The Wizard of Harrenhal
A/N: I re-read Book 1 and caught some of the HBO series (along with the far too-few fanfictions in progress), so I got inspired to try my hand at another story. This Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire story is a cross with the Harry Potter universe, which is much harder than it sounds to pull off.
The young-looking man opened his eyes and discovered that he was on his back staring up at the sky. He looked all around and saw that he was sprawled on the bank of a minor stream, not even a river.
"What happened now?" he asked no one. With his luck, the answer could be anything. His name was Harry Potter and his luck had always been fluky, with a tilt to the problematic.
Harry pushed himself up and looked around. It could be so many places. Some place he'd gone camping before? The air smelled very clean.
He walked toward the trees and the narrow road. The unpaved road. That might be a clue. He was deep in a forest, then. He couldn't hear any cars, any noises other than the wind in the leaves.
He needed to figure out where he was - and then he might have a clue as to why he was somewhere very different from where he'd fallen asleep. This place was nowhere close to his family home. Harry knew his own land well enough to be sure.
Harry arrived at a crossroads and there was a rudimentary structure, one that looked like it was held together only with a vast amount of magic. Save that magic didn't seem to be a part of the building. Harry didn't feel a bit of it.
He had the sense he was no longer in the place he'd known. Or, in the time frame he'd known. He felt like...he felt like this was an exhibit in some Olde Timey outdoor museum. "Visit a medieval inn."
Harry didn't know if he looked appropriate to this region. This place was horses and dirt roads. Harry's clothes were not from the same century as carts pulled by horses.
Money... He had coins on him, gold, silver, and copper, but they would look wrong. Harry used his wand to make himself invisible and stalked closer to what he thought might be an inn.
He listened for a time at the window. There were a few people inside, talking.
The language... He didn't understand more than a few syllables of it.
He stood up and stared at the events inside. Harry got a look at a copper coin they used at a table where men were gambling. He managed to reform a knut into three of these smaller coins. That could be enough to buy him a lunch.
Harry needed to think about what in the hall had happened now. He hadn't been in a battle. He hadn't been experimenting with some arcane bit of magic. He had just gone to sleep.
He was invisible when he walked to the nearest stand of trees. He took off the spell and reworked his clothing.
When he walked back inside, he sat and grunted. Good enough. He was served a plate of chicken. He waved away the beer. The serving maid took all three coppers Harry slapped on the table. He hoped it would be enough. He should have transfigured more than one knut into this new currency.
Hold on... He hadn't had his coin purse on him when he went to sleep. Or his wand. But he had them both now. He wore different clothing than what he slept in...
This seemed more and more like something someone had done to Harry, something intentional. Someone had sent Harry away...or pulled him here.
Harry ate slowly and listened to the conversation. He began to recognize a few terms by the frequency with which he heard them. Baratheon was one. Lannister was another. Tully a third.
He began a plan. He needed a base. It's be nice if he had a tent, but no. He needed protection from the elements and food. He needed a way to learn the language. Then he could figure out what had happened, perhaps, and if there was a road - or, more likely, a bit of magic - that would return him to where he'd started from.
The chicken was delicious and Harry licked his fingers, as did the others at the Inn. He nodded at the serving maid when he departed.
He decided to set up something near to this place for now. At least until he had a bit of knowledge to fill his head. He was going to survive this just fine. It was like unexpectedly going camping in a foreign country, right? Of course, the less pragmatic part of him vowed that whoever had cast Harry here wouldn't enjoy it when Harry returned. That was a promise.
Just as soon as he got his energy back. Harry found he was exhausted from the little magic he had done, some invisibility spells and a little transfiguration. That did not bode well.
He found himself a place to nod off, after he applied a warming spell. There was a perpetual chill in the air.
He had a hard time falling asleep. His mind was worrying the details, working through the problem.
Harry was not going to be stuck someplace against his will. He just wouldn't allow it. He had family that would miss him, no wife at present, but children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and many more generations. Harry wasn't one of the oldest wizards on Earth for nothing. Sure, Flamel was still alive, even if he'd switched names again - and there were a few others who had cheated the rules of mortality. For a wizard with some skill or some luck, mortality was a foe that could be defeated.
This mess, too, was a foe Harry would unwind. Harry was going home.
As soon as he figured out what was going on. And recovered some of his magic.
The boatman rarely gave his name and was almost never asked. The name he used was Terren, but that was a lie. He had long since given up whatever name and trade his father gave him.
He was a boatman as he approached his last years.
He had a good little gig. It had been some time since the Whents, or what was left of them, had bothered with appointing a boatman to ferry people to the Isle of Faces. Still, pilgrims and other travels wanted to go there. Some pilgrims wanted to visit all the Septs. Others wanted to visit the places dear to the Old Gods. Terren made his money off the later.
The nuts who wanted to walk among the trees on the Isle of Faces. Magicals, some were. Most didn't scare Terren.
The morning, one did. Terren recognized him as a local poacher who never got caught. The young man gave Terren a small handful of copper coins, but said nothing. It was clear enough what one wanted when one visited a boatman.
The young man was silent during the crossing and even upon arrival, which was rare.
People always talked. They announced where they were from, where they'd traveled. Those who had the time or money to travel, they almost always explained. The ones who didn't, well, they were keeping secrets. Spies or something meeting on a place like this. Stranger things had happened.
Terren was always a bit cautious of travelers - or even known locals - who kept their stories to themselves.
"You paid me enough to wait," Terren said. "How long will you be?"
The poacher shook his head.
"You need not wait for me. I can see myself back."
The accent was a strange one. Braavosi? Terren couldn't tell.
Then he stopped caring. The poacher was almost...glowing. It had to be the light, the way it hit the poacher.
"Your coin, your choice."
The poacher disappeared into the trees. And the tenor of the usually gloomy, heavy place. Terren could feel these trees...welcoming the poacher.
Was that possible?
He'd ferried a hundred men, maybe closer to a thousand. That had never happened before.
Who was the poacher?
What had the ferryman just made happen?
He had a great unease settle into his gut.
"In a week, on the next Tuesday, you will want to stay away from your boat. Otherwise, a small, well-dressed man will come and try to hire you. You and the man will not survive the crossing alive."
A greenseer. A real one...
"He would kill me?"
"He is being chased by one who would kill him. The arrow that finds him would also wound you, but not kill you. You, my helpful friend, would drown in the waters that you transit."
Terren had heard of the warnings of greenseers before. One ignored their gifts foolishly.
He felt considerably better. He had met a few of those. Peaceable types. This must be what it felt like the first time a true greenseer stepped onto the Isle. Terren had certainly never felt that before. Didn't want to feel it again.
Magic, he supposed.
That's what happened when you settled down to work in a magical place.
"What do I call the man who saved my life?"
"Call me Hardiven Rivers."
"I will not forget this."
"No, I don't suppose you will. Call me Harry, then."
Harren the Black, as he was called in death, was trapped in the place where he and his sons had burned to death. His great mistake, Harrenhal. His people should have stuck to the Iron Islands and never come ashore. Raiders didn't take over the places they raided, not the smart ones at least.
Those three dragons. Well, who expected dragons in a land where they hadn't existed?
Harren rarely came into the keep itself. There were some horribly vile spirits here, some of them his sons, and he preferred not to have that pain.
He moved around the grounds, the trees that were taking over the clearings.
He watched people come and go.
He did not think much of his current caretaker, Whent. Another dozens floors inside the towers Harren had overseen were ruined since Harren last counted.
He was inside the keep on the day when the Leather Merchant arrived.
Harren had seen him before in the nearby woods. Always the same face, always unaging, somewhat like Harren's own ruined face.
That was certainly different.
People in the Riverlands led hard lives. The place was impossible to defend. Harren's own grandfather had conquered it and it had changed hands since then - dragons.
Raiders and floods and hard work and disease.
More ghosts came to Harrenhal every year. This place, for some reason, could hold them, sustain them.
Harren talked to some of them, terrorized some of the others.
Another servant burned to death the night before. One of his Harren's most loyal servants in life burned bad servants to death now. Nothing Harren could say would stop it.
It was the talk of the keep. Even the Leather Merchant was told a dozen times.
Harren made a point to observe the Leather Merchant as he spoke to different people in the castle.
Finally, the Leather Merchant found a quiet corner, for their were few people and much space in Harrenhal. He spoke with a ghost there, a timid thing that glowed for a few moments from the attention given her by the living.
Harren was next. He just pushed his way in.
"What are you that you can see a ghost that isn't trying to be seen?" the king demanded.
"I've heard of you," the Leather Merchant said.
"Well, answer my question."
Harren burst into flames. "Answer me."
Then Harren felt incredibly weak. The flames extinguished themselves.
"What are you?"
"An explorer, I guess."
"You can't stay here." Harren was terrified by this power he'd just experienced.
"It's convenient to the Isle of Faces. There is magic here, enough to keep a ghost around. Enough to keep me healthy."
"You eat magic, then?"
"I use magic."
"Wizard." Harren had heard them talked of, but never met one. That was a thing of Essos, not Westeros. Still, one had come.
"Why have you come?"
"For the magic."
"You would send us away," Harren said, fearful.
"The violent ones, yes."
The wizard might just suppose a ghost on fire qualified as violent. So, Harren understood something about power. He couldn't terrify this young man. He could befriend him, maybe. The surest plan? To become an ally.
"Show me. If you can do what you say, then I will aid you. I will tell you the secrets of this place."
"I can make you tell me. I do not need to impress you."
"Then show me that power."
"Tell me about Lady Whent and her late husband?"
Harren thought to abandon this pretender, but could not. Instead, he found himself explaining all that he knew.
"The gossip now," the Leather Merchant demanded.
The names of the girls the old Lord favored. The names of the foreign traders Lady Whent depended upon. Everything little and small.
Harren was now clear that the Leather Merchant had the power he hinted at, no mean braggart this.
What, in the Drowned God's mind, was he planning to do?
"You have experience with dragons, too?" the Leather Merchant asked.
Harren was famous for being on the wrong side of dragons.
"Tell me about them."
That was hard to do. Painful even to someone who no longer had a body. "One request, wizard."
"I will hear it."
"My sons. Please release them from their torment. I will stay to aid you, but release them."
The Leather Merchant considered the request.
"They are among the most violent?"
"Yes, to my shame."
"Lead me to them, one by one. I will aid you and you will aid me."
Harren the Black had struck his deal. Perhaps he could feel good about it. Perhaps, if he put his children to rest, he might seek rest as well. Perhaps.
For now, he would watch.
He would share a little of what he knew.
He would pay close attention to this Leather Merchant when he came to Harrenhal or poached from the woods or did his trading nearby.
"The dragons, ghost."
And Harren began to tell that tale. The brief moments he had stood against dragons. Why was this wizard interested in dragons, Harren wondered.
He supposed he would eventually find out.
There were letters spread out on her desk, a dozen of them. In her husband's handwriting.
She had known there were bastards from her husband's dalliances.
But none of them had ever before produced letters in her late husband's hand. She could read them even in the poor light of her study. She should have more candles, but money was tight.
The bastard stood in front of her.
"I don't know how you got in here. Too big a place and not enough people in it. I'm busy and everyone wants something. According to that idiot Hoster Tully, I'm supposed to send men for this Greyjoy foolishness. I have no men." She spared a momentary glimpse for her present irritation. "What is it you want?"
"You believe these letters?"
"I loved him, but he was a famous fool. Yes, I believe them. I know he left a dozen children, at least. So, what do you want? I have no money. Your father's will left no provisions for his, not our, children."
"I want my father's name."
To change from Rivers to Whent... "A legalization. No. Never."
If she agreed to make one of her husband's sons a legal son of his, this bastard would rule at Harrenhal. She had no blood connection with him, none. He could kick her out without a thought, like the bones after a large haunch hit the fires and fed many, many men.
"You would have a home here in Harrenhal."
"But you would be the Lord."
"So, Lord of Harrenhal, we have no coin. How would you better the lives of the people?"
She had never asked herself that question - nor acted upon it. But she could hold others to a standard higher than what she charged herself. That was always the way of things.
She didn't get her answer.
She, without quite knowing why, pulled a sheet of parchment and began drafting a letter to Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King.
She begged Arryn's help in convincing Robert, who had a great cast of bastards of his own, to legalize the most successful of her late husband's children, the one who had become wealthy as a trader in furs and leathers. She needed younger blood to manage Harrenhal, along with the coin he would bring and his mind for improving the trades and commerce in the area.
She handed the letter to the bastard. He read it and then performed...something on it. Was he blessing it or something?
"I will see this finds its way to the Hand."
"Jon Arryn will never agree. He will see no benefit in it."
"Well, you have written a fine letter. Perhaps he may consent and argue the matter before the King."
"He will not."
Why had she done that?
It was like she had cut her own throat because of a moment's dark mood.
"I promise you will live comfortably, stepmother. I promise to make Harrenhal beautiful again. I promise to bring back the power of this place."
Was that what she had felt and seen? Magic.
"I know the secrets of this place. I have an illustrious tutor."
"The ghost of one of the first occupants, Harren Hoare."
"I've seen him. He would rather kill than talk."
The bastard just smiled.
Jon Arryn returned to his tower after a long day where his second pile of work awaited. Of course there were more letters waiting for him. He had a servant fetch him some dinner, while he looked for Lysa, but she was elsewhere. Then he looked in on his son, such a sickly child. The nurse gave a good report. Always a good report, but no progress. She would make a good politician.
Jon Arryn returned to his desk and ate and read.
Putting down this Greyjoy nonsense was going to take some time. They'd destroyed the bulk of the Lannister fleet. Trust it to a Greyjoy to be the first to get one over on Tywin.
He picked up the next letter and read it. His fingers tingled and he spent far longer on the letter than he should have.
A legalization of a bastard...
If the King read this letter, there would be a new Lord Whent. The King was fond of bastards, assuming he was in a good mood.
A new Whent. Was that the best thing for Harrenhal or for the Kingdom?
Robert was not a fine King. Not diligent, uncaring even.
Jon and his legion of helpers had been shoring up Robert's rule for many years. He had pushed the old dynasty out of King's Landing, but had not yet sunk his roots into this one.
Using Harrenhal as a reward for a loyal subject...
That could be valuable.
Robert didn't have much trouble in the Riverlands. It would have been better if Harrenhal were in the Westerlands or the Reach. But, a lavish reward was a lavish reward.
Jon Arryn preferred not to squander anything.
He was an old man, of a frugal mind. He knew fear and he knew how to head off new fears. For his child, Robert. Sure, he hadn't fathered the King, but he had raised him.
Lord Arryn now had a child of his own, named Robert although Lysa called him Robin, but most of his long life had been childless, until he had agreed to foster two young men, a Baratheon named Robert and a Stark named Eddard.
His life had twisted in such a way that, while Eddard had left his care, Jon was still fostering the Baratheon. Although their positions had ostensibly reversed. Robert was king now and Jon was his chief advisor, his Hand.
Still, Jon was the father, protecting and encouraging.
Robert was the child, still fit to tantrums and lavish excess.
Harrenhal was necessary for Robert and Robert's son, Joffrey, to secure the dynasty.
Harrenhal wouldn't be given to a bastard.
Lord Arryn threw the letter away, unanswered.
He did not notice his hand put it into a pile for his scribes to handle - and for the King to sign.
Jon went back to documents from the Vale, which he still ruled. Plus documents from every other corner of the Kingdom. Notes from his spies to keep everyone else honest, especially Varys.
When Lord Arryn's night clerk came for the evening's work, Jon pushed the pile of paper to him.
Three days later, he signed a brief note and enclosed some other papers in a packet for Lady Whent. He had a hard time remembering what the subject matter was. Probably complaints or excuses. That was what she specialized in. Arryn made a mental note that no Whent men-at-arms would be joining to put down the Greyjoy mess.
The raven flew out in the morning.
Lord Arryn did not comprehend that Harrenhal had a new lord.
It would be thirty days before he remembered something and had his scribes bring him some old documents. There was nothing to do, the order was signed. He was slipping and Robert would sign anything put in front of him.
Harrenhal was out of his gift now. He decided to keep that secret. The King, certainly, would say nothing. He was leaving for the Iron Islands very soon. War made him happy like little else did.
The King's procession had turned off the road leading north. They were now headed west some distance to Harrenhal. Robert still didn't know why he'd let Littlefinger talk him into stopping here on his way north. He needed to get to Winterfell quickly.
Perhaps the devious shit was hinting that he would like to be the next master of that ruined pile.
Baelish had long been subtle that way, ever since Jon Arryn stuck him on the Small Council. The late Lord Arryn had done many great things for the Kingdom, but elevating Littlefinger hadn't been one of them.
Robert really should do something about Baelish. His smile, his small, calm voice. Robert didn't trust a man like that, even if he did find some good women.
Robert was going to Harrenhal for some reason he didn't understand. But he had no intention of making Baelish a gift of Harrenhal. He'd already given it away, not that Littlefinger seemed to realize it.
Harrenhal had a lord, a Whent. A bastard Whent, but still a Whent. Robert had long ago legitimized one of the late Lord Whent's bastards so the place had a proper Lord now, not just a mopey old woman waiting to die. Robert was still surprised he'd agreed, but the request had caught him in a particular mood. He'd signed the paper before he even mentioned the issue to Jon Arryn. Jon would have wanted to save it for someone else, as a reward. Robert might not go to many meetings, but he knew what his counselors would say.
Or what they used to say.
Now Jon was dead and Robert was about to meet this Whent bastard for the first time. Robert remembered other stories of Harrenhal, but he pushed past the old ones.
The new ones were more of interest. He had heard that this bastard Whent was fostering bastards, now. Hadn't Catelyn Stark forced her husband Ned to send that little Snow boy down here? She used her father's influence to see another River lord - the most disgraced one - take in what she didn't want to look at. That woman was as big a bitch as her sister Lysa, poor Jon Arryn had been forced to handle her - or Robert's own bitter bride, the prickly beauty of Casterly Rock. So many women auctioned off for support in a war.
Robert still had no love for Hoster Tully's negotiating tactics. Marry my daughters or I'll remain neutral. He hadn't used precisely those words, but the meaning had been clear enough. Ned and Jon had taken those hits. Robert's came later.
Robert still hated Tywin Lannister. Made use of him, sure, borrowed his money. But hated him. Hated all those Lions.
Robert took a deep drink of wine. To bastards. Tywin might have had parents who were married, but he was a bastard. More than Lord Whent and all the others. At least the bastard of Harrenhal kept Littlefinger from becoming lord of a bigger parcel of land. The Master of Coins had a stomach that was bigger than the Seven Kingdoms. He was a schemer. When Robert was younger, and soberer, he'd delighted in taking the heads of schemers.
The King looked out the window of the wheelhouse, the covered carriage his wife insisted on. Robert would ride on his own horse when they rode into Winterfell. Today, he would sit with the women for a while. Lord Whent couldn't demand any better.
"I didn't think the Riverlands were this prosperous," Robert said.
"Yes." Cersei stopped looking at the view then. She rather curled up and pretended to sleep.
What a vicious creature he'd married.
The further they rode away from the Kingsroad, the more growth Robert saw. It was vastly different from what Robert remembered. People were working the fields, they had crops that would make a Tyrell jealous. Grain crops, potato crops, a farm with a thousand head of beef, at least three breweries, all the things Robert liked when he sat down to dine.
He expected to eat well that evening in Harrenhal, ghosts or no.
There were no cities here, but there a half dozen villages scattered along the road. They were new since the last time Robert had ventured this way. He remembered well that Tourney hosted by a different Whent. It had been the start of the bloodletting that saw Robert on the throne, the Targaryens burned, and Lyanna Stark dead.
There was an ungated wall. As they rode past the new construction, Robert felt a gust of wind. Cersei gave up her pretense of sleeping. She sat and looked bored.
She had spent more than a decade looking bored.
Robert wished he could put her away, but the money, Tywin's gold, protected her.
He would have to put up with her little sighs. It was better than her screaming at him. The road to Winterfell stretched much further than it did to Harrenhal. What a hellish trip. He should send her back to King's Landing. Her mood would just make Winterfell, a bleak place, even bleaker.
It was nearing noon when Robert saw the second ungated walls. The first set now made more of an impression on him. These were defensive structures in an area that had seen every war ever fought spill into.
It was nearing dark when Robert saw the fortifications of Harrenhal itself. The five towers Robert remembered from that blasted tournament were now nine, at least.
When they were within sight of the monstrous castle, the winds returned stronger, harsher. The horses spooked. This place was a three hundred year old grave - and he was willingly journeying there. It still terrified people.
Someone could peel off half the citizenry of King's Landing, shove them into this monstrosity, and still have room. Plus the forest had grown much closer. It was an altogether different look to the place.
How in the Stranger's name hadn't Robert heard of this rebuilding?
He didn't have much time to consider the question. His group was met outside of the castle by at least two hundred men-at-arms. In the center of the greeting party was a small man, dark of hair, who carried no sword. Lord Whent didn't look like much.
Robert's servants got him out of the carriage. He redoubled his vow not to ride in the thing on the day he finally arrived at Winterfell, like some silly woman. In front of this Whent, he didn't care. In front of Ned...
Lord Whent bowed while the others were on their knee. That was damned cheeky. Men bent the knee for their King, but not this Whent?
"King Robert, the courtesy of Harrenhal is yours for as long as you wish."
Another weird gust of wind blew through the crowd. Any dread he had felt about coming to this place vanished. Weird weather.
"We were trying to sneak up on you," Robert said. "We did not succeed."
"We had plenty of notice you were coming, King Robert."
Did this Whent have his own spies in King's Landing - or just a lookout at the crossroad? Robert didn't care that much, not really. His entire life was spent being spied upon.
"How have you done this? Reformed this tomb? Replaced all the...well, melted stones. I wasn't one for history, but it took three generations to build it. You've been lord here, five years now?"
"Seven, your Grace."
"This is some major work for just a few years."
"May I show her to you?" Whent asked.
Robert looked back. Let the handlers take care of Cersei and Joffrey and the rest of them.
Robert's guards fell in then.
Lord Whent had no guards attend to him. He was very confident.
"I forget your name. What do I call you?" Robert asked. He had signed the paper years earlier, but names weren't his strength. Especially if he'd have a heavy day of drinking.
That was an unkind name. Hardiven. Even when he'd been Hardiven Rivers or maybe Hardiven Flowers or Hardiven Waters, depending upon where he'd been born. "Your father had no love for you," Robert said.
"Please call me Harry."
That was better. "You don't stand on formality."
"No. Never have. I don't know if you've ever visited here before?"
In an event that sat heavily in his mind. "Before I was king, yes."
The doors at the other end of the tunnel they'd been walking through flew open and Robert stepped into a courtyard of monstrous proportions. Robert revised his opinion. One might be able to build the Red Keep from King's Landing in just the space of this courtyard.
The largest difference from his previous visit? Harrenhal was filled with people. Whent's people. That cost gold, a lot of gold.
"Bigger than I remember."
"Yes, your Grace."
"You've put up quite a few bastards, I hear."
Whent didn't even flinch. Robert did like to take the measure of a man.
"I host them or foster them. All good people."
"Harrenhal has that reputation now?" Robert asked, a bit annoyed.
"Lord Tully has asked a few favors of my stepmother. I've been glad to oblige."
His irritation shifted, as he admitted to himself that it often did. "Hoster doesn't even have the grace to ask you himself?"
"I think he cannot forget my beginnings."
Just like the old monster.
Robert might have been a better king if he'd had better lords. Or, at least, that was what he told himself. With friends like Hoster and Tywin and Mace Tyrell...was it any wonder Robert's form had more in common with a walking hill than a normal shaped man? The stresses...
"You have a very young look to you. How many years are you?"
"One and twenty, your Grace."
"You look younger still. What I would give for just one and twenty."
"Yes, your Grace."
This Lord Whent was young, but damn if he didn't have Jon Arryn's polish. More than that. More than any Maester Robert had met.
What a strange little lord.
"We should see about getting you a wife."
"With the noise Lord Hoster Tully makes about me, that would be a trick."
Robert nodded. Backwards Hoster and the Dunce Daughters. Robert had heard the heir, Edmure, was a pure idiot. Spoiled and worthless. Robert wished he would be the one to repay Hoster for his generosity.
"The ride was instructional. How are you making these lands grow?" Robert asked.
Lord Whent smiled. "I am very pleased you noticed."
"We should rename this place Highgarden, perhaps."
"Well, we grow few flowers. We have much land, but we also have many hungry mouths."
"Yes. You didn't answer my question. How do you do it?"
"I know you are on your way to Winterfell."
Everyone had spies, even minor lords. It was irritating, but it wasn't an answer to Robert's question.
"Yes." Still, he answered it.
"As they say up north, winter is coming. We are just preparing."
"To this extent? You must be a wizard with the grapes, then."
"Just a good administrator," Lord Whent insisted. "Grain is as important as swords to a castle like this one."
"And the gold to do it all?"
"We sell a large portion of our crop."
Again something Robert had not heard. Hadn't Jon Arryn known about this place? Or had this been mentioned in some Small Council meeting or other? Robert really shouldn't have distanced himself that much. Too late now.
"All of our neighbors, even the Ironborn. They claim they do not sow, but they like malted beverages just fine."
Robert roared with laughter. Yes, the Greyjoys enjoyed their drink. And here was where they got it.
"What are those three towers?" Robert asked. "They look new."
"Well, they are built with old stone. Some of the towers here were in bad condition."
"But what are they?"
"The outer two are water towers."
"Water? Inside a tower, inside a castle?"
"Four years' supply, if we're careful, should a siege ever settle in."
Four years of safe water... Lord Whent was getting ready for war. Or he was quite insane.
"The middle one?"
"We are able to use the water towers to help cool the middle tower. We have it stored with perishable foods, King Robert."
"Four years of food?"
"Well, not quite that much."
"It's impressive, Lord Whent. What about the small tower?"
"The Lord's Tower. It was also fashioned from stone we pulled down from damaged towers."
It looked pristine. Someone had gone to much effort to clean the stone. Three hundred years of damage... This man must be a wizard.
"You have done much work here in not very much time."
"Let us cross over into the next courtyard. You might recognize the towers there more than these."
Robert nodded. He did recognize everything there, although it all looked a bit smaller. They'd pulled down the highest floors and repurposed that stone. The whole place was monstrous, but perhaps less imposing than what Robert remembered of the place.
After all, it was now filled with people - and not just bad memories and the stories of ghosts in flame.
They turned and walked down a corridor. "Perhaps you'd like to see some of our defenses?"
"I've been on the other side of the wall once a time. I would."
Lord Whent had to unlock and relock about nine doors or steel gates before they were in the belly of the defenses. Robert had a sense of exactly how impregnable these stones were. Eighteen feet thick, he would say. Without dragons to fly over the walls, this castle would not have been easily taken.
Then Robert realized he was alone with Whent. None of his guards were with him. How had that happened?
"Where are my guards?" Robert demanded.
"Waiting for us."
"They never leave me alone."
"They'll rejoin us. After we finish."
"I've a mind to beat them bloody for leaving us."
"They didn't leave. They're just standing, asleep, out there." Whent pointed toward a locked door. Locked and barred, actually. Robert hadn't noticed anything at the time.
Robert felt a deep stab of fear in that moment. It was unlike anything he'd felt in years, since the Greyjoys felt treasonous.
"Let me out."
"We're safe in here."
"You might be, but I don't know you. I am your King, let me out."
Whent's graceful appearance cracked a little.
"We have much to discuss first."
"I am your King, boy."
"Robert Baratheon, you might once have been a warrior, but now you rather resemble a bung of bad wine. You get no respect from me."
Was this an imposter? An assassin?
Robert tried to shove Lord Whent, but found he couldn't move.
"I thought we should speak together, just the two of us."
"Release me. Give me the antidote to whatever poison you've used on me."
Lord Whent sat down on a chair that Robert hadn't noticed. Robert tried to speak, but found he could not.
"I arrived here in the first year after you took the throne. Perhaps within weeks of your marriage to Cersei Lannister. It took me many years before I learned the language and decided on what I had to do."
"What did you do?"
"I had myself adopted into the Whent family."
Robert strained at that. He suddenly found he could talk. "So you're not a bastard of old Lord Whent?"
"I'm older than anyone alive in Westeros. I could have been his great-great-grandfather. So, no."
Robert shook his head a little. What the boy had just said made no sense, but Robert was also sure that it was no lie.
"You don't like being king, do you?" Lord Whent asked.
That wasn't what he wanted to say.
He glared at this strange person...this wizard.
"I see you don't like your children or your wife."
Robert said nothing.
"You've surrounded yourself with your worst enemies. No wonder you don't enjoy being King. You shouldn't trouble Eddard Stark. Just let Tywin Lannister return to serving as the Hand of the King. He's already in control over everything because of your gold issues."
It was all true, but Robert would make sure Whent would pay for telling him things he didn't want to hear again.
"You don't care. You know what the problems are, but you don't try to do anything with them. Wine and women. It'll fix nothing."
"There are no problems," Robert said.
Whent stared at Robert a moment before he closed his eyes and then looked, almost ashamed, at the floor for a moment. When he looked back at Robert he was serious, deadly so. "You'll be dead inside a year. Your wife will arrange it, drugging your drink before you go out hunting. Your death will start a war for the succession that will last...years."
"How do you know any of this?"
"Where I came from, I was as much a seer as a chunk of stone. Here, so close to the Isle of Faces, I can sometimes get a sense of things, future things. It's quite irritating, to be honest. Many of my other powers are comparatively weaker."
"This is weakness? You could have killed me a hundred times by now."
Whent also didn't flinch at that. He knew. He knew it and had considered it. Still, Robert was alive. "I cannot fix these problems myself. I am just a minor lord, although with some unusual powers. I shouldn't need to fix the problems here."
"You could fix them."
Whenever Robert thought of problems, he reached for wine.
"What of your magic?"
"For now, I can see the problems. Not fix them."
"If you can leave me this incapacitated, you could fix them."
Whent shook his head.
"You could take heads until it was fixed - or everyone was headless."
"I will be as honest as I can. I find that I can protect myself from an attack with no problem, my power, my magic, will permit me to do that. I can do a few simple things to warn off a person, but I cannot just strike someone down, even to prevent something that might happen in the future. I did something to a person once, my 'stepmother,' I made her obey me in getting me made lord of this place. Immediately after, I was weakened for months. It's frustrating. I don't understand why and I haven't found a way around it."
Perhaps, if Robert survived this interview, he could make use of this weakness. Whent made a good first showing, but how strong was he really?
"I could have just watched you blunder into your own death, but I cannot stand to do as little as my own mentor did for me. Hinting, lying. That old man must have had a series of very poor mentors himself. I will try something different with you, Robert Baratheon. Let's see if we get a different result. Let's see if we can give you a few more years of life."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to live longer than a year. I want you to bring some balance to your allies, the Lannisters."
"Balance? That's all?"
"I don't know what else I can do to save you. I can't fight your battle for you. You don't seem willing to fight them for yourself. Once a brave man, you now seem a coward."
"I am not."
"I wonder if you had just a little courage and spent it down quickly."
Of course, he was brave in the way that a man could be if he lived at the bottom of a flagon of wine. Would have, could have, dreaming of the past, dreaming of a future that could gone very sour.
"What kind of balance do you suggest, wizard?"
Whent looked at Robert as if he were stupid. "The Lannisters seek everything. Tell me how to balance that."
That was the truth. Lannisters would only be in balance when they were territory for worms. "They have bigger stomachs than I, though they do not show it."
"You want me to stop my wife's scheming, her father's?"
"If you wish to keep your Kingdoms, yes."
"I'd have to kill my wife, my wife's family. All of them."
"If you cannot control their...eagerness...for conquest, then..."
How he had dreamt of it. He had killed Rhaegar. But Tywin had gotten away. Cersei... He loathed all of them. "So, you, what are you doing? You ask me to handle the Lannisters."
"I concentrate on magic," the Whent said with a shrug.
Not much help that. He was all words and no damned help. "Magic is dead in this land," he snarled.
That stopped him a moment.
Robert remembered what he had seen. A Harrenhal that did not look melted, that had grown in size, crops that were healthy and numerous. He could believe in magic. That, and it was likely how he'd been parted from his guards.
"I am trying to bring back magic into this land. For you, for everyone, but mostly for myself. I wish to return to my home - and, for that, I need more magic. For the last fifteen years I have felt magic strengthening. I have come to believe that this planet has a strange relationship with magic, it ebbs and flows in long, long cycles. We're on a return now. Magic is reawakening everywhere. Trying to, at least. It's not easy for it."
"I don't understand," Robert said.
"I'm told you have the skulls of dragons in your dungeon."
"That is magic. That is the kind of magic that wants to return."
Whent gave up the topic. Robert was terrified at the things he had been told, but couldn't understand.
"You will not be budged? Not even to save yourself?"
"You haven't told me how, boy."
Whent glared at Robert, like a master-at-arms about to teach a small boy what it really meant to wield a sword. "You plan to ask Eddard Stark to return with you to King's Landing, to run the government for you?"
"No one knows that."
"Everyone in your group does. Now I do as well."
Gossiping... Robert could slaughter them all. This...very dangerous person...now had information that could hurt Robert, could hurt Ned, could hurt the country. Successions in power, whether kings or their appointed heads of government, were always dangerous times.
"Take someone else. Veer off this path north. Or, perhaps continue until you get to the path to Riverrun. Ask a Tully to do it. Even ask a Lannister."
"I have more Lannisters than we have biting flies."
It was both clever and too true. The damned Lannisters caused more irritation and pain.
"Do you want to live until you're an old man?" Whent asked.
"And you're unwilling to do the necessary."
"Start a war with my father-in-law?"
"Then, you must mind your wife...and her ego. You do not want to appoint someone your wife will consider an enemy. She and Ned Stark will clash, you know it."
"So I should appoint her father? You were trying to get me to kill them or tame them or some gibberish."
"Yes, I did ask that. You refused on the grounds it was too hard. Now you must surround yourself with ineffectual Tullys or rather clever Lannisters if you desire peace...and long life."
"It's not peace, boy. It's just the cessation of violence."
"Whose fault is that?" Whent asked.
There was only one answer. Robert had been too tired, too ruined, to finish the job many years earlier. Rather than slaughtering the Lannisters, he'd allied with them. Married their bitch into his family, allowed her to bear fair-haired heirs... No, he wouldn't think of that now, no matter how much Whent demanded.
He was a King.
This might be his last day on Westeros, but he wouldn't blubber. If it was a meeting with the Stranger, so be it.
"If you value your friend Stark at all, if you value his sacrifices for you, you will find someone else."
"I could promote Petyr Baelish," Robert growled.
"Well, if you prefer to be killed by him rather than your wife."
That pulled Robert from his funk for a moment. "You really are a seer, aren't you? One of those greenseers supposedly from around her."
"You don't have a name for what I am," the Whent said.
Whent wasn't going to hurt Robert. He wasn't going to extract a promise either. Robert and Jon had puzzled over it all before. If they'd done something early, before Robert married Cersei, if...
That wasn't how the history went.
"I've heard what you've said," Robert said.
"But it was all wasted breath, wasn't it?"
"I'll consider it." Assuming he left the room alive. Robert knew how foolish it was to defy someone with this kind of power. However, he knew he couldn't run seven kingdoms, let alone one, without help.
"Then I will leave you with this. Your wife will kill you. Your son will murder your dear friend. Your kingdoms will erupt in fire and war. All because you are a fool and a coward."
The young lord gestures with his hand - or with a thin stick in his hand, maybe - and the room was suddenly bright and warm and filled with furniture.
"You may sleep here tonight. You will never be able to tell anyone the words I spoke. I hope you will turn away from this path. Know this, I am sworn only to you. Once you are dead..."
That there might be the most terrifying thing the boy - the seer - had yet said.
Suddenly Robert was alone in the comfortable room and his memory of the conversation immediately dimmed. He drank all the wine he could find and fell asleep, fully clothed, on the bed, without even demanding a whore for the evening.
The next morning, the King's party departed.
Several miles away from Harrenhal, Robert looked at the wife he did not love. There was something he couldn't remember about the last day. Although there was one idea he could still remember... "You will outlive me."
"Maybe," the bitch Cersei said.
"When you do, never anger that lord."
"Whent? He was small, tiny. Large castle, tiny lord."
Robert shook his head. "A Targaryen trio of dragons once managed to destroy Harrenhal..."
"I learned my history."
Robert still felt fear from being in Harrenhal. Not the fear of ghosts, if they existed. A different fear, one he couldn't quite describe.
"Now, I think that Lord Whent would withstand three dragons."
Cersei glared at Robert. "I didn't see anything to be worried about."
Robert could not - physically could not - remember the magic he'd seen.
"He had at least twelve towers and the men to fill them."
"That all costs money. Lord Whent's men could easily be my father's men with the proper application of gold."
She was not listening.
Robert had tried. He didn't know why he'd done it, but he had.
Cersei and that...monster would tangle in the future. Cersei would not win. Robert wished he'd be alive to see it. He would just enjoy the life he had left.
He had tried.
Not well, not very hard. He had used up all of his vigor in the earlier part of his life. Wasn't it sad now that the best he could do, as a King, was to say that he'd tried? He had spent the last ten years just waiting to die. He had no crowns to win, no towers to build, no mark he wanted to leave.
He had been, and would always be, a man who had stopped having grand ambitions. That was oblivion, Robert knew. He was living out the end of it.