The Keeper

Chapter 48 – Commission Keeper

A short time later, Brienne looked up from the small boat she was riding to the three Golden Company ships docked in the Blackwater Bay, at the mouth of the Blackwater Rush. The Sea Keeper, which only held a hundred men and supplies, could easily have docked in the harbor but the other two ships were, as Tyrion described, large warships. They were enormous, with stripped hulls, massive tacked-down sails and hundreds of oars. The dragons flying above them, except Serdun, cried out in excitement. Serdun, held firmly in Griff's arms, also squawked and tried to rise.

Tanda, seated beside Brienne, looked up at the dragons and shrank down. "Why are they so upset?"

"They're not upset, they're excited," Griff began, then stopped when Serdun tried to struggle out of his lap. He murmured to the green and orange dragon, trying to soothe it.

"The dragons served with these men, Lady Tanda," Podrick explained. "They're happy to see them again."

He was sharing the small boat with Griff, Brienne, Ned, Tanda and men rowing them to meet the ships. Tyrion, Jaime, Bronn, Balon and Moqorro followed closely in another boat. Brienne hadn't been surprised to see Ned, Tanda, Balon and Tyrion accompany Griff to meet the men. They were the council tasked with guiding Westeros to a stable future. What surprised her was Jaime, Bronn and Moqorro joining them.

Their boat pulled up beside the Sea Keeper first. A rope ladder was thrown down and a familiar face appeared at the top. Serjeant Jon Lothston, his bright red hair and beard shining almost as bright as a beacon, looked down at them. Griff cupped his hand to his forehead, trying to block out the bright midday sun.

"Serjeant –" Griff began but broke off when Serdun leapt out of his lap.

"Serdun!" Brienne cried as the injured dragon extended its wings and flew out of Griff's reach.

Podrick tried to grab the green dragon but it eluded him. Serdun's strong leap had pushed it high into the air but its wing was still weak. The green dragon cried out in pain. It lost altitude and tumbled into the Golden Company serjeant. The other dragons swooped to the Sea Keeper upon hearing Serdun cry.

"Oooff!" Serjeant cried as he deftly caught the dragon against his powerful chest. He looked down at Griff. "Didn't they learn wing control months ago?"

"Don't let it go. It's injured and shouldn't fly," Brienne called up.

Brienne and Podrick hurried after Griff as he quickly scaled the rope ladder. Serjeant handed Serdun over to Griff. The green dragon squawked at the indignity of being held while the other dragons flew around the Golden Company ships. Reassured that Serdun was well, they weaved around the ships, screeching with undisguised joy. The men, having lived with the dragons for many months, cheered and whistled as if they shared the dragons' excitement. Brienne saw they all had smiles on their faces as they looked up at the excited dragons.

"Is Serdun alright?" she asked, her voice high and anxious, as she crossed the deck.

Serdun squawked again and strained for the freedom the other dragons enjoyed. It didn't appear to have suffered any lasting injury from its short flight. Griff held Serdun firmly but was careful not to cause further harm to its weak wing.

"It's fine but refuses to take care of itself, just like it's mother." Griff nodded to a nearby barrel. "Brienne, sit down. Your feet are still healing."

She'd forgotten her feet in the rush of concern for Serdun. They did ache. She sat down as Griff crossed the deck with Serdun and exchanged greetings with the men. Many smiled and nodded to her and she returned their greetings. She remembered how shocked she'd been when they'd all willing trained with her and even gave her advice and instruction on Braavosi fighting stances. The men had easily accepted her, even before she brought the dragons for their protection.

"Formation!" Serjeant hollered.

The officers, fighters and squires immediately moved to their positions and stood tall, like the disciplined warriors they were. Serdun also settled, as if realizing it was also a member of the Golden Company and needed to be as professional as the other men. Around them, the cheering abruptly ended as the men on the other ships also stood to attention. Even so, the atmosphere is was relaxed and light, with the dragons still flying loops above them.

Podrick stood at her side, watched the dragons in flight then looked at the men on the other ships with a slight frown. It must have been odd for him to see the hardened warriors looking so delighted. Podrick had only spent a fortnight with the Golden Company while Brienne had shared a ship with them for three months. The dragons had even deeper relationships. The five had trained with these fighters for seven months. These men had endured the horrors of Valyria to keep the dragons safe. The five were clearly thrilled to be reunited with the companions they'd lived with their whole lives.

Griff turned away from his men when a commotion distracted him. Brienne followed his gaze to the rope ladder. Two men were pulling the ladder up to the deck. Brienne frowned. Why were they bringing up the ladder when the other council members still had to board? She was about to speak when Tanda's head appeared over the side. Then she understood. Tanda had been unable to climb the ladder.

Once they brought Tanda to the deck, the men lowered the ladder again. Tanda, looked around, flushed and irritated. Griff and Serjeant quickly turned their backs, pretending not to have seen Lady Stokeworth hauled onto the deck like she was the day's fresh catch. Tanda brushed out her skirt and stalked over to Brienne.

"What is the name of your dressmaker?" Tanda demanded, shaking out her skirt again. "Your gowns are far more practical than mine. I couldn't go up two steps in this frippery."

Podrick gasped, wide-eyed, then disguised his inappropriate response with a strained cough. Brienne kept her expression polite and tried not to picture the plump, elderly Lady of Stokeworth in a modified gown, tight breeches and a sword belt. Tanda nodded approvingly at Brienne's knee length black and red gown with its high side slits, pleated bodice and straight, unadorned sleeves.

"I'll send her to your rooms after she visits me tomorrow, my Lady," Brienne promised. "I'm sure she'll be pleased with the commission."

She didn't dare look at Podrick, who kept his gaze on the rope ladder, pretending not to hear their conversation. Brienne shifted to make room for Tanda beside her on the barrel. Podrick quickly offered his hand to assist her as Ned pulled himself onto the deck. The Lord of Starfall went to join his prince and Serjeant. A moment later, Jaime, Balon, Bronn, Tyrion and Moqorro gathered on the deck.

Griff strode to the center of the deck, Serdun still in his arms. The other dragons were still flying around the ships, enjoying their reunion with their brothers-in-arms. Even so, Brienne noted there was always one dragon, other than Serdun, close enough to fire on any threat. Even now, the five didn't forget their first duty was to protect their family, always. Griff looked around at the men gathered on the deck of the Sea Keeper and on the decks of the two war ships above them.

"Zaldrīzoti, māzigon naejot issa!" Griff called.

The dragons, as well trained and disciplined as any Golden Company officers, immediately came to the deck, landing one at a time. They formed a straight line and looked up at Griff expectantly. He released Serdun to allow the injured dragon to take its place in their lineup. Serdun stretched out its wing then stood to attention, along with the other dragons, officers, fighters and squires. Brienne watched the five with a warm smile, proud of their flawless performance.

She was so focused on the dragons that she didn't notice the man who came to join them. Griff and the dragons did, as they all turned their heads to watch him climb up the rope ladder to the deck. The new man was dark-skinned, with a head and face of tightly curling black hair. He was elegantly dressed in a plum-colored tunic, light breeches and high boots of bleached white leather inlaid with silver scrollwork.

"Lord Salladhor, excellent work," Griff commended the man.

"Thank you, your Grace," Salladhor replied. "As I assured you, the Golden Fleet is well on its way to becoming the greatest naval armada on the Narrow Sea and beyond."

Griff nodded. He, Serjeant and Salladhor came over to where Brienne, Tanda and the others were gathered near the railing. The dragons also came to join them. The five looked up at Salladhor with interest but without concern. Clearly, they knew him and weren't alarmed by his presence. Brienne shifted to rise to her feet. Griff put his hand on her shoulder to keep her seated.

Salladhor looked from Griff's hand still on Brienne's shoulder to Brienne herself. He smiled and bowed, revealing brilliant white teeth and a dramatic flair. Serjeant crossed his arms and snorted at his performance. Salladhor ignored him, his brilliant smile focused on Brienne.

"You can only be Lady Ser Brienne," Salladhor straightened, his dark eyes openly assessing at he looked her over. "The Gods' warrior, the keeper of the dragons, Lady of Tarth, officer of the Golden Company, knight of the Seven Kingdoms, the King's sworn sword and Lightbringer."

Serjeant snorted again. "She keeps this up and soon she'll have more names than the Dragon Queen."

Brienne flushed but nodded. "I'm Brienne of Tarth."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, my Lady Ser." Salladhor looked at the group gathered near her and nodded in greeting. "I'm eager to discuss your strategies for engaging pirates. Your first battle plan was crude but very effective."

"Battle plan?" Jaime's eyes widened as he stared between Brienne and Salladhor. "You created battle strategies for the Golden Company?"

"Not really. It was my father's plan," she admitted. "I just adapted it for a smaller ship."

"Ahh, Lord Tarth," Salladhor nodded. "I know him well. It's not a surprise his daughter is as direct and efficient as he is."

Now Brienne's eyes widened. "You know my father?"

"All too well, my Lady Ser. I used to be a pirate before Griff, er, his Grace, recruited me to build the Golden Company's naval forces," Salladhor explained.

Brienne's shock turned to disapproval. Pirate attacks were a threat every port city endured. Tarth, being an island, suffered attacks on all sides. Selwyn Tarth didn't tolerate thieves or slavers. This man must have been a very good pirate to have survived multiple run-ins with her father. She looked up at Serjeant and recalled their conversation on the Braavosi dock so many months ago.

"How many pirate ships have you crushed, how many pirates have you captured while flashing your ridiculous warning signal?" Brienne straightened to try to match his considerable height.

Serjeant scowled. "Their ships are smaller, lighter and faster than the ones we protect. But," he loomed over her again, "the ones we do protect haven't suffered a single attack. Our master-of-ships, a former Lyseni pirate, is developing a strategy for taking down pirates."

"So, until then you'll allow your men to be guards instead of warriors? How will they learn to fight at sea if they don't engage the enemy?" she asked calmly, refusing to be intimidated.

"Do you have a plan to engage pirates?" he demanded. "Better than a former Lyseni pirate?"

"What does a pirate know about taking out other pirates?" she demanded. "I lived on an island all of my life. Pirate attacks are common. We had to learn how to stop them, quickly and immediately, as we didn't have a full company of the greatest fighters in the world to save us."

"Our way will be better; efficient and clean." Serjeant insisted.

"But your way doesn't exist yet. Until it does, your master-of-ship's plans are just words." Her mouth curled. "And words are wind."

"You're the former Lyseni pirate charged with developing the Company's strategy to take down other pirates," Brienne surmised. "You're very effective, my Lord. These ships are magnificent."

She looked up at the warships on either side of the Sea Keeper. Both ships were enormous, great galleas, with openings for hundreds of oars as well as full-sized sails. The Sea Keeper could hold off a small pirate attack, three or four ships at the most. These ships could hold off – and capture – massive runners and warships.

"These ships, the Valyrian and the Bird of a Thousand Colors, are part of my fleet from my former profession." Salladhor swept both arms out to gesture to the massive galleas. "These beauties are part of the reason King Aegon is fast-developing the greatest naval armada in the known world."

"You can't dock them here," Bronn protested. "They're so big they're blocking the channel. You have to dock them in open water."

Salladhor looked Bronn over from his disheveled hair to his singed and worn leather jacket down to his scuffed, unpolished boots. Bronn may have been knighted but he was a knight without lands, thus without great wealth. The former pirate's gaze narrowed on Fortune, gleaming and elegant, hanging from Bronn's sword belt.

"And you are?" the former pirate prompted, barely able to drag his gaze away from the highly prized Valyrian steel.

Bronn rested his hand on his sword. He didn't draw it but held it securely. "I'm Ser Bronn of the Blackwater."

Bronn bowed but it was shallow and sharp, nothing like the deep, sweeping bow Salladhor had graced upon Brienne. Given Bronn's deepening scowl, it didn't appear the knight was interested in impressing the former pirate with his grace or courtly manners.

"Interesting." Salladhor swept into another graceful bow. "I am Salladhor Saan, Prince of the Narrow Sea, Lord of Blackwater Bay and Lord of Rook's Rest."

"Lord of Blackwater Bay?" Bronn turned to Tyrion. "How come he's the Lord of Blackwater Bay and I'm only a knight of the same piss pool?"

"Bronn!" Jaime, Tyrion and Griff all hissed, almost in unison.

Serjeant snorted again. Tanda sighed while Ned shook his head. Balon and Moqorro watched with their normal calm acceptance. The dragons turned their heads from Salladhor to Bronn as if following their conversation. All around them, the men of the Golden Company watched them with calm, neutral expressions, like those of Balon and Moqorro.

"Regardless of the titles formerly given to Lord Salladhor," Griff gave him a sideways glance. "Or the ones he gave himself, Lord Salladhor's formal title is Lord of Rook's Rest."

Tyrion frowned. "The Golden Company was only granted Rosby in the Crownlands. Rook's Rest is not yours to take."

"The seat has been without leadership for many years, Lord Tyrion," Griff noted. "It's on the mouth of the bay, ideal as the second line of defense for a naval fleet to guard both Dragonstone and the shores of Blackwater Bay. Plus, the lands around it are fertile but haven't been farmed properly. It's a crime to leave the lands barren when the people are hungry. Stokeworth and Rosby have been providing food for the capital since your sister destroyed House Tyrell. Their resources are wearing thin. I'm sure Lady Tanda will be delighted to have assistance. She'll guide Lord Salladhor and Lord Balaq to make all the keeps in the Crownlands productive and useful."

Griff looked to the Lady of Stokeworth, as did everyone else. Unlike Brienne, Tanda didn't blush under their regard. The lady knew her own worth and her value to her king. Being tasked with teaching former pirates and hardened warriors to be land-rich lords didn't fluster her. She sat very tall and nodded graciously, as if seated on a throne instead of a barrel.

"It will be my honor, your Grace," Tanda assured him. "If the lords will begin quickly, we can have a full harvest of carrots, beets and radishes in a month's time."

"There, you see, Lord Tyrion?" Griff turned back to the Hand. "Lady Tanda understands how to bring the best results out of the land. Vegetables harvested from the Crownlands can be brought to the capital in a day's time, thus avoiding spoilage. Will your queen find fault in our working quickly to feed the starving people, Lord Hand?"

Tyrion hesitated then shook his head. Brienne understood his hesitation. Daenerys had given the Golden Company only one keep in the Crownlands. Griff had taken Rook's Rest but offered an easily implemented plan to make the lands useful, feed the people and protect Blackwater Bay. That was the secret to Griff's strategic brilliance. Even as he took, he gave back, ensuring the other party received good value while strengthening his own position. That made it difficult for those standing against him to separate their gains from their potential losses without harming their own self-interests.

"Are we going to chit-chat all afternoon, or can we get on with it?" Serjeant demanded.

Griff's eyebrows rose. He was the Prince of Dorne and the rightful King of the Westeros, but here, on the Sea Keeper, his men didn't see Aegon Martell Targaryen or even the Sword of the Morning. They saw only Griff, the secret leader who had promised them lands, titles and riches if they followed him. Griff nodded and Serjeant beckoned to an officer standing nearby. The man came to him and presented a scroll.

Serjeant straightened to his full height and cleared his throat. He held the scroll in both hands, as if it were a precious offering. "Officer Brienne Tarth."

His voice was so deep and formal, Brienne shivered to hear it. She tried to push off the barrel and to rise to her feet. Once again, Griff restrained her. He put his hand back on her shoulder, preventing her from putting her weight on her still-healing feet. Serjeant ignored their tussle and continued in his booming voice.

"You have served your Company with distinction. You completed, almost single-handedly, the single richest contract in Golden Company history. You and the dragons secured the Iron Throne for House Targaryen." Serjeant paused long enough to smile down at the young dragons before he continued. "Commander Strickland and I agree you have more than earned your promotion." He held out the scroll to her. "Therefore, you are raised to the rank of Serjeant in the Golden Company."

It took several seconds for Brienne to react, her mind replaying the words in her head. Griff hadn't misquoted when he had called her Serjeant, not Officer. Not only was she accepted in the Golden Company, she has been promoted. She hadn't had to fight for recognition or demand she be treated equally. An honor she'd earned had been freely given to her. Hot and cold chills ran down Brienne's body as she held out her hands for the scroll.

Serjeant grinned as he handed over the parchment. Brienne was shocked at how her hands shook as she took the paper from him. Her breath caught as she unwrapped it and traced over her name the fine script with trembling fingers. Though she read at it, she couldn't believe it. Even seeing her name on the paper wasn't enough for her to accept it.

"Serjeant Brienne Tarth!" Griff's voice was so loud it carried to the warships.

"Serjeant Brienne Tarth!"

The words reverberated through her as the men on the Golden Company ships repeated her new rank and address. Tears clogged her throat and threatened to push out of her eyes. She blinked them back, determined to accept this honor with dignity and professionalism. Griff and the Golden Company had protected her and the dragons when they desperately needed help. The Company had smuggled them in and out of ports; fought off pirates; endured months in Valyria, against slavers and stone men; and engaged in a campaign of silence to protect the baby dragons. Now, after doing all that, they were sharing in her promotion. She belonged.

The dragons, picking up on her amazed joy, screeched and took to the sky. They flew circles over the three ships, their screeches so loud they attracted attention even from the walls of the capital. The men on all three ships broke ranks to cheer and whistle again, seemingly as pleased by Brienne's promotion as the dragons. Brienne shuddered with the effort it took to maintain her stoic expression. It took a second for her befuddled mind to realize Serdun had flown up with the other dragons.

"Serdun!" she gasped.

The green dragon understood its own limitations. While the other dragons flew around the ships, Serdun was up on the mast rope of the Sea Keeper, the vantage point it so enjoyed even from before it could fly. Serdun held out its wings, their length now spanning the width of the rope line, as it absorbed the sun's rays. The men on the warships cheered as the other dragons flew over and around them, squawking with pleasure.

Brienne looked around her. The men on the Sea Keeper smiled and held up their arms, their gold arm rings shining in the sun. It was customary for the Company men to keep their wealth close to them as, before now, they had no lands or permanent homes to store them. It appeared they had collected more gold since she'd last been with them.

The single richest contract in Golden Company history.

Cersei had been so desperate to augment her dwindling armies that she'd bankrupted Highgarden to hire the Golden Company. If Qyburn and Griff hadn't worked against her, the Company might have been enough to keep her in power, or at least, to keep her alive. But Cersei had made too many enemies and no true allies. Now all of Highgarden's wealth had been transferred to the Golden Company, to the men who were slowing taking over empty lands and titles, just as their secret leader had promised they would.

"Congratulations, my Lady Ser," Podrick said, his smile so wide his eyes crinkled in the corners. "May I see your commission?"

"Oh! Of course." Brienne flushed as she returned his smile.

Brienne tilted the parchment so Podrick and Ned, standing beside him, could see the script. Ned and Tanda both murmured their praises. Balon bent down to admire the scroll while Moqorro nodded his grave, serious nod. They both added their polite approval.

Brienne glanced over at Jaime, Tyrion and Bronn standing close to the railing, observing quietly. Jaime's mouth pulled down at the corners, his expression almost sad as he watched the men and soaring dragons. Some of Brienne's euphoria dissipated as she realized that Jaime, while he was respected by his men, hadn't been given any commendation since before he'd killed King Aerys. He'd gone so long as the reviled Kingslayer, the man without honor, that he'd been forced to put away the feelings of being admired and celebrated to keep his sanity intact.

Tyrion, standing beside his brother, looked almost as discouraged. Brienne understood why the Hand to Queen Daenerys was disheartened by the display. He'd watched Griff distribute honor after honor, title after title, keep after keep and was helpless to stop him. Brienne had known from the beginning that Tyrion would be no match for the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms. Even Tywin Lannister would have been unable to best a man who had two armies, dragons, cunning and the temperament to be a just ruler.

Bronn also looked disgruntled, but it wasn't because he wanted adulation or control. No, Bronn also wanted lands and titles of his own. He'd followed the Lannister brothers because they'd offered him gold and knighthood. Now that he had both, Brienne knew the knight wanted more. Neither Jaime nor Tyrion had delivered on their promise of a castle and a high-born wife. Now it appeared they would never be able to fulfill that vow.

"Brienne, this is also for you," Serjeant said.

Brienne looked up to see another officer come up to Serjeant with a small wooden box. Serjeant opened the box and withdrew a thick golden arm ring. The golden rings on his arm jangled as he held out the band to her. Brienne held out a shaking hand and accepted the gold. She was shocked by how heavy the circle was.

"I haven't completed my first year with the company," she protested. "I thought arm bands were given to mark the number of years with the Company."

Serjeant snorted. "You've made the Company richer in your half-year than many Commanders have it their entire careers."

"She had help," Salladhor pointed out mildly and looked up at the dragons. "Magical help."

"And we've all reaped the rewards of it," Griff reminded, a sharp rebuke in his tone.

"Very true," Salladhor agreed easily. "Our ranks and fleet are swelling with the number of men desperate to join the Golden Company."

"Shall I assist you in putting it on, my Lady Ser?" Podrick asked, faithful and steady as always.

Brienne held out her hand to him. Her squire slid the band carefully over her fingers, pressing them to fit the golden circle over her knuckles. He stepped back so they could all admire the symbol of Brienne's allegiance with the Golden Company. The band's weight was heavy and unfamiliar on her wrist. She pushed it up higher on her arm, as she'd seen the men do, so that it rested closer to her elbow than her wrist. That made the band fit better and kept her out of her way.

"It suits you, my Lady Ser," Podrick commented.

Tanda snorted. "Gold suits everyone." Then she nodded. "You are correct, Podrick. The golden arm band looks right on Lady Ser Brienne's arm."

Podrick grinned, pleased to be validated. Ned and Balon both nodded in agreement. Moqorro studied the band for a long moment before he, too, nodded. Jaime, Bronn and Tyrion remained to the side, watching quietly. The three exchanged glances but didn't comment.

"Podrick," Griff called, regaining everyone's attention. "Don't think we've forgotten you."

Brienne's attention was pulled away from her arm band as she looked at her squire. Podrick put his hand on his chest, if unsure he was the 'Podrick' Griff had called to. Griff grinned and waved his hand to motion Podrick forward. Podrick looked at Brienne uncertainly. She nodded and gave him a gentle push forward.

Podrick stepped forward and bowed. "Yes, your Grace?"

"Podrick, you've shown great courage and steadfastness," Griff said and nodded to the officer holding the wooden box. "You've served Serjeant Tarth faithfully, protected the dragons and defended innocents from unjust swords."

Serdun, on the mast rope above them, screeched. The other dragons, alerted by its cry, returned to the deck of the Sea Keeper. Griff paused while the dragons landed and rejoined the officers, as eager to observe Podrick's commendation as they were to witness Brienne's promotion. Brienne gasped when Serdun glided down, but the action didn't seem to hurt the injured dragon. The officers calmly shifted aside to accommodate the five.

"Thank you, your Grace." Podrick stood straight and still, despite the fierce color reddening his face and neck.

Griff nodded again to the officer. The man held out the box and Griff withdrew another golden band. This one was significantly thinner than the one Brienne had been given but gleamed with the same pure golden shine. Griff smiled as he held it out to Podrick. The squire's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He looked from the band to Griff then back at the band, blinking as if unsure he was really seeing it.

"Podrick, take it," Griff urged.

Podrick put out his hand to receive the precious reward. Brienne's heart ached at the disbelieving expression on his face. Though Podrick came from a noble family, he was a member of a lesser branch. He'd been abandoned as a young boy, forced to fend for himself with only his name and his loyal nature to recommend him. The band, though thin, was more gold than he'd had in his entire life.

Griff placed the band in her squire's open hand. Podrick continued to stare at the gold, his eyes wide but unseeing. Bronn, leaning against the railing, straightened and snorted.

"What's the matter?" the knight demanded. "The band too shiny and distracting for you? I can hold it, if you can't."

"Podrick," Brienne called quietly.

Her voice broke the shock that had held him. Podrick turned to her and blinked, then smiled. The dragons, picking up on his amazement and pleasure, cried out. That further grounded her young squire. He bowed to Griff and walked to her, holding out the band for her inspection. Brienne took the band from him and, as he had done for her, gently eased the golden ring over his hand and up his arm.

Griff smiled at the dumbfounded expression still on Podrick's face. He looked at Serjeant then at Salladhor. Both men nodded, as if answering an unspoken question. Griff nodded back then turned to face his men. His gaze went from the men in front of him to sweep over the fighters on the warships on either side of the Sea Keeper.

"Not long ago, I promised to bring you victory, wealth and glory if you swore your allegiance to me." His voice throbbed with command. "I told you I was Aegon the Sixth Targaryen, rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, rightful King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men. I vowed to restore your lost heritages, return the keeps and titles stolen from your families, as the Iron Throne was stolen from mine. I have kept my word. You stand now, richer than you've ever been."

The men cried out, shaking their arms, allowing their gold arm bands to jingle and shine in the bright sunshine.

Griff walked to the railing on the starboard side. "Many have already reclaimed their family castles or have taken new titles and keeps."

Serjeant, Salladhor and many of the officers clapped. They were joined by clapping and whistles from their squires and the other fighters.

Griff walked to the railing on the port side. "The Golden Company's reputation is greater than ever before. Men now will pay for the privilege of serving at your side. Your glory has never been greater."

The men on all three ships roared with delight. The dragons, sensing the heightening approval being directed to Griff, added their screeches to the men's cries.

Griff returned to the center but continued to address the fighters. "You've walked on Westerosi soil, a right you'd been denied for years, if not for generations."

The men and dragons cried again. Brienne glanced over at the council members. Ned and Balon had blank, impassive expressions on their faces. Tanda frowned, seeming more concerned about the dragons' excitement than the men. Tyrion's expression was caught between alarm and anger, as he watched Griff solidify his standing before them. Jaime's face was grim, looking at the men who Griff had brought to ensure his rule. Bronn's expression was tight, seeing the almost fanatical loyalty of the Company men.

"I have kept my promises," Griff continued, his indigo eyes blazing with internal fire. "I, Aegon Martell Targaryen, have brought you home!"

The men's cries and outpouring of approval was a wave that washed over them from all sides. Brienne shivered as the powerful emotions caused the fine hairs on her arms to stand on end. Podrick shifted closer to her, as if the sentiments unsettled him. The dragons, even more sensitive than they were, cried out and took to flight. Griff moved quickly and caught Serdun before the injured dragon could leap into the sky. Serdun strained briefly but settled in Griff's arms. The other dragons flew over their heads, their wings creating a wind that tossed Brienne's hair into her eyes.

Griff studied the men with obvious satisfaction. He turned in a full circle, Serdun's long wings draped over his arms, the verdant green and orange markings echoing the glory of sunset. The dragon wrapped it neck around his head and its tail around his waist. It was almost as if man and dragon were merging into a single fierce creature.

Griff turned to Serjeant. "Raise my sigil!"

Serjeant nodded to a man standing near the mast rope. Salladhor waved to men on the warships. In seconds, the plain gold banner of the Golden Company was lowered and, in its place, was the new banner of Aegon Martell Targaryen was raised. Griff had positioned the three-headed red dragon sigil of House Targaryen in the center of the flaming sun. The spear from House Nymeros Martell's sigil was now in the dragon's claws, holding the weapon as it speared the sun.

The men roared with approval. The dragons screeched in response. Brienne stared at the new sigil, her heart suddenly beating desperately fast. The dragon spears the sun. Something about the sigil, the new symbol of Aegon Martell Targaryen, stirred a sense of recognition, of having seen the image before. But where had she seen it? Who, other than Griff could lay claim to both the dragons and the sun?

Author's Note: The beautiful sigil of Aegon Martell Targaryen was created by the wonderful Aldarion. I thank you a thousand times for creating it. Does seeing Griff's sigil remind you of anything? It's a very important clue to the army of men's strategy to fight the Army of the Dead.

I'm sorry but FF doesn't allow me to post images. You can see Griff's sigil on my Imgur page. Please remove spaces to follow the link:

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