Bow Before The Sun

Charlotte IX
Crone's 12th

Charlotte went through her morning routine as quickly as possible. She stopped by the kitchen, picking up breakfast for two and headed to the dungeon. Devon had done little but sleep for the last 48 hours, which was to be expected given his condition upon arrival. Six months surviving in the wilderness, according to Alexander gravely wounded, and then weeks spent as a “guest” of the king. The king’s dungeons weren’t renowned for being kind to anyone and she could only imagine His Grace’s “kindness” would be compounded exponentially for a northman. She hated to think what he must have endured but Lord Devon probably owed his life to the young king’s penchant for sadism. It spoke to his character and fortitude that he was alive at all; not only alive but healing rather rapidly. Alexander visited daily and he also had remarked on Devon’s rapid recovery.

She had spoken with Andros and Lord Auros about moving Devon to quarters more befitting both his station and his convalescence, but in the end she had agreed with them that secrecy was more important to his well-being than comfort. So they did their best to make him comfortable where he was but with the rate of his recovery she would need to speak with Andros again about finding him a safe place to stretch his muscles. He would need to move around if he was to fully regain his strength, and he would need to do it quickly.

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Ingvar XIX
Crone's 8th

Ingvar debated with himself for several hours as to whether or not he should ride to Goldway or simply wait Devon’s arrival. It would take him about 3 weeks just to get there and probably more, depending on Devon’s condition, to get back. Being generous that would put him out of Redgate for around 2 months, normally not too bad but with the flood of new recruits and the forming of new units that was a lot of important time. In the end he accepted Lady Farra’s offer and began planning the trip.

He would be traveling light and fast. He asked for and received 2 men to go with him, that would discourage the average bandits and larger groups could be outrun or avoided. He would be Ingvar Sand for this trip to avoid Lannister entanglements. They would set out at first light on the morrow.

He spoke with the leaders of each unit to let them know what was going on and what he’d like to see accomplished by the time he returned. He let it be known he was leaving to attend family business and would return soon so as to keep the rumor mill as quiet as possible.

He ate his evening meal in the hall with Lady Farra as usual and said his goodbyes.

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Andros VII

Towering stained glass windows cast colorful shadows across the rapidly filling seats. It was the morning of the knighting ceremony, and it seemed indeed that the seven were smiling down from above. Andros and his family had been in King’s Landing for a short while, staying in the inn known as the Blood Orange. For the ceremony today, due to Quinn being one of the men knighted today, house Oakdown had privileged seating in the Great Sept of Baelor. They sat very near the front, behind only the seven kingdoms’ most prestigious families.

It had been quite the journey here from Redgate, and Andros was grateful for a day in which he need only watch as the events proceeded. Their stop in Goldway was far more eventful than he would have anticipated. They had been there only a few days when Charlotte came to him with a troubling discovery. She had stumbled upon the heir to House Dent, Lord Devon. He was captive, held prisoner by King Joffrey. If the rumors held even the slightest grain of truth, the young king was a monster – and if Devon Dent’s condition was anything to go by, the gossip was indeed true.

When this was brought to him, Andros acted quickly. After the events that transpired with the traitorous Redlanders, Andros’s fondness for Ingvar Dent had grown markedly. As soon as he was certain of the man’s heritage, he sent word back to Redgate of what they’d found. Andros knew that it was a risky move to take the young Lord Dent into Oakdown custody, but everyone in their family owed House Dent a great debt. And Andros was not one to forget his dues.

The raven flew and he could only hope that it had made it’s way back, as he had not yet heard back from the northman or anyone else who’d remained at Redgate.

Yet his attention was drawn back to the present as many more lords and ladies began milling into the Great Sept. Andros could tell that there was a great deal of socialization happening here today. He supposed that made sense. For many this was more or less a normal day – even if a knighting was an occasion, the higher lords and ladies of King’s Landing often had important events to attend; likely this was just another stop.

For Andros, though, this was a very important day. Not necessarily for him, but for his little brother. There was a certain burning pride that Andros felt welling up in him as he looked around at the impressive Sept. This was the first time that Andros had visited the capital, as well as the first time that he’d ever stepped foot inside this Sept. It was an impressive structure. Windows stretched their panes towards the cavernous ceiling, arches reaching across the space between, forming bridges between the opposing sides. It was hard for him to imagine that Quinn had been successful enough to earn himself a knighthood in the greatest Sept in the Seven Kingdoms.

Bringing his eyes towards the front of the Sept, Andros glanced up towards the High Septon and saw that he was motioning for silence. As he did the crowd quieted around him as the doors opened from behind. Stepping into the Sept, adorned in decorative cloaks depicting the colors and sigils of their houses, stood the three soon-to-be knights. And there, proud as he’d ever been, wearing the dark red and sandy tree of his house, was Quinn Oakdown.

It had been a long time since Andros had smiled like that. Yes, this was truly what it meant to be proud. His brother walked down towards the center of the Sept, keeping his head straight and eyes front, he walked slowly up to the High Septon and the waiting knight – Ser Loras Tyrell.

The crowd inched forwards in their seats, as the High Septon at last came to the vows. His attendants sprinkled each of the three squires with holy oil. Ser Loras stepped forward, and as the vows began, he tapped each lightly on the right shoulder.

“In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave.”

Ser Loras then tapped each of them one by one on their left shoulder. “In the name of the Father I charge you to be just.”

Whether the audience was here for the soon-to-be Ser Anselm, Ser Steffan or Ser Quinn, all were struck by the beauty of the Sept, the importance of the ceremony and the history of the vows.

Loras once more used his blade to touch each man’s right shoulder. “In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent.”

Then he returned to each’s left, as the High Septon continued. "In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women“

“In the name of the Smith I charge you to faithfully serve your lord.”

Once more, one by one Ser Loras touched his blade to each man’s left shoulder, as the High Septon’s voice spoke with authority. “In the name of the Crone I charge you to seek wisdom and deliver mercy.”

“And in the name of the Stranger, I charge you to be fearless before death.”

After a moment of silence, where the new knights either prayed with their heads bowed, or simply kept their heads low in reverence, the High Septon introduced the Seven Kingdom’s newest anointed knights.

“May the Seven watch over you, as you watch over the faithful. Rise, Ser Anselm, Ser Quinn, Ser Steffan; true knights in the eyes of all.”

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Charlotte VIII
Crone's 9th

Charlotte’s political face was on autopilot as she watched Quinn and his new fellow knights receive and thank their well-wishers. His usual easy-going smile was positively solar and he definitely had the eye of more than one young lady in the crowd. He radiated pride and excitement and she couldn’t help but get caught up in his joy. She tried to ignore that deep hidden part of her that worried though, afraid that he was tempting fate. She didn’t really pray any more but standing here in this place of faith, whether it truly was a holy place or just steeped in the faith of the people, she felt led to try, for Quinn’s sake.

She had spoken with Andros earlier and vehemently volunteered to go back to Goldway after the ceremony to sit with Lord Devon. There would be a feast in Sir Quinn’s honor and while she loved Quinn she hated the politics that went with these gatherings; and she was practically desperate to be excused from the royal wedding as well. She would much rather sit with the man she had heard so much about and hopefully learn about both him and snowy Blade’s Edge. She made her way to Quinn to say her goodbyes, a rare and genuine smile on her face as she congratulated him and gave her regrets for missing the celebration.

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Jeyne III
Crone's 9th

Great_Sept_Dome.jpgShe could not rightly determine who she was more angry at. She hadn’t seen the bastard’s smug face since he took the life of her noble champion. Jeyne had been warned that Desmond Sand was likely more skilled at arms than she had been led to believe. The Bastard of Redgate was feared throughout the Red Mountains, and his reputation as a merciless killer was well deserved. It was less than a week before the trial when he murdered two Fowler men simply for their treatment of a bar wench. The details of the killing were absolutely vile. Jeyne Fowler was certain that Ser Liam Cross would best him. Despite his house of low repute, Ser Liam was an anointed knight favored by the Seven. Her cause was just- the bastard lifted her like a sack of meal, thrashing her about. Why had the gods forsaken her? There was only one explanation. Desmond had used some sort of trickery- poison no doubt. She had said as much to whomever would listen. First, she pleaded her case at Skyreach. Now, she was talking to lords and ladies from across the Seven Kingdoms in King’s Landing. The damnable reply from each of them was the same. Perhaps the bastard had been false; but it made no matter. The trial by combat was decided, in the same manner as it had been for thousands of years. Her champion Ser Liam perished in a blanket of blood stained snow. Meanwhile, that damned bastard sat before her in the Great Sept of Baelor, a free man. She squeezed the hand of her betrothed, seated next to her. It provided her no comfort.

As angry as she was at the presence of her attacker, she was more upset with her twin sister’s behavior. Jennelyn’s loyalty to the attacker’s cousin was unabated. Despite Jeyne’s efforts to help her sister understand the danger she was putting her entire family in, little had changed. Jennelyn accompanied Jeyne and her betrothed to King’s Landing for the event of the ages. They traveled to represent House Fowler at the marriage of His Grace Joffrey Baratheon, but more than that, they sought to solidify their alliance with the Lions of the Lannisport and Casterly Rock. Jennelyn only had to attend and smile, keeping her fool mouth quiet. Many handsome men sought her company, but she rebuffed them all. Her heart belonged to another. So, it was left once more to Jeyne to carry on the duty of House Fowler. Jennelyn would be no more than an empty gown. As long as she stayed out of trouble, Jeyne would try to be patient.

Her eyes once more found Desmond Sand. He would be an even greater fool than she believed him to be to attack her here. She was surrounded by a sea of golden lions and golden roses. Ser Landon Lannister of Lannisport surely commanded the respect and fealty of these men. Ser Landon explained that there were Lannisters to be found throughout the Westerlands, but the Lannisters of Lannisport were second in pedigree only to the ruling Lannisters of Casterly Rock. One of those highborn Lannisters sat beside the Imp. While Tyrion Lannister was a far cry from the beauty of the Queen Regent, or the Kingsguard Jaime Lannister, it was still more than enough to command the death of Desmond Sand. Tyrion Lannister was uncle to the King. If that weren’t enough, only a couple of seats behind them sat the Tyrells of the Reach. The Reachmen had hated the Dornish for as long as there had been Dornish. The future Queen, Margaery Tyrell, was to be bound by marriage to Jeyne’s new family. Surely these roses would punish Desmond with an excruciating death just as willingly as the lions. She began to hope the fool would accost her here.

The seats in the Great Sept of Baelor began to fill. The massive center of the Faith would seldom see a the thousands of seats filled completely, however. While a knighting was cause for celebration, most of those in attendance were present for the social occasion. As they maneuvered, gossiped and flirted, the three squires waited. The men were standing at the entrance of the Great Sept, with long ceremonial cloaks in their house’s colors trailing behind. On her right, as she peered behind to see, was Steffan Cockshaw. His cloak was black, with red white and gold feathers adorning the trail. Anselm Redwyne, cousin to the ruling Redwynes of the Arbor, stood in the place of honor at the center of the three future knights, wearing a grey cloak bearing the purple cluster of grapes of House Redwyne. It was Anselm that served as the reason for the attendance of the Lannisters and Reachman. Stil the most notable of their families, save Tyrion Lannister, remained absent. Jaime and Cersei were nowhere to be seen. Neither was Mace Tyrell, Garlan Tyrell or Lady Margaery.

Jeyne looked forward as the High Septon motioned subtly for quiet in the Great Sept. The buzz of conversation subsided, and those standing found their seats. Several seats in front of her, Jeyne spied her pathetic sister. She was staring, eyes filled with mindless emotion, at her heart’s desire. Jeyne was glaring at the same pew. The Oakdown family sat towards the front of the Sept as guests of honor, where Desmond was seated. But her eyes were now fixed on the heir of House Oakdown as well. Andros Oakdown beamed with pride at his younger brother, the final of the three men to be knighted, while Jennelyn Fowler beamed at Andros Oakdown with foolish infatuation. The young man remained focused, and kept his eyes fixed on the High Septon. Quinn Oakdown wore a dark red cloak, with a long train similar to the other two. The cloak bore the elongated sigil of House Oakdown, a sandy colored tree that ran down it’s length.

Between Andros on one end of the pew, and Desmond on the other, sat the remainder of the family in attendance. Ladies Elyana and Daera sat next to minor lords, and Lady Charlotte next to them. Apparently the family had wisely decided to leave the barbarian Northerner at home, and she saw no other Northmen inside. Apparently the hideous trees couldn’t grow amidst the beauty of the crystal and marble within the Great Sept. Imagine.

The chorus began to sing, and the procession of squires marched in step as they exited the Hall of Lamps underneath the leaded glass globes. As they approached the center of the magnificent building, seven aisles meeeting at a point where the altar raised above the floor, a finely adorned knight stood to greet them. His armor was enamel, and the rays of light that streamed through the stained glass of the Great Sept reflected off of his finely polished armor. The glinting light created an illusion that the suit of armor was flecked with crystals or diamonds, and the effect was impressive to behold. Jeyne immediately recognized Ser Loras Tyrell.

The procession finally arrived, and the High Septon raised his hands to begin the opening prayers. Jeyne thought it a good omen that this High Septon was not fat and pitiable as the one before. All said the new High Septon was a good man, and would enjoy a long and blessed life as a result of his piety. Jeyne couldn’t help but appreciate how much more she enjoyed the service and prayers this day. The Oakdown’s Septon at the anniversary made her want to drown herself.

The crowd inched forwards in their seats, as the High Septon at last came to the vows. His attendants sprinkled each of the three squires with holy oil. Ser Loras stepped forward, and as the vows began, he tapped each lightly on the right shoulder.

“In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave.”

Ser Loras then tapped each of them one by one on their left shoulder. “In the name of the Father I charge you to be just.”

Whether the audience was here for the soon-to-be Ser Anselm, Ser Steffan or Ser Quinn, all were struck by the beauty of the Sept, the importance of the ceremony and the history of the vows.

Loras once more used his blade to touch each man’s right shoulder. “In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent.”

Then he returned to each’s left, as the High Septon continued. "In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women“

“In the name of the Smith I charge you to faithfully serve your lord.”

Once more, one by one Ser Loras touched his blade to each man’s left shoulder, as the High Septon’s voice spoke with authority. “In the name of the Crone I charge you to seek wisdom and deliver mercy.”

“And in the name of the Stranger, I charge you to be fearless before death.”

After a moment of silence, where the new knights either prayed with their heads bowed, or simply kept their heads low in reverence, the High Septon introduced the Seven Kingdom’s newest anointed knights.

“May the Seven watch over you, as you watch over the faithful. Rise, Ser Anselm, Ser Quinn, Ser Steffan; true knights in the eyes of all.”

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Bennyn III
The Crone's 8th

Emma.jpgThe young knight finished his breakfast as he watched his stable girl ready Emma. He knew a knight was not supposed to grow overfond of a mount. Bennyn was taught as a squire that if you name them, you will grow sentimental. Bennyn didn’t care. He watched Ria carefully brush the horse, and noticed how the girl brought Emma some carrots after she finished her oats. He smiled, and forked a mouthful of eggs with peppers into his mouth.

His family was proud, but would not ever own a Valyrian blade. His sword was castle-forged, and a sturdy blade. Before Redgate broke with Skyreach, his father had the blade crafted at the top of the world in the Fowler’s castle. His father passed down the blade to him, and he now intended to care for it with the attention it richly deserved. A man’s heritage was the value, not the price a merchant might pay for it. Let the Heir of Oakdown have Nightsbane. Ser Bennyn of Broadmont would proudly wield Duty.

Still, he loved Emma as much as he loved his blade. The black palfrey had carried him safely across the foothills of the Red Mountains innumerable times. This was no small feat. She was surefooted, swift, and had the endurance of any Sand Steed. She was a beautiful creature. This was why he spent the coin to bring along Ria Sand. This young girl not only knew how to care for the animal, but Ser Bennyn could tell the horse was fond of her as well. He couldn’t explain how he knew. A cynic would only scoff. But kindred spirits? Those who loved the animals that loved them? They could tell. Ria was one of those; an especially well-suited example. He had never before seen her like. The bond he shared with Emma was formed over years of loyalty and care. Ria’s bond with the creature almost matched his own, and she knew the horse for a matter of weeks.

Most of their traveling party had already left for the Blood Orange. Quinn was to become a knight, the third sworn and anointed knight to House Oakdown after Ser Tygor and himself. The first of his generation, he was an inspiration to the grandchildren who survived the loss of Lord Nygel and his sons. Bennyn may have been born in Dorne, but his father’s family came from the Reach. Women were not created by the Seven to rule. Lady Farra did her best, but it was likely much of the strife of the past 16 years might have been spared with a man sitting the Oakchair. Annabyl tried to be a warrior, but that would never overcome her gentler nature. Bennyn was hopeful that Quinn’s knighthood, and Andros’ inheritance might restore Redgate. A knight shared in the glory of his lord, and in his shame as well.

The knighting was to occur within the Great Sept of Baelor. The honor was unmistakable, and not available to even a house of Oakdown’s stature. This was typically reserved for the greatest houses of the Seven Kingdoms, and even then, it was an honor of distinction for them as well. Most of the family had traveled all the way from the Prince’s Pass to witness the ceremony; the attendance of King Joffrey’s wedding to Lady Margaery Tyrell was an added incentive. While the Royal Wedding was a social event not to be missed, the family was most interested to see one of their own achieve his well earned anointing. The children would play their part, and mingle with the lords and ladies of Westeros. But that was duty. Quinn’s knighting was a privilege.

Bennyn had intended to travel with the others. At the last moment, Lord Andros had asked him to stay behind. It appeared that the prisoner in the dungeons of the Iron Key was incredibly important. Lord Andros bid him to protect the man and not let him be moved without his leave. Andros left behind a small number of armed men to aid him in his charge. While some of the family would remain in King’s Landing after the knighting, others were to return. Of Lord Andros, Charlotte, Desmond or Elyana, one would return to oversee the matter of the prisoner. Lord Robert Auros, the Heir of the Iron Key, was accompanying Lady Elyana to the ceremony, but would return immediately afterward as well.

The rest of the Oakdown family remained undecided about the young lord. He was a man grown at 17, and towering at well over six foot in height. His frame was solid muscle, but some suspected the muscle might have penetrated between the man’s ears as well. There was no doubting he was a skilled combatant, and would be a boon if his sword was needed. Lady Elyana had spent most of the evening with the handsome lord if the rumors were true, but even those rumors reported her virtue to remain intact. She retired to her own chambers after the feast to rest for the days travel ahead. Ria proved to be a sound investment. In addition to her skill with Emma, she proved to have a knack with smallfolk as well. Ria shared that it sounded as though Lord Robert had quickly grown fond of Lady Elyana Oakdown. Bennyn would not be surprised if it was she that Lord Andros bid return to Goldway. Ria would stay behind with him, but most of their armed men, the Septon and the Orphan of the Greenblood had accompanied the family to King’s Landing.

Bennyn finished his eggs, and brought a plate of food to Ria. He anticipated a quiet day in the small city.

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Llewellyn VII
The Crone's 8th

Raven.jpgLlewellyn had poured his friend and Master-at-Arms a cup of honey mead. The
maester had entertained the notion to try Ingvar’s Black, but that had happened only once. After that, it was agreed they could converse just as well over mead. Llewellyn thought his friend might enjoy this drink, as opposed to some others they shared over far worse news. Llewellyn could hear the Northman climb the stairs to his chambers, and the light rap on the
door signaled his arrival.

“Come in, friend.”

Ingvar did as he was bid, smiling as he took note of the honey mead with a flagon nearby to yield more. “This is a warm greeting.”

Llewellyn motioned for the commander to take a seat, which he did. Ingvar immediately noticed the two parchments rolled out on the Maester’s desk, and a third set aside, still curled.

“What do we have here, Maester?”

“These are the parchments you were inquiring about.” Llewellyn lightly tapped his finger on the first. “This is the one that Asaf found locked in a chest when he was hunting the traitors. It was kept in a ruined holdfast on the southern end of Manwoody lands. As you have surmised, this must almost certainly be Bonefield. The holdfast has stood largely unused since the Dragons burned it to the ground almost 300 years ago. The Manwoody’s
use it as a watchtower, but it is unfit for landed knights. Asaf described the holdfast as I imagine it to be. Charred, pillaged, and rotting; there appeared to be nothing but snow and decay- save the chest. This parchment is quite new, as is the ink. There is no evidence of wearing.”

Ingvar looked carefully at the words.

Quick; quite mum; I die notwithstanding. I lived once, I live again. Everybody lifts me, grips me, and chops off my head, bites my bare body, violates me. I don’t bite a man unless he bites me; there are many men who bite me.

“A riddle.” Ingvar nodded. He pondered for only a moment, before continuing. “The answer is onion.”

Maester Llewellyn nodded. “Indeed. And yet, what of it? What does an onion have to do with a burnt ruin?”

Ingvar motioned to the other parchment, taking another sip of mead. “And this one? Is this the one that Lord Andros and I recovered?”

“It is. Once we got the chest opened, it became clear we were dealing with a similiar dilemna. This was found on Oakdown lands, only a few leagues from the Dornish desert. Despite being in opposite directions, you’ll notice the contents are simliar. One parchment within the chest, and look what it yields.”

Ingvar studied the second parchment. Llewellyn refilled both of their cups.

I am valued by men, fetched from afar, Gleaned on the hill-slopes, gathered in groves,
In dale and on down. All day through the air, Wings bore me aloft, and brought me with cunning. Safe under roof. Men steeped me in vats. Now I have power to pummel and bind,
To cast to the earth, old man and young. Soon he shall find who reaches to seize me, Pits force against force, that he’s flat on the ground, Stripped of his strength if he cease not his folly, Loud in his speech, but of power despoiled To manage his mind, his hands or his feet.
Now ask me my name, who can bind men on earth, And lay fools low in the light of day.

Ingvar looked down at the contents of his cup, and up to Llewellyn who was grinning. “I couldn’t help myself, friend. I appreciate irony.”

Ingvar returned the grin. “As do I. So the answer to the second riddle is Honey Mead.”

“The real riddle is what these two parchments mean? Why were they in the possession of traitors?”

Ingvar leaned back, emptying his second cup of mead. “What is this third scroll you have? Another riddle?”

Llewellyn also drank deeply, setting his empty cup down. “This is why I asked you to come to my chambers. The Raven arrived less than an hour ago. Lady Farra has given me leave to share it with you.”

Ingvar’s face darkened. “Dark wings, dark words.”

Llewellyn handed the third scroll to Ingvar, and as the Northman unrolled the parchment, he continued. “Not everytime it appears. This came from Corvo. He is certain your cousin has been found. He has been a guest of the Red Keep, it appears. Lady Farra bid me send word to Lord Michael Dent of Blade’s Edge as well. That is the reason for my delay in telling you, but your kin likely have a much longer trip to make.”

Ingvar’s eyes widened as he read, and studied the face of the Maester. He wore a mixed expression, of both relief and gathering wrath. “He is well, then?”

“As well as can be expected my friend. He will live. Lady Farra has given you leave to journey to the capital, though she bids you use caution. When the boy King learns of his stolen prize, it may be dangerous to bear your surname. The Oakdown family honors their friends, Ingvar. Whatever we can do to assist you, we will. I have notified Lord Andros as well. He is leaving armed guards behind to safeguard your cousin.”

Ingvar found his feet, standing and finding the pommel of his sword.

Llewellyn likewise rose, and clapped the Northman on the shoulder.

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Mauro XIV
The Crones 7th

Kings Landing was overcrowded, sprawling, squalid and foul… yet still majestic. Mauro sensed great power here, and great danger. Meeting Prince Oberyns entourage was quite an honor, and reminded Mauro of his Dornish pride. Mingling amongst the native northerners wasn’t so pleasant however. Mauro wasn’t happy about how they looked down their noses on Dornish folk. But Mauro supposed that was the prerogative of those who considered themselves your conquerors.

Shortly before their arrival, Septon Connyr revealed to Mauro that the contact who sent word to Lady Farra regarding Kings Landing connections to the brigand activity is within the Council of the Most Devout, right below the High Septon in the clergical hierarchy. Septon Connyr explained how he worked with all of them in the past as a widely respected theological scholar.

Mauro pressed for access to the council to speak to this informant but was denied access for now, as they are preparing for the huge knighting ceremony and more importantly the royal wedding. While he waited for more clues about his fathers killers, Mauro decided to focus on his other enemy, Norillo. Knowing the Pentoshi was heading north after he fled Redgate, it was entirely possible he left Dorne and might be somewhere in the city.

Thus, Mauro took to exploring streets and marketplaces, sifting through the many languages he overheard with his gifted linguistic mind until he heard Pentoshi. However, after several days of such eavesdropping returned no leads Mauro got frustrated and decided he might as well put the word out that he was willing to pay for information. The coin Lady Farra gave him for expenses might as well be put to use that way.

Weeks passed and the Oakdowns were invited to be guests of Lord Auros of Goldway, lord of the Iron Key. Mauro went along and spent the next two days there. Tomorrow they would return to Kings Landing and Lord Auros declared he would have them as guests of honor at tonight’s feast before they departed in the morning.

Surprisingly, word of Mauro’s interest in Norillo reached a thug named Flenn in service to Harwin Waters, a lesser underworld boss in Goldway who also happened to the bastard of Aemon Auros. 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.

Goldway’s location along the Goldroad between Lannisport and King’s Landing made it ideal to facilitate commerce. 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.

Mauro quickly left the Iron Key that afternoon, eager to find Flenn before he was expected back for the feast. Word was Flenn could be found in a seedier area of the city known as the ‘Tower District’. Mauro considered the possibility of a trap of course, and took care to keep a lookout for anyone following him or otherwise watching him too closely.

He found Flenn in an Inn called The Tower, but Flenn urged him out into the street where they could talk in more privacy. Mauro expected he was nervous selling information without Harwins permission. Flenn was a small, timid little man with ratty eyes and a greedy way of licking his lips when Mauro flashed the coin he was promised. Mauro pressed him to talk after he dropped the coins into his hand, but Flenn was so nervous he rushed too fast stumbling over his own tongue… and Mauro had to insist he repeat himself.

Flenn: “That’s all I know, I told ya already. The sigil was a crab, on a field of blue and black. That man wasn’t no Pentoshi though. He’s a Reachman of some kind. Banner to Redwyne. I don’t know no more. And I don’t know why they’d want anything to do with a fat old Pentoshi neither. They didn’t bother to tell me their business.”

Mauro: clenched his jaw, but continued. “You said you saw them speaking in Fishmonger Square though, yes?”

Flenn: “Aye.”

Mauro: “And the man with Norillo was silent throughout? But wore a small purple gem in his ring?”

Flenn: grew impatient. “I said so, yes. I’m through with your questions. Let me pass now.”

Mauro stood aside to let the small man walk by, confident he could find him again if he needed though his expression belied worry. The gem likely meant one thing. Norillo had brought members of the powerful Opalon Guild with him. He had heard of these men, their brotherhood, but had never met one.

They were said to have stronghouses throughout the known world, in the largest cities. Was this Opalon from King’s Landing? Or did he come from the Free Cities? Mauro knew he would have to be on his guard. He decided to return to the Iron Key, and see what he could learn of the Reach house in league with Norillo in their library. He had finally found the cold trail of Norillo once more. It was time to finish what he had sailed across the Narrow Sea to do.

As Flenn’s footsteps moved off Mauro heard the sound of hot piss against a near stone wall and inwardly frowned. Whoever that was may have overheard his conversation with Flenn. Information like that was valuable, even dangerous. He had no desire to share it with some damned fool with a full bladder.

However, when Mauro glanced over his shoulder he cursed his own luck. The micturating man was none other then Harwin Waters… the muscular, middle-aged, balding bastard of Aemon Auros! Mauro understood he was something of an underworld boss in this part of the city. This could be bad… Mauro thought to himself, waiting to see what Harwin did before he took another step.

Harwin however, apparently could care less about who Mauro was or what he was told. He simply walked back into the inn muttering something about foreigners in his town. If he had any suspicions of Mauro, he didn’t show it and Mauro permitted himself a quick sigh of relief before he made his way back to the Iron Key.

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Desmond XVII
Early morning, The Smith's 6th

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A gentle, but insistent, tapping intruded into Desmond’s slumber. He quickly brushed the fog of sleep away and sprang from his bed, landing lightly. Bare as the gods had made him, the air was chill against his naked skin. He took a quick glance at the window and could barely discern the shape of the buildings crowding the base of Visenya’s Hill across River Row. The lack of light told that the hour was still early and dawn was far off yet. Certainly too early yet for visitors, particularly to his chambers. He lifted his spear – Justice, he had named it after the events in Skyreach – from its place behind the door and slowly lifted the latch.

Two figures stood in the hallway speaking in hushed tones backlit by the candles in their sconces that lit the passage. From out of the shadows a familiar voice spoke.

“You see? He fears the shadows just as you do, old friend,” Prince Oberyn said quietly.

“I fear no shadows,” Desmond replied through the pall of weariness that descended as he relaxed. “But shadows should fear waking a man at this hour.”

“And why is that? A shadow must be a shadow and a man must wake,” Oberyn replied. He turned to his companion again, “He is almost as confusing as you as well.”

Desmond paused in his puzzlement, keeping the door between himself and Prince Oberyn and his still shadowed companion. It was most assuredly too early for riddles and Desmond wore too little to engage in witty banter.

“Forgive me, Prince Oberyn, but the hour is early. How may I be of service?”

“There are some things that would be best discussed behind closed doors,” Oberyn said, gesturing beyond Desmond into his room.

Looking down at his nakedness, Desmond lifted a finger. “Of course, a moment, if it please.”

He left the door standing open and returned to the bed, lifting the bedsheet and cinching it around his waist hurriedly as the two men entered. Using the tinderbox, Desmond lit the bedside candle and turned to face his guests.

Prince Oberyn was dressed much as he had been last evening, in knee-high boots of rich leather, light linen pants and the rich, long coat that he favored embroidered all over with the small spear-through-sun Martell sigil. His companion was dressed much the same; although his coat was sleeveless, of a rougher fabric, and unadorned. The colors, while clearly intended to mark him as a servant of Sunspear, were a shade darker. The stranger’s sun-browned skin was worn and weathered and scars criss-crossed his bare arms. Who was this man and why had Prince Oberyn brought him here before the cock crowed?

“My friend Desmond let me introduce you to your father – a dear friend of mine – Qalross.”

Desmond’s legs turned to water and the breath left him. Had the bed not been so close he likely would have collapsed onto the floor. As it was, the bed creaked dangerously beneath him as he sat onto it heavily.

“My… my… father?” Desmond said stunned into dumbness. How could this be? Prince Oberyn was his father, he was certain of it.

The stranger looked Desmond up and down. The man’s expression made Desmond feel as if he were a horse being judged for sale.

“So, it is true,” the man, Qalross, said with a rough, accented voice, the tone of which was like sand blown across the desert, “you have my jawbones. And my ears. But there is no mistaking your mother’s eyes.”

His speech carried an unfamiliar accent that Desmond couldn’t place. His harsh expression had softened and the corners of his mouth turned up in what could be mistaken for a smile. Desmond looked up and searched the man’s face, looking from him to Oberyn and back again. There was no denying his resemblance to the stranger.

“My prince, are you certain?” Desmond inquired, almost pleadingly. He felt the fragile reality of the life he had imagined crumbling ’round him.

“Oh, yes. Qalross and Lady Annabyl were inseparable,” Oberyn said, laying a hand on Qalross’ shoulder. “But she protected him. My father would not have taken kindly to a sellsword bedding an important and noble guest.”

“A sellsword? My father is a common sellsword?” Desmond replied incredulously before he could stop himself. “No offense is meant, ser, but I trust you understand that this comes as a shock at this early hour.”

“I’m neither knight nor lord. Keep you ‘sers’,” Qalross said gruffly, his dour countenance returning, as Desmond reached for the wineskin that had slipped underneath the bedtable and the cup that still stood on it.

“Would either of you care for a drink?” Desmond asked as he poured a cup and drained it quickly.

“This ‘common sellsword’, as you call him, helped train my brothers and I,” Oberyn said with a note of disapproval in his voice, “He is one of the finest spearman I know. Bloodlines do not make the man. I would expect you to know this most of all, Desmond Sand.”

Qalross simply stood sternly and, again, gave Desmond a weighing glance.

“Let us get acquainted, then. Bring your spear,” the man named as his father said. He turned on his heel and walked out of the room.

“Now? Are you mad!?” he called after Qalross, ignoring the fact that he had just emptied a cup of wine well before breakfast.

“Come, Desmond Sand,” Oberyn said with a sly grin, “Dress and follow. The sun is rising. No more shadows to trouble you.”

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Mauro XIII
On the journey from Redgate to Kings Landing

Mauro was glad to accept lady Farra’s invitation to go to Kings Landing. New scenery and a chance to root out those responsible for the bandit attacks in the Red Mountains were welcome changes. Mauro was happy to see more of the seven kingdoms, regardless of how hard the journey would be for a cripple like himself. Each day he forced to himself to walk a little further with the help of his new cane, struggling to strengthen his stride and keep pace with the wagons. One day he hoped to put it aside and not just for vanities sake. He worried the cane drew attention to his frailty. It exposed his weakness and might encourage enemies to take advantage.

Mauro spent much of the journey on a wagon with Septon Connyr sharing water and conversation. Connyr was not so much the septon one expected. During the journey Mauro waited day after day for a speech from Connyr about the merits of conversion to the new gods, but Connyr didn’t bother. Finally Mauro asked him why? Connyr’s answer was, “I’m not that persuasive”, which made them both laugh.

In some ways Connyr reminded Mauro of a maester. That got him thinking about other similarities between septons and maesters, beyond the fact they both wore robes most of the time. They were both plain-speaking and long-winded in the way that learned men are… with little allowance for crude thinking or language. They both found merit in service to a greater power. Septons and maesters both had to have a care for politics in positions of influence. etc. Mauro wondered how many maesters went to the sept on a regular basis? He even wondered if a maester could also be a septon? Questions he fully intended to bother septon Connyr and maester Llewellyn with in the future.

Connyr had a talent for philosophy, but not preaching. Mauro liked that about him. He was honest about his beliefs and didn’t vouch for anything he didn’t personally put faith in. Connyr wasn’t interested in convincing him to take everything he said like gospel. Yes he shared what he believed in, but mostly he listened and let Mauro make up his own mind. Mauro for his part was polite and respectful about Connyr’s beliefs, but they were vastly different men that much was clear.

What they had in common mattered more to Mauro. Connyr was also passionate about finding answers and seeing justice done. Mauro imagined Connyr could be a valuable ally, but he wasn’t sure Connyr would tollerate everything he might do in service of justice? The question weighed on Mauro so much he finally asked the septon.

Mauro: “At what point does morality interfere with justice?”

Connyr: “At the point that justice becomes an evil act. That is probably something more akin to vengeance, not justice.”

Mauro: “Do you condone acts of vengeance?”

Connyr: “I wouldn’t be much of a septon if I did.”

Mauro: “Would you commit an act of vengeance for the sake of justice?”

Connyr: {frowns} “The only answer I can honestly give is that I’ll act according to what I think is best.”

Mauro: “Sometimes a lesser wrong has to be done to thwart a greater one.”

Connyr: {nods} “That is generally how most people rationalize it, but I wouldn’t say that makes it right.”

Mauro: {chuckles} “My mother would tell me that I must take care to keep my waters pure. You see, we Rhoynish believe that life is a river winding its way towards the sea. We may be unaware of the rivers length or exact path, but we know that all rivers end because everyone dies. We must do our best to keep our waters pure on our journey so our soul can commingle with the others when we reach the sea.”

Connyr: “That is beautiful. What do you think of that Mauro?”

Mauro: “I think life is hard and full of tough choices.”

Connyr: “What do the Rhoynish priests say about that?”

Mauro: {Shrugs} “They’d say something like I’ve reached a fork in the river. One fork may lead to calm waters, another may lead to stony rapids, but a river has no choice but to flow… or make a choice in other words…”

Connyr: “I think that’s very wise.”

Mauro: {exhales exasperatedly} “I think it’s all over my head.”

Connyr: {Smiles} “So in other words you’re drowning?”

Mauro: {Gives Connyr an amused look and snorts} “I’m the one with Rhoynish blood! Leave the river analogies to me!”

They both shared another laugh and Mauro had to admit this septon deserved more credit. Connyr may not have a knack for sermons but he had another gift, a talent for listening and helping you steer yourself on the right path. That was better then a sermon for him at least.

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