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Days of War and Peace

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  Prologue - Braavos 284 AC  

 

A little girl was playing in the garden of a small house in the city of Braavos. Despite her young age, she already clearly had the classic Valyrian look with violet eyes, that seemed to sparkle in the midday heat of Braavos, pale skin, and a mane of pale silver-gold hair that flowed past her waist. 

 

Around her neck, she wore a pretty necklace with a 3-headed Dragon carved into it.

 

A boy of similar looks, just a few years older than her was chasing after her, both seemingly without a care in the world, happily playing in the small garden with a single lemon tree in it.

 

The house wasn't the largest, but still, it represented peace and safety to the young children. The slanted morning light over the city gave everything a hazy look as it passed through the moist air of the Narrow Sea. 

 

The shouting, honking, hawking crowds, the pushing and shoving, and relentless begging echoed through the city, the sound dim and seemingly far away, muffled by the laughing of the children.

 

Ser Willem Darry, an old knight was watching them with a small smile on his face, as the young girl carefully picked a ripe lemon of the tree. Her older brother carefully took the lemon and peeled it for her, warning her with a small smile to be careful when she ate it, as it was very sour. 

 

The girl, unfortunately, disregarded the warning and took a large bite. She immediately spit out the lemon and her brother laughed at her expression at first, but his expression quickly grew serious and concerned. 

 

When her beautiful amethyst eyes started to fill with tears, the older boy, around 12 namedays of age crouched down beside her, soothing her while carefully patting her back, until the tears disappeared again.

 

The house with the red door in which the siblings lived, along with the elderly knight and a few servants was small but comfortable, providing comfort to the exiled prince and princess. 

 

Ser Willem loved to observe the siblings interact. Viserys was mostly kind to his young sister. He often comforted her when she had a bad dream or he let her crawl into bed with him and told her stories about the seven Kingdoms, about their family, their histories and their dragons, as well as Robert's Rebellion, which had just recently put an end to the 300-year-old Targaryen dynasty. 

 

Viserys was now intent on reclaiming their father's throne, promising Daenerys a thousand times that he would take her back to Westeros, where smallfolk and nobles alike would cheer for her. That they would love her, admire her, even worship her as the greatest queen that ever was.

 

Despite these shows of affection, Ser Willem observed that the young boy was already starting to show himself as his father's son, more so than Prince Rhaegar's brother. He never truly forgave the young princess for killing their mother, Queen Rhaella in childbirth, making him already at his young age difficult at times, distancing himself from his sister and hating everyone in Westeros who had dared to rise up against them, no matter the reasons.

 

Young Viserys seemed to miss his late mother dearly as he not rarely spend hours staring at the last item they had left of her - Her crown. A beautiful band of gold, a slimmer, more feminine version of the second crown of King Jaeherys the First. One of the most beautiful crowns created many years ago for Queen Alysanne. 

 

The band of gold was exquisitely decorated with red rubies that sparkled in the sun and seemed to light up every room. The crown had been made with the utmost precision, by the best smiths the known world had to offer.

 

While young Viserys treasured his mother's crown, Daenerys showed similar affections to the 3 Dragon eggs, which she had been gifted by the Sealord of Braavos, a kind man named Ferrego Antaryon, most likely one of the most wealthy men in the Free Cities, if not the most wealthy. 

 

Barely a year ago, Ser Willem had met with Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. The two of them had made a pact in which Viserys was promised the Hand of Doran's daughter, Princess Arianne Martell, in return for Dorne's help in House Targaryen reclaiming the Iron Throne. It would be the first step towards a Targaryen restoration.

 

A pact which the Sealord had observed as a witness, along with the First Sword of Braavos, a braavosi named Syrio Forel. As his sign of support for the pact, he had gifted the young princess 3 Dragon eggs from the Shadowlands beyond Asshai, where the known world ended. 

 

Such Dragon eggs, even though they had long been turned to stone were very rare and due to their beauty very valuable. Many collectors would be willing to pay incredible amounts of money to acquire a Dragon egg, something Viserys intended to use once they were ready to take back the Seven Kingdoms and the Iron Throne.

 

And he wasn't wrong. Selling all 3 Dragon eggs could easily buy them a fleet along with a lot of sellsword companies to fight for them. They could probably even acquire the Golden Company's support. They had no more Blackfyres to fight for, not since Ser Barristan Selmy slew Maelys the Monstrous on the Stepstones, ending the male Blackfyre line forever. 

 

The men of the Golden Company were exiles, many of them even still considered themselves Westerosi. Maybe a red dragon could give them what the Blackfyres never could. Home.

 

Maybe Viserys could do, where his predecessors failed. He could bring the Golden Company to Westeros and unite them and a hundred houses under the Targaryen banner once more. Return the former prestige and glory of House Targaryen, the last scions of Old Valyria

 

*

 

Life went on peacefully for the young Targaryen children, until one faithful day, during spring in the 285th year after Aegon's conquest. The prince and princess were sleeping peacefully in their chambers when suddenly their peaceful life came to an abrupt end.

 

Smoke suddenly started to fill their lungs, immediately waking the two siblings up. The older boy quickly looked around them, searching for whatever threat there was to both him and his little sister. 

 

Smoke started to fill the top of their room, as it relentlessly pushed through the gap between door and floor, entering their room through even the tiniest gap. 

 

Viserys immediately stormed to the door, shaking it with all the power he had, but the door would not give in.

 

He tried to tear at the door with his hands, but it was made of thin, yet strong wood, to well-crafted to be torn apart by a young boy's hands. The heat was rising, so much that when Viserys laid his hands on the door once more, he screamed in pain. When he pulled back his hands, they were a dark shade of pink, burned by the heat of the flames.

 

Descending into panic, he kicked against the door with all the might he had, hitting against it with his fists no matter the pain, but still, it just wouldn't open. 

 

Flames started to lick the wooden walls of their room and they could hear a voice screaming in agony. It was the voice of the princess's former wet-nurse Jiha, Daenerys realized. She had been living in chambers next to theirs, so that she would always be as close as possible to Daenerys, should she need something. 

 

She was a pretty woman, long, curly black hair that flowed like a dark ocean and light-green eyes, as piercing as emeralds in the midday sun. 

 

The princess had always known, that people could die, but the whole concept of death had been surreal to the young girl. It was simply unimaginable, that her wet-nurse, who would play games with her and always smile widely was now dying, while she listened to her screams of agony, unable to stop it.

 

Viserys finally broke through the door, injuring his shoulder in the process, but he kept going, determined to survive, and get his little sister to safety.

 

But it kept getting harder. The heat started to consume them and the young prince could already feel his vision blur, as more and more smoke entered his lunges. 

 

His legs started to feel heavy and his arms felt week. Just as he saw the exit of their house a large man appeared in the entrance, a young woman who Viserys recognized as one of their servants next to him. The woman had been a maid in their service, a young girl, no more than 17 namedays with big blue eyes, the color of the sky, and a pretty smile.

 

"Run, Dany," Viserys told his little sister as the giant man slowly strode forwards, entirely ignoring the woman next to him. Viserys's voice sounded raw and harsh as he spoke, the smoke burning through his lungs.

 

His voice was barely more than a whisper as the flames started to surround them. He pointed to a small window in the wall, carved into the wooden walls, around four feet above the ground. Daenerys could maybe fit through it if she could reach it, but he could never make it through.

 

"Make our family proud," he whispered, as his limbs grew heavier with every second he forced himself to stand upright. The pain was spreading from his shoulder, where a small wooden splinter was embedded in his flesh.

 

The little girl nodded with tears in her eyes and slowly turned around, a last regretful look on her face. 

 

At that moment, her world was only heat and smoke, fire and blood. Viserys slowly started to cry, tears blurring his vision, as his body grew weaker and weaker. One knee collapsed beneath him, the flames and pain consumed him.

 

"I am sorry, Dany," the words spilled from his mouth, as the smoke of the writhing flames filled his chest. "I am afraid."

 

The huge man that quietly observed the scene from the door remained completely silent, never saying a word, nor taking action. But taking action was never needed. 

 

Viserys met the eyes of the Storm Lord behind the helmet. Two giant antlers rose from the side of the helmet, making the man appear even taller than he truly was.

 

His eyes were empty, devoid of emotion and life, but when Viserys looked again, he could swear that he saw a tear in the eyes of the Baratheon soldier, as he watched the boy before him fall to the ground. His eyes were pale and empty, shining silver, like an endless sea in the light of a thousand stars.

 

As Viserys fell to the ground his eyes filled with tears as his mind faded away. As he laid on the ground, he saw the woman who he thought had been a loyal servant rush towards him.

 

Even though the young boy knew he was dying, a small part of him whispered: She's coming to save me... But the young woman ran over his body, stepping on his hand, still bloody from when he broke down the door.

 

The last thing Viserys saw before his eyes closed forever was the once-loyal maid, ripping his mother's crown from his grasp. 

 

The girl's light blue eyes shined with excitement, as she held the exquisite crown firmly in her hands, smiling as she let her fingers glide over the red rubies embedded in the beautiful metals.

 

His younger sister observed the whole scene from the next room, cowering in the corner with her 3 dragon eggs, her most prized possession. And only possession now.

 

She held the pitch-black egg with trails of crimson locked between her head and shoulder, the other eggs resting in each hand. With her ear pressed against the old scales, she could almost hear a single, faint heartbeat.

 

She felt the heat seep through her clothes, her sweat streaming down her temples and chest, as more smoke gathered around her.

 

The beautiful orange-red flames danced on the shimmering scales of the eggs, making them all glow faintly. The fires danced over the reflecting surface, that she had cleaned so often.

 

The window, through which Viserys had meant for her to escape had melted, making it unable for her to cross it as she could no longer open it but it still barricaded the exit and her last hope of survival. As she watched her brother collapse and the Baratheon man watch on with what even seemed like regret she accepted her faith.

 

The young girl kept remained hidden in the room, waiting for the flames to claim her and put an end to her short life.

 

'Maybe I'll meet Rhaegar, Mother, and Father. And I'll see Viserys again. ' The young girl thought and it was almost comforting. As black crept into her vision and she felt her sense's become numb, she saw the silhouette of a woman with a red, wooden mask appear before her, her slender figure barely showing through the fire and smoke that consumed the place.

 

Her grip on the eggs loosened, the beautiful stones falling to the ground, just as she heard a single crack amongst the flames. It was so silent, yet it to the young girl it sounded louder than anything she had ever known.

 

As the fires crept closer to her, consuming all that burned, she could feel the phantom presence of shadows sneaking over her skin, pushing back the flames. 

 

Suddenly a second crack echoed through the burning house, drowning out even the hissing of the flames.

 

Heat radiated on her skin, piercing hot as she bathed in fire and blood, the heat consuming her. Suddenly, three cracks could be heard, so loud and so intense that they seemed to split the world in two.

 

The cracking of the flames filled the young girl's ears, as a woman's red mask appeared a foot before her, so close that their faces almost touched.

 

A piercing smell of burning flesh crept into her nostrils, as the fires around her grew ever larger. Then, a third crack came with such force that it seemed to split the world.

 

The flames were pushed back, as a dozen trails of shadow crept from the woman's body like giant snakes, wounding around the flames and suffocating them with their darkness 

 

Smoke filled the young girl's lungs, making her cough and gasp for air, as black started to creep into her vision, slowly but constantly.

 

The darkness consumed her, just as a sweet, soft voice whispered in her ear, the words sultry and veiled in mystery.

 

Come with me, Daenerys Stormborn... 

 

*

Chapter Text

  The Lost Princess  

 

Daenerys gradually woke up, feeling dizzy and weak. She rubbed her eyes slowly, trying to remember what happened.

 

She could still feel her chest stinging from the smoke of the fire. She remembered the dark mist clouding the air surrounding her, hurting her lungs, and filling her with dread and pain.

 

Viserys she remembered.  My brother is dead.

 

Where am I? Am I dead? The young girl had lots of questions, yet no answers.

 

She looked around and found herself lying in a large bed in a small but cozy room, filled with furs and candles.

 

The soft light of the candles dipped the room in a dim light. Water and fruits had been placed on a small shelf next to her bed. For someone who should be dead, she felt very much alive.

 

The room seemed to move, slowly swinging from side to side. The water in a nearby goblet swung back and forth ever so slightly. I'm on a ship, the young princess quickly concluded.

 

Her bed was far grander than anything she was used to. The sheets and pillows seemed to be made of silk and were so soft that she felt as if she floated on them. The bed's wooden frame was made from a white tree, the pale wood elaborately decorated with carvings and symbols that seemed expertly crafted.

 

She quickly gulped down the entire goblet of water and picked up a few small, round fruits that Ser Willem had told her about a few moons ago. Grapes, she remembered.

 

"Do you like them?" She suddenly heard a friendly but strangely eerie voice speak from behind her, causing her to quickly turn around and look at the stranger with large eyes.

 

The mysterious person before her seemed to be a rather young woman, since her skin seemed young and pretty, unlike the fractured and old one of Ser Willem.

 

She wore a red mask, carved from wood, yet it seemed more than just that. It seemed to merge with her body like the mask was her face and not just covering it up.

 

The mysterious shadowbinder's dark brown, almost black eyes looked at her from behind the wooden mask with curiosity. Her eyes were dancing with moonlight, sparkling even in the dim light of the chamber they were in.

 

Daenerys thought the mask was familiar to her, but she could not quite place why.

 

Despite the stranger's eerie appearance, young Daenerys found herself pulled towards the older woman. "Who are you?" she asked, doing her best to appear larger than they usually were. She had noticed that Ser Willem always seemed to be less angry with her when she did it. Maybe it would work on the mysterious stranger as well.

 

It didn't.

 

The woman merely chuckled softly at her, causing the golden necklace around her neck to wiggle slightly. "You can stop with that. I know these tricks, I myself used them against my half-brothers many years ago. I am not angry at you, nor do I seek to hurt you, young Daenerys Stormborn. I am Quaithe, but in my youth people knew me as Shiera Seastar. You may call me Shiera if you like."

 

Again Daenerys felt this name was familiar, but she couldn't remember where she had heard it.

 

"Shiera," she said slowly, testing the way the name rolled off her tongue. "Why am I here? What do you want from me?" She asked her mind racing, considering hundreds of possible things this woman might want from her.

 

"You are a very special girl, Daenerys Stormborn. Yours is the blood of the dragons and magic flows in your veins. You are destined for great things. You have already brought back magic to this world, magic that was gone for centuries. Now you only need to learn to control it. To bloom in it and grow as both a person and in spirit. I am here to guide you. To show you the way."

 

This answer solved none of Daenerys's questions, and she only grew more confused at the woman's words. She spoke, unlike anyone Daenerys had ever heard someone before.

 

Her voice was always filled with mystery, low and husky. "Explain please," She simply asked timidly, once more manipulating the size of her eyes, without even noticing it.

 

Even though Daenerys could not see Shiera's mouth, she was almost certain, that a small smile had formed on her face beneath her weird mask. She merely nodded to a place behind Daenerys. 

 

Dany quickly sat up and followed the other woman's gaze, just to immediately recoil in shock as three small Dragons stared at her piercing eyes, seemingly binding her to their gaze.

 

It required all of her willpower to break their eye contact and take a closer look at them. The Dragons were tiny, barely the size of cats with scales no larger than her fingernails. Despite that, their teeth were already as sharp as Valyrian Steel with which they were biting the cages they were contained in, seemingly anxious to break free.

 

The largest of the trio was a black and red Dragon with intelligent orange eyes, to whom Daenerys immediately felt a connection. 

 

The other two, one green with brown streaks, the other the color of cream with golden streaks running down their bodies, were slightly smaller than the first but already seemed just as deadly to the girl of 5 years. 

 

Finally, she understood. "The eggs," she muttered silently. "The eggs hatched."

 

When she turned to the older woman, she saw her nod in approval. "You figured it out quite quickly. You brought magic back to these lands when you hatched these Dragons. The glass candles burn once more. You have powerful blood, magical blood. With the right teacher, you can become the most powerful sorceress the known world has seen since the Bloodstone Emperor."

 

Bloodstone Emperor. This name, Daenerys could finally place. The Bloodstone Emperor was a legendary figure from even before the age of heroes who allegedly brought the end of the Great Empire of the Dawn by practicing dark arts and necromancy and even killing his sister, the Amethyst Empress. 

 

This blood betrayal, as it was referred to in the far east, supposedly ended the Great Empire of the Dawn and brought forth the Long Night.

 

The thought of becoming like this evil emperor made the young girl scared. "I don't want this. Where are you taking me?" she finally uttered silently, her voice barely above a whisper.

 

"We are going to Asshai, my young Princess. Far away from the Baratheon loyalists that burned down your mansion in Braavos. Not even King Robert's or the Spider's clutches extend that far east. The Asshai'i can teach you their magic and you shall grow more powerful than any other person in thousands of years. And then you can return west with powers beyond your imagination. You can return as a Queen."

 

When Daenerys remained silent, she continued, her voice filled with passion. "Your brother, the knight that watched over you and your nurse died in that house, burned alive. Don't you want to avenge them, Daenerys Targaryen? Don't you want to hurt those who dared to take your loved once from you?"

 

The young girl just nodded slightly, intimidated by the older woman's passionate speech.

 

"In Asshai you can learn to become more powerful than any other, the magical blood in your veins gives you power. Your magic is so strong that you could awake Dragons that had been turned to stone for ages. And then finally you will return. With 3 Dragons, bringing fire and blood - with your magic."

 

*

 

 

  The Hidden King

 

Young Griff, a boy of six namedays, had the typical Valyrian looks. He had silver hair and purple eyes, yet for the time being, his hair had been dyed blue.

 

He hated the feeling of the color in his hair, but it was necessary to keep his identity safe and protect him from the Usurpers knives and cutthroats that searched for any Targaryens to find, capture and kill them.

 

Despite this always present threat of his identity being revealed, Aegon was still able to live a pretty much carefree life, playing games with his septa, a pretty woman with the name Lemore, or reading and learning. 

 

Despite his septa being a kind person and a joy to be around with, the young boy missed having people to play with, that were the same age as he was. 

 

During the last few years, he had multiple times begged for permission to go and find his aunt and uncle. 

 

To finally bring House Targaryen back together. It could have been so easy, if not for the cutthroats hunting down his aunt and uncle. Cutthroats send by the current King Robert Baratheon.

 

Aegon, of course, held a dislike for the man for killing his father and standing by as his sister and mother were killed in the most vile ways possible by the false knights Gregor Clegane and Armory Lorch. Yet still, despite his very young age, he could see that his foster father Old Griff or otherwise known as Jon Connington was very swayed in his feelings and therefor teachings towards and about the man, due to his love for Aegon's father Rhaegar.

 

Old Griff would often tell him how noble the Targaryen family had been, yet some things were weird. Septa Lemore, during her lessons about the Seven Kingdoms, had mentioned that Lord Eddard Stark had been an almost absurdly honorable man, always true to his word. The only two times he had not been was when he had risen against House Targaryen and when he had sired a Bastard during the war, shaming his wife, Lady Catelyn Tully Stark.

 

So why had this entirely true and honorable man risen against House Targaryen if they had not been wronged by his house? 

 

Why had Stannis Baratheon, who was said to be the most dutiful man in all of Westeros broken his oath to his King? 

 

They kept something from him, and Aegon didn't like it. He had already played with the thought of confronting Connington about this, but Aegon knew he would likely not get a real answer to his question from Connington, and such a thing would only serve to annoy him. 

 

And Aegon respected the man too much to 'piss him off' as the members of the Golden Company would call it.

 

Nevertheless, his mind was currently occupied with a different matter, something that had most recently very much pushed his opinion towards building up a real hatred towards the current King.

 

The Golden Company had declared for him just a few moons ago, and already their spymaster, a man named Lysono Maar was always keeping him informed about all the events in the seven kingdoms.

 

Aegon was convinced that if he one day wanted to rule these lands, he would have to know as much as possible about them.

 

Lysono Maar's reports mostly included politics, marriage between a few Houses, small conflicts between smaller Houses, and occasionally a few reports on raids by the Ironborn. 

 

However, yesterday the news had been far more disturbing than any they had received previously. Aegon had already due to Connington's contacts to Prince Oberyn Martell known that his aunt and uncle, Daenerys and Viserys were living in secret in a small house in the Free City of

Braavos.

 

Aegon knew that Old Griff had already made plans as to how to use his aunt and uncle to help win the Iron Throne. He had been the main informant that pushed Prince Oberyn towards the betrothal between Viserys and Arianne Martell. 

 

If Aegon married Margaery Tyrell and Daenerys was wed to some other Lord whose loyalty had to be assured, they would have a large part of the Seven Kingdoms as their supporters. 

 

And if one were to add that to the highly efficient Golden Company, the best fighting force in all of Essos, victory was almost assured. 

 

Yet then the ravens arrived at their camps, bringing the news. Dark wings, dark words.

 

The house burned down, Viserys dead and Daenerys on the run. This had been a massive setback and shock for Aegon and Connington, yet the biggest surprise had not been mentioned yet - Daenerys had hatched 3 Dragons.

 

At first, neither Connington nor Aegon had believed it when Lysono Maar had told them, assuming it was a horrible jest, but the spymaster insisted that it was the truth. 

 

All reports mentioned that the hideout had been searched top to bottom. And yet Daenerys had seemingly vanished into thin air, along with her dragons.

 

Only the empty shells of her Dragon eggs remained, and hundreds of witnesses confirmed they had heard the roars and screeches of 3 young Dragons. 

 

Still, despite the witnesses, many denied it. They said that the eggs, which Aegon knew the Sealord had gifted to her, had been long turned to stone. They were supposed to be impossible to hatch.

 

Still, the reports left no doubts. Daenerys had hatched the Dragons, Maar was sure of it. Even the Spider seemed to agree.

 

Still, many questions remained unanswered.

 

How had a girl, even younger than Aegon was, managed to escape a burning House, and hatch 3 Dragons? While also fleeing without a trace? And all on her own? No Targaryen had hatched a Dragon in 150 years.

 

But there were even more problems arising with this. Aegon was sure they needed Daenerys on his side when he would return to the seven kingdoms.

 

And for that, they needed to find her quickly and make her loyal to him. They required her Dragons, as well as her hand in marriage, to ensure the loyalty of a lord whose alliance was needed. 

 

Aegon hated to think of his aunt as a broodmare to give away, but it was necessary regardless. House Targaryen had to be restored to their rightful place, and for that, they would need alliances.

 

But how to achieve that? Nobody knew where she had gone and how to find her. And for once Aegon and Connington agreed that this was a huge problem. 

 

Since she was unaware of Aegon's existence she might try to make a play for the Iron Throne herself, leading to her possibly seeing Aegon as an enemy. He would be just another contestant for the throne instead of an ally, or she might simply not believe him about her true parentage.

 

And if the Conqueror's Conquest had taught the seven Kingdoms anything, then that dragons always won, no matter then enemies numbers. 

 

Aegon the Dragon had proven it on the Field of Fire, and again at Harrenhal. 

 

But even long before that, the Valyrians had shown the power of dragons, when they smashed the usually invulnerable Ghiscari legions and conquered Old Ghis, leaving naught but smoking ruins behind.

 

Even Connington had conceded that her making a play for the Iron Throne herself would make most potential Westerosi allies swear allegiance to her instead of him, despite his superior claim.

 

Many years ago, Daemon Blackfyre had risen against his trueborn half-brother Daeron, starting the First Blackfyre Rebellion. But even if Daeron was the rightful heir, many flocked to the Black Dragon instead.

 

Daemon had Blackfyre, and the Conqueror's sword was seen by many as just another crown. Whoever held the sword, was the rightful monarch. And dragons showed your right to rule much more than a parentage ever could.

 

Aegon wanted to go himself and search for his missing aunt and told Connington as much, but the Old Griffin refused him immediately.

 

"A young King shouldn't go begging to his aunt with no claim to the throne whatsoever. Let her come to you. She is even younger than you and alone in the world. Unlike you, she has never been raised from birth to inspire other people's loyalty and make them follow her. She will be forced to search for aid soon enough where our men will track her down and bring her here." Connington had replied icily, allowing no room for discussion.

 

All Aegon could do now was sit back and anxiously wait for any news regarding his aunt, hoping that following Old Griff's approach wouldn't turn out to be a huge mistake. It could go horribly wrong and end up with Daenerys seeing him as a useless, cowardly boy who abandoned her when she needed him the most.

 

Aegon quickly suppressed these thoughts, though.

 

Daenerys would be brought to him with her Dragons, and she would do her duty to him as the head of House Targaryen.

 

Nothing could go wrong with that.

 

Nothing at all.

 

*

 

  The Storm King  

 

Robert Baratheon was pacing up and down the small council chamber, trying to get rid of his frustration and aggression.

 

The small council looked on silently, waiting for the King to tell them his thoughts. The entire small council was present, as this was the by far most important meeting in the history of King Robert's still quite young reign. 

 

The Hand of the King was sitting on the opposite end of the table. He was usually the one doing most of the work. 'The king shits, and the hand wipes', went a common saying.

 

The position was currently occupied by Robert's foster father, Jon Arryn. There were six seats, namely those of the Grand Maester, the masters of coin, laws, ships, and whisperers, as well as the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

 

Robert's brothers Renly and Stannis Baratheon held the positions of the Master of Laws and Master of ships, respectively. While the 3 of them were brothers, they had never been very close and could not be more different in terms of character traits. 

 

Renly was a fool in Robert's opinion. The youngest of the 3 spent most of his time in the Reach, getting his head full of stupid ideals such as chivalry, and glamour, flirting with young maidens and playing the role of a charming prince.

 

Besides that, it had been noted that he spent a suspicious amount of private time with his squires. All of them were young boys. 

 

Stannis, on the other hand, was most commonly described as dour and harsh, but he was always fair to his subjects. His duty was the most important thing to him, and it was commonly said, that he loved his duty more than he ever did his wife. 

 

Regardless he was far more reliable than Renly, and Robert preferred him over his youngest brother. 

 

Next was the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Barristan Selmy. He and the Kingslayer were the last remaining white cloaks of the Mad King's Kingsguard. 

 

Despite his service to his previous King, Robert still considered him a good man. 

 

The Grand Maester was an old annoying fool named Pycelle. He was a Lannister arse-licker and always immediately agreed with everything they suggested or wanted. Robert had a dislike for the old man, but he had been chosen by the Citadel as their representative, and Robert couldn't have him removed from his position without any good reason.

 

Then there were Lord Varys and Lord Petyr Baelish. Where he knew and understood the others quite well, he couldn't make any sense of these two. 

 

Both of them had been born with barely anything. Lord Baelish had once been a minor Lord of the Vale, no better than landed knights. Varys, on the other hand, had once been a eunuch slave boy from the Free City of Lys.

 

Regardless both of them had managed to carefully grow their power and extending their influence until they now finally sat in the dim light of the small council chamber. The only thing Robert wondered was if they had even higher ambitions than that. 

 

For Lord Baelish, called Littlefinger, this question was quite easily answered. The man was after power and wealth. He would always seek to grow his fortune and influence.

 

Lord Varys, however, was another story entirely. The man seemed to have no ambitions at all, at least none he showed. 

 

Robert didn't even know if Varys was his first or last name, where he came from, or how he had managed to build up such an insanely vast spy network that he was indisposable for all rulers who he had served. It stretched across the entire known world, covering just about everything.

 

No one could replace him since no one could even remotely match his skills in information gathering. Barely anything slipped through his network of spies.

 

Yet, at the same time, he felt his excitement pool in him. 

 

The Spider had informed the council that the secret hideout of the Targaryen children had been located in Braavos and burned down, resulting in Viserys Targaryen being burned alive in the collapsing building.

 

Varys little birds, the children he used to gather information, had not yet found out who did it, yet Robert hoped the people behind this action would soon be localized as he wanted to thank whoever did it in person.

 

A Lordship, maybe?

 

A Targaryen being burned alive was poetic justice to him. Like the Mad King had burned alive Rickard Stark, the father of his best friend and brother in all but name, now the last heir of the Dragonspawns had died.

 

Robert had been overjoyed at first, as he had finally done it. He had successfully ended the line of House Targaryen and gotten revenge for his beloved Lyanna. The woman he had loved, but she had been taken from him in the most vile way.

 

But the happiness hadn't lasted for much longer when Varys told them the rest of the news. The little girl, no more than five years old, had survived and escaped. And while doing so, she had hatched 3 Dragons, reawakening the magic in the world. Robert had laughed loudly at Varys, telling him he should have become a fool for his court and should jest more often.

 

But that had changed when Varys face had remained as expressionless as it had always been, and he merely stated in his usual sing-song voice that he was only telling the truth. His little birds in the Free Cities were quite numerous, and all of them agreed on one thing. The dragons had returned to the world. Shortly after that, Stannis had written him a letter, telling him that many merchants from Essos passing by Dragonstone had mentioned a girl hatching 3 Dragons in Braavos.

 

Robert had never felt this alive before. He had lost himself in drinking and whoring during the most recent years, but that had quickly come to an end. Robert's physique was perfect once more, and he had ordered a new Warhammer from the best smith in Westeros, an old and bald man named Tobho Mott.

 

Just then, a messenger, a young boy who Robert assumed was one of Varys's little spies, entered the room with a message sealed with the roaring Lion of House Lannister. He bowed to the room and quickly went to Varys, giving him the sealed message and whispering something in his ears. 

 

Multiple sets of expecting eyes turned to the bald eunuch as the usually impassive man sucked in a breath of surprise.

 

"What is it, Spider?" Robert asked impatiently, eager to get on with plotting how to deal with the Targaryen girl across the Sea. Maybe he would get a faceless man to get the job done. 

 

Or, he could leave the capital to itself and hunt her himself. Sadly he knew that the elderly Jon Arryn would not allow such a thing.

 

"It is just... your grace..." Varys slowly said, showing uncharacteristic signs of surprise.

 

"Well?"

 

"The Iron Islands have rebelled, your grace, They have burned the Lannister fleet on anchor and are now in open Rebellion."

 

If a man had seen Robert as he silently walked to a window of the chamber, he would have been shocked. 

 

A huge smile had formed on the King's face. 

 

War was coming. 

 

And King Robert loved every second of it.

 

*

 

After this meeting, Robert immediately ordered the council to call the banners and get ready to go to war against the Ironborn. The Greyjoy's secured several early victories, including the burning of the Lannister fleet at anchor in Lannisport in a raid planned by Euron Crow's Eye, probably the most dangerous of the Greyjoys.

 

At night, the Iron Fleet led by Victarion Greyjoy sailed into Lannisport, decimating the unsuspecting Lannister Fleet. It was a strategically brilliant move, as it allowed them to claim the entire Sunset Sea as their dominion.

 

They raided all along the western coast of Westeros, as far north as Sea Dragon Point, a Castle on the West coast of the Kingdom of the North. Their first defeat came in an attempted attack on the coastal castle of Seagard, held by House Mallister.

 

The castle stood since the Age of Heroes, built precisely to fend off any Ironborn reavers. Therefore, when Balon's first son and heir, Rodrik Greyjoy attempted to storm the castle instead of risking a siege, he was slain beneath the castle walls.

 

However, the massive superiority of numbers and resources resulted in the Iron Throne completely crushing the Greyjoy rebellion. The Iron fleet was destroyed by Lord Stannis Baratheon when he faced Euron and Victarion Greyjoy during the battle of Fair Isle. Both of the Greyjoy brothers managed to survive the battle, however, and managed to escape to Pyke.

 

After this decisive victory, King Robert and the Warden of the North, Lord Eddard Stark, moved on to Pyke. 

 

They were both still in conflict over the matter of the Targaryen children, but managed to reconcile during the war as they fought side by side once more, this time ending House Greyjoy instead of House Targaryen.

 

They quickly besieged the Greyjoy stronghold of Pyke. The Iron Islands were outnumbered ten to one in terms of manpower. 

 

During the final assault on Pyke, a battle-crazed warrior priest of the Lord of Light named Thoros of Myr led the way through a breach in the wall with his flaming sword, Jorah Mormont of Bear Island not far behind him. Balon's second son, Maron Greyjoy, was killed in the fighting at Pyke. Maron's death was due to a collapsing tower during the battle.

 

The rebellion was crushed, and Balon was forced to surrender.

 

Robert laughed at the defeated Balon Greyjoy, who had styled himself the 'King of Rock and Salt' just a few moons earlier thinking himself a King and the Greenlanders to weak to stop him.

 

"Idiot Kraken," Robert loudly proclaimed as the defeated King laid his crown at his feet. "Now bloody kneel and swear your oaths or I'll carve in your chest with my Warhammer as I did with that rapist Rhaegar Targaryen!" He shouted, staring at the Greyjoy King with mockery in his eyes, making him turn red in anger.

 

"Alright then," Balon muttered. "The drowned god knows I'll probably do this again when the Targaryen girl returns."

 

At this, the hall suddenly turned very silent, and Ned knew that Balon had made a grave mistake. Robert's hate towards the Targaryens had remained every bit as strong as it had been six years ago when they had fought a Rebellion against the throne. 

 

It most likely had festered even more. Ned silently hoped that the new Lord of the Iron Islands would have the good sense to beg for Robert's forgiveness, but the Ironborn was too proud for that. "Dragons win, stag," Balon spoke, his chin raised. "She'll come here and I will want to be on the winning side next time."

 

The Great Lords and knights from all across the seven Kingdoms held their breath as they observed Robert's reaction.

 

"I do hope the girl will come here and she'll..." He didn't get any further as the cold steel of Robert's Warhammer met his face over and over until only a red mass of flesh and bone was left. The people present observed the scene in shock, uncertain about what to do.

 

"Let that be a lesson to any who would oppose House Baratheon." Robert loudly declared and left the hall, leaving behind a shocked and slightly disturbed room of Lords, Ned Stark among them.

 

 

*

 

Ned sat quietly at the edge of the cliff of the main Island of Pyke, carefully polishing the ancestral greatsword of House Stark 'Ice' lost in his thoughts, as his friend and King approached him.

 

"Ned!" He greeted loudly, as he moved to stand next to him. Two friends couldn't have possibly been more different in character than Robert and Ned. Ned was very thoughtful and sullen, thinking long and hard about things before making a decision. Robert, on the other hand, was far more rash, Jon Arryn had described him during his fostering at the Eyrie as impulsive, even careless at times. Nonetheless, the two foster brothers seemed to complement each other well, as they had already brought low two great Houses together, fighting side by side.

 

"Was that truly necessary, your grace?" Ned asked his friend as they looked at the cliffs below them, where the waves crashed against the stone cliffs.

 

"What?" Robert asked, letting out a bellowing laugh, resulting in a few small animals to shy away from them. "The show in the Throne Room?"

 

Ned nodded silently, looking at Robert with a mixture of concern and curiosity.

 

"He made clear where his allegiances would lie in the next war to come. I cannot risk such a man ruling over the Iron Islands. I need loyal lords for when the time comes to fight the Targaryen girl."

 

Ned was quite good at hiding his emotions, but Robert had grown up with him for most of his youth and could tell when his friend was displeased.

 

"You don't agree Ned? What would you have done?"

 

Ned let out a short sigh before explaining. "I am bothered by how you executed him. An execution should be swift and clean, not... whatever you did there. Besides that, I am bothered by how you are already plotting war against a 6-year-old girl."

 

"She's a danger, Ned. To my rule, to your family, to all of us."

 

"I didn't know you were so attached to your rule, Robert. You often told me you were made to swing a Warhammer, not sit on a throne."

 

Robert laughed loudly at that before his face turned serious again. "And I still stand firmly behind that statement. But times change old friend. I won't let the Targaryen girl come here and claim what she thinks is hers. Not after the war, we have fought to dispose of them and the loved ones we have lost in doing so. There are still lords in Westeros who call me usurper and would gladly follow this girl into another war. We need to end this problem before it can grow."

 

"So what do you intend to do, Robert? Assassinate a young girl like a coward? The girl isn't even older than my oldest sons. The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword."

 

Robert let out an exasperated sigh at his friend's honor. Acting honorable was fine, in his opinion, but it seemed to be a nuisance more often than not.

 

"Getting rid of her will protect your family as well, Ned. Do you think when the whore lands here in 10 years she will forgive you for overthrowing her father and forcing her to live in exile, hm? She has Dragons, Ned. Living, breathing Dragons. Half the Targaryens went mad, we cannot afford to take the risk. What if Aerys had a Dragon, let alone 3 of them? Westeros would have burned and we along with it. Think of your children, Ned. You might want to spare her now, but would she do the same for them?"

 

Ned remained silent, letting the Seawind blow through his hair as he finally removed the last bits of blood from the blade.

 

"Do what you must, Robert," he finally sighed. "But I won't have any part in this."

 

Robert nodded slowly, knowing that this was the best it would get.

 

"Robert," Ned said as the King turned to leave. Robert turned around again to look at his friend.

 

"The Dragons need to die, no doubt, but the girl can live. If you capture her alive, bring her to me in the North. She'll never get any support to even remotely start a rebellion. Leave her powerless, but let her live."

 

Robert thought hard about his friend's words. He had yearned to end House Targaryen once and for all for years now, but if letting the girl live out her life in the North was the price for him and Ned to finally fully reconcile over the matter of the Targaryens, then that was a price he was willing to pay.

 

"Alright," he finally told Ned and turned to leave. "We'll do it your way."

 

Ned turned to look at him and gave a short nod of approval. As Robert left, he finally put Ice back into its massive sheath and turned to leave, silently pondering on what the future might bring.

 

*

Chapter Text

The Crow's Eye  

 

Euron had wanted to leave the Iron Islands for a long time. The uprising against the Iron Throne had been fun, watching Balon's useless sons die, one after another and finally the stag king executing Balon himself in the middle of Pyke. A spectacular event. Euron wished he had witnessed it himself, but he sadly had to make do with the stories that men told about it.

 

The battle of Pyke itself had been enormous fun for Euron as well. Such death and destruction was something every madman reveled in - And Euron had always tended towards madness. It didn't matter to him who died as long as men were dead or dying. His brother might have been a fool, but he had gotten one thing right at least - hard places bred hard men, and hard men ruled the world.

 

And the most important quality of hard places was after all that death was an always present reminder. To remind you to keep working and keep growing stronger.

 

Seeing famous knights of the seven Kingdoms cut down the Ironborn men at the charge through the gates of Pyke had had more beauty to it in Euron eyes than anything else. Seeing Jaime Lannister cut through their lines in what almost appeared like a dance to him or the Wolf Lord of the North cut through a dozen men with his absurdly large greatsword fascinated him - regardless of whether the men they were cutting down were his direct kin.

 

The only real downside of this rebellion in Euron's eyes was that his fool of a nephew Theon had survived and was to be taken to Winterfell as a hostage since he was now the Lord of the Iron Islands. Still, he would be more of an heir, since a castellan would rule in his name until he came of age.

 

This thought was what utterly disgusted Euron. Had his foolish nephew died in the rebellion like his brothers, Euron, or even the simpleton Victarion could have ruled over the Iron Islands as they were next in line. But now, a Greenlander would rule the Ironmen.

 

Such a thing was an utter humiliation and the Crow's Eye's decision was clear. He would not remain on the Islands to be told by likely some weak boy to establish trade routes with the Reach or the Free Cities. Instead, he and Victarion would leave in the Night with the best ships of what remained of the Iron Fleet and do what they were best at - reaving, raiding and raping.

 

Euron had never had issues in getting other people to follow him. He knew he could be quite charismatic and was on top of that quite handsome with wild dark hair that blew freely in the always present wind of Islands and a dark beard. His eyes were brown but so dark they appeared to be black to most who didn't take a closer look at them. His body well defined from a lifetime of fighting, resulting in him already having acquired over half a dozen salt-wifes.

 

Victarion was more of a brute than Euron, using his muscles far more than his brain, while Euron, even though he had no problem with getting into fighting himself, preferred to have others do the dirty work for him.

 

Euron had already started to get together a crew of mutes he intended to train to become perfect sailors, fitting the name of his ship 'Silence'. Euron had some designs on Victarions newest salt-wife, but he needed a good soldier for his travels and angering Victarion by raping his newest wife wouldn't help at all.

 

When finally darkness fell over the Island of Pyke, a week after the king, and his followers had left the Iron Islands once more, his time had come. The king and his men had mostly returned to the mainland. In the Hour of the Wolf, Victarion, Euron, as well as a few dozen loyal Ironmen, that they had recruited to their cause killed the king's men that guarded the ships and left within the shadow of the same night, with over a dozen Ironborn longboats.

 

As Euron and Victarion stood at the front of the  Silence , while a few mutes sailed the ship for them, Euron finally felt free. Finally, he had no one that could order him around. Their father Quellon was dead, as was his older brother Balon. He was his own master and could do whatever he damn well wanted.

 

And he knew precisely what he would do. He would do what he did best.

 

Those were his thoughts as the new Iron Fleet disappeared in the horizon, long before the dead bodies, or the missing rafts were noticed the next day.

 

*

 

  The Shadow Dragon

 

Daenerys had been on board of Shiera's ship for almost a year now. Their boat was one of the fastest in the known world, yet still, the trip to Asshai was a very long one. They had sailed south for a long time, passing by Pentos and the Stepstones before turning east towards Volantis and Old Valyria, later passing through the Jade Gates and finally sailing for Asshai itself.

 

On their journey, they had to stop on multiple occasions, having to refill their food, water, and other materials. This voyage had allowed Daenerys to see most of Essos within just a few years. And while this was beautiful to the almost 7-year-old girl, it had also brought many downsides with it. By now, all of Essos knew of the Targaryen girl that had hatched Dragons and brought magic back to life. Many whispered that the glass candles were burning once more, yet Daenerys had yet to find out what these glass candles were.

 

Shiera had explained that many would seek to use her to make their magic grow more and more powerful, so when they were not on the  Sea Dragon,  they always had to tread carefully.

 

Many strangers had tried to approach her and get her to trust them. Warlocks from Qarth had attempted to bind her with their magic and steal her away until Shiera barely saved her. Others were trying it more subtly, like the group of men that had approached her during their stay in Volantis, claiming that they worked for her nephew Aegon. Looking back, Daenerys should have asked Quaithe as she called her in public since she wanted to keep her identity a secret for whatever reason, to burn the fools for daring to claim she had family left.

 

Her family was dead.

 

During her travels, Daenerys had learned one thing, more than anything else. Noone could be trusted. Loyalty was a concept that didn't exist. Only greed ruled over all men and women alike. If someone appeared to be loyal, it was because it served their interests more than being not loyal. Daenerys vividly remembered watching the maid, who had done a large part in raising her and Viserys steal their mother's crown, while Viserys's blood was still warm and he laid dying on the ground.

 

Another thing Shiera had told her, was to not trust in justice or any gods.

 

"There is no justice. Only revenge," the beautiful woman had once told Daenerys in a serious voice. "There are no gods, princess. And if there are some, they just watch us and don't care if any of us come to harm. They don't care if you pray to them. Baelor the Blessed, one of your ancestors was maybe the most devout person to ever live. That didn't stop him from starving to death. Don't believe in gods or justice princess, believe only in yourself."

 

 Shiera had already taught her much about ethics and religion, politics, and manners, but most importantly, she told and lectured her about magic. She talked in great lengths about pyromancy and necromancy, but she had yet to learn any real spells or magic. Right now, she only started to understand what magic was, but not how to use it.

 

Regardless, Shiera had promised to start to teach her once they reached Asshai. Dany knew they would arrive in the mysterious city soon. She noticed that the sky was seemingly getting darker and almost seemed to be crumbling, the water was getting darker, and all light started to fade away. Nonetheless, she could feel herself growing more and more powerful, the dragons, who were already around as tall as she was, started growing more quickly and breathed more powerful flames. 

 

Just as when Shiera used pyromancy to light a fire, it seemed to burn hotter and higher than it had previously.

 

Finally, when the sun disappeared on the horizon, not that it changed much in terms of brightness anymore, after almost 450 days of the voyage, the young princess could make out the shape of a gigantic city in the distance, clouded in smoke and darkness.

 

As the 'Sea Dragon' slowly got closer to the city, Daenerys could finally fully take in the city.

 

 

To say the city was huge would have been an obvious understatement.

 

It stretched on for many leagues and must be the largest city in the entire known world. Daenerys could see large amounts of huge, different buildings. She could make out lots of churches and temples, small houses, decorated mansions, and enormous strongholds. Despite having seen huge cities, such as Qarth and Volantis, she was certain that the city could have easily fit Volantis, Qarth, Pentos, and Braavos into it and still have lots of space left.

 

The entirety of the buildings were carved from a mysterious, slick-looking black stone that seemed to soak up any form of light. The city was surrounded by gigantic walls, easily 200 foot in height complete with towers and pathways on their top from where soldiers could fire on any invaders.

 

Regardless of its size and grandeur, the city appeared almost abandoned. Only very few cloaked figures roamed the streets, hooded with their faces hidden behind metal and wooden masks, not unlike Quaithe or Shiera. Not once in their soon 16 moons together, she had seen her without her red, wooden mask.

 

Not even one in ten houses had a light burning in it, making the city appear even darker and even emptier. The hooded figures that roamed the city, never talked to one another, only silently moving along, rarely nodding curtly at another person. Due to this, the entire city seemed to omit no sound at all. Only the sound of the small waves that occasionally crashed at the harbor, resonated across the city.

 

Another thing that Daenerys could make out that was very special about this city was that there was no wildlife whatsoever. Where the towns like Pentos or even Volantis always had gardens where the nobility lived, filled with trees and bushes that grew the most delicious and exotic fruits, Asshai almost entirely devoid of anything that didn't have the color black in it.

 

Only a few orange lights that glowed in the buildings and a large river running straight through the center of the city, called 'the Ash' that exhibited a green-blueish glow, were different from this rule. It also was the only place where bits of wildlife existed. Just a few deformed fish, which were often missing their eyes or other organs, floated in it, and some oddly glowing grass grew on both sides of it.

 

Even the sky and water had turned pitch-black as they had gotten closer, and the mountains that rose behind the city, signaling the entrance to the Shadowlands, were no different. Clouds of smoke filled the city, so dense that for a time, Dany couldn't see her hand when she held it up directly before her eyes.

 

Daenerys could see why the city was commonly referred to as Asshai-by-the-Shadow since the entire town seemed to be made of them. Whenever they had mentioned to anyone that they intended to sail to Asshai, most men had declared them mad, as the area around it, also often called the Shadow was filled with great dangers. Barely any travelers had ever dared to go as far east as Asshai. To go to Asshai was often described as to pass beneath the Shadow, another metaphor the young girl could very much understand.

 

During her time as Quaithe's apprentice, Daenerys had grown far more confident than she ever had under Viserys's or Ser Willem's guidance. Still, the moment she got off the ship, her Dragons taking flight just a bit behind her, and all of the shadowbinders turned to her, the young girl couldn't help but feel utterly insecure and helpless. Only when Shiera squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, she found the courage to walk forwards.

 

"Keep going, don't stop, no matter what happens," Shiera whispered in her ear.

 

She slowly walked through the dark city as more and more shadowbinders stopped to stare at her and her Dragons with empty eyes, making her feel completely out of place.

 

Suddenly a woman, clad in black robes appeared in front of her, emerging like a ghost from the shadows. She wore a for the Asshai'i seemingly typical black hood over her head, while a golden mask covered up her facial features besides her eyes, which startled the little princess. They were pitch black, not the slightest bit of white visible behind the mask, giving her an even more ethereal appearance than she would have had anyways. Only her voice gave her gender away.

 

"Who approaches this fair city in this lovely night?" she asked, her tone sending shivers down Dany's spine. Asshai was neither fair nor lovely, though Daenerys would not dare tell the shadowbinder that. "It's truly rare that someone with Dragonblood dares to pass beneath the shadow."

 

Dany's Dragons, which she had just recently after more than a year of considering named Rhaellion for her mother, as well as Viserion and Rhaegal for her brothers, cuddled closer to her. Even the great winged lizards that ruled the sky, seemed to be intimidated by the woman, that stood in front of them. It was a rare occurrence, given the power, and the from that resulting confidence, that the dragons usually showed.

 

The woman slowly approached the dragons, and while Shiera once more placed her hand reassuringly on Daenerys's shoulder, something happened.

 

Hundreds of black candles, carved from shimmering black stone, suddenly lit up, dipping the city in light. They shone in multiple colors and created a strange, unpleasant light that seemingly started to slowly push back the darkness. Whereas the city had a moment earlier been entirely dark, now a few beams of light lingered over Asshai.

 

The strange woman started muttering in shock, grabbing a few glass candles that were standing on the streets and gazed at them, fascination and surprise evident in her pitch-black eyes. Finally, she turned her gaze back to the dragons that seemed to be pulled towards the eerie glow of the candles.

 

"The candles are lit... Never seen... No... The sheer power..." the woman still muttered in shock, until she finally seemed to gather herself and looked at Dany, with something the young girl couldn't quite place.

 

"You have brought magic back to this world. Welcome to Asshai, Mother of dragons."

 

Magical Flame pots and lanterns lit up all across the city as the pair finally finished their walk through the near-abandoned city. Finally, they stood before a humongous mansion that, made out of the same sticky black stone like the rest of Asshai. The building was long and dark, stretched like a lizard's body, yet now it was also lit with a few glass candles that decorated that facade of the building.

 

"So this is what glass candles are..." Daenerys said quietly, looking at Quaithe questioningly.

 

"Glass-candles are ancient artifacts," she replied. "They are made of Dragonglass and feast of magic. Where there is magic, they will bring light. Dragons are fire made flesh, just as they are magical. They are what brought magic to the world. When 400 years ago, the Valyrian Freehold fell to their rites, the magic died in Essos, and with them, the glass candles flickered for the last time and died out.

 

But then suddenly, just 15 moons ago, when a girl hatched three eggs, which should have long turned to stone. That was when the glass candles lit up once more, and with them, magic returned."

 

Daenerys looked at the older woman with big eyes as she smiled at her.

 

"You are destined for great things, Daenerys Stormborn. The purpose of life is to learn, grow, and change. You're a dragon, young Daenerys. Be a Dragon."

 

Daenerys just nodded, determined to follow her words. Determined to achieve true greatness.

 

*

 

  The Bastard of Winterfell  

 

The snow was falling thick and soft from the sky. The courtyard of Winterfell was covered in more than a foot of thick snow, painting the grey walls of Winterfell in a beautiful white tone. In the protected spaces under roofs and walkways, servants are busy at their work, already now preparing for the always coming Winter.

 

A snowball flew through the air and splattered itself against a snow fort, a small representation of the mighty fortress that was Winterfell.

 

Ahead of curly reddish-brown hair popped up from inside the fort. The boy was the young Robb Stark, a boy of six namedays.

 

"Who goes there?!" The young heir to Winterfell shouted as he brandished a snowball of his own, ready to defend his miniature fortress from any invaders.

 

Another boy, the same age as Robb, appeared behind a small mountain of Snow, also forming another Snowball.

 

"It is I, the King Beyond the Wall!" he shouted as he threw his Snowball at the other boy. "I have come to take back my lands!"

 

Robb spat disgusted in the snow beneath him, seemingly in scorn, but he didn't quite do it right, and his salvia ends up sticking to his chin. Annoyed, the little boy wiped it off with his gloves, regaining his fiery expression.

 

"We know no king but the King in the North whose name is Robb Stark!" he proclaimed loudly, as he formed another snowball in his hands.

 

He threw his own Snowball at Jon, which he quickly dodged. Both boys started forming snowballs as swiftly as they could, and within the blink of an eye, a flurry of snowballs filled the air as the young boys laughed, threw, and dodged.

 

"Die, Wildling scum!" the young Robb Stark shouted as he hit Jon with a snowball directly to the chest, making him stumble backward slightly.

 

"Oh no, I am fallen!" Jon shouted as he performed a death scene, dramatically clutching his chest, staggering through the snow in despair until he collapsed in the snow, just outside the front wall of the snow fort.

 

Robb looked on for a few moments, a bit impatient for his half-brother to finally stand up again so they can continue fighting.

 

"Get up, let's start again," he finally told his brother, who still laid unmovingly on the ground.

 

"Come on, Jon. Get up!" Robb whined, already annoyed at his brother's dramatic actions."

 

"I can't hear you, I'm dead." came the muffled reply, as Jon continued to act as if he had just fallen in battle.

 

Robb sighed, obviously annoyed, and went looking for a shovel. When he finally found one, he took a giant load of loose snow with it and dumped it unceremoniously on Jon's face. Jon yelped so loudly that Robb was sure all of Winterfell had heard it and quickly jumped off the ground with a jerk, spitting out the bits that had gotten into his mouth. He ruffled his hair, which had turned a shade white, even a bit silver, instead of its usual, black color. 

 

"Robb! You're not allowed to do that!" The young boy exclaims loudly, annoyed at his friend and brother's action.

 

"I'm King in the North, I can do whatever I want to do!" Robb exclaimed in return, remaining stubborn that his actions were justified. "Besides, you look like a Targaryen now! Want to be Aegon Targaryen now? But I won't kneel!" 

 

"When I'm dead the game is over, you're not allowed to kill me after I'm already dead." Jon insisted, pouting at his brother. "Not even the King in the North or Lord of Winterfell is allowed to do that!"

 

Robb's mother, Lady Catelyn Stark, came out of the inner castle walls, walking the courtyard, wearing a thick bear fur that covered her entire form with ease. She slowly takes in the snowcovered castle, a small smile on her lips. Finally, she turns to Robb and looks fondly at her firstborn son and his snow castle.

 

"Go back and do it again, Jon," Robb told his just a few moons younger brother. "Attack the castle again."

 

"No it's my turn now," Jon replied, looking at Robb expectantly.

 

"Your turn for what? Robb replied, confused, not knowing what his brother meant.

 

"I'm Lord of Winterfell now." Jon proclaimed, loud enough for his voice to carry across the courtyard. "You can be the Wildling King this time. Or do you want to be Aegon the Conqueror? I can be Torren Stark!"

 

"You can't be Lord of Winterfell, you're a bastard. My mother says you can never be Lord of Winterfell." Robb replied, playfully, unaware of how serious this matter was.

 

Robb's playful smile quickly disappeared as he saw Jon's expression change. Jon is suddenly completely silent and stares at him without any movement. He looked at his older brother with an empty look in his eyes, that seemed like a mix of sadness and understanding to Robb.

 

At the edge of the courtyard, Catelyn narrowed her eyes at their exchange. She slowly walked a few steps towards the two boys, trying her best to remain silent, listening to the conversation between the two of them while watching them closely.

 

There was a tense silence for a few seconds until Jon finally answered: "I can be and I will be."

 

Jon quickly moved towards Robb and tackles the boy onto his back, knocking down a small part of the snow fortress while doing so. They tussled in the white layer of snow for some time, fighting for control over the other. There is no seriousness in the fight, only childish wrestling.

 

"Jon stop it, you're ruining the castle!" Robb exclaimed loudly, looking at the miniature Winterfell, that the two of them had spent hours constructing.

 

"Say it! Say I'm Lord of Winterfell!" Jon shouted, unaware of the silent spectator watching the two of them.

 

"Fine." Robb sighs, raising his hands in surrender. "You're Lord of Winterfell."

 

Finally, Catelyn made herself known, loudly clearing her throat.

 

"Boys! Stop this, stop your fighting!" she exclaimed loudly. She grabs one boy with each hand by their coats and pulls them apart, still swinging wildly at each other with snow in their hands - Robb seemingly having decided that it was an excellent opportunity for a Wildling King to rise.

 

Catelyn let Robb go, who immediately stumbled a few steps back and lands softly in the snow, looking worriedly at his younger brother.

 

"What did you say? Just now? What did you say?" she asked the young boy in a threatening silent tone. The young boy just looks at her scared, his eyes widening.

 

"Nothing, I..."

 

She gives his coat a jerk, causing him to stumble and gasp in fright.

 

"What. Did. You. Say?!" Catelyn asked once more, her voice sharp.

 

Robb quickly got up from the snow, and tugged at his mother's sleeve, trying to get her away from his friend and brother.

 

"Mother stops it, we were just playing," he told his mother quickly, once more pulling at her coat. Catelyn ignored Robb and stares at Jon, who flinches with each sentence as Catelyn leaned forwards so that their faces almost meet.

 

"Don't ever say that again. Do you hear me? Never say it again. Never even think of it again, or I'll have you thrown out of here for the wolves."

 

"Mother!" Robb screamed, shoving his mother hard enough for Jon to wrench free of her grasp. The young boy immediately started backing away. His lip was trembling, and his breath was coming out in small frightened gasps, and he shivered.

 

"Jon come back. I'll let you be Lord of Winterfell, I promise," Robb called after him with a sorrowful voice, moving to rush after his brother.

 

"Robb, no! You can't!" his mother shouted after him, as Robb moved to stand next to Jon.

 

"I don't want to play anymore," Jon said in a frightened voice, looking at Lady Stark fearfully. He turned around and ran away from the courtyard, far from his brother and step-mother. Catelyn looked after him. When he finally got out of sight, she let out her breath in a big sigh. Robb sat down in the snow, with splayed legs as the white once more started to fall from the sky. He caught a Snowflake in his hand as he stared sadly in the direction that Jon had left. He looked up at his mother with a resentful, even hateful stare.

 

"Why did you have to do that, mother? Why do you have to be so mean to Jon?" he asks his mother while looking at her questioningly.

 

Catelyn stared down at her firstborn son, sitting in front of her covered in snow, and for the first time, she felt conflicted.

 

*

 

Later that evening

 

Ned Stark, the actual Lord of Winterfell, was standing in front of a wooden door, knocking softly against the harsh surface.

 

"Jon," he called out silently, not raising his voice.

 

He waited for a few moments, yet still, he receives no answer.

 

"Jon, open the door," he called out once again, yet this time a bit more sternly, his tone soft but leaving no room for an argument.

 

Another long silence ensues until finally, the sound of footsteps could be heard behind the door. Jon Snow opened the door a crack and peered up at Ned. His eyes are red and fearful. It's apparent that he's been crying, bt seemed to be stubbornly trying to look as if he hadn't.

 

"May I come in?" Ned asked his son kindly, trying to loosen up the tension.

 

Jon looks up at him for a while, then relents and opens the door a bit wider, allowing Ned to come in. Jon's room, unlike Robb's, is significantly smaller and far less elaborately decorated. It had far more similarities to the quarters of a servant than he would have liked. Jon was the son of a great lord, yes, even the son of a king. Ned hated that it was this way, but he had to make concessions to his wife. A Lord raising his bastard son in his castle alongside his trueborn children was unheard of, and allowing him the same privileges as them would have been the last blow. As much as he hated it, Ned needed to be on good terms with the Tullys when they needed food during the next Winter.

 

"You weren't at supper," he remarked, as he moved to sit down on the lid of the chest at the foot of Jon's bed.

 

"I'm not hungry," Jon replied simply, keeping his eyes cast towards the floor.

 

Ned gave a half-hearted smile as he watched Jon. He softly patted the spot next to him on the chest. "Come here."

 

Jon, however, didn't reply, his posture and position remained unchanged, as the young boy continued to stare forwards.

 

"Come here, Jon," he repeated, but his tone stayed friendly. It was a request, not a demand. Reluctantly Jon complied and sat down next to Ned. Nonetheless, he continued to stare down at his own feet.

 

"Are you alright?" Ned asked, once again, only receiving a long silence as an answer. Finally, he just nodded in understanding.

 

"I see, you want space for yourself, for now, I'll..."

 

"Why does she hate me?" the young Jon Snow finally asked, as Ned turns to leave, his voice no more than a whisper. His large grey eyes looked at his father expectantly filled with a sadness that Ned had hoped he would never have to see in such a young boy.

 

"She doesn't hate you, Jon," he replied softly, not knowing if he wanted to convince Jon or himself of that.

 

Jon just gives Ned a sad look. "I thought you had told us to not lie to each other."

 

"I...dishonoured her. Dishonored myself." Ned tried to explain to the young boy as he sat back down next to Jon.

 

"Do you wish I had never been born?" Jon whispered, barely audible, but Ned hears it. He visibly flinched, the fact that Jon very much means the question, chilling him to the bone.

 

"Sweet boy, no, no. I would never, ever wish for something like that," he reassured Jon, but it doesn't seem to change anything of his demeanor.

 

"But you're ashamed of me."

 

"I could never be ashamed of you, Jon."

 

"But you just said it. You said you dishonored yourself."

 

"The shame lies with me, Jon," Ned said slowly, but firmly, looking Jon directly in the eyes and holding his gaze until Jon turned his eyes back to his feet. "Not with you, Jon. Never with you."

 

Jon remained silent, but his expression of disbelief remained unchanged.

 

"Come here," Ned says. He pulled Jon into a tight hug, but Jon doesn't reciprocate it.

 

"I'm sorry Cat was harsh to you Jon."

 

Jon's face starts to crumble a bit, but he reined it back in and pulled himself out of the hug. Ned considered his words for a few moments before speaking again.

 

"Jon... you're young. None of this is your fault. But you must learn to be careful about what you say. Lady Catelyn wants what's best for her children. It's only natural for a mother. She's afraid that someday, you might start wishing you could be Lord of Winterfell yourself."

 

"But I do," Jon replied. "I do wish to be Lord of Winterfell one day. And how could I not?"

 

Ned gave Jon an alarmed look, but Jon met his gaze steadily. There is something dangerous and determined in his stare that looks out of place on someone so young.

 

"Jon, you must never wish for that," Ned said firmly, but with pain evident in his voice.

 

"I want to. I want to be just like you, father." Jon insisted stubbornly.

 

A conflicted look appeared on Ned's face. He's touched by his son's words but also disturbed by the firmness with which he says them. Jon watched Ned's expression and finally deflated in defeat.

 

"But I can never be like you, can I? Because Robb is your real son," he mumbled, trying hard and failing to keep the tear away. He quickly turned his head away, but nonetheless, Ned could see Jon's eyes getting wet.

 

Ned remained silent for almost a minute, pondering on the right words to use.

 

"You can never be Lord of Winterfell, it's true," he said finally, watching a heartbroken look come across Jon's face. "But you don't have to be. You have the blood of heroes in you. The blood of Brandon the Builder or Theon, the hungry Wolf. Some even say we have the blood of the White Walkers. Not all heroes were Lord of Winterfell."

 

"But were any of them named Snow?" Jon asked, already knowing the answer. Even at his young age, he had devoured all the old stories about the North. Especially those about the Age of Heroes had fascinated him. Even the scary tales like the one of the Rat Cook, the Night's King, or the tragic tale of Brave Danny Flint, he had already read.

 

"There is a first time for everything, Jon. You'll have to find out how for yourself. When you're a man grown. Remember - Everyone can be the hero of his own story."

 

Jon just deadpans at him, staying silent. Finally, Ned sighed and got up.

 

"You must be hungry. I'll go ask the kitchen to send you something. Then I'll come see you again, hm?" Ned asked Jon, his voice still kind and understanding.

 

"Don't." Came the short reply, once more, only barely above a whisper.

 

"No?" Ned asked, unsure if he heard correctly.

 

"I don't want to," Jon said, this time louder.

 

Ned looks at the young boy with sadness and finally nodded his consent. "Fair enough then."

 

Ned smiled at Jon and walked to the door. Jon remained behind on the chest, staring dully at the floor. Ned opened the door before turning around once more, seeing that Jon was still staring blankly at the wall.

 

"Jon?"

 

Jon looks up. Ned stood in the doorway, pausing to look at Jon before leaving.

 

"Is there anything you do want? That I could get for you? You need only ask," he told him, seriously concerned about the young boy. He remembered staring at the wall in the Eyrie the same way as Jon did now when he had received news of the death of his father and older brother. It was the look of a person that was trying to cover up the sadness in his heart.

 

"I want my mother," Jon replied silently, once more, staring straight at the wall in front of him.

 

Promise me, Ned, promise me.  The words of a long-dead sibling echoed through his head. It could be so easy to just say it... but he couldn't.  Promise me, Ned,  the words still rang clear in his ears. It was hard for Ned to conceal how much Jon's words hurt him. He just looked at the boy with sadness. Finally, he turned and left without another word.

 

*

Chapter Text

The Shadow Dragon - 3 years later

 

Dark clouds lingered above the city of Asshai, creating an unsettling atmosphere, even as the light of the glass candles around the city created a dim glow, just enough for the nine-year-old girl to see. Quaithe had been right, concerning the matter of her safety. Even in Asshai, the news of King Robert's Assassins hunting after her had reached them.

 

All the cities of Essos, from Braavos to Astapor, had been searched by them. They had even gone as far as Qarth, only for the sake of finding and killing her. A girl that had just reached her ninth name day. Despite the Usurper's best efforts, none of his assassins had returned successfully. 

 

None of them could ever reach Asshai, even if they tried. Travelers sometimes attempted to reach Asshai, but nearly all of them perished in the great storms of the Jade Sea, where waves often reached hundreds of feet in height, while rain and bolts of lightning struck the boat, damaging it and allowing water to freely flow into it. And those that didn't perish in the storms often became prey to the giant Krakens that roamed the sea's, devouring ships and their crews whole, before they returned into the depths of the ocean.

 

Only once had Dany seen a Kraken, and she had no intention of doing so ever again.

 

She and Shiera had been out on the open sea, having to get to Qarth to buy food and freshwater, two goods which were never available in Asshai, where everything was foul and uneatable. Some shadow binders claimed that one could drink the water of the green river Ash that flowed through the city. Dany, however, had no intention of finding out if there was truth to that claim.

 

During their journey to Quarth, suddenly, one of the mythical beasts had emerged from the seas. Dany was not a person who was shocked easily. Raising Dragons and living among shadow binders and warlocks certainly had made it hard for something to impress her.

 

Regardless when the approximately 600 feet Kraken appeared before her, she couldn't help but be struck silent. The great beast's eight powerful arms shot from the sea on all sides of the boat, so large that huge waves emerged from where they had risen, throwing around the  Sea Dragon  as if it were a little toy, thrown around by a toddler.

 

Dany had gotten into a fit of panic, already silently preparing herself to die, since she knew that when the eight arms were around them, that meant that the Kraken's mouth was right beneath them. But the end she had expected had never come when the giant Kraken returned to the sea, letting them live.

 

 When Dany had asked Shiera why the Kraken had not eaten them, the woman had told her that even Kraken's knew the power of shadowbinders. The Kraken had sensed the magical powers on the boat and returned to the depths to search for other prey.

 

"Why would the Krakens care at all about if their prey had magical blood?" Daenerys had asked, receiving a rather simple answer from Shiera.

 

"Krakens are magic, just as your Dragons. By killing sorcerors and beings of magic, they extinguish their magic and weaken the overall presence of it in the world. And if magic gets weaker in the world, as do they. Where magic is strong they feast on it, eat it as much as they eat fish or sailors." 

 

Thinking about it, it made sense to Daenerys. Her Dragons wingspans already reached around 25 feet, making them some of the quickest growing Dragons ever. According to the books about her family's history, not even the Black Dread had grown even remotely as quickly as Rhaellion, Rhaegal, and Viserion.

 

The Dragons had grown tired of their cages quickly and left to stretch their wings, creating their lair in a row of caves within the Shadowlands, a few leagues away from Asshai. At first, Daenerys had been worried for her children, since the Shadowlands were filled with dangerous and deadly creatures, such as the hellhounds that roamed them in packs and other lizard-like animals that spit poison at their prey.

 

Her concerns proved to unnecessary as the Dragons incinerated any threat that came close to their lair.

 

Rhaellion had quickly proven himself as the Alpha of the group. The Red and Black Dragon was ill-tempered and independent, always the first to snap at people and the first to roast a potential enemy. His fire burned the hottest, and he grew the fastest. None but Dany had ever approached him since he had grown too big for his cage. Nonetheless, he ferociously defended his brothers whenever necessary.

 

Rhaegal, the dull green- and bronze-colored dragon was just as aggressive as his larger brother, but he seemed to be more cunning. Where Rhaellion would usually fly straight towards a potential opponent and engage him in open combat, Rhaegal often used his dull green color to hide within the black that occasionally grew within the Shadowlands before ambushing his prey while it least expected it.

 

Quaithe had once called them the mace, and the dagger and Dany thought the description very fitting. The last dragon was the golden Viserion, which she had named after the only person she had ever known as a family. Viserion was far more friendly than his brothers, always the first to warm up towards strangers and the last to kill them. He barely ever showed any aggression besides hunting to get food. Unless he wasn't provoked he was almost like a giant cat who purred when you gave him a few pets on his large snout. Shiera had even approached and touched him a few times, yet only when Dany was there as well.

 

Shiera had taught her a lot of theoretical magic, but she could not match any shadow binders with her magic yet. She knew all about the spells, the price you had to pay to use them, and their effects, but she could not use many of them, and if she were honest with herself, she didn't want to.

 

Many spells were insanely powerful, such as the creation of shadow wraiths that hunted down and killed whoever you wished with no one being able to stop them. Yet all these spells came with a large cost. To create such an assassin, one had to give up a part of his soul, often resulting in a loss of certain emotions, such as empathy, love, or joy. Many other prices demanded a person's lifeblood as payment or even their soul.

 

During her time in Asshai, she had often seen sorcerers, red priestesses, or warlocks sacrifice slaves or just unfortunate smallfolk from Essos to the flames. Such practices disgusted the little girl, an inevitable sentiment if you heard the screams of them every night.

 

Despite her dislike for the warlocks, she would now have a teacher who was one of them. The warlocks were the main group behind the sacrifices to the flames, but their knowledge of sorcery and sacrifice was well known.

 

During her last journey to Qarth, where they had also seen the Kraken, they had returned with a new member. Quaithe had hired the Warlock Pyat Pree from the House of the Undying. He was a representative of the city of Qarth and was seated among the thirteen, a council that ruled Qarth.

 

He was among the most powerful Warlocks who serve the Undying, a mysterious species that lives within their famous magical tower in Qarth, named the House of the Undying. He was a wise man who had mystical powers in the fields of necromancy and alchemy. Like most Warlocks, he regularly consumed a potion named Shade of the evening, a beverage commonly drunk by the warlocks of Qarth, which supposedly gave them visions of the past, present, and sometimes even the future. As a side effect, their lips turned blue and sometimes even went mad.

 

This warlock going by the name of Pyat Pree was now supposed to teach her mainly in Necromancy but also other magic. When Daenerys had met him, he had used his magic to create lots of duplicates of himself. It had been haunting for the young girl to see a dozen Pyat Pree's walk towards her. She had hoped that one day she could do the same.

 

She saw Pyat Pree enter her practice chamber, a dim room, lit only by the light of the glass candles. Like all the buildings of Asshai, its walls were made of the oily black stone, common to Asshai. Despite his wide set of magical skills and the fact that he was a good teacher, Daenerys did not like the man a lot.

 

Pyat Pree always walked with the stride of a man who knew everything about all there was to know, gazing down on you with black-pale eyes from his long, copper wrung neck. Always with an uncanny half-smile; never hurried and never scared. His skin was pale and shriveled, while his eyes were very pale and blue, giving him a bit of the appearance of a walking corpse. A very rich corpse, since he was always clothed in the finest silks.

 

He bowed to Daenerys slightly as he entered the room. “It’s a true pleasure to have the privilege to teach you, Mother of Dragons,” he said before walking towards her.

 

"Your guardian informed me that I was to teach you about the depths of magic. The true magic that exists in the House of the Undying."

 

She frowned, turning to look up to the man. "Yes, that is true and you know it, otherwise you wouldn't have come here."

 

The warlock stayed silent for a second before he laughed slightly, an uncomfortable sound.

 

"I hope that your mind is as sharp as your tongue, Mother of Dragons. Sharp blade - Sharp mind. These qualities will get you far in life. Add that to a talent for magic and you shall grow more powerful than any other could dream of."

 

A short silence ensued between the two of them before Pree silently nodded.

 

"Very well. Tell me what you know about magic and otherwise. I need to know to teach you as efficiently as possible."

 

This made sense to Daenerys, so she told him what she had learned in her many lessons with Shiera.

 

"I have learned much about the history of Westeros, Essos, Ulthos, and Sothoryos. Quaithe has taught me much about politics and alliances, the great instances of the known world who control lots of power, such as the Iron Bank of Braavos, the Iron Throne of Westeros or the Triarch of Volantis. I have been taught enough of the mysteries of the body, especially Dragons. I know all poisons that can kill them and their antidotes. Their growth rate in the wilderness and captivity. Their mating habits and ways of hunting, and their preferred food."

 

This caught Pyat Pree's interest. "Tell me about your knowledge of the dragons' growth."

 

"When Dragons are living in freedom, they grow like forest fires. Their growth rate is very high and they become extremely powerful in a short amount of time. This is necessary to them since they can't afford to be helpless for around a year, like those that grow up in captivity. They live shorter lives and rarely grow older than 150 years. the ancient Valyrians used dragon horns and sorcery to tame these dragons as they often grow too wild and start becoming a nuisance.

 

When the Dragons grow up in captivity, they grow gradually and live longer. They die a natural death at around the age of 220, like the dragons my ancestors rode. Their size is usually controlled and watched closely by their riders to not let it get out of hand."

 

She paused for a moment.

 

"Dragons can be killed. There is the scorpion to the eye, like Meraxes, or the slower method of death’s grasp, which can deform hatchlings but can't affect full-grown dragons."

 

"Very good, young Daenerys," Pree told her, his lips curling upwards ever so slightly. "What has Quaithe taught you about magic?"

 

"She taught me the basics of Pyromancy." As she says this, a beautiful black flame with shots of red lifts from her palm, small but steadily growing until it was taller than her. She slowly closed her hand again, and the flame died out, leaving no trace that it had ever existed. Daenerys had always been immune to heat, having the ability to hold her hand into the flames and pull them out against unburned.

 

"Impressive." Pyat Pree told her after she had extinguished the flame in her hand and looked at him for his reaction. The Warlock had flinched slightly when she had lit the fire, the flames being one of the few remaining things that could pose a threat to him.

 

"You have a talent for magic and your blood gives you raw power. Your powers are like a rough diamond at the moment. It's pretty and a decent asset, but if you take it and work all the rough edges away, you'll get a perfect, shining diamond, as hard as Valyrian Steel."

 

Daenerys silently nodded and waited for the older man to continue. She hid it well, but it was exciting for her to learn the same powers he possessed.

 

Pree walked into the middle of the room and mumbled silently, his words seemed to be a spell that Daenerys could not understand. He finally looked at her after a few moments, his eyes glistening with what Dany thought was... excitement?

 

"Shall we begin?" Pree asked. Daenerys nodded as the warlock could see a determined glint in her eyes.

 

"To fully embrace the power of mind and body, you first need to open your eyes, Mother of Dragons. You need to drink of truth and wisdom."

 

This statement confused the young girl. "Open my eyes? My eyes are open..." she asked, frowning ever so slightly.

 

"No, no, no..." Pree answered, chuckling silently. "Your third eye. Your inner eye. The eye with which you shall see the past, present, and future."

 

He pulled a small vial out of his long robes. It was filled with a thick, blue liquid, which Dany immediately recognized as Shade of the evening, the wine of warlocks, made from the inky blue leaves that grow on the so-called black-barked trees, which grow only around the House of the Undying.

 

Reluctantly, Dany took the vital from the warlock, already disgusted by its intense smell that stung in her nose. The first sip of the glass tasted like ink and spoiled meat, rotten and foul, and it left a nasty taste in her mouth. But when she finally swallowed, it seemed to come to life within her.

 

She could feel all the tastes she had ever known on her tongue, but the flavor was unlike anything she had known. She could taste Honey and anise, cream and ash, raw meat and hot blood, gold and silver, fire, and ice.

 

The liquid seemed to fill her, expanding inside of her until she lost herself in its taste.

 

Suddenly the room disappeared, and instead of Pree, a cloaked man stood before her, his grey beard so long, that it slithered on the ground like a snake. In his hands, he held a little vial, filled with a substance as clear as water and an amethyst-colored crystal in it. The old man dropped the large carcass of a boar along with the vital in front of a young dragon before once more disappearing into the shadows.

 

The shadows grew darker and darker until they turned into a flock of ravens, some with three eyes and some with only one eye, and a badge that covered the other. They flew around her, cawing loudly in an ugly melody as they rose further and further into the air.

 

A dark knife, veiled in shadows and dark with blood rose above a great pale wolf, a glowing tower looming in the distance as the serrated dirk came down.

 

Daenerys could see a gigantic Kraken rise from beneath the waves, consuming all that came near it. Suddenly it turned into dust, leaving nothing behind of itself, while the smoke formed around an island standing out amidst the ocean. The rock was red with blood and shined with gold, a glass candle burning atop it. The dark mist grew denser and denser until Daenerys could see naught but darkness, the rock fully clouded within the smoke.

 

The Smoke filled her lungs and burned in her eyes until darkness claimed her, and she fell unconscious.

 

Suddenly she was back in her mansion in Asshai, laying on the floor of their teaching room. Her head hurt, and she could still feel the smoke in her lungs. "You did well, Mother of Dragons," Pyat Pree spoke, looking at her silently from the entrance of the room. "Most Warlock acolytes we see in the House of the Undying never get Visions of the strength which you experienced. You should be proud."

 

"I don't feel proud," Dany muttered, moving to get up once more, still dizzy from the effects of the potion.

 

Finally, she stood again, and even though it was still shaky, she hid it rather well.

 

"Again," she said, her voice firm. "I want to try again."

 

"Not today, Bride of Shadows," Pree said with a sigh. "I admire your dedication, but naught but the most powerful warlocks may consume Shade of the evening more than once a day. Rest now. Tomorrow we'll try again."

 

Dany just nodded, accepting her new teacher's words.

 

"We shall meet here again on the morrow. It's time for you to learn the true magic," Pyat Pree told her, just as she made to leave the room.

 

She merely nodded in response, but she could feel excitement fill her.  Finally,  she thought and left with a large smile on her face.

 

*

 

The Spider

 

"Lord Varys!" The slimy voice of Petyr Baelish called out as he approached the eunuch. Varys was standing in the middle of the small-council chamber, though nobody else was there.

 

"Lord Baelish," Varys replied with a polite nod, keeping his arms tucked away in his sleeves as he usually did. "Such a lovely day in the Red Keep, no? I'd say seeing you was just as lovely but I'd be deceiving you."

 

"And that would bother you?" Baelish asked, looking at Varys questioningly.

 

"Dishonesty is most of what I do, Lord Baelish," Varys said, keeping his voice neutral. “Keeping the King's Peace is such a fickle affair... There are always enemies everywhere." Varys let out a practiced sigh. "The Targaryen girl in the East... There are even rumours of the Wildlings gathering under a new King-beyond-the-Wall. And let's not forget about the Martells in the South. So many threats to the King's Peace everywhere... Even in the Red Keep itself.” Varys stared directly at Littlefinger, showing who he meant with that statement.

 

"But are you a loyal servant to the King, Lord Varys? I took a look into your more... personal... affairs and I found some very interesting dealings with a certain Magister of Pentos," Littlefinger told Varys while slowly moving closer until they were a foot apart.

 

"They often involved a certain... boy... you wouldn't know anything about such affairs as a loyal servant to the King?"

 

"I know of no such involvements, Lord Baelish. Regardless of this matter, there is something my little birds tell me about you. Lady Arryn was so overjoyed that she was reunited with her old childhood friend, which she loved so dearly..."

 

Littlefinger merely smiled at Varys, raising an eyebrow in mock confusion. "Can a person not be happy about such matters, old friend? It must be hard for you to understand such things, given that you don't have any friends..."

 

Varys merely looked at his adversary with a disappointed glance. "You can well do better than that. You can also do better than Lysa Arryn. My little birds figured, that the young Lord Robin, heir to the Vale, was sired suspiciously close to your... acquaintance. He also does not resemble his parents all that much with his brown hair and large eyes…"

 

"What you are suggesting is outrageous, Lord Varys. I would never dare to steal a man's wife, let alone the one of a Lord Paramount," he replied with his slimy voice, his tone suggesting he would very much dare to do so.

 

"Not even Lord Stark's wife?" Varys asked with mockery clear in his tone. "Such a shame... You had to settle for your second choice."

 

"A shame truly. Not that you would understand anything about the pleasures of women. I could teach you, you know? Just come visit me in my... humble establishments. Whatever girls you desire are free for you, old friend."

 

"No need to teach me, Lord Baelish," Varys said dismissively. "Disappointing married women is not a skill that I require for my work. Besides, the absence of desire always leaves a certain... void of motivations, that allows you to fill this void with other things... Other... greater motivations."

 

Littlefinger smiled slightly at his rival. "I admire you, Lord Varys. I have spent all my life doing my best to climb the ladder... but still, my climb is not even remotely close to the extent of yours. Born a slave eunuch in Lys and now Master of Whisperers on the small council..."

 

"Our likes have to work hard for our influence," Varys said, after turning around and wandering through the council chamber. "Not everyone gets power laid into their crib, but anyone can earn it. I admire you, Lord Baelish. A shame that our motivations don't meet up or we could have had the world together."

 

"Don't we already?"

 

Suddenly the door to the small council chamber flew open, revealing a red-faced Robert Baratheon.

 

"My King," both immediately pronounced loudly, dipping their heads to the man.

 

The King was already visibly getting older and small strains of grey hair grew amongst his black ones, yet still, the King was the very image of a Warrior. His frame was lean and strong, defined by thousands of hours spent in the training yards of both the Eyrie and the Red Keep, and on battlefields all across Westeros.

 

He and his wife, the Queen, did not have a very loving relationship. Their firstborn son, Joffrey, was constantly fussed over by the Queen, turning him already into the most spoiled brat the realm had ever seen. Joffrey had inherited his mother's Lannister looks. Where Joffrey had Golden curls and green eyes, his younger brother and sister, Myrcella and Tommen had taken after their father, resulting in them having Black hair and blue eyes.

 

Both parents had their favorites, Cersei neglected her younger children completely, while Robert saw himself in the young Tommen, already planning to teach the young boy in warfare and fighting with a war hammer.

 

"Gather the council ya cunts!" The King's voice boomed through the halls, making Varys and Littlefinger flinch slightly. "The whore is in Asshai!"

 

 

*

 

The Bastard of Winterfell

 

The blunt sword quickly cut through the cold air but was suddenly stopped. Another blade intercepted it mid-air, steel scraping against steel. Jon quickly twisted to stab at his opponent. Robb had misjudged his swing by a league, and it deflected the hit towards the ground, the sword point passing past Jon, not even coming close to hurting him. Jon weaved aside and slashed at Robb's legs, delivering a heavy blow. Robb remained standing, but his muscle and bone visibly shuddered from the impact.

 

Jon carefully eyed Lady Catelyn, who silently watched their duel, a displeased look on her face. In his opinion, she always looked as if she had just sucked a lemon, though he would never dare to say that to her face. Resigned, that he would once more have to hold back during the spar so he would not anger Lady Stark, he once more took his fighting stance, purposely not bending his knees as much and gripping his sword a bit more loosely. Something Ser Rodrik immediately realized, judging by the frown on his face.

 

The boys exchanged blows once more, this time with Robb getting an advantage over Jon. Jon controlled his breathing, ducking and weaving to avoid Robb's blunt sword as he blocked slashes and turned aside thrusts. Robb kept Jon on his back foot, pushing him further and further back, while his mother smiled slightly.

 

"Is that the best you can do, Snow?" he asked mockingly and forced a smile on his face. But Jon wasn't fooled. Robb looked tired and his muscles seemed strained, his eyebrows were glistering from his sweat.

 

Jon felt his ire rise in him, his plan to hold back to appease Catelyn forgotten.

 

Immediately Jon was on Robb, slashing relentlessly. Left, right, left, right, he attacked, delivering a few very hard blows to Robb's sword. Robb visibly had issues keeping up and Jon's blows not rarely sent an uncomfortable jolt up Robb's arm from the collision.

 

Finally, Jon performed a riposte against Robb's sword, a move Ser Rodrick had not yet taught them, but one he had seen plenty of times when the Household guards sparred against each other. The riposte finally ripped Robb's sword from his hands and left him disarmed, the sword falling to the ground a few feet away.

 

Robb stumbled and made to stand up again and pick up his sword once more, but the moment he sat up again, Jon had his blunt sword at his throat, pressing ever so slightly into the soft skin.

 

"I yield," Robb begrudgingly told him, slowly standing up again as Jon removed his sword and offered him his hand. "You were holding back again," he remarked, looking at Jon questioningly.

 

“Of course not," Jon replied, overemphasizing the words, implying that he did just that. Robb blinked in confusion at his words. He slowly followed Jon's gaze, turned, and saw his mother looking at the two of them, looking exceptionally displeased. With a final stern look at Jon, she huffed and turned around, leaving the courtyard and the two boys.

 

Robb sighed in annoyance and glared at Jon as they waited for Catelyn to round the corner.

 

"It's not fun, when you let me win, Jon," Robb tells him once she's out of sight. 

 

"Then better train more so I don't have to," Jon quickly retorted, deadpanning at Robb. 

 

Robb made an offended face and took a swing at Jon, who laughs as he quickly dodges it. Jon turned and quickly ran away while Robb gave a chase, running after his brother.

 

*

 

later that day

 

The Stark family was eating in the Great Hall of Winterfell.

 

The giant room was decorated with furs and torches that dip the room in a dim light. The Room structure was simple, one large room with a fireplace that housed a large roaring fire. Grey, stone walls that were commonly used in Winterfell enclosed the room. Rarely other materials were used, as the stone was rather cheap and a strong material. 

 

Occasionally, Bronze and Iron were used, but that was rare. This choice of materials represented the way of life in the north. The Northerners required no luxury or glamour, only efficiency. 

 

In this room, the Throne of Winter had once stood. All the Stark King's until King Torrhen Stark had sat here, with the Crown of Winter on their heads. It had been made of iron and bronze, with seven metal spikes around the edge.

 

Catelyn and Sansa are as usual wearing exquisite gowns with bits and pieces of expensive jewelry, something that was very rarely seen in the North and usually frowned upon. The others, including the lord himself, Robb, Jon, Bran, and the newborn Rickon, and all the Household guards of House Stark, kitchen maids, and other servants that worked within Winterfell wore simple cloaks with furs to keep them warm. These cloaks are once more, just like everything in the North focused on efficiency, rather than glamour.

 

Theon Greyjoy, their ward, was seated amongst the Stark family on the high table in the hall, a special table that was raised in height and signaled that the family of House Stark was seated there. Well, not the entire Stark family. As a bastard, Jon was seated among the servants, just close enough to the high table to understand everything they said.

 

He settled in his place on the benches below, among the younger squires, and watched the room quietly, observing everyone present. The Great Hall of Winterfell was hazy with smoke and smelled of roasted meat and fresh-baked bread. The room was filled with the clangor of plates and cutlery, and the low mutter of dozens, partly drunken conversations.

 

There was a small advantage in being seated below his true-born siblings. During such dinners, Lord Stark occasionally allowed Robb a glass of wine, but only him, stating that the others were too young. Meanwhile, Jon could drink as much as he pleased, given that there were always squires and kitchen boys that sneaked a bit of summer wine out.

 

They were fine company, and Jon always enjoyed talking to them and listening to their tales of battles, beddings, and the hunt. Jon loathed to admit, that these squires and servants were even preferable company to his siblings during meals, given that they didn't have to follow any etiquette due to their mothers watching them closely. Carefully he listened, trying to ignore the surrounding sounds, so he could understand what his family was talking about.

 

"What have you been up to, today, children?" Ned asked his children to start a conversation, looking at them questioningly.

 

"I have stitched a direwolf, father," Sansa immediately told him joyfully and pulled out a neatly stitched direwolf. The wolf was grey and walked on a snowy tundra, just like the Stark sigil was a grey wolf on a white background. 

 

"It's beautiful, Sansa," Ned told her with a smile, as he saw her face light up at the praise. Sansa definitely had her mother's talent to stitch, but the younger, wilder Arya? Well, the less be said about Arya's needlework, the better. 

 

"I climbed the eastern wall today, father," Bran said excitedly, earning a half-hearted glare from his mother.

 

"I told you multiple times already, Bran, no climbing the walls!" Catelyn reprimanded him pointedly, but there was a softness as well to her voice, which was often there when she talked to her children.

 

"And you, young lady," she said, turning to Arya, who immediately frowned upon being called 'young lady.' "Septa Mordane informed me, that you had once again run off during her lessons."

 

Arya continued eating her meal unbothered by her mother's annoyance. "I didn't run," Arya corrected her. "The septa is too old and fat to chase me anyway."

 

Jon looked up at the table. Lady Stark looked displeased, while Lord Stark had suddenly coughed into his mug of ale, hiding his laughter. Robb meanwhile made no such effort and loudly laughed at his youngest sister's words.

 

Besides, I wanted to watch Robb and Jon spar," Arya continued, once more ignoring her mother completely. 

 

"Regardless, stay with the Septa, Arya," Catelyn replied while looking at Arya pointedly. "You shouldn't sneak away, just to watch Robb and that... boy... spar. Such behaviour is not befitting of a Lady of your station."

 

Arya huffed annoyed. "I couldn't care less about the image of a Lady. I did not attend the lessons and watched my brothers spar because it is far more enjoyable than sitting around and pricking your finger for nothing." She told her mother, emphasizing the plural of brothers.

 

"Jon is your half-brother, Arya," Sansa told her younger sister with her ladylike mask that she had copied from her mother. "A lady shouldn't associate herself with those below her."

 

Arya immediately fired a hail of bread crumbs towards her sister and was just about to give her a heated response, when they were interrupted by the loud bang of the entrance door slamming shut. 

 

Ned knew every single person who worked in Winterfell and dined with them. Therefore, he quickly looked around to see who had left in such anger. It didn't take him very long. Jon was the one who was gone and Ned knew precisely why. Jon had sat almost directly below their table and was just in range to hear their words. Ned sighed, still remembering the incident three years ago when Jon had asked him for his mother. This would be hard.

 

Jon ran out of the hall after hearing Sansa's words, not caring what people thought of him. He ran away from the Great Hall, running aimlessly through the humungous fortress that was Winterfell, heading through the empty courtyard and the godswood, it's Weirwood tree with the weeping face looking at him with empty eyes.

 

Finally, he entered the crypts, lighting a torch at the entrance and walking into the catacombs. An eerie silence lingered in the crypts, as Jon walked down the confusing spiral of the many tombs. The Stark King's of old looked at him judgingly as he passed by, their faces were cold, harsh, and unforgiving. They had large greatswords in their hands, recreated with iron, and large Direwolves carved from stone that stood threateningly behind them.

 

The statues whispered to him, their voices hushed and quiet so they could easily be confused with the howling of the wind.

 

"You don't belong here," a voice called out in a silent scream, the sound threatening and every word laced with hatred. 

 

"Away with you!" another snarled.

 

"Begone, boy. This is not your domain," other voices whispered. Hundreds of voices talked over each other until they were only a mess of deafening curses.

Each statue of the hundreds of generations he had passed by seemed to have a voice. And each of them seemed to whisper to him. 

 

Just at that moment, his torch flickered. Lost in his own thoughts and fears, Jon had not noticed, that the flames of the torch had gotten smaller and smaller, dimmer, and dimmer as he moved further down into the crypts.

 

Darkness surrounded him, only a very dim bit of light remaining from the glowing coal that laced the torch.

 

The statues kept whispering to him, cursing him with their eerie voices, driving him mad. Only one statue was quiet. Jon slowly approached the statue, its face not recognizable in the dark. Jon carefully laid down beneath the statue, sensing a weird feeling of safety there. He quickly fell asleep there, wrapped in his cloak. Jon swore before he fell asleep that he heard a lovely voice, a mother's voice, sweet and tender, sing to him as it quickly became the only voice in his head.

 

It was already the next morning when Ned Stark found Jon, huddled against the statue of his sister Lyanna Stark, with a strange heat radiating from his skin.

 

*

Chapter Text

The Crow's Eye   

 

Horrible, dark clouds filled the Doom of Valyria.

 

Black smoke rose from enormous cracks in the grounds, along with the streams of magma that were flowing freely from the remainders of the fourteen flames. The ruins of Old Valyria were far from the blooming society whose epicenter had once stood in this very place, the empire that had ruled almost the entire known world for a long time.

 

Crumbled towers rose into the sky all around them. They were where the 40 great families of Valyria had once lived, but now they were simply remnants of a glorious time, long ago. Most of these once impressive towers were no more than blackened ruins and molten piles of rubble. Great statues of Dragonglass, carved into the shape of Dragons, still decorated the streets of Valyria, which were, surprisingly still almost entirely intact, if one looked past the streams of lava flowing through, over and around them.

 

Euron could make out lots and lots of Skeletons throughout the city, some very old, which he suspected belonged to people who had died during the doom. Other corpses seemed rather fresh, with bugs and other small creatures feasting on the pieces of rotting flesh that remained on their rib cages.

 

Euron suspected that these skeletons had belonged to other unfortunate souls that had dared to wander into the doom. So far, no one had ever returned from the Doom alive, and Euron could not help but wonder if this was to be his fate as well.

 

However, one immense tower, definitely one of the largest of all the ones they had seen so far, truly stood out from the others. Its humongous walls were overgrown by plants and other wildlife, just like all the other Towers, and a large tree had even managed to grow straight through the center of the ancient palace.

 

Nonetheless, it was evident that the black foundations of the tower were still very well-built, even hundreds of years after the doom had ensued. Euron slowly walked off the board of his ship   Silence,   their swiftest boat, which had unofficially become their flagship. He left the few dozen mutes behind, along with some captives and salt-wives to guard the ships they had brought with them.

 

Victarion followed directly behind him, watching the high grasses surrounding the two of them with distrust. Both brothers walked carefully through the wilderness, minding their steps to avoid perishing in one of the deadly lava gorges that were quite common in this environment.

 

Since barely any humans had dared to enter the remnants of old Valyria, ever since the doom, nature had reconquered the lands, where Valyria had once stood. Hundreds of different plants, most of which Euron could identify as deadly, grew in the abandoned Peninsula.

 

This little wildlife resulted in a strange and deadly beauty, only enforced by the eerie silence that lingered above the place. No animals could be seen anywhere, making the rustling of the leaves and the soft crashing of the waves the only sound around.

 

"I do not like this place, brother," Victarion told Euron silently as they walked on.

 

Euron, however, merely shook his head at his brother. "That's why we have come all the way here, my old friend and comrade," he replied with a small grin on his face. "If it were so easy, many others would have done it already. But no one has so far, why do you think is that, brother?"

Slowly the two of them approached the tower. Victarion precautiously took his enormous axe, which he carried around on his back into his hands. Euron meanwhile, drew his short dagger from its sheath, a well-crafted weapon which he had already acquired during their journey.

 

Its blade was masterfully crafted from Valyrian Steel, its black ripples spreading wildly and unpredictably through the metal. A roaring Dragon formed the grip of the dagger, its eyes replaced by large rubies.

 

As they entered the tower, Euron could immediately feel a chill go over him. It felt as if something wet and slippery licked over his neck, making him quickly spin around on multiple occasions, but find nothing but air. Somehow the further they went into the old tower, the beautiful walls, made from Dragonglass seemed to shrink, closing in on them from all sides.

 

It was evident that barely anything had been touched or moved in the last four decades, this being obvious due to the large amounts of dust that had settled on any broken furniture or the sheer amount of erosion that had taken place.

 

As the walls seemingly grew closer and closer, Victarion became visibly uncomfortable, as they, for the first time, faced a threat that couldn't be defeated with his battleaxe.

 

"Keep going, brother," Euron muttered while carefully looking around them. "It's just a simple magic trick, a spell to frighten away possible thieves. And that means, that there must be something that this spell was made to protect."

 

The two of them slowly walked down a large, spiraling staircase that was wide enough, so that two elephants could have comfortably walked on them next to each other without touching. Spider webs were dangling in every corner and dipped the dragon sculptures in a shade of white. Euron could see a few small spiders, most of them grey and black, and well hidden in the dark crawl over the statues.

 

On each of the Dragonstatues that were aligned along the wall sat a rider, seemingly guarding the pathway. On the other side of the spiraling staircase were huge firepots, each of them large enough so that a few dozen men could have stood in each of them.

 

 Something a few Red Priests we encountered might have appreciated   Euron thought to himself.

 

All of them were surprisingly clean and in almost perfect shape, yet obviously, none were alight. Euron wondered how the Valyrians had lit these things, given that should anyone try to set aflame any wood or other burning materials that laid inside the pot, they would first have to climb into it, given how massive and high the pots were.

 

 They did have Dragons to light it for them, though,   Euron mused as they continued on their path, staying vigilant.

 

Finally, the two of them reached the end of the underground tunnel, sealed by a humongous double-door. The door seemed well built, elaborately crafted from the mythical metal, know as Valyrian Steel, combined with wood. Intricate patterns of steel and bits of gold decorated the door, giving it an appearance of both glamour and power, that Euron couldn't help but admire.

 

The two brothers slowly approached the door and subverting Euron's expectations, it wasn't locked and glided open at the slightest touch, revealing a treasure chamber.

 

The room was huge, just as the rest of the building seemingly carved from Dragonglass and reinforced with Valyrian Steel. Gold and jewels filled every corner of the room and made the room glow brightly, even in the faint light. But despite all the pomp and riches that could have allowed him and Victarion to make even Tywin Lannister go pale with envy, Euron only had eyes for one object.

 

An enormous horn stood in the middle of the room. The horn was 6 feet long, it's surface shiny and reflective, though the reflection depicted was somehow twisted, seemingly different from what it should show. The bands of the horn were covered by strange writings that Euron could identify as Valyrian glyphs. It was cut from the gigantic bone of an ancient creature, the surface glimmering in the pale color of ivory.

 

Gradually Euron approached the horn, letting his hand slide down the surface. It felt warm and smooth. As soon as he touched it, Euron was immediately overcome by a feeling of power. Euron turned his head towards his brother, ever so slowly and smiled imperceptibly, just as all the firepots lit up.

 

*

 

   The Mother of Dragons   

 

Daenerys gradually woke up from a good night of sleep, stretching her limbs and rubbing her eyes. Her excitement quickly grew when she remembered what day today was. Just yesterday, she and Archmaester Marwyn, a man who had sworn his allegiance to her just a few months ago, had visited the Dragons together. There, they had decided that she was finally strong enough to ride Rhaellion, the largest of her three winged children.

 

Marwyn, as well as Pyat Pree, knew surprisingly much about Dragons, and both had quickly agreed that controlling a dragon was something that required a lot of willpower and mental strength. 

 

The two of them had, therefore, before they would allow her to ride her children practiced a lot with her. The exercises always meant to strengthen the bond between her and her child. And it had worked. Once, there had been no connection at all. She had just looked at them as children and, to some extend, pets. But now they were more. She could now feel their presence and, at times, even their emotions. They flowed by her and merged with her own feelings.

 

Daenerys was still quite small at eleven namedays, her Dragons having long surpassed her in size. The Dragons, six namedays old, had already grown into what anyone besides her and her closest companions would call monsters. Rhaellions wingspan already reached around forty feet, the other two just about 10 feet shorter.

 

She quickly changed from her sleeping gown, made from quality silk from Qarth into her new clothes. Marwyn had ordered them, made especially for dragon-riding. Daenerys loved these new clothes. Looking at them from the outside, they seemed quite similar to a dress, but they were still very different.

 

Unlike the dresses she had seen women in Qarth usually wear, this one was far less flexible and fixed in its shape so that it would not flutter in the wind. When she was in the air, the metal plates, which were expertly stitched in between the cloths, would also provide her with necessary armor that was almost undetectable to the naked eye.

 

Beneath the dress that reached approximately to her knees, she wore black leather breeches along with a pair of black boots, something that usually boys would wear in the training yard. Not that she had ever seen boys in the training yard, since there were no other children in Asshai and Viserys had never tried to train with a sword, despite Ser Willem offering to teach him.

 

Still, she, Shiera, and Marwyn had taught her much about the customs of Westeros, so she knew that boys started learning to fight, often already at the age of 4 or 5 namedays.

 

Something Shiera and Marwyn thankfully never shied away from was telling her the hard truths instead of any sweet lies. Not when it came to the topic of her family, especially her father, and the suffering he caused, nor any other harsh truths about how the world worked.

 

Many of these teachings stood quite in contrast to what Viserys had told her, especially regarding her family. Truthfully after learning about her family's actions, she couldn’t help but agree with their sentiment. Her new clothes were now colored black and purple instead of black and red, something that Daenerys herself had demanded of Marwyn.

 

Purple was still quite similar to the usual red in the Targaryen colors, yet it showed that she was different from her family, all those that had grown up in the sheltered environment of the Red Keep. The very environment that had finally allowed them to grow arrogant and lazy. The arrogance that had eventually brought the end of their 300-year-old dynasty. Dany had grown up quickly in Asshai, something that happened quite naturally here. Asshai was a harsh city filled with cruel men and women.

 

Even though she had often been horrified at first during her lessons, she preferred to find things out the hard way. A harsh truth was still better than the sweetest lie, Shiera had told her.

 

Apparently, news of her being in Asshai had gotten to Robert Baratheon. Sadly a sailor who saw her had immediately fled to Westeros and informed the Usurper King of her survival and location. Information that had likely earned him a life of wealth and glamour. 

 

This news had spread like wildfire. An hour later, the Usurper had offered a hundred thousand gold dragons, the currency of Westeros, for her head and a million if she was captured alive, many people had come to search for her. They all hoped to claim her head, to live out the rest of their lives in wealth and luxury.

 

Marwyn had been the only one from Westeros who had not tried to kill her. Both Daenerys and Shiera had at first been very wary of the old Maester, but he had earned their trust in time, drawing up plans for saddles for her Dragons and helping Shiera with teaching her. By now, Daenerys had given the man plenty of opportunities to kill her, and given that he had never shown the slightest indication that he intended to take one, Daenerys finally trusted the man.

 

The other people from Westeros had all intended to kill her. Many of those who had tried to travel to Asshai to find her had died on the sea. Even more, had been captured by slavers or burned by warlocks or Red Priests. Only a few had ever made it to Asshai, and those had been taken out quite easily by Pree or Quaithe, or even herself.

 

One time, Pree had informed her that an assassin was coming to seek her out and ordered her to take him out using the magic he had taught her. Daenerys had used an Illusion of herself, a duplicate, to distract the assassin and lure him into a room, where the real her had waited and ambushed him from behind, using her pyromancy skills to take out the man. His tortured screams as his skin had turned black and burned had haunted her for quite some time. The only thing stopping it from driving her mad had been the knowledge that it had been a necessary action.

 

If she had to choose between her own life and that of a stranger, she would be content to live with one more dead person on her conscience.

 

That night, this had been the case. It had been her life or the assassin's life, and she had made the right choice, choosing her own life over the one of a person who would kill her for gold. 

 

But unlike this example, one professional cutthroat had very nearly succeeded in killing her just a few weeks ago, only stopped by Pyat Pree intervening in the last second. This assassination attempt had enraged Quaithe so much that she had immediately arranged for Daenerys to train with a sword.

 

Her new sword-fighting teacher was a woman, around her thirtieth nameday, named Merana. She was a warrior from Kayakayanaya that had been taken from her homelands and sold into slavery and forced to become a pit fighter. She was tall and muscled with olive skin, and in Daenerys opinion quite beautiful, while still radiating authority. She had large rubies embedded into her cheeks, and silver rings through her ears, that glistered in the light. 

 

If Daenerys ever became a good fighter, she wanted to be like her. Quaithe had bought her from the fighting pits of Astapor and employed her as Dany's teacher. She was to train her in the art of sword fighting, as well as serve as a personal bodyguard.

 

Feeling herself losing herself in her thoughts, she quickly broke free from them and left her room, a rather sparse place that offered little more than the necessities and went to look for Shiera, nodding at Merana, who stood, dutiful as ever, guard before her door.

 

The two of them talked a bit and ate a bit of the fish stew, but Daenerys did not eat much of it. While Shiera was a great cook, the soup was made from the fishes that were swimming in the Ash. They were the only wildlife in Asshai, and even they were grotesque and twisted, leaving a slightly foul taste on her tongue. After she had finished, they went to search for Marwyn, who they eventually found on the roof of the building.

 

There, Rhaellion was already laying lazily with the leathern saddle on his back, yet still watching her closely, his yellow eyes sharp and active.

 

The black and red dragon was around forty feet in length with a wingspan of around the same amount. He could already spit flames almost thrice as far as he was long and his teeth, around the size of Dany's forearms could easily cut through flesh and bone, as the bits of wildlife in the shadowlands and the ocean around Asshai had to experience daily.

 

The Dragons spent most of their time hunting, according to Marwyn, due to the fact that holding their massive bodies in the air required lots and lots of energy so that they needed large amounts of food to gain the required energy.

 

"Ah, there you are!" Shiera called out from behind Dany as she slowly approached her, resulting in Rhaellion immediately growling at her threateningly with hot smoke blowing out of his nostrils. "We've been waiting for you." Shiera, to her credit, didn't seem the slightest bit intimidated by the dragon's aggressive behavior and stood her ground against the winged beast.

 

"My apologies," Daenerys replied, a bit sheepishly. "I overslept. My lessons with Pyat did last long into the night yesterday."

 

"I will speak to him about it," Shiera responded, gesturing towards Rhaellion. "But not now. Now it's time for your first dragon ride."

 

Immediately Dany felt the excitement rise within her and looked at her largest son expectantly. Rhaellion growled in what seemed to be something akin to frustration at having to get up from his resting position and rose from the ground, lowering his right-wing for Daenerys to climb up his scaly body.

 

Slowly and carefully, Daenerys started to mount the dragon, until Rhaellion got impatient and lifted his wing, making her stumble into the middle, barely grasping a horn on his back to prevent her from falling down on the other side. Finally, she managed to climb into the saddle, reaching for the leather to stop her from falling off. The saddle allowed her to strap both of her legs and lower body onto it. That way, even if Rhaellion were to fly steeply up- or downwards, she would never be able to fall off.

 

"Careful Daenerys. It's your first flight, don't do anything reckless," Shiera shouted at her from where she stood as Rhaellion got ready to take off. Daenerys merely nodded, as the winged lizard twisted under her, his muscles rippling as he gathered his strength. Finally, his black wings cracked like thunder, and Rhaellion took off into the sky, letting out an earth-shattering roar that could be heard all across Asshai.

 

Daenerys clutched at the saddle, trying to hold on as well as possible. Rhaellion's wide black wings beat the air, and despite the thick leather, Dany could feel the heat of his scales between her thighs. Her heart felt as if it were about to burst as she watched the enormous city grow smaller and smaller beneath her. Rhaellion immediately headed towards the gigantic mountains of the shadowlands, the air seemingly growing thicker and thicker the closer they came.

 

Her heart hammered in her chest with excitement, so much that she started to get dizzy. Rhaellion silently sailed over the shadowlands now, not even beating his wings and simply gliding. If one were to look from the ground, nothing could be seen except a slither of a shadow passing over you, the dark wings merging perfectly with the dark sky. Finally, Rhaellion landed in his and his brothers lair, an otherwise empty cave in a mountain.

 

Daenerys repeatedly commanded her child to take flight again, to take her back to Asshai, to take her back to Shiera and Marwyn, to Pree and Merana, but the dragon blatantly ignored her. Instead, the enormous winged reptile laid down on the ground of the cave and looked at her disinterested. With a sigh Daenerys unfastened the ropes that kept her legs attached to the saddle and jumped down. She slowly slid down his wing and onto the ground.

 

"You need to take me back again," she told Rhaellion silently but firmly looking at him intensively but to no avail. The dragon merely huffed and laid back down, turning his massive spiked head away from her.

 

Dany looked around the cave for anything that might help her get Rhaellion back into the air, but the cave seemed empty. Slowly she walked out of the cave, trying to make out in which direction Asshai was when she heard a faint, high pitched whimper. The sound seemed to come from behind a tree, just a few dozen feet away.

 

Trees were rare in the shadowlands, and those that did grow were often deformed, with pitch-black trunk and occasionally strange, bad-smelling fruits. Dany slowly moved towards the tree, around which a few bushes grew, feeling relatively confident, given the Rhaellion was just a few feet away.

 

The noise grew louder, the closer she came until she finally peaked through the bushes and saw the source of the sound. A hellhound, the size of a small pony, was laying on the ground, its entire hind body torn open by what Dany knew could only have been a Dragon.

 

She immediately recoiled when she saw the huge animal, but quickly reigned herself in again and turned her attention towards the small pup that was laying on the ground, next to his dying mother. There were three more pups next to this one, but those were dead, seemingly having starved to death when the last remaining puppy had fought them for the remaining milk in their mother's body.

 

The mother must have been dead for a day or more, as her wounds had already smelt foul, and Daenerys could see tiny bugs crawl into them, starting to decompose the body. Dany tore her eyes away from the beast and slowly picked up the last child of the mother-hound. The pup was a tiny ball of black fur, still looking quite harmless, but looking at his mother and the fact that this pup had already led to the death of his siblings, Daenerys couldn't really think of it as a cute pet.

Its eyes, like those of all hellhounds, were blood red. They shone in the darkness and very much adding to their appearance as a predator.

"You're coming with me," Daenerys whispered to the pup, holding it to her chest.

 

"Shadow," Daenerys told the pup, it's head quickly turning towards her at the word. "A fitting name for a mighty predator like you."

 

It was almost evening when an at the same time worried and angry Shiera saw the dragon return to its starting point, Daenerys silver hair easily visible on his back. Yet she didn't yet see the bundle of black fur, cuddled to her chest, that would soon become her most loyal companion.

 

*

 

   The Hidden King   

 

 

"We should invade Westeros now," the voice of an old Captain of the golden Company rang through the tent. "We can surprise them. Hit King's Landing hard, with all we have. The city will fall quickly. They'll never know what hit them," he proclaimed loudly.

"And what then?" Connington shot back heatedly. "There are no relevant highborn heirs, Lords or Ladies there in the moment that we know of. That means no hostages. Nothing we can use against them once they call their banners and surround us on every side."

 

"We can make alliances. Offer them titles, gold, and marriages and they'll all flock to your side like hungry crows to a corpse," Harry Strickland replied. The man was the captain-general of the Golden Company, yet he was often referred to as homeless Harry Strickland. He looked little like a powerful and strong warrior, something you would think natural from the captain-general of Essos's most famous and battle-hardened sellsword group.

 

Instead, he had a stout build, a big round head, mild grey eyes, and thinning grey hair that he always brushed sideways to cover a large bald spot on his head. Harry actually used to be just the company paymaster, what Aegon considered to be an occupation which seems more suitable for him than a commander, but after their previous leader Myles Toyne had resigned a year ago, due to an injury, he had become the new commander - but only nominally. He was not considered a very brave man, and most of his own captains thought him a coward, but he was the general all the same.

 

"History has proven, that it is the support of the great houses that matter in the end," Aegon told them, for the first time speaking up during the meeting.

 

"Right now the Starks, Baratheons, Tullys, Arryns will naturally oppose us, and with loyalists holding the Iron Islands they will also have a very strong navy. Baratheon is married to the Old Lion's offspring and he will under no circumstances allow his own blood to be dethroned. Besides he knows that if we win the war, it won't end well for him. He will, therefore, support them as well. The Tyrells have always been too ambitious and will join the winning side, which regrettably won't be us. That leaves Dorne and even their support isn't guaranteed. For all we know, Prince Doran and Prince Oberyn may not believe my parentage and see me as a dishonour to their sister's, my mother's memory."

 

"We could take some lessons from the Blackfyres," the general emphasized. "They mainly recruited minor houses to their cause. Without their vassals support, the great houses are powerless, unable to do anything but watch... Or support you, if they mean to maintain their position as Lord Paramount."

 

"And how did that turn out for the self-proclaimed Dragons?" Connington asked sharply, making the captain-general flinch. "Some kingdoms, such as the Riverlands are quite fractured, I grant you that, but that is of no relevance. The Starks will keep their men under control and no Westerland Lord would dare rise against Lord Tywin. The fate of the Reynes and Tarbecks when they rose in revolt is still quite fresh in their memory. And as much as it pains me to say it, the Stormlords and Valelords all love their Lord Paramounts, remembering how they led them into victory two times in just a few years."

 

Connington sighed before continuing. "Aegon will need to marry the Tyrell girl, but they are too young at the moment. If we get the assistance of the Reach and Dorne and the effect of surprise, we can win."

"Yes we could..." the old general muttered "Of course it would be preferable if we could marry someone to the Dornish to guarantee that they join us," he said with a lifted eyebrow, unmistakably implying something.

"What are you talking about?" Aegon inquired quizzically.

 

"He speaks about your aunt, boy," Connington grumbled. "Her hand in marriage is something quite useful for our cause."

 

"And not to forget her Dragons of course. Our sources, reliable sources, have confirmed that they are growing very quickly. In just a few years they might even rival the size of the Black Dread itself," Lysono Maar added, the spymaster of the Company.

"Daenerys?" Aegon asked, suddenly excited. "Where is she? How big are the Dragons?" he asked breathlessly, earning a sharp glare from Connington.

 

"It turns out she went to Asshai after the unfortunate incident in Braavos. A wise choice, given that there she was able to remain hidden for a few years, until a travel revealed her location to the Usurper, just a few years ago. Ever since there have been quite some assassination attempts on her, but none were successful so far."

For a moment, he paused, causing a dramatic tension, before continuing in a dark voice.

"She surrounds herself with shadowbinders and warlocks and even drinks shade-of-the-evening on a regular basis. Her Dragons, likely due to the influence of the shadowlands have grown quickly, currently, our reports vary between them being 60 and 100 feet in size. Some even say she has learned to use the arts of Pyromancy and Necromancy herself."

 

"Why was I not informed about this?" Aegon asked heatedly, looking around questioningly with fury in his eyes.

 

"The girl is more of a threat than a help, young Griff," Connington replied coldly. "You heard Maar, she drinks shade-of-the-evening and conspires with warlocks, witches and shadowbinders. The Warlocks wine is known to drive people mad and her dragons don't make it any better. Look at it from her perspective. You're a girl, surrounded by warlocks and 3 Dragons, maybe you use fire magic yourself. Now you're supposed to submit to a boy, about your age and probably even give him one of your Dragons. Would you accept it? No. No One would. She's much more likely to betray you than ever serve you faithfully."

 

"Maybe," Aegon conceded. "But is doing nothing instead better? She's younger than me and we still be able to influence her. But what if we just ignore her? She'll eventually leave Asshai to conquer, like our ancestors, Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya once did. And eventually, she'll turn her eyes towards Westeros. Her Dragons might be as big as the Black Dread at that time, and even if we did win the war for Westeros, we'll burn once we face her. So tell me, Old Griff. Is that really the best option?"

 

"If we hold Westeros, we have a position of power," Connington replied slowly, carefully choosing his words. "You'll likely not be able to force her into a marriage, but if you sit on the Iron Throne, it gives you legitimacy. It will be hard for her to deny your parentage then. And kinslaying, as well as kingslaying are two of the worst offenses. Chances are that she will back down."

 

"And if she doesn't?"

 

"Highly unlikely," Connington denied, shaking his head. "But if she does, well... we pray."

 

A long silence ensued as Aegon thought about his words. "Fine. We'll do it your way. Pray, we won't come to regret it," he finally said and left the room, while the silence lingered in the tent.

 

*

 

The Silent Viper

 

"We should harvest these oranges soon," Prince Doran observed quietly when the captain of his household guard, a man named Hotah, rolled him onto the terrace that overlooked the famous Dornish Water Gardens. "They're well past ripe."

It was true about the oranges. Many had already fallen off the trees that grew in the peaceful gardens. Dozens of oranges now laid burst open on the pale pink marble that decorated the floor. They dipped the entire place into a sweet, but also occasionally sharp smell that filled one's nostrils every time you took a breath.

 

The Prince of Dorne and his guard stood next to each other in silence for quite some time, listening to the sounds that filled the air. For a long while, these sounds were the children splashing in the pools and fountains. Once a soft plop filled the room, as another orange dropped onto the terrace.

 

Then, from behind the pair of them, Doran could make out the faint sound of boots on marble.

'Oberyn' he immediately knew. He knew his younger brother's stride, having learned its rhythm from a hundred times Oberyn had sought him out. His steps always appeared hasty and angry. He could hear other footsteps as well, the quick scuffing of Maester Caleotte, trying to keep up with the Red Viper of Dorne.

 

Oberyn always walked to fast. "It's like you're chasing after something, you can never catch," Doran had once told his younger sibling.

 

The captain of the guards knew the prince he guarded. Once, long ago, a callow youth had come to the Free City of Norvos, a big broad-shouldered boy with a mop of dark hair. That hair was white now, and he bore the scars of many battles, but his strength remained and his fighting skills were every bit as sharp as they had been back then, decades ago.

 

Areo Hotah swung his longaxe sideways to block the way of the approaching prince. The head was on a shaft of mountain ash six feet long, so Oberyn could not go around.

"Does he know about the Targaryen girl?" Oberyn asked the captain, paying Maester Caleotte no more mind.

 

"He does," the captain said. "He received a bird, just a few days ago."

News had come to Dorne on raven wings, writ small and sealed with a blob of hard red wax with the sigil of the King. The crowned stag of House Baratheon.

 

Oberyn touched the spear he carried around ever so slightly. "All of Dorne now knows of the girl's survival. That she fled to Asshai. And all of them wonder the same thing. The same question is heard on every tongue-what will Doran do? Will he take this chance to avenge the murdered Princess? And you tell me, he does not wish to be disturbed!"

 

"He does not wish to be disturbed," Areo Hotah repeated sternly.

 

"Hotah," Oberyn said heatedly, "You will remove yourself from my path or I'll take that longaxe of yours and shove it up-"

"Captain," came the silent command from the terrace. "Let him in."

 

Areo jerked his longaxe upright and stepped to the side. Oberyn gave him a last annoyed look and strode past the large man, the maester following behind him. Caleotte was no more than five feet tall and bald as an egg. His face was so smooth and fat that it was hard to tell his age, but he had been here for a long time and had even served the prince's mother.

 

In the shade of the orange trees, Doran sat comfortably in his wheelchair with his lets propped out before him and heavy bags beneath his eyes, his gout keeping him restless at night. Below him, the children were still at their play. The youngest of them was no more than five namedays old, the oldest of them around nine or ten. Oberyn could hear them shouting at each other in high, shrill voices.

 

"We need the girl," Oberyn immediately said, cutting straight to the subject of his visit. "This is our chance, our opportunity, to finally get revenge against the Lannisters. I have waited over a decade and I refuse to wait any longer."

"She was your sister. Aegon and Rhaenys were your nephew and niece," Oberyn said forcefully, as Doran remained silent.

"That they were."

 

"And does that mean nothing to you, brother? We can avenge them, now or never. Do their deaths mean nothing to you?"

"They mean everything to me, Oberyn, and you know it. I loved and still love them, just as you do. But you would have me go to war against the Iron Throne."

 

"Have you learned nothing from our history, Doran?" Oberyn asked, "Her Dragons are huge and just like Aegon the Conqueror once did, the northern 6 Kingdoms won't stand a chance. They'll never be able to vanish like we once did and will meet her in open battle. With the Dornish forces at her back, we can take over Westeros."

 

"Is it the Iron Throne you want?" Doran asked.

 

"It is blood I want."

 

"The Spider is a dangerous man, brother," Doran replied quietly. "He has his webs everywhere and if this is revealed..."

 

"His webs are not very dense in Dorne. Send one of your sons to Asshai and make her marry him. House Martell has Valyrian blood from the many marriages with House Targaryen. He might even be able to ride one of her beasts himself," Oberyn continued passionately, while thankfully still having the sense to keep his voice down so that no one could overhear him. "It's perfect, Doran. We get revenge against the Lannisters and after that, Dornish blood shall rule the seven Kingdoms."

 

"I will think on it, brother," Doran finally told his younger sibling, who let out an exhausted snort.

 

"If you don't want to do it, then so be it. Let me go to Asshai myself and alone if necessary, just let me use my spear. I ask no more," Oberyn replied, his voice absolutely serious.

 

"It is a great deal you ask of me, Oberyn. I shall sleep on it."

 

"You have slept too much already.

 

"You may be right. I will send word to you when you return to Sunspear."

 

Oberyn merely gave a curt nod, turned on his heel, and strode off as angrily as he had come, back to the Water Garden stables for a fresh horse and another headlong gallop towards Sunspear.

Maester Caleotte remained behind, looking at Doran worriedly.

 

"My prince?" the small man asked. "Do your legs hurt again?"

 

Doran, however, merely smiled faintly at the old Maester. "Is the sun hot?" he asked him in return.

 

"Shall I fetch some Milk of the Poppy for the pain?"

 

"No, I'll need my wits for this," Doran replied, "Would you fetch my son Quentyn for me?"

 

The Maester nodded quickly and left the room with a nod, leaving behind Doran and Areo Hotah, who still stood silently near the entrance of the terrace.

 

"Prince Oberyn will inflame the common people at Sunspear. Many still remember your sister well," Areo told the prince hesitantly.

 

"As did we all, Areo." Doran pressed his fingers to his temples choosing his next words carefully.

 

"But she will be avenged soon. She will be. And all the world will watch."

 

*

 

   The Dreaming Wolf   

 

Jon found himself walking through the familiar halls of Winterfell, yet it was different then he knew it to be. The maids and servants he came across were different, and the sept was gone as if it was never there. In the courtyard, two young boys were sparring. Jon watched as the younger boy lost the duel, looking frustrated and annoyed.

 

"Keep your shield up or I'll ring your head like a bell," the elder boy said as he lectured the younger one. All of this felt familiar, yet at the same time unfamiliar. He didn't have much time to ponder on it as he heard the gate open. A beautiful girl with raven hair and grey eyes rode through on a beautiful dapple grey mare. At first, he thought it was Arya, but the slightly taller girl had black hair, rather than Arya's familiar brown.

 

"Lyanna!" He heard the younger boy call out as she circled them with her horse, her hair blowing freely in the wind.

 

She laughed as she jumped off her horse, a large, fat stable boy coming to take it away.

 

Suddenly Jon understood who she was. His aunt Lyanna, The woman who had been kidnapped by Prince Rhaegar that started with the rebellion.

 

But how was she hear? That meant the other boys were his uncle, Brandon Stark, who had died later at the hands of the Mad King… and the other boy was… his father, Lord Stark?

 

He was taken out of his thoughts by the cawing of a crow. Loud and sudden it was it shook him out of his thoughts violently ask as he turned around looking for it, spotting it perched on the side of the stables.

 

This one was different as its beady eyes stared at him, and immediately he noticed something was wrong with the bird before him. It had three eyes, the third embedded on its forehead. Jon turned around, to see if anyone else noticed the unnaturally loud caws that filled the courtyard of Winterfell, overshadowing the noise coming from his kin.

 

Suddenly, a voice, as loud as a thunder, told him to open his eyes. The voice was powerful, seemingly roaring with an inhuman fury, and she was all Jon could hear. No matter how hard he pushed his hands over his ears, or how loud he told the voice that his eyes were already open, it didn’t stop.

 

Vaguely, he noticed that a dark shape was coming towards him from his peripheral. As that shape fully caught his attention, he turned to face it, yet it quickly slammed into him with such force that Jon was knocked over.

 

The bird started pecking his forehead, and in the background, the voice chanted.

 

"Open your eye! Open your eye!"

 

Jon felt his consciousness fade as the pain intensified.

 

Green. That was Jon could see as he awoke on his side. He quickly got up and put his hands on his face expecting to find nasty scars, but all he felt was smooth skin and the occasional pimple.

 

Jon got a hold of his surroundings and assumed he was in the Godswood at Winterfell after stealing summer wine with Ramsay and getting completely drunk, yet it was not that. Winterfell only had one weirwood tree. A grand one, a symbol of the power of the Old Gods, yet still only one. This place has hundreds. He stood up and tried finding his way out, but he ran straight into a group of four people.

 

A man of silver hair kissing a woman with black hair as two men in pale armor witnessed it. They wore long, beautiful, white cloaks that were perfectly clean, not a single bit of dirt darkening the white fabric.

 

The familiar cawing of a crow had Jon looking around, yet what he saw horrified him. Hundreds of ravens perched on the branches of the largest heart tree. Its face not the familiar weeping face that all other weirwoods wore, but instead a mocking laugh, a perpetual smile that looked like the gods were enjoying his torment. They all had three eyes, and they all took flight together, covering the sun and casting a large shadow over them.

 

All of the crows flew around him as they had a feast upon his flesh. A Feast for Crows.

 

They all kept on shouting in unison telling him to open his eyes.

 

The last thing Jon saw before his mind was bombarded with visions were the groom and bride, staring at him with a smile on their face and a bloody gash upon their forehead that revealed a large eye beneath.

 

Jon saw seven men against three others that bore the same beautiful cloaks as the men he had just seen, a tall tower of grief rising behind them.

 

Jon saw a frail man with nails as long as his arms, a beard that reached the floor and erratic eyes sitting on a throne of swords. His eyes flickered to every corner, every shadow, his eyes full of distrust and paranoia. "Burn them all!" he screamed over and over again, as a golden sword, beautifully crafted with the pommel of a lion, burst from his chest, the red blood soiling the floor around him.

 

Jon saw the most beautiful woman in the world, with hair of moonlight and eyes as bright as stars sailing with a fleet of a hundred ships into a thick fog of mist.

 

He saw a large island city, with large gleaming fused towers and lovely hanging gardens.

 

He saw corpses as far as the eye could see all with unnatural blue eyes commanded by creatures of eerie beauty with lean bodies made of ice and eyes as blue as stars. Their voices and laughter rang out across the Icy plains, sharp as icicles, the voice sounding like the cracking of ice on a frozen winter lake. The corpses were clearly dead, but their masters were not. They were strange and beautiful. A different sort of life that was inhuman, yet elegant and dangerous.

 

He saw a cloth dragon, a dozen feet long, with a crowd that surrounded it, clapping and cheering. All the while a Kraken rose from the deepness of the ocean, as the sweet voice of a woman crying for her brother to make a promise to her, echoed in his ears.

 

Jon closed his eyes hoping he would wake up his bed, but when he opened them again, he found himself on the back of a huge winged beast, hundreds of feet above the ground, with the only saw being the light blue sky, while the sound of multiple large wings flapping lazily in the air could be heard.

 

Before he could react, the entire body of the dragon twisted and turned as he was pushed off its back. Jon could hear the familiar, raspy voice telling him to fly or die, as spikes made of ice were forming around them. "Fly! Fly! Fly!" The raven cawed as he started to fall, the air around him blowing loudly, as he fell to the ground, faster and faster until he hit the ground and darkness consumed him.

 

*

 

Slowly he gained consciousness again as he laid in his bed in Winterfell, tired and exhausted. "Hello, fellow Snow," he suddenly heard a voice call out to him. It took almost all his power to turn his head, only to be greeted by Ramsay Snow, staring at him like a maniac.

 

"Finally you are awake," he whispered, his pale, blue eyes empty, yet still shining with false mirth. "I do have something… exquisite planned for today."

 

*

Chapter Text

The Shadow Dragon

 

Daenerys walked silently through the dark streets of Asshai. 

 

The dark roads were, as always, dipped in the weird, magical light of the glass candles. The candles made of obsidian were placed all around the city. The roads of dragonstone were almost always entirely abandoned. Only occasionally could Daenerys see a warlock quickly stroll down one of the many paths and twisted alleys, not paying heed to any of his or her surroundings. 

 

Despite its humongous size, Asshai's population matched that of a small fisher's town. Rarely did any merchants or traders reach the shores of the dark city.

 

The air smelled of ash. Every rock and tree in sight was scorched, blackened, and dead. Just like all things in Asshai. The ground was covered with burned and broken bones of slaves that had become the victims of warlocks or red priests. Yet still, despite all the horror of this town, Asshai had become a home to her. 

 

Her Hellhound  Shadow  walked obediently next to her, her red eyes terrifying to any who would ever dare to cross her. She had grown quickly, already matching the size of a large dog. She reached to Dany's torso when on all four legs. His dark black fur made him almost invisible in the dark streets of Asshai, always covered in Shadows and not rarely with dark fog.

 

Just a hundred foot away from where she was standing, a slave laid dying on the ground, painfully so. It seemed some warlock had used him for a ritual just recently but had only required a few of his body parts.

 

Slowly Dany moved towards the dying man, Shadow trailing directly behind her, while she was eyeing her surroundings carefully. The man before her was struggling to turn over, but his brain had not yet quite realized that his right arm was missing and his left one useless. One of his hands had been punctured by a knife, leaving a deep gash in his hand. 

 

Blood was flowing freely from the wound, and an elbow stood away from his body in a hideous angle. His clothes were soaked in blood, and Dany knew that the man would not make it. 

 

This view strangely reminded Daenerys of something she had seen as a girl in Braavos many years ago, an odd memory of a time before she had become a fighter and sorceress. One warm morning, she had stumbled upon a butterfly as it struggled to emerge from its chrysalis. She had watched it wriggle out of its sheath and tumble to the ground. Its wings had never opened properly, and the fall had caused its crumpled wings to harden stiff in a wrinkled mass that would never carry it aloft. She remembered crouching over it, staring intently at this tiny creature whose life was over a scant minute after it had been born.

 

The man flopped onto his back, clawing at his empty eye sockets with his functioning hand. He was screaming and crying; he could not get a good look at what was wrong with his arms. He knew something was wrong with them, but the pain had to be so intense that his martial resolve had been swept away. He was like the butterfly, lying on the ground, struggling to fly but unable to understand why it could not do so.

 

Slowly Dany retrieved a knife from her belt and knelt beside the downed slave. Looking at the man with regret, she shoved the blade through one of the man's eye sockets. The man thrashed for a moment, and then his limbs stilled. Just like the doomed butterfly when she had crushed it with her thumb.

 

"You should be careful out here, Mother of Dragons," Pree's voice suddenly called out to her, making her abruptly turn around. "The roads of Asshai are never safe. Not even for you."

 

"Dark alleys will not deter me," Daenerys replied, not missing a beat. "I have spent enough time in Asshai, to know this place."

 

"But did you pay enough attention to hear me approach?"

 

Dany chose to remain silent, observing Pree silently.

 

"I thought not." The warlock nodded. "You think you know this place, young Daenerys. But you do not. None do. Many mysteries remain in this place, unsolved even after many millennia."

 

"And what mysteries would those be?" Daenerys shot back. 

 

"You know of the City of the Night? The one they call Stygai?" Pyat Pree asked questioningly. "A haunted corpse city. Twisted creatures, such as demons and vampires, are said to live in its vicinity, and even the most powerful of all shadowbinders have long learned to fear it. Little is known of Stygai, bar that its byname comes from the fact it only sees the light of the sun for a brief period of time each day, around noon. It is even darker than Asshai and not even the dark sorcery of this city can come remotely close to what happens in the City of the Night."

 

"Why are you telling me this?" the girl asked.

 

"To remind you, that there is still so much you do not know. Lords and Ladies, Kings and Queens, Warlocks and sorcerers. So many great people's reigns and empires have collapsed because of this. They grew more powerful and more powerful until they believed that none could ever dare to challenge them, that not even the gods themselves could ever stand in their paths. Which, of course, always led to their downfall."

 

"Just like my family..." Dany said slowly, feeling sad at the thought of her family.

 

"Just like your family," Pree reaffirmed. 

 

*

 

Merana swung her blade, leaving Daenerys only a fragment of a second to duck. In response, Daenerys performed a thrust with her own sword, aimed directly for her teacher's face.

 

Merana quickly turned and dodged her thrust and immediately went back on the offensive again. She swung her sword towards Daenerys in a perfect arc, a mighty swing that caught her off guard. Daenerys managed to duck out of the way just in time, but she was tiring. She could not take much more of this. Merana's swing was so powerful that it forced her off balance for a short moment. 

 

Finally, she saw an opening in her teacher's defense. Dany sprung up from her coiled position, thrusting her blade out. Yet still, her attacks were to no avail. 

 

Her thin, finely crafted sword sliced naught but empty air, barely missing the Merana's torso as the older woman sidestepped. Daenerys subconsciously held her breath. Merana shifted her weight to the side, and her sword responded, flashing left after Daenerys. She quickly had her on the defensive again. Dany blocked blow after blow, sometimes getting her sword up at just the last instant so that she thought Merana might actually hit her. How could she be so sure she wouldn’t? Dany was sure she would be scared that she would accidentally hurt someone.

 

Merana’s barrage of blows drove Dany back, step by step until she had her cornered against the pitch-black walls of the building with no way out. When her back was against the wall, she locked her blade against her slim sword and pressed until she was trapped against the wall by her own weapon.

 

“Never let a battle turn to a contest of strength,” Merana told her when she dropped her stance and backed away. “You will always lose. You need to rely on speed and intelligence, not your muscles.”

 

Dany swiped her arm across her forehead, that glistered with her sweat. “Yes, my lady.”

 

Merana snorted indignantly at that. "Drop the my lady. You do not title people who are beneath you. Are you a queen or not?”

 

The expression on her face might have been a scowl if she had been a little less regal. But with the way she was standing, somehow looking down her nose at her despite being a foot shorter, it just looked like a dignified annoyance. “I am not. I  am  a princess maybe, but no Queen.”

 

Merana studied the young girl before her as if trying to decide whether or not to disagree. She seemed to decide against it. “The result is the same. Come. Again.”

 

They sparred again with similar results. Daenerys ducked and dove, putting increased effort into not being cornered, but she did it anyway. Merana was always right where she needed to be to press her advantage and was always attacking her, where she wasn’t expecting it.

 

“The best defence is a good offence.  Again . Put your back into it!” Merana commanded, taking her stance once more after having defeated Daenerys again.

 

Again they went, this time Merana drew Dany into the offensive. Her sword spun, trying hard to press every advantage. This time it was Dany who bore down on Merana with fire in her eyes. Quaithe, silently watching from the shadows could hardly follow the flow of movements as Dany drove her back toward the wall, one step at a time. For a moment, it looked as if she would win.

 

Then Merana slipped out of the way as if she had simply been testing her strength. She shrugged off her next strike, her expression never changing, and in half a step, she was behind the younger girl. Silently observing, Quaithe was captivated by their dance and watched them carefully, trying to analyze their fighting styles. 

 

She had seen lots of fighting in her youth, as she had met many young boys and later men, Bloodraven and Bittersteel, Daemon, and the other bastards, high and low. Merana’s blade moved around Dany like a living thing. She only barely got the end of her fine sword up in time before it could cut deep into her collarbone.

 

“Your strikes are sloppy. Tighten up your form or your opponent will take advantage.” Merana lowered her blade, putting her free hand between Dany's shoulder blade and shoving.

 

Dany stumbled forward and rounded on her; for a moment, there was indignation printed on her face before it cooled into something calmer. “Yes, my lady.”

 

“Don’t call me my lady.”

 

Daenerys straightened, meeting Merana’s gaze levelly. “I’ll call you as I see fit,” she said with as much authority as she could muster, making her teacher smile.

 

She took her position once more, bending her knees and lifting her blade, carefully watching the former pit-fighter.

 

Merana attacked her quickly, moving forward smoothly, her armor light and flexible, allowing her to move almost freely. She swung her own sword up in one fluid motion, which Dany quickly dodged by ducking beneath it.

For a moment, Dany got distracted, wondering if this was how it had felt when men had once faced the likes of Ser Arthur Dayne or the Dragonknight. Merana was a determined and powerful warrior, but Dany was sure that even she would not have been a match for these famed knights.

 

Quickly refocussing on the task at hand, she blocked her swing, taking a step back to quickly parry all of Merana's attacks, while carefully looking for any openings in her seemingly impenetrable defense. She stopped being aware of her breathing, as her mind unconsciously focused on the subtle changes in the older woman’s posture and position.

 

Once more, Merana made the first move. It was something she did almost always since they had concluded, that should Dany ever have to fight an opponent sword-to-sword, then because the opponent engaged her and not the other way around.

 

The pit fighter leaped forward, the sword lashing out at Daenerys's neck.

 

It was a marvelously delivered blow, the weight of Dany's opponent trailing behind the sword as it whirled toward him.

 

Dany quickly leaped backward, out of range for the sword, before swiftly dashing forwards again. Merana immediately attempted a swing directly towards her torso, but Dany slammed the pommel of one of her knives, which she carried on her belt, but had not used so far, into her arm, blocking the blow before it could even be fully extended.

 

The older woman, however, reacted quickly, folding her arm back to make her elbow a blunt object. Her momentum carried her forward, and her elbow hit Daenerys hard at the base of her rib cage. With a concussive  whuff , the younger girl felt half her breath quickly abandon her body. It was only an instinctive tightening of her abdomen that prevented her from being left gasping for breath.

 

Daenerys felt the sword coming. If she stood still and looked for it, her upraised face would be a natural target her opponent would aim for. She could not step back quickly enough to avoid the strike either. She had to stay in close.

 

Daenerys had a choice to move right or left, behind or in front of Merana’s body. Moving forwards meant that she would leave herself exposed to the woman’s weapons, but it also allowed her own sword to come into play. Getting behind the pit fighter would be hard. While doing so, she would expose her own back to her teacher. As the sword came hurtling down, Daenerys darted to her left.

 

As she moved, her left hand came up, and she slashed towards Merana, but like so often hit nothing but air. At the same time, Merana's own strike came very close to Dany, as it was, the blunt blade of the sword passed less than a finger’s width in front of her face.

 

However, Merana had made a mistake. She had expected to hit Dany with the strike and had, therefore, put significantly less force behind the blow. Something that had now thrown her off balance.

 

Gathering her last strength, Dany quickly rolled forward, a risky maneuver, given that it could easily expose you to your opponent in its duration, but it worked. Merana, still off-balance, did not see her move in time, and when she did, Daenerys was no more than half a foot away from her, holding a knife directly to her left armpit.

 

For a minute or so, silence lingered, until finally it was interrupted by a soft clapping sound. Dany and Merana turned around, to see Quaithe standing next to them, a sword of her own strapped to her waist.

 

"You have made great progress Daenerys Targaryen," Quaithe said, her voice gentle. 

 

She drew her own sword in a fluid motion, and Daenerys couldn't help but admire it. It was a beautiful longsword, made of Valyrian steel. The sword was rather slender, but still, it almost matched Dany in height. 

 

It reached slightly above her shoulders if she placed it with its tip on the ground. The sword was designed for a woman's hand, the hilt a beautifully carved golden Dragon with a rippled, golden crossguard, A red ruby, the size of her eyes, was embedded in the middle of it. The distinct ripples of Valyrian steel showed themselves clearly in the blade.

 

Daenerys stared silently at the impressive sword, forged with such skill that it could only be described as a piece of art and wondered for a moment if she was to fight Shiera now. However, Shiera wore her usual attire, her red, wooden mask with a heavy silver necklace, alternating star sapphires, and emeralds that together created a beautiful glow whenever light hit it. She also wore a gown of ivory, so her clothes were not in any way fit for fighting. Besides, Dany, in her many years at Shiera's side, had never seen the older woman fight with a sword.

 

And Shiera did not mean to challenge her to a spar. Instead, she took the sword from her hip and handed it to Daenerys, taking the young girl's hand and closing it around the pommel.

 

"Her name is Dark Sister," Shiera silently proclaimed. "She belongs to you now."

 

Dany could only look on at wonder, staring silently at her family's ancestral sword that she now held within her grasp. She knew of Shiera's past and knew that she had been close to Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven, the last known person in possession of the legendary sword, once wielded by Queen Visenya the first herself. 

 

Shiera had been born in over a hundred years ago, sired by Aegon the Unworthy upon the ninth and last of his mistresses, Lady Serenei of Lys. She died in childbed bringing forth a baby girl and naming her Shiera, the child's name meaning Star of the Sea. That had also been the reason why Shiera had later taken the name Seastar as her surname. Shiera never married but took many lovers, and numerous duels were fought for her favor. 

 

Her half-brother Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven, was her most ardent suitor and repeatedly proposed marriage to her. Although she refused to marry him, Shiera did share her bed with him and, by her own words, had been amused by his jealousy. Her other half-brother Aegor Rivers, known as Bittersteel, who would later found the Golden Company also desired her, which only served to increase the legendary hatred between Bloodraven and Bittersteel. 

 

Many rumors had been told about Shiera, that she used sorcery to aid Brynden Rivers when he served as Hand of the King to King Aerys I Targaryen and that she bathed in the blood of maidens to retain her beauty.

 

Daenerys could confirm that she did use sorcery, yet she was uncertain about her bathing in the blood of maidens. Nonetheless, it was clear that she had found a way to retain her beauty, given that she should be far over a hundred years old by now, yet still looked like she had just passed her twentieth nameday. 

 

Despite that knowledge, she wanted more details.

 

"How did you get the sword?" she asked Shiera.

 

"You know about my youth," Shiera said slowly. "However something that barely anyone knows, is that Brynden gave me his sword, Dark Sister before he went to the wall. Dark Sister now belongs to you. She was made for nobler tasks than slaughtering sheep. But beware - She does have a thirst for blood... A thirst for violence, that demands satisfaction."

 

Giving Dany one last look, nodding slightly and smiling, Shiera turned and left the room, leaving behind a shocked Daenerys, Dark Sister clutched firmly in her hands.

 

*

 

Dany was abruptly woken up by Shadow's large tongue licking over her face. She was greeted by the enormous Hellhound laying enthusiastically on her bed, wiggling around like crazy. Despite having woken her up, Dany could not help but smile at her companion. With a sigh, she stood up from her bed and started to dress herself for the day. A new day was dawning in Asshai, and with it came more threats, adventures. Or, in this case - allies.

 

A day earlier, in the middle of the night, half a dozen Westerosi knights had arrived from her homelands. They had come to swear their allegiance to her, but such claims would have to be tested first. The men had introduced themselves as loyalist knights from a few of the Crowland houses, formerly sworn to Dragonstone. 

 

However, most notably, one knight stood out from the rest, a man named Ser Jorah Mormont, a man from a remote island in the North of Westeros and the ancestral seat of House Mormont, vassals of House Stark of Winterfell. 

 

"You will meet my Dragons," Daenerys had decreed upon their arrival in Asshai. When the men had immediately taken that as a death sentence, she had explained that her children would know their intentions. The dragons saw with more than their eyes. They smelled fear and hatred, love. and loyalty. Especially, if they were aimed towards their mother.

 

"What is it that separates leaders from lesser men?" she had asked them. "What is it that separates predators from prey? It is fear. If you do not wish to harm me there is nothing you must fear. Predators like my Dragons smell fear and hunt whatever is possessed by it - and leave alone whatever is not when they do not smell any."

 

Begrudgingly the men had followed her demands. They would meet her dragons.

 

Today was the day on which they would be tested. The men now stood before her, facing a dark cove in front of them. From the darkness, the hissing of the Dragons could be heard. Daenerys stood just a few feet behind them, Pyat Pree, Archmaester Marwyn, Shiera, and most importantly Shadow stood by her side, all of them observing the scene carefully.

 

The cove was huge, easily a hundred and fifty foot wide and probably thrice as deep. The Dragons had moved into this cave, closer to Asshai just a few moons ago, since they had grown too large for their old one. However, such a size was necessary, so that all of her Dragons were able to fit in it. They had grown even larger over the last year so that they now all reached over seventy foot in length with an equal if not larger, wingspan.

 

"Foward," she commanded, a command she knights hesitantly obeyed. Slowly, step by step, they walked forwards, towards the darkness before them. The Dragons loudly growled and hissed at the intruders, but did not show themselves. All that they could see was darkness.

 

"Another step," she commanded when the knights slowed down more and more, the closer they came towards the hidden dragons. Dany almost would have taken it as a confession of guilt, yet on second thought, it did seem natural that they would hesitate to walk towards a dark pit with huge dragons.

 

Suddenly a pillar of flame shot into the air, dipping the dark surroundings into a red and black light as the dark red flames of Rhaellion filled the empty sky above them. Dany could feel the heat around her but was less affected by it then the men who immediately took a step back, their skin red and ever so slightly burned. Still, it was not an injury that would take more than a day to heal. Slowly Dany walked forward with long confident steps until she stood directly next to Rhaellion, who lowered his huge face so that it was on the same height as her. By now, his face alone almost as large as she was. His teeth were nearly as large as her entire arm, and his eyes the size of her fist. 

 

"These men claim they came here to serve me," she told her children in High Valyrian, while Rhaegal and Viserion emerged from the back as well, both of them only slightly smaller than Rhaellion. The dragons loomed over them, their feet alone far more massive than any of the knights. "Tell me, my children, are they sincere? Have they truly come to serve me... or are they only liars? Oathbreakers and betrayers? Judge them, my children, and your judgment shall be accepted by all as the absolute truth."

 

Viserion, the friendliest of her children, came forwards first and nudged one of the knights with his sizeable snout so that he fell over. The knight looked fearful at the giant dragon, apparently expecting to die by Dragonfire, but Viserion made no attempts to do anything of the sort. He merely sniffed around briefly, looking at the knights with his large dark-yellow and intelligent eyes, before disappearing back into the depths of the cave. As sudden as he had appeared from the darkness, he left their sight once more. Rhaegal did almost the same, but their judgment was not what truly mattered. Finally, Rhaellion came forth.

 

"Calm," came Dany's blunt instruction, even though she was aware that such a thing was easier said than done. The largest of her children finally emerged entirely from the cave. His massive body meandered around them so that they were effectively trapped in the middle of his body, with his long tail laid out behind them and denying any escape route. The reptile then lowered his head towards them, his long neck allowing him to circle around the six knights, looking at them from every angle. Finally, he lowered his head directly next to the knight from Bear Island, and Dany was sure that she could see criticism in the eyes of her most vast child. Yet still, he did not do anything, merely observing the men. After what felt like hours of tense silence, Rhaellion pulled back, and Daenerys could see flames form in the back of his throat. She did nothing to stop him. If Rhaellion had rendered these men guilty, then so be it. But the flames never came. Slowly her winged child shut his jaw again and disappeared into the cave.

 

"Congratulations," Dany finally said silently. "You have been rendered innocent, and sincere in your promises. Let us see if you can keep them."

 

*

 

Winterfell

 

Snow was falling softly on the barren, tundra-like landscape around Winterfell. In the far distance, a storm front pushed south, a low, ominous cloud of mist and swirling snow. Still, the morning was clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. Summer had lasted for many years now and might even turn into the longest one in living memory. However, such an achievement was no reason to celebrate. A long Summer was always followed by an even longer Winter. A few small mountains, as well as the large Wolfswood, could be seen from his window. The mountains were quiet. The northern winds softly sang over the drifts and created a soft, beautiful layer of snow. 

 

Ramsay sat silently in his room, playing with his serrated knife. One of his hunting dogs was with him, sitting obediently next to him. Ramsay imagined what it would be like if he would use his dirk on the dog. He pondered on how it would feel like when the blade hacked down through the fur, straight through the body. Ramsay tried to imagine how the sharp metal would slice through bone with a satisfying crunch.

 

Would she squeal? Would he feel the squelch of flesh?

 

Ramsay enjoyed his life in Winterfell far more than he had at the Dreadfort. Since the Targaryen girl in the east had never been captured and grew more powerful with every day, the Stark lord had made an effort to further strengthen the North, by fostering children from all families in Winterfell. It would have been the trueborn heir to the Dreadfort Domeric, but with him already being fostered in the Vale, Ramsay had been the only available option. The stuck-up trout had, of course, protested, but House Bolton was the second most powerful house in the northernmost kingdom, so they had to be included, bastard or not.

 

And so, Ramsay Snow ended up in Winterfell, along with dozens of trueborn northern highborn children. Ramsay hated them all.

 

 

Flashback

 

Ramsay and Jon had gotten into a huge fight. The latter usually avoided the former like a contagious disease, given that Ramsay had not made his life in Winterfell any easier. Ramsay antics had merely proved to Lady Stark that all of her prejudices about bastards were fully justified and correct. And Jon, to some extend, could not blame her. Ramsay was the very definition of everything southern nobility said about bastards.

 

Heartless and unnecessarily cruel, always with a thirst for violence and a no respect whatsoever for anyone. Ramsay was very aware that he was in Winterfell to strengthen its ties with the Dreadfort and knew that they could not just kill him without a valid reason. And insulting Lady Catelyn or basically everyone except maybe Lord Stark himself was not a good enough reason. That had earned him plenty of punishments, both mentally and physically, in the form of whippings, but the boy had not cared about it. He had continued like before, mocking everyone, especially Lady Stark.

 

And Jon would be lying if he said that he did not enjoy watching Ramsay's interactions with Lady Catelyn. He had never dared to speak up against her. But Ramsay never hesitated to rain down more insults on her daily than Jon had ever said to anyone in his lifetime.

 

These insults had quickly extended towards Sansa as well, given that she tried her best to imitate her mother. But once again, Jon had watched on silently. Ramsay left Rickon and Bran alone for whatever reason. Jon assumed that they were too young and not his type of prey. Robb could deal with Ramsay, mostly ignoring the boy and occasionally insulting him back, when his mother was not around to hear it. 

 

Theon, however, was a completely different story. Theon was usually the stereotype of a boy from the Iron Islands, always big-mouthed and arrogant, showing only little more respect towards others than Ramsay. The two of them had often quarreled with each other, their insults not rarely ending in actual fights. 

 

Yet this had stopped one day when Theon had returned from a ride in the Wolfswood. His face had been gaunt, and his legs pierced with arrows. Noone had ever found out what had happened since Theon would never speak a word about it, but he never again dared to challenge Ramsay.

 

However, while Jon had stood by silently for a long time, watching Ramsay torment his brothers and sisters, he had one day snapped when he had taken Arya as his newest prey. Jon did not even remember what had transpired exactly or what Ramsay had said. He only remembered that as soon as his little sister had been out of view so that she would not have to see this, he had ran towards Ramsay and tackled him to the ground, beating him with his fists, harder and more viciously than he had ever done in his life. 

 

Ramsay, on the other hand, remembered the incident flawlessly. He remembered falling backward in the snow, feeling all warmth fizzle away. Faintly, in the distance, someone had been yelling. He felt the pain, he felt his body howling and spasming, and it almost felt like he was dying.

 

His vision went black as the other bastard choked him, harder and harder so that he struggled to breathe. It was so hard to think. His thoughts were blurry, turning numb and fading away. He could not concentrate, he could not feel anything anymore… 

 

All feeling bled out of him, his consciousness draining away. Ramsay felt himself lay on the ice and snow of the ground. Ramsay felt himself bleeding out of his own body, and into the abyss. Finally, all of it turned dark and empty.

 

Is this what death feels like? H e had wondered.

 

He had heard that in the south, they preached of seven hells, but Ramsay had never given the afterlife much thought. Ramsay had never really believed that death was possible, not for him. It did not make any sense; how could he just  die ? He just felt helpless.

 

That moment of helplessness. It felt like Ramsay was back at the Dreadfort, watching his mother pick up a knife and look at him with unveiled anger and hate. Ramsay relived all those memories, this moment of utter helplessness. He had been helpless once, and when he finally laid on the ground, exhausted, his mother's warm blood still on his hands, he had vowed never to be helpless again. Never to be trapped, never to be weak.

 

 

Light. He could suddenly see a faint light again. Ramsay might have gagged, but he could not feel his throat.

 

Everything was dazed, blurred. The young bastard saw the faint blaze of torches, clouded through the black of his vision. He heard the hissing wind, and there were sounds, movement. Sounds of lumbering shapes. Of bodies that quickly moved around him. They all looked at him.

 

Ramsay's numb body jerked into motion, his limbs scrambling to pull himself up and force him to sit upright. As his vision cleared, he slowly looked around. He could see Lord and Lady Stark, the old Maester, and some guards, but then his gaze fell on the boy standing behind Lord Stark. Two grey eyes were staring down at him, and Ramsay could feel their icy look reach his soul, and for a moment, he could have sworn they were a dark shade of purple.

 

Ramsay knew he should feel hate towards the bastard, hate him, and plan his revenge. 

 

Usually, being challenged like this awoke Ramsay's bloodlust. He would try to hunt this person down, and he had wanted that person to die slowly. He wanted to watch the metal edge of his knives slicing into his chest; he wanted to hear the blood hissing, wanted to see the red blood of his victim be soaked up by the white snow.

 

But now he felt nothing of all that.

 

His throat hurt like crazy, but he started laughing, louder and louder, until the entire room rang with his laughter.

 

End of Flashback

 

 

Ramsay and Jon had finally developed some kind of friendship, based on mutual respect. It was clear that Jon despised Ramsay's ways, but still, the two of them had managed to become something akin to a team. The Bastard Boys, they were called commonly throughout Winterfell.

 

Gradually, the pair of them started to change each other. Jon slowly grew more confident and even started to listen to Ramsay's views on the world. While he still valued honor and mercy, he noticed that he began to look at the world differently, learned to see beyond his father's values. At the same time, Ramsay stopped his treatment towards Jon's siblings but did not change anything regarding his attitude towards Theon and Lady Catelyn.

 

Lady Catelyn was definitely the one who was bothered the most by these changes. While Jon's siblings did not care or were solely happy that Ramsay left them alone now, Lady Stark was sure that Ramsay would corrupt him, and the two of them would rise up against the North together. Like she had always feared they would. Only now she was scared they would be allies instead.

 

*

 

One day, Jon, Robb, Theon, and Ramsay wanted to ride out with their horses, a young Bran with them. It was the first time Bran had come with them, and he was very excited. Light snow was falling, and the boys could feel the flakes on his face, melting as they touched their skin like the gentlest of rains. 

 

They mounted their horses and started to ride. They passed beneath the gatehouse, over the drawbridge, through the tall, grey, outer walls of Winterfell. Robb and Jon rode in the front, riding next to each other, talking in an untroubled manner. Close behind them came Theon Greyjoy, with his longbow and a quiver of arrows, planning to hunt some deer, he had told them. Ramsay himself had brought his bow as well. It was not well crafted or even good-looking, but Ramsay liked it, and no one questioned it, given that Ramsay was an excellent marksman. Not that anyone who was not a highborn questioned Ramsay at all, given that those critiques were, well, usually short-lived.

 

The boy had also brought a whole collection of knives. Again they were not well crafted like the one Robb wore on his belt. However, all of their edges were sharp and deadly, honoring the words of House Bolton - Our blades are sharp.

 

They rode down the muddy streets of Wintertown, past rows of small neat houses of log and bare stone, with thin tendrils of smoke curling up from their chimneys.

 

A few villagers eyed the group, especially Ramsay, a bit anxiously as the riders went past, but most of them had grown accustomed to the group riding through the village.

 

Side by side, they urged their mounts off the kingsroad and led them into the narrow paths of the wolfswood. Theon dropped back and followed well behind them, talking and joking with the guardsmen that were following them with some distance so they would not bother them. Ramsay as well disappeared into the woods, claiming that he wanted to hunt something.

 

They kept riding ahead in silence, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere around them. From ahead came the faint sound of rushing waters. It grew louder until they reached a narrow river of water.

 

In the distance, they heard a soft howl of a wolf, a long rising wail that moved through the trees like a cold wind, harshly reminding them why these woods were called 'wolfswood.'

 

A pained whimper suddenly pierced their silent surroundings. Just a few feet away and Jon immediately reached for his sword, but Robb quickly put his hand on the pommel, stopping Jon.

 

"Relax, it's most likely just Theon or Ramsay who have made a kill," Robb said. "We should help them bring it back to Winterfell."

 

Jon nodded, and the two older boys disappeared into the woods, with Bran following behind them. However, his small pony was no match in terms of speed for the large well-bred horses of his older brothers, and he lost sight of them.

 

When he heard the crackle of leaves behind them, Bran used the reins to make his horse turn, expecting to see his brothers. Yet the men he was face to face with, were no people he knew. The shabby men who moved out of the shadows of the woods were strangers, dressed in torn clothes and used furs.

 

"Good day to you," he said nervously, looking around for Jon and Robb to appear. One look at the men before him and Bran knew they were neither foresters nor farmers of Wintertown. Even the smallfolk of the lands around Winterfell were far better clothed than these men were. Were they outlaws? He wondered to himself and could feel nervousness pool inside him.

 

He counted four of them, but when he turned his head, he saw two others approach behind him silently. "My brothers rode off just a moment ago, and my guards will be here shortly," he spoke, trying to get the men to leave him alone.

 

"The pin, lad," the big man said, pointing towards the Stark emblem, forged from silver that was attached to his cloak. He held out his hand, demanding that Bran give it to him.

 

"We will take the horse too," said another of them, a woman shorter than Robb, with a heart-shaped face and short black hair. "Get down, and be quick about it." A knife slid from her sleeve into her hand, its blade rusty, but still looking dangerous.

 

"Put down your steel now, and I promise you shall have a quick and painless death," Robb called out.

 

Bran looked up in desperate hope, and there they were. Jon and Robb were on top of a small hill in front of them. They were both mounted, the bloody carcass of an elk slung across the back of Robb's horse. Theon stood silently behind them, his bow firmly in his hand, drawn ever so slightly.

 

The men, Bran now suspected they were wildlings, wasted no time and charged. A ragged man with an enormous, double-sided battleaxe rushed towards the two mounted brothers, but Greyjoy's arrow took him out before he could do anything.

 

Another man was taken out by Jon when he caught the small woman in the face with his sword, the snow around them turning blood red, and Bran could see a spray of bright red blood on Jon's cloak.

 

Before Bran could process what had happened, another had been taken out by Robb. A moment later, another arrow from Greyjoy found the heart of one of the wildlings.

 

The remaining two cowered behind Bran so that Greyjoy didn't dare to shoot, out of fear that he would hit Bran instead.

 

One of them held his knife to Bran's throat, but suddenly something changed. Robb and Jon suddenly had a weird expression on their face, as if something was about to happen.

 

And something did happen.

 

The man holding the knife suddenly fell to the ground, an arrow in his head. Before the other person, a woman, could react, she had been shoved to the ground, and Ramsay slashed her face three times, the cheek, her shoulder, and her forehead, but none of them deep enough to kill her.

 

"Speak," Ramsay commanded, a sickening smile on his face as he pressed his knife ever so slightly into the cut in the woman's forehead so that she cried out in pain.

 

"Why are you here? Who do you serve?" he asked slowly, turning the knifepoint in her wound slowly.

 

"Ramsay!" Robb and Jon exclaimed in unison, but the older boy ignored them. "This is necessary," he snarled, keeping his eyes on the woman.

 

"We can do this the slow and painful way, or we can do it the - No, wait there is only the slow and painful way," Ramsay told the woman while grinning widely. "Tell me what you know and I might end your worthless life a bit quicker."

 

"Ramsay, stop it!" Robb shouted. "Bring her back to Winterfell, we can question her there."

 

"She will not survive the next hour, Stark," Ramsay snarled back at the heir to Winterfell. "We need to know who send her." 

 

"Nobody sent us," the woman whimpered, before the yelled once more in pain, as Ramsay slid his knife into her shoulder-wound, pressing it a tiny bit deeper inside than before.

 

"We... We...W-We fled south, m-m-m'lord... we scaled the wall..."

 

"What. Did. You. Flee. From." Ramsay asked threateningly, leaning forwards so that he hovered directly above her. 

 

"The... W-W-White Walkers... m-m'lord," she stammered, her eyes losing focus, as she evidently started to die. "P-P-Please," she finally pressed out, before Ramsay slit her throat with one swift motion.

 

The group looked at Ramsay in shock at having witnessed this cruelty at the boy's hands. Said boy, however, merely shrugged, before slowly pulling his arrow out of a man's corpse, the arrow still embedded in his skull.

 

"What have you done?" Jon finally asked silently.

 

"Interrogated a criminal," Ramsay replied nonchalantly while cleaning his knife in the snow. "You should be grateful."

 

Robb stayed silent for some time and merely stared at the Bolton bastard before shaking his head and leaving, waving for Bran to follow him. Finally, the guards arrived as well, finding six corpses, a terrified boy, a Stark bastard, and an heir, as well as Ramsay Snow, covered in warm blood and with a wide smile on his lips.

 

*

Chapter Text

The Dreaming Wolf

 

He dreamt of a woman crying, begging for them to stop fighting. She screamed from atop a tower, watching the earth turn blood red beneath her... The red turned black and suddenly a crow emerged from the darkness.

The black crow circled around him, cawing loudly and picking at him, trying to claw out his eyes. "The weirwood’s roots run deep. I watch you with a thousand eyes and one. I see your future, your legacy, your destiny," an old voice, slow and dry called out to him.

The raven kept attacking him, his cawing voice screaming through a hoarse throat as if it had forgotten how to speak. "Go North," it called out. "North! North! North!"

More and more ravens appeared and circled him, all of them with three eyes and all of them focused on Jon. They picked on him, harder and harder until they tore off pieces of his skin. Their talons clawed his eyes out and Jon screamed in pain as they continued to tear him apart. "North! North! North!" they chanted over and over.

"Go North, King Snow," a soft voice added finally, a woman's voice that was no more than a whisper. "You are needed."

Jon awoke with a scream, his eyes wide open and scared, sweat streaking down his face, his breath all haggard and desperate. "North," he mumbled to himself as he laid back down. "North."

The dreams of the three-eyed-crows had plagued him for years now, giving him no rest.

Jon slowly got up from his bed, feeling weary. He could feel the bruises, the pain where the raven's had attacked him, but nothing could be seen. Jon panted and staggered, his limbs feeling so stiff he could hardly even walk. Sometimes after those dreams, Jon just wanted to collapse – but he couldn’t.

He left his room, walking slowly to not strain his limbs any further. He wandered through the hallways of Winterfell for some time, until finally, he reached the kitchen. Were he any of his half-siblings, the staff in the Great Hall of Winterfell would have stood up and bowed slightly as a sign of respect, yet nobody paid attention to him as he entered the room.

Jon could hear the grumblings in the hall. Every day, the servants and other staff broke their fast with the same meal as always. The white broth, with meat as pale as moonlight, filled with too much salt to compensate for the void of flavour.

Sometimes Jon would eat with his siblings, yet since his nightmares had started, he woke up hours before them, long before the sun would rise over the grey walls of the castle, waking his family. 

Jon silently went to the kitchens and the chef gave Jon a bowl with the white stuff, and after twirling his wooden spoon in it for a few turns, Jon began to have his meal. In the corner, there was a pot filled with water and a stack of wooden cups.

"Jon!"

Jon turned, with cup and bowl in hand, and saw a boy advance towards him. 

"Sit with me," he invited him. The boy was a kid named Shaco, who lived in Winterfell as an assistant blacksmith. He was a joyful kid, though at times when something annoyed him, he could get quite gruff. Still, Jon had come to appreciate his company.

Right now, Jon couldn’t say he felt in the mood to eat with the boy, but he knew that spurning him would probably only lead to trouble and discord. 

"Be happier, Jon," Shaco told him. "We could be food for the wolves, lost in the darkness of the Wolfswood. But here we are, inside the warm halls of Winterfell eating some miserable food, eh?" He stirred at the pale meat.

"Tell me something, Jon. Why are you ignoring your family?" Jon looked up from his food.

"I don't," he replied curtly, but the other boy wasn't going to let him get away like this.

"You do," he insisted. "It's obvious. I doubt there is anyone in Winterfell who hasn't noticed by now. Except Hodot maybe."

Jon remained silent, looking the other boy in the eyes, looking for any form of deceit. But he found none. "Being close to them right now... could... complicate things," he finally let out silently, so that no one but Shaco could hear him. 

"Complicate things?" he asked. "There are two things that being close to them could complicate. First, if you intended to take Winterfell, what I know you don't, being close to your siblings would make that significantly more difficult... You want to leave Winterfell, don't you?" he finally asked, looking at Jon intently. When he showed no reaction he continued.

"Can't say I'm really surprised. It was something that would certainly happen sooner or later. But I had expected you to wait another year or two," he said, letting out a short sigh.

"Night's Watch?" he asked finally after a short pause. Jon merely shook his head.

"Further north. There are... answers I need to find." 

"You're mad," Shaco stated dryly. "Further north than the Night's Watch?" 

Jon took a spoonful of the food and immediately reached for the cup of water, before nodding.

"Can you help me?" he finally asked the other boy, trying to make his voice a bit deeper and calm, like how Father would speak to his lords.

"I will need food for the journey, but getting into the kitchens is hard without anyone alerting my father. You can get in there far easier and take some food with you. You can just say you'll be working for some time."

Shaco looked like he didn't think that was anything close to a good idea and Jon was certain he was going to refuse, until he sighed and nodded ever so slightly, the nod barely visible, but still there. 

"I will do it," he said slowly. "In a year from now I may curse my stupidity, but I'll help you now. But if anyone finds out about this, you will take full responsibility. I worked hard to be here in Winterfell and I won't throw that away like this."

"I will take responsibility. Don't worry," Jon said reassuringly, trying to look as earnest as possible. 

The older boy nodded his gratitude and stood up from the table, chewing on the rest of the grey mush. 

Jon himself stood up as well, throwing his spoon onto the table. 

"And Jon," Shaco said once again when Jon was about to leave. "Don't die."

 

*

 

The very next morning Jon left in the early morning, sneaking out of the castle unnoticed. He had left a letter for each of his siblings, saying goodbye, but promising he would return soon. He simply needed answers, answers he couldn't find in Winterfell.

He took nothing but his sword, the clothes on his body and a bag around his shoulder, filled with food Shaco had sneaked out for him and a few other things that could come in handy at some point, such as two small knives, a bit of rope and some Flint amongst other things.

"Oh my, my, my..." A mocking voice suddenly echoed through the empty castle walls as a figure emerged from the darkness, revealing Ramsay Snow. "Where are you going, Bastard of Winterfell?" he asked mockingly. 

"None of your concern, Ramsay," Jon shot back, looking around in panic, trying to assure himself that no one was overhearing their conversation.

"You're trying to make a run for it, Bastard," Ramsay stated, his pale blue eyes glistering in the dim light.

"How would you know that?"

"Friends told me."

"You have no friends, Ramsay."

"I am friends with lots of people, Bastard," Ramsay shot back, always smiling. Ramsay always smiled like a madman, no matter the situation he was in. It seemed like life was just one huge joke to him.

"Get out of my way, Ramsay," Jon finally said harshly and to his surprise, Ramsay did move.

"Careful, Bastard," he whispered as Jon walked past him. "The lands outside of this castle are dangerous. You wouldn't want to get yourself killed, would you?"

"No," Jon merely said and walked past Ramsay, feeling the boys pale eyes bore into his back.

He finally took his own horse from the stables of Winterfell and quickly rode out into the cold night. With some regret he looked back as he saw the large grey walls of Winterfell with its large towers get smaller and smaller in the distance, knowing he might never return again.

 

*

 

He rode for 3 hours straight, hoping to gain as much distance from Winterfell as possible before inevitably men would come to search for him. Finally, he allowed himself to rest leaning his body against a cold rock, frozen from the low temperatures.

He took some snow into his mouth to drink some water until suddenly he could hear a growl from behind him. He spun around quickly, his instincts kicking in, while he swiftly drew his sword from its sheath in a fluid motion. It felt cold and harsh as he lifted it, frozen from the icy winds of the north.

A Shadowcat stood prowling on the large rock that Jon had been leaning against, eyeing Jon closely while prowling ever so slightly towards him.

The wind was strong and howled in his ears, almost completely silencing any sound the Shadowcat made. The only sound Jon could only hear besides the wind was the soft crunch of his boots on the snow, while the cat remained eerily silent. 

The Shadowcat growled as she went absolutely still, muscles tight, its vision centred on Jon.

The Shadowcat’s paw twitched. Suddenly, the Shadowcat let out a roar and leapt forwards faster than any bolt from a crossbow.

Jon immediately swung his sword, but the cat moved as far as a lightning bolt, ripping it from his hands, so that it landed in the snow uselessly, a few feet away.

He quickly drew a knife and attacked, but the beast was too fast and too strong.

She ducked low and suddenly stopped, making Jon overcompensate to his left and leaving the spear out of position for when she charged right at him. He managed to slash her paw, but it didn't matter as the cat threw him to the ground, roaring into his face.

It opened it's mouth, baring its teeth until suddenly it stopped.

The Shadowcat's eyes turned completely white and blank, making it stop exactly where it was, just as an arrow shot right through its head.

The Shadowcat was pulled off him and it revealed the Bolton Bastard, standing before him, a bow in his hand.

"You do seem to need help on your journey," he mocked. "You did not follow my advice to not get yourself killed very well," he proclaimed loudly, before letting out a laugh.

"Just a few hours since you left and you're already getting eaten by some oversized cat."

Annoyed Jon stood up, yet he still nodded towards Ramsay as a sign of gratitude.

"I'll come with you," Ramsay revealed. "Life in Winterfell is getting boring and... I'm sure that wherever you want to go, it'll be more exciting."

 

*

 

The two of them finally reached the Nightfort by weeks end. It was a cold night. In the distance, they could hear the rumbling of storms, coming from the north. When the stormy winds buffered against the Wall, sometimes it felt like the whole earth was trembling. They could hear the wind howling over the Wall, a constant, dull shriek above them. The sound made Jon shiver and even Ramsay seemed uncomfortable in this environment. Jon would lie if he said he liked it here, but no one sent after them would find the two of them here.

They slowly entered the abandoned fortress. Not much remained of what had been the first castle of the Night's Watch. The rooms were covered in darkness and filth. Even if it had been midday, any light had only very few chances to enter the crumbled stronghold from the cracks in the roof. 

Jon remembered the tales Old Nan had told them about the Nightfort. The stories of Symeon Star-Eyes and Danny Flint, about the Night’s King and the Rat Cook, were famous all across the north. A haunted castle, the Nightfort was called, haunted by ghosts and demons that still wander through the old hallways of the castle. 

They saw the old kitchen of the castle, filled with ovens and firepots. Hundreds of small rats quickly and silently moved through them, creating the soft sound of hundreds of small feet walking on the old marble floor. 

Ramsay quickly threw a knife at one of them, piercing straight through its body and pinning its dead body to a small wooden chair.

Immediately another, larger rat appeared next to its dead companion and bit into the rat’s hide, it's sharp teeth tearing through skin. The large rat, it's fur white with dark eyes tore the rat apart and devoured it before disappearing once more into the darkness. 

"We'll rest now. We can search for the Black Gate tomorrow. I expect it will be hidden somewhere," Jon said silently and he couldn't help but look around every few seconds, looking for any threat.

"Why not now?" Ramsay smiled. "Afraid of a few rats, Snow?"

"I won't deny that they unsettle me," Jon said slowly. "Like they would any sane man," he added, empathizing the word sane. "But they will be here tomorrow as well. We'll simply be able to search better with the bit of extra daylight. Don't tell me you'd be able to find any secret passageways in this darkness."

Begrudgingly Ramsay nodded, conceding the point. They moved out of the kitchen and tried to find sleep in the armoury of the old castle. While Ramsay fell asleep quickly, seemingly unbothered by the environment, Jon laid awake for hours. A large storm had appeared and raged outside. The rain scattered over the Wall, leaking through the broken roof of the Nightfort. The weather was so treacherous that Jon huddled closely beneath a somewhat intact part of the roof, taking what little shelter the cracked ceiling offered. The sounds from the scattering rain and the silent tapping of the rats' footsteps kept him awake, thinking about how to go on from here. Men were surely already sent out to search for them and they would still have to find, and most importantly open the Black Gate, assuming it wasn't just a myth.

Only hours later, when Ramsay was laying on the opposite end of the room, snoring against the wall, Jon finally managed to find rest, drifting into an uneasy sleep.

Jon slowly woke up at dawn the next day, with Ramsay already pacing up and down the building.

Jon grabbed his backpack and sent a silent thanks to Shaco for providing the food for the journey, even if it hadn't been much. He ate a bit of the food and ate some of the snow laying around to get some water, hoping that the rats hadn't taken a shit there yet.

Even with the sun shining outside the abandoned castle and the snow glistering in all colours, the Nightfort remained as dark as ever, the cobwebs that filled the corners of each room and the old, already rotting furniture created an unsettling atmosphere.

A few plants had started to grow inside the old building and Jon could even see a Winter Rose, bloom in the middle of the Snow.

"Start searching for your secret passageway, Snow," Ramsay called out to him, as he himself searched for the long-forgotten Black Gate. Ramsay searched quickly and efficiently, simply ripping off and destroying everything he saw, to find out if anything was hidden behind it. Furniture, paintings, drawers, her ripped out and threw on the floor, kicking open doors and ripping out planks from the floor, but he didn't find anything, just like Jon. 

The pair of them searched everything. Jon looked through the kitchen, where he saw the large white rat from the previous night again, shuddering for a second before turning away from it's intelligent, dark eyes that stared at him with an intensity, unbefitting of a common rat.

Another thing that didn't make Jon comfortable at all, was that he knew a story about a rat at the Nightfort that described it, just like this one.

The story was the one of the Rat Cook, an infamous member of the Night's Watch. The legend said that the man who would later be known as the Rat Cook was a simple cook at the Nightfort, along with many others. He became infamous when he served the Andal king 'King Oswell the First of the Vale' a pie that was made of bacon and, unknown to the king, the king's son. The cook killed the prince in revenge for a wrong the king supposedly did to him. Many whispered it had been this very King, who had banished the Rat Cook to the Night's Watch. The king was unaware of this, however, as he ate and praised the taste and asked for a second piece of the delicious pie. The gods watched in anger, but not at the act of the murder, but at the fact, that the Rat Cook had dared to slay a guest beneath his roof, a man protected by the sacred law of guest right. Besides that, he had also made the king a cannibal, another vile and gruesome crime. They cursed the cook for all eternity and transformed him into a massive rat who was doomed to be unable to eat anything but his own young. He had become an enormous white rat who still lives in the Nightfort today, and all the other rats that inhabit the Nightfort are his descendants. The song of the Rat Cook is still sung all across the Seven Kingdoms, to remind all men and women alike, that the gods punish any who dare violate the sacred laws of hospitality.

Jon shivered at the thought, that this white rat staring at him might actually be this legendary figure from the Age of Heroes. He quickly continued his search to distract himself, searching through all ovens and drawers to find any secret entrance or even a lever that would open one. But his search remained unsuccessful. He silently strode through the castle, looking through every room. 

Many of them were creepy and frightening, rooms that would make any sane man turn around and run, abandon the Nightfort and never return. But Jon was determined to go on, to go north, to find the source of his Nightmares and end it, once and for all. He didn't even know where to do, but he trusted his instincts, that insisted that his dreams would guide him.

One of those scary rooms he searched was a butchery. Dozens of meat hooks were hanging from the ceiling, where dozens of carcasses of dead animals had once hung. The bones of pigs, cows and other animals that were laying on the ground of the floor, still soaked red with the blood of thousands of slaughtered animals. Many skulls were laying in the corner and when Jon went into the next room he could see hundreds of them.

The skulls of Dogs, cows, sheep, cats, pigs... all of them were lined up, carefully ordered. Jon shook in disgust. It appeared someone had made it his hobby to collect the skulls of the dead animals and had made his own, private collection from them. Even now, that the Nightfort had been abandoned for over a hundred years, they were still neatly ordered and many even had numbers carved into the skulls. Jon didn't want to think about whether or not the animals had been alive during this carving.

Even with them searching the Nightfort together for hours, they still weren't able to fully cover every area. The Nightfort had been the first castle to be built and was also by far the largest. It had many broken towers and a maze of tunnels connecting its vaults and tunnels. Buildings include a bell tower, a rookery, a brewhouse, a library, a dungeon capable of holding five hundred prisoners, a bathhouse, an armoury, and a forge. The rat-filled great hall only has one remaining wall.

There were so many places a secret passageway could be hidden.

After two days of searching, they finally wanted to give up, assuming that the Black Gate was just a myth. Finally, Jon had one last idea.

Old Nan had always said, that the Black Gate is a hidden subterranean gate that allows passage to the other side of the Wall and is as old as the Wall itself. Therefore it must have been build, together with the first version of the castle. Yet according to maesters who served at the Nightfort, the castle was rebuilt many times over thousands of years, with only the deep stone vaults remaining from its first form. So that was where they would search.

The two bastard boys entered the deep vaults by passing through a well in the kitchen and down a long, secret staircase that they had discovered until they arrived at the very bottom of the Nightfort, where hundreds of old, strong vaults stood. They searched intensively, every corner and every room, behind every picture and in every vault, they managed to open, but unsuccessful, until finally, Jon found it.

A large black gate, shining mysteriously and glowing, even in the very dim light. The gate was small, just a half a dozen feet in height and 4 foot in width, so that no more than 2 men could pass it at the same time. A white face, carved from Weirwood, was visible in the middle of the gate, just like the legends told. The face was that of a very old man, seemingly thousands of years old. Its features were old, pale, shrunken, and wrinkled with white eyes that looked empty and dead. Yet still, it seemed alive.

"Who are you?" the face asked as Jon approached and Ramsay, hearing the words immediately rushed to Jon.

Remembering what Old Nan had told him once, Jon replied: "I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers. I am the shield that guards the realms of men."

It was said that the door would open then, saying, "Then pass." Legend said, that the door's lips would open wider and wider still until nothing remains but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. But it didn't.

The face's expression became hateful, staring with contempt in its white eyes. "Begone, liar. You are no brother of the Watch. You are not the watcher on the walls, not the fire that burns against the cold, not the light that brings the dawn and not the horn that wakes the sleepers. You are not the shield that guards the realms of men and unworthy to pass through this gate. Begone, boy!"

With those words, the face became impassive again, as if it was carved from wood.

"Let me try," Ramsay said, grinning slightly. "I know how to open secret passageways, we have plenty of them at the Dreadfort."

"And what does House Bolton hide in those secret rooms?" Jon asked. When Ramsay's grin widened, Jon quickly retracted the statement. "No, I don't want to know," he said quickly, making Ramsay look disappointed.

"A man of the Night's Watch must say the words, to open the gate," Jon sighed, looking at the door angrily. 

"Then we should get a man of the Night's Watch," Ramsay replied as if it were the simplest thing in the world.

"And how do you suppose we do that?" Jon asked incredulously. When he once more saw Ramsay's smile widen he simply turned away and shook his head.

"For fucks sake," he muttered under his breath. "I'll go hunting, I don't want to use up all of my provisions now, while there's still plenty of animals around to hunt. And I need to think."

 

*

 

The arrow struck the tree next to the deer. This alerted the animal and it quickly vanished into the woods, leaving no trace behind, besides the soft, small footprints in the snow. Jon silently cursed under his breath. He had never been a very good marksman. He could hit any fixed targets just fine, but moving targets were far more difficult, especially one as agile as a deer.

Jon had never put too much effort into improving his marksmanship, something that was no coming to bite him. Ramsay and Theon were excellent with their bows and would never return from a hunt without success. Jon himself on the other had followed his father's teachings and had trained intensively with his sword, disregarding the bow. 

Looking back that had been idiotic. Bows won against swords, like Brynden 'Bloodraven' Rivers had proven, when his company, the Raven's Teeth, crested the Weeping Ridge at the battle of redgrass field, showering the Black Dragon with arrows. 

Daemon was said to have been unstoppable that day, cutting through his opponents like a hot knife through butter, yet he was lost against Bloodraven's bows.

Even when the two twin sons of Daemon found his corpse and picked up Blackfyre themselves, they met the same fate as their father had before them and got pierced by dozens of arrows.

Sighing, Jon pulled his arrow from the tree, next to where the deer had once stood and readied it again, looking around for any traces of animal wildlife, that he could hunt.

The land around him was desolate and barren. The thin layer of Snow thankfully showed exactly where animals had passed within the last few hours. 

Jon spend hours following the trace of another deer, which seemed smaller than the previous one, judging by the size of its footprints.

He still looked around silently, still wary of any shadowcats or other predators that roamed the woods of the North. While they were quite rare, wolves and bears were occasionally seen in the Wolfswood and they posed a large threat to any passing through it. At least there are no more direwolves he thought to himself, as he finally laid eyes on the animal he had been hunting for hours now. It was a large enough stag that seemed agile and strong.

Slowly and carefully, to make the least amount of sound possible, Jon approached the animal, his bow in hand.

He steadied his breathing and aimed, drawing the arrow back and finally loosening it. The arrow hit its target, but not where he had intended the arrow to go. Instead of the heart or brain, the arrow struck the stag's front leg, making it jump in shock and pain.

For a moment the beast started to run away and it almost seemed like he would be able to run away for some time, despite the arrow embedded deeply in its leg. The stag limped onwards into the mountains, trying to get away from Jon, but in the end, the wound proved to fatal. The stag lost its footing amidst the avalanche and was sent tumbling hopelessly down the mountainside, where it slammed into a rock.

It let out a whine of pain that echoed over the desolate landscape. It trashed for a few more seconds before it finally died, blood flowing freely from where its head had hit a rock.

Three hours later, Jon finally arrived back at the Nightfort, pulling the carcass with him on an improvised sledge. The dead stag was tied to the sledge with the bowstring, that Jon had taken off the bow. He had spotted some leftover bows in the armoury of the Nightfort, so he figured, it wouldn't be a problem.

He started to light a small fire in the kitchen of the Nightfort, using a dry space and a few dry wood logs he had collected to start a fire. He slowly started to slice off pieces from the carcass and roasted them carefully over the open flames. He would be able to eat as much as he wished today and if he preserved it correctly, he would also be able to keep some food for the next few days. 

Ramsay seemed to have left as well, as he didn't make himself known. However, Jon supposed that had been predictable, given that Ramsay was not the type of person to sit silently in the Nightfort and wait for Jon to return from his hunt.

Suddenly, just as Jon wanted to start the roasting process, a pained scream echoed through the hall, making him jump slightly in shock. Looking around, the scream had clearly come from the deep vaults, where they had located the Black Gate.

Jon quickly left behind the stag and made his way down the staircase and towards the Black Gate, his right hand always on the pommel of his sword, ready to draw it at any sign of danger.

When he finally reached the Black Gate, his jaw dropped slightly, both in shock and in disgust. The Black Gate was opened and the weirwood face not visible anymore. Instead, a long passageway towards the other side of the wall was revealed. In front of the opened gate laid a brother of the Night's Watch. The man's black cloak was soiled with his own piss, puke and blood, creating an awful stench that filled the room. He was missing a few limbs, including his eyelids and the tip of his nose.

"Nice for you to join us," Ramsay said, a large smile on his face, as the man on the floor groaned. "I found ourselves a black brother."

"How?" Jon asked, trying his best, not to puke himself at the sight of the man before him. 

"Good fortune," Ramsay shrugged. "This lad came from Castle Black and was sent to the Shadow Tower as a messenger. Apparently, there's a wildling army forming and he was supposed to deliver that message. He came here for shelter, while you were gone," he said, before laughing loudly. "Shame they'll never get the message."

"You're a sick fuck," Jon slowly stated with disgust lacing his every word. "You're a maniac."

"An efficient maniac," Ramsay smiled back, as unconcerned as if they were talking about the weather. "Well then," he said pointing his arm towards the door and performing a mock bow. "Shall we, my lord Snow?"

A few minutes later, the two of them stepped through the fabled Black Gate, equipped with weapons and provisions for a few weeks, their horses following shortly behind them. The cold winds howled through the narrow tunnel, stinging in their eyes. The two exchanged a brief nod and walked forwards, venturing beyond the wall as the Black Gate closed behind them

 

*

 

The Crow's Eye

 

The Iron fleet cut across the ocean. The black sails of the Iron Fleet in contrast to the colourful landscape around them. The hills rose wild, and the pines grew across the grasses. The wind was firm and strong, a constant gust that carried them quickly over the waves of the Jade Sea. The great fortress, known as the Jade Gate loomed behind them. Euron had 29 ships with him, many of them acquired by boarding them on the sea, putting their crews to the sword and taking the vessel for themselves. The Silence, Euron's prized flagship sailed ahead, but it was flanked on either side by the Iron Victory and Kraken's wrath. They had sailed in battle formation towards the infamous gates that protected the Jade Sea, until they had split up into smaller groups, to pass through the gates without being held up as raiders or pirates. Luckily, the sigil of the Greyjoy's was not known in this part of the known world, so they had managed to pass the gates one by one, as supposed merchant ships from the west. 

Euron and Victarion stood on the prow of the Silence , decorated with the carvings of a mouthless maiden of black iron with long legs, slender waist, high breasts and mother-of-pearl eyes. Euron was silently holding and observing the Dragonegg he had acquired in Valyria in his hands. The Valyrian Steel armour they had discovered, the only known set made from the legendary metal was originally supposed to go to Victarion, as he was the Warrior out of the two, however, the breastplate had been too tight for him, so Euron had taken it for himself as well.

The huge horn, that Euron had declared to be a Dragonbinder was standing in the middle of the red deck of his ship. Not long ago Euron had ordered the mutes to paint the decks red, to better hide the gallons of blood that had soaked into the wooden planks. 

Onboard of the ship are drums and warhorns, to announce their arrival, wherever they decided to rape and raid next.

When Victarion had finally asked his brother what he intended to do next, now that they had returned from the Doom of Valyria, as none had ever done before them, he had spoken: "I will claim the Seven Kingdoms as my own like no Ironborn has ever done before."

"How?" Victarion had asked sceptically. They had failed before in making their Kingdom independent and conquering the others was another story entirely. The Ironborn didn't have the men to conquer the mainland, let alone hold it.

"We can't, Euron. We don't have the strength to conquer or hold all of it." Victarion could see a dangerous glint in Euron's eyes. He knew it was dangerous to openly doubt the Crow’s Eye, even when in the moment, his smiling eye was shining with what Victarion thought to be excitement.

"You're right we don't have the men," Euron conceded, but his smile never left his lips. "But men shall not be needed."

Victarion remained silent, so Euron continued, his lips twisted into a smile. 

"You were with me, that horn that stands behind us was found amongst the smoking ruins that were Valyria, where no man has dared to walk but us. The dragonlords of old sounded such horns before the Doom devoured them. With this horn, we can bind Dragons to our wills."

Victarion, however, remained sceptical. "How do you know that brother? It could simply be a warhorn, nothing more, nothing less."

"Hidden away in the vaults of one of the greatest towers of the entire peninsula? Hidden along with gold and jewels in numbers that could even make the Old Lion pale with envy? A Warhorn, hidden with some of the greatest treasures ever seen?" he shook his head. "No. That's not a Warhorn."

"Men don't compare to Dragons. They didn't 300 years ago on the Field of Fire and they will not now," Euron promised.

"Soon the men of Westeros shall not sing of the strength of the Old Lion or the beauty of the Reach. They shall not sing of chivalry or blushing maidens. They shall talk only of the Crow’s Eye. The far places he has seen, the women he has raped and the men he’s killed, the cities he has sacked."

"And how I burned the Lannister fleet," Victarion added. "I was the one who threw the torch onto the deck of his flagship and it was me who led the raid that crippled their fleet."

"Noone shall ever forget the might of the Iron Islands, brother. They say the North remembers, but not just them. Everyone, from the Shadow Tower to Sunspear will remember the day, that the Iron Islands showed the mainlands the might of a Dragon," Euron spoke, softly at first so that, but growing louder with every work her spoke. 

"What is dead may never die," Euron finally said quietly.

"What is dead may never die," Victarion repeated and silence lingered once more over the waves.

 

*

 

The Shadow Dragon

 

"Illusions," Pree smiled, his voice a cross between a wheeze and a croak. He slowly walked around the table, set up in the middle of the chamber.

"Powerful tools in any type of warfare. One can create duplicates of your own person so that suddenly there are more versions of yourself."

As he said those words, Pyat created 3 duplicates of himself, that silently rose up from the shadows, exact replicas, that immediately moved to stand next to him. 

"The more Illusions, the harder they are to maintain. The person that creates them must control all their bodies and minds at once, coordinate them correctly, and most importantly, use a lot of strength to maintain them. Only very few, very talented sorcerers have the ability to cast Illusions over long distances. Even I, myself, am unable to use them at a distance more than a league away. You, however," he told Dany. "May be able to do such a thing one day. Your blood makes your magic powerful, much stronger than that of any other sorcerer I have ever known."

Daenerys silently nodded, aware of this. Pree had told lectured her about her blood quite often within the last years.

"Powerful warlocks have also been found to have the ability to temporarily switch positions with Illusions of themselves. A useful asset," he mused. "If one faces an assassin, it is possible to create an Illusion elsewhere and switch with that form of yourself. It can save your life, but..." he clutched his heart in a dramatic manner. "It can be quite painful I'm afraid. If one of your Illusions is stabbed through the chest and you don't cut your connection in time, you will feel as if that had happened to you as well."

Quaithe herself moved to stand next to Pree, her mask off for once. The first time, Dany had seen Shiera without her mask, just a year ago she had not recognized her. And how could she? The mask seemed to work as a layer that formed around her, changing her appearance completely. Once she took off the mask, she turned back into the beautiful woman, Shiera had once been. Her brown hair turned silver-gold. Her brown eyes changed colour as well. Shiera had two mismatched eyes, one dark blue while the other was coloured bright green. Dany could clearly see why hundreds of men had fought for her favour once. Magic had preserved her beautiful features, and her full lips, heart-shaped face and flawless skin were still those of a woman with no more than 20 namedays, yet Shiera had lived for far over a hundred years.

 

"Usually, Illusionists keep a few other forms of themselves, that they can use as their own body. My half-brother, Lord Bloodraven used a knight, known as Maynard Plumm. But both of us used this body-changing to investigate and spy on whatever threat arose to the Seven Kingdoms. Brynden was said to have a thousand eyes and one - His one red eye, as well as a thousand eyes of his spies and informers. But whenever Brynden knew too much about something when he knew things he shouldn't know, it was rarely due to those spies, but because of the two of us, changing forms and spying on... everyone."

"Teach me how to do it," Daenerys energetically. "I want to learn how to do this as well."

"Yes, that is why we are here," Shiera deadpanned at her, amusement flickering in her beautiful eyes. The silver necklace around her neck, that was embedded with sapphires and emeralds complimented her unusual eyes even further. "Let's begin."

 

 A Picture of Shiera

 

Pree formed a sword, from nothing but shadows and quickly leapt forward, as quick as a viper, slashing his sword at Daenerys in an attempt to strike her. But he hit nothing but air. The moment he would have struck her, Dany disappeared and only a dark shadow, her silhouette remained, staring at Pree with empty, dark eyes, veiled in shadows. The sword passed right through its body, uselessly gliding through it without leaving any noticeable damage.

Dany appeared again directly to the left of Pree, just a few feet away. She seemed exhausted and moved slower than usual, while Pree immediately turned to strike his shadow-sword at her once more.

Dany ducked beneath the blow and used her training to split up and create 2 duplicates of herself that moved around Pree and encircled him.

But Pree could tell which one was the real Daenerys. He had trained the young girl for many years now and knew her fighting style, her patterns and her behaviour. Her body language and the magical aura she showed.

He moved towards the Daenerys to his right, having identified her as the real one and slashed down, a trail of shadow following the sword. She drew her own magnificent Valyrian sword from its sheath and parried his strike, yet she was exhausted and tired.

It took just under a minute, until Pree finally disarmed her, her sword falling to the ground a few feet away.

"Yield," the young girl grumbled and slowly got back to her feet.

"You should learn to fight with your shadows, Daenerys," Pree told her reprimandingly. "Fighting with all 3 bodies at once may be hard, but it will pay off one day. Naught but the best swordsmen can face 3 opponents at once. But you can become 3 swordsmen yourself."

Dany just nodded, accepting the warlock's logic. 

Next, she sparred against Shiera. Despite her appearance, Shiera was a fine fighter. She had never truly learned how to fight with a sword and preferred magic or to have others fight for her, however, she had learned the fundamentals of sword fighting from her half-siblings during her youth and with Merana around, she had managed to become a formidable fighter.

During their fight, she switched through many forms she had acquired. At times she was a man from Yi Ti, his face entirely burned and scarred, the face horrible to look at. Another time she became a pit fighter, another time she was a Lannister soldier. 

Until suddenly, something happened.

Dany didn't believe her eyes, this was impossible, simply unimaginable.

Suddenly she became a large man, a man Daenerys knew.

Those empty eyes... I remember them like it were yesterday

She had seen those eyes only once before, but they were burned into her memory forever. The way these empty eyes had looked at her brother from beneath his metal helmet.

A Baratheon soldier.

The Baratheon soldier.

The one she had seen, many years ago, when the house with the red door in Braavos had burned down, ending her childhood.

This man had been there.

He, who had watched in silence, as her brother had died before his very eyes.

"STOP!" she screamed, making her mentors flinch. Silently she approached Shiera, raising Dark Sister. To her credit, Shiera seemed unbothered.

"The Baratheon Soldier," she whispered, looking at Shiera intently. "He wasn't really there... It was only an Illusion."

Shiera only remained silent, but for Dany, this proved her words, her judgment. 

"But why?" Dany asked, searching Shiera's face, looking for any trace of a lie, for any hint of deceit, hoping to find anything that would confirm that she was wrong, that she was just assuming things. But Shiera remained mostly impassive, just looking at her with what seemed like silent anxiousness, mixed with regret.

"It was never the Baratheons who burned down my childhood home," she continued, her voice no louder than the soft whispers of the wind. "It was you, wasn't it?"

Once again Shiera didn't answer, even when Dany raised her sword, it's tip resting against Shiera's cheek, opening her flawless skin.

"Why?" she finally asked. A simple question, just one word, but the only question that mattered now.

"A necessary sacrifice," Shiera finally said, her voice even and unbothered. "Only death may pay for life, princess, you know that as I do. Three lives were taken and 3 lives were given. An equal exchange."

"Ser Willem, Viserys and my wet-nurse Jiha."

Shiera nodded, confirming her theory

"You lied to me," Daenerys whispered, not lowering her sword. "I trusted you and you betrayed me. You killed my brother, everyone I ever knew."

"And I saved you," Shiera insisted.

"From a fire, you yourself had started. From a threat, you yourself had created."

"So what now?" Shiera asked the inevitable question.

"I do not want to see you ever again," Dany said slowly and threateningly. "I will leave Asshai. Don't you ever dare to seek me out or even approach me ever again. The next time I see you, I will have my dragons burn you alive," she spoke, firmly and with far more confidence than she felt. She could feel tears form in her eyes but she pushed them away.

"This is a mistake, Daenerys. There is still too much you do not know."

"And I shall learn. But not from you. Did you know about this?" she asked, turning to Pyat Pree. "Shiera and I met for the first time when the two of us met. I was not aware of any of this," Pree declared and Dany was inclined to believe him.

"I have my Dragons," she declared. "Everything else I need will follow."

She turned to leave the room before she looked at Shiera one last time. "For the sake of the love I once had for you, a person I knew as a mentor and even a mother - I pray to every god I know, that we will never meet again. For the next time we meet, will be the last time we meet."

 

Dany stormed through the large mansion in which she had lived for many years, gathering all her belongings. Which was admittedly, not very much. She called for her Dragons in her mind, until they arrived at her location, swirling over her head.

"Princess," a voice called out for her. The knight from bear Island approached. "Where are you going?"

"Away from this place, Ser Jorah," she replied. "You need not follow me, but you won't stop me."

"Say where you want to go and we will follow, princess. All of us have sworn to serve you and we will make good on that promise."

"I do not know," Daenerys said earnestly. "But I will find someplace to go. My dragons have grown large and whatever I want, I will take."

"As you say, princess," the Knight said, gathering his companions.

An hour later, in the middle of the night, Dany made to leave Asshai, walking through it's abandoned streets. Shadow trailed behind her, his red eyes flickering around, suspicious of every shadow. The six knights, Archmaester Marwyn, Pyat Pree and Merana were with her as well, though not paying quite as much attention.

She strode through the streets in anger, towards the ship known as the Sea Dragon. The men from Westeros had thankfully revealed that they knew how to sail a ship, having made their way to Asshai by ship themselves.

She strode through the streets, so fixated on getting out of the city, that she didn't notice the men, watching them from the shadows. A dozen men, professional assassins that had to spend over a year, travelling to Asshai to finally hunt down the Targaryen princess and claim her bounty. It came as a complete surprise, when a crossbolt hit Ser Jorah's back, making him stumble forwards with a loud grumble, his armour hitting the ground with a metallic sound.

They whipped around immediately, just to see the men emerge from the shadows of the dark alley. The cutthroats drew the swords, just as the 5 knights, Daenerys and Merana did the same, standing back to back and observing the assassins that were now trying to surround them. 

The battle that finally ensued was pretty quick, yet very bloody. Daenerys and Pyat Pree used their magic to dash through the enemy lines, incinerating some of them while cutting apart others, while the knights charged the others. Shadow's teeth and claws claimed the lives of two more men.

For Dany, time seemed to slow down. She lunged forwards, appearing next to one of the men that wielded a crossbow and quickly slashed his face. Dark Sister was singing through the air, seemingly soaking up the men's blood and thirsting for more. With all the blood that flowed onto Dark Sister's blade, the sword seemed to grow more powerful and Dany noticed herself striking harder, striking quicker and cutting through boiled leather and even chainmail easier.

She split into two, fighting with two forms at once, her other self armed with a dagger while she herself continued to wield the sword of her ancestors.

Time seemed slower during the fight and even if it lasted for just a few minutes in total, it seemed way longer to Daenerys. After her first two kills, the weight of the sword, that was as tall as her shoulder, started to wear her down. Dark Sister was forged from Valyrian Steel, like almost all ancestral family swords, yet it's size was still too large for Dany and it still seemed quite heavy to her.

Another knight next to her fell to the crossbolts, yet one of them seemed to excel compared to the others. Where the others were starting to struggle, this, rather old knight, with a long, white beard seemed to cut through them with ease.

Arstan Whitebeard she remembered his name. 3 more knights fell until the assassins were finally dead. 

Only Arstan remained, while Ser Jorah laid injured on the ground. They moved towards him, to see if he would be fine, but the small bolt sticking in his back seemed dangerous. Shadow whined softly, while Dany let her hand glide through his thick, soft fur.

"We will have to treat him quickly, or he won't make it, princess," Arstan said, looking sadly at the man in front of him. "Otherwise, death is the only thing we can give him now."

"They died for me," Daenerys said, looking slightly shocked from having 4 of the 6 protectors, that had come such a long way to meet her die right in front of her. "They died for me," she repeated silently. "But not him. Take him with us, bring him on the ship. Warlocks are more than just shadowbinders, many are skilled healers as well."

"They died defending their princess," Arstan corrected. "They died because they chose to give their lives for yours. They did their duty, but more lives shall not be lost tonight." He and Merana moved to carry the injured knight, his armour making it difficult, to the point where they had to unstrap the chest plate to properly carry him.

"Only death can pay for life," Daenerys muttered silently. "They gave their lives, to let me keep mine. I will not waste it," she declared, for all to hear.

The dragons roared over their heads, as they finally set sail on the Sea Dragon. Dany silently stood at the railing of the ship and watched the city disappear in the horizon and for the first time, she saw the sun truly break through the mist that clouded Asshai, lightening up the city. A beautiful scenery, a symbol that light would always triumph against the darkness. 

 

Finally, just as the Sea Dragon left the view of the city, the Silence and Iron Victory came into sight

 

End of Part 1

 

 

Interlude

 

In the far north, blue eyes opened slowly. The Night King's eyes shone in the dark, slowly focussing. He could sense the magic in the east, the fire that would threaten to consume them. The fire was rising, bringing scorching heat and destruction with it. Ice was perfection, Ice was eternal. The balance of power had to be preserved.

His figure materialized out of the ice, obscured by an armour of shifting colours. He was still shaped like a man, but he looked more like a snowstorm given flesh. He alone represented the true winter, that eventually came for all. 

His pale armour shined so bright it seemed to be translucent, like he were an old man in crystal armour, clutching a blade of ice.

"Brothers," The King‘s voice thundered through the bond, shared by all of its kind. "It is time. Awaken."

Chapter Text

The Dragon Queen

 

The ship was softly moving from side to side, as it quickly glid over the ocean. The waves very practically non-existent and they had yet to encounter any of the dangerous sea-animals that lived in the Jade Sea, reaching from giant squids to the famous Krakens.

She silently looked around her chambers. She remembered them vividly, remembered exactly how she had woken up in the cabin many, many years ago, after the death of her brother and guardian.

 

Her 3 Dragons swirled overhead, their leathery wings cracking in the air, creating wind so strong that at times it created a wind, so strong that it could be used by them to sail onwards, further and further west.

 

She remembered waking up in this very bed, dizzy and exhausted. It was the day she had met Shiera for the first time. A person she had trusted.

 

A mistake, she had later learned. A harsh lesson to be sure, but one she would not forget soon. I can trust no one, she now knew. Only myself.

 

She walked on top of the deck of the rather small ship. She could feel a soft breeze pulling at her hair, the slight whipping of the masts, the sounds of the few sailors that had volunteered to join her in Qarth talking amongst each other.

 

Something about breathing the fresh air of the ocean, made her feel alive and free. Like she could escape anything, any threat because it was so vast and wide.

 

For a moment, she just sat back and tried to enjoy her life at the moment. To just be careless for some amount of time - the gods knew that she would likely not get the chance for that in a long time.

 

They had picked up a few more men and women on their way, most of them at Qarth. All of them were people who had pledged themselves to her and were willing to follow her now. Into whatever darkness may lay ahead. 

 

The most useful of them were certainly the sailors, something that they had had great need of. While the knights that had come to pledge to her, had come by ship and had been capable sailors, one had to be to reach the shores of Asshai unharmed. However, four out of six of them were now dead and only the old knight with his white beard remained.

Therefore the extra sailors, that Pyat Pree had hired in Qarth from seemingly nowhere, were very welcome support. A few young acolytes that were learning in the House of the Undying had opted to join them on their journey as well, hoping to learn more about the depths of magic, from both her and Pyat Pree.

 

Pree didn't think too much of them. They were mostly incapable to him, with not much potential, at least none that could ever match Daenerys's "Most mages are infants grasping at the machinery behind reality" he had told her. "Very few ever get to truly experience the depths of magic."

 

Many warlocks she had met in Qarth had been very impressed by the magic she showed herself capable of performing. It was the direct result of both intensive training and a natural gift for magic, given to her by her valyrian origin.

 

Losing herself in her thoughts, she laid on her back on top of the deck, silently staring up at the sky. A few seagulls circled overhead, cawing loudly. Only one of them was black... no, it wasn't a seagull, it was a raven and for a moment it seemed as if it was staring at her, it's dark eyes fierce and intelligent.

 

She blinked and suddenly the moment was over and the flock of birds disassembled in the air. Still she for a moment she thought she could hear them cawing in a melody, with the voice of the raven singing with it's horrible, raw, voice, making her shiver slightly. It was a harsh melody, their voices horrible to listen to, but still, it became a song.

 

When darkness comes

When worlds collide

Who will fight

and who will hide?

 

A feat of strength

Some words of wise

Who will pay

The Iron Price?

 

Beyond the wall

Things of night

Take up swords

Begin the fight

 

Eyes of blue

A sword of flame

Who will come

To stake their claim

 

The world looks bleak

It looks so dire

Will she come

in Blood and Fire?

 

A Mother of Three

The Bride of Shadows

darkness lingers

wherever she goes

 

Long she was gone

From the darkness, she rises

To the shores, she returns

Without compromises

 

Trust no one

become a liar

this is the song

of Ice and Fire

 

*

 

Daenerys sat in the largest cabin of the ship, located right in the centre of the Sea Dragon. A large table was placed in the middle, a map of the known world engraved in its hard wooden surface. The chamber itself was rather sparse, decorated with a few wooden carvings and small paintings, but nothing extravagant. The chairs they sat on were comfortable yet kept simple, carved from wood with a small pillow to sit on.

 

"So what now?" Archmaester Marwyn asked. Dany slowly turned to look at him. The short man had a very thick neck with a strong jaw. He was rather fat, though his weight had gone back during his time in Asshai. He had white hair coming from his nose and ears, with his nose cracked due to having been broken more than once.

 

Like always he chewed a plant called Sourleaf, a foul-tasting plant that turned the consumer's teeth red. When Marwyn smiled, Dany considered it a bloody horror.

It was very early morn, and Daenerys felt mostly tired, struggling to focus herself on the topic at hand. 

 

A small storm was stirring outside and the walls of the ship were constantly vibrating slightly from the wind and waves buffeting against the keep. She found that softly petting Shadow's head was a good thing to keep herself focussed and the black hellhound seemed to enjoy her attention. The men and women in the room all gave Shadow rather wary glances, but Dany had trained her well and her companion remained rather reserved. 

 

"Yes... What now," she said suddenly. "The big question and the one we're here to figure out."

 

The entire room looked at her. Even a guard at her door, an acolyte of the warlocks looked at her curiously. The man stood stiffly by the adjoining door with his arms folded.

 

"Is it true?" Marwyn asked her. "What Shiera did, all those years ago?"

 

"That depends on what you’ve heard, Archmaester Marwyn," Daenerys replied with a raised eyebrow, keeping her voice cool.

 

“Forgive me, my princess,” the old knight said carefully. He was a rather tall man and seemed very fit for his age, but his voice was much more hesitant. "But there has been talk – we need answers. Is it true that it was Shiera Seastar who burned down the mansion in Braavos?"

 

The old knight had first been in complete disbelief when he had met Shiera for the first time. He had known old stories about her and Lord Bloodraven but would have never dared to guess that she was still alive.

 

Daenerys bit her lip fractionally. "Yes," she finally said, after a short time of hesitation. "It is. It was her who started the fire in our house many years ago."

 

The group, gathered in the small chamber stirred. Only Pree had been there when the truth had come out and up until this moment she had not spoken about it with anyone. Of course, some rumours and gossip had gotten out, but this was the first time she confirmed it.

“But why would she do that,” the old knight said. “What did she gain from it?”

"Power," Dany said slowly, but firmly. "Magic."

 

"She knew the Dragons would hatch and the dragons are power. Fire is true power and my children are fire made flesh."

 

The old knight seemed like he didn't understand a word of what she had said, but nodded anyway, accepting the answer he had been given.

 

"There is something, I must tell you, my Queen," he started, looking at her intently, however, Daenerys ignored him and started talking. 

 

"What we will do now, is the only question that matters now."

 

"My Queen, I must insist," Ser Barristan continued, looking at her slightly pleadingly. Finally, Daenerys sighed. "Alright, say what you want to say."

 

"I.… was not completely honest with you," the old knight noted.

 

"Oh?" Daenerys asked with surprise, raising one of her delicate eyebrows.

 

"I was not completely honest about my identity..." he started, his voice turning a bit rough with what she thought to be anxiety. "My name is not Arstan Whitebeard." He looked at Daenerys for a moment, but the young queen didn't seem surprised in the slightest.

 

The young woman obviously noticed his surprise. "I always knew you were not who you said you were. I can tell when people lie to me. But the dragons judged you innocent so I knew you had no bad intentions towards me. I did wonder however when you would finally tell me yourself. So, tell me Ser. Who hides behind the name of Arstan Whitebeard?"

 

"My name is Barristan Selmy," the old man replied, shocking even Daenerys. "Kingsguard to your father and I would have been to your older brother Rhaegar, had he lived long enough to become the king I knew he could become."

 

"Ser Barristan Selmy," Daenerys said slowly, leaning back in her chair. She took a sip of her water, while she let the words linger in the air. "I learned all about you. Your role in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, how you slew Maelys the Monstrous on the Stepstones and how you unhorsed Ser Duncan the Tall, earning the nickname 'the Bold.'"

 

Ser Barristan seemed to relax slightly at those words, however, Dany's facial expressions did not change. "But you were also the Lord Commander of Robert Baratheon's Kingsguard," she finally said and the old knight seemed to deflate.

 

"But you also fought for me and would likely have died for me if necessary. So in return, I shall give you a chance now. Speak now and tell me why you have come here. One chance. Tell me, why I shouldn't have you killed for abandoning my family in its time of need."

 

Ser Barristan took a deep breath and started to speak. "I rode next to your brother on the Trident. I fought next to him and would have died for him. I would have given my own life so he would be able to fight on if possible. But I was injured and looked on helplessly when Robert Baratheon's Warhammer found his chest."

 

Dany just looked at the old man, rising her hand gesturing for him to continue.

 

"After the battle was over and we had lost, Robert Baratheon himself had me taken from the battlefield and my wounds treated. When he gave me the choice to bend the knee or follow your brother into his grave, I chose to live."

 

"Why?" Dany asked. "You just said you would have died for Rhaegar, so why not die alongside him."

 

"It was a difficult decision, your Grace," Barristan continued. "One of the hardest I had ever made. But at the time I didn't choose between House Targaryen and House Baratheon, I chose between your father, the Mad King and Robert of House Baratheon. I loved your brother, truly I did. If he had lived at the Trident he would have removed his father from the Throne himself. But he didn't and Robert Baratheon was a better man than your father."

 

"I appreciate your honesty, Ser Barristan," Daenerys spoke finally. "But why are you here now? You chose to serve Robert Baratheon, why have you abandoned him now?"

 

"You," Ser Barristan replied without hesitation. "4 years ago, news of you being in Asshai reached the Red Keep. A traveller had noticed you and sold the information to the crown for a large sum of money, enough that he most likely still lives in incredible wealth today. Ever since then, Robert made it his goal to find you. Dead or alive, yet preferably alive."

 

"So he could kill me himself?" Daenerys interrupted, her eyes narrowed.

 

"No, your Grace," Ser Barristan replied. "Lord Eddard Stark pleaded to the King for your survival. You may or may not know that Lord Stark was quite disgusted at the death of your niece and nephew and the two of them never fully reconciled. He offered that should you be captured alive, he would take you to Winterfell and raise you as his ward. The North would allow you to live while ensuring you would never have the power to rise against the Iron Throne. 

 

The Northerners are very loyal to the Stark. No promises of wealth or fortune could tempt them to turn against their lieges'. King Robert hoped that granting his friend this wish and allowing you to live would be enough for the two of them to truly become like brothers again."

 

Daenerys found herself surprised at the old knight's words. She knew that Lord Stark was hailed throughout Westeros as a man of honour and honesty, however pleading for the survival of the daughter of your greatest enemy, was another thing entirely.

 

"Go on," she finally said. "You still haven’t mentioned, why you left King Robert."

 

"Well," Ser Barristan sighed. "No One he sent after you, ever returned or even lived to tell the tale. So when the news of your dragons growing larger and larger, without anyone being able to stop you, he grew a bit paranoid. Not to the extend your father was once, but still. He had almost all remaining Targaryen loyalists exiled to the Night's Watch or even in rare cases executed. At one point, during a small council meeting, at which I was present due to my rank as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, I suggested making peace. The King didn't take it well.

 

To him, I was another Targaryen loyalist, another threat. So I fled before he could do anything. I fled east, further and further until eventually, I ended up in Qarth. There one day I heard the news of a group of Westerosi knights, hoping to find you and pledge themselves to the Mother of Dragons. So I joined them."

 

Silence lingered over the room for some time, only the crashing of the waves and howling of the wind could be heard.

 

"You have proven yourself to me," she finally said. "I would have your oath of fealty."

Ser Barristan seemed very relieved at those words and immediately got to his knees, swearing his ever-lasting allegiance to his new Queen.

 

As he rose again, Dany moved close to him, so that they almost touched, standing barely a foot apart from each other. "But never, ever, dare to lie to me or I will have you fed to my dragons," she said with a soft smile, her facial expression belying her words. Ser Barristan merely nodded and sheathed his sword that he had drawn for his oath, before sitting back down.

 

"Well," Daenerys started again. "Anyone else got to say anything before we start now?"

 

When no one answered, she finally started with what they had originally come to discuss.

"I need a base of operations. A place, a magical place, that I can use as a base for any expansions I would make."

 

This was when Marwyn spoke up. "I have studied magic at the Citadel and know of all places in the known world that would suit your needs."

 

"The Wall," he named as the first magical place, but before he could continue, Dany cut him off. "To damn cold," she stated bluntly and Marwyn nodded, conceding the point. He took a quill and stroke out the Wall on his parchment.

 

Old Town was next, but Daenerys was quick to reject the city as well. The city was too huge and she would have to position any army outside the city walls. Besides she wanted to place her base of operations, the capital of her future empire somewhere outside of Westeros.

The Shadowlands and Stygai were next, but they were too far east and too haunted and dead, the Basilisk Isles and a few settlements in Sothoryos were far too deadly and unexplored. Valyria was far too potent for a normal civilization and Dragonstone, while tempting was currently occupied by the Baratheons and was very close to King's Landing.

"Bloodstone," Marwyn finally stated, looking at the map engraved into the table before them. "It's the last and probably best option for you, my Queen."

 

"Bloodstone," Dany repeated, eyeing the map carefully. Bloodstone was one of the Islands the formed the Stepstones. It was the largest of the islands, lying the furthest to the northwest and north of Grey Gallows. Besides that, many years ago, it had been the seat of Daemon Targaryen, when he was the self-declared King of the Stepstones and the Narrow Sea, during the war for the Stepstones. It was close to Dorne and equally close to Essos, along with the Free Cities of Myr, Tyrosh, and Lys.

 

"Why Bloodstone?" she asked the Maester questioningly, awaiting his reasoning. 

"The stepstones are volcanic," he replied, surprising her. "The soil is fertile and the sea is everywhere, allowing us to easily build ships from the trees that grow there. Your Dragons could thrive in this environment. Besides, if we manage to ally with the Free Cities, we have a very strong position on the Island.

 

"Or if we manage to take them..." she said slowly, looking at the map thoughtfully.

"The Stepstones could make a fine base, however many of the Islands are still infested with pirates, that will have to be... removed," Marwyn added.

 

"Or employed," Dany added.

 

"You would need an army to take the Stepstones," Ser Barristan cautioned. "Your Dragons alone will not be enough."

 

"And where could I get such an army from?" Dany asked the old knight.

 

"I would advise you to look west, my Queen," Ser Barristan answered, pointing towards the lands of Westeros. "Despite Robert's actions, there are still many in Westeros that would support your claim to the throne. The Tyrells and especially Martells would support you, should you marry one of the Tyrell children. House Martell still hasn't forgotten about the death of Princess Elia and her children. They will join you, to seek revenge against House Lannister."

 

"The Iron Throne," Dany said slowly. "Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm... Such magnificent titles. But meaningless. In Westeros, I would face hatred and revolts. They might bend to my Dragons but they would hate every second of it."

 

"The Iron Throne is your legacy, my Queen," Ser Barristan stated. "You are the last Targaryen, the last scion of the mightiest empire that Westeros ever saw."

Daenerys stayed silent for a moment, until she finally started to speak, all eyes looking at her expectantly.

 

"I was born a little girl just like millions before me. Westeros made me a wanted criminal, just for my families deeds. Do you think I wanted to be born a Targaryen Princess? Do you think I asked to be judged as mad for the smallest mistake I do, Ser Barristan? Why should I be Queen of Westeros? I don’t have the patience to be judged, shunned, and hated by people who have never met me." She sighed, looking through the room. "Truthfully, I don’t have the time, nor the ambition to rule over a continent that would go to war with me just for being born. There is nothing for me in Westeros but blood and hatred."

 

 She looked over the map before her, letting her hand run softly over the lands where she was born. "One day, I will go west and reclaim my families legacy. But that day is not now."

"I have made my decision. Bloodstone shall be mine, but I will need an army at my back," Dany suddenly said. 

 

"Set sail for Astapor, I have a plan."

 

*

 

 

The Dreaming Wolf

 

The two of them rode slowly atop their mounts through the haunted forest, that stretched out across the frozen tundra around them, as far as the eye could see.

The world was entirely frozen, even colder than it had been at Winterfell - And it was still summer. These lands were barely inhabited with only few Wildling settlements, even though Jon and Ramsay had managed to avoid them quite well up until now. 

 

The lands had a certain beauty to them. Snow covered everything, giving the landscape an appearance of being wild and untamed, but at the same time strong and rich, filled with strong people. Besides the haunted forest that stretched on for leagues, there were no trees in the open tundra, only rocks, ice and snow.

 

And even though Jon already missed his family dearly, he felt like he belonged here. The struggle of living and travelling in and through these lands was hard and exhausting, a task in which many would have perished, but it made the struggle all the more rewarding.

 

They were due to reach the Frostfangs soon, a land where barely anything was able to survive.

 

Already, the two could see the huge cliffs of ice that marked the beginning of the Frostfangs stretching out in front of them. It seemed like a giant labyrinth of winding sheets of ice – like a world of ice that formed walls around you, forcing you to find your way through the maze of valleys and mountains, filled with dangerous predators. The path the two were riding on became thinner and thinner, more perilous the closer they moved towards the huge mountains of ice. 

 

They rode for hours and hours each day, taking in their surroundings and admiring the landscape. 

 

Even despite the danger, the snows, the cold, the icy landscape still had a wild, unearthly beauty to it. They were on top of a glacier, staring out at the very edge of the known world. Barely any person had ever travelled this far north, to where the cold was eternal. The Lands of Always Winter stretched out before them, reaching seemingly endlessly into the distance.

 

"We will need to find something to hunt soon. As it stands, we will run out of supplies within the next few days," Jon stated. The route up in the mountains was getting harder now. The lands were getting even harsher than they had been before. From atop a mountain, the large crevasses surrounding them looked like the ice had been shredded by a giant knife. It looked as if they were the giant spikes, like the thorns of Winter Roses that grew in the gardens of Winterfell, just in far larger and made from pure ice.

 

"Do you even have a plan, Snow?" Ramsay asked, mildly annoyed, kicking his horse's flanks aggressively to urge it forwards. When Jon remained silent, he sighed. "Can't believe we are in the damn Frostfangs, these wildling-infested mountains because a damn crow in a dream told you to go north."

 

"I never told you to come with me," Jon grunted, looking forwards to avoid meeting Ramsay's pale blue eyes. "But I can feel we're on the right way. My dreams have been getting more... intense and I can feel some kind of... presence that grows ever stronger."

Ramsay grunted but didn't argue back. "I need to kill something," he muttered under his breath, but the Frostfangs didn't offer much to hunt and kill.

 

Suddenly, without any warning, the path ahead of them cracked, breaking away. It took just a few seconds, but suddenly the path was gone, the very place where they would have ridden just a few seconds later.

 

The two of them carefully rode forwards, urging their steeds to the edge of the path, where it had crumbled. Jon silently cursed when he saw what laid ahead. The path being destroyed had left the route impassable. Ahead of them, the ice now fell away in a sharp vertical cliff. Maybe the two of them would have been able to climb it, but Jon very much doubted it. The cracks of ice, the only place you would be able to hold on to seemed as sharp as Valyrian Steel and the cliff before them was as deep, as the grey walls of Winterfell had been tall.

There was no route they could take. To their right was another large drop and to their left was a small plateau. It was just about 8 feet above them, but they would be unable to get the horses up there to continue their journey.

 

But before he could ponder on how they would go on from here, he got an uneasy feeling in his gut. He could feel someone watching him and could feel their eyes, staring at him, chilling him to the bone. He shivered, looking around quickly, but didn't see any threat.

That was until suddenly an arrow whizzed out of nowhere and struck Jon's horse in its head, piercing directly through its eye.

 

The horse immediately collapsed and Jon barely managed to react in time and push himself off the back of the horse, before it fell onto him, crushing his legs beneath it.

 

Jon immediately drew his sword, while Ramsay nocked his bow, looking around warily. Jon himself ducked behind his horse's corpse, waiting for the attackers to show themselves.

Finally, Jon heard the crunching of snow to his right, from the other side of his horse's corpse. A few figures, clad in white furs moved around them silently and quickly, their ghostly outlines barely visible in the snow.

 

Another arrow shot past Jon and embedded itself this time in Ramsay's leg. With a screech, Ramsay's horse threw him off and bolted away, fleeing into the direction they had arrived towards the cloaked figures.

 

"Those are Thenns," Jon shouted towards Ramsay, who had despite his injured leg, pulled himself to safety and now ducked behind a stone.

 

"Oh, thank you so much," the other boy shot back annoyed. "Now I know the name of who is about to pierce us with their arrows."

 

"You were the one who wanted something to kill, not me. So go and kill them."

 

The thought of killing someone seemed to breathe life back into the Bastard of Bolton, who immediately nocked an arrow and peaked out of cover for just a second. However, that fragment of a second was enough for the boy to loosen his arrow at one of the attackers with deadly precision, piercing straight through the heart of one of the wildlings.

 

The man's pained screams echoed through the valley and some roar's of anguish by his tribemates could be heard. 

 

Jon was too focussed on the battle, but he could have sworn he saw Ramsay smile in ecstasy at the sound.

 

Another arrow was nocked and another of their warriors fell, just as the Thenns decided that enough was enough and charged the two bastards, trapped on all sides now. They had no way to go forward or to their right and if they wanted to climb onto the plateau to their left, they expose themselves to their attackers and would immediately be shot by whoever had the bow. At least Jon hoped, that only one of them was carrying a bow.

 

"CROWS," the men screamed as they charged at them, while another fell to Ramsay's arrows. Finally, Ramsay threw away his bow and drew two knives from his cloak, taking one in each hand. "Father always said that the skin of Thenns looks the best and keeps you the warmest," he said to himself, but Jon could hear him.

 

Jon was about to intensively question Ramsay about what he just heard, but decided against it, as they currently had a bigger problem.

 

Thankfully the wound to Ramsay's leg was not too deep, the furs had slowed down the arrow, so it was barely more than a flesh wound. Despite it looking quite shakily, Ramsay managed to stand up, facing the wildlings.

 

Being on a narrow path with no way to escape was certainly a problem, however, in melee combat, it proved to be an advantage. The Thenns attacking them were forced to engage them one by one and were unable to utilize their advantage in numbers.

 

Jon slashed wildly at their attackers, decapitating one and pushing one of the edge of the cliff. He saw the surprise in the man's eyes as he fell and hit one of the impossibly sharp ice blades on the ground. The shard pierced straight through the man's chest, impaling him half a foot above the ground.

 

However, this moment of distraction allowed one of his comrades to push forwards, knocking Jon backwards. 

 

Jon snarled furiously, slashing upwards, but he felt himself losing to the attacker's superior strength. He felt his attacker rip his sword from his hands and tumbled to the ground, looking on helplessly as the Thenn moved towards him. Jon saw the attack coming, but he knew he couldn't dodge or block it. His body didn't even twitch, as his opponent raised his mighty battleaxe. 

 

Ramsay was a few feet away, locked in combat against another Thenn, yet even from his position, Jon could see that Ramsay was outmatched and would soon fall. He fought like a mad dog, slashing wildly at his attacker, his fighting style quite similar to the wildlings themselves, however, he was injured and started to succumb to the strength and numbers of their opponents. 

 

Suddenly time seemed to slow down.

 

Jon could see a flock of ravens, flying in the clear, light-blue sky.

 

He looked at his adversary, his battleaxe raised and looking at him with cold fury in his eyes. 

He was clad in shaggy furs, his axe raw and filthy, yet with a dangerous edge. Snow fell softly from the sky, forming a thin layer of snow that adorned the furs of the man.

His axe was just about to come down, as a loud howl startled him. The sound whistled in the wind, echoing over the mountains…

 

The wolves were close.

...

very close.

 

Jon slowly turned to his left and felt himself freeze in shock.

 

Atop the plateau, barely a dozen feet away, stood a wolf as large as their horses. A great beast, a mountain of muscles, hidden beneath thick grey fur, it's light blue eyes focussed and intelligent.

 

The wildling's axe came down towards Jon quickly, yet the man was distracted, his eyes focussed on the great wolf, howling to the sky.

With his last remaining power, Jon rolled to the side, narrowly dodging the axe. But he wasn't quick enough.

The raw metal missed his head by just a tiny amount, but the tip of the blade still scraped across Jon's face, cutting through his cheek and above his directly through his eye, slicing straight through the eyebrow.

 

He howled in pain, as he felt his warm blood splatter from the wound, just to freeze on his cheek a moment later.

 

Another wolf emerged from behind the grey wolf and his opponent finally fled, running for his life.

 

Jon saw the wolf's bright blue eyes glittering in the sun, while the snows swirled and danced around them.

 

Slowly black started to creep into his vision, while the howls of the wolves echoed through the Frostfangs.

 

Just as he started to drift away into the darkness, he could feel the phantom sensation of snow under his paws, along with the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.

He saw the world from different eyes until he finally passed out, just as a huge elk emerged, a dark figure, clad in boiled leather and ringmail on top of its back.

 

*

 

Slowly he gained consciousness again, groaning loudly.

 

He heard the crackling of a fire, felt the hot heat that radiated from it. Something cold and rough traced his cheek. Jon shivered before he forced himself to open his eyes. Through the blurry dew, he could make out a man with a concealed face standing before him. His skin was paler than his, his eyes darker, the orbs solid black. Between the sting in his eyes and the dark shadow of the cave, Jon could only make out the eyes. His ungloved hands that had traced Jon's face were black and as cold as those of a corpse.

 

Jon's hands shivered like he was naked in the cold kills and a thousand words were trapped on his tongue.

 

He could see Ramsay laying against the other side of the cave, seemingly unconscious. 

The fear started to leave him, but suddenly the intense taste of blood flared up in his stomach. A wolf cannot be afraid. It can’t.

 

He rubbed his eyes carefully, but suddenly noticed that something was wrong. He could not see much with his left eye, where the wildlings axe had scraped past his eye socket.

 

He pushed himself from the wall, his fingers tapped the round pommel of his bastard sword, that was laying by his side.

 

"Careful," the man's voice echoed through the empty cave, as he moved towards him. “It will heal, but you should be careful for now, lest you lose the eye.”

 

Suddenly Ramsay's laughter echoed through the cave, a cackling sound that quickly grew louder. The other boy had woken up as well, and Jon noticed a bandage that was tightly wrapped around the Bolton bastard’s leg

"Wouldn’t that be a shame, if your pretty eye were gone," he laughed loudly. "How horrible! My boys told me how some kitchen maids swooned over the Stark bastard and his beautiful grey eyes."

Ramsay kept laughing, wheezing on the ground like it was the most hilarious thing he had ever heard.

"That's enough," the stranger finally intervened, looking at Ramsay bored. Three wolves appeared behind him, stepping out of the shadows. Jon immediately recognized the first of them as the one he had been able to identify when he had passed out. Looking at the great wolf from this distance was even more impressive since the beast towered over them. His light-blue eyes scanned its surroundings at all times and Jon could feel a certain... connection with the wolf. Two more, slightly smaller wolves stood behind the blue-eyed wolf, that Jon identified as a male and probably alpha of the pack. Frost Jon named him in his mind.

 

The other two wolves had the same thick fur, but one was black, the other grey, while both of them had yellow eyes that even seemed to be a tinge orange.

 

"Why do they follow you?" Jon asked the man with the cold hands slowly. Coldhands. "Why do I feel this... connection to the wolf," he asked, pointing his finger towards the alpha wolf.

Coldhands nodded and slowly walked towards the giant wolf and stood at his flank while carefully petting him.

 

"Direwolves," he finally spoke. "Magnificent creatures. The apex predators of the known world, able to hunt and kill almost anything save for dragons themselves. The ferocity is almost unmatched, in the wild, they are highly aggressive and engage anything that poses a threat to themselves, their pups or just their domain. No human could ever hope to approach a fully grown direwolf and live to tell the tale, assuming he didn't bring crossbowmen with him."

 

"But how..." Jon started, but Coldhands interrupted him.

 

"No men... except the Starks. Ancient magic, as old as House Stark itself allows the scions of House Stark to occasionally gain the ability to warg and skinchange. Rare... but not non-existent."

 

"Are you saying, that..."

 

"That you are a warg, yes. Not the most powerful of your generation, incapable of succeeding the three-eyed-crow, but still quite capable. When you fell in the Frostfangs, your third eye started to open. You warged with the wolf, established a connection. It's weak now, but it can grow stronger."

 

Jon sat in silence for about a minute, contemplating what he had just been told. Not the most powerful of your generation the stranger had said. Who was this other, even more, powerful greenseer? Did he know him? Or her?

 

"I am jealous," Ramsay stated annoyed from the other side of the cave. "Why do only you Starks get to have your family sigil follow you around?"

 

"You want a flayed man to follow you around?"

 

"What's wrong with that?"

 

"We must go," the stranger with cold hands suddenly said, his voice raspy and ragged.

"Who are you?" Jon asked, trying to sound strong but he noticed that it sounded weak. "Why are your hands black? And where do we need to go?"

 

"I have no name," the stranger stated. "At least none that isn't long forgotten. When a man dies, his blood runs down, the furthest it can go - into his extremities, his arms and legs. They then swell, grow larger and their colour turns as black as the sky in the darkest of nights, while the rest of the body becomes as pale as milk."

 

"So you are saying that you are dead?" Jon asked incredulously, but the man ignored him.

"We must go. The last greenseer awaits you, Jon Snow. The three-eyed-crow."

 

For a moment Jon stared at the man in amazement, not believing his ears. The three-eyed-crow was why he had come all this way to this freezing wastelands.

 

"The three-eyed-crow? He awaits me?" he questioned the strange elk-rider, searching for any trace of a lie in these pitch-black eyes.

 

"Yes, he does."

 

*

 

They had ridden through the dark woods of the haunted forest for many hours now. All 3 of them were mounted on the back of Coldhands elk, a great beast that matched the wolves in size. It couldn't match the wolves in combat power, yet it made up for it in terms of speed. They moved at a very quick pace, the elk easily jumping over rocks and rivers and navigating through the forest completely by itself. Jon wondered how the elk knew where it had to go, given that Coldhands, as Jon had dubbed him, gave no hints at all where it was supposed to go or steered it into any direction.

 

The wolves moved next through them through the woods, equally fast while spreading out through the forest, looking out for any threat that may arise. They were barely visible in the snow and combined with the darkness and pale moonlight that shined on the snowy surface they seemed to completely vanish within the darkness.

 

Occasionally one of the wolves shadows could be seen, but they quickly vanished again as quickly as they had appeared. 

 

Only the fact that Jon knew that Coldhands had what appeared to be full control over them and the fact that he himself started to feel where the Frost was, kept him from being horribly afraid of the wolves.

 

They kept travelling for over 4 days, eating the meat of snow-foxes, smaller elks and even a snow bear that the wolves had killed until finally, they arrived at what Coldhands said was the cave of the three-eyed-raven.

 

Something was telling him, that the journey that was laying ahead of him now, would change everything. 

 

As the three of them dismounted from the elk and approached the dark cave that laid before them, two of the wolves turned around and left, running south at a quick pace. Only Frost remained, his blue eyes remaining focussed on Jon.

 

"He decided to stay with you," Coldhands said slowly, moving towards Frost. "Interesting, very interesting."

 

Jon only looked on surprised and nodded at Ramsay. "Let's go," he said, as the three of them entered the old cave, a huge wolf and a huge elk following.

 

*


Chapter Text

The Dreamer

 

He had left the cave of the 3-eyed-raven a few moons ago.

 

Jon silently mused about all the possibilities that were now open to him, after he had spent the last two years in the cave, learning from Brynden Rivers, the famous Bloodraven himself.

He wondered to himself, what the trout of Winterfell would think of him, should she see him now. Likely she would be scared and disgusted at the powers he possessed now and the knowledge he had connected in two years of travelling through the past and present.

 

She would likely suspect he would use them to take Winterfell from his siblings.

 

He still remembered a conversation he had had with her, just a few days before he had left his childhood home. Catelyn Tully, not Catelyn Stark he had decided, had taken offence in some game he had been playing with Robb and Arya, therefore like so often, she had started her usual, very long monologue about the southern views of bastards.

 

She had ranted over an hour about their sinful birth, their cruel tendencies and how he was fated to usurp Winterfell and try to take what rightfully belonged to his siblings.

 

Jon, of course, had almost completely ignored her, still lost in his dreams from last night. Besides Lady Catelyn's views were as he had learned during the last years complete and utterly wrong, something that Bloodraven and Ramsay had quickly taught him.

 

Lady Catelyn seemed to believe that the entire world was evil, filled by criminals, vile bastards and other horrible creatures, which was true, however where she was wrong was, that it was only held together by the honourable and rightful lords and beautiful ladies, as well as their noble knights and bannermen.

 

As he had travelled through the history of the world, together with his mentor, he had indeed seen many bastards rise up to try to usurp their siblings, but these uprisings were always the end result of long-lasting hatred between the bastard and his half-siblings.

 

Yet there were exceptions, one of them his mentor Bloodraven himself. He had been one of the Great Bastards, but other than the other Great Bastards Bittersteel and Daemon Blackfyre, he and his lover Shiera Seastar had stuck faithfully to their trueborn sibling and king, sacrificing their honour and time to keep the peace in the Seven Kingdoms.

 

So, he had spent the years learning from Lord Bloodraven himself, the hand of the King Daeron and former master of whisperers.

 

He learned quickly and Brynden was a good teacher, showing him his victories and defeats, teaching him his strategies and how others tried to circumvent them, and then yet again how he would be able to avoid these circumventions.

 

During the years in his company, Jon started to admire the old man, his achievements and his powers, so much that he started to try to emulate him, tried to be him.

 

Bloodraven showed him a few glyphs, carved in stone from ancient Valyrian runes, that he had used a long time ago to take control of more animals at once. This had been an efficient method of gathering information, that had led to people saying he had a thousand eyes and one, for he saw everything.

 

Jon himself started to practice under his guidance, with varying degrees of failure. 

Runes and the tips from Bloodraven didn't help much. The sensation of using magic, to fully control it and use it as a weapon could not be translated into words or writings. He had to learn it himself, discover and understand what he felt.

 

Learning the rituals, runes, spells and other components of magic were just words on paper, he had to truly understand and own them for them to fully unfold their potential.

 

But he kept trying and eventually saw progress. Oh, it wasn't anything groundbreaking or especially destructible, only a bit of warging into a flock of ravens that had circled in the clear, cold, blue sky.

 

Becoming a raven felt weird, felt wrong, but at the same time, it was the greatest thing he ever felt. He flew freely through the cold winds of the far north, over the Frostfangs and frozen lakes, and for a moment he felt truly free, with all of his problems left behind.

 

Finally, he started to have a true realisation of what it meant to have a thousand eyes and one.

 

At times he could see through multiple eyes at once, those of his Direwolf Frost and those of a dozen ravens that circled above him.

 

He saw everything, every corner, something he struggled to truly handle.

 

Still, he couldn't control an animal over a larger distance, something that didn't pose the slightest problem to Brynden.

 

But magic wasn't the only thing he learned. He briefly looked into the known poisons, every single one that had been known in the world, from the Tears of Lys to the Strangler or the rare poisons that were made from the wildlife plants of Sothoryos. But it didn't take too long before he gave up poisons to due their inefficiency.

 

All poisons besides the Tears of Lys, which were way too expensive, could be traced back and almost all of the time the poisoner could be identified. Even if a person used some commoner to poison the person who's death they desired for them, if they were caught they would under torture always reveal on whose orders they had acted, or provided enough clues for the interrogators to find the answers themselves.

 

Other methods were way more efficient, namely the use of animals. But, well, you had to be a warg to use them. Using ravens whose Talons were infested with Greyscale or simply the sharp teeth of a wolf. No One suspected the animal of being controlled by a human, so all those deaths were played off as accidents.

 

Brynden himself had, the day they had parted, given him a box of greyscale powder, the contagious skin of a greyscale patient cut into tiny pieces so that it created a soft, grey powder. A deadly weapon, hidden and suspicious, yet as dangerous as a hundred assassins. No one who saw it would know what it was, yet still, it was as deadly as the sharpest blade.

 

For a moment, when Brynden had given the bag of greyscale, a well-crafted leather bag, he had considered giving it to Lady Stark for being such an annoying cunt, however, while it would have amused him and even Brynden seemed okay with it, he knew that his siblings would be left heartbroken at seeing their mother slowly turn into a mindless beast, no better than an animal.

 

Still, reflecting on the months in the dark cave, he knew his journey had been worth it. Ramsay had left the cave just a few months after their arrival, claiming that he wasn't going to stay there forever and needed something to hunt and kill. Jon was quite certain however that Ramsay wanted humans to hunt and kill, as there were deer, bears and wolves aplenty in the area around them.

 

Still, despite his journey's many advantages, it had also taken its toll. When Jon looked upon the perfectly even surface of a lake and saw his reflection, he barely recognized himself.

His beard had grown, his left eye was covered by an eye-patch and his black hair had partly turned pale so that it now shined akin to the colour of moonlight. When he walked through the soft snows, the snowflakes falling on his head, many had mistaken his hair for white.

He wore his sword on his belt. The hilt was exquisitely crafted, forged from gold and silver than flowed into each other, creating a mixture of the shiny metals, that made the hilt glow, even in the dimmest light.

 

The blade was as dark as the sky in the winter that had lasted an entire generation, with soft grey ripples running through the black blade, like worms crawling through the dirt. Orphan-Maker it was called, a blade lost shortly after the Dance of the Dragons, formerly the ancestral sword of House Roxton. 

 

He pondered silently on whether or not he should rename the old sword,

as he rode through the snows of the far North on the back of his stallion, further and further east, hoping to find the settlement called Hardhome, where Ramsay had been recently located.

 

*

 

Jon could feel the phantom feeling of Frost's paws running over the cold snow of the North. It took no more than a few seconds until finally his skin slipped and he found himself inside the body of his loyal friend.

 

The wolf quietly stalked the Frozen encampments around Hardhome, his clear blue eyes observing the frozen wasteland. Many a valley and frozen rivers split the rocky, snow-covered ground like veins ran through the flesh of man and beast. To his left, the wolf could see the rest of Storrold's Point stretch out into the Bay of Seals. The peninsula was filled with stones and rocky cliffs, falling off steeply into the narrow sea.

 

Hardhome was behind the great wolf, sitting beneath a great cliff pocketed with cave mouths. Fish and colonies of seals and sea cows were close to the natural harbour of the settlement.

 

The Haunted Forest and the Shivering Sea laid to his right, the dark forest stretching on for leagues and leagues, seemingly never-ending.

 

The wolf could smell the food of thousands of men behind him, the smell of cooked meat and simple cold-resistant plants filling his sensitive nose. The thick, musky scent of humans leaked from the many tents of the encampment, the sweat and blood and tears of soon-to-be a hundred thousand men and women and children.

 

The smell of fresh blood and meat, however, came from before him, where the wolf could trace the wild animals of the far north. Deer and elk, hares and rams, shadowcats, snow bears and wolves were all nearby, hunting and being hunted.

 

An elk was nearby, his scent was strong and intense. The scent of prey, the signs of good prey. It had to be a large elk, old and strong to produce such an intense smell - It would be good prey, a difficult and exhausting hunt but very worth it in the end.

 

But the smells of animals and men were no longer the only thing, the wolf smelled.

 

Another smell, as sharp as a dagger entered his nose suddenly. A piercing smell that made everything else disappear. The smell was foul, dead, the smell was...

 

wrong

 

He kept chasing after his designated prey, the scent of the elk growing ever stronger with every step he took, but the foul stench grew ever stronger, carrying over the landscape with the cold, howling wind.

 

It was more than a foul smell, it was the smell of death

 

Jon willed the Direwolf to go forwards, ignoring his primal instinct to turn and run. Frost was a direwolf, a great beast and in a pack the uncontested predator of the north. But when the wolf inhaled the stench of death, the smell of foul, rotting flesh, he wanted nothing to do with it.

 

Run  the wolf's mind commanded, fighting against Jon's presence with all his might . Run!

 

The temperature sank further, making even the Direwolf in his thick fur shudder until finally, half-a-dozen pairs of icy, blue eyes appeared from the veil of darkness, shining like candles in the dark.

 

Figures, tall and gaunt with flesh as pale as milk and eyes burning with ice emerged from the darkness, thin crystal swords attached to their backs. White mist hovered around them, accompanying their every step.

One rode an undead horse, its flesh long rotten away. 

 

Its bones and rib-cage were visible, the pale, white bones sticking from where the lungs must have once been. The ribs had been crushed in and were now disarranged and deformed.

 

The Others are here

 

Run!  Run!  Both his mind and that of Frost agreed as the wolf started sprinting away, back towards the frail safety of Hardhome.

 

A spear whizzed towards the wolf, splitting the air with the sound of an animal screeching in pain.

 

The wolf tumbled and nearly fell into a crack in the glacier that opened into a deep valley, as the icy spear embedded itself in the snow next to him.

 

The Other's seemingly laughed, a cackling sound that was inhuman and unnatural. Their laughter was as sharp as the blade of Orphan-Maker, a sound that hurt in the wolf's ears.

 

The white shadows made to attempt to chase the wolf, as he finally escaped their range, his light-blue eyes observing the Others carefully.

 

It got even colder, impossibly so, as the Other riding on the very front raised his sword. 

 

It came alive with moonlight, glimmering in a faint blue light, as ten thousand more blue eyes lit up behind him.

 

...

 

Jon returned to his own skin with a gasp

 

For a moment he struggled with the return to his usual skin. He breathed heavily, trying to regain control of his body, as his nose still twitched like the one of his wolf.

 

Finally, with a lot of effort, he regained control of his body, straightening his posture and rubbing his eyes, as they regained their usual clarity.

"Fuck," he muttered slowly, as he wiped his hand over his tired eyes, used to the clear but short vision of a wolf, much different than those of a human.

 

He sat up and lit a candle before he finally remembered what had happened.

The Others. I have to warn the King.

 

*

 

Jon stormed into the largest tent of the settlement, searching for their King whose name was Mance Rayder. He had arrived not long ago so that he had never gotten to see the King-beyond-the-wall, but he expected the largest tent to be the one where the King lived.

 

When he stormed into the tent, he saw a slender man of middling height lay in a bed of fur and leathers. He had long, grey hair with streaks of brown in it. 

 

A woman with shoulder-long, blonde hair, high and sharp cheekbones laid next to him, digging herself into him.

 

Jon immediately turned around in apology.

 

"What are you doing, boy!" the man in the bed shouted and from the corner of his eyes, Jon could see his head turning red, though if it was due to embarrassment or anger he did not know.

 

"I'm looking for the King-beyond-the-wall," Jon quickly said, hoping to explain the uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible. "I have important news, I have to see him."

 

"You're seeing him right now," Mance grunted, looking at him expectantly. "So speak now, and you better have a damn good reason for storming into this tent."

 

For a moment, Jon looked at the man in shock before he forced himself to speak. "My apologies... uh, your Gra-" he interrupted himself. 

"The Others are here. I saw them," he quickly spoke through gritted teeth, looking at the King-beyond-the-wall.

 

Please believe me

 

"You saw them?" the king asked alarmed. "With your own eyes?"

"Through the ones of my wolf, he was just a few leagues south from here. There were dozens of Others there, blue eyes, white skin, crystal swords. I am sure of it."

 

"Our scouts said nothing."

 

"And when did the scouts say something the last time?"

 

"8 hours ago, before I went to bed," he said, shooting a curt glare at Jon. "They should report every 6 hours," he muttered, looking at Jon who remained silent, his eyes diverted to the ground.

 

He quickly got out of bed, just as the first screams echoed through the camp.

 

"Others!"

 

"White walkers!"

 

"Demons!"

 

"Cold gods!"

 

"White shadows!" A thousand voices called out, as the news spread like wildfire through the encampment.

 

Where a moment earlier, Rayder had appeared tired and sluggish, he was now completely awake.

 

"Mance!" Varamyr Sixskins called out to the King, as the unnatural wave of coldness that Jon had experienced earlier washed over the camp.

 

"Sixskins," Mance nodded at the Skinchanger. "Anything to say?"

 

"Fourskins now, One-Eye and Stalker are dead," the Skinchanger answered, with something akin to regret filling his voice. "They're coming from the south, far too many of them to fight. We need to evacuate. Fleeing is the only opportunity."

 

"How many wights are there? How many do they have?" Mance asked as he started to bellow orders to nearby men.

 

"Too many to count. Orell tried to get his eagle to scout, but it refuses. The presence of the Others is too strong, he can't get close without losing his connection."

 

The giant line of palisades that fortified the encampment were quickly closed, leaving a 20-foot high wooden wall as their defence to the south.

 

"It won't hold," the Lord of Bones slyly remarked, as the wildling leaders started to gather. Ramsay quickly joined Jon as well, alarmed from the screams and Jon abruptly leaving their tent.

 

Tormund Giantsbane and the Weeper joined them next, both of the two men notorious raiders, though the weeper was far better known due to his famous cruelty. 

 

He was born with watery eyes, giving him the name Weeper and was said to hate any man of the watch, even more so than any other person north of the wall. He wielded a large curved scythe of steel with which he was known to pluck the eyes of his victims out.

 

"We can't get away," the Lord of Bones exclaimed, as the shouts and screams grew ever louder. "This is a peninsula, Sixskins or Fourskins or whatever you want to call yourself. There's only one way out and those dead fuckers are blocking it."

 

Suddenly, the screams were even louder, but they weren't those of men. The screams belonged to the thousand of wights that poured towards the settlement like a wave of the ocean, a seemingly unending mass of dead, human flesh and bones.

 

"Stand and fight!," The Weeper screamed at the surrounding wildlings like a madman, as he drew his own scythe.

 

The horde of undead wights poured towards the wooden palisade, stacking up, higher and higher like a mountain of flesh until the ones on the top could walk right over the barrier.

 

"We need to fight," Mance shouted. "We have 50.000 people here, it has to be enough to repel them."

 

"And how many of them can fight," Tormund grunted. "Too many old folks and young children, injured or crippled men."

 

"The Weeper will lead them well," Jon stated. "Who knows the wild better than him? Who can fight against him?"

 

"The Weeper knows rape and murder," Mance replied. "Most other raiders don't even trust him."

 

"Who are you anyway?" The Lord of Bones asked Jon, his face a frown behind the giant's skull he wore as a helmet. Bones of aurochs, cows, elks, humans, mammoths and other were loosely tied into a shirt he wore, that clattered with every step he took.

 

"Not the time, Rattleshirt," Alfyn Crowkiller interrupted, using the name that the shirt of bones had earned him. 

 

Styr, the Magnar of Thenns nodded in agreement for once, as the wildling leaders drew their weapons.

 

For a moment, there was complete silence, until the first wights jumped into the settlement.

 

"Free Folk!" Mance bellowed as loud as he could. 

 

"All clans, all men, all women! All giants, all wargs and their animals! This is our enemy! This is our battle! Our biggest enemy and our strongest enemy! You may drop your sword, your shield, your axe. Others have done the same. Pick it up and go on fighting. You may foul your breeches. No one will care. All battlefields smell of shit. But it won't matter. The only thing that matters is that you stand. You stand with me and fight with me and if necessary die with me. This is the fight for our lives! With me now!" he screamed, as he charged, a thousand men following.

 

Jon drew his Valyrian Steel Sword, its Black Blade shining in the dim light of the dawning morrow.

 

Torches and Fire pots were lit all across the camps, while thousands of living men crossed blades with the army of the dead, that already threatened to overwhelm them. The giant fires, be it in pots or bonfires roared with unmatched might, but still, they could not stop the piercing cold that spread across the camp.

 

The giants roared as they charged into battle, wielding giant tree stumps or clubs of wood and metal, killing hundreds of wights that came within their range.

 

Archers rained down flaming arrows onto the undead ice-monsters, who burned like cinders. 

 

For a moment, Jon grew confident, sure that they would be able to win this battle until the palisade crumbled.

 

Within a split-second, any organisation the wildlings might have had crumbled, as thousands of wights poured into the settlement, their monstrous screeches filling the clear, dark sky.

 

The sound of hacking blades filled the air as thousands of men tried to run from the horde of wights, but fell as quickly as flies in a dragon's breath.

 

It grew ever colder as finally, the masters appeared behind their horde of slaves, their undead horses calm and steady, even as the battle raged on before them. They watched in silent amusement as the battle folded out before them and the shouts and screams of dying men filled the air.

 

"We need to leave," Ramsay shouted at Jon, pulling at his arms. It was unusual to see the Bolton Bastard so unsettled, but a giant horde of Others and reanimated corpses seemed to have that effect.

 

"How? There's no way out!"

 

"There is, I have a ship," Ramsay replied heatedly. "Small but it will do."

 

Jon turned away from Ramsay and saw a losing battle. The wildlings were hopelessly outmatched, as the Others themselves, the ice demons from Old Nan's stories joined the battle themselves.

 

Half a dozen wildling leaders, Alfyn Crowkiller and Devyn Sealskinner, the Lord of Bones and Harle the Huntsman, the Weeper and the Giantsbane fell to their crystalline swords, that cut through leather and ringmail like it they were in truth the softest silks known to the world.

 

The apparent leader with his crystal sword that Jon had seen earlier stood on a small hill a few feet away, a crown of clear ice resting on his horned head.

His eyes trailed the battlefield until finally, they fixed on Jon.

 

"Run," Ramsay commanded and without a second thought, Jon obeyed. Frost was close as well and quickly joined Jon in his retreat, as he followed behind the older bastard.

 

When they arrived at the shore of Hardhome, Ramsay quickly led him and Frost through one of the screaming caves and to a small cove where a small boat was anchored, two paddles and a sail inside of it.

 

"Had it built for fishing," Ramsay said, for the first time that Jon could remember completely serious. "But this is better."

 

Jon could see a thousand men trying to swim away in the ice-cold water of the Shivering Sea and Bay of Seals to escape their doom, but none made it far. The screams of men and women filled the camp, as the two of them paddled away.

 

The snowstorm that had engulfed the camp a moment before began to dissolve itself, as the last screams inside the encampment died out, leaving only a deadly silence behind.

 

They rowed for hours and hours, never resting until finally almost 20 hours of near-permanent rowing later, Jon allowed himself to rest and relax for a few moments.

 

He slowly opened his third eye once more and just a moment later he found himself looking through a raven's eyes, the bird sailing silently above the dark forests, west of the wildling encampment. Finally, he turned his eyes further south, pushing further and further south. -Towards Winterfell.

 

Where his mother laid buried, unknown to the seven kingdoms. A secret Howland Reed and Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell had kept from everyone. - Everyone except for Brynden Rivers and Jon Snow.

 

*

 

*

 

The Seeing Wolf

 

Ice's sharp blade came down quickly, cutting through the deserter's flesh and bones, like piss through snow, as Theon would have said. The wards from lots of other great northern families are standing around the stump, where the man had just lost his life, looking on in silence.

 

To Bran's left stood Robb and Theon, while Torrhen Karstark and Daryn Hornwood stood to his left. On the other side of the small hill, were Smalljon Umber and Cley Cerwyn.

 

The many wards had brought life to Winterfell and had made the life quite exciting. Bran could barely remember a time where they had not been there, always present and always great company. Smalljon was a boisterous man, well over six foot in height, but that was no wonder, given the size of his father, the Greatjon. Just like most Umbers he could drink anyone under the table and was always the first to loudly proclaim his opinion on a subject.

 

Cley Cerwyn, on the other hand, was more quiet and reserved, as silent as a wolf but also had a temper once provoked. He and Bran had quickly become friends, since they shared their passion for climbing things, something that drove Bran's mother to insanity.

 

Torrhen Karstark and Daryn Hornwood were rather boring in the young boy's opinion, they never talked much and behaved like any other northerner he had seen in his life. But despite all of their differences, all of them had one thing in common - They were all true northerners in their hearts.

 

Bran rode through the wolfswood on his horse, still slightly smaller than those of the other boys, bread to match his size for now. He silently pondered on the words of the deserter before Bran's father had taken his life. I saw them, m'lord, I ain't no liar the man had stuttered helplessly. He had been dressed in a ripped black cloak, torn open and ripped apart at many places.

 

I saw them, the bloody Others. I swear it on all I own, on all I've ever known. Shouldn't have aband'ned my post, m'lord, I accept my punishment for desertion. But I saw them. They're back.

 

Bran had immediately asked his father about the White Walkers, the Others that were a famous legend in the North. He had wanted to know if there was a chance that this was real, that the old, shaggy man had truly seen a White Walker north of the wall.

 

But father had remained steadfast, insisting that the mad had been mad with fear and hallucinated. That he had merely imagined, that he had seen a Walker. 

 

Bran noticed himself brooding silently on his horse, like his brother Jon had always done all those years ago. His disappearance had been a shock to everyone, even more so after Ramsay seemed to have left with him. No one had seen it coming, one day Jon was normal, maybe a bit more silent than usual, and the next day he and Ramsay were gone, gone from Winterfell with barely a trace. Only the fresh corpse of a Shadowcat had been found a few leagues north of Winterfell. 

 

Father had immediately sent out men to search for the two boys, searching all of the north from top to bottom. But no one ever found them again, no trace remained. But even though they were never found, even after three years they had been gone now, neither had any corpses been found, so Bran and many others still clung to the belief, that the two boys were still alive.

 

Father had sent word to the Dreadfort, telling Lord Bolton about the disappearance of his son, however, the Lord of the Dreadfort had not cared at all, disregarding his natural son completely.

 

Bran really hoped, that his older brother would still be alive, the boy, now man, that would always support him and help him whenever he asked and even if he didn't. Jon had always been the kindest of all and he truly hoped that he would get him back soon.

 

Ramsay however, was a different story. Many in Winterfell didn't know how to feel about the Bolton Bastard. The boy was often cruel, even mad, with tendencies to violence. He seemed to rejoice in the pain and torment of others, while he still managed to keep those traits hidden well enough, that no one could punish him for them. Still, while Ramsay was a mad dog, he had saved Bran's life in that fateful day in the Wolfswood - And for that Bran knew, just like the rest of his family did, that they owed him.

 

"Stop!" Lord Stark's voice suddenly called out, making the entire group stop. Lord Stark slowly got off his huge horse and the others followed. Even Bran swiftly climbed from his horse, wanting to take a look at what had made his father stop them.

 

He tripped over a tree root, walking towards his father. He ducked to avoid a low-hanging branch until he came face to face with what had startles his father so much.

 

Lots of snow had fallen during the last days and the white carpet was high enough, that Bran stood knee-deep in white. At first, he struggled to stand, groping for solid footing on the hidden, uneven ground. Yet finally he waled forwards and quickly took a step back. The huge corpse of a direwolf was laying in front of them, a giant antler sticking from her chest.

 

Half-buried in bloodstained snow, it's huge dark shape slumped in the white snow. Ice had formed in its shaggy grey fur, while bugs and worms were crawling over the she-wolf's corpse, feasting on her flesh. They left an awful stench that filled the air, a stinging smell that almost made Bran vomit.

 

Jory Cassel and Theon Greyjoy were the next to reach the boys. Greyjoy was laughing and joking as he rode. Bran heard the breath go out of him. “Gods!” he exclaimed loudly, all smugness and calmness gone, as he struggled to keep control of his horse as he reached for his sword.

 

Jory’s sword was already out. “Lord Stark, please my lord, get away from it!” he called as his horse reared under him, shocked at the sight of the great beast before them.

“She can’t hurt us,” Bran's father bluntly observed, looking at the giant dead wolf before them in pity. “She’s dead, Jory.”

 

Bran was afire with curiosity by then. He quickly used a bit of rope to tie his horse to a nearby pole, belonging to a small bridge and made to follow his father to the huge dead wolf.

By then the other boys had all dismounted as well. “What the fuck is that thing?” Smalljon exclaimed loudly as they approached. “A wolf,” deadpanned back, a tiny smile on his lips. “A damn freak,” Greyjoy said. “Look at the size of it.”

 

"A direwolf," Lord Stark said slowly and Bran felt his heartbeat speed up. A Direwolf? Here? "And you ought to be a bit quieter, Smalljon," he added as an afterthought. "The last thing we need now is her huge, angry mating partner coming after us."

 

Just as he said it, what he predicted came true. A humongous direwolf, with light-grey fur and blue eyes that shined with a piercing intensity.

 

"Ah for fuck's sake," one of the guards that had come with them proclaimed loudly and drew his sword, raising it so that the tip of the shining blade pointed towards the wolf.

 

Suddenly two figures emerged from the shadows of the wolfswood, both of them wearing shaggy white furs and dark, boiled leathers with weapons by their sides.

 

The smaller one of them had two savage-looking blades on each side of his belt. His hands hovered over them, ready to draw them at any moment. The second man, that stood next to him wore a dark cloak, making him stand out from the snowy-white woods. He had curly, pale white hair with streaks of black and a large sword with a pommel of a silver and gold strapped to his hip and a short dagger at his side. This man had a look of confidence and skill to him and held himself with strength and authority. 

 

The giant wolf, nimble and quick moved to his side, barely more than a shadow in the white snow.

 

The man slowly extended a hand to ruffle the giant wolf's fur, an action that made Bran speechless. I want to be able to do that, too.

 

"State your reason for passing through these lands," Robb shouted at the men. The guards behind them slowly moved forwards, ready to draw their swords and fight the other men at a moment's notice.

 

"I am disappointed, I must admit," the man in black sighed and moved forwards. The guards tensed and drew their swords slightly and received a threatening growl from the direwolf companion of the man in return.

 

Bran watched with anxiety as the man approached and finally was close enough so that he could see his face. "Forgot me so quick?" he asked, his two grey eyes shining at them and finally recognition flashed on their faces.

 

"Jon?" he slowly asked, while the figure behind his half-brother stepped forwards. Finally, Bran could see his pale blue eyes. "Ramsay?"

 

Jon nodded in confirmation and moved closer. "There is something that might interest you," he stated, pointing towards the dead she-wolf, that laid motionless in the snow.

Lord Stark quickly moved towards Jon and embraced him quickly, looking at him in silence. "We will have words about this," he said harshly, looking at his son with a mix of anger, joy and relief. 

 

"We will," Jon replied, seemingly unbothered. "But now take a look, will ya?" he said, pointing to the bundle of fur, that was directly next to the dead mother wolf.

 

"She bore pups before she died," Lord Stark stated slowly. Jon's own direwolf moved towards the tiny wolves that nestled close to their mother's dead body, trying to use each other's warmth to avoid the cold better.

 

"Five of them," Jon noted. "3 male and two female. Your children were meant to have them. They are the sigil of your house and should belong to you."

 

"What about you, Jon?" Robb asked, still obviously distraught by his brother's sudden appearance, especially with a huge direwolf by his side.

 

"Frost is mine," Jon replied, petting the wolf tenderly. He then pointed to the pups on the ground. "Those shall be yours."

 

"And the Father?" Ned asked, looking around wearily. "A Direwolf's wrath should not be provoked."

 

"The father is fine with it," Jon deadpanned, looking at his own wolf. "You are fine with it, aren't ya?" He asked the giant wolf as if he could understand him.

 

"He is the father?" Robb asked incredulously, looking at the wolf, Jon had dubbed Frost and received a curt nod.

 

"Shouldn't be surprised," he mumbled. "Not like there were many direwolves south of the wall."

 

He, just like father, quickly embraced Jon.

 

There was something weird about Jon. He was still Jon, but at the time he was so very different. The way he held himself, the way he talked, the expression he wore on his face. They were almost wolf-like at times, his mouth looked ready to give a snarl. With the giant wolf on his side and the sword strapped to his hip, he looked so much like a Stark Lord, It was the same look like Father, just different. He didn't look honourable or calm. He looked like a wolf.

 

"Hello, Greyjoy," Ramsay said, as he moved towards Theon. "It's been a long time, no? We have so much to talk about." He smiled widely at Theon, who did not nearly share his enthusiasm.

 

Lord Stark picked up all 5 of the pups and handed them to his children, but Jon walked to the corpse once more.

 

“What is it, Jon?” their lord father asked.

 

“Can’t you hear it?” he asked them, but Bran could hear nothing but the wind in the trees, the clatter of their hooves and the whimpering of his hungry pup, but Jon was listening to something else.

 

“There,” Jon said, kneeling down a few feet away from the mother wolf. 

“He must have crawled away from the others,” Jon said, as he held up another pup, snow-white with dark red eyes. 

 

"An albino," Robb noted, looking at the pup.

 

"Like Brynden," Jon muttered, earning confused looks from everyone. "Who is Brynden?" their lord father asked, but Jon just shrugged it off. "Nevermind."

 

"The runt of the litter," Theon said with wry amusement. “This one will die even faster than the others,” he said, earning glares from both Bran and Robb, while Jon gazed at him emptily, eyes devoid of emotion. Bran noticed the Greyjoy ward shift uncomfortably in his saddle, but then Jon turned away and the moment was over.

 

"I'll take this one;" he proclaimed. "Or do you want it?" He asked Ramsay, who shook his head.

 

"I prefer my bitches," he replied. "Easier trained, but just as deadly in a pack."

 

Lord Stark gave the Bolton Bastard a chilling look, before turning his horse around. 

 

"Take care of them," he spoke to his sons. "I'll allow you to keep them, but you'll feed them yourselves, you'll train them yourselves and if they die, you'll bury them yourselves, you understand me?" he asked, receiving nods from his children. "Tell the girls and Rickon the same thing."

 

They started to ride off when he turned once more. "And Jon?" he said, looking at his sister's son. "Welcome home."

 

*

 

The Spider

 

For a long, long time, Varys had plotted to put Aegon Targaryen, the sixth of his name on the Iron Throne. Or at least the boy that he and Illyrio had raised to believe himself as such.

He had made an impressive climb in his life. He had gone from a slave boy, born in Lys and who grew up in the slums of Myr, to the Master of Whisperers, that had already been a close advisor to two Kings. Kings that had reigned for many years.

 

When he was a young boy, before he was cut by the vile sorcerer, he had travelled with a group of mummers. They had taught him their skills, taught him to keep emotions tucked away and keep his enemies guessing. No One was able to read him, to understand what he wanted and for that he was grateful.

 

Many believed, that he fought for the good of the realm, a noble goal, but still quite foolish. He had his own ambitions, his own goals he wanted to see come true, the good of the realm was a mere side effect.

 

The boy. Illyrio's son. A Blackfyre.

 

The Blackfyres were always a threat to Westeros, a liability that had plagued the country since Bittersteel fled the Battle of Redgrass field and swore he would return to place a son Daemon Blackfyre upon the Iron Throne. Four more Blackfyre Rebellions had arisen since then, yet all had failed. The male Blackfyre line had ended, when Ser Barristan Selmy slew Maelys the Monstrous on the Stepstones, ending the War of the Ninepenny Kings and returning peace to the realm.

 

But the female line continued to exist, as many female descendants that still bore Daemon's name lived on in Essos, married and had children, though few of them were aware of their true heritage. 

 

One of them was Serra Blackfyre, a beautiful young girl that Varys's friend and co-conspirator Illyrio Mopatis had married and sired a boy with. - Aegon Blackfyre, the boy that now thought himself to be Aegon Targaryen, the son of Elia Martell and Rhaegar Targaryen.

 

Varys loved to think of this, like the story of the Crossroad Inn. 

 

The famous Inn had belonged to an old, crippled knight called Long John Heddle, who took up ironworking when he grew too old to fight. He forged a new sign for the yard, a three-headed dragon of black iron that he hung from a wooden post. Years later, a bastard son of the fourth Aegon rose up in rebellion against his trueborn brother and took for his sigil a black dragon. These lands belonged to Lord Darry then, and his lordship was fiercely loyal to the king. The sight of the black iron dragon made him wroth, so he cut down the post, hacked the sign into pieces, and cast them into the river. One of the dragon's heads washed up on the Quiet Isle many years later, though by that time it was red with rust."

 

It was too fitting. The Black Dragon, Aegon Blackfyre who vanished and slowly with time became something else, a red dragon, one that all the world would look up to. A warrior that would inspire both awe and fear. One that would rule fairly and justly, while also being harsh when need be.

 

It would be the sixth Blackfyre Rebellion, but no one would know it. They would support Aegon Targaryen, unknowing that in truth it was a Black Dragon that stood before them.

 

Varys and Illyrio's plan had been perfect, they had considered every possible event, had mapped out and planned everything that they would do, every possibility. But it hadn't been enough. They had always known that one could not predict everything, no matter how carefully it was planned and executed.

 

Daenerys Targaryen hatching a Dragon was one of those unpredicted events. It had been simple. They would keep out an eye for the last two Targaryens and when they were in dire need, Illyrio would offer them his hospitality. He would allow them to live in his giant mansion in Pentos and earn their trust. He would give them anything they wanted until they would never doubt his advice. 

 

That's when he would convince Viserys to marry his sister to a Dothraki warlord and they would invade Westeros with his Khalasar, to crown him King. But of course, that wouldn't happen. The Dothraki would become hated and feared throughout Westeros, so much that even the Targaryen loyalists would turn against them if only in fear that their lands would be pillaged and burned, their women and children raped and murdered.

 

And in this conflict, Aegon would emerge with the Golden Company, men absolutely loyal to any Black Dragon and would present himself as a saviour, a man that was charismatic and powerful, the perfect King.

 

The Targaryen loyalists and anyone searching for protection would flock to his side and they would be easily able to defeat the forces of any lords or king's that tried to fight them. With a marriage to a Great House, they would be able to gather more allies and outmanoeuvre King Robert, due to Varys spying on him. 

 

And then, finally, the Black Dragon would sit on the Iron Throne, ending the Targaryen line and finally placing a descendant of Daemon Blackfyre on the Iron Throne, unknown to everyone.

 

But that didn't happen. Viserys died despite Varys's best efforts to protect him, and the girl hatched dragons, before fleeing to Asshai, where not even Varys' little birds could reach her.

Dragons. Living, breathing, massive, dragons.

 

Dragons were powerful weapons, unmatched on the battlefield and if properly used could not be defeated.

 

Not even ballistas or powerful siege machines could hope to hurt a fully grown dragon, unless they got extremely lucky like the Dornish had been when they killed Meraxes, and Queen Rhaenys with him.

 

If there was anything, Varys was truly thankful for, then it was that the Mad King had never been in control of the powers, his daughter now possessed. Had Aerys the Second had Dragons at his command, the country would have burned to cinders, with nothing left to rule.

 

Of course, having these Dragons under their own control would have been a huge boon to them. Noone would be able to stand against them and the success of their invasion would have been guaranteed. But Connington was unable to swallow his pride and seek out Daenerys Targaryen, who had conquered half of Essos in the last few years.

 

At first, the girl had gone to Astapor, where she had tricked the wise masters into believing that she would trade one of her dragons, for all of the Unsullied warriors in the city, both 'complete' ones and the boys that were still being trained to become true Unsullied.

 

It would have been a bad trade for Queen Daenerys, however the Unsullied were still a force to be reckoned with. They were nearly unstoppable in close combat and fought with Iron discipline and resistance. They never faltered and never gave up and fought to obey their master's orders until they died or succeeded.

 

The Masters silently thought the girl a fool, when she promised to use her Bloodmagic to make them bond with the smallest of her beasts, but still a Dragon as large as Vhagar had been.

 

That is where Varys himself was not quite sure what had happened since none of his little birds in Astapor had lived to tell the tale. However, it was said that the girl had betrayed them, burning them to Ashes with her magic, before taking the whip of the master's dead corpse and assuming command over the Unsullied. Another rumour had said, that a master had stabbed his sword right through her chest, only to find that it did not affect her. The sword had cut through her cleanly, without any resistance, but without causing any damage either. And Illusion, they had called it.

 

But no matter what had truly happened, by the next day Astapor laid almost completely in ashes and almost everyone who had been at the Plaza of Pride, where the transaction had happened were dead.

 

Yunkai fell quickly after that. Its yellow walls were blasted away by the sheer power of Dragonfire and the Unsullied took the city easily. The sellswords hired to protect the city quickly turned cloak once they saw the dragons burn a hundred men to ashes, an imposing sight.

 

And Meereen... Well, Meereen was already taken by the time she arrived. The Masters were slain, the gates opened, welcoming her into the city like an old friend.

 

The Masters had tried to rise once more, to try to reassert their control over Slaver's Bay, however, every Rebellion that had arisen was quickly put down. The now self-proclaimed Queen Daenerys had suppressed all of them immediately, spied out the leaders and had them publicly executed. Within 6 moons, no one was left to question her authority and rule over Slaver's Bay.

 

That's when she moved on. Moved on to Bloodstone, what had become her base of operations.

 

She had left not much behind in Slaver's Bay, just a thousand Unsullied and a small council to rule the 3 cities, however with all her rivals dead, either rotting in the streets of her cities or with their heads thrown into the ocean, they did a fine job keeping the peace. One of her advisors and teachers came from Qarth himself and was a well-respected figure amongst the people there. Therefore, he had been able to make a deal with the city to grant her newly founded Empire their protection, while she, her fleet and her dragons were gone. And so, she founded the Imperial Targaryen Dynasty, better known as the eastern empire, that she ruled over as Empress Daenerys Targaryen. 

 

But then she disappeared to Bloodstone, the Island that she had proclaimed would be the centre of her new dynasty, the capital city of her empire.

 

She, and over a hundred ships she had acquired from the wise masters, had disappeared into the mysterious Island, where the King of the Stepstones and the Narrow Sea had once ruled. No one knew, not even Varys himself what she had been doing there for the last year. Thick, dark fog surrounded the Island and every boat send there, vanished into the mist, never to return.

 

At one point, Robert Baratheon had commanded the royal fleet to go and investigate the Island, as well as find and kill the empress, however, all 15 ships send into the fog disappeared without a trace, just like all their predecessors.

 

Over time, Bloodstone became a constant threat that loomed over Westeros, however, no one could do anything about it, so it remained untouched.

 

The girl could become a problem in Aegon's quest for the throne. A truce would have to be negotiated, perhaps Aegon could marry her. If that would prove to be impossible... -Well, Varys always managed to make... problems disappear.

 

Slowly Varys paced through the great stone hall in the Red Keep, where the Iron Throne stood. A great, twisted monstrosity, yet still a symbol of power and supremacy.

 

"I do wonder, my dear Varys, who you truly serve,” Littlefinger suddenly spoke up from behind him, approaching him as silent as always. Baelish had sharp features, a small, neatly trimmed pointed beard on his chin, and dark hair with threads of grey running through it. 

Littlefinger wore a slashed velvet doublet in cream-and-silver, with a small silver mockingbird embroidered just over his heart. 

 

"The realm, old friend," Varys replied, with his usual sulky, high voice. 

"Don't we all," Littlefinger said quietly, as he moved closer to the eunuch, though his grin belied his incredulity. “You are such a selfless man, my friend. The realm could use more men like you. Men without any ambitions or goals... who only want the best for the people of Westeros...”

 

He sighed dramatically while looking at Varys mockingly. "I'm not entirely sure I trust your answer. Every man wants something. Wealth... Power... Women..." He took a look at Varys crotch. "Oh my bad, I forgot."

 

Varys ignored him, continuing to look forwards towards the Iron Throne. 

 

"I'm not entirely sure you should trust me at all, old friend. I'm not such a noble lord like you, my dear Lord Baelish. What a blessed world it would be if all men were. If all men had your standards and your noble principles," he replied, tempering the compliment with a quirk of his eyebrow. "Such a noble man, selflessly serving the king, without any second thoughts, putting the welldoing of the royal family above everything."

 

The lie could hardly have been more blatant. Varys knew himself to be no saint, where other men fought like the warrior or were as merciful as the mother, he was the stranger, observing and killing from the shadows. However, Littlefinger had already driven the realm into great debt to both the Iron Bank, the Lannisters, the Tyrells and the Faith. And Varys knew that that would not be enough to satisfy Baelish. Chaos is a ladder, he had often told him and Littlefinger would ensure, that chaos would reign supreme.

 

For now, that was no problem for Varys, a weakened realm was easier to take after all. However, in time, he would have to deal with Baelish. Aegon was now old enough to marry for an alliance and soon his plans would become reality. Until then Baelish's schemes would be good for their cause, however, they would have to be stopped shortly after. He would not be allowed to threaten the reign of Aegon Blackfyre.

 

Littlefinger had become indispensable to King Robert, the old falcon had vouched for him and therefore he had the king's trust. Still, Varys wondered how long it would be before he tired of the king and conspired to replace him with one that suited his needs better. It wouldn't be long before he would do just that. To Littlefinger the politics of Westeros were a game, with the nobles just figures that he manoeuvred around the map, just like a cyvasse player would move his figures around.

 

It was all a giant game, the Game of Thrones.

 

“It must be difficult," Baelish told Varys with a grin, "to see the world, all the great events from the tiny eyes of a mere spider. Such small creatures, poisonous at times, but still helpless against all the large predators. You must feel rather… impotent.” Littlefinger let his eyes trail down suggestively. Varys suppressed a sigh. For all his unpredictability, Littlefinger was surprisingly consistent in his humour. He could not recall a conversation, in which Littlefinger had not cracked a joke about his manly parts.

 

"You underestimate Spiders, my friend," he said, refusing to rise to the bait. He wouldn't give Baelish the satisfaction of successfully provoking him. "Some Spiders are very dangerous," he said. "In Sothoryos I was told there are some the size of horses. Even the White Walkers were said to have ridden on the backs of giant Ice Spiders."

 

He sighed loudly. "They are so large, that they can catch almost everything in their webs... Insects, birds, large birds, mockingbirds..."

 

he said, looking pointedly at the mockingbird stitched on Petyr's clothing.

 

Petyr smiled. “What a shame then, that we aren’t in Sothoryos. Our Westerosi spiders must feel very small indeed, compared to such creatures. I have my doubts about those northern Ice-spiders... Unless you could find me one? You would have my eternal gratitude.”

 

“Size isn’t everything, my friend.”

 

“Oh dear, I suppose you’d know all about that.” Littlefinger grinned, raising an eyebrow lasciviously. “But are you quite sure we’re still discussing insects?”

 

Varys shrugged and walked away, letting Littlefinger win the round. Soon, he would bring Aegon to Westeros and they would see who had the last laugh. Westerosi politics were already unpredictable at best. What would happen if dragons were brought into play was anyone's guess. But at the same time, his plan had to succeed. The realm needed Aegon. A ruler that could rule in his own name, not as a puppet of manipulators like Littlefinger.

 

Though it would be a shame when Littlefinger would finally die and return to the dirt. There was a certain joy to be found in their quarrels, and not for the first time Varys didn't like the thought of their eternal battle of wits coming to an end. He was the only worthy opponent Varys had known in a long time.

 

"It’s nothing personal, old friend,” he muttered under his breath as he turned to leave, the words he had spoken a few minutes ago, still echoing in his head. "But I did warn you not to trust me."

 

*

Chapter Text

The Hidden King



Aegon was starting to get anxious. He had waited all his life to reclaim his families throne and assume his place as the rightful ruler of Westeros.

 

He and Connington walked by the outskirts of the little sea of tents which had sprung up around one of the river bends. Parts of it were walled by great canvasses of art in varying styles, though there was a thematic thread subtly woven through them all. Indistinct figures holding up scythes and swords, with the notorious banner of the Golden Company proudly in the middle. The banner had been created, when Aegor 'Bittersteel' Rivers had commanded his lieutenants to dip his skull in gold and parade it through King's Landing, once they took the city. 

 

The high walls of Myr were dripping red under the afternoon sun. The sun was, although it was already starting to lower itself on the horizon again, still burning with great intensity, making Aegon yearn for a cold bath.

 

He could see magisters of the city walk outside of the city through the carefully laid out gardens. Well, they didn't actually walk, most of them were sitting in their carriages, pulled or carried by their servants. At least what they called servants. Myr was a Free City in name, yet slavery was a common sight. 

 

All of them were accompanied by slaves. Most of the noblemen of the Free Cities had dozens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands of slaves. Some of them would fan their master to keep him cool as he slept. Slaves to pour him wine, slaves to wash his back, slaves to feed him, slaves be ordered about at a thousand different tasks. And always, always, bed-slaves kept near at hand, exotic beauties from every corner of the world worth naming.

 

If there was something he admired about his aunt, then it was her ending these old traditions, regardless of how brutal her methods might have been.

 

The Golden Company was currently hired by the city to offer them protection from the Dothraki horselord Khal Jhaqo, a notorious savage, that had raped and pillaged across the entire western half of Essos.

 

They had paid the Company lots of wealth and had even provided them with lots of comfort, while they were there. The Captains of the famous sellsword group were often invited into the great mansions of the city, adorned with green terraces and the fragrant pools, that always had a relaxing cool temperature, a result of having dozens of slaves that maintained them constantly.

 

Still, beneath all of the glamour and comfort that Myr offered, was a poor, dirty city of violence and slavery, all hidden away in the lower slums of the city. He knew that the foul smell in the air, that lingered over the great city, was the stench of rotting bodies that laid openly in the streets of the city, wasting away in the hot sun.

 

The two of them walked in silence, taking in their surroundings in silence.

 

Not far from where they walked, a woman stood under the persimmon tree, clad in a hooded robe that brushed the grass. A beautiful necklace was around her neck, embedded with diamonds and gold. Beneath the hood, her face seemed hard and shiny. She is wearing a mask , Aegon realized, a wooden mask. He looked at the woman in confusion, but she only stared back unflinchingly, eyeing him without a trace of emotion.

 

The mask was painted in dark red lacquer, making her seem out of place, amongst the myrish magisters, all of them clad in bright clothing, to show off their wealth.

 

He was just about to point her out to Connington as a possible spy, however, he turned away from her for a moment and suddenly she was gone. Aegon shook his head in confusion. The woman had disappeared immediately and without a trace.

 

The woman with the red mask, was definitely not someone he would forget anytime soon.



*



They finally reached their destination. They had walked through the absolute mess of an encampment dodging stray dogs and hangover soldiers. They quickly found the centre of the labyrinth of tents, angling his horse towards the biggest pavilion, from which countless banners, embroidered with golden skulls seemed to leer at him, hanging atop poles. It seemed a feast was in progress… to his honour no doubt.

 

They could hear the roaring laughter of captain-general Harry Strickland, and the buzz of conversation as they strode towards the pavilion. A couple of sellswords that were positioned at the entrance barred the way, but quickly opened up, once they saw Aegon.

Aegon nodded gratefully at them, but said nothing as he pushed the flap aside and entered the tent, alongside his foster father Jon Connington.

 

Many of the company’s commanders stood or sat inside the great tent. Harry Strickland, Black Balaq, Brendel Byrne, Dick Cole and Will Cole, Rolly Duckfield, Lysono Maar, Gorys Edoryen, Malo Jayn and Ser Pykewood Peake, all of them in various stages of being drunk. They laughed merrily at each other's jokes, talking loudly and boasting about their achievements even louder. Squires and pages served wine and smoked mutton, but were mostly disregarded by the men present.

 

"This is what you call a strategic meeting?" Connington's voice boomed through the tent, quickly making all mirth leave the room. "I thought the leaders of the most famed sellsword group in Essos might actually be of use for something."

 

"Careful, Connington," Black Balaq replied. He was a white-haired Summer Islander with dark black skin. He wore a feathered cloak, coloured green and orange, as well as lots of jewellery forged from gold.

 

"Remember, that we are the only support you have."

 

Connington was about to reply heatedly, however, Strickland quickly defused the situation. "Pardon, Lord Connington," he spoke. "We were just waiting for your presence and got... carried away."

 

The old griffin still looked annoyed but accepted his words. Both he and Aegon sat down at the table and took a look at the map that was laid out in front of them.

 

"We have waited way too long to strike," Gorys Edoryen, the company's paymaster declared. "Secrets can never be kept for long. It won't be long until word reaches Westeros about Aegon's existence. Our plans. They have way more men than we do, taking them by surprise and taking hostages is our only viable option."

 

"The lands of Westeros are too united in the moment," Malo Jayn countered. "Even with hostages, they have a dozen times our numbers, and even with the Tyrells and Dornish we would still be hopelessly outmatched. Let the Spider work his magic. We need chaos in Westeros, not peace. Then is our time."

 

"We should ask Daenerys Targaryen for help," another general added, still sounding a bit drunk from his previous activity. "She has an army of Unsullied and her dragons. Make her Queen and none of Westeros shall stand against you."

 

"The first Aegon took Westeros without eunuchs. Why shouldn't the sixth Aegon do the same?" Lysono Maar asked heatedly, shooting a glance towards Aegon.

 

"The plan-" Harry Strickland started, but he was quickly interrupted by another general, a man named Tristan Rivers.

 

"Which plan? ... The Magisters plan? The one that changes every time the moon turns? First, it was told that we would invade, directly after Viserys, when he acquired the support of the Dothraki. Then, we were supposed to capture his aunt. A pliable young girl, who had fled in panic from Braavos with three new-hatched dragons. Instead, the girl turns up on Slaver's Bay and leaves a line of burning cities in her wake. I have had enough of Illyrio's plans. 

 

Robert Baratheon won the Iron Throne without the benefit of dragons. We can do the same." 

"No, we don't necessarily need her," Ser Duncan Strong admitted. "But can we afford to have her as our enemy?" he asked, shaking his head. "She is on Bloodstone, no matter where on the western coast we land, she could easily stab us in the back... -Or burn our backs. Having a potential enemy behind us is not something we can afford, especially if we are already outmatched by the Westerosi."

 

“King Aegon is the one true ruler,” said a man in a fine purple doublet with a silk voice as he stood up to point at the map, where King's Landing was located. "No man shall accept his wife overruling him. The girl is a threat, but making her a queen, is not the way to go."

 

"No victory comes without a price," Jon Lothston, a serjeant of the company countered. "Better a king with an entitled queen at your side, than dead on the field. A marriage to her would bring us far more military power than the Tyrell girl or the Dornish princess ever could. Remember the field of fire."

 

He sighed, before continuing. "Maar has the right of it, the first Aegon didn't need eunuchs to take Westeros. But he did need his dragons. Since the Andal invasion, no one has been able to take Westeros, besides the Conqueror himself."

 

Silence lingered in the tent for a while, only interrupted by the sound of blunt swords clashing, just outside of the commander tent.

 

"He is right," Connington finally said, earning a surprised look from Aegon. Did he just agree, that we would need my aunt's support? Aegon wondered. "We can't afford to have her at our back. We will go with Illyrio's plan. We need to get her support, but for her to respect us, we need to negotiate from a position of power."

 

"What do you suggest, Connington?" one of the generals asked him.

 

"We take Volantis. They have a great fleet, that will prove useful, once we sail west."

 

"We could offer the Dragon Empress Volantis afterwards," Tristan Rivers added slowly. "We won't have any use for it afterwards."

 

"You say that, as if we had already taken the city," another serjeant spoke up. "The First Daughter of Valyria is strong. It's Black Walls are strong and very high. The Black Walls are so thick that six four-horse chariots can race around its top abreast, which is done annually to celebrate the founding of Volantis. Taking those walls shall not be easy, that I can promise you."

 

"But not so high as to keep out dragons," Aegon whispered, a tad melancholic. "Dragons fly," he repeated the famous words, that the Conqueror himself had spoken hundreds of years ago when he burned Harrenhal, with Harren Hoare and all of his men.

 

Connington gave him a knowing look and a small smile, before continuing. 

 

"The Tiger Cloaks of Volantis are impressive warriors, that I grant you. Masters at what they do. But even they can be defeated."

 

"The Old Blood is facing lots of pressure," Lysono Maar spoke up. The Company's spymaster was always the best-informed person in the room. "Behind the Black Wall, these old lords who boast with their valyrian ancestry sleep poorly, listening as their kitchen slaves sharpen their long knives. Slaves grow their food, clean their streets, teach their young. They guard their walls, row out galleys, fight their battles. And now they look south and east. The slaves look up to Daenerys Targaryen and what she did in Slaver's Bay. There are many that yearn for freedom. Give them an opportunity and they will take it. Give them an opportunity and the city will conquer itself.”

 

"But how?" Aegon asked the spymaster. "How can we give them this opportunity?"

 

They all remained silent for a minute, thinking about the ways they could make this work. Finally, it was Connington himself who spoke up.

 

"Why are we here?" he asked the men present loudly, but he received only confused stares in return. "Is this a religious question?" serjeant Malo Jayn asked. "Sounds like something a red priestess or a septa of the faith would ask."

 

"No," Connington replied annoyed. "Why are we here , outside the gates of Myr?"

 

"They hired us, to protect them from Dothraki," Black Balaq said, his deep voice booming through the tent.

 

"Exactly," Connington replied. "So pose a threat to Volantis. Make them hire us to protect them, and when their guard is down, we take the city."

 

"A bold plan."

 

"But how do we pose this threat to a city, such as Volantis?"

 

"You would have us ruin the Golden Company's reputations?"

 

"Silence," the old Griffin commanded. "There will be no need for the Golden Company's reputation, once this is done. His grace, Aegon, will give you, what Bittersteel and the Blackfyres never could. Take you home." 

 

He paused for a moment. "As for the threat to Volantis, I think I have a solution for that."



*



Aegon could see a dozen men approach the tent, that they had set up, a few leagues outside of Myr.

 

Many were Dothraki horselords, big men with red-brown skin, their drooping mustachios bound in metal rings, their black hair oiled and braided and hung with bells. Yet among them moved bravos and sellswords from Pentos and Myr and Tyrosh, a red priest even fatter than Illyrio, hairy men from the Port of Ibben, and lords from the Summer Isles with skin as black as ebony. But it was the man at the front, that truly pulled Aegon's attention.

 

Khal Drogo was a head taller than the tallest man in the room, yet somehow light on his feet, as graceful as the panthers that fought in the fighting pits of Myr. He was younger than he would thought an accomplished warrior like him to be, yet he was no more than thirty namedays. 

 

His skin was the colour of polished copper, his thick mustachios bound with gold and bronze rings. His face was hard and cruel, his eyes as cold and dark as onyx. He was an imposing man, and Aegon understood how he was able to strike fear into the hearts of lesser men.

 

He commanded a Khalasar of a hundred thousand, enough to pose a serious threat to Volantis. Many had been doubtful if the horselord would truly appear, as most Dothraki, especially the khals, looked down on all who weren't Dothraki themselves. Most of them would never strike a deal with men from the Free Cities, yet here they were.

 

A young slave girl, bearing the name Mina had accompanied them, to translate what the Dothraki spoke.

 

Finally, the Dothraki moved into the tent, though they did not leave their weapons outside. Drogo's arakh, the traditional Dothraki weapon was still firmly secured on his belt.

 

"You stand in the Presence of Aegon of House Targaryen, sixth of his name, Rightful King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. Head of House Targaryen and the last true Dragon."

 

Drogo showed no visible reaction to the long list of titles and merely shook his head dismissively, letting out a short grunt. The three Dothraki men behind him looked a tad disgusted, making Aegon suppress a sigh. Should have known, that they would not care about any of this.

 

"Honoured Khal Drogo," he started to speak, while the translator immediately started translating his words into the crude language of the horselords. "We are very grateful, that you have come here. We have an offer for you, from which both of our sides could profit greatly."

 

The horselord didn't seem very impressed at his speech. He let out a short grunt before he started talking. It seemed that this Drogo new bits of the Common Tongue, as Aegon himself, could understand his words. "Speak, Andal," he said gruffly, looking at him expectantly.

 

"We intend to take the great city of Volantis. We ask you, mighty Khal, to threaten the city, so that they would hire us to protect them. But when the time comes, we shall open the gates from the inside and take the city."

 

The Dothraki seemed to contemplate his offer. He slowly moved his head, making the bells in his hair ring softly. 

 

"And what do we get from this, Andal?" Mina translated shortly after.

 

"We shall offer you five thousand horses and half of the spoils of war. The city shall be ours and all within it." He felt disgusted at himself for making such an offer, but there was no other way. What would Septa Lemore say?

 

They would likely be unable to actually provide those 5000 horses, but what did it matter? They only needed the Khal to threaten the city, after that he would have to make do with whatever horses they gave him. He had to make grand promises, to pull him on their side.

It was a generous offer, one he knew the Khal would not refuse. A thousand strong horses and half the spoils of a city as large as Volantis was an unmatched prize. At least that is what Aegon thought. 

 

The Khal merely laughed at his offer, as if it were the funniest joke he had ever heard. Even the bloodriders laughed merrily at the offer, their voices carrying over the vast, flat land around them.

 

"That will not do. Petty gifts. If I want gold or horses, I take them," Mina said carefully, observing Aegon to see if he would take offence at her. To her fortune, he didn't. "He says, that he wants something else. Something no Khal has ever had before."

 

Aegon took a confused look at the tall man that stood before him. He certainly didn't lack for ambition.

 

Slowly, and very carefully the slave translator continued. Aegon noticed the weariness in her voice and already dreaded what she would say. 

 

“A dragon to ride, and a dragon to bed. A mount to take, and a mount to dread."

 

Aegon was confused for a moment until he finally fully understood the horselords demands. He didn't just want gold or horses. He wanted something no Dothraki Khal had ever had before. He wanted a Valyrian bride and a Dragon to ride upon. 

 

He wanted Daenerys.

 

This is bad. Very bad.

 

He took a deep breath and looked upon the warrior in front of him. He was not an ugly man, Aegon had to admit that much. He would have to be enough for his aunt.

 

"Then you shall have it." He finally said as a small smile appeared on the other man's face. Connington frowned deeply next to him but stayed silent.

 

Aegon had secured an alliance with the horselords, and soon Volantis would be his.

 

But at what cost? 

 

He couldn't get rid of the feeling, that this had been a huge mistake.



*



Just two moon turns later, they received a message from the Old Blood of Volantis. Aegon's lips slowly twisted into a smile, when he read the missive. They had asked for the Golden Company's help against a Dothraki warlord who threatened the city.

 

Finally, it's coming together.

When the bards and maesters would tell the story of Aegon the sixth... They'll say my conquest began today.

 

"Assemble to commanders," he told Connington with a smile. "We're going to Volantis."

 

*

 

The Dreamer

 

Jon slowly walked into the dark cove, followed by Coldhands and Ramsay. Frost slowly trailed after him, his blue eyes fixed on him.

 

Suddenly, a figure emerged from the darkness before him. At first, he thought it was a child, as its figure was small and slender, but there was more. The figure seemed to blend into their dark surroundings, it's skin was nut-brown, dappled like a deer's with paler spots. 

 

Her hands had only three fingers and a thumb, with sharp black claws instead of nails. The stranger's harsh, yet warm eyes were slit like those of a cat, glowing softly in the darkness that surrounded them.

 

Jon stared at her, something told her that the figure was female, in amazement. He had never seen anything of the sort before. It took a while until he finally realized what he saw before him.

 

The child of the forest cocked its head, looking at him intrigued, while at the same time distrustful.

 

Coldhands muttered something to the child in a strange tongue. The child herself, replied quickly in the same language, though when she spoke it sounded like a song, beautiful and sad.

 

Her eyes lingered on him for a while, until she nodded and started to guide them through the dozens and hundreds of twisted pathways, that led beneath the cave.

 

The child of the forest walked quick and softly, moving without making any sound. The child walked onwards, guiding them through the maze of tunnels, its steps like those of a nimble cat. The tunnels twisted everywhere, for miles and miles. They walked for hours through the dark pathways, that twisted and turned, with roots of weirwood running through and along the paths.

 

More and more ravens appeared that sat on roots and stones, eyeing the newcomers warily.

 

The child went in front with the torch in hand, her cloak of leaves whispering behind her, but the passage turned so much, that Jon soon lost sight of her. Then, the only light was what was reflected off the passage walls. 

 

After they had gone down a little, the cave divided, but the left branch was dark as pitch, so they knew to follow the moving torch to the right.

 

In the pale, distant light of the child's torch, the roots around them looked like great white snakes slithering in and out of the earth around them. A nest of milk snakes that they had blundered into. Even Ramsay looked around uncomfortable, seeming a bit reluctant to go on.

 

They passed another branching, and another, then came into an echoing cavern as large as the great hall of Winterfell, with stone teeth hanging from its ceiling and more poking up through its floor. The child in the leafy cloak wove a path through them. 

 

From time to time she stopped and waved her torch at them impatiently. This way, it seemed to say, this way, this way, faster. There were more side passages after that, more chambers, and Jon heard dripping water somewhere to his right. When he looked off that way, he saw eyes looking back at them, slitted eyes that glowed bright, reflecting back the torchlight.

 

The weirwood branches ran deep, trailing along the tall walls of the cave, twisting through earth and stone, closing off some passages and holding up the roofs of others.

 

The heart tree at Winterfell had roots as thick around as a giant’s legs, but these were even thicker. There were hundreds of them, each of them wider than Jon was tall. They were not the roots of a single tree. There had to be a whole grove of weirwoods growing above them.

They moved forwards, feeling the eyes of the children of the forest in their backs, their eyes watching them with burning intensity.

 

Suddenly Jon stopped abruptly when something crunched beneath his feet, a scary sound. The sound of breaking bones.

 

The Floor of the passage was littered with bones of birds and beasts. But there were other bones as well, big ones that must have come from giants and small ones that could have been from children. 

 

There were hundreds of skulls, littered around the area. Bear skulls, wolf skulls, half a dozen human skulls and even the skulls of giants. A mammoths skull stood tall in the middle, almost as tall as the rest of them combined.

 

Finally, they reached their destination.

 

Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child. His body seemed frail and weak, his face gaunt and withered. The pale weirwood roots had grown through his body at multiple places, piercing the gaunt flesh like a sharp sword.

 

What skin the corpse lord showed was white, save for a bloody blotch that crept up his neck onto his cheek. It was a red birthmark, forming a red raven that ran across the side of his face.

 

Roots coiled around his legs like wooden serpents. One burrowed through his breeches into the desiccated flesh of his thigh, to emerge again from his shoulder.

 

Leaves and mushrooms sprouted from his skull, making him merge with the nature around him.

 

He didn't have three eyes, instead, he had one eye, red and piercing, that stared at him motionlessly. His lips moved slowly, as if they had forgotten how to form words.

"Snow," he rasped, his rotten face twisting to form the words.

 

"Welcome..."

 

*

 

"JON!" Ned shouted, shaking him. Jon blinked quickly, looking around to find himself in his father's solar. They both sat at the huge circular table that dominated the wooden room.

"What happened?" Jon's uncle asked worriedly.

 

Jon smiled at him, a tad reassuringly. "I just drifted off, my apologies."

 

"You drifted off for 5 minutes, murmured strange things and didn't react in the slightest to anything I did?" Lord Stark asked incredulously.

 

"Yes," Jon smiled. His uncle merely sighed and didn't pursue the topic any further.

 

"Jon..." Lord Stark started, but Jon quickly interrupted him, earning a frown.

 

"How did Lady Stark feel about my arrival here?" He asked joyfully. "Miserable? Did she not care about it?" he paused for a moment, before speaking in a mocking tone. "Happy?"

 

Ned sighed and leaned back in his wooden chair while fixing his son with a piercing gaze. Not that Jon seemed to care much.

 

"You will not speak about my wife in this way, Jon. I know you two have had our differences, but that is in the past. You will respect her authority in this castle."

 

"Has it ever occurred to you, that our... differences might also come from the fact, that you refuse to talk about my mother? Must be hard for her as well... To know that there is another woman out there... She doesn't even know if you still love my mother... if she is still alive... if you love her more than her...?"

 

Ned felt his throat tighten at those words. He knew that keeping this secret came at a steep price, but one he would be willing to pay.

 

"My mother..." Jon continued unbothered by Ned's lasting silence. "Let's talk about her, shall we? I know some... suspect more, but tell me - How was my mother like, growing up? What was Lyanna Stark like?"

 

This clearly hit Ned like a bucket of cold water. What was Lyanna Stark like? He remained silent, but his expression told Jon what his mouth wouldn’t.

 

How?

 

How could he possibly know that?

 

"I... I don't..." he stammered, and for the first time in many years he found himself speechless, desperately searching for words.

 

Jon just looked at him, slightly annoyed, his dark grey eyes piercing.

 

"Let's not insult each other's intelligence, shall we? You know it's true and so do I. Don't lie to me."

 

"Aye," Ned finally grunted. "How did you find out? I never told anyone, only Howland Reed ever knew and I doubt you visited him at Greywater Watch."

 

"Does it matter how I found out? What matters is that I did?" he said, glancing at his uncle.

"I need to know how you find out," Ned stated, his fingers drumming the circular oak desk. "If you can find it out, others can as well."

 

"The secret is safe, Lord Stark," came Jon's curt reply.

 

"So how did you find out?"

 

"Visions."

 

"Visions?!"

 

"Visions. Saw my birth, the Tower of Joy, the Kingsguard," he paused for a moment. " And now it begins, " he said slowly, in a deep voice.

 

"No, now it ends," Ned muttered in response before he looked up at his supposed bastard son.

 

"Does Ramsay know?" he finally asked. "Ramsay could prove to become a problem, you know the boy as well as I do. Such powerful knowledge in his hands could become the reason for a war between the north and the crown. House Bolton has long envied our House's position of Lord Paramounts."

 

" Our house?" Jon intoned. "Your house, you mean."

 

"You'll always be my son, Jon," Ned sighed. "I hope you know that. You surely know who your father is by now, but regardless - Your mother was still a Stark and even if you might not share the feeling, you will always be my son."

 

Jon nodded ever so slightly. "So what was she like? My mother."

 

"Beautiful, and willful, and dead before her time. 16 years of age when she perished. One of the few women to rest in the crypts of Winterfell," Ned replied. 

 

"Many saw her beauty, but not the iron underneath. I still remember everything about the day she died, even all those years later." He paused for a moment, to gather himself. "I came into the room, Ice still in my hands. The room smelled of blood and roses. The beautiful Winter Roses were all over the room, on pots that stood on the shelves, on the windows, some were in her hair. A fever took her in the end. I held onto her hand for hours, I slowly felt how her hand grew colder and colder. Many hours later Howland came into the tower and separated us. By then her hands were as cold as stone, but still, I held onto them." 

 

His voice grew heavy and tired, Jon could even see the glint of tears in his eyes. "But her last words remained. 'Promise me Ned' were her final words, words she had repeated a dozen times, even after I had vowed to fulfil it."

 

"Me," Jon stated, no question evident in his voice. "I was the promise."

 

"Yes."

 

"What will you do now?" Ned asked, after a long pause. "The King is coming to Winterfell with his entire entourage. He'll want to name me the Hand of the King."

 

"And will you refuse?"

 

"I can't"

 

"You always can. But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I will go north for the time being. An old relative of mine, Aemon Targaryen, still lives at the wall. Brynden mentioned him."

 

"Aemon Targaryen? The brother of Aegon the fifth? He must soon be a hundred years old by now. And who is this Brynden you keep mentioning?"

 

"Something... akin to a friend," Jon replied.

 

Ned opened his mouth to object but quickly changed his mind, and closed it again.

 

"So, the Wall it is then," he said.

 

"I won't stay."

 

Lord Stark just nodded. He took a poured himself a cup of ale but didn't drink it. He spent a lot of time just staring at the liquid. "I will go south with Robert."

 

"And Lady Catelyn will all but rule instead," Jon finished his sentence. "I'll find a place to go. I do hear I have a lovely aunt to the east."

 

"No one can enter Bloodstone. Many have tried, all have failed."

 

"I'll find a way," Jon shrugged. "I always have."



*



Jon slowly walked into the Great Hall of Winterfell. He clearly remembered the day many years ago, when he had stormed into the dark crypts after overhearing Sansa make some comment about his birth. It had been no more than a few years, yet still, it seemed like a lifetime ago. 

 

It was the first time he had seen his mother in the crypts, though he didn't know it at the time. Would he still hear the voices of the crypts, calling out to him? Sneering at him to leave the sacred domain of the Starks.

 

Knowing that his mother had been silent was a small comfort. It at the very least showed that she held more love for him than any of the other statues.

 

The Great Hall was just as he remembered, cold and simple, no glamour and no gold, yet still warm and comfortable.

 

Many wooden tables were standing all around the hall, carved from strong, old oak.

The scent of roasted beef lingered in the hall, while guards and servants sat at the lower tables, laughing merrily and enjoying the food.

 

"We've been here for a while," Catelyn Tully said when he finally sat down on the high table. For the first time ever, he saw the men and women of Winterfell, eating their food from above, not sitting with him.

 

"Where were you?" Robb finally asked. "You were gone for more than two years, soon it would have been 3. Where have you been all the time?"

 

"North," Jon simply replied and he could see Arya's eyes widen, as he took a sip of his ale. 

"You were with the wildlings?" Bran asked.

 

"Not really... with them. We were at one of their settlements at the end, but that was no more than two weeks."

 

"A wildling settlement?" Ned asked. "Which clan did that settlement belong to?"

 

"There were many clans there. Saw plenty of them… Thenns, Hornfoots, Ice-river clans...," Jon spoke, raising an eyebrow at his uncle. "They were forming an army, but no more. Mance Rayder was their king, a deserter of the watch, but he is now dead."

 

Everyone looked at Jon in shock, all of them at a loss for words at what they had just been told. Only Ned looked thoughtful, even if a bit surprised.

 

"A new King-beyond-the-wall?" he asked slowly. "The Night's Watch did mention more and more wildlings coming south. They might have indeed been amassing troops. But how did they die?"

 

"There hasn't been a King-beyond-the-Wall in a long time," Catelyn replied, voicing her doubts.

 

"And that stops them from getting a new one? Calling someone king isn’t that hard of a task."

 

"You could put a dozen wildlings in a room and they'd start killing each other immediately. They would never muster the forces to attack the north."

 

"Have you ever met a wildling?" Jon asked nonchalantly.

 

Catelyn hesitated. "No, I haven't," she said. 

 

"Then how do you know this?"

 

"Everybody knows this."

 

"Nobody knows this. If they can't form alliances, how do you think they invaded the north, all those times? There have been plenty of wildling invasions since the construction of the Wall."

 

"Rare cases. Special cases."

 

"It seems whoever taught you, was a special case as well."

 

"You should..."

 

"Stop this," Lord Stark commanded. "Can we not have a single dinner, without descending into madness?"

 

There was a hollow smile on Jon's lips. "Of course. My humblest apologies," he stated, though his expression made clear, that his words were empty, devoid of any meaning.

 

"Careful, Bastard," she hissed, though it was silent enough so that Bran, Arya and Rickon couldn't hear. Only her two oldest children, Sansa and Robb, as well as her husband were close enough to hear her words.

 

"Bastard?" Jon mockingly whispered back, while raising an eyebrow at Ned. "You want to say something to that, Lord Stark ?"

 

Both Sansa and Robb were dead silent, staring at their mother and cousin. Bran and Arya strained to listen in, though they could not quite understand what was spoken.

 

All they saw was a sullen expression on their father's face, an expression of confused anger by their mother, and their older siblings seeming to be in shock. Rickon however, had no care in the world and ran around the table, giggling and smiling.

 

"What do you mean? What are you talking about?" Lady Stark finally asked, her voice no more than a whisper.

 

"I don't know. Just the poisonous words of a bastard," Jon shrugged, though a small smile graced his lips. "Ask your husband, he might know more about such matters."

 

The rest of the meal was eaten in silence, an uncomfortable silence lingering over the high table, a sentiment that seemed to stretch across the entire hall.

 

Everything became quieter, the cheerful laughter seemed become fewer and many glanced over at where they sat, to see what was wrong.

 

Jon however, was quite excited to hear about what his father his wife would discuss, once this was over. 



*



Later that night, Jon silently sat outside, observing the endless flow of 

servants, guards, maids, that rushed around the castle, carrying food and swords, wool and leather.

 

He sat far above them, on the top of the high, grey walls that surrounded the ancient fortress, where just faint sound could reach his ears.

 

Chunks of coal burned in iron braziers at the small shop where Mikken worked, the smell of smoke and molten Iron lingering in the air.

 

There was a certain feeling of home here, a feeling of being welcome, though he felt this, mostly due to his siblings. There was a certain warmth to be found in Winterfell; the walls were cold here, but the people were mostly warm and friendly. However, since his return, it all felt so... empty. As if all of it had become a distant dream, a different world in that he was simply misplaced.

 

He heard a soft crunch in the snow and he could immediately tell, who it was. In their years together, he had learned how he walked, the rhythm and how loud the snow crunched when he walked. Without turning he knew Ramsay was approaching him.

 

"I am often… overwhelmed by a certain emotion when you are not around, Ramsay. It is called... happiness," he told the older boy, not averting his eyes from the smallfolk beneath them.

 

"You're confusing something there, Snow," Ramsay's voice answered back to him. "No one can resist the pleasures of my company."

 

Jon ignored him and simply stared into the air, a clear, cold sky stretching out above them. The stars shined brightly, illuminating the lands around Winterfell. The snow glowed in a dim light, reflecting the soft light of the moon and stars.

 

"There is something beautiful about the stars," Jon mused out loudly. "The gods likely created them to Illuminate the perpetual darkness and we use them for... relationship advice."

 

Despite himself, Ramsay let out a cackling laugh at that.

 

"Didn't take you for a poet, Snow," he replied. "But it fits you."

 

"Suppose it does."

 

"Happy we don’t have to deal with those wildling fuckers anymore?"

 

Jon nodded silently. "They would have created quite some problems for the north. I'll weep for the men who died there... Just kidding - I already forgot their names," he added when Ramsay looked at him incredulously. 

 

“Though feeding those corpses to the army of the dead, my not have been the best option either,” he reflected, receiving a short nod. Even Ramsay feared the Walkers by now.

 

"How did the trout take it?" the older boy asked him finally.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I ain't stupid, Jon," he said and said boy couldn't help but wonder when was the last time, Ramsay had called him by name. "There's something about your parentage. Something important. And you told the trout."

 

"Not exactly told her, but I gave her some very obvious hints. She was something between enraged and confused."

 

Finally, he turned around to look at Ramsay.

 

"I'll tell you soon as well. I'll leave for the wall soon, visit a family member. After that, we can see what adventure might wait for us."

 

"Who said I would come with you?"

 

"I know you too well."

 

"That you do. You should be more careful or I might have to kill you. Can't afford such a breach in security."

 

"You can try," Jon said, as he finally got up. "But who could replace me?"

 

"I could get a new Reek for entertainment. I'm a simple man, Snow."

 

"And simple men like blood and power. Help me and you shall get both - eventually."




The Dragon Empress



"Please, your magnificence, I have done nothing wrong," the maid named Nalia whimpered, her face twisting in agony. She cried out for help, over and over again, though nobody came.

 

"Screaming won't do you any good, Nalia," Daenerys spoke slowly, a tinge of regret in her eyes. "Tell me what I want to know, and we can make this quick."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about, your Grace," the girl cried out again. "I'm innocent, I swear it by all gods there are."

 

Daenerys sighed in annoyance and flicked her fingers. A small flame lit up for just a few seconds, directly next to the girl's face. Enough so that she could clearly feel the heat, the flames reflecting largely in her eyes.

 

"I was informed by a reliable source, that you were secretly sending out raven's north-east, just a few hours ago. What did you write and to who?"

 

The girl remained stubbornly silent, which only confirmed what Daenerys knew of her. A spy. But for who?

 

Daenerys walked over to the girl, staring into her eyes with piercing intensity. "You do not compare to me, girl, and you will not get in my way any longer. The only choice you have now is how your death is going to look like. Painful or painless? A quick death or a very prolonged one?"

 

Once more the girl remained silent.

 

"It truly does surprise me, how your allegiance to someone can outweigh your own interests," she said with disappointment. 

 

"Do you think, that anyone will avenge you? That anyone will care about your disappearance? Let me make you an offer. I spoke of a quick death. But tell me all you know, and you shall leave unharmed. I do hear you have a little son, no? How will he survive, if you die here? Orphaned and alone..."

 

Fury flashed on the maid's face, but it slowly turned into resignment. Still her eyes showed her pure hatred for the famed Dragon Empress.

 

"Is that what you will do, Daenerys Targaryen?" she asked angrily. "Threaten my son, a babe not even a year of age?"

 

Daenerys leaned forwards, her amethyst eyes sparkling with the flames that burned around them. "Yes, I do. But I offer you the choice to stop this, to stop all of this. Tell me what you know and your son shall suffer no harm, that I promise you."

 

A long silence ensued, only interrupted by the sound of the roaring flames. "Aegon," she finally muttered, barely loud enough that she could hear.

 

"Again, please?" Daenerys asked kindly, a huge change to a few moments ago.

 

"Aegon... your nephew Aegon," she muttered. "I work for him."

 

"Aegon, son of Elia Martell and my brother Rhaegar? That Aegon?" she asked the maid incredulously. "You know that lying to me will cost you dearly."

 

"It's the truth," Nalia said. Her dark brown eyes were large, wide in fear and Daenerys knew she told the truth. "He and a man named Jon Connington are with the Golden Company. They send me to inform on you."

 

"And how do you know, that this supposed nephew of mine is real? Tell me."

 

"I don't. I'm just a spy in their service."

 

"Very well," Daenerys said, accepting her answer. She could see the tension leave her former maid's face slightly, though not completely. "What else do you know?"

 

"They spoke of riding to Volantis," the girl said. "Something about them having hired the Golden Company as protection from a Dothraki Khal. But others whispered they intended to take the city."

 

"Anything else?" Daenerys inquired, taking a sip from a bottle of Dornish Red. 

 

Prince Oberyn Martell had visited her once and had brought many such bottles as gifts with him. He had come under the notion, that her presence on Bloodstone posed a threat to Dorne, yet he had often made side remarks about a marriage of her, to one of the Martell children. Offers she had quickly refused.

 

"That's all, your grace, I swear it," the girl said, eyeing her carefully.

 

"You swore just a moment ago to all gods you knew, that you did not know what I was accusing you of," Daenerys stated. She drew Dark Sister from her sheath in a fluid motion and just a moment later it was embedded in the other girl's stomach.

 

"You... you promised..." the maid whimpered as blood started to pool from her mouth.

 

"Your son will be safe and taken care of," Daenerys promised and though she had just broken a promise to her former maid, she intended to keep this one. "It's such a shame it had to come to this... You just never truly understood the value of my work, Nalia. The sacrifices I have to make. And therein lies the real tragedy."

 

She pulled the sword from the girl's body, as the life started to leave her dark brown eyes.

"See that her son is taken care off," she said, as she turned around to face Missandei, who stood obediently in silence, just a dozen feet away."

 

"Yes, of course, your Grace," the translator from Naath replied and scuffled away, leaving the room with a bow.



*



Daenerys slowly strode through the gardens of Bloodstone. It was always an impressive sight to look out into the ocean.

 

Hundreds of glass candles, a peace offering from the yellow emperor of Yi Ti flickered around the Island, creating a mystique, black fog that surrounded the Island, swallowing any ship that would dare to pass through, without being given passage from the inside.

 

The wall of fog floated over the sea, around half a dozen leagues away from the coastline.

 

Her own palace, forged from Dragonfire loomed at the edge of a great cliff. It was gigantic, its walls made entirely from dark black stone, though not the same fabled stone from which the cities Yeen or Asshai were created.

 

Great pillars were on every side of the building, the weathered black stone illuminated by the glow of the glass candles. There were columns and friezes and arched windows twenty feet high, along with a long staircase on the side, that wound up to the flat-roofed dragonstone castle with a crenellated roofline and a round tower at one end.

 

It certainly looked impressive. A great, looming palace, beyond it rough hills sloping into the sharp blue Narrow Sea.

 

Below the fort, just a few leagues away, there were a thousand Unsullied training with on the training ground. It was one of eight camps, spread around the coastline of the Island, to grant a better protection to them.

 

The training yards were mostly bare dirt with an occasional clump of coarse and ratty-looking grass. 

 

Besides the training yard, Nature was blooming everywhere. The tall grass of the Island was far taller than any man, overgrowing almost everything. Even Daenerys own palace had bushes and brambles up against the door and sometimes even the windows. 

 

In the distance, tall mountains could be seen. The cloud mist lifted in the far distance, gradually came the dull patches of red glowing far beyond the cliffs. Two active volcanoes could be seen, smoke slowly rising from their tops.

 

One single mountain stood out, one of the two active volcanoes. A spire of naked rock that rose into the heavens so high that you would believe the very sky was pierced.

 

Daenerys often came here to think. News had just recently reached her about lots of important events around Essos, as well as Westeros.

During her time in Meereen and later Bloodstone, Missandei had on Daenerys's orders build up something akin to a spy network, that supplied them with pieces of information. 

 

It was nothing huge, and surely couldn't match the likes of what other people had at their command, yet it was still enough to quickly gather news of every major event.

 

Some of the news she received was useless to her, such as a minor conflict between Braavos and Pentos, or another conflict between Myr, Lys and Tyrosh.

 

The Dothraki declaring war against Volantis however made her curious. The Khal in question had to be quite bold to make such a move, as the walls of Volantis were high and strong. 

 

She could not imagine, how those Dothraki could hope to take a city of that scale.

 

An Ironborn fleet raiding at the Jade Gates and now heading west was another thing she would keep in mind. The Ironborn were always a nuisance, but something she would never forget about. 

 

How somebody could kinda forget about something so dangerous was beyond her. They might raid and reave mostly small villages, unprotected by any walls or armies, yet with the element of surprise, they could take entire cities, as they had proven in the Greyjoy Rebellion when Lannisport was burned.

 

For now, a brittle peace between her and Volantis had formed, yet if the Dothraki were now threatening it, she might soon make a move to finally take the city for herself.

 

But besides that news, that served for barely more than to spark her curiosity, two recent developments were quite huge and might severely influence the balance of power in the future.

 

Just like Nalia had just a few hours ago, Archmaester Marwyn had told her about rumours, that her nephew Aegon still lived, among the Golden Company with the loyalist Jon Connington.

 

Other than that, the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn had recently passed away, leaving behind a power vacuum. Many suspected, that the king would name Tywin Lannister as Hand of the King, while others believed that he would name his old friend, Lord Eddard Stark to fill the position.

 

Truth be told, she hoped, that Lord Stark would become the new hand. This would slight Tywin and potentially create discord with the crown, while at the same time Lord Stark would be way more inefficient in dealing with her, should a conflict between Bloodstone and King's Landing arise.

 

She sighed to herself, as she kept watching the river, to see the coiling of its muscular currents, catch the shimmering of waves that caught the sunlight like scales. The river was a vigorous and optimistic blue, with the mouth of the thick sulfurous stream flowing into the Narrow Sea, where the waves softly crashed against the cliffs.

 

We'll see she thought to herself.

 

But first things first, we'll have to deal with this pretender claiming to be my nephew.



*

 

Chapter Text

The Young Dragon

 

A few leagues in front of them, the exposed bedrock that formed the walls of Volantis, loomed over the mouth of the Rhoyne. The cold water of the Summer Sea bubbled softly with escaping gases. It was said that there were few, small hills beneath the ocean, remnants of old volcanoes from ages long ago, though they remained every bit as active as they had once been. The water bubbled on the surface at certain parts, so hot that it even started to boil in one place.

 

The First Daughter of Valyria was a proud and great city, a large and deep harbor facing the sea and mouth of the Rhoyne. Giant towers, that stood as tall as two hundred feet protected the harbor, where even giant ships simply seemed to vanish.

 

Heat shimmered off the walls of the city, making them glow in a light red. They had the appearance of a dreamlike quality, and even though Aegon knew that they were no match for the even higher, black walls that waited in the city, he couldn't help but admire the architecture.

 

Giant Braavosi warships floated around Summer Sea, Aegon's eyes, however, remained fixed on the gigantic city in front of them. The loud, steady rhythm of over ten thousand footsteps echoed across the plain, flat land outside of the city.

 

"An impressive sight, those walls," Connington spoke up from beside him. "But do not fret. They shall be yours soon."

 

"The Volantenes are powerful. Their walls are strong and high. They won't fall easily."

 

"It won't be easy and it might cost us more troops than for what I hoped. But ultimately we will emerge stronger than before."

 

"It serves our war," Aegon sighed. "Doesn't make it any easier."

 

"The moment killing is easy, you are lost," Connington replied, his face a stern mask.

 

"Very true," Aegon mused silently. "Hard but necessary."

 

"Hard but necessary," Connington reaffirmed.

 

*

 

Jon Connington and Harry Strickland were guided through the maze of alleys, pools, and gardens that were located inside the inner walls. Aegon himself, disguised as Jon Connington's squire, as well as a dozen other high-ranking serjeants of the Golden Company, had been invited into the famed Black Walls of Volantis. The climate was hot and humid, the fresh air blowing from the open sea, creating a sullen, wet heat in the city that made Aegon feel as if he would soon drown in sweat.

 

In the lower city, the air reeked of fish and dirt. The scent of elephant dung and sweat was everywhere as well, filling the air with a smell that made you feel dirty and rotten.

 

Above, beyond the Black Walls where the high nobility lived, there was nothing of the kind. The smell of perfume and flowers lingered in the air, great gardens bloomed everywhere with hundreds of different flowers from all across the known world. Aegon could see Winter Roses from the North of Westeros, the Dawnberries from the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, while others were from Sothoryos, Naath, or the Basilisk Isles.

 

The air smelled like a hundred things at once, sweet and dangerous, sour and poisonous, even hot and cold.

 

They walked through tunnels and over bridges They walked up stairs and ramps, walked through palaces and mansions. The home of the volantene nobility was an entire world by itself, narrow and isolated, yet still overflowing with splendor. There were fine wooden carvings and giant statues everywhere, depicting former triarchs and warriors, but also dragons and manticores, krakens, and sphinxes.

 

Belicho Maegyr. was the first of the triarchs to greet them. He was a renowned Volantene patriot. He was the only ruling triarch who belonged to the tiger faction of Volantis. He has been re-elected as triarch many times and is old and toothless, but he was a tiger still.

 

The Volantenes were split into two major factions. After the Doom of Valyria, the Century of Blood began, a war for power in the east, since the destruction of the freehold had left a huge power vacuum behind.

 

There, those of the Old Blood, later known as the tigers, favored war, whilst the moneylenders and merchants, later known as the elephants, favored to achieve dominion by trade. In the end, the Tigers held sway for almost a century and led Volantis into conflict with the other Free Cities.

 

This conflict included almost all of the Free Cities, with only Lorath staying out of the war. The Volantenes succeeded at first, however, they were later beaten by a gigantic alliance, one of the greatest the known world had ever seen.

 

Tyrosh and Pentos, Myr and Lys, Qohor and Norvos, the Dothraki, the Storm King Argilac Durrandon, and Lord Aegon Targaryen of Dragonstone fought against the city, and finally, the First Daughter was defeated.

 

In the end, with the Volantene faction favoring peace, the elephants, took power from the tigers, and the fighting was at an end.

 

For the last three centuries, since taking power from the tigers, at least two of the three triarchs in power have been elephants. The elephant-triarchs were now Nyessos Vhassar, as well as Doniphos Paenymion.

 

All three of the triarchs that ruled the city now stood before them. They sat on one side of a gigantic black table, carved from Dragonglass and embedded with gold and jewelry.

 

"Honoured captains of the famed Golden Company," Doniphos Paenymion spoke. He was a small man, yet still clothed in the finest garments the east knew. He was bald, his skin turning grey, yet still, he seemed amicable enough. His brown eyes seemed warm and inviting, making him look fatherly, like some girl's favorite grandfather. Not at all, like someone who owned a thousand slaves.

 

"Honoured triarchs," Harry Strickland replied neutrally. As Captain-General he was the highest-ranking of the serjeants and was therefor the one to speak.

 

"You are aware of your task?" the Triarch Vhassar replied. He did not look nearly as friendly as Doniphos did. His voice was cold and calculating, his eyes devoid of emotion.

 

"We are," Strickland replied with a curt nod. "We were informed, that we were to battle the horde of Dothraki that are threatening the city."

 

"The Tiger cloaks would be quite sufficient for the task," Belicho Maegyr said in an arrogant voice. "But why waste noble, volantene lives, if you can pay others to die for you?"

 

Aegon wanted to throttle the old man for his arrogance, yet a glance from Connington made him control himself.

 

Strickland however just seemed to take it in stride, showing no reaction whatsoever to the insults thrown at him.

 

Maybe he is already used to it  Aegon mused to himself.  Or he just remembers that we will not truly defend the city.

 

It was indeed a soothing thought.

 

"Of course, honored triarch," he replied, his voice perfectly even.

 

"Who are those men with you?" Doniphos asked, his voice contrary to his co-rulers soft, showing no signs of hostility or entitlement. "You have not introduced them yet."

 

"My most trusted advisors and commanders," Harry said with a slight bow. "Black Balaq, Brendel Byrne, Will, and Dick Cole, Caspor Hill, Malo Jayn, Jon Lothston, Lorimas Mudd, Young, and Old John Mudd," he named the advisors, pointing his fatty finger at each of them as he named them.

 

"Those are Lysono Maar, our company's spymaster, as well as Jon Connington, a Lord from the Sunset Kingdoms."

 

"And him?" the Triarch asked, nodding towards Aegon, who stood directly behind Connington. 

 

"His... squire," the captain-general said hesitantly. "And cupbearer," he added as an afterthought when he saw the triarchs' annoyed expressions.

 

"Enough talk," Malaquo Maegyr cut in. "According to our informers, the Dothraki will be here within a fortnight." The old man nodded towards the giant double-door leading outside. "Go and get your troops in position. I want them standing guard on the walls every hour of the day. I want everyone to be in full position, even before the horse-fuckers get within a dozen leagues of the city, is that clear?"

 

He received a round of nods from the assembled generals.

 

"Go then, my friends," the only friendly triarch spoke. "I wish you good fortune."

 

*

 

Volantis wasn't a city, Aegon was convinced. Volantis was a nation with walls and streets and sewers, a massive city that stretched out as far as the eye could reach.

 

Aegon was certain that Volantis must have once been multiple cities, that perhaps now made up the dozens of different districts.

 

But now, that was the least of their worries.

 

The grass of the Dothraki Sea was to the north of the city, running up the river Rhoyne. A flat land that stretched out for leagues ending, that reached out towards the horizon. It was all grass, swerving under the pull of the wind. There were no mountains, no cities to disrupt the view.

 

And in that land of grass, there were thousands of men, women and children, some slaves and some free. The sounds of thousands of hooves thundering over the ground could be heard all across Volantis.

 

The followers of Khal Drogo marched, stomped, and swept aside the blades of grass. 

 

Almost all of them had copper-toned skin and dark almond eyes, oily black hair, woven into long braids, with bells for every battle they had won. Aegon could not see it, as he stood on top of the walls of Volantis, a dozen leagues away, but he had been told they had black eyes as well.

 

Khal Drogo himself stood out from the rest of the horde. He rode a giant, black stallion, with his bloodriders sitting on their horses, just a few feet behind him.

 

He looked just like he had when Aegon had met him, his body toned by veins and muscles. His hair reached far below his waist and he had a sword in his left, an arakh in his right hand.

 

Aegon knew these warriors of Khal Drogo's khalasar to be fierce warriors, as any capable Dothraki rode better than any Westerosi knight. They were unparalleled when it came to fighting from horseback, with almost all of their warriors wielding arakhs, curved bows, and whips.

 

They were undisciplined and wild, yet still, together they formed an efficient fighting force, one that was respected and feared all across Essos. The Free Cities and even the once-proud Ghiscari cities of Slaver's Bay dealt carefully with them. The rulers of the cities give lavishly to every Khal who passes with his khalasar, feasting them and giving them gifts, so the khalasar will pass on without sacking the city.

 

However, not one khalasar had dared to approach the cities of Slaver's Bay in 3 years, ever since his aunt's conquest had begun.

 

In their thousands of years of co-existing with the Valyrian Freehold, even they had learned to respect the power of a dragon.

 

Jon had gone to organize the troops below, while he remained at the top of the wall, feeling anxiousness creep into his stomach. He had expected this nervousness, there was a battle to be fought soon, a sack to be done. But this felt different.

 

He felt... watched.

 

He whipped his head around and once more saw the woman in the red mask, the same he had seen in Pentos many moths ago. It had been a short encounter, but it had remained in his memory.

 

Her long robe was stitched from the darkest silk Aegon had ever seen. It seemed to flow like a dark ocean, with waves and foam crowns running down the soft fabric. Gold jewelry hung from her neck, diamonds, and expensive metals glistering in the hot sun. Aegon saw not the slightest bit of skin of her, the long robe covering her entirely. Only the eyes sparkled behind that crimson mask and danced like the brightest stars, in the clearest of nights.

 

"Who are you?" Aegon demanded angrily, as he strode towards the mysterious woman. "What are you? A spy? A red priestess who accidentally put on the wrong robe?"

 

Quaithe shrugged. "I have been many things, young Griff. A red priestess is not one of them."

 

"The boy who claims to be the heir to the Iron Throne, making pacts with those savages," she said, showing her distaste.

 

“Are you mocking me?”

 

"I am stating a fact," Quaithe said, her eyes twinkling in the heat. She seemed completely out of place, amongst the thousands of men who were preparing for war. "You promised Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo. A Dothraki horselord."

 

"How do you know that?" Aegon asked, but Quaithe ignored him. "Why are you here? Who are you, to speak to me like this?"

 

"One who doesn't care about whether you call yourself King, Emperor, Lord, or Triarch. What I see is a boy. One who made a grave mistake, promising his aunt to a Dothraki."

 

"I am Aegon Targaryen, sixth of my name!" he all but shouted, yet the woman didn't seem intimidated at all. "You do not question me."

 

"Dragons of red, dragons of black… A true dragon answers to no one, something your aunt will show you. A Dragon does not bow, not to the likes of you."

 

"I am Aeg-" he started but was quickly interrupted.

 

"Do you know that? The silver-gold of your hair, the deep violet of your eyes, a son of Valyria for sure. But Aegon Targaryen..."

 

"I  am  Aegon," he intoned angrily, but once more the woman ignored him.

 

"It's what you've been told. But you don't know if it's true."

 

"Connington knows this."

 

"Connington is not who got you out of King's Landing." She sighed dramatically, before continuing.

 

"I did know one of your ancestors, many years ago. You remind me of him. Charismatic... a man who can inspire both loyalty and fear in others. One who many might rise up to support."

 

Aegon would have bristled with pride at the compliment, were he not too confused. "Who are you speaking of?" he asked her.

 

Certainly not my grandfather

 

"Daemon," she replied. Her eyes looked at him intently from behind the mask. 

 

"Daemon Targaryen? The Rogue Prince?" He asked, laughing at how absurd this claim was. The Rogue Prince had died in 130 AC at the God's Eye, no man alive could still claim to have known him.

 

"Not Daemon Targaryen," Quaithe said silently. "Daemon Blackfyre."

 

"Who are you talking to?" Connington's voice boomed suddenly, making him jump slightly in shock. "Why are you trembling?" Aegon whipped his head around, but when he looked towards the mysterious woman again, she had suddenly disappeared, without any trace.

 

"It's nothing, Jon," Aegon whispered. "Nothing at all."

 

Aegon's mentor looked at him with suspicion, before he changed the topic. "Everything is in position. Our men are manning the walls now, and the elephants are directly behind the wall, supposedly to counter-charge the horselords."

 

"But they will turn on the Volantenes instead," Aegon said questioningly, receiving only a nod from Connington.

 

The thundering sound of the horses charging up and down the front wall grew ever louder, accompanied by their battle screams. 

 

"Has the mission already been started?" Aegon asked finally, as the two of them looked out on the plain grasslands.

 

"Yes. Everything should be in place." 

 

*

 

"Why do they not retreat?" Malaquo Maegyr asked his co-triarchs, though it was more of a statement than a question. "The Dothraki are wild and fierce, but even they know that they won't take Volantis on horseback."

 

The three triarchs, along with 5 dozens of guards and even more naked girls sat atop the Black Walls, that reached even further in the air than the outer walls. From there they had a perfect view, as the Black Walls stood over two hundred foot tall, a great oval of fused black stone that was located in the eastern part of Volantis.

 

The Dothraki horde stretched out over the grasslands for leagues, their screams reaching even to where they were at.

 

But even with their sheer numbers, they would find no easy opponent in the Golden Company - in fact, the Company was far from easy prey.

 

They fought like the men of the west, clad in full armor, covered in iron plate, and their heads protected by helmets. The Dothraki were half-naked on the other hand, their torsos' exposed and vulnerable to any sort of attack.

 

"Arrogant fools," Nyessos Vhassar proclaimed. "They overestimate themselves, they think that they can take our gates and storm the city."

 

"Careful, triarch Vhassar," Paenymion replied thoughtfully. "The Dothraki often lack sense, when something other than horses are concerned, yet they have never lacked in a feeling for warfare. Dothraki are savages, yes, but they are born to fight and born to kill. They know their limits well. Something is wrong, I feel it."

 

"You worry too much, Triarch Paenymion," the Maegyr triarch mocked. "Volantis only ever fell in the Century of Blood and then it was to Aegon Targaryen's dragons. We, who rule the First Daughter know the power of Dragons. But these Dothraki are horses, not fire-breathing, flying lizards."

 

"Are they?" Doniphos Paenymion shot back. "What news of the Dragon Queen? Might she have allied with the Dothraki?"

 

"Allied with the Dothraki? How would that work?" Maegyr asked.

 

"Marriage of course. It is, after all, the best way to form alliances."

 

This received laughs from the other two triarchs.

 

"Marriage? The Targaryens are many things. They're fierce, they're fools, they're Valyrians. But above all, they are proud. A marriage to a Dothraki horselord? Never."

 

"Mayhaps you are right," Paenymion conceded. "But I do have a feeling, that today will bring quite some surprises. And my feelings have never failed me, not once.“

 

  *

 

9 hours earlier

 

The men were sneaking through the abandoned cellars, beneath Volantis. 

 

They had been abandoned many years ago, when horrible diseases spread through the underground tunnels and barely anyone returned healthy enough, to survive the following week. Haunted they called the old sewers.

 

Rats and mice were everywhere, crawling through the tunnels, filling them with their shit and corpses so that an awful stench lingered in the air.

 

The men were walking for what seemed like forever until they finally came to a larger room, where the tunnel widened and became as large as the halls of many castles. 

 

There was a collapsed well in the middle of it. Dirt filled the hole and nothing was left but a few bricks and a couple of planks of wood. Green veins of moss and other plants were creeping over the old stone, shimmering slightly in the lights of the candles they had lit.

 

The walls were high and very dark as if a giant painted them all black. Skulls of men and beasts were laying around the well, bits of flesh still hanging on their rib-cages. Rats were chewing on their bones and skin, their tiny, pale claws cutting through the flesh.

 

“Well, this looks inviting,” one of the men said, looking around the opening. The candlelight flickered, making the large shadows on the wall move and dance, rocking back and forth slightly.

 

Unlike the tunnels, through which they had previously walked, there were bits of wildlife here. Overgrown bushes and lianas wound up the walls, the leaves fluttering in the soft wind that blew through the tunnels.

"They must have lived here once," one man spoke, looking around in shock. "Poor souls," another added. "This must have been a secret shelter for the poor once."

 

"Until the bloody flux came to this place," their leader spoke, making everyone look uncomfortable.

 

"Why are we even doing this?" the first man asked, as he looked around anxiously. The tapping sound of rats walking through the tunnels echoed loudly through the underground passages.

 

"You know why. Now come, we have a mission to accomplish."

With more and more men with candles spreading out through the underground hall, they saw more and more of the secret shelter. A staircase led to an upper floor, where desks and baskets stood, made crudely from oak and timber.

 

It's once beautiful arched brick walls were now covered in muck and filth. The floor was littered with bottles of low-quality wine, splinters of metal and wood, that may have once been weapons, and the many bones and skulls. The bottom of the tunnel was a perfect arc too, but enough mud has been tracked in overtime to make it more like walking on a woodland path, that slight softness underfoot.

 

The tunnels had once been build as sewers, as it befits the First Daughter of Valyria, however after the doom they had wasted away swiftly, as none of the High Nobility cared enough about the hygiene of people they deemed below themselves. 

 

The leader of the group walked forwards, dragging his hand across the wall, picking up dust and grime. Wind streamed through the tunnels, clutching the scattered pieces of ragged papers that laid on the ground, twirling them in the air, only to drop them off into the void.

 

"Let's keep movin’," one man said, clearly uncomfortable. The others never would have admitted to it, but it was indeed quite unsettling.

There were almost a hundred men, almost two-thirds of them carrying barrels of pitch and oil, mixed to create a great explosion, similar to Dragonfire in terms of destruction.

 

The men with the barrels, however, followed further behind them, as they took longer to move, while the others scouted ahead, finding a way through the sewers.

 

All of them were poor men, criminals sentenced to death, with their only way to survive, being to accomplish this mission. If they were to die while doing so, or so the Captain-General had promised, as compensation for their lost lives, their families would be taken care of.

 

A promise not many would trust, but they did not have much of a choice. It was a suicide mission, all knew it, but by doing it, they were giving their families a chance.

 

They moved on from the opening and kept on going, their candles flickering in the darkness of the tunnels.

 

Few would have believed it possible, but the passageways got even darker as they moved on. The barrels of pitch and oil could barely fit through the tunnels at times when they narrowed down to no more than 3 feet in width. 

 

The tunnel curled away coldly into an infinite dark, the light that showed the rough walls dwindling as it snaked away. Their skins shuddered and the men could feel their brain starting to defocus, searching for a way out...  I should go backward...  they all thought, but still, they pushed on, only forwards, without looking back.

 

In two more leagues is an exit into the old market place, their destination. A small market, inside the Black Walls, made for the Old Blood's servants, to restock on any food and other utensils, long before they could ever run out.

 

They walked on for around another hour until finally, the light of the marketplace illuminated the darkness of the tunnels.

 

It was still the middle of the night and only very few were awake.

 

The men brought up the explosive barrels, though it was a difficult task to fit such barrels up a narrow ladder.

 

It took them over half an hour to bring up all of them, but finally, it was done. Disguised as barrels of wine, they rolled the explosive casks through the labyrinth of mansions, palaces, and gardens.

 

"There ain't no back now," one of the men, Jarl was his name, muttered under his beard. 

 

It was true, of course. If they were caught now, they would face death or worse. Their families even more so.

 

If they went back to the serjeants of the Golden Company, they would face the executioner's block, and without them, their families would likely starve. If they betrayed their plans to the Old Blood and pleaded for mercy, they would likely be executed anyways and their relatives would face death as well, by starvation or direct measures of the Company.

 

The only way for them was to keep going. To accomplish their mission, dead or alive, and trust that Strickland would keep his word.

 

"Forwards. Come on." the leader, Chejen, spoke. A Summer Islander, taller than the others.

 

There were no debates. Footsteps echoed on the marble floor and the casks were rolled or carried as well, surprisingly silent due to the even floor.

 

They circled around Old Volantis, in the shadow of the Black Walls.

 

It was an impressive sight for the men. The giant Temple of the Lord of Light stood tall in the eastern half of Volantis, a giant structure that dwarfed the rest of the city. Firepots, as large as entire houses decorated the temple. It was an enormity of pillars, steps, buttresses, bridges, domes, and towers flowing into one another as if they had all been chiseled from one colossal rock.

 

Finally, they placed their explosives as instructed. Candles were lit above the barrels and would take a few hours to ignite the mixture.  Everything is in place  Chejen thought, allowing himself a small smile.  We did it.

Now we only have to get back to the camp.

 

*

 

"Are you sure, the men managed to get everything in place?" Aegon asked Connington worriedly. Their men were starting to grow restless, their lust for battle rising.

 

"So they say," came Connington's curt reply.

 

"So they say?" Aegon echoed, with an arched eyebrow. "I fear, 'So they say' may not be enough for us."

 

"They said the job was done, the barrels in position, the candles lit. Since no one is screaming treason yet, it seems nobody found them either."

 

"Quite an impressive job, they have done then. They infiltrated the famed Black Walls and lived to tell the tale."

 

"Not for long."

 

When Aegon looked at him questioningly, he continued. "The men had to be taken care of. There are many diseases in those sewers and many of them can be the bane of even the strongest armies. The Bloody Flux, the shaking sickness, the pox, Red Death and Red Spots... there are too many to name. Especially the Bloody Flux has been known to kill three out of four men in armies. We could not take the risk."

 

"And you could not just send them away?" Aegon asked incredulously.

 

"They might try to come back," Griff shrugged. "What are a few men, against the risk of most of the Company dying? They weren't good men either. Most of them were sentenced to death anyway."

 

Aegon was about to object, but seemingly changed his mind and just let the topic drop.

 

The whole situation was quite tense, with the sounds of the Dothraki outside of the gates, while the huge city itself was deadly quiet, as the common people were hiding inside their houses. The men were starting to grow restless as well, tired of waiting.

 

But they had not earned their reputation as the most disciplined and efficient fighting force in Essos from nothing. Despite their hunger for war and victory, the men remained steadfast, holding their positions.

 

They don't know yet, that it will not be the Dothraki they face today.  Aegon mused to himself. Yet despite the surprise that the orders would give the men, they had been thrilled to obey their commanders mindlessly in battle. They would follow their serjeants, no matter the orders.

 

"So we wait and pray?" Aegon asked.

 

"We wait and pray," came the reaffirmation.

 

The cheering and chanting of the Dothraki grew ever louder in volume. They were not called 'Dothraki Screamers' for nothing, their shouts followed a certain rhythm as if they wanted to provoke their enemies to strike. 

 

On the contrary, the silence that lingered over the walls of Volantis, manned by the Golden Company and the Tiger Cloaks of the city was deafening.

 

Until it happened.

 

...

Boom.

...

 

The sky turned as black as the Walls surrounding Old Volantis.

 

The same moment came the sound of an explosion, a whistle of splinters as from a breaking window frame, a suffocating smell of pitch and oil that filled the air. 

 

The sound of the explosion was ear-shattering, it cracked the sky like thunder, loud enough to be heard even in the taverns in Volon Therys.

 

A tremor rippled through the entire city, as screams started to ring through the narrow streets.

 

Flames licked on the inner walls of the city, the fused black stone started to glow brightly, but not due to the sun shining on it.

 

The fused stone started to glow dimly, heating up with the heat of the explosion. They glowed in a hot red, twisted and cracked until the wall started to melt like a candle in the midday sun.

 

The Black Walls were old and strong, built by the freehold, but the explosion had been well calculated. It was the bottom of the wall that melted, and when the foundations grew weak, as did the rest of the wall.

 

Molten stone, glowing and hot ran down in streams where the epicenter of the explosion had been. Smoke still cloaked the high Black Walls, veiling them in darkness, as the eastern part of the wall crumbled into piles of dust and rubble.

 

*

 

 

"What happened?" Vhassar all but screamed, his exterior far from his usual, cocky attitude. 

 

"An attack," Maegyr replied. 

 

"A big one," Paenymion added. "An attack of a great scale, there must have been lots and lots of pitch and oil hidden away. It was well planned and executed, the plans likely made over many months. Untypical of the Dothraki, to perform such an attack." There was even a bit of admiration and respect in the man's voice.

 

"You aren't helping, triarch Paenymion," Malaquo Maegyr snarled at the older man, his eyes piercing. The man was fuming, but the older man seemed unbothered.

 

"Recall the tiger cloaks," Vhassar ordered. "They shall find whoever did this."

 

"The tiger cloaks are better off on top of the walls, my friend," Paenymion said. "There is not the slightest chance of you finding the culprits of the attack. We should focus on the task at hand - the Dothraki that are piling outside of our gates."

 

"They'll never get in."

 

"They do seem to have allies within the city."

 

"So we send the tigers to ferret out whoever is behind this foul trickery and end the threat before it can begin.

 

"Look down," Paenymion said calmly. Below them, thousands of men ran away from where the explosion had happened. "Do you think you can find anyone in that mess?"

 

"I am starting to wonder, why you show no signs of being worried when for the first time in hundreds of years, the Black Walls were breached," Vhassar said lowly. His voice turned into a growl. "You are  suspiciously little  tense."

 

"There are many questions to be asked, my friend. One of them would be, why we are sitting here exchanging harsh words, while the city beneath us falls into chaos. It's a long chain of reactions. Some of them run away, others see how they run away and run with them until finally, everyone runs. And you are wrong about me being bothered as well. I am indeed bothered very much by these unfortunate events, however, I hide it better."

 

"You've seen over seventy namedays, Paenymion, that is true. But do you not cling on to life as all men do?"

 

"Age is a curious thing, dear co-triarchs... Death is certain in all things. With age, you eventually come to accept it. You will know this feeling as well, eventually. Provided, of course, you survive this day."

 

“Should I consider that a threat?” Vhassar asked.

 

“Merely an observation,” Paenymion replied smoothly, his frail lips twisting into a soft smile.

 

“I would warn you to watch your tone, Paenymion," the head of House Maegyr said heatedly. "One might come to wonder where your true loyalties lie.”

 

"My most heartfelt apologies, my Lord Hand.” The old triarch lowered his head in apology, but there was not the slightest shame in it.

 

"Half the tiger cloaks shall abandon the walls and search for the perpetrators," came Vhassar's final decision. "They shall annihilate any threat inside our walls. The Golden Company is enough to hold the walls. They are supposed to fight and die for their gold after all."

 

"I fear I am being overruled here." Paenymion looked at the two other triarchs, his demeanor calm and steady. "If that is your decision, then see it done."

 

Two guards immediately bowed and left, moving to get their orders to the outer walls.

 

"Well then," the old triarch smiled. "This might still get interesting."

 

*

 

Below the triarchs, chaos reigned in the streets of the city.

 

When the explosion happened, more than a dozen people had immediately been turned to cinders. Some of the corpses around the blast were burned so darkly, that not even the ravens would ever dare feast on them. 

 

Screams of fear and panic had erupted all around them, with men and women trying to flee from the blast.

 

Many more around the location where the explosion had happened laid dead or dying, scorched by the hot, black flame or trampled to death by the fleeing mob of people.

 

The smell of ash and death soaked the streets of Volantis. Where buildings of wood had once stood, inhabited by the common folk of the city, nothing but ashes, scorched and melted rock remained.

 

The streets close to the explosion were deserted entirely, like the ghost city Yeen in Sothoryos. Those streets were scorched and empty, but a few hundred feet further, was another story entirely.

 

There were cries of fear and rage on every front. A young boy ran through the streets of the city, trying to push forwards, to get away from the heat and burnt corpses.

"Repent for your sins!" A red priest screamed over the crowd before him. He was clad in a long, red cloak. Tattoos of flames covered his cheeks, chin, and shaven head, forming a bright red mask that crackled about his eyes and coiled down and around his lipless mouth. His voice carried over the crowd high and clear, his eyes blazing like those of a madman.

The huge red temple loomed in the distance as he kept screaming. "Repent your sins, for soon it will be too late! Repent as long as you can!"

 

The crowd grew ever more restless. All fought to flee, as the flames started to spread from building to building, the dry wood and straw that the buildings were made of burning easily and quickly.

 

One man took matters into his own hands, pulling a dagger from his robes and stabbing the man before him. There was no law, there was no order, nothing but an animal panic in the tides of human flesh. Women wailed, babes screamed, and hordes and hordes of smallfolk on every street, fighting for themselves alone.

 

More and more daggers emerged from the dark, their blades red and dripping blood. It was a slaughter, as Freedmen, slaves, and masters alike tried to fight their way through the mass of human flesh. Every man that toppled and fell was another fresh corpse, often taking others with them to their death. The falling men and women clutched others, trying to stay upright, but more often than not, they were too big, too heavy, so that when they fell to the floor they took the others with them down as they toppled.

 

When they fell on the cobbled stones together, it wasn't long before blood oozed from their bodies, their faces were stomped in by heavy steel boots running over them or blood pooling from stab wounds into the back and stomach they had received.

 

Suddenly, there was once more an ear-shattering snap. Wood and stone crumbled to the ground, as a building shattered in the flames, sending black ash through the streets, veiling them in a cloud of dark smoke.

 

There were brief and piercing cries of pain and anguish all around the sector, with daggers and arakhs cutting through flesh and bone. 

 

In the veil of fog, they were just the silhouettes of men, squirming in smoke.

 

"REPENT!" The red priest's voice thundered over them all, doing nothing to calm the panicking crowd, but only increasing the fear and panic.

 

The young boy tried to fight his way through the crowd, but to no avail. The blood pounded in his hear, his heart thudded quickly in his chest. His hands shook and his feet tingled. The young boy's vision started to disfigure, as more and more smoke started to surround him, burning in his eyes and lungs.

The streets started to look like the reflection in a deformed shard of dragonglass, as tears started to well up in his eyes. He couldn't stay here any longer, he had to get away from this butchery.

 

“We are all facing the end!” the priest screamed again, waving his hands in the air. "Repent! Repent before the end of time! Repent or face eternal darkness!"

 

There were more and more bodies piling up around him, bodies being trampled to the ground. He could see 3 men try to break open a door leading into a house of stone, but the roof and floor were made of wood and wouldn't last either.

 

Desperate people threw large rocks at the windows of buildings, hoping to find shelter in them, but all of them were quickly turned into roasted meat.

 

The small boy ran to a small tavern, that he knew would have a basement, made from the stone where they stored the barrels of wine, but when he reached it he was met with a huge man. He wore dull armor, but his sword was exquisite, shimmering in the red flames and black smoke. His expression was unreadable.

 

There was a collar around his neck and blood stained his grey armor. Four long chains of iron were tattooed on his cheek. 

 

The marking of a madman.  The men who had gone mad in the fighting pits wore this tattoo, a sign that their minds were shattered.

 

Just as he realized this, the sword came down.

 

"Oh," the boy softly muttered as the red blame carved through his bone and flesh. It left a sickening crunch, as the dark red blood spilled everywhere.

 

The screams grew faint, as black started to creep into his vision.

 

Oh

 

*

 

"The time has come, Aegon," Connington proclaimed. "Give the signal now, and the gates shall be opened. The city will be yours."

 

Aegon, however, remained silent, as he stared out onto the city. Below them, a few leagues away the fires roared and spread.

 

"What happened?" he asked finally. "This was not supposed to happen. The explosion yes, but the fires? What happens there, is no war. It's not a sack, it is no conquest. It is a slaughter. Black bones, burned by fire and red bones, bathed in the blood of innocents."

 

He turned to face Connington. His face was pale and ghast. A drop of sweat ran down his temple, but it wasn't due to the damp heat that laid over Volantis. "What. Happened?"

 

"Miscalculations," the old griffin said carefully. "It was thought unlikely to happen, but there is nothing more unpredictable than an explosion. We had to take more barrels than we thought necessary, to ensure the wall would well and truly fall."

 

"What about the fires? Can we stop them? Extinguish them?"

 

"I fear not," Connington sighed. He laid an arm sympathetically on Aegon's shoulder, but the boy shrugged it off. "Aegon, look at me," he said finally with a commanding voice. It had been quite some time since Aegon's foster-father had last used that voice on him.

 

"I have known you for many years. Had I known what would happen down there, I would not have done it. I know you don't want to see these people suffer and that's why I think you'll make the best ruler the realm has ever seen. I know you don't want these people to suffer, but there is nothing to be done now. Nothing. Not by me, not by you, nor by anyone else."

 

He turned to face Aegon completely, staring directly into the young king's eyes. His pale blue eyes had a tone of harshness in them.

 

"Worry about this later. Now is not the time for worry or hesitation. Hesitation is the very thing that lost me the Battle of the Bells. Had I taken the initiative and burned the city to the ground with all the rebels in it, the Rebellion would have ended then and there. But I didn't. I hesitated, as I didn't want any innocents harmed. I didn't want to see the thousands of men and women who lived at the Stony Sept burned to cinders. I didn't even want the soldiers of the rebels dead. They only followed their liege lords commands, they too had families - wives and children that awaited their return."

 

A tone of melancholy crept into his voice, mixed with a deep sadness. "It was that hesitation, that allowed their reinforcements to arrive and Robert Baratheon escaped. He survived the Stony Sept and lived to fight another day. To face your father Rhaegar on the trident, where his damned Warhammer found his chest and ended all the hopes for a better realm."

 

He pointed towards the men below them, their screams clearly audible on the top of the walls.

 

"This is regrettable. I would have prevented it if possible. But do not make the same mistakes as I did, Aegon. I rose too high, loved too hard, dared too much. I tried to grasp a star, overreached, and fell. Learn from my mistakes. Don't look back now. No hesitation, only forwards, never backward. Don't look back, don't regret your past actions. Accept them and deal with them later. But not now. Now is no time."

 

"Can we not at least keep the Dothraki outside? Why open the walls? If we let them in, they will bring even more death and destruction over the city. Half of the tiger cloaks are gone, we can easily take control here. The Dothraki will rape and pillage a bloody path through the city, bathing the streets in blood. If we cannot stop the fire then this is the least we can do."

 

"We can't."

 

"We can't?"

 

"The Dothraki are fierce warriors, but unknown in matters such as how to siege castles or cities whatsoever, that much is true. But there's more to it than that. We have 10.000 men here, warriors all of them. They're disciplined and we trained, a force to be reckoned with." 

 

Connington raised his arm and pointed towards the vast labyrinth of streets and houses that laid below them.

 

"Volantis is huge. As large as Oldtown and King's Landing combined." He looked at Aegon with a pained expression. "We need the Dothraki in the sack. The Fiery Hand of the Red Temple and the tiger cloaks will fight ferociously. And even if we didn't, we just don't have the men to both take a city of that size, crush its defenders and at the same time fight a Khalasar of 40.000 men. I'm sorry."

 

"Fuck," Aegon muttered. "Fuck."

 

He remained silent for another minute before he spoke up again.

 

"Alright," he all but whispered. "Open the gates."

 

The Lord of Griffin's Roost gave a curt nod and took out a horn. It was small, not more than a foot in length, but when he blew into it thrice, it echoed across the entire city.

 

A signal only their commanders understood, and it took them no more than a minute to give the new orders to their troops.

 

What followed immediately was a slaughter, just like what happened in the streets below. The men and few women of the Golden Company turned onto the remaining tiger cloaks, stabbing them through the back and painting the black walls red.

 

"Open the gates," a scream called out.

 

"OPEN THE GATES," more voices echoed. Finally, the rattling of chains filled the air, as the giant Dragongate of Volantis started to lift itself into the air.

 

The chains that lifted the heavy gates, forged from thick metal ached and creaked under the weight, but still, the gate rose from the ground.

 

Shouts of fear arose from the inside of the city, as the Dothraki charged forwards, the hooves of ten thousands of horses speeding over the ground, like the cracking of thunder.

 

"Close the gates," A woman that clutched her babe helplessly in her arms squeaked in fear, as the Dothraki charged in a full gallop towards the gate. "CLOSE THEM!" She stood in the street, located directly behind the Dragon Gate, sweat, and blood all over her clothing.

 

"Please, close the gates," she begged again, her voice growing silent, but Aegon was close enough to hear.

 

Had he seen this image before him a minute earlier, he might not have given the order to raise the gates. But it was too late. 

 

The Dothraki charge entered the city with brutal efficiency, the Khal himself riding at the very front of the column. The woman was torn to shreds within seconds, her corpse no more than bloodstains on the hooves of their horses.

 

Aegon vomited, and even Connington looked pale, as the Dothraki continued their charge into the city.

 

*

 

No hesitation, don't look back,  Connington's words echoed in his head, as he moved to the front of the column of the Golden Company.  Deal with the consequences later, focus on the task at hand - sacking the city.

 

He had always known, that sacking a city was a bloody affair. He knew that innocents would die for his quest and that many of the men of served him would die in the fighting. However actually being there, to experience the violence and madness of battle, was another thing entirely. 

 

He had been raised from birth to be a king. The best king the realm had ever seen. He had been taught everything about warfare there was to know, he had the best teachers and the best advisors. 

 

But in the end, nothing could prepare you for the pained screams in battle, the smell of shit and blood. Parents screaming as their children were cut down, Dothraki raping and murdering whoever happened to stand in their way and the smell of fire and smoke,  fire and blood  that filled the air.

 

Was this truly his house's legacy? To bring fire and blood on all who would dare oppose them? "Fire and Blood indeed," he muttered. "Death and destruction."

 

The ranks of the golden company formed a wall of shields, as they started to march towards the eastern side of the city, where the Black Walls were located.

 

"Beneath the gold..." One man cried out and a thousand voices answered in unison. "...The Bitter Steel!" they shouted back, a phrase in honor of their founder Aegor Bittersteel. Once Aegon would have bristled at the Insult of shouting Bittersteel’s name while charging into battle, but now, nothing of the sort mattered. He just wanted the battle to end as quickly as possible, to get this over with, so he could prepare to face his aunt.

 

They reached the middle of the Long Bridge that spanned over Volantis, just as soldiers of the Fiery Hand, and some of the recalled tiger cloaks appeared on the other end. They too wielded giant shields, as large as any man, with spearmen behind them, who efficiently reinforced the shield-wall.

 

"Fight!" The High Priest Benerro screeched. "Men of the Fiery Hand! Men of R'hllor! Rise up to slay these heathens who dare invade the sacred city of Volantis! Stand and fight!"

 

"For R'hllor!" the men echoed, as they bumped their shields on the ground in a curt rhythm so that a thunderous sound echoed over the Long Bridge.

 

"Men of the Golden Company!" Aegon screamed back, trying to make his voice be heard among the screaming and shouting. All worries were forgotten, the only thing that filled his thoughts now, was winning the battle. "Forwards! Onwards! To victory!"

 

The sun was high, and Aegon focused on the battlefield as the enemy lines got into position, their shield wall strong and near unbreachable. It was hard to move in the full-plate armor that 2 squires, provided by the Golden Company, had donned on him, but there would be no better protection once the fighting broke out. Until now the battle had been utterly one-sided, the remaining tiger-cloaks on the wall had been caught off guard and easily been taken out. But now, this would change. 

 

The now recovered defenders were organized and would not be caught off guard.

 

The men of the Company moved forwards themselves, spears and swords lifted, ready for any battle that might arise. The thousands of men moved at the same time. It was a slow charge, a careful one.

 

The archers got into position just behind them, drawing their bows, aimed towards the column of the Fiery Hand.

 

"Black Balaq," Aegon screamed. "Loose!"

 

The Summer Islander was the commander of the company's archers and one of the men that Aegon trusted the most. He was known well for his physical strength, but what made him so deadly as an opponent, was his intellect and knowledge of battle tactics.

 

He had drilled each of his men to perfection and was always calm, never nervous. He would do his duty and he would do it well.

 

The tiger cloaks would be a threat, yes, but the true problem was the Fiery Hand. They were few, only a thousand men, but each fought with the discipline of an Unsullied, the power of a dragon, and the wildness of a flame. They wore ornate armor over their orange robes, all of them full-plate, made in the finest forges of Volantis. Each of them wielded spears with points shaped as writhing flames.

 

While the Golden Company moved forwards slowly, the Dothraki charged straight ahead, their horses crashing directly into the shield wall of the defenders.

 

This was all it took, for their own warriors to join into the Frey.

 

"Careful, Aegon," Connington shouted towards him, as he himself charged with the troops.

 

Aegon didn't listen as he was already running, sword raised and eyes determined. "Archers on the Shieldwall!" he screamed. "Fill their lines with arrows!"

 

Arrows were nocked and loosed, volley after volley rained down on the battlefield. Fires hissed from the demolished buildings that had once adorned the Long Bridge of Volantis. They crumbled one after another, leaving only burned heaps of dust and stone.

 

Aegon felt another shudder, as another building fell apart, not far from him.

 

The Dothraki charged against the defenders, but they fell quickly to the defenders. They were too efficient, to disciplined to break against their charge.

 

The tiger cloaks and soldiers of the Fiery Hand fell one after another, but each of them took half a dozen Dothraki into the grave with them.

 

Despite their dwindling numbers, the men weren’t backing down, they were fighting tooth and nail. They were clinging on, resisting with everything they had. Every arrow, every spear, they used everything they had. Some threw burning stones into their lines when they ran out of arrows or threw bundles of ash, blinding their vision. On and on they fought, making them bleed for every foot they moved forwards.

 

Benerro kept screaming frantically before he turned oddly silent. He muttered silently a prayer, one that was soon repeated by dozens of red priests as well.

 

"Lord of Light defend us!" He finally shouted. "For the night is dark and full of terrors..."

 

"... but the fire burns them all away."

 

More and more men joined the chorus, as Benerro himself walked to the front of the shield wall. With just a touch of his hand, their shields ignited, creating a wall of flame that blocked the bridge.

 

The horses of the Dothraki wheezed and stumbled backward, terrified by the fires before them.

 

"Archers! Loose!" Black Balaq's command over and over, but the archers couldn't do much against the men in full plate armor.

 

“We should signal a charge,” Young Yohn Mudd proclaimed, as he moved close to Aegon. "They’ve left themselves to dispersed, their ranks are weakened. They fight fiercely, but they are outnumbered – let us force a charge through their center. They will break.”

 

"Against the Shield walls?" Aegon asked incredulously. "They're burning in case you hadn't noticed."

 

"False flames, nothing more, my king," he replied. "A mummers farce. The horses might shy away at first, but they'll obey eventually. Besides, who needs horses to charge?"

 

As he spoke the words, a loud tone was sounded from behind them. 3 big, grey elephants moved forwards, their steps loud and intimidating. They were armored and towered over the men. Jon Lothson, the serjeant responsible for the elephant cavalry was seated on the back of the largest beast, a huge warhorn mounted on its back. 

 

Not a single shield wall could stand against those beasts, that much was clear.

 

Still, Aegon decided against it. It was too unpredictable. A common shield wall would never be able to stand against them, but if it burned? Would they go mad, turning on their riders and the men around them?

 

"Signal a slow retreat instead,” he ordered, his purpled eyes boring into Young Yohn Mudd's dark blue eyes. “The center falls back, the left and right supports them. Let us straighten the ranks.”

 

The serjeant looked at him as if he had just lost his wits. “Fall back? Why sacrifice our position? They are about to break?"

 

"The Dothraki are raiding through the city, and the Long Bridge isn't the only way to cross. We have 5000 men here, but there are another 5000 out there as well. They will soon be encircled, with no way out. Then we can crush them completely."

 

The orders were passed on quickly, spreading like wildfire amongst the men. Warhorns echoed over the field to pass the instructions, as the men slowly started to fall back. 

 

Their opponents did precisely, what they weren't supposed to do.

 

They hesitantly moved forwards, the entire shield wall crouching forwards, step by step, taking back the land they had previously lost. 

 

While moving, many moved their shields out of formation, leaving spots open as targets. And the response came immediately.

 

Black Balaq and his archers did their jobs with great efficiency – his men with goldenheart great bows fired dozens of volleys onto their lines, most of them hitting steel, but not nearly all of them. Their bowmen were well trained and many arrows found their marks in tiny gaps inside the shield wall. Slowly but consistently, their ranks were diminished as more and more archers started aiming for the spots were a shieldman had fallen. A storm of arrows rained down, which cost the defenders dearly.

 

Fire and Blood! ” a cry came, cutting through the orchestra of chaos. More and more men started to pick up the cry, cheering and celebrating, as the enemy’s lines grew weaker.

 

Fire and Blood! Fire and Blood! Fire and Blood!

 

Hundreds, even thousands of corpses filled the street, piling up in the middle to form a mountain of dead. Aegon could see corpses wearing the golden armor of the Company, some wearing the orange robes and other the blank armor of the tiger cloaks.

 

Crows circled above the field, occasionally diving down to claw flesh from the bodies of the fallen, feasting on their warm blood and fresh meat.

 

Finally, lines of Dothraki emerged on the other side of the Long Bridge. Thousands of mounted warriors poured from the streets, trapping them on the Bridge.

 

"Now!" Aegon screamed. "Charge!"

 

As the command came, the massive war-elephants were urged forwards, charging wildly towards the trapped defenders.

 

Aegon could make out Khal Drogo on the other side of the bridge as they closed in on the remainders of the Fiery Hand. The Khal did the same from the other side.

 

Still, despite their obvious defeat, the defenders refused to budge, fighting on with tooth and nail. 

 

It was a dance of tens of thousands of men scattered across the bridge. A grueling fight that lasted no more than mere minutes, but still more bloody than anything seen in Essos in a hundred years. Footsteps danced to the beat of war drums and bellowed orders, as the two fronts closed in on the followers of the Red God.

 

There was a weariness in the air, the smell of blood and sweat, but finally the last of the Fiery Hand were cut down, their corpses littering the streets.

 

Cheers of Dothraki and Golden Company soldiers filled the streets, as they moved on through the city to rape and plunder.

 

"Onwards! Onwards to the Black Walls!" Connington shouted next to Aegon. Throughout the entire battle, Aegon had not once swung his sword at an enemy, but it was a victory nonetheless.

 

The King and his hand walked forwards to the corpses of the Fiery Hand, trampled to death by the elephants, and cut apart by the Dothraki and sellswords. Still one of them remained.

 

"False...dragon," Benerro croaked, as he laid in a pool of blood, that constantly grew around him.

 

"I... curse... you," he sputtered. "You shall touch the stars, see the glorious light of a thousand suns and stars laid out before you. You shall see all you could ever have, but you shall have none. Cursed shall you be, cursed by the cruel betrayal of the men you would have served. Entire villages, entire towns shall rend your flesh, curse you and hate you until the end of days, like an unholy god."

 

The red priests face twisted into a small smile, pained, but a smile nonetheless. "Rage against the rising of the sea, rage against the dying of the light. You shall have it all and shall have nothing. May you never find peace, false dragon."

 

Aegon's sword pierced the man's chest, making blood splatter from his lips. "Fire... is... eternal," came his last words, before the life left his eyes.

 

*

 

"What's wrong?" Aegon asked the serjeants, as he strode into the tent. His once perfectly polished armor was now dark with smoke and red with blood. Ironically, those were the colors of his sigil.

 

The Golden Company had built up a small camp in the abandoned streets of the city, where they could rest before continuing the battle.

 

Small riots and battles occurred all over the city, as the flames slowly started to extinguish themselves, leaving behind a burned Volantis.

 

"My King..." Brendel Byrne started hesitantly. "Our forces are stuck. The common people are rising up against them, attacking them from every corner. We need to take care of them."

 

"Take care of them?" Connington fired back. "You mean to slaughter the entire city?"

 

"It can't be that bad," Aegon murmured. "They don't know who caused the explosion."

 

"It is that bad," Connington replied. "They don't know about the explosion, yes, but they know who let the Dothraki into the city. Benerro's speech demanded from them that they fight us and resist us. And since he is the High Priest, they take it as the absolute truth - So they obey."

 

Connington sighed, before continuing. "We need to earn back the favor of the citizens. And we have yet to take the Black Walls."

 

"That should be rather easy," Lysono Maar stated. "We breached them after all."

 

"The Black Walls will fall," another serjeant added. "The problem at hand is the Red Temple and the people of Volantis."

 

"What to be done about them?" Aegon asked. "We can't very well storm the temple. That would only enrage them further."

 

"Where is serjeant Jon Lothson?" Connington asked. "He was given command of the elephants, we are going to need them when taking the Black Walls."

 

"Dead," came the curt answer from Maar. "That's where he is. A corpse amongst the many in the streets. He changed the elephant for a horse after the battle of the Long Bridge, when he believed himself in safety."

 

For a moment, bits of emotion played on the spymaster's face.

 

"His horse panicked in the flames and he was unfortunate enough for it to happen during a riot. The smallfolk ambushed him and ripped him apart. They see us as their worst enemies, even more so than their late masters."

 

"A mob tore him apart?" Aegon asked shocked. He remembered the serjeant, a brave and fierce fighter.

 

"A mob tore him apart," Maar nodded, confirming his fate.

 

There was a moment of silence. All eyes were focused on the king, waiting for him to make a decision.

 

"Deal with the riots. Use any means, but use the ones the least bloody. I don't want the corpses of hundreds brought before me. We will need stability in the city, before dealing with my aunt."

 

"You intend to summon her here? To us in Volantis?" Balaq asked. "That is quite a risk to take. She might be Rhaenyra come again and for all of the Golden Company's might and glamour, we can't hope to fight three giant Dragons."

 

"Our reports are quite clear," Maar stated. "The largest of the beasts has almost reached the size of the Black Dread. The other two are just a bit smaller but still immense."

 

For a moment, a childlike joy filled Aegon, as he pondered on if he would be able to fly a Dragon like his namesake, the Conqueror had. But the feeling quickly vanished. His aunt's support was far from assured, that much had become clear to him.  We should have captured her long ago when she fled from Braavos. I would have long learned to control our dragons and she never would have reached Asshai. A wasted opportunity if there ever was one.

 

"I will have stability in the city," he proclaimed. "See it done."

 

*

 

It took 2 more days until the entire city was secure. Corpses littered the streets and the marble stones of the long bridge had turned red with blood. The Red Temple continued to preach against them, but with the Fiery Hand wiped out, they could not do anything beyond that.

 

The death of Benerro, the High Priest of R'hllor, the Flame of Truth, Light of Wisdom, First Servant of the Lord of Light, and Slave of R'hllor had thrown the leadership of the faith in disarray, leaving them with no true leader or organization.

 

The Black Walls eventually succumbed to the Dothraki and sellswords. The master's personal guard switched sides and joined the attackers, but most were put to the sword by the Dothraki nonetheless.

 

*

 

"They're here," Vhassar murmured as if he couldn't truly believe it. In less than 3 days, Volantis had fallen, due to the treachery of the Golden Company.

 

"You did notice that exceptionally quickly, triarch Vhassar," Paenymion smiled. He carefully picked up a glass from the table and poured a small vital inside of it.

 

"Poison," he explained. "You would be wise to do the same." Slowly the old man lifted the cup and brought it to his lips. He carefully sipped on the glass, his old and frail lips easily swallowing the liquid. "To Volantis," he toasted. "May it rise again from the ashes."

 

The other two triarchs quickly followed after, all of them drinking from the glass. "To Volantis," they repeated.

 

"Shame it came to this. But I did tell you, that my feelings are never wrong."

 

"I feel so good now, knowing that your feeling was right," Maegyr grumbled. 

 

"As do I, triarch Maegyr, as do I," the older man smiled back, blatantly ignoring his sarcasm.

 

"I do admit, it is impressive what they pulled off. They did what no one has been able to do since the Century of Blood. They allied with the Dothraki and took the First Daughter with trickery and deceit."

 

Begrudgingly, the other triarchs nodded, agreeing with the older man.

 

"Still, justice will eventually come to them. The smallfolk are enraged, their stores depleted and troops exhausted. I had the food spoiled with greyscale. They won't have an easy time holding Volantis," Vhassar spoke. "Eventually we will prevail," he said and a small smile formed on his face. "All those slaves down there... they all wait to be freed. Those who wait to be freed, do not deserve freedom. It is the natural order. It's been this way forever and it will not change until the end of times."

 

"Indeed, triarch Vhassar," Maegyr added. "Change is temporary, the wheel remains unscathed. Nobody can break the wheel, only stop it for a few years at most. But Daenerys Targaryen and her self-proclaimed nephew won't live forever. Once they are gone from the world? All returns to how it was before. Change is temporary. The First Daughter is eternal."

 

"To Volantis," they proclaimed once more, as the life finally left them.

 

*

 

The Great War of the East

 

Factions

 

Daenerys Targaryen’s faction

Leader(s):

  • Daenerys Targaryen

Sigil:

A red dragon with purple eyes on a black background, its body veiled in dark mist and shadow

Known as:

  • The Mother of Dragons 
  • The Butcher of Astapor
  • The Dark Sovereign
  • Empress of the Imperial Targaryen Dynasty
  • Breaker of Chains
  • Mhysa
  • The Shadow Dragon
  • Bride of Shadows

Known for:

  • Empress of the Eastern Empire
  • Her dragons

Crimes:

  • Slaughter of Astapor
  • Killing of over 800 Masters without trial
  • Burning of countless opposing soldiers
  • Using of necromancy (Accused)
  • Using of pyromancy (Accused)
  • Conspiring with the warlocks and Pureborn of Qarth (Accused)

Allies and Troops:

  • 12000 Unsullied
  • 2000 “Mother’s Men“
  • 2000 Brazen Beasts
  • 1000 Free Brothers
  • 2000 Stalwart Shields
  • 5000 Stormcrows, Second Sons and Windblown
  • 13000 Freedmen, trained in combat
  • 2000 veteran pit fighters 
  • Pureborn of Qarth
  • Warlocks of Qarth
  • Iron Bank of Braavos
  • 200 Warships

→ ~39000 trained Men

  • 3 Fully grown dragons, each over 400 feet in length, their wingspan at around 300 feet.

Objectives

  • Preserve Daenerys Targaryen’s rule in the east
  • Protect the newly risen magic
  • Further their influence to the west and north
  • Removal of all who might threaten the Empress’s power
  • Force the Free Cities into submission
  • End of Slavery

Enemies

  • Robert Baratheon, King of the Seven Kingdoms
  • Former Ghiscari Masters (x)
  • New Ghis
  • Pentos, Norvos, Lorath, Myr, Volantis, Qohor, Lys, Tyrosh
  • Euron Greyjoy
  • ?

 

Aegon Targaryen’s (Blackfyre’s) faction

Leader(s):

  • Aegon Targaryen
  • Jon Connington

Sigil:

A red, three-headed dragon on a black background

Known as:

  • Young Griff
  • The Last Dragon
  • The true heir to the Iron Throne
  • The Hidden King

Known for:

  • Hidden heir to the Targaryen Dynasty

Crimes:

  • Slaughter of Volantis
  • False Dragon (Accused)
  • Imposer (Accused)
  • Allowing the Dothraki to plunder Volantis
  • Responsible for the death of thousands

Allies:

  • Dothraki, circa 35.000 capable fighters under Khal Drogo
  • ~ 10.000 men of the Golden Company
  • 4000 Shield carriers
  • 2000 Spearmen
  • 2000 Knights
  • 2000 Archers
  • 3 armored war-elephants, more on call if necessary

Objectives:

  • Contest Daenerys Targaryen’s rule, establish Aegon as her superior
  • Ensure lasting alliance with Khal Drogo through the marriage pact made by Aegon between him and Empress Daenerys Targaryen
  • Use Empress Daenerys’s influence and dragons, to ensure the success of the War against Robert Baratheon.
  • Installing Aegon as the King of the Seven Kingdoms.
  • Secure his rule
  • Settling of the Men of the Golden Company in Westeros
  • Revenge for Robert’s Rebellion, reforging of the Targaryen Dynasty

Enemies:

  • Robert Baratheon, King of the Seven Kingdoms
  • House Lannister, most notably the current head of the house, Tywin Lannister
  • Daenerys Targaryen (uncertain)
  • Red Temple of Volantis
  • Smallfolk of Volantis
  • ?

 

Ironborn faction

Leader(s):

  • Euron Greyjoy
  • Victarion Greyjoy

Sigil:

A red eye with a black pupil beneath a black iron crown supported by two crows

Known as:

  • The Crow’s Eye
  • Iron King
  • Son of the Sea Wind
  • Lord Reaper of Pyke
  • Captain of the Silence

Known for:

  • Pillaging and looting the entire eastern half of the continent
  • The Silence

Crimes

  • Pillaging
  • Raping
  • Raiding
  • Torturing

Allies:

  • ~ 4000 Reavers, sworn to House Greyjoy
  • Mutilated Warlocks, Spellsingers
  • Crew of Mutes
  • Dragon Egg (Previously)
  • Mystical horn from the ruins of Old Valyria

Objectives:

  • Taking control of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon(s)
  • Taking power in Westeros
  • Retaking of Pyke
  • Euron’s desired ascension to godhood
  • Return of the Old Way

Enemies:

  • Daenerys Targaryen (potentially)
  • Robert Baratheon
  • Pureborn of Qarth

 

Dothraki faction

Leaders:

  • Khal Drogo

Sigil:

  • None

Known for:

  • Khal of the largest Dothraki khalasar

Crimes:

  • Rape 
  • Plundering
  • Killing of innocents

Allies:

  • Aegon Targaryen and the Golden Company
  • Potential alliance through marriage with Daenerys Targaryen
  • Plenty of gold and other valuable things gained in the Sack of Volantis and previous raids and battles

Objectives:

  • Alliance with Daenerys Targaryen
  • Loot and Rape
  • The dragon “Rhaellion” is to be ridden by Khal Drogo as his “Stallion who mounts the world.” The dragon was previously declared by him as such.
  • Extension of influence in the continent of Essos

Enemies:

  • Citizens of Volantis
  • Red Temple/Red faith
  • Daenerys Targaryen (potentially)
  • Free Cities

Faction of Volantis

[See battle report: “The Battle of Volantis”]

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Volantis

Date: 298 AC

Place: Volantis

Conflict: The Great War of the East

 

Combatants:

Aegon’s Forces:

~10.000 men of the Golden Company

  • 4000 Shield carriers
  • 2000 Spearmen
  • 2000 Knights
  • 2000 Archers
  • 3 armored war-elephants

 

Commander: Aegon Targaryen/Aegon Blackfyre

    Co-Commanders:

  • Jon Connington, Hand of the King
  • Harry Strickland, captain-general,
  • Black Balaq, commander of the archers,
  • Lysono Maar, company spymaster,
  • {Jon Lothson, commander of the elephant garrison}
  • Myles "Blackheart" Toyne
  • Lord Tristan Darry, formerly Rivers,
  • Marq Mandrake, serjeant,
  • Pykewood Peake, serjeant
  • Torman Peake, serjeant
  • Old Yohn Mudd
  • Young Yohn Mudd
  • Brendel Byrne, serjeant,
  • Dick Cole, serjeant,
  • Will Cole, serjeant,
  • Caspor Hill, serjeant,
  • {Malo Jayn, serjeant}
  • Lorimas Mudd, serjeant,
  • Ser Lymond Pease, serjeant,
  • {Ser Denys Strong, serjeant}
  • Duncan Strong, serjeant,
  • Humfrey Stone, serjeant.
  • {Franklyn Flowers, serjeant}

 

Allies:

~100.000 Dothraki under Khal Drogo

  • 35.000 capable fighters
  • 30.000 horses

Commander: Khal Drogo

    Co-Commanders: His 3 Bloodriders Aggo, Jhogo, and Rakharo

 

 

The Defenders of the City

 

  Commanders: Triarchs of Volantis

  • {Nyessos Vhassar} of the elephant party
  • {Malaquo Maegyr} of the tiger party
  • {Doniphos Paenymion} of the elephant party

 

Forces

 

The Fiery Hand

Commander: {High Priest Benerro}, the High Priest of R'hllor, the Flame of Truth, Light of Wisdom, First Servant of the Lord of Light, and Slave of R'hllor.

~1000 men, well equipped with spears and shields, as well as full plate armor

~12 other red priests, enforcing the flame spell

 

The Tiger cloaks/The city guard of Volantis

Commander: The triarchs of Volantis

~5000 men, with average equipment

  • 2000 with full-body shields
  • 2000 spearmen
  • 1000 archers

Battle Commanders: 

  • unknown Volanteen serjeants

 

(Circa 1.200.000 civilians in the city)

 

Casualties

  • 1500 men of the Golden Company, around another 1000 in the following days dead while attempting to suppress the riots
  • 4 serjeants of the Golden Company, namely Jon Lothson, Franklyn Flowers, Malo Jayn and Denys Strong
  • High Priest Benerro
  • All warriors of the Fiery Hand
  • All warriors of the Tiger cloaks
  • All 3 triarchs of the city
  • 6000 mounted Dothraki
  • Unaccountable number of civilians within the city, estimated to be at around 60.000 dead and thrice as many injured

 

The Battle

  • Previously placed barrels of pitch and oil is ignited beneath the Black Walls, making a part of them crumble.
  • Explosion terrifies the smallfolk, fires spread uncontrolled to nearby houses, causing a mass panic
  • The triarchs recall half of the tiger cloaks from the wall to search for the perpetrators
  • Betrayal of the Golden Company, sellswords massacre remaining tiger cloaks and open the gates for the assembled Dothraki
  • Smallfolk fight each other for shelter and escape paths, resulting in many casualties.
  • Dothraki and Golden Company push through the city, Dothraki rape and pillage the houses of their victims
  • Fiery Hand and recalled tiger cloaks make a stand on the long bridge
  • High Priest Benerro demands in the name of the Red God, that his followers may rise up to defend the city
  • Defenders are encircled on the bridge and utterly annihilated
  • Smallfolk continue to resist and kill Dothraki and men of the Golden Company, due to their hatred at them for sacking the city and the High Priest's words
  • Riots are brutally suppressed by the Golden Company
  • The Black Walls fall to the attackers
  • Triarchs commit suicide

 

Aftermath

  • The Eastern side of Volantis is almost completely burned down
  • The smallfolk is in uproar
  • Aegon is not as wished hailed as a liberator but instead as a tyrant.
  • Aegon becomes King of Volantis and the surrounding regions
  • The Golden Company loses around a fourth of its forces, more injured and unavailable for the near future
  • Massive losses of innocent lives within the city
  • The power of the Red Temple is completely crushed.

 

Chapter Text

The Dreamer



Jon had been sitting by the half-frozen river for a while now — at least if he had counted the time correctly. The small stream ran through the rocky forest, winding through small river-made valleys and carving out pieces of rock over time.

 

The time north of the wall had given him a better feeling for the time that flowed past. Knowing when the sun would rise and when it would disappear once more was quite a boon there, where daylight provided shelter and security.

 

King Robert Baratheon would be coming to Winterfell soon, with his entire entourage, planning to make Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, the new Hand of the King. A shit idea if there ever was one, but he would neither be able to convince the king to name someone else, nor his uncle to refuse the position.

 

Jon wanted to groan at the thought of his uncle as his Hand of the King. He could not think of anyone who would be suited worse for the positions.

 

He’d like nothing more than to avoid Robert Baratheon and his offspring. The visions Lord Brynden had showed him regarding the royal children, especially the eldest, was enough for him to wish he would never have the displeasure of meeting them, save maybe on the battlefield. The younger two seemed like somewhat decent kids, but they were still too young to tell.

 

For a few minutes, he simply laid back in the pure, white snow of the north and tried to sort his thoughts.

 

North

 

North was where he wanted to go, and north was where he would go. But not as far as before. The Night's Watch and his great-great-uncle Aemon were his destination.

 

But what afterward? He wouldn't go back to Winterfell. With Lord Stark in King's Landing, his wife would rule in Winterfell, at least for a few years until Robb was a bit older. Staying at the wall and swearing his oaths was not something he intended to do either.

 

He didn't spend years pursuing the three-eyed-raven, only to now waste all potential by swearing an oath for life.

 

Further north again, maybe? But most of the wildlings had to be dead by now. Those who weren't dead yet would be quickly hunted down and forced to either turn south and kneel, or perish. They were likely low on food as well, and none would welcome them. North of the wall, they would be hunted men, and Jon had no desire to fill the belly of a Thenn anytime soon.

 

Going south was another thought. But what to do in the south? Jon had been taught enough by Lord Bloodraven to become a capable spymaster for any house worth the name. At the same time, training with the Children of the Forest, known for their insane speed and agility, had given him the potential to become the Master of Arms for any house he desired.

 

Robb likely would have suggested it to his father already, had the two of them sparred since his return. Maybe later. But once again, the option was quickly nullified in his mind. Becoming Master of Arms in Winterfell was tempting to be sure, but he would have to suffer Lady Stark's presence for the rest of his life. Not that the old crone's cold stares intimidated him anymore, but they were a nuisance nonetheless.

 

East it is, then. Going east was the only option that remained for him. To the east, where his aunt resided, as empress of her very own Imperial Dynasty.



*



Flashback



Jon carefully swallowed the weirwood paste, given to him by the children. It tasted bitter and nasty, like food that had been left in the midday heat of Dorne for days, but as he continued to eat the taste changed.

 

He nearly threw up during the first spoons, but as he swallowed the third the taste became sweeter and sweeter. Where the paste had been bitter at first, it now tasted as sweet as honey. It tasted like new-fallen snow, of pepper and cinnamon, and a dozen other tastes, that filled him from within.

 

"Will this make me a greenseer?” Jon asked Bloodraven, who merely frowned at him, his pale skin stretching even further over his hollow cheeks.

 

"Your blood makes you a greenseer," said Lord Brynden, his voice crooking. "But this will help. A thousand eyes, a thousand skins. Such is the price of true wisdom."

 

As Jon finished the bowl of paste, he looked around himself as if expecting something. "I don't feel anything. What changed?"

 

The child he called Leaf walked up behind him, resting a hand reassuringly on his shoulder. On her command, the other children extinguished the torches around them, engulfing him in darkness.

 

"Close your eyes," she whispered, her voice sweet and tender. "Leave your skin, go beyond the limitations of your body. Leave your skin, go deep beneath you, where the weirwood's roots creep through the dirt."

"Follow them," she instructed again. "Chase the roots upwards, follow them through the earth until you can touch the sky."

 

Jon followed her command and slipped out of his skin. The usual feeling when he was warging into Frost engulfed him. But this time he didn't enter the wolf's mind.

 

His third eye chased through the long white roots of the weirwood that ran through the dirt like pale snakes until suddenly he was somewhere else entirely.

 

He saw the world from the eyes of a weirwood. The godswood, where it was located, overlooked a dark bay. Around him was an acre of elm, alder, and black cottonwood. The weirwood itself was a great tree, whose roots twisted and wound itself around the entire area, choking out all other growth close to it. Only a few smokeberry vines crept up the tree's stem, and a small group of Dragon's Breath, a dark red flower, grew beneath it.

Jon saw the silhouette of a tall and slender man, walk around the godswood with what seemed to be his wife. 

 

She was a beautiful woman, with a slender frame, dark black eyes, and a flat chest. She wore Dornish robes and a silver bracelet around her wrist, the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen engraved into it. The man, on the other hand, had deep purple, almost indigo eyes. 

 

He had long, silver-blond hair. He wore a long and elegant cloak of dark red that was clasped to his shoulder, with a night-black plate armor beneath it. Just like in his the woman's bracelet, the three-headed dragon was engraved in the chest plate. Red rubies were embedded all over it, forming the eyes and tail of the sigil. More rubies were perched together at the top of the sigil, creating a glimmering trail of flame that formed in the dragon's throat.

 

"I hope this is worth it, for you," the woman said, disappointment evident in her voice. "A third child you want. I hope that this will give you the happiness you lack. I was never enough for you, it would seem."

 

The man turned to look at her, with a deep sadness filling his eyes. "I am sorry," he said, shaking his head in regret. "But there is just no other way. The Song of Ice and Fire must come alive, the dragon must have-"

 

"...Three heads, I know," the woman sighed. "You've told me a dozen times. A stupid prophecy, made thousands of years ago is apparently trustworthy enough for you, to go and start a war over it."

 

"I never-" the man started, but the woman quickly interrupted him once more.

 

"Of course you didn't intend to start a war," she snorted. "But had you used the brain given to you by whatever gods there are to come to a logical conclusion instead of brooding about prophecies, you would have known this would happen."

 

"Lya left a letter, I don't know what happened to it," the man defended himself quickly.

 

"So she's 'Lya' now, hm? Your Lya is no more than a girl, who sees you for a better man than you are. You're using her for your prophecy, nothing more, nothing less."

 

"She came with me willingly, Elia. I never forced her to do anything she didn't want."

 

"Oh, so she never wanted to return home, when her brother and father were slaughtered in this very city? She's a girl who fancies herself in love, because the only alternative to you, was marrying Robert Baratheon. You know this and you never should have let her come with you. All for the sake of your stupid prophecy. So go now. Go to the trident and kill whatever remains of her family."

 

"I'm sorry," the man said once more. "There is just no other way."

 

Suddenly, Jon was pulled away, as he slipped back into his human skin.

"What did you see?" Leaf asked. In the small torchlight that lit the room, she looked almost like a girl, a year or two younger than Jon himself. But Jon knew better than that. 

 

"I saw King's Landing," Jon slowly spoke, remembering the giant castle with the high, red walls that had loomed over them. "It must have been... there was a man and a woman... It must have been Prince Rhaegar and his wife Elia... He did call her Elia once..."

 

"What did they talk about?" the old Lord Bloodraven asked, his voice hoarse.

 

"A Prince," Jon replied. "Another child... someone he ran off with. Lya."

"Lyanna Stark," Brynden stated matter-of-factly.

 

"Lyanna," Jon muttered. She had been dead for decades. She had been his father's sister, but Lord Stark had never talked about her.

 

"How do I see all of this?" he asked. "How do I see those people walk and talk, people dead for decades?"

 

"Those were shadows of days long past. You were looking through the eyes of the heart tree in the godswood. Time is different for a tree than a man. A tree does not experience hours or days, years, or decades. It notices only the changes in sun and soil and water, when the seasons change and when Winter comes. And weirwoods are even more special in this regard... a thousand years for us, is only the merest shade of a moment to a weirwood, and through such gates, you and I may gaze into the past."

 

"Can they hear me?"

 

"No more, than you can hear greenseers from the future speak to you, I'm afraid. The ink is dry, the past unchangeable. I tried many times when the ghosts of my past came to haunt me. The men I killed, the men I saved. Aenys Blackfyre, Daemon and his sons, and a thousand more. I remember all their faces, if not their names. I have my ghosts, Jon Snow. A brother I loved, a brother I hated, and a woman I desired. I've seen them a hundred times through the trees, tried to talk to them, but still, two of them have not heard my voice in many decades.

 

"Only two of them?" Jon asked confused, receiving only a nod.

 

"Only two."

 

"What else did they speak about?" Bloodraven asked him once more, dropping the topic.

 

"Princess Elia mentioned something else," Jon said, slowly and carefully, as if he was uncertain about what he was about to say. "A prophecy, the Song of Ice and Fire, she called it."  

 

"I don't know what it means," he added after a short pause.

 

"The Song of Ice and Fire..." Bloodraven mumbled. "An old prophecy, one the crowned prince was obsessed with. It states that there shall one day be a legendary hero reborn with the name Azor Ahai. A hero who shall fight back the darkness and bring the dawn. Defeat the White Walkers and bring spring to Westeros."

 

"White Walkers?" Jon asked incredulously. "The Others from the old stories?"

 

"The very same," Leaf nodded from beside him. Her cloak of leaves shuffled as she walked next to him. "Have you never wondered, why the men who live in the far north are fleeing south? It is why you're here. That's why you're trained by us."

 

"Even if it is true what you say..." Jon started, his voice indicating that he did not believe what she said. "Why me? There are a thousand men in the kingdoms with more influence. Who would be better suited to stop those White Walkers."

 

He paused for a moment, looking at Brynden questioningly.

"You spoke about Daenerys Targaryen in the east. You said she had dragons. Wouldn't she be suited a thousand times better to fulfill this task? Why didn't you train her?"

 

He looked at the roots that grew in and out of the old man's body.

"Well, I don't think you could go there yourself, but you could send someone to do it for you?"

 

The old man looked at him for a moment, a small smile creeping on his pale and old face.

 

"Who said I haven't?"



End of Flashback



*



Jon gradually made his way back to Winterfell, Frost slowly trailing behind him. The newborn pup, which he had dubbed Ghost looked tiny in comparison, even if he had already grown a lot since they had found them. 

 

The small pup ran circles around the older Direwolf, panting and nudging his flank. The pup's father allowed it with a mix of defeated-annoyment and adoration, occasionally nudging back.

 

Jon silently pondered on whether or not he would be able to actually ride on Frost's back. He might be too heavy for it, but a smaller person like Arya or Bran would surely be able to. Not that Lady Stark would allow her children to ride on such a wild beast.

 

He slowly walked through Wintertown, as dozens of little children were held back by their mothers to not approach the giant direwolf. The inhabitants of the small Wintertown had gotten used to the sight of the direwolves, yet still most of them remained wary of them.

 

Farther off, outside the streets of Wintertown the rutted kingsroad that vanished, lost amidst the fields and hills and meadows around it, that now just formed one giant mantle of white.

 

A short supply chain was about to enter the castle, bringing bread and meat to stock up on for the rapidly approaching winter. Autumn had arrived, and Winter would soon follow.

 

Jon silently walked through the gates and the godswood, where the white-cloaked trees stood, the earth beneath them turning to mud. The heart tree was in the middle, a pale giant with a carved face with red weirwood sap streaming from its eyes. The eyes through which he had looked so often.

 

He walked on and on, silently taking in the busy castle, as the snows fell softly around him, pale and silent.

 

"Where have you been?" Arya called out angrily, as he entered the training yard. Robb and Greyjoy were hacking at straw dummies, while Arya stood by and watched, obviously annoyed that she couldn't participate under Ser Rodrik's watchful eyes.

 

"In the Wolfswood," Jon stated, as he turned towards her with a small smile.

 

"And where have you been? Aren't you supposed to be with our favorite Septa, learning how to sew?" he continued with a wolfish grin. Arya's Direwolf Nymeria stormed towards Frost and Ghost, as the two of them entered the yard as well.

 

"Fancy sword you got there, Snow," Greyjoy called out, as he moved towards Jon.

 

"Yes, Greyjoy, a sword," Jon shot back. He could see Ramsay stand atop the battlements of the castle nearby, eyeing the scene with interest. "A good sword as well, finely crafted. Quite large as well. Not that you would know anything about large swords."

 

He could see Robb doing his best and failing to suppress his laughter, while Arya looked confused. 

 

"Whatever, Bastard. Show me what you got then."

 

"Fight me? Sure," Jon said with a slight shrug. "I thought you had a little self-respect."

 

"Self-respect?" Theon frowned. "Hollow words. Come. Fight."

 

Theon drew his sword, a somewhat sharp blade of steel, though it seemed like it hadn't been taken care of in some time. The hilt was formed from silver and iron, though rust had started creep over it.

Jon smiled and drew his sword, the ripples of the Valyrian Steel reflecting in the dim light of the reflecting snowflakes.

 

The ancient longsword glittered in the light, earning a few gasps from the guards around them.

 

"Valyrian Steel," Robb exclaimed, stating the obvious. "Where did you get that sword from?"

 

"An old friend..." Jon said, slightly melancholic. "Though I suppose we can talk about this later."

 

"Put that blade away," came Ser Rodrik's command suddenly. His voice was strong, despite his age, echoing through the yard. "I won't have anyone spar with Valyrian Steel in this training yard."

 

"I can take him," Theon all but snarled, raising his sword. 

 

"I won't cut you, Greyjoy. I promise. Or you would probably start crying and run back to the Iron Isl.., Oh wait, there are no Greyjoys left on them."

 

Theon stormed forwards his sword raised, ignoring Ser Rodrik's shouting, but his charge was stopped differently.

 

His sword was old and rusty, part of the blade crumbling. It could have withstood Orphan-maker had it been taken care of, but like this, it was no match for the old sword of House Roxton.

 

Jon's sword sliced clean through the blade, cutting it in two, right through the middle, before Jon tripped Theon, making him tumble to the ground.

It took no more than half-a-dozen seconds until Greyjoy was on the ground, the tip of the Valyrian sword at his throat, his eyes wide and in shock.

 

"Well, that was easy," Jon grinned. He slowly removed the tip of the sword from Greyjoy's throat, as he smiled at the fuming Ser Rodrik.

 

"Teach me how to do that," Arya said in awe, as he moved to stand next to her once more. 

 

"Another time, little wolf," he smiled, as he ruffled her hair.

 

Nobody noticed, how for a split second, his eyes turned as white as the snows on the battlements.

 

"What if there is no later," Arya pouted. "The King comes to Winterfell, father drags me with him to King's Landing and you disappear for another 3 years."

 

"Then starting now won't help you anything either," Jon shrugged. "But for what it's worth I'll try to teach you as soon as I can."

 

"Thank you," Arya said, as she embraced Jon into a tight hug. "But still, why not now? Because of Ser Rodrik? He'll go to meet Father in a few minutes."

 

"Not Ser Rodrik," Jon told her. "Someone else."

 

Arya followed his gaze, which led to Bran, who was climbing a tower, far above them.

 

"Bran?" she asked, just as Bran cried out to them.

 

"They're here!" he shouted. "The King is here!"

 

"How did you-" Arya started, but Jon interrupted her.

 

"I'll tell you soon as well. But for now, I'm afraid you'll have to allow yourself to be clothed in some dress by your mother."

 

"Only if you promise to teach me."

 

"I promise."

 

"Fine then."

 

"Wait, you're really going to wear a dress?" Jon asked, incredulously, not expecting her to be actually serious.

 

"Of course not, idiot."

 

"Idiot?" Jon said with fake hurt. "That hurt a lot, truly." He clutched his chest dramatically. "I'm afraid I won't be able to teach you anymore."

 

Arya only snorted, knowing he wasn't serious about it. Finally, she turned and walked off, ready to steal some breeches from Bran, that she would try to wear during the King's arrival, only to get reprimanded by her mother and start an hour-long discussion about her not wanting to be a lady.

 

The usual.

 

"You've got a lot to tell me, Jon," Robb said finally, as he walked up behind him. He rested an arm on his shoulder, pushing it slightly so that Jon turned to look at him.

 

"What happened to you, while you were gone?"

"I fought. I learned. I returned," Jon said, his voice lost in memories, but still firm. 

 

"I killed and I lived with the wildlings, saw some Children of the Forest. Believe me, they still exist. Their numbers are few, but not non-existent."

His dark grey eyes bored into Tully-blue ones.

 

"I have a choice to make. My life will change from it, and I'll never know if it was the right one."



*



The King rode through the gates of Winterfell atop his giant stallion. The entire Stark family and their household was lined up in the courtyard, while Jon and Ramsay stood on the battlements above them.

 

"Fancy horse," Ramsay remarked. "My bitches would love it, I'm sure."

"I'm sure they would," Jon reaffirmed sarcastically. "As if they wouldn't eat everything that comes between their teeth."

 

"That's what good dogs do."

 

The King was leaner than what Jon remembered from his visions. Where the visions of years past had showed him growing fat, they were now replaced by muscles. Not that it made him any lighter. The horse looked as if it were about to crumble.

 

"I pity the horse. Poor thing. Being eaten by your dogs might be a more merciful fate for it," Jon stated, as they looked on.

 

"Surely."

 

A young boy with black hair rode next to Robert, atop a smaller horse. Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her other two children. The wheelhouse in which they had ridden, a huge double-decked carriage of oiled oak and gilded metal pulled by forty heavy draft horses, was too wide to pass through the castle gate.

 

When Jon and Ramsay turned, they could see the monstrosity standing outside the castle walls.

 

"Who the fuck even came up with that shit," Ramsay muttered silently, as they looked at it.

 

Jon merely shrugged, as he turned to observe the scene in the courtyard once more. It seemed as if Lady Stark had managed to force Arya into a dress, though she wore breaches beneath it regardless. Still, it did not please her well, if the pout on her face was anything to go by.

 

The King first hugged Lord and Lady Stark before looking at each of the Stark children, their wolves next to them.

 

"What are these beasts doing here?" the queen asked her husband, loud enough so that all could hear her. She eyed the not-anymore pups with distrust, as they nibbed at their masters legs.

 

Ramsay looked at him for a moment, a grin on his face. "Do your thing," he commanded, earning a confused look from Jon.

 

"I've seen you control your wolf more often than you could know. Bring him down there," Ramsay demanded, and Jon couldn't help but feel surprised that he liked one of the boy's ideas.

 

It took no more than a second until he felt the phantom sensation of Frost's paws moving over the frozen ground and snow. When he returned to his body shortly after, he could already hear the shouts from the yard below, as the huge direwolf trotted towards the men.

 

"Seven Hells!" the King exclaimed as the grey wolf approached them.

"Tough beast," Ned confirmed. "A Direwolf, the first to be seen south of the wall in a long time. He is the father of the pups."

 

"He's yours?" the King asked Lord Stark. "Wish we would've had one of those when we fought in the Rebellion!" he let out a bellowing laugh.

 

"Those Targaryen cunts would have shat themselves!"

 

"Of course, your Grace," Lord Stark answered, always courteous. "But he's not mine. My son Jon found him, around three years ago. The pups were born just 2 months ago, however."

 

"Your bastard?" the Queen asked incredulously. Jon had decided that he hated her long ago, however seeing her in person was even worse than his first spoons of weirwood paste.

 

"My son."

 

"You allow him to own such a beast? You did not demand that it be given to you?"

 

"A Direwolf is not 'given', your Grace," Lord Stark replied, though there was an edge to his voice and Jon could see a tinge of annoyment in his eyes. "The wolf chose him, so he belongs to him."

 

"And where is that bastard of yours? Did he not see fit to greet his king and queen?"

 

"Oh, shut up, ya blasted woman," Robert exclaimed, making Sansa gasp, Arya smile and the rest look shocked. "We all know that you would have been whining about a bastard standing in your damn presence for the rest of yer miserable life. Now take me to the crypts, Ned. I have yet to pay my respects."

 

Jon and Ramsay laughed at the queen's insulted frown, as Lord Stark led the King to the crypts.

 

Maybe this will still get interesting.



*



The Dragon Empress



"We received a raven from Volantis, Empress Daenerys," Marwyn said, but Daenerys just waved off the titles. It was quite late, the sun had already set on the horizon, so it was mainly the many glass candles that illuminated the streets and rooms.

 

"Stop with the titles, Marwyn, and tell me what was in the letter."

"A summon," Marwyn answered carefully. "By the boy that took Volantis. He calls himself Aegon Targaryen. Your nephew," he said, placing a scroll back onto the table in front of him. It was small, tiny in fact, neatly written and sealed with a 3 headed dragon embedded in a red drop of wax.

 

This incited whispers from the other members of the council, a dozen words being muttered into each other.

 

"Anything else?" Daenerys asked, taking a sip from the glass of wine that was placed in front of her.

 

"It is signed by Jon Connington. An old friend of your brother, as you probably know. They claim to have taken the city."

 

"They did," Daenerys nodded. "I was told. Bloody affair it would seem. But I'm not one to judge."

 

"Jon Connington?" Ser Barristan interrupted. "It is said that he drunk himself to an early grave many years ago. Though those were mostly rumors."

 

"False rumors," Daenerys shrugged. She wore a long Lyseni gown. It was wound around her hips and under an arm and over a shoulder. The soft fabric of the gown was embroidered with bands of gold and glittering diamonds. The seamstresses had made it from the finest silk, with emeralds, rubies and other gemstones of every imaginable color woven into the loose ends of the fabric.

 

"What about the boy, Ser Barristan? Could there be truth to those claims?"

 

"His parentage?" Ser Barristan grumbled. "I saw the boy's head, crushed to pieces when he was smashed against the walls of Maegor's holdfast. Wrapped in Lannister cloaks, so that the crimson color hid the blood that splattered everywhere."

 

"But his head was crushed?" Dany asked. "He was not recognizable?"

Ser Barristan only shook his head.

 

"No. The corpse was mutilated and unrecognizable. It was Ser Gregor's work, as you probably know."

 

"I do..." she paused for a moment. "So there is a possibility that there might be truth to his claims?"

 

"If Jon Connington serves him, it might be true. He was one of the many lordlings that followed your brother Rhaegar like a swarm of insects follows the light. He was a loyal man, loyal only to Rhaegar, almost fanatic at times. He was already a capable man all those years ago, but if he is indeed still alive, he is now a changed man. More dangerous, likely more cunning as well. You ought to respect him, if not fear him."

 

"You can't mean to surrender to... whatever boy that is," Merana spoke up for the first time. "You don't need to, regardless of who his parents may have been."

 

"Never said that I would."

 

She leaned back in her chair and observed the people who sat around the long, oaken table.

 

"It is an insult," Pree nodded. "A show of force may be the way to go. A way to show your power, to distinguish yourself as an equal, if not superior."

 

There was nothing more to be said for a while. Daenerys set her lips into a line and considered it. There is merit to the idea.

 

Allowing herself to be ordered around by a boy with a few thousand men at his back would show weakness. It might embolden others to try the same.

 

Missandei and Marwyn had built up a network of spies with time, all across Essos and parts of Westeros, that she now hoped to use.

She gave the two a nod. "What do your spies say about this... Aegon?"

Marwyn pursed his fatty lips, then spoke. “They have been sending lots of news recently, especially those in Volantis. It is commonly said by them, that Aegon is young, supposedly brave, and seemingly fair, but also at times naive and headstrong. He leads an army of mercenaries, the Golden Company and it seems other sellswords might join him soon. The Stormcrows, Windblown, and Second Sons have all distinguished themselves as potential allies to this boy. He styles himself the King of Volantis."

 

"How did they sack the city?" Daenerys asked. "The walls of Volantis have never fallen easily, only to the power of the dragons did they bow."

"Treachery," Missandei stated, her voice sweet yet strong. "The Golden Company was hired by the masters of Volantis to defend the city against a horselord named Khal Drogo. Once they were inside the city, they turned on them."

 

"Foul Treachery," Ser Barristan shook his head. "I have seen enough battles, to know that battles are always filled with it. Lords fleeing when it is essential to charge, others stabbing their liege's in the back, so they might be rewarded by whoever might succeed them. But it is vile nonetheless."

 

A servant that entered the room to clean up and refill Daenerys's wine. Daenerys quickly gulped down the wine, before it was refilled. She carefully wiped her mouth, before she spoke.

 

"I shall go there," Daenerys declared. "With my dragons behind me. Find out the truth about this supposed dragon and then return. Be ready for whatever might happen. Keep the Unsullied ready and trained, prepare to draw legions from Slaver's Bay if necessary. Tomorrow at dawn, I will leave. If you don't hear from me within the sennight, consider this a war."

 

"Your Grace, please," Ser Barristan all but stuttered. "I must protest this decision. Go there by boat and allow me and your other guards to accompany you. Do not go into such danger alone. Your dragons are powerful, but they can't protect you from daggers in the dark."

 

"I won't be alone," Daenerys stated matter-of-factly. The huge she-hellhound that was Shadow, approached from behind her. She had grown huge over the past years, so much that when Daenerys sat down, the hound could comfortably rest her head on hers. And even if she stood, it was close.

 

"Shadow will be coming with me. Let them try to fight her."

 

"She won't be always there."

 

"I can handle myself."

 

"I know you can, your Grace, I have seen you fight myself often enough. But when Daemon Blackfyre fell on the Redgrass Field, it wasn't because his opponent was a better fighter. Daemon was the finest swordsman in the realm, but when Bloodraven sent a dozen arrows through him, all his swordsmanship couldn't protect him."

 

"It is my decision, Ser," Daenerys replied, a bit of an edge in her voice.

"I appreciate your concern for my safety," she then added a bit more softly. "But this is what I will do."

 

Ser Barristan only nodded, accepting her decision. Merana looked displeased but kept silent as well.

 

"At dawn," she declared. "Let's find out the truth."

 

She left her advisors behind and left the room, with Shadow trailing silently behind her, to guard her as she got a good night of sleep before the long flight on the morrow.

 

At least that's what she had hoped, but when she fell asleep she came face to face with a very familiar red mask.

 

*

 

Quaithe's red mask appeared slowly before her, dark mist surrounding her as she spoke and walked. Her form was veiled in the same smoke and fog as Bloodstone, with shadows accompanying her every step.

 

"Daenerys Targaryen," she muttered silently, as Daenerys stood before her. The two of them stood atop a giant mansion, with hundreds of thousands of houses beneath them, the streets twisting and turning, forming an endless web of roads.

 

Still, the streets were completely abandoned. The city was built entirely of the same, oily black stone, in blocks so large it would require a dozen elephants to move them. It looked as if it had remained in desolation for many thousands of years, yet the jungle surrounding it had scarcely ever touched it. Wildlife bloomed around it, so many plants and animals that Daenerys could not hope to name even half of them, but not a single flower bloomed inside the city walls.

 

"Why are you here, Shiera," Daenerys demanded. "I told you I never wanted to hear from you again and I meant it. If I could kill you here and now, I would."

 

The older woman, however, looked unimpressed, something Dany was entirely unused to.

 

"I came here to warn you, Daenerys Stormborn. You might hate me, but I do not hate you, nor ever will. Threats are arising to your freshly forged empire."

 

"Speak your words and leave, Shiera," Daenerys shot back. "Whatever threats there are, I will defeat them. My empire has stood for years now and it will continue to stand."

 

"Years are not enough for stability, you know that," Shiera sighed, her dark brown, almost black eyes behind the mask shone with a sad tinge. Wrong eyes. "The Great Empire of the Dawn stood for millennia, yet it fell all the same. You should know, Asshai was its capital."

 

"I remember."

 

"Listen to me now, Daenerys. Threats are here, more threats will come. A dragon and his gryffin, the children of summer and the children of winter, a crow's fallen apprentice, and the tides of Winter. Dragons of red, dragons of black, the mind of a lion. Treat carefully around the many-colored gemstones. Amethysts, black diamonds, emeralds, green pearls, jade, jet, onyx, opals, rubies and sapphires, light-blue winter diamonds and tourmaline... their beauty is unmatched but also blinding. Beware all and trust none, for betrayal is always present."

 

"Is that why you came here, Shiera? To warn me about not trusting anyone? The only one to ever prove himself unworthy of my trust is you."

 

"I did what was best for you if you see it or not. Where would you be today, had I not done what I'd done? There are millions of possibilities and I doubt there are more than a dozen that are preferable to this version."

 

"And a million in which I could have kept my brother."

 

"Is that truly all you desire, Daenerys?" Shiera asked, her voice a sweet melody. But Daenerys only laughed bitterly.

 

"It is. A family is what I have always wanted, but what I could never have. All the kingdoms of this world can not give you happiness."

 

"Then tell me, Empress Daenerys Targaryen, bride of shadows and daughter of fire. If you were the little girl in the house in Braavos again. All your powers lost, with only the knowledge that if you let that house burn, you will become what you are today. Would you prevent it?"

 

When Daenerys remained silent, she continued.

 

"You yearn for family and trust, but you love your power even more. The feeling when you ride atop your dragons, the power of their flames, consuming all who dare to challenge you."

 

Her dark eyes were piercing behind the red mask, as she stared at her intensely.

 

"Do not speak, as if you knew me, Shiera Seastar," Daenerys finally replied. "You know nothing about me, not what I feel, not what I think, not what I intend to do."

 

"I know you better than anyone else, Daenerys. I've seen you grow up, it was me who raised you. I know exactly, what you are going to do. I know you are going to challenge your current bonds, I know you will continue to push forwards, testing more and more how far you can go, what else you can conquer. You will challenge the rest of the Free Cities. You will challenge Dorne, followed by Highgarden and Storm‘s End. And Casterly Rock, and the Vale, and Riverrun, Winterfell, King’s Landing, Oldtown altogether. You didn’t get to where you are now, by hugging your elders and staying in safety. So either someone will eventually end your conquest by ending you, or you will never stop. Nothing but death could stop you, as this is what I taught you. Whether you win or lose your battles is of no concern, because regardless, you will be there, challenging whoever happens to be blocking your empire’s expansion."

 

She sighed slightly before looking her dead in the eyes. 

 

"This is inevitable. This is you. This is Daenerys Targaryen. This is what I taught you and you should be proud of it. You have turned towards peace lately. Remember who you are. To go forwards, you must first go back. Look back, remember who you truly are. You are Fire and Blood. You are a dragon, Daenerys. Be a dragon."

 

Slowly, Shiera extended her bare hand to Daenerys, soft and inviting. 

 

Daenerys stared at her for what seemed to be an eternity, conflicted in her decision until finally, she grasped it.



Chapter Text

The Dwarf of Casterly Rock

 

The King's welcoming feast was roaring inside the Great Hall, the sounds of music and song spilling through the open doors and windows into the outside yard.

 

The Bastard of Winterfell sat silently atop a stump of wood, observing the area in silence. It was quiet and empty. A few guardsmen patrolled the keep atop the battlements, huddled in their clothes looking miserable and bored.

 

Most of them shot glances towards the Great Hall from time to time, clearly wishing they were amongst the feasting men. 

 

An atmosphere of silence lingered above Winterfell, as no sound but the faint music and laughs of the feast reached the outside. Snow was falling softly atop the battlements, creating a coat of white.

 

"Boy," Tyrion called out to him, making the bastard turn towards him.

 

The boy's wolf had grown famous since their arrival, the giant direwolf being not something one could see in the south.

 

"Lannister," the boy greeted curtly, his voice even. "You aren't at the feast," he stated, looking at him questioningly. "Why?"

 

"Too hot, too noisy and I drank far to much wine," Tyrion told him. "I don't know much about the etiquette of the north, but in the south, it is considered rude to vomit over your host's clothes."

 

A hint of a smile showed on the boy's face. "It is here as well, though I suspect not quite as frowned upon like in the south. The Umber's say it is not a feast until you vomit."

 

"Then maybe I should abandon the south and live with the Umbers," Tyrion mused out loud. "While my father does hold quite some love for wine, the vomiting part is not quite his conception of a feast I'm afraid."  

 

"Magnificent creature," Tyrion said, as the giant wolf moved closer towards them, his pale blue eyes shining in the white snow. A small pup with dark red eyes trailed behind the larger wolf, nuzzling his flank.

 

"They are," Jon confirmed. "Frost, come here," the Bastard of Winterfell called out to the giant wolf.

 

It had to be well-trained, for the giant predator immediately obeyed, padding closer to the two of them and even nuzzling at the boy's face.

 

"You can pet him if you like," Jon offered, as the wolf stared at Tyrion, without the slightest movement.

 

Like a predator stalking his prey.

 

Slowly, Tyrion approached the wolf, his hand extended forwards. Finally, his hand made contact with the wolf's surprisingly soft fur. 

 

"Beautiful," Tyrion repeated.

 

The wolf was far larger than him, even when he stood, the wolf's head loomed over him, his eyes and head diverted downwards.

 

"A dangerous beast in the wild," Jon added. "As I'm sure you can imagine. Perhaps even a worthy foe for a lion?"

 

"Dangerous they are," Tyrion murmured, as he retracted his hand again. "Just how did you come to control him? The stark children's wolf's are all far younger."

 

"They are Frost's pups," the boy replied. "It was explained when the royal entourage arrived, yet I seem to recall you were absent?"

 

"Testing out the brothel's," Tyrion smiled. He was coming to enjoy the boy's company, he certainly was an intriguing person.

 

"Still, the question remains, how did a Stark bastard come to raise a direwolf?"

 

The boy flinched slightly at the mention of his status. Most people would have missed it, but years in King's Landing and Casterly Rock had taught Tyrion to pay close attention to the signals a person's body omitted.

 

“Did I offend you?” he asked, though he was unable to keep a slight mocking tone from his voice. “Sorry, us dwarfs don't quite know our manners. Generations of capering fools in motley have won me the right to dress badly and say any damn thing that comes into my head."

 

"It is what I am," the boy, however, replied nonchalantly, his voice once more perfectly even. "And you are Tywin Lannister's dwarf. I do suppose we both hold around the same place in our family's hierarchy."

 

For a moment, Tyrion could feel anger well up in him, even if it was only the truth, that the boy spoke.

 

My my, he certainly has a bastard's tongue.

 

"I remain the heir to Casterly Rock," Tyrion replied. "What are you set to inherit?"

 

"Nothing, just like you. Your father will give the castle to Tommen or even Myrcella, his brother, or his brother's children, long before you inherit it."

 

Again, his voice rang with truth, yet Tyrion couldn't help but be annoyed with him.

 

"What do you know about my father? I doubt you ever met him."

 

"You're a capable man, Lannister," the boy replied, as he pulled out a flask of northern ale. "A small man can cast a very large shadow after all, but your father's admiration, you have not."

 

For a moment, Tyrion was silent, finding himself at a loss for words. The bastard had done what dozens of others had failed to do, have Tyrion Lannister struck silent.

 

Who is he? Where did he come from? What does he want?

 

Jon Snow was a name, Tyrion certainly wouldn't forget for quite some time.

 

*

 

The Dreamer

 

The dwarf went silent, as Jon quickly left towards his quarters inside the servant wing of the castle. He could feel his power rise, his power stretch out. The empty corridors of Winterfell created an unsettling atmosphere, the only sound that could be heard within the dim corridors was the quiet flickering of the fading candles and the far, distant sounds of laughs that echoed from the Great Hall.

 

A thousand invisible tentacles around him, soaking up the power of all living beings. He saw a thousand things at once, Winterfell from the eyes of a raven that flew above them, a wolf in the Wolfswood, Frost, and Ghost as they roamed around the castle.

 

He saw the crypts from the eyes of a bat, the Broken Tower, the library, the family wing of the castle, the Great Hall where the King was laughing with Lord Stark, Wintertown, Castle Black, the Nightfort, the Godswood.

 

His vision blurred, as the thousands and thousands of images blurred together, blending into each other, merging and molding.

 

He could hear the cracking of wings, louder than thunder as blue mist surrounded him. He traced his hand along his eye, only to find the scar missing. Where the skin had once been rough and pale, it was now normal again, any trace of the scar gone. It's just a dream

 

A dark dragon soared above, his eyes glowing in a bright purple, but when Jon moved closer, it disappeared once more.

 

The clapping of wings still grew ever louder, the world twisting and turning, as a crow with one black eye appeared from the fog. A crow with 3 eyes stared at the smaller crow with scorn, as the black-eyed-crow caved loudly.

 

The black eye was shining with malice and madness, trails of blood running through it like roots through the dirt.

 

The smaller crow stretched his wings to fly, but it couldn't. It jumped from a tower and flapped and flapped, it's wings beating helplessly as it fell towards the ground.

 

It's screams, mixed with cackling laughter echoed in the darkness, as they sound grew faint and distant, losing itself in the distance, until only darkness remained.

 

Then white

 

Pure white

 

The white of snow

 

He looked around, to find himself lying in a heap of snow.

 

Where am I?

 

He saw seals and sea cows swim in the frozen water to his right, the sea teeming with fish aplenty.

 

Hardhome he recognized quickly, as he took in his surroundings.

 

A thousand shadows stood around him, shapeless figures veiled in pure white mist, only their glowing blue eyes visible.

 

The figures took form as the approached him, their faces empty and cold. 

 

He could see two of the Thenns he had killed on their way to the cave of the three-eyed-raven. The black brother who Ramsay had killed at the Nightfort and another he had kept as Reek to reopen the gate at their return were there as well, both bearing bloody cuts along their throat.

 

They stared at him, calm but judgingly, their faces grim and distant.

 

A thousand more figures rose around him, breaking through the layers of snow and clawing and chewing their way to the top from beneath the snow, where they had laid buried.

 

Jon could see men wearing black cloaks and those wearing the white furs of the wildlings. He recognized many of their faces, the Weeper and the Giantsbane, Mance Rayder and Val and Dalla, Varamyr Sixskins along with his bear and wolves and Shadowcat and stag, the Magnar of Thenn whose name was Styr and Orell with his eagle soring above.

 

All their eyes were pale and blue, their skin as cold as Ice, their demeanor empty. Thousand more figures followed behind them, each of them wildlings, but they were nameless people to Jon. 

 

A woman with a thick, shaggy mop of curly bright red hair, a round face, crooked white teeth, small hands, and a pug nose stood at the front, her blue eyes staring at Jon.

 

All of them were men and women he had seen die. He could have helped them, tried to save them, but he had not done so.

 

So many corpses...

 

A hundred more corpses rose from the snows around him, more and more dead men crawling around him.

 

But this time he knew them. He saw Ramsay, his face twisted and pale, angered and bruised, but no sound came from his pale lips.

 

He saw Sansa and Arya, Lord Stark and Robb, Lady Catelyn, and a similar-looking girl who had to be her sister. The king and his queen were next, the royal children and the kingslayer rising around them, their movements slow and sluggish.

 

A slender and pale man stood next to them, his skin pasty and his chest pallid, with short, strong fingers and leeches clinging to his hairless chest. 

 

All of their eyes were piercing blue and haunting

 

The scene blurred, as he found himself inside a dark castle, dim, and only lit by a few candles. 

 

"You will leave for Winterfell on the morrow," the pale Leech Lord commanded his eyes now a strange color, paler than stone and darker than milk like two white moons.

 

A small boy stood before him, his eyes different from the leech lord. They were pale and blue, the same as Ramsay's.

 

He remained silent, his eyes averted to the ground. "I don't want to," the young boy replied firmly nonetheless, his eyes turning upwards to meet the ghost grey orbs of the pale lord. There was an agelessness about him, a stillness; on the lord's face, rage and joy looked much the same.

 

"You will," came the short reply. "Your presence has been demanded at Winterfell and I won't anger the Stark's before the time has come. Not pack your stuff or I will make you regret the day I raped your mother."

 

"JON!" a voice shook him from his trance. He didn't gasp as he returned to the present. He had experienced this often when he was in the cave with Brynden. At first, he had taken minutes, even hours to reign himself back in, to regain control over his limbs, but with time he barely flinched, when he returned into his usual skin.

 

"What happened to you?" A female voice asked carefully, her voice frightened. It sounded like a little girl, though Jon knew better the moment he heard her.

 

"Lady Stark," he greeted, as he continued staring at the ceiling above his bed. His muscles continued to twitch and shudder until finally, he reigned himself in.

 

"What was that? What just happened with you?" the Lady of Winterfell asked, her voice shocked and barely above a whisper.

 

"What did it look like?" Jon simply asked, ignoring all courtesies and formalities. Regardless, it seemed as if Lady Catelyn did not care about it for once.

 

"Your eyes... they were pure white... you shuddered and... screamed."

 

"And you were standing outside my chambers and heard me?"

 

"No, I..." Jon could see her visibly swallow. "Well, yes, I... wanted to talk to you."

 

It took a short moment before Jon realized why she wanted to do so.

 

"Ah."

 

"Ah?"

 

"Lord Stark finally told you?"

 

"He did."

 

Lady Catelyn quickly shot a glance to where Orphan-Maker was sheathed.

 

"Where did you get the sword from?" she asked after a short silence, nodding towards the Valyrian longsword. "Such swords are rare, the Maesters say less than three hundred remain to be found in Westeros."

 

"Small talk then?" Jon shrugged. "Fine by me. Truth be told, there are far fewer swords than that. Officially there are three hundred, but most are long lost, like Dark Sister or Blackfyre ."

 

He nodded towards Orphan-Maker. "This is one of them. Orphan-Maker, it is called and once belonged to House Roxton. It was lost many years ago, and eventually found its way north of the wall, due to Lord Bloodraven taking it as his own."

 

"That's... very interesting," Lady Catelyn stated slowly. "But it is not what I came here for. Ned told me the truth last night, so I wanted to speak to you-"

 

"-to find out if I am a threat to your children? No."

 

He slowly stood up and walked towards a small desk, where a flagon of ale was located.

 

"You should consider yourself lucky I am not Ramsay," he stated, as he took a sip from the northern drink. "Or I would have rebelled long ago. But rest assured, that the only thing I am currently interested in stealing from Robb is his dessert."

 

"One thing I am indeed grateful for," Lady Stark muttered. "What do you intend to do now?" she finally asked. "And you still didn't answer my question of what just happened to you."

 

"I was warging," Jon shrugged. "Skinchanging."

 

He could see the Lady's eyes widen, as she understood the implication in his words. "As for what I intend to do now..." he continued, ignoring her confused look.

 

Any more gaping and she might become a true trout.

 

"I intend to visit my uncle Aemon at the wall."

 

"And after that?"

 

"East, I think. I might seek out my aunt. She is currently flying towards Volantis, mayhaps she will stay there for some time. And should she decide to turn her attention west, I might be able to convince her to not burn every Stark she sees."

 

"I..." Lady Catelyn started, though the words did not seem to quite leave her lips.

 

Go on.

 

"Go on," Jon stated slowly. "I still have a headache, my raven's in Essos are difficult to control from so far away. I am in no mood to guess."

 

"Nothing... just..." She released a breath, her dark blue eyes meeting his grey one. "I'm sorry. For how I treated you."

 

So that's it. The apology stuck in her throat, the words raw and doubtful as if she had never spoken them before.

 

"I accept your apology. It is forgiven but never forgotten. I will leave tomorrow and we will likely never see each other again. But I will never be far. If you need me, go to a weirwood tree and whisper my name. I will be there. Listening. Waiting."

 

The Lady of Winterfell nodded curtly, seemingly accepting the powers he had just told her about, and moved towards the door.

 

"Goodbye, Jaehaerys Targaryen."

 

"Only Jon. Jon Snow."

 

"Then farewell, Lord Snow."

 

"And you, Lady Stark," he said pausing a moment. "I wish you good fortune in the wars to come."

 

"I wish you the same. May we never need it."

 

"May we never indeed."

 

Blue eyes. They're coming closer.

 

*

 

The Dragon King

 

Servants were positioned all over the old room, holding wine, ale, the volantene honeyjuice, and other liquors. A last of the masters were rounded up in the rooms, with guards and soldiers of the Company on each side of them, guarding them so they would not dare to flee.

 

Magisters and other noblemen had traveled to Volantis as well to swear their allegiance or make promises that they could not deliver. Hopeless attempts to gain the ear and support of the new king that had arisen in the east. A hundred noblemen and no more than a dozen of the remaining masters, that had been proven to have treated their slaves fairly and with kindness, were rounded up before him. 

 

He sat on his throne, a seat of pure gold, that the smiths of the Golden Company had forged of the golden jewelry, that had once belonged to the Masters of Volantis. Still, for all the glamour, they had grave need of the magisters in these hours. The food had been poisoned with greyscale, and many were forced to go hungry. Something that only served to infuriate the people of Volantis further.

 

The fat Magister of Pentos, Illyrio Mopathis was his name, strode forwards, and spoke. "We have come, my king."

 

"You have," Aegon confirmed. "I never truly had the opportunity to thank you, Magister Illyrio. I was informed that you worked closely with the Spider, to get me out of King's Landing safely."

 

"I did," the fat Magister nodded. "I provided the ships and men he required for the task, my king. And seeing you here is so very worth it."

 

"You ensured I lived to this day. A greater gift could not be given. I am a king and I shall reign over more than just Volantis. A King does not forget his friends and his enemies much less. Nor will he fail to reward those who supported him."

 

A toothy, yellow grin appeared on the magisters face, as his face twisted into a smile. The morbidly obese man showed his wealth for all the world to see. Gemstone rings of many different colors adorned his fingers, including amethysts, black diamonds, emeralds, green pearls, jade, jet, onyx, opals, rubies, and sapphires, light-blue winter diamonds and tourmaline.

 

"It may be a gift of unmatched greatness," the pentoshi cheesemonger started, "But there is another one I hope to bestow on you. A gift for your cause, my king. A symbol of legitimacy."

 

The fat man nodded to a servant behind him, who brought forth a long, black box, adorned with rubies and gold. When the magister's fatty fingers carefully opened the box, for a moment, Aegon was blinded.

He was holding his court in one of the palaces, with the roof opening to let the sun enter. 

 

When the light hit the object inside the box, it gleamed with such intensity, that for a moment Aegon feared he would go blind.

 

But a moment later, when the object was moved so that it no longer blinded him, Aegon could see what the object was. It was a sword, a hand-and-a-half longsword of Valyrian Steel.

 

But it wasn't just a sword

 

A huge ruby, the size of an apple rested in the middle of the pommel, with dark, fused metal forming the hilt. Two small dragons had been carved into each end of the crossguard, their mouths open and screeching at whatever enemy might approach

 

It took no more than a second until Aegon knew what he was seeing. The sword before him was the ancestral sword of House Targaryen, once wielded by Aegon the Conqueror himself. It was Blackfyre.

 

The sword that had brought peace and unity to the Seven Kingdoms when the First Aegon wielded it, and death and destruction when Daemon Blackfyre did.

 

"I thank you for this gift, Magister Illyrio," Aegon finally said, when he gathered himself. "Still, I must ask you this: How did you come into possession of Blackfyre? It hasn't been seen in more than a century."

 

"Unseen by the men of the west, but known to the noblemen of the east," Illyrio replied smoothly. "Lost from the Golden Company years ago, not long after the Redgrass Field," he started, giving Harry Strickland a pointed look. "But was swiftly recovered by a merchant. It has seen few owners, as those who came into its possession never gave it away easily. It changed hands just a few times, until my money and Varys pieces of information, finally found their way towards it, eventually retrieving it."

 

"Your gift is very much appreciated, Magister Illyrio," Aegon said loudly. "Ask for whatever boon you wish and if it is within my power, it shall be granted."

 

"I ask for no more than to see you sit on the Iron Throne. Such is the only boon I require." This struck Aegon as odd. The Magister was many things, good things, and bad things, but above all, he was a greedy person. One did not simply become the wealthiest man in Pentos. It was earned through ruthlessness, cunning, and most importantly greed. That he would not ask for anything was certainly confusing.

 

For a moment, he did not know what to do next, until Jon leaned down beside him. "The oaths," he whispered.

 

"I will have your oaths of fealty now," Aegon loudly declared. "All of you, who stand before me will swear their oaths before the sun sets." He looked pointedly at the remaining masters. "A failure to do so will be considered treason and will be met with a fitting sentence."

 

One by one, the masters and magisters stepped forwards, bowing and reciting the same oath. The Essosi oaths were different from those sworn in the west, but Aegon accepted them all the same.

 

"By the R'hllor and the Black Goat, the Great Shepherd and the horse god, the Lion of Night and the Many-Faced God, the Silent God and the Lady of Spears, I swear this oath. I will be faithful and true to your cause, and love all that you love, and shun all that you shun. I shall grant my support when required and swear that I shall never, by will nor by force, by word nor by work, do ought of what is loathful to his Grace."

 

"And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth, and meat and mead at my table. And I pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonor. I swear it by the Old Gods and the New. Arise," Aegon replied, using the common oath of the Westerosi. At first, this earned him confusion, but the men got used to it quite quickly.

 

This went on and on, until shortly after the sun had set and candles and stars began to Illuminate the rooms and streets.

 

Until suddenly, the stars disappeared, dipping the eastern part of the city, Old Volantis, in complete darkness. When Aegon looked up through the open room, suspecting it to be a cloud, his heart nearly stopped.

 

A childlike joy started to fill him, as 3 great dragons sailed above the city, darkening the sky. 

 

3 Dragons circled the city, one was midnight black, another a mossy green and the third dragon's scales were cream and gold-colored.

 

For a moment he was awestruck, unable to move or think as the beasts of legends appeared before him in all their glory. He had learned a lot of them, he knew their names Rhaellion, Rhaegal, and Viserion. He had read about everything they did in the newly named Bay of Dragons. Every battle they fought, every man they had killed.

 

But seeing them here before him was another thing entirely.

 

Only then, did the largest of the three let out an ear-shattering roar, that echoed across the entire city.

 

She's here.

 

*

 

The Mother of Dragons

 

Daenerys clung onto Rhaellion's back, as her largest child circled in the air above the city. To the west, she could see the Disputed Lands stretch out for hundreds of leagues, with the Rhoyne flowing freely through the city. 

Further south laid the lands of Volon Therys and the open grasslands of the Dothraki Sea. There, she could see a sea of tents that seemed to span out for leagues. It was too dark to recognize more, or who lived in them.

A camp for refugees of the city maybe?

 

The Long Bridge of Volantis reached over the mouth of the Rhoyne, joining the two halves of Volantis. It was a great span with a fused stone road, supported by massive piers and stood inside the water. 

 

From her history lessons with Marwyn, she knew that the bridge had been built under the Triarch Vhalaso, shortly before the end of the Rhoynish Wars.

 

A hundred shops and houses stood atop the Long Bridge, but even from high above them, she could see that the houses were burned and looted, as was most of the city. 

 

The monstrous Black Walls loomed over the eastern side of the city, where the fires had been even worse. The entire area around the Black Walls was complete and utterly destroyed, with only burned rubble and blackened ruins remaining of the houses that had once stood there. The Black Walls had been breached, as a part of them had collapsed near the epicenter of the destruction.

 

There, a small crater showed, right where the Black Wall had collapsed.

Viserion and Rhaegal circled her, diving down and flying just a few feet over the ground, while Rhaellion remained a bit more careful, observing the area silently before letting out a roar to announce his presence, so loud that Dany had to cover her ears.

 

Shadow was right behind her, whining slightly at the roar. The hellhound was secured to the saddle as well, with a few straps holding her body to the saddle, right behind Daenerys herself. 

 

She had arranged this so that the hound's sensitive ears would at least be slightly protected from the wind that howled in her ears during the journey. The dragons might have been her children, but she had come to care for the giant wolf-like hound just as much, if not more. 

 

Shadow was a dozen times stronger than her, but still not the slightest match for a dragon. Dany suspected, that it had been this, that had made her bond a bit more closely with her. The dragons obeyed her and returned her affections, but they didn't truly need her. Shadow, however, when she had found her, had been entirely vulnerable, even more so than the baby dragons.

 

She carefully circled above the city, searching for a safe place to land. The destruction of the previous battle was now in full display, with black scorch marks all over the city and the dark-red color of blood darkening the white marble floor inside the Black Walls.

 

When Rhaellion flew deeper, close to the ground she could even make out the burned remains of what had once been bones. A blackened ribcage stuck out from a pile of rubble, where a stair had once led to what seemed to have been a wine-cellar.

 

The dragons slowly started to descend into an open space inside the Black Walls. The courtyard where they were attempting to land was huge, but not nearly enough to host the 3 dragons. 

 

Rhaellion landed in the middle, tearing down a fountain and multiple trees while doing so. He almost got impatient at one point and would have burned the trees around him to cinders to make it easier to land, but a quick mental command from Dany stopped him.

 

The other two dragons remained in the air while watching Rhaellion closely.

 

They often underestimate their size Daenerys mused. During the time on Bloodstone, she had often observed how they would accidentally tear down trees and rocks while attempting to land somewhere.

 

Shouts echoed all over the city and especially inside the Black Walls, as Rhaellion lowered his shoulder to ease her descent from his back. 

Daenerys still wasn't entirely sure of the dragon's gender, as they seemed to be able to change it as often as they pleased.

 

The shouts and screams seemed to become less and less, as at least a hundred men of the Golden Company poured from the buildings around her, their speers and swords ready.

 

*

 

The Old Griffin

 

The moment, the dragons roared from above them, the former Lord of Griffin's Roost immediately jumped up from his seat and followed Aegon outside.

 

To say that he was nervous, would be an understatement. Years and years of work, from the very beginning when Lord Varys had approached him with the task to raise Aegon, had led up to this. The following hours might very well decide if the war for the Iron Throne would be won or lost

 

Would Rhaegar's sister submit to Aegon or prove herself a threat?

 

Directly after the taking of Volantis, Aegon had insisted on sending out a summon to his aunt on Bloodstone, demanding her presence at Volantis.

 

Jon had protested at first, as it might seem hostile, but he had agreed after a while. Showing Aegon's superiority would be necessary.

 

But still, to some extent, he had hoped that she would not answer. That she would stay entirely away from this conflict. That she would remain in her Eastern Empire and continue to rule there, without interfering in westerosi affairs. 

 

She was a wildcard in this conflict. Soldiers and their commanders were common enemies, predictable and their ways and natures, but dragons were another matter entirely.

 

He had hoped she would never leave Bloodstone again, but now she was here, with all three dragons circling above them.

 

"Men of the Golden Company!" he barked. "Get outside!"

 

The men obeyed and quickly shuffled away to meet the Dragon Empress in the courtyard, where already the giant black beast lowered his shoulder for her to dismount.

 

A giant wolf - no, it was her hellhound - dismounted right afterward. 

 

Rhaegar's sister wasn't a tall person, she had a petite frame and could be no taller than Aegon had been 2 years ago. Still, the beast was an impressive size. It loomed behind her, his deep red eyes boring into the men of the Golden Company.

 

Ironically, it had been the Hellhound that had become known as the Black Dread during her conquest of Slaver's Bay, not her largest dragon. The beast had killed more men than even the oldest veterans of the Golden Company.

 

Aegon carefully walked forwards, Blackfyre strapped to his hip. His silver hair seemed to glow in the moonlight of the clear evening, his purple eyes so unlike those of Rhaegar, yet so similar in other ways. The way they seemed to light up when he smiled, how they seemed to drift away when the king was in a melancholic mood. Dressed in a red and black gown, adorned with gold and rubies, as well as an exquisite golden crown resting on his head, Aegon looked every inch like the king he was.

 

As he slowly moved forwards, the other dragons lowered their heads, their huge faces staring at him threateningly. 

 

A show of force if he had ever seen one. The girl wore a gown of black and purple, which she had seemed to take as her colors, and not the typical red and black that Aegon wore. Her dress was rather simple, with a band of leather that ran over her shoulders and stomach, holding the purple gown beneath in place. She wore a dress, but beneath it breeches what seemed logical to Jon, given the fact that she had been flying on a dragon.

 

He already knew that this would be difficult. She was certainly not a meek girl, one that saw herself as more than a price to be paraded around by a husband or to be traded away. But she would have to do her duty. She would have to see reason.

 

As Aegon approached her, the girl offered a polite smile, dropping in a barely noticeable curtsey.

 

At least she knows her manners.

 

The dragons snarled loudly at the men of the Company, who by Jon's impression seemed to be on the verge of shitting themselves. Still, he couldn't blame them. Coming face to face with all 3 of Daenerys Targaryen's famed Dragons and her hellhound-beast at the same time, especially with them snarling at you, was not something a man could take easily.

 

Doubts started to fill him for the first time, as he looked upon the woman before him. Targaryens either leaned towards greatness or madness, a coinflip many said, but even those whose coin had landed on the right side, were nothing if not proud.

 

A slight had often been answered with fire and blood, and insult with a swift death.

 

And Rhaegar's sister would likely be the worst of them all. Pride and arrogance were what had been the defining character-traits of most Dragonriders, the power of their mounts giving them a feeling of superiority over everyone else.

 

And she had not only hatched a dragon, she had brought them back to the world, and not one but three of them. She had likely been filled with this typical pride from the very moment she hatched them.

 

Aegon took another step forwards, making the giant hellhound behind his aunt snarl loudly. It crouched down, seemingly ready to leap forwards, but Jon knew animals well enough, to know it was just a threat.

 

Others didn't.

 

Immediately a dozen men drew their swords in defense of their king. It would have been an admirable gesture if it didn't make everything a dozen times harder. Still, he had to admire their courage to do so, even with the threat of Dragonfire right in front of them.

 

Jon himself moved closer, just as within the fracture of a second, a sword materialized inside the girl's hands.

 

Dark Sister he recognized immediately. It had been rumored for some time, that the sword was in the girl's possession.

 

"What is this?" Aegon asked in a commanding tone, gazing fiercely into those vivid, purple eyes that seemed to shine with the power of a roaring fire. With the blade in her right hand and a small flame flickering in her left hand, her slender form glowed brilliantly in the darkness of the city, shining unnaturally with the flowing energy of unknown powers that filled her body.

 

Once again, this did nothing to soothe the old Griffin's nerves.

 

A tiny smirk drew across Daenerys's dark lips, as she straightened herself and cocked her head.

 

For a moment, Jon took a moment to admire the young girl's looks. He let his gaze trail from ankle to head, examining the woman's hourglass curves intently. She really was an extravagant beauty, just as rumors foretold, though her false smile and cold, even dangerous eyes slightly disturbed that grace. Still, she had all the features that other men would appreciate in a woman. Not me though. There has only ever been one person for me.

 

Maybe it would be better for Aegon to marry her, a way to satisfy her lust for power. But then again, it might make her lust for power even more than before, finding ways to overrule Aegon or even have him killed once she had given him an heir and secured her rule.

 

"Put down those weapons," the young girl commanded, power resonating in her every word. Still, despite the power that echoed within them, her voice was sweet and tender, almost seductively. "You called me here for negotiations, did you not? It would be a shame to have them end here and now."

 

As if to prove her words, the black dragon raised his head into the night sky and roared, before turning back to the men before him. Even from where Jon stood, he could see fire form in the back of the beast's throat. 

 

Aegon gave a curt nod to the men, signaling them to lower their swords, but it was quite apparent, that they would have done so regardless of what he would have commanded.

 

"I am Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell. King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men. Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. The Last Dragon," he added and for a short moment, Jon could see the girl's eyes spark, though if it was amusement or anger he could not tell.

 

"Dragon?" she asked, though the slight smile never seemed to leave her face. "Dragon you call yourself? Because there is a 3 headed dragon engraved in your armor and sown into your gowns?" She chuckled slightly, a sweet sound, before pointing towards the midnight-colored dragon.

 

"That is a dragon."

 

For a moment Aegon remained silent, seemingly not knowing how to answer.

 

Rhaegar's sister continued quickly, not allowing him any time to gather himself. "I have had a hundred titles. Mhysa, the Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, Bride of fire, Bride of shadows, Daughter of death, Slayer of lies, the Dark Sovereign, and the Butcherer of Astapor after what I did there."

 

She made a short pause.

 

"False Kings cower behind false crowns and titles. A true monarch takes what he wants. Are you a true king, Aegon Targaryen?" Her eyes seemed full of lust, something the king seemed to have taken notice of as well.

 

But while the young king could not take his eyes off her, Connington looked more closely. Her face was relaxed, her voice sweet, but when she smiled, her eyes did not.

 

Careful Aegon, there's more than sweet words to her.

 

Aegon stared back at her, boldly but not without fear. Jon knew he had to defuse the situation. Otherwise, they might lose whatever control they had about the situation.

 

"Your Grace," he interrupted, biting his tongue slightly at the title. "We do not want to appear inhospitable. Please accept our bread and salt. Our discussion can continue on the morrow."

 

"Our discussion continues now," the girl replied curtly and with confidence, though she took the bread and salt all the same.

 

She seemed to change personalities as others might change their clothes, seemingly soft and loving when speaking to Aegon, but fiery and full of confidence in the next breath.

 

Rhaegar's sister then moved towards the large palace where they had come from.

 

"Find us a meeting chamber," she commanded, looking harshly at the men of the Golden Company, while she let Dark Sister vanish into nothing but air again.

 

"I am your nephew," Aegon interrupted, trying his best to not let his irritation at the obvious display of magic show. "I give the orders here, not you. You do not command me."

 

For a moment, Daenerys paused in her steps, turning to look at Aegon.

 

"Of course, dear," she smiled. "We all know, who is in control."

 

*

 

The Mother of Dragons II

 

She slowly walked through the dark corridors of the city. She carefully let her hand slide over the candles that hung on the walls, illuminating them with her touch, one after one.

 

The journey north-east, towards Volantis, had been exhausting sure, but now she was very much awake. Prepared and eager to deal with the boy that called herself her nephew.

 

Two men of the Golden Company escorted her to a large chamber with a giant, oaken table in its middle and chairs arranged all around it.

 

Shadow trailed next to her, as her right hand lit up the candles, while her left hand softly grasped the giant hellhounds fur.

 

"Stay here, girl," she whispered to the hound as she entered the chamber, gesturing towards the entrance.

 

Carefully she pulled back one of the rather large, beautifully crafted chairs from beneath the table and sat down.

 

She nodded towards Aegon, indicating for him to sit down on the opposite end, before turning to the other men that had followed them.

 

"His Lordship is my hand," Aegon pointed towards the old man that had previously offered her the salt and bread. Captain Harry Strickland, Myles Toyne, Lysono Maar will be here as my advisors and those three-," he pointed towards 3 of the generals. "Will stay here as guards."

 

"Very well," Daenerys conceded, looking at the remaining men. "Out, all of you. But get me some wine first."

 

When the men complied and got out, she finally turned to look at her nephew.

 

"So?" she asked sweetly, raising an eyebrow challengingly. She carefully poured herself a cup of the wine she had been given.

 

"Well..." Aegon started, hesitating for a moment, uncertain about how to start this dialogue.

 

"You summoned me here, quite rudely I might add, dearest nephew, so speak whatever you want to speak to me for." She kept her voice low, almost naive. The boy seemed to buy it, though the older man to his right certainly did not.

 

Aegon went red for a moment before he took a deep breath to gather himself.

 

"I have summoned you here, to ask for your support in the wars to come. There are many enemies to House Targaryen that remain unpunished. Something you will surely want to fix as well."

 

The words were spoken confidently, that Daenerys had to give him. 

 

He does at least have the confidence of a king if nothing else.

 

"M-hm," Daenerys merely replied, seemingly a lot more interested in the liquor that filled her cup, than the plans of her supposed nephew.

"M-hm what?" the old man that had been introduced as Hand of the King asked irritated, his bushy eyebrows pulled together in confusion.

 

"Who are you?" Daenerys asked in return. "I forgot to ask and you weren't introduced."

 

"I am but an old man, but one who knew both your brother and served your father. I was Hand of the King during the rebellion and fought for faithfully for your family."

 

"Unsuccessfully, it would seem," Daenerys replied nonchalantly. "I know but one man who fits that description, logically that is. I hear the Pyromancer Rossart was named Hand of the King shortly before the sack, but I doubt he is still alive. You must be Jon Connington... Of course, you signed the letter to me, didn't you? Ser Barristan did say, that there was a possibility you might be alive."

 

Suddenly she let out a silent laugh. "So many... ghosts of the past, no? First, my nephew seems to be a godlike creature. A prophecized hero maybe, who can have his head crushed and survive? And another Hand of the King that failed miserably at his job also seems to have returned from his grave."

 

Jon felt anger well up in him at the girl's words, but she interrupted him before he could reply. "Go on, deny it," she challenged. "Tell me you did a good job while being Hand. Deny it and I will know you to be a liar."

 

"You're right," Connington conceded through gritted teeth. "I failed in the Rebellion, but I have not failed House Targaryen. I protected the heir to the throne for years, raised him, and taught him." He gave Aegon a proud look. "He is a good man and will be an even better king."

 

"I still fail to see, why I should support him?" she smiled. Despite herself, she could not stop bits of sarcasm from dripping into her voice as she continued. "I am but a young girl, unknown in the ways of war. What could someone like me offer such a great Targaryen King? Shaped for ruling the Seven Kingdoms since birth, he must surely be superior to me in every way."

 

"Drop the mummer's farce," Connington grunted. "And speak plainly. You know what you can offer."

 

"I am your king as well," Aegon added, his voice low and harsh. "Your nephew by blood and last remaining child of Rhaegar Targaryen. The head of House Targaryen and heir to the throne. You are only the sister, whereas I am the son. By all the laws of gods and men, I am your king."

 

"Are you now?" For the first time, Daenerys allowed herself to show hints of anger, as her long, nimble fingers clenched ever so slightly. "You call yourself the son of Rhaegar, but you have no proof."

 

That's the end of this little act I suppose. The boy does seem to have fallen for me though. That was quick.

 

Connington was about to interrupt, but Daenerys continued, ignoring his feeble attempts of speaking up.

 

"And there is more. Heir to the throne you say, I say differently. Rhaegar and his children were disinherited by my father, removing them entirely from the line of succession in favor of Viserys. With his death, this passes on to me. So... no. By all the rights of gods and men, it is me who leads House Targaryen. I am its head and I am heir to the Iron Throne."

 

"A folly," Aegon replied brusquely. "A mad king, such deeds can't be trusted. An act done within the last days of his reign, with no weight behind them."

 

"The fact it happened remains." 

 

Daenerys slowly stood up to refill her cup of wine, her purple gown moving behind her like water.

 

"So tell me, supposed nephew of mine... Why should I support you? Why should I obey you, when you hold no power over me? What could you ever offer me, that I could not take myself?"

 

Aegon sucked in a breath, before straightening himself.

 

"You have grown over the many years as both a person and a ruler. You have liberated Slaver's Bay and forged your very own empire. Fire and Blood were your tools, but you gave the citizens freedom and prosperity. 

 

Now come with me to Westeros. Serve me, and together we can bring this freedom to all men, not just those of the east. Together, we can save the country and create a dynasty that will last a thousand years."

 

"Freedom?" Rhaegar's sister interrupted. "The men of Westeros are free. Usurper, you may call him, but under Robert Baratheon's reign, the Seven Kingdoms have prospered the most since the Conciliator's reign, over 200 years ago."

 

"He tried to have you killed."

 

"So he did. But Bloodstone is safe now. There haven't been any assassins sent after me by him since I left Asshai over 3 years ago. Brittle it may be, but we have peace now with the Sunset Kingdoms. Once again, I fail to see. What makes you a better ruler than the current king? Why would I support you?"

 

"He is your nephew," Myles Thoyne spoke up for the first time, looking at the girl before him intently. "Your King."

 

"I have no King," Daenerys shot back, her eyes blazing. "And even if you were who you say," she started, disregarding Aegon's attempts to interrupt. "I don't care. Not now, not ever. When Viserys died, I had to flee to Asshai to find shelter. Assassins and cutthroats followed me even there. Tell me, where were you then? You call yourself the head of House Targaryen but said person must protect the remaining members of the house. You failed."

 

She paused for a moment.

 

"You are but a weak boy, unfit to rule and conquer. You watched Viserys and me suffer - and did nothing. Power belongs to those who are strong enough to take it. To inspire loyalty, love, and fear in their subjects alike. I had nothing when I fled east. Everything I have today is mine because I worked hard for it. My men don't follow me because of some fancy title or family name. They follow me because they respect, love, and fear me. 'Aegon Targaryen, rightful heir to the Iron Throne' you call yourself. But take those words away... What are you then? Nothing." 

 

"I have taken Volantis."

 

"Through treachery. And how did that turn out? A city that hates you now, more than they ever did their master's. You could try to take some of my cities. I may have committed atrocities in those very cities, but the people would still fight tooth and nail to defend it from you. Were I to attack Volantis today, they would herald me as their savior."

 

"The fires got out of control. It was not predictable," Connington intervened, his eyes showing both anger and annoyment. Despite that, Daenerys almost believed that there was a little fear in there as well.

 

"It was very predictable. Creating fires next to wooden buildings usually leads to them igniting as well."

 

"We didn't know."

 

"So what were you? Fools, so that you did not expect this to happen, or tyrants who didn't care?"

 

Aegon rose from his seat.

 

"The sack of Volantis was unfortunate. You weren't there. You don't know what happened, you don't know what decisions I had to make. I was faced with hard choices and I made the right one. I never intended it, I never wanted it. Had there been a way to prevent it, I would have taken it without hesitation. But there wasn't. So this is what happened and I will live with my choices. You, on the other hand, did things far worse. You executed men because you suspected that they might belong to those Sons of the Harpy. You bathed Astapor in fire and slaughtered a thousand innocents there. Tell me, where is that any different? We are not so different, you and I!"

 

Daenerys smiled at him slightly, as a mother would look at a petulant child.

 

"I never denied it," she simply shrugged. "Tell me what crimes I have committed. List every single one of them, every man I killed, every soldier I have burned. List everything and in return, I will tell you the price of victory. Aegon forged the 7 Kingdoms with fire and blood, not words and love. One needs to destroy the old, to create something new... something truly... great. But I never took lives as you did. Life is something precious, it should never be wasted. Not a single death in my conquests was wasted. They brought stability. This sack brought chaos."

 

"So this is what you're doing? Creating something great?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And so shall we," Lysono Maar cut in, his voice sly. He almost looked like a woman with his long silvery hair and full lips. "House Lannister and House Baratheon have yet to pay for their crimes. Something the King intends to change."

 

"They butchered your family as well," Connington added. "Princess Rhaenys, your niece. Princess Elia, your sister-in-law. That was your family they killed, the blood of your blood that they spilled. Such a crime demands retribution."

 

"I don't care, who killed who, Lord Connington," Daenerys replied calmly, though the famous Targaryen temper was starting to show itself clearly.

 

"My family died with Viserys. I don't care what House Targaryen wants. I wear black and purple because I no longer care about what might have been my family once."

 

She paused for a moment, before looking Connington straight into her eyes, her amethyst orbs shining with piercing intensity.

 

"Of course I would like to avenge Rhaenys and her mother. But I do not particularly care about it either. Starting a war with Westeros serves neither any of my interests nor the stability of my empire. Rhaenys's death was regrettable, but if leaving her death unavenged is the cost for the stability of my empire, then that is a price, that I am willing to pay."

 

Take that.

 

*

 

The Lost Lord II

 

This was bad. The girl was far worse than even he had anticipated. She showed a complete and utter disregard for authority and the respect she owed her nephew.

 

She had clearly shown her powers, from her illuminating the candles, to summoning Dark Sister from nothing but thin air. The power of magic filled her body, so much that in the dark chamber they were in, her eyes glowed like purple stars.

 

She was proud and fierce, a powerful ally, but an even more powerful enemy.

 

"Then marry your nephew," Jon proclaimed, in an attempt to sway her mind. "Unite your claims and -"

 

"bow to his will?" the girl interrupted. "I think not."

 

"It's the way this world works, my lady," Jon said, doing his best to make it sound as if there were regret in his voice.

 

"Not anymore. I am already a Queen, more than that, I am an Empress. I don't need to marry anyone to solidify this.

 

The girl turned towards Harry Strickland, who had up until now remained entirely silent, only occasionally whispering advice in Aegon's ears.

 

"Tell me, Captain-General Harry Strickland. Could you defeat my forces? You have as many men in the Golden Company as I have Unsullied and I have 3 Dragons."

 

"Well, we have the Dothraki as well," Strickland added, making Jon curse him for his stupidity. They should have waited with that and eased her into it. This might very well turn very dour now.

 

"The Dothraki?" Rhaegar's sister asked with a slight surprise. "So that's what the tents outside of the city were for."

 

Aegon seemed to recognize the folly this was leading to and softly nodded, his eyes averted.

 

"We should start discussing the potential allies in Weste-" he started, trying to change the topic, but he was quickly interrupted.

 

"Just how did you manage to acquire their support?" She asked, her eyes narrowed and sharp. "Dothraki are not known for their political skills or forging alliances."

 

"It was... difficult," Aegon conceded, not looking her in the eyes.

 

Look at her. You will make the matter only more suspicious to her.

 

"I'm sure it was. Dealing with such... barbarians. They have been a nuisance in Essos for quite some time now. Still, I would like to hear, how you managed to accomplish such a feat." The girl slowly drank a few sips of wine from her golden cup, never averting her eyes.

 

She knows. She has to. She would never be so suspicious about this alliance otherwise. Is this maybe, why she was so polite towards us in the first place? Did she mean to seduce Aegon to break the betrothal? Or was it only a mummery, to lure him into a false sense of security?

 

Suddenly, Jon regretted his decision during the sack. They should have betrayed the Dothraki, kept them outside of the gates, and dealt with them later.

 

But then thousands more of our men would have died and the sack might have turned a lot bloodier for us.

 

But still, it would have been worth it. No amount of men in the world were worth what was about to come.

 

"A... marriage alliance," Aegon said carefully, his voice low and scared, far from the confidence he had displayed earlier.

 

For a moment, the tension was unbearable, until the girl laughed out loudly.

 

"You married a Dothraki girl?" she asked, almost giggling. "The noble Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name? Don't tell me you also intend to take those Dothraki with you to Westeros."

 

"Not me," Aegon all but whispered, his purple eyes staring into the table. "I didn't make the marriage alliance for me."

 

There was the tension again, back stronger than ever before. Silence lingered for a few moments before Jon could see a spark of realization in the girl's eyes, just before it turned to a storm of hate and fury.

 

"You. Dare," she whispered, barely audible but the words laced with such anger that Jon was certain even Tywin Lannister would have cowered. Her voice echoed with power, as flames started to lick up and down her arms.

 

"You dare?" she repeated, her voice only growing in volume.

 

"It was necessary, please," Jon interrupted, trying to defuse the situation. "Arrangements can be made, you won't have to marry him."

 

Still, the girl ignored him, standing up from her table and walking around it, until she was just a few feet away from Aegon.

 

Suddenly he looked a lot less like a king and much more like the little boy he had adopted all those years ago.

 

*

 

The Dragon King II

 

His aunt was certainly a beauty, as she stood before him, her eyes blazing and her hands resting on her hips, with flames licking her body and soft skin.

 

She was a queen, that much was certain and he should have expected more from her when the dragons had arrived in the city.

 

Jon had taught him to expect an obedient, fertile maid, ideal for the restoration of House Targaryen.

 

If only I would have thought for myself for once. It was more than obvious, that this wouldn't be the case.

 

Marrying her himself didn't seem like a bad idea anymore. She would be a strong queen, but still one beloved by many and respected by all. Not even Tywin Lannister would ever dare to challenge her. She was truly Visenya Targaryen reborn.

 

"You... can marry me instead?" he carefully spoke, as he looked into his aunts fiery, glowing eyes.

 

"How... gracious of you, to give me such an amazing alternative. Still, I must refuse. I won't marry whoever you chose for me. I won't marry you."

 

"No..." she shook her head slightly.

 

"This is an insult," she declared. "I have been insulted many times in my life, but this is the greatest of them all. You promise my hand in marriage to a savage warlord, to further your cause. You call yourself my king? My nephew? You are the lowest of all people I have ever met."

 

"Please," Aegon replied, his voice frail, but still desperately trying to keep it as firm as possible. He could not remember the last time he had pleaded to someone like this. "Let us sleep a night over it. Hasty decisions have been made on my part, but they do not have to mean anything. Let us reconvene on the morrow, after a night of sleep."

 

Aegon's aunt slowly moved back to her seat. He could not keep his eyes off her. He had met a thousand women, each more beautiful than the previous. But Daenerys was different. She had a fire in herself, she was a beauty, but beneath it was cold Iron. Harsh and cold and unyielding.

 

"Fine," she allowed. "I give you until tomorrow when the sun rises. You better have come up with a solution until then, otherwise..."

 

She raised a hand and through what appeared to be no more than a force of will, a pitch-black satin pillow appeared on her hand. She rested it on the table between them, before a glove appeared atop the pillow, the glove soaked with blood on the top.

 

It didn't take long, for Aegon to understand the message. A bloodstained glove on a sating pillow was a declaration of war, commonly used by the cities of the far east, mainly Yi Ti, Qarth, maybe even in Asshai. Maybe Daenerys would know.

 

"It's 8 more hours until then," Daenerys stated brusquely, the threat evident in her voice.

 

"Use them wisely," she spoke, just as she left the room, her giant hellhound joining her.

 

Aegon couldn't help but let his eyes trail after her, as she disappeared in the darkness of the corridor, while the candles extinguished themselves behind her.

 

8 hours he remembered then, realizing how little time he had.

 

Fuck

 

*

 

Chapter Text

The Dragon King

 

Daenerys?" he called out warily. A silhouette emerged before him, her eyes, as always shining brightly, even in the morning light above Volantis. 

 

There she was, the famous mage herself. Aegon had heard lots about her foul magic, the shadowbinders she surrounded herself with or the dark arts she practiced. A woman of terrible strength, her lust for power unquenchable, and her empathy for the lives around her minimal. 

 

She looked much different now than she had last night, dressed in proper garb that hugged her curvaceous figure rather nicely. And despite her glimmering eyes, when he looked at her, she seemed almost like a young, normal girl.

 

For a moment, Aegon couldn't help but give her an admittedly bold look-over, something he quickly regretted, when her eyes pierced into his, a scowl on her face.

Darker than mine

 

"Apologies, I... I didn't mean for-", he began to apologize, but Daenerys ignored him. She turned around and walked away from him, to where a small balcony was installed into the building.

 

"Silence," Daenerys spoke lowly, a pitch to that one simple word that spoke volumes to her annoyment. Still, Aegon could not trace anything in her voice, beyond this simple annoyment.

She must be used to it by now. I suppose I'm not the first person to look.

 

The Dragon Empress leaned over the balcony, as she observed the three dragons, swirling above the city. 

 

They rose and fell in the air, performing spirals and playfully nibbling at each other.

 

The waters of the Rhoyne reflected the body of the largest dragon, as he sored closely above the water. He was huge, lean, his scales a midnight black mixed with veins of blood red, trailing down his body and wings. 

The green dragon dived down towards the larger red one, blocking his path and challenging him to a duel.

 

Each one of the dragons was a vicious beast eager to prove its strength – a dance of dragons that took place in the bleeding sky of Volantis.

 

"Beautiful, aren't they?" Daenerys asked, suddenly softly as he moved to stand next to her. 

 

"Yes," Aegon couldn't help but reply. The two dragons dueled themselves viciously and with great power, but always with a certain playfulness.

 

A great burst of pitch-black, scorching flames exploded from the black dragon's jaw, the other dragon's green flames meeting them in the air.

 

A few men were screaming below the dragon's, but it was no more than the buzzing of insects compared to the dragons’ roars and wings that clapped like thunder.

 

"Vicous, but not without beauty," Aegon added, as they looked onwards.

 

"Yes, quite vicious indeed if challenged... So..." Daenerys started, finally turning towards him once more to meet his eyes. "How did you conclude, that it was a good idea to promise me to a Dothraki Khal. To directly challenge me and my dragons and quite possibly lead your men into battle against those... vicious beasts."

 

"I didn't."

 

"But you did it anyway. Doing something you know to be a bad idea is a not very desirable trait."

 

"It was... difficult," Aegon conceded, struggling to meet Daenerys's gaze. "We were negotiating with Khal Drogo, to get him to threaten the city so that they would hire us for protection. We needed Volantis and we needed it urgently."

 

"What for?" Daenerys asked, slightly intrigued. The coldness and venom annoyment from earlier had disappeared, as she once more continued watching the dragons dance in the skies.

 

"Ships for once," Aegon replied, moving to the balcony and pointing towards the great harbor of Volantis. "Probably the largest port in the known world, maybe second to the Port of Ibben, but-" 

 

"Asshai."

 

When Aegon looked at her questioningly she continued. "The port of Asshai was monstrous, larger than this one. But go on."

 

With a slight shrug, Aegon complied. "The Volanteen fleet is quite impressive, probably an equal to the Redwyne fleet and more powerful than the royal fleet, since the fall of our families dynasty. We needed those ships so we will be able to get to Westeros. To our home."

 

"Your home. My home is on Bloodstone. I was born in Westeros, but my home, it is not."

 

For a moment, Aegon remained silent, pondering on her words. "Why do you hate Westeros so much, Daenerys?" he asked, for the first time consciously using her first name. "You are convinced that no one there would love you, that they would hate you and fear you, but I must disagree. A few people would still be loyal to the Usurper, yes it is true, but not many. You would only need to stake your claim and a thousand houses would rally to your side. You could be queen and you would not just be feared. Lords and ladies would be intimidated by you, but the common people would love you."

 

"Love... hate.... fear.... agony... ecstasy..." Daenerys muttered. "I've seen far too much of it. Some hate me, some fear me, others might love me. But here? Where I rule, everyone loves me."

 

"The Sons of the Harpy?"

 

"Are no more."

 

Daenerys paused for a moment and turned to look at him once more, her distinct valyrian features showing what Aegon thought to be belittlement.

He felt anger flare up in him before his aunt started speaking. "The realm is stable now. There are ambitious lords and upstarts, fighting for power and causing chaos, but that's how it's always been. How it always will be."

 

Her eyes trailed to the port below them, on the other side of the part of the city where the destruction had been the strongest. 

 

"Ser Barristan will likely arrive here in a few hours," she told Aegon. "Ask him what battle is like. He has seen far more battles than the two of us combined have seen namedays. It's not glory or honorable combat. If you fight the Lannisters... In the end, you might defeat them, but it is not the Lannisters, who you face on the battlefield. If you fight them, it is the common people who live in the Westerlands who you slaughter. They aren't going to send their kin and friends into battle. Whenever war breaks out, it is the smallfolk who suffers the most. They are the soldiers clad in red and gold, the men whose flesh would burn if I join your fight."

 

"Ser Barristan is coming here?" Aegon asked in wonder before he regained his composure. "You are right about what you say. It is always the smallfolk who burn, rarely their leaders. But you don't need to burn anyone, Daenerys. The threat of it alone will suffice. No one will oppose us if you join me. No one ever will."

 

"Because of fear, never love."

 

"The Conqueror was feared as well. No one knelt to him because of awe and love. They knelt because they feared him, hated him even, but soon when he brought peace and prosperity, they grew to love him."

 

"And how many died for it? The Conqueror never truly brought peace. He changed the Game of Thrones, he didn't end it. Fire and blood were his tools, yes, and when he united the Kingdoms they prospered like never before, but then again... How many widows did he leave in his wake, burnt corpses, and blackened castles? History books tell us that the people danced on the streets when he was proclaimed as king, but in truth, they only prayed for the fires to stop."

 

Aegon remained silent, waiting for her to go on. "You're a well-read person. I hope this will affect your intellect in coming up with a suitable solution as well. You have two more hours. Use them."

 

*

 

The Bold Knight

 

The  Sea Dragon  cut through the waves of the Summer Sea with swift speed. The outer walls of Volantis rose high into the air beyond the harbor, the low waves smashing against the rock formations around the mouth of the Rhoyne.

 

The Targaryen sigil, the three-headed-dragon of House Targaryen, red on black rose above the city. Banners, larger than any others the old knight had ever seen were hanging from the city walls; others were hanging from long poles, mounted on the many buildings of the city. 

 

But they were not the only dragons that took flight in the clear, light-blue sky above Volantis. The sky was clear, devoid of clouds and rain and wind, but when the true dragons passed above the citizens of Volantis, their houses and taverns, they could be led to believe the sun had disappeared. Such was the size of the giant winged reptiles.

 

Ser Barristan's ship bore the sigil of the Dragon Queen or Empress, the red dragon with purple eyes on a black background, its body veiled in dark mist and shadow. It was painted on the sails of the large warship, one of the fleet of ships, formerly belonging to the royal fleet. 

 

Robert Baratheon had sent a dozen warships under a Redwyne cousin towards Bloodstone, but it had not been much of a battle when they entered the mist around the island. 

 

The Unsullied were efficient craftsmen beyond their fighting skills, due to their ability to easily follow orders for hours without any visible exhaustion. 

 

Therefore, when the warships met Daenerys's fleet at the coast of Bloodstone, they were hopelessly outnumbered. Almost a hundred and fifty ships she had taken from Meereen, though they were mostly merchant vessels and another 3 dozen warships that the Unsullied had crafted within barely less than a year.

 

A crushing defeat for the loyalists of the westerosi crown, that saw the death of the Redwyne captain and the capture of the ships, long before the dragons even arrived.

 

As Ser Barristan walked off the ship and onto the docks, a hundred Unsullied following behind him. Pyat Pree and half a dozen warlock acolytes, her sworn sword, and a group of handmaidens were not far behind them as well, the warlocks always watchful. The old knight of Bear Island stood followed behind him, the two of them quickly looking at the city around them.

 

"The Queen must be inside the Black Walls," Ser Jorah stated gruffly, receiving only a curt nod from Barristan. The dragons were, where the queen was and currently the largest of them, Rhaellion, circled above the former residence of the Old Blood.

 

The Unsullied marched behind the two old knights, following them through the city and the destruction. At one point the reached a giant crater, where an explosion had torn down a part of the Black Walls.

 

The air around the place was still filled with an acid reek and the hiss of melting stone.

 

"Must have been a huge explosion," Jorah muttered as the knights went towards the main entrance of the Black Walls. A huge passageway into the inner part of the walls, carved through the fused stone in the form of a giant arch, sealed with 3 giant grids that could be raised into the air to allow passage into the walls.

 

"It must have been indeed," Ser Barristan confirmed grimly, looking at the immense width of the walls. "These walls certainly did not fall easily."

 

The acrid smell of the air brought back foul memories of a king he had once served. A king fascinated with flames and their piercing strength. A king he had sworn to protect, sworn to himself to advise well, and forge into a great ruler, but he had failed. The young prince Aerys had the potential to become a great king, but Duskendale had ruined it all.

 

What if I had rescued him earlier? What if I had sat by as Lord Lannister stormed the city and the Darklyn's executed Aerys? What if I had unhorsed Rhaegar during the tourney at Harrenhal? Could I have averted the war? How many lives could I have saved?

 

Duskendale had been Ser Barristan's finest hour, his moment of glory, his moment of pride, yet still, the memory had become a bitter one. His many failures still haunted him at night.

 

Jaehaerys, Aerys, Robert. 3 Kings he had sworn to protect, 2 who died regardless and one he abandoned. Rhaegar could have been a better, finer king than any of them, yet still, he had watched on the Trident when Robert Baratheon's Warhammer found his chest.

 

Everyone was dead, Rhaenys with her kitten Balerion, her father Rhaegar, and their mother Elia. Dead, each and every one of them. Only he kept living, he who had sworn to protect and die for them. Or had Aegon survived as well? Had the little babe grown up to be a man?

 

I failed her mother, I failed her father, I failed her brother, I failed her niece and possibly her nephew as well, I failed her good-sister, I failed her family. I will not fail another monarch.

 

"Selmy," a man with a leathery face greeted gruffly, as the two knights and the rows of Unsullied approached the gates of the thick walls. His hair was grey, while his beard still showed streaks of red in the otherwise colorless facial hair.

 

It took a moment until Ser Barristan recognized him. "Connington," he greeted coolly, looking at the man's stern face. He was older, yes, but he looked just like he had almost two decades ago. "It has been a long time."

 

Suddenly he noticed the pin gracing his tunic above his heart. "Or is it 'Lord Hand' now?"

 

The old Lord of Griffin's Roost looked at him with unveiled anger for a moment. Connington wasn't a big man, but still, he walked with the confidence of Ser Gregor Clegane. "Spare yourself your titles, traitor. You kneeled to the Usurper, you abandoned Rhaegar," he sneered, his blue eyes twinkling with anger.

 

"It is by the will of Aegon's future queen, that you are still alive, were it not for her I would have had you thrown into the dungeons as soon as you arrived."

 

Ser Barristan ignored the other man's angry words, keeping his expression neutral, save for the confusion that filled him. "Aegon's future queen? You already convinced the  empress  to consent to a betrothal?" he asked, empathizing Daenerys's title.

 

"Not yet. But she will. Aegon will present her with his proposal within the next hours. She  will  agree to it?"

 

"And if not?"

 

"She will. It is an offer she cannot refuse."

 

"You don't seem to know her well, then," Ser Barristan smiled. "She is not the kind of person that a young boy could tell what to do, no matter the titles. But I would be honored to join you in this... meeting."

 

Connington stared at him for a moment, making no effort to hide his dislike for him. "We were brothers-at-arms once. We fought side by side for years. But then you bend the knee to the Usurper."

 

"My failure resulted from your failure," Ser Barristan replied, keeping his voice even. "You were a young and reckless boy at Stony Sept, Jon Connington, we both know that. Rhaegar fell at the Trident, but the Stony Sept was what truly lost House Targaryen the war. If not for Randyll Tarly's reinforcements, you would have been torn apart by the Stark forces that day."

 

For a moment, Ser Barristan was certain he would protest, but the Old Griffin only nodded. "Yes, I would have died that day," he finally agreed, looking at Ser Barristan. "Maybe I'll get another chance."

 

"Few men do. But time changes everything. You have grown up yourself."

 

"Yes, I have," The old griffin said with a curt nod to the guards behind him, and quickly the gates were raised, opening the way into the Black Walls.

 

" Aegon's Queen  did request your presence," he told him. "But I'll be keeping an eye on you, trust me on that, Ser Barristan Selmy."

 

*

 

The Dragon King

 

They were back in the meeting chamber once more, but with more men present this time.

 

And a woman  he added to himself.  My future Queen.

 

She no longer wore the riding clothes from the previous night. Instead, she was now dressed in a pure-white gown, that seemed to shimmer in the light.

 

Her hair was made intricately, the hundreds of thin streaks of hair woven into each other until they formed a long braid that ran across one of her bare shoulders.

 

Still, she did not appear like a common princess, as far as they could be described as such. Her lips bore a faint, blue color and the sword Aegon had recognized as Dark Sister the day before was strapped to her hip. 

The famous Targaryen sword that had once belonged to Queen Visenya only further enhanced her importance to his cause.

 

A warrior queen , he decided when he looked at her.  Not some willowy creature who sits up in a tower, brushing her hair and waiting for some knight to rescue her.

 

"So," Daenerys spoke, looking expectantly at Aegon. Ser Jorah and the famous Ser Barristan sat next to her, while the Unsullied guarded the door. The warlock with the dark blue lips trailed behind her as well, refusing to sit down. "Your proposal of a solution for this... mess?"

 

"Well," Aegon said, clearing his throat. "My-... Our suggestion is an alliance, forged by marriage. An expansion of power for both of us. You shall rule as queen consort in the west, and I shall rule as king consort in the east. Whereas I hold power in the west, you will continue to hold it in the east. This-"

 

"But isn't this the same as of yet? I do already hold power in the east, do I not?"

 

"You do," Aegon confirmed with a nod. "But we can help you secure this rule. An alliance between both Essos and Westeros. An Empire grander than even the Conqueror ever achieved."

 

"The Mother of Dragon's rule is more than secure," Pyat Pree spoke up from behind his aunt. "Any further actions are not necessary."

 

"How do you know this?" Jon Connington interrupted. "For all you know, there could be assassins waiting to attack her or the remaining Free Cities plotting her demise. You will need troops. A few thousand Unsullied won't be enough. They will be stretched to thin over the continent."

 

"I have seen enemies of the empress rise and fall," Pree replied, his voice slimy and sinister. "When the Thirteen of Qarth and the Trueborn learned of her existence and her dragons, they wanted to kill her. Enslave the dragons and use them to fuel their magic, but it never came to pass."

 

He paused, creating a dramatic pause to gather their attention, before continuing.

 

"I went to the Hall of a Thousand Thrones and begged the Pureborn to stop their machinations. They wanted magic in the east, so I promised them, that should they stop their plots they could get more out of it. They did not need to wage war against her, they could ally themselves with her.

Half a dozen years later I returned to them and they all saw the success of my mission. Magic is blooming now and even the Undying serve her."

 

Daenerys took over, continuing the story. "Greensight and prophetic dreams are their qualities. We will know about any threats, long before they arise."

 

"And they are reliable?"

 

"They have never failed me."

 

"Still, you could only profit from such an alliance. A friendship with the Iron Throne is profitable. Many treasures are to be found in the Seven Kingdoms and products of great use are produced there. The Lannister gold, Arbor gold, Dornish Red? The list goes on and on."

 

"If I want Arbor Gold I'll send the Redwynes a letter demanding it. They'll send it, trust me," Daenerys replied dryly, though a small smile crept on her face. "Same for the other products."

 

"Regardless, this is the way to go," Aegon insisted, willing himself to hold Daenerys's gaze. "Robert Baratheon will never accept you here. He will continue to search for ways to kill you, to kill your dragons. Help us conquer Westeros and you will only profit. Why allow Robert Baratheon to continue to sit on the Throne when it could be your nephew?"

 

"Why would I sacrifice good men and women who have sworn themselves to me, to seat you on the throne? A boy who has never even made his existence known in all those years."

 

"Is that, why you do not intend to support your nephew's claim?" Connington asked brusquely. "Because he was unable to find you in Asshai?"

 

"Your men did locate me. When I fled from Braavos eastwards, they approached me in Volantis, tried to kidnap me by force, while claiming to work for you. Of course, that didn't quite work out, and when I told Shiera they paid the price in blood. You never truly wanted to help me, did you?"

 

"I never knew about this?" Aegon said surprised, looking towards Connington and Lysono Maar who was seated a bit further away.

 

"Serjeants Melak and Juritht, two commanders of the company who were stationed in Volantis and disappeared a few moon turns after the tragedy in Braavos," the spymaster confirmed, his pale lilac eyes displaying sadness, through if it was real, nobody could tell.

 

The spymaster almost looked like a Targaryen with his purple eyes and silver hair. He had painted fingernails and gemstones sparkling in his ears.

"I never considered, that their disappearance might have had something to do with the princess."

 

"You should have," Aegon shot towards him. "I apologize for their treatment of you, Daenerys, but I was unaware of this."

 

"I'm sure you were," Daenerys replied flatly, each of her words overly stretched out. "But those men were given orders. Orders, that only a few men would have the authority to give. Maybe Harry Strickland?" she said, turning to face the Captain-General.

 

"Or was it you,  Lord Hand? " she asked Connington. "Regardless of that, they never intended to save me. All you wanted from me, were my dragons and my hand in marriage to be given away. All you want now, are my dragons... and my hand in marriage to be given away."

 

That's all she sees me as?

 

"That's why you refuse me, my aunt?" Aegon asked. "The betrothal to the Dothraki lord? Tell me how to break it and I will."

 

"You should know that yourself, but here is my solution nonetheless. Invite them into the city," Daenerys answered, her voice even and devoid of emotion. "And when they are here, slaughter their leaders. Without them, the entire horde will crumble."

 

Aegon was struck silent for a moment, looking at his aunt in shock.  She's a monster. A beautiful, wonderful monster, but a monster all the same.

 

"This would be breaking guest right, a violation of all laws the seven hold sacred. Even in the far north, even beyond the wall, men and women hold to this sacred law."

 

For a moment, Aegon could see anger flash in her eyes. "The gods have never helped me,  nephew.  Better to be the butcher than the meat. If the former Slaver's Bay has taught me anything, then it is this. You have blood on your hands and blood on your heart, just as I do."

 

"This would make a monster out of me," Aegon refused. "I cannot do as you wish."

 

"You are already a monster, nephew, just look to the streets below us. Your sack saw more men, women, and children fed to the flames, than even the victims during the years of my father's rule combined.

 

"Are you calling me a madman?"

 

"Not a madman. But a monster nonetheless. War does tend to make monsters out of all of us."

 

"I cannot do as you ask."

 

"You had your chance," Daenerys shrugged, seemingly having expected this answer. "Then I'll do it. I'll take care of it my  betrothed  myself then. But I will remember this."

 

Take care of him?

 

"How?"

 

"You'll see."

 

*

 

The Dragon Empress

 

Pree and Merana trailed directly behind her, as she moved towards the Dothraki camp outside the city.

 

The horselord-nomads looked at her with unveiled curiosity and lust, mixed with bits and pieces of fear and scorn.

 

Her nephew had offered to send a young girl named Mina with her, a young translator in his service. Still, she had insisted on taking Missandei as her translator instead, not wanting to be spied on by her nephew's men.

 

Men and women, dressed in painted leather vests and horsehair leggings stood everywhere, their hair in long braids, oiled or greased with fat from the rendering pits. Some wore bells of silver or gold, braided into their hair.

 

As they walked further into the camp, 3 warriors emerged from the rest and walked rode towards them, each mounted on a great stallion.

 

Each had an arakh strapped to their hips, yet the curved weapons were not the only weapons they wielded. One had a bow strapped to his back. Another held a whip in his hand, while the third had a short sword with him.

 

"These must be Khal Drogo's bloodriders," Pyat Pree stated quietly from behind her. "They do certainly stand out from the rest."

 

Daenerys couldn't help but agree with the sentiment. While the differences were not too noticeable for a distracted observer, a closer look revealed more about the men. 

 

Their weapons were polished more thoroughly than those of the common warriors, their horses were stronger and larger, their hair longer.

 

They cut their hair with each defeat they suffer  Daenerys recalled.  They haven't cut their hair in quite some time.

 

The men's hair reached beyond their waists, with half a dozen bells braided into them.

 

Missandei quickly explained their presence to the Dothraki bloodriders, the harsh and rogue tongue sounding off in combination with the young girl's soft voice.

 

The Bloodriders shouted a few commands to the surrounding men, before they were admitted into the Khal's tent, the bloodriders following directly after.

 

"These men follow the Khal everywhere, Magnificence," Pree stated. "A horse lord's bloodriders are said to be his brothers, his shadows, his fiercest friends. "Blood of my blood," they are referred to by him, and so it is. They shared a single life, they share their food, their spoils of war..." 

 

He paused for a moment, seemingly in unease.

 

"Their wives?" Daenerys finished for him.

 

"That they do."

 

Another reason why this won't come to pass.

 

"Khaleesi," came the Khal's gruff voice, when she finally got her first look on him. He was not quite as ugly as the usual Dothraki, his body lean and well-trained. His dark almond eyes were sharp and piercing, with a faint scar trailing below his left eye.

 

"Not a Khaleesi. A queen," she replied with a polite smile, while Missandei translated her words into Dothraki.

 

"Khaleesi," the Khal repeated again, his voice and demeanor unchanged by her correction. "Promised."

 

"This queen does not care about what you were promised," Daenerys replied simply, watching with hidden amusement as the Khal's face twisted into a mixture of confusion and anger.

 

"Promised. Dragon King," he once again replied gruffly, before looking at her intently. "Khaleesi."

 

"Never."

 

"No?"

 

"No."

 

This incited whispers from the men and women present, as well as anguish from the Bloodriders.

 

"She denies the great Khal," Missandei translated silently, as the Bloodrider with the whip talked furiously towards the Khal, whose expression remained unreadable.

 

"I will not marry this man," Daenerys declared loudly, for all the people to hear. "I will not suffer this humiliation. If my nephew promised me to this man as compensation for his aid, it does not matter to me. I am not beholden to his vows. You gave my nephew a gift and he will return one at a time of his choosing, that is how this works for you, isn't it?"

 

One of the Bloodriders stepped forwards, his sword at his arakh, yet a short command from Drogo stopped her.

 

"I want to hear what she has to say," Missandei translated, as the Khal spoke to the smaller Bloodrider.

 

"Strength is what you follow, so strength is what your Khal will have to show. You do not matter to me. You are no more than little men, who prey on the weak and defenseless. You raid little villages, rape, and loot, yet when have you ever seen true battle? When have you ever truly fought? Taken a city like Braavos, Myr, or Pentos?"

 

As Missandei continued to translate her words, Dany could feel the tension in the room, so strongly that she was certain she could grasp it. She made a dramatic pause, before staring the Khal straight into the eyes.

 

"Prove your strength," she declared, summoning Dark Sister into her hands, the Valyrian blade shimmering in the torchlight of the tent.

 

Whispers and gasps emerged when they saw the blade appear, as the men and women saw her magic.

 

"Fight," she declared. "Fight me and defeat me. Me against you. Win and I shall be your bride. Lose..." she said menacingly, raising the tip of her sword. "...and die."

 

Complete silence lingered over the tent for a moment, the tension unbearable, until the Khal slowly lifted himself from his chair, staring right back at her. 

 

Finally, he spoke, his brogue and harsh voice carrying through the silent tent, as he spoke a single sentence in the common tongue.

 

"I accept the challenge."

 

*

 

The Dreamer

 

They slowly rode north, the cold winds howling in their ears. With Lord Stark leaving south to become Hand of the King, along with most of the household, as well as Arya and Sansa, Robb and Lady Catelyn now reigned in Winterfell. 

 

While he knew Robb would deny it, he knew that their presence in Winterfell was not desired.

 

At first, it had looked as if Lord Stark would refuse the king and stay in the North, in Winterfell, but in the end, the king had convinced him. 

 

The realm was at peace, though that unity was very fragile. Many would support the Targaryen girl should stake her claim to the Iron Throne, not because they loved her, but because barely anyone would ever dare oppose her.

 

Jon doubted, that even Tywin Lannister would fight her, should she try to claim the throne. Fighting her would likely result in the end of House Lannister, at least nine out of ten times. He would likely try to marry his elder son to her and then help her take the throne, get an heir with Lannister blood, and then plot to have her killed. Or have her marry anyone with enough Lannister blood. Getting the girl to accept the Kingslayer as her husband would be a hard task.

 

In such a brittle situation, the King needed stability, more so than anything else. Naming Mace Tyrell, Tywin Lannister, or any other man greedy for power would make him vulnerable to betrayal and deceit. 

 

Counting out Lord Stark, only his younger brothers remained as viable options. However, Renly was too soft-minded and too heavily involved with the Tyrells, especially their youngest son Loras, while Stannis, on the other hand, was too dour. A harsh yet just man, but one who inspired to love or loyalty. Besides that, the King needed swords and spears now more than ever, and Stannis brought him none, that weren't his already.

 

Therefore, with a betrothal between Jon's cousin Sansa and the Prince Joffrey being made, Lord Stark was more or less forced to accept the position as hand.

 

Ramsay rode beside him, both of them in silence.

 

"Tell me about your life before Winterfell," Jon suddenly asked, breaking the silence. "I never asked."

 

Indeed, he had seen bits and pieces from Bloodraven, but he had never learned the full story of Ramsay's origins.

 

"You won't tell anyone?" Ramsay asked after a few seconds of hesitating. 

 

"Ramsay, if I know of a hundred crimes that you committed. Each of them would get you hanged or beheaded. What are a few more?"

 

"It's more about my father."

 

"No matter."

 

"Well," Ramsay started his tale, looking around for any onlookers. "A few years ago, when Rickard Stark still reigned in Winterfell, my father was out hunting along the Weeping Water. There he saw a miller and his wife, who had just wed a few moments ago. They greeted him and everything, but my father wanted more than courtesies."

 

Jon raised his eyebrow, motioning for Ramsay to go on. "He liked the miller's wife, and so he claimed the tradition of the first night."

 

Again, Jon was surprised by this. The practice of the first night was an ancient one, believed to be ten thousand years old. It was begun by the First Men of the Dawn Age, who only followed strength and bravery. It stated, that a lord or king would have the right to bed his vassal's wife, noble or not, on their wedding night. However, this law had been long revoked. Queen Alysanne Targaryen had declared over two hundred years ago, that any man, be they lord or peasant, who would forcibly take another man's wife on her wedding night or any other night would be guilty of rape. 

 

"That law was abolished long ago," he told Ramsay, who merely shrugged. 

 

"Not in my father's eyes." He replied, pausing for a moment, before continuing his story. "Anyways, he had the miller hanged for not telling him of the marriage and took her directly under his corpse. Sick fuck. Should have at least taken the body down first. Even I have standards on this."

 

"This is the only problem with this?" Jon asked, before motioning for Ramsay to continue. "Anyways, continue."

 

"Yeah, she got pregnant right then and there, so after 9 moons she turned up at the Dreadfort, claiming her dead husband's brother stole the mill and had cast her and me out. Father actually listened and had the man's tongue removed so he would spread no tales to anyone about this. She then gave my mother the mill along with a pig, several chicks, and a bag of stars every year on the condition that she would never tell me who my father was. Then a few years later, when I had made a toddler eat his own fingers..."

 

"You did what?"

 

"Make him eat his fingers. He stole a loaf of bread from me, so I took all of his and made him find his food elsewhere," Ramsay replied with an eye roll as if it were completely natural. "Anyways, she asked father for help with raising me, so he sent a servant known as Reek to me. He smelled like shit, despite taking constant washes. It was due to some unknown disease that caused his skin to reek, thus the nickname I gave him. He told me a lotta great stuff. He also told me my father wanted to kill me when my mother turned up at the Dreadfort, but I had his eyes, so that stopped him. They only turned a bit more blue as I grew older. But eventually, mother and I had more and more problems with each other, and eventually, she grew to hate me."

 

"She did?"

 

"Yes. I was in the Dreadfort one day when she picked up a knife and attacked me with it. I don't even remember what it was about. I only know that I fought, and in the end, I won. The dogs at the Dreadfort feasted that night. The next day I left for Winterfell."

 

Jon looked at the older boy slightly disturbed, before shaking his head slightly. "I always wanted to get to know my mother, and you killed yours."

 

"Not by choice," Ramsay replied, and for a moment, true sadness seemed to fill his pale blue eyes. "I never wanted it to happen... she just... came at me. And I fought."

 

At that, Jon slowly nodded, feeling a tinge of sympathy for him. "Sometimes we don't get to choose," he said, before Ramsay only nodded and let himself fall back to the end of the column heading for the wall.

 

Jon's uncle Benjen Stark rode a few dozen feet ahead of the two bastards, occasionally turning around to see if they were still behind him.

Eventually, Jon spurned his horse, until he rode directly next to Benjen.

 

"When did your hair turn white, lad?" Benjen asked him, as he rode up to him. "I've seen people's hair color change slightly with time, but yours looks like you got stuck in a snowstorm. Last I recall, your hair was as black as a raven's feathers."

 

"Long story," Jon sighed, letting one hand slide through his light-grey hair while keeping the other on the horse's reigns. "They changed over time, grew paler, and paler over the years."

 

For a moment, Benjen looked at him with suspicion, but quickly let the topic drop.

 

"Where are your wolves?" he asked his nephew, looking around the frozen landscape. "I've barely seen those two leave your side?"

 

"They left to hunt," Jon shrugged. "I can't have them eat whatever provisions we took, at least not as long as they can hunt by themselves. Can't spoil them too much or they might get too lazy."

 

"You got a point," Benjen conceded looking around them again, scanning the landscape. "Probably better like this."

 

"Ya still haven't told me why you're coming with me, lad," Benjen told him, after a short while of silence, turning his head. "Ned mentioned it wasn't because of the pleasure of joining the watch, so why is it?"

 

Jon smiled slightly.

 

"Someone I need to meet, uncle," he replied, while slowly patting the back of his horse's back. "Someone I've been waiting to meet for quite some time."

 

At this, Benjen turned his head towards Jon, his eyes narrowed slightly in confusion. 

 

"Now you've got me curious. Who is this man you're talking about? I do not know of anyone serving the watch that you would have any interest in meeting. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont perhaps? He became Lord Commander not long ago when his predecessor Lord Commander Qorgyle died beyond the wall."

 

Benjen sighed, his dark grey eyes filled with what Jon knew to be sadness.

 

"I knew him, he was a good man. Wouldn't have become Lord Commander otherwise. They ventured out one day, with a few dozen rangers. Usually, they never venture too far, always staying within the sight of the wall, but this time they went further, past the Haunted Forest and Craster's Keep, until they disappeared in the area between the Antler River and the Skirling Pass, a bit north of the Fist of the First Men. Never heard of any of them again."

 

Jon saw Ramsay frown slightly behind him.  It was him who did this.

It seems that, at the very least, however, nobody had learned that it had been good. He could have hit himself for not thinking of it right away.

Had some of them survived and remembered the face of their attacker, their arrival at Castle Black could have turned very uncomfortable.

 

"I'm not here for the Lord Commander," Jon replied finally, his eyes set straight forward. "I'm here for a family member," he said, as he turned to his right where Benjen rode, staring him straight in the eyes.

 

"Me?" Benjen laughed loudly. "You flatter me, Jon."

 

"Not you."

 

"Hm?"

 

"Aemon. The Maester."

 

Benjen's careless, happy mood disappeared as quickly as water in the deserts of Dorne. 

 

"Aemon..." he repeated slowly, looking around carefully to ensure no one overheard them. "Ned told you," he finally stated, receiving a curt nod from Jon.

 

"About my mother... and father."

 

"When?"

 

"Never. It took me quite some time but eventually, I figured it out by myself. When I confronted him, he admitted to it."

 

"You did?" Jon's uncle asked, shock evident in his voice. "That's bad..." he muttered finally, his voice no more than a whisper.

 

"Is it?"

 

"It is. If you can figure it out, others can as well," Benjen stated, worry clear in his eyes.

 

"They won't figure it out," Jon reassured him. "Not the way I did."

 

"And how did you find it out?" Benjen asked curiously. "No one did so far, none but me."

 

His voice grew melancholic, as he started to speak. 

 

"I helped her leave south, did you know? I was so young then, and when she made me swear to keep silent, then I did. When Ned rode off to war, I kept silent. I thought to myself... This mess would resolve itself, wouldn't it? They would parley and they would realize their mistake. But they didn't. At the Trident, none of the factions met beforehand. My brother and Robert thought it was unnecessary. A rapist was undeserving of being heard. And neither did my brother trust Robert to not break guest right, as soon as he saw the prince. And Rhaegar? Gods know what he intended. He wanted their support against his father but on his terms. He likely wanted to beat them in battle and then force them into his service, force them into submission. The lost battle and the reveal that he had never kidnapped Lyanna would have done it. They would have marched with him against King's Landing, taking the Iron Throne. But of course, that didn't happen. In his arrogance, he fell on the Trident, and with him fell the Targaryen Dynasty."

 

His voice was no more than a whisper when he continued.

 

"I kept silent, and the Seven Kingdoms bled for it. Robert has been a just ruler, but it was blood and swords that placed him there."

 

A faraway look crept into his dark grey eyes, as he stared forwards into the barren, tundra-like landscape of the north, covered in snow and stones.

 

"One promise that cost the lives of thousands. After that, I joined the Night's Watch. A way to find redemption. To serve with honor."

 

"So that's why you joined," Jon slowly spoke. "Have you ever regretted it?"

"Never," Benjen shook his head. "Life has been hard on the wall, but never unfair or cruel. It is a constant struggle, but a good one."

 

Jon nodded, accepting his explanation.

 

"Tell me about Aemon," he finally demanded, as they finally saw the silhouette of Castle Black shine softly through the snowy fog that filled the air. "Tell me about my other uncle."

 

"An old man," Benjen told him. "An old man, but a good man. He's served the Night's Watch for so long, that the Seven Kingdoms have forgotten about his Targaryen Blood."

 

He paused for a moment, noticing Castle Black rise before them before he continued once more. 

 

"You wouldn't know he's a Targaryen when you see him. He is bald, his eyes not purple but clouded in a milk-white color. He has been blind for many years, but his hearing and mind are still as sharp as Valyrian Steel. He came here with Brynden Rivers, the Bloodraven. He perished beyond the wall, many years ago, as you probably know. He's always calm and courteous and his advice was never wrong."

 

He looked towards Jon for a moment, smiling softly. "He'll like you."

 

The three of them slowly rode through the entrance of the castle, where they were greeted by a small raven.

 

"Snow! Snow! Snow!" It cawed, as it circled above them.

 

The castle itself was rather worn down. 6 towers rose all across the castle, with a few small timber keeps in between. A gate guarded the tunnel through the Wall, long and twisted and narrow. A great switchback stair climbed its way up from Castle Black to the very top of the Wall. Wooden stairs were anchored into the monstrous structure, holding the stairs firmly in place. An Iron cage attached to a winch could seemingly also be used to ascend or descend to or from the top of the wall.

 

Still, it wasn't any of those features that drew his attention, but a man cloaked in Black that stood on a battlement that overlooked the yard below. He had seen around fifty namedays, black eyes, and black hair, and even from the distance, he seemed cold and humorless to Jon.

Yet when he rode closer, the man's expression turned to confusion and then blatant shock.

 

"Silver hair..." Jon could hear him mutter under his breath, as the man kept staring at him.

 

 

*

Chapter Text

 

The Quiet Wolf

 

"We welcome you to the capital, Lord Stark," the old Grand Maester rasped. "Lord Arryn's death was a great sadness for all of us, my lord. You were assigned to Lord Arryn's former chambers in the tower of the Hand, if it pleases you, my lord."

 

Ned had not been in the stinking city, they called King's Landing for more than a few hours, and already he started to hate it. The moment he had ridden through the gigantic bronze doors of the Red Keep, his presence had been requested in the small council chamber.

 

"My things were already taken there," Ned spoke, nodding towards the old man, who had seen the prime of his life long ago. Not quite unlike me, I must admit.

 

The chamber was richly furnished. Myrish carpets covered the ground instead of rushes, and in one part of the great room, a hundred fabulous beasts were displayed in bright paints on a carved screen from the Summer Isles. 

 

The walls were hung with tapestries from half a dozen different Free Cities, and a pair of Valyrian sphinxes flanked the door, eyes of polished garnet smoldering in black marble faces. 

 

"Lord Stark, we all very much welcome you to King's Landing," the eunuch Varys tittered. "We heard of the incident of the Kingsroad and the troubles between your daughters and the King's eldest son. A devout man I may not be, but I pray for Prince Joffrey's swift recovery." 

 

The bald man rested a hand on Ned's sleeve, leaving behind a stain of powder. The eunuch smelled, like many men and women in the capital, of perfumes and flowers, smells that still did not do much to cover the foul stench of death and shit that lingered over the capital.

 

"Don't we all?" Ned asked in return, unable to keep bits of sarcasm from sneaking into his voice. 

 

"Enough of this nonsense, I've had worse scars than the little brat at half his age," Robert's voice boomed over the chamber. "His damn mother spoils him too much. The little shit should have spent more time talking to the back of my hand, than to all those Lannister arselickers."

 

The king’s seat was at the head of the table, the crowned stag of Baratheon embroidered in gold thread on its pillows.

 

Even at thirty-six namedays, the king still had the voice of a true battle commander. Noone would overhear his orders when he gave them.

 

The seven-year-old Tommen sat next to the king, his demeanor not changing in the slightest at the insults towards his older brother. 

 

There's no love between those two, Ned thought with regret. Joffrey was a spoiled kid, he knew it just as much as everyone else except the queen did, yet siblings should always stand together. What has he done that his little brother already despises him before he reaches his eight nameday? What could Brandon have done, that I wouldn't have looked up to him?

 

The King's brothers, Lord Renly and Lord Stannis were seated to the left and right of Ned, One rather quiet and sullen, while the other seemed to be the very symbol of life.

 

Ned had not seen much of Stannis during the Greyjoy Rebellion, but it was clear that he was a hard and dour, yet just man. Renly, however, had the makings of a classic southern lord, one who dressed in the most expensive finery and with whom you could parlay for hours about food and tourneys.

 

"You look the very image of Robert when you were young," Ned told Renly politely, earning a laugh from both him and Robert.

 

"A poor copy is what you mean to say, Ned, isn't it?" Robert asked good-humouredly, letting his hand run over the worn-out black and yellow fabric that adorned his clothing.

 

"Though I dress better," Renly smiled, ignoring the jape. "If only Robert would spend half the money he uses for weapons on clothing, he might look like a king."

 

"That you spend more money on clothing than half the ladies at court does not make you better looking, Renly," the king replied. "The great Storm King, who brought down a dynasty, is who they truly want."

 

"Let's focus on the task at hand," Ned interrupted finally, ending the amicable back and forth between the brothers. He was eager to finish whatever tasks there were and fulfill his dream of a long, hot bath, then lying down into a featherbed with a roast fowl and a flagon of northern ale. "There is surely a reason why this council was assembled?"

 

"To welcome the newly named hand at court, of course," Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin answered with a sly, slimy smile that carried the appearance of insolence. "But there are also, of course, other matters to be addressed."

 

"Yes, yes, get on with it before I fall asleep," Robert added, waving his hand impatiently. "What is there to be said."

 

"The matter of Daenerys Targaryen for one," Stannis started, speaking up for the first time. "There has been increased activity at Bloodstone. Ships sailing north and east, her dragons flying further and further. Some sailors say they spotted them as far as the Broken Arm and Ghost Hill."

 

"Dorne," Robert grumbled. "They're being spotted only a dozen leagues east of Sunspear. The Dornish are plotting something, that I can tell you. Probably conspiring with that thrice-damned dragon bitch."

 

"The Dornish were never truly pacified after the Rebellion," the Grand Maester added. Wispy strands of white hair fringed the broad bald dome of his forehead above a kindly face. "I fear many of them still resent the Iron Throne as well as House Lannister. They need to be dealt with, your Grace."

 

The old man wore the longest chain Ned had ever seen on a Maester. It was no simple metal choker such as Luwin wore, but two dozen heavy chains wound together into a ponderous metal necklace that covered him from throat to breast. The links were forged of every metal known to man: black iron and red gold, bright copper and dull lead, steel, and tin and pale silver, brass and bronze, and platinum. Garnets and amethysts and black pearls adorned the metal-work, and here and there an emerald or ruby.

 

That chain alone is worth more than most minor houses earn in a decade.

 

"They won't dare to invade the seven kingdoms," Renly stated, confidence ringing in his voice. "I have good connections to the Tyrells, they are loyal to the crown and will be able to repel any attack the Dornish snakes may muster."

 

"They would indeed never invade the Seven Kingdoms," Ned added, warfare being the only point where he could truly hold his own against the other council members. "But what stops them from declaring their independence? Few have ever managed to conquer Dorne, and none have been able to hold it."

 

"Nothing. But then they will be dealt with," Littlefinger stated, his voice as slimy as always. 

 

"An invasion into Dorne? A folly. Not only would it be doomed to fail, but Sunspear is too close to Bloodstone. It might appear like a threat to Daenerys Targaryen."

 

"And that is, why we will need to take care of her now. Once and for all." Robert stated harshly. All the previous joy and carelessness was gone from his voice, as he grew more serious than Ned had ever seen him since he had come to Winterfell. 

 

"She's been on that damned Island for a while now, her little empire is secure enough to expand further," Littlefinger said. "What is left for her to conquer, I ask you? Only Volantis, the First Daughter of Valyria remains, after that there is truly nothing left. Braavos and the Iron Bank support her, Pentos had sued for peace with her, and Lys and Tyrosh are neutral and surely won't rise against her. They even freed their slaves, if only in name alone. Where can she go then? What remains, but Westeros?"

 

"We don't know if she will continue to conquer. The distance between Qarth and Bloodstone is as far as between Starfall and the Wall," Ned insisted. "She might be content with it. And even if she weren't, there are still the Summer Isles, Sothoryos and Ibben, the Dothraki and the Lhazar, the Islands in the Jade Sea and New Ghis. Perhaps she will be as bold as to try to repopulate Valyria."

 

"People with power always want to extend their power," Varys interrupted. "Perhaps the king has the right of it."

 

"He doesn't," Stannis's gruff voice stated. "The old dragonlords of Valyria could have taken Westeros if they wished. They didn't, however, since they simply had no interest in doing so. It might be the same with her. She has yet to show any interest in the dealings of Westeros."

 

"Very true," Baelish spoke, nodding snidely. "But we have all made horrible experiences with her family. Madness runs in their house, does it not? Do you not remember the Mad King? What he did?"

 

"I will never forget what he did," Ned replied gruffly. "But his daughter has not wronged me or mine."

 

"A matter of time, a matter of time," Baelish merely replied, as he rose an eyebrow lasciviously. "The mad king was a very promising king in his youth, we all know that. It only took one shocking event, one single bad experience - Duskendale, in his case - to start his downfall into madness. Can we truly risk such a threat to our borders?"

 

"Targaryens have always walked close to madness, it's true," Stannis noted. "But your suggestion to deal with her would likely only fail. And if it does, this failed assassination could be the beginning-"

 

"-The beginning of her downfall into madness," Varys finished the sentence, nodding his agreement. "A solution for the threat of her is necessary, yet an assassin is not the way to go."

 

"And if we use a faceless man?" Renly asked mildly. "They have never failed in their missions. One of them is all it takes, and we can end this, once and for all."

 

For a moment, silence lingered in the chamber, until each of them started voicing their opinions all at once.

 

"Can the treasury afford this?" Pycelle asked worriedly, his bald head pulled into a frown. 

 

"Not without merit," Robert conceded, while Tommen's eyes were wide open.

 

Baelish seemed delighted, while Varys's face was unreadable.

 

"Impossible," Ned stated curtly. "They are far too expensive."

 

"Expensive they might be," Baelish stated. "But if it can avert a war, it might just be worth it. The crown is already in debt, what are a few million more?"

 

" More? " Ned asked incredulously. "A few million Golden Dragons more?"

 

"Indeed," the Master of Coin nodded. "The treasury has been empty for years. We owe Lord Tywin some three million dragons at present, we could ask for more to afford an assassin."

 

Ned was stunned for a moment, unable to quite cope with what he was hearing. White Harbor was by far the largest city in Westeros, and even they would need many, many decades to earn even a million Golden Dragons. "Are you claiming that the Crown is three million gold pieces in debt?"

 

"The Crown is more than six million gold pieces in debt, Lord Stark," Baelish corrected, and for a moment, Robert had at least the sense to look a bit sheepish. 

 

"The Lannisters are the biggest part of it, but we have also borrowed from Lord Tyrell, the Iron Bank of Braavos, and several Tyroshi trading cartels. Of late, I’ve had to turn to the Faith," he continued with an overdramatic sigh. "Many are willing to lend to the crown, yet all demand it be paid back with time."

 

Ned was struck silent until he fully understood what he was hearing. "The Mad King was a tyrant and a fool, yet he left behind a treasury overflowing with gold. I saw it when we took King's Landing, the gold pieces were stacked higher than mountains in the vaults. What have you done, your Grace?"

 

"Tourneys, feasts, you name it," Robert answered sheepishly. "It went away faster than I thought."

 

The other councilors were all doing their best to pretend that they were somewhere else entirely. No doubt they were wiser than Ned himself was. Few people ever truly openly challenged the king like he was doing at this very moment. 

 

Ned shook his head in silent resignment, as he kept his eyes on his best friend. "The Faceless Men charge more money, the more important their target and how well those targets are protected. You will need to pay millions upon millions of dragons to get the girl killed, gold we simply cannot afford. We will have to find different ways of dealing with her."

 

"They are indeed quite costly," Littlefinger complained, as he carefully stroked his pointed beard. "It is a common saying in Braavos, that for the price they demand, you could hire an army of sellswords instead. Hiring the Golden Company itself is often less expensive, truth be told. And those prices are for merchants. What they would ask for an Empress only the gods know."

 

"And what if she lands in Westeros?" Robert asked. "She might not have shown interest in our dealings so far, yet she remains a threat. An axe hanging over our heads, ready to come down at any time."

 

"There is no axe looming above you, Robert. It's a dragon who is standing above you. And throwing stones at it is not the way to deal with it."

 

"It is a vile thing to kill a child as young as her," the Master of Coin spoke slowly. "But it might serve the good of the realm."

 

"What did we rise against the Mad King for, I ask you? It was the Mad King demanding mine and King Robert's heads what sparked the war, yet this event was caused by the murder of my family," Ned spoke firmly, looking around him as if daring the other men to challenge him. "My sister's disappearance had a part as well, yet it was the unjust murders committed by the Mad King, that started all of this in truth."

 

"We rebelled to end the Targaryens."

 

"We rebelled because the king unjustly murdered men, women, and children alike," Ned replied. "Will you do the same?"

 

For a moment, Robert purpled, his face changing as comprehension came. His eyes narrowed, and a flush crept up his neck past the black and yellow gowns and finery. Yet finally, after a tense moment that seemed to last an eternity, he seemed to deflate a bit. Ned matched his stare head-on, grey orbs piercing into blue ones.

 

"Fine," Robert finally grunted in annoyment. "Have it your way. But we'll still have to find a solution for the business with the dornish cunts."

 

“Another day,” Ned said, still feeling weary of the long ride south. “I am tired. Let us call a halt for today and resume when we are fresher.”

 

Robert quickly nodded his consent, and Ned immediately stood up, nodding and bowing to them all before leaving the fanciful chamber.

 

*

 

Ned slowly strode through the godswood of King's Landing. A poor excuse for one it was at best a quarter of the size of the one in Winterfell, neglected and empty. 

 

In Winterfell, thousands of years of humus covered the earth, giant trees, primarily sentinels, oaks, and ironwoods stood tall around the Weirwood, a long and melancholy face carved in the bark, its deep-cut eyes red with dried sap. This weirwood, unlike those of older godswoods, this heart tree was a great oak, not a true weirwood. 

 

Only a single other tree stood close nearby, a small pine tree with twisted branches and rough bark, smokeberry vines creeping around it like snakes.

 

Yet despite all, despite the false heart tree and the desolate surroundings, the godswood was still something more than just that. There was something wild about a godswood; even here, in the heart of the Red Keep, inside the city where southern kings ruled and where The Fate of the Seven was always present, you could feel the old gods watching. Their eyes were everywhere, the red-sap leaking eyes of the Heart Tree and those of all the surrounding animals. 

 

The Old Gods were one with the nature, mostly silent but ever-present. They watched with a thousand unseen eyes from everywhere, their power tucked away, rarely showing but that made it no less strong.

 

Suddenly, Ned found himself thinking of his good-brother, Rhaegar Targaryen. Dead for fifteen years, yet Robert's hate for him had only seemed to fester over the years. Even now, his hatred for the man lived on. Not only that, yet it had grown ever stronger, only was it now directed at his younger sister Daenerys, a girl who had not even been born at the time of the Rebellion.

 

Why did you not tell us, Lyanna? Why did you not call for a parley before the battle, Rhaegar?

 

For a moment, Ned remained silent and simply paid attention to his surroundings, as he sat down on a nearby oak log. 

 

He could smell the typical earthy smell of the godswoods, mixed with the sweet scent of wildflowers and wild mint and herbs. He could hear the leaves of the Heart Tree were rustling, the wind whistling around trunks and rattling the leaves, birds singing and branches creaking. The rustle of animals rooting in underbrush accompanied the sounds of insects humming.

 

He stayed long into the evening, as guardsmen of House Stark joined him before the Heart Tree, speaking their prayers to the Old Gods and enjoying the silence and peace. It was a rare good to be found in the capital.

 

Finally, Jory lit a fire near them, a small flame surrounded by stones so that it would not spread, yet enough to keep them warm in the darkness.

 

Ned stared at the flames intensively for a while, so much his eyes slowly started to hurt. Yet just as he was about to avert them, he could hear the hissing of the flames grow louder, their fiery tongues lashing higher and higher, until the hissing started to form a melody.

 

The voice hissed silently, yet it was a voice all the same. It hissed and crooked, yet with its raw and untamed voice, it sang a song. A song, that every child in Westeros knew, even in the most distant and excluded strongholds in the far north.

 

It were only two phrases, yet they were different, rewritten in a way so that the words would burn themselves into Ned's memory forever.

 

And who are you, the proud lord said,

that I must bow so low?

Only a girl far more powerful

than you could ever know.

 

*

 

The Dreamer

 

The wild track that passed for the kingsroad had been rough, yet Jon was long used to journeys through a wild landscape. He had left north together with uncle Benjen, Ramsay, and Lord Tyrion just as the King had left south. Ghost and Frost roamed around them, occasionally showing themselves to the group.

 

He could see the old man who had whispered something about silver hair stare at him intensively. He was clothed better than most of the others, his grey-streaked black hair combed, and his cloak properly fastened.

 

"That one looks like a proper cunt," Ramsay muttered, as he too noticed the man.

 

Benjen gave a short laugh at that. "Alliser Thorne is his name. He is the master-at-arms responsible for training new recruits. Never seen a more dour man. He was a knight of House Thorne in the crownlands and fought on the side of House Targaryen during Robert's Rebellion."

 

"So he ended here?" Jon asked curiously. It was rare, that men were banished to the wall, simply for fighting on the wrong side. Even Ser Barristan who had killed a dozen of the king's best friends had been pardoned. He had even sat on the small council, that was until he had fled east, where he now sat on Daenerys Targaryen's small council.

 

"He did," Benjen nodded. "Can say about him what you will, but he was loyal to the dragons. Following the Sack of King's Landing, he was given a simple choice by the Old Lion. Taking the black or their heads mounted on the walls of King's Landing on the morrow. And so, he ended here."

 

"He couldn't bend the knee?" Jon asked. "It is rarely heard that such an option is not given."

 

"No," Tyrion spoke up from next to him. "My father was never one to give such options to men he deemed untrustworthy. Death or exile. I imagine he will not take a liking to me."

 

"No, he won't," Benjen replied. "But he likes no one anyways, so you're not alone with that. Never saw me as more than a traitor, that's for sure."

 

"He's looking at you strangely," Ramsay whispered to Jon, as they rode closer to the man. 

 

"Wonder why that is."

 

"You're probably prettier than half the women he has seen," Ramsay grinned. "Would keep my chambers locked at night."

 

"Oh, for fucks sake," Jon grunted. "This is not the time for your japes. I've seen dead men who seemed more alive than this guy."

 

"Benjen!" an old man greeted, as they approached the stables to tie their horses to the poles. He and Benjen quickly grasped each other's arms in greeting. He seemed a gruff old man with an immense bald head and a long and shaggy beard, the color a shade darker than the pure white of snow. A raven was seated on his shoulder, occasionally flapping its wings and flowing around them. 

 

"Corn ," the raven cawed with a raw voice. "Corn, corn."

 

"Lord Commander," Benjen replied formally. "I'm back."

 

"And with recruits," Jeor Mormont stated, letting his eyes trail over the men that had arrived shortly after them. "Criminals, all of them, but it's the best we can get these days."

 

For a moment he remained silent, as he turned towards the rest of them. "And you? Have you come to join the Night's Watch as well?"

 

"I'm afraid not, Lord Commander," Jon said respectfully, dipping his head slightly. He could feel the presence of the raven nearby, controlled by a third eye. Brynden. "I have come to discuss a matter of importance with the Maester of Castle Black. My lord father had a few questions regarding matters of the north. It is told, that with age comes wisdom and your Maester is said to be the oldest man in Westeros."

 

"He is," Jeor nodded, though he seemed not entirely convinced. "Blind he may be, but Aemon knows what he's about. I pray the gods let us keep him another twenty years. His council has never failed me, not once. He is old enough to have seen seven kings upon the Iron Throne. But his wits are still as sharp as ever."

 

"I shall look forwards to meeting him," Jon answered politely. 

 

"You have our hospitality," Jeor nodded. "I'll have a steward lead you to your chambers. We luckily always have some empty ones. Ever since the Watch has started to decline..."

 

"I will speak with my father on this matter and encourage him to have more people join the watch," Jon stated. "You have my word on that."

 

"Bowen!" Jeor called out to an elderly man, as round and red as a pomegranate. "Have some of yer stewards find these three lads here some chambers."

 

"Of course," the other man answered swiftly. "Chett! Cuger!" he called out to two smaller men who stood nearby. "Find these lads here some chambers! Then tell the Maester this one wishes to meet him."

 

"Yes, of course," the two of them replied, indicating for their small group to follow them.

 

"Come to my solar, Benjen," Jeor stated, as they left towards there room. "Something must have happened at Hardhome."

 

*

 

"He-Hello," a boy stuttered, as Jon approached the rookery at the far end of Castle Black, where he had been told, that the old Maester would be.

 

The boy was very fat, with dark hair, pale eyes, and a large moon-shaped face. "Your name?" Jon asked softly, as he saw the other boy’s eyes widen slightly at the sight of him. 

 

"Sa-Sam," he stammered

 

"Hello Sam," Jon said. "I would like to speak to Maester Aemon. I was told by the Lord Commander, that I could find him here."

 

“Who is it, Samwell?” An ancient voice croaked from behind the fat boy. Not as old as the one belonging to Lord Bloodraven, yet old all the same. It seemed kind, even as it was at times as raw as that of a raven.

 

"Jon Snow, a son of House Stark," Jon replied for Sam. The other boy seemed apprehensive in his presence, always looking at him slightly scared.

 

"Well then, see him in, Samwell," the old Maester replied, with a blind nod. His old bones seemed to creak, as he slowly moved around the rookery. "The last ravens for today are sent; I have time for whatever matters our friend here wants to discuss."

 

"Thank you, for your time, Maester," said Jon, stepping inside and nodding.

 

"I am afraid I have nothing to drink or eat to offer you, Jon, this is but a rookery."

 

"I ask you for neither, Maester, only your counsel."

 

Aemon nodded. “Very well. Counsel is all I can give these days, though words are often more powerful than we give them credit for. It is often enough a simple word in the dark that starts a war, no more, no less."

 

"I would hope, that no war will be started over the matters I would like to discuss with you," Jon stated, with a small smile. 

 

"So do I, Jon Snow. I have seen much death and destruction in my life. Seven kings, I have seen on the Iron Throne, and I might live to see another. Men have approached me about matters of treason and deceit, yet I have never given any dishonest council."

 

"Never?" Jon asked, unable to keep surprise out of his voice. 

 

"A few small lies in my childhood, but never more," Aemon replied, his wrinkled hand wrapped around his long metal chain. "I am a Maester, a man to teach the young and have them learn their history, politics, and courtesies. We obey and give counsel to whoever would seek it."

 

"An admirable goal," Jon stated softly. "There are too many dishonest souls in this world, honest men are growing rarer by the minute."

 

"That they do," the old man nodded. "But I do not think you came here, to discuss the honestly of the Westerosi folk with me?" He paused for a moment, before turning to Sam who was still standing in the door. "We will talk later, Samwell. Get some rest, for now, you need it."

 

The maester is over a hundred years old , he thought quietly. He is a very wise man .

 

"First... I... wanted to ask you some questions regarding the old lore of the north," Jon started, as Sam left them. "The Stark Children have recently been given Direwolves and as they grow, some of them seem to... skinchange into them as they sleep..."

 

"Skinchanging..." Maester Aemon muttered, so quiet that Jon had to strain his ears to hear him. "It's been decades since anyone has heard of it, most men consider it to be a myth. The last person who was said to have used it was Brynden Rivers."

 

"Bloodraven," Jon nodded. "He too, had the Blood of the First Men, through House Blackwood."

 

The old Maester nodded gingerly, as he nodded to a stack of books that were piled up in the corner of the room. "There may be some books of the old lore here. Our knowledge on skinchanging is patchy at best, but maybe that will change with the coming generation."

 

"Yes, thank you," Jon nodded respectfully.

 

"But did you truly come here, to consult me about this?" Maester Aemon asked. "I seem to recall, that the Maester of Winterfell, Luwin, has forged a Valyrian Steel link. Few would know more about magic than he does, me included. Few outside of Castle Black even know me."

 

"Well, one of the reasons was that those wolf dreams my siblings are having, seem similar to the dragon dreams that the Targaryens once seemed to have."

 

For a moment, silence lingered over the rookery. "So you know who I am?" Aemon asked. "Who I was before I came here, who I could have been had I not?"

 

"I do."

 

"I could have been king. Maybe had I taken the throne, we could have avoided this business of my great-nephew going mad and burning people altogether. Or maybe it could have turned out even worse." 

 

For a moment, he paused. "Pardon me, I'm sure you have no desire to hear an old man's dreams of the past. It is hard to be so old. And harder still to be so blind. I miss the sun. And books. I miss books most of all."

 

"Actually I do..." Jon started, and for the first time in years, he found himself at a loss for words. "I... There is another reason I wanted to speak with you specifically."

 

"Oh?" Aemon asked curiously. "Pray tell, what is this reason? I can think of none."

 

"Maester... I... There is a reason I never referred to myself as Lord Stark's son."

 

"A son of House Stark, you called yourself, I remember. Were you not born from Lord Stark's seed?"

 

"No," Jon replied. "I was born to his sister Lyanna... He found me in the Tower of Joy in Dorne, my father was-"

 

"-Rhaegar Targaryen," Aemon finished the sentence for him. "I remember him quite well, I never met him, but he wrote to me often."

 

He moved closer to Jon, his blackthorn cane he used to walk discarded. When his blind eyes, clouded and milk-white, focussed on Jon, he could feel his gaze linger on him, more powerful than anything else, yet at the same time soft and gentle.

 

He slowly raised his thin, fleshless fingers to Jon's face, letting them trace his cheekbones and chin. "You speak true," he finally stated, tears creeping into the corners of his empty eyes. "I can feel it, you have Egg's nose... his lips, his cheekbones. I should have known Rhaegar had a child, I should have known..."

 

"Nobody has figured it out, uncle," Jon said softly. "You mustn't blame yourself for not doing what no one else ever did."

 

"I often spend half the night with ghosts, remembering times fifty years past as if they were yesterday," Aemon said slowly, his voice filled with sadness, yet at the same time, Jon could hear the joy in it. "I receive letters daily, telling me about my grand-niece in the east, her dragons, her armies. But I am still an old man, in a few moons a hundred years of age. I knew I would never meet her, that I would die alone and forgotten. But you are here."

 

"I am here," Jon reaffirmed, allowing the old Maester to trace his features once more.

 

"You are still troubled," the maester stated after a long silence. "What is it, that keeps you awake at night, Jon Snow?"

 

Jon hesitated for a moment. Will I scare him away from me, where we have just truly met?

 

"I... was north of the wall for quite some time."

 

"I heard of it, your fath- uncle searched for you everywhere. But please, go on."

 

"North of the wall, I saw things... things that no man should ever see. I saw Children of the Forest, I saw Brynden River, Bloodraven, living in a cave beyond the wall, weirwood roots running through his body, keeping him alive. I was there at Hardhome, when the Others came, slaughtering every man, woman, and child in that encampment before they rose again with those glowing, blue eyes. The unnatural cold, those wights. A deadly wave of human flesh, no more no less."

 

He paused for a moment, looking at the Maester's unreadable face. "This must sound unbelievable to you. I know for certain, that I would not believe anyone who told me this."

 

The old Maester slowly took a step away from him, moving towards the pile of old books. "I do not know you well, Jon Snow, not yet at least. But you do not seem like a mad man to me, nor a liar. What you say sounds indeed unbelievable, yet magic is returning to this world. An old friend of mine, Marwyn is his name wrote to me a few years ago. The glass candles in the citadel are alight, your aunt has awoken the magic. Fire magic."

 

"And this might have awoken Ice magic as well," Jon breathed. 

 

"Yes, my boy," Aemon smiles, his grin toothless. "The Song of Ice and Fire, we call it. It's been years since I have spoken to someone about this... the last person was a prince. This song is about finding parity and unity. Ice and Fire, perfectly balanced. This will be your job."

 

"Mine?" Jon asked. "I asked Bloodraven the same thing. But he didn't tell me much. Why me? Isn't my aunt suited far better for these things? I...I know that I have achieved more than any other person I know at my age, but she? She has done far more than I ever did. I trained in a cave to become a greenseer, while she forged an empire. She has dragons, shadowbinders, thousands of subjects of worship her."

 

"But you are the song," Aemon replied wistfully. "You are the Song of Ice and Fire. The Stark's ice mixed with the Targaryen fire. My niece, your aunt, is a strong person. But she will need guidance. Her dragons are powerful, but not invulnerable."

 

Jon wasn’t sure how to reply. "They are more powerful than anything in this world. I have seen the Others, their strength, they are cold, harsh, beautiful, inhuman, but fire melts ice."

 

"Or the ice is so cold, it suffocates the flames," Aemon mused. "The gods are cruel, it seems. All my life, I have longed to see a dragon, but now, that they have returned I will never meet them. I studied them at the Citadel."

 

"You did?" Jon asked slightly surprised. 

 

"Many do," Aemon sighed. "It's an intriguing topic. The Black Dread, his flames, his skull, his diet, his growth. I did not only study them, I was obsessed with them. I agreed to go to the Citadel in the first place, as a means to discover more about them, to learn and to maybe hatch them again."

 

"Your... younger brother..." Jon started hesitantly before Aemon finished his sentence for him.

 

"-was much the same. He too wanted to bring dragons back to this world. He tried, but he failed. The blackened ruins of Summerhall stand to this day. But I knew more about them than anyone else. I read every tome on dragonlore in the Citadel, except one. Only one."

 

"Which one was that?"

 

"The one they call Blood and Fire," my boy, Aemon said hesitantly. "A fragmentary, anonymous, blood-soaked tome containing information about dragons. It is sometimes called 'The Death of Dragons'. The only surviving copy is hidden away in a locked vault beneath the Citadel."

 

"Take this," Aemon muttered, as he reached for one of the books behind him. "The Citadel condemned this book as provocative but unsound. Baelor the Blessed ordered the book expunged and destroyed during his reign, although some fragments have survived. This is one of two remaining complete copies."

 

Jon blinked. "And you are giving this to me?" 

 

" Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History , also known as Unnatural History, " Aemon nodded. "Not for you, but to pass it on. I am too old, too frail to do it, so you will have to do it for me. Go east. Meet your aunt and give her this book."

 

Jon gave a short nod, carefully taking the leather-framed, old tome from the Maester's hands.

 

"Brynden loved this book. It helped him a lot, it will help her, too."

 

Jon paused for a second, looking at Aemon intrigued. "Brynden? He never told me about this book."

 

Aemon sighed, though there was an edge of knowledge to Aemon's voice. "Brynden is many things, but if I can call him one thing for certain, it is a man of many secrets."

 

"Very well," Jon stated. "I will go east and do what you asked of me. Do you wish for me to tell Daenerys about you? Of who you are?"

 

"You can," Aemon nodded. "I believe I will be long dead when you reach her. But if not, let her know that if she ever requires something from me, I will be here, always ready."

 

The old man moved closer to him, resting his pale, gaunt hand against his right cheek. "I wish I could see you now. Please allow me to give my nephew one last piece of counsel, the same counsel that I once gave my brother when we parted for the last time. He was three-and-thirty when the Great Council chose him to ascend the Iron Throne. A man grown with sons of his own, yet in some ways still a boy. Egg had an innocence to him, a sweetness we all loved. Kill the boy within you, I told him the day I took ship for the Wall. It takes a man to rule. An Aegon, not an Egg. Kill the boy and let the man be born. You are half the age that Egg was, and have already left the 'Egg' behind, yet your burden will be heavier than that he ever bore, I fear."

 

Small tears crept into both their eyes, grey and white, as he continued. "If what you say is true, then winter is truly almost upon us. You will find little joy here, but you will need to look past that and do what needs to be done. Many good men have been bad kings and some bad men have been good kings. Brynden was a bad man, truly he was, yet he would have been a great king. You are a dragon, Jaehaerys or Aegon or Daemon or Daeron, mayhaps even Aemon... Whatever name Rhaegar may have gifted you with."

 

"Jon," he interrupted. "Jon Snow."

 

A small smile graced the old man's face for a moment. "You're a wolf, Jon Snow, your loyal companions in the stables are proof of that. But you are not just that. You're also a dragon. Be a dragon."

 

*




Chapter Text

The Iron Captain

 

The rhythmic beat of drums carried over the waves, as the  Silence  swept over the dark waves of the Summer Sea. A single-masted galley, the sails stretching in the wind, painted as black as a starless sky. On the prow of the ship was a black iron maiden with one arm outstretched. Her waist was slender, her breasts high and proud, her legs long and shapely. A windblown mane of black iron hair streamed from her head, and her eyes were mother-of-pearl, but she had no mouth. 

 

The Straits of Qarth and the Great Isle of Moraq laid to the right, the smaller isles of Vahar and Lesser Moraq behind them.

 

To his right, Victarion could see the ram of the  Iron Victory  cutting through the waves, turning, oars slapping into the sea.

 

Victarion wore his plain, steel armor while keeping his giant Kraken helm firmly in his grasp. More Ironmen and thralls were close to him, abord Euron's cursed ship, yet when Victarion spoke to them, they only raised their heads, but gave no answer.

 

They did not have a tongue to answer with, Euron had long seen to that. Few sounds besides that clashing of waves and howling of wind could ever be heard aboard the  Silence.  

 

"This will be a great victory, brother," the only voice that Victarion ever heard aboard the ship greeted from behind him.

 

Aye, a great victory for you and your mad plans.

 

Euron was truly mad, Victarion had known it for a long time, but obedience came naturally to Victarion Greyjoy. Balon had been mad, Aeron was just as mad with his ramblings about the drowned god and his watery halls, yet Euron was the one who you should truly fear.

 

The madest of them all.

 

Victarion had obeyed since his birth, followed Balon dutifully in everything he did, fought at Lannisport and Old Wyk, and Pyke. When Balon's sons were born, he had quickly learned that he would bow to them as well, until one by one, they fell to the blades of the Greenlanders. Only the youngest of his brother's sons remained, a broken boy in the far north, the Old Way lost on him.

 

Asha remained as well, a ward to the King's brother, living on the Isle of Dragonstone. In his heart, Victarion had always loved Asha best of all his brother Balon’s children. The Drowned God had blessed her with a warrior’s spirit and the wisdom of a king. But he had cursed her with a woman’s body, too. Had she been born a man, Victarion would have followed her into every war, every battle.

 

But instead, when the Drowned God had summoned Balon and his sons down to his watery halls, he could not follow her. Instead, Victarion had followed Euron on his conquests and explorations. To Valyria and Asshai they had sailed, the port of Ibben and the holy Isle of Leng, through the Basilisk and Manticore Isles. He had seen Oldtown and Braavos, Wyvern Point and Lizard Head and the Gulf of Grief, and the city of Lorath.

 

The ironborn ran their longships up to the great city whose silhouette was starting to show in the distance. Slim towers stood tall in the distance, and elaborate fountains filled every square, wrought in the shapes of griffins and dragons and manticores.

 

Three high walls, each at least 30 feet in height rose around the city of Qarth, surrounding the city with a great, yellow curtain that protected the city.

 

In the cities great harbor, a few ornate galleys patrolled, one of the most powerful fleets in the east. One with which they had not rarely clashed.

 

"Are you sure this will work?" Victarion grunted, as their ships approached the huge harbor of the port city. 

 

"It won't if you don't put away that damned helmet," Euron replied, shaking his head. "Never understood how you could wear that monstrosity into battle."

 

For the first time ever, the sails of the  Silence  and  Iron Victory  were not painted with the golden kraken of House Greyjoy, but instead displayed the green grass of an ancient trading organization.

 

What was it called again?

 

"The Ancient Guild of Spicers-" Euron started.

 

Ah

 

"-has long clashed with the Pureborn and Tourmaline Brotherhood. As of now, they have the advantage, they won't dare to try to search a ship that bears their banners. But a Kraken-shaped helmet would make us look quite suspicious."

 

Victarion contemplated his brother's words for a moment, before nodding and motioning for one of the thralls to come to them.

 

"Take it. Bring it to my rooms," Victarion commanded, as the thrall bowed deeply and shuffled away.

 

"And now?" Victarion asked as they approached the giant harbor of Qarth.

 

"We wait," Euron answered. "And then we kill."

 

"The Warlocks? The Nightbringers?"

 

"Do Warlocks scare you, brother? Most are mummers, as vulnerable as any man with a few magic tricks. Once they were mighty, but now they are as ludicrous as those feeble old soldiers who boast of their prowess long after strength and skill have left them."

 

"Then why do we need to attack them in the first place? If they are no threat?"

 

"I said  most , brother," Euron replied. "They read their crumbling scrolls and drink  shade of the evening,  but none understand the wine as I do. They are no more than hollow husks compared to who they once were."

 

Victarion remained silent, though that was enough of an answer to Euron.

 

"Do you doubt me?"

 

"We failed before."

 

"They fled."

 

"We came to Asshai, but they knew we were coming. Do you not remember how we searched every house, every corner, but when we found humans they were just hollow husks that appeared as we approached."

 

"They won't see us coming this time," Euron assured him. "I have seen to it. These warlocks are different from the Spellsingers that wandered in Asshai. Weeker, more feeble. You will see. I know it."

 

"And how do you know that?"

 

"As a kid..." Euron started, as his voice started to grow distant in reminiscence. "I dreamt that I could fly."

 

Euron turned to face Victarion, his bruised lips curled in a half-smile. "An old crow, a thousand eyes it had. Fly! Fly! He told me again and again. And I did. I was supposed to be his apprentice, one of his many eyes, the crow's eye. But then I woke. And I could fly no longer. At least that is what the Maester told me."

 

Victarion merely grunted at his brother's story.

 

"But what if the Maester didn't tell the truth?" Euron asked. "What if I can fly? How can I ever know unless I leap from some tall tower?"

 

"There," Victarion said, pointing towards the huge sail mast that rose from aboard the silence. "Climb and jump. See if you can fly."

 

"No," Euron replied, shaking his head slightly. The bright light of the nearby Red Waste glimmered in Euron's eye. His smiling eye. "But I will fly. I only need the Warlock's wine. You will see."

 

"Yes," Victarion nodded. "We will see."

 

The  Silence  moved through towards the great, yellow city, uncontested as Euron had predicted.

 

Qarth was one of the world’s great ports, its great sheltered harbor a riot of color and clangor and strange smells. Winesinks, warehouses, and gaming dens lined the streets, cheek by jowl with cheap brothels and the temples of peculiar gods. Cutpurses, cutthroats, spellsellers, and moneychangers mingled with every crowd.

 

The waterfront was one great marketplace where the buying and selling went on all day and all night, and goods might be had for a fraction of what they cost at the bazaar, if a man did not ask where they came from.

 

The brothers walked past several miles of their quays, docks, and storehouses, all the way out to the far end of the horseshoe-shaped harbor, from where they could see the Palace of Dust, known as the House of the Undying rise ominously in the distance.

 

*

 

The Nightbringer

 

Yomei-Nightbringer walked towards the House of the Undying. The Palace of Dust stood tall, built of grey and ancient stone, with no other buildings near.

 

It was a long and low building, without towers or windows, the Palace-like tower formed like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees. 

 

Yomei could see the dark trees all around him, their ominous shapes clouded in fog. Their leaves were used to make the warlock's wine, known as the  shade of the evening.  

 

As Yomei slowly strode forwards, his long black gown fastened around his neck, whirling behind him, as the wind blew towards him. The palace's door was a tall, oval mouth set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face. The mouth was the entrance to the palace, wide open as if the stone face was screaming.

 

The dwarf servitor stood at the entrance of the palace, his face cramped and pointed, while his hands were tiny and pink. He did not even reach the Nightbringer's knee in height. Still, he was dressed more expensively than many of the most wealthy traders in Qarth, his small form clad in livery of blue and purple.

 

"Take and drink," urged the small man, handing him a slender crystal glass filled with thick blue liquid: The warlock's wine, the  shade of the evening. 

 

Yonei Nightbringer's lips had long turned blue from consuming the drink, the wine that tasted like all the drinks in the world combined. 

 

Every flavor, everything that mankind had ever tasted upon their tongues, he could taste as he swallowed the liquid.

 

Immediately, he could feel the magic grow stronger within him, the hot tendrils spreading out inside them, the presence of sorcery growing ever stronger.

 

He slowly strode forwards, onwards to the Holy Silver Chamber of Dreams, where the Undying resided. The pale-golden carpet under his pitch-black boots had once been gorgeously colored, the fabric shining in pure gold. Now only a few golden pieces were glinting broken amidst the faded grey stones of the fallen palace.

 

Remnants of days long passed. But with the Dragon Queen, the magic was growing stronger again and soon they would be able to truly restore the House of the Undying to what it had once been; A palace of glory and beauty.

 

When the magic of the Freehold had bloomed in the east, where entire streets, entire cities were forged from magic, the House of the Undying had looked very different. It had shone with every color known to men and even those unknown, gleaming so brightly that one might fear to go blind whenever sunbeams struck the palace.

 

The Nightwalker walked onwards and onwards, always taking the right door. He walked up seemingly unending stairwells, even though the House of the Undying had no towers until finally, the stairs ended, revealing a wide set of wooden doors.

 

They were fashioned of ebony and weirwood, the black and white grains swirling and twisting in strange interwoven patterns. 

 

"Welcome, Yonei Nightbringer," one of the Undying greeted, as he entered the Chamber of Dreams. "We have been awaiting you."

 

An ancient table, created from pitch-black, fused stone filled the Chamber of Dreams. The old, withered bodies of the Undying ones surrounded it, their figures no more than blue shadows. Beyond the shallow greeting, they were as motionless as always.

 

More warlocks were standing around the room. Ilijka Moondreamer and Bellamy of Leng, the Shadowwhisperer and the one known as Meron Darkwill.

 

With a nod, Yonei greeted his co-warlocks. 

 

Just as he was about to start the meeting, the withered weirwood door opened once more, revealing a hooded man, cloaked in black.

 

His face was hidden under the long cloak, yet Yonei could see an eyepatch above his left eye, his other one light blue.

 

Immediately murmurs filled the room.

 

"Urrathon..."

 

"Master..."

 

"Nightwalker..."

 

Yonei turned towards the entrance, bowing ever so slightly at the new arrival. "Urrathon Night-walker," he announced. "We did not think we would be able to welcome you at the House of the Undying again so soon."

 

Silence surrounded them, as all eyes were focussed on the famous warlock. The complete silence that lingered when the Undying so wished was often unnerving, even to experienced warlocks like Yonei. Still, the lord of Urrathon seemed entirely unbothered.

 

"Yet here I am," answered the Night-walker. "And I intend to make the magic stronger than ever before."

 

As the Night-Walker spoke, Yonei could see the eyes of the others starting to gleam with lust for power, hot and hungry, always all too eager to secure any scrap of power and influence.

 

"And how would you intend to do that, Lord Nightwalker?" Ilijka Moondreamer asked. "Our magic is already growing, it will not take long until it is restored."

 

"But will it be restored to what it once was? What is truly was?" Urrathon replied. When he started to laugh, his voice was raw, sharp, and deep, cutting into their minds with every second. "Why accept what little magic the Silver Queen throws at you? Scrabs to be picked up?"

 

"We can't fight her. It is impossible," Beron Darkwill stated. "It is known."

 

"We can," Urrathon Night-walker insisted. Another man entered from behind him through the wide weirwood door, carrying a long, valyrian horn. It was at least six feet long, made from the horn of what must have been an enormous dragon. Glimmering bands covered by strange writings, Valyrian glyphs, adorned the horn, making it shimmer even in the dim light of the House of the Undying.

 

"A dragonbinder," the sorceress Bellamy of Leng whispered.

 

"We need to warn the Empress," another warlock muttered, though it seemed the Night-walker had heard him.

 

Suddenly, as Yonei looked upon Urrathon, he would have almost would not have recognized him. He seemed to change, he grew shorter, his beard long, his eyes darker.

 

He still wore the same clothes as before, ivory bracelets that dangled from his wrists, a long, dark cloak and leather gloves that seemed to melt together with his hands. Yet suddenly he wore a breastplate, just as the other man who had brought the hellhorn of Valyria into the Silver Chamber of Dreams.

 

For a short moment, Yonei could see the Night-walker lift his head. The eye-patch was gone. In its place, a bloody red eye now shined with malice.

 

Urrathon drew a sword from his back, slicing through half a dozen warlocks within a few seconds. Another strike cut through the pulsing heart that hovered above the long table.

 

The ends of Urrathon Night-walker’s lips turned into a smile. "My friends." He looked around the table. "My colleagues. Warlocks of the House of the Undying. Warlocks of the House of Urrathon Nightwalker."

 

“What have you done, Urrathon?" Yonei asked in a panic, as the Night-walker moved towards him, the purple blood of the Undying still dripping from his blade. The once pulsing heart laid discarded on the ground, and as the heartbeats faded, so did Yonei's magic.

 

But the master of Urrathon did not answer. A dozen more men, clad in dark leathers and armed to the teeth with axes and swords entered the room.

 

What did he do? How did we not see him coming? 

 

"You knew only what I showed you of me," Urrathon said, his red eye shining. "Urrathon Night-walker you all call me, but it is not the name I was given when I came into this world."

 

"Why...? Why...?" Beron Darkwill croaked, as a pool of blood formed around him, ever-growing. "We were your servants."

 

"But also a liability. I cannot have you inform the Dragon Queen about this. I have my own plans for her."

 

A tiny bit of wind came gusting through the door that led to the Chamber of Dreams, stirring Urrathon's cloak.

 

"My name is not Urrathon. It is not Crow's Eye," the man declared as the other men advanced onto them, their spears, swords, and axes raised high.

 

An axe cut into the Nightbringer's torso. As excruciating pain filled him, and darkness started to creep into his vision, he could see Urrathon Night-walker approach him.

 

Blood spluttered from his mouth, as the man crouched down next to him. And for the first time in his life, Yonei felt fear.

 

"My name is Euron Greyjoy," he stated, as his red eye started to glimmer in the dark. Yonei could feel his mind fade and sink into an endless abyss.

 

A sword blinked next to him, as the darkness consumed him.

 

*

 

The Princess of Dorne

 

Areo Hotah walked beside her, as she made her way to her father's quarters. His countenance was as stoic as always, giving away little that could satisfy Arianne's curiosity.

 

"Why does father want to see me?" she asked the captain of their household guard, as they strode through the hallways of Sunspear.

 

The wild waves of the Summer Sea could be seen to the west, as they crashed against the stony shores of Dorne in the distance. The salt breeze coming from the sea always blew over the Water Gardens, allowing them to be pleasantly cool at nights, and hot during the daytime.

 

"I do not know, Princess," Areo Hotah said. "The prince commands and Hotah obeys. He told me to fetch you, and so I did."

 

They walked for a while, through the labyrinth of narrow alleys, hidden courts, and noisy bazaars, through the Sandship, the original stronghold of House Martell, until they finally arrived at the dome of leaded glass in the Tower of the Sun. 

 

The castle's seneschal Ricasso stood nearby, deep in discussion with Ser Manfrey Martell, the castellan.

 

"The prince awaits you inside," Hotah stated, opening the door for her. 

 

"You are not coming?" Arianne asked, slightly confused. It was rare, that Areo was not in her father's presence, whenever he spoke to someone. He had his absolute trust, and even matters of treason against the Iron Throne Doran had addressed shamelessly in his presence. Not that Areo had ever proven himself unworthy of the trust.

 

"If my prince asks for me, then I shall enter, but not before," came the man's short reply.

 

As Arianne entered the room, she saw her father sit on his high seat. There were two twin seats before her, one with the Martell spear inlaid in gold upon its back, the other bearing the blazing Rhoynish sun. Her father was seated on the Martell chair, clad in a yellow gown.

 

Doran had aged a lot since Arianne had last seen him. He was in his early fifties, yet his case of gout that had also left him unable to walk, made him appear much older than he was in truth. His body was soft and shapeless, and the gout has swollen and reddened the joints of his knees, toes, and hands. 

 

He covered his legs and feet with his yellow gown with the sun of House Martell embroidered into it, yet Arianne could still see the bulges where the swellings were located. His dark eyes were clouded in pain, as he looked at her.

 

Many books were located at the foot of Prince Doran's chair. He often read in his times, even about topics that Arianne would consider dull and annoying. She could see books about the old histories of the Seven Kingdoms,  The Seven-Pointed Star  and  Lives of the High Septons,  a copy of Nymeria's Ten Thousand Ships.

 

Is this about who I am to marry, maybe? Please let this not be about marriage.

 

Arianne had already refused a good amount of suitors. All of them were either too ugly or too old. None had not been anything near a decent match for her. 

 

She had grown up, knowing that one day she would have to wed, as the Princess of Dorne and heir to Sunspear that was expected. At times she envied the Sand-Snakes for their ability to wed whoever they wished.

 

"If you would wed, wed," Oberyn had told each of the Sand Snakes when they had reached their fourteenth nameday. "If not, take your pleasure where you find it. There’s little enough of it in this world. Choose well, though. If you saddle yourself with a fool or a brute, don’t look to me to rid you of him. I gave you the tools to do that for yourself."

 

She looked at her father for a moment, before dropping in a short curtsy. "Father," she greeted politely.

 

"Arianne," Doran nodded. "Please sit with me."

 

"You asked for me, Father," Arianne stated shortly, cutting directly to the topic. Her father did tend to avoid the actual point of their discussions for as long as possible.

 

"I did. We have things to discuss. Allies. Enemies. Wars."

 

"You have never consulted me on such matters before," Arianne replied with slight surprise in her voice. 

 

"But now I do," Doran answered shortly. "The matters of warfare are more important than anything else when ruling a kingdom. Knowing what fights you can take and which you can't. You will need this knowledge as well if you are to ever rule from this seat."

 

"I know enough about warfare," Arianne stated. "Maester Caleotte has instructed all of us on it."

 

"Counting swords, not more," Doran replied. "Say, the Ullers, Daynes, and Yronwoods rebel against us," he stated. "House Vaith, Qorgoyle, Hull, Holt and Allyrion remain neutral. How do you react?"

 

When Arianne remained silent, he nodded slowly, though there was no mockery in it. "Exactly."

 

"I don't remember the exact numbers of the men at arms of each House," Arianne shrugged. "Only a rough estimate. Numbers win wars all of the time."

 

"Often, not always. Daeron, the Young Dragon, had a larger army than us. In the history books he wrote, he, in fact, made our armies larger than they were, so as to make his conquest more glorious."

 

Doran slowly lifted himself out of his wheelchair and pointed to a grand painting of a beautiful woman in the corner of the room.

 

"Do you know who she is?" Doran asked her. The woman had the classic Valyrian features, purple eyes, and platinum hair.

 

"Daenerys Targaryen," Arianne answered. "The first one. A bit ironic. A hundred years ago, Daenerys Targaryen came to Dorne to make peace. Now another comes to make a war."

 

"Maybe," Doran nodded. "But this girl shows, how small decisions can have a large impact on history. The whole realm knew, that the girl loved Daeron's bastard brother, Daemon Blackfyre, and was loved by him in turn, but the king was wise enough to see that the good of thousands must come before the desires of two, even if those two were dear to him. And so she was sent to Dorne, and Daemon Blackfyre rose in Rebellion."

 

"He rose because of Daenerys?" Arianne asked. "That's not quite what we learned in our history lessons."

 

"Not only, but it was part of it. Daeron had already had a few clashes with the Black Dragon, to whom far too many people were looking to as a legitimate claimant to the throne, or rightful king. Daenerys in the end was the straw that broke the camel's back, and helped lead to Daemon becoming the first Blackfyre Pretender."

 

"What does that matter now? The Blackfyres are gone."

 

"Yes. But there is still a Daenerys out there."

 

"You mean to wed me to Daenerys Targaryen?" Arianne asked sarcastically. "Or do you want me to go and find a Blackfyre somewhere to marry her?"

 

As always, Doran showed no signs of anger. "No, if the gods had been kind, you would have been wed long ago. But it is not you who I want to marry Daenerys Targaryen."

 

"Trys? You can't be serious. Trystane is a good person and will make a good husband one day, but suitable for the Targaryen girl, he is not."

 

"Quentyn."

 

"Now you are truly making a fool out of yourself."

 

"I am serious."

 

"Quentyn? Truly? That's even worse. She'd probably rather burn him than become his consort. I have not met Daenerys Targaryen yet, but I know that much. It is quite a step-down from Empress to consort, is it not?"

 

"Quentyn will go to Bloodstone and meet the Targaryen girl. And if they do wed, it will be not her, who is the consort. One Daenerys has wed into House Martell, why not another? We are close neighbors with one another, as long as she resides on Bloodstone, and when she turns her eyes west, she will have a strong ally."

 

"You send Oberyn many years ago with the same task. Why would Quentyn succeed, where Oberyn failed? Surely you do not hope that Quentyn's beauty will sway her?"

 

"Oberyn only made small hints, not more. No doubt she was biding her time, keeping her hand in marriage open for the ideal alliance. Her empire was barely a moon old then, and she was likely smart enough to know that a political marriage could easily come to pass. But now?"

 

Now she will see a strong ally in us, not a convenient marriage. None but us managed to resist the conqueror's dragons."

 

 

"But could we do it again? I love Dorne as much as anyone, but even I know that the bolt that killed Meraxes was a lucky shot."

 

"It was. But it is the reputation that truly counts."

 

Arianne remained silent for a while, before letting the topic drop. "You mentioned that if the gods had been kind, I would have been wed long ago. Who was it, that you wanted to wed me to?"

 

"He is of concern, no longer," Doran replied. "He has been dead for many years."

 

"Just how old was he, then?" Arianne asked. 

 

"He did not die of old age."

 

"What then?"

 

"Fire."

 

Arianne frowned for a moment. "A horrible way to die."

 

"Yes."

 

"His name?"

 

"Viserys Targaryen."

 

For a moment, Arianne could not quite grasp what she had heard.  "Viserys Targaryen?"

 

"While Oberyn was exiled, he did not just uselessly wander around the Free Cities. He found the girl and her brother in Braavos, where he made a deal with their guardian, Ser Willem Darry. They would one day return to Westeros, and when Viserys married you he would have had our support."

 

"That sounds like something Oberyn would do," Arianne mused.

 

"It was my idea," Doran replied. "You all think me meek and weak and cautious, too lenient to our enemies. But I dare more than you dream... but leave that for another time."

 

"I have a hard time believing that," Arianne returned. She had not meant for it to come out as blunt as it did, and for the first time, she could see anger rip across her father's cool facade. Yet then, she blinked and it was gone again.

 

"You are testing my patience, Arianne."

 

"You have always tolerated the Lannister rule way too much, father. It has been more than a decade since Elia died."

 

"You mistake me, daughter, I have never once tolerated them. You mistake my patience for acceptance. I have worked at the downfall of Tywin Lannister since the day they told me of Elia and her children and the day will come when Lord Tywin is howling down in hell."

 

"And this is your plan? Have Quentyn marry the Dragon Queen and me married to some old lord? Or do you want Trystane to rule after you now?"

 

"Dorne will be yours one day. You are and will remain, my heir, you have my word on that. I have never intended to disinherit you. Your brother Quentyn will have a harder road to walk than you."

 

"A very hard rode, indeed."

 

"He will go and visit Cletus Ironwood. From there on, they will go east together. It will be told, that he is fostering there."

 

"A good plan, that I must give you. Now we need only hope that the temptation of the Dornish Spears outweigh the fact that Quentyn is... rather plain."

 

"It will be a hard task for him," Doran said, looking at the picture of the first Daenerys Targaryen with a far-away look. "He will bring us our heart's desire."

 

"And what is that?"

 

"Vengeance," Doran replied silently, his voice no more than a whisper. His dark eyes focussed on her as he moved closer. "Justice," he added. "Vengeance and Justice, with Fire and Blood."

 

*

 

The Conspirators

 

"We need to make a plan. It's a threat. To all of us."

 

Another man raised an eyebrow. "A plan? Well then, by all means, enlighten us with your wisdom."

 

"I don't have a plan, that's why we need to make one," Pykewood Peake replied sternly.

 

Eight of the serjeants of the Golden Company were assembled in the Hissing Garden. Nobody liked the place, yet it was the only place where they were truly safe from spies. 

 

The Hissing Garden was located inside the Black Walls of Volantis. A huge park, yet it had earned his name well. A single trail, narrow yet secure led through the garden. All around them, dozens and dozens of Pythons, Vipers, Kobras, Anacondas, and Mambas wound themselves around the trees and branches, hissing at the intruders.

 

They were seated in the middle of the garden, where a small plateau with chairs and a long, marble table stood.

 

"Who the fuck even built this shit," Old Yohn Mudd groaned, as a Black Mamba crouched over the glass dome around them, just half a foot away from his face. The only thing saving him from a certain death was a thin layer of glass.

 

"Dumb cunts," came Pykewood's reply.

 

"You're one as well if you think this plot is a half-decent idea."

 

"I do not want to do this for me, I want to do this for all of us," Peake replied. "We all come from Westeros, we all want to go home. But Aegon's aunt. She might ruin everything."

 

"She's got more balls than the boy himself," Caspor Hill grumbled. "Didn't even lift his damn sword once during the battle. Blackfyre has yet to taste any blood."

 

"The boy can't go and fight on the Front Lines, neither Strickland, not that old Connington cunt would allow it. He's too valuable to them."

 

"You're treading on dangerous ground, Peake," came Lysono Maar's eerily calm voice. "Your words are treason to the Dragon Empress and an insult to our leaders. You could be hanged for both."

 

For a moment, all of them fell silent, as the largest snake of the Hissing Garden slithered from a nearby tree branch onto the top of the glass dome. An extremely rare Titanoboa from Sothoryos, 50 feet long and capable of killing even the most powerful elephants of the Golden Company.

 

"You are not from Westeros, Maar," Torman Peake, a good friend of Pykewood added. "We want to go home. The king's aunt has shown herself... quite hostile towards him. If she declares war, we will never return home."

 

"If it comes to war, the smartest decision may be to switch sides," Maar replied. "I have served in this company long enough to understand the threat of our organized legions and elephants, but those dragons could swallow our largest exemplar whole."

 

 "Then her dragons will have to be killed."

 

"Bold words, Pykewood. But the words of a fool. These dragons are fully grown, they are close to immortal," Old Yohn Mudd replied. "You can't kill them."

 

"Dorne did."

 

"A lucky shot. They hit the eye from a league away and the beast was dumb enough to not blink. Even that would have saved it. You won't hit the open eyes of dragons three times in a row."

 

"But that is not the only way to kill a dragon, is it?" The old masters spoiled the food reserves with Greyscale before we took the Black Walls. The dragons might be convinced to eat it."

 

Maar looked nonplussed, as the other men glanced at Pykewood. "Dragons can smell better than a thousand humans and even then they are immune to just about every poison there is."

 

"We would need records about dragons," another man grumbled. "Blood and Fire, the book was called. If only we could get it. The Death of Dragons they called it sometimes. Every poison, every vulnerable point in their bodies mapped out."

 

"But we don't," Maar interrupted. "And I doubt we will ever get our hands on a book as rare as  Blood and Fire."  

 

"Indeed not," another man conceded, his face hidden in the darkness of the Hissing Garden.

 

"This is a folly," another serjeant snapped, his eyes glowering. "You've seen those monsters, they'll burn through each and every one of us, flesh and bone alike. Isn't it smarter to have those dragons as an ally, rather than as an enemy?"

 

"And if this alliance fails we burn anyways. A shadow in the dark can kill a Queen more easily as a sword in open battle."

 

"A coward's blade. You are becoming a monster, Peake."

 

"Sometimes a monster is what this world needs. I'm doing this for us."

 

"And you believe the dragons won't go on a rampage as soon as their mother is dead?" Lord Trystan Rivers asked. "I know that if someone killed my mother I would certainly go after whoever did that. And my temper does not merely match a dragon's."

 

"Dragons have always followed the Targaryens," Duncan Strong replied. "They follow the Blood of Old Valyria. When a dragon's master dies, they search for another. Why settle with the Dragon Queen, if we have a dragon of our own?" 

 

Immediately the men started talking over each other, all eight voices making their opinion well known.

 

"Daenerys is too powerful."

 

"Essos has bloomed under her rule. Dragon's Bay, Bloodstone... how can we stand against that?"

 

"She is a tyrant. Ruling with fear? Did you not hear what she did to the masters of Slaver's Bay? Who is to say she won't do it again?"

 

"Blood of the Dragons? Bah! Blood of the monsters. Those Targaryens are too damn proud, too noble. We should go back to what we once were under Blackheart. The Golden Company that ruled Essos, not the one who is bowing to shitty rulers to go to Westeros."

 

"She practices blood sacrifice, lies as easily as she breathes, turns against her own on a whim. She’s broken truces, tortured envoys … her father was mad too. It runs in the blood."

 

"It has always been like this," Pykewood stated. "When the Conqueror died, Balerion the Black Dread himself searched for a new Master. And he found him in Maegor the Cruel. For all their might, these dragons are no Black Dread. Not yet at least."

 

"But did Maegor slay the Conqueror? The Black Dread held no grudge against him."

 

"And this new Black Dread won't hold one against Aegon either. Poison or swords, the king won't know."

 

For a moment, all were silent, only the hissing of the snakes audible from where they were seated. The giant Titanoboa seemed to stare at them, her grey eyes piercing and shining with intelligence.

 

"Then it is decided," Dick Cole concluded. "If the alliance fails, she must die."

 

"It is," Lysono Maar's sing-song voice spoke softly. "Truly a shame, but no one will know it was us. The dragons will accept their new master and victory will be all but assured."

 

"Yes," Peake muttered. "It is."

 

Yet as the men finally concluded their meeting, he couldn't help but turn around once more to the giant snake that was slithering over the glass dome above them.

 

The snake seemed more intelligent than it was supposed to be... almost... human.

 

*

 

The Dreamer

 

Jon silently watched the men conspire in the snake garden, their voices low, as they constantly looked around them, searching for any who might overhear their words.

 

Moving in a snake's body was weird, missing both arms and legs. But the other senses made up for it. He flicked his tongue once and immediately a hundred smells and tastes filled his nose. He could smell the sweat and warm blood of the humans, their  fear,  their clothes and the flowers of the garden, the trees, and the other snakes.

 

He slowly wound himself up a tree and from there let himself drop onto the glass dome, that shuddered with his impact.

 

He silently observed the meeting, straining to hear anything. The connection to the snake was shallow, hard to maintain from such a distance. And the snake was not a weak-willed animal either.

 

Jon soaked up every word the conspirators spoke. He had searched for an animal to take control of in Volantis, to gain more information about his aunt until he had noticed the thousands of snakes that stacked up in this garden.

 

Gotta be a damn madman to build something like that for your own amusement.

 

Just as the meeting concluded, he could feel another presence in the back of his mind, other than the mind of the snake that he was suppressing.

 

"Who are you?"  the voice whispered in his ears, silent yet still with a sharp edge to it. "You are strong to claim an animal such as this one."

 

The presence moved closer and for a moment, Jon thought that their minds almost touched, impossibly close, their thoughts running next to each other.

 

" A powerful skinchanger. Too powerful. I haven't felt such power since..."

The voice paused for a moment.  "Brynden?"

 

"Who are you?"  Jon shot back, as the presence moved further away from him.  "Why are you here?"

 

"I could ask you the same,"  the other mind whispered with a woman's voice.  "You are not Brynden then, I take?"

 

"Brynden? I am Jon, Jon Snow."  Jon asked dumbfounded, surprised by the woman's words. She couldn't possibly mean  that  Brynden.

 

"Let me indulge you on this,"  the other voice said when he remained silent.  "My name is Shiera Seastar. Others know me as Quaithe of the Shadow. I look over the Empress Daenerys."

 

"Shiera Seastar? I know you. You are the woman Brynden told me about. You were his lover before he went to the Wall."

 

"You know me? You know Brynden?"  the other voice asked, the words echoing inside his mind. Already he could feel his grip on the snake grow weaker.

 

"I trained with him in his cave beyond the wall. He told me that I will have a job to do. Fulfill the song of Ice and Fire, he said."

 

Jon could have sworn that the other person gasped, as he spoke those words.  "Then you are the other half,"  the woman stated.  "The child of Ice and Fire."

 

"My parents were Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lady Lyanna Stark,"  Jon replied sternly.  "They were ice and fire, so to speak. What is it to you?"

 

"More than you could ever know, Jon Snow,"  Shiera Seastar replied.  "Come and join us, wherever you are now. You will find family here."

 

"I have a family."

 

"But for how much longer?"

 

"Are you threatening me, Shiera Seastar? I have nothing but respect for Lord Bloodraven, yet that does not extend to you. I will kill you within the blink of an eye if you try something."

 

"Peace, Jon Snow, I mean you no harm. But we both know that a war is coming to Westeros. Where will you find allies as a warg and skinchanger, a northerner and a Stark bastard? An abomination by all the laws of the South. Where but here, will you find friends?"

 

"We'll see," Jon replied, as he felt his connection lose its strength. An hour in the snake had been terribly exhausting.

 

"Why did you warg into the snake, what did these men discuss? I was too late to see for myself,"  the voice pressured him.

 

"They were tal-"  Jon only managed to say, before his connection completely faded, leaving him back in his bed at Castle Black.

 

"Fuck," he muttered.

 

"Snow!" Ramsay greeted nonchalantly, as Jon rubbed his eyes, still breathing heavily. "Ready to go east? I got some gold," he said, shaking a small bag in his hands.

 

"Yes..." Jon muttered. "East, it is. White Harbor or Eastwatch?"

 

"White Harbor," Ramsay said. "Talked to a couple of folks here, said that most ships from Eastwatch only return to King's Landing to get some new criminals."

 

"Good," Jon nodded slightly, still slightly shocked from what he had just experienced.  Shiera Seastar. She was there.

 

Jon paused for a moment, before looking at Ramsay with suspicion clear in his eyes. "Where did you get that money from?"

 

"It's mine," Ramsay answered simply, shrugging. 

 

"Mhm," Jon hummed, as he continued to eye the leather pouch. "Quite interesting that it has the name Othell Yarwick stitched into it, is it not?"

 

Ramsay paused for a moment, seemingly considering his words.

 

"It's my nickname," he answered finally, completely serious for a moment until his lips finally tugged upwards.

 

And for the first time in a long time, Jon chuckled, before finally turning serious again.

 

"I dreamt. And I know now what I must do. We will need to leave for Eastwatch soon."

 

"You sure about this, Snow?" Ramsay asked. "You usually aren't one to move on quickly. I hear you just talked to your great-great-uncle for the first time yesterday?"

 

"I did. And he gave me a task."

 

"Go east?"

 

"Go east indeed."

 

"I hope he did not give any instructions beyond that, so that I may interpret it as a task to find the best whores of Lys."

 

Jon snorted indignantly, before shaking his head. "No. Not Lys," he said, taking out a small map of the known world, given to him by Lord Stark.

 

"Volantis."

 

 

[Theory unlocked: Euron is Urrathon Night-walker]

 

[Theory unlocked: Euron is the Three-Eyed-Raven's fallen apprentice.]

 

Chapter Text

 Words written like  This  are spoken in Dothraki.

 

Part 1

 

Daenerys I

 

“I can see why they call it the Dothraki Sea," Daenerys stated, as their group moved along through the outskirts of Volantis, where the duel against Khal Drogo was to take place.

 

Besides the walls of Volonterys, a volantene town on the west bank of the Rhoyne, there was only grassland to be seen.

 

It stretched out as far as the eye could reach, seemingly never-ending. The high grasses swayed in the wind, giving it the appearance of waves that rolled ashore.

 

“I must still advise against this, my queen," Ser Barristan spoke, Ser Jorah nodding his consent. "You are a great fighter, I have not seen someone as good as you with a sword since the last Sword of the Morning. But Khal Drogo is no meek foe."

 

"He is right," Jorah nodded. "I swore to protect you, Daenerys Targaryen, but I am unable to help you there. I beg you, your Grace, do not risk your life in such a duel. Not when there is another way."

 

"And what way is that, Ser Jorah?"

 

"Fire and Blood," the old knight from Bear Island answered, as the Dothraki camp came into view. A thousand soldiers of the Golden Company and Aegon himself accompanied them. The soldiers of the famous sellsword group stomped and swept aside the long sweeping grasses.

 

Ser Jorah was a valued advisor, all courtesies, and most of the time, the knight of Bear Island gave her sound advice, but in her mind, he worried too much for her. 

 

"I will not burn a hundred thousand, to avoid a little risk for myself," Daenerys answered. "I woult not be able to sleep easy knowing that so many died for me. Death has its place in war and politics, but not this. Not on this scale."

 

"Your brother once told me the same thing," Ser Barristan recalled, his eyes turning a tad glassy in reminiscence. 

 

"Tell me more about Rhaegar," Dany suddenly said, after a short pause. "You rarely speak of him."

 

Ser Barristan bowed his white head respectfully, though there was a slight smile on his thin lips. "It is not for me to deny her Grace's wish."

 

"Well then?" Daenerys asked with a small smile as she raised one eyebrow. "Viserys always told me that he won many tourneys."

 

"Rhaegar rarely entered tourneys," Ser Barristan answered. "But when he did, his skill was unquestioned. Many a man loves the song of clashing steel, but Rhaegar never enjoyed fighting. He was good at it, very good, but that was his nature. He took no joy in fighting. Men said that he loved his harp much better than his lance."

 

“He won some tourneys, surely,” Dany replied, a bit disappointed before she paused. 

 

"Of course he did," she muttered to herself a moment later, recalling what she had learned some years ago. "Harrenhal."

 

"Yes, Harrenhal," Ser Barristan said sadly. "But not only that. When he was young he jousted in a tourney at Storm's End, defeating Lord Steffon Baratheon, Lord Jason Mallister, the Red Viper of Dorne, and a mystery knight who proved to be the infamous Simon Toyne, chief of the Kingswood outlaws. He broke twelve lances against Ser Arthur Dayne that day."

 

"The brother of Myles Toyne? The late captain-general?"

 

"That one, yes," Barristan nodded. "Rhaegar almost won that tourney."

 

"Who unhorsed him?" Daenerys asked.

 

"Me. Rhaegar won only at Harrenhal, the greatest tourney of them all."

 

Ser Barristan sighed for a moment as they arrived at the camp. Immediately Daenerys noted that her other guards tensed, but she only paid attention to Ser Barristan.

 

"It was the grandest tourney that ever was. Lord When staged it at Harrenhal beside the Gods Eye. It was the year of the false spring, and many a knight was hungry for gold and glory. There was a competition for just about everything. Jousting, melees, archery and axe-throwing, a horse race, a tournament of singers, a mummer show, and many, many feasts. Men from everywhere came to attend. Even your father, when he had not left the Red Keep since the defiance of Duskendale."

 

"And Rhaegar won," Daenerys stated, as they moved through the Dothraki camp, towards the center.

 

"And Rhaegar won," Ser Barristan nodded. "The greatest lords and mightiest champions of the Seven Kingdoms rode in that tourney, and the Prince of Dragonstone bested them all. He unhorsed me in the final tilt. Smiles were on the faces of everyone, even myself, but they do not call it 'the day the smiles died' for nothing."

 

"Princess Elia was there, his wife, and yet my brother gave the crown to the Stark girl, and later stole her away from her betrothed," Daenerys recalled, frowning. "Did the Dornish woman treat him so ill? I remember when Prince Oberyn came to Braavos to forge a pact between House Targaryen and House Martell. He seemed dangerous, a true viper, but also kind when he wanted to be."

 

"Prince Oberyn was always the wildest member of House Martell. Some call him half-mad. The Princess Elia was a good and gracious lady, though her health was ever delicate," Ser Barristan said, while Ser Jorah and Pyat Pree seemed to look for any threats around them. Their eyes constantly fluttered over the crowd that formed around them. "I..."

 

"I what?"

 

"Ashara Dayne," Ser Barristan muttered.

 

"Another Dornish lady," Daenerys noted. "I heard she was a great beauty."

 

"Rheagar chose Lyanna Stark of Winterfell. I would have crowned her, had I won that last tilt."

 

"You..." Daenerys spoke before she stopped herself again. "You loved her," she said, though there was no mockery in her voice.

 

"Even after all these years, I can still recall her smile, the sound of her laughter. Sometimes when I look at you Daenerys Stormborn, I feel as if I were looking at her daughter. You have her eyes."

 

"Truly?" Daenerys asked softly.

 

"I need only look at you to see her long dark hair tumbling about her shoulders and those haunting purple eyes. But then she died, never knowing that I loved her."

 

And how could Ser Barristan have told her? A knight of the Kingsguard swore a vow of celibacy. What good could have come from it?

 

"Maybe had I won that tourney, I could have chosen her as the Queen of Love and Beauty. Maybe much war and woe could have been avoided."

 

Daenerys subconsciously reached for Dark Sister, her fingers hovering over the ornamented crossguard, as more Dothraki appeared. "Viserys said once that it was my fault, for being born too late. If I had been born more timely, he said, Rhaegar would have married me instead of Elia, and it would all have come out different. If Rhaegar had been happy in his wife, he would not have needed the Stark girl."

 

"It might have helped indeed," Ser Barristan nodded. "But we both know that a child cannot decide when he or she is born. And truth be told, I do not know if Rhaegar could ever have been truly happy. There was a melancholy to Prince Rhaegar, a sense…"

 

"A sense of what?" Daenerys asked, intrigued by the old knights words.

 

"A sense of doom. He was born in doom and sadness, and that shadow hung over him all his days.” 

 

"Summerhall?" Daenerys asked, receiving a nod.

 

"Rhaegar loved Summerhall. He went there often, with nothing but his harp. Not even we, the knights of the Kingsguard, were allowed to follow him into those cursed ruins. And he would sing. When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved."

 

Ser Barristan shook his head slightly. "He was so unlike Robert. Or anyone I have met, save for you. You remind me of him, more often than not. But I do not know if that is a good thing. Rhaegar was a good man, brave and true. But in the end... he thought he would need more children to save the realm. And that was his downfall."

 

"How so?"

 

"When I marched to the Trident beside him, he was confident. He had 35.000 men behind him, more than the rebels had. He didn't even treat with them before the battle. Maybe this could have been resolved there, but Rhaegar had no wish to do so. He had rarely ever known defeat."

 

Ser Barristan's light-blue eyes bored into her amethyst ones, as he continued. "And so, he grew to believe that he could not be hurt. That he was invulnerable. When our right flank, led by Ser Lewyn collapsed and Ser Lyn Corbray's sword found his neck, he did not believe that we might lose. When our left flank under me collapsed and Hoster Tully nearly killed me, he did not believe that we might lose. Until Robert Baratheon's warhammer found his chest."

 

"Nobody is invulnerable," Daenerys nodded, accepting the old knight's advice. "I will remember your words."

 

*

 

" Khaleesi ," Khal Drogo's gruff voice stated, as he drew his arakh. A perfectly forged weapon, gleaming with the sunlight of the midday heat. " You show strength. I admire it. But you will not win this duel. "

 

His voice was harsh, but even, showing nothing but determination and confidence. Yet as Daenerys looked into his dark, almost black eyes, they told another story. They showed uncertainty, even fear.

 

'Stand strong, Princess. Remember, fear cuts deeper than any swords',  she remembered. They had been the words of the First Sword of Braavos, many years ago. He and the Sealord had stood as witnesses to the pact between House Targaryen and House Martell in Braavos. And once the deal had been sealed and done, those had been his words to her.

 

" We will see ," Daenerys merely replied. Drogo could have been her husband in another lifetime, Dany realized. A life where the house with the red door would never have burned down, where her hand in marriage would have had to buy House Targaryen an army. 

 

His dust-stained skin showed few scars, his upper body only loosely covered by a painted vest.

 

Daenerys slowly drew Dark Sister. The blade made a low, hissing whisper as it slid from the sheathe. The dark edges of the sword seemed to soak up the light around it. The blade quivered in her hands as she raised it, lusting for blood.

 

It has been too long since the Dark Sister has tasted blood.

 

" We will ," Drogo nodded as they started to circle each other. He threw off his painted vest, revealing his naked upper body, defined by pure muscles, and a few old cuts that had scarred.

 

Untrue to the Dothraki tradition, Daenerys had donned a set of pitch-black armor, though she had decided against a helmet. It was made a few years ago by the finest smiths of Qohor, the steel taking a dark color. 

 

The armor had been a gift to her, a memory of her eldest brother. Rubies were embedded in the breastplate, imitating the plate Rhaegar had once worn. 

 

A dragonbone dagger was strapped to one hip, the sheath of Dark Sister on the other.

 

Wearing armor was quite frowned upon by the horselords, yet this had been one wish from Ser Barristan that she had to fulfill. And if she won the duel, she would not have to put up with them one way or another.

 

Not if,  she thought to herself.  When.

 

Both of them continued circling each other, occasionally feinting forwards to test each others' defenses until Khal Drogo got impatient.

 

Much faster than what one would suspect from his size, he stormed forwards, a roar coming from his mouth.

 

His arakh whirled in murderous arcs, a brutal ghostly silhouette that flashed brightly, every time the light hit it.

 

 I should have taken a shield with me,  Daenerys realized grimly, as their blades screeched in a song of steel. It certainly would be simpler to block the blows with it.

 

But even had she taken one, it would likely already have been hacked apart by the arakh, reduced to no more than wooden splinters. 

 

Drogo lunged forwards, as all she could do was slide back away from him, darting this way and that as the edge of the arakh cut through the warm air. 

 

She dipped and weaved right as he was about to reach her and slashed downwards with the sword, only narrowly missing Drogo's neck.

 

Again the arakh twisted and turned, left, right, backslash, swinging so hard that sparks flew when the blades came together. Upswing, sideslash, overhand, always attacking, moving forwards towards Daenerys, step and slide, strike and step, step and strike, hacking, slashing, faster, faster, faster...

 

His footwork was excellent for a man his size, but Daenerys had never felt more alive than in this moment. Her blood was coming alive, dancing within her, pushing her to her limits.

 

Flying atop Rhaellion and incinerating everything that laid beneath her was great. A demonstration of superior power, but this is what she wanted in a battle. She felt herself become alive when she was fighting with Dark Sister, the song of their swords carrying over the open grasslands.

 

They danced over the grasslands of the outskirts of Volantis. Both were masters of their weapons, painters who only used red. Steel rang, steel sang, steel screamed and sparked and scraped, as the crowd stared at the two of them, transfixed.

 

No one dared to avert his eyes, as the two fought, seemingly none of the two gaining the upper hand.

 

Suddenly, Daenerys delivered a swift uppercut, almost slicing Drogo open from navel to shoulder. He barely turned away, as the tip of Dark Sister cut a short distance across his chest, drawing a line of blood that trickled onto the sandy ground.

 

"Blood," Drogo muttered, seemingly unable to realize what had just happened. The Dothraki horselords slowly let his thumb slide over the trickle of blood that was forming, smearing it over his chest. 

 

Fresh blood kept leaking from the wound, painting his upper body dark red.

 

The sky was overcast, the air hot, muggy, oppressive, yet there was something more than that. Dark clouds formed in the distance, floating ominously in the blue sky.

 

Utter silence lingered over the grasslands, as the spectators stared at the duelists. Pyat Pree and Merana, Archmaester Marwyn and Missandei, Aegon, and the Old Griffin. The soldiers and serjeants of the Golden Company, Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah, and the Unsullied that had arrived with them, the horselords and their slaves. They all stared. In the distance, hidden amongst the many onlookers, she could see a familiar red mask stare at her.

 

A pearly of sweat ran down her temple, as the midday sun turned her armor into an oven.

 

" Surrender or I will cut you again ," Daenerys demanded loudly, as the dragons roared in the skies above.

 

" Never ," Drogo grunted, his face twisting. " I would rather die. "

 

" Then fight ," Daenerys spoke with confidence.

 

And fight, Drogo did.

 

His strength seemed renewed, as he moved fast, quicker than any man Daenerys had ever seen. Quicker than a hrakkar and nearly as skilled as Ser Barristan.

 

In his hands, the arakh danced, turning into a silver wind that came down upon her. Almost every strike aimed for her head, the blows intended to decapitate her.

 

It was the smartest choice. An arakh was perfect for Dothraki fighting on horseback and riding down any foes, but against such masterfully crafted armor, it failed. Only longswords could pierce mail, while the metal plate would simply deflect the blade.

 

But she wore no helmet. And without it, her neck and face were exposed and vulnerable.

 

She momentarily struggled to meet his pace, as the blades rang and rang, the Valyrian steel screeching every time she parried edge on edge.

 

Had she cared to turn her head, she would have noticed Aegon staring at her with eyes as big and white as chicken eggs.

 

Drogo did not know how to fight against a person in armor. Doubt and fear started to build in his eyes, as an attack went slipped through her guard, only to be stopped by the metal plate. Without it, the swing would have opened her belly. She delivered a shallow cut to his leg, making him tumble slightly before regaining his footing.

 

Drogo attacked again, screaming with fury, as he unloaded his entire power on her. The blood that flowed from his wound only seemed to fuel his bloodlust.

 

Shadow silently trailed around the pit, the hellhounds blood-red eyes carefully observing the duel.

 

 In a surprise attack, he slashed at her arm and caught her upper arm with his blade.

 

The tip of the arakh slipped through a gap in the plate armor, leaving a deep cut in her right arm. She could feel blood seep from the wound, trailing down her arms until the red liquid reached her gloved fingers.

 

Shit.

 

Immediately Drogo was on her, with the force of a hundred stallions.

 

I can't raise my right arm,  she realized, as she barely avoided another swing aimed for her head.

 

She tumbled backward, as finally, the arakh hit Dark Sister with such force that her ancestral swords was ripped from her hands, landing on the sandy ground a dozen feet away from her.

 

Slowly the Khal approached her, arakh raised, a dangerous glint in his eyes. But he was limping from the cut on his leg, the right side of his chest sagging down slightly.

 

Dark Sister was too far away, and she laid on her dagger.  I can't draw it in time.

 

She closed her eyes and focussed, as she felt her left-hand heat up.

 

*

 

Ser Barristan Selmy I

 

The Queen tumbled to the ground, her weapons discarded on the ground.

 

Ser Barristan subconsciously reached for his sword, as the Khal approached her.

 

The crowd looked shocked, but no one intervened. Shadow growled at the Khal, the Hellhound's giant fangs bared. 

 

Aegon tried to storm forwards, his fingers circling the pommel of Blackfyre. But it was not Jon Connington who stopped him, but Pyat Pree.

 

"Do not interfere," the warlock commanded, never taking his eyes of Daenerys. "Let her have her fun."

 

Suddenly Aegon jumped with shock, as Blackfyre started to glow hotly, the dark ripples of the blade seemingly coming alive with purple flames.

 

And then, within the blink of an eye, it vanished from his sheath.

 

Only to reemerge in Daenerys's left gloved fingers.

 

And without any warning, Daenerys, as fast as a cat, jumped to her feet again. Blackfyre firmly gripped in her left hand.

 

"She can fight with her left hand?" Aegon muttered as he looked on in shock. Everyone knew what they meant. Being able to wield a blade with both hands showed the ability to fight with two swords.

 

Drogo darted left and around her, trying to strike her again, but Daenerys was too fast.

 

Before he could react, she had delivered three... four... five... six cuts to his torso, fresh blood seeping from each of them.

 

And finally, the Khal found himself with the Conqueror's sword at his throat.

 

"Go on," the Khal proclaimed, speaking the common tongue, even if it sounded brogue and harsh. "Foul sorcery has defeated me, but let it be known that Khal Drogo never knew a true equal."

 

The Dothraki looked on confused, their Khal being the only one to speak and understand the common tongue.

 

But Daenerys did not end his life. The Empress did not even cut his long braid that reached well past his stomach. Instead, she lowered Blackfyre, turning her back to the defeated Khal to address the Dothraki warriors.

 

She spoke in a harsh and brogue tongue, that Ser Barristan did not understand. The words came hesitant of her tongue, showing that she was inexperienced in that language.

 

"Dothraki! I have spared your Khal's life," Missandei started to translate for them, as Daenerys spoke to the Dothraki. "For I never use more violence than necessary. My intentions are peaceful, but defy me, and I will not hesitate to destroy you."

 

The Dothraki broke into murmurs, breaking the drowning silence that had dominated the grasslands for the last minutes. Yet still, nobody moved, nobody drew his sword and nobody fought.

 

Until suddenly, the entire crowd parted, revealing a single Dothraki warrior. 

 

"Qotho," Aegon muttered next to Ser Barristan. "He was there during the... negotiations. He is known as the most sadistic of Drogo's bloodriders."

 

Indeed, when Ser Barristan looked upon the Dothraki man, he could see dark, cruel eyes that seemed to shine a bloodlust, that Ser Barristan had only seen in two people before.

 

Once in the young Aerys Targaryen, that he had just freed from Duskendale. His vengeance for the defiance had been terrible. Though Lord Denys Darklyn begged for mercy, the king demanded the deaths of Denys and his immediate family, as well as his uncles, aunts, and distant kinsmen. Even those that did not live in Duskendale. Only young Dontos Hollard had survived when he had requested it as his only boon for the rescue. A bitter memory.

 

Another time had been in the small council chamber of King's Landing. That had been when Ser Barristan had tossed his white cloak on the ground. 

 

Every time the Targaryens were mentioned, the stag's eyes had flared with hatred. Yet, at one point, Ser Barristan spoke up against him. Called him no better than the mad king. It had been the day he fled.

 

The Dothraki man strode to where Drogo laid disarmed in the dirt, blood pouring from his many wounds.

 

" Dothraki! " he proclaimed, staring at the thousands assembled around them. Ser Barristan could feel the tension rising around them, the small whispers and chatters, the eyes full with Bloodlust.

 

Daenerys moved to fetch Dark Sister from the sandy ground, as the Bloodrider continued to speak.

 

" You all saw what I saw ," he proclaimed, his arms raised. " Drogo was defeated by the hands of a woman! The Great Stallion himself has declared him unfit to rule! He has disgraced himself and all of us! "

 

"This is not good," Ser Barristan muttered, as the Dothraki began to shuffle around them. Pyat Pree had started treating Daenerys's wound, as more and more angry cheers erupted from the crowd.

 

"We need to leave, now," Ser Jorah agreed, as they moved towards their queen, urgingly forcing their way through the steadily growing crowd."

 

The men of the Golden Company seemed to feel the same, as more and more of them started moving, their golden armors beaming in the sunlight of the open grasslands.

 

"This can turn very ugly, very quickly," Ser Barristan noted, looking around them quickly.

 

"The Dothraki follow only the strongest," a knight of the Golden Company whose name he couldn't recall added. His face was hidden behind his golden helmet as he spoke. "If the Khal dies, they will search for a new leader. A new khal, worthy of leading the khalasar."

 

"And how will they do that?" Ser Jorah inquired, as the voices around them grew louder. "I doubt they use elections."

 

"They use strength," Ser Barristan replied slowly. "They all fight. And whoever remains, leads."

 

Their musings were interrupted as Qotho moved to stand directly next to the injured Khal Drogo, his arakh drawn, placing it at his long braid.

 

But it wasn't the braid he would cut.

 

It was his neck.

 

Blood splattered everywhere, sinking into the hot sand, as a fountain of blood erupted from the Khal's throat.

 

"We all need to leave, now!" Jorah all but shouted at Daenerys, as the first weapons were drawn.

 

" Traitor! " shouts echoed from around them.

 

" For Khal Qotho! "

 

" For Khal Cohollo! "

 

" For Khal Haggo! "

 

Within an eyeblink, there were a thousand arakhs and bows, daggers, and spears drawn at once.

 

"Connington!" Ser Barristan said, shouting to the old griffin lord. "The Golden Company! We need a shield wall around us!"

 

"Call your dragons!" came the heated response from Jon, as the dragons roared above, their bodies occasionally covering the sun, leaving the entire battlefield dipped in darkness. "They can create a ring of fire around us! Then we can retreat without having to worry."

 

"Have you seen the bloody ground, Connington?" one of the serjeants of the Golden Company intervened. "The grass is as dry as a girl's cunt when she sees your face, If you lighten it up, the fires will spread like Greyscale. He ripped a bush of grass from the ground, throwing it towards Connington. "The fires will spread, and we will burn with it. A second field of fire sounds good, but here will be us who dies."

 

For a moment, the old griffin seemed as if he were about to protest before he nodded ever so slightly. 

 

"Men of the Golden Company!" he ordered, his voice booming over the battlefield. "Retreat to the city! Back to Volantis! Form a shield wall!"

 

"Force the Dothraki back with your spears, keep them hesitant about charging!" Aegon added as Daenerys moved towards them, still clutching her upper right arm.

 

He's got a decent military mind at the very least,  Ser Barristan thought to himself. The Dothraki vastly outnumbered them, but if they formed a wall of shields and spears, they would know that if they charged, they would suffer heavy losses for it.

 

Their main goal would be to fight for their new Khal. Few of them would be directly interested in the Dragon Empress. And yet, there was always glory to be found in killing famous monarchs. He remembered the cheers that had erupted when Rhaegar's rubies flew into the Trident.

 

The casualties grew and grew, as the infighting amongst the Dothraki grew and grew, the corpses of both men and horses piling up in the grassland. 

 

At a few points, mountains of corpses already formed, reeking of blood and sweat and piss and shit. Within a few minutes, they stacked higher than the long bushes of grass that swayed with the wind in the Dothraki Sea.

 

*

 

Daenerys II

 

"Hold the line!" her nephew screamed nearby, as the ranks of the Golden Company started to falter. A thousand men were not enough to hold their own against such an enormous force.

 

"Swords and Spears! Swords and Spears!" the shouts echoed. The Dothraki were cheering and screaming, as the fight engulfed them.

 

"They're preparing a charge!" she heard Ser Barristan shout, as the old knight drew his sword of castle forged steel. "Ready the shields to brace the impact, don't let the line shatter, lads! Move the reserves forwards, archers, fire at every Dothraki you see!"

 

"Your sword," Daenerys stated dryly, as she handed Blackfyre back to her nephew, who looked at her with wide eyes. "Make good use of it."

 

A horde of Dothraki charged towards them, the warriors all with their eyes focussed on Daenerys. They rode in a tight phalanx, hoping to split their shield wall.

 

It won't hold,  she knew as soon as she looked at the warriors of the Golden Company. All of them were seasoned and loyal to her neph- Aegon, but the charge was too strong.

 

We can only decide what happens when it breaks.

 

Rhaellion, to me!  Daenerys commanded mentally, as the tone charging of Dothraki horses drowned out the sound of screams and clashing arakhs. 

 

No Fire!  she added, as the black behemoth swooped down, his serpent-like body landing amidst the thousands of warriors.

 

No flames formed in Rhaellion's throat, yet still, the dragon devastated everything around him. His black body, long and defined by powerful muscles swayed from side to side, his spiked tail impaling men and horses alike.

 

The dragons were her children, but here, on the battlefield, they were monsters.

 

I am the Blood of the Dragons. I am a monster, just as they are.

 

Another casual swipe of the dragon's tail sent a dozen more horses and their riders flying through the air, their screams of anguish carrying over the grasslands before their necks snapped.

 

Some Dothraki drew their bows, a hundred bowstrings snapping as volley after volley rained down on Rhaellion's enormous body. Few missed him, but none that struck true could hurt him. His scales were as hard as Valyrian Steel and as dark as the deepest night.

 

A few years ago, when she had first set foot into Astapor, she had taken a few scales he had lost, eventually ordering the finest smiths to craft a ceremonial armor from them.

 

Rhaellion's head twisted as a dozen arrows hit his face, yet not even his eyes were vulnerable to them. It would take more, the force of a ballista, to pierce a dragon's eye and kill him.

 

"Go! Go! Go!" Daenerys called out, motioning back to the gates of Volantis that appeared in the distance.

 

The dark demon that was Rhaellion still circled the Dothraki. At this moment, Rhaellion was terrifying. Roaring across the plain lands, his jaw wide open, his usually white teeth drenched with flesh and blood.

 

The cracking of bones could be heard with every bite he took his teeth longer than Dark Sister, and just as sharp. His jaws could swallow a dozen men whole at once. Dark flames started to form in his throat, but the dragon held them back.

 

A whoosh of air cane over them again, as Rhaegal soared past them, his green wings stretching over the lands, almost merging with the swaying grass of their surroundings.

 

His green wings clapped over them, as the dragon picked up two horses in each of his claws, before soaring upwards again until the green dragon was only a tiny spot on the bright sky.

 

And suddenly, there were four dots, as the horses came crashing down in the middle of the Dothraki horde, crushing another dozen men at their impact.

 

She could see so many Dothraki corpses around the Black Dread reborn, piling up like the Mountains of the Morn. Some were old men with death long in their bones, a few of them were warriors, brave and fierce, others were young children.

 

A boy no more than six namedays old laid on the top of the pile of corpses, Rhaellion's newest addition to his body count.

 

That is somebody's child. The son of a mother who will weep for him.  Daenerys knew as she looked at him, like in a trance. A bloody gash had torn open his chest, where one of the spikes on Rhaellion's tale had sliced him open.

 

Will I ever have a child?  Daenerys wondered to herself.  A son who would rule after me? Or will I have a daughter as an heir?  Had things been different, she would have probably given birth long ago. Would high lords and their heirs have fought for the honor of sitting next to her? They had once done just that for Shiera. Or would she have been betrothed to Aegon to keep the line pure? It could have been. But not anymore. That possibility was long gone, ever since she had reached Asshai.

 

But who will I marry?  The question was one she had asked herself since the very beginning, but one for that, she had never found an answer. She had taken men to her bed already, sellswords and pit fighters, just as she had slept with her maids and servants, both male and female.

 

But to marry? For a short moment, she looked to her left, where the river Rhoyne ended, flowing from the north of Essos into the Summer Sea. Nymeria of Ny Sar had sailed from here with her thousands of ships, to escape the dragonlords that threatened their homelands.  She saved her people all by herself. She did not need a king to do that for her.

 

From behind them, the blow of a horn boomed over the battlefield. The giant bronze doors to the city slowly opened, creaking loudly.

 

As their host retreated backward, more and more soldiers lost their discipline, blindly storming towards the open gates.

 

"We need the reserves!" Connington commanded as the lines started to falter. Even a dragon could not stop the Dothraki as long as he was unable to breathe fire. "We have elephants and warhorses, they can flank them while we fall back! Create a U-shape, so we can encircle them!"

 

Rhaellion took to the air again, hundreds of arrows sticking from his thick natural chainmail. All of them were shallow and not dangerous, but still, too many could be painful. Many stuck in small gaps between the scales where the dragon's natural armor had been unable to deflect them. Each arrow was like the bite of a fly, but in large quantities, even those could be painful.

 

Finally, the lines faltered. The golden armors of the men of the Golden Company, who had come with them, displayed one of two colors now. 

 

The once golden armor was either stained red with the blood of the Dothraki, soaked with the blood of the soldier's fallen foes. Or it was turning brown in the mud, clinging to the rotting corpse of a fallen soldier.

 

Already now, the air was filled with the stench of battle. It reeked of blood and sweat and shit and piss and the fallen corpses of both horses and men. Bugs and crows feasted on their bodies, picking at the withering flesh, rotting in the burning sun.

 

"Fuck those orders," Daenerys commanded loudly, earning a dark look from Connington. "They won't arrive in time, the troops are on the other side of the city. Run!"

 

The dragons soared above, Viserion joining his brothers, but the retreating men mixed with the Dothraki, giving them no good target, without roasting their allies as well.

 

Yet suddenly, a single horn cut through the sky, coming from atop the gates. Daenerys could hear the rattling of chains as the gates slowly closed again.

 

"What?" Aegon gasped in shock as the enormous gates closed before them.

 

"Who mans the gate?" Ser Barristan asked, just before a Dothraki engaged onto him. He moved so fast that Daenerys could barely follow, his sword cutting through the air. And a moment later, the Dothraki laid dead on the ground.

 

Dark Sister seemed to glow in her hand, as she soaked up gallons of blood, that Daenerys had spilled during the battle. Where just a moment ago, a flesh wound had painted her arm, thanks to the warlock only a faint white scar remained.

 

Few men managed to reach her, as Ser Barristan, Ser Jorah, and Merana kept most of them away, but Pyat Pree seemed to be truly coming alive in the battle.

 

Daenerys had always known that she did not quite match the warlock's skills in the dark arts, yet the skill he displayed was another thing entirely.

 

Trails of dark flames moved from his hands, growing stronger with every life they took.

 

"Blood," Pree muttered, as he duplicated himself, much to the shock of Aegon's followers. "Need more Blood."

 

"No, we need to open the bloody gates, warlock!" one of the serjeants - Caspor Hill - screamed at the warlock, just before an arrow sunk itself deep into the eyeslit of his helmet.

 

"Fuck," Aegon muttered, looking in shock at the corpse.

 

"I'm sure your Grace has seen corpses before," Daenerys replied, unable to keep a slight mocking tone from her voice. "Focus on the battle."

 

Aegon seemed to be about to give a heated reply, as Pree's fire magic stopped faltered. 

 

"Fucking Volanteenes," Connington cursed, as more and more Dothraki broke through their already thinned out ranks.

 

 Another Dothraki came to challenge her. He charged forwards with a battle scream, intent on meeting her head-on, yet before the man could reach her, his head was all but ripped from his neck. 

 

Shadow pounced onto him, her long teeth sinking into the man's soft throat. The hellhounds fur bristled as she tore the man apart, skin to bones, blood streaming from her jaw.

 

Not pausing for even a second, the hellhound moved to the next target, tearing a horses body to shreds before finishing the rider.

 

"We had volunteers from Volantis man the gates," Harry Strickland said as he rode up beside them. His sword was clean, devoid of any blood.  The new captain-general of the Golden Company. A cowards. Myles Toyne should never have left the post.

 

 A year ago, due to an injury earned in battle, the Blackheart had resigned as captain-general, remaining as a mere serjeant. A poor choice.

 

"And didn't consider that they might still hold a grudge against you?" Daenerys inquired, as despite her looking up the mounted man, Strickland seemed to shrink under her gaze.

 

"No."

 

Daenerys was about to reply before Connington cut her off. "It doesn't matter now. We need to get them to open them or we're doomed."

 

"And the fuck are we supposed to do that?" grunted Ser Jorah, before cursing loudly, as he took a cut to his leg. 

 

"I do have a solution for that..." Daenerys all but grinned, as understanding crept into the other's eyes.

 

A moment later, Rhaellion soared downwards, his giant wings once more dipping everything below him in darkness.

 

An ear-shattering roar echoed over the plains, as the dragon bathed the bronze gates in pitch-black flames. Immediately, they started to glow and twist, as the metal shone in a bright orange color. The ornaments that adorned the giant gate melted with a hiss, the color changing from bronze, to orange, to yellow, to white, as the gate came crumbling down in a stream of molten bronze.

 

A second later, Viserion smashed through the half-molten gate, tearing down the remainders of it. Molten bronze drips from his cream-colored scales, as he roars his dominance over the skies of Volantis. 

 

Even Viserion, the smallest of the dragons, was so large, that his wings scraped over the rooftops of the city, tearing down entire houses whose owners had been either unlucky enough to make them from straw and clay, or whose stones were brittle through age and corruption.

 

*

 

Jon Connington I

 

The girl was arrogant and willful, yes, but her fighting skill was without a doubt unmatched. Jon Connington had seen Rhaegar spar with the likes pf Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning or Jaime Lannister, he had fought during the Battle of the Bells against the Demon of the Trident, and he had seen the Kingsguard of the Mad King in the melee at Harrenhal.

 

He had once thought Ser Arthur to be the greatest swordsman to ever live, but now he was no longer certain. Rhaegar's sister had displayed a set of skills he had never before seen. And it seemed she was able to fight with two swords instead of one as well.

 

And there was her armor.

 

Red and black, it shined in the light, rubies embedded into it. She looked just like Rhaegar in it, the black steel overlapping like dragon scales, the rubies in her chest plate. The steel seemed to fit together seamlessly. It was completely smooth, so much that it didn't even rattle in the slightest when she moved. And to think it was not her ceremonial armor.

 

"Dra-gon-Queen! Dra-gon-Queen! Dra-gon-Queen!" even men of the Golden Company chanted, as the dragon burst through the gate of the city.

 

It was antagonizing his nerves, yet there was nothing to be done about it. Not now, at the very least.

 

The wave of armored men poured into the now open gates of Volantis, the leather tunics of the Unsullied shimmering in the heat, much like the golden armor of their own soldiers.

 

The dragons had opened their path back into the city, but molten gates could not be closed. As they returned to the city, so did the Dothraki.

 

"This is quite bad," Rhaegar's sister had the nerve to comment in her infuriatingly calm voice. "The city will burn once more."

 

There were mutters of agreement at her words, coming from all around them. "Yes," Aegon conceded, as finally reinforcements of the Golden Company came into view. 

 

The sound of rhythmic drums and footsteps filled the air, as two of the giant elephants moved at the front of the ranks.

 

"We need to organize the battlefield," Jon quickly proclaimed, as the defenders of the city met the Dothraki head-on in the narrow streets of Volantis. "Come behind the ranks, they can hold them off for now. We will lose less men if we fight them with a tactic."

 

"Very well,  Lord Hand,"  Daenerys said, finally sheathing her sword. Still, the title sounded mocking coming from her lips, even if her expression gave nothing away.

 

*

 

Outside, the fields and grasses were stomped to the ground, far from the beautiful landscape it had been a day earlier. The monstrous bronze gates were molten, and the stones soaked with blood. Marble walls had turned dark red, as the Dothraki continued to battle the Unsullied and Golden Company in the streets of Volantis.

 

There, the sounds of battle were nearly unbearable, the screams so loud it was deafening. Yet here, as they sat once more atop the Black Walls, the sounds were dim. It almost seemed... peaceful.

 

Save for the sound of bells, ringing across the city.

 

Jon Connington's heart bled at the sound of it, the clangor of bells that had once accompanied his most devastating defeat.

 

He could feel his heartbeat quicken, his guts cramp together at the memory. For a moment, the Old Griffin feared he might break down in tears, as his vision started to blur.

 

No,  Jon told himself, biting his tongue to help him focus. He continued staring forwards, forcing the tears out of his blue eyes.  I cannot let them see.

 

Slowly he regained his breathing and straightened his posture, pushing out his chest and raising his chin. 

 

Aegon sat on the other end of the table. It had taken no less than 3 squires to get him into his armor, but in his midnight black armor, he looked the very image of his father.

 

He was truly a sight like this. The way his purple eyes sparkled behind the helmet, how his silvery hair flowed down his neck.  

 

"So the question becomes, what you intend to do now?" Rhaegar's sister asked, still wearing her black armor. It was larger than Aegon's armor was, and Connington did not doubt for a second that one could buy an entire kingdom with it. Still, despite how large it appeared, she seemed to wear it like the thinnest silk.

 

"What  you  intend to do now?" Jon echoed her words. "You make it sound as if this didn't concern you."

 

"That's because it really doesn't," Daenerys replied nonchalantly, moving to take a sip of her damned Arbor Gold. "You make the plans, and I will see if I can get myself to care enough to support it."

 

Aegon started to pace around the long oaken table, while the girl eyed him with mild curiosity. "What of the battle," he finally demanded, looking at Jon expectantly.

 

"It's still going on as you can surely tell," Jon replied, nodding towards the blood-red streets below them. 

 

"The city is burning once again," he sighed. "The western half is suffering the most, it is where the current fights are taking place."

 

The battle had slowly slowed down, devolving into more skirmishes and ambushes within the confines of the city, than a single huge battle. "Most of the infrastructure is destroyed, the shops raided and burned, the streets unusable."

 

"What of the Red Temple," Daenerys supplied, taking another sip from her wine. Ser Barristan Selmy stood behind her, always vigilant, yet her other knight was not with them. His leg had been injured badly, and he had been brought to a healer to ensure it didn't fester.

 

"They are still counting their losses," Lysono Maar stated, his sleek voice carrying over the room. "Only a few dozen members of the fiery hand survived the last battle, and even fewer didn't leave directly afterward. They are lacking organization and leadership, as well as strength in arms."

 

"So they are in no position to take up arms?" Aegon asked, to which the Golden Company's spymaster only nodded.

 

"A red priestess came to visit me two days ago," Daenerys spoke, now twirling a short dagger in her hand. "Kinvara was her name. She was chosen to succeed the late High Priest Benerro. She also told me a very curious tale..."

 

"You met with the High Priestess?" Jon interrupted, looking at her with both anger and shock. "And you did not tell anyone about this?"

 

"You presume too much,  Lord Connington.  I can meet with whoever I damn want to. It is none of your business."

 

"Forgive the Lord Hand," Aegon interrupted sweetly. "What he would like to say, is that such a meeting is merely a big surprise to us. You must understand - we only just fought them not even a turn of the moon ago. They have declared themselves our foes."

 

"Yes, their faith is in quite an uproar," Daenerys nodded. "They demand justice for the late High Priest Benerro and all the men of the Fiery Hand that followed him."

 

"His death was justice," Aegon insisted. "They were burning men, women, and children, left and right."

 

"But were they wrong to fight you? You were an invading force that was sacking and burning the city. They demand that the person who executed the High Priest in the streets, be put to death."

 

"And what was the point of your meeting with the new High Priestess, beyond gathering information that is?"

 

"Why, she asked me for the justice that was denied them by you. To kill the man who had killed their leader."

 

"Mhm..." Aegon slowly nodded, averting his eyes for a moment, though it didn't escape Daenerys.

 

"It's you?" she sighed, looking at him intently. "You killed Benerro." It wasn't a question, only a statement.

 

"Yes."

 

"That is a problem," Daenerys nodded. "I assume if it was you, then the people of Volantis know exactly who killed him. There will be no peace for them. Not as long as you live."

 

"You say that in such a menacing way, it could almost be perceived as a threat," Jon stated, slowly rising from his chair and leaning over the table.

 

A second later, the warlock companion of Rhaegar's sister rose to his feet, his long blue and black gown fluttering down his body. "Again, Lord Hand, you overreach. There is only one person here who is making threats, and that is you." 

 

His dark blue, bruised lips twisted into a tiny smile as he continued. "We do not veil our words in shadow, we do not speak with your petty word games. But since you cannot see the difference between threat and a simple statement, let me show you what a threat is."

 

He paused for a moment, his eerie pale eyes boring into Jon's blue ones. "Speak in such a way to Empress Daenerys Targaryen again, and I will cut out your tongue and force it down your throat. That was a threat. Remember it."

 

The room froze, all eyes turning to him. Everyone stood or sat in silence as the tension in the room grew and grew.

 

Already now, the hands of both Ser Barristan and Pyat Pree lingered over their weapon's hilts, the men of the Golden Company following their example. 

 

Jon himself found his gloved hand hovering above his sword sheath. His fingers strained in the gloves, where his skin was growing harder and harder. His hand was turning to solid stone.

 

The taking of Volantis had been a victory, yet also a hollow and cruel one.

 

"My lords, please," Aegon once more settled the dispute, looking pointedly at Jon. "We are to be allies. Softer words amongst one another may be the way to go."

 

"Are we now?" A voice called out from behind Jon, where no voice should be. The area around them had been closed down, no one was allowed to enter, and no one was allowed to leave. Besides, behind Jon, there were only a few more feet of stone before the Black Walls ended, and fell off into the city below.

 

"I seem to recall that two moons ago you made arrangements to sell Empress Daenerys to a Dothraki Khal. A mess, that she had to solve by herself."

 

"You?" Aegon asked, his eyes widening, as the woman approached them. Her eyes were the only thing visible behind a dark red mask that covered her face. 

 

"Shiera," Daenerys greeted meanwhile with a small smile, though her eyes did not quite show it.  What is this woman to her?

 

Aegon looked confused, and Jon’s gaze narrowed. 

 

"I see your confused expression, Lord Hand," the woman stated. "I am Shiera Seastar, and I serve her Grace, the Empress Daenerys."

 

Another fanatic, how dull.  "Shiera Seastar is long dead. You are not her. She had platinum-golden hair. One of her eyes was green and the other blue."

 

The woman's eyes were beautiful, they danced with starlight behind her wooden mask, yet they were the wrong color. They were black, not green or blue. Her hair was dark brown as well, far from the beautiful Targaryen hair that Shiera Seastar had once had. Not to mention that she would be far more than 100 years old by now.

 

"And mine?" the woman replied with a slight smile, pulling the red mask of her face. And within the blink of an eye, she was a completely different person. Her black hair turned brighter and grew longer and longer until it reached below her stomach, her eyes grew lighter and lighter until one shined like a sapphire and another like a perfect emerald.

 

"My mother was Serenei of Lys, my father Aegon the Fourth. Few knew magic better than she did. She used it to retain her youth. She was over seventy namedays old when she became the Unworthy's mistress, yet no one would have known. Had she not died in childbirth, she would be with me here today. But the gods had other plans for her. It is the oldest rule of them all... Only death may pay for life."

 

"You knew Bloodraven?" Aegon asked. "Aegor Bittersteel and Daemon Blackfyre?"

 

"The other Great Bastards..." Shiera nodded. "That I did."

 

"But why are you here?"

 

"There are still affairs to be concluded. Both me and Brynden are counseling important pieces for the future of Westeros... At the same time Aegor still remains influential from beyond the grave," she said, nodding towards the banners of the Golden Company. "Even Blackfyre might still live on, if Brynden is to be believed..."

 

"Brynden?" Dany blinked. "Brynden Rivers? You half-brother? Bloodraven?"

 

"The one and only," Shiera smiled. "Who do you think send me?"

 

"This is getting better and better," Jon sighed, earning a nod from Strickland. "Bloodraven and Shiera Seastar..."

 

"Where is Bloodraven now?" Daenerys asked. It came as a surprise to Jon, that she would not know it. She and Shiera seemed close.

 

Suddenly he remembered her words when they had spoken of her almost-capture in Volantis, many years ago. Oh, how he wished that the serjeants Melak and Juritht had succeeded in taking her. 

 

They approached me in Volantis, tried to kidnap me by force while claiming to work for you. Of course, that did not quite work out, and when I told Shiera they paid the price in blood,  Jon remembered her words.  Shiera Seastar must have been the one to take her east and raise her.

 

The plan had seemed so perfect, impossible to fail. The fat magister and the Spider seemed to have thought of everything. Yet then everything went wrong when the news of Viserys's death and Daenerys escape had come. 

 

And even if he hated it, he could understand the girl. She had every reason to not follow Aegon anymore, she had lost faith in him. Or she had simply never been able to have faith in him in the first place. But still, he wished so dearly, that she would play her part. 

 

I would see her and a thousand others dead if it meant that Aegon would ascend the throne. If it meant that I would ensure that Aegon succeeded, where Rhaegar and I failed. 

 

She would have been taken in Volantis with her dragons, and Aegon would have taken her as his wife. They would have grown to love each other, and they would have ruled over a peaceful Westeros together. Like Rhaegar would have wanted.

 

The nobles and smallfolk alike would have loved them, would have cheered for them as they rode through the streets of King's Landing together. Two rulers, who could intimidate the high lords and, at the same time, be loved by the people.

 

The son of Rhaegar and his aunt, coming to bring a new era of peace and prosperity to Westeros. With her at his side and their dragons, no one would ever doubt his parentage. It would have been their glamorous destiny.

 

But fate had different plans for them.

 

"He rests in the far north of Westeros. Whereas Stygai lies in the far south-east and represents the heart of darkness, the far north-west is Bloodraven's domain - the heart of winter. Other than me, he has no magic to retain his youth. He relies on the power of a weirwood tree, in whose roots he lives, to continue his life. You would take him for a corpse, should you see him."

 

"And who is this  important person  who he is counceling now?" Daenerys asked curiously.

 

"A young son of ice and fire. But that... is a tale for another day. I hear that there is a battle to plan."

 

Jon knew that he did not have much time. The greyscale was spreading from his left thumb, where the late triarchs had left their last poisoned gifts. A single grape had laid on the ground below their lifeless corpses, almost magically drawing his attention. Yet when he had picked it up, he had felt the foul disease, that had immediately bored itself into his skin.

 

A finger he could have amputated, yet by the time he had understood what was happening to his left arm, the stony, hard layer had already spread over most of his left hand.

 

It was too late to turn back. He needed to see Aegon restored to the Iron Throne. If he told them now, they would banish him. Fear would spread throughout the camp, knowing that an infected man was among them. And if he were known to be infected with Greyscale, men would start to talk. Rumors would spread. What if the king was infected as well?

 

"We need to force the Dothraki out of the city," Aegon stated finally, once more donning the mask of a king. "Then we can reinforce the gates into the city."

 

"Yes," Daenerys nodded. "The Dothraki need to be removed from the city..." She made a dramatic pause, emphasizing the importance of her next words. "But for that, you need more troops."

 

For a moment, Jon was about to deny it, stating that the Golden Company would be enough to repel the attack, yet everyone knew that it would have been a lie. Too many were dead from the first battle, even more, were wounded and unable to fight. And even if they weren't, the Dothraki would still outnumber them. 

 

It was only the dissent among their ranks, that had allowed the city to continue to stand so far. A few minor khalasars had abandoned the battlefield, fleeing north and eastwards, yet most of them had remained. The Dothraki were nothing if not warriors, and such predators always smelt any blood in the air. They smelt their prey, and Volantis with its destroyed gates was a good a target as any.

 

"Yes," he finally admitted. "We need more troops."

 

"I will have some brought here from Meereen and Bloodstone," Daenerys stated, looking towards the harbor to their left.

 

"How fast?" Aegon asked.

 

In that very moment, horns sounded over the waves of the Summer Sea, as a hundred warships emerged from the mist lingering above the ocean.

 

It was a deep cry that echoed for leagues in every direction, announcing their presence. All but Daenerys and Pree seemed shocked.

 

Jon stood up from his chair, walking to the edge of the Black Walls to watch the ocean below. 

 

The great harbor of Volantis stretched on for many leagues on the southern side of Volantis, where the battle had been the least destructive.

 

 The waters of the Summer Sea teemed with life, creating a profitable business for any fisher. Hundreds of varieties of fish swam through its depths, including salmon, wolf fish, sand lances, grey skates, lampreys, and other eels, whitefish, char, shark, herring, mackerel, and cod. Others brought frozen goods from the Shivering Sea with them, seals and walrusses, or crabs and lobsters, some of which were of truly enormous size.

 

Some of the fisher boats were as large as those of the royal fleet in Westeros, yet the Warships behind them were in another league entirely. Some were built in Meereenese style, others seemed to have once belonged to the Redwyne fleet. Each of them had three masts that pierced like swords into the skies, with sails so large that they could have easily covered the entire outer city wall.

 

"I already did," Daenerys stated. "Naturally, I did not wait for your approval."

 

"When did you give the order?"

 

"Two days ago," she admitted. "When the challenge towards Drogo was issued. Ser Barristan told me of his doubts, that such a duel would bring danger. When I gave the order, they immediately sailed here. I had already given the order for them to be ready at a moment's notice before I came here."

 

"Certain risks had to be avoided, especially any regarding the Empress's security," the woman known as Merana nodded. She was a rather silent one, though she did not look the part. Rubies were embedded in her cheeks, and she fought as well as anyone from what he had seen during the fight against the Dothraki.

 

"You had them ready to fight us."

 

"Of course I did," Daenerys all but snorted. "I'd be a fool not to. Neither the letter you send me nor your deeds in this very city established you as a valuable ally. I cannot say my opinion on this matter has changed a lot since then."

 

She stared down Aegon, so much that she did not notice Lysono Maar's pale purple eyes stare at her.

 

"Then why are you helping us?" Strickland asked. "For better or for worse, you could take your dragons and leave."

 

"I want Volantis," Daenerys answered simply. "It is the price for my help. As Strickland said, I can just leave and take my men with me. The Dothraki would tear you apart, and even if they didn't, the smallfolk certainly would. This city is not just the price for my help, it is the price for your survival."

 

She too stood up and moved towards the edge of the Great Walls that secluded Old Volantis from the rest of the city. As always her giant hellhound lept towards her from the Shadows, trailing directly behind her. Yet the beast never made a sound. The steps of such a large creature ought to be loud, yet it moved with the grace and elegance of a Braavosi Waterdancer.

 

Minutes passed in silence, every man and woman remaining tense. Only one of them was the very definition of calmness.

 

"Fine," Aegon finally agreed, his voice cutting through the stillness. "The city is yours. But the Volanteen ships will be ours."

 

A single nod from the girl sealed the deal.

 

"Very well," she murmured, as legions on legions of Unsullied and trained soldiers poured into the harbor. 

 

The Dothraki were still fighting below, their war songs keeping awake most of the city. It reeked of sweat and blood, as even from afar the chaotic movements in the streets were visible.

 

"We will seal all exits from the city," Daenerys stated softly, letting her eyes roam over the city. The sun was setting in the west, dipping the entire world in red. Even the vast Dothraki Sea in the distance shined with the dark red color of blood.

 

In the east, darkness was falling already, creating a perfect contrast to Daenerys's silver hair.

 

"Then they have no way out, and we will herd them together... They will be trapped. Like rats in a maze..." she muttered, and had she not faced away from him, Jon Connington would have seen her smile.

 

*

 

End of Part 1

Chapter Text

Part 2

 

Daenerys III

 

None but her had ever seen the world like this. Rhaellion soared through the warm air above Volantis, his pitch-black scales almost completely hiding him from the thousands of eyes below.

 

Yet still, despite the dragon's good stealth, everyone would know she was coming. A booming sound, as loud as thunder resonated through the city each time the dragon's wings clapped. Daenerys did not doubt for a second, that it could be heard for leagues in every direction.

 

But it would not matter if they knew. She hoped sincerely, that the Dothraki would hear the clapping of wings above them. That they would search frantically for her in the night sky, but would only see her when the fire formed in Rhaellion's throat.

 

Still, for now, the largest of her children was just a distraction. It was Rhaegal and Viserion who had to do their part now.

 

And they did. Already now, Daenerys could see the jade-colored jets of scorching flames cut through the grasslands around Volantis. The flames gleamed in the night sky, as they burned with unmatched beauty.

 

In the distance, thunder was cracking.

 

Rhaegal and Viserion unleashed fire and chaos on the grasslands, torching them with jade and golden flames, that burned high in the dry grass.

 

All the gates out of the city were either closed securely or surrounded by roaring flames.

 

Few small khalasars had remained outside of the city, either resting or moving towards Volon Therys.

 

Foolish.

 

The dragons brought Fire and Blood upon them, the hot fires cutting through the flesh of both man and horse. The dragons charred bones and set the world aflame, leaving only a trail of corpses behind.

 

The roars of the green and cream-colored dragon were deafening, and for a moment, Daenerys was shocked by the fury she had unleashed.

 

But a moment afterward, it was gone once more. The blood of the dragon sang in her and her children alike, screaming for destruction. 

 

Again, Viserion dived downwards, burning through a group of Dothraki with a continuous stream of Dragonfire. Few got to scream before they were consumed by the golden flames.

 

That's at least forty men dead in the blink of an eye.

 

Where Rhaellion had once focussed the bronze gate leading into the city, Rhaegal now aimed for the arch holding it.

 

The green dragon swept over the molten gate, jade jets of flame bursting from his throat, bathing the structure in flames. 

 

The sounds of screams filled the air, as the giant arch twisted and melted, and glowed brightly. Giant drops of molten bronze and steel dripped from the twisting arch until it finally came crashing down. Molten bronze splashed through the streets below, burning men and horses severely, before turning them into living statues.

 

The winged brothers hunted down all who escaped in what seemed to be almost a game to them. Only a charred, desolate waste remained, as the fires burned massive streaks through the grassy ground, where it hit the hardest.

 

The flames spread and spread over the dry plains until they truly became a field of fire. 

 

Hundreds of unrecognizable corpses burned in the second Field of Fire. A ring of fire encircled Volantis, burning with such ferocity, that no one would come into the city, and no one would leave it.

 

You monster, a voice whispered in her ears, each word laced with venom. They were dark and treacherous, appalled by the destruction below. 

 

This is justice. They would have no mercy on me either, Daenerys told herself, but the voice remained in the back of her head. 

 

This is barbarity. How could you? How could you kill so many? What of the women and children, enslaved by the Dothraki, who were forced to be here?

 

There are always victims in wars, Daenerys assured herself once more. But as the fires raged below her, it did not feel like a victory. It did not give her the same satisfaction, as when the Masters of Slaver's Bay had died screaming.

 

It was justice, it was the right thing to do, but a bitter taste remained all the same.

 

"I've done my part, Aegon," Daenerys muttered to herself, as Rhaellion stretched his wings. She almost felt tired, both emotionally and physically. "Now prepare to do yours."

 

*

 

Aegon I

 

Thousands of footsteps thundered in unison over the marble floor of Old Volantis, as the Unsullied formed their ranks.

 

They displayed perfect discipline and unity. Never once did any of them step out of line, never once showed anyone the slightest sign of weakness.

 

They were the perfect warriors for the streets of Volantis. Their spears would be the perfect weapons against the mounted Dothraki in such tight space. They had proven it in the Century of Blood more than once.

 

Four hundred years ago, the destruction of Valyria left a power vacuum in Essos. Many tried to grasp the power of Valyria for themselves, like when the dragonlord Aurion proclaimed himself the first Emperor of Valyria. With his dragon and an army of thirty thousand men he marched to claim Valyria's remains, but none were ever seen again.

 

Meanwhile, the Dothraki rode out of the east, sacking and burning towns and cities in their way. Khal Mengo had united the sixty khalasars of his time under his own rule. They killed and raped and plundered for generations until they met a worthy foe in the Three Thousand of Qohor.

 

25.000 braided warriors of the Dothraki rode against 3000 Unsullied, yet their lines had held. Over and over the Khal and his horde would charge against the lines of spears and shields. And every time they would stand firm.

 

Finally, after four days of fighting and 17.000 Dothraki dead, including their Khal, his sons, and his bloodriders, the horselords surrendered, each of them cutting their braids and throwing them at the Unsullied's feet.

 

The Unsullied were the perfect weapon if only one knew how to use them.

 

Aegon watched in amazement, as the Black Dread reborn thundered overhead, each clap of his wings creating a tempest that could be felt even from far away.

 

The Dragonstorm, the so-called Good Masters had once called him, for a storm brew beneath him, every time his winges beat in the air.

 

Black and crimson flames filled the night sky. This is our signal.

 

"In unison, the Unsullied lifted their shields, stomping their spears on the ground thrice. It was a thunderous sound, resonating through the city.

 

"Dovaogedys!" A single Unsullied at the very front called out, donning his helmet. No more words were required, as they marched forwards as one.

 

Daenerys had almost 40.000 troops at her command, divided between Sellswords, Unsullied, Pit fighters, Freedmen, and the groups of former slaves, that had bonded together as personal war troops of their new-found Empress. 

 

The forces were divided into 20 legions of 2.000 troops each, which were once again split into 10 smaller battalions, with 200 men.

 

Eight of her legions, six made of Unsullied and one made of sellswords and one made of pit fighters, were now in Volantis.

 

The pit fighters seemed troublesome, each of them fighting with an exposed torso and cold, naked steel. Scars adorned their bare chests and littered their arms. But still, each of them had a glint in their eyes, lusting for blood and massacre. Yet each and every one of them would die for Daenerys, that much was certain.

 

"Battle formation!" the pit fighter known as 'The Red Smile' called out with a sore, harsh voice. A deep, bloody gash showed in his face, where an arakh had cut his face from mouth to ear, giving him his nickname. Salvia drooled through the open hole, as the man continued to speak.

 

"Create a phalanx and push through the city! Push and fight! We round up the Dothraki at the molten gate, 2 leagues west of here."

 

The Unsullied were already marching forwards, their spears raised and ready to thrust at a moment's notice. Their ranks were as tight as ever, leaving not even the slightest gap.

 

The fighters of the Golden Company followed shortly behind them, as the Unsullied split up at every intersection, cleansing out every corner of the city.

 

The pit fighters slowly pushed forwards, moving before the Golden Company. They were thirsty for glory, yet as they marched they fell silent. Their weapons were drawn, their eyes were narrowed and focussed.

 

The mysterious shadowbinder, that had once approached him on the walls of Volantis stood nearby. With her mask donned, Shiera Seastar looked like a completely different person once more. Her face was hidden behind her glimmering red mask, silently staring at the great elephants that marched with the Golden Company.

 

A long blast rang out from behind him, as they approached a large intersection, the bloody road splitting into three paths.

 

Few Unsullied remained with them, most of them having left the main column at some point, swarming in their smaller battalions through the city.

 

The last of the Unsullied broke away from the column at the intersection. With them splitting away, they left the Golden Company on the front. Even though the Golden Company and pit-fighters had yet to meet more than a handful of Dothraki, the screaming already grew louder and louder in the distance.

 

"And once again," Aegon muttered, donning his dragon-shaped helmet. The second Black Dread circled above, occasionally letting loose a blast of flame onto the streets below. The hellhound had not followed Daenerys onto the dragons, instead, moving through the shadows of the city like a deadly demon. The third Black Dread might have been an adequate name for the she-hellhound, whose fur was as dark as a midnight sea.

 

*

 

Jon Connington II

 

The Hand of the King watched closely, as the rows of disciplined men marched through the city. Aegon was leading the vanguard, yet when it came to battle Jon would make certain that he was well-protected. 

 

Too many stray arrows flew on every battlefield, too many unfortunate events. The power of archers could turn the tides of every battle, as Bloodraven had proven on the Battle of the Redgrass Field. A man who was still alive, according to Shiera Seastar.

 

And who had also seemed to have sent her east. Many myths rankled around Bloodraven, but if Jon Connington knew anything about him, then that it would be risky to trust him. Aenys Blackfyre had learned that the hard way.

 

What do you intend to do, Bloodraven? What do you want?

 

He was abruptly torn from his thoughts when the sound of hooves on marble stone could be heard.

 

They were passing down the main street, as a thousand Dothraki emerged before them, an uncountable number of bells ringing in their long hair.

 

Their screams and shouts reverberated in the dark, as the men of the Golden Company braced themselves, raising their shields and spears.

 

"Go. Send word to the king," Connington commanded. "See that he withdraws to the fourth line, and is protected from arrows. I want our best knights around him at all times. There are positions on his Kingsguard to be given away today."

 

The rather timid messenger nodded swiftly and left with a deep bow, shuffling through the lines of soldiers towards the front of the army.

 

"Move steadily forwards," Black Balaq commanded loudly, the Summer Islander's voice booming over the battlefield.

 

The Dothraki were spread out too wide, outnumbering their own cavalry by too much to charge straight into them. The Unsullied weren't with them, but with their own spears and shields, they would create a wall. A wall that only promised death to any who would charge against it.

 

Armor and spears were the greatest weapons against the Dothraki, and they would have to use them.

 

The Dothraki's horses ran in circles before them, rising to their hind legs, as their battle cries filled the air. They waved their arakhs and longbows in the air, readying themselves for a charge.

 

"Close the ranks! Close the ranks!" Caspor Hill shouted as the first Dothraki started to charge towards them, disregarding every danger.

 

They were strong warriors, bred for war and its battles. Worrying about death was simply not their way. It was said, that these savages were born and lived on their horses, loving their steads more than their family. 

 

They longed for battle and blood, fighting the men of the Free Cities and fighting each other for the right to lead. The Dothraki followed only the strong. Their hunger for blood was their greatest strength but also their greatest weakness. For every man had to know fear.

 

If only you had known fear on the Trident, Rhaegar. If only you had lived to fight another day. But you never feared any man or god.

 

Some of the Dothraki drew their longbows on horseback, raining arrows onto their foes as they charged in full gallop. 

 

A man with long, braided hair rode at the front, his destrier so huge that it could rival most of the Westerosi warhorses. His bloodriders fell in behind him, as the mounted warriors poured towards them, as a massive wave of flesh.

 

Their arakhs were shining in their hands like blades of razor grass, dancing, and cutting through the air around them.

 

"Fire & Blood!" both pit fighters and mercenaries cried in echo until the night rang to the sound of their voices.

 

*

 

Daenerys IV

 

The streets of the western side of Volantis would usually almost burst with life. When she had arrived at Volantis for the first time, she had been able to see teeming bazaars, not so different from those of Qarth or Meereen.

 

There had been immense grey elephants roaming through the city with all kinds of queer folk walking below. Warrior maids from Bayasabhad, Shamyriana, and Kayakayanaya, the city where Merana had been born. 

 

Yet now, only a few dozen desperate merchants and traders remained, making the streets of Volantis seem hushed and deserted. The streets were grey and white, mixed with occasional pools of blood.

 

She could feel Rhaellion's bloodlust flow through the dragon's veins, and she could feel the emotions of his brothers. They were exhausted from breathing constant streams of flame for minutes, yet they were also so very happy.

 

Hundreds upon hundreds of arrow shafts and even spears stuck in their huge bodies, but they barely felt them anymore. 

 

Wounded men moaned and prayed, as they soared overhead. Dying horses lifted their heads, their charred limbs not allowing them to stand.

 

The city of Volantis was afire, black plumes of smoke roiling and tumbling as they rose into the grim night sky. Giant firepots burned atop the Red Temple, providing the main source of light for her.

 

Below, she could see the ranks of the Golden Company crash with one of the many smaller khalasars trapped within the city. Viserion swooped down once, clawing a dozen men from their horses with his giant talons, before rising into the air once more.

 

All three dragons dived a few times, however as the battle became a giant melee duel, they could no longer interfere. The lines were too close, the dragons to large. Not rarely did they tear down towers and houses with their dives, crushing any who walked the streets below. Be they friend or foe.

 

The Unsullied swarmed through the city, clearing it out street by street, house by house. They were only small dark points in the vast maze of streets and houses from so far above.

 

Further west, on the huge Plaza of Grief and in front of the nearby Palace of Sighs, she could see a great number of Dothraki amass. It was a great, open area, no more than a league from the Bronze Gates.

 

There were only a few torches nearby, as many Dothraki feared the flames. Only the dim light of the moon and stars lit up the plaza. It was made entirely from white marble, that glimmered brightly as the dim light struck it.

 

Daenerys would have loved to fly the dragon straight into the mass of men, showing them the might of a dragon. A real, true dragon, not whatever Aegon called himself. But she couldn't. The plaza was tightly surrounded by buildings, many of them quite high. The dragons were smart and fast, but they often underestimated their own size and power. Their blasts would obliterate far more than just the Dothraki.

 

And Daenerys would not make the same mistake that Aegon had made when taking the city. A few towers had crumbled under the dragons so far, but those were only the rooftops, where people would be fools to hide in. 

 

The red faith had long been a friend of her, and with her not completely angering the population, the transition of power would be peaceful, yes, they would welcome it even.

 

She could see thousands of figures streaming through the streets, all headed westwards towards the great Plaza of Grief.

 

Oh, there will be even more grief there today.

 

3 legions of Unsullied were reforming to the south, as multiple battalions met again at the road of steel, that led from the Red Temple towards the Hissing Garden.

 

To the north, multiple groups of Unsullied were coming from the Dragon Road that ran along the river Rhoyne. More were passing over the Long Bridge and would soon regroup with the other half into another legion.

 

The group to the north would be able to attack the Dothraki from the right side, while the other half would take them from the left.

 

The Red Smile had his orders. He and the pit fighters would split up, leaving only a few hundred men with the Golden Company, as the others would move through the streets and further encircle them.

 

For now, they were fighting against a small khalasar, where victory was assured. But against the large khalasar under Khal Qotho they would not stand at the front lines. Aegon's Golden Company could do that.

 

For what had once occurred, when she had been a guest in this very city. For the insults given to her. In Westeros they said, that the North remembered, but so did Daenerys Stormborn.

 

Deep down she knew, that Aegon had never meant to truly push her away. But it did not matter to her anymore.

 

She looked downwards, and there Aegon was, fighting in his midnight black armor and the famous sword Blackfyre. Dread the day, you draw the ire of a Dragon, she thought to herself. 

 

*

 

Aegon II

 

The king swiftly raised Blackfyre in his left arm, cleaving through the face of a Dothraki. The sword that had once belonged to the Conqueror himself sung in the air. It cut through the night sky, opening his face from ear to ear. A nasty sound filled the air, as a fountain of blood erupted from the man's opened throat. He had leaped off his horse in a mad attempt to get behind their own lines.

 

"Careful, your Grace," Caspor Hill warned him, eyeing Aegon carefully. He and Lorimas Mudd had never once left his side, always ensuring that the least amount of foes possible would be able to approach him.

 

"You do not have to trail behind me, as if I were a baby," Aegon commented, as a huge war elephant charged past them, into the lines of the Dothraki. 

 

The Dothraki were great horsemen, but there was not a warhorse in all of Essos or Westeros that could stand against these great armored beasts.

 

"It's by the order of the Hand, your Grace. He would see you well-protected. As would we."

 

Again, with their fierce screams, the Dothraki charged towards their lines. They were killed one after another, but they did not know fear.

 

Aegon heard the whizzing of arrows, as they went down, many with arrows sticking from their chests and throats.

 

Above the dragons roared, exposing rows upon rows of teeth within, fury burning within their eyes.

 

The great fires outside of the city grew and grew, so large that they could be seen over the top of the city walls.

 

In the distance, a child's screams hollered through the streets.

 

Down the street of Volantis, Aegon could see a single Dothraki stare at him. He held an arakh in each hand, the curved blade dripping with blood. His eyes were firmly fixed on him, and within them, there was an endless fire burning without any fear.

 

A long oiled braid fell down his back, a long black beard almost reaching his naval. A dozen long scars cut across his chest, leaving only faint white trails.

 

The Khal. Let me end this battle.

 

*

 

Back and forth. Right leg, left leg.

 

The Dothraki Khal moved quickly, feinting with one arakh while striking with the other.

 

The men around Aegon were locked in combat as well, unable to help him as he dueled the Khal. He could see that a few men had nocked their arrows and aimed at the horselord, yet no one dared to shoot the arrows.

 

The pit fighter with the red smile moved towards him but was intercepted by another Dothraki.

 

As quick as a cat, the Khal drew backward. He raised his right arakh and swung it in a downwards arc. It whizzed through the air and would have perfectly cut through the gap between Aegon's armor, opening his neck.

 

In the last moment, he twisted away, leaving the arakh to crash into his shoulder plate, thankfully made of solid metal.

 

The arakh cut a deep rill into the black steel, making Aegon's shoulder twist and shudder. But as he tried to pull back the arakh to strike once more, it was stuck in the hard plate.

 

Stumbling backward as he was unable to pull the weapon lose, Aegon followed him, parrying the swings he delivered with his remaining arakh while dodging others.

 

"Back, your Grace!" Black Balaq screamed over the battle, the Summer Islanders white hair fluttering behind his skillfully interwoven armor. "Fall back, we can take him with the arrows!"

 

But Aegon ignored it.

 

The man was fast, his moves quicker than those of nearly any man he had faced. He twisted and lunged, the arakh occasionally blinding him when it reflected the burning flames of the surrounding torches into his eyes.

 

The fires flared around them, the Red Temple just a few hundred feet away, while men wielding torches and braziers stood nearby.

 

"Child ," the Khal said, raising his arakh in contempt. " I am Khal Cohollo and the new Khal of Khals. Run, before I put an end to you."

 

"I think not," Aegon replied, twisting Blackfyre in his hands so that the shimmering surface of the Valyrian Steel sword diverted the light of the roaring flames into the Khal's eyes. 

 

Momentarily, the man was blinded, giving Aegon enough time to leap forwards, piercing the tip of Blackfyre right through the other man's chest.

 

Blood quelled from the man's torso, as the blood freely seeped from the wound where the sword had pierced him.

 

Streams of red liquid trickled down his chest and down Blackfyre, still embedded in the Khal's chest.

 

Only when Aegon felt the blood slowly seep down his wrist did he remove the blade, staring at the man as the life left his dark eyes.

 

A second later Jon Connington was by him, anger flaring in his blue eyes. They looked like a summer storm forming above the open grasslands of the Dothraki Sea.

 

"That was foolish," Aegon's hand said through gritted teeth, looking at Aegon angrily, who merely shrugged.

 

"I won," Aegon simply stated, not averting his eyes from the corpse before him. He had seen blood and death in the streets of Volantis during the sack, yet he had never before killed a man in battle. Only Benerro had died by his hands, and he had not fought.

 

You shall touch the stars, see the glorious light of a thousand suns and stars laid out before you. You shall see all you could ever have, but you shall have none. Cursed shall you be, cursed by the cruel betrayal of the men you would have served . The priest's words echoed in his head, reminding him of the prophecy Benerro had given him before dying.

 

Many men would have never believed such words, but Benerro had believed them with all his soul. The way his face had twisted into a small smile, smirking at him. Knowing that he did, in the end, have the last word in their battle. Benerro had known what he had said, he had not spoken these words spontaneously. His voice had been firm and even, even when filled with pain. He had revised these words a dozen times before.

 

No, Aegon said, shaking his head slightly, ignoring Connington's gaze. You will not win, priest.

 

He could only thank the seven, that for now the smallfolk was scared by the dragons, and wouldn't join the battle with open combat. They hated the Dothraki even more than they hated Aegon, or else they would be surrounded by enemies.

 

"You did win, doesn't make it any less foolish," Connington answered before his gaze turned softer. "Is something wrong?"

 

"No," Aegon replied, forcing a smile on his lips.

 

"You said that before," the old griffin noted. "But as it turned out, you had been visited by a shadowbinder from Asshai a moment earlier."

 

"Yes, that I was," Aegon muttered. "But this time it is the truth."

 

Even to himself, the words rang hollow, as the Golden Company finished off the remainders of the Dothraki, the war elephants leading the column.

 

False Dragon, Benerro's voice lingered, impossible to be suppressed. May you never find peace, false dragon.

 

*

 

Daenerys V

 

The three dragons circled above the Plaza of Grief, as the troops closed in on the Dothraki from every side.

 

They were hopelessly encircled, the Unsullied spears on the flanks and war elephants at the center beating back every charge they delivered.

 

Over and over, the remainders of Khal Drogo's giant horde charged against them, only to be beaten back every time.

 

The corpses piled higher and higher, creating mountains of corpses. Bodies of both men and horses stacked higher than the buildings of Volantis, yet most had been brushed to the side of the roads. Or they had been trampled into an unrecognizable red mass by the elephants.

 

The streets were drowning in blood, filling the sewers to the top like after a heavy rain. But it was more of the blood of her enemies, than that of her allies.

 

The battle was won, everyone knew it, but the Dothraki kept fighting. 

 

Yet as the Unsullied and elephants moved steadily forwards as an unstoppable barrier, they broke the first rule of the Dothraki.

 

They fell back and retreated. Once forty thousand men had broken against 3000 Unsullied. Now they were less than thirty thousand, many of them injured, against legions of the eunuch warriors.

 

Until they met the molten bronze gates, the giant flames roaring outside of them. The ranks closed around them, Unsullied with their spears raised in a tight phalanx on each side of them, the Golden Company to their front. The city walls and a roaring fire behind them.

 

Fear and bloodlust lingered in the air. It was pure discipline that kept her and Aegon's men from blindly charging forwards.

 

Ser Barristan could be seen on the front of the eastern flank, whereas Pyat Pree stood with the left flank. A thousand pit fighters that had left the main column earlier spread through the few openings that remained, watching from dark alleys and from atop burning houses.

 

And for a moment, there was only silence, as the dragons landed around them, Rhaegal and Viserion directly atop the city walls behind them, and Rhaellion on the ground, directly before the Dothraki.

 

And slowly Daenerys dismounted, a thousand eyes resting on her. Everywhere she looked, she could see corpses, burned, and cut apart. Charred bones rested around them, smoke puffing out of their blackened skulls.

 

It had grown so silent, that she could hear the bells in the Dothraki's hair ringing, chiming softly with every movement of the wind.

 

"It is over, Dothraki," Daenerys proclaimed loudly, as one building nearby collapsed into itself, sparks of fire rising into the dark sky. "You have lost. Surrender now, pledge your allegiance and you might just survive."

 

Screams of anguish rose from their ranks, half a dozen riders attempting a charge towards her, before being burned by Rhaellion. The jet of black flame did not last for more than a second, yet by the end of it, all six men laid burning on the ground, their screams of anguish cutting through the sky.

 

At that, only more screams than before came from the crowd, but none of them dared to charge. They knew it meant a painful death, but no one would kneel either.

 

They did not fear death, but they would not enjoy being burned alive either.

 

For a second it seemed, as though they would attempt a last mad charge, until a woman's voice called out, firm and strong. Her voice even drowned out the screams of the other Dothraki, making them listen in silence.

 

She wore a painted leather vest, shiny with oil and sweat. Her face was old and wrinkled, she lacked an eye and many teeth, though it shone with knowledge.

 

"The stallion who mounts the world ," she spoke slowly. " Born to the Khal of Khals, he shall ride as swift as the wind. Behind him his khalasar covers the earth, men without number, with arakhs shining in their hands like blades of razor grass. Fierce as a storm this prince will be. His enemies will tremble before him, and their wives will weep tears of blood and rend their flesh in grief. The bells in his hair will sing his coming, and the milk men in the stone tents will fear his name." The old woman spoke.

 

It was an old prophecy of the Dothraki, she knew.

 

"Today, only one has been proven worthy of being the Khal of Khals. Only one has defeated every Khal and can now unite all of the khalasars of the world. Only one can make the Dothraki whole again."

 

The old woman trembled, staring at her with both fear and awe in her old, dark brown eyes. "This beast before you is the stallion that will conquer the world, born to the Khal of Khals."

 

Daenerys could feel every eye resting on her, as the woman continued to speak.

 

"The leader that has displayed strength and power. Daenerys Targaryen is the Khal of Khals, the Khaleesi of Khaleesis." With these words, she finally dropped to her knees, bowing her head in submission.

 

A second later, a thousand men followed, each cutting their braids and throwing it at her feet.

 

And as finally, the last man dropped to his knees, the dragons roared across the sky.

 

Their flapping wings and ear-shattering roars, the cawing of ravens, and the cheers of her men mixed together, blending into one until the city of Volantis finally knew the music of dragons.

 

*

 

The Second Battle of Volantis

Date: 299 AC

Place: Volantis

Conflict: The Great War of the East

 

Combatants:

Defenders:

  Aegon Targaryen's/Blackfyre's forces:

  • ~7500 men of the Golden Company
  • 2800 Shield carriers
  • 1500 Spearmen
  • 1500 Knights
  • 1700 Archers
  • Three armored war-elephants

 

Commander: Aegon Targaryen/Aegon Blackfyre

   Co-Commanders:

  • Jon Connington, Hand of the King
  • Harry Strickland, captain-general,
  • Black Balaq, commander of the archers,
  • Lysono Maar, company spymaster,
  • Myles 'Blackheart' Toyne
  • {Lord Tristan Darry, formerly Rivers,}
  • Marq Mandrake, serjeant,
  • Pykewood Peake, serjeant
  • Torman Peake, serjeant
  • Old Yohn Mudd
  • Young Yohn Mudd
  • Brendel Byrne, serjeant,
  • Dick Cole, serjeant,
  • Will Cole, serjeant,
  • Caspor Hill, serjeant,
  • Lorimas Mudd, serjeant,
  • Ser Lymond Pease, serjeant,
  • {Duncan Strong, serjeant,}
  • Humfrey Stone, serjeant.

 

Daenerys Targaryen's forces:

 

 Human forces:

  • A total of 8 Legions, meaning 16.000 troops. They consist of:
  • 6. Unsullied Legions (12.000 troops)
  • 1. Sellsword Legion (2000 troops)
  • 1. pit-fighter Legion (2000 troops)

 

Non-human forces:

  • Rhaellion, Rhaegal, and Viserion
  • Shadow

 

Commander: Daenerys Targaryen

    Co-Commanders:

  • Ser Barristan Selmy, unofficial Hand of the Queen and Lord Commander of the Queensguard
  • Ser Jorah Mormont of the Queensguard
  • Strong Belwas of the fighting pits and the Queensguard
  • Ser Jorah of the Queensguard
  • Merana of Kayakayanaya and the Queensguard
  • Pyat Pree of the Warlocks
  • Grey Worm of the Unsullied
  • Marselen of the Unsullied
  • Mossador of the Unsullied
  • Daario Naharis of the Sellswords
  • The Red Smile of the fighting pits

 

Attackers:

 

Dothraki:

  • 40.000 capable fighters, around 60.000 elderly, women, or too young.
  • 30.000 horses

 

Commander: {Khal Drogo}

Co-commanders, later commanders in their own right:

  • Khal Qotho, (15.000 Men), 12000 men remain. Bend the knee to Empress Daenerys.
  • {Khal Haggo}, (6000 Men), 2000 men remain. Slain by Pyat Pree in the streets of Volantis.
  • {Khal Cohollo}, (4500 Men), 2000 men remain. Slain by Aegon Targaryen in the streets of Volantis.
  • Khal Jhaqo, (3000 Men), 2500 Men remain. Bend the knee to Empress Daenerys.
  • {Khal Moro}, (1500 Men), khalasar extinct. Entirely annihilated by Rhaegal and Viserion outside the walls of Volantis.
  • Khal Oro, (2500 Men), 1500 men remain. Bend the knee to Empress Daenerys.
  • {Khal Motho}, (2500 Men), 1800 Men remain. Slain in battle by an unknown Unsullied soldier.
  • Khal Pono, (5000 Men), left the battle with his khalasar after the death of Khal Drogo.

 

Volanteenes:

  • Circa 1.000.000 civilians in the city, many having fled Volantis within the last few weeks.
  • Mostly remain neutral, leaving only a few men who guard the gates actively intervene in the fight.

 

Casualties

  • 13.200 Dothraki
  • 1500 men of the Golden Company
  • 400 Unsullied
  • 400 pit fighters
  • 340 Sellswords
  • An unaccountable number of civilians within the city estimated to be at around 5.000 dead and double as many injured.
  • Many buildings destroyed by both dragons and men.



The Battle

  • Duel between Empress Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo for her hand in marriage.
  • Victory of Empress Daenerys, though she spares Khal Drogo from death.
  • Execution of Khal Drogo at the hands of his former subjects.
  • Infighting between the Dothraki, as a struggle for leadership, breaks out.
  • Targaryen men, reinforced by a thousand men of the Golden Company are locked out of the city.
  • Dragons blast open the gates.
  • Both Targaryens and Dothraki enter the city once more.
  • Battle council, while the Dothraki are fended off.
  • Daenerys Targaryen's troops from Bloodstone and Meereen arrive. The entirety of the Unsullied leaves her other occupied areas.
  • Burning of the entire area surrounding Volantis, creating a second Field of Fire and leaving no way out of the city.
  • Reinforcements push Dothraki towards the blasted gate.
  • Dothraki are encircled.
  • Daenerys demands their surrender, is proclaimed Khal of Khals and Khaleesi of Khaleesis by the newly widowed Khaleesi, and now member of the Dosh Khaleen named Minha, the wife of Khal Haggo.
  • Dothraki surrender.

 

Aftermath

  • Leadership over Volantis is transferred to Daenerys Targaryen
  • The Empress's troops greatly outnumber those of Aegon Targaryen within the city.
  • Daenerys Targaryen gains leadership over the Dothraki
  • Further losses, most notably amongst the Golden Company, the Dothraki, and the smallfolk.
  • Moderate damages to Volantis.

 

Chapter Text

The Mother of Dragons

 

Kraznys mo Nakloz and his fellows were all there to greet her. Other well-born Astapori stood in knots behind them, sipping wine from silver flutes as slaves circulated among them with trays of olives and cherries and figs.

 

Each of them wore the finest garments of silk, imported from Qarth and Yi Ti, as well as Myr and Lys.

 

Hundreds of mounted lancers rode along the edges of the Plaza of Pride, the grandest square in all of Astapor. Four huge copper-skinned slaves supported the seat of Kraznys mo Nakloz, each of them with the typical dark-brown eyes of the Dothraki.

 

The dragons roared above, circling above the city. Their giant wings flapped in the air, sending vibrations through the entire plaza.

 

Yet the Unsullied remained unmoved. Not a single eye was diverted upwards, not a single man trembled at the sight of the giant winged lizards. Discipline was what made them the most deadly force in the world.

 

In the center of the Plaza of Pride stood a red brick fountain whose waters smelled of brimstone, and in the center of the fountain a monstrous harpy made of hammered bronze. Twenty feet tall she reared. She had a woman’s face, with gilded hair, ivory eyes, and pointed ivory teeth.

 

The Unsullied stood around it in perfect formation, their spiked helmets rising into their air like spears.

 

"They are green as yet," Kraznys Mo Nakloz said in the rough Valyrian of Slaver's Bay. "You would be wise to blood them early, Empress Daenerys."

 

The ugly slaver performed a small bow, before pointing westwards.

 

"There are many small cities between here and Westeros, cities ripe for sacking. Whatever plunder she takes will be hers alone. Unsullied have no lust for gold or gems. And should she take captives, a few guards will suffice to march them back to Astapor. We’ll buy the healthy ones, and for a good price. And who knows? In ten years, some of the boys she sends us may be Unsullied in their turn. Thus all shall prosper."

 

Daenerys gave him a small smile, in the hopes of shutting him up, yet Kraznys went on. "The Unsullied are the best army in the world. With two of these beautiful dragons, and the Unsullied as your army, your conquest of Westeros will be all but assured. We wish you only the best in your endeavour."

 

"Yes... two dragons," Daenerys said slowly.

 

"The dragon and the Unsullied shall be yours," Kraznys stated a smile on his lips, though it did not quite reach his eyes.

 

Viserion, the kindest of her dragons swooped down towards the middle of the plaza, close to Kraznys's seat.

 

"Move! Make space for the beast!" Kraznys called out to the Unsullied as the cream-colored dragon made to land.

 

The harpy of Ghis rose tall behind him, drawing a smile from the masters. 

 

Old Ghis had fallen five thousand years ago, from what Archmaester Marwyn had told her not long ago. 

 

Its legions shattered by the might of young Valyria, its brick walls pulled down, its streets and buildings turned to ash and cinder by dragonflame, its very fields sown with salt, sulfur, and skulls. 

 

The gods of Ghis were dead, and so too its people; these Astapori were mongrels, Ser Jorah said. Even the Ghiscari tongue was largely forgotten; the slave cities spoke the High Valyrian of their conquerors, or what they had made of it.

 

 Yet the symbol of the Old Empire still endured here, though this bronze monster had a heavy chain dangling from her talons, an open manacle at either end. The harpy of Ghis had a thunderbolt in her claws. This is the harpy of Astapor. 

 

This was the grandest moment for the Masters of Astapor. Since their defeat at the hands of the Freehold, they had lusted for the power of the dragons. And today, or so they thought, they would have it.

 

Finally, a dragon would bow to their will. Their power in the east would be uncontested, and the remnants of Old Ghis would rise up to take the place of the Valyrian Freehold before it had succumbed to the doom.

 

In Kraznys hands rested to golden whip, the symbol of power for the Unsullied. Whoever held the whip, held the power of the Unsullied legions. It did not matter how one got it. It only mattered that you held it.

 

From so close, Daenerys could not help but feel disgusted by the looks and smell of the 'Good Master.' 

 

He smelled as if he’d bathed in raspberries, this slaver, and his jutting red-black beard glistened with oil. He has larger breasts than I do, Dany reflected, barely keeping herself from chuckling loudly. It would not do, to laugh loudly at the Master's stature. Not yet, at the very least.

 

Fixed to Viserion's back was a long, black horn, bound in gold and thin steel. Valyrian glyphs were engraved in the four-foot horn.

 

"That is the horn?" Kraznys asked as Ser Barristan fetched the horn, earning a soft snarl from Viserion. "The dragonbinder?"

 

"Yes," Daenerys stated. "A horn that the freehold once used to bind dragons to their will. One horn for one dragon - As it was promised."

 

"Yes," Kraznys echoed when the horn was laid into his hands, slowly twisting it in the lairs of fat. He stared at it, seeing a perfect reflection of himself in the shimmering horn. "As it was promised."

 

Without a second thought, he presented her with the whip he held in his other hand. 

 

The handle was black dragonbone, elaborately carved and inlaid with gold. Nine long thin leather lashes trailed from it, each one topped by a gilded claw. The gold pommel was a woman’s head, with pointed ivory teeth. “The harpy’s fingers,” Kraznys named the scourge. 

 

“Is it done, then? Do they belong to me?”

 

“It is done,” Kraznys mo Nakloz agreed, still staring in wonder at the black horn. "The legions of Old Ghis come-again are yours now."

 

Dany mounted her pitch-black Stallion, as Shadow trotted next to her, softly nuzzling Dany with her snout. She could feel her heart thumping in her chest, but the hellhounds presence calmed her.

 

She stood in her stirrups and raised the harpy’s fingers above her head for all the Unsullied to see. 

 

"UNSULLIED!" she cried at the top of her lungs. "YOU ARE MINE!" She gave the stallion her heels and galloped along the first rank, holding the fingers high. "YOU ARE THE DRAGON’S NOW! YOU’RE BOUGHT AND PAID FOR! IT IS DONE! IT IS DONE!"

 

Kraznys did not listen, as a slave was brought forth, to blow the dragonbinder.

 

It is time, Daenerys knew, as Ser Barristan's and Ser Jorah's hands hovered over their swords, ready to draw them at a moment's notice.

 

The slave blew into the horn, as the masters crowded around Viserion, waiting anxiously.

 

A long, deep blast rang out through the city, but when the sound died, nothing had changed. Viserion dosed lazily in the sun, his chest slowly rising and falling.

 

"Viserion!" Dany called out, as the first screams started to echo through the city. Her Queensguards drew their swords, taking their stances, as for a moment, the world seemed to pause.

 

"Dracarys!"

 

The cream-colored jet of golden flames burst from her smallest child's mouth, bathing the Masters in flames. 

 

Kraznys screamed frantically, his eyes melting and skin turning black, before a second later, his hair and beard burst into flames. And a moment later, Kraznys mo Nakloz was no more.

 

Astapor burst into chaos, men screaming and shouting, as one Astapori Master made a last desperate attempt.

 

"Unsullied! Defend us, stop them, defend your masters! Spears! Swords!" he called out, almost begged, before Ser Barristan's blade found his throat.

 

"Unsullied!" Dany called out, raising the golden whip in her hands, the usually silent Shadow snarling. "Slay the Good Masters, slay all of their offspring, and whoever tries to stop you! Let the Ghiscari end, here and today!"

 

"Dracarys!" she shouted as she threw the whip away, leaving it discarded on the ground below.

 

Astapor burned, the slavers running and sobbing and begging and dying, as the city was laid to ruins. The dragons danced in the sky above, as the old ghiscari city lit up with flames.

 

*

 

"Ah... those were the days," Daenerys sighed as she finished reliving one of her fondest memories. She leaned back in the hot bathtub, as Missandei continued massaging her scalp.

 

"Were?" Missandei inquired softly. "I would not say her Grace has grown lazy."

 

"What did I tell you about titles in private?" Daenerys asked in return, humming softly as the woman from Naath rubbed multiple oils into her hair and shoulders. "Lazy I have grown not, but I'm getting to diplomatic. Fire and Blood were my tools in Slaver's Bay and Bloodstone."

 

"And now they aren't? The Dothraki would disagree."

 

"The Dothraki... Oh well," Daenerys said, recalling the Battle of Volantis. "They did not leave me with much of a choice. Look back, remember who you truly are. That's what Shiera told me before I came here. You are Fire and Blood. You are a dragon, Daenerys. Be a dragon."

 

She sighed, letting her hands slide over the even surface of the milky water. "Now I'm sitting here with a boy who says he's my nephew, an exiled lord who hates me and thousands of Dothraki screamers who I don't even care about."

 

"It's not that bad, your Grace," Missandei replied, earning a raised eyebrow at the title.

 

"I suppose it isn't," Daenerys conceded. "The poor Empress of the East pitying herself for having an annoying nephew. If only the smallfolk could hear us."

 

"Do you hate him?" Missandei asked as she started braiding Daenerys's silver hair into a single bun that ran down her back.

 

"Who, Aegon?"

 

"Yes, him," Missandei nodded.

 

"It's difficult," Daenerys sighed. "I want to hate him at times, but honestly I can't. He's so... naive most of the time. Prideful and arrogant, but also sweet at times. But most of all misguided. That fool Connington should have gotten himself killed long ago."

 

"You don't know what to do about him," Missandei said, though it was no question. Only a simple statement.

 

"I really don't," Daenerys confirmed. "I don't want to kill him. I wish he were like Viserys all those years ago. Vis died for me, did I ever tell you that?"

 

A stillness settled over the room when Missandei remained silent. 

 

"I sometimes wish I could go back to that day," Dany said with slight hesitation. There was a trembling in her voice, that she had not felt since she had left Asshai in a rage. "The world was so easy back then. When I would snuggle next to Viserys, while Old Ser Willem Darry read us a book or gave us fresh lemons."

 

The milky water was starting to cool down, as Daenerys gaze grew distant. 

 

"Maybe..." she started hesitantly. "Maybe that's the reason I didn't kill Aegon the second he told me about the betrothal."

 

"Because he reminds of you of home?"

 

"Because I  want  him to remind me of home," Daenerys corrected the translator, whose golden eyes looked at her intensely. "I don't know why. There is no going back to what once was. I'm no longer living a sheltered life in a small house in Braavos. There is a certain beauty in thinking about what could have been. What would have happened had the house not burned down?"

 

"We will never know," Missandei said with empathy, as she finished braiding her hair. "But maybe you could go there sometime. The house may yet stand, and it should not be a long journey on dragonback."

 

"Oh, may the gods have mercy on you if Ser Barristan heard you suggest I fly there alone," Daenerys laughed softly. "But I think I will go there eventually. But not now. For now I will have to make do with people from Braavos."

 

Two of Daenerys's maids entered the room and patted her dry, as Missandei fetched her pure white gown.

 

"People from Braavos, your Grace?"

 

"A coin counter from the Iron Bank," Daenerys sighed. "I wish I could send him away, but I don't want to make them my enemy when there is peace between us."

 

"Even Aegon the Conqueror is said to have feared the Iron Bank," Missandei said, and she was right, as she so often was.

 

"I know, I know," Daenerys sighed. "Merana once told me, that if I ever found myself in bed with an ugly man, I should either close my eyes and get it over with, or have him killed. I suppose it is much the same here. Sadly I can't have the envoy killed, so closing my eyes and getting it done seems the way to go."

 

"Kraznys once told me something similar, just that the options were getting it over with or getting flogged," Missandei said with a small snort.

 

"Well, he got what he deserved," Daenerys said, rising from her seat. "Let's hope I will not have to use Dragonfire against the Iron Bank."

 

*

 

"Might we know your name, good man?" Aegon inquired, as a tall gaunt stick of a man, his height accentuated by an outlandish three-tiered hat of purple moved to sit down on the other side of the table.

 

The envoy from the Iron Bank bowed towards both of them, tipping his hat in greeting. "Your Graces," he said in the Common Tongue, with only the slightest hint of an accent. "My name is Tycho Nestoris, an emissary of the Iron Bank of Braavos, come to treat with His Grace King Aegon and Her Grace the Empress Daenerys."

 

"Any man of the Iron Bank is welcome within my city," Daenerys replied without missing a beat. She also did not miss the small flinch Aegon gave when she called Volantis her own. "There are always rooms available within the confines of the Black Walls. We shall find quarters for you and your men."

 

"You are most kind, Empress Daenerys," Tycho spoke with a short bow. He was a tall man, an entire foot taller than Daenerys, with a beard as thin as a rope sprouting from his chin and reaching almost to his waist. The banker wore the finest Myrish silks, with a high stiff collar that framed his somber face. "Though I would hope not to pose to much of an inconvenience for your Graces."

 

"Arranging rooms is the barest of courtesies, my lord," Aegon said before Daenerys could speak up, showing a pretty smile.

 

He could probably woo just about every maiden in Westeros with that smile.

 

"I am not a lord, your Grace," Tycho replied, letting no emotion show in his voice. "Only a simple servant to the Iron Bank."

 

"Yes, the Iron Bank," Daenerys said. "On whose behest you are here. You do not seem like a man for flattery and many words, so I would like to come directly to the topic. Why did the Iron Bank send you?"

 

Aegon and Connington, just like the men that stood guard in the room seemed shocked at her blunt words, while Tycho gave her a slim smile. 

 

"Indeed, while any man of the Iron Bank is taught to be a master in the art of Smalltalk, time is often as valuable as gold. In Braavos we say there is no time like the present."

 

When Daenerys only answered with a raised eyebrow, he continued. 

 

"I am here, because of a debt owed to our bank by Iron Throne, as well as a possible future alliance between the Free City of Braavos and the Imperial Targaryen Dynasty."

 

"A debt owed to the Iron Bank?" Aegon asked slowly. "Whose debt? One belonging to House Targaryen? Or to the Usurper that currently sits the Throne?"

 

"Any debt belongs to the Iron Throne, not the monarch who sits it," Tycho replied simply. "And with the debt, comes a duty to repay it."

 

"And why are you approaching King Aegon about this debt now?" Connington asked, his eyes narrowed at the banker. "You mean for him to pay for the heaps of debt the Usurper is amassing, do you not?"

 

"The Iron Bank follows certain guidelines, which prohibit me from speaking about the debt of King Robert Baratheon, or the lack of it. But the Iron Bank holds whoever sits the throne responsible for the debts, no matter who amassed them."

 

Daenerys had suspected he would say this, the moment she had learned of his arrival in Volantis.

 

"Naturally, should his Grace agree to sign a pledge to repay any possibly existing debts, the Iron Bank would be happy to provide any support needed in the war for Westeros. Money wins a war, just as often as soldiers. Braavos is famous for its ships and food, both of which are important resources in wartime."

 

"I am not sure if I will have need of your aid, Lord Nestoris, yet I will consider the offer all the same," Aegon stated, donning his kingly mask.

 

"Of course," Tycho replied with a thin smile, taking a sip of Dornish Red that was positioned on the table. "With the right alliances, the support of the Iron Bank is rarely required. When I departed, we were unaware that your factions had allied."

 

"Yes, the alliance between both myself and Empress Daenerys has..."

 

"We haven't," Daenerys bluntly interrupted Aegon's speech. "At the very least not for the outstanding conquest of Westeros."

 

"You will take up arms against one another in the coming conflict?" Tycho Nestoris asked, his voice devoid of emotion. "While conflict between members of House Targaryen is not unheard of, it is quite uncommon. It also raises the question, as to why you would still receive me in this room together."

 

"The absence of an alliance is not a promise of war, Lord Nestoris," Daenerys replied simply. "Does Braavos have an alliance with Myr or Tyrosh?"

 

When the banker remained silent, she went on. "I thought not. But does Braavos wage war against them?"

 

"Braavos has been fighting any city that accepts slavery since it was founded. Valyrian slaves that escaped their bonds were the founders of our great city, and their ideals live on to this day. It is the first law of Braavos, that no man, woman or child shall ever be a slave or bondsman."

 

"The point stands regardless, my lord. We are not at war, though I have no interest in supporting King Aegon's claim to the Iron Throne either."

 

"Of course, your Grace," the grim banker nodded, his dark eyes shining. "Though the Sealord of Braavos had sent me, to address another topic."

 

"An alliance," Daenerys nodded. Aegon and Connington seemed quite displeased as the conversation swayed away from them, leaving them only as silent observers.

 

"The former Sealord of Braavos was a good man. I owe him a great deal. He gave me the dragon eggs, that made me what I am today."

 

"So we have heard," Tycho nodded, raising the goblet of wine slightly in tribute. "Unfortunately, Ferrego Antaryon fell sick a few years ago and perished. Still, with his gift to you he managed to fight slavery more than anyone else."

 

"That he did..." Daenerys nodded. "I hear Tormo Fregar was chosen as the new Sealord of Braavos?"

 

"He was."

 

"Tell me, Lord Tycho..." Daenerys asked suddenly, remembering a question she had long wanted an answer for. "Why is it, that the Sealord gave these eggs to me? They are very valuable, and I was just a little girl at the time."

 

"A curious tale," the banker stated. "Over two decades ago, Elissa Farman under the name Alys Westhill sailed to Braavos, and sold three dragon eggs to the Sealord in 54 AC. It caused quite an uproar."

 

"The dragon eggs were stolen," Connington intervened. "The girl took them from the Dragonstone hatcheries."

 

"Yes, it was quite a scandal for the Targaryens of the time. But the girl did not care. Her dreams were full of sundering rivers and windswept plains and towering mountains with their shoulders in the clouds, of green islands verdant in the sun, of strange beasts no man had tamed and queer fruits no man had tasted, of golden cities shining underneath strange stars. She sailed east with the money and after a time even west. And then she was never seen again."

 

"Quite a tale, but not the answer to her question," Aegon attempted to get back into the conversation. "Why did the Sealord give them away?"

 

"Well, after the theft of the eggs, Septon Barth came to Braavos and threatened the city with Dragonfire, should the eggs hatch. But the Sealord threatened to send the Faceless Men to assassinate the Targaryens, and that was the end of it. Ever since the Sealord of Braavos had held these eggs, waiting for the right person to hatch them. Many thought Ferrego mad, when he declared that Daenerys Targaryen was this person. He said he had seen it in a vision."

 

"A vision?" Daenerys asked, raising her eyebrow questioningly. 

 

"Yes, a vision. A red-masked demon he said had told him. Few believed him, though it seems he was right in the very end."

 

[Theory unlocked: Origin of Daenerys's dragon eggs.]

 

Red-masked demon. I know just the person who fits that description.

 

"Very interesting, my lord, I never knew," Daenerys stated. "I often wondered however, where these eggs ended up. Some say they were laid by the Black Dread himself."

 

"A plausible theory indeed."

 

"What are the terms for this alliance between the Sealord and myself, if I may ask?" Daenerys inquired after a short pause, leading back to the topic at hand.

 

The discussions went on for the better part of the day and a lot of Arbor Gold before they finally reached an agreement that was favorable for both sides. 

 

When both parties finally signed the parchment that the Braavosi drew up, they were all drunk but happy. 

 

In return for both wood and support against the remaining slaver cities, the Braavosi would provide naval support in any battle fought by her. The ports of both Braavos and Bloodstone were opened to the merchants of the other city.

 

They would together go against the newly named Pirate King going by the name of Salladhor Saan, who was plaguing the Narrow Sea.

 

There were also a dozen more small details in the contract, that Daenerys could bring herself to remember.

 

"I want some of the giant crabs from the Shivering Sea," Daenerys finally added as her last demand. "They are said to taste great, but I have yet to find out for myself."

 

"The Shivering Sea, yes, a frozen wilderness of ice and snow," Tycho nodded, a tad drunk. He drew the words out slightly, far from the perfectly disciplined man that had arrived hours earlier. Though 8 cups of wine changed anyone. "So many legends about this sea."

 

"Are there?" Daenerys replied, feeling more light than usual. "I only heard of Cannibal Bay."

 

"Oh yes, Cannibal Bay... The sailors speak of a place, where ships enter at their peril only to find themselves trapped forever when the sea freezes hard behind them. Legend claims a thousand ships lie entombed in Cannibal Bay, some still inhabited by the children and grandchildren of their original crews, who survive by feasting upon the flesh of sailors newly caught by the ice. But that's not my favorite tale."

 

"Which is?"

 

"Oh, the Ice Dragons of course! Of all the queer and fabulous denizens of the Shivering Sea, the greatest are the ice dragons. No doubt of that! Many times larger than the dragons of Valyria and made of living ice with pale blue crystals as eyes. And vast translucent wings! Oh, how I wish I could see one."

 

"Ice Dragons?" Aegon asked. Daenerys could not figure out why he had stayed when she and Tycho had discussed the alliance. Probably out of pride.

 

"Yes, they are said to breathe ice, not fire. Sailors from half a hundred nations have glimpsed these great beasts over the centuries, so mayhaps there is some truth behind the tales. There was some Maester studying this..."

 

"Archmaester Margate?"

 

"Yes, he claimed that many legends of the north—freezing mists, ice ships, Cannibal Bay, and the like—can be explained as distorted reports of ice-dragon activity. But as ice dragons supposedly melt when slain, no actual proof of their existence has ever been found."

 

[Theory unlocked: Ice Dragons in the Shivering Sea.]

 

"Fancy, can I get my crabs though?"

 

"Sure," Tycho nodded. "Braavos dominates the Shivering Sea, we'll get you all the crabs you want."

 

"Great," Daenerys said, finally standing up to end the conversation. "I assume you will return to Braavos with haste?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Then I wish you a good journey, Lord Tycho. May this alliance prove fruitful.

 

"May it indeed."

 

*

 

The source of the crying was a young boy, who had seen no more than seven namedays.

 

Daenerys slowly walked through the streets of Volantis, her long silver hair tied into a bun and hidden beneath a long, hooded robe. The Volanteen equivalent of Flea Bottom, the Weeping Streets laid ahead, still scorched and ruined from the two battles.

 

Only Ser Barristan and Merana stayed close to her, both of them hidden in the narrow alleys of the city. It was still uncertain if Ser Jorah would wake again. The Halfmaester, as they called him, was confident that he would, yet his leg had festered.

 

The midday sun of Essos was merciless, streaming brightly into the streets. The young weeping boy did not seem hurt, though he was unprotected as well.

 

Keep to your path,  Ser Barristan's voice rang clear in her head.  Do not put yourself at risk.

 

The old knight had vehemently protested her leaving the safety of the Black Walls, yet she had been undeterred. Neither in Meereen nor Yunkai nor Astapor had she ever hidden from the people. Even though it had often been in secret, she had often walked among them, talked to them, heard their grievances. 

 

Volantis would not be any different.

 

She slowly walked towards the boy, though when she stood before him, she heard only a racking sigh, ending in renewed little sobs.

 

"Father. Mother. Brother. Father. Mother. Brother. Father. Mother. Brother," the boy mumbled in an endless mantra, not noticing her.

 

Daenerys intentionally stepped on a small, dry branch that was laying on the ground, subtly announcing her arrival. The boy startled at the sound, immediately tumbling half a dozen feet backward.

 

He raised his hazel eyes to meet her violet ones, freezing at the sight of Daenerys.

 

Fear swept over his face, as he stumbled, retreating backward so quickly that his back was pressed against the wall of the small house behind him. 

 

His eyes fluttered down to where Dark Sister was hidden beneath her cloak, eyeing Daenerys in apprehension.

 

"I have no gold," he stammered quickly, flipping his pockets inside-out. "You took everything already. The men in the golden armor left nothing behind."

 

At the mention of the Golden Company, Daenerys's hand immediately went to her blade, her thumb brushing over the gemstone pommel.

 

The boy curled up, his crying giving over to a series of shallow gasps before Daenerys realized her mistake and removed her hand from the sword.

 

He must think I am a mercenary, coming to take his belongings.

 

"The Golden Company," Daenerys said in a soothing voice, crouching down next to the little kid. "They robbed you, kid?"

 

"Jaeracz," he corrected stubbornly, staring defiantly at her.

 

"Dany," Daenerys responded softly. "They robbed you, Jaeracz?"

 

"Yes," he admitted, grief and shame filling his small voice. "They... they killed father and mother..."

 

The boy wiped his glistering cheek with his raggy clothes, trying to save face in front of the mysterious woman standing before him. He slowly opened the palms of his hands, covered in dark rust and darkened with dirt and filth. But through the dirty palms ran thick red gushes, where a blade had cut into them.

 

"Who did that?" Daenerys silently asked, her voice low. "What did they look like? What did they do?"

 

"Pa was killed by the Dothraki in the battle," he replied, his voice strangely even. When he talked, he seemed almost in a trance, his gaze empty and words devoid of emotion. 

 

"After the battle, the men in golden armor came into our home. Wanted to have their way with mother. But she fought with a knife. A minute later she was dead, and I picked up the knife for myself, my older brother doing the same. We lost, but they did not kill me. They threw me on the street to die. He told me to make mother proud, before he died."

 

"Yes," Daenerys muttered. "So did mine."

 

For a moment, both remained silent, as Daenerys moved to sit down next to him. From the corner of her eye, she could see Ser Barristan watch her closely.

 

“Can you help me?” he asked finally.

 

"I don't know," Daenerys answered honestly. "I cannot give you your family back."

 

"I don't want them back, I want their killers dead," the boy replied, the words so unbefitting of a young child. 

 

"I wish I could use magic," the young boy suddenly said, looking up to her with his light-brown eyes. 

 

"You must have seen the dragons as well. If I had such power, I would kill every man wearing a golden armor. They all talk of the woman who rides these dragons," he continued, frowning slightly at the bright sky above. "They say that she can summon demons and was taught by shadowbinders from when she was younger than me."

 

"If you could have one thing in this world, Jaeracz. What would it be? Power? Wealth?"

 

"Blood."

 

Slowly, Daenerys closed her eyes, focussing her magic. She took a small silver coin from her cloak, but as she held it in her hands, purple flames raced over it, darkening it in certain places. Half a minute later, the flames in her hands died out, leaving the coin with a shadow dragon embedded into it, two purple orbs as his eyes.

 

The boy's jaw dropped, as she handed him the coin, before closing it again. The fear was back, as he looked at the dragon-shaped sword at her hip and the bits of silvery hair that hung out from behind her head.

 

"You?" he asked in apprehension, disregarding all titles and formalities. "You are the Dragon Empress?"

 

They all know who I am.

 

"Why are you here, your Grace?" he whispered, his voice hoarse, the coin laying forgotten in his hands. "Why do you hide?"

 

"I cannot know the grievances of the people, if they are hidden from me," Daenerys simply replied, looking at the young boy in pity, before pointing towards the coin in his small hands.

 

"This is my personal coin. Find any Unsullied and give it to them, they will know what to do. You will have your vengeance. That I promise you."

 

She slowly rose to her feet again, fires burning within her eyes, as she helped the young boy to his feet. The sun was shining into the slim alley, warming dark sister at her hip. 

 

"Remember your brother's words, kid," she said, closing the boy's hand around the coin. "Brothers know best."

 

*

 

The Wild She-Wolf

 

"Boy!" the voice of Syrio Forel called out to her, as she entered the Small Hall of the Red Keep. He was a slight man with a bald head and a great beak of a nose.

 

It was still early in the morning when she arrived, the moonlight shining softly through the windows.

 

Immediately he tossed her a thin wooden blade, which she quickly caught her hands.

 

It was not just a stick, but a true wooden sword complete with grip and guard and pommel. Jon had given her a slender blade before he had left, close in design to the ancestral sword of House Targaryen named Dark Sister. 

 

Still, Jon had made it a bit slimmer, so that it would be more easier to wield for her.

 

Where he had found the designs for the plans, she would never know, but the sword was as beautiful as it was sharp. Arya had always loved the tales of the warrior queens of the past. Nymeria and Visenya, however, were her favorites.

 

The wooden sword was even heavier than her own made of castle-forged steel, forcing her to take it with both hands.

 

Syrio only shook his head slightly. "No, not like this, boy. That is not the way to hold a sword. This is not a greatsword that is needing two hands to swing it. You will take the blade in one hand."

 

"I can't," Arya stubbornly replied. "It's too heavy."

 

"Then with time, you will grow stronger, boy. One hand is all you will need."

 

Reluctantly, Arya took her right hand off the grip and wiped her sweaty palm on her pants.

 

"Do not hold the sword too tight, the grip must be soft and delicate."

 

"Will that not make my grip weaker?" Arya asked the Braavosi. "I might drop it?"

 

"You will not," the bald man replied. "You must become one with your sword, let the sword guide you as much as you guide it. Make it part of your arm, make it part of you. Can you drop part of your arm?"

 

"I thought not," Syrio spoke after a short pause. "Syrio Forel was the First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos for nine years. Listen to him, boy."

 

"Why do you keep calling me a boy?" Arya objected. "I am a girl."

 

"Good for you," Syrio Forel said. "Few expect a woman to wield a sword. Appear weak, stand firm, strike hard. Those were the words I once told a young girl. Today she is among the best fighters of the known world."

 

"You have trained girls before?" Arya asked Syrio. "I have never heard of any such thing in Westeros."

 

She paused for a moment. "But you are not from Westeros."

 

"I did not train her for longer than a day, though my words stick with her to this day. Fear cuts deeper than swords, Arya Stark. Remember that."

 

"Who was she?" Arya asked, lowering her sword slightly.

 

"Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons," Syrio replied shortly, grabbing a wooden blade himself. "Your father took quite a risk asking me here. But no more of this. Let the training begin."

 

Before Arya could muster a reply, Syrio brought down his stick, slashing at her head, leaving her barely enough time to parry.

 

She shifted her hips, moving into the stance of a true water-dancer. With her arm held out before her, her eyes were firmly fixed on Syrio, waiting for his next attack.

 

"Let us dance," Syrio stated, lunging forwards and striking at her side, though it was not as fast as he could have. 

 

Arya swiftly met his wooden blade with her own, though her thoughts were elsewhere.

 

"Your mind is not here, little wolf," Syrio said. "You are too tense, fighting the flow of the dance instead of going with it. Let the rhythm move you. You cannot fight it, no more than you can fight the tides of the sea. Syrio Forel was first sword to the Sealord of Braavos. Do you know how that came to pass?"

 

"You were the best fighter of the city," Arya guessed slowly. "It is how one would become the first sword, no?"

 

"Yes, Syrio Forel was the best sword in Braavos," he nodded. "But why? Other men were stronger, faster, younger, why was Syrio Forel the best?"

 

He paused for a moment, creating a dramatic pause, before resting his hand above his heart. "Syrio Forel learned to control his emotions, to use them as a weapon. Fear cuts deeper than swords, but fear is good for us as well. Learn to see with more than just your eyes, little wolf. Hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. And all combined, are the true seeing."

 

He raised his wooden blade again. Left. Right. Left. Right. The sword came down over and over, leaving her quickly exhausted.

 

As Arya backed down to regain her strength, a single downwards cut from the Braavosi tore the sword from her hands.

 

"Pick it up again, boy," Syrio commanded, clicking his tongue. "Again."

 

"I can't," Arya panted, resting her hands on her knees.

 

"What you can and cannot do, is only a matter of conviction, little wolf," Syrio replied, lowering his own blade. "Do you know, that in Braavos there are monks that can walk over burning coals unharmed? They can do so because they believe that they can. If you think you cannot pick up that sword, then Syrio Forel is wasting his time training you. You cannot hope to learn if you do not try."

 

For a moment, Arya felt anger flare inside her, before it turned into determination. Slowly she straightened herself again, raising her chin and lifting her sword.

 

"Again."

 

*

Chapter Text

 

The Dragon Empress

 

Dark clouds formed over the Summer Sea, as half a hundred ships sailed over the horizon. All of their figureheads at the prow of the war galleys, pointing towards Volantis.

 

She could see westerosi banners fly from the sides and masts of the longships. There was the Greyjoy Kraken, the bloody moon of Wynch, the warhorn of the Goodbrothers. But at the front, there was a banner she had never before seen. The sigil bore a red eye with a black pupil beneath an iron crown supported by two crows.

 

Daenerys looked towards the dark ocean, where the ships were moving towards them with enormous speed. Remaining silent, she listened to the crashing of the waves, and the screeching of seagulls. The sea was turbulent and wild, the waves reaching well over a dozen feet in height. As they broke in the harbor, they splashed a hundred feet far. The wind howled over the open waters, but barely any rain fell from the skies.

 

The waters swayed and rose and fell, yet the galleys kept on sailing, never once changing the path.

 

Daenerys took a step back from the balcony she was standing on, pulling down her silken robes. Most of her wardrobe had been gifts from Yi Ti, an offer of peace and a token of friendship. Neither she nor the Golden Emperor had a desire for war, so a simple exchange of gifts had sealed their alliance.

 

The soft silk clung to her wet chest as trickles of rain started to fall. Only a single faint lantern and the glow of her hands lit up the area around her.

 

Taking a step backward from the balcony she was on, Daenerys poured herself a glass of ruby-red wine into a goblet carved from fused stone. Despite the ships before her and the powerful storm, her hands were calm and steady.

 

Rhaegal hissed, as the green dragon curled up on the roof not far behind her. His green scales shimmered with the gleaming white of distant lightning bolts.

 

Powerful gushes of wind rolled over the city of Volantis, bringing with it the faint sounds and smells of the city. 

 

When Daenerys closed her eyes, she could hear the faint cries of men and women, the crashing waves, the hissing of wind and dragons, as well as the distant sound of thunder. 

 

The city seemed like a perfume that tried to cover up the bad smells. The beautiful scent of lemon trees that grow within the Black Walls reaches her nose, reminding her of her childhood home in Braavos.

 

She remembered it well. She remembered the old and mighty wooden beams and the carved animal faces that adorned them. And especially the small lemon tree that had grown right outside of the window. The thought of it made her heart ache with longing.

 

"Father. Mother. Ser Willem. Viserys," she muttered. She knew only the faces of two of them, and already they were blurring. "Are you watching me?"

 

It seemed as though she stared towards the raging sea for another hour before the ships finally came close enough for her to see them. 

 

They were powerful war-ships, in battle formation, yet no man aboard them had their weapons drawn. The Meereenese and Volanteen fleet surrounded them, armed to the tooth with archers and armored men, yet the ships sailed into the harbor without a care in the world.

 

At the front sailed a single-masted galley, lean and low, with a dark red hull. The sails with the blood-red eye on it were stretched taut in the strong wind, giant golden krakens embroidered into each of the sails. The fabric was as dark as a midnight sea, seemingly an endless hole of darkness amidst the raging ocean. The figure of a beautiful and slender woman formed the prow of the ship, her body as perfect as a body could be. 

 

Daenerys's gaze wandered to the iron figurehead, the mouthless maiden with the windblown hair and outstretched arm. Her eyes seemed to be wide open in a silent scream. 

 

The ship's decks were the color of blood.

 

She could see a single word etched into the side of the ship.  Silence  was the word burned into the wood with flame.

 

A ship with the name  Iron Victory  sailed next to the  Silence .

 

Grief  and  Iron Vengeance  were close behind as the  Iron Victory  and  Silence  docked at the harbor. After them came  Hardhand Iron Wind Grey Ghost Lord Quellon Lord Vickon Lord Dagon,  and a dozen more. Another thirty ships stayed behind, dropping their anchor around three leagues outside of the city.

 

The Iron Fleet had been spotted by her scouts already two weeks ago. From both Bloodstone and the Bay of Dragons, she had received the reports of them.

 

"Tell them to create a blockade behind them," Daenerys commanded a timid messenger who stood not far behind her. "We have the ships to do so. They won't leave Volantis again without my permission."

 

Shouts echoed across the harbor below, as the men and women spied the sails of the ships. Daenerys had heard of the famed galley that had raided even as far as Asshai.

 

But there came no sounds from the ominous galley that led the fleet. Whereas on other ships captains bellowed commands and the beats of drums echoed over the decks, the flagship omitted no sound.

 

Aboard the ship, Daenerys could see a motley crew of mutes and mongrels. Men black as tar stared straight forwards, never averting their eyes. Even from such distance, their gazes seemed lost and empty. Others were as broad and hairy as the apes of Sothoros. She could see even more mutilated creatures, priests of the Lord of Light, warlocks of the far east, even a man she knew was a septon from Westeros.

 

They dropped anchor at the harbor, and as if he sensed her presence, one of the men turned his head to stare directly at her.

 

A horn rang out from the Targaryen Fleet, as the ships took formation in the wild ocean. It would be hard to keep them steady, but Daenerys had commanded them to hold the waters around Volantis, and so they would.

 

Again, her gaze returned to the man who had walked from the aboard the flagship with the red decks.  Why are you here?

 

*

 

"You stand in the presence of Daenerys Stormborn, born to House Targaryen," Missandei's voice rang clear through the halls of the palace. The monstrous mansion had not long ago been the seat of the Old Blood and the Triarchs of Volantis. Now it would serve as her throne room.

 

A thin crown of silver rested atop her platinum-golden hair. It was a modest silver band, with no gold or jewels, a symbol, no more. Daenerys had never worn an ornamented, ceremonial one. Her mother's crown had sparkled in the light like a gleaming sun. It was the only one she would use, but it was lost somewhere in the depths of the known world.

 

"High Empress of the Imperial Targaryen Dynasty and Dark Sovereign of the Bay of Dragons. Proclaimed Azor Ahai, the Inquisitor of the East, Slayer of Lies, Queen of Volantis, and the Mother of Dragons. Mhysa to men and the Breaker of Chains."

 

"This is Euron Greyjoy, the Crow's Eye," a man who wore a massive Kraken-shaped helmet replied gruffly. "Son of the Sea Wind, Lord Reaper of Pyke and Captain of the Silence."

 

The now introduced man stepped forwards. Daenerys knew his name and his reputation. Few men in Essos had not yet heard of the Crow's Eye and his famous ship. The man was a Greyjoy of Pyke, but one who had left his homeland behind many years ago.

 

"And you are?" Daenerys asked the giant man, ignoring the fact that the two did not kneel in the presence of their Empress. 

 

"Victarion Greyjoy, his younger brother and right hand. Lord Captain of the Iron Fleet and Captain of the Iron Victory," he replied, removing his unnecessarily large helmet.

 

Victarion was a large and powerful man, with a broad chest that could rival that of a fully grown bull. He wore heavy grey chain mail over boiled black leather, but his hair had grey spots in it. Still, he did not look particularly bad. Only that he did, compared to his brother.

 

Men had always said, that Euron was the most comely of Lord Quellon's remaining sons, and the years of exile did not seem to have changed anything about that. The Crow's Eye's hair was as black as a midnight sea, with never a whitecap visible. His face was still smooth and pale beneath his neat dark beard. A black leather patch covered Euron's left eye, but his right one was as blue as a summer sky. 

 

But it was not his looks that made him remarkable. Daenerys had met many good looking men in her life so that such things held little sway.

 

The man wore a suit of black scale armor like nothing Daenerys had ever seen before. Dark as smoke it was, but Euron wore it as effortless as if it was the thinnest silk. The scales were edged in red gold, and gleamed and shimmered when they moved. Patterns were clearly visible within the metal, whorls, and glyphs and arcane symbols folded into the steel.

 

Valyrian steel,  Daenerys knew after a split second.  His armor is Valyrian steel.  From Oldtown to Asshai, from Cannibal Bay to the Summer Isles, no man owned a suit of Valyrian steel. Such things had been known 400 years ago, in the days before the Doom, but even then, they would have cost a kingdom.

 

"Crow's Eye," Daenerys said, turning towards the elder brother. "I have heard of you. You were in Asshai-by-the-Shadow, not long after I had left."

 

"I came searching for you, my Queen," Euron smiled, his slightly blue, bruised lips turning upwards. The man had drunk of the Shade of the Evening, that was certain.

 

"Searching for me?" Daenerys asked carefully, though she managed to keep her voice even. "Why would a pirate want to seek out a girl in Asshai? Your attempted sack of Asshai has not gone unnoticed."

 

"A folly," the Crow's Eye replied mildly. "Men always have a thirst for battle, even more so after months on the open sea."

 

"A thirst, not quenched after Asshai, no? You have raided quite far. You have sailed to even the most distant corners of Essos."

 

"You have heard of my journeys? Or have you seen my crew?"

 

Dany remembered how the Silence floated on a cold black sea, the many wretched creatures aboard, all either chained or wandering aboard the ship aimlessly.

 

"Your travels across Essos are rather well known," Dany simply replied, keeping her gaze leveled. "The godless Crow's Eye, a plague upon the shores of this continent."

 

"I have never placed any faith in gods," Euron replied. "If the gods hated me for my actions, they can smite me where I stand. But they won't. There are many who call you the same as me. Godless."

 

"True," Dany conceded. "And yet I wear a crown, while they do not."

 

Euron moved closer, his smiling eye glittering in the light of the enormous flame pots that roared around them. Blue and bold, they were and had Daenerys looked closer, full of malice.

 

The Unsullied who stood on each side of the Empress tensed up as the Crow's Eye walked forwards, but a simple gesture made them stand down once again. "A part of the Redwyne fleet has been crawling along the strands of Dorne, rounding the continent," he spoke. "Hobber Redwyne and Leyton Hightower's sons are moving through the Summer Sea, hoping to take Bloodstone in your absence. The Arbor still mourns for the current lord's cousin. He fell during the battle around Bloodstone, did he not?"

 

"Fools," Daenerys muttered, leaning back in her chair. "And I suppose you are here to offer a solution to this problem?"

 

"I have indeed," Euron replied simply, bowing his head in reverence before he unclasped the straps that held his armor together. With a soft thud, the glimmering Valyrian armor fell to the ground before him.

 

"Your Grace, I offer you a gift, a token of fealty," the Crow's Eye said, his voice oddly calm.

 

"I have been to Asshai, just like you, but only my brother and I have dared to walk upon the blackened ruins of Old Valyria."

 

A moment later, five men entered the great hall, carrying a long and slender horn.

 

"That horn you see I found amongst the smoking ruins that were Valyria. It is a dragon horn, bound with bands of red gold and Valyrian steel graven with enchantments. The dragonlords of old sounded such horns before the Doom devoured them. The horn and the armor shall be yours."

 

"A dragonbinder," Daenerys muttered. "I heard of them, even tricked the masters into believing I had one of them. But this one is real?"

 

"It is," the Crow's Eye nodded.

 

"And you will swear yourself to my service, Euron Crow's Eye?"

 

"I will have my fleet repel the ships that are coming for Bloodstone. Their heads would be yours, as would be my loyalty. I would swear it on all the gods there are."

 

"And I would accept your oath," Daenerys answered though the Crow's Eye seemed to have a condition.

 

You would swear your fealty by all the gods there are,  she thought.  But what are oaths before the eyes of the gods to a godless man?

 

"You  would ?" Daenerys echoed.

 

"Yes, but there is one condition I have. Just the one, no more, no less."

 

"Pray tell, Crow's Eye. What is it, that you want?"

 

"Marriage."

 

*

 

"Your Grace," Missandei greeted her that evening, as she retired to her chambers.

 

Dany was alone in her apartments except for her handmaidens, most notably Missandei. A few Unsullied stood before her chambers, always vigilant and searching for the slightest hint of a threat. Since she had arrived in Volantis, this was the first time there was no armed guard in her room. 

 

Letting her hair drop beneath her waist, and removing her layers of clothes, she could finally leave behind the queenly mask. Stripping down to only a thin sleeping gown, she laid down in the bed, located in the middle of the chamber.

 

The bed was a monstrosity, twisted, and full of intricate patterns and carvings. It was so large that easily a dozen people could have slept in it, a notion that she was quite sure the former masters of the city had appreciated a lot. 

 

Until they had either bowed or burned. And the men had done so through blood and fire.

 

Sometimes she wondered, why her Valyrian ancestors had taken these words as their own. The motto of House Targaryen was  Fire and Blood.  Yet bloodshed killed, whereas fire burned and consumed, wreaking havoc on all that touched it. Maybe it had been arrogance, or it had just been a boast.

 

The armor of Valyrian Steel laid nearby, discarded on the ground. She would need an armor stand for it soon, but for now, the plate would do just fine. Valyrian Steel would not be damaged by laying on the ground.

 

"It is beautiful," Missandei remarked silently, as she relaxed next to her. Dany rarely slept alone. The feeling of a warm body next to her made her feel more comfortable, more secure. More focussed, so that she would not have to look back.

 

Father. Mother. Ser Willem. Viserys.

 

"Beautiful, yes," Daenerys agreed, letting her eyes rest on the glimmering chest plate. "But it is more than that. There are hundreds, if not thousands of Valyrian Steel blades in circulation. Do you know why no one has ever owned an armor?"

 

"They are expansive?" Missandei guessed, and while it was true, there was more to it than just the price.

 

"Then why have the Lannisters never possessed one? They had the wealth. It is related to the secret of Valyrian Steel. For each and every piece of Valyrian Steel metal has to be made individually. Valyrian Steel is folded onto itself many times over, so each piece has to be forged, not stamped or cast."

 

"I do not quite understand," Missandei softly admitted, closing her eyes while Dany stayed wide awake, continuing to stare at the masterfully crafted armor.

 

"The armor is made of scales," Daenerys replied, raising her hand to point out the small ripples and edges where the many small pieces joined. "4000 scales to be exact. 4000 separately crafted pieces of Dragonsteel. And each of them needs the soul of a person."

 

"Their souls?"

 

"In Asshai, certain texts —all impossibly ancient—claim that dragons first came from the Shadow. They possessed foul black weapons that drank the very souls of those they slew. These Asshai'i histories say that a people so ancient they had no name first tamed dragons in the Shadow and brought them to Valyria, teaching the Valyrians their arts before departing from the annals."

 

Dany paused for a moment, gathering herself.

 

"And they also taught them how to create their shadow steel, later known as Valyrian Steel. Magic and shadow binding was necessary for every piece of steel. Those 4000 scales? They are 4000 human souls, most likely of slaves, bound in the armor to create it."

 

"It's not just an armor," she whispered. "It's a mass grave."

 

That night, when Missandei had long fallen asleep in her arms, Daenerys could find no rest. No matter how she turned and twisted in her bed, the darkness would not come, the sleep would not consume her.

 

Once she fell asleep for no more than a few minutes, but the dream was restless. 

 

In her dreams, she saw the Crow's Eye kissing her, his lips blue and bruised sealing hers. An icy cold washed over her, as the moved to thrust himself in her. She woke up gasping for breath, clutching at her chest frantically.

 

After that, she rose from her bed, carefully so that she would not wake Missandei. 

 

The chambers seemed plain and empty as she paced up and down the room, but that was mainly because of how large they truly were. Once, these chambers had belonged to the Vhassar triarch, filled with at least two dozen slaves from every corner of the known world.

 

Dozens upon dozens of books rested in a series of shelves that formed a tiny library. "So many books," Daenerys muttered, as she let her gaze drift over the ancient tomes. She could see  The Nine Voyages, The Glory of Volantis,  and  The Fires of the Freehold Passages of the Dead  and  Observations of the recent blood-lettings on Bloodstone  were there as well. Next to them were  The Life of the Triarch Belichio  and  Engines of War,  followed by  The Rogue Prince  and the  History of the Rhoynish Wars.

 

More books stood nearby, including a well-thumbed tome about the erotic adventures of a young slave girl in a Lysene pillow house, but also empty books.

 

Daenerys took one of these for herself and moved to sit down on the nearby desk. It was a giant wooden monstrosity, though it was expertly carved.

 

So many books,  Daenerys thought to herself.  What's one more?

 

And then, taking a quill, she started to write.

 

Days of War and Peace

 

The Dreamer

 

It was a clear day, as the boat cut through the shallow waves of the Narrow Sea. Sailors moved around the decks of the Braavosi trading ship, knitting together sails, and adjusting them to the wind, while below oarsmen heaved and strained to keep the galley going.

 

"Fucking sun," Jon muttered, keeping in the shadows to avoid burning his skin any further. Maester Luwin had taught him once that many men who came from Westeros to Essos suffered from Sunburn, for their skin was not used to the intense sun. 

 

Now, he wished that he had listened to him. Within just a few days, his skin had turned reddish, and painful to the touch. And as if that were not enough, it had given him mild dizziness and general fatigue as well.

 

"Hah! Not used to the sun, are ya?" the captain called out to him, as he walked from the oars towards the two boys.

 

"We'll be in Braavos within the hour," he told them. The older one of the two boys was sitting on the wooden deck of the ship, leaning against the railing. Ramsay opened his mouth, and Jon thought for a moment he would answer, only for the bastard of Bolton to empty his stomach on the ground beside him.

 

Ramsay had not taken to the sea very well.

 

After a highly intriguing talk with Ser Alliser Thorne, the two of them had departed Castle Black again and moved eastwards. With Septon Barth's  Unnatural History  securely packed up in his backpack, they had finally, after a week-long journey, arrived at the castle named Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. 

 

The commander of Eastwatch Cotter Pyke and the maester Harmune had refused to lend them one of the galleys belonging to the Night's Watch, leading to quite a bit of trouble between the two men and Ramsay. The Night's Watch did not have many ships, as they only used them to patrol the Bay of Seals, to catch smugglers who trade weapons to the Free Folk.

 

Not that they would find anyone who would buy their weapons now, after what had happened at Hardhome.

 

In the end, it had been a captain with a ship named  Son of Braavos,  who had brought forth a solution. He was a merchant from Braavos, as the name of the boat implied, and would soon return to his hometown. Many a merchant traded at Eastwatch. The brothers of the Night's Watch made hard enemies but good customers for a ship with the right cargo.

 

For some work on the ship, some coin, and the assurance that he would keep the direwolves under control, he had allowed the two of them to sail to Braavos with him. 

 

Walking over the deck of the ship, Jon brushed with his hand over the smooth, dark pommel of Orphan-Maker.  How many children, young boys and girls, has this blade turned into orphans?  Jon wondered silently to himself.  Less than Ice, probably.

 

But again, he could not say it with certainty. The greatsword of House Stark had been in the family for 400 years, purchased just a few years before the Doom. But House Roxton was ancient. For all he knew, Orphan Maker could have been in use for thousands of years.

 

"The Titan of Braavos!" the old captain of the ship smiled widely, as the monstrous statue came into sight. "The Temple of the Moonsingers and the Titan are the two most-liked structures within the city. Some go as far as to name the Titan their god."

 

"The Temple of the Moonsingers?" Jon inquired, curious about this fate. He had never heard of such a religion before. 

 

"Oh yes," the old man replied, his voice raw but firm. "The Moonsingers led us to this place of refuge, where the dragons of Valyria could not find us. All gods are welcome in Braavos, but theirs is the most esteemed temple. The rest of the gods dwell together on an isle in the center of the city. Be it your godswood or your seven, the Lord of Light or the Many-Faced God."

 

The fog grew denser and denser as they passed beneath the Titan, the mist obscuring their vision almost entirely. In it, they could not see further than the ship's prow.

 

Only the light of the Titan shimmered faintly through the sea mist, showing them the way onwards. From out on the open sea, the statue had seemed no taller than the walls of Winterfell. But now, as they passed beneath it, the Titan revealed his gigantic size.

 

The feet of the statue both laid on separate islands, covered in soldier pines and black spruce. Hard and ancient black granite formed the legs and lower torso, whereas bronze formed the breastplate punctured with arrow slits. One of the Titan's hands rested on the top of a ridge, its bronze fingers wrapped around the stone. The other fist was thrust into the air, holding the hilt of a broken sword.

 

Hundreds upon hundreds of seabirds circled the massive statue, cawing in the wind and diving for fish.

 

And then they had passed. The fog before the boat lifted, revealing the monstrous port of Braavos, located in a beautiful lagoon. Few ports in the world could rival the Arsenal of Braavos. Dozens of war-galleys and merchant ships filled the port, that teemed with life.

 

Braavos was a city built on a hundred isles, linked by arched stone bridges and pierced with a hundred canals, an unending sprawl of domes and towers, mansions and temples, each of them more beautiful and grander than the last. Braavos had no walls that surrounded the city, for it needed none. The high mountains around it were the walls, and the hundreds of war galleys were the soldiers that defended them. One could only conquer Braavos from the sea, and none could match the Secret City's naval power.

 

Neither the Direwolves nor Ramsay had taken well to the sea, something that showed quite clearly when they finally went ashore. 

 

"And now?" Ramsay asked, letting himself fall to the ground, leaning against a high marble wall. "I thought the journey to Essos would be more enjoyable than this."

 

"Just the beginning," Jon replied slowly, letting his eyes drift over the vast city before them. "We are not much closer to Bloodstone than we were at Eastwatch."

 

"But we can take horses now," Ramsay replied, before pausing for a moment. "At least until we reach the southern edge of this shit continent. We will use horses now, won't we?"

 

Jon only grinned, but it was enough to answer his question.

 

"Oh for fuck's sake," Ramsay groaned, closing his eyes in defeat. "You are really so eager to get back on a ship."

 

"It is an Island, Ramsay," Jon deadpanned as if he were speaking to a child. "We usually reach Islands by boat. Unless House Bolton has a dragon who they kept secret? If it makes you happy we will be staying here for a day or two before we leave again."

 

"Where do we stay?" Ramsay asked. "I like this wall here a lot, but that's because I spend the last weeks vomiting over a fucking wooden deck. I do not intend to sleep here."

 

"I'll find us a place to stay," Jon said, shaking his head. 

 

"With whores?"

 

"Find them yourself."

 

"Are you challenging me?"

 

Letting Ramsay find his senses again, Jon moved alone through the city. Ahead, a row of mighty statues stood along both sides of the channel, solemn stone men in long bronze robes that seemed to guard the streets of the city.

 

Behind them, the temples rose into the air, high and strong. The Temple of the Moonsingers was the grandest of them, a mighty mass of snow-white marble topped by a huge silvered dome whose milk glass windows showed all the phases of the moon. A pair of marble maidens flanked its gates, tall as the Sealords, supporting a crescent-shaped lintel.

 

A temple of the lord of light came not far after, and though the captain had told him that it was a pitiful comparison to the great temple of Volantis, it was an impressive sight. It seemed to be more of a fortress than a temple, built from blood-red stone that appeared no weaker than the old grey stones of Winterfell. Atop its high square tower, a fire blazed in an iron brazier twenty feet across, while smaller flame pots flanked its brazen doors.

 

Beyond the Red Fortress, however, stood the most mysterious temple, the place known as the House of Black and White. A temple to the Many-Faced God, and the headquarters of the Faceless Men. It was not as beautiful as the others, a simple windowless temple of dark grey stone that seemed out of place. A flight of stone steps led from its doors down to a covered dock. 

 

Unable to keep himself back, he approached the old temple, climbing up the stairs that led up to the temple. The entrance was a set of carved wooden doors twelve feet high. The left-hand door was made of weirwood pale as bone, the right of gleaming ebony. In their center was a carved moon face; ebony on the weirwood side, weirwood on the ebony. 

 

Who cuts down a weirwood tree to craft a door?  Jon asked himself silently. Carefully he pushed open the doors, making them swing open inwards.

 

The inside of the temple was almost entirely silent, the sound of death. Only a few sparse candles burned along the walls, but their light was dim and faint, barely enough to make out the nearby surroundings. 

 

Someone was whispering, too softly for her to make out words. Someone else was weeping, and faintly in the distance, a baby was crying. Dozens of statues stood along the walls, glowing faintly in the dim light of the torches that flickered like distant stars.

 

There was a marble woman, twelve feet tall. Real tears were trickling from her eyes, to fill the bowl, she cradled in her arms. Beyond her was a man with a lion's head seated on a throne, carved of ebony.  The Lion of Night.

 

Even Lady Stark's religion was here in the temple, as the figure of the Stranger stood in one of the dark corners.

 

On the other side of the doors, was a giant horse of bronze and iron reared up on two great legs.

 

Farther on, Jon could make out a great stone face, a pale infant with a sword, a shaggy black goat the size of an aurochs, a hooded man leaning on a staff. The rest were only looming shapes, their faint silhouettes barely visible in the darkness.

 

The inside of the temple was one giant hall. The statues along the walls and Jon could see a small pool of water in the middle. It was no more than ten feet across, black as ink and lit by dim red candles.

 

Suddenly, he felt the weight of an arm on his shoulder.

 

"Beware, Jon Snow," a voice suddenly spoke behind him, deep and crooked. It was the voice of a man who had seen a hundred years, a voice as ancient as Bloodraven's had been, but when Jon turned around, it was only a little girl that stood before him.

 

She was a pale little girl in a cowled robe that seemed to engulf her, black on the right side and white on the left. Beneath the cowl was a gaunt and bony face, hollow cheeks, and dark eyes that looked as big as saucers. They seemed empty and lost, devoid of feelings or emotions.

 

"Beware, Jon Snow," she repeated once more in her old voice. "Beware. He has to stop. He will do it again."

 

Jon slowly took a step backward, but the girl closed the distance once again. "He has to stop. He will do it again. He has to stop. He will do it again.  He has to stop. He will do it again, " she spoke over and over, her voice croaked, as dry and husky as a death rattle

 

Her voice grew louder and louder as she continued to repeat the sentences like an endless mantra. "He has to stop. He will do it again," she whispered once again, all the volume having left her voice. 

 

"He has to stop. He will do it again," the small girl muttered to herself one last time as she turned away from him.

 

Jon stumbled backward, storming for the entrance of the temple, but found his path blocked by another figure. The hooded man that obscured his way was tall, enveloped in a larger version of the black-and-white robe the girl was wearing. Beneath his cowl, all Jon could see was the faint red glitter of candlelight reflecting off his eyes.

 

"Jon Snow," he stated, but his voice was gentle. "He has to stop. He will do it again. You have to stop him. But not today. Seek what you have to seek, trust who you have to trust. A crown of gold, a crown of silver. Follow the red harbinger. But also beware, Jon Snow."

 

As Jon finally reached the temple's exit, he could feel the man's piercing gaze linger on his back. "He has to stop. He will do it again. You have to stop him. But also beware, Jon Snow," he spoke one last time, and then he was gone.

 

*

Chapter Text

 

The Silent Slave

 

The young boy's chambers were more comfortable than most slaves could expect.

 

His Master was old but kind, with spotted skin, ridiculous hair, and a fringed Tokar. He wore the most beautiful jewels, each more beautiful than the other, but not as gorgeous as his many mistresses from Lys to Naath, and even to the Sunset kingdoms.

 

But despite his kindness he was still Morander's owner in every possible way. Where he slept in soft beds with blankets of flowing silk and smooth pillows, Morander's chambers were colder and far less refined. Where the rooms of his master had had ceilings, carved from gilded wood and embedded with jewels, Morander's chambers were small with a rough wooden ceiling.

 

No matter what he would tell himself, what he would pretend to be, the collar around his neck reminded him of his station and his place, a slave of the Free City of Myr.

 

But then, years ago there had been a spark of hope. Daenerys Targaryen had conquered the Ghiscari slaver cities and crucified or burned the masters.

 

The masters of Myr had been scared for their lives then, and more than one had released his slaves. Even more had followed when the letters had come from Meereen and later Bloodstone, demanding the end of slavery. 

 

Morander, as his masters personal assistant, had been the one to read the letters to him. It had been the first time he had seen his owner lose his temper, falling into a rage that lasted

 almost two days. 

 

Many others had raged at the Dragon Queen's demands, and few had truly set their slaves free. Most had freed them in name, but keep them as bondsmen, slaves in all but name. Others simply ignored the now-Empress's demands, continuing as they had for centuries.

 

The slaves had hoped then that soon dragons would dance over Myr and they would be, at last, truly free.

 

The Empress had three dragons, the most powerful weapons in the known world. Five times had Old Ghis contended with Valyria when the world was young, and five times they were thrown down. For the Freehold had dragons, and the Old Ghis had none.

 

The slaves had prayed at night and sharpened the kitchen knives in the daylight, hoping and waiting. Some had even hid in the darkness of the sewers. They would chant their rituals in the night, keeping the entire city awake with their faint but nonetheless persistant songs. If the empress wanted to conquer all of Essos, who could stop her?

 

Even now, over a year after the wealthy magisters had destroyed the last of the cult in the seweres with three centuries of Unsullied, Morander could hear their songs every time he closed his eyes.

 

Hail thy kingdom, may it come with all its grandeur,

In our halls, as it is in the east.

 

Now has come a new religion

To take the world with steel and stone

Aid us, mighty empress

Now is the time to rise!

 

Gather us around ye, the death-defiant

And the world itself shall thine

Praised be the Empress

Rod of supreme wisdom

 

We're the Children of Darkness spreading blacklight

Thy holy self-proclaimed eyesight

Power resides in the darkness

For all that is hidden becomes exposed

 

A new light is born

We shall see on the morrow

The dawn of Magic has come

She is the light to follow

 

Rejoice in thy glory

We are thy kin

Revel in sin

The age of fire has begun

 

For thine is the kingdom

Of power and glory forever

 

Every night these chants had echoed through the quiet city, filling every temple and every home, from the tiny and narrow twisted alleys to the wide brick streets. The Children of Darkness, as they called themselves, had been everywhere. Preaching in the temples and granaries, hovels and palaces, brothels and baths, gardens and fountains, the waterfront, and even in the darkest prisons.

 

But then they learned that the Targaryen had taken Bloodstone and seemed content to stay there. And slowly, the hope faded once more, until the fall of Volantis came not a moon ago. Then the ravens arrived again in the mansions of every slave owner, from Myr to Pentos to the distant city of Gogossos.

 

"It's a place where we can be free! We can run away," Kiri had urged once, a glint of hope and happiness in her golden eyes. "You and me, just us!". She was a servant girl he had known for ages.

 

Relationships among slaves were uncommon, the men and women rarely had time to spare for such things. 

 

Morander had once been a boy from the eastern edge of the Summer Isles before slavers had come from the Basilisk Isles and raided his home. A hundred young boys and men had become slaves that night, but the slavers had not been content. 

 

They had reaved and raided up and down the Islands, the western coast of Sothoryos. Even the Isle of Naath had fallen to them, where they had captured Kiri, among many others. 

 

After fifteen wretched months in a cold cell beneath the deck of the slavers' ship and only Kiri and two others for company, they had been sold to the city of Myr. Though even with their shackles, the two had grown to like each other. There was little entertainment in the dungeon, and over time they forged an unusual and, at times, even romantic bond.

 

In exchange for Morander's knowledge of the history of the Essos and Sothoryos, Kiri taught him the languages of the Ghiscari Masters and the Free Cities and told him the stories of her home.

 

The languages that helped him become his master's personal assistant and scribe. 

 

"The Masters will find us, Kiri. They will not let us escape like this. They will hunt us forever. If we escape we would be a symbol of their weakness, something they would not tolerate," Morander replied, though he could feel his resolve weaken. "Daenerys Targaryen may have taken Volantis, but her influence does not extend to here. Not yet." Morander rested his hands on the Naathi's shoulders. "But it will, one day."

 

"It could be years..." Kiri argued. "It might not be enough. Every day slaves die here! Our comrades, our people!" 

 

When Morander remained silent, she stepped closer, until their noses almost touched. Her golden eyes glimmered in the light of the torches as they bored into his blue ones. "There are more slaves here than masters. With the end of the First Daughter they have hope now! We can take the city!" 

 

"Such talk is dangerous, Kiri," Morander said, shaking his head in denial. "It cannot be done."

 

"It can be!" the girl replied heatedly, cupping his rough cheeks in her hands. "If only we believe in ourselves!"

 

"Our faith can only do so much, Kiri. The magisters are wealthy, and they live of slavery. They have Unsullied and mercenaries, we only have a few sharpened kitchen knives."

 

"And so we wait?" Kiri asked with an angry frown. "We wait and pray that someone may have the care to aid us? Right now, we have only the prospect of endless servitude to look forward to. Is that what you want, Morander? To live your life like this, to end up hunchbacked and scarred like all the others? I don't."

 

Then, Morander remembered his home, his father's broad smile, and kind words. The sweet songs his mother would sing to him as he fell asleep, the games he played with his siblings. The rain forests and sandy beaches. The towering mountains of the isles, the smell of the jungle, the capes of brightly-colored feathers he had worn once.

 

The wildlife, the spotted panthers, packs of lean red wolves, the tribes of monkeys, and the giant crocodiles. His mother's skin as smooth and dark as teak wood, her black hair, and her bright smile.

 

"Neither do I," he said, eyeing the blunt knife Kiri was using to cut a bowl of fruits. "But what can the two of us do against a hundred Unsullied and a thousand sellswords?"

 

"There are a quarter-million slaves in this city," Kiri whispered back, picking up the knife. "Who says it will just be the two of us?"

 

*

 

The Summer Islander walked on the marble-paved way of the masters, keeping his head fixed on the ground. The immense statues of Myr's first rulers watched him with a judging gaze. 

 

Each of them was depicted in a different way, some with a book in their hands, others with a whip, and some with a great sword. A few held a heavy staff of office by their side, and others rode on the backs of dragons.

 

The soft, shadowy light of predawn seeped through the city. The brightest stars still shone overhead, though they would soon be snuffed out by the rising sun.

 

In the daylight, thousands upon thousands of men and women would stream through the roads, but for now, it was a city of ghosts. 

 

Daring to raise his head, Morander looked toward the immense palace of the magisters half a league ahead. They were their targets. Magisters, they called themselves, but masters were what they were in truth.

 

As Morander walked the road, he could see a few slaves in the shadows watching in secret, their calm and focussed expressions turning into joy and determination. They turned around, one young boy even stumbling and falling as he shuffled away. It had taken more than a moon and much convincing to inform most of the slaves of their plans. The others would follow.

 

It was when their owners were breaking their fast that their time had finally come.

 

Often, the magisters of Myr would dine together, and it was no different today.

 

Poisoned wine took the lives of nearly half the wealthy magisters. Only a few, who had stayed awayfrom the feast, or whose serveants had remained loyal yet survived, but they would not live for long after.

 

Chaos quickly consumed the city as thousands upon thousands of slaves fought against the Unsullied and the Company of the Cat. Their commander rode at the front as they slaughtered hundreds of men, lured by the gold of the noblemen. 

 

Bloodbeard, their leader killed the most of them all. There was no honor in him, only hunger for gold, for glory, and for blood.

 

There were no more than 400 Unsullied in the city, but they were enough to kill a thousand at the very least. Their disciplined ranks never wavered, and for every one of them who fell, they took half a dozen with them.

 

The sellswords joined the slaughter over and over, but numbers won battles more often than not.

 

A band of slaves jumped onto the next rider, pulling him from his saddle. A hundred stabs from the slave's knives ruptured organs and tore through his flesh. His broken form spunonto the ground, a ruined mass of agony. His horse reared and fled to the gates of the city.

 

The leader of the mercenaries, Bloodbeard, was fast and strong enough to wield his greatsword in one hand.

 

His blow cut a slave nearly in half, his next one split a woman's head in two, but he barely managed a third. There were too many foes.

 

But he only realized that, when half a dozen slaves had stepped inside his guard. A moment later, they had hammered their knives into his sides.

 

The armor gave way to the sharp steel, and the man went down on one knee with a grunt of pain.

 

The sun was already setting in the west, as finally, the fighting in the mansion died down. The tang of fresh blood wafted through the halls of the great palace.

 

The corpses of masters and slaves and sellswords were piled along the corridors, their eyes open in horror, and their mouths open in a soundless scream. The chamber in which Morander finally arrived was a beautiful and large one. Decoratively appointed, two exits through wide halls and high arched ceilings.

 

All around, in constant cacophony, the endless wailing of dying men rose and fell, an unholy chorus of anguish. But the slave from the Summer Isles either did not hear or chose to ignore them. 

 

His master, still clad in an oddly clean Tokar laid on the ground. A strange contrast to all of the blood spilled around his dying form.

 

Sweat streamed from his forehead, trickling into his brows. Blood flowed from the back of his head, soaking the ground around him. Looking closer, Morander could see that the robes of his former owner were not as clean as they had seemed.

 

A knife stuck in his side, the bloodstain above his stomach steadily growing. Other former slaves stood nearby, but Morander paid them no mind. They had done the right thing, no matter the pain it brought him.

 

The master's eyes, once so clear-sighted and piercing, were misted with the pain of his wounds. Looking closer, he could see more small cuts in the man's palms and throat, thick red liquid weeping from them.

 

"Master," breathed the boy from the Summer Islands.

 

"Morander," the man replied, his voice crackling. "It is done, then?"

 

"It is done," Morander said, ripping off the thin leather collar around his neck. "We are free today."

 

"Good," the man smiled, his eyes growing distant. "It was always my intention, you know?"

 

"What are you talking about?" Morander replied, falling silent. "What was your intention?"

 

"Ending slavery, my boy. My mother was a slave, did you know?" The magister and master said, though his voice was weak and faint.

 

"No. I never knew. None of us knew."

 

"I never talked about her," the dying man admitted. He laughed bitterly then, his expression twisting. "It was her dying wish. I always planned to free all slaves, but overturning millennia of tradition is not easy. I kept my plans secret from everyone. They would have been undone quickly, were they to become common knowledge."

 

"But now," he continued slowly... "It is done."

 

"Yes," Morander replied, as the life left the magister's body, his soul departing to another realm.

 

It was too much, but no tears welled in Morander's eyes. The emptiness in his stomach rendered that simple act of grief impossible. 

 

"Be at peace," he muttered, wiping his fingers over the eyes of the magister, closing them forever.

 

*

 

The Dreamer

 

"He needs to stop. He will do it again," the voices chanted around him. A huge hooded man stood behind him, resting his hands on his shoulders.

 

Jon wanted to shrug them off, shake off the cold feeling of death, but he was frozen in place. "He needs to stop. He will do it again," the hooded man repeated, raising his arm and removing the cloak that covered his face.

 

Jon immediately knew the man's face. He had looked upon it for years. The milk-white skin, together with the long white hair, and the red eyes. The man before him had lived beyond his mortal span, and yet he lingered still. 

 

Bloodraven, Jon thought. Why are you telling me this?

 

"Follow the red harbinger, my young wolf," Bloodraven croaked. "A new song was sung this time, but the Old Evil is coming nonetheless. Shiera and I changed the flow of time, too much and yet too little. The Kraken will take flight, you have to help her."

 

"Who?" Jon barely managed to say.

 

"Her."

 

Waking up in his bed once more, Jon could have almost laughed at it all. In Westeros men and women were playing their little power games, seeking to extend their influence. In the east it was much the same.

 

Everywhere there were greedy people, lusting for wealth, power, influence, armies. And in the middle them all, was Jon Snow. A Targaryen bastard, trying to find help against the legendary Others while being visited in his dreams by Bloodraven who did not even speak sense and only gave him veiled advice.

 

"First time you didn't pant like someone was about to murder you after waking up," Ramsay noted. The previous evening they had found a tavern at the Dock of Pearls where they had been able to get a bedchamber to sleep.

 

Ghost was still small enough to rest in the bed next to him, while Frost laid stretched out on the ground. The massive grey direwolf used nearly the entire floor space in the chamber.

 

Jon was hoping to find a passage to Pentos and the mansion of Illyrio Mopatis. Bloodraven had mentioned the name of the Pentoshi magisters a few times, stating that he had hoped to shelter the Targaryens many years ago. He still seemed to harbor loyalties to the dragons, for he had travelled to Volantis to meet Daenerys Targaryen.

 

It had caused quite the uproar in Pentos, or so the captain of their ship had told them. While the city had ‘officially’ outlawed slavery, it still profited a lot from it. The slaves were merely called bondsmen now. While the empress sought to end slavery, Pentos aimed to expand it, marking the two as enemies. 

 

The wealthiest man of Pentos seeking out their enemy was quite a scandal.

 

"I know that look," Ramsay said, looking at him from the other bed. "It means you're thinking about something, and I hope you're not thinking about when the next boat leaves."

 

"I am thinking about what they meant."

 

"What who meant?"

 

"While you were resting yesterday, I was going through the city and ended up peeking into the temple of the Faceless Men. They kept chanting "He has to stop. He will do it again," to me. And I keep trying to figure out what they meant."

 

"Who will do what again?" Ramsay frowned.

 

"As if I bloody know," Jon muttered, before jumping off the bed. "They also talked about following a red harbinger." He paused for a moment, clicking his tongue as if to command Ramsay to follow. "Come, we have a city to explore.

 

*

 

A mangled corpse hung above the docks, rotting in the midday sun. Long metal chains kept it near fifty feet in the air, swinging back and forth in the sea wind. Flies and maggots were crawling over the raw, fleshy wounds that graced the corpse’s body.

 

"Beautiful city," Ramsay commented idly, as he stared at the dangling corpse, earning a snort from Jon.

 

"I thought it would appeal to you," Jon nodded, as they moved towards the Drowned Town. It was the eldest part of the city, laying to the north-west of the Temple of Black and White. To the south laid the Ragman's Harbor, where the town had fallen into the lagoon. Only the domes and towers of the old buildings remained above the surface of the water. 

 

It was an odd sight, the many roofs stabbing through the smooth water like sharp spikes.

 

Beyond the Drowned Town, to the east, there were the mansions of the rich and beyond them the bazaars. The estates ranged in size from decently large houses belonging to merchants, to vast and exquisite palaces as large as most castles. 

 

Their walls were high and strong; gleaming white or pitch black or carved from grey stone. The grandest of them had massive gardens, blooming with a hundred different flowers. 

 

Jon could see purple Nightshade, Dragon's breath, a hundred Black Lotuses, and even some Winter Roses from the North of Westeros.

 

But one house stood out from all the others. It was not beautiful or grand, quite the opposite. It was a burnt ruin, withered away over years and years. The small mansion's walls were dark and burnt to a crisp, the windows twisted and melted from intense heat. Bits of old red paint clung to the oaken door, but the color had grown faint over time.

 

A large lemon tree stood tall in front of the burned house, the thick stump twisting and turning, with a thousand lemons hanging from the giant tree.

 

As he looked at the ominous house from a distance Jon could see a cloaked figure stand in its halls. It was a woman in a long gown, the red fabric pulled over her head. From where he stood, Jon could see a red gold choker around her neck, but her face was turned away from him.

 

The red woman's skin looked pale and unblemished, her figure slender and graceful.

 

The two boys watched from afar as the woman seemed to walk aimlessly through the ruined house, touching the floor with her fingers and inspecting even the smallest details. 

 

"The Red Harbinger..." Jon muttered to himself, as he used Frost's eyes to look more closely.

 

"There are a hundred of these red women in this city," Ramsay whispered back, as the woman finally left the house. "How do you know that this is the one?"

 

As the woman turned, Jon could see a pair of unsettling red eyes and long black hair. A giant ruby was embedded in her choker.

 

"Damn," came a mutter from next to him.

 

But Jon didn't pay attention. He followed the woman from a distance as she wandered through the city, through the second arch of Nabbo's Bridge, along the Purple Harbor and the Moon Pool, until they were past the House of Black and White. 

 

This time they came from the other side, passing the Temple of the Weeping Lady of Lys, the wooden hall of the Lord of Harmony, and the house of the Great Shepherd. To their left was a three-turreted tower honoring Trios, the temple of Aquan the Red Bull, and the twin temples honoring Semosh and Selloso.

 

When they were finally past the House of Black and White, they saw the woman return to the Temple of the Lord of Light.

 

Ghost and Frost stalked behind them, both moving without a sound. A blind man would not be able to hear them.

 

The smoke of the small fires in iron braziers near the giant metal door leading into the temple filled Jon's lunges from afar, burning hot. 

 

Before the temple stood a red priest, screeching and rambling about bleeding stars and a sword of fire. An ancient evil that only the Lord of Light could cleanse.

 

I hate temples, Jon thought to himself, as the red woman walked through the high entrance gates, carved from Dragonglass. Frozen Fire, they called it in the east.

 

The two of them were just past the entrance when suddenly the heads of all the servants of R'hllor turned. Their red eyes all focussed on the two of them, making Jon feel as if they were piercing his very soul.

 

Oh, come on.

 

*

 

The Empress

 

"Magister Illyrio Mopathis begs an audience, your Grace," Missandei announced when the morning sun had risen over Volantis. 

 

The city was still dark and gloomy, the sun not yet high enough to reach into the narrow paths between the high buildings. A faint drizzle of rain fell from the skies above, the storm clouds dimming the sun.

 

She missed the presence of Shadow nearby, but the hellhound had chosen to stalk the city in the night. Daenerys did not worry that the giant wolf-like creature would cause trouble, other than scare a few unfortunate peasants.

 

Almost absently she realized that she was reading the pages she had written down once more. Days of War and Peace, the title said, before beginning to recount her entire life. From her earliest memories in Braavos to the voyage to Asshai, she had written down everything she recalled. 

 

"Your Grace?" Missandei inquired once more, looking at her worryingly when she did not respond to her.

 

"So early?" Daenerys asked absently, turning to Missandei. "It is usually custom to wait until the afternoon to bother others with one's problems."

 

"I can delay the magister," Missandei replied immediately. "He shan't take offense. Denying a request so early in the morning is understandable, your Highness."

 

"As if your Grace wasn't enough you now have to resort to your Highness," Daenerys muttered, shaking her head with a slight smile.

 

"When I woke up you weren't there," Missandei said, dropping the previous topic. "I was worried. Did you not sleep last night?"

 

"No," Daenerys said, shaking her head. "No longer than a few minutes."

 

"You should sleep, Daenerys," her handmaiden said, moving closer to take her hand in her own. "On Naath, we say that the loss of one night's sleep is followed by ten days of inconvenience."

 

"I rarely feel tired these days," Daenerys muttered. "I just hope it doesn't come back when I age."

 

"Her grace is strong, it is known," Missandei replied softly, before looking over the book that laid before her.

 

Daenerys noticed she tried hard not to stare, but she could not quite keep her interest hidden. "Your mind is strong, and all difficult things become easy. But it will not always stay like this. A wise man digs the well before he is thirsty."

 

"I will remember it," Daenerys replied after a momentary pause. "But for today, sleep can wait. Send in the magister."

 

"Are you certain?"

 

Clenching her teeth and closing her eyes for a moment, the fifteen-year-old High Empress of the East nodded. "Better now than later."

 

Missandei nodded, and after a minute Daenerys heared the door creak as it opened slowly.

 

"Her Grace awaits you," Missandei told the massive magister with a curt bow. 

 

Daenerys had made little effort to put on fine clothes, choosing to remain in her sleeping gown. It was made of soft silk, and few would have known it to be made for the bed.

 

Judging by Illyrio's frown, it appeared he belonged to the people who could tell her gowns purpose. "I hope I did not interrupt you, your Grace," he said immediately, though the title seemed odd as he spoke it. "I know that audiences are usually not granted at this time of the day. I would have come at another time, but I could not find any rest."

 

"Neither could I," Daenerys said with a polite smile. She had seen Illyrio Mopatis fleetingly once or twice within the last days but standing before him was entirely different. She had never seen a man so large, and only the Khal's braid had glimmered as much as his beard did.

 

He wore multiple layers of thin, yet expansive fabrics, covering up his many rolls of fat. Most noticeable, however, were his dozens of gemstone rings. Amethysts, black diamonds, emeralds, green pearls... She could not even name them all.

 

"What troubles you, Your Highness?" the magister asked curiously. "I hear the Kraken Lord was a rather unsettling presence."

 

For a moment, Daenerys wanted to deny it, claim that nothing frightened her anymore, but it was true. Euron Greyjoy had been quite unsettling. 

 

"Yes, he was," Daenerys nodded. "A pirate, but a powerful one. Fiercely intelligent it would seem, with grand intentions."

 

"Manipulative, cunning, and a mad man, I would like to add," Illyrio stated slowly. "And yet, you agreed to marry him." The magister eyed the armor of Valyrian Steel. "He did bring rich gifts with him, after all. Is that why Aegon failed to claim your heart? Because he did not bestow any grand treasures on you?"

 

His voice was calm, and Daenerys could not sense any kind of anger in it, but the way he spoke still made her uncomfortable. "Gifts have little appeal to me, magister. Silver and gold I have aplenty."

 

"But no Valyrian Steel armor," Illyrio noted. "It's the first one to be known to exist since the Doom of Valyria."

 

"Indeed," Daenerys nodded. "He has been to Valyria. That much is true, no matter how unlikely it would seem. No wonder, he is mad."

 

"Mad, but yet you marry him?"

 

"Is who I marry the only reason you came here, Magister Illyrio?" Daenerys replied, walking over to the desk once more. There were two chairs on each side of it, made from fine mahogany wood and light-purple velvet with a golden trim at the top. Here she had written the book yesterday, but it would serve for whatever Illyrio intended as well.

 

Daenerys motioned towards the chair on the other side of the desk, a slightly smaller one.

 

"I had them brought here from Bloodstone, did you know?" Daenerys asked the magister. "Are you thirsty, I can have some wine brought here. We have arbor gold, Dornish red, or even some Shade of the Evening?"

 

"Her grace jests, the wine of warlocks is not my taste," he replied. "I am not thirsty."

 

Daenerys remained silent, looking at him intensely, inspecting him. In her years as a Queen and Empress, she had learned that a formidable gaze was a great aid in any negotiations.

 

"I must compliment your dress, your Grace. You are, as always, a vision. It is not hard to see why so many have been taken with you."

 

"I thank you for saying so," Daenerys replied, attempting to sound interested, but it sounded flat even to herself. Such compliments had lost meaning over time.

 

"Both my wives were beauties as well. Scions of Old Valyria just like you. Though they did not match your beauty, that I must admit."

 

"Both your wives?" Daenerys asked with a raised eyebrow. "I did not take you for a Targaryen. Are polygamous marriages not outlawed among the nobility of the Free Cities?"

 

"Oh no, your Grace, I did not wed them both at once," Illyrio said with a laugh, though beneath it, she could see a deep sadness. "My first wife was a gift from the Prince of Pentos. One of his many cousins. A beautiful woman, no doubt, but no more. I admit I did not weep long for her when she died and remarried quickly."

 

The fat man paused for a moment before he thrust his right hand up his left sleeve and drew out a silver locket. Inside was a painted likeness of a woman with big blue eyes and pale golden hair streaked by silver. 

 

"My second wide Serra however..." Illyrio mumbled. "I found her in a Lysene pillow house and brought her home to warm my bed, but in the end, I wed her. When I made her my wife, the Prince of Pentos closed the doors of his palace to me forever. It made no matter, for Serra was mine."

 

"But the happiness did not last long," he sighed. "The grey plague found its way to Pentos, claiming the lives of thousands, my Serra among them. Our boy died with her, but at least she may have a companion in the afterlife."

 

Silence lingered over the room for a minute or two before he stuffed the locket back into his sleeve. "We should focus on the present, dreaming of past days will do us no good," he finally sighed, straightening his back as much as it was possible for a man of his stature.

 

"I came at King Aegon's behest to discuss once more the prospect of marriage."

 

"Marriage," Daenerys deadpanned. She filled a golden cup with Dornish Red and with a dash of Shade of the Evening, before downing it in one gulp. "Tell me, Illyrio Mopatis. Why do you help him? Aegon, I mean. What do you gain from it?"

 

"I was promised wealth and a castle of my choosing. But truthfully, that is nothing I do not have already. Not all a man does is for gain, your Grace. Even fat old fools like me have friends, and debts of affection to repay.

 

Liar, thought Daenerys. There is something in this venture worth more to you than coin or castles.

 

"The truth is, I have not promised to marry Euron Greyjoy, not yet at the very least. I promised to consider it thoroughly, and he gave me the armor as a sign of good faith. He took the considering as a yes, and I do start to believe that maybe I should as well."

 

"He would make a cruel husband."

 

"And maybe I would be an even more cruel wife," Daenerys responded, shrugging her shoulders. 

 

"You should beware. There goes a saying that the Crow's Eye's gifts are poisoned."

 

Daenerys remained silent, drumming with her fingers on the desk. "You still want me to marry Aegon, though I do not understand why."

 

"You judge him more harshly than is just," Illyrio said, twisting his oiled beard in his massive fingers. "He wants what is best for you, and the Seven Kingdoms. The betrothal was born of desperation, inexperience and yes, stupidity. But you know he regrets it."

 

"Wars have been started over less."

 

"Yes," Illyrio nodded. "And I admire you for this. I would have not been as peaceful as you were." Illyrio sighed dramatically. 

 

"You have been through far more in life than any girl your age should have been. They say that in Asshai one sees wonders and terrors beyond imagining. I am sure that after having lived there for years... when you look at him, you see a hot-headed boy playing at war. But that is not how it is. Aegon has been shaped for rule since before he could walk. He has been trained in arms, as befits a knight to be, but that was not the end of his education. He reads and writes. Aegon speaks several tongues, he has studied history and law and poetry. A septa has instructed him in the mysteries of the Faith since he was old enough to understand them. He has lived with fisherfolk, worked with his hands, swum in rivers and mended nets, and learned to wash his own clothes at need. He can fish and cook and bind up a wound, Aegon knows what it is like to be hungry, to be hunted, to be afraid. There could never be a greater king in Westeros."

 

Magister Illyrio was searching, trying to find the pressure point that would speak to Daenerys  the most. He was searching for which strings to pull, which buttons to push. But Daenerys did not respond at all.

 

"You're very quiet, your Grace," Illyrio finally noted, after more than a minute of silence. "May I ask your thoughts?"

 

Daenerys leaned back in her chair, contemplating his words. "Did I mention that I had this chair brought here from Bloodstone?" she asked finally, receiving only a nod from the magister.

 

"The Sealord of Braavos sat in that chair when we negotiated an arrangement between our fleets. The Golden Emperor of Yi Ti sat in it when we discussed a treaty between our nations. Jon Arryn sat in that chair, though Robert Baratheon never knew of it."

 

"What are you trying to say?" Mopatis asked, though Daenerys continued simply.

 

"Oberyn Martell, the God-King of Ib, the Archon of Tyrosh, a Triarch of Volantis, Wise Masters, the Empress of Leng, the High Shadowbinder of Asshai, and the Thirteen of Qarth. All have come here to ask for my assistance in one petty war or another. I refused them all. And they never insulted me to my face."

 

"He never had any bad intentions."

 

"Did he? I think he knew exactly what he was doing," Daenerys returned. "He might not have liked it, but he was fully willing to sell my life to a warlord brute to further his own agenda. And for what? The four-dozen creaked Volanteen ships that lay in the harbor? It seems they were worth more to him, than I."

 

"At least give him your support in name alone," Illyrio pressured. "When the Iron Banker came, you told him that your factions were not allied. At least maintain a facade, to aid him this way."

 

"I think not."

 

Daenerys stared into the magister's pig eyes, sunken into the fat cheeks. For a brief heartbeat, she saw the Illyrio's posture crack. He tried to stay polite, but there was anger beneath the calm and rational exterior.

 

"You have to."

 

"Look," Daenerys simply replied.

 

"Look where?" Illyrio bluntly replied. No titles anymore, it would seem.

 

"Look at where you're sitting. More powerful men have sat in this chair, trying to tell me what I must do. Remember your position."

 

"A shame," Illyrio nodded, his face devoid of emotion. "I was hoping that I could appeal to you."

 

"We are done here," Daenerys stated coolly, dismissing the magister with a tilt of her sharp chin. "Tell Aegon what I told you today. I don't forget insults, nor do I forgive them. It is only by the chance that he may be indeed my nephew, that I did not kill him."

 

"As you will, your Grace," Illyrio nodded, the previous anger once more concealed. He's an excellent mummer, that I must give him. "It was a pleasure to meet you."

 

Daenerys did not reply when the magister made for the door.

 

"Treat carefully around the many-colored gemstones," she remembered Quaithe's words. What is it that you want, Illyrio Mopatis?

 

*