Title: Breaking the Faith
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Fandom: Game of Thrones/ASOIAF
Genre: Time Travel
Relationship(s): Jon Snow/Margaery Tyrell
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Incest, Major Character Death, Slavery, Canon-level Violence, Dark Themes, Major Character Death, Canon Incest, Discussion-Other Trigger Topics (Incest, slavery, rape, miscarriage), Offscreen miscarriage, Minor Character Death
Beta: PN Ztivokreb and Fen
Word Count: 129,100
Summary: When Jon Snow died a traitor’s death for doing the right thing, the Seven had something to say about it—and a mission only he could complete.
“Good morrow!” Margaery greeted as she entered the Queen’s Ballroom of the Maegor’s Holdfast.
Of all of the changes she could have predicted in her life, this was not one of them. She was in the Queen’s Ballroom of Maegor’s Holdfast, the keep within a keep that had faithfully guarded generations of House Targaryen from all harm. She was sleeping in a princess’s suite within the holdfast and betrothed to the one and only Prince of the Realm.
The best part of all of it, though, was the way Jon looked up from the stack of parchments in his hands, immediately set them aside, and greeted her with an appropriately chaste kiss on her forehead.
Once she was seated, he signaled the servants to bring her a fresh selection of breakfast foods and focused entirely on her. “How did you sleep?”
“Quite well, my prince,” she gave him an impish grin, “despite having my first Cat Dream.”
“Already? Your bond is developing quickly.” He seemed pleased by this development. Like he was honestly proud of her.
“Your warnings helped,” she admitted. “If I had not expected such a dream, it would have been truly frightening. But since I knew it was coming and that it was a good thing, it was easy to relax into the dream and explore the castle through Darling’s eyes. Else, I would have fought the dream and the bond and—” She shook her head.
It had not even been two weeks since they had come together and yet the very idea of hurting her Darling in such a way would have broken her heart, which in turn would have broken Jon’s and that was just unacceptable.
“Your plans for today?”
“Small Council meeting in an hour. Based on his missive, I would say Lord Varys has at last realized that Lord Renly is up to something.” Jon rolled his eyes.
Margaery glanced over at her brother who was sat at Jon’s right hand—not wearing the white armor of a Kingsguard, it should be noted. She had not been privy to the conversation between Loras and Jon or the one between Jon and King Robert but whatever had been discussed left Loras without his desired place on the Kingsguard and somehow happier for it.
He was not Jon’s lover. That she knew. She and Jon had sworn their blood families were safe from each other. And Loras did not have the smug look he wore after making yet another new conquest.
She thought perhaps Jon had a bit of matchmaking in mind but he had not said and he had a right to his secrets…and it was fun, knowing something Loras did not.
She did hope her brother would enjoy being the future Lady of Winterfell.
“May I attend with you?” she asked Jon.
“Of course.” Then Jon paused and seemed to relive their conversation. He looked up at her in confusion. “Attend a Small Council meeting? Why would you want to do that to yourself?”
“I was thinking about our conversation that first day.” She paused. She did not want to get too specific about their conversation on the beach because she did not wish for the entire capital to know the names on their combined targets.
Thankfully, Jon nodded his understanding.
“If I am to be your partner, I need to understand the fullness of your role within the Realm so that I may best support you.”
Jon had not pushed her to get to work at his side. He had given her the time and space to settle into a new city and a new life. Perhaps he knew she had needed the time to cultivate the gossips and other connections for their success. Perhaps he understood the personal stress all of the recent changes had put on her—if anyone would, it was he. But now it was time for her to get to work, to put her back into her side of their agreement.
For any chance of success against someone like Littlefinger, she would need to conduct research. All of the resources she needed for her research should be within the Tower of the Hand.
Attending a handful of Small Council meetings at Jon’s side or even in his stead would make her appearance in the Tower commonplace enough that no one would comment on it and that would allow her to do her work with greater success. Right under all of their noses.
Actually, attending the Small Council meeting changed her perspective on many things. Grand Maester Pycelle, Lord Varys, and Lord Baelish—nearly half of the Council—were all on Jon’s list.
The Grand Maester she was not worried about. Jon said he had a plan for that, and she trusted him that it would be successful. He may now dress in stags, but her Jon was a direwolf through and through—and direwolves knew how to take down their prey.
It was thrilling, actually, to be more than just another rose. She was a direwolf too, or she would be soon enough, and she was hunting in Jon’s pack. A pack which—unless she was completely mistaken—included the Hand of the King, Lord Tyrion Lannister. and the Master of Ships, Lord Stannis Baratheon.
And they—Jon, at least—also had the absolute support and faith of King Robert.
It was likely just a transfer of King Robert’s trust in Jon’s biological father Ned Stark but Jon still had it and was actually worthy of the king’s trust, so he was not going to lose it any when soon.
Margaery would make sure of it.
“What news of my fool brother Renly?” King Robert demanded the moment the meeting was in session.
Margaery forced herself to listen respectfully as Lord Varys simpered his way through less than half of the information her grandmother had provided her and she had in turn provided to Jon. Information her grandmother had provided her over a moon past.
Varys had to be buying Renly time to build his forces—but why, she could not imagine. She could not see his angle. What could possibly be better for both the Realm and the Crown than peace between the various Lords of House Baratheon?
Unless he wanted to cause hundreds or perhaps thousands of Westerosi deaths in a civil war.
Which, again, would not be good for the Realm.
“With all due respect, Lord Varys,” Jon cut in. “Perhaps you need more little birds but what I have been told…”
And Jon proceeded to provide the full information her grandmother had given her but he framed it in a way that was inflammatory.
She knew from their conversations that Jon hated only one thing more than either slavers or rapists and that was oathbreakers. He hated rapists and slavers so much, she knew he would raze the Iron Islands if he could because of the sheer pride they took in such behaviors. And now he hated Renly—who he had to see as an oathbreaker because he had sworn his loyalty to the Crown and his brother then revoked it the moment the king went a way he did not like—worse than the Iron Islanders.
“Here is what is going to happen,” King Robert said. “I am hereby stripping Renly off all lands and titles for this civil war he is doing his damnedest to conjure. Stannis, you are now Lord of our family’s ancestral home, Storm’s End, and Lord Paramount of the Stormlands. Congratulations.”
Lord Stannis inclined his head in thanks and Jon nodded to him in a way that she thought meant he was beaming on the inside.
“Jon, you are now the Prince of Dragonstone.”
Jon accepted that easily. “It is the traditional role of the heir to the throne.”
“Just so. Now I need a Master of Laws.” King Robert let them go around the table, naming names.
Lord Baelish immediately threw in for Janos Slynt, captain of the city guard and another man Jon despised with a passion.
Grand Maester Pycelle argued for Kevan Lannister, proving himself to be Tywin’s man even after the Old Lion’s death.
Lord Varys advocated for a neutral party, “Perhaps an Essosi Justiciar, would be wise,” which made her think mayhap he was in favor of Westerosi deaths to increase Essosi power over the continent. She could not see what he would get out of such, but he was rumored to have come from Essos himself.
There could be players pushing for entrance into the Westerosi Game of Thrones that only he yet knew in Essos.
“I would nominate Lord Stannis as Master of Laws,” Jon answered when the king asked him specifically.
“But then I would be short a Master of Ships,” King Robert countered.
“Wyman Manderly would make a fine Master of Ships,” Jon returned. “A good, honest Northman. He runs Westeros’s third largest port and, as of last moon, he holds the largest fleet on this side of the Narrow Sea outside the crown’s own fleet. His development projects took his fleet beyond House Redwyne at that time and he expects his White Harbor to surpass Oldtown as a port within the next five years.”
“Good on him,” King Robert chuckled.
“And he has two sons to continue his work so he can focus on Crown’s interests entirely.”
“An interesting proposal,” the King conceded. “Any others?”
“I would name Ned Stark, if I was not certain the man would not take it,” Lord Tyrion offered.
“Why do we need Lord Eddard?” Lord Commander Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard asked, waving a hand at Jon. “We have a Stark Lord here at our disposal.”
“Here, here!” Lord Stannis agreed.
“My lords,” Jon tried to demure. “I have plenty to do first as the heir to the Seven Kingdoms and now as Prince of Dragonstone. Surely, an older, more experienced lord like Lord Stannis would—”
“No, they have the right of it,” King Robert interrupted him. “You were raised as a Stark Lord and—as I am sure the Mad King would tell you—if he were alive to do it—that no one does justice like a Stark. Congratulations, Jon, you are my Master of Laws.”
King Robert grinned when Jon closed his eyes.
Margaery was amused by the exchange.
The position of Master of Laws would give Jon all the rights and powers he needed to meet his goals regarding the corruption surrounding the crown. Him acting like he did not want the position had basically ensured he would get it. It was a brilliant early maneuver for Jon to make in the Game of Thrones.
“Write all the letters for me to sign then,” King Robert told Tyrion as he stood. “I want Jon on Stannis’s boat when he leaves. Get this Renly’s Rebellion cut off before my brother gets off his arse and does something he will not live to regret.
“Yes, my king,” Lord Baelish leaned forward. “I will be taking my leave of King’s Landing. I have business in the Vale.”
“What business?” King Robert asked in a tone that screamed of warning to Margaery.
Baelish did not seem to catch the warming as he puffed up his chest with pride. “My wedding.”
Margaery felt her eyebrows launch to the ceiling. Lord Baelish? Getting married? He did not seem the type…unless he planned to make a widower of himself in short order and make off with the poor woman’s worldly possessions.
“Who is the lucky lady?” King Robert asked with a lecherous grin.
“The Lady Arryn, my king.”
That brought everything to a halt.
Margaery knew Littlefinger was a greedy, grasping man but surely, he was not trying to make himself Lord Paramount of the Vale and Warden of the East. Though, if Lady Arryn and her son Sweetrobin were to die soon, being married to her would leave him conveniently holding everything together, as it were, so perhaps he was.
If the king did not put a stop to it, she would have to share her concerns with Jon post haste. Though knowing him, he would ask her for her opinion of it regardless.
“Lord Arryn has not even been dead a year,” King Robert objected with a frown. “His widow cannot marry yet! It is not proper for a lady of her status to remarry without an adequate mourning period.”
“Are you forbidding our union, Your Grace?”
Margaery’s heart clinched at the danger promised in Littlefinger’s silken tone.
“No, of course not. I am saying it must wait a year and a day. Marry who you will but if that person is Lady Arryn, you must wait until Lady Arryn has had an appropriate mourning period for her first husband.”
King Robert’s demand made sense to Margaery.
A proper mourning period showed respect to the Late Lord Arryn. Without such, his vassals would feel pressed to rebel against the new Lord of the Vale—or, rather, the new regent of the Vale as Petyr Baelish was not in their line of succession as long as Lord Arryn’s son still survived. Such a rebellion would break the king’s peace and could bring about the end of the House of Arryn with even just a single unlucky blow.
Waiting a few more months was a reasonable precaution.
“And send Heir Arryn to Stannis,” King Robert continues. “I know Lady Arryn does not want it, but my House owes her son a proper fostering. And it would do my future Warden good to see more of Westeros before he takes his post.”
King Robert then left the meeting. He was quickly followed by the mutually sniping pair of Varys and Baelish. The grand maester left too, leaving Margaery alone with Jon and his allies.
“Welcome to the Small Council, Prince Jon,” Lord Tyrion offered with a smirk.
“You will do well,” Lord Stannis buffeted her betrothed on the shoulder.
“Anything the Hand of the King can do for the Master of Laws, please do not hesitate to tell me.” Lord Tyrion dropped out of his seat at the table and moved to leave.
“Actually, Lord Tyrion,” Jon stopped him. “Now that you mention it…”
She had never been to a formal audience before.
She had not felt like an uncultured bumpkin before she came to King’s Landing but now, she was experiencing so many new things—things she had never imagined herself doing—that she was starting to think she might have been.
She was standing on one of the raised walkways around the edges of the throne room proper, watching. Lord Tyrion was on the kings left as Hand of the King while they listened to petitions from around the Realm. Jon was on the king’s right offering input from the law’s perspective as Master of Laws and from his own perspective as Heir to the Realm.
The audience period was almost over but the chamber was still full when Lord Commander Selmy and Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard burst into the throne room dragging a nude Grand Maester and a scantily shrouded whore.
The girl burst into tears and collapsed on the ground when Oakheart presented her to the Throne.
“My lady,” Jon raced down the steps and wrapped the woman in his own cloak, hiding her naked form from the watching eyes. “Do not fear. No one here will harm you.”
“But imma,” she sniffled, “a whore!”
Jon shushed her and provided her a handkerchief, the perfect picture of compassion and princely gallantry fit to give the memory of even Rhaegar Targaryen a challenge for its Dragons. “What is your name, little one?”
“Sh— Sheyna, milord.”
“Sheyna, I am Jon.”
Sheyna nodded, blotting her eyes. “I know, my prince.”
“Who is the proprietor or her establishment?”
Jon gestured one of the Stark guards that had come south with him over to them. “This is Riller Yew, he is a Northman with daughters your age.”
The scared but no longer crying girl nodded.
“Riller, take her to the servants’ quarters and see her dressed and on her way. Allow no one to harry her while she is in our care.”
“Yes, my prince.”
“You have had a true fright.” Margaery saw Jon press a gold dragon into Sheyna’s hand. It was probably enough to keep a girl of her status’s attentions for a week or more. “Take the rest of the night to yourself to recover.”
“Yes, my prince, thank you.”
“Off with you.”
Jon stood and returned to the dais. After a round of significant looks, King Robert waved for Jon to get on with it.
“Lord Baelish,” Jon called.
The small, rat-looking man pushed his way out of the crowd to stand before Jon but clearly separate from the Grand Maester and his two guards. “My prince.”
“Lord Baelish, how long have you been providing the Grand Maester with the service he was enjoying this afternoon?”
“Some ten years or more, Your Grace. He was one of the reasons I established such a business.”
Jon nodded. “And in those ten years, how often has he made use of your services?”
“Twice a moon. My prince.”
Jon turned to Grand Maester Pycelle. “You have broken your vows as a Maester of the Citadel repeatedly for over a decade. More importantly, you have broken your vows to the Crown as Grand Maester of the Realm repeatedly for over a decade.”
“I was not alone in it!” Pycelle objected. “Had Littlefinger not provided the service—”
“It is not Lord Baelish’s job to keep your vows for you, Grand Maester Pycelle,” Jon cut him off. “Your vows are your duty to keep. That you betrayed your vows to the crown is treason, and for that you face a choice: the Wall or your head.”
The Grand Maester of the Seven Kingdoms jaw worked uselessly for several moments before he spoke, “The Wall.”
“Very well. Lord Commander Selmy, have him dressed and placed in chains. There is a ship coming in from White Harbor today that will be returning a squad of Lord Stark’s men to the North. I want him on it with them within an hour of its arrival.
“My prince,” Selmy and Oakheart both bowed to the men on the dais before turning and hustling Pycelle out of the room.
“Alright, show is over,” King Robert dismissed the court then. “And I need a fucking drink. Lannister, with me.”
Jon left the dais and joined Margaery as soon as the King and his Hand were gone. “Come,” he said to her and their attendant ladies and sers. “We have guests arriving in the Harbor.”
She allowed herself to be tucked into the shelter of Jon’s arm. She could feel his body trembling in excitement, though his face remained clear and customarily solemn. She could not blame him. She was excited too.
Their first true blow at the corruption that surrounded the throne that would soon be theirs had landed well and true. Even now, men she and Jon trusted were looting the Grand Maester’s quarters for evidence they could use to strike further blows.
It was a heady thing, this moment of success, and she was glad to share in it with Jon. Margaery smiled up at him and he gave her a hearty kiss on her forehead.
She wanted to taste of his lips, but she respected the respect and appearance of propriety he wanted to give her.
Still, their wedding would be a relief.
After that she could kiss him as much as she wanted, wherever she wanted, and he her.
“Is there a surprise on this ship?” she asked him softly.
“I am sure there are many surprises on any ship in the harbor, should we care to look.”
Margaery gave his ribs a poke for his evasion. “I meant for my brother.”
Jon winked at her rather than answer.
She took that as a yes.
They mounted up for the ride down River Row to the harbor. Once again, she road on Swift’s back in front of Jon and felt no shame for it. She was good a horse person as he was, and she had proven it, but the combination of riding a unicorn and letting Jon take care of everything was never going to lose its novelty.
The crowd loved Jon.
It was amusing to see considering how much they hated King Robert but several shopkeepers shouted greetings at him as they passed. And Jon greeted them back by name with a wave. Sometimes, he paused their procession long enough for a brief conversation about their health or their children or some other troubles. He did not know them all personally—he had only been in the capital a moon or two—but she figured he would know them all soon and she vowed to do so as well.
They dismounted when they reached a pier with a ship bowsprit carved in the form of a merman clutching a trident.
“Justan!” Jon greeted.
The young man checking one of the ship’s ropes looked up immediately. “Jon!” They clasped hands and then Justan seemed to remember himself. “I mean, my prince.”
“Justan Snow, meet Lady Margaery Tyrell, my betrothed.” Jon introduced cheerfully. “My lady, may I introduce Captain Justan Snow, the only son of Ser Wendel Manderly, grandson of Lord Wyman Manderly and one of the best ship captains the North can boast.”
Captain Snow offered her his hand and Margaery knew better than to reject it. Her mother would have, she knew, but Jon had been born a Snow and rejecting one of his brothers would not be good for their burgeoning relationship.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Captain Justan countered. “By the gods, Jon, what did you do to deserve such a lovely lady?”
“Perhaps I was a martyr in a past life,” Jon rolled his eyes. “I understand you have a delivery for me.”
“Do I?” Justan grinned.
Jon shot him an impatient look.
“You look more like your birth father every time I see you. Hold onto your breeches, I will fetch this delivery of yours.”
Captain Justan stomped up a nearby plank onto his boat. Within moments, not one woman but two people with Tully Red hair and Stark gray eyes appeared at the top of the ramp. Jon grinned up at them as the two people descended arm in arm followed by a pair of direwolves.
“My Lady Margaery,” Jon said very formally. “May I introduce you to my brother Ser Robb Stark, heir of Winterfell, future Warden of the North, and our sweet sister the Lady Sansa? Ser Robb, Lady Sansa, please meet my betrothed Lady Margaery Tyrell and her brother Ser Loras Tyrell of Highgarden.”
All three siblings kept a very Southron dignity as bows and curtsies were exchanged by both sides. It was…rather puzzling after Jon’s informal greetings with the ship’s captain.
Then Lady Sansa giggled, and the brothers threw themselves at each other in tight, back thumping hugs, shouting joyfully at each other as three direwolves comported themselves like puppies around their bonded partners.
Jon hugged his sister hard enough he pulled her feet right off the ground.
“You look good,” Jon said.
“I find sea air agrees with me,” Lady Sansa said loftily, sending all three siblings off into laughter.
“Father sent you a personal message,” Lord Robb said, pulling a small rolled missive out of a hidden sleeve within his vambrace.
“Did he?” Jon took it and read. Then he choked and read it again.
“What is it?” Margaery asked, whatever surprised Jon that much had to be huge.
“Sansa?” he asked instead of answering. “How would you like to be a princess?”
“Jon?” she shot Margaery a confused look.
She shook her head. She had no idea what he meant either.
“Of Dorne,” he clarified. “There is a good bit of mending to be done there…Lady Catelyn and Septa Mordane have long lauded the strength and beauty of your stitches.”
Sansa frowned in confusion. “Can you do that?”
“Lord Stark has given me leave to arrange marriages as I see best for the rest of his children,” Jon waved the letter in his hand. “Since I did such a good job for Bran.”
Robb let out a low whistle. “Mother must be livid.”
“It has historical precedence,” Margaery offered and all three siblings turned to her. No matter her earlier flights of fancy all three of them were, truly, direwolves and their combined regard was unnerving. Margery refused to be cowed and continued. “Marrying members of the royal family off to lords around the Realm is a peaceful method the Crown has used to strengthen or settle changes the Crown has made with their lords.
“It is an option the Baratheons do not actually have since none of them are unmarried other than the Lady Shireen who is now the heiress of Storm’s End. As such her hand cannot be easily given away. It is only logical to extend the definition of royal family to include all of Prince Jon’s siblings for good of the king’s peace.”
Jon and Robb exchanged a look that was clearly significant even if she did not understand it.
“So, you can do it,” Sansa brought them back to the point.
“I will work on it, if it is something you want it. I am not going to marry you off to someone you would not want in a thousand thousand years, the king’s peace be damned.”
“Jon,” Sansa chided, “of course, I want it. As long as you do not match me with some petulant fool like that wretched Joffrey Hill mother had picked.”
“Never fear, sweet sister. I would kill such a man myself before I allowed you to wed him.”
“Then I am pleased, with both your choice and your protection…my prince.”
Sansa quickly proved to be a good friend and teacher of the Old Ways for Margaery, though her brother Ser Robb did help when he was not busy drooling over—and failing to hide his drooling over—her brother Loras.
Lady Sansa also proved to be very useful in their hunt of Lord Baelish.
A few tips given and the older man was obsessed with her, distracted beyond any little games Margaery could have imagined using against him. Sansa for her part was charmed but not fooled by him which was a relief…even though her disbelief of him had been caused by Littlefinger himself and his early misstep of calling her by her mother’s name rather than Jon’s distrust or Margaery’s instruction.
Sansa was out on a horseback ride with Lord Baelish and about twenty of her father’s closest armsmen when Jon called Janos Slynt, Commander of the King’s Landing City Watch into his office for questioning.
Margaery sat behind a concealing screen and listened as Jon laid out all of the evidence of his corruption that they had collected from various sources including the Grand Maester’s own records.
“As you can see, I have several instances of corruption and even treason I can lay at your feet—”
“Treason?” Commander Slynt squeaked.
“You have been treasonously derelict in your duties,” Jon reiterated. “You and your men allowed unauthorized and unchecked persons within Maegor’s Holdfast, where the king sleeps—while the king was asleep—numerous times. You have allowed persons unknown and unchecked into the kitchens that make the king’s food. Anyone of them could have been an assassin. They could have murdered the king and you, your men, and your foul corruption would have been to blame.”
Janos Slynt sat back with a hard swallow.
“Now, if you provide testimony and records of all of the corruption you are aware of—within the gold cloaks and beyond—you will go to the Wall, where you will learn what it truly means to fulfill your duties faithfully.”
“Te— Te— Testimony?” Commander Slynt stuttered. “No, I cannot! If I do that, I am dead!”
“That is your other option,” Jon agreed reasonably. “But if you go that route, I will not cut off your head. I will hang you—which is a long, slow death, I assure you. And your body will remain on the walls of the Red Keep until your neck bones grow too brittle to support the weight any longer. The entire Realm will know exactly what you did to earn such a punishment. Your wife and your children will have to flee King’s Landing and change their names to escape the shame of you.”
She peeked through the seams in her screen to see Commander Slynt reeling in his chair, looking faint.
“On the other hand, your testimony will be kept private until I need to make use of the relevant parts of it. I will not name you as my informant until you are safely in the care of the Night’s Watch and even then, I will never do so in open court.
“What say you?”
In the end, Janos Slynt’s testimony was enough to send half of the officers of the City Watch and a third of the rest to the Wall. Seven hundred and twelve men in total, including Commander Slynt himself.
And it revealed that over two hundred of the men on the City Watch rolls did not exist.
Their salaries were being paid out but the money was split between Lord Baelish—who had been given leave by King Robert to handle all hiring for the Crown—Commander Slynt and the officers that hid both their existence from the men and their absence from the Crown.
All told they would be left with less than twelve hundred men on the City Watch to keep peace within the City.
Margaery left her concealing screen once Loras and his Robb had Commander Slynt out of the room and on his way to guest quarters within Maegor’s Holdfast.
“Twelve hundred men on the City Watch, Jon,” she said. “That was nowhere near enough to keep the peace.”
“I know,” he frowned gravely. “We need more men and we need them now. Have a page call Ser Paxtan Massey to me. Failing that, send him a raven, though last I knew most of the Crownland Lords were still here from the Tourney.”
“Of course,” she nodded.
“I will send a raven to Dragonstone for armsmen. Between my Dragonstone guard, your Tyrell armsmen, and Robb’s Stark armsmen, we should have enough to keep the Red Keep secure and allow the remaining City Watch to focus on the City. I will put Lord Commander Selmy in charge of the lot within the castle.”
“Ser Paxtan will command the City Watch then?” she guessed.
“Yes, I will help him get the Watch reorganized so he can focus on hiring and training new gold cloaks. I want to have five thousand gold cloaks by the end of the year, that was one for every hundred people in King’s Landing.”
“A tad excessive,” she commented.
“Not if someone decides to attack the city to protest my place as prince,” he gave her a meaningful look and she knew she was concerned about Renly.
The Seven take Renly.
“You leave in three days for the Marches,” she reminded him.
“We will do what we can.” Jon sighed. “It will be a busy three days.”
In the end, Jon took to sentencing the criminals on the City Watch in groups of twenty at a time. Jon had only had to take ten heads right there in the Throne Room using the true, authentic Dark Sister before the rest agreed to go to the Wall.
Margaery had managed to reclaim all the men’s unjust pay for the City Watch’s needs and left the rest to the families they would be leaving behind which pleased Jon.
The Black Cells were groaningly full but together they did their best to minimize the former City Watchmen’s stay. It would take weeks to get seven hundred and two men on boats and shipped north but they placed the first hundred on a trio of ships headed north the day before Jon had to leave.
Jon sent ravens North daily and explained to her what they were about so she could respond in his stead once he left.
“I wrote Lord Commander Mormont of the Night’s Watch to warn him of how many men we were sending his way.” Jon said frankly over dinner to her and their siblings. “The Watch does not have the resources to support so many men, so I have made the suggestion of negotiating with Wildlings for them to settle in the Gift and New Gift at least until Winter has passed.
“Land below the Wall is much more fertile than the Free Folk are used to, the Night’s Watch could easily demand twenty-five to thirty percent of what they grow, catch, and make without unduly burdening the Wildlings. And bringing the Wildlings below the Wall keeps them from swelling the ranks of the Army of the Dead once Winter truly comes.”
“Do you believe all of that is coming?” Loras asked. “The Long Night, the Night’s King, all that?”
“We saw it,” Ser Robb told her brother. “When we were Beyond the Wall, we were set upon by the Dead. Every man that fell, rose up again to kill those that remained until Jon started setting the Fallen on fire.”
“The Children of the Forest confirmed the Long Night was coming,” Jon agreed. “The magic we accidentally unleashed Beyond the Wall bought us time—ten to fifteen years, by their estimate—but it is coming. The Wall has to be ready for it. We all must be.”
“We will write Willas,” Margaery offered. “The Reach always has surplus. We can donate it to the Watch.”
“Aye,” Loras agreed, proving he was spending too much time with Northerners.
“That would be good,” Jon nodded. “I sent a raven to Lord Stark, warning him because some of these cowards are going to run.”
Robb hummed a dark agreement.
“What about Lord Stannis?” Sansa asked. “Should the Royal Navy not be waiting to catch stowaways attempting to escape to Essos on a Night Watch trading vessel?”
“I asked him,” Jon admitted unhappily. “But boarding and searching a Night Watch vessel would essentially be an attack by the Crown upon the Night’s Watch whereas a man running away from the Wall that had gotten beyond the New Gift would be the Night’s Watch entering Crown lands without permission—effectively invading us—which gives us leave to execute them.”
Sansa tipped her head in agreement.
It seemed stupid and nitpicky to Margaery but…it was the law.
“Now.” Jon set aside his plate. “Did you want me to leave Loras or Robb or should I take both of them with me? I promise I will not get them more than a little bloody.”
He had warned her she would need to make this decision today—which had been lovely. Not just that she was getting choices from her future husband, which were a rare thing for a woman of any station in Westeros to have but that she was getting a warning that the decision was needed was even rarer.
“Honestly,” she grinned when Loras sighed at her. “I think they clearly both need more practice on their love-lorn sighs, so you should take Robb and I will keep Loras.”
“Mayhap, I should take Loras, you should keep Robb. Robb, I know is a blooded warrior and he could use more exposure to the capital. Loras has been involved in Southron politics since he could toddle, and this would be a relatively safe way for him to bloody his blade.”
Margaery hummed and tapped her shin in thought. She did not believe for a moment Jon would not support her choice. She thought that perhaps he wanted to play with their brothers so she dragged it out for a moment before shaking her head. “No, I think it would be better for us to prolong the brutally honest Northern barbarian reputation you have both been using so effectively. You take Robb, I am keeping Loras.”
“As my lady wishes,” Jon winked at her.
It was cute, him learning to play little games with her, for her. And it was much more effective at charming her than the years of mangled roses and poorly rhymed poetry she had gotten from past suitors trying to win her hand.
She found that she rather liked it.
Margaery saw Jon and Rob off before the dawn with Sansa on one side and Loras on the other. At their back was the newest addition to the Kingsguard, Ser—because members of the Kingsguard were always a Ser—Brienne of Tarth.
Ser Brienne was as tall as any man and twice as honest. Jon had sparred with her and been impressed—she had kicked Loras’s entire arse.
Her honesty was a bit difficult for Margaery since she herself was used to being slightly dishonest in the interest of destroying her enemies, but Ser Brienne was intuitive and knew when to give her space without having to be directly asked.
“What have you found?” she asked Loras as he joined her at luncheon on one of the garden terraces of the Red Keep.
The upside of having the Black Cells so full was that it gave those close to Jon as the Master of Laws a number of reasons to look around down there whenever they felt the need. Loras had even gone so far as to take on his first squire—a Lannister-aligned lad named Podrick of House Payne—to assist in the investigation. Payne had proven himself to be clever and loyal and he was far more likely to go unnoticed than a knight of high station and growing renown such as Loras.
“More workers that do not exist,” Loras answered her in a low tone. “And a concern for Lady Sansa. I believe dangling her before Lord Baelish for too much longer may prove to be a problem.”
Margaery considered that.
If Loras had concerns about Baelish and his regard for Sansa, well…he was a better judge of men than she was and they both knew it. “I will remind her that she is in the capital to attend me as my lady in waiting the next time I see them together.” That should make him back off of whatever his newest scheme was and buy Sansa the space to breathe, at least in the short term.
“Very good.” So, Loras agreed it would be enough—for now at least.
She got her opportunity that very day as people were milling about the Throne Room before the formal audiences began.
“Sansa!” she greeted with a grin.
“My lady,” Sansa bowed. Lord Baelish copied her just a heartbeat behind.
“None of that now,” Margaery pulled her into a hug. “You are to be my good sister soon enough.”
“You are too kind, my lady.”
“I have not seen you at all,” she said right over the young Stark Rose. “I thought you were in the capital to attend me, not take lessons…in, whatever…from Lord Baelish. I know he is your mother’s childhood friend but enough is enough.”
Sansa shot her a grateful look before dipping into a bowed head curtsey to hide her face. “Of course, my lady. I do apologize for being so distracted.”
“Well, come. You can make it up to me by getting me through these dreadful audiences.” She kept talking as she walked away, forcing Sansa to keep up with her. “Not that I mind the audiences, per se, but the air circulation in this room is simply awful. Is not it awful?”
“It is awful, my lady,” Sansa agreed.
Margaery kept nattering until they were well within her circle of attendant ladies, sers, and guards. She had been playing such games since she could form words, so she did not actually have to think about what small talk she made, it just came out as second nature.
It gave her the mental space to notice how Sansa’s shoulders dropped and her back straightened the further they got from Lord Baelish.
“I know that I asked you to keep him…occupied,” she said once the audiences had distracted most of the crowd and they physically were secure enough for her to do so. “But do not ever put yourself in such an uncomfortable situation for my sake, Sansa. Not ever again. I just could not bear it if you did.”
“Thank you, my—” Sansa cut herself off at Margaery’s raised eyebrow. “Margaery. I am not even sure exactly what the problem was, he just—”
“Lord Baelish has been manipulating people more experienced than you for longer than any of us have been alive,” Loras gripped Sansa’s shoulder to comfort the girl. “Do not be worried. You know the truth. Who you are, who your family is, the future your brother will secure for you. Those things matter. Focus on them.”
She leaned into Loras’s arm like Margaery had seen her do with her brothers so many times and she was struck by an idea.
“You need a period of no contact,” she told the other woman. “A clean break between you and Lord Baelish. You will walk only with Ser Loras, if you are not walking with me. If you receive any little notes from Lord Baelish, you will pocket them and leave them to me to respond. If anyone—and I mean anyone—asks you about your time alone with Ser Loras you will respond like a lovestruck little girl hoping for a betrothal.”
Both Loras and Sansa snorted at that.
“Do you understand?”
“Yes, my lady. Will I need to copy your responses to him in my own hand?”
Margaery nodded. Sansa was a smart one. “It would be wise.”
Sansa tipped her head in acceptance and they all turned their attention to the man on his knees before the throne. He had the muddy look of a Riverlander and he was clutching his hat, desperately in his hands.
“Do not fear,” Lord Tyrion was saying placatingly. “Prince Jon is raising men in your defense as we speak. I promise you, the Mountain that Rides will not harry your lands for much longer.”
“I heard the Mountain went rogue within hours of Lord Tywin’s death,” Loras whispered to them softly.
“He did,” Sansa confirmed. “He rode out of Winterfell in a temper before dawn the next day. I did not know he settled in the Riverlands to…cause havoc.”
“The Riverlands is the least defended and defensible of the Seven Kingdoms,” Loras told her. “Fewest men at arms and made up of flat rolling plains. There are no truly good places to take a stand there but many places to hide. His choice was…logical, in a way.”
“It just proves the danger of an attack dog such as he,” Margaery added, shaking her head. “Remove the leash for but a moment…”
Sansa hissed at them and clutched Margaery’s hand. “That is Bronze Yohn Royce.”
Margaery turned to see the next petitioner. He looked exhausted and even dirtier than the man that came before, but he was clearly highborn, wearing fine bronze armor inscribed with runes unlike any she had ever seen.
“My king,” Yohn Royce knelt easily despite his advanced age as his voice boomed through the now silent room. “I come before you with ill tidings.”
“Out with it,” King Robert demanded.
“Lady Lysa Arryn has thrown herself and her son, Sweetrobin, Lord of House Arryn through the Moon Door of the Eyrie.”
“What?” King Robert looked aghast.
“She was…disturbed, my king. We did not know what she was about, ranting about her son being taken away from her and…other things. There was not much sense to be had in her last words.”
King Robert clearly did not know what to say to that.
“I regret to inform you that the House of Arryn has ended. The Vale asks the Crown to choose our new Lord Paramount, else a civil war is inevitable.”
Silence rang through the room.
“Jon will do it,” King Robert said finally. “My son was named for the last Lord of the Vale, clearly the gods have chosen this new role for him. Lord Tyrion, write the proclamation. And send my Jon a letter, inform him of his new holdings immediately. Make sure Stannis has a ship standing by at Storm’s End to take him to his new lands as quickly as possible. And see Lord Royce comfortable so that he may recover before he must return to the Vale.”
“Of course, my king,” Lord Tyrion signaled for a servant and a guard to step forward. “You must be exhausted, Lord Royce, from your trip. Please allow us to extend you the courtesy of a guest room, a few hot meals, and a bath.”
“Not in that order, I hope, Lord Hand,” Lord Royce tried to jape.
Lord Tyrion gave him an almost laughing smile. “I am sure we can be flexible.”
Well, shit. Margaery leaned against a column, shocked by the sudden development. Now Jon was not only Prince of Dragonstone and Master of Laws but Lord Protector of the Vale and Warden of the East. She needed to get this Littlefinger situation locked away so she could take up other burdens on his behalf.
It was time to involve Lord Tyrion and get on with being—at the very least—the Lady of Dragonstone.
“Well, well, well,” Doran purred, looking like the cat that had gotten both the cream and the canary. “It seems Dorne may finally have a friend in King’s Landing.”
His older brother handed him the missive and Oberyn tore his eyes away from the jar sat in the middle of the desk. A thick, expensive jar made of fine glass, cleverly preserving what could only be the head of Tywin Lannister in a vat of clear liquid.
“Greetings,” Oberyn read out loud. “My name is Jon Baratheon. You have likely already received my new father’s proclamation, but I used to be known as Jon Snow, bastard son of Ned Stark. Through a series of unforeseen events, it was recently discovered that Queen Cersei of House Lannister was committing adultery with her twin brother, Ser Jaime, and that all of the queen’s children were not fathered by her husband, the king. Over the course of the altercation, the queen was killed by her father and her father was slain by one of the Kingsguard, Lord Commander Barristan Selmy. Ser Jaime, of course, will be remanded to the Wall for the rest of his natural life.”
Oberyn paused to allow his brother to get out his cackling.
“Lord Tyrion of House Lannister is now Lord of Casterly Rock. He has taken Lady Myrcella of House Lannister as his legitimized daughter and heir. Cersei Lannister’s two bastard sons will be joining their father in lifetime service to the Wall.”
Doran’s laughter went up a notch. He did not even pause as he wiped his eyes to clear the tears of his mirth.
“I know none of this news can soothe the wound House Lannister has caused your family or the loss of Princess Elia and her children, but your enemies are either dead or shamed beyond recall. The entire Realm will know the fullness of their disgrace before the moon-turn is out.
“I know I had not yet been born when these crimes were committed against your family but if there is anything I can do to mend the bond between your House and mine, I pray you tell me. I cannot swear it will be done as I am not yet king, but I will do all I can to ease the strain between our families and within the Realm.
“Sincere Regards, Jon I of House Baratheon, Prince of the Realm, Heir to the Iron Throne.”
“We will have to play this card carefully,” Doran told him. “Draw him closer, perhaps wed him to my Arianne and…”
“I would write him a letter,” Oberyn said. “He has done more for our family than anyone outside of Dorne has bothered in more than fifteen years and—”
“Yes, of course,” Doran nodded. “Make friends with him. Gain his ear. Play the long game. You are quite right, Oberyn.”
Oberyn held his tongue and let his brother plot to entrap the first true friend House Nymeros Martell had made outside of Dorne in over one hundred years.
And Doran wondered why no one trusted Dorne.
For his part, Oberyn would just do what he wanted, what he had to do in Elia’s name, and temper Doran’s actions as best he could.
Oberyn left his brother in his wild plotting stage where he spit the wildest ideas he could imagine out into the air. Eventually, he would bring himself back down to the earth and that was when he would seek Oberyn out to see what they could make happen.
Oberyn was his hands, the able body that fulfilled the duties Doran’s gout kept him from. Together, they ruled Dorne and protected their family.
Until Doran remembered that, he would occupy himself by writing to Winterfell.
What could he say to this wolf stolen from his pack by a stag? What had he said to Elia when their mother had given her away to the dragons? And would it even help? Oberyn could not be sure but he could try.
And try, he would.
“You have a Raven from the Wall,” Doran tapped the tightly wrapped note on the desk before he allowed it to fall from his hands and roll across the desk. The sealing wax was black, and the stag pressed into it had been painted white.
Oberyn did not know anyone with such a seal.
He pulled the wax off with ease but not so much that told him Doran had tampered with it.
“Prince Jon has written me back,” he informed his older brother.
“Oh?” Doran arched an eyebrow. “What could he be doing at the Wall?”
“He escorted Ser Jaime and his son Tommen Hill to the Wall with the rest of the Royal Party. Apparently, Joffery Hill got himself killed by his sister Lady Sansa’s direwolf. The fool struck her in front of her companion.”
“Hill!” Doran chortled and Oberyn had to admit it was satisfying to know the proud Cersei Lannister’s children were now officially labeled as bastards for all the world to know and see.
That her most precious firstborn son had died, in the mud, killed by a jumped-up dog was just a delicious desert.
“Prince Jon has invited me to King’s Landing to meet. Robert is planning a tourney there in his honor after he returns from…he is going on a ranging beyond the Wall!”
Doran gave him wide, startled eyes. House Martell were all desert snakes, the idea of living in the North as the Starks was an act of true bravery to them. The idea of voluntarily going Beyond the Wall where things were even wilder and colder was almost unspeakable.
Oberyn shook his head. “The kid has guts.”
“If he comes back, he will have much more than that,” Doran agreed darkly.
“I am not going to King’s Landing,” Oberyn told his brother. “Not before I know how on guard I should be. I need more information first. A neutral place to meet this Prince Jon…” A neutral tavern or bluff had been what they used to negotiate between sellsword companies when he had been in Essos. He could not help but think such precautions would be wise to take in their current situation.
“Perhaps, we can do him a favor and draw him to a neutral place at the same time,” Doran offered. “My little snakes tell me Renly of Storm’s End is not best pleased with his king-brother’s choices. That he sees choosing a bastard over a brother as heir as an insult of the highest order.”
“Do we know…how displeased he is?”
“Displeased enough his suitors from the Reach fled Storm’s End with haste. They should be reaching Grassy Vale today to board a boat directly to Highgarden.”
“When did they leave?”
“Five days ago.”
Oberyn whistled. Less than a week from Storm’s End to the Grassy Vale? That was haste. “Perhaps I should send my own snakes to investigate.”
“I trust you to know the appropriate time and circumstances to break the king’s peace.” Doran did not say no…but he rolled his eyes. “And tell Obara to keep her spearhead sheathed until you get there.
“They are in the Marches not far from Blackhaven, thinking to go unnoticed. I have sent the information I have to King’s Landing. The gods only know what they will do with it.”
“Thank you, brother.” Oberyn bowed and left Doran’s office.
Preparations took time, but when all was ready he took his four eldest Sand Snakes and sailed to Wyl. They rode out to the Boneway and he sent them on before him to scout ahead while he waited well on the Dornish side of the mountains.
“One week,” he told them before the left. “One week to find out if Renly and his lords are committing treason and I am coming for you, whether you want me to or not.”
“Yes, papa!” all four of them chorused.
His daughters were assholes. He loved them beyond all reason. “Go. And be sure to return.”
Oberyn waited until the dust their horses kicked up had settled and returned to his Ellaria. “Can you believe them? Speaking to me in such a manner?” he asked her.
“Of course,” she smiled slyly. “One would almost think you were related.”
Affronted, he smacked her ass.
“Oooh!” She shifted her ass into a more accessible position. “Do it again.”
He shook his head in mocking exasperation. “I do not know what I did to deserve the many assholes I have in my life.”
“Something wonderful,” Ellaria assured him. “Now, come. Claim your just reward before I grow bored and take one of your armsmen to my bed instead.”
“This attitude will not gain you more spankings,” he warned her as he followed her into their shared tent.
“Oh, I think it will.”
“He has been calling himself the King of Storms,” Obara reported. “He and half a dozen of his lords or so are talking about leaving the Seven Kingdoms to stand independently as their own Kingdom…when they are not drinking and jousting for no apparent reason. Or boasting about nothing. He has himself convinced his brother will not fight him over his secession, that it’s only fair after the insult King Robert dealt him.”
Oberyn snorted. As if King Robert had ever cared about the insults he dealt to others.
“He’s started building his own Kingsguard.”
“Fool,” Oberyn rolled his eyes. He sat astride a sandsteed with his firstborn at his side and stared down at the camp far below. Between Renly and his armsmen and the various Stormlords and their armsmen, there were too many of them for his party to take.
At least there were too many for them to take on through strength of arms alone.
“Tyene has a plan to take down the armsmen,” Obara told him. “But we need your permission before we put it into action.”
“Not fatal?” he asked.
Obara scoffed. “We only need their lords to stand trial.”
“Not fatal?” he repeated.
“Not fatal,” Obara agreed with a huff. “But not subtle. Give us two days. Ride in at dawn on the third and only the lords will be well enough to respond.
“A much more reasonable number.” He nodded. “Go, we both have much to do and only two days to do it in.”
“Yes, papa,” she said unironically this time and spurred her horse away.
He turned his horse and started making plans. Even with at least seven out of every ten of the armsmen disabled—which was more than he usually allowed himself to count on, even with Tyene’s skill with poisons—they would have to do this right to make sure there were no deaths.
Well, mayhap one death.
Just before dawn on the third day, Oberyn and a dozen of his best men, slipped into King Renly’s camp. They worked quickly and quietly to disable Renly’s lords and pulled them out of their tents. Others stole the camp’s horses and—where they could—weapons. They made great use of the Tactics of the Snake Queen Nymeria of the Rhyonar had taught their ancestors so long ago.
Once all of them but Renly and his Kingsguard were bound and held, Oberyn had his men surround the group of prisoners. Then they blew their horns.
Renly and his guards rushed out of their tents, half naked and all panicked. It was all Oberyn could do not to laugh. Renly was well and truly caught between Oberyn and the Red Mountains with nowhere to go and no way to get there.
“How dare you!” Renly blustered. “You craven snake bastard!”
“Craven?” Oberyn taunted. “You call me craven? You who are not brave enough to plot against your own brother on your own lands?”
Any other man would have the sense to know he was defeated.
Renly Baratheon was not another man.
Oberyn ignored his blustering and signaled his daughters. Within moments, Obara and Nymeria had Renly’s three Kingsguard dead on the ground and Nymeria had a dagger at Renly’s throat.
“Now,” Oberyn said in his best reasonable tone. “Will you come peacefully, or will you continue to resist?”
“We had love it if you continued to resist,” Nymeria promised the King of Storms.
They had all two hundred of their prisoners hobbled and the poisoned men cured when horns sounded again, announcing the arrival of another group. Seeing as the man in the lead—seated on one of the largest black stallions Oberyn had ever seen—was flanked by a pair of unmistakable Kingsguard on shining white steads, Oberyn would put his dragons on getting his meeting with Prince Jon in a…well, he would call it a neutral place.
As they drew nearer, he realized the lead horses had no bridles, not even hackamores. There was nothing to attach reins or head ornaments to which meant…
“Unicorns,” Sarella—his most curious and therefore best educated of daughters—said on a sigh. “They are riding unicorns.”
“Surely not,” Nymeria objected.
Then they grew closer.
The man he assumed was Prince Jon wore a black doublet with white stags embroidered at his cuffs and hem. That explained the seal Oberyn had not known. Of course, it had been Prince Jon’s.
His unicorn—though why it was called a unicorn when it had those two boney nubs that should definitely count as horns below the primary, Oberyn did not know. His unicorn came to an easy stop not far from Oberyn without any signal nor command from his rider.
The Kingsguard—Ser Barristan and another Oberyn did not know but looked like a Stormlander to his eye—were also mounted upon unicorns. As well as the red-haired lad covered in direwolves at his back.
Speaking of direwolves, there were two of those as well. They stepped out on the midst of the horses the moment they were all stopped.
Oberyn was not sure if this was meant to be a display or if this was Jon’s everyday retinue but he was impressed.
“Prince Oberyn,” Prince Jon greeted as he dismounted his steed.
“Prince Jon,” he greeted in return and clasped the man’s arm when it was offered. “It is good to meet you.”
“And you, though I hardly expected it. What brings you here?”
“Treason, my prince. I was just about to send a raven. We have settled the matter with minimal bloodshed.”
“King,” Oberyn rolled his eyes, “Renly’s Kingsguard were cut down in the fighting and Renly himself was…thrown from his horse.”
Prince Jon squinted at him. “Show me.”
Oberyn nodded and led Prince Jon toward Renly’s tent, where the bodies had been laid. The knights wearing rainbow cloaks were clearly killed but spear and dagger, but Jon did not even flinch. Though he did sigh as he took in the spear hole through Renly’s head.
“Thrown from his horse?” Prince Jon asked sardonically.
“Something like that,” Oberyn agreed.
Wordlessly, Prince Jon took a few steps to the side and his mount nosed in through the tent flaps. Jon nodded to the…unicorn. The mount raised one foot and brought it down on Renly’s head, destroying all evidence of Obara’s fit of temper. The unicorn almost daintily scraped off its hoof on one of Renly’s cloth of gold pillows and backed out of the tent.
Oberyn could not think of a damn thing to say about it.
Prince Jon just shot him a dry look and led him out of the tent.
“We will start with the sentencing of the lords and then the men at arms by the keep they serve.” Prince Jon turned to his Kingsguard. “Ser Barristan, prepare the Lords. I will see them one at a time, I do not care what order you choose. Ser Rolland, have their armsmen separated appropriately. And call for the wagons.
“With any luck, the Watch will get more bodies than the Stranger.”
Oberyn watched the enemy soldiers they passed begin to exchange looks and did his best not to grin at the lad. He was clever, preparing even these enemy forces for what was to come rather than wasting all of their time, just letting the men stew and probably panic…which would just make more work for Jon and Oberyn’s men.
They walked into a canvas-covered pavilion that Prince Jon’s men must have set up.
“Wine?” Prince Jon offered as he walked over to a side table set with refreshments. “I have grown rather fond of Lord Stannis’s lemon water, I must admit.”
“I thought it was just a vicious rumor around the Citadel that Northerners were all joyless fucks,” Oberyn challenged.
Prince Jon shot him an amused look. “Not joyless, no. But there is more to enjoy in life than wine. And I have yet to find a wine I truly enjoy.”
“Everyone is a northerner, compared to you,” the red-haired Stark japed at Oberyn as he dropped into one of the three seats available. The one further back and to one side of the two planted in the middle.
“And everyone is joyless, compared to me,” Oberyn grinned at the cheeky lad.
“Robb, have you met Prince Oberyn? Prince Oberyn, my brother Robb.”
“Well met,” he nodded at the lad who nodded back and returned the sentiment.
“Trevyr,” Prince Jon called out as he sat with his goblet of lemon water.
A boy, a page, wearing Jon’s sigil on his chest appeared. “Yes, my prince?”
“Lower the shade if you would,” he gestured to the side of the pavilion that was at his back once it was down, keeping the sun off of Prince Jon and providing some measure of privacy, he continued. “And tell Ser Barristan we are ready.”
“Right away, my prince.”
Prince Jon gestured for Oberyn to take the seat at his right hand and they waited in comfortable silence as Ser Barristan escorted the first would be rebel to stand in front of them.
“Ser Connington,” Prince Jon started. “My name is Jon Baratheon. I am the Master of Laws of the Seven Kingdoms. Allow me to tell you what your new treason has cost your family and, of course, yourself…”
“Lord Errol, I do not believe we have met, my name is…”
“Lord Rogers, I am Jon Baratheon…”
Oberyn watched in wonder at Lord after Lord was punished, as far as he could tell, based entirely on his word. Houses were stripped of lands and incomes, heirs were sentenced to fostering in the North, heiresses were betrothed to loyal bannermen. All based on his word? And not a thoroughly explained word on his part, either.
Oberyn was confused.
So, he spoke up.
“I did not expect my testimony to go so far,” he admitted.
“It did…and it did not,” Prince Jon admitted. “We had multiple sources—including Lords Varys and Baelish, though there are not enough gold dragons in this world to make me trust either of them as well as one or two others—but let us just say your testimony and actions were the torch on the waiting pitch.”
Oberyn nodded. That made much more sense.
“Ah, Lord Arstan,” Prince Jon stood to greet this lord and he used his personal name, not merely that of his house. “Thank you very much for your loyalty to the Crown and the testimony you provided. You made dealing with this issue much simpler than it could have been.”
“Of course, my prince,” Lord Arstan gave Jon a small half bow. “House Selmy is and will remain loyal to the Iron Throne from this day until our last day.”
“Good, thank you. Lord Stannis at Storm’s End has requested the right to reward your loyalty himself so if you would take your men and make your way there? I believe you will find yourself well compensated.”
“As you will, my prince. You will not need us here?”
“We will be quite fine,” Jon promised. “Ser Barristan?”
The older knight was regarding the lord of his House—a great nephew, if Oberyn was not mistaken—with pleased relief.
“Uncle Barristan?” Lord Arstan asked slowly.
The finest knight in the Seven Kingdoms caught his young family member up in a fierce hug and they left the tent still smiling.
“Ah,” Oberyn said once the two men were gone.
Jon gave him a look that said what can you do so clearly it might as well be engraved in stone before he sat back down. “Unfortunately, Arstan Selmy was the only Lord to realize and acknowledge the full depth of what was going on here and report it to the Crown. Though the heir of House Fell also wrote the Crown so…that was something, at least.”
When Ser Barristan returned, he was accompanied by the Lord and Heir of House Fell.
“Lord Fell, my name is Jon Baratheon. I am the Master of Laws of the Seven Kingdoms under his grace King Robert Baratheon.”
“He is no king of mine,” Lord Fell said mutinously. “And you are not my prince, Lord Snow.”
It was not the first time a lord had called Jon the name Snow as if it were an insult and it probably would not be the last. Oberyn was impressed by the lad’s composure. He had not flinched once when faced with the derision and insults the longer standing lords had heaped upon him.
“By your own words, Lord Styve Fell, called Silveraxe, you are convicted of treason and sentenced to death in the name of King Robert Baratheon the first of his name.” Jon responded evenly. “I will take your head in the morning.
The Selmy knight took a hold of the former Lord Fell and pulled him out of the pavilion.
Once he was gone, Prince Jon pulled a dagger and cut the ropes holding the Fell heir. “Thank you, Lord Harwood, on behalf of the Crown for the faith and loyalty you have shown the Iron Throne.”
“Of course, my prince,” the new lord rubbed his own wrists to get feeling back into them. “What of the men?”
“Were any of them not behind your father?”
“Three. The rest,” Lord Harwood shook his head.
“Very well. Ser Rolland will take you to pick out the three and they will be spared. After that you will ride to Storm’s End with Lord Selmy. As a newly inherited lord, you will need to give Lord Stannis Baratheon your oath of loyalty and service to him as Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and, through him, the Throne. After that, he will reward your actions here on behalf of the Crown. Do you understand?”
“Yes, my prince.”
“Good. Now, go. I am afraid I have quite a lot to do and not much time to see it done.”
“Yes, my prince,” Lord Fell bowed to Prince Jon, then nodded to Oberyn. “Good morrow. May the Seven keep you until we meet again.”
Once the young lordling and Ser Rolland were gone, Prince Jon rolled his eyes and Ser Robb burst out laughing.
Oberyn grinned. “Not the most useless man of the Faith I have met.”
“There is that,” Prince Jon conceded. “Robb?”
“We are right on schedule, Jon. Everything is in line with what we planned and told Lord Stannis so far.”
“Good, let us get this done.”
“Two left,” Ser Robb confirmed as he ducked out of their shelter and nodded to someone.
Soon, Ser Barristan appeared with another Lord…with three brass buckles as his sigil. Oberyn was mystified.
“Lord Buckler, my name is Jon Baratheon…”
“All of your Lords have been convicted of treason and will be executed at first light,” Jon told the assembled armsmen that evening after dinner. “You all have two choices. You can join them on the headman’s block, or you can join the Night’s Watch.
“I will ask you now and I will ask you again in the morning. I will not ask a third time. Kneel if you wish to join the Night’s Watch. Remain standing if you have not yet decided.”
About half of the Stormland rebels took a knee in the moments that followed and Oberyn sent his men in to remove them from the group. They took them to the tents they and the other traitors had left behind and allowed to sleep in as much comfort as hobbled and bound men could be granted.
The rest had to remain where they were to contemplate the benefits of decisiveness and taking the opportunities granted them.
Once the groups were separated and settled, patrol schedules and guard stations established, Oberyn and Prince Jon retired back to the pavilion they had spent most of the day in. Ser Rolland and Ser Robb joined them.
“I am glad we found the opportunity to meet, Prince Oberyn,” Prince Jon said once they were relatively alone. “Despite the less than pleasant circumstances.”
“They do leave something to be desired,” Oberyn agreed. “I do not believe anyone enjoys the evening before an execution. Especially not one so…numerous as the one ahead of us has already proven it will be.”
“True, though I am most concerned about our lack of privacy.” He glanced at Ser Rolland who nodded and ducked around the back of the pavilion. Watching their backs, Oberyn assumed, for Prince Jon’s desired privacy. “But I find that I cannot let this opportunity go to waste.
“I wish to trust you with the greatest secret I have to my name.”
“And that is?” Oberyn raised a single, doubtful eyebrow.
“My name,” Prince Jon leaned closer to him. “The name I was given at my birth was Aegon Targaryen, the seventh of my name. I was born to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, his second legal spouse.”
Oberyn’s blood froze in his very veins. Then they flash fired in fury.
“I was born in Dorne, while Rhaegar and Lyanna waited for their third, Princess Elia Martell to join them, not knowing she was already dead. When the news came, my father left my mother to collect his vengeance against Robert Baratheon for his fallen wife and children.”
“But he fell,” Oberyn said, the history he knew and had never understood was finally starting to make a sort of sense. “At the Trident.”
“Yes.” Jon nodded.
“Why? If it was a love match, why was there a war?”
If his Elia knew and approved of the Stark-Targaryen match, he could understand why she never said anything. Her health had never been the best and she was vulnerable, alone in King’s Landing with the Mad King with two young children to protect.
“Many reasons. Obsession, hate, cowardice.” Prince Jon shook his head. “I believe Littlefinger knowingly sent my Stark grandfather and uncle to their deaths because of his obsession with Catelyn Tully but I cannot prove that. As for the rest, my Uncle Benjen was witness to it all. He could have stopped it all—”
“But he did not, and so he went to the Wall,” Oberyn supplied.
“That was what he admitted to me, when we were Ranging and he thought he would die,” Jon agreed. “For the rest, there are…love letters, I have been told, exchanged by my three parents hidden at Winterfell. I have not read them myself. Lord Stark promised I could read them the next time I made it north to Winterfell but said that he felt I was too young to read and understand what they meant when I asked to see them.”
“And yet he told you your name?” That…did not quite track for Oberyn. There were steps missing on the trail.
“He did not, actually. I found the crypt Lord Stark had made on my behalf. Here lies Aegon VII Targaryen, trueborn son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Beloved son of Elia Martell. Known in this life as Jon Snow.”
Oberyn just blinked at the lad. For once in his life, he had no idea what to say.
Prince Jon tipped his head to one side in understanding. “It was…confusing to find. Upsetting. I had no idea what to do with it or about it.”
“Other than let Robert Baratheon name you his heir?”
“I encouraged it,” Jon admitted. “I was not thinking Crown Prince, to be honest. Master of Laws was the highest I could see myself reaching but… Can you imagine a more fitting revenge?” Jon asked him. “The man that hunted my mother relentlessly, unto her death. The man that murdered my father, and rewarded the rape and murder of my second mother. Of my siblings. The man that still desires the murder of my father’s entire House when reason says he should let them die destitute and alone on the other side of the Narrow Sea.
“To have that man put my father’s House right back on the throne he stole from them…”
Oberyn chuckled darkly. There was an appeal he could see there.
“I am going to get our family back to the power and prestige that was stolen from us,” Jon swore. “It will not be the same. It will not be as it should have been and it will not erase our loses, but I will get back as much as they have stolen from us as I can. On that, you have my word.
“I could use your support.”
“What do you need from me?” He held up a cautioning hand before Prince Jon spoke. “I make no promises but once I have read these proofs, these letters, for myself… I would do anything for my Elia.”
“I believe Varys is plotting to take the throne from me, that he wants to give it to someone in Essos. I cannot allow that to happen.”
Oberyn frowned. “I do know of a plot. A man named Mopatis that conspired with my brother to put your uncle, Viserys, on the throne. The plan included marrying my niece Arianne to Viserys and my nephew Quentyn to your aunt, Daenerys.”
“Viserys is dead,” Jon told him bluntly. “Killed by Aunt Daenerys’s horselord husband some moons ago. A husband that rather puts an end to talk of marrying Daenerys to your Quentyn.”
“Once I finish in Winterfell, it would be easy enough for me to sail from White Harbor to Pentos and talk to the man myself.” Assuming Winterfell bore the news he was looking for.
“Was Varys part of Mopatis and Doran’s plot?”
“Not that I or Doran know of,” Oberyn admitted. “But it is entirely possible they formed a second scheme together, Varys and Mopatis. Either a change of plans at Viserys’s death or a betrayal of House Martell.”
“Making it your best interest to end that plot before it comes back to ruin House Martell,” Jon pointed out.
Oberyn conceded the point with a nod.
“And Littlefinger?” he asked. It was a relief to know his nephew had instincts good enough to know not to trust the Mockingbird. But that was no guarantee his good instincts extended beyond that. He had made a Lannister Hand of the King, after all.
“I have people working on it and a backup plan well away from King’s Landing but ready to strike,” Jon admitted, walking toward the refreshment table. “If he survives the next moon, I would be greatly surprised.”
Oberyn nodded. Hopefully the two plans would be enough to take down Littlefinger.
He was a slippery little bastard that had escaped Stark ire before…but Prince Jon was not a direwolf, despite his constant companion. He was a dragon and waking the dragon had always been feared for a very good reason.
“Since you are going North,” Prince Jon offered, coming back to him holding a scroll. “I have received news that Ser Gregor Clegane and Ser Amory Lorch are conducting raids all over the Riverlands with a band of—at last report—between twenty and forty men.” Prince Jon handed him the scroll and sat down. “They refuse to bow to Lord Tyrion Lannister’s will and are killing, raping, and stealing indiscriminately.
“Since you are here with a hundred men and, as I said, soon to be heading north, I thought you might like to…deal with this issue.”
Oberyn noted the seal on the scroll—gold painted black wax, a crowned stag—and tore open the missive. It was a Writ, authorizing him to act in Prince Jon Baratheon, Master of Laws stead to put Ser Gregor and every single man following his banner to the sword. Signed and sealed by King Robert Baratheon himself.
“You would give me this?” Oberyn frowned at his fellow prince. “You would hand me my sister’s justice on top of everything else you have given me already? I do not understand.”
“You cannot use the secret I just gave you except to my benefit. King Robert would never believe you over Lord Stark, you have to know that.”
Oberyn nodded. He was well aware of his place relevant to the king’s trust.
“But I can reward loyalty regardless. Especially since I have to ask you to keep this secret from your brother, Prince Doran, for a time.”
“Doran is family,” he protested.
“He is but he is also a ruling prince. He has to face hard choices daily and while I am sure family is a great concern for him it can never be his first concern. Not over something that could change the entire fate of Dorne. Something like putting a new king on the Iron Throne.”
Oberyn thought about that.
It was true. The family had come second or even third to Dorne before—for both Doran and their mother before him. But. “If I do this for you, keep this secret from my own brother whom I trust above all others…I would like something in return.”
Prince Jon raised an eyebrow and waved for him to continue.
“My second daughter, Nymeria, she wishes to marry Ser Willas Tyrell.”
“I cannot force the heir of a Great House to marry someone,” Prince Jon pointed out. “I am not yet king.”
“Not force,” Oberyn corrected. “Willas wishes to marry my Nymeria as well but his family refuses to allow him to wed a baseborn.”
“You want her legitimized.”
“I do. For her and for him, not for myself. I would rather my friend not be forced to give up his lifelong inheritance for love,” Oberyn admitted. “I would help him in every way I could if he was forced to make that choice, but I would prefer it if he were not.”
“I will have to speak with King Robert,” Prince Jon said consideringly. “But first, I want a letter signed and sealed by Prince Doran saying that he welcomes or at least does not oppose the legitimizing of Nymeria or her wedding to Willas Tyrell. Perhaps it is over cautious, but I would prefer to be so than to do anything that could affect one or more kingdom’s line of succession without the head of the House’s knowledge and agreement.”
“I will have him write you immediately.”
Jon nodded. “What about your oldest? Obara, was it?”
“She…enjoys playing games but has no interest in bedding anyone,” Oberyn admitted. “Nor in inheriting. She enjoys nothing more than a good fight and sturdy spear.”
“How would she like to join the Kingsguard?”
Oberyn choked on his wine. “What?”
“King Robert has given me leave to choose three female warriors for the Kingsguard, specifically to guard my intended and future queen, Margaery Tyrell. I have filled one spot with Ser Brienne of Tarth with her father’s blessing. I…feel that I cannot fill the other spot without the candidate’s father’s blessing.”
“Obara would be…” Oberyn considered it for a moment. “She would be pleased. Even as a bastard, she is of noble blood and she is pursued despite her preferences and temperament.
“Would you truly trust her with your precious Rose?”
“We are family, you and I,” Jon said in answer. “Had things been different, I imagine you would have been my favorite uncle, she perhaps my favorite cousin…but, mostly, I understand the struggles of my baseborn siblings and where I can help, I would like to.”
“Will she know…?”
“No, or at least, not yet. My betrothed does not know either. Everyone that knows is with me or in the North.”
Under the watchful gaze of Ned Stark, Obery assumed. “Very well. I would be pleased to have my Obara join your Kingsguard. To have my two oldest daughters settled into lives that will please them and fill their days with their hearts’ desires is all a father can ask.”
“Let us bring her then, and I can ask her.”
“Once she says yes,” Oberyn chuckled. “You will have to figure out how to get her a white spear.”
Prince Jon rolled his eyes. “Oh, that will not be a problem.”
Oberyn rode north from Darry alone.
He had found his sister’s rapists and murderers not far from Harrenhal.
Despite his personal desires, he had not tortured a confession out of Gregory Clegane or Amory Lorch. As Jon had reminded him, their liege was dead and their confession would gain him nothing, but their torture might gain them the time to escape.
Nothing was worth losing Elia’s abusers once he had them in hand. And following Jon’s word would further his nephew’s trust in him, something he was surprised to note he desperately wanted.
He had seen his men to Saltpans and sent them back to Sunspear on his Red Viper.
“White Harbor,” he had ordered the captain of his ship, Davos Sand. “Two moons.”
“Aye, aye, my prince,” Davos pounded his fist to his chest in salute. “White Harbor. Two moons.”
Oberyn spun his horse and spurred him away.
He had secrets to find and wanted none of the attention a troupe of Dornishmen would find this far north.
Thankfully, Northmen were naturally cautious, private people. Their merchants sold him room and supplies when he appeared with coin but the next one never seemed to expect him, proving to his mind that they were not trading ravens about his progress.
When he came to Moat Cailin, there was construction going on. Five of the keep’s twenty towers were standing anew. Of the three towers that had never fallen, two were being scrubbed clean of moss and ghostskin. The third, the Drunkard’s Tower, was being carefully deconstructed and its blocks re-laid.
The basalt curtain wall that had supposedly rivaled that of Winterfell itself when Moat Cailin was in its prime was gaining new life and height as he watched.
There were Giants and Centaur and Children of the Forest working on the project. Moving great stones into place, hunting and foraging for food, recalling and healing the basalt stones that had been reclaimed by the bog.
It was a bard’s song, a fairy tale, and a waking dream. Oberyn stayed for two days just watching the magic and mystery of it.
Moat Cailin was key to defense of the North from southern invasion and had been since the days of the First Men, long before the coming of the Andals. That Lord Stark had started repairing the great keep that had fallen into ruin at the time of the Hammer of the Waters within weeks of Prince Jon gaining the knowledge of his true name told Oberyn a great deal about the veracity of the young Prince’s claim.
Reclaiming a thousand-plus year-old ruin was no mean feat but the North was well on their way to it and he could see a number of improvements being made to the original construction as they did.
He did not stay around very long to study those improvements. He did not wish to gain anymore northern scrutiny than he already had so he rode on through, nodding to the men that nodded to him and keeping his focus where it belonged.
On his own business.
From Moat Cailin it was a further fourteen days up the Kingsroad to Winterfell.
He made it in nine.
“Prince Oberyn,” he was greeted by a man that was perhaps younger than him but clearly allergic to smiles as he rode through Winterfell’s southern gate. “I am Jory Cassel, captain of the Winterfell Guard. Lord Stark has been expecting you.”
Okay, so the men he had passed had been sending ravens about his passing, just not to each other.
“He is in the Great Hall.”
Oberyn let a stable boy take his horse but kept his own bags with him until he was certain of his welcome.
Thankfully, Lord Stark was not seated with a sword across his knees—the traditional signal that he was denying Guest Right—but behind a table with bread and salt waiting for Oberyn to partake… but none of his family was in the room. No one was in the room with them at all, actually.
It was strange.
Lord Stark stood when he drew near. “I assumed with the…lack of company that you wished to minimize your presence here in the North.”
“You are correct,” Oberyn admitted.
Lord Stark gestured for him to be seated and he took the only seat available, the one directly across the table from the Stark Lord. He took the bread and the salt that Lord Stark served him and relaxed. Guest Right was a sacred law in the North. He was safe in Winterfell.
“I met with your Jon recently.”
“Oh?” Lord Stark’s solemn visage reacted about as readily as stone. “How is he?”
“Doing well. King Robert named him Master of Laws in place of Renly the Blood Traitor and, before we separated, he received notice that he had been named Lord of the Vale as well.”
“King Robert wrote me that he was Prince of Dragonstone as well,” Lord Stark said with a frown.
Oberyn blinked. “That was quite a lot of responsibility for one man so young.”
“And yet, still not as much as being King,” Stark countered.
Oberyn privately agreed but it was still…nearly excessive. “Is he testing the lad?”
“Perhaps,” his…good brother agreed. “But not for himself, I should think.”
“For the rest of Westeros,” Oberyn realized. “Force them to see and acknowledge how capable their new prince is.”
“Aye. He is effectively Lord Paramount of the Vale and the Crownlands. And Warden of the East. And Master of Laws in all Seven Kingdoms. And…”
Oberyn nodded. “Quite a test.”
“I would not be surprised if King Robert sent Prince Jon to war next,” Lord Eddard admitted. “Perhaps in the Step Stones.”
“No,” Oberyn disagreed. “He already sent him to war, Beyond the Wall. And he returned. That test is passed.”
“He did not bring back much of his party.”
“He still returned,” Oberyn repeated. “With spoils of war.”
Lord Stark nodded and stood. “How can the North be of assistance, Prince Oberyn?”
“Not the North,” he corrected. “Just you.”
“I understand you have some letters…”
“Yes,” Stark cut him off before he could say more. “I will retrieve them and bring them to your rooms. I would suggest a bath. Wash the road from your person, make yourself comfortable. This will not be a quick or easy read.”
Oberyn gave the Lord of Winterfell a quick bow and allowed himself to be led off by a page.
By the time they made it to his guest quarters, there was a tub of steaming water waiting for him. He knew Winterfell had no shortage of hot water—keep construction had been one of the six subjects he had a maesters link of and Winterfell was one of the greatest keeps built in the Seven Kingdoms. It was said to have been built by Bran the Builder himself. Oberyn had learned one hundred little details about Winterfell he had never thought he would be present to use.
And yet here he was.
“Oh, the strange paths life takes us down.”
Bathing was quick and habitual. The hot water a luxury after the cold outside.
He had just pulled on new breeches when a knock sounded at his outer door. “Enter,” he called.
Lord Stark came through the door and held it for the team of men to take his cooling tub from the suite all together. Once they were alone, he pulled the small chest from under his arm and placed it on the desk in Oberyn’s chamber.
The chest itself was made of round slats in a deep, smoky silver—Oberyn knocked on it. They were not steel. It was a strong but more flexible…he looked at Lord Stark with wide eyes. Dragonbone. The chest was made of dragonbone and bound in Valyrian steel that was etched with runes…but not First Men runes.
“A strange treasure to be found so far north,” he offered.
Lord Stark’s nose flared but he held his temper. “It was not found in the North. I found it—with my sister—in Dorne. At the Tower of Joy.”
“There is no Tower of Joy in Dorne,” Oberyn countered. “I have never heard of such a place.”
“It was code.” Whatever had upset Lord Stark, he relented. “In the letters, you will see it used. I assume it was how they referenced the Palestone Sword Tower at Starfall.”
“Because that was where you found your sister,” Oberyn guessed.
Lord Eddard nodded. “Do not remove the letters entirely from the chest. Its magic is one of preservation and I would prefer they survive for Jon to read them. He deserves to know how much his parents loved him even before he was born. All three of them.”
“Of course,” he agreed. “I would never take sure a treasure from my own nephew.” Assuming Jon proved to truly be his nephew.
Lord Stark eyed him like he had heard Oberyn’s thought aloud but, in the end, he nodded and left.
Oberyn opened the chest. There was no lock on it, just a simple catch.
He unfolded the top letter and began to read. It was a letter from his Elia, he would know her handwriting for the rest of his days even if he would never see her use it ever again. She was so pleased to write Lyanna, to welcome her into her marriage.
“They expected Lyanna’s child to be a daughter?” he asked Lord Stark—Ned—as they took luncheon privately in his quarters the next day.
“You have seen the mentions of a prophecy?” Ned asked.
“Aye, though which one, I do not know.”
“The Prince that was Promised,” the edges of Ned’s face made it clear how he felt about such silly words. “One prince but three heads of the dragon. Rhaegar and Elia already had a son so they assumed the third child would be a daughter in accordance with the prophecy.
“They had planned to name her Visenya. To go with the Rheanys and Aegon they already had.”
“Then how did he end up named Aegon?” Oberyn asked. Lord Ned had been there, after all.
“Lyanna was adamant his name was Aegon after she found out Elia’s son was dead and that her own child was a boy. The North has,” Lord Stark hesitated, “certain beliefs about reincarnation.
“I believe she was trying to…save Elia’s son.”
Oberyn felt that like a dagger to chest. For all the pain the loss of his sister had caused him, it was an agonizing relief to know she was loved so well and so deeply.
Even if no one had known it at the time.
“Or bring him back, at the very least.” Lord Ned shook his head. “They believed in the prophecy, all three of them, and it killed them. I could not bear for it to kill Jon as well.”
“We will have to see that such never comes to pass,” Obery swore darkly.
Lord Stark looked at him in surprise.
“As Jon said, we would have been family, you and I, had things been different,” Oberyn shook his head. “We are family. And we will not let anything hurt our family.”
“Not ever again.”
“My friend!” Mopatis greeted him as he made his way down the pier away from where his ship, the Red Viper, had anchored in the Pentos Harbor.
“Magister Mopatis,” Oberyn greeted with a nod.
“Prince Martell, shall we?” He gestured at his litter, carved of the finest and rarest hard woods, curtained in cloth of gold, and covered in gems.
Oberyn nodded and crawled in. Once Mopatis had joined him, the bearers lifted them smoothly and carried them away.
“You must tell me, my friend. You went to Winterfell? Truly?”
“You did get my raven then, good.” Oberyn nodded. “I was doing a bit of travel, exploring the North. Winterfell was nice enough, though Lady Stark was a prude.”
“No beautiful daughters for you to have your way with?” Mopatis teased.
“One beautiful daughter away in King’s Landing, the other too young to contemplate,” Oberyn did not have to fake his grimace at the thought. His reputation as a lecher was well earned in the Seven Kingdoms, but some things not even he would contemplate. “The snow had its own unique beauty, though the Dreadfort is a nightmare beyond even my imagining. The wailing and the gnashing could be heard in the bailey. Lord Roose Bolton came to dine with his victim’s blood still wet beneath his nails.”
Illyrio Mopatis scrunched his nose in distaste. “What is to be done about this?”
“I will need to borrow one of your ravens.”
“You will write to King’s Landing?” Mopatis questioned. “Or Winterfell?”
“Winterfell,” Obery decided immediately. “Lord Stark will see justice done with all due haste. Baring him, the Eyrie.”
“The Eyrie?” Mopatis frowned. “The Lord Hand Jon Arryn is dead.”
“You have not heard? King Robert gave the Vale to his son.”
Now Mopatis looked even more concerned. “Joffrey Baratheon holds the Vale? And you trust him?”
“Your little mice in King’s Landing have failed you, Illyrio,” Oberyn laughed. “Joffrey Hill is dead as is his mother Queen Cersei. Her second son, Tommen has taken the black with his true sire, Jaime Lannister.”
The cheese monger’s mouth dropped open. “But…his son?”
“King Robert claimed Lord Stark’s bastard son as his own. Jon Baratheon is now Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms, Prince of Dragonstone, Lord Paramount of the Vale, Warden of the East, and Master of Laws.”
“Prince Jon has already put down one rebellion opposing his new station, in the Stormlands themselves, and left the entire Kingdom with a high opinion of him. He is popular in King’s Landing and he has already won over the Arryn’s chief vassals, House Royce.”
“You sound as though you…support this young man,” Mopatis offered cautiously.
“Your gamble with the Dorthraki saw the dragon I was betting on dead,” Oberyn told him flatly. “What else is there for me to do? For Dorne to do?”
Mopatis regarded him calculatingly. “You must be tired after your long trip. Let us retire to my manse. Bathe, eat. We will discuss this when we have both rested and are…open to the possibilities.”
Oberyn took that to mean they were not private enough for Mopatis’s scheming. Which Oberyn understood. Riding down the middle of a crowded Pentoshi street was not in any way a secure environment, not even with the magister’s Unsullied guard surrounding them as they were.
“I do need to send those ravens,” Oberyn agreed easily enough.
“That will give me the time to find…the right maidens to attend your bath.”
Oberyn had nothing against prostitution. His oldest daughter was the product of an Oldtown whore and he loved her just as much as any of the others. Still…
“A few men as well,” he requested. “At the very least one.”
“Anything for a guest.”
“Now,” Oberyn prodded once dinner was done and they had retired to Illyrio’s private solar. “We were discussing dragons.”
“Of course,” Mopatis agreed.
“With Prince Viserys dead…Drink?” He walked over to the sideboard and started preparing glasses for them both.
“Of course,” Illyrio accepted the offer easily. “With Viserys dead, there remains one with the right and the blood to take the Iron Throne for House Targaryen.”
“Not Daenerys,” he denied.
“No,” Mopatis chuckled. “Daenerys is a…simple, biddable girl. Beautiful—beyond description, truly, but compliant. Not a queen fit to hold the Iron Throne for herself.”
“Aegon the Sixth. Son of Rhaegar Targaryen—”
“And my sister, Elia,” Oberyn handed him his poisoned goblet without remorse. “Why have you not brought him to Dorne’s attention before? Why arrange matches for us with his aunt and uncle? He is blood of our blood, you cannot think…”
“No, no. I would never think you could hurt family,” The magister hastened to assure him. “I simply wanted to protect him. His first years were so hard, I wanted to see him settled—he has been raised in safety by a good man, a Targaryen loyalist that loved Prince Rhaegar true and deep.”
Oberyn took a drink of his wine and Mopatis copied him. He pretended to brood on the cheese monger’s answer while he waited out the time for the venom in his goblet to take effect.
“Who is he, truly?” he asked when the time had elapsed. “This false dragon?”
“My son,” Mopatis answered. Then his flew wide. “What did you do?”
Oberyn smiled. “Ghost Scorpion venom. Very rare. Found only in the Shadow City of Dorne. Only one trader breeds them and milks them. Only one person knows the antidote.”
“What does it do?”
“Kills you, of course. But slowly and it turns off the parts of the mind linked with deception early in the process. You cannot lie until I give you the antidote. Do you actually want to waste your time questioning me, or do you wish to earn the antidote?”
Mopatis glared. “What do you want from me?”
“The truth. Why is your son a contender for the Iron Throne?”
“I am the great grandson of Balerion Otherys, son of Aegon IV and the Black Pearl of Braavos, Aegon’s one true love.”
Oberyn scoffed. The only thing Aegon IV had had one of was a wife and he had never been loyal to her. “Aegon the Fourth was known to have nine true loves in his life time. Yes, the Black Pearl of Braavos was on the list but she was hardly his only or his one. That does not qualify you or your son for the Iron Throne. What else?”
“His mother was a bastard of the lines of Bittersteel and Brightflame. My son has more Targaryen blood in him than any Baratheon and he looks like a scion of old Valyria.”
“How were you planning to get him on the Throne?”
“I have told Connington that he is Aegon VI. When the time comes, Varys will support this claim with a tale of substitution and sneaking Rhaegar’s son out of King’s Landing. We will ally him and the Golden Company to Daenerys and her khalasar. Marry them, after the Throne is won and her horselord has had a little accident.”
“A war of conquest,” Oberyn supposed.
“The bloodiest Westeros has ever seen,” Illyrio promised. “So that when Aegon steps in to tame his wild Essosi aunt, the lords of Westeros they will crown him out of pure gratitude.”
“And when Daenerys refuses to bow to her new husband?”
“Why would she?” Illyrio blinked in him in confusion. “She is a docile, biddable girl. She will be grateful for Aegon’s protection after her years under Khal Drogo and his kos.”
Oberyn shook his head.
So spoke a man that did not understand love. Or the Blood of the Dragon.
“Show me your records,” he ordered.
“Your records.” The man had made his fortune blackmailing important people across the Free Cities well before he got into the cheese business. He had records. “Have you destroyed all correspondence you have sent or received about this conspiracy?”
“Then show them to me.”
Illyrio frowned at him but got up and led him out of the solar into an office on the next level up. There, they went through a door hidden as a bookcase within that office into a secure office beyond.
There were some very interesting artifacts on display in that office…including a whip with nine ends. The Harpy’s Fingers used to command Unsullied, traditionally given to the buyer of Unsullied by the Good Masters of Astapor. Any man that held it would have command of all three thousand of Illyrio’s slave soldiers.
He turned away from it but did not move far. There was no reason to set Mopatis’s back up when he was cooperating so beautifully.
Illyrio placed several large books holding both bound and loose-leaf paper.
Oberyn paged through it idly. There was enough there to see Lord Varys killed ten times over. But there was also enough to see Doran and Oberyn as well as all of their children if not outright executed, then at least assassinated. Possibly even start yet another fruitless war between Dorne and the Iron Throne.
“What other secret compartments do you have?”
“In this room?”
“The bookcase, if you move it there is another bookcase hidden in the wall behind it containing secrets I have gathered from around the Free Cities. Most of them have been confirmed as true. And the floor beneath the desk opens to a treasure room but only if the desk is in place.”
“In a manse guarded with three thousand Unsullied you still have not one but two secret rooms?”
“Some secrets are that dangerous,” Mopatis said gravely.
He thought about his nephew probably just arriving in the Vale of Arryn to take it under his command. “I agree.
“Now, the antidote.”
“It will…enable me to hide my secrets?”
“All of them,” Oberyn agreed. “For all time.”
“Yes, of course, give it to me.”
Oberyn pulled a vial out of his belt pouch and handed it to the cheese monger.
Mopatis practically snatched it out of his hand, popped the cork and downed the bottle in one go. “It tastes like wine,” he protested.
“That vial is mixed with wine,” Oberyn agreed. “Otherwise, it is tasteless. I prefer to know when I have drunken something.”
“That is wise,” Mopatis agreed, relaxing into a chair.
“One last question.”
Mopatis shot him a disbelieving look.
He picked up the Harpy’s Fingers and smiled for the dying magister. “Your ownership papers—for example, for this manse—where are they?”
“The room below.” Mopatis closed his eyes and bowed his head. “There is no cure, is there?”
“Your secrets will be safe,” he comforted Mopatis, “for all time, as I promised. All but the ones I give to King Robert, of course. Not that you will be alive to see it.”
“Damn you, Oberyn Martell. D—!” Illyrio Mopatis seized and went white as life left his eyes.
“And I gave you the fastest death in my kit,” Oberyn tutted at the man and shook his head. He turned to the door and opened it to see his second two daughters, Tyene and Sarella, waiting for him. “Do you see what mercy gives you? He cursed at me.”
Tyene laughed. “Next time we will have to let our target suffer until the end. See how they like shitting themselves to death.”
He did not have a favorite among his daughters but if he allowed himself, his favorite would be Tyene. She was as beautiful and pure looking as a septa dedicated to the Maiden, as vicious and dangerous as a nesting dragon, and she shared his preference for poisons, his favorite weapon.
“Get into the room below,” he ordered them. “If there is a record of treasures, I want it. And find the deed for this house.
“Sarella, study his signature and sign it over to me.”
“We are acquiring a home in Pentos?” Sarella sounded like she actually wanted such a thing.
Oberyn snorted. “We are selling a home in Pentos. We will need the funds.
“Find everything that connects Mopatis and Varys, everything Mopatis has learned about Varys as well. I want to read it all.
“Tyene, you will be taking it back to King’s Landing with Mopatis’s body.”
“A favor to Prince Jon?” Tyene asked.
“Not one he requested,” Oberyn he assured her. All of his daughters knew that requested favors had a different cost to them than true favors. He would not have any of them holding this adventure over his nephew’s head should something happen to him while he was here. “An assurance of our loyalty to the future King of Westeros.”
He turned and left the room. He needed to find a servant.
Rather than hunt for Mopatis’s servant quarters, he returned to his room and rang the bell given to him to call for attendance. The girl he had picked to “clean his room” was with him in less than a moment, already pulling her dress from her shoulders.
“No, please,” he held up a hand to stop her.
She froze, her lovely purple eyes going wide. “My Prince?”
“What is your name?”
“Naera, My Prince.”
“Naera, are there any servants in this household?” he tapped a finger against the collar she had around her neck. “Anyone not a slave? One that gets paid?”
The girl shook her head. “No, My Prince.”
“Very well, I want the heads of the household in the public solar in half an hour. And the top three officers among the Unsullied. Do you understand?”
“Yes, My Prince.” Her eyes darted down to the Harpy’s Fingers in his hand and something sparked in her eyes, a smile played around her lips. She was a smart one.
“Go, Naera. And I expect you to be there.”
“Yes, My Prince,” she gave a half bow and left the room quickly.
He went directly to the large solar in the front of the house to wait. It was too warm for it, but he needed to make a point, so he stoked the hearth into a roaring fire.
People started joining him quickly. A surprisingly skinny cook for how good the food he had been fed earlier was, a washer woman with chapped hands and face, a neat and well-dressed governess, and a stable man smelling faintly of manure. All of them were wearing collars. All of them were slaves.
Finally, Naera entered, surrounded by three Unsullied.
“My name is Prince Oberyn of the House Nymeros Martell of Dorne,” he told them. “Slavery is an abomination in Westeros.” He threw the Harpy’s Fingers in the fire he had built. “You and all of your people are free. You may remove your collars and go your own way.”
The Unsullied exchanged looks, like they were contemplating their next move.
The civilian servitors stared at him like he was speaking an alien language, so he switched from the Common Tongue of Westeros to the Bastard Valyrian of the Free Cities to repeat himself.
“They understood you the first time,” the Unsullied closest to him said before he could try High Valyrian or the Dothraki language. “They are just surprised. Each of us is worth a fortune. No man would give away such a sum.”
“Master Mopatis would never,” the stable man agreed softly.
“Master Mopatis no longer has any say over anyone or anything.
“If I chose to keep you, my allies in Westeros would abandon me and my House. I would have to remain in Pentos if I wished to keep my head. No, you are free. You may choose to remain in my service, but you will be paid. Food, appropriate gear, housing, a wage.
“Go tell your people the news and allow them the choice,” he ordered them. “Remain in Pentos, free and find your own employment. Or come with me to Westeros, free with a job. Paid the same as any native Westerosi filling the same position. Either way, I want all of your collars off by dawn. Questions?”
“Many,” the governess said, looking dazed. “But we will do as you bid. It may impact breakfast delivery in the morning.
“I expect so,” he admitted. “Go. I will be in Mopatis’s old office. Report to me with your people’s decisions before you leave, if you would.”
“Yes, My Prince,” they all bowed deeply and left.
He went to check on his daughters. If they were not in Mopatis’s Room Below yet, they would need his help. He doubted they would—Sarella was the smartest and most curious of his daughters. He had been setting trap rooms for her to sharpen her mind upon for years, she cut her teeth a puzzle as simple as a hidden entrance. Knowing where the door was would make the exercise a toddle.
He found Sarella at the desk in the outer office, practicing Moaptis’s signature. On the desk beside her was the deed for Mopatis’s manse.
“Well done, my daughter,” he kissed the top of her head.
Sarella spared him a smile but none of her attention as she compared her version of Mopatis’s signature to the original. Oberyn could not see a difference but he could tell she was not satisfied with it.
“We need to be more careful how we interrogate people we give the ghost venom,” Tyene said as she left the inner office to join them. “There are hidden compartments within the Room Below.”
“Mopatis did not mention that,” Oberyn said, his estimation of the Pentoshi Magister rising. If he could manage to avoid full disclosure even under the effect of a poison that induced truthfulness, he was much more clever and mentally hardy than Oberyn had thought. “I wonder why?”
“He is a Blackfyre,” Tyene answered, handing him birthing documents. “His mother was a Blackfyre. His father was a descendant of the Black Pearl, like he said.”
“Of the line of Aegon IV?”
“How can we know that?” Tyene asked. “Bellegere I Otherys was known to have a husband in every port. No woman can know the exact moment she conceives.”
“He believed it; does it matter if it is true?” Sarella asked, looking troubled. “We cannot prove that he is not.”
“Say it,” he ordered Sarella.
“Blackfyre, Otherys, Bittersteel, and Brightflame. Four different Targaryen bloodlines from two different Targaryen kings all coming together in one boy.” Sarella shook her head. “That smacks of conspiracy. One far larger than one man. Or, two—even if one of them is Lord Varys—could manage. How old is the boy? How did they happen to have a boy of Targaryen blood just waiting to take the Throne? With such fortuitous timing?”
“The Blackfyres have been trying to take the Iron Throne for a hundred and twenty years,” Oberyn told his daughters. “I do not believe this is anything more than that—even if Mopatis and Varys are being more creative about it than their predecessors.
“If you wish to look for a more complicated answer, you may. I will even help,” he promised. “But I believe Mopatis and Varys were simply seeding the field for the harvest of another Blackfyre Rebellion—regardless of what they chose to call it. Naming or, perhaps, renaming the boy Aegon was entirely a move intended to add legitimacy to their gambit by claiming the boy is the son of Rhaegar.”
“Do we actually know he is not?”
Oberyn contemplated that. Ignoring the fact that Illyrio Mopatis had claimed the boy as his own son… “He cannot be. Amory Lorch and Gregor Clegane killed two children with Elia, they were very clear on that before they died.
“The Red Keep had never been breached until Lorch and Clegane did it. What could have possibly prompted Lord Varys to feel the need to remove Rhaenys or Aegon from the Red Keep before they were threatened, much less killed? When did Varys have the time to take a baby no one would miss to mourn later? And how did he manage to find such a lad while Tywin Lannister was actively sacking King’s Landing?”
“Would Aunt Elia have allowed Varys to save one child and not both?” Tyene asked.
The very question made him sick. Viscerally, soul-deep sick. “Never. And Aegon was so weak, so sick, he never left her side. Varys could not have switched the children without Elia knowing. No, the claim is false.”
“We need more facts,” Sarella complained. “Not feelings and guesses. All we have are questions and the only man that can answer them is dead.”
“Not the only man,” Oberyn said slowly.
“Jon Connington,” Sarella realized immediately. “I have a letter here—two—from him and to him. Connington reported himself to be in Norvos. He signed his as Griff.”
“Can you write another asking him to meet Mopatis here?”
“In Mopatis’s handwriting?”
Sarella shrugged. “Easily.”
“Get the raven on its way as soon as you can. I want as many answers as we can obtain in hand before Tyene leaves with Mopatis’s body.”
“Mayhap only his head?” Tyene asked. “It will be more than a few days before we have found everything connecting Mopatis and Varys. His body will be a terrible, stinking thing by the time I get it to King’s Landing after that.”
Oberyn smirked at his third daughter. “You delicate flower.”
She made a rude gesture with her hands and they both laughed.
“Would you start a war for a friend?” Sarella asked them.
“Depends on the friend,” Tyene answered without a second thought. “And what I expected to gain for it.”
“I just…I do not understand what stake Varys has in all this,” Sarella admitted. “He already wields a great deal of power in Westeros. He controls what the king knows about his kingdom and can dictate how the king responds based on how he presents this news. And he gets none of the blame when Robert does terrible things.
“What can Aegon Blackfyre sitting on the throne give him that he does not already have?”
“You think he is a Blackfyre?” Oberyn asked.
“It would make the most sense, would not it? Why upset a dynasty and kill thousands of people on all sides if the new dynasty is not yours?”
“We can look for evidence,” Oberyn promised. “We are in the right place for it.”
“And if not,” Tyene smirked, “we are in the right place to manufacture the evidence.”
Oberyn looked up from the journal he was reading to see the commander of Mopatis’s Unsullied standing across the low table from him. He set Mopatis’s journal down and sat up straight on the couch. “Commander?”
“Sire, my company has all received your commands in regards to their freed status. Now that we are freed, all collars have been removed and burned by the man that wore it. We have voted to stay together as a single unit. And we have voted to remain in your service as well.”
“Thank you, commander. Have you chosen a name yet?”
Unsullied were not given names of their own, they drew tokens from a bucket every day for a name. Worthless, insulting names, of course. A sign of their status as a slave.
“I am Right Arm because it is my wish to be your strong right arm. My seconds are Sword and Shield.”
“Because they want to be my sword and shield?” he guessed.
“Yes, My Prince.”
Oberyn blew out a breath. That was not…what he had expected. “Bring in Sword and Shield. We need to discuss my plans for our time here in Pentos and how we are getting home to Westeros.”
Right Arm went to the door, opened it, and took a step back. Sword and Shield came through immediately.
“Get comfortable,” he ordered them, gesturing them to the other couches and chairs in his area.
They all sat on the couch across from him, of course. Right Arm directly across, flanked by Sword and Shield.
“My daughter, Tyene, will be taking my ship the Red Viper back to King’s Landing with Mopatis’s head and the evidence against a traitor. The Viper has can carry twenty armsmen as well as her current crew. I would like to send two ranks of spears to see her across the sea safely. She will also be going to Sunspear, the seat of my House, to inform my brother of my current course of action and may choose to remain there.”
The three Unsullied—former Unsullied? Since they were free now and Unsullied were slaves—exchanged looks. Right Arm nodded to Shield.
Shield scooted forward in his seat. “I would guard your daughter with my life, My Prince,” he swore. “I would hand pick that men to accompany us on this journey on your behalf. I will not fail you. We will not fail you.”
“Good,” Oberyn accepted that with a nod. “Thank you. Go now to prepare yourself. I cannot be certain when she will be leaving. The sooner you are prepared, the better.”
“Thank you, My Prince. I will send Spear in to take my place.”
Oberyn almost rolled his eyes but mostly he wondered how many of them had taken their names from his stuff. It was their choice and he was determined to respect it, but he honestly had no idea what he would do if any of them were named for his daughters.
That would probably be a line in the sand he would have to cross.
Once Spear was seated, Oberyn spoke. “I am working on multiple problems on behalf of Westeros and my family.
“I am waiting for an informant in regard to the entirety of Mopatis’s crimes against Westeros. He has at least two weeks of riding ahead of him, assuming he starts riding as soon as he receives my raven. I will give you more information on his progress as I get it.”
“And the issue for your family?” Right Arm asked.
“My nephew. Mopatis married the only other living member of his House off to a Dorthraki horselord. I need to ensure she is still alive, let her know that he too survived the Westerosi civil war, and possibly take her back to Westeros with us—if that is what she wants. If not, I would like to take him at least some report of her.
“All horselords come to Pentos and he has a rich manse here to which I know he will return.”
“A khalasar will not part with their khalessi easily,” Spear warned. “Even if the khal dies, they will keep her and take her to the dosh khaleen. We will have to kill the khal’s kos and kos’ khas in turn to take her.”
“You were Dorthraki?” Oberyn asked.
Spear inclined his head. “I was born in a wagon upon the Great Grass Sea.”
“Her khal is Khal Drogo.”
Spear did not show any fear because that was not the Unsullied way, such responses were trained out of them, but he did say, “We will need more men.”
“I do not plan to fight for her.” Oberyn laughed. “I want to talk. If she does want to leave, we will steal her. Take her aboard our ships and go. Once she is upon the poison water, the Dothraki will have no choice but to abandon the issue. None of them would dare cross the Narrow Sea. Especially not for a woman.”
“How many ships do you have in Pentos?” Sword asked, the first sprouts of his stunted curiosity showing on his face.
“One.” Oberyn laughed. “On top of finding a place to observe Khal Drogo’s manse to wait for his return, we need to purchase ships. Preferably with crews—that will also be freed per Westerosi custom.” He was not sure how he was going to manage the backlash of freeing over three thousand slaves inside the walls of a city like Pentos, but he had to manage it.
…Tyene would manage it as her brand of manipulation and deception would be a less painful path for them than his brand of force.
“I have the funds in the Iron Bank to cover the purchase of enough ships to see us all across the Narrow Sea in a single trip but I prefer that we sell Mopatis’s property to make back as much as of the sum as we can.”
“If you challenge a Khal for all of his possessions,” Spear said slowly. “You can take his manse and riches, possibly some of his men, and use his manse to watch for Khal Drogo’s return. Then you can sell this manse to pay for the ships and crews and not bother your holdings with the Iron Bank.”
“Can you find an ideal target?” Oberyn asked him because the plan Spear had voiced was not far from the one Oberyn had been idling on in his own mind. “A man with a manse large enough to house all of us and close enough to Khal Drogo’s manse for observation, with a small enough khalasar we can kill them all if they try to make a mess of things?”
“Can you kill a Khal?” Spear asked.
“I am the Red Viper.”
“I…do not know what that means.”
“You will,” Oberyn promised. “Can you find such a khal?”
“I will have one for you within a week,” Spear agreed.
“On to other matters, I would like to rename your company. You are no longer Unsullied. Unsullied are slaves and you are not slaves. I would like to name you the Unbroken. Vote on it, will you?”
“Unbroken? Like your House’s words?” Right Arm asked.
“Yes.” Oberyn nodded. “House Nymeros Martell of Sunspear—Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”
“We will vote for it,” Right Arm promised.
“Good. Now, training. You are formidable infantry but Dorne’s army is more varied than that. Joining us like you have provides you with the opportunity to take on new, more varied skills, if you want them. I would like to keep you in groups of one hundred for…social purposes. If it is possible. Fifty, if they wish to join Dorne’s navy.”
“What training is available?” Sword asked.
“The men can remain in the Infantry if they prefer—spears are the traditional weapon of Dorne, we take great pride in their use. We also have archers, cavalry, and navy—as I mentioned.
“And my brother is interested in starting a chariot company within Dorne.”
“Doran has been reading about the Zoqora,” Oberyn rolled his eyes. “They were an ancient people here on Essos that used chariots—horse-drawn carts—for war and transport. We want to make larger chariots than the Zoqora used, armored and covered in spikes. Three-man teams rather than one man per cart. Each man would be trained to drive the horses—four-horse teams per cart—throw spears and shoot arrows from the moving chariot.”
“So, they can switch out should one of them fall,” Sword said. “I like this idea.”
“Get ninety-nine of your brothers to join you and we will begin training. I can have Doran begin construction on a few different styles of chariot for us to explore when we arrive in Dorne.”
“I will,” Sword swore.
“Khal Moro,” Spear told him three days later during Oberyn’s daily meetings with the different leaders of his Unbroken. “He is as close an ally and friend to Khal Drogo as one khal can be with another. His manse is on the hill facing Khal Drogo’s and his khalasar is less than fifteen hundred strong.”
“That was…” Oberyn frowned. “I have never heard of a khalasar so small.”
“His khalakka Vero broke with him. He killed Moro’s kos and took most of Moro’s khalasar with him, including Moro’s youngest wife. Moro survived his son’s attack—to his shame. The next khal to find him will kill him for the disgrace of his survival. The remainder of his khalasar will go to that man.”
“I would be a mercy to kill him,” Oberyn said.
Oberyn wrinkled his nose. “Mercy is appalling.”
Spear laughed out loud then looked shocked to have done so.
“Take me to him,” Oberyn stood.
“Now?” Spear asked in surprise. “You mean to kill him now?”
“Do you have something better to do?”
“No.” Spear considered. “If I do not tell Right Arm so he may come as well, he will hang me until dead.”
“I need to grab my spear,” and armor. “Tell him. I want no more than twenty men with us and only men that can ride. Security must be maintained on the manse. My daughter is here.”
Sarella was, at least. Tyene had already left for King’s Landing with their evidence against Varys and most of Mopatis’s library as a gift for Doran.
“Of course, My Prince.” Spear saluted and left.
By the time he was armed and armored, Right Arm, Spear, and ten others were waiting for him in Mopatis’s entrance hall. All of them had lost at least parts of their Unsullied gear and had substituted them for various pieces of the gear he had purchased in a more Dornish style.
They looked more like a band of sellswords or brigands than proud Unsullied and it pleased Oberyn beyond reason.
Mopatis’s staff was good and discrete enough that there were thirteen horses waiting for them when they exited the manse. Spear led them through the streets of Pentos at Oberyn’s side.
He pulled them to a stop outside of the khal’s manse. The walls were high and thick, sturdy. “Looks decent.”
“Yes, My Prince.”
“Thank you, My Prince.”
Oberyn lead them through the gates of the manse into the very maw of the beast. “How big was his khalasar before?”
“Twenty thousand, My Prince.”
Spear nodded and let the subject drop as they rode around the back to where Khal Moro and what was left of his people had set up tents. Dorthraki did not have time for buildings, not even one so lovely as the manse the Magisters of Pentos had gifted to Khal Moro. They felt that anything important—anything that made life worth living—had to happen beneath the open sky.
The most important thing of Khal Moro’s life would happen soon and it would happen under the sky. Today.
Today, he would die.
An older man—Moro’s new Ko, Oberyn assumed—stopped them outside a canvas awning. Oberyn could see Moro reclining in the shade and allowed Spear to speak to the Ko. He spun some story about the giving and receiving horses—the creature closest to the heart of any Dothraki, regardless of age and gender.
It was a pretty good story weaving, for a man who had probably never done such a thing before in his life.
For his part, Oberyn just sneered at Moro. When Moro tried to stare him down, he rolled his eyes, unimpressed. Moro grabbed his arakh in a threatening manner and Oberyn laughed.
Every man in sight went still.
Moro shot to his feet and demanded Oberyn meet him in combat.
Pretending not to speak the language he turned to Spear, “What did he say?”
“He challenges you to combat. A fight to the death for the insult you have given him.”
“You laughed at his face.”
Oberyn rolled his eyes again, strictly to provoke Moro further. “His face is entirely laughable.”
Predictably, Moro started shouting again.
“He demands you die by his blade and threatens to rape your wives and your daughters and to kill your sons as they beg for mercy. Then he will sell—”
Oberyn laughed again.
Moro shouted some more.
Oberyn should probably feel ashamed for taking advantage of a proud man’s already hemorrhaging pride but, then again, he had never felt shame for anything he had ever done before. Why would he start now? Especially for a slaver and rapist.
People were gathering—Dothraki people. Not fifteen hundred yet but he guessed the remains of Moro’s khalasar were curious about what had upset their khal, such as he was.
He waved Spear off when he started to translate again. “What do I get?”
“Get?” Moro demanded in the common tongue.
“You want me to kill you—which is fine—but I do not kill men for free. What are you going to pay me to kill you?”
That set Moro off like nothing else before it. If he had been any less of a sturdy man, he would have given himself a stroke by now.
“A wager then,” he interrupted the frothing fool. “When I win, I get everything you own—all of your horses, all of your gold, even this manse. If you—somehow—manage to win, you get the same with my blessings.”
Moro’s new Ko sensed the trap and tried to warn him.
Moro’s fury at being warned was the final nail in his coffin. Or, as he was a Dothraki, the last log on his pyre.
“Agreed,” Moro snarled. “Now, come and die!”
“You do not want to do this on horseback?” Oberyn asked innocently. “I thought the Dothraki did everything on horses.”
Moro just left his shade to stand under the open sky in a ready position. “We fight.”
Oberyn shrugged and slid down from his mount. He wondered idly how the Dothraki would react to his nephew and his unicorn—a horse that could fly.
They would probably shit themselves, Oberyn grinned to himself.
He dismissed the thought as he pulled the spear off his back.
It was a good spear. The ironwood shaft that had been a gift from Lord Stark when he left Winterfell. The Valyrian steel head he had had reforged from a dagger he had found in Mopatis’s collection. He had three such spears and he treasured each of them.
He had gone so far as to send a fourth matching Valyrian steal spearhead to his oldest daughter, Obara.
He twirled the spear in a bit of a show. There was no reason to stop being annoying just because he had gotten the challenge and the wager he had wanted. The man was still alive and could yet regain control of himself and his temper. Moro would be a much more dangerous opponent if he started thinking rather than just reacting, so, no. Oberyn had no reason to stop being an ass.
Moro roared and charged Oberyn before he was even in a ready position. His face when Oberyn’s spear did not shatter under his arakh was the best thing Oberyn had seen all week.
He threw the khal off and waited for him to regain his feet. Moro looked at him warily, beginning to regain control of his tempter. So, he dodged the next few blows in a taunting manner to set Khal Moro back off once again.
Oberyn let him swing and connect a few more times before he was tired of playing with his food. He was heartily tired of the screaming.
He tripped Moro and put his spear through his eye while he was laid out on his back.
The shocked silence in the courtyard was deafening.
Khal Moro’s one Ko lifted his arakh and charged Oberyn, trying to avenge his Khal as honor demanded. Oberyn pulled the dagger from his belt and threw it. The man fell with a dagger in his throat before he even got within arakh range.
“I am Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne,” Oberyn shouted at the gathered khalasar in the Dothraki tongue. “Everything that was Khal Moro’s belongs to me, but people are not possessions and you have several choices ahead of you.
“You can remain with me and my people. We will be crossing the Narrow Sea to return to Westeros before the year is through—we will find you all places there, teach you what you need to know to fit in and to thrive. Or you can remain with us until another khalasar comes to Pentos and you join them. Or you can just leave to manage your own fate, find another khalasar if you chose.
“I do not care what you chose but if you turn against me—if you hurt a single one of my people—my vengeance will be swift and excessive even for the Dothraki.”
Silence met his words until one woman stepped forward and spoke. “What about Moro’s khaleesi? And the other khalakka?”
“I will not allow anyone to murder the khalakka—or any of Khal Moro’s children.” He did not have a single fuck to give about Dothraki traditions. And no son of a khal could ever be his rival. “If the khaleesi or any women from the khalasar chose to come with me, you will be safe—free, not slaves. If the khaleesi choose to return to Vaes Dothrak per Dothraki tradition, they will have to find someone else to take them.
“Know that women are considered equal to men in Dorne, rape is a crime—one that is punished harshly, and slavery is forbidden in all of Westeros.
“If you chose to come with me, you will not be bound to me or to Dorne. Once you have mastered the Common Tongue and understand the laws of the Seven Kingdoms, you may wander them as you wish but I will not protect you from the Law in Westeros. Any crimes you chose to commit will be on your own heads.”
The two women—the one that spoke before and another slightly older, more scared version of herself looked at each other. They exchanged nods, resettled the children on their hips and came over to his side. They had a boy and two girls that were babes in arms and were followed over to him by two boys and an older girl.
“I am Faeneya, this is my older sister Norsaeya. Moro destroyed our village and took us for his wives. We would go with you.”
The khaleesi and khalakka. He nodded, “good.”
Oberyn glanced at Right Arm who nodded to him. The commander of the Unbroken pulled the women and children into the circle of their spears and ordered a man to ride back to Illyario’s manse for more guards.
He looked up at the Pentoshi manse he had just won, with its tall, square towers and dome roofed buildings. “Now, let me see my new home.”
The building was in good repair. The Magisters of Pentos must have been seeing to its upkeep since the Dothraki generally saw buildings as quaint, creative torches waiting to be lit.
The manse was made primarily of stone and unlikely to catch fire should one of the young men out there lost their temper with him. It was lavishly decorated, and the rooms were filled with treasures that Oberyn could not be sure Khal Moro had even remembered existed.
Getting paid to not ravage cities was clearly a lucrative business.
He would have to look into that if he was not born a prince with more money than he knew what to do with in his next life. Illyrio’s manse was the richer of the two but not by much. The gold and rich furnishings on the first floor of Moro’s manse alone was at least enough to buy another ship and crew for the trip home.
There were no books which was disappointing. That meant no new presents for Doran but, then again, Dothraki would use the pages of a book to wipe their ass after taking a shit so the absence of books was probably for the best.
He was not sure who he could sell this manse thought. He might have to sell it back to Pentos. Or he might have to abandon it when he was done with it. He would have to check the laws of Pentos and verify there was nothing about the city reclaiming of goods is used for bribery after the bribed person died.
He was fairly certain there would not be—Dothraki stole things they wanted from the people they killed. They did not have a tradition of accepting gifts that had already been given to another that he could recall.
Regardless, he resolved to have Sarella check Pentos’s laws and Spear check the Dothraki traditions before he did anything.
He was not sure how many ships he was going to need. He was haggling with a man on a fleet of fifty vessels with crews. They were merchant ships so they were cheaper than war vessels with war-trained crews, but they would still nearly eliminate his personal funds at the Iron Bank.
He and Doran could arm and armor the ships and nearly double the size of Dorne’s navy, if he chose to give them to his House.
It was appealing but also dangerous if King Robert chose to take such an act as a threat.
Not that King Robert had given a single fuck about Lord Stark rebuilding Moat Cailin in what was clearly preparation for a war. But Dorne was not the North and Doran Martell was not Eddard Stark. They did not have the absolute, unwavering trust of the Iron Throne.
Not yet, at least.
“My Prince, a raven.”
Oberyn looked up to see Orla, the governess that ran first Mopatis’s then Oberyn’s household in Pentos standing in the door to his solar. He waved her in and tore the missive open.
“Finally,” he scoffed as he read it.
“What is the status of the Dothraki manse?” he asked while he had her attention.
Orla pursed her lips together in displeasure. “Nearly clean enough for you to live in, My Prince. The Dothraki do not bathe properly, it is a struggle.”
He had had a Dothraki sand bath a time or two, during his time in exile from Westeros many years ago. It was a harsh method that cleaned the skin but did nothing for the scent of the body, which he thought was her main objection to it.
Still. If anyone could get his adopted Dothraki to bow to bathing in water with actual soap, it was Orla.
“I am sure you have the problem in hand.”
She just harrumphed and somehow looked even more stubborn.
“Ask Right Arm, Sword, and Spear to join me,” he ordered, getting back to the business of the raven… “And Naera, if you would.”
“Of course, My Prince.” She nodded—he had finally gotten Mopatis’s staff to stop bowing to him all the time. Nodding was their compromise—and left the room.
“The informant I have been waiting for has finally arrived in Pentos,” he told his requested company the moment they had all joined him. “And he is requesting a pair of hostages to stay with his people while he and one other come to speak with us.”
“Bold,” was Sword’s opinion.
“Wise,” Spear countered.
“He is a month late and now he makes demands of us?” Right Arm frowned, then he seconded Sword. “Bold.”
“He cannot be late when we never set a time for meeting,” Oberyn told Right Arm. “Two weeks was my estimate and mine alone.”
“Six weeks is long enough that he has clearly been up to something,” Right Arm argued.
Oberyn more or less agreed with his Right Arm.
Because of the threats like the Dothraki, no single man travelled alone between the Free Cities of Essos. A wise man joined a merchant caravan or other travelling group for the trip. It was possible that it had simply taken Connington some time to gain membership within a caravan headed from Norvos to Pentos. Though Oberyn doubted such a thing would take four weeks…unless the man had to earn the money to pay his way into the caravan first.
He had heard talk of an unusually large khalasar on the move, so mayhap that was the cause of the delay. No caravan would move within the range of a khalasar large enough to swallow it whole.
“It is not unusual to exchange temporary hostages to ensure peace between Westerosi or some of the Westerosi-lead sellsword bands in Essos—such as the Golden Company, which our informant had supposedly been a member of.
“Hostages must be of fairly equivalent rank. Since they are sending their leader and a second man…”
“You wish for me to go?” Right Arm asked immediately.
“No, actually,” he turned his eyes toward Naera before the commander could volunteer regardless.
“You are my lover,” he told her. “The person closest to me other than my daughter Sarella who is already engaged in other tasks in the service of our goals this night.”
“When you said it would be dangerous to be your lover, this is not what I thought you meant,” she said evenly, rather than accusingly. He shrugged apologetically and she nodded. “Who will go with me?”
“Sword,” he said before Spear could volunteer either. “He is the best at improvisational combat, and we do not know what conditions you will be in while in his people’s care.
“They will not separate you or disarm you,” he told them both, “but you may be confined. By Westerosi custom, hostages are allowed to protect themselves by whatever means they have available but not leave. You may not be comfortable, but you will be safe unless we kill the informant and his partner.”
Considering how many important or powerful, supposedly safe, untouchable men Oberyn had killed since coming to Pentos, that probably was not a comfort but it was the best he could give them.
“Where will we meet them?”
“The Inn of the Red Falcon, ask the barman for Griff. A ten of spears will escort you there and escort our hostages back here. Do you have any questions?”
“No but I need to change,” Naera told him and Oberyn let her pretend that her voice did not shake with the declaration. “I cannot hide my dagger in this dress.”
“Good,” he agreed. “You will leave as soon as you have changed.”
After they left, Oberyn waited as patiently as he could for his men to return. Unfortunately, most of the manse had already been stripped so there was not much for him to do. All but a pair of cooking and washing maids, a single stable boy, and fifty spears to keep the place secure until the Iron Bank took possession of it for sale had gone to Moro’s manse.
Even Orla only returned to Mopatis’s manse to check on him and fuss over the minions that were outside of her direct control.
He would be relieved, honestly, to quit Mopatis’s manse completely and retreat into Moro’s. The walls of Moro’s former manse were higher and thicker. The footprint of the estate was smaller and less ornate, intended to be trampled over by careless Dothraki and their horses rather than to impress wealthy visitors. In all, it required less men on active guard duty which allowed them to increase the training rotations.
Oberyn had started adding to his men’s skills by teaching a ten of spears a new skill. That ten in turn would teach a ten each and so on until all three thousand had expanded their skills.
It was a simple way to occupy his days. A good way—it almost made him nostalgic for his days with first the Second Sons and then his own sellsword company, the Sand Vipers.
He was greatly looking forward to lessons in horsemanship. Watching that knowledge trickle down was bound to be amusing.
“My Prince,” Orla called as she led a pair of men into his solar. “May I present Jon Connington and Young Griff?”
Oberyn turned away from his view of the garden fountain to greet his guests and froze.
He knew Jon Connington. He had met him before while Connington was serving as his good brother’s squire. The man before him had dyed his hair blue and his eyebrows and beard red but he was definitely not Jon Connington.
“You will be paid one gold dragon every month you remain on Dragonstone in my service,” Margaery told the bards Lady Sansa had helped her gather from all corners of the Seven Kingdoms. “As well as food and board.
“While you are here you will write songs about my betrothed Prince Jon Baratheon’s adventures—Beyond the Wall, ending Renly’s Rebellion, and so on as he continues to do great things. I want to hear what you have written when I return to Dragonstone.
“You may collaborate, but you may not pass any of your songs to bards outside of Dragonstone keep without my permission. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Lady Margaery,” every man and woman in the room agreed readily.
“Good.” She smiled at them. “Thank you for coming into my service. If you require anything during your stay please speak with Ser Marq Ambrose, my castellan.”
The gathered all agreed to do so.
“I will speak with you all upon my return from King’s Landing. Good luck.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
Margaery left the bards to their work and met up with Sansa and Loras down the hall from the solar given to them for their work.
“A gold dragon a month?” Loras asked in a low voice so it would not carry. “That is seven times what a bard of any quality is worth. What could possibly be so important to pay them so much?”
“We want the people to like Jon,” Sansa answered.
“No, we need the people on all Seven Kingdoms to like Jon,” Margaery corrected. “The more they like him and myself—the more beloved we are, the safer we will be once we are on the Iron Throne.”
“And hopefully knowledge of Jon’s prowess in battle will save us all from another rebellion.” Loras nodded, accepting. “One more intent than Renly’s foolish dreams.
“Grandmother has written,” Loras continued at a more normal volume. “She and father are returning to King’s Landing. Father has convinced himself that with your position as future queen, he can take the position of Hand of the King from Lord Tyrion and do a better job of it.”
Margaery blew out a frustrated breath.
Her father really was the Fat Flower everyone called him—and a fool besides. Trying to usurp the position Jon himself had given to Lord Tyrion would do nothing but turn Jon against her father, something that would damage their entire House’s long-term goals.
All for a title he was no more suited for than he was for Warden of the South.
“Then we must make haste to treat with Lord Tyrion before Father makes a mess of things. We cannot prove Jon’s faith in us to be misplaced.”
“Do you think we have found all of Littlefinger’s betrayals?” Loras asked.
“By the gods, I hope so.” Margaery took a deep breath. Realistically, they could not know unless they gained a full, detailed confession from Lord Baelish himself, which was unlikely.
Or if they somehow found his true books but she doubted those existed outside of Lord Baelish’s own mind.
“Have you thought about writing Jon’s cousin, Lady Shireen?” Sansa asked in her sweet voice. Jon was very lucky she had promised his family was out of bounds or she would have already taken up with his sister for her voice alone.
“I have not,” Margaery admitted. “Why?”
“Jon has always been very committed to family loyalty. It has always been deeply a part of him even when he was a bastard. I cannot imagine that has changed with his last name.”
Margaery thought about that. The Lady Shireen was said to be a sweet girl with a ready mind. Not much of a seamstress perhaps but a survivor, one of the few known to have survived the curse of grayscale which she had been maliciously infected with as a child.
And she was the heiress of Storm’s End.
The unfortunate scarring she was left with after her bout with grayscale would be a challenge at court, but it could be a way for Margaery to prove her kindness to the common people. If she accepted Jon’s cousin as one of her ladies, protected her from other nobles, and perhaps arranged a suitable match for the girl… Perhaps Jon could help her with that, he had an as-yet unbetrothed younger half-brother.
Yes, Rickon Stark was five years younger than Shireen but such an age difference was hardly scandalous. And boys were ready for child-making at a younger age than girls.
And an alliance with the North was very nearly an alliance to Jon’s Crown. It would put to bed any rumors of bad blood between Jon and the Stormlands to bed for all time. Yes, the match was perfect. Margaery would see it done.
“I will write her when we reach King’s Landing,” she told Sansa. “Is my ship ready?”
Loras nodded. “The Captain of the Winter Rose is standing by, waiting for us to board whenever you are ready. Your maids have placed our luggage aboard this morning.”
“Good. Let me bid goodbye to Ser Marq and we will be on our way.”
The sail form Dragonstone to King’s Landing had become routine in the time Jon had been gone. She had sailed it many times in the Winter Rose—a betrothal gift from her future goodfather that sailed under Jon’s sigil. The Rose even had her own berth in the harbor that the Harbor Master of King’s Landing knew better than to give away for fear of offending the King himself.
She made the trip from her ship to the Tower of the Hand with plenty of time to spare before the Small Council meeting which she was attending as Jon’s proxy.
“Lord Tyrion,” she greeted.
“Ah, Lady Margaery,” he gestured for her to take the seat in front of him.
She complied while Sansa and Loras laid out the evidence of the efforts against Lord ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in front of her and retreated from their immediate area.
Lord Tyrion looked over the boxes of scrolls with curiosity before he focused on her. “Anything I can help you with?”
“Lord Baelish,” she said simply.
“Jon trusted me with the issue of the Iron Throne’s still-growing debt despite your forgiveness of the Lannister portion of it. I have found that Lord Baelish has been embezzling an extensive amount of funds from the crown. He has employed several methods that have been outlined in the documents before you. Hiring and paying people that do not exist while taking the discharged funds for his own collection; overcharging the crown for use of his whores; and exorbitant interest rates on his loans to the crown. Notably, the loans taken from him are the only ones that have always paid in full—despite the unlawfulness of them.”
“You forgot the casting of currency without putting it all into circulation,” Lord Tyrion added. “Unlike you, Prince Jon did not specifically request I look into this matter on his behalf, but his rabid distrust of the man made me curious.
“Tell me, can you call Prince Jon back to King’s Landing so that he will come quickly and quietly?”
“Perhaps,” she hedged. “Why?”
“Lord Baelish has had King Robert’s trust far longer than either of us—possibly for longer than you or Prince Jon have been alive. We will need the words of a Stark to outweigh that trust or we may lose our heads rather than Baelish lose his.”
Margaery thought about that. It was a good point, but she knew Jon had his hands full with the Vale and its lords and its mountain clans.
“We will write him together. One missive, two names. How long do you think it will take him to get here?”
“On a horse that flies?” Tyrion raised a single eyebrow. “Less time than a raven. Our raven will take three days. His flight a day, two at the most.”
“Then we can bring the news to the King at the Small Council meeting after this one,” she proposed. “We simply need to ensure King Robert attends.”
“I will gladly leave that feat in your capable hands,” Lord Tyrion admitted.
Seeing Jon again was a relief.
He was somehow more beautiful than she remembered. Confident, carved of ivory and ebony with his snow-pale skin and solid black armor. When he greeted her with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek, the solid bulk of him was a comfort.
He had updated his sigil. On his chest he wore a black tabard with a stag embroidered in white but now, rather than crowned, the stag clutched a rose in his mouth. A testament of how important she was to him, right there on his chest for all to see. It was beautiful and romantic and impossibly dangerous. It made her more grateful for the second Kingsguard he had gotten for her.
Ser Obara was fun, in her own grumpy way, and she was a true test for Ser Barristan’s title of greatest knight of the Kingsguard during their sparing.
“How are you?” He asked his deep voice craggy from disuse.
“Good. All is well at Dragonstone and the Wall has only good to report about the men you have sent them and the Wildlings they have allowed to settle within the Gift.”
He gave her an impatient look. “I am not asking for a progress report on your duties, my lady. You send me those weekly or more often. How are you, my beloved and betrothed?”
Oh. “I am…well. I have missed you more than I expected. I would rather have you here than off in the Vale.”
“A few more months,” he promised her. “Perhaps two or three, and I will only need to return to check on Yohn Royce and my other vassals. The system Lord Arryn used as Hand of the King is still in place, I simply need to earn a bit of trust in order to make use of it, which I am sure this visit will help with.”
“Of course,” she agreed. She needed to get him out of such a public setting where who knew how many spies were watching. “You must be tired after your trip.”
“I would like a bath,” he admitted, taking her arm and leading her toward Maegor’s Holdfast. “Riding on air is cleaner than any road but it is colder than beyond the Wall up there.”
“Not even your Northern constitution can stand up to it?” she teased.
“My Northern constitution is fine,” he huffed. “Ser Rolland, however, is in danger of losing toes.”
She giggled at the youngest Kingsguard’s affronted face but then Ser Robb started laughing too, and Ser Rolland snickered with them.
“Your cousin, the Lady Shireen, should be arriving in the next day or two,” she told him. “Lord Stannis agreed to send her to be one of my ladies in waiting with your sister, Lady Sansa.”
“Good and thank you. Lord Stannis is a good man, his daughter does not deserve the fate the gods have dealt her.”
“I was thinking about her husband situation,” Margaery admitted. “You have a younger half-brother that does not yet have a formal betrothal.”
“Because Lord Stark passed all such matters to me.” Jon tipped his head as he thought, echoing the wolf she knew he had had to leave behind in the Vale in his haste. “You want the same agreement I made with the Lannisters for the Baratheons?”
“I think it would be a good idea,” she offered. “Lord Stannis would gain a husband for his daughter that will know how to treat her with respect, that will not try to usurp her position as Lord of Storm’s End and the blood connection to you will add to the blood connection between the two Houses Baratheon.”
“And it will show no hard feelings for Renly’s crimes against my future claim,” Jon added. “I will write to Lords Stannis and Eddard after a brief respite. Your idea is sound, though it leaves Lord Eddard without a spare son until Lady Catelyn’s new child is born.”
“Your stepmother is pregnant?” she asked, excited about the prospect of more Starks. They were quickly becoming her favorite people.
Jon snorted at her excitement.
Margaery knew Jon and Lady Catelyn’s relationship was not a good one and that was entirely because of Lady Catelyn’s actions while Jon was still a bastard. She had realized by reading between the lines of Jon’s letters that she had been the only mother he had ever known and despite her behavior he would probably always long for her to love him.
Which meant it was Margaery’s job to bring reconciliation between the two. For Jon’s happiness if nothing else.
They made it to Jon’s chamber where a servant reported that his bath was ready, and he bid them good day. Margaery proceeded to her own chamber with no company but her guards.
Loras and Sansa were off reuniting with Ser Robb while she reconnected with Prince Jon. She would write her first missive to Lady Catelyn and leave it for Sansa to read before she sent it. She was not sure what it would take to thaw Lady Catelyn’s stone heart, but she would try.
It was the least she could do.
“Alright,” King Robert huffed as he dropped himself into the chair Lord Tyrion usually took during the Small Council meetings since the king’s attendance was so irregular. “I am here. What is all the fuss about?”
“I apologize, father. I did not mean to cause a fuss,” Jon said, stepping out of the shadow casted by the very bright window.
King Robert snorted in amusement. “When did you return?”
“Yesterday,” Jon admitted. “I left an investigation in the hands of others when I left to take care of the Stormland situation. They called me home to present it to you as Master of Laws.” Jon gestured toward the door.
Robb, Loras, and Ser Rolland entered carrying her boxes of evidence. Three other Kingsguard stood between the Small Council and the chamber doors with hands on their sword hilts.
“I had concerns about the crowns debt and the corruption within the City Watch. It turns out they both have the same cause.” Jon continued to lay out their evidence. The fraud, the embezzlement, the out-and-out theft from the Royal Mint.
“Who?” King Robert demanded. “What has done these things?”
“Lord Petyr Baelish.”
“Baelish?” King Robert repeated. “Littlefinger?”
They all turned to see the Master of Coin standing by his chair, looking nervous. Brienne and Obara pulled her from her seat and placed themselves between her and the rest of the room.
“Is this true?” King Robert demanded.
“Your Majesty, I— Your Grace, of course, I— If we could just speak privately, I am certain—”
“Yes or no, Baelish. Is this true?”
Petyr Baelish refused to answer the king and Robert’s face flushed in fury. “You will take him to the dragonpit and cut him in half, I do not care which way you do it,” Robert ordered.
“I was thinking we could take his head on the steps of the Sept of Baelor,” Jon admitted. To Margaery he seemed strangely intent on it though she had no idea why that could be true. “It would be easier to gather the common folk there. We can be sure to show everyone what happens to people that try to play King Robert for a fool.”
“Good thinking, my boy!” King Robert chuckled meanly. “Yes, do it. Now. Today.”
“I will swing the sword myself.”
“Good,” Kind Robert nodded. “Lannister, send a writ to the Iron Bank. Reclaim all of Littlefinger’s possessions and pay off our debt with them if you can.”
“Of course, my king,” Lord Tyrion bowed his head and Margaery hid a smile.
Jon and Tyrion had already written the missive and signed it together at her urging. She did so love being right.
Robert reached forward and took one of the evidentiary scrolls to read it for himself. “Go now, he is fouling my air. And be sure to claim all of Littlefinger’s brothels for the Crown. If he can make a fortune off of their backs, there is no reason we should not.”
Jon shot a look at Tyrion, clearly giving that duty to Tyrion rather than taking it himself.
Lord Tyrion frowned but nodded and waved Jon off.
Jon then looked to Margaery with a face full of concern.
She nodded to him and pushed her way from behind her guards to take the Master of Laws’ seat so he could attend his father’s business immediately.
“Now, I need a Master of Coin,” King Robert grumbled after Baelish had been led from the room. “Gods damn Baelish to the Seven Hells.”
“Might I suggest Illyrio Mopatis, my king?” Lord Varys immediately offered. “He is a merchant prince of Pentos. He is a man that knows how to grow his own fortune, he was born a commoner in Braavos and rose to—”
“The last thing we need is another foreigner,” the new Grand Maester Jallen interrupted. Margaery thought he was a Hightower before had taken his vows, but she could not be sure and one did not ask a sworn maester such a thing. “The House of Baelish rose up from a Braavosi sellsword in the service of a lord of the Vale. No, we need no more such betrayers in King’s Landing.”
“I believe you mean well, Lord Varys,” the king said. “But Jallen has the right of it. No more foreigners. Not after this.”
“Of course, my king,” Lord Varys sat back easily enough.
“My brother,” Margaery said. “Willas Tyrell, he is an astute but honest man of business. His horse trade with Dorne has enriched our family greatly in the last ten years.” And if her brother was invited to the Small Council, her father could hardly demand a place.
King Robert scrunched his nose in consideration but did not say yay or nay.
“Prince Jon mentioned Wyman Manderly the last time we were looking for a new member of the Council,” Lord Stannis offered. “I have looked into him. With everything he has accomplished as Lord of White Harbor, I feel he would serve well as Master of Coin.”
And since there was an association with Jon as the son of Ned Stark and a second more direct association with Ned Stark with Manderly as his bannerman, of course King Robert decided they would offer Manderly the position.
There was not much left to discuss at that point though she thought Lord Varys perhaps looked nervous when he said, “It has been confirmed that Daenerys Targaryen survived our last assassination attempt and managed to give her horselord a son. My latest information has the three and their khalasar returning to Pentos for reasons unknown.”
“Damn the dragon bitch,” King Robert fumed. “She is that last one, the last dragon.”
“She is a woman,” Stannis countered, to her surprise. He had been supportive of her as a woman holding the seat of the Master of Laws while Jon was away. “She was bred by any number of Dothraki savages. She and her child are no threat to us.”
The Stag king opened his mouth to argue but bells started tolling, summoning the smallfolk to Lord Baelish’s beheading.
“Get out of here,” King Robert huffed and dismissed them all with a wave of his hand. “I need a fucking drink…”
Margaery waited for Lord Stannis to join her on the stairs.
“Lady Margaery,” he greeted.
“Lord Stannis, I trust the trip from Storm’s End was not too arduous?”
“Not at all. This is about my Shireen?”
“I did ask her to become one of my ladies. I do hope you brought her with you.”
“I did,” he said dismissively. “She is resting and unpacking. She will be presented to the court at dinner.”
“Lovely, I look forward to making her acquaintance.”
Lord Stannis eyed her suspiciously, ever protective of his one and only child, but in the end the taciturn lord nodded. They parted ways at the base of the Tower.
Now she just needed Jon to tell her Lord Eddard’s response to their letter. Then she could broach the subject of betrothals directly with Lady Shireen and her father. For the future good of the Realm, she rather hoped her solution was the right one.
“Who can know the heart of a dragon?” Shireen read aloud over the tinkling of fountains and the calling of birds.
The clearing of a masculine throat called Margaery’s attention as well as that of her ladies.
“Jon!” Margaery smiled, taking in the discomfort on her betrothed’s handsome face. “Would you like to join us? Luncheon should be served soon.”
“My apologies, my lady.” He glanced over at Shireen and asked her, “What are you reading?”
“Oh!” Shireen looked shocked by Jon’s genuine interest. “The Princess and the Queen, Archmaester Gyldayn’s treatise about the Dance of Dragons from his collection Fire and Blood, Being a History of the Targaryen Kings of Westeros. He never quite completed it before he died but what he did write is very interesting. I thought it fitting to read here, at the Red Keep.”
“I cannot argue with that, though I would not allow your uncle to catch sight of it,” Jon said conspiratorially.
Shireen giggled. “Of course, My Prince.”
Jon gave his cousin a small smile and turned back to Margaery. “My lady, you have a visitor. Princess Arianne of Dorne has come in the company of her brother, Prince Quentyn. She claims that she wishes to join the court as one of your ladies in waiting.”
Margaery looked over to Obara to gauge her reaction to her trueborn cousin’s claim. Obara seemed troubled. She looked back to see Jon looking troubled and watching Obara as well.
“I do only have two ladies in waiting,” Margaery said smoothly. “Historically, queens maintain three.” Because of the three heads of the dragon, she very carefully did not say.
She had more than three ladies in the garden gazebo with her but only two of them were currently of equivalent rank to her, the Ladies Shireen Baratheon and Sansa Stark. The rest were cousins and members of her family’s retinue, not true ladies in waiting.
“You are not yet the queen,” Jon said gently. “You are under no obligations to hold court like one as of yet.”
“I have been easing my way into it,” she admitted because she did not want him to think she was not taking any of the roles he had trusted her with seriously. “Would you bring her ‘round for lunch? It should be served on the next hour. We can meet and see if we suit?”
“Of course, my lady.” Jon braved the giggling circle of girls to kiss her hand and take his leave.
“I have never seen him like that,” Lady Sansa told her, her pale face open and honest. “He has never looked more than once at a girl and he…dotes on you. Coming himself even when a page would do.”
“He is quite charming,” Margaery confessed. “Blunt, of course. He is a true man of the North, but gentle and even warm when we are in private.”
“That…sounds like how father treats mother,” Sansa said in something like awe. “He could love you.”
Margaery felt her cheeks heat. It had only been a few weeks. Far too soon for such a discussion, even if she what she felt went far past such idle words. “I would…welcome it. I do not expect his love but…”
“It would make a duty a pleasure,” Shireen added softly from Margaery’s other side.
“Yes,” she found herself staring the way Jon had gone. “Yes, it would.”
“Stronger children come from a happy marriage,” her cousin Elinor said. “More children too, of course.”
“We are all virgins here, keep your toddle to yourself,” Margaery scolded jokingly.
Elinor laughed. “You are all virgins.”
“What has come to pass?” Margaery demanded.
“The king…” Elinor blushed. “He has…” she blushed harder.
“You have bedded King Robert?”
“I did not expect it but there was so much wine, and he was so merry,” Elinor looked away. “I know better than to expect anything…”
“If he put a babe in your belly…” Sansa gave the older woman wide, horrified eyes.
“Do you wish to remain his lover?” Margaery asked.
“He is a good lover. Generous. My mother warned me that most men cannot bring a woman to her peak, but he did, several times on both nights.” If Elinor grew any redder, her face would match Sansa’s hair.
“Enjoy yourself,” Margaery encouraged since the damage was already done. “Truly, do. But do not expect to become queen.”
“No, he has already told me he will never marry again. And that I understand after Lady Cersei—”
They all shuddered dramatically at the memory of that wretched woman.
“—but after? When he is through with me? What will become of me?” Elinor looked so sad.
That was probably why Margaery admitted, “I have an idea of a place for you. Not all is set so I will not share it with you but know there is hope. Enjoy yourself now and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”
Elinor dabbed delicately at her eyes. “Thank you, my lady.”
“You are welcome, cousin.” Margaery stood. “Now, I wish to walk a circle about the gardens before lunch. Remain here, I will take Ser Obara with me.”
Obara Sand fell into step with her as she approached the seaside of the garden. Once they were out of her ladies’ hearing, she asked the question at the front of her mind, “Your cousin?”
“I know not what game she is playing,” Obara answered immediately. “She has never been one to play second to another, not in the entire time I have known her. If another girl was prettier than her, she would be ruined before the month had turned—reputation, face, dress. Whatever she had that was better than Arianne’s.
“The only reason my sister Tyene has not had her face physically ruined is because she is a bastard and less than Arianne in that way. And of course, because Arianne fears my father—as she should, should she choose to act against any of his children.”
“She is here for Jon, do you think?”
“I would not be surprised if she were,” Obara admitted. “Prince Doran is interested in a closer bond with the Throne. Why—after what happened to Aunt Elia—I do not know, but the fact remains. He is ambitious and sets his children to compete with each other to gain his favor.”
“So, she should not have brought her brother, either,” Margaery guessed.
“Unless her father specifically ordered it,” Obara agreed. “Or unless she has plans to embarrass and ruin him. It has become known that Quentyn is Prince Doran’s current favorite to inherit despite being second born. If she could gain her father’s approval for herself and cost Quentyn his regard in one blow, she would take it. But…”
“But?” Margaery prompted.
“As fond as Jon is of you, she will realize—if she has not already—that she stands no chance with him as long as you draw breath. She is a danger to you, my lady, and she has learned far too much of my father’s favorite poisons for us to truly guard you from her if she remains in King’s Landing.”
“And yet, I cannot send her away without spending time with her,” Margaery countered. “To do such a thing would insult House Martell and all of Dorne. Jon has worked too hard to mend that relationship on behalf of the Throne for me to tear it asunder. Particularly without proof or wrong doing.”
Obara did not look happy with it but she agreed. “As you say, my lady.”
“I want food tasters for myself and Jon,” she decided. “I will send a page to Lord Tyrion to request some as soon as we return to the ladies.”
Obara carefully touched her shoulder and she looked up to the older woman. “Those duties would fall to Lord Commander Barristan, my lady. If you like, I will take your request to him myself.”
“As soon as I am back in the care of Ser Brienne, go,” she agreed. “And I will talk to my grandmother about putting a watch on Prince Quentyn and Princess Arianne. Anytime they leave the Red Keep, I want to know exactly what they are up to.”
“Wise,” Obara agreed. “Shall we return to the others?”
They were in the garden again just before lunch again the day before she was set to return to Dragonstone—with Jon, for the first time—when Jon came to them again.
Shireen spotted him first and paused her reading of Maester Yandell’s The World of Ice and Fire.
“My rose,” he greeted her.
“My wolf-stag,” she returned. She stood and went to meet him this time, silently demanding her kiss on the cheek. She wanted it to be a notice to Princess Arianne to cease and desist her scandalous flirting with Jon immediately.
He bent and gave her the kiss she wanted easily, naturally. As though she was the only woman worth kissing in the entire castle.
Jon’s sincere regard was the only thing that was keeping Margaery’s tactics so passive. Jon was so focused on her that he barely seemed to realize Princess Arianne existed. She gained less interest from him than even Sansa and what interest she did garner was as far from romantic or sexual as it could be, to Margaery’s never-ending amusement.
“The king has a guest this day,” he told her, “and I desire your company to greet her on his behalf. Will you come?”
“Of course? Do I need to change?”
“You could wear sack cloth and you would be suitable company, my lady,” he dismissed the concern.
“How would I accessorize sack cloth?” She frowned at him playfully. “I do not have the slippers to pair with such a gown.”
He gave a small huff of a laugh and offered his arm. “Come, it would be best if we arrived soon.”
“Lord Tyrion has called us to the King’s Private Solar.”
She gave Jon wide, surprised eyes. She had never been to the King’s Private Solar before. That was deeper into Maegor’s Holdfast than she had yet been allowed. Whoever this visitor was, they had to be either of great importance or carrying a very dangerous secret.
The person that waited for them at Lord Tyrion’s side outside of the King’s Private Solar was a pale, small woman in a pale blue samite dress with sleeves of Myrish lace.
Margaery recognized her, actually, though she had never known her name. She had seen the girl before at Highgarden. She was one of Prince Oberyn’s Sand Snakes.
“Tyene?” Jon said in surprise. He greeted her with a gentle kiss to the forehead like he often did with Sansa. “What are you doing here?”
“Following my father’s orders, as always,” Tyene smiled gently up at Jon. Margaery was pleased to note this Dornish girl displayed no sexual interest in her betrothed. “We have discovered worrisome news and my father bid me come and update the crown as to what has been settled.”
“Very well,” Jon opened the door to the King’s Private Solar. “Shall we?”
Proving that while he may not formally be a true knight in the Southron fashion he was a man of excellent chivalry, Jon led them into danger.
“By the gods, what is it now?” King Robert demanded, seeing them all walk into his office.
“Some time ago, I expressed our concern with…Essosi issues to Prince Oberyn,” Jon opened the discussion.
King Robert’s eyes narrowed. “Targaryens.”
“Prince Oberyn’s third daughter, Tyene, has come to us with his report.”
“Well?” King Robert demanded.
Tyene nodded to the black armored man at her back and he placed the basket in his hands on the desk in front of the king. Margaery could not contain her gasp when he unlatched the bottom and lifted the basket lid to show a severed head floating in a clear liquid within a jar.
“Illyrio Mopatis,” Tyene introduced the…head. “Born Rhaegon Blackfyre. Grandson, through his mother, of Daemon III Blackfyre. Great grandson through his father of Balerion Otherys, son of Aegon IV and Bellegere Otherys.”
“Mopatis?” King Robert questioned. “Was that not the man Lord Varys suggested for Master of Coin?”
“It was,” Jon agreed, and Margaery found herself nodding.
Now they had Blackfyres, too? On top of everything else conspiring against the peace of the Realm? By the Seven, would the difficulties ever stop coming!
“Lord Varys was born Vaegon Blackfyre—half-brother of Illyrio Mopatis.”
“Are you telling me I have a Blackfyre—a Targaryen bastard—in my kingdom, in my keep, right now?” Robert demanded dangerous.
“Yes, My King.”
“Barristan!” King Robert roared. “Barristan! Get your decrepit ass in here! Now!”
Ser Barristan the Bold was with them in moments. “My King?”
“You will arrest Lord Varys immediately. Take him to the Maidenvault and lock yourselves in. I want your eyes on him until I send someone for him. He is not to escape us, Barristan, or it will be on your head.”
“Yes, my king,” Ser Barristan bowed and left the room immediately.
“Are you certain?” Lord Tyrion asked. “He told me he was an orphan.”
“Raised by a troupe of mummers,” Margaery agreed.
“Yes,” Tyene bowed her head. “His mother died giving birth to him and he was taken in by a troupe of mummers.”
“That sold him to a wizard,” Margaery continued the story. They all had to know Varys’s sad history. His rage at it had seemed too real to be a fabrication.
“Yes, my lady,” Tyene agreed. “The proof that Lord Varys is a Blackfyre is hidden is in his tragic past. He was given as a child to a powerful wizard that sacrificed his manhood to commune with a demon. The wizard succeeded and Varys survived.
“I spoke with a Red Priestess in Pentos—a practicing blood witch and shadowbinder—and she confirmed that only a sacrifice of kings’ blood could manage such a thing. Specifically, a boy that had not reproduced but was descended from a king. Sacrificing such as his manhood was affectively sacrificing a line of kings. That is how great the magic was required to do what he brags about enduring and surviving.”
“Do you have documented proof of your claims?” Jon asked.
“I do. A series of family trees that trace Lord Varys and Illyrio’s lineage back to Daemon I Blackfyre and his mother, Daena the Defiant. As well as correspondence between Lord Varys and Mopatis. They were…” Tyene trained off, biting her bottom lip.
It was a mummery, Margaery knew, because Prince Oberyn’s children had never known true hesitation in their lives, but it was a very good mummery.
“What?” King Robert demanded.
“They were in a conspiracy to put Mopatis’s son on the Iron Throne. My father is still in Pentos to address the rest of the issue but it included Mopatis buying, wedding, and breeding a bed slave descended from Brightflame and Bittersteel and marrying that son to,” Tyene pretended to hesitate again, “to Daenerys Targaryen.”
King Robert exploded. He was shouting and carrying on. He was not even making sense until he stopped his pacing to point furiously at Jon. “Jon, you will kill him. I want his head on a spike before the end of the day, or I swear to the Seven…”
“It will be done, father,” Jon promised placatingly. “Ghost is guarding him now at Ser Barristan’s side. He will not escape us. We have other matters to deal with first.”
“Daenerys Targaryen,” King Robert scoffed. “No wonder he had failed to kill her so many times. He is in league with her. I ought to wring his fat neck!”
“I meant, our Master of Whispers,” Jon tried gently. “We need someone that can find out what he has kept from us and what damage he has done to the kingdom as a whole in preparation for his new Blackfyre Rebellion. Someone effective and loyal that can find problems, with the familiarity with us to take care of the issues properly and update us after. Someone we can trust.”
“I have had to reseat my entire damn council since Jon Arryn died,” King Robert raged. “Fucking Targaryens!
“Appoint who you want, I could not care less. Just take care of it, Jon.”
“As you will, father,” Jon bowed. “May we take our leave?”
“Yes, yes, go. My blood is up, I need to stick a boar! I will name it Daenerys and kill it with my hammer, I will…”
“I know your family just arrived, but would your father be willing to be the King’s companion on the hunt?” Jon asked her softly.
“Of course,” she agreed, fairly confident she was not about make herself a liar.
“And where would your grandmother be?”
“In the garden, with my ladies.”
“How would she feel about being Master of Whispers?”
Margaery blinked at Jon in surprise. A woman on the Small Council? Not as a proxy as she was but holding the seat for herself? The Faith would have a fit! “I… I think she would be pleased.”
Then, because she felt she had to warn him. “You know the Faith of the Seven will lose their minds to see a woman on the Small Council.”
She thought she heard Jon mutter something along the lines of, “Fuck the Faith,” before he cleared his throat and said at a more normal volume. “They are not thrilled with women on the Kingsguard either. I have already reminded them that they are not the only religion in Westeros and that there are no laws that allow them to press their preferences upon anyone but especially not upon the Crown.”
“I bet the High Septon loved that.” She shook her head.
“You would lose those dragons.” He shot her a look. “We might have a war with them sooner or later, but I will not bow to anyone, especially not when I am right. Women are equal to men, that is reality.”
She did not disagree with that statement, but she was not sure what was safe to say so she kept her peace.
He used his grip on her hand to pull her to a stop and cupped her cheek. “I mean it.” He held her eyes with such sincerity that she could not look away. “Our battlefields might be vastly different but there is nothing in this world that could make me brave enough to step foot onto yours. I would behead a thousand men, fight a hundred wars, before I would take to childbed.
“No,” he shook his head. “You are a much greater warrior than I am, and I will make that clear to every man in Westeros even if it takes my very last breath.”
“This is your Old Ways,” a new voice said, and they turned to see Tyene standing beside her white-clad sister, watching them curiously. “The ones you keep in the North. Is it not?”
“It is,” Jon confirmed.
Margaery was charmed by the blush he was trying to ignore on his cheeks. “I have grown very fond of the Old Ways,” she admitted to the watching Sand Snakes. “I think I will soon announce my conversion.”
“That will be a complete scandal,” Tyene said with a smile. Then she frowned. “And I will not be here to see it.”
Margaery gestured for her to walk with them. “Must you leave so soon?”
“Perhaps I can stay until the moon turns? My father ordered me to deliver his loot to Uncle Doran,” Tyene admitted. “Before I return to him in Pentos.”
“Loot?” Jon asked in interest.
“Yes,” Tyene grinned. “Mopatis’s manse has proven quite lucrative and my father felt it was only just to use Mopatis’s wealth to see his slaves free and settle into their new lives.”
“Slaves? How terrible! Did he have very many?” Margaery asked.
“Over three thousand.” Tyene nodded and she gestured to the black armored man still guarding her shadow. “He had three thousand Unsullied alone.”
Jon regarded the black armored man warily. “I understand the Unsullied are the best soldiers alive in Essos.”
The man flicked his eyes to Tyene for permission and only answered Jon after she nodded. “We are,” he confirmed. “But my prince has shown me that there is a great difference between a soldier and a warrior. It is my goal one day to be both, to his standard.”
“What is your name?”
“My name is Shield, Prince Jon.”
“If you like, Shield, you can join myself and the Kingsguard in our daily training in the morning. Perhaps we can teach you a surprise or two to give Prince Oberyn upon your return to him.”
Again, Shield looked to Tyene for permission before responding. Clearly, he needed lessons in what it meant to be a free man.
“It would be my pleasure, Prince Jon.”
“Very well, I will send a page for you in the morning.” Jon stopped and kissed her cheek. Then he gave Tyene another forehead kiss. “I must leave you now. I have a traitor to dispose of.”
Tyene sighed dreamily once Jon was gone from view. “You are the luckiest wench in all of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“I am aware,” she agreed lightly and they both giggled. “Now, you should know that your cousin, Princess Arianne, is here.”
“She is?” Tyene looked utterly flummoxed by the news.
“She is. Would you like to join us for lunch? So, that you may become reacquainted? I understand the two of you are close.”
“I would love to reacquaint myself. With my cousin, Arianne. And find out exactly what she thinks she is doing here.” Tyene’s sweet face had gone sharp with suspicion.
“I too would like to know,” Margaery admitted.
“Whatever it is, it is her own plot,” Tyene assured her as they started walking again. “My father has made it very clear that Jon is safe from our family. That safety extends to you.”
“I will endeavor to remind Jon of that when she inevitably attempts to murder me,” she said sardonically.
Tyene giggled. Then she sobered. “Let us hope it does not come to that.”
“It is an insult!” her father Mace blustered at breakfast the next morning. “I want to be his Hand, not his lickspittle! And to be passed over for a place on the Small Council for my own mother—?”
“Come now,” her grandmother Olenna spoke up acerbically. “Let us not fool ourselves. We all know your many qualities and being Hand of the King matches none of them. But drinking and feasting? That you can do.”
“Father,” Margaery tried a different track before he could express further fury. “Do you truly wish to take on the stress of being Hand of the King? It has only been a few short months and the job is already making Lord Tyrion’s hair fall out.”
Her father reluctantly reached up to pat his still rich brown curls.
“You love boar hunting and hawking, and you will be close confidant to the king that will one day soon be your goodbrother. Does that not sound much more appealing than being in meetings and writing laws all day as Hand of the King?”
Mace Tyrell stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Perhaps you are right. I have never hunted in the Kingswood before.”
“Who has?” Loras asked indolently as he took his seat. “I hear the boar there grow to the size of horses. What great fun that would be.”
“It would be good for the family,” Lady Olenna agreed. “You help us keep the king happy while we rid ourselves of this foreign contagion that has corrupted King’s Landing so that your grandson may rule on a peaceful throne.”
“It would be much better in the long run,” Lord Mace agreed, “for the family.
“Yes,” he continued imperiously—as though any of it had actually been his idea. “I will befriend the king. You will continue to render good service to the crown and ingrate yourselves in Jon Baratheon’s life. It is simply the best use of our resources here in King’s Landing.”
“Thank you, father,” Margaery gave him her best little girl smile. “You are most wise.”
“Yes, yes. I must go speak with Prince Jon and see if he will arrange a meeting for me with his father, King Robert. We all have much to do and I expect us all to do it well.” And he left, without even eating the food on his plate.
Margaery shot her brother her best exasperated face and Loras laughed out loud.
“Fat, foolish Flower,” Lady Olenna steamed as she pulled a grape off of the bunch on her plate.
“At least he is being useful?” she tried. Her father infuriated her too, always reaching for things he never earned but…he was her father.
“Assuming he does not cock it all up,” Lady Olenna harrumphed. “About your Dornish issue.”
Margaery leaned forward, “Yes?”
“I have had my people sowing rumors about your impending marriage. Implying it will happen sooner rather than later. If she is truly here to trap your prince, this will force her hand. Be prepared.”
“Do you believe she could be here for anything else?”
“Not that I have been able to find.” Lady Olenna frowned. “Keep your Kingsguard close, my rose. And your brother closer.”
“Any progress on Loras’s betrothal to Robb Stark?”
Her grandmother huffed. “Your father refuses to discuss it, claims it to be unnatural and against the Will of the Seven. Your brother Willas has promised he will approve of the betrothal as soon as he takes over as lord, but he does not have the power to push the issue yet.
“Lord Stark is cautiously approving.”
“He is probably waiting until he can meet with Robb to discuss it,” Loras offered them. “It would be a bold move for the North to reveal themselves and the depth of the Old Ways by marrying their heir to a man, particularly to a southerner. He would want to be sure Robb is prepared for all possible difficulties.”
“It does rather cause difficulties for the line of succession,” Lady Olenna offered dryly.
“Oh!” Margaery realized she should mention her idea. “You are aware that our Elinor is the King’s current mistress?”
Her two dearest family members both nodded.
“We know that once she produces a child for him, her marriage prospects will be limited. But the North has a process for Lords married to men that give them legal, trueborn heirs without marrying a woman. Elinor could be that woman for Robb and Loras, giving them offspring that are the product of both bloodlines.”
“I like it,” Lady Olenna decided. “It is a neat solution.
“I will need to learn more about this process. I will write Lord Stark about it and include our offer on Elinor’s behalf should he accept Loras for his heir.”
Loras shot her a grateful smile and she nodded to him. Of course, she would take up her dearest brother’s cause. She was already looking forward to teasing him for being the Lady of Winterfell for the rest of his entire life.
“What about the Faith issue?” Margaery asked.
“We have started,” Lady Olenna confirmed. “I admit I am someone confused by your Jon’s firm conviction of women’s equality. It is a strange trait to find in a man, particularly in a prince. Are you sure he is not…like your brother?”
“Oh, no,” she hastened to assure. “He has assured me that he likes both and is actively interested in an exclusive marriage to me.”
“That is a relief,” Lady Olenna admitted. “I would not want you to get your heart broken, my dear.”
“Apparently, he witnessed a birth once,” Loras said lazily. “He has never specified who, but that event seems to have informed his opinion on this matter. If you ask him, he would say that women are more powerful than men, but he is willing to settle for acknowledged equality.
“That was what he said when I asked him, to be true.”
Lady Olenna looked reluctantly impressed. “A man of sense. Such a rare thing in a head that will wear a crown.
“Very well. Here is what we will do about this Dorne issue…”
“How are you finding the capital?” Margaery asked as she waited for Princess Arianne to pour them both goblets of wine.
She had been in full wedding planning mode all day and had been more than a bit of an arsehole with it—per her grandmother’s instruction. Honestly, she felt somewhat bad about it.
She had wondered aloud before they set the plan into motion if provoking someone into a rash action truly made that person’s action treason but, as Loras had pointed out, if said person had not be already planning treason it would not cross their mind when provoked.
“Stressful,” Princess Arianne admitted with a smile over her shoulder. “I understood you and Prince Jon were not to marry for a few years yet.”
Margaery took the goblet Princess Arianne offered her like she was going to drink of it but pulled it away to answer before drinking. She noted a flash of irritation across the other woman’s face. “That was the plan, of course. However, my grandmother is getting no younger and she so desperately wants to see me safely married with a child or two before she is called by the Stranger. These things take time she might not have, so…”
“I understand,” Princess Arianne said kindly. “I wish my mother could come to my eventual wedding. Not that I am betrothed but, still…”
“I am closer to my grandmother than I am to my mother. Not that I would wish to disappoint either of them but, still.” Margaery almost took another sip before she sat the glass down completely. “Now that I think on it, I have not had my taster try this wine.” She pushed the glass towards Princess Arianne. “Would you mind tasting it for me?”
“I am sure it would be fine. The wine was found here in your solar, after all.”
“No, I insist.”
“Truly, my lady—”
“Come, cousin,” Ser Obara said from behind Princess Arianne. “She insists.”
Margaery did not remove her eyes from the Princess even when she heard Ser Brienne clomp into place behind her, nowhere near as stealthy in plate as her partner was in her white Dornish-style leather armor.
“You cannot make me act as a common taster,” Arianne scoffed. “I am no disposable lowborn.”
“But you just said you were sure it was fine for me to drink.” Margaery blinked innocently. “If it truly is fine for me, there cannot possibly be anything in it to keep you from drinking…is there?”
Princess Arianne of Dorne glared at her but her choices were to confess that there was something wrong with the wine and how she knew there to be such or to drink from the cup. Either way she would not live to see the morning.
Defiantly, she picked up the cup and threw the entire thing back.
She was fine.
“As you see,” she started. Then she began to cough. “There was nothing—” she coughed harder, clutching her throat.
Margaery would think she was choking on food, had she eaten at any point in their time together.
And there was no food on the table.
Princess Arianne collapsed and fell out of her chair. She flailed on the floor as her body struggled to breathe and failed. Obara pushed her over with a foot and they watched as blood fled from her nose and mouth before she went still and died.
Jon burst in a moment later with two swords drawn, both bloody. It was unbearably attractive.
Then he growled. “What. Happened.”