The Free City of Braavos was sprawled over many islands making it difficult to pinpoint the 'city'. The other Free Cities were not like that. They were built in one location and guarded by high walls making them a proper city. Perhaps, Volantis could be an exception. The First Daughter was built at the mouth of Mother Rhoyne on either side of the river. The two halves of the city were connected by a long bridge across the river.
But, the First Daughter does not come close to the true size of Braavos. The city of Braavos was spread out across many island chains and surrounded by many natural barriers. This was why the city of Braavos does not use high walls to guard their eastern boundaries. They were surrounded by a long line of hills and narrow passes shielding them from any hostile forces in the Essosi continent. Some of the old military outposts along those hills were still functioning but the Bastard Daughter has never faced an army that could traverse the jungle, the many narrow passes and hills to this day.
'There is a certain beauty to a city as spread out as Braavos.' Oberyn thought.
Usually, a city would be more urban and tightly packed. But, Braavos stood out as unique in that aspect by spreading out the populace across the many islands and islets. From a military standpoint, Oberyn found it advantageous. An enemy fleet would find themselves in an island-hopping campaign if they choose to invade the Free City of Braavos. Of course, the enemy fleet would have to overcome the vast Braavosi fleet in the first place.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Braavos over the years, Oberyn had a favourite spot in the city. It was none other than the infamous Moon Pool where the Water Dancers of Braavos proved their mettle. The ringing of steel as men clashed in combat was a piece of music that he enjoyed. And the Braavosi Water Dancers didn't disappoint. The warm summer morning near the Moon Pool was filled with songs of steel and nothing else.
"Look at them move. They strike like a coiled poisonous snake." Nymeria commented, earning a smile from Oberyn.
"It's said that the Braavosi adapted their Water Dancing from the Rhyonar." said Ellaria, who was comfortably wrapped around his arm.
"Maybe, I should learn Water Dancing. What do you think father?" Nymeria looked to her father for advice.
Oberon laughed and patted his daughter on her dark hair.
"I think your mother's family won't approve. A woman of Volantine stock learning Braavosi Water Dancing might be enough reason for you to be denied entry inside the Black Wall."
"Oh! I wouldn't want that to happen." Nymeria looked disappointed.
"Your father is joking dear Nym. Tell her." Ellaria dug her elbow into Oberyn's side earning an indignant look from the Prince of Dorne.
"Fine. Spoil my fun." he grumbled good-naturedly at his lover before turning to his daughter. "You can learn Water Dancing and keep your privileges in Volantis."
Oberyn was presented with a neatly wrapped scroll by one of House Martell's household guards.
"An envoy of the Iron Bank left this at the palace."
Oberon nodded and took the scroll. After breaking the seal, he read the contents of the scroll closely.
"What is it, my love?" Ellaria asked.
"It seems our stay at the pleasure palace may soon come to an end. The auction will happen tonight." said Oberyn, handing the scroll back to the guard.
"That's a shame. I was enjoying the 'varieties' offered in the pleasure house. It was a refreshing change from the usual 'stock' offered in Lys." said Ellaria, throwing a disappointing look at her lover.
"Don't be disappointed, my love. We can extend our stay. Perhaps, we can even try another local cuisine before we make our way back to Lys." Oberyn suggested, earning a smile from his paramour and an eye-roll from his daughter.
Oberyn gazed back at the many ships that were docking around the city. He could make out some of the Westerosi banners in some of those ships. He was sure all the major lords were invited to the auction. It's also likely that all the wealthy magisters of Essos shall also be represented at the auction.
'The Braavosi are surely making a killing out of inviting all the wealthiest people in the known world for this event.' Oberyn noted as he took his leave leading Ellaria and his daughter away.
When the night finally settled in, Oberyn was sitting inside a large hall. Oberyn, Ellaria and Nymeria were sitting around a small round table. There was a delicious spread before them and their glasses were regularly filled with wine and water. Little clay pots served as lamps in the hall. The pots were also regularly oiled by the servants walking about in the hall. Bright colourful lights emanated from the coloured glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling.
"'Tis a shame Lord Tywin chose to stay in his den. I'd have loved to give a proper welcome to the Old Lion." Oberyn muttered, eyeing the Lannisters sitting at a table not too far away from their own.
"You'll get your chance, my love. Besides, all the best things come for those who wait patiently." said Ellaria, taking his hand into her own and intertwining their fingers.
"'Tis never too early to watch the light leave the Old Lion's eyes." Oberyn muttered darkly.
"Who is that sitting at the Lannister table, father?" asked Nymeria. looking curiously at the Lannister table.
"Kevan Lannister, the Old Lion's shadow. 'Tis as your uncle predicted little Nym. Tywin so dearly wants a Valyrian steel sword in his hands." Oberyn muttered.
"What are we going to do father? Are we to outbid the Lannisters?" asked Nymeria.
Oberyn merely smiled at his daughter indulgently instead of answering. Up at the high table, one of the Iron Bank representatives stood up and called for the hall's attention. The hall quieted down and focused on the Iron Bank representative.
"Looking upon this hall I see some of the most powerful and richest men and women of Essos and Westeros. My name is Titus Ethreon. On behalf of the Iron Bank, I heartily welcome you all to this auspicious night to witness and participate in an extraordinary event of this century."
Here Titus paused as was polite applause filled the hall. As the applause died down, Titus continued,
"Ever since the Doom laid Valyria low, Valyrian Steel has been a rare sight. Those who inherited the material jealously guard them. Even the famed smiths of Qohor rarely get to rework Valyrian Steel artefacts these days. But, that is no longer the case. We, the Iron Bank, present to you the chance to purchase a Valyrian steel weapon or artefact of your choosing. The base price is fixed at 2 million gold dragons Westerosi coin. Now, let me explain how the auction shall transpire."
As Titus Ethreon launched into the nuances involved in the auction, Oberyn listened intently. Before coming here he was quite curious about how the Iron Bank was going to conduct this auction. It was not like everyone in Essos follows gold as their standard coin. It was also notable that not all Essosi cities have the same trade ties as Braavos and Westeros. Some cities like Pentos and Myr does extensive trade with Westeros but that doesn't mean all the Magisters of those cities were holding a large amount of Westerosi coin.
That doubt was quickly cleared up when the Iron Bank representatives explained their plan. The Iron Bank would measure the value of the Westerosi coin against the local coin of the Free Cities. The winner of the auction may pay in local coin to the equivalent of the Westerosi coin.
"I don't know what sort of deal the Starks made with the Iron Bank but they are going to be the richest house in Westeros. The Iron Bank on the other hand is going to be richer than even some of the Free Cities combined. This will wreck Volantene banks and all the other major banks of the Free Cities." Oberyn quietly observed.
"What do you mean father?" Nymeria asked, interested why her father would think her mother's city would be threatened.
"Think about it dear Nym. Most of the Free Cities use silver. If the wealthy magisters and merchants of these cities choose to buy Valyrian steel all those coins end up in the hands of the Braavosi. Most likely the Essosi will have to pay more of their coin to make a purchase and as a consequence, the local banks will lose coin. If those banks lose coin, they'll have to borrow them from somewhere. And guess who'll be in a position to lend such a huge number of coin?"
Oberyn saw the light of realization set in his daughter's eyes.
"The Iron Bank." Nymeria whispered.
"Yes. The Iron Bank would indirectly gain a modicum of control over the economies of the other Free Cities."
"That's not good, is it?" Ellaria asked.
"No, it's not. But, what stumps me is why would Lord Stark make this arrangement with the Iron Bank. The man could have truly dominated both continents and made House Stark the premier economic power. What must be going on in the man's head?" Oberyn wondered.
"Could it be that Lord Stark was offered the position of a Keyholder of the Iron Bank?" asked Nymeria, having heard quite a lot from her mother about the old families that hold positions of great power within the Iron Bank. These Keyholders were the sworn enemy of the Pureborns of Volantis.
"It could be possible. Maybe, the Iron Bank must have also offered military aid to the Starks. The North lacks a navy and should the Braavosi fleet aids the North their eastern coast shall remain safe." Oberyn theorized, but even he doubted that could be true.
It was not as if there were many enemies for the Starks in the east. The western coast of the North could be vulnerable thanks to the presence of powerful navies like the Iron Fleet, the Redwyne Fleet and the Lannister fleet. Out of which, both the Lannisters and the Ironborn were not going to be a threat for a long time thanks to recent events. Even if those fleets recovered in a short time or the Redwyne fleet somehow become hostile to the North, the Braavosi fleet would be useless as they are on the other side of Westeros.
'What sort of game are you playing Lord Stark?' Oberyn wondered in the confines of his mind while he kept an ear out for Titus Ethreon's speech.
"You'll be shortly presented with some paddles. These paddles are engraved with a specific number for you to raise the coin in the auction. You only need to raise the paddle and our employees here shall make note of your call."
Oberyn frowned as a small tray was set on their table by one of the servants. Sure enough, he found different numbers engraved on the paddles. There were not many paddles. Only the denominations of ten thousand, twenty thousand, fifty thousand, one hundred thousand and a million were on the paddles.
"Now then, let this auction begin!"
Immediately, the first paddle went up.
"The magister of Pentos has raised ten thousand. Do we have twenty thousand? Yes! It's twenty thousand."
On and on the calls went up. Consequently, the price of Valyrian steel also shot up. Oberyn sat back in his seat observing the main players. From early on, he noted Kevan Lannister was adamantly competing with the giants of Essos. Mace Tyrell was also not far behind in keeping pace with the Lannisters. When the price finally touched three million gold dragons he looked closely at Kevan Lannister. The man didn't look the least bit bothered. Now, Mace Tyrell on the other hand was sweating profusely.
"My love. Have you come across a flower that sweats?" Oberyn asked, pressing a kiss to his paramour's ear earning a giggle and a curious look.
"Look at House Tyrell's table. You can see a fat flower sweating away competing against the fierce lions of the Westerlands." he whispered into Ellaria's ear.
Oberyn raised his eyebrows when Mace Tyrell looked as if he was about to raise his paddle but thought otherwise at the last moment.
'It seems Mace Tyrell is out of the race.' Oberyn thought.
"Three million gold dragons. Am I to assume no one here is going to call a higher bid?" Titus asked, positively giddy at the bidding going far better than what was hoped.
Oberyn raised his paddle seeing as the bid was going to favour the Lannisters.
"Oh, my! There's a new bid and the total amount now stands at four million gold dragons!"
Oberyn smirked because the paddle he raised was of a million. It was a calculated risk. He could end up being the winner of the auction and that'd put his House's finances at some risk. Of course, he could surrender his bid and let the Lannisters take the Valyrian steel at the price of three million. He looked at Kevan Lannister and raised an eyebrow challenging the man.
Oberyn could see brief hesitancy on Kevan Lannister's face. But, Oberyn knew Kevan was here to win this auction. Tywin would have it no other way. A man like Tywin Lannister would not retreat from a chance to show off his wealth and acquire his precious Valyrian steel. And Kevan Lannister was the shadow of his elder brother. How can a shadow make its own choice? His assessment didn't prove wrong. Before his eyes, Kevan Lannister raised his paddle.
"Oh, look! Another ten thousand in the pot."
Oberyn was tempted to raise his paddle again but he let go of the urge. He came here for one purpose only. It was to bleed the Lannisters of their precious gold. He accomplished that task. He was quite satisfied to rob the Lannisters out of one million gold dragons more. It was a sound victory in his eyes.
When it became clear that no one was going to challenge the Lannisters on their bid the auction went in their favour. Oberyn was quite happy with the auction's conclusion. The Lannisters would be tying up quite a lot of gold for a Valyrian steel weapon.
"The auction goes to Tywin Lannister of House Lannister."
It was not a blow Oberyn would have preferred to give Tywin Lannister but it was the only one he could afford in the current situation. So, he left the Iron Bank a happy man.
Harry watched quietly as the celebrations went about in the Stane lands. He had insisted that they make a stop at Driftwood Hall before they returned home. It took some prodding but his uncle finally relented. They made a quick stop at Driftwood Hall and Harry immediately went to work. He blessed the lands of House Stane with his magic for better crop yield just like he did in the Northern Mountains.
His reason was purely personal. He did not want anyone from House Stane to seek out the island of Skane. He knew the island of Skane was blessed with an empty shoreline and the interior was surrounded by bald hills but his success on the island could attract more visitors there. Of course, no one would survive the protections he left there. Therefore, he didn't want House Stane to be encouraged considering their proximity to the island.
Besides, he felt it would be a disservice to leave the descendants of Twerlton in their poor state. So, he decided to lend a helping hand by turning their lands fertile and arable. His magic helped in growing potatoes and pumpkins overnight. This put the people in a festive mode and they were insistent on giving him a grand farewell.
"Come now. Don't sit there and brood all night. This celebration is in your honour. It'll be better if you celebrate now cause your father and mother won't exactly be happy with you when you return home." said Benjen.
"Hey! All I have done is for the benefit of the North." Harry protested.
"Tell that to Lady Stark, nephew. See how that will go over with her. Not to mention the magic stuff you did with the Mountain Clans, the flying ship and now this. So, come and take part in the celebration. After all, the celebration is in your honour."
Harry doubted his mother or father would be cross with him. After all, his father was the one who sent him away on this journey in the first place. If anything, his efforts to alleviate the food crisis in the North would be appreciated by everyone. Nonetheless, he joined in on the celebration. At dawn, they'd begin their journey back home.