"I always told him he was too reckless by half," Stannis said, gazing upon the bared bones of his brother. "Dearly do I wish this came as a surprise to me, good-sister, but I cannot say that I am at all astonished."
"A boar of all creatures." Lyanna did not feel any more comfortable standing next to Stannis than she had as a bride all those years past. He had a way about him, almost as though he was in equal measure curious and put off. As to why she should put him off, Lyanna was not yet any wiser than she had been in her youth. She knew why he ought to, of course; but Stannis did not. All in all, she could have done without dragging herself to this pile to rocks. Alas, Jon needed her.
A wave of nausea passed over her. A strange thing that; the road dust had long since been washed off, but the sickness persisted tormenting her even in the holy enclosure. "Are you well?" Robert's brother questioned, his voice striking like the whip against her ears. She winced and took a step back. Hands reached out to, presumably, steady her. Fingers clenched, digging into paper-thin gossamer and sturdier cloth.
"A trifle," she heard herself murmur from a far away place. "I reckon 'tis the length of the journey. Last I made it I was nigh a decade younger." He helped her to the carved bench. Once safely off her feet, he retreated as though she'd burned him. All the better, for she breathed easier without his hovering above her.
"Might be the maester should be consulted." Why has she refused Jon's offer that he remain at her side? Lyanna bit back a sigh but shook her head.
"There is time enough for that. I should like to discuss a matter with you." He remained standing, back turned to his brother's remains. "But first do allow me to express my gratitude for all the great care put into the keeping of our home." Like any wound, this too had to be unwrapped with care, she told herself, squinting ever so slightly as her vision blurred over. Fog presided over her cherished faculty, her struggle seemingly in vain.
Stannis produced a sound might have well been agreement, though gruffly delivered. "One does mind one's home," he spoke after. "To tell you the truth, good-sister, I'd expected the young lord would wish to remain at the side of the Prince. 'Tis said they are as close as brothers."
"Certainly as close as boys their age usually are. They court all manner of scrapes together." She kept her voice as neutral as possible. Lyanna had not doubted Stannis would feel some resentment at being knocked off of his perch, but still, to so blatantly express it was a tad more noteworthy. "Nevertheless, Jon knows where his duty lies. His Grace was very understanding, as well, of course." As to that, she had her doubts. Something had gone awry between the two. But what?
"Indeed, something he must have learned at Robert's knee, I gather." Clenched jaw, rapidly galloping heart, a stab of pain that momentarily left her lightheaded; she was not quite angry enough to spring to her feet.
"This might be the best moment to put forth that you should judge Jon by his own merits and not by whatever discontent you may feel towards his father. Whatever was between you and Robert, it hardly matters now. The man is dead." Her sight finally cleared, the pain easing some. She released a breath of relief. And finally, with some difficulty, she stood.
"It remains that he was raised away from Storm's End and has not been here since he was a child. I do not mean to disparage him, good-sister, truly, I do not. However, you cannot say he was taught as he should have been."
"On the contrary; he was taught with the Prince. I fail to see what better education one could be provided with." She made for the uncovered structure holding her husband's bones. "Robert had his flaws, among them a disinterest in guiding Jon as regarding some matters; but I am not Robert, I do not have his flaws."
"All of Robert's children mirror him in one manner or another. When Jon left he was but a child; before long I expect I shall know what he inherited." She sucked in a scathing reply.
"Whatever do you mean by that?" Fear was one way to silence her. She kept her gaze upon the flesh-stripped bones. And to think he might have been off gallivanting, robbing King's Landing of even the last drop of wine. She'd never loved him, but after so many years of marriage he was a thorn she'd learn to live with. The absence of the prickle made the wound that much more painful; the gaping emptiness suffocating. She was growing maudlin.
"Only that wherever I turn my head, I see my brother and what he has wrought upon us. Year by year, bastard by bastard; and every single one carries on his legacy. Great men see a child as the crowning moment to which they've been led over an arduous road. When he brought Edric, I thought he might understand that much, claiming responsibility for the child."
"I do not understand." Storms were aplenty at Storm's End; Robert had assured himself of that. "What is your point; speak clearly."
"Some things a man only learn from other men. Your son, bright as he might be, has been surrounded by women and boys all his life. You have brought a boy to take a man's place. The consequences may be dire."
"Is that a threat?"
He held both hands up, palms facing her way. "A prediction. He will be overwhelmed and might take to leaving the tasks for others to do. It is, after all, the example his father set."
Her lips opened in reply, but before she could utter even one sound, her knees gave way and she tumbled. It was as though her soul had separated from her body; she half-felt hands touching her and half-heard concerned voices.
What hit her when she came to was the pungent scent of frankincense and the feeling of something wet and hot pressed to her nape.
"Mother?" Instinctively she turned towards the source of the noise. A rumpled looking Cassana was leaning forth. "Are you awake?" Her daughter's hand shot forth, peeling the cloth away from her and submerging it into what Lyanna presumed was water. She wrung it and then replaced it. The coolness was welcome.
"Indeed I am," she managed in return. Whatâ€“"
"I will bring the maester." Cassana waited not a jot before dashing off, leaving the door wide-open in her wake.
Lyanna turned on her back and forced herself into a sitting position. Her chest no longer felt as though a weight pressed over it and she could breathe easily. Just as well; she must have fallen into a faint. At a most inopportune moment too. The gods certainly did have a petty sense of humour; not only was she as sick as a dog, but she was so in the presence of Stannis. That would not help her case any.
"Mother, you're awake!" the teary voice of yet another daughter shred through the quiet of her surroundings. Before she could gather herself, her arms were full of tearful children and her chest was pressed into by a small head. "I thought you would leave us too. I was so scared." Mylenda lifted her head to stare at her. She sniffled. "I am so sorry."
"Why are you apologising, sweetling?" Lyanan smoothed the girl's hair back, tugging one of the pins free and rearranging it.
"Because you said we had to be good or you would be upset and then Josy and I fought and the you were sick. We didn't mean to. Truly." Mylenda continued in that manner, filling her explanation with so many words and happenings that Lyanna simply could not keep up. "And father was mad at us for making too much noise before he left. And then he never came back. I thought you were leaving too." By then the tears were falling freely.
"What? Myly, look at mother." Her daughter did. "You are not at fault for what happened to your father. None of you are. It was a terrible, terrible strike of ill-fortune." What could the poor thing be thinking? "Nor are you responsible for what happened to me. I was simply very, very tired."
"You won't leave then?"
"Nay; I am staying where I am."
"And you are not mad?"
"Not at all." She sighed. "Where is Josy?" Mylenda shrugged. "Why don't you go find her and tell her you know precisely how to help mother?"
"You do. A couple of big, bright smiles will put me right back on my feet. What say you?"
"I'll find Josy and bring her here!"
Left to her own devices she had little to do but wait for the maester to arrive. He did not disappoint, presenting himself along with a tray and two smiling little girls, one with a shy twist of lips, the other with a toothy grin. "I feel better already," she declared, spying Cassana hurrying in after the man.
"Even so, my lady, I must insist on carrying on this investigation," the maester spoke, "preferably without an audience."
She chuckled at the twin expressions the younger girls bore. Cassana pursed her lips and took her sisters' hands, "There now, you devils' limbs; you heard the maester." Mylenda started to protest, quite probably without a second though. Jocelyn retreated behind Cassana.
"Girls, I expect each and every single one you to act with decorum. Myly." The warning was met with a pout but eventual acquiesce. "Good now, I shall see you at a later time. Cassana, pray, watch over the children. Myly and Josie, will you help Cass?"
"I will," Mylenda readily agreed. Jocelyn nodded.
And that was that. Shortly left with only the maester and a closed door to show for it. She pressed back into her mound of pillows. "This is certainly a most novel situation for me, maester, I assure you."
"Quite so. I've a few questions, if my lady is willing to submit to such ministrations." He placed the tray on the bench. "How has your health been this past year?"
"I've naught to complain about. Certainly nothing of this nature. Though,“" She paused, searching for the right words. "Oh, I do wish I could express it better, but I sometimes feel as though my breath is cut short, as though a chain wrapped itself around my throat."
"Were you exposed to anything the like of a headcold , might be? Chills, coughs?"
"I cannot say I have. Steffon suffered a night's feverish rest, but he had been well since and I have not observed anything which might invite suspicion in either me or the children." Worry wormed its way into her heart. "Perhaps you have an explanation for this episode?"
"It seems to me that my suspicions are confirmed, my lady, for from your sallow complexion and experienced symptoms, I can only conclude 'tis your lungs."
She froze. "Surely not."
"I have prepared something, of course, but it would be prudent to bleed you now before the spread affects other organs. Begging your pardon, but I would not recommend waiting." He placed in her hands the cup he'd brought along. "This is boiled comfrey root; most effective."
She drank without being instructed to do so and held out her free arm, allowing the sleeve to be pushed out of the way. She did not allow herself to glance as the sharp edge of the blade cut into her skin. A wince was the only sign Lyanna was willing to give.
One did not get to choose when to suffer under the ills of a disease; she had to make her peace with that.
"Why did you bow to his will?" Maekar asked at long last. The question must have been bothering him for hours; brought into existence, it begged an answer, not only by tone of voice but by its very nature, a reminder that his brother and sisters depended on him, solely, now that there was no patriarch to oversee their education. He despised the very notion that he should be forced into such overwhelming a role. But what was he to do? Refuse?
"It does not pay to run headfirst into conflict. I accept, for the moment, that I am not as knowledgeable as I wish to be." His brother pulled a face and dragged his chair closer, picking up one of the ledgers.
"You are the lord of the keep. It should not matter how long uncle has been here. He is still not master here." He flipped a few pages, glancing at a few rows before closing the ledger and pushing it away. "That aside, should you not see to mother?"
"There is a maester, as far as I know, and a household full of servants. I doubt she would condone or even appreciate my interference. You may go to her if you wish, though." His brother's face flushed with what Jon assumed was indignation.
"I wish you would not treat me as though I were a child. It was simply my opinion that mother would enjoy your presence."
"As you can see, I am busy at the moment." The dismissal did not move Maekar. But the boy stood to his feet, face hardening in an iron-wrought mask. Jon leaned back in his seat, curiosity sharpening into acute awareness of the ire simmering, threatening to boil over.
"You are turning into father," his brother levelled harshly. "He had his whores, you have-" gesturing helplessly at the pile on the desk, he struggled for words, the colour in his face deepening, "whatever projects you believe will make a difference in front of our uncle."
Silence settled, undercut by an almost tangible tension. Wait long enough and even the mildest of silences could harden into an impenetrable wall. Not that Jon thought his brother might flee. His ire was a smouldering thing after all. Jon refrained from goading the boy. It would not help, he imagined, to push too hard. His lack of a reaction did not, however, mitigate the fury his kin felt, as evidenced by the clenched jaw sported by his brother.
"If you've a better notion, I insist upon your sharing it with me," he finally allowed, if only to end whatever storm threatened to unleash itself upon his head. "
"I do. Tell uncle he is welcome in these walls; but it is by your grace that he remains here."
Much as Jon would enjoy that, he had to decline. "It is not that I am against such a move, but he has had the running of this keep in his hands for long enough that displacing him now could bring us trouble. He is our father's brother. And there are enough men who will never look beyond that. I cannot risk their wrath at such a time. When we are firmly established, you may be certain I will take care of the matter."
"And when will that be?" Maekar demanded. "When pigs fly over the moon and hell freezes over?"
"As to that I am no soothsayer." Turning the page of his ledger he came upon a most interesting row of numbers. Following along, the tip of his finger met a rough spot. He brushed his pad over it a couple of times. "Someone has been fiddling with these."
"What?" His sibling was at his side, peering over his shoulder. Jon shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the close proximity, and even more so at the fact that Maekar stood behind him. "How can you tell?"
"The numbers have been scratched off." He pointed out the irregularity.
"It could have just been an honest mistake. Might be whoever wrote these wanted to correct it without attracting too much attention."
"Glad as I would be for that to be the case, the writing does not match any hand I have seen thus far. The maester would have known the convention is to cross out what has been wrongfully written and add the correct numbers. " Fifty silver pieces was a rather large sum. Had it been lower he might have considered letting it go. As matters stood, he would have to make inquiries into it.
"But look, the total sum has not been changed. This makes no sense," his brother exclaimed, coming to the same realisation as Jon. "Fifty silver stags? You are not going to close your eyes to this, are you?"
"Indeed, I am not. But it would serve us better not to give rise to suspicion." Jon analysed the figures. "The eight is very distinctive, is it not? If we could somehow have it written down by all those who can do so."
"Why not simply order it? Surely they will not refuse." Looking up, Jon frowned. "Should anyone run, it is an admission of guilt."
"Aye, because they are guilty. Innocent men don't run."
"We dio not know for what purpose this money was taken. Might be there is an explanation which-"
"Regardless of any explanation, this is theft. Whoever did steal the money is subject to the law of the land, and the law of the land has thieves hang." There was no denying that.
"You have been reading Maester Gral's treatise, I see." It had been some time since he himself had taken it up. "Morw has a similar work with a different conclusion altogether. Might be you should look over that one as well."
"Morw never got his chain, Jon. His treatise no matter how cleverly put together is not accepted in the canon and therefore useless. It is unreasonable to allow theft to go unpunished."
"I do not mean to allow anything untoward. Read Morw and we shall discuss the matter at a later date. Meantime, you may make yourself useful by searching for any other irregularities in the ledgers."
Irrespective of whether he wished for further disturbance or nay, the door opened with a hearty screech, alerting both himself and Maekar that they were no longer alone. Half expecting it to be their uncle for supressed a sigh as he glanced away from the numbers. 'Twas not Stannis though, but one of the many children his father had sired. Mya occupied the opening, hands on her hips, looking for all the world as though she had just recently crawled out of a haystack. He blinked away his momentary confusion. "Mya," he greeted, not for the very first that day.
"My lord," she returned the greeting, merely nodding to Maekar, who in response returned to the ledgers. "If you've a moment; I should like a word." Clearly no amount of instructions were ever going to change Mya's approach; by the same token, he wondered how it was that Stannis had not had an apoplexy fit yet. Forsooth 'twas the only response he could thing to give such a breach of etiquette. But then Mya was the first child his father had ever sired. As such she had more leeway than a good number of her siblings, baring Edric who, coming from a loftier womb than the rest of his natural born brothers and sisters, was, for the most part, treated according to his rank. It helped, without doubt, that his Florent mother was kin to his uncle's wife. Mya's mother had been a blacksmith's daughter, and yet, for all that, as the first child to have ever been born to his father she had long been a favourite of his. The marked attention was further underlined by the behaviour his sister adopted.
"You need not address me in such a manner. And do come in." The last thing he needed was for a bevy of servants to gather at the door. Mya followed his instructions and shut the door in her wake. The thud reverberated through the chamber, bringing with it a whisper of woe. "Well, what is it you wish to say?"
Casting him an uncertain glance, Mya shifted, her movement more than clear in its implications. "I know you are the lord of this keep and as such may do as you wish; but you call me sister and have done so in spite of my circumstances. Can I assume your regard is like for any other of our siblings?"
"You would not be wrong in presuming so." Of course, he could go no more than a few minutes at a time without some matter cropping up. He was beginning to understand why his father refused to spend more than absolutely necessary at Storm's End. Would that he had the good sense to do the same. Alas, 'twas not the case.
"Since my lord feels so, is it truly necessary for us to leave our chambers for new ones?" Natural born children oft found their quarters in a different wing of the keep than the one is use by the family, nevertheless, the rule had not been observed at Storm's End, presumably on account of little enough space and the fact that they had not occupied those chambers for too long before finding their way to King's Landing.
"I do not recall asking that you vacate your chambers," Jon said slowly, wondering just who it was that thought to order in his home.
"Septon Merrett seems to believe you have." Maekar coughed. Mya ignored him. "Why else would be insist it was not at all acceptable that we remain as we were."
"Forsooth I cannot read the man's mind," he pointed out with just a sliver of annoyance. "I can but say that 'tis not on me your ire should fall; if indeed there be need for such. I will look into the matter. You may retreat."
"But that is hardly-"
"You may take your leave, Mya." She bristled, looking as though she might argue, but, a few short moments later, she was making her way to the door.
Maekar breathed out in obvious relief. "You see? Because you did not stand up to uncle she things she may play you as a fiddle. I told you; you ought to assert yourself."
"Change is rarely pleasant," he mused out loud, half-ignoring his younger sibling. "You ought to consider that father's death has disrupted many a life, not just ours." An inconsiderate enough thing, but not nearly to the point of apocalyptic predictions in the vein that his brother kept suggesting.
Before a reply could be made, yet another interruption occurred. This time it was the maester come. Maekar groused unhappily, complaining that their work would stretch well into the night at such a rate. "Pray wait a moment," Jon asked of the older man. Turning to Maekar, he said, "Take the ledgers to your chambers and continue your perusal there." His order was carried out with surprising speed.
One rid of his brother, he invited the maester to have a seat. "Now, you may tell me; what precisely is the nature of my lady mother's ailment?"
"'Tis my belief her lungs are failing, my lord." And there went any hope for a gentle breaking of such tidings.
"Failing? Perchance the matter is not so grave. Can it not be aught else?"
"Would that it were. But her breathing pattern leaves me in no doubt. Has she been in my observation longer I might have caught sight of it before it became quite so dangerous. Alas, I will do my best, my lord." His best might not be enough to save her. Jon nodded weakly. "I can see your struggle," the maester continued, "but 'tis in the hands of the gods. My lady is not yet old and frail; might be she will be spared."
Not if it was her lungs. He appreciated the attempt still.