The countryside in the Seven Kingdoms was wondrous, particularly during the summertime. South of the Neck and north of the Red Mountains, one could always see lush meadows, vast forests full of strong trees, and flora and fauna aplenty wherever they looked.
I never really took the time to appreciate the countryside in my first life. Hell, I was always so busy preparing for the war with the Army of the Dead and other dilemmas that I never really appreciated it in this life, either.
Nonetheless, at this time, Lord Gregor Clegane was most certainly savoring his surroundings as he rode along the Kingsroad atop his massive black destrier. The view… Just look at that view. It's absolutely breath-taking. Normally, the Mountain was not one to get sentimental over something as commonplace and plain such as land. But considering all the sacrifices that had been made to preserve this land, he was compelled to glorify it and its beauty. After all, had fate been against us, this land would have been eternally buried beneath billions of snowflakes.
"Lovely day, isn't it, Father?" a feminine voice interrupted his broodings.
Gregor turned to his left side and saw two tall women atop sturdy brown garrons. One of them was his wife Dacey, who had been by his side for almost thirty years and had never once left it. She would likely never leave it before her time or her husband's. The other was his daughter-by-law, who had been at his son's side for the last eight years. I expect she'll never leave his side before their times, either. Hopefully, those won't come for a very long time.
She was also the one who had just called out to him. He merely grinned at her and nodded in agreement, saying "Yes, Arya; the day is exceptionally stunning."
In response, she just grinned back.
Arya Stark may have had a diminutive stature in the original series, but that was likely due to how she mostly grew up on the run without proper nutrition or sleep. Whereas in this version of the World of Ice and Fire, she had always had proper sustenance and rest whilst maintaining a regular exercise routine. As a result, she had grown at a much steadier rate. It was worth noting she also had a much more… rounded appearance. She bore a strong resemblance to her Aunt Lyanna Stark in womanhood, just as she had in girlhood.
In some ways, she was still the rebellious female and the rigid warrior Gregory Welch had known Arya Stark to be. But in others, she had changed and developed dramatically. Now, she was also an adoring daughter-by-law, a caring wife, and even a doting mother.
Arya was not riding her horse by herself. Instead, she shared her saddle with her younger son Brandon, who had just celebrated his third nameday. He sat in front of his mother, secured between her and the reins. He giggled merrily as he bounced up and down occasionally.
"I see you've finally become accustomed to addressing me as 'Father,'" Gregor noted, still grinning.
"Well, Rick insisted that you were not overly fond of your kin referring to you as 'my lord,'" Arya claimed, somewhat drily.
"Did he, now?" Gregor said humorously, raising an eyebrow. He's not wrong, though. Formality is critical when upholding discipline in an army, but no families – not even military families – should be brought up the same way as armies. He then turned to his right to see what his heir had to say in his defense.
"I did tell her that, Father," Rickard admitted straightforwardly, as he rode on his own black destrier, "In my own subtle way, that is. She understood the message easily enough. I suppose she just needed some time to adjust from viewing you as her commander to viewing you as the head of her new family."
"That sounds about right," Gregor commented, gazing back at Arya, "Still, even before you wed my son, Arya, my home was already your home. Surely you knew that."
"Of course, I did," Eddard Stark's younger daughter proclaimed, smiling at him again. It's always nice to see her smile due to something other than tormenting or killing her adversaries.
"All Are Welcome," a high masculine voice declared from the right, "Is that not so, Grandfather?"
Rickard was not riding by himself, either. His elder son Theo was sitting between him and his own reins. Theo was halfway between his sixth and seventh namedays, and already, he was displaying some fine intellect and combat prowess at his young age. It was he who had just recited the house words of the Cleganes of Moat Cailin.
"Yes, it is, my boy," Gregor affirmed, gazing down at his grandson. He reached over and patted him on the back affectionately. Theo chuckled a little in response.
"By the way, there's something your mother and I have been meaning to ask," the Mountain announced, casually glimpsing over at Dacey. She narrowed her eyes and smirked. As always, she knows what I'm talking about.
"What might that be?" Rickard inquired.
Dacey answered for her husband: "We were wondering when you are going to give us another one."
Initially, Rickard was confused. Then he quickly caught on. He presumed "Another grandchild?"
"That's right," Dacey responded, "After all, it's been three years since you had Brandon. Another three since Theo. Isn't it about time you thought about a third?"
"Maybe," Arya remarked, shrugging a bit and wrapping an arm around Brandon, "But do you mean to tell us Theo and Brand aren't enough?"
"Certainly, they're enough," Gregor assured the mother of his grandsons, "But there's always room for more at the moat."
"That's a fair argument," Rickard admitted, "However, I would ask you to consider our feelings, as well. I mean, Arya and I might be satisfied with two boys."
"That's what your father and I thought when it was just you and Al," Dacey claimed, "Then we had your sister, and we realized just how wrong we were."
"Indeed," Gregor conceded, "And you cannot honestly tell me either of you wouldn't like to have a daughter of your own. I'm certain both of you are at least slightly curious."
"That could be," Rickard supposed, "But what makes you so certain our next child would even be a girl?"
"Just look at your own lineage," Gregor apprised his eldest son, "To have a female child after two males would follow the history of our bloodline. In my generation, I came first, then your Uncle Sandor, and then your Aunt Ellyn. Then there's your generation, which was you first, followed by Alyver and then Vallory. And Larys and Torrhen, but that's beside the point. Going by that pattern, I would bet half the wealth of our house that your next child – should you choose to have one – would be a girl."
"He makes a fairly compelling case," Arya told her husband.
"Yes, he does," Rickard concurred. He looked over at his parents, and he said, "I will admit; I've often wondered what it would be like to sire a daughter."
"I'd like a little sister, Father," Theo announced, gazing up at Rickard, "I'm sure Brand would, too."
Little Brandon raised his head at the mention of his name, but he did not say anything to verify or deny his older brother's claim.
Rickard and Arya chuckled at that a little, and then the latter of them proposed "Give us some time to talk this over amongst ourselves later, Father. We'll give you our answer soon enough."
She spoke as though she was negotiating a treaty or a business deal. I suppose this whole affair could be seen as one or both of those subjects. In any case, he was just glad that his son and his wife were willing to at least consider giving him a granddaughter. He was certain Dacey was just as glad. These days, that's my biggest concern. Or one of them, at any rate.
They had already been riding for about three weeks. Their destination was King's Landing. They could always have just travelled there by boat, but in the long run, that would not have taken them much less time. Furthermore, more than a few people in Gregor's company had wished to take the more scenic route. Including me.
Fortunately, today would be the last day of riding. Less than a half-hour later, Gregor could see the capital city in the distance. It looks different somehow. Could it have changed on me since my last visit? It had been five years since Gregor last saw King's Landing. So, in all likelihood, it had changed on him. If so, he was looking forward to seeing how.
"I wonder if we'll be the first to arrive," Arya commented.
"From the North, perhaps," Dacey contended, "But at least some of the lords from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms definitely got there ahead of us."
"Well, geographically speaking, only the Riverlands, the Crownlands, and the Stormlands are closer than we are," Gerion Lannister professed, reigning up beside his old friend. "So, there's a chance we could get there in front of those from the Vale, the Iron Islands, the Westerlands, the Reach, and Dorne, too."
"That's true," Gregor admitted, looking to the Legion's longest-serving member and nodding. "I guess we will simply have to wait and see for ourselves when we finally get there."
"Just so," Ser Gerion remarked bluntly.
Within another hour, the Mountain's company reached the walls of King's Landing. The kingsroad brought them straight to the Dragon Gate at the northern edge of the city. The gate's portcullis was promptly drawn upward, allowing them entry.
"Theo, Brand, welcome to the capital," Rickard announced to his boys, speaking with a modicum of both drama and pride. This was Brandon's first time visiting King's Landing. Theo had visited it once before, but he had been less than two years old at the time. He indubitably did not remember the experience.
A few minutes after they entered the city through the Dragon Gate, Gregor and his party came upon the Dragonpit. From the reign of Aegon Dragonbane to the reign of Robert Baratheon, the building had been closed off. It had actually been rotting and crumbling due to disuse. Thankfully, it had been repaired in recent years. Now, it looked as though it had never fallen into disarray. The walls had been rebuilt, and the foundation had been reinforced. Even the great dome had been repaired. That was fortunate, as the Dragonpit was now being utilized for its intended purpose once more. I just hope they found and removed all that wildfire that had been stored beneath the pit. Otherwise, Rhaenys's Hill might have gone up in green flames at any time.
As they drew closer to the Dragonpit, Gregor's ears picked up a shriek from within. It sounded much too shrill to belong to Eliaxes, Draegar, or Ygrenyon. With that in mind, the sound was likely produced by one of the dragonlings. That was most likely the case.
It was common knowledge in Westeros that Eliaxes and Draegar had each lain a few eggs within the last several years, and that not too long ago, some of those eggs had hatched. Everyone's having babies these days, Gregor noted. Even the dragons. Of course, given how the Long Night had passed and there were no wars or other conflicts going on, this was the most ideal period for people to have children.
Gregor Clegane swiftly led his procession past the Dragonpit and through Rhaenys's Hill. Just as he had on the ride south, he closely studied his surroundings. Everywhere he looked, he saw confirmation of his theory that King's Landing had indeed changed since his last visit. As far as he could tell, all those changes were improvements in some form or other.
It was not very long before they were upon Flea Bottom. Despite its name and reputation, even the poorest section of King's Landing was doing quite well. For the first time in a very long while, the smallfolk in that district seemed healthy, well-fed, and in high spirits. Many of them even saluted Gregor or bade him a good day as he rode through. He returned each of those cordial gestures thusly. I wonder if any of them still remember me from the Sack? Some probably did. Although the Sack had been nearly thirty-three years ago, Gregor had yet to meet a single person who failed to recall meeting him. It does help to have a distinguishing characteristic such as height.
Once they were past Flea Bottom, they came to the Street of the Sisters. That soon brought them to the Guildhall of the Alchemists and the base of Visenya's Hill. There they turned east and headed along the adjoining road. That took them directly towards Aegon's High Hill and the Red Keep.
As soon as they were on the Keep's grounds, a number of stableboys approached them to take charge of their horses. Gregor hastily disembarked his destrier and set down on the ground. He then helped his wife, daughter-by-law, and grandsons down off their own horses. He did not help Rickard, as his son did not need his father holding his hand. Besides, Rickard would have turned the offer down out of pride and respect. Meanwhile, their retainers and fellow Legionnaires dismounted all around them.
As the stableboys brought the horses over to the stables, a steward came forward. He bowed when he reached the Mountain, and he stated "Good day, Lord Gregor. His Grace and the Lord Hand are expecting you. They are both in the throne room at present. Should you wish it, I will take you and your company there right now."
"Then lead the way, my good man," Gregor beckoned the steward.
"Aye, milord," the steward acknowledged, flushing at the formal way he had been addressed.
The Mountain and his companions were then escorted through several corridors of Maegor's Holdfast, eventually arriving at the throne room. From the look of things, court had just been adjourned, and the King, the Hand, and their wives were in the process of leaving.
The King was the first one to come face-to-face with Gregor. A smile crept across his normally stoic countenance, and he extended a hand, saying "So good of you to honor us with your presence, my lord."
"Thank you, Your Grace," the Mountain proclaimed, accepting the hand and shaking it firmly, "I'm not the last to arrive, am I?"
"No, you're among the first, as usual," the Queen interjected, stepping forward to shake Gregor's hand, as well. He kissed the back of her dainty hand first, and then he shook it.
"You're not too early, though," the Hand stated, as he, too, shook Gregor's hand, "Only three of the Great Families got in ahead of you, in fact. Two of which already reside here."
"Everyone else is due to arrive within the next few days," the Hand's wife added in, as she had her own hand kissed and shaken, "Based on the missives they sent us in advance, we estimate they'll all be here inside of a week at most."
"Excellent," Gregor muttered in approval, "Then they'll all be here in time for the anniversary."
"That's what we're all hoping for," the King disclosed, "Until then, what say you all go ahead and get comfortable?"
"That would be delightful," Gregor replied candidly. Especially since we just spent most of the last three weeks with our asses firmly planted in our saddles. I'm not yet too old for these overlong trips on the road, but I feel as though I may be getting there.
The King then turned to the steward who had led Gregor and his party to the throne room, and he ordered the man "Escort our venerable Master of Order and those in his company to the chambers that have been prepared for them."
"As you command it, Your Grace," the steward proclaimed, bowing his head in reverence.
Up until this point, Rickard had been carrying Theo in his arms, and Arya had been carrying Brandon. Right then, the two of them stepped up to Gregor, and his son discreetly whispered into his ear "Father, would you and Mother mind terribly if we left Theo and Brandon in your care for the next few hours? Arya and I have much to catch up on with the King, the Queen, and the Hands."
By the tone of Rickard's voice, Gregor could tell it was a request and not a demand. After all, Rickard knew better than to demand anything of his father. In any case, Gregor was under no obligation to grant his heir's requests, even if they were reasonable and selfless. However, he was not the type of man to refuse his children a favor. Aside from that, he quite enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren.
"They will be in good hands," he assured Rickard, taking Theo off his hands. At the same time, Dacey took Brandon from Arya.
"Thank you," Rickard and Arya said in unison, their gratitude evident in their voices. Once the boys were securely in the arms of their grandparents, their parents went to join Jon, Daenerys, Jasper, and Sansa. As the six younger adults went off in one direction, Gregor, Dacey, their retainers, and the Legionnaire captains were led off in the other towards the residential area of the Red Keep.
On the way to the guest quarters, Theo let out a loud yawn. Gregor scoffed and observed "You sound as though you could use a good nap, Theo."
"I'm not tired, Grandfather," the young boy claimed, struggling not to yawn again.
Gregor scoffed once more and stated, "Well, we'll see about that."
Sure enough, by the time they reached the chambers set aside for the Cleganes of Moat Cailin, Theo had begun to nod off. As for Brandon, he had already drifted off to sleep himself. He looked so peaceful that even an earthquake could not have roused him. Then again, we don't ever seem to have earthquakes in this world. Or hurricanes or tornadoes or much of anything else, for that matter. Worst we ever have are blizzards and the occasional erupting volcano.
"Your intuition never ceases to amaze me," Dacey drily commented as she and her husband tucked Theo and Brandon into the bed of their chamber.
Gregor snickered at his wife's remark. Once Theo and Brandon were securely and snugly under the covers, he claimed, "It is not intuition so much as logical and deductive reasoning."
"As you say," Dacey murmured plainly, rolling her eyes. She then smiled at her husband.
Gregor returned the smile. Then he looked down at their grandsons, and he affectionately stroked their foreheads. They looked so precious and innocent when they slept. Soon enough, they'll be grown men, just as their father is. Gregor was not one to lament over losses or the past. Even so, a part of him still felt as though it was only last month when he first held Rickard in his arms. It would seem the theory of relativity applies in any world.
Although it was generally customary for maids and servants to see to the upbringing of the children of nobles, Gregor and Dacey had always had an active hand in the rearing of their own children. Rickard and Arya had chosen to assume the same responsibility. So far, they had raised their sons with great fervor. Gregor would not have expected such a thing of Arya Stark he once knew. Yet the wolf girl who used to only enjoy the company of swords and horses had matured into a proud and loving mother.
"Knowing them, they'll be out for a good long while," Gregor debated, "Rick and Arya probably won't be back anytime soon, either."
"Well, it has been a while since they last saw Jon, Dany, Jasper, and Sansa," Dacey noted.
"That's just my point," said Gregor, nodding his head, "At any rate, it seems we'll have at least the next few hours to ourselves."
"Quite so," said Dacey, looking up at her husband. "Any suggestions for how we might pass the time?"
"Well, obviously, we can't indulge each other," Gregor stated humorously.
"Obviously," Dacey agreed, getting a laugh at the implication of that statement. Theo and Brandon were heavy sleepers, but if by chance they woke up and caught their grandparents in the act, there would be grim consequences. Worst case scenario, the experience would scar the boys for life. And even if it did not, Rickard and Arya would almost certainly find out about the incident later on. Once they did, they would likely never leave their boys alone with Gregor and Dacey ever again.
"How about we just sit out on the balcony for now?" Gregor proposed.
"That would be nice," Dacey thought aloud, "But first, let's shed a layer or two."
"Good idea," Gregor uttered approvingly. Now that we're within the walls of the Red Keep, there is no longer any need for us to have arms or armor. At least not until the festivities begin.
Gregor and Dacey proceeded to remove their cloaks, their breastplates, their gauntlets, their greaves, their boots, their doublets, and their belts. Once they were in just their tunics and breeches, they stepped out onto the balcony.
They set themselves down in a pair of large, cushioned chairs on the balcony. Dacey's was large enough to comfortably seat two regular-sized women. Gregor's could have held two full-grown men. Whereas for the Lord and Lady of Moat Cailin, they were perfect fits.
Once Gregor and Dacey were comfortably settled, they sat in silence for a few minutes. Since their chamber faced the east, they were given a gorgeous view of the Narrow Sea. It was still early in the day, so the Sun was not bearing down on them just yet. Instead, they were well-shaded.
Gregor took a few moments to admire yet another pleasant view. The calmness of the surface of Blackwater Bay and the fresh air were quite soothing. The weather was nice and warm, just as it had been ever since they cleared the Neck.
There was not much of a breeze at this altitude. While Gregor did not mind that, it did not sit well with Dacey. She got out a paper fan which she had purchased from the Free Cities, and she waved it rapidly in her general direction. How uncharacteristically ladylike of her, Gregor thought in amusement.
When Gregor got a closer look at his wife, he noted she was sweating heavily, despite being immersed in shadow. He said inquiringly "It's not too hot, is it?"
"Just a little," she claimed, continuing to fan herself. She leaned back a little and added in "Bears weren't bred for warm climates."
"Neither were wolves," Gregor debated, "Yet Jon and Sansa seem to be thriving down here."
"Jon is only half-wolf," Dacey disputed, "He's also half-dragon."
"And Sansa is half-trout," Gregor mumbled wittily.
Dacey stopped fanning herself for a moment and glared at her husband. "You know what I mean."
"Of course, I do," Gregor stated, chuckling at her reaction. Gazing back at the bay, he pronounced "You are quite correct. Due to the two very different backgrounds of Jon's parents, he is well-suited to just about any type of environment. He was born in a desert, he grew up in a tundra, and now he lives in a temperate grassland."
"That is precisely the point I was trying to make," Dacey professed, "Jon has done rather well for himself these last five and ten years."
"So has the realm," Dacey perceived, as she resumed fanning herself, "As it happened, he really was the savior of his father's prophecy. He also turned out to be the monarch everyone in the Seven Kingdoms needed, as well as the one they deserved."
"Indeed," Gregor agreed, interlacing his fingers together, "Still, to think he once refused the crown so vehemently when it was first offered to him."
"Well, to his credit, no one could have predicted that the Targaryens would ever return to the Iron Throne," Dacey argued, "Least of all the Targaryens themselves. After all, Rhaenys, Aegon, Jon, and Dany seemed perfectly content with being Lady of Highgarden, Prince of Sumerhall, and Prince and Princess of Dragonstone respectively."
"I suspect they were content," Gregor hypothesized, "Until Jasper came along and convinced them that the Targaryens were the rightful rulers of the Seven Kingdoms, that is."
"I'm still amazed he managed to convince them of such," Dacey commented bluntly, "I still wonder what compelled him to give up the crown so willingly."
"Strictly speaking, he didn't just give it up," Gregor reminded his wife, "Technically, he gambled it away."
"If so, he gambled knowing full well he would lose," Dacey stated, "I mean, surely when he challenged Jon to a duel with swords, he knew he could not win. Jon was always the better swordsman. If Jasper actually cared even an inkling about winning, he would have challenged Jon to something they were equally adept at, such as archery, jousting, or riding."
Gregor shrugged and stated, "He could have suggested something like that, but that wasn't the original arrangement. After all, you know as well as I do that the duel wasn't even Jasper's idea. It was Jon's. It was his intention that they would work together to defeat the Others, and after that, they would hold a duel to determine which family would rule the realm. Furthermore, when he first propositioned the duel, he expected he would face someone else in the ring."
"I'm well-aware of that," Dacey asserted, "Alas, Robert died before he and Jon could settle their families' dispute."
"Suffice to say, he did," Gregor murmured, "Thankfully, his son was still able to do that in his place."
"Yes, he was," Dacey recounted, "However, I imagine the outcome was not quite what Jon had been expecting when he first presented the proposal to Robert."
"I should say not," Gregor concurred, "After all, Robert Baratheon's skill in melee was legendary. To my knowledge, I'm the only person who ever beat him. Jon's ability with a blade may have been extraordinary, but a duel between him and Robert would have been very one-sided."
"Then why do you suppose he even suggested the duel in the first place?" Dacey wondered aloud.
Gregor lightly shrugged and professed "Although he'd never admit it, I would wager that Jon was actually hoping to lose."
Dacey was intrigued. "How so?"
Gregor explained with "My guess is he simply wanted the conflict between the Targaryens and the Baratheons to be resolved once and for all, and he thought that a duel would be the quickest and most definitive way of doing so. Seven Hells, he might not have even cared about the results, as long as they ensured the safety and the endurance of both families."
"Knowing Jon, that wouldn't surprise me," Dacey stated frankly, "He never cared much for power. He always seemed much more at ease with a humbler, less responsible existence. In fact, I would go so far as to say he was happiest when he was an official member of the Legion. That was before he stopped serving as your squire, but after he learned the truth of his heritage."
"That sounds about right," Gregor muttered candidly. Jon's tenure as a full-fledged Legionnaire was short, but he certainly made the most of his time in our ranks. He let out a low sigh and said "In any case, it was probably for the best that Jon triumphed over Jasper in their duel. Had he lost, I would have been left worrying in the back of my mind that one of his descendants might've someday wished to reclaim the crown, and he or she might have done so through any means necessary."
"That is certainly an understandable qualm to have," Dacey conceded, "However, that apprehension would work the other way around, as well. Suppose that someday, Jasper's descendants decide that their ancestor was robbed or cheated out of what was rightfully his."
"Oh, I considered that, as well," Gregor disclosed, "But I decided not to fret on that possibility. After all, what is the main difference between House Targaryen and House Baratheon?"
"One has dragons and the other doesn't?" Dacey assumed.
"Correct," Gregor affirmed, "Baratheon men may favor muscle over intelligence, and no one could ever accuse the stags of cowardice, but even they wouldn't dare antagonize a family with actual dragons in its possession."
The last time that happened, the Field of Fire took place.
"And if the dragons were to go extinct again?" Dacey argued.
"There is a chance of that," Gregor admitted, "Albeit a miniscule one. Even then, I am reasonably confident that they will not die off. Keep in mind; it was the Conclave who was responsible for their extinction over a hundred year ago. Thankfully, that faction of the Archmaesters has been eradicated."
"I know; we saw to that ourselves," Dacey stated, giving a wry grin. Yes, and wasn't that a glorious day? I never would have thought it would be so satisfying to lock all the corrupt members of the Citadel in a room with me and my most loyal Legionnaires and dish out their appropriate punishment personally. I particularly enjoyed the moment when I shoved Summit through Archmaester Ebrose's torso. "But are you certain they will not reform?"
"Mollander assured me that they will not," Gregor enlightened her, "He will see to that himself. I know I can take him at his word; he's never let me down before."
"I suppose he hasn't," Dacey concurred, staring back at the bay, "After all, it was because of him that you were able to catch and expose Ser Kevan."
"Quite so," Gregor stated. I'll never forget that, either. When Great Frost feasted on that backstabbing bastard from Argentina, I was strangely tempted to laugh. He was glad he had restrained himself. Otherwise everyone else in attendance of that execution might have thought the Mountain was slowly yet surely becoming psychotic. "So, we can both agree that Jon was the rightful victor of that duel?"
"Yes, we can," Dacey concurred, turning back to her husband, "The duel was well fought, after all. I mean, when one considers all the rematches they fought at Jon's behest…"
Gregor laughed at the memory. "Yes, there is that. The duel was only supposed to last one round. I nearly lost count of how many rounds it actually lasted. Jon must've been seriously determined to lose."
"If he was, why didn't he?" Dacey queried in interest.
"Well, the only real rule of their bout was that neither of them was allowed to hold back," Gregor informed his wife, "That was why they had me stand as witness to their skirmish. I trained those lads myself; I knew precisely what each of them was capable of. Therefore, if either or both were not employing the most of his swordsmanship, I would have noticed right away, and the match would have ended then and there without a champion."
"That makes plenty of sense," Dacey contended, "But if that was the case, why did he insist on so many rematches when he knew he could not lose? Could it have been possible he was secretly planning to degrade or humiliate Jasper?"
"Just the opposite, actually," Gregor disclosed, "In spite of that rule, Jon gave Jasper every permissible handicap he could think of within the rule's boundaries. Yet even then, he always emerged the victor. It ultimately ended when both of them were too exhausted to carry on. That was when they finally brought the duel to an end, and they declared Jon the winner."
"I suppose that was also when Jon started thinking more about the happiness of others than his own," Dacey speculated.
"I believe you are correct, my dear," Gregor conceded, "Although he may have hoped that he would not end up on the Iron Throne, once the crown was on his head, he put his all into the role. I doubt anyone in the world could ever claim otherwise."
"I very much agree," Dacey remarked, "However, if Robert was afforded a replacement in the duel, why wasn't Jon? Why couldn't Aegon have fought in his stead?"
"Apparently, Jon did attempt to get Aegon to take his place," Gregor illuminated, "I was there when he suggested it to him. He argued that as their father's first son, Aegon had a bigger claim to the crown, and therefore, a greater reason to fight for the Targaryens. But Aegon adamantly refused. However much Jon disliked the Iron Throne, Aegon liked it even less. In fact, he utterly abhorred it. That aside, he and Talisa had already gotten settled into Summerhall."
"I see," said Dacey, sitting up a bit and shifting her position. She then scoffed and said, "Perhaps if Jasper had asked to have Rick fight in his place, his side would have had an actual chance at winning."
"His side definitely would have won then," the Mountain wryly debated, "Jon wouldn't have stood a chance against Rick. To my knowledge, there are only two people alive who could actually best him in single combat."
"You and I?" Dacey asked rhetorically.
"Exactly," Gregor confirmed, "Besides, it was not Rick's conflict. Jasper may be his best friend, but Jon is not far behind. It would not have been fair to force him to choose a side."
"Especially since Cleganes tend to take everyone's sides," Dacey slyly uttered.
Gregor merely nodded and smiled. Indeed, we do. That's how the Targaryens and the Baratheons are now able to peacefully coexist with one another. If not for the efforts of myself and the Legion, one or both of those houses might now be extinct.
Gregor then closed his eyes, laid his head back, and cherished the peace and quiet. Dacey did the same, though she kept fanning herself.
About fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the entrance to the bedchamber. Without even bothering to look over his shoulder, Gregor called out "Enter!"
He then heard the door creaking open, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching him. When they reached the balcony, they stopped. Gregor then felt a pair of huge yet delicate hands on his biceps. That was when he and his wife peered over their shoulders. They saw not one, but two figures standing over them. Both were tall and blonde. One was a boy of around seventeen years of age. The other was his sister, who was about to see her fifteenth nameday.
"Good morning, Uncle Gregor, Aunt Dacey," the girl said gleefully.
Gregor and Dacey smiled, rose from their chairs, and enveloped both of the visitors in a warm embrace, which they promptly returned. The hug lasted over a minute. After that, they all pulled apart, and Dacey stated "Duncan, Jeyne, it's wonderful to see you again."
"Likewise, Auntie," Jeyne said merrily, "When did you get in?"
"About two hours ago," Gregor replied, "And you?"
"Just now," Duncan revealed, "Mother and Father went to get settled in their quarters. We were going to do the same, but we thought we'd pay you two a visit first."
"Well, it's always nice to see you," Dacey proclaimed, "Both of you."
"We feel the same," Jeyne pronounced, "Uncle Sandor and Aunt Obara just got here, too. You see, Father was hoping to have all the Westerlords arrive at the same time. Overall, they did."
"So why didn't Mors and Dermot accompany you?" Dacey enquired.
"They did," Duncan slyly claimed, "They're just not as quick or as eager as we are."
"Are we now?" a dry voice called out from within the bedchamber.
At that, Gregor, his wife, their niece, and their nephew turned around, and they saw two young men standing in the doorframe of the room's main entrance. They both had similar builds to the other four adults, but their hair was black, and their skin was slightly darker and more exotic. The elder of the two had a thin beard and mustache. It was he who had just spoken.
They both had their arms folded, and at a glance, they looked quite stern. Even so, their tough appearance did not fool Gregor. It certainly did not fool Dacey, either. She lowered her fan and extended her arms, and she bade them "Come here, you two."
Immediately, Mors and Dermot dropped their grimaces and replaced them with grins. They swiftly made their way across the room and hugged Dacey firmly. Gregor soon joined the embrace, holding his wife and his brother's sons close.
When that embrace ended, Gregor asked "How was the ride over?"
"Long and uneventful," Dermot drily answered him. He then smirked and added in "Just the way we prefer it."
"Indeed," Mors said in amusement, scoffing, "It's a good thing when the trip is dull. Too much excitement on the way over could spoil the events which come after."
"One could argue such," Gregor thought aloud, "However, a wise man once said, 'Getting there is half the fun.'"
"Who said that, Uncle?" Dermot inquired.
I honestly have no idea. I doubt anyone in the real world knows. But whoever that person was, he or she doesn't exist in this universe. Thus, credit for its conception is open for grabs. Gregor smirked, folded his arms, and declared "I did."
That succeeded in inciting a good laugh out of his wife, niece, and nephews. After about five seconds, Gregor decided to partake in the laughter. It's funny because they have no reason to doubt me. So, as far as they're concerned, I did patent that expression.
The laughter eventually subsided. When it did, Gregor looked around at the five younger adults and announced, "According to the King and the Hand, it could be several days before the other Great Families and their vassals arrive."
"Then we'll have plenty of time to discuss all that's happened since our last meeting," said Jeyne.
Gregor grinned at his niece and proclaimed, "That's just what we were hoping to do."
Indeed, Gregor and Dacey spent most of the following week in the company of their family. They also bonded with King Jon, Queen Daenerys, Crown Prince Aemon, Princess Rhaella, and Prince Eddard, as well as Lord Jasper, Lady Sansa, and their children Jonquil, Cerelle, and Steffon.
Just as Jasper had said, only three of the Great Families had been present in King's Landing before Gregor's entourage arrived. And just as Sansa had said, two of them – House Targaryen and House Baratheon – already lived there, for the most part. The other, unsurprisingly, was House Tully. That figures, seeing as the Riverlands are between here and the North. Lord Edmure, Lady Asha, and their twins Urrigon and Minisa had sailed into Blackwater not two days beforehand. Most of the Trident's vassals had arrived shortly thereafter by way of land, including the still oversized House Frey, which was now led by Lord Edwyn Frey.
As the week went by, more and more familiar faces began to appear. The rest of the Northmen got in first. Lord Eddard Stark and his wife Lady Catelyn arrived with their other three children. Robb and Margaery came with their daughters Wylla and Rhea and their sons Cregan and Loras. Bran Stark came with his new wife, Lyanna of House Mormont. Rickon was there, and he was still unwed. Happily unwed, based on what Gregor had heard. According to rumors, Eddard Stark's youngest had turned out to be quite popular with the ladies. Who would have thought?
The next to arrive were the Valemen. Lady Lysa Arryn was making her first public appearance since the end of the Long Night. At least she looks healthy, mentally and physically, Gregor noted. Her son, Lord Robin, was currently the youngest Lord Paramount in the realm. Fortunately, unlike his canon counterpart, he did not turn out to be a scrawny, halfwit weakling. Instead, he had grown up to be a tall, able-bodied, and intelligent man. He entered the Red Keep with the symbol of his house, a gyrfalcon, on his shoulder. His sisters Alyssa and Donella proudly entered alongside him.
The Reachmen showed up next. Lord Willas Tyrell and Lady Rhaenys were doing as well as ever, as were his mother Lady Alerie and their children Leo, Margaret, and Daemon. They also arrived with Prince Aegon, Princess Talisa, their children Qavo, Shaena, and Baela, and the bulk of the household of Summerhall. Willas had left the Legion shortly after the Army of the Dead perished, but he and his wife had remained in constant contact with Gregor. Even now, the Mountain regarded the Lord Paramount of the Reach as one of the Legion's greatest friends, as well as one of his.
The Dornishmen got in shortly after the Reachmen. Princess Arianne Martell rode at the head of a hardy column alongside her husband, Prince Garlan. In typical Dornish fashion, they were both well-armed. So were their son Myles and their daughter Aliandra. At first glance, the Dornishmen looked as though they had come in preparation for battle. But they had no such intentions. Most of those weapons were actually meant for the upcoming merriment.
The last to appear were the Ironborn. Six days after the Mountain and his company reached King's Landing, Lord Victarion Greyjoy, his family, and his vassals all sailed into Blackwater Bay. Gregor Clegane accompanied Rodrik and Asha Greyjoy to the harbor so that he could help them greet their uncle. As it happened, there was actually a reason why the Ironmen had been the last to arrive. Evidently, Victarion had made a couple detours during the lengthy voyage from Pyke. In addition to the usual passengers and crew, the Iron Victory was also carrying some unexpected guests.
Victarion brought the Seneschal of the Citadel, Gregor's old accomplice and friend, Mollander. He was accompanied by his wife, Maester Sarella, and their two children. He also brought Lord Allard Seaworth and his wife Kinvara. They and their own three children had just gotten back from a Legion-related mission to the Nine Free Cities. Interestingly, there not the only individuals who had just come from the Free Cities. There were also Daario Naharis, Caggo, Denzo D'han, Brown Ben Plumm, various Essosi nobles, and even a few Dothraki khals.
There were two particular passengers whom Gregor was surprised yet delighted to see. Those were his son and niece. Even they made it. This truly IS a joyous occasion. Ever since Alyver and Tyta came of age, they had spent most of their time travelling around the Known World together. Recently, they had also grown much closer. They're fortunate Sandor and I approve of their union. Then again, I doubt that would've stopped them. Interestingly, Tyta appeared to have a slight protrusion along her abdomen. Soon enough, Dacey and I just may get that granddaughter we were hoping for, anyway.
By happy coincidence, the day the Ironborn arrived in King's Landing was also the day before the celebration was scheduled to begin. In other words, everyone who had been invited or summoned to the capital city was now accounted for. Thus, they did not have to wait on anyone any longer. Let the good times commence.
The following day, the festival was well underway. There was a tourney, a feast, a hunt with the direwolves, and several other events all took place concurrently. All were intended to last for the good part of a week, if not longer. Between the gorging, the drinking, the friendly competing, the reminiscing and everything else, Gregor could not tell what his favorite part was.
However, it was fairly easy for him to decide which part he was most grateful for. At the end of the first night, King Jon gave a toast. After calling for silence and standing up at the head of the royal dais, he picked up his goblet and he announced: "To the day, it has been five years since the end of the Long Night. Fifteen since the Night's King and his forces were defeated. Much has changed since then. Most of it for the better. For the first time in documented history, an era of pure prosperity and serenity is now upon Westeros. We've come a long way and sacrificed much to come this far. Even after the Army of the Dead fell, we lost many good people during the subsequent ten-year winter. Lord Jon Arryn. Lord Stevron Frey. Lady Olenna Tyrell. Lord Mace Tyrell. Lord Hoster Tully. Ser Davos Seaworth. Prince Doran Martell. Lady Maege Mormont. Lady Cersei Lannister. Lord Commander Benjen Stark."
He paused there for a moment of silence to honor the names and all the others whose names went unsaid. They're unsaid, but never forgotten. Jon then continued with "But those noble men and women have already been mourned. Let us not grieve those losses any longer. Instead, let us respect their memory by enjoying this celebration in their honor. And let us rejoice in this peace which they could not have lived to see. For this peace will not be eternal. It will inevitably meet its end in the near or far future. Nevertheless, this peace is now, and it is for us to appreciate."
Jon then lifted his goblet into the air, and he finished his toast with "Many of you know me as your ruler. Some know me as their savior. There may be a few in attendance who think me a stranger. But here and now, I merely stand before you as a friend to all. As your friend, I ask you to drink with me. Let us drink to this peace."
Lord Gregor Clegane, Lady Dacey Clegane, Queen Daenerys Targaryen, and everyone else in the vicinity raised his or her own goblet, tankard, mug, or cup, and they all drank long and heartily to peace. A very good speech. Jon's certainly gotten better at speaking in public since last I saw him.
After the toast, Gregor spent most of the rest of the evening talking. For a while, he talked with his mother Lady Daliah. Despite being well into her sixties, she was as strong and robust as ever. She was delighted to have all her descendants gathered together for the first time since the Night's King's defeat. She confessed to Gregor that she never would have thought she would live to be a great-grandmother. Yet she had. Twice. Soon to be thrice. Maybe even more than that, depending on what Rick and Arya choose to do.
He talked with King Jon, Queen Daenerys, and Princess Lyanna. They discussed a great many subjects, such as the plan to have Rickard eventually replace him as the Master of Order. Gregor was already planning to appoint Rickard to the position of Commander of the Legion without Banners in a few years. As long as I am still able to make these trips, I have no intention of renouncing my authority any time soon. Of course, even the Legion's commander would not have absolute authority over its ranks, unless he or she was also the Master of Order. Gregor just happened to be both. Rickard is more than ready to take my place, but I do not wish to impose that much responsibility upon him just yet. For now, he should simply enjoy the early years of fatherhood.
He talked with the Legion's secret council. In the last fifteen years, only the representatives from the Reach and the Free Folk had changed. Samwell Tarly had replaced Willas Tyrell after the latter returned to Highgarden, and Val had replaced Tormund Giantsbane after he moved to Evenfall Hall with Brienne Tarth. All the other captains were still the same: Gerion Lannister from the Westerlands, Oberyn Martell from Dorne, Allard Seaworth from the Stormlands, Lothor Brune from the Crownlands, Wendel Manderly from the North, Eddison Tollett from the Vale, Harren Botley from the Iron Islands, Danwell Frey from the Riverlands, and Dacey. Nearly all of them now had families of their own, if they had not had one before the Long Night. Yet they haven't really settled down. I suppose I shouldn't be shocked.
At the very end of the night, he had one final talk with two more people. Those two people were the same two people he could be most open with about any topic. Those were not his mother, his siblings, his children, his grandchildren, or even his wife. He did not even share blood with either of those people. They did, however, have in common something just as intimate with him.
In preparation for their private rendezvous, Gregor had taken the time to scout out a secure chamber. He managed to find one such chamber in the top level of Maegor's Holdfast. It was so secure that even Varys' little birds could not have eavesdropped on them. Just before midnight, Gregor Clegane, Kinvara, and Mollander headed up to that room. After closing and locking the door, they settled down around a fireplace. Gregor had brought something for them to enjoy whilst they conversed.
He had a pitcher full of an unknown beverage. He filled three mugs with it, and then he gave two to his companions and kept the third for himself.
"What's this?" Roger inquired curiously, gazing down at the opaque liquid.
"My latest contribution to this world," Gregory answered him, "Go ahead; taste it."
Melanie and Roger were uncertain at first, but they decided to give the drink a try. I guess they figured that if I was scheming to poison them, I would have done so long ago, and in a more discreet fashion, he thought in amusement.
After her first sip, Melanie's eyes widened in amazement. She turned to Gregory and asked him "Is this… eggnog?"
"That's right," Gregory confirmed, taking a swig from his own mug, "Whipped it up myself. I didn't trust the cooks to get the recipe right."
"I would say you did an excellent job," Roger announced, licking his lips, "Very thick, rich, and creamy. Just the way I like it."
"I agree," Melanie declared, smiling and wiping her mouth, "It's delicious, Gregory."
"I'm glad you approve," Gregory commented, already refilling his mug, "Dacey and some of the other Legionnaires have already tried it. They all enjoyed it, but they had nothing to compare it to. I wouldn't know if my eggnog really was good until someone who had tried it once before gave me their verdict."
"Well, I think it's spectacular," Roger proclaimed.
"As do I," said Melanie, taking another long sip, "I'm surprised it took you this long to come up with it."
"I've had a lot of time on my hands lately," Gregory explained, "The eggs, milk, cream, and sugar were all easy enough to find. The real difficulty was the nutmeg. While pre-grated nutmeg is commercially available just about anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms, I wouldn't settle for anything less than a whole nut, so I could grate it myself. Luckily, I managed to acquire some whole nutmegs imported directly from the Summer Isles."
"I would say it was worth the hassle," Roger contended, reaching for the pitcher to refill his mug.
"Indeed," Melanie concurred, gazing down at her own mug, "However, I don't taste any booze."
"Because there isn't any," Gregory elucidated, "I know there's a long debate over whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic eggnog is superior. I will be the first to admit that both have their perks. Be that as it may, there is one undeniable advantage in keeping alcohol out of eggnog. If you do that, you can literally drink it all day without fearing for your liver."
"That's definitely a plus," Roger thought aloud, settling back down in his chair, "Then again, too much heavy cream can still be problematic for one's heart."
"Which is why I still drink it in moderation," Gregory remarked, "As you can imagine, a man of my stature has a very resilient constitution."
"Well, that figures," Melanie and Roger said in unison. They then chuckled at their perfect synchronization.
Soon, Gregory refilled his mug for the third time. He waited until Melanie and Roger did the same, and then he stated, "I propose a toast."
"Very well," said Melanie, as she and Roger raised their own mugs, "What should we drink to?"
"To the World of Ice and Fire," Gregory declared, "And to how by cooperating with one another and with the inhabitants, the three of us gave it a better ending than whatever Benioff, Weiss, and Martin had in mind for it."
"I'll definitely drink to that," Roger muttered, raising his mug.
"Me, too," Melanie conceded, raising hers.
The three of them swiftly took another long drink. They downed half the contents of their mugs before they relented. A glass of nog by a lit hearth at the end of a long day. What could be more relaxing?
"Good toast, Gregory," Roger commented.
Melanie nodded her head. "I'd say it was just as good as Jon's toast."
"I think it was even better," Roger professed, "Jon is a good king, and he gave a good speech, but part of his toast was a little off-putting."
"Which part?" Gregory inquired.
"The part when he mentioned how this peace we worked so hard to attain will not last forever," Roger clarified, "I thought that was just a little bit of a mood-killer."
"I can see why you might think that," Gregory muttered, "He was not wrong, though. We may be at peace now, but sooner or later, that peace will cease to be."
"How can you be so sure of that?" Melanie asked.
"Because I know people," Gregory debated, "They may be sympathetic, gracious, and good-natured beings at the best of times. But take away just a few certain things and see how they react. You'd be astounded at just how little it takes to change their behavior."
"I'm sure we can imagine," Roger said bluntly, "While I understand your reasoning, Gregory, you're probably just being paranoid."
"Maybe I am," Gregory supposed, "But that does not change one of the fundamental truths of the world."
"And what truth would that be?" Melanie enquired.
"There is no such thing as a permanent peace," Gregory replied, "Someone from our world once said that war and taxes are the only things that could always be counted on. Being in a different universe does not alter the reality of that saying. One way or another, peace always comes to an end. Always."
"You could be right," Roger murmured, "But how would you see this peace ending?"
"I do not know," Gregory confessed, "But it will. Someday, somehow, it will. Just about everybody in Westeros has everything they'd ever want or need right now. How long do you think that will last?"
"I haven't a clue," Melanie confessed.
"Neither do I," Roger remarked, "How long do you think?"
"If we are lucky, it could last until everyone living is long dead," Gregory conjectured, "But at some point, some people will decide they are not satisfied with what they have. Those individuals will desire more. They will seek more. And let me ask you; when – in all of human history – did one person acting on a selfish desire ever not result in misfortune for at least one other person?"
Melanie and Roger thought on that for a couple minutes. When they were unable to come up with a sufficient response, Gregory murmured "I rest my case. And even if all the people of this world do end up being content with their possessions, nature may be compelled to screw them over as it always does. It could bring about famine, drought, pestilence, and all manner of natural disasters. Incidents such as those would succeed in devastating the land and its resources."
"Then the survivors of those hardships would undoubtedly end up fighting amongst themselves for control over whatever resources remain," Roger thought aloud.
"That's just my point," Gregory pronounced, "Moreover, it might not even take a tragedy of that magnitude to upset the order and balance of this world. Sometimes, a single foul deed or misinterpreted action can generate such friction."
"Indeed," Melanie commented, "Just look at our own world's history. It may have been more civilized than this one, but even simple acts of violence were still enough to bring out the absolute worst in humanity. I mean, Honduras and El Salvador once went to war over a game of soccer. A civil war once broke out in Italy over a literal bucket. There was a church in Jerusalem that was occupied by six different religious sects, and whenever anything in that building was moved even an inch without the permission of all six sects, a huge fist-fight or worse always broke out. Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in effort to free his fellow Serbians from Austro-Hungarian rule, and that's how we got World War I."
"Those are all very fine examples," Gregory uttered, "We should use our own history as a guideline for how to prevent such needless bloodshed and hostility in this world."
Roger sighed and nodded his head slightly, saying "I suppose you are correct. But how do you suggest we do that?"
"We should just keep doing what we've been doing," Gregory recommended, "Mainly, we must be ready to avoid any struggle that could yield grave repercussions for the realm or its inhabitants."
"Basically, we should be ready for this peace to end at any time?" Melanie assumed.
"Indeed, as there is no telling when it will," Gregory debated, "For all we know, war could be declared tomorrow against a new foe.
"Do you think it will?" Roger said inquisitively.
"Of course not," Gregory responded plainly, "But I'm always ready to confront the possibility of war or any other potential hardship."
"Well, then what would you advise us to do right now?" Melanie inquired.
"For now…" Gregory began. He paused, and then he reached for the pitcher. After picking it up, he gestured for Melanie and Roger to come closer. After they leaned in a bit, the Mountain smiled at both of them and proclaimed "For now, we can afford to enjoy this hard-earned peace. Let us worry no more on when it will end. Instead, we should cherish it for however long it lasts."
Melanie and Roger just grinned widely and nodded their heads to show their agreement. Evidently, both of them were quite pleased with that proposal. They held their mugs out to Gregory, and he filled them up once again. He then refilled his own mug and set aside the pitcher.
As he started on his fourth cup of eggnog, Gregory decided to change the subject to something more pleasant. "So, how has parenthood been treating the two of you in this world?"
Melanie and Roger just grinned again. Apparently, this was an issue they were both more than willing to converse on. I bet they'd be elated to divulge that kind of information. Roger asked rhetorically, "Where should we begin?"
"Tell me everything," Gregory insisted, sitting back in his chair and holding his mug of eggnog in both hands.
Note: And there we go. After more than two years and eight hundred thousand words, my own epic retelling of the Song of Ice and Fire series is finally complete. I would like to thank those of you who have been around with me since the beginning, those of you who picked it up along the way, and even those of you who started reading, then dropped it, and came back later. Needless to say, I found this final update to be quite rewarding.
I'm not really sure what I'll do now. Maybe I'll write another Ice and Fire fanfic. If ever I do, I promise you it will be heavily centered around the Jon/Dany pairing. That was one of the biggest complaints I've gotten most recently; not enough Jon/Dany content, despite the fact that they were designated as this fanfic's second biggest pairing after Gregor/Dacey. Originally, there was going to be many more Jon/Dany moments, but, as you can plainly see, the story ended up being a LOT longer than I originally intended. So, incorporating some such moments would only have made it even longer. And I'm sure even the people who adored this story wouldn't have wanted THAT.
Before I write my next Ice and Fire fanfic, I may write a fanfic on some other franchise first. It'll depend on certain factors, of course. But in any case, I'm definitely going to take a LONG hiatus from fanfiction. So, at the very least, you shouldn't expect me to produce anything new before New Year's or later.
I also have plans to start a movie blog soon. For those of you who are hardcore movie buffs such as myself, feel free to check it out. Once I get the blog up and running, I'll post a link to it on my profile page so that anybody on this site can find it.
Well, that's about all I have to tell you. Thank you again for reading this far, and Happy Holidays!