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The Crow Speaks Backwards

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Aegon would have cautioned his brother against further displays of skill, but his attention snapped to the bright star in the sky. The reddish glow, somewhat tampered by the glow of its brethren strewn all around it, flared gently. He did not like one bit the look of it. Instead of ruminating on the dangers of comets, he turned his attention back to Jon, pushing Alys' horse harder and harder still. His own beast was breathing hard, muscles bunching. They would not last much longer if they kept such a pace.

Gazing at Rhaenys, he ventured a question. "How close are we?" She narrowed her eyes, presumably against the cutting wind and pursed her lips ever so slightly. Having already given to Jon all the coordinates she could think of, she likely did not enjoy being pestered for any further knowledge.

"Close enough," she answered. Aegon could not say what compelled her, except that her mien softened and she gave a light shake of her head. "He's going much too fast."

He found he could do little but shrug. Anger tumbled off of his brother and only a fool would attempt to slow him down. And Aegon had serious doubts Thoas would stop without Jon wanting the beast to. "Not as fast as he would wish."

Digging his heels in his horse's flanks, Aegon struggled to keep pace with Jon. Reaching his brother proved to be much bother for too little reward. "Jon, are you trying to break your neck?" he questioned, over the wind howling in his ears. "More importantly, are you trying to break ours?"

His brother glowered, but otherwise ignored the question. As Rhaenys has said though, having entered the ring of trees sometime past, the distance was closing fast between them and the woods witch's hut was melting away. He merely hoped none of them would lose their head from a well applied branch to the face. Thankfully, it seemed to be the case that a small structure, in the fashion of a molehill, split the dark, mostly for the fact a soft, golden glow came from behind a gap in its wall, likely indicating there was no true door to the small hut. He wondered whether the door had been taken down by some poor peasant afraid his cows had been cursed or if it simply was that the witch had never had a door to begin with.

Jon was slowing down. Aegon muttered a curse under his breath at his brother's deftness on a horse and wondered not for the first time whether he should have pressed for a few lessons from the esteemed Lady Lyanna himself. It would certainly help, he though, if he were not forever holding his breath every time Jon recklessly both himself and the steed. Although even Lady Lyanna might look on with some worry. In the end he could but sigh and bring his own mount to a halt. Jon waited for no one. He dismounted with a few graceful moves and tethered Thoas to a thin branch which would likely result in the horse pulling the tree down rather than being kept at bay.

Thoas' nostrils flared and he kicked at the ground, hooves splitting the soft earth. Aegon moved his own horse a safe distance away, noting that there was a distinct lack of stillness. The leaves rustled, a cool offering aid, the horses neighed and most of all fire crackled. Naturally, a woods witch would not meet much difficulty obtaining wood, but the sound was so loud he had to wonder at its source. Annoyed when his thoughts strayed to impossibly unlikely reasons, he turned towards Rhaenys, meaning to aid her down. Alas, his sister had found aid from Robb Stark.

Far be it from Aegon to resent Jon camaraderie with his kin, but did the man have to trail after them as though he were part of their inner circle. Without doubt Jon would have protested were he to suggest they bring Quentyn along. Sudden movement commanded his attention. Aegon was looking in his sister's face. Rhaenys grimaced softly.

No sooner had he regained his concentration that quiet shuffling indicated their presence had been noted. Turning on his heel, Aegon pinned the figure emerging from the dimly lit hovel with a hard stare. White-faced Elaena met their arrival with wide eyes and shortness of breath. In fact, he thought it a slightly exaggerated reaction.

"Jon!" the girl cried out, lunging for her brother. "What are you doing here?" What a strange reaction, to single out only him. Jon must have thought the same, for he caught her mid-distance and lifted her off the ground. Her feet kicked helplessly.

"What am I doing here?" Might be fear was not an exaggerated reaction. Jon gave the girl a good shake. "Mother's mercy, you must have gone daft." If she hadn't she was sure to in the near future. "Where is the other one?" Elaena, however, clamped her lips shut and shook her head. Instead of asking her once again, Jon simply passed her to Rhaenys who had ventured closer.

He strode forth. Aegon followed, not entirely certain he could leave him be. Beside, Elaena had looked truly frightened and it made little sense that her sister had not come out with her. The interior of the small abode was just what he had expected, save for the body lying in the middle of it, with the hunched form of his sister hovering over it.

The filth surrounding him made his skin crawl. As a general rule, he could not abide such chaos and the added insult of disgusting odour was not helping matters. "What is going on here?" he finally found his voice.

Rhaella jumped, guiltily gazing up at them. Biting hard into her lower lip, she stood gently, as though any sudden movement might frighten the corpse at her feet. "We have to go." In spite of her appearance, her voice was steady.

"That is not an answer," Jon railed. Nevertheless, he knelt by the body, placing his hand upon the woman's forehead.

A gasp from behind preceded Aegon's realisation that Rhaenys had entered as well. "Is she dead?"

"We have to go," Rhaella insisted further, stepping around Jon. "Now. As quick as we can." She sounded desperate enough, for whatever reason. However, Aegon could not foresee any leniency in the near future. Jon shifted, attracting his attention.

"She is," Jon confirmed, standing. "And we are not leaving until I know what your purpose was in coming here." He turned upon Rhaella who shrank from him. "What happened?"

Their sister hugged herself. Poor protection as that was it seemed enough for her to proceed, "She was scrying. Whatever she saw did this to her." She nodded towards the corpse.

"Scrying?" That came from their Stark kin. He sounded scandalised rather than curious. And even someone as accepting as Aegon himself found it difficult to accept such an answer.

"She was old," Rhaenys cut in, "'tis not such a surprising thing that she would fall so suddenly." Her voice was shaking. "We had best cover her with something and send men here come morning. Better to put some distance between us sooner rather than later."

"Jon has the right of it. We cannot leave until we know precisely why you came here, Rhae." Woods witches could be useful in a variety of situations, none of which gave Aegon much confidence. At the same time, being that it was Rhaella he was speaking to, he found himself standing before her incredulous of the whole matter at hand.

Before he could say anything further though a shriek came from without. Aegon turned instinctively, searching for Elaena. All that managed to do was upset his balance and he found himself falling. A strange occurrence, made even stranger by a wave of unbearable heat and further noise. And only then did he realise that the ground was shaking. It was impossible that all of them had fallen.

Scrambling off the ground, half afraid that whatever had caused the disruption would see even more damage visited upon them, he grabbed at Rhaenys' arm and pulled her after him, feeling her stumble in his wake. A deafening sound followed, like nothing he had ever heard before. It seemed the heavens had decided to rain flint and stone down upon them, strong light blinding him. In that moment of incomprehensible confusion, he clung to his sister, doing his best to find solid ground and protection.

Aegon opened his eyes slowly. He noted the strange bent of a tree and the fact that but one horse remained out of four. Thoas sat before Elaena, as though resting after a hard day's work. The girl had her fingers curled in his mane. A short distance away from her, Robb Stark dusted himself off, bewilderment playing upon his features.

Muscles corded at another sharp sound. This was rather than surrounding him, like a pack of hungry wolves, struck from behind. Unlike the din from before, booming and all-encompassing, the blast rattling his brains inside his head put him in the mind of a smack. Forcing himself to his feet, Aegon turned to look at the hovel. The blood froze in his veins.

"Jon! Rhae!" He headed for the wreckage, his side exploding with pain. Aegon ignored the ache and pushed on. He could almost make out the form of his sister, more by the discrepancy in height from one collapsed side to the other. "Rhaella!" he tried getting an answer.

Rhaenys, fleeter of foot for once, jogged to the mound of earth and bits of rock. Thankfully no great boulder had landed upon the heap. His sister frantically removed handfuls of dirt, throwing back small rocks. A hand broke through the layer of grime. Aegon took hold of it and tugged until he managed to free Rhaella. Filth-streaked faced and shaken, Rhaella managed a few words of gratitude as she was given into Rhaenys' care.

Jon was there as well. Alas, unlike Rhaella, he could not quite manage to move. Unable to make out just what was wrong with him, Aegon took hold of his shoulder. Another set of hands grabbed at the other shoulder. Robb Stark stood shoulder to shoulder with Aegon, waiting patiently for a sign. "The horses?"

"Her Grace said she would look for them." Not understanding to which of his sisters the man referred, Aegon simply gave a nod. A groan came from Jon, reminding him that there was little time for senseless prattling.

Together with the Northerner heir, he managed to dislodge Jon from the debris. His brother showed no gratitude, but instead gave a long-suffering moan. However, he did open his eyes, which gave Aegon reason to hope whatever wounds he had sustained, they had not been particularly grievous. While his brother pulled himself together with the aid of his kin, Aegon turned to survey his sisters. Rhaenys was tugging on the reins of a horse, muttering inaudibly. Rhaella sat in the grass next to Elaena who was still clutching Thoas, seemingly lost in thought. Godsamercy, what had that been?

It seemed not only his brains had been scrambled, but his horse had taken off. Aegon gave a low whisper, hoping to attract the beast's attention. What he did attract, however, was a very distinctively-garbed number of knights. A low groan stuck in the back of his throat. Of course someone had told father. He kept a steady gaze upon the approaching figures.

"This gives a whole new meaning to bringing the house down," Oswell Whent noted drily, appearing for all intent and purpose as though he went through similar experiences every single day. Aegon blinked uncertainly, the absolute normality of his reaction stark in the abnormal situation. "Your Graces have been very busy, I see."

Jonothor Darry, meantime, had lifted Elaena in his arms, speaking in a low voice to Rhaella who was still sitting in the grass. Rhaella looked from the knight to the horse and then back to the man. Aegon rubbed his side absently, hissing at the slight ache. Nowhere near enough to indicate a break but sufficiently disruptive to be annoying. Grumbling under his breath, glanced at the destruction they would soon leave in their wake. Should he indicate that a body remained buried beneath the rubble? The witch was already dead.

Jaime Lannister was the last to arrive. He eyed their surroundings, vaguely irritated. Whether that was because of the circumstances, or because of the fact he had been dragged from what must have been a warm bed, Aegon could not tell. He did not necessarily need to know either. The knight stopped before him, a question upon his lips. "How is it that no matter your age, you children still manage to find trouble?"

"Trouble finds us." He winced at the slight crack in his voice. "This one we did not court, I swear." Ser Jaime gave him a blank look, indicating he did not much care for an explanation. Just like him to so easily dismiss another's words. "How did His Majesty take it?"

"Now you are interested in the consequences?" The man shook his head. "A little too late for that. His Majesty will doubtlessly have a few words to say to you all." Aegon clenched his teeth together, in part to keep from voicing his frustration. "If Your Grace will excuse me, I must make certain everyone is in some satisfactory degree of health."

A snort escaped him and he shambled towards Rhaenys. His sister rubbed the back of her neck, looking as tired and put upon as he felt. "How is this for an eventful evening?" he questioned with a listless chuckle.

"Now is truly not the time for humour, Aegon. We could have died." She had managed to get some dust off her skirts but she still looked worse for wear. But at least she was alive. And he was alive. And everyone that mattered was alive.

"And unlike the old hag, we would have likely felt the terror of it too," he continued in the same vein. Come, come; this is nothing to father's ire and you know it." He pushed down the thought of his sire's rage. No use in thinking of what had yet to come.

"You never let up, do you?" Despite the words, her mood was somewhat lighter. "We should at least prepare some manner of coherent excuse for father to hear," she ventured. Her horse neighed softly as though in agreement.

"Much too late for that." He would not believe them. Might be more importantly even if he did believe they'd had noble intentions, Aegon was supremely aware of the fact he was returning his sisters bruised and battered, looking as though they'd crawled through muck. "It's a miracle we still have all out limbs. But in all fairness, how that will help when we are locked away never to see sunlight again I do not know."

"You never know. Father might prove more understanding than you think. After all, the girls were missing and we acted with the best of intentions." She looked at the crushed hut. "Even if the outcome was less than brilliant. Besides, we did not do anything wrong. Unless you believe whatever the witch had been doing caused all of this and our sisters helped."

"You do not think it is possible?" That anyone could have such command over nature's forces should not be possible in the least. And yet, to have such a timing, what else could it have been? Aegon blinked slowly. His side was not the only thing that pained him.

Rhaenys took a few moments to contemplate her answer. In the end, upon a sigh, her voice barely a thread, she said, "I wish I knew."

Having finished his inspection of horseflesh and non-horseflesh, Jaime Lannister hauled Rhaella to her feet, announcing that lingering would do them no good. Aegon thought for a moment to protest. But Ser Jaime was unshaken by recent events and he did not feel at all the thing. Besides Jon was closer and he had little reaction other than a glower. Rhaella did not seem particularly distressed either at the rough handling. Likely as not she took it for punishment. His poor misguided sister; she had no idea what a true sanction entailed.

"Should we not mention the body?" Rhaenys asked gently.

"Bless me, but I think we ought to wait. She's just a woods witch." A witch who had brought some sort of curse upon them and nearly had them crushed by a tree. Aegon was not feeling particularly charitable. Might be on the morrow, with some sleep. If he was not confined to his camber for all eternity that was.

"I have a bad feeling about this." As predictions went, he could live with it. It was just vague enough that he might find some manner to weasel his way out of trouble should he be able to convince father the situation was just one big misunderstanding. "Would that this unpleasantness were over."

Oswell Whent approached, whistling. He had somehow managed to find Aegon's horse too. "If 'tis conclusion you're wanting, Your Grace," he addressed Rhaenys with a slight mocking bow, "if might help to beg some mercy."

"From father?" his sister asked, perplexed.

Whent chuckled. "From the Mother, lass. His Majesty is not like to have a drop of it and he was in a fine temper when we were sent off."

"Leave off, you old bat," Darry interrupted. "'Tis not like to be worse than a healthy walloping, Your Grace."

"I beg your pardon?" Poor Rhaenys, she failed to realise Whent and Darry were finding considerable amusement at their expense.

"A few strokes of the cane, might be," Whent continued, his expression giving nothing away. "A sure method."

"Not quite as sure as you might think," Aegon cut their jest off. "Seems to have no effect on some."

When shrugged unapologetically while Darry raised an eyebrow. Good heavens, they would be very fortunate indeed if a few canes were all they got for their stellar effort that night.