Scratching away at a parchment with a quill, Prince Viserys is, as usual, at work with the Hand’s business when a visitor is ushered in. Glancing up at the tall presence who darkens his doorway, he offers a brief but cordial, “Good morning, Ser Sarmion. I thank for coming when asked.” *scratch scratch scratch* goes the quill, and then he sets it in its inkwell to heat up some wax.
Scratching away at a parchment with a quill, Prince Viserys is, as usual, at work with the Hand’s business when a visitor is ushered in. Glancing up at the tall presence who darkens his doorway, he offers a brief but cordial, “Good morning, Ser Sarmion. I thank you for coming when asked.” *scratch scratch scratch* goes the quill, and then he sets it in its inkwell to heat up some wax.
Grinning, the Stormbreaker watches the flunky bow out the door. The giant knight bows low before the Hand. As he rises to his full height, his deep voice booming into the close space between him and the Prince, “Good morning, your Grace!”
Looking at the parchment, his dark visage still tinged with the mark of humor, he asks, “How may a humble soldier serve you?”
Black wax is poured onto the parchment, and then a heavy seal is taken up bearing the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen. Pressing it into the wax, Viserys sets the royal mark upon it, and then sets both parchment and seal aside. “Need you ask, ser? Two days ago, it was required of Ser Richard to see to matters in the outer ward,” the prince says rather bluntly. “I am well aware of much of what happened. I need only hear from you what you will do about it.” Purple eyes beneath pale, bushy brows look at the Stormbreaker with a cool, impersonal regard; the Hand is a man of calculation, at least on this matter.
Confusion lines the brow of the large Baratheon knight, crossing his arms before his chest. Sarmion asks, “Do, your Grace? I have recanted my words in full view of the public.” Frowning, he continues, “I do not know what else you would have me do, unless you would like me to grant the Dondarrion his request to answer for it with arms.”
Shaking his head, the Stormbreaker adds, “But I do not see how the realm might profit from that boy’s death.”
“For some reason, ser,” responds the Hand, “Ser Richard gave it to me—and Preston Wayn has confirmed—that your apology, such as it was, has been largely forgotten in the castle. It’s on the lips of too many men and women, your mutual insults and waving swords.” He pauses, glances about the parchment-strewn desk, and drags one nearer to himself as he adds, “Were you aware, Ser Sarmion, that a Dornishman witnessed this ... affair?”
Puzzled, the Stormbreaker bows forward and with a lowered voice asks, “Would you like me to kill the Dornishman, your Grace?”
His brow furrows seriously as he seems to think it through aloud, “I know that he has given some oath to the King and I saw them all reaffirm it before you at the River Gate…” After a pause, he rises to his full height, “But if it would please you, your Grace, I shall do it.”
That response gets a heavy, but utterly unsurprised look, from the Hand of the King. “No. He is under the king’s protection, and mine own. But you must know, ser, that these Dornishmen speak much with one another. It follows that all of our hostages are now well aware of this matter.” A long pause follows, as he pushes the parchment away, and then speaks frankly to the huge Baratheon knight. “Just now, they have no contact with their kin. On the king’s return, I imagine His Grace shall think it a kindness to give them access to couriers and ravens. And then, ser? Shall all of Dorne learn that scions of House Baratheon and House Dondarrion, heroes of Daeron’s war, now fight among themselves, and that other lords and ladies take sides?”
A beat, and then he shakes his head. “No. No, ser, it will not do.”
Again, the puzzled look returns, “Your Grace, I do not understand. There is no fight between myself and House Dondarrion.” The Stormbreaker’s brow arches and he looks to the side pensively, “There were things attributed to the boy that I demanded an answer for. Granted, my rage bested me—which is a failing, your Grace, I know.”
He shrugs his massive shoulders, finally, saying, “But having taken his measure, I know there is no way he could’ve been capable of any of them.”
Bowing, Sarmion concludes, “That is why I recanted my words. How else can I make amends, Your Grace? Shall I broker a marriage between his house and his? I know not how else to make a Dornishman see except to blind him.”
“No doubt Lord Manfred would be honored by the suggestion,” the Hand says, voice bland and unaffected by the casual brutalities in the Stormbreaker’s speech. “But no, ser, I will not ask it of you. It is rumors now that we must deal with, before they grow overmuch.” a finger taps at the desk a few times, and then the prince shifts in his seat and moves to take up the inkwell again. “You are aware that I will be holding public court tomorrow, yes?”
Frowning, Sarmion nods. “Yes, your Grace,” he says hesitantly.
“Then I expect you shall attend,” the prince says, quill in one hand and a parchment being dragged before him with another. “After all, among the business will be some small honors to be given to the king’s favorites from his war.” He searches the parchment and then reads, “‘To Ser Sarmion Baratheon, the offer of the wardenship of the Kingswood, until such time as I see good.’” A purple-eyed glance up, and then he remarks, “For some reason, His Grace thinks you shall be particularly well-suited to dealing with poachers. And outlaws, no doubt—with the war done and some of our soldiers finding themselves poorer now than when they left, one must expect some broken men and bandits.”
Bowing, Sarmion answers, “I have tried to serve His Grace and my Lord brother upon the Marches in that same role, Your Grace.”
Rising, he exhales a pent up breath, “But those I faced upon the Marches were Dornish reavers. I shall educate the men who follow me as warden in the difference, your Grace, and spare as many of the poor fools as can be spared.” Stoically, the Stormbreaker adds, “The Wall still needs men.”
An arch of a brow and Viserys says, “Indeed? Well, it is a thought. I am sure you will make good use of the extra incomes, no doubt, and take pleasure in the hunting rights that come with them.” He glances again at the parchment and then adds, “Of course, Ser Doran is mentioned here as well. Which means you two stormlords shall be standing before the gathered court to receive these rewards, if I so choose.” Setting down the quill, he leans back in the high-backed chair, and now his eyes narrow. Shrewdly, he asks, “Ser, let us say you are both before the court. Will you embrace Ser Doran as a brother-in-arms? Because it seems to me, ‘until such time as I see good,’ can be a very brief time indeed, if the king’s warden does not do as is best for the realm.”
“I do not understand, your Grace,” Sarmion says, shaking his head.
“The Dondarrion knight was under my command as one of the King’s outriders. You would raise him to command as well, your Grace?” Raising a brow, the Baratheon knight looks off in the distance for a moment. Finally, he says, “I do not understand, your Grace.”
Shaking his head, the Stormbreaker looks on the Hand expectantly.
“He is merely being rewarded for his part, ser. King Daeron is quite pleased with Blackhaven’s part in this war, and that of their Blackbolt,” is the Hand’s reply. “But you are both brothers in arms, are you not? The brotherhood of knighthood. So, again, would you embrace before the court, to put to rest the rumors?”
The question does not hang long in the air before Viserys adds bluntly, “Understand, ser. If this matter continues between you both—which you indicate it will not, and he indicates it likely will—then I do not greatly care… so long as it happens outside the walls of the city. If you one day quarrel while hunting in the kingswood, or you both seek out the Jousting Lord to provide a place for a duel, it is all one to me. But there must be a show of ... unity, here, now. An embrace shall be sufficient.”
“Your Grace,” Sarmion offers, “He is a knight, no one can gainsay that.”
Shaking his head, the Baratheon knight says, “But he is not my brother, your Grace.” Frowning pensively, he adds, “He has a sister, your Grace, were I to take her hand in marriage, I would be his brother in a way, then.”
His brow furrowed, the Stormbreaker shrugs, “Is that what you are talking about, your Grace? I’m afraid your point eludes me.”
The Hand taps the point of his quill against the desk a few times, and finally he shakes his head. “All you need understand, ser, is this: it is the desire of the King’s Hand that you and Ser Doran embrace before the court, so that rumors of your quarrel will be forgotten. If you feel that this is against your own honor, so be it, and I will not ask it of you.” And then he leans forward, this Targaryen prince who is more courtier and bureaucrat than warrior, and says, “But then the wardenship will pass to another before two months have passed, I assure you.”
“As it please your Grace,” Sarmion says, confusion still writ large upon his face.
Bowing, he takes a step back, a jest in his tone, “But if your Grace desires he and I to stand as equals…” Smirking, the Baratheon knight leaves the rest unvoiced, his eyes hooded.
“He would not stand as your equal even were you upon your knees, ser,” Viserys retorts, impatience in his voice. At last he gestures with the quill, motioning the giant knight to the door. “Go, if you will go. I have other matters to attend to. Or stay, if by staying you offer a means to help put to an end these rumors. I do not care what your relation to Blackbolt, only that the tongues stop wagging so that such troubles do not reach the ears of the king—or of Dorne, for that matter.”
Laughing, Sarmion bows, “Your Grace, I was about to say you would need to bring a footstool for him.”
Rising to his full height once more, the Baratheon only says, “I could not say how best to quell these rumors, your Grace. You say that Ser Doran has not forgiven me, well, for that I am sorry, for he seems bent upon breaking himself against me.” He raises his hands evenly, adding, “I do not want that, despite all that may be thought of me. His death will not make me stronger, or the Boneway safer, your Grace.” Nodding to himself, then, he adds, “He may in time bring himself those honors that he eyes so covetously, your Grace.”
Turning for the door, the giant figure says,” I fear his own avarice and the company he seeks will bring him low once more, but I have given him what lesson that I might.”
“Very well, ser,” the Hand states. “I will remember what you have said, and think on it.” And with that, he calls for one of his guards to open the door for the Stormbreaker, before turning his attention back to the parchments strewn across his great desk.
“My lord Hand,” says an attendant. “Ser Almer Connington to see you.”
That selfsame young knight, clad in sparkling livery of red and white griffins, can be seen standing outside as the door to the chambers opens at the Prince’s bidding.
“Farewell, your Grace,” the Baratheon says, facing the open door, “I shall attend on you at Court.”
Passing the Connington, he bellows, “Ah, Ser Almer, fancy meeting you here! You’re looking very gay this morning!” Sarmion lands a massive blow on his fellow knight’s shoulder by way of greeting as he passes him at the door.
A glance upwards at the door, lips thin as they’re pursed together, and then he nods. Gruffly, he calls to the attendant, “Very well.” His quill scratches at the parchment, and then he pours a little sand from a jar to help dry up the excess. This parchment is set aside, and another one is taken in its place which he peruses as Connington enters.
Connington eyes his old mentor curiously, and his icy grey eyes narrow at the odd greeting. “Ser Sarmion,” he replies coolly, wincing at the hammer blow on his shoulder.
Then, passing the immense Stormbreaker with quick, confident strides, Ser Almer halts before Prince Viserys and offers a very correct bow. Thank you, Your Grace. I know you are busy, and I won’t take much of your time.”
“Good,” is the prince’s only reply, as he signs whatever needs signing upon this parchment, and then affixes the Hand’s seal to it.
The brusque reply does not faze Ser Almer; indeed, a barely imperceptible smile ghosts across his hard features. He digs into his tunic to produce a parchment. “You may recall a missive I sent to you on behalf of Lord Connington, Your Grace, concerning the disposition and welfare of certain widows and orphans among the men of my command in Dorne. Here is a copy.”
“I wished to see you in person, my Prince, rather than in the shadow of the Iron Throne. It is a delicate matter, and if the King would refuse my request, I would prefer to spare both myself and the families of my men some embarrassment.” Again, the faint smile.
A parchment bearing the seal of House Connington of Griffin’s Roost.
“To Prince Viserys Targaryen, Hand of the King.
Item the First.
Lord Connington of Griffin’s Roost, by his son Ser Almer Connington, specially commends the following honored dead to His Grace King Daeron for their noble deeds of arms and sacrifice, to be remembered gloriously for posterity.
Ser Colyn Rowan, knight. Fell at the Carrion Wood, leaving behind a wife and two sons.
Lymond Buckwell, squire. Fell in the Prince’s Pass.
Item the Second.
Lord Connington, having provided a stipend and maintenance for those men who served under the aforesaid Ser Almer in the late Conquest of Dorne, further humbly requests from His Grace the King an annual maintenance for widows, orphans, and dependents in the amount usual and customary for the following honored dead:
Ser Denys of Greengate, sworn sword. A wife and one child.
Ser Efram of the River, known as Ser Efrem the Younger. A wife.
Ser Crispyn of Tarth, known as The Black Lance, sworn sword. A mother and a goodmother.
Ser Oswent of the Orchard, sworn sword. A wife, one child.
Ten other sworn swords, whose deeds and worth may be recounted by Ser Almer Connington.
Baldwyn of Estermont, known as Baldwyn Brightsmile, squire. A mother and two sisters.
Rickon the Bold, squire. A mother and one brother.
Sarwell of the Bay, known as Sarwell Shipbreaker, squire. Three brothers.
Wat of Tumbleton, known as White Wat, freerider. A wife.
Cadwell the Miller, freerider. A wife, three children.
Dickon of Ashford, freerider. A wife, two children, a goodmother.
Dickon the Tanner, freerider. A child.
Melvyn of the Rainwood, known as Muddy Melvyn. Two children.
Twenty other freeriders and men-at-arms, whose deeds and worth may be recounted by Ser Almer Connington.
Item the Third.
Ser Almer Connington requests permission on behalf of the men who served under him in Dorne that the aforesaid men be permitted, for the rest of their natural lives, to wear the badge of a black griffin to denote their service and to be recognized and honored therefore.”
Prince Viserys frowns at Connington for a moment, but his eyes are looking past him ... “Yes, I recall the matter well. I believe—let me see that,” he says, taking the copy. Putting the quill in the inkwell, he unfolds the parchment and reads it over, ”—yes, some of it seemed good ... and some of it less so, ser.” He squints slightly as he gives the parchment a closer study. “This first request I will grant, on the king’s behalf. There are many heroes, the dead ones outnumbering the living. And this third ... well, it does not matter. A badge is little enough.”
But then he looks up and says, manner incredulous, “But this second request ... no. I am sure Lord Athell feels their loss strongly, but the crown shall not begin to add the useless mouths of orphans to the tally of what the treasury must pay for. It is not inexhaustible, Ser Almer, though half the lords of the Seven Kingdoms oft seem to think so.”
“I know my request is unusual,” Connington says reluctantly. “Yet, I beg you to hear me, for I believe my company to be a special case. These men were, for the most part, freeriders and landless knights, castoffs from Lord Tyrell’s host, and a smattering of sworn swords from my own Stormlands.” There is a brittle, almost bitter undercurrent to the lean young knight’s voice at mention of his kinsman of Highgarden.
“As such, they did not have the benefit of Lord Garvys’ maintenance, once I… departed to join His Grace in the Boneway.” Ser Almer frowns, and then says, both daring and pleading: “These men died for their King, Prince Viserys. Their dependents are left with nothing. My lord father has pledged to do what he can, but I would not see their sacrifice go completely thankless.”
“I do not ask for a fortune, and seek nothing for myself, nor for those men who are amply supplied. Bread and meat for widows and babes, to show the virtue and gratitude of their King, that is all.”
By the scowl that briefly touches his lips, Viserys is not best pleased by the tack Almer has taken. “The virtue of their king, ser, is unquestioned, and more than amply on display.” And then the scowl is let go from his face he shakes his head. “If you had said that these were once Lord Garvys’s men, I would have told you more firmly that what you ask cannot be done. Just as well that you ask for nothing for yourself, ser; the king has some gifts and rewards for many men, but your name is not among them despite the way he commended you in his missives during the war. It is Lord Tyrell’s doing, I imagine.”
He glances again at Almer’s copy of the request, lips moving slightly, and then puts it aside. “I count sixteen children, more or less. The treasury will not put forward a copper for their maintenance, not least because others will find cause to ask for the same. But I will do this much. For those who have left behind sons or brothers, one of their number may become a page wherever I can find a place for them, with the chance of knighthood should they prove suited to it. For those who leave behind only sisters or daughters, no doubt I can find some motherhouses willing to accept them into their order, so that they may be septas.”
“That is… hard news, my Lord Hand, and harsh terms.” Ser Almer’s ice-grey eyes indicate that he is not at all placated by the Prince’s decision. The matter of personal honors, and the lack thereof, is flatly ignored; he seems unsurprised. For a moment, his expression darkens, and he seems on the verge of harsh words. And yet, he governs himself.
“But if that is the will of the Hand, then I will not gainsay it, nor waste his time in vain approbation.” Connington’s disappointment is tangible, and he seems, at the moment, a very young knight indeed. “So be it. I will do what I can for them. For I would not have the children of the fallen turn against their King over a few silver stags.”
He stiffens. “Is there anything else, my lord? I should break the bad news to my knights at once.”
Viserys gives the knight a hard look, and then says heavily, “Do as you will, ser, so long as I do not hear of your men putting it about that the king’s gratitude is a meager thing. We all have our disappointments in life, and will have more of them before the Seven calls us to their side. At least some of these boys and girls will be given the opportunity to be something other than beggars, vagabonds, or worse.” And with that he puts Connington out of mind, except to call to the attendant to open the door and admit the next person seeking attendance. *Scratch scratch scratch* goes the quill, as he signs another parchment.
“Have no fear of that, my lord.” Almer’s eyes harden at the implication, and he looks at the Prince with barely concealed irritation. “By your leave.”
And swiftly the stormknight turns on his heel, his cloak a swirl of red and white griffins, and departs. The door clangs shut behind him.