Disclaimer: I own nothing, just borrowing for a while.
“That’s a nice merchant fleet you have there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.”
Lady Yara Greyjoy, Mistress of Ships - 310 AL
Dragonstone Castle – Dragonstone Island – 298 AL
“Now remember to curtsy properly when you meet the new king” Lady Selyse instructed her daughter as they made sure their luggage was being properly loaded on the carts that would transport them down to the harbour.
Although a sweet and generally quite placid child Shireen Baratheon knew where her loyalties should lay. “Father was supposed to be the new king” she replied evenly.
Selyse turned and glared at the little girl. “The Lord of Light chose your cousin Joffrey to rule over Westeros, not your father.”
“Really? I thought it was the Great Council that did that” Shireen retorted, instantly regretting doing so not only because she had been raised to honour and respect her parents, but also because she suspected that her mother would have beaten her several times in the past for being stubborn and rude if not for her father’s refusal to allow his only child to be struck by anyone, even her own mother. “Sorry” she apologised for being ill-mannered, if not for telling the truth.
“You should not mock the Lord of Light” Selyse told her sternly. “It’s blasphemy.”
Still a believer in the Faith of the Seven, rather than having also adopted her mother’s chosen religion, Shireen considered blasphemy against R’hllor a victimless crime but had the good sense not to push her luck by saying so. Despite her mother adoring the Red Priestess, in Shireen’s opinion the Lady Melisandre was creepy, which was one reason Shireen liked Ser Davos Seaworth so much, he seemed to think so too.
The raven from her father summoning them both to King’s Landing and saying that a ship was being dispatched to collect them had surprised Shireen but she was looking forward to seeing him again. Perhaps he would be so sad after losing the vote he might need a hug to make him feel better, Shireen wondered, planning to give him the best hug ever if he did.
The appearance of a large Ironborn Longship off Dragonstone had been a surprise, the surprise increasing greatly when it entered the harbour flying the king’s standard, docked and dispatched a message by rider up to the castle that it was here to collect the family of Lord Stannis.
Unfortunately Lady Selyse and her daughter were not packed yet when the ship arrived and having already waited for over three hours the Ironborn crew were now apparently very annoyed at the delay because two of them, accompanied by a man wearing the armour and uniform of one of the kingsguard, now stomped in through the castle gate and headed straight for where the carts were still being loaded.
“Gods! Aren’t you ready yet?” one of the Ironborn complained, her voice confirming that she was a woman despite her wearing men’s clothes and a hairstyle that was less than feminine.
“Who do you think you are talking to us like that?” Selyse exclaimed at her temerity. “My husband is Stannis Baratheon, Lord of Dragonstone and Master of Ships!”
The Ironborn woman looked distinctly unimpressed. “Bully for him. My father is Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands and Lord Reaper of Pyke” she replied tersely. “And his flagship the Great Kraken is currently sat idle in your harbour waiting for you to get your act together.”
“You’re Lady Yara Greyjoy” Shireen realised, knowing who all the senior nobility of Westeros were off by heart thanks to many hours reading every book she could.
“Ser Mandon Moore, My Lady” the kingsguard introduced himself in turn, bowing to Selyse as he spoke up for the first time. “I apologise for our intrusion but those raised in the Iron Islands are not a patient people I’m afraid.” he observed. “I am here to ensure your security” he told her, less than subtlety indicating with a nod towards the Ironborn that meant protecting her from them if necessary.
Selyse recognised him with a nod of the head after collecting herself and then turned to Yara “I apologise for not greeting you properly when you entered my husband’s keep, but you’re dressed in the garb of an Ironborn sailor” she addressed her cooly. “Not a lady of high status” she pointed out.
“I am an Ironborn sailor, here captaining my father’s ship the Great Kraken on his behalf” Yara Greyjoy replied. “This is my first-mate” she introduced her other companion. “You’re the Lady Shireen?” she queried of the nine year old.
“Yes, Lady Yara” Shireen confirmed, performing a little curtsy as practice for when she met King Joffrey.
“Nobody calls me that” Yara replied, clearly amused by someone doing so. “Are you going to be much longer?” she asked the girl’s mother. “It’s not a good idea to leave a ship full of Ironborn in a port with nothing to do for too long, they start thinking about looting and pillaging the place” she warned, not entirely in jest. “Also there are a couple of goldcloaks aboard to make sure we behave… and I’m worried the crew will eat them” she added, this part being entirely a joke though an awful lot of people in Westeros might have believed her.
Shireen pursed her lips. “Why did you come for us instead of a ship from the Royal Fleet?” she queried.
“The new king asked my father to do so as a favour because our ships are faster than yours” Yara explained.
Shireen nodded. “Of course the reason we aren’t packed yet is because you got here so much quicker than anyone else would” she pointed out. “So really it’s your fault we aren’t ready” she declared.
Yara looked at the child and then to her first-mate before both of the Ironborn burst out laughing. “I like you girl, you’ve got spirit” Yara told her, grinning. Shireen beaming a smile in response.
When they eventually managed to get the longship loaded and underway it soon caught the wind and began cutting swiftly through the water towards King’s Landing at the other end of Blackwater Bay. With the large island of Driftmark to port and entering a safe well-mapped stretch of the sometimes treacherous waters Yara gave up the helm and went to check on her passengers. While Selyse seemed to be disinterested and had gone to the austere captain’s cabin in the sterncastle to quietly pray to R’hllor her daughter was on the main deck leaning over the side watching the water go by.
“Got much experience being at sea?” Yara asked the girl.
“I live on an island so yes” Shireen replied, trying not to roll her eyes at the stupidity of the question. “But I’ve never been on a ship this big that could go this fast before” she continued as the longship seemed to eat up the miles between Dragonstone and their destination.
“In the Iron Islands we build the best ships in the world” Yara told her proudly.
Shireen looked up from the water towards Yara. “That didn’t stop my father smashing your fleet at Fair Isle” she remarked then blushed red. “Sorry was that rude to say?” she asked when Yara raised her eyebrows.
“Rude or not it’s true” Yara conceded. Despite everyone talking about Robert Baratheon’s victory at the Siege of Pyke when the Greyjoy Rebellion was mentioned, in reality it was his brother Stannis winning the war at sea that made the defeat of the Iron Islands inevitable. “So what do you think about your father not being made king?” she asked.
“I’m sad for him” Shireen replied. “But I’m still sort-of glad I’m not a princess any more” she continued honestly. “I don’t think I was a very good princess.”
“Why not?” Yara asked her, curious as to why.
“Because princesses are supposed to be beautiful and I’m not” Shireen replied, subconsciously reaching up to touch the greyscale marks on the side of her face.
Yara sighed, feeling bad for the little girl. Despite the fact that if children survived greyscale they weren’t infectious any longer many people still shunned them as if they were, while others simply stared at their marks. Greyscale was fairly common in the Iron Islands, her own uncle Harlon had died of it before she was born, so she didn’t react to the condition the way others less familiar might have. It was bad luck not a curse sent by some sadistic god. “I wasn’t really what people think of a princess as being when I was one either” she confided in Shireen.
Shireen looked puzzled at her saying that initially until she realised what she meant. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “When your father rose up against my uncle Robert and declared himself King of the Iron Islands that made you a princess for a little while too.”
“Yes, for a few months when I was only a bit older than you are now” Yara confirmed. “I was terrible at it, my little brother Theon dresses more like a girl now than I ever did even back then” she joked.
“I wish I had a little brother” Shireen said. Her father would have loved having a son too, perhaps her mother even more.
“You can have mine, but only if you fight me for him” Yara replied deadpan. “It’s how we do things where I’m from, you have to pay the iron price for what you take.”
Shireen giggled. “I don’t think I could beat you in a fight” she responded.
“Well I didn’t say I’d fight very hard to keep him, you’ll get to meet him soon and you’ll see why” Yara told her, laughing herself.
“Wouldn’t your father want to keep him though?” Shireen asked. Surely any father wouldn’t want to give up his son, she thought to herself?
Yara shook her head. “My father doesn’t like my little brother very much” she told the girl, expression and tone serious now. “Theon’s not really that bad though, I think he just reminds my father of my older brothers that died.”
“Oh, that’s sad” Shireen commiserated. It wasn’t nice to have a parent that didn’t like you, even if you still loved them. Especially if you still loved them.
“Do you want to go up on the forecastle and look through the far-eye?” Yara suddenly asked, pointing up to where the ship’s telescope was mounted.
“Can I?” Shireen asked happily.
“Do you promise not to break it?” Yara checked. “Because if you do I’ll have to replace it with the one on my own ship and it was hard work getting it” she said, not mentioning that the hard work involved slaughtering most of the crew of a Myrish merchantman.
Shireen nodded emphatically. “I promise” she pledged, hand on heart. “What’s your ship called?” she asked as Yara led her to the bow.
“The Black Wind, you’ll see it when we arrive in King’s Landing” Yara replied. She had sailed her own ship from Pyke, following her fathers to King’s Landing, and although Balon Greyjoy had wanted his daughter to collect the family of Stannis Baratheon he had insisted on his flagship being used for the job instead of her smaller craft so as to properly impress the people of Dragonstone.
“Is it pretty?” Shireen asked, causing a couple of the ironborn crew who were nearby to laugh.
“No, it’s supposed to look scary and it does” Yara told her. “It’s smaller than the Great Kraken but it’s faster to make up for it” she said. “Yes it is” she told one of the crew that had thrown her a disparaging look at the accusation that the ship they sailed upon was in any way inferior to another in the Iron Fleet.
“Ser Davos has a pretty ship” Shireen told her. “Do you know Ser Davos Seaworth?” she asked as they climbed the stairs up to the forecastle where the bronze telescope was mounted on a pivot.
Yara began to remove the leather caps that protected the lenses on the telescope “He’s the one that has a ship with an onion painted on its sail right?” she recalled hearing about it once. That was the sort of thing that would get you noticed in seafaring circles, everyone had mermaids or sea monsters depicted on their sails but vegetables were an unusual enough choice for the story to get passed on.
Shireen nodded. “Yes that’s him, people say it looks silly but I think it’s clever” she said before Yara began pointing in the direction of distant landmarks she should try and spot through the telescope.
Later, as night fell, they returned to the far-eye to look at the stars, Yara explaining to the young girl how the Ironborn used them to navigate far from land.
The following day when the Great Kraken sailed into King’s Landing very few people paid much heed, certainly less than a longship would usually engender if Lord Balon was not in town for reasons involving politics rather than reaping. One of those that did take note was Lord Varys, Master of Whispers, who was watching the great vessel approach from one of the towers of the Red Keep overlooking the city docks. “He’s up to something with the Ironborn. I’m not sure what, but he is” Varys observed placidly, turning back to his companion.
“He?” Prince Oberyn of House Martell queried, raising a glass of wine to his lips. Quite how varys managed to arrange these clandestine meetings seemingly under the noses of everyone in King’s Landing never ceased to amaze him.
“Our intellectual and charismatic new king” Varys explained. “I must say it’s terribly frustrating being quite sure that there are clever schemes afoot that aren’t mine, while being almost entirely clueless as to what they are” he bemoaned the situation. “At least with Lord Baelish I can obtain an inkling of the scope of his self-serving machinations via his less loyal, or less discrete underlings, but with Joffrey I confess to being entirely in the dark all too often.”
Oberyn chuckled. “Losing your edge are you?” he asked.
“No, it’s more a case of lack of practice at having another sharp mind to contend with” Varys replied. “The added competition is intellectually stimulating I’ll admit, but it does make one miss the simple pleasures of being able to take time off occasionally to relax.”
“If you’re looking for recreation there are some lovely boys at the brothel I’m staying at” Oberyn told him then paused. “You did like boys, before?” he checked, diplomatic enough not to directly mention Vary’s status as a eunuch aloud in case of any sensitively he had on the subject.
Varys shook his head.
“Really? Girls? I hope you won’t be too offended if I say I wouldn’t have guessed” Oberyn told him.
“Not at all” Varys replied. “But I was never interested in girls either” he added.
“What then?” Oberyn asked.
“Nothing” Varys told him.
Oberyn looked nonplussed. “Everybody is interested in something” he stated confidently. For his part either boys or girls were fine, although he preferred girls slightly more.
“Not me” Varys replied honestly.
“Well despite the lack of an outlet you don’t appear to be particularly stressed at the moment at least” Oberyn observed, taking another sip of his wine. It was Dornish of course, Varys was always good at things like that. Details were his stock in trade.
“Appearances can be deceptive, it’s all a matter of projecting the right image” Varys replied. “A performance for the audience if you will” he said. “I have spent many years honing my skills in that department and I imagine that is why I’m the only one that seems to recognise someone else doing the same thing.”
“Meaning Joffrey” Oberyn surmised.
Varys nodded. “He is indeed a masterful performer in front of his audience, but if you continue to keep a careful eye upon him when he doesn’t think he’s being observed, notice things such as the way his expression changes before he walks on stage as it were, then you realise that he is merely playing a role.”
Oberyn raised his eyebrows. “You think he’s an imposter?”
“Oh dear me no, frankly that would far less unsettling a notion” Varys replied. “I think he’s Joffrey pretending to be a better Joffrey.”
“Meaning what exactly?” Oberyn queried, confused.
The Master of Whispers reached for a glass of wine of his own. He didn’t ever drink to get drunk but it was usually a safer choice than water if you wanted to avoid getting sick. “Even when he was generally perceived as nothing but a vile, venal, vicious and vindictive little brute, a more careful student of his nature would notice that Joffrey always seemed to have the knack of affecting the charming handsome prince when it suited him” Varys began to explain. “The discovery later that he was actually much brighter than we all thought, being merely lazy and indolent as a child rather than grossly stupid, explained why he could do that and my suspicion is that he has merely expanded his acting repertoire” he said. “Perhaps once some of his schemes become apparent, a few of his plans come to fruition, or if he feels comfortable and secure enough to dispense with some of the ongoing mummers performance I’ll be more certain, but for now all I can do is continue to make contingency plans to deal with him if the need arises.”
Oberyn pondered the theory. It was certainly unsettling as Varys maintained. “If he’s still the monster they said him to be as a child, merely one that learned that it would be better not to seem like one to others, then I can understand why you’re so concerned” he said. “The last fiend who ended up on the Iron Throne may have gone too far and ended up slain by one of his own kingsguard but…”
“But someone more perceptive than Aerys, someone who is also aware of their own predilection for doing monstrous things, might well seek to project a public image rather less likely to lead to their messy demise” Varys finished the thought for him.
“He would also seek to strengthen his rule as far as possible by making alliances, so that if the mask ever skips a little he remains secure nonetheless” Oberyn continued to theorise before frowning. “You really think he’s a new Mad King Aerys?” he asked, still not fully convinced.
“Worse. I think he might be Mad King Aerys with enough sense not to kill anyone important enough to trigger a civil war that would remove him from the throne” Varys replied. “I know I have a reputation for being at least marginally duplicitous at all times, but please believe me when I say that when I look in that boy’s eyes I see cold calculation without so much as a smidgen of humanity to moderate it and it terrifies me” he said earnestly.
“Aerys with Tywin Lannister’s intellect is a horrible notion as you said” Oberyn agreed. “Surely if you are correct you can’t be the only person close to the royal household to have similar suspicions?”
Varys sighed, then smiled weakly. “Alas of the people that might have had an inkling, they are all burdened by personal baggage that prevents them seeing the truth despite their undoubted high intelligence” he said. “Petyr Baelish for example possesses an ego that prevents him realising that he might be a piece on the board not the player moving them while Tyrion Lannister is far too pleased by the possibility that Joffrey’s new found sense of responsibility and love of the written word is a result of his own gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, coaching to realise something nefarious might be afoot.”
“Lord Tywin?” Oberyn wondered.
“Blinded by the shining revelation that he might actually have a descendent to be proud of” Varys replied. “There is one person I believe possibly shares my suspicions however, but it’s not someone you might expect.”
“Do you want me to play a guessing game?” Oberyn asked rhetorically. “Because there are hundreds of thousands of people in King’s Landing and we’ll potentially need more wine brought up if this is going to take a while” he joked.
“I’ll save you the time, and also spare the wine cellar” Varys replied, smiling again. “Grand Maester Pycelle” he told the Dornishman.
“That befuddled, doddery old fool?” Oberyn responded in surprise.
“Pycelle’s bumbling befuddlement is entirely feigned and he’s nowhere near as physically decrepit as he makes out” Varys replied. “It’s all an act designed to make people underestimate him, and it is precisely because he has maintained that act successfully for so long that leads me to believe he sees through Joffrey while others do not” he continued. “Unfortunately however Pycelle’s only goal is self-preservation and staying out of the way of anything dangerous so all he can be relied upon to do is keep quiet about it” he said. “I seem to be the only one that both sees the danger and is also inclined to actually do something to mitigate it.”
Oberyn put his glass of wine down. “And you see Dorne as being important to these contingency plans of yours you spoke of earlier. Hence reaching out to my brother as you have?”
“An integral part of them yes” Varys responded. “Fortunately our interests coincide here as I doubt House Martell relishes the idea of having the undoubtedly brilliant but potentially even more cruel and sadistic grandchild of Tywin Lannister ruling over Westeros unchallenged and unchecked.”
“We would have issues with that, yes” Oberyn wholeheartedly agreed. “So can I assume that when you talk of plans you have other irons in the fire as well?”
“A few” Varys confirmed. Some of which I’ve been working on for many years, he thought to himself, extremely glad of his prescience that they might be needed.