During yet another night on the road to King’s Landing, Jon and I decided that he needed more training in the magical arts. At first, I had let him try his own methods, see what worked and what didn’t.
Perhaps he would grow to learn control on his own.
I overestimated him; or, rather, I underestimated the difficulty of the task at hand. His fire was uncontrollable; he knew not of how to direct it, to channel it.
He didn’t have a repository of knowledge to rely on, to guide him through the steps.
So, tonight, I figured I’d try a different method; take on a more ‘hands-on’ approach to the matter.
Jon stared at me after I gave him his first task.
“Meditate?” Jon asked dubiously, but sat down, cross legged.
“Yes.” I said patiently. “Magic is not like a sword, Jon.”
“Old Nan used to say that sorcery is a sword without a hilt.” Jon argued.
I stifled an eye roll and humored him.
“Your Old Nan is wise, and knows many things.” I admitted before adopting a chiding tone. “But magic is my domain, not hers. I doubt she knows anything of the true dangers— and limits— of magic. It’s much different than wielding a sword.”
Jon only nodded.
“Even with no training in using a sword, you can still do some serious damage with it, as it’s mostly instinct and common sense.” I said. “An obvious point, considered trivial by most.”
Jon nodded for me to continue.
“But magic is not a sword.” I said again. “It is not some inanimate object you can wave around and get results. It’s power, real power. And it has a mind of its own. You have to exert your force of will over it. You have to assert yourself and become the flame. Make it a part of you.”
My words seemed to strike the boy at his core. His icy exterior shattered into a perturbed, yet excited gaze.
“Become… The flame?” Jon asked.
“We’ll keep it simple, for now.” I smiled patiently, remembering my first days of channeling my Lightning. “Close your eyes, and try to focus on the darkness around you. It may be instant, or it may take minutes. I will speak further when it’s time for the next step.”
Jon nodded, and closed his eyes.
“Steady your breathing. I found that it helps.” I added, trying ot be helpful.
Jon twitched in slight annoyance but said no words.
It took longer than I expected, but shorter than I was dreading. Five minutes? I didn’t really keep track. Yeah, something like five minutes; it was about the same amount of time it took me to reach a meditative state.
“You see the darkness.” I whispered quietly.
“Yes.” Jon confirmed, just as quietly.
“Good. Try to search for your power. A sort of blue warmth within you.” I instructed and waited once more.
Another few minutes passed and I saw Jon scrunch his eyes. “Relax, breathe. There is no hurry. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find it immediately.”
Jon nodded, before steadying his breath again and taking the time to reach a meditative state once more. Some time after that, I noticed a small blue ember floating in his outstretched left palm.
“You feel it, don’t you?” I said quietly.
Jon smiled to himself.
“It’s incredible…” Jon trailed off as the ball of flame tripled in size, casting a strong light at the nearby trees.
“Open your eyes.” I said.
Jon complied. And then he stared.
“You are the flame, Jon.” I said, knowing if I told him not to lose control, he would. “The flame is an extension of yourself, like your arms and legs. It will never disobey you as long as you assert yourself.”
Jon nodded, mesmerized by the fire in the palm of his hand.
It suddenly winked out of existence, and Jon panted with the exertion, his whole body sweating buckets.
“I thought I had control of it.” Jon tried to keep his breathing under control. He looked disappointed with the results.
“You did.” I confirmed, to his surprise. “Very good control, for a first timer.”
“But…” Jon stared at his hands.
“Magic is powerful, this is true.” I explained. “But it is not limitless. Never forget that.”
A few moments passed as Jon understood.
“You keep practicing, and your well of power will increase in size.” I said. “As I’ve said, your magic is part of you, like your muscles.”
“And muscles get stronger when you train them.” Jon finished in realization.
I smiled. “Exactly. Once you’re strong enough, you can perhaps reach the intensity of dragon flame itself. Come on, let’s go back to the encampment.”
“But I wish to practice some more.” Jon protested much like a child being denied seconds of a delicious treat.
“You can’t.” I said. “Like a muscle, you need to practice; also like a muscle, you need to be careful not to overuse it, or you will suffer debilitating pain and severe exhaustion, possibly even death if the exertion is too much. Understand?”
Jon looked mutinous, but nodded regardless, not really willing to chance it.
I smiled and followed the fellow teen back to one of the Stark guard tents.
Things between the two of us had been a little rocky on most of the trip to King’s Landing. Ever since he learned of my magic he had been leery of it, avoiding me whenever I brought it up. It was a little irritating, but understandable.
With the discovery of his new powers, Jon had immediately looked to me for guidance. As a result, our friendship was strengthened over hours of toiling and practice.
Jory Cassel was staring at nothing in particular when we came in. He glanced at us, took in our worn out appearance and nodded. “Out for some night time practice?”
I smiled and greeted Jory with a wave.
“Yes.” I said simply. “Something on your mind, captain?”
“Nothing of grave importance.” Jory shook his head.
“Must be quite something, if it’s keeping you up.” Jon noted lightly as he lay down on his makeshift bed, a mix of furs and padding that did very little in the way of comfort.
Mine had cushioning charms laid on, so it worked out.
I could only imagine what the rest were going through.
“…” Jory kept quiet.
“I know what it is.” I gave Jory a knowing look. “That one red headed girl at the Crossroads Inn.”
He shifted uncomfortably, but didn’t say a word.
“I knew it.” I crowed slightly. “Your squirming tells me everything, captain!”
“Off to bed with you.” Jory said a little aggressively, but with a slight smile on his face. He turned to Jon, whose grin faded immediately. “You too, Jon.”
Jon complied quickly.
I snorted in amusement, placed Erebus parallel to me on the floor and laid on my “bed”, thinking about all that’s happened.
Everybody breathed a massive sigh of relief when the Lannister men broke off with the former Queen Cersei and the former Heir Joffrey to head to their family seat of Casterly Rock.
Joffrey had been a major pain the entire way. He seemed to take his partial disownment badly, lashing out at everyone and everything around him, though his mother’s kept assuring him that he would inherit Casterly Rock, instead, as Robert had denied him the seat of power in the Stormlands, Storm’s End.
The Queen, on the other hand, had taken to long, quiet silences, when not with Joffrey. I noted that, whenever she approached her brother Jaime, his face would morph into that of disgust and he would practically sprint the other way.
She seemed impassive to most, but I knew better.
Balthazar smelled it. Erebus sensed it. They both said they felt an extreme amount of anger from her, but I only believed it when I saw her face from her wheelhouse window as the Lannister contingent departed westward.
While she thought no one was looking, it was scrunched up in fury and venomous hatred. I did not think someone so beautiful could look so ugly, until that moment.
I relaxed further into my furs and yawned.
There was no sense in losing sleep, worrying about what she was going to do in the future. Better to get some rest and prepare for the incoming shit storm— whenever it comes.
I slept soundly, and woke up to someone prodding my shoulder.
“Huh?” I said blearily as I opened my eyes slightly. “Jon? Is it time already?”
“Yes.” Jon said, already sliding his boots on, almost tripping on his sheathed sword. “It’s the final bit of the march today. We’ll finally reach King’s Landing.”
All traces of sleep left my body as the excitement rushed through me. Finally, after weeks upon weeks of marching, we were finally going to get there.
So, of course, a few hours of marching later, I was about to just rip my hair out in boredom and frustration until I heard Jon exclaim beside me.
“There it is!”
I looked ahead, and saw it in the distance as well. It was a small sight from this far out, but as we got closer and closer I began to gain a true appreciation for the size of this place. I had read about it extensively— the city that Aegon the Conqueror had established after he had conquered all Seven Kingdoms with nothing but a small army and three dragons.
King’s Landing. A city and a castle built on the very edge of the peninsula, named after Aegon’s landing in Westeros.
Reading about it was one thing, but seeing it was another thing altogether.
Jon and I shared an excited look as we approached the capital— at least until we reached the gates.
“What’s that smell..?” Jon asked as he tugged the collar of his shirt up, preferring to smell his own armor and sweat over the general smell of King’s Landing. Ghost whined pitifully.
§Oh god. This is too much.§ Balthazar explained, sounding pained somehow.
The city stinked. No, it reeked. It was like a cesspool that had been filled up and closed for a few days before being opened suddenly. The stench hit you hard, but we all seemed to power on through it somehow, slowly growing used to it— with the exception of Ghost, who looked very queasy.
A few surreptitious waves of my wand, and Ghost perked up almost immediately, moving back into formation with us as we all formed up once more.
“What was that?” Jon almost whispered.
“A bit of magic to lighten the poor boy’s load.” I spoke just as quietly.
It was a neat trick I had been taught by Dumbledore during our training together. I remembered Cedric and Fleur using it in their Second Task, and I remembered Fred and George using it during their ‘experiments’.
It was the Bubble-Head Charm— well, not quite, it was modified. It created two very small, partial bubbles right inside something’s nose. Created by Dumbledore himself, he had made sure it functioned on most animals and humanoids he knew existed.
And he had taught it to me.
I applied the charm to myself and Jon, relaxing and taking in a deep breath. Jory gave me a strange look, mostly disgust, not noticing Jon doing the same.
“I can’t hold my breath forever, now can I?” I felt a little defensive at his grossed out stare.
“I suppose not.” Jory grimaced slightly. “Horrible stench, I see what the people meant when they spoke of this place. Smells worse than a latrine pit.”
I nodded noncommittally as we swept through the streets, watching the people give short bows to their King and whispering excitedly amongst themselves. We passed the great big Sept I had seen from the distance— the Sept of Baelor the Blessed, it was called; a gigantic waste of space, I called it— and went up Aegon’s Hill.
I heard some commotion from the carriage. Arya was trying to look out of the window, but Sansa kept pulling her back and closing it, no doubt nauseated by the many smells around us.
I had not spoken much to Sansa during the trip. She was certainly thankful that her brother’s attackers were met with justice, but she was horrified at who had done it.
The Queen had attacked her little brother without provocation, all to hide the secret of a sordid affair she had with her young cousin. I figured they were probably halfway to Casterly Rock, at this point. Well, Lancel was going to the Night’s Watch— a bit overkill to do that to a kid barely out of his diapers, but I honestly didn’t care all that much.
To me, he was an accomplice in an attack on a child. Nothing more.
Still, the experience had shaken the girl, somewhat. She still seemed to keep to her childish fantasies, but acted with a bit more concern to her siblings.
I guessed that she had been expecting something a little more… Clean, when she had thought of King’s Landing.
Well, clean is what she got once we crossed from the city into the Red Keep itself. Honestly, I had no idea of what anything was to be capable of describing for you— I had trouble understanding it, myself.
It was largely comprised of red stone, hence the name Red Keep. I took note of all the fortifications, the towers, the guards posted at every other doorway.
This place was truly a fortress. Wait, was fortress the word?
§I believe you mean a redoubt.§ Balthazar explained patiently. §Historically, it is a fort, or fort system consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside of a larger fort. Usually it relies on earthworks, but this particular redoubt has been constructed entirely out of the red bricks you see before you.§
I nodded, understanding in my eyes as I gazed at this place with a new appreciation.
“Smells a lot better up here.” Jory muttered to himself as the guards around him grunted in agreement. I hadn’t even noticed— the modified Bubble-Head Charm working perfectly to filter out any bad odors.
“Yeah.” I agreed just for the sake of it.
Our party stopped and we got off our horses as a man approached Eddard.
“Welcome, Lord Stark.” The man greeted with a bow. “Grandmaester Pycelle has called a meeting of the small council. The honor of your presence is requested.”
Ned nodded, and turned to Septa Mordane and his two girls who had exited the carriage.
“Get the girls settled in.” Ned ordered, receiving a nod. “I’ll be back in time for supper.”
“Jory, Jon.” He turned to his guard captain. “Go with them.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Jon and Jory said simultaneously, and they all turned to leave, me included.
“Harry.” He said, catching my attention. “You come with me.”
I looked confused, but nodded anyway. “As you wish.”
“If you would—” The messenger froze slightly at Ned’s cold gaze. “—Like to change into something more appropriate…”
Ned, still stone faced, merely took his gloves off, staring all the while. The messenger got the hint, turning and leading the way.
“I’ll see you later, Jon! Have fun with luggage duty!” I smirked and followed Ned.
A few seconds later, I heard his reply.
“Wow, I’ve been a bad influence on him.” I said.
“Aye.” Lord Stark said simply as the messenger led us to the throne room, going through endless hallways and turns and stairs until we finally reached two large sets of doors, each manned by two guards wearing golden colored armor and cloaks.
Guards of the city watch, I thought to myself as I entered the throne room.
It was a large, spacious hall, with stained glass windows lining the sides, and large, thick pillars along the middle, all leading to the raised dais, where what I could only assume to be the Iron Throne sat.
It was an asymmetric monstrosity of spikes, jagged edges, and twisted metal. As if the raised dais was not enough, the throne itself had stairs. The actual place you could sit was higher than three men standing on each successive man’s shoulders. Even the seat, itself, looked horrific, with spikes on the back, from the sides, and all above.
I had to admit, it was beautiful, in a sick, twisted sort of way.
Jaime sat at the steps, staring at us intensely, but he didn’t say a word; I could tell that he wanted to, but he was holding himself back for some reason.
“He must be upset about his sibling but knows it’s pointless to even say anything about it.” Erebus supplied.
“Will you need me at the actual small council, Lord Ned?” I asked lightly, the two of us stopping.
“Fair point, lad.” Ned said. “I doubt you would be allowed in the meeting, itself. You can stay here.”
I nodded. A few moments later, Jaime and I were the only ones left in the throne room.
Jaime was still hesitating to speak, even as I moved closer.
“Absurd thing, isn’t it?” I said, circling the Iron Throne curiously. “Who would want to sit on this?”
“Any ambitious man, I’d expect.” Came the automatic response.
“And you?” I asked curiously, as a strange expression spread on his face. It seemed pained, but also smug.
“I’ve sat on it, before.” Jaime said. “It was quite warm.”
“Warm?” I blurted out.
“It was quite strange. You would expect steel to be cold.” Jaime said, gazing at the Iron Throne.
I felt a thrum of power from it, the same thrum I got from Ned’s great sword, Ice.
“This was made from dragon flames, yes?” I asked.
“Forged from the swords of Aegon’s many enemies, with the help of Balerion the Blackdread’s flames. The hammering took fifty nine days.” Jaime supplied.
I looked at the throne with a bit more intensity. “Dragon flame is magical in nature. Perhaps the metal was infused with some of it.”
“Perhaps.” Jaime said and left it at that.
A long silence passed.
“You blame me, don’t you.” I stated.
Jaime looked at me.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jaime said smoothly, with barely a hint of agitation in his tone of voice.
“I can see it in your eyes.” I said. “You’re angry at me for getting the former Queen Cersei punished.”
Jaime flinched at the namedrop.
“I am angry.” Jaime found himself admitting. “Not at you.”
Now I was confused.
“At who, then?” I asked, feeling bewilderment. “Lord Stark, or the King?”
“I don’t disagree with the ruling.” Jaime said quietly. “It was a light punishment, all things considered. Our precious King Robert could have had her executed. Lord Stark’s son was attacked, and Lord Stark, too, held back. I know my Lord Father, Tywin, wouldn’t have.”
“What would your father have done?” I asked.
“Have you ever listened to The Rains of Castamere?” Jaime asked.
I nodded, not sure where he was going with this.
“My father obliterated the House Reyne of Castamere when they rebelled against my grandfather, Tytos Lannister, who was perceived as weak. He marched against the upstart and put Castamere to the torch, and killed every last Reyne there was in short order.” Jaime explained.
I made an ‘oh’ of understanding, though the idea of slaughtering whole families like that rubbed me the wrong way.
“Yet now the rains weep over his hall, and not a soul to hear.” I quoted.
“Exactly.” Jaime nodded and was silent for a bit, no doubt recalling childhood memories.
“Cersei was all but proven guilty.” He admitted honestly. “A trial by combat was never going to work. Not with you as an opponent. Or even Lord Stark.”
He seemed defeated, somehow. All that confidence I’d seen at Winterfell— in spite of his defeat at my hands— was gone; replaced by what I could only assume was a great depression.
It reminded me of me, in the first few weeks I had been here. All I could think of was.. Daphne.
Wait… Could Balthazar have been right this whole time?
I looked at Jaime again.
What were the chances? Should I even say anything?
I opened my mouth, but my attention switched to a duo of men entering from the doorway Lord Stark had went through. The first was a short man of slender build, in his thirties, or nearing them at the very least.
He had sharp features, a pointed beard on his chin, and dark hair with threads of grey running through it, with grey-green eyes.
The other man was plump, effeminate looking, completely bald, and wore fine silks in an outrageous blend of light purple and orange.
The two of them passed me by, casting surreptitious glances at my exposed right arm, before stopping entirely to turn to me. Well, the fat bald one stopped. The other one just kept going.
“You are the one they call Harry, are you not?” The bald man asked, stuffing each hand in the other’s sleeve.
“The arm gave me away, huh?” I gave an insincere smile, and the man replied in kind. “And, you are…?”
“Oh, forgive me, where are my manners?” Varys spoke genially and extended his left hand. “My name is Varys.”
The Master of Whispers, also known as The Spider.
I took his hand in my own and shook it firmly.
“My right arm isn’t dangerous, Lord Varys.” I said reproachfully.
“My apologies.” He went on, so formal and genial it was painful to behold. “An instinctual reaction, on my part. I have seen many of those who have become afflicted with the grayscale.”
“Well, my arm isn’t affected by grayscale.” I said.
“Indeed. Harry of the Blackscale, they call you. I have heard the little birds sing of your deeds from the North and the East.” Varys smiled beatifically. “I, too, have been a victim of a practitioner of magic, so I can sympathize.”
I frowned at his words. Was he already onto me?
“I didn’t know that.” I answered honestly. “What did the practi— never mind. That was insensitive of me. I apologize, Lord Varys.”
“Think nothing of it.” Varys said simply, clamming up on the matter. “And, I am not a Lord. Simply Varys.”
That’s when Ned came in the throne room once more, looking irritated and disgruntled. I heard the jangling noises of a chain as a decrepit old man came out of the doorway, slowly making his way to the exit.
Sheesh, that guy’s life must be miserable, having to go everywhere so slowly. It was a wonder he’d even survived this long in a world like this. From what I’ve been able to glean from Maester Luwin’s book collection, medical science here didn’t exist.
Or, at least, it didn’t exist in the way I had seen it in my home world. Honestly, over ninety percent of the Maester’s remedies were absolute bullshit— placebos, at best; incredibly dangerous, at worst. It was appalling, that I, a sixteen year old battle mage, was able to heal better than men who dedicate years of their life to that particular path.
“Come, Harry.” Ned said without breaking his stride.
I stared at him for a moment, before turning to the Jaime and the Spider.
“Good day, Ser Jaime, Varys.” I gave a quick nod and hurried after Ned. “Maybe we can spar some time, Ser Jaime?” I called out.
I heard a loud call of “Perhaps!” as the large doors closed behind us.
A few minutes passed as I followed Lord Stark through the maze of the Red Keep, on our way to the Tower of the Hand.
“Meeting go well?” I tried.
“Just the opposite, actually.” Ned said flatly wiping at his sweaty forehead as we turned a corner.
“That bad on the first day?” I asked.
Ned looked like he wanted to groan.
“Worse.” He grunted out as we reached the Tower of the Hand, where Ned’s household guards were waiting. They greeted him with a short bow and stepped aside, allowing us entry.
We ascended the stairs, the both of us in quiet contemplation— or maybe Lord Stark was just too tired to hold a conversation while ascending these endless staircases.
Eventually we reached the small hall, where Jon was busy chasing Arya around. Ghost was flicking his tail at Nymeria’s nose while Sansa was combing Lady’s fur.
With a burst of energy I had not expected from the older man, Ned snatched Arya and lugged her over his shoulder while Jon laughed at her new predicament.
“Put me down!” She protested and Jon smiled wide as their father set her back down, ruffling her hair.
I gave a sad smile at the unfolding scene before me.
I missed Sirius.