Night hangs heavy over the restless sea, and the moonless sky is a deep bruised black over blood-warm waters. At this hour many passengers have found their way to light and wine and cheer, or to their bunks for sleep. Not Ser Almer Connington.
The tall young knight stands alone and thoughtful, wrapped in his long griffin-embroidered cloak. Before him, somewhere off in the gloaming, are the crags and shores of the Stormlands, and the home he has not seen since the great bloody adventure in Dorne.
No sound breaks the stillness, save the whisper of wind in the sails and the mutter of waves on the Falcon’s bow.
Liane remains sitting cross-legged by the rail, quietly brushing her thumb over a spot in the wood where it appears a blade must have landed. Eventually, however, she draws out of her introspection, looking up to scan the deck once more. Noting another presence by the rail, she stands up quietly, brushing off her skirts and trying not stand out or look as though she popped out of nowhere.
Heavy footfalls mark the passage of someone down the center aisle of the ship. The sail hangs limp from the mast, stirring idly in breezes that mix the still air, as the tall figure bows in the darkness to avoid the boom.
The footfalls stop as they reach the aftdeck. Sillouetted before the drooping sail, a giant figure stands, his frame covered all in colors that drink in evening shadows. Only at his shoulder does a golden escutcheon gleam and upon it, the badge of Stormbreaker.
Connington catches the woman’s movement in the corner of his eye, and spares her a cursory glance. He hesitates, scowling faintly at the interruption of his solitude, then arches a brow in surprise. “Another of esteemed guests,” he murmurs. Then more audibly, and a trifle annoyed: “Which one are you, my lady?”
As Baratheon looms in the darkness, Almer nods curtly to his old mentor, but remains focused on the Dornishwoman.
Liane sighs quietly at the question, straightening her skirts and twisting her hair into a loose rope over her shoulder. Order restored, she looks up towards the man, giving her chin a slight tilt downwards and to the side. “Liane Uller, ser,” she offers in simple introduction. “And who might I have the pleasure of meeting?” she asks in an attempt at maintaining some shred of courtesy.
“He is Ser Almer, the puissant knight of Connington, good lady,” Sarmion’s voice booms loud in the heavy air, with a smile hidden by the darkness.
“Uller,” muses Almer, tapping his chin absently with a gloved forefinger. “Uller. Your arms are flames or somesuch. And one of yours called himself Hell-knight.” Though his eyes are cold and grey, icy, the tone of his voice is polite.
Connington motions to the Stormbreaker. “Ser Sarmion, this lady is kin to the Hell-knight, I believe. Do you know her?” He seems genuinely interested.
“My cousin Garyn was known as such,” Liane agrees. “As my cousin Utheryn was known as the Knight of Flame.” She looks towards Sarmion at Almer’s question, a weariness in her expression not quite hidden.
“We have met, Ser Almer,” Stormbreaker answers, “Often have she and I shared words.”
Looking at Connington, he asks, “Do you know this cousin of hers? I know that Lord Tyrell was encamped where her lands lie, along with the other fouler woman, who has been creeping about on deck, this Lanei Fowler.” His shadowy figure before the pale sail moves its massive shoulders in a shrug, “But I know little of this breed of Dornishman.”
Turning unseen eyes on Liane, he adds, “My nearer foes were those we faced upon the Boneway.”
“Liane Uller, betrothed to Ser Berec Yronwood who fell in the Carrion Wood.” Doran intones, his hands grabbing ahold of the rungs of the ladder that ascends from below deck. “I am disappointed, ser. You should know those that our side has widowed.” Doran removes himself from the ladder, stepping off to the side of the deck, and proceeding to brush himself off from the tight quarters the ship has provided.
“Stormbreaker.” Doran states coldly, inclining his head out of respect of the position the Baratheon holds in his household, rather than the man’s actual merit.
A grim laugh answers Doran, as Sarmion entones, “You will learn, friend Almer, that good Blackbolt is a pious chronicller of mourning.”
His chuckle deepens as he adds, “He heralds all the Dornish maids with the role call of those whom they have lost. I doubt little he means to make a ballad of it and woo them with their own tales of woe.”
Almer looks at Dondarrion as if he were a vaguely interesting piece of driftwood, then nods to Sarmion. “I am more concerned with our own widows. Don’t be concerned about Garyn Uller. If he lives up to his name, the Hell-knight will no doubt be quite comfortable where Prince Aemon sent him.”
He turns back to Liane and smiles mirthlessly. “No disrespect meant, of course.”
“I spent the war in Sunspear, with my uncle Ulwyn, who is master at arms there,” Liane adds in clarification, glancing towards Doran as he arrives. “This war has made too many widows for any one man to remember them all, and there were widows long before Westeros crossed into the sands.” Almer’s words are met with a sharp smile. “The fires of hell are always burning, and its inhabitants have time to wait.”
A grim laugh answers Doran, as Sarmion entones, “You will learn, friend Almer, that good Blackbolt is a pious chronicller of mourning.”
His chuckle deepens as he adds, “He heralds all the Dornish maids with the role call of those whom they have lost. I doubt little he means to make a ballad of it and woo them with their own tales of woe.”’
“Or perhaps it is because she was to be my cousin, before my own blood dampened the ground red.” Doran replies coldly, his brow furrowing as he examines Ser Sarmion Baratheon. Although not near the stature of the of the Stormlord, he does not shy. “One would be careful not to anger the dead, Stormbreaker, for of all things they are definitively patient.”
Doran’s emerald eyes turn now to Almer, sizing up the knight whom Sarmion favored so oft during the conquest, “I see you have done well to mimic your mentor, Ser Almer. It seems much of Westeros are filled with anger for a people we subjugated, instead of embraced as brothers. I’d have imagined a Connington to at least use his own mind, rather than the influence of others.” Doran’s tongue is quick, but still the sadness in his eyes seems to abolish any strength in his tone.
“The dead stay dead, poor Doran,” Stormbreaker says, his visage hidden by the night, “Whether they die on your blade or on others.”
Nodding his head toward Connington, Sarmion adds, “And I say rather he has not erred, though you may choose to mark his words with error. It is only wisdom to meet scorn with scorn, rather than hide ones eyes to it, and call it friendship, foolishly.” He scoffs.
“I bear no ill will toward this lady,” Almer shrugs diffidently. “And I do not begrudge her kindred for fighting for their Prince. It is Martell that should bear the blame, for if he had bent the knee earlier, none of this would have been necessary.”
Connington looks down at Doran with faint frown of distaste. “As for you, I do not recall seeing you at the Carrion Wood, or Godsgrace, or the Prince’s Pass. I do not know you, nor you me, else you would know I do not suffer fools. Take a piece of friendly advice, and pray do not presume to lecture me.” The warning is delivered almost warmly.
Nodding, a pensive furrow to his brow, Stormbreaker says, “You are right to say he was not there, ser. I kept him from the thickest of the fighting to spare his gentle sensibilities. He had slain his cousin after all, and I would not have it said he wanted to inherit his mother’s seat through homicide.”
Liane turns to the rail again to look out over the water with the long-suffering expression of someone who grew up around brothers and male cousins. Arms crossed loosely over her chest, she remains silent for the moment.
Doran’s eyes intensify the sadness therein at the mention of the Carrion Wood, “I was beside Ser Osbert Bettley when the Yronwood broke the van, and I watched with pained eyes, and blade in hand, as I cut down the host of my mother’s kin in what later would be known as the Carrion Wood.” Ser Doran states, his voice melancholy and filled with a droning of lines rehearsed a thousand times before. “Perhaps you do not know of me, Ser Almer.” Doran states, sizing up the knight as if he would draw blade as quick as his renown reflexes would give him, “Yet many in the Stormlands do. I am Ser Doran Dondarrion, called the Blackbolt by many, and the second son of Lord Manfred Dondarrion of Blackhaven. I will curb my tongue for Baratheon, as it is my duty to serve my liege lord, but a Dondarrion holds no servitude under a Connington. If you wish not a lecture, take your own friendly advice and do not belittle a knight who has already offended gods and man.” Doran’s voice is pained, but firm, an inner strength has entered his voice that reflects not in his face.
Suddenly, the Stormbreaker begins to laugh.
“If you seek pity, you could have come to no worse place,” Connington replies. His eyes gleam frosty in the shadows as Baratheon’s mirth explodes. “And if you seek absolution for your crimes, seek a septa. Or better yet, go find a gibbet and a tall tree, and do justice.” Almer’s voice, courteous until now, grows cold as his eyes. “If nothing else, learn to curb your dolorous tongue before someone less temperate than I does it for you.”
Liane rubs her fingertips at one temple, letting out a slow breath. “Were your camps like this the entire campaign?” she asks, turning to look with incredulity on the trio of men.
“No. The Dornishmen and I usually got on much better than this,” Almer replies.
Doran glances towards Ser Sarmion, his brow raising as he attempts to discern the evidence that caused the mirth. “Ser?” He intones, his own face contorting to that of confusion. Yet as Ser Almer speaks, Doran’s eyes are swift to take in the leader of the Dark Griffins. Doran’s lips part as if he were about to counter against the insult put forth by the Connington, but his mouth shuts swiftly at the voice from Liane Uller.
“Forgive me, my lady. My temperament received the best of me. I serve the Dragon first and foremost.” Doran replies, his eyes glancing sidelong to Almer as he adds his own statement.
“You are a formidable warrior, Ser Almer, and you are known by me through your success on the Boneway. Yet do not presume you can best the Blackbolt of Blackhaven, there are knights whom earned their spurs before you became squire, and many of them fell by my lance in the list. You are known, but in the Stormlands you are not favored as I.” Doran’s voice is quiet, almost as if he was afraid to speak, and he casts his eyes to the sea, searching for a salvation that will never find him. “We both have our crimes to atone for, but that in the end is for the Seven to decide.”
Wiping his eyes as his laughter subsides, Stormbreaker waves a staying hand, “Forgive me, ser. I do laugh to keep from weeping.” He wipes his eyes, then.
To Liane, he says, “Blackbolt is just like this, lady. Mournfully exploding into the night like a sad crack of thunder far out to sea.” As if mirroring his words, there is a flash of lighting on the horizon quickly smothered up in the lowering darkness.
The tall young knight with the dancing griffins on his jerkin subtly shakes his head at Doran’s petulant retort. Almer runs a hand through his short blond hair, and as the light crackles in the heavens, his hard features are briefly illuminated.
There is pity on them after all.
Liane looks between the men again, looking rather disillusioned. While the words are unsaid, ‘I can’t believe we lost to this’ seems to be writ across her features before she scrubs a hand slowly over her face. Speachless.
To Ser Sarmion does the Blackbolt now look to, his eyes filled with a sadness that it is almost painful to witness, “My uncle loved you as a brother, Stormbreaker, and out of love for him I try to find a heart in your giant form. I avenged him, your friend, on the Boneway. For my iron justice, a justice I thought you would respect and understand, I have been cursed by gods and men. Yet still you seek to mock me.” Doran’s voice is soft and meek, his sadness returning as his temperament dies.
Doran’s eyes turn to Almer, in which he offers a small nod of respect, “Ser Almer, I apologize that our first formal meeting was not as pleasant as I’d like it to have been.” A weak smile is offered to the Connington, before lastly Doran turns to Liane.
“You are as beautiful as always, my lady, I apologize if I took away from your radiance.” A final nod is offered to the Uller, before Doran once again turns from the gathered group and begins to descend the ladder below decks.
Hidden in darkness, Sarmion’s visage is unknowable, but he says nothing as Doran returns below deck.
Looking at Almer, he offers, “Well, that was pleasant company. You’re lucky, you didn’t get to know him before he turned all sour and melancholy.”
“It’s actually an improvement,” Stormbreaker adds.
Liane looks after Doran, clearly more than a little bewildered now. “Good evening, ser,” she manages to say politely, though she stays back by the rail, trying to make sense of the whole scene.
Almer laughs. “Was he drunk?” the young man asks Sarmion curiously. “Or mad from the sun? After the first week in the Boneway, one of my riders called White Wat was so heat-addled that he imagined he was the High Septon and tried to chastise us for our sinful whoring ways.”
Connington looks at Lady Liane bemusedly. “He was the worst whoremonger of the lot,” he adds wickedly, by way of explanation. “But I’m sure no Uller lady would touch him. He was poxy, you know.”
“I really couldn’t venture what his problem is,” Sarmion says, “I left him in his uncle’s charge, but when his uncle died, he did no better by it.”
Looking on Liane, he adds, “You must hold some significance to his morbid fancies, lady.”
“Who, the Blackbolt or your White Wat?” Liane asks of Almer with a faint frown before shaking her head to Sarmion. “He was at Carrion Woods, where my betrothed was slain. He says it’s Ser Osbert Bettley who claims Berec’s death, and if he was at Bettley’s side, no doubt he witnessed it.”
“White Wat. I would have arranged for you to meet Wat, Lady Liane. But you see, Wat was at the Carrion Wood too. The Yronwoods put an axe through his pate. Mayhap it was your betrothed that did it.” Almer Connington’s voice is brittle and emotionless. “You would have liked old Wat, I think. Most people did.”
He wraps his griffin cloak tight about him, nods to Ser Sarmion, and without another word, walks off into the darkness.
“All that lives must die,” Stormbreaker says, almost to himself. His voice is deep and toneless. Saying no more, he steps past Liane, still seated on the floor, the corner of his black cloak snapping over her head.
Into the shadows of the aftcastle he enters. A door is heard to open and to close.
And the storms pass again. Suitably exhausted now, and with plenty to think about, Liane returns belowdecks to find her rest.