Asha had missed seeing her little brother at supper after he left the Kitchen Keep to go talk to their Lord father. She did enjoy spending time with her other wayward brothers after he was gone; Rodrik trying to out-swallow Dagmer as they all but wolfed the entirety of Theon' cooking, the both of them setting their gluttony loose when they realized the stern little cook was naught to come back any time soon, and Maron told her tales of his adventures abroad while he ate at a more sedate pace but with no less gusto. Truly, time spent goofing off with her brothers were the most enjoyable to the tomboyish only daughter of the Lord Reaper of Pyke.
In comparison, the evening meal they then had with their mother and uncles was more placid and dull, though with the undertone of nervousness and worry among the present siblings.
Lord Balon was not in attendance on the table. Asha couldn't help but wonder what had become of their argument.
"Mother, where is father?" Asha lost the battle against her anxiety and curiosity, and asked. Maron and Rodrik looked up from their food at the subject, knowing what their youngest brother had set out to do.
Lady Alannys pursed her lips.
"He's still in his office with your little brother. I've already ordered the servants to bring them food, for your boor of a father had bidden them not to be disturbed," she answered with undisguised displeasure. Obviously annoyed that her most precious baby was being kept away from his supper. "What could possibly be more important than filling ones belly with food among the company of family?" she continued to lament.
"Will you stop slouching, Asha? It's unbecoming. Sit up straight, my child."
Asha pouted, but sat up straighter to assuage the Mistress of Pyke. Asha hated it when Theon's not around to be of use as a shield from their overly harrying mother. Truly, Asha didn't begrudge him of his status as the Lady's favorite child. Her eavesdropping brothers looked away innocently with veiled amusement at her expense, shrinking from their seats and wary that they'll be the next person their mother would lash out on. Fortunately, they've both grown too old to be cuddled and nagged upon. Probably.
Euron, the drunkard, who'd watched the interaction languidly with barely repressed hilarity dancing in his beady eyes, suddenly perked up at the mention of Balon and the youngest Greyjoy. He had come ashore not more than a fortnight ago, and Asha had been tolerating his presence for just as long. When Lord Balon bade everyone to head to Pyke, she'd dearly hoped that Crow's Eye had overlooked the missive. Indeed, for all that the deplorable man was her uncle, she could barely endure the appalling air that trailed him like a shadow.
"Balon with the princeling?" he questioned with a slur, his eyes glinting menacingly. "How promising! Aye, that boy's lack of motivation towards bloodshed needs to be rectified. A waste, a waste!—if he isn't put to use in our rebellion against the throne!"
Lady Alannys, settling her fiery amber eyes at the man, scowled.
"My Theon is only six namedays!" she rebutted with utmost indignity. "How could you ask a mere child to fight your wars for you? I have told Lord Balon so, and I hope for the silence of his days that he listens to my words, for I would deprive him of as much if he'd insist otherwise!"
Euron flinched at the Lady's temper, but was undeterred. He slugged his stein with a roll of his eyes.
"You baby him too much, milady. He's a better archer than anyone I've seen all my years, and excelled in swordsmanship far beyond his age. Victarion would agree with me on this, aye?"
Victarion, with steady impassivity, gave a slight nod, almost as if annoyed at his older brother for roping him into the conversation. He avoided eye-contact with the Lord of Pyke's rock wife, not at all keen to be on the other side of his sister-in-law's ire.
"Regardless!" the Lady all but screeched. "Who cares if he can fell an entire army on his own? He's a child! You foolish, foolish men and your constant need for bloodshed! Not one of my sons will partake in any such rebellion, if I have anything to say about it! Not Rodrik, not Maron, and definitely not my sweet little Theon! I'd gut anyone who'll insist otherwise! That includes you, Crow's Eye!" She threatened lowly while wielding her table knife at the aforementioned man.
Euron eyed her warily. For despite his rambunctious personality, he was just as careful as anyone who knew her well in provoking the Mistress of Pyke. She could be a force to be reckoned with when she put her mind to it.
"But, but ain't it the reason we sailed home posthaste? And the Lords and bannermen gathering tomorrow? For the rebellion?" he asked, looking around at the others gathered on the table.
Not one deigned to answer, or had the courage to draw Lady Alannys' attention. Asha inwardly grimaced. Let Crow's Eye dig a deeper grave for himself.
"Do not discuss that abominable subject upon my dinner table, Euron. Lord Balon has yet to declare any rebellion thus far, and so, there is no such thing happening within or beyond these keeps."
The Mistress of Pyke decreed it so, and the talk of rebellion was therefore ignored for the duration of supper. Victarion was as inexpressive as always, Damphair held no interest, Euron mercifully decided to finally keep his thoughts to himself, Lady Alannys maintained a warning curve at the edge of her delicate lips, and Asha, Maron, and Rodrik quietly exchange meaningful looks amongst themselves.
Depending on how the conversation between Lord Balon and Theon concluded, Pyke would most likely stay the same for the siblings, or end up simultaneously more exasperating and eerily silent. Women has their wiles, and the Lord Reaper of Pyke's rock wife possessed such in spades. Although she might not be able to change her husband's mind, stubborn as he is, she'd make sure to make his enduring days a living hell, and sometimes—or all the time, the entirety of Pyke got caught in the midst of it.
Tomorrow will be so much fun…
Rosy-fingered dawn slowly stretched its grasp upon the horizon, bathing the distant view of Lordsport in its multi-colored resplendence and chasing away the veil of darkness that shadowed the view of the hundreds of docking longships peppering the blues of the sea in blotches of dark hues.
The visiting Lords of the Greyjoy's swornhouses came dribbling in small group of numbers to the island of Pyke as the sun slowly rose. The entire castle was bustling with activity to accommodate the guests, welcoming them with as much festivity as the gloomy, dreary fortress could. The Great Hall was where everyone gathered, where the antediluvian Seastone Chair was situated within its heart and its sanctimonious proprietor seated upon it.
It was already midmorning by the time Asha left the Seatower and hastily head towards the Great Keep. She had stayed up late, waiting for Theon to retire for the night inside his room. Rin accompanied her as she idly lingered, and she had a wonderful one sided conversation with the lazy oversized black cat as it meticulously groomed, distracting herself from her anxiousness until she finally succumbed to sleep on Theon's painstakingly immaculate settee.
Her little brother didn't return to his bedchamber the entire night.
Realizing thus, Asha raced to her own room to dress for the day and find out what had happened to the mysterious talk between Theon and their honorable (Hah!) Lord Father.
Asha absentmindedly crossed the bridges towards the Great Keep, walking briskly as she gathered her annoying kilts from her steps. Damned skirts and their impracticality... And damn her mother for making her wear one.
When she reached the Great Hall, almost everyone was already assembled and accounted for. Some of the people present she knew, like Rodrik Harlaw of House Harlaw, her uncle on her mother's side, the Botleys of Lordsport, and some of the Noble Houses from where her two older brothers' crews originated from, like the Saltcliffes, the Wynches, the Sparrs, and the Goodbrothers. Most of them were strange faces she knew little about.
The Lord Reaper of Pyke was imperiously sitting on his throne, and all her brothers were in attendance, including her little brother who was singled out from the rest. Unlike Maron and Rodrik who were among the crowd, he was standing at their father's left, a small volatile taut bow ready to explode if anyone ever looked at him wrong. With his swollen eye bags and somber expression, she almost didn't recognize him from the bright eyed, carefree little boy supervising the Kitchen Keep just yesterday afternoon. Indeed, the look in his eyes made everyone who had the mistake to glance at him grow nervous, and the aura he projected made the entire room jittery. A bad combination really; Ironborn and nerves. Oh, boy…
"My brothers, my family, my kinsmen," the Lord addressed the room after he stood from the Seastone Chair, flourishing his rich dusky robes with practiced ceremony and marshalling all attention from within the hall. "It had been almost three hundred years since when the first Targaryen King roasted Harren the Black and his scions in the halls of Harrenhall, utterly decapitating the Ironborn grasp on the Neck.
"He then chased us away from the mainland like pests, smashing our territory to pieces and then offering the chunks of it to rubbish insignificant worms like charity. Our Old Way has languished when he forbid our engrained traditions, and he had taken away our sovereignty, treating us like insignificant pawns in his dominion.
"He made us toil like slaves and belittled our pride, out-casting us from the rest of Westeros!"
The Lord scanned every face present in the room, taking a moment to let his initial speech sink in. Most of them were nodding in agreement, some cursing the Targaryens resentfully under their breath. He had the entire room enraptured, as was probably expected of a man brought up to be a ruler to a nation of hardy men. The old coot can be charismatic when he tries to be, Asha thought with a bit of pride.
"My father, the late Lord Quellon Greyjoy, (What's dead may never die), though perhaps he had the Ironborn's best interest at heart, was too passive, indecisive, and cautious! With his poor decision to promote amity towards those outsider curs, he suppressed us, made us lethargic in the rotting bowels of peace! Peace! But I say, no more!" he declared loudly in his raspy, commanding voice. "No more!
"The Targaryens lost the Seven Kingdoms, and our oath to them had been nulled when they vacated the Iron Throne. The Usurper who now sat upon the Throne of Swords is young and unstable still; a mere fawn thinking himself a grand stag, yet he had done nothing to earn our fealty!
"Today, I gather my loyal sworn houses, as the descendant of your chosen leader since ages past, as Balon of the Greyjoys, to demand that we stand united! As our own people, we must declare our independence! We are not slaves, we are not sheep; we are Ironborn! We do not accept what is given, we take what is ours!"
"Hear, hear!" someone hollered, Asha bet it was Crow's Eye, and the entire chamber broke into enthusiastic and fervent exclamations of agreement.
"Hail our King!"
"Hail Balon Greyjoy, King of the Iron Islands!"
They're patriotism was so impassioned that they'd failed to notice when Lord Balon glanced at his youngest, and the boy furrowing his brow at his father disapprovingly. Perhaps only Asha found it weird and noteworthy.
"Men, ready your galleys, set your sails, and assemble your longships! We must prepare for war! In three years' time, I will take on my crown as King of the Iron Islands, the Sea and the Riverlands, and we shall reclaim what was ours!"
The room erupted in rambunctious cheers, the ironmen puffing in roars of emotional pandemonium. Amidst it all, as the smug grin on the Lord Reaper's usually dour expression became wider, Asha thought Theon's face grew darker, a fierce glower settling at the corner of his mouth in utmost displeasure.
After a minute of celebration, Lord Balon raised his hand to bid for silence.
"One last thing. My youngest," here, the Lord Reaper, now styling himself as the uncrowned King of the Iron Islands, gestured to his left where Theon stood, "come here, boy," Lord Balon beckoned. Theon stonily obeyed and their father held both his shoulders as he was made to face everyone in the hall. "Theon Greyjoy, came about to my knowledge just recently, is as much of a prodigy as he is an ambitious idealist. He suggests reforms considering our way of life, outrageous ideas but noble—noble, indeed! And what kind of father am I if I didn't encourage such grand aspirations? Theretofore, I expect, my fellow kinsmen that you dare not refuse him of whatever he will condescend to ask, no matter how strange or ludicrous it shall be, for he asks it in my name."
Despite the obvious sarcasm dripping from him when he said the words 'ambitious', 'noble', and 'grand', the Lord Reaper uncharacteristically smiled with full intention, and patted the young boy's shoulder fondly. The paternal gesture came as a surprise to most in the hall, but not unexpected. It was common knowledge among them how much the patriarch of the House of Greyjoy valued his children, despite his denials and outward coldness in his treatment of them. Some of the ironmen just chuckled, most of them declaring 'aye' with apparent amusement and not putting much mind on the words of the patriarch of the Ironborn Great House. Theon, for his part, only smoothed his expression to that of uniform impassivity.
Soon after the Lord's speech, the meal was finally announced into the hall. The aroma of the food was nothing short of heavenly for the guests, strange as it was to them. Asha thought Theon's hand was all over them, and she herself, despite having tasted all of her little brother's recipes, found it hard to ignore the enticing scent. There were some newly added dishes, too.
Ugh… She couldn't be so easily diverted from her objective. She had to talk to Theon and ask him what's going on. Satiating her curiosity was far more important than her appetite. She could probably beg Theon to re-cook everything for her later, anyway.
Asha involuntarily licked her lips, trying and barely succeeding on distracting herself from ending up in a frenzy like the rest of the people in the Great Hall wherein everything else was forgotten in favor of stuffing their faces with the new and wonderful spread, and then will most likely be later drowned in drunken stupor as mead, ale, and wine started flowing inward. The merriments will not end all through dusk until dawn, their inhibitions further buried by their rowdy songs and inebriated competitiveness. Asha reckoned that she'll find very few of them passed out without bruises or missing limbs in the morrow, and fewer still wouldn't have their bodies aching or bleeding when they wake up, considering they ever did wake up at all.
Such was the revelries of Ironborn.
Theon fled from the Great Hall and charged after his father when the Lord left. Lord Balon hadn't stayed long in any carousing celebrations since years ago, not since he became the Lord Reaper of Pyke. He preferred to drink in seclusion as he mulled with his schemes, so Theon knew the old Lord would leave the hall after curtly greeting some of the lower houses. He caught Lord Balon on his way to the Seatower, and he called after the man.
"Father!" he cried, hurrying the meager steps afforded by his small stature. Lord Balon thankfully halted, turning around to face his youngest son.
Theon was tired, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl under his covers and succumb in blissful slumber. The conversation he had with the old Lord last night had taxed his young body, and even after that, he'd stayed up before daybreak to help prepare for today's events. His fatigue was far from his mind at this moment, however. No, he was livid!
He glowered when he reached where the old man stood waiting expectantly. It took all his well-honed iron will not to punch his father's hoary face with his reinforced white-knuckled fist.
"You said you wouldn't start a war; how could you go back on your words!?" he angrily accused.
"Don't impugn my honor, boy. I said nothing of the sort," the Lord Reaper answered in his usual authoritative somber tone. "I simply stated what I require as to my part of the agreement between us. A deal, I remember, that you will change my mind with regards to the benefits of war."
Theon scrunched his little face in annoyance, acrimonious words clogging his throat and contorting his thin lips into angry twists, and yet he said nothing. What he wanted to say was probably not polite to retort in any company, much less in front of his egotistical, prideful father.
"Without bloodshed, make my people prosper and change the Ironborn for the better; do that in three years before I take my crown, and I will dismiss my declaration of war against the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, set aside the Old Way of reaving, pillaging and plundering forever, and free every thrall in the Iron Islands, just as my father did. Three years, to convince me. That is what I have decided to be my side of the bargain."
"And the rebellion?"
The Lord of Pyke scoffed. "The rebellion from the Iron Throne, I cannot help. As I've said earlier, boy, we Ironborn are not slaves, neither are we mere subordinates. We are Ironborn; we belong with the waves and the wind and the countless stars. We are our own people."
Theon bristled. "The Baratheon King wouldn't leave us be then! Convincing you wouldn't matter! War will come to us regardless!"
Theon looked at his father, whom had surprisingly sighed in resignation at the inevitability. He was expecting a bloodthirsty expression at the promise of more killing and violence, but it seems the man had always anticipated the price of his resolve.
"That, I confess, I cannot help either, boy," Lord Balon grabbed his shoulder with something akin to tenderness, his old, calloused leathery hand weathered by the mars of the battles of his being. "I will not force you to storm the hinterlands with my men—no, not when you so earnestly threatened to take your own life if I did so, and what use would you be then to me? But if the Usurper marched towards the Iron Islands to reconquer the Ironborn; if ever I and your older brothers are unable to prevent such an outcome, though indeed unlikely it is to happen, you must do all you can to protect your mother and sister, and defend our people," the man told him with utmost emphasis, almost pleadingly.
Theon was momentarily stunned. The look in the Lord Reaper's eyes was so vulnerable, so breathtakingly human. His gaze made him seem more tangent, more real, and just as transient as every human he came across throughout both his lives. It was a part of his father that he'd never thought the domineering and uncompromising Lord would ever let anyone see.
And then, he waved his hand dismissively in a shooing gesture, the visage dissipating in the mist like an illusion. "Now, scamper away, boy. I have more important things to do. Three years ain't forever, aye?" As he was walking away, he added, "I must warn you though, boy. My father had failed to dissuade me from abandoning the Old Way in his time. Pray that you be more persuasive than he was."
Theon was left alone to stew with his thoughts even when his father had already reached his solar in the Seatower. Perhaps he could've stood there for a minute, or an hour, he wasn't so sure. He was only brought back to the present when his siblings found him, Asha dragging both their older brothers towards him.
"Theon!" Asha exclaimed, rushing over. "What happened? Why did Father say those things? What did you talk about last night? Are you okay?"
The young boy sighed. "I'm fine, Asha, thanks for the concern."
"That's good," the girl replied, hesitating. "I guess your talk with him didn't go so well, huh?"
Theon scowled. "It had been as good as a talk could go with that stubborn dotard," he petulantly said.
"What was Father going on about," Maron asked inquisitively, "back there in the Great Hall?"
"Yea, what where you planning to achieve, lad," Rodrik added, "making him say those things?"
"We had a deal. If I could make the Ironborn prosper before he's crowned, he would not initiate the war. What he said in the hall was his consideration to my regards—three years of free reign to ask anything of his people in his name. That's all I got after a night of talk," he explained sullenly. "I'm determined to do it, though."
"And how exactly would you make that happen?" Maron questioned. "Father is known to hardly ever change his mind about something."
Theon crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes roving over the faces of his siblings.
He didn't know if they'd understand. They didn't know that he's a reincarnated magus from the modern era, where the life of luxury to them was a mundane and common place affair for the everyday folk. They wouldn't comprehend what he aims to achieve, just as much as it was very incredulous to his father when he tried to explain it to him. Lord Balon didn't believe him when he said he could make a longship out of metal and stone, or that lightning could be harnessed and used to light every home at night, or that a chaise could be driven without horses.
Emiya Shirou, his past self, was a magus of swords, but before he was known as the Wrought Iron Magus, he was first known as the Brownie of Homurahara or the Fake Janitor, who helped anywhere he could, including fixing electrical appliances and motorbikes. Although he wasn't an engineer by profession, he knew how machines work through his hobby of tinkering with them. Combine that with his learned knowledge in school and his travels abroad, he could proudly claim that he knew the basics.
And what was the current age here in Westeros but an age of basics? He could find other people who had the passion for the bizarre and unknown, he'd teach them what he knew, and together, they'd build a world that could rival the place where he came from. It would probably take a long time in normal circumstances, but Shirou was a magus. He'd use magecraft to cheat in any way he could.
He, more than anything, hoped his siblings and even his mother, to be on his side.
The vision of a man standing atop a hill of swords flashed in his mind's eye, forlorn in his pursuit of an impossible dream. He fought his battles alone, and he faced his end alone. He was as hollow and formless as his swords, as austere and desolate as his inner world. His Reality Marble accurately reflected his soul—a picturesque representation of a scorned beautiful dream.
That man was him, but he will never be that man. That man was from a future that once was, but the path he took had already diverged from his long ago, and Tohsaka Rin had ensured he never strayed from that path. She taught him that having someone to rely on was better than facing the world alone.
This time, he wanted his family to be by his side in all his future plans, even if it meant showing them everything he could do. Little by little…
"By introducing a new era," he told them. "An era of pioneering, industrialization, and innovation!"
"Pio… neering?" Maron mimicked dubiously.
"Indus-what now?" Rodrik asked, confused.
Asha just tilted her head.
"If the Ironborn wouldn't toil in the mines or sow in the fields, then I'd utilize the common folks to do it for them. The Iron Islands has lot of mines and plenty of uninhabited rolling grasslands yet our people couldn't be bothered to make use of it because they are too busy staving off their bloodlust! We have our own vast uncultivated lands that could offer so much, why would we need to steal and raze the mainland? It's not like we could occupy the entirety of Westeros when our population couldn't even account to more than a couple of dozen thousands? How could we even control such an enormous territory? We have power in the sea and riverlands for our naval superiority, but what about the land? Not to mention the difference in ratio between the manpower of the Iron Throne and our own. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose in Father's intended campaign, and I have to convince him of that," Theon enthusiastically drew out almost the exact same points he raised to his father last night.
Rodrik scratched his cheek thoughtfully while one of Maron's eyebrows was rising further and further up his hairline.
"I thought you hated the thought of raiding and pillaging?" Asha skeptically inquired.
"Yes, I abhor it," Theon agreed with a nod.
"Then how do you expect to make the outsiders farm or mine without taking them away from their homes and forcing them to be thralls?"
Theon furrowed his brows. "I'd hire them, of course."
"With what? We don't have money, li'l champ," Maron butted in. "We only have the Iron Price, which is actually pretty violent and is no different from reaving. We barter, but we can't exactly just expect them to accept perishable goods all the time. Well, we do have gold, little of it, I gather, for we find no value in treasures not bought by the Iron Price. They probably wouldn't like our wines either, not that father would consent us to use that as wages for the outsiders."
Theon grinned confidently. "I'll pay them something better, like a good life, a better place to live in, and freedom to be whoever, whatever they want to be!" he avowed fervently. "I'll make everyone's life better, not just here, but everywhere! I'll build an ideal world where war wouldn't always be the go-to answer for every conflict—a world where everyone can be happy!"
Rodrik chuckled. "You really are an idealist," he said, grabbing his little brother's head and messing up his hair. "But if that's what you really want, then I'd be more than happy to help you in any way I can."
"Me, too! Me, too!" Asha seconded with a beaming smile. "I might not be too sure if you'll succeed (Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Asha) but you're my brother, and I'll support you always!"
Maron gave his own smile. "Hey, I can't be left behind! If there's anything I can do to help, don't ever doubt that I'd think twice to grant it," he said.
The bright grin on Theon's face was blinding, and his siblings could all but react in kind and bask in the radiance that such harmony between them inspired.
a/n: Sorry for the delay...