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Outside, the cold winter rain turns the sands of Dorne to mud. Inside the Tower of the Sun, it is dry, but the mark of it stains the hems of the robes of the gathered Dornish nobility, and has been stamped upon the tiled floor of the throne room. It is, perhaps, inauspicious that the Lord Protector’s first open court would come in such weather… but then, in Dorne, water is life; perhaps it is quite otherwise.
Ser Quinlan, seated upon the prince’s throne, has overseen the proceedings with the cool, calm expertise of someone who has done this before (as he did in Prince Marence’s regency, long ago). Criminal cases have been heard and judged: a murderer to be hanged, a raper gelded, a thieving landlord divested of a hand and his property, a miscreant knight who abused his smallfolk sent to Ghaston Grey for a year.
Purple eyes and a stern expression adorn Ser Alroy Dayne’s face while they scan the proceedings of the day. He dresses more conservatively, no thanks to the rain pouring outside. The knight remains, as usual, near the side of Prince Cadan. While he looks to the people what stand before the Lord Protector, it is to Ser Quinlan himself that he looks to occasionally, awaiting the next petition to be heard and the next punishment to come forth.
Cadan Martell shows himself Ser Quinlan’s son by his echo of that cool, calm manner if nothing else. He has his place near the throne—few nearer—his robes of rich ochre, flattering against his olive skin on sun-soaked days now merely making him look unhealthily ashen in the pallid light. His thoughts are his own to know; even when called upon for counsel, and on the occasions when he offers it unasked, his manner is contained.
Save for the pinched lips whenever he happens to look down with fastidious distaste at the mud-splattered hem of his robes, not yet dried.
“I wonder,” he murmurs, not loudly, to those around who show themselves his intimates by the places they have taken, Alroy among them, “if my lord father will miss his nephew every time he sends someone to Ghaston Grey.”
With the last of the questions of justice are dealt with, open petitons come next. Most are from smallfolk of the shadow city, regarding the lesser injustices of life in such a sprawl, and Ser Quinlan is brisk with them as he shows occasional generosity but more often shrewd skepticism.
And then come the more rarified matters of the nobility at court. It is perhaps no surprise that Ser Quinlan chooses here to make announcements and proclaim edicts, perhaps to forestall some of what might be brought before him in the open court. He clears his throat before he says, drily, “As many are aware, the office of the Keeper of the Tower of the Sun Sunspear have been left vacant since our Prince Marence retired himself to Starfall and I was named Lord Protector. I have in the time since dealt with these duties myself, as far as was needful while I considered who would best serve Dorne in that role.”
He considers the crowd at large, letting that hang there—and the fact that he does not name the previous Keeper, his arch-rival Ser Mavros Uller—before finally speaking. “To that office, I now name Lord Neilyn Toland.” There are murmurs at that, as eyes turn to the Lord of Ghost Hill, who shows a grave and unreadable expression upon his face. Others regard Prince Cadan, as murmurs follow—perhaps wondering why he has been passed over, when he once held that office for his brother.
On the opposite side of the room from his elder brother, Prince Rhodry seems to take the appointment with his usual devil-may-care smirk.
Though Ser Mavros is conspiciously absent, his bastard daughter Samara Sand has accompanied Prince Rhodry here. It is unlikely to be something that pleases Ser Quinlan, but doing so is rarely on his youngest son’s mind. Now the red-haired girl casts a sidelong glance at the prince, plainly curious to see what his reaction is to the naming of Lord Toland to this post. Noting that it appears to be of no particular consequence, she turns her gaze instead to the Lord of Ghost Hill.
If his brother shows a fine lack of concern for the manner in which the office of the Keeper is disposed of, Cadan is little different. His face is undisturbed, his gaze showing little save an idle disinterest as he regards Lord Toland briefly—
After that moment when his father first makes the announcement and the prince’s face tightens spasmodically, a sharp, sideways glance cut Quinlan’s way.
That is all; those who watch him must make of it what they will. But they are distracted now, disturbed by a man who has only now entered the hall, shouldering his way through them with a blithe disregard for their comfort. Another Keeper has come, and with fine timing, just as the lesser matters have been disposed of. The Sand Dog’s robes are damp, his mood, to judge by the easy smile he casts Rhodry and Samara’s way as he comes to stand beside them, undimmed.
“What,” he asks, leaning closer, “have I missed?”
“At the same time as we gain an officer of this court,” Ser Quinlan continues, “we must lose another: Ser Ulwyn Uller has asked to leave his place as master-at-arms, and I have granted this request. He has served many years at Sunspear, and many of the knights here who were squired at court have him to thank for their skills in arms.” The old Uller knight (nearly of an age with Ser Quinlan, as it happens) stands there, gruff as always, as there are those who clap him on the back or otherwise show their appreciation. “For his leal service, I have granted him a holdfast near Planky Town, to hold as his own.”
A fine gift, all considered. But then he follows up by adding, “A new master-at-arms shall be appointed at a later time; I would not make the decision with any haste.” At that, some may note Ser Ulwyn blinking, and giving the Lord Protector a bemused look, but he’s soon distracted by more well-wishers. His bastard son, Ser Selwyn Sand, standing behind his father, is less readily distracted, and visibly frowns. But he says nothing.
A shade of hair kissed by the sun above catches Alroy’s eye, and was almost distracted by the news.
Reactions aside, Alroy looks to the Prince himself, not hiding whatever attempts he has to support the Prince. He is at a loss at this point. Whatever young woman he saw with striking red hair and her copper skin, he forgets before he nods to Ser Ulwyn with a grateful smile on his face. “Ser Selwyn thought to hear good news today.” He whispers to Prince Cadan.
The nods of acknowledgement Prince Cadan gives Ser Ulwyn is courteous and yet manages to be perfunctory at the same time. His time training under the grizzled knight is widely known not to have been the most pleasant.
It is the man’s bastard son he seems to be more interested in, considering him for a moment. Then, he says quietly to Alroy, an edge to it, “He was not the only one. Share a cup of wine with the man later today or tomorrow. Find out what he was promised.”
“We have a new Keeper of the Tower of the Sun,” replies Samara to Ser Laurent’s question. With a nod of her head in Neilyn’s direction, she adds, “Lord Toland, this time around. Somewhat unexpected, I would say, but he has spent some time at court of late.” A thoughtful furrowing of her brow suggests that though she is by no means such a political creature as her father, the inclination to consider the workings of the court is there.
“A final announcement,” Ser Quinlan says, moving on with typical effeciency. “After consultation with Lady Yronwood, we have determined it is time for the wedding of my daughter, the Princess Ariana, to Farien, heir to Yronwood. It will take place in a moon’s time, here at Sunspear. Even now Lady Yronwood and her household are preparing to join us for the happy occasion.” One of the most controversial of Prince Marence’s decisions—agreeing to a betrothal after Lady Yronwood rebelled against him—now bears fruit, and it is plain that Ser Quinlan proceeding with it is not very popular as some mutter or even scoff.
But Ser Quinlan ignores it all, continuing. “We shall jointly host a wedding tourney, to celebrate the occasion. Word shall be sent to all corners of Dorne, to call forth champions to mark the occasion.”
“Well, in his case, it looks like he could use more than one. I will see to it, though.”
The very reaction of the wedding brings confusion to the knight, but for a moment, and he turns to the Prince again. “Gods above, I hope there’s not a tower involved. Well, yes and no.” A last whisper from the knight, thinking he might have spoken that softly. Mayhaps the Prince heard it to be sure, but mayhaps not.
The Sand Dog doesn’t bother to mask his surprise, arching his brows as he follows Samara’s nod to Lord Toland. He seems to be in too fine humour to be particularly put out, but he purses his lips as he eyes the man, then shifts his attention to Quinlan there upon the throne.
“Your lord father,” he murmurs to Rhodry, “means to haul hard on the reins, it seems. Or perhaps I missed a meeting of the council.”
His tone makes it clear which of the two he considers more likely.
Cadan allows himself a thin smile as the tourney is announced. “That,” he says to those around him, “should quiet Yronwood’s ambitions.”
He pauses just a beat.
“For a fortnight. At least, surely.”
A ripple of laughter, some of it disgruntled, answers him.
“I’d miss of every meeting I could,” Prince Rhodry replies, insouciant. “Deathly boring.” Then he regards Ser Quinlan on the throne, and muses aloud, “At least he seems to amuse himself. Old men have queer humors. He has not been one for tourneys since before I was weaned.” The political aspects of it all seem to go right over his head… or, perhaps as likely, are allowed to go right over his head because he cannot care a bit.
The look Laurent gives Rhodry is as amused as the prince is insouciant. But he doesn’t say anything—for Ser Quinlan is speaking, declaring that the court is now open for matters any there wish to bring to his attention.
And it is the Sand Dog himself who speaks first. A step forward, and he inclines his head to the older man graciously; he gathers attention easily enough, near the front of the court as he is.
“The Stepstones, my lord. Merchants from the Free Cities complain of unsafe waters. The Tyroshi may have been killed but they say new pirates haunt the waters now, dare chase them to the coast on occasion.”
He spreads his hands eloquently: “They have tempting harbours further north, and more protected ones.”
Murmurs rustle through those assembled even before he has finished speaking. A matter to be spoken of in council, surely. But a name is repeated here and there—Manwoody—and knowing looks exchanged.
“What say you of this, My Prince?” He asks Cadan regarding the Salt Dog’s statement of pirates upon the Stepstones.
“Sush a rash of weddings we are having of late,” is Samara’s somewhat dry response to the impending nuptials of the princess and her intended; it would appear she is still nursing a slight grievance regarding her father’s marriage to Delicia Blackmont. “Though a tourney will be entertaining, I suppose.” As the topic at hand moves on to pirates upon the Stepstones, her interest appears to wane and her eyes wander about the room.
“It is a concern we are becoming increasingly aware of, ser,” replies the Lord Protector, voice flat. “Our own fleet is in a sad state, however, a legacy of events in the past.” By which he means Oakenfist smashing it to pieces in the Young Dragon’s invasion. “Some have proposed we seek out sellsails, to pay them to deal with these pirates and to guard our coasts while we do what we can to build a new fleet.” His gaze moves to the court treasurer, who looks quite pained at those ideas, and then he says, “Others have suggested we ally with some one of the Free Cities, to have their ships do the work for us. But that is likely to anger some of the others, and cause more trouble than it is worth.”
And that, at least, those canny as to the politics of the course will recognize as a repudiation of Ser Mavros Uller’s past efforts to bring Sunspear and Pentos together in alliance. There are a few knowing looks, and subdued whispers.
Cadan snorts, startlingly inelegant for such a fastidious man, “The Sand Dog is taking aim at Manwoody.” His gaze wanders, finds Rhodry, “They are like brothers, those two.”
But his manner is at odds with what he says, for he is listening to his father with some attention; he frowns faintly at the end of it and shakes his head: “It will have to be sellsails if the pirates grow bolder. The damage will be done by the time we find the time and coin to raise a new fleet. And our finest captains feed the fish now.”
“Coin,” the Sand Dog agrees smoothly, “would be an easier price than any an alliance might demand.”
To judge by the look the treasurer gives him, not everyone agrees with such sentiments; the man receives a placid smile in return before Laurent turns his attention back to Quinlan: “The matter will wait a little while—but not too long, I fear.”
With that, he inclines his brow again, then steps back to take his place beside Rhodry and Samara.
Alroy speaks nothing of the sort, too far behind to be the voice of his House. Instead, he scans the crowd, searching for familiar faces, past the Salt Dog and the ones he accompanies.
“Yes,” Ser Quinlan admits to the Sand Dog’s remark. “But there is a third option. Dorne has little in the way of a fleet…. but the Iron Throne has a great one, and has reason to desire that the Stepstones be kept clear of pirates. It has been suggested by our emissaries in King’s Landing that King Baelor may be receptive to an offer to provide Lord Oakenfist and his fleet safe harborage and supplies while they drove out the pirates.”
He does not hestiate in what he says, even though the reaction from the court is immediately, obviously, negative to the idea of Alyn Velaryon making free with a fleet of ships after the havoc he caused at sea and even on the Greenblood during the Young Dragon’s conquest. But Ser Quinlan, it seems, is a pragmatic man. “It is, of course, a delicate matter.”
And the Sand Dog’s fine humour seems to vanish as quickly as that.
For a moment, he merely seems bemused. Then, the court’s react begins and grows louder. And Ser Laurent’s face tightens, eyes sharpening. He stares at the Lord Protector.
Then, he says deliberately, “A delicate matter indeed, my lord. The council will have to deliberate well on it.”
That, at least, makes Prince Rhodry scowl—he cannot affect indifference to the possibility of Dornish ports opening themselves to the Targaryen fleet. Indeed, he mutters a vulgar curse concerning Oakenfist and Baelor both, readily heard by those around him.
“It is the Lord Protector’s statement.” Alroy proclaims to Prince Cadan. “Mayhaps Ser Aidan can help us in that regard.”
But Ser Quinlan seems unphased by the obvious unpopularity. “Yes. We shall discuss in council, Ser Laurent,” the Lord Protector says, “to consider fully the options available to us and how best to make use of them.” And with that, he’s prepared to move on.
“If there is no other business before us, I will declare this session of the court concluded,” Ser Quinlan states, rising from his seat.
Living dangerously, Samara responds to the curse from Rhodry with a dryly spoken reminder, “Cheer up, at least it will fall to Lord Toland to be hospitable to anyone invited to help Dorne deal with the piracy problem. You will not even have to pretend to be polite.”
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