Titus Ethreon was tired and impatient. He was tired because his face hurt from keeping a smile throughout the evening. His legs hurt from dancing with the many guests in his home. His throat was soar singing empty platitudes to the councillors of the Sealord. His ears ached from putting up with boasts of the Fleet officers.
Titus had enough of the banalities of the evening but he'd have to endure for a few more minutes. His position as the Head of the Iron Bank demanded these social necessities. While not a permanent post nor an inherited one, he still set the agenda for the Keyholders meeting and that counted for something. He was responsible for one of the oldest banks in the known world and that was a responsibility he took great pride in. To think that his grandfather came to Braavos as a Goldsmith with no significant wealth and in two generations his family became one among the elites of the great city of Braavos. Where else such a story was possible? That he, the grandson of Morswane Ethreon, a poor Goldsmith now sat at the head of the Iron Bank.
'It is certainly an inspiring story. But, there was a lot of hard work involved and I married well.' He thought.
"What's it husband?" a melodious voice brought him out of his musings. A warm weight settled on his arm making him smile.
This time it was a genuine smile, unlike the fake ones he had flashed throughout the party.
"Nothing my love." he said, taking her hands in his for comfort.
"I can read you easily husband. You are worried about the Keyholders meeting."
"You know me so well. Can you handle the guests? I need to prepare for the meeting."
"Of course. And don't worry husband. You'll do fine. This is not the first time you have hosted the Keyholders."
Titus appreciated the vote of confidence from his wife but this meeting was different. A deal of this magnitude has not been brokered in his tenure as the Head of the Iron Bank. From the reports he saw thus far, this deal would allow the Iron Bank to dominate the markets of Essos within two or five years. The projected loans the Bank could accumulate are massive and considering this is a monopoly the Bank would be the sole benefactor in Essos. This should help in acquiring key assets of their rival banks in southern Essos so long as they are the sole credit guarantees for House Stark.
However, there were some risks involved. The agreement struck with the current head of House Stark left too much risk on the Bank's side.
Therefore, it was remarkably clear this meeting was of great importance. He'd also need the majority of Keyholders to agree on the provisions of the negotiations with House Stark. Not to mention, there is a need for political decisions from the Sealord's side to make any transaction with House Stark smooth.
He made a brief round amongst his many guests before he left everything in the capable hands of his wife. While his wife took charge, Titus retired to the meeting room with many of the Keyholders.
Taking a deep breath Titus calmed his mind before addressing the Keyholders sitting on the two sides of the neatly arranged long table.
"Gentlemen, ladies. I thank you for your presence tonight. Sitting in front of you on the table is your copy of the negotiated deal between the Iron Bank and the Lord of Winterfell. With this deal, we will be the sole brokers of Valyrian Steel artefacts made by Harrion Stark."
"Sole brokers? What do you mean by that Master Ethreon?" asked a Keyholder, just as Titus made his pitch.
"As per the agreement, the Iron Bank shall hold closed-door auctions for any new orders for Valyrian Steel weapons. And I don't need to tell you what that means for our bank." said Titus, a wicked grin blooming on his face.
"We decide who we can invite for the auctions and I assume we also have the freedom on the place and time of the auction."
"You assume correctly Master Bagnord. There is only one stipulation we have to abide by in the context of the auctions. We agreed to conduct them at least once in every 6 moon cycles." Titus informed the gathered Keyholders.
A cursory look from Titus revealed they were not bothered by the condition involved.
"But we'll have to bear the responsibility to secure the gold from our prospective clients." another Keyholder noted while reading the copy of the deal.
"And that's why we need the Sealord's support in this venture. We will need the services of the fleet to escort the payments of the clients and I need not tell you it'll be huge amounts."
"Noted Master Ethreon. It is also clear many of our Westerosi friends will flock to us with requests of loans." Master Bagnord noted.
"There is that as well. I've already dispatched representatives to King's Landing for the one million gold dragons. Before the gold is transferred, we need secure sea routes with the North for smooth transactions. The support of the Fleet is crucial here. So, I ask for your support and your suggestions on this recent venture. I propose we meet seven days from now and discuss this in more detail after everyone has familiarised with the provisions of the contract." Titus proposed.
With most of the Keyholders agreeing Titus was relieved. Now, it was for the Keyholders to study the details of the deal and make an informed decision.
'At least, I can count on Master Bagnord's faction's support. They have been trying every trick in the book to dominate the Volantine and Lyseni banks.' Titus thought. 'It looks like the Iron Bank finally got the necessary tool for economic domination over Volantis.'
It was a good thing, as far as Titus was concerned. Not because he found any pleasure in having Volantis or any other Free City dominated by Braavos. The Free Cities have been chafing under the might of Braavos. Their disunity has been greatly explored by Braavos and now Pentos remains a puppet of the Sealord.
Volantis has been slowly preparing its fleets not liking the present balance of power. Anyone with eyes could see where this would lead in the future.
There is only one outcome to Volantis' fleet expansion.
And that was something Titus or any sane person would wish for except for the warmongers in the Sealord's court.
'Let those fleet captains sail around escorting the merchant ships fighting pirates and sellsails. That should keep them busy.' Titus thought.
Lighting flashed in the night sky followed by thunder. The night sky looked like it was made of glass with multiple fractures. Lightning was everywhere and the storm was only getting stronger instead of weakening as was hoped. It was always snowing. The few times the snowing halted heavy rain would follow.
Mern thanked the Old Gods for saving him and his family from what was most likely death by starvation. He was just a simple fisherman. His two sons and wife survived on his trade. When the storm was formed above the sea, he was fortunate enough to have been close to the shore. Many of his mates weren't so lucky.
'The sea gives so much but one day it takes something back.'
Those were the words his old man told him after his first fishing stint.
This time, he lost four of his mates to the sea. Not a night goes by where their faces don't haunt him. The cold grip of death kept him awake most of the nights. But, all of this changed a few days ago.
The village was starving as their main source of food was fish and fishing was no longer safe. The seas were dangerous for rowboats or sailboats. Fishing close to the shore was proving to be a thankless job with little game captured in their nets.
Many of the families were starving and the old men of their village were ready to travel out so the young could survive. But, the arrival of Harrion Stark changed everything.
Mern had never seen a Stark in his life. His village was at the farthest corner of the North. Not many visitors came to their village except for the Black Brothers of the Night's Watch and those wretched Wildlings. So, when it was known a Stark of Winterfell was visiting Eastwatch, the entire village was quite curious to get a peek. Many of them were also hoping to get a chance to present their grievances yearning to get some relief from the Starks of Winterfell.
Needless to say, they were welcomed warmly by the Stark of Winterfell and their woes disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Mern looked away from the unforgiving snows and storms and walked back towards a small red tent. It looked like a small ordinary tent barely suitable for two men. But, in truth, the tent was anything but ordinary.
Entering the tent Mern for a moment marvelled at the vast space inside. The small tent has more space than the castle of Eastwatch. Shaking himself out of the stupor, Mern moved forward until he found his 'workstation' as Lord Harrion called it. Inside the workstation sat stacks of wood planks waiting for his touch. There was much work to be done but this would be the last day of his work. Many of his fellow villagers were toiling for days on making a boat for the Black Wolf.
They were provided food and shelter for their services. Working on a boat seems like the least they could do in return. After all, the Balck Wolf's magic provided warmth to their homes. The Stark then went ahead around their village with his fearsome wolf and blessed their lands. The people of the village only found out the day later that the lad had planted pumpkin seeds all around their village. Because the next day there were large pumpkins almost everywhere. Not just Pumpkins, pine grew aplenty as did many other crops despite the snow.
It was safe to say hunger was wiped out in his village by the Black Wolf in a single day.
Never did he think the rumours about the Kings of Winter were true. As a child, he had of course heard stories and songs about Kings of Winter with great magical powers. This was the first time he saw the truth with his own eyes. And what he saw was beyond the scope of all the songs and stories.
Without further delay, he went back to work earnestly. Mern was just as curious and excited as everyone else to see the Black Wolf make the boat fly.
'There were interesting times to live.' Learn thought as he began his work hoping to finish everything before the first light.
"Here are the last batches of sand you asked for nephew."
Harry stopped halfway on swinging the wooden sword in his hand. He took the towel offered by Anya and began wiping away the sweat that gathered across his neck and face.
Passing the practice weird to Anya, he stepped away from the small encampment for weapons training within the tent. While he stepped out of the ring, Anya took his place and joined Jon despite his brother's protests.
Harry noticed his uncle looked like he was about to say something. Fortunately, his uncle kept his silence. Harry wanted Anya trained in weapons. She was a natural when it comes to weapons. He thought having a loyal guard by his side whom everyone was going to underestimate was surely an advantage.
"This is good. This should do." said Harry, looking at the white sand gathered by his uncle.
"I don't understand why you need a ton of dirt. What are you going to do with it?" asked Benjen.
"Let me show you." said Harry, a playful grin shining on his face.
Harry took out the steel container he designed specifically for this task. If it wasn't for his involvement in rebuilding the Potter manor many of the stuff he was doing with runes would have eluded him.
Glass was something the wizarding world was extremely familiar with. Wizards were using glasses even before muggles learned the secrets behind glassmaking. His people were so advanced to use glasses and map out many of the known stars and planets in the farthest corners of space. As usual, those explorations were later squandered and further studies into the field lapsed due to dwindling interest. His people were productive in doing nothing.
Anyway, glass was intimately familiar to wizardkind. Although, the full potential of the material was not used Harry was fortunate enough to learn alchemical glassmaking. Like almost everything related to alchemy, glassmaking was the work of the great wizards of China. If the Egyptians and Vikings thrived in rituals and runes, the Chinese wizarding civilization thrived in alchemy. The peaks surrounding the Yangtze river were particularly famous for alchemical brews that can stave off ageing by decades. They boasted cures for almost all known ailments.
Alchemy was one of his favourite disciplines in magic as it is versatile and has a simple foundational law.
The law of equivalent exchange.
The laws of alchemy would require something of equal value for the desired effect. It was also one of the core branches of magic that deals with self-actualization in depth. Therefore, it was also the most subtle branch of magic.
Harry summoned the Elder Wand into his hand and began humming a chain of spells while waving the wand above the steel container. The steel box he had prepared glowed with runes. It has only one function. The box purified the sand and prepared it for the alchemical process.
Finishing the spell, Harry tapped the steel box with his wand. The sand inside the box glowed and disappeared in a flash. But, in its wake, there was clear glass left in the box.
Harry levitated the glass out of the box to the gasps of many.
"Glass! You wanted sand to make glass?" Benjen asked in shock with eyes wide as saucers.
Harry flashed his uncle a cheeky smile before taking the glass pane with him floating by his side. Without much fanfare, Harry placed the glass against the window openings of his newly constructed boat. Of course, Harry had to use the elongation charm for the glass to stretch out and make it a perfect fit.
Harry took a look at the boat and nodded approvingly.
"Looks okay. I just need more glass."
Fortunately, that was not a problem at all.
In the end, Harry made enough glass to cover all windows of the boat with clear glass panes.
"There you have it. The airship is ready." said Harry.
It didn't look like much compared to giant galleys. It just looked like a small fishing boat without sails. The only addition was a cabin built over the hull of the boat with glass windows.
But, Harry knew the boat was anything but ordinary.
"So, what's next?" asked Benjen, looking at the boat sitting conspicuously untouched by snow or rain.
"Now, we fly." said Harry, who proceeded to climb abroad the boat followed by Anya.
Before the wide eyes of the village and the brothers of the Night's Watch, the boat rose high into the sky.
Harry looked down from the boat to see the dropped mouths the people were sporting. Harry laughed as he pushed the speed lever forward making the airship surge ahead with blending speed. While the airship blasted through the clouds he took the handle of the control wheel into his hands. It was time to test out the propulsion and manoeuvrability of the airship.
The sky thundered as if showing its displeasure. Harry paid it no heed. After all, no amount of lightning could stop his masterpiece. In fact, lighting was very welcome as far as he was concerned.
A bolt of lightning suddenly struck the airship but Harry or Anya barely felt it except for the flash of light.
'Looks like the power source got some extra juice.' Harry thought, as he looked at the energy indicator inside the boat chiming showing maximum capacity.
"I can't believe this is happening my lord." said Anya, looking around with her eyes gleaming with wonder and joy.
"Oh, this is happening. And we are going to fly to Skagos." Shouted Harry, as he raked up the speed and pulled some hard maneuverers in the air.
It didn't give him the same exhilarating feeling of the brooms but it was close enough.