Bow Before The Sun

Bennyn II
The Crone's 7th

Goldway.jpgThe 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.

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Goldcloak II
The Crone's 5th

goldcloak2.jpgThe prisoner shielded his eyes, appearing to suffer from a blinding light. The day was overcast, and dreary. The sun was hidden, and no other source of light could be found by the gold cloak. He had heard how dark the dungeons below the Red Keep were in King’s Landing. The way the prisoner was reacting to the mild daylight, the darkness must have been worse than the rumors suggested. Shrugging, the gold cloak and his other four guardsmen led, then shoved, the shackled man into a horse drawn cage. All were warned what a ferocious and dangerous man they were responsible for. They could only see a shell of a man, loose pale skin and bones. He was draped in formal clothes far too large for his slender frame. The clothes were unusual to the gold cloaks, trimmed in fur and fashioned in an unfamiliar cut. The outfit was stained, and unraveling, and covered in an odor of the unwashed. Certainly this wasn’t the first Northman the guards had the occasion to see, but they were far more uncommon once Eddard Stark’s head adorned the walls of the Red Keep. Since then the only word of Northerners was from the tales of the Young Wolf’s army. The Red Wedding, six months ago, ended even those. Most of the Wolf’s army was destroyed, as well as the Young Wolf himself. Robb Stark, the traitorous ‘King in the North’ and son of Eddard Stark, was no more. Most of Stark’s banners had fled like rats to their respective holes. King’s Landing returned to its normal denizens. His Grace, Joffrey Baratheon, had won the War of the Five Kings. An uneasy peace descended on the Seven Kingdoms like a dark storm cloud. No one dared to breathe too comfortably, for the menace of war remained clearly evident.

As the cage door slammed shut, followed by the sound of two separate locks clinking, the gold cloak supposed he could see the shadow of the great man they were told about. He was the heir to a powerful Northern house, one who’s military might not threaten the Capital, but could upset the balance of power in the North, and the new Warden, Lord Roose Bolton. Originally, the gold cloak’s orders were to send the prisoner directly to the Crossing under the banner of the King. Walder Frey was suspicious of increased military activity from Northern houses, and feared vengeance for his hosting and plotting of the Red Wedding. At least, this was the talk amongst the gold cloaks. His Grace was typically reluctant to let go of his playthings, especially when those playthings were from the North. Lady Sansa Stark remained his ‘guest’ despite the shame of being cast out as his former betrothed in lieu of Lady Margaery Tyrell. Lady Sansa was seldom seen in the Capital since that time, no longer welcome at public gatherings or Royal events. This Northern lord they now held in chains seemed the same sort of treasure for the King. He was one of several prisoners that Joffrey maintained to provide insurance against further insurrections from the North and elsewhere. The gold cloaks knew entirely too much of the desires and machinations of the King and his Small Council. The shouting and scheming dinners and glasses of wine were impossible to ignore.

The fact that plans for transfer were changed before dawn this very morning was not a surprise. The gold cloak was paid well to pass on important information about the comings and goings in King’s Landing. As soon as the nature of the prisoner transfer was learned, the gold cloak wasted no time in passing the information on to his mysterious benefactor. Word was received quickly back from the stranger on Shadowblack Lane that the caravan would be making an unscheduled stop on the road north to the Twins. Instead of taking the Kingsroad to The Crossing, they would exit the Lion’s Gate and stop in the city of Goldway. It was unclear how long they would be ‘detained’, but once they left, the caravan would continue overland until they found the Kingsroad, and continue on to the Twins. Also included in this change of plans was a promise of significantly more coin in a show of gratitude for the gold cloak’s information. The mutually beneficial arrangement between the stranger and himself depended on discretion, and no questions. As such, the gold cloak had no idea what awaited them on their detour. As long as his promised price was there, he would be patient. Delays happened all the time on the Kingsroad, and a couple of days lost would not raise eyebrows back in the Capital. And if the price was right, he was willing to leave his life as a gold cloak behind in exchange for safe passage and safe harbor. This gamble was no gamble at all. The whim of the boy king could lead to his untimely death at any moment. No matter the purpose, he was safer away from King’s Landing than he was patrolling its streets.

The gold cloaks, and their horsemen, headed west out of the Lion’s gate towards the city of Goldway. It was a short 8 leagues away, but far enough to be outside of the direct control of King’s Landing. The city was a booming trade town on the Goldroad connecting Lannister Lands to the Capital. It enjoyed heavy trade free from tariffs, and more importantly general anonymity from the Iron Throne. With time to kill, and a purse full of coin, he might be able to enjoy himself while waiting for the stranger’s instruction. He looked back, and confirmed that their charge remained hunched back against the bars of the rolling prison. While weakened and still, the prisoner’s eyes were moving, tracing across the horizon and taking all of his surroundings in.

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Desmond XV
The Maiden's 9th

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Raucous shouts sounded from the grandstand outside the north courtyard of Skyreach as Desmond and his Fowler escort approached from the castle. The guards now numbered three; the other two had been waiting just outside the dungeon when the first brought Desmond out into the light of day for the first time in two days. The sky was overcast and the snow that had started while Desmond broke his fast continued to drift gently down. The Fowler pavilion, blue and white striped and topped with the hawk banner, peeked out above the seating, Other banners were visible waving in the breeze from staves ringing the courtyard, all bearing either the sigil of House Fowler or the skull and crossbones of House Cross.

As they reached the edge of the yard a fourth man-at-arms appeared bearing Desmond’s shield, spear, and dagger. He held them out in offering and Desmond took them from him with a cold smile, tucking the sheathed dagger into his right boot top before taking the shield and spear. His “honor guard” stepped back and he crossed into the yard. He scanned the crowd searching for his family. Surely at least a few had come to witness the clearing of his name and celebrate his victory.

The stands were full but no Oakdowns were among the crowd. He risked all for them and not one could trouble themselves to be present. Setting his spear on the ground and regarding the Oakdown sigil emblazoned on his shield’s face he drew fresh resolve. He didn’t fault grandmother, and he honestly hadn’t expected to see any of his cousins, but he had expected some representatives to be sent. If he must protect and uphold the honor of his house against these false lords and their lapdogs singlehandedly, so be it. He slid his left arm through the shield straps, took up his spear, and turned to face his opponent.

Ser Liam was not a large man and appeared to be only a handful of years older than Desmond himself. Dark of hair and fair of skin and clad in scale armor with accents of black that bore the grinning skull and crossed bones of his house, he appeared slightly less than what Desmond had expected. Average in every way, really. Except for the way his blade spun easily in his hands. The practice swings that were precise and crisp in their execution. It appeared Ser Liam Cross may be all that rumor said and then some.

Fuck me, Fowler actually found a champion that may be worthy of the title, he thought as the seeds of doubt crept into his mind for the first time since he’d left Redgate.

As he prepared to walk toward the center of the yard a commotion at the southern end of the grandstand caused him to shift his focus. A red banner bearing the sandy tree entered followed by Allard Broadmont, several of the Oakdown household guard and their lady. Grandmother had come after all.

Desmond allowed himself a small smile as the contingent from Redgate found seats near the end of the grandstand. Those surrounding them regarded them with scornful glares and shoulders colder than the snow that covered the ground. Lady Farra ignored it all, her stone-faced expression not changing one bit. A knot of Yronwoods followed the Oakdown delegation led by Ser Cransen. A lady, veiled and cloaked, was on his hand. The only reason Desmond made note of her was the color of her cloak, which was the dusky scarlet of Redgate. Perhaps this explained, then, the earlier mention of the Yronwoods in the dungeon by the gaoler and his exceptional breakfast.

Desmond gripped the haft of his spear tighter and began spinning it lazily. The ironwood felt solid beneath his hand and the leaf bladed tip and butt cap blurred as he spun the weapon faster and began pacing back and forth like a shadowcat. This served two purposes; the most obvious was to unnerve his opponent, make him anxious. The second being to test the footing of the snow covered ground. One could never be too careful. He let his righteous anger begin to bubble to the surface. Today was the day justice would begin for House Oakdown.

“Last chance, Ser,” he snarled across the yard at the Fowler champion. “Are you certain you wish to die for this?”

Liam paused in his practice and replied, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand. There still remain some who value honor over their own skins.”

The crowd grew as more latecomers arrived. Desmond risked a quick glance toward his grandmother and her retinue. He thought he saw a faint smile on the lips of Master Broadmont.

“There is no honor in dying for those who would betray their banners. Mayhap, it will be the next house they turn on will be the Crosses?” Desmond mused.

“Unlikely,” Ser Liam said as he brought his sword to a guard position and moved toward Desmond. He shifted slightly in time with Desmond’s pacing a step at a time.

“Lord Fowler,” Desmond called toward the Lord of Skyreach, who sat in his pavilion sipping from a winecup, “this man’s blood is on your hands.”

Lord Franklyn brushed the words off with a dismissive wave of his hand and motioned to his maester, who signaled to Ser Liam to begin.

“Come then, Ser Liam,” Desmond invited with a sinister smile, “let the gods render their judgment.”

The knight lowered the visor of his helm with a simple, “Aye.”

Ser Liam moved forward and Desmond ceased his back and forth and began circling his prey. Ser Liam turned to keep Desmond to his fore. Laden as he was by the weight of his armor his footwork was still fantastic. A pity that he would have to die.

Desmond struck swiftly, lashing out like a snake in the desert sands. Liam tried to parry but Desmond caught the longsword on his shield and forced it up, burying his spear tip into his target’s left side. The protective scales gave under the force of the blow and a gout of blood stained the fresh fallen snow. A gasp went up from the crowd. Footwork, it appeared, was no match for speed and maneuverability. Let these knights hide behind their armor, it only made them easier to kill.

With blood flowing from his side, Ser Liam surprised Desmond by charging and caught him unprepared landing a slashing cut on his right leg. Perhaps this would be a fight after all. Desmond had watched Liam warm up and knew that this was no accident; that had been a targeted attack to slow him.

Stupid! Pay attention and watch, boy! he heard the ghost of Ebben shout in his head.

Desmond replied in kind, spinning around Liam’s next cut and cutting across the back of his thigh as he passed Desmond by. Desmond hurriedly closed and tried to follow up with a second attack but Liam was too quick. Even hobbled he spun around quickly and deflected the spear on his shield and thrust his sword at Desmond’s midsection. Only Des’ quickness saved him from a pierced gut. He twisted away at the last second but still the sword ripped through his coat and found purchase.

He gasped. That had hurt. But he would not die here. No bloody knight would get the better of the Bastard of Redgate. Not today. Not ever.

The spear came alive in Desmond’s hands, a whirlwind of ironwood and steel. The cuts to his leg and side became distant, someone else’s pain. He struck again and again. He used the pointed cap at the butt of the spear, the haft, and blade. Ser Liam backed away, feverishly trying to beat back the flurry. So focused was Desmond on attack that Ser Liam managed to land glancing blows to his arm and chest. Had this been a tourney fight it would be over.

But this was no tourney fight. Desmond knew there was only one way this could end. One way the Oakdowns could begin to take back some of what they had lost in Graybrook sixteen years ago. He parried a blow from Ser Liam’s sword with the butt of his spear and brought the blade around in a stabbing thrust.

The strike was true and Ser Liam gurgled through his own blood as a hand and a half of steel passed through his throat and out the back of his neck. Desmond drove the spear down with the falling body, pinning the knight to the ground as his lifeblood spilled out onto the pristine white of the yard. He gave the spear a final twist as a bloody froth erupted from his victim’s mouth and he lie still.

Desmond pulled his spear from the corpse and turned to the Fowler pavilion. He found Lord Franklyn and envisioned throwing his spear through his vile, lying throat. His hand flexed on his spear; once, twice, three times. The urge finally passed and instead he bowed deeply, arms outstretched like a mummer after a performance.

As he rose he turned his attention to the Fowler twins. Jeyne was easily distinguishable by the silken silver scarf at her throat that no doubt covered bruises in the shape of a hand. She had gone pale but he could read the fury in her eyes as easily as that in her father’s.

Desmond blew her a kiss and gave her a wink before turning on his heel, stepping over the body of Ser Liam Cross, and making his way toward the stables without a second glance as the snow fell around him.

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Elyana VIII
Because we need more posts today

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Elyana coughed into her kerchief, staining it slightly red. She wiped her mouth, closed her eyes and tried to fight the tickle in her chest. She would not let a cough come between her and her future. Maester Llewellyn had found some rather effective remedies to keep it at bay most of the day, but morning was rough. She usually spent the waking hours alone, or with only those very closest to her any more. She sucked on some of the bark the maester had left for her, helping to numb the sensation that triggered the fits.

It would be easy to dwell on the fact this cold was lingering a bit too long, but Elyana wouldn’t allow herself. She searched for distractions when her mind went there. Today, she decided to focus her attention and sympathies not on herself, but on her cousin. Andros hadn’t been looking well himself lately. She had noticed he’s taken to his room for lengthy periods of time this week and his eyes looked hallowed as though he hadn’t been sleeping. Was he sick like her, or troubled? There had been a lot of rumors circulating, and knowing her cousin as she did, she hadn’t put much stock into them. But watching Andros this past week, she started to reconsider that position. Maybe there was something to it, something keeping him up at nights.

Stopping by the kitchen, Elyana picked up two cups of tea and carried them to Andros’ room. It was late in the morning and he had yet to emerge from his chambers. She stood in front of the door, hands full, and kicked it several times to simulate a knock. “Andros?”

The door opened slowly as Andros tried to make out who was disturbing his recovery. “Elyana, what can I do for you?” He was still in his bed clothes, though his face suggested he hadn’t slept.

“I’ve been worried about you, Andros. I haven’t seen much of you around this week, and when I have, you’ve looked like a shadow of yourself. You’ve barely taken meals with the family and I’m afraid you’re not eating. Sit down. I brought you some tea.” Elyana ushered him to a chair and put one of the cups into his hands, sensing his resistance to her visit.

“I’m quite alright, cousin. Nothing for you to trouble yourself over. Thank you for stopping by.” Andros said, attempting to wave Elyana off.

“Don’t be absurd, Andros.” Elyana grabbed a blanket and draped it over her cousin’s shoulders, “You need to take care of yourself. And if you won’t take care of yourself, then I will.”

“Really, Elyana, I appreciate your concern, but I’m just fine. I have a lot to do today, so if you don’t mind,” Andros stood up, discarding the blanket to the floor as he reached to take Elyana’s hand, fulling intending to lead her out of the room.

Turning to avoid his clutch, Elyana pulled another chair near him and sat down. “Andros, I can tell things are weighing on you. I’ve seen the tension between you and Gwendolyn growing. And now these terrible rumors about you and that Fowler girl are circulating. It’s obviously all taking a toll on you. You shouldn’t carry this burden to yourself. Let me help. Talk to me.”

Andros’s massaged his eyes with the hand not occupied with a cup of tea, “There is nothing to tell. Please let these go of these childish rumors. We don’t need to fabricate trouble where none exists. We have enough serious matters to deal with.” He seemed fidgety and uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.

“I would love nothing more than to put this out of my head. I know you always put the house first, as I do. Then I see Charlotte saddling up to Gwendolyn, the gods only know what that’s all about. It’s getting harder to know who we can trust around here, so I can only imagine the weight on your shoulders. I wanted to make sure you know you are not alone. We are Oakdowns. And just maybe I could help you with your situation if I knew what it was.”

Andros sighed, and set his tea down on the table next to her. He then took a seat, leaned forward, and took Elyana’s hands in his own, “Dear cousin, I assure you. I have never done anything to endanger our house. Every decision I have ever made has been made with the welfare of our family firmly in my mind.”

“I know, my dear. I know. I’m not suggesting anything else. I can’t imagine your burden.”

At last, frustration seemed to overcome her cousin. “Elyana, how could you imagine it? I have done nothing but serve this house, and with that has come great sacrifice. Have you ever loved someone? Have you ever been so utterly completed by another person that you felt like you need never want again?”

He paused for a moment, eyes shining with emotion…. More emotion than Elyana had ever seen him show. Elyana responded, “I have seen the kind of love you speak of, but you are right I have not held it in my hands, I do not know it. What I do know is this secret you’re harboring will destroy you, and possibly the Oakdowns, if it isn’t tended to properly. It is plainly clear you need help uprooting these rumors before they spread beyond your control. I am here to help you weed them out. So, it’s true, you are in love with the Fowler girl…”

“Yes. I loved her. I fell deeply in love with her when I was still not yet a man grown. A young man of 15 years. But it was not Jeyne, as the rumors would have you believe. No, the woman I’ve loved was Jennelyn. But it did not stop me from doing what was right, cousin. I have always done my duty. Our Lady Grandmother saw to it that I would not be tempted, and quickly arranged what she viewed to be a suitable marriage. By the year’s end I was engaged to a daughter of House Dayne – our dearest Gwendolyn.”

Elyana nodded, reassuringly. She wasn’t pleased with this news, but she had meant what she said. She would do whatever was needed to help him, and the house, survive these rumors.

“This was my crime, cousin. I loved. But I have served my sentence and done my duty. I wed Lady Gwendolyn, united our families, and consummated our marriage just as custom demands. I have done all that has been asked of me and never have I faltered.”

“You are in a precarious situation, Andros. You have my sympathies and admiration. I know it is not easy to put duty before yourself. Now is not a time we can afford for the family to be vulnerable. We stand on the brink of a war we cannot win – not yet. Should this news come to light, it would spark a fire that will consume us all. As you have sacrificed for the family, now let me do my part.”

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Desmond XIV
The Maiden's 9th

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Desmond woke on his second morning in the Skyreach dungeons to the bell sounding First, the screeching of rusted hinges, and the whisper of feet across the straw-covered floor of his cell. It was the silent guard, the same that had brought him his meals yester morn and mid-day. Meager meals they had been – a heel of bread, a small dish of beans, and a tin cup of water – but Desmond had devoured it, knowing he would need the strength for the battle to come. Desmond had tried to engage the stoic man when he made both of the deliveries but nothing broke his reserve; not insults to his lords, his mother, or his manhood. Des began to wonder if the Fowlers had put a deaf mute in charge of their prisoner.

The guard appeared as he had yesterday – clad in a shirt of mail and heavy trousers of blue wool. His face was common, although scarred and lined, with a broad, flat nose and deep set eyes. In his hands he carried a serving tray with the morning’s meal. He set it down quietly just inside the door and left in the same manner. Desmond rose and crossed the small cell expecting more of bread and beans. He was surprised, and more than a little suspicious, to find a good-sized trencher filled with a thick stew and a cup of wine next to the water.

He was even more surprised when the door opened and the guard re-appeared carrying Desmond’s own armor, his saddlebags, and a bucket of steaming water.

“So, today, is it? Lord Fowler wastes little time,” Desmond said as the guard deposited his load. “I would’ve suspected he would have left me down here to rot months before we arrived at this point.”

Desmond lifted the tray, carried it toward the back of the cell and sat under the thin sliver of early morning sunlight entering through the single, high-set, barred window. Snow began to drift in lightly with the chill air. The steam rose off the food enticingly as he sat down and blew into his cold hands.

“I don’t suppose you’d be so good as to tell me if this were poisoned?”

The guard paused with his hand on the door.

“The Yronwoods do not poison those whom they support,” he whispered before leaving and shutting the door behind him, leaving Desmond in stunned silence.

Yronwood? What reason would they have to support a bastard of a minor house? Piqued though his interest was, he put the matter aside; after all, there were more pressing concerns. He ate the stew as slowly as he could, doing his best to savor the hearty meal and drinking the water down. He ignored the wine, not wishing to dull his wits. When he finished he removed his dank clothing and rinsed off, using the bucket of now lukewarm water – surprisingly, but pleasantly, scented with oils – and the linen cloth contained therein. At least he wouldn’t have to kill a man smelling like a Kings Landing gutter rat.

He threw on a fresh shirt from his pack and his leathers – breeches and the long, light leather coat that made up the first layer of his armor. Black as a raven’s wing, the supple garments fit like a well-worn glove, the coat close-fitting to the waist before flaring out, the bottom reaching to just above his knees. Next came his boots before the shoulder pauldrons, forearm and shin guards, and finally the gauntlets, which were all in leather dyed Oakdown red. The red of his mountain home and his mother’s family.

No matter what any of them thought, he did this for them. Not that any, except perhaps grandmother, would ever understand. He paced his cell, anxious for the battle to begin now that he was prepared. He thought on what little he knew of his opponent, Ser Liam of Bonecross.

He’d seen the knight fight in a handful of tournaments and wasn’t impressed with his jousting skills. But, he’d never seen the man fight in a melee or in single combat. The younger brother of the Lord of Bonecross, he had a reputation as a skilled and capable swordsman, if rumor were to be believed. But, rumor flew faster than a raven and oft carried less truth.

Hours passed. Desmond did his best to loosen muscles stiffened from sleeping on the stone floor of the cell. He stretched and cracked his joints before beginning a series of practice forms. It was difficult in the small space and without his spear and shield but at least it allowed him some measure of preparation. If anyone had happened to walk by and see the fluidity and grace of his movements, they may have mistaken the spinning steps he had learned from Ebben long ago for dancing.

Finally, as the bell rang High, the rattle of keys sounded outside, the lock snapped open, and the door swung outward revealing a new guard. This one didn’t have the others quiet demeanor, smiling devilishly through missing teeth at Desmond.

“Time to die, bastard.”

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Charlotte VI
The Maiden's 9th

Charlotte awoke the next morning having made a decision-she was going to King’s Landing. She wanted to see Quinn knighted, she wanted to see the Sept of Baelor, she wanted away from politics and death and to see something of the world before her grandmother put a ring through her nose. Telling Lady Farra of her decision was a conversation she dreaded having but better to be done with it than to linger. She had a quick breakast then went to her grandmother’s rooms but again there was no answer. She finally found Maester Llewellyn, who didn’t seem to know of the Lady’s whereabouts either. Leaving a message with him to tell her grandmother she wished to speak with her should he see her, she went to pack.

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Charlotte V
The Maiden's 8th

The next few days were an emotional rollercoaster. The earrings showed no sign of poison, to her relief, but the maester was quick to point out that many poisons were untraceable. The rest of the news, however, was all bad. Desmond had gone on some no doubt noble-seeming but typically rash mission to get himself killed and was now being held in the Skyreach dungeons, & poor Henred was dead, another innocent victim of senseless political violence. She had spent many days with Henred and Ria, working with the horses or just preferring to ride as far away from the Keep as she could, the distance and their simple company being a most welcome respite. She would definitely miss him. As for her wayward cousin, she was told that Lady Farra had taken to her rooms but there was no answer when she went there to inquire; no sound at all, in fact. She finally went back to Maester Llewellyn seeking an update on Desmond, only to be told not to worry, everything was being taken care of, all while being gently but firmly ushered out of the room.

She was sick of politics and she was sick to death of death. With nothing else to do, she spent some time with Ria in Lonetree, sharing their loss. Ria told her of the offer she’d received to go to King’s Landing from the knight, Bennyn. She was very excited and Charlotte found herself drawn again to the idea of getting away. The rest of her time she spent in the kitchens. Her mother was a fantastic cook and although she followed her recipes to the letter, she could never quite capture the caliber of her mother’s dishes. At least she was being productive and she preferred the simple honesty and wisdom of the cooks to the convoluted politics of her own life. For a few days, Ingvar would stop in each morning to pick up breakfast for himself and the prisoner, Perrin. She still found it hard to believe that one of their own had massacred all those villagers and, even if he hadn’t done it himself, been involved with the people who had killed Henred. Ingvar would share no information, of course, but it made no difference to her-innocent people were dead and she hoped everyone involved was soon parted from their head.

She also noticed her sister-in-law’s lady-in-waiting requesting a very specific breakfast for her mistress of weak broth, tea and toasted bread. After several days of the same breakfast, she carried the tray to Gwendolyn’s rooms herself to check on her. The weak invitation when she knocked matched the haggard young woman inside. She was greeted warmly enough, until the tray was close enough for her to smell the food-then she clapped one hand over her mouth, the other over her stomach and disappeared into the next room. Charlotte placed the tray across the room and after a few minutes Gwendolyn reappeared, looking another shade paler and mumbling apologies.

“No need for apologies,” Charlotte said, once they were both seated. “I just wanted to make sure you were well. How long have you been ill? Have you summoned the maester?”

Gwendolyn was studiously folding and unfolding a handkerchief. She glanced at Charlotte. “I am not ill,” she finally answered.

“I see,” Charlotte replied, as understanding dawned. “I suppose congratulations are in order.” In truth, given her own misgivings about having children, she wasn’t sure what she was feeling the news.

“Yes,” Gwendolyn answered weakly, “I suppose.”

“How long have you known?”

“Not long, a few weeks.”

“And the maester says you are well?”

“I am tired often but otherwise well, yes, aside from the mornings but maester Llewellyn says that will pass soon.”

Charlotte nodded. “That’s good.” It was clear that something besides morning sickness was troubling her sister-in-law, as she kept her eyes on the floor and continued to unfold and refold her handkerchief.

“Do you think….” Gwendolyn glanced at her again. Charlotte met her eyes and motioned for her to continue. “Do you think my Lord will be pleased?”

She knew what Gwendolyn was asking and tried to answer her as gently but honestly as she could. “I think Andros will be pleased, yes. But there are no easy answers in our world, Gwendolyn. Decisions were made, for you and Andros both, just as one day you will make decisions for your child. Choice is a luxury we are not often afforded; we do our duty and hope for the best. But even when reality doesn’t perfectly match our dream, we can still find joy, and friendship, and can still appreciate the safety and satability of your position in which to raise your heir. You’ll make fine parents to my little niece or nephew, you’ll see.” She wasn’t sure if her words helped at all but Gwendolyn smiled and nodded. Charlotte left her to try to eat and rest, grateful that it wasn’t yet her time to face this reality.

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Andros VI
The Maiden's 12th -The Hunt

Andros felt the sweat roll down his forehead and into his eyes. He blinked away the salty sting, irritated that he’d already begun to feel the heat of the day. Yet he knew to expect it; long ago his father had taught him that this was the price of war. A major lesson was that if you were going to ride into battle – you’d best come prepared. Armor was not a question, as it could keep you safe when few other things could, yet the price was the terrible heat and the excessive sweat. But still, it was a price Andros was more than willing to pay.

Yet, the sun was still hot and the air drier than it had been for several days now. As such, the breeze had picked up a fair amount of dust, settling onto the tense Dornishmen. The sun flashed teasingly at Andros from the corner of his eye, being quickly hidden and revealed by the movement of the furled banner above them. Banners were brought for tradition’s sake, if nothing else, but both Andros and Ingvar agreed that they should remained furled. Waving banners oft invited unwanted attention. Especially on missions that required discretion over grandeur.

Ingvar had brought near twenty men from the Ghosts with them, but had split into three smaller groups for travel, not counting the man they’d sent ahead to scout. The first group was led by Asaf, with Andros and Ingvar in the second, while the third brought up the rear. In the second group, there were four of them. Andors, Ingvar, and an escort for each. Andros silently hoped that they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by numbers as he cast a look around and took in his surroundings. They’d been traveling for a few hours at this point… They had to be nearing Dromme’s keep soon.

Lord Andros did his best to move quietly in their small group, which proved hard in half plate. Ingvar seemed much more practiced at this: the stealth, the ease with which he moved. Naturally Andros had been taught as a young man the ways of war growing up as the heir to Redgate, but he’d never had the need to actively use those skills until now. That was when Andros remembered who it was that had tutored him. Dromme. Dromme was the one who had taken Andros under his wing, but now that same man was the one they were hunting. The man he had trusted, turned traitor against everything Andros stood for. He tightened his grip on Nightsbane and set his eyes. He wanted only to arrive sooner. He would get his wish; the sound of hooves echoed gently from over a small ridge. Their scout had returned.

“My Lord.” The Ghost inclined his head to Andros then moved his gaze to Ingvar, speaking in a hushed voice, “Commander. We are very close to the keep. About one league away now.”

Ingvar nodded, “Approach cautiously. No rush. Spread out into a semi-circle around the keep.”

The rider nodded in deference, turning his mount to inform the others. It didn’t take much longer for their group to converge on the keep. It was built on a small rise, made of the same stone that built almost everything else in the nearby area. There was little indication that anyone was living in the house, except for the fact that at the foot of the rise, there were three men. They were armed with bows, presumably keeping watch, but did not seem alerted to their presence… Yet.

The hands of the men around Andros flashed deftly, conveying what he was certain was a wealth of tactical information. Ingvar nodded, brow set, as Andros saw shapes moving to both his right and left. The first and last groups must have been flanking the sides. Theirs was in the middle.

Silence was the only sound to be heard. The only sound, except for the very subtle strain of bowstrings being pulled taut in the shadows around them. Ingvar moved his hand, and all at once six arrows came flying from the shadows and each and every one found their mark. The three guards fell like does.

Just as the arrows landed, everyone around him started running. His heart was pounding in his chest as his feet met the ground, certain that the fight was about to begin in earnest, when Andros heard the sound of footsteps behind him. Before running any farther, he whipped around to meet the man who had approached them.

Alarmed as he was, Andros quickly recovered. It was one of their men. A runner. He spoke with a hurried voice, but hushed, “Commander, we deposed two more archers and the other two parties have met no further resistance.”

Ingvar nodded again, and proceeded to signal to the Ghosts around him. Andros heard the sounds of footfalls stop. The runner left, presumably with further instructions. Ingvar started signaling, and the change in the Ghost’s posture was clear. What was once a charging stance was quickly replaced with the more familiar cautious pose.

As one they moved ahead.

They hadn’t taken more than a few steps when the door of the keep flew open, and out came pouring four men, blades drawn, voices raised in a war cry. Like extending one’s arm, Andros pulled Nightsbane from its sheath and held his ground as he waited for the men to converge. The first thing that registered in his mind was that these men were Redlanders. They carried the colors of House Oakdown, they held weapons that were surely forged by their smith, Blackburn, once long ago, and they bore faces that Andros was sure he’d known growing up. But those were his first thoughts. His second was that they were enemies. Nightsbane flew in front of him, and the battle was all there was.

As the men came charging down the hill, more arrows came flying at them. These were more resilient than their archer counterparts. The man on the far left seemed only grazed by one of the arrows, the man on the far right took one hard in the shoulder, and the middle two seemed unaffected entirely. Yet despite the volley, they lost no speed in their charge.

The rogue Redlanders fell on them quickly, but Ingvar was quicker. The man that had taken the arrow to the shoulder was Ingvar’s first target. He moved quickly enough to plunge his sword deep into the man’s stomach, felling him just as he reached their group. The first Redlander closed with Ingvar’s escort, greeting him in almost the same way Ingvar greeted the fourth man. Their Ghost ally fell with a gasp, cold steel protruding from his back, his life’s blood pooling on the hard dirt below.

Andros was distracted by the death of his ally for just a split second. Yet it was in that moment that the two remaining men decided to close with him. Nightsbane flashed, the light of the prismatic pommel glinted in the half-light, reflecting off the faces of the men in front of him. The first one brought his sword down hard and Andros was unable to deflect it, but by the graces of the gods, his armor protected him. He was more vigilant with his second assailant. He parried away the blow using his armored arm and his blade.

Andros spun, eyes set on the man that first man that made to strike him. Nightsbane flashed again, and soon found itself hilt-deep in his enemy’s stomach. He quickly withdrew the weapon as the man fell to the ground, turning, back-to-back with Ingvar, now facing his last opponent, with two left between the two of them.

As Andros resumed the position, Ingvar called over his shoulder, “Nice my lord. Ever consider joining the Ghosts?”

A fierce grin played across Andros’s face as he called back, “Once when I was eight. Lady Grandmother forbade it. A shame, I know!”

He heard the sound of clashing steel from behind him, assuming that it was either Ingvar or his escort. That question was quickly answered, however, as he saw Ingvar slide around and make to attack Andros’s last adversary. The Redlander was not caught off-guard, however, and glanced the blow, deflecting it off of his armor. Ingvar too found a smirk on his face and said to the man, “Now that I have your attention. Prepare to die.”

Andros grinned in spite of himself. The fervor of battle was able to bring out a side in him that little else could. The grin was short-lived however, as the man that Ingvar had squared off with made to lunge at the Northman. Andros saw the red run down Ingvar’s arm as it was cut by the blade.

There was no time to think. The remaining traitor had turned his attention from Andros’s escort and closed in on Andros himself. He brought Nightsbane up to deflect the blow, parried the majority of it, but could still feel the steel as it banged off his half plate. Andros returned in kind, however. Nightsbane came swinging down and bit into the shoulder of his assailant, dropping him to his feet, his blade glistening red.

Andros’s escort ran at the man who’d locked himself in combat with Ingvar, swinging at him with his blade. He wasn’t near quick enough, however, and his attack was easily blocked, pushing the escort a few steps away from the fray.

Ingvar grit his teeth and made to strike the Redlander with his shield, but feinted, and he went in for a low sweep. Yet luck did not seem to be on his side, as his blade once again missed its mark – scraping off the Redlander’s ringmail. The Redlander let out a bellow, coming once again at the Northman, this time having markedly more success. Ingvar grimaced as he went to parry the blow, but instead twisted his shield arm painfully as the blade smacked his ribs. It didn’t sound good.

It was time to end this. Spinning around, Nightsbane casting light all around the clearing from its jeweled hilt, Andros brought the Valyrian steel down on the man in front of Ingvar, “You will spill no more loyal blood today, traitor!”

The blade bit deep and the man fell to the dirt.

Ingvar looked at the fallen man and then to Andros. “Maybe you should consider the Redlanders, my lord. It appears you hit better than you sneak.” He smiled.

Andros approached Ingvar quickly and asked quietly, “Ingvar, are you hurt?”

“Some new scars to impress the ladies with. Nothing more, but thank you for your concern.” Ingvar said, wincing slightly as he stood and brushed himself off.

Andros nodded and looked up the hill, towards the holdfast, “And now?”

Ingvar joined him, “Now we hope we can get some information before they die. Or that they stupidly left something for us to find.”

“More than anything, I hope we find him here. It’s time we got some answers from the man that started this chaos.” Andros said, flicking some of the blood off the tip of his sword as he assessed their situation.

“Oh yes. I should like very much to talk to Dromme. I’ll not be so nice as I was to Perrin.” Ingvar said, matter-of-factly.

“Agreed. He’s the only one I care about bringing back alive. If only for a public execution,” Andros said.

“We will need to be very cautious until we are sure there are no more lurking. Your grandmother will kill me if you get hurt.” Ingvar said, his tone becoming more serious

“I appreciate the caution, Ingvar, but a few scrapes and bruises to the heir will not endanger the House. For the time being you seem in greater need of help than I.” Andros said, brushing off Ingvar’s concerns.

Ingvar nodded, staring up towards the holdfast. He seemed in his own world for a moment, but then, “Shall we?”

“Let’s.” Andros cast one more look down to Nightsbane, glistening red, and moved forward in step with the Northman.

Ingvar exchanged a few more words and signals of instructions with his Ghosts, and their entourage closed in around the keep. As they approached Andros could see that there was a flame flickering in one of the only windows. He cast one more look towards the Master at Arms and nodded. They slowly approached the door, Ghosts at their backs. Ingvar reached out, grasped the latch, and pushed it open.

Sitting inside the small home at a roughly hewn table, drinking from a pewter cup, was a man that both Ingvar and Andros recognized immediately.

It was Qyl.

Ingvar slumped gently against the door frame, “I was really hoping you were just an ass and not a traitor Qyl,” he sighed heavily, “Why?”

An ugly scowl replaced whatever estranged expression the man had on his face when they entered, “Why? Because of you. Because of those like you. Because of the loss of spirit all of Redgate suffered when our true lord passed. Lord Nygel and his sons – taken from us. Leaving us what?You?,” His scowl darkened as he spat. “Or the boy there? Perhaps the old woman? These damn Dornish customs will be the end of us all. Soon the Orphans will scatter about the Red Mountains like the cockroaches they truly are, then who will stand to oppose it? Someone must. And more importantly, someone must remember the vengeance that is ours by right. We will do this thing. You will fail. Your Northern savage ways, the womanly weakness of the old spectre of a Lady. All of you. Oakdown will transform to become what it’s people need… or a new family will take it’s place.”

He’d half-risen from his chair, knuckles white from the grip on the cup, when he began coughing loudly and deeply. His whole body began to convulse as his eyes bulged from their sockets, knocking the cup over on the table, a thick, dark, red wine spreading slowly across the table, dripping onto the floor.

Andros, repulsed, cursed under his breath, “Seven hells…”

His face turned from a shade of deep red to a purple, convulsing violently, and then falling to the floor. Silence filled the room once again.

Ingvar nodded tiredly at the old refrain, “You Andals all sing the same song. And all I hear is ’I’m a whiney bastard’” He watched impassively as the life drained out of the man, “Good riddance.”

Andros’s brow furrowed heavily. “Aye. Good riddance, but what have we gained, Ingvar?”

“Lord Andros, I suggest we give the place a going over then strip the enemy of usable gear, recover our dead and go home. There were no men here, only children throwing a tantrum.”

After just a moment of looking, the two saw, in the center of the room, with an empty satchel across it, a wooden chest. They both approached it, but found that it was locked tight with a cast iron lock. They both attempted to open the chest, pulling and turning the lock, but unsurprisingly that bore no fruit.

Ingvar looked around. “Does anyone have an ax or something we can use as a pry bar? Or I suppose we can lug it back and let the blacksmith open it.”

“Aye. That may be our only option at this point,” Andros said as he stepped forward to lift one side of the chest. He was taken aback when he discovered that the chest was remarkably light… Almost as if it were empty. In response to this, he raised a questioning eyebrow in Ingvar’s direction.

Ingvar grinned slightly and motioned with his chin towards Nightsbane, “You could use that fancy pig sticker and slice it open. She’s a blade without equal here."

Andros let out a bark of a laugh, “Not likely, Northman. This blade is no lockpick.”

“True. Well it’s light enough to carry and we’ve no lack of volunteers,” Ingvar said.

“I say we take it back, we can go over it’s contents in the safety of the keep. I can’t help but feeling at least a little exposed out here,” Andros said, casting another suspicious glance around the room.

Ingvar nodded, “Agreed." He then raised his voice, “Strip the dead of gear, if any live let us know. Rig a sling to bring our dead home for proper burial."

As the Ghosts began milling about, Andros bent over to finally cleanse Nightsbane of traitor’s blood. He ripped off a spare bit of cloth from Qyl’s hauberk and used it to return the blade to its former shine. And at long last, Andros returned the blade to its sheath.

It didn’t take long for the Ghosts to round up any useful gear and their dead. They were lucky. They lost very few on this mission. More than Dromme could say for his forces.

The trip back was quiet, as all involved had a lot on their mind. For Andros though, there was one thing troubling him above all the others. They’d unearthed that the commander of the Redlanders had indeed thrown his lot in with Dromme, turning against the house. But still the former Master-at-Arms was at large. This troubled Andros more than anything else he’d seen up to this point, as Dromme was the one behind all of this.

One thing was for certain, though. Andros swore a silent oath to himself as they climbed the hill that at least revealed Redgate, the sun heralding them home from behind. He swore that if they ever found that man, if ever they brought him back to Redgate to answer for his crimes… He would be the one to look into his eyes and ask him why. And then he would swing the sword.

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Charlotte IV
The Maiden's 5th

Mauro answers the door dressed in fresh clothes, hair still wet from a recent bath brought to his quarters. He stands with the aid of a cane, which is something new for him to be using. All in all, he looks refreshed, more sober, and less on edge then he was last night. Perhaps nearly being killed will sometimes do good for the spirit?

Mauro: {Half smiles.} “Come to see if I’m still breathing, Lady Charlotte?”

Charlotte: {instantly alert} “Still breathing? What’s happened, Mauro? Are you alright?”

Mauro: “I’m still standing, which is better then alright after two assassins climbed through my window last night. I killed one, spared the other so he could be interrogated. I’m sure he’s getting acclimated with your dungeons as we speak.” {Smirks} “How do you like my third leg?” he asks, tapping his cane against the floor. “…Maester Llewellyn’s idea of course… He had it made for me some time ago but I refused to use it until today. A brush with death can do wonders to reorient one’s priorities! I’ve been far too stubborn, bitter and prideful of late. A man’s got to cope with his limitations or else be undone by them, wouldn’t you agree?”

Charlotte’s stomach flared with renewed fear, childhood nightmares making her hands shake-and she hated it. But as unsettled as she was, she would not condemn without trial, would not judge without facts. Mauro was obviously not the simple man he had presented-death had followed him into her home, but it was also he that had warned her about the possibility of danger to her grandmother. She needed answers.

Charlotte: “What I agree is that we should leave the philosophy for after you explain to me precisely what is going on, Mauro. Who you really are, why you are here, why assassins are trying to kill you, and if you are in any way connected to the slaughter of those poor people in Graybrook?”

Mauro: {begins to frown.} “Slaughter? What slaughter?! I am unaware of any such thing, and frankly I am saddened that you think I could be connected to it!” he says with an edge of pain in his voice before he takes a deep breath. “I have nothing to hide Lady Charlotte but I understand why you would ask… There is more you should know… I didn’t see you after the feast so I spoke with maester Llewellyn. I warned him that something like this might happen.”

Charlotte: “People with nothing to hide don’t usually warrant assassins I’m thinking, Master Mauro, and with all due homage to our time spent together, trust died with my family 16 years ago. I am glad you are unharmed but I am very interested in this, ‘more I should know’; do you need to sit?” {looks at stairs} “Because I certainly could use it.”

Mauro: “Please, be my guest, join me at my table if it pleases you?” he says, moving away from the door to pull out one of the two chairs for her. He does this also because he does not want to be the one to decide if it would be appropriate or not for him to close the door affording them more privacy? Thus he lets Lady Charlotte make that decision for them and moves to the table first. There were more reasons to leave the door open than to close it so after only a momentary hesitation, Charlotte took the offered seat, her eyes tracking Mauro around the table expectantly.

Mauro sat and paused for a moment to collect this thoughts before his gaze found Charlotte’s eyes asking for his secrets. It was true he was saddened by her questions, and her tone, but that discomfort wouldn’t make him defensive. To the contrary, he hoped his words would soften her judgment.

Mauro: “Lady Charlotte, you know something about my years in the free cities, yes? A life of roguish mirth and merriment, full of dangerous duels and even more dangerous liaisons…” {raises brows} “Those tales paint a fancier picture of those days than was reality I’m afraid.”

“The truth is as a sellsword I was most often scared out of my wits! I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I spent worried about assassins in the dark, or what dangers the day would bring. There was no honor in that lifestyle. No matter what scum I killed there was always someone who wanted revenge. If I gave them half the chance, they’d slip poison into my drink as readily as a knife in my back.”

“I did many things I’m not proud of, but I never murdered anyone, Lady Charlotte, but I came close.” {swallows} “Before I came back to Dorne, I was on a mission for a Magister of Pentos to acquire a rare and deadly poison that could only be found in Lys. I was given a large sum of gold to pay for it, and my trouble, which helped me put thoughts aside about what I was really doing… and then I met her.”

“Laurel made me realize that love is more precious than gold. She had no idea what I was doing when she met me, and I grew loathe to tell her even though it killed me to keep secrets from her. I stopped looking for the poison because I didn’t want to find it anymore. I didn’t want to lay with her knowing that I’d effectively made a bargain to provide the means to end someone’s life. It made me feel unworthy.”

“I planned to return the gold to the Magister, but then my mother sent word that my father was ill. I couldn’t trust a messenger to deliver the gold for me so I had to bring it back with me to Dorne. Then of course, I tried to track my father’s killers into these mountains and ended up laid up in this keep. Now that months have passed, the Magister who hired me sent Norillo, that fat, red-bearded Pentoshi I pointed out to you at the feast, to get it back one way or another.”

Charlotte: “We reap what we sow, Mauro. You say you are saddened that I could think you connected to wrongdoings yet you tell me of a life trading your services to men of vile character for gold. You know something of my history as well, or at least the history of my family-surely you can understand my apprehension at this revelation. I value truth, Mauro, plain and simple honesty; a fantasy, no doubt, as this world has an appalling and disheartening lack of such. But I have not forgotten that it was also you that warned us of possible danger to my family and for that I am grateful. I need time to think, Mauro, and I must check on my grandmother. I wish you a speedy recovery and a good day.”

Mauro: {Stands when she does to observe the proper courtesy.} “Lady Charlotte, I also value truth, even when it’s hard to stomach. My time here has helped me realize what a wretch I’ve been. I owe your family a great debt and I am very sorry for the danger my presence has brought to your home. It pains me to see you in such distress. I’ll do whatever it takes to make things right.”

Charlotte: “Your words do you credit, Mauro, and give me food for thought. As for making things right, perhaps you could start with returning the gold and seeking justice for your father, instead of vengeance.”

Mauro: “I can’t be in two places at once lady Charlotte. If I leave to return the gold to the Magister, there’s no telling what I’d have to do to get it back or how long I’d be gone. I fear the trail of my father’s killers may well go cold in the meantime. Besides, even if I did manage to return the gold, there’s no guarantee the Magister will let me keep my head. Who then would seek justice for my father if not me?”

Charlotte: {sad sigh} “So you’ll be hunted for the rest of your natural life until either they kill you, or you kill the Magister, all the while pursuing justice, hopefully, for your father. Quite the life you have mapped out for yourself, Master Mauro-perhaps we should both do some thinking.” She nods slightly and walks quietly out of the room, headed towards her grandmother’s quarters.

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Ria VII
The Maiden's 12th

Ria did not greet the knight with usual smile she gave anyone visiting the stables, simply nodded when he confirmed her name, “Aye M’lord, Ria Sand.”. She shooed Vossi away as he attempted to sniff at the new arrival as she wondered what cause a knight would have to know her by name, let alone seek her out. But then her offered her a job, travel to King’s Landing to care for his horse.

At the though of travel she couldn’t help but grin, excited at the prospect of seeing beyond Lonetree. “Ser, I would be honored. I will have to make sure my Mother will be fine without my help, but I should have an answer for you before morning.” It was hard to not agree right then, but she did have people to take care of. She managed to remain calm as she took hold of the Palfrey, finding a stable for it and settling it. Once the knight was out of sight however she practically leaped, giving her dog a fierce scratch behind the ears, “We going to see the world boy!” It was the first time in days she felt anything other than sorrow.

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