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Down a Rabbit Hole to Westeros

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Lord Rodrik Harlaw is waiting for them on the shore, with plates of bread and salt ready. As they may stay for a number of days discussing what’s to be done with the Iron Islands, Stannis tells the captains of the Royal Fleet that were with him on Great Wyk to set out on patrol and inform the Redwyne and Lannister fleet and other associated warships, but to especially seek out Lord Tywin Lannister’s flagship to inform him as quickly as possible, that Pyke has fallen, Lord Balon has lost his head, and they are to return to their home ports after capturing needed lords for leverage in negotiations. Important hostages were to be held all together within Casterly Rock’s dungeons, their fates to be determined. As the King has plans for the Iron Islands, it is strongly ordered that further destruction of keeps and slaughter cease once surrender is clearly obtained. However, Stannis doesn’t have much hope on that; given Lord Lannister’s ways, he would expect Blacktyde, Orkmont, or Saltcliffe to be scoured, whichever one was unlucky enough to be chosen by Lord Lannister to vent his rage. His forces have too much experience from the Reynes and Tarbecks. The Greyjoy Rebellion is over. King Robert is to stay at Harlaw until such a time as what action to take about the Iron Islands are decided upon. Lord Tywin Lannister is invited as a Lord Paramount with grievances to the discussions regarding the future of the Iron Islands and to make his presence on Harlaw if he wishes.

Lord Harlaw’s sister is given her old chambers and her children are allowed to stay with her. Poor Lanny has silent tears dripping constantly and she clutches at her remaining children, rocking and moaning. Rodrik swallows as he leaves her chambers and makes way to the Great Hall to take his place at the high seat. His sons. His two strong, poor boys. Lost to him in the Drowned God’s Halls. It wasn’t right, for children to pass before parents. He passes his hand over his eyes before straightening his shoulders and raising his chin and passing through the door. He must be strong for this. Harlaw House and Island depends upon him, the High Lord Captain.

King Robert of course has his place of honor at Rodrik’s right hand. On Rodrik’s left is Lord Stark, as a Lord Paramount. To King Robert’s own right is space for Lord Lannister should he arrive. Lord Stannis is on Lord Stark’s left, across from King Robert as Master of Ships and then the rest of their table is filled, to Rodrik’s curiosity, with Florents. All of them. Rodrik also blinks when all of them and Lord Stannis take out notebooks and writing implements the likes of which he has never seen before. Thick metal styluses? But where are the ink pots? Curious.

“Right, then,” Robert says. “The meeting for What The Fuck Was Balon Greyjoy’s Problem has begun.”

“Your Grace,” Stannis growls.

“We’ll come up with a more dignified name for the historians later. But the question still stands. What was Balon Greyjoy’s problem? His father wasn’t a dumb cunt like that, last I knew,” Robert addressed Rodrik.

“Lord Quellon’s surviving sons believed in the Old Way, Your Grace.”

“What’s that?”

“The Iron Price. All things worth having are only worth having so long as they were taken by raiding and reaving. Lord Quellon wanted nothing to do with it. His sons saw him as weak. During your Rebellion, I heard tell Lord Quellon was unwilling to sail for any side, seeing as we never had much to do with greenlander business. His sons told him to raid so as not to lose out on plunder. He lost his life for the ambitions of his sons.”

“There a difference between the Old Way and piracy?” Robert asked.

“No,” Rodrik shook his head. “Ironborn who stood to gain under Balon’s leadership and with more than a little greed have decided that it is a thing that is in our blood. And not the practice of desperate sailors who have no useful purpose otherwise.”

“Now,” Robert scratches his chin. “I am of a mind to think that since I took off Balon’s head, this business is done and finished. But that is not so, as this pack of very knowledgeable fellows will tell you. So. I will let them say their piece.”

Robert then, to Rodrik and Lord Stark’s confusion, gets up from his chair and starts to walk a circuit around the room.

“Pay me no mind. I think and listen best on my feet.”

Rodrik looks at everybody else, confused at the irregularity. Lord Stannis’ expression is unsurprised and uninterested. The Florents similarly take no notice. Ser Jaime stands, consciously expressionless as usual while on duty.

Alekyne Florent introduces himself to Lord Rodrik before beginning.

“First of all, what would you say is the most pressing cause of piracy conducted by the Ironmen; customs and traditions or lack of resources? Do the Iron Islands suffer very often from famine, plagues, or other disasters?”

“Ironborn endure such ill fortunes and then they go reaving. The Islands make for precarious living and bad years force such action. A few do have the hot blood needed to reave for no reason. Mad killers who fear nobody and have nothing to lose, aye. That might be bred into certain family lines. I have not made a study of it. As of late, many Priests of the Drowned God have tried to gain favor from Lord Balon by preaching that to return to the Old Way is to return to greater favor from the Drowned God and that in turn means the rise of a stronger, better Iron Islands.”

“The ‘History of the Ironborn’ states that farming and mining is scorned as work fit only the lowest classes, the thralls. Is this true or outsider’s tales?”

“True for most. Maester Haereg is a respectable historian. I have found his account true to the stories I have heard from the better loretellers on these Islands.”

“So how do you maintain your holdings, Lord Harlaw?”

“Trade voyages,” Lord Harlaw replied easily. “and fishing. The mines. Harlaw is also the only island with fodder enough for breeding pit ponies. They are not fit for knights nor racing, but they are steady in temperament, strong for their size, surefooted, and hardy. They fetch good prices and if a winter is very harsh, they are not bad for eating.”

“What are the numbers of the bivalve colonies of the Iron Islands?”

“For food, you mean? I suppose when people get desperate enough Ironborn have resorted to eating those. I do not like such things myself. Chewy like tendon.”

“Not just food. Though for that, they are best with different preparation methods besides just boiling them. No, we suggest-”

Imry took out a box from his knapsack and passed it to Alekyne, who slid it over to Rodrik.

“A new industry specializing in desirable crafted goods that can only be got from the sea.”

Rodrik opened the box and there were examples of cameo carvings made out of mussel shells, mother of pearl earrings, necklaces, hair combs, and bracelets. As well as a string of pearls.

“Hmm,” Rodrik said, turning a larger cameo over to examine the back and how it is clear that it was made out of shell. “That can be possible. Make use of the shell and the meat. Makes sense. But would it be worth the trouble to trade?”

Robert stopped one of his circuits.

“If Queen Cersei, Lady Baratheon, and Lady Arryn show up in court decked out in seashell jewelry, you’ll have demand enough! Every lady wants to be in fashion.”

“And the pearls? I do not know that we have the oysters that yield pearls.”

“Then for the sake of the Iron Islands, the call for a hunt for pearl oyster colonies should be announced,” Alekyne suggested. “If there are oysters that produce pearls and you find out precisely what kinds, something surpassingly rare and therefore valuable will be of your holdings.”

Rodrik nodded.

“We do also believe- no. We know. We know that one can farm pearls.”

Rodrik blinked.

“Do you?”

Alekyne nodded eagerly.

“We’ve cut open pearls and examined them under magnifying glass lenses. It is clear that pearls are formed because sand or some other foreign debris gets stuck within the oyster and the response is to coat it with the natural substance that gives the pearl its luster. My cousin, Erren-”

Here, Erren stood and made a bow, grinning.

“Has found oysters on the island of Dragonstone and been jamming as varied objects as sand grains, glass beads, and pieces of other oyster shells into specimens to test. And here-”

Alekyne pulls out a different string of pearls from a pocket, smaller and some unattractively unevenly lumpy, but clearly pearls.

“Are some of the examples from just one year’s growth. Should one leave these farmed pearl oysters be, it is clear that larger, finer pearls fit for jewelry would be produced.”

He passes it to Rodrik. They watch as he turns the pearls over in his hand, feeling the smoothness of the pearls. He puts them to his teeth to test.

“Aye. Farmed pearls,” Rodrik looks up, quietly amazed. “What a time to be alive.”

“Do you believe that farming the creatures of the sea, like these bivalves, will be accepted by other Ironmen more than farming the land?”

Rodrik rubbed his chin. He could see how these Florents have been cleverly accommodating to the beliefs of the Ironborn. He also knew that they didn’t have to be; like King Robert, they could have washed their hands and left after the slaughter, left the Iron Islands to starve for another year or longer without fit men to bring back coin and goods from trading voyages and with fishing boats sorely short handed.

“It can be argued. Aye, I can certainly argue about the bounty of the Drowned God and how we’d be fools to ignore such gifts from the sea.”

“Excellent,” Alekyne grinned. “We can certainly assist in sending over craftsmen we trained in working with shells to you so that you can immediately begin training carvers for all the islands. As you have lost men… We would advise that the steady hands of women from sewing be encouraged to learn how to work the shells also.”

“Reasonable.”

“Now we may consider further inland-”

“Lord Tywin Lannister!” a guard announced.

“Well, he certainly hauled ass,” Erren muttered to himself, while Ser Colin shushed him.

Everybody stood to greet Lord Tywin as he walked into the room.

“Lord Tywin,” Robert grinned. “Had good hunting?”

“As well as can be expected,” Lord Tywin replied, taking the seat that Robert indicated for him. “You did not wait.”

Everybody took their seats, except for Robert. Robert smiled benignly, taking the brunt of Tywin’s displeasure over not holding up proceedings to wait for him. It was his prerogative as King to make it so and absolutely nobody was going to get him on his back foot over it.

“We figured out that Balon Greyjoy was a greedy cunt,” Robert ticked off his fingers. “Lord Harlaw has confirmed that piracy is practiced because the Ironmen are a desperate, starving folk, though some are also greedy cunts themselves. I’ll ignore the greedy cunts for the nonce and think on the desperate folk. These islands are bare; no good for farming. No meat or game enough to feed people. For the greater peace of the realm, the Florents have suggested and Lord Harlaw has agreed, that other sources of food and a new industry to produce valuable goods for trade be started and adopted by order of Lord Harlaw.”

“I do not recall agreeing to issuing an order nor that I could be obeyed. I said I may make arguments to the other lords,” Rodrik objected.

“I get ahead of myself,” Robert held up his hands, chuckling. “I have been advised that you, Lord Harlaw, as good-brother to the late Lord Balon Greyjoy, and a reasonable man who isn’t a greedy cunt, should be regent to your nephew Theon Greyjoy, heir to the Lord Paramountcy of the Iron Islands. Do you accept?”

“Aye,” Rodrik bowed his head. “I take on this responsibility and duty.”

“There,” Robert clapped Rodrik on the shoulder before continuing his circuit of the room. “We’ve caught up to what Lord Tywin has missed. Alekyne, go on.”

“We were about to discuss the state of the iron mines. Lord Harlaw, the practice of keeping thralls must end. In order to get thralls, they must be stolen from their lands. That must stop. Same thing with the taking of Salt Wives. Is that not reasonable?”

“I had not expected any demand otherwise,” Rodrik replied. “Will an order be made to return those who wish to the mainland?”

“We order it so,” Robert said as he walked past.

“That will cause unrest,” Rodrik warned.

“Which is why a rotating presence of the Royal Marines will be garrisoned at the Iron Islands,” Stannis said. “To maintain order and the King’s peace. Lands on key islands will be confiscated and placed directly under the Crown’s jurisdiction and governance for forts, barracks, and supply depots.”

Rodrik knew that the Iron Island lords will especially resent this, but they had made their decision to rebel, and this was the beginning of the price to be paid for their folly, so he nodded.

“Lord Lannister, it is here where we hope to have more of your involvement,” Alekyne respectfully addressed Tywin. “Is it fair to say that House Lannister are the best experts on mining in all of Westeros? With the best knowledge about the methods of pulling up more and better ore from mines, the best knowledge on how to prevent collapses and the like?”

“For thousands of years,” Lord Tywin replied.

Alekyne nodded to Robert, who spoke up.

“How would you respond to the idea of oversight over the mining operations of the Iron Islands? To have first pick of new veins opened, to have first pick of the ores produced? For a time period of perhaps up to fifty, but not less than ten years?”

“What of the existing mines?”

“As recompense for the attack on Lannisport, you would get the lion’s share of the proceeds from the sale of ores from those existing mines you improve, hah! The lords will get the rest of the proceeds from their holdings as they can traditionally expect, unless they get sent to the Wall. Now what say you to that?”

Rodrik could not avoid the slow swing of Lord Tywin’s head and the gleam of victory in his gaze.

“Acceptable.”

Here Rodrik felt a sinking in his heart, for now the Old Lion had his claws in the Iron Islands and he also knows that he was wroth over the audacity of attacking Lannisport. He will not do unto all of us what he did to the Reynes and Tarbecks, Rodrik desperately reassures himself. He has the mines to think of. He must preserve us, if he is to have us yield our iron. He must.

The Florents continued scribbling into their notebooks. Robert nodded at Alekyne to continue.

“The reputation of Ironmen as the great sailors of Westeros is not a false one. Lord Harlaw, you stated that you maintain your holdings through trade voyages, fishing, mining, and breeding of a specialized breed of pony. You will also institute new industries that will exclusively benefit the Iron Islands by producing desirable goods for trading. We would also offer you the ability to make trading the best choice of opportunity for the Iron Islands in another way.”

Here, Imry and Erren opened yet another, larger box that they brought in with them. They opened it and carefully took out a model ship and placed it in front of Lord Rodrik.

“I trust you have observed the Fury and the King Robert’s Hammer at dock?”

“Aye,” Rodrik was turning the model, leaning in to inspect it.

“Without the need to be crewed by fighting foot and with no dedicated rowers, these new trading ships will be the key to the Iron Islands’ recovery from Lord Balon’s bad decisions.”

Alekyne proceeded to lay out the advantages of these new ships who would practically fly, claiming an unprecedented 15 knots or better by wind alone using their taller masts with greater spread of sail. The model was narrow in hull and cooly elegant.

“I cannot believe such a ship can do what you claim it does,” Rodrik’s voice was flat. “She’ll capsize first hour out of port, her masts will shatter from the amount of sail.”

Left unsaid was the idea that no landlubbing greenlanders could properly build a ship.

“Her foremothers are the Fury and all the ships retrofitted for the Royal Fleet,” Alekyne replied. “The draft is deep and she’ll heel instead of capsizing. Ask the captains and crew that we have captured and are holding in Casterly Rock for what happened at Fair Isle. Our ships are faster, with half the number of rowers. That’s just with as much sail as we can safely retrofit to the broader and shallower builds of war galleys. With a ship built from the keel up for speed…”

Alekyne gestured emphatically at the model ship.

“Crewed properly and with good captains who know their business, this kind of ship will outrun storms and bring profits by carrying passengers, mail, spices, silk, and tea.”

“She’s not armed,” Rodrik reluctantly argued. “A sitting duck.”

“She’ll outrun everything else they can make in Essos. The most dangerous pirates were Ironmen. Now that Ironmen are to crew these ships, nobody can touch them. It is right that the sailors should defend the ships with axe and cutlass. The Royal Fleet is also vested in protecting the trading ships of the Seven Kingdoms, as well! The Royal Fleet will keep the trade lanes guarded!”

Rodrik sighed, turning the model, counting the extravagant spread of sail, up to five square sails on a single mast, with three masts.

“A beautiful dream, spun with pretty words. But the cost. It took five years after Balon ordered the building of the Iron Fleet for the warships to be completed. It’s now almost all sunk into the sea. We haven’t the ability to-” Rodrik pushed the model away. “Even with your ideas for seashell jewelry and farming for pearls, which would take years.”

“And that,” Alekyne spread his hands. “Is what the establishment of the Iron Islands Trading Company is for. Iron Island Houses would not need to individually attempt to build and crew these ships. Each ship can be built by pooled funds and the amount of profit is to be divided by proportion to the Houses, less the share for captain and crew.”

Rodrik was weakening. He shifted in his seat and put his fingers to his moustache.

“And to further reassure you that we trust in the design of these ships and the assumption of such risks, House Florent wishes to invest in each ship and cargo. Until your seashell and pearling industries become established, you can load up with cotton and wool goods produced by Florent holdings for trade in Essos.”

“House Baratheon will invest also,” Lord Stannis added. “At least, House Baratheon of Dragonstone and Storm’s End.”

“Hah. You think I don’t want in on this?” Robert called from across the room. “House Baratheon of King’s Landing will invest!”

“And House Tarly,” Imry piped up.

“And House Royce,” added Ser Colin. “Rhea has written.”

“Even House Arryn; Lady Lysa has been nagging Lord Jon about not being so reluctant about trade!” Erren raised his hand.

“Ned! Ned, you must join in!” Robert punched Ned’s arm after going to him with quick strides. “Afford to buy more glass panels to expand your glass houses. After all, Winter is Coming!”

Lord Stark blinked, not expecting to have much say.

“Well…”

“I will invest,” Lord Tywin said. “The Royal Fleet left the Redwyne and Lannister fleets behind. I saw how they maneuvered and their speed. My captains assured me that they have never seen ships so fleet. We need only build one ship of this kind to start, correct? Then we will see.”

“The proof will be in the pudding,” Alekyne nodded. “We do our utmost to not disappoint. One trade voyage, Essos and back.”

“The other Iron Island Lords must decide,” Rodrik finally said.

“I’m sure I can convince them,” Alekyne grinned.

“I’m sure you will, silver tongued as you are,” Rodrik replied. “When would this first ship begin construction?”

“After select Houses across the realm send a reply by raven to King’s Landing on how much they wish to invest and the resulting shares of cost of build out have been tallied to ensure fair deposition of profits from the maiden voyage? Immediately. All the required timber, canvas, rope, brass, and sundries are on standby at the Royal Shipyard on the Wendwater.”

“So soon?” Rodrik nearly reared back. “You’ve stockpiled an entire ship’s materials, waiting? You must be very sure that the Lords of the Iron Islands would say yes.”

Alekyne and the Florents all made varying insouciant shrugs and frankly shifty tilts of their heads.

“As the Iron Fleet would be decimated-” Alekyne began.

“There really isn’t any better choice is there-” Ser Colin added.

“If you all wanted to survive-” Erren put in.

“And avoid the Wall-” Imry quipped.

“You knew. You all knew what Balon was planning- How? For how long?” Rodrik’s voice rose, aghast.

“I was warned to expect an attack at Lannisport during the wedding feast of Lord and Lady Baratheon. Two years ago,” Lord Tywin stared at Rodrik with relish.

“We knew properly at least a year before that,” Erren piped up again, helpfully. “Merchants reporting taxes paid on the profits on timber, rope, canvas, and the usual shipbuilding materials sold to the Iron Islands, with writs of receipt from Pyke and all the major Iron Islands Houses. Even you, Lord Harlaw.”

Rodrik put a hand to his mouth, unconsciously trying to hide his gaping.

“Three years. Drowned God’s BALLS. The Royal Fleet’s improved ships, the speed of response-”

“I set sail on the day of the Lannisport attack,” Stannis said.

“And made it here, in less than a moon!?” Rodrik reared back. “From King’s Landing? You weren’t already patrolling by the Arbor?”

“Dragonstone.”

“Not a ship lost at the Stepstones or Shipbreaker Bay?”

“We went east of Tarth,” Stannis replied, starting to enjoy Rodrik’s goggling. “I admit it was risky to sail at night through the Stepstones, but I’ve had two years to chart out a course beforehand when the inevitable attack came.”

“Sailed at night!?”

Stannis made his own insouciant shrug.

“Drowned God’s big salty balls!” Rodrik closed his eyes, knocking his head backward into his high seat. “That’s some sailing.”

“Now think about what it would be like to build out a ship that does 15 knots to Essos,” Alekyne said. “With an experienced Royal Fleet navigator and the best charts from Royal Fleet use, for that particular ship!”

“... Best not,” Erren whispered to Imry. “His cock can get only so much more erect.”

Ser Colin elbowed Erren.

“House Stark will invest,” Ned finally said.

He did not understand half of all that nautical jargon, but watching Lord Harlaw’s overawed response to Lord Stannis’ replies was good enough for him. He didn’t trust Lord Lannister’s honor, but he did trust that the Old Lion knew what he was about when it came to gaining gold. And Robert was right; Winter is Coming. He ought to think on improving Winterfell’s glass houses.