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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 11:22 pm GMT 
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His eyesight was not so keen as it had once been. Through the faint haze of smoke, air thick with the smells of wax and roast meat, his tired eyes missed the trembling of the fan. Still, he didn't need the eyes of a hawk to see the transformation which settled over the boy like a veil. Then the sound of that flute pierced his chest, wrapping around his heart with its cold tendrils. He stood unthinking, transfixed. Behind the slats, he held his breath. Frozen in place, he no longer felt like the hunter so much as the prey, and yet he couldn't tear his eyes from the ghoulish spectacle of the dance.

And then the dancer stumbled, and the spell was broken. He was a boy again--or would have been, were kings allowed the luxury of a boyhood. He watched as the last Targaryen rushed past, nearly stumbling again in his haste to depart. Stark was no healer, though he'd learned to staunch the flow of a wounded comrade's blood in battles fought both north and south of the Wall. Still, the glimpse he caught, however faint, left him perturbed. His eyes slid past the fleeing figure and met another gaze, across the room. He wondered how much of this was for his benefit. And was it his imagination, or did Falmari smile?



As he was led down one gloomy corridor after another, he found himself unbalanced by the lack of a sword, by the lightness of his shoulders unburdened by the Lord Commander's mantle. It was a disconcerting sensation, as though he'd been uprooted and set adrift on the breeze, unable to plant his feet on firm earth. I should never have left the North, he thought, the images in his mind's eye not of the few weeks he'd spent as a fugitive-presumed-dead, but of a young idiot riding south to King's Landing with a bright future rolled out in front of him and all the world at his feet. But there was no time now for regret, because his guide's footsteps had already begun to slow. With a soldier's precision, he straightened his tunic, fully aware of his salt-stained cloak and the dust on his boots. Nothing for it now but to meet the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms.

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2017 4:06 pm GMT 
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His rooms allowed little scope to hide.

The main room, where guests were received, was long and high. At the far end sat a chair. Crafted with sharp , hard edges but laced with silken cushions, it was coated in the same somber tones worn by Braavosi nobles. It was just large enough to dwarf him; enough to make him rattle within it like the clapper in a bell.

Even if the boy before him couldn't remember the sight of that other throne, Johann would. The ugly, towering mountain of steel warped by dragon fire; black iron too damaged to gleam in light. A thousand foes fashioned forever into a seat.

Some pale joke, this little throne.

One guard flanked it. His broad hand rested on the pommel of a sword, and he watched impassively, as much a part of the room as the hangings. On a stool by the chair's feet perched a little man, back bent and wizened with a necklace of rings. He watched Johann approach with an almost disfiguring squint, eyes pale with cataracts, hands gnarled with rheumatism. As the foreign footsteps paced closer, and the door was shut behind him with finality, he shifted to murmur something in the ear of the boy in the throne. His advice was hissed over yellow teeth.

The boy barely acknowledged him.

The rigidity from the banquet was gone. Instead he sat- almost lounged- across the useless chair, narrow chin wresting on a bony wrist. He was dressed differently. The ribbons of silk were gone, and without them his hair sprang loose across his forehead, childishly thick and untamed. It cast a shadow onto the sharp cheeks. Where the punishing necklace had been only existed a thin line of irritation. Perhaps he'd ripped it off. Perhaps he'd had to be painfully, painfully patient.

His mother had had a lovely face. She'd been soft, strong, a little too tall so that she'd made a habit to sit and wear unheeled sandals. They'd said his father had looked noble; creased here and there with pain from an old battle wound, but with hair like starlight, a royal bearing.

Their son was gaunt. Hard-edged. Pale eyes glowed with a simmering malice his parents had never had to bear.

The little whispering man fell silent, and creaked back into place to watch Johann Stark where he stood before them in darkened hall. The candles spat; the scent of hot wax filled the air.

"They tell me you've crossed a sea and a continent to come to me."

That boy's unbroken voice unsettled for a young man of fifteen, spoken with a mouth that curved in a withering smile. He made no secret of the way his gaze lingered on Johann's torn hems and stained cloak. Nor did he try to hide the flicker of amused disgust that crossed his face at the sight of them. His eyes rose lazily back to Johann's face, and looked at him in a way no one had ever dared do before.

"Introduce yourself. And kneel, if your knees allow it."

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Last edited by Nerfiti on Thu May 11, 2017 6:57 am GMT, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 12:39 pm GMT 
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In the boy's face, he saw their ghosts. He'd known the king and queen--not personally, but well enough by sight. He'd expected to rule the North in their name one day. On the day the city fell, he'd caught one last glimpse of them in the throne room, its air hazy with the smoke of a hundred candles that, untended, had sputtered themselves out. Sword drawn, free hand holding a scrap of cloth over his nose and mouth, he had paused just long enough to wonder about the crumpled bundles of cloth that lay near the base of the dais where the Iron Throne sat, empty and unattended. Of course, by the time he'd reached the Red Keep he'd seen plague casualties by the hundreds, and should have known the instant he laid eyes upon them. It simply hadn't occurred to him that in this lonely, pestilent silence a thousand-year dynasty could fall, and not a single drop of blood be spilled.

Whatever remnants of righteous wrath had lingered in his blood as they'd stormed the unmanned gates of the Keep had dissipated as he stood, alone, in the heart of Westeros, suffocating under the absolute silence of death. And then a child's cry had shattered the hush: distant, weak, but unmistakably alive.

"Stay BACK, damn you!" The ringing clash of steel. A thin line of blood welled along his adversary's pale brow and cheek, having barely missed the eye. Septimus drew back and set a hand to it, gingerly, though he did not lower his sword. His fingers came away stained with red, and as Han watched, the look on his face went from incredulity to an icy rage. Running footsteps and the clank of armor echoed through the passageway outside, and with a silent prayer to the Old Gods, he resigned himself to death. But his voice, when he spoke, was low and hard and grim, as stony and unyielding as the ancient hills of the North. "Not another step."


The boy's eyes met his and bored into them, burning with strange fire, making no effort to hide his derision. Johann, in turn, found himself thinking about all the death which had brought him up to this point: on the fields of Westeros and the cobbled streets of King's Landing, before the damp hearths of Castle Black and in the frozen forests beyond the edge of the world. For a moment he held that feverish gaze and did not look away, did not so much as blink. And then he bowed his head and knelt.

"Johann of House Stark, Your Grace."

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Sat Apr 01, 2017 2:49 pm GMT 
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" 'Stark.' " he echoed. Was it really the same throat that had uttered that scream, so long ago? It was apathetic now. Before he'd wept for him. "Wolves and bitter winters."

The boy was unmoved. For all that, there was a momentary silence; a narrowing of the feverish eyes, as if he were running his fingers down the spines of words and drawing them carefully from his library of hate, laying them gently on his tongue. With an insolent stretch he slumped back further in his play-throne and watched the jewels glint dark on his fingers. He didn't bother to force a smile now. One wasn't even conjured to his lips when he watched Johann's head sink. Perhaps he was taking the time to consider inflicting his own little entertainment; perhaps to place the heel of his embroidered slipper on the nape of that noble neck and crush him down. 'Lower.'

But now he was just watched. Watched the quiet stiffness in the legs, ones which weren't accustomed to the act of bowing. All men knelt in the end it seemed. Princes, lords, exiles, deadmen and the ones that should be.

For a long moment he watched Johann's breath stir the new dust on the stone flags.

"Raise your head."

The scar that glistened, ragged across Johann's cheek in the candlelight was a curiosity and nothing more. Who was he to know that the story of his life was etched into the living tapestry of the face before him - that he had just to reach out to run his fingers across an act that even now kept the clamour of his heart more than just a memory? Perhaps he had long since forgotten. Perhaps he had never been told.

The sharp chin rested on a sharp hand once more. At his feet the old man stirred nervously and let his destroyed hands grip his knees. The guard shifted, and his fingers on his pommel tightened, unconscious of ever having done so. Even here, that name sent ripples. The Braavosi knew best that old steel could still cut deep.

Only the boy expressed no unease; didn't seem to share in the growing tension that winched higher through the room, like a crossbow eased taut. Oblivious, or dismissive of the pungent scent of blood that name brought with it.

"You're a long way from your fells, Master Wolf.' His drawl was soft, and numb to the faint wince that darted across the Maester's face, the sharp glance the guard sent him in warning and that went unheeded. The smile crept back. Lifeless beneath burning eyes.

'It begs the question 'why'."

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 5:30 pm GMT 
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The maester. The guard. Even before he raised his head, he could sense their unease. He was attuned to the presence of fear, its scents and sounds. He'd been gone for so long, balanced on the edge of the world with an army of misfits and criminals on the knife edge of starvation, that he had begun to forget the world outside. It had felt less cruel than forcing himself to remember. In that time, however, it seemed the world had not forgotten him. He'd been told at some point in his former life that he was arrogant, had been called it more than once in fact. And yet the only emotion that stirred in response to the Braavosis' apprehension was a mild, apathetic surprise. Strange that even after ten years, as an aging man bleached by salt and weathered by sun and ice, his name could evoke such a reaction on the wrong side of the Narrow Sea.

"To serve, Your Grace." His words came sparingly, the habit of a lifetime exacerbated by the loneliness of guarded exile.

A long way from your fells.

The boy truly had no idea how far he'd come. That much was obvious to him. Two hundred miles, as the crow flies, through the trackless wastes beyond the Wall. Unfortunately for him, this Crow hadn't flown; he'd come circuitously, evading wildlings and rangers alike, doubling back, hiding his tracks, detouring to hunt or forage until at last he'd reached the Bay of Seals and stood looking out over the barren cliffs and slate waters of the Bay of Seals. He'd traded his heavy black mantle for the faded wool garments stowed in his pack. Evading camp dogs and sentries, he'd stolen a skin boat, leaving his hobbled horse in what he hoped was a fair exchange. He'd navigated the bay by starlight, the moon a faint sliver in the sky, and had rounded the point into high swells that might have dumped a lesser craft and its passenger into the sea. The currents had carried him south, and he'd paddled along the coast until he'd come to a fishing village where he could barter for some dried fish and a boat the winds could carry. And that boat had brought him here, ten days across the Shivering Sea, and for the first time in his life he'd been out of sight of the land.

But he hadn't frozen, and he hadn't drowned. He raised his head slowly, unhurried. His eyes were dark, the color of peat. He found himself how long it had been since the rightful king of Westeros left this palace, these cold marble halls.

"Had I a sword, I would pledge it. But like sensible men, the guards took it at the gate."

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"On a side note, dvorak, looks like the Pope is recognising your authority in Sainting people. Can only be one person representing God on earth at a time" -TFP


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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:39 am GMT 
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"You seem to think that I have an interest in the sword of a turncoat."

He leisurely rose to his feet, and left the loose embrace of the chair. It seemed to liberate him. As he stood he slipped a pair of gloves from his belt to begin to pull them over his long fingers. He was unhurried by the stir of his guard, who told him with a tilt of armoured shoulders to return to the safety of his little throne. The hastily whispered words of his advisor were cast away with a dismissive wave of his hand.

"Ten years," he mused, relished, his voice brimming with contempt. Fingers flexed within their silk confines, and his body seemed to thrum with the quick pace of blood- not through nervousness, rather, but the scent of impending damage and despair and pain. Johann's. His own.

"Let me guess; one of three things. One; so hobbled by the wounds you gained years ago in my defence, only now have you found yourself hale enough to limp back to your beloved master."

He stepped closer, and for all the immature authority in his voice the silk slippers couldn't even offer up an audible footfall.

"Two; you delayed only to amass riches and armies in my name-- and then be foiled at the last conceivable moment. Come here to offer your mean body and gain my protection in a last push to prove your fealty. But at this point I'd expect more tears in your eyes, so that leads me on to 'Three'."

As if laughing at how stiffly Johann had sunk to a knee, he dropped to his own with supple dancer's legs and the flexibility of a child to look him in the face.

"Word of me has taken ten years to make a ten day voyage across the Sea. And now you come to me, a faithful dog anticipating a master's call." He leant in; they were very close now. Behind him his guard loosened his sword in its sheath and resisted the urge to drag him back, out of the threat of Johann Stark's shadow. But the boy only smiled that deathless smile, his gaze locked with one dark as black earth. "It's that one, isn't it?"

He was so close now that Han would be able to see the things that poor light and failing eyes denied him earlier. Before some powder, make up perhaps had been enough to make the pale skin glow, but now he looked pallored, dull, like a canvas or bone left too long in the sun. The shadows beneath his eyes were chronic and dark, almost giving him the impression of a skull's sockets were it not for the bright burn of pale eyes. His parent's cheekbones had been high, well-cut, and his child's cheeks had been found as apples. But the boy he'd grown into had the face of a child from Fleabottom, cheekbones cut sharp by need. He had little cuts at the corner of his mouth, and small blood ulcers; deficient anaemia. A fifteen year old boy with an unbroken voice and no signs of scars or cuts from shaving; kept ambiguous, androgynous, the perfect Boy Prince. Unfit, underage to pursue his inheritance. Sat at banquets before empty plates.

"You're not the first piece of Westerosi scum to come crawling to pledge what's left of their lives at my feet." His voice was quiet, but the intensity grew. He was close enough that he had only to speak in a murmur. "Exiles. Slavers. Rapists. Men with too many fingers lost with through Frostbite at the Wall. Even my father's enemies, Master Wolf. They've all come to try their luck. Sink their teeth into me."

Behind him the Maester had gingerly raised himself to his feet. The guard uneasily rocked forward.

"So let's hear it. Let's hear of your loyalty to my family. Let's hear of the blood you shed when they died, and how you fought to the death for us."

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Thu Apr 13, 2017 4:50 pm GMT 
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His vision, though reliable enough in its way, was not without limitations. Leading up to this moment, there were details that had escaped him as a result of the haze of smoke in a dim hall, the poor light of guttering candles, or even simple distance. Long years of squinting at parchment in the drafty gloom of Castle Black, of snow blindness narrowly evaded on those long missions beyond the Wall, had taken their toll, carving deeper lines into his often-furrowed brow, creasing the skin around his eyes. Now for the first time, he had the opportunity to truly study the face before him.

What he saw disturbed him. The boy was not merely thin, as he'd supposed, but nearly skeletal. What excuse could his caretakers possibly have to offer for the disquieting fact that the king in their keeping was gaunter than any man at Castle Black? Had he ever held a sword? Could he even lift one? And he was pale, too, deathly pale, like the rangers' bodies they sometimes recovered from North of the Wall. When was the last time he'd seen the sun?

His train of thought was interrupted abruptly by a flash of memory. Springing unbidden to his mind came the image of another boy, in a time and place far removed from the present: the thin neck bone-white and bowed, ridged with vertebrae that pushed up from beneath the porcelain skin, its owner's face hidden by a curtain of white-blond hair as he bent over some dusty tome in the cavernous library of the capital, as it had been in the days of their youth. But those eyes were ice blue, a color he'd seen often at the Wall as it refracted the light from its depths. They were cold, keen eyes, distant and impassive.

Not these, though. These eyes burned.

When at last he spoke, his voice was measured and calm. He was not a man easily provoked. "I did not fight for your family, Your Grace. I fought for you." He rose then, aware but unselfconscious of the fact that it took the support of one hand on the ground to push him to his feet. He did not bother to dust off his knee. "But it's best you don't hear the story from me. Ask someone you trust. With your permission," he added, bowing, "I'll wait outside."

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"On a side note, dvorak, looks like the Pope is recognising your authority in Sainting people. Can only be one person representing God on earth at a time" -TFP


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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 2:47 am GMT 
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Perplexed, Johann's King forgot to take to his feet in the moment the man before him did- and, for a brief second was made to kneel before him. The moment he realised it he shifted a little too fast, bringing himself up so that they stood on equal footing. Far flung from the memories of the banquet hall that must still have stung and suppurated. Even then the boy still stood a head shorter than the other man. In terms of breadth he was dwarfed; a sapling before a bear- one he knew to be clawless, but had yet to peer within its jaw and see whether fangs still lined them. It seemed that he still had the urge to. Curiosity. Self-sabotage. Both.

Not many people could endure to stand so close for long, not when the stories of old deeds wrapped around him like a cloak. Their eyes would flicker to his hands and the way steel had shaped them, the fathomless depths of the dark eyes that seemed to reveal so little, the memories of an age of battles long gone that were carved through armour and into his skin. The boy was close enough to smell him; leather and wool, earthy, a brown scent damp with sea spray from his worn clothes, and a lingering sharp taste, one that pricked the tongue and made the jaw clench. It had been a long time since the boy had encountered drawn and weathered steel, swords with blood crept long ago into the fissures in the hilt. It was something he couldn't place, yet knew to fear.

He didn't step back, and his sarcastic, cruel smile didn't fade. But Johann would have been able to see a shiver run through thin shoulders and down his spine.

"Someone I trust?"

The ulcerated lips twitched, and if suppressing a laugh. And then it, and the smirk faded, and he looked up at the older man with embers spitting from his eyes. And then, without warning a gloved hand raised to take his jaw in the vice of his fingers, and pull him down to his eye level. He was wearing silk. It didn't disguise the violence in his hands, or the way they shook.

"Where are they?" he hissed. "I ask the man who knows how they died." His thumb rubbed the end of that scar and didn't flinch away; wanting to pry his fingers into those old wounds and make them bleed. "I am Jetherys Targaryen. You never had the right to cleave me from my last name, old man."


The little boy waved at them shyly, and his laugh put the birdsong to shame.



"Your Grace--" The guard's shadow. Jetherys's grip, broken. Unsteady footsteps back, shielded by the man before him, whose hands already settled on the hilt of his sword.

The wizened man at the foot of the chair began to speak, in a high, crooning voice, persuading the young highness to come back to his side and calm himself. The words were lost on him as he stood there, his hands clawed into fists and teeth gritted and watching Johann with a stare too black for his years.

"Fine." His voice was sharp as broken glass, and he turned to walk back to the chair. His back too open; too thin. "Go. I'll listen to the reports rather than hear it from a coward's mouth."

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2017 11:51 pm GMT 
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Rather than speak, he bowed, thin lips pressed into a straight, bloodless line. Words had never served him especially well; early on, he'd learned to make do with as few of them as possible. No discourse, however eloquent, however silver the tongue that delivered it, could have deflected Septimus Baratheon's fury on the day the Red Keep fell. He'd always preferred to let his actions do the talking, and they'd spoken loud enough. His words were kept tightly reined in, like hounds on a short chain.

And then fingers seized his jaw, those skeletal little claws. Despite the strength in them, they were fragile, scarcely more than bone beneath the silk, and not quite strong enough to break his skin through the gloves, though something told him their owner might have wanted to. His head was gripped and turned, and through it all he stood like a muzzled dog, watching the boy with a wariness his dark eyes did not entirely mask.

The last king he'd addressed had been this child's father. He had been presented to Samaeon Targaryen, briefly and in passing, when he'd come to King's Landing. He'd been scarcely more than a boy himself, and was startled to find a King much nearer his own age than any of his doddering counselors. Later on, young Johann had had ample opportunity to observe him at state functions: a reserved, distant man, though no stranger to the sword. The last Targaryen to sit on the Iron Throne had a lingering air of darkness, a sadness that clung about him like incense. He'd been burdened with vast power far too young, in the tragic shadow of his own father's premature death, and that burden, it seemed, had taken its toll. Personally, Stark had seen no signs of the madness that was still said to stalk the Targaryen bloodlines, though of course there had been rumors.

And this one? This Targaryen? What was it, precisely, that burned in those eyes?

He'd been too careless; he knew that now. Like most Northerners, he ran to bluntness, and in that regard his time at the Wall had done him no favors. The intricacies of the Court, the fine line to toe when addressing a powerful madman, were distant memories now. Had he sabotaged his entire mission because he'd forgotten how to talk to a king? He bowed again, more deeply, and withdrew, silently cursing his own idiocy until long after he'd left the room.

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"On a side note, dvorak, looks like the Pope is recognising your authority in Sainting people. Can only be one person representing God on earth at a time" -TFP


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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Mon May 08, 2017 4:02 pm GMT 
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Jetherys didn't turn to watch him leave.

Back turned to the door, he stood before his humble throne and hissed his breaths. His jaw hurt from clenching. He felt it jitter with fury, ashamed of the noise his teeth made as they shivered against each other, and his hands, for want of screaming, contracted and fell in and out of fists. Abruptly he swerved and stalked past the other two men-- the guard's tension still making wire of his shoulders, and the doctor praying for his patience in a sing song voice.

"Your Grace, your Roy-al Highness, a moment I beg--"

He walked to the doors of his bedroom and through them, slamming them shut behind. And only when locked in the privacy of his room did he lurch forward and grip the pillar of his four poster, sinking to half-bury his face in the sheets. Panting. Staring sightless at the dark material beneath him, groaning, shutting his eyes, sinking to his knees.

"That bastard. I should have-- I should've--"

'To serve, Your Grace.'

'Do not prostrate yourself like this. You must remember your birth and name.'

'I fought for you.'


He turned, the stone slabs cold beneath him, and rested his head back against the coverlet to gaze upwards to the vaulted ceiling and its noose-like chandelier. Caught in the eddy of a stray draught, it creaked.

"Of course you did." he sneered to the memory of those dark eyes. "All of you did. Gods, I should have..." I should have looked at your hands and counted how many fingers lost in the cold it took for you to make the voyage. I should have hit you. I should have made you say their names. I should have made you suffer more, I should have...

His hand fell to his lap, and his weary eyes fell on them. Slowly, painfully, he drew off the gloves and dropped them on the slabs. Without realising it he raised a hand and traced the cut of his brow, the taper of his long, sharp nose, the cuts at the corner of his mouth. He shut his eyes, and tried to remember. One day he would feel a familiar feature. That was what he told himself. One day he would look into the mirror and find the curve of his mother's lips kissing him goodnight. His father's eyebrows stern with displeasure. His sister's eyelashes. Something. Anything, apart from a hollow name, a lost crown, and desperate men dragging up a past like hungry fishermen, caught in a net that wasn't even their own. Not that he could recall their faces anymore. But one day he'd... He'd...

'I fought for you.'

"No you didn't."

I should have asked you what my father looked like.


He didn't know how many hours passed until the Maester stole in, and drew up his chair by the side of the bed. Jetherys sat beneath the covers, his gaze cast straight forward, and said nothing. He wasn't invited to; they both knew one sharp command would splinter the air and the story would be shot to earth before it could take wing. And so he smothered his words and listened, eyes half shut, and Maester Purlam wove to him the past in fibres the colour of Lannister gold, the chalky crimson of ancient rock hewn from the sea and the silver of winters cold enough to freeze blood. He spoke of the power lust of a slighted family; the familiar story of the pale usurper and his pestilence like a cloak of nightmare settling over the land. He knew it by heart already.

"No one knew of the evil he carried with him, not even then." Purlam's voice, usually as cracked and wizened as his body became melodic in times like these, in long evenings filled with myths and the crack of a fire in the hearth. He rubbed ointment into the scrapes on Jetherys' palms, his hands safe beneath gloves, and the boy watched the shadows dance like demons on the walls. "Not even the men who marched with him; the Tullys of the river, the Tyrells fat on their fields of golden wheat and fruit. And one lone wolf."

A traitor.

"A mistake." As if he heard the venom in his thoughts the gnarled hands kneaded his fingers soft, unfurling those tightening fists. "And when he saw the encampments full of ghosts and men of stone, they say he slipped away and rode through the night to enter the gates of the city alone, wreathed in their smoke, to find you."

"I never heard that."

"It is how it was."

"The city already burned?"

A hesitation; the old man's hands pressed on with their work as his tongue stumbled under his charge's sharp smile. "Many things were said. All that is true--"

"So when did he leave the Usurper, this wolf? Because it was told to me he left his side at the last hour, the last moment--"

"But he did." Insistent now, this sing-song voice, and already Jetherys felt its grip hold on him. "But the young lord did, and he stood alone, your Highness. No one else-- No one in the Keep that day would dare raise a hand to the Baratheon traitor. Even the Lannisters with their snarling lions bowed to the stag. All," His voice softened, intensified, "But him."

"The Usurper didn't shed a drop of blood during the War."

"No." The man's thin lips parted in a smile, the boy's eyes drawn to the ghoulish lines of his face, his teeth like yellow jewels dancing in his mouth. A shaking finger raised, and painted a stroke down his brow, across his eye and across a wasted cheek. "He did. And by that man's sword, though the tales tell that it itself did not survive; splintered by too much steel and death. It is said he himself put waste to five and twenty men and that the steps to your chambers were wet with blood so that the usurper's soldiers could scarcely make the climb. And through this, you... You were slipped through the shadows--"

"You mean to say I should forgive his treachery--"

"Your Highness," he murmured, "I mean to say that that man carries scars welded into his body that were ever meant for you."

The boy fell silent, and looked away. The words curled around him like poppy smoke. He imagined the black tide seeping down stone steps, and men tripping and falling to drown in it. He remembered the darkness of those eyes.

He drew his hand back and held it close to his chest, staring at the fingers that had wrapped around his jaw and pulled him to heel. He remembered the smell of steel, and found himself shivering.

"In your darkest night, there stood a shield and a sword. And he comes to you again." A creak; the Maester was standing to leave, though he stood by his side a moment longer. "Will you have him, your Highness?"

The chandelier creaked, and the fire burned low. Nothing more now than embers, and the orange glow barely made it a yard from the hearth. He watched the world fall still under shades of grey, as if covered in a fine layer of ash, as if he were laying down to sleep somewhere beneath the earth. A relic.

"Maester Purlam," he murmured, "Give me something to aid sleep."

"Your Highness..."

"I'll have him." His voice was soft, and drowsy with hate. "If only for his scars."


The elixir was bitter in his throat, and the effect almost instantaneous. His eyelids were filled with lead, he slumped down too heavily into the pillows. But where sleep should have been black and dreamless, he saw flags trailing in the breeze like whisps of mist, and endless winding passages of stone with thick black liquid shin deep, and all in silence. And on and on it went, until he found a room, and a man with a wound through his back. The blackness gushed out, dark as peat. An empty cradle. A broken hilt. As he looked down he saw cuts start to appear across his skin like ink. The blood rose from his shins to his thighs, and his waist, and his neck, and he drowned in it so long he never thought he would wake.

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Mon May 08, 2017 6:04 pm GMT 
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He waited. The first hours were spent pacing in the corridor. Guards watched him from a safe distance, but made no move to restrain him. When it became clear he would receive no answer that day, a number of men approached to escort him out. His weapons were returned to him. In that he was lucky. He hadn't known whether the Braavosis would honor their word. Then he was turned out onto the street. For some time longer, he loitered in the avenue outside. Finally, when the afternoon shadows had just begun to lengthen, he set out in search of a place to stay.

These streets were unfamiliar to him. It had been something like a decade since he'd last set foot in a city, and this one was unknown to him. The vendors had already packed away their wares, their fruits and fish, leaving only the bare, stained boards where they'd been displayed, and the cobblestones filthy with refuse beneath. After so long in the spartan emptiness of Castle Black, or the pristine silence of the woods beyond the Wall, the garbage shocked him. Beggars huddled silently in doorways and the mouths of alleys. Here and there, raucous music spilled out of rooms hazy with smoke. The shadows deepened.

At last he saw the sign for an inn and ducked inside. The downstairs was squalid, nearly deserted, but a gawky, pox-scarred boy with a nascent mustache wiped his hands on a filthy apron and offered him a room and a meal. He took the former, but passed on the latter. His funds were painfully low. His conscience had not permitted him to dip into the coffers at Castle Black, not that there would've been much to take in any case. If he ate sparingly from his stores, he could have the room for two more nights before he'd be fending for himself on the street.

Alone in a windowless room scarcely larger than a broom closet, he settled into the lone, rickety chair. His knees bumped against the bed frame, but he had problems enough without picking up whatever vermin he knew infested the dirty ticking. He rested his sword across his lap, and the familiar feel of the hilt against his calloused palm was enough to lay his anxieties to rest for a while. He settled deeper into the chair. He hadn't told them where they could find him, but Braavos was rife with spies, and he'd made no attempt to conceal his whereabouts; he was sure they could manage to find him with relative ease.

Now, as he blew out the greasy candle, he couldn't remember the last time he'd slept. He closed his eyes in the deepening darkness and let his weariness take him.

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2017 1:05 pm GMT 
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When they came for him, their footsteps were heavy enough to stir him long before any knock did. Johann had been right. Eyes grew on the walls here. His meandering passage had been watched and whispered, as if each of his heavy footfalls sent ripples through this strange ground like water. It had been a dangerous game to play by all accounts. At least these messengers came with their swords drawn.

This time when his sword was taken from him, it was kept in the arms of another; Jetherys' guard from before. He greeted Johann with no more joy than a stranger. They'd both remember the way his hand had all-too readily taken its place at his hilt. It was barren soil for friendship. He kept his eyes ahead, and said nothing as they made their way through the echo of corridors.

...

"After conferring with his chief counsellor, Kathmar Falmari, his Highness Jetherys Targaryen has given you, Johann Stark of the Westerosi Northlands, leave to serve at his side." The voice was tremulous, stoppered with little coughs and gasps for breath. Maester Purlam, unfurled, barely came up to Johann's chest. For that however, his voice was surprisingly strong when it came. Piping as if flutes were hidden deep beneath his crooked ribs, bent beneath decades of the weight of iron rings.

Jetherys sat behind his orator. His shoulders were drawn back, still as if he were carved from rock and only then draped in his blackened silk. The necklace was back. It bit little bloody jewels across his throat. Impeccable. Someone had powdered his face and disguised the shadows beneath his eyes with pale creams made from crushed lead. He watched a point somewhere above Johann's head and said nothing.

Kathmar Falmari sat to his left. His pale, domed head gleamed, and watched Johann kneel beneath half-closed lids. His hand, studded with rings, rested on Jetherys' arm rest.

"When in his Highness' presence you will always wear a pair of gloves." The pale eyes didn't flicker. "You will protect His Highness with your life if you must. If you suspect any wrongdoing by any member of the household, or suspect any danger to his Highness' safety, you will report directly to his consul Kathmar Falmari. You may not bring any persons in to this house without express prior permission by His Highness, and you will relay any such desires directly to consul Kathmar Falmari as his chief and sole advisor in this. You will not spread word of His Highness' whereabouts, state, or doings. You shall remain at all times faithful to His Highness and his trusted consul Kathmar Falmari, as dictated by your duty and by your sword."

Maester Purlam, wheezing, nodded to the guard, who stepped forward and offered Han back the weight of his sword. Those others assembled watched with quiet steadiness; weapons already loosened in their sheaths.

"Do you swear upon your sword and honour that you, Lord Johann Stark, shall forever serve your lord and prince. And that your loyalty," His voice darkened a touch; his pace slowed. "Shall never grow weak or diminish?"

Jetherys let his gaze fall now. From the vaulted arches of the ceiling and their brackets full of hot, melting wax down to the phantoms they painted on the walls. Down past the figures of guards and their slivers of metal visible in their sheaths. Down to the man who knelt before him, and the scar etched into his face, and the eyes that had haunted his night.

He held his breath.

"Do you swear it," the Maester asked, "In the names of Old Gods and New?"

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Fri May 26, 2017 7:03 pm GMT 
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Not for the first time, he wondered what fate he was sealing himself into. He would have liked to ask about the gloves, whether it was because of his childhood exposure to the Greyscale, indicative of some other affliction, or merely one more means of keeping distance between the young heir and the rest of the world. He wondered about Falmari: how he'd come to shelter the boy, and for how long, and at what benefit to himself. Surely there was more in it for him than having the last Targaryen as a conversation piece to flaunt at dinner parties. But what? Was there some grand design here, being assembled piece by piece over the long span of the years? Or was the boy destined to remain here, stagnating like a specimen preserved in wax?

He was not a politician, nor did he think of himself as an especially clever man. Though he'd held his own well enough in the days of his studies, the comparison to Septimus had been inescapable. The maesters had berated him for his sluggishness, for his occasional errors--this provincial, idiot Northerner--all the more harshly perhaps to distract from the fact that Septimus was prone to correcting them as well. Now he had the distinct feeling of wading into an ice-cold river, feeling the strong current tearing at his clothes, and finding himself suddenly in up to his neck. He had no idea, he realized, how deep this water ran. He felt grievously unprepared.

He had no choice but to be prepared. He had come too far, broken too many oaths, for it to be otherwise.

"I swear it," he said.

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 Post subject: Re: Lion Rampant
PostPosted: Sat May 27, 2017 1:53 pm GMT 
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It was as if he didn't hear the words until seconds later, though he saw the mouth move. Paralysed, he felt the oath settle into his chest and spread from his heart into his marrow; bitter and breathless. So this was the weight, the lightness his father had felt upon being gifted a soul. This was the surreal burden. Protection in exchange for what? Riches? A title? A kiss bestowed on an old ring? Stricken, the boy glanced to his gloved hands. He felt the weight of the room's expectation and the crush of their stares.

It was only when he felt the shift of the man next to him that he felt his body move for him; at first away from the rich pungency of the man's perfume, all burgundy wine and ginger that made him want to gag. The flags, usually so familiar beneath his slippered feet felt unusually rough today, full of a thousand new cracks designed to trip him. The ten steps it took felt like ten miles.

He threw the Maester a beseeching look -I'm lost- but the little man's face was turned away to watch the knight at Jetherys' feet. And in turn his gaze was drawn irresistibly there.

"I see the sword, I hear the--" His voice cracked slightly, and beneath the powder his face reddened. He cleared his throat and cursed the cords within it. "I hear the oath."

Last night, as he lay in his enormous, cavernous bed he had decided that he would not even look at Johann Stark. He would ignore his presence utterly; extend his hand as if to the embrace of the air.

Hating himself, he found he could not. He followed the man's shadow up to his bent knee, the curve of his weathered shoulders beneath a tattered cloak. Then, as Johann Stark raised his face, Jetherys' eyes found the leonine arch of his nose, forehead furrowed with the cares of winter. The remembered the ridge of scar tissue that had pressed into his thumb as he had gripped his jaw. What had Maester Purlam said? Welded into his body. Meant for you.

"They told me." His voice was so quiet it didn't disturb the air; didn't reach Purlam's aged ears, too soft even for the keen senses of Kathmar Falmari.

He offered a ring for Han to kiss, loose on his finger, and beneath its glove he shook. His jaw was clenched. The eyes that met Han's were full of hate, and indecision, and disbelief, and awe. And he'd realise, abruptly, that if he were in the river then his King was drowning in the sea.

"This isn't forgiveness. This is revenge. I hope you know that."

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