The heat from the Dornish sun was less than it had been for the journey from Yronwood to the source of the scourge, now that the army marched in the shade of the narrow band of greenery that occupied the river’s banks. Though a march is still a march no matter how nice the climate and there is nothing for the men to do but watch the miles drag by and dream of the march’s end and a cool dip in the waters that would follow.
In the midst of the army, the knights of Castamere and the small band of hedge knights and freeriders under Ser Luthor’s command ride side by side and talk while at their fore, the commanders do the same. “So do you think the King has a plan for keeping Dorne on its knees this time, or do you figure we’ll be back again in four years time?” asks Luthor as he passes Ser Alek the wineskin the two knights have been sharing.
Alek takes the wineskin, drinking from it. He had already had a tiny bit too much and was just, ever so slightly, drunk. “I believe…That we’ll be back again. I don’ know what the king sees in this savage land…” He states in reply, his voice slightly slurred with the high-quality wine.
Luthor laughs. “Perhaps it’s for the wine. But then his grace does have the Arbor already, so I suspect he’s either to keep us his loyal swords busy killing the Dornish rather than one-another, or like all Kings, he finds those who kneel to him now insufficient, and wants to add some more to that number; even if they are sheep-loving whoresons.”
Alek grumbles lowly. “I’d be better off losing men to the Lannisters or any other Westerosi house than to have the Reyne name dishonoured by these ‘sheep-loving whoresons,’ ser.”
Smiling Luthor holds out his hand for the wine.
“Lannisters, you say? I rather thought your house was sworn to them?” he asks with a wink. “The wine must be stronger than I thought. Still I take your point; there is little joy in killing these savages, and little to love about their land.”
Alek hands the skin back. “We are. But I hear a slight tremble in the ranks. It’s probably nothing…” Alek shrugs. “This land? It’s as barren as barren can be… It has no purpose. Why spill Westerosi blood over the damned sand…” He grumbles.
“I hope it’s nothing serious,” Luthor says of the tremble before carrying on about Dorne. “Perhaps, the King will do what needs to be done and see the heads off every Dornish noble in this barren snakepit, and make all of us brave knights into lords. Though Seven help us if he does.”
Alek smirks lightly. “A lord? Hah. The seven would have to be smiling down on me that day.”
Alek comments dryly. “I’m afraid I’m not lordship material. I still like to be able to get in a brawl or joust every while, ser. If I were given a lordship, I’d no doubt grow old and fat in my days and mind.”
“I’d not say no if the King offered it, though I suspect the Wall will melt before that day comes. But you do have a point; lordship would put a dent in more honest pursuits.”
Alek smirks lightly. “Or open the door to more dishonest ones, if that would be your prerogative.”
Luthor gives a slight chuckle. “Does it show through so readily?” he smiles. “But yes, a Lord could get himself up to a great deal of trouble if he chose to, might even be worth the tedium of the rest of it.”
Alek chuckles. “That depends if the lord is worthy enough to escape said trouble unscathed.”
“Good day, gentlemen” a booming voice suddenly says just behind the talking nobles. Burton Crakehall sits atop his black destrier, his shoulders covered by a long woollen great cloak, that keeps constantly fluttering in the southern wind. The heir to Crakehall greets Ser Alek with a friendly nod and the other knight, whom he doesn’t know, but vaguely remembers he is somehow connected to Beslon the Bad-with a rather ceremonious bow “May I join you, Sers? I am rather bored at the moment and can’t resist the temptation of such a good company!”
Luthor returns the bow and holds out the wineskin. “Ser Luthor Rivers ser, and we were just as bored as you were I think when we struck up this conversation, and now we find ourselves drunk instead.”
“Ah, Ser Burton! My family-to-be!” Alek chuckles, as he returns the nod, only less curtly. “We’d be glad of your company. The more the merrier; or so they say, ser!”
“Ser Luthor Rivers! Son to Beslon the B….Pardon me, Ser Beslon Smallwood, a loyal servant to our King slain by those beastly Dornishmen! Very honoured to meet you, Ser” answers Ser Burton heartily, and takes the wineskin from Luthor readily. Now becomes definite that he clearly has already drunk more than enough his face is slightly flushed, his only eye glitters dangerously, and his tone and expression is a BIT to merry-but that doesn’t seem to stop him “As my dear cousin-can I call you that, Alek? has just said, I am Burton Crakehall, heir to Crakehall, of Crakehall and from Crakehall…” Here Burton chuckles at his own joke, before continuing ” So, what have you sers been discussing, before I have shamelessly interrupted you?”
Luthor nods. “The very same, ser, and it’s an honour to meet you as well. As to what we were discussing,” he looks to Ser Alek. “I believe we were discussing our love for Dorne, and the merits of lordship were we not?” he says with half a smile.
Alek nods. “You may indeed, ser, as long as I can hold that same honour!” Alek comments jovially, clapping a hand on Burton’s shoulder. “And indeed we were ser Luthor. Although now we have in our presence one who would inherit such a lordship in time.”
Ser Burton takes a gulp from the wineskin and shakes his head “Funnily enough, I have just been thinking about a thing that is a mix of both those subjects, Dornish lordships. This campaign is a fine chance for brave and loyal knights to acquire some of the seats here that are freed from their rebel masters. You can look at Ethos Mertyns who was he not so long ago-a second son to a minor lordling! But when the King organised his marriage to a Dornish heiress, he became nearly a lord himself! The only thing he needs to do is to wait for the death of his so-called “good-father”. And also I am indeed an heir to a Westerosi lordship-as Ser Alek has said-I wouldn refuse to get a Dornish one as well. “
“A Dornish lordship and Crakehall? You’re a brave man,” Luthor replies grinning. “Still a Dornish lordship would not be so bad, if it came with a Dornish wife as Ser Ethos’ did.”
Alek snorts at the talking. “I wouldn’t risk my head in a bout with a Dornishwoman. Besides, Ser Burton is married to a fine Westerosi.”
Burton takes another long sip, before, finally, returning the wineskin to Luthor “A fine drink ser. Strong and bitter-just like I prefer. We-my cousin Elmer-and me-have emptied several such containers today, before he had to go away, to deal with some Lannister affairs”. The Crakehall snorts with mock contempt and looks at his conversation partners “Ser Ethos wasn’t quite happy about the fact that it came with a wife. He, probably, would have taken the lordship but not the lass. “
Luthor takes back the flask and takes a short pull before handing it to Alek. “If the wine’s to your liking ser, I’ve more; my men and I came upon a trove of the stuff left behind in the Dornishmen’s hurry to retreat.” Then on the subject of Ser Ethos he notes. “Well if he is displeased with his Dornish bride, then perhaps he won’t mind if others pay her call. Dornishwoman by all accounts are an interesting challenge; they’re as rebellious and strong minded as their men and as oft in need of pacification.”
As the older knight takes the wineskin, he salutes Luthor slightly. “Good luck to ye ser. You’ll need it…” He comments on the fact of the bastard wanting a Dornish wife.
Luthor chuckles and slautes back. “My thanks, ser,” he replies before taking a moment to still his horse as it paws and snorts.
“Don’t say such wicked things, Ser! The poor lad is bullied enough by the fact that he had to marry a Dusky, and if he starts to doubt whether she is faithful ...Blood will be spilled. If you don’t pity him, pity the girl!” laughs Burton, waggling his finger at Luthor. “Those betrothals are a fine way to make a career at the court and become richer and mightier. I have served the King in two wars, have lost an eye and half my family, but since I am married what did I get? Nothing!” Now there are resentful notes in the knight’s voice “And a young Royal Huntsmen got a treat just because he is not. You are a bachelor,Ser Luthor, you have all the chances”
“All of a bastard’s chances,” he remarks in a resentful tone. “Truly it’s an injustice however for you married men to have given so much and yet got so little in return. Perhaps though sers, the king will make it right and reward more than huntsmen and bachelors when the war is done.”
“Ah, you are a fine knight ser, and origins are not very important for the King. Mertyns, for example, are no match to Gargalens in any sense but that didn’t stop his Grace” Burton smiles and pats Ser Luthor’s shoulder sympathetically “I thank you for your kind words ser, but this is not very likely to happen. There are certain unwritten rules which stop men with merit from getting what they deserve. And this marriage thing is one of them… And I haven’t been very lucky during this war-during the last battle I have killed a standard-bearer and presented His Grace with a Dornish flag but he has barely noticed it.”
Luthor turns his head towards Burton smiling at his words of encouragement but that smile vanishes quickly as he hears word of the King and the standard. “Truly? I’d heard that you’d taken the standard, but nothing of the King’s reaction. He really took no note?” he shakes his head but takes a keen interest. “Is that usual for his Grace? I had heard he was in general, fair minded and generous.”
“King Daeron is an noble, valiant and just monarch.” Burton answers slowly, his expression now serious and sober “I hold no grudge, mind you. At the moment His Grace was being informed about the death of one of the worthiest knights in our army, so I don’t blame him for his lack of interest in my deed. It is my ill luck, nothing else. Still, if there was a way to remind him, I would use it. “
Meeting Burton’s eye with his two, Luthor nodded. “I ask only because I’ve not met the king but briefly and his largess will likely have much to do with how far I rise,” he says in explanation for his interest then more lightly turns towards Alek. “Ser, you’ve had the wine long enou…” he pauses and can’t hold back the guffaw despite the conversation’s serious turn, and looks back to Burton with and incredulous smile. “Ser, I think your cousin has fallen asleep.”
Burton takes a look…and his powerful figure immediately starts shaking in a fit of hearty laughter “By the Seven, he snors like a baby in its cradle! Clearly, cousin Alek had a little bit too much of your fine wine, ser.” The Crakehall knight sniggers for a few minutes, his muscular shoulders twitching, before he is able to restrain himself and continue the conversation.
“Ser, since we have mentioned the subject…I want to ask you; are you ambitious? Do you have any worthy patrons and allies besides the king, if you are? Connections perhaps? Sadly enough, such things are important…too important at our court.”
Luthor reaches over to retrieve the wineskin and to nudge Ser Alek gently, he gets no other response but a snore and he shakes his head. “As though in the grip of the Stranger,” he remarks to his companion before returning to more serious matters and listening well to Burton’s question.
“I am ambitious ser. It’s a requirement for us bastards who wish to be more than a shameful reminder of past misdeeds. As to allies and patrons I have none, even my own kin save for one sweet cousin and a brother on the Wall, would greet the Stranger with more courtesy than myself. All I have is my steel, and these forty worthies who ride with me,” he nods back to the party of hedge knights and freeriders that ride alongside the men from Castamere.
“I have heard many interesting things about you, ser. One of my men served with you in the Free Cities. You are said to be not only brave, but a clever man as well, which is a rare thing” Ser Burton throws the wineskin in the air and catches it with his left palm, his gaze now calculating and sharp ” But there are several things that could ruin you: your mercenary past, your being a son to man who was despised by too many, and his natural son at that. But you know that yourself. You need good friends to overcome the negative consequences of those faults as court slander is more dangerous that a Dornish blade, you know….I want to rise high and those who will aid me on my path, I will take with me. What would you say to that ser?”
A rare glimmer of surprise escapes the mummer’s mask that is Luthor’s mien of detached amusement as he regards Ser Berton in a new light. “I’d say, I would count myself fortunate to be among those who have aided you ser.”
“I am a man of honour, Ser Luthor. I know that if I acquire power, I will use for the benefit of all. And, of course, I want to secure a place for my House, make it more independent and powerful that it is now.” Ser Burton explains with a half-smile, passing the wineskin that is near empty now, to the other knight “A war is only a ladder, but a very important one, and the main game will begin after it ends. It will be a long run, we will need years of work, but if we will play together, we could reach just the results we want…”
“It seems we see things in the same light then. So then the question is how do we make the best use of this war to those ends? Clearly, neither of us has had much luck yet in earning glory and we will need it for what comes after,” Luthor observes.
“Well,” Burton thinks for a moment and then with a sign orders one of his men to bring a fresh wineskin “I will treat you now, Luthor…The finest you can get here…. Firstly, we should help each other to influence the right people…or, I should have said, the right man. Many a glorious deed was labelled as such not only because it was truly brave, which is necessary, we are not crooks you know, but because a right man whispered right things into the right ear just at the right time. The problem is a knight can’t brag about his own deeds and he needs a trusted friend to speak highly of his merits, at the vital moment. And, secondly, as leaders of our own bands we can cooperate during combat…which gives many opportunities.”
Luthor drinks deeply for the first time on the ride grunting with satisfaction at its flavour.
“Fine stuff; my thanks ser,” he notes then on the matter at hand says. “And your plan is just as fine, I am with you.”
“Excellent,” grins Ser Burton shifting in the saddle and playing with his richly decorated reins “I am glad you are with me, ser. Another thing is to find right allies and aids ... no mistakes should be made, as one wrong decision can here lead complete disaster. Then again, we have to wait and think. Only time will show Ser Luthor, only time will show.”