Jaime

The sky-ship unnerved Jaime. It had unnerved him when he first saw it squatting outside the gates of Winterfell, it had unnerved him when he boarded it for the voyage back to King's Landing with King Fat and Stark, and it continued to unnerve him every time the witch flew it to and from from the old tourney grounds. Give him a length of steel and white armor and Jaime Lannister was perfectly at ease, no man was his equal then. Confronted by a thin, half-mad Dornishwoman surrounded by magic that defied comprehension and he was out of his depth, his sword and armor weights dragging him further into the deeps.

He wondered sometimes in the small hours of the night alone in the White Sword Tower—or lying next to Cersei in her chambers—if the woman was no mere witch but some shadow of vengeance, the shade of Elia Martell come back to bedevil them all for their transgressions. His imagination was as playful as it was morbid, in its own way. If Lady Martell accused me, would I stay silent? I did my duty as Kingsguard.

Any thought of Seven-divined justice he put out of his head as Carefree Victory carefully lowered itself to a grounding right where the lists used to be. He stood at the end of the gangplank waiting for the witch to emerge, a wheelhouse and squad of goldcloaks and redcloaks standing ready to escort the master of magic back to the Red Keep.

The door opened and the witch stepped through, her two constant companions right behind her. "Ser Jaime," the witch bowed in her odd fashion. "Here to escort us back to the castle?"

Jaime nodded languidly. "His Grace wanted to make sure you were not waylaid on the trip through King's Landing."

The witch looked thoughtful at that. "Oh, I don't know," she said idly, "somebody brave and dumb enough to try something with us might be worth adding to my team." The big Myrish sellsword chuckled at that.

Jaime gave the witch a polite laugh. "As you say, my lady," he noted.

"Am I included in that estimation, Lady Jade?" A new and very familiar voice said. Jaimie blinked as his brother stepped out from behind the Myrishman and looked up at the witch.

"Your choice, milord Tyrion," the witch replied smoothly. "Are you brave or dumb?"

"An interesting question," Tyrion considered. "I dare say I'm not one for bravery, so I must puncture my importance and admit to foolishness for once in my life. A pity my sweet sister isn't here to see it."

"Tyrion?" Jaime said, puzzled. "I thought you were at the Wall."

"I was," replied his brother. "An amazing place, Jaime, you really should see it. I found it quite beautiful in a bleak, horribly uncomfortable sort of way. And to my surprise, who should be there waiting for our party when we arrived at Castle Black but the master of magic and her companions!" He grinned boyishly. "We spent a lovely time together, and when the lady was ready to depart I persuaded her to allow me passage on her remarkable vessel."

"Always nice to have someone new to talk to," the witch said, sharing an odd glance with her maester. "It was a pleasure to have you aboard, Tyrion."

"The pleasure was all mine, I assure you." Jaime had no doubt that was true. It may not have been on dragonback, but Tyrion had achieved a goal he'd had since he was small. Well done, brother.

"Where are you headed next, brother?" Jaime asked.

"Home to Casterly Rock I suspect," Tyrion replied. "Though not for some time. I understand His Grace has set up a tournament in honor of Lord Stark and Lady Hasegawa, I thought I might at least stay for that."

"It... will be good to have you around the keep, brother." Jaime said.

The witch looked at him, looked at Tyrion and on some unseen signal she and her companions mounted the wheelhouse. "We'll go on ahead," she told Jaime. "You two can catch up."

"My lady," Jaime protested, "the guards are my men, I should lead them—"

"Sorry can't hear you too noisy today somebody really ought to do something about those birds we'll meet you at the gate have a nice time you two!" The witch called as the wheelhouse and the guards turned out of the old tourney grounds towards the city, leaving Jaime alone with his brother.

Tyrion broke the silence first: "She does that sometimes."

"Aye," Jaime grunted. At least there was still a horse for Tyrion, even if he hated riding them it was a long walk back to the Red Keep otherwise. At least this gives us a chance to talk without anyone else around. "So?"

"So?"

"How was she?" Jaime asked.

Tyrion gave this some thought. "Pleasant company," he said finally. "An excellent conversationalist, quite skilled at cyvasse which surprised me a little—"

"You know what I mean," Jaime said with a broad smile. "How was she when you got her into your bed?"

Tyrion turned, a funny light coming into his mismatched eyes. "I didn't know you cared about such things, brother," he said.

"Don't give me that," Jaime waved in dismissal. "Are you going to answer or not?"

Tyrion looked at him, almost long enough for Jaime to feel uncomfortable, until he finally turned and looked back out towards the city. "I wouldn't know," he said. "I never did get her to share a bed."

"You didn't?" Jaime half-asked.

"I did not."

"You were at the Wall with her for—?"

"A fortnight, give or take."

"You mean to say you spent a fortnight with the girl," he said, "and you didn't fuck her?"

Tyrion looked a little nettled. "A man can spend time with a woman without putting his cock in her, you know," he grumbled.

"Aye, but this is you. A fortnight with a pretty girl and you never fucked her?" Jaime tilted his head. "Are you truly my brother Tyrion, or did the grumkins abduct him and leave you in his place?"

His brother sighed mightily. "If you must know, brother," he said. "I did try. Once. I was disappointed at first, but afterward... I daresay I had quite an agreeable time with our lady sorceress even though I never got her clothes off."

Jaime chuckled. "Truly 'tis an age of wonders indeed, if your appetites are sated by talk."

"Don't be like that, dear brother," chided Tyrion. "My mind is a finer asset than my cock, and what good's a weapon if it isn't honed once in awhile? The master of magic is a fount of fascinating intelligence if you can get her to speak freely, and it so happens I managed to get her to elaborate on many topics over our stay at the Wall." He paused, lost in thought. "Much of what I heard was... difficult to believe."

"Oh? Snarks and grumkins and all the other absurd things she sings of at the king's demand, no doubt." Jaime snorted. "Tales to fascinate drunkards and the simple, that's all they are."

Tyrion shook his head. "I doubt that very much, Jaime," he said. "Even if you dispute the tales the fact of her abilities remains." He gestured towards the sky-ship moored behind them. "What I heard at the Wall, well... I need to compose a letter to Father about all this business. I sent a message from Winterfell suggesting he treat with Lady Hasegawa, but thinking it over I know not if that would work." Tyrion laughed suddenly. "We Lannisters have wealth, power, everything a man of Westeros could ever want, and yet it's worth nothing to a self-named peasant woman. A funny old world, isn't it?"

Jaime frowned. "Father's already sent Cersei a raven about the witch. He wants her to get the witch into her good graces." Cersei had not taken the instruction well, but she seemed willing to play.

Tyrion laughed again, this time long and loud. "Oh yes, that'll work splendidly," he chortled. "Our sweet sister dislikes the witch—perhaps not as much as she hates Robert or I, but a blind man could see it—and meanwhile Lady Jade treats her like every other lord and lady she meets, which only deepens Cersei's ire."

"I hadn't noticed," Jaime said honestly. His own interaction with the witch had been polite enough, but she'd been distracted by Robert or the children more often than not. Cersei hadn't seemed to have any real issue with the woman aside from her being young, somewhat attractive and far too close to Robert. Even that had vanished after the witch had rebuffed the king's advances, though after that last time in Winterfell she had been wary of the witch's presence. The things I do for love. "If anything she gives Cersei the same deference she does Robert."

"Exactly!" Tyrion pronounced. "Our master of magic pays the same deference to His Grace as she does to Cersei... or to Lord Stark, the exiled lords on the Wall, Stark's bastard even! Seven hells, she treats her Myrish sellsword and her chainless maester with the same deference. She treats them all equally, brother. It's as much part of her upbringing as Casterly Rock was ours." He shook his head. "Can you imagine our dear, sweet Cersei accepting equality like that? And now our lord father wants her to flutter her lashes and play nice? Better if he ordered you to seduce the woman; it'd be more entertaining with less chance of violence."

Jaime considered this. "Do you think she'd go for it?"

"Absolutely not. She would turn you down gently and go about her merry way. But as I said, there would be less violence involved. I shudder to think what might happen if she turns Cersei down at the wrong moment."


Sansa

Sansa rode to the tourney with Septa Mordane in a litter with curtains of fine yellow silk that turned the whole world outside golden. Beyond the city walls a hundred pavilions had been set up at the edge of the kingswood, and the common folk came out in their thousands to watch the games. The splendor of it all took her breath away; the banners snapping in the wind, the shining armor, the shouts of the crowd and the knights most of all. The finest knights in Westeros had assembled to celebrate her father's appointment as Hand, and they had all turned out in their finery astride magnificent horses.

It is better than the songs, she thought as they made their way to the place her father had provided for her among the high lords and ladies. To her surprise, she espied Lady Jade standing nearby watching the assembled knights with a keen eye. Three of her familiars hovered around her, watching the crowd as she watched the parading knights. Behind her a dark young man in maester's robes stood silently, apparently uninterested in the spectacle before them.

Septa Mordane's lips twisted downward as she beheld the sorceress and her companion. "Lady Hasegawa," she said, "should you not be with the king?"

"Oh, probably," Lady Jade replied with a shrug. "I'll get there eventually, no doubt. I figured this was a decent place to stop and take a look around." She observed the knights riding out onto the fields of honor. "Quite the shindig the king's put on."

"Indeed," said a new voice. Sansa turned to see a short, slender man with dark hair and a pointed beard standing behind them all, smiling at them. "His Grace spared no expense for this tourney. What better way to celebrate his new Hand… and his new court magician as well?"

Lady Jade eyed the stranger. "I don't think we've met before, ser…?"

The stranger chuckled. "No ser, my lady. I've not the aptitude to be one of the great knights. Lord Petyr Baelish, master of coin, at your service my dear lady. We've only met in passing, I fear; the treasury keeps me busy more often than not."

Lady Jade bowed in her Ulthosi way. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Petyr."

"Indeed," the master of coin said. "I do hope you'll be staying longer in the Red Keep this time around. I would love to have the chance to speak with you at length."

The sorceress and her maester exchanged glances. "That… might not be possible," Lady Jade said carefully. "We're kind of on a timetable here. Important magic stuff, you understand. I probably shouldn't even be here but His Grace insisted and, well…"

"Of course, of course," Lord Baelish said. "Such things are important, after all." He then glanced at Sansa, and looked a little surprised. "You've the Tully look," he said to her. "You must be one of her daughters."

"I'm Sansa Stark, my lord," she said.

"Of course you are," Lord Baelish murmured. "I knew your mother, once upon a time. You look quite like her. I'm quite glad to meet you, Lady Sansa." Horns sounded as the knights retreated to their pavilions so the tourney could begin. "Ah, but it would seem that festivities are about to begin in earnest. I should get to my place in the stands." Lord Baelish bowed briefly and vanished back into the crowd of nobles.

"What an eccentric performance," Lady Jade mused, turning back to the field. Her face brightened as she spotted the massive robed form of Thoros of Myr riding alongside the knights. She stuck two fingers in her mouth and blew a sharp whistle. "Good luck out there, big guy!" she called. The warrior priest turned and raised a hand in salute before leaving the field on his red destrier.

"Lord Baelish seemed like a nice man," Sansa noted.

"Mm," Lady Jade replied, then said no more.

The jousting went on all day and into evening, the hooves of the great warhorses pounding down the lists until the field was nothing more than torn earth. The crowd cried out every time riders crashed together, lances exploding into splinters. Lady Jade watched, never taking her eyes from the scene but sometimes flinching and wincing when riders were unhorsed or the collisions were especially violent. Sansa watched battered knights fall without flinching. A lady knew how to behave at tournaments.

The most terrifying moment of the day came during Ser Gregor Clegane's second joust. "The Mountain That Rides," Septa Mordane called him, and he seemed unstoppable, riding down one foe after the other in charge after charge. On one of these charges Ser Gregor's lance rode up and struck a young knight from the Vale with such force that the tip punched through the shiny gorget and into the poor man's neck, killing him instantly. The youth fell not ten feet from where Sansa was seated, his life's blood pumping out in slow pulses. His cloak was blue, the color of the summer sky, trimmed with a border of crescent moons, but as his blood seeped into it the cloth darkened and the moons turned red.

One of Lady Jade's familiars flew over and inspected the youth. The master of magic looked green in the face as the familiar's blue light played over the bloodied armor. "Well," she said more to herself than Sansa or anyone else. "Fuck."

Sansa sat with her hands folded in her lap, watching with a strange fascination. She had never seen a man die before. She felt like she ought to be crying, but no tears came. It would be different if it had been Jory or Ser Rodrik or Father, she told herself. The young knight from the Vale was nothing to her, some stranger whose name she'd forgotten as soon as she heard it. And now the world would forget his name too, she realized. No songs would be sung for him. That was sad.

The wind shifted a little and the smell of blood came to her nose. For some reason, it made her hungry.

After they carried off the body, a boy with a spade ran onto the field and shoveled dirt over the spot where he had fallen, to cover up the blood. Then the jousts resumed.

That evening, the king's company feasted. Sansa ate roasted beef and mutton and let sweet Joffrey speak to her about all sorts of things. The odd flat quality to Joff's eyes seemed to be missing tonight, replaced with a green gleam as he spoke about how magnificent his uncle and the Kingsguard were on the field. Sansa smiled and laughed as a lady should as her sweet prince went on, and all thoughts of blood and hunger fled her mind.

Until the king requested a song from the master of magic, and Lady Jade provided. Strumming her guitar idly, she sang a quiet, sad song about a young man off to fight in a noble war, only to be cut down in his first moment on the field. Sansa started, remembering the youth in shining armor and blue cloak cut down by Ser Gregor's lance. Someone sung a song for him, she thought, and wept a little. Only a little, as befit a lady.

Her father, the king and some of the older knights seemed affected by Lady Jade's song, all of them staring gravely into their cups as she sang. When the song ended, the king pulled himself to his feet and thanked her, and for once asked for no more songs from the sorceress. Lady Jade nodded and sat, returning to some conversation with her maester and the priest Thoros.

The tourney resumed the next morning. Septa Mordane felt ill that morning, so Sansa went down to the lists with her father. Again, she found Lady Jade already there, taking in the sights. Two familiars were perched on her shoulders like absurd fat ravens. Her father nodded to the sorceress. "My lady,"

The sorceress nodded back. "Lord Stark."

"Enjoying yourself?"

"Enh." The sorceress waggled a hand. "It's been interesting but I wouldn't say enjoying is the right word. There's things I need to be doing right now instead of watching knights smash into each other." Her eyes narrowed as the horns sounded for the first tilt of the day. "We need to talk later; you, me and the king."

Sansa took little heed of this as the knights took the field. Sandor Clegane's drab bulk contrasted against the Kingslayer's gilded finery as the two took position, couched the lances and rode against each other. Ser Jaime scored the first hit, neatly slamming his lance into the Hound's breastplate but fell on the second charge. His lance shattered and the golden Kingsguard fell from the saddle with a most ungolden clang. The Lion of Lannister sat up and pulled the battered helmet from his head. The Hound took no notice of this, clearing the field without so much as a backward glance.

"Uncouth," Sansa sniffed. Lady Jade chuckled.

Ser Gregor Clegane was next to enter the lists, his massive bulk astride an equally massive stallion. Sansa had never seen a man so large before; even Hodor would be small compared to the Mountain. Her father eyed the man warily.

The Knight of Flowers entered next, and the entire crowd murmured. "Oh, he's beautiful," Sansa whispered as the slim Tyrell boy clad in immaculate silver armor rode forth on a slender gray mare. Sansa's heart clenched in sudden fear. "Father, will Ser Gregor hurt him?" she asked.

"Those are tourney lances," he replied. "They make them to splinter on impact, so no one is hurt." But the words sounded hollow in Sansa's ears, and the fear would not leave her.

Ser Gregor was having trouble controlling his horse. The stallion screamed and pawed the ground, shaking his head. The Mountain kicked at the animal savagely with an armored boot. The horse reared and almost threw him.

Ser Loras saluted the king, rode to the far end of the list, and couched his lance. Ser Gregor brought his animal back into line, fighting with the reins. And suddenly it began. The Mountain's stallion broke in a hard gallop, while the mare charged forward gracefully. Ser Gregor wrenched his shield into position, trying to handle lance and his unruly mount at the same time whilst Loras Tyrell smoothly moved his lance into position, placing the point of his lance right there and in the blink of an eye the Mountain fell. He was so huge that he took his horse down with him in a tangle of steel and flesh. The crowd around them broke into applause, cheers, whistles, gasps and mutters. Above it all, Sansa could hear the harsh laughter of Prince Joffrey's Hound. The Knight of Flowers reined up at the far end of the list. His lance was not even broken. He raised his visor, smiling. The commons went mad for him.

"My sword!" the Mountain called to his squire, and the boy ran it out to him. By this time the stallion was also back on its feet. Without hesitation, Gregor Clegane killed the horse with a single blow of such ferocity that the animal's head had come almost half off. The crowd's cheers for the Knight of Flowers turned to cries eerily like the stallion's dying scream.

"Stop him!" her father shouted, but it seemed that only Sansa could hear him. The Mountain advanced down the lists, bloody sword in hand. Ser Loras turned to face him, calling for his own sword but Ser Gregor was almost on him…

Thunder echoed across the field. Thunder with an odd, high note to it.

Ser Gregor Clegane stood stock-still in the middle of the lists, his advance halted, staring stupidly at his empty hand. His mighty greatsword lay in the grass behind him, a wicked black mark marring the steel halfway up the blade. The crowd's cries dropped into a stunned silence, then a confused murmur.

The master of magic stood like a pillar of stone besides Sansa, arm pointed towards the Mountain. Blue smoke curled gently away from the tip of the thing clenched in her hand. Her familiars circled her like a crown made of crows, buzzing angrily. Sansa shied back, bumping up closer to her father.

"Enough," Lady Jade said, clearly and firmly. Ser Gregor's great helm turned away from his hand to the sorceress. He bellowed, a sound more like an aurochs than anything human, and charged. Two steps into his advance and another blast of sorcery caught him in the shoulder, knocking him off his feet.

"I said enough!" the sorceress snapped. Ser Gregor seemed to pay her no heed as he pulled himself to his feet, fingering the black mark and large dent the blast had left on his pauldron.

"Cunt," he rumbled.

"Too right," Sansa heard the sorceress say under her breath, before raising her voice and saying loudly, "Are we done?"

The Mountain's massive fists curled, and he roared with fury. Even in the stands Sansa could feel the rage rolling off him in great sheets of fire. He took one step towards the stands—towards the master of magic—then another, then a third.

Lady Jade's weapon spoke once more, sending the knight crashing to the ground a second time, smoke coming from the opposite shoulder.

"The next shot takes your head off," the sorceress said dispassionately. "Stay. Down. Final warning."

At that moment, the king's voice echoed like a dragon's roar across the field: "STOP THIS MADNESS, IN THE NAME OF YOUR KING!"

Lady Jade's weapon vanished back to… wherever it had come from… and she held up an empty hand. Ser Gregor's head rose, and at last he came to his senses. He clambered back to his feet, glaring at Lady Jade, King Robert and the guards surrounding them. Wordlessly, he turned and stalked off, shoving past Ser Barristan. "Let him go," the king said, and just like that it was over.

Lady Jade tilted her head. "Does that make me the champion?" she asked. Her father gave the sorceress a funny look, then chuckled. The king laughed, and the crowds cheered.

Loras Tyrell was waiting for them when they got out of the stands, his shining armor replaced by a simple doublet. He smiled at Lady Jade and presented her with a perfect pink rose. "I owe you my life, my lady," he said. "I wished to thank you for your swift action in stopping that brute Clegane."

The sorceress looked at the rose with bemusement before taking it from the Knight of Flowers. She seemed at a loss with what to do with it, before settling on sticking the flower in a coat pocket. "I don't normally consider bisectings a proper afternoon's entertainment," she said wryly. "So you're quite welcome, Ser Loras." Her face darkened a little. "Too bad I didn't catch what he was going to do fast enough to save the horse, though."

Ser Loras sighed. "A pity, that," he said. "Ser Gregor always did pick excellent horses, and they say he's always been… impulsive. Still, better a horse than a knight."

"Mm," Lady Jade hummed. "Now that you've reminded me, though…" She whistled sharply, and one of her familiars dropped out of the circling formation above them to hover obediently next to her. The Knight of Flowers edged away from the display, eyeing the familiar with wary interest. "Boo, locate and track target designated 'That Asshole,' 96 hour watch, full A/V recording and sting him if he gets out of line." She smirked. "And make it conspicuous." The familiar chimed agreeably and drifted off in the direction of the pavilion tents.

"Quite the watchdog," Ser Loras said idly as the familiar floated away.

"It has its uses," replied the sorceress. "And just to head off the discussion, they're not for sale."

Ser Loras's eyes twinkled. "Not even for all the wealth of the Reach?" he said with a teasing note.

Lady Jade's smirk broadened. "Even if you offered me a cartload of riches and a strapping young Tyrell to haul it, the familiars only answer to me. So I win in both directions."

"Just as well," the Knight of Flowers sighed dramatically. "Father would never approve if I sold you Willas or Garlan. If I cannot beg a device from you, my lady, then mayhaps you would grant me some wisdom I can take back to Highgarden with me?"

"Well…" Lady Jade gave the young knight a considering look. "I can give you a little wisdom, if you're interested."

"Of course."

The sorceress gestured for Ser Loras to come closer, then whispered something in his ear. Whatever it was she said, the genial smile drained off Ser Loras's face, replaced with a pinched, flat expression that reminded Sansa of looks she'd seen fleetingly on her prince's face.

Lady Jade raised her brows, looking innocent as a maid. "Wisdom, no?"

"Yes, of course it is," Ser Loras said tightly. He nodded swiftly to Lady Jade, then to Sansa and her father. "My Lord Hand, Lady Stark… Lady Hasegawa, by your leave, I believe my squire needs some instruction. Your pardon, my lord and ladies." He turned and departed swiftly, never once looking back.

"What did you say to him?" Sansa wondered.

Jade gave her a half-smile and ruffled her hair much like her father might have. "Maybe when you're older," she replied.

Eddard

"Do you have any idea what this is about, Ned?" Robert was a little disgruntled. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour—having only just gotten back to the Red Keep from the tournament. Or perhaps it was the lack of wine and women in the vicinity, Ned couldn't and wouldn't say.

"I know not, Your Grace," he replied. "Only that Lady Jade requested a meeting with us both."

"Only a moment of your time," The sorceress said as she entered, closing the door behind her. "Things are moving quickly and I need to keep you up to date."

"Speaking of moving quickly," Robert replied, eyeing the sorceress and her familiars. "What in seven hells were you thinking, attacking one of my knights like that?"

Lady Jade looked puzzled. "Am I not remembering it right, or was Clegane not about to chop the Tyrell boy into tiny pieces when I intervened?"

"Aye, he was," Robert conceded, "but then you drew his attention towards the stands, where I was! Where Ned and his little girl were! What would've happened next, eh?"

"One step."

"I beg pardon?" Ned said. In the heat of the moment he'd appreciated the master of magic's swift action in stopping Ser Gregor's rampage, but in cold hindsight her actions seemed… considerably more rash.

Lady Jade gave him a grimly bemused glance. "If that asshole had taken one more step towards the crowd," she said with conviction, "they would've been picking shards of his helmet and skull out of the grass for years to come. When it comes to threats like that, I don't fuck around."

Robert barked an approving laugh. Ned wasn't as pleased. "Ser Gregor will not forget today, my lady," he warned.

"Oh, I don't expect he will," the sorceress sighed. "Maybe he'll reevaluate his life choices after today, but I kind of doubt that, too. Probably ought to have cut the son of a bitch down but fuck it. Not who I am. If he comes, he comes."

"Well put, Lady Jade," the king said. "But you asked to speak with me, and not to hear Ned and me scold you about tweaking the Mountain's tail. What do you need to say?"

"I have information," Lady Jade said, sounding graver than Ned had ever heard her before. "The situation in the north is getting worse. The Watch is losing patrols—they've been losing patrols for over a year now but they thought it was just wildling activity. Now, I'm not so sure."

The king gave her an odd look. "Not wildlings, eh? And where did you get this information, Lady Hasegawa."

Lady Jade took a deep breath, held it, then said, "The trees told me."

"The trees told you." Robert replied flatly. The sorceress nodded.

"I'm sure Lord Stark's mentioned my interest in the heart trees, right?" Ned nodded. "Well… there's something there, something very old and powerful, and it's what diverted me to Westeros in the first place." She paused, but the king had nothing further to add, so she plunged on. "I don't know what's going on, Your Grace, but whatever's happening up there is serious enough that the trees reached out and found the first outsider with any power they could latch onto to aid them. Whatever this threat is, it's real and it's serious and we need to start talking about preparations."

For an instant, Ned thought that Robert might have believed. He was on the edge of believing himself—he knew all the stories, even if he never thought they were true. But the moment passed and the mulish look came back into the kings eyes and he snorted. "Pfah, nothing but snarks—"

"And grumkins, yes." Lady Jade finished. "Fuck me blind, I'm getting tired of hearing that phrase come out of people's mouths. I know, believe me I know that I'm talking about myths and legends. But I've survived a long and exciting career in Starfleet by knowing when to take legends seriously and not ignoring the warning signs and right now? Those signs might as well be written in letters of fire a thousand feet tall saying 'something bad is coming, prepare your asses!'"

"You have no proof," Robert said.

"You're right, I don't! I have nothing to point to and say 'this is real.' You're absolutely correct about that, Your Grace. But that's why we're talking right now." The sorceress leaned in over the table, almost seeming to loom over the king. "If you need proof, then I'll find that proof for you. Give me leave to go beyond the Wall hunting monsters, and I'll bring back something to show you, the court, King's Landing and the whole of Westeros if I have to."

Robert scowled like a thunderhead about to burst. "And if I refuse, woman? What happens then?"

"Oh, I'll go anyway," Lady Jade replied calmly. "But then it'll be all awkward between us. Understand, Robert Baratheon, I'm asking you out of respect for your position and the kindness you've shown me during my stay here. Burning that bridge would be counterproductive for you, me and Westeros as a whole." Her eyes flashed, just a little. "But if I'm right about this, I'll burn that bridge if it's the only way forward because there is some shit that I can't just let lie because you like having me around the place."

"What happens if you're wrong, my lady?" Ned asked.

The sorceress sighed. "In that case, I'll happily hang out in King's Landing until my people come to pick me up. I'll sing songs and tell stories at your feasts, entertain the children, amuse your guests and I promise not to shoot any more knights that don't have it coming. Fair?"

The king grumbled. "If I wanted a woman to lecture me into the grave, I could have spent time with Cersei, Others eat your eyes," he said. "Fine. Go amuse yourself with the snarks, grumkins and wildlings. I'll be here waiting for your proof." Robert bit on the last word as if it were sour.

Lady Jade offered the king a small smile. "You won't regret this, Your Grace."

"I'm regretting it already. Just get to your hunt, Lady Hasegawa."

The sorceress turned to leave, but Ned stopped her. In a voice that only she could hear, he asked, "Are you wrong, my lady?"

The lady's voice was just as quiet. "I hope I am," she said. "But I doubt it."


Thoros

The Kingslayer kept smiling at him. This was not quite the last thing Thoros needed at this moment, but it was something he neither wanted nor desired. Thoros of Myr had spent more than enough time at court to know Ser Jaime Lannister's moods, and those moods were almost universally some degree of mocking. Right here and now, standing outside the chamber where the king, the Hand and the master of magic were in counsel, he didn't need Ser Jaime's constant attempts at japery at his expense.

"You did well in the melee today," Ser Jaime said offhandedly. Thoros grunted and shifted his shoulders. "There are few that can stand against that flaming sword of yours."

"True," Thoros said. "I'll be feeling it in the morning, though." Age hadn't yet caught up to him, but every tourney he went through the joints seemed a little stiffer afterwards and the bruises persisted a little bit longer. Perhaps it's time I consider retiring, set up a small temple somewhere in the city and devote myself more fully to the Lord. The thought was cheering, though if Thoros was honest with himself he still had years to go before he matched Ser Barristan's age, and the old man seemed nigh-unstoppable.

"Oh?" The Kingslayer sounded curious. "I would have thought your new mistress would gift you with potions and powders to make you hale and hearty." This was true enough; Lady Jade's autodoc contained quite a few marvelous medicines, but the supply was limited. Thoros refused to answer, however. No matter how free the lady might be with her explanations her secrets were not his. Ser Jaime took this silence in, and his smile broadened. "I see," he said. "Does this mean she prefers you ridden hard and battered?"

Thoros turned to look at the Kingslayer in his golden armor and white cloak, looking all the world like a boy trying to wheedle gossip out of the stablehands. "Or mayhaps she's passed on you," Ser Jaime went on. "It wouldn't surprise me if she prefered the small, weedy type like that maester who seems tied to her hip." His brows lifted in mock-thought. "Or do you share her?"

Thoros of Myr shifted, just a little, his hand drifting towards his sword. "I'd watch that tongue of yours, Kingslayer," he said.

Ser Jaime laughed. "Do you really think you can take me, priest? Your sword isn't afire right now."

Now it was Thoros's turn to laugh. "I don't have to. If you spread calumny about a sorceress, she'll avenge her own honor." The thought of the Mountain struck down at the tourney crossed his mind, and he smiled cruelly. "As you saw, she can be quite thorough in bringing wayward knights to heel."

The Kingslayer's face reddened, and he might've said something further but the doors slammed open and the master of magic strode out. "Come along, Thoros," she called. He quickly crossed to her side as she walked swiftly from the hall towards the courtyard.

"Where are we heading?" he asked.

"King's given us the warrant," she replied. "We're on our way back north, up past the Wall. We've been on the back foot for months; it's time we went on the offensive." She paused. "Do you still have the stuff you used at the melee?"

Thoros's gait faltered at this. "Aye," he said cautiously. "I still have a small amount on hand. But, and forgive me for saying this my lady, I remember you were adamant about not wanting wildfire aboard ship. I distinctly remember quite a bit of gesturing and foul language about it, too."

"Yeah, well," the sorceress said with a mighty sigh, "I don't want so much as a drop of that crap on my nice clean Victory, but needs must as the devil drives."