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.”