Author Notes: Another fugitive challenge-fic from a forum, this time Spacebattles. This developed from a thread about a portal appearing between Westeros and the 1880s British Empire.

Unfortunately, this won't end up a complete story. I'll just be posting drabbles/snippets. I have much less time these days than I'd like.

Excerpt, Chapter 1: Flashman and the Iron Throne

As portents of misfortune go, Balmoral Castle ranks high in my personal pantheon. I'd always found the people rude, the cattle hairy, the weather frigid, and the conversation fiendishly dull - though Albert's passing had improved the latter slightly.

Age and creaky joints had not improved matters. I'd been young and careless when Ignatiev had nearly done for me there in '56,[1] but one would have thought that the ill luck that attended that place would have faded by '81. I was near sixty, after all; the old war-horse dragged out of his stable to tell stories for our Westerosi visitors.

Predictably, perhaps, those Westerosi visitors had taken to Scotland with greater enthusiasm than the Scots themselves. I'd spent the better part of the week chasing deer up mountains with the lunatic goat-botherers, and their glee at firing shotguns at random had done little for my temper. They were all for it, though. Presumably they found it an improvement on hunting Westerosi elk with their teeth. Elspeth had decided that they were charming. ("Why Harry! Their clothing! It's so, ah...C'est picturesque!")

Westeros was still a new development in those days, you see. It had sprung up like something out of Phantastes only the year before, when Her Britannic Majesty had found herself sharing a land border with a foreign power for the first time since the Black Prince's day.[2]

Yet here I was, summoned to a smoky room with wood paneling and mounted dead animals, staring across the table at Gladstone. When I close my eyes, I can still see his perpetual, jowled frown and frizz of hair.

A short, thin man stood behind him. The man wore a black coat and red silk vest, and at first I mistook him for a European. I realized my error in a moment or two, when I took another look at the pointed beard on his chin. I'd seen the Punch illustrations enough to guess who he was.

I should have seen it coming, then.

Gladstone stood, gesturing for us to shake hands. The other fellow crossed the room in quick steps. He smiled as he clasped my hand. It was a touch too quick, that smile. His gray-green eyes seemed to dance when one looked closely. I'd seen that expression before. Brooke had it. Josiah Harlan had it. Rudi Starnberg had it. They'd all nearly killed me with different varieties of boyish enthusiasm, and I already suspected which kind Mr. Baelish dealt in.

Hullo, Flashy, thinks I. Here's one to watch your back around.

He shook for only a moment - enthusiastically, but not too hard - before the Prime Minister grumbled that this was Petyr Baelish, emissary of King Baratheon.[3]

"Charmed," I said.

He flashed another of his too-quick smiles.

"Likewise," he said. "It's not every day that one can meet a man who survived Jalalabad and...what was the location in China again? My knowledge of your world is still - regrettably - limited."

I doubted it, but gave him the necessary place-names for form's sake. I'd hoped to forestall the inevitable. Unfortunately, Gladstone cut that off at the pass, so to speak.

"Please be seated, Mr. Flashman."

The chair creaked as I lowered myself into it. My companions followed suit. Baelish crossed his legs and perched a hand on the chain of his pocketwatch, looking for all the world like some satisfied country gentleman. Or a mill owner.

I'd refuse, I decided. Whatever it was, I'd refuse. For the love of...I was almost retired at that point! An old man who'd survived Isandlwana only the year before, wheezing and rattling across the Veldt in a cart steered by a much more competent soldier.[4]

Baelish was talking.

"...much do you know about King Robert Baratheon?"

"Eh?" I said. ", warrior king, ain't he? Heir of the Six Kingdoms or something of that sort. Not much at all."

I'd taken care to subtly emphasize my "not much". I had also omitted that His Majesty had a reputation for drinking and whoring that would have made Jeendan blush.[5]

Baelish's almost-polite smile remained in place.

"No matter, of course," he said. "My sources have assured me you're a quick study. Jhansi, the Imperial Palace, Tewodros-whatsisname...Ethapia, was it? Etheepia? No, that's not quite-"

"Ethiopia," I said. "And what's this about needing to study? Surely you don't mean to send me-"

Baelish slapped his thigh and grinned. The movement started and stopped with the slightest jolt. Controlled, like everything else I'd seen from the fellow so far.

"Of course," he said. "Ethiopia! My mistake. And to answer your question, I'm afraid that Robert Baratheon succeeded to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms very shakily indeed."

"There's a pretender," Gladstone said. "Two of them, actually. A brother and sister."

"Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen," Baelish said. "Fair-haired and empty-headed. Not much of a threat. Except-"

Baelish paused for a moment, savoring his own dramatic buildup like someone sucking the juice out of an orange. Gladstone tired of it first.

"They've recruited an army," Gladstone said. "Dothraki."

"A remarkable people," Baelish said. "Not unlike the - Tajiks, are they? - that you've already dealt with. You're a known savage-charmer, I'm afraid."

Cold fingers worked their way up my chest. I had trouble breathing. For all Kashgar's dubious charms, everything I'd heard about the Dothraki suggested that dear Yakub would have been disgusted by the lot of them.[6] The Apaches I'd met in America would have fit the bill more closely.

It was happening again. Baelish's voice droned on in that half-drawl, half-lilt that he'd developed through cross-pollination of the Queen's English and his own Westerosi accent.

"...Not to mention your talent for languages. They say it's similar to Welsh of all things. Or Basque. Your Cambridge linguists aren't all of one mind on the point."


Baelish raised an eyebrow.

"The Dothraki language," he said. "Oh, and your...ah...other talents. They say milady Daenerys is quite curious about your world, and it's a mission that calls for delicacy. We need someone discreet to lead her down the primrose path to accommodation with the Crown."

The implication must have sailed over Gladstone's head, since he didn't launch into his usual tirade of pious fustian.

[1] Nicholas Pavlovich Ignatiev, Russian diplomat. See Flashman and the Great Game. - G.M.F.

[2] The "Phenomenon" (Mar. 12, 1881) connected Westeros to Britain through a pair of dimensional gates, permitting land and sea travel between worlds. Phantastes (1858), by George Macdonald, is considered one of the first fantasy novels.

[3] Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, 1851-1884, Master of Coin and Westeros's first ambassador to England. A political opportunist, Baelish played a prominent role in the Succession Crisis of 1881-83. As Flashman notes, Baelish was unique among his Westerosi contemporaries in adopting the customs of Victorian society when in England.

[4] Flashman errs here by at least a year; the Battle of Isandlwana occurred in January of 1879. See Flashman and the Tiger.

[5] Flashman presumably refers to Maharani Jind Kaur, the "Messalina of the Punjab", whose considerable appetites for sex and alcohol Flashman had observed firsthand.

[6] Yaqub Beg, Central Asian warlord. See Flashman at the Charge.