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No, it's not Albar! It's that lustful septon Adrian! He made Rhaena a son and decided to kill Rhaekar before he could find out.

False: Rhaena is way too flat for Andrian.
Part 2: The Black Unicorn

Chapter 1

For quite some time, Albar had been staring forward. His fingers were folded together, just before his mouth, and his elbows rested on the table. A series of blank pages rested before him, with a pen and ink jar resting before him. All around him, ravens cawed and cried and asked for corn, just as they had been for the past hour. They had become nothing but empty noise to him, just as the sound of the wind or the waves might be. His mind had been dulled, half from being awoken from his slumber not too long ago, and half from an internal debate on whether or not to begin writing what he had intended to write. It had been meant to be something of a sequel to his last work on the Dance and how it ended. What had started as a great adventure now ended in a tragedy, and he hoped to pen an account of what had unfolded over the past few years since that day. That terrible, sad day…

He still remembered the funeral, as if it had only happened moments ago. Rhaekar, in his black armor, minus his helmet, rested atop a stone slab, surrounded by finely cut wood. Soldiers were lined up on all sides, the banners of House Valzyren raised high. Then, the signal was given, and the banners were lowered. Nearby, Lady Rhaena Targaryen, clad in the dark colors of night, did little more than stare impassively. She had cried all her tears that day at the tourney, and after. Laena, the young girl, stared as well, gripping her mother’s black skirt. Daemon, the naive infant, slept soundly in the arms of a nurse maid.

Jelmamza, Rhaena’s ugly pet dragon, was there as well. At a hesitant signal from her owner, the beast lifted its head and cast the flames down onto the pyre. Rhaekar’s noble profile was highlighted by the flames that danced about him. As Albar watched, he was reminded of seeing that profile countless times on the trips the men used to take to the white cliffs of Duskendale. He still remembered when Rhaekar had asked to join him the very first time. Albar had initially thought that the lord was going to be a nuisance, but Rhaekar did little talking, and mostly personal inflection, as they stood on those cliffs. Albar was free to do his studies while Rhaekar found time to be away from being a lord, and having to cope with responsibilities and burdens. Now, as his body became charred, and his armor began to melt, Albar knew that Rhaekar would no longer have to worry about responsibilities and burdens. What’s more, there would be no more company with him to the white cliffs, to study the weather. Albar would do it alone… though nowadays he rarely found the heart to do it at all.

Great wailing rose up. Albar looked over, and saw that Laena had collapsed at her mother’s feet. “Pa… p… p…!” came the pitiful cries of the little girl. The repeated puh-sounds filled the air, in between her wails. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she hit the ground with her fist in childish frustration. Elonne came down and hugged her tight. As he watched the little girl continue to break down, and then saw Rhaekar’s body melt into nothingness, Albar, for the first time in his life, felt like crying himself. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise when, shortly thereafter, the Archmaester Tommen Laygood had sent word from the Citadel that winter was coming…


With a sigh, Albar picked up the quill and dipped it into the ink. His fingers planted themselves on the edge of a sheet of parchment and brought it towards him. Tilting his head, his tired eyes gazed at the page as he began to write.

It was 16 April, 135, when the Unicorn Prince was taken from Westeros. The courageous man who had survived battles against kings and dragons was lost to us, in a sick joke from the Seven, due to a tourney accident. An accident it was declared, for many men have been lost in such cases, and the spymaster found no evidence of foul play behind the affair. Yet avoiding any speculation and the fanciful tales of old maids in the marketplace, what can be said for certain of the Unicorn Prince? “Rhaekar the Rash,” he was known to some. “The Unicorn,” he was known to others. He was well respected by his men, honored by those in court, and admired even by his enemies in the field. It was because of him that the Dance was ended, and the turmoil around the Iron Throne came to a peaceful conclusion after so much bloodshed. It was he who saw the Targaryens fall while whisking away one for a wife, and it was he who witnessed the debauched spiral of the wicked tyrant Hugh the Hammer. The throne and the crown were offered him by fate, and yet he willingly passed it on to another. There truly was no greater man in Westeros, nor shall there ever be another. Such men are strong nails, keeping the planks of mighty structures together, but because they are too strong, foolish men tear them with their hammers, and ruin all. His name shall be remembered in history, even if only by those who still cherish the memories of dignity, honor, and chivalry.

Albar paused in mid-writing for a moment. The ink built up around the tip of his pen. He reread those words, and could imagine maesters at the Citadel writing commentaries on it, and going on and on about how much Albar was exaggerating things, and how Rhaekar was not the great man he described with his pen. They would highlight his faults, every single one of them, in a great effort to assure their readers that Rhaekar was far from perfect, and could never be considered the great hero of history that Albar made him out to be.

May all those contrary maesters, and their books, rot in the Seven Hells.

He continued writing.

In June of that year, Lady Rhaena lost her child. Most attributed it to her grief over her husband, but many saw it to be a bad omen of what was to come. Though the author holds no such wives tales to be any merit, events that occurred afterward most likely gave credence to superstitious minds. Laena, the oldest child of Lord Rhaekar, and his only daughter, was sent to Essos to live among distance Valyrian kinsmen in the southwest portions of the continent, in a city known as Mantarys. This was considered for her safekeeping, as well as to alleviate her mood. It was believed that the sudden and tragic death of her father had shaken her wits, and she regularly cried at bedtime. The time away, it was argued, would do her good.

With the Unicorn Prince lost, the command of government was left to his council and delegated to various underlings, all of whom had many ranges of capabilities and handicaps. One reoccurring problem was the continued dilemma in coin and finances. The Dun Fort regularly found itself in debt, and often had to take loans just to make ends meet. Merchant became weary of setting up shop in Duskendale. Lords became aggravated with what seemed to be a very mismanaged system, and many were not terribly fond of Rhaena Targaryen, who was appointed regent until Daemon came of age. They were likewise shocked and offended when Lady Rhaena declared that, following Targaryen tradition, her children Laena and Daemon were to be married. Many more began to lose faith on whether or not the young Lord Daemon – still a little boy at this time – could be raised into a proper ruler. It did not help matters that rumors began to surface in brothels and taverns across Duskendale that Daemon was slowly showing greater and greater signs of insanity.

Albar paused and lifted up his quill. “Rumors.” His terminology, and for all intents in purposes, that’s all they were. No one had hard, solid evidence that Daemon was mad… and yet more and more every day, Albar was quite certain the boy was. He confided in the maester once that he firmly believed the scullery maids, going about their daily gossip, were probably threatening to kill him. Daemon said that the sun had told him in a dream that it was intending on killing the moon. At first, Albar took these as the fancies of a young child, spinning a yarn as many young children do. The older and older the boy grew, however, the more and more his sincerity remained. Albar began to be concerned that these so-called wild fancies were truly the thoughts of a mind that was not altogether there. He felt even more worried about Laena, who had been betrothed to her own brother – a younger boy who was now showing certain signs of lunacy.


Albar lowered the quill and returned to his writing.

Here we must mark 13 July, 139, for it is a dark day for the Dun Fort. It is this day that saw the beginning of trouble. Though the Citadel and its learned men assured us that winter was coming to an end, the chill of war had settled upon Duskendale.

Lord Rolland Harte of Brindlewood ordered the raising of his banners, with the intent to place himself in the Dun Fort. Lord Jaremy Hollard also rose up, albeit for different purpose: his intent was that Daemon step down in favor of his supposedly more sane sister, Laena. Jaremy had inherited Hollard Hall from his father after the latter was banished to the Wall for being found with another man’s wife, and yet, even after the Dun Fort had sided in his favor, Lord Jaremy sought glory against Lord Daemon. King Daeron, who had formerly been supportive of Lord Rhaekar and his legitimacy, now turned a blind eye to the affairs of state north of the Red Keep.


For the next year, the war was fought across Duskendale, with Lady Rhaena Targaryen at the command of every army. Not a single battle was lost, and yet no battle was conclusive, and the lords refused to surrender. The land continued to see war well into the next year. Though victory after victory seemed to assure House Valzyren would win this war, the enemies of the Dun Fort prayed the Seven would grant them time. With every defeat, the Dun Fort levies shrunk in size. These were losses they could not afford, for their enemies were far greater in size, and with no major victory won, the rebels could sustain and control their losses.

More troubles grew for the Dun Fort. On 1 May, 140, Lord Alaric Byrch, like his father before him – his father, who had betrayed the Unicorn Prince, and yet been spared with donning the black – raised his banners to place himself in the Dun Fort, just as Lord Rolland Harte hoped. In an effort to keep the war from becoming a catastrophe, council agreed to sign a white peace with Lord Rolland Harte, who knew his own efforts were foolhardy. However, certain factions within the council, though whose voices and minds this author is ignorant of, made a plan to imprison Lord Rolland and punish him for the rebellion. The attempt failed, and Lord Rolland raised his banners anew to seek vengeance for violating the truce. Now, all the vassals of Duskendale were rebelling against House Valzyren, and the situation was worse than before.

Albar lifted up his pen again. He had his theories on who might have formulated the plan. Annara claimed that her spies pointed to Rhaena, but Albar knew Rhaena, as prideful as she could be, would not have risked a successful campaign so foolishly. Albar had it on word from certain voices that Annara might have concocted the scheme, knowing it would fail. Why she desired to plan it, and plan it to fail, he wasn’t sure. However, he was not in the habit of making wild accusations. With a disgruntled sigh, he returned to writing.

The most grim moment in the war was on 5 August, 140. Though Lady Rhaena had been performing an excellent task in keeping the three rebel armies from uniting, by fighting them off one by one, they eventually circumvented her and united their powers near the Dun Fort. This resulted in the Battle of Duskendale when a combined army of 2300 men, up against 800 under Lady Rhaena, defeated the loyalists. Despite her dragon, and despite bravery on the loyalist side, the battle proved to be utterly tragic. The levies of Lord Rhaekar, who had been with him through the Dance, had been reduced to barely 150 men. The only saving grace from this was that Lord Alaric died in the battle, supposedly burned by Jelmamza after Rhaena spotted him in the field. This ended the conflict with House Byrch, who then turned their loyalty back to the Dun Fort.


This turn of events resulted in a fresh victory at the Second Battle of Duskendale. This time Lord Jaremy was killed, after Lady Rhaena spotted him separated from his men, and had her dragon swoop in to tear him in two. Jaremy’s two-year old daughter Jannia inherited Hollard Hall, though her regent, Lucifer Hollard, decided to continue the war. Lord Rolland was also killed in the battle, likewise by Jelmamza, and the lordship of Brindlewood passed to another house entirely, under the infant Uthor Donniger.

Despite this substantial victory, the Dun Fort had come to realize that pursuing military conflict would be foolhardy, and so did many other lords of Duskendale. A meeting was held with Andrey Piper, the Master of Pauzin and Lord Uthor’s regent. They agreed that Daemon would no longer be the inheritor of Duskendale, but rather it would go to Laena. So peace was signed on 24 December, 140, and Laena Valzyren became, on paper, the new Lord of Duskendale. Messages were sent to Essos, where she had been sequestered, and it was commanded that she return to Westeros at once.


Albar put the pen down and began to massage his fingers. It was hard to believe he had passed forty-one name days now, even if every year he felt more and more as if his body was catching up to his age. Around him, the ravens still cawed in vain, but he ignored them. There were greater things to worry about that turned their concerns for corn into dwarfs. Daemon Valzyren was under house arrest, and seemed to be growing more and more irrational every day – while, at the same time, there were those within the council who desired to see him placed back in charge. In the meantime, the rebellion was still ongoing, and there was great concern about whether or not the Dun Fort could maintain its hold over Duskendale. If there was another defeat like the one before, House Valzyren would be finished.

For now, Albar had to put all of that aside. Besides, he had to prepare himself: Lady Laena Valzyren’s ship had been spotted off the north coast just the other day, which meant she was due to arrive in the harbor at any moment.
Poor Albar - he has seen much, and suffered in his way. All those fine hopes so defeated.
Well, it seems as though the fall of the Summer Unicorn has ushered in a winter of discontent for Duskendale and its vassals. Daemon's deposition must have been quite the bitter pill to swallow, though perhaps it was a blessing in disguise with his oncoming madness...

At any rate, the Dun Fort definitely seems to have entered a nadir. Hopefully the worst is over now, at least for the time being.
Ah, here comes incest. Valzyrens, meet Incest. Incest, meet the Valzyrens. This is mother Rhaena, who likes to burn'em all! This is Laena, who is stuttering and ruling the realm. And this is her brother Daemon, who is insane and probably a Bastard.
Incest: Oh my God, that's my favorite type of family!

By the way, did Annara actually tried to kidnap that lord Rolland?
And so Daemon descends into madness. I don't know about other people, but to be honest, I quite like the direction this story is going in. Unicorn Prince was a good guy and his heir might turn total opposite. Very interesting turn of events.

I only fear for little Daemon becoming something like Hugh Hammer.


I've seen that Part 2 is called the Black Unicorn so perhaps you could change the headline of each chapter (turn that white unicorn into a black one) to reflect that Black Unicorn vibe, if you know what I mean. :)
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Black Unicorn... Black name, black heart... Black Hair? If I'm not mistaken, we haven't seen his picture yet.
(yeah, I'm not going to drop that stone dragon theory that easy)
Poor Albar - he has seen much, and suffered in his way. All those fine hopes so defeated.

He's probably been a victim of circumstance just as much as Rhaekar was, what with witnessing the Second Siege of King's Landing by the Hammer's forces and all.

Well, it seems as though the fall of the Summer Unicorn has ushered in a winter of discontent for Duskendale and its vassals. Daemon's deposition must have been quite the bitter pill to swallow, though perhaps it was a blessing in disguise with his oncoming madness...

At any rate, the Dun Fort definitely seems to have entered a nadir. Hopefully the worst is over now, at least for the time being.

200 points for the Richard III reference. And yes, tough times ahead. Keep in mind even at the end of this chapter, there is still a rebellion going on - only one faction was appeased with Daemon stepping down.

Ah, here comes incest. Valzyrens, meet Incest. Incest, meet the Valzyrens. This is mother Rhaena, who likes to burn'em all! This is Laena, who is stuttering and ruling the realm. And this is her brother Daemon, who is insane and probably a Bastard.
Incest: Oh my God, that's my favorite type of family!

By the way, did Annara actually tried to kidnap that lord Rolland?

When you put it that way, the Valzyren household sounds quite FUBAR'd indeed!

As for the Lord Rolland thingy, I'm not giving away info. You'll just have to keep reading to find out. Maybe I'll make this an unresolved subplot. I am called the new GRRM, after all...

Ah well, what a mess. Let us hope that Laena at least can get through the regency. Although with a brother - husband like that I am really worried.

Laena is being placed in an interesting situation, to be sure.

And so Daemon descends into madness. I don't know about other people, but to be honest, I quite like the direction this story is going in. Unicorn Prince was a good guy and his heir might turn total opposite. Very interesting turn of events.

I only fear for little Daemon becoming something like Hugh Hammer.


I've seen that Part 2 is called the Black Unicorn so perhaps you could change the headline of each chapter (turn that white unicorn into a black one) to reflect that Black Unicorn vibe, if you know what I mean. :)

The "Black Unicorn" title will become more apparent as the story progresses. Its meaning has been hinted at in the past, but will now see some fruition. So... no, I won't be changing the headline of the chapter, ha. That's more related to the house standard, which bears a white unicorn. Plus, if I kept changing the color for every part, it might get ridiculous.

Just imagine if we have a pink unicorn, and then this thread gets flooded with Bronies...

Albar is writing what he knows, but not all he thinks.

The house is strained without their patriarch.

Honestly, playing up to this point in game was a bit difficult after Rhaekar died. I almost thought it was going to end at some point with House Valzyren removed from power.

Black Unicorn... Black name, black heart... Black Hair? If I'm not mistaken, we haven't seen his picture yet.
(yeah, I'm not going to drop that stone dragon theory that easy)

I forget the stone dragon theory.

I do remember the bottle of wine theory... maybe that's it...
I mean the theory that Daemon is a bastard, and not Rhaekar's son. And bastards in the Vale have the surname Stone. ;)
But if I recall correctly Duskendale is in the Crownlands. So if he was a bastard he would be a Waters.
I mean the theory that Daemon is a bastard, and not Rhaekar's son. And bastards in the Vale have the surname Stone. ;)

I didn't realize that was a theory.

Let me put that theory to rest: Daemon is indeed Rhaekar's son. He's the product of Rhaena and Rhaekar's little parley in the tent during the Byrch rebellion. (And yes, I literally got a "Your wife is pregnant" event while the two of them were on campaign.)
I didn't realize that was a theory.

Let me put that theory to rest: Daemon is indeed Rhaekar's son. He's the product of Rhaena and Rhaekar's little parley in the tent during the Byrch rebellion. (And yes, I literally got a "Your wife is pregnant" event while the two of them were on campaign.)
Well, now I'll be calm. By the way, Rhaekar mentioned that after Daemon's birth Rhaena became pregnant for the third time just before the tournament.
Now, with Rhaena pregnant a third time, one could only wonder if the prospect promised Laena a sister, or yet another heir to push her down the pretender line.
So, what was the result? Or I missed something again, as usual?
Yeah, what @Rufy_King said. The third child was a miscarriage, shortly after Rhaekar's death. The only children Rhaekar bore were Laena and Daemon, both through Rhaena. As you can imagine, this means right now there are very few people in House Valzyren.
Just caught up with this AAR! So who were you playing as after this? Laena?

Also, as far as the writing is concerned, I especially appreciated the contrast between Albar's thoughts about future maesters at the beginning of his chronicle and now.
Just caught up with this AAR! So who were you playing as after this? Laena?

Laena is currently Lady of Duskendale at this point in the game. I won't give anything else away.

One thing I will say, to tease the readers a bit: the next chapter will be a POV from Laena herself.

Also, as far as the writing is concerned, I especially appreciated the contrast between Albar's thoughts about future maesters at the beginning of his chronicle and now.

Glad you noticed that. Obviously his mood was quite different in those two circumstances.

Chapter 2

All she had heard was the creaking of the boat. The steady, rhythmic creaking of that wood as it shifted under its own weight by the sea. She was laying in bed, and could see only blackness, yet with her eyes – the eyes of sleep – she saw much, much more.

She saw herself, standing there, naked and covered in blood and gods knew what else. Her silver hair stuck close together in a dirty mess, while much of it clung to the flesh of her shoulders and back. When her violet eyes lifted up, she saw, some distance away from her, a golden mountain. It was huge, and took up much of the horizon. As she continued to stare, it began to dawn on her that the golden mountain was shifting. Then something rose from the top, and she realized this was no mountain at all – it was an enormous, gold-colored snake!

The hideous beast towered high. Its black, beady eyes, void of any reflective gleam of light, gazed down at her. It opened its maw, and steaming drool came forth from its mouth. Two sharp teeth pointed down, and a great, curly tongue stuck out, the forked ends slapping about the air like a torturer’s whip. The mountain crumbled as the serpent uncoiled itself, and began to approach her. It drew closer and closer. She shivered, feeling cold air hit her wet, naked body. She couldn’t move. Her legs were frozen stiff, not from fear, but as if she was too weak to move at all. As it slithered ever closer, she realized that creatures it had previously murdered hung from its body. Dragons, with their wings dangling lifelessly beside their bodies, here tied by strange, scaly hooks along the creature’s side. The corpses swayed every time the serpent moved.

Suddenly, a movement caught the corner of her eye. She turned, and saw a brilliant white stallion of a unicorn charging onto the scene. Every time the hooves struck the ground, the earth shook. The quaking intensified the closer and closer it came. As it neared, it lowered its head. The large, pointed horn at the end was aimed right for the serpent. The beast turned and saw the unicorn, but too late. The horn drove him. The scales were pierced like a hot sword through wax. The serpent gave a great cry and flung its head back. Scarlet blood poured forth from its wounds. The creature fell backwards, slipping out of the unicorn’s blade. It toppled onto the ground, and gave one last hiss from its dying lips.

The unicorn turned its head towards her now. Blood dripped from its horn, hitting the dirt. The stallion lowered its head and closed its eyes. Its muzzle shook then, and steam blew from its nostrils. She realized then that it was giving her a command. A command to arise. She looked down, and saw her black hoof come forward. It planted itself down on the ground, then pressed against the dirt. Another hoof rested down beside the other. She exerted strength, and felt the muscles ache with weakness. She pushed against her hind legs, but it felt like her body was the weight of ten persons, rather than one. The stallion snorted again, and the steam swarmed around her body. At last, she exerted enough strength to get her balance, and she rose from the soiled ground. She steadied herself on all four legs, though her knees wobbled. She looked up at the stallion before her.

It looked at her with gleaming eyes. Then, she realized that blood was pouring from its coat. It started in one spot, then another, then another, then another. Blood soaked its beautiful white fur in morbid splotches, and dripped down along its body. In slow motion, as if resisting the whole affair, the beast turned its head, and then fell to the ground. The steam that had gathered about them swarmed away as the animal collided with the earth…

And that was when Laena heard the servants waking her. The vision dissipated, and she was back in the small cabin of the ship. They had arrived in Duskendale.

She was barely nine name days along in her life, and had only vague memories of the Dun Fort, and her household territory. She had an early memory of peeking in on the cooks in the scullery. She had another early memory of a tourney of some kind… of her mother screaming, and a septon whisking her and her brother away. It was some time later that she had been told that her father had died. Soon afterward she was sent eastward, to Essos, for safekeeping, and to “improve her wits” as some servants told her.


Once she was properly dressed, and her items were prepared, she was led by her retainers out of her quarters and down the ramp of the ship. On the platform itself, she saw a group of men standing about a few horses. One of them was a middle-aged man in brown robes, while the others were clearly guards with tabards bearing the white unicorn of her house. The middle-aged man stepped forward, and Laena at once took notice of the metal chain wrapped around his neck. He stopped a few feet from her and bowed. “Lady Laena. I am Albar, the maester of Duskendale.”

Laena gave a small curtsy, then said in a low voice, just above a whisper, “Albar.”

“We have been sent to escort you safely to the Dun Fort, my lady.”

Laena blinked and looked about. Her violet eyes took notice of the workmen on the docks, the women who seemed to be lingering nearby, cackling madly. The smallfolk walking just outside the dock, carrying wares or out and about for gods knew what reason. All of them suddenly seemed worthy of some notice. “Am I in danger?” Her voice was still a whisper. She had learned to speak, but only in a low voice. If she tried to speak any louder, that was when the stuttering began. She hated the stutter – she had tried with many tutors to send it away, but it always came back, even after a little bit of improvement.

“We are taking precautions,” Albar explained. He motioned towards one of the footmen, who went to a group of horses and brought one closer to them. “I wish I could give warmer greetings to you, my lady, but there are still many dangers in this land. While your mother and most of the army is away in the field, we can take no chances that one of the rebels may have hired an agent.”

No warm greetings indeed, Laena thought. The way her retainers back in Essos had spoken, she half-expected to be greeted by the finest knights of Westeros, who would then lead her to the Red Keep and crown her queen. Instead, she found herself greeted by a tired maester and two unimpressive footmen to whisk her away to a castle. Even the horse they had brought her seemed tired and worn, with gray fur growing around its otherwise pleasant fawn color. She accepted the footman’s assistance as she climbed up the side and mounted herself side-saddle. In her plain dress, atop a plain horse, and led by a handful of men, she might as well have been one of the smallfolk, rather than the Lady of Duskendale. The only thing to set her apart was the silver hair that cascaded down her back.

With Albar leading the way, the small troupe began their way towards the Dun Fort. Servants carrying her bags and crates followed behind. As they walked, Laena realized that, according to Albar, she would not see her mother, and may not for quite some time. Rhaena Targaryen, she was called. She remembered her name, though her memories of her mother were fleeting at best. Rhaena was the last surviving member of the great house that had ruled Westeros – Laena knew that. Her mother rode a dragon into battle and had lost few battles, or so it was said. Why, then, Duskendale was in such a poor shape, Laena could not understand. Dragons, proud houses, and constant victories… why weren’t things better than they should have been? And if she wasn’t to meet her mother, then what was to happen to her once they reached the Dun Fort?

“What will I do when we arrive?” Laena whispered.

Albar, who was some feet away from her on horseback, turned his head and raised an eyebrow. “What did you say, my lady?”

Laena tried to raise her voice, though it was only a louder whisper. “What will I do when I arrive…?”

Albar made an effort to ride his horse closer, but still looked confused. “I am sorry, my lady, could you please speak up?”

Laena raised her voice. “Wha… w… wha… w… w… w…” She grimaced, squinting her eyes hard. She inhaled deep, then said, “Happen. What happen?” She pointed to the Dun Fort, hoping she wouldn’t have to elucidate.

Thankfully, Albar seemed to catch on well enough. “Ah… well, we will show you to your quarters, then you will have… well, honor,” the word was said with some venom, “of sitting in on a council meeting. Oh do not worry, you will not be expected to say much, but I do believe it is important you become familiar with how things are done in court. Furthermore, you will have a better idea of how things are.”

“Will I be crowned?” Laena asked. In case she couldn’t be heard, she lifted up her hands from the reins and mimicked the motion of a crown being placed on her head.

Albar chuckled. “I am afraid not, my lady. There will be little time for that… and, well… to be perfectly honest, little coin.” He sighed and shook her head. “I truly am sorry. I wish, for your father’s sake, I had a better mood to place you in.”

Laena rode her horse closer to the maester. “What was father like.”

“A good, brave man. A man of mettle I fear I may never see again. If not our kingdom.”

Laena nodded and turned back. They were already going under the portcullis of the Dun Fort. She was surprised how quickly they had arrived, and could not remember the Dun Fort coming so soon. Once they were in the courtyard, Albar dismounted, as did the two guards who had come with them. One of them, a lanky boy whose armor seemed too big for him, came by and offered his hand. “Help ye down, m’lady?”

“Yes, thank you,” came Laena’s soft reply. She gripped the cold metal of his glove and slid down from her saddle, landing on the ground with a slide grunt.

The other guard shook his head. “Oh, nice dismount there, Lorys – wanting to break her ladyship’s legs, are you?”

“Oh stuff yer gob, Ronnel!” the guard barked. “Or yer legs will get broken!”

“Come off it. I would threaten to break your face, but it got broke a long time ago.”

“And yer gonna get my spear shoved right up yer a-”

Albar cleared his throat. Loudly. Both guards snapped into attention where they stood, frozen like statues. Though their bodies moved not a muscle, their eyes glanced at one another and narrowed. The exchange, quiet as a mouse but venomous as a serpent, caused Laena to giggle a little. She passed by them and moved on with the maester into the keep itself, happy for the brief exchange to lighten the mood.

“The ladies of the castle will show you to your quarters, my lady,” Albar said. “As soon as you are refreshed, come down to the court hall. You will be expected. We will not start until you arrive.”

Laena nodded, but said no more. Just like that, the maester was gone, and various serving girls in plain dresses approached her, coming from the shadows of the halls. Like she were a guest rather than a lord, they led her up a flight of stairs, to her room. Even before she had entered, the entire experience of the castle and its interior seemed all too surreal for the young girl. She knew she had been here before. She had walked these halls before, as a little one, and slept in these rooms as a babe. Yet that had been so long ago, before being sent off to Essos, and before her mind was strong enough to keep memories with greater clarity. It was like she was remembering a dream, rather than a memory. Everything was so familiar, yet so faint; so familiar, and yet so displaced. Even as she walked down the hall towards her room, things tucked away into the recesses of her mind seemed to return. She remembered walking these halls before, a tiny hand gliding along the cold stones, approaching a familiar door. She remembered opening that door, to find her father standing there, tall and broad-shouldered. He was standing before a mirror, getting dressed… getting dressed for a tourney…

She was shown the door to her room, and – without the girls pursuing her – she entered. At once she was greeted with a simple room, of moderate size: certainly it was much larger than most rooms the smallfolk would be used to, yet it seemed much to small for the Lady of Duskendale. A few windows brought in light from the outside, and an old, worn brazier rested in the corner, just across from a bed. When she approached the bed, she found it only big enough for one person, and of little detail. There was nothing to be said about the headboard or the corners. It wasn’t like the beds she saw in tapestries, or knew that men of wealth could afford. It did seem fairly new, and even the sheets were perfectly folded and absolutely clean. Had it been purchased, just for her to use? And was so little coin spent on it?

After washing her face and changing into a warmer blue dress, she made her way to the bottom floor and towards the council chamber. The door was cracked open when she found it, and various voices could be heard from inside. When she stepped through the crack, all voices stopped, and all heads turned. She recognized no one but Albar. The maester smiled and stood up straight. “Her, her ladyship has arrived.” He bowed slightly, then held out his robed arm towards a stone chair that rested atop a dais. “Please, have a seat my lady.”

Saying nothing, but scanning every person as she walked, Laena Valzyren made her way into the chambers and towards the chair. Albar took her side, and as she gazed at each person, he would whisper who they were to her. A cloaked man with a wiry mustache. “Tristifer, the treasurer.” A blonde-haired man with a short-trimmed beard. “Petyr Grell, Master of Duskendale and justiciar.” A cloaked man with a dark beard. “Orland, our treasurer.” A one-eyed man with robes. “Symon, our court septon.” Finally, Laena’s eyes settled on a plump woman standing some distance from the group. “Annara Darklyn, your spymaster.”

The girl ascended the steps of the dais, then turned and sat herself down. Immediately she pondered if she should be sitting on the Iron Throne itself, for the chair seemed to engulf her. How many Lords of Duskendale had sat in this chair throughout history, even before the coming of the Targaryens? It seemed to reject her, sending a cold chill through her clothes and into her bum and back. Even her hands felt a certain iciness as she planted her palms against the armrests. She glanced to Albar, who gave her a reassuring smile, then turned and addressed the court:

“With her ladyship here, we can now begin with the most pressing matters.”

“Indeed, I think it best we cut to the chase,” Peter Grell began. “Maester Albar, have we received a response from my offer yet?”

Albar frowned. “Sadly so. I received a raven from King’s Landing shortly after I left Lady Laena to settle her wares. It would seem that King Daeron has refused our calls to intervene in the war.”


A loud growl left Peter’s throat. “Bugger it all! Does he care nothing about Duskendale?”

“The king has more pressing matters, it would seem,” Orland said. “What with fighting with Dorne over a small patch of land, then attacking pirate islands in the Narrow Sea. We must face it: when the Unicorn perished, so did King Daeron’s love for Duskendale.”

Laena frowned at that. She knew her father was dead. She knew how he had died. But to be reminded of it… and to hear that it meant nothing to some in the kingdom… it sent a dagger into her heart. She glanced to Albar, who saw her look and gave her a smile obviously meant to comfort. She looked from Albar to Annara. The large woman turned and saw the Valzyren looking at her. A grin curled under her plump cheeks, and her neck seemed to bulge more. It was a friendly, cheerful smile, with nothing innately hostile in it… and yet, it made Laena uncomfortable. It reminded her too often of those adults who spoke with her as if she were still a baby, and did not realize just how intelligent she was at her age. It was an insincere, almost condescending smile. There was something about this spymaster which Laena already did not like.

“I do not recall you being appointed justiciar, Orland,” Petyr remarked, turning his eyes towards the treasurer. “Perhaps our dear master of coin might spew some gold instead of unwanted commentary?”

Orland furrowed his brow. “No need to be harsh, Grell. If I could actually spew forth gold, my finger would be in the back of my mouth from when I broke fast to when I tumbled in my bed. As you know very well, there is very little coin in our realm. And I recently received a rather nasty message from the Iron Bank of Braavos. As you might remember, our dear regent, Lady Rhaena Targaryen, took out a loan in her son’s name, and now they intend to collect.”

Albar sighed at that. “We have little money to do so. We may be able to assist them with interest to show our good faith, but… we shall have to extend our debt further.”

“Just as I thought,” Orland said, sniffing. “I told them as much.”


“Can we talk about something just a bit more pressing?” Tristifer asked. He smiled nervously, then added. “There is still a war going on in our land. The rebellion.”

Petyr raised his voice. “We know what confounded war you meant!”

Tristifer took a step back and held up his hand. “Yes, yes, Grell, please, be calm.”

“And please be direct. Why are you speaking?”

“Well, it is just that, what do we know of the rebel troops?”

“Sadly, Lady Rhaena, our master at arms, and her ladyship’s mother, could not attend this meeting,” Albar said. “As you all are well aware, she is currently in the field, attempting to rebuild our numbers.”

“In the meantime, the rebels have over a thousand men, assembling north.” Petyr shook his head. “Rhaena’s had to pay for mercenary troops to fill in our ranks. We have as little coin as it is. What happens when it runs out? Does she think that her dragon will do most of the fighting for her?”

Laena narrowed her eyes at Petyr Grell. Her fingers gripped the ends of the armrests a bit tighter.

“One dragon is better than no dragon,” Albar said. “Calm yourself in her ladyship’s presence, Master Grell. Do not forget that, without this dragon, any potential rebel victory would not have been stalled as long as it has.”

Petyr snorted. “Stalled… but stopped?”

“That is not our concern right now.”

“It will be if rebel troops storm the city and burn it to the ground.”

“Master Grell, Lady Rhaena has been leading the armies as capably as she can. Be thankful she has been able to keep them away from your city for as long as she has.”

Laena thought back to what Albar had told her when she came off the ship: he had no warm welcome for her, and it seemed like his words had been true. She was sitting atop the dais, in the highest position of authority in Duskendale… but what was it she had inherited? A land steeped in debt, embroiled in a civil war that seemed to be teetering on the edge of disaster. Had she come to rule, or to witness? And if witness, witness what? The destruction of her domain? Had she come just in time to see the white unicorn banners taken down from the walls of the Dun Fort? And she had not even met her brother. Her dear, betrothed brother, about whom there were rumors aplenty about him speaking to himself alone as if he were speaking to someone else entirely… who had taken to hurting himself as he lay alone in his room, under house arrest. Was all this madness, from within and without her betrothal, to be her fate?

This was on her mind even after the council meeting had ended. Albar had given her leave to explore the castle in order to become better familiar with the layout, but her mind paid little attention to her surroundings as she stepped. She was too busy thinking about the troubles with the world she had been placed into. It was she was walking down a lonely hallway, in some unknown part of the Dun Fort, That her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a booming voice that echoed towards her.

“Hey! You there! Stop!”

Laena turned. She heard a series of footsteps coming down the hall, at just where it turned. A larger set of footsteps, jogging quickly, followed after a smaller set of footprints, coming much closer. Suddenly, a young girl stepped around the corner. She was dark-haired and close to Laena’s age. She gasped when she saw Laena, the whites of her eyes going on display. The girl’s hands were at an apron she wore, which she had bundled up close to her belly. Behind her, the larger footsteps got closer and closer.

“Come back here, ye little brat!” shouted a deep voice.

The girl looked over her shoulder, then unrolled her apron. Laena saw the two fresh buns in the girl’s hands.

“Quick!” the girl said. “Hide them!”

She handed them over to Laena, then darted behind her. Laena, in a fit of panic, knew nowhere to stick the bread, except… right down her dress. She pulled at the front of her loose bodice and tucked them under.

Out from behind the corner came a burly, mustached man in a dirty white cloak. “Where did ye take the bread ye little-” He stopped when he saw Laena. “W-what?”

“Can I help you?” whispered Laena. She had her arms crossed over her belly, and she was standing tall. Her eyes were half-closed. She imagined she looked immensely silly, but she was attempting to come off as incredibly serious and regal.

The man looked over and saw the girl behind Laena. He snarled. “Ye there! Give back the rolls ye took!”

The girl stepped out into the open. She grinned innocently and held out her hands. “What rolls?”

The man blinked. “But ye… I…” He turned to Laena. “Do ye know…?”

His eyes suddenly went down, several inches from Laena’s chest. Laena looked down, and immediately felt blood rush to her cheeks. The rolls had been tucked out of sight, but she hadn’t tucked them down far enough. Two full shapes stuck out from her chest. Laena tried to recover her serious tone, and raised her voice as she raised her gaze back to the man. “D-do you d-dare t-to st-st-st-stare at her ladysh-sh-sh-ship th-th-that way?”

The man’s eyes snapped back up. “Ladyship?”

“Yes. I am L-Lady L-L-Laena V-Va-V-V-Va-V-V...” She grimaced, then relaxed. “Lady Laena.” She lowered her voice into a hissing whisper. “Now leave my sight, or I will have you scourged for daring to look at me so lewdly.”

“N-nothin’ meant wrong, m’lady! Forgive me!” The man turned and stormed away, as quickly around the corner as he had come.

“Whew! That was a close one!” The girl wiped her brow to emphasize the point. “Thanks for helping me out!” Laena reached down her dress, then pulled the rolls out. Aside from being squished a bit, they were still as they had been. Their warmth had felt good against her chest, hinting at just how fresh they were. Laena held them both out to the girl, but she only smiled and waved her hand. “You take one! I owe you, any way.”

Laena blinked, then looked down at her hands as the girl took one of the rolls, leaving the other still with the Lady of Duskendale. Why had she hidden the bread, just like that? What had compelled her to do such a thing, and so readily? Was it because this girl was about her age, and indeed the only girl her age she had met since she hopped off the ship? Was it because doing so made her feel more like a child, and not like a lady ruling a failing domain? Laena lifted her violet eyes to see the girl take a seat against the wall, then pat the spot next to her. Like an obedient puppy, Laena obeyed the gesture. She rested herself on the ground, folding her legs up so that her wrists could rest against them. The girl had already bitten into the warm bread, and was munching on it happily. Laena waited until she had swallowed before she whispered, “What is your name?”

“Alyssa. Alyssa Darklyn. Are you really Laena Valzyren? The Lady of Duskendale herself? The one that was coming here?”

Laena nodded, then looked away.

Alyssa smiled. She quietly mouthed “wow,” then added aloud, “Welcome to the Dun Fort!” She held out her hand. “Friends?”

Laena turned back. She gazed at the hand, then Alyssa. A smile curled over her lips. In a moment, everything that had lingered since the council session had suddenly evaporated from her mind. With fingers covered in the butter of the bread roll, Laena shook Alyssa’s hand. “Friends...”