The warm, muggy day is made oppressive by the blanket of grey clouds that hang like a shroud over the city. Flies buzz and swirl amidst the gutters where offal and rotten food and worse floats in stagnant pools at the edges of the loosely-cobbled Iron Way. Adding to the heat are the dozens of ovens where bakers and their apprentices labor to make bread to feed the hungry crowds. The noise is great indeed, from dozens of people about their business, whether it’s buying or selling, begging or looking for an opportunity to thieve.
Astride a dun mare of Westerosi stock, Joleta Gargalen cuts an exotic and regal figure in her scarlet sandsilk. The slightest curling of her upper lip betrays her dissatisfaction with the rancid appearance of the poorer sections of the city. Somewhere along the way, she had acquired a few wildflowers from a street urchin for a copper and these blossoms are used to deflect the more odious aromas from attacking her senses.
“My apologies.” Joleta murmurs to her companions, in a Dornish drawl, “I’d no idea we would need to take the…. scenic route.” She gives the mare a loose reign, letting the horse pick its way carefully on the loose cobblestones.
“So far, I have found few parts of King’s Landing that I found all that appealing,” replies Tanyth dryly and with a shrug of her shoulders. “But I suppose I have time to keep looking.” The horse beneath her, a stocky mare with a bit of a gleam in her eyes, snorts and side-steps a muddy pool upon the road before her. It bumps its shoulder into the rangier gelding that the other Toland twin is mounted upon, though the other horse seems to have better sense than to object to the intrusion. Tamlyn, too, merely chuckles at his sister’s words.
“This city is a sty,” Ser Aidan remarks, glancing back over his shoulder at the pair of gold cloaks who dog the heels of the Dornishmen. “But then, the shadow city at Sunspear is little better, and that only because it’s less crowded.” He shrugs, and rides on, ignoring the rude looks he and his companions get as they ride further along the Iron Way, further and further from the bulwark that is the Red Keep on Aegon’s High Hill and nearer and nearer to the stews and winesinks of Flea Bottom. “I hope this baker will have the bread fresh from the oven, so we do not have to wait over long…”
“Indeed. I rather like these silks. If I cannot get the stench out, I should have to burn them.” The Gargalen heiress quirks a bemused half smile, but her hawkish black eyes do not miss the faces of the smallfolk.
Tanyth, too, casts a seemingly idle glance around herself, taking note of the people they pass. “I suppose it is true enough that the shadow city is little better in some respects, but it is rather more welcoming for when one does feel like venturing into it,” she comments then. The reins are then shortened a little, to bring the slightly disobedient mare better in line.
Aidan seems to concur, as he wipes the back of a hand against his sweat-marked brow. “True, cousin. The sooner we’re done with our business, the better.” The going slows, however, as the crowds thicken at the square, jostling to get at the bakers’ stalls. One of the gold cloaks, looking irritated, moves his lean palfrey past the Dornishmen to try and clear a way forward. “Out of the way, out of the way!” he shouts, and gets a little movement and rather more in the way of curses. “Is he on this side of the square, Lady Joleta, or on the other?” the Dayne knight asks, raising his voice to be heard over the raucous crowd.
Joleta brings up a tighter rein on her own mount as the crowd begins to jostle. She stands up in the stirrups to get a better view. “Nearer to this side,” she must raise her voice also. She manuvers her mare closer to her countrymen, staying well within the protection of the Goldcloaks.
Irritation is also plain on Tanyth’s face, and some of it spills into her voice. “Either he is a very popular baker, or our presence is taken particularly poorly today,” she notes with a bit of a scowl. Her mare, too, takes umbrage at how the crowd occasionally presses too close, and Tanyth finds herself preoccupied with keeping the horse firmly between her hands and legs.
After a pair of minutes of struggle, the gold cloak manages to force a way through the milling crowd, and the baker’s stall with the waves of heat coming from the oven in the back is near. The baker, a crabbed old man of indeterminate origins—he’s dark, but that may just be long hours spent in the sun, or dirt, or both—and his equally aged wife are busy pulling bread hot from the oven while a pair of apprentices hurriedly press fresh dough or pieces of charcoal into it. The crowd waiting for his bread is sizable enough, but not any larger than that of the other bakers ranged throughout the margins of the square.
“He seems an experienced sort of baker,” Ser Aidan remarks, watching the man reach in with his bare hands to pull out the piping hot bread and not seem to take any ill effect from it.
“He did come well recommended,” Joleta observes. While waiting, she idly braids the wildflowers into her horse’s mane… now that the warm baked bread smell permeates the air. She casts a sidelong glance at the Toland twins, “I recall some pleasant fare when last I visited Ghost Hill, some years ago. Was that you I saw knocked from your pony, or your cousin?” She teases Tamlyn in a good-natured manner with that slightly flirtatious overtone common among Dornishwomen.
“I may have been knocked off a horse or two in my days,” admits Tamlyn with a wry smile. “Moreso than my cousin, I would have to admit. If not, my dear sister is likely to point it out.” Despite the smile, however, he too casts the occasional glance about himself, taking note of what the mood of the crowd is like. And he doesn’t quite seem to like what he sees.
“We’ve both had our falls,” Ser Aidan puts in courteously, “so like as not it was me, my lady. The gods know, I had enough bruises and scrapes as a boy.” Sitting straight and tall in the saddle now, the young man seems outwardly much removed from that boy, but some might say he was never much of a boy even in his boyhood. “Here, lets see if I can get the man’s attention.” He presses his horse forward, nearer to the lead gold cloak, and leans nearer the man. He gestures to the baker, still hurriedly baking as people clamor about his stall, taking away fresh bread wrapped in cloths that they’ve brought in the purpose. A harried apprentice takes their payment. In the end, the gold cloak scowls but dismounts, and Aidan with him. Aidan looks back, waiting to see who else’ll follow, before the two start to push forward nearer to the oven.
“—kin’ Dornish,” comes a garbled, half-heard shout from some quarter of the crowd. A look at the sea of jostling faces shows frustration, caused by the crowd, the heat, the hunger, the Dornish; but they’re restrained by the gold cloak with his cudgel, and the swords at the hips of the two Dornish knights.
Joleta starts to dismount, but at that moment, her mare chooses to react to the pressing, noisy crowd. With a nervous whinny, the dun prances, jostling the Dornishwoman who manages to get her feet safely out of the stirrups to land on her feet, albeit with less dignity than she would prefer. She grabs the reins tight under the bit. “Steady now, sweetling.”
“Well, fuck you too,” mutters Tanyth, though at least her words do not carry very far before they are drowned out by the noisy crowd. Keeping her reins short, she follows Joleta’s example and dismounts. Tamlyn, too, follows suit a moment later. Like his gelding, he seems to take the current circumstances with a relative lack of irritation, a rather noticeable contrast to how his sibling’s temper most certainly has been pricked.
“Master Baker!” calls Aidan, in a good clear voice pitched over the crowd. The baker glances back and frowns at the foreign face wearing expensive—but equally foreign—garments, and goes back to grabbing bread from the oven. His apprentice speaks up instead, leaning over the table, “The master’s busy ... uh, m’lord. As you can see, there’s—”
“Yes, of course,” the Dornish knight says, cutting the man off. The goldcloak at his elbow pushes back an over-eager would-be customer, but doesn’t seem too happy about watching over the Dornishman. “My companions and I have heard of your master’s famous bread, done like one of our Dornish sweetbreads. How long before a few loaves are available? We’ll pay well.” As if to illustrate the point, he pulls a small bag from within his robes, and moves it so it jingles.
Joleta takes a few moments to calm her horse, speaking in soothing tones until the mare quiets. Then she looks over as Aidan addresses the baker, watching the exchange. She seems content to allow the Starfall knight to deal with the matter, keeping her attention divided between her countrymen, the crowd and her mare.
As Aidan steps forward to handle the baker, Tanyth and Tamlyn remain in the background with Joleta. Both twins keep a good hold of their mounts, mindful of the risks posed by them being spooked by the crowd. But where Tanyth’s expression reveals her dislike of the situation, Tamlyn’s remains rather more neutral. He also leans in closer to his sister at one point, whispering something that earns him a sidelong glare from his twin.
The jostling crowd doesn’t much like the Dornish knight pushing ahead of so many others, but at least an innate subserviance to nobles prevents them from doing much more than muttering and cursing the black-eyed Dornish under their breaths.
“_Dornish_ bread? Is _that_ what it is?” a middle-aged woman in a stained smock asks a man near her, who shakes his head and drags her away to find good Kingslander bread.
The apprentice, nervous, looks back and forth between the baker and the nobleman, and then swallows. “We’ve some just baked, I ... I suppose…” He reaches under the stall and pulls out several large, round loaves, nervous before the angry glares he’s getting. The gold cloak shoves another man back, glaring fiercely while fingering the hilt of the sword at his side
“That’ll do. And then just to… Oh,” says the Knight of the Twilight, frowning. “I don’t have any wrapping cloth…” He looks back to Joleta and the rest of their companions, eyebrows raised in a question as he gestures at the bread just barely glimpsed through the crowd.
Joleta ahs softly, catching Aidan’s glance. From a saddlebag, she produces some cotton cloths, which she brings forward. Her glance at the crowd is imperious, determined not to be intimidated by the rabble, and her demeanor regal and impassive. However, neither is Joleta completely foolish, for she takes care to ensure that the goldcloaks are between her and the crowd.
Another hushed exchanged between Tanyth and Tamlyn, finished off by dark scowl from the former. Her mood seems to affect her mare as well, as the horse snorts and tries to toss her head about, though Tanyth’s firm grip on the reins keep her mostly steady. “Easy, girl. We will be out of here soon.” One of the goldcloaks is briefly pushed up against the mare’s hindquarters, and almost gets himself kicked for the trouble. “Very soon.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Aidan says, smiling easily despite the resentful crowd and the stifling, oppressive heat that makes it all seem worse. He opens the coin purse and plucks out a few coppers and tosses them, negligently, on the table before moving to help wrap the bread up into several packages. The apprentice, distracted by this, speaks up, “It—it’s fresh, m’lord, so somewhat hot and soft still. Be careful!” Someone jeers at this, a faceless voice calling, “Careful he doesn’t get it shoved up his arse sideways!” There’s a raucous laughter. Aidan’s smile disappears, and he glances to Joleta. “I’m sorry for that, my lady. We’d best go, now that our business is done.” He turns to start do so, taking up the bread and gesturing Joleta forward. The apprentice is pulled away just then by the baker’s wife, questioning him about the transaction.
“Indeed.” Joleta agrees, inclining her head graciously to the apprentice. She preceeds the Knight of Twilight back to where their horses remain. “This has been an educational bit of business.” She murmurs. The crowd and the jeers are not acknowledged.
Another black scowl from the Black Tempest, and her hand briefly drops to the knife at her belt. At a look from her brother, she moves it away again and turns towards her mare to mount up once more. Its not easy, pressed close together as they are, but she manages. Tamlyn gets himself back in the saddle as well, even his patient gelding now showing signs of distress at the constant crowding. “Lovely little town,” he remarks, sounding as if he shares his horse’s sentiment that enough is enough.
Alas, the crowd is just a bit too close when Aidan steps forward determinedly towards his horse—something trips him, perhaps a foot on the hem of his road, and as he stumbles he careens into a dirty-faced girl posed nearly in front of him. She falls over with a little shriek, and then starts to cry aloud. Aidan, having fallen to a knee, wrestles with picking up the loaves of bread he’s dropped when someone shouts.
“He’s pushed my daughter!” the man, a tough looking commoner. “Shameless! Shameless!” The man wades through everyone else, to get to this daughter, who bawls and bawls, hiccoughing, “Pa—paaaapaaaaaa!” Whispers start, and curses, and the glares grow sharper as the rumor of a Dornishman abusing a little girl starts to spread.
Aidan starts to stand, abandoning the bread for a moment, when someone manages to shove him from behind and he almost barrels into the man and his daughter again. His face pales, his expression tightens, and he starts, “Is your daughter all right—”
“What’s this?!” shouts another voice, all the sudden: the baker’s wife. “Stop that Dornishman! He hasn’t paid for all the loaves!”
Jerking her head around at the commotion with the Knight of Twilight, Joleta stumbles on a loose cobblestone, falling a step forward. She recovers quickly, looking back at Aidan, then for her guards. She looses sight of them in the throng that surges at the angry cry of the baker’s wife.
“Bloody rabble,” Tanyth curses, starting to urge her horse forward to where her cousin can be found. Tamlyn reaches out as she passes nearer to him, grabbing her by the arm. “Easy, Tanyth. Best not do anything to make this any worse than it is.” She glares at him, but does refrain from having her horse push further forward.
Too much is happening, too quickly. Aidan starts to protest, reaching for that coin purse he tucked away in his robe when one of the gold cloaks presses forward. Reaching a hand out, he grabs Joleta’s arm and starts dragging her back away while shouting at Aidan, “Have to leave now, ser! We’re going!” The other gold cloak, younger, seems uncertain . . . but just then a part of the crowd surges forward, and he’s nearly knocked back. And then it’s up with the cudgel, swinging indiscriminately as he roars, “Back off! Back, or the King’s Justice’ll have your head off for this!” The threat slows the crowd, but they start cursing and shouting, “Filthy Dornish! Thieves! Murderers!”
The crying child is forgotten. So too are the fallen loaves—two of which are missing, doubtless kicked about and out of sight by the crowd. Aidan refuses to back away before the others have started back to their horses, however—“Do as the officer says, Joleta,” he says quickly, honorifics forgotten as he stands with his back rigid, eyes trying to take in the threatening crowd. He keeps his hand from his sword with an effort.
Joleta does not protest as she is pulled along by her escort. She moves quickly beside the Goldcloak, looking over her shoulder to see if Aidan follows. “Please, do not leave him behind, Ser.” She addresses her rescuer. Once reaching her frightened mare, the Dornishwoman mounts swiftly, looking for her other countrymen from this higher vantage point. She struggles to maintain her cool demanor, but she has gone pale, her fever-shorn locks now visible that she’s lost her sandsilk headscarf along the way.
“Fucking hell!” Tanyth is not one to watch her mouth in general, and in these circumstances even less so. Now she sets her heels to the mare, pressing forward enough to grab the reins of Aidan’s horse from the gold cloak who was holding them. “We are not going anywhere until everyone is mounted. Cousin, get your arse on the horse!”
Cursing fool nobles under his breath, the gold cloak does go back to where Aidan stands, holding off the crowd with little more than outraged courage. He grabs at the knight’s sleeve and pulls him back, and Ser Aidan starts moving . . . just as a rock flies from the crowd, catching the knight on the temple. He nearly crumples, but the gold cloak officer hauls him up and keeps him on his feet, blood flowing from a gash on his head. The crowd surges then, for the sight of blood turns them into a mob that would like to see more. The younger gold cloak, mounted, tries to press his horse forward to cut off the crowd. The office gives the vaunted Knight of the Twilight—little more than a stunned, dead weight at the moment—a hard shake and then forces him up onto his horse’s saddle.
Then seven hells break loose. A hand grasping at Aidan’s stirrup grabs the officer’s cloak instead, and his response is to turn and swing back with his cudgel. Teeth shatter under the blow, harder than the man expected, and a man falls back howling through ruined teeth. Then the crowd roars like a beast, and tries to close in.
“Ride! RIDE!” the younger man says, grabbing the reins of the nearest horse and putting the spurs to his horse, not stopping for the officer, nor for anyone else. His cudgel thrown aside, his short sword is in his hand and he swings it with a will. Damn the Dornish if they don’t follow him, it seems, and the officer as well. “Stop, in the king’s name!” he tries to shout as the crowd grabs at him as he beats them away from Ser Aidan. A moment’s opening lets him slap the horse on the flanks, send it and its occupant pushes at Aidan’s horse, sending it and the dazed occupant of the saddle after the others.
Seeing that Tanyth is close enough to grab the reins of Dayne’s horse, Joleta wheels her mount and takes off after the Goldcloak. She keeps her head down, close to the dun mare’s neck, but stifles a cry as a rock crunches against her upper arm, tearing silk and skin beneath.
Supressing further curses, Tanyth grabs a better hold of the reins to Aidan’s mount as it surges forward, at the same time turning her own mare and kicking her into a gallop to keep up with the other horses. At her other side is Tamlyn, who yells at her. “If I can, I will try to get on the other side. But for now, just ride!” There is little else they could do, of course, caught up amidst the gold cloaks and their mounts and pressed close together by the crowd that seems to fill the streets.
The crowd wants blood, and will settle for nothing else. The younger gold cloak drags a horse forward, and leaves the Dornish to their own devices to follow him or not. The officer makes a stand, trying to force the crowd back . . . but they’ll have none of it. In the chaos, he suddenly stumbles and then falls from sight, overwhelmed by a wave of angry men and women. “Dornish bastard! Murderers! Thieves! Rocks are thrown after them, and mud, and worse. The gold cloak in front manages to cut his way through the swelling crowd to a narrow, almost empty alleyway, and it’s there that he leads the others, leaving the officer behind for loss.
At the same time as part of the crowd surges after the Dornish, another part turns its attention to broader mayhem: that baker selling Dornish bread to Dornishmen has a part of their anger, and just a part is enough to give cause to mayhem. From there, the riot explodes, bakers fleeing for their lives, leaving their ovens to be smashed as the crowd attacks like a wild animal.
“LET THE KING HANG THEM!”
Bleeding from a cut on the forehead, above the hairline and from the already purple and swollen gash on her arm, Joleta Gargalen is in full flight. She keeps the others in sight, riding low on the mare’s neck. “Bloody savages.” She snarls through gritted teeth. Her path takes her back toward the safety of the Keep, as fast as her mount can carry her.
Keeping control over her own mount as well as Aidan keeps Tanyth busy enough that all she can keep in her head is moving forward. Objects thrown by the crowd—rocks, rotten vegetables, whatever else they have at hand—have to be ignored, even as a few strike their intended targets. Fortunately, none do much damage, though a rock that grazes her mount has it shying sideways. Fortunately, away from Aidan’s horse rather than against it, and a collision is averted.
The sound of riot fades soon after the horses exit the alleyway into a side street near Manse Row. The gold cloak slows the horses, a litany of curses under his breath as he looks back the way they came and sees the officer isn’t following. He hardly has any time for the Dornish. The man struggles with perhaps going back, it seems. And then ... a shake of his head, and he starts forward again, cursing.