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The Crow Speaks Backwards

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Viserys laughed, bringing an arm around the whore's waist. He accepted the wine she offered and drank deep from the cup. "And what shall I do with you?" he questioned, thumb stroking over the stone encrusted gold. He kept his gaze locked to Doreah's, a mild smile upon his face. What a foolish girl.

"Anything Your Grace desires," she answered eagerly, blue eyes twinkling with delight at her perceived victory when his hand fell upon her knee, fingers curling over the well-formed bone, over the elegant line. "I wish nothing more but to serve you." And he wanted little else but to tumble her. However, unlike the pillow girl, he had no illusions about the purpose of it, nor was he foolish enough to grow attached.

"Now, Doreah, my girl, is your master not a kind man? Is he not a good host?" He lifted his hand from her knee and pushed back a stray strand of hair, admiring the way firelights played upon her tresses. "What manner of guest would I be if I stole you from his service?" He had no need of a whining mistress trotting at his heels.

Women, for the most part, were trouble. The ones he had no recourse but to endure the sight of proved that. "A very wise guest, I should think," Doreah huffed, throwing her arms about his shoulders and plastering her front to his. Despite her height, she managed to make herself look small and vulnerable. "I would not be much trouble, Your Grace. I shan't demand what cannot be given, nor will I attempt to remain where I am not wanted." She looked up, trying to covey to him sincerity.

He could dismiss her. He could have her beaten for her impertinence. He could do to her whatever he wished. Alas, he would remain Illyrio's houseguest for some time yet and he was not at all certain he wished to pass the night away alone. With that I mind, he gathered Doreah closer to him, before lifting her up in his arms, chuckling at her shriek and the wine spilling from the tipped-over cup.

"It looks to me as though you shall have to prove your worth," he jabbed lightly. For one brief moment, as she grinned up at him he felt a pang in his chest. But then he recalled the sight of his brother as last he'd seen him, after his lady's departure and he slammed a lid upon the wayward feeling, knocking it back into submission. He refused to tie himself to a woman, any woman, no matter her finer qualities. In the end, if he suffered, he would be alone in that.

Satisfied with that for the time being, he placed Doreah upon the bed and began preparing himself for what would follow. Turning from the sight of the disrobing pillow girl, he shrugged out of his own garments, thanking the Seven for the heat that permeated every corner of the continent, elsewise he might have turned into an ice creature.

Following through with an instinct older than he, Viserys satisfied the fleeting desire, taming the passions. Morning found him enjoying the sleep the wicked, not at all bothered when a servant entered, carrying a laden tray. He peered out through one eye and upon seeing no directions would be needed from him, turned on his other side, hiding away from the pouring sunlight.

"Do you know, Your Grace, that the early bird catches the worm?" he heard his companion's voice and recalled that she would not be easily dissuaded. Viserys groaned into his pillow, thinking for a moment to ignore her existence. That would not help matters though, he decided upon further inspecting the solution.

He could give in. He would hardly be the first man to keep a mistress. Arguably his brother dwelled with one for, abiding with nary a pang of conscience. And Doreah was not half as dangerous as Lyanna Stark. Having none of the woman's wits and liking for useless trinkets and baubles, she would likely be placated with a few coin once he tired of her or found himself ordered into marriage with a carping sow, as one was wont to find in the kingdoms.

He shuddered at the thought, forcing himself to rise. Eyes fastening upon Doreah, he flung away the thin golden sheets covering him and rolled out of bed, unashamed of his nudity as he strode towards her. "Dragons have no need for worms," he spoke softly, walking past her towards the servant holding up his clothing.

It took a few tugs to have the creature allow him his way, but since he'd consistently refused to allow anyone to aid him in clothing himself, this time as well he could do as he wished. "I should enjoy some air."

He washed his face and shook his head at the servant's offer to shave him. Ignoring Doreah's attempt to catch his attention, he made his way through the door. His escape assured. Viserys stifled a yawn before rubbing the back of his neck with vigour. He was growing too old for half the tomfoolery he'd enacted the previous night.

The antechamber stood between him and the hall leading to relative safety from Doreah and her demands and Illyrio and his schemes. He would rather take a walk, as he'd said before, than place himself in any of the two's path. Without further thought, he strode into the hall, not surprised to see Ser Barristan staunchly guarding the door. Ever imposing in his knight's garb, the man had lost little by the thinning line of his hair or its whiteness. The truth was he carried his age well.

"A fine morning, is it not?" he asked by manner of greeting, covering up yet another yawn. He would be doing that with gradually decreasing frequency until midday, he well knew.

"Aye, Your Grace." Ser Barristan nodded for emphasis, keeping his eyes upon him at all times.

"I was thinking we could walk. It would be a pity to spend such a pleasant day indoors." Every day was as sunny as the last. It seemed as though the summer would last a thousand years. The long summer that was awaited by all. Viserys clapped a hand upon the older man's shoulder. "Even you must find aught to enjoy in these parts."

"The wine is very fine," the Kingsguard allowed after a brief pause. "Did Your Grace have a location in mind?"

"I cannot claim to." Just as long as it put a sure distance between him and matters he would rather not pursue at the moment, Viserys was more than fine with it. "I hear the market will be filled with wonders. I, for one, could do with a trinket or two to take back."

There would be no horses or strange beasts. Alysanne would have doubtlessly loved a new creature to add to her collection of strange beasts to parade about and give her father reason to grey before his time. The younger Rhaella took care of her departed sister's pets out of duty rather than love. She was a much milder creature, her sole seemingly to make life as easy for those about her as she could manage. A much too serious child frightened of very much and trusting very little. It had always been a thing of wonder to him that she and not bonded that much closer with her his brother's second son. They were two bird of a feather, after all.

Illyrio's servants offered the use of a litter, which was politely refused and then the use of a guard to which Viserys answered that he could be placed in no better hands than his knight's before, amid many a protest, he left the merchant's estate in search of adventure and a few gifts to take back home.

To his credit Barristan Selmy regarded the whole outing with greater understanding that Viserys thought possible from a man of his experience. "Each age brings its own set of joys," the Kingsguard revealed when pressed to, "and you are not all that different from another man I recall being quite enamoured of indulging in a moment or two of adventuring."

Pausing midstep, Viserys wondered at the implications. Instead of asking for clarifications, he settled for a brisker pace, weaving through the throngs of people. The morning sun cast its glow upon the waking world, insistent and demanding. Merchants were already pushing their carts about, fishwives praising their wares in loud voices. For himself, he watched the procession with passing interest, thinking that he hadn't long yet.

While his brother's last letter had not demanded his return, the words rather implied an impatience which would not be tested lightly. But then Rhaegar had always been stubborn to fault. It showed in his various dealings with the lords of his court, it showed even in his dealings with close kin. Viserys half expected Aegon to rebel against his father's strict control. But that one had too much of his father in him to outwardly display resistance.

Rhaenys was the one more likely to protest for she was not quite as calculated as her brother and prone to following the unfortunate example set by her beloved uncle. The Red Viper had certainly taken his revenge for the humiliation his sister had endured. Of course, he'd likely not stopped to think the woman had been well-compensated for her loss, but then one should not expect miracles.

Delving further into the lively hustle and bustle, he paused every now and again to admire some piece or another, mind still returning to his brother's urgings that he settle his affairs and return to court.

Was it marriage the King had in mind? He'd certainly been afforded more time than Rhaegar ever had. And he'd had leeway enough to satisfy a hundred sons over. Rhaegar had only specified two conditions his potential bride should adhere to. The first was that she could not be of common blood and the second was that she be decently dowered. Having already assured his brother he meant to chase no Jennys about the countryside, Viserys was not awfully concerned in that regard. Sooner rather than later he would return to court and he had a mind to allow Daenerys to come up with suggestions. That girl was running about court; she ought to know which one of the present females would make a good candidate.

And if it came to it, he would simply close his eyes and sign whatever papers his brother put before him. That was easiest, was it not? Certainly very few men of means were handed a partner of their choosing. His brother had only managed to snare the she-wolf because the both of them were utterly mad. And look where that landed him. Reduced to pining after a woman whose concerns were as far from her husband as could be.

With a shake of his head, Viserys continued his perusal. Lyanna Stark might not be a bad woman, or a bad mother, but she was certainly a bad spouse. For whatever reason, her heart was shut away behind thick stone walls as far as her husband was concerned. He recalled the young woman who had arrived to King's Landing in garbs fitting a devout sister. She had smiled to him and looked upon his brother with such warmth that even an innocent such as he'd been was left in no doubt as to where she stood. And he certainly recalled that his brother's joy had been far from feigned in those first moon turns. Even after their firstborn came along, there had been little doubt those two held one another in deep affection.

What had changed?

"Your Grace?" A hand pressed down upon his shoulder. "Are you well?"

"Lost in thought," Viserys chuckled. "I don't suppose you've any idea about what might constitute a good gift for my good-sister?" The Kingsguard blinked. He offered no answer. Viserys sighed; he wondered what the chances of escaping unscathed were if he offered Rhaegar a leash, to keep his wayward companions close, of course. Dare he go so far?

In the end he settled for more conventional gifts, fearful that not all hearts were as well-disposed as his towards a drop or so of silliness. Best not to make his brother's situation any harder than it already was. Not to mention he had no notion of when precisely his good-sister would return. Last he'd heard she had written that she was with child, yet again, and could not be expected to make the journey back. A good enough reason to remain safely sequestered in her brother's keep. Only that knowing his brother Viserys doubted her plan would last beyond the birth of her babe should she attempt extending her stay even further.

And even a saintly fellow like Eddard Stark was bound to tire of the woman's strange ways before long and have her packed off. Which would please his brother; in the end the devil one knew was preferable to the monster one did not. For himself, Viserys knew all manner of dangerous creatures and he was, fortunately, a diligent student of history. Naturally it followed that he would avoid the pitfall of so many predecessors and leave the court to his brother's capable hands.

It was not long after his return that he found himself in the company of Doreah once more. The pillow girl lavished her attention upon him, sweet smiles and bright eyes brought together in a concentrated effort to plead her case, whichever that might be. "Your Grace was gone for so long, I feared I was to be left behind after all," she admonished softly, her meaning clear enough even without the slight pause she added for effect.

"Doreah, Doreah; do you not know that one should not put too much pressure on the person you're trying to convince of doing aught you wish?" The girl gave him such a look that he could not help but chuckle. "A wise woman does not try to run before she can walk."

"A wise woman does not allow an opportunity to pass her by either." She did not force his hand any further though, which was just as well for before long their conversation was interrupted yet again.

To say he was mildly intrigued would be a lie; the moment Ser Barristan announced he was being asked for an audience, Viserys saw his chance. Doreah was sent on her way. "I should like you to remain in this chamber, ser. One never knows, does one, what dangers lurk in these parts."

The Kingsguard offered a vague answer, which might have been agreement. It seemed he had no wasted his time by visiting the temples. Pleased with the outcome, Viserys leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes for but a moment, concentrating on the light sound of footfalls without. They were almost enough to make him doubt he was hearing anything at all. The creak of the door could not be mistaken however.

When he regained his vision an interesting sight awaited him. He'd seen servants of the Red God before. The so called Lord of Light, God of Flame and Shadow, Heart of Fire. A rather pompous name for a rather pompous minor deity whose very name suggested trickery. But then Viserys was not particularly picky. Not at this stage at any rate. He allowed himself a short stretch of lips and accepted the woman's bow with a nod.

"I feel as though I have seen you somewhere before," he commented, eyeing the heart-shaped face intently. "Have our paths crossed before?" She was tall for a woman. He would have remembered someone of her uncommon description, he was sure; but though the sense of familiarity did not dissipate, nor did it deepen.

"It is in the nature of kindling to seek fire, Your Grace," came her answer, her voice surprisingly deep. She did not avoid his gaze, in fact seemed to search for it, holding it with her own. It would be a lie to claim himself undisturbed, yet he could hardly allow this stranger to best him.

"Kindling," he repeated. "I've no time for games. Why did you request an audience?" Whoever this woman was, whatever manner of god she served, she was trouble; that much he could tell with one single look.

"I wish to be of service." A simple, likely answer. "There are things in this world, Your Grace, one could not withstand without divine support. I mean to keep a lantern flickering in the sea of darkness I see ahead. Troubled time are coming."

"There's trouble as long as there's life." Viserys stood. He took a step towards her, more at ease once he towered over her. With all her height, she remained beneath dragons. "That still does not answer my question. Your vocation, whatever it might be, does not necessitate that you serve me, does it?"

"On the contrary, Your Grace, the flames have shown me the path. And I can lead you upon it." How awfully tempting. Viserys turned away from her, catching the Kingsguard's stare with his own. The question in his gaze was met with a slight shake of the head. "I have a story to tell Your Grace."

He laughed, unease settling low in his stomach. Despite the clear warning his knight offered, he could not help but turn back towards the copper-haired woman. "Only children are amused by tales. I am not in need of amusement."

"And you are no child either. Your Grace, it would be wise to listen nevertheless. The tale I bring concerns a great power, dark and cold and long since dead, and yet not and the hero who opposes it." He knew that story.

The one advantage his brother's folly offered was that a Northern bride brought with her enough chilling accounts of the living dead to keep one awake for nights on end. "As I said, I am a little too old for such tales. If that is all, then you may leave." The last he'd listened to tales of the long night he'd been a child in truth, clutching at the storyteller's skirts half-afraid the creaking without the small, dimly lit chamber was caused by strolling corpses. Lyanna Stark had stroked his hair in motherly fashion before assuring him such creatures were the stuff of legend and would not come to bother him.

"I am a learned woman, Your Grace. And more importantly a patient one." She nodded as though to signal she was taking her leave of them. For the time being, in any event. "If you have need of me, I shan't be far." He dismissed her with a flick of his wrist. Ser Barristan followed her.

What a strange creature. He did not like the look of her one bit. It was almost as though the warmth of the copper and red hues hid something beneath them. In before he might come to any manner of decision, a servant insisted upon disturbing him with yet another latter, lately arrived from King's Landing.

The previous letter had not arrived that far back. It must have been written shortly after the other one requesting his return. This one too bore his brother's seal, but within it he found no words. Rhaegar had sent him a single piece of a Cyvasse set Viserys knew only too well.

The ivory dragon had been broken in two uneven halves.

This was no mere request on his brother's side that he conclude his travel and return. He studied the bigger half of the ivory piece, running the pad of his thumb along the carefully carved lines. "I wonder how far he'd be willing to go." Might be he should test his brother's mettle.

Even if it was only smoke and ash, it was better than anything Pycelle had to offer, assuming the old fool knew not to endanger the she-wolf. He'd best see about preparations. Viserys tucked away the letter and placed the two halves of the dragon in his inner pocket. If ever there was an exciting time to be alive, this had to be it. Dorne would rejoice, the North would divide itself along old lines and his brother would have his hands filled. The prospect of returning home was sounding better and better with every passing moment.