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It was a journey of darkness since they first wrapped Pennei in the carpet and began their jarring journey to gods knows where. Much of it passed like a dream with muffled voices in Valaryian and Westerosi sounding just beyond hearing. At some point the carpet was removed, and Pennei’s hands were bound and she was blindfolded. Though now those too are gone and she lays on a pile of hay in the dim morning light. There is the smell of wood smoke and the sound of birds and the rustle of the wind through the hovel and again the sound of voices though like the ones heard on the journey they are hushed and distant.
Pennei stirs, as the effects of the dreamwine slowly leave her body. She tries to open her eyes, then her limbs. Disorientated, she isn’t sure where she is or how she came to be here. Realization and fear dawns a moment later and her blue eyes fly open. She tries to sit up, but a wave of dizziness and nausea makes her think twice of changing position too quickly. She tries again, slower this time, and waits until the nausea passes before looking around her surroundings.
The dim light filtering from beneath the hides draped over the doorway shows Pennei an odd shaped little hut, that is half lean-to than any better built construction. A tree stands as its main support, the rest of it built by hammering planks and whatever else could be found to its trunk and branches. The place looks lived in however, there is a fire pit, that has smoldered down to ember, some blankets and other meager possessions as well as a selection of herbs and a hare, hanging from one of the lower branches of the tree. In one corner of the hovel, a form sits slumped and bound in a oil skin cloak, snoring softly, every so often his head moves into the light revealing a fringe of green hued hair.
Once Pennei feels she’s able, she starts to inch over the straw toward the opening of the hovel, looking to peer outside. She casts furative glances at her sleeping, green-haired guard, trying to be as quiet as possible.
As Pennei draws closer to the door, and thus the guard, he proves not to be a guard at all, but Allaro. Beyond the hides, she can just make out a campfire and the bottoms and doorways of a few other little structures like this one. She can also see the heel of a boot just beyond the hides. It shifts, suggesting there might be at least one guard outside.
In his corner Allaro snorts and shifts as he might before he wakes.
Pennei looks at Allaro, her mentor, her companion for years. She looks at him and struggles with the urge to cry or to beat him over the head with a rock. The presence of someone outside her hovel means that escape isn’t possible right now. Even if she cracked the older Tyroshi man with a stone, she’d never escape the guards outside. So instead, she sits and waits.
As it turns out the gods are kind. Beyond the door someone calls out in Valaryian. “Come get their dinner.”
The man by the door spits and says something foul, then the boot vanishes from the doorway and the tent is silent but for Allaro’s snoring and the sounds of the camp outside.
When the guard moves away, Pennei attempts to get a better look outside, by the opening. Carefully, quietly as she can, she tries the door to see if it is barred.
The door is but a flap of hides draped over the opening in the hovel, and so is easily pushed aside. Beyond it is a clearing about the size of the training yard of the Red Keep, dotted with tents and hovels. About a hundred feet from the hovel is the main fire pit where a number of men tended by women and eat what must be their dinner, as the carcass of a deer roasts above the fire. The man Pennei knows as Roldo is making his way towards them where a woman waits with a bit of meat and some simple cups.
Pennei can only gape for a moment. Whatever she was expecting, it was not an idyllic village scene tucked in the woods. There are too many people to risk trying to run away now; obviously she would be recognized. So she carefully replaces the flap and stays inside, trying to think of what to do.
Silence reigns for a few more moments before the sound of a man whistling can be heard from outside the tent. “Wake up love birds,” calls out Roldo as the sound of his boots come into Pennei’s hearing. “Time to have your bloody supper.”
Pennei might have tried to feign unconsciousness, but the sudden scuff of Roldo’s boots and his call provoke a quick gasp of fear. She scuttles back from the door quickly, eyes wide.
Allaro starts and blinks in the gloom of the hovel, trying to gain his bearings when Roldo’s boot sweeps aside the hide covering of the door and the man ducks inside. He’s dressed in simple boiled leathers, with a Waterdancer’s blade tucked into his belt, and is balancing two cups and two bowls in his hands. He pauses in the doorway for a moment before he bursts out laughing. “You sure you like women?” he asks Allaro. “Sitting over there while she’s sleeping like she was.” He shakes his head. “Wasted opportunity seems to me.”
He crouches to set down the food. “Enjoy,” he says mockingly before he turns and leaves both teacher and student alone again.
Allaro looks over at Pennei with guilty eyes and is at a loss for words for a moment before he beckons her over and says. “Come eat.”
Pennei flinches away from Roldo when he enters, pulling her knees to her chest and watching him warily from beneath the disheveled cloak of her blue-black hair. She says nothing until he has left (but notes that he is now wearing sturdy boots instead of soft slippers.) Those same wary eyes flick over to her tutor, but she doesn’t move when he beckons her. “Allaro, what have you done?” she asks softly.
The painter drinks slowly from his cup before he sets it down again. He’s sober today, his robin’s egg eyes clear and focused though he is shorn of his beard, and roughly too for all the red skin and cuts on his cheeks. He moves closer bringing the food with him. “I am saving you poppet,” he says imploring her belief. “Taking you to the Free Cities away from this place with its Motherhouses and its plots.”
“I don’t need to be saved.” Pennei says slowly, “I have a good husband who lets me paint as I will. I will go to no motherhouse. I can be happy now. What are you trying to save me from?”
Allaro chews his lip. “Luthor was not the man he pretended to be,” he says after a moment. “If you have doubts you should ask Quenan and Roldo, they knew him from Dorne. From Vaith,” he lets the name of the place sink in. “The sort of man who would have done anything for a title. Including marry a scarred maiden he despised to get closer to her family.” He drinks again, and when the cup comes up empty he gives it a betrayed look. “I only learned of this recently, or I would have warned you sooner,” he stares into the empty cup his fine fingers circling the rim. “Anyhow, it makes no matter now, he is gone.”
“Gone?” Pennei asks, voice raising. “What do you mean, ‘gone’?” The words he speaks to her hurt, nagging at her own insecurities and fears… of which Allaro himself knows well. She leaves those for the moment, however. “What did you do to him?”
Allaro takes a long breath and looks up to meet Pennei’s gaze. “We did not plan for harm to come to him. We were just going to sail to the Free Cities and leave him wondering. But, he followed us into the Wood. Before we reached here, the bandits found him. The Warden, alone in the Kingswood. He is gone.”
Pennei’s face goes deathly pale and her wide blue eyes fill with tears. “No… no.” She whispers, shaking her head. Her shoulders begin to tremble with repressed sobs.
Allaro makes his way to Pennei’s side, putting down the cup. Carefully he puts his hands on her shoulders trying to offer comfort. “I am afraid so, sweetling. Whatever his faults, I am told he fought bravely at the end.”
Pennei roughly pushes away Allaro’s comforting arm. “He wouldn’t have died if not for you!” She cries bitterly. “And what is to become of us now? What -have- you done?”
“No, no, no,” says Allaro as he lets his arm be pushed away. “The bandits are clever, they have men in the castle already, ones close to Luthor. If they had not done what they did last night, it would have happened soon and I could not be ready to take you away.” He rubs his hands together. “And do not fear, I am not without friends. A prince across the Narrow Sea has called on me to come paint for him, we shall go there, and be free,” he tries to paint a bright face on it with his tone though he does not meet Pennei’s eyes.
Pennei shakes her head, “You are in here with me, not out there with them.” Tears roll down her cheeks. “You have no sway over them at all. Whatever you planned, you don’t know if that will happen just so.”
Allaro shakes his head. “I can leave my sweetling, but I stayed here for you. So that men like Roldo cannot do what they would wish with you,” he says. “You will see, all will go according to my plan and we will be safe in Tyrosh.”
Pennei looks away when Allaro mentions Roldo. She pulls her knees up to her chest. “I want to go home.” The last word breaks off and she lowers her head against her drawn-up knees, shuddering with both fear and grief.
“There is nothing there for you Pennei,” Allaro says with a sad shake of his head. “How pleased will your grandfather be with you for losing him another match? Luthor’s widow or no, the Smallwoods will take back their lands they gave Luthor, and not fight for you if your grandfather should take back what he gave as well,” he tries to touch her shoulder again. “Myself and Tycella are your only family Pennei, and Tyrosh your only home. The sooner you understand this, the easier all this will be.”
“No.. you stole me, Allaro. You led me to them and I trusted you. And now Luthor is dead. And here we are, in the middle of this place. With them.” Pennei’s voice is muffled. “What is to become of me, Allaro? Tell me the truth.”
Allaro lets out a breath. “See it how you will Pennei, but I’ve done all of this with your best interests in mind,” he says again his eyes don’t seek hers. “You will serve me in Tyrosh as my assistant, it will be much like how it was here, just… we shall be free to paint more than portraits of vain noblewomen and these gods of yours. Together we will serve the merchant prince, and when asked paint for him,” another breath. “Until then however I have told the men here that I am besotted with you, and that is the reason why they had to take you at such risk. It would be best for us both if that illusion was maintained.”
Pennei lifts her head to look at Allaro. She doesn’t believe him and that is clear from her expression. “Then how did we come to be with these people?”
“They are servants of the Prince, smugglers and sellswords,” Allaro says keeping his voice hushed so it cannot be heard beyond the hovel. “They were here to bring me to him and to bring you as well, since I stated you were so important to me.”
“I don’t want to go, Allaro. Go back to Tyrosh if this merchant prince wants you to paint for him, but let me stay here.” Pennei watches him carefully, with tearful eyes. This story gets stranger and stranger. Why would a merchant prince risk irritating the Iron Throne by kidnapping a noblewoman on the streets, just to appease an artist?
Allaro shakes his head. “I can’t now. The deed has been done,” he says still not meeting her gaze. “I hoped you would be happy, but…” he makes a face and bites down on his words. “It’s done,” he says. “You can’t go back.”
“You expected I’d be -happy-?” Pennei’s expression is one of incredulity. “You expect that I will swallow a tale that a merchant prince of Tyrosh will have a highborn woman kidnapped on the streets of King’s Landing and brought abroad in a rolled up carpet just because an artist he would retain is supposedly smitten? Even the slavers that plague the ships are not so bold!” She stops suddenly and her eyes narrow at him.
“Not so loud!” Allaro hisses his eyes growing wide. Then wider still. “It is the truth,” he protests in a whisper still trying to cling to the webs of his lie that are quickly dissolving around him.
“Why have you brought me here, Allaro, and tell me the truth.” Pennei is no longer asking, she is commanding. “And where is Tycella? Why is she not here?”
The painter looks away for a moment running his hand through his green curls before looking back at her, his face one of defeat. “They are not here for me,” he admits. “They are here for you. I am only here to manage you, to keep you calm. This is all to be blamed on the bandits you see. Taking revenge on Luthor.”
“For me?” Pennei is shocked by that admission. It makes no sense to her. “What is supposed to happen, Allaro. Why me? I’ve done nothing to these people.” Her head is swimming now.
It’s out now and can’t be taken back. He grits out the words like they cause him pain just to voice them. “They want you for your painting.”
Pennei can only gape at Allaro, stunned. “My… my -painting-?” she blinks owlishly. “Who does? Why?”
“The merchant Prince, I sent him some of your works, he,” Allaro pauses to wet his lips. “He liked your work and wanted you for his court. I planned for us to go willingly, but then, the bastard courted you,” the man’s jaw clenches as he says this last. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
“If he wants me for his court, then I can refuse.” Pennei says slowly, still digesting this. “But I do not think he would accept a refusal, if he spent coin on men and a ship.” There is a long pause, “Where is Tycella?” she asks again.
“No,” Allaro says. “He will not take a refusal.” Then it’s his turn to pause. “She is with the ship. I sent her to collect your paintings.” His tone suggests he is trying to lie again.
“So I am not a guest, but a prisoner.” Pennei reasons, with only the slightest tremor in her voice. “Why is Tycella with the ship and we are here?” There is a pause, “And how much did the two of you get for me, from this merchant prince?”
“The way to the ship was thick with goldcloaks, a girl with paintings would not be stopped, but we could not risk them looking inside the carpet,” Allaro says trying his best to meet Pennei’s eyes. “That is why she is with the ship. As to the amount, it is no matter. It would be crass to speak of it.”
“Tell her,” says a voice from the entrance, as the hide moves to admit the red haired man with scars.
Allaro glances back and licks his lips. “B-but,” he begins but the man’s level gaze cows him. “Near to a hundred dragons, and, a place at his court for myself as well.”
Pennei’s eyes move swiftly to the doorway, when the intimidating red haired man enters. She pulls her knees back up to her chest, a reflexive move of protection. “What… and what is your part in this?” She asks him, very quietly.
The man looks at Allaro like the painter is something that ought to be scraped from his boot and the Tyroshi moves aside. He crouches then and samples some of the food meant for the painter. As he licks his fingers he finally gives heed to Pennei’s question. “I’m your protection,” he answers he shows his teeth in something like a smile. “There are bad men about.”
Pennei raises both brows, wondering if the powerful-looking Tyroshi should be considered chief among these bad men. But her courage fails her and she doesn’t give voice to those thoughts. Instead she asks, “Who are you? And will you tell me true, what is to happen to me?” Allaro, for the moment, she ignores.
“I am Quenan of Tyrosh, of old a companion of your husband. Now a man with a purse he needs to fill,” he says easily crouching comfortably in the hovel. He’s unarmed but for a dagger though he’s dressed in boiled leather and scalemail covered with strange foreign marks. The scales clink as he settles. “You will be taken to a ship, then taken to Tyrosh where you will paint for my employer.”
“Did Allaro speak the truth? Is my husband dead?” Pennei tries to keep her voice low and even, but her eyes regard the other intently.
The man spits out some gristle into the embers of the fire and meets Pennei’s gaze. “Not yet,” he answers. “The bandits plan to do for him though.”
Pennei gives Allaro a sharp glare, out of the corner of her eye. Liar. “Will you find somewhere else to put this one? I have difficulty enduring him in my presence.”
Quenan looks amused as he glances over at Allaro. “He does not calm you as he promised he would?” he asks clearly knowing the answer. “What purpose then will he serve?” he asks his hand resting idly upon the hilt of his dagger. Allaro goes pale and gives Pennei a pleading look.
“When my husband rescues me, he will drag this one behind his horse, all the way to King’s Landing to face judgment.” Pennei replies evenly, folding her hands in her lap.
“It would almost be worth defeat to see this tub of suet quiver before your King’s iron seat,” Quenan chuckles, and jerks his head for Allaro to leave. The artist has never moved so fast in his life, and before long the hide is swinging with the haste of his departure. Quenan snorts and looks back to Pennei. “Sadly though, such will not happen. Perhaps my employer can have him dragged behind a zorse if it would please you.”
“Your employer will not pay him his promised fortune?” Pennei inquires, “A hundred gold dragons for one apprentice artist. It seems a very generous sum, especially considering the trouble and cost of acquisition.”
“Perhaps,” Quenan answers. “But this was supposed to be much simpler. Someone must be blamed.” He finishes off Allaro’s food in a couple of quick bites. “Apprentice artist? Hmm, you had better be more than that, my employer sent me for a master to outshine Elvar of Myr.”
“Elvar of Myr? He is said to be a splendid artist. Your employer must have either great faith in my work or very poor eyesight, if it is true that Allaro sent him my work.” Pennei pauses, “Perhaps that is true.”
The Tyroshi sets down the bowl and wipes his hands on his pants. When he’s finished he looks at Pennei and shrugs. “One scribble is much like the other to me. As are the scribblers, but my employer will be wroth if you are not the artist Allaro promised.” He looks as though the whole thing amuses him. “Mayhaps we will yet see him pulled to death by a zorse.”
“Wroth with me as well, for not being what was promised.” Pennei reasons, face paling some at the thought. “I think your protection will be of little help to me. Nor would he likely send me back to King’s Landing.” She looks at her hands for a moment, then tightens her jaw. “Tis fortunate that my husband will come soon and put an end to this.” Yes, we are sticking to that story.
“My protection ends once delivery is made. What my employer does with you then is not of my concern,” the sellsword says plainly, though by his look what might be done is likely not to be pleasant. “And do not put much faith in the Prince of Wine. Unless you have a castle hidden in your gown, I doubt he will give much notice of your absence.”
The girl dwells on the sellsword’s words for a moment, what was said and unsaid. Her hands start to shake, so she clasps them together, as if taken with a sudden chill. “The Prince of Wine?” she asks, if only to change the subject for a moment.
Quenan takes no note of her fear. What he said was simple fact. When she asks about the name he answers. “Your husband. That is what we called him in the Banners. He drank wine like his father bedded virgins,” he chuckles. “An amusing man, but grasping and feckless.”
“I’ve never seen him drink more wine than any other man,” Pennei muses. “But in such company, in such a place, one might not blame him if he did. You can ask him when he comes.”
Quenan chuckles again. “He’s found a loyal one in you, has he?” the sellsword says with an arched brow. “And your man is just as loyal?” he asks.
“You will see.” Pennei promises, affecting to look past him at the door flap, as if expecting Ser Luthor Rivers to burst in at any moment. Presently, she asks, “What sort of reception would I have in Tyrosh? What man do you serve?”
The flap remains where it is though the intensity of Pennei’s gaze does make Quenan look back as well. He shakes his head and looks back. “Makes no matter, if the bandits get to him, he will be dead, and if he makes it to me he will be the same,” he says without a hint of boastfulness, again just stating facts. “As for Tyrosh, if you are what Allaro promises, you will be in my employers manse near the Archon’s palace in the rooms near his concubines where his best slaves are kept. As for who he is, I will leave it to him to make introductions. He is fond of ripping out tounges he finds too loose.”
Pennei shudders, in spite of herself, hugging her knees to her chest once more. “Slavery is forbidden in Westeros, by our gods.” She murmurs, perhaps rhetorically. Of course she won’t be -in- Westeros and out of the reach of her gods. Her tone is soft, almost plaintive. “I wouldn’t know what to do or how to survive that.”
“Your seven false gods and their laws have no place in Tyrosh,” Quenan says sternly something like emotion stirring for once in the man’s eyes. “As to your survival, I hear a slave’s life is easy. All you must do is obey.” He straightens then, though he must still bow his head to keep from hitting it against the roof of the hovel.
Pennei’s eyes snap back to Quenan, at the first real expression of emotion. “Simple, perhaps.” The girl allows, “But not easy.”
The sellsword allows a nod, easily done in the tight confines of the hovel with his head already bowed. “Perhaps,” he says. “The same will be expected of you on this journey, obedience will be your only purpose.”
Pennei is quiet again for a moment. “Might I have some water to wash?” She asks meekly, evidentally deciding that obedience is the wisest course for now. All the better to stay alive until Luthor comes to save her. Which will be any moment, she tells herself.
Quenan nods. “I’ll have your tutor fetch it,” he says then kicking her food towards her. “Eat though. We move in the morning and I’ll not deliver skin and bones to my employer.” With that
Quenan moves towards the door but before he ducks out he pauses and looks back. “So you know, if you try to escape, we will find you and I shall set Roldo to guarding you from inside your hut.” He ducks under the door beam and vanishes with the flapping of the hides. Beyond them Roldo stands his watch snickering.
Pennei doesn’t doubt that and she shudders anew at Roldo’s chuckling. She doesn’t doubt Quenan’s promise, or his ability to find her if she ran. So instead, she waits for the water and washing supplies. A woman to help her would be nice, but she doesn’t ask for that.
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