"How could you let this happen, uncle? You bartered away my inheritance in my absence."

Rodrik Harlaw sighed, hearing his niece rant and rave about the current situation at Pyke. He had dreaded this conversation ever since he stood back and allowed Victarion Greyjoy to take over Pyke in the absence of Theon or Asha.

"There was nothing I could do, Asha. For the sake of peace in the islands, I had to leave your uncle's ascension uncontested," said Rodrik, which only further enraged his niece.

"I'll not have your peace, uncle. The Seastone chair is mine!" Asha screamed.

"Then you are offended at the wrong person. Your uncle does not hold the Seastone chair. It is now in the possession of the Lord of Avalon." Rodrik said calmly.

The frustrated scream that tore through his niece's throat was entirely predictable. Rodrik was aware his niece had spent the better part of her formative years trying desperately to please and emulate Balon Greyjoy, a man he cursed almost every night for the ill fate he brought upon his daughter and their family. Ever since Theon was taken hostage after the first failed rebellion, Asha had tried her best to claim the position of heir of Pyke. It was a futile attempt, and he had said so to his niece many times, but the girl was stubborn as a mule like her father.

"What would you have me do, Asha? Do you want civil war to break out amongst our people while our enemies are decimating us?" Rodrik asked with a shake of his head.

"But…"

"Look around you, child." Rodrik snapped, losing his patience. "Harlaw is now sworn to Avalon. Blacktyde is now ruled by a Northerner and filled with Northern ships and Northmen. This is not the time for your pettiness."

"And whose fault is that? While I was earning the Iron Price raiding the shores of the Summer Islands, you were busy losing to a wolf pup." Asha shouted.

"Your father's fault. He thought he could poke the wolf and not get bitten." Rodrik retorted with a scowl. "He was wrong. And now, we're all suffering for it."

"I don't see you suffering, uncle. I see you remain cosy in your precious library with your precious books." Asha snapped back, her dark eyes glaring balefully at him.

Rodrik let out a snort and shook his head in disappointment.

"Like your father, you are blind to the shifting world around you, girl." Rodrik said harshly before dragging his niece out of his library despite her vocal protests.

He was an old man way past his prime, but he had enough strength in his limbs to make sure his unruly niece followed him. The furious pace took him outside the walls of his ancestral home within a short time, and he pushed his niece towards the west side of the wall.

"You think me a coward, niece. You think I'm wasting away among my books while I should be giving orders to my captains to sail my ships to defend your rights and secure the Iron Islands from the Starks." Rodrik bellowed furiously. "Look at the wall and see the price of defiance." "

Pikes lined the walls with many heads, crowning the tips. Some bodies were hung from the crenelations on ropes with their necks snapped.

"The Black Wolf is no mere pup. Your father underestimated the Starks twice and is now freezing his balls at the Wall. That is the fate of all those captains who defied the edicts of the Lord of Avalon." Rodrik nodded at the dead men lining his walls. "If you persist in acting foolishly, your mother might one day wake up in the morning and find your head decorating this wall, and it'll break her heart. That is a sight I'd like not to see in my old age."

"How did they…?" Asha asked wide-eyed, recognising some of the captains from her time sailing the seas.

"The Northerners have spies amongst our men. Some of our best sailors and captains have been shifting loyalties to Harrion Stark after each passing day. Our builders are leaving our shores for Avalon, attracted by the promise of gold and a life of affluence. Blacktyde is turning into a Northern stronghold under Leobald Tallhart. It won't be long before the Northerners start taking over the rest of the home islands."

"So tell me, Asha. Do you think my time is better spent on preserving what we have or throwing it all away by fighting on your behalf against Victarion Greyjoy?" Rodrik asked, leaving his niece stumped.

Rodrik forcibly calmed himself, seeing Asha falling silent.

"While Victarion commands Pyke, he's doing a poor job so far. He has been unable to build back even a quarter of our strength in the sea."

"Why? What's stopping him from rebuilding the Iron Fleet?" Asha asked, folding her hands under her breasts with a dissatisfied look.

"The Stark fleet, niece. I don't know how, but whenever an Ironborn longship leaves our ports for reaving, they never come back." said Rodrik.

"How is that possible? Does the Starks have that many ships watching over our ports?" Asha asked with trepidation.

Rodrik saw her eyes going to her own ship, Black Wind.

"Your ship is safe, Asha. Only those ships that go for reaving are attacked. Most of our ships that go for trade are not attacked by the Stark fleet." Rodrik said, patting Asha's shoulder to put her at ease.

"But how? We have many ports like Lordsport scattered across the islands. I refuse to believe Starks are keeping watch over all of our ports and know which ships to attack." Asha asked.

"I don't know how, and I don't frankly care at this point. Harrion Stark is a cold, ruthless fellow like the northern winter. There are rumours spreading the islands that he killed the Drowned God."

Asha scoffed upon hearing that.

"I didn't take you for a godly man, uncle." said Asha.

"I'm not, but unfortunately, the rest of our people are. Even your uncle swore he saw the Stark boy pull the Drowned God from the ocean's depths and kill it. It's a rumour that most of our people are believing in. Asha, the fear that pervades Ironborn's mind, is not easily scrubbed away. And now, they're seeing our best reavers dying like flies that fear only grows several folds."

"Then what do you suggest that I do? Do you want me to give up my claim on Pyke and cower in fear of a wolf's shadow for the rest of my life?" Asha asked in frustration.

"No, girl. I want you to be smart. You have a brother in Winterfell. Seek him out and enlist his help to befriend the Black Wolf. Use their strength to your advantage if you want to thrive in these islands." Rodrik suggested.

"Befriend the Stark who humiliated my father? Are you mad?" Asha asked incredulously.

"It is not madness to befriend those who are stronger than us, Asha. Not every issue can be solved by the force of arms and ships. If you hope to lead the Ironborn, you must use your mind and outthink your opponents. Because no self-respecting Ironborn lordling would allow you to ascend over their heads without a fight." said Rodrik.

"What makes you think my brother has any sort of influence with the Starks?" Asha asked after a moment of quietly thinking over everything that was said so far.

Rodrik could only shake his head. "Think girl. Why did Lord Stark spare young Theon when Balon launched an attack on the North?"

He could see Asha stop a moment and give his question some serious thought.

"Now, you see. Seek out your brother and enlist his aid. Together, you two might stand a chance to wrestle the control of Pyke from Victarion. Alone, you stand no chance." Rodrik said, squeezing his niece's shoulder.

He had no hope that Asha or Theon could convince Harrion Stark to help them gain control over Pyke. But he hoped that Asha would regain her sibling and abandon her mad ambitions of ruling the Iron Islands in the image of her father.

'The legacy of Balon Greyjoy should end with him.' Rodrik thought.


"I still don't understand how a mirror can help us keep in touch with home while we are in a faraway land." Robb commented, inspecting the giant mirror inside Harry's cabin.

"Like this," said Harry, tapping the mirror's surface with his power ring. "Avalon. Maester Marwyn."

The mirror flickered before the reflection on the mirror changed to show Maester Marwyn reading a large tome on his desk.

"My lord?" Marwyn looked up from his tome to stare at the mirror in confusion.

"Think nothing of it, Maester. I was just showing Robb how the mirror functions." said Harry with a dismissive wave.

"Oh."

With another tap of his ring, the mirror went back to showing the reflection.

"That's incredible. Ravens could become useless if these mirrors are used in every castle." Robb said excitedly.

"Don't get your hopes up, brother. I don't think sharing these mirrors with other houses is a good idea. Empowering them to transmit all kinds of messages at the speed of light is not exactly a sound move from a future Lord of Winterfell." Harry deadpanned.

"Forget I said anything." said Robb after a moment of thought.

"Hmm. I'll try, but I make no promises." Harry teased before going back to reading the book in his hand with his feet on the table.

"You know, I didn't thank you for convincing father to let me go on this trip with you. I was desperately hoping to stay away from Winterfell." said Robb.

Harry looked up from the book on Braavosi culture he had borrowed from Maester Luwin to stare curiously at Robb.

"Now, what would make you think that?" Harry asked.

"Winterfell was getting overcrowded with all the lords and their daughters. I suppose you don't feel it, but the expectations of me are so high, and I don't think I can ever live up to them. Of course, don't think I'm blaming you brother. It's just frustrating at times." said Robb.

Harry stared at his downtrodden twin with a critical eye.

"Robb, do you remember the tale of Torrhen Stark?" Harry suddenly asked.

"The King who knelt?" Robb asked with a frown.

"The very same."

"Of course. Torrhen Stark was the last King of Winter. He knelt before Aegon and surrendered his crown without a fight. He was the only king to do so in the Seven Kingdoms." said Robb.

"Yes, he didn't fight Aegon and his sister wives. He only marched down the Neck and knelt at the Trident after Aegon and his sisters arrived atop their dragons. The people still deride him for surrendering without a fight. But I see him as one of the best among the Winter Kings. Do you know why?"

Robb remained silent, but he was listening keenly.

"I like him because, despite the overwhelming favour for war among his lords, he boldly decided to do nothing and merely bend his knee. He saved thousands of lives on that day with that single act. He preserved the North and Stark rule over the North for generations to come. He was willing to take in all the blame for the benefit of his people and descendants."

"Being a leader is a thankless job. No matter what decision you take, someone will be offended somewhere. A good leader listens to all the opinions presented to him but, ultimately, listens to his own heart. Similarly, you don't have to do anything that others say or do something that others expect of you. When the time comes, you'll rule Winterfell and the North. Just listen to your heart and rule as Torrhen Stark did."

Robb laughed. "It's not as easy as you say, brother."

"Of course not. That's why you have me, Jon and the rest of our family. No one said you've got to rule alone." said Harry. "Besides, this trip should boost your negotiating skills with foreign rulers."

Fenris chose that moment to make himself known by letting out a low growl from where the direwolf was resting.

"See. Even Fenris agrees." said Harry.


When the blue ocean disappeared from beneath the airship and the land appeared, the ship's captain alerted the entire ship, which happened to be Anya. Harry had initially hoped to bring Celos Poole with them as the airship captain on their trip, but the situation in the Iron Islands demanded the man's presence in Avalon. After all, Celos Poole oversaw the response team that acted out missions for the fleet in tracking and destroying Ironborn ships sailing the Sunset Sea, intent on raiding the shores of Westeros. The plan was to strangulate the Ironborn and diminish their naval battle capability in the next three decades. Of course, he had ordered to spare the trade ships setting sail from all the major ports of the Iron Islands. While he considered the Ironborn his enemy and their culture an anathema, he was not cruel enough to let them starve on their miserable islands.

Of course, some trigger-happy officers in his fleet occasionally sank any Ironborn ships they could find. He had those sent to the Bear Islands to oversee the transport of ice to the southern kingdoms. Transporting and unloading ice in the southern ports were some of the most tedious jobs for such trigger-happy idiots who refused to follow standard orders during peacetime.

But Harry also recognised the value of enthusiastic soldiers. That was why he refused to send the few sailors charged with the crime of attacking trade ships of the Ironborn into guard duty in trade vessels of Avalon.

"My lord. We've reached Blacktyde." said Anya as Harry walked into the ship's command bridge.

"Take us down, Captain." said Harry.

The airship sailed smoothly in the sky and slowly started descending as it neared the castle adjoining the port that hosted a portion of his fleet. The ships anchored at the port flew the wolf banner, and so far, they had done an excellent job cleaning out the reavers and pirates. The slave trade supported by the Ironborn had come to a screeching halt as he had used the Marauders' Map to its full effect.

"Robb and I will only take a moment. You can stay put in the ship." said Harry, looking at Jon, Elsera, Josera and Jojen.

Once their ship landed, Harry and Robb disembarked with two armed guards flanking them. The port and the castle came alive as people surrounded the airship. The guards of House Tallhart kept the crowd under control while Lord Leobald welcomed them into his partially built home. The original castle of House Blacktyde was destroyed during the war, and the current one was being built around an old fort that had gone into disrepair. Harry's eyes found Lord Leobald's family accompanying the man. By appointing Leobald Tallhart as the lord of Blacktyde, he had earned the goodwill of House Tallhart and Hornwood, as the man's wife was a Hornwood. It also helped that Lord Leobald was an agreeable person who had happily accepted the deal of a fifty-year lease of the ports on the island in return for a reduced tax levy.

The island's economy depended entirely on the shipping traffic that came into the ports from Avalon. The glass trade had been booming since the Ironborn lost their fleet, allowing Harry to move his ships into the ports along the Sunset Sea. The ice trade boomed once he started having the ships deliver ice as far as Dorne. Ice was a luxury the desert kingdom could not live without, as found by the increasing demand for ice from the North. The tricky part of the ice trade was preserving the solid structure for use. Harry went with the simple method of selling charmed boxes to preserve the temperature inside, which maintained the structural integrity of ice for an indefinite period.

"Lord Harrion, Lord Robb. Welcome to Blacktyde. My family and I heartily welcome you." Lord Leobald bowed respectfully, as did his family, before offering them guest rights.

"Thank you, my lord." said Robb.

A few minutes later, Harry and Robb were seated in a tower with Leobald Tallhart. Harry didn't waste any time and explained in detail the plan to cut a canal across the Neck and how it'd increase the shipping traffic once the Free Cities started sending their trade vessels. Blacktyde was one of the best stop-gap ports in the Sunset Sea while sailing towards the southern shores of Westeros.

"So, another port has to be built on the island." Lord Leobald said, looking thoughtfully at the map of the island.

"Yes. We think it'd be better to build another harbour exclusively for merchant vessels." said Robb. "It'd lessen the burden on the current port and have it repurposed for our fleet."

"Yes, that's possible." Lord Leobald nodded tentatively. "But I'll need more workers and more gold."

"I'll inform Ser Celos Poole of our agreement. Ser Celos will arrange everything you need." said Harry.

"Then I'll ensure the work is finished speedily." Lord Leobald vowed.

"Good. Now, onto other matters. Has there been any issues from Harlaw?" Harry asked.

"Not recently. However, our spies have informed me about the arrival of Asha Greyjoy. She and her fellow reavers are currently staying put at Harlaw."

"Asha Greyjoy? Theon's sister?" Robb asked curiously.

"Yes, brother. Lord Harlaw told me she was away from the Iron Islands during the war. It's a tradition among the Ironborn to prove their mettle in the sea by reaving distant shores to earn their Iron Price. She must've been proving herself capable of command by raiding ships near the Stepstones." Harry explained.

"Balon Greyjoy allowed his daughter to command his ships?" Robb asked with surprise.

"Rumour was that Balon wanted to replace Theon as his heir. The Lord reaper of Pyke had the girl trained with his finest captains." Leobald said.

"Are they planning on contesting Victarion Greyjoy's rule?" Harry asked curiously.

"I don't know my lord." Lord Leobald shrugged. "The lords of the Iron Islands have not gathered at Harlaw. If Asha Greyjoy intends to stake her claim on Pyke, she'll need the support of other Ironborn captains and lords."

"Hmm. That's disappointing. A civil war between these pirates would've been of immense benefit to us." Harry said, earning a look of shock from Robb.

"I suspect you won't be disappointed, my lord. If we've learned of Asha Greyjoy's arrival at Harlaw, it stands to reason Victarion has also learned the same." said Lord Leobald.

Harry nodded while frowning thoughtfully. He had left the issue of Pyke vague while withdrawing his fleet from the Iron Islands to facilitate infighting among the Ironborn. He worried that the Iron Throne would step in, but the Small Council had turned a blind eye to the Ironborn. He hoped they maintained the disinterest for some more time.

'Maybe they're also waiting to see whether the Greyjoys force a civil war on the Ironborn. The royal fleet is not far away to take action.' Harry mused.

"I'll inform Ser Celos to keep the fleet on high alert. If Vicatrion makes a move, the fleet will be prepared to have the conflict confined to the islands and far away from our shipping lanes."

AN:

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