Welcome back everyone! Not much to say unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately depending on your point of view. So we'll just get right into it!

Big thank you to my beta reader and brainstorm partner Tellemicus Sundace, who personally wrote an entire section of this chapter, helping me immensely! 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!

Chapter 42

The soft sound of running water across rocks was soothing in a way. It was peaceful and tranquil. Something that Nyra Nox knew would be in short supply in the times to come. A few days had passed since their flight from King's Landing, days where they made very little progress in their venture back North. The most obvious reason for their slow pace was their horses. While Sandor's horse was a fine war horse, the beast was bred for power not speed. Their other two horses were so old that Nyra was afraid to put them at a decent, long-distance moving pace for very long out of fear they would simply expire. And they were traveling through the thick woods and doing all they could to avoid the King's Road or any settlements for that matter.

Of course, there was the physical endurance of the girls as well. Arya and Sansa might have been well trained by her husband. But in the end, they were both daughters of a noble and Starks at that. Because of that, they never had to travel like this before. Unfortunately, Jeyne had neither the experience of such travel nor the training of Nyra's husband to prepare her. And even Nyra wasn't ashamed to admit that even she wasn't used to traveling in such conditions for long. Especially now as she felt far more fatigued than usual.

"We're going too slow, Lady."

Tearing her eyes away from the path of the small stream, Nyra glanced towards the imposing form of Sandor Clegane, who was standing beside her with his back purposefully turned on the four that were behind him. Sansa, Arya, and Jeyne were all in various states of undress, washing what they could with the river water under Osha's watchful eye as Sandor stood tall with his back towards them.

"I know," Nyra admitted, kneeling on the ground and placing one of their water skins into the clear stream to refill it. "But we can't push much harder than we have. Our horses are ill suited for speed and the forest isn't helping matters either. And I hesitate to use the King's Road as the eyes of King's Landing are no doubt on it."

Placing the stopper on the water skin, Nyra grabbed the next and began filling it. "You know Joffrey better than any, Sandor. What will he do now?"

After their first night in the woods when Nyra finally called for a break, Sandor had informed them all of what he knew. Lord Eddard Stark had tried to submit King Robert's will, only to have it thrown back in his face by the Queen before being beaten unconscious and then taken to the black cells. The Stark men that'd stayed behind had held their ground well before destroying the Tower of the Hand, injuring but not killing Ser Jamie Lannister. Outside of that, he knew little else as he fled the city with them before anything else could come about.

"The little shit is a bloodthirsty cunt, much like my brother," Sandor answered honestly. "He's a dumb little cunt, but not dumb enough to not know that putting Stark in the cells and sending me after you lot would mean war with the North. Which is no doubt what he wanted."

Shaking her head, Nyra stopped the last of their water skins and set them aside. "If it's war he wants, it is war he will get. Though he will wish it differently at the end. He has little support outside of the Crownlands and the Westerlands. Stannis and Renly will no doubt put forth their own claims to the throne if they haven't already. And in doing so they will divide the Stormlands. The gods only know what the Reach will end up doing. Dorne will side with us…but they are on the wrong side of Westeros. And it will be difficult for them to send aid. And I don't even want to think of how the Ironborn will try and turn this war to their advantage."

Sandor nodded, before his eyes narrowed as he stared at their horses. "Lady…Is that bag supposed to be glowing like that?"

Frowning, Nyra turned around towards where their horses were tied off near the stream so they could drink. Her heart hammered in her chest as she noticed a light blue glow coming from underneath the flap of the satchel she'd taken with her from the Tower of the Hand. Nearly tripping over her own feet in her haste, Nyra stumbled over to her horse and dug frantically through the satchel. The glass candle was still nestled in the bottom of the satchel. However, unlike before, it was now glowing a soft blue color.

Grabbing the candle, Nyra sat down with her feet crossed beneath her and set the candle down sitting upright on the ground. Closing her eyes, she opened herself to the Force and reached out to the candle, just as she had done every night for the past several weeks. Almost instantly, she could feel another presence within the candle. A presence she knew intimately and one that brought her no small amount of comfort and relief. "Alim."

"Nyra," she could hear his voice, his rough calming voice not in her ears, but rather in her mind. "I felt distress and danger. For you and the others. What happened?"

Nyra nearly wanted to collapse. "I–It all went wrong, Alim," she said, holding onto the glass candle as if she were holding onto her husband. "Robert died an–and the royal children are not his. He wrote a will naming Ned as Regent for a time… But Cersei had Joffrey crowned, naming him the King and her the Queen Mother. Then Ned was arrested and–and I had to flee with the girls. Everyone else…they're gone."

Her husband was silent, and during his silence she realized that the others had slowly approached her from behind. Arya and Sansa were both looking hopeful. However, Jeyne, Sandor, and Osha all looked confused. She knew that they couldn't hear her husband through the candle, so she was sure that she looked like a mad woman, talking out loud to a glowing glass candle.

"Nyra, tell me everything."

Sitting behind his father's desk—no, it was his desk now—within the Lord's solar of Winterfell, Robb Stark, current Lord of Winterfell stared blankly down at the raven's scroll laid out before him. For over a week now, Robb had been feeling uneasy. A nagging sensation that he knew came from the Force that spoke loudly of something about to happen, or something that had happened that was not good. He could sense danger and uncertainty. Even the wolves still in Winterfell; Winter, Lady, Nymeria, Grey Wind, and Summer were all on edge. Constantly pacing like caged animals and making more than one of the servants within Winterfell uneasy.

And with no word from anyone, neither his father or sisters down in King's Landing nor Lord Nox and his brother Jon north of the Wall, Robb was left in the uncomfortable position of being completely in the dark with nothing but the nagging sensation of something wrong from the Force constantly wracking his mind. But today those questions were answered. Though Robb was truly wishing that they hadn't been.

The raven hadn't even been from his own family, House Tully. No. As if to twist the dagger deeper a raven came from Raventree Hall, bearing the sigil of House Blackwood and signed by Lord Tytos Blackwood himself. Though given its contents, he wasn't fully surprised that Lord Blackwood would send a raven to him. But the silence from House Tully bothered him greatly.

King Robert was dead. Robb's own father was imprisoned, and the fate of his sisters and Lady Nyra Nox unknown to any. And the new King, Joffrey Baratheon, had not only outlawed the faith of the Old Gods, but he had also declared an Exalted March against the North and House Stark specifically. And now any who bore the name Stark, either through birth or marriage, had a price on their heads that would make anyone from highborn noble to street urchin with a blade out for their blood.

Nothing his father or Lord Nox had taught him could have prepared him for this. The only thing that did was when his father told him that the most important thing that a Lord could do was to prepare for the unexpected. But how in the name of the old gods and the Force could one prepare themselves for this?!

There was no doubt as to where this would lead. War. The First Men of the North would not stand to have their worship of the old gods outlawed. Let alone that acquiescing to these demands would result in Robb having to put not only his own head on the block, but also the heads of his family. Not something that he was willing to entertain in the slightest.


Lifting his head, he saw the light of his life, his wife Talisa Stark standing just within the now open door to his solar. A door he hadn't even heard open as he was so lost in his own mind. 'Another reason why I cannot give in to these ridiculous demands,' he thought as Talisa closed the door behind her to give them some semblance of privacy. 'Talisa is a Stark now. And the little shit King is calling for her head as well. And it's not just her life in the balance either.' Having thought this, Robb's eyes flickered down to his wife's stomach. Where his child, the future of House Stark, now grew.

Upon arriving back from Harrenhal, Talisa had informed him that her moonblood was late. And after a consultation with Maester Luwin, the conclusion was made that she was more than likely with child. Though they would not be able to tell for sure yet for at least another moon. The idea that his wife was pregnant, that he was soon to be a father, was one that excited yet made him more terrified than he could ever remember. And now…now he would need to go to war. A war to ensure that his wife, and his child, would even be allowed to live.

His wife didn't say anything further as she made her way around so that she could grab hold of him, pulling him close so that his head was resting against her breasts as her fingers gently weaved through his hair. "There will be war, Talisa," Robb said plainly, as Talisa already knew about the contents of the missive, "I can't…I can't stand for this. My father imprisoned. My sisters and Lady Nox on the run or worse. Even if I could…the people of the North won't. They'll take up arms against the South the moment they learn of Joffrey's proclamation outlawing the faith of the Old Gods."

"I know," Talisa said, her fingers continuing their dance through his hair.

Reaching up and taking her hands in his own, Robb turned and met his wife's eyes. "I'll leave instruction that you will be the Stark in Winterfell while I ride south."

Talisa's gaze hardened, a true she-wolf even if she was not born one. "Do not think that just because I am possibly with child that I will be leaving you to fight this war on your own, Robb Stark."

Robb kept his eyes on her own and hardened his resolve. He acknowledged that Talisa was his greatest strength, as well as his greatest weakness. And with her now possibly carrying his child and the future of House Stark? "Talisa, I don't doubt your strength. But if the words of Lord Blackwood are to be believed, then Tywin Lannister himself has been appointed as Commander of this 'Exalted March'. The man's reputation, both on and off the field, is well deserved. And to even stand against him…the North will need to be just as brutal as Tywin, if not more so."

"And that is why you need me, Robb," Talisa countered. "Just as Lord Nox needs Nyra to keep him grounded and prevent him from losing himself. I will keep you from losing yourself in this war as well. I know you will need to be brutal. I know that this war will be…bloody and that innocents will be caught in the middle. But I will be by your side through it all. And besides, Bran can be the Stark in Winterfell. And while he's still just a boy, he will have Luwin and Samwell helping to advise him."

The part of him that wanted to keep her safe and away from all potential harm was yelling at him to tell her that her place was in Winterfell while he was at war. But that part was vastly overwhelmed by the part of him that knew his wife. She would not accept being left behind while he marched off to war. She wouldn't be donning any armor or picking up a weapon. But she would be the first on the field once the battle was over to look after the wounded and dying.

He was about to give his consent to her desires when he felt the Force run into him like Hodor at a full sprint. Physically reeling from the sudden onslaught, Robb could do little more than spring up to his feet and look around wildly, trying to pinpoint where the strange sensation suddenly came from. Finding the source, he felt something calling out to him from a small wooden box the length of his forearm that was resting on the far side of the solar. Opening the box, he found a glass candle, one of the dozens Lord Nox had pilfered from Valyria, laying on a bed of cloth.

"Next time answer the call faster, young Apprentice."

Lord Nox's voice rocked him the moment his fingers touched the surface of the glass. It honestly confused him for a moment before he remembered the quick lesson Lord Nox had given them all regarding these glass candles. How they could be used so that two individuals could hold a conversation with one another despite almost any distance that was between them. "Lord Nox?" he questioned, setting up the candle on the surface of the desk.

"Of course it is me, Apprentice. Now, listen closely as I am not in the mood to have to repeat myself. Have you received word of what happened in the south?"

Robb cast a glance towards Talisa, confused as to how Master Nox knew of what was happening in the South, yet his wife was just staring at him in a confused matter. 'Oh! That's right, she can't hear Master Nox unless she connects to the candles through the Force.' "I just received word from House Blackwood today, Master. King Robert is dead and the little shit Joffrey has ascended to the Iron Throne. And his first act was to throw my father in the black cells for treason as well as name worship of the old gods and practice of the Force heretical and punishable by death. He's called forth an Exalted March on the North to be led by Lord Tywin Lannister and he has put a bounty on the heads of each member of House Stark as well as a bounty on your own head and your Lady wife's."

Lord Nox was silent on the other side of the glass candle. "Fucking hells," Lord Nox's curse carried through the connection between them with such vitriol that Robb could practically feel his Master's growing anger. "I just spoke with Nyra. She has your sisters, Jeyne, Osha, and surprisingly Sandor Clegane who has turned his cloak in our favor. They're currently in the Crownlands, doing what they can to avoid being spotted."

"We have to march south," Robb said with conviction. He wouldn't stand for his sisters running for their lives nor for his father being held prisoner in such a manner. The honor of House Stark, not to mention the honor of the entire North, demanded nothing less than a full armed response to these insults.

"And we will, Apprentice. But we must do so wisely." Lord Nox stated firmly, and just like that, Robb went from being Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North to a young lad listening to either his father or mentor. "You are strong in the Force, Robb, but that does not make you invincible. The North is strong, but the further away from one's home you bring an army, the weaker they become. Our enemies are numerous, Robb. Especially if that little shit has made this a war of faith. And they're being led by Lord Tywin. For now, we are outnumbered and behind. Our only advantage lies in our ability to utilize the Force and the fact that these candles have mitigated the element of surprise."

Robb wanted to pace angrily. "I can't just leave my father in the hands of the Lannisters and Baratheons! Nor can I just leave my sisters to wander through enemy lands unprotected!"

Another wave of anger came through the candle, and this time Robb couldn't help stumbling back slightly. "Do not think I am speaking lightly, Apprentice. My wife is with your sisters. And I will do anything to get her back including personally killing every man under the banner of the Stag or the Lion. But, regardless of our wants, we cannot act rashly and thereby doom the people of the North and those you are trying to save, understand?"

Lord Nox's words were reminiscent of his own father's. More than once, his father spoke of the start of the rebellion and the brash nature of his Uncle Brandon and how he charged headlong into King's Landing, demanding Lyanna's return and for Rhaegar to explain himself. An act that resulted in not only his uncle's death. But also the death of his grandfather and all of those who had followed Brandon to King's Landing and all of those who died during the Rebellion. But what if his uncle had kept his head? Would he still be alive today? Would his grandfather? All those who went with him?

"What do we do, Master?"

"We have an advantage thanks to Lord Blackwood, as the North was clearly not supposed to know about this 'Exalted March' until the army was on our doorstep. Which means we have time to prepare a counter. However, we are still behind. Send out ravens informing the Lords of the North of the impending attack and have them send their vanguard and themselves to Moat Cailan. You will meet them there, and hold the Moat till I, Jon and the rest of the Northern forces arrive to reinforce our position. Only then, when we have our full force available to us, will we bring the fight to these southern fools and teach them just what it means to fight against a Sith."

Robb wanted to do nothing more than grab every strong arm in the North and rush straight into the heart of the South to save his father and sisters. But he knew that his Master was right. They needed to act smartly, not rashly. If all of the South was united under the Faith against them…then it would be a war unlike any the North had seen since before Aegon's Conquest of Westeros. "I'll send the word and have the Lords gather at the Moat. We'll hold it till you arrive, Lord Nox."

"Set your nerves to steel, young Robb. We will have our vengeance against all those who have wronged us. And they will learn just what it means to go against us. Now get to work. I have more than a few plans and contingencies to put in motion. And rest assured, your father is one of the very few I have ever called my friend. So, I will not leave him at the mercies of the Baratheons and Lannisters for long, my young apprentice."

He could feel the presence of his Master fade as the light dimmed within the glass candle before disappearing completely. "Robb?"

Shaking his head, Robb turned towards his wife. "I've got more than a few ravens I need to write. Please send for my brother, Maester Luwin, Samwell, Joy, and Gendry. If you're going to be riding south with the rest of us, then I have more than a few things to set in place before we depart."

Sitting on a fallen tree next to Ygritte, Jon watched silently as just across the small fire from him his Master sat in meditative silence, the glass candle that he never seemed to part with floating chest high in the air in front of Lord Nox. It'd just barely been midday when they had emerged from the roots of the weirwood, and now that it was approaching sunset, Lord Nox had still not spoken a single word to any of them. Something had happened in the south. Something not good. And the longer his Master held his tongue, the more and more Jon's anxiety grew. He needed to know what happened, or rather what was happening.

And worse, his anxiety was clearly starting to affect both Ghost and Archon. His faithful direwolf, while remaining silent as his namesake, was clearly on edge. His ears constantly twitching and his blood-red eyes snapping off into the distance at even the slightest of sounds. And Archon was constantly scampering back and forth between Jon and Ygritte. The little dragon was clearly not pleased and not in the mood for any sort of comfort either he or Ygritte could give him.

"Ah, fuckin hells," Ygritte growled, tossing the stick she was using to draw in the snow into the small fire. "What da fuck is takin him so damn long to talk? And who da hells is he talkin to?"

"A fair number of individuals scattered across Westeros and Essos, Ygritte," Lord Nox said suddenly, the glow from the glass candle fading as it finally dropped out the air and into his Master's waiting hand.

"Master," Jon called out, drawing the attention of Leaf and Uncle Benjen, who were both sitting nearby on similar fallen trees. "What's going on, Master?"

"War," Lord Nox replied, putting the glass candle away and rising to his feet, taking a moment to brush the snow off his pants as he did so. "Robert Baratheon is dead. Joffrey, with the aid of his mother, has ascended to the Iron Throne. As his first act, he had your father arrested for treason, forced your sisters and my wife to flee the city, has now declared practice of the Force and worship of the old gods heretical, and is calling for an Exalted March on the people of the North."

Jon, along with the others, could only stare in dumb silence at what Lord Nox had just told them. "No…No, that's not possible," Benjen denied, shaking his head. "Not even the Targaryen's in the height of their madness would dare declare an Exalted March against the North."

"True, yet the Targaryen's have not always ruled Westeros. Remember, there were numerous attempted marches, crusades, or whatever you want to call them by the Andals well before the Targaryen's ever stepped foot on Westeros soil," Lord Nox countered.

It was true. As much as the North considered the former Wildlings to be amongst their greatest foes, the truth was there had only been five Kings-Beyond-the-Wall before Mance Rayder in all recorded history that had attempted to invade the North. For each attempt by the Wildlings to claim the North, there were at least two attempts or more by the Andals to do the same. It was a grim reality to ponder. Between the three enemies of the North, the Andals, the Ironborn, and the Wildlings, the wildlings were the least likely to launch a full invasion of the North. Raid, yes. Invade, no. And now…Now the Andals were once again marching to war against the North. At a time when they could ill afford to be divided.

"Robb is sending word throughout the North and calling for all the Lords and their men to assemble at Moat Cailin," Lord Nox continued. "Lord Blackwood sent a raven to Robb, informing him of the Exalted March. Which has given us time to prepare a proper defense against the forces being assembled against us. But despite the warning, at best we will only be able to have a small force assembled at Moat Cailin before Tywin Lannister, who has been named Supreme Commander of the Exalted March, arrives. Robb will hold the Moat with what men he can muster. And as he does, we will make our way south, collecting as many as we can to bolster our numbers."

Jon was still trying to wrap his mind around everything that had happened. His father held prisoner. His sisters were running for their lives. His brother marching off to war, a war that'd been declared on the entirety of the North simply because they worshiped different gods. How? How did it all come to this? Sure, things weren't necessarily going right for them with everything that happened with the Children of the Forest. But war? It…It just didn't seem real.

Feeling a warm touch on his hand, he jerked his head up, surprised yet not surprised to find Ygritte's warm hand in his own and her face close to his own. There were no snide remarks nor jokes. She just sat with him, holding his hand as if she was trying to add her strength to his own.

Nodding, he squeezed her own hand with his own as he brought his mind around to trying to piece together the situation they were in. The Faith of the Seven had declared war on them and they were heavily outnumbered. But they were not alone. They had allies they could call on. Dorne would aid them, he was sure of it. Both his betrothal to Arianne and the chance for vengeance against the Baratheons and Lannisters would compel Dorne to side with the North. The Reach…They were a possibility. Sansa was set to become the next Lady of Highgarden, which should make House Tyrell honor-bound to aid House Stark. On the other hand, the Reach was well known for its dedication to the Faith of the Seven. At best, he would expect neutrality from the Reach… Unless Sansa fell into the wrong hands. But outside of House Tyrell and House Martell, there was another group they could call upon to aid them.

"Master," Jon said, eyeing his Master. "We are not far from Mance Rayder and the rest of the Free Folk who decided to stay north of the Wall. Perhaps it would behoove us to make the slight trek to their camp and add their numbers to our own."

"Mance and those with him won't kneel to ya or to yer brother, Jon," Ygritte responded quickly. "Lady Val swore before the old gods, so she will march. But da others won't march just cause you want them to."

"We don't need them to kneel or swear oaths," Lord Nox commented back, already seeing what his apprentice had in mind. "We just need their strength at arms. And there are many ways of obtaining that outside of swearing oaths."

Jon, and the others, caught on to what Lord Nox was implying. "You intend to…buy the Free Folk like they are sellswords?" Benjen questioned before scratching at the back of his head. "It might work. But it'll cost a fair bit of coin…or other valuables. And even if you do get their services, they won't be sworn to the North. Therefore, the Night's Watch won't let them pass the Wall. Hells, as much as I want to let you have your way and even march with you…I can't betray my oaths."

"That won't be an issue," Lord Nox responded. He already had a plan…or perhaps five, Jon was sure of it. Not just for how to secure the services of the Free Folk, but also how to win this war. "Leaf, time to make yourself useful again and lead us to Mance Rayder. After that, go back to your people or stay with us, I really don't care. Now, let's move. We're already far enough behind our enemies as it is."

Carefully observing the small gathering of people working on the construction of a wooden building, Nyra fought against the urge to rub her hand across her stomach as she watched the few women present walk around, handing out small pieces of bread and meat to those who were working. It'd been little over a week since they'd fled King's Landing. A week without a decent meal outside of that which they could forage or hunt down, which was little. And as much as she wanted to try and avoid any type of settlement, especially one this close to King's Landing, the desire for a decent meal and perhaps even some sort of bed that wasn't the ground was eroding away her desire to stay away.

"Looks to be about twenty, maybe thirty," Sandor said from his place beside her as they watched the small hamlet go about their day. "Old enough to have seen a few winters…and young enough to not have seen any. Few men of fighting age. And they are well stocked. Saw a couple of chickens behind one of the buildings over there. And they're handing out bread like its water after a heavy rain."

Biting her lip, the urge to approach the small hamlet was approaching the point of being unbearable. They were a fair distance off the King's Road. And this hamlet was small enough. A single night couldn't hurt, could it? Arya was doing alright. As was Osha and Sandor. But she knew that Sansa and Jeyne were both struggling. And she was as well. "We have the coin to spare," Nyra said contemplatively, thinking back to the satchel on her horse and the two coin purses within. "We can pay for food and a place to rest our heads for one night."

"Why waste the coin?" Sandor asked, shaking his head. "There are no men of fighting shape here. We could just take what we need and be back on the road with hardly any time lost."

"We are not brigands, Sandor," Nyra countered with an edge to her voice. "We have the coin to pay for what we need. And a warm meal and a bed of sorts will do wonders for the girls. Plus, we still haven't had much of a chance to talk about our next moves. We can rest for one night, plan out our next move, and then head out in the morning."

Sandor growled but didn't press further. "Your decision, woman."

Retreating into the thicket, Nyra quickly found the three girls and Osha who were waiting for her return. "There's a small hamlet down the way," she explained. "We'll rest there for a single night before heading on again. Remember, you three are my daughters. Osha my sister and Sandor here a sellsword we managed to hire to escort us to Harrenhal after we failed to find work at King's Landing."

The girls all nodded, letting Nyra take the lead as they loaded up on their horses and slowly made their way out of the thicket and towards the small hamlet. Their presence was quickly noticed, not surprising seeing as how Sandor's imposing form on his equally imposing warhorse took the lead. The few village women and children all quickly disappeared as they neared, leaving only a few men to come forth, led by a tall older man who was nearly as tall as Sandor's warhorse even with a slight hunch in his back. He wore a simple tunic with an iron Seven-pointed star pendant hanging around his neck.

"Good day, travelers," the Septon greeted them, stepping forward away from the village behind him, "I am Septon Meribald. This village rarely gets travelers…especially a knight of such stature as this man here. May I inquire as to what purpose you have coming upon this small village?"

Stepping out around Sandor, Nyra motioned for the large man to stay back. "G'day, Septon. I be Nia, and des be me daughters and sister. We be travelin to Harrenhal lookin for work after me husband…passed and King's Landin be no longer good for me girls. We only be lookin to stay a night before movin on. We have coin to pay for a bed…and mayhap any food ye could spare."

The Septon passed a glance over all of them, his eyes lingering on the imposing form of Sandor. "Most be a fair bit of coin to afford the services of such an imposing sellsword."

Nyra, playing her part, thought back to several intimate encounters she and Alim shared in Harrenhal, encounters that brought a blush to her face. "He serves well…and takes payment other than…coin."

Septon frowned but nodded. "I see. Such is the world we live in, my dear. A pity that. There are enclosed stables and only homes for those who call this hamlet their own. Yet you and yours may stay in the Sept tonight and may purchase any food that these villagers are willing to part with. And should your…sellsword require payment tonight, I ask you do so quietly. There are many children in this village who do not need to know of such activities."

As night fell, Nyra and the others found themselves alone in the Sept as the village slept. Despite the late hour, the small group of six stayed awake in the light of a single candle. Laid out before them were the few pieces of gold and several purses of silver. Along with a roughly drawn map of Westeros that Nyra had hastily created. Ever since that day by the stream when Alim had contacted her through the glass candles, they had been in almost constant contact with one another. It was…strange. Being able to speak with her love who was on the far side of Westeros from her, yet still they spoke every day. And from her husband she learned the true depth of the boy-King's madness. A price on their heads she expected. But to declare an Exalted March on the North? To outlaw the practice of the Force and the Old Gods? Madness almost seemed too light a term.

None of the girls had taken the news of the impending war well, nor the news of their father's imprisonment. Jeyne wept silently as fear gripped her heart. Arya wanted to turn around and head right back to King's Landing to free Lord Stark and kill as many Lannisters and Baratheons as she could. Sansa was the most levelheaded of the three, the oldest girl keeping her silence yet her mind clearly reeling as she tried to make sense of their current situation.

"This Exalted Army will most likely gather at either Harrenhal or Riverrun." Nyra said, pointing to the two roughly marked locations in the middle of her map. "Whatever army Joffrey can gather from the Crownlands will need a staging location to meet up with the armies from the Westerlands. Tywin Lannister is not foolish enough to charge into the North, leaving House Tully, kin to the Starks, at his back. He'll want to either ensure the loyalty of the Riverlands, or make sure they are no threat to his rear flank before he heads north."

"Meaning the Riverlands will soon be swamped with the fuckers," Sandor growled, the imposing man refusing to leave his armor even during the night. "Tens of thousands of Lannister shit-lickers and fanatical Seven-ass-kissers. All looking to run one sword or another through each of you. And we're heading straight towards them."

"We could turn around. Head for Dorne?" Arya suggested. "The Dornish will take us in. Hells, once they learn of this stupid 'Exalted March' Arianne will probably lead the Dornish spears herself into battle."

"Dorne is just as far away as the North, Arya," Sansa countered, frowning as she looked at the crude map. "And we would have to pass by King's Landing if we were to take that route. And travel through the Stormlands…the lands of the Baratheons to reach the sands of Dorne. At least in the Riverlands we have kin that can aid us. In the Stormlands we have none. But Arya does raise a good point. The North, no matter how strong and even when favored by the Force, can't stand up against the entirety of the South. But we, the North, need allies. Or, at least, we need to fracture the full strength of the southern Kingdoms. And with Lord Nox and our brothers in the North. And father…held prisoner… We are the only ones who can do that."

Sansa had a point. If the entirety of the South united against the North, it would be disastrous. But even with the Faith backing this war, was that truly a concern? Considering the truth of the 'royal children' and the actions of both Renly and Stannis, she would hazard a guess that, if they weren't already, the Stormlands would soon be fractured completely between Renly, Stannis, and Joffrey. The Riverlands were never truly united, and it would be even worse now. Families like the Blackwoods would fight against this Exalted March. And others would hold true to the Faith regardless of House Tully's stance. The Crownlands would fight for the crown, as would the Westerlands. But the Dornish would side with the North, if for no other reason than the chance to have their revenge for Robert's Rebellion and what happened to Elia Martell and Rhaenys Targaryen. Which left one significant kingdom up in the air.

"We need the Reach on our side," Nyra said plainly. "As does Tywin Lannister. Their gold, food…and over one-hundred thousand men at arms will turn the tide of war in favor of whoever they side with."

"I can ensure that the Reach will side with us."

Nyra frowned and looked at Sansa. As smart as the girl had become under her lord husband and her own tutelage, she was still a girl. "Aye, you are betrothed to Willias Tyrell and you're set to become the next Lady Tyrell, but you are not her yet, Sansa. While Willias, Margaery, and Garlen are decent folk, the Tyrells are well known to covet the throne to the point where it might override their sense. Renly was well known to favor the Tyrells, almost to the point where he spent more time amongst the bannerman of the Reach than he did his own. It would be easy for him to pose the offer to make Margaery his Queen should they back his claim. Or worse, what if Tywin makes the same offer? To make Margaery Queen to Joffrey? Will they hold to their senses? Or will their desires for the throne set them against us?"

"Which is why I must go in person." Sansa countered. "A simple raven will not do. I need to be there in person to ensure their loyalty is to the North. And while I agree that Renly as King would…not be for the best—"

"No shit, Sansa! He left father to die!"

"—he would not hold to this stupidity of the Exalted March," Sansa finished, continuing over Arya's protest. "But if not Renly, then who will be King? Perhaps Stannis, but we know little about him outside of what Shireen has told us. And truth be told, given the tales of her father, I find Renly the preferable option."

Nyra had to bite her lip to keep from saying what she wanted to say. That there was a King that they could back, one that would put an end to this stupidity. One that understood the North. That had the favor of the South. One who, while still young, understood the burden of rulership and more importantly respected it. But she could not name him. Not now. Not while they were still in the South. Though, she had a feeling that if her husband truly had his way, then all the Realm would know soon enough.

"Sansa is right," Nyra sighed. "The North, regardless of how strong it has become, needs allies. Not just to win this war, but to ensure stability of the realm after all blades have been sheathed."

Leaning forward, Nyra divided the coin in half, giving half to Sansa and keeping the other half for herself before pointing towards Highgarden on the map. "Sansa, Jeyne, and Osha will head for Highgarden and get the Tyrells on our side. It won't be easy Sansa. While the Tyrells will more than likely be willing to side with us, you must remember that most of the Reach holds true to the Seven. At best, you may only be able to push for the Reach to stay neutral in this war. But even that would be a win, as it would prevent the strength of the Reach from bolstering Tywin's numbers." Her fingers moved away from the Reach to just east of the Riverlands. "While you secure the Tyrells, Arya, Sandor, and I will make for the Vale."

"The Vale? Why the fuck would we go there?" Sandor asked, snorting. "Those pious fucks are worse than the damned Reachmen. Won't even take a shit without begging the Seven forgiveness for lifting their skirts."

"Be that as it may, we still have allies in the Vale," Nyra countered. "The Royces, for starters. Let us not forget that Arya and Sansa's own aunt now rules the Vale as Regent until her son is ready to take up his role. And Ser Brynden Tully still serves as Knight of the Gate at the Bloody Gate. With Arya with us, he will grant us passage and hopefully a route to secure the Vale's knights at best. And at worst perhaps their neutrality."

Sandor scoffed. "With all respects to the girls here, but their beloved aunt is more than a little touched in the fucking head. Hells, she still fed the little shit Robert Arryn at her teat despite his age."

"Be that as it may, we still need to try," Nyra pressed. Truthfully, she had heard the whispers of Lady Lysa Arryn as well, and they were discerning to say the least. But despite her husband's prowess, and the prowess of the Starks and the North, they needed allies. The Riverlands and Dorne they could count on. But if they could sway the Reach and the Vale to aid them or to stay neutral, then the scales of this war would quickly tilt in their favor.

"We only got da three horses," Osha said, speaking up for the first time. "And two groups of three."

"Aye," Nyra nodded. "You, Sansa, and Jeyne will be taking two of the horses. The Vale and the Riverlands are not far from here, so Arya, Sandor, and I will make do with only the one horse while you three have much farther to traverse. Stay to the forests and off the roads until you reach the Roseroad. But even then, never let your guard down. Word has already spread to most, if not all, of the keeps in the Seven Kingdoms. And just about anyone with some sort of blade will be out looking to collect on the bounty. Trust only yourselves until you reach Highgarden. Now let us turn in for the night. We leave at first light tomorrow. And just in case, we will leave together, heading east. Then you three will break away and swing back southwest. May the Force, and the old gods, be with us."

Much had changed in the years since Mance had taken the chance and set upon the path that would, in Mother Mole's own words, 'bring about salvation through death'. Death. Death of thousands upon thousands of Free Folk, though in truth few shed tears for the passing of the likes of the Lord of Bones, Harma, or Crowkiller. But there was also the death of what they knew of their way of life. To a degree. Many followed Val south of the Wall. Many who shed their past and knelt, swearing themselves to Val and Lord Stark. Death. Yet through death came their salvation. Many now safely south of the Wall. And the Wall opened to the rest of the Free Folk, both for trade and for when the day came that the White Walkers and their ilk came for them all.

The Crows on the Wall no longer hunted them down, at least not north of the Wall. In fact, it wasn't unheard of now for trade to be frequent between the Crows and the Free Folk. They were not friends, and they never would be. Thousands of years of hunting and killing one another had ensured that. But for now, at least there was an understanding that as long as the Free Folk did not bother the Crows, so shall the Crows not bother them. There had been dissent, on both sides, regarding that decision. But Mance, and surprisingly Lord Commander Mormont, had been quick to deal with any dissenters who sought to upend the fragile peace that hung between them on a knife's edge. And now, that peace was about to truly be put to the test.

"So…the Northern Kingdom is at war. A war against you Force users and against the true gods. And you want me and mine to join you in fighting this war?"

Across from sat none other than the one who was the sole reason that the Free Folk and the Starks of the North even came to speak to one another. The Sorcerer Alim Nox. And by his side sat Starks son, Jon Stark, while Ygritte sat close by Jon's side. "Yes."

Mance turned his head towards those that sat with him. His woman, Della, sister to Lady Val of the North, and the last major chieftain that still held allegiance to him, Tormund. "When the deal was struck with the Starks, we were told that those who stayed north of the Wall would not be forced to kneel nor heed the call of the Starks should the need arise."

Nox's expression didn't change, not that Mance expected it to considering a good portion of the man's face was covered with the strip of cloth that hid his ruined eyes. A tale only a few knew the truth of, though many had their theories. Each one more outlandish than the last. "Robb Stark has called the banners, aye, and Val will answer as she has sworn to do," the sorcerer agreed. "And you are right in saying that those of you here have no need to heed the call."

"Yet you are still here to enlist our men and women in a war that is not our own," Mance countered. While he hoped to sound strong, in truth he was terrified. He'd seen what this man before him could do with a mere flick of his wrist to those who angered him. "And besides, given what you and yours are capable of doing even an army of a hundred thousand sent against you should mean little more than a swatting away a hundred thousand gnats."

The Sorcerer didn't so much as twitch. "If all of my enemies were lined up nicely before me, then I could swat them like gnats. But this war is not something that will be decided on a specific field of battle. It will be a war ranging from the snow of the far north to the sands of Dorne. Even with how powerful I and my apprentices are, even we have our limits. And one of those limits just happens to be being able to be at multiple locations at once."

Mance would give him that. Wars were not simple things.

"There might be som that be willin to fight for ya," Tormund said from beside him. "Fuckin-hells, I'd be willin to fight with ya just cause I been bored as shit up here lately with all this peace between us and da Crows. But those here in the True North won't kneel to ya or the Starks."

Nox turned his unseeing sight towards Tormund. "I don't need you to kneel to me in order to fight."

Mance furrowed his brow. If he wasn't looking for them to kneel, then how was he to gain their allegiance to – oh! "You mean to use us as if we were sellswords."

"Sellswords?" Della repeated, his wife staring at him. "What da fuck be that?"

"Men and women who do not fight out of allegiance to a Lord or King. But rather to one who pays them." Mance answered.

Tormund perked up even more as the towering man leaned forward. "Hold yer shit. Ya mean ta tell me dat not only would ya be takin us south of the Wall, but we'd get to fight those fancy southern kneeler shits…and ya'd pay us for it? Fuck. What are we waiting for?"

"Figured that would get your blood going, Tormund." Ygritte sniggered from beside Jon.

Mance leaned back and stared at the Sorcerer. The man had them. He knew it, and the Sorcerer knew it. The moment word left this tent that the Sorcerer would not only be letting warriors south of the Wall to fight against the kneelers, but would be paying for their strength as well…? He doubted that there would be many left in his camp come morning. "Gold would serve us well, but it is not what keeps us as a people alive," he said, trying to see just what the Sorcerer was willing to offer for their warriors.

The man didn't hesitate to answer. "You and yours will be allotted one-tenth of all battlefield spoils, including weapons, armor, furs, coin, and horses. Against the likes of a southern castle, that will go to one-twentieth. The only exception will be women and men. No daughters or sons will be stolen by the Free Folk. And as I have made clear with any army that marches under my banner, there will be no rape. Any who do will only be able to wish they could die quickly."

Mance had never been in a true battle south of the Wall, but he was a learned man thanks to Maester Aemon. He knew well the type of spoils that were being offered. And he had a good idea of just how much was being offered as well. "One-fifth of all battlefield spoils and one-tenth of castle loot."

The Sorcerer didn't move. "One-tenth of battlefield spoils and one-tenth of castle loot. And you know full well those numbers will allow the Free Folk to be better armed and armored than ever before. And no heirloom weapons or armor."

Mance could practically tell that Tormund was practically ready to leave the tent right now and begin his march to the Wall. And he wouldn't be the only one as soon as Mance spread the word of the offer.

"We have an accord," he said, reaching over and grasping arms with the Sorcerer. "One-tenth of battlefield and castle loot. And I will make sure that my warriors know full well that the stealing of men or women will result in them answering to you. Unfortunately, I only have at best five thousand here with me that will be ready to march. The rest of my people are at Hardhome under the eyes of Mother Mole. It will take them some time to gather them and march."

The Sorcerer nodded. "Time you will have, Mance. But I do not have the luxury of waiting. I will take Tormund here and the five thousand you have ready to march. You will gather your forces and make ready for your part."

Intrigued, Mance leaned forward. "And what will be my peoples part in this war, Sorcerer?"

The Sorcerer's response was a slight grin that more than slightly unnerved Mance. "I plan on using your people for what they do best, Mance."

Riding at the head of ten thousand men, Jamie Lannister fought against the boredom that was so common with an organized march. Though 'organized' was not necessarily the term that he would use to describe the march that he was leading. Most were mere smallfolk that'd been conscripted from within King's Landing. Young men, and even old men, were pulled from all walks of life and made part of King Joffrey Baratheon's Exalted March. Either by force or through their own volition on the promise of favor with the Seven or coin. There were a few courtiers and lords from the court that were riding with him. But those few and their guards made up a small minority of those he led.

"Try not to look so glum, Ser Jamie. We are here to do the work of the Seven and bring honor to King Joffrey Baratheon, your own nephew. You should be proud."

Fighting against the growl wanting to escape him, Jamie turned his eyes towards the man who'd decided it was his right to ride alongside him. The newly named 'High Inquisitor' was a mystery to almost everyone. In fact, until Joffrey named him to the position, no one even knew who he was. Not even the Spider apparently knew about him. Though how he gained Joffrey's favor quickly became a well-known secret throughout the Red Keep. The man, despite being a Septon ordained by the High Septon himself, was a well skilled torturer. In fact, in the sennight it took to organize this many men at arms, it was said that the black cells were filled constantly with the screams of those that'd been condemned by Joffrey and this new High Septon. The mere thought and memory of which brought back more than a few unpleasant memories of his time serving the Mad King.

"The Seven don't give a shit about us, High Inquisitor," Jamie responded, wanting to avoid any and all conversations with the man.

Ramsay shrugged, a grin on his face. "That is quite…heathenistic of you to say, Ser Jamie. You may wish to be careful with such words. After all, it was the King's own words the declared any who follow the old gods are heretics and to be converted by us inquisitors accordingly."

"I am no follower of the old gods," Jamie ground out through clenched teeth. In truth, he didn't believe in any gods. If the gods, old and new, existed then why would they let creatures such as Ramsay or even the Mountain live?

Mercifully, before his unwanted traveling companion could open his vile mouth again several of the outriders that Jamie had sent ahead made their way back to the column. "Ser Jamie," the lead rider wearing a red cloak greeted him, though Jamie noted the large Seven-star pendant on the man's chest. A true believer despite being one of his father's men. "We've spotted a small hamlet a short distance off the road. No more than twenty, maybe thirty men, women, and children."

Jamie was simply ready to pass the hamlet by, but before he could give the order, Ramsay opened his mouth. "A small hamlet, you say? Well, this is quite a fortuitous situation. A chance to replenish some supplies. Preach to the smallfolk, and perhaps find a few more volunteers to join the King's grand march."

Gritting his teeth, Jamie kept his focus on the outriders. "Gather two dozen men. We ride for the hamlet to see if they have anything of value to add."

The outrider gave him a salute, and within no time at all, Jamie was leading a small company of two dozen men on horses towards the small hamlet. Unfortunately, Ramsay and two of his Inquisitors, one a woman of all things, decided to join them as well. Arriving at the hamlet, Jamie found it to be exactly as the outrider had described. A small settlement with maybe thirty living within the few buildings. And the central point of the hamlet appeared to be a small sept that was nearing completion.

Approaching the hamlet, the residents quickly spotted them before trying to make themselves scarce. Understandable. Though what was surprising was when a Septon came out from the nearly finished sept and approached them. He was a tall man, older. Yet surprisingly had no fear in his eyes despite staring down nearly two dozen well-armed men on horseback.

"Good sers," the Septon called out in greeting, inclining his head. "This hamlet does not have much. But we—"

"What is your name, Septon?" Ramsay cut in, moving his horse forward so that he was beside Jamie.

The man's eyes went towards the High Inquisitor suspiciously. "I am Septon Meribald, good ser. I wander the Riverlands and have recently begun walking the Crownlands to—"

"Then as a fellow Septon, you will appreciate what I am about to say," Ramsay smiled, nudging his horse forward so he could command the attention of all the villagers. "His grace, King Joffrey Baratheon with the support of the High Septon has declared an Exalted March against the heathens of the North and their vile magic. With the backing of the Seven, we will remove all who worship the old gods and practice their vile sorcery. All men of age are expected to aid in this March against the nonbelievers of the North! And each village is expected to contribute however they can. Be it coin or food…or warmth for those marching. Septa Myranda, take a few men and see what sort of tithe this Seven abiding villagers can manage to support the great work of the Seven and their chosen King."

The lone woman who came with them smiled at the High Inquisitor before easily sliding down from her horse while four men followed her. With barely any heed for the villagers, the five began going from house to house, pulling out anything and everything of value from food to coin from the house. All tithes to be given to the Exalted March. Some of the villagers protested, but their protests died quickly as the men with Jamie put their hands on their swords. As for Jamie, he was bored with the display. He'd seen it more than once. Soldiers taking anything and everything they needed for a war effort. His own father's army was known to leave villages completely barren whenever they passed through. And the villagers here at least knew their place as, after a few half-hearted protests, none tried to stop them.

The Septon watched on with weary eyes as the small village was turned upside down as the men and Septa looked for anything of value. Just as they were clearing out the last of the buildings, leaving the mostly completed Sept alone, the Septa came rushing out of one of the houses. As she drew closer to the horses, she threw something up to the High Inquisitor. From his spot, Jamie could see that it was a coin purse.

Pursing his lips, the High Inquisitor upended the contents into his hand. Revealing a shining silver moon as well as three shinning silver stags and a handful of copper stars. A hefty sum. But it was not an unusual amount if the home was the place where the village kept their coin. However, the High Inquisitor seemed very interested in the silver moon. Even going so far as to hold it up to the sun and even to clench it between his teeth.

"Interesting," Ramsay said, smiling at the villagers before him. "This is a freshly stamped silver moon. Something that would take moons to reach this far out from King's Landing…unless someone from King's Landing has recently come this way. Tell me…the ones who gave you this coin…was it a woman with dark hair? Accompanied by three young girls. Another woman and an imposing man in full armor?"

The villagers all started whispering together, yet the Septon did not say a word. Jamie caught on to the implication of what was going on quickly and turned to two of the men that rode out with them. "You two, back to the column. I want ten search parties formed and riding before we return. Nyra Nox and the Stark girls are nearby. Turn over every leaf if you have to, but I want those women found. As for Sandor and the sworn sword of the Starks, we have no need for them."

The two men saluted and turned their horses to gallop back to the main column. By the time Jamie turned his attention back to Ramsay and the villagers, the High Inquisitor had nudged his horse closer to the Septon. "You knew, didn't you?" Ramsay asked, his smile still present. "You knew who they were. And you aided them anyway?"

The Septon didn't say a word. He just stood his ground before the High Inquisitor. "They paid for what they needed. Spent a single night, then left. They made no threats, and we had no reason to suspect ill intent from them."

Ramsay turned his horse around and faced Jamie and the others. "King Joffrey has declared any that aid the Starks are traitors. Put the villagers in the Sept so they have a good view…and get a strong rope."

To Jamie's mild surprise, all of the men behind them immediately dismounted and drew their swords. The villagers cried out in protest, but their words fell on deaf ears as they were forced into the Sept while the Septon of the village was brought over to where a strong tree was located near the village. A rope was brought forth and thrown over a thick branch of the tree and tied into a noose. Through it all, the Septon did not fight back nor give any word of protest as he was forced up onto a chair and a noose was put around his neck. Once the knot was tightened and the rope tied off to the tree, the men who'd pushed the villagers came forward carrying several lit torches.

"High Inquisitor, the villagers are secured in the Sept and we are ready to burn the village when you give the word."

Ramsay turned his attention away from the soon-to-be-dead Septon and towards the men. "Burn the village? Why? It would serve no purpose. No. Burn the Sept."

Jamie felt like he took a battering ram to the gut. Turning, he found Ramsay staring at him with that same smug smile on his face. "These villagers—"

"Aided the Stark bitches and the Sorcerer's whore," Ramsay immediately countered, nudging his horse forward so the two men were nearly within arm's reach of each other. "The King himself has decreed that any who aid the Starks or hold to the old gods are traitors to the Seven and traitors to the realm. And traitors deserve a traitor's death. Now, Ser Jamie. Are you a man loyal to the Crown? To your own nephew, the King? Or…are you a traitor as well?"

Jamie wanted to take his sword and run it right through the man's smiling face. This…This wasn't right. This–This was just like the days of the Mad King. Standing in the throne room watching men, women, and children burn for their crimes much to the Mad King's delight. Yet even as his hand itched to grab the hilt of his blade, he chanced a look around at his men. All of them were gripping the hilts of their swords. But their attention wasn't on Ramsay, but rather on him. And all of them were proudly wearing a pendant of the Seven-pointed star on their chest, worn proudly over any symbolism showing their allegiance to House Lannister. These were not his men. They were men of the Faith.

Fighting to keep himself from shaking with fury and ignoring the cries to stop from the strung up Septon behind him, Jamie roughly grabbed a lit torch from one of the men and rode forward towards the nearly finished Sept. Stopping just before the Sept, Jamie glanced at the wood structure, the villagers inside, and then the torch in his hand. 'Come back to me, Jamie,' he heard his sister's voice in his mind. 'Come back so that we can be together as we were always meant to be. Come back to me so that we can watch and guide our children as they rule the Seven Kingdoms. Just as they should.'

Tightening his grip on the torch, Jamie tried desperately to drown out the slightly panicked voices coming from inside the Sept. 'The things I do for love.' And with that thought, Jamie brought his arm back and threw the lit torch onto the thatched roof of the Sept.

The men around him acted immediately, running forward to secure the door of the Sept by putting a spear through the handle, preventing it from being opened before running around and forcing shutters on two windows closed. More torches were quickly added to Jamie's. Soon, the fire grew and engulfed the entire roof. The begging within turned quickly from frightened to pleas for mercy and cries of agony. He forced himself to remain as he watched the shutters rattle from within as the villagers fought to escape the flames eating away at the building. He even saw a small opening being forced in the wall, where someone tried to force a child through. Yet the child did not get far as one of his men with a maul bashed the child's head in, using the child's broken skull to plug the chance for escape.

As the fires swept down the walls of the Sept, the screams and pleas grew in intensity. Sounds he remembered all too well as men, women, and even children met their end to the flames eating away at the Sept. Any who tried to escape were met with a maul or spear to force them back into their deaths. And through it all, Jamie forced himself to stay and watch. His hands were shaking as he watched the fire eat away at the Sept and those within. The same sick feeling he felt every time he'd been forced to watch the Mad King burn someone alive came back, yet far worse than ever. As, this time, it'd been he who'd thrown the first torch on the pyre.

"You've indeed proven your loyalty to your nephew the King, Ser Jamie," Ramsay said from beside him. And again, it took everything Jamie had not to end the whoreson then and there. Only his sister's voice pleading for him to return stayed his hand. "Spread the word. The Stark bitches and whore of the Sorcerer are nearby, and they slaughtered this village before taking what they needed and fleeing."

Jamie's eyes snapped towards Ramsay, who held his head high and dug his heels into his horse's flanks. "Come, Ser Jamie. We have a lot of ground to cover if we are to reach Riverrun in any reasonable time."

Jamie was the last to leave. He couldn't leave. Not until the last voice from within the blazing Sept ceased. Turning his horse around, Jamie made the slow ride towards the still strung up Septon. The old man was still standing on the chair with a noose around his neck. Tears streaming down his face as his lips mumbled. "In the name of the Warrior, I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother, I charge you to defend the young and innocent. In the name of the Maid, I charge you to—"

Unable to take it any longer, Jamie drew his blade and buried his valyrian steel right into the Septon's heart. He hadn't even realized that tears were falling down his own face until a single drop fell from his face and landed on his outstretched hand, which was holding his sword now buried in the Septon's heart. "The oaths of knighthood…don't mean shit. Even if the gods old or new even exist…they don't give a shit about us. If they did…then men like us would not exist."

Pulling his sword free, Jamie wiped the blood off the blade before sheathing it and urging his horse to a trot to catch up with the rest of the men departing the village.

Arriving back at the main column, Jamie felt nothing but a creepy numbness. He didn't even realize that night had set in until a man came to him, asking if they should make camp. After camp had been built, Jamie found himself alone in his tent. His armor still on. His pristine white cloak still on his shoulders and his valyrian steel sword in hand. He could still hear them. The screams of the women, children, and men as they died in the flames of the Sept. He could still see the child that'd tried to escape, only to have their head bashed in by a maul. And worst, he could hear the voice of the Septon, reciting the oaths of knighthood. The same words he'd repeated while kneeling before Ser Arthur Dayne while Dawn rested on his shoulder.

Shaking his head in a vain attempt to shake the noise, he spied a bottle of wine that'd been left out for him. 'Tyrion always said it worked well to drown out any ill wanted voices in his head,' Jamie reasoned, grabbing the bottle, and pulling out the cork, not even bothering with a glass. 'Time to see if my brother was right.'

Arianne's feet moved swiftly as she marched quickly through the halls of Sunspear towards her father's solar. She didn't run. No, that was beneath her. But she was moving quickly enough that the purple silken dress she was wearing was pressed against her front with the looser ends trailing behind her. It'd been more than a sennight since those terrible feelings had started. They kept her awake at night, making her snap at anyone and everyone who even slightly bothered her. She had no idea what was going on, but she knew that something bad had happened. Something that involved Jon and Ygritte as she could feel their anger as clearly as if it were her own. So, after nearly a sennight of demanding to see her father, and being rebuffed with each attempt, she was practically running now that her father had summoned both herself and her uncle to his chambers.

Seeing her father's chambers looming before her, she didn't even hesitate nor wait for the guards to open the doors and announce her presence. Instead, she raised her hand, a sphere of water forming in her outstretched hand before speeding towards the door. The water struck the twin doors where they met with the force of a battering ram, throwing both doors open and leaving the two guards that were standing watch scrambling to get out of her way.

Marching into her father's solar with her head high, she saw both her father and uncle standing near the balcony. Her uncle had a dagger drawn, ready to skewer the one who interrupted them. Raising her hand, she created two more snakes of water and snapped her fingers. The two snakes slithered through the air to each door and forced them shut with a slam before dropping to the floor and disappearing.

"Put your dagger away, uncle," she said calmly, far calmer than she truly felt. "There is only one man who gets to skewer me. And you are not him."

Her uncle smirked, and with a flourish put away his dagger into a hidden sheath up his sleeve. "You are getting far more open with your magic, dear niece."

He wasn't wrong. Ever since Jon and Ygritte left Dorne some time ago, she stopped hiding what she could do. For sure there had been more than a few rumors that she had been blessed by Mother Rhoyne with the magic of old. But she had never openly admitted or shown her abilities. But after Jon and Ygritte left, she no longer cared about hiding what she could do.

Ignoring her uncle, she kept her gaze focused on her father. "Father, enough stalling. What is happening?"

Her father moved slowly away from the balcony, his gout while better than it was still hampering his movements. Reaching his desk, he pulled out a raven's scroll. "This arrived from King's Landing some time ago. Robert Baratheon is dead."

The news shocked Arianne. One of her family's greatest enemies was dead! Her uncle was similarly stunned, but he recovered far faster than her. "Ha! The fat Usurper has finally met his end! Wonder what did him in? Did he choke on his wine or try and swallow too much meat at once? Oh, what I would have given to watch as the life left his eyes!"

"It was a hunting accident," her father continued. "Robert is dead, and Joffrey Baratheon has been crowned king before Robert's body could even grow cold. Ned Stark has been arrested and thrown in the black cells on charges of treason and attempted usurpation of the throne."

Her uncle's good nature disappeared instantly and Arianne felt a rush of cold pass through her. "Ned Stark? The Ned Stark…has been thrown in the black cells on the charge of treason at attempted usurpation? What fucking horse shit is this, brother?"

Her father sat down in his chair, his face never changing. "It is no joke, brother. Ned Stark has been charged with attempted usurpation of the throne and his retinue in King's Landing has been slaughtered to the man. In response to the attempt on his throne, King Joffrey Baratheon, with the support of the High Septon, has declared an Exalted March on the North. And, henceforth, the worship of the old gods and the practice of magic is hereby considered heretical under the laws of gods and men."

Neither herself, nor her uncle, could say anything. "Madness," her uncle finally muttered before smiling. "Though he has done our work for us. The alliance between the Baratheons and Starks is now shattered beyond repair. The Lions and Stags have lost their most important ally in one fell swoop."

While Arianne did agree with her uncle's assessment, she lacked his enthusiasm. "Nyra? Sansa and Arya?"

Mentioning their names quelled whatever good humor her uncle had as his eyes went wide before searching out her father. "Unknown," her father answered. "They are not mentioned alongside Lord Stark. And my eyes in King's Landing have said that word has spread throughout the city that Lady Nox and the Stark girls fled the city in the confusion. Their whereabouts are currently unknown."

Before she could ask anything further, her father pulled a second raven's scroll from his desk. "Between this letter from King's Landing and hearing back from our spies, I received this missive from Tywin Lannister. The old lion has not only been reappointed Hand of the King, but also Supreme Commander of this Exalted March. He was wise enough not to demand our spears, but he calls for our neutrality. In return, he offers Tommen Baratheon to Arianne, a seat on the Small Council, and his assurances that once the North has been brought to heel, that Gregor Clegane will be dispatched to the Stepstones with only a small crew to deal with pirates near Dorne."

Arianne's rage coursed through her. "You cannot seriously be thinking of accepting this, father! They think they can take away my wolf and give me a mewing cub whose balls haven't even dropped yet! And for what? Clegane on a silver platter? And a place on the Small Council? Both of which we can easily obtain by going against the old lion!"

Her father held up his hand, demanding silence. "Your thoughts mirror my own, daughter. The realm is fracturing, far more than you know. According to my spies, Stannis is holed up on Dragonstone and he has been quietly moving as many ships away from King's Landing to the port at Dragonstone. No doubt he is building his strength through a naval force to push his claim. And Renly has fled King's Landing as well, neglecting to swear allegiance to Joffrey. Last sighting had him heading into the Reach. No doubt the fool intends to push for his own claim to the throne as well."

Her uncle Oberyn hummed. "So, the Baratheons are completely fractured. And while the old lion is distracted with a war his nephew started with the North, Stannis and Renly will march and make their own claims for the throne."

"That seems most likely," her father nodded before turning his eyes on her. "Arianne. We will have no better chance than this. Joffrey has proven himself a vicious little shit that is clearly unfit to be King with this one action. Tommen is but a boy who will end up being nothing more than a puppet for the old lion should he ascend to the throne. And given their recent actions, neither Stannis nor Renly will make for even a half decent King. No. There is only one option for who should hold the throne. And it will be up to you to make him see that."

Arianne felt her heart hammer in her chest. Jon. He meant to have Jon put forth his claim as Jaehaerys Targaryen, or Jaehaerys Stark. Doing so would put her on the throne as his Queen. And it would give Dorne their full revenge against the Baratheons and the Lannisters. She vowed that she would never push Jon to take the throne if he didn't want it. But…she could see her father's point. The Baratheons had proven that they were not fit for the Iron Throne. And she would be damned before she knelt to a Lannister on the Iron Throne. No. To keep the realm whole…there was only one option for King.

"I…understand, father."

"Good," her father nodded, pulling out another rolled up scroll and holding it out to her. "There are a few spies that I know of that report to both the Spider and the old lion in Shadow Town. I will ensure that they sing the tale that you and your uncle, along with a decent household guard, left a fortnight ago to visit your mother in Norvos."

Nodding, Arianne took the scroll from her father. "And in truth?"

"In truth, you and Oberyn will leave at first light at the head of a dozen ships and two thousand of our best." Her father stated. "You will sail towards Pentos before turning north towards Bravos and then west towards White Harbor, doing all you can to avoid Dragonstone and any prying eyes loyal to the Baratheons or Lannisters."

"Two thousand is not a significant sum, Doran," Oberyn countered.

Her father nodded. "Yes, but it is all I can assemble and transport on such short notice. Once at White Harbor, you will head to Moat Cailin, which is the most likely staging point for the Northern army to counter this Exalted March. And once you meet up with the Northerners, you will do all in your power to convince your betrothed that he must take up his birthright to bring about peace. As you do, I will send ravens and assemble as many spears as I can and amass our armies on the northern borders of Dorne. And after the Exalted March has been repelled from the North, we will begin our campaign here in the South once we see where the rest of the pieces swear their allegiance."

Nodding, Arianne turned heel and left her father's solar, leaving her uncle and father to discuss the finer details on their troop movements. It wasn't until she was back in her rooms that the full weight of what was about to happen settled on her. War had completely fractured the Seven Kingdoms, again. The best path forward to end the war was for her wolf, her dragonwolf, her love…to claim his birthright. To become King. And her…Queen. Queen. Of the Seven Kingdoms. Being Queen was the dream of many a girl throughout the Seven Kingdoms… But those girls were idiots. She had honestly never wanted to be Queen. She was satisfied with her lot in life in ruling Dorne. But now, that is not where her path would lead her.

'I'll be Queen…married to a Targaryen-Stark who was raised by the North. The lords of the North will baulk when they learn the truth of Jon. But they know him beyond his name. They know him for who he truly is and while the revelation of his birth will shock them…they will follow him. I must show them that I am a woman worthy to be his Queen. A woman worthy of leading the North and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.'

Hearing her chamber door open, she didn't need to turn her head to know that her cousins Nymeria and Tyene were now with her. "Arianne," Tyene called out to her. "What did your father have to say?"

Not saying anything, Arianne went over to her wardrobe and threw open the doors. Silken and other soft material dresses meant to tempt and accent her best features met her eye. "Tyene. I need new dresses. Warmer. Made of a mixture of wool and silk. Buy what you can in Shadow Town tonight. We will have time to make any necessary adjustments to them later. Nymeria. I need armor. Not a full plate. But leather and scale mail."

Her cousins stared at her. "Arianne," Nymeria said slowly. "What's going on?"

"War, Nymeria." She answered simply, turning her gaze towards her two cousins. "We're going to war."

Standing before the great Wall, Nox glared at the closed gate that was before him, blocking his path through the Wall and into Castle Black. The moment he and the five thousand Free Folk that were marching with him cleared the tree line, he heard not one, but two horn blasts from the top of the Wall. Two blasts. Wildlings. Not a single blast for a returning ranger or Northman. Two. And now he was met with a closed gate blocking his path. And he had no doubt that the inner gates within the tunnel leading through the Wall were also closed. Standing beside him were Jon, Ygritte, Benjen and Tormund. The only one of their group missing was Leaf, who had disappeared the night before after stating she would not go south of the Wall yet, and that she would see her people to rights.

Turning his head partially, Nox stared at Benjen, who was staring at the Wall and the closed gate in confusion. "Something to say in defense of your sworn brothers, Ranger Benjen?"

Benjen let out a hiss of air through his teeth. "Odds are that the boy King or Tywin Lannister has ordered the Night's Watch to bar our passage south."

Jon came up beside them, the young man's eyes traveling over every inch of the Wall. "But the Night's Watch doesn't take part in affairs of the crown…do they?"

"Aye, we don't," Benjen nodded. "But there is enough hatred amongst my brothers that should orders come from the King or Hand that they are to ignore whatever edicts have been made by the Warden of the North and bar passage to any and all Wildlings and their allies…? Well, I can name off a fair number who would not hesitate to follow those commands."

"Eh, so the fuckin crows think they can stop us, eh?" Tormund spat, eyeing the Wall hatefully. "Lost more than a few against dat damn gate. Even more tryin to climb the Wall. Either way, we won't be gettin through easily, nor quickly."

"Time we do not have," Nox replied, walking forward and holding his hand out towards the Wall and the gate barring his path.

A low groaning of metal against metal echoed across the snow. The heavy gate shuttered only a single time before slowly rising off the ground, revealing the darkened tunnel under the Wall leading to Castle Black. "Jon," he called over his shoulder. "Hold the gate. I will take the lead."

The gate dropped slightly as Nox let go. His Apprentice was quick on the uptake, reaching out through the Force and holding the gate open before the heavy iron could fall barely a foot. "By the gods," Jon growled through clenched teeth. "I think this thing is heavier than the stones in your tower, Master."

"Well keep it up. Or you'll be holding those stones for a full day." Nox threatened before marching headlong towards the gate, leaving Benjen, Tormund and the five thousand Free Folk scrambling to follow him.

As he passed through the gate and underneath the Wall, he felt a wave of a Force barrier pass over him. 'Bran Stark…I know not what importance you held to the Jedi of old… But your skill was such that you would have given even the Emperor and Revan reason to pause.' He could feel multiple Force barriers as he passed underneath the Wall. 'Wards upon wards. Layered. Interacting with one another to strengthen or as backups should aspects fall. I could spend months in this tunnel, studying the intricate layout Bran devised and still only have half the puzzle of the Wall figured out. Even should the Wall be breached…the wards will still stand. Weakened considerably, but still there. Incredible.'

The sound of muffled yelling brought him out of his musing. Just as the telltale twang went through the air followed by a whistle. Holding up his hand, Nox caught the offending object, a crossbow bolt, just as it was but a few inches from striking his face. Glaring at the closed inner gate that was shrouded in darkness. Twirling the bolt in his hand, he threw the offending object back towards the gate. The bolt whistled back through the air; the strength of his throw aided with the force made the bolt speed through the air faster than it did from a crossbow. The bolt sailed through the lone murder hole in the gate, striking the offender who'd shot at him in the shoulder.

"Idiots," Nox grumbled as he heard the men who'd been stationed just on the other side of the iron gate scramble and yell as they backtracked through the tunnel.

"Wat'd ya expect, Sorcerer?" Tormund asked as Nox raised the first of the inner gates, several Free Folk moving forward with spears or whatever they had to brace the gate up. "They're fuckin crows. They be fuckin idiots the moment they put on that black cloak and swear off the warmth of a good cunt."

"Don't forget I'm a Brother of the Night's Watch as well, Giantsbane," Benjen grumbled from his place beside the two of them.

"Aye, and you're still a fookin idiot," Tormund repeated. "But ya be a Stark…so at least ya be a decent sort of idiot. Still don't know why you swore off the warmth of a good woman though. No better way of stayin warm when da snows hit."

There was no attempting to stop them beyond the closed inner gates the rest of the way through the tunnel. By the time they reached the last gate before the exit, Benjen commented on the lack of resistance, noting how strange it was. But Nox could tell that while these brothers of the Night's Watch might be fools for trying to bar his path, they were not complete idiots. Had they tried their luck against him in such enclosed quarters, Nox would've slaughtered them. No. He could sense that the Night's Watch had pulled their men and were waiting for them within the courtyard of Castle Black just beyond the tunnel's exit.

"When we breach the exit, keep your weapons lowered unless directly attacked," he ordered Tormund and the Free Folk following him. "As annoying as this delay is, destroying the defenders of the Wall will only harm us in the long run. So, I'd prefer to leave as many Brothers of the Watch alive as possible."

Tormund clearly wasn't pleased with the command, but he knew better than to question him. So, the large man turned his head and relayed the orders to those behind. Using much more colorful language of course. But Nox was realizing that that was just how the man was.

As they passed through the end of the tunnel, Nox's force vision once obscured by the strength of the Wall cleared. And before him he saw all of Castle Black and the Night's Watched standing before him. Men were on the walkways, bows and crossbows pointed towards him. A hundred more stood in the courtyard before him. Some had steel bared, and spears lowered. Yet even more, like Lord Commander Mormont, was merely standing before him. He felt…resigned, though to what Nox did not know.

"Hold ready!" Ser Alliser Thorne called out from his place beside the Lord Commander, his sword in hand and ready for blood.

Yet despite all the Night's Watch standing in his way, Nox did not break his stride. He continued forward, uncaring of the dozens of arrows and bolts pointed his away nor the men meaning to bar his path forward. "Archers!" Thorne yelled, holding his sword high. "Loose!"

Only the sound of softly falling snow responded to the command. No strings snapped. No arrow whistled through the air. No men yelled out in charge. There was nothing. Save the sound of boots walking slowly, purposefully, across the snow-covered yard of Castle Black.

Ser Thorne looked around, as did a few of the others who had blades drawn, confused as to why the men of the Night's Watch were not readily attacking their long-standing enemy. Not only were they not attacking them, but by the time Nox had crossed half the distance between them most of the Night's Watch had either sheathed their blades, if they were even drawn, or lowered their bows.

"Fucking cravens!" Thorne shouted, charging headfirst towards Nox.

Shouts broke out. The Lord Commander yelling for Thorne to stand down, other Night's Watch brothers finding their courage or yelling to cease. And the Free Folk behind him calling to arms. But Nox did naught but watch as Thorne charged, his stride never once faltering. Just as Thorne was about to bring his blade down, Nox raised his hand.

Thorne's entire body ceased as if encased in ice as Nox grabbed his entire body with the Force and picked him a foot off the ground. Several voices called out in alarm as two more left Mormont's side to charge him, but they ended up just like Thorne, wrapped in the Force and left floating in the air. Tilting his head, Nox regarded the disgraced knight dangling in the air before him. "I did not take you for a man that would so blindly follow the orders of a Baratheon King birthed by a Lannister mother, Ser Thorne. Especially not after what they did to the Targaryens you held your allegiance so vehemently to."

Thorne glared down angrily at him. "I am a sworn brother of the Night's Watch! I care not for which Baratheon or Lannister ass polishes the Iron Throne!"

"Yet you are the only 'brother' who attacked me and mine as we were merely passing by," Nox replied, turning his head towards the other Brothers of the Night's Watch, none of whom were making any moves towards Nox or the Free Folk, even as Tormund motioned for the Free Folk to continue walking past Nox and towards what remained of the gate of Castle Black. "Even now, with you dangling in the air, helpless, none come to your aid."

Even with him being held helpless in the air by the Force, Nox could not sense fear from Alliser Thorne. Only contempt. Hatred. Had he been blessed with the Force, he would've made for a great Sith Lord. "Fucking cravens! The lot of you!" Alliser shouted, struggling in the air as he fought against the invisible binds holding him.

"It takes more courage to sheath one's blade than it does to draw it, Thorne," Nox stated, before realizing what he'd said. "Fucking hells. Now you have me sounding like a Force-damned Jedi. I should tear you limb from limb just for that alone. Not to mention the slight aggravation you've caused me by trying to impede my way south to save my wife. But…you're not even worth the effort of flicking my wrist to snap your neck."

Opening his fingers, Nox released his hold on the Force, dropping all the men to the ground. Thorne scrambled quickly to his feet, his hand clutching at his retrieved sword. Even still, there was no fear in him. Only anger. Resentment. "Thorne," the Lord Commander called out, his voice hard as Valyrian steel. "Stand down. You have embarrassed the Watch enough with this display."

For just a moment, Nox was sure that Thorne was about to turn his blade on his Commander. But the moment passed within a split second before Thorne sheathed his sword and marched purposefully out of the yard. The few that charged with him staying close by his side as they left while the remainder of the Night's Watch, realizing that there would be no fighting, slowly started to disperse back into what warmth there was to find.

Approaching him, Lord Commander Mormont watched quietly as hundreds of Free Folk raiders walked past him and into the lands of the North. "The Watch plays no part in the game of thrones, Lord Nox," the Lord Commander said, his unease clear to see even without the Force and despite Nox's lack of sight. "I let you through the Wall today because of your status as a Lord of the Realm, who is merely passing through with an army of sellswords. But any ill that these…Free Folk bring upon the people of the North and the Gift, you will answer for."

Nox nodded. "I accept responsibility for their actions here in the Gift and the North. They will behave. At least until we are in the South and I remove their shackles in order to set them loose on those southern twits."

Jeor nodded before turning so that he was facing south. "As Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, my place is here, to be the shield for the realms of men."

"And as a man of the North?" Nox asked. "As a man who holds to the old gods? As a brother and uncle?"

Jeor's hands tightened into fists. "Kill every one of those southern cunts, Lord Nox. That is all I can ask."

The cheers and wild chanting of the crowds that echoed through the streets was almost deafening. Streams of flower petals that were prominently red, white, and blue were being thrown from the rooftops, fluttering down upon the crowds of cheering people below. All along the main thoroughfare that stretched from the port to the outer walls of the city was a long and dense gathering of celebratory smallfolk and slaves. Waving in the air at irregular locations were banners, some hastily made by the ladies of the house with only marginal skill and others professionally woven. Though there were several banners on display, the most common and the one that received the most love and attention was that of the now famous sellsword company of the Storm Dragons.

The event that was taking place in the Free City of Myr was one that was very rarely held. In fact, throughout Myr's long and illustrious existence, the sight of a grand triumph that was wholly embraced and celebrated by all its citizens, whether magister, civilian, or slave, could've been easily counted on one hand with fingers to spare. As a city that was renowned for its fine arts like tapestries and carpets, lace and blankets, mirrors and glassmaking, the fact that Myr did not have a history of strong warriors or armies was quite well known. In fact, this general lack of any homegrown fighting force was one of the primary reasons why Myr invested so heavily into hiring sellsword companies and fleets of sellsails for its military defensive and offensive needs. That this rarity of a grand triumph being held in his charge's honor for a military conquest made the event even more grand and memorable for the old lord standing proudly within the leading chariot.

As was befitting for his own role in the war, the old mentor and former Stormlord was riding alongside his young charge who was leading the procession, dressed in his armor that'd been polished to a mirror shine. Fluttering in the air overhead them was the proud banner that Aegon had commissioned for their initial sellsword troupe. That of a red dragon's head on a field of white surrounded by bolts of blue lightning. Under his personal banner, Aegon rode atop a grand chariot, also dressed in polished armor, smiling, and waving proudly to the adoring crowds that were crowded upon the streets' edges. Thanks to the fact that he'd been forced to wash out the blue from his hair during the war, Griff couldn't help smiling in starstruck melancholy at his old love's son. In this moment of triumph, Aegon truly looked every bit like his father, Prince Rhaegar Targaryeon, had at that age. It was a sight that brought both joy and melancholy to Griff's old heart.

"I'm so proud of you, boy," Griff said lowly over to his charge so that only he could hear him, earning a quick glance from the young man. "Now, we just have to make them love you too."

Aegon shot him a knowing smile. "Considering that we managed to break the siege and send both Lys and Tyrosh back to their own lands, I don't think that'll be hard to do, Ser Connington."

"The war isn't over yet, my prince," Griff stated knowingly. "We managed to catch Lys and Tyrosh by surprise, but they will regroup and launch new offensives in the near future. They always do. The trick will be in subduing them before they can build up their strength too much."

"Oh, that won't be a problem, my lord," Aegon said, his smile unwavering as he turned back to waving at the crowd. "I already have plans for how to deal with them. But before we can do that, we need to consolidate things here."

Griff knew what Aegon was speaking of. They had discussed it privately during the war many times. As distasteful as he found it, Griff knew it was necessary to have happen. After all, if Aegon was to regain his inheritance, or for Griff himself to be able to venture home, they would need such a strong claim that refuting them would be akin to suicide on the parts of the Westerosi lords and nobles. And the easiest way to get that kind of power was with a much larger and fanatically loyal army than any of those lords could hope to overcome without grievous losses. Myr was to be but the first of those whom Aegon planned on claiming.

The chariot they were riding in came to a smooth halt in front of Myr's Grand Magisterium Hall, causing Griff to shake off his dark thoughts. Now was not the time. Together, the two stepped down from their chariot and moved up the steps of the grand building. In a rather strange way, Griff couldn't help but stare up at the domed building with a bit of amusement. Although the only similarity it had with the massive Dragonpit of King's Landing was its domed roof, that single comparison still told Griff quite a bit about the 'monsters' that inhabited this building. Just as the dragons of the old Targaryen kings had once inhabited the domed Dragonpit.

Reaching the top of the staircase, Griff and Aegon turned back to the still cheering crowds below and around them. Standing arrayed around them were the numerous magisters of Myr, the wealthiest and most influential men who controlled this city and the people therein. All of them were dressed in the finest silks, wearing large, gilded robes, jewels, and gems of such luster that they shone in the slightest of light. Some carried swords of clearly ornamental make and use. Others wore golden pauldrons or jeweled breastplates over their robes. It was a blatant and rather obnoxious display of their personal wealth, Griff knew, and a subtle attempt by the lot of them to try and intimidate the exiled lord and his charge. To remind them that although this triumph was being held in their honor, it was the magisters who still ruled this city. And it was by their whims that it was even being held to begin with.

Aegon Targaryen paid them no mind as he and Griff turned back to the crowd. Smiling, his young charge raised his hand, bringing about a silence to the crowd. And as he did, Griff couldn't help but beam in pride. He knew, now more than ever, that this truly was the son of his Silver Prince. For who else but a dragon could command a crowd so effortlessly?

"Magisters! Lords and ladies! Good people of the Free City of Myr!" Aegon cried out, pitching his voice that it could carry for as far as possible. "My name is Aegon, Captain of the Storm Dragons free company. I stand before you now to deliver upon you all my solemn vow. I had sworn to save your city. To send your enemies fleeing into the night back to the hovels they call home! To pursue them without rest! To end their threat to you and yours!" He paused for a moment, to catch his breath and to let his words sink in. "And now, here I stand. Victorious! The armies of Lys and Tyrosh a broken husk of what they once were! And the people of Myr safe!"

A loud cheer of agreement and approval swept through the crowds, many raising their hands in victory.

After several long moments to let them cheer, Aegon raised his hand for silence, which the crowd quickly acceded to. "Now, if you would have me, I and my men would be honored to remain here. To safeguard this city and its people, all of you, from all future threats that might arise. And should fortunes be good, help you once again begin to grow and expand your domain! With fire and blood, to make the Free City of Myr more than just another city. With fire and blood, to make this city into a grand empire! If you would have me…"

There was a long, tense moment. Well, tense for Griff as he glanced worriedly over at the young boy he'd helped to raise and protect. Although he and the boy had both discussed this, he hadn't expected the boy to act on the idea so soon. Perhaps this was the rashness of youth? Still, the boy had made his goals known and hinted towards his dream. Now, it would be up to the people to decide. A calculated risk, as Haldon the Halfmaester had said.

It started slowly. A few individuals scattered throughout the crowd started clapping. Clapping which soon spread throughout the crowd till it was a dull roar. Voices roared out, cheering for him. Chanting, 'Aegon! Aegon! Aegon!' It was a response that caused Griff to fight back a sigh of relief, whilst causing yet another swelling of pride within him for the young man who stood before him.

Aegon let the cheering and clapping continue for another few moments, letting the crowd work it out of their systems, as he remained where he stood, smiling serenely down at them. Finally, he raised his arm again and the crowds quieted down. "Thank you for your vote of confidence! I shall endeavor to make the most of this trust you place in me. Now, I fear we must speak with the magisters for the next phase of our campaigns against Tyrosh and Lys. But, in the meantime, feel free to help yourselves to food and drink at the Storm Dragons camp outside the walls! I do believe that most of them are still celebrating our victory and would welcome your attendance!"

This last remark earned him quite a few barks of laughter and affirmative responses. Nonetheless, the crowd slowly began to disperse as Griff and Aegon turned and followed the magisters inside the opulent building of governance. Once they'd passed through the entry doors, Aegon and Griff were directed to wait in a side chamber as the magisters continued onwards, seeking to find their seats within so that they could speak with the duo as a gathered collective in dignity. What should've been a simple matter to find one's seats in a matter of moments turned into a mind-numbing wait with Griff growing increasingly impatient. Yet another subtle political maneuver. He'd seen it before amongst the lords of Westeros. But he didn't mind the wait. In fact, the delay would play to his and Aegon's favor in this case.

"They're ready for you," one of the attending slaves spoke up from the doorway.

"Thank you," Aegon said politely to the man, nodding in gratitude.

Without another word, the duo followed the slave to the set of large double doors that stood nearby, with the slave opening and holding the door for them. On the other side of the doorway was another hall, covered in exquisite paintings and masterfully crafted statues set between a series of long windows that were filled with painted glass depicting grand scenes of Myr's long history. As they walked through this hallway towards the second set of double doors at the end, Griff found himself feeling somewhat nostalgic. The rather blatant display of wealth and arrogance around them reminded him very strongly of the many castles he'd visited back in his youth, most prominently being of course the Red Keep when he was the Hand of the King. Along with the nostalgia came amusement. 'Two different cultures separated by a sea and yet sharing similar views of wealth and what it means to be in power.'

Passing through the second set of double doors, again opened by a slave standing ready for them, Griff and Aegon finally entered the Magisterium's meeting hall. Though the function of the meeting hall was similar to the throne rooms of Westerosi keeps, the hall itself was nothing like what he was used to in Westeros. This hall was circular in shape and had a series of elevated rows with cushioned benches and tables for the magisters to be seated behind and use to take notes with. Standing at the front and center of the room was a singular gilded throne upon a slightly raised dais, no doubt where the lord of the keep would've sat had this building been in Westeros, in Griff's mind.

The duo of Westerosi exiles had apparently entered at a good time. They heard the closing statements of a magister, no doubt giving a welcoming speech for their arrival into the hall. Griff would've scoffed derisively at the sheer ridiculousness of that. All these magisters had quite literally stood with them upon the Magisterium's entrance as Aegon had made his declaration. They were all fully aware of who the two of them were, and yet they still felt the need to go through all this pomp and ceremony. Either these men were fools, or they were just amusing themselves, or perhaps both?

Without missing a beat, Aegon quietly made his way over to the throne in the center of the hall. Griff hung back slightly with his left hand resting nonchalantly upon his sword's pommel, standing behind and to the side of the young man as Aegon took his rightful seat.

"Thank you for the introduction, Magister Nahohr," Aegon said with a calm, friendly tone, nodding to the man who was making his way up the row of benches to take his seat. Getting no response from the man, Aegon turned his attention to the collected magisters around him. In total, there were close to thirty men seated, all watching him with mixed expressions. "And thank you, magisters, for granting me this audience. I understand that you are all busy men with many responsibilities to attend to, so I shall endeavor to keep this brief."

"Indeed, lad," one of the magisters replied. "After that show outside, I imagine that you have much to tell us."

"That is correct, Magister Anerolis," Aegon nodded. "But to summarize, I shall be blunt. Even with this victory, my Storm Dragons, and the other free companies that you have access to, you must all already see it. Myr is dying. Thanks in large to northern Westeros's rapid and quite impressive glass production surpassing and even now seizing the market, Myr's most lucrative export is no longer in demand. You have lost upwards of sixty percent of your previous income and thus can no longer purchase the services of nearly as many sellsword companies or sellsails to protect you. In five years, maybe less, Tyrosh, Lys, and Volantis will overrun and subjugate you."

"Yes, we are all keenly aware of Myr's dire straits, boy," Magister Ahraan said in a rather snide tone, no doubt annoyed with Aegon reminding them of those facts. "Is there a point to this?"

"My point is," Aegon continued, shooting the man a cold stare, just barely managing to keep his voice under control as his Targaryen temper flared slightly. As it did so, Griff couldn't help the slight chill that ran down his spine, causing him to shift uncomfortably away from Aegon. "That what you have been doing is clearly not working. Something needs to change."

"And what would you suggest?" Magister Ennolis asked patiently. He had a placid look about his old and heavily lined face. "Clearly, you have something in mind."

Aegon nodded. "For many centuries now, Myr has been run here, from this very room, by a council of magisters, you. And for many centuries, you have indeed prospered. But times have changed. Magic is returning. New players are coming onto the game board. Power is shifting as moves are being made. The lords of Westeros now squabble over the Iron Throne. Lys and Tyrosh stood ready to conquer you and finally claim the Disputed Lands. The Dothraki have been broken with the death of Khal Drogo and are now trying to build new khalasaars. The House of the Undying has gone silent. And my aunt, Princess Daenerys Targaryen, has brought forth a dragon and made known her wish to rebuild the Valyrian Empire. And yet, Myr has not changed. Why?"

He paused in his speech just long enough to let his question sink in and have the magisters start grumbling and shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Clearly, they were feeling as uncomfortable being in Aegon's presence as Griff did. But he didn't allow any of them to speak up before he continued.

"I believe it is because of this council," Aegon stated bluntly, his arm raising and sweeping slightly to encompass the room around them. "This council is indeed a good governing tool for leading and regulating this city. But with so many voices speaking, so many people trying to push through so many personal or trivial agendas, you get bogged down bureaucracy and thus nothing meaningful occurs. Not until a single large enough external threat forces you all to put aside your differences and plots to work together. Like when Tyrosh and Lys were about to batter down your walls and burn your fleet."

"Too many men trying to voice too many opinions to lead in too many directions," Aegon said, rising to his feet and striding a few steps forward until he was standing upon the edge of the dais. "What I am suggesting to you all is that while this council is good for governing the city, your armies require a single guiding hand to control it. A single voice to command where you are to attack. A single voice will be able to topple the likes of Lys and Tyrosh and finally claim the disputed lands for Myr. I propose to you Magisters here and now that you proclaim me to be Supreme Commander of the armies of Myr. Both Myr's own sons and any sellsword company that comes under your employ."

There was heavy silence that filled the hall at Aegon's bold declaration. Despite his relaxed posture, Griff couldn't help tensing his muscles as his hand tightened its grip upon his pommel. 'The moment of truth. There is no going back after this,' he smiled wanly at the thought. 'Finally.'

Aegon's proposal was met with silence for all of three, maybe four heartbeats before the Magisters of Myr broke out into a cacophony of noise that nearly made him wince. Some voiced support for the idea, though not for Aegon to hold such an important role. He was a foreigner. He was too young. He commanded sellswords, not Myr! But a few gave their support. Like how Aegon had won a significant and tactically brilliant battle against the combined forces of Lys and Tyrosh. Surely, if he were given full command, he could beat both rivals back. Maybe even force them to surrender so that the Disputed Lands would finally be united beneath Myr's banner. And amidst the noise, his charge stood tall, letting the words flow over him.

After listening to the same argument for the fifth time, Aegon finally had enough and raised his hand. The action, so simple in nature, quieted the Magisters in the hall almost immediately. 'He is truly his father's son!' Jon thought with pride. 'Oh, Rhaegar, if only you could see the man your son has become. He is a true king.'

"I understand my age is…concerning for some. But do not be fooled. The blood of Valyria runs strong through my veins. And while I have not said this openly before…I say it now. I am Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and descendant of Aegon the Conqueror. The blood of conquerors, the blood of the dragons, flows through my veins. And more besides."

Holding his hands out to his sides, Aegon turned so that his palms were facing up before slowly raising his hands. Shouts of alarms cried out as two of the more vocal Magisters that spoke out against Aegon's appointment were raised into the air till their feet could no longer touch the ground. Twisting his hands, both Magisters fell back to the ground and onto their asses. Not a single voice was raised as all eyes stared at Aegon in wonderment and fear.

Jon wouldn't lie. When their patrons had first brought them tutors in the form of a group of disgraced Red Priests and Priestess, along with a warlock from Qarth, he had been more than apprehensive about allowing the tutoring to commence. In his opinion, magic was akin to trying to wield a still white-hot blade without a hilt or guard. Yet both the tutors and their patron said that Aegon had the spark of magic. And with the recent resurgence in magic in the forms of the Sorcerer and his acolytes in Westeros, he was willing to let the tutoring commence. After all, word was that the Sorcerer had taken a liking to the Usurper's faithful attack dog and was even training the man's children in the art of magic. If Aegon was to truly reclaim that which was rightfully his, he needed every advantage he could get. And magic, as dangerous as it was, was such an advantage.

While the Magisters all stared in shock at Aegon, Jon only beheld the young man he had raised with pride. "Tell me, Magisters. How many wars have you won before I came?" Aegon asked, his voice low and commanding. "How many victories has Myr claimed on the soil of your enemies? I could have offered my services, and the services of the Storm Dragons, to Lys and Tyrosh. But I chose instead to come to Myr. Because I see the potential for greatness in this great city. I see the strength and beauty of the people of Myr. And I know that under the right leadership, that Myr will finally claim dominion over the Disputed Lands, as is your right."

Magister Ahraan was the first to recover, his snide façade falling slightly in the face of Aegon's power. "And say that we agree to this…proposal. That we appoint you Supreme Commander…Say you strike down Lys and Tyrosh…what then? Will you simply…leave?"

Aegon turned his purple eyes towards the Magister. "I will leave. My aspiration is to reclaim that which was lost. So, yes, when I defeat Lys and Tyrosh and affirm Myr's dominion over the Disputed Lands, I will leave. With new allies that I trust will remember what I helped them reclaim. And in return will help me reclaim that which I have lost."

The magisters all shared a look with one another. "You have given us much to speak of, young Aegon," Magister Ennolis stated. "Please. We must speak amongst ourselves to decide the correct path for Myr."

"I understand, Magister," Aegon nodded. "However, please remember that I cannot wait around for a long time. Should my offer be so unappealing, I will be leaving with my men once our contract is completed."

Bowing once more to the Magisters, Aegon turned on his heel and marched out of the Magister's Hall. Falling into step just behind and beside his charge, the duo made it back to their private chambers before it happened. The moment the door closed, Aegon nearly all but collapsed. Jon, having expected this, was right beside him, helping Aegon keep to his feet. "Thank you, Griff," Aegon huffed, his breath coming in short pants. "That…That was…taxing."

Keeping his arms around Aegon, Jon led the last remnants of his love to one of the luxurious couches within their private chambers. "Of course, Aegon," he said, helping him sit. "Are you—?"

"I'll be fine, Jon," Aegon cut in, taking a few ragged breaths to try and steady himself. "The Red Priest told me that magic is just like a muscle…one that needs to be exercised regularly. I – I'll need to increase my training with them if I am to have even a chance against the Sorcerer and his spawn of usurper dogs."

If it were up to Jon, he would make sure that Aegon spent as little time as possible with the Red Priests. He saw the danger of magic when his love became obsessed with prophecy to the point where he was easily seduced by that wolf bitch thanks to Elia's failure as a woman. But that was not the world that they were able to be in. The Usurper and his attack dog, not to mention the old lion, had magic, powerful magic at their command. The only way that they could retake Westeros and instill Aegon to his rightful place as King would be if they had powerful magic at their command as well.

Deciding to stay silent on the matter, Jon stood by his young charge as Aegon closed his eyes and went through a few meditation exercises that his mentors in the magical arts had taught him.

It was just as the sun was beginning to near the tallest tower that a knock came to their door, disrupting the moment of peace the two had. Opening his eyes, Aegon took a deep breath before nodding to Jon to answer the door. Walking over, Jon opened the door and was unsurprised to find a slave, prostrating herself on her knees with her forehead almost touching the floor. "Forgive the intrusion Masters." The slave's voice could barely be heard as her lips were nearly pressed to the floor. "The Magisters have called for you."

Jon was a true Westerosi Lord, so the very idea of slavery disgusted him. But he also could acknowledge that this was the way of the world. So instead of dismissing the slave or thanking her for delivering the message, he simply ignored the kneeling slave and turned back to Aegon. His charge took a moment to collect himself before nodding and marching out of their chambers with his head held high. He did notice that Aegon nearly walked over the slave as he walked, but the slave girl was experienced enough to quickly scurry out of his path to avoid him. He didn't know why, but that one act bothered him slightly. But he put that out of his mind. He would talk with Aegon later about proper etiquette towards his servants after he takes the crown, but now was not the time for such a conversation.

Marching back into the Magister's hall, Jon fought against his heart threatening to thumb out of his chest. Their patron had promised them a substantial army to retake Westeros. But Jon did not fully trust them. They needed an army of their own, free from the influence of their patron, if Aegon was ever to retake his rightful place as King of the Seven Kingdoms. The Magisters were the same as when they left them, however he did note that their demeanor was significantly different. There was an almost resigned look to most of them with a few showing open anger. A sure sign if he ever saw one. Though a sign to what he wasn't sure.

"We have come to a decision," Magister Ennolis said, his face betraying nothing as he stood in the middle of the audience hall.

Aegon nodded, standing tall and confident. Just like his father. "And your decision?"

The aged Magister kept his eyes on Aegon. "You will be named High Commander of the Myrish armies until our enemies are brought low. However, you shall be assigned a war council made of those whose loyalties are to Myr alone. You shall have complete control of your Storm Dragons, as they are your company. However, the Myr Commanders shall have the ability to retake command of the armies should you prove yourself inadequate."

"Understandable and acceptable," Aegon acknowledged, and Jon felt his spirits raise. They had done it. Now Aegon could truly make a name for himself. "And after I claim the Disputed Lands for Myr and seek to reclaim that which is rightfully mine?"

At this, Magister Ennolis did not necessarily look pleased. "Then you shall find an ally in Myr. However, we will expect proper compensation for our aid."

Jon wanted to scoff. They accepted Aegon's offer of bringing all the Disputed Lands under Myr's control. Yet when the time would come for them to return the favor by aiding Aegon in retaking his birthright, they had the nerve to demand compensation. But thankfully, he was not the one currently negotiating with the Magisters. "Understandable," Aegon nodded. "You are paying for not only my services, but also the services of the Storm Dragons. It makes sense that I would return the favor and provide comparable compensation for your aid in retaking my home. Name Myr's price, Magister Ennolis."

The Magister didn't hesitate. "The Northern glass trade will end. And the artisan glassmakers in the North will be gifted to Myr."

The demand was surprising and took Jon aback. He was expecting maybe a Magister to be placed on Aegon's council, or perhaps a daughter to be promised to Aegon. But the end of the Northern glass trade? That was not something he expected. Though when he thought about it, he shouldn't have been surprised. Since the time of the fall of the Valyrian Empire, Myr had stood at the pinnacle of the glass trade throughout all of Essos and Westeros. Until the North discovered the secret to making glass, and even improving upon its strength and beauty. And with that discovery Myr's wealth, and their strength, diminished rapidly. Leaving them easily the weakest they had ever been since the times of Valyria.

Myr's demand of the cessation of the Northern glass trade would bring their wealth back. But it in doing so it would also weaken one of the newest demanded exports that Westeros had. An export that brought in a fair amount of coin. Coin that would be needed for Aegon to aid in rebuilding Westeros. And if that wasn't enough, they were also demanding the craftsman to be gifted to them. And he was under no delusions that as soon as those craftsmen were handed over, they would immediately become slaves to the Magisters. 'Westeros abhors slavery of all forms,' Jon thought, almost surprised at the intensity of his own displeasure at the almost unreasonable demand. 'If one of Aegon's first acts as King is to destroy one of Westeros's main exporters in glass, and then to also throw craftsmen into slavery…? It will take a long time for him to regain the good will of the people and the nobility.'

"A steep price," Aegon replied evenly.

"As is asking for Myr's aid in reclaiming an entire kingdom the size of the Seven Kingdoms. A kingdom your family lost." The magister countered just as evenly.

Aegon hesitated just for a few heartbeats before giving the magisters a curt nod. "Very well then. We have an accord. I will lead Myr's army to victory over Lys and Tyrosh. In return for my ending the glass trade and bringing you the craftsmen from the North, Myr will aid me in reclaiming that which is rightfully mine."

Jon smiled slightly. Despite the steep price, the deal was made. Now all they needed to do was win a several centuries old war to bring fame to Aegon's name. After that, they would return home. With the Storm Dragons, the full strength of Myr, as well as whatever army their patron could muster. 'Then, my love, all those who betrayed you will pay. With fire and blood…they will pay for what they did to you.'