AN: Hey everyone, long time no update. But it is finally here. Thanks as always for the reviews and PMs, I always appreciate them. Responses to the guest reviews are on my profile as usual. And from now on, I think I'm going to answer them when I get them instead of when I publish a new chapter, that way guests can get answers to their questions sooner if they want them.
As always, thank you to my beta Tellemicus Sundance
Ned awoke alone, Catelyn having started her day a short time before, to a dull hum reverberating from the nearby table. He was tempted to simply ignore the noise. I have little doubt that a call this early in the morning is only going to cause me a severe headache.
Groggily, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stumbled toward the mirror which was slowly moving closer to the edge of the table as it insistently tried to gain his attention. With a yawn, Ned answered the call, and on the other end was a thoroughly disheveled and weary Harry Potter. There were deep circles beneath the magician's eyes that made his usually bright eyes seem dull.
Pushing his evermore greying hair from his eyes, Ned spoke scratchily, "What can I do for you this morning, Harry?"
Harry ran a hand through his dark hair, something Ned had noticed was a bit of habit when he was either nervous or deep in thought, "An issue arose within our cities recently that has, as of now, been resolved. But there have been unforeseen complications as a result."
Ned suddenly felt significantly more awake at that declaration, "What has happened, Harry?" He demanded more than asked, "Are Arya and Jon alright?" The usually calm Lord of Winterfell couldn't hide the hint of urgency that entered his voice.
"Both of your children are perfectly healthy," Harry placated, a slight smirk coming to his lips as he paused, though it quickly fell as he continued, "Though that was not always a certainty."
A scowl found its way to Ned's lips and he made to speak before Harry cut him off, no doubt sensing his irritation, "A Braavosi trading ship made its way into Newport and traded a number of goods before returning quickly the way they came. This was the same ship that delivered the Targaryens to First Forge." Harry ground his teeth slightly before continuing, "But another person from that ship remained in our city without my knowledge, a Faceless man."
Jaw dropped in shock, Ned was momentarily unable to respond, too preoccupied with his own thoughts. A Faceless man among the Norfolk? I was aware that Harry had enemies but I didn't expect any of them to resort to assassination. Perhaps it was unwise to allow my children to foster there. The Lord of Winterfell had a sinking feeling in his stomach. Whoever sent the assassin must have had both the means and a reason to do so. That was quite the short list of people.
"But this unwelcome visitor has been found?" He finally inquired while Harry just waited patiently.
"After killing three people and making an attempt on my family's life, yes, the perpetrator has been apprehended." Harry replied, his lips a grim line, "And that is why I have called for therein lies my newest complication."
Ned's brow furrowed reflexively, "I don't follow."
"I wasn't the one to find him," Harry explained. "Arya and Daenerys happened upon him while he was trying to make his escape. Together, they managed to knock the assassin unconscious, though there were moments where it was a close thing." Harry's voice softened and he looked Ned straight in the eye. Even through the mirror those emerald eyes could cut right through a man, "Daenerys saved your daughter's life."
Ned frowned, nodding ever-so-slightly in understanding, "She has my thanks then."
"As she does mine, and there we reach the root of this problem," Harry replied seriously. "Given their actions, I gave both of them the open opportunity to ask anything of me that was within my capability."
Harry ran a hand through his hair once again, "Arya's request is a easy thing to follow through on," he told Ned vaguely not sure how much he knew about his daughter's time in the yard or the bruises she was subjecting herself to. "Daenerys' request wasn't unexpected, given how she has come to enjoy her time in First Forge, but it is inconvenient."
"She requested that she be allowed to remain among your people." Ned finished with a heavy sigh, having realized where things were leading. Truthfully, he could not fault Harry for his offer; he would have done much the same were such a service provided to him. But he could have been more careful in the wording at least. He is well aware of the dangers the Targaryens pose.
"Thank you for informing me," Ned said slowly, "I shall have to send a letter to Daenerys and thank her for her part in the whole affair." Harry shoulders relaxed at his response. "You must realize that Robert will not be happy when he hears of this, nor Jon, nor Stannis for that matter. You assured them the Targaryens would remain among your people for only a short time!" A bit of his own frustration seeped into his voice as he finished.
"I am well aware of that fact, Eddard," Harry replied tersely, "But none of those men helped me capture a man who nearly killed my son." He growled out, before taking a deep, calming breath. "It might interest you to know that after interrogating the assassin, I have come to learn that it was Grandmaester Pycelle who contacted the House of Black and White." He spat the old man's name with venom.
Ned had known Harry for quite some time now and never had he seen such unrestrained hate in his eyes as he did at that moment, "Do you believe that Robert sanctioned the attempt then?"
"I am inclined to believe that he was aware of the attempt on my life if nothing else," Harry explained, "though I cannot say for sure. This is not the first time that the order of maesters has sent someone to harm me so until I know for sure I will reserve judgement."
For the sake of his old friend, Ned hoped that Robert had no hand in the attempt, "You mentioned the interrogation of your prisoner…" He said leadingly.
"So I did," Harry replied shortly.
"You learned all that you needed to?" He had seen some of the magic Harry was capable of and heard of some of a scant few of his less savory abilities, and he doubted that he would approve of the methods Harry employed to get the information.
"I have, yes." Ned waited for an explanation but it appeared that there was none forthcoming.
Letting it go for the moment, Ned asked, "Your prisoner has met his end then?"
"By now, I think it is likely that he has expired." Harry said with an eerie calm.
"How could you not know?" There was a hint of accusation in his question.
"It wasn't only me that was affected by the man's actions, and so I alone could not administer justice. I gathered what information I needed from him and took my own pound of flesh as it were." Ned noted there was no joy in Harry's expression at the declaration, but there was a distinct satisfaction there. "Val would have castrated me had she been denied the opportunity to exact her own measure of vengeance."
Ned resisted the urge to shiver at the thought. He knew Val was not the sort of woman to be crossed, less so if you were foolish enough to threaten one of her children. The Free Folk were not far removed from the years they would fight amongst themselves murdering, raiding, and raping. And the worst of them would do terrible things to their enemies, things that had long since been outlawed south of the Wall. Ned almost felt sympathy for the man being forced to endure their wrath.
Shaking himself, Ned returned to the point at hand, "What do you intend to do with what you have learned?"
"I shall deal with the Grandmaester in short order," Harry answered honestly, "This is the second attempt that he and his order have made against my family. I shall not tolerate it any further."
"Do you intend to kill him? Or will you simply remove his memories? Or compel him to do as you desire?" Ned probed irritably, "Surely you can see the precariousness of the situation. To do anyone of these things could lead to further inciting anger in Robert should he learn of your involvement. And a change in Pycelle's attitude toward you would be just as conspicuous as his death."
"I would think his death would be far less conspicuous given his age," Harry responded nonchalantly, "But that is neither here nor there, my friend. I shall deal with it as I see fit."
"We are allies, are we not? Should I not be aware of your plans particularly if it proves consequential to the North?" Ned's temper was beginning to flare at Harry's indifference.
"Do you think I am aware of every plan you have made? Or that Doran has? Do you think you know everything your bannermen might do?" Harry countered unperturbed by Ned's annoyance. "We are allies but that does not mean that you need to know every detail of my intentions. I have made you aware that I intend to deal with the situation and that will need to suffice."
It was rare that someone talked to the Lord of Winterfell quite so brazenly. Ned resisted the urge to shout at the man staring back at him in the mirror. How long before this comes back to bite us both? But then he could concede that Harry had valid reasons for his desires to harm the old maester. In the end, there was nothing Ned could do to force the issue. Bringing back Jon and Arya wouldn't bother him, but it would anger them. I am unwilling to break our alliance over such a thing. And there is no information I have that could convince him to change whatever his current course might be. The simple truth was Harry would do as he pleased in this matter, and there was nothing that Ned could do to change it. And looking at Harry's tired green eyes; he could see that the other man was well aware of that fact too.
"Very well, I will trust your judgment on the matter." He finally relented. As much as I fear what the outcomes might be. "Though tell me, will you be making any move against the House of Black and White?" For all of Robert's love of war, Ned could at least say that he had people around him who would counsel caution. The Faceless Men were an unknown to the Lord of Winterfell, and he didn't know what to expect should Harry seek vengeance against them as well.
"The Faceless man was a weapon used against me doing only as his employer bid him," Harry shrugged. "I shall ensure that the order is aware of the foolishness of taking any contract on me in the future."
"And should they be unwilling to see things from your perspective?"
Harry smirked slightly, "I doubt that will be an issue. But should it prove to be, I will deal with it accordingly." He fixed Ned with a meaningful stare, "And that is the last that I will say on that matter, for this truly is only my concern."
Rubbing at his temples as he felt the beginnings of a headache taking hold, he nodded his head, "Thank you for informing me of the situation. I am sure you must speak to Doran as well."
Harry tilted his head in acknowledgement, "It was the least that I could do." Yes and that is all you have done. Ned made to end the conversation but the wizard interrupted just before he had the opportunity, "Expect a large shipment of dragonsteel weapons in the next few days."
"That is good news," Ned admitted, "It will do a good deal to appease some of my bannermen."
"Perhaps this will help build some trust between our people." Harry mused.
"I certainly hope so," Ned glanced at the stack of parchments nearby, "If nothing else it will stop them from pestering me each week for news on the matter."
Harry chuckled good-naturedly, "Until next time, Lord Stark." With that the connection closed, leaving Ned staring back at his own grey eyes. It seems my days always start off wonderfully when Harry is involved.
It was early morning as snow fell heavy among the tents of the gathered company. Ser Alliser sat in sullen silence beside the fire. Wil sat to his left looking uneasily among their many other companions while Qhorin Halfhand sat to his left chewing juicy sausage provided by the wildling bastards. His fellow ranger had no more love for them than Alliser, but as he put it, "Food is food, and I won't be picky when it's good—here least of all." He referred to the long expanse of ice all about them.
While Ser Alliser was well aware of the claims being made by the wildlings, he gave them little credence. He would sooner believe that dragons have risen out of the Fourteen Flames again. No, in Alliser's opinion, the only true threat beyond the Wall were the wildlings not the Others. And yet, there he was freezing his bollocks off to check on the lives of wildling bastards.
Ten men from Castle Black, ten from the Shadow Tower, ten of the wildlings, and twenty Mormont men-at-arms made up their ranks. They had originally intended to sail down the Milkwater to the Bay of Ice, but the mouth of the river had frozen as had much of the water near the shore where the clans resided so circumstances forced them to travel by foot with too few horses for the wildlings and the Northerners.
They had suffered the company of the wildlings for twelve days now. It irked Ser Alliser to see them warm beneath their furs, strong chainmail just beneath the surface clinking with each step they took. Where once they had poor wooden spears tipped with rusted iron, swords of old bronze, and shields of poorly banded wood, now they had their infernal dragonsteel that looked like it would cut sharp and pierce deep. How many of us warned Mormont that if he left them be they would become a threat? Now they are properly armed.
Then there were the Mormont men-at-arms. He truly couldn't believe them. Wildlings raided Bear Island for millennia yet it gave them no pause. They bonded with the wildlings as though they were long forgotten friends. Even their commander Lady Alysane Mormont, the Young She-Bear, one of the Lord Commander's five nieces, treated them like equals.
The noble lady looked right at home among the wildling spearwives. The woman was big everywhere, but strong; her hands had calluses from hours with the sword. She looked nearly as wide as she was tall thanks to the layers of leather and armor. She was speaking quietly with Del and Mance on the other side of the fire.
Looking at the face of the traitor bought a fire to the seasoned knight's belly. The former brother of the Night's Watch sat there bold as brass, not caring in the least of the withering glares he received from the men he once served with. Alliser and Qhorin very nearly killed the traitor upon first seeing him. The Lord Commander should have Mance's head on a pike but instead he forces us to work with him.
As Alliser glared across the fire at the could-have-been-king, Waymar Royce, a newer member of the Night's Watch approached Lady Mormont, all but turning his nose up at the two wildlings with her. The third son of Lord Yohn Royce was arrogant, thinking himself far above men who had been ranging beyond the Wall since before he was born. Pampered little shit.
To Alysane's credit, at least in Alliser's eyes, she listened to the young man prattle before turning away from him dismissively and calling across the fire, "Halfhand, it is time we should be going."
The ranger swallowed his last bit of sausage, "Aye, only a little while longer yet before we reach one of the clans. Start packing the tents lad." His rasping voice carried over the howling winds. Waymar huffed petulantly at being ignored but did as he was bid by the Halfhand. Son of a lord or not, he knew of Qhorin's reputation and had the good sense to respect it as well.
They broke camp quickly, and with the fire quenched the biting cold of the North cut through the furs down to the very bone.
"Seems to me its growing colder again," Gared commented as they trekked through the deep snows. They numbered fifty men and women in total, and their footprints were washed away in the snow as quickly as their feet departed them.
Walking just ahead of them, Osha heard his comment over the rushing wind despite the furs wrapped about her, "It is gettiin' colder, best hope yer prick doesn' fall off." She laughed loudly at her own jest, "What is it those Starks say, 'Winter is Comin''. They 'ave to be righ' eventually."
Alliser snorted from behind his furs, "And your lot would have us believe the Long Night is coming with this winter."
"And it is," Osha replied heatedly, "I'm sure you'll see for yerself soon enough." They glared at one another for a long moment before Osha turned to face forwards.
"We shouldn't be concerning ourselves with the well-being of wildlings," Gared spoke more softly, "We used to fight them, and now we're helping them."
From his other side, Waymar hummed his agreement, "I came to the Night's Watch with the understanding that I would be protecting the realm from the wildlings, not aiding them."
Qhorin laughed loudly, "Apparently you don't get much news in the Vale then lad," the man shoved Alliser in the shoulder, "When was the last time you heard of trouble with the wildlings?"
"We've been hearing of trouble with the wildlings for nearly a decade now," Alliser answered angrily, "Just not the sort that our Lord Commander thinks is worth doing anything about." Qhorin looked at him with a raised eyebrow, "Six months since the last ranging and that was to deal with a group of cannibals near the Fist who captured and ate two of our men who were out hunting." He had gone out with Benjen Stark for that one. They had passed one of the towers being built by the Free Folk along one of the arms of the Milkwater. They keep taking more land. Someday they'll spread across all of the lands beyond the Wall. And how long after that before they decide that they need land south of the Wall Alliser wanted to confront them but Benjen commanded otherwise, and as First Ranger he had the lead. Fucking Starks.
"It'd been eight months at the Shadow Tower, and that was because the Great Walrus was getting restless." Qhorin told them, "I've been in the watch for three decades now, and I've never seen things so calm."
"Like the calm before a storm," Came Mance's voice from just behind them, "You'll wish for this peacefulness again in the future." It was the first Mane had actually spoken with his old comrades.
Alliser scowled, "So you say traitor." The former ranger would have dropped dead where he stood if looks could kill.
"Aye, so I say," Mance responded evenly, not the least bit irritated by Alliser's anger. Qhorin watched his former friend through narrowed eyes before they fell into an uneasy silence.
At a guess, Alliser would say it was past noon by the time they could see the icy homes of the walrus men through the veil of snow.
No fires burned within the village. And the snowdrifts usually kept low by the clans rose up along the sides of their homes. There was no person or beast in sight, not one of the reindeer that the clan bred. The only sounds were the crunching of snow and the whipping of the wind in their faces.
"Check inside," Alysane commanded, gesturing to the structures around them. They spread among the scattered buildings, a few people to each building.
Following Qhorin inside, Alliser wasn't surprised at what they found. Dried blood stained the floor at their feet, while the rudimentary bedding and tableware lay strewn about the single room home. It appeared as though there had been a struggle. He scoffed derisively as he looked around the chaos of what remained inside, "Looks to me as though the antler men finally decided to strike against the walruses."
"It does at that," Qhorin agreed as he leaned to more closely inspect the blood on the floor. There were boot stains there that led back toward the outside, "But that isn't their way. As much as they hate each other, they are far more likely to war with the cannibal ice river clans than they are with one another."
"Someone younger, stronger must have seen an opportunity and took it." Alliser dismissed, "And we've spent weeks wasting our time over something we could have told Mormont without trudging out here." They lingered for a few minutes, enjoying the short reprieve from the biting wind, knowing that they would need to report to Lady Mormont soon. Qhorin hummed to himself and made his way back into the snow.
The two black brothers crossed the village and went to the largest hut, a crowd of people moving in and out as they reported to Alysane. Inside, they found the she-bear with Mance as they conversed, "… would be worthwhile to learn whether or not this has occurred elsewhere."
"My people are cold and tired," Alysane said with a slight frown, "yours are as well. I doubt any of them have the desire to trudge from village to village."
"But this told us nothing, except that there was a struggle," Mance countered, "We have no idea who attacked or why."
Alysane tilted her head, showing her fleshy neck and took an exasperated breath, "And where is the next nearest village?"
"A few hours west," Alliser interjected as he made their presence known "But it seems quite obvious to us what happened here."
"There is nothing obvious about what happened here," Mance retorted harshly. "All that can be told from what remains is that someone or something attacked this place."
"And it was most likely one of the other shore clans, or perhaps even one of the ice river clans," Alliser smirked at his former brother, "Suppose none of their lot are good enough for the rest of you bastards… though I can't imagine why."
Mance made to reply but was cut off by Alysane, "Yet there are oddities," she looked around the room, "surely you noticed the lack of bodies or the abundance of resources that remain."
"Aye, we noticed but we didn't give it much thought," Qhorin admitted. "Whoever did this would have burned the bodies. As for the goods…" He trailed off not sure why such things would be left behind.
"Where are they?" The Lady Mormont asked sharply, focusing in on the bodies.
"In one of the other huts most likely," Qhorin told her, shaking himself from his own thoughts.
She nodded slightly, "But none of my men, or yours, or Mance's reported even a hint of the dead." She looked between the two men, "There are no remains to be found, be it body or bones."
That brought both Qhorin and Alliser up short. While it was possible that the hut where the burning occurred could have melted in the fire, it was highly unlikely. And the wildlings burn their dead.
"I agree with Mance," Qhorin finally conceded with a grimace, the words leaving a bitter taste in Alliser's mouth as well, "There is plenty of daylight left. We should make our way to another village."
"Very well," Alysane said moving toward the exit, "The sooner we leave, the sooner we get there then."
The three former brothers shared a look among themselves before they followed behind her.
The snowstorm that had hounded them throughout the entire journey still refused to abate as they made their way further north along the coast. Men and women alike grumbled about the march through the growing darkness.
When they reached the second village, the sun was beginning to set behind the clouds in the west. Within the scattered huts and frozen hovels they found similar scenes.
"They are all just empty," Alysane shook her head slightly, "Just blood but no bodies. And yet again the food and goods that should have been taken by a rival were left behind."
Alliser and Qhorin shared a look, both of the pair admittedly disturbed by the current course of events. Stubborn as he might be, Alliser could concede that there was something amiss.
"How many people lived among the clans?" Alysane asked, looking toward Mance.
"A couple thousand," Del answered before Mance had the opportunity, "I would reckon that they're all dead now," she snorted lightly, "well in a manner of speaking." Mance gave her a look but she was clearly unrepentant.
"No small number of people. It's more fighting men than we can muster on Bear Island," She commented offhandedly, "But we have visited only two of these villages, what makes you so confident?"
"The evidence doesn't point toward any sort of raid by their enemies," All eyes snapped to Qhorin, none expecting him to take up the same argument as the wildling woman, "that much is certainly clear. And given the lack of bodies, it wasn't the cold of the storm that took their lives." The snowstorm that enveloped the Frozen Shore had been seen from the Shadow Tower as well as Bear Island.
"So it would seem that the Others have made their first overt move then," Alysane stated plainly what Mance and the other wildlings had been thinking since they stepped into the first village. Given the situation Alliser didn't even have it him to sneer at the claim.
"Giv'n what we found here we should leave quickly. Jus' as Harry said." Osha spoke up for the first time, "I don' want to be 'ere if they decide to come back." She was almost nervously turning a large piece of metal between her hands.
Alysane deliberated only briefly before nodding her assent, "Very well, we shall gather the men…" She stopped abruptly as a terrified scream rang out through the village over the whipping of the wind. The soft sounds of movement and frantic words could be heard from just outside the hut.
Quickly the six occupants made their way outside and back into the cold. Torch light illuminated the snow and ice as corpses rose from beneath its depths. Some looked as though they still might belong among the living while others were bloodied, mangled shadows of what they once were. Their luminescent blue eyes shone brightly in the darkness of the oncoming night as they stared unblinkingly at their potential victims.
Ser Alliser had seen many things in years spent as a ranger: giants, mammoths, wargs, even cannibals feeding on their own young—the sort of things that men south of the Wall laughed off as myth or simple stories to scare children. However, like those southerners, he had long disregarded the myth of the Others and their undead thrall as just that, a myth. Watching as a corpse, missing one arm, shambled toward him with fresh blood between its teeth, he couldn't help but reassess that belief.
As he stared listlessly at the oncoming threat, it caught fire. It screamed, a shrill unnatural thing that caused a chill to go through all who heard it, and it had nothing to do with the cold. Even as one fell, another followed in its wake, three more by its side. And dozens more continued to rise from the snow in which they had concealed themselves. Once pristinely white there were now dark lines of red marring the surface.
Drawing his sword, the knight could see the dire situation in which they had found themselves. From the gaps between each hut, more of the wights pressed them together in the middle of the village. He watched as two Mormont men were ripped to pieces as they tried to fall back, struggling in the snow while the corpses seemed entirely unhindered by the obstacle. Gared was swarmed by three of the undead as he tried to help one of the Mormont men away from the oncoming horde. The pained, tortuous scream that came from the pile of bodies was enough indication of his fate. Young Wil seemed frozen in fear as he was dragged back with the other living that remained.
"Close ranks!" Lady Mormont bellowed over the screams of the dying, "Don't let them overwhelm us." They fell to her command, but it seemed a futile thing as yet more lines of the dead followed behind their fellows. We've been baited like a deer in the wood.
It was then that Sir Alliser saw it sitting far behind the ranks of undead. Despite the encroaching darkness, its blue eyes, brighter even than those of its thralls, and pale white skin made it stand out from where it sat atop a giant ice spider.
Looking around at their now consolidated ranks, Alliser guessed they had already lost a third of their fighters if not more. Qhorin's left arm was hanging limply apparently dislocated. More of the wights were set aflame but it did nothing to deter the monsters. They were driven forward by the will of their master just behind.
Alliser slashed out with his blade taking the head off of the half-decayed corpse of a young girl who had been crawling toward his feet. The head fell with a dull thud into the snow as the body began twitching erratically on the ground. He heard another distressed shout as one of their number fell to the encroaching hoard. He heard the whiz of an arrow passing just over the aged knight's head.
He followed the black-tipped shaft as it whistled through the air toward the White Walker sitting confidently atop its eight-legged mount. The aim was true, it would have driven into the creatures neck had it not moved before it had the chance to reach its destination.
"It's time to leave." Mance called out loud enough so that the other wildlings could hear him. The Mormont men and black brothers thought the comment outright insanity. They were trapped with little hope of escape. We'd need to kill ten of them for every one of us.
He felt an arm hook around him from behind, just as Del spoke a word in a language that he didn't recognize. The world spun uncomfortably for long seconds. When he landed with a sudden, hard drop into the snow, he was left disoriented. He lost the grip on his sword and skidded somewhere yards away from him. He was vaguely aware of the pained, disgruntled moans of others around him, but as he pushed himself to his knees he was solely focused on retaining the contents of his stomach.
Looking around blearily, he was shocked to see the monolithic presence of the Wall nearby, the Shadow Tower dimly lit in the early night. The wildlings were all standing, talking quietly among themselves, seemingly unperturbed by their travel. One of the men approached and offered his hand which Alliser took without comment.
"What just happened?" He asked of anyone.
"We've escaped," Mance said calmly, as he set fire to two wildling corpses that had been brought along for the ride, "And you've been returned to the Wall."
"How?" Qhorin asked gruffly, as he bound the bleeding wound on his arm with a strip of cloth.
Del looked at the seasoned ranger and told him plainly, "Magic."
"And we should all be glad of it," Alysane interjected as the wildlings seemed to move together, "for without it we would surely be dead." We lost thirteen as it is, but it easily could have been all fifty.
When all eight of the remaining wildlings came together, Osha removed the metal disk she'd been toying with earlier from her furs, each of them placing their hands on its surface. Mance smiled thinly, "Your assistance in this matter was greatly appreciated." He looked between his former brothers and Lady Mormont, "This is where we leave you though. We must report our findings back to Harry." Alysane made to speak and delay their departure but with a whispered word from the spearwife they disappeared.
"Stop there!" The command rang out in the stillness of the morning, the sound resonating through the trees of the nearby forest.
Below the heavy metal gates of First Forge, Melisandre stared up from beneath a red shawl at the guards above. The two just above looked young to her though most looked young to her after her long years. Both had closely cut beards, under which were scowls. As she looked each man in the eye in turn, she could see clear distrust there if not outright hostility. It wasn't a look she was accustomed to seeing from young men. Desire, lust absolutely but it is a rare thing to see distrust in men so young.
Further down the wall there was a man and a woman, each with an arrow drawn and ready to loose.
"Who are you?" The taller of the two men asked her, "and why are you here?"
"My name is Melisandre," She spoke clearly, no hint of fear or apprehension in her voice, as she removed the shawl from her head. Her accent caused the men a moment's pause, "And I am here to speak with the man called the Witch-King-Beyond-the-Wall." They were watching her more closely now, as she drew closer to the gate a slight sway to her hips meant to entice the men, and the woman for that matter.
One of the men smiled slightly as he looked down at her, his eyes fixated on the expanse of exposed cleavage. The woman further along the wall scoffed loudly, drawing Melisandre's attention, "Given recent events here, it takes more than a desire to speak with Harry to enter the city. What exactly do you wish to discuss with him?"
"The threat that all people ought to fear," She spoke passionately, as she always did when the matter of the Great Other and his servants came to the fore, "and the aid I would offer in the war against them." A moment of silence passed between the four guards as they looked between one another. All four stared down at her and she returned their gaze unflinchingly. After a moment, one of the men moved down from the wall and toward the gate
Long minutes passed as the three guards who remained continued to watch her vigilantly. But Melisandre was taken with other matters. She was looking intently at the gate and wall. There was a dull thrum of magic emanating from the intricate, and admittedly beautiful, runic etchings that surely took weeks, if not months, to complete.
Fixated as she was on the etchings and the magic coming from them, she didn't hear the voices from the other side of the wall, nor the commotion as they moved behind it. Only as the metal doors began to creak open did she realize that they were allowing her in. She expected to see a man on the other side but instead there was a tall, beautiful, blonde woman looking at her with piercing eyes as she held a young child against her side. The babe was pulling happily on the woman's long braid.
The woman walked forward until she was but an arm's length from Melisandre. Despite her height, Melisandre still stood slightly taller, her red eyes gazing down at the blue grey of the person across from her. There was an… echo of magic upon the woman, something that did not belong to her but that was quite known to her. Harry Potter's woman perhaps.
"The guards tell me that you have come to offer aid," She gave no introduction. Melisandre thought her less directly hostile than the guards had been, but there was an undercurrent of skepticism in her words. She knew distrust when she saw it. The guardswoman said that current events dictated more caution. I wonder what has caused their caution? The way the woman held close to her child seemed to have built from something more than simple maternal love.
Ignoring the matter for the time being, she bowed her head in deference to the clearly important spearwife, "It is as your guards told you. I would do what I am able against the cold enemy." She stepped closer, "From what I have heard and seen, those desires would be best served here." Melisandre gestured behind to where she knew the city lay.
The free woman looked her up and down critically, "What aid could you offer? With a few exceptions, it is my experience that the women of the south…" Melisandre made to interrupt at that but she continued firmly, "and the east are not exactly renowned for their skill in battle."
"I have been fighting the Great Other and those who might serve him for years beyond count," A light of recognition shown in those blue-grey eyes, "And in those many years I have practiced my arts, and I can say with confidence that they will aid you in the conflicts to come." She was not expecting to have her motivation, or capabilities, scrutinized in such a way. But then these people know little if anything of the Red God or those who serve him. Less so of the shadow binders of Asshai.
"The red priests hold fire sacred as far as I know." This statement caused Melisandre to blink owlishly just once before she recomposed herself, "Some books claim that those of your order might twist the flames to your will. Such ability could prove beneficial given the enemy we face." Thinking that she had managed to convince the woman of her usefulness Melisandre began to smile, but stopped as she noticed the spearwife scowling, "However, your order is also quite well-known for its… fervency. And you will find few who are willing to forsake the Old gods for your red one."
Melisandre resisted the urge to scoff at the woman's words. There was only one true god. The trees the Northmen had worshipped for millennia were nothing more than hollow idols to her mind. Biting her tongue for the time being, Melisandre nodded serenely, "I understand your concern, but I have no intention of turning you away from your gods." It was a lie but there would be time to worry about such things once she had situated herself within the city.
"I'm sure," Was the stony reply she received. There was a long silence between them as the spearwife turned the matter over in her mind. Finally she sighed, irritation written across her face, "You will show me, here and now, some measure of your magic."
It seemed a reasonable demand to Melisandre. Bringing up one of her pale hands to rest just in front of her breast, the red-gold, ruby-encrusted choker fit snuggly around her neck glowed with a slight heat. At that same moment a burst of flame shot up from her palm with slight more ease than she had experienced in recent years. She ran her hand through the heat, unbothered by the flames before snuffing it out. There was no awe in the wildling's eyes, something she wasn't accustomed to. But given how this city supposedly came to be, I should have expected such a reaction.
The woman looked almost disappointed, frowning she gestured for Melisandre to follow as she turned on her heel, "Harry had pressing issues that demanded his attention away from home, and he has yet to return." They passed beneath the two great metal gates together, and within, it was noticeably warmer. Beyond the wall there was a great expanse of crops wherein people could be seen toiling in the field. There was a solid stone road that led toward the coast, but they did not turn down that road instead turning right to face an archway that the wildling stepped through without pause, expecting Melisandre to follow.
The sensation of magic gliding over her skin was pleasant and instant after she found herself standing in the bustling city of First Forge, the sound of hammer on anvil resonating through the town. A group of children ran across her path, one of them apologizing as they nearly bumped into her. "My name is Val," the previously unnamed woman said tersely, "And in Harry's absence, my word is his."
Val turned to look her in the eye once again, "You shall be allowed to remain among us until such a time as Harry returns. Then he will make a decision with regards to your offer of aid. You shall make yourself useful in whatever way you are able until that time." She glared daggers with those blue-grey eyes, "You won't in any way try to preach your religion unless someone asks you directly regarding it though you are free to practice it in private as you see fit. Beyond that you are free to do as you please, save harming others," She smirked slightly, "Unless they have done you some great offense. You will learn quickly how such things are dealt with here."
"Understood," Melisandre agreed easily, unperturbed by the restrictions set upon her. She had no issue biding her time. Such things might change quickly once I've met Harry.
It was a clear, warm night in Braavos. Yet the Secret City was bustling just as it did in the light of day. In the Blue Lantern and the Dome, mummers plied their trade, crowds of people packing in shoulder to shoulder to watch their performances. It was the third time they'd done their plays that day. From each tavern and inn the raucous laughter and bawdy singing of sailors well into their cups filtered out to the streets. From the brothels of the city, flowery perfume and cries of passions reached the senses each time another patron entered or exited the establishment. Near the Moon Pool, the ringing of steel on steel could be heard as the thin swords of the bravos clashed and sang to the glee of the gathered crowd.
On the Isle of Gods, priests and practitioners of each religion went about their end of day rituals. A large congregation of R'llohr's followers could be heard within their high red temple, 'the night is dark and full of terrors' falling from the lips of hundreds. A few Westerosi sailors kneeled before the statues of the Seven in the Sept-Beyond-the-Sea. In the Temple of the Moonsingers, the largest of temples on the isle, many of the Braavosi gathered and prayed together. Then there was the House of Black and White, sparsely visited even when the sun shone, had only one man climbing up its rocky knoll. It was a bravo, blood seeping from his punctured side. He sought out the waters of the Many-Faced God so that he might hasten his end.
That is to say, there was only one man approaching the House of Black and White to the naked eye. Underneath enchantments that masked both sight and sound, Harry made his way up the steps to the great ebony and weirwood doors. It had been many years since last he visited. He still remembered discussing the gift of death with one of the priests. They ought to be more discerning about whom they are willing to deliver their gift. A fact which Harry had every intention of making perfectly clear to the order.
He pushed his way into the house, dim torchlight lighting the pale grey stone and the numerous depictions of death which the order held sacred. In the center of the main room, a body was being pulled away from the pool, limp and lifeless. The acolyte responsible for the deed wore dark robes and a hood covered their face. Harry followed behind, adjusting the weightless body he carried upon his shoulder, as he began to descend a staircase.
On the second floor they passed the sleeping quarters of the priests and acolytes, though they were empty at the moment. Finally they came to the third and final floor, though he knew it was far more expansive than anything above.
As they came to the first room, the acolyte Harry followed lifted the body they were carrying and placed it on a table for preparation. Harry stunned the acolyte before passing through the door on the far side of the room. He came to a short staircase that led down to the Hall of Faces.
Harry stopped, stricken by the sheer number of dead that had been prepared by the servants of the Many-Faced god over the centuries. The faces sat along the walls and pillars of the room, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. A few of the thousands of faces were missing, no doubt currently serving as the disguises for one of the deadly order.
There were a number of doors along the walls of the temple. From what he had managed to learn from his former captive, many of them led to training areas for prospective members of the order while the one in the center led to a meeting room in which there was a single round table where the Faceless men, not otherwise assigned, would gather each month to assign the contracts received by the order. It was a meeting that ought to be occurring that very night. And Harry was particularly confident of the veracity of the information he had received.
With quick strides, Harry made his way across the hall of faces, keenly aware of the serene death masks. He passed through the doorway quietly and into a dark corridor at the end of which was a dimly room from which he could hear voices.
Passing into the room unnoticed, Harry took note of the fifteen people around the table, only one woman among them. Seven seats sat empty. He knew that none of them carried any weapons on their person. After all, this is a sacred place for their order.
The room itself was simple, unadorned or furnished beyond the tables and chairs. The table itself was made of ebony and weirwood, just as the doors to the house with the same carved moon face.
"We've received contracts for two people here in the city, one in Pentos, two in Lorath, and one in Qarth in the last month." A kindly looking man spoke in the otherwise silent room, though there seemed to be some surprise at the mention of Qarth. Perhaps they don't often receive contracts so far east. Harry realized it was the same man he spoke during his last visit, "A merchant and bravo here in Braavos, a Pentoshi captain, a priest and magister in Lorath, and one of the Undying of Qarth."
"A man would deliver the gift in Lorath. The city is well-known to him." One of the nameless assassin's spoke up sibilantly.
The kindly man nodded, "You shall grant the gift to the priest then."
And so it went, each of the other three contracts being claimed by one of the assassins around the table. The stern faced one took the magister in Lorath, the squinter the bravo, the fat fellow the Pentoshi captain, and the plague face the Undying in Qarth. The kindly man assumed responsibility for the merchant in Braavos. There were no arguments or contentions among them. If nothing else, he could say was that they were taught their lessons well. There was no joy for the idea of bringing death.
"There is still no word from our brother in Westeros." The kindly man broached the topic which Harry had been patiently awaiting.
The woman among their number shrugged unconcernedly, "We did not expect that it would be simple to complete that particular contract. Killing one man can be difficult enough but an entire family is another matter entirely. I am confident that the desired end shall be accomplished given more time."
As the words left the assassin's mouth, a loud bang resonated through the room. All eyes were drawn to the broken body resting face-up and unmoving on the table. There was blood staining the clothes of the corpse from wounds suffered before death. The assassins could see that one of the faces used as a disguise had been forcefully removed from the body, the dried blood that ran down from unblinking eyes indication enough for them.
In the heavy silence that followed the unexpected event, none seemed to know what they ought to do. They were not frantic in any way but instead their eyes darted to and fro around the room, trying to find any sign of the source of this intrusion.
It was then that Harry finally revealed himself a beaming smile on his face, "Well, isn't it lovely to meet you all." As all eyes shot to him, there was brief hint of panic in the face of the kindly man. Ah so he recognizes me. How fortunate? "Excuse my intrusion but we have some pressing business that must be discussed."
"Harry Potter," the voice held no warmth as it had when they spoke some years ago, his eyes glancing from the corpse to Harry's own emerald eyes, "like most we have heard of your exploits over the years but it is quite the feat to pass by one of our order without notice, much less fifteen of us."
"Ah well, I have my ways," He gestured to the battered body on the table, "I will admit though, it was made all the easier after what I learned from your colleague there."
One of the assassins made to rise, but Harry struck out with one of his hands, "Sit." He said firmly, the smile fell from his face as he forced the fat fellow back into his seat with a little bit of wandless magic. He lacked the sort of control with wandless magic that he had with his wand but it provided a better show. The wooden chair cracked in protest of the force, "As I said, we have matters to discuss. And until such time as that discussion has reached its conclusion, none of you shall be going anywhere." His tone made it clear he brooked no argument.
"I think it is clear why you are here," the woman said gesturing to the body, "you discovered our brother while he was attempting to complete your contract. You killed him to ensure that he would no longer be a threat. And now you have come to threaten us into standing down to ensure the same."
"You're partially correct," Harry contradicted her conversationally. "He was discovered though not by me. He was killed, clearly, though not by my hand." He smiled toothily, "I just extracted every bit of information I could from him before I left him to the others who were affected by his actions."
"And as a result, I am fully aware that you will not be 'standing down' because of intimidation alone. It would take the death of your contractor before your order will leave me and mine alone." But that was a situation that would be dealt with in very short order, "I am sure that were it within your abilities at the moment, each of you would be attempting to see the completion of your friend's failed contract."
No one tried to contradict him. They were tense, each of them understanding the danger of the situation. Harry began walking around them, idly drumming his fingers upon the table or patting one of the room's occupants on the shoulder. The lordling actually gave the barest of flinches back from his touch, "Now as the preliminaries have been finished let's get down to the actual purpose of this discussion."
"I am certain that your current contract on me will be null and void within days," Harry told them grimly, "So dispatching another of your number to attack me and my children would obviously be futile. So, I am here to discuss the future, your future to be specific."
"And what exactly would you like to say with regards to our future?" The kindly man asked calmly.
"Well should anyone ever come to you again, seeking a contract for the death of my family you will provide them with a price that could never possibly be achieved." Whatever humor or congeniality had been in him at the start of this conversation disappeared entirely, "And if you are wise, you might even inform me who exactly wished to make the contract."
Raising his hand to stop any protests, three mouths shut abruptly, "I am aware that this goes against your orders views on secrecy and discretion. But your order also frowns on killing those who are not specifically named in the contract," He nudged the foot of the corpse, "And this one failed miserably in that regard. Consider it your recompense for the three lives he took needlessly." None of those around the table looked pleased to hear this. They expect one uncontracted death for no other reason than their brother would need a face that wouldn't be suspicious. But three seemed excessive despite the circumstances.
The plague face, pale and missing one ear, spoke up, "And if we refuse these conditions of yours, what will you do?"
Harry drew his wand from its holster, the tip crackled angrily and glowed a deep purple, "Simple, I kill you all and every member of your order. Introduce you to the god you serve so diligently, so to speak." Each of them looked from his wand to his grim visage and those intense eyes that promised nothing but pain. "Your temples will burn. People will need to find their own ways of 'receiving the gift' because your order will become nothing more than a fading memory." The spell jumped from the tip of his wand and impacted the body on the table. It began to tear apart skin, muscle until there was nothing left but bone which vanished with a silent spell, "Much like your friend there."
He saw flicker of fear in their eyes then, despite their training and the image they had learned to project as a result. They couldn't hide that fear that settled in their minds at the thought of his promise.
Swallowing thickly the kindly man spoke with a slight hitch in his voice, "It would seem that our decision is an easy one."
"Agreed," Harry said smiling yet again, "As long as you leave me and my people alone, there will be no issue between us."
Looking at each of the other gathered members of the order, the kindly man received small nods from each of them, "You have our oath that this order shall take out no contract on you or yours, and if it is within our capability we will inform you should such a thing be attempted again."
"Fantastic," Harry said with a clap, "I am glad we came to a civil end." He stepped away from the table, "News will reach you of the Grandmaester's death at which point you can consider our current business concluded."
"We will be awaiting word of his death. But should nothing be heard on the matter in the next month, we will be obligated to assign another to your contract."
"That will not be a problem." With that said Harry disappeared from House of Black and White and reappeared on a ship in the docks of Braavos.
Dagon rested against the mast, waiting patiently, sipping a bit of cider. Noticing Harry's arrival he pushed away from the mast, "I take it things went well."
"They did. And now we're leaving." Dagon needed no further urging, yelling out for his fellow crew mates and heading toward the helm.
Margaery Tyrell sat upon a cushioned, silk chair working diligently on an embroidered shirt for her eldest brother Willas' upcoming nameday. He was well past the age where such things were celebrated but she made sure to do something for him each year all the same; just as she did for her brothers Garlan and Loras.
Sitting with her on the balcony of her private quarters was her younger cousin Elinor, and two of the ladies from the cadet branches of their house, Megga and Alla. They chatted softly and excitedly of the knights and lords that had caught their eye at the most recent tourney. Margaery just smiled and indulged in the frivolous talk on occasion as she looked out over her family's lands.
From the castle to the first of the three tiered walls there were vibrant, colorful gardens with flowing fountains. Colonnades and statues of marble sat to the side of the smooth cobbled pathways. There were singers, harpists, pipers, and fiddlers serenading people as they strode serenely through Highgarden. The tunes they played and songs they sang carried up to the balcony like bird songs.
She knew that if she were to walk down those paths toward the furthest walls that they would turn from the older square towers that had been built in the time when the Gardeners first called the castle home to the circular towers that had been built by her own family in the time since Aegon I Targaryen made them Lords Paramount of the Reach. And between the middle and furthest wall there was an elaborate, well-tended briar labyrinth.
But Margaery, as much as she loved her home, was not the sort to be contented with it. Nor was she contented with her current station. No, she wished to be the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. As Elinor mooned childishly over the thought of Lord Renly… trust me dear cousin, he has no interest in anything beneath your skirts… her own thoughts drifted toward Robert's youngest brother and Loras. They intended to approach the king, tactfully, with tales to her affection for him. The pair hoped to convince him of her similarities to his lost love, Lyanna Stark. And if all went well, in time Robert might prove willing to set aside Cersei in favor of Margaery of his own accord.
Unfortunately from what she had heard from her brother, those plans were set ever further down in priority. Robert concerned himself with only four things food, drink, women, and the Norfolk. If it were women alone that fascinated him things would likely be simpler. But no, it was the Norfolk that most often held his attention of late.
The wildlings who built a city were heard of in the Reach, but it was only talked of fleetingly. The wildlings meant little to them so far south but rumors of their growth and exploits would send tongues waggling for a few days at least. More often than not they were talked of as the fairytale monsters they had been for centuries, millennia even. Though, that didn't stop high and lowborn alike from enjoying their alcoholic exports.
Margaery paid them more mind than most she assumed if for no other reason than they appeared to be an obstacle to her ultimate goals. She was pulled from her musings by the door to the balcony opening. Dressed in finely embroidered gold and blue silk, Olenna Tyrell looked elegant despite her advanced years.
All four young women stood respectfully while Elinor and Margaery warmly greeting their beloved grandmother. Sitting with a huff among them, Olenna looked to the younger girls, "Ladies, I wish to speak with Margaery alone for a moment." Recognizing the dismissal for what it was they all hurried to follow the Queen of Thorn's command.
When they were alone, Olenna reached to the table before her and grabbed a fig, popping it into her mouth, "I have missed you, grandmother." Margaery professed sincerely. While she loved her own mother, everything she was came from her grandmother, and she was always profusely thankful of that fact.
"And I have missed you, dear girl." The Dowager Lady of Highgarden spent the last three months visiting family in the Arbor. The moist air of the island helped her alleviate a cough that had come on from the dry summer heat, "I've just come from speaking with your father," Margaery could hear the word oaf even if it wasn't said, "and learned something rather worrying."
"Really? And what would that be grandmother?" Margaery had expected illicit stories of the Redwynes or rumors she had gathered from corresponding with some of her old friends, not news from her father.
Olenna leaned forward, looking Margaery square in the eye, "I am told that our crops and goods that have seen the Tyrell name rise in prominence and wealth over the years remain largely unsold and stored away." A portion of each harvest was always held in reserve for the coming winters but the rest was sold in great quantities, particularly in the Vale and the North.
"I don't see that as particularly worrying grandmother," Margaery stated calmly, "They say a long summer means a longer winter, surely the added stores will prove fortuitous when the warm nights turn cold."
Olenna shook her head, seemingly disappointed, "But this is not a single occurrence. For the past three years, increasing quantities of our crop has gone unsold. And our storehouses grow ever more filled."
"And I take it you are aware of the cause of this?" Margaery questioned.
"From the rumors I have heard, the blame can be laid solely on the Norfolk." Margaery only tilted her head quizzically, "They have been providing large quantities of goods to the northerners through White Harbor at prices our own merchants cannot hope to match." Olenna frowned slightly, "And their goods don't spoil as ours do, they need not worry about a wasted crop."
"The work of this Witch-King-Beyond-the-Wall I take it." Margaery had heard of the man from Renly and knew that at least some rumors of his capabilities were not exaggerated.
"Presumably, yes." Olenna granted, "How long before our own farmers are forced to seek other work elsewhere because they cannot find a way of selling their wares? How long before our stores spoil? How long…"
"I see your point," Margaery interrupted earning a raised eyebrow from Olenna, "But how do you propose we alleviate this worry? We can't stop them from dispersing their goods, nor do we have any means of competing with them with regards to the longevity of those goods. And our goods can't be sold any cheaper with how much they cost to produce." She pursed her lips in thought, "But I believe you are wrong, the farmers of the Reach will be contented so long as they are able to provide for themselves. They may not have quite as much coin in their hands after each harvest but they will still be able to live their lives in the same fashion they do now."
"You underestimate the anger of the smallfolk," Olenna warned, "when they see their purses grow smaller each year they will blame their liege lords."
Margaery made to retort but snapped her mouth shut, as she thought it over. History had proven the truth of those words, "But the point remains, there is no recourse here."
"I disagree," Olenna said congenially, "It would appear to me that we need to adopt the same practices as the Norfolk. Only at that point would we be able to sell at cheaper prices, and hold larger quantities."
Margaery gave a tinkling laugh, "You make it sound so simple, grandmother. But it is my understanding that one needs a practitioner of magic readily available to accomplish such things."
Olenna grabbed her hand conspiratorially, "This Norfolk king, I hear he has a woman but no wife as civilized society defines it."
"Yes and he has two children that I am aware of, both of whom are betrothed to the Stark children." Margaery assumed Olenna wasn't aware of that information given her raised eyebrow. "And from the stories Loras has heard from Renly, their king is very much in love with his woman. And she is not the sort to be trifled with."
"Then I suppose it would take a woman of many wiles with a great deal to offer to shift such a man's desires." Olenna commented meaningfully.
"Grandmother," Margaery began stonily, "I have no desire to travel to the cold North. I have no desire to seduce this king."
"You wish to be a queen." Olenna pointed out.
"Of the Seven Kingdoms," Margaery noted irritably, "not two frozen cities north of the Wall!"
Olenna sighed, and gave a weak smile, "I understand dear. I only ask that you consider what I am saying." She stood and rested a hand on her granddaughter's shoulder. "Despite your youth I trust you a great deal more than anyone else in the Reach to approach these Norfolk, certainly far more than your father. And I believe that acquiring their aid will be tantamount to our continued rise. As of now, we are hindered by these Norfolk, while the Starks, Martells, and even the Lannisters if rumors are true have benefitted. And that is to say nothing of Stannis Baratheon."
Her grandmother pulled Margaery's head toward her stomach and stroked her hair momentarily, "Should you reconsider your stance on this matter, remember that you will have more to offer than your charms. Nor do I think it would be wise for you to go alone, and Willas has always been fond of the idea of traveling. I believe the two of you together might win us allies where we otherwise have rivals."
With those parting words, the austere lady of House Tyrell left the balcony. Alone, Margaery realized she had a great deal to consider.
Grandmaester Pycelle stretched his old bones as he watched the pretty young thing from Baelish's brothel saunter out of his quarters, her bare ass bouncing pleasantly. The learned man felt relaxed for the first time in quite a while. He was quite confident that his plans regarding Harry Potter would reach their conclusion in the near future. I gave Gareth years to ingratiate himself in the hopes that his placement there would bear fruit. This faceless man deserves a few months to manage the same.
Fortuitously, Robert's ire had only grown with regards to the Norfolk recently after learning of their harboring of the Targaryens. Now when the deed was done it would only serve to better curry favor with the King. While Robert has always encouraged the prospect of removing the sorcerer now I believe he would be downright gleeful to hear of his demise. The death of the children would see the rest of the Archmaesters pleased as well.
Admittedly, the price had been steep; a large sum of gold, the passing of obscure knowledge from tomes hidden within the citadel, and the promise of two children that would go on to be trained by the order. But he considered the contract well worth the price if it saw an end to the headache in the North.
His only worry of late came in the forms of Jon Arryn and Stannis Baratheon. The Hand and the Master of Ships had been inquiring around the city, seemingly seeking out the bastard children of the King. Pycelle could guess at their reasons but acting against them in any way would only serve to increase suspicion. The queen's own spies will know of this and should the situation demand action, it will be taken.
Grabbing his maester robes and chain, he folded them neatly as he prepared for rest. Usually he would trouble a servant with the matter, but he had sent them away when the whore arrived. He began the tedious process of snuffing out the candles in the room
Across the room, one of his windows burst open from a great gust of wind, smacking noisily into the stone wall and casting the room into darkness. Odd, such winds are not common in the summer. Still it saved him a great deal of time. Relighting a single candle by his bed first, he crossed the room pulling the shutters closed.
As he passed by his personal desk, stacked with parchments and tomes, he didn't notice the man sitting in his chair, feet resting on the table. When he was standing next to his bed, a voice echoed in the otherwise quiet room, "Good evening, Grandmaester, how good to see you again." It was a voice that Pycelle recognized, and a chill went through his bones that had nothing to do with his old age. A nightmare, nothing more. Surely I must be dreaming. Turning he was unsurprised to see Harry Potter sitting in the dim light of a freshly lit candle.
Pycelle stuttered out of fear, not to provide his usual act, "Harry Potter, how are you here? Why are you here?"
Harry smirked, clearly enjoying Pycelle's misery at the moment, "I came through the window," He stared intently at the Grandmaester, those green eyes seemingly glowing in the lowlight. "As to why… well, I think you know full well why I am here."
Shuffling slowly toward the door, Pycelle said with as much forced calm as he could manage, "I am afraid that I have no idea what you are talking about."
He reached the door but as he tried to open it, he found it locked. With shaking hands he tried to unlock the door but the mechanism would not budge. Glancing toward the dark-haired man still sitting nonchalantly at the desk, he saw only amusement at his feeble attempts at escape, "Funny, you are running as though I am death come to take you to one of your seven hells, but you have no idea what I'm talking about."
Not knowing what else to do, the Grandmaester yelled out ragged and raspy, "Help! Someone, anyone!"
This drew a full-bellied laugh from the wizard as he removed his feet from the desk and leaned forward on his elbows, "You will find that no one can hear you. I have attended to that matter as well."
Cowering backward toward the furthest corner of the room, the old man sought any way of escape but could see none. Perhaps the window, a long drop and a sudden stop would probably be better than anything he has in store for me.
Suddenly he was pulled bodily across the room until he was standing rigidly before the desk, "Please come closer, there is so much that we have to discuss." Harry said coldly, the tip of his notched wand pointed squarely at Pycelle's chest.
"I want you to know that I found your assassin." He growled out the words, "He killed three of my people and nearly killed my son."
His voice fell softer then, barely above a whisper, but it made him seem all the more dangerous, "And for his efforts he suffered, at my hand, at Val's hand, and at the hands of the others he wronged. His false face was ripped from him, and he screamed." He spoke through gritted teeth, "Imagine the pain I was willing to inflict on the tool used to harm my son, and then consider what I would be willing to do to the person responsible for it in the first place."
Pycelle shuddered involuntarily, resisting the urge to empty his bladder, "I… I will do whatever you ask, give you whatever you ask. Please, just spare my life."
Harry just laughed cruelly, "The Faceless man didn't beg. He suffered his torment with the steely resolve you would expect. He was younger than you, and only doing what he'd been trained to do." He pointed menacingly, "But you, old and feeble nearing the end of your time, don't have the will to face your end with dignity—even fully aware that it was your own choices that have led you to this moment."
"Your body couldn't take the sort of treatment that the assassin endured," He grinned wolfishly, "Your heart would likely give out within minutes."
Pycelle allowed a relieved sigh to escape at that declaration. At least it will be quick. But as his eyes came up to meet the wizard judging him, he felt his mind suddenly assaulted. A presence that was not his own pummeling into his thoughts, tearing through his memories, and finding things that he hadn't told a soul. He didn't know for how long the assault lasted but when he felt sweet relief, he took great gasping lungfuls of air. Cold sweat poured down his face, dripping into his beard. He was shivering uncontrollably and could feel his head throbbing like the Mountain had been crushing it in one of his great fists. Agony, that is what Pycelle felt. Agony like he had never experienced before.
"You truly are a self-serving bastard." Harry said harshly, "I wonder if Aerys would have kept you at court had he realized just how far up Tywin Lannister's ass you really were. Then again, he didn't realize that you were born a Lannet, that was well before his time."
"I wonder if you feel any remorse for the gruesome deaths of Elia Martell and her children?" He questioned rhetorically, "After all, had you not convinced the king of Lord Tywin's loyalty they may have lived long enough to see Lord Stark arrive to take control of the siege." He shrugged, "But I suppose that is academic at best, given what Aerys had planned. But fire would have been kinder." He had a thoughtful look in his eye but shook himself.
"I'm sure that was unpleasant for you, but it was highly elucidating for me." Pycelle still didn't have the strength to speak, "Imagine how surprised people would be to learn that the king's children are actually born of incest between the Lannisters." The thought of hurting Robert seemed to appeal to the wizard. He knows now that the king endorsed the attempts on his life.
Harry stood then, "Your aid, unintended as it may have been, was appreciated. But our time here has come to its end." The notched wand in his hand came to point straight at the Grandmaester's chest.
"N…" But his last plea fell on deaf ears as a green jet of light leapt from the tip of the wand and impacted the old man. With that, he knew no more.
AN: Thank you for reading and if you have any questions feel free to ask in a review or a PM.