Ned Stark Lives! Part 3 Chapter 1 Oberyn
The spear flew from his hand straight and true and hit the target fifty paces away, quivering as it stuck in the wood and straw of the practice target. The spear always hit its target, but it gave Prince Oberyn Martell no satisfaction. Nothing had given him much satisfaction for the last seventeen years now. Not since word came of his sister Elia and her children's deaths in King's Landing.
He hadn't even been in Westeros when it had happened, still on the ship that was taking him from Volantis to Sunspear. When word came to return home he had been talking to some merchants about some new trade connections with Dorne, a mission his older brother Prince Doran had sent him on since Oberyn knew Volantis well and spoke the language somewhat after having spent more than a year of his youth in the free city. Oberyn Martell was no trade diplomat so several wiser men had come with him, men who knew what to say and what to give and take in negotiations. But he was a Prince of Dorne and so his name opened doors for them and gave his party access to the inner sanctum of Volantis, the black wall that ringed the homes of the elite of the city. It was here on a hot and sweltering afternoon that Oberyn received the message from his brother to return as swiftly as possible. Robert Baratheon's rebellion was getting out of hand and the Mad King had called for Dorne to raise its spearmen to protect the realm.
Oberyn cursed when the message came, already almost a moon's turn old when he received it. He should have been told sooner. He should have not even been in Volantis, but in Dorne, or in King's Landing. He took the first ship he could, but the gods were against him and contrary winds and maneuvering to avoid pirates delayed them. By the time he reached Sunspear it was all over. Prince Rhaegar had died on the Trident. The ten thousand Dornish spearmen his brother had sent had been in the thick of the fight but had lost many and finally broke and ran at the climax of the battle.
And then came the Sack of King's Landing.
As Oberyn stood by his brother's ornate desk in his solar in the palace in their home capital of Sunspear tears flowed down his cheeks as Doran read him the message that came from Jon Arryn, the newly appointed Hand of the newly crowned King Robert Baratheon. Elia and her children were dead, killed by rampaging soldiers before order could be restored. The King sent his apologies and regrets, and promised to send their bones home.
"They were murdered!" Oberyn had cried when his brother had read the message.
"Yes," was all Doran would say and a few tears even flowed down his cheeks. He was older than Oberyn by more than ten years and no two brothers were ever less alike in temperament. But one thing they had in common was their love for their sister.
Oberyn's tears stopped and in his anger he demanded his brother give him every man in Dorne who could carry a spear so he could march on King's Landing and kill these enemies.
"Already I sent ten thousand of our men," his older brother Doran had softly replied to his request. "I know not how many live or are wounded or taken prisoner. How can the survivors come home or be ransomed if we are still at war? And if I raise more men and then when you and these men are dead, who will protect Dorne?"
"We cannot sit here and do nothing!" Oberyn had shouted and he pounded his fists in frustration on his brother's desk.
Doran stood and came from behind his desk. He was still healthy then, the first signs of the gout that would wreck his body not coming for years yet. He had held Oberyn's shoulders and looked into his eyes. "We shall have our revenge, brother. But to strike out rashly now, while our enemies are united and strong will be the death of you and me and all we care about."
In his anger Oberyn had scorned his brother. "If you have no stomach for the fight then stay here. I cannot stay still while she is dead and they still live."
Doran to his credit did not rise to the challenge. All their lives they had been of such different temperament, he the man of action, Doran the man of thinking, of consulting, of negotiation, of making concessions. Doran ordered him to stay his hand and Oberyn in his grief almost struck his brother but did not and finally agreed to obey. Oberyn had left him then and had gotten drunk for three days straight. When Jon Arryn arrived with the bones of their kin and more explanations, Oberyn had wanted to rip out his lying tongue but Doran had merely thanked him for graciously returning the bones. When asked who had done the killing, Jon Arryn mumbled his excuses and apologies, and said it was uncertain as the sack had been quite violent and all order was not restored for a few days. By then it was too late.
He had lied, Oberyn knew, and while he and the rest of the court had listened to these false explanations, all Prince Doran did was nod in a sad way and sigh. He thanked Jon Arryn for returning their loved ones and that was that. More than one angry set of eyes followed the liar as he and his men left the courtroom. Jon Arryn must have known he was in danger for he stayed only two nights and was soon gone, citing pressing business in Highgarden. The Hand of the King never returned to Dorne. As for Robert Baratheon, in the long years of his rule he never once set foot in Dorne. When years later Oberyn heard Jon Arryn died in agony, most likely poisoned, he knew the gods were exacting the vengeance Oberyn never could. And when King Robert died in agony as well, his guts ripped open by a boar's tusk, Oberyn drank a toast to the boar and wished he could have seen the pain in his eyes as Robert expired.
But that came long after Prince Oberyn Martell's own pain. When Oberyn and Doran gazed upon the bones of Elia and her children in the maester's chambers as the maesters prepared them for the ceremonial rites, they knew their deaths had been horrible. Baby Aegon had half a head. His sister Rhaenys' bones were chipped and scarred in many places and Oberyn knew that stab wounds had done that, so many stab wounds. And Elia…she was worst of all…her skull crushed, her left arm broken in two places, as if she had raised it to protect herself, and her right shoulder and many ribs below it rent in two as if a great sword had near sliced her in half.
At the dawn the next morning as they burned the bones of their loved ones on a beach nearby Sunspear, Oberyn had wept inconsolably and all of Dorne soon knew how deep their prince's sorrow was for his lost sister and her children. Revenge would be his, he promised and many Dornish wanted to join him but Prince Doran stayed his hand and so nothing was done. Many scorned Prince Doran for his weakness but many more, mostly wives and mothers and daughters, said a prayer for the continued health of Prince Doran and for his continued wisdom. Dorne could not stand alone against the Baratheons and Lannisters and Starks and so many others who had sided against the Mad King.
Oberyn stayed his wrath and decided that he had to at least kill those who had killed his sister and her children. Before Jon Arryn had left with his party Oberyn had gotten drunk with a Lannister squire and had taken him to bed. The young man told him that many were saying Ser Amory Lorch had killed the girl and Gregor Clegane had killed Elia and Prince Aegon. Over the years Oberyn had heard no other names, only these two. They were both bannermen to Tywin Lannister, who had led the sack of the capital. Oberyn saw it all now. Lord Tywin had ordered Rhaegar's children killed so there would be no future claimants for the throne. Elia had merely been in the way.
On the cool terrace of the palace of Sunspear where he practiced at arms in the late afternoon Oberyn walked to the target and yanked out the spear and put it in a rack which held many others. He stopped by a basin of water and looked at his reflection. Older, I am getting, he thought, and still I have not tasted my revenge. As he looked at his lined face he felt the years slipping by, though he also knew he was still handsome, with his dark features and lustrous hair that had receded somewhat to a widow's peak. He washed his face and hands and dried them with a soft towel and walked to the table where his lover Ellaria Sand sat sipping a cup of cool wine.
She poured Oberyn a cup and he drank deeply. He looked on his lover, his love, and marveled at her. She was not the most beautiful woman he had ever bedded but she was the best and enjoyed many diverse delights of the bedroom. Oberyn had taken many women and men to bed in his forty plus years but none had ever excited him as much as she did. They had met more than fifteen years ago, soon after the rebellion ended, and she had been his ever since. A bastard of a great Dornish lord, she had no real prospects of a good marriage and cared not for such things anyway. Four daughters she had given him, four lovely young girls to go with the other four older daughters of his begat by four other women he had taken over the years. The Sand Snakes the people of Dorne called them all, and the oldest four tried to emulate him in many ways, but none could match their father, the Red Viper of Dorne, in combat or reputation.
"I should return to the Water Gardens," Ellaria said as she put down her cup.
"The girls are fine," Oberyn told her. "My brother enjoys having them there. His own children are grown now and he dotes on ours as if they were his own."
"I know but I still miss them."
"Very well, we shall return tomorrow."
She smiled. "Good. Now what does my prince want for his reward?"
"Only you, my love."
They kissed, long and slow and passionately and Oberyn was having thoughts of taking her right there on the table when they heard footsteps and broke their kiss.
"My Prince," said a messenger, a boy no older than twelve, Oberyn guessed. "They have need of you at court."
Oberyn shook his head and dismissed him with a wave. "Let the Princess Arianne deal with it. If she is to rule some day she must learn how."
But the boy did not leave. "Ah…my Prince, she asked for you to come. There is a messenger….from Casterly Rock."
Oberyn grunted and stood from the table. "And what does the Imp want now? More pleas for us to marry his brother and sister's children to our blood? They say the Imp is a clever man but I think not so clever to not understand this will never happen."
The messenger stood there gaping at him, clearly not understanding and Oberyn saved him from his befuddlement. "So…what did my niece say?"
"There is a head, my Prince."
"A head?" Ellaria asked in surprise as she stood as well. "Whose head?"
The boy gulped. "The messenger said it is Gregor Clegane."
The smashed remains of someone's head was in a wooden box on a table and was presented to Oberyn by his niece Arianne as he arrived in the round ornate room under the large glass dome that topped the Tower of the Sun where the leaders of Dorne held court.
"He is dead at last," Arianne said, her face glowing. "The beast is finally in hell." She was tiny compared to her cousins, Oberyn's eldest daughters, only a few inches in height over five feet, but she was very beautiful, with the characteristic olive skin of the people of the Dornish sea coasts, long lustrous black hair, ample breasts that swelled beneath her silk dresses, and eyes that Oberyn knew captured many men's hearts. But she was heir to Dorne, and not any man would do for her marriage. The Martells followed the Dornish law of having the first born child, whether boy or girl, be heir to the leadership. Oberyn's own mother had ruled Dorne for many years before his older brother took her place after her death. When he died Arianne would be Princess of Dorne, leader of them all.
Prince Doran had been trying to plan for her marriage for many years now, though she refused most of the men he suggested, all of which had been unworthy of her she claimed. Old men and men without much gold or power were offered to her, and she refused them all. Oberyn knew the real reason why Arianne had not yet married and why his brother tried to make such poor matches. He had to be seen trying to make a match for her or people would talk. For a match had already been made, in secret. Arianne had been promised many years ago to Viserys Targaryen. If they had married Dorne would have risen for Viserys to help him reclaim the Iron Throne. Then came word the Beggar King was dead, his own arrogance causing Khal Drogo to pour molten gold on his head. Prince Doran did not yet tell Arianne these plans, and Oberyn kept the secret as well.
"If it is truly him," Oberyn replied to his niece, as he gazed at the head in the box. It was a large head and could have been the Mountain but Oberyn was skeptical. He turned to the man who had brought it, a young, tall, broad-chested, strong, good-looking man with brown hair and eyes. He was dressed in plate armor and a woolen surcoat that had for a sigil two long necked swans, one black on a field of white, the other white on a field of black, the two facing each other with wings spread. He had been introduced as Ser Balon Swann, a man of the Stormlands, Oberyn knew, who now served the Lannisters.
"You say the Hound did this?"
"Yes, Prince Oberyn," Ser Balon replied. "I saw their duel. Sandor Clegane, the Hound, he killed his brother the Mountain."
"So you say."
Ser Balon's eyes grew angry at the accusation that he had lied. "There were many witnesses besides me and there is no doubt Ser Gregor died."
"Lannister witnesses," Oberyn answered in a disdainful way. "How do I know this is not some freak's skull the Imp dressed up for the part?"
"Lord Tyrion had no love for Ser Gregor, my Prince. In fact, there are rumors he made sure the two Clegane brothers met in combat."
"Why would he do that?" Ellaria asked as she gazed at the smashed skull.
"I am not certain of that, my…lady."
"My paramour asked you a question, Ser Balon," Oberyn said with an edge of menace in his tone. "Or are you a Lannister lackey who lies for the Imp?"
Ser Balon struggled to remain calm. "I am a knight of King Tommen's household, first sworn to Robert, as my liege lord in the Stormlands and later as King. I served Robert and his son Joffrey, and now King Tommen as well."
Oberyn grunted. "You serve our enemies, past and present, and they send you like a boy to deliver messages."
"I did not know King Tommen and Dorne were enemies, my Prince."
"Not yet," Oberyn said boldly, his blood up, and Arianne jumped in before this went badly.
"Forgive my uncle, Ser Balon. His is angered because he did not get to kill Ser Gregor himself."
"I understand, my Princess," Ser Balon replied.
"Do you?" Oberyn asked him sharply. "Do you know what this beast did to my sister and her children?"
"I…yes, my Prince. Long there have been rumors it was he who killed them."
"Raped my sister and killed her and her children," Oberyn said. "And who gave the order?"
"I know not…I was not at the Sack of King's Landing. I was with Robert, guarding him as he recovered from his wounds received on the Trident."
"No, no one knows who gave the order," Oberyn replied in a sarcastic tone. "So they all say, yet who does the dog Clegane serve? One master, with a lion for a sigil. But he is dead now, too, so what does it matter? Yes? It was Lord Tywin? Yes?"
"So…so I have heard."
Oberyn felt some small satisfaction from that. "And the other one, Ser Amory Lorch. Where is he now?"
"Dead?" Arianne said in surprise.
No, Oberyn thought, not him too. He closed his eyes and opened them again. "How did he die?"
"He was in command of Harrenhal and tried to turn it over to Stannis. But Lord Tyrion had him arrested. He tried to murder Lord Tyrion and his bodyguard killed Lorch first."
Gods…why are you so cruel to take them all from me, Oberyn thought. He stared at Swann. "Who is this bodyguard?"
"Name of Lord Bronn. He was a sellsword but now he is a lord in Lord Tyrion's service."
"Bronn…when you see him next give him my thanks and the thanks of House Martell."
"Ah…yes, my Prince."
Oberyn returned to the head in the box. "So…is it Ser Gregor? Perhaps. Tell me how he died. Every last detail."
Oberyn listened as Ser Balon described the fight. When he got to the part when Tyrion had shouted out Sansa Stark's name, Arianne stopped him.
"Why did he do this?" she asked.
"There is a rumor that the Hound loves the Stark girl."
"A dog in love," Oberyn quipped. "Finish the story."
When he was done Oberyn knew how it had happened and still felt no satisfaction. "The Hound survived his wounds?"
"He was on the mend when I left. I am sure he lives."
"Love gave him strength at the end," Oberyn replied. "Love made him strong when he should have died." If only my love could have saved you, Elia. "So…why did the Imp want them to fight?"
Ser Balon hesitated. "I am uncertain. There are many rumors."
"Tell me one," Oberyn said as he eyed Ser Balon. "Or should I guess? Come, you want us to believe this is Ser Gregor. You still have some convincing to do."
Ser Balon still hesitated and then spoke in a rush, as if saying it faster would make it less traitorous to reveal his lord's secrets. "There was a power struggle, between Lord Tyrion and Queen Cersei. The Hound's loyalty was uncertain. I believe Lord Tyrion wanted him dead so he could not support his sister. But now it seems the Hound is loyal to Lord Tyrion."
Arianne laughed in her pretty way. "It seems like the plot of a mummer's play."
"The only thing that matters in this story is that the bitch hates the Imp," Oberyn said with a smile and with satisfaction saw Ser Balon flinch when he said the word 'bitch' to refer to Cersei. "Let us hope they kill each other someday."
He looked for a reaction from the knight but Ser Balon said nothing. Oberyn was spoiling for a fight but Ser Balon had the sense not to rise to his challenges.
Ellaria knew his mood and sighed loudly. "My love, this must be an end to all this." She came to his side and took his arm. "It is done, my love. They are all dead. Now can you find some peace?"
"Peace? Maybe." But not for my soul, or Elia's, he thought.
Ser Balon stood sweating in his wools and steel plate armor while Oberyn stood looking at the box that rested on a table. A long silence lingered. Finally, Arianne cleared her throat. "Ser Balon, you have come far to deliver this news and we are grateful. We shall find comfortable quarters for you and your men." She called for the castellan and soon Ser Balon was gone. The sun was setting and Ellaria retired soon after as well and Oberyn promised to see her soon.
"There was also a letter, uncle," Arianne said when they were alone. "From the Imp."
"Did you read it?"
"What does he want now?"
Arianne was not done. "And a marriage…for Princess Myrcella to Trystane or Quentyn."
"That is for your father to decide," Oberyn said, feeling weary. He would protest against this marriage of the daughter of their enemy with Martell blood, but knowing his brother if he saw an advantage from this marriage he would make it. His bother might make the marriage even though they knew she might not be Robert's daughter, as many rumors claimed. If not then she was a bastard born of incest and had no right to any royal titles. Such a marriage would also put Tystane's life in danger.
"Give me the Imp's letter. I will go to the Water Gardens in the morning and bring it to our Prince."
She handed it over and as he made to say goodnight and leave she stopped him. "Uncle… where is my brother Quentyn?"
"At Yronwood, is he not?" Oberyn lied. He knew Quentyn and six companions had sailed east to find the dragon princess many weeks past. This was the second part of the secret pact, a marriage of Daenerys Targaryen to Quentyn Martell.
"No," she replied. "My brother has not been seen there for many weeks now." She was angry about something.
"Tell me it all."
"I…I fear Father means to set me aside in the line of succession. Once I saw a letter he was writing to Quentyn saying so much as this."
"You must have misunderstood."
She shook her head and her tone was bitter when she spoke. "I did not misunderstand. Father has always wished to put me aside."
"Never. You are his first born. You will rule as your grandmother did before your father."
"Then where is Quentyn?" she asked, her voice rising, unable to mask her anger any longer. "Why has Father been so secretive about him? What is going on?"
Oberyn wanted to tell her the truth but that was his brother's place, not his. "Your father does not take me into all his counsels…but I will ask when I see him. Not to worry. You are heir to Dorne, sweet girl. I would not have it any other way."
She smiled and was beautiful like her mother when she had smiled. "Maybe I should come to the Water Gardens as well to speak to him."
"No. Stay here, rule, learn. And listen to the men our Prince left with you to advise you."
"Old men meant to spy on me and make sure I do no mischief, don't you mean?'
"No, my niece, meant to guide you, and see you learn how to rule."
"Like my father? Waiting patiently for our revenge all these years and finally letting someone else kill our enemies for us?"
Oberyn wanted to agree with her but long ago he decided not to undermine his brother by belittling his actions, or inaction, to others, even his close family. "Your father…he wanted this revenge as well …but he has to think of Dorne, all of Dorne, not just what his heart desires. This is what you must learn if you are to rule."
"As you say, uncle." She did not sound convinced.
He stepped closer to her and spoke in almost a whisper. "Long I wanted to shove my spear in Gregor Clegane's heart, sweet Arianne. Your father wanted to help me hold this spear. You hardly knew our sister, for you were a small child when she went to King's Landing to be wed. She was kind and gentle and beautiful and did not deserve to die the way she did. Nor her children. If your father had done as I wanted, to raise all of Dorne and bring down Robert Baratheon and all his monsters, we more than likely would have lost. I did not see that in my grief. Your father did. And so we are here, still waiting for vengeance…and now it is seemingly delivered, nice and neat. But know this…as long as there is a Lannister alive, my desire for vengeance will not be quenched."
She smiled. "I will help you any way I can."
He kissed her forehead. "Good. Now think no more of what your brother is doing and know that your father is wise and has his reasons for everything he does."
She meant to say more but then just nodded and after a short time they said their good nights.
That night Oberyn took Ellaria four times and still felt no satisfaction. She marveled at his prowess, a man of his forty-three years still as virile as an eighteen year old. He got up after the last time, and as she rested he drank some wine while sitting on the balcony and overlooking Sunspear in the moonlight. It was cooler at night now, and he knew the maesters were right, that winter was coming, the snows coming to the North for certain and maybe even as far as King's Landing. But Dorne had never known winter or snows except in the mountain passes. No, Oberyn corrected himself, they had known winter, eight thousand years ago, so the legends say, when even the desert sands were covered in snow. For a generation after the snows melted all of Dorne bloomed, the maesters said, until the weather patterns made the land a desert again.
In the morning at breakfast Ser Balon Swann sat with them as was fitting for a knight and a guest. Oberyn was more civil to him now and picked his brain for all the news of the north and of the war between Stannis and the Lannisters. When Ser Balon got to the rumors of the Others, Oberyn questioned him at length.
"They are just rumors, my Prince," Ser Balon told him as he cut open a blood orange on his plate. "Supposedly Lord Tyrion got a letter from the old maester at Castle Black, saying they were being attacked by the Others and an army of wights. But I never saw the letter."
"The old maester is Aemon Targaryen," Oberyn informed Ser Balon. Oberyn had studied at the Citadel in Oldtown for a while, learning mainly about poisons and the way the human body worked, more so to know how to kill than heal. He grew bored after a while and never earned more than a few links in a maesters chains before he left. But while there he heard of this old maester at the Wall, spoken of in awe. "He is the oldest man in all of Westeros," he continued to explain to Ser Balon. "Maybe even the world. And one of the wisest. He spent most of his life at the Wall. If he says the Others are attacking, we must believe him."
After breakfast Oberyn informed Ellaria and his niece that there was no time to lose, he must go to his brother at once, without delay. He kissed Ellaria goodbye and told her to catch up as fast as she could and then he took his fastest steed and left the city by himself. It was only a few leagues to the Water Gardens, a retreat built on the seashore ages ago for a queen by a king who had loved her dearly. As Oberyn rode, he thought on what he must tell his brother, what he must do to convince him to act, and act now before it was too late.
As he expected, Doran was by the water pools that dotted the main palace near the sea, watching the children play in the water, as Oberyn and Elia and many others had done when they had been children many years ago. With his brother was Areo Hotah, his bodyguard and captain of guards, carried his long axe that he was rumored to sleep with. Hotah had come from the Free City of Norvos as a guard when Doran's wife Mellario had come to Westeros and he had remained behind when she returned to her homelands after she and Doran had a falling out. Oberyn knew part of the reason she had left was because of how Doran had used their children in his games of politics like so many pieces in a game of cyvasse.
Hotah was tall and broad, but of an age almost equal to Doran, so his beard was flecked with grey and his hair was going grey as well. Oberyn had never liked the man, who was of few words and always treated all who were not the Prince as if they were assassins, including his close family, which irked Oberyn to no end. When Hotah saw Oberyn approaching the entrance to the patio where his brother sat in his wheeled chair the captain's long axe came up and blocked the door.
"The Prince wishes not to be disturbed," Areo Hotah said, his voice still clouded with an accent even after almost thirty years in Dorne.
"The Prince is my brother and I have urgent news," Oberyn said through clenched teeth. More than once he wanted to take this fool's head off for presuming to tell him what to do, but stayed his hand as he knew his brother would take ill of it, especially here, which was so peaceful and tranquil and where no blood had ever been spilled except the blood red juices of the oranges that fell as they ripened on the trees around the patio.
"My brother is always welcome," Prince Doran Martell said in his soft voice from his chair.
At once the axe came up and Oberyn entered with a nasty look to Areo, who ignored him as usual. With swift strides Oberyn reached his brother's side. Doran was ten years older than him but looked twice that, aged as he was, and on his face Oberyn could see the constant pain he dealt with. His lower body was covered in a blanket so Oberyn could not see the hideously swollen knees and toes, but the knuckles on his hands were there to see, looking more like fat grapes than the hand of a prince, the cause the effects of the gout which was slowly destroying his body. The maesters could do nothing for him except give him milk of the poppy to ease his pain.
"My Prince," Oberyn said formally, and then he bent to one knee and his tone softened. "My brother…he is dead…at long last, our sister can rest in peace."
Prince Doran Martell let out a long sigh. "I have heard a knight arrived at Sunspear, from the Lannisters. I have heard he brought a head. Is it truly Gregor Clegane?"
Oberyn stood. "So the knight said. It was a skull, very large, but crushed…but the knight sounds convincing. And the Imp writes again asking for an alliance. If Clegane still lived, we would soon know it. A man like that cannot hide forever. The Imp would be branded a liar and knows we would never treat with him or his."
"Yes, all you say sounds true," his brother replied. "How did he die?"
Oberyn explained as Doran silently listened. "To kill one's own brother," Doran said in a sad tone. "How terrible." He was quiet for a moment and then spoke again. "The letter from Lord Tyrion. You brought it?"
Oberyn handed it to him and with a wince of pain Doran opened it and read. "He still asks for one of my sons for his niece," he said when finished.
"Quentyn is already promised but Trystane is not."
"Arianne is growing suspicious about Quentyn's absence," Oberyn told his brother. "She suspects you want to remove her from her birthright."
"What did you tell her?"
"That her fears were groundless. Nothing more."
"Perhaps it is time we told her the truth, brother."
"No," Doran replied. "She has little control of her tongue. This secret must not be known…yet. Not until Quentyn returns with his bride and her dragons."
"If he returns. If he finds her. If he marries her. There are too many 'ifs', brother."
"Aren't there always?"
"Yes. But we cannot make plans based on so many uncertainties," Oberyn said with vigor. "It has been many weeks since Quentyn left. We should have had some word."
"Yes. We should have. Still…we must be patient. Perhaps I should write to Lord Tyrion and tell him I am considering his proposal."
Oberyn stiffened and his face grew dark. "You would let our blood marry a Lannister?"
"She is a Baratheon."
"She is no Baratheon. She is a bastard."
"You say that as if it is a bad thing, my brother, yet you have eight of your own. Four of them swim out there as we speak."
Oberyn looked to the pools and it was hard to tell his own four daughters from the rest of the naked children. Finally the oldest, Elia, named for her dead aunt, saw him, waved and pointed to him and the other children began to look that way. He went down to them and spoke for a few minutes and told them their mother was coming and they would speak later after he and their uncle had words.
"My daughters are not heir to the Iron Throne," Oberyn reminded his brother when he returned to the patio. "If Trystane marries the girl, then Stannis Baratheon will want his head as well."
"True. You recommend we refuse the offer?"
"Must you ask?" Oberyn said in exasperation. "The Lannisters killed our sister. Lord Tywin is dead, the Mountain is dead, so is Amory Lorch, but…"
"Lorch as well?" Doran said in surprise. "How?"
"Ser Balon claims he tried to kill to Imp at Harrenhal and the Imp's bodyguard killed him first."
Doran sighed heavily and closed his eyes. For a long moment he did not speak. Finally his lifted his head and even smiled slightly. "Yes, mayhaps our sister can rest easier now."
"But not I," Oberyn replied. "Not us." There was bitterness in his voice.
"I know you wanted to kill them all by your own hand, my brother, but they are still dead."
"Dead, yes…but I still feel empty inside." The last was said in heavy tone he could not help.
"As do I."
They were silent for a long moment, looking out at the children splashing in the waters. Oberyn walked to the edge of the patio.
"Do you remember Elia and I playing in there?" he asked.
"How could I forget? I was almost twenty and you were still so young."
"Why did our mother let her marry Rhaegar?"
"She could not refuse such an offer."
"No, I suppose not," Oberyn replied. "Did he ever love her?"
"I know not. Did he love the Stark girl?"
"He must have. He tore the kingdoms apart for her."
A servant arrived with drinks and fruit for them and some flat bread and cheese. Oberyn took a glass of lemon water and ate some fruit while his brother nibbled on some cheese as they talked more. Oberyn explained about the news from the north and about the Others.
"This is certain?" Doran asked, suddenly more alert and attentive.
"Nothing is certain, but Maester Aemon would know the truth of this."
"What are the northern lords doing about this?"
"Swann said that they had news that Ned Stark had taken a large force to the Wall to help the Night's Watch. The Imp was moving to make peace with Stannis, a peace Stannis first proposed it seems. Stannis' army was moving to the Twins the last Swann heard before he left."
"Our news is old and it seems the hour is late."
Oberyn looked at him steadily. "Yes. The hour is very late…and here we sit…again. You kept me from seeking vengeance, my brother. You kept us out of the wars that are tearing the land apart."
Doran looked out at the children. "These wars are not our concern. We have no stake in them as long as they stayed away from our borders. We could not support Lannister or Baratheon or Stark, as you know. Better to let these enemies of ours kill each other. As for those who had wrong us, you must know how long I have wanted to send you north to seek our vengeance."
"Then why didn't you?" Oberyn asked with barely suppressed rage.
"Look at them," Doran said, nodding to the children. "What do they know of war and death, of life and love? Little or none."
Oberyn knew what he meant and why he said it. But he knew one more thing. "If the Others are real they will care not for their innocence. They will care not for any alliances, or marriages, or who is the rightful king. They will care for nothing!"
When he finished his voice was loud and full of anger. From his post at the door Hotah had heard it all and was staring at him intently, ready to spring forth, as if Oberyn would ever dare strike his brother.
"No….they care not," Doran answered. "They are not even men, are they?"
"I…I know not. Ice demons the legends say, with wights, dead men raised again."
"Where are they now?"
"At the Wall, so Ser Balon believes. But this news is old."
"The Wall has never fallen," Doran said.
Doran said nothing and Oberyn did not as well. He waited for his brother to make a decision, and that was something that never came quickly. Oberyn knew what he would say. I need time to think, I need to weigh this carefully, I need to ponder all the implications, I need to…
"It is time for Dorne to join the fight," was what he finally said and Oberyn would have picked him up in joy if his brother could have stood the pain.
Oberyn went to one knee again. "Command me, my brother, my Prince. Give me the men and I will go forth and do as you command."
"Yes, it is time. Go up the Boneway and into the Stormlands," Doran commanded his younger brother. "Make common cause with all you meet but make no alliances…nor enemies. Make a common cause to fight the Others, nothing more."
"It is a long way to the Wall."
"Yes, but if we wait until they are at the borders of Dorne then it will be too late."
"I understand. How many men shall I take?"
"You will go forth with an advance guard to assess the situation. A thousand men, no less or more. Learn all you can. Bring ravens and send back reports often. Already at Yronwood Lord Anders has raised almost ten thousand men to protect our borders. I will raise the rest to follow you once we know more of the situation."
"The rest…how many?"
"All. I shall raise all of Dorne, brother."
"Yes. Every man that can hold a spear. Some will go forth with you while others will hold the mountain passes for defense. Return to Sunspear, and have the maesters send ravens to all the great houses of Dorne. Command the lords to begin to raise the men and supplies we will need. I shall follow you to Sunspear, but do not delay. Tell the maesters these are my commands."
"I will leave at once."
"As you wish."
Oberyn meant to turn and leave but then realized he might not ever see his brother again or at least for a long time. There was no question that Doran could go with them. He could barely stand the short journey to Sunspear these days. But one question had not been asked or answered.
"Who will have the command?" Oberyn asked.
"You will. A letter…you must have a letter with my desires known so there is no… difficulty."
Difficulty of the sort Oberyn had caused in the past, his brother did not say. Some of the great lords of Dorne had no love for Oberyn, as over the years his brash temperament and lustfulness had brought him into conflict with more than one great house of Dorne.
Parchment and ink were brought and the letter composed and signed and sealed, giving Oberyn the command.
"The command is yours," Doran told him. "But heed the advice of our lords and captains. I know you once led a company of men in the Disputed Lands wars, but that was many years ago, and now you will lead a much greater host. You have won many battles in the bedroom and in single combat, brother, but you and I both know your temperament is not well suited to direct masses of men in battle."
Oberyn would have taken offense at the comment from any other, but his brother knew him too well and did not say it to insult, but to advise. "I will do as you say. I will not fail Dorne."
"Westeros, brother. This is a battle for all Westeros."
"As you say. Goodbye, brother. I hope to see you here again when the battles are won."
"As do I. Farewell."
Oberyn bent and kissed his brother's brow and then left before he could change his mind.
As he strode out of the main entrance Ellaria and her escort arrived on horseback. After he greeted her with a kiss he quickly told her the news.
"Is the danger so great?" she asked with worry in her eyes.
"It would seem so. Do not fear my love. I shall whip these ice demons and be back to make love to you until we are both old and grey."
He meant to laugh but the look in her eyes told him she was afraid. "Oberyn…this is not some man who insulted you or some jealous husband."
"I know," he said quietly.
"Come," she told him. "You have time to spend a few moments to say goodbye to your daughters."
"I have already done so."
"Come, you will do so again."
It was hard to do so, and even harder to say goodbye to their mother, and his brother once more, but a half hour later he was on the road to Sunspear and by late afternoon he was deep in conference with the maesters and other advisers. The word had gone out – Dorne was marching north. Many cheered when they heard the news, and others wept, but all were surprised to hear that the enemy was not the Lannisters or the Baratheons but the demons of legend.
His eldest daughters had heard as well and came to seek him out. Obara was the first to arrive at the palace, arriving at night, and she found him in his rooms preparing his clothing and weapons for the journey. He was standing by a cabinet where he kept many vials and bottles of some of the most dangerous poisons in the world.
"Still using poisons to deal with your foes, Father?" said a voice from the doorway and she was there, tall and dark as her mother had been, and of so little beauty it made Oberyn often wonder how drunk he must have been to bed her ugly Oldtown whore of a mother. Physically she hardly resembled him, but she had enough of him in her nature so that he did not doubt she was his daughter. She more than made up for her lack of grace and beauty for martial spirit, preferring the spear and the whip as weapons. She was his eldest, born almost twenty-eight years past when Oberyn was not yet a man. He never knew she was even alive for many years until he heard of her and came to Oldtown to claim her as his own. The mother was dead now, but Obara had held little love for her, her drinking making the life of the young girl one long misery until her father had taken her away. Obara still harbored strong resentment for Oldtown, and often claimed she wished the gods would burn it the ground.
"I am not killing men this time," Oberyn told his eldest as he closed the poison cabinet, after taking two glass vials from it, just in case some man actually needed to be dealt with. "Ice demons I seek, and the maesters say only fire will kill them."
"Then we had best bring plenty of oil and torches," Obara replied to her father as she crossed the room and poured herself some wine from a decanter on a side board. She drank and looked at him. "I saw the head. Is it really him?"
"So the Imp would have me believe," Oberyn replied while he placed the two glass vials in a small wooden box lined in soft cotton and then closed the lid and locked it.
"You are not convinced?"
"When I hear the story from one hundred people, then maybe I will be convinced. When I see the Imp and the Hound and they tell me the story and I can look in their eyes and see if they are lying or not, maybe I will be convinced. But I will still not be satisfied. Amory Lorch and Tywin Lannister are dead now, too, so mayhaps my desire for revenge while never be satisfied."
"Then let us kill the Imp and the Kingslayer and the bitch Cersei as well," his daughter growled in anger. "Let us kill every Lannister in the world!"
He grinned. She had always been fiery of temper. "We may get that chance. But first we have other enemies."
"If they are real and there is a fight I am coming."
"I will not stop you, but I have no time to look out for you."
She laughed. "You have never looked out for me."
He stood in front of her and his face and tone grew serious. "Daughter, this is no duel or skirmish we go to, no lover's quarrel or an insult to avenge. It is all out war, and the enemies are not men. If you come, it may mean your death."
Her eyes turned hard and he saw the fury there. "If I don't come, I will die some other day, when all of my family is dead and Dorne is overrun."
"So it may be. Then be ready to ride in the morning."
"My sisters will come as well."
"Are they here?"
"Not yet. Lady Nym may arrive by morning. Tyene sooner. Sarella is still in Oldtown."
"I have no time to send her a raven. You do it. Tell her to join us."
"And who do I address this raven to? You never told us what name she is going by."
Oberyn grinned. "Alleras is her name there, and she is passing as a man."
Obara shook her head in wonder. "And what fool game is she up to?"
"Your uncle's fool game, not mine. He asked her to go there and keep an eye on the grey men, to see what they planned if she could, and to forge her chain as well. Women are not permitted to become maesters, but as a man she can learn many things that could benefit us."
"Why not let her stay and finish this work?"
"Because the hour is late and her bow we need for other things. Tell her to ride for the exit of the Boneway and wait for us in the ruins of Summerhall."
"As you command. Father," Obara said and left to write the letter.
His second daughter Nymeria, called Lady Nym, and his third daughter Tyene were waiting for him at breakfast. Obara had already eaten and was readying their horses. Nym was tall and beautiful with raven black hair in a long braid. She was as deadly with knives as her older sister was with a spear and whip. Her mother was a noblewoman Oberyn had laid with in Volantis when he had been forced to flee Dorne after he had killed a Dornish nobleman in a duel when he was hardly sixteen years old. Nym had broken many a man's heart with her numerous love affairs.
Tyene was the opposite of her older sisters. She was shorter and was blond and blue eyed to boot, her mother being a voluptuous speta that Oberyn had seduced in a mad week long bout of lust and passion. The girl was pious and sweet to all, but was deadly in her own way, following in her father's footsteps by favoring the use of poisons. All of his eldest daughters had killed, he knew, mostly when they had been insulted in some way or another. The Sand Snakes they were called throughout Dorne, and many feared them. No one had offered any sons for their marriage, but if they had Oberyn was certain his daughters would refuse any such offer. They were not meant to be put under the thumb of any man.
No son's had been offered also because his daughters were bastards. In Dorne bastards were not shunted aside or looked on with shame yet no nobleman had ever suggested a match for the Red Viper's daughters with their sons. The Dornish nobles all claimed that being a bastard did not matter but in their hearts they were more alike with those in the other Seven Kingdoms than they cared to admit. Once at a court function some drunken fool of a lord had told Oberyn he should wed his daughters to someone's bastard sons and the man was lucky Prince Doran had been there to calm Oberyn's rage. Mayhaps his younger daughters would have the chance to be wed some day. If…there were so many 'ifs' now he dared not count.
"I hear we are marching to war, Father," Nym said when Oberyn came into the dining room. Nym and Tyene were already breaking their fast with Arianne, and all three stood when Oberyn entered. He kissed each in turn on the cheek and took his seat at the right side of Arianne, who as Princess and heir sat at the head of the table.
"Yes, to war we go," Oberyn replied as he sat. He started to reach for the wine but decided he needed a clear head this day and poured some lemon water instead. He then filled his plate with flat bread, dates, olives, goat cheese, small fried fish, and some fiery peppers he loved so well. "If you wish to come I will not stop you, but know that I have no time to play father to you. I will be in command. You may join me on the road but not in council. You follow my orders without question."
Tyene smiled sweetly. "Of course, Father."
Nym had more of a scowl on. "I hear we are going to fight ice demons, and not the Lannisters or Baratheons."
"For now, yes," Oberyn told them. "And we may even have to make a common cause with the Lannisters and Baratheons."
Nym's eyes turned angry. "That sounds like my uncle's orders, not yours."
Oberyn stared at her. "We are commanded to help defend Westeros and defeat the Others. And if we must make some temporary alliances we will do so. You and your sisters will obey my orders or you will have no part in this."
"As you command, Father," Lady Nym replied. "But these Lannisters are trying to fool us. That head is a lie."
Arianne spoke up. "Ser Balon Swann gave his word as a knight that it was Ser Gregor's head."
Nym laughed. "Sweet cousin, is your heart already set on the brave Ser Balon?"
Arianne flushed, her cheeks having a reddish hue. "How dare you! I have no such thoughts!"
Tyene smiled at Arianne. "And why not? If you don't want him, perhaps I will have a look at this knight who causes you to blush so."
"Be my guest, dear cousin," Arianne replied. "As for Ser Gregor's head I am merely saying that the head seems authentic and perhaps we should give Ser Balon the benefit of the doubt. And why would the Imp try to fool us when he so desperately wants one of my brothers to marry Princess Myrcella?"
"That will never happen," Lady Nym said and she looked to her father for reassurances.
"Prince Doran is considering it," Oberyn told them. "But has made no decision as yet."
"Of course not," said Tyene. "Our uncle must think of all the ways this could affect us. Perhaps by the time he decides the war will be over."
Oberyn glared at her. "Keep such thoughts to yourself. My brother is slow to decide, but he is your Prince and you insult him needlessly."
Tyene bowed her head and seemed contrite. "Forgive me, Father. I shall go to the sept and pray for your and Prince Doran's forgiveness."
"We have no time for that," Oberyn said in irritation. "Best you two go help your sister see to your preparations. We ride within the hour." They stood and left without complaint. After his two daughters were gone, Oberyn looked to Arianne. "Tell Ser Balon and his men they will come as well."
Arianne looked surprised "But…they just got here."
"Yes, and I don't want them to linger. Or for you to become infatuated with this knight."
"I am not infatuated!" she answered but her flush cheeks once more told the real truth.
"Is that so?"
"And what is wrong with me having a tryst?" she answered him boldly. "You never scolded your daughters when they jumped from bed to bed and caused more than one scandal in Dorne."
"They are not the heir to Dorne," he reminded her. "Sweet niece, I know you are a woman and I do not wish you to remain a maid, but you must be careful who you bed and who knows you are doing so."
"I understand," she said, but her eyes were angry. "The next time you and my father talk about who I am sleeping with remind him I will not remain chaste while he dithers over picking a husband for me."
"He will decide soon, I am certain."
"I am certain my father never decided anything soon."
Oberyn was tiring of her petulance. "I have no time for this."
He stood and meant to leave then when Arianne asked him what he hoped she would not ask. "Uncle…where is Quentyn?"
He grunted. "Still you do not trust me or your father?"
"I am only concerned. I just…"
"Your father will come here today or tomorrow. Then you may ask him. He may tell you or not…but know that things are happening which must be kept secret and for good reasons. If you wish to rule Dorne someday you must remember that secrets are secrets for good reasons, my niece."
She seemed abashed. "Yes, uncle," was all she said, her eyes cast down.
He had no time for her foolish desires or games. "Now, I must depart. Be well, my Princess."
She smiled for him and it seemed forced. "You as well, uncle. Send word as often as you can."
"I will." He kissed her once on the cheek and then he left her.
Oberyn and his three eldest daughters, Ser Balon and his men, plus one thousand picked men and their supply wagons all left Sunspear to the cheers of thousands in the streets. North they went, across the hard lands of Dorne, taking three days to reach the coast of the Sea of Dorne and the small yet pretty town of Ghost Hill on its shores. They had moved from small village to small village, built where wells had reached sweet water under the dry land, and made it fertile enough to grow some crops and plant date trees and grape vineyards. At each place they were cheered by all and gradually Oberyn's group grew larger as men could not wait for commands to come from Sunspear and spontaneously put on armor and picked up sword and spear and joined his march. Some were minor lords, others were knights, and many were simple soldiers or men who decided they could not be left behind. By the time they reached the old fortress of Tor on the coastline he had almost two thousand men and five days later at the great fortress and town of Yronwood, at the entrance to the Boneway road, Oberyn had almost four thousand men with him.
Yronwood was not Oberyn Martell's favorite place in Dorne, nor was he welcome with open arms here. His reputation as a fierce warrior and a deceitful user of poisons had begun here more than twenty-five years ago. Oberyn had taken the paramour of Lord Edgar Yronwood to bed and had been discovered. The lord had challenged him to a duel, which was meant to be only till one or the other received a cut, since it would not do for the lord to kill the prince or for Oberyn to kill a member of a great house of Dorne. Yet once the cuts had been received and honor satisfied, Lord Edgar's wound would not heal. It festered and in days he was dead. More than one person whispered that Oberyn had used poison and they had been right. Oberyn had no intention of killing him at first, but in the build up to the duel, Lord Edgar had been heard insulting Oberyn and his family name, which caused Oberyn to decide to settle matters in his own special way.
From this one brash act came many consequences. Oberyn was forced into exile by his older brother, who had just taken up the reins of power less than a year past when their mother had die. Oberyn had wanted to fight them all but Doran forbade it and Oberyn relented and took ship to Volantis, where he later met Nym's mother. In order to make peace with House Yronwood, Doran agreed to have his eldest son Quentyn fostered there when he came of age. This in turn led to a long simmering resentment of Doran's wife of her husband's actions which led years later to her deciding to return to her home city of Norvos.
The history of House Martell and House Yronwood caused further tensions, for in the distant past before Nymeria sailed her ten thousand ships to Dorne and House Martell joined her, House Yronwood had ruled Dorne, and they had never forgotten their lost power. Now the grandson of the man Oberyn had killed was lord of House Yronwood.
Lord Anders Yronwood was younger by five or more years than Oberyn. He was also tall and blond of hair and blue of eye, like many of the Dornish people who lived near the mountain passes, their blood mixing with those to the north of them over the ages. Lord Anders greeted Oberyn at the main gates of the great castle that guarded the Boneway entrance cordially, if somewhat stiffly.
"Prince Oberyn, welcome to Yronwood," Lord Anders said.
Oberyn climbed off his horse and grinned. "Come, why so polite, Lord Anders? I know you hate me."
Lord Anders smile fell from his face, as did the smiles of those who had accompanied him. "My opinion of you does not prevent me from being civil in this time of danger, Prince Oberyn. I have received a raven from Prince Doran. We…"
"We will discuss all this after I have bathed, eaten, and rested."
Lord Anders stiffened and his face turned into a scowl. "You may be a Prince of Dorne but this is still my home."
"Of course," Oberyn said in a casual manner. "Forgive me, Lord Anders. I request the hospitality of Yronwood for my party."
"It is yours," Lord Anders replied formally and more than one angry eye followed Prince Oberyn and his daughters as they entered the great castle.
Later Oberyn and Lord Anders had time to talk in private in the lord's solar over many matters, including the fate of Quentyn, but Lord Anders had no word of what happened to his party. He worried on this, for he had grown fond of Quentyn over the years he had been fostered there. He also worried because his son Cletus was one of Quentyn's traveling companions.
"I am thinking of sending a ship to try to track them," Lord Anders told Oberyn. "But the mission is supposed to be secret and I fear to rouse suspicions. Already tongues are wagging here, with many wondering where Quentyn and the rest went."
Oberyn knew Lord Anders knew what Quentyn and the others were up to. "What story have you given?"
"That they are touring the great houses of Dorne."
"That will do for now," Oberyn said. "Let us discuss what we shall do about the dangers coming from the north. I will go up the Boneway, with the men I have plus the host you have raised as well."
"My host numbers almost ten thousand," Lord Anders told him. "Some here, more in the pass, many more at the far entrance near Summerhall."
"Good. I will be in command of all our forces."
Lord Anders face grew dark. "No, that will not do. You have little battle experience except with duels. I am sure poison will not work on these ice demons."
Oberyn laughed and decided not to rise to the bait offered. "All true, for the most part. I have some battle experience, however. In my youth I fought with the Second Sons for a while and raised a company of sellswords to fight in the Disputed Lands many years past. Though it was not for long, we did see battle and acquitted ourselves quite well. Besides, my brother, your Prince, gave me the command." Oberyn produced his letter and gave it to Lord Anders. The Lord of Yronwood read it with growing disgust and then handed back.
"So…you are to command," he reluctantly agreed. "Then what are your orders…my Prince?"
Oberyn knew it took a lot for him to say that. "We march north, into the Stormlands, and then farther on once we know more of what is happening in the north. Information we need. What have you heard so far?"
"Some news has reached us," Lord Anders told him. He stood from the table and walked to a wall where a large map of Westeros was sewed into a large tapestry colored green and brown and blue. "We have heard rumors that Stannis and Tyrion Lannister had joined forces here at the Twins and are preparing to meet the Others."
Oberyn was stunned at this news. "At…the Twins? But…the Wall. Stark led…"
"The Wall has fallen," Lord Anders told him bluntly.
"The Wall…fallen," Oberyn said, trying to accept it but finding it difficult. "I had heard there was a battle there, but not this news. How?"
"How and when the Wall fell we know not, but fall it did, at Castle Black. We have this news from more than one source. I have already written to Prince Doran, but apparently you were already on the road when I sent it. The first of this news we received from a merchant crew from a ship that docked here. It had set sail from Duskendale a few weeks past. A second source of news was a wine trader and his men from the Stormlands. They came through the Boneway pass with a caravan of pack mules and horse-drawn wagons. They stayed here two days before returning after we sold them some wine and other goods. Some of them said Winterfell is surrounded, that it is not, that Stark is dead, that he is alive, that he is fleeing south with all his people. The one thing they did know for certain is that Stannis and the Lannisters are making peace, for the nonce."
"Yes, we have heard about this peace the Lannisters and Baratheons are making," Oberyn commented. "But if this is true about the Wall and the North being invaded, then we must push on, and join forces with whoever is fighting the Others."
"You would have Dorne make alliances with our enemies?"
It did not surprise Oberyn that Lord Anders called them 'our' enemies. All of Dorne had lost men in Robert's Rebellion and more than one house desired some kind of vengeance.
"Until the Others are defeated, yes," Oberyn answered. "And not alliances. A common cause, my brother called it, and so shall we." Oberyn stared at the map wondering where to make a stand. "The Twins…they cannot stand there. The Others can flow past there like a river."
"Yes, so I thought as well."
Oberyn's eye kept going back to the blue line that showed where the Trident was. "The Trident…there we can make a stand."
"If we are swift, perhaps. But it will take almost a month of hard marching to reach the Trident."
"We don't have enough ships and the winter storms may kill us before the Others get the chance. Winter has come to the North, Prince Oberyn. It will soon march to the South as well."
"Late, we are so late," Oberyn lamented. "We must march on the morrow. As many men and as much food as we can carry."
"The orders are already given."
The next day they left, with Lord Anders Yronwood and a great many knights leading the vanguard, with Oberyn and his daughters and many Martell knights and Ser Balon Swann near the front of the host as well. Behind them came a long line of marching men-at-arms, and hundreds of wagons filled with the supplies they needed. Almost 15,000 men made up the host and more they picked up in the mountain passes and on the far side. More would come from Dorne, converging on the Boneway and then marching north through the great mountain pass.
The Boneway was one of the fabled roads of Westeros, built through the great mountain range that separated Dorne from the Reach and the Stormlands. The road went up and over passes and down into valleys through the range called the Red Mountains and it emerged on the far end near the once great Targaryen castle called Summerhall. The road was the scene of many battles through its long history, as Dorne and the Stormlands fought their many wars.
The march took ten days, with the cold mountain air and morning frosts causing the men of Dorne to shiver despite wearing heavier clothing than they were used to in their hot desert lands. Up north it would be colder still. Better clothing we should have brought, Oberyn thought and he cursed his stupidity. Winter has come and we will freeze before we see an Other. At the first chance he sent a raven back to Yronwood requested supplies of heavier clothing be sent through the mountain pass. By the fifth day some sickness was reported and by the time they came down to the warmer lands by Summerhall, many men had hacking coughs and were running fevers. Over a dozen had already died.
They needed to rest and take stock. The Targaryen castle of Summerhall had been built in a beautiful valley with many streams flowing through it from the mountains. It had been built as a fortress to guard the Boneway's north entrance but in time it became a retreat for the Targaryens, a place to escape the stench and intrigues of King's Landing. The surrounding land was mostly farmlands, and at first the people feared this great host of Dornishmen but when they learned they were marching north to fight the Others the people cheered them and even gave some of their precious stores of food and drink to the army.
They camped that night near the ruins of Summerhall. It was a total ruin, blackened and still smelling of ash decades after it had burnt, all that remained standing were a few walls and a few columns sticking up out of a waste of a broken tumble of blackened stone and scorched wooden beams. The great fire had been an accident, so the stories said. But more than one rumor said that King Aegon the Fifth had tried to hatch some old dragon eggs using wildfire and the fire got out of control. The King, his son the heir, and many others died that day. Oberyn knew that Prince Rhaegar used to come here to lament the loss of the castle and the many members of his family that had died in its conflagration. Oberyn had been here before and thought it nothing more than a monument to Targaryen stupidity.
They stayed for two days, needing to rest the men and horses, and also Oberyn hoped his fourth daughter Sarella would join them but she did not appear. But someone did appear, and it was not who Oberyn was looking for.
On the morning of the third day as they were preparing to break camp and start to march, from the west over a hill came a rider, with the golden rose sigil of the Tyrells on his surcoat. He swiftly turned around and rode away. Oberyn and his daughters mounted up and rode to the top of the hill. On the far side they got a shock, seeing a large Tyrell host of foot soldiers and cavalry moving on a narrow road through farmer's fields, coming toward them. Oberyn shouted orders and Lord Anders and the other commanders got the men moving to battle positions on the bottom of the long hillside. The Tyrell host formed lines as well in the fields below and then all was silent.
"Come, let us see what is what," Oberyn said and he asked Lord Anders and Ser Balon to follow him to where a narrow dirt road cut through the hills toward Summerhall. His Sand Snakes wanted to come as well but he ordered them to remain behind and they reluctantly obeyed. Meanwhile, a small party on horseback came out of the Tyrell host. They met in the middle of the road.
When Oberyn saw who their leader was he smiled. "Willas," he said. "It has been too long."
Willas Tyrell was a comely man, of medium height and somewhat thin, with a short spade shaped beard and short brown hair. He had less of the good looks his younger brother Ser Loras had, and none of his arrogance. He was noted by many as the most intelligent and genial of the Tyrell siblings and many were glad he was heir to Highgarden. Yet he was also looked at with pity by some, for he had a lame right leg, and needed a cane to walk and he could barely sit a horse without having special straps to hold him in the saddle. Oberyn Martell was responsible for the lame leg, having unseated the younger man in a joust many years ago. When Willas had fallen his leg had caught in the stirrup and his horse had fallen with him, crushing his leg. The maesters had saved the leg, but he could never walk or ride properly again.
All of the Reach blamed Oberyn, all but Willas. It had been a fair contest, with no treachery, and it was not an unheard of accident in such tourneys. Years later when they had become good friends Willas admitted he had no desire to ride in that tournament but his father had pushed him to do so. "I was too inexperienced," he told Oberyn while they were hawking in the Dornish Marches one day. "But my father wanted me to be a champion, so I rode." Still, Oberyn Martell was the least loved man in the Reach, and his reputation as a ruthless man was further enhance.
"Prince Oberyn," said Willas with a smile as he and his escort rode closer. "I had not thought to see you here."
"Nor I you. We ride to war."
The smile left Willas Tyrell's face. "Indeed. And who against?"
"The Others. Who else is there?"
Now Willas looked surprised. "You have not heard?"
"Heard? What is there to hear? The Others have broken through the Wall. We are going to find this war and stop them from overrunning Westeros." Oberyn said it in his calm way, his tone full of confidence and a hint of distain for his enemies.
"They have already been stopped," Willas replied. "For the nonce, at least. We just received news of a great battle on the Trident. Lord Stannis Baratheon, Lord Tyrion Lannister, and my father led a great host in defending the river line. The knights of the Vale joined them as well."
Oberyn could not help but feel some disappointment. "Then they are defeated?"
Willas shook his head. "No, not yet. Merely checked it seems. But my news is more than ten days old, so I know not the current situation."
Oberyn grinned. "Then we will ride together, to find this war and defeat theses demons once and for all."
Willas' face blanched. "I do not ride north. I ride for Storm's End."
Now Oberyn was concerned and wondered if some fresh war between the Reach and the Stormlands was brewing, but Ser Balon spoke before he could. His demeanor and tone were cold. "What is a Tyrell host doing marching to Storm's End?"
"I did not get your name, ser," Willas asked and there was no warmth in his voice either.
"Ser Balon Swann of Stonehelm."
"I am not riding against your people or Storm's End, Ser Balon," Willas explained, a bit more friendly. "I am riding to help save them."
"Save them?" Oberyn asked. "From who?"
Willas looked steadily at Oberyn. "From your nephew it seems, Prince Oberyn."
Now Oberyn was truly puzzled. "My nephew? I have only two nephews and neither is attacking Storm's End at the moment."
"It seems you have a third nephew, or at least he is calling himself that."
Oberyn grew irritated. "Speak plainly, Willas. What in seven hells is going on at Storm's End?"
"I am surprised you have not heard," Willas Tyrell answered. "But maybe not so surprised. Our news came in a round about fashion, from the letter I received from my father who is on the Trident. Apparently a large host landed by sea a few weeks back near Cape Wrath. They took Griffin's Roost and now lay siege to Storm's End. This host has the Golden Company, plus a large number of siege engines and elephants, plus many lords of the Stormlands now supporting them. They fight under a banner with three red dragons on a black field."
Oberyn felt his breath catch and chest get tight. "That's the old Targaryen banner."
"Quite so," Willas replied. "Their leader says he is your nephew, Prince Oberyn. He is claming he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia of Dorne. He is calling himself Aegon Targaryen, the Sixth of his Name. And he means to conquer all of Westeros."
Oberyn was too stunned to reply for a moment and then found his voice. "Gods, no…he died, years ago. How can that be?"
"I know not. But I have been commanded to drive him out of Westeros."
"Commanded by whom?" Lord Anders asked.
"The alliance that now faces the Others. I received a raven letter ten days past, signed and sealed by my father, with the seals of Lord Stannis Baratheon and Lord Tyrion Lannister affixed as well. I raised these men and plan to move on Storm's End or wherever the pretender may be."
"Pretender?" Oberyn said in wonder. "But…what if he is not a pretender?" Could it be? Could Aegon still be alive? It was impossible. He had died at King's Landing. Oberyn has seen his head smashed in. Had seen his bones…had seen some bones…someone's bones. Could they have been another baby and not Aegon?
"My orders remain the same, pretender or not, Prince Oberyn. The question is now, what will you do?"
Oberyn was too surprised by this news to speak for a moment. Oberyn Martell was no great strategist and had but little experience of large scale warfare. But he knew that in a duel or on the battlefield you never let a man get behind you or you were soon dead. He couldn't leave behind a force that might attack them in the back when the Others attacked them from the front. But if it was truly Aegon, he could not attack him, his own blood, his sister's son. Elia's son. Willas was going there to sort this out, and he would attack this Aegon, real or pretender. Oberyn was torn. He could not attack his nephew. But could he attack his old friend and risk war with the Reach at this crucial time? The Others were checked but not defeated. He had to get these men north, but he could not leave an enemy behind him. There was only one thing to do. He had to see this boy calling himself Aegon and see if he truly was his sister's son.
"We are coming with you, Willas," Oberyn said at last. "We will come to Storm's End and I will see who this boy is for myself." And if he is truly my nephew, he thought but did not say, I may have to kill you old friend.