Forum of Thrones: An Interactive Story



  • Ysilla

    They moved at a quick pace, wasting no time to get ready and leave the camp. While Jen wore only her clothes and a cloak against the cold, Ysilla was donning a thick leather jerkin, at Theodan's insistence. It wouldn't stop a sword, but at least it would give her some protection. More than anything else, it helped with calming Theodan a bit. She also took her spear and a short knife, the latter of which she hid in her boot. A trick like that had saved her brother's life in the Free Cities once and she was determined to at least learn something from his stories.

    Understandably, Jenelyne was anything but calm. She led the search, leaving the camp almost at running speed and Ysilla, who was carrying a torch, had quite some trouble keeping up with her at first. The path was little more than a rocky track here, surrounded by high hills and the even higher mountains of Dorne. Clouds were blocking the moon and her torch was the only source of light, illuminating a dry landscape, covered in rocks and small bushes. Only few trees grew here and they were leafless and twisted. Somewhere in the distance, a shadowcat was howling.

    “Jen...”, Ysilla said after a while, gently reaching for her hand. The woman tensed up under the touch, but did not pull back. “We'll find him”, she assured her, to which Jen managed a thin smile. “We better do”, she replied. “I'll never forgive that doofus if he doesn't come back” Though she was showing her smile, there was obvious concern in her eyes and her hand was clenched around Ysilla's almost painfully tight.

    “You got any idea how far he got by now?”, Ysilla asked and Jen immediately shook her head. “No... no, I don't”, she replied. “This is not like him. Even when he's upset, he would never just leave” She gulped. “Something must have happened” This caused Ysilla to raise an eyebrow. “I'm sure he's fine”, she tried to calm her down, though she had to try her best not to show her own concern. Allar was a good man, a friend and companion and the thought that something could have happened to him was hard to stomach.

    Of course, Theodan had only been able to reveal the general direction Allar went off into, which was not much. Ysilla could only assume he stayed on the only path, which led through the hills and ever closer to the higher mountains. Behind them, she knew, would be the undoubtedly guarded border to the Reach. A single man could possibly cross it unnoticed by any patrol, but Ysilla was unwilling to try the same with Jen tonight, especially since they left Theodan behind at the camp. She could only pray to the Seven that Allar was not foolish enough.

    Quietly, she lowered the torch, trying to spot any tracks on the ground below, to no avail. It was simply too dark and even then, she was not a skilled tracker. As such, they stumbled through the darkness without even knowing if they were moving into the right direction and Ysilla soon had to curse herself for being so foolish. This was a dangerous region, Lord Blackmont had outright warned them. But perhaps this meant they had to try only harder to find Allar before anything would happen to him.

    Ysilla remembered back to when she had run away from Godsgrace once, back in her childhood. She had been eight years old and it was the very first time she had felt truly like a bastard, truly not an Allyrion. Ashara had made sure to drive the point home and even just thinking back to her words still stung a little bit. She had been gone for almost a full day and by the time her father found her, she had been dehydrated and dizzy from the heat. Here in the mountains, especially at night, it was more the biting cold that would be a problem.

    But Allar was not a little girl who had made a stupid mistake. He knew the mountains, he knew how to survive here. She spoke these words in her head, over and over. He knew the mountains, he knew how to survive here. This calmed her quite a bit, but as the path grew steeper, leading closer to the mountains, she couldn't shake off the feeling that something terrible was about to happen.

    “Get your blade ready”, she spoke and Jenelyne raised an eyebrow. She did follow the request though and placed a hand on the hilt of her sword, letting go of Ysilla in the process. “Do you think there will be trouble?”, she asked and Ysilla shook her head. “Just a feeling”, she spoke, as she narrowed her eyes. Somewhere in the distance, another shadowcat howled again, or perhaps it was the same, slowly stalking them. She had heard that they could easily overpower a grown man, but that they never attacked unless provoked or starving. However, she was unwilling to test this claim.

    “Just a feeling”, she replied in a low tone. Just in this moment, she heard a twig snapping in the bush next to her and a second later, a shadow jumped up. Ysilla suppressed a scream, as her spear spun into the assailant's direction. The figure dodged beneath it and then, the torch followed, illuminating none other than the very man they had been looking for.

    “Drop the torch, now!”, Allar hissed with wide eyes. Seeing the clear concern in his eyes, she did so at once and he immediately trampled down upon it until the flames had died. Then, he grabbed Ysilla and Jen, pulling them both off the road and into the bush. “What the...!”, Jenelyne merely managed to yell, before Allar had put a hand over her mouth.

    “Quiet!”, he growled. “No loud noise, no light. Get it?” He only removed the hand from his sister's mouth after she and Ysilla had both given him a nod. “Now, what are you doing here?”, he hissed, his usually calm voice stained with subdued anger. Ysilla narrowed her eyes. “We?”, she growled in return. “We were looking for you. You've been gone for hours!”

    “We were worried for you”, Jenelyne added. “And I know you're upset about me and her, but that is not like you to just...” Allar cut her off with a surprised gasp. “That is why you think I've been gone?”, he hissed. “You, of all people, should know me better!” He looked from Jenelyne to Ysilla. “If anything, I am happy for you! And you think... that I left because, what, I'm upset?”

    His anger was real and Ysilla only managed a sheepish nod. “We thought you had left to cool off”, she admitted. “You did not seem happy” Allar clenched his fists, though he let out a sigh and visibly calmed down afterwards. “Listen, I'm not some foolish boy who goes off on his own to cry because he's been rejected”, he told her in a more neutral tone. “Much as I wasn't happy then, I did not just storm off. I genuinely wanted to scout the area before heading to sleep” This time, he gave her and his sister a slight glare. “Considering you were busy fooling around”

    Ysilla bit down onto her lower lip. “And why didn't you come back by now?”, she whispered, to which he raised an eyebrow. “Isn't that obvious?”, he asked. “I'm being followed. Three people, almost had them thrown off my trail” He glanced around. “And now, we are being followed, because you couldn't just wait for me to return”, he added. “Bet they already saw the light of the torch”

    “I... we were worried for you, brother”, Jenelyne argued, to which Allar sighed. Then, he gave her a nod. “I know”, he mumbled. “And it won't help if I just blame you for what happened. We need to find a way back to the camp and then we need to get the hell over that border. In the Reach itself, we're going to be fine”

    “Should have gone by ship”, Jenelyne mumbled and Allar shook his head. “And trust a captain and their entire crew not to rat us out?”, he whispered in return, his voice so low that Ysilla barely understood him at all. “We're not merchants or wanderers, we're working for Dorne's spymistress and we're about to enter a hostile kingdom. Best way to do that is usually not to get caught”

    Jen rolled her eyes. “Idiot”, she mumbled. “So, what's the plan. Three people... bandits?” Allar shook his head. “Scouts, I'm afraid”, he replied. “They patrol down this path. If not for me, they would have caught you by now” He leant closer and Ysilla saw that he had narrowed his eyes. “Best chance we have is to ambush them before they find us or the camp”, he decided and placed a hand on his lips. “But quietly. No doubt more are nearby”

    And so they waited in silence. Ysilla couldn't help but feel embarrassed for what she had thought, for assuming that Allar was upset because of her and Jen. It was true that she did not know him too well, but it was not like him to react in such a way. She had done him injustice. Worse, she had brought him and Jenelyne and Theodan into a terrible situation. Not even her prayers helped with making her feel any better right now and all she could do was to grip her spear tightly and prepare for the fight to come.

    They didn't have to wait for too long. Just a few minutes after Allar had dragged them into the bush, Ysilla heard horses, slowly making their way across the rocky path, coming from the west, the very direction Ysilla and Jen would have continued into if not for Allar. She realized it had to be three riders even before she saw them. The one leading the trio had a storm lantern tied to his saddle, which made them easy to spot from a distance.

    “Telling you, I heard something from here”, a male voice growled. “We should turn around and tell the commander, get some back-up” Another voice chuckled. “Yeah, tell him we found a shadowcat, or a few wild dogs, sure he'll be pleased”, he replied. “First we find out what it was, then we can consider getting back-up”

    “I don't like this at all. I saw a shadow, sneaking through the darkness”, the first man argued. “What if it's the Dornish?” This caused the second man to laugh. “You haven't slept in, what, two days? What if it's false alarm?”, he asked in return. “You want to waste the commander's time? You know what he did to Lonnie just last week when his time got wasted” They were close now, almost close enough for Ysilla to strike. “That was after Lonnie raped that girl”, the first man replied. “Pushed all the wrong buttons with the commander”

    “Don't know what you saw, but it's not the Dornish”, a third voice growled, slightly older and more weathered, likely their leader. “The Blackmont army is where they belong, at Blackmont and Oakswood and Gravesend, far to the north and the east. They're not so close to the border, so stop shitting yourself, shut up and watch the road”

    They came closer, ever closer and Ysilla could even see the leader's face now, a grizzled veteran, whose head was protected by an open helmet, leaving his scarred face and the bearded neck exposed. He was glancing around, his eyes momentarily meeting Ysilla's and she tensed up, hoping he hadn't seen her in the bushes.

    For a moment, this seemed to be the case indeed, before he narrowed his eyes. “Halt!”, he yelled and his companions stopped. “You there, man!”, he yelled and Ysilla realized he did not mean her, as he looked right past her. “Get out of hiding!” Allar did as he was asked, his hands raised, though his blade was clearly exposed. “I mean no trouble, m'lord!”, he stuttered. “I'm a hunter, please”

    A thin, crooked smirk formed on the rider's face. “A hunter in the middle of the night, here in the Red Mountains”, he spoke, as he raised an eyebrow. “And who the hell hunts with a sword?” He shook his head. “Boy, we're from the Reach, means we can smell a liar. And you... you smell like a filthy Dornish, which is even worse” He pointed at the sword. “Either you're a thief, or a Blackmont scout. We have orders to deal with both, but if you surrender now, we'll just take you back to the camp. The commander can decide your fate”

    These should be his last words as Jenelyne wasted no time dealing with this threat. The girl threw a knife at him and she had it easy, considering the lantern that illuminated him nicely and he very clearly hadn't seen her. The knife pierced his throat, cutting off any further words, beyond a pained gargle. The horse behind him immediately neighed loudly, as Allar jumped out of the bush.

    “Fuck!”, the second man screamed loudly, as Allar's blade pierced through his leg and into the horse's body below. Ysilla meanwhile got out of hiding behind the third man, who already turned his horse around. “Bloody told you!”, he screamed, in clear panic, as he spotted Ysilla in the darkness. “No! No, no, no!” And then he did the only smart thing in his situation. Instead of fighting, he moved his horse right into Ysilla's direction, with the clear intention of escaping back to where he came from.

    Ysilla thrusted her spear forwards, though the man managed to move his horse to the side and instead of impaling the animal, she merely grazed the rider's leg, before she herself had to jump to the side to avoid being hit by the club he was wielding. Behind him, Allar parried his opponent's strike, just in time for Jenelyne to finish the man off.

    “Help!”, the man yelled, as soon as he had gotten past Ysilla. She narrowed her eyes, as she raised the spear. Just in this man, she realized what he was doing. He was not just yelling for help. Instead, he had dropped his club, his hand now clutching something much more dangerous. Even in the darkness, she was able to spot the familiar shape of a bugle.

    She threw her spear after the man just as he had moved the horn to his lips. A loud, shrill tone came from it, cut off almost as quick as it started, as the spear found its way into the man's chest. Still, the tone echoed across the hills and the distant mountains, so much louder than the brief noise of battle. Ysilla spun around, exchanging a startled look with Allar. And then, a moment later, a second tone replied, then another one, coming from the mountains.

    “Run...”, Allar just mumbled, as Ysilla had already sprinted towards the dead scout's body. His horse had thrown him off and continued into the darkness, the same applied to the horse of the man Jenelyne had killed. That was fortunate, as it allowed Ysilla to retrieve her spear. “Ysilla!”, Allar yelled, as she made her way back to them. He was displeased, sure, but there was simply no way she would leave the weapon behind, one of the few gifts her father had made her to support her chosen path.

    Together, the trio began to run, back where they came from. Without a torch and under the dim light of the moon, it was a hazardous escape through difficult terrain and more than once, Ysilla stumbled, or noticed how Jen was stumbling. Only Allar seemed to have little problem running through this darkness at full speed, as if he knew no fear.

    It seemed to have taken only a few minutes as the horn was blown again, this time notably closer. Ysilla glanced over her shoulder, but she saw nothing in the darkness. They were still far away, they had to be, but it was clear that reinforcements were on their way. And this thought gave Ysilla the motivation to push on even as her heart began to beat faster and her breath got heavier.

    “Up there, quick!”, Allar hissed, pointing up a steep hill. In the darkness, that was all she could see and she knew it would be quite the climb. Even worse, she could not take her spear. However, she had to agree that it would be their best chance at losing the horses. As such, she followed after Jenelyne, who was already starting to climb, and Allar, who glanced around to make sure she was still following. With a frown, she turned around and threw her spear behind the hills behind them. She would retrieve it later, hopefully.

    “Hurry”, Jen hissed and she began to climb with remarkable skill. Allar followed, a bit clumsier and Ysilla had soon caught up to him. “Don't let me stop you”, she replied with a grin, just as the moonlight revealed his frown. “Wasting breath”, he mumbled in return, though she could see how concerned he was. She was too, as the next horn sounded much closer. As she narrowed her eyes, she realized she could even hear the horses already.

    Wasting no more time, she continued to climb. It was a steep hill, covered in sand and loose rocks, with dry roots sticking from it. The darkness made it a tricky climb and Ysilla had to reach for the roots more than once. Jenelyne had naturally outpaced both of them and she was already close to the top.

    It was in this moment that Allar cried a muffled curse. Ysilla, who was almost past him. She heard a crack, as the root he had been grabbing onto simply gave in under his weight, snapping in half and leaving him with nothing to hold onto. Without even thinking, she turned around and reached out for him. He managed to grab onto her hand and in this moment, she realized that she had made a terrible mistake, as for a brief moment, she carried all of Allar's sheer weight. The last thing she managed to do before he dragged her down with him was to let out a surprised gasp.

    Ysilla's world began to spin, as she was helpless to stop the fall. Allar's leg hit her heavily in the stomach, pressing the air from her lungs and then, she landed on top of him. Both groaned in pain and Ysilla had to fight off the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm her. The nearby horn of their pursuers managed to snap her out of it though and she pushed herself up. “Come on”, she hissed towards Allar.

    “Stay up there!”, Allar yelled, not even bothering with keeping his voice down and Ysilla realized that Jenelyne had started to climb down as well. It was to no avail and before she could react, the other woman was kneeling next to her. “You clumsy oaf!”, Jenelyne hissed, as she gave Allar a jab against the upper arm. “Come on, let's get you up there”

    Together and with Allar's help, they indeed managed to lift him up quickly. By now, Ysilla saw the torches in the distance and she clearly heard the horses. No hounds though, at the very least, but she was not sure it'd make a difference. On all fours, she crawled forwards. This time, it was Allar who outpaced her with ease.

    She hadn't gotten farther than halfway up the hill, as the reinforcements had reached them, with no over to hide behind. Ysilla was certain the horses couldn't just climb after them so easily, but it did not prevent the torches from shining light upon them. The horses stopped and there was no doubt about it, they had been caught.

    An arrow hit the sand next to Jen, who immediately stopped climbing. “Halt!”, a sharp, female voice called out for them. “Come down, or the next arrow will hit” Ysilla's eyes widened, as she and Jenelyne exchanged a glance. The other woman gave her a slight nod, though there was hesitation in her gaze. Then, Ysilla, lowered herself down the hill, landing next to Allar, who was already standing once again.

    In the light of the torches, Ysilla spotted a woman, not much older than her, sitting on one of the horses, surrounded by a good dozen of riders, each of them armed with bows and arrows. She had a light tan and black hair, tied into a bun. Icy blue eyes glared at the trio and there was a knotty scar beneath her right eye, visible and somewhat disfiguring even in the darkness. “Three”, she said, smug satisfaction in her voice. “That's all of you?”

    “It is”, Allar began, as the mounted soldiers slowly surrounded them. “Please, we are just...” He didn't get any farther, as the woman cut him off. “Kill them”, she immediately ordered in a calm tone and there was something hateful within her voice. As the bows got raised, Ysilla wasted no time to push herself between them and Jen, while Allar did the same for her. Her heart skipped a beat, as she cursed herself for having thrown away her spear.

    “Halt!”, another voice ordered, deeper and more gravelly. It was the authoritative tone of a man who was used to give orders, though Ysilla was only mildly calmed as the archers immediately lowered their bows. The woman narrowed her eyes and she raised her hand, as if to order them to fire regardless, but none followed her command.

    In the light of the torches, she spotted three men, slowly riding forward, all three seemed to be in their mid-to-late thirties, which was about the only similarity they had. To the right, there was a long-faced man with angular features and a large forehead. He had a calm smile on his face, perhaps even smug and one hand moved through his short, curly hair. A natural tan hinted at his origin, quite likely not from Westeros. There was a curved sword resting in his lap, though as he noticed Ysilla's stare, he placed a hand on it, his smile widening slightly.

    The man on the left was slightly sunburnt instead of tanned, his reddened skin clearly visible in the dim light, as he opened the visor of his full helmet. He could have been a handsome man, being tall and well-built, but his gaunt face had something severe about it, a strong glare that contrasted sharply with the other man's almost smug smile. A thick stubble covered his chin and he had his eyes narrowed. In one hand, he firmly held a spear, though Ysilla spotted a short sword by his side. And unlike the man to the right, who merely wore thin, dark leather, he had a thick plate armour, befitting for a knight. There was a sigil on it, a winged heart, though Ysilla did not recognize it.

    Between them rode the man who had spoken, one of the most fearsome sights Ysilla had ever witnessed. He was tall, even taller than the man to his left, with a wiry build, clad in heavy armour, coloured in a reddish orange, with a golden butterfly at the centre of his chest. His long, frigid face lacked any facial hair and indeed, his gaunt features, with his sunken cheeks and eyes reminded Ysilla of nothing less than a corpse. Furthermore, he lacked the tanned man's smug smirk, or the other knight's vicious glare. He merely looked down upon them with a neutral calm.

    “They killed our men”, the woman hissed and the bald man briefly glanced at her. “Was my order not clear?”, he asked in a cold tone and she gulped. “It was”, she replied, to which he briefly leant forward, slowly narrowing his eyes. Ysilla spotted the woman tensing up. “It was, Commander Yoreen, Ser!”, she exclaimed loudly, which he responded to with a nod. “Glad to hear it, Roseandre”, he mumbled, as he moved his horse closer to Ysilla, Jenelyne and Allar.

    “My, my, what do we have here?”, he spoke. “A trio of Dornish spies, trying to sneak across my border” He shook his head. “You chose the wrong time to do so” Allar and Ysilla exchanged another look, as he replied in her stead. “Please, Ser, we are only hunters”, he tried his justification from before once again, to even less of a result. The bald man merely smiled thinly, a terrifying expression on his otherwise calm face. “I hate liars”, he simply told him. “This will be your only warning”

    “Ser, for what it's worth, I believe your woman is right”, the knight to his left spoke up. “Kill them at once and get it over with. Nothing good ever comes from talking to Dornish vermin” Ysilla noticed a spiteful smile flashing over the woman's face, while the bald man narrowed his eyes. “Last time I checked, you have been merely my guest, Toyne, neither my commander, nor my adviser”, he replied sharply. “These are not your Stormlands. Out here, I make the rules”

    The Toyne knight sighed. “Of course, Commander Yoreen”, he confirmed. “But learn from my experience. They killed three of your men. Only blood can pay for blood” Ysilla took a deep breath as she recognized the name. Yoreen... Yoreen Flowers? Belandra had warned her about the man. For all she heard, he was a beast and now that he towered over her atop his horse, glaring down at her, he certainly looked the part.

    “That was a fight. I don't blame a soldier for what happens in the heat of battle”, he clarified, never once raising his voice. “Now they surrendered. Tell me, Ser Theon, is it knightly to kill those who have surrendered?” The Toyne knight thought about this for a moment, before he shook his head. “It's not so easy with the Dornish”, he argued. “Keep them alive now and they will stab you in the back later. Only honourable foes deserve to be treated with honour”

    “A good argument”, the third man spoke up and Ysilla noticed a thick accent in his voice, Braavosi, or Pentoshi, an almost comical mixture between the two. She had been to the Free Cities when looking for Theodan and something was off about the way he spoke, like a man whose speech had been formed by more than one of the Free Cities. Unusual, but not unheard of. “But then you would never learn why they tried to sneak across your border”

    “They are Dornish”, the woman argued. “They come to raid and pillage” The man raised an eyebrow. “I don't think so”, he told her. “It's just the three of them. Something is off. I say we should take them back to the camp, alive, and maybe they are inclined to tell us everything” This caused a brief, grim smile to flash across Yoreen's face. “They got a camp of their own nearby”, he deduced. “No supplies on them”

    Ysilla clenched her teeth. Theodan was back at the camp, so there was no way she would tell him anything... wasn't it? He descended from his horse and the tanned man did the same, as together, they approached the captured trio. “A good input, Viper”, Yoreen complimented him. “And I agree. I want to know everything before I decide what to do with them”

    As he said this, Ysilla narrowed her eyes. “You better get ready for a disappointment”, she hissed. “Because I won't tell you anything” Yoreen chuckled, as he came closer, until she could clearly see his cold, green eyes, glaring down at her. This man had done unspeakable things in Yronwood. She had heard of him and she was terrified. It was one thing to act brave in the face of danger. But to be at the mercy of this beast?

    “I'm asking you nicely”, he replied. “Tell me now and we will try to avoid bloodshed when storming your camp. Once we have all of you, we'll take you to the rest of my unit and what happens to you from then will depend entirely on your cooperation” Defiantly, with what little rest of bravery she had, Ysilla bared her teeth. “And if I don't tell you? You gonna kill me either way”

    To this, Yoreen shook his head. “I genuinely haven't decided what to do with you”, he claimed. “But if you don't tell me... well, I am a reasonable man. I ask politely and I expect a polite answer” He pointed at the tanned man behind him. “This is the Iron Viper”, he introduced him. “From beyond the Narrow Sea, he brings with him knives and poison and the knowledge to use them. If you do not tell me, he will ask again, less nicely”

    The Iron Viper gave her a wink and somehow, his jovial attitude was even more unnerving than Yoreen's calm demeanour. The knight placed a hand on her shoulder and she tensed up beneath it. “I can see you are scared”, he spoke. “If you tell me now, you have no reason to” He placed a finger beneath her chin, lifting it up so that she looked him straight in the eye. “There's a saying in my family. My father says it all the time”, he told her, almost softly. “All will be well”

    [Tell him about the camp] [Refuse to tell him]

  • [Tell him about the camp] Theodan is going to mad either way, but at least he shouldn’t be dead. Also, if there’s anything we should learn from this story, it’s that trying to smuggle yourselves overland never works.

    And, at last, we get the arrival of a long-mentioned character. As I was reading this part, it felt like he was going to appear in it, I felt it more as it went on, and my suspicion was confirmed in the end. Yoreen is quite a specimen, isn’t he? No hair, but tall. And already quoting his father. And she’s scared of him too!

    And this Iron Viper, I recall seeing that name is the unintroduced characters for a while now, so yay.

    Somewhere in the distance, a shadowcat was howling.

    So obviously a shadowcat isn’t a real creature, but I never guessed they howled. I thought only dogs did that.

    Ysilla They moved at a quick pace, wasting no time to get ready and leave the camp. While Jen wore only her clothes and a cloak against t

  • Also, if there’s anything we should learn from this story, it’s that trying to smuggle yourselves overland never works.

    To be fair, going by sea wouldn't have been without its risks either. In retrospect, it definitely would have been the better option, but the land route has the benefit that if they go unnoticed, absolutely no one will know they have passed the border.

    And, at last, we get the arrival of a long-mentioned character. As I was reading this part, it felt like he was going to appear in it, I felt it more as it went on, and my suspicion was confirmed in the end. Yoreen is quite a specimen, isn’t he? No hair, but tall. And already quoting his father. And she’s scared of him too!

    Ysilla is definitely smart enough to know whom to be scared of. And Yoreen... well, he is his father's son in many ways and not quite in others. He will be a very interesting character to write for and I genuinely cannot wait to delve into the depths of his personality. He's been the character who has been on the waiting list the longest up until now, so I had a lot of time to plan for him.

    And this Iron Viper, I recall seeing that name is the unintroduced characters for a while now, so yay.

    It's kinda baffling for me that the Iron Viper has been submitted almost three years ago. He still feels like one of the newer ones, simply because over five hundred characters have been submitted before him. But just like Yoreen, expect some pretty good stuff from him!

    So obviously a shadowcat isn’t a real creature, but I never guessed they howled. I thought only dogs did that.

    While I did not do too much research into what type of noise cats (or shadowcats, who are closer to tigers in size) make, I think howling actually describes it as well. Of course, it is more usually associated with canines, but I am pretty certain it can be used for cats as well. Growling or roaring could have been better there, to be fair.

    [Tell him about the camp] Theodan is going to mad either way, but at least he shouldn’t be dead. Also, if there’s anything we should learn f

  • The Voting is closed!

    Ysilla is going to tell Yoreen about the camp

    A close voting, but I can say you easily made the smarter choice. Remember ages ago, how Lucas tried to remain silent with Yoreen's father? Yeah, didn't work out well for him, did it? I can say this much, Yoreen is not someone to make idle threats. He is not quite his father, but he is not to be taken lightly or messed with in any way.

    Now, the next part... I have admittedly not even started to write it yet and I am afraid I need to keep you waiting for a few more days. For this, I am sorry, you know how much writing the story means to me and truth be told, I want nothing more than to sit down and write right now. Unfortunately, there is a very pressing matter that needs my absolute attention, it is a serious and very bad occasion. I've been honest with you in the past and I will not stop now. The matter is that my father died yesterday. I think I mentioned it in the past, he was suffering from bladder cancer, which has been diagnosed last summer. We all hoped it would be cured after he underwent surgery to have his bladder removed in November last year and for a while, it all seemed well. He was recovering and was happy for the future, until two months ago. Then, he received the diagnosis that his cancer has returned, spreading into liver and lungs. I still remained hopeful and positive for as much as possible, even planning to donate part of my liver to help him. He received something called an immunotherapy, since he did not react too well to the chemotherapy he received last year. Unfortunately, he did not react well to this one either and ultimately, his cancer spread rapidly and aggressively, which minimized his chances for survival. This is something I did not know until two days ago. Until Saturday, I was still certain he would recover and survive for maybe another year. Then, the doctor told me that his cancer has spread throughout his entire body in a matter of just a few days, including his brain and that he would die within days. I said my goodbyes on Sunday, I got the chance to do that and he was still conscious enough to understand me at this point, which means the world to me. I am not going to lie, two years ago this would have crushed me and had it happened back then, I don't think I would have been anywhere near as calm as I am right now. Don't get me wrong, I am just barely holding it together, but I am. After all that happened over the last two years, from my mother's accident to my grandfather's slow and absolutely horrible death, I have learned how to cope. Work helps. Writing helps. Friends help. It is hard, but worry not for me, I am needed and too much depends on me not breaking down. All I can do is continue as he would have wanted me to. And that I will. This includes both of my stories, don't expect me to give up on them. However, I might need to keep you waiting for another few days until I have the time and the calm to actually write the next part. My mother and especially my grandmother would be overwhelmed with all this, so I am the one in charge of a lot of stuff. Choosing the grave, contacting all of my father's friends, sending the invitations to the funeral, I am certain I won't have much free time until the end of this week. The funeral will most likely be on Tuesday, but I think I should get the next Forum of Thrones part done until then. It is not The Dark Eye's turn, I will write the next part for that story after writing the next Forum of Thrones part, but I doubt I will get it done until after the funeral. Just be assured, I have no intentions of keeping you waiting for longer than I absolutely have to and as soon as I got through the worst stress, I can continue and I am certain it will help me with calming down a bit.

  • I'm so sorry for your loss. It can't be easy to lose someone so close to you, especially when it just keeps happening (your mother's accident, grandfather and now your father as well). I wouldn't know the feeling. In fact, I can't even begin to imagine, but I fear the day I will have to know how it feels.

    These types of stories really frighten me lately, because my father was diagnosed with skin cancer back in February. They took that shit right off him and right now he's healthy. I really hope it stays that way.

    Anyways, I am very sorry for your loss. Take all the time you need! And if it is of any consolation, I'm really hyped, and will stay hyped for the story no matter how long it takes for the next part!

    The Voting is closed! Ysilla is going to tell Yoreen about the camp A close voting, but I can say you easily made the smarter choice.

  • edited June 2019

    First of all, thank you for the kind words, here as well! I said most of it over at Creator's Haven, but I want to take the time to thank you for reading here as well, for your support in this terrible time and well, for simply being awesome. I am doing okay, perhaps better than I thought, but this is a terrible time. On top of that, there is a lot of stress going on, as I am the only one who can do a lot of important inheritance-related stuff now.

    But more about that later. For now, I am happy to announce that Forum of Thrones will return to the Telltale forums. Posting wasn't possible over the last two weeks, because the forums broke just a day after captainivy's post just above mine. This seems fixed for the time being, so for as long as it lasts, the story will continue to be posted here alongside Creator's Haven.

    So, the next part will continue the storylines for Lachlan and the Hawk, but for the sake of being complete, it will also include Irae's part, which has been posted on Creator's Haven while this site wasn't available. However, voting for Irae's part is already closed, so it will only include the choice that eventually won. As always, I hope you enjoy and thank you for reading!

  • Irae

    Irae took a deep breath, as she looked from Deja to the Mask. Then, she gave them a nod. “Alright”, she spoke. “The short version is that the girl is indeed warlock matters” Deja narrowed her eyes, while the Mask chuckled briefly. “I'm afraid this won't be enough, mylady”, he told her. “What about the long version?”

    This caused the warlock to sigh. “If you want to do it that way”, she hissed. “The long version is that the girl is somehow involved with a very powerful, very malevolent entity called the Blood Witch” As she said this, the Mask raised an eyebrow, while Deja gasped. The woman clenched her fists. “Go on”, she said coldly. “What about that witch?”

    Irae shrugged. “We know little about her, but she, for some reason, wants the girl, Naela”, she explained. “I was sent by the order to guide her, to set her on her way” The Mask tilted his head. “You're manipulating her”, he said bluntly and Irae gulped. “I...”, she stuttered. “I'm not doing that. I help the girl just as well. Healing her ailing father is part of the deal”

    “And his death would shatter that deal?”, the Mask asked, while Irae noticed how tensed up Deja still was. She nodded. “I'm afraid it would, yes”, she told them. “And this Blood Witch, she is immensely powerful. Master Moros seems certain she could destroy this entire city if we displease her. So, while the warlocks work on a way to deal with her, we need to keep her calm”

    “That does sound pretty dangerous”, the Mask admitted. “Don't you agree, Deja?” He glanced at his partner, who was silently mustering Irae. “You seem oddly concerned for the girl's well-being”, she then uttered. “Why don't you bewitch her, let us deal with the father and force her to go with you to... to where exactly?”

    Irae sighed. “The Dothraki Sea”, she revealed, figuring that if she was to be honest, the full truth wouldn't hurt. “The Blood Witch has a connection to the Witch Khal and his horde. As for your other question... I have no doubt that there are members of my order who would do this without a second thought. But I don't want to lose the girl's favour. Who knows what the Blood Witch wants from her, maybe her well-being is important”

    “Adorable”, the Mask chuckled. “A warlock with a conscience. And here I thought your kind and mine had something in common” He shook his head. “I stand by my word, we do not wish to cross your order. Yet this puts us in a predicament, for the Tourmaline Brotherhood wants Kareq Orlatis dead. I understand that patience is a virtue, but many among the Brotherhood have gained their wealth by rash actions and a streak of luck”

    “They won't have a choice”, Irae spoke. “Kareq lives, it is part of the deal. You two can either try to go against our wishes, or you can convince the Brotherhood to back off. There is more at stake than their wealth. If the Blood Witch attacks us now, the city will fall. Many will die and the witch will go on to do the same to the rest of Essos”

    “Doubt they give a damn about this city”, Deja mumbled. “Or the continent, while we're at it. Convincing them won't be easy” The Mask nodded, as he narrowed his eyes. “Of course, maybe we can make a bit of a deal”, he spoke. “As far as I understand, your goal is to manipulate...” He paused and chuckled. “Sorry, 'convince' the girl to come with you to this Blood Witch. Kareq Orlatis needs to live only until his daughter left the city, am I correct?”

    Irae clenched her fists, quite disliking the tone of this man. “You will back off from this contract”, she warned him. “My order won't be merciful” The Mask shook his head. “Your order sounds rather desperate”, he replied. “But worry not, I believe I have an idea on how to help both of us. I do not wish to back off from my contract, but truth be told, the destruction of Qarth is not in my best interest either”

    “You wish to help us?”, Irae asked and the Mask gave her a swift nod. “Oh yes”, he assured her. “Because let me tell you a secret... we have not been hired to just kill Kareq Orlatis” Briefly, he raised an eyebrow, as he witnessed her realizing what he meant. “Naela is his heiress...”, she gasped, as the assassin chuckled. “Technically, we have been hired to eliminate both, so that the Tourmaline Brotherhood can waltz in and take control of their assets without even a fragment of resistance”, he told her. “Emphasis on 'eliminate', not necessarily 'kill'. If you bring both out of the city, the Tourmaline Brotherhood will be happy”

    Irae shot him a glare. “Maybe you shouldn't have poisoned the father then”, she hissed. “As it is, he's not able to travel” The Mask shrugged. “I told you, that wasn't us, but some Tourmaline alchemist”, he reminded her. “Had I done it, the man would have died the same night. I don't like long, agonizing deaths. They are the mark of a cruel lackwit and as you have proven, they offer the victim a way out”

    The warlock and the assassin stared at each other for a moment, before Irae shook her head. “As long as we don't know what the Blood Witch wants, I cannot allow you to kill Naela's father”, she clarified and the Mask sighed. “And if he cannot travel, his death is the only way for Deja and me to please the Tourmaline Brotherhood”, he mumbled. “But think about it... we can help you with the girl, if you help us with the father”

    “I am not interested”, Irae replied coldly, to which the Mask shrugged. “But those in charge might be”, he told her in a calm, almost casual tone “Tell your masters I will approach them in a timely manner” He placed a hand on his chest. “If I cannot reach an agreement with them, I will abandon the mission, you have my word. The wrath of the Tourmaline Brotherhood is nothing compared to your order. But if there is a way for us to help each other, then yes, I would like this very much”

    Reluctantly, Irae gave him a nod. “I'll mention it”, she promised. “But don't get your hopes up. My order is rarely willing to negotiate with cutthroats” The Mask briefly bowed before her, completely ignoring the remark. “I am sure we can come to an agreement”, he replied. “We are all civilized people here, there is no need for a fight between us” He glanced at Deja. “And I'm not just saying this because I am certain we'd lose such a fight”, he claimed.

    With this, he turned to leave, but his partner remained a little bit longer. “That Blood Witch”, she said. “How do you know you can even trust her? You barely know a thing about her” Irae raised an eyebrow. “I do not”, she clarified. “But the council does. And they know just enough to be certain that we have no choice for now”

    Deja slowly tilted her head, as she carefully mustered Irae. “I probably don't know your Blood Witch”, she stated, though to Irae's surprise, she seemed not too convinced of her own statement. “But I know a thing or two about witches. You'd be wise not to trust them” Irae raised an eyebrow. “Speaking from experience, assassin?”, she asked, to which Deja shot her a brief, inscrutable smirk. Then, she turned around and followed after her partner, leaving Irae behind.

    With genuine concern, the warlock continued on her way. Hoping for the Tourmaline Brotherhood to back off had always been a foolish hope. At the very least, it confirmed Naela's fears about them being behind her father's condition. Now it was two assassins and as much as she hated to admit it, none among the council would think twice about Kareq's well-being if not for Naela. In fact, she was certain that at the very least Master Agaz and Master Estos would already be in favour of simply letting Deja and the Mask do their work.

    She hated to admit it, but Irae would prefer for Kareq to survive. He seemed a decent man and his death would not benefit her order in any way. Unfortunately for him, neither would his survival. Perhaps, however, she could convince Master Moros that staying in Naela's favour could only be good for their next steps. None of them could say what the Blood Witch needed Naela for. Maybe there wasn't even any ill intention towards the girl.

    With this plan, Irae stepped through the gates that separated the House of the Undying from the rest of Qarth. She immediately felt at home beneath the dark trees, as she walked down the quiet path that led to the warlock's palace. The air felt a good ten degrees colder, almost bearable at this time of the day and beautifully clear.

    “Have you made progress, girl?”, a familiar, hoarsy voice called out from behind her. From right behind her. For Irae, who had lived with warlocks for her entire life, it was barely a surprise as she spotted Moros Qo Malxis standing within the shadows of the trees. “What are you doing here, Master Moros?”, she asked in return.

    The old man flashed her a grin. “Do not question me, girl”, he warned her. “Walk with me and tell me, is Naela ready?” Irae gave him a nod. “Almost”, she promised, to which her master raised an eyebrow. “Almost is not good enough”, he spoke. “The council gets impatient. Agaz is still in favour of just killing her and Estos and Vator both wish to resort to more ruthless methods”

    “And you, master?”, Irae asked, to which Moros shrugged. “I want what is most effective. We have spent time and resources on your approach, so we might as well see it through, if it won't take too long. But if it does... Garraman and the Nightling are still willing to follow your solution, but a single vote can change everything”

    “Master Xhoros is on my side?”, Irae asked in surprise and Moros chuckled. “Don't think too much of it”, he spoke. “He is like me in these regards. Abandoning your plan now would be a waste. But do not disappoint us” He pointed down the path and he and Irae began to walk. “Now, tell me, what have you achieved? Is the girl ready?”

    “As I said, almost”, she replied. “Her father is strong. With a bit more help from Master Vator, he will be able to pull through. I believe his survival will be crucial in winning Naela's trust” Moros rolled his eyes at this, though his wicked grin did not grow smaller. “If you say so”, he told her. “Of course, Vator foresaw this already”

    “Of course”, Irae replied. “But there is one more thing, master. On my way back, I was intercepted” Briefly, the old man's eyes widened with slight anger. “No one intercepts a warlock”, he growled, to which she shrugged. “These two did”, she told him. “Two assassins in service to the Tourmaline Brotherhood”

    “The pirates”, Moros mumbled. “I presume they are behind Orlatis' condition?” Irae gave him a nod. “These two, however, they have just been assigned to the case”, she explained. The old man narrowed his eyes. “I take it you killed them on the spot?”, he asked. “We cannot have these vagrants meddling in our business”

    Irae shook her head. “I don't think I could have killed both of them”, she replied truthfully. “They wouldn't have approached me otherwise. Called themselves Deja and the Mask” Moros glare grew slightly less severe. “I know the latter”, he spoke. “Worked for the Spicers in the past. That Deja though, first time I hear her name. Perhaps Garraman knows more. If they still live, they might still be a problem. What did they want?”

    “The Mask believes we can help each other”, Irae explained, to which Moros placed a bony hand on her shoulder. “You told them why we need the girl?”, he asked. “A foolish risk. We cannot trust anyone willing to work for the Tourmaline Brotherhood” Hearing this pleased Irae and she allowed herself a small smile. “I agree, Master Moros”, she assured him. “Though I still think this is your call to make”

    Moros sighed, though Irae knew that deep down, he always preferred to make the decision by himself. “So be it”, the old man agreed. “Let him come, he shall humour me. I can hear him out and then I can still send him away” Irae nodded in relief, though she tried to hide how pleased she was by this development. “I believe until we know, for a fact, that the Blood Witch has ill intention for Naela, we should not harm her father”

    The moment she spoke the name of the witch, she heard rustling within the trees. Nothing lived there, as far as she knew, as far as she hoped, but in this moment, it seemed as if the dark trees themselves tried to move away from her. Moros raised an eyebrow at the commotion. “Do not speak her name so carelessly”, he warned her. “Garraman converses with the Undying in this very moment. Some of them have been around when she was defeated last time and they might be willing to help”

    Irae raised an eyebrow. “Why shouldn't they?”, she asked and Moros narrowed his eyes. “Now you question the Undying”, he growled. “You're beginning to speak like the lesser folk out on the streets, they who could never hope to understand our powers” He shook his head. “The Undying are more than you and I, more than human. Their mind works in a different way. Conversing with them is a difficult and perilous task and only an elder warlock can even hope to succeed”

    His stern glare caused Irae to gulp. “I did not mean to question the Undying!”, she assured him in a moment of genuine horror and Moros cracked a thin smile. “I'm sure you didn't”, he replied, just as they reached the doors that led into the building. Moros waved his hand briefly and they opened by themselves, revealing the familiar, dark hallway.

    “With time running short, I believe it will be best if I consult Vator at once. Follow me”, Moros told her, as he led her through a set of doors. Irae had only been to Master Vator's laboratory once, while fetching a few ingredients for Moros, but she was rather certain that this was not the way she had been taking back then. But such was the nature of the House of the Undying. She had stopped questioning it a decade ago.

    “The next potion needs to be applied in a week”, Irae replied, to which Moros raised an eyebrow. “You mean you can't do a thing in a whole week?”, he asked and she sighed. “I have made the right call before, Master”, she assured him. “He lives, he recovers steadily, but if we rush his treatment now, it might be too much for his weakened body”

    Moros clenched his teeth. “You don't have to lecture me about healing”, he hissed. “I expect you to solve the issue. We don't know how much time we have, so wasting a full week is out of the question at this point. Had we agreed to Estos' way, you and the girl would be close to the Dothraki Sea by now” She opened her mouth to protest, but Moros cut her off. “And yes, I know that Estos' way would have been decidedly painful for her”, he clarified. “So what? We're warlocks, it is to be expected!”

    Irae gulped. “The girl has been through a lot already, master”, she spoke. “And more is to follow” Moros shrugged. “By the Undying!”, he exclaimed. “You like her! You, my bright, promising student and her, some common-blooded bitch!” He bared his teeth at her. “You are one of us, Irae, you have always been”, he reminded her as they stopped in front of the room she recognized as Vator Thrice-Born's laboratory. “And anyone who isn't one of us is barely more than worms to our feet” He raised a finger. “Do not degrade yourself by befriending a worm”

    With these stern words, he walked past her and opened the door to the laboratory. There was darkness behind it, a set of stairs that led somewhere to the dreaded lower levels of the House of the Undying. Younger warlocks had told countless stories about what one could find within Vator Thrice-Born's laboratory. Death was likely the correct answer. One couldn't be the most gifted healer outside of Asshai without knowing how death worked. It was a fact that Vator required a steady supply of slaves and that almost none who went down there ever came back, not always excluding other warlocks. But his results spoke for themselves, as Kareq Orlatis could confirm.

    “I will talk to Vator alone”, Moros said and Irae sighed in relief, as she heard a terrified wail from below. She had no desire to interrupt the Master of Healing during his studies, so she gave Moros a nod. “I will wait here, master”, she promised and he nodded absent-mindedly. “Of course you will”, he replied, before he descended into the darkness.

    Irae quickly closed the door behind him and took a deep breath. Warlock or not, there were corners within this place she wouldn't want to visit, not yet at least. Part of belonging to the order was to realize how to tread safely through the House of the Undying. This was her home and there was beauty within it and more knowledge than any mortal could learn in ten lifetimes, but she was not blind to its darker corners.

    “Student of Moros”, a voice called out for her, not from behind her, but from somewhere right within her head. Irae gulped, before she glanced over her shoulder. As almost expected, she spotted Master Xhoros Qar Xhon in the shadows. The Nightling had his arms crossed and his hairless, blue-black head was turned into her direction. With similarly blue-black eyes, he stared at her, more intense than Moros ever did.

    “Master Xhoros”, she greeted him, taking a deep bow as she spoke. She waited for a moment, rising only as she heard his voice, whispering right in her head. “Rise, Irae Caleris”, he ordered her and she complied, though she kept her head lowered. She felt comfortable around Master Moros, more than that around the jovial Master Garath and she had learned to at least not flinch around Master Agaz, but there was something about Xhoros that caused her to be wary around him. They said he was almost one of the Undying, that the Shade of the Evening had warped the way his mind worked and how he saw the world.

    “How may I help, Master?”, she asked as the Nightling came closer. He briefly narrowed his eyes and mumbled something. Though she could not understand the words that left his mouth, they formed again in her head and this time, she heard them clearly. “Darkeye wants her death”, he told her. “As we speak, he tries to convince Estos that killing her is the right thing to do”

    Irae tensed up at once, even more than usual when in the presence of this man. “But the council decided against it”, she brought up, to which Xhoros' eyes widened briefly. “He never cared for what the rest of us want”, he whispered behind her forehead. “It's why he's so effective. He believes that killing Naela Orlatis is the only way to thwart the Blood Witch's plans, so he will not back down”

    “Why are you telling me this?”, Irae asked. “Master Agaz is your friend, isn't he?” and this time, she witnessed his dark blue lips cracking a thin smirk. “Your struggle is fascinating”, he admitted. “And I think killing her is too risky. All among the council have lived for this long because we know when to be patient and when to take a risk”

    Irae had to wonder if this would apply to Agaz Darkeye as well, though she was wise enough not to ask this in the presence of Xhoros Qar Xhon. He had been the only one to vote in favour of just killing Naela, to deprive the Blood Witch of whatever she needed from the girl and Irae was still glad that none of the council had backed him. Xoros gave her a nod. “Yes, it does”, he assured her, his words cutting through her head and she bit down onto her lower lip. “And do not worry, I forgive you for thinking so low of him”

    “Do you think he will convince the others?”, she asked and Xhoros gave her a long, careful look. “Maybe”, he admitted. “Estos can be convinced, Vator can be bribed. Garraman is more tricky, but once he learns of your meeting with the assassins, maybe he will see a way to deal with this affair without anything being traced back to us. Any day you waste with the girl's father will make it more likely that one of them joins his side”

    Irae gulped. “The father...”, she began and Xhoros cut her off in her mind. “He lives, I know”, he stated, his cold voice echoing through her mind. “At least if you have it your way” This time, the Nightling actually shrugged, though the gesture seemed not the least bit casual and more forced than anything else. “I care little for him, but you obviously do, young warlock. You should always remember that any day you waste with him will make it more likely that Darkeye just murders your precious Naela”

    This caused Irae to clench her fists. “Over my dead body”, she hissed and the Nightling smirked thinly, but with genuine amusement. “Stand in Agaz' way and it will be”, he told her. “Charred until nothing but ashes remain, perhaps the brightest Qartheen mind of your generation, gone in an instant and forgotten just as quickly”

    “Why are you telling me this?”, Irae demanded to know, her fear mingling with anger. Xhoros tilted his head. “Because I wish to warn you. I am not the only one who has foreseen Agaz' intention”, he explained. “Your own master knows how little time we have. Right now, he is not speaking with Vator to get the antidote you require, but to get the opposite. He and Thrice-Born have always agreed on so many things so... why not this one too?”

    “And you know this because you read his mind?”, she asked and briefly, he bared his black teeth in something that resembled a mixture between a smile and a threat. “I know this because he asked me first”, he clarified and she heard his icy laughter echoing through the depths of her mind. “I refused, if only because I wish to give you a few more days to convince the girl. Her favour could be important” He raised a long, thin finger. “Of course, if it turns out to be pointless, expect a terrible punishment... but you know this already”

    “So, my own master plots to poison the man I wish to save”, Irae mumbled, to which Xhoros gave her a nod, he reached down into his pocket, before revealing a small vial, filled with a shimmering, golden liquid. “This is the antidote”, he whispered. “Amuse Moros and take the vial, or else he will sense something is off. But give Orlatis both, mine and his, and the merchant will live”

    “And if I refuse?”, she asked, to which the Nightling sighed audibly. “Then he will die”, he clarified. “I can sense your doubt, child. You have lived among us long enough to know better than to just trust me and there is nothing I can tell you to convince you otherwise. Moros will claim the opposite, that his vial is the true antidote, but you have to ask yourself... do you trust him any more than you trust me? I sense a choice for you, warlock”

    [Take Xhoros' vial]


    The moment Lachlan had invited Otho Wayland to Phoenixfall, the man thawed up notably. “Why, this... this is splendid!”, he spoke in a genuinely surprised stutter. His smile was wide and Lachlan was certain the man had not expected his wish to be granted. “I am certain, me and your father have a lot to discuss” He extended his hand and after a moment, Lachlan shook it. “May this be the beginning of a fruitful partnership”

    Lachlan forced himself to smile, though out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kyle raising an eyebrow. His cousin subtly shook his head, before Otho turned his attention to him. “While I'm in the area, Lord Coldwater...”, he began, but Kyle immediately shook his head. “Not a chance”, he spoke sharply. “What my cousin wants to do is his to decide, but as long as I'm Lord of Coldwater Burn, you won't be visiting us” He faked a smile. “No offence”

    Otho's own smile faded as quick as it came. “I... see”, he growled. “As you wish, mylord” He glanced at Lachlan, briefly giving him a thin smile. “Perhaps if Lord Keding wills it, you will see the benefits of our partnership”, he brought up, to which Kyle shrugged. “Yeah, perhaps”, he said in an almost hostile tone. “Listen, you can do what you want, but we're not here for you”

    The older man frowned at these words and he crossed his arms, though he managed a small nod. “Fine”, he growled. He glanced at Ames Howard, who just returned with some refreshments. The captain of the guard sat down next to them, glancing at Otho, then at Kyle, before he shrugged, with a smirk on his face.

    It didn't take long after this for Sterling and Osborn to return. The Knight of Gull Tower had a pleased smile on his face, as he took a bow in front of his other guests. “My friends, I thank you for these news”, he told them. “Especially since you came all this way to tell me. Tonight we shall feast and you shall be my guests of honour. Tomorrow, I will prepare my journey to Runestone. I should not leave my liege waiting”

    Lachlan raised an eyebrow. “So, you will accompany us to Runestone?”, he asked, to which Sterling gave him a nod. “I know Orson Royce quite well, mylords”, he spoke. “He always hated it if anyone kept him waiting. This is especially true if his concerns are well-founded” He placed a hand on his heart. “Gull Tower doesn't have many men-at-arms sworn to it, but what little I can spare, my liege will have at his disposal in the war to come”

    Kyle and Lachlan exchanged a quick glance. “Well, I hope it won't come to this”, Lachlan then spoke up. “So far, we cannot be sure if there's actually a war on the horizon. The Vale has been at peace for generations. While Stormlanders, Ironborn and Reachmen have torn each other apart, our armies are untouched by war”

    “Perhaps that is precisely the problem”, Ames mumbled. “Have you ever been past the mountains, Ser?” To this, Lachlan could only shake his head. “Can't say I have”, he replied. “I suppose you have?” Ames smirked. “Aye, been to a couple places. Gull Tower hasn't been the first place I served. Gods be good and it will be the last”, he explained. “But what matters is, I've seen war and I've seen those fighting it. Give a Stormlander an order and he will do it or die trying. Give an Ironborn a sword and no way out and he will fight to his last breath. Our men know how to fight, but they don't know war. Our enemies are well aware of that”

    “It doesn't make us weaker”, Lachlan replied. “War is won by men and anyone attacking us will find that we have more” Once more, Ames shook his head. “Not quite correct, Ser”, he disagreed. “The Ironborn have more and the Stormlanders. The only reason why they have never invaded us is because of the mountains. They're not impregnable, but truth be told, the sole reason why foreign kings will never dare is because the Vale is simply not worth it”

    “My father believes that this new enemy will dare it”, Osborn interjected. “And he won't try to cross the mountains. That's why House Royce and House Grafton have to lead the first line of defence” His smile faded. “My brother is already in Gulltown. When you leave for Runestone, I will accompany you only for a brief part of the way, before joining Redmond and helping him in his endeavour”

    He seemed less than pleased by this and the odd tone in his voice caught Lachlan's attention. “Then me and Kyle shall escort Ser Shett to Runestone”, he declared. “How soon can we leave?” Sterling gave him a pleasant smile. “Ah, grant me three days. Usually, Octavia takes care of Gull Tower whenever I am on the road. With her away in Gulltown, I have to give precise orders”

    After this, the evening ended quickly. Sterling Shett arranged for a decent meal for his guests, but nowhere near the feast he would have been given in Phoenixfall. Throughout it all, Lachlan was under the impression that the Knight of Gull Tower was worried about something. His demeanour had changed significantly between their brief introduction and the current meal.

    Lachlan made sure not to drink too much of the mead that was given to them, unlike his cousin. Kyle was drinking heavily while chatting with Osborn Royce and Ames Howard. This left Lachlan to have a brief talk with Otho Wayland, who seemed almost endearingly excited about the prospect of visiting Phoenixfall. And yet, he could see why his aunt didn't like the man. At the same time, he barely knew his aunt either.

    After the brief meal, Lachlan and the visibly drunken Kyle were brought to the guest room they both shared for their brief stay here at Gull Tower. It wasn't particularly large, but then again, nothing about this tower was. It was just two beds and a single chest for their belongings. While Kyle immediately jumped into his bed, Lachlan remained standing, glancing out of the window and onto the courtyard. A cold wind came through it and he kept his cloak on for now.

    “Something isn't right”, he mumbled, to which Kyle opened his eyes again. The Lord of Coldwater Burn raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”, he asked and Lachlan shrugged. “Something happened during the conversation”, he explained his suspicion. “The one between Sterling and Osborn. The man's entire attitude changed. I wonder what they discussed”

    Kyle sighed. “Cousin, you're too distrustful for your own good”, he told him. “If there's anyone we shouldn't trust in here, it's the Wayland guy. Seemed quite eager to visit your family and you know what Aunt Viera told us about him” Lachlan gave him a nod. “Yeah, don't think I trust him in any way”, he clarified. “But Sterling and Osborn... you noticed how they acted around each other. Quite familiar, don't you think?”

    To this, Kyle chuckled. “I'd expect the future Lord Royce to be familiar with his father's vassals”, he argued. “Seriously, Osborn is alright. Can't be sure about Sterling, I give you that much, but what reason would Royce's heir have to work with him against his own father? Not as if he has anything to gain from that”

    Lachlan narrowed his eyes. “As far as we know”, he spoke. “But he has two brothers, you know perfectly well what that means” This time, Kyle raised an eyebrow. “No, I don't”, he growled, his voice showing the hint of anger. “You don't have a brother, but trust me, I never wanted to take the title from mine”

    “Sorry, yeah...”, Lachlan was quick to reply, in the attempt to calm his cousin down. “But we're talking about Redmond Royce here. You're not like him in any way” Kyle smirked, as he closed his eyes. “Thank you”, he said, before he yawned. “Listen, cousin, good talk and all, but I would really like to get some sleep. Been a long day on the road”

    “And a lot of mead”, Lachlan replied with a smile, as he sat down on his own bed. It was still cold within the room even after he closed the window, so Lachlan wrapped himself in his cloak and blanket, as he tried to find some sleep at last. Kyle had been right with one thing. It had been a long journey and the Vale wasn't exactly known for pleasant roads. As such, he welcomed this opportunity to rest a bit.

    It shouldn't quite work, however. Despite the cold, Lachlan found himself tossing and turning, like he was prone to do in the hottest nights of summer. Sleep wouldn't come and he was sweating beneath blanket and cloak and freezing if he got rid of even one of them. In short, he was ready for a miserable night.

    His thoughts drifted off to his family seat. Phoenixfall was hardly the most splendid of castles within Westeros, or even just the Vale, but it was home. And now he had invited a man into it whom he didn't even trust. That being said, perhaps something good could come out of this. Even if Otho couldn't be trusted, it was an opportunity to find out more of his plans.

    Lachlan had his eyes closed in his futile attempt to find some sleep, until he suddenly heard something from outside. Gull Tower was a small keep, so any noise out at this hour would catch his attention. This, however, was more than just any noise. He clearly heard a horse, led across the stone of the courtyard. Immediately, he jumped up and hurried to the window.

    He couldn't see much outside, with the moon being hidden beneath a few clouds, but what little light he saw was enough to make out a figure saddling a horse. Lachlan narrowed his eyes as he thought of what reason anyone would leave the castle in the middle of the night and whom it could be. None of the possible answers were to his liking. Whomever was leaving now had something to hide and in the current situation, any uncovered secret could only be in his favour.

    It was immediately clear to him that he had to confront this nightly rider before they would be able to leave Gull Tower. His first impulse was to reach for his sword, just to be safe, before his gaze fell upon the sleeping Kyle. Perhaps having some back-up couldn't hurt. Then again, Kyle was drunken and probably less than willing to even accompany him. Maybe waking Kyle would be a waste of time and a chance for the rider to get away before Lachlan could learn of his identity...

    [Wake Kyle] [Confront the rider on your own]

    The Hawk

    This time, the Hawk wasn't led into Zeth's audience room, but into a larger, more festive hall, similarly filled with trinkets from all around the world. It was also filled with people, not just nobility, but several commoners as well, the richer smallfolk, dressed just as well as the highborn attendants. Several banners were lining the hall, the Arryn and Shett banners he already knew, and another, a yellow tower on black, lined with red, which he presumed to be the banner of House Grafton, the Lords of Gulltown. From a higher balcony, musicians played a fast-paced Westerosi song, though the Hawk couldn't quite remember the title.

    Among the trinkets, the Hawk recognized a Summer Islander bow, similar to the one used by Maldar the Quiver, hanging above two huge tusks, a fair bit larger than the elephant tusks he was familiar with, as well as notably more curved. He spotted a broad skull in pristine condition, its features an unsettling mixture between a man and a pig. In a corner, there was an armour, strange in design, consisting of several overlapping plates of metal, painted green and a wide, open helmet.

    “The armour of an Yi Tish knight”, Zeth spoke, as he approached him from behind, having obviously noticed the Hawk's gaze. The old man raised an eyebrow. “They have knights in Yi Ti?”, he asked in clear disbelief, to which Zeth smirked. “They don't call them knights, obviously”, he clarified. “But there are many similarities, so I consider them comparable”

    The Hawk placed a hand on the armour. “Didn't know you've been to Yi Ti”, he spoke, to which Zeth shook his head. “I'm afraid Qarth is as far as I got”, he admitted. “But there, I met one of these wandering knights from Yi Ti, a man called Lu Sha. During my stay in Qarth, we had long, prosperous talks and he even taught me a few phrases in his language. In the end, we parted as friends and he gave me his armour in exchange for my finest Westerosi robes” He sighed. “It is pretty to look at, but I must admit, sometimes I do miss my robes”

    “Lord Arryn can tell a lot of tales”, the clear voice of Octavia Shett came from the side. She walked towards them through the crowd, arm in arm with a man. He was shorter than Zeth or the Hawk and more on the stocky side than either, though still half a head taller than Octavia, with a hooked nose and a thick moustache, as well as short, dark brown hair. Unlike her, he was not smiling, despite the beauty on his arm. “Of course, whenever he's asked to back up his claims, he doesn't manage to deliver proof”

    “The proof, mylady, is right before your eyes”, Zeth spoke, a jovial smile on his face. “Where else am I supposed to get a genuine Yi Tish armour from?” The woman shrugged. “Any scrap vendor in Slaver's Bay, I suppose”, she spoke, before she placed her free hand on the other man's forearm. He tensed up beneath her touch. “Wouldn't you agree, Edgar?”

    “I don't know”, the man replied honestly. “I've never been to Slaver's Bay” Zeth's smile widened. “Ah, I knew you wouldn't stab me in the back, Edgar!”, he proclaimed. “Ser Hawk, may I introduce my friend and cousin, Ser Edgar Grafton, the heir to Gulltown” Edgar took a brief, firm bow in front of him. “Ah, the Hawk”, he said in a quiet tone, lacking the grandiose voice of Zeth or the charm of Octavia. “I have heard a lot about you from your companions. I must admit, I haven't expected someone so...”

    “Old?”, the Hawk interrupted him, suppressing a cough. Edgar's eyes widened slightly. “Oh, no, I did not mean old”, he was quick to clarify. “I knew you are an old man. But I haven't expected you to still be in the shape you are. Still leading your men into battle?” This time, a smile formed on the Hawk's face. “Regularly”, he assured him, though as he took a deep breath, he noticed a rattling gasp within his throat. Perhaps he should have seen Hadrax before accepting Zeth's invitation...

    “Hawk?”, Zeth asked, to which the Hawk pulled himself together. “Apologies”, he said. “It has been a long day, but I didn't want to miss this occasion” Octavia shot him a sweet smirk. “You will not regret it”, she promised. “Zeth's festivities are famous within the city. And I have heard that he has planned something special for dinner”

    “Ah, well”, Zeth replied. “Don't expect too much. My contact on the other side of the bay failed to deliver the usual amount of crabs. Told me something about his liege lord having been killed and the man's heirs fighting it out over the title, but I've heard conflicting reports, to say the least. Don't know what to believe there. Perhaps I shouldn't have trusted a Brune with the delivery” He shrugged. “At least the venison is here and it is being prepared as we speak, alongside assorted fish and vegetables from the area” He patted the Hawk onto his back. “Maybe a full belly will raise your spirits, my friend. You do look a bit tired today”

    The Hawk managed to give him a thin smirk, though he could not hold back a brief cough coming from his dry throat. “Perhaps get something to drink?”, Zeth asked and the Hawk gave him a displeased look, as he noticed the concern in the younger man's voice. He wasn't some old fool who needed pity! “Perhaps that'd be for the best”, he spoke in a low tone, as Zeth pointed towards a nearby table. The Hawk spotted dozens of cups on it.

    “I'll come with you”, Edgar Grafton offered, awkwardly pulling away from Octavia's grasp. The woman raised an eyebrow. “I thought we would dance, Edgar”, she spoke in a sweet tone and the man looked at the ground to his feet. “I don't dance”, he spoke, to which Octavia raised an eyebrow, clearly disappointed by his answer. After letting out a sigh, she took a step away from him. “So be it”, she spoke, before she gave Zeth a brief glance. “Shall we, dear?”

    Zeth took a bow in front of her. “Gladly”, he agreed, as he offered his hand to Octavia. Edgar rolled his eyes, as he and the Hawk left the two to their dance. Approaching the table with the refreshments, the heir to Gulltown gave the old sellsword a long, careful look. “Why did she hire you?”, he then asked bluntly, as soon as the Hawk looked back at him. There was a cautious intelligence within his gaze.

    The Hawk shot him a grin. He had been in the situation before. Come to think of it, there have been few situations he hasn't been in yet. Hired for a secret reason, then questioned by those who were explicitly not involved in this conspiracy. “Well, certainly not for such an occasion”, he spoke. “Takes a fine man to enjoy a fine feast”

    Edgar shrugged. “I never really cared for such events like these”, he spoke. “I only came because Zeth is my mother's nephew, not because I enjoy any of it” He stood with his back turned to the table, watching the crowd, several of which had started to dance now that the music had picked up. “Not even her?”, the Hawk asked, as he looked at Octavia, now arm in arm with Zeth. “As I said, I'm not a fine man, but fifty years ago, even I would have tried my luck with such a woman. And she seems to be interested in you”

    “That's the problem”, Edgar spoke. “I know she's feigning interest. I'm not good with women, or people in general, but I can see that she's not here because she likes me. Means she has a different reason for all that” He looked back at the Hawk. “Means she has a deeper reason for dealing with you, sellsword”

    “The Iron Bank hired us”, the Hawk clarified, to which Edgar narrowed his eyes. “And their sleazy ambassador is here somewhere”, he spoke, before pointing into the crowd. There, the Hawk could see Jaqiros Nestoris in a conversation with Montoya. “Another one I don't trust” The Hawk gave him a nod. “That makes two of us”, he confirmed. “I don't like that man, but he pays good coin”

    He was going to add something else, before a violent fit of coughs interrupted him. Trembling briefly, he staggered forwards and only Edgar managed to support him until he was able to stand on his own again. “Is... everything alright?”, the man asked, to which the Hawk gave him a nod. “I'm fine!”, he gasped, lying through his teeth. “I'm fine, really”

    Edgar was clearly not convinced by this. “If you say so...”, he replied slowly. “But back to my question. The Iron Bank hired you, but your contact here in Gulltown is clearly my cousin. Zeth isn't a schemer, but his new friend here... as I said, I find it hard to believe Lady Octavia doesn't have ulterior motives. My family wronged hers, centuries ago and she seems the vindictive kind”

    “You fear vengeance”, the Hawk replied and Edgar sighed. “I don't know what her deal with the Iron Bank is, but she and Zeth have arranged for hundreds of sellswords to camp close to my father's city”, he explained. “You lead these sellswords. Now, please, look me in the eye and tell me you have no ill intention for Gulltown”

    It was another situation the Hawk was familiar with and he had no doubt he could convincingly lie to the younger man. Before he could reply, however, another voice interrupted their talk. “Technically, he doesn't lead all three companies”, the Rat spoke up, as he made his way through the crowd. He was limping forward, with Vii the Innocent walking beside him, making sure that none would get in his way. She wore a more risky and revealing dress, unusual for Westerosi halls, revealing numerous scars on her arms and back.

    The Rat meanwhile was clad in green silk from Myr, a lavish suit that would be fit for a king and looked entirely out of place on this misshapen dwarf. “We're equals, him, me and the Pig. He just happens to be one day older than dirt, so we respect his guidance” With this, he took a bow in front of Edgar, as deep as he physically could. “I am the Rat”, he introduced himself. “And you must be Edgar Grafton, if I'm not mistaken”

    “Indeed”, Edgar replied slowly. He said something else, but just in this moment, the Hawk gasped. Pain flared up in his head and he had to cling to the table behind him to just remain standing. A violent cough forced its way up his throat and through clenched teeth and his breath began to go faster. Both, Edgar and the Rat immediately turned their attention to him. The latter said something, but the Hawk couldn't understand him.

    As he staggered forwards, Edgar grabbed him by the shoulder. “Hawk!”, he said loudly, so loud that a handful of people around them briefly turned around and glanced at them. Blinking rapidly, the Hawk slowly regained his composure, his breath coming more steadily, as he gave the man a nod. “I hear you”, he said. “I'm fine, I'm fine”

    The Rat narrowed his eyes. “You've grown pale”, he stated. “And you look your age for once. Perhaps you want to...” The Hawk shook his head. “It's alright!”, he growled, as he broke free from Edgar's grip. “I'm alright. Really, I just...” He staggered forwards, but this time, he remained standing by his own strength. “I just need to...”

    “Find your charlatan, eh?”, the Rat spat. “Hawk, what is going on with you” He grabbed the Hawk by the wrist, heavily, as he shot him a glare. “Tell me, now”, he hissed, but the Hawk easily broke free from the grip. “I need to find Hadrax”, he proclaimed weakly, to which the Rat crossed his arms. “Fine”, he replied. “But I'm coming with you! It's time you're telling me what you're doing with that man!”

    No... the Hawk did not want that. The Rat couldn't be trusted, he mustn't know what the Hawk and Hadrax were doing... at the same time, he needed to see the man immediately and he was not sure if he had the strength to refuse the Rat's wish. Perhaps just letting him come would be the easier option, the faster option...

    [Take the Rat with you] [Force the Rat to remain behind]

  • [Confront the rider on your own] We don't need any drunks, Kyle will slow us down. Also, when this character is revealed to be Maya (I'm kidding), it will be more tense if there's only one of us.

    [Force the Rat to remain behind] We are fine, Rat will rat us out, we'll be alright. Coughs are no worries, we can deal with it by ourselves.

    Among the trinkets, the Hawk recognized a Summer Islander bow, similar to the one used by Maldar the Quiver, hanging above two huge tusks, a fair bit larger than the elephant tusks he was familiar with, as well as notably more curved. He spotted a broad skull in pristine condition, its features an unsettling mixture between a man and a pig. In a corner, there was an armour, strange in design, consisting of several overlapping plates of metal, painted green and a wide, open helmet.

    I was in a museum yesterday, so this pleases me a lot. I wonder if this Lu Sha is important. Also, man-bear-pig confirmed.

    And I must say, I might have mentioned before, but I have noticed that the Hawk, the Pig, and the Rat all seem to be aspects of Danny DeVito, and this pleases me.

    And I have to admit, a character dying of natural causes would be a huge plot twist.

    Irae Irae took a deep breath, as she looked from Deja to the Mask. Then, she gave them a nod. “Alright”, she spoke. “The short version is

  • I was in a museum yesterday, so this pleases me a lot. I wonder if this Lu Sha is important. Also, man-bear-pig confirmed.

    Ah, I have a lot of fun showing off Zeth's collection, so expect more glimpses of it, even if the Hawk isn't exactly the type to appreciate it at all. Lu Sha... maybe. The story will not go further east than Qarth, however, so don't expect many characters from Yi Ti to feature. As for man-bear-pig... actually that skull is supposed to be a Brindled Man skull from Sothoryos. They are described as having vaguely hog-like features, including snouts and naturally, a skull of such a distant and exotic being fits right into Zeth's collection.

    And I must say, I might have mentioned before, but I have noticed that the Hawk, the Pig, and the Rat all seem to be aspects of Danny DeVito, and this pleases me.

    Hehe, here's for a comparison I never thought I'd ever see. I suppose you are right and honestly, this thought pleases me just as well.

    And I have to admit, a character dying of natural causes would be a huge plot twist.

    I mean, I suppose one can say that Rayden's death is only natural, given what a massive and total asshole he was for his grand total of half a chapter. But yeah, I get what you mean. A death by natural causes is super rare, however, in the entire series only Maester Aemon and Hoster Tully managed to do that as far as I know. However, it does happen and without spoiling anything, I can safely say we will have a couple of natural deaths within the massive FoT cast. They will remain the utmost rarity, however.

  • The Voting is closed!

    Lachlan is going to confront the rider on his own

    The Hawk is going to take the Rat with him

    Can't say I saw the second choice coming ^^ Leaving Kyle behind might be a good idea, he is drunken and anything but stealthy in his current condition, but there could be a big risk involved as well, depending on who is leaving the castle and why. Meanwhile, the Hawk's choice means that he is going to trust the Rat with a secret you don't know about yet, a secret which I am very excited to reveal in his next part, which is going to be the final Hawk part for this chapter.

    The next part will be out right now. It was supposed to be out two days ago, but as announced before, the whole inheritance stuff is really giving me tons of work and my schedule will continue to slip for another week or so. Good news, I got one half of the inheritance done with, namely my grandfather's, so now I can fully focus on the paperwork for my father. And I have to do that quickly, but I still hope to have the next part out a bit faster. The part that is finished right now is Drent's penultimate part for this chapter. Last time we saw him, he had a talk with Warrick Fell in Bronzegate, where he admitted to the man that Argella ordered him to defeat him in the melee. Warrick expectedly didn't take it very well and threatened Drent to stay away from him or his friends. This next part will still be set at Bronzegate, but we'll have a small time-skip of about two weeks, to the day where Lord Buckler expects Orys Baratheon and his army to arrive. It is completely written and will be posted right after this announcement.

  • Drent

    Baratheon arrived timely, just a little over two weeks after Drent and his unit had settled in at Bronzegate. The bastard marched under the banner of his brother, but there were two other banners by his side. He recognized one of them from afar, blue swordfish on white, the banner of the Bar Emmon traitors. The other one showed four white skulls on black, separated by a vaguely red line.

    Orys led a vanguard of dozens over the first hill, all on horseback. Behind him, row after row, men-at-arms marched. “A few hundred”, Torrence mumbled, standing between Drent and Edonia. “Maybe we don't die today” Drent raised an eyebrow. “What happened to being a hero?”, he asked, to which Torrence shrugged. “There's nothing heroic about dying in a siege”, he told him. “Worse, they gave me a damn bow. You ever heard of a hero who uses a bow?”

    “Well, there is me, for example”, Edonia replied. “You forgot how I got the archer who tried to kill the Storm Princess?” Torrence shook his head. “The one who killed Montclair before that. The old sarge would have never agreed to a siege like this”, he mumbled, before he glanced skyward. “No sign of a dragon. It'll be a long siege without it” Edonia shrugged. “I could have killed it”, she claimed. “Heard it's huge, but even the biggest targets have a weak spot. I bet it's the eyes”

    Drent shook his head. “I heard it has a head the size of a modest farmhouse”, he replied. “Means it likely has eyes the size of a pregnant sow. Think you can kill it by shooting it in the eyeball?” Edonia gulped, before she glanced at her bow. “I'd need a bigger weapon”, she admitted. “With that, I'd just piss it off. But give me a scorpion and I could do it”

    “Bronzegate has no scorpions, Bernile”, Ser Emphryus growled from behind them, as he patrolled the wall, walking along the thin line between the two rows of soldiers that manned it. He gave her a brief, heavy pat against the back of her head. “Now shut up. Such talk only leads to foolishness” Edonia saluted at once. “Ser, yes Ser!”, she shouted.

    They had given Drent a bow as well, even if he wasn't a particularly good shot. But the same could be said about most of the ten dozen archers that would be the first line of Bronzegate's defence. Perhaps Edonia had a chance at actually hitting the dragon, if Baratheon brought one, but Drent had severe doubts he would even come close to it. Depending on the size, maybe he could hit the belly, but he had heard the stories from the north.

    A handful of Darklyn deserters had crossed the border just a week ago, renouncing their ties to the Targaryen host and telling the Lord of Bronzegate of the battle they had fought against Aegon just a few months ago, one they all just barely survived. For the desertion, Benedict Buckler had locked them up, but for refusing to take up arms against the Stormlanders, they were being treated well in the dungeons and allowed to take the black next time a Night's Watch recruiter would pass through these lands.

    Most importantly, the deserters had told of Bryen Darklyn and his hundreds of archers, how they all tried to shoot the dragon, how they hit it dozens and hundreds of times and how it burned them all to death without any effort at all. Thinking of this, Baratheon's host didn't look so tiny anymore. If the bastard were to bring a dragon, there was nothing the defenders of Bronzegate could do against it. To kill such a beast, they'd need more. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.

    Benedict Buckler was standing not too far from Drent, surrounded by his household knights, with Bernard, Warrick and Jonathan a bit behind him. The Lord of Bronzegate was clad in heavy armour, his squire behind him carrying his helmet, while the man himself was leaning onto his greatsword. A thick cloak of fur protected him from the cold and Drent, who only wore a slightly thicker leather jerkin than usual, was surely wishing for the same on this cold autumn morning.

    As the Baratheon vanguard came closer, a few dozen riders directly approached the walls, while the soldiers behind them came to a full stop. “Attention!”, Emphryus yelled and the soldiers straightened their backs, each stomping onto the ground in near-perfect unison, just once. Drent tensed up, as he spotted Orys Baratheon himself, riding in the centre of the vanguard.

    The bastard slowed down, a few dozen feet away from the walls. Next to right, Drent spotted a huge, silver-haired warrior, riding in front of the banner depicting the four skulls, while a lean knight rode to his left, in front of the Bar Emmon banner. Orys rose a clenched fist, ordering his vanguard to stop.

    “Orys Baratheon!”, Benedict roared from atop the wall. “That is close enough. You led an army across the border, through my lands and to the walls of my castle, uninvited, on top of it” Drent heard the fury within the old lord's voice. “Your status as a knight and the courtesy you gave me by announcing yourself is the only reason why I haven't given order to shoot you yet” He clenched his fists. “And yet, with any moment I see your army in front of my gates, I grow more tempted. Speak, bastard, and make it quick. Tell me what you want”

    Orys had his visor opened before that, but now he removed his entire helmet. “Seven Blessings, Lord Buckler”, he shouted. “We have not come here to fight. I led my vanguard through your lands, but we haven't put any villages or farmsteads to the torch, nor have we scourged your people. Instead of fighting, I have come in the hopes of talking to you, to negotiate”

    Benedict chuckled coldly. “I have three hundred men defending my castle and more are on their way”, he snarled and his voice echoed across the silent walls. “You have, what... four hundred? Perhaps five? And no dragon... If you mean to besiege my castle, I dare you to try! And if you don't have the guts, then you better turn around right now and run back to your pretender king”

    Though he was dozens of feet away from the wall, Drent could see a brief hint of anger flashing over Orys' face. “Make no mistake, Lord Buckler”, he spoke. “My men are ready and willing to besiege your castle. If they fail, my Queen Rhaenys will try again and she won't bring an offer and terms with her, but fire and blood. Spare your men the dragonfire and just let us talk, like honest men should always do”

    Benedict's smirk had faded by now. Drent saw Warrick Fell leaning forward, whispering something into the man's ear. This caused the lord to narrow his eyes. He mumbled something, only meant for the ears of those around him, before he sighed. “It takes guts to come here, to the point where my archers could just shoot you and your entourage and to bring me such an offer”, he admitted. “I like that about you” He sighed audibly. “You and half a dozen of your men shall enter my castle, then we can negotiate. I swear by my honour that you will be treated like guests and allowed to leave regardless how these negotiations turn out”

    This turn of events surprised and visibly unsettled many of the soldiers. Drent himself tensed up, as he stared at Lord Buckler. To his right, Torrence sighed, but out of relief or anger, he could not tell. Emphryus Dresfel, however, quickly made his way through his soldiers and towards the Lord of Bronzegate. Drent couldn't hear much of their conversation, just snippets of Emphryus' anger, yet at last, the knight seemed to comply.

    As he turned back to his troops, Edonia gave him a brief look. “What is he saying, Ser?”, she asked. “Why are we letting them in?” Emphryus narrowed his eyes. “Technically, that's none of your business, Bernile”, he told her. “I may not agree with Lord Benedict's reasons, but I understand them. We let them in, they'll be our guests and perhaps we can avoid bloodshed” He sighed. “I know Benedict to be a harsh man. Wonder when he grew so damn soft”, he mumbled, before he clapped his hands, just once. “Alright, all of you, we march into the courtyard!”

    He pointed at the soldiers from Edonia all the way to some Drent didn't even know, over fifty men in total and together, they marched in front of Lord Buckler and his entourage, as the gates were opened. The rest of the troops remained on the wall in case anything unexpected would happen. Down in the courtyard, they took position to both sides of the lord and his followers, who positioned themselves in the centre. Drent was fortunate enough to stand close enough to Benedict Buckler to see the look in his eyes, as the gate was fully opened.

    Orys Baratheon and five of his knights rode in, three of them carrying the banners of House Targaryen, House Bar Emmon and the third one. With them came the huge, beast of a manm bald save for his thick silver eyebrows and the lean knight, who had his helmet removed by now, revealing shoulder-length brown hair, with one half of it dyed blue, framing a sharp face.

    The bastard had changed little since Drent had seen him last. Tall and handsome, his tabard sporting the same black as his hair. Though his sword was not drawn, there was something dangerous about him and Drent remembered how ferocious the man had been back in Raylansfair. Back when he had saved Stormlander lives... looking at him and the huge Valyrian by his side, he hoped they indeed weren't out to take some today.

    For a moment, they stood in front of each other. Baratheon and his companions, his small vanguard behind. On the other side, Emphryus and Bernard, flanking Lord Buckler. And Drent just next to them, side by side with his comrades. Benedict Buckler finally managed to nod at his unexpected guests. “Ser Orys”, he hissed coldly. “And you bring companions from House Qoherys and the Bar Emmon traitors”

    Orys ignored the slight, though the lean knight to his left most certainly didn't, as he narrowed his eyes with sudden anger. “Lord Benedict”, Baratheon greeted him. “Those are my companions, Quingar Qoherys and Iwan Bar Emmon. We thank you for letting us in and we promise to honour you as the lord of this castle”

    “I'd prefer you'd go back to Dragonstone and honour me there”, Benedict admitted. “But here we are and so be it. Behave well and we might get something from this” He looked at the blue-haired man. “Iwan Bar Emmon”, he growled. “I knew your grandfather, fought side by side with him in Blackhaven and the Grassy Vale. He was a good man, honest and loyal and he would be disappointed in you”

    Iwan took a sharp breath. “My grandfather died at the Grassy Vale”, he revealed. “Perhaps with him still leading our house, we wouldn't have broken with Argilac the Arrogant. But the old warmonger has no one to blame for this than himself” Before Benedict could reply something, Orys raised a hand. “Iwan, please”, he spoke. “Do not argue with the lord of this keep. We are here to negotiate, not to exchange petty insults”

    He turned back to Benedict, as he and his men dismounted. The Valyrian to his right, Quingar Qoherys, towered above all of them even now. In height, he almost reminded Drent of the massive masked brute he had seen in Raylansfair. And though this man lacked a mask, he was just as unsettling. There was something within his light violet eyes which he did not like in the slightest.

    “Yeah, negotiate”, he growled, as he came closer, with Orys and Iwan close behind him. Drent tensed up as he noticed just how massive Quingar actually was. There were perhaps a few at the Storm King's court who could match him, but none were here right now. Even Ser Emphryus, who had an impressive height, stood a good head below this brute and compared to Quingar, he was far leaner. “That's what he can do best, our fearless leader” He straightened his back. “They say he has Valyrian blood in his veins, but where most of us have silver hair, that bastard here got a silver tongue instead”

    “Quingar...”, Orys spoke, but the massive man ignored him, as he carefully looked at Emphryus Dresfel, who met his gaze without fear. “I know you... Dresfel”, Quingar stated. “They say you are the best knight in the Stormlands” He placed a hand on his own chest. “Well, I am the best knight in Dragonstone”, he boasted. “Orys wants to talk, but make no mistake... you against me, it would be glorious”

    Orys reacted alarmed, but Drent knew Emphryus well enough to realize immediately that the knight wasn't taking any offence. Quite the contrary, he reciprocated Quingar's bloodthirsty grin. “You know we're not going to surrender today”, he spoke. “So, no matter how this turns out today, I never turn down a good fight”

    Quingar chuckled, before he sent a glare as venomous as it was intimidating across the gathered soldiers. “Good to see there's still a Stormlander with guts around here”, he growled, as Orys grabbed him by the shoulder. “If you're not quiet now, he won't be the one you'll be fighting against”, he warned the bald man, who easily towered above him.

    To Drent's surprise, Quingar indeed slightly bowed in front of his superior officer. “As you command, general”, he snarled, before he took a step away from the soldiers. Orys shrugged, before he pushed himself past Quingar. “Apologies for him, mylord”, he said, as he took a brief bow in front of Benedict Buckler. “Quingar came here expecting a fight. Your willingness to negotiate might be a bit of a disappointment to him”

    “Not just to him”, Emphryus admitted in a low tone, as Benedict shrugged. “I've been like that back in my youth”, he admitted. “Nowadays, it just amuses me. Think nothing of it, Ser. Let us head to the Great Hall, so you can eat my salt and bread and then let's get this over with. If it spares you and me a siege, it'll be worth it”

    While Orys seemed genuinely pleased with this turn of events, Drent saw that the same couldn't be said about Quingar Qoherys. The huge Valyrian had his fists clenched and he glared at Lord Buckler the entire time, as the lord and his knights, as well as Baratheon and his entourage marched towards the Great Hall. Behind them, the gates were closed and barred again, leaving the Targaryen army outside and two hundred soldiers ready to fight them at the slightest sign of aggression.

    Truth be told, Drent wasn't so sure what to think of this. Orys obviously didn't have enough men to reliably take the castle and Bronzegate was just one of several that guarded this region. And in case of a siege, four hundred men from Haystack Hall and Felwood were just a fortnight away and ready to come to their aid. And Drent had met the man back in Raylansfair and he knew, honourable he might be, but he was no fool.

    He and the rest of his unit followed after Ser Emphryus, who in return followed after the Targaryen knights. He shook his head at their presence and Drent saw that he kept a hand on his blade the entire time, up until they reached the Great Hall and even afterwards, he didn't relax notably. While Lord Benedict made sure that his unexpected guests were all seated at the table of honour, he remained behind, close to his soldiers.

    After a moment, Emphryus was approached by Bernard Buckler and the two men whispered something towards each other, before glancing at Drent. He had been around enough superior officers to recognize the look and so had Torrence and Edonia. “Seems like you don't get to enjoy the evening”, Torrence mumbled, his voice showing quite a hint of glee.

    “Of course we'll help if you need it”, Edonia offered immediately, which caused her brother to sigh. “Sure we'll do...”, he mumbled, almost audibly rolling his eyes. Then, Ser Emphryus and the heir to Bronzegate had reached them. While Emphryus seemed to be stern and wary, Bernard actually greeted the soldiers with a smile and a nod.

    “Good to see you again”, he greeted them. “Dray, wasn't it?” Drent briefly narrowed his eyes. “Drent”, he corrected him and Bernard shrugged. “Sure”, he replied. “Never got to congratulate you for your performance at the tourney. You got farther than most knights, including Warrick. Even Malcolm was impressed and trust me, it's hard to get that morose owl to say anything nice”

    Drent smiled thinly. “Thank you, mylord”, he spoke, though he clenched his fists, as he had to think of Warrick Fell's earlier warning. Did Bernard know, or was he still genuinely oblivious to Argella's scheme? His injuries were not even close to being healed and he was still walking with a limp and yet, he seemed at ease around Emphryus and genuinely friendly, if somewhat arrogant towards the lower soldiers.

    “Well, that makes you the perfect candidate for a little side duty”, the young man continued. “So, maybe don't thank me yet” He glanced towards the table of honour, where Orys had just now sat down, with Quingar Qoherys to his right and Iwan Bar Emmon even farther to the right. Benedict Buckler meanwhile sat down to Orys' left and two of his knights took position next to their lord.

    “He'll expect me to sit there with him, so let us keep this quick”, Bernard began. “I don't trust this. I don't trust them” Emphryus gave him a nod. “And neither do I”, he confirmed. “Coming here with an army and then demanding a talk? Something's off about that” He narrowed his eyes. “And I don't mean Baratheon. He might be a bastard, but he protected our princess when I couldn't”, he admitted. “That earns him my respect, if nothing else. If he wants to talk, I might even believe it”

    “It's the other two”, Bernard interrupted him. “Iwan Bar Emmon and Quingar Qoherys. The former is a traitor to our king, the latter is a brute, one who barely manages to hide his contempt for all of us. Maybe Baratheon genuinely plans to negotiate with us, but you can't tell me his companions are here without ulterior motives”

    “Especially Bar Emmon”, Emphryus claimed. “He is a traitor, as you said, and it's clear there's some bad blood from his side. His grandfather died a hero and he shall be remembered as such, but I bet Iwan's father took it personal. And now he's back. He didn't march into the Riverlands, where few even know his name, no, he came right back to the Stormlands and I bet he has a score to settle”

    “And I'm quite wary of Qoherys”, Bernard admitted. “He hungers for a fight and he has hundreds of men out there who do the same. Baratheon told the truth, they were forbidden from razing the smaller hamlets and farmsteads on their way, as far as we know, at least. Means there's hundreds of men-at-arms in front of our gates who marched here for three weeks expecting a war and now they have to wait while their leader would rather talk” He shook his head. “And that Quingar in particular, he really needs to blow off some steam”

    “Seems like a decent lad to me”, Emphryus argued. “But yeah, can't rule him out either” Both turned to Drent. “That's where you get involved”, Bernard told him. “Emphryus spoke highly of you and apparently, even the princess trusts you” He sighed. “No idea you managed to do that”, he mumbled. “But what I mean is, I want you to keep an eye on them, the entire evening”

    “Me?”, Drent asked and Bernard sighed. “Whom else could I mean?”, he spoke sharply. “You're crafty, you're surprisingly quick-witted and, most importantly, you are absolutely unassuming. To these men, you'll be just one of many, which leaves you free to focus on them. Watch them, especially once they leave the Great Hall and if they do anything suspicious at all, you tell us immediately”

    Drent gave him a nod. “And if they split up?”, he asked. Before Bernard could answer, Edonia spoke up. “We'll help”, she offered again, as she placed a hand on Torrence's back. Her brother immediately tensed up, before he decidedly shook his head. “Yeah... no”, he spoke. “Just keep me out of this” He saluted in front of Emphryus. “Ser, you know me. You really want me to get involved with that?”

    Emphryus smirked and Drent noticed he had to suppress a chuckle. “Come to think of it, Torrence, you take the evening off”, he ordered. “You serve us best if you don't get in the way. Drent and Edonia, I'm sure you can do this” Both saluted in front of their commanding officer, while Drent noticed Torrence quickly hurrying away, glad that he wasn't being dragged into this. Perhaps, Drent thought, this was the downside of having gained such renown.

    “Alright, we're in”, he agreed, to which Bernard patted him onto the shoulder. “Great, I knew I could count on you”, he spoke, before he turned to the table of honour at the other end of the hall. “I better get going before they notice I'm missing” With this, he left in a hurry, while Emphryus gave Drent and Edonia a thin smirk. “If you find anything, keep me updated”, he told them. “Especially that Bar Emmon swordfish, there is something off about him” He crossed his arms, while Edonia took a step closer. “Whom do you want to pick?”, she asked. “I'll take the other”

    [Keep an eye on Quingar] [Keep an eye on Iwan]

  • [Keep an eye on Quingar] He seems, hmm, cooler, so let's stay close to him. Very interesting.

    Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.

    But my lord there is no such force! +1 for potentially referencing my favorite scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

    Also Iwan. It's been a long time, but the specific memories have faded, how unfortunate.

    Drent Baratheon arrived timely, just a little over two weeks after Drent and his unit had settled in at Bronzegate. The bastard marched u

  • But my lord there is no such force! +1 for potentially referencing my favorite scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

    Perhaps a subconscious reference? I wasn't intending it, but I've been binging Lord of the Rings just a few days before writing that part. I should look out for references in the future, I don't try to avoid them, but I hope to spot them while writing at least ^^

    Also Iwan. It's been a long time, but the specific memories have faded, how unfortunate.

    Yeah, it's been a while since he last had a somewhat larger role in the story, but he actually hasn't been all that important so far. All that is known of him is that his family used to be sworn to House Durrandon, before he defected to House Targaryen, with his father being the first lord not originally sworn to House Targaryen to bend the knee during the conquest. His role might increase now, we'll see.

    [Keep an eye on Quingar] He seems, hmm, cooler, so let's stay close to him. Very interesting. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.

  • The Voting is closed!

    Drent is going to keep an eye on Iwan Bar Emmon

    This was one of these choices where I had no clear favourite. Neither Iwan, nor Quingar had much of a role so far, so the winning choice will receive more screentime in Drent's next part. I suppose Quingar is the more notable character in general though, it is kinda hard to ignore the boisterous Clegane-sized warrior, so this might be a good idea at least when it comes to equal screentime between the two.

    The next part is going to be out right now. I am currently writing an Edrick part. Last time we saw him was quite a while ago. Back then, he and his group successfully escaped from Faronhall with the help of Normund, who revealed none other than himself to be the infamous Riverborn. They were pursued by Gawayne, who was the first of his posse to catch up to them. Though he ordered them to surrender, Edrick immediately refused. As said, the part is written and will be out right after this comment.

  • Edrick

    Edrick shook his head. “We won't go back”, he growled, clenching his fists at the thoroughly unimpressed Gawayne. The Ironborn merely shrugged, before he drew his sword., pointing it right at the group “Oh, you will”, he assured him. “Question's just how much fun I'll get before bringing what's left of you back to Viveka”

    The hedge knight wasted no time, as he charged at Gawayne. He had been in situations like that before and he knew how important it was to act quickly. As expected, the Ironborn took a swing at him, coming dangerously close to actually hitting him, but Edrick dodged beneath the strike and slammed into his opponent, knocking the other man down in the process.

    They fell to the ground, Edrick on top. With one hand, the knight held the sword away from him, with the other he swiftly delivered a punch into Gawayne's face. In the distance, he once more heard the hounds barking and howling. “Get into the boat!”, he yelled. “Normund, get ready to leave!” With this, he caught Gawayne's punch, still pressing his sword arm to the ground with the other.

    The barking grew louder and Edrick glanced over his shoulder. To his relief, he saw that Normund indeed began to untie the boat, with Dante helping him. Meanwhile, Darreth and Reymond rushed to Edrick's aid, while Jorid and Alphyn covered the flanks. The hedge knight and the Ironborn glared at each other, while Edrick still held him down.

    “You can't escape”, Gawayne spat. “Even if you get on that ship, my people control the river. You'll get caught and this time, Viveka won't be merciful” Edrick narrowed his eyes. Then, instead of replying anything, he just slammed his forehead into his opponent's face. He heard a satisfied crunch and Gawayne's howls of pain, as for a brief moment, all strength left the other man's limbs.

    With the Ironborn finally letting go of his weapon, Edrick wrapped both of his hands around Gawayne's throat. Heavily and without mercy, he began to choke him and for a second, Edrick genuinely enjoyed seeing the fear in Gawayne's eyes. Then, the howling of the Ironborn hounds forced his attention, as the beasts had finally reached them.

    Jorid was the first to be tackled by one of them, the beast being nothing but a huge, growling shadow emerging from the darkness. The Northerner screamed as it knocked him over. On the other side, Alphyn was struggling against one of the hounds, desperately keeping its jaw away from his throat. More shadows rushed from the darkness and in the distance, Edrick heard the guards yell, as they rushed towards them.

    This brief moment was all Gawayne needed. As Edrick glanced back at the man he was still choking, something heavy hit his face, twice in rapid succession. For a second, his vison blurred, as his grip around Gawayne's throat grew weaker. The Ironborn broke free, the sword he used to knock Edrick over now firmly in his hand again.

    He rolled to the side, to avoid Darreth's boot, while taking a swing at Reymond to keep her away from him. Jumping back to his feet, he faced all three of his opponents at once, a manic grin on his face, despite the blood that was running down his nose. “This time she'll kill you all”, he spoke. “Unless you give me a reason to do it first”

    Edrick narrowed his eyes, as he heard a growl from the side. Glancing towards it, he spotted one of the hounds facing him. Half a dozen were now swarming his companions, two of them pinning Jorid to the ground, two more still fighting with Alphyn, slowly dragging him to the ground. One of the beasts bit down into his calf while the other tore the fabric of his sleeve apart, though the warrior remained standing.

    The hound which was glaring at Edrick was large, larger than they usually bred them in the south. There was wolf blood within its veins, he was almost sure of it. And with the ferocity of a starved beast, it threw itself at the knight, snarling and snapping, as Edrick made a stand against it. The hound crashed into him, nearly knocking him over, but he managed to hold its head away from his throat.

    Others emerged from the darkness, Ironborn, with sword and axe. With a roar, Edrick pushed the hound away from him, though the beast landed on its feet, lowering its head and letting out a low growl, as it got ready to attack once again. This time, the hedge knight was ready, as he heavily kicked against its head the very moment it jumped again. The hound yelped and began to drag itself away from him, which left Edrick free to turn back to Gawayne.

    The Ironborn had kept Reymond and Darreth at bay, though the moment he saw that Edrick had freed himself, he turned to him, his grin widening. “You!”, he snarled, as he took a swing at him. Edrick took a step back and the sword hit merely thin air, though Gawayne followed after him, trying to impale him with his weapon.

    This time, Reymond was there, slamming into the Ironborn with her shoulder, knocking Gawayne aside. The man staggered, though he immediately narrowed his eyes and before Edrick could drag her to the side, he rammed his blade forwards, impaling Reymond's side, near the abdomen. With a scream of agony, the woman fell to the ground, clutching the injury, as blood seeped through her fingers. Within seconds, her white shirt was stained red.

    For a brief moment, Gawayne seemed surprised, even shocked, that he had landed a hit on the woman. His eyes widened, as he and Edrick locked their gaze and the knight saw something else in his opponent's gaze. “I didn't want to kill her”, he claimed and he took a step back, raising his sword in a defensive position as Edrick tried to charge him.

    Heavy hands held him back, as two of Gawayne's companions had grabbed him from behind. Gawayne quickly recovered from any shock he felt over the heavy injury he had dealt to Reymond- The woman was still alive, though grimacing in pain and Edrick knew, she needed a maester quickly. He clenched his teeth, as Gawayne briefly pointed his sword at him, then at Darreth.

    “Surrender”, he hissed. “And I will bring her to the maester at Faronhall” He tilted his head. “Continue to fight and she'll bleed out on the way” Darreth's eyes widened, as he and Edrick exchanged a glance. The hedge knight glanced around, seeing Jorid lying on his belly, an Ironborn pinning him to the ground. Alphyn was still struggling and he saw nothing of Dante or Normund.

    Then, he gave Darreth a nod. “We surrender”, he admitted, to which Gawayne lowered his sword, a sigh leaving his throat. “And here I thought you a fighter”, he spoke, as he put his weapon away. He approached the hedge knight, who had stopped to struggle against those who held him. “But so be it” Both glanced at Reymond, who was breathing heavily in clear pain. “She'll live”, the Ironborn told him. “I promise”

    With this, he shook his head, as behind him, two of his men reached for Darreth, who, on Edrick's order, did not resist. “You, however...”, he mumbled, before he slammed his clenched fist into Edrick's face. “With you, I cannot promise a thing” Edrick groaned, as his vision blurred, but before he could recover from the punch, Gawayne delivered another, then another, until merciful darkness surrounded the knight.

    He drifted in and out of consciousness over and over again, barely noting how they picked him up and set him on one of the horses, how they rode back to the main road and slowly back to Faronhall. Periods of complete darkness switched for moments of clear, searing pain in his swollen face. His cheek in particular was thumping and as he spat out some blood, he was sure that at least one tooth left his mouth.

    By the time they had reached the courtyard of Faronhall, the periods in which he was fully conscious had grown longer again. He noticed Dante next to him, bound in chains, with Normund behind. The Karstark knight had clearly put up a fight, as the deep gash on his upper arm proved, while Normund seemed even worse than Edrick himself felt, one side of his face severely bruised, with him walking with a limp.

    Two Ironborn supported him as they brought him across the courtyard. “She needs the maester”, Gawayne spoke, though he said something else, which was drowned out by the thumping within Edrick's head. He groaned, as he saw Reymond being carried away by two men. By now, she wasn't moving at all and she had her eyes closed, her wound still bleeding.

    He staggered forwards and into the Great Hall, with the rest of the Ironborn and his companions behind him. Heavily, Gawayne kicked the back of his knee, as the guards let go of him and Edrick fell forwards. He barely managed to protect his injured face as he fell and for a moment, he just remained there, before he heard heavy bootsteps before him.

    As he glanced up with his last strength, he looked at the cold, viciously angry face of Viveka Codd. The woman was leaning on her spear, a sword by her side, and her eyes were narrowed, as she glared down at the hedge knight. “An escape attempt”, she hissed. “I should have known better than to trust in your honour, northern dog!”

    Edrick gasped, as he managed to slightly push himself up. “I... I...”, he managed to stutter out of his weak, dry throat, but Viveka cut him off. “You gave me your word!”, she spat. “We had a deal, you, me and the rest of your people. And the very first moment someone offers you a chance to escape, you take it, betraying me, betraying your word!”

    Her fury was overwhelming and Edrick averted his gaze. “You took us captive in the first place!”, Darreth roared behind him, but he was silenced by a punch. Viveka crossed her arms. “You promised me the Riverborn and I trusted you”, she spoke in a vicious, disappointed tone. “I gave you a decent deal and you made a fool of me. In the future, I shall reconsider being so merciful”

    Edrick couldn't claim to know Viveka well, but there was something else in her voice, in her mannerism. Something had happened while they were gone. It was in this moment that her gaze fell to the side. “Where have you been, girl?”, she spat and as Edrick followed her glare, he spotted Sylvi Codd entering the room. The girl approached them with wide eyes, her hair soaking wet, which Viveka noticed as soon as she placed a hand on her cousin's shoulder.

    “I've taken a bath, Viv”, Sylvi replied, to which the woman frowned. “Better take another”, she told her. “You smell like river” Her hand heavily clenched Sylvi's shoulder. “Listen”, she hissed. “For the next week or two, I want you to stay in the castle. In your room at best, but whenever you leave it, I'll assign two good men from my guard to watch over you”

    Sylvi raised an eyebrow. “What is going on?”, she asked, as she glanced past Viveka and at the captives. “What... is happening with them?” Viveka sighed. “I'm still contemplating”, she replied. “But what happened is that our situation just got a lot more difficult” She glared at Edrick. “I was hoping for results by now, but I got only shit to show”

    She sighed. “Just an hour ago, a raven arrived”, she revealed. “From Harrenhal. The king is fed up with our lack of results against the Riverborn. At Harren's court, they laugh about us, about how we fail to capture a single man and how he is crippling our grip on this land” Now, Edrick noticed that her fists were clenched to the point where she was shaking, but he couldn't tell if it was fear or anger that moved her. “He is sending his firstborn son to watch over it”

    What little Edrick had heard of Harren Hoare and his sons was anything but good and the gasps from those around him, predominantly Ironborn, only proved him right. Sylvi's eyes widened. “He... he is sending...”, she gasped, as even Gawayne lowered his head. Viveka gave her a nod. “You all know how I think of this”, she replied. “Each of Harren's sons are a disgrace, but there's none worse than his bitch of a firstborn”

    Now, a brief smirk flashed over Gawayne's face, but he quickly straightened his back as Viveka gazed on him. “I've met Prince Harmund once, six years ago. He's been a cunt back then and from all I heard, he's only grown worse in the meantime” Several of the guards around her mumbled in agreement. “And, knowing him and my liege, they have sent the letter only after he left for Faronhall, giving us no time to prepare. I don't think he'll arrive tonight, but I expect him any day now, starting tomorrow”

    “I didn't know they'd send the prince”, Sylvi gasped, to which Viveka rolled her eyes. “I know what you're thinking now”, she groaned. “But he's not like one of the charming princes you hear from in the stories” She gulped. “In fact, I don't think they'll tell stories of this man. Maybe whispered warnings, tales to frighten children, but he is no one to laugh about and certainly no one to fall for”

    “What are your orders, mylady?”, Gawayne asked and Viveka shot him a brief glare. “I will try to keep him busy until we can give him the Riverborn's head on a silver platter”, she spoke. “I was hoping to please him with tales of my highborn hostages, but I hear you've been doing a fine job at killing them” These words were spoken in a low, angry snarl and Gawayne gulped. “Is... is the Lady Mormont...?”, he asked.

    “Alive”, Viveka reassured him. “For now. The maester is tending to her injuries right now” She raised a finger. “But don't think I'm pleased with this. You had orders to bring them back alive and unharmed. Instead, you almost kill my most valuable hostage. Worse, she is at the least unfit to travel, so I can't even hide her in the countryside while hosting the most infamous rapist of all Westeros under my roof”

    Gawayne frowned, but quickly, a sly look returned to his face. “Captain, maybe I have something for you to raise your spirits”, he spoke, as he walked past Edrick. The knight noticed how Viveka raised an eyebrow, as Gawayne pushed Normund forwards. “Lady Viveka!”, the Ironborn proclaimed loudly, as he pushed Normund to the ground. “I present to you the Riverborn!”

    For a moment, it was silent within the hall. Viveka carefully mustered Normund, while Sylvi placed a hand in front of her mouth, watching the rebel with wide eyes. Then, Viveka looked back at Gawayne. “You're kidding me, aren't you?”, she asked, looking for any hint of amusement on the man's face. When she found none, she shook her head. “That boy?”, she then asked. “You're telling me the Riverborn is a boy not older than Sylvi? I've seen actual children who have thicker arms than this little bastard”

    “I'm not a bastard”, Normund replied without fear. “And I am the Riverborn. I might be young, but you said it yourself, I have crippled your land. I've sabotaged your supply lines, I've stolen your shipments, I've killed the ravens you sent to Harrenhal and I have brought you to your knees” For a moment, he stood boldly in front of Viveka, until she gave him a heavy slap with the back of her hand, causing him to stagger to his knees.

    “Not quite”, she spoke. “Though I must admit, I am impressed. You did all this without taking a single life. Not bad for such a scrawny fish” She glared at Gawayne. “How do I know he is speaking the truth”, she asked. “He could have lied to you” To this, Gawayne shook his head. “He had no reason to lie”, the man told her. “He didn't even know I was there when he revealed it”

    The woman sighed, before she gave him a nod. Then, she looked Normund right in the eye for a few seconds, with the Riverlander glaring back at her. “So be it”, she spoke. “You've been a thorn in my side, Riverborn. You have caused genuine trouble for my people, I give you that” She placed a hand on the hilt of her sword. “Your biggest flaw is what many in this land consider your greatest virtue”, she told him. “You've done so much, but you always refused to kill”

    “Because I am not like you”, Normund replied. “You are murderers, the lot of you. I've been hoping to show my people that there's a better way, that we can be better than you, that we can remain good people and still free our land” Gawayne chuckled, but Viveka didn't even smirk. “Admirable”, she admitted. “But helplessly naïve. You're not a rebel” She shook her head. “You're just a stableboy with no idea how the world works”, she spoke. “Had you killed my men while stealing our supplied and crippling our shipments, then we would have lost this land months ago”

    “And now?”, Normund asked, to which Viveka drew her sword. “You are a good man”, she complimented him. “You are thoroughly wrong about the world, of course, and you are an enemy, but your way of handling things is nothing but admirable” She narrowed her eyes. “You deserve death for what you have done”, she told him and Normund sighed. “But you don't deserve what Harmund would do to you. I am not a woman of mercy, but neither do I seek to be cruel without reason”

    “Viv, you can't kill him!”, Sylvi protested, but Viveka merely gave her a mild glare. “He won't be my first kill and if the Drowned God is on my side he won't be my last”, she replied. “So yeah, I am confident that I can kill him” The younger woman clenched her fists. “For a few stolen shipments and sunken boats?”, she asked, to which Viveka shook her head. “For defying our rule”, she replied. “Your father has granted me a great honour by giving these duties to me instead of one of my brothers. By doing what he did, Normund ruined your father's trust in me and he weakened our house. I pray you will understand this in time”

    Sylvi gulped, as Normund gave her a small smile. “You've always been kind to me Lady Sylvi”, he told her. “You have a good heart. Don't let these people ruin you” This caused the young woman to genuinely tear up, as Normund turned to Edrick. “And Ser, I am sorry for failing you”, he spoke. “I promised you freedom and I fear I only made it worse”

    Edrick shook his head. “Think nothing of it, friend”, he assured him. “You tried to help us and it's not your fault that we failed” He looked at Viveka. “Mylady, please, I urged him to free us. This is on me...” Viveka cut him off. “I'll get to you in a moment”, she hissed sharply, before she glared at Normund. “I will make it quick. Just get on your knees and present your neck. Give me a clean swing at least”

    The Riverborn shook his head. “I do not kneel”, he told her. “Not to people like you” To this, the woman sighed. “Have it your way then”, she growled, as she raised her sword. Normund clenched his fists and Edrick saw that he was trembling. Sylvi had her eyes closed, turning away from the scene, while Gawayne watched it with a slight smile. And then, with a single strike, Viveka severed skin, bone and flesh, cleanly severing Normund's head from his shoulders.

    Sylvi gasped and shuddered, while Viveka placed a hand on her shoulder. “Look at him”, she whispered. “I want you to look at him. You don't know death, but the sooner you do, the stronger you will be” Reluctantly, the young woman opened her eyes, tears immediately welling up within them as she looked at Normund's headless corpse. “He was my friend”, she mumbled.

    “He was a traitor and a rebel and he did great harm to our family”, Viveka replied coldly. “He got exactly what he deserved, nothing less and nothing more. Should you ever find yourself in my position, it is important that you keep this in mind. They might despise you for it, but to each, give what they deserve” She gave one of her men a nod. “Bring my cousin to her room”, she ordered. “Make sure she remains well-guarded”

    Tears were streaming down Sylvi's face and she was trembling, as the guard led her out of the hall almost gently. Viveka remained behind, slightly shaking her head as she overlooked the scenery. “This is a mess”, she spoke in a grim tone. “A bloody, avoidable godsforsaken mess” She turned to Edrick and her expression was inscrutable. “I sent you to bring me the Riverborn, Ser Edrick. This morning, I had three highborn hostages, we had a good deal, I didn't have to worry about Harren's pathetic runt visiting my castle and I was confident you would deliver me the Riverborn”

    “In a way, he did”, Gawayne spoke up, his tone containing more than just a hint of mockery. Viveka gave him a nod. “That is true”, she agreed. “So, you see the predicament I'm in. Though the Riverborn is dead, it is too late to prevent Prince Harmund's visit and the sheer threat this poses to Sylvi. While my hostages are still here, Lady Mormont is grievously injured and might not survive this night. And then there's you...”

    Edrick sighed, as he avoided her sharp glare. She had reason to be furious, he could even understand her. “If you intend to kill me, just make it quick”, he growled. To this, Viveka raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should”, she agreed. “You betrayed my trust and you broke your oath. And here I thought you Greenlander knights were supposed to be honourable”

    “Seems we're not all that different from your people”, Edrick replied defiantly, which actually gained a chuckle from the woman. “Unfortunately”, she spoke. “My people are cutthroats and I would never trust any of them with such a deal” For a brief moment, she glanced down at her sword, as she slowly raised it.

    “That being said, without you I would have nothing to show the prince”, she then said, as she lowered her weapon again. “The Riverborn is dead and that might be enough to prevent the worst when it comes to Harmund” She narrowed her eyes. “You are not highborn. He might spare Karstark and Frostborn and lucky for Reymond, she is not quite in the condition he'd find appealing”, she hissed. “But you? You know what he would do to you, don't you?”

    Edrick gulped, as a memory of the Skagosi raiders he fought against in his youth flashed through his mind. “I can imagine”, he mumbled, before he looked up at her. “As I said, just get it over with. I have been a fighter all my life, I'm not afraid to die” Viveka hesitated for a moment, before she shook her head. “You will not die, Ser”, she replied. “Gawayne! I want you to take Edrick, as well as Jorid and Darreth. Lead them through the forest out of our lands. We will keep their belongings and they will remain in chains, but they are free to go once they left our borders”

    For a moment, the hedge knight and the Ironborn stared at each other. Viveka seemed to take smug pleasure out of Edrick's surprise, whereas the Northerner was downright baffled. “You... just let us leave?”, he gasped, to which Viveka shrugged. “I think I made myself quite clear”, she clarified. “I will keep the highborn hostages, but the three of you have no value to me” She narrowed her eyes. “You broke your oath, but in a way, it was only through this that I've been able to actually get my hands on the Riverborn”, she explained. “I am not vengeful enough to kill you for trying to escape, but your if you stay here, I cannot guarantee for your lives” She sighed. “So, letting you go, but without weapons, supplies, your highborn companions or keys to your chains sounds like a fair compromise”

    “Mylady, I don't think this...”, Gawayne spoke up, but she cut him off at once. “Frankly, I don't care for what you think, Gawayne”, Viveka hissed. “You nearly killed my most valuable hostage today. Pray that she lives and until then, I want to hear no complaint. You will lead Ser Edrick and his companions to the border of our lands. I know you don't like him, so consider this a fitting punishment”

    Gawayne gulped, but said nothing, merely giving his liege lady a slight nod. Instead, a voice sounded from the far side of the Great Hall and Edrick clenched his fists as he heard him. “Lady Viveka, we had a deal as well”, Leo spoke up. “I've been here for a week now and you still haven't given me anything. Now you let Edrick and his companions free to go and me? I'm still supposed to just wait here?”

    Nonchalantly, Viveka gave him a nod. “You are always free to leave”, she replied. “But I have more pressing matters to attend to than to deal with an ungrateful cunt” Edrick glanced over his shoulder and he spotted Leo standing there, trembling in anger. “You made a big speech about Edrick betraying your trust, but what about me?”, he asked. “We had a deal, but you broke it!”

    Viveka shrugged. “I did”, she confirmed. “As I said, my people are all cutthroats” She smirked thinly. “Perhaps you should beg Edrick for forgiveness. I don't think he will, but that might be the only chance you still have if you want to find that lady love of yours” Leo stared at Edrick with wide eyes, opening his mouth, before closing it again and awkwardly taking a few steps back.

    “Any objections?”, Viveka asked, to which Darreth rose to his feet. “Aye”, he replied. “I won't leave Dante behind” Edrick raised an eyebrow and he noticed that Dante seemed outright alarmed. “Darreth...”, the young knight whispered. “You know you should leave. If the Ironborn prince arrives, it won't be safe for you here”

    Darreth managed a weak smile. “And you should know that you can't force me to leave, brother”, he told him. For a moment, the two looked at each other and Dante seemed genuinely moved. Finally, the knight nodded. “I will not force you”, he agreed, as Darreth glanced at Viveka. “I hope you'll allow me to stay”, he spoke. “But I am sworn to Ser Dante and I cannot leave his side”

    The woman shrugged. “I'll tell you the same I just told poor Normund”, she replied. “Have it your way then” Darreth gave her a nod, before he saluted in front of Edrick. “I hope you can do this without me, Ser”, he spoke and Edrick shot him a smile. “Loyalty is a fine quality within a squire, Darreth”, he complimented him. “I can manage, don't worry” He glanced at Viveka. “What will happen to them?”, he asked.

    Viveka crossed her arms. “What I planned to do from the very beginning”, she replied. “The lords Mormont, Karstark and Frostborn will receive letters. Once they have paid the ransom I demand, your companions will return home. This includes Darreth, if Lord Karstark is willing to pay for a squire” She narrowed her eyes. “If not, it is the mines for you”, she warned him. To this, Darreth sighed. “It is a risk I'm willing to take”, he assured her.

    “So be it”, she said. “If you have anything else to say, do it now” Instead of Edrick, it was Jorid who stood up. “I think I want to say something”, he spoke, his voice slow and hesitating. As Edrick looked at the man, he noticed the barely treated injuries that clearly affected him still. “This...” He looked around, briefly frowning as his gaze fixed on the decapitated corpse of Normund. “This whole mess... you could have kept us here. You could have thrown us to the prince” He straightened his back and Edrick saw how reluctant he was to open his mouth again. “But you didn't”, he then admitted. “And.. perhaps I have misjudged you”

    He quickly took a step back again, while Viveka suppressed a brief smirk. “I hope you will learn from this”, she told him. “But so be it. Edrick and Jorid will leave, now that the Riverborn is dead. Dante, Alphyn and Reymond will stay here until their families paid. Darreth remains by his knight's side at his peril” She straightened her back, as she gave Edrick a nod. “I can't say I'm not disappointed in your lack of honour”, she told him. “But I am not vindictive enough to have you killed for it. May you find her, the girl you're looking for. Bring her home”

    Edrick shot her a genuine smile. “I will, mylady”, he replied. “Perhaps I haven't proven my honour today, but at least one of us did” Viveka rolled her eyes, though she at least gave him a nod. “Farewell, Ser Edrick”, she told him, before she turned around. “I will pay the maester a visit, to see how Lady Mormont is doing. I expect no further disturbances tonight” With this, she left the Great Hall, leaving behind Edrick, his companions and the Ironborn.

    Gawayne sighed, as he approached Edrick and the two men glared at each other for a few seconds. “Well, let's get this over with then”, Gawayne mumbled. “I'm not happier about this than you are. A good fight, a good death, that's what you deserve, that's what I desire. But this...? It is Viveka's will, but I don't have to like it” He looked around. “If you have anything else to say, better make it quick”, he adviced him. “Not like you're going to see any of these fuckers ever again”

    Edrick sighed, though he quickly frowned as he saw the first to approach him. It was none other than Leo, who sheepishly came closer. “Ser, I...”, he mumbled, as Edrick shot him a vicious, silent glare. “I wanted to... to apologize. I overreacted” He took a deep breath. “Please, allow me to come with you once ag-”

    He didn't get to finish the sentence. With a roar of anger, he grabbed the young man by the throat, pushing him around and slamming him against the nearest column. Leo's eyes widened in fear, as he tried to free himself from the steely grip around his throat, to no avail. “Please...”, he managed to gasp, as Edrick began to choke him. “Please, no...”

    Behind Edrick, Dante rose from the ground. “Ser”, he told him in a worried tone. “Don't harm him. He's barely worth a thought, much less any action from you. Spare him, please” Edrick briefly glanced over his shoulder and he narrowed his eyes, though Dante's words at least made him reconsider, as did the genuine fear within Leo's eyes.

    [Continue to choke Leo] [Let go of him]

  • [Continue to choke Leo] Apology accepted, Captain Needa.

    Also, technically, this is strangling, not choking. Choking is when there is an internal obstruction in the windpipe (food), while strangling is when an external force causes the windpipe to be blocked (human hands, a belt, etc.). Thank Handsome Jack for that important distinction.

    This part went the opposite of how I thought it would. Normund! Dead! I did NOT see that coming. Poor guy, he was the Riverborn in one part and then BAM, dead. He will be missed for his brief time.

    Other thoughts:

    • Holy cow, the amount of muscle and strength to be able to cleanly decapitate someone with a single strike without the assistance of gravity is insane. Viveka is much stronger than I anticipated. In fact, extrapolating this instance, she might be pound-for-pound the strongest character in the whole story.
    • Viveka is one of the strangest characters in this story. Like, she's all over the place. It's kind of interesting. She's genuinely hurt by our "betrayal" but at the same time she's reasonable? I think? I mean, letting Edrick and Jorid leave, that's unexpected.
    • Gawayne continues his sneezing villainy.
    • Harmund's coming to town! You better watch out, you better not cry. Sylvi = not safe, but also I don't think Viveka is either - not that she admits it beyond the obvious concern for her cousin.
    • I hope Edrick and Jorid abandon the peanut gallery, and that Reymond is okay. Otherwise, let's hope they blow this popsicle stand.

    Edrick Edrick shook his head. “We won't go back”, he growled, clenching his fists at the thoroughly unimpressed Gawayne. The Ironborn mer

  • Also, technically, this is strangling, not choking. Choking is when there is an internal obstruction in the windpipe (food), while strangling is when an external force causes the windpipe to be blocked (human hands, a belt, etc.). Thank Handsome Jack for that important distinction.

    Oh, you are totally right! I heard of that before, but genuinely forgot while writing. Now... I think I made that mistake more than once, thinking back, so I'll try to remember your correction next time someone will be strangled by someone else. Which... is actually going to happen again in the near future in another part.

    This part went the opposite of how I thought it would. Normund! Dead! I did NOT see that coming. Poor guy, he was the Riverborn in one part and then BAM, dead. He will be missed for his brief time.

    Yeah, he was a character whose death was always decided upon. Your choices couldn't have saved him, though you could have given him more time. At latest, he would have been killed in the next chapter. His whole way of fighting the Ironborn, respectable as it might be, just doesn't work against people who don't have the same moral standards of not killing their enemies. The only thing he managed to do is to piss Harren off so badly that he sends his worst son and a small army to deal with the problem.

    Holy cow, the amount of muscle and strength to be able to cleanly decapitate someone with a single strike without the assistance of gravity is insane. Viveka is much stronger than I anticipated. In fact, extrapolating this instance, she might be pound-for-pound the strongest character in the whole story.

    Ahh, that is a remnant from an earlier draft. I originally had Normund kneeling down to be decapitated, after which Viveka would have killed him in a clean strike, but then, after already writing that scene, I decided to rewrite it so that he refuses to kneel and dies on his feet. I consider that to be the more respectful way of killing the character, the least I could do for someone whom I kill off so early. I blame a lack of sleep for not realizing that Viveka shouldn't be capable of doing it in one strike in that case. So, yeah, she is stronger than many, but I would not say she is anyhwere near the pound-for-pound strongest character in the story. Small mistake ^^

    Viveka is one of the strangest characters in this story. Like, she's all over the place. It's kind of interesting. She's genuinely hurt by our "betrayal" but at the same time she's reasonable? I think? I mean, letting Edrick and Jorid leave, that's unexpected.

    Yeah, Viveka follows a very unusual code of honour. She is Ironborn, which means she got no problem with many things we would consider evil. Rape, murder, torture, all legit things to break an enemy. But she also has certain virtues. She's no evil madwoman and she genuinely believes that none should get a fate worse than they deserve. She may be disappointed in Edrick, but she's not vindictive enough to doom him to a slow, agonizing death at the hands of Harmund (who certainly isn't above doing such a thing if he feels bored). So, as much as she doesn't like just letting him go free, she feels like she has to do it, especially as his unplanned support has given her exactly what she wanted all along.

    Gawayne continues his sneezing villainy.

    The sneeze shall continue! But yeah, where Viveka is reasonable and not without honour, Gawayne stands for a generation of Ironborn who never fully assimilated to the Riverlands. He is not here to guard a castle, he would much rather pillage it and maybe plunder a nearby village and he really shows just how unhappy he is with the fact that he doesn't get to do it.

    Harmund's coming to town! You better watch out, you better not cry. Sylvi = not safe, but also I don't think Viveka is either - not that she admits it beyond the obvious concern for her cousin.

    At least Viveka got one advantage over Sylvi: She can fight, probably better than Harmund. But yeah, with that man around, no one can truly be considered safe. Harren is the only one who can order him around successfully, with everyone else it's always a huge gamble. At the same time, sending him to Faronhall also sends a very decisive message to all lords who fail to deal with rebels on their lands.

    I hope Edrick and Jorid abandon the peanut gallery, and that Reymond is okay. Otherwise, let's hope they blow this popsicle stand.

    Ah, we will see, we will see. Edrick's next part should give you a good idea on what is in store for him in the time to come. One thing I can say though is: his next parts have been planned for literal years and I am excited to write them down :)

    [Continue to choke Leo] Apology accepted, Captain Needa. Also, technically, this is strangling, not choking. Choking is when there is an

  • The Voting is closed!

    Edrick is going to let go of Leo

    We got another tie, it's been super close, but in the end, edinosaur's vote to let Leo go was first, so that's what's going to happen. That might have saved Leo's life, might have even taught him a lesson. Or it might have been a chance to get rid of an unrepentant obstacle in Edrick's mission to save Alys. After all, without Leo's interference, it is likely Edrick would have been on her trail already by now.

    Apologies for two weeks of silence, first and foremost. I had my exams in the last week, the final ones for this semester and I really had to work for them. Turns out, my 1-month break due to the whole situation with my father has caused me to miss a lot and I had to learn. As a result, I haven't been able to write anything until this weekend. But good news: I am through at last, at least for a few months, so expect my writing to pick up in pace again. Maybe I'll even have time for other stuff once again XD In any way, the next part is written and will be out within the next minutes. It is a Maya part, it has grown longer than expected and it will show the aftermath of her decision to side with the Sons of the Trident (led by Garthon's old companion Jared the Hunter, all the way back from the first act of Book 1) instead of siding with two poor Ironborn scouts.

  • Maya

    Maya barely hesitated as she made her decision. These were still Ironborn and she had grown up with the stories. Hells, she had seen them confirmed during her stay in Raylansfair. This was not her fight and she wouldn't risk her life for two Ironborn scouts. As such, she crossed her arms and shook her head. “Do what you must”, she spoke to the Riverlander. “We won't get involved”

    Jared seemed satisfied by her answer, while the Ironborn's eyes widened in horror. “No, please!”, he begged. “We...!” He didn't manage to finish his sentence, as Jared let loose the arrow, piercing the man's throat and causing him to collapse. The other Ironborn at least managed to draw his weapon, before two arrows entered his body, one fired into his chest, the other into his back.

    “What a mess...”, Jared spoke, as he knelt down to make sure the man he had shot was truly dead. Quickly, however, a charming smile returned to his face. “But what a fortunate encounter!”, he added. “I did not expect to meet travellers in this part of the Riverlands. Especially such fair ones” He looked from Maya to Sophey, the latter of which merely narrowed her eyes.

    It was Gregar who first spoke up. “Yeah, I know”, he growled. “I got my looks from my mother” He spoke in a low, hostile tone and the look he gave the archers was almost nervous, even if none of them were actually threatening them. “What are you folk doing here? Didn't know we were walking right into a fucking war”

    Jared's smile didn't fade despite the hostile tone. “Haven't you heard?”, he asked. “The whole Riverlands are at war. They say some madman with a dragon burned a whole army and invaded our lands. Now Harren's getting nervous, of course, so he sends his men out more often” He kicked the man he just killed, almost playfully. “Means I get to kill them more often”

    “Sure that must be a blessing for you”, Gregar spoke coldly and the man sighed. “Listen, I didn't even get your names”, he spoke. “I'm Jared, as I told you. I'm with the Sons of the Trident” His smile widened and it was actually quite warm, as Maya noticed. “Why don't we try to get acquainted and I see what we can do for you”

    Gregar narrowed his eyes. “Why would you help us?”, he asked, to which Jared shrugged. “Because you're no Ironborn and you made a good call by staying out of our fight”, he replied in a straightforward tone. “Nowadays a bit of decency goes a long way. Who knows, maybe next time, you'll help me”

    “Doubtful”, Gregar admitted, to which Maya shot him a glare. “Maybe we can use your help”, she admitted, as she pushed herself between the two men. “I'm Maya, this is Gregar and Sophey” Gregar merely shot a glare into Jared's direction, while Sophey gave him a silent smirk. “We're with a group of showmen on our way to the Vale”

    “No Ironborn indeed!”, Jared exclaimed. “I knew it. You don't have that look about you. So, what brings you here, away from your group?” He tilted his head and though his question seemed genuine, Maya felt Gregar's glare on the back of her head. However, this time, she decided to go with honesty. “We're scouting the area”, she admitted. “Trying to find a way across the river. The bridge is gone”

    “Which you, of course, have nothing to do with”, Gregar growled, to which Jared shook his head. “Quite the contrary”, he told them freely. “We were the ones to cut it down” He quickly raised his hands as Maya shot him a glare not unlike the one Gregar gave both of them. “Easy, my new friends”, he began. “We never thought to get common travellers here. Most of the people marching through are Ironborn. Then, a week from here, there's Duskendale and we got word that the dragon king is moving his troops there. We don't trust them either, so for the time being, we thought it important to prevent anything heavy from crossing this river. No armoured knights, no supply wagons, you know”

    “We got supply wagons”, Gregar spat. “Nice work, you got us stranded” To this, Jared shrugged. “How was I supposed to know?”, he asked, before he sighed. “Listen, we got our camp near the river. For our own movement, we have a makeshift bridge over somewhat shallow water not far from there. Just a few planks, but they do their duty. Maybe that could work for you?”

    “Maybe indeed”, Maya confirmed. “How far is your camp?” Gregar raised an eyebrow. “I don't think we should go with this man, Maya”, he whispered, to which she shook her head. “We need to find a way across the river”, she replied in a slightly louder tone. “Besides, it seems these people control who gets across either way. Might be better to get along with them”

    “Aye, it's true”, Jared revealed. “We have our eyes along the river. Might even be that one of the other scout troops already spotted your companions” At Maya's alarmed glare, he chuckled softly. “But do not worry for them”, he assured her. “We are under strict orders not to bother common travellers. Those who serve Harren are killed on sight, those who serve Targaryen are spied upon”

    “How many men are you?”, Maya asked and Jared chuckled. “Nice try, but I'm really not allowed to tell you that”, he replied. “Many. If we're going to take you to our camp, it has to happen on our terms. Blindfolds for each of you, no weapons” Gregar narrowed his eyes. “No way”, he replied. “I'm not going to do that”

    Jared shrugged. “Hey, I'm leaving it up to you”, he promised. “You're free to turn around and find your own way across. If you go back for three days, to the crossing, then turn south, you'll reach another bridge in four days, but that will put you close to Duskendale. We got few eyes there and from all I heard, I wouldn't try my luck with Targaryen. I offer help, but you gotta decide if you take it”

    “Maybe we can take you back to our people before making a decision?”, Maya asked, as she looked from Gregar to Sophey. “Taenora should have a say in this, after all” Reluctantly, Gregar gave her a nod, while Sophey smiled silently. “I suppose she should”, the man growled. “She's reasonable enough, so I hope she won't do anything foolish”

    Jared raised an eyebrow and he thought about it for a moment, before he gave her a nod. “Lead the way then”, he spoke. “You seem decent enough, so sure, I'll go with you” He gave her a wink. “Besides, I just cannot resist a pretty face” Maya rolled her eyes, though she noticed how aggressive Gregar still glared at the Riverlander.

    “If you try anything funny, I'll end you”, Gregar warned him in a cold tone, to which Jared shrugged. “Shame, I was told I'm a funny man”, he replied, as he shot Gregar an audacious grin. This actually got a chuckle from Maya. “Don't mind him”, she spoke. “Gregar is a trusted friend and he means well” Her companion narrowed his eyes, to which she gave him a playful jab into the side. “Oh, don't give me that look, you grumpy owl”, she added. “I know your bark's worse than your bite”

    Gregar sighed. “Fine”, he growled. “Let's lead the rebels back to our people. What could possibly go wrong?” He turned back to where they came from. “Come along then” Maya shrugged, as she gave Jared a smile. “If you help us, we won't forget it”, she promised. “The people we escort, they are not rich, but you shall not regret it”

    “I'm sure we'll find something”, Jared spoke. “And even if not, sometimes a bit of kindness goes a long way. You know, once I helped a guy and he went on and nearly killed the king for me. I heard he even lived to tell the tale” Maya raised an eyebrow, but it was Gregar who replied. “Sounds like a lot of bullshit to me”, he snarled. “Harren Hoare sparing someone who tried to kill him?”

    “It's true though”, Jared assured him. “Garthon Breaker and his brother, Torvin. They were sent to Raylansfair as punishment. You heard of the raid down there? Must have been pretty bad” Maya frowned. “Yeah”, she mumbled. “We heard of it” Jared's smirk returned. “We thought they all died down there, but just last week we got reinforcements from our main camp. They brought news, our leader has allied himself with Garthon Breaker”

    “Your king doesn't know about this?”, Maya asked and Jared shook his head. “Not my king”, he corrected her. “But yeah, the tyrant doesn't know, for now. Don't think it'll stay a secret for long, though. Garthon's brother is a hero, even for an Ironborn. Rivers will use him to rally the lords of this land. Maybe we can strike while the tyrant is preoccupied with the invader and his dragons”

    “Dont't expect me to try and kill the king though”, Maya spoke. “No matter how much you help us. I just want to get home” Jared gave her an understanding nod. “You got family there?”, he asked. “A husband and children?” Maya chuckled, before she shook her head. “I doubt any husband would look kindly upon what I do”, she replied. “I work for Orson Royce, you know. That means I'm rarely home. No time for man and child, but my siblings appreciate the coin I send them”

    “Same here”, Jared spoke. “But the Ironborn left me no choice but to pick up the sword and I'm glad I get to make a difference” He was going to say something else, as Sophey suddenly raised her hand, clenched to a fist. She was walking in front of them and as she turned around, her eyes were widened and she placed a finger on her lips.

    “Wha...?”, Jared began, but she cut him off by pushing her hand over his mouth. “I don't hear anything”, one of his men spoke and Maya narrowed her eyes. Similarly, she didn't hear a thing, at first. Then, she noticed what Sophey meant. They were close to the road now and there were footsteps marching over it, a lot of them.

    Jared raised an eyebrow, as Sophey let go of him and they all crouched down. “I don't think those are more travellers, right?”, Gregar mumbled, as Jared shook his head. “Certainly not”, he whispered. “You guys might be the only ones taking the road in a fortnight” He narrowed his eyes. “But I got a bad feeling about this”

    They crouched closer and through the trees, Maya could see the caravan. Aldrik was standing in front of them, a hand on his sword, with Ulaf and Irnas next to him. The women had gathered in a circle, close to the broken bridge, all of them staring down the road. There, Maya saw people approaching them, dozens, marching in rows of three, their leader being the only one on horseback. Though they bore no banner, it was easy to tell who they were.

    “You expected Ironborn to get here today?”, Maya whispered and Jared shook his head. “Not so soon”, he replied. “We destroyed the bridge two days ago, guess they didn't notice yet. Maybe they want to secure the other shore before Targaryen does it” He got a little bit closer, as the Ironborn leader rode into full view.

    Up close, Maya saw them more clearly. The Ironborn were armed with spears and longbows, as well as lightly armoured, while their leader wore a more heavy plate. Most surprisingly, it was a woman, with short, dark brown hair and hard features. “That's her”, Jared whispered, as rows of Ironborn soldiers marched past them and towards her companions. “Alynne Hollard. She leads them”

    Maya thought about the name for a moment. “Isn't House Hollard from the Riverlands?”, she asked, to which Jared gave her a nod. “Was”, he corrected her in a low tone. “They are sworn to House Darklyn, so I guess they bent the knee to the dragon, like their overlords did. But Alynne here, she joined Harren's army years ago, before Targaryen even thought of invading us. She's a turncloak and some of my people would give a lot to stick a knife in her throat” He spat onto the ground. “She's a mean bitch”, he growled. “Had to be, given whom she chose to serve” With this, he glanced at Maya. “Your friends are in danger”

    As Gilbar Cale came into view from behind one of the wagons, Sophey gasped right next to Maya. She tensed up and for a moment, it seemed she was about to rush out of hiding to save her husband, but then, she took a deep breath and calmed down again. They watched, as the Ironborn stopped marching, just a few feet away from the caravan.

    “Well met”, Gilbar spoke up with a confident tone, walking in front of the group, especially between him and the fighters. The horse stopped and after a moment, the woman descended from it. “Well met, travellers”, she replied. “My name is Alynne Hollard, leader of this unit, in the name of Harren, King Hoare” She crossed her arms. “I suppose you don't know anything about our bridge?”, she then asked. Gilbar was quick to shake his head. “Ah, by no means, mylady”, he spoke with a wide, charming smile. “We wanted to cross it as well”

    Behind them, some of the Ironborn began to mumble, but unlike Gilbar and Alynne, who spoke loudly and carefully, she couldn't make out any of their words. “To what destination”, Alynne asked, as Gilbar sighed. “Does it matter?”, he asked. She gave him a quiet nod. “We're at war”, she told him. “Any caravan that heads to Duskendale or Rosby is to be searched. We don't want any of our goods strengthening Targaryen's army”

    “Neither do we”, Gilbar assured her. “I am pretty certain he can't use our goods in any way. We're a group of showmen, on our way to Gulltown in the Vale” He waited a moment, as Alynne quietly mustered him. “Is... is that a problem?” The woman shook her head. “Not at all”, she finally assured him. “We do have to search you, of course, but if you tell the truth, you have nothing to fear. We're the lawful rulers of this land and travellers have nothing to fear from us. Be glad it's not the Sons of the Trident who found you first, for they would have robbed you blind”

    “A shameless lie”, Jared whispered and Maya heard the hint of anger in his voice. “We're not the ones butchering innocents and burning farmsteads to the ground. The only ones we ever robbed from are the tyrant and his lackeys” They both watched as Alynne approached the caravan, without any guards accompanying her.

    “So, what is going to happen now?”, Gilbar asked, as Alynne sighed. “We will take you back to our camp”, she spoke. “You have to turn around either way and at our camp, you can resupply. I'm afraid you have to take a detour north. The next bridge under our control is a week's ride to the north. I know the captain of the guard there and I can give you a pass across”

    Gilbar hesitated for a moment, glancing behind him, although Maya was unable to see the reactions of her companions. Both, Ser Aldrik and Taenora were out of sight, but their reply seemed to be positive and as such, the magician nodded. “That... sounds like a reasonable offer”, he spoke. “I can assure you, we have nothing to hide”

    “What about Maya?”, Irving spoke up and Maya was genuinely surprised it was him who mentioned her first. He came closer, though with each step, his courage seemed to leave him. “I... I mean... a friend of ours. She took two others and they went scouting for another way across. Must have been an hour ago” He gulped. “I mean... could we wait for them?”

    Alynne immediately shook her head. “I got a whole unit of Ironborn soldiers to lead”, she growled. “We got scouts within the forest. They'll find her and they are under strict orders to bring everyone they find to me, alive and unharmed. Your friends will be fine. For the time being, I need to return to our camp and we need to find another way across”

    “What about the other bridge?”, Gilbar asked. “Perhaps we could travel together? I must admit, I'd feel safer in the company of dozens of soldiers” Alynne shook her head, this time after considering it for a second. “That would take too long for my men. We need to secure the other shore before the Targaryen vanguard arrives here. Our men at Duskendale told us that they are on the move. Won't be long until they try to secure both sides of the river”

    “And you think you can stop them?”, the deeper voice of Ser Aldrik spoke up. “After all, they have dragons” To this, Alynne shook her head. “No dragon at Duskendale”, she spoke. “The vanguard, those are men sworn to Darklyn and Celtigar. If we hold them off long enough, reinforcements from Harrenhal will deal with the dragon”

    “Only if you get across the river”, Aldrik remarked and Alynne gave him a nod. “We might have to go by boat”, she spoke. “It'll take a while, but there's a ferry station half a day to the south. We took over the station and the raft. It's sturdy enough for people, but not for your wagons, I'm afraid. You'll need a proper bridge and rebuilding this one will take months, thanks to the Trident scum”

    “Well, we'd sure like to stay and help, but you mentioned a camp of yours?”, Gilbar spoke up again. “If it's alright, we would like to continue on our way after our friends caught up to us and you confirmed our intentions. Have a look through our goods, but be assured, we have nothing to hide. Just... perhaps you should stay away from the shadowcats”

    “So be it”, Alynne confirmed. “You take care of your wagons, but we have to search them later. As long as you speak the truth, you have nothing to fear” Maya tensed up as one by one, her companions lowered their weapons. “What are they doing?”, she hissed and Gregar sighed. “They don't resist”, he spoke. “It's smart. Not what I'd do, but sometimes, it's better to submit”

    Turning the wagons around wasn't easy, but the Ironborn actually helped with it and within minutes, the caravan was ready to march back, alongside a whole unit of soldiers, with Alynne riding side by side with Taenora, who seemed anything but thrilled by this new arrangement. The soldiers flanked the caravan from both sides, making it impossible for any of her companions to break out.

    “Maya?”, Irving's voice echoed through the forest and the moment he raised his voice, several of the soldiers frowned, some of them tensing up, others actually tightening the grip around their weapons and all of them glaring at Irving, who didn't even seem to notice how irritated they were by the noise he was making. “Maya, if you can hear us, meet us at the Ironborn camp!”, Irving yelled again, but this time, Aldrik gave him a heavy slap against the back of his head. “Shut up, you oaf”, the knight growled, just as they rode past Maya, who was still hidden within the underbrush.

    And so, the caravan left, with Maya, Gregar, Sophey and the three rebels remaining behind. The moment they were gone, Jared let out a sigh. “Oh, your friends are in trouble”, he spoke. To this, Maya raised an eyebrow. “Just because they have been taken by the Ironborn?”, she asked. “We have nothing to hide and that woman seemed rather reasonable”

    “Yeah, but she's not”, Jared warned her. “But the most important thing is, your friends are at the Ironborn camp. We know where that is and, well... hate to say it, but my commanding officer plans an attack, tomorrow in the morning hours” Maya narrowed her eyes. “And you decide to tell us now?”, she hissed.

    Apologetically, Jared shrugged. “It wasn't important until now”, he justified himself. “No full-scale fight, but we want to cause damage to their supplies. I believe fire is involved” Maya shot him a glare. “Then your people need to wait”, she spoke. “Please... we cannot risk it. My friends are innocents in this war”

    Jared sighed. “I'd order my people to wait in a heartbeat”, he promised. “But unfortunately, I am not in charge. One of Edric's closest associates has taken over last month. Apparently, more decisive strikes are needed here at the front” He shook his head. “So, I fear your pleas will fall on deaf ears with him. I want to save lives, but Deywn... he has lost too much. And he won't rest until every last Ironborn within the Riverlands is dead”

    “We should still try to talk to him”, Gregar brought up. “Maya here can be quite convincing. We're not asking you to call off the attack, just to postpone it by a bit. A day would be enough” Jared raised an eyebrow. “I know Deywn the Fiddler”, he spoke. “That man, well, I wouldn't say he never listens to reason, but it happens rarely. You better don't count on talking him down”

    “You got a better idea?”, Maya asked and Jared gave her a nod in an instant. “Do something for him”, he spoke. “I can bring you to our camp, but before that, you help me and my men with a little task. Not exactly an order, but Deywn will be pleased” The hint of a smile formed on his face. “You heard Captain Alynne”, he explained. “They got a raft, a sizeable one, which will allow them to get across the river despite the situation with the bridge”

    “But if someone were to burn it down...”, Maya concluded, to which Jared smiled. “As I said, Deywn rarely listens to reason”, he repeated. “But help our cause and he'll be in your debt. Burn down that raft and he'll listen. That is a sure way to get him to postpone the attack. Time enough for your friends to get the hell out of that camp” He tilted his head. “What do you say?”, he asked.

    “Far too dangerous”, Gregar growled. “Ambassador... Maya, we're no Riverlanders. We're not fighting their wars. Let's just talk to this Deywn and figure something out. Talk to him, I mean, you're good at that. Anyone has a price, be that coin or a favour” He shook his head. “But we mustn't get involved in this fucking civil war. Let's just go to the camp and not take part in this stupid plan”

    [Go to the rebel camp] [Agree to follow Jared's plan first]

  • [Agree to follow Jared's plan first] I'm not entirely sure if this is the wisest choice, since we could be caught by the ironborn and it might not be necessary to convince Deywn, and it might not even do so.

    This Alynne character seems important. Also, Irving still sucks. That is all.

    Maya Maya barely hesitated as she made her decision. These were still Ironborn and she had grown up with the stories. Hells, she had seen

  • This Alynne character seems important. Also, Irving still sucks. That is all.

    Actually, Alynne is a recurring character even! She first appeared way back in Book 1, where she was the one who escorted Edward and Alys to the former's meeting with Bear's bandits. This is her first time appearing since then and she really wasn't important until now, so I don't expect her to be remembered. As for Irving... well, old habits die hard. He's trying, but he's just one of these people who always mess things up. We'll see if he can change for the better or if his foolish luck runs out one of these days.

    [Agree to follow Jared's plan first] I'm not entirely sure if this is the wisest choice, since we could be caught by the ironborn and it mig

  • The Voting is closed!

    Maya is going to go to the rebel camp

    Ah, hehe... big choice here, actually. You hopefully remember Deywn the Fiddler, that man has been a pain to deal with for Garthon, but then again, he hates Ironborn and Maya is certainly not one of those, so I'd say it can go both ways. One way or the other, you will see if this was a wise choice in Maya's next part, which is hopefully going to be out soon.

    The next part will be out right now. I am currently writing a Samantha part.. Last time, she and Sasha snuck into the deserted town of Southshield, where they were ambushed by a man who, after a brief fight, realized the misunderstanding and introduced himself as Robert Beesbury. Furthermore, he explained to them that the island has been taken over by Ironborn. He's currently in service of Lady Arianna Hewett, who has tasked him with preparing the Shield Island fleet to retake Southshield. For this, he had to sabotage the castle gate, to allow the Shield Island forces to storm it with ease. However, the Ironborn leader, a certain Holgar the Red, also has an important hostage with him, namely Lady Arianna's niece Heleri and naturally, she has to be freed before the soldiers can make their move. So, Robert proposed to join forces with Samantha and Sasha, with Samantha choosing one of these tasks and him trying to do the other. She chose to try and save Heleri and the next part will show us how that works out for her.

  • I am so sorry for being two days late. I had trouble with my computer over the last two days and it forced me to rewrite the latter half of this part, which was really a drag. Nonetheless, I am glad the part is done, I apologize for the wait and I hope you enjoy it :)


    One thing Samantha outright hated was dressing in the clothes of the dead. Not what they had been wearing when they were killed, but a plain dress Robert had salvaged from one of the houses. While she was still wearing her light leather beneath it, the man had an excellent point. It was unlikely the Ironborn had killed all of the servants, so in a peasant woman's garb, they could probably infiltrate the castle. Robert himself had left behind his chainmail and switched the longsword out for a smaller one, which he could easily hide within his notably oversized tunic. Samantha had no problem doing the same with her hatchets, though Sasha reluctantly had to leave her arakh behind, instead settling for a pair of long daggers, again a gift from their new acquaintance.

    After trying to disguise themselves as good as possible, they made their way up to the castle. The trio stayed off the main road, instead walking straight through the small forest that led almost all the way up to it. After leaving the sept, all three remained silent, to avoid any unwanted attention, instead communicating merely through gestures and glances. Even that had to be toned down to the barest minimum beneath the trees, where they could barely make out each other's silhouettes.

    Things didn't get much better when they reached the edge of the forest. It was still two hundred feet to the castle walls and so close, Samantha could hear noise from behind them, the laughter of several men, even what seemed like a song. She wasn't able to see any guard on the walls, but if there were, she had no doubts they would have seen them had they simply taken the road. Realizing this, she felt relief over having approached the village first.

    Robert placed a finger on his lips, before he went down on all fours. Silently, he began to crawl across the field of grass that led all the way to the walls. If anyone would directly look at him from above there, Samantha was sure they would see him. But even then, it was the best option they had, sneaking up on the castle in the middle of the night, while the Ironborn were hopefully not expecting an attack.

    As such, though somewhat reluctantly, she followed Robert's example and began to crawl through the grass. With Sasha right next to her, she made her way across the field, pressing herself onto the ground to avoid being seen. One time, she indeed spotted a torch atop the wall, someone patrolling across it, but the guard seemed to focus on the road instead of the dark field, not noticing the three shadows that crawled through it.

    Castle Southshield was hardly impregnable, Samantha could say that without being an expert on sieges. The walls were comparably low for a castle and though made entirely of stone, the large bricks had seen better days. On more than one place, the walls were crumbling and had to be reinforced with wooden planks to allow for an undisturbed patrol across them. There was only a single tower, lying in utter darkness, and it was overlooking the bay below instead of facing the island.

    That all being said, it didn't have to be impregnable, not even impressive. It was the sole castle on the island and House Serry was its uncontested ruler. If anything, its strong fleet should have been its main line of defence. It made her wonder why the Ironborn had been able to take not just the castle, but the entire island with such apparent ease.

    Up close, Robert finally broke the silence. “Alright then”, he whispered, still keeping his voice down. With the music and chatter from beyond the wall, Samantha was sure none could hear him unless crouching down right next to him. “We'll find a way inside and split up. I'll head to the gates, you'll try to find Lady Heleri”

    “Any idea where to look?”, Samantha asked and Robert shook his head. “She might be with the Ironborn leader, if she's still alive at all”, he replied. “Holgar the Red might be a brute, but he's been smart enough to take the castle and to take hostages. Makes sense he wants to keep an eye on her personally” Samantha frowned at his tone. “Do you think he is forcing himself upon her?”, she asked and he sighed. “I can't say it for certain”, he admitted. “Though I dearly hope Lady Heleri is unharmed by the time you find her, she is a young woman of high birth and Holgar has a rotten reputation” He shook his head. “The man is unpredictable. He's just as likely to kill her than he is to treat her kindly”, he spoke, before he paused. “Well, probably a bit more likely to kill her. The man is Ironborn after all”

    “So, how do we get in there?”, Sasha asked and Robert gave her a thin smile. “One of the few servants who escaped the castle told me of a hidden entrance”, he told her. “Apparently, some ancient Lord Serry had a fling with a lowborn girl from the village. They visited each other through a tunnel, which later generations used to escape the castle in times of danger”

    He reached for his neck, revealing a small chain he wore around it, with a key dangling down. “This is the only key, at least according to Lady Serry”, he claimed. “It should be locked, so I doubt the Ironborn will guard it” With this, he pointed towards the lonely tower. “It's over there”, he told them, as he placed a finger on his lips again. This time, they didn't have to crouch, but instead they were pressing themselves against the wall, as they slowly made their way towards the tower.

    Once there, Robert moved his hands through the tall grass that grew close to the stone. It did not take him long, as he moved along the foundation of the tower, before the moonlight illuminated a sudden smile on his face. With both hands, he began to remove the grass, revealing a trapdoor in the ground. It was made of wood reinforced with iron, though the former had grown mouldy and the latter had grown rusty with the years. That being said, Robert's key still fit in perfectly.

    With a slight grunt, the man pushed the door open, revealing a ladder leading roughly ten feet below the ground. It was pitch black down there, but Samantha could see that the tunnel was rather narrow and built of solid stone. As such, she looked at the heavy-set Robert. “You sure you want to go down there?”, she asked, to which he shook his head. “I hate tunnels”, he admitted. “Those narrow walls... make me feel trapped” He shrugged. “But I'll survive. Duty comes first”

    With this, he lowered himself down the ladder, but not before taking a deep breath. She realized he barely fit into the tunnel and had to lower his head, as he pressed himself through it. “Seems clear to me”, he hissed and after exchanging a glance with Sasha, who subtly shook her head, Samantha followed after him.

    Though she could pass through the tunnel with ease, without even having to lower her head, she had to agree on this with Robert. She hated the thought of being in here and the only thing that prevented her from actually tensing up was the fact that there was a way to escape just behind her. It didn't change the fact that it was dark and narrow and she wasn't even able to see Robert in front of her, even though she could hear him just an arm's length away from her.

    Thankfully, they didn't have to walk the tunnel for long. After a few feet, the man stopped, so suddenly that she walked right into him. “Hey, what...?”, she hissed, but he interrupted her. “Sh!”, he cut her off and she heard his hands moving against something above them, something wooden. Once more, she heard him reaching for the key, moving it across the wood until he found what he was looking for.

    She allowed herself a sigh of relief as the lock opened. Without effort, Robert managed to push the trapdoor open and though it was still dark, what little light found its way down here allowed her to at least make out his shape this time, as well as that of the opening above his head. This time, there was no ladder and he visibly struggled, so Samantha knelt down to give him a push. She grunted as for a second, he placed all of his weight on her, but then, with their combined strength, they managed to push him up, where Robert quickly crawled out of sight.

    A shade, apparently his hand, returned to her field of view and Samantha grabbed it. “Get up here, quick”, Robert hissed, as he pulled her out of the hole. She found herself in a round, gloomy room, the basement of the tower, only barely illuminated by a single candle, almost completely burned down. Their entrance was hidden behind a few crates, indicating that this room was used for storage. And while the candle meant that someone had been here not too long ago, it was almost burned down and no one was standing guard in this room, just as Robert had told them.

    After helping Sasha up, the man leant back, against one of the crates. “So, that is the plan”, he spoke. “I'll head to the gates. I bet it'll be guarded, but I'll think of something” He crossed his arms. “You two will try to find Lady Heleri. Try to keep a low profile. If anyone sees you, you work in the castle” Sasha rolled her eyes. “Yeah, because we make for such convincing servants”, she muttered and Robert chuckled. “I doubt they'll pay you any mind as long as you bring them wine and food”

    “And if they try anything more, they're dead”, Sasha stated firmly, to which Robert shrugged. “Be my guest, as long as you don't get seen”, he confirmed. With this, he saluted in front of them. “Hurry now”, he hissed. “And may the Seven be with you!” Samantha replied with a nod. “I hope you won't even need them”, she spoke, before they approached the door that led out of the room.

    It was unlocked and led into a long hallway, only barely less gloomy, with a staircase at its other end. For a second, Samantha froze, as she spotted a guard there, an older man sitting in a chair, but she quickly calmed down as she heard him snoring. A spear was leaning against him and an empty carafe was standing on the ground next to him.

    Robert placed a finger on his lips, as he snuck through the hallway, with Samantha and Sasha close behind him. Though they tried to be as silent as possible, it turned out to be unnecessary, as the man was fast asleep. The moment he had reached him, Robert pulled out his short sword, pressing one hand on the man's mouth and the blade against his throat with the other.

    Instantly, the man's eyes widened, as he woke up to the sight of Robert pressing a sharp blade against his throat. “Don't scream”, Robert hissed. “I'll kill you if you do any more than a whisper” Next to him, Sasha quickly reached for the spear, taking it out of the man's reach. “I have questions”, Robert explained. “Answer them and I'll knock you out. Refuse and I'll cut your throat, do you understand?”

    With wide, fearful eyes, the man gave him a nod and Robert removed the hand from his mouth, just a little bit. “Good”, he confirmed. “See, you're just a grunt and we're not here for you. We want your leader, Holgar the Red. Can you tell us where he is?” The man hesitated for a moment, before he nodded again. “Fuck it”, he whispered. “I like Holgar, but I'm not dying for him”

    “Smart man”, Robert complimented him. “So, where do we find him?” The man sighed. “He's in his room... formerly the lord's room, I guess”, he began to explain. “You move through that door and into another hallway. Turn right, go out to the courtyard and enter the keep. Once there, go up the first staircase to the left and follow the hallway to its very end. It's the last door on the right”

    Samantha put on her most charming smile and it got his attention. “Hey”, she said. “Are there any guards with him? Anything we need to look out for?” The man shook his head as good as possible. “Holgar doesn't need guards”, he whispered. “He's with some of the hostages. Don't know what he's doing for them, don't want to know. If you want to get there without any of my mates getting suspicious, grab some wine, the door just over there, to the left. Holgar loves a good wine”

    “Thank you”, Robert stated. “Anything else?” Once more, the man shook his head. “Don't think you can kill him”, he spoke. “Holgar is the toughest man I know. If you know what's best for you, you just turn around and leave before he...” He didn't get to finish his sentence, as Robert used this moment to just cut his throat. “Don't tell me what to do”, he growled in a low tone.

    Samantha narrowed her eyes. “You told him you'd knock him out”, she hissed, but Robert just shrugged. “He was the enemy”, he spoke. “Responsible for what you saw in the village. He's utter scum and I gave him what he deserves” He shook his head. “Had I told him that much, he never would have helped us”

    “Hate to say it, but I agree with him”, Sasha spoke up and Samantha raised an eyebrow. “Let's just get going”, she mumbled. “At least that man told us what to do” She approached the wine cellar, while Sasha stayed behind a moment longer. “What about him?”, she began, as Robert shook his head. “You get the wine”, he told them. “I'll hide the body and get going. Once you're done with saving Heleri, meet me at the tunnel”

    “You'll wait for us before you light the signal, get it?”, Sasha hissed. “I don't want to be in here with a horde of panicked Ironborn” Samantha glanced over her shoulder and she saw Robert placing a hand on his heart. “I will wait for as long as I can”, he promised, before he began to clean his blade on the dead man's cloak. “Godspeed to you”

    Samantha quickly spotted what she was looking for. Though the wine cellar showed visible signs of depletion, with the Ironborn having taken freely from the lord's stock, there were a lot of barrels still sealed, as well as plenty of clay carafes and wooden tablets. Within moments, she was finished filling one of the carafes with what she hoped to be good wine, while Sasha had grabbed one of the tablets.

    “You know a thing or two about wine?”, she asked and Sasha shook her head. “That might surprise you, but they don't have wine where I come from”, she said in a dry tone. “Until I was fifteen, I didn't even know there's other alcohol besides fermented goat milk” She frowned. “And yeah, it was exactly as bad as it sounds. That's perhaps the best thing about your Westeros, that no one here would ever create something as disgusting as that milk”

    Samantha raised an eyebrow. “What, I thought I am the best thing about my Westeros”, she spoke, followed by a sly grin, as Sasha rolled her eyes. “You're good too”, she admitted. “But don't flatter yourself” Balancing the carafe on the tablet, she turned around. “Now come on, we got a damsel to save and some scumbag to kill”

    Following the Ironborn's directions, it didn't take them long to reach the courtyard, walking through a dark, deserted hallway, always following the noise, before they entered the courtyard. The sight actually caused Samantha to frown. Dozens of corpses, mostly guards who still wore leather and chainmail, were piled up in the centre of the courtyard, next to them a tall fire. It had partially consumed the corpses, which explained the stench, and none of the people present did anything to stop it from spreading.

    There were dozens of Ironborn here, sitting around small fires of their own, in groups, or just stumbling around. One of them was playing on a flute and she had to admit that he was doing so quite well, while others danced to the tune. There was laughter and joy, a stark contrast to the grim sight of the corpses.

    Others were there as well, servants who nervously walked among the Ironborn, tending to their needs and never remaining in one place for too long. In several makeshift cages, Samantha spotted groups of men, some of them wounded, their tabards giving them away as sworn men-at-arms of House Serry. All in all, these would probably even outnumber the Ironborn, but none of them was armed, whereas most of the Ironborn kept a long knife or an axe with them even now.

    “Hey, honey!”, a man slurred, as he stumbled towards Sasha. “Give me some of that and maybe I can give you a good time” He was tall and a bit on the fat side, but Samantha mainly focussed on the sharp axe he freely carried in one hand. Sasha narrowed her eyes. “A good time...”, she hissed, but Samantha was quick to cut her off. “Has to wait”, she chirped. “This one's for Holgar. Still in his room, I suppose?”

    Immediately, the man's smile faded. “Bloody hells...”, he mumbled. “That man can't get enough. But yeah, still in his room” He sighed. “Don't let him wait then, I suppose” He took a step aside, even stopping another Ironborn from getting in their way and Samantha raised an eyebrow. “That was simple”, she whispered, as they made their way past another group of Ironborn and then past the rotten pile of corpses. Up close, the stench was horrible and she turned away from the grisly sight.

    “We're not done yet”, Sasha stated. “It's all a bit too easy, don't you think?” Samantha sighed. “Can't it be easy for once?”, she asked, though Sasha immediately shook her head. “It never is”, she growled, as they approached the keep. “Remember Oldtown?” Samantha frowned. “That was unnecessary”, she mumbled, as she briefly closed her eyes. All she saw was Lunett and what that monster had done to her. And yet, she didn't just feel sadness. There was anger as well and resolve, knowing why she did this. All of this, all she had done and all she would do, for the rest of her life if necessary, it was solely to take down Maron Mullendore and his entire rotten house at best.

    The keep was clearly the main base of operations for the Ironborn within the castle. The great hall was filled with even more of them, but luckily, they had to walk only past it, stepping over several sleeping men in the process. Following the guard's direction, they walked up a set of stairs, past a few doors, always approaching the last one on the left.

    They had barely reached it when a blood-curdling scream from behind the door caused them to stop for a moment, as they exchanged a worried look. Then, Samantha rushed past Sasha, who still clung to the tablet and she pushed the door open, while subtly reaching for the axe she had hidden within her dress.

    It was a large bedroom in surprisingly good condition, the furniture still intact and seemingly even unlooted. She immediately noticed half a dozen people within it. Four were kneeling on the ground, bound and gagged, one of them just sinking to the ground with a thrown knife embedded within her forehead.

    This fifth man was a hulking brute of a man, almost three heads taller than her and likely nearly twice as wide. His blonde hair fell down his back in several braids, with iron rings woven into them and he had one of the most massive beards she had ever seen, falling down to his belly and similarly having rings woven into it. He was standing there with his chest bared, revealing dozens of gruesome scars covering his entire body, most notably a disfiguring, knotty scar from his right cheek to the left side of his chin, almost splitting the lips in half. The moment Samantha entered, he shot her a glare out of his icy blue eyes.

    Behind him, there was a young woman on the bed. She had her hands tied, but seemed otherwise unharmed. She was barely a woman grown, with a head full of raven hair, tied into a messy bun, her hair partially covering one of her copper eyes. Tears streamed down her face and with wide eyes, she stared at Samantha and Sasha as they fully stepped into the room.

    “What are you doing here?”, the man growled, his voice surprisingly calm for his fearsome appearance. He came a step closer, glaring at Samantha, then looking at the wine. “I didn't order wine, did I?” His voice was slightly slurred, indicating that he had been drinking quite a bit, but his gaze was focussed and unbroken. He shot them a grin and it was hideous, probably not just because of the scar.

    “We thought you could use more refreshments”, Samantha spoke. “You've... you've been ordering a lot... Captain Holgar” Holgar the Red chuckled, before he shook his head. “Bullshit!”, he roared, as he kicked an empty carafe. It flew through the room and shattered as it hit the closest wall. “That ain't much for me. Though I'll never say no to more wine” He grabbed the carafe, before he turned to the girl. “A toast, Lady Heleri!”

    The girl tensed up as he approached her. “To your loose tongue, hopefully”, he spat, as he glanced over his shoulder to Samantha and Sasha, who were still standing within the doorframe. “Get in here, girls!”, he ordered them. “Get in and close the door” Samantha gulped, as she glanced at the bound servants, especially at the dead one. “See, I was just about to play a game with your lady here”, Holgar explained. “I ask her a question and I know she has an answer” He sighed. “But the bitch won't open her stupid mouth, so any time she refuses to speak, I kill one of her precious servants”

    He grabbed Heleri's chin and squeezed it tightly. The tears that shot into the girl's eyes were not just fear and grief, but for a moment, there was clear pain. “Just...”, Holgar mumbled and Samantha saw him reaching to his belt, where several throwing knives dangled freely. “Like... this!” With this, he spun around, throwing a knife right at Samantha, who had seen the move coming. She darted to the side, while Sasha in return dashed to where she had just been.

    A heavy thud followed, as Samantha landed on all fours, she spun around to see Sasha standing where she had been seconds ago. The knife had hit the wooden tablet she had used as a shield, piercing through it and nearly hitting her flesh. Seeing the other woman still unharmed caused Samantha to sigh in relief and she noticed the look of shock on Sasha's face.

    Holgar, however, was downright amused by the display. “Beautiful!”, he complimented them, as he gave them a mocking clap. “Didn't know there's fucking monkeys among the servants here” He flashed them a wide grin, as he slowly approached Sasha. “No tricks, beautiful”, he spoke calmly, as he extended his open palm towards her. “Give that to me”

    Sasha narrowed her eyes and instead of handing it over as requested, she swiftly raised it, trying to deliver a quick strike to his head with the wooden tablet. Holger didn't even try to dodge or avoid the blow, though he did slightly twist to the side. Instead of his face, it crashed against his shoulder, just as his fist hit Sasha's chest in retaliation.

    The woman, notably lighter than the Ironborn, gasped, as the blow pushed her back, forcing her to fall down on her back, where she heavily hit her head on the ground. She groaned in pain, as Holgar merely chuckled. “You got spirit!”, he spat. “Keep that up and I keep you as a salt wife when I'm done in this bloody city” He shook his head, as he grabbed the servant next to her, an older man who weakly tried to resist.

    “Alright then, Heleri!”, Holgar roared. “Next round!” He turned around, as he dragged the helpless man towards her. His captive tried to punch him, but his hands were tied and Samantha spotted dry blood on his clothes. “No, please!”, the girl screamed. “He's innocent! Please, I don't know anything, let him go!” But her words fell on deaf ears. “Where is the fucking treasure?”, Holgar spat. “Answer me and I let this maggot leave” By now, he had turned his back to Samantha and Sasha, as he wrapped his hands around the old man's throat. “You got time to think until he expires...”

    Next to Samantha, Sasha had managed to get back on all fours. One of her hands was reaching into her tunic, where she had hidden her knife, though instead of charging the massive Ironborn while his back was turned, she looked at Samantha. It took her a moment to realize what the other woman was waiting for. It was her order... She tensed up as she realized she wasn't sure if this was the right moment. The old man was gasping for air, as Holgar began to strangle him, slightly at first, but rapidly growing stronger. And yet, they only had one chance to kill him...

    [Attack Holgar] [Wait for a better opportunity]

  • [Wait for a better opportunity] Yeah, um, I don't think they're going to be able to kill this absolute unit. Sorry old geezer.

    I mean, if they tried, they might get into Heleri's good graces (she may question why they didn't act in this moment), or they might get screwed.

    Now, treasure? That's what I like to hear. I always knew this story would become a treasure story, and that treasure is a mystery briefcase that totally doesn't contain Mullendore's taxidermized butterfly collection.

    Also, I found the focus on Robert's size to be amusing but strange at the same time. Don't think I can recall another time in a story where that became so plot-relevant.

    I am so sorry for being two days late. I had trouble with my computer over the last two days and it forced me to rewrite the latter half of

  • I mean, if they tried, they might get into Heleri's good graces (she may question why they didn't act in this moment), or they might get screwed.

    Could very well happen both ways. Not much has been revealed about Heleri so far, if she would understand Samantha's hesitation or not. What is clear though is, Holgar is a super dangerous man and attacking him at the wrong moment (either too early or too late) can be potentially devastating.

    Now, treasure? That's what I like to hear. I always knew this story would become a treasure story, and that treasure is a mystery briefcase that totally doesn't contain Mullendore's taxidermized butterfly collection.

    What can I say, the cat is out of the bag. Actually, Forum of Thrones is a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. I'm very excited for this amazing adventure, featuring, among others, Jenna Hawkins and Long John Gutten.

    Also, I found the focus on Robert's size to be amusing but strange at the same time. Don't think I can recall another time in a story where that became so plot-relevant.

    Hmm, I think you are right and I should change that. I feel like a character's size and height aren't brought up even nearly enough, but in this part, I realized that Robert, being described as stocky, would definitely not get through a tunnel which the thin Samantha describes as narrow without any trouble.

    [Wait for a better opportunity] Yeah, um, I don't think they're going to be able to kill this absolute unit. Sorry old geezer. I mean, if

  • The Voting is closed!

    Samantha is going to wait for a better opportunity

    Perhaps one of these days, I shall introduce a character who gets killed off in the very next part to prevent things from becoming too predictable ^^ Perhaps this moment would have been... now? Well, in any case, Samantha is going to wait for a better opportunity, hoping that it will come up soon.

    The next part will be out right now and it will feature Jaron. Last time we saw Jaron, he accompanied Lysara, Samuel and Arryn to the mansion of Bazaeya Braesendys, with whom Lysara hopes to negotiate a trade deal. Helping her out is part of the deal she has struck with Aidan and she has made it clear that she doesn't want the group to talk without being directly adressed, possibly not even then. This order was put to the test when the first person they met at Bazaeya's mansion within the black walls, namely her favourite servant Zixun, assumed Jaron and the others to be Lysara's slaves, an impression Jaron chose not to correct, albeit reluctantly.

  • Jaron

    Jaron knew, this was not his time to be prideful. And it was not as if he, the hedge knight, never had to swallow his pride in the past. As such, nodding and confirming Zixun's presumption was almost an easy decision for him to make. The slave gave them a wide smile. “Lady Rogare and her servants then”, he proclaimed. “Please, follow after me, my lady will be pleased to welcome you in her humble home”

    He turned to the side, allowing Jaron to have a full view at a mansion that was anything but humble, not even when compared to the buildings around it. It seemed humility was not a Volantene strength, but he had to admit, he was suitably impressed. In Lys, he had seen it only from afar, but here he had the opportunity to actually experience it up close, the fading splendour of Valyria.

    Though one of dozens in this part of the city, the mansion seemed closer to a Westerosi castle in size and also in layout. The Burned Man's mansion in Oldtown had been lavishly decorated and even a bit intimidating in its opulence, yet it ultimately still felt like a house meant to live in. This mansion was a different case entirely. The entrance hall alone had almost half the size of a decent Westerosi mansion, yet where back home, as far as Jaron could tell, the nobility preferred warm wood for the floor and wall cladding, this massive room was made of cold marble.

    Beyond that, it seemed the Volantene had a preference for columns and statues, judging by the sheer amount of both. The entrance hall had three floors alone, the upper levels accessible through four balconies, each of them resting on a trio of columns. A marble statue stood between each of them, depicting tall, slender men and women. For a moment, Jaron could only stare at the level of detail that had gone into these statues, their bodies and faces looking no less lifelike than Lysara as she walked in front of him. In fact, he recognized the similarity between her delicate facial features and the cold beauty of these statues.

    The only sign of life within this cold hall was a small figure, unsuccessfully trying to hide behind one of the columns. “Ah, Aentihys!”, Zixun called out for her, a warm smile forming on his face as the young girl reluctantly stepped into view. She was pale and thin, but well-dressed, although her dirty blonde hair was a wild mess that would defy any attempt to comb it.

    What actually caused Jaron to pause and gulp were her eyes, dark pools that lacked the emotion and joy he would expect in a child of her age. They were dull, only barely lighting up when she looked at Zixun, but downright shocking the knight with the cold hatred within them as she gazed upon Lysara and her companions. Someone of her age shouldn't have eyes like this...

    “Aentihys, be good and find the mistress”, Zixun told her, though his voice was warm, not the slightest bit commanding towards the girl. “Tell her Lysara Rogare has arrived” She hesitated for a moment, before she gave him a nod. “Fine...”, she whispered, before she hurried away. With a wide smile, Zixun turned to Lysara. “Lady Bazaeya will meet you in her audience hall”, he stated.

    “How do you know?”, Arryn blurted out, which caused Lysara to narrow her eyes, while Zixun chuckled. “I told you, I am mylady's favourite”, he replied. “I know just what she will order. And for her dear guest, Lady Lysara, she would want nothing less than to meet her in the finest room within this humble mansion”

    Once again, Jaron had to admit that this mansion was anything but humble. The thought that all of this was for a single person baffled him. An entire village could live within the halls Zixun led them through and the statues and paintings they walked past were probably worth more than a small Westerosi castle. One thing was for sure, the lady was not humble.

    “What's about the girl?”, Lysara asked and Zixun smiled. “Aentihys”, he spoke. “A sweet child. She's from Qohor and the newest addition to our household” Lysara shrugged. “You're not supposed to tell me her story”, she clarified firmly. “I can guess it already. No, I'm just surprised Lady Bazaeya employs child slaves”

    Zixun raised an eyebrow. “Apologies, Lady Lysara”, he was quick to say. “Mylady was not aware you draw the line at that” The Lysene woman shook her head. “I bet she makes a fine slave one day”, she stated and Zixun's smile grew slightly thinner. “But from my experience, young children are unreliable for most duties”

    “Oh, Aentihys is strictly obedient, as are the other children in myladies service”, Zixun claimed and this time, Lysara nodded. “I would expect nothing less”, she mumbled. “But is she reliable? A child of her age is bound to make a mistake sooner or later” She shook her head. “It seems like a foolish risk to keep a child slave around” Her gaze fell upon a small alcove and Jaron noticed that her lips tightened. “And what is this?”, she asked.

    As Jaron followed her gaze, he noticed that the alcove prominently featured a stone place embedded into the wall, depicting a heart surrounded by flames. Dozens of candles stood before it, some burned down, others freshly illuminated. He narrowed his eyes as he tried to remember where he had seen this symbol, before he finally realized its origin. The small red temple in Oldtown had displayed it as well.

    “Ah, a shrine to the Red God”, Zixun explained. “I know it must be different in Lys, but here in Volantis, R'hllor is actually a well-respected god. A significant part of the city prays to him” Lysara raised an eyebrow. “Lady Bazaeya as well?”, she asked sharply and Zixun was quick to shake his head. “Of course not! Only the proper gods of Valyria for her”, he clarified. “But unlike the major part of Volantis' nobility, she allows her slaves to pray openly. Let's not kid ourselves, everyone knows they'd just do so in secret either way. It helps with keeping the slaves satisfied”

    “I see...”, Lysara spoke slowly. “One might say you learn from Lys' mistakes” She narrowed her eyes. “And yet, the Red God and his followers aren't innocent to the plight of my people” Zixun was going to reply something, though he was cut off the moment he opened his mouth. “Yet the main culprit was someone else entirely”, a firm voice spoke, feminine yet slightly darker than Lysara's bright tone. “A certain... Absidee of Lys if my sources aren't mistaken”

    Jaron turned to the one that had spoken and he spotted a woman, who just walked through the hallway. She was tall and slender, and though her skin was notably more tanned than Lysara's, she sported the same silvery-golden hair and eyes a shade of purple. The first signs of ageing had already appeared on her well-shaped face and the heavy paint she wore around her eyes couldn't cover the fine wrinkles up entirely. She wore a stunning dress, green and golden, contrasting well with her darker skin and the pale hair.

    She was accompanied by two girls, one of which Jaron recognized as the young Qohorik, Aentihys. The second girl was not much older, likely younger than ten years of age, with pale, slightly sunburnt skin and reddish-brown hair, which she wore in a neatly combed braid. She wore a plain red dress and the look on her face wasn't much brighter than the expression Aentihys sported, but where the other girl showed hints of anger within her glares, this second girl showed hints of fear.

    “You are not”, Lysara clarified, before a thin smile formed on her face. She did the slightest of bows in front of the other woman, who replied with a much deeper gesture of respect. “Lady Braesendys, I am pleased to meet you so soon” The woman smiled and it was wider and warmer than Lysara's forced expression. “As am I, Lady Rogare”, she replied. “Last time we met, you haven't been much older than my girls here and I was freshly married” She spread her arms. “But please, call me Bazaeya”

    Lysara took a step closer, briefly hugging the other woman and kissing her on both cheeks. “Lysara”, she offered. “My father sends his regards. Of course, the situation in Lys makes it impossible for him to come here by himself, but let's just say, he was deeply intrigued by your proposition”

    “Splendid”, Bazaeya spoke, as she pointed at a door, which Zixun had already opened. “But shall we speak within my audience hall? We should have a bit more privacy in there” She turned to the red-haired girl to her left. “Melony, dear”, she spoke sweetly and the girl gulped, staring blankly at the floor instead of her mistress. “Go and fetch a plate of refreshments for my guest. This time, I expect you to spill nothing”

    The girl nodded and quickly hurried away, while Bazaeya turned to Aentihys. “And you follow her and grab a plate of food”, she spoke, not as gentle as Zixun, but neither was she particularly harsh towards her. “When you do this, you can get a slice of bread and a handful of figs for yourself” Aentihys nodded without looking at Bazaeya, before following after the other child.

    “Do you have many child slaves these days, Bazaeya?”, Lysara asked, as they approached the open door. Jaron, Samuel and Arryn followed. Bazaeya shook her head. “Just these two, compared to one and a half dozen grown men and women in my service”, she clarified. “And I aim to sell Melony in the near future. The red temple has offered to buy her at a generous price”

    “Now you make deals with the red temple?”, Lysara growled and Bazaeya gave her a nod. “As should you, my dear”, she spoke. “You can think what you want of the red priests and their teachings, but they have coin, way more than one would think. And many of them are pragmatists. Slaves make up a sizeable portion of their believers, but it doesn't mean they won't trade them just as easily as you and I would”

    “They won't just set her free?”, Lysara asked in slight disbelief and Bazaeya chuckled, as she shook her head. “No, dear”, she clarified. “They'll put her to work, that's for sure. Melony will grow up to be decently pretty, so I bet they'll give her a teardrop tattoo and make her earn enough coin to fund another one or two of their temples”

    Jaron could not tell if Lysara was pleased with this answer or not, as her expression did not change in the slightest, although he himself subtly clenched his fists at Bazaeya's explanation. “So be it”, she finally spoke as they entered the audience hall. It was smaller than the entrance hall, but still massive in size. In contrast, it was sparsely furnished, allowing the few decorations to stand out all the more. Even the furniture was a work of art, from the finely crafted tables to the chairs with their clawed legs. The ceiling was stylized, with scales and wings carved into it to give it the impression of standing right beneath a marble-coloured dragon.

    “Shall we continue this conversation in the Westerosi common tongue?”, Bazaeya asked, to which Lysara gave her a nod. “I take it few of your slaves speak it”, she replied and the older woman nodded in return. “Only Zixun and the girl, Aentihys” She smiled at her favoured servant, who stood behind her, his arms crossed behind his back. “It will be safer this way”

    With a gesture, she offered a single seat to Lysara, while Jaron and his companions stood behind her. Despite the three men and her own seeming lack of guards, she didn't seem the slightest bit intimidated and even gave a careful smile to each of them. “Hired guards, Lysara?”, she asked. “What happened to reliable slaves?” Lysara chuckled. “Attract too much attention”, she stated.

    To this, Bazaeya actually laughed brightly. “Dear, with your looks, your slaves aren't the ones attracting too much attention”, she replied. “There's not many of us left, you know. The scions of Valyria” She crossed her arms. “I take you are not married?” Lysara shot her a crooked grin. “Thankfully, my father values my talents too much to just sell me off like cattle”, she replied.

    “Ah, that was not what I was going for”, Bazaeya clarified quickly. “What I mean is, you will see it soon enough. Our seed has grown weak after the Doom. Many women of Valyrian ancestry struggle to get pregnant and when they give birth, the child is rarely of pure blood. You can be thankful your father married within the family, else your hair might lack that radiant silver shade” She narrowed her eyes. “Unless a miracle happens, the beauty of Valyria will be nothing but a legend in a few hundred years”

    Lysara slightly tilted her head. “You and I will have long turned to dust until then”, she spoke, though she hesitated. “So why should I care? What matters is that House Rogare lives on, not that a future offspring of my family has silver hair. Where exactly are you going with that?” Bazaeya folded her hands over her belly. “What I mean, and I believe you are inclined to agree with me on that, is that our people, the blood of Valyria, deserves one last shot at becoming more than a legend in a future history book”

    The younger woman waited for a few seconds, before she leant back within her chair. “What do you propose then?”, she asked, her voice forcibly calm, though Jaron could sense that she was intrigued. Bazaeya obviously noticed the same, as a sweet smile formed on her face. “There is one of our blood, quite literally, as we're both distantly related to the man, who seeks to build a new legacy for our people instead of clinging to what little the Doom has spared”

    “Aegon Targaryen...”, Lysara gasped and her smile grew a tiny bit more genuine. Behind her, Jaron noticed Samuel pressing his lips together, the usually calm and quiet man appearing unusually stressed. “You seek to aid the dragonlord”, Lysara added and Bazaeya gave her a nod. “And you are not unhappy about this”, she deduced. “Yes, I seek Rogare coin to fund Aegon's campaign in Westeros” She narrowed her eyes. “Your family has served his once”, she stated. “Surely you would like to strengthen old ties”

    Lysara hesitated again. “House Rogare serves no one these days”, she clarified. “But we always pay our debts. We have House Targaryen to thank for our current wealth, it's true” She narrowed her eyes and the two women carefully looked at each other. “Yet you should know the Rogare bank is no charity either. What do you need and what's in this for us?”

    Bazaeya leant forwards. “What I need is to get into a position of power within Volantis”, she stated. “Namely, I must win the upcoming election and become one of the triarchs of this beautiful city” Lysara raised an eyebrow. “I wasn't aware there's an election coming up”, she spoke. “Hasn't there been one, just four... five months ago?”

    The other woman gave her a nod. “Almost five”, she clarified. “But I cannot wait for another seven months. By then, Aegon Targaryen has either won without our aid or he has suffered crushing defeat. Neither is desirable if you want some profit out of this incredible opportunity” Lysara flashed her a grin. “Plus, you wouldn't win the election in seven months, would you?”, she asked.

    “Sharp”, Bazaeya complimented her. “It is true, I have the support now, but with each passing week, more of my supporters fall for Trianna's lies. She's a bitter rival within the elephant party. I say let her have her time after I had mine, but unlike me, she would never advocate to support Aegon Targaryen”

    “Many wouldn't”, Lysara stated. “He and his dragon brought your city to its knees. Even among the elephants, few would be in favour of supporting him now, no matter his bloodline” Bazaeya narrowed her eyes. “And yet I can convince them”, she claimed. “I alone. For this, I must win the coming election” Her smile returned. “As for you, help me with this and you can return to Lys with a new trade deal. It will help both of our cities recover from war and rebellion... and it will be exclusively between the merchant houses of Volantis and the Rogare bank”

    Lysara's eyes widened subtly. “Tempting”, she admitted as she leant closer, carefully eyeing the woman opposing her. “Very... tempting. Yet you forget one important aspect” Her smile faded. “The election is held only once a year. You just had your chance and clearly you missed it”, she stated, before she paused. Jaron noticed that she suppressed a gasp. “Unless...”

    “Unless one of the triarchs dies before the year is over, yes”, Bazaeya finished her line of thought. “Yes, I like how you think. One of the triarchs just needs to die before the next election, preferably very soon” Lysara's smile faded entirely. “The Rogare bank does not deal in assassination”, she stated firmly, to which Bazaeya chuckled. “No, you deal in coin and services, dear. Consider it a case of the latter that will bring you a lot of the former”, she explained, before she narrowed her eyes. “Besides, in public you can claim that your family is honest and innocent all you want but here in private, I expect more honesty. You and I both know there is little your father wouldn't do for solid coin”

    Lysara hesitated for a moment, before her confident smile returned. “I will neither confirm nor deny this”, she spoke firmly. “But let's just think for a moment... if one of the triarchs were to suffer a tragic accident... whom would you prefer?” Bazaeya didn't even have to think about it, as she immediately looked up. “There is only one whom I would wish this upon”, she claimed. “His name is Irrario Paenys, from the tiger party. Honestly, how he even managed to get elected is beyond me, considering that it was his party that brought us into this devastating war”

    “He is the only tiger among the triarchs?”, Lysara asked and Bazaeya gave her a nod. “With me, every triarch would belong to the elephant party for once. Honestly, it's about time”, she explained. “With this power, it won't be hard to support our candidate in Westeros. With coin from Volantis and Lys, he will be able to unite all of Westeros under his banner. And then, he will be in our debt. Think of what this will mean for your war-torn home and for mine”

    “I'll consider it”, Lysara finally stated. “And I might even know just whom to hire” With this, she glanced at her three companions and Jaron, who had feared this much, tensed up at once. “Will you do it?”, the woman asked. The first to react was Samuel, who gave her a quiet nod. “My blade is yours”, he stated firmly. “Give the order and that man will die”

    “You're just going to murder him like that?”, Jaron growled, earning him a glare from Lysara and a slightly confused look from Samuel. “What do you think I did in Oldtown?”, the sellsword asked in return. “Probably killed better people than him. Heard little good about the triarchs” Arryn chuckled. “They're right proper cunts, yeah”, he spoke.

    Bazaeya chuckled. “Right proper, as you so eloquently said”, she chirped. “If it helps, Irrario is indeed a horrible man. He is cruel towards anyone of lesser blood and even towards his own daughter, the poor thing. He's a dedicated tiger, a warmonger with no equal in this city” She gave him a quick wink. “And he is in my way”, she added. “Is that reason enough for a sellsword to kill a man?”

    “I'm no sellsword”, the hedge knight clarified. “I came along to protect Lady Lysara, not to kill one of the rulers of this city. I'm no assassin!” Samuel raised an eyebrow and Arryn chuckled. “Come on!”, Blackwell spoke. “You mean to tell me you never killed a guy back in Oldtown? For the Burned Man?” Jaron sighed. “That was different”, he claimed. “This would be... a political murder. It's different from a small gang fight”

    “True”, Lysara agreed. “It is different. The whole situation is different” She gave him a long, deep look out of her hauntingly beautiful eyes. “In Oldtown, you killed for survival, you killed for revenge and you killed for the woman you love”, she stated. “Now I ask you to kill for me. I told you I can help with finding your woman and I mean it. But first, I want that trade deal”

    “I think you should help”, Samuel spoke. “Your morals served you well in Westeros, but you should have noticed by now, you're not there anymore” He gave him a strong glare, but not vicious. There was... almost a plea within it? “I want to help you and I want you by my side when we face my... when we face Ryder once again”, Samuel explained. “But if you want to have any chance at seeing your girl again, you can't cling to the wrong morals, at least not here”

    [Agree to kill the triarch] [Refuse to kill the triarch]

  • [Refuse to kill the triarch] Let's go against the crowd. Killing is bad.

    She gave him a long, deep look out of her hauntingly beautiful eyes.

    Oh COME ON JARON. Don't fall for this crap. I mean, if a pretty lady did that to me, maybe, but Jaron must better than that.

    But if you want to have any chance at seeing your girl again

    Well, well, what if Jaron DIDN'T want to see Harpy again huh?

    Jaron Jaron knew, this was not his time to be prideful. And it was not as if he, the hedge knight, never had to swallow his pride in the

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