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It falls upon me to tell the story of one Dermett Corbray, a scion of that most ancient house in the Vale of Arryn who was born one-hundred and forty-two years after Aegon’s glorious conquest. His life, when compared to the many great knights and heroes who have lived throughout the history of Westeros, was rather unremarkable. Yet I deem it one worth telling.
It was a life, as so many are, littered with tales of small glories and greater tragedies. Perhaps in time it is one that future Corbrays can look to and learn from as they set forth to carry the family’s famed banner of into battle, or tread the hallowed halls of the Red Keep in King’s Landing1.
For those who have no attachment to the ravens of Heart’s Home or their plight, I can only hope that you find some enjoyment in the tale. Understand that this is a work perpetually in progress, with further chapters (and rewriting of the present ones) certain to be added in the future, until the story reaches its end.
Now let us begin.
1One hopes the reader can abide the unabashed bias of the humble scribe. My love of House Corbray and admiration for this scion in particular is too strong for aught else. All names, places and stories are, of course, property of their respective owners. This piece is written purely out of love, not for coin.
The year was 142 AC and winter would soon descend upon the walls of Heart’s Home. Yet within those ancient halls the mood was warm and merry, for famed knights and nobles from as far as Strongsong, the Snakewood and, aye, even the Eyrie had gathered to celebrate the birth of Lord Qarl Corbray’s firstborn son and heir.
King Aegon III Targaryen, son of the ill-fated Princess Rhaenyra, reigned upon the Iron Throne and it had been over a decade since that terrible civil war known as the ‘Dance of the Dragons’ had torn the Seven Kingdoms asunder.
The dire consequences of the conflict were still being felt across the realm, long after the fall of the pretender Princess Rhaenyra at the hands of her brother, Aegon II, and the wounded dragon Sunfyre. For Aegon II’s subsequent death of grievous wounds meant that his nephew, the boy Aegon, would inherit the throne, once more throwing the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil.
For, as is so often the case during a regency, the great nobles unscathed in the Dance set forth to secure influence over the boy-king Aegon (who would be styled the Third of His Name). Amongst such men stood the late Lord Leowyn Corbray, who would play a key role in securing the throne of the man who would one day become known as ‘Aegon the Dragonbane’.
Despite standing amongst the lesser of Lord Arryn’s leal banners, Lord Leowyn rose to be titled the Lord Protector of the Realm, before perishing of the winter sickness in 133. His brother, the famed knight Ser Corwyn, would follow two years later, murdered in coldest blood at a parley outside of Runestone2.
It fell upon the then-only thirteen-year-old shoulders of his eldest son, the young Lord Qarl, to keep the family strong and prominent. Though an uncle, Ser Andian, and two younger brothers yet lived, the swift and healthy birth of a son to continue the ancient line of his house became a something of a priority for the young Lord of Heart’s Home.
Despite heading a family that had suffered something of a fall from grace in recent years, Qarl managed to secure the hand of the lady Molianne of House Westerling; a similarly ancient but impoverished house in the north of the Westerlands. Almost ten years after the death of his father – and two years after the birth of a daughter, Simona – Molianne did bear Qarl a son.
The boy was named Dermett, who would be soon followed by another girl, Alina, and two younger brothers named Endrew and Derren. Though none can be certain of the ambitions of Lord Qarl, all of the Vale watched on with interest to see whether he could ascend to the heights that his father had soared. And, to be certain, from a very young age, the burden placed on the shoulders of Dermett was immense.
2For further information regarding Lord Leowyn, Ser Corwyn and the bloody wars that would later be known as the Dance of the Dragons, pursue the works of Archmaester Munkun and Archmaester Gyldayn, who together describe those terrible years in more detail than I dare attempt.
Yet it was a burden that never manifested on the perpetually cocksure bearing of the Corbray heir. Indeed, it was one that seemed to spur him ever onwards in life. Never was there a lad as lively as the young Dermett Corbray. So said his mother as crawling gave way to walking, which in turn gave way to the climbing of anything and everything within the grounds of Heart’s Home. Soon, however, even that became too small of a folly for the insatiably restless, young raven.
In his youth, Dermett was known to be fond of travelling and exploring the verdant and picturesque lands that surrounded his family seat. It was an indulgence Qarl encouraged, often volunteering to take Dermett and his younger brothers out on hunting trips and horse rides within the family estates. It was during these years that the boy displayed a remarkable aptitude for riding. His father would watch on, seemingly pleased at the sight of his son excelling at such a knightly talent.
It would seem the marital future that Qarl had hoped for his son was most certainly in the offing. A skilled, firm hand to mentor Dermett in the years to come would be necessary, lest the confident young man fall into bad habits or reckless indulgence. While the castle master-at-arms developed him well as a child and page, it was decided that the Corbray heir must train as a squire away from his family seat; that he may grow as a man and as a knight away from the privilege and courtesy that were afforded to him within the ancient walls of Heart’s Home.
Happenstance afforded him a grander opportunity than even his father could have imagined.
Despite a rumoured interest from House Tully in the hand of the famous beauty Jyana Arryn for their eldest son Edmure, Qarl endeavoured to secure a betrothal between his eldest daughter Simona and the young heir to Riverrun. It would be a union to once more position the house of Corbray into a place of great prominence within the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Corbray had made all-but-certain that his grandson would become one of the most powerful men in Westeros.
As a part of the arrangement it was agreed that Dermett would be sent to serve as Lord Kermit Tully’s personal squire. Despite the honour that could be earned learning at the heel of such a prominent man and family, the young Corbray heir was enraged. For his heart was set on squiring for his uncle, Ser Alyard, whose skills at arms were both prodigious and growing. Though Ser Alyard stood as one of the foremost knights of the Vale, his brother, Lord Qarl, would not relent.
To be sure, it did not help matters that Alyard was considered the black sheep of the family, constantly at odds with elder brother. Yet Dermett’s fury was all for naught; an arrangement had been made and no amount of blistering rows between father and son would change that. In the year 155, when Dermett was still four-and-ten, he set out to Riverrun to begin his training at the heel of the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands.
While it is true that the young Corbray heir first developed the dissolute and disreputable ways that would later blight his life while serving Lord Tully, this was not always the case. For the first two years or so when the boy was resolute in his desire to one day stand, as his uncle, as one of the foremost knights of the realm, Lord Tully had no better student.
Indeed, the skill at arms his squire displayed was a sight to behold. A veritable force of nature from a (relatively) impoverished background, the other, young squires of Riverrun could not match the sheer hunger and desire shown by the young Corbray heir. With his skill on horseback already well established, it came as no surprise to anyone that he should take so well to the skill of jousting, while his swordsmanship grew stronger with each passing moon.
With the surest of care did the young man study, endeavouring to become the very flower of Vale chivalry.
When lessons were at an end, Dermett was afforded time to himself, while his mentor disappeared to see to one matter of import or another. In his younger years Dermett would continue lessons alone, or under the tutelage of the castle master-at-arms, yet as he grew older fresh endeavours caught his impressionable eyes.
Drinking with the men of the household guard, during their time off from duty within the barracks, was one such pastime. The lowborn men were like no other Dermett had encountered. Seldom sober, often gregarious and always hilarious, the guardsmen made for fine company away from the prim and proper court of Lord Tully. It was amongst such folk that Dermett developed a passion for gambling; a passion that never matured into a talent, for the boy was too foolhardy a player to leave a game with more coin in hand than what he began with. Yet, inevitably, it would be the pursuit of women that would become his greatest vice.
How could it not? Young men are often made thrall by their dissolute proclivities. Pair this with his young, strong and arrogant demeanour and his prominent position at Riverrun, and Dermett would often find the young women of the land falling willingly at his feet.
Riverrun itself proved a bothersome place for the lad to indulge in his newfound pleasures. One haughty serjeant or another would put an end to any foolishness in the barracks and the lowborn women within the castle were far too few in number that the carousing there was short-lived.
No, it was on Lord Tully’s frequent trips away from Riverrun that the Corbray made up for lost time. ‘A girl in every fief’ he boasted of, with paramours in towns from Pinkmaiden to Pennytree. Riding abreast to the most powerful man in the Riverlands – young, broad and unabashed – the women of such towns did not need much convincing to become enchanted by the strapping squire. So long as his charge applied himself in training and never shirked at his responsibilities within the household, Lord Tully turned a blind eye to such activities, much to the delight of his charge, who readily indulged.
Yet matters came to a head in the year 157 when the Young Dragon called his banners3. After hearing one too many times about his wayward apprentice, Lord Tully commanded that, rather than march to war beneath the leaping trout of House Tully, Dermett should remain in Riverrun, to continue his training under the mentoring of whatever knights remained within the castle. The squire, he deemed, was not yet ready to see battle.
Whatever lesson Lord Tully imagined the decision would achieve, it was one that perhaps, in hindsight, proved most ruinous in the development of the Corbray heir. Distraught at missing the chance to earn fame and glory in the south, Dermett only indulged further in his vices, often without his master around to rein in any gross excesses. For the first time even his knightly training began to suffer; those squires he had so often easily conquered in the practice yard now offering a sterner challenge with each passing moon.
With the war at a swift end and the dominance of the Iron Throne in Dorne seemingly secured, Dermett continued his training at Lord Tully’s heel. The damage, however, was already done; the prodigious, young man that had departed from Heart’s Home was gone, replaced by a dangerous lad more prone to profligacy than the relentless pursuit of greatness.
3Ah yes, the Conquest. There is a Chronicle of that noble endeavour that can be found on this very site. Seek it out above, beneath the Roleplay section. Again, that work tells the tale of that particular war in more detail than I could hope to manage here.
With his eighteenth nameday come and gone, Dermett was left wondering when or, indeed, if he would ever earn his spurs. With a firm hand once more in place and his debauched appetite outwardly restrained for the nonce, Dermett attempted to make up for lost time in the practice yard. To be sure, he proved talented enough with lance, sword and shield, yet it seemed he would never be one of those men to earn his knighthood earlier than the norm.
He was, despite all desire, decidedly average. The shame and pain of it all would have sent a lesser man to ruin.
The standard set by his uncle Ser Alyard, who had earned his spurs at seventeen, was a reality that ate at the Corbray heir. How could he become one of the foremost knights in the realm – a notion that would now surely never come to pass – when he could not stand as the foremost knight of his house?
An opportunity to prove himself arrived not long after his nameday. A notorious band of outlaws had been blighting the Riverlands for months; when word reached Riverrun that they had gall enough to tread too close to the castle, Lord Tully resolved to personally see the matter resolved. With his squire at his side, Lord Tully departed Riverrun at the head of an armoured column, determined to show that no slight to the Riverlands would go unpunished.
He would descend on those wretched outlaws with blade and fury, showing no remorse to the cur that would rob and maim his subjects. After the swiftest of skirmishes the outlaws were routed, fleeing in all directions save for the path of the rampaging Riverlord and his retinue. Dermett gave chase on horseback, unaccompanied by any allies, pursuing three bandits into the woodland.
For a moment the Corbray had thought he had lost his foes… before suddenly finding himself pulled from his saddle, caught off guard by a man swiftly approaching his offhand. Landing hard onto the floor, the young squire threw up a gauntlet to protect himself from the axe that fell hard towards his face. This first foe received a dagger in the belly for his troubles.
A second charged forth with club in hand, troubling Dermett for a moment before too falling to the superior skill of the squire. Elated at his success and the glory to be earned in retelling the tale, Dermett did not see the third approach from behind. Hard and heavy was the bandit’s crude blade swung at his half-helm. The squire was felled in an instant.
Motionless, bleeding and dying, it is by the mercy of the Seven that he would be found within the hour by his master.
For near on a week Dermett lay unconscious in Riverrun with a terrible scar stitched up beside his left temple. When he finally awoke it was to the sight of silver spurs resting on his bedside. Lord Tully – taking pride in the courage and skill of his squire, reckless as his deeds had been – was content enough that, should the boy live, he was ready to return home a knight.
Despite the imploring of a maester who insisted that he remain abed, Dermett spent the night in the sept, praying to the statue of the Warrior. As the sun arose over the Riverlands, the now Ser Dermett Corbray began preparations to return home to his father’s seat.
Before departing, Dermett received a gift from his mentor Lord Tully: a steel blade, forged within Riverrun, sheathed inside a heart-red scabbard. It would be a longsword that Dermett would wield for many years to come.
The years following knighthood were served at home in the Vale. At his father’s right hand Dermett continued his studies, this time in preparation of his eventual ascension to Lord of Heart’s Home. He would sit in on meetings with his father’s court and vassals; learning those names, faces and personalities well, for a time when he would one day be expected to govern them.
Yet Dorne would prove a difficult land to tame. The murder of Lord Tyrell in Sandstone during 160 triggered an uprising in the south, the King once more calling his banners to see the Prince of Sunspear brought to heel for a second time. While Lord Corbray rode off to aid his liege in the Vale’s endeavours, Dermett once again remained at home, commanded to rule the family lands in the absence of his father.
While disappointed to once more miss the opportunity to earn great glory in the field, it was a task in which Dermett proved most capable. Owing to years of carousing in the Riverlands, the Corbray heir had a sort of common touch that his more stern and austere father never had. The smallfolk that came to Heart’s Home with their troubles were greeted by a lordling much more caring of their plights, warmer in his manners and giving in favours and promises.
While many considered his son’s stewardship a success, Lord Corbray returned home disappointed in what he had learned. His son would need toughening up before ascending to lordship, Qarl determined, lest his benevolent and gregarious nature be taken advantage of later in life by scheming underlings or unimpressed superiors. Yet what could be done?
In the mean time, Dermett continued to seek fame and fortune where possible. In 162, a grand tourney was held at Highgarden in celebration of the betrothals of both Jeona and Lyessa Tyrell to Eldred Arryn and Damon Lannister respectively. It would be a majestic affair to show that the might of the golden rose was still growing strong, that the chivalry of the Reach had no equal.
Having achieved nothing of note in the two years since earning his spurs, save for getting under the feet of his lord father, Dermett set forth to compete. Once more the man was lead astray by the sun-kissed girls of the Reach, so too the honeyed wine and apple cider they sipped from pink and pouting lips.
Awaking late, having missed the crowing of the cock, the man had to beg his way into the competition at the foot of the Master of Games. The man relented, yet it was all for naught. Bow-legged and worse for wear, Dermett entered the lists thoroughly unprepared for the task ahead. Though he offered a stern test to the hedge knight he faced in the earliest of rounds, he was ultimately unhorsed, dislocating a shoulder in the process.
It was a wound that effectively ended his involvement in the competition at Highgarden. From the stands he watched and sulked as Ser Almer Connington bested all foes, earning great fame and greater fortune for his deeds in the field.
Dermett resolved that never again would either woman or drink lead him astray while preparing for such a tournament. If naught else the man could be a tourney knight of grand repute, determined in his belief that he could stand with the best of men while upon horseback.
It was a promise that would eventually come to pass, though this is a story we must return to later.
Another year passed and Dermett awoke one morning to find himself summoned by his father. Arriving at Lord Corbray’s solar bleary-eyed and more than a little under the weather, the Corbray heir was informed that his time at Heart’s Home was coming to an end. There was little else he could do to serve his family at home; along with his younger sister, Alina, he would be sent to King’s Landing to represent his father at court and to seek fame and fortune in the halls of the King.
The pious, poisonous and unforgiving court of King Baelor I Targaryen, Lord Qarl did wager, would be either the making or breaking of his eldest son and heir. Either the soft and often dissolute tendencies of the man would be beaten out of him or he would return home a failure. A simpering, capering fool though his son could sometimes be, Lord Qarl did not think him one for failure; for the blood of proud and ancient house of Corbray clearly coursed through his veins.
It would prove to be a gamble worthy of Dermett himself, but one that had to be made. After gathering up their belongings and saying their goodbyes, Dermett and Alina Corbray took to the road and began their journey to King’s Landing, accompanied by a small retinue of guardsmen and attendants, and knights enough to see them safely through the Mountains of the Moon.
The journey to King’s Landing was ponderous and at times rather treacherous for the Corbray train. The mountain clans left the armoured procession well enough alone but by then it was very much autumn, and the ground underfoot was wet, muddy and at its worst perilously slippery. Rock falls from the narrow gorges and gullets they passed through were also a common occurrence, though the Corbray siblings made it through unscathed.
Upon finally leaving the Vale, Alina declared that it was her wish to visit Duskendale so that she might see the famous city once scorched by dragonfire and visit the kin of their grandmother, Leria Corbray, who had once worn the maiden cloak of House Darklyn. When an excursion to Maidenpool also seemed to be on her itinerary, Dermett decided to press onwards to King’s Landing alone, leaving his younger sister with the entire procession save for a single guardsman.
Free of the lumbering train, Dermett and his man rode out with three swift horses; one for each rider and a third loaded with the knight’s arms, armour and other meagre possessions. He had packed lightly for his journey, being a man, once and always, of modest, material need and desire.
It was by the roadside – accompanied by the guardsmen and three freeriders who themselves were making for the capital – not far from King’s Landing that Dermett celebrated his twenty-first nameday, marking the occasion with a bottle of fine wine spirited from his father’s kitchens. A few days later he would finally arrive at court.
Immediately the man’s foolhardy ways brought him many detractors, Ser Farin Prester chief amongst them. Farin was Warden of the Kingswood at this time, a man held in the highest regard by his peers at court and not known for tolerating imprudence. Dermett might have evaded the man’s notice for a while longer had he arrived at court a few days later, and missed the wedding of Ser Josmyn Reyne and Alyce Bar Emmon.
Returning to the keep drunk after a visit to the city, Dermett had ventured to the kitchen keep in search of food and company. Within, however, a great feast was taking place in celebration of Ser Josmyn Reyne’s union to lady Alyce of House Bar Emmon. The Corbray heir had arrived late into the proceedings, however, and found only drink where food was desired. Yet the sudden and uproarious bedding of the erstwhile Crownlands maiden was a treat to match the sweetest cake, and Dermett took it upon himself to aid the woman in preparing for the wedding night.
He awoke the next day – hung-over and cold within his guest tower apartments – with the bridal smallclothes draped triumphantly around his neck. A wry smile crept across his lips as he arose, groaning, to prepare for the day’s contest.
“Mayhapsh the Sheven have not abandoned me? Warrior give me shtrength. Maiden give me love. Crone bring me cunt! Pray SHTRANGER, if one of your shervtants should ssssave me, I would be mosht grateful!” - A greatly inebriated Ser Dermett says a prayer as he is given a beaten by more gallant knights of the court.
“It is queer how opinions can be formed, to be sure. We may all see each other often at court yet never get the opportunity to know the man, or indeed the woman, behind the name. In the end, it is often the ills we cause that come to define us. Our best moments are seldom seen in the public eye. I know this more than most.” - Speaking in private to his fellow Vale lordling Ser Janden Melcolm, the Corbray heir ponders how reputations are formed at court.
”[T]emper your pride before you choke on it, ser. I will not look kindly upon you if I have cause to send for you again.” - Lord Jonothor Arryn puts the proud heir to Heart’s Home in his place, after a feud with his cousin Lady Jyana Arryn.
A Lordling Forlorn - Celebrations the night of the Bar-Emmon/Reyne wedding tourney turn violent; an heir gets paid more than he bargained for with his song.
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