Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this tale can and will deviate from series canon.
The Story So Far: Victor Luxon
has completed his task of returning heirloom blades to the great Houses of Westeros. He and his household make for their restored castle at Moat Cailin, but not before visiting his father-in-law, Walder Frey, at the Twins…
“So…” The word was drawn out for a moment longer than most would consider polite. Victor Luxon tore another mouthful of meat from the haunch in his hand. He waited for the speaker to lean closer before he made eye contact.
Walder Frey’s mouth never stopped moving. The largest orifice in the old man’s weasel-like face was even more animated as he entreated his son-in-law. “So! You still have some of those old swords, do you?”
Victor shrugged. “My father has them. They’re locked up, under the Mage’s Tower.”
“The Mage’s Tower.” Walder turned his head to spit. The gelatinous projectile sailed down from their high table and landed in the soup of one of Walder’s sons. The young Frey gave his father a withering look. Walder merely chuckled. “Serve ya right for being so pretty, boy!” The old man turned to Victor. “Too much of his mother in that one. Too pretty.”
“So you said.” Victor took a drink of wine. “Why do you ask about the swords?”
“Freys don’t have ancestral blades. It’d be nice to have one.” He got that leer in his look again. “Just be a matter of putting a different hilt on it, I imagine. Who’d know the difference? A sword’s a sword, right?”
“To the peasants and the dim lower nobles,” Victor replied. “Show it to any of the Great Houses, and —”
“Oh, yes, have them call me a liar! I’m not used to that old sausage, not at all.” Walder Frey sniffed wetly. Victor tried to keep his frown to himself. He’d traded that bastard and his irritable smile for a completely different definition of the word ‘disgusting’. “Or, better yet, would I be ‘dishonoring’ the sword if I put some Frey colors on its hilt? That’s something you Luxons know all about, eh? Honor?”
“It’s in our words.” Victor set down his goblet. “Do you really want a Valyrian sword that badly?”
Walder blinked as if stunned. “Who wouldn’t? Pretty things, those. Look quite fashionable over my hearth.”
“A sword’s meant to be used. It’s a weapon, not a sculpture.”
“And how often does your lord father use his?”
Victor frowned. This conversation was quickly going in uncomfortable directions. “Often enough to make men without sense think twice before opening their fetid mouths.”
Walder’s expression darkened. “Boy, you’d best not take that tone with me.”
Victor met Walder’s gaze. “If we were squatting over the same shithole, father-in-law, you can be damned sure I’d tell you if your shit stank. I’d expect you’d do the same for me.”
For a moment, the mouth of Walder Frey made no sound. Then, like a hole in a sack bursting wide under the pressure of its contents, the Lord of the Crossing’s jaw hinged downward wide, and he laughed loudly.
“You just might be the most worthwhile in-law I ever had the good fortune to put in bed with one of my daughters!” He slapped Victor on the shoulder. Victor barely felt it. “I’ve seen lesser men, even my own blood, piss themselves when I round on ’em.”
“You do remember every insult hurled at you, or so they say. Most of that, I imagine, comes from so-called highborn manners.”
“Too right, you are.” Frey took a large drink of wine. “What is it that you want?”
Victor narrowed his eyes. “That’s a broad question.”
“Well, then, make your answer broad. Come on, speak up.”
“I want what you want.” Victor paused. “I want to make my house great.”
Frey leaned back, a long “ah” sound coming from his mouth. “And how, exactly, are you going to do that?”
“By engaging in actions my sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters after, will speak of in awe and reverence. By taking what is mine. By denying my house’s lands, titles, and holdings to those who’d take them from us.”
“You’re starting to sound like you see yourself as some kind of conqueror.”
“And why not?” Victor gestured broadly. “The North is vast. The Starks will not be able to control all of it forever. There will be opportunities that House Luxon will seize. I would dishonor myself, and all the Luxons past and future, if I settled for less than I’m owed.”
“So the Starks owe you the North, eh?” Frey grinned his skull-like grin. “Come now, boy. Such things should not be shouted from the parapets. They need be whispered, between those of similar ambitions.”
Victor furrowed his brows. He was not used to whispering about such things. He found the very notion uncomfortable. Honorable men did not whisper. Still, he nodded.
“Good. You have some sense, at least.” Walder Frey beckoned him closer. “Come, let us whisper now about our liege-lords, and how we might best serve ourselves, rather than their fat arses…”
I was up rather late last night, and I think the best way to illustrate why is the following song. Hum along if you know the tune.
And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that Lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes, now the rains weep o’er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.
I rolled for the Terribleminds ABC meets XYZ challenge, and got “Game of Thrones” meets “Batman”. I’m not sure I stopped there.
Night falls on King’s Landing. I find another dog with its guts spilling into the street. This dog was a person, once. Someone’s son. Maybe someone’s husband. Once a human being, now a chilling corpse. Like this city. It once held wonder and potential. Now it is only death and misery.
So be it, I say. If this is how the city wants to rot under the Lannisters and their little product of juvenile lust, so be it. But innocents suffer too much. They watched loved ones rot and wither under the gilded heel of the lions. They cry out for justice, without saying a word, for fear of the blade of Ilyn Payne.
I’ve decided to answer them.
The rooftops of the city are where I roam. There was a time when the Lannister soldiers on constant patrol were a source of fear for everyone there who was not in Tywin’s keeping. For me, it had become a challenge to avoid detection every night when I slipped out through the hidden corridors built by the Targaryens. The libraries and hidden alcoves throughout the keep had given me the knowledge I used; late nights with needle and thread helped me craft the cloak and cowl that hid my identity.
It’s after two bells past the sunset that I find tonight’s prey. As much as the Kingsguard are supposedly on duty every hour of every day, they’re also supposedly celibate. Yet there was Ser Meryn Trant, making his way towards the house owned and nomially run by Petyr Baelish, the man they called Littlefinger. Trant knew better than to walk the streets in his pure white cloak and golden armor, but his swagger was unmistakable. Arrogance and smug superiority propelled his every step.
I cannot tell you how badly I want to kill him.
I wait until he was inside. I move and jump from one rooftop to the next, my steps sure and silent. The claws on my knees and palms carry me down the wall outside the house, and I peer into one room after the next. I finally find him, with two of Littlefinger’s girls. He sits near the bed, sharpening a dagger as he watches them undress each other. I can’t discern what he could be planning, but I decide immediately he won’t finish whatever depraved thought that fills his head.
As soon as he stands, licking his lips like a wild animal catching the scent of fresh meat, I kick open the window and enter the room. Trant turns towards me with a snarl. Before he can say anything, I am on him, one hand clamping his jaw shut, the other delivering a quick blow to his throat. The Kingsguard staggers back, still clutching his dagger. He’s moving towards his sword, even as he struggles to breathe. He is, however, off-balance, and I sweep his feet out from under him. As soon as he’s on the floor, my feet are on his chest and his own dagger rests at his throat, clutched in my gloved hand.
“Whoever you are,” he manages to snarl, “you’re dead.”
“When morning comes,” I whisper, “you’ll wish you were.”
He laughs at me before I bludgeon him with the dagger’s hilt. Something tells me that will be his last laugh for a while.
When they find him, hours later, he was strung up over a street in Flea Bottom. Stripped and left to cook in the morning sun, his fingers were all broken, along with his wrists and elbows and knees. He had been cut many times, the most vicious cut being the one that left him without his manhood. He is, however, alive. Death, after all, is a mercy, to hear the Lannisters tell it. I’m merely playing by their rules.
From the Hand of the King to the lowest urchin in Flea Bottom, everybody wants to know who had done this. Of course, when they find the message on Trant’s body, they come asking me.
But I am a mere, lowly prisoner here. I have been since Ser Ilyn Payne took my father’s head. I’ve spent so much time learning to avert my gaze and agree that my family are a pack of traitors that nobody’s noticed the time I’ve spent preparing for that night, and all the nights to come. I keep my eyes downcast. I pretend to fear the queen. I mask my disgust for Joffrey. I can still convince them that a prisoner is all I am, and that I am no threat to their plans, their gold, their precious throne. But I’m not without that streak of rebellion. I carefully hide any evidence I leave, seek out stray red hairs, keep my face concealed; yet part of me enjoys the game, the chase, almost daring them to confront me, so I can tell them what I really link of their house and what they’ve done to me and mine.
That is why, into Meryn Trant’s chest, I carved the words “BAD WOLF”.
Winter is not only coming, it is just about here, and as the weather turns colder, my thoughts turn to A Song of Ice and Fire, specifically House Stark. But it isn’t just the austere, wary words of the house, nor its nobles and vassals, that I’m considering. I’m considering the ties it and the other parts of George RR Martin’s world have to our own world.
Specifically, Martin eschews the traditional bastions of so-called ‘high fantasy’ tales, with rather flashy magic and exotic creatures and races, opting for a more grounded backdrop for his narrative, characters, and intrigues. In this way, he hews much closer to historical events and themes such as the War of the Roses, the specter of nomadic marauders, and the roles of international relations and gender politics. It may not be as high-octane as some other tales, but it makes for more concrete and interesting characters involved in situations with high stakes and deadly consequences.
The lack of magic and proximity to history also means that there’s no easy way out for our heroes. Any line that you could draw between “good” and “evil” almost immediately becomes blurred as characters who appear virtuous either to us or to their contemporaries undertake actions to survive or prevail that, normally, they would otherwise shun or dismiss as ‘beneath them’. It focuses tightly on the nature of these characters, showing them not as archetypes or ciphers, but human beings first and foremost.
While genre fiction doesn’t necessarily need to hew away from the fantastical or the far-fetched in order to do this, it certainly never hurts to establish some concreteness in the story, in order to add context and depth. “Hard” science-fiction does this by extrapolating from existing scientific research, rather than creating wonders that basically run on magic.
This is not to say that such narratives are superior; there’s still fun and character exploration to be had in more fantastical settings. It just seems to me that if characters don’t have an easy way out, if they can’t wave a magic wand or spout some technobabble to fix their problems, they need to work harder, and in doing so they reveal more of their character to the audience.
Do you have a favorite historical narrative? Or a hard sci-fi story that does this in an exemplary way?
Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this game can and will deviate from series canon.
The Story So Far:Having delivered the last of the swords charged to him and Victor Luxon, Cadmon Hightower remained in Sunspear when Victor and Maester Chrysander sailed for White Harbor. While Jon Snow, Brandon Stark and others went to Moat Cailin at the behest of their lord, Eddard Stark, Cadmon returned to King’s Landing. Much like his reasons for staying at Sunspear as a guest of House Martell, his true purpose in the court of King Robert Baratheon is unknown.
“There. Would you be so kind as to deliver these to their intended recipients, young man?”
Cadmon bowed slightly as he took the messages from Grand Maester Pycelle. The sage had spent some time in the rookerie retrieving them from their ravens. The former bastard had fought down an impulse to volunteer for that duty, as well, but he didn’t know the first thing about handling birds. He was lucky that Zephyr had never bucked him off, given his track record with animals in general.
“I certainly shall, Grand Maester.”
Pycelle nodded, then murmured to himself as he hobbled back to the chair behind his desk. Cadmon bowed again as a way of excusing himself, and began winding his way through the corridors of the Red Keep. He’d taken care to avoid many of the goings-on. He was curious, to be certain, but he didn’t want to make any of his intentions or even interests obvious. Prince Doran had cautioned him, using the words of Victor Luxon of all people: “The court at King’s Landing all hide daggers in their smiles.”
It would make the first of his three deliveries very interesting indeed.
He found the recipient walking towards the main hall speaking with Janos Slynt, commander of the City Watch. When the tall, slim man saw Cadmon approaching with messages in his hand, he waved the gold cloak away. His smile was quite disarming and he inclined his head respectfully.
“Young master Hightower. I see you’re still at Pycelle’s beck and call.”
“Even a Grand Maester cannot be everywhere at once, Lord Baelish, and I understand he has much to do before visiting the Hand this morning.” Cadmon handed Littlefinger his message, keeping the other two in a belt pouch opposite his Braavosi blade. He wasn’t wearing his finest clothes, but rather the sort of thing that would have passed him off as a bravo across the Narrow Sea. It was slightly more comfortable and somewhat anonymous, even if his aunt had insisted on the white tower of his house being added to the half-cloak he wore over his left arm. He toyed with the signet ring on his left pointer finger with his right hand as Baelish read his message.
“You’re not carrying your family’s blade.”
The comment from Littlefinger was made without him looking up. So he did not see Cadmon’s smile at first.
“I thought I would leave such flagrant displays of House loyalty and intent for high court and other functions. Valyrian steel, in my opinion, is not something you unsheathe for every occasion.”
Littlefinger did look up at that. “So you are exercising discretion.”
“In a way. I’m of the opinion that the best swords remain in their scabbards. No need to draw steel on someone who’s of no actual threat to you.”
“The perception of a threat, or lack thereof, does not always depict the true nature of the threat itself, does it?”
“Of course not. But if we boldly wear our most potent means of defense at all times, wouldn’t we become predictable and, by extension, vulnerable?”
Cadmon nodded slightly. “Do you have a reply you wish to prepare? If so, shall I collect it to be sent?”
Littlefinger rolled up his message. “No, thank you. This missive contained all I needed to know for now.”
The messenger bowed and backed away a few paces before beginning to turn.
“Thank you for your service, young Hightower.”
“And you for your time, Lord Baelish.”
Cadmon waited until he was around the corner to take a deep breath as he walked. Littlefinger struck him as a singularly dangerous man. Certainly not the most physically imposing or deadly in close quarters, but what he knew, gathered and inferred gave him an arsenal unlike that of any noble in Westeros, save perhaps one man.
Putting the encounter behind him, Cadmon made his way to another wing of the Keep, where two men in golden armor stood outside an expansive chamber door. Cadmon bowed to the knights, handing one his message.
“From Harvest Hall, Lord Commander.”
“My thanks.” Barristan Selmy unrolled the message and a smile touched the corners of his mouth. “My nephew Arstan is to be a father again. Wonderful! It always warms my heart to know things are well there.”
“I had no idea he was a father already.” The other Kingsguard rested his mailed hand on the pommel of his sword. He seemed alert and aware of his surroundings despite his attention on his Lord Commander. “You don’t speak of Harvest Hall that often.”
“Mostly because it has little to do with my duties here.” Selmy nodded respectfully to Cadmon. “Come by White Sword Tower this evening, ser, so I may deliver a reply to my family. I may be dining, but feel free to interrupt me.”
“It shall be done, Lord Commander.”
“I’m curious.” The other man of the Kingsguard fixed Cadmon with his flashing green gaze. “Our brother Meryn Trant doesn’t seem to like you very much. But he won’t say why.”
Memories of a fat, spoiled boy spitting accusations tugged at Cadmon’s mind. He rubbed his nose, which the boy had broken after being disarmed. Shortened fingers had set it right, but as for the other boy’s mouth and family…
“I’m sure he has his reasons.”
“Maybe if you sparred with him he’d work out his frustrations.” Jaime Lannister smiled. “I’m sure I can arrange that.”
“We have better things to do than indulge Meryn’s cruelty. His reasons for disliking others are his own.”
“It was just a suggestion, Barristan. No need to be prickly.”
“While I appreciate the offer,” Cadmon said as he regained his composure, “I have duties and practice to attend to that prevent me from sparring as much as I’d like. For example, this last message I must deliver.”
He bowed to the sworn brothers and walked away. He would have liked to talk with Ser Barristan more, as the aging knight seemed both forthright and keen in mind as well as blade, but not with the Kingslayer there. He may have been acknowledged as Baelor Hightower’s son thanks to the words of Jaime’s father, but the Kingslayer’s desire to watch him fight unnerved him. Be it to catalogue weaknesses he could exploit or some sort of perverse pleasure, Cadmon didn’t know, nor was he willing to find out.
The final message was for the Hand of the King. Cadmon made he way towards that tower quickly, but slowed at the sight of who was emerging. The diminutive man dressed in gold and crimson broke into a grin at the sight of him.
“Ah! The former bastard, now Pycelle’s errand boy. What comes?”
Cadmon couldn’t help but smile in return. Tyrion’s japes never really bothered him. Better than than Victor’s usual terms of endearment, about as pleasant as a mailed fist up the side of the head.
“I have a message for the Hand from Winterfell.”
“Oh, do you now? You may want to delay its delivery. The Hand, you see, is currently conversing with my sweet sister. She tends to let her eyes wander. Over messages, of course. She’s very curious.”
“I’ve no doubt.” The Queen’s eyes had wandered over Cadmon the day they’d delivered the blades of House Baratheon to the king. Cadmon still wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. “I wouldn’t want to disturb them.”
“No, I think our beloved Hand is disturbed enough as it is. His health seems to be fading rapidly, I’m sorry to say.” Tyrion was carrying a goblet, and he took a long drink from it as he studied the tall young man in front of him. “Was that the only missive our resident wizened old sage had you carry around?”
“There were a few that required quick delivery.”
“Mm-hmm. And to whom were they addressed?”
“Your sister isn’t the only curious one, I see.”
Tyrion spread his arms. “You’ve caught me! Please, do bear me away to the Black Cells posthaste. Such treachery must be dealt with swiftly. Besides, Ser Ilyn hasn’t had a head to lop off in some time. He’s probably getting bored.”
“Well, I was going to entrust the message to you for delivery as I have somewhere else to be, but seeing as you’re a traitor and all, I suppose that’d be unwise.” Grinning, Cadmon gestured down the corridor behind him with a sweep of his half-cape. “Let’s go find Ser Ilyn, then!”
“Now, now, no need to be hasty.” Tyrion waved away the notion. “Let’s say I do deliver this message to the Hand, without my sweet sister indulging her curiosity for its sordid contents. Do you think that would save me from the block?”
“Maybe, provided you don’t read it yourself.”
Tyrion gave a little smile. “Oh, I wouldn’t dream of reading another man’s message. That’d be unforgiveably rude.”
“We have an understanding, then.” Cadmon handed the Imp the message. “One bastard with a noble name to another.”
“Here I thought you would have forgotten our conversation! We did drink quite a bit of wine, after all.”
“‘All dwarfs are bastards in the eyes of their fathers’ is far too poignant a sentiment to forget, wine or no.” Cadmon paused, then winked. “Even if it sounded a bit rehearsed.”
“At least this time, I had an appreciative audience!” Tyrion took another drink of wine. “Was it you I heard playing the harp last night?”
“It was! I hadn’t played much since leaving the Free Cities, as Goddard Luxon rarely entertains minstrels, and Victor less so. I wouldn’t mind having a more portable instrument, but I’m already burdened with these ravishing good looks, and now the expectation of nobility and knighthood!”
“My heart breaks for you.” Tyrion’s smile belied his dry tone.
“Tell you what, my impish friend. I’ll play for you tonight after dinner. We can talk, maybe play cyvasse.”
“I thought that went without saying.”
Tyrion extended his hand, and Cadmon took it. “We do indeed have an understanding. On your way, bastard.”
He left the Red Keep and wound his way through the crowded streets of King’s Landing. He took a circuitous route, doubling back on his tracks at times, stopping to look for shadows at others. Finally, he arrived at the smithy of Tobho Mott, checking on the progress of the project for which he’d employed the master of Valyrian steel. It had taken all of the wealth Cadmon had accumulated since returning to Westeros to ensure not only the quality of work, but also the smith’s discretion. Mott assured the young Hightower it would be another two days until the Hightower sword named Veracity was modified in the way Cadmon had requested. Cadmon told the Qohorik armorer to take his time.
In the meantime, I’ll make myself indispensable. Not necessarily to the king, but to the real power behind the Iron Throne. He shrugged as he wound back down from Street of Streel, passing the Great Sept of Baelor. That’ll pay my way out of this city and on to… well, wherever I go next.
In short order he made his way to the docks. The cog Pillowmaiden’s Sigh was in the process of being moored as he approached. Among the dour seamen and ware-bearing merchants that disembarked was a rotund man dressed in finery. Cadmon made his way to the end of the gangplank to meet him.
“Why, Cadmon Hightower! Don’t tell me the King is so concerned for my safety that he sent an escort!”
“Indeed not, Lord Varys. In fact, I doubt the King has marked your absence at all.”
Varys tittered. “Oh, he’s so raucous, our sovereign. One must be amazed that he can rule from within his cups as he does.”
“Even so, I do wish to return you to the Red Keep directly, as Grand Maester Pycelle is keenly interested in the state of affairs overseas.”
They began walking and Varys put on a thoughtful expression. “I wonder what specifically the Grand Maester wishes to know about the Free Cities and the inhabitants within them.”
Cadmon looked at the eunuch, not quite smiling. “I’m certain I have no idea, Lord Varys.”
The spymaster clasped his hands behind his back as they walked together. “And if you did, you would not say so to me in any sort of public forum, even a street such as this?”
“I didn’t think so.” Varys was also not quite smiling. “Still, if you wished to remain my escort for a time, to ensure I don’t scurry off, you may find my report somewhat illuminating.”
Cadmon Hightower looked up at the Red Keep as they approached it once more. “Of that, I have no doubt.”