Copyright Disclaimer: I do not own A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, other than my own the original character(s) in this story. This is purely a work of my personal enjoyment so don't expect anything worthy of GRRM. I fully welcome criticism/suggestions/questions. The story will eventually be finished (I hate leaving things unfinished) but I have no real schedule. Please review as I'd love useful thoughts :) feedback helps encourage my writing.
Chapter 50: The Lone Wolf
"He loved you, fool; that's why..."
– Prince Suko Lóng
There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The stars shun like a hundred thousand lights, the moon was full and bright, and the seven wanderers looked down at them all; each sacred to the Faith of the Seven who claimed that there was one for each of their seven gods… ignoring that there were in truth more than seven. That didn't seem to matter.
Emperor Qing once taught him that the Lion of Dawn came from the very stars in the heavens and perhaps even from one of the wanderers themselves – but these weren't quite those stars – under an eerily different sky, he wondered if the Lion of Dawn was watching them now. Somehow, he doubted it very much.
He wondered if his own gods were watching too, or if any were at all… or perhaps what watched them was something else entirely.
If there were gods and they were so unjust, why should men worship them? They'd allowed so much vileness to taint the world.
How could they possibly be just when they ignored such rampant injustice? The wayward thoughts hurt his head.
"Argh," he groaned and opened his eyes, the waking world feeling heavy and his limbs somehow even heavier.
Was he dead? He hadn't seen a sky so clear in quite some time. If this was the afterlife, then it wasn't so bad… aches aside…
He'd never feared dying. It was difficult to fear a constant presence. Any animal could teach you that, with enough exposure even a cobra would lower its hood once it considered you safe. It would always remain a danger – the snake was still a snake – but exposure would teach it what was and wasn't a threat.
Death? It was just a destination. As morbid a thought to most he supposed, but to him it sounded quite peaceful…
What was the alternative? To live in fear, beg for the gods to spare him perhaps? No, he'd rather fight instead.
How many had thought the same and died for him? Too many. Gods, why did the world feel so heavy?
Shifting against an apparent tree truck, his hand found soft fur laid beside him.
"Flash," he named the wolf, its head jolting up to greet him happily with bright eyes.
The wolf was skinny – far too skinny – but its tail wagged gladly at the sight of him awake.
"How did you get here, eh boy?" The wolf had no answer except to lower its head.
"Will," she crashed into him and wrapped her arms around his limbs.
Ashlyn Amber was as warm as summer, he thought.
"Ash," his voice was course from disuse.
"You idiot," she clung to him as if he' vanish.
"I-" His throat felt like he'd eaten a beach worth of sand.
"Hush," Ashlyn scolding him, though her smile was treasonous.
She passed him a skin of water and he took it meekly.
He could almost Smell the water… that was an old feeling…
"Slowly," she scolded, stopping him as his body screamed for him to drink.
"What are you," he coughed. "My mother?"
Ashlyn huffed and punched him on the arm.
He muttered "Ouch" and returned to slowly drinking.
"I have to tell Suko," Ash practically leapt up and left him there with his thoughts.
Water had only ever tasted so good in the Outlands when he'd first ventured there in what seemed like a lifetime ago – he'd wandered foolishly and blindly into the great grey wastes – only to be saved by Aedan's father, who fed and sheltered him. He missed that old man… who was likely dead by now…
He shifted against the tree Ashlyn had laid him against.
Its branches were blackened – but not dead – not quite…
"Hey," he muttered to the burnt weirwood.
The tree made no effort to reply. Rude trees…
It was alive though, doubtless the andals had burnt it and thought it dead; but weirwood was near impossible to burn…
He put the water aside and shifted his back up against the trunk.
Flash laid his head across Willam's lap.
"Stark!" Suko's voice broke the quietness.
The man – one eyed and tired looking – stormed over the grass.
"Lóng," Willam managed a smirk. "You look terrible, as always."
Suko laughed and knelt to ruffle his hair as if he were a small child.
"Dawn," he muttered some curse. "We thought- well, I had this whole elaborate plan to kill the Dornishman and flee…"
"I'm sorry for ruining our plans then…"
"You should be," Suko huffed. "It was a damn good plan!"
Ashlyn smacked him over the said with a "shut up" and a giggle.
"You see how the fair Princess treats me!?"
"I see," Willam smirked, getting up to his feet.
"No less than you deserve Imperial," Ashlyn said as she held Willam up.
"I'm fine Ash," he looked at her warmly.
His grey eyes scanned the surroundings then.
It was… a godwood? Small and walled by ruined stones overtaken by nature.
The memories flashed behind his eyes.
Flash was here, but his master was away…
"What happened," his smile died. "I don't remember…"
Suko chuckled nervously and scratched the back of his head.
"They failed to let me in on the plan," Ashlyn complained heavily.
"Well," Suko grinned innocently. "The less people that knew, the better; sweet Princess…"
"Don't you Princess me, Lóng!"
He held his hands up in mock surrender.
Few men could lose an eye and not lose their spirits, Willam thought sadly.
Just one more debt to be paid…
"What did you do this time Suko?"
"For once Stark the plan was not my own…"
Willam frowned at that notion. If not him, then who-"
"Aedan," he assumed. "The sly bastard – it figures. Where is he then? How did you spirit the wolf free?"
Suko and Ashlyn both shared a glance and appeared to look anywhere but at Him.
"The wolf was easy," Suko said first, frowning at the beast.
Ashlyn shifted on her feet and was making an effort to divert her eyes.
"Ash," Willam stared at her, knowing she'd break first.
"I-" She muttered. "I'm sorry Will…"
He'd heard those words before…
"Where is he…"
Suko sighed in defeat.
"Gone," he said. "I'm sorr-"
The fist flew and struck Suko across his cheek, sending him stumbling.
"Will!" Ashlyn hurried between the two men. "Stop!"
"I deserved that," Suko mumbled jokingly from the ground.
Flash was up in a leap, snarling, thin but agile as a fox.
"Explain," Willam's eyes pleaded her helplessly, his hand stroking Flash's fur to calm him.
"You were wounded," her hands laid on his chest to hold him back now.
"I was fine," he snarled his denials and muttered a curse for effect too.
"Broken ribs at worst," Suko had gotten to his feet and wiped some blood away from his nose.
"Aedan knew you weren't in any condition to fight the Kingslayer," Ashlyn continued. "He begged you to let him fight, but you were so stubborn!"
"She's not to blame Stark," Suko didn't falter under his friend's glare. "Aedan, Prince Oberyn and I were the culprits – hate us if you must – but the dornishman owed you a debt. He's a god at poisons that viper, though I will deny having ever said it… the bastard gave you too much I say…"
"He-" Willam clenched his fist. "He fought Jaime in my place?"
Suko nodded. "Tywin Lannister was rather agreeable, given his conditions…"
The Old Lion hadn't wished to see his only Stark hostage lost, after all; when an opportunity presented itself… well…
It had been a closer thing than the lion would've liked – Suko wagered – but in the end, he'd kept his hostage and freed his heir.
"No doubt Tywin expected his golden son to make short word of Greystark."
"Bastards," Willam cursed, but Ashlyn grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly.
"Aedan was confident," Suko muttered. "Fought well… you'd have been proud of him…"
He'd been his brother, by choice if not in blood – though a cousin in blood too – the idea was…
It was the only word that came to him…
"Why?" Suko tilted his head. "He loved you, fool; that's why…"
"Love," Willam laughed at that word. Nonsense. Madness.
Laughing hurt his throat like another handful of sand.
Dead. Dead. Dead….
"Where is Oberyn?"
Ashlyn looked worried.
"Follow me," Suko declared, turning on his heels.
"Will," Ashlyn blocked him. "Don't do anything foolish!"
The Viper had poisoned him. Poison! Without him, none of this would've happened!
It was the damn wine… it must have been the wine…
When had he gotten so careless as to take drinks from vipers?
Flash was at his heels, like a shadow, a lone wolf without its master.
"My fault," his thoughts told him. "His fault, too – the fucking snake…"
Out from the walled Godswood and into the ruins proper, the walls they passed were half collapsed – but the further they moved inward, the centre of what once a great palace of sorts was still partially intact, although nature had long since begun to reclaim it with vines and greenery creeping through every crack.
They passed many bronze-skinned guards in the centre of the ruins that either ignored their passing or gave absent nods of acknowledgements.
One door was guarded by two dornishmen, clad in leathers and chainmail.
"Ser Myles," Suko named them, all smiles. "Ser Arron, is the Prince within?"
There were moans and grunts from behind the thick oaken door held by rusted hinges.
"He's within one of them," Ser Arron smirked at his own genius.
"Come back lat-"
"Move," Willam demanded.
"Stark," Myles frowned. "Alive, I see?"
"You owe me four dragons Myles," Ser Arron seemed to have 'won' some bet.
"I always come back," Willam scoffed at the man, repeating some old words. "Now move, or be moved..."
"I said come back later Stark," Myles huffed. He was tanned, shorter than Willam by a head; looking up at him bravely.
"OBERYN!" Willam decided to all but scream the Martell's name.
The muffled moans ceased at that.
"I think he heard you…"
The door opened with a creek.
Prince Oberyn wore nothing, all bare-chested and shameless, smiling like a madman.
"Stark," he eyed the wolf up and down. "You're awake, fine news; I'd told your friends that-"
The guards drew their steel as Willam swung, his fist smacking the dornishman square across his jaw and sending him staggering backwards.
"Peace now Manwoody," Suko had pressed his knife to Ser Myles throat.
Ser Arron had his blade to Willam's throat and eyes on Prince Suko's own blade.
"Manwoody," Willam smirked despite the blade to his neck. "That your nickname, or your family name?"
"Shut it," Arron snarled. "The fuck you up to Stark!?"
Growls answered as Flash barred his fangs and readied.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Willam's smirk never faded.
Prince Oberyn wiped some blood from his lip as his Paramore glared at them all.
"My love," she'd rushed over to his side, throwing the odd glance to his attacker.
"A fine punch," the Martell chuckled. "Is this how you Northmen say Thank You?"
"Queer custom that my Prince," Arron's blade pressed harder, sending a trickle of blood down Willam's neck.
"Release him," Oberyn commanded.
"But my Prin-"
"Do it," the Viper rolled his eyes and turned away from them.
"Charmed gentlemen," Suko removed his own knife, winking at the knights as he passed them.
Inside the room – warmed by a low-lit fire – there was a collection of clothes and velvets and silks covering the floor over an old rug.
"A drink?" Oberyn smiled at them, picking up a chalice.
"I think not," Willam snarled at him.
"Oh come now," the Viper laughed. "It's not poisoned, I assure you; what would be the point?"
"You fucking drugged me!"
The Viper's smile lessened somewhat, eyes watching the wolf as it sat by Stark's side.
"Your friend begged it of me," Oberyn sipped at his wine. "I owed a debt – the way I see it; saving your lives was the least I could do…"
"That wasn't your decision to make," Willam argued, diverting his eyes awkwardly from the others present.
There were three women in the room, laid out on the velvets and silks; two of three watched them from the floor.
Ellaria Sand stood without any hint of shame, naked as the day she was born with her arms crossed, still glaring daggers.
"Could you-" Willam diverted his eyes from them all.
"What's this!?" Oberyn laughed. "Stark can face down lions, but not naked women?"
"I for one enjoy the view," Suko commented, eyes canning Ellaria's body and darting to the other two behind her.
One of them giggled at him shyly and innocently.
As if she were truly shy. These dornish had no shame…
"How rude of me!" Oberyn declared, drowning his wine. "Allow me to introduce you to-"
"I have a tongue of my own Viper," one of them rolled her dark brown eyes. She made some effort to begin dressing, with a blouse that was very loosely laced…
"Oh, I'm aware my Lady," the Viper chuckled, pouring himself another glass.
"Myria Jordayne," she introduced herself as she dressed. "Daughter of Lord Trebor Jordayne and Heir to the Tor."
"And my name is Jynessa," the third one smiled suggestively, making no move to dress.
"She wants you," Oberyn rolled his eyes.
"I-" Willam blinked, unsure how to respond to that.
"Blackmonts," Oberyn shrugged. "They're fierce birds."
The woman beamed happily, all olive skin and shameless.
"We did not come here for that," Ashlyn was behind them, glaring daggers.
"You can join in," Jynessa smirked, scanning her up and down.
"I- I- That's…"
Oberyn burst into laughter.
"I'm going to hit you again Martell," Willam vowed, narrowing his eyes.
"The first one was free Stark," he dressed himself, pulling on his tunic. "The next one won't be…"
Willam huffed at that.
"Why did you do it…"
Oberyn's eyes locked onto his for the longest time.
"You would have died," he decided. "I owed you a great debt, to refuse would've been rude of me."
"I'll take that drink now," Willam sighed, the voices in his swimming too fast.
"Here," Oberyn passed him his own glass.
Willam thought about refusing, but then drank with a gulp.
Jynessa Blackmont pursed her lips and winked at them from across the room.
"You want vengeance," Oberyn eyed him carefully, placing down his empty cup and moving to kiss his paramour.
"Justice," Willam insisted, watching the man.
"I know the look," the Viper hummed in understanding.
Oberyn Martell had lost his share of loved ones, after all; the man's heart had longed for vengeance all these years.
"You robbed me of Lorch and Clegane," he declared, though he didn't seem wholly upset by the fact. "No matter – neither went peacefully, I've heard – and one remained for my own hand. I'd wished to drive my spear through his black heart, but… well… even I know that oft times certain things require a more delicate hand…"
"Tywin," Willam guessed. The Viper wanted the head that spoke the words, not just the hands that swung the sword.
"The very same," Oberyn smiled wickedly.
"We left Lord Tywin a parting gift," Lady Ellaria looked like a viper herself in the moment.
"Widow's Blood is named for its colour, a truly cruel potion; only a few drops in some wine and it will slowly shut down a man's bladder and bowels until he begins to drown in his own poisons. King's Landing will learn – if they have not already – that the great Tywin Lannister does not in fact shit gold…"
"He's dead then," Willam supposed. "That easily?"
"I wouldn't call it easy," Suko huffed.
"You played some role in this?"
"I may have known," the Imperial looked pleased.
"Prince Lóng has been most helpful," Oberyn grinned.
"You flatter me," Suko had moved over to the beckoning Jynessa.
"At any rate," Oberyn turned suddenly serious. "The majority of my fellow countrymen should be traveling through the Reach by now, if the capital has sent men after us – they'll find nought but Lords and Ladies there – as we are oh so conveniently missing. Still, we should move at first light… no wisdom in lingering…"
"Move where," Willam asked him. "And from where? I've still no idea where Here even is…"
"You're beautiful Princess did not tell you?"
"I-" Ashlyn scowled. "I am NOT a damn Princess…"
"Summerhall," Oberyn ignored her outburst entirely.
"At least what's left of it," the Lady Sand scoffed and rolled her eyes.
"At first light we head south, to Dorne; you'll love it my friend!"
Willam scowled at the news. "Why not turn North? Robb Stark still holds the Riverlands, does he not?"
"Ah," the Viper shook his head. "Lord Tarly is securing the Crownlands I'm afraid, we'd never have passed; and the Redwyne Fleet has seized the Blackwater entirely – but fret not Stark, with time you will come to love Dorne for all its beauty… and its beautiful women too, or men; we don't judge…"
"I have always liked snakes," Willam muttered, recalling the Emperors collection of the creatures.
He'd been given one as a gift all those years ago, with silver-and-black scales and shun in the moonlight.
"Snakes are quite charming creatures," Oberyn's smile was as the sun. "You have fine taste, Stark!
Willam needed another drink, or two, or a whole gods forsaken barrel. He wondered if they had enough wine.
The chambers they led him to were small, but in a ruin, one supposed you couldn't be too picky – it was one of the few with four standing walls and no great wholes in its ceiling. "Luxury," Willam named it with a scowl as they entered. "At least there's a bed I suppose…"
Flash found himself a spot to lay at the foot on the bed. It was anyone's guess when the wolf had last eaten.
"It looks ragged," Ashlyn saw the bed, squinting her eyes in the torchlight.
"I've had worse…"
He muttered a half-hearted "Mhmm" as he rested his sword and scabbard against the bedpost.
Frostbite – against the odds – had been gracefully liberated by Suko during their escape, along with its white-runed scabbard.
"Tell me about it," Ashlyn sat beside him and put a stray hand on his leg.
"I-" he recalled his first venture into the wastes…
All those tales had Aedan in them. The thought made him feel sick to his core.
He'd once stowed away in the hull of a merchant vessel heading for the outskirts of the kingdom, far from his father's reach; though not far that the man hadn't tracked him down eventually. In those grey wastes, he'd bene taken in by Aedan's father and his people. This room – however bare – was still better than any cave.
"I'm tired," he decided, laying back on the bed – lined by the dornish with fresh blankets.
Ashlyn frowned and held her tongue, moving to lay beside her prince and falling asleep in silence.
They rode with first light, south between fields yellow with oilseed and cornfields rolling in the wind. Some loaded carts travelled past them in the opposite direction, the smallfolk keeping their heads bowed and eyes averted from the strangers. One of the dornishmen rested in their rear wagon with a lute on his knee as he strummed nostalgic tunes, waving from time to time at the giggling lowborn girls wandering along the sides of the road with baskets and farming tools on their shoulders.
The land sloped gently down from Summerhall's highlands to a mosaic of flat even fields picked out in variously coloured crops. In the middle, round and regular like a leaf of clover sparkled, the deep waters of three lakes surrounded by dark strips of thickets. The horizon was soon traced by a misty red line of mountains rising above a green shapeless stretch of forest. The road led straight toward the lakes alongside dykes and ponds hidden by trees and filled with quacking ducks and birds of every shape.
The richness of bird life was far beyond the sign of men or women, aside from the odd villager or traveling merchant that passed them – the reeds by the lakes were tall and wild with set of nets and fish-pots poking out of the deepest waters of the lakes. Willam let go of the reins and let his mare snort at the roadside nettles.
"The day they hanged black robin, the air was clear it and still," the dornishman began to sing anew as they crossed a bridge over a small stream overgrown with water lilies and duckweed. "The day they hanged black robin, the autumn ground was chill." Cultivated fields stretched as far as the eye could see to either side of them.
"Rye's like gold to some folk," one of the Dornishmen spoke as they rode slowly. "A mounted peasant could hide in that andal corn…"
"Know much about farming eh my friend?"
The Dornishman smiled at Suko in reply to that.
"My mother is Delonne Allyrion," he said as if that explained a thing. "Lady of Godsgrace…"
The man wasn't dressed as a knight – none of them were in truth – on the road, they looked like sellswords at best; or bandits at worst.
"Fate of the whole realm depends on agriculture, so it's good to know about it," the Knight explained absently.
"The smallfolk gathered in the square," the would-be bard kept singing.
"It feeds the low and the highborn," Ser Ryon Allyrion continued. "Clothes us too, provides entertainment too…."
"The gallows there we set. Oh the smallfolk gathered in the square, the women never wept…"
"Entertainment?" Ashlyn asked the man, riding beside Willam and ignoring the bard.
"The gods above all knew his crimes," the bard plucked his lute. "The lord read off his list."
"Booze my Lady," the Knight smiled devilishly. "What's that made of?"
"Fair," Ashlyn supposed.
Barley was all but born to be beers…
She spied Flash laid peacefully beside the bard in their wagon.
"The gods above all knew his crimes, the men's hands balled to fists!"
"See those purple flowers," Ser Ryon pointed. "They're lupins, fast to grow; faster to use up…"
"They's be vetch, I'd think," interrupted Ser Arron with his sage wisdom.
"Thank the gods all House Qorgyle grows is sand," Ser Ryon muttered quietly.
"His legs they kicked and jerked then slowed, the crowd not once did cheer." The aspiring bard still sang his tune, plucking at his strings as they rode. "His legs they slowed then finally stopped, the crowd not once did jeer." The Red Mountains were growing closer now, as they passed through the sparsely forested hills.
"Damn it Andrey, sing something less gloomy – you'd think we rode to our deaths!"
"I'll never mourn black robin," Ser Andrey Dalt raised his voice sang more joyfully. "He killed my girl of four!"
It was Prince Oberyn to finish the song. "The day they hanged black robin, my son came home no more..."
Willam eyed the man silently, having never heard the song before. It wasn't long before they entered the woods.
The Dornish Marches stretched for a hundred leagues of grassland, moors and plains before the Mountain – it was scattered with hills and small valleys full of mist, littered with grassy glades and clearings of wind-felled trees; but to the south-eastern road laid The Marchwood, by far the largest and thickest forest in the Marches.
At a village aptly named Oaktown for its lumber trade, Ser Ryon went to letch them a fresh dressed lamb as they passed through.
While they were haggling, it seemed that Ser Arron surreptitiously stole some garlic, onions and carrots from a vegetable patch behind one cottage. As they were riding away, they'd also swiped a pot from the fence behind the smithy. Supper was to take place in a clearing further south in the forest. The fire crackled merrily, and the pot bubbled. Ser Ryon carefully stirred the stew with a stirrer made from the top of a spruce tree stripped of bark while another of the knights peeled the onions and carrots.
Ser Andrey, who apparently had no idea about cooking, played his lute and sang racy couplets.
After they'd eaten, they gossiped and laughed while Ser Andrey and Suko held a singing contest of a sort.
Willam lay on a makeshift bed of spruce branches with his hands under his head and thought how much Suko liked the sound of his own damn voice. He thought about Aedan. He thought about Ashlyn, too, the moment she was goaded into singing with the two would-be bards. Could she sing at all? He'd never cared to ask…
She picked up the lute and gave Suko a light smack over his head before she sat cross-legged on one of the toppled tree trunks.
"Dance upon the stars tonight," she sang shyly as the camp watched. "Smile and pain will fade away..."
It began with a few bars, from which an elegant and soothing melody emerged, as even the trees seemed to bend down and listen.
"Words of mine will turn to ash," the lyrics suited the melody, the words blending into music. "When you call the last light down..."
Prince Oberyn had already fallen asleep, with his paramour beside him; her head wriggled onto his chest – the dornish woman sighed maybe once or twice before she fell peacefully asleep. "Moon reminds me of your grace," Ashlyn's voice was more confident now. "All the love I can't repay…"
A young Edric Dayne sat by the fire, staring into the dying embers alone, quietly – the boy having fled with his Prince.
"Rest and know that I will pray," Ashlyn plucked the strings and sang beautifully. "Farewell my dear old friend…"
Willam hadn't even known she could play a damn lute…
Flash nuzzled up against him and drifted off to sleep.
"Moon, sun, all remind me of your grace…"
The embers crackled and faded. "Faith, care, all the love I can't repay…"
Willam fell asleep, hoping that his dreams would be quieter than his thoughts.
He opened his eyes and saw the sun, golden with distinct edges, high up above the treetops, beyond the veil of the morning mist. He stood up then picked up Frostbite in its runed scabbard, which was lying alongside Flash. Half of their modest little campsite was awake, already up and preparing for the road ahead of them.
The Wagwan was free, besides his supplies; so Willam muttered a swift "fuck it" and leapt in the back with the wolf. The bard could use his horse instead.
As they set off from the clearing the Dayne boy rode his mare alongside the wagon, shifting in his saddle uncomfortably.
"Something to say?" Willam didn't bother opening his eyes, laid up against a sack of what onions and carrots remained to them.
"I-" Edric was frowning ever so slightly at his own thoughts.
"I don't bite Dayne," he was told. "Much…"
"It's just-" the boy groaned in his frustrations.
"It's not your fault," Wilma hold him suddenly, taking the young lord by surprise.
"I-" Edric stumbled over his words. "What do you mean?"
"You've been sulking since before I awoke, haven't you little lord?"
He'd seen the young Lord of Starfar at King's Landing even, looking no better; his head always hung and his eyes tired.
"Is it that obvious?"
To him? It was glaringly clear, aye…
"Yes," he was too tired to soften the blow.
"I should have-"
"You'd be dead," Willam cut him off.
"You didn't even let me finish though…"
"I know that look," Willam's eyes opened and stared at him, with his pale blond hair and deep blue eyes.
They went around an overgrown bend then and the wagon jolted.
"I should've refused. I should've stopped it. I should've died with them…"
"That's-" Edric shook his head sadly.
The boy missed his knight and blamed himself.
"Madness," Willam sighed. "Look forward Dayne, never-"
They were suddenly, very quickly, surrounded from all sides…
Men in iron helmets, chainmail and dark tunics with yellows and blacks chequered on their chests; boasting an array of noble sigils.
They encircled them, but none approached or reached for a weapon. "Where from, and where to!?" One individual barked in worn-out, green apparel, standing before their party with legs set wide apart. His face was as swarthy and wrinkled as a prune. A bow and white-fletched arrows protruded behind him, high above his head.
"We've come from Oaktown," Prince Oberyn told him effortlessly from the front, dressed all in riding leathers. "And we're going home. What's happening here?"
"Royal service," the dark-faced individual said courteously, as though he had only then noticed how well armed his new friends were. "We…"
"Bring 'im 'ere, Jeric!" yelled someone standing further down the road. The mercenaries parted.
There was a fallen tree on the road, blocking the way with a tangle of branches. Long white splinters radiated from the partly-hacked and broken trunk standing in the roadside thicket. A loaded wagon stood before the tree. Two small, shaggy horses, stuck with arrows and exposing yellow teeth, were lying on the ground caught up in in the shafts and halters. One was still alive and was snorting heavily and kicking. There were also people lying in dark patches of blood, hanging over the side of the wagon.
Two men slowly emerged from among the armed men gathered around the wagon, to be joined by a third. The others – there were around ten of them – stood motionless, holding their horses. "What happened here?" Prince Oberyn asked, leaning forward on his saddle. A beady-eyed man in a short coat of mail and high boots gave him a searching look and audibly rubbed his bristly chin. He had a worn, shiny leather bracer of the kind archers use on his left forearm.
"Ambush," he said curtly. "Bandits did for these merchants. We're looking into it…"
"Bandits?" Ser Daemon Sand shifted in his saddle, looking tall and gallant.
"This close to the castle?" Ser Ryon, the bastard's father, shared his doubts loudly.
"You can see for yourself," the beady-eyed man pointed. "Stuck with arrows. They're becoming more and more impudent since the war started. You can't just venture into the forest these days; you can't even travel the road beside the forest no more. It's a terrible business…"
"And you," Willam had left the wagon on foot to ask, squinting. He'd left the wolf behind. "Who are you?"
"Ser Manfred's men. From the Blackhaven. We were serving under Lord Beric, but we went and got himself killed…"
The Dayne boy opened his mouth, but Willam nudged him hard, ordering him to stay quiet.
"Blood for blood, I say!" roared the beady-eyed man's companion, a giant in a brass-studded kaftan.
"Blood for blood! You can't let that go. First the King, and then the Lord, and now merchants. By the Gods, vengeance, vengeance, I say!"
"For if not," another said. "You'll see, tomorrow or the next day they'll start killing people on their own houses!"
"Jeric's right,' the beady-eyed one said. "And you, fellow, where are you from?"
"North," it wasn't exactly a lie, as if they couldn't tell near enough from his accent.
"And the boy? Your son, is he?"
"Aye," Willam agreed before Dayne could speak.
"From the North,' Brick frowned. "He looks pretty dornish to me…"
"Most of em do," another of them muttered, shifting uneasily on his feet.
"I'm returning him to his mother," Willam explained, shrugging. "You know how those dornish women are, eh?"
That got an eager laugh from the strangers.
"You've a couple of those with you I see…"
"Don't tell the misses," Willam forced a smile for them.
"How did the slaughter happen?" Oberyn asked slowly. "Did any of the merchants survive?"
"No witnesses," the beady-eyed one said. "But we know what happened. Our man Warren here, he's a forester, can read tracks like a book. Tell him, Warr!"
"Well," said Warren. "It were like this: the merchants were travelling along the road. And their way were blocked. You see that fallen pine lying across the road, freshly felled? There are tracks in the thicket, want to see? Well, when the merchants stopped to clear away the tree, they were shot, just like that. Over there, from the bushes by that crooked birch. There are tracks there too. And the arrows, mark you, all bandit work, must've taken the buggers by surprise…'
"I see," Suko interrupted, looking at the bodies. "Some of them, I think, survived the arrows and had their throats cut…"
One more man emerged from behind the group of mercenaries standing in front of him. He was skinny and short with black hair. One glance at his small narrow hands in short black fingerless gloves, at the pale fish-like eyes, at his sword and at the hafts of the daggers stuck into his belt and down his left boot was all Willam needed.
He'd seen too many killers in his time to not recognise one more instantly.
"You've a keen eye," said the black-haired man, extremely slowly. "Indeed, very keen..."
"That he does," said the beady-eyed man. "Tell others what you saw. Tell em how the Lords abandon their people…"
"Lords," Oberyn hummed. "You serve one, do you not my friend?"
Willam whispered "get on the wagon" to the Dayne boy as Oberyn spoke.
"What business is it of yours?' the black-haired man hissed.
"Oh, why so sharp right away?' the beady-eyed one asked, smiling foully. "We aren't out for a picnic, fellow, but on a punitive ex- ex-"
"Expedition," the black-haired man prompted.
"Aye. Took the words out of me mouth. So then go on your way, good Sers, we'll handle this…"
"Aaaye," the black-haired one drawled, looking at the Dayne boy. ''Twill be dangerous here, particularly with a young 'un…."
"Leave them be, Durran,' the apparent leader snarled, his wrinkled face wrinkled up even more. "Let them go now."
"Farewell then," the black-haired Durran said and waved them a lazy farewell.
"You have blood on your hand," Willam said pointedly.
"Ah," Durran said, raising his hand. "Indeed. It's their blood. The merchants. I checked to see if any of them had survived. But alas, the bandits shoot accurately."
"That tree," Oberyn nodded over to it from atop his horse. "Those strikes on the trunk – means it was chopped down… with an axe, I'd wager…"
"Indeed,' Durran said and glanced at Suko. "Oh, what a cleaver one you are Dornishman. Too clever…"
Willam had already seen his thin gloved hands creeping like a black spider towards the haft of his dagger. Durran hadn't taken his eyes off Oberyn all while Willam waited for the moment when the fool would touch his weapon, while the beady-eyed man held his breath and the Dornish all waited on edge…
His forearm slammed into the side of the black-haired man's head before he fell to the dirt, then Willam was standing between the fallen man and the beady-eyed man, with Frostbite hissing out of its scabbard, he whined it in the air, slashing open the temple of the nearest bandit.
The beady-eyed man, who was drawing his sword, leaped, but was not fast enough to stop the blows.
Willam slashed him across his chest, diagonally, downwards, and immediately taking advantage of the blow's momentum, upwards.
"Men!" The bandit's leader yelled at the rest, who were frozen in astonishment.
The forester sent an arrow flying but missed, nailing the wagon with a thud as Ser Arron cut down another man.
The remaining bandits ran over, clashing with the dornishmen, as Willam saw Prince Oberyn drive his spear through the chest of one fool.
"You!" the black-hair Durran yelled, springing up from the ground with his sword in his right hand and a dagger in his left. "You're mine!"
Willam spun around smoothly, turning to face him; saying nothing as he whirled Frostbite and stood his stance.
Duran wised attacked at once instead of circling his foe, leaping forward in two strides.
"He's better than the rest," Willam thought, working hard to connect with the killer's blade, avoiding the dagger's jab with a half-turn. He did not reply to the man's taunts, but leaped back, counting on Durran trying to reach him with a long, extended thrust and losing his balance. The killer was no novice, moving instead in a semi-circle with soft, feline steps. He unexpectedly bounded forward, swung his sword and whirled, shortening the distance between them.
The dust was settling around them, as Durran's friends were being cut down by the Dornish knights…
Willam made for a high feint which forced the killer to dodge. The man wasn't half bad – for a mere bandit at least.
Durran was hiding one hand with a dagger behind his back. Willam did not attack, did not move in, but moved in a semi-circle instead, skirting around him patiently. "Aha," Durran drawled in frustration, straightening up. "Shall we prolong the game? Why not? You can never have too much amusement!" He leaped, spun, struck, once, twice, thrice, in a rapid rhythm; a cut from above with his sword and immediately from the left with a flat, scything blow of his dagger.
Willam did not disturb the rhythm; parried, and once again circled, forcing the killer to move around.
"Every game," he hissed through clenched teeth, noticing how he was now surrounded. "Must have its end…"
The killer was watching his shadow, waiting for it to reach his opponent, indicating that he had the sun in his eyes.
"Stop playing with your food Stark," Suko scoffed at him from the side, his sword bloodied as Flash ripped out one bandit's throat.
Willam stopped circling to make the killer's job easier then, wholly tired of playing with the man.
The killer leaped, keeping his balance by extending his dagger hand out sideways, and struck upwards.
Frostbite shot forward, deflecting the blow and shattering the frozen and brittle iron into a thousand pieces.
In a flash, Willam slashed the man across his left cheek with the tip of his icy blade.
The killer staggered, grabbing his face before another slash immediately opened his neck.
Durran the Killer bled profusely, dropped to his knees, bent over and fell headfirst onto the dirt.
"R- Run for it lads!" one of the remaining bandits was fleeing, stumbling and sprinting away from the fight.
He stumbled, staggered, tottered forwards and fell on his face, with an arrow sticking out of his back.
Arrows flew from the black shadows of the forest with a whistle and a hiss. They flew calmly, their fletchings sighing, it seemed as though they picked up speed and force as they struck their targets. And they struck unerringly, scything down the fleeing bandits, knocking them over, inert and mown down like flowers hit with a large stick.
The few who survived the first volley rushed towards the horses, jostling one another. The arrows continued to whistle, catching up with them as they ran, hitting them as The bandits, terrified, spurred their horses, but the arrows flew unceasingly and hit them, knocking from their saddles among the hoof-falls and neighing of the horses.
And afterwards a silence fell over the forest. Little Dayne's head popped up from the wagon, eyes scanning the scene…
The bandits hadn't stood a chance – even under-armoured as the dornishmen had been – their castle-forged steel and skill had easily bested the fools; that no doubt they knew would occur given their leaders intent to let them pass. They'd been targeting merchants… and up close it had become clear they were Not merchants…
"Is it over?" Dayne asked, jumped out from the wagon and rushed over to Willam's side.
Frostbite was bloodied, but Edric witness the crimson freeze on the blade and seem to seep into it.
"Fools," Willam cursed, sheeting his icy blade into its scabbard as the wolf pawed its way over to his side.
"That was bloody well fought Stark," Ser Myles commented, with nought but a light cut to his cheek that trickled blood.
Ser Ryon was worse for their struggle, with an arrow in his shoulder and his bastard son tending to him.
"He was showing off," Suko huffed. "Don't encourage him, Ser."
Ser Myles chuckled at that to smother his nerves.
"I'd hate to see him being serious then," he said with a smirk.
"Lord Dayne," it was Prince Oberyn to see the boy.
"My Prince," little Edric bowed his head. "I'm well…"
"I'm glad," the Dornish Prince smiled genuinely at the lad.
"Are bandits common here?" It was Ashlyn to ask, sheathing her own sword.
"War brings out the beast in men," Oberyn commented with a scowl. "It is common enough Princess…"
"I'm not-" Ashlyn sighed and didn't bother to argue.
"Who shot the arrows…"
Suko's answer came from the treeline.
"Peace," the archers leader held up his hands. "We're not your enemy."
"They said much the same," Willam motioned to the litter of felled corpses.
"My name is-"
"Ser Roy!" Dayne knew him well.
"I'll be damned," the man known as Roy muttered.
"It is good to see you again Ser," Edric beamed happily.
"And you little lord," the Knight accepted the boy's quick embrace.
"Lord Dayne," Oberyn pried. "Introduce us to your friends, will you?"
"Oh," Edric shifted awkwardly. "This is Ser Roy, he is… was Captain of the Guard for Lord Beric…"
Ser Roy frowned at mention of his old, dearly departed lord.
"Gods keep him," he said sadly. "You're well though, my Lord?"
Edric nodded. "I am, thanks to Prince Oberyn and Prince Willam and Prince-"
"A story I'm sure Ser Roy can hear on the road," Willam sighed at the enthusiastic boy's story.
"Gladly," Ser Roy grinned. "If you'd follow me, gentlemen? Lord Monfred would be happy to have visitors, I'm certain."
Willam let the injured Ser Ryon sit in the wagon with Flash and instead nudged his horse with his heel, riding straight ahead with Ser Roy and his company of men, heading down the road at a steady pace. It wasn't long before they laid eyes on the black banners speckled with stars and purple forked lightning bolts.
Blackhaven was high up against the northern most reaches of the Red Mountains, built from black basalt; its walls were modest but strong with a seemingly bottomless dry moat. House Dondarrion had repelled countless invasions from Dorne to the south from these walls. Now though, they would house a Dornish Prince.
The castle of the Lightning Lords was modest but clearly formidable atop its perch on the mountainside, overlooking the Marchwood to the north and north-east with the River Wyl and the Boneway to its southern border; from atop Blackhavens tallest tower a man could see the castle of Wyl itself on a clear enough day – an enemy of the Dondarrion's that to this day remained as hostile and disagreeable as they'd ever been. None but the men of Vulture's Roost had ever given them such trouble…
Inside, the keep of Blackhaven was a dreary place in truth; all black stone and black banners with flashes of purple and white stars on every wall.
They'd passed through a small town simply named Haven before reaching a long winding path that led up to the castle proper, not so narrow that their wagwan and horses couldn't ride up – yet narrow enough that any invading army would find themselves showered in arrows from the castle above their heads.
Ser Roy's black-and-purple cloak bellowed with a gust of wind and the guards greeted his arrival friendlier than they did the Dornishmen.
"Sorry about this Lord," the Knight said awkwardly. "We've all been on edge since the war – with the Yronwood's still guarding the way…"
"Anders is a harmless old man," Prince Oberyn offered with a knowing smirk.
"Forgive me Prince, but even if that were true; the ten thousand men at his back surely aren't…"
Oberyn's brother had ordered the two main passes into Dorne sealed since the onset of the war. They weren't the only passes, but they were the largest by far…
Through the courtyard Ser Roy led them into the keep, where great doors awaited; opening onto a modest hall with pillars and long black-stone tables filled with knights and men-at-arms alike who turned to witness their entry. A great many trophies hung along the walls along black-and-purple banners, the heads of elk and bears and one impressive bronze-gold shield and spear hung behind Blackhavens high-chair at the back of the great hall.
On that chair sat a man with a stern face, leant forward; he looked all too similar to Lord Beric with his red-gold hair – except this man looked unruly, with a black surcoat boasting the purple lightning of his house – there was a certain cold look in his eyes as he watched them enter.
"Ser Roy," Lord Monfred greeted warmly, despite his questions. "Who are your guests?"
"It's me Ser," young Dayne stepped forward then, all smiles in his greeting.
"Lord Edric," Dondarrion stood from his seat and his tone shifted instantly. "By the gods lad, you're alive!"
"We found the little lord and his companions not a few hours ride from town my Lord," Ser Roy explained politely to his liege. "Some merchants were set upon by bandits on the road north to Oaktown. They bit off a deal more than they could handle this time though…"
"That they did," Lord Monfred clasped Edric's shoulder. "You're always welcome here Lord Dayne, but who are your friends?"
Edric shifted somewhat before answering. There wasn't an eye in the hall that wasn't judging them, for nearly all looked very Dornish.
"I owe them my life," he began swiftly, keeping his head hung and eyes down at the black-wood floors. "Lord Beric- he... he ordered me to accompany the Prince instead of following his own example in the capital. He said… that I had my whole life to live, and he made me swear on my honour..."
"Prince, you say?" Manfred's eyes locked on the Dornishmen.
"Prince Oberyn Martel," the red viper bowed theatrically as Blackhaven's court stilled.
Lord Monfred retook his seat at that, suddenly guarded once more by the viper's name alone.
"Prince Oberyn," the Lord of Blackhaven narrowed his eyes at the viper in his court. "You, are less welcome..."
"Oh," he tried to look disappointed. Willam only scoffed at the mummery. "Why is that good Lord?"
"Ordinarily the boy's word would speak for you well enough; but these are not ordinary times..."
"We are not your enemies," the Viper smiled innocently at that.
"The host of ten thousand men on my borders would disagree with you..."
"Would they?" Oberyn shrugged. "I'm not so sure, my Lord. Is it a crime to defend one's land?"
"The realm is at war, times are dangerous," Ser Arron added with a smirk. "In Dorne we do not stand idle and leave our roads undefended…"
The lord scoffed at that notion and the man who spoke what was at best a poorly veiled insult. "My brother took our best with him to King's Landing and left us with far too few fighters, but he was loyal; said the King needed our full strength and that he'd get no less... thus I'm left with fresh recruits and old men…"
"A loyal man your brother," Oberyn could admit that much at least.
"A fool," Manfred frowned. "I loved him though, you understand. He was my brother. My only brother..."
"We've all lost much to the Lannisters," Willam told them then, breaking his silence.
"And you are, Ser? Not a Dornishman clearly..."
"Prince Willam Stark..."
Lord Monfred blinked, and his court was awash with whispers.
"We heard you were dead," the Lord doubted. "Word reached us of the trial; it was said Willam Stark fought the Kingslayer..."
"Another took my place," he answered with a scowl. "Prince Oberyn- well, he..."
"Saved him," Suko finished oh so helpfully.
"Drugged me," Willam all but growled, as the wolf beside him did in truth.
One of the courtiers shuffled away from the beast, muttering about Starks and Direwolves.
"Crows and Ravens," Suko shrugged. "My friend was too wounded to fight, so we fled; to fight another day."
"And what of our friend, Aedan?" Ashlyn was frowning at them. "What of him?"
"He," Suko paused. "He knew the risks and faced them well, there's no shame in that..."
"He died bravely," Prince Oberyn agreed. "Fought well, for what it's worth."
"It's worth little," Willam finished abruptly. "I'd rather he not be dead at all."
"And you two are, exactly?"
The Lord looked down at them with a scolding father might his children.
"I am Prince Suko Lóng," the man bowed respectfully. "This fine lady is Princess-"
"Ashlyn," she interrupted him. "Amber – not a damn Princess."
Lord Monfred sighed up on his high seat. Nothing was ever simple these days, it seemed.
"Not one or two but three Princes in my court," he felt a headache coming along. "Times are strange, are they not? They'll grow stranger still I fear..."
"We're returning to Sunspear," Oberyn announced happily, with no true reason for any mummery here. "It has been a long and exciting road, good lightning lord; if you'd see us off then I could certainly put a good word in with Lord Yronwood. Dorne is not the enemy here…"
Monfred narrowed his eyes at the viper without an ounce of fear in his dark eyes.
"You think I fear Yronwood?" The Lord of Blackhaven almost chuckled. "Do you see the shield and spear above my chair, Prince?"
It was golden and gilded bronze-and-gold. Almost princely.
"A fine set indeed," Oberyn did see, all too well in fact. He knew the story.
"It belonged to one of your ancestors, did you know Viper?" Dondarrion looked at them as if he expected violence from the dornishman. "Some foolish Dornish Prince thought he could invade the Stormlands through the Marches and up the Boneway back when it was still ruled the by Stormkings of old. He did not fare well..."
"I am not him," Oberyn didn't seem phased. "No more than you are your own ancestors, My Lord..."
The Lord flashed between anger then calm; appearing then vanishing like a lightning strike in a night sky.
"No," he said. "We are not those men. Those men would kill each other, no doubt – for they did in fact. Your man was bested on the field and mine was felled by poison from the very spear atop my head now... neither won in the end I suppose… not truly…"
"Poison is a potent weapon in the right hands..."
"Aye," Monfred sighed. "I've heard as much..."
The air had down thick and awkward with tension.
"Tywin Lannister is dead," Dondarrion cut that tension with a knife. "Had you heard? Not a day past we received word, the old lion, found dead on the privy."
Oberyn's grin had never looked quite so deadly.
"That is… such a shame to hear My Lord..."
"Is it?" Monfred scoffed. "No need to play coy, Viper, we've our differences but you'll not find a soul here weeps for such a man."
"Good riddance," Ser Daemon mumbled. "Bloody murderer…"
"I do wonder if he shit gold in the end," the Lord of Blackhaven got comfortable in his chair. "I'd wager not, no? Potent weapon... poison..."
Prince Oberyn only smiled wide and innocently at the man before him.
"As for you Prince Stark," Monfred turned his attention. "A merchant galley docked with us earlier this morning. He spun quite the tale..."
"What tale is that my Lord?"
"The Redwyne Fleet is no more..."
Oberyn raised a brow at that unexpected news.
"The merchant was stopped by a blockade of what he named 'monstrous ships' flying Stark colours... among others he didn't know..."
"And what of Dragonstone, my Lord?" Oberyn pried quickly, eager to hear more. "It is under siege still?"
"Home to this new fleet, according to our merchant friend – his vessel was seized and turned away; to hear the man tell it."
Dragonstone had fallen and the Redwyne Fleet was no more? Now, that was new that made the Viper grin wide and hungrily.
Lord Manfred gave them bread and salt then, as servants in black-and-purple hurried out with plates for the guests to partake of; the lightning lord welcomed them into his home and spoke of venturing down the Boneway as soon as time permitted. "The shorter your visit the better," he'd claimed, not wishing to be known as the Marcher who hosted a Martell Prince within his walls… no matter how practical his own view was, there were many who still clung to ancient blind hatreds…
The moors and plains and forests of the Marches were soon behind them. Ahead laid the Boneway, a major pass that ran through the Red Mountains connecting Dorne and the Stormlands. The pass was officially named the 'Stone Way' but enough armies had perished trying to invade that the locals had given it the honor of another title.
"This is where we leave you," Ser Roy had escorted them to the border atop his black destrier with a company of knights at his back.
"Our thanks Ser," Prince Oberyn sat atop his own horse as the Lightning Knight pulled on the reigns of his steed and galloped off with his fellow knights, with their black-and-purple clocks fluttering behind them. Willam sat atop his own horse – dressed more fittingly for the weather ahead – all in light with little padding for protection.
It was chilly, by the border, but Oberyn insisted that the weather would take a sharp turn the further south they passed through the mountains ahead.
Willam's tunic was purple with black, as the Dondarrion's seemed to have very little in the way of any other colours on hand.
"Wrong colour," the Martell Prince had complained about all the dark clothing.
He'd muttered rather loudly about how Dorne's enemies never showed up dressed for the weather.
It wasn't long before a party of dornish scouts approached their own.
Oberyn pushed his horse forward into a gallop to meet them halfway, taking only Ser Mysles and Arron with him.
"My Prince?" The lead dornishman recognized him atop his sand steed. Slimmer and swifter than any andal warhorse.
"The one and only," Oberyn greeted with a wink, darting his vision up to the nearby mountain walkways looking for hidden archers.
"Who's your friends?" The young man asked. "We're under strict orders to-"
"This is your Prince," Ser Arron snarled at the scout.
"I-" The scout shifted in is saddle. "I know, it's just that-"
"We're returning home good man," the Viper's smile was wide and dangerous.
"Of course," the scout nodded frantically.
"Follow us my Prince," another scout motioned, gripping his steed's reigns tightly.
Lord Yronwood's host was camped in a wide valley not an hour's ride from the border, through narrow rocky passes in the mountains of red rock and sand; the further south they ventured the dryer the air seemed to get. "Not used to the heat eh Stark," came the taunt from Ser Arron.
"I spent years in sand and caves and amidst desert," Willam countered easily. "It reminds me of home, Ser…"
In truth, the Outlands were a cold place. Dorne seemed more akin to the Empire the further they travelled.
Reaching the Boneway Valley, they looked down upon banners of tan-yellow and gold and orange and sky blues – all camped below in the thousands – they'd passed more than one scouting patrol on their way here, for no man knew this land so well as the Yronwoods knew it. Prince Oberyn led them onward, to whatever awaited ahead.
Flash seemed almost a home with sand beneath his paws, the wolf sniffed the air and growled at every scout they passed.
"Smell that air Stark?" Suko asked, sitting atop his steed as they rode through Yronwood's camp.
"It's sand Suko," Willam largely ignored the man.
The Imperial smirked happily though.
"It's like being home again," Lóng exclaimed gladly.
"Too many rocks," Willam argued dismissively.
"Bah, such a damn critic – it's close enough Stark!"
Two men stood guard by Yronwood's tent, armoured in leathers and light sand coloured plate – they dipped their heads with a muttering of "Prince" as Oberyn neared and passed them by without a single word, moving the flap of the tent aside with a wave of his hand.
Willam fell in behind the viper alongside the others, noting how Ser Daemon halted outside with Flash.
"Prince Oberyn," a man with sandy hair and blue eyes greeted them when they entered.
"Lord Anders," Oberyn nodded to the man and pulled out a chair for himself at his table without being asked.
Ander's Yronwood was a tall man at well over six-feet, heavily muscled and stern with his gold-and-black trimmed plate armour.
In the ancient days, the Yronwood's were royalty – still clinging to their title of Bloodroyal even now – the ancient kings of Yronwood had ruled near half of all Dorne before the Martells forced them to knee at spear-point and sent their ruling king to the Wall in chains of gold.
"You're late," the Bloodroyal muttered his reply.
"Am I?" Oberyn smirked. "It was quitter the adventure, my Lord."
"Your company arrived at Fowler's host in the Prince's Pass. You were not among them…"
"Clearly not," Oberyn huffed at the dull observation.
"My Lord," it was Ser Ryon to bow his head then. "Is my wife well?"
Yronwood's blue stormy eyes snapped to the Allyrion at that.
"My daughter is well enough," he hummed. "Welcome home, Ser…"
"Glad to hear it my lord, and to be home of course."
The Lord of Yronwood didn't seem all that happy a man.
"Some troubles on your journey were there?"
Ser Ryon shrugged with his bandaged shoulder.
"Nothing we couldn't handle," he waved it away.
"Who are your companions?"
Yronwood's eyes fell upon them all.
"Prince Willam Stark," Oberyn introduced him, pouring himself a cup of Dornish Red to drown his thirst.
"A Stark?" Anders squinted. "Here? What are you playing at, Martell?"
"Me?" Oberyn looked innocent. "Play? Never!"
"Martell drugged me and-"
"Saved him," Oberyn interrupted.
"-dragged me from the capital."
Yronwood scoffed. "That sounds about right…"
Oberyn muttered something about 'grudges' too low to hear.
"Well," Lord Anders sighed, grabbing the jug of wine on the table and moving it away from Oberyn as if he were a child. "You'll be eager to move on I'd wager, or am I wrong? Prince Doran will doubtless want to hear of your little… adventure… of that I don't doubt."
Oberyn rolled his eyes at that, placing down his empty cup.
"That he will," he agreed with the man. "Might you have-"
"-a ship?" Yronwood guessed. "Aye, you'll have one – safer that way…"
"Our thanks My Lord," Oberyn bowed theatrically, smirking like a fool. "You've been ever so helpful…"
Lord Anders only huffed at the viper and waved them away at that, much too busy for Oberyn's antics.
It was safer and faster to travel by sea from Yronwood's port town than it was to go by land – or so Oberyn claimed – even as he lamented that he would not get to travel amidst the sands quite yet; singing praises of how beautiful Dorne's vast sea of sand and dunes were under moonlight. The sea would be kinder to them, they hoped…
My Note(s): It feels nice to be back to writing Willam even if he's being a little more reserved than his usual self, it's interesting to write about the countryside and give some details to the Reach/Stormlands and especially entering Dorne; it's a region of Westeros that doesn't get nearly enough love in stories if you ask me. Yronwood is a house I personally love too (and Dayne of course with young Edric present) that's really neat. Dorne as a whole is honestly one of my favourites… shame HBO ruined it…
You'd think with the worlds love of "strong women characters" that they'd have been drooling over Dorne, but nope, wasted potential :(
The next chapter with Willam has him arriving at Planky Town then onto Sunspear to have a little chat with Prince Doran Martell.
FractiousDay: I felt it was fairly obvious, there were multiple hints through several chapters. The most glaring being how Jaime refers to his opponent as Stark but at no point do I describe him as Stark or Willam or as a Direwolf and then Jaime's reaction is not what's expected. Plus, in a later chapter Bran sees "a grey wolf fighting a golden lion" that's very clearly not Will, who would be a Black wolf not Grey. Then all the 'news' you hear is hearsay from sailors/merchants that's hardly reliable.
Bran also sees "another wolf pacing angrily in the shadows amongst ruin and ashes" that is, in hindsight, clearly Will at Summerhall… and maybe more…
Awais6121: Harrion Karstark & Manderly would still be prisoners with what few others live, while I considered having them freed it's already a touch convenient that they were able to free Flash and Frostbite and neither would be as guarded as the Black Cells. So for all intents and purposes, they're still captives of the Iron Throne.
Unixfan: There were many hints across multiple chapters, not everyone caught onto them – that's fine, plenty didn't too – these things aren't supposed to be done solely for shock value. As GRRM said once: If you write the whole story as "X did it" and you change it midway to "Y did it" just because someone figured out it was X who did it, then you ruin the story (looking at you HBO) and for example; aliens could arrive in Westeros. Nobody is expecting THAT! "Subverting expectations" is lazy writing.
246vili: Tyrion was in the wrong place at a very bad time. Rodrik's not one for flowery words, where he comes from you kill your enemy especially when that enemy has already spilled your own blood – even if he does learn Will's alive – they still killed Ned and captured Will and killed/fought against people of the Sunset Islands.
Dave: I'm honestly not sure what you mean by "getting off at some weird stations" that's a saying I've never heard. Glad you enjoyed the chapter tho lol :P