'Sunspear,' Lyarra thought, 'Was something out of a dream.'
Aptly named, for the golden light that bracketed the sandstone walls lit the castle from within as a living, flickering torch. There wasn't the sprawl of buildings within a centralized wall as there was in Winterfell but layers upon layers of floors built carefully atop the others. The two highest towers, that her nuncle had named the Tower of the Sun and the Spear Tower, reached hundreds of feet up into the heavens, until the very point of the silver-tipped steel reached past her sight. The architecture was unlike anything the dark-haired girl had seen before, with arched windows and tower bridges that curved gracefully through the air. Surrounded by the sea on three sides and by homes and bazaars of sun-baked clay, it sat a formidable fortress to necessitate naval blockade and traditional siege.
If Winterfell had hunkered behind the Wolfswood, cloaked in the protection that the land offered it, than Sunspear stood in defiance of its own lands, a bright beacon of past ingenuity and resistance. It was a symbol of a people that would proudly march onto inhospitable climes, set down their flag and declare their every right to live there, regardless of nature's take on the matter. Altogether fitting if Dorne was formed of people that were more or less different shades of her Nuncle Oberyn.
'There are also,' the child astutely noted, 'Many stairs.'
House Martell must have strong calves from all the walking. Lyarra tested her theory by discreetly observing her nuncle's ones. She wasn't an expert on the matter but they seemed fit enough.
"Are you done admiring me, Lyarra?"
She blushed at finding herself caught out, heard him smother a chuckle and then, having been encouraged to be blunt and even mulish over the trip, responded. "Not yet, thank you."
Inwardly though, the dark-haired girl bemoaned her pale, Northern skin, as easily given to blushes as it was. Nuncle Oberyn's propensity for japes and teases were not helping!
'At least I don't sunburn,' she cajoled herself, perking up. Lyarra must have inherited that from her mother, as Nuncle Oberyn proudly proclaimed, when she didn't wilt in the slightest bit at the heat. While there was still a fine sheet of sweat on her brow, it was more from the exertion of walking to the castle than the heat, languid and heavy and coiled comfortingly in her chest. The dark-haired girl was almost skipping now to keep up with the older man's brisk pace but she didn't mind overmuch. While there was much to be seen in Sunspear, she was more eager to meet more of her family members.
'I wonder what they're like.' Lyarra hoped that they were as kind as her nuncle was, if perhaps less given to teasing her. 'I want them to care for me.'
There were three distinctive layers within Sunspear, though at certain points it became indistinct by buildings and tunnels connected to one another. The bottom-most layer included defensive towers, two gatehouses, the stables, gardens, barracks, smithy and armory. There were nearly a dozen barbicans that they swiftly passed by, narrow corridors below walls where she peeked slits for arrows and holes for burning oil. The middle layer included a Great Hall, the kitchens, the bakehouse and brewery and a Sept. The topmost layer had the Main Keep, the Guest Hall, the library towers and the Royal Seat of Dorne, which her Nuncle Doran had apparently not sat in for years. The Main Keep was where they would meet the others and Lyarra was so busy admiring the bustle of the castle around them, while painstakingly avoiding the curious gazes of the servants, that she almost missed them.
In the end, the lack of physical resemblance between the many assembled females was what caught her wandering eyes. The first to do so was a sharp-paned woman with dark hair, even darker eyes and an outrageously fat stomach. Lyarra's initial thought was that perhaps she didn't take advantage of the stairs in the keep as she ought before common sense told her that this would be Ellaria Sand, her evidently very pregnant quasi-aunt. Taking a closer look at her, revealed a gentle smile on a face that was not expressly attractive but quite striking and self-confident. Lyarra hadn't ever seen such an assurance on a woman's face before- even Lady Catelyn walked with caution in her husband's home- and immediately decided that she liked this woman at once.
Next to her was a girl roughly her height, perhaps a few inches taller, with the same black hair but lovely almond-shaped amber-toned eyes. She shared the same with the other girls actually, from the tall, muscular one with delightfully shining copper hair, to the willow-reed slender one in lustrous red silk, to the one that looked more fitting for a princess than any she had ever known. The sole one's whose eyes she could not see had teak-colored skin also unfamiliar to her and short, brown curls buried in a book. She was leaning against the wall rather than standing patiently for them and Lyarra felt immediately intrigued when she nudged her head a little to the side but was unable to read the writing. Whatever the book was about, its contents weren't written in Westerosi.
At this point, she realized that the others' attention was focused on her and, feeling suddenly shy, she sidled a little to the left, where her nuncle's height would partially keep her from view. A peal of ringing laughter filled the air and she ducked her head down further, even more embarrassed. She hadn't meant to show herself a craven!
"This one will be yours, Sarella!" A heavenly chirp spoke out and the lovely blonde one sharply poked the one reading a book at her side. "Get your head out of the book! We have a cousin to corrupt."
"She's a rather small thing, isn't she?" The copper-haired one said dubiously.
"She's my age!" The one with amber-toned eyes and her dark hair wrapped into a single braid piped up. Lyarra shrunk further into Nuncle Oberyn's shadow, the other girl merely walked around the man and brightly grinned down at her. "I'm Elia!"
"Hello," was her far softer response. "I'm Lyarra."
"You'll have to speak louder if you want us to hear you." The willow-reed one walked around as well, leaning down to look at her with lustrous blue eyes. "Ah, you've inherited the curls. Find me later, sweetling, and I'll teach you how to manage them in all this heat and humidity."
"I'll teach you how to shade those eyes!" The blonde was suddenly there too, and Lyarra shrunk back, even as the other girl dragged the book-reading one by hand. "Such a lovely violet color! Have you gotten that from the wolves?"
"The Starks have grey or dark brown eyes," was the teak-skinned one's contribution. Her head was cocked in a considering matter not dissimilar to Lyarra's own, as she felt a prickling up and down her skin. It felt like the other girl was swiftly pulling her apart and then putting the pieces back together, with the occasional mix-up in assembly. "There was a Dayne marriage a few years ago. I suppose that's why people presume you're Lady Ashara's instead of Cousin Aliandra's."
"Lady Ashara?" Lyarra parroted in disbelief. Her father had had another affair?
"I know." The blonde one nodded agreeably. "It surprised me as well."
Feeling suddenly defensive of Eddard Stark, the she-wolf objected. "Father is an honorable and dutiful man and he can be very kind-"
There was another burst of ringing laughter before the girl replied merrily, "Certainly so! But these are qualities one desires in a husband, not a bed partner."
'Aren't they meant to be both?' Lyarra felt confused. Before she could pursue this line of thought into a rabbit hole that, in retrospect, maybe she should've stayed silent about, Nuncle Oberyn interrupted.
"My darling daughters!" The man announced loudly from where he stood, bathed in the sunlight and his dark hair gleaming molten gold, not unlike a warrior from the Age of Heroes, "I've come home from a long journey and received nothing in the way of affection from you! Not a hug, nor a kiss, nor even a mere 'welcome' from the children beget from mine own loins!"
He had scarcely finished this before Elia tackled him as a well-honed arrow might and two of the elder ones swooped in to kiss each cheek. The teak-skinned one, Sarella she presumed, rolled her eyes once, as she was folded into an embrace while the tallest one with the copper hair merely offered a sardonic 'hello'. As Lyarra watched this with the silent appreciation and wistfulness of a child torn from her own father, Ellaria Sand made her way to her.
"Welcome to Sunspear, Lyarra," the woman said in a warm, dusky tone. "We're all very happy to have you here."
She nodded slightly in response, looking down at her sandal-clad feet. Nuncle Oberyn had insisted on purchasing a pair at their last stop. "Thank you, Aunt Ellaria."
As she was looking down, Lyarra was unable to see the widening of the woman's eyes or the the pleased expression that briefly crossed her face.
"There's been a room made up for you in the Tower of the Sun, where the family quarters reside," Ellaria continued, offering her hand. "It'll take a few stairs to reach it and in my condition…"
Lyarra's many years of experience with Old Nan immediately rose to the surface. Briefly forgetting that she was a stranger in an exotic and unfamiliar land, that the fierce clawing of her father and siblings still pulled at her, that she was uncertain and afraid in this new world, Lyarra offered her arm to help her pregnant aunt.
While Obella's comment could have been phrased more delicately, she was not necessarily wrong, Ellaria found. The dark-haired child that Oberyn had brought home was a short, slender little thing, sharing a build not uncommon to Dorne and similar to the one Aliandra was purported to have had. Her hair was of thick, Rhoynish locks, just barely past her shoulders, and with a heavy fringe that was parted in the middle to reveal the pale skin of her forehead. She had the same almond-shaped eyes as any of the Sand Snakes but they shone a viridescent violet hue, a shade that glimmered strange and fae-like as the light caught it. Not that it did all that often, as the child had hunched shoulders and a bowed head despite her darting, bright-eyed, curious gaze.
That gaze widened with unabashed delight as Lyarra was ushered into a mid-sized room by the Eastern walls. The arched windows and balcony here provided unparalleled views of the sun rising from the sea and while it was sparsely furnished at the moment, it held everything a child should need. There was a featherbed with cotton sheets and a lightly woven blanket by her own hand, an armoire with two sets of clothing made in Elia's size, a set of drawers by the bed, two oil lanterns and a trunk carved with an array of sunbursts. There was a single wall hanging of the Martell banner and pale orange silk curtains that kept the glass doors and the arched window from view.
Her daughter, who had cheerfully followed behind while the others remained with their father, added more detail. "You and I shall have to share a garderobe and boudoir but I do not spend so much time with my appearance in the morning- not like Tyene or Nymeria anyway, you should have heard how many fights they had before Father ordered one of them to swap with Sarella- and it shall be fine. My letters and lesson plans I keep in on a charming desk in the boudoir. We've found one for you as well! Though it doesn't match the wooden panelling, the legs are sturdy and it has a small wooden slat coming out where you can hide your letters. I wouldn't recommend doing so, as I've already told everyone that it's there, so if you should get anything clandestine or marvelous, or both, as in the way of a love letter from a suitor, than you must find another hiding spot. We shall share a maid too, as do Obella and Nymeria and Tyene and Sarella, and she is everything proper and boring, sadly, so you'll not have any defense from mischief with her. She does braid hair wonderfully quick though and I suppose that is something. I prefer to have my hair braided, so that it does not become frightfully messy when I ride. Do you like braids?"
"Yes?" Was the dazed reply.
Elia nodded haughtily. "I'll never understand Tyene's insistence on curling and perfuming her hair when it'll have to be let out before bed and brushed a hundred time to become straight again. What a bother of effort. I certainly don't have the time for it."
"Neither do I." Lyarra answered shyly. "I like to ride, though my brother is better on a horse than I am. We stopped riding ponies last year and can sit on a proper horse now, though the stable master has to lead us around the trails."
The she-wolf's words trailed off as she shared the detail and a sudden upset befell her as she remembered that her brother was leagues away from her now. Ellaria was briefly concerned as the child's bottom lip trembled once before Elia distracted her again.
"A brother?" Elia mused, curving her thumb and forefinger into a claw-shaped and resting it on her narrow chin, as though she was pulling at a nonexistent goatee. Oberyn fell into the gesture when he was thinking and his fifth daughter had adopted it, as Lyarra seemed to have taken to mimicking the affected accent. "I've never had a brother of my own. We have a Trystane but he's not all that interesting. He cries if you hit him with a stick."
"I think many children would cry if you hit them with a stick," Lyarra offered diplomatically.
Elia waved it aside. "He's six. Only babes can cry if you hit them and he's not a babe anymore at six. What's it like having a brother?"
"Nothing more interesting than having a sister." The she-wolf made a face. "Except that he may fight with a sword and I may not."
Elia gasped in deep, personal affront, as though Lyarra had shared a great and terrible injustice with her. "Father says that anyone who desires to fight, can. He allows my sisters and I to learn and Obera is utterly brilliant with weapons. She performs best with a spear and is one of the best in Sunspear. Not as good as Father, of course, but very few people are. Father says that Obara will surpass him one day, likely when he's gotten all grey and old. We have the household knights to teach us the basics but if we pester Obara enough, she may offer tips or a neat trick that none of the others know."
Lyarra's eyes gleamed. "The household knights teach you to fight?"
Elia nodded happily. "I prefer the lance to the sword but there are many weapons and tutors to choose from. I've found that best one is Father's squire, Ser Daemon. He's very nice but if you choose him, then you cannot talk about it to Cousin Arianne. Else she gets upset."
"Why? Is he not very nice to her?"
"I think he was. Nymeria says it's because they were special friends once."
The violet-eyed girl's face twisted in confusion. "What does that mean?"
Elia shrugged. "Dunno. No one will tell me."
At this point, Ellaria had spent enough time quietly observing the latest arrival to Sunspear interacting with her fifth daughter. Gracefully clearing her throat to catch their attention, she offered an amused smile and a swift distraction before the two could follow the conversation forward. Honestly, not even an hour here, and already Tyene and Elia had started to chip away at the Northern girl's naivete.
"Supper will be laid out soon. Why don't you introduce Lyarra to the maidservant now, Elia, and prepare yourself for it? Order a few more to ready a quick bath to wash away the dust and grime of travel and then help your cousin familiarize herself with the new outfit readied for her."
As the soft, bemused repeat of the word, Elia all but danced her way to the armoire, threw the doors open in dramatic fashion and stepped aside to reveal a white cotton smock and sky blue silk kirtle. Ellaria had stitched it herself and then added embroidery of golden spiralling sunbursts against white and silver direwolves rising from the hem. There was a matching sideless surcoat of a heavier cambric fabric in navy blue but the formality was unnecessary for an intimate family dinner such as this.
"Mother made it for you," Elia announced proudly.
The reserve in the dark-haired Northern child's face broke as she turned and offered a wide grin, much like any of her daughters, at Ellaria. "Thank you, Aunt!"
"It was my pleasure," the woman answered sincerely. "I'll leave you girls to ready yourselves then."
As Elia fell into a chatter, happy to have gained a child near her own age to play with, and Lyarra softly answered her bubbly inquiries, Ellaria stepped out, slowly forming her observations. She would have to put ink down on paper soon, along with her lover, to send the report to Doran but for now, she was satisfied. Lyarra Snow would fit into Sunspear just fine.
I know that the ages are a bit confusing, so I've written up a list of where everyone is now.
Addam Marbrand: 21
Obara Sand: 20
Nymeria Sand, Monford Velaryon: 17
Tyene Sand: 16
Arianne Martell: 15
Willas Tyrell/Aurane Waters: 14
Quentyn Martell/Sarella Sand/Domeric Bolton: 10
Lyarra Snow/Robb Stark/Aegon Blackfyre: 8
Elia Sand: 7
Trystane Martell/Edric Dayne: 6
Sansa Stark: 5
Arya Stark: 3
Bran Stark: 2