“Land, riches, and a knighthood,” the town crier called out all over the Driftmark. “To any man or woman with Blood of the Dragon, who can tame a dragon to serve our great queen.”
Many men appeared before the dragons for such rewards and honors. Several of those men were soon burnt to a crisp or fled. Nettles wasn’t giving up so easily. She had chosen to purse the most ill-tempered dragon, Sheepstealer. He was a long thin dragon, while most like Cannibal were bulkier. He attacked the most would be dragon riders. Most men saw a vicious monster. She peered into the dragon’s eye and saw a familiar harsh life. Once the successful men left with their dragons, the dragons lairs were abandoned. Nettles remained and dragged over a sheep to the brown dragon. She pushed it near the Sheepstealer’s lair and walked slowly away. He snatched it up and devoured it. The next day, she slaughtered a ram and laid it outside his lair. She continued to slaughter sheep for the dragon for about week.
“Are you a dragon rider or a dragon wet nurse?” Alyn of Hull often mocked her as she departed in the morning to feed Sheepstealer. “Do you hope to make the dragon so plump that it won’t move when you put a saddle on it?”
She ignored him. He may be a bastard like her. Yet, he was a rich bastard. He didn’t understand. She had more in common with Sheepstealer. Neither she nor the creature had a desirable appearance. She hated her crooked teeth. The dragon had its’ dull scales. They were both lean, though not by choice. They had several nights, where they went to sleep hungry. She knew this by how he ate. He wrapped his claws and his body around his food, so the other dragons wouldn’t steal it. He had been ignoring her as she stood and watched him eat. It was their routine. He ate the sheep and returned inside his cave. By the end of the week, the dragon suddenly didn’t retreat back into its’ lair. It stood there and let her come toward it.
“Would you like to join me for a fight?” She stuck out her hand. It responded by dropping its’ head, so she could rub it.
All the soldiers’ mouth hung down as Nettles presented her dragon to Prince Jacaerys Velaryon. He observed the saddle across the dragon’s back. “We gladly welcome you to our noble cause.”
The dragonriders were given lodging at the castle in Driftmark. At her first official meal, Prince Jacaerys and his stepfather Daemon Targaryen dined with all of the riders. Alyn of Hull sat at the table too even though he wasn’t a rider. His brother Addam was a dragonrider, and since he had joined the queen’s forces, they allowed him to come too. Addam had pretend to be polite and introduced himself to Nettles. She could tell. His eyes stared down at her, and he kept his nose in the air. Though, she didn’t call him out on it ever. She didn’t want to cause problems. He proudly told everyone about himself and his brother. Their mother was a captain of a ship. She was a fine sailor and taught her sons about sailing. While he spoke, Nettles glanced down at the food tools laid out in front of her. She had never used them or seen most of them before that day. She proceeds to ignore the tools and eat. The two brothers with their fine manners rolled their eyes at her and the other two riders.
Hugh Hammer shoved a large piece of steak pie in his mouth. “My father is a smith.” Crumbs fell out of his mouth as he talked. “He told me once many years of working with a fire can’t prepare you to play with dragon fire.”
“I used to work as tanner.” Ulf admitted. He didn’t seem comfortable discussing his past.
Nettles had no qualms about it. “My mother was a whore. She got a gold dragon and me from a dragon lord. It was her best night’s work. She used to say.”
“Are you a whore?” Hugh scooped up some potatoes with his hand and mashed it into his face.
“Isn’t it obvious?” She gestured to her body. “My mother was the beauty. The brothel owner threw me out when I was six. He had hoped that I would be at least pretty. I lost work as a wench in a tavern because I wasn’t appealing enough.”
“I haven’t met a tavern wench who was prettier than ale.” Hugh chuckled.
Alyn asserted. “So, you became a sorceress?” She looked up at him confused. “It’s the only reason that you could tame a dragon. You poured some magic potion on the sheep. You must have. You don’t even look Valyrian.”
Prince Jacaerys became livid and banged his fist into the table. “I’m not pretty enough for that either.” She laughed uncomfortably. She didn’t want a fight. “Dragons must be like men. Their wives can charm them into work with a warm bowl of stew. It wasn’t hard to determine to feed a dragon his favorite meat.”
“Nice mutton would charm me too.” Hugh ripped apart a roasted chicken. “Is there a brothel in the castle, or do we have to summon them?”
“All in due time,” Prince Jacaerys calmed down. “We will begin training in the morning with your dragons. Your afternoons will be spent training with the master-at-arms. As for your evenings, Maester Qutub will be teaching some of you to read and write. We have plans to make all of you great lords and ladies after the war has ended.”
The prospect of being a lady didn’t have much of an appeal to her. Nettles was mostly content with food in her belly and a roof over her head. Prince Jacaerys’ kindness hadn’t gone unnoticed by her. She approached him in private after the meal. It was almost private since he had a guard with him. “I wanted to thank you, milord. I’m not used to someone… well, you know.”
“Defending your honor,” the prince smirked.
She blushed. “I didn’t believe that I had any.”
“You do here, my lady.” He bowed. “I bid you a good night.”
Training proved vigorous. Everyone gave their upmost in learning to fly dragons. Sadly, little care had been given to their other training. The master-at-arms had been impressed by the tall muscular Hugh. His size made him arrogant. He refused instructions. Ulf was dutiful in the sword training for the first few days. Soon, he joined Hugh in indulging in revelries. Neither man was inclined to learn to read. The maester didn’t attempt to propose the idea to them again. A septa had been assigned to give Nettles lessons on how to behave as a lady. The old woman barely lasted two days. Nettles’ foul jokes and ghastly manners drove the septa away. Maester Qutub taught her to read and write, since she was inclined to learn. It had been difficult for her to do it.
Her fencing lessons felt like a relief from the burden of reading. Most times, she had stuck practicing alongside Addam of Hull and his brother. She didn’t look forward to sparing with them. Their mood improved greatly when they were legitimized by the queen. They were given the family name of Velaryon. Their lack of kindness towards her remained the same. Addam would strike her with his wood sword any time that she lost a match to him. She lost often since he had more training than her. She was used to life being harsh to her.
Her sole comfort was Prince Jacaerys. He allowed her to call him Jace which his family and friends referred to him as. In turn, she let him call her Netty. One sword practice was particularly disheartening. She could maintain her cheerful disposition. Addam casted doubt upon her. “As if a silly girl like you could ever be a warrior.”
“May I show you something?” Jace held out of his arm. He helped pulled her off the ground. “Stepfather, would you please draw your sword?”
The entire field became dead silent at the sight of his sword. All the soldiers trembled slightly. All knew Prince Daemon’s brutal reputation and his bloodthirsty sword.
“This is Dark Sister,” Jace addressed the group. “This was the sword of the mighty warrior Visenya who saved her husband Aegon the Conquer from an ambush.”
Daemon swung his blade. “A warrior isn’t a man or woman. A warrior is a sword made flesh.”
The dragonriders' progress was coming along nicely. Jace with the queen’s approval allowed them a night respite. There was dancing, a little gambling and drinking. Ulf drank himself under a table. Hugh boasted of his exploits to three maidens. He wished to woo one or all of them. It was hard to compete with Prince Jace. Nettles had to admit that she found him handsome. Though, she would never presume to have a relationship with him or even speak of it to him. She was satisfied simply being comrades in arms together. Fellow soldiers told stories of their fights. Hugh showed some old burns on his arm. Nettles rolled up her sleeve. “I got this gash from killing a fox. It was going to kill a poor little lamb.”
“What of the cut on your nose?” Jace had been curious about it since her arrival. The men gave him a peculiar look. The reason was well known to most everyone except perhaps ones whom were raised in a castle.
His stepfather turned away from his card game for a moment. “She received it as a punishment for stealing.”
“I stole a burnt loaf of bread.” Nettles informed him. “It had been an awful harvest, and work was scare. The fish seldom bit for me.”
Jace rose his eyebrow. “Why take a burnt loaf?”
“The baker doesn’t earn as much money for it.”
This information troubled the young prince. He discussed the matter with his stepfather. “Would you have issued such a harsh punishment for stealing?”
“I have ordered far worse punishments than that.” Daemon remarked as they walked to their chambers to retire. “However, it is ridicules to punish a young starving girl. She doesn’t have much choice in the matter.”
“Can’t she go to a motherhouse for support?”
“They only care for some orphans, and usually up to the age of six or eight. It is unspoken truth that they prefer boy orphans to girls. Hence, more girls becoming whore than septas. Though, many girl who become neither are left to die on the streets. Orphan boys only fare slightly better.”
“This is wrong,” Jace decided. “Once we win this war, I’ll request to my mother that more provisions and work should be made available for people.”
“The old king would have approved.” Daemon knew good kings were rare. He honestly would never strive or pretend to be a great king. This young man would be a good king for the realm. He didn’t mind being overlooked once again if Jace was made king.
The following morning, Daemon was preparing to leave for Harrenhal on his dragon, Caraxes. He stumbled upon Nettles attempting to feed his dragon. “Are you trying to steal my dragon?”
“Oh no, milord,” she petted her own dragon. “We only steal sheep. I wanted my dragon to befriend him. If we’re going to all fight together, our dragons should be comfortable with each other. Vermithor and Silverwing seemed tolerable to Sheepstealer. Seasmoke doesn’t fancy us at all.”
Daemon tighten the straps on his saddle. “That isn’t how it is done.” He yanked her arm over and forced her hand against Caraxes’ skin. “This is the traditional Targaryen way.”
Sheepstealer hissed and bared its’ teeth. “It’s alright.” Nettles spoke softly to him. She gently strokes Caraxes’ scaly hide. Caraxes remained alert but aloof to the other dragon’s glare.
“Riders feed their own dragons.” Daemon released his grip on her. He hoisted himself up onto the saddle, “or they allow their servants to do. Riders don’t feed each other dragons.” He flew away.
Awhile later, Nettles and the other dragon riders went to Dragonstone to be inspected by the queen and her council. They were very pleased to see four more dragons added to their forces. A feast was held to celebrate. The rumor mumbled during the feast. There was a plan to burn down Hightower’s castle. Some argued for Storm’s End’s castle to be burnt as well. The queen was to have said to be against it. She preferred to offer again the Baratheons to side with her.
Ulf poked his food with a fork. “Why aren’t we siting at one of the more prominent tables.” He grumbled, “they placed us in some unseen corner.” He, Hugh and Nettles were seated together.
“I wouldn’t wish to be placed in such a position to be scrutinized by all these people.” Nettles stared at Queen Rhaenyra’s long lush silver hair. The queen was so regal in clothes. Nettles felt like duck wearing swan feathers in her formal gown. Not everyone saw her this way.
“We haven’t seen you before, maiden,” two drunk soldiers intercepted her as she went to her chambers. “You have a good womanly stature, though perhaps a little thin. Still, there’s enough of you for us to have some entertainment.” Nettles punched one of them and dashed away.
Prince Jace caught sight of them chasing Nettles. “What are you doing with my sister?”
They recognized who he was, and the threat hinted in his voice. “I’m sorry, my prince. We were doing nothing.” They quickly vanished.
“This is Netty. My fellow sister-in-arms,” Jace introduced her to a silver haired girl walking along side him. “Netty, this is Lady Baela Velaryon. She is my stepsister and cousin.”
“That’s rather confusing.” Nettles immediately regretted saying that.
Baela took no offence. “I prefer simply his betrothal.” She wrapped her arms around Nettles’ arm. “You’re the lady dragonrider?”
“I’m not much of a lady.”
“Good,” Baela beamed. “I wish for Jace, Addam, you and I to go flying together once my dragon Moondancer is bigger.”
“I look forward to that.” Nettles bowed.
A maester came towards them. “A raven came from Winterfell. It stated there are dragon eggs down in the crypts of Winterfell.”
“That’s great news.” Baela turned to Jace. “My sister is so worried about an egg hatching for her. Now, she will have a dozen more chances.”
“It is indeed.” Jace’s brows creased very slightly. “It’s getting late. The maester and I will escort Nettles to her new chambers.”
“Splendid, I’ll say good night to my cousins.” Baela curtseyed. “I’ll see you all in the morning. Sleep well.”
As they moved further down a lonely corridor, Nettles whispered to Jace, “What maiden did you sleep with?”
“What did you say?!” the maester overheard her.
Nettles added, “he slept with a maiden in the crypts.” Jace’s eyes stretched out as far as the sea. “It wasn’t much of a secret passage.”
Jace sighed deeply and recounted the occurrence to them in private. “As you may have heard, I went to various great houses to rally banners to my mother’s cause. After negotiation with Lord Stark concluded, he held a feast to honor the alliance. There were many pretty ladies at the meal. Only one was a true winter rose, Sara Snow. We had pleasant conversations all evening. I fancied her. The squires had often mentioned how many girls that they wooed. Even Baela played the kissing game. Sara seemed very willing ever since we kissed under a tree. She took me to the crypts, so we could be completely alone and undisturbed. She didn’t expect her half brother Lord Stark to visit them that late at night. He was livid at us until she mentioned the tree. I swear on my life, that I didn’t know. The maids had saw us talking and kissing under the tree. How could I have known about some strange northern practice?”
“Known what?” The maester was intrigued.
“It had been a marriage ceremony. What can I do? I suppose to marry Baela. I want to marry her. I can’t have two wives.”
While Nettles tried not to chuckle, the maester consoled him, “My prince. Don’t fret. It can easily be annulled. You clearly went into the matter unknowingly. After the war is over, we can quietly straighten out the issue with House Stark. It is obvious from their message that they also wish it done quietly.”
“What about the eggs?” Nettles reminded them. “It means that she is pregnant.”
The maester suggested, “we can tell them to give her moon tea.”
“No,” Jace understood fully what was meant by the drink. “It is not the child’s fault. I saw what the loss of my sister did to my poor mother. Please write to the Starks. ‘If the egg hatches, we will provide for it and bestow the name Stark upon it.’”
“How far do you plan to care for this child?” The maester inquired.
“If she bears a son, I will take him as my ward. As for a daughter, the crown will give her a handsome dowry.” Jace groaned. “How would Baela feel about it?”
“If she didn’t fall to the floor laughing over your surprise wedding, I would be shocked.” Nettles did seem to understand Baela in rather short time.
Jace observed how well they got along with each other the next morning. He had invited Nettles to accompany them horseback riding and hawking. Nettles wrestled with Baela which made her glad. Baela had been banned from wrestling with the squires. Her female companions didn’t engage in such activities. The next day, Addam and Alyn joined them. They had a lovely day with Baela before they returned to the Driftmark.
They were supposed to prepare for their secret attack. Instead, they were secretly assaulted by a large enemy fleet. It should have been impossible. Their enemy, the Greens, didn’t have a fleet that large. They had contacted some kingdoms of Essos. The four dragons flew into battles with their established formations. About a hundred ships confronted them. Out of those enemy ships, about twenty ships sailed away in defeat. It should have been victory. However, it’s wasn’t Green men under the false king that perished. They were little more than sellswords. For this reason, their hearts weren’t fully in the battle. Their interest laid in looting and plundering the island for the Velaryon’s treasures. Though, Hugh and Ulf celebrated it as a victory. Nettles mourned it as defeat because Prince Jacaerys and his dragon had died.
She rested her head on her dragon and cried. Addam and his brother spotted her alone in the courtyard. She stood up as Sheepstealer growled at them. “I wasn’t…” She wiped her face with her sleeve.
“I know,” Addam gave her a hug.
Fresh tears dripped from her eyes. “He wasn’t supposed to die. He and Baela were going to be a great king and queen.” Nettles envisioned them flying their dragons together.
Addam gently rubbed her back. “I know.” From that day on, the dragons Sheepstealer and Seasmoke stopped quarreling with each other.
The queen shed no tears for her dead son for she had none left to give. She chose to bear her claws at the enemy’s throat. She planned a deadly strike. Daemon came back to plan the attack with his wife and console his daughter. He didn’t comfort as other people would. She didn’t mind it or wish it to be different. Their temperament was very alike. They refused to give in to their sadness. He decided to console his daughter by teaching her to fly and fight using her dragon. Nettles and Addam would assist him when they weren’t on patrols of the two islands.
“Every man, dragon and castle have a weakness. It’s about knowing where and when to strike. Don’t hesitate or halt in your attack until your enemy is dead.” Daemon voiced echoed his many years of experience. His words proved true.
The Greens’ ruler Prince Aemond’s weakness was his arrogance. He felt he was the best and want all the glory for himself. Harrenhal had been the perfect prize to lure his dragon and his men away from the Red Keep. He lusted over destroying his enemies’ stronghold. He never reasoned that his actions would leave the capitol defenseless. Then, the crown mostly blinded itself to the city’s problem. They had the elite Kingsguards to protect them. Daemon had built the Gold Cloaks to guard the city. Seven skilled men were no match for a thousand men. With six dragons in the sky, it took little persuasion to open the city’s doors.
The people cheered as Rhaenyra landed her dragon. Their true queen had arrived. It has been said that the Iron Throne cut her as she sat on it. That was a fairy tale, and a vicious lie told afterward. If it were true about terrible rulers, the Iron Throne would be constantly drench in blood.
During her coronation, Nettles, Ulf and Hugh were again placed in the back of the procession. Ulf grumbled about it for most of the coronation except for one moment. He noticed a cloaked woman hidden in a dark corner of the castle. “That’s Prince Daemon’s mistress.” He bragged since he knew something that they didn’t.
“She is too old and ugly to be a mistress for any man.” Hugh scoffed.
Nettles looked her over. “She was very beautiful once.”
Mysaria had been a dancer when she first caught the eye of the Prince Daemon. She was nimble and discreet. She had never thought to use her skills for spying until Daemon told her about one of Maegor the Cruel’s wives. The woman had an advisor to the king who dealt in secrets. Now, Mysaria was Queen Rhaenyra’s Mistress of whispers in all but name. She had never imagined having such power. She fully reveled in it. She causally entered her lover’s room. Daemon had usually been a fiery passionate man. This night, she found his demeanor cold as ice. “What’s wrong, my love?”
“My love,” Daemon repeated from his chair by his desk. “You haven’t called me that for a long time.”
She walked in front of the bed. “Do you feel neglected?”
“You have been very busy.” He uncrossed his legs. “You’re the Mistress of Whisperers. What did you do to attain that position?”
“You know very well that I helped arranged the revenge of her slayed son.”
He rose up. “No one rewards the middleman with such a prize. What else did you do? Did you arrange her first husband’s death? She had always view him as an obstacle.”
“What are you accusing me of?”
“I’m not accusing.” He came towards her. “I’m stating that you are here spying on me for the queen.”
“Ridicules! What woman would hire their husband’s lover for such a task? How could you believe such nonsense?”
“Because it’s the truth, you can lie to me but Rhaenyra can’t. I’ve watch her lie so often that I can tell. When she pretended to be annoyed with me, I knew that instance the truth. It didn’t bother her at all, that I slept with you. She trusts you to keep an eye on me. What did you do to earn such trust?” Mysaria refused to answer. “What do you love more me or the power that she gave you?”
“Don’t claim betrayal.” She countered. “You tossed me aside when the king, your brother, beckoned you to. You did it so you could remain in his good graces.”
“My dear kind brother threated to strip you and flog you in the streets like a common whore if I didn’t. I loathed him to this very day for that and the loss of our child. I’m an ambition mad. You know that I have never hid this. I had loved you for many years faithfully.” He stared deep into her eyes. He swiftly grabbed her and swung her at the door. “Neither of us regard each other that way anymore.”
His marriage to Rhaenyra wasn’t built on love. Daemon did care deeply for her children. Their relationship had been a partnership. They were two people dealt hardships by the late king.
“I need two dragons to accompany me.” He approached the throne. “We will find and kill the remaining dragons.”
“Aemond’s dragon is the only true threat.” Lord Velaryon stood to the side of Queen Rhaenyra. He was her hand. “You need just one dragon.”
“Three dragons can cover the terrain faster and lure him into a trap.”
Rhaenyra would hear none of it. “You are skilled enough to handle the task with only one other dragon for support. Pick any dragonrider that you wish and be on your way at once.”
“As you wish, you grace.” She could discern his resentment for being treated as a common knight. She didn’t care. He was no longer as necessary. She wore her crown now.
It didn’t take him long to decide on a dragonrider. While Daemon didn’t feel comfortable leaving Ulf and Hugh together, he couldn’t trust them to guard his back. Both Addam and Nettles were honorable. Addam was more suitable to life at court. Nettles clearly wasn’t. This had been demonstrated as he yanked her out of a tavern.
“I won five coppers for blenching the loudest.” She proudly declared. “Where are we going? She tried hard to keep up with the prince.
“We have been assigned to hunt down Aemond and his dragon.”
“Are we heading back to the Driftmark?”
“We received word that Aemond is burning the Riverlands. We are going to Maidenpool to speak with Lord Manfryd Mooton.”
The lord of the castle welcomed them. “my prince, it’s an honor to have you as a guest.”
“You must receive many men as guests.” Lord Mooton and Daemon looked at her confused. Nettles added, “since they hope to see naked women bathing.”
Both of them proceed to ignore her as they entered the castle. Nettles and Daemon dined with Lord Mooton’s family. They watched her amused Lord Mooton’s young nephew by playing with her food. Thankfully, the lord wasn’t offended by her manners. His wife didn’t appreciate her crude jokes. Daemon couldn’t place it aside any longer.
He confronted her in the hallway. “You do understand once this war is over, you’ll be ennobled. You’ll have to behave like a lady.”
“I never wanted to be a lady, milord.” Nettles responded. “I just wanted food and shelter.”
“First lesson, my lord,” he emphasized the last two words. “You say it wrong again, and I’ll slap you on the back of your head.”
He continued her instructions the next morning. She wasn’t allowed to eat a single mouthful unless it was done properly. A maid stood next to her after breakfast, and she showed Nettles how to curtsey. Nettles angrily glared at Daemon. He looked over at her to ensure that she actually practiced. Daemon was working on plotting points on a map and planning a strategy. She wasn’t only being taught manners. He instructed her on fencing and flying. Daemon was a strict instructor in everything that he taught. Yet, he seemed more relaxed fighting. By the end of two week, he became more agitated. She laid down on the grass and rubbed her sore muscles. “Aemond and Daeron keep flying away. It’s hard to trace them.”
“Naturally,” Daemon pouted as he sat down next to her. “Daeron is a follower. His general is wise enough to tell him and his dragon to leave. Aemond, on the other hand, may be arrogant. He is also a coward. He favors weak targets.”
“How do we find them and draw them into a fight?”
“I don’t know yet.” He had an idea that would kill two bird with one stone. He proposed giving Ulf White the kingdom of Storm’s End. He could marry one of the Stormlord’s daughters. The Stormlands were a big enough target to force Aemond and Daeron’s hand. The Lannister’s castle would be another good choice as well.
Queen Rhaenyra declined to do it. She wanted to try a peaceful resolution. He found this outrageous. She was behaving as if she already won the war. Aemond may be on the run, but he was still a rival heir with a powerful dragon. Cole had his large army. The severely injured Aegon had completely disappeared. She was that naïve. Or was she that complacent like her father? Daemon had thought her to be closer to him in temperament. She was the realm’s delight which is easy to be for a spoiled princess. Her father was a good king. It was easy for him when his realm was being ruled mostly by his Hand. He never strived to accomplish anything during his reign. Now, his daughter is following his example, when the kingdom desperately needs her help.
Maester Norren trailed behind the fuming prince. “My lord, what reply should I give the queen?”
“Tell her, ‘She is a stupid FOOL!’ Her whole kingdom is going to tear itself apart at its’ steams. Her enemies will slit her throat because she puts greater importance on taxes than on winning. Soldiers aren’t sellswords. They’re willing to await payment as long as they have a home to go back to. This would be assured if she would let us use our dragons in the battlefield.” Daemon stormed into Nettles’ bath chamber. “What is taking so long?”
“She refuses to go in the tub.” The maidservant had been arguing with Nettles for an hour.
He promptly stripped off her clothes and tossed her in the tub. Nettles started shaking in the tub. It wasn’t due to the water being cold. Daemon didn’t mean to frighten her. He ordered all but one maidservant gone from the room. Demon wetted a small cloth. He gently placed it on her face and slid it down to her neck. His voice softens. “You work from the top to all way down to your feet.” He handed her a soapy cloth. “You should also dip your head into the water and brush your hair. Hair should be brushed at least every other day.”
“You can do that. Your hair lets you. My hair fights against me. I should have cut it all off.” She usually kept it short. Jace had once remarked how he thought it would look pretty long. She let it grow.
Daemon poured some water on her hair and reached for a brush. “I’m not afraid of a challenge.” He brushed her hair to her slight embarrassment. When he finished, he rose up to depart. “The maid will help you dry off. You will get dress and come to dinner in haste.”
She begrudgingly did as he told her. It was just one evening. Then, it was over. During breakfast, she found that wasn’t true. She informed him about her plan to cut her hair short. He ordered her not to.
“If you can tame a dragon,” he reasoned. “You can learn to tame your hair.” He gave her his ivory brush and sat down. “You will begin by practicing on my hair since you believe it to be such an easy task.”
Nettles approached his head. “Perhaps, I’ll braid your hair.”
“I’ll beat you bloody if you do.”
“It might be worth it.” She teased.
He grinned at her. Nettles brushed his hair for about ten minutes. She went to return his brush to him. Daemon waved his hand to her. “Keep it.”
While he spoke with Lord Mooton, Nettles played outside with the lord’s nephew. She often played with the young boy. Most of the young squires his age had left the castle for the war. She felt bad that he was left alone. Lord Mooton glanced down at them through the window. They were playing in the garden.
This reminded Lord Mooton. “Prince Daemon, you would have an easier time finding Aemond if your dragons flew in two separate directions.”
“We have lost too many dragons and riders in solo fights.” Daemon declined his suggestion.
Lord Mooton and Maester Norren respected his decision. They didn’t wish to see the young girl harmed. Maester Norren was especially fond and impressed by her after one of the flights.
Daemon and Nettles had been searching for Aemond when they stumbled upon injured fellow soldiers. Daemon headed to discuss strategy with the lords. Nettles wandered over to the injured soldiers. There were too many hurt men, and too few healers.
“I can take your brother back to Maidenpool,” she offered a soldier, Bronn, who was leaning over his severely injured younger brother.
Before he could speak, another man derided, “he would never arrive there in time to be save.”
“He would if his cot was placed on top of my dragon.”
No one had dared to think of such an idea before. Dragon terrified even the bravest of men. Bronn stared his brother. He realized there was very little that he wouldn’t do for him. “Please take him, my lady.” He helped her load his brother and two other injured soldiers on her dragon.
“You’re being foolish,” Daemon declared, but he didn’t command her stop. ‘You’re leaving yourself vulnerable for an attack.”
“I know,” she climbed up her dragon. “They’ll die if I don’t.”
Maester Norren had been in his study when a servant summoned him outside. Nettle and Bronn were carrying an injured soldier on a cot. Maester Norren noticed the two other soldiers. He immediately issued orders. The injured men were taken into guest rooms.
“How many more men can you care for?” she inquired.
“Eight or ten maybe.”
She quietly left for her dragon. Maester Norren was astonished and pleased, when she delivered six more injured men. After two trips there and back, she was exhausted. She fell asleep under a weirwood tree. Her dragon coiled itself around her.
Sheepstealer carefully monitored Daemon as he approached the sleeping Nettles. He draped his cloak onto her cold shoulders. She awoke slightly. Her heart was racing, and her eyes were in a fog. “What’s happening?!” She reached for her sword.
“Nothing,” his calm voice brought her mind to the present.
“I’m sorry. I was supposed to return straight to the front-“
He interrupted her. “There is no need to apologize. Like I said, nothing happened except for disorganization. I swear the Riverland’s campaign is being led by everyone and yet no one.”
“Are you mad at me for abandoning you?”
“It was foolish and honorable of you. I did the same thing once for the City Watch.”
“I saw how they held you in high regard.”
“When I was appointed over them, they were viewed less than sellswords. Farmers had better weapons.” Daemon stared at the moon. “I remembered Hightower’s smug face. ‘This suits a man of your talent and breeding,’ he mocked me. ‘Prince of Fleas and heir of nothing.’ I built up the City Watch from mere guards of crime to fearsome protectors of the city. I give them my money and time to refine them into my Gold Cloaks. That pious lord lived to regret my assignment to them as did my brother. They could take away what I built despite sending me away.”
“You did many good deeds for King’s Landing.”
“No, I did many good deeds for myself.” He confessed.
“The whores of the Street of Silk mentioned how you spent days looking for a man that had hurt them. No one else would have cared to bring him to justice.”
“I didn’t accomplish it out of kindness. I abhor cowards that prey only upon the weak. A selfish reason can never become a good deed.”
“Perhaps, if you keep doing good, you’ll learn to do it out of kindness.” They were quiet for moment. Nettles began to tug the cloak off.
“Keep it,” he told her again. “I have plenty of other cloaks.”
They continued to have more conversations each day. Once after they had been sparring, Daemon won the match, “Since I won the duel, I claim that you tell me about your first kiss.”
Nettles shrugged her shoulders. “It isn’t an interesting tale. I delivered wool to a weaver for a time. His son had a custom of gathering wildflowers for his little sister. He couldn’t find any flowers one day. So, I gathered some from off my path. His friend told him to reward me with a kiss on the lips. The boy didn’t get that his friend was merely jesting and kissed me. It was sweet. Though, I prefer a more passionate kiss. I received one from a squire. The squire quickly wanted more than a kiss. I broke his nose before he could take it from me.” He chuckled at her story. “Your story must be far better. Was your first kiss with Baela mother, your first wife?”
“Second wife,” she frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that you were twice a widower.”
“I only mourned for Laena. She was a good wife and gave me two beautiful daughters. As for my first wife, I was relieved when she died. Marriage can be joyous, or it can make you long for the black cells.”
“Were you forced to marry her? Did you love another?”
“My marriage was arranged by never forced upon me. I actually tried to be a good husband at first. My brother never believed that. We loathed each other. We had very little in common except for our stubbornness. Neither of us would bend to the other. She would parade me around like I was her falcon. I would retaliate.”
“You would hit her?”
“Only weak men hit their wives. She might have preferred if I did. You see, she loved brooches. Her father had given her very first one. She brought more than two dozen brooches. She treated them better than me. She nagged often at me. ‘If only you were as refine as my gold brooch.’ It was then I decided to steal a brooch. I took one every time that she vexed me. She would dig through the castle to find it. Once she was s enrage, she had five Vale soldiers tear apart the castle searching for them. They never found one brooch. By the time that I left, I had taken eleven of her brooches.”
“You left and married Laena?”
“I wish,” he sighed. “I tried to dissolve the marriage by Vale judges. It was barely consummated. She refused to support it despite her hatred of me. I appealed to my grandfather. He privately brought the matter to the small council. They declined to help. I read about the Faith had dissolved a marriage due to a husband abandoning his wife. I attempted to do that. It wasn’t successful. Finally, I asked my brother. He didn’t want to lose the support of a rich powerful house, so he refused to help me.”
“You spent all the time in such a miserable situation.”
“Well, I had some comfort. I went to war.” They both laughed. “I am curious about something,” he changed the subject. “I saw the way that you slaughtered the sheep. You were a shepherdess?”
“For a few years,” She stared at Sheepstealer. “After I saved a shepherd’s lamb from a fox, he taught me the trade. He was a kind old man. He let me sleep in his barn and gave me food each day. He couldn’t pay me much. I received a copper a week. He was a kind man. His son wasn’t as generous as his father. He casted me out of the farm once his father died. That was the last time that I had roof over my head until now.”
Daemon enjoyed talking with Nettles. She was fascinated by his tales of his battles and travels. “Essos is far larger than Westeros. The people are such contradictions. You have the Free Cities which practice slavery. They love sellswords. They don’t care if the sellsword company fought savagely against them yesterday. They’ll hire them to fight for them tomorrow. The sellswords don’t care as long as they get paid. Even the brothels or pillow houses as the Lyseni call them only care about the coins. It’s said for your last drink that they add poison in it free of charge. Lys can’t have beggars dirtying their streets.”
“Is there any place that you haven’t visited, and you would like to visit?” Nettles leaned closer to him.
“The fighting pits of Meereen, Quarth, Yi Ti and see the Winged Men,” he listed. “I could see you becoming a famous sellsword in Essos.”
“I would like that as long as I could fight by your side.” She hinted at her strong affection that she had for him.
His heart had grown inclined towards her very gradually. Daemon hadn’t realized it until he fell for her both literally and figuratively. They were sparring in an empty field. She had been finally able to knock him to the ground. “Better,” he pulled himself up from the ground. “What do you claim as your spoils of war?”
“Your boots,” she pointed her wood sword at him. “And I think, I’ll have you dunk into that mud- “
He tripped her. She fell to the ground. He jumped on top of her and pin her to the ground. “You’ve never truly won until your enemy is dead.” Daemon caressed her face. He could feel her heart racing. “If we do this, they’ll call you terrible names. Do you still want to- “
Her passionate kiss answered his question. They kept their relationship private. Their glances of affection were too plain to see. Most of the castle knew by one of the formal dinners. Nettles was practicing being a lady. The little six-year old nephew had assisted her by being escort. He seemed very pleased to do it. He walked her to her chair and kissed her as he had saw his father do with his mother. “You look pretty.”
“That’s very kind, your sir. Though I’m not pretty.”
Daemon sat across from her. “Unlike women, men’s view of beauty is depended on their affection for the lady.”
From his gaze, Maester Norren observed Daemon’s fondness for her. He wondered if Prince Daemon had changed his plans for her. The crown had promised to ennoble the dragonriders. Outside of the brothers legitimizing and two men’s knighting, they hadn’t received anything else. Daemon had taken action to ennoble Nettles. He requested Maester Norren to find her suitor among the great houses. It wasn’t easy since she was commoner and a bastard. After weeks of searching and making inquiries with other maesters, Norren found a possible match. “Nettles could marry one of the sons of House Mormont.”
“I’ve never heard of them.” Daemon sat down next to him.
“They’re a rather small house from Bear Island in the North. Their men and women are known to be honorable warriors. They have to be fierce since both the Ironborn and Wildlings attack them. They might be willing to have her marry into their house. Her dragon and her dowry that you are providing would be a great benefit to them. There are tales about their women and bears which I believe that work in Nettles benefit. They might not look down upon her for being a bastard as most other house would. In addition, Nettles’ marriage to the Mormonts could be taken as a sign of good faith concerning our old pact with the North.” Maester tilted his head. “I could propose this to them if you still wish it.”
Daemon understood his meaning and gave him a sad smile. ‘If I were younger and smarter, I would take her away to Esso and live out the rest of our days.” He shook that dream aside. “We’ll wait for Lord Stark to arrive. They’ll be more accepting of our proposal if it came from their lord.”
“You’re not what I…” Maester Norren quickly bit his tongue.
“Expect from the rumors,” the prince laughed. ‘Which one did you hear? There has been so many about me.” The maester hesitated. He remembered tales of Maegor and his maesters. “Don’t fret. My temper is towards only those who say such thing and not towards those who have heard them.”
“Yet, they say you almost beat a messenger to death when he gave you bad news.”
“I hit him once by mistake.” Daemon voice started to turn into snarl. “My spies had been searching for years for a singer. They found him and brought him to me that day. The messenger had walked in on me as I was administering justice.”
“What offence did this singer do?”
“I had an aunt named Gael who was about my age. She had been the joy of my grandmother. When Gael died, my grandmother soon perished after her. That fiend caused both their death and the death of Gael’s unborn child. Everyone who looked upon Gael knew she was a sweet fragile girl. He preyed on her like wolf upon a weak fawn. He lied to her and got her pregnant. Then, he bored of her. He proceeds to mock and slapped her hard. The grand maester wouldn’t say it officially, but we all knew he hit her too hard. Gael lost her baby. The sweet girl couldn’t bear it and killed herself. I got my revenge against him as I heard him scream his last song. My grandfather would have pardoned me. My brother could no longer be trusted. I ordered the messenger to be silent on the matter. It is reasonable that he had to think up a reason for the injury.”
“I see,” Maester Norren gained a fully understanding of Targaryen. They are the ‘Blood of the Dragon.’ Dragons are like any wild creature such as wolves and bears. They’re vicious to their enemies and loving towards their own.
That night, Daemon retired not to his chamber but to Nettles bed chambers. She immediately sat up in her bed as he closed the door. As he approached the bed, she eagerly started pulling down her clothes. “It’s late.”
She halted. “Is everyone alright?” She saw the haze in his eyes.
He gently stroked her face. “It is, indeed, my love.” He crept into the bed with her. She laid her head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her body. In that moment, he seriously doubted that he could let her go.
Her company had made him feel joy and fire. While his assignment for the queen seemed hopeless and wasteful, Nettles had been his sole comfort. Queen Rhaenyra had given him no more assistance nor had she allowed him to assist in any other campaign. His every suggestion was met wit “no.” Daemon remained stuck with a task which was like digging a trench with his bare hands. Those concerns and problems faded as he sat in a field and watched Nettles with their dragons. “Your idea is ridicules.”
“Many creatures enjoy playing.” Some herd dogs had been playing in the field. She was curious to see if she could get the dragons to play. She attempted to incite them to play by throwing in the air a spine of an aurochs. Her dragon Sheepstealer rolled his eyes. To their surprise, Caraxes leaped up and fetched the spine. Caraxes though quickly broke the spine in half. “It’s a start.”
He beamed at her. “I have a gift for you.” She came over and kneeled down next to him. He presented her with a silver looking glass. “Now, you won’t have to borrow mine.”
“Thank you very much.” She held it close.
Most of their meals in Maidenpool had been private. As much as he wanted to train Nettles in etiquette, he distained having an audience. Her manners had improved greatly. So, there wasn’t as much of a need to do formal dinners. Maester Norren interrupted them during one of their private dinners.
“Did a raven arrive?” Daemon was concerned that another prince had been killed due to the maester’s pale face.
“Hugh Hammer and Ulf White have betrayed the crown and sided with the enemy.” This didn’t shock Daemon. They must have received a better offer from the Greens. It did irritate him since he had warned them of this. “Queen Rhaenyra has ordered Nettles immediate death under the charge of bewitching the prince consort.”
“A queen’s words, a whore’s work,” Daemon sneared. He drew out his sword. “How many soldiers are standing outside the door?”
“None, my lord. I haven’t told anyone else.” Maester Norren. He didn’t want to get Lord Mooton killed. He had just convinced the lord to take time to reason on the best course of action. Considering the danger Prince Daemon posed, it would be prudent and not treasonous. Maester Norren’s actions had been clearly treasonous.
“You’re a terrible maester but a good man.” Daemon placed his hand on the maester’s shoulder. “Thank you. We’ll depart in the morning.”
The maester left. He resigned himself to go to King’s Landing alone. Lord Mooton would hand him over to the queen. Norren swore to himself to never even hint in anyone else involvement.
Nettles turned to Daemon once the door was closed. “Where are we going?”
“You’re going to the Mountain of the Moon.” He grabbed one of the maps. “There is a cave where I hid all the brooches at. You’ll retrieve those and use this.” He gave her a bag of coins. “You’ll head to Essos.”
“Where will you meet me at?”
“No,” he shook his head. “I’m going off to kill Aemond.”
“I’ll stay with you and fight.” He declined her offer. Her voice became desperate. “Please don’t ask me to leave you. I can’t. I am -“
Daemon placed his finger on her mouth and his other hand on her belly. “I know. You’re leaving this mad war behind. Promise me.” Nettles promised him. Though, she persisted in begging him all night long. She wanted to stay with him or have him and his daughters come with her. She wept as they made love for the last time because he refused to relent. She collapsed in his arms from exhaustion. “My sweet lady,” he kissed her and fell asleep.
They awoke before sunrise. He grabbed her hand and looked her straight in the eye. “You are Blood of the Dragon. You were forage in fire and blood. Always be strong.” She attempted to be strong for him. She got dress and fed Sheepstealer a big black ram. Her resolve wavered when it came to mount her dragon. He loaded her belongings and helped her onto Sheepstealer. With tears hanging in her eyes, she grabbed the reins of her dragon and flew off. Daemon’s own dragon Caraxes regarded him disbelief. It screamed a thunderous roar echoing Daemon’s unspoken feeling.
Nettles and Sheepstealer flew north. She touched the hilt of her sword which had been a gift from Prince Jace. She realized something. If the queen was after her head, is Sara Snow in danger? Sara’s son might be the queen’s grandson, but would that be enough to protect them? Would she instead view him as a bastard meant to humiliate her? Nettles decided to land near the town of Wickenden. She paid a novice maester to send a message to Winterfell. She had to be careful. The town had a big port. There might be someone who knew of her. She kept mostly to the outskirts of the town. She brought a horse, a cart, three cows, a few sheep and winter seeds. The farmer couldn’t believe that she was traveling in that direction.
“Mountain clans are scattered heavily in the northwest. You shouldn’t take your cattle through there. It’s better down the main roads.” The farmer pondered it more deeply. “Though any path can be dangerous for outsiders. You should join a caravan.”
“I’ll think about it. Thank you.” Nettles remained by herself except for Sheepstealer. It never bothered to be alone before. Then again, a threat to her life didn’t hang over her head. They resided in a mountain ridge near a cave that Sheepstealer had chosen. There was a small lake next to it. They hadn’t been beseeched by mountain clansmen. Some shadowcats did attack their sheep. She and Sheepstealer easily disposed of them, but not before they killed some of their flock. She removed the hide of two shadowcats that she had killed. Their meat was given to Sheepstealer. She took their hides to a tanner. He told her about a shepherd near a motherhouse who might have some sheep to sell. She traveled to both the farm and the motherhouse.
The motherhouse should have been called the House of Bastards. Less than half the girls sent there became septas. An orphanage was usually attached to them. Most septas stayed and worked in the orphanage. A few septa worked in the local sept or as silent sisters. Unella had been one of the few selected to one day work as a governess. She had so far given basic knowledge training and learned under a local midwife. She was thrilled to finally be tutored under Seton Robeson. This must have meant that she would be sent to a great house and work in castle. There were no smallfolk at the sept that day. It had been empty when an older septa present the novice septa Unella to Septon Robeson. The older woman’s expression before she left made Unella tremble for a moment. Unella dismissed her concerns as she approached the septon. “It’s a great honor to learn from you.”
“You’re going to receive a great deal of honor today.” He grabbed her with lust in his eyes. She hit him and attempted to run away. All the doors had been locked. He caught her and forcefully began to take her clothes off. She screamed in vain for help. The sound of glass breaking startled them. A brown skinned woman stood before them with shattered glass from a window around her. “You dare defile this sacred house.”
“You beat me to it.” Nettles thrusted her sword into him. She pulled it out. He fell to the floor dead. She swiftly jumped out through the broken window. Unella followed behind her. “You should head back.”
“They aren’t going to believe me any more than you. Rich nobles are always innocent.” Unella stated, “I don’t want to go back.”
“I can give you some money.” Nettles arrived at her cart. “You can start a new life somewhere else.”
“I owe you a debt. There must be something that I can do.”
Nettles placed her hands over her belly. “Do you know how to deliver a baby?”
Bastards were held in disdain by most people. Lord Cregan Stark had loved his bastard sister, Sara Snow. She wasn’t a child born from shame and lust. She had been born of kindness and compassion. His father, Lord Rickon had lost his beloved Gilliane in death. He became painfully withdrew from everyone. He hardly spoke or ate. Sara’s mother cam to the castle as a maidservant. She had recently lost her husband as well. Though it wasn’t her place to do it, she befriended and helped him to cope with his loss. Cregan had been distrustful of her. There were tales of such generosity being used to steal from a house. Her intent was never that. She had helped restore his father to him. During his mourning, Cregan would see his father one meal a week. Since her involvement, he spoke again with his father daily, and they hunted together. Lord Rickon became fond of this maidservant. Cregan felt that he should have married her. His uncle had counseled his father against it. “A lord can’t marry a common servant.” She didn’t fight or demand to be his wife. She loved him too much to bring him any hardship or reproach. Cregan disagreed. His uncle had a habit of making his voice silent on matter. Yet, he was silent while his father was sick. It had been this common maidservant that faithful stood by and tended to his father. Sadly, she died with him. Before she died, she had given his father a daughter Sara. Her daughter proved to have her mother’s kind heart. After Cregan’s wife died, Sara took on a motherly role in caring for her nephew. She might be a silly dreamer at times. She never once neglected her nephew.
Sara, in turn, adored her brother. He viewed her fully as a dear sister. She trusted and sought his council in most matters such as Nettles’ letter. The only problem was that he wasn’t there to give it to her. Lord Stark and his men went with the Winter Wolves down south for the war. The maester had been waiting for a respond.
“Please tell her,” she shifted her feet uncomfortably under the table. “I can’t make a decision until I know how my brother is and how this war has turned out.” This seemed reasonable since she was inclined to stay home and not go to Esso.
Her attention was fixed on the ravens. A new letter from her brother casted doubt on her previous plans. “The war is over. Aegon the Second is dead. The late queen’s son Aegon the Third is now king.” Sara shifted her glance from the maester to her son who was playing with his older cousin inside the castle. She grew distraught. “What’s wrong? Aren’t you gladden by the new, Lady Sara?”
“Lady Sara Snow,” she emphasized her surname. “Queen Rhaenyra was going to legitimize my son as along as I kept quiet.” Her son would be Torrhen Stark. She had named him Torrhen out of frustration because her brother kneeled to the queen’s demand. His surname should have been Velaryon after his father Prince Jacaerys Velaryon. Now, it would be stuck as Snow. “Who will legitimize my son?” her nephew Rickon, who was named after his grandfather, came over to comfort her. She kissed his forehead. “I’m alright. Please continue, maester. What else did my brother write?”
“Lord Stark regrets that he won’t be home soon. He must stay at King’s Landing to investigate a matter. He bids you to stay in Winterfell until he returns. He states, ‘The kingdom is covered in vipers. I fear for you and your son’s safety. Unhonorable men with cruel ambitions might prey on you as they have already done here. I beg you to be careful and remain silent until the violent turmoil is concluded.’” The maester held up another message. “Nettles wrote you again. She respects your decision. She politely requests any information on Baela Targaryen, her sister, and their half-brother Aegon.”
“Please reply back all that we know about Aegon, and that we will inquire about his sisters.” In following the following months, good news abounded. Baela Targaryen and her sister survived. Lord Stark was coming home with his new wife bride Alysanne Blackwood. Arrangements were made for a big wedding feast.
Little Rickon was worried. “What if she doesn’t like me?”
“Lady Alysanne will adore you.” Sara assured him. “Your father chose her. You know he has a sound judgement.”
When they arrived, Sara also hadn’t been sure that the woman would like her. Despite the cold weather, Winterfell held a procession for their lord’s return. Lord Stark and Lady Blackwood arrived on horseback. Sara stood in front. Little Rickon stood next to her. Little Torrhen tried to stand up next to him. Once Lord Stark and Lady Blackwood dismounted, little Torrhen flopped down on to the ground. Rickon attempted to yank him up. Torrhen refused. He had rather be playing in the snow. Lord Stark introduced Lady Blackwood to his household.
“This is my sister. Sara Snow.” She curtseyed. “My son, Rickon,” the little boy bowed. “And my nephew, Torrhen,” he gave Lady Blackwood a ball of snow.
“Thank you,” Lady Blackwood smirked. “Whom do you suppose I should throw it at?” Torrhen giggled. Lady Blackwood’s polite regard for her two-year-old son made Sara hopeful.
“Sara, would you please escort Lady Blackwood?” Lord Starke signaled to his maester. “I have business to attain to before the wedding.”
Most of the servants frowned at Sara. It was against the custom for a bastard to be treated this. They were supposed to be placed in the back and ignored. They were to be treated as lowly servants. Sara ignored their glares and focused on Lady Blackwood. “Would you like to see the great hall, or would you like to go to your bed chamber?”
“Actually, I would like to see the stables.”
"Of course,” Sara scooped up her son into her arms and held her nephew’s hand. “This way please.” The servant dispersed. “My brother mentioned in his letter that you enjoyed riding.”
“I do indeed, and I enjoy hunting.”
“Your weapon of choice?”
“That’s wonderful.” Sara tapped the tip of her nephew’s nose. “Your father can teach you swordplay, and your new mother can teach you archery. You’ll become one of the greatest warriors in Westeros.” She wholeheartedly supported Rickon relationship with his stepmother. She wanted them to be close. She had encouraged him to sing to her at the Wedding feast. Sara did not partake in the bedding ritual. Rickon had been placed under her care for the night. She was surprised when her brother summoned her early the next morning.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Nettles sent you those letters.” Lord Stark paced around the room as he spoke to her and his maester privately. “Lord Velaryon confirmed that the queen had gone against all of her dragonriders after the two bastard traitors. She sought to imprison Addam and kill Nettles.”
“If she is telling the truth, what is distressing you?” The maester tried to discern.
Lord Stark didn’t answer directly. “Do you know where she is now?”
Sara didn’t, but the maester determined, “she must be somewhere in the Vale.”
“All those mountains make it an ideal place to hide a dragon.” Lord Stark halted. “The war didn’t just kill most of the royal family. It killed most of their dragon. They only have one small dragon. If Nettles has her dragon, she has the biggest tamed dragon. Any kingdom would be desirous of such a creature. She can’t flee to Essos with the war going on. She is a threat to the kingdom. A commoner with a dragon makes her a threat to the Seven Kingdoms. They’ll seek to kill her and her dragon.”
“What if she pledged her loyalty to the crown?” Sara warmed her hands by the fire.
“Both her letters to you and Lord Mooton’s account suggest that she would be loyal to King Aegon the Third.” Lord Stark’s face twisted in disgust. “None of these would matter. There are too many scheming men in King’s Land. They’ll plot against her. The best council to give Nettles is to remain in hiding until the war in Essos finishes.”
“What about me and my son?” Sara looked up at her brother.
“Your place is with your family.”
They were a happy family for about a year. Then, some Wildlings escaped passed the Wall. Lord Stark left Winterfell to protect his banner men. Alysanne was in charged of their in his absence. This suited Sara fine for they got along well. Lady Alysanne had been with child at the time. She couldn’t fully run the household. Many northers flocked to the Winter Town outside their walls. Sara worried about provisions for all of them. She went to organize and gather food. The servants made it obvious to her that she was a Snow and not a Stark. They didn’t have to listen to her.
There wasn’t anything that she could do or say to change it. She retreated to her needlepoint and the children. She would tell Rickon many stories. He, little Torrhen and even Lady Alysanne enjoyed hearing them. One night, Rickon requested, “I want a new story that never was told before.”
“Hmm,” Sara looked around the room for inspiration. She halted at their sigil, “a direwolf.”
“They’re all gone.” Rickon interjected.
Sara scratched her chin. “Actually, they still exist beyond the Wall. They will find a way back to us. We, Starks, have wolves’ blood in us. When our blood is spilt, they will come to protect us from our enemies. The Children of the Forest fought with direwolves so shall we. A Stark will ride a direwolf to battle and by victories even against lions.”
“Can it be a boy riding on the direwolf?”
“Of course,” she rubbed his head. “A young brave Stark at the head of our army will crush and humble our enemies.”
Their enemies were vanquished. The Wildlings were defeated. The last of Aegon the Second’s line died. However, problems persisted. Sara was distributing food among her country men with the aid of Daryn Snow.
“Some of the soldiers are planning to go to Essos.” Daryn informed her.
“Why? There is a war still going on.”
“Precisely, I’ll have work as a sellsword. I’ll join my fellow northers in the “Wolf Pack” company. There is nothing for me. We have only a harsh winter to survive through. I’m just burden to my family. In Essos, I’ll have a chance for a better life.”
“When will you be leaving?”
“As soon as we can gather enough money for passage to Essos.”
Sara handed a woman the last loaf of black bread. “I know a way to get you on a ship for free.”
Back at the castle, Sara folded her clothes, and her son’s clothes. Lord Stark rushed over when he heard the new. He caught his breath before he entered her bed chambers. “You’re leaving for Essos.”
“Yes, we’re meeting Nettles in White Harbor.”
“Life won’t be any easier in Essos.”
“I know, but we won’t be bastard there.”
“You have never been a bastard to me.”
“My dear brother,” she hugged him. “I would stay if it were only me. We’re a burden to you, and a danger to all Starks. Winter is coming. Bastards will be sought after again for the throne. I won’t endanger my family or my banner men. You know, that our leaving is for the best.”
Lord Stark kissed her forehead. He gave her some money and some weirwood tree seeds. So, she could plant a tree wherever she finally settled at. The tree would remind her always of her family.
Nettles and Unella spent months planting and harvesting before the snow blanked the land. When Unella had first laid eyes on the dragon Sheepstealer, she was terrified. She kept herself far away from his cave. Nettles gradually became heavy with child, and the cold night winds blew. Thus, Unella and the scared cattle came inside the cave for warmth. The dragon kept it very warm even without a live fire. Candles lined the cave for light. Unella slept among the warm safe sheep. The dragon let Nettles rest on top him. Sheepstealer spent most of his time sleeping. One night, Nettles had been sleeping up against her dragon when the baby moved inside her. She screamed. Unella rushed towards her and swallow her fear of the giant creature. It wasn’t easy. Sheepstealer became very protective of Nettles. He would glare at Unella and bared his teeth at her each time Nettles cried. The baby came out. “Oh, my.”
Nettles’ heart stopped. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, he has purple eyes.”
“Like his father’s,” Nettles chuckled softly in relief. Unella gently placed her son in her arms. “My little Daemon,” Nettles cradled him and smiled at him affectionately.
Cold winds were dangerous for baby. Unella insisted that she go to the port alone. Nettles didn’t fancy the idea because Unella couldn’t protect herself from the dangers lurking on the roads. They needed the supplies and the letter from Sara Snow. The port was busy with merchant ships on shore. The merchants emptied their hulls. Unella brought some hay, barley, apples and lemons. She also brought one rather thin cow. The desperate farmers were thrilled that she was willing to pay more than it was worth. She felt bad for them. A nasty winter and a war had left them in a terrible situation. Even the merchants were fearful. The lords and ladies had locked themselves up in their castles out of fear for a new fever.
The road had been quiet and empty most of her ride back. She thought that she heard a faint wolf cry. She grabbed hold of a wooden pike that Nettles made her. Two small children and their dog approached her cart. They were skin and bones. They begged her for food. “Where is your father and mother?”
“Dead,” the older brother answered.
Unella knew that she should hand them some food and leave. It was safer for her. She realized what would happen to them if she did that. “Please gather all your belongings and come stay with me for the winter.”
The little boy and girl quickly climbed onto the cart. They had nothing and no where else to go. Unella covered them with a blanket. Their dog laid under their feet. She gave them some carrots and fed their dog smoked fish. The boy’s name was Gallus, and his younger sister was Mimid. Unella introduced them to Nettles and her dragon.
Nettles had been leery of two more people to feed. Her mood improved greatly after she read her letter. “Your brother and sisters are alive and well.” She gently rocked little Daemon in her arms.
The little children and their dog kept their distance from Sheepstealer. Unella thought it was for the best until she determined it was safe. They claimed that their parents didn’t die from the fever. She was doubtful and kept them away from the baby for a week. They washed themselves as Unella washed their clothes. When it seemed safe, she allowed them closer to Nettles and her son. They were fascinated by the baby. “Is his father the dragon?” Gallus stared at little Daemon.
“Actually,” Nettles petted her dragon. “He does have Blood of the Dragon in him. His father and I have it as well.”
After a while, the children’s health improved. She took the boy out fishing while Unella cooked. They stayed in the cave until Daemon was weaned and bigger. Then, they slowly traveled north. Their dog proved useful at herding the flock. Unella rode a horse around to help the dog move them. The seven-year-old Gallus rode the cart. Nettles watched over all of them as she flew on her dragon.
They were happy to have the aid of her dragon. During their travel, a group of mountain clansmen ambushed them on the road. Their wooden pikes were no match for them. Nettles had hoped that dragon fire would scare them away. The winter had cause them to be ravenous. More than half had to die before they fled.
Nettles and her dragon rested inside a nearby cave. They didn’t know that it lied near a main path. A group of knights spotted them. Nettles politely asked them to leave. They wanted her as their captive. She drew her sword. Sheepstealer set them aflame. The knights who left standing ran away.
Unella arrived at the cave and noticed the corpses. Nettles told her, “we’re leaving in the morning.”
“But we usually stay a few days.”
Nettles sheared a sheep. “We don’t know how quickly they can get reinforcements.”
“Why not go with them? Isn’t Aegon the Third on the throne? Surely, he wouldn’t wish you or your son harm.”
“He doesn’t know me, and he is still a boy.” Nettles slaughtered the sheep and fed it to her tired dragon. “His regents rule. I don’t wish us to become prisoners. That rarely fairs well.”
Unella couldn’t dispute that. As they journeyed through snow, she worried about their odds. Until they dug up the treasure, eleven brooches made of gold, silver, pearls, rubies and sapphires. She ceased worrying since she knew that they could live comfortably in Essos. She detested how often she heard in the sept the rich complaining or giving such small potions to the poor. It didn’t even equal one brooch. She swept that aside from her mind and focused on the task at hand. They just needed to make it to White Harbor.
The chill in the air wasn’t their major obstacle. Clansmen surround Unella and the children again. This group was three times bigger than the last one. Nettles panicked at what stood amidst the men. The old dragon Cannibal walked along side them. Nettles landed her dragon and called out to the cloaked figure. “Are you here to fight?’
“Our lovers are dead, and the war is over. The crown remains. Only a three headed dragon can seize it.” The figure removed her hood. “I am Alys River. This is the son of Aemond Targaryen.” The boy was about the same age as Nettles’ son. “You have given birth to the son of Daemon Targaryen. You’re heading to meet the son of Jacaerys Velaryon. These three princes will become the three headed dragon to rule over all of Westeros.”
“How do you propose to accomplish this?” Nettles carefully analyzed the situation. She and little Daemon were the safest position on top of Sheepstealer if it came to a fight. Unella and the children would be slaughtered. There was no way that she could find to protect them. “Though, your warriors are tough. We would need more help to attain the throne.” She noticed most of the clansmen had burns on their body.
Alys River lifted up a dragon’s egg. “Three princes must ride on three dragons. Too much blood has been defiled hatred. We must travel to my mother’s homeland of Asshai. Only there can the dragon hatch since the Shadow Lands is the birthplace of dragons.”
“The Shadow Lands are in Essos?” Nettles stared into Cannibal’s eyes. It almost seemed as if the creature was drunk.
“Yes, it is in the far east.”
“It seems prudent that we join forces.” Unella regarded Nettles in silent shock. Daemon had advised her once to wait for an opening. This gave Nettles better odds to discover one. They journeyed together all the way to the northern shore. Nettles volunteered to fly to White Harbor and fetch two ships for them. Alys agreed as Nettles thought she would. Two days passed, and the ships arrived. Nettles insisted that Sara Snow, the sellswords of the Wolf Pack, Unella, the children and the sheep go all in one ship. The other ship would have the cows, horses, some clansmen, Cannibal and Alys. Sheepstealer would naturally be in the other ship. Alys was amendable to this as well.
Before they disembarked, Alys ordered the remaining Mountain men. “Await my arrival. Remember sacrifices must be made to appease us.” She patted Cannibal.
Everyone entered their ships and set sail. Torrhen and Daemon became good friends almost the moment that they step foot on the deck. They both fancied little Mimid. Sara Snow received the biggest cabin. The three women would gather there to talk in private. The first night, Gallus had been practicing tying a knot that a sailor had shown him, while his dog took a nap against his leg. The other children played with Torrhen’s wooden figures. Unella lifted her teacup. “This is very good honey tea.”
“Thank you.” Sara addressed the two women. “What are we going to do about that witch?”
“That isn’t a polite thing to say.” Unella quivered at the thought of Alys.
“Even with my dragon, we probably need her warriors. Has anyone ever been to Essos?” Both women dropped their heads down. Nettles continued, “until we can find some place safe, we need her, and she needs us.”
“How could she possibly need us?” Sara was perplexed.
“Back when men were endeavoring to claim dragons, no one dared tame Cannibal. He was like Sheepstealer. They’re both wild. Those who fail to control a dragon were burned.”
“Yet, Alys has tamed him.” Sara stated.
Unella disagreed. “No, it has to be her son. Only Targaryens can fly dragons.”
“Cannibal hasn’t been tamed.” Nettles argued. “She used a potion on him. I know it. The potion isn’t perfect. Cannibal burnt those clansmen unintentionally. She put to great an emphasis on how she meant to do it. The dragon’s eyes are haze too. I have seen enough drunk men to know. She is really going to Asshai for a better potion.”
“Why take us with her?” Sara reasoned. “Won’t we only slow her down and possibly cause problems for her? Why not simply fly her dragon there herself? She has a fire breathing dragon. There is little anyone needs with that.”
“Fire,” Unella recalled an old lesson. “A maester once wrote of a problem concerning some medicines. If you use some medicine too often, they’ll stop working. He believed the body quickly burns them away. Suppose, Alys’ potion is the same. It might happen in years, months or days. How would the dragon react once its’ mind is clear again?”
“Cannibal has always been the ravenous dragon. There is no doubt that he will set her and all o them ablaze unless Sheepstealer interceded.” Nettles realized.
Sara picked up her son for bed. “We must not speak a word of this.”
They agreed and left for bed. Nettles and little Daemon slept on the deck next to Sheepstealer. On one hand, the ship crew knew that no pirate could attack them. They dreaded being on a wooden ship with a fire breathing monster. The sailors’ dreams were often dark. Land always made their hearts rejoice.
Their ships arrived at Braavos for supplies and trade. Their ships had to be inspected before they could go on shore. The process usually was very long. Gallus, Mimid and Torrhen gazed at the lively city in excitement. The crew was surprised that the Sealord himself came to their ship. Sara Snow had been chosen to speak with him. She determined what had caught the Sealord’s attention and decided to use it in her negotiations. “My lord,” she curtseyed. “I come from the North in Westeros. Our land is known for bitter cold and fine timber. We desire to sell it all to you for a fair price and a listening ear.”
“What do you want our ear inclined to?”
“Soon, my brother, Warden of the North, will send men to speak to your great bank concerning a loan. He is a man of his word. I ask only that you encourage your bank to listen to him. I also encourage to make inquires as to our land and our honor.” She knew Lord Stark hadn’t official decided to ask the Bank of Braavos for a loan yet. The harsh winter left him with little choice.
“I don’t speak for the bank.”
“True, but you can kindly inform them of what you have purchased from us. This is all that I ask.”
“That seems reasonable.” The Sealord concluded. He brought their entire cargo of wood and politely welcome them to Braavos.
The crew were thrilled. Less weight to carry on the ship meant more coins in their pockets. Most everyone left the ship. Daryn and Sara went into the city to meet with Nettles who had snuck in. Alys had her allies in Braavo find a place to hide the dragons. Nettles was waiting for them at an alehouse near the Moon Pool, while Alys visited the Temple of the Lord of Light. Daryn and Sara arrived late. They ate dinner with Nettles. It was dark by the time that they finished their meal. Nighttime was wonderous at the Moon Pool.
The huge fountain lit up the surroundings with moon light. It was beautiful. It spurred music to play and people to flirt with each other. Sara saw men giving ladies roses and kisses. Suddenly, quarrels lead to sword fights. Daryn and Sara departed. Nettles remained to witness the outcomes.
The best fighter, or bravo as they were called, was named Viola Cat. He was an older gentleman with a small batch of gray hair. Nettles came to him the following day for lessons. He was about to refuse her until he noticed her steel determination, her dragon egg hilt sword and her purple eyed son. This intrigued him. The master at arms in Driftmark had taught her some Water Dancing. Though, the man didn’t mention the name or that it came from Braavos. Viola Cat agreed to help improve her sword fighting.
Unella also spent her learning in Braavos. There were many healers in the House of Red Hands. They agreed to teach her for a price. Sara looked after the children as the other went off learning. She did hire an instructor for Valyrian lessons. Sara had already been taught to read and write in high Valyrian. The Bastard Valyrian did prove challenging to speak. After a week of practicing, Sara took the children including little Daemon to the Dome. They watched the performers and mummers. By about the third week, they left Braavos and traveled to Pentos.
Her friend Daryn and his companion departed from them and went in a different direction to join the Wolf Pack. In Pentos, they traveled to the flatlands. They needed more sheep and cows for the dragons. The original herds numbers had dwindled. They had a large pile of wool on their ship. They brought some to the shepherds to examine. The wool was thick and lush. They recommended selling it to tent makers. They stayed for just a few days in Pentos. They sent sail next for Tyrosh. They found very little that they fancied there. They brought dyes, some pears and some armor. Sara couldn’t interpret the negotiation for their buying and selling of the wool. A Tyroshi merchant summoned his slave scribe to interpret for them. The merchant seemed pleased with the deal and invited Sara to his home. She found the merchant revolting for owning slaves especially the little slave boy scribe. She brought the scribe and informed him, “You’re free now.” The barely ten-year-old boy stared at her confused. She placed a coin in his hand. “I will pay you for your work if you wish to stay with us, or you can work somewhere else. We’ll glad bring you back to your home.”
He returned her coin to her. “Could you please buy my friend’s freedom?” His friend was called Little Toad. He had been malnutrition and abused by harsh labor at the port. She brought him and two other slaves. Unella and Mimd struggled in vain to save Little Toad. The beatings that he received was too much for him. The boy perished before they landed on Lys. Yakar, the little scribe, was so grateful for the kindness shown by Unella and Mimid. He decided to join them.
Lys was such a beautiful island. People tended to overlook the ugly slavery present. Alys appeared to be blind to everything except her own quest. She didn’t notice or didn’t care how uncomfortable Sara was in her presence. They attended the Rogare’s book sale to pay off some of the family’s many debts. Alys brought three ancient books. Sara was content with one Dornish book about Queen Nymeria. Lys had a grand market of various fabrics and fruits. She hadn’t known the hidden conflict dwelling in the city, or she would have never gone alone. A visitor to Lys was safer than a magister at that time. Everyone welcomed and needed more coins.
Nettles separated from Sara to fetch some fruit. Sara went to check their fabrics. One weaver’s work dazzled her. The weaver, Curcio, had silvery golden hair and lilac eyes. Many people in Lys had purple eyes. Little Daemon didn’t stand out as much there. Sara adored his intricate patterns and tight stitching. She attempted to compliment him with her rather poor Valyrian. Curcio had been very patient with her. She showed him her embroidery. He fancied her work.
All of a sudden, Curcio asked, “Do you wish to sleep with me?”
“No,” she worried afterward that she had insulted him or went against some unknown custom. Some of the people in Lys did worship a love goodness. Thankfully, he didn’t seem upset at all. She made her farewell and left to find Nettles.
Their ship was preparing to leave when they realized some of the sailors were missing. “They’re probably at a pillow house.” Nettles determined. “I’ll fetch them.” Yakar offered to go with her.
“That is no place for a child,” Sara went with her instead. The sailors were indeed there as was Curcio. She greeted him, “Are you selling them fabric?”
“I’m a bed slave.” He found her surprise expression rather odd. He had been one for most of his life.
Sara marched over to the owner. “I want to buy him.”
“For the night?”
“No,” she corrected, “forever.” It felt wrong for his talents to be squandered here.
“He is not for sale. He is too good of a breeding stock.”
“A man is not cattle.” Sara rashly slapped the owner’s face. She soon understood the folly of this action. His two guards closed in on her. Nettles quickly vanquished both of them. Then, she killed the owner. “He was unarmed.”
“He had a mouth.” Nettles retorted, “we must leave now.”
Sara dropped some coins in Curcio’s hand. “You’re free.” He placed the coins in a small bag. He and four other slaves decided to follow them to their ship. They were welcome aboard and given cabins of their own. She presented him with a spinning wheel and a loom. “We have some wool for you. It’s not as fine as the silk that you are used to working with.”
“It’s far better,” Curcio grinned. He told them how he learnt weaving from a slave of a rich widow. She had been very lonely and purchased him often for weeks at a time. The slave had patiently taught him while she was away from her house. Curcio and Sara worked together to sow clothes for the newly freed slaves.
Since Sara had slapped the owner, it was decided that she would remain on the ship as they visited Volantis. Nettles and Yakar went to the city to buy supplies. The foul smell and intense heat kept most everyone on the ship during their stay. They wished to remain for only a few days. Alys River had them dock there for a long time. She frantically searched the library in the Red Temple there. She also had to get more sailors. Each port that they had visited some of her sailors would abandon her. She needed to replace them. Nettles observed her crew dropping burnt bodies into the water around Volantis. She figured Alys’ control over Cannibal must be waning. Though, control could be challenging in any situation.
In one of the taverns, highly discipline Tiger Cloaks, who were slave soldiers argued with their master. “Why hasn’t our little brother been sent for training?”
“He was deemed too thin bone.”
“There has been thinner Tiger Cloaks,” a soldier didn’t mention half of those perished in training.
“You, dogs want to know the truth. I lost a bet. He was the prettiest of the lot, so he was sold to a pillow house.”
“That’s not right.” One of the soldiers protested. “He deserves to be with his brothers.”
“Do you wish to be flogged until it seems right to you?”
They grew silent and submissive. However, their eyes revealed that they were plotting. There must be some way to get him out of the pillow house and into the Tiger Cloaks. They went to the pillow house to discuss the matter. They were reasoning with the owner when an unsavory patron requested their little brother. One soldier, Ugbyorn, cracked open her skull. Now, the eight soldiers were running for their lives. The punishment for such an act was slow agonizing death. A small boy intercepted them. He had only been a few years older than their little brother. He summoned them to follow him. He didn’t have the markings of a slave, and they didn’t recognize as an Old Blood’s son. They had no other options, so they followed him.
Once they reached the port, they regretted their choice. An angry master headed a large group of Tiger Cloaks. They were five times their number. Varg, the captain of their group, signaled them to fight. It was better to die in battle than be captured and tortured. Before they could charge at their enemy, a thunderous roar erupted from the sky. A ball of fire engulfed the master. The master’s soldier saw the dragon in the sky and bolted away.
“The dragon is with us.” The strange boy assured Varg and gestured towards a nearby ship. “Come on.” Varg and his fellow Tiger Cloaks ran to the ship. The sailors immediately hoisted the sail. The ship traveled a distance from the shore, when they felt it violently shake. The dragon landed on its’ deck. Varg pulled out his sword. The little boy, Yakar, tried to persuade him not to. He didn’t sheath his sword until he saw the beautiful maiden slide down the dragon.
Nettles glared at Sara teasingly. “You’re a bad influence.”
Sara giggled and welcomed the men onboard. Though they referred to each other as brothers, most were barely cousins. They considered themselves family. That was enough.
It became Sara and Nettles’ habit to purchase slaves and free them. This happened in New Ghis and Qarth. Some would decide to stay with them. Others would journey back to their homes.
In Qarth, they met a group of Yi Tish who left their homes to start a business in the city. Unforeseen problems occurred, and they lost all their money. They ended up slaves to one of the Pureborn. Sara paid off their debt and offered to take them home. Their ships next stop after Qarth was Yin. All of them looked forward to going home except for a woman named Iorra and her young daughter Aroha. The prospect filled Iorra with dread. She begged to remained on the ship. Sara determined that she wasn’t trying to start a new life as much as escape her old one.
She wasn’t the only one fearful. Alys River had visited the House of the Undying. She asked Nettles to join her. The name was enough to make Nettles refuse. Alys never mentioned in detail about her experience there. She just remarked once, “confusing nonsense.” Then, she ordered her men to set sail.
The families of the freed Yi Tish were overjoyed to have them back. They expressed their gratitude with gifts of saffron, spices and silk. Sara gave most those things to the sailors. She took instead pearl grains, some sheep and a few more slaves. Unlike western Essos, Yi Tish had only one slave per twenty free men. They were so far east that it felt like all their old problems had vanished.
Alys River walked towards Nettles in the field that they were renting for their sheep and cattle. “Should I herd them back on to the ship?” Nettles assumed.
“Not yet, we’re flying to Asshai first.”
This startled Nettles. She had barely seen Alys even touch Cannibal since they visited Tyrosh. In any regard, Nettles left her son Daemon behind and took off on Sheepstealer. Alys held on tightly to her dragon. Cannibal behaved like an untamed stallion. Yet, they were able to arrive to Asshai. Alys had often mentioned how advance and wonderous the city was. Nettles looked down at the city. As with her other tales, it was laced heavily with lies. The city was casted in darkness. Every inch of it reeked of death. This wasn’t their magical safe haven. Asshai was their opened grave. Sheepstealer seemed to agree with her. Nettles flew away. All her people were counting on her to find a home for them. They couldn’t afford to go back west and live. She almost considered living in Ulthos despite the fearful tales. Then, she glanced upon an untouched coast of Shadowlands in the northeast. It was bright and full of life. She flew back to the ship, and they sailed to it.
The land was rich in vegetation and had clean water. They didn’t understand why no one else had settled on it. When night fell, mammoth size crabs attacked them. Sheepstealer easily vanquished them. His fire cooked them, and the light from it blinded the monsters. Nettles built small light towers out of the crabs’ carcasses on the border of their land to keep the beasts away. This wasn’t their sole problem. They still had to contend with ghost grass. The grass was invasive and slowly creeping towards their land. They burned the grass, but it grew back. Sara discovered that salting the ghost grass would completely destroy them. They were able to plant their own crop after two years.
Their sailors had left for Westeros. However, they returned back in a few days with Alys’ ship and the lone survivor who had been docked at a port in Asshai. Alys had taken her son and their dragon to the heart of the Shadow Lands. Her clansmen went mad and slaughtered everyone on the ship. The lone slave survivor had hidden by the dragon’s dung. He petitioned to go to Westeros with the sailors. They agreed, but left Alys’s old ship with Nettles’ group. Iorra had arranged to break down the ship into two smaller ships for them. Many years passed by. No one heard of Alys River again.
Sara Snow planted weirwood seeds. Only one of her trees grew. Unella built a small library, and she taught everyone how to read and write. Nettles was content with her new surroundings. She had been promised many things in the war. Here in Npo Bata, she finally had a field of crops and a house of her own.