Twenty-fifth day, Fifth Moon, 267 AC (+2 days)

I took off my hat as I crouched down, but I was distracted by the sight of a gray hair sticking stubbornly to the felt of the cowboy hat. It wasn't an unusual sight these days, as most of my hair was gray, but reminders of my age always surprised me.

I turned my attention back to the plants and pushed my boot into the dirt, revealing the crushed gypsum that lay underneath. The tomatoes themselves were looking better, as the blossom end rot had been caught early, and the calcium fertilizer, gypsum, had been applied in time. We still had issues with catfacing, but there was only so much I could do about that. The tomatoes had adapted remarkably well to the North, even if they had to be babied inside a glass garden all year long.

Indeed, the melons that Ryden and Arthur had also brought back seemed to do well inside the glass gardens as well. The few peppers that they brought back seemed to do well enough, but we grew them mainly for me, as everyone else didn't like them. A pity, but that just meant more for me.

I stood up, kicking the dirt back over the fertilizer, and left the glass garden.

The olive trees that Arthur had brought back had all died. They grew poorly, and if they lived through the summer, died in the winter. Two separate attempts had failed, and we had to give up on the effort. Buying the olive oil was not a great hardship, but it would have been nice to grow another new thing. Perhaps it was greedy of me to seek more and more things to grow, but I liked the challenge.

I made my way through the outer castle, passing by a few youths who gave me some space and bowed. Their bows were on the edge of mocking, however, as was the ways of youth – ever straddling the line between foolery and bravery. Mostly leaning on foolery, but they were good kids. They knew I didn't care for ceremony, but image was important. Other lords needed to see that I was respected, and despite my best efforts, or foolish ones as Nyra said, formality had leaked into Redbridge.

Its own brand of formality, to be sure, but formality, nonetheless. Indeed, as Redbridge and the Stoney Shore grew, so too did the formality. My success in growing the area gave me respect from its people, but it also put me apart from them. My old friends lived different lives than me, and it was hard to connect with my people when we stood in so different worlds. My relations with other lords were much better, but distance, time, and our personalities made it a poor substitute. The Fall Gathering at Winterfell was a fun time, but it was infrequent.

I entered the keep and made my way to my solar. I lit the whale oil lamp and pulled the latest records. Another round of harvest had been collected, and taxes had to be calculated and sent to Winterfell. The last round of harvest had included spring flooding, so the yields were much higher this time around. And with almost 71,000 people in the Stoney Shore, there was a lot to calculate.

By my best guess, over 14 thousand people had come over the last 17 years to the Stoney Shore. That meant that the population had exploded by over half in 17 years! With a growing population came paperwork. Violet's paper was a blessing, as was her ink, even if it was still expensive.

I snorted to myself. Expensive. Perhaps, but only when looked at from my unique perspective. It was cheaper and more accessible than it had ever been – as had books due to the printing press that Violet had made.

A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts.


Maester Simon entered, wearing his traditional grey robe. "Two ravens came in bearing letters, my lord."

"From whom?" I asked, taking the proffered letters.

"One from Lord Glover and another from Lord Flint, of Widow's Watch."

I opened the letter from Lord Glover first, skimming over its contents. A brief update of the Wolfswood Highway, his thoughts on renaming the Twin Lakes River, and an announcement of his nephew's marriage.

I scratched my chin. The marriage would be a good opportunity to gather with my neighbors and tie closer bonds with them. The stronger our political block, the better.

I put the letter aside for later and looked over the second one.

"Ah, a request for more harvesting machines and seed drills."

"Yes, my lord. It came early this morning, but I did not wish to interrupt you breaking your fast."

"Not a problem, Simon. Fifty more harvesters and forty drills – a decent enough order. I will have to talk with Irrys about the status of the bank soon, as I expected a larger order from Lord Flint's lands. I wonder if people there are resisting the use of the bank."

"I believe Irrys is still not due back from Osend for another week or so, my lord."

I nodded. "I'll note it in my calendar then."

"It still surprises me that you receive requests for such large machines from across the North. I would have thought that the lords would make their own."

"Oh, I have no doubt some are. There was never a law stating that they couldn't, but Lord Edwyle and I made an informal agreement for the first few years that I would be the sole producer. That's lapsed now, but it is still cheaper to buy from me. I don't doubt Lord Manderly is making some of his own at this point, as well as Lord Stark, but the quality of the woodworkers here is unmatched in the North. House Forrester may come in a close second, but they cannot match our processes either."

"Still," said Simon. "The distance is costly."

"Which shows just how good we are, to still be able to compete. It won't remain this way forever, but we have a good while yet. And once the road from Wolfswood Highway is completed, the distance will be even shorter."

"As you say, my lord," said Simon simply, as was his habit.

"How were the examinations this morning, Simon?" I asked, changing the subject.

"Very well, my lord. Four for every five women passed."

"Wonderful! I believe that puts us just shy of what we need for most of Iowa."

"As you say, my lord."

I sighed. "Come now, Simon. Have the women not learned everything, by your own admission?"

"They have," he confirmed reluctantly.

"And have women not been midwives for countless years?"

"They have, my lord."

"Then giving them more training to serve where Maesters cannot is only logical."

"I can see their capability now, my lord."

I smiled. "But you are still reluctant! That's fine! Change is not always a comfortable process. That will be all for now."

Simon bowed before leaving, shutting the door behind him.

Simon was still uncomfortable with women, but he was getting better. Putting him in charge of the nursing program at the fledgling university helped him expand his view and also to share his knowledge of medicine. The nurses would not know as much as maesters, something I had gladly conceded to Simon to get his help, but they would be sent across my land to help the people. Ideally, I would have one in each village to help cure the ails and injuries of my people and assist in childbirth.

It tread on the toes of the Citadel a bit, and Simon had shared what we were doing with them, even though I preferred him not to. He had remained silent on most other matters, but he felt duty-bound to say something to the Citadel. With Nyra's help, I had prepared for that by framing the university as filling something that the Maesters didn't. After all, did the Maesters really want to live in every tiny village in the whole of Westeros? There was no prestige in that.

It didn't really affect them, but I figured that anyone with a monopoly on something that was being threatened – changed, really – didn't like that.

Their response to me had been short, extolling the value and history of their service and suggesting that instead of this fruitless venture, I ought to hire a few more Maesters. I reiterated my reasonings to them and double-checked with Lord Rickard that what I was doing was not illegal. There had been attempts to displace the Citadel over the years, but all had failed.

But I was not trying to displace the Citadel. No one had ever sought to train healers for smallfolk before.

The Citadel had been quiet since that exchange a year ago, and I hoped that I had faded out of their thoughts. I was from the frigid end of Westeros and far from the centers of power. It really shouldn't concern them that I wanted my smallfolk happy.

I closed my ledgers with a thump.

Nothing to do but move forward.