World and characters belong to George R.R. Martin
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com
The Faceless Guard
It was past time to be going. Today this Red Keep would be proving true to its name. He walked along halls of red brick, stepping over fresh red pools, silent as a shadow. Everywhere there were red cloaks. Some were grey, this was true. But most of those lay dying, fresh red stains marring even the proud colors of the north.
His own red cloak swayed behind him. His steps were measured, unhurried. No one would notice one more Lannister guardsman. Especially one with such an unremarkable face.
Five they had been, accompanying Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard as he attempted to retrieve young Arya for his queen. Perhaps one day six strong men would be needed, but this day she was still a child. Instead, they faced Syrio Forel.
True to his word, the First Sword of Braavos had not run. Five had come and five had fallen, until only the knight remained. But when the god of death came for you, there was only one thing to say.
Syrio Forel had died in that room. Ser Meryn, too, lay fallen, still as sleep. His bruises would heal in time, though his pride would take far longer. Perhaps it would be better if he joined his five companions, but time was short and swords were singing in the direction that Arya had run. Today the god would have his due.
The man that stepped from that room wore the crisp, red cloak of Lannister. His face was broad and pitted, his deep-set eyes framed by lank, brown hair. There had been younger men among them, one that might have even been handsome before the wooden sword had taken his eye. But this was a good face, a plain face. Plain would shield him as well as his borrowed cloak and armor.
And so it did. The guards he passed saw one of their own. Everywhere they ran, waving their thirsty swords, cutting down the last of Lord Stark's household. The King's Hand had seemed a good man, just and unyielding. For him, it would be too late. But Arya had come this way.
He spied her as he was crossing the wall above the stables. It was good that she had not returned to her father's tower. Good, too, that she had found supplies and a cloak. When a wind caught it, he smiled to see her needle tucked into her belt.
She kept her eyes fixed ahead as she crossed the yard, kept her steps slow. Calm as still water, yes, that was the way. There were other Lannister men on the walls nearby, but their gazes swept over her. They sought Arya Stark, not a poor serving girl too foolish to run. The child had learned quickly. Those lessons would be tested in the days to come.
He followed well behind her, a shadow of a shadow. The Keep was full of hidden pathways and he had done his part to learn them, pretending at being lost when his wanderings were discovered. Yet Arya pushed deeper still. They walked in darkness for a time and twice she turned to squint into the shadows behind her, though he knew that he had made no sound.
So it was that the youngest daughter of Lord Stark escaped into the city. The Lannister guard trailing her remained unnoticed, but this face and cloak had done their work. Glancing behind him, he stared up at the Keep, its red bricks blazing in the sun. Syrio Forel was dead. It was time for a new face, a new name.
The Lover's Shade
He had often watched her sleeping. She did not tire easily, his paramour; her thirst for the waking world and all its pleasures was the equal of his own. They had welcomed many a dawn together, still entangled in each other's arms. But tonight Ellaria slept alone.
Grief, it was said, could fell even the strongest of men. He would pit her strength against any of them, a fact unchanged by the tears drying on her pillow. The sheets were tangled round her legs and he trailed a shadowed hand along her thigh, tracing the curve of her hip. She was warm, he knew, but he felt only cold.
It was a funny thing, being dead.
He realized that he had been pacing and chuckled. Of course, he would make a restless spirit. Who would expect any less? He wondered if Ellaria would laugh to hear it. The sound would bloom deep in her throat, rich and bold and full of promises. But now her lips were twisted into a scowl, her hair falling across her eyes as she curled onto her side. Restless, the both of them.
If only he could soothe her, chase away her dreams. He might only be a shadow, a shade too stubborn to make his way into the beyond, but there was nowhere in this world or the next that he would rather be. Slipping into the bed, he curled himself around her, wrapping her in arms that were not arms, tracing cool kisses along her shoulder.
Ellaria stirred, but the dream was still on her. He held her as she stiffened and thrashed, kissed away the screams that welled behind her lips. She was seeing him again, he knew, seeing the ruin that The Mountain had made of him. A restless spirit and an ugly corpse. He would not have her remember him so.
Again, his hands moved over her. It was only a whisper, only an echo of his touch, but soon her whimpers grew quiet, her limbs still. When she moved, it was only to roll her hips back against him, soft moans replacing her tears.
But then Ellaria opened her eyes, staring up into his face. For one mad moment, he could believe that she saw him, that she knew that he was there. Her eyes were wide and alert, luminous in the light of the moon streaming through the window. Confusion crept in, then, and disappointment. He watched her grief bloom all over again, watched her decide that it was just a dream. It broke his heart to see it.
Ellaria sat slowly, drawing her knees to her chest. Tears would come, but there was more at work this night than grief. He saw it in the tight press of her lips, in the way she raised her chin. Flinging the covers from her legs, she stalked naked toward the desk, her eyes blazing with all the heat of Dorne.
Taking up a quill, Ellaria began her letter. He stood at her shoulder, watching the words flow across the page, smiling a dead man's smile. A spirit he might be, but Oberyn Martell knew that he would be avenged.
He bounced the babe on his knee, his eyes roaming the great hall. It rang to the click-click-clack of wooden swords as two of the smaller boys chased each other around the table, fierce and breathless and laughing. He laughed with them. Men had counted themselves content with less. But he had never been most men.
He sat at the table's head, with eight chairs to either side. More than half of them were full now. His children were coming home.
Pretty Bella had been the last to arrive. Smiling, she brought a pitcher of wine to refill his cup. Her mother had been pretty too, had named her for the battle that had brought them together. The years since had been hard on the girl, the war harder. But then the war had brought her here.
Bella ruffled her sister's hair as she returned to her seat. Already the babe had a full head of black curls. He smoothed them back with a thick finger and the child cooed up at him, her tiny hand tugging at his beard. Strong, too. Her mother had named her Barra.
There were others, scattered across the kingdoms. He looked in on them from time to time. The girl in the Vale had sat on his knee once, had loved it when he lifted her high above his head. She was a woman grown now and that fondness for heights had grown with her. The Storm boy was nearing manhood, as proud and fierce as his father ever was. And the other boy, the blacksmith - he was a strong lad, one who knew the feel of a good hammer in his hand. Even now he traveled north with the wild little wolf girl. He wondered what his old friend would think of that.
Again, his eyes roamed the table. There was the pudgy boy from the Riverlands, the twins that he'd fathered on that serving girl at Casterly Rock. Three more boys and a girl had come together from King's Landing, a mismatched bunch but all with the same dark hair and the same uncomprehending fear in their eyes. A gift from his loving wife. It was some small consolation that when he looked around the hall, he didn't see any of those golden-haired shits among them.
He barked a laugh and the babe on his knee echoed him. He'd had little enough to do with any of them. He hadn't had the time. But now... now time was all he had. And when the time came, Robert Baratheon would be there to welcome his dead bastards home.
It was good to feel the wind on his face. He had known swift beasts, beasts strong and fierce and powerful. All of them he had broken, bending them to his will. But dragons did not break. She had told him so. He had not understood until now.
The dragon wheeled beneath the great round moon, spreading its massive black wings to blot out the stars. He could see the world through its eyes, riding without saddle, without reins. When it dove low across the conquered city, its wings were his, the terror of the weak masters and their slaves filling the dragon's ears as though they were his own.
Drogon, she had named him. It was a good name.
Magic had awakened the stone eggs and bound him to the beast, but this was not the black art of the maegi. This was the magic of dragons, the magic of Daenerys Stormborn, Moon of his Life. The thought of her brought the yearning, but he could not tell if it was the dragon's or his own. Much was so. A horse would go where its rider pleased, but the dragon's will was its own. Its own and somehow his.
Together they turned back toward the pyramid, strong wings beating the air. They landed on the balcony of this pointed hall that she had made her home, their sharp claws cutting deep gashes in the stone. Daenerys stirred but slept on, her windows thrown open to the night. The dragon cocked its head. She was Mother and Wife and Khaleesi. He longed for nothing more than to feel her hand upon his scales.
She had conquered this city, as she had conquered the city before it. His khaleesi had done what even the mightiest of khals had not, had made all who fell before her into a great khalasar. She was no stallion, but he did not doubt that she would make the world tremble. And when she took the iron chair of her father, he would be at her side.
He swelled with pride to think of it. The dragon flared its wings and sent a short burst of flame swirling into the sky. Daenerys was here, but he could feel the beast's hunger, feel the restless fire roiling in its belly. It was time to ride.
They took to the sky again, man and beast as one. He had been promised to the Night Lands, meant to ride forever through their eternal fields. But when the time had come, he had refused to go, refused to leave the Moon of his Life behind. Instead Khal Drogo would ride the wind itself. His enemies would tremble not at the sound of strong hooves, but at the fearsome beating of dragon's wings.