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Generally, the play of the young Dornish hostages is restrained to their own tower, and to the yards thereabout. Generally.
But tonight the denizens of the Guest Tower may have cause to complain—except, they wouldn’t, for the play is quiet, silent. Footsteps are light; conversations are whispered; and a handful of lithe forms dart in and out about the plants and benches and around the spire in the garden’s center whence fly the banners of those in residence—and above them all, the Targaryen dragon.
And one form, somewhat taller and lankier than the rest, sits in the middle with his back against that flagpole, one knee drawn up to his chest, the other leg stretched out before him. He seems to arbitrate as the others sneak from their various hiding places to tap the pole and run away again
Carmella had thought to spend a quiet evening atop the guest tower as it proves a perfect spot for star-gazing, not to mention a beautiful view of the keep, city and the lands beyond, even if they are blanketed in darkness at the moment. As is customary her guards linger near the door or take up residence on the internal hallway, leaving Carmella with some time for herself.
However, that does not seem to be the case this evening, as she finds the garden busy with activity, even if it is quiet. She smiles at the sight of the children at play and takes a few steps to approach them and then, upon spotting the lanky figure seated by the flagpole, she pauses.
“Good evening, Serion,” she greets quietly, her voice just a little on the timid side. Or is that nervousness?
The loudest of sounds from the group so far, and this is barely more than a whisper—but in comparison, it may well be a battle cry as Serion starts.
It is surprise—and it pauses the game, leaving the youngsters in their hiding places.
And the warmth in his tone seems to pause there as he struggles to find further words.
Someone—a girl’s voice—titters from a bed of jasmine.
Now *that* was unexpected. Carmella’s frozen like a hare being traced by a wolf, not moving an inch, save for her eyes that dart back and forth, from Serion to the sound in the jasmine.
“Good ...eve,” she repeats slowly, finally drawing in breath to speak. Considering their last real encounter (the meeting with the Prince aside), she is a mite wary at his sudden warmth. But she keeps her own tone polite, even a little warm as well. No use charging in on a sour note, not until one knows what is going on.
“I did not expect the garden to be so popular,” she goes on to say, taking a step or two closer. “But it sounds as if the children are enjoying themselves.” She looks back to Serion. “And you?”
Serion unfolds himself from the base of the flagpole, drawing himself first to one knee, then to his feet. It is a slow process, however—as though he has been sitting there some time, and the blood must flow again through stiffened muscle.
“I’m—I’m well,” he replies with barest hesitancy, and that perhaps explained by a cough in the jasmine’s direction. “We—there were people in the orchard,” he says suddenly—as though by way of explanation. And earnestly, as well.
“So we adjourned here. Do we interrupt? Perhaps it’s late. I should send them to bed and leave you…”
That earns a quiet chorus of “No!” from at least five distinct hiding places in the garden.
Carmella shakes her head, only realizing too late that it was a fruitless gesture. “No, please, it makes me happy to see the younger children having some fun.” Indeed, the chorus from the bushes and other hiding places draws laughter from the Dondarrion girl and she holds her hands up in mock-surrender.
“Even if I wished it, it seems I am outnumbered. Please continue at your play as ... people in the orchard.” There’s hesitation at that last part, it obviously doesn’t mean anything to her.
She glances to the sky where thousands of stars twinkle back at her and then she looks to Serion, her voice approaching apologetic. “We won’t even discuss dragons,” she says, “Celestial, dead, or otherwise.”
“People in the orchard?”
Serion seems equally uncertain as to the term—at least, for a moment. He laughs then.
“Oh no, oh no, m’lady—there were people milling about the orchard, else we’d have kept our play there. It’s a better place for it, truly—more places to hide. But this garden serves well enough, I think.”
“It does!” calls a boy’s voice from behind a potted bush.
Serion shrugs his agreement. “But you are welcome to join us—so long,” he adds more solemnly—but is it a mock solemnity? So hard to tell, with solemn Serion, “As there are no dragons, yes.”
Carmella can’t help it, she joins in with the laughter, though a moment or two after her mistake is explained to her. Then she laughs a pure, amused laugh that comes without any kind of reserve. “Well yes, I imagine that might make play difficult,” she says as the laughter begins to subside. The last deep breath she expels even has a touch of a giggle on it.
Pulling her cloak off from her shoulder she drapes it across a bench and then looks around, seeing more bushes than children. “So, what exactly are we playing,” she asks, for that much hasn’t really been answered yet. “And,” she says with matched solemnity, “No winged beasts of any sort.”
The Uller youth licks his lips cautiously as shades his eyes with a hand, as though to better see the children this way.
Or as though to see them at all.
“It’s not unlike your Come-Into-My-Castle, but more of a Stay-Out-Of-My-Castle. This—” he pats the pole, and the dragon—tonight’s forbidden beast—banner waves somewhat fiercer in the chill breeze, “Is to be defended. The…attackers…”
“Tyrells!” calls one young voice; “Lannisters!” another, and a third lisps, “Baratheonth!”
Serion’s smile takes a wry twist. “The attackers,” he reiterates, “Must tag the pole before the defender can say, ‘Enemy at my gate.’, and if he does, the castle is his, and he becomes defender.”
Carmella crosses her arms with a playful smirk on her face. “Tyrells, Lannisters, and Baratheons,” she says, quite amused. “It seems you all have made it quite a task for poor Serion here.” It’s all a joke, truly. “But I am going to guess that he’s kept a few of you out,” she says, eyeing the shrubbery.
She uncrosses her arms and looks back to Serion, still grinning. “So, good lord of Uller, shall I take on a house and attempt to sneak past your defenses, or do you require my assistance at the gate?”
“I’ve a horde of fearsome foes,” Serion replies mock-mournfully, drawing a giggle from behind the jasmine; but a youth’s voice belies that. “Stop talking, Serion.” he demands. “Let’s play! You can’t have the keep to yourself all night!”
Apparently he has kept more than one of them out, indeed.
“I shouldn’t mind your company at the gate,” the Uller says after a moment’s consideration—and where another might say it endearingly, his words bear more the weight of a tactical decision. “But that mightn’t be fair. Will you attempt to overthrow me?”
“And yet you’ve held them off well enough to keep this castle as your own,” Carmella notes, patting the flagpole, her eyes scanning skyward to note the Targaryen standard. Of course, this stalling keeps it in Serion’s hands even longer, but Carmella doesn’t point that out.
“Were I feeling a bit more malicious I might consider it,” She says to Serion while she looks down from the flag and out to the garden around them. “But no, I have no designs on tosses you out on your own. You’d be at the mercy of Tyrells, Lannisters, and Baratheons and then where would you be?” Her words come easy, as does the teasing. Any tension that might have been in that initial greeting is long since gone and she’s actually enjoying herself. A rare thing, lately.
Carmella glances around, looking for one of the enemy. “So, we sit here and wait for them to come to us?”
It mightn’t be fair, and Carmella’s decision to join Serion in the ‘castle’ draws from him a rare smile. He leans back against the pole, and if he had pockets, his hands would be in them; but they cross over his chest, instead.
“Very well; Lady of the Keep you shall be, but if they tease me for your presence, /you/ shall have to bear it too.”
Dark humor—but not ill humor—dances in his voice as he raises it.
“Alright, Tyrells! Lannisters! Baratheons! And the rest of you lot! Oust me, if you can!”
For a long moment—a very long moment—a long and dark moment…there is silence.
The faintest sound of gentle footsteps to Carmella’s left.
Carmella crosses her arms and makes an attempt to look stern, foreboding, and fearsome, all of which she most certainly is not. She watches the darkness of the garden around them for a moment until a question suddenly come upon her.
“Should I have my eyes closed?” Even as she asks it she quickly shuts her eyes and then turns her head towards Serion, opening one partway to watch him, a smile touching her stern expression and completely ruining the facade.
The sound of gentle footsteps catches her off guard and Carmella’s head quickly swings around. Forgetting her question and replacing it with eager enthusiasm she gleefully shouts, “Enemy at my gate!” She sounds almost childlike herself as she does so, the words touched with a girlish giggle.
Serion does not have his eyes closed, and that gives him pause—he blinks once, twice. “Oh,” he says almost sheepishly.
“Her eyes weren’t closed!” cries the ‘Tyrell’—he must be twelve or thirteen—with the argumentation of youth.
“Then try it again,” Serion replies dryly, and the boy skulks back into the darkness. And his answer to Carmella? A twisted smile. “Yes. Eyes closed. But you’ve the gist of it I think.”
And as he talks—inattentive?—a smaller, girlish figure creeps up near silently to his right.
Carmella blushes fiercely and slinks back a little, which might be more convincing if she wasn’t close to laughing. The smile alone isn’t helping. “Sorry,” she says and then repeats it, louder this time. “Sorry! I’ll close my eyes this time,” she promises to the hidden attackers as she moves back towards the pole. She firmly closes her eyes and crosses her arms, attempting that serious expression again, though she comes up short. It’s not something Carmella has the opportunity to do all that often, having fun that is, and she’s going to enjoy it without having to worry about appearances.
“Okay, I’m ready, do your worst!”
“Enemy at my gate.”
More a statement, almost a whisper, than a cry, Serion’s words repel the invader; but she slinks back into the darkness without contest, without reproach—with, in fact, a certain amount of dignity.
Does that make her the Lannister?
“Come—surely you can do better?” asks Serion of his youthful compatriots, but for a long time—a long and silent time—there is no sound.
And then: two forms, but with what seems only one set of footsteps, appear from opposite directions.
Carmella’s head swings towards the sound of Serion’s voice, and a little smile touches her lips as he catches the youth creeping up on him. But she quickly turns her head the other direction, eyes squeezed shut as she listens closely for some noise to alert her to an intruder’s presence.
“Do you think they all snuck out,” Carmella whispers in that lengthy silence where not a noise can be heard, save for the occasional flapping of the banners high above. But then she pauses, tilts her head and listens. But where’s it coming from? She turns her head in the direction she thinks the footsteps are approaching from and she smiles a bit more.
“Enemy at my gate!” The words come with some toned down enthusiasm, but not with the whisper used by her partner.
“A tricksy lot, they—”
Serion’s soft-whispered answer is interrupted by Carmella’s gleeful announcement—
—and by the metallic whisper of the pole bending, and not only in the breeze.
“You’re ousted,” comes a girl’s cheerful voice as she gives Serion’s middle a gentle shove away from the pole. “You had to say it twice for two of us, and now you’re ousted.”
“Are you still Lannister then?” comes the voice of the one caught by Carmella.
“Of course not,” the girl replies with a flick of her hair. “It shall be Sunspear, and I shall be Princess.”
And though Serion opens his mouth to protest—Carmella was new, or the strategem was unfair, or some other protest to lodge—she raises a hand, and he pauses with an open mouth.
“Of course, my princess,” says he ruefully, folding in a shallow bow. “I think,” he adds as an aside to Carmella, “We’ve been defeated by a sneaky little rat.”
Carmella finally opens her eyes and seems quite amused in their defeat, certainly it is the most well-received loss that any knight might have seen.
“What were you saying about them being tricksy?” Carmella looks to Serion and smirks a little while the boy and girl argue over who they will be. That only causes her to laugh some more.
“A princess of Sunspear,” Carmella notes as she drops into a little curtsey. “The surely we must show our respect.” She glances over to Serion and gives him a playful slap to the shoulder, encouraging him to bow, but he has already beaten him to it. She laughs and rises.
“So, now we are to hide among the shrubbery?” She looks to the newly-appointed princess and then to Serion.
“Now,” Serion agrees gamely, and with soft steps—but slow and cautious—he makes for the garden’s perimeter. Slow steps, indeed: slow enough that Carmella might take the lead. If she wished. “We hide among the shrubbery. And try to capture Sunspear. Perhaps—”
He cants his head toward Carmella, sightless eyes narrowing all the same, “Shall we be Lannisters? You can be Ser Jaesin, and I shall be Ser Jonn. You’re too nice to be him.”
Already as they talk, the ‘Princess’ whispers sharply, like a schoolteacher berating a student: “Enemy at my gate!” and the Baratheon skulks back.
Carmella finds some shrubs large enough to hide them, for they are larger than the children, and she crouches down behind one while placing a light hand on Serion’s arm to direct him to do likewise. It gives her a good view of the flagpole from this position, but it isn’t the flag or the princess she’s watching at the moment, it’s Serion.
“Play at being a Lannister,” she scoffs as if she’s been insulted. “You’re too nice to be Ser Jonn,” she adds, offering Serion a compliment in the oddest of ways. “Can’t I be what I am, a Dondarrion? Lightning does strike quickly you know and where you least expect it.”
It is a long moment’s in pondering, and the young Uller’s face screws up as he considers it. But finally, he opens his hands in admission: “Very well. You may be a Dondarrion. And I…”
He frowns—and then smiles almost wickedly. “I shall be the Dragonknight.”
And again, from the flagpole’s direction: “Enemy at my gate. You’re too loud, Blaise. It’s not even /hard/!”
“Not Blaise,” mutters the boy, skulking back to his shrub. “Ser /Garvys/.”
The laugh at the young boy’s claim comes upon Carmella so quick that she has to quickly cover her mouth to stifle it. With eyes wide she looks over at Serion and then chokes back the laugh so that she might speak properly and in a whisper.
“The Dragonknight you say?” Considering their earlier agreement of topics not to discuss she says that with more than a bit of skepticism but shrugs and seems to agree to it.
“Then I dub thee the Dragonknight,” she says, playfully tapping him on each shoulder before she turns back to study the flagpole. “It’s a good thing I didn’t wear my gold gown, it’s far too noisy,” she murmurs.
Serion confirms it—and there is a challenge in his eyes. Perhaps the rules have changed? He then holds his finger to his lips to indicate silence as he breaches the safety of the shrubbery.
One step. Two steps. How does he find the pole? Perhaps he follows the flapping of the banners in the breeze; but he makes a direct line for it, and his footsteps are all but inaudible.
Carmella stays where she is, watching Serion sneak out, silent as the dead, towards the pole. Perhaps she’s curious as to how well he’ll do, or maybe she’s just wondering how he does it at all. In any event, she remains behind the bush, a pretty wimpy bolt of lightning. Then again, she has the Dragonknight blindly advancing towards the flagpole, how can one compete with that?
And so the ‘Dragonknight’ proceeds, each step slow and measured, each step followed by a pause to ascertain his position, each step closer to the pole.
And when he’s but one step away, he reaches out an arm with long fingers stretched…
“Enemy at the gate. You lose, Serion.”
There is a certain delight in the girl’s voice as she crows her victory—but it is quickly mastered, and grace replaces it. “I should let Ser Garyn cut your head off, but since he’s not here, I suppose you may go.”
“A tough but fair princess,” Carmella says from her hiding spot, amused by the entire game that she rarely stops smiling. “You should be thankful that she has decided that you will live to breathe another day, Ser ... Dragonknight,” she corrects herself quickly, laughing all the while.
“Perhaps we should allow her to retain control of the castle, she seems the most able Princess, it would a shame for her to lose Sunspear.” If she’s relating any of that to the real life events of the conquest she doesn’t touch on that, but it could be inferred.
It draws a long breath from Serion, who hangs his head reluctantly. “Tough,” he agrees with Carmella’s assessment, “But fair. Very well. Let the Princess keep Sunspear this night, but…”
But he doesn’t finish. Instead he retreats a few steps until he stumbles over a bench, and there pauses. “Very well. Tonight, the Westerosi retreat—and the lot of you,” he says more seriously, “Retreat to bed.”
The Westerosi forces are, quite naturally, reluctant to leave Sunspear in the ‘Princess’s’ hands; and they express it quite vocally. But sooner than later, they emerge from their hiding places and file out of the garden.
Carmella emerges as well and walks over to where Serion has dropped himself, watching the children retreat back inside. No doubt there are going to be some very surprised Dondarrion guards in a moment or two.
“That was fun,” Carmella says, looking back to Serion. “Thank you for allowing me to play along, I quite enjoyed it.”
“They seemed to as well, which I think is even more important,” she goes on to say, once again looking towards the door where, surprise surprise, the Dondarrion knights are entering the garden to look for their charge. Carmella spots them and sighs. “I hope there is more opportunity for it. I don’t understand why children should be made prisoners, even honored ones.”
“Because their parents want them back.”
Bitter words—the first of the evening, but perhaps more true to Serion’s nature than any others he’s spoken so far. Even so, they don’t last long. He gives his head a rough shake as he pulls himself to his feet.
“It is the way of war. But,” his voice softens—or brightens? “It doesn’t mean all play must cease and we take our play seriously.”
A rueful smile tugs at his lips as he offers a hand to the girl. “Can I escort you to your guards?”
Carmella accepts the offer and refrains for talk that will put a damper on what was otherwise a delightful evening. “I would be delighted,” she says, slipping her arm through his so that her hand rests lightly on his arm.
The guards are given the prettiest of smiles, as if there was nothing amiss with her being on a darkened rooftop with one of the hostages at such an hour. She may have well been walking from the sept with her septa for as calm and unbothered she is.
When they reach her guards, who look not at all amused, she removes her arm and drops a little curtsey. “Thank you Serion for your company and the games, but I fear we must part here, for there are armed men here to escort me home.” The smile’s in her words and her tone is warm as she bids farewell.
Rueful still, the Uller youth offers a bland smile, though he ignores the guards. “And I have the lords and ladies of five mighty families. Good night, Carmella Dondarrion.”
And with that, he follows the sound of his charges down the stairs.
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