Hi folks. Apologies for the long silence. It's been a long and nasty couple of months, with me being utterly exhausted and coping with a wide range of things that included my own publisher stabbing me in the back. Good news: he's gone, 'retired', no longer a part of my life.

Bad news: our dog might have cancer.

However, we've had a great 2-week holiday, our fluffy pup is responding to treatment, my mother is on new medication and ONWARDS & UPWARDS!


Sarella

Allarion Lannister was the most infuriating man – boy – no, man, she had ever known. He had not gone West to the Nightfort with his father and the King, he'd stayed in Castle Black. Why? He wouldn't tell her.

Oh, he had said something that morning about being needed at Castle Black, but when she had asked him what he was supposed to do there he just gave her that… infuriating look of stillness that he had sometimes and told her that he just needed to be there.

Infuriating wasn't the word. What wasn't he telling her?

She watched him as he practised his swordplay in the square of Castle Black against a man of the Night's Watch. She could tell that they were both good, most skilled, and she could also see that to one side that Lannister lackey Marbrand was watching the two from one of the balconies, leaning against a post with an odd look on his face.

Horns wailed in the near distance, with horns wailing back from the gatehouse of Castle Black, and she turned to look as the gates opened.

A group of horsemen rode in and as she looked at them her heart almost stopped in her chest for an instant. No. It could not be him – but then she focussed on the face of the smiling dark-haired man with a short beard who rode like man born to ride a horse and who had the tan of a man of Dorne.

"Father!" The word ripped its way out of her throat and she regretted it for an instant. She was a daughter of the Red Viper of Dorne and she should not have reacted like that. But the sight of him was also a reminder of home after so long away from it and after a moment she regretted her outburst not at all.

Her father looked at her and grinned as he dismounted and then strode towards her, his arms outstretched. "Sarella!" And then she flung herself into those arms and for a long moment everything was as well as it could ever be as Father hugged her.

After that moment he untightened that hug and looked at her critically, his eyes searching her face. "You're thinner than you were. And cold – these Northern climes do not agree with you, my daughter."

She laughed at that. "Welcome to the Wall, Father. Welcome to the war."

He sobered at that. "Ah, yes, the war at the Wall, or what will soon be a war here." Father looked about Castle Black for a moment. "I don't see the banner of the King – where is he?"

"The Nightfort, Father. Come, I need to tell you what has happened."

She guided him to the room that she had been sleeping in, closed the door and then stepped into his hug again, which was a fierce one. "My dear daughter, after reading your tale of fighting wights and Others… I was so proud of you – and so afraid for you. Your report was read to the Small Council, or what there was of it with the King and the Hand away. So – tell me everything."

So she did. She poured a cup of wine for them both, sat on the bed whilst Father sat on a chair, and then just talked. She told him everything that she had seen and heard, smelt and thought, feared and hoped for. She talked until she was hoarse and she was looking at the far wall, almost glassy-eyed with astonishment over what she had seen.

When she looked back at Father she could see, to her surprise, that he had unshed tears in his eyes. "Father?"

"I am sorry, my daughter. You should not be a Sand, you should be a Martell. I am so proud of you. So very proud. You have seen things and done things that would make any bard in Sunspear sing such songs about your deeds!"

She blinked at that. Yes, Father could be emotional, but the pride in his voice made her blush for a moment. "I wish that I could have done more," she said honestly after a moment of composing herself. "I should have done more. And there is so much more to come Father. Dorne cannot sit this fight out. We win or lose this war here, on the Wall."

Father looked at her for a long moment and then, finally, nodded. "I agree. Which is one of the reasons why I am here, having transported the Wildfire that that mad fuck Aerys Targaryen had made to burn King's Landing to the ground in his even madder plan to become a dragon." He looked at the pained expression on her face and chuckled. "I know, it was insanely dangerous. But it had to be done. And I made the acquaintance of the Onion Knight. It's a shame he's tied so closely to Stannis Baratheon, the man's an absolute gem."

And with that Father stood, clapped his hands together and rubbed them energetically. "So – the King is at the Nightfort, is he?"

"He is. Tomorrow at noon he hopes to talk to Robb Stark via that chair that only Starks can use."

"A magic chair…" Father's eyes were alight with fascination. "And we will see that! We ride for the Nightfort at dawn! Or even before dawn – we must be there to see this… this phenomenon!"

She smiled at him. "Of course Father. And I need to talk to you about-"

A fist knocked politely – there could be no other word for it – at the door. Father wheeled at it and then glanced at her before saying: "Come!"

The door opened to reveal Allarion Lannister, who seemed utterly unsurprised at the sight of Father. Indeed, he then bowed formally and said: "Prince Oberyn Martell. Allarion Lannister, at your service."

Father drew himself up to his full height, shot a look at her that made her swallow nervously, and then nodded. "Ah. The son of Gerion Lannister, I have been told? How may I help you?"

The faintest of smiles crossed Allarion's face, before he looked behind him. "Someone needs to talk to you." And then she saw that Ned Dayne - Lord Dayne – was standing there, Dawn in both hands and with a look on his face that reminded him of someone that she could not put her finger on.

"Prince Oberyn," Lord Dayne said as he stepped forwards. "When my father died I came North from King's landing as soon as I could to the Wall, because of the Call. I was not able to pledge my allegiance as the Head of House Dayne to your brother at Sunspear. I would like to do so now, with you acting as a proxy." He bowed formally to Father, who drew himself up and then formally, almost regally, nodded in recognition.

"On behalf of House Martell I accept your fealty, Lord Dayne. Your father was a good man, my brother and I were sad to hear of his passing."

For a heartbeat an odd look passed over the face of Lord Dayne and once again it reminded her of someone else, a nagging, elusive sensation that made her suppress a frown.

Father nodded again. "Tomorrow, at dawn, we ride for the Nightfort to see this magic chair that only the Starks can use. Will you two ride with us?"

The two did not look startled in any way, but Lord Dayne looked at Allarion briefly as if he had heard something confirmed. "We will ride with you," Allarion said. And then they both nodded formally and walked away.

"Interesting…" Father said quietly as he closed the door behind them, "Interesting…" He seemed to pause for thought for a long moment – and then he smiled. "An unusual Lannister – do not worry, I will stay my hand! – and an unusual Dayne. Most unusual. His father… mmm, I must think on this, but I have a theory already…" And then Father smiled at her. "So – food. And wine. And a rest before tomorrow – because we will ride early!"


Tyrion

When he awoke that morning he had his usual moment of contentment at the fact that his wife was next to him. His wife. Who he loved and who loved him back. There were times when he had nightmares about waking up and finding that she wasn't there any more, that their time together had been nothing but an illusion, that he was back in his bed, alone, in Casterley Rock, not Father's heir, not the wielder of Rocktooth and the Warnings, just a bitter drunken dwarf with a liking for whores.

Those nightmares were terrible ones. Especially as he often wondered just how like Father he could be. He was Father's heir – but how far did that go? Father had been marked by Grandfather's folly, he had to be harder and harsher and less of a fool than Grandfather had been. But how much of that driven by apparent need and how much by the internal character of the man?

Tyrion knew that there was a darkness within him. Dacey brought out the light. And it was as simple as that. Which was why he was so afraid to lose her.

"Stop that."

He looked at his wife. "What?"

"You're brooding again."

He wanted to say 'I am not,' but the words would not leave his mouth. Instead he sighed. "I can't help it."

"Yes, you can." She rolled over, the sheet falling in a way that exposed those lovely breasts of hers. "You are NOT your father. I know that you worry about it and I know that you are right to worry about it. I know that you sense a shadow within you." Her gaze hardened. "But you also know that shadows are banished by the light of laughter and love and wanting to be a better person. And I know that you are a far better person than your father is. So… stop brooding and kiss me."

He did so and when they eventually left their quarters and went to the Great Hall to break their fast he was suppressing a smirk and she was looking, in his humble opinion, like a cat that got the cream, although he could think of a number of different ways to allude to making love in the way that they had.

As they were sitting down and tucking in – he was famished – Luwin strode in, looked about then make a beeline for where they were sitting.

"Lord Tyrion! Lady Dacey! You must see this!" The Maester handed over a thick sheaf of papers, a combination of some kind of report, written in small, tight handwriting, and carefully drawn pictures in various coloured inks. "It's from Maester Cressan at Dragonstone!"

Tyrion looked at he chewed on some bacon – and then he and Dacey both blinked, swallowed and then looked through the papers that were now spread in front of them. "This was at Dragonstone? These… cave paintings? Wait – and those handprints! Children of the Forest!"

"That's the work of the First Men and the Children!" Dacey said excitedly as she looked at the pictures. "Those are carved runes… 'Place of seeing past'… no, 'remembering'."

"And those are painted images of wights… and Others…" Tyrion breathed as he looked at some of the other pictures. "Cressan found these by a great vein of dragonglass?"

"He did indeed," Luwin nodded as he looked over the papers. "They came by horseman from White Harbour, Cressan said that he sent detailed accounts to Winterfell, King's Landing and the Citadel."

"Then may the Gods bless Maester Cressan," Tyrion said as he looked at the pictures of the paintings and the carvings. "They knew, didn't they? They knew the danger they faced, they knew that the Others were a terrible threat to them." He stared at the sketch of a three-fingered hand and a thumb. "And they knew the Children of the Forest. They allied themselves to them, even down there in Dragonstone. I wonder… what else is on that island. That hidden Godswood when Shireen was cured…"

"What else was lost, over the years?" Dacey asked sadly. He looked at her and she smiled a smile of infinite sadness at him. "My Father would have adored this, every bit of it. Fascinated by it."

He smiled back at her. "I wish I could have met him." And then he pored over the drawings and read the report from Cressan. "Should we mention this to Quicksilver?"

"We should," Dacey muttered as she also looked at the papers in deep concentration. "There's history here that must be woven into our plans. We must ally ourselves more firmly with the Children."

He looked at her. "You think that happened in the past?"

"I do." She seemed to struggle with a thought for a long moment. "It would explain much. Ned's children are all wargs, potentially at least, and there is something about this link between Bran and Quicksilver that makes me think that the alliance will happen again. They have a destiny." She said the last four words with an inflexion that made him pause for thought.

He nodded after a long moment. "It would indeed make sense. And with so much at stake…" He paused for a long moment and then gestured with one hand as if grasping something. "We cannot waste any chance on this. There is so much at stake. Everything rests on this on what happens at the Wall. Gods, we cannot fail on this. If we fail… we all die."

Dacey looked at him for a long moment and then nodded. And then she looked away, seeming to be nervous. "I'm late."

He peered down at the pictures again. "Late for what?"

"Late as in my Moon's Blood is late."

And that made him freeze in place on his chair, as if he had suddenly become a part of the Wall. "Late?"

"Ten days late." She took a deep breath. "Tyrion, I need to talk to Maester Luwin about this, but I think that I am pregnant."

He looked at her, feeling dazed. Something seemed to have happened to his stomach and he felt impossibly light about his head. "Really?"

"Yes." She looked at him, seeming concerned. "Are you alright?"

"Really? Pregnant?"

"Yes. Possibly. I need to talk to Luwin. Husband, are you alright?"

He considered this for a moment. "I am perfectly fine." And then everything went black as he fainted.


Robert

There was – of course – a log waiting for him to carry around the main courtyard of the Nightfort in the morning and he did his usual exercises first thing after waking up in a room that showed every sign of a lot of repairs. The place was old, he could tell that by the stonework, and he could even see runes carved into some of the lower courses of the walls, like Winterfell.

It made him wonder about who had built what at the Wall again. He needed to ask Umber a few things, as there was a man who hid his wits behind a loud and boisterous visage, a tankard of ale waved in the air before him at almost all times – and then those keen eyes. Almost as keen as Manderley. Or Ned.

He almost paused as he huffed his way in his latest circuit about the yard. He knew he'd been a shit king, but he was a lot less shit than he used to be. If only Lyanna had lived –and then he thrust the thought away. No. No, he could not go down that path again, he would not wallow in grief and pain for what was past. He'd tried that in the past and what had it gotten him? A fat belly, an aching head and a life of existing. Not living, just existing, like a ghost in his own life.

And three bastards had been passed off as his, right under his own nose, because that nose had been buried in too many cups of wine, or the tits of too many whores and other women.

Storm King. He needed to be that title, but he still didn't know how to. Well, he needed to, and right fast. Ned from all accounts was becoming something that he probably didn't understand either, but the Realm needed. Needed them both. If Ned was turning a key within him to become that something else – gods, what had happened in Oldtown? – then how could he do the same himself? Would the runes help? Stormbreaker? More visions of the past?

He could feel his shoulders burn, his thighs too, but he kept on at it, matching the previous day's total – and then adding two more, before throwing the log down and then taking a piece of cloth from Barristan Selmy with a nod of thanks.

"Your Grace is pushing yourself a little this morning," the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard said. "I should not ask why."

"Ser Barristan," he replied as he wiped his face and neck, which streamed with sweat despite the chill air, "If I ever slack off again, you have my permission to tell me that I am doing so. Use whatever language you like."

Selmy's mouth twitched. "That might not be proper, but I will find a way if it is necessary." He paused. "Your Grace, might we talk somewhere we can not be overheard? I have a plan about the new Kingsguard that you commanded me to build."

He eyed the silver-haired man, saw the resolution in his face, and then nodded as he pulled a clean shirt on and then reached for a coat and robe. "Up on the Wall? The platform to the top is safe again Mormont says."

Up on the Wall it was. The members of the Night's Watch left them alone in one of the vantage points of the North, where a brazier burned. Selmy took a deep breath. "Your Grace, Blount must be dismissed, Trant must be reviewed – he is a strange man – and Oakheart must be questioned. And there must be new appointments. Which is where I… have a plan. Seven is too small a number and besides the pressure on them is too great. Whilst we have had no Crispin Coles in many a year-" Selmy's voice grew cold and almost as icy as the Wall itself – "The actions of Hightower, Whent and Dayne in the matter of the Lady Lyanna Stark are almost as bad.

"I suggest increasing the number of the Kingsguard from seven to forty-nine. That would expand our number, make it easier to defend your Grace and still be an auspicious number for members of the Faith."

"Seven times seven – I see the symbolism." He nodded with thought. "What else?"

"They must be chosen from those who are truly worthy. Brave men, not those tied to great houses who have done no great things. It is not enough to be a great jouster, they should be real knights, those who keep to their vows, no matter where they are from – from Dorne to the North. The North does not have knights the way that the Reach does, but I care not. The Cassels in Winterfell – both of them are true to their word and every bit as good as anyone who swears an oath to the Seven."

His face worked for a long moment and Robert waited as the man wrestled with the words. "And we need a new Oath for the Kingsguard. One that does not make them mindless… servants, who obey even the most monstrous orders. The Lady Lyanna… the wildfire under Kings Landing… that can never happen again. This is not… I must think on this more, but we must have a balance between duty and what is right, your Grace. No Coles, no Hightowers… just that…" His fist hit the nearest wall. "That reminder the King must be reminded of what is right. Even if the King dismisses that Kingsguard, he must be reminded of what is right."

Robert looked at him for a long moment as he considered what he had said – and then after a long moment he nodded. "If I ever go as mad as Aerys or Rhaegar – even if the latter thought he was doing what was right, only to realise that he was wrong – you stop me Ser Barristan Selmy. You're right. Some things are just… wrong. Unacceptable. Crimes against the Realm."

Selmy drew himself up and then formally nodded.

Robert nodded back – and then quirked an eyebrow. "You wanted to tell me your plan in a place where the lords and lickspittles couldn't hear you and get appalled by your plan?"

The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard pulled a slight face but then nodded again. "I fear the initial reaction to my proposals your Grace. There will be those who will nod and say that I have a good point – but then ask if this is the right time, or if we should be cautious, or if the leading lords of the realm should be informed first, so that they could press their suit for the more…suitable candidates first?"

He dipped his head in response. "I understand. That's why we're up here, isn't it?"

Selmy smiled slightly. "I would not want any hints to leak out. This will be… controversial, Your Grace."

He snorted. "Good. You're right, it's a good idea." He paused. "You'll need larger quarters in the Red Keep, whenever we see it again that is."

"Aye, and the White Book will either expand to many volumes or will have to be much abridged. But this is the right thing to do, Your Grace. I know it."

"Then go ahead and do it, Ser Barristan. You have my full permission."

Selmy drew himself up again and then bowed formally. "Honor to serve Your Grace."

A horn wailed in the distance and they both turned to look South at the entrance to the Nightfort. Far below he could see a mounted group approaching the gates. There were banners at the front of them, one quite distinctive and Ser Barristan Selmy sighed.

"It seems that Dorne is here, Your Grace - the Red Viper unless I miss my guess."

"Oberyn Martell," he agreed. "Well, let's get down there." He quirked an eyebrow. "I doubt that even the Red Viper will cause too much trouble here. Not here, not with all this happening."

"Your Grace, predicting what the Dornish will do is never a confident bet. Nevertheless, I will extend them every confidence – whilst watching them like a hawk. I can do no other."

He chuckled. "As a fellow Stormlander – I agree."