The common room of The Blood Orange was alive with the sounds of conversation and laughter. Prince Oberyn had a reputation as a generous host and the reputation appeared to have been well-earned. Platters of spicy lamb, stuffed peppers and grape leaves, cheeses, and olives had covered the tables and wine and ale still flowed freely as the night wore on. A band of minstrels played bawdy tunes and guests danced in the light cast from the large fireplaces at either end of the room.
The Oakdowns, Desmond included, had been introduced to Prince Oberyn earlier in the evening and they had feasted before the minstrels began adding their contribution to the merry-making. Some of the Oakdown offspring and retainers had retired as the hour grew late; others had joined in the dancing and revelry. Desmond found himself alone as usual, seeking answers and courage in the bottom of a cup of wine. The solitude was a blessing really, he’d spent far too much time near his cousins during the month-long journey to Kings Landing.
His injuries from his duel with Sir Liam Cross had taken a few days to heal, which had slowed his travel from Skyreach. Though he had departed alone, his cousins had caught him up on the road. He and Andros had pointedly ignored each other. Charlotte and Elyana had made attempts at speaking with him early on but he rebuffed them and their mock concern for his brief imprisonment and wounds. Grandmother had forbid them coming to support him they had said. But he knew if any of them had wanted to be there, they would have been.
Daera was proof of that. Although she had only come to watch him die, he was certain. Betrothed to Ser Cransen Yronwood, she had convinced her intended to bring her along and Lady Farra had been none the wiser until they had arrived in Skyreach. Desmond knew for a fact Elyana was just as, if not more devious, than her younger sister. He had expected Elyana to be the one family member other than grandmother that he could count on. But not a single, “Thank you, Desmond, for upholding and defending our family’s honor” or “Congratulations on keeping your hand” or “We’re glad you weren’t sent to the Wall to freeze your stones off” was to be heard from her or any of the others.
He’d ridden ahead a fair distance during the days and made his own camp well away in the evenings, tending his own cookfire and taking his meals in seclusion. Ser Bennyn and Septon Connyr had made their own forays to break his melancholy but his silence and peevish demeanor had driven them away as well. To the Seven Hells with the ingrates, the lot of them. Especially that prig, Andros. This was all his fault to begin with. If he hadn’t been conspiring with the Fowler bitch to begin with none of it would have happened.
But now that he was in Kings Landing perhaps he could create some space and a name for himself. He’d long harbored secret suspicions – and hope – that Prince Oberyn was his mother’s paramour and his father. When the prince had asked for Desmond to join him in Kings Landing he dared to allow those hopes to raise. Why else would a Prince of Dorne ask specifically for the bastard son of a minor house to join his delegation? Desmond was hoping to wait out the evening out and approach Oberyn before he retired. He took a sip of wine and watched two of the dancers trip up drunkenly in each other’s feet and begin to roll around the common room floor passionately. Desmond looked to the prince’s table and noticed he was also sitting unaccompanied watching the same sight. The prince glanced Desmond’s way with a smile on his face. Desmond raised his cup in salute and bowed his head in deference before taking another sip. The prince acknowledged by raising his own cup and beckoning to Desmond to join him. Heart pounding, Desmond stood and, carrying his goblet of Arbor red, made his way through the dwindling crowd.
“Ah, the Bastard of Redgate!” Oberyn said jovially. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I hear you ran into some trouble in the Red Mountains, no?”
“The pleasure is mine, Prince Oberyn. There was a small matter but it was a trifle only,” replied Desmond with a shrug.
“A trifle? Of course!” he laughed and pointed his cup and the finger of the hand holding it at Desmond. “I’ll drink to that, my friend. A glass of wine? I see you have some. No matter. Finish that and I’ll fetch us another. Go on.”
Oberyn raised his own glass to his lips and lifted the bottom toward the ceiling, draining it. He then grabbed the arm of a passing serving wench and pinched her bottom, indicating that his cup was empty. The cap of blonde ringlets atop her head bounced energetically as she giggled and walked toward the bar. She returned a scant moment later bearing a ewer of wine and filled both of their cups, smiling broadly at them both as she did so. Des watched as she walked away; she was pretty, if one liked these pale northern girls he supposed. While Desmond could appreciate that there was beauty there, it was a cold beauty and had none of the fire of Dorne. He ripped his gaze away from the swaying backside of the serving girl and lifted his goblet in a toast.
“To trifles, my prince,” he said.
“To trifles, then,” Oberyn replied as they both drank heavily of their cups.
Desmond brought his cup down and stared deeply into it weighing his next words carefully before speaking.
“Prince Oberyn, I was wondering if I might speak to you of a matter of a personal nature that has weighed heavily on my mind for some time.”
Oberyn’s smile grew warm and he leaned forward in his chair.
“Oh? What might that be? Perhaps you wonder where to find the most beautiful women in Kings Landing? I fear that is no simple task. This is not Dorne, after all.”
Desmond laughed at the jest, so close to what he had just been thinking.
“My prince speaks truly. The Andal women cannot compare to the beauty in Dorne,” he said, pausing briefly before continuing. “It is of a Dornish lady I wish to discuss. My mother, Lady Annabyl.”
“Oh, yes,” Oberyn said, nodding slowly with the ghost of a smile and memory flickering in his eyes. “Annabyl Oakdown. A wonderful woman. A friend. The gods were cruel to take her so soon.”
Desmond took another swallow of wine to choke down the urge to point out that Fowler betrayal had taken her, not the gods.
“It is that friendship that I would inquire about, highness. Did you know my mother well?”
“Not well enough I suppose. She had a fierce beauty about her,” he said with a distant stare as the sad smile remained. His eyes focused back on Desmond. “A strong woman. As I recall her father did not want her to become a warrior, which she of course was. And worse, she learned how to master a Dornish weapon instead of clumsy steel.”
Desmond nodded slowly.
“My lord grandfather was more Andal than not and, as I’m given to understand, had many opinions that my mother did not share,” Desmond acknowledged. He paused and steeled himself for his next question. “My prince, I don’t know how to put this any other way and so I beg of you to forgive my directness… Would you happen to know the identity of my mother’s paramour? The man who would be my father?”
Oberyn leaned forward, clearly taken by Desmond’s request and peered at him intently.
“Your father? Why? He is no matter to you. You are the crafter of your own destiny; no one else. You are with your Prince, in one of the greatest cities of the world. You drink wine in the shadow of the Iron Throne. Come, my friend. Have another. Let us look forward, not behind.”
He had expected some evasion. But now that he sat next to Prince Oberyn, he was convinced that his father sat before him. They had the same complexion and hair, the same cocksure grin, and his skill with the spear had come too easily to him to be anything but an inherited trait.
“Thank you, my prince. But, I do not wish my past to define my destiny. I only wish to learn the identity of my sire so that I might know more of my heritage,” he answered carefully.
Oberyn leaned back in his chair and absently took another swallow of wine.
“I like you, Desmond Sand. If this will bring your heart comfort, I will try to aid you as best I can. I will grant you this, and hope one day you will help me in turn.”
Desmond’s heart leaped into his throat. “My thanks, Prince Oberyn. I am your leal subject and yours to command.”
Oberyn smiled, seeming unmoved by Desmond’s enthusiasm. He gave a shrug of his shoulders and considered the cup in his hands.
“But, first, what do you hope to gain? Truly? Do you wish to announce yourself to this stranger? Perhaps shame him? Or see if those are your mother’s eyes or his? I can spare you all. You are the very reflection of her. The eyes most of all.”
He had expected this as well. He had to convince Oberyn that he sought not to embarrass either the Martell name or his own person by acknowledging him.
“Nay, highness. I can bring no shame because it was not shame but passion that made me and I have none within me. I only hope what any son hopes. That I may bring honor to his house.”
He looked at Oberyn with a mix of hope, appeal, and solemnity. “That I might learn from him.”
It was the prince’s turn to nod.
“And you may learn from him. He is not as young as he was then, but still has much to give. He was a common man, and your mother protected his identity with her honor. Your lord grandfather would have been most displeased, I fear. I will do more than tell you of him. I will introduce you.”
Desmond tried to hold in his excitement. Surely, he was merely being modest by referring to himself as a common man. There was nothing common about Oberyn Martell. “My prince, I would be most grateful and in your debt.”
“Excellent! May I ask you a question?” he rose with his wine and walked toward a dark corner of the common room clearly expecting Desmond to follow.
“Of course, my prince,” he said as he reached Oberyn’s elbow.
“How reasonable is your grandmother?”
Desmond was momentarily shaken by the sudden change of subject. He chuckled. “I suppose that depends on the topic.”
The prince stopped at a window and stared out into the night as if seeing a great distance.
“I fear she has sown discord in the Red Mountains. Her baseless accusations, though certainly understandable, have led to distrust and tension. My Prince would like her to abandon her insistence that the Fowlers caused murder. Your family’s attack on Graybrook threatens open war in the west,” his voice heated as he continued. “Meanwhile, the Lions sharpen their claws, and the hated Reachmen bare their thorns. We cannot suffer our guard to weaken. The Prince’s Pass is the road from which our destruction is likely to come. And Redgate the door that bars its way.”
Desmond was stunned. How could Prince Oberyn ask this of him? The hatred that the Oakdowns had for the Fowlers was surely as great as that borne by the Martells for the Lannisters.
“My prince, on this matter there can be no compromise. I assure you that Lady Farra, that my family, knew not of the attack on Graybrook. Our former commander, Dromme, was unhappy with his dismissal and replacement by a foreigner. Justified though my lady grandmother was in the matter, he could not see his own incompetence and took drastic measures in an attempt to win favor. My lord cousin, Andros, led the force that crushed this rebellion and Lord Dent continues the search for Dromme, of this I am certain.”
It pained Desmond to give Andros any due but truth was truth. Oberyn looked away sadly and gave another shrug of his shoulders.
“Pity. It appears your father has left for the evening. I’m sure we will find another time to learn of your heritage. Will you have another glass of wine?”
Prince Oberyn’s eyes lit up at something over Desmond’s shoulder.
“Ellaria, my love!” he shouted above the music. He then turned his attention back to Desmond, placed a hand on his shoulder and leaned in close. “Talk to your grandmother. Convince her to mend matters with Skyreach. If this comes from you, I believe she’ll listen. Do this for me, and I will take you to your father. You have my word.”
A dark beauty in a long skirt and a half-top appeared and kissed the prince full on the mouth. Oberyn lifted her into the air and began kissing her neck and shoulders appearing to forget that anyone else existed. Desmond could not let the matter go so easily, however.
“My prince, I beg of you, ask this not. My mother, my kin, deserve justice. Surely, you of all people understand?”
Oberyn stopped kissing Ellaria suddenly and he gave Desmond a dangerous stare over her shoulder. Ellaria turned, horror written on her face as she put a calming hand on her lover’s chest.
“I do understand. The Lannisters took my sister from me. They butchered her children and raped her before butchering her as well. I know the man who did it and I seek to know who gave the order,” he said with a voice like steel. He shook his head. “You are chasing ghosts. Our purposes are not the same.”
He pulled from Ellaria’s embrace and pointed to a man, potbellied, red-nosed, and clearly drunk, wearing a badge unfamiliar to Desmond – crossed golden keys on a field of black.
“Shall I kill this man across the table and call it justice? Declare my sister avenged? Is that the way of vengeance in Redgate?” he hissed.
Desmond pressed. “No, my prince. But all evidence we have points to Skyreach. Knowing what you know, if King Robert had asked it, would you have made peace with Casterly Rock?”
Oberyn’s eyes flashed and he strode quickly toward Desmond in two steps, stopping inches from him, looked intently into his eyes, face grim and unmoving like a viper ready to strike. Desmond worried that he had made an irredeemable error before the prince laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled disarmingly.
“I would not. Are you so sure of Fowler guilt?” he said, his eyes moving from side-to-side as if trying to weigh Desmond’s soul.
Desmond steeled himself and answered with conviction. “With everything that I am, highness.”
“Then you must do your duty. As I must do mine. Please excuse me. A beautiful woman stands there waiting, and I’ve neglected her too long.”
Desmond bowed deeply. “Of course, my prince. Thank you for your words and I will think on them.”
Oberyn smiled once more. “Do not despair, Desmond Sand. You will meet your father. And soon.”