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For those who had traveled to the riverlands months earlier, who witnessed a wedding and a feud and the unquiet spirits (if such they were), the return to the royal city of King’s Landing may well have been greatly welcome. But though the city may have been welcoming, it had not stopped in being what it was, the center of the realm, the heart of it, the high seat where lords and knights and ladies existed in King Baelor’s court. Beneath the shadow of the Iron Throne, and the shadow of the Maidenvault where the three princesses now linger, life went on.
And so for those who returned, the first change they might well have noticed was that the three high hills—that of Visenya, Rhaenys, and Aegon—had taken on a new silhouette. The Red Keep on Aegon’s High Hill stood as it always did. So, too, did the Dragonpit in its decrepitude and growing neglect. But on Visenya’s Hill, where Visenya’s Sept had stood since the first years of Aegon the Conqueror’s reign, something was different: the sept was diminished, its dome and columns and walls covered in scaffolding, and on that scaffolding there were scores of laborers, chipping away at the stones, sending the chips and rubble down by buckets lowered on ropes where more laborers carted it away.
Baelor had seen a vision of a great new sept, the greatest in all the Seven Kingdoms, and had decreed that it had be built on the site of Visenya’s Sept. Many months had gone in the planning, in determining how it should appear, in beginning to find quarry sites. More time had been taken to carefully remove any venerable or holy objects from the sept, storing them in safety in vaults beneath the Red Keep, watched over by the septons of the royal sept and by two of the Most Devout. And so it progressed, and progressed rapidly.
More had change, however: those returning from the riverlands discovered strange new faces, the bearded faces of the ironborn. Far away from the Iron Islands though they were, longships with scores of men manning them had come in to Blackwater Bay, had found berths on the quays, and from them was disgorged their chief: Eurik Greyjoy, the Lord Admiral of the Iron Fleet, brother of the Lord Reaper of Pyke. An uncommon ironborn, they say—but those from the westerlands and the Reach might say that however uncommon, he’s still more than half a reaver, and not to be trusted. Yet trusted he was, and he and his presented themselves at the Red Keep, announcing their intention to stay at the command of Lord Greyjoy, to make sure that the Iron Islands were thought of whenever the rule of the realm was deliberated upon.
It is true, some might say, that it is not the custom of kings to consult the Greyjoys. Not even when the Young Dragon made war on Dorne, and had need of ships, were they sought out—and perhaps that’s part of their grievance (at the least, they might have paid the iron price on the Dornish shore, reaving under the Targaryen banner and winning wealth and thralls while they were at it). And now this new, pious king… Well, it is no great surprise.
Already, Greyjoy and King Baelor have met more than once, though more often they say Eurik has been seen in the company of the Master of Ships. Those near to Velaryon say that they rarely talk of ships and the sea, that Velaryon wearies of these things, but it it seems he has no choice—and it seems Eurik Greyjoy, aware of it, decided to garner more attention for himself and his mission. He declared a melee, a contest between two sides, but not on the usual tourney ground. Instead, the ironborn roped together several of their longships and set teams of warriors on either side. Not, as it happened, one side of the ironmen against a side of challengers—Greyjoy insisted that they be mixed, ironmen and “greenlanders” both, with the victors to share the prize: a chest full of treasures, the ironmen said.
What followed was a curious event, drawing many curious eyes, and even interest from courtiers. There were bold knights who took up the challenge, who did not scoff (not very much, at least) at fighting besides ironmen. The battle was fierce, the decks of the boats swaying this way and that in the shallow water as men fought up and down the decks, leaping gunwales to try and claim more of the deck. Greyjoy fought, as did his son and his nephew, and a notorious warrior called Tormund Bloodaxe as well. Many fine deeds were done, but the finest came only when one side seemed to have the victory in its grasp. Against full eight remaining warriors were ranged only two men: the ironman Romny Saltcliffe and the master-at-arms of Bronzegate, Ser Walton Smallwood.
Yet these two, fighting together against such odds, proved somehow to be greater than the sum of their parts, to fight like half a dozen men rather than a mere, mortal two. Many wondered as one man fell to them, and then another, how much longer their skill and luck would last. And the answer? It would last so long that after felling half a dozen men, it was left to Ser Walton to stand alone against two men alone.
But those two were enough: Tormund Stonetree, a master-at-arms as well, knocked Ser Walton from his feet at last. The cheers were for the brave knight who had withstood such battle… but the prize went to the victors. And there was argument over it: Tormund claimed a greater share, for having been the last and most successful of his side as he claimed it, for having brought down the knight who had defied them. Ser Ryckon Westerling argued with him, and Ser Marrik Bar Emmon—a man recently returned, they say, from hunting pirates in the Stepstones—and at one point it even seemed that Stonetree might come to blows with the disgraced Westerling knight, Ser Humfrey; he even hefted the red-hued ax that gives him his byname, and loudly challeneged anyone who denied him to fight.
In the end, it took Eurik Greyjoy to negotiate peace between the arguing sides. Tormund had his greater share, and his first pick, though Marik Bar Emmon chose to throw the wealth he had started gathering up into the Blackwater rather than deposit them back in the chest; later it was said that there were ironmen and Kingslanders alike swimming and diving in the area, with some occasionally plucking up a treasure.
Others followed after, taking the riches the chest contained: coins from half a hundred lands, semi-precious stones, rubies from Kayakayanaya, bags of queer spices, golden torcs, and more. Ser Ryckon Westerling claimed the second greatest share, they say, for having been next to last of their side. It was noted, too, that when Ser Janden Melcolm took his share, he gave a portion to Ser Walton, an act all considered most chivalrous.
And the result of all this? There are those who say that in the week following the melee, Greyjoy was invited to dine with Prince Viserys, the Hand, and Ser Alyn has departed for Dragonstone with a small part of the royal fleet, no longer required to stay and keep the Lord Admiral of the Iron Fleet entertained. And if Eurik has not met more with King Baelor, that may be no surprise: not long after, word arrived of a tourney incident in far away Dorne, and it said the king has taken to spending a deal of time praying for Lord Joscelyn Mallister, Joscelyn the Just, who some say is reported to have been knocking at the Crone’s door thanks to some Dornish princeling or other.
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