A week since his arrest, and now he has been released: Lord Alyn Velaryon, the famed hero of the Stepstones, explorer of the seas, is once again free in the Red Keep… but only for a little while, for his release was conditional: he is to set sail for Volantis as an envoy for the Iron Throne and is expected to remain there until recalled. What will become of his seat on the small council, and his command of the royal fleet? Already gossip swirls, about that and other things, such as the pleas made on Velaryon’s behalf by Princess Elaena, mother of his bastards, and by members of the king’s own small council.
But one need not listen to gossip overmuch, for here in the great hall of the Kitchen Keep, where a number of the court have gathered to pass the while with wine and song, the great lord and sailor has appeared in person, and that other princess, defiant Daena, with him, beautiful and clearly angry by her uncle’s command. What could bring them here, of all places? Mayhaps the fact that among the hall’s occupants are Prince Daeron and his Dornish bride, Princess Mariah.
A pair of singers sing together a lovely rendition of “The Maids that Bloom in Spring”, accompanied by harp and pipe, while knots of knights, ladies, and courtiers talk and gossip. Near the prince and princess are Ser Aidan Dayne—the captain of Mariah’s personal guard, as appointed by her brother the Prince of Dorne—and his lady, Aisling of House Ryswell. Daeron too has his friends and companions with him, but the prince seems more interested in the singing than the chattering. As his cousins enter, he can be seen leaning over to whisper to his lady wife before rising. “My lord, my lady,” he says to them both, bowing. “Are you leaving already, cousin?” He seems to take after his grandfather—there’s little emotion revealed as he speaks, though it’s said that when young the prince was much taken with Velaryon, who oft dandled him on his knee when he was a toddler.
“Your grandfather insists,” Princess Daena says, barely acknowleding the bows and curtsies that come in her wake. “My uncle is a cruel man, and our cousin is crueller still, all too willing to flee rather than demand to be heard.” She, unlike her younger cousin, is not one to hide her emotion. Nor does she care who hears her, plainly enough.
Oakenfist does not seem happy by any of it, but he seems resigned to his fate. “On the evening tide, my lord. To Driftmark, for a day, no more, and then south to the Stepstones and Volantis beyond.”
Standing to one side attempting to make polite conversation with several courtiers, the Selmy knight watches Velaryon and his companions. He takes a long drink from the winecup he is holding, clearly bored by the gossiping around him before smiling politely as he is asked a question.
Never the most cheerful, it must be said, but among Princess Mariah’s companions lady Aisling stands out by looking even more serious than usual even before the arrival of Oakenfist brings everyone’s minds to the current situation. A rumor—small amidst the others, easily overlooked—claims she sought a meeting with the King some days ago. What reason she would have to do so is hard to say, though perhaps it explains her somber mood as the King apparently had no time at all to spare.
“Could you not visit Dorne first, Lord Alyn?” Princess Mariah asks, looking up from her embroidery. It seems an innocent enough question…. but Lord Alyn’s discomfort at it makes it plain it’s not.
“I regret that the king was quite clear that he wished me in Volantis as soon as may be,” he says. “The Planky Town and Sunspear are in the wrong direction.” Mariah seems unsurprised, but nods her head anyway. Daeron, looking between his wife and his august cousin, reveals little.
“So you came to say farewell? Come, join us for some wine, at least,” Prince Daeron says, and he motions a servant to place chairs beside his own.
“_He_ came to say farewell,” Daena announces, “but _I_ came to tell you to have a word with your grandfather. You and your wife both, in fact. Dissuade him from this nonsense. He won’t listen to me, nor Elaena, for all her tears, but he listens to you, cousin.” That Daena speaks so blatantly and openly of trying to change the king’s mind shows her recklessness, as there are those who overhear the talk and then whisper back and forth about it, wondering what could happen in the hours to come if Daeron says yes… or even he says no.
“Daena, some of your uncle’s own household are he—” Alyn starts to speak. Daena cuts him off.
“What of it?” she says, scanning the crowd, and noting the Selmy knight, a man of the king’s own household guard, as well as others. “King Viserys knows I think he has made a mistake.”
Josella is here with the party of the Dornish princess, and is dressed quite finely for the court to see, making use of indigo sandsilk and even some cloth-of-silver to pay homage to the homeland of her liege lady. She is wise enough to know that it is often a death trap to come between dragons, though, so gives a nod here and a hum there to show her agreement with the various parties. “I trust the king’s judgement,” she raises at one point. That is often the best way to please everyone… even if the supporters of Lord Velaryon and the king seem bent on disagreeing with that sentiment.
Balon feels eyes upon him and his own flick back to the party for the briefest of moments. Another long pull from the winecup as he shifts uncomfortably. “It is warm.” He answers to a question of his well being, a lie but one passive enough not to be discovered. “Nothing more.” The lie could have been seen through by sharper eyes for the young knight was dressed in lighter clothing of linen.
Despite everything, Aisling (who does not have any embroidery at hand to keep herself occupied with) cannot help but to smile for a moment at Daena’s reckless proclamations. As the princess scans the crowd, the northern lady follows suit, curious to see what the reactions are.
“As do I,” Princess Mariah says, following Lady Josella’s statement. “Lady Josella is right. He has many cares, as any king ought to have, and cannot think solely for the good of this one or that one of his subjects, but of the whole.” She seems, on the whole, not especially friendly to Lord Alyn; and why not, given his breaking of Planky Town during King Daeron’s conquest of Dorne?
Her husband is more magnanimous, more well-disposed to the famed Oakenfist, but… “Princess,” he says to Daena, “while the king may occasionally hear me out, I do not think he’d think well of me if I spoke to him about this.” A pause, and then he adds, “I think our cousin is not best pleased to have his departure marred by anger and argument, as well. He came to say farewell, not to plead his case.”
Daena doesn’t care for that argument at all, and starts to speak, but Oakenfist beats her to it. “Quite right,” Lord Velaryon says, and moves to sit on the proferred seat. “Now, I’ll have a goblet of wine with you, coz, and then take my leave. Daena, join us—or not, if you must, but then best you try and bend Prince Aegon’s ear, or Aemon’s, or Naerys’s; I’ve already taken my leave of them, in any case.”
Daena, fierce and beautiful, glares. “Coward!” she says to him. “Does my sister mean so little, then? I should have known, you old goat.” She turns on her heels and stalks out, and in her wake tongues wag.
Josella takes a knife to an apricot tart set before her during the commotion, not looking up until the eldest of the king’s nieces is departed. “I do have pity for her grace,” she admits to a private group by the princess. “And yet, I can’t conceive of anything else that ought to be done. The king cannot force a marriage…” She looks away from the Oakenfist slightly. He is to be gone soon, but a man so renowned has his supporters, and it would not be politic to outwardly offend them.
The accusation catches the Selmy knight’s attention once more, looking to where the now departing Princess stood. He bite the corner of his lip in thought as he watches after her and drains what remnants remain in the winecup. He had given thought to making some subtle steps closer towards the party earlier, but had decided against it given his position and the discussion of the King’s men.
With Daena’s departure, the tension in the room eases somewhat; now no one is likely to be put on the spot and expected to express their allegiance one way or the other. When Josella speaks up, Aisling looks over at the other lady, considering her words. “Doing nothing is always an option, though perhaps too indecisive a choice,” she ventures, without naming names.
“Well, perhaps if certain figures had done less to begin with, there would not be such a predicament.” That is as judgemental as Josella can be as of now without wanting to come off as rude to any party, and takes a sip of wine before glancing across the room, which thankfully seems less like a cache of wildfire ready to be set alight.
Arriving in the aftermath of the Princess’ dramatic exit Ser Jonas Marbrand enters the Great Hall dressed in his fashionable and expensive court clothing with the fire of his house sigil done in deep orange silk stitched into a smoke grey tunic. He glances around the room and exchanges polite nods of greeting with those who meet his glaze as he takes a cup of Dornish Red from a servant and begins to make his way among the gathered nobles.
As matters grow calmer, Prince Daeron pours the cup of wine for Lord Alyn himself, while Princess Mariah turns her head to whisper something to Ser Aidan Dayne. The Dornish knight nods, and after a word with Aisling he stands back and departs their table.
“You have been to Volantis before, cousin, I believe,” Daeron says, after setting down the flagon. “The season must be good for the journey, at the least.”
Nautical matters, at least, make Lord Alyn more at ease. “I have, and it is. Damnably hot and humid, though, Volantis. Worse than here. Fortunately, I’ve some suitable garments in my trunks, though some of them ... well, I don’t suppose I’ve worn them in thirty years or more.” A swallow of wine, and then he says, “Sandsilk robes, gifts from a Princess of Dorne, and some other garments from that mad man, Racallio Ryndoon.”
Josella looks to Aidan for a moment, though doesn’t pry much about his business with the princess, choosing to listen instead between the prince and Velaryon. “Yes, storms are rare this season, although that might change somewhat with the prospective advent of summer,” Josella agrees with his grace.
“I suppose my lord ought to see if he has time to hire a clothier for the voyage before departing,” Josella notes, somewhat sardonically.
“I fear that will have to wait until Volantis, Lady Josella,” Oakenfist says to that, after a chuckle. “The _Laughing Dragon_ sets sail this evening. I’ll trust the tailors in Volantis to manage with appropriate garments. They’ll be quick, to be sure, for fear of their masters’ lashes.”
Mariah makes a face at that, but otherwise says nothing, leaving it to Daeron to say, “A shame, that, but when in Volantis, one must do as the Volantene do. Especially when sent on a mission on behalf of the Iron Throne. It _is_ an honor.” He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself as much as Oakenfist about that, and Lord Alyn merely nods and echoes, “An honor. Yes.”
Ser Aidan makes his way through the knots and groups of courtiers, as the singers take up a new song, “Six Maids in a Pool.” He comes to where Selmy is and says, “Good day, Ser Balon. Her grace, the princess, asked me to invite you to join her at her table. She would like a word.” He looks to the man’s current conversational companions, and though he half-bows in acknowledgment, it’s clear they are not part of the invitation.
The young Selmy knight looks a little surprised at the greeting and invitation. “And to you, Ser Aidan.” He turns away from the group of courtiers he had been unwilling tied to, offering a parting nod. “I am of course at Her Grace’s disposal.” He adds, stepping away and towards the Dornish knight.
“Yes, of course,” Josella responds to Velaryon’s remark… but seems to nod in agreement with Prince Daeron’s sentiment of disappointment. “Well, I don’t suppose the slave-markets will be of much use unless the Faith’s doctrine against thralldom is suddenly reversed. Though I expect many are anticipating the wines and spices and silks from the east,” she responds, her visage passing over to Balon’s table before he can come to join them.
As her husband departs from her side, if only temporarily, Aisling turns her ear to the talk of Volantis. In the end, curiosity prompts her to speak up again, “When you last visited Volantis, Lord Alyn, did you have any interactions with the red priests or priestesses? There are stories told of some of them having…unusual abilities.” Ah. That. Her old obsession.
As Ser Balon departs to take up the invitation, the Knight of the Twilight lingers to listen to the musicians from nearer as they sing of Florian the Fool spying on the maids bathing at Maidenpool, and falling in love with fair Jonquil. As he listens, he sees Ser Jonas nearby and says to him, “A fine song, is it not, ser? We hear it seldom in Dorne, but I have grown fond of it.” Of the drama earlier, with the angry Daena the Defiant and word of Velaryon’s all-but-exile, he says nothing.
Ser Jonas nods at the Knight of the Twilight’s words. “It was a favorite of mine as a child.” The Westerman takes a sip of wine from his cup. “Although as I have gotten older Florian’s original endeavor has become a bit more troubling.” He takes another sip of Dornish Red. “How does the day find you good Ser?”
“Aye, the slavery in Volantis ... a cruel, hard thing,” Lord Alyn admits. “But there’s wealth there, not just from further east, but from north of Volantis, from down the Rhoyne. Amber and furs and rare woods from Norvos and Qohor, floated down the river.” He considers what more to say, and then adds, “His Grace is interested in forging stronger ties with Volantis to balance our relations with the other Free Cities. Braavos is becoming over-bold again, under their current Sealord. There’s rumor he may go to war with Pentos on some excuse.”
A shrug after a swallow of wine and Alyn says, “But it’s rare the Free Cities are not at one another’s throat.” He considers then what Aisling asked and says, “I have met some, aye. They do make claim to seeing visions in flames, and the like, it’s true, but I’ve never heard of them seeing anything worthwhile. Otherwise, would Volantis not be the greatest power in the world with their triarchs doing only what their priests told them to do?”
As Balon arrives at the table he offers a small tilt of his head to those seated, his betters for any other description. Even though he would one day inherit Harvest Hall, he would still only be a knight. “Your Grace,” He adresses the Princess in greeting and pauses a moment. “You wished to speak with me?”
Velaryon’s response sparks a rueful frown from Aisling. “One would think so, my lord. But even if their claims are true, they would surely be hard to swallow for the triarchs, not the least as it would make them followers rather than leaders.”
“I suppose that’s true. The southerly and easterly cities have fine goods, while Braavos has its creditors. Though us Hightowers have had business with the three daughters of the southeast for a while.
Josella considers the question of faith. “I believe that those of the east are entitled to their own opinion, but is not as if visions are unheard of here. Septa Brida claimed to have received visions from the Mother, Maiden and Crone. But some septons and septas so blessed have reported that encounters can be unclear at times… perhaps it is the same in the east,” she concludes.
The Dornish knight chuckles at that and says to Jonas, as they listen to the singers singing “Six Maids in a Pool”, “Well enough, ser,” he says in his Dornish drawl. “And I can see your point. Fair though the maids were, mayhaps it was not so chivalrous to spy on them in their naked glory. But then again, he was a fool, and we allow fools such transgressions, is that not so?”
“Ser Balon,” Princess Mariah says, not looking up from her embroidery as she sorts out a pair of precise stitches. “Come, take Ser Aidan’s seat, he does not seem like to have need of it at the moment.” It’s more order than request, and she waits until it is done. “You are one of the king’s sworn knights, ser,” she says then, “and I thought it best to make sure there is no confusion as to what may be conveyed to him about what just transpired with Princess Daena. It would not do, for there to be any question that my lord husband and I are in agreement with the king on this. He has done his duty, after all, and given opportunity to Lord Velaryon to do his.”
All of that, she says loudly enough for her husband to hear, and her companions, and indeed Lord Velaryon. That last makes a face before swallowing more wine, but says nothing, instead continuing his conversation with the ladies regarding Volantis. “There’s some saying out east, about sorcery. Not fit for polite company, but suffice it to say, mayhaps Lady Josella is right and even if they _do_ see things in the flames, it’s not to be trusted.”
“I suppose.” Ser Jonas replies with a grin. “Although I sometimes worry about the implications of the songs, that we fine Knights are capable of protecting Maidens from every creature save Fools and Bears. If every tale has some base in truth I must say that I am curious about the circumstances surrounding the Bear and the Maiden Fair. Since there is no follow up song about a Knight or even Pate the Pig Boy rescuing the fair Maiden I must wonder if some father was glad to escape the dowry.” He keeps the grin as he takes another sip from his cup of red.
“A fair point,” Aisling concedes to both Josella and Alyn. “There would always be the concern of misinterpretations, whether purposeful or not.” One may get the impression that she gives the matter rather more thought than would be expected. But then again, there have been rumors about her interest in esoteric matters ever since she came to court. It does not seem as if marriage has cured her of that particular fancy.
“Of course, the east had sorcery in centuries past, but if that is true now I cannot say. Most writings of the Citadel would disagree,” Josella notes. “Even in the Seven Kingdoms there are those who call themselves hedge-wizards and woods-witches. Still, if there are rumors, true or not, it is something that my lord might report to on during his time away.”
At the commanded invitation, Balon carefully threads himself about the seats to the empty space vacated by Ser Aidan. He is quiet as he can be as he sits and the Princess speaks, well aware that he was being watched not only by his present company but other eyes within the hall. “I thank you for the invitation, Your Grace.” Balong finally speaks, some nervousness in his voice and pauses, thinking on carefully chosen words. “I would like you assure Your Grace that, anything that has transpired here is the business of those involved and no other, let alone one of lowly knight.” He pauses again for a moment, his blue eyes flicking about the table for where wine might be and forces himself to surpress the urge to reach forward to refill his cup. “I will of course, if the King should impress upon me the desire to know, pass on the very words that Your Grace has given to me.”
Roryn quietly stumbles through the crowd. “My lords, my ladies. Please accept my apologies. I feared I was to endure the misfortune of missing out on the festivities.” He pauses. “Although I must admit, I do still feel the stranger, my fondness for the city is growing…” Roryn’s eyes search throughout the room. “Ser Balon, Ser Jonas, I do believe I have had the pleasure.” He curtly nods. “Of course, I always have a fond recollection of meeting of you, Lady Josella.” Roryn grins. “As for the two of you.” Roryn looks towards Aisling and Aidan. “I have heard nothing but fond stories of your presence here at court. It is quite a pleasure to meet anyone from Dorne. I feel both of you must have felt as out of place when you first came here as do I.” Roryn finally looks towards Alyn. “It is a fine day to witness a man of such stature. I have heard the stories, but I never believed I would have the honor of witnessing the Oakenfist himself…” Roryn shortly bows and smiles.
“Like as not, some robber lord with a bear for his sigil made off with a knight’s daughter,” Aidan says to that, as he consider the possible origins of the song. “Though what house that would be, I could not say. We have no bears in Dorne, even as as sigils. Something in the stormlands, mayhaps? Or the West? Are there cave bears as well as cave lions, ser?”
He pauses then, as the ironborn heir to Saltcliffe makes his way through the crowd, greeting him and moving on to others before reaching the high table where Lord Alyn sits with Prince Daeron and Princess Mariah, as well as Ser Balon and the ladies Aisling and Josella. For his part, the Dornishman gives the nobleman a bow in greeting.
“My lord of Saltcliffe,” Lord Alyn says, lifting his cup to him. “I suppose there would be stories about me, in the Iron Islands. It is good to be known.”
“A very politic answer, ser,” Princess Mariah says with an inscrutable expression, dark eyes on Ser Balon. “No wonder you are in the king’s circle.” After that, Roryn Saltcliffe presents himself, and she follows the lead of her husband, who offers the ironman a pleasant greeting. The Dornish princess looks at him with some curiousity. “I can see the resemblance to Ser Dagur,” she remarks to him, referring to the disowned elder brother who has carved out his own name and fame as the Iron Serpent. And with that mentioned…. she turns to Lord Alyn, and interrupts the conversation about Volantis and magic. “Shall Ser Dagur take up your duties, do you believe, my lord? He holds a high post in the fleet, second to you only.”
“The king did not confide in me his thoughts on the matter,” Oakenfist says, a little carefully. “Though I did offer recommendations, if he wished to use them. I cannot say if he would.”
“Boars, Badgers, Beetles, Bulls, and Bantams are all found on the shields of the Westerlands but alas we are lacking in Bear sigils. Bears we have in the woods and hills but so far none have been elevated to Lordship.” Ser Jonas smiles and returns a silent but respectful greeting to Roryn Saltcliffe.
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Balon responds to the Princess and offers a nod to the newcomer who’s face is unknown to him, but the name is familiar. Seemly out of the attention of the others, Balon leans forward to take hold of a jug of wine to refill his cup.
At Roryn’s greeting, Aisling cannot help but to arch a brow. “I do wonder who told those stories,” she replies as she inclines her head to him. As Princess Mariah then brings up the Ser Dagur, she gives Roryn a second look and nods in agreement with her assessment. “Those of us who come from the North, the Iron Islands and Dorne do tend to stand out somewhat at court.”
“A Brune, perhaps. I saw one such knight in a tourney who had a bear paw for his sigil,” Josella adds to the topic before the arrival of Ser Roryn. “Greetings, ser.” She seems to know him, but it must have been a time since they last met. “Oh, not I, Lady Aisling. Perhaps there is a singer at court who has been telling tall tales to newcomers?” Josella looks to the musicians nearby.
Roryn warmly smiles and places his hands together curtly. He then peers over at Daeron and Mariah. “It is a high privilege to represent the Iron Islands in the presence of his Grace’s royal family.” He kindly turns back to Alyn in response to his remarks. “Of course my Lord, the Ironborn know and respect your name. We have quite the admiration for anyone with your level of naval prowess. I am sure it has been an honor for my brother to serve under you.” Roryn looks away for a moment. “I fear you have seen him more in the last few years than I. I know you have found excellent use for him sure enough. Anyhow, I most certainly wish you well in your travels my lord.” He then retreats away from the high table.
“It does sound like something that would happen on Crackclaw Point,” Aidan remarks, when hearing about the Brunes. “Is that not so, Ser Jonas? The Crackclaw knights are a clannish lot, and stealing away brides… well, that is not unknown.” Indeed, it is not, having happened little more than a decade ago.
“Yes I could certainly see it happening on Crackclaw Point.” Ser Jonas finishes his cup of red at the mention of “business” in order to drown out any other remark about the Crackclaw Knights that might have been forming in his throat. He takes a moment to consider the room and collect his thoughts. “I suppose that in end it is enough to just enjoy a pleasing tune.”