Outside the walls, the shadow city is not as quiet as it often is at the height of the day, for men and women labor to fortify gates and walls as the prince commands. Work has been almost unceasing the last weeks, and the sound just outside the courtyard of hammering as men raise up scaffolds and the heavy sound of mallets driving in stakes to help anchor them comes like rhythmic music, like the drums and the finger-drums of a spear dance. Sunspear prepares for war.
Within the crowded courtyard, activity bustles, wagons carrying goods in, others taking them out, servants bearing more, palace guards in colorful robes going about their business. Into this enters the Prince of Dorne, flanked by knights in robes of a dozen colors, and with a fair-haired lady accompanying him: Elysa Dayne, Keeper of the Tower of the Sun in all but name because of his brother’s lack of regard for his duties.
Entering the Courtyard from the Sandship, Allyria sees the Prince. She curtsies deeply. “Prince Marence. I hope all is well with you and your household.”
A faint frown creases Elysa’s brow as she enters the courtyard together with the prince. Raising one hand to shield her eyes against the harsh sun, she looks out towards the city beyond the walls, as if trying to determine from here how the work at fortifying Sunspear is progessing. She begins to turn towards Prince Marence, but before she can speak there’s Lady Allyria, offering her greetings. She returns the curtsey with grace. “Lady Allyria, good afternoon.”
The young lady’s greeting matches well with Prince Marence’s pause at the middle of the courtyard. His household knights array themselves to either side of him, waiting in silence for ... something. Something coming from the gate, perhaps, for they’re looking that way expectantly. When the young lady offers her courtesies, however, Marence shifts his gaze to her and other a brief smile. Despite the pleasant expression, however, he seems tired; there’s dark circles under his eyes. “My lady of Allyrion, thank you. Have you had news of Godsgrace?”
Just arriving to Sunspear from Spottswood after a brief absence from Court, Senara Santagar makes her way through the gates and into the Courtyard, accompanied by trusted retainers and others from her House and enough luggage to suggest the wife of Prince Cadan plans to remain in Sunspear for some time. The Heir to Spottswood also has her daughter Leyla with her, now six years old, leading her by the hand once they have dismounted. The young daughter of Prince Cadan glances around curiously with wide eyes as she waddles along, sucking on the foot of a cloth doll she has in her hand. Senara’s eyes focus on Marence and his escort, however, and she tugs her daughter’s hand to lead her in the Prince’s direction, blue silk skirts flowing gracefully as she walks.
Allyria allows a small smile to cross her face. “No news recently, my lord. My aunt continues to rebuild from the ravages of the Targaryen mercenaries.”
Lady Elysa watches Marence as he replies to Allyria, that slight frown lingering still. “Better no news than ill news, considering the circumstances,” she remarks in the wake of Allyria’s response, before her attention drifts over to the new arrival, who can only be the Lady Senara and her daughter. Violet eyes settle upon the pair, studying them almost thoughtfully for a moment, and she curtseys. “Lady Senara and Princess Leyla, welcome.”
“A sad affair,” Prince Marence remarks in reply to Allyria. “If I could spare the men, I would surely send them to your aunt. But… Ah, there she is.” So he says when Lady Senara arrives with her daughter, and her train of retainers and servants. With that, the household knights bow almost as one to her, with deep, practiced courtesy. The prince himself moves to approach, his own robes a swirl of red, yellow, and orange. He opens his arms to give a formal embrace once close enough, as he says aloud, “Welcome, my lady, my sister.” Much of the activity in the courtyard has stopped, to see the formal arrival of the lady. Servants and courtiers alike offer their courtesies, bowing or curtsying.
Releasing her daughter’s hand, Senara offers Marence a gracious smile and a curtsy, before returning his embrace. “My Lord and brother, thank you for the welcome,” she says pleasantly, withdrawing to arm’s length to study him, and then the others present. She returns the courtesies to Elysa and Allyria in kind, and then takes up her daughter’s hand again. The young Princess smiles boldly for a moment, before tucking herself behind her mother’s skirts. “I apologize for my long absence. It is good to be back at Sunspear,” Senara says. If she is uncomfortable with all the stares and courtesies, she does not show it. “Leyla,” she says, drawing her daughter away from her skirt, “go and greet your uncle.” The little Princess disengages herself, and waddles over to the Prince to give him a hug as well.
Elysa’s gaze follows the young princess as she moves from hiding behind her mother’s skirts to walking up to Prince Marence. The girl has, perhaps, put her in mind of her own daughter, still at Ghost Hill as she has not sent for her since her own return to Sunspear. “I hope you had a safe and not too taxing journey, Lady Senara.”
A quick rest of a hand, a heavy signet ring upon it, on the child’s dark head, a benediction. “Such a pretty child,” Marence says, looking down at little Princess Leyla, and then to her mother as the courtiers and knights straighten from their bows and curtses. “Mariah will be very happy to have her cousin’s company.” And then, to Leyla, he adds, “And she has a present for you, as well, when she sees you later in the day.” He ushers the girl back to her mother, and then turns to gesture with a hand towards some of his companions. “Good-sister, this is Lady Elysa of Starfall. She assists the Keeper of the Tower of the Sun in his duties.” He does not name his absent brother, however.
The Lady of Kingsgrave makes her way from the Sept, a lone Marcher face in sandsilk. She is accompanied by her young and sickly daughter who, having one of her ‘good days’, is able to be up and about for a time. Mother and daughter watch, seeing the Prince of Dorne greet his family.
Another curtsey from Elysa, as Prince Marence formally introduces her to his good-sister. “It would have been my pleasure to arrange something more festive for your arrival, Lady Senara, had the circumstances been different. But as they stand, I hope you will at least consider asking for my assistance if there is anything you need for settling into your quarters.”
Leyla’s eyes brighten at the mention of a present, and she seems to find a little more life within her as she scuttles back to her mother’s side, her expression suddenly eager. Senara rests her hand on the girl’s head as well, ruffling her curls, and then turns to Elysa, and inclines her head with a soft smile. “A pleasure to meet you, Lady Elysa. Admittedly, it was a tiring journey, particularly with the haste with which we have travelled. But a little rest will cure that.” She studies the violet-eyed woman in turn for a moment, taking her measure, before turning her attention back to Marence. “I felt it best,” she says as an aside to the Prince, “to bring the princess back here, lest the troubles find their way to Spottswood. My father has things well in hand there.” Why she left Sunspear to begin with is only speculated, and she does not mention it.
After the ladies exchange greetings, Marence in passing gestures to Allyria. “Lady Allyria you know, of course. Matters are better in Godsgrace, but there’s much to be done.” And then, noticing Lady Manwoody exit the sept with her own child, he turns his attention back to Leyla. “There, niece. Another friend for you to make.” Calling out, he gestures the older lady nearer. “Lady Lysanne, please, my good-sister has just arrived with the Princess Leyla.” So it goes, the round of familial courtesies. At the edges of the courtyard, servants begin to respectfully move about their duties once more, and guards; the king’s escort of knights remain in place, however.
Allyria shakes her head suddenly, as though returning from a reverie. ” A pleasure to meet you, Lady Senara, my mind had drifted to our hostages. Prince Marence, what do you think the dragon will do to our loved ones, now that we have returned to war?”
Lysanne dips a curtsey, the motion echoed by her thin daughter. “My lady, Princess, welcome. This is my daughter, Lorinda.” At Allyria’s mention of the hostages, the Lady of Kingsgrave’s expression turns grave indeed. Her two older children are ‘guests’ of the Dragon.
As Marence calls her attention to Lady Lysanne’s presence, Elysa turns to greet the other woman as well, offering another polished curtsey. But then she, too, grows even more somber at Lady Allyria’s question. “We can only hope for the best, Lady Allyria. King Daeron is not Maegor the Cruel, and has so far shown himself as holding chivalry in high regard, for all his lust for glory.”
Senara smiles warmly to Allyria and inclines her head, and dips a curtsy in return to her and Lysanne as well. “Thank you, Lady Allyria, Lady Lysanne.” She smiles down at Lorinda, and releases Leyla’s hand so the two girls can get to know one another while the adults talk. Her attention is drawn by the conversation surrounding the hostages as well, a subject foremost in her own mind, her pleasant smile fading. “Is there any news at all?” she inquires. Her own husband is among them, after all.
The war, the war ... not one of Marence’s choosing, until late, it must be said. The young noblewoman’s question catches him at an unguarded moment, and the deepening of the furrows at his brow, the lowering of the corner of his lips, show the depth of his concern. His words bely them, however. “Targaryen has not caused them any harm, as far as I have heard, nor threatend to do any. It may be he hopes to use their return to win us to him,” he says, and yet it’s clear he has no real idea for why they may yet live. An uncomfortable shrug of his shoulders, then, and it seems he’s happier—marginally happier—to turn to other matters.
“Lady Lysanne’s husband, and the banners I sent with Ser Laurent Dalt and your cousin Ser Baduin, have bled them in the Boneway,” says Marence. “They are safe, so far as I know. But the king has broken past their last effort to keep him there in the pass. Now he descends on Yronwood.” A pause, and then he adds, “Thank the gods that the Ullers managed to take it, before then. Perhaps he will not even know when he arrives.” Were his father here, he would scowl at Marence’s implied praise of the Ullers—or one of them in particular, Ser Mavros, who as Lord Qorgyle’s castellan has managed to orchestrate some of the successes of the rebellion.
“My brother has been unable to send word to me after the fighting broke out.” Lysanne admits. Her brother is, of course, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Though a Marcher, she has (or did at one time) have more inroads to hear of the welfare of the hostages than most.
“If Yronwood can hold for long enough, and Sunspear is fortified well enough through these efforts…” Lady Elysa does not finish, however. There are a lot of slim “ifs” to be hanging so much hope on, but that is what one does when it is all one has at hand.
Allyria warms to the new topic. ” May the Seven protect my brother Aubry and all who fight for Dorne. If the Stranger favours us, we cannot fail.”
Senara does not seem to relax when the matter of the hostages is skimmed over, but she does not push the matter. Instead, she listens with interest to the achievements that have been made. “That is good to hear, I suppose. I am glad to know that we were able to hold them back for a time, at least long enough to secure our position. It is troubling to hear about Yronwood, however,” she says, nodding in agreement with Elysa’s sketchy ifs. “All we can do is speculate at this point, and pray for the gods’ favor,” she says with a sigh. She focuses her attenions on Marence once again. “If there is anything I can do to help during my stay, I shall.”
Lysanne is not a tactician. But she dips her chin in agreement with Allyria’s sentiment, being a pious woman.
“We have had nothing, from my brother or any other hostage, since much the same time,” Marence adds after Lysanne speaks. He gives a glance to Senara, dark eyes watchful, after the mention of Cadan. “No great surprise, of course, but it is a matter for concern. We must hold them all in our prayers.” A moment more, and then he says aloud, looking past Senara to her servants. “The lady’s rooms have all been prepared,” he announces to them. “You may carry her belongings there, and place them as she would desire you to do.” A pair of liveried servants step forward, to assist them.
With that, the prince turns back to his good-sister, niece, and others gathered here. He nods to Allyria and Elysa both, as he seems to consider what Senara says. “I am sure we will find some task. As you saw, the shadow city is awake even now, strengthening the Winding Walls and the Threefold Gate.” Indeed, hammering can be heard from outside the courtyard, the sound of scaffolds and reinforcing beams of wood being put in place. “We fear Ser Alyn Velaryon will set sail any day, to attack the Planky Town once more, but with the spears we have gathered and the days of warning we should have, it will be enough.”
Unless it isn’t, of course. If Marence fears that possibility, he says nothing of it.
And if Elysa knows anything of Marence fearing such an outcome, she too remains silent on the subject. She does, however, cast a considering, violet-eyed look at the prince. It lingers for a while, then she smooths her hands over her pale robes and tucks an errant strand of pale hair away from her face. “It is hard to speak of much else, of course, but perhaps we should consider a gathering to welcome Lady Senara back to Sunspear. A small diversion.” She looks between the lady in question and the prince.
Senara inclines her head to Marence, and offers a faint smile that might be meant to be encouraging. “Let it be enough,” she murmurs, as if voicing a prayer, though she is not known to be the most pious of women. Leyla returns to her and tugs on her skirts, looking up at her sleepily. Though the girl is likely getting too big for it, Senara crouches down and the little princess puts her arms around her mother’s neck. Lifting the girl, Senara turns to catch the eye of Leyla’s nurse. “I thank you for the welcome, my Lord,” she says then to Marence, and glances to Elyse with an inclination of her head as well. “My daughter is weary from the journey, and it is time to put her to bed. Perhaps once we have settled, there will be more time for gatherings,” she offers with a grateful smile. “Perhaps it will not draw our minds away from the war entirely, but perhaps it will be a temporary diversion,” she seems to agree.
Allyria curtsies. “I would love to attend such a gathering. This talk of war makes me wish to spend time with family. If you will excuse me, Prince Marence, I’m going to go find my brother Godric and have dinner with him.”
“Yes, of course,” says Marence, though to whom it is not unclear. But it’s Elysa, the assistant Keeper, that he looks to first. “A welcoming feast, on the morrow. We must make sure Rhodry makes any appearance.” Where has Rhodry gotten to, in fact? Perhaps best not to ask. Then to the two mothers, he offers a dip of his head. “Of course, ladies. See to your daughters. I will dine in the Sandship later, and there will be musicians and the like, if you’d wish to join me?”
The question hangs in the air, as a new sound invades from the lesser gate: shouting, shouting by one man and responses from guards. Some of the prince’s knights shift their position, as if anticipating having to deal with the disturbance. A handful of guards hurry that way, at the commotion. The prince turns, frowning. “Ser Lancelyn,” he tells one of the knights, “find out what goes on there.”
“I will do what can, my prince,” replies Lady Elysa, something faintly strained entering her voice. Not regarding the feast, surely, as it was her own suggestion. But it might prove more difficult for the assistant Keeper to impress upon the Keeper that he ought to be attending. And then, before more can be said about that matter, the commotion at the gates draws everyone’s attention.
Lysanne gasps softly at the commotion, drawing the pale and frail Lorinda closer to her. Wide-set eyes look about anxiously for some clue.
Senara hands Leyla off to her nursemaid, and turns back to Marence now that she is freed of the heavy burden of child. “Of course,” she starts to respond to the invitation to dinner, “that would be…” she trails off upon hearing the commotion. Her attention is drawn away from the prince, toward the gate where the Prince’s knows and the guards seem to be focusing their attention. She purses her lips slightly, but otherwise remains where she is for now, her eyes intent on the disturbance.
The knight departs as commanded, with a bow, and almost as swiftly he returns after commanding a man to be allowed through the gate. It’s an orphan of the Greenblood, rings in his ears, clothing colorful as is the wont in Dorne, but richly embroidered in Rhoynish patterns. He breathes hard, as if he’s run a race, or mayhaps ridden one. The orphan stumbles before the prince, falling to his knees in obesiance.
“What’s happened?” Marence asks, his words stony. “Where did you come from?”
“My prince,” the man gasps, sucking in air with an effort, Ser Lancelyn frowning down at him. “Ships, my lord—ships approaching the Planky Town. A score, more. We carried word as swiftly as we could.”
“Oakenfist has sailed? We have time, then—the spears—”
“Not from Salt Shore, my prince,” says the orphan, and it’s like it’s torn from him. “From the east. Great galleys of the Free Cities. They were only hours away when first seen, coming in swiftly on the tide.” The sound he makes is half-gasp, half-sob.
Beneath the freckles dusting her face, Elysa grows paler, and she digs the fingers on one hand into her other arm. “Sellswords?” she asks, unnecessarily, and then shakes her head as if denying the facts. But she fails to convince even herself. “Oakenfist may not be far behind then.”
“Which City?” Lysanne echoes, also concerned with the idea of more sellswords. “From Braavos? Lys?”
Senara maintains a calm dignity through the brief wait while the knight goes to see what the trouble is, even when the orphan is brought before Marence. His news causes her dark eyebrows to rise, however, and she glances around to the others. “From the Free Cities? How can that be? How how did this go unnoticed for so long?” she asks, speaking her thoughts aloud. The urgency of the situation makes her words sound more a demand.
It’s just as well, that the women ask, for Marence seems at a loss. His shoulders bow. In his silence, the orphan speaks, turning his gaze from one lady to the other. “The Free Cities has had so many ships moving, so many companies, because of the Sealord’s wars. But no purple sails, we know that much,” he says. “Stripes, however—Lysene, maybe, or Myrish.” Then he turns back to Marence then, hands pressed together. “My prince,” he begs, “you must send the spears. We had defenses, we may hold them out long enough—”
“If it’s as you say,” says Marence, and in his voice is defeat, “then we’ve lost the Planky Town already. They could not have held, not without more men. Men who were here, here, waiting for word…” His voice trails into silence. He swallows, and about him his knights are ... uncomfortable; or perhaps ashamed. A breath, and he straightens his shoulders. “No matter. The spears will go out. Perhaps they can win the Planky Town back, before Oakenfist arrives after the king’s sellsails.” There’s no convinction in what he says.
Lysanne considers this, “Not Braavos, then. My Prince, consider the possibility that this is Lys, seeking to counter the alliance the Sealord has made with the Iron Throne?” The suggestion might well be laughable to the more tactically minded, but it is a possibility.
Despite her initial reaction, Elysa pulls herself up straighter when she sees the effect the news has on Marence. To Lysanne she nods, almost a little curtly, to acknowledge her suggestion. But it is to the prince she speaks. “Send your brother right away. If those are sellswords hired by the Targaryens to open the way for Oakenfist, there’s no room for caution.”
Senara is no tactician, but she is not uneducated. Nor is she unobservant, and seeing Marence’s reaction only causes her to draw herself up. “To admit defeat now, before those ships even land, is surely premature. We do not, as Lady Lysanne has implied, know their intentions, or if they are even in service to Daeron. We must, of course, assume the worst of them. But we cannot give in under mere speculation,” she says, the passion of her words causing to reach out and rest a hand on Marence’s arm briefly, in an attempt to draw him back to them. “How many spears will go out, my lord?” she inquires.
Perhaps Rhodry would have made a better Lord of Sunspear, at this time, cruel though he is. With Marence, caution has been his doom—not cowardice, but perhaps too much fear for what his decisions might cause. Regardless, what the others say work their way through his mind. “Yes,” he says. “Perhaps they are allies.” But there’s no hope in his voice—he’s had no messages, no envoys, nothing at all; a strange way for allies to come around. And then to Elysa and Senara, he nods, as if he agrees with what they say, as if he’s decided something.
“Ser Lancelyn, take this man and find Rhodry, pull him out of whatever b—” He stops himself, mouth thin as he notices Lysanne’s daughter there still. “Out of whatever establishment he’s at. Tell him everything you know. He’ll have all the spears he can have ready to leave by morning.” He turns then, and to the other knights: “You, find Ser Perrin, tell him the news, have him help see the spears gathered. Lady Margaid as well, to organize some supplies, the seneschal to see to readying my household. Let everyone in Sunspear know that the spears go to war.”
Lysanne sends Lorinda off with her nurse, to their apartments. The Marcher lady has gone dreadfully pale with the news, but dips her chin in assent to the Prince’s words.
It was what she just asked of Marence, of course, but even so Elysa can hardly look pleased as the prince gives out his commands, no matter how much she attempts to muster a supportive demeanor. It seems plain enough, however, that she shares his lack of faith in the ships being anything but the worst of news. “We are all at your command, my prince.”
Lysanne follows her daughter and her servant, ushering them back to the safety of their apartments.
“Of course, Lady Elysa,” the prince says, distractedly. After a moment, he says to her, “Find the maester. Have him prepared to send word tomorrow. If these are friends, we must know before then ... and if not, we must let the rest of Dorne know of what has happened.” So. The thin thread of hope, that these are allies, has caught a hold of Marence’s thoughts enough that he keeps the possibility in mind.
As Marence makes a decision and takes some action, Senara nods and withdraws with a glance at Elysa. Her expression is grave, her eyes tight with worry, but only her eyes. The rest of her seems to maintain a certain grace under pressure, as if she refuses to give in to thoughts of defeat. By now, Leyla has been taken off with the servants to ready her rooms, but Senara remains, nodding her agreement with Elysa. “If you need anything from me, anything at all, do not hesitate to ask, my Lord,” she murmurs to Marence. “For now, I will retire, by your leave.”