Obligatory disclaimer: I don't own ASOIAF; that honour goes to GRRM.

Edited by: Himura, and R. Yorkshireman; B. Reader: Bub3loka

I also want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement.

Also, if you feel generous, want to support me, or read ahead, you know where to find me.

26th Day of the 2nd Moon

Garlan Tyrell, up the Rose Road

The Battle of Rushing Falls had been bloody, and Garlan could remember it too well. He remembered every foe he had slain, but one young face haunted him—brown, doe-like eyes full of fear. It wasn't anyone special of great lineage or a storied house… just some boy too young to even see a battle, let alone fight it.

Ultimately, Mathis Rowan had a thousand more men and a third more knights and used his reserves to surround the left flank and push it back after two days of fighting.

Even then, the Riverlords could have salvaged the battle if Edmure Tully hadn't been knocked off his horse. The Tully heir was a capable knight and decent commander, yet his presence kept the Riverlanders fighting, and the levies fought hard for their lord. His uncle, the Blackfish, proved a serious threat on the right flank with his light cavalry and hit-and-run tactics. Lord Osgrey had lost so many men to the harassing that he foolishly broke ranks and charged after the veteran knight…only to be cut down by an ambush by Bracken's heavy horse.

Even Lord Rowan's gambit with the reserves nearly failed due to Blackwood raining death from above as they were stationed on a small hill behind the lines. So many arrows were falling that Garlan could have sworn they darkened the sky.

Still, they managed to push on the second day, and they would have killed or captured Edmure Tully if he had not turned his horse away from a lance aimed at his neck. Or perhaps his steed panicked. Whether through skill or luck, the lance smashed into the thickest part of the breastplate, knocking Tully off his horse. Yet before the Reachmen could capture or kill the fallen heir to Riverrun, his men recovered him in a bloody scuffle and retreated.

War was a bloody affair, and Garlan killed far too many good men in that battle. Men with whom he would have delighted sharing bread, salt, and wine or even fought side by side with.

The aftermath of the battle was bloody and chaotic, with pillaging and looting rampant in the surrounding villages, as Mathis Rowan lost control of the frenzied troops. The man had been wounded at the end of the battle, and by the time he recovered to command, it was too late. The captured nobles and knights were secured for ransoms, but everyone else had been put to the sword.

Some people were even burned alive for heresy, including Lord Tytos Blackwood's captured heir, Brynden. That the man did not follow the Seven and was supposedly a heathen instead did not seem to matter, and Garlan failed to get there in time to stop such attempts of senseless slaughter, for the men's blood and fervour ran hot from the battle. Blackwood archers were responsible for many deaths among the knights, and Brynden Blackwood commanded the rearguard.

Alas, Garlan had no taste for this brutal savagery, so he swiftly rode back to his father, his mind already focused on the next steps in the war, if with a heavy heart.

The tides of war were turning, and Renly was gaining the upper hand. With Tully in retreat, Rowan could freely rush towards Harrenhal and then try to intercept Stark at the Trident. The Lannister army in the Westerlands was left in ruins, so the morale of Tywin's men would dwindle by the day.

With the Battle of the Kingswood, the old Lion had three heavy losses under his belt. The Vale was busy fighting over Robert Arryn's regency, which could take years to decide. They only had to beat Tywin Lannister, and King's Landing would be theirs. Yet that was easier said than done, for the Lord of Casterly Rock was not someone who would just bend the knee and surrender.

Even though all his success on the field was achieved by surprise or with a vast numerical advantage, which was not in his favour this time, Garlan couldn't help but feel… tense. A cornered rat was the most dangerous, and Tywin Lannister was far bigger and more dangerous than any rat.

The split in the Faith was even uglier. Burning people alive reminded him of the Mad King's deeds, yet such deeds were supposedly backed by Renly, Joffrey, and each of their Septons.

The Rose Septon was crowned with the old Crystal Crown of the Faith by Renly and Baelor Hightower. And if the rumours were true, it was the same crown the Faith used before Aegon the Conqueror came.

What in the Seven Bloody Hells were they thinking?

Garlan had seen it first-hand in the aftermath of the battle, with the burning of Blackwood and some of the surrendered levies that followed the Old Gods. He remembered his history; the wars fought on the matters of the Faith were long and bloody. Giving such power and authority to fanatics was never done, and now the fighting would take a much uglier turn.

At least the Mountain's rampage had been stopped by his younger brother, of all people.

Winning a war would be difficult enough, but a rift in the Faith of the Seven could leave wounds lingering for decades.

Alas, he was just a knight, even if his father was the Lord of Highgarden and the Hand of the King. Because his father was Mace Tyrell, Garlan had to be seen supporting him as a dutiful son. House divided could never Grow Strong, and any doubts and questions had to be voiced privately.

To his surprise, Renly's army had moved swiftly. It had been over a hundred days since his sister's wedding in Highgarden, and they were now approaching the Kingswood through the rose road. The army camp blotted out the road and surrounding countryside as far as Garlan could see. Rowan, Crane, Oakheart, and all the houses from the Northmarch and west of the Lesser Mander were absent, for they were now fighting in the Riverlands and the Westerlands. However, everyone else's banners could be seen fluttering in the skies. From Hightower to Ashford, Selmy, Dondarrion, and a handful of lesser ones from the Stormlands, even.

Yet what Garlan did not expect was the seven-pointed star displayed on so many banners.

A group of outriders left the camp and set out to meet him. At the head was a knight Garlan knew–Ser Mark Mullendore, a cheerful knight from the Uplands.

"Ser Garlan," he greeted him.

"Come now, do away with the pleasantries, Mark," Garlan chuckled. "We've known each other for over a decade."

"As you wish," Mark snorted. "I miss those times when we fought side by side in the squire tourneys."

Garlan was pushed to compete by the knight he squired for, Ser Mern Beesbury, the uncle of Lord Warryn Beesbury. Ser Mern was a very demanding taskmaster, especially in tourneys. Garlan was entered into every squire tourney for experience and found himself fighting together alongside Mark against others more than thrice when the rounds called for a clash of two groups.

"It was certainly preferable to war," Garlan agreed with a sigh.

Mark's eyes lit up.

"Ah, I heard you already fought by the Rushing Falls." His friend's voice was laced with awe. "Lord Rowan covered himself in glory from head to toe. How was it?"

Garlan grimaced.

"Bloody," he said. "Stank badly, and there's no worse sound to hear than that of hundreds of men dying slowly, choking on their blood or trying to keep their guts in their skewered belly." It was nothing like hunting a small group of brigands. Besides, the screams of men being burnt alive were a close second, and those would haunt Garlan for quite some time. But it did not happen during the battle.

His friend waved the words away, "Aye, I've heard the first battle is rough, and you've always been too serious by far. Anyway, I was supposed to bring you to your Lord Father."

"Lead the way, then," Garlan sighed and spurred his steed to follow the Mullendore knight as the other outriders quickly dispersed. "Why are there so many seven-pointed star banners?"

Mark's face darkened.

"The High Septon has been making overtures to reinstate the Faith Militant," he muttered. "Many second, third, and fourth sons and hundreds of hedge knights support him openly. Word is Hightower, and some of the most pious lords also back him, but not openly."

Which meant that even more were in silent agreement.

Garlan rubbed his face. "I hope His Grace isn't quick to agree?"

"Renly is recalcitrant," Mark sighed. "But it got worse after the Hound killed the Mountain, and the High Septon himself forgave the man the sin of kinslaying. After some promises, Sandor Clegane started acting as the Rose Septon's sworn shield."

"But holy men are forbidden to bear arms," Garlan pointed out weakly as they rode between the tents.

Mark shook his head, and his cheer was replaced with grimness.

"None could mistake Clegane for a priest. Of course, you will see none of the Septons or the Septas wielding swords or maces," he explained. "Too many Septs burned by the Mountain's hand. Rumour is the crown can no longer act as a Protector of the Faith, and many pious knights are disgruntled."

"And what of that heresy I hear about?"

Mark Mullendore shook his head as his face darkened, "Madness, that's what."

"Father," Garlan bowed stiffly, "I have failed."

They were in the large green tent with the Tyrell banner proudly fluttering above.

"'Tis fine," his sire waved off and dismissed the servants. "The cunning old lion sent his cousin in person with a bride. I would have sent ten maidens with you if I knew."

Garlan chuckled.

"It would have made the journey slower," he pointed out. "They love their wheelhouses."

His father handed him a cup of Arbor Purple from Paxter's personal stash, "Drink."

With a sigh, Garlan took a sip and almost melted. It was just the perfect mix of crispness that melted on your tongue with a sliver of sourness and a hint of sweetness.

Yet, no matter how good, the wine could hardly put his mind off things.

"Who's that tarred head outside the royal tent?"

"The Kingslayer," Mace chuckled ruefully. "The bones were sent back to his father, but Penrose gifted the head to His Grace for his crimes. Who would have thought a knight of two and thirty could be so reckless like some green boy?"

"If he had succeeded, things would look different now," Garlan shook his head. Alas, Cortnay Penrose was a veteran knight and experienced commander. "Why is this new Rose Septon so troublesome?"

The Lord of Highgarden emptied his cup in one breath and frowned.

"Robert and Joffrey insulted the Faith too much. The Heart Tree in the Red Keep, the unpunished burning of Septs in the west of the Lesser Mander, and the crown's refusal to repay the debt when they sent gold to the bankers across the sea was too much."

"Even then, they would need some backing," Garlan muttered suspiciously.

"They have it," his father scoffed. "Renly thinks the Faith would be another dagger at the lion's back. Your Hightower cousins hope to spread their influence through the Starry Sept again, and there are too many pious knights and lords."

Garlan just sat on one of the chairs and ran a hand through his dirty hair. Gods, he needed a hot soak.

"Surely it can't be that bad?"

"It does sound worse than it is," his sire explained grimly. "Yet despite Renly's assurances, the Faith has yet to be appeased after the string of insults and indignities it has taken. At least His Grace has yet to promise them anything aside from repaying the crown's debt in the future. But Clegane's rampage has sent tens of thousands of women, children, and men fleeing south to the Mander. And as you know, the roads are already full of vagrants, and they're all flocking to Highgarden and the prosperous Tyrell lands…"

"But no lord can take in so many people," Garlan frowned. "Neither would they be willing to. Outsiders are rarely welcomed and considered beggars, troublemakers, or outlaws by most."

"Indeed." His father's face grew severe. "Indeed. We have more than enough camp followers, tradesmen, farmers, fishermen, and labourers. But the Faith welcomes them with open arms, preaches about the Father and the Warrior, and gives out alms. With nothing to do, too many are flocking to the banners of the Seven-Pointed Star. Those wandering septons have now begun preaching about burning heretics."

Garlan closed his eyes, trying to forget the screams of agony of the Blackwood heir as he burned on that stake with his men. Giving purpose to those who had not even a home left was what the Faith was supposed to do. It sounded good; only Garlan feared what would happen if they were all allowed to bear arms.

"This is madness," he muttered. "Surely, it has to be stopped. We can't be burning people like the Mad King. They burned a Blackwood boy, father!"

"Stopping it is easy enough," his father's face went cold and grim. "It's just the brutality of war. Rowan strung up the Septon responsible already. Let it not be said that King Renly's forces condone the assault on a noble's dignity. But it does not help that the boy sitting on the Iron Throne throws oil into the fire with his heresy drivel and love for trees. It forced our own High Septon to respond in turn. We must root out the Lions and their fat septon from King's Landing."

The confidence in his father's words was inspiring, but things were rarely so simple.

"I do not think Tywin Lannister will give up without a fight."

"Oh, he'll scrape and struggle, plot and scheme," his sire scoffed as he filled another chalice of wine from the oaken barrels. "But he has only a set of walls and barely thirty-five thousand swords. We have over half a hundred thousand in this host alone, and Penrose shall join us with another fifteen thousand soon enough. The only problem is the Imp-our contacts across the Narrow Sea are saying he's hiring enough sellswords for him to become a problem, but not for long."

That sounded ominous enough, and Garlan was not sure he even wanted to ask.

Fifty thousand men–an army so big had not been gathered in one place since the Conquest and the Field of Fire. This time, there was no Aegon with his sister-wives to set fire to the field of dry grassland from above. Yet Tywin Lannister would be facing more, and that was without Mathis Rowan's support.

Knowing his father, barges were used to ferry the footmen swiftly up the Mander while the cavalry rode down the road.

Garlan inhaled a heavier gulp of wine to soothe his mind and grimaced. Paxter's private stash was not some Dornish swill to drink like beer but something to be tasted carefully, enjoying each mouthful. Alas, he needed something to soothe his parched throat.

"What of Stark?" Garlan asked. "The North is far away, but if Tywin holds off long enough, they can try and rally the Riverlands and even the odds. Many Riverlords managed an orderly retreat and would be eager for vengeance."

His father sat on his throne–a smaller, moveable replica of the Oakenseat of Olde, lined with intricate golden roses encrusted with emeralds.

"I suppose you haven't heard," he muttered with a disappointed shake. "Robb Stark has only taken twelve thousand men ahorse with him. The boy has traded numbers for speed and, for some reason, has now decided to act like a common brigand, looting the lands of his uncle's bannermen."

Garlan blinked. Only one house in the northern Riverlands could be in Robb Stark's way.

"You mean… the Freys?"

The Lord of Highgarden chortled, face alight with amusement.

"Oh yes," he said as he took a deep bite of the apple pie, sauce dribbling down his chin. "The Late Walder Frey refused to commit once again, and Hoster's grandson had declared him an oathbreaker and punished him. Rash boy, but it made the old weasel's heart give out from anger."

The infamous Lord of the Crossing's death would surely leave ripples. Walder Frey left half a warband of progeny sired from his loins. Yet the ugly affair seemed to have assuaged his Father's concerns about House Stark. The North was dangerous, but not when led by a green boy like Robb Stark.

"And what will the new Lord Frey do?" Garlan asked curiously. The Freys were not a small or weak house, even before the Late Lord of the Crossing had spawned so many weasels.

His father leaned forward and licked his apple pie's sweet crumbs and juice from his fingers.

"Officially, all Stevron Frey's brothers and broods have been kicked out of the Twins. But they have split into three groups–the first retreating to their mother's houses, the second moving to join Edmure Tully with five hundred men-at-arms, and the last group might show to join Renly soon enough."

It seemed the younger weasel was no lesser than his sire in cunning, but instead of trying to avoid fighting after being shamed, he decided to 'support' both sides indirectly.

"I don't see how this will help our problem with the Faith," Garlan huffed. "For good or for bad, the gate has been opened, and now it seems like the new High Septon is no longer content with taking bribes and lip services from the nobles like the old one. The support he receives from the nobles and our Hightower kin has galvanised him."

Mace Tyrell smiled. But it was not the jovial one he presented to the others or his family, but full of teeth.

"The High Septon can be replaced once he has outlived his usefulness," he explained softly in a way that gave Garlan chills. "After the war is won, His Grace will have no choice but to curb the Faith. They are nought but a tool which shall be returned to the shed."

Truth be told, Garlan did not like the sound of it. Not only was it blasphemous, but Maegor took six years and couldn't cripple the Faith even after the High Septon bowed, and he had Balerion by his side.

"But the longer the war goes on, the harder such a thing would be," he mouthed mournfully.

"Then we'll just have to win quicker," the Lord of Highgarden said coldly before the usual joviality returned to his face. "Enough, you seem tired by the road, my boy. Go, take a hot soak and some food in your belly, and see your sister. She's been asking for you."

The bath and the auroch steak did little to soothe his worries.

After a single battle, Garlan struggled to imagine the bloodshed and feuds that would form. The more the fighting dragged on, the more brutal things would become.

Once one side started resorting to cruelty and savagery, the other had to respond in kind, lest they looked weak. And Tywin Lannister had already thrown that glove with the Mountain before even Joffrey had decided to involve the Faith.

All that training he sought to do for war made him feel dirty, and no amount of scrubbing could wash the grime off his mind or soul. Striking down brigands and outlaws was one thing–they were brutes and savages who showed the lowest humanity could fall. Garlan could bring himself to dispense such justice and cut out the rot from the land.

Yet the levies, men-at-arms, and knights he had fought at the Rushing Falls had done nothing wrong but answer their liege's call to arms. They were law-abiding men, having fathers, mothers, children, wives, and sisters.

Some were as young as four and ten or even younger. The face of that beardless young boy, eyes wide in fear while choking on his blood, would not leave his dreams. It was a face full of regret, broken dreams, and the painful realisation that his life was over before it began. Garlan would never forget the heartbeat when the light left the boy's eyes as he grew limp.

Was this glory?

Was this honour?

Was this valour?

It was just one boy… dead at his hand. How many more would have to be slain? How many more wives would become widows, and how many mothers would have to lose their children?

What of all those who had surrendered after the fighting?

Word had arrived earlier at the camp while he was taking a soak–Crakehall had fallen, and the keep had been sacked. The men were bloodthirsty, for the defenders had resisted fiercely instead of surrendering. The storming of Crakehall took a toll on Lord John Oakheart's army, but they were victorious nonetheless–the word was four attackers had fallen for every defender.

The feast in the army camp had already begun, and celebration was due, for Lord Oakheart would next march on Lannisport, and there was no army to stop him. After ten years of summer, the Westerlands were ripe for plunder, for Tywin Lannister had taken the swords that could defend his kingdom, and Ser Stafford Lannister had lost many of those remaining.

Wine only tasted like bitter poison on Garlan's tongue. Yes, it was a great victory, even if his father celebrated it as if he was the one who had led the storming of Crakehall when there were no Tyrell swords in the Westerlands.

Should Garlan celebrate the rampant looting and burning, where men took things by the sword only slightly better than common brigands and outlaws that he oft hunted down?

Should he celebrate that daughters and wives would be despoiled just because they were born to the wrong man or served the wrong lord?

It was easy to forget it all in the heat of battle and to swing your sword for glory, valour, and honour. Yet then the fighting stopped, and you saw a field full of hungry crows, corpses, broken families, and shattered dreams.

This was the ugliness of war that none of the bards sang about… The Seven-Pointed Star claimed no sins can ever be committed for a righteous cause.

But was their cause righteous?

Garlan wanted to say yes. Joffrey was a cruel, bastard-born boy usurping a throne he had no claim to. It was something Renly genuinely believed, even if the Lannister twins' incest was pure conjecture if only pushed to slander their side.

But was their cause truly righteous? Why did nobody mention Shireen Baratheon, Renly's niece from his elder brother?

Everyone forgot and ignored the young lady of Dragonstone, especially when a former smuggler was her regent. The precedents had shown that a daughter's claim was weak, but that did not mean it did not exist.

If their cause was righteous, why was Renly more interested in Garlan's brother than his sister? Or perhaps it wasn't a sin because their cause was righteous, as the Seven-Pointed Star dictated?

Garlan hated it. He hated war and wished peace had lasted forever, but he loved his family more and would fight for it. Victory was bloody, but defeat was worse, if not fatal.

There was no mercy in Casterly Rock's cold heart, and should Tywin Lannister prevail, nothing good awaited them all. So now that Renly was crowned, there was no choice but to fight and win. All those daughters, men, and wives his heart wept for could be men and women he knew. Those who lived in the Reach, smallfolk and nobles–the Mountain proved he would spare nobody.

His sister could be raped and torn apart like Princess Elia if by a different brute than Clegane. His siblings and parents would all be slaughtered without an ounce of mercy.

Yet Garlan held a grain of hope. There could be honour and reason in war; Eddard Stark had shown this aplenty, especially after returning Dawn to the Daynes.

Many would have claimed the legendary greatsword after their young sister's untimely and dishonourable death. But not Eddard Stark, who went through the desert, tired and alone, to return the blade to Starfall in person.

Across the Seven Kingdoms, you could find many who hated the Starks for one reason or another, but none could claim not to respect Eddard Stark. Even his father, Mace, admired the late Lord Stark so much that he taught Garlan to learn more about him.

The weather had grown windy, and the banners and other flutters were furiously whipping above the sea of tents. The sky was littered with clouds that reminded him of pieces of cotton.

With a heavy heart, Garlan Tyrell strolled to the camp before heading to his sister. He was shown the way to a fancy tent painted green and gold near the hill where the royal pavilion was crowned over the camp.

Ser Bryce Caron stood guard outside, wrapped in a bright yellow cloak and a yellow suit of plate to match. It made him stand out like a sore thumb.

Garlan still wasn't sure if Renly was mocking the Faith with his rainbow guard or trying to honour them. Yet here stood the Lord of Nightsong, the last of the Carons if you did not count his bastard brother, joining the new knightly order.

"Greetings, Ser Garlan," the Stormlord nodded respectfully. "Her Grace awaits you."

The tent was warm and choked with the scent of roses and tulips. Margaery sat amidst a sprawl of pillows while a gaggle of her cousins were with her, all dressed in colourful gowns reminding him of a garden. Elinor, Alla, Leona Tyrell, Desmera Redwyne, and a few others he struggled to recognise.

"Go now, leave me to speak with my brother," his sister quickly dismissed them. Half of them winked at Garlan on their way out for some reason, baffling the knight. "Hello, Garlan!"

"Marge," he smiled weakly as he glanced at the slim golden crown inscribed with intricate roses and vines atop her head. "A war camp is no place for a lady, let alone a Queen."

A dark shadow passed through her face.

"I would agree, but the king needs an heir," Margaery stated firmly, though her voice was bereft of feeling. Every trace of her usual cheer was gone, replaced by ice.

Garlan swallowed the bad feeling in his chest.

"Are there difficulties with the marriage?"

He felt foolish for asking the question. His sister wouldn't be acting so… queer and distant if everything was fine. Yet he had to ask regardless.

"No," his sister avoided his gaze as her eyes wandered anywhere but him. "Renly is very kind but not very eager. The difficulties have been overcome," her eye twitched. "I have missed my moonblood for a cycle now, but I'm unsure if it would take, so I have decided to remain for another moon or two."

It was the truth, but not the full one, spoken without a single ounce of feeling. Garlan couldn't help but feel a surge of anger; here she was, Margaery Tyrell, more beautiful than ever, with her hair braided with roses and gold, a crown atop her head, and her dreams fulfilled.

His sister was the queen now and had never looked more miserable and cold, like a wilting flower instead of a blooming rose.

"I am here for you, sweet sister," he whispered, grasping her dainty hand between his callous fingers. "You only need to say the word if you need any aid."

Margaery's jaw tightened, but then she exhaled.

"It's fine," she smiled. This time, it reached her eyes, if barely. Garlan wanted to weep; his sister was half gone, and the queen had begun to take her place. "Look at you, all knightly. Willas was right to call you the Gallant, and I hear you did more than well in the last battle! You killed two knights and captured three more the first time you took the field!"

"Pah," it was his turn to grimace. "There's nothing uglier than a battlefield, Marge. Besides, the knights I killed were tired, and the rest only surrendered because they were surrounded and outnumbered. There was far more to that bloodbath than fighting knights."

And it was far different than fighting brigands. It was everything he trained for so fervently and had done well, much to his regret. May the Seven forgive him, for Garlan had become a skilled killer.

"I'd rather be praised for doing something other than bloody butchery."

Margaery slipped her hand from his grasp and poked his cheek with a finger.

"Perhaps you should try and visit your wife?" A sly smile spread across his sister's face. "Poor Leonette has seen you only once since the wedding night and is afraid you've forgotten her. She almost cried with joy when I agreed to take her with my retinue."

Garlan coughed. He had, in fact, completely forgotten about Leonette, the dainty maiden he had only seen on the day of his hasty wedding, which he had tried his best to forget. It had been the eve just before that trip to King's Landing.

1st Day of the 3rd Moon

Tyrion Lannister

He stared at the dungeon's wall from his straw-covered cot with absolute boredom. Or, well, as far as he could see, the damp grey stone in the darkness. For good or for bad, his eyes were slowly getting used to the lack of light. The scratches on the wall indicated that over thirty days had passed. In hindsight, he should have seen the trap coming.

As usual, he had been visiting the pleasure houses after a long day of bargaining with sellswords. Every city had to be sampled, and Tyrion liked to start from the middling whorehouses to the more reputable ones.

He had just finished a round with Maelora, a bright-eyed lass with silver hair from Lys when an angry-looking wastrel waylaid him. Garbed in expensive purple silk with a golden belt, the blonde-haired man looked rather important, but so did most small fishes with a sliver of wealth across Essos.

"How dare a dwarf such as you soil the magnificent Maelora!"

"Boy, you seem quite pent up," Tyrion had laughed, slightly surprised that the man spoke in the common tongue. "There's no need to fight for some whores. Here, you can have the whole night with the girl on me."

The young man stormed off angrily, red-faced, leaving the gold-filled pouch Tyrion had thrown on the varnished ebony floor.

Some people were too stuck up to appreciate his generosity.

Yet half an hour later, the whole might of the Tyroshi city guard had collapsed on him and his men. Even when well-equipped and trained, his retinue, barely a dozen swordsmen, could not contend with over a hundred city guards, and they had surrendered. Tyrion was dragged to a dark, damp cell under the Archon's palace.

The reason? Attacking and insulting the Marinar family, which prided itself on its Valyrian heritage. They were claiming the coin pouch had intended to maim the thrice-cursed silkpants.

In hindsight, this could have only been a setup–why else would the Archon's brother of all people raise such a fuss over a whore?

Besides, how many nobles in the Free Cities spoke the common tongue so well? After a few months through Myr and Pentos, Tyrion could confidently say–pitifully few. The language of the Freehold was the tongue of Essos, and while most spoke the bastardised version, the highborn tended to stick to the High Valyrian.

When Lothor Brune had caught rumours of other Westerosi ships, Tyrion should have investigated. Alas, his mistake was to dismiss them as the usual merchant vessels from Tarth and Greenstone.

And now, Tyrion Lannister, the Master of Coin and heir-apparent of Lord Tywin Lannister, had been stuck in a cell for over a moon. It reeked badly despite changing the chamber pot every three days.

They provided him with half-decent bread, like those in a run-down inn in the Westerlands, a slight serving of mutton, and a cup of weak cider.

The worst part was the darkness and the silence–none of the stone-faced guards ever deigned to utter a word, even when the food was served. The name of Tywin Lannister also elicited no reaction here, alas. Yet it gave him ample time for contemplation, for all the good it would do.

While disliked, his father was a dangerous man to provoke. Yet to do so, they must have had assurances; the only one who could give them such was Renly.

Figuring out why didn't take much either. The money owed to the Tyroshi trading Cartels was ignored, and here he was, splurging money on sellswords instead, especially after the Iron Throne had spat in Magister Sarrios' face.

The same magister whose daughter was married to the Archon.

Yet the question was… why would Renly even bother with Tyrosh? They had no armed force outside their city guard, and pulling the Archonate into the war when Renly had an advantage could drag other Free Cities into the conflict anyway.

No matter how Tyrion thought it over, it didn't make sense, which was troublesome because he couldn't dispute the trumped-up charges with his influence here. These barbaric Essosi did not respect customs like trial by battle, so freedom seemed far out of grasp. Worse, he couldn't talk his way out of this conundrum because no matter how much he yelled, threatened, or demanded to see someone, all he received was silence and a hoarse throat.

Tyrion still couldn't wrap his head around how Jaime had died like some nameless fool, even two moons later. In a night battle in the Kingswood against some old knight, no less? His brother had always been so proud, tall, strong, and unflappable that Tyrion couldn't imagine him dying.

Yet the sinking feeling in his stomach that accompanied the hunger made him believe. Somehow, his proud brother had died, and nobody else loved him in this family. Tommen and Myrcella probably still liked him for all the good it did.

Everything was dreadfully boring and dark until today when he had a visitor who did not bring food.

Tyrion had to blink wearily because the bright oil lamp let him make out three, no, four shapes in the darkness.

"Short son of Tywin Lannister." The words were spoken in High Valyrian. "You might wonder why you are here. Go on, girl, translate."

"Son of Tywin Lannister," the reply was in a sweet, strong voice with a slight accent. "You might wonder why-"

"I can speak High Valyrian," he croaked out. "No need to waste your voice, girl. Who am I speaking to?"

Finally, his eyes adjusted to the annoying lantern, if barely. Flanked by two Unsullied, before him stood a tall, plump, olive-skinned man with a bored face, with a young slave girl with a flat, dusky face adorned by beautiful golden eyes. Her features reminded Tyrion of the exotic Naathi whores he had spent a few nights during his stay in Myr.

"This is Magister Zaphon Sarrios," the young girl continued in flawless High Valyrian.

His blood ran cold; this was the powerful Tyroshi magister who had lent over half a million golden dragons to the Iron Throne—the same one whose envoy had been mocked in court.

"Greetings, esteemed magister," Tyrion bowed as deeply as the cold iron shackles allowed him to. "I must apologise for my unkemptness. I also profess myself disappointed, for this establishment does not offer a warm bath or a clean change of clothing."

"You speak the word of the Freehold well, dwarf. I'd say you would make for a fine jester," Zaphon chuckled. "And you have a good eye for men, I'd say. They all agreed to work for me for some coin. The one with the bear paw on his steel was more reluctant, but a promise of a beautiful wife did buy him."

Tyrion almost choked on his anger. His men… his men all bought out!? Even Lothor Brune, his right hand? All his effort and gold invested into his retinue, all the wine they had drank together like bosom friends…

He had promised them everything! Tyrion had given them riches, opportunity, recognition, and respect.

Alas, it seemed he wasn't enough. A dwarf couldn't inspire much loyalty, and this… magister could outbid him where gold was concerned. The valyrian steel rings embedded with diamonds and sapphires on his finger spoke volumes of his wealth. The last time Tyrion had seen more dragonsteel in one place was when Robb Stark lopped off Mance Rayder's head with Ice.

Tyrion swallowed down his fury and schooled himself.

"I did not know Essos lacked for sellswords, esteemed magister?"

"Ah, but those men from the Sunset Lands train in different ways," Zaphon smiled, almost blinding Tyrion again. All of his bloody teeth were made from gold. "Far more disciplined and knowledgeable in the matters of war than the riff-raff from around here."

"Surely they cannot compare to Unsullied in formation," Tyrion motioned to the two stone-faced guards clad in half-plate, with ringmail peeking underneath.

The magister stroked his sparse goatee.

"You are not wrong," he agreed. "But, I wanted Jon Snow, you see."

Tyrion blinked. That was not a name he had heard in quite a while.

"Jon Snow? What does he have with anything?"

"Aye, the Stark bastard. Magic and sword, working hand in hand, raised by the High Lord of the North himself," Zaphon's eyes burned with desire as if he was a celibate man looking at a ripely flowered maiden. "And made a name for himself with a blade in hand at six and ten. With such a fine specimen, he could have any of my daughters as he wished, and the Sarrios line would finally gain a capable sorcerer along with his lineage."

"But Jon Snow is… missing," Tyrion pointed out, ignoring the silly claims of magic. "It's been nearly two hundred days since anyone had caught even a glimpse of him."

The magister sighed.

"Yes, this is very true. Which is why I must resort to the lesser pick."

"Still, why my sellswords?" Tyrion asked insistently. "Their lineage is nothing compared to Jon Snow. Or skill if half the rumours are believed. A bunch of distant cousins hailing from cadet branches or a handful of miller sons. Surely, they can't be superior to the Unsullied's discipline?"

"Discipline is all good, Tyrion Lannister. But the Unsullied are just a tool." Sarrion Zaphon poked at the guard on his right, who remained unmoving, his face expressionless. "The Good Masters of Astapor break the slave-soldiers—not once, not twice, but thirteen times, until they are perfectly obedient."

A regretful sigh rolled from the magister as he continued, "Yet such things come at a cost and are very rigid. Still, they are inflexible and incapable of subtlety or thinking much outside the given orders, not to mention they lack the tools to further their ranks in case a fine specimen is found. The Unsullied are only as good as the one who commands them. But those sellswords of yours? They can be useful to me in different ways, especially in these trying times."

Tyrion was outplayed. He could recognise it, no matter how bitter it tasted on his tongue. The name of House Lannister meant nothing here, and he was at the mercy of Zaphon Sarrios.

"Very well, esteemed magister. Could I be so bold as to inquire why I am held here? Surely the spat with Jorelos Marinar was a misunderstanding that could be resolved easily?" Tyrion finished with his most subservient bow, even if it filled his veins with fury to do so. "I am more than willing to offer my sincerest apologies and provide restitution for any insult given."

Zaphon laughed. It was a cold, cruel sound that made Tyrion's spine crawl.

"Clever dwarf," he said, tilting his head. "Truly as silver-tongued as they claimed, but I do not see the barbs that were supposed to accompany it. I suppose you have no way of knowing–your father is losing the war. After your brother fell, that fish lord lost a big battle in his land of rivers and half of the lion army was bested in your home."

"This has nothing to do with Tyrosh," Tyrion whispered. "The Free Cities have never interfered directly in the affairs of the Seven Kingdoms."

Zaphon snorted.

"Ah, you speak true," he smiled, revealing his golden teeth that mocked Tyrion. "But that was before I gifted a third of my debt to the Archon and another third to the city. Do you think the Iron Throne could insult the great Zaphon Sarrios and get away with it?"

It was not fair, and it was not just. Yet the Free Cities cared little for justice or fairness. Why always him?

Tyrion struggled to see a way out of this dark situation. This was beyond ugly–he had gone to Essos to hire sellswords, not to earn a new enemy for his mercurial nephew or rot in some dungeon.

His mind raced, trying to grope for some solution in the dark, for any way out.

"The gold can be returned, esteemed magister," Tyrion tried with a deep bow, gritting his teeth. "It shall take some time, but it will be returned. Perhaps a marriage as an apology-"

"I no longer care about some paltry sum," the magister waved away the words as if they were an annoying fly. "It is a matter of respect. Besides, the Archon had already reached an agreement with Lomas Estermont thirty days prior. King Renly Baratheon has agreed to pay back half of the debt immediately, and the City of Tyrosh shall back Renly Baratheon's claim. Anyway, I tire of this talk, dwarf. Alas, you're too cunning to serve as a court fool."

"Wait," Tyrion hastily cried as the dungeon turnkey was about to close the door. He had half a dozen questions running through his mind. "What shall become of me?"

"The Archon has yet to decide," Zaphon snorted. "So, for now, you get to enjoy this establishment, as you called it. Goodbye."

"Wait-" The heavy oak door slammed with a bang, cutting off the light and the sound.

Tyrion Lannister was once again alone in the darkness, left to stew in despair and anger.

How exactly would Tyrosh back Renly's claim to the Iron Throne?

Things were looking hopeless. No matter what it was, it would be bad, especially if his father was already losing. If Uncle Stafford and Edmure Tully had been smashed in battle… his House would be even more outnumbered than before. Worse, no war had ever been won by losing on the battlefield.

Even ignoring that, indignity and fury gnawed within Tyrion's gut like a hungry beast.

Zaphon Sarrios had come here for no reason but to mock him and entertain himself. The magister's gloats about his father's losses were too real and too honest to be lies. Worse, he wanted him to play a fool, a mummer, for him?

Many had called him Imp, Dwarf, or even Demon-Monkey, but Tyrion Lannister endeavoured never to break the laws of the land, no matter how petty. After all, why look for trouble and give a reason for his father to make his life even more miserable?

Yet this cruel set-up was aimed at him.

Just because he was a dwarf. Just because he was the son of Tywin Lannister. Just because they could, and there was nobody to stop them. Just because he was short and weak.

Now, Tyrion Lannister had been reduced from the Master of Coin with budding wealth and business of his own to a dwarf inside a dungeon.

Yet the Archon of Tyrosh made a grave mistake–they left him alive.

Now, no matter how little, there was a grain of hope.

Tyrion closed his eyes and prayed to the Stranger. For his brother, Jaime, let the gods forgive his sins in life; let him not burn in the Seven Hells despite all of the woes he had caused.

He swore, then, to the Stranger. Should he leave this dungeon alive, Tyrion would do everything he could to ensure Tyrosh and Zaphon would rue the day they crossed him.

A Lannister always paid his debts!

Author's Endnote:

Starring: Garlan 'I don't like this- wait, what, I have a wife?' the Gallant, and Tyrion 'You messed with the wrong dwarf, fuckers' Lannister. We see the war is escalating hard. People are already burned for believing the wrong thing… (and losing a battle).

Oh man, this chapter ended up far longer than I expected.

I update a chapter every Sunday! You can find me on my Discord (dgj93pNeAD), where you can read ahead, come chat, or ask me or others questions.