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Chapter 5: The great game
The Red Keep
The Westerosi equivalent of a date was quite weird and awkward – there were so many damn chaperones that it wasn't even funny. First, there was a small flock made of ladies in waiting who were trailing us. Ser Oakheart, who despite his still bad arm was my preferred Kingsguard bodyguard, walked a few paces behind us, chatting quietly with Loras Tyrell.
There were at least a dozen Stormland and Reach guards in sight, with the odd man in Lannister red hanging out here or there just for color. It was like they didn't trust us or something…
I looked at Margaery, who was hanging on my left hand as if she wanted to keep it. She had looked amazing under the rays of the setting sung that bathed the gardens, which incidentally made her southern dress practically transparent. My teenage hormones surged again and I concluded that the powers that be – Cersei, Olena and even Stark, damn him, were bloody right in arranging us such a company, even if one of them would be tickled pink if we ended in bed anyway.
"How's Willas?" I asked.
We spent most of the "date" discussing safe topics and mostly catching up. Thanks to Durran's memories of friendship with the energetic little girl Margaery used to be, I found myself eager to learn how she had been. Her oldest brother too, who was a friend while I was fostered at the Reach for a few years.
"Could be better." Margaery frowned. "His leg has been given him trouble lately and the Maester hasn't been much help."
I winced. I was a spectator to that ill-fated tourney, where Oberyn expertly de-horsed the younger man. Willas fell hard and shattered his leg badly. I was no surprise that without at least an x-ray the Maester was only able to save the leg but couldn't restore it to anything resembling full functionality.
"I hope he'll be all right." I sighed. You'd think that after eight thousand years of civilization, Planetos would be in a better shape. "Did he stop brooding? His letters weren't clear on the subject."
"Not really." Margaery pouted cutely. "He's been spending most of his time in the library, trying to figure out what he wants to do."
For a noble raised in the warrior centric culture of Westeros, being crippled in any way was a big blow. It hit Willas especially hard, because he had aspirations of becoming one of the greatest knights in the land and from what I saw he actually had enough talent to make a credible attempt.
"What were you up to lately? You haven't written in months." Margaery gave me a disapproving look.
Oops? Really, after ending in Durran's body, writing letters to his associates had been very low on my priority list. Dealing with my family shenanigans took priority.
"There weren't any ravens available during my trip north and back. Sorry about that. And I have been rather preoccupied lately – I've been trying my best to learn how the kingdom is run and that's been taking all my energy."
"Just don't make a habit of ignoring me again." She gave me a wry smile. "What exactly are you busy with? I've heard certain rumors…" Margaery trailed off and gave me a pointed look.
"This and that. Good or bad rumors?"
"Depends on who tells them. Or who's listening. A prince dabbling in trade. That's quite the scandal in certain circles."
"Running a kingdom is expensive." I shrugged. "Despite what some people think, money doesn't just appear in the treasure when you need it."
Margaery hummed in response. It sent pleasant shivers up my arm.
"You promised to show me the city." Margaery changed the topic.
"I'm actually not very keen on that. You won't like it."
"Margaery, there are a lot of things to be said about King's Landing and none are flattering. I'm afraid if you really see the place, you'll be running back to Highgarden and not looking back."
"That bad? What I saw when we arrived..." She trailed off and gave me a look demanding explanation.
"We did pass through the somewhat decent parts. Most is an utter mess that would require more money that can be spared any time soon to fix. It's nothing like Highgarden."
There were very good reasons why Durran wanted nothing to do with the capital and was tickled pink with the idea of marrying and being a lord anywhere but here.
For me on the other hand, that really wasn't an acceptable alternative if I wanted to live in some decently civilized place eventually, not to mention the scheduled undead invasion.
I returned my attention on Margaery, trying very hard to ignore my raging hormones. So far, she had been a breath of fresh air and nothing like one would expect of most Southern ladies. Given the way and environment they were raised in… Most of them weren't people I could see myself spending any time with or really tolerating. Fuck Westeros and its brand of medieval shit.
Margaery on the other hand… She was a bright girl, very intelligent, ambitious and not suffering of most pitfalls of the local nobility. I had to thank Olena for that.
Still, there was a certain awkwardness between us. When all was said and done, while I was stuck in a teenager's body, I was anything but. To be frank, if it wasn't for the political ramifications and bad blood, the only potential bride I would be considering would be the Martel's girl – Arriane. She at least was a grown woman and the Dornish sensibilities were the closest thing to more or less familiar culture on this backwards planet.
Given all the shenanigans and the game of thrones I was forced to play, that simply wasn't practical. I needed the reach to stabilize the kingdom for the coming invasion, which meant Margaery as a queen.
At least Margaery was smart and very, very cute.
Damn it, down boy!
I dragged myself to my bed and fell on the mattes without bothering to get out of clothes. All things considered, it was a decent day, until dinner that is. The snipping between Cersei, Olena and Margaery, while entertaining was ringing all kinds of alarm bells in my head. It was an even bet who was going to assassinate whom first – a headache I really didn't need right now, but I guess it couldn't be helped.
I froze when something familiar brushed my senses. It was like an echo of the Dark Side and it was right here, in the apartment with me. I surged up, rolling to land on my feet with my back to the wall next to the bed. My hand fell to my belt and gripped the dragon-bone hilt of my Valyrian steel dagger as my eyes started scanning the room.
"Good senses, your highness." A cheerful male voice came from the next room, which was incidentally connected to a terrace big enough for half a dozen people to comfortably have dinner.
"Who the hell are you and how the fuck did you get in here?!" I growled.
"This one is your humble servant." The man spoke in a manner that made me even more uneasy.
I was considering calling for the guards, when he spoke again.
"This one brings what you requested."
"And what is that?" I asked. My eyes narrowed in suspicion. If he was one of the faceless men bringing my egg, then I certainly needed to overhaul my security much sooner than anticipated and that was going to be a bitch to pull off.
A nondescript man, wearing the garb of a palace servant came into the room, carrying a large basked – its contents were covered by a large linen cloth. He gave me a smile that didn't touch his eye and revealed a quite large ellipsoid form that at first look appeared to be made of rock.
It was my egg or a decent imitation.
"Really? You bring it here? Do you expect that I'm carrying your payment on myself all the time?" I scoffed. Oh, the reason why the faceless broke into my quarters was clear – he was sending some kind of message and I doubted that he was just trying to intimidate me in order to ensure getting the promised gold.
"This one merely follows the contract. We expect the payment within two days."
"You'll have it." I shrugged. There was no point of antagonizing the assassin, when I wasn't sure if my body was up to the task of taking him on. I've improved since my return from the North, but there was just so much that could be done before I either finished growing up or found a way to increase my access to the Force.
Being so vulnerable wasn't something I was used to feeling since I became a real Sith.
"This one is glad." The man gave me a small bow and stepped back into the other room. For a second the feeling of the Dark Side was stronger, before it vanished completely.
I stared at the egg and relaxed a bit. I was reasonably sure that the man had left the same way he got in – something that needed looking into. Further, what was with the Force signature upon the assassin?! One thing was for certain, the Faceless got my attention and I doubted it was in a way they anticipated.
I shook my head and carefully stalked into the other room, looking for any nasty surprises or a sign of other uninvited guests. After a few minutes of futile examination, I did my best to block the widows and the way to the terrace, then get back into my bedroom and did the same with its doors. No one ever died from some healthy paranoia.
Once that I was reasonably secure from further uninvited guests, I returned my attention to the egg. Naturally I spent some time checking for traps and other unpleasant surprises, using a pair of leather gloves just in case.
Finally I took a hold of my dagger and placed a hand upon the egg itself, trying to feel something.
A smile tugged my lips. It was tiny, distant echo, but I got an impression of leathery wings flapping through the air. Of summer warmth and burning fires.
More important was the sense of power that I could perceive from the egg. This wasn't a fossil carrying a mere echo. It wasn't a stone replica, but the real thing.
That was the good news. Now how the kriff was I going to hatch it? Granted, burning certain traitors could do for a sacrifice, if it was even necessary, but what else? Did I need Valyrian blood? Could I cheat using the Force? Could I control a dragon once hatched?
Very good questions, however I lacked answers.
I frowned at the egg. It was a potential game-changer, though it was going to be a pain in the ass in certain respects. I really wasn't looking forward to explaining how I got myself a baby dragon, yet I needed the egg hatched as soon as possible.
I concentrated, forcing my will upon the tiny, tenuous connection I had with the Force. It took me more than a minute to gather a small amount of energy into the palm of my hand - something that should have taken a mere thought. Then I gently rubbed the top of the egg, guiding the energy to go in. It touched the dormant power contained within and it was absorbed.
For a moment nothing happened, then the egg grew warmer and I felt the energy within pulse once, releasing a wave of heat like a summer sun. It was so fast that I was unsure if I really felt it, yet I got the impression of something alive coming from within. Then the warmth drained into the egg and it grew cool just as it was in the beginning.
How curious. I needed to experiment some more, but first… I needed a decent hiding place, until I could bring the egg somewhere safer.