The Iron Key was a small castle, and unremarkable by most accounts. The Oakdowns were guests there, and did not find anything to make them question those who made the trip before. While the smells of food being brought into the hall to welcome them were pleasant enough, they were no different than the smells found elsewhere. The hall was plain, with gray stone walls climbing high to the rafters and simple chandeliers. They were unadorned save for the scarlet and gold colored shields bearing the crossed keys of House Auros. Even those shields were old, scuffed from use, and lacking any noble distinction or refinery. The windows were clear panes, framed in wood. The torch sconces were cast iron, and the floors a simple stone, laid by hand. The chambers they had arrived to find were small, and sparsely furnished. The chambers were certainly sufficient, and no necessity was found to be lacking. But the lords and ladies of the Key were not to be confused with the wealthier houses of Dorne. The high table was nothing of the sort, found on the same level as the other guests’ tables. It was far longer, but by appearance no different than any of the other tables. At the center of the table sat Lord Aemon Auros, an old man dressed in noble’s scarlet garb of plain make. He was a thin man, bald save for the hair over his ears and above his neck that was kept short. The hall, and the castle that held it, seemed a perfect fit for their lord. It was a modest home for a seemingly modest man.
From the outside, the castle did not look much different. It did not provide much in the way of defense. To be fair, it likely didn’t need to. The Iron Key was a small and simple keep that rose from the center of a simple city. Goldway’s primary role was to monitor commerce on the Goldroad from Casterly Rock and Lannisport to King’s Landing. Travelers who journeyed under the King’s Peace took some comfort in the presence of forces loyal to the crown here. Traveler’s who didn’t enjoy the King’s Peace profited far more. It was a distance great enough away from the Lion Gate to prevent unwanted Royal attention. It remained close enough, though, to facilitate any manner of business one might require. It was a poorly kept secret that a criminal element thrived in Goldway under the lenient watch of the old Lord Aemon Auros. As long as said criminal element didn’t infringe on the King’s purse, it was left to its own devices. This arrangement had existed for many years before the birth of Aemon, who had recently celebrated his Sixty-Fourth name day. It was simply a matter of life in the city; a Goldway tradition.
It had been two months since Lord Andros Oakdown, his sister Charlotte, cousins Elyana and Desmond, and their household had left Redgate. The family had made good time, and with only minor delays for weather, the entire trip was made in just over three weeks. Septon Connyr stated that for a trip of such distance, carrying so many people and supplies, he was sure the Seven had blessed their voyage and purpose. The family announced themselves to Prince Oberyn, and dined lavishly with the Prince and his closest allies for over a week. After that, the Prince was called to begin serving in his official capacity on the Small Council. He made time to entertain, of course. The younger brother of Prince Doran was famous for taking his pleasures. But the parties were less frequent, with less invited guests. The Prince’s party occupied almost all of one Inn, and part of another. The Dornish that were outside the Prince’s inner circle went about their business in the city, as the population continued to swell with visitors and guests as the King’s wedding quickly approached. They had spent the next month getting acclimated to King’s Landing when they were invited to be guests of Lord Auros of the Iron Key. They gathered and spent the next two days in Goldway, and now found themselves the guests of honor at yet another feast. They prepared to return for King’s Landing in the morning, and the old Lord was sending them off in what passed for style in the humble keep of Iron Key.
Accompanying them was Ser Bennyn, and his aide, Ria Sand. The Orphan of the Greenblood, Mauro Drokhe, was also invited at Lady Farra’s personal request to join the family in their travels. The Septon Connyr was likewise commanded to attend, to facilitate a conversation with a mysterious friend from within the Faith, appointed to the Great Sept of Baelor itself. While none had met the ‘friend’, all were eager to learn more. The Septon was terribly busy, it was said, coordinating the knighting ceremony to come, and the royal wedding to follow. Quinn Oakdown had departed Redgate a few days before the rest of the party, to accompany Ser Myles Manwoody and the rest of Prince Oberyn’s delegation. He was to be knighted in the Great Sept of Baelor only two days hence, and the family was overjoyed at his accomplishment. In addition to the household were another dozen loyal men at the Iron Key, and another three dozen back in King’s Landing. Prince Oberyn traveled lavishly, and he made sure to bring many trusted friends with him to the Capital, and the Oakdowns were certainly counted among them.
Lady Farra remained behind, overseeing affairs in her lands. Lady Gwendolyn Oakdown and her handmaiden and dear friend Kaylea likewise remained behind. Daera Oakdown traveled frequently between Yronwood and Redgate in anticipation of her coming marriage to Ser Cransen, nephew of the Lord of Yronwood. Maester Llewellyn was needed to manage the day-to-day affairs of Redgate, while Ingvar Dent was needed to rebuild the swords of House Oakdown. The Northern commander welcomed the surprising number of new recruits who came to replace the traitors who deserted. Ingvar was in his element, instructing and drilling the new recruits. Asaf continued to be relied upon, and as Ingvar’s role grew, Asaf was entrusted to become more involved with leading the Ghosts. Ser Tygor, Lady Farra’s other landed knight, remained behind with his bride Lady Christina to help safeguard House Oakdown’s stretch of the Prince’s Pass.
The old lord spoke to the two men in front of him, Septon Connyr and Ser Bennyn. “I am most grateful that you and your lords found time to break bread with us here. We don’t have the pleasure of entertaining Dornishmen often. If I might inquire, where have you been taking your rest during this visit?”
The Septon smiled, and answered. “We currently have rooms at the ‘Blood Orange’, a Dornish Inn near River Row. Many of Prince Oberyn’s escort is there as well.”
Lord Aemon leaned back thoughtfully, setting his ale on the high table.
“That sounds appealing, to be sure. Still. You would certainly be welcome guests in my home, friends. Goldway is only a few short leisurely hours by horeseback from King’s Landing. If pressed, you could make the journey in half that time. I am a friend to your Lady, and you would enjoy my protection here. I am afraid there is no guarantee of protection in the shadow of the Red Keep. His Grace is, determined, in his keeping of the peace. Many an innocent traveler has found themselves at the wrong end of a gold cloak’s spear. These are dangerous times.”
Septon Connyr nodded in agreement. “Indeed they are, my Lord. Indeed they are.”
The merriment carried on around them. The high table sat empty save a few souls enjoying their ale, iced wine and nettle tea. A minstrel finished his performance of The Maids That Bloom in Spring, and began a stirring rendition of The Oaken Dragon. The Dornishmen erupted in joy, some dancing, some drinking and laughing. Lord Aemon sat back, smiling at his guests. The local song was virtually unknown outside of the Red Mountains, and it was clear his thoughtfulness was appreciated. The minstrel had done well.