Back everyone! Not much to say here, life goes on and I'm still working when and where I can on this one. And I have no intention of stopping until I have completed this fic. Will I start up another one when this one is done? Only time will tell right now.
Thank you to everyone who has alerted to this story, added it to your favorites or left a review! All of your continued support of this story has really been amazing and keeps pushing me to make sure that I finish this story! I read all of your reviews, and they are a boost…though its clear that some are really not meant to be a boost but rather to troll, but I try not to let those few deter me.
And lastly, shoutout to my beta reader and brainstorm partner Tellemicus Sundace. Lastly, I do not own Disney, nor am I Lucas or Martin; I have no ownership of A Song of Fire and Ice, Game of Thrones or Star Wars. This is purely for fun with no profit being made. And with that out of the way, let's get to the chapter! Stay safe out there everyone!
Resting in the shade of one of the more intact structures of Vaes Tolorro, Daenerys Targaryen watched with a light smile on her face as her son suckled at her breast while Droga pranced about on still unsteady feet as the little dragon hatchling hunted after the numerous flies that'd made their home in the ruins. But as she watched her children feed and play, she couldn't help but feel anxious as well. A feeling that had unfortunately become quite common for her ever since the death of her husband. A week had passed since her and what remained of her khalassar had arrived at this ruined city, and almost the same amount of time since she'd dispatched her bloodriders out to scout the surrounding area. Of the three, Rakharo and Aggo had both returned with nothing to show for their efforts after being gone for three days and nights. Jhogo, however, had not returned. And now as they were approaching a week since his departure, Dany was starting to feel the cold tinges of despair fall over her at the thought of what might have befallen one of her bloodriders.
Hearing a light mewling from Droga, Dany smiled as she reached down and caressed her daughter's scaled head. Some might call her mad for such thoughts. But now that she had this…bond with Droga. She truly did feel as if the little dragon was her daughter, as much as Rhaego was her son. She was no simple beast. She was her child. And just as she would give her life, her everything, to protect little Rhaego, so too would she give everything to protect Droga. At least until the dragon had grown. For Dany was under no delusions that once Droga had grown to full size that her daughter would truly need her for protection.
Hearing the light crunch of sand and stone, Dany looked up to find her little moment of peace being disturbed by Ser Jorah. The older man was pointedly not looking at her breast where her son was feeding. "Forgive the intrusion Khaleesi. But a small column of a dozen men are approaching with Jhogo at their lead."
Feeling her son let go of her breast, Dany gently cradles Rhaego while rising to her feet. Turning, she found Doreah immediately by her side. "Keep Rhaego and Droga out of sight," she instructed her handmaiden, handing her son off to her. "At least until we know more about who Jhogo has returned with."
Doreah took Rhaego gently in her arms. But when she glanced down at Droga, she hesitated. Mostly because the little dragon was growling lowly, an almost cute sound, at the prospect of being separated from her mother. "Go with Doreah, little Droga," Dany said to the dragon, whose snake-like head twisted up to look at her. "I will be alright, little one."
She could almost feel a sort of…pouting, coming from her daughter as the dragon's head dropped and she waddled over to stand next to Doreah. Giving her children one last glance, Dany righted her dress, pushed her back up, and made a quick glance at her person to make sure she was presentable before allowing Ser Jorah to lead her towards the outskirts of Vaes Tolorro.
Arriving at what was once perhaps a main gate, Dany stood side by side with Ser Jorah with Rakharo and Aggo quickly joining them just as Dany began to make out a small caravan approaching the ruins. At best, she would put their numbers around perhaps two dozen that were either walking or, in Jhogo case, riding a horse. There were also two small ornate carriages that were being led by a single horse each. Once they were close to the ruins, Jhogo urged his horse to a gallop so that he could reach her before the others. Coming up to her, her bloodrider effortlessly slid from his saddle and sank to a knee before her. "Khaleesi. Forgive my breaking of your words. However, while I was riding, I came across a small caravan and decided to follow them. They led me to a city and just as I was about to leave and inform you of my find, I was called to by those I have brought with me. They…They knew my name. And they know you Khaleesi. How I do not know. But be wary."
Frowning, Dany looked over at the two carriages, which had now come to a stop as the side doors opened while the servants, or perhaps slaves, arranged themselves to aid whoever was about to descend from within. "You did right in bringing them to me, Jhogo," she said, her mind racing as she held her head high while preparing herself, both physically and through the Force, in case things went in an unfortunate direction. "Spread the word to be ready. But no one makes a move until I do."
"As you say, Khaleesi," Jhogo nodded before quickly rising to his feet and moving into the city to spread her words to what remained of her khalasar.
The first man to descend from within was a pale, lean man with a bald head that was perhaps Ser Jorah's age. But the most notable thing Dany noticed about him was his nose. It dominated his face, not just with it's sheer size, but also with the fact that'd been encrusted with rubies, opals, and flakes of other precious metals and gems. She'd seen many who'd shown off their wealth in various ways, but this was perhaps one of the strangest she'd seen.
The next man was…Dany honestly didn't know how to describe him. It was almost as if one had taught a corpse how to walk. The man was almost impossibly thin to the point where she could see his bones pressing against his flesh on his face and hands. He also had long, fine white hair that'd been pulled back and left to hang loosely around his shoulders. And his lips were…blue. Not from the cold as she'd seen before. But almost as if they'd been purposefully colored that way. But despite his emaciated state, the man moved as if he were still a young lad.
The last of the carriage riders descended from the second carriage, and stood in stark contrast to the first two. Firstly, and most obviously because she was a woman. Secondly, because she was wearing a long-hooded robe despite the heat. And lastly because her face was completely covered by a red lacquered mask. Despite the coverings, or perhaps because of them, Dany was able to place the woman for who she was, or rather what she was. A Red Priestess of Asshai. And while she'd never met one in person, she'd seen more than a few during her time with her brother as they fled between the Free Cities to know one on sight.
As the three gathered themselves and formed a line to greet her, Dany was struck by another sensation. This time from the Force. One that spoke of…wariness. Of danger. Though from what she had no idea. Deciding to trust her instincts, she tentatively reached out through the Force towards the three. The man with the jeweled nose was just an ordinary man, albeit ambitious man to the point she probably wouldn't have even needed the Force to notice it. The woman felt…warm. But it was a strange warmth. A kind of warmth that was comforting, but just on the edge between comfort and burning alive. The withered man however, all she could feel from him was cold. The cold of death. Far more death than one should ever feel like. 'Jhogo… Just who have you led to us?'
The tall man with the jeweled nose led the three of them towards her, stopping at a polite distance and bowing from the waist before her. "Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of Valyria. Khaleesi to the former Khal Drogo. It is an honor and privilege to make your acquaintance. I am Xaro Xhoan Daxos, I represent the Thirteen of Qarth, the greatest city there ever was or ever will be. With me is Pyat Pree of the Warlocks of Qarth from the House of the Undying. And the Red Priestess of R'hllor, Quaithe. We have been anxiously awaiting your coming, your highness. And I wish to offer you the hospitality of my home and of Qarth to you and yours."
Had she not already been forewarned by Jhogo, she would have been more than slightly taken aback that they knew about her. And it was still unsettling that they knew not only who she was, but that she was heading their way, she managed to keep that unease at bay as she lowered her head in return. "You honor me with your presence, Master Xaro Xhoan Daxos," she wasn't sure just what title to address the man by as he did not give one, but 'Master' seemed appropriate provided he did not read too much into it. "And greetings to you as well, Master Warlock, Priestess Quaithe. I'm afraid we do not have much to offer. But, please, join me in the shade so we may share water and fruit together."
Smiling, Xaro nodded. "Of course, Khaleesi."
Turning, Dany led the trio to the shaded area that she had taken to calling her own. She was pleasantly surprised to find that her handmaidens had been quick to set up four places to sit, as well as laying out a large blanket across the sand upon which were a few plates of fresh fruit and two jugs of clear water along with several cups. Taking her seat, Dany watched as her three guests arranged themselves across from her. Xaro took only a cup of water, while the Red Priestess waved off the offer of food and drink. The Warlock on the other hand immediately grabbed an entire plate of fruit and a large cup of water and began downing them both like he'd been deprived of food and drink for most of his life.
Picking up a single cup, Dany took a moment to wet her lips, giving her a chance to collect her thoughts before speaking. "I pray you will forgive my curiosity, but I would inquire as to how you know not only of my existence, but that I was coming towards the great city of Qarth."
The warlock chuckled between bites of fruit, their juices running from the corners of his mouth and down his chin. "The eyes of the undead see all, Khaleesi. We knew of your coming across the Red Waste. And more. We know of what you have given birth to. Your children. They call and sing to all who have the ears to hear them louder than any… Louder than even the Sorcerer from the west."
Dany felt her throat constrict. They knew of her son. Of her daughter? Or did they? He did not name her infant son or hatchling daughter. Was he merely fishing for information? Seeking confirmation? Regardless, the answer caught her off guard and she was left unsure of just how to answer him.
"Please forgive Pyat Pree, Khaleesi," Xaro said kindly. "The Warlocks of Qarth are not known for their…subtlety. But their words, when spoken clearly, are not ones to be ignored. It was on his word, and the word of the Priestess Quaithe, that I came to learn of your existence and the existence of your children. My curiosity drove me to seek you out. If you are willing, Khaleesi, perhaps you would be able to satisfy our curiosity. After all, no dragons have been sighted since the last died in Westeros nearly a hundred and fifty years past."
Part of her wanted to deny the request. To order her men to cut down these three immediately. But did she truly have cause to do so? True, they knew of her son and daughter. And while they were the first to openly admit that they knew, and their methods of knowing were not the norm, it would not be long until all of Essos knew. Especially given what she planned on accomplishing by re-establishing the Valyrian Empire. She would need allies to see her ambitions come to fruition. Turning her head, she gave a curt nod to her handmaidens, who did not hesitate before getting to their feet and leaving the area.
She could sense a wave of satisfaction from Xaro, and an almost childlike glee from the warlock. The Priestess however stayed as stoic and calm as she was silent. Which just seemed strange given the company she was in. A light squeak, followed by the shuffling of feet announced the arrival of Doreah. Rhaego was sleeping peacefully in her arms as Droga immediately scampered onto Dany's lap the moment she saw her. Taking her son from her handmaiden, Dany held Rhaego in her right arm while her left hand idly scratched Droga's jaw.
"This is my son, Rhaego, son of Khal Drogo. And this is my daughter, Droga." Dany said, introducing her children to her visitors.
Xaro managed to keep his face impassive, but he could not hide his excitement from her. Pyat was more like a child, nearly bouncing where he sat as his eyes went back and forth between the dragon and the child in her arms. The Priestess however looked…curious. Her head tilted to the side as she stared at Dany's children in wonderment. "They are beautiful beyond measure, my lady Targaryen." Xaro said kindly with a smile on his face a tear forming in the corner of his eye.
"Power…So much power," Pyat said, the withered warlock looking like it was taking all of his power to keep himself in place. "A dragon, after so long… She calls like an oasis in the midst of the Red Wastes. And your son… So young…yet so much potential. He wi–would be a fine addition to the House of the Undying. His power would be unmatched, once trained. Even I would stand no chance against him."
Dany did not care for the looks Pyat was sending her children. Apparently neither did Droga, given the glare and low hiss she sent towards the man. She knew that her children were powerful. She could feel it. And it wasn't just the feelings of love a mother had for her children. She could feel the Force swelling within both Rhaego and Droga. Though what it meant for either, she had no idea. She could only hope that Jon, and Master Nox, might have answers for her the next time she was able to speak with them.
"Perhaps. Yet they are still my children. And they will be raised as befitting their status. A son of Valyria with the blood of the greatest of Khals. And as a dragon." Dany replied, keeping a firm hold on her children.
"Of course, they will, Khaleesi. Despite my associate's excitement, they are your children. And their lots in life are yours to decide, and yours alone." Despite keeping his eyes on her the entire time he spoke, Dany could tell the last part of Xaro's proclamation was directed towards the warlock.
Nodding, Dany gave herself a moment to settle as she shifted Rhaego while Droga curled up in her lap. "I hope that seeing my children has satisfied your curiosity. And perhaps now we might begin talks of the future?"
Xaro spared a glance towards both the warlock and priestess before speaking. "Yes. Our curiosity has been satisfied and then some Khaleesi. So, let us now move to the talks of the future. As is Dothraki culture, a Khaleesi should return and become Dosh Khaleen upon the death of her Khal. Yet you have denied this tradition. Which means you have intentions for the future beyond remaining with the Dothraki. Perhaps reclaiming the Iron Throne of Westeros?"
"That was my brother's dream," Dany nodded. "However, it is not mine. Westeros is the past for me. My ambitions, and the ambitions of my now deceased husband, is to bring back the greatest empire that ever existed."
Xaro frowned, before his eyes went wide in realization. "Valyria. You intend to try and rebuild the Valyrian Empire."
"Yes," Dany replied bluntly. "I am under no delusions that I will be able to complete such a task in my lifetime. Or even in the lifetime of my son. But I can and will start the foundation to restore that which has been lost. And to do so, I need friends and allies. Friends and allies that will find themselves richly rewarded with both coin and status in my Empire. Friends and allies perhaps like yourself, Xaro Xhoan Daxos."
Leaning back, Xaro remained impassive as he thought on her offer. "A tempting offer, Lady Targaryen. Yet you must realize that, even during the height of the Valyrian Empire, Qarth stood on her own. While the Thirteen have power and influence, in the end we are merely merchants. Perhaps you can sway the Thirteen to join with your cause, but then you will need to contend with the Ancient Guild of Spicers and the Tourmaline Brotherhood. And even if you somehow managed to convince all three to work with you in your plans to restore Valyria, the Pureborn, the Enthroned, the noble rulers of Qarth will never allow the greatest city there ever was to be subservient."
Xaro looked off into the distance as if he were giving her proposal serious thought. "It is a risk. A great risk. Many strive to create an empire, or to bring back the days of Valyria. Almost all fail. Yet with you Lady Targaryen, one who has done the impossible by bringing dragons back to our world… You, I believe, have a chance far better than most." Turning attention back to her, Dany kept herself completely impassive as she waited for his decision. "I offer you and yours the sanctuary of my estate, Khaleesi. I will vouch for you to petition the Thirteen and the others. However, convincing them to ally with yourself and your planned restoration of Valyria will be on you."
Dany felt like a weight had been lifted from her chest, only to be replaced with yet another. She now had a chance to gain allies for her goal. The trouble now lay in convincing them to follow her. 'I've crested the hill, yet now stand before a mountain.' "Your hospitality and vouching are appreciated, Master Xaro."
Xaro smiled at her again and inclined his head. "Great rewards often follow great risks, Lady Targaryen. And this venture of yours is great indeed."
Shifting Droga so that her daughter could lay across her shoulders and the back of her neck, Dany easily rose to her feet with Rhaego still in her arms, prompting her three guests to do the same. "We will collect what we have and make ready to follow you and yours back to Qarth, Master Xaro," Dany said to the merchant. "We should be ready to set out well before nightfall."
Smiling once more, Xaro inclined his head and departed along with the warlock, leaving her alone with the Red Priestess. Standing in the woman's presence was an unsettling experience for Dany now that it was just her. The lacquered mask hid any facial expression, and while she could feel a comforting warmth coming from the woman from the Force, that was all she could feel from her. No thought. No emotion. Nothing. The Red Priestess's eyes rested on the dragon on her shoulders and the son in her arms. "Three."
Dany had just been about to turn and leave the woman when the one word, the first word the woman had spoken, reached her ears. "Three?" She asked back.
The woman's head tilted. "A vision in the flames, granted by the Lord of Light showed me three children in your arms. Three children born of fire. Because of this, three eggs were gifted to a merchant so they might reach your hands."
Dany felt her throat constrict as her grip tightened on her son. Her daughter, sensing her distress, perked her head up as a low rumbling hiss hummed through her little body. If she was following this woman's words correctly, then the Red Priests and Priestess had a vision of her well before she ever married Drogo. And they took steps to see their vision fulfilled by allowing the three eggs Illyrio had gifted her at her wedding to leave Asshai in his hands, knowing where they would end up. "The dragon lords of old only ever had a single dragon at a time. And there were reasons for this," Dany answered, trying to be as vague as possible as she did not want to give away some of the secrets of Valyria Jon and Master Nox had imparted to her.
The woman didn't say anything as she just continued to stare at her. "The vision has changed. The work of his champion or his enemy?" The Priestess didn't seem to be talking to Dany, she was just, talking. "A possible fate, your possible fate, has been changed, Daenerys Targaryen. Yet, if it is for the better or worse is yet to be seen." And with that, the Red Priestess turned and walked away, leaving Dany alone with her bloodriders, handmaidens, and Ser Jorah.
"Be wary with her, Khaleesi," Ser Jorah said from her side, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, ready to bare steel at a moment's notice. "And the warlock. I have yet to hear a single kind word said about the warlocks of Qarth. And the Red Priestess serve only one master and have their own goals."
"I know," Dany responded. "But to see my goals fulfilled, I will need allies. Some of whom will not be of the most noble of sort. They will try and use me. Just as much as I try and use them. The trick will be staying one step ahead of them." Switching to Dothraki, she addressed her khalasar, "Collect everything of value that we have brought with us or that we found while here. We set out for Qarth before the sun sets."
Ned was able to smell King's Landing well before they arrived. The festering stench of over half a million people living practically on top of one another without adequate drainage created the pungent smell that the capital city of Westeros was unfortunately so well known for. And while it was clear that many were used to the smell, those who were accompanying him, namely his daughters, ward Jayne, and the Lady Nyra Nox clearly were not. Nyra, insisting on riding next to Ned as they passed through the gates into the city of King's Landing, managed to keep a straight face, but Ned could tell that she was just barely holding it together. Between the masses that'd come to either see the return of their King, or more accurately to beg from the passing nobles, and the stench of the city, it was fair to say that Lady Nox did not have a favorable first impression of the city.
As they progressed up the roads towards the Red Keep, the number of smallfolk lining the streets grew larger and larger until Ned was sure that nearly half the city had turned out to welcome the King home. Robert, for his part, seemed to be in his element. For all the faults he knew that his brother-by-choice had, he had an almost uncanny ability to turn enemies into friends and garner the love of the smallfolk. Cheers for the King swept through the streets as Robert raised his hand, waving to the crowd as he rode, pausing every now and then to perhaps toss a few coins out to the crowd or throw a smile and a wink towards a beautiful woman.
"Lord Stark," Nyra said, bringing her mare up beside him. "Perhaps now would be a fine time to start with what we discussed?"
After watching Robert toss a few more coins to the smallfolk, an act that was soon followed by Renly as the youngest brother to the King actually got off his horse to interact with the people, Ned nodded. He turned back towards the carriage carrying his daughters, as both of his sons were returning to Winterfell with Nox. Catching Ser Jory's eye, Ned motioned for the captain of his guard to approach. "Slow the procession and stand ready. Bring my daughters out and give them each one bag to hand out.
Nodding, Jory made his way back and relayed Ned's orders to the rest of the Northern procession. His daughters, ever eager to see new sights, nearly jumped out of the carriage as soon as it was safe to do so. Arya was bounding about with excitement as she looked around in wonder. Whereas Sansa stepped down with only a touch more dignity but who was clearly excited at being in King's Landing.
Slowing her own mare, Lady Nyra gracefully slid down from her saddle, pulling a small bag from her saddle bags just as similar ones were being handed over to his daughters and Jeyne Poole. Ser Loras had been true to his word, and after the Reach knight had been awarded the winner's purse, he immediately sent half of it to House Stark to be used however they deemed fit. At fifteen-thousand dragons worth of coins and jewels, it certainly was no small amount even for a Great House of Westeros. Though considering it was half of the winner's purse, Ned was starting to dread learning the full impact the tournament had on the crown's coffers. But, alas, Ned had decided that he would put the coin to good use. Together with Nyra, the two had spent nearly the entire trip from Harrenhal to King's Landing discussing the best ways in which to use the coin. The first was what they were doing now, giving coin to the people of King's Landing to garner the favor of the smallfolk.
Taking his own bag, Ned kept half an eye on his daughters, who were approaching the sides of the road where the smallfolk who'd realized what was about to happen were eagerly gathering. Pulling a few coins, a mixture of silver and a few gold, Ned began absentmindedly handing the coins out to whoever he saw first.
Robert, realizing that Ned and the others had slowed, called out for the rest of the procession to match their pace. Though his orders seemed to have been ignored by the monstrosity of a carriage that Ned knew carried the Queen and the royal children. Instead of slowing, the carriage almost seemed to have sped up, forcing smallfolk and goldcloaks out of its path as it made its way towards the Red Keep.
Shaking his head, Ned emptied the last of his purse into the hands of a father and mother, who had three small children hanging off their legs and were dressed in little more than rags, making his way towards his daughters. Arya, ever the impatient one, had already emptied her purse and was now looking as if she were both bored and more than a little overwhelmed as more and more smallfolk asked her for coin, which she had to deny as she'd already given out all that she had.
Sansa, on the other hand, was seemingly in her element. Sansa was smiling, focusing on handing her few coins to children and then their families if any were present. She gave encouraging words to those who needed it. Hugged children and held the hands of their mothers. In all, she was the picture of a perfect noble Lady. 'You would be proud of our daughter, Cat,' Ned thought sadly as he watched his daughter, the spitting image of her mother, give a young boy her last coin, followed by a hug and a light kiss on his forehead before backing away due to her purse now being empty.
With them slowing to hand out coins to the denizens of King's Landing, their procession up to the Red Keep slowed to a near halt and as a result those of the North were the last to enter the inner walls leading to the Red Keep. Once they were inside, Ned turned towards Jory. "See to it that my daughters and the rest of our House find their lodgings within the Tower of the Hand," he commanded to his captain before turning towards Lady Nyra. "Lady Nyra, we have a Small Council meeting waiting for us."
Nodding, Nyra fell in step with him as the two headed into the debths of the Red Keep while his family and House made their way towards the Tower of the Hand. Little had changed in the few years since he'd been in the Red Keep, and he could only thank the gods that the reasoning for him being here this time was not the same as the previous two times he'd been forced to come south. The first to overthrow the Mad King. And the second to purge the Order of the Guiding Hand from the ranks of the Maesters. He could only pray to the old gods that things would continue to stay calm for the duration of his time as Hand of the King. But a nagging feeling in the back of his mind told him that such thoughts were nothing more than a fool's errand. And this time, he was without Winter and Nox. At least for the time being. 'Nox will return once his curiosity is sated. And as for Winter…while I would've preferred her here by my side, she would not have fared well so far away from the cold of the north and the woods she calls home.'
Arriving at the corridor leading to the Small Council chambers, Ned was pleasantly surprised to find two of the Kingsguard standing watch outside the doors. Which meant that not only was Robert in attendance, he had also beaten them here. Giving the two men a nod of acknowledgement, as he couldn't think of their names off the top of his head, Ned walked past them and opened the doors to the Small Council. "Ned! About time you and the sorcerer's woman made your way here."
Allowing Nyra to walk in first, Ned allowed the doors to close behind him as he stepped further into the Small Council chambers. The table that dominated the center of the room was already almost completely full with Robert sitting at the head of the table with a stoic Ser Barristan standing behind him. To the king's left sat a large man, larger than even Wyman, who had several long lengths of chains around his neck and shoulders which served to name him as the new Grand Maester. Petyr Baelish was sitting next to the Maester, writing away in his ledger that held the crown's finances. The next seat down was occupied by Varys, who was sitting as far away from the King as he could without occupying the seat directly opposite the King that was reserved for the Hand of the King. On the other side of the table, only one of the three seats were filled, and that was the seat that was closest to the King, which had been claimed by Renly.
"Apologies, your grace," Ned said, speaking for both himself and Nyra. "I had not anticipated that our actions on the path to the Red Keep would delay us so. And I wanted to make sure my daughters and house was situated as w—"
"Enough apologies, Ned," Robert cut in, motioning towards the seat opposite him. "Take your seat, Ned. And…Lady Nox. Take whichever seat you wish."
Nodding, Ned took his place in the chair directly across from the King, while Nyra took the empty seat that was directly on Ned's right. "Before we begin, Lord Hand, this belongs to you." Glancing towards the Grand Maester, Ned saw that the man was holding out a golden pin in the shape of hand.
Reaching across the table, Nyra took the pin from the Maester before turning and presenting the golden hand to Ned. Despite being so small, Ned felt like he was holding the weight of all of Westeros in his hand when he took the pin from Nyra and stuck it to the chest of his doublet. "My thanks, Grand Maester. Though yours is the only face here I do not recognize."
"This here is Jeorge… Perhaps the only man fatter than the King in all of King's Landing," Robert gaffed, chuckling at his own joke. "And I know that the Maesters have not yet earned the North's forgiveness. Hells, they haven't even truly earned my own. But the man knows his duties and gives decent advice. Now, we all know each other. So, let's get started."
"Forgive me, your grace," Nyra said politely, inclining her head towards the vacant seat. "But what about Lord Stannis? Or the proxy that he designated to fill his seat? Will they not be joining us?"
At this, Robert growled. "No. My stick-up-his-ass brother is still holed up on Dragonstone with no explanation as for what he is doing or how long his stay will be. He has yet to designate someone to take his position till he returns. The vessel Shireen will be taking leaves at first light. Should she be unable to find out what is going on with Stannis, or if we don't hear from either within a fortnight of her leaving…then I will appoint a new Master of Ships to the Small Council."
"Replace him?" Renly repeated, seemingly not believing what he'd just heard. "He's our bro—"
"I know," Robert replied, shooting his youngest brother a look that shut him up. "Which makes his absence and silence even more inexcusable. And had our positions been reversed in this matter, he would've already dismissed either of us or replaced us with someone else. I've been more than lenient with him. It's time for him to return to his duties. And if he cannot, or will not, then I will find someone who will."
"My birds have sung a song during the tournament that might explain Lord Stannis's silence, your grace." Varys spoke up, the bald man completely calm. "It seems that Lord Stannis has recently received a visitor. A Red Priestess of Asshai. While she arrived well before your brother's silence, her role was limited to just a visiting priest or priestess. Though the last whispers I had from the island spoke of Lord Stannis elevating her to an advisory position."
"A Red Priestess…I've heard tales of them. None of them good." Petyr commented while keeping his eyes down at his ledger. "'Witches' is the kindest of terms I've heard of from those who speak of them. But perhaps our temporary 'Mistress of the Arcane' would be far better suited to inform us of what kind of threat this woman possesses?"
It was a challenge. A subtle one but a challenge, nonetheless. And while part of him wanted to go to her defense, Ned knew that Nyra needed to do this herself. She needed to prove that she was here for a reason. That Nox hadn't just chosen her to sit in his seat because she was his wife.
"The Red Priests and Priestess follow the god known as R'hllor, or the Lord of Light. They come from the lands of Asshai and are perhaps one of the most prominent religions across Essos. There are a lot of rumors as to what they can do in terms of magical abilities. Accounts vary widely depending on who you talk with and where. But one thing that stays consistent is the source of their power. They draw their power from this R'hllor and are taught how to do a few spells, mostly illusions, and how to see the future. Though the latter of which is unreliable at best and outright dangerously open to interpretation at worst. A few of the higher levels of the faithful are also what are known as Shadowbinders, which means they can manipulate shadows in animate beings or objects. And perhaps most disturbing off all, is the fact that the followers of the Red God are well known to practice sacrificial offerings to their god in hopes of gaining more power. Whether valuable items, blood, livestock, even people, the more valuable the item being sacrificed, the greater the return of power. At least that's what they believe."
Robert did not necessarily look pleased. "Is it possible this…Red Priestess has done something to my brother to control him?"
Nyra frowned. "Doubtful. At least nothing magically oriented. Even if this Red Priestess had the ability to bewitch an individual's mind, using magic to control a mind as strong as Lord Stannis's would take considerable effort. Both at the onset of the spell and to maintain it. No. It's more than likely that this Red Priestess used her words and actions to work her way into Lord Stannis's confidence. Either way Shireen will be back on Dragonstone within the week and she will be able to ascertain this Priestess's hold on Stannis. And a single Red Priestess, unless she is a very, very high-ranking Priestess, which is unlikely as they hardly ever leave the Shadowlands, would be no match for Shireen if it comes to a struggle between the two."
"Even if so, I don't like letting my niece go into such a situation blind," Robert growled, pointing to first Nyra, then the Grand Maester, and lastly Varys. "You three will spend the night after this meeting with Shireen. Tell her everything you lot know about these Red Priestess and how to deal with them."
"Of course, your grace," Nyra nodded.
Nodding along, Robert turned his attention back to Varys. "Varys. Before Harrenhal your little birds told you of the demise of Viserys Targaryen. What's been happening with Daenerys and the khalasaar since his death?"
"A fair amount has indeed happened since you left, your grace," Varys responded, his voice and face still completely devoid of any emotion. "It seems that shortly after her brother's death, Daenerys suffered an assassination attempt. Though not one from us, your grace. And unfortunately I have not been able to ascertain just who wished her dead."
Ned felt a pain in his chest at the idea that the young girl who'd suffered so much was now dead. He might not have cared for her brother or father. But he never let that hatred go past those who hadn't earned his scorn. "So, the girl is dead then?" Robert asked.
Varys shook his head in reply. "No, your grace. The assassin failed. But Khal Drogo became enraged at the attempt on his wife. Perhaps in an effort to cool his blood, he led his Khalassar out to raid the local villages. The details of what happened are not entirely clear. Apparently during one such raid, Daenerys took ownership of the women of the village before the Dothraki could use them as they saw fit. The Khal, apparently impressed with her strength, agreed. Though this angered a great many within his own ranks. One of whom challenged the Khal to single combat. He lost. But he did manage to inflict a wound on Khal Drogo. One that festered and brought the great Khal to his deathbed."
Leaning back, Ned quickly worked through what'd been said. "So, the last of the Targaryens is now without a brother or her husband," he stated, to which Varys nodded. "Where is she now?"
"Normally, when a Khal dies his Khaleesi is forced back to Vaes Dothrak to become a 'wise woman' of sorts. However, before that could happen, Daenerys Targaryen, her freshly born son, and the few who would still follow her disappeared into the Red Wastes. And no one has seen nor heard from her since. Even our own spy who was with her has gone silent."
"So, the last of the Targaryens and her newborn have been lost to the sands of the Red Wastes," Ned surmised, turning his attention from Varys to Robert, asking his friend and King a question without having to give it voice.
Drumming his fingers on the surface of the table, Robert met his gaze briefly before turning away and staring out the nearby window. "Let her go," he said with a heavy voice, as if they were the hardest words he had ever had to say in his life. "We have more than enough issues here to deal with. We need not waste any more coin or time chasing after a single girl and her newborn child. And speaking of…Baelish… Time to count your fucking coppers. How much damage did the tournament do to the crown's coffers?"
Frowning, Baelish flipped through a few pages in his ledger before settling on one page in particular. "Lady Shella Whent was kind enough to cover a good portion of the cost for the tourney, as was to be expected given that it was being held on her lands. The cost of food was graciously covered by House Tyrell and part of the winner's purse was additionally covered by House Stark. However, as the crown was covering the winner's and runner up's purse for each event beyond what House Stark provided, each of which was a considerable sum… We did add nearly two-hundred and fifty thousand to the crown's debt. The coin was split between House Lannister and the Iron Bank."
"Two-hundred thousand to the Iron Bank, and another fifty thousand to House Lannister," Ned repeated flatly, staring across the table at Robert, who purposefully did not meet his eyes. "And what is the total debt that the crown owes?"
Petyr flipped back to the previous page. "In total, the crown owes 4 million to the Iron Bank. Another one-hundred thousand to the Faith. And three-hundred thousand to House Lannister. We do have a payment schedule with the Iron Bank and have reduced that debt significantly in the last year. I was able to prevent adding too much more debt to the Iron Bank by taking a fair bit of coin that had been allocated for other projects… Unfortunately, that includes the cost of renovating the Dragon Pit."
"That will not be an issue," Nyra cut in almost immediately. "Between Lord Stark, my Lord Husband, and myself we have come up with a way to renovate the Dragon's Pit and perhaps even start doing something regarding the stench of the city without adding much to the crown's debt."
"How?" Robert asked, his gaze meeting Ned's briefly before bouncing towards Nyra.
"Ser Loras was good on his word," Nyra replied. "After being crowned champion of the tournament, he gave half of the winner's purse to House Stark to do with as Lord Stark pleased."
"I had my son take a small amount back to Winterfell to distribute as needed," Ned continued for Nyra. "The rest of the coin I brought here to King's Landing with the intention of using it to hire the workers and even begin purchasing the materials needed to renovate the Dragon's Pit. And while the amount will not be enough to pay for the complete restoration of the Dragon's Pit, it will last for perhaps throughout the first nine months to a year of the work."
"And the Dragon's Pit is not the only place that Lord Stark and I discussed using the coin," Nyra continued. "I went over the numbers required multiple times, and we should be able to spare enough coin to pay for nearly two hundred additional workers within King's Landing to begin the task of cleaning and removing any blockages in the sewers and cisterns throughout the city." The members of the Small Council all looked at one another curiously, only the new Grand Maester seemed to find interest in the idea.
"You really expect people to go down into the sewers to clean up shit and piss?" Renly asked, the younger man clearly aghast at the mere idea of it.
"Yes," Nyra answered simply. "Forgive me for saying, your grace, but this city smells terrible. You can smell it from even a mile away. And, unfortunately, that is not a joke. While cleaning the sewers and cisterns may not completely get rid of the smell of the city, it is a start at the very least."
"And how much are you expecting to pay the smallfolk to wade through shit and piss?" Baelish asked, shaking his head. "I doubt that you will find many who would be willing to do so without promising a king's ransom for their efforts."
Nyra fixed the Master of Coin with a level stare that she had learned from Nox. One that held enough strength and conviction to make even the Greatjon shift his feet. And Baelish was no Greatjon. The wiry man could only meet her gaze for less than a few heartbeats before turning his attention back to his books. "You're thinking like a Lord, Lord Baelish. Not one of the masses. You've never gone hungry. You've never seen your family go hungry. You've never had to watch as your family went sick and had to make the choice on whether to try and send your family to a healer with what little coin you had or use the coin to provide food for the rest of your family. We will find those willing to work. And while the budget Lord Stark and I devised is not a 'king's ransom', it does reflect the work that we are asking to be done."
None of the Small Council seemed to have an immediate retort for her. "And what of when the winner's purse has dried up?" Baelish asked, clearly trying to regain some measure of control of the conversation. "Who wi—?"
"The crown will pick up where House Stark and House Nox has left off," Robert cut in, silencing Baelish. "Lady Nox is right. This city smells of shit and piss. Has ever since I threw the fucking dragons off the Iron Throne. And I've been left trying to clean up the shit those sister-fuckers left behind. Might as well see to it literally now. Baelish, do what you have to in order to find the coin to keep up after House Stark and House Nox run out of the coin they're ready to invest. Don't…and I'll find myself a new Master of Coin. And no more fucking crawling to the Iron Bank. We've already borrowed enough from those copper-counting fucks. It's a miracle they hadn't sought out the Targaryens long before they died out. I don't want them finding another enemy of ours to enter talks with to get their fucking coin back."
Baelish nodded. "I believe I should be able to move a few things around. And if the coin does last for a year as Lady Nox has said—"
"—then I should have plenty of time to find a means to pick up where House Stark and House Nox leave off."
"Good," Robert nodded, before turning his attention back to Ned and Nyra. "Now, you two. Varys here has reported whispers that the Sorcerer cooked up something new. Some sort of…powder or some shit that's similar to wildfyre. Is this true?"
Ned silently cursed Varys and his web of spies. He wanted to inform Robert of this new development himself to try and head off any ill feelings. But now his hand was being forced. "He has," Ned nodded, drawing sharp looks from Renly and the Grand Maester. The first of whom was clearly unnerved. The second was curious and interested in the new discovery.
Raising his brow, Robert motioned for him to continue. "And?"
"And the black powder is not complete as of yet, your grace," Nyra answered for Ned. Something he was glad for as she was much more familiar with the black powder than he was. "The formula works as intended. But my Lord husband and his students within the Winterfell College are currently working on a means of delivery and control of the resulting explosion when the material is exposed to even a spark of fire."
"Explosion?" the Grand Maester questioned, his expression mirroring one of a young boy that'd just discovered something new and exciting. "So, this black powder of the North's is much the same as wildfyre then?"
"Yes, and not." Nyra answered. "While both are highly combustible, that is where their similarities end. Black powder is consumed almost instantaneously when set to flame, whereas wildfyre will burn for a fair portion of the day. Black powder is also far more stable and safer to transport than wildfyre. You can store it in casks, knock it around, spill it, or do whatever you want to it. But as long as it is not exposed to flame, it will do nothing."
Ned noted that the Grand Maester had opened a book as was writing down Nyra's words as quickly as she said them. "And what is the proposed purpose of this black powder?"
"Mining and field clearing," Nyra answered immediately. Which was true. Though Ned knew after seeing a demonstration that those were the simplest of uses for the black powder. "The powder is strong enough to blast apart boulders and create mine shafts in a solid rock face. And as for field clearing, a small amount of the powder can turn a heavily rooted stump into a shower of splinters in the time it takes most to blink. And with the King's approval, my Lord Husband and I have devised a safe demonstration of the powders ability that can take place in the training yard within the day."
Robert had a small smile on his face as he nodded. "Seven hells, that man never ceases to impress me. You have my approval, Lady Nox. Whatever men you need to prepare this demonstration will be given to you. I want to see what this shit can do at first light."
"As you wish, your grace," Nyra nodded before falling back into silence as conversation around the table started up again about various other topics that needed to be discussed. And some that Ned felt honestly didn't.
It took until nearly sundown before Robert finally lost his patience and called an end to the meeting. And while he wouldn't say it, Ned was glad for it. It'd been a long road. From the North, to Harrenhal, and now to King's Landing. He was tired, both in mind and body. And he wanted nothing more than to return to his new chambers in the Tower of the Hand, have an evening meal with his daughters, and then find his bed.
The next morning, Ned rose before the sun began its rise knowing that today was going to be a day that perhaps changed the course of Westeros. Dressing himself and breaking his fast with his daughters, Ned made his way to the training yard just as the sun was beginning to rise above the horizon. But despite the time, he was not the first one there. Lady Nyra had beaten him, and she was commanding several servants around the yard. A statue of a dragon had been placed in the center of the yard. No doubt a remnant from the Targaryen reign that Robert had not yet had destroyed. 'Well, he will soon get his wish,' he thought, as he watched as Nyra directed the servants to take a pickaxe and bore a slight hole into the base of the statue.
By the time the sun was well above the horizon, the yard had come to life in such numbers that Ned was sure that at least half the court of King's Landing had come to see the demonstration. 'It seems that words and gossip spread faster than I thought.' Ned thought, scanning the crowd of onlookers. 'It was only just half a day ago that this demonstration was discussed within the confines of the Small Council. Now, half a day later, and nearly the whole court not only know about it, but they also know where and when it was to be held.'
A small commotion in the crowd caught Ned's attention, just in time to see several Kingsguard led by Ser Barristan clear a path through the gathered onlookers. And right behind them was Robert and the Grand Maester. But beside Robert was an additional set of eyes that Ned had not expected to be present to this demonstration. 'I was not aware that the Queen had an interest in such things as this.' Ned frowned as he watched the Queen, who clearly did not appear pleased to be awake at this early hour, walk just behind and to the right of Robert as his brother in all but blood made his way into the training yard proper.
Leaving his place, Ned approached Nyra, who'd noticed the King's and Queen's arrival, and together they both bowed and curtsied. "Your graces," Nyra greeted the two royals as she rose from her curtsey. "I trust that this demon—"
"Enough with your pitiful flattery, girl. Get on with whatever nonsense you have to show us today and be done with it already."
Nyra was not the only one who frowned at the Queen's harsh words, though it was Robert who actually responded. "Shut your mouth, woman," Robert growled, casting but a single glance towards his Queen. "This is the Sorcerer's wife we're talking to here. Her words are his and to be taken note of. Lady Nox, show us what you have."
Bowing, Nyra motioned for a few servants to bring a table and a small chest over. Once the table was set and the chest placed atop it, Nyra opened the chest in a way that prevented anyone from seeing inside. Reaching her hand inside, she pulled out a small leather pouch, and what looked like a leather stick the length of a man's hand and as round as a spear shaft. Opening the pouch, Nyra poured out a small pile of black sand onto the surface of the table for the King and Queen to inspect. Robert looked interested. Whereas the Queen looked almost outright offended by the sight. "You woke us to show us…sand? I should have you whi—"
"Woman. Shut it before I shut it for you," Robert growled menacingly.
For not the first time, Ned frowned at the way Robert treated his Queen. He held no love for the woman, or even fondness for that matter. But treating the woman like this in open view of everyone was…not right. Setting the pouch aside, Nyra picked up a pinch of the black powder and motioned for the King to hold out his hand. When he did so, Nyra deposited a small amount of powder into the palm of his hand. Frowning, Robert moved his hand like he was about to roll a pair of dice. "Feels like coarse sand."
"Indeed, your grace. But as you can see, on its own the powder is stable. However, exposed to open flame… Well, see for yourself, your grace." Motioning to another servant, this one carrying a lit torch, Nyra took the torch and placed it on the ground and took up another pinch of the black powder she'd poured out on the table. "If you would please, step back, your graces."
Once everyone had taken a step back, Nyra carefully leaned forward, turned her head to the side, and tossed the small pinch of black powder into the open flame. Ned, knowing what to expect, was ready. Everyone else was not. The moment the pinch of powder touched the flame, it ignited in a plume of fire and smoke, accompanied by the sound of a small explosion that set many a noble jumping and caused some to even give a scream of fright. The Kingsguard all immediately put their hands on their swords in response, but once they saw nothing but smoke their grips loosened. Dusting her hands of the remaining powder, Nyra righted herself, a smile across her face. "Once exposed to open flame, or even a spark. Well, you can see the results for yourself."
Eyes moving from the disappearing smoke to the powder in his hands, Ned watched as Robert took a few steps forward, ignoring the warnings of his Kingsguard as he repeated the same actions Nyra had just taken by throwing the small pinch of powder in his hands into the flame. The result was the same. Only this time fewer nobles screamed, though still just as many jumped as the powder was ignited the moment it touched the flame.
"Incredible," Robert breathed, watching the smoke disappear even as the Grand Maester stepped forward to begin inspecting the powder that was still on the table. "And what is with that…stick thing on the table?"
Moving on, Nyra picked up the stick and turned it around in her fingers. "This is a…method of delivery and usage of the black powder that my husband has been working on perfecting. He and his students have done a significant amount of testing through trial and error. But I'm afraid they are still nowhere near to meeting my husband's expectations for this. However, that does not mean this…prototype, that he has developed lacks any usages."
Turning around, Nyra walked back towards the dragon statue and slid the stick into the small hole that'd been chipped out at the beast's feet. "I would highly recommend that everyone leave the yard. Those of you wishing to stay had best get behind shields. Now."
The nobles all looked at one another, confused at the request. Robert himself sent a glance towards Ned. After giving his King a confirming nod, as well as purposefully putting himself behind one of the pillars of the yard, Robert turned towards his Kingsguard. "Tower shields. Now. Everyone else, get behind something or get your asses out of the yard."
The nobles, most not willing to leave, all scrambled behind whatever shielding they could as the seven members of the Kingsguard all picked up heavy tower shields to create a shield wall between the King and Queen and the statue of the dragon. Once everyone was clear, Nyra drew out a striking stick and ran it across the rough stone of the statue, igniting the tip. Touching the flame to the fuse, Nyra turned and quickly made her way to the same pillar Ned was standing behind. Making room for her, the two placed their fingers in their ears as they stood side by side behind the pillar, waiting for the inevitable.
Ned knew what was coming, but even knowing did not fully prepare him for the thunderous bang that thumbed his chest and set dust and rocks flying across the deserted yard. Feeling Nyra move beside him, Ned lowered his hands and came around from behind the column. The Kingsguard were all still behind their shields, and Barristan looked to be forcibly holding the King down as he tried to cover both the King and Queen with his armored body.
"It's fucking over, Barristan!" Robert roared, his ears still ringing from the deafening noise. "Now, let me fucking stand, so that I can see jus…"
Robert's words died on his tongue as he stood up and glanced over the shield wall. Where there was once a statue of a dragon as tall as a man, there was now nothing but dust and jagged rocks. The Grand Maester was the first to overcome the shock. The large man moved with a speed that defied his size as he shuffled through the dust and broken stone to reach what'd once been a statue. "Ned…Lady Nox," Robert spoke, his eyes not leaving the blackened mark on the training ground. "What do you need to see this shit done?"
Smiling, Nyra walked forward. "The Sea Wolf departed White Harbor not too long ago, your grace. And she should be making landfall here in King's Landing within the next few days, or a week at the latest. On board are several barrels of black powder, and just as many of the black powder sticks that've been crafted in the North. We will use this shipment to help demolish part of the Dragon's Pit in order to prepare it for its rebuilding."
Robert, still in a daze, walked forward to join the Grand Maester to stare at the destruction. "Whatever manpower you need, whatever material you need…it's yours," Robert said in awe. "Fucking Gods…that man never ceases to amaze me. Hells, what's he going to show us next? How to sail through the fucking sky like birds? Fuck…That'd be something to see."
Ned couldn't help but glance towards Nyra at the King's words, the two sharing a knowing glance between the two of them. Given what they both knew of Nox's history and his people that sailed the stars, Ned was absolutely positive that had he the ability do so, Nox would've already created ships that could sail through the sky as it were. But alas, he could not create them simply because Westeros, and this world in general, did not have the means to create even the simplest of flying vessels. 'But…it would be interesting if he could,' Ned thought with a smile on his face as the Grand Maester rounded on Nyra and started asking one question after another. 'To sail the sky, feel the wind, touch the clouds… It's not but a dream. But what a dream it is.'
Cersei was… Well, to say she was in a rage would be understating things greatly. She was angrier than she could ever remember being at any other time in her life. That…that sow that had fucked her way into the Sorcerer's bed was standing proud and tall in the center of the training yard as Robert, the fat fool, and the Grand Maester, the even fatter fool, threw one question after another at her. All of which she fielded with the expertise of an experienced Lady of the Court. It was…infuriating to see her standing there, garnering so much attention and admiration when she had next to nothing to do with this miraculous black powder. But, oh, what a substance it was! She needed to get her hands on it. The whore might've said that the powder was to be used for field clearing and mining, but Cersei knew better. This was something that could, and would, be used against their enemies. If a single stick of this powder could destroy a stone statue as tall as a man…then how many would it take to destroy a castle's walls? The secret of this powder had to be held in the hands of House Lannister and her son alone! Where it could be used properly.
But, no, the whore refused to give them the means to make the powder themselves, even denying the King when he asked about it! Something which should have had the woman flogged and raped till she could no longer walk! But…this could be a good thing as well. The North was guarding how to make this formula tighter than a Septa's thighs. Which meant that other kingdoms would not be privy to it's usage as well unless they bought it from the North. Which gave her time. Time to…compel some northern fool into giving away its secrets to her and her son. And once they knew how to create it… There would be none to challenge her son's rightful claim!
Growing sick of the display of the whore basking in the attention of so many nobles, no doubt ready to sink to her knees just as she did to gain her position, Cersei cast one last glance towards the chest that'd held the pouch of powder and the powder stick. She had plenty in the Red Keep loyal to her. But even she could not simply take the chest. Even if she did, there was no guarantee that there would be anything left within. But she didn't need to. The whore had already screwed the North out of their precious black powder. A trade ship would soon be arriving with the powder. A few words here or there, a flashing of her tits or cunt or maybe even an invitation to her bed if it was needed, and a few barrels of the powder would be 'misplaced' while they were being unloaded. Yes. That was the route she would take. Let the little whore have her moment of victory now. Cersei would win in the end. As she always did.
Turning her back on the sickening display, Cersei purposefully marched out of the courtyard. Her brother, her lover, her second-half, falling in step behind her as she did so. As they left, she felt a stirring within her that always came about whenever she was alone with her brother. A feeling that only her brother had been able to elicit within her. And had she not had other matters that needed seeing to, she would take her brother back to her room and have her way with him while everyone was distracted. But, no, now was not the time.
Making her way into the royal family section of the Red Keep, Cersei spied the various guards standing watch outside of the rooms. A set of two gold cloaks and two Lannister men-at-arms stood outside each of her children's rooms. Indicating that none of her children had left their rooms yet. Good. That meant she wouldn't have to go on a hunt to find her precious son.
Within her son's room, she found him already up and dressed for the day and standing at his balcony, staring out upon what would one day be his kingdom. Her legacy. He was a King. A true King. "Mother," he greeted her, glancing at her before turning to look back over the city trying to see something beyond her sight. "What was that noise? What's going on?"
Glancing back at Jamie, her brother gave her a nod of understanding before backing out of the room and shutting the door. He would ensure that no one could hear them talk. "Nothing you need concern yourself with, my son," she said soothingly, making her way to a nearby couch and sitting down before gesturing for her son to join her. "The North, under the eye of Stark and Nox's whore, have been showing off a new creation of theirs."
Frowning, her son looked at her. "What was it?"
Knowing that her son would not let it go until she told him, Cersei relented. Afterall, he was bound to find out about it the moment he talked to the first noble or servant who crossed his path. Better he hears it from her first. "A type of powder that they've created. It's…difficult to explain. But when exposed to fire the powder ignites, much like wildfyre. And when it does, well that noise you just heard was a stick of the powder as long as a man's hand reducing a dragon statue to dust and rubble."
Joffrey's eyes narrowed in thought before coming alight with excitement. Good. He could already see the implications of the powder with only her telling. "When will they be handing over the process for how to create this…powder?"
At this, Cersei frowned and turned her head away from her son. "They will not be. While they will be providing the powder to the Seven Kingdoms, the process of how to make it will remain in the North." 'For now. But not for long.'
Joffrey's grin fell, replaced with a snarl as he began pacing the room. "Those…Those barbarians! They think to keep such a thing from their true King! It's blasphemy! No. It's treasonous! And father is just letting them get away with it? Of course he is. Father is blind to the North, even when they are spitting in his face, on us!"
Leaning back, Cersei allowed herself to feel satisfaction, though it didn't show on her face. She didn't even need to work on her son's wariness of the North. He already saw the danger they represented. "And how would you deal with them when you take up the Iron Throne, my son?"
Frowning, Joffrey thought on her question for a moment before answering. Another good sign. He didn't rush his answers and took his time to think them through. "I'd double their taxes for a start. Then demand that all Valyrian steel that was pilfered from Valyria be brought to King's Landing where it should have always been. Then I'd dismantle this 'Winterfell College' and have all books of note sent to the Citadel where they belong. Then I would demand that the process to make this Northern Steel and this powder be brought to King's Landing. And only those with direct permission from the King would be allowed to create it on pain of death."
"And when the North rebels for taking away that which they feel is rightfully theirs?" Cersei asked. While she did approve of her son's ideas, she knew that doing exactly as he said would lead to only one possible outcome.
Joffrey didn't hesitate. "I'd crush them. Grind their armies to dust and push them north of the Wall to live out the rest of their days with the wildlings. With orders to the Night's Watch that they are to be hunted and killed on sight. Then I'd install someone loyal to the crown at Winterfell. Perhaps Uncle Kevan and his line could create a Lannister branch within the North."
Again, she approved of the idea. But it wouldn't work. "The Starks have held the North as a single kingdom since before recorded history. They are too engrained. The North, as galling as it is to admit, cannot be held by an outsider. It's too big. Too wild. And when winter eventually comes and the northerners push through the Wall, not even the Seven gods would be able to save your army or the one you choose to hold Winterfell. And that is even without mentioning the most dangerous weapon the North has. The Sorcerer and his Apprentices. Most of whom number amongst the Stark children."
Rising to her feet, Cersei slowly approached her son, who was not looking pleased at her putting down his ideas. "When you are King, we will show the North who the true King is. But we must do it slowly. Act too rash and the North will fight back, tooth and nail. Instead, we will slowly weave a noose, and drape it over the North's neck." Pausing, Cersei reached out and caressed her son's cheek. "A good King knows when to consolidate his strength. And when it is time to crush his enemies."
Joffrey smiled under her touch. "So, you agree? The North and the Sorcerer are our enemies?"
Smiling, she patted his cheek. "Anyone who isn't us is our enemy, my son. Remember that when you are King."
Nox felt no small amount of relief as he, and the others sworn to House Stark, passed through the gatehouse of the outer wall of Winterfell as they rode up the drawbridge leading to the inner wall and heart of the North. After leaving Harrenhal, the Northern retinue had set a near breakneck pace back to the North. Though for Nox himself, it still felt as if they were moving at a snail's pace considering it took them nearly four weeks to reach Winterfell. For not the first time, he cursed the loss of any modern transportation vehicles. And he also cursed himself almost daily for letting his wife, his light, go into that snake infested cesspool that was King's Landing without him while he was heading North to try and collect proof of the White Walkers and their army of Wights to show the rest of Westeros. 'By the Force…I'm feeling more and more like a pathetic duty-driven Jedi than a Lord of the Sith. But…as aggravating as this detour is…it's necessary. Not just to collect proof of the White Walkers. But also to find out what the hell is happening at the Wall and to investigate just what this disturbance was I felt from Jon back in Harrenhal.'
Riding into the inner courtyard beside Robb and Talisa, Nox briefly noted that seemingly all of Winterfell had come out to welcome home the heir to the North, or rather Lord Stark now that Ned was Hand of the King. And standing at the forefront of everyone was Jon, with Ygritte on his right and Ghost on his left.
Coming to a stop, Robb slid down from his saddle and made to greet his brother, but he was barely able to take a single step before a grey blur raced past Jon and started yipping and barking excitedly around Robb. Breaking out into a wide smile, Robb scratched Greywind behind his ears, something which the young man didn't even need to bend over for as Greywind's head easily reached Robb's chest now.
"I take it you missed me, boy?" Robb laughed as Greywind continued to dance excitedly around him.
"Lord Stark," Jon called out, a smile on his face as he stepped forward. "Welcome home, Lord Stark. Winterfell is yours."
"None of this 'Lord Stark' horse shit, Jon. Especially not from you, my brother." Robb said lightheartedly as he stepped past Greywind and pulled Jon into a hug.
Once they broke, Jon turned his attention towards Nox. "Master," Jon greeted him, bowing respectfully. "I sensed your return north, yet I thought you were going to stay in the south and take up your position in King's Landing?"
"I was planning on doing just that. Yet… Things changed. I sensed several…disturbances, both here and north of the Wall, that I felt compelled to investigate," Nox said, focusing his full attention on his Apprentice, who was looking more like a child about to be scolded rather than a Sith Apprentice. "What have you done, Apprentice? Ygritte isn't pregnant, though not for lack of trying if the tales I hear of you two are true. Yet I sensed new life in the Force."
At the mention of Ygritte possibly being pregnant, both Jon and Ygritte went through a torrent of emotions, embarrassment, desire, need, and longing. "Um, no…She's…Ygritte is not with child," Jon answered awkwardly before lowering his voice so only those close to him could hear. "But, well…This isn't something to be spoken with so many ears about, Master."
Turning his head towards Robb, the heir to the North gave him a quick nod before turning to greet and dismiss the people of Winterfell while Nox signaled Jon to lead the way. An hour later, and Nox would've been rubbing his eyes had he still had the ability to do so. What was before him was… Well, many considered it an impossibility. To him, it was something that he considered very, very improbable. Yet there was no denying what was before him, scurrying around Jon's room within the Sorcerer's Tower while trying to entice both Ghost and Greywind into playing with it.
"Jon…That's a bloody dragon," Robb said, summing up Nox's feelings, and Talisa's as well judging by the slack jawed expression the new Lady of Winterfell was wearing.
"I know," Jon replied dryly as he stood off to the side with Ygritte, watching the young hatchling trying to play.
"Jon…That's a bloody fucking dragon!"
"Again, brother, I know," Jon replied again.
Taking a half step closer, Nox focused in on the small creature. There were many in the Sith Empire who truly believed that the Force was limited to only a select few in the galaxy; humans, Sith Purebloods, Miralukans and so on. They would scoff at anyone who even dared to think that the Force would bother with what they deemed 'mindless beasts.' But there were a few, and Nox was one of them, who knew that the Force was not limited so. It flowed through all sentient life in the galaxy. And this small little creature the size of a pup proved them correct. For the Force was strong in this little creature, very strong. To the point where Nox honestly believed that in terms of pure power with the Force, this little creature surpassed perhaps eighty to ninety percent of all those who stepped into the Sith Temple on Korriban.
"And what of Daenerys?" Nox asked bluntly, unafraid of exposing Jon's connection to the young girl across the Narrow Sea, considering everyone in the room already knew about it.
"She…She has hatched one as well," Jon admitted slowly. "On the same night as Archon was hatched."
"Archon," Nox repeated, making the little creature raise its head towards him, showing its intelligence as it already recognized its own name. "After the former rulers of Valyria."
"Jon…" Robb said slowly, obviously taking his time to choose his words carefully. "You know that I will always support you and protect you. But…This is a bloody-fucking-dragon! The very symbol of the Targaryens. King Robert, you know very well what his thoughts are regarding them. I doubt even his and father's friendship will be enough should word of…Archon's existence reach the King's ear. And there are more than a few Houses that would dance a merry jig at the thought of House Stark falling."
"I know," Jon nodded. "I've been keeping him secret for now, to the point where the only person outside of us who even knows of his existence is Sam. But should word get out…then… If need be, I will leave the North and shoulder the King's wrath."
"No, you won't, Jon." Robb said firmly. "You're family. And we wolves don't just let our packmates wander off on their own. For now, we'll keep him secret for as long as we can. And if the day ever comes where word of Archon reaches the King's ear…then we will deal with that when it comes."
Tuning his two Apprentices out, Nox went down to one knee before the little dragon to better examine it. The creature was strange. The Force flowed strongly through it, but as he looked closer at the little beast, he noticed that the flow was almost unnatural. As if the Force itself was sure yet at the same time not sure of just what to make of the creature. Yet another enigma. One that warranted his attention almost as much as the Force Nexus hiding as a comet. Fortunately, in this case, he would have weeks on the road to take his time to study the little dragon.
"Can he breathe fire yet?" Nox asked, bringing everyone's attention back to himself and the little dragon.
"Not yet," Ygritte answered. "The little beast be tryin. I can feel da flames he makes in his throat. Yet he can't do more than cough smoke out his little snout."
Nodding, Nox got to his feet. "How does he handle the cold?"
Jon shrugged. "As well as direwolves do. He's always warm and it doesn't seem like the cold bothers him at all."
"Good," Nox nodded, turning his attention away from the dragon and back to his Apprentices and their lovers. "The hatching of this dragon wasn't the only thing that brought me back to the North. While we were in Harrenhal we received word from the Night's Watch."
"Aye, I know." Jon nodded. "Ygritte was about ready to march off to the Wall and beyond the moment she heard about the missing patrol of Brothers and Free Folk."
"Then that makes this easier," Nox said. "On the morrow, the three of us plus Ghost and the little Archon here will depart for the Wall. Once we're there, we'll be heading beyond the Wall with a small contingent of Brothers of the Watch and Free Folk hunters to learn more about the patrol's disappearance, and what made them disappear."
"Tomorrow?" Robb repeated quickly. "But… We've only just arrived. And only the three of you? Should you not take mo—?"
"More men will only slow us down, my young Apprentice," Nox answered simply. "Speed is of the essence here. And the only one who is not fully rested is I. And I will be fine by the morning. Plus, the more men we travel with the greater the chance of Archon's discovery becomes. There is an old saying, Apprentices, that you should take to heart. 'Three can keep a secret, if two are already dead.' While I'm under no delusion that we will be able to keep Archon's existence a secret, we can at least delay the inevitable until we are able to better set the board in our favor."
Turning his back on the young dragon, Nox made to head back to his rooms, "Jon, Ygritte. Get some rest. We set out before first light tomorrow. And we'll be traveling fast. So, bring only what you can carry. Anything else will just slow us down."
Standing on the balcony of her temporary office within the Tower of the Hand, Nyra Nox gazed down upon the mass of King's Landing, her eyes fixed on the large Dragon Pit off in the distance. It'd been little more than a full moon's turn since Harrenhal, and three weeks since she'd officially taken up her duties as temporary 'Mistress of the Arcane' while her husband went North to investigate the disturbances he'd felt in the Force. While her time on the Small Council had been productive, it had not been without incident, or even outright opposition.
There were many who objected to her presence on the Small Council, whether because she was a woman, or because of her position. And while those who objected were wise enough not to object to her face, the whispers still followed her everywhere. The mutters of 'whore', 'heretic', 'heathen', and worse yet had become so common that she had grown numb to the insults. And if the mutterings weren't bad enough, then there was a rather catchy song that many a bard like to sign. The 'Whore of the North'. A song written specially for her. 'Alim was right. This…city…is nothing but a cesspool of waste and filth doing all they can to try and stay above the rest of the shit.'
The whispers and insults she could stand. What was getting irritating was the outright incompetence of some of her fellow members of the Small Council and those within the Goldcloaks. And the irritating 'game' the nobles loved to play to try and get the better of each other.
The first instance she'd faced of both the game and the incompetence came to light when the Sea Wolf arrived from the North shortly after their own arrival in the city. True to her words, there were several purposefully unmarked barrels the size of man's head with black powder on the ship. But that wasn't all. There was also valuable fabric, gold, silver, foodstuffs, and even some Valyrian steel. While she was supervising the unloading of the material, it came to her attention that they were short one barrel of the powder. A quick count later, and it was discovered that a deckhand had disappeared. Thankfully, all it took was the showing of two gold dragons for the man's fellow deckhands to sell him out. After learning of where he slept, Nyra had set off with a contingent of Northern guards and had the man arrested for theft and thrown into the black cells. He'd tried to protest, but when the guards found the barrel of black powder he'd stashed beneath a loose floorboard, his pleas fell on deaf ears.
After the attempted theft, Nyra was faced with a level of…either incompetence or outright laziness on behalf of the King's own brother, Lord Renly Baratheon. The Master of Laws didn't see any issue with what had happened and merely wanted to have the man's hand removed as if he were just another common thief before being sent on his way. But Nyra knew that the man was no mere 'common thief'. There had been coins, valuable fabric, food, and even Valyrian steel on the Sea Wolf, all of which would've been remarkably easy to steal. Yet this man had forgone them all and instead had stolen an otherwise unremarkable barrel. A barrel that he should not have known the contents of which. And as much as the thought turned her stomach, she knew that the man had to be put to the question.
Renly had visibly paled at the thought and immediately dismissed her. Saying that she would need to settle her 'bloodlust' elsewhere and that she was not the Master of Laws, and as such the thief's fate rested with him. Not her. Nyra had actually needed to go directly to the King, who quickly agreed with her observations and, after berating Renly for his lack of attention, ordered that the thief be put to the question immediately. However, when the guards went down to perform the questioning, they found the thief dead in his cell. Strangled to death with no visible means of doing it himself. Which led Nyra to the conclusion that whoever had wanted to steal the black powder was someone of influence and power. And someone who had access to the black cells. Not a long list to be sure. But unfortunately, almost all of those on the list were considered 'untouchable'.
The next incident did not take long to happen either. After the King had agreed to her and Lord Stark's proposal to hire cleaners for the sewers of King's Landing using the coin won from the tournament, Nyra had set out immediately to secure what she needed to protect the future workers. Alim had been very, very thorough in his education of her, perhaps even a little too thorough at times. And one of the aspects he'd taught her was the importance of public health in relation to cleanliness, or hygiene as he put it. And the sewers that tunneled shit and piss were perhaps the most unclean place one could ever imagine. So, before she even went about getting workers, she commissioned the creation of two-hundred new full-length shirts, breeches and boots that were made of a combination of cotton and leather. She also petitions for the creation of face coverings that would protect the nose and mouth, but would allow one to still breathe. She then secured washer women that would clean these 'uniforms' each day after the workers were done with them. Once that was completed, she put the word out that there was a need for workers to clean the sewers of King's Landing, and that the workers would be paid one silver stag a day for their labors.
Only twenty responded to her call the first day, fifteen men and five women. Less than a tenth of what she'd hoped for. And three of them were children at that. But she knew that once word got out that the pay was indeed real, that many more would come. So, she made do with what she had. Each worker was commissioned a set of new clothes that were to be turned in at the end of their day, and to her dismay she actually had to teach some of the workers how to properly don their clothes and lace up their boots. And then after explaining what they would be doing, she sent them into the sewers to clean. Their work had…not been of the highest quality, but it was a start. And she made good on her word, seeing that each worker was paid a single silver stag for their work. And, as an added bonus, she'd brought clean water and soap so that each of her workers could properly clean themselves before putting their old clothes back on. For most of them, it was perhaps the first time they'd ever properly cleaned themselves. Something which greatly unsettled and slightly disgusted Nyra.
On the second day word had spread that she was good to her word and the number went up from twenty to nearly eighty. On the third the number went up to nearly a hundred and fifty. And by the fourth day they reached the point where it was necessary to turn away potential workers. By the fifth day the promise of bathing, clean clothes, and a silver stag a day had brought such a crowd that Nyra had needed to employ all of the Stark guards she had and even some of the Goldcloaks to keep any fits at bay and to turn around those who were not needed. By the seventh day, word had spread to every corner of the city. And while it was known by then that they were only accepting workers who had already worked for them, with preferential treatment given to the first lot who came, that did not stop the city from descending on the workers themselves. The moment the workers stepped out of the bathing area, they were immediately assaulted by merchants, whores, beggars, food vendors, and even cutpurses who were desperately trying to get their hands on the coin she'd paid out.
She was heartened to see that at least some of her workers were wise with their coin. Unfortunately, too many were not and immediately wasted their coin on drink or pleasurable company. She'd wanted to intervene and send all the vultures away. But then she remembered her husband's words. She couldn't save everyone. And what people did with their coin was their own business. If they wanted to throw it away for fleeting pleasures or drink or whatever tickled their fancy, then it was of no consequence to her as long as they continued to work.
A fortnight after starting up work on the sewers, Nyra sent out her announcement regarding the plans to renovate the Dragon Pit and workers were needed. The day after the call went out, the Dragon Pit was almost flooded by those seeking work, or more accurately the coin that was being offered. Though many were disappointed to learn that they would be earning only half of that which was being paid to those who worked in the sewers. But in Nyra's mind, reconstructing a ruin did not call for the same pay as cleaning the sewers beneath the city. But even with only offering half the pay, she was still able to hire enough laborers and skilled craftsmen before midday to complete the reconstruction of the Dragon Pit. Granted, most of the work would need to wait until her husband returned so that he could perform the 'appropriate Force rituals' during the construction of the new temple. But she could at least see to it that Alim would have a good foundation to work with.
"Milady Nox," the guard stationed outside her door called to her.
"Yes?" she called back, still staring out over the city she honestly never thought she'd see in her lifetime.
"There is a…woman here with her son. Says he's a candidate for Lord Nox's Acolytes."
Frowning, Nyra turned away from the balcony and made her way back to her desk. Judging by the way her guard said 'woman', she knew he meant 'whore'. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last she knew, that a whore or some other man or woman brought their child to her to see if they could find a place amongst her husband's Acolytes. Especially now that tales of Gendry, the King's Bastard who rose to the rank of 'Apprentice' along with Lord Stark's own bastard son, have spread across the country. While she wasn't an expert by any stretch, Alim had taught her enough in the short time since her Force awakening to be able to 'test' the children to see whether or not they were capable of learning the Force. So far, none had passed her test. She doubted that this time would be any different. She just hoped that this whore would at least keep her clothes on. The last one she turned away from had promptly stood up, dropped her dress right in front of her daughter and offered herself fully and exclusively to her should she accept the child. An offer which Nyra promptly denied. She would not betray Alim. Not after all he had done for her.
"Send her in," she said, gathering a small stone sphere and setting it on the middle of her desk as she prepared herself for yet another failed test.
The woman who was led in was not what Nyra was expecting. The others had worn frilly or silky dresses meant to entice and excite. But this woman wore a simple cotton dress that had clearly seen better days. Her hair was matted, and she had more than a few dirt stains on her clothes and skin. And the little boy at her side was not in much better shape. It was clear to Nyra right away that the woman had no doubt used every last coin she had, as well as perhaps offering her 'services', to ensure that they could meet.
"Lady Nox, I thank thee for taking the time to speak with me regarding my son," the woman curtseyed, her accent one that Nyra didn't recognize but sounded vaguely like the Lannister's silky voice, meaning she probably came from somewhere in the Westerlands.
"Rise," Nyra said, motioning the two forward. "Sit, please."
Nodding, the woman quickly rushed her son, who if Nyra had to guess was no older than Bran Stark, towards the empty seats across from Nyra. "Thank you, milady," the woman said. "My name is Jun, and this here is my boy, Stan. I–I know that the gods have blessed him, milady. And I pray he will be accepted amongst yer husband's Acolytes. He is a smart boy despite his age. He knows his numbers despite never having a Maester to teach him a—"
"—and I will see if he is worthy of my husband's time." Nyra said, cutting the woman off. It wasn't that she wanted to be rude, but the child had drawn her interest in a way none of the others had.
Granted, her own powers with the Force were fledgling at best, but she could sense the vaguest hints of the Force within the boy. Something she had not felt in any of the others that'd been brought before her. "Look at me, boy," she said calmly, drawing the boy's eyes up to her own.
With a deliberate slowness, Nyra held her hand out towards the small ball on the surface of her desk. It'd taken her more time than she cared to admit, but she was able to manipulate the Force enough to move the ball back and forth across the surface of her desk without her hand ever touching it. The boy's eyes widened as he watched with rapt attention as the ball moved, seemingly on its own. The young mother also stared with wide eyes and more than a touch of trepidation. "You see what I have done?" she asked, stopping the ball in front of the boy. "Gather your emotions. Your love, your anger. All that you are. Pour it into your will, your desire. And command this ball to move."
The boy glanced up towards his mother, who gave him an encouraging smile and nod. Swallowing hard, the boy held his hand out towards the ball. She could see the concentration building within his small frame, his face twisting and going red as he tried to force the ball to move. Just as it looked like the boy was about to give up, the ball twitched. Hardly more than a slight rocking that might've been confused for a passing breeze. But Nyra had felt the Force flow through the boy and into the ball. "That is enough," Nyra said, holding up her own hand and summoning the ball back to her.
The mother hadn't seen the movement, and apparently neither had the boy as his shoulders slumped in defeat. "Please," the young whore pleaded. "My son…I promise you he is special. Please, milady, I—"
"Who is his father?" Nyra asked, staring at the young lad. He looked so familiar for some reason but she couldn't place it, and it was starting to bother her.
The whore swallowed and lowered her eyes. "You…You know what I – what I am, milady. Most in my…Most like me who have children do not know the father. But I…I have always been careful. And I know who the father is. Stan was conceived when…when His Grace came through the Westerlands and…c-called upon my services."
The pieces fell into place in Nyra's mind immediately. The young lad looked almost identical to Gendry, albeit younger and with a slimmer frame. But his face, his eyes, and his hair were a dead match for Gendry. He even looked similar to little Barra as well.
"I – I am no noble hunter, milady," Jun continued, apparently taking Nyra's silence as condemnation for bearing the King's bastard. "I took moon tea after my services. But—But the seed of His Grace was strong and would not be denied. I…I never wanted to use my son to take advantage, so I kept him away. But…But recently he started doing odd things. I thought it was just tricks of the eye, milady. But—But I was at Harrenhal hoping to earn some coin. And—And I heard about the King's bastard Gendry and I thought that—"
"You need not explain yourself," Nyra said, holding out her hand. Reaching into one of the drawers of her desk, she pulled out a coin purse and set it before the young woman. "The Temple that my husband petitioned the crown for is nowhere near completion. This should be enough to find you and your son lodging for some time here in the city without forcing you to return to your…craft. Once my husband returns, he will test your son again. And should he be satisfied, then your son will have a place amongst my husband's Acolytes."
Jun stared wide-eyed at the coin purse before her. With an almost shaking hand, Jun picked up the purse and shot to her feet, dropping into a low curtsey suitable to honoring one of the royal family. "Thank you, milady! Thank you! I–I promise you. My son will not disappoint your husband! Stan!"
"Um…Thank you…milady," the young boy said awkwardly, rising to his feet and bowing so quickly and so deeply that Nyra was afraid that he would hit his head on her desk.
Dismissing them both, Nyra leaned back and let a small smile form on her face. 'I've found another Acolyte for you, my love. And another one of King Robert's bastard children. A boy who looks just like Gendry and Barra. If he proves himself, the King will no doubt be pleased. Considering how much he laments about his children by way of the Queen who don't even have a drop of Force potential within them.'
Frowning, Nyra leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands. 'Nox said that the Force is often passed from parents to offspring. Though it wasn't unheard of for the ability to not be passed on. Yet still…why are the King's three children by way of Cersei seemingly completely unable to use the Force? Yet his bastard children that I know of are all Force sensitive…and how is it that the three children I have met, by three different mothers, all share the same coloring and look as the King? Yet the royal children… They are all their mother with almost nothing of the Baratheon look or build to them. Why?' Not caring for where her train of thought was bringing her, Nyra looked out over the landscape of King's Landing, her gaze pointed towards the North. 'Alim…please be swift, my love. I need you here. Now more than ever.'
Pulling his heavy cloak tighter around his body, Jon Stark stared up at the intimidating sight of the Wall. His Master had not been lying when he'd said that he was planning on heading to the Wall at first light after arriving at Winterfell from Harrenhal. Before the sun had even begun to crest the horizon, his Master had barged into his room and roughly pulled his sleeping covers off of his, and Ygritte's, naked bodies before roughly telling them to get dressed and down to the stables immediately and that they would break their fast on the road.
Normally, it would take at least a fortnight to reach Castle Black from Winterfell. But the pace his Master set had the three of them reaching the home of the Night's Watch in ten days. Honestly, Jon was surprised that they hadn't killed their horses. Though he was positive that that was only the case because his Master, and himself, were constantly aiding their mounts through the Force, giving them stamina and strength beyond what was normally possible. But still, the pace was brutal to the point where even for Ygritte, despite having grown up amongst the Free Folk and as such was used to constantly being on the move, was driven to the point of discomfort. Though she blamed it on Winterfell turning her 'soft', as she put it.
When they arrived at Castle Black, much to the Lord Commander's surprise, Jon was half afraid that they would set out immediately for their task north of the Wall. But their speed in arriving had proven to be a detriment as the ranger party that would be joining them from Castle Black, and the pack of hunters from the Free Folk, had yet to be finalized. Which meant that they would have a few days to rest and recover as they waited for those who would be part of the ranging to organize themselves. Lord Nox had not been pleased, but had relented that they would rest a few days as guests until the ranging was ready.
Jon was grateful for the respite, however short it might be. But he knew that it also came with a great risk. A risk of Archon, who was currently resting within the confines of Jon's cloak against his person, would be discovered. And while the Night's Watch was supposed to take no part of matters of the realm, he still agreed with his Master that the fewer individuals who knew about Archon, the better.
Breaking his gaze away from the heights of the Wall, Jon pushed his way through the ankle deep summer snow towards the squat tower that held Castle Black's library. And more importantly, house the Maester of Castle Black. Arriving at the maester's doors, Jon politely knocked a few times before slowly opening the door and stepping inside while Ghost obediently sat down just outside the door like a guard. "Maester Aemon?"
Hearing a rustling coming from nearby, Jon quickly entered to find the aged maester trying desperately to rise from his bed. "Maester Aemon," he said, hurrying over to the old man's side and helping him up into a seated position on his bed. Though calling it a 'bed' was honestly a disservice. It was more akin to an aged table that had fallen apart and given a few feathers for comfort. 'I need to talk to father about sending something, anything, to Castle Black to try and improve conditions around here.'
"Egg?" Maester Aemon called out, his unseeing eyes searching desperately as his hands came up and felt Jon's face. "No. Jon. Jon Stark…I'm sorry, my boy. You sound and move so much like Egg that…that I got lost in my memories."
"There is nothing to forgive, Maester Aemon…uncle."
A smile graced the old man's withered face. "I had thought that when Lord Mormont sent word south that you would accompany your Master here. But I did not hold out hope of seeing you. Hope can be a man's lifeline, or his death."
"Aye," Jon nodded.
The aging Maester smiled and patted his face. "You don't understand. Yet one day you will, my boy. Now, I don't suppose you've come simply to talk about mundane matters, Jon."
"No. No, I haven't," Jon replied, adjusting his cloak just enough to allow Archon to poke his head out into the open. Taking his great-uncle's hand, Jon carefully led his fingers towards the dragon's snout.
Maester Aemon gasped softly as his fingers touched the scaled snout of the dragon. The small beast's warm breath warming his wrinkled fingers. Jon was nervous about allowing the old Maester to go further, as of now the only true interactions Archon had had with people was with him and Ygritte, but amazingly Archon all but scampered out of the confines of his cloak and into the waiting hands of the Maester. The sudden weight in the old man's hand nearly caused him to drop the young dragon. But Jon was right there to carefully catch Aemon's hands and help him hold the weight of the small creature.
"Jon," Aemon gasped as the two carefully brought the dragon to his lap, where it promptly curled up and started almost purring while tears formed at the corners of the old man's eyes. "This…This is…"
Stepping back, Jon watched with a smile on his face as the aged Targaryen carefully caressed the little dragon as if it were a newborn babe. "His name is Archon."
"Archon," Maester Aemon repeated, smiling as he ran a finger down the length of the dragon's back and tail. "A fine name for such a fine young one. Is…Is he alone?"
Letting his senses flow outwards, Jon made sure that he couldn't sense any unwanted ears nearby before answering. Even after confirming, he still knelt close to Aemon and lowered his voice so only the two of them could hear his words. "Archon is not alone in the world. Daenerys has birthed her own. A female, Droga."
If possible, the old man's smile grew even wider as tears started falling freely from the corners of his eyes. "For so long I dreamed…dreamed of a return to magic. To the Valyrian line. For a time, I thought your sire would perhaps be the one to see my dreams come true. Yet it was not his destiny, but yours and Daenerys's to bring life back to that which was once lost." Aemon tilted his head up, his unseen eyes staring off into the distance as his hands kept their gentle caressing of the dragon hatchling in his lap. "A dragon is no mere beast, Jon. The Maesters and many others would have us believe otherwise. But they are fools."
"I know," Jon replied, grinning as he stared down at Archon, who was soaking up Aemon's caresses like a dry sponge that'd been dropped into a lake. "My bond with Ghost is much the same. I swear, Ghost is far smarter than half of the people I've met. Maybe more. And Archon, even young as he is, is far too smart for his own good."
Having heard him, Archon lifted its head from Aemon's lap and glared, as best as the little dragon could. He then opened his maw, allowing a small puff of smoke to billow out and float towards Jon. "Indeed, he is," Aemon smiled. "And being born in the North seems to have imbued him with a northerner's rough demeanor as well."
Carefully lifting the dragon, Maester Aemon handed Archon back to Jon, who immediately dived back into Jon's cloak and the small traveling sack. "Are you prepared, Jon?" Maester Aemon asked, his joyous look still in place, yet his voice had turned as hard as the ice on the Wall.
"Prepared, uncle?" Jon asked, going to a knee before his great-uncle so that they were eye to eye.
It felt almost like Aemon's unseeing eyes were boring into his very being, not unlike Master Nox's did whenever he was trying to make a point to him. "A dragon does not hide, Jon Stark. They fly. They conquer. Archon may be content now, but in time you will not be able to hide him for long. Word will spread faster than a blizzard can coat the ground in snow. Friends, enemies, and those seeking to use both of you will come for you. And when that day comes… You must kill the boy, Jon Stark. Kill the boy, and let the man be born…Jaehaerys Stark."
The advice was…strikingly similar to that which Master Nox had given him when he first learned of Archon's existence. He needed to be prepared for the day when Archon became widely known to Westeros. For his sake, and for the sake of Archon and his family.
Standing before a reflective glass seeing herself staring back at her, Dany adjusted the strap on her dress. She was doing her best to try and remain calm, yet she couldn't help but stare and fidget uncomfortably. Part of that was because of the sight of one of her breasts being purposefully exposed from the confines of her otherwise flawless dress. While she could admit that the city of Qarth was indeed impressive, she could not necessarily say she fully endorsed their style of fashion. The women typically wore this style of dress that purposefully left a single breast exposed, while the men often wore beaded linen skirts. The children of the city were often completely bare save for body paint coverings at most. While she was no stranger to an exposed body, even exposing her own, the amount of flesh on display within Qarth would take her some time to get used to.
Satisfied with the state of her dress, Dany took a moment to look around the chambers that'd been allotted for her usage while she stayed as a guest within the estate of Xaro Xhoan Daxos. The room was lavish, far more than she had grown accustomed to during her time with the Dothraki, and more akin to her time she spent within the manse of Magister Illyrio. Scattered around her room were various gifts that'd been bestowed upon her by Xaro, all of which held great value. A silver collar necklace with an enchanted amethyst that he said would protect her against poison. Several small vials of perfumes and fragrances. A few scrolls from Valyria that dated before the Doom. A small set of a thousand knight figures, each made from silver and gold with precious gems imbedded into each. In all, the gifts were worth a fortune, and not something normally bestowed upon a guest. Which told Dany exactly what Xaro's intentions were. He wished to court her, and take her hand in marriage. Though for what gain eluded her, until her faithful sworn shield Jorah had explained a custom of Qarth marriage to her.
"In Qarth, when a man and woman marry they each make a single request for a gift from the other. A sign of submission to one another. They can ask for anything. Family heirlooms. Scrolls. Gems. A single item that holds value to the other. Should the request not be honored, then the marriage is considered void, and the one who refused shamed. Should you marry Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Khaleesi, he will ask for your dragon as his gift. And you will have no choice but to accept. Or lose Qarth as a potential ally forever."
The thought of having to give up her daughter, or her son, had filled her with such rage that various pieces of furniture within her room had started to shake in response to her fury. She didn't speak to Xaro for almost a full day after as it took her that long to calm herself. After calming herself down, she began changing the way she spoke and interacted with Xaro. Instead of giving him any indication that she was interested in courting him, she treated him more as an advisor or a partner. She wasn't sure if he realized her change or not. But he had ceased his gifts shortly after her change and the two had settled in a comfortable allyship after.
But she had not been strictly idle during her time in Qarth either. In the desert her one thought and goal was the continued survival of her people, her son, and her daughter. Now that they were within the safety of another's estate, she had time to plan. Drogo had agreed with her ambition to bring about the return of Valyria. And they had even begun creating a plan to see it come to fruition using the strength of their Khalassar as their army. But now her husband was gone. And so were the Dothraki. She needed a new army now. And new allies, both militarily and politically. During one of her few lessons with Master Nox, the Sorcerer had emphasized that one of the main differences between poor rulers and good rulers boiled down to those they choose to advise them. And that no ruler, however intelligent, strong, brave, cunning, or ambitious could do everything. She needed advisers. People she could trust. Not just to give her sound advice, but also tell her what she needed to hear, not just what she wanted to hear.
Knowing that choosing a military commander immediately would be pointless, considering she didn't have an army to command, she instead focused on trying to cultivate allies amongst the merchants of Qarth. After all, who would better advise her on the matter of coin and commerce than those who dealt with it on a day-to-day basis?
Xaro was a good start. The man was well versed in matters of trade and had contacts that he was willing to share with her. He'd even managed to secure her a meeting with the Thirteen, of whom Xaro was one. Her talks with the merchants had gone favorably she'd thought. They hadn't outright dismissed her at least and listened to her goals of re-establishing the Valyrian Empire in Essos. While at the end of her time with them they hadn't given her their support, they also didn't tell her 'no.' Which was better than nothing she supposed. And now, after being a guest within Xaro's estate for over a moon's turn, the man had managed to gain her an audience with the Pureborns, the noble rulers of Qarth. And that was what she was going to do this very day. Stand before the Pureborns and offer not only an alliance, but a place above all others within her Valyrian Empire.
Turning into a separate adjoining room, Dany found Doreah sitting in a chair near the cradle that held her son and daughter. "Khaleesi," Doreah greeted her, rising from her chair while folding her hands before her and bowing her head.
"There is no need for such formality when we are alone, Doreah," Dany said with a smile, walking towards the cradle and peering within.
Her son was sleeping peacefully on his back while her daughter was sleeping right next to him. Droga's snake-like head was curled around Rhaego while she had a single wing over his body as if to protect him while asleep or to keep him warm. Or mayhap her little dragon was trying to warm herself against him. Either way, it was a precious image. One that Dany would commit to memory.
"The khalakka has been sleeping soundly since he last fed from your breast, my lady."
Smiling, Dany reached down and gently smoothed her son's hair before allowing her fingers to continue onwards over to Droga, making a trail down her long slender neck and to her tail. "Let us hope he continues this way," Dany said, backing away and turning away from the heartwarming sight. It was for them, for Rhaego and Droga, that she was doing this. She wanted to create a better world for her son and daughter. "I will be in talks with the Pureborns today. Hopefully for some time."
Doreah nodded. "I will watch after the young khalakka, my lady. He will not be the first child I have watched over for an extended period of time. And I will give everything to see him and your…daughter safe, my lady."
Smiling, Dany walked up to Doreah and gave the former slave-whore a warm embrace. "I know, Dorea. I trust you, perhaps more than any other." Backing away, she cast one final glance towards her sleeping son and daughter before raising her head and walking out of the room.
She knew that Rhaego and Droga were in good hands with Doreah. But for some reason, Dany couldn't shake the sense of foreboding danger that'd been picking at her like a needle to the back of her head. Pushing the sensation aside, Dany focused herself on the here and now. The Pureborns could be amongst the most powerful allies she could ask for, especially so early in her campaign. And she needed to keep her focus on them, not on what could happen.
While she might just be a simple handmaiden, Doreah could truthfully say that she had no complaints regarding her new lot in life. Certainly not when compared to her old lot as a slave whore in a pleasure house being passed around from sweaty sailor to merchant to peddler to old men who could barely get their manhood to rise to the occasion. No, this was a far better life than she had ever envisioned for herself. Her mistress, her Khaleesi, her Lady Daenerys Targaryen was a kind and thoughtful woman that she served without hesitation and with all her heart. And while there were some that would take her kindhearted nature, or the fact that she was a woman, as a sign of weakness, Doreah knew far better. Daenerys had tamed the greatest of Khals of the Dothraki, rode him using the techniques Doreah herself had taught her until she'd broken Drogo in like the prized stallion he was. And best of all, while some of her duties might be considered demeaning to some, Daenerys had never commanded or even asked for her to go back to using the skills she'd learned during her time as a whore.
Doreah would, should Daenerys ask it of her. She would use the skills she learned for her Lady in a heartbeat, sometimes she even dared to dream of such an occurrence coming to pass. Or if Daenerys asked her to use her skills to further persuade those who needed it. She would not enjoy returning to her whoring days. But if it benefited her Lady and helped to see her dream of returning Valyria from the ashes, then Doreah would do so. Though she knew that Daenerys would never ask, or demand, such a thing from her. Which made Doreah's respect and admiration for her Lady rise even higher.
Hearing Rhaego starting to fuss, and Droga's light call, Doreah ceased her musing of her life and immediately went over to the cradle that held her Lady's son and daughter. Rhaego was looking up at her, and the moment his little dark violet eyes fell on her his face split into a wide smile as he babbled and reached for her. Droga eyed her, but ultimately did nothing as Doreah picked up Rhaego and went over to where a wooden bowl with goat's milk and a cloth had been set. Sitting down, Doreah dipped the cloth in the milk, making sure to soak it thoroughly, before moving the cloth to Rhaego's lips and allowing the hungry child to have his fill. While no substitute for mother's milk, goats' milk was a fine alternative.
Hearing Droga cry out, Doreah looked up to see the little dragon, now the size of a large cat or even a small hound, was using its wings and taloned legs to balance on the edge of the cradle. When she'd first seen the dragon, let alone been tasked with holding it, Doreah had honestly thought she would lose control of her water. She'd grown up hearing story after story about the Dragon Lords of old and the beasts they rode. And none of them were flattering. Tales of death and destruction. Of men, women, and children being fed to the creature's insatiable appetites. But as time went on and she got used to Droga, she could no longer see the little beast as one of those creatures. Especially not with how it acted around her Lady and the little Rhaego in her arms.
"Patience, little Droga," Doreah smiled, dipping the cloth again in the milk, "I will find you some cooked meat once I h—"
A flash passed over her eyes, and next she knew something hard was pressing hard into her throat, cutting off her ability to breathe. Doreah, flailed on instinct, her hands holding onto little Rhaego as she desperately reached for whatever was around her neck. Rhaego started screaming and Droga hissed and cried, her claws scraping against wood and stone as Doreah fought to try and breathe.
Her vision darkened as her breath failed her. Then there was something sharp and hard entering her chest, followed by warmth spreading down her front. A dagger. In her chest. All strength left her as her neck was released. Without her strength, she collapsed. Only able to watch as little Rhaego was torn from her arms as she fell. Fighting against the agony in her chest and the darkening of her eyes, Doreah tried to turn her head, desperate to see who…who had killed her. Her eyes widened as she saw the figure step over her as if she was nothing and walk confidently towards little Droga.
The little dragon hissed and cried. But in the end could do nothing as an iron cage like a basket was placed over her. Hearing the man's steps leave her, Doreah used the last of her strength to dipper finger in the blood leaving her chest. She just barely managed to complete drawing two letters on her unbloodied arm before all her strength left her and the darkness claimed her.