I do not own the song used. It was sung by Jen Titus and used in the show "Supernatural".
Here is the time-skip everyone wanted, probably not how you wanted it, but it's the thought that counts.
I'm pretty sure I answered everyone who had a question in the reviews. If not PM me and I'll try to answer you promptly.
In my opinion, GoT has been spiraling the drain since Season 4, which probably resulted in my lack of inspiration. However, the fantastical way the series crashed and burned was like getting repeatedly kicked in the nuts. I hope my muse becomes inspired because of it.
If you liked the way the series ended, that's your choice. The above statement was just my opinion.
Favorite, Follow, and leave some love in the reviews.
5th Moon 290 AC - 8 Moons later
20 Leagues South of Shandystone
"I still think this is a foolish use of your newfound wealth." Oberyn sighed as his steed moseyed along the banks of the Greensblood River. Their trip was planned moons ago. Countless hours of logistics, negotiations with innumerable merchants and craftsmen, and Oberyn complained just as long.
He wished Harry would've been a regular young man, spent his mound of coin on something frivolous; horses, women, or trinkets. But, as Oberyn should and did expect, Harry had to go and do something altruistic.
The Healer of Dorne sought to revitalize Shandystone, a holdfast that had been abandoned almost a hundred years ago when the only well had gone dry. Oberyn had seen it long ago, passed it by in his youth. He knew there was ample reason for it to be forsaken.
But no manner of telling Harry would change the man's mind. And so, he, Ellaria, his eldest daughters, and a dozen Martell guards accompanied Harry to the small settlement that had started to take root twenty leagues south of Shandystone. They were mostly sheep and goat herders with a handful of craftsmen who hoped to build a life once the holdfast had been rebuilt. Nothing special. Yet, with their retinue, people would've thought it was Kings Landing.
He would've been remiss to not notice how his family's own regal regalia. He in his copper scale and the women ostentatiously cloaked in flowing silks, gems, and golden chains. But that was hardly strange. Harry and his men, Obara included, went against their convention, made grand by the combined minds of Tohbo Mott and Maegar.
The Kheshik looked as close to a uniformed army as Oberyn could remember seeing. Knights in their own right, they forsook their heraldic markers in favor of their master's; the circular metal plate at the center of their plate-and-maille armor a blazing black sun on a golden field. They abandoned their individuality. Not only referring to themselves as 'we', but wearing metal masked tattooed with rhoyesque patterns attached by a hinge to their fluted-turban helms and golden robes with painstakingly painted patterns in black. And every single one rode an unblemished pale sand-steed.
If their brightness and the metal masks they wore did not draw enough stares from passersby, the fact they looked ready to make war against the world did. They wore flatteries of Harry's sword and double-curved warbows on their left, saddle axes and short cavalry-quivers filled with thick meter-long arrows on their right, with misericordias, their dragonbone shields, and metal lances.
And Obara and Harry were no less laden.
Despite how strained their relationship was, Oberyn couldn't help but swell at the visage of his eldest's stern countenance through her open aventail and nasal guard. Clad head-to-toe in traditional Dornish copper, the pattern on her robes and sashes in fiery red, Obara was the apple of Oberyn's eye. It wasn't a good practice to favor one child over another, but Obara was the one daughter Oberyn no longer worried about. She had seen war and come back stronger; her honor intact.
As if Oberyn could not be happier, he was gladdened by the fact Harry, for once, looked his part as a lord and sentimentally incorporated pieces of his old armor into the new. His plates were golden, his maille polished to shine like silver, black silk robes whose golden pattern was loomed into the fabric instead of painted. The circle on his chest held the women of his old gorget. His helm was the same fluted turban, golden and his aventail covering his face like fine silver Myrish lace, only his eyes visible through eyelets.
The grandest part of Harry was also what Oberyn was most proud of because Oberyn was the cause for it. Harry had given him a shield of great value, with a story that the young man knew related to Oberyn greatly. And though Harry damn-near reviled gaudy garnishment, Oberyn had returned the favor in a fashion true to himself.
The blackness of dragonbone was cut in half by gold. A scene of Queen Nymeria and her people as they dauntlessly walked away from their burning ships, smoke and fire filling the sky. It was a production that took the goldsmith an entire moon to complete, but the wait had been worth it. The people of the Rhoyne looked ready to walk right off the shield.
Oberyn wanted Harry to know beyond all doubt that no matter where he had come from, where ever he would go, just like Queen Nymeria and her people had millennia ago, Dorne was his home now.
"And as I have said before," Harry's words floated through the maille on his face, "your brother has mandated that I am only to make the initial investment. Part of teaching you to be more responsible is that you must find investors to finish it or risk ruling over a hovel."
Ah, yes. His loving's brother's…how did Harry put it…teachable moment. Create an almost impossible scenario, thrust it into Oberyn's hands, and be there to see him fail. His brother and Harry may say otherwise, but that was how Oberyn saw it.
"Where am I to find such people? What collateral do I have to offer for the grand sum I would need?"
"There are plenty of money-lenders in the world." Harry replied with much more patience than Oberyn would've had in his place, especially given the amount of complaining he'd done. "What about Braavos?"
He clamped his teeth together to keep from squeaking his question. His throat closed and Oberyn stared hard at the hard and cracked ground ahead. With deliberate slowness and careful measurement, he hoped he was not suspiciously slow to ask, "Braavos?"
"Yes," Harry agreed, "You are always saying how I should see more of the world and have talked extensively about the wonders of Braavos. Seeing as they also happen to be the largest money lender in the known world, it seems fitting."
Oberyn knew he was the sort to fly off at the mouth, say whatever crossed his mind or what was on his heart. He had always thought it a positive.
Until that moment.
Because it was true what Harry had said. All of it. And he cursed himself for digging his own grave.
"If an adventure is what you wish, then I hardly think Braavos is the place to go. It is barely across the sea. We should venture somewhere more exotic, more spectacular!" Oberyn flamboyantly waved away the idea, using the large movement to turn away. "Besides, to borrow such a large sum from the Iron Bank would require a majority vote of the keyholders. Just to be granted an audience would take days, then days more of talking, days more of voting. The very thought is enough to give me a nosebleed."
"We do not venture for adventure's sake, Oberyn. Where else can we go that could afford to lend a large sum without demanding your soul in collateral?"
He was careful. Willed his brain to reason faster. For Oberyn knew…he would have to sell it as if he were selling ice to a Wildling.
"Volantis." He threw out. Just as sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, Harry's gaze hardened and snapped towards him.
"Volantis?" Harry derided. "You'd consort with slavers?"
"Come now, Harry. You are not naïve." Oberyn chided, even as his heart raced in his chest, "You or I cannot stop slavery in Volantis any more than we can stop slavery in Yunkai or Astapor."
"That does not mean we must associate ourselves with them." Harry snorted.
"True," Oberyn agreed, wiping away the sweat that slicked his brow, "however, we should not negate an advantage because we disagree on a principle."
"Advantage? What advantage?" His former squire asked.
Still in the den of the beast as it were, but Oberyn could not help but feel a sense of accomplishment. It was not every day Harry asked a question for the sake of not knowing. Oberyn would've patted himself on the back were he not still in a precarious situation.
"Nymeria's mother is a rather affluent member of the Tiger Party in Volantis." Oberyn said smugly. "I am sure I could persuade her to vouch for me."
"And her husband would have no issue with her former lover coming to ask for a favor?" A deaf man could hear just how asinine Harry found the idea. "Not to mention how Ellaria would feel."
"We, obviously, would travel under guise." Oberyn smiled as they fell into a familiar byplay. He turned back towards the middle of their caravan, "Nym! Would it not be the most joyful affair to see your mother?"
Nymeria jerked her head to him, like a deer who'd just heard a twig snap, confused and cautious, "I...suppose so."
"Of course it would," Oberyn affirmed, before turning back to Harry, "You wouldn't deny a daughter reuniting with her mother, would you?"
"Oh, how noble of-" Harry began only to stop.
He was sure he had a witty quip on his tongue. Something that would've given them both a laugh or a derisive snort. But anything else came to a halt when Harry's horse came to an abrupt stop.
Oberyn knew it was an evil thought. Villany at its finest. He would wear such condemnation like fine gold chains. But seeing the tan, cracked ground spotted with black soot, the overturned wagons, and torn tents Oberyn knew that Harry's mind would be in the present. Far from Volantis. And ironically, further away from Braavos.
From afar nothing had been amiss. It was just an upstart hamlet. A pedestrian effort by those who were searching for a better life. At a distance it was just one giant brown blob. So unassuming that even the gray smoke trails that drifted into the sky would not be out of place. It was not until they were close enough to make out the details did the true travesty become known.
Their drab, brown tents were torn and frayed, some littering the ground like blankets carelessly tossed aside. The smoke that could very well have been from numerous hearths were the remnants of a dying blaze, overturned wagons and what they had contained used for propellant. Bodies lumbered, loitered, and laid lifeless, too broken in body or spirit to do anything other than move aimlessly and stare into the nothingness. She did not need to have experience or even a mind for battle to know what had transpired.
They were her people. Their plight should have revolted her, riled her anger. And, it did, but in a way she did not believe was right.
She pitied them, but that was no fault of her own. The gods had given them their lot in life, relegated to being serfs and commoners. But, they were her people and that was what angered her.
It stirred her ire that someone had the gall to attack them. For an attack on Dornish sands was akin to an attack upon her person. And heads have rolled for less.
"Go." Harry was the first to act, ordering his men in Rhoynish. The rest, herself included, were still too engrossed at the carnage. At his word all but two of his Kheshik spurred their steeds forward like a charge down the tilt into the encampment. "Seax!"
From the very rear of the columns a single rider in robes just as drab brown as the settlement galloped.
Arianne knew of their nobility, but all those who looked upon them would never have guessed. She knew it was to humble them, to keep their mind solely on their tasks of medicine and healing. It was why they wore nothing of their family name and were given nothing other than bows, considered commoners weapons in the North. The hauberks and simple swords they carried lacked adornment and were bought with coin from their families. But, for the nothing they were given, Arianne had never seen such happier young men. Present travesty excluded.
"Assess injuries and set triage."
"Yes, master." The hooded blonde boy nodded and rode off to pass on Harry's orders.
It wasn't a competition. She would never seek to clash against her betrothed, just as she hoped he would never stand opposite of her. Furthermore, she knew that it was morally reprehensible to capitalize on the tragedy. But, Arianne knew she could use the situation to her advantage.
It had taken a while to figure Harry out. Time to put the puzzle pieces together. A length of time that would normally be unacceptable, but she blamed her sex-addled mind.
At first, she thought him interested in another. Then, her mind dabbled in the possibility that Harry was simply not interested in the pleasures available from the fairer sex. But, she now knew he had no issue physically. After, the worst possible scenario, was that he truly was like Baelor the Blessed and that his holiness extended far beyond Dornish comprehension. Finally, and Arianne refused to believe anything else, she had realized Harry thought her immature.
He had experienced so much in such a short life. The siege of his home, his sacrifice for the sake of peace in a war not his own, and a small war that she would argue also had nothing to do with him. All of this before he was even truly recognized as a man.
How could he not see her as anything but a little girl? What had she ever experienced in comparison? More importantly, what had done to show maturity?
This may not have been the ideal moment, but it was a moment and it was up to her to grab unto it.
"You there," she rode up to the most coherent looking husk, "tell me of what has happened here."
The older woman tilted her head up, gaze blank. She looked, but didn't see. Frankly, Arianne was sure the woman didn't care. For she certainly threw out propriety, negating not only the separation of their station, but casting her stare elsewhere.
"They came in the night," her voice croaked from soot and smoke, "took the younger girls and our supplies, killed the men who stood against them."
"Who?" Arianne pushed past the facts she already knew.
"Bandits. We know not their name or from whence they came." The older woman shrugged, almost as if she did not care, before raising a gnarled and wrinkled finger towards the center of the camp. "But you may find out from them."
Her uncle nodded towards their House guards, who rode around people like they were equestrian poles. They took the ropes holding bedraggled men to a stake and dragged them towards Oberyn. Literally dragged, as Arianne did not think they could walk properly if their life depended on it.
"You managed to capture a few?" Her uncle asked the woman.
"No," She said, monotone in her despondency, "They were the few that just managed to survive."
"I see." Oberyn dismounted, strutting that cocky predatory strut he had. Though he kneeled down, face to face with one of the barely surviving bandits, there was no mistaking who stood atop their food chain. Only the predator could play with their food, "And you? What should be done with you and your kind? Hm?"
To their credit, what lack of intelligence the criminals had in attacking the settlement, shone through when they refused to answer her uncle's obviously rhetorical question.
"What say you, Harry?" Oberyn turned to her betrothed, still sat upon his pale steed, gazing down from behind maille imperiously. It bothered her that her uncle automatically turned to him. It shouldn't have, considering Arianne knew which of them was wiser. But, it did. And her nose scrunched at the thought. "Surely you must have some penance for them to pay? A fitting punishment for their crimes?"
"You speak for your brother in his absence. And these will be your people one day, Oberyn. What do you think is a just punishment?" Harry rebutted.
"Humor me. Consider this a...what did you call it, 'teachable moment'?" Her uncle grinned.
The maille on his face could not hide what Arianne knew. She did not need to see to know that Harry cocked his brow and stared down his nose, just as he always did when someone thought they had him in a corner.
"If that is the route, then should you not ask the future ruler of Dorne?" Harry deduced, much to her surprise.
Yes, she had been hoping for an opportunity. But, she did not think Harry trusted her wisdom enough to supply her one.
She calmed herself, stared straight ahead to give away nothing, give no sign of weakness. Not to her uncle, not to the bandits, and certainly not Harry. The last thing she needed was for him to think she was not up to the task.
"Fair enough," Her uncle conceded, standing and looking up at her, "Well, what is your judgment, Princess?"
Here was her chance.
Arianne threw her leg over her horse, settling both sandaled feet on the ground. She would look these...outlaws on her own two feet, stand eye to eye with them just as Oberyn did, as Harry would. Not that that would be difficult considering her mother's heritage. But, they would not see fear in her, see her judge them from so far even if that was her place.
"Tell me where your companions are." She commanded. They did not all sneer or glare at her with derision. Even from a cursory glance Arianne could see there were a few in the dozen who at least contemplated confessing immediately. They all would eventually. Carrot or stick, she would have them give in to her. All that mattered, to them at least, was how much they would go through before spilling their secrets.
But...Harry was watching, hallowed in gold and black so bright and yet so dark standing next to his white steed. With her back to him, without catching him at the corner of her eye, Arianne knew. It was perhaps not the only thing that tempted her to give the carrot first, for the gods knew none of the criminals merited mercy. However, it was a very close call.
"You all know the punishment for your crimes. I will look favorably upon the first to tell me what I wish to to know." She offered, keeping her eyes keen for any sign that one would break. And, they all did waver, however slight. They knew the consequences and death, even a quick beheading, was nowhere near the worst of them.
However, for the weakness that was there, none broke. Impressive if it were not so annoying. They were making her look bad.
Arianne schooled her features into what she prayed was a combination of reluctant sorrow and turned over her shoulder to Harry. She hoped it conveyed that she did not want to push it further.
Because it was true.
Not because she cared about their lives, but because their trip was supposed to be an adjournment from Sunspear. Not as beautiful as the Water Garden perhaps, but Harry was supposed to be enjoying himself… and her. Arianne did not wish to spoil the mood by prolonging such dirty business, but she also knew Harry wouldn't just let her free them of their heads. So, she had to go through the silly business of pretending to care that criminals were going to die.
The things she did for love.
"I see," She sighed, her eyes closed, "then, guards-"
"Wait!" came a wail from the very rear of the gaggle. A man struggled from his place at the back of the group. Dirty and beaten, he moved with purpose, eyes wild and desperate.
This was her traitor.
She held her hand, both to calm the dissenters, who grumbled and hissed at the man to keep his mouth shut, and her guards who rushed forward to intercept him.
"But you must grant mercy." The man spoke quickly. It was all Arianne could do to not strike him with the back of her hand for his insolence. He should be so lucky she hadn't buried them to their necks in the desert, allowing snakes, insects, and carrion to pick at their flesh.
But, again, Harry was watching.
"Not for me, Princess. For my family." The man again rushed his words past her own. Arianne could feel the vein pulsing at the corner of her crown. It was only slightly more furious than the temper which desired to spill from her like lava.
But, she had to admit, it was ever so slightly noble of him to think of his family when it was his head that was at stake. Sweet even. It wouldn't save him from her, but it was still sweet.
"I cannot speak to what magnitude my sufferance will extend," Arianne began, quickly throwing her palm in front of his face to shut him up. If he interrupted her again, she would be able to speak to what sort of mercy he would receive and it would undoubtedly be one he did not appreciate, "however, know this, if you lie to me, your cries of mercy will fall upon deaf ears."
She allowed him a moment to think on her words. Why he would need them, she didn't know. The answer was so simple to her.
"We were not always this way. We were decent folk once."
Arianne did not roll her eyes, regardless of how she wanted to. She didn't allow her impatience with his soliloquy, though she was quickly reaching the end of her rope.
Everyone had a story. His was not the first she had heard and it wouldn't be the last. Thousands of children became beggars, thousands of women became prostitutes, thousands of men left their families to provide. Such was the fact of life. However, they did so within the confines of the law of the land in which they resided.
That was what separated the 'decent folk' from the outlaws.
"This is a harsh land. The air arid, the cracked ground more barren than-"
"I have lived here my entire life." Arianne was the one to interrupt him. "I need no introduction to it."
"Have you Princess?" The man posed. "How can you know the land when you live so far above it?"
His gall was shocking. The audacity of his question was so great, he could not have offended her more if his insult had been blatant. And, honestly, he should have just done so. He was going to receive the same amount of her ire. Given her audience, it would just have to be subtle.
"'Heavy is the head that wears the crown'. Do you know why that is?" She asked, invading the man's space. Seeing his confusion and hearing a lack of response, Arianne answered him so that only he would hear. "No? Well, you won't need to worry about it if you continue to waste my time. Understand?"
"Yes, Princess." He gulped.
"Now, my beloved is watching. So, look contrite and speak your peace or I shall have a septon speak peace over you." And she dared him, dared him to do anything to the contrary. Let him attempt to embarrass her. Let him think to circumvent her will. She would allow him for the moment, but Harry would not be watching forever.
"I cannot tell you, but I can take your men there." He said.
"Did I just not say-"
"I will not lie to you." And her twitch came back at the interruption. "I wish to at least attempt to convince them to turn themselves in. And I pray to the Seven that you Princess, will take that into consideration or speak consideration when we are being sentenced."
Arianne did snort then, unladylike as it was. He must have thought her a moron. If he really believed she was just going to let him warn…
"We shall accompany him." Harry said.
By the grace of all the gods, of-fucking-course he would, it was only just that Arianne resisted pulling strands of her hair out by the roots.
Everyone, herself included, could see the situation for what it was: a trap. Leave it to Harry to think the best in humanity. His trusting nature was going to get him killed one day.
"My love," Arianne forced a smile so saccharine it would make any who looked upon her ill, "you are needed here with the injured."
"Seax, Aden, Russ, and Entan are able, and your guards are needed with you and your family." Harry reasoned.
"But, Harry we are supposed to be-"
"I know." Harry interjected. He stepped in close, his eyes all the more prevalent with his face concealed by his maille. His hand reached out to cup her cheek and even gloved, Arianne leaned her cheek upon it, cupping his hand with both of hers. "Who more than I do you trust to do this for you?"
Were she not so satisfied in his touch, Arianne would've glare at him for the low blow. And, though wish as she might wish differently, the gods knew she was weak.
He damn well knew she could not deny him. What would she not give him if he but asked it of her. Even if he was to wander into the desert, where countless had disappeared, guided by a man who Arianne trusted just as far as she could spit. And, as a lady, she did not spit.
Damn him for his bleeding heart.
Damn her for loving that about him.
It was with that very same heavy heart that she sighed, succumbing to his wishes...as she always did.
But...also as she always did...
"You are undoubtedly going to make this up to me, Harry."
He had not lied.
Once upon a time, Azim had been a good man. His entire family had been good, law-abiding denizens of Dorne. They tilled their barren patch of earth, paid their taxes, and gave tithe to the small stony sept in their village.
But that was a time ago. Before the deaths of those close to them for lack of. Before life had turned them just as harsh and craggy as the land they once had harrowed.
Even then, Azim did not like the taking of life. He and what remained of his family were thieves, that much was true. But, contrary to the opinions of nobles, there was a large divide between thievery and murder.
He could have ran. The primal side of him screamed to do so. It was extremely simple to fundamentals of survival; surrounded by predators equated to running far and fast. They had left his feet and hands unbound. If only to lead them farther away, to give his family more time to possibly run deeper into the desert, towards the mountains to discourage mounted patrols.
But, Azim was not in the mountains and the open desert was no friend to a man on his feet. Especially, when those around him were mounted on sand steeds. No scholar but even Azim knew that he would not make it a step before he was stopped, perhaps permanently.
No, his best course was to warn his family, beg them to return with him and petition for mercy. If it was death they received, hopefully it would be quick. If their punishment was worse, their fate to waste away on Ghaston Grey, then at least they would be alive. Say what people would about the Dornish, they certainly were creative with their retribution.
They traipsed to their destination in relative silence. From the hard, fractured dirt to the shifty sands, the only only thing to break the impending feeling of death was the Healer's light singing, his golden warriors humming in accompaniment...ironic as it was.
"O' Death, O' Death, O' Death, won't you spare me over another year? But what is this that I can't see, with ice cold hands taking hold of me. Well I am death none can excel, I'll open the door to heaven or hell. No wealth, no ruin, no silver, no gold, nothing satisfies me but your soul..."
His back teeth ached at each stanza, his jaw already growing tired from how hard the muscles clenched. The words were ominous, but it was the humming that disturbed him. A hum that came from deep within their chests, but impossibly so, and rattled the bones in his skin. Azim could not lead them fast enough.
"We are here. Just over this dune." He said, finally feeling a modicum of relief as the thrumming in his head had stopped.
The Healer barely tilted his over his shoulder and a golden warrior ushered his steed into a sedate walk. That was one less set of eyes upon him, leaving only a dozen that made him wish for the ground to swallow him whole.
It only took a few moments for the warrior to return, giving his report in Rhoynish, and only a few more moments of consideration before the Healer turned to stare in his direction. It only took a moment for Azim to realize it was not him, but the sky the Healer looked to. Following his gaze, Azim knew that if he were not in the situation he was, Azim could have marveled as well.
The sky looked alive in its splendid color. An amalgamation of angry reds and oranges, with belligerent purples and blues. As beautiful Dornish night. For a hot temperament was just passion, better than the indifference and death of darkness.
"Go, speak to your people. Convince them of their folly." The Healer instructed. "You have until dusk."
He needed little more prompting than that. With purpose and haste, Azim beat his feet upon the desert sands. No sooner did his eyeline make it over the hill did he see a sight for sore...everything.
A thousand paces away was home. A camp that looked any other; tents, open fires, and people milling about. Many were still celebrating the good 'haul' they had just taken.
It disgusted him. The taking of people. Kidnappers, slavers, the lot of them were the scum of the world.
Azim had started as a man who had worked with his hands, lived by the sweat of his brow. He hated the high-born for that reason. They lived off the labor of others, never getting their hands dirty themselves.
It was through that hatred, through his disgust, Azim sprinted as if hellhounds nipped at his heels. He was never much a runner, but with his injuries it took an eternity for him to bypass the drunk sentries and make his way into the center of the celebration taking place.
The sounds assaulted him first. The raucous and boisterous laughter accompanied by wailing and despair. A small part, a part of him not yet hardened into granite felt for them. But, Azim did not have time to waste. They would be rescued soon enough. Instead, he hysterically called out to his brothers.
"Fahim! Nasir! Sharif! Walid!" He turned, head snapping this way and that. To his dismay, over his shoulder the sky darkened steadily, only the glowing of the campfires aiding his search as he grabbed man after man to stare upon their faces. He found them so far away from the celebration, their grim and despondent expressions dimly lit by the bonfire.
"Azim!" His youngest brother, Walid, called joyously. His other brothers not far behind to rush to him. "How did you escape?"
"I didn't." Azim admitted. Understanding instantaneously dawned on them.
"You brought them here?" Fahim asked, eyes and mouth wide in disbelief. "You've betrayed us all?"
"I've saved our lives. We never should have taken the women."
"We didn't. Tomas did." His brother Nasir shifted blame. Of course it was true. They did not steal people.
They stole supplies and food, using what they needed and selling what they did not. Azim and his family never dealt in flesh. However, they had not stood against Tomas, and that made them just as culpable.
"It does not matter." Azim hushed the excuses and blame they heaped upon him. "We go now to Tomas. I will tell him that if we surrender, we may yet keep our heads."
"He will never go for it." Walid snorted. "Our numbers are good and we know the land better than any noble. Tomas will insist we lead them by the nose into skirmish after skirmish."
"As we should." Fahim stated. "I do not agree with what we have done, but we chose him as our leader for a reason."
Azim sucked at his teeth. He knew they were right. Both that they had selected Tomas as their leader and that the robber knight would chose battle over surrender any day. Tomas valued glory over his own life, let alone theirs. Such was the failing of a man who had spent had spent all his time around those who could disregard the life of those under him.
Azim had no such compunction.
Want of glory was not what put food in their stomachs. It was not what warmed them at night. Glory was certainly not going to save them. Mercy and humility would. And even if others would consider him a coward or if he had to live with his humiliation until the end of his days, Azim would gladly do so if it meant his brothers were spared.
"Then, we will surrender alone." He said.
"I am no coward! I will not run!" Came the predictable reply of Walid, youth shining through his beardless face.
"It isn't-" Whatever he was to say, whatever excuse or reason Azim could have given never came.
Like a battering ram to his chest, the toll of a battle horn unlike any other rent the air. The sound was celestial for how it stole his breath from him, quicker than any blade could. It would forever be a permanent scar in his ear, for its note struck deep, stirred fear deep into the marrow of his bones.
There was no build up, no dramatic posturing. They came over the dunes like the gates of all seven hells, escaping for the sole purpose of hunting them. What had taken Azim an eternity to cross, they did so in a breath, the hooves of their steeds crashing into the ground like thunder. They rode undaunted and unflinchingly, stampeding past the rocks and javelins slung at them. In one fell swoop over a dozen men were sent to their graves, their dying scream muted by the lances impaled into their chests.
Then, they were gone again. Like the wind, there may not have been any proof of their presence, if not for the destruction they left and the fading sound.
"We must help!" Azim was quick to grab Walid's wrist so hard it may have broken.
"Do not be a fool!" He whispered harsh enough to be heard over the growing commotion. "Keep your head down and you may yet keep it."
The prisoners were the smartest among them, swiftly throwing themselves to the ground, curling into themselves, and staying absolutely still. A moving target drew the eye and the last thing anyone wanted was to earn the attention of the phantoms. Azim grabbed the brothers closest to him and dragged them down.
Tomas had hastily donned a hauberk, waving the sword in his hands while screaming at the men around him. Four dozen, but only a handful were robber knights as Tomas was. The rest were thieves at best and barely beyond beggars at worst. They certainly were not trained nor equipped as professionals. A fact made evident when the pale herd made their next pass.
It wasn't as direct, but the damage was no less immediate. They were little more than streaks of white, orange, and yellow hard and hurried as they fleeted in the firelit night. And as far as they were, their reach was sufficient.
Men stood defiantly only to fall. Fifteen loosed arrows and fifteen of those Azim would've once considered companions were slain dead. Then, they were gone again. Round and round they went, Azim and all of his kind none the wiser of where they went or from where in the darkness they would come.
He saw the shock and panic on his brothers' faces. They were right to be frightened. Men were dying like sand gnats. Falling like puppets with their strings cut.
Say all he would about the high-born, about their callousness and lack of souls, it made them extremely gifted at killing. Tomas and they could've been a hundred strong and the Healer and his fourteen warriors would have still run through them like shit through a goose.
But two of his brothers were more headstrong, stupider than he was and chose to rise to the impossible challenge of stopping charging horses. With pikes or spears, they may have had a chance. But all Fahim and Walid had to their name were their cludgeons and pride. And when they stood against the charge of the Healer with his axe held high, Azim knew they were as good as dead. Either the Healer split their skulls like firewood or they would somehow kill him...in which case they would all be royally and truly fucked.
"No!" Azim exclaimed, bolting to his feet. He knew the likelihood of saving them and surviving was nearly impossible, but he didn't care. Azim threw his body against his brothers, knocking them over to the ground, substituting himself in their place.
The axe crested, the glint like moonlight as it swiftly descended upon him. Azim prayed the quickest prayer he ever had, kissing goodbye whatever the future held in store.
Yet, it did not come.
Pain did, but by grace, not his end.
The axe had come, touched his crown, and melted away; flowing almost as if ashamed to touch him. But he was not unsoiled. A sharp sting followed by a gush of red filled his eye. And, he was unashamed to admit, that from both fear and relief, neither were his garments.
But what did Azim care?
They were alive.
He fell to his knees, too weak to do anything else and breathed his first real breath. A breath not encumbered by doom. His mind knew that the future may still hold such a fate, but for now they lived.
The same could not be said for Tomas and his ilk. Arrow ridden, maille split asunder, and so savaged they barely looked human. They died as they never wanted to live; on their knees, looking up at those who had handed them their fates.
Azim turned away, gazing instead into the darkness. There he was, the shadows parting for him. Golden armor and white steed still impeccable, shining with fire. And Azim knew, knew beyond all doubt, he would be judged.
And the words came back to him.
"Well I am death none can excel, I'll open the door to heaven or hell."
7th Moon 290 AC
He stood atop the battlements, watching the ship arrive from the south. Merchant vessels, they bore no sigils, but Stannis knew it was his brother. The Dornish ships were brightly painted with lewd figures and silk streamers. It stood out amongst the other incoming and docked ships ferrying those that Stannis sought.
His daughter, his heir, Shireen, had been infected with greyscale. It had started as a fever, nothing to be concerned about Maester Cressen had assured him. Then, the dry skin. That had tickled Cressen's curiosity, but again, the man had assured Stannis that it was not too uncommon in babes. However, when dry skin turned grey and cracked to the point of bleeding, everyone knew it was time to be concerned.
Deep down, Stannis knew he should have immediately sent a raven to Sunspear. He should have entreated his younger brother to look at his daughter even when he had believed it was nothing. But his pride...his damnable pride.
Stannis was the elder. He was a lord of his own keep and of those lords of the Narrow Sea. At the Summer Sea, it was his tactics that crushed the Iron Fleet. It was he who delivered the Ironborn Houses on Great Wyk on bended knee. All these things, all these accomplishments, the grandness, the greatness, and Stannis could do nothing to protect the most important person to him; his heir.
It was vexing enough to have Robert look down on him, his elder brother was at least king. Renly, his youngest, would never amount to anything significant. He was much too fickle, his fancy as fleeting as the wind. As charming as Renly could be, he did not have the fortitude to be anything more than a lord for young women to swoon at, twirl around at parties with, and a summer knight whose wars took place at the tilt.
Harry was different. Everyone who had ever met him knew it. His view of the world was...unorthodox.
Part of him wanted to hate Harry. His younger brother who was always there to put Robert in his place, always there with a compliment, a hand on the shoulder, or a hug when Stannis's blood boiled from this or that. Always the calming voice, the voice of reason, the voice which entered into the mind and spoke greatness into people.
And Harry had spoken greatness to Stannis, believed in him far more than some fathers believed in their sons. He had been the older brother Stannis had always wanted. The one to not only lift him up but put him in his place whenever he steered off course.
That was why it burned Stannis fiercely to call upon him. All his efforts, all the words spoken between them, what did it amount to? Nothing. For all his resources and power, Stannis could still do nothing but call upon the brother.
"My lord?" Ser Davos Seaworth called from the tower a respectful distance away.
Stannis looked to him, to where he looked upon the sea and automatically gripped at the phantom pains of the lost little finger of his right hand; a gift from Harry, a mercy from Stannis.
"Are we prepared?" He asked.
"Yes, my lord. Appropriate accommodations have been made. We all await your command to depart."
At his nod, they departed. The servants awaited at the bottom of the stairs alongside his lady wife, who all fell in line. It was larger than perhaps Harry would appreciate, but propriety dictated such things when meeting a congregation of standing. Why a Prince of Dorne, his ilk, and the Future Ruling Princess felt the need to tag along was a separate question. One Stannis didn't feel the need to ask as his brother was already doing him a favor.
For what could Stannis rightly offer Harry that he did not already have?
In a way, he envied his brother's ability to do good deeds for the sake of doing a good deed. The gods knew there were times that Stannis wished himself able. But there were infinite good deeds to be done and his resources were finite. It was a losing battle and Stannis hated losing.
They made it just on time. The Dornish procession were making their way off the ships, servants offloading trunks of possessions and gifts, which was possibly the nicest thing Stannis could think of. He kept his lips tightly pursed lest his other opinions about them be known.
Just like their ships, aside from a patch of hooded brown men, they too were brightly colored to the point of flamboyancy. Silk and lace flowed from man and woman liked cascading waterfalls, with the metal scales and plates of the guards looking like copper and gold coins. The men's robes bore their chests and the women...well, the less said about their lack of modesty the better. He could not count the number of times his wife, Lady Selyse, had gasped aghast.
How his brother put up with such shocking disregard to decency Stannis would never know.
However, if there was one person he knew could handle it with dignity, it would be Harry. The gods knew what debauchery would've taken place if Robert had been fostered in Dorne. The man was already rumored to have a bastard in every kingdom.
Chin up, chest out, hands behind his back, Stannis nodded his head cordially to the incoming Dornish party. His mind quarreled with itself when Harry was at the helm rather than the socially superior Prince Oberyn, or even Princess Arianne. His eyes shifted between all three, unsure of the proper protocol.
"Oh, stick to what you know, Stannis. You'll burst a vein otherwise." Harry chided with a small smile and a gleam in his eye.
On any other, Stannis would've thought it smug. On Robert, he would've known it was some slight. But, from Harry, it was his way of loving them. Because if Stannis were not dear to his brother, Harry wouldn't have bothered joking and playing with him.
"Prince Oberyn," Stannis nodded to the Dornish prince, "Dragonstone welcomes you."
"Thank you," Oberyn nodded back, "my sister spoke highly of this keep's beauty. It is bittersweet to see her stories were not exaggerated."
Stannis clenched his jaw, squinted eyes having nothing to do with the noonday sun. He counted to ten, just as Harry had taught him to do to curb his temper and keep him from saying things he may regret. Well, things Harry would regret him saying at least.
It didn't always work.
He was halted from returning the barb by Harry forcefully clearing his throat. Both he and Oberyn turned to the younger man. Stannis knew that look. It was the same one he gave Stannis and Robert during one of their tiffs. The same expectant look their father used to give them.
"Yes, how rude of me," Oberyn spoke first, saving Stannis from the humiliation of offering condolences or apologizes, "to hinder the reunion of siblings."
Stannis ground his teeth harder. He could feel the vein in his neck throbbing, pulsing as anger thumped at his heart. As far as Stannis was concerned, the Prince had pushed beyond the bounds of acceptable courtly manners. If Oberyn were not Harry's guest, Stannis would've had him thrown back on his ship. However, there was only so far Stannis was willing to go for his brother.
"Stannis." Harry swept past Oberyn, nodding his head as a sign of respect to Stannis.
"Hadrian." Stannis returned, only to get another forced throat clearing. He would've grumbled if it were not so undignified, before reluctantly re-greeting, "Harry."
His brother opened his arms. Stannis meaningfully swept his eyes to the people around them. Harry countered with a raised brow and a knowing smile. Not knowing that Stannis would cave, but that Harry would stand there arms open until he did.
The people waited, waves crashed, and the wind blew. Stannis hardened his eyes to convey his message, but his brother just stood. Patient and waiting, as if he could have stood there an eternity. Stannis knew he probably would and allowed himself the abase gesticulation of rolling his eyes before surrendering himself to Harry's embrace.
No sooner did his brother's arms wrap around him did Stannis remember why he hated Harry's hugs. They were filled with warmth and love, and Stannis positively hated it. He hated how his brother made him feel so human, made him feel like no one else bothered to since their parents.
Harry wanted the best for him, expected the best from him, but still loved him for all his faults. Stannis, human as he was, cherished it. Yet, Stannis also hated the weakness that it was...hated the power it gave Harry.
They separated partly. His brother smiled comfortingly at him, eyes full of concern. Harry's eyes roamed over him, taking in his features and said, "You haven't been take of yourself."
It needn't be said. Stannis knew he hardly looked the portrait of health. His present situation was the cause of many sleepless nights and days of frustration.
There were the countless maesters and healers. Grown men of such intelligence, but little common sense to propose such procedures for a babe that Stannis could hardly keep himself from beheading them. On the other hand was the Faith, who blamed sins of the soul for the corruption of Shireen's tiny body.
All of their answers, all their condemnation led to one conclusion.
"I should have sent for you sooner." Stannis confessed, words thick as they left his throat.
"I am here now. That is what matters." There was no blame, no criticism, no vilification. Harry just kept smiling as if there was nary a thing wrong in the world.
Stannis's shoulders sagged, an unspoken of, unseen, and abstract burden was taken from him. He was the one to hug his brother to him that time, chin on top of Harry's head. Any onlooker may have thought otherwise, but regardless of their disparity, it was Harry that comforted him. It was Harry that reassured him.
And he hated himself for needing it.
Two weeks later…
At the flicker in the corner of his eye, Harry's hand lashed out, fingers wrapping tightly against rough, threadbare robes. Russ's half-lidded eyes widened like he'd been given a hot lash, hands immediately going clasping at Harry's own and to the desk in front of them.
"Um...I…," the young man stumbled and stuttered, before dropping his chin to his chest, "I'm sorry master."
Looking upon his face, it was impossible to be angry. Just from his eyes alone, Harry could see the soul-sucking exhausting. The dark circles under his eyes made him look older than his six-and-ten years young. Sky blue eyes were muddied, dimmed even as the candle shone on them like moss skimming the top of a lake.
Harry imagined that was what they all looked like. Haggard from the sleepless nights, early mornings, their noses numb to anything but the dust, and their fingers roughed from the thousands upon thousands of pages turned. Harry had read so many tomes and scrolls and manuscripts in so many different languages even his own private thoughts were a confusingly jumbled amalgamation.
He moved the scrolls and books away, before patting Russ on the shoulder, assuring him that it was fine.
"Um...master?" Russ hesitated, almost ashamed. Harry looked to the boy, then to the rest of his apprentices, all of whom wore the same tired, confused expression.
"You're speaking Ghiscari, master." Aden was the first to point out.
"Since when do you speak Ghiscari?" His brother snorted.
"I never said I did," Aden retorted, "but I know what it sounds like."
"Of course, you do." came the verbal eye-roll from Seax in the corner.
"You wouldn't know Ghiscari from Dothraki." followed Entan.
"I do too!" Aden snapped, launching an argument between them all on the nuances of language between cultures who live in close proximity or regularly interact. It would've been both amusing and interesting to Harry, were it not for the reason they slaved away in the library. He may have even joined in, provoking one side against the other to make them think rather than accept the status quo.
But one thing he wouldn't do was begrudge them their moment's respite. The few moments over the last few weeks which they thought of something other than an alternative cure to greyscale. A hundred better men than they had tried and failed.
"Now, boys," Arianne strolled into the room, "if you all can't play nice, I'm going to send you to your rooms without supper."
Servants followed her in carrying trays of food and pitchers of water and wine, noticeably all Dornish. More importantly, he did not miss how her hands were empty until it came time for him to be served. Nothing for many, but he knew it was her way of showing how she cared for him.
Noble women did not carry out the tasks of servants. But for him, Arianne poured his wine and set his plate, knife, and fork. In return, he held the womanly curves of her body close to his and planted a kiss so close to the edge of her lips the serving girls gave poorly hidden giggles.
"You missed midday meal." Arianne attempted to scold him. Much of the tartness was lost in her nuzzling into his chest. "Not to mention, you have not spent more than a few moments with me since we've been here."
That got Harry to blink blanky a few times.
"You do understand-"
"I understand what you are trying to do and I do not mean to be crass, but would your time not be better spent sitting by your brother and looking upon your niece in these moments?"
"Is that where you've been?" He asked in surprise. There obviously was no love between Oberyn and Stannis from the beginning. Harry would not imagine the same feeling from the rest of his party. He was unsure if he was more surprised or awed that Arianne had put that aside to give his family comfort in their time of need.
"Of course, I know what family means to you." she replied tenderly, reaching up to stroke his cheek with her thumb. "Your brother may be a sour, old cuss who wholeheartedly deserves his big eared, shrill shrew. But your niece is innocent."
He and those around him shared a small laugh at Arianne's description. Too many, Stannis was a sour, mean man and his wife was a shrew. There were just few who were willing to admit it aloud.
"Besides, there are no books on how to cure greyscale. Maesters gamble with limes and poultices, while septons swear that prayer is the answer." Arianne said before scoffing, "they don't even know from whence it came. All stories and myths."
Like a lightning strike, there it was.
The answer he had been searching for.
Arianne was both right and wrong. There were no books on how to cure greyscale. But it did give him a better idea of where to search.
"You're brilliant!" Harry seized Arianne and spun the princess around, he cackling like a madman and she shrieking as if she didn't enjoy it. No sooner did her slipper-clad feet touch stone did Harry press crushed his lips to hers. "I have to go and see to something."
"Wait! How am I brilliant?" She reached for him as he hastily retreated into the halls, spinning past servants with his guards and apprentices quick on his heels.
It was as Arianne had said. All they knew about greyscale was myths and stories. And what did Harry know to be true about myths and stories?
They were not always just stories.
He blamed his lack of foresight on the castle. The former seat of House Targaryen was said to have been built with dragonfire and arcane magics. It explained how the dragonlords of old were able to melt their blackstones into statues that no mundane hand could tool. And while the magic to have made the keep was inert it held enough magic to throw off Harry's senses. A sort of magical static.
However, that deadzone was not strong enough to interfere with her.
"Perfect timing," Harry smiled, "I was just about-"
"Stop this." She commanded, no trace of warmth or mirth. If he did not already intimately know her presence Harry would've thought her an imposter. But, just as he knew her, she knew him. It was impossible for him to heed her...suggestion.
"No." came the simple answer. He would've walked away from her if not for the fact that everyone would've thought him capable of teleportation.
"This is beyond you." She warned.
"Greyscale is beyond me?" That was partially insulting.
"Tangling with gods." She enlightened him. "Even a piece of one."
"Greyscale is a god?" He asked.
"Stop being deliberately obtuse!" Her voice resonated into his soul, his bones rattling within his skin. "She is cursed. You knew that as soon as you stepped out of the library."
"Are we not both being obtuse? You know who I am, what I will do. It was why you chose me. So, do not stand there and ask me to go against the very principles that you chose me for." Harry simmered.
"Not this! What you are attempting to undertake is beyond your ken!"
"Then explain it to me," He ground out, knowing it was no use getting into a shouting match, "I am quite bright."
"Merlin, Godric, Helga, name who you will, do you know why - for all of your kinds deifying of them - they were never truly considered gods?"
Well, that was new. Harry hadn't ever considered that. And, the wizarding world certainly did think of Merlin as a wizard apart; someone whose magic was on a different plane. They even said his name as a substitute to idioms such as 'Jesus Christ' or 'God', even though both are historically older.
"No." He admitted.
"It's because for all their power, for all that made them special, they were still mortals. They had mortal vices, weaknesses, and could still die like mortals. They could still be killed."
"Are you saying gods cannot be killed?"
"Of course they can. Anything that lives can die." She sighed forcefully, perhaps sick of repeating that very same line, "But gods...at least the gods here...they are spirits, primordial things given an image due to worship."
"So...humans created gods?" He asked, his face twisted in confusion at the circular logic. That certainly gave a new meaning to the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.
"Yes and no." She replied, for the first time that Harry could remember, being cryptic without intention.
"But gods...they are essentially humanized."
"They may have qualities associated with humans such as feelings and emotions, but make no mistake. These are not magical creatures like giants and dragons. They are spirits woven into the fabric of nature. Everything is...turned to a thousand."
There should have been many things about that revelation that bothered him. At the very least, brought up more questions. But with his niece's life on the line, Harry only drew one conclusion.
"Then...that means it can be reasoned with."
"Are you kidding me?" She gawked. "That's what you took from that!"
"What would you have me take from it!" He finally succumbed to his anger. Others he could understand. Others he could forgive. But she knew him. Better than anyone else, she knew. Yet, she sought to dissuade him to the contrary. He was not a man easily insulted, but she managed it.
"My brother's only daughter lays in her crib as we speak, dying! The maesters want to experiment! The septons blame sins she is not old enough to have accumulated! If this is a product of the gods then what the fuck else can I do but reason! You've already made it clear I do not have the power to battle them!"
"She's mortal! That's what mortals do, Harry! They die! " She exclaimed. "I brought you here to help save the world, not one life!"
That much was true. Harry knew that. Because from all her admonition, he knew that should he go through with his plans, it very well may be his last act. And, while he knew death came to all men and Harry was not frightened of it...dying painful concerned him quite a bit.
But who would he be if he did not at least try? Was that not what he had done his entire life? Just tried.
"With me or against me, I am doing this."
His nostrils flared, chest heaved, exhales came ragged and already his throat was hoarse. Call it folly, call it arrogance, call it whatever you damn well please, but there was one thing Harry could not do.
Which is what she said and did; nothing. No witty retort, no comforting remark. Her fingers curled into her palms, fists so tight she should have sweat blood. But, nothing, not a sound. She twirled, turned her back to him and vanished, casting him out of the ether.
"Khagan?" Obara asked him, the luminous color of the ether world giving way to the orange, red, and yellow that bounced off the black walls.
"On." He rasped, gathering his bearings. "We go on."