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Campaign Chronicle: Loyal But Untamed

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  • #76
    Dragon’s Hoard IV – Across the Narrow Sea


    WARNING! This chronic includes spoilers and inportant information from the Dragon's Hoard-adventure (although we changed the plot in many aspects).


    Of course the war took little rest while house Blyth of Dragonport had to deal both with its own projects and with the wider situation. And while the King of the North and the Riverlands did have had a lucky strike for some time, more and more bad news was coming in recently. Moat Cailin – a group of half-wrecked towers in the Neck, which could cut the King’s Road into the North off – was just recently taken by a group of attackers. It was so far unknown if that were Ironmen or deserters. This was a heavy blow for any travel and a serious setback for the Northern King, but much less for Dragonport. In fact as long as the road through the Neck was “closed” the sea-trade was very likely destined to become more and more important. Gard kept his ships for eventual actions against pirates – and he also began to gathering information for a possible operation into the Neck to reconquering Moat Cailin. By no means was he eager to take part in such a risky operation, even less after the serious losses his forces had suffered shortly before, but if Robb Stark or the Tully’s ordered such an attack, he was sure that the local houses would be forced to take part, and wanted to be prepared.

    Meanwhile the western coast of the North (and also some shores of the western Riverlands) were raided in force – it seems more and more clear that this was an organized assault, not just a few pirates. Also the main army of the Lannisters under the old lion Tywin was on the march again, and while Roose Bolton slowly advanced southwards and finally took Harrenhal, Tywin seemed to intend to march westward to rescue his own realm from Robb Stark who had attacked the Westlands. According to the letters arriving at Dragonport, Lord Gawan Blyth of Krayenhorn – who was in Robb’s army – found the strategy of the ‘Young Wolf’ a little bit too daring, while his co-commander Vickon Aran was much more enthusiastic.
    Lord Tywins decision was a bold move: While he surely could crush Robb in battle, he risked to be caught between Robb and Bolton (although more and more men in the Riverlands secretly joked about Bolton’s “quick” manoeuvres in the last months). Furthermore, Stannis Baratheon was closing in on King’s Landing by land and very likely also on sea. There were some reports about riots in the capital, although the details remained unclear. The situation for the Lannisters seems even worse than for the North and the ravaged Riverlands.

    But there were also good news on the local level: Meera Blyth of Dragonport was pregnant again, and the same was heard about her recently wed niece Elyssa Fallkirk. Gard was of course very happy about this news, although he secretly feared for his wife, young daughter and the unborn child since “Winter is coming”, and that was never a good time for the young and recovering. The young “camp wife” of Vickon Aran, which had arrived at Dragonport short time ago was near to giving birth, but that was a noble offspring neither Gard nor his witch-healer Elen were really happy about. Gard secretly despised Vickons behaviour, and Elen openly had some hard words about all the noblemen who could not wait to impregnate a girl anyway if she was already old enough to give birth safely. On the other hand Gard wanted to take care for the pregnant girl since that would put Vickon in debt towards him.

    In contrast to other regions of the mountain frontier, the local clans stayed more or less calm. Both Mist Brothers and Shadowcats honoured the peace-agreement for the moment, although there was no word about Rhaegar Velaryons fate (his presence in the ranks of the Shadowcats was a vital part of the agreement with this clan). There were some skirmishes between Seals People and Smoke Eagles, but nothing of that seriously harmed the local lords for now.
    The militarization of the Bite continued, since Lord Manderly’s fleet grew in strength, and the number of attacks from pirates in the Bite decreased a little bit.
    Aly almost got into hot water when her brother asked her about ,Lo Tho’. While Gard was no one who cared much about gossip, he had noticed that some people claimed the ,wizard’ was closer to his sister than it was appropriate. Aly learned that it was much harder to trick someone she really liked and care about, and could only hold her ground by revealing that Lo Tho was in truth a young woman named Yang Sa. Since Gard did have no idea that this did NOT rule out a secret liaison between the stranger and his sister, he was calmed for the moment. But secretly Aly realized that her freedom was becoming more and more fragile. She would not be able to avoid a marriage forever – or would have to face the consequences. Maybe it was time to grow up and remember the bitter truth that even as a noble she was not free to live as she wanted. She did not want not to hurt Yang Sa too much, but realized that she might have no choice but ending her liaison. And since she would have to taste this bitter fruit, she secretly also decided to push Torgon more and more to marry him with someone her house would have a benefit from. After all, he was too valuable to let decide him that on his own (he was a good fighter and owed Aly a lot, and she wanted him as a useful tool in a good position).

    Nobody could have anticipated what struck of doom hit next: The Iron Isles had hoisted the banner of rebellion once again under the self-proclaimed King Balon Greyjoy. That of course crushed any coordinated operation against the Lannister-controlled shores and put the western parts of Robb’s realm in great danger. A daring group of Ironmen also had travelled hundreds of leagues and captured the ancient castle of the Starks: Winterfell was in hostile hand for the first time in centuries. Even worse, only shortly after the new spread, that the attackers had murdered the only heirs of Robb Stark who were not in Lannister-hand. Both his brothers had been slain. This was as bad as a lost battle and a great blow for the moral of the Northerners and to lesser degree also for the men of the Riverlands. Torgon even feared he as a Ironmen may got into some trouble (or other of his countrymen and women, since two other captains of the fleet of Dragonport were born on the Iron Isles), but so far there was no local riot against foreigners – mainly because this coasts were spared from the raids since they were on the “wrong” (or better right) side of the continent.
    And in the South, Stannis Baratheon had lost a decisive battle at the walls of King’s Landing – some claimed against his slain brother Renley, who had returned from the death. In any case the Lannisters had cemented their grip on the capital.

    Meanwhile the preparations for the journey to Braavos come to a close. Aly had of course asked both Falae (who was born there but had left several years ago) and ,Lo Tho’ about their knowledge of the City of the Titan. She did (from Jothos’ letters and diary) know a few potential contacts (if they were still around). There was a captain Yorro Lythanis, who had in the past worked as a messenger for the Targaryan loyalists at Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea. Perhaps even more promising was Septon Jeremy, who did run a Sept and an orphanage at Braavos, and was mentioned in the deciphered letters several times. Aly had not time to contact Rhaegar Velaryon to maybe get his help for the expedition (since he was deep in the mountains and the contact was fragile at best), but she faked two letters for Lythanis and Septon Jeremy by using the codes of the late Jothos Velaryon, so that the readers would believe that he have sent the people who bring this letters.
    Aly spread also misinformation about the target of the Krajer she would set sail on. Even the crew was not informed where they would travel (beside Torgon as captain of course), and she also fabricated a story to justify her absence at least for some weeks.

    It took the ship two days on rough sea to arrive and pass the Sisters, and Aly was keeping a low profile. She had so far little success to gather information about possible dangers of the journey (beside some rumours about pirates).
    On the day they left the Sisters, the ship sailed first towards North (as if it wanted to reach White Harbour or Widow’s Watch) but out of sight of the land and other ships the direction changed towards East. Torgon had decided to avoid the treacherous coasts of the Fingers and sailed over the open sea. And this time his improved navigation skills (and the better navigation tools he had got) paid off. While Falae was not happy with the “lifestyle” on board, both Lo Tho and Aly adapted well. Torgon was of course in his element, and he seemed to have a good hand both for the ship and the men. There were little other ships seen but luckily this also meant no pirates attack.
    On the fourth day of the high-sea-journey a two-masted galley was sighted, and as it closed in it become obvious it was a ship of the fleet of Braavos. Aly was able to fool the boarding officer (a merc called Hakon, maybe from the Iron Isles) about the purpose of the journey. It helped that the ship had actually cargo destined for Braavos – mainly wood and some local wine. Later it became obvious that wood was much better to sell than the mediocre wines from the northern Riverlands. So it was no problem to convince the custom-officers too when the ship arrived the lagoon of Braavos. Although Aly’s ship had to stay at Ragman’s Harbour (which was the landing point for foreigners and not the best area), the City was an impressive thing to look at – starting with the Titan himself, but also the Arsenal, the Purple Harbour in the distance, all the canals etc.
    It was sad that Aly had not much time to enjoy herself in this wonderful city who maybe not in size and importance but surely in wonders and beauties could rival King’s Landing. However the situation was not the best for a vacation – and there were maybe even reasons for concern and hurry, since Aly learned from a local officer she bribed, that a Westerosi warship had arrived shortly before. Its name was “Right Hand” or “Left Hand” or something like that. She secretly feared that it may be a Stannis- or even a Velaryon-ship which may be a potential enemy or rival in the hunt after the treasure. These thoughts were perhaps a little bit paranoia, but in the last months, she had learned that the enemies of her house were only a step behind. And no one in the Seven Kingdoms would send a warship away easily in these times.

    Aly organized rooms at a better inn for herself, Falae, Lo Tho and Torgon while spending some money for the common men as reward for the successful journey. Torgon secured that the men would not forget that they should keep tight lips and stay alert for potential trouble, and also organized the guard-duty for the ship. At first Aly tried to learn more about the situation. She soon enough learned that the “Right Hand” (a high-boarded ship which could use both oars and sails and was well armed and crewed) was indeed a warship of the Velaryons, under command of a captain Cooper (a name Falae mentioned in the past as an important henchman of this house), who already openly had asked about Kael Stormsword at the harbour administration. Obviously the Lord of Driftmark had at least found some traces which led them to Braavos. They may have not realized that house Blyth was close behind them, but in any case their presence was troublesome. If they would learn about the arrival of the Dragonport ship, they would surely step up their efforts to find a clue, or harm the activities of house Blyth. Even if they were not successful in such attempts, a bloody fight between Westerosi people at Braavos would probably result in a hard-handed reaction by the local authorities who not wanted the War of the Five Kings to reach their streets.

    With the help of Falae Aly organized some kind of surveillance (although not too close) of the (heavily guarded) “Right Hand” by hired eyes and ears and the movements of their crew, especially Cooper, an ugly and scarred guy. Coopers description very well fitted that guy who had organized the pirate-raid against Dragonport some months ago. She also organized to sell the cargo of her ship (both as a cover-up and because she did know that money was always useful) The local merchants were very hard to bargain with, but she was able to gather a small cargo of local goods, for example some of the local dark purple dye and some nacre. Aly also bought some souvenirs for her relatives at home later on (although she wanted not to spend too much money since she was not sure how many of “her” gold she would need further on).
    She even had time to handle some of her personal problems, carefully preparing Yang Sa/Lo Tho that their relationship may not last forever. That darkened of course the mood of the woman from Yi Ti (although Aly do her best to lighten her mood up).

    The first trace Aly wanted to follow was captain Lythanis, but she learned at the administration of Ragman’s Harbour that he was not in town, since he had left for Westeros some month ago. His return was uncertain since he was much over his schedule. She also had sent Falae and Torgon to the Sept on the Isle of the Gods shortly after arrival. Both made short contact with Septon Jeremy and gave him the forged letter, promising they would return with the person in charge the next day.
    Aly was able to trick the old Septon into believing she was a Targaryan loyalist working with Jothos Velaryon. She also learned that Leof Cooper already had visited (and frightened) the Septon. By threads, he had got information about possible candidates in Braavos who could be Kael Stormsword (the captain of the treasure-ships, after which Jothos Velaryon had searched for years) in disguise. Jeremy did not know anything about the Dragon’s Hoard (Jothos never seem to have told him why he searched after Kael) and Aly of course also did not specify why SHE was after Kael and why she saw Cooper as enemy. But she was able to convince Jeremy in helping her a little bit – to come in contact with other exiled loyalists (what would take some time), and he also told her everything he had already spit out to Cooper. She did her best to paint Cooper in the darkest way possible – after all she had reasons for that. Several of the men of her brother had died during the recent attack on Dragonport, and she also suspected Cooper maybe being involved in a small-scale attack some time before that which had endangered her personally.
    As she learned now there were at least three possible “Stormswords”, although none of them lived under that nom de guerre in Braavos.
    • There was Jace Westfyre, a merc-commander who had come to Braavos shortly after Robert’s Rebellion with some money. After a successful career as commander of a small sellsword company, he had retired to become a negotiator for merc-contracts. He had died some time ago. Jace had left not heir but a former mistress, although Jeremy had not figured out how to find her. He promised to have an eye open for further clues.
    • There was a man called Aegon, a fat guy who owned a brothel and two pleasure boats and had arrived maybe 16 years ago (a year or so after the Rebellion). He had started with some money, so maybe he was Kael in disguise (as Littlefinger he might had realized that whores were a safer investment than ships).
    • And finally there was Danyl Whitehelm who had come to Braavos right after Roberts Rebellion. He had married a former high-ranking courtesan (called the Silken Nightingale - a title, as Aly learned later, which was passed on from one woman to another) and lived as a successful merchant-captain until he left maybe three or two years ago. He never had close contacts to the community of the exiled.

    Aly had no good description of Kael, and of course that may also have changed over the years, so she had to look into all this possible candidates.
    The next few days Aly and her entourage carefully checked one potential source after the other. They learned soon enough that Cooper had put the house in which the former wife of Whitehelm lived under surveillance (although his two seadogs were not very able spies). The house in a better area of Braavos had a high wall and at least some watchdog inside. Aly did not want not to march to the front door with just a poor justification to get in. So for now she asked Falae to learn more about the former Silken Nightingale in the neighbourhood.
    Aly also visited the brothel of Aegon (claiming to be a merchant-woman who wanted to hire one of his pleasure-boats to impress a trading-partner). For now she was not able to come in direct contact with Aegon, but bribed someone of his staff who could arrange that (although it may take some time). She also learned more about the present Silken Nightingale who worked on a pleasure boat which floated on one of the main channels, the Street of Heroes. Since she hoped that this woman might help her to come in contact with Whitehelms wife under good terms, a visit there was among the next steps she planned.
    The party than got information from Septon Jeremy who was bribed with some gold for himself and some bodyguards (if Cooper would return), that Aly and another person would be allowed to meet some important members of the community of the exiled two days later. Jeremy also told her, he had found a former officer of Jace Westfyre, a Ser Vellaine.
    Aly met the bankrupt merc who was an easy target to bribe and fool. In the end however the money was only good to rule out that Jace Westfyre may have been Kael Stormsword. He was just another exiled leftover from Robert’s Rebellion, originally called Petyr, and not even a noble. Sadly the merc also had already spoken to Cooper who had found him. So he surely was also narrowing down to the real Stormsword – whoever that may be. At least Aly was able to secure for now that Vellaine did not sell her out towards Cooper by hinting she may hire him in the future.

    The boat of the Silken Nightingale the party visited the next evening was quite impressive: a flat, long and lean ship with a pavilion on his rear, paper-lanterns, musicians etc. Everything seemed much more cultivated (both the guests and the “workers”) than many people would think.
    Aly left her guards behind (she had started to use bodyguards as she learned that Cooper was fishing in the same pond like she) and was able to get a meeting with the Nightingale. The young courtesan – her real name was Serah – was of course not a simply to bribe street-whore but a skilled and influential woman. However Aly was able to convince her, that it was in the interest of the former Nightingale (for which Serah seem to care – and may also be related with, since they seem to have some similar features) to arrange a meeting with her. After all Cooper had already started to spy on the house of Whitehelm’s wife Orolantia and Aly could claim convincingly that he might try something violent. She learned that Orolantia and her husband had not departed on good terms. Orolantia blamed her husband for the death of his step-son, it was said.

    Of course the negotiations with the Former Silken nightingale which followed were not that easy. The house of Orolantia was still under surveillance (Aly had to change her Inn to secure that Cooper did not learn where she stayed, and she was not THAT successful to mask her movements around the house) – and the former courtesan was not easy to convince or fool. In the end Aly had to tell the truth, since Orolantia had heard about the treasure from her husband already and was smart enough to figure out why people where still searching after Kael. But she was not after the money herself and had no love left for her husband – and to some degree was thankful that Aly warned her about Cooper. That Aly suggested the henchman of house Velaryon may be desperate and stupid enough to send his men to break into the house of Orolantia and even torture her to get information was not just a lie she told to get what she wanted – Aly was thinking that may be really possible. She even supported Orolantia with some gold dragons to bribe local officials to have a closer eye on the area and maybe arresting the spies (as potential burglars) or even Cooper himself (under the false accusation of smuggling). Getting Cooper out of the way was as important for her as for Orolantia since she wanted not a close race towards the treasure. If she could remove Cooper from the board early on, that would be an important victory – and some sweet revenge too.

    Orolantia revealed that Kael “Stormsword” was a born Lyberr, a minor house from the Reach (and not from the main line of the house). He had grown up in Oldtown, was squire to a Ser Grim of Greyshield (a professional tourney-knight), and knighted himself with 17. He got the name Stormsword from his wins in tourneys (or at least claimed this) and served more than 10 years as naval officer for Jothos Velaryon. During Robert’s Rebellion he served mainly on patrol-duty.
    His last and most important mission – the transport of the Dragon Hoard - started under a bad star. Near Gulltown, they had to fight off some rebels ships, and when they finally arrived in the Bite after a hard journey, they learned that Aerys was already dead and King’s Landing had fallen. Some wanted to use the treasure to buy themselves an amnesty and a good life, others wanted to follow their mission, since the bad news surely “were lies” and some opted for the exile (to close up with the queen at Dragonstone was out of question since they would have hardly made it back). In the end the arguments turned violent and there was a bloody infighting, but a storm separated the ships – Kael’s ship (the warship), which had only a part of the treasure on board (mainly some of the silver and gold coins), was in a bad shape, and the main treasure ship was never seen by them again. The captain left some wounded behind and sailed with two dozen men who were loyal to him to Braavos where they split the treasure and departed (or so he told his wife later). Aly thought it was also possible that he and some of his men murdered several of her fellow crewmembers to get a greater part of the treasure. The cynical young noble found it hard to believe that with two dozen witnesses in Braavos alone, the story was not already known in all ports of the Narrow and Shivering Sea and maybe even beyond.
    Kael changed his name, married Orolantia and for some years was a successful merchant captain with a new ship (his old was too much damaged). They had two sons together (while Orolantia had also a son from another man before her marriage). But Kael never forgot his betrayal and the treasure – and two years ago, he sailed to the Bite to search after the treasure-ship. This journey also met disaster when his vessel ran aground and was attacked by clansmen (so the incident must have happened on the southern shore of the Bite). His stepson was killed and Kael made it back only narrowly. Kael started to drink, the couple did broke up over tragedy, and finally Kael left Braavos – but he took his two sons with him, Invicio and Tristifero. Of course that enraged Orolantia only further. She did know that he travelled to Tyrosh – maybe because he had a mistress there, but that was probably just an angry accusation.
    For this information Aly agreed to bring back Orolantia's sons if possible – if they suffered a dark fate, she promised to let the same happen to Kael (Orolantia did NOT ask for any favour for her former husband). She also got some descriptions of the boys (now 14 and 16 years old) and some letters to prove that she indeed had a mission from the mother of the two boys. They also got information about the ship of Kael, a middle sized lean freighter called Rhaenys (with two masts and valyrian sails, a dozen oars, a minimal crew of 12-20, but place for 60-80 men).

    After that Aly had of course no reason to follow the trace towards Aegon any longer and began to preparing the journey towards Tyrosh. She and Torgon bought food and water, some good maps – and especially Torgon had to keep an eye on his men. Some of them were nervous about a longer journey, although they so far did not know where they were going to. However he was able to calm the fears and keep moral high.
    Aly and her comrades were also thinking about the question how they could harm Cooper who soon would figure out which traces were blind and which not. The “legal” way seem to need time (bribing the locals and using Orolantia’s contacts to scare Cooper away from an attack on Kael’s former wife and maybe even getting him arrested). Secretly Aly ordered Torgon and a handful of his men to stay in an inn near Orolantia’s house during nights– they even bribed some beggars and street kids to alarm them if someone tried to break into the house. Aly became even more nervous after she heard that Cooper had already visited the Aegons brothel. Surely he now did know that two of the potential “Stormswords” were dead ends.

    The meeting with the “masked council” – five members of the Westerosi exiles, all Targaryan loyalists and Septon Jeremy very likely among them – which took place under clandestine circumstances, brought little results. That was in part because the loyalists had not much power, and what they had they wanted to use to prepare the return of the “true queen”. Rumours about Daenerys Stormborn and her “dragons” were already spreading. It was said she had gathered an army at Astapor while creating a lot of mayhem. Of course freeing slaves did go down well in Braavos.
    Both Aly and Lo Tho were sceptical that the stories about the dragons were real, but on the other hand they had heard stories about real magical creatures from people they trusted… And even if the dragons were not real – the stories may be dangerous enough. On the other hand Astapor was half the world away…
    Their captain was more troubled. Torgons late mother was originally born in Meereen, but was taken as saltwife by his father. He never had visited the city of the Harpy, but in his imaginations it was somehow his home and he dreamed about someday making contact with his relatives after he had broken up with his father and brothers so badly. On the other hand the young Targaryan surely had other things to do than to wage war against people who were not really her enemies…
    Of course Aly could have secured help from the loyalists by telling the about the Dragon’s Hoard, but she did not wanted rivals (and also saw the loyalists as not trustworthy). So all she got were some information about potential contacts with the merchant-“house” Mopatis (located at Pentos but with trusties in nearly every harbour south of Braavos), but was not sure if she should use that info since even the exiled seem not to trust their allies.

    Aly also tried to start an intrigue against the merc she had met shortly before when she still thought that Westfyre may be Kael Stormsword. She planned to pretend to hire him as captain for a small force of mercs as additional security for a journey to Lorath, than faking a break up and incite him to “betray her” by selling the cover story to Cooper, leading him in the wrong direction. But maybe she was not always the good liar she hoped to be, and Ser Vellaine seems to notice that she had a secret agenda.

    While they prepared for their departure, Torgon nightly guard-duties paid off. On the second night of his watch, a fire-alarm was started a few streets away from his Inn. As a “born and raised raider,” the Ironman of course thought this may be a distraction for an attack against Orolantia’s house (if not against his men, if Cooper had discovered them). He quickly gathered his troops (Falae was with them) and marched swiftly but as silent as possible to the home of the former Silken Nightingale. And indeed – more than a dozen armed men (even with some sort of battering ram) were closing in on Orolantia’s house. Torgon waited until the assault has started, so that the men were directed towards the house, than he yelled alarm and lead his men to attack. Maybe it was wrong to give away the advantage of surprise, but he wanted to make sure that the guards inside Orolantia’s house were ready to join the fight. Falae departed to bring in the city-guards.

    While Cooper organized his men in time and had more fighters, it soon became obvious that Torgon had the better men. His fighters were nearly all members of the personal guard of house Blyth, handpicked and well equipped. Their enemies were more sailors and mercs, and only lightly armed. In short time they had to retreat with leaving some killed comrades behind. Torgon had forced their leader – Cooper himself – to flee too. But the leader of the raiders did not come far, since Torgon was already behind him. In a short exchange of blows Cooper was defeated – and slain. Since the city-watch was quick to arrive, Torgon’s only booty was a small medallion with a picture of a beautiful young woman. Maybe it was Cooper’s daughter or younger sister. Actually Torgon later regretted the death of his enemy to some extent. A little bit because as a half-orphan himself he had some soft spot for people who lost one or both parents. And of course the Velaryon-captain may also have been a valuable information source and hostage if captured alive. On the other hand it was far too unclear if it would have been possible to actually get him. The Braavosi guards were closing in swiftly and maybe did not hand over him easily. And maybe he would have been able to talk/ bribe himself out of prison – or he would betray his masters and buy his freedom by telling some greedy Braavosi about the Dragon’s Hoard. So maybe his death was the best option…

    Aly was satisfied with the outcome (and gave some silver stags to the soldiers and promises of greater rewards toward their commander), since she had not forget that Cooper was to blame for some losses of life and goods at her hometown. And the best enemies/rivals were dead one since they could hardly close up again.
    The only sad part was that Coopers ship had left the harbour at once – surely fleeing right when the surviving men had arrived. As long as she did not know if there was a trusted second in command, there was a risk that the ship may try to attack or at least shadow the Krajer after the ship left Braavos. Whoever was in charge of course did not know what Orolantia had to say and hardly would have any chance soon to gather this information because this ship hardly could sail into Braavos again anytime soon. But he may have heard about his rivals and choose a more direct approach. However this was a potential problem for another day…

    Aly wrote a (some kind coded) letter to Gard, informing him that she was not coming home soon, but making no statement to which harbour she was traveling (indeed even claiming she would stay in the northern seas, which was a lie). She also mentioned in cryptic words the mishap of Kael two years ago, hoping Gard may find ways to learn more about that.
    Altogether the journey so far had lasted maybe two and a half weeks, around ten days of that time spend in Braavos.
    With a promising (but vague) trace, Aly gave the order to set sail towards Tyrosh. She was a little bit nervous if her money would be enough. But on the other hand has learned a lot. Alyanna and Torgon discussed the possibility to leave Braavos together with a local ship in northern direction (as if they were sailing for North-Westeros, Ibb or Lorath) but later depart and change their direction towards South. In that way they might fool those who may see their departure about the destination…
    The hunt for the Dragon’s Hoard was continuing – right when the real dragons were spreading their wings again (or so it was said)…

    Comment


    • #77
      Inherited Problems III

      When Paedrig and the troops of house Marstens bannermen did arrive the area around Mountain’s Reach, they soon recognized increased patrol activities. Obviously the other rest of Paedrigs little army, which he had ordered to Mountain’s Reach via raven shortly before his departure, had arrived mostly intact.
      The march column entered castle Mountain’s Reach in (relatively) good order, however Paedrig horse almost panicked, when the young knight was enthusiastically ‘welcomed’ by his half-grown shadow-wolf ‘Shadow’.

      Shortly after the arrival, a war council was held: Lady Yve Tullison as the de facto ruling lady, Ser Hite (Master of Arms for house Tullison), Ser Elridge (Master of Arms for house Marsten), Ser Lyras (the son of one of the bannerlords of house Marsten), Ser Paedrig and Ward, his second in command.
      The now more than 300 men at Mountain’s Reach (almost half of these men under Paedrigs command) were a force to reckon with. However it had to be decided what to do with this army – and who should lead. The most obvious choices would be Elridge or Paedrig, because they had the most men under their command. Paedrig was tempted to go for the lead role, but then thought that (given his young age and bastard heritage) this might cause dangerous friction and resentment. Therefore he decided that it would be better if he acted as a second in command (and by supporting Elridge’s claim, also getting some leverage). This was certainly not so prestigious, but Paedrig was also a little bit tired that everyone seem to have his own agenda and he did not want to partake in these political gambling.

      Normally the clans were rather elusive enemies and incursions into the mountain with smaller detachments were seen as too dangerous. But know, with preparation for the nearing winter probably slowing down the mobility of the wildlings and several hundred professional soldiers at hand, an offensive against the known winter camps of the clans seem possible.
      The Rock Chewers would probably retreat to a cave-fortress, while the known winter hideout of the Black Goats was a hill fort – probably an easier target (plus the Black Goats did have a less fearsome reputation). But the Rock Chewers had killed the son of one of the bannerlords of house Marsten and therefore they should be the first target.
      While the Tullison garrison and the Dannett cavalry should stay behind, the Marsten troops (50 men infantry and 50 scouts) and ca. 150 men under Paedrigs commando (100 archers, 20 men unhorsed cavalry, scouts, some of the monks from septrie Shattered Rock and other volunteers) should execute the operation. 250 men were certainly enough…?

      While Ser Elridge wanted immediate action, Paedrig urged for careful preparation, including proper clothing and boots for the soldiers. To ensure mobility, the men should only take provisions for four days with them, although this don’t left room for any delays.
      Paedrig tried to find additional pathfinders who were familiar with the terrain and trained his men. He also organized a small contest to find the best archers and equipped them with tower shields, so that they could act as snipers. His unit even should take an improvised battering ram with them. His free time, the young knight did mostly spend with his half-grown shadow-wolf ‘Shadow’. For himself, Paedrig decided to travel light, leaving behind most of his armor, his shield and his horse.

      The weather seemed to be relatively stable according to the predictions of Maester Haelis and so almost 250 men departed into the mountains. While the scouts should protect the march-formation, the main column was built with 50 men under Paedrigs command (unhorsed cavalry, volunteers, warrior monks from Shattered Rock) at the top, than 100 Dannett-archers and finally 50 men infantry from house Marsten’s bannerhouses.
      ‘Shadow’ did stay behind. The young shadow-wolf was not happy about this, but while she was still only half trained, Paedrig considered it too dangerous to take her with him.

      The men marched through a landscape which was as breathtaking as it was threatening. The giant flanks of the Mountains of the Moon surrounded them and often their path was only a few yards (if not feet) wide, with cliffs and steep ravines left and right. From time to time some people were spotted in the distance, shadowing the marching column – probably scouting wildlings.
      In the evening a makeshift march camp was built. Paedrig did his best to keep the men on high alert, controlling the watching men several times. Aeryn (the commander of Paedrigs small scout detachment) came back with disturbing news. He had found traces of a big pack of dogs – or wolves? However it was unheard that wolves formed such large groups so fare in the South – especially outside winter times…
      Some of the men rumored about the vile, bloodthirsty and cunning Barrow-wolves, which inhabited a large strip of half-tamed wilderness in the Riverlands known for the old graves there. However the night went by without any incidents or attacks…

      The next day, the terrain became even more difficult, which increased the caution of the soldiers and officers. However, without obstacles or problems, the expedition reached their destination in the afternoon. The cave fortress was situated above a small valley with a pond. The fortification looked like a tough target, although very primitive. But the maybe ten feet high walls seemed abandoned, the meager fields empty. In fact only a single person was spotted – a sole man, waiting in front of the fortress.
      Paedrig took a shield and an interpreter with him, assuming that this was an offer to negotiate.
      His opponent claimed to be Kashal, son of Kashal, head of the Rock Chewers. The war chief was a middle aged man, with grey hair and beard, limping but with broad shoulders and thick muscles. He was armed with an ornamented Warhammer and had a ring armor, decorated with bones and horn.
      Kashal offered a trial by combat. If he was victorious, the expedition should march home. If he lost, the Rock Chewers would end their raids – or so he claimed…

      The other commanders of the expedition were skeptical concerning this offer. The Marsten men wanted ‘real’ revenge for their recently slain noble. But it was clear that the ‘fortress’ was abandoned. Beside killing Kashal and pillaging an already evacuated fortification, they had not many options. Ser Elridge stated that the offered peace was not enough. However if the Rock Chewers would also release captured ‘flatlanders’ and perhaps even handed over some of their children as hostages in the case of a lost duel, the ‘trial by combat’ would be more tempting…
      Paedrig argued in favor of the duel and eagerly volunteered to be the opponent of Kashal. He also added the idea, that house Tullison could offer some food for the winter in return, arguing that this might built a basis for better relations and could prevent further raids.
      The young knight was absolutely sure that he could beat Kashal in combat. After all, until now he had won almost every fight, with the rare exceptions mostly in jousting (Paedrig was much more able with the sword than with the lance).

      With the new offer, Paedrig returned to bargain with Kashal, who was not very fond of the idea to hand over the captured ‘flatlanders’ and even some of their own children as hostages. But in the end Paedrig could convince him to accept the conditions and both warriors prepared for the fight. Ser Elridge (who remained skeptical of the whole duel) warned Paedrig: if he win, it would be perhaps better to let Kashal alive – if he died, the new commander of the Rock Chewers would perhaps not be TOO inclined to honor the deal…

      It turned out, that Paedrig had been overconfident. In seconds, his left-hand-dagger was shattered, his armor battered and he got a nasty wound. However he did hold his ground and the fight went on, with both participants taking severe injuries and wounds. In the end, Paedrigs agility and sword mastery won over Kashals strength and fierceness and the clan-chief had to surrender – although Paedrig also felt to his knees, barely conscious and bleeding from almost half a dozen wounds and injuries. This certainly had been the hardest fight of his short life.
      From both sides, people rushed to the opponents to tend to their wounds (obviously Kashal had not been alone; some of his warriors had remained hidden in the abandoned fortress).

      The expedition stayed at the area for the night and the next day, because the Rock Chewers had to bring their hostages and the captured ‘flatlanders’. Although Paedrig was handicapped by his wounds, he had little rest. He still feared betrayal by the mountain clans and did know that soldiers tend to become sloppy, after the danger seemed to be over.
      But as promised, the Rock Chewers handed over all (?) kidnapped women and children and even a dozen of their own children as hostages. While the freed ‘flatlanders’ were grateful for their rescue, the hostages were much less happy. Paedrig tried to ensure that the hostages were well treated but also well-guarded. He viewed them as an opportunity to raise future allies and to ensure the goodwill of the clan in the long term – however he did know, that many soldiers and also officers might not share this view…
      Because of the delay and the additional mouth to feed, the expedition had to deal with a serious food shortage. The officers had to limit the rations, which soured the mood of the soldiers. When the troops departed homewards, Paedrig got on one of the few horses because of his still bad condition. His constant warnings and orders for discipline, alertness and strict march order were not very welcomed. However the march was uneventful and after two additional days, the troops did arrive at Mountain’s Reach without delays or problems.

      Ser Elridge’s report to Lady Yve Tullison was not very eloquent, perhaps because Elridge himself had hoped for a more glorious outcome. He and Ser Lyras wanted to go home to the Vale of Arryn. Ser Hite was also not very happy but he in contrast urged further actions, backed by Lady Yve and Lady Gwynneth. It was a little bit surprising (and funny), to see the two young ladies arguing in accordance, given the fact that they did not like each other…

      Paedrig was not in the condition to participate much in these discussions – at least not for the next few days. Like his damaged armor he needed time to ‘repair’. Ser Brom Barthelds condescending behavior and boosting how he would have beaten up Kashal did not sweeten his mood…
      In the end, the two young ladies and Hite were able to convince Ser Eldrige to stay. They (backed by Paedrig) argued that more decisive results would pay out in the long term, for the security of the Riverroad AND for the Marsten territories. It was decided that another incursion into the mountains should now target the winter quarters of the Black Goats. While Paedrig recovered and spend some time with his still growing shadow-wolf ‘Shadow’, he noticed with some concerns an atmosphere of carelessness around the soldiers and officers. Obviously the outcome of the first operation had gone to their heads…
      Paedrig warned to remain cautious, but his words fell on deaf ears.

      After a week of recovery and preparations, the men departed again into the mountains. The expedition had the same numbers and marching order as the last time. This time however, Ser Brom Bartheld accompanied the men, probably eager for easy fame. Paedrig was not so confident – this time he took his full armor with him. Shadow was not very happy to be left behind again…

      Despite Paedrigs concerns, the first day was uneventful, as was the night.
      During the second day, the supposed Black Goat winter camp was reached. The little huts were surrounded by a stonewall. At the moment there was no movement at the village. Paedrig suggested that the infantry should take the lead, with the archers behind them and the scouts protecting the rear and the flanks against an ambush or flanking maneuver. Ser Elridge agreed, and the men went into battle formation and marched forward (Paedrig considered them as too untrained for more elaborate formations like a tortoise).
      They reached the gates of the fortification without any hostile contact. In a few minutes, the improvised battered ram had done its work and the soldiers poured into the village – which turned out to be completely abandoned. Obviously, the Black Goats had evacuated their settlement in time, leaving behind nothing beside their primitive huts.

      Ser Elridge ordered the soldier to destroy everything, although there was not much worth destroying. The troops should stay at the captured village for the night, and the next day the march back should begin. Again, Paedrig was concerned by the lacking alertness of soldiers and officers who seem now to assume, that the mountain clans were too afraid to attack. Paedrig was not so sure, although the night turned out to be uneventful, which increased the confidence of the men.

      The column, which started their march back the next day, was much less battle ready than Paedrig would have liked. He did his best to keep his men in good order – which probably did not increase his popularity. However he was not the only one, who had a feeling of looming thread. Something just…seemed not right. For Paedrig (and some others) it was like the atmosphere just before a thunderstorm…

      And a thunderstorm was it, which suddenly hit the column with full force. In seconds, the sky darkened and cold rain poured down, while lightings and thunder struck, terrifying the men and the few pack-mules.
      The officers did their best, ordering the men to stay together and take cover. For a moment, Paedrig believed to have spotted a strange figure on a nearby mountain top, the hands in the air and seemingly commanding the clouds and lightings. And then an alarm cry came from the head of the column and Paedrig and his men saw a wave of armed men – and wolves?! – pouring down the mountain side.

      The attack was well coordinated, hitting the column in a state of disarray. The narrow path prevented the soldiers to use their superior numbers and the heavy rain handicapped the archers. Paedrigs unit was attacked before they could form a battle line, but their superior armor kept most of the men alive. Now the better training of the soldier kicked in and Paedrig was able to get his men into formation. Although Elridge infantry was still blocked by other men and could not participate in the fight, the archers started to lose the first volleys of arrows into the last lines of the attackers. Realizing that they had lost the element of the surprise, the clanners retreated as quickly as they had attacked, while Paedrigs men still fought with the wolves. However these beasts were no match for armed and armored soldiers. After only a few minutes, the fight was over – as was the storm, which died down as quick at it has started.
      The results of the fierce but short encounter were a number of wounded soldiers (but only few fatal casualties), half a dozen killed clanners and 10 dead wolves. Strangely the attackers seem to be neither Black Goats nor Rock Chewers…
      Although the fight was won, the soldiers had lost much of their confidence. Probably not many of them were able to sleep this night, although no attacker was spotted again.

      The next day, the expedition arrived at Mountains Reach without further encounters. After reporting the (partial) success to Lady Yve, Ser Elridge had finally enough of the whole thing, stating that he had done what was possible. His soldiers and officers had the same opinion. And Paedrig was also thinking that he had spent enough time and risked enough lives for house Tullison. Facing this ‘united front’, Lady Yve and Ser Hite could not do much besides praising the efforts and wishing Goodbye, although it seemed questionable if two short incursions were really enough to ensure peace for long…

      Ser Elridge, Ser Lyras and the soldiers of the bannerhouses of house Marsten were the first who departed. Lady Gwynneth Marsten however remained at Mountains Reach – her chances for marrying the absent Lord Tullison now had drastically increased.
      Paedrigs men stayed a few days longer, preparing their march further into the South. The young knight did use the time to encourage the forming of a joint unit by house Marsten and house Tullison (f. e. scouts, guerillas or other light infantry) to control the mountain path between the two domains. He also pressed the idea to use the armistice with the Rock Chewers to ‘civilize’ them. If the hostages were treated well and the clan got some food for the winter – PERHAPS they could become a valuable asset in the future...

      He also found the opportunity to get some information concerning Septon Sylas from the Septon of Shattered Rock. Sylas had indeed been a brother of this community, but with a rather questionable reputation of misbehavior and insubordination. In the end he had been ‘asked to go’. This of course let the man look rather suspicious: A member of the Faith with SUCH a reputation might not be above the idea to participate in a scam with a supposed ‘lost heir’ of Krayenhorn. It was also clear that he was not an honest man since he had used the fame of Shattered Rock to increase his standing at Eaglewood. If the truth was revealed, that would cost him a lot of backing by his fellow servants of the Faith.
      However Paedrig was not certain what to do with this information. On the one hand he did not trust his supposed cousin Aemon and even less Septon Sylas who backed his claim. On the other hand he had enough introspection to realize, that the motives for his mistrust were partially selfish. And many of the prejudices against his supposed cousin were all too similar to the anti-bastards prejudices, which Paedrig had to endure his whole life. Was he not batter than these arrogant a**holes he despised so much?
      In the end he decided that at least Anya of Krayenhorn should get this new information, because she was after all directly involved (and Paedrigs secret love)… He would urge her for careful – if any – action. If she would follow his worlds, that was of course another question…

      ***

      The secret background:
      Of course it could be asked why the clans did not join forces and tried to crush the flatlanders. The main reason is, that unknown to the Tullison and Paedrig there were not less than four different factions which had slightly different agendas. There were the two local clans – Black Goats and Rock Chewers, which had a complicated relationship. The Black Goats had suffered a defeat shortly before the main forces of house Tullison left the area at the start of War of the five Kings. The situation changed when the clans realized how weakened their enemies were and Tira daughter of Dogar arrived, a seasoned Burned (Wo)Man with some trained raiders – and some of the weapons the clans further south had got from the Lannisters. At the same time rumors began to spread about a ”master of witchcraft” like the clans had seen none since the days of the Dance of the Dragons. Something seems to have awoken which had been gone for a long time. He gathered some fanatics under his leadership. Together the four factions were able to destroy Shattered Rock (although not without some losses) and terrorized the countryside.
      However they had never more than perhaps 200 trained fighters spread over some distance (around 50 men with Tira, 50 fanatics and 50 trained men and women in each of the tribes) and 100 half-trained youngsters and old people. Only few had better weapons as loot or Lannister-aid.
      So when they realized that 250 well armed men were marching towards the camp of the Rock Chewers, the Black Goats – after they had already lost some men and women at the start of the war and during the raids – simply wanted not to take the risk of losing many more for their neighbor’s benefit. It would also have taken some time to assemble the forces. Had the expedition been smaller, it would be another thing…
      Without that, the remaining forces felt not strong enough to wage an open battle. It was the same reason that prevented an attack during the second expedition. The Rock Chewers thought they had a better chance with peace for the moment, the Black Goats wanted to cut their losses and evacuated their village to rescue their food and cattle. So short before winter they could not risk losing too much. The attack that did happen finally was more directed to work as a moral boost, but not aimed to fight a prolonged battle. However it failed and by that undermined to position of the “magician”. If he and Tira (who have not the same goals but similar enough to cooperate so far) could turn the tide once the forces of Marsten and Blyth/Dannett had left, has to be seen…

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      • #78
        Meanwhile further north

        While Ser Paedrig Rivers and Lady Alyanna Blyth had their own (fare more glamorous and dangerous) adventures, Eric Blyth was also busy. He was preparing his trip to Widow’s Watch, hoping to forge a betrothal with house Flint for Alyanna Blyth. Beside this he was also involved in the day-to-day administration of the Blyth domain and especially the city Dragonport. The whaling attempts, Lord Gard had initiated some time ago did not bring much profit, because of the lack of trained men and suitable ships.

        Eric also had to deal with the case of an indebted Bravoosi captain, who asked for financial support, claiming he could repay soon. His ship was in good shape and he had a reputation of being trustworthy, so Eric decided to take the risk and invest some money - trade with Bravoos was normally very lucrative. Also the captain could take some letters for Alyanna with him (and would hopefully bring back news concerning her mission in Bravoos). Eric also convinced the captain to make a quick detour to the North, bringing him to Widow’s Watch. He preferred the much bigger and more comfy merchant ship instead of one of the small and uncomfortable warships of house Blyth or – even worse – a small merchant-ship for his journey.

        Before his departure, Eric tried to gather as much information as possible concerning house Flint of Widow’s Watch. This major branch of the widespread, old and famous northern family had several allies like house Sheridan and house Darcy and was liege lord to the landed knights of Westwood. Like the Manderly’s of White Harbor (with which the Flints were allied too), the Flints had adopted the Faith of the Seven. They had their own Septon (Edarion, an ex-soldier) and a Maester (Haedrek), but his reputation had been tarnished because he had been unable to deal with a recent plague that had killed many people including the last lord Flint.
        The widowed Lady Lyessa Flint was now in her early 30s. She was still considered as a beauty with a lithe body, dark hair and the typical blue eyes of the Flints. She did have a daughter (Lyanna, 3/4 years old) and a son (Robin, 16 years old and the potential groom for Alyanna Blyth), who was fighting in the South as a part of the personal entourage of king Robb.

        Eric was accompanied by four soldiers (his remaining bodyguards and two additional members of lord Gards personal guard). He also urged to be accompanied by a representative of the city council of Dragonport (he wanted a member of the more modern minded council members), to increase the trade ties with house Flint. However his companion Wyllem, a nephew of Hakon Trader’s wife (Hakon was a local merchant and member of the city council), was a little bit young – Eric would have preferred a more experienced negotiator…
        Before his departure, Erics nephew Gard gave him a set of castle forged weapons (although Eric was hoping that he don’t have to use them). The weapons were beautiful ornamented with dragons like they could be found on the arms of house Blyth of Dragonport.
        Given the recent news concerning Daenerys Targaryen, Eric joked about this fondness for dragons. Lord Gard was not amused – in contrast to his uncle Eric or to Ser Paedrig he had no ties or sympathies for house Targaryen. He looked eastwards with great suspicions…

        Erics journey to Widow’s Watch was pleasantly uneventful. The weather was good, the ship stable. Despite Erics dislike for sea-traveling, he did not become sea-sick this time. He chatted with the captain and tried to learn more about his companion Wyllem. The young man had some potential; however he was still so very young...

        After a few days, Widow’s Watch came into sight. The small but well-fortified castle dominated a small peninsula, with a little but wealthy harbor-town nearby. Lady Flint’s welcome was polite and Eric handled the formalities with ease. Beside Lady Flint’s household there were several guests, including the young Tanda Darcy (with which Erid had a short fling recently) and a noble named Heland Flint. In fact, he was from the “true” Flints, the hill clan from which the “southern” Flint’s originated – but who were inferior in power and wealth these days. Eric immediately (and correctly) speculated that Heland was probably trying to woe the widowed Lyessa Flint.

        The next few days were mostly spent with negotiations between Eric and Lyessa concerning the probable marriage between her son Robin and Alyanna Blyth. They mostly parlayed in the solar of the local lighthouse, a comfy room with a great view.
        While she was not against a potential marriage, Lyessa wanted a good bargain for her son – and military aid for a planned offensive against the Ironmen who were still terrorizing the North and had recently occupied Winterfell and Moat Cailin. Eric did not have much interest to get his house into another war. House Blyth had already sent many men to the South. They also had a still problematic border-situation with the mountain clans AND some problems with the pirates in the Byte…
        Lady Flint was not easy to convince, but Eric was certainly more experienced in this game. However he did not wanted to push her too much, because he wanted good relations and of course a prospering trade. In the end both side were relatively happy with the outcome, although Eric’s promises concerning military aid remained limited.

        Besides trying to convince and charm Lady Flint, Eric also did his best to learn more about Robb Flint, the potential suitor for Alyanna. His niece had not been very thrilled by the idea of marriage. However there was not much to know. Robin Flint seemed to be a ‘good boy’: not beautiful but also not ugly, a promising and dutiful young knight and son – but certainly no genius and without much interest in higher education. There was nothing to be heard of scandals, bastards or mean character streaks. He had been betrothed to Darya Westwood for some time, but Darya had canceled the whole thing rather abruptly – without real information why but also with no bad words concerning Robin. Certainly Alyanna (who was getting dangerous close to her twentieth birthday and had already several failed betrothal attempts on her list) could find a far worse suitor…

        However Eric had also his own agenda. Originally he had considered to woe Lady Elyssa himself, so he kept a sharp eye on potential rivals and allies. Obviously several men wanted to marry Lady Lyessa. Because of this, Eric came to the conclusion that getting in the game himself might bring much trouble (and he did not want more noble enemies than he already had). Also, Widow’s Watch was a little bit backwaters in Eric’s eyes. He had lived in Oldtown and Kings Landing for some years and no big desire to live the life of a rural nobleman. Perhaps he should start his search for a potential bride in a city like White Harbor. Certainly some of the merchant families (or a smaller noble house in service of house Manderly) would have a young and pretty daughter…

        So instead of wooing Elyssa himself, Eric now looked out for winning a future ally and trade partner by supporting one of the other candidates. First and foremost he wanted to sabotage Heland Flint’s attempts, because such a marriage could create a power block and might make Widow’s Watch less in need of marriage ties and trade connections with house Blyth of Dragonport. Gawyn Sunder, a 27 year old knight in service of Widow’s Watch, recently returned from the war in the South (he had fought very well, although he lost an eye), seem to be a better option. With a little bit help by house Blyth…
        Eric also started secretly to argue against Heland’s claims and tried to tarnish his reputation and ambitions.
        His decision to also not woe Tanda Darcy was obviously a good idea –because he now discovered, that the young Lady had already another short time lover: Roger Brecon, one of Eric’s bodyguards! Eric was more amused than shocked, however he ordered Roger to be carefully – he did not want any scandal damaging his negotiations.

        Another topic, the local nobles were discussing were the problems of the local Faith. The obedience of the late High Septon towards house Baratheon/Lannister, his questionable reputation and his shameful death during the riots at Kings Landing had started speculations, if the local Faith should not built their own organization to become more independent. This sounded interesting for gaining political leverage…

        However this all were projects for the future. For the moment Eric was more or less satisfied with the first round of the negotiations and set sail towards Dragonport with some promising trade agreements and a (although still informal) marriage agreement for Alyanna.
        The journey back to Dragonport was thankfully as uneventful as the trip to Widows Watch. This time Eric traveled on the Merry Widow, an armed merchant ship under the command of Ser Aemon Westwood. The ship was certainly not as comfy as the Bravoosi ship, but at least the journey was only brief.

        However shortly after their return, some rather strange news came from the East. Daenerys Targaryen was said to have gathered a large slave army at Astaphor. Some claimed she had organized a slave revolt, massacring the wealthy of Astaphor in the thousands. Other said she had simply bought the slave warriors. However one thing was clear – now Daenerys Stormborn did not only have three dragons (?!) but also an army. Luckily, she still was half the world away from Westeros. However slowly Eric began to consider the possibility that Daenerys might indeed be able to play a more prominent role in the politics of Westeros…

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