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The Golden Sun and the Silver Moon [m]

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Offline asterin

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The Red Keep was aflame with gossip and scandal—tongues wagging madly in response to the recent events that had taken them all by shock. Crown Prince Rhaegar, leaving his wife and children to whisk away Lyanna Stark! The execution of Rickard Stark, and his son! The brewing of something greater! Away from the whispering but unable to block out their influence, a young woman sat at her writing desk, blankly eyeing a cyvasse board. It was well used but clearly of great quality, made with lacquer and fine mahogany; instead of the traditional black and white, the pieces and spaces were painted a distinct red and black. The red King piece sat surrounded and backed into a corner, and it was obvious that in the next move, it would be lost. After a long silence, the young woman took a deep breath.

“I am to be wed, Daeron,” she whispered into the air. Of course, there was no answer, and with a small self-deprecating laugh she shook her head and began to rearrange the pieces. How many afternoons had they spent playing cyvasse on this very board? Too many to count, surely. They'd both taken quickly to it, studying strategies and testing them out; he’d never refused a game, even when he’d been bedridden. She picked up the black king piece, the color he’d always played as, and regarded it silently. In three days, she would be on a ship, leaving behind the only home and family she’d known to marry a stranger.

It was difficult to articulate her exact feelings on the matter--she had known from a very young age that she would one day be Daeron’s bride, and the princess had accepted it as tradition required. She had loved him very much--though, in what way, she could not be sure, even now. It was no easy feat to separate filial love from romantic love when being a Targaryen most often meant marrying sibling to sibling. Regardless, she would have been a dutiful wife like her mother before her. Aeranys had thought herself rather lucky; she and Daeron had been close in age and closer still as friends. Not many could boast a loving relationship within an arranged marriage, was it not so?

Losing him had been a devastating blow to their family, but especially to her. With one death, she had lost brother, best friend, and future husband--leaving a gaping hole in her heart she knew not how to fill. Oh, there’d been offers. Suitors. Proposals. Aeranys had refused them all, even in the face of her father’s ire. Not only had the wounds not yet healed, she had also felt it was a fearful gamble to marry someone she did not know well. And yet here she was, doing just that.

Not two weeks ago, her mother had come to her with the proposal. A betrothal to Mors Nymeros Martell, heir to Sunspear--a young man she had seen but a few times. This was the marriage that would create a sorely needed ally in House Martell; to those with a shrewd outlook, it was obvious that the disquiet at the disappearance of Rhaegar with the betrothed of Robert Baratheon would become something more powerful, especially after what had happened between her father, Tywin Lannister, and Steffon Baratheon. It had always been a delicate balance, linked together with shared childhood memories and a bond of marriage through Rhaegar and Cersei, but now... It only made sense that allies had to be made anew, and one of the quickest and most beneficial methods was through a marriage.

She had said yes, because she was the only one who could protect her family now. Even though she cared not for her father, she knew that if House Targaryen fell, the casualties would most likely be their entire family. She wanted to protect her mother and her remaining older brother, wherever he was. Better she wed and prevent a disaster. She had said yes, because she hadn’t had a choice.

A knock interrupted her thoughts and she gave a start, turning her head towards the door. “Milady Aeranys, 'tis I,” came a familiar voice, to which she visibly relaxed and hastened the visitor in. The door opened and a plump, matronly woman strode in with a dress folded carefully in her arms. Her honey gold hair was beginning to streak grey, but as always she was rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed, full of a bottomless energy that could not be touched even by the foul spirit filling the Red Keep. She seemed ever-unchanging, a constant presence in her life--first as a nursemaid, then as a chambermaid. She was much like a second mother to her, and very dear to her heart. “Come now, if I don’t have it back to the seamstresses within the hour, they’ll never let me hear the end of it!” she clucked, holding out the half-finished gown towards her. A dress had been commissioned for her even though her betrothal and upcoming marriage was to be kept quiet; the logic was that it was not odd for a princess to be getting a new gown, though Aeranys herself found it rather unnecessary.

Nevertheless, she rose from her chair to comply, trying to look enthusiastic. “Of course, Madge,” she answered amiably. It was time to tuck her thought and worries away for a while.

+++++++

Sunsets at the Red Keep were worth seeing, especially when one resided in one of the towers that offered a wonderful view. Unfortunately, with the current mood of unease hanging thick in the air, the sun looked more like it was bleeding out on the horizon, tainting the sky red. Bathed in the glow of the sunset, Aeranys sat still in front of a polished mirror as her mother brushed her hair as she had when she was a child. Though it was a peaceful picture, the mood was heavy with unspoken words.

“Have you thought about how you’ll wear your hair when you are presented?” her mother asked her lightheartedly, observing their reflections.

“I haven’t, not yet,” Aeranys responded with a forced smile, playing along for her mother. It was better to take her mind off things, even for a little, she supposed.

“If we put it up, it’ll showcase your lovely neck,” her mother mused, twisting up her long hair to create a visual. “But if you wear it long, it makes you look more youthful.” Gentle fingers arranged her locks about her shoulders, framing her face just so. “What do you think, my daughter?”

Unable to answer, Aeranys laid a hand on her mother’s, her heart twisting at the sight of her. These past few months in particular had been brutal to her mother, especially after Rhaegar’s disappearance and everything that had come on its heels. Queen Rhaella was dressed as elegantly as ever, but she could tell the amount of painstaking care her mother had put into covering signs of her injuries. Her beautiful pale silver hair was worn long--not to look youthful, but to cover the scratches and bite marks that littered her skin. Aeranys missed the days when her mother used to wear her long hair up, before the queen had had to endure unspeakable things at the hands of her own husband. The Queen offered her a weary smile, stroking her daughter’s cheek affectionately. Mother and daughter stood together quietly, enjoying a moment of bittersweet peace.

There were many worries tumbling about in the princess’s mind, but a prominent one that was rapidly growing in severity as the days passed was her mother. Did she truly have no other choice but to leave her mother behind, all alone in the Red Keep to be abused so?

Aeranys knew that there was so little she could do to protect her mother even if she stayed. After all, she had been unable to protect her through the years--though not due to a lack of effort. She’d begged, she’d pleaded, she’d bargained, and when all else had failed, she had made a desperate attempt to prevent it by force. She remembered the sound of her mother screaming as her father turned his maddened fury on her, and how the beating had not stopped until Daeron came running to drag their father off of her. After several other similar incidents, both mother and brother had made her swear never to try and interfere again for her own safety--a promise that hurt more than any beatings could have.

“An arrangement has been made for a member of the Kingsguard to escort you to Dorne,” the older woman said quietly. “No harm will befall you under his protection.”

For a moment Aeranys was silent, but in the end, the question escaped her in a trembling whisper. “...But who will protect you?” Even the Kingsguard, sworn to protect royal blood, could not protect her mother from the King. Leaving her mother in the Red Keep felt no different than tossing her to the wolves, and for what? What if this marriage failed to save their family?

“My sweet child,” Queen Rhaella breathed softly, brushing back a stray lock of hair from her daughter’s face. She had tried so hard to keep her children from seeing the monstrous truth, to shield them from their father’s deepening madness, but Aeranys had always been far too precocious, as youngest children were prone to being. It was not easy for the queen to send her youngest and only daughter far away to Dorne after losing one son to death and another gone missing. However, Queen Rhaella was just as duty-bound as her daughter, as the queens that had come before her. She leaned down, folding her arms around her little girl who was a child no longer. “I pray that you have a kinder fate than I.”


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Mors Martell wore a smile on his face as his ship, the Bride, made her docking at the shores of Sunspear.  The towers of the Old Palace stretched above him, reaching for the clouds and blocking out the sun. He had enjoyed his visit with his mother in Norvos.  She had only recently decided to make her extended stay in her native city more permanent, but a few years felt like an eternity when she had to go without seeing her children.  It was Quentyn and Trystane she missed most, the younger of Mors’ siblings, Quentyn in particular. It had been his fostering away from Sunspear that had driven the final wedge between his parents that had led to their separation.  It wasn’t that his father had cast his mother aside, no -- far from it, in fact. Mors knew that his father still loved his mother, somewhere within that stoney facade he wore was a heart that still beat for the mother of his children.  However, his mother had never quite adjusted to the Westerosi customs and in the end, having her children taken from her broke her tender Norvosi heart so much, she had been forced to abandon them all together to spare herself further anguish.  The Lady Mellario had watched her oldest get shipped off to Starfall, her second to Yronwood, and refused to wait around for her youngest son to be pulled from her breast, nor give Doran Martell more heirs to disperse about his wretched Realm, so strategically diplomatically.  Then of course there was Arianne, Mellario’s only daughter. She’d kept a breath away from Arianne all of their young lives, it seemed. Of course, daughters were the same in each place, every world, especially the beautiful ones. Arianne had done a good job so far of rejecting suitors and dancing about her father’s intentions, but daughters only stayed your own for so long before they belonged to someone else. 

Unlike his mother, Mors loved Dorne, his home.  He adored each leaf on every towering palm tree, each smiling face from the pale faces of the Stony Dornishmen to the darker of the Sandy Dornishmen, each brightly colored songbird and mud colored snake.  Each grain of sand within the desert, and each brick and tile of his home, the Old Palace of Sunspear. His eyes had been on it’s tallest point, the high-reaching Tower of the Spear, and so he hadn’t seen the figures rushing down the docks towards him.  That is of course, until he heard them calling his name.

“Mors! Mors you’re back!” They shouted, their tiny thundering feet like a quiet storm as they clamored towards their older brother. 

“Quentyn, what are you doing here?” He asked as his brothers crashed into him.  Trystane hadn’t been much of a talker before Mors left and he saw that he hadn’t missed much by way of his youngest brother as he spoke instead with his hands, grabbing for his oldest brother’s arms. 

“I came with Lord Yronwood and the rest of the men.” Quentyn answered.

“The rest of the men?” Mors pressed as he scooped his youngest brother into his arms.  Trystane held him still by the dark, curls of his hair while he planted kisses upon his face.  The wet-nurses who watched after him were always too affectionate with him. He was an adorable little boy, to be sure, far more sweet than Quentyn ever was, but it would prove one day to be a problem for him.  Mors knew better than most.

“Yea.” Quentyn returned in that simple way that only a child could.  “They’re going to war for father.” He explained.

“Where’s Arianne?” He asked next. 

“She’s gone to the Water Gardens with some of the other ladies from the court.” His younger brother answered helpfully. 

“And who was supposed to be watching you two?” He asked, looking down to the brother he held in his arms.  He gave a bashful smirk and tucked his face away in the crook of Mors’ neck.

“Donello and his men.” Quentyn answered, a proud smile on his face that his older brother couldn’t help but return in spite of the circumstance. 

“Come then.” He said, reaching out to taken Quentyn by the hand as he held Trystane against his hip.  “Let’s go see father.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“So, the Starks came seeking justice for a stolen daughter and the Mad King burned them alive with wildfire?” Mors stood in the Tower of the Sun, his father on the other end of the large marble table that served as a place of council within the large chamber that housed the twin seats of Dorne.  It was Mors who now sat beside his father in the chair his mother had once occupied during official proceedings.

“And this is where we lay our allegiance?” He asked his father from across the table.

“Yes.” Doran Nymeros Martell, Prince of Dorne, answered. 

“Why?” His son countered.

“Because in Dorne, when we swear oaths, we keep them.” He replied.  Though his health had been failing him of late, he stood proud and tall in the Tower of the Sun, his shoulders back and his eyes straight.  Any onlooker would never guess the agony he must be feeling just to stay on his feet, with the exception of Mors that is, who knew his father best of all.  “We made one alliance with the crown through marriage, so will we make another.” He continued, moving towards the High seat of Dorne at the head of the room.  Perhaps he could hear his son’s thoughts, or perhaps he could see the concern wrinkling his brow. Either way, Doran saw to quell his eldest sons’ worries and find a moment of reprieve. 

“You mean to tell me…” Mors started, following after his father across the room. 

“Aeranys Targaryen will arrive at Sunspear by the end of this month.  You will wed her, you will bed her, and then my son…” He paused then, trying to find something in the young man’s eyes.  “And then, you will lead our armies into war.”

“War…” He repeated, a look of shock still arching his brow while his thick lips remained still in an even line of stoicism.  “For this?” He pressed.

“What now?” Doran asked, his serious expression cracking into one of fatherly gentility.  “Have you lost faith in your father?”

“You know that it’s you I trust above all others,” Mors insisted.  He lowered himself to one knee and took the hand that his seated father extended to him, laying a kiss upon his knuckles and holding fast onto a hand that had once seemed so big as could snatch the sun straight from the sky.  “I just don’t understand.” He confessed.

“You will.” Doran offered patiently but cryptically.  “For now however, it is safer that you do not. I want you to focus on battle.  You won’t be alone in the field, my uncle Lewyn of the Kingsguard rides with the Princess’ party.  You will also have you own uncle, Oberyn. He’ll be returning in a few days with more forces. I’ll be travelling soon as well, to parlay with more potential allies…”

“Who?” Mors asked, because he rarely missed a moment to catch his father rambling.  It was only then that he could sometimes get little glimpses into the plans that worked within the machinations of his mind. 

“Never you mind that.” Doran said, patting his son’s hand and rising once more from his throne, the High Seat of Dorne.  “We must meet with our Maester and assign a temporary Castellan in your absence to the Palace, before we take supper with our attending Lords…” Doran continued, as he walked he leaned some of his weight into his son as the pair moved towards the doors that would carry them from the Tower of the Sun to the Maester Caleotte’s studies.

“Why did you send Arianne to the Water Gardens?” He asked, his tone polite in spite of the fact that he was interrupting his father.  The dutiful son that he was, Mors aided his father down the stairs as the Prince of Dorne gripped the banister with white knuckles, taking as much weight as he could from his feet and knees. 

“Because I don’t trust your sister’s judgement around soldiers.” Doran replied plainly, a scoff on his voice.  It was enough to bring a smile to Mors lips as he helped his father the rest of the way through the Palace. He was a good son, like his father had been.  He would be a good commander, as his father had been. In time, Mors would be an even better ruler.  His father had made sure of it.

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Offline asterin

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Farewells were always difficult, but for Aeranys, who was not supposed to be going anywhere as far as the public was concerned, it seemed near impossible. Those who were trusted enough to know already were aware, so there was only one real place left for her to say goodbye to--and yet she had purposely put off for as long as she humanly could. Her hand faltered on the handle of the familiar wooden door, her heart begging with an unusual cowardice for her to retreat. It sounded like thunder in her ears, then seemed to come to a dead stop when she finally, with a shuddering breath, let the door creak open.

Then slowly, slowly, one foot at a time, she inched into the room, her candle bringing the details into focus.

Her eyes wandered over the walls, the furniture within, trinkets small and big, touching them gently with her gaze as if to make sure that it was all accounted for. Everything was as it should have been, except for the bed that was empty and cold. It was unusually wide for one person, filled with no small amount of pillows and cushions. It was wedged directly between an expansive bookshelf chock full of tomes and a smaller table and chair. Carefully, as if it would all crumble into dust under her, Aeranys sat on the corner of the large bed.

As a child, she’d spent more time in this room than she’d spent in her own chamber, and the same had gone for Rhaegar. Seeing that he was the heir to the Iron Throne and she was a princess, they’d had very different futures to prepare for, she and Rhaegar. And yet, without fail, they would return to Daeron’s side, the nest that they collected around, the one place where they stopped being princes and princesses and simply returned to being siblings. The bed was big enough for three because more often than not it’d been home to three, two children spending time with another that was too weak to join them outside, to make him forget about his frail health and the many, many siblings who would've been there with them if not for the same weakness. 

Rhaegar would read to Daeron or bring his lyre to practice his tunes, while she’d bring him souvenirs from the gardens, sun-kissed flowers and worn pebbles that he seldom saw from his confinement. Sometimes Rhaegar would read the legends of old and she would act out the parts, dancing with imaginary partners or tumbling onto the mattress below in a dramatic, tragic death, pulling faces that she knew would make her brothers laugh. As they grew older their antics would grow quiet, sometimes each sibling reading their own book, sometimes playing cyvasse, sometimes simply listening to Rhaegar playing the lyre while they hummed along under their breaths. Then at times the atmosphere would grow serious and contemplative, a dreamy sort of calm washing over them as they whispered secrets, hopes, and fears they didn’t dare admit aloud--and yet, by some mysterious sense of safety they felt from their canopied shelter, they confessed and confided, three breathing as one.

Now, she was the only one sitting there, and the sense of loneliness that came crashing close was far too sharp. It all felt so recent, and yet it was almost five years ago that Daeron had died. Things had never been the same afterward, even with Rhaegar. Perhaps they reminded each other too much of what they had lost, their other mirror image--the brother they had loved so dearly, the bridge connecting the eldest and youngest. Without Daeron, they’d floated apart to nurse their own grief, and after he’d left for Dragonstone the year after, the distance between them had grown into a gaping abyss. And now--now, the brother she'd once considered one of her closest friends seemed little more than a stranger, having brought a rebellion to their doors. Where was he? What in Seven Hells was he thinking? 

It was a painful thing to sit in the remains of their ruined nest, feeling small and very alone, but it felt like a necessary pain. There was a soft knock at the door, a murmured word--“Princess?” It was time. She stood, absentmindedly running a hand over the coverlets to smooth it back out, erasing her presence from the still room. There was nothing she could do to bring those days back, just as she couldn’t bring back a brother who was dead, she reminded herself as she drew the hood of her cloak over her silvery head. Taking one last look at a broken dream, she turned and slipped back out into reality. All that was left for her to do was to go forward.


++++++


She did not leave King’s Landing in a grand ceremony, with hundreds looking on as she pulled away from the harbor. No, it was in the cover of darkness that two figures slipped out from the Red Keep, creeping cloaked and hidden like thieves. The moon was high in the sky and an uneasy hush had fallen over the city, the same heavy gloom that filled up the Keep spreading out to engulf the whole of King’s Landing.

They moved quickly through the streets, heading for the River Gate; though the taller figure clearly had a longer stride, both seemed to take care to match the other’s speed. It was only when they reached docks that a spoken word was uttered, the hooded knight introducing the gruff-looking captain as Carvio Waters. “You honor this humble ship with your presence, Your Highness,” he managed, somewhat clumsily. “The Lady Luck is at m’lady’s disposal.”

“The honor is mine, Captain,” Aeranys nodded, a gracious smile in place. “Thank you.”

The dark-haired seafarer bowed again in an awkward manner before hastening them up onto the ship that was preparing to cast off. “Your belongings have been placed in your quarters, Your Highness. If it, uh, pleases m’lady, I can show you the way.”

“No need, Captain. I will escort the princess myself,” the knight interjected dutifully. The other man hardly seemed miffed, nodding in a way that gave her the impression that he’d rather not have to do the guiding in the first place. With another bow, he strode off to instruct his men, leaving the two passengers to their own devices. The cloaked knight turned to her with an expectant look in his indigo eyes, but the princess did not move.

“If it isn’t any trouble, Ser Laenor...might I stay on deck a little longer?” she murmured. Her voice was soft, her tone apologetic and courteous, but she was not looking at her sworn protector. “Just a little longer, please.”

“Of course, princess,” she heard him say quietly, something softer running through the words.

The ship slowly began to pull away from the dock as the deckhands scrambled this way and that, but the sounds didn't reach her. Her sights were fixed on the lights far away that made out the looming shape of the only home she’d known--the Keep she’d grown up in with her brothers, the red stones that had heard every laugh she’d uttered and felt every tear she’d wept. When would she lay her eyes on it again? The night breeze gently swayed against her, caressing the cheek where she could still feel her mother’s last kiss and Madge’s tears. When would she see them again? As the Red Keep grew smaller and faded into the distance, the dark, foreboding feeling in the corners of her heart only seemed to swell.

Never, it whispered feverishly. Never, never, never.


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“I didn’t think you’d come.” She said as he stepped into the room.  She had been sitting alone, long black hair laying straight upon her slender back as she looked out at the Water Gardens beneath the open window.  Her Mistress, Arianne Martell, was somewhere out there wandering arm in arm with her aunt, Elia Martell, a fellow Princess of Dorne. When they had bid her to leave them, and she found herself otherwise alone, she had known he was here.  Worse, was the jealousy she had felt knowing he must have seen his sister and aunt first, without her even knowing, before he had bothered to show her his cowardly face.

“That’s not true.” He said, taking another long, effortless stride into the room.  While her heart pounded in her chest, he showed not one hint of anxiousness at their meeting again.  He never did. Endlessly at ease, regardless of the situation. “You knew I would come eventually.”

“It’s been nearly two weeks!” She countered, unable to keep her emotions at bay.  “Is it true, what I’ve been hearing? Are you going to marry the Mad King’s daughter?” She asked, trying her best to look proud while tears stung at her green eyes. 

“Don’t shout, Vellysa.” He scolded, stepping close enough that she could smell him.  She wanted to shout, to hit him, but that sort of thing never worked with Mors. Instead she let him come close, sit next to her and place a comforting hand on her knee.  In response her own hands, which she had balled into fists, relaxed marginally, but not much. “It is true. My father has arranged for me to be married to the Targaryen girl.”

“Why would Dorne go to war for the Targaryens?” Vellysa snapped ignorantly.  It was a heartbeat or two of silence before Mors finally answered her, but when he did, there was finaly emotion in his voice -- though not for her sake.

“Arthur and Ashara are in King’s Landing.” He said.  “Both are in service to the Targaryens.”

Vellysa had always been jealous of Ashara and sung her praises when finally the girl had been sent off to serve as Lady in Waiting to Cersei Lannister.  Now however, it seemed that the very thing she had been convinced would bring her closer to Mors, pulled him away from her, away from them both. He loved them more than he had ever loved her, like he loved his other siblings for that’s what they had been to him; Arthur especially.  For all the emotions Mors kept so well hidden, all the cards he played so close to his chest, it was obvious to anyone who knew him that he adored Arthur Dayne like an older brother, worshipping him as a knightly hero. There would be no convincing him otherwise. Not with their lives hanging in the balance of this potential rebellion.  However, if he made it home to her…

“I can handle it.” She assured him, reaching out to clutch his hand against her knee before he could pull it away.  “Truly, I can.”

“You and I both know that you can’t.” Mors returned, his voice steady and hollow.  It was clear he had already made his decision. That was the thing about him, he never changed his mind once he made it up about something.  She had thought he had chosen her and made her his Paramour because she never gave up trying. “When Arianne returns to court, you will stay here with my aunt…” He meant to go on but Vellysa was on her feet, hitting him, her hands balled into fists. 

“Why?” She demanded.  “Your uncle has a dozen different consorts at court, your Lords too.” She struck him again and again in the chest and he watched her with that disinterested gaze that she hated so much.  When she saw his bottom lip twitch however, saw the pleasure he got at seeing how much she hated it, she raised her hand against he face. Then, and only then, the statue finally moved and caught the hand that swung at his jaw.  “Why do you insist on fighting every natural thing about you to be just like your father?” She demanded, striking below the belt in words since she couldn’t strike his stupid, smiling face. “You cannot be both honorable and a scoundrel, Mors.” She pointed out, snarling at him like an animal held in the clutches of a tightening python’s grip. 

“But I can,” he replied,  “and I am.” The grip he held her with was forceful but not needlessly cruel.  She’d done plenty worse to him over the years. With the deceivingly strong muscles that curved in subtle waves across his slender body he turned her around so that she was once more seated and he stood over her.  Letting her go so that he held only one of her hands he continued where he had left off earlier saying, “my aunt holds court in the Water Gardens, perhaps even more often than my uncle at Sunspear. Elia is kind, and she likes you.  You’ll be happy here. My aunt will take care of you.”

“And what about Arika and Natari?” She asked, a childish pout on her lips in spite of herself at the mention of the other young women at court who had found a place in Mors’ bed. 

“Don’t pretend you care about them.” He answered knowingly. 

“Will they stay?” She asked, more earnestly this time. 

“No, Vellysa.” He replied, knowing well that she grew soft when he uttered her name.  “Like my father, my only Paramour, consort or otherwise in my court will be my wife.”

Now it was Vellysa’s turn to wear the mask of condescension.  “You really think a man can change so quickly? A man with your appetites no less?” She mocked. 

“One man can have many faces.” He replied calmly, righting himself and folding his hands behind his back as he stepped back from her.  The gesture was one wrought with meaning. No longer tender and close but now distant and formal, their relationship had at once been redefined forever.  Mors never did anything halfway.

“Did I ever really know you?” She asked him suddenly.  At last, tears began falling down her cheeks.

“No.” Mors answered, only the slightest touch of empathy leaking into his even tone.

“Will I ever see you again?”

“Perhaps,” he didn’t look away as he spoke.  His had told her once that when he was born, his father thought he might have been cursed by a Norvosi that had loved his mother.  His eyes, the palest shade of sandy brown she had ever seen, shone yellow in the light of day like a snake’s. In the glow of the setting sun however, they sparkled golden.  It was his eyes that Vellysa had fallen in love with. Would the Targaryen daughter see them the way she did? Would she adore his impossible wildness, or would she continue to encourage him to tame himself like all others in his life did?

“I might fall in battle.”

“But won’t you command from Sunspear, like your father?” She asked, concern clutching at her throat and stopping her tears. 

“Before my father left, he told me I would be leading our armies, not commanding them.  He’s very careful about his words.” He explained. Finally, he looked away striding closer to another window on the adjacent wall from where Vellysa Sand, once his Paramour now no longer, was sitting.  Gazing out into the vastness of the Gardens he watched after his sister and aunt. “If I do come back, I will be a married man and you will not be permitted to return to Sunspear, even with my aunt. But I will come to visit her, to bring the children my wife will bear me…“ He went on, perhaps looking away so as not to watch Vellysa’s heart break before his very eyes. “And if there ever comes a day where that is too painful for you, Elia will make you a match with someone deserving of you.”

“Was I undeserving of you?” She asked.

“No.” He answered.  “It was I who was always undeserving of you, Vellysa.”

It was with those words that he had left her. 

Mors had expected to return to Sunspear to find his bride awaiting him.  Instead, his Uncle Oberyn had no word nor even sighting or sign to report of their ships.  It kept him up that first night upon his return, pacing the corridors of the Old Palace. Always he found himself at the doors of this father’s private library.  He had never been allowed inside unless the Prince of Dorne himself had been alongside to supervise and only every now and again. When he had been a small boy, before he had been sent to Starfall to serve as a squire to Lord Dayne, he used to stand outside his father’s library with his ear pressed to the door.  He would listen to the sound of his father working, sometimes the muffled voices of a private meeting. Always, every time he reached for the handle, the door would be locked. Eventually, he had stopped reaching for it. Tonight however, he found his hand wandering towards the familiar shining brass of the artisanally curved handle.  As he allowed the weight of his hand to fall against it, the latch turned and the door popped open with all the effortlessness that he had ever dreamed it might.

“And what is the lesson here, you old snake…” He muttered to himself as he stared into the tempting darkness of his father’s library.  There was not one single thing that Prince Doran Martell ever did that was not on purpose. Unable to help himself, he stepped inside. Striking a candle he moved about the room, finding himself at his father’s desk.  Fanned out upon its surface, as though someone had left them thus intentionally, were letters accompanied by maps and ledgers. Twenty thousand infantry, eight thousand cavalry… Numbers, names which Mors recognised, coded messages alongside their legends…

“Are you ready?” Prince Doran used to always say, each time he sat before his son with a heavy tome, a collection of scrolls, an abacus or a sextant.

“I’m ready.” Mors whispered into the darkness, seating himself at his father’s desk and beginning his new lesson.

King Kade - Reigning from the North


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Offline asterin

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She tread barefoot down the stairs, taking the step one by one in a slow, reluctant motion. Her pale hair tumbled over her shoulder, matching the white nightgown she was dressed in. The stone steps were not cold, but hot, and the air grew hotter still as she grew closer and closer to the Great Hall. She didn’t want to go. She was afraid, she knew what was coming, and yet her short legs carried her there, as they always did. She was dreaming, she knew. She was dreaming, just as she had as a little girl. She dreamt she was a little girl still.

The smell reached her before the screams did. That was always how it was. Her traitorous feet gave no pause at the entrance of the throne room, even though every fibre of her being was screeching for it to stop, for all of it to stop. It never worked.

The throne room was nothing but a haze of black smoke overflowing with a writhing collection of charred bones and bodies. Choking on smoke, the smell, or tears, she never knew which, she raised her eyes to where she knew it would be. Perched on the Iron Throne was a twisted and deformed dragon no bigger than a dog, scales patchy and dull, with claws extending in yellowed points so long it could not fly. It saw her, it always saw her, the girl child standing in terror amongst the dead and dying. It saw, and let out a sound more akin to keening laughter as it reared back. 

It was coming.

“Please, don’t!” the plea ripped out of her, her voice high and afraid--but it never mattered what she said in that split second. The wretched, malformed dragon breathed forth a torrent of green flames, engulfing everything. She could see nothing but the sickly green color of it, but as the flames swallowed her whole, she could sense the world perishing and turning into ash around her.

Aeranys lurched awake with the terrible stench fresh in her mind. Clapping a hand over her mouth, she fought the urge to retch, though the rolling waves did little to help. Slowly, she pushed herself up, evenly sucking in the musty, salty air in an attempt to calm her racing heart. She knew she would never forget the smell of wildfire consuming flesh, nor would she be able to erase the screams from her memory. She’d always hated the green flames, even before she’d known what they were.

She’d first encountered wildfire in her dreams, a dream by all purposes identical to the one that had woken her, a dream she’d seen countless times over the years. At times the details would change, but the misshapen, wildfire breathing dragon and the terror she felt never changed. She had only been six the first time, and it had frightened her like nothing ever had. As the dreams continued, she’d once confessed to her brothers that she believed the deformed dragon to be their own father. They’d laughed at her, teasing her good-naturedly for reading into a nightmare. She’d thrown a fit then, furious that they didn’t believe her.

Years later, she had wanted nothing more than for them to have been right.

The young woman let out a quiet exhale, the tightness in her chest loosening slightly. It was difficult to tell what hour it was, but she was loathe to go back to sleep now. Her eyes searched for a moment in the gloom, but soon she had a flickering candle to brighten her surroundings. The walls were in fact shelves, shelves lined with expensive silks and ornaments that glittered and shone in the candlelight. It was a storage room for the most precious goods a merchant galley might carry--she was not much different from the pretty baubles there. Like them, she would fetch a high price. An army, an alliance, one last hope for her family.

Holding the candle aloft, she walked to the small trunk in the corner that contained her belongings; she’d brought very little along with her, for it would have been far too suspicious if most of her things disappeared from her chambers. She rummaged through it and pulled out one of the simple dresses she’d packed, pushing aside the small bundle of favorite jewelry. Unlike her luxurious dresses, it was easy enough to dress on her own, and soon she was pressing her nightshift into the trunk. Her hand came to a sudden stop, however, when it brushed up against a familiar edge--her cyvasse board. Gently, she tugged out the drawer, her fingers fishing out the black king piece. She regarded it for a moment in the dim light. A piece of home, she thought to herself, tucking it into her pocket as she left the room. A piece of better times.


++++++


It was the beginnings of a rosy dawn when she climbed the stairs and pulled herself onto the open deck. The sea that spread before her as far as the eye could see was calmer this morning, unlike the rough, tossing waves the night before. A brisk wind tugged at the sails and at her pale hair, snatching a few loose strands away from her braid, and she immediately brought the hood of her cloak more snugly against her face. The world seemed still and at peace, quiet enough to delude her for a moment that there’d been no nightmare and that nothing was hanging in the balance--no throne, no kingdom, no family.

However, within a few heartbeats, a young man trailed after her and the spell was broken. “Ser Laenor,” she acknowledged politely, turning briefly to address him. “I trust you’ve slept well.” She’d thought he’d been asleep when she passed his cot, but he was either a very light sleeper or he’d been awake from the start.

Laenor Velaryon--third son to her father’s master of ships. His home was the island of Driftmark, and it was well known that the Velaryons were expert sailors. He was young, barely a year older than Aeranys, and the newest to be recruited into the Kingsguard after Ser Harlan Grandison died. Her father had chosen him to be her escort despite his relative inexperience, likely due to how fiercely Lucerys Velaryon supported the crown. Still, he was a skilled and accomplished knight, and he seemed to be the level-headed sort. He was kind and dashing as well, if Elaena Velaryon was to be believed, but Aeranys knew better than to trust the word of the young noble girl who had been utterly heartbroken when her cousin had received his white cloak.

“Yes, milady,” the knight responded. “The sea is like a mother’s embrace to me.”

“Even with the high waves we had last night?”

“I fear they will only get rougher, milady,” he told her, coming to stand a respectable distance from her to peer out at the water. “We’re nearing the end of the Narrow Sea. As we pass the Stormlands, we will have to take care to avoid storms.”

Stormlords as well, Aeranys thought. Their path was the most direct, and yet the most risky in terms of safety. Shipbreaker Bay was a perilous area that had earned its moniker many times over, and storms were a frequent occurrence in the waters they would soon reach. It was also directly crossing by the Stormlands, the lands held by House Baratheon--the very house that was in full rebellion against the Iron Throne. It was dangerous, but that had been the very logic applied. Should word of her betrothal be spread, her enemies would likely try to intercept her on the route to Braavos, and then from Braavos to Dorne. It was the most common path for a ship that wasn’t a trading galley to take, the most expected. The small council had agreed that this route would be more discreet, and timely to boot. They would slip by underneath their noses, with them none the wiser.

A lookout announced to the crew that they were entering into the waters of Shipbreaker Bay, and the deck was once again overrun with a tense energy as the sailors began to prepare for whatever might come again. It was time for her to return below, it seemed. Indeed, the waters could easily become treacherous at a moment’s notice. Aeranys spared one more look at the open water before turning on her heel, her fingers curling around the cyvasse piece in her pocket as she left with her knight in tow. Perhaps it was the severity of the situation that weighed upon her, or perhaps she had become much too accustomed to things going wrong; perhaps it was the dream that had invaded her sleep--she did not know, but the grimness in her did not recede.


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Smells… Dark shapes and so many different smells… Slithering through the tall grass of low, murky waters…

Mors knew he was dreaming.  Somewhere in his brilliant mind he knew that what he was experiencing now was naught but a figment of his imagination, and yet it felt so real each time.  Real enough, in fact, that it had been cause for many sleepless nights. Looking on, as though a passenger in the careful, predatory journey of a great monster, he watched the lights pass over his head.  He recognized them as the dim-burning lanterns of the Sunspear outposts, he was in the swamps that surrounded the Southern corner of the Shadow City. Figures bustled about, unable to spot the dark, scaled creature moving invisible through muddy waters.  His intentions, his gaze, was not on them however but instead a thin, famished looking dog lapping breathlessly at the swamp’s edge. He could smell its stench, the desperate exhaustion, such weakness…

Eyes focus… Muscles tensing… A quick approach, barely a sound, just the delicious smell of copper and fear… 

Jerking awake in his bed, Mors found himself in a cold sweat with a sore jaw from his restless sleeping and clenched teeth.  Beside him, the woman in his bed groaned and adjusted, her figure slipping beneath the fine linens, her body naked under them.  The sight of her set him at ease and he leaned back against his feather pillows once more, a hand coming to touch upon the necklace he wore each day around his neck.  He flicked the nail of his thumb against the point of the basilisk's fang fastened to a strap of braided leather, brushing his other hand against Arika’s curls, lulling her back to sleep.  Soon he would have to rise and commence his workings. In his father’s absence, he had been serving actively as Lord of Sunspear and cared even less than he did before to rush the day he would inherit the title officially.  Soon he would rise. Soon, but not yet.

Mors had bent the truth a bit, as he often found it convenient to do, when he had told Vellysa that both Natari and Arika had been sent away.  Natari had been simple enough to dispense with. She was a warrior this day, as she had been all her days. Had Mors not found a place for her among the many ranks at the disposal of Sunspear she would have found one for herself.  Their relationship had always been easy like that. Arika on the other hand was more similar to Vellysa. Unlike Natari, who was true-born daughter to the Master-at-arms of Sunspear, both women were the bastard daughters of High Lords.  While some of the Kingdoms in Westeros frowned upon children born beyond the confines of wedlock, Dorne valued each daughter and son as much as the next. They had been sent to Sunspear with the explicit purpose of finding a place within court.  Some could even argue, they had been sent to find a place in Mors’ bed in particular. Both were intelligent and passionate, but where Vellysa was likeable and charming, Arika was not. Vellysa had a warmth to her, a compassion that could be read in the changing storms within her expressive eyes.  Arika on the other hand, was filled with absolutely nothing save for pure venom. Ironically enough, this was the exact thing Mors found himself fond of in her company. However, while Vellysa had many friends in court and endless options for the potentiality of her future, no one wanted Arika in their service.  No one, that is, except the one woman who seemed so irritatingly intent on keeping the little she-devil around; Ellaria Sand, his uncle Oberyn’s new paramour. For whatever reason, she had taken a liking to Arika, earning her a staying position within the court of Sunspear, and worthy evermore of Mors’ attentions. 

Sighing to himself, Mors rose from the bed and readied himself in a lazy urgency.  None liked to remain in Arika’s company for too long, not even Ellaria, not even Arika herself.  Dressed and readied for the day ahead, he made his exit from the private chambers he had called home for the last several years.  He would be meeting with his father’s council soon -- or rather, his council, at least for now -- but first there would be time for what would surely be his most favored part of the long day ahead.  When his feet found their way to the training sands of the Sunspear grounds, they were already waiting for him. Obara stood with her feet planted, a spear in one hand and a shield in the other, a picture of a warrior with broad shoulders and an even broader face at eleven.  Her sister beside her, though bearing similar features, stood as her antithesis, gorgeous and elegant she brandished two long daggers, one in each hand. They were dirty faced with sweat glistening on their foreheads. Behind them, tiny Tyene sat next to the racks holding training arms.  Around her neck, a snake was coiled. To some, this might have been an unusual sight, but not for Mors. Mors, who had found and hand raised that very snake. Walking over to where Tyene was seated, he waited until she spotted him, jumping to her feet and scrambling to the arms rack in order to select Mors his weapon of choice.  Though he was excellent with a sword, the scimitar on his hip swinging like an extension of his own hand and arm, his first teacher had not been Arthur of House Dayne, his only real peer in the art of combat. Tyene lifted the axe from where it lay, handing the long staff to her cousin. Taking it from her, planting a kiss atop her head as he did, he turned back to his other cousins as they readied themselves against their new opponent.  Mors wasted no time springing forward, swinging his axe and teaching them all the same lessons which had made him such a deadly young man. Those first lessons had been the most important, those taught to him by his first teacher; Aero Hotah. The Norvosi native had escorted his mother to Dorne but stayed after she had returned, remaining loyal to Mors’ father and family. His continued presence in Sunspear felt like an ode to his mother.  So too, did the axe he favored in duel and the Norvosi steel with which it was carved. With its every blow, the staff sung a ballad to her native land echoed in the vibrations that carried down his hands. His own axe, the one he had returned from Norvos with, would sing like a dream for him in the battles to come. For now, this blunted training axe would teach its lessons and kiss Mors’ sweet, small cousins.

It had not been until the meeting with the council in the Tower of the Sun that the sparkling mood from his morning spent sparring with his cousins has shattered.  At first when he had seen his Great-Uncle Lewyn, he had smiled. Upon noticing the grave expression he wore on his aging face however, Mors too had grown serious asking, “where is she?”  Ser Lewyn Martell of the Kingsguard looked surprised at first, but after looking to the council of Sunspear and seeing their unremarkable expressions he composed himself. This was nothing new for them.  Somehow, the son just the same as the father, Mors always knew.

“Princess Aeranys Targaryen was taken.” He answered.

“By whom?” Mors returned calmly.  When again, Ser Lewyn looked surprised, Mors elected to repeat himself, something he did not often do.  “Who has taken my bride, Uncle?” He asked.

“It was the StormLords, my Prince.” He replied dutifully. 

He didn’t answer at first.  Instead, Mors folded his hands behind his back and made the slow journey to the council table.  Those in the throne room followed after him with uncertain steps, all of them likely attempting to decipher the calm demeanor of their acting liege.  For them, the son must have seemed just as mysterious as the father.

“Mors…” His Uncle Oberyn started.

“Summon my father’s bannermen.” Mors said suddenly. 

“To council?” Master Caleotte asked from among the others.

“Commanders attend war-council, gentlemen.” Mors’ reminded them.  A heartbeat of silence passed amongst the men standing around the council table as Mors Martell seated himself gracefully in the seat usually occupied by his father.  “Are you going to make me repeat myself?” He asked, and of course, they weren’t.

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Offline asterin

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As the days passed the young knight found his apprehension fading away into cautious optimism. The whole crew had been concerned that they would run into a storm, but almost as if the Seven were smiling down upon them, the sailing had been remarkably smooth for a route that passed the Stormlands. Their journey was nearly over; soon they would be free of the dreaded Shipbreaker Bay. Though the general mood of the entire ship and crew improved daily, nay, hourly, even, the very opposite seemed to be happening to the princess for some inexplicable reason. To most she would have appeared as serene and gracious as she ever was, but Laenor had always been quick to spot the subtle changes that indicated that she was troubled.

Even now, as she sat across him at a small table with a cyvasse piece in her fingers, it was as if she was a thousand leagues away. Then again, there were many plausible reasons for his lady liege to feel uneasy--perhaps having to stay cooped up down in the safe for days at a time had started to get to her, or perhaps her thoughts lingered on the friends and family she had left behind. Or perhaps she was anxious about who and what was awaiting her at Sunspear.

After a moment, she placed her elephant piece down silently, still looking preoccupied. “...You’ve bested me yet again, milady,” the fair-haired knight remarked good-naturedly, already seeing his defeat laid out in front of him on the board. She’d cornered him in a way that no matter what he did, his King would be taken in the next move. “I fear I am not a very good student.”

Only then did she snap to attention, glancing down at the board and then back to him. “Not at all--you’ve improved at quite a pace, Ser Laenor,” she assured him deftly, a smile at the ready. “Certainly quicker than how long it took me and my brothers when we first began.”

“I am humbled, princess,” he murmured, watching as she began to reset the board with a practiced hand. After seeing her playing imaginary matches a few days prior, he’d asked her to teach him to play. It’d been more out of a desire to distract her from whatever was making her uneasy, and while she’d been quite a willing tutor, it did not seem to chase away whatever was plaguing her. It wasn’t his place to pry into her thoughts; a member of the Kingsguard was to counsel their liege, but only when they were asked to do so. Still, wasn’t he sworn to keep her safe? “Milady, if there is anything I could do to put your mind at ease, I would do all that is in my power to do so,” he found himself saying.

For a long while, she didn’t speak. But just as he considered apologizing, she spoke up--with a question, but not one he could have ever expected. “Ser Laenor, what do you think of my father?” she asked, her pale eyes giving nothing away.

Caught off guard, Laenor took a breath even though he didn’t know what he was to say in response. Luckily, it seemed she hadn’t meant for him to answer. “My father, he is...a careful man,” she continued. The way she said it made it clear that she wasn’t using the word ‘careful’ in its original meaning.

He watched silently as she turned her gaze back to the cyvasse board as if she was contemplating a game still, her voice calm and composed. “When he looks out into the world, he sees danger around every corner. He feels it coming for him.” It was no secret to those in court that King Aerys II had grown suspicious, even paranoid over the years of his reign. In fact, until very recently, he had altogether refused to leave the Keep for fear of assassination. Having been tasked with the safety of the King and his family, the young knight knew this better than most. “Some things are in the blood, I fear,” the princess added quietly. “Sometimes I fear the unlikely or the shapeless. That does not mean I will waste the time of others by speaking them aloud.” 

“Forgive me if it is forward, princess, but nothing milady could ever say would be a waste of my time," he found himself speaking. 

She smiled prettily, but her eyes were weary. Her lips parted--to take in a breath of air, to chide, to thank--he would never know, because in that very moment, a cry went up overhead.

“Captain! A ship is headed our way!”

The smile on her face froze, and her skin went as pale as her hair. A terrible realization seemed to well up in her eyes--then the moment was over and she was up and out of her seat, rushing to the small trunk to yank out her cloak. “We must get off this ship, now,” he heard her say, but for a heartbeat he was too stunned to do anything but stand and stare as she continued to snatch up select items from among her possessions.

“Milady, it would be safer to stay hidden down here. We cannot be sure that they know--”

“They know,” the princess retorted, her tone firm.

Brows furrowing, he turned to her with an incredulous look. “How…?” he uttered, not even sure whether he was questioning how the enemy would’ve obtained this information, or how she could be so sure. And yet, underneath the urgency in her eyes, there was an unwavering certainty--as if the featureless monster that had stalked her through the gloom had finally shown itself, and she was now doing nothing more than stating the obvious.

Unfortunately for him, the princess didn’t seem interested in answering his question. “There is a small boat attached to the ship, is there not?” she demanded, already turning towards the heavy door. “We must leave, now.”

Still unconvinced, he stepped in front of the door to bar her from leaving. Perhaps she was his liege, but he was also sworn to protect her. He wasn’t about to let her leave the safest place on this galley. “We’d never outpace a ship, princess, not on that miserable thing. The captain has been sworn to secrecy, and this place was designed for security--”

“We don’t need to outpace them!” she snapped back, her voice growing sharper than he’d ever heard before. Taken aback, he blinked down at her for a moment. As if immediately picking up on his bewilderment, her demeanor calmed and softened, though her intentions had not changed. “We only need to fool them,” the princess explained briefly, looking up at him with pleading lilac eyes. “Please, we don’t have time to argue, Ser Laenor.” Reluctantly, the knight moved away from the door, uttering a silent prayer to the Seven that he wasn’t making the worst mistake of his life--but it was far too late for that.

With a sound akin to the roaring thunder, the storm descended upon them all.


+++++++


She was dreaming. She knew she was dreaming. Small and alone, she stood in the redstone hallways that glowed an eerie blood red, the grand doors illuminated in the distance. She could hear the voices echoing down towards her, the familiar voices--shouting. Screaming. Tearful pleading. Please, don’t! Her heart burned and twisted, her blood boiled, hot, hot, hotter. The hallway itself seemed to react to her quickening heart, pulsing strangely around her as if it was coming alive, urging her on, and the stones scorched her bare heels as she rushed forward, knife in hand--

She woke to the sound of the howling wind, heart pounding and twisting still. For a disorienting moment, she couldn’t tell where she was--the Red Keep? The Lady Luck? But as the dim room came into view, she felt her heart sinking within her again. It was small but well-furnished chamber--certainly more so than the makeshift room she’d been stowing away in. It had all the necessities that a lady would need to lead a relatively comfortable life, and there was certainly no rocking of the ship.

A narrow window offered a weak source of light, but the weather made it difficult to discern just how early or late into the morning it was. It was storming, just as it had for the past three days; the weather had taken a turn for the worst since that night. As she rose from the bed, however, she realized that the wind was not the only thing she was hearing. Was that? Had her dreams chased her all the way to the waking world?

The princess crept slowly to the door, silencing her breathing as she placed her ear against the thick wooden door. There was muffled shouting going on somewhere, the words echoing in a way that made it impossible for her to understand. Then a sharp sound rang out, cruel and familiar, and Aeranys instinctively flinched away from the door, her heart lurching in her chest. There’d been a time when she would’ve gone running towards that sound, but she wouldn’t have been able to even if she’d been so inclined. Swallowing, her gaze flicked to the door that she knew would not budge. After all, the young woman was unmistakably a prisoner.

The Lady Luck had been captured, and so had she and her knight. After emptying their safe of all the precious treasures, the galley and her crew had been released, to flee or to take the news to the Iron Throne--a taunt to the small council that had been so sure that their plan would succeed.

As far as she could tell, she and Ser Laenor had been taken to Greenstone, but Lord Estermont seemed absent, likely with the rest of the lords in the war camp. Instead, it was his steward who seemed to be giving the orders, a thin, unpleasant man with a piercing gaze called Byrran Storm. Her repeated requests to be taken to Lord Baratheon had been denied, no, laughed at, and she had not been allowed any parchment or quill. Steffon Baratheon had been her father’s friend since they were lads--they shared blood, even. She’d called him uncle, and she still remembered having danced with Robert as a child one summer tourney. 

How fast things could change. How fast it could all crumble, friends and allies turned to bitter enemies…

It wasn’t long before worry overtook her mind and she began to pace. Did her parents know? Did the Martells know? What could be done, now that they held her as hostage and leverage? Would they storm the Red Keep completely unhindered, her life for theirs? And Ser Laenor, her knight--what of him? She had not seen him once since they’d arrived at this manse. He was a Velaryon, and his father was the head of House Velaryon, their master of ships. Would they leverage his life against his father and his fleet of ships? Perhaps they would not kill him so easily, but...for how long, before they grew impatient?

The sound of approaching footsteps interrupted her thoughts and she turned towards her door, straightening and squaring her shoulders. Poise was important, something that her mother had managed to instill in her despite her unruliness as a girl, and it was in her mother’s image that she drew herself up and waited. There was a pause, likely a silent exchange between the guard posted at her door and whoever had come for her--and then, the sound of the key in the lock.

The door finally creaked open to reveal her visitor, who seemed more startled than anything else to find the princess awake and waiting. On the other hand, Aeranys felt herself relax ever-so-slightly. It was one of the servant girls who brought her her meals--and indeed, the girl was holding a tray of what appeared to be some sort of stew and a crust of bread. “P-Pardon me, m’lady,” she stammered, scurrying nervously into the room to set the food down on a wooden stool in the corner, all the while keeping her head ducked low.

The girl gestured awkwardly to the tray, her eyes still glued to the floor, then turned to leave as hurriedly as she had entered. Their interactions were always brief and mostly silent, but today it was even more so. Despite that--or because of that, this time Aeranys called out to her, causing her to flinch and come to a jerky stop a few strides short of the door. “Please wait.” The girl turned hesitantly, still unable to meet her steady gaze despite how gently the princess spoke. “Might I ask your name?”

There was a pause before the girl finally gave in. “Serra, m’lady,” she mumbled, her words so soft they were barely a whisper.

“Thank you for the meal, Serra,” Aeranys intoned, a trace of an encouraging smile on her face. Serra’s eyes finally darted up to her face for a moment, but soon returned to her feet.

“It’s nothing to be thanked for, m’lady,” she muttered, looking even more nervous about being shown gratitude.

“Of course it is,” the princess returned. “I would go hungry otherwise. But I won’t keep you any longer, Serra. Thank you again.” The thin girl didn’t need to be given the chance to leave twice--dipping into a hasty, awkward bow of sorts, she disappeared back out into the hallway, the door closing firmly after her.

The pale-eyed young woman stood there for a moment longer, staring at the door as the lock turn. There was little reason to wonder why the girl had been even more anxious and stand-offish than before; unfortunately for Serra, Aeranys’ sharp eyes had immediately picked up on what she’d been trying to hide by letting her hair down--a far cry from the hairstyle she’d seen twice before, a neatly coiled braid under a kerchief. Through the curtain of stringy black hair, Aeranys had caught sight of the ugly red welt, already swelling up. After all, she was no stranger to seeing injuries badly covered up with hair...

Turning away from the door, her gaze went to the food sitting out for her, then to the narrow window. Despite the hunger in the pit of her stomach, her thoughts were far away, still lingering like a ghost in the hallways of the Red Keep. Her mother, her brother, even the father she despised more than loved--she had to protect them. In order to do that, she had to get to Dorne, just as she’d been told.

But how? But how? The howling storm outside mocked.

Somehow. 


Online Reigning King

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“Get some rest, gentlemen.” Mors told his bannermen as he rose from the council table in the Tower of the Sun.  “We leave in the morning with the tide.” On that note he bid his audience farewell and made his departure from the Throne room, the royal seat of Dorne.  Soon, nearly all those present at council would be travelling by the back of either camel or ship, bound for either their glory or doom. Close on his heels, Ser Lewyn of the Kingsguard, Prince Oberyn Martell and Maester Caleotte trailed after him. 

“Bold decisions, nephew.” Oberyn commented. 

“Necessary decisions, uncle.” Mors corrected sharply. 

“I still don’t understand why I should be sent back to the Crownlands after having travelled all this way…” Ser Lewyn started, but he was interrupted sternly by his great-nephew, silencing any further line of questioning he might have had planned. 

“Because I said so.” There was a snarl on his breath as he spoke the words and Ser Lewyn didn’t press the subject further. 

“Prince Mors!” A voice called down the corridor.  “Prince Mors, a moment of your time?” Lord Dayne called as he followed after the young man he had watched grow from a boy. 

“Oberyn, the docks.  Lewyn, I’ll need you to take a message to the Water Gardens before you depart with the marching forces.  Maester Caleotte, please see me in my workshop later on tonight.” Exchanging quiet nods to accompany his quiet words, Mors turned to the approaching Lord as his uncles and the Maester, who had been a tudor to all three Martell men, dispersed themselves in various directions.  Now in relative privacy, Mors offered a pleasant, tight-lipped smile to his Lordship of House Dayne. “Lord Vorian.” He greeted politely. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your conversation?” With all the ease of their practiced years together, they fell into step beside one another as they traveled the halls of Sunspear.

“Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive an old man his silly sentiments…” Mors pleasant smile fell, he knew this particular Lord very well and was able to map the trajectory of their current chat.  “But my family has served House Martell loyally for generations, my own children in service to House Targaryen, it seems only right that House Dayne has a role to play in the rescue of the Princess.”

“And so they shall…” Mors answered carefully. 

“But to give the command to Gerold?” Lord Vorian returned, a touch of incredulousness furrowing his brow.  “I feel I must remind you, my boy, that my brother’s honour is questionable at best.” Aside from his own father, Lord Vorian Dayne was the only man in all of Westeros that Mors would have ever allowed to call him “boy” and live to brag about it.

“And there will be neither honour nor glory to be found on Greenstone.” Mors explained to the man who had fostered him for much of his young life.  Lord Vorian had always been good to the heir of Dorne, treating him with as much care as he did any of his other children. Though his Lordship’s soft touch had been a blessing in Mors youth, he found more in common with Lord Vorian’s enigmatic younger brother, Gerold Dayne.   The Dornish Princeling received almost as many ravens from Lord Gerold in High Hermitage as he did from his closest friend Ser Arthur in King’s Landing. Both had been his confidants, his friends and his best teachers, even if the two men loathed one another by all accounts.

“The forces of High Hermitage are more than enough to take Greenstone, but with the addition of Lord Jordayne’s numbers, the Stormlanders won’t stand a chance.” There was a flippant quality to his tone.  It was true that Mors was young and unseasoned in battle, but if one more pot-bellied Lord demanded that he explain himself, well, he may just have to change his tone. “You are of more use to Dorne here at Sunspear.  With my father gone, my sister will be taking over as ruling Princess. I want someone that I trust by her side to counsel her when she needs it.”

“And who will counsel you?” Lord Vorian asked, his brow relaxed and he looked at Mors with the same purple eyes that his daughters had inherited from him.  The look he gave the young man before him was a gentle one, filled with the sort of selfless parental concern that he had never seen mirrored in his actual father. 

“My wife.” He answered at once.  “But first I have to marry her.” Once again that pleasant posed smile appeared on his handsome face.

“I may not trust my brother, but I do trust you Mors.” Reaching out, Lord Vorian placed a hand upon his liege’s shoulder, giving the muscles underneath the layers of his clothes a gentle squeeze.  “So long as I can be by your side when the real fighting starts.”

“You have my word.” Mors returned with a nod. 

Satisfied at last, Lord Vorian pulled his hand from Mors’ shoulder and offered him a shallow bow before heading off down the corridors of Sunspear.  The expression that Mors had been wearing in the Lord of Starfall’s presence fell when he walked away. Turning down another stone passageway, Mors descended a set of steps and took a few more turns through the large castle before finding his way to his workshop.  Prince Doran’s study was in a high room in the Tower of the Spear, with grand windows that allowed the aging man to survey his beautiful realm as he fulfilled his duties to keep it so. By contrast, Mors liked to do his work in the basements of the castle with naught but stone walls and tired faces to serve as an inspiring view.  As always, Tyene was waiting for him outside the door when he approached. She leaned against the wall, her hands behind her back, looking down at her small slippered feet.

“There you are!” She exclaimed when she noticed her cousin approaching.  “You took so long!” She whined, her nose wrinkling as she pouted, scrunching the pattern of freckles that danced across her fair skin. 

“I know, I’m sorry.” He answered patiently, a hand falling against her sandy blonde head.  “Old men talk too much.” Tyene nodded along as he spoke, as though her counsin was imparting ancient wisdoms and not merely telling a joke.  As soon as he unlocked the door to his workshop, she darted ahead of him into the darkness of the vast room.

As Mors walked about the room, striking the candles and illuminating the cold, dank space, he found Tyene where he expected to.  She stood at the rear wall of the workshop, her face pressed in against the wicker cages that lined the stone from floor to ceiling.  Within the cages, scales slithered and forked tongues hissed. Tyene babbled to the snakes as she checked on them all one at a time. She had secret names for them and spoke to them as though they were her friends.  With the ghost of what might have been the only genuine smile Mors possessed within his repertoire of emotion, he moved about his workshop. The room contained within it all the furnishings typical of a Lord’s study, but also other apparatus that looked like it belonged in a dungeon rather than a library. 

“Can I feed them?” Tyene asked.

“Yes, but be careful.” Mors replied as he set out parchment and quill upon the surface of his humble and rarely used writing desk.  Before he had even gotten the words out, she skipped her way to a different cage made from brass plunged her hand inside. She scooped three or four mice from where they had been clustered together and held them against her small chest, cooing at them as they curled into her like babes to a mother’s warmth.  The cooing continued, with her sweet, high voice, as she plucked them by the tail, smiling as she dropped them screaming into the cages of the snakes who snatched them up hungrily. Her older sisters had taken to combat and even at their tender age they were plenty deadly, always brandishing either steel or spear.  Tyene was deadly in different ways. She watched the snakes, whispering to them as they swallowed their prey whole, humming and babbling as though she were merely an average little girl picking flowers in a garden. When compared to her sisters, Tyene seemed harmless. Her cousin Mors however, knew her better.

Coming up beside his small cousin, Mors opened one of the wicker cages and reached his hand inside.  Fingertips brushed against scales as he reached passed creature housed within the rudimentary enclosure.  Finding the hidden latch behind the mass of hissing muscle Mors rooted around within the cache and pulled forth a collection of scrolls.  The underground workshop had once been used by a Maester, long before Maester Caleotte’s time at the castle or even the Citadel. The wall at the rear of the dark stone room had once housed a grand bookcase where those who utilized the space in years past would have stored scrolls, tomes and parchment.  It was against these shelves that Mors kept his slithering friends, each one guarding a hidden cache. Books, maps and learning material more fitting for a Lordling could be found in the grand library, or Maester Caleotte’s study. Mors’ workshop held more sinister secrets, and thus required more sinister assurances of their safekeeping. 

“Mors, how come they never bite you?” Tyene asked, following her cousin from the wall of wicker cages and hidden parchment to the desk upon which he spread out the scrolls he had collected.

“You always ask me this…” Mors started as he sat at his desk and dipped his quill into the adjacent inkwell. 

“And you always say that you don’t know.” Tyene returned stubbornly. 

“Because I don’t.”

“Is it because you’re not afraid?” She pressed.

“Maybe.”

“Is it because you’re cursed?” When Mors head snapped up and his yellow eyes met her deep blue ones she folded her hands behind her back and tilted her head to the side innocently.

“Who told you that?” He asked in return.

“Arika.” Tyene answered. 

“You shouldn’t listen to Arika.” Mors said with pursed lips, turning back to the parchment upon which he began to write.  “In fact, you should stay away from Arika all together.” Tyene did not answer her cousin but instead turned away from his desk and wandered back towards her serpentine friends.  Mors worked away in silence for a time before hearing a small, sharp intake of breath. Looking up, he saw the door of one of the wicker cages fall shut and Tyene pull her hand back to cradle it against her chest. 

“Did she bite you?” Mors asked in a patient voice. 

“No…” Tyene began, her voice unable to hold the lie on her tongue. 

“Tyene…” Mors said in a low, warning voice.  Obediently, his golden haired cousin walked back over to his desk and extended her hand to him, the tip of her finger bleeding.  Sighing, Mors pulled a knife and kerchief from his pockets. Taking his cousin’s finger in hand, he made a small incision, angling her hand over the kerchief so that the poison would bleed out.  She didn’t flinch, but instead watched her cousin with her wide, ever-curious blue eyes.

“Didn’t I tell you to be careful?” He asked her, his tone light. 

“How come they never bite you?” She asked again.

“I don’t know.” Mors told her, because it was the truth. 

“If you’re cursed, does that mean I’m cursed too?” Being as young as she was, there was always another question on the tip of her tongue.  Fortunately, Mors didn’t mind humouring her.

“No.” He returned in the matter-of-fact voice he used when explaining things to his cousins.  “You are not, nor have you ever been, cursed.”

“What about Princess Aeranys?” She inquired further.  “If she marries you, will she be cursed?”

“Let’s hope not.”

The next morning, Mors was filled with sweet words for Tyene and her sisters, bidding farewell to his cousins and siblings.  Less than a month ago, Mors had returned by ship to the realm he would inherit from his father, now he departed once more by the same ships and the same docks.  They prepared to cast off, the collective forces of Tor and High Hermitage already loaded into the galleys of the Dornish fleet. Mors stood with his uncle Oberyn at his side, Lord Gerold Dayne at his other.  The man had the Valyrian look of the descendants of Starfall, sharp violet eyes and long silver hair, interrupted by a streak of black. He was not an individual well known for inspiring love, but Mors wasn’t looking to be loved by the Stormlanders.  He was more interested in crushing them.

“Maester Caleotte,” Mors began as he stepped up to the aging man.  “Get this to my father.” He commanded, extending a scroll with his personal seal upon it.  “Choose your best man, someone you trust, and ensure that this message is placed into only my father’s hand.”

“B-but, Prince Mors… I have no idea where you father is… His instructions were very clear before his departure that none--” He meant to go on, but Mors was interrupting him.

“We’re past these silly games, old friend.” The voice with which Mors spoke was steady and clear, he left no room in his stern tone or his intense gaze for contestation.  “I did not ask you to reveal his location or his business. I don’t know where he is but don’t insult my intelligence by trying to convince me that you also do not.” Encroaching further on the Maester’s personal space, he took his hand and closed it around the scroll.  “Get this to him. I’m counting on you, Caleotte.” Nodding somberly, the Maester took the scroll and headed at once down the docks.

“Sunspear is yours, sister.” Mors began as he turned to Arianne.  “Keep it well.”

“I will.” Arianne answered dutifully.  For a moment, it seemed as though she might maintain her facade of stoicism.  When she glimpsed that tiny ghost of a smile that sometimes made an appearance on her brother’s handsome face, she broke the act.  Leaping into her brother she threw her arms around his neck and squeezed tight like she used to when they were only children. “Don’t leave me alone with our father.” She meant the words in jest, but there was a touch of truth to their ring.  Doran Martell, for all the favour he had shown his sons, had never allowed his tenderness to reach his daughter. “Don’t leave me alone in this world.”

“Never.” Mors returned, his smile getting a bit fuller.  “I’ll be back before you know it.” He pulled away from Arianne’s embrace and read the concerned painted on her pretty face.  Mors and his sister had always been close, Prince Doran often comparing his children’s bond with that of his siblings, Oberyn and Elia.  Furrowing his brow, he pushed her dark, curly locks out of her face and studied her expression. “You’re worried about something.” He observed. 

“The men say there’s a storm on the horizon.” She told him, chewing the bottom of her full lip anxiously. 

“I’ve never been afraid of storms.”

“You’ve never been afraid of anything, Mors.” Arianne pointed out.  “That’s what worries me.”

King Kade - Reigning from the North


Character limits kill my vibe...


Offline asterin

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Another day. Another day of being nothing but a hostage, a bird locked away in a cage. It was a feeling that wasn’t altogether unfamiliar to the princess, if she would allow herself to be perfectly truthful. Over the course of her life starting from a young lass to the lady she was now, she’d been held back and trapped by various things--her station, her gender, her duties, the ever-lingering memories. By now she had become exceptionally skilled at surrendering herself to it, accepting what was doled out to her with a dignified face.

This time, however, Aeranys could not. This time, it wasn’t some selfish little desire that she was having to let go--this time, everything was at stake. Just because she was being held here, it did not mean that time stopped marching by. Every minute, every hour, every day that passed, the scales were tipping.

There was no word about any Targaryen fleets or Martell forces, though she knew that even if there had been, she would be the last one to be informed. There was very little information she actually had--but she knew Ser Laenor was alive and being fed, as she had learned from a somewhat reluctant Serra.

As if conjured by her thoughts, she heard the sound of familiar footsteps leading up to the door. The other servant, a blonde, blue-eyed woman who had only frowned when Aeranys had asked for her name, had only come once in the past several days to change her bedding.

“Thank you for bringing me my meal, Serra.”

For three days she’d repeated the words, each time with a smile, and she’d been prepared to repeat that once more. But when the girl came in, another red welt blossoming across her face in a place too obvious to be covered with her dark locks--when she saw those brown eyes filled to the brim with a certain shame she knew all too well, neither smile nor niceties could be summoned forth. Serra hurriedly placed the tray down, but the princess wasn’t about to let her pretend like nothing was wrong.

“Who did that to you?” Her voice was soft, but her pale eyes were ablaze. Serra said nothing, looked away, and Aeranys felt her fingers curl up into themselves. That was how it always went. It was how it always went…

“Sit,” she told her, gesturing to the bed. For a moment Serra hesitated, but unable to argue with the look in the princess’ eyes, she seated herself timidly on the edge of the mattress. On the other hand, Aeranys busied herself with fetching the cloth napkin off the tray and dipping it into the jug of water that had been brought to her, promptly wringing the moisture out with the sort of ease that would’ve been better suited to a laundress than the daughter of a king. Turning back to the nervous looking girl, she carefully brushed back her hair to dab the cool cloth against the reddened skin. “It was the steward, wasn’t it? Ser Brryan Storm.” The serving girl wordlessly avoided her knowing gaze, but the way her lips pursed was enough. “The rings,” she answered her silent question, her words quiet and calm. “They leave welts and cuts.” She flipped the folded cloth, pressing the fresh side to her battered skin. “That, and he has quite a distinctive voice.”

“I was fooling off, doing things I have no place doing…” the dark haired girl finally mumbled.

“I can’t imagine it was anything that warranted this,” Aeranys replied shortly, unimpressed by the words that were clearly more the steward’s than Serra’s. “Don’t you think so?”

She paused. “I don’t know,” she started. “M’lady. Betha seems to think it’s silly too, for someone like me to be tryin’ to learn to read like I’ll become a Maester…” Her cheeks reddened a bit as she trailed off, clearly having taken the ridicule to heart.

“That’s not silly at all,” Aeranys spoke at once, her words so firm and matter-of-fact that they caused the serving girl to look up in surprise. “In fact, I’d say that they are the ones doing things they have no place doing by putting that thought in your head. Trying to stop someone from learning is a foolish thing.” Her mother had stopped her from doing a great many things that were thought to be unladylike, but the one thing she’d never been barred from was learning just as her brothers did--well, as long as it was academic.

Serra looked down again, not daring to agree with her, but a small, shy smile flitted by her lips. Aeranys offered her a gentle smile in turn before sitting down on the bed, shoulder to shoulder with the other girl. She was skinny--or perhaps scrawny was the right word, and up close, it was clear that she was younger than her weary face let on. She was likely no older than young Elaena, barely past her majority, Aeranys thought to herself. “Do you know your letters?” the princess continued suddenly, and Serra’s gaze skittered upwards towards her again.

“Some, m’lady.”

“Can you write your name?”

“...No, m’lady.”

“Would you like to?” Aeranys finally asked. The serving girl’s mouth parted, her eyes filled with panic. “It wouldn’t take long,” the princess spoke before she could protest. “A letter a meal. It’d be done in one day.” Her gaze softened, her smile turning slightly wry. “And I won’t ask you for anything. Well, other than to continue bringing me and Ser Laenor our meals,” she reassured the girl.

Strangely enough, what she said seemed to make her even more ill-at-ease. Her dark brows furrowed as she struggled to meet the princess’ eyes, but when she did, the words that came out of her mouth caused her heart to plunge into her stomach.

“About the knight, m'lady…”


+++++++


It was dark...damp… and cold. Why was it so cold? The smell of metal in the air, in his nostrils, his mouth...which was it? All of it? Alone and swimming in and out of consciousness, the youngest knight of the Kingsguard was caught between wanting to cry for help and not knowing whom to call. When he’d had the fever in his eighth year, he’d called for his lady mother, and her soft, gentle hand had cooled his feverish forehead--and yet, even as his thoughts wandered and wavered, Laenor was distinctly aware that this was not Driftmark. His brothers, or even his sworn brothers wearing the white cloak--no one could answer if he called, for this was not King’s Landing.

When was the last time he’d felt so afraid? He tried to think, struggled to put the pieces together. Even when the Lady Luck had been seized, even when he’d been ready to step out of the vault to face whatever death awaited him, he hadn’t felt afraid. He hadn’t been afraid to lay his life down for the princess, but now, locked in the damp and dark, wracked with pain and fever, the bite of fear was fresh and sharp. So was regret--he’d failed. He couldn’t tell anymore where he’d started making all the wrong choices, but he knew he’d failed them all--his father’s expectations, the king’s trust, his princess, his honor and duty as a member of the Kingsguard…

He should’ve died a warrior’s death, cutting down as many men as he could before meeting his end. Instead, he’d succumbed to the feeling of his lady liege’s hand on his sleeve, her quiet words even as they battered the door down: you’ll be no use or protection to me dead. She’d saved his life, perhaps, for the swarm of men that had taken them would’ve worn down a lone knight, but for what? What use was he to her, half out of his mind and rotting away in this place? What use was he to her now, now that--

A distant sound caused him to stir, blinking wretchedly in the gloom. A light, blinding and bright, was approaching, but try as he might he could barely lift his head. Halting footsteps, growing closer and closer. His sea-green eyes roved uselessly, trying to discern his sudden visitor, but he could not make out their face against the light. “Ser Laenor?” came a whispered voice.

He opened his mouth, but his parched throat only let out a mangled sound. Then something was against his lips, a waterskin, he realized, a moment after he’d already started drinking. “Princess?” his voice was still hoarse as his head lolled against his shoulders. Why would she be here? whatever was left of his sense murmured, but he was past common sense. “Princess, I’ve failed you…” he continued, even as his words threatened to slur together. “How can I protect you now, princess? My hand...my hand--” a horrid, strangled sound heaved through him as he tried to raise the limp arm curled to his body. “H-how…”

The voice only shushed him softly, taking a hold of his ruined limb with quick and nimble fingers. There was the sound of another flask being opened, and then a searing pain overtook him--then soon after, darkness.


+++++++


Night had fallen hours ago. The last candles and torches had burnt out, and an eerie silence had fallen over the island. The storm that had been raging had finally come to an uneasy peace, and for the first time she could see the moon illuminating the night sky. It was under the moonlight that she lay awake, near trembling with alertness.

It was hardly surprising that all thoughts of sleep had abandoned her once Serra had told her what had become of poor Ser Laenor, but it was not the horror that was keeping her awake--not entirely. Though it’d been dreadful news to receive, she’d kept her calm. The first thing she’d asked after his current wellbeing was whether Serra knew which hand had been taken, the answer to which had been the right hand; whether they had intentionally cut off his non-dominant hand or had simply not been aware that he was left-handed, she could not tell. The important thing was that despite having amputated a hand, Serra had been instructed to keep him fed and his wounds tended to. They weren’t planning on killing him yet, which likely meant that they had taken the hand as a threat to be sent to King’s Landing, to show that they were willing to do worse to him and perhaps even the princess herself. The chances of her father and the small council launching the ships anyhow were beginning to look even more dismal, and as for the Martells, well…she could not say.

A betrothal was not a marriage, not yet. Besides, any shrewd man would be thinking of the potential damage that he himself might take on if he should ally with the losing side--and she did not think Doran Martell was a fool. No. 

The princess sat up, her pale eyes glinting silver in the moonbeams as she turned to the narrow window. Even if the small council was sending every last able-bodied man in the Crownlands towards this isle right this moment, even if the Martells were waging war from the south, she could not have the luxury of assuming that was true. No, she had no choice but to rely on what she had to work with, no matter how unfavorable her situation. Most of her things had been confiscated along with the rest of the Lady Luck’s goods, leaving her with the few items she had on her person that had escaped notice. Unfortunately, none of those things were an army, ship, or whatever magical item that would whisk her away from this prison. She was no master spy or swordsman, and the closest person she had to that was badly injured and locked up somewhere in the manse.

Reaching down, she wriggled her fingers into a small gap she had cut into the mattress. A few moments later, she laid out the few items onto the bed: the lone black king piece, her mother’s bracelet, and a slim ivory case with engravings decorating it. It was the case she chose, opening it to reveal a tool with a matching carved ivory handle and a small blade at the end--a quill knife, well used over the years. Rhaegar had commissioned three and gifted one to each of them on their namedays, handles and boxes carved out of different materials but with a dragon engraved into each of them--three dragons for three siblings, just like the three-headed dragon of their sigil.

Lifting the quill knife out of the case, she ran the pad of her thumb over the edge of the blade. It was hardly Valyrian steel, but it didn’t have to be. It was plenty sharp enough for what she had in mind. Kneeling over the mattress, she bared her arm over the clean linens and sucked in a slow breath. This could be foolishness, madness, recklessness--this could all be for naught. But she had to try, didn’t she?

With one another trembling breath, she drew the blade over her forearm, penning a thin red line on her fair skin. Not deep enough, she mentally chastised herself, biting her lip. This is not the time to be soft. Her thoughts went to her mother, the scratches, the bruises, then to Ser Laenor, with a whole hand lopped off and gone. She thought of the wildfire, twisting sickly green and consuming flesh and bone alive. This was nothing in comparison, absolutely nothing; her hands steadied, her breathing too. The second cut was smoother, deeper, and Aeranys watched, half mesmerized by the way the cut welled up, blood beading up fast before streaking downwards. Not enough. Again, she commanded herself. The third time was even easier, and soon red flowers were blooming large against the white linens, spelling out the beginning of her strange plan.


Online Reigning King

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“You remind me of your father.”

Mors had his back turned to Oberyn as his uncle spoke to him.  Yellow eyes paid no mind to the man who joined him in his cabins aboard their vessel, but instead focused on the wicker baskets nestled within barrels and netting to soften the sway of the storm.  In one hand he held the weighted lid that he had lifted from the basket whilst the other reached inside. With a practiced care that contradicted his young years, Mors pulled forth a large mass of scaled muscle.  As though the predatory creature were naught but a trinket, he draped the serpent around his neck. She slithered and hissed, coiling herself about his upper body but never tightening her grip, though if she did she could snap his bones with ease. 

“How curious…” Mors mused as he replaced the lid of the wicker basket, having liberated its previous inhabitant.  “My father often tells me that I remind him of you.”

“You are both a fighter and a lover, quick like a snake but pensive like the desert sands… These are qualities all Dornishmen share.” He pointed out, a throaty chuckle on his voice.  The words were spoken in a dramatic fashion, as they often were with Oberyn, a certain whimsical, story-like quality about them.

“My father isn’t like that.” Mors returned.

“No, he isn’t.” Oberyn agreed.

“Then how is it that I remind you of him?” He asked.  Oberyn had opened his mouth to reply to his nephew, but was interrupted by a shout from the main deck. 

“Prepared to board, my Prince!”

“Perhaps, that is a conversation for another time.”  With a gesture, Oberyn allowed Mors to pass him and climb the few stairs that would lead them to the main deck, following in tow behind him and the great yellow snake that sat lazily around his shoulders. 

As Mors strode out onto the deck of the Dawn and her crew, barely flinching against the wind and rain that beat against his handsome face, the snake around his neck drew itself into the folds of his layers. The ship swayed violently in the storm, her mast threatening to collide at any moment with that of the neighbouring ship that docked alongside them.  The glimmering banners of House Martell flapping alongside the tattered black of pirates’ colours. Between the two vessels, a humble, narrow plank had been laid to allow those from the Dawn to cross over and board the Dread. Awaiting him, shoulder to shoulder with seafaring scum, stood those few who represented Mors’ advisors. Missing were Lords Gerold and Jordayne, both travelling at the head of the fleet among the company of their own men.  Among the small numbers were only those Mors trusted most, including his best blade, a knight of House Martell, Natari’s brother, Devran Toyne. Of those standing in wait, it was only Devran’s shoulder that Mors laid his hand upon, indicating in a silent way over the scream of the storm that it was only his favourite knight who was to join Princes Oberyn and Mors Nymeros Martell in their negotiations. Without hesitating, or even looking down, Mors strode across the plank, his boots thudding against the deck of the Dread as he marched into the captain’s cabins of the Pirate King’s flag ship. 

“Let’s try this again.” Mors said lowly, the blood that had soaked into his boots squishing between his toes as the wooden deck creaked beneath his feet.  He stooped next to the body that lay sprawled on the lavishly carpeted floors of the Pirate King’s cabins. Of course, he wasn’t the Pirate King, only one of them.  At least, he had been.

Oberyn and Devran stood against the far wall, unaffected and untouched by the gore before them.   By contrast, Mors plucked a black, leather captain’s hat from the bloody floor, crimson splattered against his handsome face and silk-clad front.  Next to him, the yellow scales that had been hidden within his layers now writhed against the floor, wiggling muscle assisting an unhinged jaw in swallowing the corpse of the man who had once called himself the Pirate King of the Narrow Sea.  Mors wiped the blood covered hat against the length of his layers, striding towards the other pirates who stood among them. At the beginning of their parlay, they had made jokes at his expense regarding his pretty disposition and youthful appearance.  Now they shrunk away from the boy they had previously described as a mere babe in ill-fated jest. He extended his arm and dropped the hat onto the head of the first-mate of the Dread, a mean smile overtaking his pretty features and making him look like something pulled forth from a nightmare rather than a dream. 

“What are you going to do?” Mors asked the man before him.  He must have been his senior by at least twenty years and yet the heir of Dorne spoke to him as though he were his seven year old cousin.  The aging pirate responded in kind, acting the part.

“Raid the coast of the Stormlands.” He answered at once obediently. 

“Until?” Mors prompted. 

“Until there’s nothing left.”

“Very good.” Mors answered, his devilish smile softening into something gentler but no less venomous.  He stepped back slightly from the first-mate, now captain, giving the pirate a bit of breathing room. “Now, what do they call you, friend?” He asked in a pleasant voice that likely only unsettled the sea-bound scoundrel more.

“Zoba.” He answered, a quiver on his voice.  Thick pink lips were pressed into a thin line, muscles tensed beneath the rich, earthy hue of his complexion. 

“All hail King Zoba, Pirate King of the Narrow Sea.” As Mors brought his palms together, clapping them slowly and deliberately, blood spit from his slapping hands into the face of the Pirate King.


* * * * *


The storm had broken further North, as they entered the waters surrounding the Island of Greenstone.  High rough waves gave way to calm seas, dark clouds parting to reveal the shining sun in a clearer sky.  When the Dawn joined her sisters within the fleet, the sun was beginning its journey towards the western horizon.  They remained beyond the view of the watchtowers of Greenstone, galleys anchored and oars lifted out of the water. As the light began to leave the sky the seas remained dark and still.  No lamps to illuminate their decks, no flapping sails to carry them forth, not even a whisper from lips for leagues in any direction. Only the whistling of the wind and the small flickering of the island in the distance kept Mors company as he stood at the prow of the ship, looking out across the blackness of the seas at night.  His arms were crossed over his chest, yellow eyes staring out at the distant point of light, at a glance he might look to be the figurehead carved from wood and fixed to the bow. It was hard to say how long Mors had been standing out on the deck in the night air before Devran came up beside him, or for how long the two young men had stood alongside one another in silence.

“If you’re planning on saying something sentimental, swallow the words.” Mors said suddenly, his voice breaking across the stillness of the night. 

“How did you know?” Devran returned, his own expression as stoic and serious as that of his liege. 

“You grind your teeth before you speak from your heart.” Devran had nothing to say to that, and so Mors continued, adding, “you won’t be dying tonight, friend.”

“I do not fear death.” Devran returned plainly, rarely any hint emotion touching upon his serious voice and unchanging expression.  “Only failure.”

“You have never failed me, Devran.” Mors returned.  “But if you do, just know… I’ve always hated you.”

“And I, you.” The knight returned at once.  Both men slowly slid their gazes to one another and then observed as in equal measure a coy smirk appeared on both their olive-skinned mouths.  They chucked quietly between them as Devran reached out to slap a hand against Mors chest, where beneath his layers a thick white scar had been left by the blade of his own favoured night.  In return, Mors slapped a hand against Devran’s side, where beneath his chain mail he had gifted unto his friend a matching scar of his own in kind.

Mors and Devran had been close from the time they were young boys.  In the years before Mors had been sent to foster at Starfall, they had been practically inseparable.  Wherever you might find one, the other was sure to be close by. Their friendship was born upon the training sands of Sunspear.  Devran had been the only boy in all of Dorne who wasn’t afraid to draw blood from the young heir, an early lesson that Mors had carried with him throughout his years.  The eldest born child to Prince Doran Martell had a peculiar relationship with the children of Sunspear’s Master at Arms. While Mors bore affection for many in his life; his parents, siblings, cousins and friends… theirs had always differed.  The love he had for Natari was expressed uniquely from that of other women who had captured his attention. So too, the place in his heart saved for Devran was shaped differently than that of the others boys he had called brother.

The flickering, distant light grew into a brighter glow, silencing both men and drawing their eyes from one another.  The shine emanating from the island widened until it looked as though the sun were rising from the point on the horizon that the maps in his cabins below deck marked as Greenstone.  The forces of High Hermitage had made ground and had put the village to the torch. If he listened close enough, Mors could almost hear the screams rising as the alarms were sounded.  Based on the numbers and the nature of the attack, the Stormlanders would assume a raiding party had landed on their shores, brought forth from the passing of the storm. They would rally their remaining numbers to the Northern shores from which Lord Gerold had led the ambush.  Little did they know, there were things worse than raiders, worse than storms…

“That’s the signal.” Devran urged quietly. 

“Give the order.” 

Taking in a deep breath as he turned from his friend, his commander, his liege, Devran started down the length of the deck as he called out in a voice that thundered across the quiet dark decks of the Dornish fleet.  “All hands! Anchors up! Soldiers to rows!” Suddenly, lamps were illuminated, sails pulled free and oars dropped into waiting waters as the seas surrounding Greenstone came alive. The red canvas of the fleet gleamed bright against the glow of the burning island as the Dawn lurched forward, taking the lead as her sisters followed after, reds growing pregnant with the encouraging winds.  It was all Mors could do to keep the smile from his face as he drew forth his scimitar from its sheath, shining more resplendently as they drew closer to the growing flames. He was patient in all areas of his life except for this one and as the ship drew closer and closer to Greenstone his anticipation mounted. By the time her belly had grounded into the island’s stony shores, and brave men donning the colours of Lord Estermont noble House surrounded her galley, he was practically foaming at the mouth.  He leapt from the edge of the ship, soldiers landing beside him and splashing into the knee-deep water as the few fighting men left on Greenstone, who must have known they were doomed from the outset, rushed them.

For a moment, everything slowed down and came to a sudden stop for Mors.  He could hear his breathing in his ears, keen yellow-eyes charting the trajectory of each swinging blade that surrounded him.  It was always here, right at this exact moment, that Mors felt a euphoric bliss wash over him. Never did he feel so himself, than when he was about to let go.  Taking in a deep breath, he let the smell of blood, salt, shit and terror fill him up, invigorating and hypnotizing him the way it did in his dreams. He had learned from a young age to control these things about him, these haunted, hungry things and with each word he spoke and each action he took he showed restraint.  But not here. Here, he could let go. As the breath he had been holding fell past his lips, he released the tether that held him onto the firm ground of the civilized. With a smile stretched over his boyish face, he rushed forward to meet them.

Chaos raged around him.  The forces of House Jordayne had overtaken the shoreline, Mors and his personal guard leading the vanguard that pushed Lord Estermont’s forces back until they were forced into retreating to the manse.  Greenstone was a small island, their fortress hardly a castle, fortifications easily broken through by the Stony Dornishmen of High Hermitage, built as robust and reliable as the mountains that surrounded their home.  The battering ram smashed against the gates of the fortress as cries and screams rang out from within. Mors watched as his men heaved the steel-tipped structure into the splintering wood that barred him from his bloodshed.  The Targaryen girl was far from his mind as he paced back and forth, his scimitar in one hand and his Norvosi axe in the other. His shield he had surrendered back in the village, after having used it to split open a blacksmith’s head.  In paintings blood was always drawn in vivid reds, but in reality it dried dark, nearly black, cracking against the smile that remained painted across Mors face. It stained his clothes and stuck his raven curls to his cheeks but he only smiled and watched as the battering ram smashed through the gates. 

A small hole had been breached from the siege tool, just enough for a small flow of men to enter, and arrows began flying from within to prevent entry.  Most men would have waited for their opportunity to go in for the kill. The risk was great, the payoff potential low and with a few more swings of the battering ram the gate might come down altogether.  Mors however, was not most men. Sheathing his scimitar and choking up on his grip with his axe, he strode forward, snatching another soldier’s shield from them as he went. He quickened his pace until he had broken into a run, leaping up onto the battering ram and rushing straight for the opening that had been made.  Arrows stuck into the shield but none of them touched him as he lunged forward, driving his shield into the collection of archers. They sprawled back as he fell on top of them, but before any could recover and draw and arrow against the string of their bow, Mors had started swinging his axe. With that terrible smile still plastered on a face that no longer looked boyish and charming but instead crazed and savage, he swung his axe until it was impossible to tell which parts belonged to which man.  Dornishmen flowed into the courtyard of the fortress like a screaming stream of demons, renewed in their lust for blood by the barbaric showing of their Prince. The pandemonium swirled around him and he drank it in like dying man in the desert to an oasis, giving himself over to every instinct he resisted, every impulse he ignored.

“Please!  Please!” An old man begged, inching towards Mors as he pulled an arrow from his shoulder that one of the archers had managed to stick him with.  He held his hands over his head in surrender, expensive rings decorating his fingers. Barely batting an eye, he raised his arm and brought his axe down on him without ceremony.  His face split open, his jaw hanging loosely by one dangling tendon before he toppled over. Judging from his clothes, he had been someone of import. Now, he was unrecognizable as whatever man he might have once been.  Mors looked down at him, leaning forward slightly as he watched the last few ragged breaths sputter from his broken body. He died, and Mors enjoyed it without apology. When he looked up, he realized that he was being observed by a small collection of civilians.  He smiled at them, and revelled in the way they all collectively shuddered at the horror.

“I’m looking for my bride.” He called as he started towards them, his axe swinging in his hand like a child with a toy.  It was clear that this particular group had been looking to flee, but had been herded into a corner by the fighting. They looked cleaner than the village folk, but not so clean as to be of standing.  Household staff, perhaps. Corpses, soon enough.

“Could any of you tell me where to find her?” Mors asked.  When he was met with only silence, he shrugged and rose his axe, inspiring one among them to find his voice. 

“Wait! She’s been kept in the west-wing!” He shouted.  A pale-faced Stormlander, he looked about the same age as Mors.  As he spoke, Devran and his regiment came upon the scene. As always, the knight found his place at his liege’s side. 

“West-wing.” Mors repeated, his smile falling away to make room for a more thoughtful expression.  It was harder for Mors to think at times like this. Sensibility and patience had surrendered to blood lust.  Fortunately, Devran was there.

“Get up.” He commanded, two of his men hoisting the cup bearer to his feet and hauling him away from those he had been cowering with.  “You’re going to show us.”

“Kill them.” Mors ordered offhanded to the other soldiers, who at once turned their blades on to those remaining as the young man they dragged away screamed and sobbed, watching his friends butchered.  Yes, there were things worse than raiders and worse than storms… A monster by the name of Mors Nymeros Martell had come to Greenstone, and he was terribly, terribly hungry.

King Kade - Reigning from the North


Character limits kill my vibe...


Offline asterin

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Despite only having served the captured princess for a brief stretch of time, Serra already knew what to expect when she brought her the morning meal. Without fail she would already be awake and dressed, waiting expectantly with a smile on her face--and so, when she entered the room to find the princess unmoving in bed, uneasiness immediately swept over her. “M’lady..?” she called timidly, hurriedly putting down the tray of simple fare to hover over her still figure. “M’lady, are you alright?”

She stirred under her tentative touch, her oddly colored eyes sliding open to squint at her in the morning light. For a moment she looked confused, but then recognition seemed to settle in. “Serra..? Is it morning already?” she asked faintly.

“Yes, m’lady. Are...you feeling unwell?” the dark-haired girl inquired, noticing how face appeared paler than usual.

“No, no, I’m fine,” the princess shook her head slightly as if to wave off the notion, shifting to sit up in bed as she spoke. “I didn’t sleep well…” Suddenly she trailed off, the fatigue and sleep slipping away from her eyes as if she’d come to an uncomfortable realization. Frowning, she flung the blankets off of herself to reveal the telltale smear of red on the white linens below her, the dark of the dried and the brilliant crimson of fresh blood mingled together.

For a second the princess was silent, seemingly at a loss for words--and at the sight of her, eyes averted and her pallid cheeks flushed with shame, Serra realized it was her turn to be kind. “There’s no need to worry, m’lady, I’ll have Betha bring fresh linens at once,” the maid immediately reassured her, her normally thin voice warm with sympathy. Having the blood was never much of a welcome thing, even once one grew accustomed to it, but she had no doubt that these circumstances made it doubly disagreeable for the captive princess. “I’ll bring you a cup of warm broth as well. It’ll ease the pain,” she added.

“Thank you, Serra,” the princess murmured softly, an apologetic smile gracing her lips, and Serra felt a small rush of relief at the sight of it.

“I’ll be back right away, m’lady.” With a wisp of a shy smile, she started towards the door, only to turn back around towards the young woman sitting up in bed. “Is there anything else I can get you?” she asked, wondering if there was something that might help make her more comfortable. The answer she received, however, wasn’t anything she’d anticipated.

“Something to write with, perhaps?”

Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “M’lady?”

“Your letters,” the princess reminded her, her soft smile returning. “So you can write your name. You haven’t forgotten already, have you?”

Of course she hadn’t. No, it’d been all she’d been able to think about while preparing breakfast in the first place, but… “Oh no, m’lady, surely you need your rest,” Serra protested, her hands fiddling nervously.

“As I said before, it won’t take long,” she insisted, her voice gentle but unyielding. “Besides, a promise is a promise, isn’t it?”




********


“S-E-R-R-A. Serra.”

Aeranys watched approvingly as the younger girl whispered the words over and over again, a damp finger tracing out the letters on the wooden tray. Finding parchment and ink had proved too risky, so they’d improvised using that they had on hand. Sitting by the fireplace, they spoke quietly so that the crackle of the flame and wood would snuff out their words, the warm glow also serving to illuminate the darkening room.

The princess had spent the majority of the day lying down in bed--which had made the day stretch longer than any other--disturbed only by two women. Betha, tight-lipped with displeasure, had come to change her sheets right before the midday meal with the smell of cooking on her, the same as she had done several days prior. Serra, on the other hand, came rushing into the room with meals, her eyes lit up with excitement. Much to her delight, Serra was a quick study, and the maid was already able to write her name and several other words at a fair speed. So vigorous was she in her determination, Aeranys was half afraid she would rub her finger raw against the wood. “Very good,” she nodded, a genuine smile on her lips. Dark brown eyes wandered up to hers bashfully as her head shook to-and-fro in modesty, but it was clear to see how pleased the girl was--and she was far from being the only one.

“Could you teach me to write another name?” Serra asked, uncharacteristically eager, and the princess turned to the girl with an accommodating nod.

“Of course, I’ll do my best,” she agreed. She listened carefully to the name Serra spoke, then penned out her best guess of the spelling after dipping her finger into the jug of water. “Roslyn...R-O-S-L-Y-N.” The brunette stared intently, immediately tracing the letters with her own finger. The name faded and disappeared, but her gaze did not waver once as she sat, suddenly wordless and still. “It’s a very pretty name,” the princess commented softly, breaking the heavy silence.

“It was my mother’s name. She was a healer,” the words came haltingly at first, but then it seemed as if the floodgates had opened as the timid maid spoke. “She knew how to read and write, my mother. She tried to teach my father, but he never took to it,” she shook her head with a wry smile, but her eyes were far away, filled with the past. “She was teaching me my first few letters when she died giving birth to my brother, so I never got to learn proper…” Serra trailed off, still looking down at the tray.

“You must’ve been very young when you lost her,” Aeranys murmured solemnly, her hand resting briefly on the maid’s. “I’m sorry.” She’d lost Daeron--brother, friend, betrothed--but she could not know what it was like to lose a parent, to lose someone who’d been ever-present in one’s life from the very beginning. She swallowed, her thoughts going back to her own mother, but after a moment’s struggle, she managed to yank them back.

“Thank you, m’lady, but I was alright. I had my father and my brother,” Serra began again, and her posture straightened slightly. “I was never alone. But my mother, she left all these books behind, books she handwrote, too, and all I ever wanted was to be able to read them. To learn what she had known, to know what she’d thought, felt, to know...her,” she said wistfully, her voice a near whisper.

“You’re almost there,” Aeranys encouraged, “You already know half of the letters. Once you can sound all them out, you’ll be reading.”

“Yes,” Serra breathed, a delighted gleam in her eyes. “Soon.” She turned to the princess, smiling timidly. “I cannot thank you enough, m’lady.”

“It’s my pleasure,” she murmured back, smiling despite the stab of guilt she felt. If only they had met under different circumstances, the princess would have gladly taught Serra her letters from beginning to end, until she could read and write like any highborn child. Instead, teaching her to write a few names was about all she could do for the young maid. After all, if all went well, tomorrow…

She lay in the darkness after Serra bid her good night, waiting for the manse to sink into slumber. She would not be getting much sleep, if only for the thoughts that were running wildly amok in her head. She rose, teasing out the penknife from its hiding place, then carefully lifted her sleeve. It was bound up with the linen she had been given “for the blood,” and she gingerly unwrapped the makeshift bandage to reveal the cuts, still glistening with blood she’d shed for the first cotton square she’d been offered in the morning. Holding her breath, she drew the knife across her arm, feeling the now-familiar sensation of a blade cutting into flesh. Again and again, she bled herself over the mattress until she was satisfied, then stemmed the blood with a handful of her nightgown. Once she had bound up the arm, Aeranys fell back onto the bed. The cuts throbbed in time to the pounding in her ears, and she released a shuddering breath as she ran through the details of her plan incessantly, without pause. Madness, foolishness--she still could not tell.

It did not matter, she supposed. The answer was sure to come to her clearly enough on the morrow.

And yet, that did not stop her from worrying. When her mind finally let her fall asleep, she slipped straight into the midst of a fitful dream. It was dark, no candle allotted her to light up the pitch black, and yet she knew she was in Maegor’s Holdfast. She could sense the presence of others around her, muffled sobs and muttered prayers, held breaths and hymns--and outside, she could feel the beasts waiting, prowling, clawing at the stones. They sensed her too. They waited for her, maws opened wide and grinning.



Offline asterin

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*********


This morning was near identical to the one before it. After having spilled fresh blood over the old, she feigned sleep until the thin serving girl came to wake her with food. She almost seemed to expect the discovery of bloodied sheets, and she nodded smartly before once more reassuring her with the idea of fresh linens. “I’ll let Betha know, m’lady,” she smiled kindly, bringing her the tray that held a bowl of hot stew. “I hope you were at least able to sleep better last night, m’lady,” she added, seeming eager to keep her spirits high. It was surprising, seeing how when she’d first met Serra, she’d been so timid and unwilling to speak, but it was a pleasant turn of events to the princess.

“I had another sleepless night,” Aeranys admitted, not at all a lie. “I think I may try to sleep after Betha brings the linens.”

“She’ll likely come by a bit later--about midday? She does most of the cooking,” Serra explained apologetically. “I can try and see if she can stop by first…”

“No, that’s alright,” the young woman waved her hand, “Midday should do just fine. It’s not good to sleep right after a large meal, I’ve been told.” She paused for a moment, thinking, then spoke decisively. “In fact--you needn’t bring me any more meals today. I’d just like to get some rest, and I don’t often feel hungry when it’s the time of flowering.”

“As you say, m’lady,” the maid nodded, and Aeranys felt a small wave of relief wash over her. After all, if Serra were to bring her meals, she might end up finding Betha gagged and bound in the princess’ bed--or worse, walk in on the swap happening. She didn’t want to get the sweet maid involved if possible, and this was the best way to keep her out of the way of endangering herself or Aeranys’ plan. “Is there anything I get you before then?” she asked earnestly, completely unaware of the deception at play.

“Ser Laenor--how does he fare?” she asked, unable to keep herself from asking.

Luckily, Serra didn’t hesitate to answer. “He is still weak, but his fever has left him,” she informed her, her voice soothing. “Do not worry, m’lady. I think he will recover in time.”

“That is a relief to hear,” Aeranys replied, letting out an inaudible sigh. That was going to have to be enough for her, to know that he was not in mortal danger.

It was still something that sat heavy in her gut, the knowledge that she would likely have to leave him behind. Not only had he yet to recover, she did not have an inkling of where he was--and neither could she ask without drawing suspicion to her potential escape. Her one source of comfort was the fact that the moment she disappeared, Ser Laenor’s likelihood of surviving his imprisonment improved vastly. Without her, he would be the only hostage of importance they would have left, the sole tool they could leverage against the crown and the Velaryons. As long as she was here, they could casually chop off any limbs they cared to, even kill him should they believe such a threat was necessary. And yet, it still weighed on her. What if they killed him anyway? What if they already had another important hostage? What if--

“M’lady!” she heard Serra gasp, jolting her out of her spiraling doubts. Her brown eyes were round with horror, and as the princess realized what that gaze was directed towards, her own eyes instantly filled with a deeper kind of dread. A red stain was slowly crawling outwards on her sleeve, warm and stinking of iron. Before she could muster some sort of far fetched excuse, the kitchen maid was already yanking the cloth of her sleeve up and away to reveal the linen strips soaked through with blood. “M’lady, you’re hurt!” she squeaked, her expression both frantic and bewildered. “How--who?” she babbled in confusion before something terrible seemed to dawn on her. Her face drained of color, her voice dropping to a quavering whisper as her breathing grew frenetic. “Did--did he--?”

“No--Serra, no,” Aeranys grasped at her shoulders, looking her firmly in the eye. “He didn’t hurt me. No one hurt me.”

“Then how…” Serra started, but as her eyes went from the bloody arm to the princess’ grim expression, the pieces seemed to fall into place. “M’lady...you…?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t stay here any longer, Serra,” she spoke before the maid could, her voice low and grave. “I can’t.” She took a breath, trying to explain. She had no intention of making up some noble and lofty lie about how she cared only for the realm to be at peace. Of course, she didn’t want any more horrors. She was sick of the senseless deaths, the madness that had consumed her father, but in this brutal game, she knew her entire family’s fate was tied to him. The two things she wanted--for the tragedies to stop and for her family to safe--were utterly incompatible, it seemed. “I know it might sound selfish and stupid, but I don’t want to lose my family, and I don’t want anyone to lose their families either,” she admitted, her chest constricting with emotion. “I have little love for my father, Serra. I know his tyranny better than most. And I admit, I don’t know what my brother is thinking, nor do I have an excuse, but--but I’d rather die than have my mother surrender her life for mine,” she whispered fiercely. All this time, she hadn’t been able to protect her mother in any real way. Her actions, her choices--they’d never something that could tear kingdoms apart and decide the reign of monarchs, unlike those of her father or eldest brother. This time, however, the fate of her family lay heavy on her shoulders, the weak, sputtering flame of hope. She had to fight to keep it alive, didn’t she? “I don’t know what I can do, and I don’t know if I can change anything--but if I don’t even try, how could I ever live with myself?” she swallowed hard, desperation flashing in her lilac eyes. 

Serra seemed to be at an utter loss for words, still staring back at her with those sad brown eyes. “M’lady…” was all she could manage, and the princess realized she was still clutching the girl’s shoulders with both hands. She let go, drawing back into herself and taking a deep breath before looking up again, this time considerably calmer.

“I won’t begrudge you if you tell the steward,” she told her, her voice gentle once more. Serra seemed startled at those words, but the princess pressed on nonetheless. “If you could find it in your heart to keep my secret a little longer, pretend you didn’t see this, I would be forever in your debt. But I also know there are times when we must play our roles, even if when we don’t wish it. I understand it well.” A distant, forlorn smile flickered across her lips. “The choice is yours, Serra.”

For what felt like ages, there was only silence. Then the girl’s downturned gaze flicked up to hers cautiously, her words hesitant once more. “What if...I don’t want to do either?” she murmured, to which Aeranys blinked in confusion. “What if...what if I want to help you?”

“Help me?” the young woman echoed, as if she was doubting her own hearing. “Serra, if you get involved--if we’re caught--”

“I want to help you,” she repeated herself, firmly this time. “Really, I do. No one’s taken me and my silly dreams so seriously like you have, m’lady, and none of the highborn lords or ladies of Estermount have ever been as good to me as you have,” Serra’s tone held a tinge of longing, her large eyes now filled with the steady, unshakable strength of the earth below. “So...please, let me be the one who does something for you this time.”

“Thank you,” Aeranys whispered, taking her rough hand in hers. Her eloquent and flowery words had left her, and all that she could utter were those simple words, over and over again. “Thank you so much, Serra. I can’t say anything more. Just...thank you.”

The serving girl squeezed her hand back, that shy smile of hers sneaking in to play on her lips. “Does this mean we get to make a grand plan now?” she asked, almost sounding like a child at play.

“Yes,” the princess answered, squaring her shoulders. Her pale eyes gleamed in the morning light, sharp and focused as a blade. “Now we plan.”


*********



Everything else she could do was done. This was the last thing. Her fingers wrapped and unwrapped around the thin ivory handle of her quill knife.

It’ll grow back, she reminded herself as she grasped a handful of her pale hair--the hair her mother had brushed herself that last night, her slender fingers stroking her head lovingly, the same hair that Daeron, in a last moment of clarity, had touched and told her not to weep any longer, the hair Rhaegar had always liked to toy absentmindedly with while he was reading, pensively wrapping a finger around a stray lock as the three of them lay sprawled on Daeron’s bed. It wasn’t as if it would hurt, unlike the many times she’d bled herself over the two days in order to keep up the pretense, and it wasn’t as if all those memories would disappear from her if she cut her hair--so why was she still hesitating?

Was it because something deep within her felt as if it was her last remaining physical proof of their presence, their touch?

It was a terrifying thought, one she immediately thrust away from herself. Gritting her teeth, she tightened her grip on her hair as she forced the knife through it, roughly sawing and hacking at the locks as best as she could. When it was over she touched the jagged edges of her remaining hair, the absence of the familiar weight obvious to her; she couldn’t even remember a time when her hair had been this short. Numbly, she looked down to the hair in her lap. She couldn’t tell what she was feeling, but whatever it was, she knew it could come later. Now was not the time. Arranging the locks together to make a convincing mane of hair once more, she took one of the several linen strips she had cut from her sheets to bind it up. Serra would be here any minute--

Just as she thought it, footsteps approached. She ducked underneath the covers, pulling the blankets over herself as the door opened and closed. “M’lady?” came her hushed voice, and Aeranys immediately slipped out of bed, a mixture of relief and determination on her face. Serra was there, fresh sheets in her arms, and for a moment they both stared at each other mutely, the oppressive weight of what they were about to do keeping them from speaking.

“Are you sure about this?” she finally asked, giving the maid one last chance to disentangle herself from this plan. Serra had much to lose if it came to light that she had helped the princess try to escape--likely her life. The girl, however, showed no such reluctance in her eyes as she nodded back. With that, the two young women began to disrobe, hurrying into each other’s clothes instead to turn princess into maid and maid into princess.

“The staircase on the right,” Aeranys recited softly as she stepped into the coarse dress, her voice barely audible. She took the apron Serra held out to her and tied it around her waist, the kitchen knife tucked into its pocket bumping against her knee in a reassuring fashion. Her fingers briefly touched the wooden handle of the knife before she slipped in the ivory case and cyvasse piece next to it, making sure nothing would fall out. “Then the middle hall, until I see the kitchen. The small door on the side.”

“A left, all the way down,” Serra prompted as she handed the princess an oiled leather pouch, which she took almost absentmindedly, still muttering the directions.

“Then the second door from the left,” Aeranys continued, stooping in front of the dead fireplace to scrape soot into the small bag. When she was satisfied, she bound up the pouch and turned her attention to her short silver hair, working the black powder into locks to obscure their original hue. “The cart on the right, full of hay,” her gaze flicked to Serra, nonverbally seeking confirmation.

“Good,” the maid breathed, tying her kerchief tightly around the princess’s head. She stepped back to check her handiwork, her eyes roving over the sight of a king’s daughter in the garb of a lowly kitchen girl.

“Leave the marketplace and head towards the square to Old Mar’s Tavern,” she recited back, “On the south edge of town--on the same alley as the baker.”

“Yes,” the dark-haired girl said, a note of finality in her voice. Wordlessly, Serra took a small pendant from her neck and placed it around the princess’, her fingers lingering on the carved wooden flower for a moment. “My father will be there.”

Aeranys nodded, holding her gaze. If all went well, she would be on a boat before it was discovered that she was missing. “I won’t forget this, Serra,” she reached out to clasp her hand in hers. “When you’re freed...there’s a hole in the mattress. What’s inside belonged to my mother, but I want you to sell it. It’s hardly thanks, but hopefully it’ll help you and your family a little.” The maid began to stutter out a protest, but she shook her head. “I want you to have it,” she told her firmly. Her mother’s bracelet wasn’t something she’d typically part with, but it was all she had left of value to give Serra, who she thought deserved even more for her bravery. “Besides, we don’t have time to argue.” If they tarried any longer, it would surely seem suspicious; the two young women rushed to pull off the bloodied linens off the bed and replaced them with clean ones.

Knowing what there was left to do, Serra sat on the mattress and held out her arms readily, not an ounce of reluctance in her movements. “I’m sorry, but it’s going to have to be tight if they’re not to suspect you,” the princess explained apologetically as she began to bind her wrists with the torn strips of the bedsheet.

“Yes, I know,” Serra assured her, looking up with trust written in her large dark eyes. She didn’t utter a squeak as she had both her hands and ankles bound, meek as a lamb to the slaughter. “May the gods be with you, m’lady, and protect you on your journey,” she murmured when it was time to gag her.

“May they be with you, as well,” the princess mustered, trying to swallow the worry that was beginning to rear within her. The deed was done quickly, stuffing her mouth with a wad of cloth, and Aeranys drew up the covers over her frail form. The finishing touch was to lay the long coil of hair she had cut off upon the pillow, splaying it so that they would be the only thing visible from the mass of blankets. “Are you alright?” Aeranys asked one last time, to which she received a silent nod. “Thank you, Serra, ” she whispered her farewell, then turned to gather up the sheets in her arms, making sure to leave the mess of blood on top.

She faced the door, slouching over to mimic the maid’s timid posture as best as she could. This was it, the moment before she jumped off the ledge, stepped into the unknown. She glanced back one more time at the prone figure on the bed with silver spilling out over the blankets. Then with one last inhale and a silent prayer, she opened the door and strode out to meet her fate.


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“May I present, the Prince of Dorne, Doran Nymeros Martell.” The steward stood at the door of his Lord’s council hall.  He donned the red and gold colours of his liege House, blond hair peeking out from beneath his feathered page cap. Stepping aside, he allowed the Lord whom he had announced to stagger his way into the hall, weight resting heavily upon the cane beneath his hand. 

Doran Martell did not address his host, nor did he even spare a glance in his direction.  Instead he limped towards the luxuriously plush high backed chair that sat in wait for him.  Following the example set forth by his liege, Aero Hotah strode forward and assisted the Dornish Prince into his seat, ignoring the other gentlemen who lingered about, waiting on bated breath for the formality that was never to come.  For all his youth, only thirty and five years to his name, he wheezed his way to sitting as though he were already well within the winters of life. He let the relief wash over him visibly as he reclined into the cushions, freed at last from the pain in his knotted knees growing more swollen and ache-ridden with each passing day of travel. 

“So…” His host began from the head of the council table.  He stood with his shoulders straight, hands clasped behind his back in the way that called to mind images of a dutiful soldier.  The expensive doublet with which he had dressed himself was made of fine reds, a golden lion embroidered upon the breast. Blonde side whiskers framed a sharp jaw which matched the piercing green eyes that regarded him unforgivingly from beneath a stern brow.  He had shaved his head bald in the years since Doran had seen him last. Still, even without the golden locks of his namesake, he was unmistakable as the infamous Lord Tywin Lannister.

“This is the champion Aerys has chosen?” He observed rhetorically. “The Knight deployed to take my King upon this cyvasse board.” The words were offered as insult, his tone dripping in condescension. 

“Actually,” Doran returned.  “I consider myself to be more of a rook.” His tone was light and comfortable in spite of the pain that visibly weighed upon his fragile body.  “A tower, proud and true, moving in straight, clean lines…”

“Predictable.” Lord Tywin finished for him. 

“As you say.” Doran replied, a pleasant smile posed on his face.  Leaning back into his chair he made himself comfortable while the Lord before him remained standing, stiff and formal in spite of the casualness of his unexpected guest. 

“Tell me, is it customary in Dorne to forego the formalities owed in respect to a Lord such as myself?” He asked bitingly, surrendering to the passive atmosphere this Dornish dignitary had cultivated of his own accord, quietly shifting the delicate balance of their verbal duel.  Moving towards the head of the table, he lowered himself into the seat across from Doran Martell with all the control and dignity that the Dornishman had failed to exhibit himself.

“I don’t believe it’s customary anywhere in Westeros to bow to a traitor of the crown.” The Lord of House Lannister started at the words, turning his sharp eyes to the Dornishman who dared to utter them.  His snarling anger however, was not met in challenge but instead with a smile as warm as the Dornish sun. Regaining his composure and caging his frustrations, Tywin Lannister sought to rebalance the scales of conversation in his favour.

“I have pledged no allegiance to the Baratheon brat or his silly rebellion…” Lord Tywin started, but now it was Prince Doran’s turn to do the interrupting.

“Nor to the crown, from what I understand.”

“How can I be a traitor to the crown when my own daughter is fated to be its next Queen?” Lord Tywin returned. 

“Is she?” Doran asked in a careful voice, the words measured and coated in nuance.  While the warden of the West bit down against the lion’s roar attempting to crawl up his throat, the Prince of Dorne continued, filling the silence.  “You know, I never pegged you as the sort to feign ignorance, my Lord.” He mused in the same light tone. “Shall I illuminate you?”

“You presume to have knowledge to which I am not privy.” The rage had been snuffed out.  A proud lion now sat in the place of a roaring one, arrogance sheathing his feline fangs behind a smooth expression of haughty indifference.  “I know about the Stark girl and the Prince. I know of his intentions, his desires to usurp his father and cast aside my daughter…” He reached for his goblet and at once a wine bearer was at his side, filling his glass.  Even though Doran did not reach for his own, another young man stepped forward and filled his as well, on cue. “I know that Aerys has provided your son with a bride, in exchange for your continued loyalty to the crown and that you have one of the largest armies in Westeros, likely enough gold to buy another in equal measure for the affair…” Pausing, he leaned forward on the smooth wooden surface of the table, his goblet held between two ruby encrusted fingers, fixing Doran Martell with his cat-like, emerald eyes. 

“I hear you are a careful man, Prince Doran.” Lord Tywin continued, curling his fingers around the stem of his goblet.  “A careful man weighs his options in kind, and only shakes the hand of the man with whom he strikes an accord after the goods have changed hands.” As the Lord of Casterly Rock attempted to map the unchanging expression beneath the Dornishman’s olive hued complexion, Doran watched on in contented amusement.  The cripple’s odd gentility gave nothing away and it visibly frustrated and discomforted the Lord who attempted to negotiate with the lame and limp but still venomous serpent before him.

“I know that Princess Aeranys Targaryen has been kidnapped and held for ransom by the Rebels, kept beneath the banners of House Estermont at Greenstone.” Green eyes flicked about the face across the table from him, searching for something beyond the wince brought on by an ache in the knees which turned his subject’s attention away from him altogether.  “And now, with nothing to gain from aligning yourself with either side you’ve come to find an ally in a man of a similar circumstance.”

Prince Doran took his time to brace his knee and let the wave of pain pass before he righted himself in his seat and looked to Lord Tywin.  To him, the Prince of Dorne must have appeared as naught but a frail, careful cripple. Good. Once more turning back to the Lord before him and giving him a humble, measured smile he replied, “No.”

“Then why are you here, Prince Doran?” Lord Tywin returned, the roar having once more returned to his voice.  “What is it that you want?”

“For myself?” Doran inquired rhetorically before shrugging and shaking his head answering, “nothing, I have everything I could ever want.”  Dark brown eyes narrowed on Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock, twisted elbows extending forward to lean across the wooden council table.  The finish was pristine, the carving expert and artisanal. Quaint. Doran Martell far preferred the council table in the tower of the Sun at the Old Palace, carved from white marble and encrusted in jewelled gold.  “For my children however, I will accept nothing less than the entire world and everything in it.”

“You’ll have to be more specific.” Lord Tywin snarled dryly. 

Prince Doran did not answer the Lord before him, but instead reached into his robes and produced a small scroll.  Already, the impossibility of the tiny Dornish host this crippled Prince had brought with him retrieving a raven without Lannister forces intercepting the message had Lord Tywin’s bushy blonde eyebrows raised in curiosity.  Taking the message from his liege’s extended hand, the brute Aero Hotah carried it across the council table and placed the parchment before the Lannister Lord himself. Lord Tywin’s eyes watched the axe strapped to the guard’s back as he returned to his Prince’s side.  Uncurling the message, eyes roved over the first few lines before returning to the mysterious man across the table from him.

“So, the Princess will be rescued… that still does not answer my question.” Lord Tywin pressed impatiently.   

“Keep reading.” Prince Doran urged. 

Pursing his lips, Lord Tywin returned to the letter before him.  Reading and then reading it over again he finally grew tired of whatever game the Prince of Dorne was playing at.  Rising onto his feet and tossing the scroll across the table he leaned his weight upon his proudly decorated claws, the roar returning once more to his voice.  “Come to plain words.” He said with the finality of a man without any patience left to spare. “What do you want?”

“Prince Rhaegar is finished with your daughter and King Aerys uses your son like a servant boy at best.” Doran Martell said haltingly, in a voice as gentle as ever yet somehow still striking, a venomous bite without any of the pain -- the deadliest kind of poison.  “No matter which way this war ends, your children are sure to be the first in a long line of wartime casualties, you know what they say about loose ends after all.” The Prince of Dorne paused, seeing everything in the shining emeralds glaring back at him that the composed facade he faced could not hide.  “Before the month is out, ten thousand Dornishmen will be welcomed through the gates of King’s Landing. They could save your daughter, protect your grandson, secure your son, or…”

“Or they could stand by and watch as Aerys burns my legacy alive.” Lord Tywin finished for him.  There was only calmness showing through his expression, but his eyes told the story of quiet calculation and horrifying malice.  His anger did not belong to Prince Doran Martell however, but to another.

“As you say.” Doran replied knowingly, gently.  “You know his Majesty better than I.” A truth which only further solidified his own position in their negotiations.  Lord Tywin Lannister took a long drink from his goblet, pulling his eyes from his guest he watched the wood of his table as he seated himself once more.  Extending a strong arm out, a wine bearer filled his glass again with all the efficiency and terror one could expect from a boy serving beneath such a man as the famed Lord Tywin.  Yet for all that infamy and fear, he had been backed into a corner, checked by a rook moving in a predictably straight line towards him. Doran Martell was careful and therefore his actions were foreseeable.  Such a move however, to take such immediate and overwhelming control over the Capital and seat of utmost power, was a bold one. Too bold for a careful, crippled snake, but this snake in particular was known to be rather venomous as it had one deadly Golden Fang.

“A rather calculated move, that.” Lord Tywin mused, gesturing to the scroll he had tossed before Prince Doran as he sipped from his goblet.  The Dornishman’s already smiling lips twitched more broadly as he spoke, that contented amusement returning to his serene features. He could tell that the Lord before him was stalling, fishing, searching… Even if it were in vain.  “I had heard your boy was a rather bloodthirsty creature.” Even at the mention of his son, nothing changed in the Prince’s expression. “The word monster has been thrown around…”

“As you say.” Doran agreed passively, bringing his hands together and interlocking his fingers in spite of the anguish it must have brought him to do so for the swelling in his knuckles.  “But whatever he is, it is different from you and I, or anyone else for that matter. Which makes my boy special.” He continued. Now it was Lord Tywin’s turn to recline in his chair, sipping on his wine with an arrogant amusement that set the warning rattle within Prince Doran’s dark eyes jolting.  “Every father loves his children, but do you know what makes us different, my Lord?” The Warden of the West only raised his eyebrows in silent inquiry. “You strive to be a great man, but when I first looked into my son’s eyes I knew that I was not born to be such or any kind of hero. My destiny was to raise one.” Prince Doran continued, at last reaching for the goblet that had previously sat full and untouched before him.  “You will never beat my son on a battlefield or best him in a political court. You will never outmatch him or outwit him. Do you know why?” He did not bother waiting for a reply this time. “Because he is unpredictable.” The arrogance fell away from Lord Tywin’s face, features gone slack at the abruptness of the words.

“What do you want?” Lord Tywin Lannister asked for the final time. 

“For my son?  The world and all the worlds beyond it.  But we can start with something a little smaller…” Now it was Prince Doran who leaned back into the high back cushioned seat.  He paused, bringing the chalice to his lips and sipping gingerly at the wine. Pisswater compared to Dornish reds but it would do -- a drink to victory was often predicated on the timing of the thing after all.  The sweetest part of it was not the wine anyhow, but rather the fact of it painted all over Lord Tywin Lannister’s face. Checkmate.

“King Aerys gave my son a dragon to ride.  What do you have to offer, my Lord?”



King Kade - Reigning from the North


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Continued…




“That,” Mors began in a measured tone.  “Is not Princess Aeranys.”

The Highborn Dornishman stood at the foot of the bed which filled the small room in a quiet, high tower of the manse.  One handed rested upon the jeweled hilt of his scimitar, sheathed at his hip, while the other twirled locks of glistening silver hair between his blood-stained fingers.  The hair had been spread upon the feather pillow, somehow liberated from its previous owner and strewn about the mousy serving girl who lay in her place. She was bound at the wrists and ankles, staring up at the men before her with terror in her tearful eyes.  The gag that had been shoved haphazardly into her mouth kept her from crying out, but when her gaze fell upon the young man Ser Devran hauled into the cozy room, she struggled against the cloth. Mors watched the look exchanged between the youths before turning his full attention to his hostage.  He said nothing, but instead raised his eyebrows expectantly.

“She was here…” He stammered helplessly.

“And where is she now?” Mors inquired calmly. 

“I don’t know.”

“Have you any idea where she might have gone?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are they any secret ports or safe-houses on this island?”

“I don’t know.”

“And who is that?” He continued, maintaining his patience, gesturing to the girl who lay tied in place to the four posts of the bed frame.

“I don’t know.” The boy lied. 

Mors Nymeros Martell stepped forward then, encroaching on the young man’s space in spite of his inability to escape the advance.  Ser Devran held him in a cruel grip by the underside of his bicep and as his liege leaned in close to the hostage, tsking at him, the Knight took quiet pleasure in the fear his Prince was able to instill with only a glance.  “I would advise against lying to me.” Mors warned in that same calm tone. “Who is that?” He asked again, gesturing once more to the girl behind him.

“I don’t know.” The boy repeated, brave even as his fleeting gaze betrayed him.  “I swear it by every God there is to swear upon…” He was crying now, choking against the sobs that rolled through his body, rendering him weak at the knees.  “I don’t know anything.”

“So it would seem.” Mors returned coolly.  “Well, then it would appear I have no further use for you…” He continued casually as he unsheathed his scimitar.

“No… Please…” The boy begged between gasps, tears streaming down his face.  His sobs were silenced by the blade that cut through his flesh and slipped between his ribs, twisting against the meaty organs protected within.  Blood sputtered from his mouth as his gaze grew distant. The light left his eyes as they were looking to the girl whose identity he had died to protect, a futile venture.  It was that girl which Mors turned to next, satisfaction painted smoothly over his boyish, blood-spattered features.

She no longer struggled against her restraints or bit down against the gag in her mouth.  Instead the girl lay still, watching Mors with careful eyes, wide with horror. When he reached out to remove the cloth from her jaw, she flinched away from his touch.  While he half-expected her to cry or scream, she only licked her dry lips and tested her sore jaw. When Mors asked her the quiet question of, “who are you?” her attention snapped back to the murderer who addressed her. 

“My name is Serra.” She answered carefully, eyes turning back and forth from the body that lay limp upon the stone floor and the man who had made it so. 

A mild disappointment floated across Prince Mors’ calm expression as he sat himself upon the edge of the bed, hovering over the girl he prodded with more gentility than his previous impromptu informant.  “And how did you come to be in your current predicament, Serra?” He asked her.

“The Princess…” She hesitated for a moment, considering her words before responding.  “She overpowered me and tied me up…”

“Did she?” A light broke across his olive complexion at her words, eyes beaming with a piqued interest that he permitted to reach his subtle features.  “Do you hear that, Devran?” He asked the Knight who hovered over his shoulder, awaiting command. “I came all this way to rescue my bride, and she’s already escaped of her own accord…” His friend pursed his lips and nodded approvingly as Mors turned back to the girl playing audience to their interaction.  “How long ago did this happen?”

The mousy serving girl before him only stared for a time before responding with her own question instead.  “You’re him, aren’t you?” She asked, the fear never leaving her steady gaze. “Prince Mors of Dorne, the Golden Fang…”

“I don’t particularly care for that name, actually.” Prince Mors of Dorne returned passively, his smile falling away, replaced by his previous serene expression.  “Now about my bride…” He allowed his voice to trail off encouragingly.

“Some hours past.” She answered obediently. 

“Before our attack?” The girl replied to his inquiry with a nod.  “And where has she gone?” He pressed. Once more he was met with hesitation. 

“I don’t --” She started. 

“Now, now…” Mors interrupted.  “We both know I don’t like that answer.”

Serra’s eyes flicked to the body bleeding out upon the floor before looking back up to meet the yellow gaze that bore into her.  “There are many places she could hide.”

“Better.” The Golden Fang encouraged, raising his scimitar to resting upon his lap, blood still dripping from the glistening steel. 

“If she were to make it past the guards of the manse, there would be many places within the village where --” She meant to go on, but the curious Dornishman before her was interrupting her again.

“There is no village.” He told her dryly.  “Not anymore.” The words stole her breath for a moment, but she recovered at the Dornish Prince’s gentle prodding.  “Anything else?” He asked her, hand coming to rest upon the hilt of the blade in his lap. The reminder of its presence loosened her lips.

“She’s wearing my dress…” The girl offered.

“And?” He prompted.

“And she’s cut her hair…”

“Thank you, Serra.” Prince Mors answered as he rose to standing, his scimitar now held fast.  “You’ve been very useful.” As his sword hand lifted into the air, the serving girl closed her eyes in anticipation for the blow which never came.  Instead the tethers that bound her wrists and ankles fell away and her limbs tumbled limply onto the hay bed upon which she was sprawled. “Up now.”  He said as he sheathed his blade. While the words were directed to the girl, it was Ser Devran who stepped forward at their utterance. “Let’s see if anyone else can prove as useful.”

Ser Devran Toyne, without a hint of remorse in his face, laced his fingers through the serving girl’s messy locks and wretched her to her feet by the roots of her hair.  As Mors started towards the doorway with his party and their new hostage in tow, it was his Knight’s quiet exclamation which gave him pause. “What’s this?” He asked the girl, yanking something shiny and sparkling from her desperate grip, splintering her nails as she cried out in protest.  She had reached for something in the mattress, which the Knight had fished out himself, holding the bangle up to the light and inspecting the quality. His liege extended his hand and at the Prince’s silent behest, Ser Devran handed him the piece of jewelry to study for himself.

“Where did you get this, Serra?” The eldest Martell child asked, curiosity twisting his youthful features into something less becoming.  The girl didn’t answer but instead looked on at the Dornishman who had claimed her prize, anger bubbling in the place of fear. “Serra?” Prince Mors pressed in a voice that made a mockery of concerned condescension. 

“I found it.” She lied. 

“Since you’ve been so helpful, I’ll let that one slide.” Mors replied casually, dropping the trinket into his own pocket.  “Don’t lie to me again.” Those were his final words to the serving girl before she was dragged out after him into the orange glow of a world on fire. 

Prince Mors Nymeros Martell, the betrothed of the sweet and gentle young woman who had earned a place of affection within the young serving girl’s heart, was everything the rumours had ever led Serra to believe about him.  The Golden Fang sat upon an emptied barrel that had once served as a cask of wine before his soldiers had found it and shared in amongst themselves. The Dornish Prince did not indulge, drunk instead off different reds. Knelt beside him, unable to help the tremble that had crawled beneath her skin and settled into her bones, Serra watched the soldiers drag another dead body into the growing pile while their liege wiped blood from his axe.  Her eyes moved from the fresh corpses to their executioner, to the silver lock of hair he kept around his fingers, now stained copper and black like his hands, his clothes, his soul. When she looked to his face, she was startled to find him looking back. Serra might have been able to save that poor individual, or the ones who had come before him, but she would be doing so at the expense of Princess Aeranys. If she told him where the Targaryen Princess was headed they would certainly find her, or worse -- she would lead this merciless monster straight to her father’s own doorstep. 

The invading forces has burned down the village and port-towns, covering the expanse of Greenstone and rooting every Stormborn native from their home.  Those who surrendered were amassed in the courtyard of the manse, divided into two groups. The first group was that of cripples, women and children; the helpless.  The second group was that of surrendering able men. There were none remaining from the third group, those who took up arms in defense of their land, and so it was with the second that Mors began his inquisition.  He would entertain informative narratives and send soldiers searching at the mention of particularly noteworthy locales. Each time that the noble men of High Hermitage, donning the black and silver of the cadet branch to the Lords of House Dayne, returned empty-handed the interrogation would end the same.  Prince Mors of Dorne loved swinging his axe into something beyond a sparring stand, something that could finally bleed. There had been six all together now and he had enjoyed every single one. The girl beside him, on the other hand, had retreated further and further into the paralysis of her terror with each merciless killing.

“You’re not being very helpful, Serra.” Prince Mors reminded her. 

“It doesn’t make any difference.” The serving girl replied, tears streaming from her face and making her throat hoarse.  “You’re going to kill everyone, aren’t you?” She wasn’t really asking a question, but the Dornish Prince answered for her anyway. 

“That’s the plan.” He told her, smiling that horrible smile.  Rising from his seat, he beckoned forth the seventh man, who was shoved toward his doom by the soldiers who surrounded him.  Thinking himself more clever than the rest, he made a sudden dash, breaking through the line of Dornishmen and pushing past the crowd.  The gathering lambs to slaughter did not part for his sake however, but rather the axe which came hurling through the air, landing directly into the runner’s back.  Leisurely he strode over to the corpse, flanked by his Knights who moved to collect the body after Prince Mors jerked his axe from its spine.

“Enough!” Someone called from the crowd, the voice strong but distinctly female.  “I know where the Princess is.” She insisted, stepping forward from the other women herded into a corner of the courtyard.  “I can take you there!” Urging surrounding soldiers to follow her, she started off towards the gates.

“Wonderful.” The Prince praised in an even tone as he cleaned the blood from the blade of his axe.  Gesturing to his fellow soldiers who fell into line behind him, he followed after the common woman for whom seven bodies was finally enough.  The young thing was headed towards the gated entry, leading Mors and his party from the courtyard. “I’m done with her.” He said casually over his shoulder, a finger coming to point at the serving girl still knelt in the dirt, staring off at nothing.  With a nod, the nearest soldier stepped forward and dragged his blade across her neck, a stream of reds pouring forth. Turning back to the new informant who had taken her place, he watched something flash across her visage before she regained her composure and hurried her pace.  Narrowing his eyes, Prince Mors Martell followed after her, entertaining the ruse for a time before breaking the silence of the night, illuminated by the glow of the island ablaze.

“Stop.” The Dornishman commanded.  Devran stepped forward to seize the woman who led them, but Mors shooed his hands away.  Placing his own gentle touch upon her shoulders, he turned her so that she faced him, snatching the cover from her hair.  Taking a moment, yellow eyes peered into her face, but he recognized her at once. The very first time he had ever felt his cold, quiet heart leap within his chest, it had been when his golden gaze had met her violet one.  Removing his hands from her person and taking a respectful step back, Prince Mors Martell lowered himself into a deep bow.

“Princess Aeranys.” He greeted sweetly.  “It is good to see you again.”

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Don’t look up. Keep walking. Don’t look up. Her chest tight and her breath stuck in her throat, the disguised princess forced herself numbly forward, forward, forward. Each time a guard’s gaze swept over her she’d feel as if her heart would stop in her chest, but it seemed her gambit had worked--the crimson mess staining the sheets was enough to have the men turn their gazes away. Keeping her head down, she made her way through the halls at the scurrying pace Serra usually moved in, chanting the directions in her head. The staircase on the right, she began the chant in her mind, trying to focus on the directions that would lead her to freedom. Take the middle hall, down to the kitchen. Go through the door on the side…

Twice she almost made the wrong turn, unfamiliar with the actual layout of the manse, and twice she thought fear would cause her to break into a senseless run under a particularly scrutinizing eye, but nothing managed to stop her--that is, until she found herself passing a hallway with a certain set of doors. Unlike most other places, two guards stood smartly at each side of the entrance. Despite herself, despite the dread stalking her ever so closely, she found herself give pause, for she knew where those double doors led to.

The cellar.

“The cellar?” she echoed. The two women sat closely together, their heads bowed forward by the fire as they spoke in hushed tones, bringing to life the plot that would set the royal hostage free.

“Yes, m’lady,” Serra nodded, her dark eyes watching cautiously as the princess took in the information. “There is no proper dungeon in this manse, and so he was placed there.”

“Is there only one way in and out?” the pale-haired girl asked, her thoughts on her maimed knight even though she had previously decided that she would have to leave him behind. Now that she had help from Serra, maybe, just maybe...

“No,” the maid answered, though hesitantly. “There is a grate at the far end that leads to a corner of the courtyard…” She swallowed, nervous worry taking over her features. “But you cannot, m’lady. There are always two guards posted at the entrance down to the cellar. Think of the risk.”

For a drawn-out moment there was only silence, but it was finally broken when Aeranys released a defeated sigh. “Yes, of course. I understand…”


And she truly did--she understood the position she was in, the position they all were in. It was better for her to escape successfully than to attempt something brash and get caught, putting them all in danger. As cruel and calculating it might have seemed, she knew that she was the piece she had to protect in this game. Ser Laenor, skilled knight and valued member of House Velaryon as he was, was not the bargaining chip that she was. If this was cyvasse, she knew she would have sacrificed such a piece without a second thought--replaceable, disposable. Yet as she stood there, she could not help but grasp desperately for something, something she could do. Cause a distraction somehow, start a fire…?

Think of the risk. Think of your duty, think of your mother…

Her grip on the bloody sheets tightened as she forced herself to resume her walk, keeping her eyes down. She folded her feelings away, steeled herself to what had to be done. She was almost to the stables, almost to her way out of this prison--how could she jeopardize everything? No, she couldn’t indulge in such foolishness.

Still, even as she reached the stables, she could hardly feel victorious. After she shoved the stained bundle of cloth underneath the straw of an empty stall, she found her way to the cart that Serra had told her about. Moving aside empty crates and satchels, she crawled into the narrow space she had cleared for herself and finally blew out a shuddering breath. Now, she could only wait. Serra had promised that the cart would leave for town before the gates closed for the night, which meant her wait would not be much longer. In the uneasy hush, the stowaway princess dug out the lone cyvasse piece from the pockets of the borrowed apron. She turned the familiar king piece over and over in her fingers, her mind going to the journey she would have ahead of her even if she made it safely off of Greenstone. It was a long way to Dorne, she knew, with many a thing that could happen on the road--and yet, she did not dare wonder if she would be able to make it there. She had to, no matter the cost.

How much time had passed? Aeranys shifted in her hiding place, growing more and more anxious. Surely, it was about time for someone to come to the stables. Had something happened? Had their plot been figured out?

Suddenly, she heard the sound of several people rushing by. The doors of the stables were thrust open as men entered, steps hurried and voices taut with tension. “Blasted raider scum,” one spat to his comrade as they stomped about, tools and items clattering to the ground as they snatched up one thing or another.

“Aye, and what bloody ill timing,” the other answered grimly. “We don’t have our full force, we’re going to need every man we’ve got.”

Curled up tight between crates, the princess smothered her breaths as she eavesdropped on the two guards cursing their luck. Raiders?  Her heart began to race in her chest as she realized with a burst of panic that there was no way this cart would be driven out to town tonight, not when there were raiders about. Was this it? Had her plans been dashed? No, there had to be some way, there had to be.

The guards were busy dealing with the raiders, which meant they were distracted. They would be trying to keep people out of the manse, preoccupied with the threat on their doorstep, away from their typical stations--

Her train of thought came to a sudden stop, her eyes lighting up with a new realization.


*************


“Ser Laenor?”

He kept hearing her voice. Regardless of whether he was sleeping or awake, he kept hearing her voice--when it was just the maid with the sad eyes, or even when no one was there. He kept hearing his failures coming back to haunt him--chief among them, his lady liege. He blinked. In the distance he could see a light. So it was the maid, then. Strange, had she not just been here a short time ago? Then again, he was having a difficult time telling how fast or slow time was passing--in trickles or waves. “Ser Laenor?” her voice came again, the flame wandering to the opposite side of the gloom.

“Princess?” the word came out jumbled, weak and unsure. This was usually when he realized that his mind was leading him astray, but as the light stopped and grew closer and closer, something within him leapt. “Milady? Princess Aeranys?” he called out, struggling to right himself.

Then all of a sudden someone was at his side, shushing him and raising the light. For a moment he stared, seeing only the tell-tale maid’s outfit, a lock of black hair that had escaped the kerchief--and then he realized whose face was looking down at him with concern in her pale eyes. “Princess,” he mumbled, wondering if this was a dream still. He could not tell, but the words that had been tormenting him tumbled forth from his lips. “Princess, I’ve failed you--my hand--”

“Apologies can come when we are safe,” her voice came, and he frowned against the bright flames.

“What…?” he began, and even to his own ears he sounded quite simple. “Milady, you don’t mean to say--” His question, however, was well enough answered when she produced a kitchen knife from her apron pocket and began to clumsily saw through the ropes that bound him.

“Raiders are attacking,” she explained as best as she could, still awkwardly maneuvering the blade around the ropes. “The guards are distracted--for now.”

“But--but...this is an island, princess,” he spluttered. “How will we stay hidden when it is over? How will we get off of Greenstone?”

“I have a way prepared,” she supplied, only to purse her lips a moment after. “Well, I did…but let’s focus on getting you out of here first.”

With one last sawing motion the binding around his ankles was cut, and the knight nursed his tender flesh, looking up at his lady with dazed disbelief still in his eyes. “Milady, your hair…” he murmured.

Though she knew he was speaking about its cropped length, she pretended she believed him to be commenting about its shade. “It’s only soot,” she deflected, pulling out the pouch of black powder and opening it up. She had meant to save it for the rest of her journey, but it seemed that the knight would benefit from a bit of camouflage as well. Spilling it onto her palm, she spread it through his pale blonde hair as best as she could. “It will have to do,” she breathed, her gaze roving over the young man. “Can you stand, Ser Laenor?”