Dinner that evening was hardly an opulent affair, as to be expected from a place so remote as Castle Black. The tables were laden with roasted lamb, loaves of black bread and tankards of dark Northern ale. The meal was largely a silent affair; though some of the servants played a little music and here and there a few of the black brothers conversed amongst themselves, most were content to eat quietly. Half the castle's complement had been put through a series of grueling drills by Ser Alliser, leaving them exhausted and not particularly good dinner company.

Whatever the good captain had had to say to the Lord Commander certainly put a fire under his arse. Tyrion drank his ale and contemplated the woman of the hour. Tonight Captain Jade had the attention of the castle's old blind maester, talking with him in low tones about something he couldn't quite grasp. What faint scraps of the conversation seemed to suggest they were talking about the Wall and the role of weirwood in its construction.

Tyrion wasn't particularly surprised by that. The woman seemed obsessed with the damned trees, and for reasons that he didn't understand. The weirwood trees in the south had been cut down or burnt long ago, symbols of a faith long-forgotten by the southron peoples, and the few that remained standing as reminders of a lordly house's pre-Andal heritage. He had never been a godly enough man to pay much attention to the trees, and now he wondered what it was the Ulthosi had seen that everybody else had missed. Or perhaps not missed, but forgotten. Tyrion swirled his ale and wondered what secrets the trees held that Captain Jade saw.

Someone said something and he blinked, realizing that at some point in his contemplation the captain had ended her discussion with the maester and was now looking at him expectantly. He raised his eyebrows in query.

"Contemplating the mysteries of the universe, Lord Lannister?" she asked. "Or are you busy staring at my teats?"

Tyrion coughed less than delicately. He'd been so caught up in his reflections that he'd been staring at her in rather boyish fashion. "Can't it be both?" he replied once his composure returned. "I mean no offense my dear captain, but your garments aren't terribly flattering."

The woman looked down at the greenish fabric of her shirt. "Comfortable, though." The hint of a grin crossed her face. "Besides, I've always been a big believer in the thrill of the unknown."

"Thankfully, I have an excellent imagination." Which he put to work picturing the Ulthosi captain naked, and found the results satisfactory.

Captain Jade raised her ale in a mock salute. "You're an interesting man, Lord Tyrion," she said. "I appreciate that."

Tyrion returned the salute. "You do me much honor, Captain."

"What brings you to the Wall? You don't seem to be joining up, and Westeros doesn't seem to be all that big on tourism."

"Tourism?" He rolled the unfamiliar word around in his mouth a little. "I was curious, I suppose. I wanted to see the edge of the world and piss off the top of the Wall. I even put off a chance to fly in your magnificent ship to see it… and apparently the gods took pity on a poor dwarf and brought you here the day I arrived."

"Chance is a wonderful thing, isn't it?" The captain said, taking a drink of her ale.

"Quite. And now I have to ask: how did a lady of your qualities find yourself washed up on our fair shores? And what kind of land makes women like you?"

Captain Jade's mouth twitched, just a little. "The first question is easier to answer," she said. "I followed a map older than civilization all the way here, and ended up landing thanks to chance. I honestly had no idea Westeros was here, only that something was and part of my job as a Ranger is to hunt for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes you find the gold, other times…" she waved a hand. "But it's been interesting so far."

Tyrion nodded. "And the second question?"

"That," she replied, "I could talk about my homeland for days and not cover all of it, and honestly you'd have a hard time understanding more than half."

A glimmer of possibility stirred in his mind. "Perhaps you would join me for a game of cyvasse to round out the evening, and you could speak more on your homeland? I don't mean to pry of course, but I do pride myself on being an excellent listener."

Captain Jade gave him a considering look. "I suppose I could manage that."

"You've played before?" he asked.

"Learned the rules in Winterfell." The captain shrugged. "To be honest I haven't had a lot of time to play, or a lot of people to play against. Al's been kind enough to let me test my skills, but that's about it."

The smirk crawled up Tyrion's face again. "I would say that I would be kind in the game, but I fear that would be a horrible lie."

The maester's fat assistant fetched the board from the maester's tower, and they played at the same table where they dined. A handful of the black brothers and the captain's own chainless assistant gathered around to watch dwarf and foreigner face each other across the board. Tyrion arranged his forces as he usually did, while Captain Jade set her army into a tight defensive formation, dragon and elephants protecting the king with horse and foot arranged in a simple skirmish line. Cautious, if a bit unconventional.

He let the captain have the first move, but she simply shuffled her foot a little and sat back, waiting for him to advance. "It's considered poor form not to make any advance on the first move," he said.

She smiled guilelessly. "And give away my advantage? Wars aren't won by the first move, Lord Tyrion. Only by the last."

Tyrion made a feinting move with his light horse. "An interesting bit of wisdom, that. Are you Ulthosi not bold warriors?"

"Wisdom from experience, you might say. We've fought a lot of wars over the years. The bold stroke might win a battle, but that's not the same thing as winning a war. And there is such a thing as too much of a good thing." Jade retreated from Tyrion's feint, and he followed up with another push.

"You don't seem to be the warrior type."

"Well, I'm not," she agreed. "There're some among us who consider themselves warriors—I've known Andorians the king would get along well with—but we've gone a good hundred and fifty years without a major war. Tends to reduce the number of warrior types lying about, you know."

Tyrion thought about that. "If you're trying to make me feel jealous of your peace," he said, "I daresay you've succeeded. I doubt Westeros has ever had a peace that lasted so long. Even the dragons only managed less than a hundred years between Maegor's fall and the Dance… and there were still small wars fought then. The gods don't seem interested in giving us peace for too long."

Another small smile flickered across the captain's face. "You'll get there," she said with conviction. "We're all human—mostly—and war is part of our heritage. It's instinctive, but the instinct can be fought. We can stop it, we can admit that we're killers… but we're not going to kill today." Her king and elephants fell backwards in good order, screened by the light horse.

"Just like that?" Tyrion said dubiously.

"Of course not. But that's the first step: knowing that we're not going to kill today." Jade moved her heavy horse into a flanking position, though one too far away from Tyrion's lines as to be of much use. "It helps that we've spread the process of governance out a little. Wars are easier to get into when it's one man with wounded pride calling the shots. Convincing a million people that war is the only option is a considerably trickier position."

"Is that how your lands are ruled?" Tyrion asked. "I don't recall you saying much about it when we were Lord Stark's mutual guests." He split off his light horse to counter her flanking maneuver. "But then again I don't recall you saying much about lords in general either." He chuckled darkly. "My dear nephew seemed a bit put out by some of your choices of song, though. Evil princes receiving justice at the hands of commoners… the selection didn't appeal to him."

The captain looked a little pained. "That was me being diplomatic, or at least me trying to be diplomatic," she said. "We don't really have kings or lords in my homelands anymore. A lot of my songs are about evil lords getting overthrown by the people because, well, that's more or less what happened." She shrugged helplessly. "King Robert didn't seem to have an issue with the selection at least. I mean, I've still got my head."

Tyrion sipped his ale and contemplated his next move. "His Grace no doubt cast Rheagar Targaryen as the evil prince in all of your songs. It fits, to an extent." Though to how great an extent nobody really knows anymore. Or cares, for that matter. "Which explains why you still have head, limbs and tongue all still attached. Robert would never harm a singer who sang anything he could cast himself as the hero of." He moved his elephants in towards Jade's defenses, and she fell back accordingly. She seemed to be avoiding contact as much as possible, only lightly probing his forces with foot and horse and leading him on a merry chase around the battlefield. "But speaking again of far Ulthos. You have no kings or lords there? How exactly does that work? The Free Cities have their magistrates, but I doubt that's what you mean by spreading governance around."

Jade's light horse slipped through the forest and made another feinting attack against his foot. "There's still a few nobles kicking around. A few still have their titles but it's all mostly ornamental at this point, reminders of who we are and where we came from, that sort of thing. And once they were out of power nobody really cared all that much about the old families so most of them survived to the present." She smiled fondly. "My grandfather liked to claim that our family descended from old Tlatoani Moctezuma himself. It might even be true, even if we're about as noble as dirt. But to answer your question, in terms of who actually runs things… that can get more than a little complex but the quick version is that everybody does. Every man and woman has a right to a say in how the Federal Worlds are run, and a duty to exercise that right as needed."

Tyrion circled his dragon and thought about it. The idea seemed passing outrageous. The Free Cities might claim no lords of their own but any fool could see that true power fell into the hands of a few families and stayed there. Volantis was ruled by the Valyrian-blooded, and even proud Braavos only accepted those who had the wealth to impress the Sealord and the Iron Bank. "I have trouble imagining how that would work," he said in complete honesty. "Letting the smallfolk have a say in the affairs of the realm? Most lords in Westeros or Essos would call it folly. Mine own father would call it madness."

Jade perched her dragon in nearby mountains. "You can't say it doesn't work for us, though," she said mildly.

"I suppose I can't. But how does it work?"

"Funny thing is, my lord, you've got a good example of how it works right here." The captain waved at the hall and the black brothers crowding around them. "In the Night's Watch, everybody here starts out as equal in the eyes of the brotherhood. When you go to the Wall, blood ties, titles, wealth, all of that goes away." She looked ruefully at the Watchmen. "Of course it doesn't quite work that cleanly in real life. Can't exactly erase thousands of years of culture with one oath, and since the Watch is a lifetime commitment nobody can go home and filter the egalitarian ideals back into the greater society. Still, the Watch shows that a society, even a nation of sorts, can be run without resorting to lords."

Tyrion filed egalitarian away for further questioning later. "And yet the Night's Watch is a thousand men spread out over a hundred leagues," he countered. "Even at its highest point the Watch had less people in it than Oldtown. But you propose to let millions rule themselves? It seems so terribly… inefficient. Does it not make more sense to have men of noble blood rule the lands?"

Jade peeled off her heavy horse and danced them out of the way of his elephants. "What you should really be asking is, what makes blood 'noble' in the first place? If you go back far enough in anybody's family history you'll find someone who scratched at the dirt for a living. Grandpa might like to claim descent from Moctezuma, but Moctezuma's ancestors started out as glorified bandits. And we all started out like that, king or peasant. One of the things my people've learned, and it's something we've had to relearn at considerable cost more than once, is that the things that divide us are often less real than we think. Titles, wealth… they're all artificial. We create these things to call ourselves superior to others, but at the end of the day we're all still human. Robert calls me a noble for courtesy's sake, but my family are farmers, teachers and builders… no matter what my grandfather's pretensions are. I would happily put my common blood up against any other you'd care to name."

Tyrion moved his heavy horse forward once more. He thought of Harren the Black, Maegor the Cruel, and Mad Aerys, and other lords he'd read about in his books. He thought fleetingly about what little his lord father and uncles would say about the late Lord Tytos Lannister. "You may have a point there," he said. "Though I am curious about how the smallfolk are supposed to remain interested in abstract matters of state. Most of the smallfolk in Westeros are perfectly content to live their lives while the lords rule, and I imagine it's much the same in Ulthos. Why would a farmer care who ruled what, so long as the harvests remain good?"

Captain Jade stared pensively at the board, moving her dragon from roost to roost. "You might be surprised how much a farmer cares about who's ruling him, even when the harvests are good. And when they aren't good… well, if armies start running around the countryside willy-nilly, or Lord What's-his-ass starts taking too much in taxes because his mistress needs new sheets, that interest is going to increase. Abstract matters of state can get very solid very quickly, and when they do the ruled aren't going to be at all shy about letting the rulers know their displeasure." She nodded to herself, then moved her elephants in a direction Tyrion hadn't anticipated. "I'm a little surprised I haven't seen more examples of that in the Westerosi histories I've read. I guess your nobles are pretty good at not scaring the horses with their shenanigans."

"Truth, when things go ill in the realm the smallfolk can be roused," Tyrion agreed. "But that only happens in times of great stress. The great spring sickness, say, or the Blackfyre rebellions. And in times when the lords have failed… mine lord father would disagree but I can see the sense in it. But what happens in times of peace and plenty? How do the commons remain invested in politics then?"

"Some are like your notional farmer, they won't get involved unless they're impacted directly. And that's fine, there's always people like that and not everyone can live and breathe politics. But even they ought to know the basics of how the system works, and for that you need education. Not just the nobility or the wealthy, every woman, man and child needs to be educated on how the country is governed and how they can affect the world around them."

Tyrion moved his dragon across the fields. "A costly endeavour."

Jade continued falling back. "It can be, though still less than you think. The average person's smart enough to understand a lot of different things. It's just a question of giving them the tools and the opportunity to prove it."

He made a faint tsking sound. "You're far more forgiving of the nature of men than any I've ever met, Captain."

"And women," the captain pointed out. "Discounting half the population seems more foolish to me than obeying somebody simply because they've got the right last name."

"Oh, of course," Tyrion nodded in acknowledgement. "And that might be the greatest sticking point of them all. Removing some of the king's power over Westeros is one thing. I daresay the greater lords would appreciate having the royal nose less in their business. But allowing women a full say without some stipulation? Wars have been fought to keep queens off the Iron Throne." He shook his head. "It could never happen."

"Never is a very strong word," Jade replied lightly. "There's a lot of things out there that the very wise would tell you could never happen, or would never happen again." The light tone took on the slightest of edges. "Generally that's right before they blow up right in your face. Never is a dangerous statement, Lord Lannister."

Tyrion advanced once more, backing Jade's king and retinue all the way up to the edge of the board. He smirked and flew his dragon across. "Ah, forgive me Captain. Your king is trapped. Death in four."

Captain Jade looked bemused. "Funny, I was about to say the same thing." Her dragon launched from its roost and flew towards his king. "Death in three. Shall we die together?"

The black brothers whispered, and Tyrion blinked. He had her trapped, it was plain there on the board. But then he saw the rest of her army had arranged itself along his flanks and waited for him to finally reach the point of triumph… which would let her close around his king before he could finish the job. "A trap," he muttered. "I fell right into it."

The captain's smile was neither triumphant nor mocking, which made it feel all the more worse somehow. "You expected me to play like a Westerosi or Essosi," she said quietly. "I played like who I am, who my people are, traded ground for time and used my king to draw you out. If this was a real battle you'd kill my king, but I'd kill yours and have your army trapped. It's like I said: wars are won by the last move, not the first."

"That's a cold thing to do," he said accusingly.

"A bit," she conceded.

"If this is how you fight, my lady, then I'm frankly terrified of your warriors."

She considered this. "You're probably right to be," she said.

Tyrion paused. "Another game?"

Jade grinned. "You're on."

Log Entry: Surface Day 111.2

Note to self; need to get some more cyvasse time in when possible. Also I need to get more game time with Tyrion Lannister if I can; he's a sneaky bugger. I admire that.