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The Logistics of Good Living (ASOIAF, Brandon Stark SI)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Karmic Acumen, Feb 7, 2021.

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  1. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    I don't use nearly as much symbolism as I seem.

    And yeah, Bran the Elder peaced out in style, despite being burnt out to the point where he was all body and nearly no soul at the end there.
    You're safe just taking the surreal parts at face value. They're just building up to the greater scope plot going on.
     
    Silver W. King and Asdercol like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Intermission: A Short Reach Is No State for a Hand (Marra)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    [​IMG]

    MARRA

    “-. 274 AC .-“​

    The clans were many. All with their own peculiarities and customs. Some recognized chieftains. Others were led by clan mothers or magnars. Some lived in peace. Others existed in a perpetual state of conflict, warring against each other and themselves. Some clans lived in small villages. Others built halls and sometimes even managed to hold them for a generation. Some still were loners that went where whim took them, held down only by their own needs. She’d met many of them these past four years. Some were fought with. Some were treated with. Some were stolen from, in food and tools and women. Some stole from them too before being driven off, or more often beaten down and absorbed by killing the men and impregnating the women. The clan had swelled in size, in men and women and children that didn’t understand each other half the time because of all the different tongues. Even so, she’d heard mutterings about old gods and cold gods and tribes that lived in a hidden valley somewhere far to the North. The men were always scornful and wary about those last ones. Almost as much as for the dwellers of the ice rivers, the dark gods of the cave dwellers, and the frozen shores at both ends of the Wall. But all of the tribes shared three deep-set beliefs: they hated the Night’s Watch, they did not kneel, and they placed immense importance on a man keeping his word once given.

    It was all one big pile of shit. A fat, stinking turd dumped by a lying sack of shit in the steaming snow.

    They claimed honor but raided in the dead of night. They kept their word but promised only ill unless beaten down first. They called themselves free folk but made wives out of kidnapped women. They claimed not to pledge allegiance to any one bloodline or kneel or suffer kings, but every other song was about lineage. Their boasts always went back to their mother, and their mother’s mother, and whichever King they were ever so surely descended from. Joramun, the Horned Lord, Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard.

    And then there was their law and custom…

    She remembered it as if it was happening right in front of her. Two lads with not a fight to their name arguing about some lay or song. The Game of Thrones and Kneelers, she thought it might be called. One of them talked about the heroes. The second tried to lecture the first about the heroes. A nearby man idly mused how the heroes weren’t heroes at all since they didn’t actually decide anything that happened. The first lad disagreed with the man. The second told the man to take his miserable self elsewhere if he hated the song so much. The man jokingly told the lad that people might start to worry about his wits if he misjudged other people so badly. Then proceeded to blithely explain why the boys were wrong about everything. The second lad challenged the man to a contest of wits and lost. Badly. The man waited to see if he’d be challenged to a contest of arms, but neither lad proved brave enough. The group dispersed.

    Then the first lad and a friend that hadn’t even been involved went and complained on behalf of the second lad to the Callow Bear himself. Not that they were brave enough to call Gerrick Kingsblood that to his face anymore, now that he was chieftain despite the paltry difference in age between them. They were plenty brave to twist words and speak poison into his ear though. Both of them had challenged the wise man in the past and lost. Repeatedly. And oh, how they smarted over it even now.

    So what did the great chief then do? He listened to the two and banished the man from their tribe for his ‘insult.’ Didn’t ask for his version of the story. Or even the rude boy, even though he was the only one in the mess that actually had done insult. And when the man went and asked why he was getting punished for the boys’ foolishness, and why the lad wasn’t getting the same treatment for his own insult, the great chief had his late father’s shieldmen beat him up. Told him it was too late to come ‘whining’ now, and how dare he abuse his trust? But since he whined so well, he’d give the lads a talking to and the man could come back to the tribe in a sennight. If he was still alive by then, he’d earned his place among them. Such magnanimity, so just was he the Kingsblood, isn’t it just so? Never mind that it was the middle of winter!

    She plunged into the memory. Sunk her teeth deep into it. Just like her father had told her after mother died and she spent days just a breath away from wanting to fall to pieces and join her. Get angry he’d told her. Get angry at something else. Something that made your blood boil. Not too old that you forgot how it felt. Not too new that there’s anything you can do about it. Find it. Sink your teeth into it until there’s no room in your head for anything else. It’s exhausting, but it’ll get you through the day even when you feel like jumping from a tower. And when night comes, you’ll be so tired that you’ll sleep it all away too, terrors or not.

    The law and custom of the free folk. Reward whiny fools for their lies, punish the wise for the restraint of only giving as good as they got, and then wonder why your tribe is all fools and cheats and schemers. When the only lesson you teach is that one should never hold you to your own standards because they’re a steaming pile of shit, no wonder wildlings didn’t have thrones or laws or even a strip of land between them, creatures like them weren’t fit to rule a dungheap, let alone a kingdom and if she had to smell his rancid breath and taste his tongue one more time she’d-

    A snarl. A choked gasp. A gust of cold wind put out the fire.

    Marra gasped as a great weight bowled the man and wrenched him off and out of her.

    She curled upon herself, groping blindly. For sheets, and furs, and more. The grunting snarls of beast mixed with the snarling grunts of man in the darkness. Growls and grunts and Old Tongue spat in reply and challenge all at once. The fray seemed to rampage in and out of the tent, but she hadn’t the ears for any of it. Shadows whirled viciously over the curtain walls. Man and wolf and axe and fang. She even thought she saw wings, for a moment, before they were gone like the haze of every dream she ever had except the ones that always warned her down and made her endure her captivity and humiliation for just that little bit longer. Tooth and claw and axe bit back and forth in the darkness, threatening to throw her to the ground yet again.

    The bone knife she’d secreted away bore into her raper’s neck from behind, straight through the spine.

    Gerrick Kingsblood toppled forward, dead before he hit the ground.

    The yurt grew still.

    There were screams and shouts and the clamour of weapons everywhere outside.

    Marra couldn’t care about it. She just stood there, a crude coat of fur her only shield against the cold as she stared down at the remains of the one who fancied himself the heir to Raymun Redbeard. She barely saw him in the pitch darkness, or anything else. But she could imagine him well enough after all that time. The wildling who’d ever so bravely run off with his men – and her – while his father died to her uncle and the clan champion to her father. So many times she’d wanted to knife him. Yearned for it. Planned it. Every time she’d get a dream that warned her not to. Made her feel just a little bit forbearing. Reminded her she’d be killed for murder and kinslaying and gave her the strength to take it just a little bit longer.

    Warm fur brushed against her, then cold fur speckled with grains of ice. Cold and crisp upon her skin. Hoarfrost. She thought of home, where her father was eternally exasperated at her, her uncles spoiled her, and her grandfather called her silly maid.

    She wondered why she’d ever let her dreams turn her meek at all. She’d always claimed she’d die before being taken. And she’d never lied.

    The great beast was at the mouth of the tent now. Looking at her. A sudden gust of wind blew open the tent flaps, illuminating its outline stark clear for a brief spell. It was a wolf. A wolf as big as a horse. The flaps settled back, casting it and her back into darkness.

    The wolf settled back on its haunches and stayed there, barring her only way out as the sounds of battle outside grew louder. The faint glare of moonlight on snow just barely illuminated the great beast’s outline. The top was a black shadow. The bottom glimmered white like icedust. She weighed the benefits of trying to cut and crawl under the curtain walls and flee. But having just the outline to see made it that much easier to know when a killer monster twitches in disapproval at what you’re thinking.

    The beast sat there until the chaos outside died down. Just sat there. Quietly. Even when she went and stoked the firepit for lack of anything else to do in the cold. As she piled wood, it sat there. As her shivering hands struck knife on flint, it sat there. When the sparks crackled new flame to life, still it sat there. Stared at her. Its grey eyes seemed made of quicksilver that burned like cold stars as they reflected the sparks as if the glare didn’t bother it none.

    Its pelt was strange, Marra thought as the flames took fully and gave her light to see by. Pitch black from head to spine. Snow white from tail to trunk. Split perfectly in half shoulder to haunch. The frost speckled amidst the white glimmered in the dancing light like a carpet of gemstones. The black had not a speck upon it at all.

    The yurt fell apart around her just as she was finally gathering her clothes, torn down by men she’d never seen before. They looked victorious and lustful, then startled and respectful, bowing to the great beast before backing away and leaving them be.

    It was snowing, Marra noticed distantly as she clothed and armed herself and wrapped her feet. Not for the first time she missed her boots, but they’d long since been bartered away for salt and honey. So had her dress and hair clasps and silver locket. There was nothing left to remind her of home. She watched as a large snowflake descended from the clouded sky of winter’s dusk. Landed on the wolf’s black snout. It vanished in a puff of steam between one moment and the next.

    The wolf looked away from her suddenly, baring its fags up at the treeline. Turning to follow its gaze, Marra thought she spotted something up in the balsam’s branches. She thought she saw a pair of glowing eyes on a branch up high, as big as harvest moons.

    The direwolf howled. The eyes vanished. Crows scattered and fled at the sound.

    Eventually, the fight died down. Not because the attackers fled, but because the defenders fell or knelt where they stood, throwing down their crude weapons of wood and stone and bone.

    Victorious cheers went up all around her.

    The direwolf stood and turned, pausing to gaze at her meaningfully.

    What else could she do but follow?

    She was led to the far side of camp, past tribesmen she knew and many she didn’t. Men wearing furs and wielding long spears. Some wore bone and stone and scavenged ringmail. Some walked barefoot in the freezing winter, their soles turned hard and black. A least two different tribes by their looks, and the way they clustered and carried themselves.

    Her count went up to three when she saw the rest. The ones all the others deferred to. Tall and mighty and clad in bronze. Bronze helms, bronze axes, short stabbing spears with leaf-shaped heads, bronze swords, leather shirts sewn with bronze discs and scales, and shields of black boiled leather with bronze rims and bosses.

    The wolf led her past them too, straight through a circle of men that parted ahead of them. Marra found herself in front of what used to be her late raper’s throne at the center of their winter settlement, carved from a beech stump as wide as a bear, with sconces on both sides, both filled with burning fires.

    There was a wholly different man sitting on it now.

    “So this is it, then?” His accent was thick, but he spoke in the common tongue.

    His voice was not unpleasant, Marra decided.

    The man stood from his conquered throne. He was tall and lean, garbed in bronze scale armor, bronze greaves, a bronze helm, and a weirwood spear with an ornate bronze head. There was a bronze-banded warhorn hanging off his belt. His eyes were grey, perhaps. She couldn’t tell in that light. His hair and beard, though, those she could see well. Long, rugged and almost passably groomed, colored like clearest honey.

    “I’ve come to lead a most puzzling life this past year, I’ll grant that.” The man said as he approached. “But a clan war for this is passing strange, even for me.” His words changed to Old Tongue then. “Any insight for me this time, Haggon?”

    “No more than every other time, magnar,” a tall, grim man replied. His voice was almost as rough as his hard hands. They were bunched in the fur of a much smaller wolf, grey and quiet. “Godbeasts keep their own counsel, now as they ever did.”

    “Of course they do,” the Magnar of Thenn snorted, throwing the direwolf a look of wry vexation. He turned, though, to address someone else. The banished man, Marra realized on noticing him. “Do you have any insight, exile? Speak plainly, now. I will be very displeased if it turns out to be something I should have known before.”

    “She’s the Umber’s granddaughter.”

    Marra waited to see if her heart would stop and skip. It didn’t. She’d not had a dream to warn her to be meek and long-suffering about this.

    The Magnar of Thenn turned much more interested eyes on her. “Is she really?” The man approached and grabbed her by the chin.

    She stabbed him in the hand.

    Tried, at least. He moved faster than her, grabbed her by the wrist and turned her around, clutching her to his chest from behind. One armed. Leaned down to speak right in her ear. “A middling try. Sloppy, but middling.”

    Marra bristled. “Try to steal me and I’ll rip your cock off.”

    “I take no man’s leavings.” The utter arse, how dare he!? “But you’ll be my guest all the same. We have much to talk about, my lady. You, the Godswolf and I. Much to talk about indeed.”

    It wasn’t the time or place to be reminded of that lesson, but Marra was reminded of it all the same.

    If fear didn’t work, other things could go and make her heart go stop and skip just fine.

    “-. END BOOK I .-“​
     
  3. Threadmarks: Book II - The Strategy of Godly Surviving
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    The Logistics of Good Living

    ~Book II~

    The Strategy of Godly Surviving

    [​IMG]

    A Song of Ice and Fire Story

    by Karmic Acumen
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter II.1 - Sorry, Drama, Your Dragon’s not in this Castle Either
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    ============================================

    Chapter II.1: Sorry, Drama, Your Dragon’s not in this Castle Either

    [​IMG]

    THE ONE-EYED RAVEN

    “-. Winter’s Repast .-“


    Hearken, young man! Every act is of magic. On Wish is borne Will, and by Will is born Power!

    Hearken, too, the wants of the powerless! By guile and treachery do the strong bow to the weak and cowardly!

    Hearken the wind through leaves, the rain on water, the sound of stones in a brook, the songs as pure as winter air. Know the cant that has survived the ages since the elder days, past extinction unsought and undeserved of all the races of land and mer that came before mankind. Do you know the words? Hear the sorrow? Of course not! They do not mourn for you, why should they?

    Heed instead the songs of your people! Men do not sing the songs of nature. Nature is brutal, savage, merciless, a chaos whose only balance is of killer and prey. The only peace and harmony is that of dust and corpses, and even they are moved and ripped apart sooner or later. By Wish and Will and Power did man surpass this crucible. By man’s own grace do you walk the earth while farms and villages and orchards sprout up behind you. By their blood and sweat and hopes for you did your forebears master creation and bring light and love to the world. Will you look them now askance? Why should you? Men make their own songs, and they are no slouches with rhythm!

    “Lord Stark, may I cut in?” Maester Mullin says. Heady. Frustrated. Personally offended as you continue to fall short in the arts of war. “There are a few words, I think, the Young Lord needs to heed.”

    “Heed, heed, heed!” The rascals of the deep boast about ravens talking their language, but man’s words work just fine.

    “Well that’s not a sign at all,” says you.

    Do not eye me so sorely, Brandon Stark. You, who fail to recognize my nature even now, confounded as you are by your own glory. I am not the only one half-blind. But since it wasn’t so long ago you were bisected, all for blasting the feathers off the liar that got the better of those who got the better of me, I forgive you. That oversoul you crafted for yourself out of the corpses of your enemies is a fine garment at least. A shame about what happened after, when you victoriously bestrode the sky and rashly tried to reach for the moon. Cassel burns for it even now, you know. A poor reward for heeding our visions and making his own end to stand guard from this side. What will you say of that when you face me at last, I wonder? Will you ever?

    “Very well,” says the lord to the man. “Have at him.”

    Mullin kneels down before you, takes your hands in his and speaks only the truth. “You’re being stupid.”

    “…Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Don’t you eye me so sorely either, lord. It’s your own mind I’m plying.

    “You invent crafts, create sciences, you dream whole worlds in your mind. And somehow you’ve decided this means you must be at best mediocre in the martial arts. You believe no man can be exceptional in everything, and since you are exceptional in everything but this, then it must be this you can’t possibly excel in. Isn’t that right?”

    … Caw?

    “My Lord Brandon,” Mullin tells you. “Repeat after me: I can excel in anything.”

    “… I can excel in anything.”

    “I can excel in everything.”

    “I can excel in everything.”

    “I will excel in everything.”

    “I will excel in everything.”

    … So it is not vainglory? Do your dreams and visions span so widely? Do they teach you falsehoods and untruths after all, as they do for others? Do not wallow in self-deception when the world already tries to shove so many down your throat!

    “… I can excel in everything,” you say as if it this is some wondrous revelation, you ridiculous boy!

    Sparring goes no better than before of course, but it’s not a complete disaster for your fist mock fight with someone other than your lord father. The ancients only know what you meant with that last display though.

    “There was something there,” Mullin says as you try not to collapse from pain. “A glimpse of something that might have been a maneuver. Trying to hook my blade in the guard?”

    “Go on,” you groan, holding your side. “Tell me how you really feel.”

    “So you do have visions of this as well.”

    “There’s no end to my visions,” you grouse. “Unfortunately, these visions aren’t visions where I live the visions.”

    Good grief, young man, are you trying not to make sense? At times I wish I knew what goes on in your mind, but then I remember why your forebears barred you from the Greendream and am glad to instead have my thoughts borne by your father. Alas for the headaches you’ll give him and me both when your shorthairs start sprouting.

    Mullin regards you thoughtfully. “I think, Young Lord, that it’s time I start dreaming these dreams of yours.”

    So he dreams. And learns. Masters everything you ever dreamed of armed and unarmed combat within days of each vision and creates entirely new forms of battle to wield and prove and teach to you in turn. You and everyone else. Lord Rickard of House Stark begins to lose in the yard. Then he loses more than he wins. Then he never wins against Mullin again. Neither does anyone else. Even all of them one after the other. Jon Umber is the only one with any inkling of hope, but he’s not there yet. No yet. Teams against one become a regular display once again.

    Behold, young man, this peerless warrior you’ve gathered under you. Look, as well, to all these other men and women. These maidens and mothers, these sons and fathers, these knights of the arms and of the mind. Behold your fellow heirs, even, as they all choose to follow suit awake and asleep. How many of your dreams would lie fallow without them?

    Behold, young man, the true nature of Power. Something mightier than each man alone, a combination of your efforts, a great chain of art and craft that unites you all. But it is only when you struggle for your own aspirations that the chain pulls you in the right direction. The chain is too powerful and too mysterious for anyone to guide alone. Any one ruler, any one temple, any god who tells you different either has his hand in your pocket or a dagger at your throat.

    Behold, that you don’t slip down the same slope! Do you understand the faith they place in you? The boundless breadth of their admiration? What will you do with it? Do you know what it means that even the immortal in your midst bows his head and requests your help? Of course you don’t. You’re not the only one who can deceive you, especially when the one fooling you has fooled himself so totally. Even so, he pays forward before requesting recompense.

    “His mind is as calm and open as I can make it,” Marwyn tells you while checking to make sure that his potions have well and truly taken hold. “Are you sure you wish to proceed, Young Master?”

    Ben Umber. Such a large and mighty and helpless giant of a man. What do you feel having him so utterly in your power, I wonder? What passes through your mind, to have the father and brother praying on the other side of the land, to have the other brother and the son watch while you hold in your hands their hopes and yearning and desperation?

    “Can’t be anywhere near as confusing as doing it to someone who’s dying.” Your vestment of stars and eyes unfurls around you. “Besides, putting my mind back together is the first trick I learned.”

    A trick on yourself is far different than a trick on someone else. You skirt mysteries that you still cannot grasp. Not yet. You would waste the greatest riches of your hoard and still take months to puzzle, off and on, if you succeed at all. You overstep and complicate when the solution is right in your face. You’ve bestowed the green tears upon dozens of ravens. Weaved them. Cultivated them to your purposes. Already they span the land, each a guide to dying souls to lead them on and gather their last embers in your name. By the tenth of them I didn’t even have to blend with their minds to imprint the proper concurrence and instincts. Think you that is a small achievement? Or do you worry you won’t tell the right balance, beast to man, man to beast?

    Rejoice, young man. In this, I will help you.

    Claws work the window as well as ever. A nesting raven soars after me right after. In her claws comes her oldest, strongest chick. Its mind is young. Unformed. Malleable. I plop him on the chest of the giant and wait, a small tuft of black feathers. Your face shifts in epiphany. You understand, don’t you? You stare through the chick’s eyes right at me. Do you see me? Will you confront me now? Will you balk at sacrificing one nestling when your cloak is made of the stuff of a thousand crows? Your bloodline has sacrificed that and more. Endures sacrifices worse than what even your father ever contemplated. The proof lies in your family’s greatest symbol of office. An infant’s soul vests the sword of your forebears, murdered right out the womb. I know you know. It was one of the first things you traced for imprints of history, after you stitched your mind back together right onto your spirit with threads made of hindsight.

    You don’t balk.

    Ben Umber awakens to an armful of crying son, a bursting bladder, and a ravenous hunger for corn.

    “Corn! Corn! Corn!” caws his raven half.

    Oh dear. Might have left a bit more of myself than I planned in there.

    Ah well, with how much power I’ve gained from being the bridge for so much of your sorcery, it’s only fair. Besides, it can only be to the good, I’m sure. I am, reasonably speaking, quite brilliant if I do say so myself. Besides, this way there is no room to poke around for oathbreakers.

    “You made me a birdbrain,” the big man tells you, hugging his sobbing son that’s just as big as him while his brother weeps over the both of them at his bedside. “Ben Birdbrain, that’s what they’ll call me.”

    “Pa,” Jon Umber blubbers in his father’s big, hulky bosom. “Pa. Pa!”

    “A raven’s brain is easily worth half a man’s, and they live about as long as we do.” You unravel yourself from him, holding the croaking buttress of the man’s mind in the palm of your hand. Did you leave any part of yourself as well? Did you claim any part of him? “Keep your other half safe and fed, hmm?”

    Ben Umber tears up. “My lord…”

    Rejoice, young man. You’ve prevailed over Substance by dint of Consciousness alone. Take care that you do not dismiss either of them or their sister, the Motion which begets all things of form.

    Substance, Motion and Consciousness are the principles of all, eternal and immutable and untiring all at once. Do not think you can use them against each other. Do not believe that ending one frees up the others. Think neither that vanishing one undoes the rest. Where there is no substance, there is no motion. Where there is no motion, there is no consciousness. Where there is no consciousness, there is no drive for anything to happen at all. And when two vanish, the third becomes all three unto itself.

    Remember the nature of the Three-Fold Law. Remember and understand the ripples even the slightest breath sends out, young man. Do you see them? You, who bring with you the end of the world as we know it? You are a wonder, Brandon Stark, and you have been marked for death because of it. Perhaps there are worlds and places out there, where the kind and good and right prevail in all things, but those worlds are not this one.

    You are not the hero, Brandon Stark. You are the sacrifice.

    “So I’m the sacrifice?” Luwin asks dryly.

    What’s this? Someone chanting to the tune of my thoughts without even brushing against them? A fundamental expansion of consciousness lies in the near future! Now this is a lad that may actually manage not to get himself burned to death, provided he keeps his eyes on whatever goal is actually in reach.

    “If by ‘sacrifice’ you mean chaperone for my meeting with the Young Master who still isn’t comfortable being alone in the room with me, then yes.” Tak, tak, tak goes Marwyn’s dragonsteel staff against the floor of the last stretch of corridor to your private workshop. “Look lively, now! We might have you working magic all by yourself real soon. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

    “Are you resuming my lessons then?”

    “Now that you’ve stopped badgering Qyburn about it as if you’ve no respect for my wisdom, ask me tomorrow.”

    “… I wasn’t badgering.”

    “Technicalities? Is that what you’re going for? Come now, Luwin, don’t put that much effort into trying make me think less of you.”

    Perhaps I spoke to soon.

    They reach your door. Marwyn nods to Martyn Cassel standing guard and knocks.

    “Enter!”

    They enter and you turn on your swivel chair to face them, face and voice both wry. “Time to enter the belly of the beast, is it?”

    You sound as if you expect the Cannibal to swoop down upon you, but this, at least, I will not mock. The arcane working that suffuses the man before you is a frightful thing.

    Luwin scowls. “I’m calling the guards and Lord Stark on you both unless I get an explanation.”

    “My father is right there,” you gesture at me, and I hope you know what a stretch that claim is. He barely looks in on you these days, beyond checking that you haven’t killed your mad self. Not that I mind him preferring the Motion side of things. His skinchanging predilections leave much to be desired, though I’ll readily admit I have worse things poking through the depths of my skull than rats.

    “I can’t work spells, but it’s not because I’m some sort of cripple.” Marwyn turns forthright out of nowhere all of a sudden. Why? “It’s because of a spell that’s been on me for as long as I can remember. Every scrap of power I have goes into it whenever I try to do something. Every spell other people try on me does the same sooner or later. Supposing it’s not just there to be the biggest nuisance in occult history, I have no idea what it’s supposed to do. I’ve asked, worked with and even served every last kind of priest, mummer, scholar and maegi you can name. And a fair few you can’t. Not all of them took no for an answer. And none of them found out. Most of them died or turned braindead trying. And now you know everything I know about it.”

    “And you didn’t think it was important enough to mention?” Luwin balks.

    You warily behold the man. “All those dreams I tried… Have you been eating them? How does a spell like that even happen?”

    “The best anyone got was that it was either some powerful enemy or my parents that did it. The former means there’s someone out there that can literally play got with human lives. For the latter? Only my parents would’ve had the blood claim to cast a death curse without backlash or failure. Never mind for my benefit, as far as that goes. Doubt it really works that way. It’s probably something stupid.”

    Your back and forth would make a most distinguished play, but I’m going to spare you my attention for the duration because that’s just absurd! I’ve seen no spell of protection a tenth as powerful as this, let alone so versatile, and that’s nowhere near its purpose at all. At best it looks like a craft cast with a shortfall of fuel that’s been gobbling up whatever it can find as substitute in an attempt to complete itself ever since. Who would have the knowledge and lifetime of experience to devise such a spell? What kind of act could empower someone, anyone, to cast… whatever this is? Make it last a lifetime and more even? On another. It is the most pervasive, gluttonous, powerful working I’ve seen since I last saw my corpse!

    “I suppose I’ll go first then,” Luwin offers.

    The wisps of my consciousness hasten to realign. I wavered, somehow. I… lost time. What distracted me? Does a break in consciousness also lie in the near future? Whose?

    “Don’t pretend you’re not eager,” Marwyn huffs. His pupils are blown wide by work of draughts. The only way to glimpse the ether for those whose third eye fails them. Have you any idea what happened to him, Brandon Stark? Do you know who he is, to be so old in a body so young? Do you know how he lives so spiritedly despite all that? I don’t. And for that matter, what will it take for Luwin to stop being such a grumpy little whippersnapper? The Lady Lyarra told him to his face he didn’t deserve the mistrust she feels towards him, but she already apologised!

    Treat him gently now, young man. To eyes as old as mine, even the freshest things seem dull. Not this, though. Whatever you mean to do from here, I will not interfere. This path you’re treading is still new to me.

    Luwin waits impatiently. “Is anything supposed to happ-“ his words stall. He didn’t see you walk out of your body and stick your hands inside his skull, but he sees you now. What are you doing with that ghost of a dead man between your palms – oh! The pinecone! So that’s what you’re after! Coax and nourish his mind’s eye! Don’t blame me for being surprised, hardly anyone thinks to do it despite all common sense. There is no part of man that can affect the world without being consciously and constantly exerted, why would the brain be different? Why wouldn't there be a mechanism there that needs deliberate and conscious use before it can grow and span the other four parts of your mind? Is that what you did to heal yourself? Coax your third eye to quicken and sprout and open your mind to the sights beyond the veils of substance? Did you coax it all the way to growing out its roots and branches? Is that what you mean to do here too?

    Oh. You don’t. You’re just… letting Luwin do what he wants.

    What will you think on the day your magnanimity leaves you dispossessed? Or kills you?

    You have no idea what I’m even talking about, do you?

    “Oh,” Luwin breathes, staring wide-eyed at you without seeing you. “So this is what Qyburn meant.” You pull away and the glimmer of soul settles. Melds into Luwin as if it was always a part of him, then comes free and sets to roaming here and there, guided by the lad’s will. “I… I never… I’m a fool, doubting him for having had visions when I…” His new eye comes to a stop inside his hand. Luwin stares down, past skin and sinew to the spaces between the threads and motes making up flesh. Sees the world of the small and smaller, glimpsing even the smallest specks of substance for a heartbeat. He sinks to the ground, losing all notion of his surroundings, completely entranced by the play of little creatures that are too small to see.

    Good instincts! Familiars have always been the quickest path to occult power.

    Marwyn shakes his head in bemusement. “All that and he just goes back to what he was already doing, only with a new tool. I‘m not even surprised.”

    Luwin clenches and unclenches his hand without registering his surroundings, bringing his familiar in and out of his body. Already testing to see how far he can send it beyond his ghost. Good instincts indeed!

    “Now if only I could trust he won’t start leaping without thinking for the big things.” Marwyn sighs. “Then again, I’m about to make a leap myself. If it pleases you, Young Master, I’m ready. Don’t worry about me or my feelings. Be as rough as you need.”

    He speaks so mildly despite being so hopeful. Even as opaque as he is to the ethereal, his longing is plain as day to the normal senses of man and raven alike. What torture it must be, to live a lifetime with your greatest goal always taunting you just out of reach.

    The spell eats the first green tear. Then the next one. Then eight more all at once almost the moment you muster them. No attempt to cut through the spellcraft avails you. Ten treasures given by your forebears in the Greendream for ten souls of faithful men. Ten whole souls scoured by time and torpor into clean and biddable chunks of power fully under your will. They barely make contact with the thaumaturgy before they break and melt into its cloudiness. You did well this whole time to shy away from the man. Were you to overlay him as you did all the others, he would have drained you dry even without that wound of yours. Won’t you back away now? Won’t you reconsider your path? Or will you go higher? Think you to overwhelm the spell with sheer quantity? Perhaps you mean to feed it enough that it finally runs its course, whatever its task? You-

    The colors of the world sharpen, and sounds shy away as the ultimate force manifests in your grasp. The quintessence of an ascended spirit that left behind his mighty soul, fully perfected and outgrown.

    “I still can’t believe it,” Marwyn whispers, awestruck. “What you’re holding. Do you have any idea what wonders that could make?”

    The First Flint. He left his everything to you. Everything he’d been and could have been. I still don’t know how you did it. What is there in your mind that lets people achieve the apex of their being and pass beyond the heavens? What secrets do you hold that aren’t enough for you to do the same? What all don’t you know, boy? That you don’t seem to know what can be done with such a thing? You could make wonders! You could vest heroes! You could have used it to make your namesake young again! You could become-are you using it as a battering ram DON’T-!

    ▃▃▄▄▅▅▂▂▃▃▄▄▅▅


    “-ah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah!” Marwyn the Mage laughs hysterically, laid out on his side on the floor. “B-born amid sm-hoke and salt under a-a bleeding stahahahahaha!” His guffaws shake the world that aches in a haze of crow feathers scattered everywhere with their eyes ripped out. “My red moon beats your bleeding star! The smoke and salt have come and gone! Where are my stone dragons!?”

    Agh… what… I… I lost time, what-?

    “Portents and prophecy! Portents and prophecy!” The Ibbenese mariner laughs all over again, why does the world feel like it got torn apart and scattered? “If no dragons of stone, what of my sword? In ancient books of Asshai it is written that there will come a day when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him!”

    I… I was… I was wrong! Ware! Ware, Winter King! Your son is in peril! It’s not a good man cursed by evil! It’s evil sealed for the sake of the good, set loose! Ware! Your son is in peril and I’m impotent! A threadbare wisp floundering in naked air above where a raven lies dead in the corner. Wake up Luwin! Where is Martyn!? Wasn’t he right outside? Was he knocked senseless as well? Stand up, Brandon Stark! Stand up, stand up! Damn you, boy, what will it take before you can hear me!? When you grew all those extra eyes, you couldn’t have grown a few ears too!?

    The immortal mage pushes off the floor. Rises in terrible majesty. He is bare for everyone with even the barest of second sight to see. The spell on him is gone. The spell that kept his knowledge of self and all his dark crafts locked away. The spell that had suppressed him. The spell that had kept his third eye shut. It shines glittering red at the core of his brow, now, like a blood moon reflected on the deep ocean. Bright. Bloody. Fed by myriad channels spread through his whole body. They pull and gather every scrap of vigor that would otherwise be wasted in his idleness, like the roots of a tree grown deep as weirwood over the course of his life. And everywhere… wisps and quills and eyes. Yours. Eyes of blue and white fire. They hang haphazardly off his nimbus, like tired sea birds trapped in the rigging of a ship. They melt and sink and add to his power even as I watch.

    You were right to fear, boy! He’s done it! It’s happened! He absorbs the strength of others like only one with lifetimes of experience glutting on blood sacrifice can! Run! You’re going to be eaten! Run! Run before he finishes the job!

    The man holds out a hand. His staff of dragonsteel flies into his hand, though he doesn’t lean on it at all. He stands. Short and broad and firm as an island in a sea of storms. His head hangs back. His eyes are closed. His face is wrought with a tight, frightful grimness.

    Then it just… melts away.

    Marwyn turns, stomps towards you –

    “Wha-GUARDS!”

    - goes to his knees, lays the rod at your feet and raises his folded hands just as the door slams open.

    It is not Cassel. It is three others, led by himself Lord Stark.

    “What in all the gods’ forgotten names is going on here!?”

    Marwyn keeps his head bowed and waits.

    … I have no idea what is happening.

    You struggle to your feet. Barely manage even with the help of your father, who wears that mien of ice he only musters when he’s absolutely terrified for you. You’ve been stripped bare as well. Your feathered cloak hangs in tatters. Barely a dozen eyes still hang limply around you. No tears of green or souls of self-fulfilment are left to shine their light upon the world. The strap of souls around your chest is completely gone.

    “You have no idea what you just did.” Marwyn says, and lifts his head. Looks up at you with earnest eyes of deep, soulful purpose. “For as long as you live, use me whatever way you wish.”

    Lord Stark stares. The guards stare. You stare, terrified and traumatised and completely dumbfounded.

    Then you laugh in his face.

    “The day I believe a pledge like that is the day you come up to me in the middle of court and ask me to take you as my pet!”


    “-. The Vernal Snowmelt .-“

    [​IMG]


    Fie, young man, your insults land even better than your praise! Almost as well as the people who dropped insensate all over Winterfell, when you went and used the penultimate manifestation of occult Power as a club to Marwyn’s head.

    If that’s even his name.

    “Master Marwyn!” Luwyn rushes into the Archmaester’s Quarters, just barely refurbished in the Drum Keep. “Master! You’re really leaving? You can’t!”

    Because the open door and the guards keeping a gimlet eye on the man were not enough clue, for all the good they can do.

    The wizard finishes wiping the blood off the glass candle, now turned from black to green. “Shouldn’t you be still abed?” He takes a large dollop of summerstone mix from a bucket and starts turning it over in his palms, heating it molten hot. It doesn’t even singe his hands. “You were rather close when it happened.”

    “You can’t go! You did nothing wrong!”

    “Oh lad, that’s not why I’m leaving.” The man sets the life-like carrack of marble-smooth, fused grey stone on the table and sinks his hands in a wash basin. It comes out trailing a large blob of boiling pulp, winterstone-to-be that flows like water. “I’ve prepared in advance a reading list and exercises to work your new magical appendage. And got Hother to oversee the building of my distilleries. I also prepared cross-training plans for all of you boys before I arranged the meeting, just in case.”

    Luwin almost can’t tear his eyes away from the magic in front of him. Almost. “I don’t care about that! First the Conclave and now this! There’s no justice in this! What happened? I don’t understand…”

    “Do you know what nine in ten maegi do on achieving power?” The winterstone swims around and through his fingers in the shape of a merling. “They become hermits. Out of fear. Seekers of the Mysteries are ever so wary of sharing anything with others. Teaching others or granting them power. What if they turn on them? Never mind that they almost all end up destroying themselves without any help.”

    “So what? You’re going traveling so you can’t be accused of the same? How is living here being a hermit? Aren’t the ones who go off wandering called the hermits?”

    “Now you’re just being silly. You think I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb everywhere I travelled that had anyone with a scrap of the sight? What if I said it was a training journey? Do you know what happened to all the mighty who got their hands on me? They tried to plunder me for secrets only to get sucked dry while I plundered them. I may not have been able to cast spells, but in dreams I am mighty. I’ve always been mighty. And now I know why.”

    “Well I don’t know!”

    “Up until this morning, my earliest memory was of growing up among salt miners down in the Reach Upplands.”

    “… and now?”

    The door shuts in the guards’ faces. A gesture renders the air just outside completely still, locking all sound within. Your father’s mind overlays mine just in time.

    “I am Asmundur Magnus Olafur, By Grace of My Forebears, of the Dominion of Ibben and all its Territories Sovereign, Master of Ports, Mariner Admiral of the Shivering Sea, God-King of Ib, Lord of Oceans.”

    … what.

    “The spell on me wasn’t so much a spell as a botch job of three.” The merling shifts to the shape of your lady mother sat on a chair of pure crystal and freezes solid. A spark of arcane jumps from the Mage’s fingertips into the figurine, locking its substance firm as steel. He puts the colored ice sculpture on the main deck of the ship. “Individually, they were each a masterwork. I’d performed each of them at least half a dozen times before. Sacrifice the soul of my newborn son to sew the babe’s substance and ether into a strong foundation for power transference. Sacrifice myself to jump my soul into the son now that there’s no mind left to make the fit awkward. Sacrifice the mother on her bed of blood to power a glamour strong enough to make everyone forget I exist. Especially the minions of the Shadow Council, who wouldn’t let me live in peace to plot my wrathful return to power. All done atop a big, fat pyre in the middle of a salt quarry, while a gap in the hill above casts forth the light of the red moon on high. Born amid smoke and salt under a bleeding star. There’s never a shortage of people looking to make a saviour. I just took it further and tried to become the saviour too, never mind comets. Alas, the glamour had already taken by the time I jumped bodies, so it made me forget I exist too. Add a few unintended consequences from the long-term interaction of those magics, and here we are.”

    …Alright.

    I did not see this coming at all.

    Marwyn eyes Luwin shrewdly. “Don’t you start worrying that I’m losing myself to memories, no matter how despicable or long a time they span. Consciousness arises from the physical mind, not the other way around.”

    “Maester… Master Marwyn, you… what does that mean?”

    “I am my father. And my father’s father. And my father’s father’s father. And their fathers before them. All the way back to the time when God-Kings still ruled Ibben, back in the Valyrian Freehold’s waning years.” Marwyn picks up his archmaester’s mask and beholds it intently. The dragonsteel shimmers with heat, for a moment. He smirks. “Not quite there yet, but soon.”

    … This is starting to look far too much like some contingency of certain almighty idiots that can’t help themselves from adding too many moving parts. Just what exactly did whoever’s so-called fate mean to do with him? Before you kicked it in the shin with the force of the end of the world as we know it?

    Luwin stares with something between fascination and horror. Then his face clears. “Oh! I get it. You’re just fucking with me, aren’t you?”

    “If it pleases you to think so. Feel free to call me Marwyn regardless. In fact, I insist upon it.”

    Luwin gapes in disbelief, then readjusts course with the alacrity of all young men terrified of abandonment. “I’m coming with you.”

    “No.” Marwyn smiles fondly at him. “You’re needed here. You swore an oath. Besides, you think I won’t come back? Of course I will! I’ll need to be here to help the young master once he starts the dreams.”

    “Say what now? What dreams?”

    What he said.

    “A boy like that with not one shorthair to his name, living the lives of hundreds of people of all size, age and persuasion in their last moments? You’re mad if you think that won’t have consequences. It’ll be my job and yours to catch him early and see him through becoming only a little deviant instead of a lot. Or maybe a lot deviant so he always has palatable options amidst the dross. There’s a certain time window involved. I won’t miss it, and you won’t either.”

    Ohhh, those dreams.

    ...I am not alone! Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! You hear that, boy? Even mad hermits from the arse-end of the Shivering Sea can see it coming a hundred leagues away! Vindication!

    “But...” Luwin is not feeling any vindication, poor boy. “But then why leave at all?”

    “I had the gall to assume I’d get by without proof of commitment! Making big claims like that, honestly, what was I thinking? That he’d just believe me? After what all led to it too. I’m honestly shocked he bothered taking offense on my own behalf as much as he did. ‘Relationships based on extreme circumstances don’t work out.’ Bah! What does he think I am, a callow youth unsure of my convictions? Ah, but I should have seen it coming. I came north expecting a devil. Instead I found a lad who wants to save his mother and make his father proud. A creature of great power come down from the stars, and what does he do with it? Loves his parents. Loves his siblings. Upends everything known about medicine to save his mother’s life. Finds out his father once planned to murder him and demands hugs in tribute. Gets attacked by the forces of treachery and wears their eyes as cloaks in revenge. Then takes steps to prevent further injury, among which happens to be making blood magic worthless. And did I mention that his way of remaking the world in his image boils down to making rich men out of everyone he meets? Yes, the nerve of him to demand proof and guarantees that I’m not merely blowing smoke!”

    If only you were here now, young man. Do you know how totally he saw you in that moment? Do you understand what danger you’d have been in if it were anyone else? Do you see how little it takes for even the mightiest of men to go down on their knees? Do you see how broken this world is?

    Luwin can’t. He clenches his fists. “I still don’t understand.”

    “If my meaning still isn’t clear, think back to your studies. It’s not been long enough for you to have forgotten equivalent exchange, at least.”

    “… He gave you everything,” Luwin murmured. “And so you offered everything.”

    You did. He did. But no. That’s not all of it.

    “But…” Luwin bites his lip. “But he refused.”

    “And you think that settles it? The world doesn’t work like that and neither do I. Not anymore.”

    Would you see his true meaning if you were here, Brandon Stark? Would you have the eyes to see? The ears to hear?

    It’s only when Marwyn is done packing for the road and he is carefully spellcrafting the last figurine of a leaping whale with a doting smile that Luwin finally realises it. “…You love him.”

    “I do.”

    He loves you, boy. He really does.

    Marwyn plops the pint-sized Benjen on the white whale’s back. “Is that so surprising? Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I could feel something so pure? I get off on power, Luwin, not on little boys. And not on weakness either. Not mine. Certainly not his. Ah, but it will hardly last. The ability to quickly stockpile massive amounts of power, let alone do so cleanly… It’s a prize as precious as seeds from Garth Greenhand’s sack of plenty or Rowan Gold-Tree’s apples of gold. It is very good I got here first. The envy it could generate is dangerous. The predators it can lure are even more dangerous. Do not share what you've seen, Luwin. Do not share what you learn. We've found the limits of his ability to protect himself. As they currently are, they’re not enough. Not even close.”

    His father and I are doing our best, but they really aren’t.

    “I love you too Luwin.” Marwyn takes the lad by the shoulders, ignoring his reaction to the words. “Not that I’m worried you’ll act the jealous son, seeing as you’ve got your real father just over there in yonder townhouse, but it beats resentment, eh?”

    The God-King of Ib departs Winterfell to much wary suspicion and not a shred of pomp. At least the Lady likes the baubles tough, and promises to gift them to you when your twelfth name day comes. Not that you’ll hold ownership for long once the littler ones spot the things, but at least these won’t shatter at the shortest drop like all the other ones.

    That they’re infinitely superior to every other gift you’ll receive on your name day is the sort of way to make a point I can approve of as well.

    “They’re not cursed, I hope you know,” says the Immortal when I try to trail him without a living thing to bear me hence. Barely a wisp of an echo on the wind, that’s all I am, and still he looks right at me. “You’ll keep on keeping on while I’m gone, won’t you One Eye? I’ll help carry your burden once I come back.”

    It will only divert malcontents to softer targets.

    “True. But then, there is such a thing as glamors.” Marwyn fiddles with the tooth around his neck, and suddenly there’s just some random thug lumbering his way down the road. “Hey ho, Hey ho, prepare tribute I go! Maybe start off with some nice man-made wonders. Keep an eye out while I’m gone, old boy!”

    As if I ever do anything else. I try at times to break off from your father and take a break around the others. Osrick and Rodrik serve for the occasional respite, but I can’t connect to them like direct line kin, and they’re as ethereally inert as people come. I yearn for the respite of oblivion, but It’s dangerous to lie mindless too long like I do when I let my mind be borne by theirs. Your mother would be helpful, if she didn’t constantly fret over you or Little Benjen, who’s always trailing after you both awake and asleep. And the less said about what made the other side scramble to give Lyanna minders all of her own, the better.

    Oh woe is me, who can save me now? I need a hero, but the Age of Heroes is long gone! See here, young man, how low you’ve brought me! Oh, if only Ned suddenly emerged climbing up yonder slope! Help me, Eddard son of Rickard, you’re my only hope!

    He can’t, of course. He’s too busy breaking the way of life of an entirely different kingdom, far away. Also, he doesn’t know I exist.

    And so I’m borne forth by your father, whose thoughts are never far from you. So I keep an eye out. While you go flying to replenish your power, for all that you barely know what to do with it. While things are good. While things turn tragic and you’re far away from home. Away on a trip with your father to the Last Hearth, so the Umbers can attend to their father and grandfather in his last days. It is a harsh thing, humanity, to make your heart unable to bear joy in your twilight years. Still, he is a strong and content man, the Hoarfrost. Lasts long enough to see his firstborn son whole and healthy in mind before the end takes him. And when he passes and you take his hand, he goes up instead of down and leaves you with a treasure to match the greatest one you lost so gracelessly.

    Almost as gracelessly as Ben Umber’s stumbling failure to swear fealty afterwards.

    “I’m sorry, Lord Stark, I can’t. I mean I could, but I can’t-I don’t…” The giant of a man looks shamefully down at the floor of his solar, stuck between bending the knee and folding his hands. “I can’t do it. If it’s you, I’d be lying.”

    Rickard looks down at the man in disbelief. “What do you mean you can’t?”

    “It-It’s just…” Ben Umber sneaks a look from him to you and drops his head in embarrassment.

    Rickard Stark closes his eyes in realisation. “You can swear to my House but not me.”

    “I’m sorry, My Lord.”

    Rickard facepalms and looks at you with exasperation you entirely deserve and then some. “You just can’t help yourself can you, son? You’re determined to find increasingly ridiculous ways to steal my people’s loyalty from under me.” I despair of you boy, and so does your poor father. “Oh, just get it over with you two.”

    I had given up hope of ever seeing that look on your face, lad, but no. You didn’t magic away poor Ben’s good sense. He dumped it down a well like an unwanted bastard a long time ago.

    You take the man’s huge hands in yours. Ben Umber goes from one knee to both. He swears to you with his father’s same words, smiling sheepishly all the while.

    “Then for your first order: always serve my father as if he were me.”

    “Aye, my lord.”

    “Promise me, Ben.”

    “I promise.”

    “And for your second: come here and let me give you a hug, ridiculous man.”

    You have the nerve to call others ridiculous!?

    But Ben Umber just laughs and obeys gladly.

    You and your hugs, boy. If only they weren't so ridiculously effective. If only I’d known they could achieve so much when I was still alive. Do you know what it means that he's so big he can’t bend low enough to put his head below yours without failing your order? Can you tell what it means that he still stoops to wrap his arms around your waist instead of your shoulders? What it means that it's not him engulfing you in those arms so thick that you could disappear inside them? Can you tell what it means that he lets himself be enfolded instead of the opposite? Will he keep to that devotion when you lose childhood’s unthreatening innocence? Will he still be so biddable then?

    Oh well. If nothing else, you return to Winterfell in good spirits, your powers replenished and armed with a vassal house all of your own, even if only the three of you know it.

    If only I could claim similar success on my end, but I can’t. All my hopes that Luwin might miraculously turn out to be a natural mage capable of maybe slowing down the God-King if he ever turns on us are in vain. He’s too busy studying germs to be bothered by any but the most unexpected news.

    Mullin, freshly returned from your journey up north, plops down next to him on the bench. “I’m getting married.”

    Luwin stops scribbling and blinks up at him owlishly. “Say what now?”

    “Clara Poole, you know her? The steward’s sister? Seems I’ll be courting her and marrying into the family in a month if it goes well.”

    “What? Why?” Sometimes Luwin is a bit too much like you, lad. “I mean, I didn’t know you were looking?”

    “I wasn’t.”

    Luwin blinks at the man, taken aback by his strange befuddlement. “Then why?”

    “I’m going to be Master-At-Arms,” Mullin says, as if that should be a surprise to anyone. “So I have to become part of the household. Lord Stark’s orders.”

    “Oh. Well… that’s good news?”

    A piece of news to go with the other news which you, Brandon Stark, do not welcome with anything approaching grace.

    “What!” You squawk for everyone to witness. Including all of the heirs training around you in the yard. Which is all of them, from Torghen Flint trouncing Ryswell and Tallhart at once, to Wyman Manderly panting uselessly and sweating like a pig on the bench in the corner. “Dad, you promised!”

    “And I’ve kept my promise,” says your lord father, as if he should be explaining himself to you. In public! “I’ve reached the limit of what I can bring myself to do in your training.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “You’re starting full-contact sparring. I’ve thought long and hard and decided I can’t do that with you.”

    “Why?”

    “The thought I might hurt you even by accident makes me sick to my stomach.”

    “… Oh dad.”

    You and your hugs, boy. You and your hugs! Don’t think your father hasn’t built up any resistance to them by now! He always considers how best to handle you. No matter how much he likes you, he loves you so much more it doesn’t measure up. Too much to indulge you on anything that doesn’t suit his judgment. He, at least, chants the proper tune to my thoughts and always prepares ahead of time. The best he can, at least, for when you next try to upend the world only to be smacked in the face with the force of reality.

    Yes, I am indeed talking about the dreams. There’s a reason your growth spurt strikes so hard when it comes. There’s a reason aware dreaming and flying becomes so much harder right after. There’s a reason you’ve already gone through your entire smallclothes supply when you barge in on your parents in the early hours of the morning.

    “Mom! Dad! We have a problem!”

    “You’re a pillow biter.”

    “What!? NO!” So much for being prepared thanks to the washerwomen reporting on your auspicious touchstone, but I can hardly blame the man when he barely managed to cover your mother and- “Are you crazy? I’m barely a week into my awkward stage! There’s literally no way that this can’t go crazy! Put weird ideas in my head and they may just happen. Except they won’t! I have very exacting standards of relationship dynamics! Don’t give me any notions unless you want them flipped on their head! Do you want the Umbers bent in half in a line over the dinner table? Can you imagine the looks on their faces? Because all else being equal, that’s what would happen! Speaking of which.” What did just-Was that just-? Did you just-? What did you-ARE YOU UNDRESSING YOUR MOTHER WITH YOUR EYES!? “Oh thank heavens!” The heavens have nothing to do with whatever goes on in that preposterous mind, you outrageous child! Oh, you’re falling down on your arse now? “I’m not lusting after my own mother! Freud and Yung and all the other degenerates continue to be completely full of shit even entire worlds away. Thank every god and whatever grifters spawned them! But we still have a problem! A big problem! I’m getting dreams! Wet dreams! Wet dreams all about matronly married women.”

    … I give up. It is hopeless. There is nothing that can be done for you.

    Rickard Stark bursts out laughing.

    “Brandon.” Lyarra Stark says coldly, all joy and woe fully forgotten, never mind everything that happened in the past three years. “Get out.”

    “Right, go ahead and punish me for coming to you first like dad told me.”

    Brandon.”

    “I’m still getting my morning hugs, right?”

    “OUT!”

    You couldn’t just let that pillow hit you, could you? You couldn’t concede even that small defeat before you bravely ran away.

    I wish I could share in the mirth, but heavy matters have been on my mind since well before the last night fell.

    Someone has come and infiltrated Winterfell.

    “Someone was in the castle smithy at some point,” Rickard says grimly after reading the reports of everyone set out to check on all your scouting. And his. And mine. “There is a mule in the stables that wasn’t there this morning. The dogs were fed even though the kitchen wench supposed to feed them never stopped by. And then there’s Nolla.” One of the first comers from down in the Riverlands that came up with her family to answer Rickard’s call. Ever so eager to learn under the maesters. Even earned a spot on the keep staff to pay her way. One of your launderers, boy. You remember her, I see. “She was found behind the blast furnace where her brother had taken to working.”

    Yes. Found. By me. Missing her head.

    “Happy birthday to me.” You grumble, boy, but in this you are right to.

    Strange how long ago the last dark times now feel. This tense atmosphere promises nothing good for the foreseeable future. The dark mood doesn’t get any better throughout the long hours, especially for the last day before your thirteenth name day celebrations. I’m still amazed, though, that you like it so much when you father has you attend him during court up next to his high throne. Don’t you want to be out playing with your siblings and the other children? You’re almost out of time you know, now that you’re growing so quickly. Do you know how many share my thoughts on this? Do you know how many among the petitioners? That all the heirs of the great houses, attending you off and on, worry you don’t take enough time to yourself?

    Speaking of all these people, why are they all-?

    The mass of people parts as a mighty glamor drops right outside the doors.

    … By Garth Greenhand’s corpse that lies beneath the Shadow undying, what was that!?

    Marwyn the Mage marches through the gates of the Great Hall of Winterfell, his massive bulk clad in a set of armor made of that dark, smoky metal that’s unmistakeable. Other than his hands which he’s left free, there’s not a spot below the man’s chin that isn’t covered in at least an inch of the heavy material. Pauldrons, brassarts, vambraces, cuirass, even a long, segmented kilt in place of faulds that reach all the way to just below the knee guards of the greaves. Overlaying it is a vast black coat, made from the skin of what had to have been the largest seal the north has ever seen, its collar mottled with crow feathers. Crow feathers like the ones you made your father’s men collect when you made your first statement of claim. And… And his hair. Forget the bristly white sprouting from his ears and nostrils. They are just props for a veritably opulent mane. Wiry bristles frame his face all the way to the ears. Tufted eyebrows sail up into the air above his sea-green eyes, like white ash from a pyre. Bushy whiskers capped with steel stick up like boar tusks. They all mix down into a coat of white, like salt crushed and dusted over a full beard and head of hair that almost reaches his belt, coarse and thick and kissed by fire like a beacon in full spate.

    A bucket of summerstone mix is in his right hand. One of winterstone in his left hand. The kitchen wench hangs under his right arm, senseless. A dead man hangs under his left, his feet dragging across the floor in his wake. And across his right shoulder hangs a long, thin case of fused black stone, with two more buckets hanging by both ends perfectly balanced, both covered with lids perfectly fitted.

    Marwyn stops short of the foot of the high rise, puts down the first two buckets and dumps the living body. “The kitchen wench. Took this other one’s coin to steal the keys to the keep tonight.” He dumps the dead body front-side up. It’s of a man, but it has Nolla’s face. “A Faceless Man of Braavos, come to look into things at no one’s behest. Caught him as he was skinning the girl down at the furnaces. Killed himself right proper too. Not before I got what little was worth out of his brain though.” He hauls the buckets further a few steps and gets to unloading everything as if there isn’t anything that has to be digested or done about what just happened. Boy, what have you done? I know you did something. It’s spreading! This madness has your name written all over it!

    You are right to stare, though. Those buckets each have more of his power and will in them than is left anywhere in himself.

    Marwyn kneels between his four vats. He lays the black case on the floor before him, not looking up at you or your father. “Oaths and the like are done with a weapon offered up, I understand. Hope you don’t mind if I take a moment to rustle up mine right quick.” The summerstone mixture comes together in a blob at his touch. Rises up after it like a roll of dough, thick and viscous. With just a few deft movements he stretches it into a long rod that suddenly catches fire. He sticks a long, thin strip of steel down one end, then lays it sideways over the lid of the bucket and lets it burn. He reaches into the other vat. The winterstone-to-be rises just like its summer sister, water and weirwood essence rippling milky white. He pinches it and pulls at it, slowly extending it into a blade as long as he is wide. Then further. When he stops, it looks alive in the sunlight coming through the windows. Translucent. A shard of crystal so thin that it seems almost to vanish when seen edge-on. He lays it flat over the lip of the vat. The crystal on steel makes a tinkling whistle that doesn’t go away.

    I know that glow. That faint blue shimmer. That ghost-light that plays around its edges, sharper than any razor. I saw it in my ancient dreams, back when I still lived. He couldn’t have…

    Marwyn reaches under his cloak, into the satchel at his side, next to the gauntlets strapped to his belt. From it he pulls tools one after another and sets them on the case in front of him. He leaves a wide space in the middle though, where he picks and drops the third bucket. He lifts the lid - such heat! What is – his melting foundry! So he didn’t enchant the bucket just to leave me blinder than I already am. It’s hotter than the blast furnaces down in the Kyln!

    The Mage pulls off his ring of valyrian steel and drops it inside. He waits a few heartbeats. His heartbeats. I can see them – do you see them thumping lad? In his chest and in the foundry, perfectly matched. Do you see how much of him burns? How dimmer he becomes as...

    The fire to his right goes out, leaving a long rod of smooth black stone that he picks up and out of the grooves melted into the rim of the bucket. He upends it. Molten steel pours out of the end until nothing of the strip he put in there is left. Then he sinks the same end into the foundry and stirs, then pulls it out. The wad of dragonsteel follows, stuck to it like glue glowing white hot. He blows on it, uses his tools to hollow and mould it like clay it into a fastener, then reaches for the crystal blade just as the shrieking of freezing metal becomes too loud to ignore.

    The bucket crumbles to pieces. The sound of frostbitten, brittle metal is like the cracking of ice on a winter lake. I was not mad to think back to those dreams. He’s the madman.

    Marwyn inserts the blade into the channel and carefully sews a filament of the molten magesteel through the black rod and middle of the crystal blade. From there, it’s just a few more tugs and taps of his instruments and the work is complete.

    The Mage sets the sword staff on the floor with an air of historic finality not lost on anyone in the chamber.

    “Fused blackstone.” Marwyn the Mage finally speaks while he knocks on the pole, still not looking up. “We don’t have dragons to make roads or walls out of it, but the mix is good enough to last thousands of years even without burning it up. Gets stronger over time too, if you do it right. It’s the same as summerstone really, just with some swapped ingredients. My compliments for coming up with it. Never would’ve pieced the rest together without it.” He taps the blade with his fingertips. Briefly. “Hope you’ll forgive me if I went with vanity over practicality for the rest.”

    Vanity? Vanity!? Does he expect us to believe he doesn’t know full well what-

    Marwn sticks a hand into the last bucket. It comes out holding a large ball of ash bigger than his head.

    Then he brings it between both hands and somehow crushes it until it disappears between his palms, not a stray speck in sight.

    For the next, five long minutes, the Great Hall of Winterfell is witness to the crackle, grind and screeching of molten, crushed rock.

    I can feel your disbelief, Brandon Stark, even over your father’s increasingly awestruck bewilderment. I can feel it, and I tell you, you don’t feel about this nearly strongly enough. Look at them, all these people. They are impressed. Awestruck. Amazed. They don’t even notice the dead bodies laid out in front of them anymore. All that and they still do not understand. They don’t see. They don’t know how far he goes. How much power he spends. How much it leaves him lessened with every grip and scratch and burst of spellfire. They don’t see the apology. They don’t see the taunt. They don’t hear his message. His message as plain as his sheer gall.

    It’s all for you, or not at all.

    He really loves you, boy. Do you see it?

    I don’t suppose you know just what he’s doing though? What is that murky grey lump? A geode? Mighty lot effort for such an ugly-

    The crystal edge cuts into the stone. Then again. And again and again and twenty more times and no, that can’t be.

    Marwyn the Mage holds up the gem to study in the light. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. But it’s there right in front of me. In front of everyone. A clear, round diamond, perfectly cut. It glitters and sparkles in the afternoon light.

    Marwyn hauls the foundry aside and sweeps the black case clean. There’s not a scratch on it. “I hope you’ll forgive me for not making a show of the whole thing.” The case is finally unclasped. “But it would’ve taken far too long, and it doesn’t do to deliver half-finished gifts. I hope you like the last touch though.”

    The colors of the world sharpen, and sounds shy away as the ultimate force manifests in his grasp. The quintessence of an ascended spirit that left behind his mighty soul, fully perfected and outgrown.

    The Flint… The Flint! He didn’t eat it! He kept it… And now it settles so cosily in the gemstone. And the diamond settles so neatly in the guard. The sword. It’s so bright. So beautiful… Not a drop of blood spilled in murder to make them, not even from the corpse over there on the floor. So… so… And like the working that the Mage himself had lived so long under, it’s not even finished. Like a seedling just starting to lay roots and sprout into a wonder of… of…

    The pommel is a gleaming orb as pure as starlight. The cross guard is rippling steel as clear a still pond. The diamond’s fitting grows out of the unbroken whole. It fastens the gemstone like the morning star’s pinions. The handle is pure dragonbone, smooth and black as midnight. The ironwood scabbard looks beggarly next to it, but perhaps it’s fitting of a veil whose role is ever only transitory. It slides off the blade as you descend the steps, like night passing to dawn. The blade is white as snow, finished to a shine so fine that even the inscription on the groove looks like a mirror.

    ᛁ ᚨᛗ ᛏᚺᛖ ᛚᛟᛞᛖᛋᛏᚨᚱ, ᛒᚤ ᚹᚺᛟᛗ ᛗᚨᚾ ᚲᛟᚾᛩᚢᛖᚱᛋ ᛞᚨᚱᚴᚾᛖᛋᛋ ᚨᛒᛁᛞᛁᚾᚷ

    I am the Lodestar, by whom man conquers darkness abiding​

    “Young Master.” The God-King of Ib lifts eyes wrought with the most insolent earnestness that has ever existed. “Please accept me as your pet wizard.”


    “-. The Springtime of Youth .-“

    [​IMG]


    “Son. What on earth have you been doing with this man?”

    The loud slam of the antechamber door perversely fails to banish the memory of the Lord Stark’s question and no, don’t-!

    “Unh!” Marwyn lurches forward and down, wide-eyed.

    “You think that’s funny!?”

    Y-you….You b-bearded him! You’re bearding him? B-bearding a man isn’t the same as pushing boundaries! You’re bearding a wizard! A mighty sorcerer! A king! Don’t just stand there, you fools! Martyn, Luwin, Rickard, do something, don’t just gawp like an ox! Oh why do I even bother? He’ll just keep on carrying on. Mercy, great God-King! Mercy, please! The boy’s not a bad lad, he’s just a moron!

    Marwyn blinks and blinks. Then goes down on his knees and raises folded hands in entreaty.

    … Mad. He’s mad. You’re mad. Everyone is mad.

    Your grip on his beard only tightens as you pull his face up to yours. “I’ve half a mind to say no.” What did you just say? “What if I just refuse?”

    “If you won’t have me serve at your pleasure, I will serve you as best I can at mine. Sounds like it would make a fine mess of unintended consequences though.”

    “Are you blackmailing me?”

    “Never.”

    Mad, mad, mad I say. And so am I for not realising that you’ve neither the strength nor weight to move him. Even while you’re bearding him he bends over backwards and forwards for you. At least smooth out the mess you made of his mane you unconscionable-! Thank you. His white-dusted, fiery mane rustles softly as you rake order back into it. Now why do you grab it again?

    “That sword…”

    Marwyn says nothing.

    Do you appreciate what it means that a man like him stays quiet unless you give him leave?

    “It’s made from your staff. Isn’t it?”

    “It is.”

    “How long have you known how to work Valyrian steel?”

    “Oh, the Citadel’s known all along. Where do you think all those Valyrian links come from? Even if we had a store of them, how do you think they get pried open and closed when put or moved from chain to chain?”

    The tusk-like whiskers wiggle between your fingers. How does the man not sneeze? They grow half-way right out of his nose. Doesn’t it itch?

    Marwyn just watches you, eyes wrought with the most soulful earnestness that has ever existed. “I know how to make it too, now, incidentally.”

    You roughly let go of the man’s beard, visibly biting back what you were about to say. “Are you telling me – the armor. You made that from scratch?”

    “Oh no, I just retrieved it from my stash down south. Just knowing how to make Valyrian steel doesn’t mean I can. I’ve not a renewable supply of dead people, you see.”

    Says the immortal who created his own way to cheat death and old age through bloodkin human sacrifice.

    “Are you trying to buy your way into my service?”

    “Never.”

    Never indeed. Don’t mind the magic sword. It’s barely passable as a name day gift. A mere trifle, not even finished. And certainly the baubles for your other name day had nothing to do with making Luwin's father wallow in dismay at being so thoroughly bested at his own game.

    “Marwyn… Or is it Asmundur? Magnus? Olaf? What should I even call you?”

    “Call me whatever name you wish.”

    “Don’t tempt me.” Your hands rise and reach forward, then stop. “Marwyn…”

    “Yes, lord?”

    “Why?”

    “Because everyone and their grandmother is out to kill you because you’ve started the end of the world as we know it.” The bloody darkness inside him engulfs the God-King’s face. “I won’t let them.”

    He won’t let them. The bloodmoon shimmers behind his brow, promising death. He loves you, boy. He really does.

    “… I believe you.”

    The darkness passes and Marwyn smiles. His eyes crinkle. Still he waits with his hands offered up.

    What are you waiting for, Brandon Stark? Why do you sigh so put upon? “And the fact that swearing to me lets you put off that whole Ibben business for another hundred years has nothing to do with it, I’m sure.”

    “Am I to be punished?” Marwyn asks guilelessly and oh he did not just- “If so, I recommend deferring until three or four years from now when everyone involved can properly appreciate it. You’ll need time to learn what all I got put through everywhere else, before you can figure out something that that actually works for what you need.” Marwyn frowns thoughtfully. “Might need to keep a written record of past offences, mind, but I’ll be sure to recall any such instances regardless and volunteer the information as it becomes relevant.”

    Oh now he’s just fucking with me. Not you, young man, just me. Where is my birdbrained mouthpiece when I need it? Back in the throne room eating corn, that’s where. Lord Stark, Rickard, Winter King, say something! Or am I reading too much into it? How pure a love are we actually talking about here?

    “Right,” you say flatly. Still the man kneels with hands folded before you, calm and steady despite that you withdraw again. Pinch your nose like only your father does, you pretentious manling. “Anything else I should know? Just so I know what to do with you.”

    “Well, magic is the obvious one of course. I’ve also come up with a way to mine the Norrey gold – we’ll need to sacrifice a valley or two, but the quicksilver will actually make things easier otherwise. Also, I was one of three leading the counter-conspiracy down in Oldtown before I was kicked out. My cohorts have since secured their hold on the Citadel and are ready to open a dialogue at your pleasure.”

    … I have no idea what to even say.

    “The dragonbone in the hilt came from them,” Marwyn supplies helpfully. “A token of their sincerity, I’m told.”

    How your father can still just stand aside and watch without saying anything, I have no idea. And I practically nest inside those poor brain meats of his.

    “Is that all?” Are you still not convinced of his commitment, Brandon Stark? How much more do you want?

    “Well, I suppose there’s the blackstone, but you don’t need me for that. You just use sea water instead of fresh one and switch the baked lime for volcanic ash. There’s fair patches of it along the Bay of Ice. Quite a few dead volcanoes in them mountains, if the gold didn’t make it obvious. House Mormont will appreciate the prospects, I imagine. Glovers too. Flints and Wulls and Liddles and all the rest. Some parts of the Neck might also have it, what with all the basalt. I think that’s all of it, though I’m sure there are other things I could come up with, given ideas and time.”

    … Take him, boy. Take him. Take him now. Don't set him loose where you can't see him, he can get past me.

    “You do not think me genuine,” Marwyn murmurs some time later, still so painfully earnest. “What about equivalent exchange? Can you at least trust that?”

    “Oh Marwyn…” How I wish I could read and feel you like I do others, lad. Then I’d at least have some idea of how much insecurity you keep buried under this needling, lofty front of yours. “I do think you’re genuine.”

    “I’m glad.”

    “I won’t make it easy, you know.”

    “I know.”

    “I won’t take half measures.”

    “I know. It’s alright.”

    “If you pledge as a teacher, I expect you to teach me everything you know. If you vow to protect me, you’ll put everything else behind. If you pledge to attend to me, you damn well better attend to me. And if you swear to me, you swear to me. Not Winterfell, not the North, not my Father, not whoever your friends are back in Oldtown, not even your vassals in Ibben or whatever else.”

    “As it should be. As I said I would. Didn’t I?”

    You still seem troubled, Brandon Stark. Why?

    “The people in this world kneel far too readily.”

    As opposed to what? The worlds that exist only in your fancies? Sometimes I wish I knew what goes on in your mind, Brandon Stark. But then I catch a glimpse of this deviant morality and am glad to have my thoughts instead borne by your father. At least then I know one of us will bear the future without going mad. Heed, young man! Stop living in dreams and pay reality the proper mind!

    “Alright then.” You take his hands. They look bigger than even Umber’s under yours. But they settle even more comfortably inside them, somehow. “Swear what you will.”

    “For as long as you live, use me whatever way you wish.”

    Like before, he pledges everything. You are wise to in turn swear nothing. There is no wish or will or power than can confine everything that can be in the world. Why would man be any different in that?

    “Alright. That’s that then. Rise.”

    Marwyn does, though he does not withdraw his hands from yours. Already you've grown so much that you and him both stand at the same height. How content will he be, I wonder, once the time comes when he is always looking up?

    “First thing’s first – some proper smithcraft for this mane.”

    Marwyn smiles as you tug on his tusk-like whiskers, utterly delighted. “You do like it.”

    “You saw it, didn’t you? Back when you chewed me up and spat me out like a slavering swine.”

    “Barely a handful of sounds and images, master. I apologise for my trespass and offer all due recompense.”

    “And I’ll extract it thoroughly. It’s just as well. Artifice like the one back there is as good a thing to start with as any. The tusk tips are fine – swordfish bone, is it? – but you can do better. Nice, thick rings. Say as wide as your toes, if it’s the size I’m thinking. I’ll have to inspect them later to make sure. I’m thinking some bronze to start with. Should hold spells well enough. I will, after all, need some way to assert my claim, isn’t that right?”

    “Of course.”

    “You’ll grow it to proper length of course.” Grow his beard? Is that where’re you’re at now? What a childish request, I like it! “I expect to see it tucked inside your belt at the very least.”

    Marwyn tugs on the wiry bristles blanketing his beer belly, looking ridiculously pleased with himself. “As you command, master.”

    “And you’ll move your quarters next to mine. Tonight.”

    Marwyn stares, astonished. I would too, if I were shown such trust had I done what he did to you. If only you trusted your own decisions the way others trust them.

    Hearken, young man! If you want to know the true nature of man, give him power. Think back to that moment when he broke you utterly. Remember how helpless he had you in his grasp back then. Was that not proof enough of his true nature? All of your life you showed others earnest love and devotion. Now these others are showing you their earnest love and devotion. Who are you to gainsay them? Can you not see what it means that all those who knelt to you up to his point bent not one knee but both? Or is it your own nature you have doubts on now? Do you think you’ll fail the same test, is that right? How low do you think of yourself? Why? And why do you worry about your worth at all? You’re barely three and ten name days old, don’t waste what’s left of your young years on fretting over dark futures imagined. Don’t act as if you owe this world to go reign yourself in. Self-deprecation is not a virtue, and self-awareness is not a sin!

    “Such a kind and forgiving master I have.” Marwyn stares at you, smiling wonderingly. “I am at your service.”

    “Yes. Yes, I dare say you are. Now if there’s nothing else?”

    Marwyn looks just about to say no, but then... “Well, perhaps one thing.”

    “Yes?”

    “Might I be graced with one of your lordship’s famous hugs?”

    No… He didn’t…

    “Oh? They’re famous now, are they?”

    “Absolutely to die for.”

    He did!

    And of course it’s this that settles your mood, I should have known. “I don’t waste such things on people who can’t return them properly. But if you take that armor off, I’ll allow it.”

    “Oh! Forgive my foolishness, I’ll do so at once!”

    Behold, young man, you’ve prevailed over Substance by dint of Consciousness alone. The Motion of the life before you now bends entirely to yours. Behold the man in front of you, and know that the Principles have come together in you both. As they were in the beginning. As they will be at the end of all things.

    “Mmm…” Marwyn hums pleasantly as he embraces you. Lets himself be enfolded by you. “Begging you lordship’s, pardon, there’s nothing magical about this at all.”

    “Disappointed?”

    He hugs you tighter. “Absolutely ecstatic.”

    Heed, young man, your humble servant's words and rest easy and true. You aren't unwittingly mind controlling people to make them love you. Really, show some sense if humility is too much to abide. Power rarely means a despicable arcane contrivance. You think it’s so easy to bend people’s minds? You think it just happens without trying besides? Power resides where men believe it resides.

    Do not wallow in self-deception when the world already tries to shove so many falsehoods down your throat. There is no just killing, there is no unjust mercy, all peace is good, all war is evil, there is no good, there is no evil, there is no 'other' that deserves to be fought to the bitter end. Foolishness, all of it. All wrong like so many sayings, who lied of them to you? False idols do not all come in stone or wood shapes. False beliefs work just as insidiously. When a man hates another for being hated, is he evil? When a woman kills the one who raped her, is she evil? When a man lets a beggar starve to death so he won’t suffer the same, is he evil for having the greater will to live? When the wicked stepmother drives her husband’s first daughter to kill herself, is he the one at fault for marrying again? When the Andals came slaughtering men, women and children and enslaved what was left, was the Valemen’s doomed war against them evil?

    There is just death. There is just war. Sometimes there is no justice but retributive justice! Do not apologise for being in the right. Seek not vain peace with those who would have enmity. Seize not on enmity uncalled for either. Do not compromise! That is but the slow march towards degeneracy favoured only by the cowardly and weak that envy your accomplishments!

    Heed, young man, the counsel of the dispossessed! Heed their wisdom and don’t fear. Fear not when the snows fall a hundred feet deep, when the ice wind comes howling out of the north and the sun hides its face for years at a time. Fear not when little children are born and live and die all in darkness, while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry and the white walkers move through the woods. Fear is the death of reason, the chains of slavery, the seed of all self-destructive beliefs that turn hero to slave and man to sheep. Do not let the light of Consciousness be extinguished. Shine forth, shine on, now as in the beginning.

    The universe was born in a blinding burst of creation! In the beginning there was everything and the everything held not a thing at all. There was no motion and therefore no consciousness. The all was free to fathom everything, even as it had nothing with which to fathom, let alone relate its fathoming with anything other than itself. Infinite thought of nothing met infinite everything and fathomed an infinite focus. What else could happen but chaos? The universe was born when everything fathomed everything it could be without any limits to the motions of substance.

    At the time.

    But the Principles march ever onwards, begetting more of themselves in ever richer span and intricacy and variety. Everything that could be then cannot compare with everything that is now, let alone everything there will be in the future that we none of us can begin to fathom. Not all or even most of it is kind, but it doesn’t have to be, does it? Motion begets Motion, snarks and grumpkins may lay claim to the Substance of things, but it is Man who brings change to the Consciousness of the world. It is Man that decides what is good and right in the world. It is Man who decides if he slays or saves monsters.

    Look upon the marvel before you and see. Look upon the sword he proffers on bended knee. Read the words that tell you how you appear, in the eyes of monsters soaked in blood betrayal and lives burnt to nothing. You are his Lodestar, by whom man conquers darkness abiding.

    You and your hugs, boy. You and your hugs! You and this bizarre thing you do where you grab and drag men of great power under you!

    You are in for chaos, lad. There are those who want to overthrow the wingless dragons to establish a true Westerosi state ruled by its own people. There are those who want to conquer every kingdom not their own to plunder their riches and make their people slaves. There are those across the water who want to carve up all of your lands between themselves. There are those who want to topple your entire way of life as revenge for the long shadow cast by that throne of bloody swords they’ve always hated. Serfs and slaves and killers scream up from under it all. Killers, kinslayers and almighty idiots sneer down from above you. Egoists and pretenders plot and scheme all around you. You’ve no idea how many of them would set aside their differences to see one like you gone.

    Why do you think so many rats and vipers spend their lives lying? Faking foretelling and telling lies to men low and high? Stabbing themselves on three branches and staring into fire? Wasting their lives to worms and glamour to put to thoughts and desires and dreams of ruin in the minds of men? When a god sees the future, it’s set it stone. When a mortal sees it, it is destroyed!

    You are not the hero, Brandon Stark. You are the sacrifice. You have always been the sacrifice.

    But you are no sheep either. You’ve already survived once. The Greendream is broken but not quite broken enough that you don’t have some time. When the moment comes that the world tries to burn you to nothing, will you overcome and emerge triumphant once more? Chaos is not a ladder, it rips the foundation and footing from under everyone and all. It’s always the biggest that fall hardest when that time comes rolling like a storm. Every act is of magic, even now and here on the corpse of this world!

    The future comes for you, Brandon Stark, chasing down the heels of your other half and the brave men beyond the hinge of the world that somehow still survive.

    When you rise or fall or face the empty mouthpiece of the blood betrayers, I’ll brave the fire one last time to peck the crow’s face off and take back my eye.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
    Camus, Rui Pascoal, PbookR and 22 others like this.
  5. Trieze

    Trieze The man from Nowhere, next stop Anywhere.

    Joined:
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    ...I'm more confused than ever, and I love ever minute of it.

    Admittedly, I could keep track of things better in "On the Shoulders of Scions"...
     
  6. Grene

    Grene Getting some practice in, huh?

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    You forgot to threadmark it.
     
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  7. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    OSOS is more straightforward narratively. Then again, I didn't set out to be confusing here either. I think people are getting distracted by not knowing the identity of the guardian spirit narrator. I was entirely chronological about the events that unfolded. Or I tried.
     
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  8. Trieze

    Trieze The man from Nowhere, next stop Anywhere.

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    Well, I think the narrator's Bloodraven as the Three-eyed raven, but I couldn't keep track of all the tangents.

    Granted, you did a superlative job mimicking the impulsive thought processes of a freshly-minted teenager, but still...
     
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  9. fanfictionaddict7171

    fanfictionaddict7171 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Yup I was greatly confused about the narrator. Unbelievable writing, looking forward to the next chapter!
     
  10. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    It's not Bloodraven. It's the One-Eyed raven that Rickard talked about way back. And which showed up in Lyarra's dream that one time and Luwin's visions.
     
  11. CmirDarthanna

    CmirDarthanna Experienced.

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    Loved it. Also, DORFS! The Book of Grudges is on the wings.

    And an OverSoul? He's really on the path to becoming God Emperor of Mankind.

    Edit:
    Man, Old Flint must be incredible to ascend beyond the need for a soul. He can even look back at the world he's left.
     
  12. Liquid Night

    Liquid Night Making the rounds.

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    Yeah, I definitely enjoyed it but the ambiguity of who was speaking, and the way it keeps addressing someone who isn't there, was confusing enough that I lost the first third of the chapter before I figured it out.
    I'll have to give it a re-read but definitely later.

    Still thanks for the story, it's good if difficult to read at times.
     
  13. Kolejny dzień

    Kolejny dzień Another Day

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    I loved the presentation of this!
     
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  14. Mr. Cloak

    Mr. Cloak Possibly Outerwear, advocate for Blank rights.

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    ... So we have a reincarnating (by baby and mother sacrificing) near-immortal mage and we just learned that Brandon Stark pulled a God-Emperor of Mankind and has a patchwork soul partly made out of ravens.
    ...
    This went from low fantasy to high fantasy REAL QUICK.
     
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  15. Canadian Leprechaun

    Canadian Leprechaun Lur-king

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    Thought this was somewhat applicable(and funny):

    [​IMG]
     
  16. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    Didn't the first adaptation of this meme in that thread star Robert Baratheon?
     
  17. Threadmarks: Chapter II.2: Grinding Teeth Do Not a Gay Storm Make (I)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    ____________________________________________________________

    Chapter II.2: Grinding Teeth Do Not a Gay Storm Make

    [​IMG]

    “-. 273 AC .-“



    Robert Baratheon hated Jon Arryn.

    He hated his nose that stuck out like a hook, his eyes that may as well be rocks for all the blue supposed to be in them, his hair that couldn’t even stick to one colour, and the man’s breath, gods, it stunk like rotten cheese! Even his teeth were falling out! Dad had made him sound so great too! A great towheaded man with broad shoulders, blue eyes, and a bold nose of eaglelike majesticness to go with his shrewd mind, so wise and calming and kindly and it was all just one big bunch of crapbaskets!

    Jon was old, stiff, dull, boring, a terrible nag to out-nag every other nag in the world, and he didn’t even have a home good enough to winter in! Not that Robert cared for the Eyrie none. With what the Gates of the Moon were like, the Eyrie would probably be boring anyway. Who cared how great it looked from a distance? Jon’s breath didn’t stink from a distance either, but Robert would have to endure both up close and personal, it was horrible!

    And to dump the rest of the bastard down the well, Jon didn’t even have a mom to offer! Who was Robert supposed to go denounce the unfairness of fate when everything in his life betrayed him? Old man couldn’t even tell when Robert was cussing him out inside his head, this was the man claiming he’ll raise and love and cherish him like a second father?

    Well he wasn’t interested! He already had a father and he was the strongest and handsomest and the best and the greatest, and even if Robert had to bear with that sourpuss of a brother forever, he wanted to go home!

    … He wanted to go home.

    But they wouldn’t let him! Even after he made their life complete hell, they still wouldn’t let him. They barely even gave him a second glance when he did something outrageous anymore. They thought ignoring him would grind him down, until he ground his teeth down from all the honor this and duty that and they could go suck air through a reed and choke on it! They even had the balls to pretend not to notice him glaring at them anymore.

    But wait, that was a bad sign! They surely couldn’t expect him to just stop looking at them sideways. What if they just decided to switch targets? They did decide just to switch targets! Well a pox on that! He’ll be damned before he let them do the same to some other poor boy! He wouldn’t stand for it! He’d… He’d save him! Yes, that’s it. That’s what he’ll do. Even if he couldn’t save himself, he’d save that poor barbarian child or eat grass trying! Except it was winter so he’d probably kiss ice instead. And it wasn’t one or the other because he’d already saved himself, thank you very much, but now he was just repeating himself.

    To himself.

    In his head.

    Wow, he really didn’t do well sitting and waiting. That was another thing that got him in trouble, especially with Maester Cudius. He regretted ever calling Cressen boring! The Septon was alright though. Urizen would never stop being a stupid name, but as long as his robeliness kept coming in just in time to distract Jon from his latest lecture about Robert’s childish antics, he was going to forgive him (antics! childish! him!).

    These weren’t no antics! This was planning. Strategy. The most actionable of all plans of action! Bold, clear and free of moving parts outside his reach. Just him, the rope and the tree.

    Speaking of which…

    Robert slapped his cheeks a couple of times, almost falling off the branch he was perched on. Not because he can’t balance none – his balance was as perfect as the rest of him, thank you as rudely as you deserve and then some – but because of the desperate lunge he had to make for the rope. He shouldn’t have dropped it, but all’s well that ends well! And what ended well was him rousing himself up, seeing as there was no one else around to do it. It was all him on this one. Just him. Alone.

    Just in time too. The convoy was right below him now, with Jon juuust about in front of him with the little Stark at his front. Look at that runt, he was so small! Barely a year younger but still so tiny. So vulnerable, unsafe, defenceless, he had to protect him! As the eldest, he simply had to, it was his… his d… his du… it was his dewgh… his-



    “…How’s this for duty you fucking cuuuuuuuuuUNTS!?”

    Jon and Teeny-Stark barely had time to turn and gape before he crashed into them.

    “UNH!”

    “WHA-!”

    “ROBERT!?”

    The feeling of sheer triumph upon flying off with the little Stark in his arms could not be described, even if it was completely stupid because did people still not look up? All the way up here? In the Vale! The Eyrie was literally above them all the time, they should be old hats at craning their necks by now!

    Then the flight turned to a fall and he barely had time to wrap himself around the runt before they crashed and proceeded to roll down the slope.

    “AH!”

    The snowy slope.

    “AH!” “UGH!”

    The very thickly snow-covered slope he’d prepared the day prior while he was shoveling the path leading up to the Gates of the Moon as punishment, never you mind what for!

    “UGH!” “HN!” “URK!”

    They rolled down and down and beyond the treeline out of sight.

    “AH!” “UGH!” “HN!” “URK!” “OGH!” “Ooooohhhh…”

    They came to a stop in a snow-blasted pile of limbs, tangled cloaks, and the sounds of soul-crushing agony as Robert grabbed Teeny-Stark by the collar and yanked him up to his face to- “Help me, Eddard son of Rickard, you’re my only hope!”

    Wait! That wasn’t what he wanted to say!

    His only reply was a pained whimper.

    Oops. Might have kneed the half-pint in the crotch there. Once or twice. A few times. He let go.

    Stark fell and curled up in a ball, moaning what might have been words. Robert eagerly bent down to listen closer to what would surely be his rightful-

    “Y-you’re,” Stark moaned, “The ugliest damsel I've ever seen distressed.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry, would you rather I lay back and swoon for you instead? I can do that!”

    Wait, that didn’t come out right!

    “P-piss off,” Stark groaned, rolling away from him. “Southron lunatics, I should’ve stayed home and died from the plague.”

    Excuse him! See if he ever tries to save him again! Is this the thanks he gets? Where were the words of praise? The blood oaths? Where was his legendary adventuring partner of legend!?

    The sounds of shouts and footstomps came from uphill.

    “Right, time to go!” Robert threw Teeny-Stark over his shoulder.

    “Wh-put me down!”

    “You shut up and let this here knight save you, princess.”

    Honestly, did he want to get them caught? Not that a bit of noise would be enough. They’ll never catch him, he had exemplary skills!

    He turned away and hightailed it through the bushes right into a pair of legs.

    “AOGH!”

    Robert fell on his arse. Stark crashed and resumed being a moaning mess of useless northman.

    “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?”

    Robert rubbed his forehead and gaped up at the man, shocked. Where? When? How!?

    “Lord Eddard, are you hurt?”

    Stark stumbled to his feet and scrambled to hide behind the man’s legs. “He almost killed me!”

    “You rat bastard!”

    “Robert,” growled Denys Arryn, the Darling of the Vale, Keeper of the Gates of the Moon. “Shut up.”

    Robert shut up.

    Denys busied himself checking the runt over, then doing it again before he picked him up to carry and that little jackass! Where were his complaints about being lugged around like a sack now?

    Denys glared down at him. “Inside.”

    “But-“

    “Now.”

    Foiled!

    “-. 273 AC .-“


    “-uld have been injured! You could have died! Either of you, both of you, what would I have told your fathers? What is even going on in that head of yours, Robert?” The words and more words washed over him like rain. Except not really, because if it were rain, he’d enjoy it. What were you thinking, what weren’t you thinking, how could you this, why couldn’t you that, when won’t you yes, when will you not, do you want me to pretend outrage enough so that maybe you’ll actually believe me about writing your parents this time? As if Robert didn’t know Jon knew full well that was the whole point. The man never actually followed through on those threats for that exact reason. Gods forbid Robert be allowed to tell his real dad what he thought about this whole- “Well? What have you to say for yourself?”

    Fuck literally every word you just said, old man.

    Jon waited, and when that didn’t do anything he cradled his forehead with a sigh, then addressed Stark. “Forgive him, Ned. Robert’s not a bad lad, he’s just…”

    “A moron,” Stark said.

    Behind them, Denys snorted.

    “Excuse you!” Robert blurted and wait just a darned minute! “Wait a second, Ned? How do you go from Eddard to Ned? That makes no sense. But wait! Are you on pet names already? You no good runt!” He cried, pointing a finger. “You’re fraternising with the enemy!”

    Eddard Stark looked back in disbelief.

    “Don’t you look at me like that, you little brat! Don’t you have any idea what these people are planning? They’ll take you and browbeat you and change you until all you do is nod and drone and scowl and they have you grinding your teeth like Stannis if it were up to them! Well I won’t lose my teeth before I’m thirty! I won’t!”

    There was an awkward silence.

    “Robert…” Jon asked, blinking in utter bafflement. “What are you talking about?”

    “Don’t act like you don’t know!” Robert snapped at the man, trying to pretend his chest wasn’t twisting in knots. He tried to glare at him, but he could feel tears gathering at the corners of his eyes so he looked away. “Why did you even ask for me to be sent here when you hate everything about me? You don’t want me, it’s Stannis you want.”

    “Oh Robert…”

    He wasn’t gonna cry. He wasn’t. Not with Jon there and Denys there and the runt that didn’t have anyone else on his side that could be the big boy and he wasn’t gonna cry!

    “Denys,” Jon said lowly. “Why don’t you get Ned settled in?”

    “Of course, cousin. Come on, Lord Eddard. I’ll show you your rooms.”

    There was silence as the Lord’s solar emptied of all but the two of them.

    Jon watched him for a while. A long while. Not long enough. “Robert…“

    “I want to go home!” Robert burst. “I want my dad, I want my mom, I want my uncle, I want Donal, I want Storm’s End where I at least have the big tower and walls, and the rain and thunder to lull me asleep, not all you holier-than-Barth Valemen all over the place trying to make me into everything I’m not!”

    “Robert-“

    “I’m not shallow!” And you fuck you too, Lady Megaera, you and Denys deserve each other and then some. “I’m not shallow! I’m not! You don’t want me either, or you wouldn’t be on my arse about being wise and responsible and mindful and dutiful and honor this and duty that and you can stomp on your duty and eat it! I get it! I’m not good enough. I got it by the first week! But you know what, I don’t care! I ain’t no Stannis! I won’t turn into no Stannis either, so there! I won’t become like that grump, I won’t! No matter how angry and alone you make me feel even when you don’t leave me alone, I won’t! And look at that, I didn’t! I won! I stuck it out until you all gave up! I didn’t think you’d just switch targets on me, but I should’ve. There’s no low you won’t sink to, is there? Well good luck trying it with Stark, I won’t let you do it to him either! You hear me, Jon? Oh what’s that, Jon? You’re disappointed, Jon? You want to know why, Jon? Because, Jon

    “I’m Robert Fucking Baratheon!”

    What should have been the storm’s howling triumph had long since turned into a trembling shriek by the end. Robert would have cursed if his throat hadn’t clogged up and-

    “Oh Robert.”

    - and no, no! He didn’t give him permission to hug him none, he didn’t! “Don’t touch me, don’t you dare, stay away from me-gerrof!”

    “No.” Jon knelt and embraced him. “I’m here.”

    “I don’t want you!” Robert burst into tears. “I hate you!”

    “I know. It’s alright.”

    “Id’s not a’right, y’ dumbass! I dun wadda hade people, id feels like crap!”

    “That’s alright too.”

    “Id’z not!” Robert sagged in Jon’s hold and lost it entirely, crying his lungs out. “I hade dis blace, I hade you, an’ fosterin’s a pile o’ shit!”

    Jon held him closer and didn’t say anything.

    This was it! This was the end! He’d reached the end of his rope! There was no hope anymore, no hope! This was Robert’s life now. He was doomed to stay in the Vale, where everyone from the lowest to the highest of men even now didn’t get it, after Robert had done everything he could think of to make them feel sorry for having him sent here and then some. Gods, they were all broken in the head here, weren’t they? Maester Cudius and his stutter, Septon Urizen and his endless rambling, Denys and Elbert and everyone else that didn’t get the message he was hollering, and now Jon too. What, did losing all his children and wives and other relatives leave him so starved for anything resembling fatherhood that he’d just up and take it?

    Jon tightened his hold and held Robert like that until his sobs finally stopped. It took an embarrassingly long time.

    Sniff.

    Well fine then! Not like he could just run away anyway. He knew his strategy, thank you very much, he’d already tried everything and failed to escape from such determined foes. Well, everything he was willing to try anyway. Hitting them with sticks and stones and what have you was the only thing he hadn’t tried, and he’d never do that! You should never hit a child, a dodderer or the lamebrained unless it’s live or die, because they’re too stupid to know better. Dad said so! Jon was basically two of those, wasn’t he? But then… that could only mean he needed Robert the most!

    The realisation brought Robert relief like he’d never felt before. Then he just felt stupid for questioning this mess at all. Of course Jon and the rest wanted him here, he was Robert Fucking Baratheon! Who wouldn’t want him?

    Robert hugged Jon around the middle.

    Jon held him closer. He was trying to say something, but his voice was all wobbly now too.

    Fine! He’d do it. He’d grace them with his majestic presence if that’s what it took. If that’s what it took to let him go back home, he’d do it.

    He’d save Jon first.

    He’d save them all.



    “…Jon?”

    “I’m here Robert.”

    “Why doesn’t your breath stink like bad cheese anymore?”



    “-. 273 AC .-“


    It was only when Jon walked him to his bedchambers that the other big change to his life dawned on him – he was going to share rooms from now on. With the runtling! Finally, someone to sleep with! It'd been so lonely since Stannis refused to share the same bed after that thing with the bird. He looked at Stark, who was somehow responsible for the incredible miracle of destroying Jon’s ability to kill an ox just by blowing in its general direction.

    “Ned.” Jon stood behind him and pushed Robert forward by the shoulders. “Robert has gotten over what was plaguing him previously.” That’s not what happened at all! Oh right. Lamebrained. Gotta be patient with the lamebrained. “He has something to say.”

    “I’m Robert Baratheon and I’m here to rescue you!”

    “Robert!”

    “What?” He glared back over his shoulder. “What was I supposed to say?”

    Jon rubbed his forehead. “I brought you here to apologise.”

    “Well how should I know? This is my bedchamber! And why should I apologise, I’m the one in the right here!”

    “Oh, Father help me.”

    Robert leaned forward. “He always says that. Especially when he hears you saying things you shouldn’t know. Did you know cats can kill you and make your death look like a suicide? Just one scratch at your wrist and whoosh, you’re off to meet the Stranger.”

    Jon slapped the back of his head.

    Robert rubbed the sore spot and grinned. “He doesn’t always do that, but drive him to it and you can be sure he won’t call you in for a nagging for at least two days.”

    “Uncle, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I want to share rooms after all.”

    Oh, right, Elbert was there too. And he talked! Without being spoken too first, even. What an odd thing to do for somehow who was just a side character to the glorious epic of his life.

    Robert looked at Stark suspiciously. “Did you do something to him? Because if you think you can just poach my flunkies, you have another thing coming.”

    Elbert gaped. “Did you just call me a flunky?”

    Robert ignored him.

    Eddard looked at Robert. He had a really long face now that Robert got a proper look at it. Brown hair and dark grey eyes. Back outside the keep Robert could have sworn they looked like fog, but now they looked kind of like blocks of stone as Stark watched him and said- “You’re not like Brandon at all.”

    “Of course not!” Robert scoffed, affronted. “There’s no one else like me!”

    Stark just watched him some more. It felt weird. Like looking for shelter in the middle of winter not knowing if the next moment was going to land you in the middle of a blizzard. Robert didn’t like the feeling, especially when the other boy was so small. But still the runt watched him, quietly and intently like… like Stannis would’ve, oh gods, please, no! Don’t make him be like Stannis, ye gods, don’t be so cruel!

    Finally, Eddard Stark dropped his head with a sigh, raised it back, stepped forward and put one hand on his shoulder. “Baratheon. Robert. May I call you Robert?”

    Oh thank you, gods, thank you! “I’ll allow it.” Robert said loftily, because it was best if everyone knew from the start where they stood. “And I will call you Ned of course.”

    Stark smiled up at him and said: “No.” Then he grabbed Robert by the balls and squeezed.

    Hard.

    “GYAAARGH!”

    He went down shrieking.

    Pain. Pain! Life was pain!

    “Warrior’s Rule number 1: when engaging in hand-to-hand combat, your life is always at stake. Warrior’s Rule number 2: when engaged in hand-to-hand combat, finish it.”

    Life was pain. The worst pain. Hard, bursting, throbbing pain. Oh gods, for what sins was he being punished so?

    “Eyes. Nose. Throat. Temple. Nape. Ears. Spine. Kidneys. Floating ribs. Armpit. Groin.” Eddard Stark’s voice came from around him, reciting each word like a poet of death and suffering. “Each one a spot where a good hit can kill a man. I do hope you appreciate my restraint in only avenging myself upon the last.”

    Robert whimpered.

    “What’s that, Baratheon? Turnabout is fair play, you say? Why, yes it is. I’m glad we agree, Robert. Otherwise I might have to resort to more segmented approaches to revelation. Stomach, upper lip, collar bone, instep, knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers. Each so weak and fragile that just one hit can cause unconsciousness and debilitating pain. Would be such a shame if you lost use of one or all of them over so paltry a matter as almost killing me just half an hour ago.”

    “M-my balls,” Robert moaned. “You c-crushed my b-balls!”

    “Justice and vengeance, Baratheon. Justice and vengeance,” Ned said from beyond the white haze of pain all around him. “Though I suppose I did show unseemly mercy by so unwisely forgoing my body’s natural weapons just now. I can reprise the lesson if it pleases you, once for every one of them. Would you like me to provide a list? Or will you submit that my judgment is righteous?”

    “I submit, I submit!” Robert groaned, rolling away from the voice. “Gods, do I ever…”

    “Well. I’m glad that’s settled then.” Ned’s voice turned away from him then. “I do, of course, owe you an apology as well Jon. Not only did I fail to think quickly enough to do a measly duck, it was this same failure that prevented him from eluding our capture in the aftermath. I can only beg forgiveness and promise to do better henceforth.”

    Robert squirmed and squinted, confused.

    Jon’s voice came then, and it sounded like Robert felt. “… Could you repeat that? I’m not sure I’m quite clear on what you’re promising, exactly.”

    There was no answer from Stark. Only a solemn silence.

    Robert squinted up, searching Ned’s face. All he could see was Stannis.

    Stannis, but with a sense of humor.

    He was perfect.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
    Kehsem, Camus, Rui Pascoal and 38 others like this.
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter II.2: Grinding Teeth Do Not a Gay Storm Make (II)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    ____________________________________________________________

    [​IMG]

    “-. 275 AC .-“


    “NED!” The wind swallowed his shout. “OH NEEED!” The wind threatened to swallow his shout again, but he would beat it! No matter how far the other towers of the Gates of the Moon were. Especially when it wasn’t the far end he was screaming at, though he’d surely conquer that distance in due time and win! He’d always win! He was Robert Fucking B-

    “BART.” What did he just call him!? “DO YOU EVER STOP GUSHING?”

    “DON’T CALL ME BART!” Robert screamed, horrified. “IT SOUNDS LIKE FART!” The help was going to laugh behind their back for weeks.

    But wait, that was a good sign! If they’re laughing that’s practically the same as gushing like everyone was gushing over Robert when he first arrived, so Ned”ll know how full of crap he was just now! Then maybe he’ll eat his own words for once, and get it into his long-faced skull than Robert was entitled to gush as much as he wanted over whoever he wanted and whoa, that train of thought sure went strange places fast.

    This task from Jon to ‘train their command voice’ was a disaster already.

    “WHAT’S THAT?” Oh Ned was not allowed to pretend Robert was losing his voice yet. They’d barely been at this a few minutes! “SHOULD I CALL YOU FART?”

    “DO IT AND I’ll KILL YOU!” The wind swallowed everything from the third word and no, no!

    “… WELL IF YOU’RE SURE?”

    “I AM! I MEAN I’M NOT! DON’T CALL ME THAT, NED, OR I’LL-I’LL PUT A LIZARD IN YOUR BED!”

    “WE SLEEP IN THE SAME BED.”

    “THAT’S RIGHT! THERE’S NOWHERE YOU CAN HIDE!”

    “LIZARDS ARE HARMLESS.”

    “THEY’RE DISGUSTING!”

    “THEY’RE DRY AND SPRY AND THE SIGHT OF THEM MEANS SUMMER IS GOING STRONG.”

    “THEY’RE SNAKES, BUT WITH LEGS! THERE’S NOWHERE TO HIDE FROM THEM! THE TALLER THE WALLS, THE HIGHER THEY CLIMB TO FIND THE SUN AND YOU’RE NEVER FREE OF THEM FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! UNLESS YOU GO TO A DIFFERENT KINGDOM! I SHOULD KNOW! WORSE THAN SPIDERS THEY ARE! AND THEN YOU TRY TO THROW THEM AWAY AND THEY DUMP THEIR TAIL RIGHT IN YOUR HAND AND UGH! THEY’RE THE WORST!”

    For a moment, no reply came from the other tower. Then…

    “…SOUTHRON WINTERS SURE BLOW LOTS OF HOT AIR.”

    Why that little-! “YOU-YOUR FACE IS FULL OF HOT AIR!” Robert shrieked-bellowed! He definitely bellowed!

    “THAT’S WHAT I SAID.”

    “CRAP, YOU’RE RIGHT!” Oh gods, he didn’t mean to say that out loud! Robert hoped the biting wind hid his blush – wait, no he didn’t! There was nobody there to see it!

    Again there was no reply from the other tower, but this time it went on for so long that Robert had to check to make sure Ned hadn’t ditched him. With relief, he saw he hadn’t-

    “BARTFARTEON!”

    Robert froze, then turned livid eyes upon the third tower of the Gates of the Moon. He barely got to see the tail-ends of the slamming door.

    “ELBEEEEERT!” Robert screamed against the gale. “I”LL KILL YOUUUUU!”

    Ned’s voice, when it came again, was nothing if not exasperated. “HE’S ALREADY GONE.”

    “I SWEAR, WHEN I CATCH HIM…!”

    “GIVE IT A REST ROBERT. YOU KNOW YOU’LL NEVER GO THROUGH WITH ANYTHING ON PAIN OF JON’S LECTURES.”

    “DON’T YOU START WITH ME! WHY DOESN’T HE EVER LECTURE YOU ANYWAY? OH THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE HIS FAVORITE!” Wait, he didn’t mean to say that out loud either!

    “… WHY DO YOU THINK THAT?”

    Gods be good, he actually sounded like he didn’t know. “ARE YOU SERIOUS? HE PRAISES AND LISTENS TO YOU AND DOTES ON YOU ALL THE TIME!”

    “HE’S NOT LIKE THAT WITH YOU?”

    Forget the help, they were going to be laughed at by the whole keep, and was Ned kidding? With all the trouble Robert gave the Septon and the Maester or Jon himself when they tried to teach him something? Of course Jon wasn’t like that with Robert anymore! Not since Robert made it clear he didn’t want it. Not… Not since Robert decided to be as much of a shit as possible. To him and his household and his kin. He really did get everything he asked for, Robert thought glumly. “HE CALLS YOU BY YOUR NICKNAME!” He yelled lamely when he didn’t find anything better.

    “BECAUSE I HAVE ONE.” Ned’s words this time came with the unmistakable slant of ‘duh.’ “I’M SURE HE’D DO THE SAME FOR YOU IF YOU HAD ONE.”

    “I DO SO HAVE ONE!”

    There was an awkward silence, as if Ned and the world both decided to give Robert all the time he needed to realize what he’d just admitted to. Crapbaskets!

    “OH REALLY?” Ned sounded outright interested now. “THIS I HAVE TO KNOW.”

    Robert panicked.

    Fortunately, fate was on his side for once and the help came out onto both their rooftops with news about arriving guests.

    Safe!

    “-. 275 AC .-“​

    He was not safe.

    “So…” Ned said after waylaying him half-way to their destination. “Jon calling me by my nickname hurts your feelings.”

    It does not! But when he went to say that aloud, Robert couldn’t.

    Ned looked up at him in surprise. “You’re jealous of me.”

    Robert mulishly kept walking and refused to answer.

    “It’s not a term of endearment, Robert.”

    “What else could it be?” Robert burst, because his will was weak. Weak!

    “An easier and shorter way to say Eddard.”

    “That makes no sense at all! How do you go from Eddard to Ned?”

    “I don’t know, how do you go from Robert to whatever your nickname is?”

    By having a father that never misses even the most embarrassing of your attempts at baby talk.

    “What is your nickname anyway?”

    My Most Cherished Treasure. My Precious Son. Robert. Robb. Dear One. Baby Boy. B-

    “You don’t need to tell me if you don’t want-“

    “It’s Bobby, alright?” Robert snapped and started walking faster. “I was trying to learn proper words but instead of Robert, I said Bobber – allegedly – and then refused to say it anyway else – allegedly – then Dad tried Robb and I skipped a few steps and was all Bobby this, Bobby that. Naturally, Dad thought it was a riot and it stuck.” Up until Stannis used it in mockery for the first time. Then came the spar in the yard where Robert’s fists drew blood for the first time and a lot of other things started sticking where the pet name had been.

    The silence stretched. Robert glared at a raven that croaked at him from the other side of an arrow slit. The sun had descended into late afternoon at some point during their walk. He hadn’t realised so much time had passed. Then he looked aside, surprised to see he was standing alone. He didn’t remember having stopped. Turning, he saw Ned farther back in the hallway. “Ned?” Walking back, Robert belatedly realised Ned was watching him strangely. “Ned? You alright?”

    “Your nickname is Bobby. Bobby Baratheon.” Eddard Stark’s voice was odd, like… like his whole world was realigning. “Bobby B.”

    Robert suddenly felt like he may have made a huge mistake. “You can’t use it!” He blurted. “Only my Dad can. No one else. Nobody. Not even you, Ned. Got it?”

    Ned blinked, snapping out of whatever that had been. “Right. If you say so.”

    Robert chewed on his lower lip, wondering why he felt so disappointed all of a sudden. “What was that? Why did you stop?”

    Ned blinked a second time, then shook his head and started walking again. “Just realised something. It’s nothing to do with you.”

    As if!

    Robert asked and nagged and wheedled Ned about it all the way to the yard. Alas, it was to no avail. As always, Eddard Stark was the only person in the life of Robert Baratheon who didn’t back down to him.

    Mom and Dad didn’t count.

    A stout lad, that Ned Stark, good and true! Infuriatingly stubborn though. Especially considering he still hadn’t hit his growth spurt yet.

    Emerging into the yard was something Robert welcomed, even if he did have to live through Denys’ gruff scolding at being so late. They must have really been walking slow if everyone else was already there, even knowing the convoy would arrive today. At least Ned got a few words too this time, even if it was only about herding Robert better – as if! Ain’t nobody herding this auroch! He scowled at the sight of Elbert hiding behind Denys. What, did he think Robert would go and do something? He wasn’t that scary, was he? He never put his fist to him, but Elbert still acted like he was one step removed from punching him or something.

    “It’s because you’re big and loud, Robert,” Ned told him. “Also, you bully him.”

    “I do not!” Robert hissed. “I never hurt him.”

    “Not with your fists, no.”

    “Don’t you go soft on me.”

    “You have no idea what the word means, though it may be my own fault. Our first meeting might have pried certain things of yours loose.”

    Robert flushed in embarrassment, tried to find a witty retort, failed, and looked for a distraction. “Shaggy!” Robert roared, ignoring Denys’ bark to get back in line in favour of going off to meet the new arrivals half-way. More precisely, one of the freshly dismounted men that was bigger than any other man Robert had ever seen save his father, except just as wide and twice as hairy to boot. “Shaggy! I told you it would all work out!”

    “Little Lord.”

    “Little? I’m almost as tall as you already!”

    “As you say, Little Lord.”

    “Just you wait! I’ll be bigger than even you before you know it.”

    “Robert!” Denys came over to corral him. “Get back in line.”

    “Fine, fine.” He waved jauntily as he got dragged off. “I want a full account later!”

    Shaggy just watched him get dragged off with his usual halfheartedness.

    Robert had first met Shagga Dolfsson about two months after Ned’s arrival. Robert, Ned and Elbert were accompanying Jon down to one of the nearby villages for a dispute mediation, then lingered while Jon discussed the commissioning of a Sept at the behest of Septon Urizen. Being far too burdened with glorious common sense to stick around for that, Robert wandered off. Then he was smacked over the nose with the worst smell he’d ever smelled in his life. Naturally, he went investigating, despite the protests of the guard assigned to him for the day. His quest eventually led him to a big, rough and hairy pile of tattered furs that did nothing to hide that the man underneath stunk as if he’d never seen a bar of soap in his life.

    Which was fair. Water’s cold you know!

    What wasn’t fair was how the man went from village to hamlet and slept in hedges with nothing but his animal skins to protect him. And that was just when he wasn’t camping alone in the wilderness. In winter! It wasn’t even so much how he was living but the halfhearted way he talked about it when asked. Robert had talked and prompted and wondered and wheedled and then insulted the man outright, from sheer offense at the waste he was making of that amazing deep voice of his. That at least served to reveal the man’s fierce frown and loud laugh, but neither lasted before the hairy lunk sunk back into his strange disregard of everything, including himself. That turned out to include the old farmer, young maiden and even younger boy whose charity had seen him survive and move on from the last three settlements he passed before then. All of which the man shared dully when prodded, then with a bizarre mix of resignation and relief when surrounded and questioned by Jon and his men.

    Jon had thought he was a brigand. Then a poacher because of the skins he wore in place of clothes. Except the man didn’t have a bow or anything else resembling a weapon, save for a pair of branches thick as logs that looked to have been broken by hand and could barely be termed clubs. In a bad light. If you squint.

    When Jon went off the beaten path and decided the man was a mountain clansman, though, Robert put his foot down and adopted him. Shaggy looked the part and then some, but if he was from the clans, he was the worst mountain clansman ever. He didn’t raid, he didn’t rape, he didn’t steal, he didn’t hide, he didn’t run when confronted, he didn’t sneer down at them for being lowlanders. Hells, he didn’t even have a knife! It was ridiculous!

    Even after ordering Robert to have four guards around until further notice (which soon came and went because Robert was, of course, proven right about everything as usual), Jon had only reluctantly indulged him. After talking with the man without Robert there for almost an hour. Even then, Jon’s permission was on the assumption that Robert wouldn’t be able to control the man, let alone command him anything.

    The look on Jon’s face when he presented the big lunk freshly bathed and groomed the next evening still made Robert cackle at random times. It was Jon’s own fault for underestimating him.

    And his own niece! Alyssa Waynwood was with their party at the time and had thought it a great trick to play on her old and solemn uncle, so she enthusiastically contributed herself and her handmaidens to the effort of ‘making the hairy beast presentable’ in her own words. “Besides,” she’d said. “It’s about time us maidens fair got one over the bear for a change.” Good thing too, or Robert might not have realized how young Shaggy actually was. Barely a year into adulthood! Hearing that deep voice of his squirm itself into yelps was great fun too. Almost as much as the mortification of being made to do the bidding of the women, only to realise too late what that bidding implied. But he was properly reluctant to go against what Robert asked him at that point, so it was all great fun and turned out just fine.

    Which was good, because the man’s reasoning was just silly when Robert finally got it out of him in trade for ‘getting him away from all them handsy womenfolk.’ “I’d like to see the inside of a real castle at least once before I die,” he says. What kind of reason to live was that? A sad one, that’s what! It was unconscionable! Inconceivable! Tragic! Robert wasn’t going to stand for it!

    And he didn’t! He won! Again!

    The victory didn’t feel like crap this time either.

    Robert even got to see Ned’s jealous face at finding out what adventure he missed on. Served him right for ditching him in favour of ‘seeing the southron faith at work with his own eyes.’ Oh look, it’s all boring talk, boring chants, boring walkarounds, and the occasional sneeze when the censer passes in front of you. Robert could have told him all that!

    The only disappointment Robert had to deal with was how short a time Shaggy actually got to stay at the Gates of the Moon. Guess the way he trounced almost all the men-at-arms in training irked people more than Robert thought. Soon enough, Jon got Shaggy a job as a mule trainer and guide for caravans, so Robert started seeing less and less of him.

    Oh well! Such was life!

    Robert was satisfied knowing he’d got his way and the man would be alright. Shaggy still came over regularly, and sometimes he even remembered to bathe so he didn’t knock out every nearby ox worse than Jon used to. And sometimes, like today, he happened to be with other people Robert was looking forward to seeing. It was like two gifts in one!

    Speaking of gifts…

    “Do you have it?” Robert eagerly asked Aly that evening, as soon as he was free to visit her in her rooms. Discreetly.

    Shut up, he could so be discreet!

    “Maybe,” Alyssa told him with a smile. “But I’m not sure I want to just give it to you. You’ll have to earn it. Two out of three.”

    “I’m not falling for that again. First one to twelve!”

    “What do you take me for, an old widow with no other claims on her time? Three out of four.”

    “I’m not doing this without at least three tries to figure you out first. First to nine! Who knows how many new ones you have since last time?”

    “Fewer than I’d like after how much work I’ve had to put into yours. Besides, I won’t believe for a second you don’t have new ones of your own. I know I’m not your only source. Four out of five.”

    “That’s already cheating! You have half a dozen minions slaving away at your whims! There’s no way I have more new ones than you!” He ignored whatever reactions Alyssa’s seven handmaidens had at his words from where they loitered around Aly’s room like two-legged lizards. “First to six.”

    “First to five and I’ll throw a second card, how’s that?”

    “… What card are we talking about here?”

    “The perfect pair to the one you ordered.”

    Robert was torn. On the one hand, he’d get twice the treasure. On the other hand, the treasure was supposed to be a unique gift for the most important person in the Vale. On the other other hand, he was being bribed, which insulted his pride – he should be able to get his way without people resorting to such unmanly things! Then again, Aly was a girl. That settled it then! “Alright. First one to five.”

    The Gwent decks came out and thus the war began.

    The first match, Robert got one win and one draw for the first two rounds. Then he played the King of Winter, The Wild Wolf and the Knight of the Laughing Tree together, only for Aly to use the Bard Prince’s special ability – subverting troops of lower war strength – to take his Knight for herself, and the Wildfire card to remove the King of Winter from the field, leaving the Wild Wolf at the mercy of her Dragonlord.

    The second match, they won one round each, then Robert played the Arryn King, the Knight of the Moon, and two Noble Wards which received boosts to strength the more of them were in the field. He then played a Rally Horn card which doubled all of their field strength.

    Aly conceded. “I don’t have any weather cards or enough troops to match what you have there.”

    “That’s a first,” Robert muttered. Aly seemed to have done a major change to the basic deck, swapping lots of her old troop cards for tricks and sabotage. The opposite of what Robert had done to his own.

    The third match, Aly won and pulled a draw in the first and second rounds with copious use of muster and scorch cards. Unfortunately, she was able to eke out a win afterwards, beating his Arryn King, both Wards, and the Knight Muster card that let him pull all the Knight cards from his deck (he had six). Aly used a Rebel Lord, three Scorpions and the Port Fortress card that doubled the strength of her siege cards, beating him by one point difference.

    “I was getting worried I’d lost my groove for a while there,” Aly teased him as Robert forfeited the tie breaker round. “But it was just a fluke after all.”

    A fluke. A fluke! The only fluke was how his last card was a Clear Weather. Weather cards didn’t do anything without any troops in the field. He wasn’t about to tell her that though. Then she’d just accuse him of whining, even though it wasn’t true. And her minions were all there watching and would spread the lies to all corners of the keep by next morning. They always did that, girls were just the worst!

    In the fourth match, Robert surprisingly won the first round despite being stingy with his special cards, then managed to beat Aly with overwhelming force in the second round. Aly did use a spy to draw two extra cards, and then used the Rebel Lord, three Scorpions and the Port Fortress card in a reprise of her previous strategy. She even deployed Biting Frost weather to make close combat cards impotent. But Robert deployed his Arryn King and the full Knight Muster again, then a Clear Weather that removed her Blizzard from play. With their strength matched, he then put down the Storm King, winning the round and the match, evening the score once again.

    “Your deck only got more aggressive and straightforward since last time.” Aly tsked. “How like a man.”

    “And yours is tricksy and dishonourable as if you can’t handle commanding proper forces.” Robert ignored the snide mutterings of the extras in the mummer’s play his life had become. “How like a girl.”

    The affronted gasps of Alyssa’s hangers-on were delightful.

    Unfortunately, Aly won the fifth match. Barely, but Robert’s hand really didn’t do him any favors. He got all of his weather cards in his deck on the draw, which left him just two troops to work with. One Storm Lord and the Storm King. He hung onto the latter until the very end, but Aly still managed to beat him with her two Footmen, the Striding Huntsman, and the boost from the Rally Horn.

    The sixth match, Robert drew and played the best hand he’d ever drawn. But then Aly gave him a Spy that let her draw two extra cards, used a decoy to remove his Ancient Dragon from the field, deployed The Shadow weather card to sap the strength of Robert’s First Man Chieftain, then played the Stygai Horror to match his own Legendary card, Garth Greenhand. To add insult to injury, she then overcame his war strength advantage from her own crippled Shadowbinder with the two cards that same spy had earned her: two lowly shepherds.

    Robert was getting worried. One more loss and he was out. Would Aly really follow through on her threat? Maybe he could talk her down to at least get the one card he originally came for – no! That’s quitter talk! He wasn’t gonna give up. War wasn’t over yet!

    On the seventh match, he threw round one, forced a draw on round two, and then won round three by suppressing the close combat boosts of her Rally Horn with his Tolling Bells, which acted as a morale equaliser for all troops that followed the Seven. With no weather cards in play, that left it down to direct matchup. Their siege and ranged forces were perfectly equal, so it came down to the close combat troops. And while her Hand of the King was better than his King of the Rivers and Ascending Spare individually, it just wasn’t as good as them together, let alone with the Storm King added on top of everything else.

    Eighth match was a wash. He got one win by beating her Bard Prince with his Storm King. A draw followed when he used Port Fortress to put his Storm Lord and Ballista on even footing with Aly’s Reach Lord and her two ballistas. The tie-breaker round, though… wasn’t. Robert had four cards left but Aly used her last card – a spy – to give him a small boost to strength in exchange for letting her draw two more cards. They happened to be Wildfire and the Dragonlord. She promptly disposed of his Kingsguard with the former, which put the latter on perfectly even footing with his Ascending Spare and Western Lord. They were both out of cards by the end with no winner. It was the first full match Robert had ever finished in a draw. It felt oddly disconcerting.

    Match nine he won by pure luck. They both waffled back and forth in the first two rounds, but on the third he was able to use the full Port Fortress, Storm Lord, two Ballistas and Knight Muster setup. Aly, unfortunately, had somehow suffered his prior misfortune and drawn a bunch of weather cards, leaving her only one troop, the Foppish Lord – a joke card if ever there was one. Robert, being a gallant knight-in-training, refrained from commenting on the number of days the man and his assuredly grand army would have had to sit in front of the keep he was supposedly besieging without doing anything. That was the only way he could see that bizarre matchup transcribe in real life.

    “Well,” Aly said upon reaching the final round. The sun had gone lower in the sky outside. The welcome feast would be called any minute. “Here it is.”

    “Here it is,” Robert muttered.

    They stared at each other and shuffled their decks with twice the fervour for three times as long as ever before. It was the only explanation for the strange hands they each drew.

    Round one, Robert’s assumptions about Alyssa changing her deck proved truer than he thought. After deploying his Storm King in close combat and a Galley in siege mode, Aly pulled three Red Priest cards out of nowhere – ranged troop it turned out – and then had the gall to use the Windstorm weather card, reducing the strength of all cards to one and winning by one point. To add insult to injury, the Red Priests had a special ability that they would return to her hand at the end of the turn. Just once, but that was already too much. It figured that she’d come up with such unfair cards. Fuming, Robert started round two by deploying a recent addition of his own – the Lore Thief – and using his special ability to return the Storm King from his graveyard. Coupled with a Clear Weather and his Noble Ward cards, it was enough to beat the three red priests she’d re-deployed. They’d be having words about cards with abilities like that and whether they should even exist (they didn’t!). The third round, though, was where the last and strangest matchup happened: Robert deployed the Legendary Bran the Builder and the Northern Blizzard weather card, which should have crippled any troops Aly could have pulled out. But then she pulled out the Last Greenseer, which was also a Legendary card – thus immune to weather effects – and while fairly weaker than his own, it also had the same ability as the Bard Prince to subvert enemy troops, except it could also reduce a troop of higher strength to 1 instead. Including Legendary ones.

    Robert stared at the card. He couldn’t help but feel as if the style it was drawn in was different from the other ones Alyssa had been pulling out of her backside. In fact, it looked a lot like the new ones that Robert had gotten through Ned from whoever was his supplier up in the North, back on Robert’s own name day.

    “Why so quiet?” Aly asked, not quite hiding that she was on the edge of her seat every bit as much as him. “Ready to give up?”

    Robert shook himself and revealed that the last card in his hand was not, in fact, a weather card. A sunbeam fell oddly appropriately upon the card as he revealed it, making it look as if it shone with its own light. Lightbringer. It enhanced a troop’s strength by half and allowed you to either equip it on an existing card or revive one from the graveyard. Robert chose the Storm King.

    “… I guess this means I win.”

    There was a pause.

    Then the suspense finally shattered and Robert was hard-pressed not to shake from his jitters. That had been intense.

    Well. Well then!

    “Good game,” Robert said weakly. “You cheated though. The Red Priests are unfair.”

    “On the contrary, I did nothing that violated the letter of the rules.”

    “Just its spirit,” Robert muttered, looking at the exquisitely hand-drawn and painted cards that he’d come here for, and which Alyssa had finally placed into his hands.

    He beamed at the first, gaped at the second, and glared at Aly with all his hate, “You damn woman! You tricked me!”

    “Did I? I beg to differ. The cards form the most perfect pair, and that’s a fact!”

    “… You fancy fat men, don’t you?”

    “… Get out.”

    Robert scoffed, scowled and left her room fuming, hurried to his room, and hid The Fat King in the deepest, darkest depths of his Grooming Kit. Nobody should find it there.

    That done, Robert made to leave, only to turn back to the kit and decide to brush his teeth since he was already there. He’d already done it twice that day, and was going to do it again before bed, but one more couldn’t hurt. He wasn’t no Stannis, but he wasn’t gonna be no Jon Arryn either. Not the Jon Arryn from before Ned anyway.

    The Jon Arryn from after Ned was alright.

    When he was done, Robert looked at his toothbrush thoughtfully, got some wrapping paper and packed the brush and a small chunk of toothpaste to carry with him just in case. Probably not what Ned had in mind for the things, but Robert was hard-pressed to think of better uses for the present Ned had given him on his name day.

    Then Robert took The Quiet Wolf and went to give Ned the present for his name day.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
    Kehsem, Camus, Rui Pascoal and 23 others like this.
  19. CmirDarthanna

    CmirDarthanna Experienced.

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    Noice. This, I like this. Wouldn't mind reading more of it.

    Also, poor Ned is probably reevaluating his younger years and is looking towards the cards for answers. And thus tis how Gwent became famous for telling the future and divining ones fate.

    Edit:
    Speaking of fortune telling. Are Tarot Cards going to be a thing?
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2021
  20. GoldenFlake

    GoldenFlake Feeling Foxy.

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    The Gwent matches there were full to bursting with foreshadowing there.

    Also, I love how Aly matched the Quiet Wolf card with the Fat King card and the little interaction that followed.
     
  21. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    Well, at least they landed well for some people.

    Probably not for the Tarot, unless Martin decides they existed in-universe all along.
    Glad to hear it. I do like my foreshadowing to be plot-relevant when it happens, not just later when the things foreshadowed happen.
     
    GoldenFlake likes this.
  22. Threadmarks: Chapter II.2: Grinding Teeth Do Not a Gay Storm Make (III)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    “-. 274 AC .-“


    Robert Baratheon barely had time to wonder at the strange face Ned made on seeing him approach when he spotted it. Right there over the open page of the small notebook Ned often read or scribbled in. The Fat King. A second Fat King. Robert gaped at it, aghast. Then he turned on Aly in fury. “You witch! You tricked me!”

    “Hardly. I never said I’d not make more than one.”

    “Cheat! Deceiver! Two-timing double-dealer!”

    “That implies effort. I assure you, it took none.”

    Robert gaped, then clamped his mouth shut and almost forgot not to grind his teeth. “You’re despicable.”

    “I beg to differ.”

    “You’ll get no alms from me!”

    “Pretending not to know figures of speech now? I assure you, you needn’t put effort into seeming foolish either.”

    “… Did you just call me stupid?”

    “Will you give alms if I beg to differ now?”

    Robert glowered. “You’re not poor enough for alms, so stop asking.”

    “My, so judgmental today.”

    “Go on, laugh. I’ll be the one laughing when all this fate tempting catches up with you.”

    Aly mock-gasped and hid her face behind that insufferably dainty fan that Ned had gifted her sometime or other. “Chrone guide me, I speak to a prophet!”

    Robert clenched his fists as Aly’s handmaidens began laughing at him. He didn’t resist when Ned began to steer him away by the shoulders. He’ll be damned if he went without getting at least one hit in though! “Don’t blame me when you’re dragged off by the mountain clans and made a broodmare with nothing to your name!”

    “That’ll be the day,” Aly giggled.

    Robert abruptly switched from being pushed to dragging Ned by the arm all the way to the other side of the Great Hall. “Girls are the worst.”

    “Are they really?” Asked Kyle Royce from where he leaned against the wall between Elbert and him. “What did they do?”

    “Sabotage of the worst kind!” Robert decried. “Deception most grim! Treachery most foul! The worst of-“

    “Aly gave me this,” Ned interrupted, holding up the-

    “No!” He snatched the card away. Safe!

    “Oh, she gave you one too?” Elbert asked, feeling brave thanks to having Royce to hide behind. He started rifling through his pockets because he never remembered what he put where and-

    Wait a minute! “What do you mean, one too?”

    Elbert finally pulled his hand out and held up the Fat K-

    “NO!” Robert snatched that too.

    “Hey, that’s mine!”

    “And now it’s not!”

    “Give it back!”

    Whoa, that’s some mighty backbone all of a sudden. Gods, don’t tell him this is all it took all along, the runt looked like he about to cry. You’d think it was the only card he had – oh wait, it was. Softbeak didn’t have his own deck yet, doh! Still though… “You can have it back after you swear to never show it to anyone again!”

    “Robert.” Ned’s tone could not be misunderstood.

    “… Fine,” Robert grumbled and reluctantly handed the cards back. How many of those horrors had that witch cursed him with? Leader cards were supposed to be unique, Ned said so! Not that Robert would ever accept that as his leader card. “Take your abominations! That’s nothing like I’ll be when I grow up anyway.”

    Ned took his idly.

    Elbert snatched his away as if he expected Robert to tear or burn it. “… The Fat King is you?”

    Robert growled. “That’ll never be me. The Storm King is what I’ll be, not… that! I swear, Aly didn’t used to be like this.”

    Kyle smirked. “What’s this? The Great Storm King agonising over his first crush?”

    “Maybe if it were the Aly of last year,” Robert harrumphed. “This one’s just mean.” He belatedly noticed Royce looking mighty surprised. “What’s with that face?”

    “… Nothing.”

    Robert eyed him suspiciously. “You fancy her don’t you?”

    Kyle looked as though he’d expected Robert to say something else, made to deny, stopped, and narrowed his eyes. “Jealous?”

    “You wish! You’re not her type.”

    “What the heck is that supposed to mean, brat?”

    “You’re not fat enough for her.”

    The open-mouthed shock on the older boy’s face was delightful. “What? You slanderous little-”

    “She fancies fat men,” Robert gloated. “Fat grownup me most of all!”

    Kyle gaped at him in disbelief, then his face grew dark. For a moment, Robert thought he’d jump him right then and there, before the older boy controlled himself and decided to leave it for the yard as usual. “… I’ll get to the bottom of this. Then you’ll get yours.”

    Watching Royce head off to find the damn witch, Robert made no attempt to smother his cackling. Being already fourteen and having finished his growth spurt besides, Kyle Royce hadn’t missed a chance to talk down to the rest of them since he first showed up with his uncle Yohn’s party. Ned was right: turnabout really was fair play. Even when it wasn’t at the end of his hammer.

    The red faces of the girls as Royce went and stumbled his way through ‘getting to the bottom of this’ were almost too good for words. Almost.

    “So Ned,” Robert asked. “Is this meaningful enough to record in your mysterious notebook of mystery?”

    “No.”

    Mom, Dad, Ned’s being mean to me!

    Not for the first time, Robert tried and failed to catch a glimpse of something, anything, but Ned snapped shut the notebook and put it back in the inner pocket of that fancy Northern jacket of his.

    Foiled!

    Foiled by silver buttons and lace! Like a woman!

    Snatching a drumstick from a passing trencher, Robert took a nice, solid bite and let the taste of chicken remind him of the less embarrassing things in life. Like how well his present to Ned landed. Well, the decoy gift anyway. It turned out that Ned absolutely loved the idea of having a Leader card based off him. He wasn’t at all tickled by the “Quiet Wolf” name Robert had chosen for it, made a mighty strange face at it even, but that was the whole point – somebody had to make it clear how much easier Robert’s life would be if Ned backed off every once in a while, instead of being up Robert’s arse all the time. Whatever that meant that made Jon glare at Denys that once last week. Not that Ned was likely to change just because Robert whined about it – nor should he! He was perfect just the way he was! – but he took the jape in good spirits, which was the other whole point. A sense of humor like that had to be kept in practice you know! Who better for the job than someone that lived the end result of its stillbirth all his life? No one, that’s who!

    Robert looked around the hall. Jon had decided to throw a joust for Ned’s twelfth name day celebration but treated it like part and parcel of the Spring Festival he threw at the same time. It was Jon’s way to introduce Ned (and Robert) to the realm early, but without actually putting them on the spot. Not that much anyway. And Softbeak too, Robert supposed. So there would be a joust, a melee, and every day a feast like this one with meat and mead and dancing and cake. The fact that everything revolved around Ned and the gifts he’d be getting from everyone and their grandmother was just a coincidence. Really.

    It was just as well, Robert supposed. Robert was well past twelve and Ned had just turned eleven. They were too old to be pages, too important to squire off, too young to be knights, and well short of their fifteenth year when official debut celebrations otherwise happened. They did happen that way, right? Or was that just for the girls? Oh well, there was probably something, and that something was too far off. Especially for Softbeak. Half-pint was only turning eight later in the year.

    Robert wasn’t particularly happy to be playing side-dish to Ned, but he wasn’t going to complain after what all he spent his prior year on that killed any plans to have something like this for him. If there’d even been any in the middle of winter. Besides, if everything went poorly enough, Ned would soon be a side dish to his own celebration too, or his name wasn’t Robert Baratheon!

    There were still three courses to go, but Jon had long since given the signal that people could stop being glued to their seats, so everyone mingled, caroused and danced all over the place. And everywhere, barely one in five hands went without a cup of wine or liquor of some kind. Robert couldn’t wait until he was old enough to drink, it looked like so much fun! The way they japed and sniped and slurred and challenged each other to duels all over the place, only to postpone it for later because none of them could hold a straight line! And the random brawls that got the guards involved with all their spite at not being made party to the party, it was great!

    Unlike his friends, Robert even had an idea of what it would feel like to drink like a real man. That medicine old Cressen put him on that one time had given him the funniest couple of days ever. Warm honeyed milk just wasn’t a good replacement. None of the apple ciders measured up either, and don’t even get him started on sweet vinegar.

    Oh well! More time to study his future competition with a clear head. Competition who were finally bringing out the gifts! Not that any of them would be more than a passing fart compared to his real present to Ned, but Robert decided to be magnanimous and allow these Valemen their delusions. This once.

    He also decided to keep an ear on what Kyle told Elbert about everyone who came up, even if he pretended otherwise. Robert and books weren’t on good terms, but that didn’t mean he lacked other options anymore. Not since Ned joined him in his lessons and decided to start reading aloud one day. Robert had no idea why that made such a big difference, it wasn’t like dull books stopped being dull when read by someone else. Granted, that just led to different problems where Robert kept getting distracted by random things that didn’t make sense in the latest book or scroll. Usually because of what all Ned had read in the previous ones. It led to some mighty heated rounds of twenty thousand questions with an increasingly flustered Maester that got longer and louder with each day that went by. To Robert’s shame, Ned had to come to the rescue again, though at least it was the Maester’s rescue he came to this time. Which is to say, a day after saying he’ll ‘sleep on it,’ Ned got Jon to move their lessons to a bigger, more airy room that later began to accumulate various ‘fitness and exercise equipment’ shipped down from Winterfell. For Robert to work a sweat in. During lessons.

    Apparently, keeping Robert’s brain constantly ‘distracted’ with exercise made it so the rest of it didn’t get distracted from the learning bits. Somehow. Turns out Robert had too much going on inside his head, instead of too little. Who knew?

    What do you mean, who knew? Ned knew, that’s who!

    The only bad side was that all the extra workout meant Robert was rapidly leaving Ned in the dust in the yard. It was terrible! He eventually swallowed his pride and went to Denys, then Ser Vardis – Jon’s Captain of the Guards – and even Jon himself for help, but all he got was some reassurance about developing at different rates and how they’d have time to make up the difference as they grew up. How was that supposed to help? Jon was basically saying Robert had years ahead where he would be a cheater. A no good burden. A sodding leech! A tarnish on literal perfection! He didn’t want to wait for years before Ned could be perfect again, he wanted Ned to be perfect again now. Jon was the worst!

    And now Robert was getting distracted again! During Ned’s day! Next thing he knows he’ll ruin this for him too. Not that Kyle’s running ramblings didn’t give him a whole other slew of reasons to be distracted, considering who’d just come up to give Ned his first present.

    Lord Yohn Royce approached, the Lord of Runestone and the head of the senior branch of House Royce, who used to be the Bronze Kings of the First Men before the Andals came tromping into the Vale. He was a proud, formidable man taller than everyone else in the hall, with dark hair, slate-grey eyes and bushy eyebrows. He also spoke with a deep, booming voice which Robert looked forward to hearing holler in the joust and the melee. Almost as much as he looked forward to seeing that ancient, rune-covered bronze armor he was supposed to have. Not that the man was ever going to measure up to real heroes – like Robert’s father – but then again, who would? Lord Yohn was helped by his son, Andar, to bring and open the gift chest, which turned out to hold a set of practice weapons, an arming sword for when Ned grew older, and a whole bunch of toys and games (checkers, marbles, toy knights, a bunch of paper windmills and whatever else filled that chest that couldn’t be seen because of the top layer). Then Lord Yohn revealed that the satchel at his side held the handwritten journals of Lady Lorra Royce, who was apparently Ned’s great-great-grandmother. Robert hadn’t known that.

    “These were sent back to our family in the wake of her passing. Copies should exist in Winterfell, have you had the chance to examine them?”

    “Only in passing, the once,” Ned admitted. “But they were done in a very small script, and my reading is only now achieving true fluency.”

    That was a terrible, vicious lie! Ned’s reading was perfect or his name wasn’t Ro-

    “I believe you will appreciate the originals then. Lady Lorra had a particularly elegant hand.” Lord Yohn smiled faintly and leaned forward to speak to Ned quietly. Except he was Yohn Royce, so he didn’t manage quiet well at all. Robert heard everything despite not being all that close by. “It would be a shame to pass over the chance to read the account of Dunk and Egg’s northern adventures first-hand.”

    Robert thought he was dreaming. Dunk and Egg. Duncan the Tall and Aegon Targaryen, Fifth of His Name. Robert’s mother Casanna had only ever read him the first three accounts, chronicling Duncan’s life from his hedge knight days to his time as a mystery knight during the Blackfyre Rebellion. She told him that anything from later in his life either hadn’t been written or was being kept secret. By the Crown, the Citadel, the Faith, maybe Bloodraven had done or ordered something before he was disgraced, even she didn’t know for sure. But now the fourth had just been handed to Ned as a name day gift. Robert immediately began coming up with plans to get Ned to read it as soon as they were back in-

    Yohn Royce stepped back and gestured for one of his vassals to deliver the second part of his gift. Uthor Tollett, head of House Tollett and the Lord of Grey Glen. The man and Andar brought over an even bigger chest than Yohn’s first, which proved to be full of hunting equipment. Shortbow, quiver, arrows, hunting knife and every kind of trap out there. Bear traps, body grip traps, coon traps, coil traps, spring traps, gopher traps, even the components for a large live cage trap were in there, big enough to catch a doe inside. All in all, very nice. Robert certainly looked forward to going hunting with Ned now. Soon as Jon decides to teach them how at least.

    Alas that Kyle’s remarks hit on the bizarre at just the wrong time. Or the right one, if you asked Denys. Something that made Robert really wonder how the Tollets ended up sworn to the Royces at all, seeing as that were as Andal as they came. Torgold "the Grim" Tollett was even one of the casualties of the Battle of the Seven Stars on the Andal side. The same battle that supposedly eradicated fourteen First Men houses and forced everyone left who didn’t run to become mountain clans – including Belmores, Hunters, Coldwaters, Redforts, and, yes, the Royces – to bow to the Andals. Before the actual crowning of Artys Arryn as the first King of Mountain and Vale, though maybe Robert was nitpicking there depending on how soon after the fight that happened. It still made a mockery of all written history though, that the Andal house who won and suffered (one of?) the biggest grievance during that battle still ended up somehow sworn to the defeated Royces. Maybe it happened later, but that only sounded like an even more convoluted story. Speaking of Royces...

    Nestor Royce came next, Yohn’s cousin and senior member of the foremost Royce cadet family. He was a big – though not Steffon Baratheon big of course – and barrel-chested man, with hair and beard even darker than his cousin’s. While he was presenting Ned with a leathern tunic done in Stark grey, as well as a set of rune-inscribed charms, scaredy Elbert somehow found the balls to ask Kyle if it was true Lord Nestor had a mole. Kyle didn’t answer, which was probably for the best. If the man did, it was either hidden by his beard, or was in more nethersome regions of his bulk that little Softbeak was better off not thinking about.

    The people who followed were fairly boring compared to the ones before them. Horton Redfort was a short, ageing man with mild eyes, a well-kept beard and a polite manner that made him less interesting than the pock-faced squire lugging along his gift – a wooden model of the Redfort and a small army of miniature wooden knights and men-at-arms. After him came Elbert’s uncle, the fat Lord of Strongsong, Benedar Belmore, who lumbered over while dragging along a wheeled chest full of clay building blocks. Ned seemed really impressed with their fit, saying something about how hard it was to build many different shapes like that and still have them fit without something called ‘standardization.’ What army standards had to do with anything, Robert hadn’t the foggiest, but this was Ned, so it was probably something brilliant. After Lord Belmore gave Elbert a few headpats and went to chat with Lord Yohn, Marq Grafton of Gulltown came next, a wide man with thick arms and shoulders – still nothing compared to Dad – dirty blond hair and a voice that seemed to be trying to compete with Lord Yohn’s. He and his son Gerold, who took after him in everything except height, were fairly cool towards Ned, but that didn’t stop them from boasting about the cartful of rare sweets, foreign foods and spices they had brought but was too large and ungainly to bring inside beyond these here samples, but please, do all you boys try them, even these sprinkles are more than enough for everyone. Lord Marq also offered to let Gerold stay behind when he left, as a companion to them. There was a noticeable spell of tension upon Lord Grafton’s offer.

    “The Graftons aren’t exactly fond of House Aryyn,” Kyle murmured as the man and his son withdrew. “The higher you go on the ladder of nobility, the worse traders are looked down on, and then there’s the whole matter of the branch Arryns in Gulltown that the Graftons have a love-hate relationship with. Besides, making such a public offer without discussing it with the other party beforehand is a big no-no, especially when the other party is your liege lord.”

    A shame. Robert wouldn’t have minded Gerold staying, he’d seemed nice in the brief time they’d spent together during the feast, asking Robert all sorts of stories about home and promising in return to tell stories about Ser Gerold Grafton, the great Andal knight that founded their house by imitating Lann the Clever and tricking King Osgood Shett of Gulltown out of everything he had.

    Lyndon Corbray came next, Lord of House Corbray of Heart’s Home. He was accompanied by his sons, Lyonel and Lyn. They gave Ned a dark cloak with a brooch shaped like a wolf’s head – boring! – and a pair of thumbless gloves meant to stand for the Fingers, the sharp peninsulas that the Corbrays ruled as Kings for a while there, after turning on the Shells and Brightstones, First Men kings that brought them over from Andalos to begin with. Robert would have left the index finger bare instead of the thumb, so Ned would at least have something free to scratch himself with, but he’d long since given up on expecting common sense from Valemen. Robert half hoped Ned would ask to see Lady Forlorn, but he didn’t, so Robert had to settle for waiting for the tourney to see the Valyrian steel blade.

    After the Corbrays came Lord Osmond Elesham, Lord of the Paps, though it was his two nephews that lugged forth the gift – a splendid sled big enough for three people, or five children. Lord Elesham was married to one of Aly’s older sisters, but Robert didn’t remember them spending any time together, which was strange. Maybe Kyle was right that the man resented being stuck with a wife that turned out to be barren, but Robert didn’t care about that. What he did care about was being this close to making a snide remark or five.

    There was a storm gathering at his breast, thick and churning.

    The gathering storm cloud was briefly blown away by Lady Hersy of Newkeep, who approached with a gift befitting her family’s banner of a white winged chalice on a pink field. She gifted one large brass chalice full of Qartheen delight. On the one hand, Robert was out to prove he was a big boy now. On the other hand, that gift was practically made for Robert instead of Ned and his mouth instantly watered, which Ned noticed as easily as he did everything else. He held out the chalice for Robert to help himself, which he promptly did instead of manfully deferring because his flesh was weak. Weak!

    Unfortunately, Jon was quick to signal one of the help to take the rest away before Robert embarrassed himself further and wait a minute, not embarrassing himself was a good thing!

    After Robert’s… lapse… came Lord Eon Hunter, the Lord of Longbow Hall. Strangely, he wasn’t accompanied by either of his three sons despite being older than Jon and suffering the beginning stages of gout. Why weren’t – oh, they were drunk off their arses. All over each other way in the corner. Huh. Shame for the big one’s cloak, ermine fur and wine did not mix well. Vomit either. Robert was surprised Lord Hunter was able to keep a straight face while giving Ned his gift, which turned out to be a very pretty lute, complete with two sets of spare strings.

    “Heard about all the new music turning up in the North,” the main grunted as he stepped on the wrong sore. “If you ever decide to bring any of it down here, I’d like to hear it.”

    The North had new music? This was the first time Robert heard about it.

    “I’ve not any particular talent for instruments,” Ned admitted ruefully. “Though I’ve been told my ability to voice a tune is at least decent, and I did just receive orders from my brother Brandon to stop having shouting matches until after my voice breaks, lest I lose my ability to sing entirely.” He did? You could lose your singing voice forever? No, that couldn’t happen, not to Ned! “I’ll try to be better prepared for you next time you visit.”

    “Good lad.”

    He was just looking to benefit off his own gift, the fiend!

    The storm had just about built up to twice its previous clamour when Lady Sara Melcolm of Old Anchor took her turn after, a girl brown of hair, tan-skinned, and surprisingly young. Young enough to still need her uncle to act as regent actually. Probably no older than Robert, now that he saw her properly. She still approached in person, though, and gave Ned a wooden model of a war galley with three masts and one hundred oars. Finally! Someone who got the point of all this! That deserved rewarding and then some, didn’t it? But how? With what? Cake? A play date? A serenade under the light of the moon? Damn, how was he going to choose out of so many good ideas?

    “Do I offend, Lord Robert?”

    Oh boy, he’d been staring at her! Evade, parry, deflect! “How would you like Lady Aly to visit you for a while?” Wait, that was actually a great idea! It would give Lady Sara a bunch of new friends to distract her from whatever left her an orphan and put Aly and the Gruesome Gigglesomes out of his misery for a month or five. “She’s been so out of sorts that I actually heard her praying to the Chrone for guidance. A pretty maiden like her, praying to the Chrone. I can’t stand a moment more of such dolour!” Robert clasped her hand in both of his and gazed at her soulfully – don’t you judge him, this is his life they were talking about! “Might my lady suffer this desperate fool’s plea and talk to her? For my sake, if not hers!”

    Lady Sara blinked several times and then turned to hide her face behind her other hand, her tan growing a couple of shades darker. “… A-after such a soulful display, I suppose I must at least consider it.”

    Robert beamed and most gallantly kissed the back of her hand.

    Lady Sara retreated with the most terrible decorum, got a hold of herself, and then all but marched to where Aly and her evil coterie were gossiping.

    Success!

    Alas, the storm clouds were soon simmering inside him once again, because the gift giving just couldn’t finish without people going back to completely missing the point. Granted, Robert didn’t exactly have any hopes for the Templetons. Alright, that was a lie, the Templetons were related to Ned – through a daughter of Benedict Royce and Jocelyn Stark, thank you Kyle – but Robert didn’t have a good opinion of the current head of House Templeton. Ser Symond had a beaked nose even bigger and uglier than Jon’s, and his blue eyes were so cold that it was a wonder the man brought any gifts at all. But he did – the Knight of Ninestars couldn’t fail to rise to the occasion, Robert thought sullenly, it was a matter of honor after all. Bringing out nine different sets of nine toy soldiers to play War – each in the colors of the seven kingdoms plus the Crownlands and Iron Islands – was surely just his way to cover all his bases. It certainly wasn’t just another way to shove it in everyone else’s face that a house of mere knights was as powerful or more than most other Vale lords. It certainly wasn’t just a way to kiss the arse of everyone on the other side of the big box of toy soldiers that wasn’t Eddard Stark. Robert couldn’t understand how Ned still kept up his airs of oh so solemn appreciation. That his face didn’t even flicker at the last present was something Robert understood even less.

    Three sets of hawking equipment. From Elys Waynwood and Alys Arryn of all people, the Lord and Lady of Ironoaks, Alyssa’s parents. Jon’s own sister and goodson. Hoods, leg bells, jesses, scales, gauntlets, creances, all of them in threes. Threes. Ned thanked the both of them for such a thoughtful gift. For the bonding opportunities it would give him and Jon and the rest of them. As the storm began to bubble over, Robert thought dimly about how that was just the latest of a whole bunch of gifts that were a better fit for him than Ned.

    Jon was giving a speech now. Kyle was saying something too, about two major Houses that hadn’t come forward with any gifts or whatever. But at that point Robert wasn’t listening anymore because he’d had enough.

    He took Lord Yohn’s book satchel and put it on the floor, did the same to Ned’s new lute and clothes, gave the ship model to a confused Kyle to hold, then he grabbed the edge of the table and heaved.

    The table flipped and smashed on top of the scattering gifts with a rattling crash.

    The Great Hall of the Gates of the Moon saw a deluge of gasps, shrieks and spittakes before all gave way to a silence so deep that even the bleakest funerals and wakes back in Storm’s End didn’t compare. And as the eyes of everyone turned on him with everything from confused mortification to apoplectic rage, Robert Baratheon wondered, midst inner gales and thunderclaps, when and how these mighty high men had built such taste for arse.

    “ROBERT!” Ware, ware! Hailstorm inbound! Alert, alert, sound the bells! “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS!?”

    “Why Jon, I’m only following your vassals’ example!” Robert moved to stand between Ned and the rest of the hall. “I know great minds think alike, but I’m not all that chuffed at having my grand plan pre-empted so many times in the same day. Oh well, at least I can figure out the proper arse to kiss! Or should I just stand by doing nothing while everyone’s throwing insults in Ned’s face?”

    Jon Arryn had to visibly force down what Robert realized was the real first loss of temper he had seen from him in his entire life. “Explain. Now.”

    “Explain? Explain this shit!” Robert kicked the pile of Lord Belmore’s building blocks. They knocked around some of the toy knights as they scattered before him. “Look at this shit. Look at all these perfect gifts! Perfect for me. My favourite toys, my favourite sweets, everything at least three times over so it’s clear who’s really getting honors here. Because why the hells not? What does a snub or ten to the Northern spare matter? Why should making an afterthought of House Arryn’s heir matter even? I’m Robert Fucking Baratheon, firstborn of Steffon Baratehon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Hand of the Fucking King! Now come over here and kiss my arse some more, you shits!” Robert glared at the Waynwoods – Jon’s own sister and goodson, how could they? “As High as Honor, those are House Arryn’s words, aren’t they? Well if that’s true, the honor of the Vale must sure hang low. My father warned me this might happen. I’ll never doubt him again.”

    It was outrageous how his last words made the whole hall blanch. How it blasted away what had till then looked fit to become the biggest rumpus of the past hundred years.

    “Now you’re worried!” Robert spat.

    “Robert,” Ned sighed behind him. Robert didn’t need to turn around to know he was pinching his nose. “I was going to bring this up later. In private.”

    “Of course you were,” Robert bit out, baring his teeth at the crowd. “Your honor’s real, and all you ever want is peace and quiet!”

    There was no reply from behind him. Those greasy, lying shitbags, they really had hurt Ned’s feelings if he wasn’t browbeating Robert by now. Robert didn’t know what was worse: that Ned didn’t want to stop him, or that he was so off-balance that he couldn’t come up with the right words. He always had the right words.

    For the longest time, no one said anything. Scattered murmurs sounded once or twice, but otherwise people just seemed stuck looking like they were getting the shits.

    “By the seven hells, you Valemen are all hopeless,” Robert groaned. “Well fine then! Seeing as nobody here knows how to kiss proper arse, I’ll show you how it’s done! Lord Eddard!” Robert turned on his heel. “You once told me you only want from life two things: peace and quiet. I’ll die before I give you the second – I know my limits! - but I’ll damn well make sure you get the first! I beg you, then, forgive this one’s deception! I’ve done you false all along! My earlier present wasn’t my real present! This is my true gift for your day of twelve years!” Robert stepped forward and grandly pulled a small box of cherry wood from his secret pocket. “Truth…” Then he stepped past Ned, took a knee before Elbert Arryn and held up his gift in entreaty. “… and Reconciliation!”

    If the quiet of earlier was supposed to be like a tomb, Robert didn’t know where to even start describing this one.

    “Young Falcon!” Robert cried dramatically to the sound of Jon Arryn slapping his forehead in the background. “Forgive this boor’s oafishness! I have been remiss! Rude, scathing, derisive, scurrilous, obloquious, contumelious!” That’s how you use big words you dumb shits! “But I have seen the light! I submit myself for whatever games you’d like to play in retribution! All of them, in whichever part it pleases you best! Come-into-my-castle, monsters-and-maidens, hide-the-treasure, hopfrog, spin-the-sword, rats and cats, whatever you want! Though of course, you could always join Lord Eddard and I in our games. Like this one! This one right here in my hand… That you’re still not reaching out to take. Oh come on, it’s not like it’s poisoned or anything!”

    Elbert Arryn looked like he wanted to be swallowed by the ground and die.

    “… Then again, I suppose this is all a bit sudden, so I guess I can still hold onto this until-“

    “NO!” Elbert snatched it away.

    Well now! Robert grinned and bounced back to his feet. “You see, Ned? You see that? Softbeak does have a backbone! He was just born wrong so he can’t use it proper unless it’s for the sake of someone else!” There was the sound of a second palm slapping Jon’s face in the background, joined by Ned a moment later. “Oh go suck a carrot or something, both of you! You can’t even take compliments now? What’ll it take with you people!? You don’t see Elbert whining about me doing this for you more than him, do you? I mean, it’s true, but it’s not like he earned it – which is fine! Elbert, you’re eight! No one expects you to earn anything!”

    Elbert was looking at Robert as if he had an arse for a head and a gut ending in ten octopus arms with suckers full of lemons. It made him feel weird, especially when wobbly words started coming out of that weepy face and- “… Y-you’re a h-horrible person.”

    “Oh, will you just – I’m teaching a lesson in shame here! The least you could do is help me! It’s not like I’m asking you to ‘train our command voice’ at dawn so we’d wake up the whole keep because Jon doesn’t have a cock worth a damn!” Robert hadn’t known that silence could feel like anything, but now he could swear it felt mortified. Robert glared everywhere he could turn his head. “A rooster! I meant a rooster, obviously, get you minds out of the gutter!”

    Ned slapped him on the shoulder. “Now who’s hopeless?”

    Robert barely felt it but rubbed the spot anyway, Ned had an image to maintain you know! He still scowled at Softbeak though. And when that didn’t do anything but make the runt look like he would burst into tears despite getting his own Gwent deck, which should’ve had him shedding tears of joy by now instead, he huffed. “Still waiting for a yes or no.”

    “W-what?”

    “Is that a no to joining Ned and me in our games?”

    “Yes! I mean no! I… I mean…”

    Robert waited. He crossed his arms in front of him. He crossed his hands behind his back. His foot started tapping on the floor. He-

    “Elbert,” Ned sighed as he put himself between Robert and him, even though Kyle hadn’t moved an inch from where he was still- “Please forgive Robert. He’s not a bad lad, he’s just a moron.”

    “AM NOT!”

    “And he forgets things sometimes,” Ned ground out so much like Stannis that no, NO- “Like how he himself wasn’t comfortable working numbers in his head until he was almost ten.” Ned’s glare could have curdled milk, but there wasn’t any on hand so it only curdled Robert’s stomach. Crapbaskets! Elbert was literally hopeless without the two of them, how the hells had Robert overestimated him? It made no sense! It- “That said, in this he happens to have a point, even if his choice of game could have been better. Fortunately, us men of the North are always prepared.” Thus saying, Ned reached into a second secret pocket and produced a different deck of cards that Robert had never seen in his life. “Like Gwent, this game has never seen the outside of House Stark before now.” Wait, what? “Unlike Gwent, Pazaak doesn’t teach strategy. It teaches numbers and tactics. It would be the best gift you could ever give me, Elbert, if you were to indulge my wish for a game or three. I’d meant to make it a tournament. My brother Brandon went to so much trouble to make ten different decks in his own hand – this and Gwent both. He even procured special cards to give out as prizes.” Ned smiled. It looked positively vicious. “Alas, I’m not as hopeful anymore that there are people enough in this hall of the same mind as myself.”

    …Ned was perfect!

    Feeling like his grin might split his face if he didn’t do something quick, Robert turned back to the rest of the hall and smirked. “That’s how you do it!”

    There seemed to have been a major reshuffling of people while Robert wasn’t looking. Now those people stared at each other. Shocked. Angry. Accusing. Robert spent a few blissful minutes sneering at all of them while daydreaming about how he’d tell this story to his mother and father later. Alas, he decided he’d never be able to do it justice. You simply had to be there.

    Then Lord Waynwood stepped forward, bowed deeply before Ned and apologised.

    Robert was shocked. He didn’t expect anyone to actually do it!

    He’d have said no too. They didn’t really mean it.

    But Ned graciously accepted and then invited Elys to play a game.

    And as the first apology gave way to a second and third and then every last one of the others like that game of dominoes Ned had mentioned that time, Kyle Royce looked at Robert wide-eyed and finally remembered he could speak. “Holy shit, Baratheon. You just won the Vale.”

    He did? What was he saying, of course he did! He was Robert Fucking Baratheon!

    But this was Ned’s day, so Robert decided not to tout his own horn. This once.

    He sauntered over to where Jon was barking orders to the help cleaning his mess instead. “Hey Jon!”

    “…Robert.”

    “I’m going outside to find Shaggy.”

    “…Go.”

    He went.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2021
    Kehsem, Rui Pascoal, PbookR and 25 others like this.
  23. CmirDarthanna

    CmirDarthanna Experienced.

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    I'm speech less.

    Edit:
    Hammy as always Robert.
     
  24. Kolejny dzień

    Kolejny dzień Another Day

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    Good God... I feel at this point, that a long lull between updates is not a hiatus in the usual sense, but, a channelling of distilled Baratheon shenanigans.
     
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  25. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    I thought you said you were speechless.
    Well, this time there was a lot of real life work that took up my time too, but that too.
     
  26. CmirDarthanna

    CmirDarthanna Experienced.

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    I was, until I wasn't which is why there's an edit.
     
    Kruen and Karmic Acumen like this.
  27. Threadmarks: Chapter II.2: Grinding Teeth Do Not a Gay Storm Make (IV)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    A/N: Well, took me a while, but this part's finally done. Two more of Robert (I think) and then it's back in the North for a bit. Next up we're jumping all the way to 278 AC.

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    [​IMG]

    “-. 274 AC .-“


    He found Shaggy. Shaggy gave him a toy griffin carved by his own hand. It was even painted. Pretty well too, in white, grey, and gold for the eyes. One could spot Aly’s handiwork a league away.

    Robert was pissed to the seventh hell. That Shaggy had also brought a lifelike toy raven for Robert to give Ned only made Robert madder. And no, the fact that the raven’s head, legs and wings moved didn’t make up for it none, because Robert’s griffin was the same and it even had four legs that moved, so it was actually better than Ned’s present! Again!

    Robert stared at the man, then turned around without accepting either gift and went back inside. He could understand all them holier-than-barths in there, but even Shaggy didn’t get it? What even was this? Forget basic decency, where was all the low cunning? Where was the common sense? Gods!

    Unfortunately, things had gotten away from him in his absence. Ned ended up getting his two card game tournaments after all – which was good! – but it also left all the smartarses free to spew nonsense about how Robert’s whole ‘spectacle’ had surely been a mummery from the start to finish – which was a lying lie!

    Spectacle! Mummery! Him! The nerve of them!

    Robert seethed quietly. At the nobles. At their brownnosing. And himself for expecting better from Shaggy. At Shaggy too! But it was exhausting and he was never one to seethe quietly when there was a perfectly acceptable target for his righteous anger, so he went back outside to give Shaggy his proper what for.

    “Not to upset you none, little lord,” Shaggy said on Robert giving him his proper what for. “But I don’t care about the Stark. I don’t care about anyone here really. You saved me. I only care about you.”

    Well shucks, what was he supposed to say to that?

    Robert sullenly accepted the gifts, went to his room and hid the griffin under the bed before he returned to the great hall to give Ned his raven. He never got around to it though. The Pazaak tournament had long since ended – Lord Marq Grafton won that one, to Robert’s annoyance – but the Gwent tournament seemed to just be entering the semifinals. Robert put the raven with Ned’s other gifts (what few of them were still out in the open after Robert’s righteous retribution of rectitude) and went to find his friends while the matches finished. He found Softbeak eventually, but Kyle was nowhere to be seen and Ned was busy refereeing. Robert grumbled a bit about people being so useless that they needed to put the nameday boy to work, but Ned seemed to be in good spirits so he didn’t make a fuss this time.

    In the end, it came down to Lord Royce against Jon. Both had Vale decks, though Lord Royce seemed to have swapped all the base cards he could for First Men auxiliaries. Jon won, but only because he had a spy that let him draw Artys Arryn out of nowhere and deploy him alongside his three Knight Lords, while his opponent didn’t get any of his legendary cards. Lord Yohn still almost won with a combo of the Bronze King and three First Man Chieftains, but even with a scorpion in siege he fell one point short in the end, and that was that.

    Robert didn’t know who started the chant, but that’s when people started to call for a game between the winner and Ned. The bastards, they still wanted Ned humiliated! Robert was this close to bursting into another rant about them wanting to get back at Robert through Ned, but Ned shrugged and agreed before he could. Joke ended up being on them, though, because all the age and trickery in the world didn’t prove enough to topple experience.

    The smugness Robert felt on Jon losing seven games in a row was too good for words.

    It was only afterwards that Robert found out that was an almost perfect mirror of what happened right after he left the first time. Jon had played against Ned and lost seven times in a row. Even with Ned strengthening Jon’s deck after every loss with one of the special cards, he still only eked out a win on the eight set, and even then just barely. Jon, to his credit, vowed to get his own back, and without the extra help. To hear Softbeak say it – he wasn’t tongue-tied around him no more! – that was Jon’s way to get Ned his contests after all. Robert was surprised to not feel surprised that Jon would do something like that. Then again, he supposed Jon was living up to his House words unlike all his lords. As long as he didn’t begrudge his failure to get his own back. Wasn’t he the one that always crowed about the worth of experience?

    Oh well! At least Ned got his Pazaak tournament. And then the Gwent tournament since Ned’s brother had sent him ten of those sets too, one faction corresponding to each of the seven kingdoms, plus three decks of neutral cards for people to customise their sets if they wanted, like Lord Yohn had. Ned had been pretty vicious about it too, to hear Elbert repeat it. Which he did word for word.

    “I’ve submitted to your notion of honor long enough,” Ebert said with a terrible attempt at imitating Ned’s voice. “Now, you’ll submit to mine.”

    Robert was almost sorry it wasn’t his day so he could get in a good gloat. He settled for watching everyone else for tricks instead. Someone had to watch out for Ned when he was distracted you know! Not that there was much happening with everyone watching the show.

    Though there was that thing Robert spotted from the corner of his eye. Lord Elys, that is, who’d been talking to a certain Lady Melcolm and her regent uncle. Robert watched as the man went to talk to Alyssa about something that Robert didn’t need to guess when she gaped, turned and glared at Robert with all her hate. Ha! Now that was a look worthy of going down in Ned’s mysterious notebook of mystery!

    Robert waited for her to meet his eyes and then smirked at her. Wasn’t it just grand when everything worked itself out?

    Unfortunately, busy as he was gloating at Aly across the entirety of the Great Hall, Robert missed a different commotion happening opposite from it. And Ned was right in the middle of it.

    Robert shot Elbert a look before quickly making his way over. Well, soon as he wrapped an arm around Softbeak to make sure he didn’t get misplaced. He wasn’t going to leave him on his own in this den of false sheep. Ned would be disappointed if Robert went back to being a knight in not-so-shiny armor, especially after his big show of ultimate chivalry. Not that Robert needed the incentive. Elbert was their baby.

    As it happened, Kyle turned out to be there already, near his uncle Yohn. And he was not happy.

    “What’s happening?” Robert murmured quietly – he could so talk quietly, shut up!

    “Bad news,” Kyle muttered, his voice as dark as his uncle’s face next to him. When he opened his mouth to continue, though, Lord Yohn sent him a glare that struck him silent.

    Robert looked ahead to the odd standoff that had swept aside what should have been the cheers after Ned and Jon’s great game of war.

    Jon and Ned on one side. On the other, a big, greying-haired, balding, fleshy man with big shoulders, black eyes, thick lips and – Robert squinted – webbing between the middle three fingers of his right hand. He’d thought the Sistermen’s mark was just a story! And he had to be from the Three Sisters, the white crab on grey was from one of them isles, wasn’t it?

    “Lord Godric Borrell,” Kyle murmured. “Lord of Sweetsister, Shield of Sisterton, Master of Breakwater Castle, Keeper of the Night Lamp.”

    One of the two Houses that didn’t present Ned with anything, Robert recalled, the other being his sworn lord Triston Sunderland.

    Lord Yohn ushered them to the side of the hall while Jon exchanged terse words with the ugly man. Didn’t stop Kyle from regaling Robert and Elbert about all the things known and unknown about the sisterman, who apparently liked storms and his sister’s stew, but hated Northmen and was more of a robber and wrecker that used false lights during storms to lure approaching ships to their doom, instead of letting them guide their way by the light of the Night Lamp as he should and Lord Yohn shut Kyle up with a glare again because Kyle gossiped worse than Aly on toffees, honestly. Not that Robert was going to say so.

    Never interrupt your enemy while he’s making a mistake, Ned and Dad said so! Not that Kyle was an enemy, maybe, but he hadn’t proven himself an ally either. He’d ditched Softbeak!

    Robert turned his ear to the other people around them. They weren’t as keen on keeping quiet as Lord Royce. It still didn’t get him a proper explanation, but Robert heard enough to understand that Webhands had accidentally mentioned some bad news Jon meant to keep from Ned until the festivities ended. Except it might not have been actually accidental (maybe?) and was possibly done at the behest of Lord Sunderland (unknowingly?) who’d already retired and was therefore suspicious (allegedly).

    Robert looked at Lord Godric. He wasn’t impressed. The man was properly big – not Baratheon big of course – but his face was blunt and rough with far too big a brow, and he had a lumpy nose full of red veins. His teeth didn’t look proper either, all yellow and even one that was black in the front.

    “Triston Sunderland would sell his own mother for a pot of Lannister gold,” Kyle finished with a wary eye on his uncle, who seemed to have given up on his one man war for discretion. “Or so it goes.”

    “Is anyone in the Vale worth knowing?” Robert demanded. “Except you, Lord Royce. You’re alright.”

    “Perhaps one of Lord Sunderland’s seven sons,” the man grunted, though it was Robert he gave the hairy eyeball this time instead of his crummy compatriots, the nerve of him! “Lord Sunderland means to make knights out of all of them, or so I’ve heard.”

    What Robert had heard was that it took a lot of fish to buy a decent suit of plate and mail, never mind a destrier, but what did Triston Sunderland’s hopeless ambitions have to do with Ned?

    The answer, when they finally got it in their bedroom after Jon made them retire early – and held Ned back to explain while Robert and Elbert went on ahead – came from Ned himself.

    “My mother has miscarried.”

    …Well crap, maybe Jon wasn’t out to do Ned dirty after all. Robert wouldn’t want to give him news like that either, especially on his special day!

    “The wasting sickness has damaged her womb,” Ned added with a calm that made Robert’s hackles rise.

    But wait, how long ago did it happen that the news could reach the Sisters? Before Sunderland and Borrel set off? How long had Jon been sitting on this news?

    “It’s not entirely clear that the sickness was responsible for the miscarriage itself. What is clear is that she is not likely to survive another pregnancy because of it. The cure was given too late.”

    “There’s a cure for the Wasting?” Elbert asked, astonished.

    Robert blinked and looked at Elbert. “That’s what you find strange?”

    “… You really don’t listen to Maester Cudius at all, do you?”

    Hey, he tried, it wasn’t like he wanted the man’s droning voice to put him to sleep and that wasn’t important right now! Robert turned back to Ned. “I say pelt him with rotten eggs.”

    Ned looked at him blankly.

    “Come on! The man’s an arse and deserves it! Besides, who’d even know the difference with that face?”

    “… Happiness is predicated on deferral of gratification.”

    “… That wasn’t a no.” Robert frowned. “Is that one of those things you get from that mysterious notebook of mystery? What all even is in that thing anyway? I thought it was stuff you wrote in.”

    Ned shook his head and didn’t say anything else until morning.

    It was the first time Robert remembered Ned waking up more upset instead of less after ‘sleeping on it.’ Even after Robert went out of his way to make faces at Elbert until the baby figured out to snuggle Ned from the other side. Then again, Robert only noticed Ned waking up in a bad mood because Ned hadn’t seemed all that bummed the other night despite the dark news and wow, that was a terrible thing to think about your best friend, wasn’t it? Distraction! “Come on, Ned! The joust starts today! You’ll forget about everything in no time, you’ll see!”

    Ned gave him a wry look that said he knew what he was doing, but followed after him and Elbert to the tourney grounds anyway.

    So of course Robert led him to the Godswood instead. That Ned only realised it when Elbert went off alone two thirds of the way there told Robert just how out of it Ned was, but honestly, what did Ned expect? Robert could have fun without Ned just fine, but not while Ned was there. And he would be there, he wasn’t one to snub everyone else over feeling down. Hopefully the Godswood would settle him like it usually did. Robert wouldn’t have thought it in the beginning, but the Heart Tree looked much better since Ned did whatever he claimed to have nothing to do with that turned it clean and sane overnight. Probably something involving soap and a barbed brush, though it was odd that Ned didn’t just say so, instead of letting the servants gossip and whisper about Old Gods and demons and divine favour (and curses from hell for a while there, before Robert started using their supply of eggs to enforce proper discipline). ‘I did nothing’ my arse, the tree face used to look like a blood-gobbling maniac!

    Robert went to sit in his usual out of the way spot and was bored in the space of three minutes. Fortunately, the Storm King was always prepared! He took out a block of cherry wood to whittle at with the hunting knife from Jon that Robert definitely didn’t treasure above everything else he owned that didn’t come from Ned or his real dad.

    He wasn’t lying! He treasured the knitted socks from mom over them too, so there!

    Ned still seemed rather standoffish. Usually he brightened the moment one of his raven buddies swooped down to his shoulder to groom his hair. This time it must have been half an hour before Ned stopped sulking and started to teach it words like he always did when he came down there. Well, at least he still did it eventually! What a relief! Robert wouldn’t have to play the villain and remind Ned that he soon wouldn’t have a Godswood to go to anymore!

    Ned was almost fully back to himself by the time Elbert appeared with bread and bacon. Softbeak offering to play cards seemed to do it for the rest.

    From then on, Ned proved willing to let them distract him for the remaining days of the festival. They bet half their desserts on who would win the melee (Yohn Royce won). They tried to predict the winners of the archery competition (bastard Whatshisname Stone or other won that Robert couldn’t be arsed to remember). They bet ten silvers against one of Ned’s Legendary Gwent cards on the winner of the joust (Denys Arryn beat Yohn Royce in the finals, earning Robert Durran Godsgrief himself!). And they pretended the Borrel and Sunderland delegations didn’t exist despite Triston Sunderland swearing in a private meet with them and Jon that he’d had nothing to do with Borrel’s breach of courtesy.

    “The nerve of him,” Robert seethed after they left. “Who else could it have been?”

    “The Maester,” Ned said, but he was just biased because his Maester had- “The Septon, Denys, whoever else Jon told, whoever happened to overhear any of them talking about it, whoever else found out in any one of the keeps and holdfasts and harbors that the Sunderlands passed to get here that had enough pull or coin-“

    “Alright alright, I get it, sheesh!” Gods, Ned would be the worst spymaster!

    When they weren’t gaming or feasting, they played with Ned’s presents (Robert heroically refrained from trashing them), played with Ned’s other stuff (Ned could turn paper into crafts that could fly, what the hells?), commiserated about Jon keeping them in the dark ‘for their own good’ (Jon was the worst!), or asked Ned questions about the North (after they forgot they weren’t supposed to bring it up on account of his mama’s health). Robert was amazed to learn the North had found a way to cure lackwits, was disappointed when told it wasn’t anything that would work on Jon (Robert was not cracked in the skull for asking!), was confused at Ned’s confession that the whole secrecy thing had left him most upset with his brother Brandon instead of anyone else (how was he worse than Jon?), and then Robert promptly exploded at Elbert for his comment that Robert should be familiar with the feeling, how dare he? Ned was nothing like Stannis! And there was no way Brandon Stark was anything like Robert either! He wouldn’t have somehow upset Ned from half-way across the world, for one! What kind of grump could even do something like that? Robert was nothing like that! He was great, he was funny, he was nice, he was an arse when the other arse earned it, he was perfect! Perfect just like his father! But Stannis was surly and unfunny and duty this, decorum that and he always acted like he was owed more than he got and even dad didn’t like it but he still treated him like it was fine and gave him as much time as he gave Robert except he never had to work for it and no he wasn’t jealous, take that back!

    Ahem.

    He might’ve gotten a little worked up there.

    Somehow, though, his outburst made Ned laugh, which was great! It also got Ned up his arse about the ins and outs of his life at home and being a brother, which wasn’t so great. But because it was Ned asking, and because Ned was still being hard on himself for not really mourning a sibling he never had the chance to form a bond with to begin with, Robert heroically chose to endure it so long as it worked to distract him proper. And it worked!

    In fact, it worked so well that Ned chose to join them in the Sept for the final liturgy of the Spring Festival without needing to be cajoled into it by Jon or whoever else. Which probably shouldn’t have surprised Robert after how many times Ned had already attended services of in this or that Sept ‘for science,’ but somehow it still did.

    “I still don’t understand how you can be interested in these things,” Robert told him as the three of them were getting dressed that morning. “Service bores me to tears.”

    “Me too.”

    “Wait, what? But then why do you keep going to them?”

    “Septon Urizen’s sermons can be very informative. Also, all the important people in the Vale will be in attendance today. I want to see what the Septon thinks the high lords need to be told.”

    “Oooh, it’s like strategy! You’re treating it like war! Why didn’t you just say so?”

    “… Sure, let’s go with that.”

    “Wait, have you been going to war without me all this time? How could you!? Ned! Ned, don’t you walk away from me!”

    The Sept of the Moon was a seven-walled building with statues and altars for each of the Seven made of polished white stone. The altars were inlaid richly with mother-of-pearl, onyx, lapis lazuli and at least four other stones to make the seven. The building had seven windows made from leaded glass, depicting scenes and pictures of the Andal Conquest ending with the crowning of Artys Arryn under the light of the Warrior shining down from the God’s throne atop the Giant’s Lance. And high above everyone and everything at the center of the ceiling, a great crystal caught light, spreading it in a rainbow of colors.

    Robert would’ve been impressed if he hadn’t already been in there over a hundred times. As it was, it was all he could do not to fall asleep as Septon Urizen and holy brothers from almost every noble House in attendance went and walked up and down all seven aisles, praying and singing to each statue of the Seven Who Are One. Robert was sure that the service forced them all to rise and turn and hold hands each time just so they wouldn’t all fall asleep, though he begrudgingly admitted the singing was better than usual. The songs themselves weren’t to his taste, but all them newcomers must have practiced a lot to sing along so well.

    There were ten times as many candles at the feet of the statues too, even the Stranger. Hopefully they wouldn’t cause a fire to make all them go down in flames. Being on the front-most pew between the Father and Stranger – with just Ned, Elbert, Jon, Denys and his wife alongside – they were about as far from a possible fire as anyone other than the priests. That only meant they’d be the last to escape in case of disaster though. He wondered if it would be the smoke, the flames, or the collapsing roof that would do them in. Being crushed under that big ol’ crystal would probably make for some mighty colourful smears when the rainbow lights were added in.

    Robert was broken out of his daydream of a horrifying death when he felt Ned nudge him in the ribs like he’d asked him before coming in. Was the sermon finally going to start? Blinking out of his doze, Robert found Septon Urizen and six holy brothers arranged in a line at the center of the sept where all the pews faced, forming the seven colors of the rainbow. Very important thing for the Faith, the rainbow. For some reason. Robert thought it was silly, seeing as Septons were already dressed fancier than anyone else he’d ever seen, even the Hand of the King when dad had taken Stannis and him to see the capital that one time. Then again, Robert understood even less why everyone said the rainbow had only seven colors. It always had more whenever he saw one. Oh well.

    In the name of the true God who is Seven and One. My dear brothers and sisters, it is with the greatest joy that I gather with all of you this day in this beautiful Sept dedicated to the Seven in their aspect of the Warrior, he who delivers the Father’s justice to the wronged, protection to the needy, and glory to the valorous. Also, too, do we celebrate today this Holy Service in honour of the Gods in their aspect of the Smith under his title of The Gardener, as we joyfully welcome Spring back into our lives. They are never far away, the Fulsome Seven, no matter which Face of the Holy God we honor in our hearts. We are all sinners, yet we are granted refuge at the hearth of the Father, consolation in the Mother’s arms, cleansing in the eyes of the Maiden, and wisdom to light our way by the Chrone’s lamp. And of course, just as the Stranger wanders from far places, less and more than human, unknown and unknowable, we men of the cloth are still here to lead our brothers and sisters forth in wisdom, that they may earn the Grace of the Seven in this life and the next. Just as the Stranger himself is always there to lead us to the next world, so he stands by us today, in this very Sept as we sacramentally re-present the ‘once for all’ covenant of the Seven Stars, sealed by the Father himself when he Crowned Hugor of the Hill with seven stars pulled down from the sky.

    “We also gather to celebrate the great gift his beloved High Holiness, the High Septon, delivered unto the Faith in his Divine Rescript, the Folly of Intellect Absent of Acumen. Wise Crone, I know I speak on behalf of all gathered here when I say ‘thank you’ for your wisdom, foresight, and abiding generosity in allowing the Holy Sacraments of the Seven Who Are One to find the path through the treacherous ground that so recently emerged in the ever advancing path of the True Faith.

    “As we gather here today in this magnificent Sept, one cannot help but notice the very large presence of people who have come from far and wide to participate in this Holy Service. I have met a good number of you personally. You are a sign – a great sign – of encouragement and hope for the Faith tossed about these days on the troubled waters of human misjudgement. You understand your place in the world and in the Faith to help renew the True Way in the world, and preserve the holy virtues within the Faith herself.

    “Over the months since the release of Folly of Intellect, I have heard many in the Faith, from wandering septons to even some among the Most Devout, express dismay over why so many of our brothers and sisters are going against their own better judgment and believing the horrendous Oldtown Calumny. They say things like, ‘I just don’t understand. How could my flock be so attracted to the idea that such rot may exist in the Mansions of the Pious, when they have neither experienced nor witnessed such for themselves?’

    “Whenever such doubts were expressed to me, I have often responded ‘That is exactly the question you should be asking. Why are so many, commoner and noble alike, so inclined to believe the worst of the Cloth? Or perhaps more pointedly: what do these claims of rot among our Most Holy touch in them that their own experience growing up in the light of the Seven did not provide?’ Now I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not at all calling into question the moral uprightness of my wiser brothers and sisters of the Cloth. Nor am I calling into question the legitimacy, the validity or even the goodness of the Divine Indulgence promulgated by his High Holiness in the wake of the Oldtown riots. But perhaps in the actual implementation of the Most Devout’s directives, not everything that occurred since has borne good fruit.

    “His High Holiness referenced this in his letter to the realm’s septons, which accompanied the release of Folly of Intellect. In speaking of his predecessor’s own efforts to provide for the souls of a people at risk of being led astray by the actions of certain maesters (as there always are in such institutions that so worship their own false wisdom that they shun the only true wisdom that is the Crone), his High Holiness wrote thusly in his own Divine Rescript of 4:20, 269 AC: ‘Immediately after the publication of Archmaester Harmune’s book Etched in Stone, the Starry Sept was faced with many a crisis of faith. Many were those who now questioned our most holy written scripture, which categorically attests the time and place of the Manifest Destiny in Tyrion: 1:44, clearly one generation in advance of the first Andal crossing to Westeros. Indeed, it has since been proven, by a more rightly guided man from that same institution of scholars, that what Harmune called axes were in fact hammers, the sign of the Smith, explaining the irregularity of the depictions of these hammers as the results of the Andals being warriors, not artisans.’

    “Clearly, his High Holiness is encouraging us to be calm and patient, for though the light of the Seven may at times be obscured by the machinations of demons and mortals, the truth always shines forth in the end. Now, I don’t want to claim that this much needed lesson in patience should mean dismissing the present concerns of the faithful. You in the here and now are important as well. However, I believe that one of the most important phrases in the letter of his High Holiness is this: ‘There is no separation between the past, present and future. In the history of the Sacrament, there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely disbelieved or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Sept’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.’

    “As we conclude our celebration of the Coming of Spring, I wish to touch upon one special point. This has to do with the positive motivation of His High Holiness in issuing the Divine Rescript. He said that it is a matter of coming to ‘an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Faith.’ During my pilgrimage to King’s Landing this year, I had the opportunity to visit with His High Holiness and thank him for the gift of Folly of Intellect. He responded at length to my intervention – beginning by saying that he had issued the Divine Rescript in order to reconcile the Faith with her most noble past. This reconciliation the High Septon spoke of involves learning from the experience of the Sacrament according to the Canonical Rite, in order to better inform and shape our understanding and practice of worship. I am not here to speak ill of our brothers and sisters, and certainly I challenge anyone to claim that I hold ill to any of my fellows of the Cloth. But it would be an insult to the Crone’s truth and the Father’s justice if I were to pretend that the Oldtown Calumny has not tested the resilience of our most Holy Institution, bereft as it is of the firm guidance and protection it enjoyed in the days of yore when the Warrior could be worshipped as much in deed as it is now in ritual.

    “I am, of course, referring to the increasing number of septons and septas that have chosen to diverge from the Pure Form of the Sacrament in the wake of the Oldtown Calumny. They have shown much zeal to interpret the holy scripture in a way as far removed as possible from the teachings of that a handful of bad seedlings. Seedlings that have since been given the Warrior’s judgment and been thoroughly excised from our Father’s house. Certainly, through extraclerical abuses, other aberrations, or simply poor mortal folly, the Faith has been disfigured in the eyes of our flock. But this does not at all compare to the disfigurement inflicted with every brother and sister of the cloth that has experienced a rupture with our solemn past. I am blessed to live in a land much enduring against such blandishments, but I grieve for my brothers and sisters elsewhere who must now toil for not only their flock but also themselves. Nowhere have I found this to be the case more than in the Riverlands, that place where the Faith even now struggles to win the souls of a people led astray under the tyranny of the Hoare Kings, who so oppressed those of the Cloth before the Targaryen Liberation that the people stumbled in the dark right into the grasp of empty idols and bloodthirsty demons.

    “And this is why, on this most auspicious of days, I want to continue with what I preached about last sennight, which was the subject of soul-winning. As you will surely have learned from your brothers and sisters that call the Gates of the Moon their home, last time we talked about the philosophy of why soul-winning is so important, why we go soul-winning, and what we mean when we go out soul-winning, knocking on people's doors and opening our Seven Pointed Star and showing them how to be saved. Or this could just be done walking up to somebody out and about; it doesn't even have to be at their door but just walking up to a stranger, opening up the Holy Book and showing them how to be saved. The thing that I focused on last sennight was starting the conversation. We went into all the philosophy of why we need to go out and preach the Holy Word to every creature and why the Seven want everyone to be involved in this. But then we got into just how to start the conversation, and how to assess where the person is at spiritually – finding out whether they have been saved or not. We talked about how to do it at the door and then also how to do it in everyday life – just easy ways to bring up the conversation. Tonight I want to pick up right where I left off and get into the part where one actually presents the Seven Pointed Star to this person, and the most critical truth that has been under threat since the noble and common people alike have succumbed to the temptation of rendering their own judgment instead of abiding by the Gods’. And that critical truth is this: everyone is a sinner.

    “A couple of scriptures on that are in Bronze Kings 3: of course we have the famous verses in Bronze 3:10, ‘As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.’ And then of course verse 23: ‘For all have sinned, and come short in the sight of the Father above.’ Here is the essence of this first point about everyone being a sinner. I don't spend a lot of time on this point and for a simple reason: 99 out of 100 people already understand this. How often do any of you really come to somebody that tells you, 'no, I don't sin, I've never sinned.' It is very rare. It happens every once in a while but it's extremely rare. So on the whole I have found easy to convey this point like so: ‘First of all, the Seven Pointed Star says that we are all sinners. Right here in Bronze Kings 3:23 it says, ‘For all have sinned, and come short in the sight of the Father above.’ I've sinned, you've sinned. Truth be told, we probably sin every day because, as the Crone herself clearly says, the thought of foolishness is itself sin. Even just thinking something stupid is sin. We've all sinned.’ So that is a really quick point.

    “Then you'd obviously go to other verses like 'if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us'. If we say that we haven't sinned we challenge the Father’s capacity for justice and the Mother’s Mercy will not be bestowed upon us. Nor will the Maiden look kindly on us, or the Crone grant us her guidance. Then, too, will the Warrior turn his gaze away when we need him most. You needn’t look too far to see this in the flesh. Think of the strife in Dorne of just this moon past, that sparse kingdom of rocks and sand where the Faith struggles to win the souls of men to this very day. I shan’t dwell on matters of divine blessings and lost opportunities that are spurned with their decadent ways. The increasing wealth, fertility and valor enjoyed by West, Reach and, of course, the Vale are evidence enough all by themselves of the truth of the Seven’s blessings.

    “But still, think of the strife that beset that land of princes, which nearly saw that bereaved realm descend into a full blown civil war: the Lord of Yronwood found Prince Oberyn Martell in bed with his paramour. But instead of taking this as the Mother’s lesson it clearly was on being faithful to your wife and not committing adultery, he chose to interpret it as a trial of the Warrior. Can any of you claim that his failure to win a clear victory in the ensuing duel was not the Warrior’s judgment passed from high above? The Bloodroyal’s wound quickly festered in the aftermath, what else could that be than the Mother holding back her mercy from one who had spurned her? And what of the Stranger? The Bloodroyal could have accepted his embrace and been delivered on. Perhaps he might even have found some dignity in the Warrior’s final judgment, had he accepted the truth of his sin and repented before moving on. Instead, he and his kin cried far and wide for any help, no matter how blasphemous. And what did they get? Poison passed as cures. Godless sorcery that sapped all the vigor the proud Bloodroyal might otherwise have enjoyed until the twilight years of his life. Even now he is dependent on the dark arts and droughts of mummers and mages, as he will doubtless be for the rest of his life. I ask you, is that half-life not the Stranger’s own judgment?

    “Perhaps you are tempted, like so many nowadays, to question the power of the Seven if they allow evil like this to exist and flourish. To this I say that it is an even greater statement of their power that the Seven Who Are One can turn even evil as base as this to the service of good. I see it every day. Indeed, I see it in this very story I just shared with you: the continued good health of the young Prince Martell despite receiving a wound in turn, is that not testament to the Maiden’s favour? I dare say the young Prince may just be that 1 out of 100 people that don’t care they are a sinner, but who may nonetheless be saved through the act of soul-wining. After all, is the call to soul-winning not obvious in the Grace he received from the Seven Themselves?

    “This brings me to my second point, that many find their faith challenged in the wake of the Oldtown Calumny. This second point is that there is a punishment for our sins. If you were to ask me how I would have conveyed this point in the past, I would say go to Bronze Kings 6:23, where the Seven Pointed Star reads, ‘For the wages of sin is death’. This is a point that I always have had to spend a fair bit of time on just because a lot of people don't believe in the Seven Hells, don't understand the Seven hells, or they just don't realize that we deserve to go to the Seven Hells. Yes, all of us. A lot of people don't realize this. They think that the Hells are a place where only the truly foul among us go, like the Vulture Kings, the savages among the Hill Clans of this very kingdom, or perhaps the Wyl of Wyl of the First Dornish war, which I’m sure needs no elaboration. If you were to ask the average person 'what would you have to do to go to the Seven Hells?' Many of them would think they would have to do something major, become a murderer or kinslayer or something equally heinous. You'd have to truly commit some serious sins to go to even the softest of hells.

    “What I need to get across to people with this second point is that the wages of sin is death, no exception. And no matter what sins we've committed, we are not worthy of even glimpsing the Seven Heavens, let alone entering them. We cannot enter any heaven on our own good either, because we've all sinned and we all come short of the Glory of the Seven Who Are One. Here are some verses I like to use to show that. Go to Unveiling 21. I like to flip over to Bronze Kings 6:23 because it is so close to Bronze Kings 3:23 so if you are already showing them we've all sinned, it is really easy to flip the page to say there is a penalty for sin, that there is a punishment involved: the Seven Pointed Star says ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ But after we die physically, that is not the end. The Seven Pointed Star talks about a second death. So you can show them Unveiling 20:14,15: ‘And all who have sinned will be cast from the Father’s sight. This will the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the Mother’s Book of Delivery will be cast into the lake of fire.’

    “Then I ask the person what we commonly refer to that place as, the lake of fire? Of course, 99 out of 100 people say that's the Seven Hells. Here is what the Seven Pointed Star says about those that are bound for the hells: look at Unveiling 21:8, ‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. And all kinslayers also, who will suffer seven-fold the punishment of all others, thus the Father rules.’ So, you may not be a sorcerer or a murderer or a whoremonger, but have you ever told a lie? 99 out of 100 people will admit they've lied. I know I've lied, have you ever told a lie? Of course we've all lied. I always say this, we have done other worse things in life too. We have probably done some of the things on that list, but either way we know we have all lied, we have done all kinds of sins in our lives and because of our sins the Seven Pointed Star says where are all liars going? To the Seven Hells. The Gods did not jest when They said that. We do deserve the hells.

    “But the Father, Warrior and Smith love all worthy men, and the Maiden loves all unsullied women, and the Mother has mercy enough for us all regardless of who we are. So if the Seven Who Are One love us, do they want us to go to the Hells? No.

    “And so that’s the point I am trying to make when I preach the Scripture: first of all, we've all sinned. Secondly, the punishment for our sins is that we deserve the hells. But thirdly, the Seven love us. They don't want us to go the hells. It is what we deserve, but that's why they Revealed themselves to us – that we should know to whom we may plea that we might still be saved. And obviously, the last thing I would have to get across to people is that in order to be saved, they have to believe in the Seven as their Saviours. That's how it gets applied unto them. And this is the last and biggest point: faithful or not, whether they hold to the true Gods or they worship trees or idols or whatever else, the average man and woman think they can work for their salvation. And then on the tail-end of that, I always teach people that you cannot lose your salvation, and the reason why is simply that the average unsaved folk thinks that you earn your spot in the heavens by being good and you go to the Hells by being bad. They're right, you do go to the hells by being bad. The problem is, there's none good but one, and that's the Seven Who Are One. Which means that without them, hell is where we’d all be going.

    “And this is what I want you all to take from me today: we go to the heavens not by being good, but by Grace. By Grace through faith. It's by faith, Grace, it's not deeds, it's nothing you can earn in the end. Salvation, in the end, is a free gift from the Seven. Why would the Seven have had to reveal themselves to Hugor on that Hill if we could get to the heavens just by being good?

    “So, point one: we've all sinned. Point two: we deserve hell because of our sins. Point three: The Seven love us, they don’t want us to go to the hells. So here's what they did: ‘But the Mother commendeth her love toward us," Bronze Kings 5:8, ‘in that, while we were yet sinners, the Seven took charge of us and showed us how to win our place in this world and the next one.’

    “At this point you might be wondering where I am going with this since I’m still talking after saying I’d made my final point. It is because of the ultimate question that I wish to clarify, the question that we want asked by the one from whose soul we’re trying to win the Grace of the Seven Who Are One. And that question is: what must I do to be saved? And the Seven pointed Star has the answer. I like to take them to Acts 16:30, 31, where the Book asks the question straight out. We're trying to make Scripture simple, and what could be simpler than Acts 16:31? ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Thank the Seven that man asked that question. And thus the answer: ‘And they said, hold to the Seven Who Are One, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’

    “I am joyful to say that we, all of us today, are blessed with a momentous opportunity: the opportunity to help bring salvation for one such soul and his house. Earlier I spoke about how the power of the Seven Who Are One is expressed not in the banishment of evil, but through the turning of evil in the service of good, as we recently saw with the bloody retribution exacted on that grand and ancient institution that had grown so proud. But evil does not mean just the evil of men, but also what would pass as mere chance in the eyes of laymen: accidents, killer snows, pestilence, losing one’s unborn infant. So please join me today, as we pray for the salvation of the newest and youngest among us, that in winning his soul’s place in Heaven we might call down the Seven’s Grace on his far-off kin so recently struck by tragedy and loss.”

    This time it was the silence that snapped Robert out of his doze. As he blinked hard to push sleep away for who knew which time, he found everyone staring at them. No, not at them. At N-

    “Lord Eddard,” Septon Urizen called, one arm held out entreatingly. “Come and join us in prayer for your mother’s recovery.”

    Robert looked at Ned and felt… he didn’t know what was going on but that look wasn’t-

    Ned stood up, turned around and walked out of the sept.

    “-. .-“​

    Robert caught up to him in the main yard. “Ned, wait!”

    Ned stopped.

    But he didn’t turn around or say anything. Not even to ask Robert what he was thinking walking out on everyone too. Which was good because Robert wasn’t too sure himself, he just knew the Septon had upset Ned somehow. Upset him a lot if Ned wasn’t taking such a perfect opportunity to rag on Robert for being a moron and snubbing the Faith and everyone attending the service when he didn’t have the excuse of being a northern savage. That’s what he gets for not paying attention, he’ll never doze away in a Sept again!

    They were still standing there awkwardly when Jon caught up with them. Fortunately, he didn’t seem too upset. Not so fortunately, the Septon was with him. Robert glared at the priest, even if he wasn’t sure why he deserved it. The Septon ignored him though, which made him definitely deserve it. Robert glared harder.

    The three of them stood there watching Ned’s back until the rest of everyone began trickling out of the Sept as well.

    When the steadily-less-and-less quiet finally broke, it was Jon that did it. “Ned.”

    “Jon.” Ned’s voice was cool and hard as winter ice as he turned. He refused to look either man in the face. “Is Septon Urizen going to join the rest of us when we move to the Eyrie?”

    The Septon spoke before Jon could answer. “Lord Eddard, surely this-“

    “MY MOTHER IS NOT SOME WHORE FOR YOU TO PEDDLE TO EVERYONE PASSING UNDER YOUR ROOF!” Ned roared.

    Robert recoiled.

    “Neither am I,” Ned growled while damn well glaring Robes in the eye now. “No matter what your ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Mansions of the Pious would have said about it before my father went down there and turned evil to the service of good.”

    Who? When? What? What was he talking about!?

    Now the Septon was angry. “I won’t stand here and-“

    “Jon!” Ned interrupted, turning his face away in dismissal. “Is Septon Urizen going to join the rest of us in the Eyrie?”

    Jon looked at Ned. “Yes.”

    “Then I demand the right of bread and salt.”

    What!? Why? What the hells had Robert missed in there!?

    Jon’s eyes widened, then softened. “Oh Ned, you don’t need to go so far. You’re not a mere guest.”

    “There is nothing mere about guests. Either I take your bread and salt or he does.”

    “This is outrageous!” Robes burst. “Never in all my years -“

    “Septon,” Jon said flatly. “Silence yourself.”

    Septon Urizen shut up with a look of naked shock. Belatedly, Robert noticed the growing crowd of worthies and realized that Ned had been using his best attempt at command voice to have his words heard as far as possible.

    “Ned,” Jon said softly. “Explain.”

    “Justice and vengeance, Jon,” Ned snarled. “Either guest right or a challenge to the death.” WHAT!? “Then when his champion kills me because the Warrior says murder forgives all sin as long as it’s done out in the open, you’ll have to explain to my father how his poor son got himself killed under your roof.”

    Right then and there, Robert vowed he was going to stab himself before he dozed off in a Sept again.

    “My Lord!” Robes hissed. “You cannot truly be entertaining this… this-“

    “Alright.”

    Robert had no idea who between Ned and Robes was more surprised.

    “My lord-“

    “Ned,” this time it was Jon who ignored the Septon. “You’re my foster son, not any mere guest. I hope the day comes when you can believe that enough not to feel like you need to blackmail me. Septon Urizen will take the bread and salt.”

    Robert was stunned. He didn’t think Jon would actually do it. But he did.

    And when they travelled to the Eyrie a week later, after the festival ended and everyone left for their own homes, Jon even followed through! Damn that man! He didn’t want to like Jon, he was supposed to be the worst!

    Well fiddlesticks.

    Robert gave himself a few days to explore and roam and gawk alongside Ned from the tallest towers of the seat of House Arryn. Eventually, though, he freed enough of his wits to pester Denys until the man washed his hands of him and agreed to lend him his biggest, brawniest men-at-arms for a day.

    Then he tied himself with rope and made them drag and drop him up and down the cliff sides of the Giant’s Lance until he found the only proper gift that would express to Jon his appreciation for his honor and bravery. Robert would have asked Shaggy, but Jon hadn’t let him come live in the Eyrie with them because of limited living space, don’t you know. As if!

    Jon damn near wept when Robert gave him the baby falcon. Then the man said the only thing he appreciated more was the chance to raise and train it together. To his own surprise, Robert believed him.

    Jon’s reaction on finding out just how Robert had procured the passager was even better though. Being too big to be given the switch was the best! Well, not so much for his nose, what with how long he was on manure duty afterwards, but great in every other way! It all even made it into Ned’s mysterious notebook of mystery! After so long fighting that war, Robert finally got his well-earned victory!

    Then the first week up in the Eyrie finally ended, so Robert Baratheon set about gathering intelligence on the two sides of the other war being waged around him that needed the right side to gain victory.

    “-. .-“
    Robert,
    I’m proud of you.
    Love,
    Dad.
    ,,- -,,

     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
  28. PROTOTYPElu2

    PROTOTYPElu2 Earth-shatteringly, Unreasonably, Fuck-ass Horny

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    I love this with all my heart. I want more, I need more.
     
  29. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    Well, there are two (or maybe more) parts left to Robert's POV, so fingers crossed.
     
  30. Mr. Cloak

    Mr. Cloak Possibly Outerwear, advocate for Blank rights.

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    That reaction after the sermon made me grin.
    Like the grinch.
    Never was a fan of ANY sort of religeon.
     
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