon now offered no attention to as he sought out the Winter Rose at every opportunity, might sour her opinion of him. Thank the Gods that he had not seen any sign of that souring on his previous return to Sunspear, and Lady Alysanne had agreed to this walk with a warm smile, and now, when he glanced down, happily wore the gift he'd given her upon his return from the latest campaign in the Stepstones.

As his eyes took in the gift, Alysanne sensed his focus and turned her head. Those swirling grey eyes that drew him inward, locked on him, and a faint smile danced at the corners of her lips. "A-are you well, Ser Daemon?"

Daemon blinked, fighting to not lose himself in the depths of her enchanting grey eyes, and smiled. "I am, My Lady. More so for having moments such as these in your presence." While he heard his words, which came out clearly, internally he panicked, fearing he'd been too forthright in how much he enjoyed her company.

Alysanne looked away, though Daemon could see her cheeks redden. "Y-you flatter, Ser Daemon." As she spoke, Daemon saw Alysanne fiddling with his gift, and he barely held back a pleased smile.

Knowing that the battles in the Whores were unlikely to bring treasure of the value taken on Dustspear, Daemon had commissioned a piece before they had sailed. Collecting it had been, along with speaking to Staur and Jekar Blackwood, one of the first things he had done once they had returned, and then during the feast celebrating their safe return to Sunspear, he had gifted it to Alysanne. It had been about a quarter moon since then, and she still wore the gift, even at times when Daemon was not around.

Overall, it was a relatively simple piece, being a cuff bracelet made of highly polished steel engraved with silver and measuring about four inches. What made it stand out, and where Alysanne's fingers were, was the central engraving. That was of the Stark sigil, but on the bracelet, it had been coloured black to match Alysanne's hair, while the eyes were two smaller rubies. Those had come from Daemon's claim of the initial bounty of Dustspear, and when combined with the black of the direwolf, were the two dominant colours of House Allyrion; the house from which his father came.

"I speak only the truth, My Lady," Daemon replied, not wanting the silence or her nervousness to influence him. She lifted her head, but her eyes seemed unwilling to meet his. "You have a beauty that has never before graced the Dornish sands."

From behind them, the faint, muffled sound of giggling could be heard. That meant Alysanne's watchers, or at least the female ones of Wylla Manderly and Elia Sand had been close enough to overhear his words. Alysanne was not a trueborn, but she was a ward of Prince Doran's, and her honour must be protected. The two girls were there for moral support, while the foursome of Stark guards with them acted as a reminder to Daemon of Alysanne's value.

He doubted the Northern guards could stop him if they attacked, but that they placed such importance on Alysanne's safety, even here in the Godswood of Sunspear with an unarmed knight of Dorne, offered Daemon some comfort. Throughout the campaign in The Whores, Daemon's mind had returned to Alysanne, wondering if she was safe and well. knowing that her father and Prince Doran placed as much importance on her as they did on Beron Stark eased many of those fears.

There had been other ladies Daemon had wooed who had also had guards, yet having grown up in the palace, Daemon knew where to step, and when, to slip from sight of such escorts to steal a few moments with the lady. Or, if she was inclined, more. However, he had no intention of doing that with Alysanne, not now that he found his heart demanding she be protected and respected. If any threatened her honour and purity Daemon would be first in line to stand as her champion.

Alysanne smiled at his words, though she looked away again at the giggling of her friends even as her cheeks reddened further. As they continued walking in silence, Daemon feared again that he'd been too honest with his words. Yet, he knew he couldn't withdraw them, nor would he as he spoke from his heart. However, because of the fear that he'd over-spoken, Daemon held his tongue and waited for Alysanne to resume their conversation.

This meeting was one of the few they'd managed since he'd returned to Dorne. While he had every intention of sailing again with Cregan, at least if Arianne asked him to, Daemon had duties to attend to that prevented him from spending as much time as he wished with the young wolf who'd stolen his heart. Still, whenever he had time free of duties and training, he'd given them to her, which was why they were walking once more through the Godswood of Sunspear.

"Wh-when will you sail back to Dustspear?" she asked, not fully lifting their head as they reached the centre of the Godswood. Unlike the one in Winterfell – and, according to Alysanne, Beron, and the others from or who'd been to the North – every keep and holdfast – this Godswood lacked the weirwood as a heart tree. Instead, a large oak tree dominated the place.

Daemon placed little faith in the Gods, be they New or Old, but he would not deny that he preferred the Godswood in Sunspear to Winterfell. The way the face the Northerners had carved into the weirwood there followed you as you walked around the wood, to say nothing of the red sap making it look as though it was alive and bleeding, unnerved Daemon. Yet as he knew that Alysanne missed it desperately, that was why, if they wed, Daemon was prepared to return to Winterfell so that they could be married in the traditions of the North.

"Provided Princess Arianne asks me to sail with him once again, Cregan expects to depart in five, perhaps six days," Daemon replied while smiling at her. "That is if Lady Asha has not killed him beforehand."

Alysanne giggled at the jest, though Daemon felt his smile slip as he spotted Septon Dontar at the far side of the Godswood. The Septon was one of the most vocal critics of, as he saw it, barbarian influence in Sunspear. For a time, Daemon had shared that concern, though less for religious reasons than personal ones. Now, however, all he saw and heard whenever the Septon gave a sermon was a deranged old fool, unwilling to accept that anyone could worship Gods but his. That was, Daemon had noted, a sentiment that was growing within House Martell as Cregan's worth grew and his influence spread.

Daemon did not fear the Septon would try something against Alysanne or the other Northerners, not when it would bring down the wrath of Prince Doran, but he was concerned that one of that man's flock might. If they did, Daemon would join Cregan in ensuring that everyone responsible for such a heinous action received the justice they deserved, which would likely leave Ymir with a full stomach.

His thoughts turned to the idea that like Cregan, Alysanne might have the ability to skinchange. When Cregan had first explained and shown it to him, Daemon had been uncertain of how to react. However, after seeing the bond that Cregan shared with his beasts, and how it seemed to make Cregan stronger, Daemon wondered if Alysanne might share that ability and if, far into the future, their children might inherit it as well. "I share your amusement at your cousin's predicament," he finished, not wanting Alysanne to think he thought her wrong to laugh at Cregan's situation. "Lady Asha is a fearsome warrior; one many in the yard know to stay clear of when in a foul mood. With a child to protect, her ferocity will only have grown."

"Yes, I have seen that with Riona," Alysanne replied, her gaze shifting to the Tower of the Sun, where in one of the highest rooms, the young Sunfyre eagle chick nested with its parents.

"How is the chick?" He asked, his thoughts turning to Rian, the bond the eagle shared with Cregan, and the idea that Alysanne might share that ability. If she did, it would be a boon to their future children, though if she didn't he would be comfortable with it. She, however, might not be as, while they did not discuss such matters openly, she had shared her annoyance with the close bond Cregan, and her brother Robb Stark had with their beasts.

"Talon? He is well," she replied, with a small smile, "at least from what I can see."

Alysanne stopped and moved toward an empty and, Daemon noted, slightly isolated bench near the heart tree. Daemon sat beside her, though he made sure to, even if every fibre of his being wished to, not sit too close to avoid the appearance of anything untoward. "Rian and Riona are unwilling to allow any, even Princess Arianne, onto the balcony," she continued. "From the books that Maester Caleotte has provided, Talon has two, perhaps three moons before he will leave the nest for good."

Daemon nodded, pushing aside some annoyance that Rian would not be returning with them to Dustspear. The ability of Ymir and Kaa for scouting and tracking was something Daemon had seen in action, and he couldn't help but imagine the advantages that came with being able to see a battlefield or the enemy's holding from above. They'd done well in The Whores to escape the trap they'd sailed into, but Cregan had lamented that if Rian had been there, the loss of ships and men would've been reduced.

"Do… do you feel any connection with mother or chick?" He asked gently, making sure to keep his voice low so none overhead what he was saying. If anyone did hear him, they'd not catch his intended meaning, but it was safer to remain quiet when discussing such a matter.

"No more so than the Princess," Alysanne replied, understanding the meaning behind his words. "It is possible that she or I might adopt one of them, but remember that Cregan did not discover Rian until he had left his nest." Daemon nodded, aware of that. "Ymir was an unusual one, I admit, but he and Quicksilver are connected to my house." She paused and looked down, her fingers brushing the direwolf on the bracelet. "I often find myself jealous of my brother and cousin's beasts, and wonder if the Gods might someday grant me such a boon, though I know such notions are silly."

"There is nothing silly about it, My Lady," Daemon said quickly, not wanting her to fall into a state of melancholy. His hand moved, brushing against the edge of hers, though that was as far as he would go as he didn't want to overstep. "The bond Cregan shares with Ymir, and I suspect your brother has with Quicksilver, is something to behold. Cregan is a skilled fighter, and we work well together, but with Ymir, it's as if they understand each other in a way only siblings could." He chuckled for a moment. "To be jealous of such a bond is entirely normal."

"You are too kind, Ser Daemon," Alysanne replied, her hand shifting to brush the back of his fingers. "And more patient with me than I should expect." Her hand pulled back and she looked down. "I… I know others desire your attention."

Daemon smirked, finding the way her face reddened as the sun caught it, made her a vision worthy of a Goddess. "Perhaps there are, My Lady, but they are not you." Alysanne turned her head, letting him just catch sight of her mesmerising grey eyes. "For the honour and pleasure of your company, I would wait until the next Long Night, or travel across all of Essos if it would earn me a smile and your affection."

Alysanne's cheeks darkened so much they reminded Daemon of Arbor Red. That, however, was a poor comparison, as the wine from the Reach was a sickly sweet, unsatisfying thing. By comparison, Lady Alysanne was a beauty that would leave kings and emperors shocked and unable to find beauty in anything else.

"Yo-you should not say such things, Ser Daemon."

"As I have said before, I speak only the truth, My Lady." He paused and looked skyward. "If I speak falsely, may the Gods, New and Old, strike me down." She chuckled at his oath, and he felt her hand slide further over his before he returned his attention to the angelic vision beside him. "I know not if we shall be wed, but until that day arrives, I pray nightly that the Gods grant me your hand in marriage. I swear that if we wed, then I will do all I can to keep you happy, safe, and warm in my hearth."

A smile that would have him sail to defeat Volantis single-handedly, spread over her face. "I.." She paused her cheeks a shade of red so vibrant that Daemon found no words to describe it. "I feel the same," she said quietly, and Daemon felt his heart stop. "I have written to my father, asking for him to grant us the right to wed, but I wake each day fearing that he will deny me. Or that, when word comes, you will lay dying on some battlefield far from my side."

"I have no intention of dying so soon, My Lady," He replied, his free hand lifting, planning to brush her face only from him to stop when he saw movement from her guards. "And there is a chance Princess Arianne will not send me again with Cregan."

Alysanne laughed gently, a sound that, to Daemon, would warm the heart of an Other. "We both know that the Princess will send you. She is as enamoured with my cousin as I am with you. And it helps ease my pain to know you will protect each other, but, as awful as it sounds, I would rather lose my cousin than you."

"I suspect your cousin will outlive us all, My Lady," Daemon responded, finding an odd sense of truth in his words. "While young, he has skills many knights twice his age lack and a keen and sharp mind. Not just for battle, but for seeing things others might miss." Something Daemon saw with Cregan's plans for Dustspear and other islands in the Stepstones. Before he had begun courting Alysanne, Daemon had been content for change to test his steel in battle, but now, as things progressed with her, and he saw what Cregan was building, he wondered if perhaps, in this new land that Cregan was forming, if he might find a way to be something more than a sworn shield. He would not be a lord, as he felt no one would acknowledge Cregan's holdings, but he could help build something alongside Cregan that would be worthy of Alysanne's hand. "Indeed, if not for his daring and bravery, we would both have died several times over."

Alysanne's smile grew, though there was a sadness in her eyes. "Yes, I remember the tales you and Ser Bronn have told the court during the feasts."

Daemon chuckled and shook his head at the image that came to mind. "Bronn is many things, My Lady, but a knight is far from one of them. He lacks the… grace, one would expect from such a person."

Alysanne giggled, and her face grew a shade brighter. "Yes, I recall his… descriptions of some of your heroics."

Daemon could not help but chuckle as he remembered the way Bronn phrased things at the feast, and how many nobles had reacted with shock at his coarse descriptions. As Alysanne joined him in mirth, Daemon wondered if introducing the sellsword to Prince Oberyn was a wise choice.

He'd heard tales after the first feast, celebrating the taking of Dustspear, that the Prince had shown Bronn all the better brothels and whorehouses in the Shadow City. Something that, according to rumour, had resulted in Lady Ashara denying him her company for several days afterwards.

"Still, I am happy there is another with you and Cregan that you speak highly of. I pray daily to the Gods that both of you return, though I admit that while you were gone this time, I may have prayed harder for your return." Daemon felt incredible to hear her say that, but he remained silent when she pulled her hand away and began tugging at the sleeve of her dress. "I…" she began as the hand slid up the sleeve, "I want to give you s-something. To h-help you think of m-me while away." He watched as she pulled a small cloth from the sleeve, one that when it was placed in his palm, he felt was damp from sweat. "I know it is not much," she explained as he moved to unwrap the cloth, "but I hope you will take this with you when you return to the Stepstones."

As he unwrapped it, Daemon knew it was a token of appreciation, and he opened his mouth to thank her only to stop as he saw the pattern within. The cloth was white, but in the centre was the circle of red and black used on House Allyrion's sigil, but where the opened hand would be, there now resided the direwolf of House Stark.

Daemon looked at it, even as his smile widened. It was a lovely merging of the sigils of their father's houses, and for a moment Daemon swore he saw them sitting in a room, each adorned with a robe bearing this sigil while children played around their feet.

He pushed the idea to one side and returned his gaze to the young maiden whom he willingly allowed to steal his heart. "I shall treasure it dearly," he said solemnly, "and whenever I gaze upon it, I shall remember these moments we have shared, and look forward to the next moment we might share."

Alysanne leaned closer, a warmth filling her eyes. "I will await your safe return."

She paused about halfway toward his face, and her eyes darted to her escorts. Daemon turned as well, wondering what had distracted her. However, before he could make out the group, he felt Alysanne's lips touch against his cheek.

He stopped, frozen in shock even as Alysanne stood, her hand brushing against his. "Be safe, my Dornish knight," she said softly before reaching her feet.

He turned, watching as she walked toward her escort. Wylla and Elia had rushed forward, giggling, and smiling while the Stark guards were glaring at him, hands on the hilts of their swords as if he had insulted the North by allowing Alysanne to kiss him.

Daemon stayed on the bench, watching as the guards closed around the trio of young ladies, and remained still as the group moved away. If the guards tried something, then he knew he could take them; even as unarmed and unarmoured as he was. Yet he had no intention nor desire to fight them, not when it would ruin this perfect moment and anger Lord Eddard and Prince Doran.

As they reached a turn in the path, Elia glanced back at him, smiling widely, which told Daemon she and Wylla were happy for Alysanne. As the group drifted from view, he raised a hand, placing it against his cheek, the other hand holding tightly the token Alysanne had granted him. "I will return safely to your side."

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(Cregan's POV)

For what felt like the hundredth time, I found myself standing on the quarterdeck of the Windchaser watching Sunspear slide away into the horizon. Yet, this was, perhaps, the first time I'd sailed away where my thoughts weren't on my destination, or plans for major future events. Instead, as they had for much of the last week as the final preparations were made for our departure, they were on Asha and the child that she carried. My child.

Knowing that I was to have children altered much of my thoughts. Not just for what might come after the Others, but on what sort of legacy I wished to leave on this world; both in general for those around me, and my bloodline.

Asha and I had no intention to marry, so in theory, the child she bore wouldn't be entitled to inherit whatever lands I controlled. Or at least they wouldn't if I held lands in Westeros or even parts of Essos. Instead, my holdings, as meagre as they were, resided in the Stepstones, and with the thought of having to provide safety for my children – I knew this wouldn't be my only child – my thoughts regarding the island chain had shifted.

While I still doubted I could take, hold, and develop the entire chain, I was more focused on doing it, and if not, then holding enough that I, and my family, would be safe and secure from most threats. At least the sort of threats that would concern any lord. The greater threats, or at least the ones I knew of, were already being planned for, even if, to many my actions in the Stepstones would be hard to link to challenges that lay at The Wall, in King's Landing, or – provided events there played out as they had in other timelines – Slaver's Bay, everything had been feeding into preparing for them. Now though, I wasn't just looking beyond them, but to anything else that might challenge me or my family, with Volantis and the other slavery-supporting Free Cities being the obvious concerns.

I didn't know how events would play out over the next five years, never mind ten or twenty years down the road, but now I had a true reason to want to make and protect my holding. One far beyond the intent of using the Stepstones to battle-harden myself and my allies for what was to come.

My gaze drifted over the three ships sailing behind the Windchaser. The Ilaerah's Luck and Pride of Saltbrook were joined by a hired cog. Nearly a hundred more sellswords had joined, along with fifty more lowborn willing to move to Dustspear and help develop the settlement. Included in that number was Phineas Irryl, who I'd freed from slavery on the island. He and a handful of other former slaves were willing to return and make a new life where their old ones had ended. If things went well, then I planned to name Phineas mayor of Northpoint.

I'd need my best men with me in Redwater, but couldn't leave someone I didn't know in charge of my island, and Phineas returning was a welcome surprise. And one that, with time, might help open trade with Essos as he had some contacts there. At least before being captured and enslaved.

Of the new sellswords, none had yet stood out, but I was sure by the time we were ready to sail for Redwater, Me, Daemon, Bronn, and the others would know what we had, and how to use them. to help with that, my cogs carried with them several hundred maces, axes, clubs, and the like. While only about fifty were new, the rest were still usable. Those had come from the armouries of Sunspear and the Shadow City thanks to an idea from Oberyn. The downside was that I had to pay for a replacement for every weapon, or ammo as I'd also raided the armouries for arrows, which had cost a fair amount of coin.

Still, it meant that most of my men would have a weapon designed for the kind of close-in fighting that we'd see, if not a spare if they already had such a weapon. I had seen my axe sharpened and the leather on the shaft replaced. A second axe was in my cabin, having been gifted to me by Doran for my nameday. One I'd promised to use to further remove threats to Dorne and Westeros in my campaigns.

Turning to the bow, I saw Daemon on the deck, four boys around him. Edric Dayne and Trystane Martell were now officially my squires, but I wasn't the only one to have help. Young Jekar Blackwood had become Daemon's squire, which explained why the boy had been so desperate to see Daemon when we'd arrived in Sunspear.

I wondered if perhaps a deal had been cut between Daemon and Staur Blackwood, but it wasn't my concern. Stuar was a good man, and loyal to the Martells. Having his son squire for the sworn shield of Ari was an honourable position for the boy. Others, from older and more important houses, might have an issue with a bastard training their son, but Stuar was the second son of a minor lord, and far more practical than most other trueborn.

The fourth boy was, even to Daemon, a surprise. Morsh was a street urchin whom Daemon had encountered during a trip to the Shadow City. From the story Daemon had told me and Bronn, the boy had been found fighting with three boys close to my age. He was getting beaten to a pulp when Daemon arrived, but he wouldn't stay down.

After collecting the foursome and taking them to the guards, Daemon had learnt that the older boys had tried to attack Morsh's sister. Given their age, I didn't need to hear more, nor did I complain when Daemon had the trio banished from the city, took Morsh as his page, and found his sister a place working for Wylla Manderly. Something I suspected Alysanne had helped to arrange.

Morsh lacked skill, but there was a fire in him that caught Daemon's eye. The boy had impressed me and Bronn as well, though he wouldn't be sailing with us to Redwater. At my instruction, Bronn had tried to scare the boy of the horrors of war, and while his words had affected the three highborn boys, Morsh hadn't been put. Hells, he'd said he'd seen worse in the Shadow City and promised to show Bronn those places when we next returned.

Bronn was aboard the Ilaerah's Luck to watch over the majority of the new sellswords, which was a relief. While I was used to his teasing, his remarks about bedding and impregnating a Kraken had irked me. He'd realised that, and kept it up, even suggesting I wanted to make sure I left such gifts with my other ladies. While I'd not had that intent, I had spent my last few nights in Sunspear enjoying the company of Ari, Nym, and Asha with the Ironborn girl still wanting to be intimate even with a child growing in her belly.

A high-pitched whistle drew my sight upward, and I saw a bird flying high above. I knew that was Rian, coming to see me off. As much as I wanted him to join me, I wasn't going to force him to come, not when his progeny wasn't yet able to hunt and feed themselves. Perhaps Rian would fly to Dustspear once Talon left the nest, but I doubted he'd reach me before I sailed for Redwater. To that end, I'd used Skinchanging to dominate the minds of a dozen seagulls while in Sunspear. All of those birds were now caged, ready to be used as scouts over Redwater, though once I'd hatched the plan to use the gulls, I realised I'd have likely done this anyway. While using Rian was ideal, as I could trust his instincts to guide me, I didn't want him flying low, risking being shot by a hungry pirate with a bow.

There were some birds in Dustspear, and I'd move to dominate their minds and capture them as I'd need as many disposable recon units as possible for taking Redwater. Three Pirate Lords controlled the island, and while each was, in theory, weaker than the Grim Prince with fewer men and ships, there were three of them on the island, and they were almost constantly skirmishing with each other. Therefore, the men on the island would be better fighters, and unlikely to surrender if overwhelmed and given the chance.

Which was why, when the option came, if in doubt of their loyalties, or couldn't afford the men to guard prisoners, I likely would have them executed.

… …


… …

A/N: This will be the last stop in Sunspear for some time, and now Cregan has squires to deal with, and his (first?) child to think about leaving a legacy for.

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

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