Into the Night's Ocean
The Narrow Sea's salty breath emptied through the windows of the Calidours' castle, which rested on the edge of a jagged and high cliff. She sat along the ledge, her sapphire eyes shifted from the maze of buildings farther out to the water, she was sure if she squinted hard enough Westeros would appear along the horizon. Somewhere out there it was cruelly taunting her. It had been a few days since Calidours had told Norin her punishment, and within those few days she had been unchained and relocated to an isolated room that smelt like dirt and moss. She hadn't been allowed out of her chambers, she was still in a cell only now it was a in a tower instead of a dungeon. Two guards stood watch outside. From time to time she heard far off voices and footsteps, but they were always moving away. The Sealord had made it clear that she owed him. For a moment she twitched her eyes to the ocean below. It was a tall drop—even if she jumped and lived, Kiana would be killed instantly.
Footsteps sang. At first Norin ignored them, sure that they would disappear into silence, but they didn't. They were heading this way.
The door swung open without warning. Norin eyes widened in disbelief. Immediately servants spilled into the room, all women.
"What is this?"
The oldest of the brood stared at Norin with a lipless mouth and milky eyes. Her face was wrinkled, her expression unwaveringly sullen.
"Lord Calidours has asked for you to be cleaned up—" she cleared her throat as she beckoned the guards to aid some of the women with small tub of steaming water. They set it down near the windows and shut the door as they exited.
Norin shifted her eyes around. She wasn't in the habit of taking orders.
"Because the Sealord desires an audience with you before you leave on your voyage. He requests you look presentable. Take off your clothes."
Before Norin could properly respond with a list of curses some of the servants started to pull on her clothing. They were wiggling her arms out of the fabric, pulling her pants down, a few times she shoved the servants away but they kept after it. Finally her eyes dropped in embarrassment and surrender. Once she was completely naked she was submerged into the warm water and scrubbed down. A few times her head was shoved under. Almost instantly she could smell a floral odor rising up with the steam.
"Rosewood oil," The elderly servant noted, scrubbing Norin's arms so hard she thought she might bleed, "It's good for the skin."
Before the breeze had been chilly but as she stepped out of the tub and onto the stone floor she could feel her bones turn to ice.
Her lips parted as one of the youngest servants revealed a dress.
"I'm not wearing that," she whispered, feeling one woman dab her with ointment while another combed through her dark hair.
"You will," the elderly woman combated, "It's the proper thing to do."
Proper: the word was foreign to Norin. She never needed to be proper. She hadn't worn a dress since she was a little girl, and even then she hadn't. The fabric and sleeves felt constraining. It was silks of indigo and gold, very bright—too bright. If she ever tried to steal in this she would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Of course now none of that matter. Her life had changed the moment Kiana had been stupid enough to steal from a courtesan and Norin had been equally stupid enough to throw herself at the mercy of Calidours. A thousand times over she wished she could have been cowardly enough to throw Kiana to the wolves, but each time the thought crossed her mind Norin remembered the way Kiana had looked at the steps of the Sealord's silver chair. Her hair cut off, her face bruised and bleeding—she had trembled the way that Norin remembered herself trembling the night her caretaker had found her in the slums of Braavos. Perhaps that was the real reason she saved Kiana. Each time Norin looked into her eyes she was reminded of the innocence she had long lost.
Her dark waves were being tamed and pulled back by a servant as another finished strapping her into the outfit.
"Now put these on," the elderly woman revealed a dainty pair of gold slippers.
Norin grimaced. "No."
"Put them on."
She narrowed her eyes and thrashed away a few of the servants, "No."
"If you don't put these on I will put them on for you."
Norin could tell the old woman had her fair share of difficult girls and privileged women, but she didn't back down.
"I have my boots."
"You're boots will not do. Now give me your foot."
Suddenly the woman got down on her knee and started lifting up Norin's dressed. Norin tightened her jaw and tried to get away but the sly old fox got her ankle before she could and slipped them on faster than humanly possible.
"There—" she was almost out of breath, "That didn't hurt so much, did it? You're ready."
Her lips pursed with disdain. The old bat was actually smiling.
Soon after the servants left, Norin wrestled in the dress and shoes. She didn't understand why it was necessary. He had told her what she needed to do to repay the debt—there was no need for this show. Silk had never touched Norin's skin, save for the times she passed by a wealthy pedestrian and brushed against them to steal their gold. It had an odd texture and quality to it—like cool liquid.
Metal clanged, diverted her attention suddenly to the door.
Guards were filtering into her chambers, but to her surprise they flanked the doors upon entering and bowed their heads as a shadow appeared. She recognized the shadow instantly. Belloc, Lord Calidours had called him. He was the tallest man Norin had ever seen. He had the cunning eyes of a man who had seen many fights, and the scars to prove that he won them. He was so large that she took a step back as he approached. Her mouth was dry. The sight of him made fear stir.
"Follow me," he ordered.
She dropped her eyes.
The journey was a long one. Several corridors and rooms passed by. The sun would be setting soon, Norin thought as she glanced to the windows. Belloc's sheathed sword rhythmically thumped against his leg as he led the way. She studied his posture. Quickly deciding that even if she had the upper hand all it would take was one hit and she'd be done. From time to time he glanced back and smirked—as if there was a joke that Norin wasn't a part of. This led to another decision-making thought: she hated Belloc.
"You fight very well," his voice broke the silence of their walk.
She nervously cupped her hands in front of her and kept her eyes on the floor.
"For a woman, that is."
"For most people," she bravely responded without a smile.
He laughed. She didn't.
They didn't stop walking until they met a carved door painted blue. Norin studied the guards that kept watch. They didn't look at her, but she could tell they were prepared for any fast moves. No doubt they saw her dueling the merchant a few days prior.
The room they entered was large. A long table was planted in the center with lavish chairs lining every side. The windows showed the setting sun. Candles burned. The smell of wine and food wafted heavily in the air. At the end of the table Lord Calidours sat.
"Belloc. Please seat the guest."
He grabbed Norin's arm in obedience but she stepped away and started walking alone, "I can seat myself."
She chose the chair at the other end of the table simply because it was the farthest away. Immediately an invisible servant appeared from the shadows and poured her wine and plated her food.
Lord Calidours smiled in amusement.
"Thank you, Belloc."
Belloc bowed and took his leave. The door slammed shut. They were alone. For the first few bites of food Norin couldn't bring herself to look up, but with enough determination she finally did. He had been staring at her the entire time. She had known that before she looked, even still his expression was haunting.
"Enjoying the food?"
She did, but she didn't want to admit that.
"Only fine? Do thieves have great banquets?"
She placed a slice of meat in her mouth and bit down, "If the thief is good enough I'm sure they have many great banquets, my Lord."
He laughed and sipped his wine.
"A cunning tongue you have."
Her blue eyes narrowed.
"I would like to see Kiana before I leave."
"That little pick-pocket, I'm afraid that's out of the question."
"I agreed to your terms only if she wasn't harmed."
"And she won't be, if you do as I asked. But right now I need leverage. The runt will remain in prison until you return."
Norin's hand shook, the silverware dropped from her fingers. "That could be a year from now, my Lord."
"Or more, but such is the way these things go."
She felt terror suddenly. It was bad enough that she was trapped, but the thought of Kiana starving in a Sealord's dungeon was unbearable.
"And what happens if I can't find this man? What if I get there and you were wrong?"
Lord Calidours' eyes looked like burning coals, "You'll find him, otherwise I'm afraid my leverage will become expendable—won't you try to the wine?"
He was a man that liked to play games.
"I don't drink wine."
"You'll drink this one."
Her eyes lowered. Although she wanted to refuse it was obvious she couldn't. The goblet was cold on her fingertips. The wine was sweet and bitter at the same time. It was better than the molding wine she had tasted in the past during her visits to shady inns and trading posts, but then again that didn't surprise Norin at all. Another smile wrinkled the old Lord's face.
"The dress looks nice on you."
She didn't respond.
"I should like to see you water dance in it."
A strand of hair fell in front of her eyes as took her last bite and leaned back.
"Tell me something, who taught you that art?"
"What makes you think someone taught me, my Lord?"
Calidours wiped his mouth, "The way you move is taught. You were educated by someone—a rare gift to have."
"But none rarer than having you in my presence, my Lord."
She blinked her eyes away from him and smiled. Her sarcasm was very tangible, instantly Calidours picked up on it and grated his teeth.
"You like to cut with words."
"I like to cut with knives and swords too. Perhaps one day I'll show you first hand, after all you haven't fully experienced a water dance until you've danced yourself."
He traced the rim of his goblet and peered across the candle flames, "You're a funny thief, aren't you? We'll see how well that serves you in the Winterlands. They have stories from those lands. Have you heard them? Little ravens come whispering across the Narrow Sea telling tales of winter beasts, of giants, and terrible lifeless creatures deadly enough to turn a man's blood to ice."
There was no response Norin had. Instead she simply stared, quietly taking in his biting words. He was trying to scare her, but it was too late for that. Though she didn't want to admit it she was frightened beyond belief. A heavy burdened had been laid on her shoulders.
"Tonight the ship leaves."
Her eyes widened, "Why tonight?"
He shrugged, "The winds are good. The sky is clear. The stars are bright. Why not tonight?"
She rubbed her fingers together and bit her lip.
"Belloc will be your guide."
"I don't need a guide."
Calidours smiled, "The minute you step onto the shores of Westeros that tune will change—perhaps even before, when you're mid-voyage across the Narrow Sea. After all sailors do get lonely. A pretty face like yours won't go unnoticed."
Her eyes darkened.
"Belloc will by your guide," he repeated it with finality, "Consider this my gift to you."
"A trite gift."
"There are others, of course. Would you like to see them?"
The groan that echoed from his lungs rang in her ears as he lifted himself out of his seat and nodded for Norin to do the same. After a hesitated heartbeat she obeyed. She heard the servants scramble to clean up as soon as they left the room.
The walk was short. She was sure that the Sealord had taken her through a few secret passages before they finally stopped in a windowless corridor. The layout of the castle was hard to measure—it felt very vast. Lord Calidours asked the guards to remain outside as he motioned for Norin to follow.
"If you are to do this for me I would like it if you were prepared," he said as soon as they were alone.
The small room was filled with tapestries and dusty old weapons, however, near a roaring fire sat three items without dust. The first he picked up quickly. It was a sword. Its blade gleamed as he unsheathed it.
"For you," he nodded, handing it to her, "I had it made just for you."
Norin apprehensively glanced to his face before grabbing it. Her distorted reflection stared back at her from the silver. It was a thin blade with a leather hilt that had the Sea Lord's crest on the bottom. She couldn't deny that there was something unique about the sword. The silver metal looked ethereal—as if it was glowing.
"Why are you giving me this?"
"You're my assassin. I would like you prepared for the challenges you are about to face. It has nothing to do with niceties."
She glanced to him and sheathed the blade. "What else do you have?"
His wrinkled hands picked up the next item. It was a midnight blue cloak of thick and fine fabric. He tossed it to her with a grin and stepped forward.
"For the winter that is coming."
Her lips parted as she felt the fabric. Dark blues were only worn by nobility in Braavos. Having a cloak with a color like this was an honor in some circles. Fur lined the hood and a silver pendant clasped it together. She had never held a cloth so nice before, and yet her face remained indifferent. She wasn't going to distracted by trinkets.
With resolve she twitched her eyes back to the Sealord. He already had the third and final object in his hands. It was much smaller than the others. In fact it looked insignificant. A small silver vile with vines engraved on the side, it was closed with a top of similar silver. As he placed it in her hand she was surprised at how heavy it was. Her thumb stroked the artistry.
"There may come a time when you are close to death. This will bring you back from that."
"Is it medicine?"
The Sealord's toothy smile made her shiver, "No. It's not medicine."
"Then how will it help me?"
"Hopefully you never find out. Keep it close."
She narrowed her eyes and parted her lips as she glanced to the vile once more.
"You must have loved your woman very much to avenge her with such determination," she whispered.
"No. I simply hate the man that did it that much. Serve me well Norin No Name and I will hold to my promises, fail me and I'll slit your throat with the very sword I just gave you."
She remained silent. The Sealord meant what he said.
There was no chance for her to return to the mossy tower Calidours had caged her in. The journey was beginning. On horseback they road, though Norin was forced to hold onto Belloc she was happy to smell the fresh air of Braavos. It would be the last time for a while that she would be able to. Quickly she wondered what the shores of Westeros would smell like.
The Purple Harbor was bustling with nighttime antics. Sailors laughed and drunkenly bickered. Gypsies and merchants fumbled with their belongings, eyeing the troop of horses that clapped through the cobblestone barges—though truthfully outsiders shouldn't have been there at all. They past by Braavos' purple sails, yellow sails, and black sails—but they didn't stop until they were in front of a small merchant vessel with large white sails that had been beaten by salt and wind. Sailors were loading the ship with food and water.
First Belloc dismounted. It pained Norin to let him help her down but she had no other choice. For a moment she stumbled in place. It was hard to catch her bearings after the jarring ride down to the ships—before then she had never ridden on horseback.
"I hope you have strong sea legs, Silverfeet. It's a journey across the Sea."
Her hair blew across her face as she looked on at the ship and spoke, "I'm not afraid."
Belloc let out a laugh and nudged her forward, "Brave little Silverfeet. You hear that?" he asked a passing sailor, "She's not afraid."