The Old Man and the Dragons

The golden wood prow, shaped like a swan, cut through the water, drifting past elegant white buildings, until the barge reached the rocky knoll of grey marble. The Isle of the Gods resided at the center of the city where the Long Canal and the Canal of Heroes intersected before worn down statues of long dead Sealords. At the other temples and shrines, a steady stream of worshippers entered and exited under the watchful eyes of priests, acolytes and guards. But here, there was no joy or celebration, only a somber and forbidding silence. The temple was not grand like the fortress of the Lord of Light or opulent as the Temple of the Moonsingers or even bizarre like the Refuge, that giant brick repository of dead gods that even Braavos had forgotten. But then again, few men and women willingly visited the House of Black and White.

In the chilly morning, the clouds swirled violet and orange. Along the canals and the bridges, lamps burned the final drops of oil of the last night as rays of pink and blue peeked out over the horizon. On the boat, light glittered through the colored glass panes of brass lanthorns, revealing velvet drapes, woven tapestries and silk cushions. The handsome servants guiding poles against the dock wore shirts of striped satin and breeches of fine linen, bright colors that obscured slender blades and throwing knives.

Even dressed in drab browns and greys, the beauty of the barge's owner could not be hidden. She wore no gold or silver in her hair, or jewels about her fair neck. The plain cloak covered her voluptuous body, but unadorned, she was still exquisite, young enough to pass for a newly flowered girl, with a face so lovely that kings would beggar themselves for her maidenhead, and merchant princes would pay enormous sums to escort her to a feast or ball. Her eyes sparkled lilac and purple as the fading moon and stars shone brighter upon her form.

"My lady." The boy begged, with a thumb on the hilt of his dirk. "We are your guards. Let us come to defend you."

She shook her head as they lowered the plank. "There is no use. You could not hope to fight them in their temple."

"But how do we know if you will return, my lady?" The boy cried, his concern shared by the others on the pleasure barge.

She walked down to the dock, in the shadow of the squat windowless building. "Valar Morghulis. I was summoned here. If the Faceless Men wanted me dead, they would not kill me in their home." Bellegere Otherys, alone and cloaked, made her way up the stone steps to the great weirwood and ebony entrance of the House of Black and White.

The last thing she saw was a smile in a cowl of black and white. She thought the colors reversed from the doors, but then remembered belatedly that the smiling priest faced her as the waif placed the blindfold over her eyes. She was marched, not ungently, through halls that sloped down, down flights of steps, through vaults and tunnels. Occasionally, she stumbled to touch the carved rock walls, her fingers brushing against the hidden markings underneath. That gave her some small comfort, even as the thin girl pulled impatiently at her sleeve.

Bellegere had made this trip a few times before but not since her mother died ten years past. Bellonara Otherys brought her here as a child, and led her down these strange halls. Every Black Pearl, even the first, made this bargain - pledging their daughter to serve the House of Black and White. Her reaction had been first shock, then fear, and finally doubt. As a courtesan of Braavos, she was well aware of what men and women desired - firm tits, a tight ass, and lips to lust for. The Faceless Men demanded more. They wanted blood - the blood of the Dragon.

There had always been Valyrians who dreamed of things to come. Dragon dreams haunted both Targaryens and Blackfyres for centuries. Bellegere snorted. She had a speck of dragon blood from many generations ago, when Aegon the Unworthy had come to Braavos on a trade mission. And even then, she doubted that the first Black Pearl, the captain of the Widow Wind, reaver, and pirate queen was faithful to a whoremonger prince. In all her life, Bellegere had never dreamed of dragons - not even once. But no one in Braavos would refuse a summons from the Faceless Men.

They took away the blindfold at the end of the journey. The rough hewn room matched her memories - dark with high ceilings, lit only with a few torches. She stood, facing a semicircle of ebony and weirwood chairs. The men were mostly hidden in shadows, with cowls of their black and white robes pulled down. There was a fat man with a hook nose, a handsome man with a beard of blue, a squinter, a lordling with a golden dagger, and a starving man with thin sallow cheeks. Bellegere recognized no one but the old man in the center.

The old man had been old a decade ago. His right eye was milky white with blindness, and his left eye glittered in the dark. A long white beard dominated the impassive face. A thick gray mustache could not hide the frowning lips and two large hands, white as bone, pointed toward a glass resting on a polished silver tray. The flute held a deep blue liquid - shade of the evening, the wine of warlocks. She stepped forward and drank it down.

The liquid oozed like honey over her tongue, but there was no sweetness. Shade of the evening tasted vile, a melange of rotten meat and spoiled milk and tainted flesh. Bellegere would have spat it out, but the old man stared at her with cold hard eyes.

Beware of kindly men, her mother had told her, for those were the ones most likely to do harm. She waited. Nothing changed. The Faceless Men stayed quiet. She waited again, her head held high and her gaze steady, as silence reigned. No one spoke. No one moved.

Bellegere wondered what they wanted to hear. Like all courtesans, she had been trained to lie. But the Faceless Men were all liars, and very skilled ones. Whores lied for coins or to avoid a beating. The Faceless Men lied to take lives, and the Old Man of the Mountain was perhaps the best of them all. That one truly believed that he was the Chosen of the Many Faced God.

"What do you see, child?" The Old Man whispered. The face smiled but the eyes remained cold.

Bellegere opened her mouth, hoping to stall for time. But then she saw the dragons. The chamber disappeared and the rough hewn roof turned into a dark sky. A red comet with a long tail burned, outshining the moon and the stars. All around her, misshapen dwarves capered on mounds of skulls, bent on rapine and slaughter. Some played with broken and barbed blades, others merely had blood on their grasping hands. The sounds of battle drowned out the incessant cackles of the dwarves. Armies waged war - phalanxes of Unsullied spearmen, mounted Andal knights in heavy armor, Dothraki screamers charging with arrakhs, companies of archers and crossbowmen, and olive skinned men riding swift slim horses with narrow beautiful heads. But above them all, were the dragons.

"I see dragons." But she saw far more. Children cried out in hunger, women wept in fear, small folk and merchants begged in vain for safety, and slaves knelt, clutching broken shackles. She saw priestesses riding black and white horses, harpies and sphinxes hissing, lions and wolves fighting, a massive fleet from humble pole boats to a great war galley with a golden kraken.

"How many?"

Perhaps, Bellegere should have spoken about the men marching off to die. Among the ships, she spied the purple sails of Braavos. But the Old Man only asked about the dragons. And Bellegere was not in the habit of giving things away for free. "Three."

The fat fellow opened a wide mouth, full of stained yellow teeth. "Daenerys Targaryen has three dragons. The largest one burned the Good Masters of Astapor two moons ago."

The handsome man frowned. "Daenerys Targaryen is far away. What business does Meereen have with Braavos?"

The Old Man held up a pale hand for silence. "Where are the dragons? What do you see?"

Bellegere closed her eyes to concentrate. "One dragon flies over a ruined pyramid. One over a harbor of a walled city. And the third..." She couldn't tell. There was water in all directions, covered by thick fog. The great black dragon soared over the slender spires and elegant domes that peeked through the low cloud cover.

The black dragon flew higher. Water, water, everywhere, but as the dragon rose, the far shores came into view. The river was vast and swift, and flowed in every direction past living and dead cities, revealing the veins of a leaf that was Essos. Suddenly, she realized where this must be. The greatest river in the world, and the most cursed, doomed by the greed of ancient Valyria.. "Mother Rhoyne. The dragon has come to the Rhoyne."

She opened her eyes. The Faceless Men were famous for self control but even they were shocked. The headwaters of the Rhoyne were close to the sweetwater river that fed Braavos. In the eyes of the Old Man, Bellegere saw fear, anger, and a glint of madness. And then she fainted and fell.

The freckled boy rapped gently on the cabin door, announcing the approach to White Harbor. The Lord of Runestone, sighed, as his men-at-arms donned mail shirts and strapped on swords and daggers. The knock had been too respectful. Yohn Royce wished to travel in secret, avoiding unwanted attention. That hope was clearly in vain.

"Ysilla. Andar." He nodded with approval as his son and daughter were ready to disembark.

The Brazen Monkey made good time from Gulltown, thanks to favorable winds blowing north and west along the Narrow Sea and the Bite. The Lord of Runestone hired the carrack a fortnight ago, thinking that the small ship would slip under the notice of Littlefinger's spies. But the crew clearly knew that he was no merchant.

In truth, he shouldn't have bothered. Bronze Yohn was a formidable man, with power and influence, and even in his late 40s, a capable warrior with sword or lance. He lacked any skill at subterfuge. In many ways, the Lord of Runestone was what singers imagined of Valemen - proud, prickly, and honorable. But the Vale had changed since the death of Jon Arryn.

Lysa Arryn had withdrawn to the Eyrie, and stopped her lords from fighting in the riverlands. She had been greatly wroth when some younger knights, led by his son Robar, joined the Starks at Harrenhal. Her anger turned into fury when news of their brave deeds at the God's Eye and the Twins reached the Vale. Lady Lysa refused to support the North, even after her sister had been murdered on Tywin Lannister's orders.

Madness. He blamed Littlefinger. Like other lords of the Vale, Bronze Yohn paid no attention when Jon Arryn made Baelish a custom collector at Gulltown. Somehow in only ten years, the grubby coin counter would be the new Lord Protector, with Robert Arryn as his ward. A whoremonger, a moneylender, and now a Lord Paramount and the Warden of the East. How in the Seven could a tax collector rise so high? Yohn shook his head.

Baelish had the audacity to send ravens to the Valemen, declaring that no contact be made with the renegade North. The letter had been signed by Lady Lysa, but everyone knew the true author of those words. Bronze Yohn had not been allowed to fight with the Starks but he would be damned if Littlefinger stopped him from attending his son's wedding.

Yohn stood on the deck as the Brazen Monkey approached the docks. The city was a clean and orderly place, with white stone and grey slate houses built on a hill.

"Is White Harbor always like this?" his heir Andar asked.

"Do you mean the defenses?" A huge stone, hundreds of feet across, dominated the approach to the inner harbor. The ring fort bristled with armed men and catapults. Hundreds of slits gave cover for crossbowmen, archers, and dozens of new scorpions. Anyone who attacked White Harbor would pay a very high price.

"No, I meant all the ships." Andar said.

Yohn blinked. This was his fourth time up North. He came here as a boy with his father to meet Lord Rickard, he returned North with Ned after the Greyjoy Rebellion, and he escorted his youngest son Waymar to the Wall. In those trips, he had never seen the port so busy. There were cogs and caravels bearing a Manderly sigil but also dromons and galleys from Oldtown and far away Essos. A few longshops plied the harbor, and there were slender skiffs and flat barges, best suited for fishing or travel up the coasts or rivers. The port was full of strange smells and sounds - laughing chatter from flamboyant Tyroshi with bizarrely dyed beards, the stink of hairy whalers home to the Shivering Sea, olive skinned merchants from Myr and Volantis, and even further East. White Harbor bustled with trade.

"Robar." Ysilla cried, waving her hands at a large group of men striding in their direction from the Seal Gate. All thoughts of city defenses and ships vanished from Lord Royce's mind, as Ysilla rushed to embrace her brother.

Somewhere in the War in the Riverlands, Ser Robar Royce had become a man. He had already been a knight for three years when he departed Runestone for Storm's End. But Robar was still young and foolish, prattling on about jousts, tournaments and glory. That boy was gone now. Yohn noticed that Robar no longer donned the bright red armor and multicolored cloak that Renly Baratheon gave to the so-called Rainbow Guard. Instead, his son wore plain steel armor, heavy furs, and a cloak with a gray wolf pin. Robar looked every bit a Northman.

"Father. Allow me to introduce Ser Wylis, Heir to Lord Wyman. And these are knights sworn to defend House Manderly. Ser Ryon Waterman, Ser Thorren Woolfield and Ser Harker Flint."

Bronze Yohn held out a gnarled hand to Ser Wylis who gave a short bow of deference. "Lord Royce, House Manderly welcomes you to White Harbour. We have rooms for your party near the barracks in Wolf's Den. I would be happy to feast your men but my father wishes to leave for Winterfell tonight. Would you be ready to board a ship on the White Knife this evening?"

"Of course, Ser. The sooner my son is married and I have grandchildren, the better." The men laughed at Yohn's words. The Manderly knight's plump face broke out in a wide smile.

"Very well, my lord. I will have servants bring you meat and drink." Wylis said.

Harbour men came forth and began to unload the boat. A few children darted back and forth, scribbling down numbers and figures on wax tablets. They followed the orders of an older lad, who also wore a brooch. Unlike the knights, the boy's wolf pin was white and not gray.

Bronze Yohn waited until Robar, Andar and Ysilla exchanged heartfelt greetings and the men at arms secured the room and patrolled the halls. He did not fear an attack but preferred not to be overheard, not by his knights and certainly not by unknown spies. Wenches delivered hefty platters of crispy ducks, bacon pies, fresh bread and roast potatoes, steaming hot from the kitchens. Hot buttered rum, wine, and beer were served with the meal. Yohn drained a tankard of nut brown ale and finished half a duck before he began to speak.

"Did you have to marry a Frey?" He barked.

Robar, taken by surprise, finished chewing the pork pie. "Her name is Arwyn, and she is a Frey no longer. Her last name is Of The Crossing. Or it will be until we are wed in two week's time."

Andar chuckled, ignoring their father's grimace. "A pot is still a pot, even if you call it by another name. Were there no Northern women available?"

"There are far more Northmen than Northern ladies. Unless I want to go to Bear Island or find one in the mountain clans." Robar wrinkled his nose thinking of the hairy mountain women.

"What of the Stark girls? I hear that they are quite pretty." Ysilla said.

"Lady Arya and Sansa?" Robar mopped up the rich bacon gravy with a hunk of bread. "Walder Frey tried to buy Arya Stark for his youngest son by betraying the North to the Lannisters. Jon Snow took pleasure in burning Elmar alive. And as for Sansa Stark - is it true what they say about King's Landing?"

"Aye. The Red Keep remains a disaster. The Tower of the Hand is useless, White Sword Tower gone, and the Iron Throne a lump of melted steel. No one can sit there now, least of all Tywin or his brat of a grandson. I wish I attended that wedding." Yohn replied.

Robar shrugged. "Then you can see why no one is eager to court the Stark girls. Besides, Arywn is a pretty girl of ten and five. She is kind and bright, and friends with both Lady Roslyn and Sansa Stark. We will live together with her younger sister, Shirei."

"And where will that be, Robar? And how?" Yohn asked.

"At a holdfast along the Eastern banks of the Weeping Water. Lady Sansa intends to settle many of the Valemen there, close to the sea. Ser Mychel will be further west at the Dreadfort, but I will live only a day's ride from Ser Andrew and Ser Ben. The Starks plan to build a town and harbor, where the Last River and the Weeping Water run into the Shivering Sea."

"And will you have enough land?"

"Lady Arywn has a sizable dowry. The Starks have been quite generous to the Frey ladies. And I will receive a large tract of land for fighting to defend Lord Robb at Sevenstreams."

"But will it be fertile? What do you know of running a farm? When winter comes, will you and yours have enough to eat?" Bronze Yohn probed.

His son finished his beer and smiled in clear amusement. "You do not need to worry about that, Father. Before we arrive at Winterfell, you will see why."

The North Star made its way quickly up the White Knife. The river runner was one of the four Manderly ships. The Royces had been given the spacious cabin next to Wyman Manderly, and Bronze Yohn marveled at the size of the Lamprey Lord. The Warden of the White Knife ate five large meals a day and that did not count snacks. The provender on the boat was magnificent - pork pies stuffed with carrots and onions, eels, roast goose, giant hams basted in honey. For breakfast, Wyman had porridge with boiled eggs and pork sausages.

Wyman Manderly had too many chins but an amiable smile and a booming laugh. The lord was happy to share the stores of food and drink, showering Ysilla, Andar and Robar with hospitality. But behind that large and gluttonous facade, there was a clever man, hungry for news about the Iron Throne and the other Kingdoms. Bronze Yohn was happy to share what he knew. Runestone was close to Gulltown, and Royce men heard much gossip from the docks. The steward of Runestone, a cousin of Lord Grafton, knew the port city well enough to avoid Baelish's sycophants and liars.

Yohn confirmed the deaths of Varys and Pycelle at the Wildfire Wedding. Lord Tywin had taken back his duties as Hand but there were rumblings of trouble. Lady Margaery was betrothed to Joffrey but the marriage had yet to take place. Yohn heard whispers that the Reachmen were less than pleased with House Tyrell. Few people, including the Valemen, were happy with the state of affairs in King's Landing. Baelish married Lysa Arryn and took charge of the rearing and training of young Robert. The other Vale lords wished for the last Arryn to be fostered at Runestone but Baelish refused. Yohn feared the ten year old boy was still feeding on his mother's teats. In return, Lord Wyman had been happy to talk. The Starks were intent on increasing trade for all their lords. Roads and bridges were being constructed at an astonishing pace. Workers had been sent out to inspect new harbors and shipwrights were hard at work building cogs, barges and riverboats for trade and transport. Wintertown was full of new blood from the Riverlands, the Vale, and other places in the North. White Harbour had begun to attract merchants from foreign cities amid rumors that the North had more to trade than wool, hides and timber.

As Wyman happily chattered on, Yohn noticed the dark haired boy from the harbor on the boat. The Manderlys had brought a large retinue to Winterfell - knights, merchants, and entertainers - along with casks of seafood but on each of the four river galleys, there were children, boys and girls, with quick, curious eyes. The dark haired boy was quickest of them all, and the only one with the white wolf pin and a cage of ravens. Chett was a Northerner, born and bred near Wintertown, but one of those who had taken charge of the catapults, ballista and trebuchets during the campaign. At the Twins, Snow's boys built rafts out of wood, nails, rope and barrels to take the two castles. Yohn still did not understand how Snow constructed bridges from so little, but it was clear that Robar and the Manderly men held Chett in great esteem.

"Look!" Robar shouted, and pointed ahead to his sister and brother.

The North Star had made good time up the swift currents and rocky shoots of the White Knife. The riverboat was approaching the fork, where the Knife divided into two. The eastern side ended at Long Lake, the boundary between Bolton, Umber and Stark lands. The western stream went to the southeast border of the Wolfwood. Yohn gazed at the split in the river. He saw nothing special, just farms. His eyes glanced over rows and rows of neatly tilled crops - barley, corn, and wheat. Some fields were newly sowed, others dense and brown, ready to be harvested. The plants grew tall - the corn was higher than a man's head and the barley reached past a man's waist. Interspersed with the green and gold squares, were fenced off paddocks of oxen and cattle and large orchards and vegetable gardens.

"What are we looking for?" Andar asked.

The North Star turned left, hugging close to the right river bank. The crops stretched as far as the eye could see - east, west and north past the White Knife. How was the land so fertile? Even the fields of Highgarden could not match this bounty. Barns and stables dotted the land and herds of cattle and horses grazed on clover amid swarms of birds and bees.

"What is this?"

"Goldenfields." Wyman Manderly replied. "Jon Snow built this after returning North. The water from the White Knife irrigates the fields."

"But how….?" Bronze Yohn had never seen such a thing in the Vale.

"Canals, pipes, ditches, dams, dykes, screw pumps, water wheels. The wheels are hidden in the barns to protect them from the cold." Chett spoke proudly. "We can direct the supply of water in any volume and any direction we like anywhere in Goldenfields. Today, the irrigation system stretches twenty miles to the east and twenty miles to the west at the split of the White Knife."

"This farm is twenty square miles? That's quite large!" Ysilla said.

"Four hundred square miles and growing." Chett said.

"Snow has 400 square miles of farmland?" Ysilla asked in shock.

Chett shook his head. "Goldenfields does not belong to Jon Snow. He gave the lands to the smallfolk and the Winter Town Boys. The maester taught us how to irrigate and sow. He showed us where to dig ditches and canals. But these lands are ours as his gift. We are planting corn, wheat, barley, rice, potatoes, beans and two dozen more fruits and vegetables. And the Maester has told us to raise cattle, horses, sheep, and other animals here."

Robar nodded. "Robb Stark granted a charter for a new town on the White Knife - Goldenfields - the Granary of the North. Snow divided the land among any villagers who wished to work the fields. Chett and the others measure and report every detail - which crops grow better, how fast they can be harvested, how much feed each animal eats, how quickly they grow. What they learn here, the Winter Town Boys plan to teach every bannermen in the North."

"But won't the animals die when winter comes?" Yohn asked. Even in the warmer South, most livestock was butchered at harvest time.

"No. The maester has solved that question. Wheat, turnips, barley and clover. The main fields rotate between the four. But it is the turnips that make the difference. Turnips are tough enough to survive cold, easy to store, and the cows, sheep and horses love eating them. In fact, each acre produces so much turnip fodder that we have to prevent the animals from eating too many. Our herds have grown dramatically in the past six moons." Chett answered.

"Goldenfields is the bounty the septons promised in sermons but never delivered. Even Garth Greenhand could not create such a wonder in the North. Arwyn has a dowry of two thousand acres. And I will be given four thousand more to start a new house sworn to Winterfell. So I will plant a great deal of turnips. I will not go hungry, father." Robar smiled.

"No, Ser Robar. You certainly won't." Chett added.

"Your father means to kill me and my children!" The double chinned blond woman in a crimson red dress ranted.

"Now, my lady, I am certain my good brother means to honor us. After all, it is a mighty castle and well ….." the short stringy nervous man squeaked.

"Oh shut up Emmon. Get out and let people with common sense speak." she snapped.

Tyrion nodded and his guards escorted the runt out to the courtyard. In her youth, Genna Frey, nee Lannister, looked like Cersei, but she had an extra five pounds in the face and fifteen pounds in the ample chest. And more weight was packed below her bosom but Tyrion gave no thought to that. His aunt was the closest thing to a mother he had ever known.

"Ser Addam cleared Riverrun without trouble. The Blackfish might hold the Twins, but he hardly has the manpower to raid the riverlands, let alone siege a castle." Jaime said.

"You do not need to reside at the castle. Send a castellan. You will still receive income from the lands, and taxes from Fairmarket and the Stony Sept." Tyrion said.

"And what idiot would rule in my name? How many years will it be before the North returns? One day, I will awake and the wolves will be at the gate, or inside the castle. Cleos and Tion still have nightmares about the Twins. Do you think I want my family burned alive for lands my grandchildren can never hope to hold?"

"Father will not be happy. Lancel has already renounced Darry and now you reject Riverrun. We have fought a war for very little benefit." Jaime said.

Genna shrugged. "When was Tywin ever happy? At least, Lancel will live longer. More than the Freys can say."

Before the war, cousin Lancel had been a poor copy of Jaime, not quite as handsome, a few inches shorter, not as strong, and far less skilled with the sword or lance. The fighting turned him into an old man, crotchety and ill-tempered. In defiance of his family, Lancel pledged to give any holdings of lands and gold to the Seven. He had shaved his hair in a monk's tonsure, which looked absurd with sandy blond hair. Lancel had sworn a dozen oaths: poverty, chastity, hunger, charity, penance, obedience and who knows what else, and had become a gaunt humorless figure haunting various septs, preferring the company of sparrows and begging brothers. Aunt Genna was wrong. Lancel had died in the war and left a pious ghost.

"Tyrion, are you even listening?"

"Sorry, my mind was elsewhere." He apologized to his glaring aunt.

"What is your father planning? How does he intend to face the Starks?"

"Father does not confide in me. You of all people know that." Tyrion retorted.

"You are on the Small Council." Genna said in reply.

"So is Jaime as Lord Commander. And Uncle Kevan is Master of Laws and joins the meetings with my father as Hand and Cersei as Queen Regent. If it wasn't for Mace Tyrell as Master of Ships, it would be a Lannister family meeting."

His aunt was not amused. "Mark my words. Your father is not free of the Starks. His bannermen grumble about the costs of the war. The king's hold on the Iron Throne is weak. You cannot rule seven kingdoms with the support of only one. Your father must do something against the North. And when he does, he will put all of our lives at risk. Because if Tywin loses again, then it will not just be the Iron Throne but Casterly Rock. We may all lose our heads."

She stormed off, ignoring the guards. Tyrion smirked. Aunt Genna, like all the Lannisters, had a sense of the dramatic. Still, she wasn't wrong. Tyrion wondered what scheme his father was hatching. A direct attack on the Starks was impossible. Even if White Harbour could be taken, an army would have to march through hundreds of miles of hostile territory in the cold without any supplies. And sending men up the kingsroad to Winterfell meant thousands dead of hunger or disease before a single battle. Unless they got ambushed by Robb Stark first.

Jaime cleared his throat. "Tyrion, we have to speak."

Tyrion poured out the last of the wine. "We are doing that now."

"No one else can hear. This is very important." Jaime looked about furtively.

Tyrion sighed. It was a good thing Jaime was a knight and not a spy. "Podrick." He handed the squire a bag of silver. "Be a good lad and go buy some Arbor wine at the Broken Anvil. Ask for a fruity red that pairs well with soft cheese. Take Bronn and the guards. Treat them to a drink."

Tyrion waited until Podrick left. "We won't be disturbed for hours. The purse will be empty before they return. Now what is so important, dear brother?"

Jaime blurted out words that Tyrion never expected to hear. "I saw Tysha - at Riverrun."

He clenched the goblet hard to stay calm. "Ah, my long lost wife. Was she working at a brothel or merely a camp follower?"

"I saw her at the castle when I was a prisoner of the Starks."

"In the castle? What is she doing there - is she Edmure Tully's whore?"

"She is no whore. She never was. I am sorry." Jaime's distress showed in the tense face.

"But you purchased her for me. You told me she was a maiden whore and that you had arranged the whole scene with the bandits…." a perplexed Tyrion said.

'I never bought her for you. Father commanded me to lie when he heard of the marriage from the septon. She was a crofter's daughter that we rescued on the road."

"Rescued!" Tyrion yelled. "We rescued her from outlaws so she could be raped a hundred times over by father's guards. She was my wife."

"I know and I am sorry. I..."

Tyrion hurled the goblet. His brother, with cat-like quickness, dodged and the wine splattered on the wall, like a streak of angry blood. "Get out. GET OUT. I don't want to see you again. Tysha was my wife. She loved me and I watched as she was raped."

Jaime shook his head, refusing to leave. "There is more, Tyrion. You need to know."

"More. What more can you say? My own father had my wife raped again and again because she was a peasant girl and guilty of loving me. What more can you do to hurt me?"

Jaime bowed his head. "There was a boy at Riverrun. Her son. And yours."

If he had another goblet or a bottle or even a cask, Tyrion would have thrown it at his brother's head. At least, he would if he did not drop it out of pure shock. "How do you know? She was taken by an entire barrack of guards."

"I saw him at Riverrun. He has golden hair and green eyes - Lannister eyes."

Tyrion desperately needed a drink. He regretted hurling the wine. "Is he a dwarf? Malformed - ugly? A wretched creature?"

"No. He is tall and clever. Handsome. They say he taught the other servants how to read. He is named Gerry, after our uncle, I think. And he fought for Jon Snow at the Trident. He manned the catapults at the wall." Jaime said.

The words stirred a faint memory. "Teaching smallfolk. At Riverrun, I saw a handsome blond boy in the Winter Town Crew. He did not look like a northerner. Why tell me this now? Why wait so many months?" Tyrion answered his own question. "You were looking for him."

"I asked Addam to search for Gerry and his mother at Riverrun. He found no trace. I think they went North with the others. The Starks have taken many refugees from the Riverlands, not just the highborn." Jaime said.

"Does Addam know who the boy is?"

"I am not a fool, Tyrion. Ser Addam is my friend. Whether he suspects or not, he asked no more questions about the boy."

Addam Marbrand was the best choice for such a task, Tyrion admitted. As a page at Casterly Rock, he sparred with Jaime many times. He was a shrewd man who could hold his tongue and yet thoughtful enough to carry out a thorough search. And he was loyal to his brother, not Tywin.

"I am still a little angry, Jaime. Actually, I am very angry. But, are you certain he is my child?"

"Tysha hugged him when he returned to Riverrun. He looks like Uncles Tyrek and Gerion, when they were young. He is a boy of thirteen name days, yet clever enough to teach others to read."

A son, he had a son. He could hardly believe such a thing. And Tysha, his first love, was alive. He had not seen them for thirteen years. What must she think about him? Did she rue the day they met? Was there any hope left? He remembered how she sang "The Seasons of My Love" those two happy weeks in the little cottage by the sea. "Wait. Does our father have any idea?"

Jaime shook his head sharply. "Of course not. You know what he would do."

"Father would have my son and my wife murdered. He would find another Lorch to do the deed. The son of the Imp - the grandson of the great Tywin, half smallfolk and fighting for the Starks. The Lion of the North." Tyrion stared down at the floor. "Does Jon Snow know?"

"I do not know. But if he does, Snow has kept it silent. There are no whispers. Tysha was only a woods witch and healer. Gerry was treated well and trusted. He delivered a message to the castellan of Riverrun after the battle of the Red Fork."

"I need to find them, Jaime. I need to speak with Tysha and meet my son." He wondered what she had told the boy about his father.

Jaime shrugged sadly. "You can't, Tyrion. All the ways into the North are guarded. You would be captured at White Harbour or Moat Cailin. And worse, Father would find out. The Starks would as well. Your own actions could bring danger to them."

Tyrion barked a sound, half between a laugh and a sob. "The Gods have a strange sense of humor. The Lannister boys. We have sons that we cannot claim, and yet our father pretends that family is everything."

"Family is everything. Why else would you care about your son?"

"Tell that to our father Tywin." And Tyrion refused to speak any more with his brother.

Bellegere woke up on the floor, cold and dazed. They had covered her with a thin white sheet. A shroud - did the Faceless Men think the shade of the evening had killed her? That could not be the case. Assassins were far too familiar with death to make such errors. She closed her eyes, and kept her breathing low and shallow.

"You cannot trust prophecy. Who knows if this Black Pearl can truly see the future? Daenerys Targaryen is a young girl who made a mess out of Astapor and Yunkai. Will she even escape Meereen alive?" A skeptical voice declared.

"The dragon queen is a threat because she has dragons. Instead of this madness, why not just kill them? Dragons have died before - poison, city riots, a scorpion bolt through the eye. Three deaths are a good gift for the Many Faced God. Better than hundreds of thousands." The voice belonged to the handsome man.

"And if we fail and kill only one dragon, what happens then? What if Daenerys Targaryen learns that the Faceless Men want her children dead? Dragons are not known for their mercy, Will she come West to the Rhoyne and burn Braavos to ashes?"

"And what would you have us do? Nothing? Shall we sit and wait for the conquest of Essos?" A sly voice hit back.

"I would have us not to seal our doom. Why should we be an enemy to Daenerys Targaryen? Let her rule over dusty pyramids, rivers and a melted throne. Braavos has lived in peace with the Targaryens before. We are servants of the Many Faced God. We give his gift to those who have been marked and chosen. We do not kill kings or queens. We serve. We do not rule."

She heard a faint rap against stone, and then silence. Had Bellegere opened her eyes, she would have seen the old man stand up, his hands stretched out to encompass the other Faceless Men.

"We serve Him of Many Faces by giving the gift of mercy. Have you all forgotten why our order began? The first Faceless Men came from the slaves of ancient Valyria who toiled in the mines. They burned in the deep shafts, they breathed sulfur and ash, they crawled deeper under the Fourteen Flames. The slaves suffered and suffered, yea for generation upon generation. Only one force was capable of such endless agony - not the lockstep legions of Ghis, the nomads raiders, or the iron blades of the Andals. Only the dragons of Valyria. Braavos was founded by slaves of the Freehold. We swore that we would never be slaves again. We must stop the dragons. Daenerys Targaryen cannot go west." The Old Man of the Mountain said.

"But your weapon is not aimed at the Dragon Queen. It will slay thousands, perhaps millions." The fat man declared somberly.

"Girl!" The Old Man cried.

It was useless to pretend. Bellegere opened her eyes to the hard faces of hard men.

"Girl! You saw dragons. What else did you see?"

"I saw armies and ships. I saw knights and footmen marching to battle." She answered truthfully.

The Old Man smiled. "All men must die. War is coming. And Death as well."

Yohn Royce marveled at the new road, so wide that two large carts could pass without troubling smallfolk walking on the slightly sloped sides. The last leg to Winterfell from the western fork of the White Knife was slow going, partly because of workers adding layers of gravel and stones to the roadbed and footpaths but mostly because of Wyman Manderly. Four draft horses, two in the front and two behind, transported the open litter. The Lord of Whte Harbour sat like a giant slug on his throne, and happily called out to fellow travellers, keenly interested in what goods were being brought to and from Winterfell. Some carts carried casks of cured meats, wheels of cheese, and sacks of grain. Others were less easy to identify: pungent crates and half sealed barrels of white powder and metals.

Robar was not the only one getting married at Winterfell. At the inns and alehouses on the road, they met Stouts and Dustins, and Flints of three different branches escorting bridegrooms. There were a great many Frey ladies that needed to be wed. Finally, they arrived at Wintertown, an once sleepy village that now stretched miles with cobbled roads and a spacious hall before the gates. Guards and knights walked about, but there were far more smallfolk, merchants and traders. The sprawling market had dozens of stout wooden stalls with goods from all over. It reminded Yohn of Oldtown or ports in Essos as opposed to the quiet North of the past.

"Lord Royce." A tall brown haired man wearing mail under a thick wool cloak hailed them. Vale knights who had joined the Starks in the war followed the warrior who had a touch of fuzz on his boyish face.

"Ser Mychel Redfort." Yohn greeted him warmly. The Redforts and Royces had long been allies. Unfortunately, the stubborn old codger, despite his wife's wishes, refused to travel North and see his youngest boy married to a Stone.

"Or is it Lord Mychel Redfort?" Andar japed as he embraced his childhood friend.

Mychel blushed brightly. "It will be Lord Mychel soon. But it may not be Redfort. I plan to take a new name with Mya."

Ysilla offered her hand to be kissed. "And where is your lady love? Have you been wed yet?"

Mychel gallantly pressed his lips on her hand. "Lord Robb intends to celebrate the weddings together. And then we would go off to our new lands. As for Mya, come with me."

They found her with a crowd of smallfolk near a small river amidst an enormous flock of sheep. Mya stood up, nearly as tall and broad as Mychel, and gave the Royces a broad smile. She was a pretty strapping lass with deep blue eyes and coal black hair. Her stained leather trousers and heavy gray coat were more suited to a laborer than a lady to be.

"Mya!" Ysilla sniffed the air. "You stink."

The girl laughed, her voice full of mirth as she put one arm around Mychel and the other a dubious Ysilla. "It is lambing season. This is the second batch and there are many twins. And I wanted to help out. When you deal with mules, sheep are not much trouble."

"But why so many?" Yohn asked curiously. Thousands of sheep littered the fields and the ground appeared white. Many had new babes which were being marked and measured by Winter Town boys who also doled out corn and hay to feed the tired ewes.

"We are raising them for wool. Feel this."

Ysilla caressed the coat with glee. "It is so soft and fine. But will Mychel force you to weave and knit? Will you ruin your hands and eyes picking thistles out of sheep?"

"Hardly. You cannot believe what they have done here. Snow has crafted a spinning wheel that can turn wool into thread with ease. You can use your feet to push the wheel. The wheel flies faster than anything and the thread twists easily around the bobbin. Anyone can use the wheel to spin yarn. The Wintertown boys have attached wooden hammers and metal needles to the mill that cleans, cards, fluffs and pounds the wool. They even can wash and color cloth with ash and dyes. Snow thinks that lace patterns can be made by braiding threads around the bobbins. Think about it, Ysilla. Cloth that is easy to make, color and weave. We can create our own dresses with wool, lace and fur." Mya cried with great enthusiasm.

Lord Royce shook his head. "Cloth? All this fuss about wool and lace?" Yohn's words were ignored by an exuberant Mya and a curious Ysilla.

"Jon Snow has grander ambitions than a few dresses." Ser Mychel said.

He took them to a large shed near the river. There, resting behind a few sturdy walls, and tended by several WinterTown boys, a large vertical wheel turned in a long wooden frame, and thread spun through three dozen spindles. The strange device moved by itself, powered by the water flowing in the river. The spools of yard were taken from the frame and fed into a loom where a boy with a lever produced a bolt of cloth, much wider than a man was tall.

"Are you creating clothes for giants?" Yohn asked, looking at the massive sheet. "No, Ser." The blond boy on the side said. "That is canvas for a sail. A very large sail. Large and strong enough to sail to distant shores."

The pleasure barge floated aimlessly about Braavos, meandering around the Long Canal like a wealthy noblewoman on a stroll. The boat passed beneath the green copper domes of the Palace of Truth and the tall square towers of the powerful Antaryon family before making its way to the less grand parts of the city. A few servants descended at Ragman's Harbor and Silty Town to purchase fish, clams, and crab for provisions. A couple more waved at the mummers practicing their craft outside the Blue Lantern near the waterfront of the Purple Harbor. But Bellegere stayed inside, the velvet drapes of the cabin drawn.

She was not hiding from the Faceless Men. That was a fool's dream. If they wanted to kill her, Bellegere would already be dead. She was mildly surprised that she was still alive. Braavos was a city of secrets, of masks and whispers and the greatest of these was not in the Sealord's Palace or the Iron Bank. Those who knew too much about the House of Black and White did not live to tell their tales. And now, she knew quite a lot.

Bellegere did not spend time wondering why she was spared. Her mind focused on the visions brought forth by the shade of the evening. Braavos had heard rumors of Daenerys Targaryen and dragons. Most dismissed these stories as fables spread by sailors eager to boast of their adventures. But she had seen three dragons. And the third one had flown over the Rhoyne.

Bellegere was not a hero. She was a courtesan trading on the family name and her sumptuous body for gold. She knew history though. The last time a dragon had flown over the Rhoyne had been a thousand years ago. That had ended very very badly, even for the Valyrian dragon riders. If it was only one life or even a few dozen, she would not have done much. But hundreds of thousands lived in Braavos. She would not see her city burn.

She ordered her crew to cast off, and head down the Long Canal. Her servants poled quickly and silently past the statues of the Sealords. Where the canals met, a great temple stood, snow white marble topped by a mighty dome with milk glass windows depicting all eight phases of the moon. Two statues of maidens supported a crescent arch in front of the high gates.

Bellegere passed through the door. The temple was not crowded. Here, the priestesses offered milk and wine, and danced the night away in ritualistic fervor. The Temple of the Moonsingers was the largest and most well attended in all of Braavos. Hundreds of years ago, a shipment of slaves on their way to the sweltering jungles of Sothoryos had revolted and seized the convoy of ships. The moonsingers of the Jogos Nhai had prayed, and their goddess had delivered a vision of a lagoon behind a wall of hills and stones where fog and freezing rain would hide them from the dragonlords. Over the next decades, as more slaves fled the Valyrian Freehold, that refuge became the secret city of Braavos. If anyone could understand and sympathize her plight, it would be the moonsingers.

The acolytes took her to the highest place of the temple, directly under the dome. The windows of the observatory looked out at the sky, and the room was dominated by an orrery, that modelled the motion of the sun, Planetos and stars. The moon was represented by a silver ball.

Bellegere faced three priestesses, a fresh faced girl, the second a dark skinned woman, and the last a crone, hunched over in old age. The moonsingers no longer belonged only to the Jogos Nhai but the three still followed the customs of that warlike tribe. They wore a short robe of felt wool and furs, with the right flap close to the body and the left covering. The coat was padded and pocketed with silk lining and belted with a wide sash. The women of the Jogos Nhai shaved their heads and eyebrows. It was rumored in Braavos that they were hairless all over.

After sipping a cup of the hot sweet tea, Bellegere told her story. She began at the entrance of the House of Black and White and spoke uninterrupted. She left nothing out - not the debate between the Faceless Men, the gleam of madness in the Old Man, or the suffering of women and children as armies squared off to battle.

The dark lady sighed. "We know the Old Man - Rashid Al-Din. He comes from Samarquand in the Great Sand Sea. He escaped as a boy when his family was slain in a rebellion against the rulers of the Three Cities."

"Do you know what he intends to do? How does he expect to kill so many?" the young girl asked. If not for the color of her skin, she could pass for the daughter of the other moonsinger.

Bellegere shook her head. "I was not awake when they spoke. But not all of the Faceless Men agreed. Some believed that too many would die."

"Too many deaths for the Faceless Men? That does not bode well." The dark woman said. "We could speak to others in the city. The Iron Bank does not like things that disrupt trade. And the Faceless Men have heeded the Weeping Woman and the Dreaming Gods before."

"But not for a hundred years. The Faceless Men will not listen to reason. They follow the God of Death. He is no friend of ours. We must stop them before.." The girl said.

"It is too late." The crone rose on her ironwood staff and hobbled over to the window. The sun was setting on the Drowned Town, where poor Braavosi lived only on the highest floors of the mostly sunken buildings. "It is already done. The Old Man has completed his plan."

"What has he done, Grandmother? What have the Faceless Men unleashed?" the girl said.

"Death." There was no fear or anger in her voice.

At the Western edge of Braavos, a Tyroshi sailor with a blue beard and a thick accent recounted a ribald tale of his exploits in a Lysene pillow house with two highborn sisters. He ended not with a booming laugh, but an abrupt hacking cough, spitting out a watery ball of black phlegm and mucous as he struggled for breath. The rest of the crew, eager to head out to the taverns and alehouses, paid no attention but the first mate was surprised. Like many veteran mariners, the Tyroshi had the iron constitution needed for years at sea. No one saw Rashid Al-Din walk away from Ragman's Harbour and toss the empty vial at the feet of some passing whores.

Author's Notes

The first Black Pearl had a ten year affair with Aegon IV where she supposedly bore three children with dragon blood. Her oldest daughter, Bellanora Otherys, became the first of a line of courtesans named the Black Pearl.

Goldenfields is the name of a temple/farm dedicated to Chauntea, Goddess of the Earth and agriculture, in the Forgotten Realms D&D Setting. It is also in the North! The official stats say Goldenfields is 20 square miles but produces enough food for everyone in Waterdeep, the big city, and most of the North. About 1 m people live in Waterdeep.

The screw pump is Archimedes screw or the Egyptian screw. It is still debated whether Archimedes invented it around 250 BC, or saw it in ancient Egypt and improved on it. Archimedes screw is a screw inside a hollow surface that can be turned by a windmill, physical labor, cattle or electric motors. It lifts water from low lying bodies of waters into ditches and channels. Over two thousand years later, it still is critical to agriculture and industry. The agricultural revolution has arrived in the North! The yield of grain crops in England from 1250 to 1450 was 7 to 10 bushels per acre, and so 400 to 600 pounds per year. But in a bad harvest year, it might only be 4 bushels or a bit over 200 pounds. There are many ways to ramp that number : Irrigation (double), clover (nitrogen and animal feed), turnips (soil health, animal feed), larger farms, fertilizer (manure, guano). England doubled their crop yield from 1550 to 1700 and doubled it again the next hundred years. The 4 crop rotation scheme - wheat, turnips, barley and clover - was promoted by Charles "Turnip" Townsend in the 1700s. This demonstrably was a better approach. To give a rough sense, the yield of potatoes is 10,000 pounds per acre, and turnips even more - which led to an explosion of livestock.

A knight in medieval England was granted on average 1000 to 5000 acres, depending on the quality of the land. That was roughly enough to support 40 families in good standing. But that might not be all farmland - whereas Robar's lands would be well situated (close to a river) and more productive. 5000 acres is about 8 square miles. For comparison, at his death, George Washington had 8000 acres at Mount Vernon, but less than half was cultivated. The rest was the house, a gristmill, and hunting lands. The acreage Robar mentions is pure farmland.

Genna Frey, nee Lannister, was a book character omitted from the TV show. And in the books, she and Emmon Frey are awarded Riverrun after House Tully is attainted. Here, she realizes that this will not end well. She was always supposed to be one of the more perceptive Lannisters. She is sassy enough to stand up to Tywin and is treated by Jamie and Tyrion as a surrogate mom.

One of the big questions in the books is what the Faceless Men are doing at the Citadel. The alchemist, who may or may not be Jaqen H'ghar, poisons Pate with the same gold coin trick to get an archmaester's key. There are hints that the Faceless Men oppose the dragons.

GRRM based the North on Scotland and Westeros on England. The English raised sheep and sold bags of wool to Flanders where it was turned to cloth. The spinning wheel came to Europe around 1300 and was an enormous improvement over hand spinning. Once that bottleneck was resolved, other parts of the process became mechanized and automated by watermills. It is almost impossible to overstate how important textiles were to the Industrial Revolution.

The Old Man of the Mountain is a reference to the Order of Assassins, a band of heretical Muslims who were powerful for two centuries until they were destroyed by the Mongols. Rashid Ad-din is a historical figure, known as the Old Man, who played a role in the Crusades and was the main villain of an Assassin's Creed game.