The faint, far away sound of a metal striking metal slowly and gradually brought me out of the sweet embrace of sleep.
I shifted against Balthazar, rolling until I was in a more comfortable position. I felt my mind go in all directions as it struggled to form even half coherent thoughts in my sleepy haze.
I instead decided to focus on the sound of metal against metal.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Metal against wood— a shield. I realized, curiosity overpowering my post-sleep lethargy for the moment. Someone is fighting.
I opened my eyes, taking in the stone roof. Huh.
Oh, right. I rubbed the sand out of my eyes and sat up in the comfortable feather bed. I did agree to be a guest, didn’t I?
The image of the silver haired woman who’d invited me flashed in my mind. My heart quickened like I’d known it would.
I could still remember the feel of her lips against mine.
“Finally up, are you?” Erebus rattled from nearby, drawing my attention away from Daenerys and onto him.
“Erebus.” I greeted the ancient being with a yawn. “Good morning.”
“You humans and your expressions.” Erebus scoffed, the sword vibrating in amusement. “Though, I suppose, in your case, it is a good morning, considering what you did last night.”
I felt the heat rising to my cheeks and gave a nervous laugh. “She was pretty forward, huh?”
“That’s a woman who knows what she wants and takes it.” Balthazar coiled himself around me and yawned. “I feel like shit.”
I chuckled, the amusement washing away the final dregs of tiredness, as well as the embarrassment. “Just how much did you eat and drink? You’re not a black hole, you know.”
“Such blasphemy!” My serpentine companion exclaimed and tapped his head over my heart. “Your lack of trust in my eating capabilities—“
“Or lack thereof.”
“— truly dismays me, Harry.” Balthazar finished, as if I hadn’t said anything. The only sign that he did hear it was the playful shove I got in response. “But, maybe I did partake a little too much.”
“Just a little.” I laughed as I held my index and thumb close, almost pinching them together.
There was a soft knock at the door.
“Who is it?” I called out and reached for my clothes.
“My Lord,” came Missandei’s voice from the other side.
“Be right out!” I said before she could say anything else. I almost slipped the clothes on, but grimaced at the smell of sweat and dirt. I shook my head, and went for the wand at the bedside.
“Scourgify!” And, with that, most of the dirt, grime and sweat were gone. I put my vestment on, stretching after the fact. “Come in!”
The door opened with a click, revealing Missandei’s face. She smiled in greeting, wearing a faded yellow, voluminous robe.
“‘Lo there.” I nodded towards her and put on my shoes. “How can I help you, Missandei?”
She blinked and tilted her head at my odd, but exceedingly simple way of talking. I’d always gotten strange looks from the natives of this world whenever I’d tap into my own vernacular.
People got used to it eventually because I sure as shit wasn’t going to adopt their strange language patterns, idioms and whatnot.
This isn’t my home. The vicious thought came. I am from Earth.
“Hello. I hope the day is treating you well.” She said, adjusting her sleeve slightly. “Her Grace, Daenerys, invites you to lunch, Lord Harry.”
“Lunch?” My head snapped to the window, and I scrutinized the light level. “Did I sleep the day away?”
Missandei looked like she was stifling a snort, judging from the glittering of her golden eyes. “Far from it, Lord Potter. The sun has only just risen. You’ve plenty of time.”
“Oh.” I sighed in relief. “That’s a relief. Thanks.”
She blinked again. “Your way of speech is…”
“Hmm?” I rubbed the back of my neck, feeling it was a little sore. “What about it?”
“It is… No, it is not my place to question.” She said, turning to leave.
“Ask whatever you like.” I waved her concerns off. “I don’t take offense, and even if I do, say it anyway.”
That seemed to do the trick, as she stopped and turned back to me. “May I ask where you were born?”
The corner of my lips quirked up; she wanted to know where I got my mannerisms, vocabulary and method of speech. “Not anywhere you can find on any map, unfortunately.”
“I see. I did not know.” She nodded, her smile turning a little sad. She’d taken that statement entirely the wrong way, I gathered. “My apologies, Lord Potter.”
I decided not to correct her, accepting her apology with a shrug. “No harm done. I’ve heard you’re talented in the learning of languages?”
Missandei’s eyes widened in surprise. She dipped her head. “Yes. How did you know?”
“Daenerys— I mean the Queen— mentioned it to me.” I said, rolling my shoulders and taking a seat on the unmade bed, and tapping Balthazar to wake him back up— the poor rascal had gone back to sleep. “Get up, lazybones.”
The snake stirred in agitation.
“Fuck you.” Was Balthazar’s eloquent reply. Judging by Missandei’s unfazed look, I figured she’d seen this behavior before.
Most likely, last night, while he was drunk off his ass. I thought with a snort.
“None of that.” I tapped him a little harder. “You’ll get the zap if you don’t get up! You’re wasting the day away!”
“Let it be wasted, then.” Balthazar grumbled and smacked me lightly with his tail. “I’m entirely too sober for a day with you, right now. Go away.”
I tapped him again, after a few seconds, but he did not budge.
Fine, you lazy butt. Be that way. I rolled my eyes, strapped Erebus to my side and turned to Missandei, who was watching the snake with something akin to interest. “Shall we?”
She turned her gaze away from the reptile and sent it back to me. “Very well.”
Within moments, we were out of my quarters and walking the hallways of Meereen’s largest pyramid, two Unsullied guards following us closely. The sound of men practicing grew a little fainter.
“You’re not worried about leaving the annoyance alone?” Erebus whispered in a low tone.
I snorted, in answer. “No.”
Anyone who was stupid enough to get between Balthazar and his precious beauty sleep deserved what was coming to them.
“This is where we part ways, Lord Potter.” Missandei said as we reached a fork in the hall. She gestured off to the left. “You’ll find your man, Bronn, using one of the training rooms.”
Oh, so I was going the right way, after all.
“Very good.” I nodded in gratitude. “Have a good day.”
“Likewise. I look forward to seeing you at lunch.” And, with that, she walked away, her guards dutifully following.
I watched her go for a few seconds longer, before shrugging and moving along. The people in this world had such odd mixes of colorations.
Grey eyes, purple eyes, golden eyes… “I wonder if there’s a specific spell to permanently change your eye color.”
“Most likely.” Erebus said. “The study of magic is vast and wondrous, indeed.”
I blinked. “You’ve… studied magic?”
Immediately after, I felt stupid for asking. Erebus was the oldest creature I knew.
“In a manner of speaking.” Erebus said. “You didn’t think I was simply born with mastery over Darkness and the cold, did you?”
I scratched the back of my head. In all honesty, I did. I’d never questioned the being’s origins.
“Just how old are you, then?” I asked curiously.
“A difficult question to answer.” Erebus said. “There is no true way to record the passage of time in the Demon World— and, even if there was, it is likely that time passes differently, there.”
“So not even an estimate?” I hedged.
“I know that, outside of the Demon World, I had lived for thousands of years.” Erebus said. “I knew the Queen of Air and Darkness when she was a young spitfire, ready to take the world on— an ancient world in which Titans walked the Earth, where the Vampire Courts were no more than snowflakes in the gale of change.”
I stopped walking. The title of Queen of Air and Darkness was known to me, but the other titles were… Less so.
“Titans..?” I repeated, eyes widening slightly. “As in, Zeus’ ancestors, Titans?”
“The very same.” Erebus said, his vibrations somehow conveying a sense of nostalgia. “Zeus, now he was an interesting one. He certainly shook up the balance between Earth and the Demon World, the few times we attempted to invade. It’s true that Sparda was ultimately the reason we lost the war, but to say that he was the sole savior would have been a lie. Entities like Zeus, Mab, Ferrovax… Ferrovax especially. The epitome of what a true dragon could be.”
A true dragon? “What do you mean? True dragon? What’s a fake dragon, then?”
“Dragons are strange creatures.” Erebus said. “From what you’ve explained to me, the dragons you know of in your world are nothing but mindless beasts. Is this not so?”
I remembered Hagrid’s hatchling, Norberta. A vicious, small thing. It set Hagrid’s beard on fire, if I remembered correctly. My thoughts, then, went to the Horntail I’d fought over almost two years ago, now.
The Horntail had been a behemoth of rage and fire. I’d only stayed alive because of my flying skills.
Why did I ever think that using a wooden broom to fly around a dragon was a good idea?
I shook the thought away. I was so different from how I used to be, that it wasn’t even remotely productive to question my past decisions, at this point.
“Yes, they always seemed just as wild as regular animals.” I said, moving to lean against the wall. “Then again, Hedwig— my owl— is pretty smart. Balthazar is, as well. They are much less intelligent than them.”
“Yes. That is part of the key.” Erebus confirmed. “Effective communication is one of the many requirements necessary in aiding a lesser creature’s attempt to rise above its own kind. Dragons are not lesser creatures to most of what lives around them, and so they rarely evolve beyond their current states. But, when they do…”
I felt a shiver go through me.
“That doesn’t make any sense!” I said, my expression contorting into one of confusion. “Wizards have them up in preserves. How are we lesser than them when we can entrap them?”
“Oh, yes.” Erebus said. “The preserves, you said that one such preserve is in a far-away land, correct? On the other side of your ‘Europe’.”
“Right.” I said with a nod.
“Consider the following.” The sword clattered, a faint sense of amusement wafting off of it. “Why is it so far away? Why do the wizards not simply move the dragons where they wish— permanently?”
I opened my mouth to say that they’d done it for the Triwizard Tournament, but shut it again to consider his words. To say that the dragons had been agitated would have been an understatement.
“Are you suggesting that the dragons just let the wizards control them?” I said, skepticism heavy in my voice.
“Fledglings— no matter their race— enjoy their peace and quiet.” Erebus replied. “As long as their bellies are full with meat and drink, they can even be almost pleasant, for a time. But, take away their comforts, deprive them of food, water and sleep… Force them into situations in which they feel tremendous pain, and you’ll see something else emerge. Something stronger, something furious. Something powerful.”
As he said these words, I could not help but think of Hestia, of how she was suffering, even as we spoke.
“Yes. She is undergoing a trial of her own, now.” Erebus confirmed. “We will need to be very careful when we find her. And make no mistake, we will.”
I took a deep breath. “I just hope she doesn’t hate me for what happened. I don’t think I could handle it.”
Erebus said nothing, in return.
How very reassuring. I thought and continued the rest of my walk in silence, the previously faint sound of swords striking shields and other swords coming back in full swing.
I finally reached my destination— the training room. It was a massive space, with training dummies, swords, shields, daggers, spears and more lining its walls. There were several white squares roughly drawn onto the floor, where men faced each other in mock-combat.
One of said squares held Bronn and Naharis, who were locked in battle.
I joined the group of men watching the two, getting nods and words of greeting as I did so.
The two grizzled warriors looked a little worn, signifying they’d already been at this for a while.
Bronn took two steps forward and thrust his sword towards his opponent’s sternum, but Daario parried it to the right, stepping forward as well to slash at Bronn’s neck keeping his sword at bay, all the while.
Bronn smiled and raised his hand, catching the offending blade with his sword guard. With a grunt, he pushed the man off.
A few moments later, the two were sizing each other up, once again.
“They just won’t quit!” One man said with an astonished shake of the head. “What I’d do for that kind of stamina and skill.”
“How long have they been at it?” I asked, curious.
“Almost twenty minutes, now.” The same man answered, before realizing who he was talking to. “My lord!”
I raised a hand to stop whatever apologies were going to come out of his mouth. “Twenty minutes? That’s got to be exhausting.”
“Just so, Lord Potter.” Another said as the two men entered another engagement. “The fight, at the beginning, had been much faster than what we’re seeing. Almost no breaks between engagements, very little time to plan attacks— let alone counters. This will be a good lesson for the new recruits. This is how you fight when you are tired, when all your energy has been spent. With precision and deliberate moves.”
As he said this, I watched as Naharis got a lucky kick to the side of Bronn’s shin, making him cringe and stumble backwards onto his rear. A moment later, and he had a sword resting at his neck. “Yield?”
Bronn stared at the sword, then at the man behind it, before smiling. “Yield. You’re as dirty as they come, Naharis.”
Naharis laughed, his forked beard jiggling as he drew his sword back and extended his hand to the sellsword. “Would you have had it any other way?”
“Don’t think I would.” Bronn took the man’s hand and pulled him down onto the ground. A short scuffle later, and he had his dagger to Naharis’ throat, this time. “Would you?”
Naharis only laughed in reply.
What a strange friendship.
“As fun as it would be to watch the two of you bond.” I said, drawing the attention of both men. “I believe there are things we must attend to. Lord General?”
Bronn blinked at me, before he and Naharis both got back up.
“Lord Potter.” “My Lord.”
“Good practice?” I smiled.
“Better than I’ve had in years.” Naharis said as a young boy brought the two men large cups of water. “Your man is quite the swordsman.”
“Better than you’ve had in years?” I questioned. “I figured you’d get a good amount of practice from Mormont or Ser Barristan.”
“Hah!” Daario barked out a laugh. “The honorable Selmy deigning to engage in a sparring match with the likes of a lowborn sellsword?”
“Aye.” Bronn agreed after downing the entire cup.
“Fair enough.” I said in acknowledgment. “Next time you practice, let me know. I could use some, myself.”
The men around us started to whisper in excitement.
“I’ll be sure to remember that.” Daario nodded in respect. “My Lord.”
“Come, Bronn.” I turned and left, the other man quickly matching my stride as we exited the practice room, and ultimately Meereen itself.
It wasn’t until we’d exited the city proper and reached my encampment that Bronn finally broke the silence between us.
“Had an enjoyable evening?” Bronn asked, a knowing look in his eyes.
I stared at him for a long moment before replying. “You could say that.”
The man smirked, but before he could say anything more, we were met with one of the men. “Lord General Bronn. Khal Harry.”
“I will be holding court today.” I didn’t waste any time, entering the encampment and receiving calls of greeting as we went deeper in. “Have our scouts and messengers gotten back from their journeys, yet?”
“Most of them have, yes.” The man confirmed, his eyes flitting in a bit of nervousness. “But, not all. Perhaps we could give them some more time?”
“No matter.” I waved it off. “I will meet with whoever has come back. Set up the usual meeting space, with food and refreshment. I’m sure the men are weary from their travels.”
“Of course, Khal Harry.” The man lowered his head in deference. “I will see it done.”
“What do you think these men will give you?” Erebus whispered to me as my soldiers bustled to get the meeting set up.
“Maybe they’ve seen Hestia in their travels.” I said with a frown. “Point me isn’t working, and I can’t understand why, for the life of me.”
I could have speculated onto the reason as to why, but I was genuinely scared that the answer might have been that Hestia was already dead and gone.
No. I refuse to believe that. Part of me snarled, storming and furious. She cannot be dead. I won’t have it.
The space was prepared in almost no time at all— a simple, large area to sit in, with a few small tables holding various items of food.
The scouts filed in over the next few minutes, taking their seats and partaking of the food and drink layed out for them. Though I wanted to grab and question them outright, I didn’t figure it would be a good idea.
No, for this, I had to be patient. These men were understandably tired— no thanks to me— and it would seem very ungrateful and disrespectful of me to deny them at least a few moments of reprieve.
They’d earned that much.
Joqo approached me. “These are all the men who have returned from their trips. Five, perhaps ten are missing.”
I shrugged it off with a sigh. “We’ll have to assume they died in the line of duty. We’ll hold the appropriate ceremonies, at a later date. I’m just glad that so many made it back in one piece. I don’t want anyone taking unnecessary risks.”
That seemed to cheer the scouts, who gave me respectful and grateful nods.
“Whenever you’re ready.” I said. “You can share your news with us— one at a time, if you please.”
One by one, the men relayed the story of their travels to me. Most had no real news.
The men sent to scout south and westward had been understandably killed off by the invading armies. Those who went north and east had only encountered peasants, farmers, Dothraki and the like.
“I bring news of Westeros, Lord Potter.” Said the very last man— a middle aged fellow, with a bushy beard and scraggly hair. I believe his name was Kor.
“Really?” I raised an eyebrow. “News doesn’t really travel that well, here…”
“True.” Kor said in agreement. “But I’ve been to Lys, which is quite close to Dorne. News tends to travel fast between the two places.”
“I understand.” I said as he took a sip of his beverage. “Tell me what you know. News, events, even rumors might be useful.”
“Of course, my Lord.” He said. “I frequented many of the… establishments in the city of Lys.”
Brothels, sounds like. I thought. Lys is known for its ‘pleasure houses’.
“There has been much talk— of the North, the Riverlands, and the West.” Kor began, listing out the territory names with the familiarity a fire would have with water. “Tales of the ‘Young and White Wolves’ cleaving paths of blood through their enemies, and tales of a ‘half-man, half-imp’ stealing his father’s place in the West.”
I leaned back in my chair and absorbed that statement.
So, Jon and Robb are still fighting, and Tyrion has taken control of the West. I thought. It must not have been easy, even with all of the advantages I’d given the others.
“Who is your source?” I asked.
“He said he was a ‘man of the Night’s Watch’, whatever that is.” Kor said slowly. “I’m not sure what the… Night’s Watch, is, my Lord, but it sounds important.”
“It’s an order of men who are stationed at the Wall.” I said. “What’s a man of the Night’s Watch doing in Lys, of all places?”
“Obvious, isn’t it?” Bronn said, a smirk firmly plastered on his face. “Couldn’t get it up in the freezing North, might’ve needed a nice, warmer climate with some beautiful women.”
The men around us laughed, Kor included, but I withheld my reaction and somehow managed to keep my tone level. “This isn’t the time. We can joke about this, later. Kor?”
“Ah.” He looked abashed. “Apologies, Lord Harry. I did not think.”
I waved it off. “Continue with the report. What was this man of the Night’s Watch doing in Lys?”
“He said he was sent to gather up any one in the city who wished to join.” Kor said, his expression turning more serious. “He spoke of invasions and ‘wildlings’. It was hard to understand him, my Lord. He was well into his drink by the time we started talking.”
I nodded, accepting the reason. “An invasion? Robb Stark must have heard of it.”
“Yes! Stark.” The man said. “He mentioned that name, he said that a ‘Lord Stark’ was hurrying to reinforce the Watch, my Lord. I did not understand it, at the time.”
The image of Ghost feebly crawling in the snow while he bled to death flashed in my mind’s eye, but I squashed it down ruthlessly. Jon could take care of himself, and so could Robb.
They’d already achieved so much, according to Kor.
“Anything else?” I grilled him for more and nodded for someone to bring him another drink. “Anything about the Baratheons? King’s Landing?”
Kor took a long draught of his drink, sighed, and continued his story.
“Yes.” He said. “The man spoke of a quarrel between brothers over the throne, as well as a boy-king who was killed alongside his entire family.”
I nodded, wondering what that could mean. Were Cersei and her children all dead? I tried to think about the statement.
“Which of the brothers won?” I asked. “Do you know?”
“I was not given any names.” Kor said apologetically. “But the man did make comments of a Red Priestess gaining influence over the winning brother. That’s all he knew, my Lord. I swear it.”
That didn’t help me, at all.
Could this have been the source of the attack on Robb? This Red Priestess…
Of course, this is all assuming these news are accurate in any way, shape, or form. I’ll have to speak to the Spider, at some point. I need a clearer view of the situation.
“Any other news?” I asked. “This man couldn’t have been the only Westerosi visitor.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Kor confirmed. “I’ve spoken with a number of traveling merchants. Most of them had information of Dorne, but not much of use.”
I nodded, feeling disappointed. This only confirmed that I needed to set up a meeting with the Spider.
“You’ve done well.” I said in appreciation of the man’s efforts. “One last thing: have you seen my dragon, Hestia? She would have been flying Southwest of Meereen.”
“Seen your—” Kor said in confusion, but shook it off, knowing it was not his place to make such comments. “I… Yes, of course, my Lord.”
I perked up immediately. “Where?”
Here, his look turned cautious. “My Lord, we were sailing by the Isle of Cedars, and I saw her flying westward.”
“West?” I repeated, just to make sure.
“Yes, my Lord.” He said. “We had believed it was you, my Lord, flying as you’ve always done.”
He was right, of course. I did enjoy flying with Hestia.
But, the direction she was flying in… What are you doing, Hestia?
I noticed that Kor was beginning to look concerned, and so I plastered on a smile for his benefit— wouldn’t want him to think I blamed him for anything, here.
“You’ve done well, Kor. All of you. Get some rest. You’ve earned it.”
I waited until everyone but myself and Bronn were gone before I turned to the man.
“West.” Bronn said, his tone grim. “There’s only one place west of the Isle of Cedars, and I don’t have to tell you just how dangerous it is.”
“I know.” I said, eyes narrowing. “Valyria. She’s flown to Valyria, and I must follow her and bring her back.”
At all costs. A rush of dogged determination welled up in me. Even if it kills me.