The Vacillant Vauntage
Young Griff, Old Griff and Lemore show her to an inn that is said to be safer for women than most. Hariel does not have the heart to tell them she shall not be sleeping there, having decided the second she saw slaves working with the walls of the establishment that she shall slumber within the safety of Grimm's bulk.
As the morning dawns, Hariel presses her cheek into the warm scales of Grimm's underbelly, trying to ignore the guilt that surges in her stomach. She'd taken Braavos on dragon-back, surely it would not be that much more of a hassle to take Myr too; to free the thousands of slaves that reside there? But Maehanys is an incorporeal voice of reason within her mind, reminding her of the difference between taking a city and keeping it. It can't be done right now, no matter how much it grates to admit that.
"Good morning, Grimm," she murmurs, drawing back and away from him, hands smoothing their way down his belly, palms warming as they pass over his scorching heat. Morning… prior to meeting Lemore, she'd intended to set off right away, as soon as the morning sun had dawned and she'd collected her new shoes. Now, now she needs to meet and talk to Lemore's cute charge. Griff, hadn't it been? Oh, who is she kidding? His name had been far too close to one she holds so dear to her heart; Hariel hadn't a chance of forgetting it. The sword of Gryffindor rests heavy against her thigh as she stands. In truth, she should probably make the best of this; now that trade has once again begun, it is only a matter of time before words gets out that the princess of Braavos has a very distinctive lightning scar upon her brow. Yes, she'll freshen up and head into town, hopefully encountering Lemore and her charge on the way.
The air is just as warm as the day prior. Hariel hasn't seen snow since she was thirteen back in Scotland. It just doesn't happen here; winter just doesn't seem to happen here and no one seems phased by it so Hariel, doesn't ask. Just carries on with her life as if all is well, as if all in normal. But it's not.
Sweat beads at the back of her neck, sun searing down upon her dark curls as she meanders through the streets. The traders are all already prepared, wares out and strategically displayed on their stalls; freshest produce to the front, yesterday's leftovers to the back. It's a shame her Braavosi coin has proven useless in the lower district, she could just eat-
"Two mangos, please."
It takes Hariel's stalling brain a moment to register those words and, by the time she's managed it, Lemore's far too pretty charge is pressing one of his purchased fruits into her hands. Griff (or Young Griff as he's apparently known when in the presence of his father) turns dark eyes upon her and smiles somewhat bashfully.
"Good morning, Harrie."
"Morning," she responds automatically, smiling herself when she realises Griff is speaking her language, however accented it may be, "thanks for the fruit." She bites into its flesh, juices saturating her tongue. The store owner snaps something off at them and Griff responds, but as the words are neither High Valyrian nor the bastardized variation, the exchange goes right over Hariel's head.
She waits for the conversation to finish, taking a smaller bite of the mango, more a nibble really. All the while, she examines Griff. The posture, the air of self-confidence, it reminds her of Blaise Zabini, of all people. Someone confident in his own skin, capable of facing whatever challenge is present to him. It's been years since she thought of the Slytherin, of any Slytherin at all ("Potter stinks!"). Hariel buries the thought deep down, pushes it under until it's gasping for air with bulging eyes… perhaps Maehanys and his ruthlessness is rubbing off on her.
Griff steps back and away from the merchant, eyes searching her face. They're a deep, dark blue and framed by thick lashes. He's relatively pretty, the kind of face that Lavender would have a spent a few hours giggling over back at Hogwarts. Once upon a time, Hariel might have spent a few minutes giggling with her.
"Is there anything you wish to do today, Lady Harrie?"
"I'm not a lady-" technically true- "but there's a pair of shoes I need to pick up from the upper district."
Griff's eyebrows, also that strange shade of blue climb up his forehead. Softly, he repeats the location, gesturing in the correct direction. All the while, Hariel watches his actions, confusion nestled within her stomach. Does he not know of the upper district, or has he been barred from venturing too far by his father?
"Ah, I was unsure if I had translated correctly," Griff murmurs, pleasant smile following his words. And oh, that makes a bit more sense now. She slept alongside Grimm and, while she will not have found a safer place to rest upon this continent… she's far from clean. The dust and dirt are still present on her shirt, even after her morning brush down. Getting back to Braavos for a bath is sounding better and better by the second.
Griff's smile wides and pulls at his lips, lifts his cheeks, near crinkles the corners of his eyes.
Yeah, Lavender would have loved him, even if he is a bit younger than them.
As they make for the upper district, Griff regales her with tales of his adventures at sea: a mishap where he'd fallen into the clear water of the docks; a vicious storm in his tenth year; receiving his first kiss from a pretty girl is Lys. Here, he looks at her from the corner of his eyes, a sly little smile spreading across his features and Hariel rolls her eyes. He's far too young to be so smug with her (a messy kiss with each twin in thanks for the Marauder's Map aside, Hariel's not had too much experience herself, though she's not had the desire for it either, not yet, anyway).
They pick up her shoes, the merchant professing his thanks for the chance to observe them, presenting her with a brand-new pair. Now, with a few years behind her, she almost wishes she'd gotten to bring Lavender's truly high-heeled shoes along. The intimidating click that the little heels make on the marble corridor's of Maehanys' new palace is remarkably empowering; she can only imagine what it'd have felt like to stride around the place with Lavender's shoes on. If she didn't break her ankle, that was.
"Is that all you were here to acquire, Lady Harrie?" Griff asks, hands free by his sides, mango long since devoured and nerves enough at ease to not worry about placing his hand upon the sword at his hip. Gryffindor's blade brushes against her thigh with each step she takes; it's not like she has to worry about losing it. It comes when it's called.
"It's the only thing I needed. I'm meeting up with a… friend to head back home with." Probably better than admitting to being accompanied by a dragon, right? They people here, they're terrified of them. And rightly so. She can remember how she felt, barely fourteen and staring down a territorial mother dragon, the heavy burden of stealing one of her eggs lying cold upon her shoulders.
"Would you like to be escorted there?" Griff, well, it's clear he doesn't plan on wasting too much if his time with her. He's here for Lemore, Hariel realises. She'd probably been the one to push him into furthering his High Valyrian but, is Hariel is sure of one thing, it's that teenagers will try to wiggle out of any kind of extra studying if they're capable of it. Merlin knows she'd shared that same habit (right up until it was learn the way of the sword or be caught defenceless, learn how to apparate or someday get caught and be unable to escape).
"I think I've got it from here, Griff. Thanks for escorting me this far."
He strides across the great expanse of stone in the hall that has become his throne room, ignoring the babbling lords who swiftly shut their mouths at the arrival of their princess. Should be queen but His sweet sister hadn't much appreciated the implications of that. A dragon rider, a dragon rearer she may be, but to take up the title of queen is apparently too much for her faint little hear to handle. Only, she's far from faint of heart. He would love to uncover just what authority wounded her enough to instil this distrust in the upper ranks, created this distaste of supreme titles. Certainly, she has no problem in acting the part of a ruler, though he doubts she realises it. Looking out for the people; that's Hariel's job.
"Maehanys," she greets, a barely there nod. She's still in her riding leathers, hair tossed about her skull with no fine art to it, unbothered by her appearance. Truly, he needs to instil some concept of appropriate appearances within her. That, or assign her a group of ladies who'd see to it for them. Certainly, there'll be no shortage of ladies looking to get close to her so that they may become close to him. In fact-
"Scribe. Take note, I need to acquire a group of young women who are aware of the current fashion to aid my dear sister."
"Maehanys!" This time, his name comes out like fire from a dragon, spat and scorching. She may not be of Valyrian blood, but Hariel is dragon blessed; it's just as good; she plays the part perfectly. Letting the rest of the world believe them to be half-siblings is no issue when he looks like the Valyrian and she acts it.
"We were just discussing the West. Perhaps you would care to join the council, Sister. Given your partiality for travels, it would be in your best interest to understand the political landscape before you lead us into a war."
"I wouldn't take us to war," Hariel mutters, lifting the great mass of her curly hair into a high ponytail. Despite her words, she does make her way for the large table he has had carried into the room for the meeting, fearlessly taking the seat he had just occupied. All of the lords stiffen at that, though none of them seem willing to point out her obvious blunder. Maehanys is just astounded she does not slouch, does not throw one leg over the arm to make herself comfortable. What with the dust and sand smeared across one cheekbone, the windswept hair and flushed cheeks, she already appears the degenerate scoundrel of the family, why not present herself the part too?
Wordlessly, he waves for another chair to be brought over, Hariel shuffling her stolen furniture along until he can join her at the head of the table.
"Careful, Dear Sister, think about how you want to present yourself to the lords," keep acting this way and they will call you a queen regardless of any official decree. From the clench of her jaw, Hariel gets the general gist of it.
He turns his attentions back to the lords, flicking eyes across each of their faces, assessing. The greediness in their features in unsurprising; more than one of them have sons, grandsons of nephews of age with Hariel, or close to it. Despite his earlier words, they still believe they will be able to coerce her into a marriage. They will learn, soon enough. Though she preaches good morals, the morals she has obtained from her homeland and carried upon her back beneath Essos' sun, Maehanys knows they are slowly wearing away. It is only a matter of time before Hariel adapts, before she accepts her circumstances fully for what they are, before she embraces both them and her new way of life.
He's eagerly anticipating it.
"A summary, for my recently returned sister, if you may."
While they summarise things most effectively, more than half of the lords all find a way to mention that their particularly important piece of information was acquired by a young son/grandson/nephew, as if waiting for Hariel to be suitable impressed. She never is though, too occupied with what she is learning of the other continent. Westeros seems to be relatively stable now, with over a decade under this new regime. And while the loss of a Valyrian bloodline (no matter how lowly they may have been in Valyria) is regrettable, Maehanys has no intention of charging across the world to do war for the sake of vengeance. It is not his problem, nor is it the problem of his people.
More important is the mammoth debt that the Westeros crown owes the Iron Bank and, by extension, them.
"Five and a half million gold dragons… I take it that's a lot in our coin too?" Hariel asks after reviewing the papers, still holding one before her as her sharp green eyes fly across the page. She's quite right; five and a half million gold dragons is a sensationally large number and just calling in repayments on that debt to begin upon the new moon with jump start their economy. With the trade-ships no doubt making port elsewhere now, with news of their successful take over spreading, it shan't be long until things begin to get interesting.
"It is an extortionate amount, Princess. The Baratheon King spends as loudly as he wages war," his Lord of Ports explains, "my grandson, Iranelar, found they borrowed for the last winter, faced a rebellion from one of their kingdoms, and the Crown continues to splurge money he does not have." Adarynno puffs his chest out ever so slightly, drawing more attention to the greying stubble that lines his drooping jawline. Hariel stares at the man for a moment, nodding slowly and Maehanys knows instantly what the problem is.
Repeating what the lord said in Valyrian is no difficulty (it is in fact a delight to have someone equally as fluent to converse with) but Hariel's deficiency in picking up the common tongue spoken within Braavosi is irritating to have to account for. He tells her as such, just to watch her hackles rise.
"It's not my fault I'm having to learn an entirely different language," she growls in their mother tongue, ignorant to the startled looks of the lords who have little hope with keeping up with her rapid-fire words, "I think I'm doing a damn good job for someone who's never had to study a language before. If you've got an issue with that, take it up with me on our training field!"
Ah, hardly the place he's going to raise a true grievance; their training field just so happens to be the large, open space where all four dragons like to rest. Getting in a fight there would be a swifter pass to execution by fire than going through the actual courts after getting caught in the act of murdering a king.
Hariel knows it too.
"If you wish for a spar, Sister," he states, back in the common tongue of the people, "then you need only ask."
He's relatively certain she mutters 'pretentious asshole' under her breath, but no other at the table catch it. Half of the time, they're still grappling with the thought of gender equality. He supposes after a few centuries of not being subjected by a person upon dragon back, they can afford to care if a person is male or female. When a person has a dragon beneath their legs as their mount, the rest of the world fails to care for the gender of the rider. It is a concept he doesn't doubt they will be slow to take up again.
Hariel has no further input during the meeting, retiring their shared wing alongside him, professing a desire to rid herself of her riding leather is favour of something more comfortable. He still has to instruct her more on the language of the Braavosi people, needs to instil within her a desire to strive to become a much more learned woman. Half of the time, he catches her experimenting with her magic when she should be studying and he's… hesitant to assign a tutor to her. Not that Hariel couldn't handle herself; perhaps he is being more paranoid than necessary. If anything, the lessons could take place in a courtyard, a large one that Grimm could also just so happen to occupy at the same time.
"What are you scheming now?" Hariel asks, stepping out onto the balcony beside him, wrapped in a soft cotton dress that in no way, shape or form, reflects her status as a princess. It's unnecessarily basic but, he supposes, in the comforts of the royal quarters that is hardly a cause for concern.
"Given the Baratheon King in the West and his disinclination towards anything dragon related, there's every possibility that he will refuses to begin repaying his debts upon learning of our occupation of Braavosi and control of the Iron Bank," Maehanys confesses, leaning across the marble railing to stare at the dusking sun. It kisses up against the ocean, setting the waters ablaze in shades of red, gold and pink. So many decades as a ghost, unable to feel the warmth of summer, the kiss of heat. He is even beginning to grow accustomed to the scent of salt upon the air now.
"And what does that mean?" Hariel asks, leaping up to sit atop the fencing of the balcony, utterly unbothered by the large drop between their current location and the ground below. The former Sealord's menagerie resides beneath this balcony, he recalls. He wonders how long they will last; probably until the dragons realise there are free roaming meals they can have easy access to when they tire of the cows and oxen the servants bring them.
"With the Crown's refusal to begin repayments on their debt, the Iron Bank will return fire by calling in debts owed by all the great houses of Westeros; my knowledge of the other continent is severely lacking at present, given the great expanse of time since I have had to worry about them." He pauses here, just to send Hariel a drily amused smile. She meets his expression with a deadpanned stare, arms folded beneath the slender curves of her chest.
"Regardless, they will cut all borrowing and undoubtedly throw the whole united kingdoms into a financial crisis… Perhaps I shall hold off calling on the Crowns debt until the opportune moment."
"All this," Hariel states, hands coming to rest on the balcony railings, tiny hands clenching into tight, white fists, "it's just one big power play to you, isn't it? All the people whose lives you'll ruin with your decisions, they don't matter."
"Ah, Hariel. You'll soon realise, if you want to change the world to how you prefer it, you have to win the game first. Those who have no drive, will never have the power to accomplish their goals. And it is those in power who decided upon what constitutes as good and what qualifies as evil."