So… that was a long wait, and the chapter is small. I'm sorry for the delay and the lack of quality and will try to do something better next time but, as I explain to some of you my PM, I am currently doing a very intense traineeship in the wonderful realm of diplomacy. I had neither the time nor the brain resources to do better, so something not-so-good is better than nothing.
The next chapter should be a return to normal. I'll have more time to answer to PM and reviews, so please, feel free to come back to me with your feedbacks!
Chapter 6 : The hunt for the white deer
For the next few weeks I truly felt like those young girl in the songs.
Sometimes, it seems the whole world conspires to make life perfect, beautiful, as if one lived in poetry. The long summer was only beginning and we, Lannisters, were at our peak; some would say we went higher, but I would disagree, perhaps because everything is at its purest while we're young.
Tywin Lannister was steadily becoming the most powerful Lord in the realm. The Crown became more and more indebted to him. Queen Cersei, rumored to be the prettiest Lady in Westeros, was now mother to three perfect children. Dorna announced her pregnancy. The Lannister fleet cruised as far as Asshai to trade and our fields were dressed in the gold of ripe wheat. At Casterly Rock, the sea roared in the Mouth of the Lion, whose head was crowned by the thousands flowers of Joanna's gardens.
Those times were the stage of first love blossoming. I am not afraid to use such sappy words: I truly felt in love, and still think Gerion probably felt something as well. It wouldn't last. It never does, anyway, since marriage is hardly the easiest battle to fight.
Far from the difficulties we would meet in the next years, our first weeks were song-like perfect. More often than not I would get flowers during the day, either in front of my door when I woke up or at my desk while I worked. Gerion stopped to dance with other women, though he indulged the girls of his family. Suddenly he knew my schedule by heart, my favorite colors or dishes, my tastes in books. We went as far as going to do some falconry in the Lord's Woods, where he stole our first kiss.
What truly won my heart was the white deer.
The great hunt had been organized for Lord Leo Leffordof the Golden Tooth. He was one of Tywin's few friends and not unlike him: tall, very fit for his age. His head was balding but not his raven-black beard. Usually the Lord of Casterly Rock came to his land to hunt, not the contrary, but this time a white deer had been spotted in the woods near Lannisport. I had planned to follow the men from afar, as did the women who liked to ride, but I was plagued in the morning by the painful ache of moonblood. My legs felt heavy and weak when I went to the courtyard to see them go, and I went back to the warmth of my bed before their departure.
I felt slightly better by the afternoon, but only the women came back at dark. The men, they said, were left camping. None had killed the white deer yet.
I spent the next morning with my sister Jeyna, touring Lannisport for samples of fabric for my wedding. It would be far more efficient to ask the family's seamstress for a dress design, but I refused to admit officially it was going to happen. Furthermore, I couldn't miss that occasion to spend time with Jeyna. Still, at the end of the day, we ordered a few meters of a blue and green woolen fabric from the Free Cities for my three sister's gowns. I frowned at the cost, but decided to indulge Jeyna for once. I was pretty sure Tywin would berate me for the expanse.
Yet... I was to be married only once, wasn't I?
By the time we returned home, the sky was turning from blue to gray. The wind sang of salt and water, a smell carried by clouds from the sea. Heavy drops started to fall when the hunters finally came back. From my window I saw them hurrying into the great hall, meaning I had few time left to dress. For once I wanted to be pretty, afraid as I was that some would call me too ugly for Gerion.
My sister and I finally made our way to the great hall. The men, hungry from their travel, were eating lightly of bread, butter and vegetables while the kitchen staff prepared their prizes for diner. Wine and ale, thought, were already served, and some were already quite besotted with it when we took our seat by the second highest table. Someone was even singing loudly a hastily made-up song about a white deer on an out-of-tune version of the Maiden Fair.
I spotted Tywin at the high table. His main guest, Lord Leo Lefford, sat by his right, next to his daughter and heir, Lady Alysanne Lefford. It struck me that she could have made an handsome match for Gerion, but for one son from a previous marriage: she was beautiful, with a long but handsome face framed by ink black hair. She was a woman of twenty-five, carved in generous curves. But most importantly, she was heiress to the richest fiefdom in the Westerlands, aside from House Lannister's proper lands. In comparison I was a peasant, but either Tywin wanted to be sure Gerion's child would inherit, or Alysanne Lefford was one of the women his brother had refused.
"I heard Lord Lefford wants to make a proposal," Jeyna whispered. The Seven knew how this piece of news got to her.
"Between whom and whom?"
I expected Daven Lannister to be the happy winner of the prize. He was Tywin's nephew through his late wife Joanna and her brother Stafford. He wasn't much in term of succession, but was well educated, handsome and fierce with a sword. They would make a very fine couple. If Alysanne was unlucky, however, it could be Tyrion. I shuddered at the thought.
But Jeyna whispered neither of these names: "Lady Alysanne and Lord Tywin."
I tried to picture Tywin marrying her, Tywin as a groom, with her hand on his arm. I found it nearly impossible and, instead, I could only remember how he closed himself every time something reminded him of Joanna.
"It won't happen.
- Why not? Lord Tywin would have an heir to Casterly Rock and the Golden Tooth if Alysanne's son dies, and if he doesn't, Alysanne's dowry is going to...
- Lord Tywin doesn't care about her dowry."
But did he care about a son ?
If he wanted a son, I thought, he would be marrying me. At least he would be sure his child got everything.
I tried to ignore the hideous voice in my head, and how it said that since my mother only had girls, surely I would mother no boy.
I was stunned by this jealousy I felt. My betrothal was to be announced in a few weeks. I was going to marry Gerion, who was young and beautiful and most likely to let me do whatever I wanted with Fairkeep.
Then why did I feel personally attacked by Tywin's possible wedding with Alysanne Lefford ?
The evening was starting to leave a sour taste in my mouth when the feast begun. I ate through the whole thing without appetite or happiness. The sight of Alysanne made me sick; worse was the fact that Tywin seemed eager to fake cheerfulness, shooting half smiles to her, which actually looked like someone was pulling threads to make his lips curve. Fake, I thought furiously. Fake and stiff as wood. Jeyna surely guessed where my trouble was coming from. I believed that explained the smirks on her face.
I contemplated running back to my rooms when the minstrels started to adjust their instruments. Tywin interrupted them. Somehow, Tygett was standing behind him. If Gerion was Tywin's nearest thing to a twin, when Lord Lannister stood, it became obvious Tygett wasn't. Almost a giant, he towered above the already not so small Tywin. His shoulders were wider by a hand and his arms thick as trunks. Despite his bitterness toward his elders he was Tywin's most prized knight, the chief of his elite, personal guard, and a winner of several tournaments in the melee.
Yet despite Tygett's powerful look, he was dwarfed by Tywin's extraordinary presence.
"My Lords and Ladies," Tywin begun with a clear voice. "Today's hunt finished in a most unexpected way, as most of you already know. We honor tonight the best hunter among us, my dear brother, Ser Gerion."
My satisfaction was drowned by the cheers. I remembered very clearly how Tywin had boasted he was the better hunter. Let Alysanne have him and his claims of grandeur, I spat in my head: tonight, I would take Gerion's triumph as my own. Yet I didn't expect the exceptional taste this triumph would have, until a few seconds later, Gerion came in with his prize.
His living prize.
He held her with a golden cord loosely strapped around her neck. The doe followed slowly, as if impressed by the noisy welcome she got, but in no way as afraid as she should be. She wasn't truly white, actually. Her fur was a light, dirty gray, lighter than any deer's brown coat. As Gerion walked toward my table, I could grasp more details of her: the long, soft-looking ears, the pinkish nose, the grace of her delicate steps. Gerion stopped in front of me and bowed so low he almost looked like a caricature.
"My Lady," he said, and my heart beat so strongly in my chest I wondered if he could hear it. "As I remembered your sigil, I could not bear the thought of killing such a wonderful creature. If this gift pleases you, allow me to ask for your hand."
My answer was drowned by the drunken cheers. I said yes, of course, but for all they cared it could have been no: apart from Gerion and my sisters, no one would have heard.
We left the hall with my three sisters and Tygett acting as chaperones. The deer was to be kept in the godswood, a wild, small forest enclosed with walls sprawling on the bad side of the Rock. While Lannisport flourished on the southern side, protected by the huge lion-like structure, the northern one was colder and wet, windier, and the lands under it more often swampy than dry. From the godswood, through the leaves and branches, not a single house could be spotted: these badlands were drowned at every storm. I knew from Tywin's teaching, though, that the poorest who owned no fishing boat would go there to fish, harvest algae, reeds or leeches and, if they were lucky, the shrimps we rich people ate for supper.
I remembered clearly that lesson. We were standing on a stony natural terrace in these very woods. His gaze went faraway, to the horizon, but not stayed strangely sharp. He knew his lands so well he could see them in his mind, in that part of the blurred horizon where eyes meet their limits; he was focused and his gestures assured when he pointed toward his holdings.
"Further north," he explained, "the earth becomes white and harder. One hundred years ago, a fifth son, Loren Lannister, asked his newly crowned brother for these lands. Since they were poor and, the Lord though, quite useless, he gave them to this man. Loren hired men from Dorne, saltish dornemen, so they could teach the westenmen to harvest salt. In these times all the salt came from the mines of Dorne or the Hills of Norvos, from the salterns of Dorne and Braavos, and in very low quantity from the south of the Reach."
"For the first three years, Loren lost money. He had to borrow from his brothers' and his wife's family. But on the fourth year, he won enough to make a living. He paid his debts in six years. Twenty years after he got the lands, he was richer than any of his brothers, save his Lord. He left his holdings to his first son, who left it to his own son, who, by wedding, bought his way to a castle. He took the name of his wife, Jeyne Farman, heir of her family, and his children now own substantial lands on Fair Island. What should you learn from this story?"
I answered, rather dumbly, that salt was expensive. Tywin was so disappointed he never gave me the solution to the riddle.
I could not see the salterns from where we stood now. Dark clouds hung low and a single drop landed on my cheek. We guided the deer until we found the last barral of Casterly Rock, a huge, tortured trunk, half hanging from a cliffy side. It had been dead for at least two hundred years, people said, but the trunk wasn't rotten or even starting to fall: it looked as if it had died two days ago. I shivered.
"How did you tame the deer?" asked Eiline, my youngest sister. Aged eleven, she was awed by the lovely beast and unaffected by any fear of the dead tree.
"Magic," Tygett answered. His story sounded like a tale rather than like reality: if one was to believe him, the deer had decided not to run away after Gerion had told her about his love for a woman whose sigil was a white stag, and the golden cord had been woven with the hair of seven virgins devoted to the Mother, so as not to scare the animal.
"Drugs," Gerion whispered to me. Eiline and perhaps Daena (who was hardly older) could believe or pretend to believe in magic; I, however, was a grown up. "We caged her and at the end, she had to drink. If not she would have been trashing all along the way."
Now, that explained why the doe looked like she was going to fall asleep.
"I expect she didn't come to you, charmed by your affection?"
I smiled, trying hard to look amused and not as stern as I usually was. But the question made him puff up like a proud chicken.
"We caught her with a rope. The dothrakis do it all the time with horses. Of course, we had to train very hard and even then, it a prodigious feat to achieve. If both of us had missed on the first throw, all would have been lost!"
The "we" sounded pretty suspicious, but I choose to let it go. Tygett was probably the real winner of the hunt, but he had obviously stepped down from the heroic role of being the one who caught the deer to let it befall to his youngest brother. I tried to imagine Tywin letting go of an inch of blood and glory for the sake of Gerion, and couldn't. But then, I tried to imagine Tygett pretending Tywin or even Kevan had captured the deer, and couldn't. Somehow, that peculiar team work couldn't have work another way: it took Gerion's crazy, out of the box ideas and Tygett formidable physical capacities to catch a white deer; Kevan wouldn't even think of it, and Tywin would find the idea ludicrous.
I was pleasantly surprised when Gerion put his lips to my ear and, with a warm breath, admitted my guess was right. He was the one who'd come up with the idea, he added, a bit defensively, but his own throw had missed by a good meter.
I smiled and took his hand.
"I think we should get married in four months," I said. "Maester Joris says most flowers will be blooming by then."
Everything sounded possible that evening, and I had no doubt that, like Loren, we would harvest our own salt.