“I don’t know how much more of this I can take!” One of the ship’s hands said, almost out of my earshot. “I’m at my limit.”
“Pull yourself together, man!” The man next to him said. “We’ve only been out at sea for a week.”
“What? Just a week? It feels like ages. Going on this mission— it feels like suicide.”
“You’re the one who signed up for it!”
“And I regret it! The reward just sounded too good— and now we’re going to die!”
“Oh, shut your mouths, you fucking idiots.” A third man, the captain, shut them down as he made his way to me. “The Blackscale is leading us there— we’ll be fine. Besides, it’s not like we’ll be going past the edge of the place.”
Then, he smirked. “Lord Blackscale heard every word you two fools said, by the way.”
Their heads snapped in my direction so fast that it took all I had not to laugh at how comical the sight was.
“Milord!” “Lord Blackscale, I—”
“I said shut yer traps and stone the fuck up!” The captain turned to them with a growl. “Or do you want to be on deck scrubbing duty for the remainder of this expedition?”
The two shut their mouths and went back to work almost instantly.
I felt my lips quirk in amusement as the captain went up the ramp to join me at the bow of the ship.
“I apologize for the behavior of my men, Lord Blackscale.” The Captain said, his words a mite slow and his voice deep. “They’re still quite new. Not yet disciplined.”
“Knowing where we’re going…” I trailed off with a shake of my head. “I wouldn’t be too hard on them, Captain Fredo. A trip of this magnitude is sure to make even the most level headed of people anxious.”
Fredo looked at me for a second, and then he nodded. “‘Tis true, what you say, Lord Potter. A Valyrian expedition has not been attempted since… near a decade ago, I believe.”
I turned to him with interest in my eyes. “Oh, there was a recent one, you say? I wasn’t aware of it.”
“Aye, my Lord.” The captain said, scratching the dark gray stubble on his chin. “I was actually there when they set sail from Volantis— watched them leave, never to return.”
“I see.” I said with a nod. “Volantis… they wanted to reclaim— or scavenge, I suppose— they wanted the treasure of Old Valyria, then?”
The captain shook his head. “No, it’s— well, they’ve made an attempt as well, not too long before that; but the one I speak of was a Westerosi led expedition.”
“Oh?” I grabbed my waterskin and had a sip. “A Westerosi led it? Who?”
“He was from that rich family— Lannister, I reckon their name is. Yes.”
My eyes widened for a moment. Tyrion had never mentioned anything like this in all the time we spent together.
Perhaps a story he did not like thinking about? I reasoned; people tended to avoid topics involving dead family members— myself included. Plus, there was never any reason for it to come up in idle or random conversation.
“Of course, it ended in failure, like all the other attempts.” The captain continued, unaware of my inner thoughts. “No one has ever succeeded, but perhaps you might, Lord Blackscale.”
No one succeeded, huh? I thought, a faint bitterness entering my psyche for a moment. Someone might want to go and say that to Euron Greyjoy.
“I’ll have to see what I’m dealing with to be sure.” I ended up saying at the end. “Not much is known about Valyria and the Doom— nothing particularly useful, anyway.”
“True.” The man dusted off his right shoulder before looking back out at sea. “Truth be told, I’m quite happy that I am not going into the heart of Valyria, myself. I mean no offense, of course.”
“Of course.” I allowed, snorting. “I would never order anyone to make a trip like this— I’m glad you volunteered your services to take us and wait for our return.”
“Aye.” The captain waved it off. “I may not wish to risk my own life, but I do want to offer whatever help I can for what you did for me.”
I smiled. “It was what any decent person would have done.”
“You’d be wrong, there, Lord Blackscale.” The captain looked down, the atmosphere turning somber as the winds died down for a few moments. “I’ve been sailing the seas for most of my life; I don’t trust my fellow man— and for good reason.”
Thieves, bandits, raiders, murderers, slavers, and rapists. I thought, losing my smile. Or ignorant magical practitioners unknowing or uncaring of the dangers and harm they inflict on their targets.
“Maybe you’re right. I’ve seen my fair share of nasty things, as well.” I conceded. “But I also think that there is still good in this world. Perhaps it isn’t as easily discerned as the bad, but it’s there, nonetheless.”
A long moment passed.
“There’s truth to your words— you were good to me, after all.” The captain said, smiling as he took a long whiff of the open air. “It is good being on a ship again.”
I closed my eyes, almost imagining myself in his place— the vast, blue skies above beckoning me with the promise of an adventure worthy of song and feasts, of legendary battles with honorable, worthy foes who are also in pursuit of noble causes.
Reality, of course, was nothing like this.
“Do this for me and the ship is yours— and whatever your share of what we find in Valyria is.” I opened my eyes, watching his mouth open in shock. “This is a dangerous journey, Fredo. You were one of the only few who were willing to make it. I believe that kind of bravery is something which should always be rewarded.”
Now, more than ever, I needed to show and embody the best qualities of Godric Gryffindor.
The Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin House, but this is the path I chose for myself. I thought as the captain tried to wave off the praise. I refuse to be like Voldemort.
And I could have behaved like him— I certainly could have. So many times, I’d been tempted to cast the Imperius to get my way.
I’d only done it once, and that had been to avoid having to kill Ser Barristan during the trial by combat I’d taken part in.
But there were also many other situations in which crossing certain lines was shaping up to be the easiest option. Even now, the temptations lingered.
I could have snuck into enemy camps and controlled the minds of their leaders. Hell, If I had a better handle on things, maybe Lord Ned wouldn’t have had to die. May he rest in peace.
In my mind, I knew that these were all baseless suppositions.
I knew that, irrespective of my most carefully laid plans, life would find a way to throw everything into chaos.
Doing what’s right versus what is easy… I thought. How did Dumbledore live with these choices?
I could barely remember the old man’s face; it had been too long. So much time had passed that I’d begun to forget what he sounded like, what my friends sounded like.
What Daphne sounds like.
“As always, a pleasure, Lord Blackscale.” The captain smiled before gesturing to the lower deck of the ship. “But my work beckons.”
“The seas wait for no man.” I said, trying to shake the offending thoughts away.
It wouldn’t do to dwell on the past. Yet another one of Dumbledore’s nuggets of wisdom, huh? I seem to be thinking of him a lot more, these days.
That, at least, was a good thought to have.
“Aye, my Lord.” Fredo said, turning to leave. “And all men must die.”
I did not give the customary reply, instead watching him go down into the hold with a critical eye.
Something about that greeting bothered me on a fundamental level.
‘All men must die. All men must serve,’ the greeting goes. I thought. The Ironborn have similar words— what is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger. The Faith of the Seven features death itself as a deity, but it’s seen as something to be respected but avoided at all costs. The Faceless Men worship death as it seems to be the common aspect of all existing religions.
Was there some link between all of these? I was sure that, with all of the horrific things I’d seen the Red Priests do, there was some connection between their own religion and death.
I feel like the answer is right under my nose, but I still don’t see it. I thought, frustration getting the better of me.
I took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh, sea air and letting all of my feelings, thoughts and worries fade into nothing as I watched the waves crash into the ship’s hull.
It was a fairly modest ship, all things considered: a brigantine which had seen quite a few years of service, judging by the worn nature of the wood used in its patchworked hull.
Still, it wasn’t anything a few charms couldn’t fix and enhance. It was a shame that I couldn’t do more than strengthen its structural integrity, but at least I knew that this boat could withstand just about anything.
Not that it would have to, considering the captain planned to simply wait for us to make our trip and come back— still, it didn’t hurt to be prepared.
My eyes flitted to the two medium-sized rowboats, snugly tied on the back of the ship with a copious amount of rope.
I smiled— it had taken some effort, but I’d managed to enchant the oars to save myself the effort of rowing when the time came.
It was actually nice to flex my wanded magic like that. It had been quite a while since I had to do anything remotely creative with it.
Then again, making two oars move in a synchronous circle wasn’t exactly high level, but it was satisfying work, nonetheless.
I patted the holly wand in my pocket, feeling a brief surge of reassuring warmth from it. Whatever obstacles Valyria had in store for me, I was prepared to meet them head on.
“Brooding doesn’t suit you, Harry Potter.” I heard a female voice from behind me and turned to see Daenerys, whose arms were crossed.
Behind her, on either side, stood Barristan Selmy and Jorah Mormont.
I smirked. “I don’t know, Daenerys Stormborn— I think I look rather dashing.”
She laughed and moved to stand by my side. Mormont’s face twisted painfully at the sight before he schooled it into his regular expression.
I stifled the grimace threatening to appear, instead focusing my attention away from the man.
Jorah Mormont was simple, led by his impulses— much like many of the Northmen I’d come to know when I joined Robb’s cause, although they at least still held tightly onto their honor.
In contrast to his countrymen, Jorah did the unthinkable by selling men into slavery just to please his wife; probably wanted her to have a luxurious lifestyle and this was the only way he knew how.
What little moral fiber he had, discarded like so much trash. I thought with derision.
Eventually, after he was found out and forced to flee execution, said wife left him for some merchant in Essos; I’d not bothered to learn the specifics of the matter.
The important part was that his loyalties seemed to be tied to whatever caught his fancy.
In this case, whomever caught his fancy. I thought, holding back the feeling of disgust.
I’d quickly come to know that the man harbored feelings for Dany, but it never failed to give me a case of the shivers.
No matter how much I adapt to this world, I’ll never accept this part of it. I thought. He’s around four times our age, yet he still wants her, lusts for her. It’s sickening.
“You humans and your strange morals.” Erebus whispered to me. “Why should age matter if she’s fertile?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling a headache coming. You wouldn’t understand, Erebus. We protect our young from those who would take advantage of them.
“You’re right.” The falchion clattered in his sheath. “I don’t understand. Besides, it shouldn’t be an issue for you— you’ve already claimed her as your own, haven’t you?”
I wouldn’t have put it in those terms… I thought back, not comfortable referring to the woman as my property. She was her own person, after all.
Is she not mine, though? The rebellious thought came, but I paid it no mind.
“Do you think we’ll find anything?” The woman in question said, pulling me out of my thoughts. “In Valyria, I mean.”
I considered her words as I avoided her gaze. “Will we find something? Hard to say. No one really knows the extent of the damage caused by the Doom.”
“True…” Daenerys said, her excitement dropping. “Perhaps I should temper my expectations.”
“There’s definitely something there.” I quickly added, not wanting to stomp on her hopes like that. “Hestia wouldn’t just come here if there wasn’t something calling her there, right?”
“Yes, you may be right.” Daenerys took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
I stared down at her hand and finally at her.
Daenerys’ violet eyes bored into my own, heavy with compassion. “We will find her. I promise.”
The conviction in her eyes never ceased to surprise me. Her experience with the glass candles had changed her in some way— opened her mind to the hidden and to the unknown.
Daenerys had embraced it all with surprising fervor. It reminded me of myself when it came to my parents; always eager to know more, to learn more.
Whatever horrors, indignities, honors, achievements she had respectively endured and made, she still felt a powerful longing for her familial roots; her origin and legacy.
That was something I could understand.
I pulled Daenerys into a hug, mindful of the guards behind her, though it didn’t seem they were likely to do anything.
I didn’t need to look at Mormont to know he was likely displeased by this. Barristan, on the other hand, looked on with approval.
“You need a shave, my Lord.” Daenerys said, running her fingers over my face and sending tingles throughout my body.
“I suppose I do.”
“I could burn it off, if you like?” Her eyes glittered with amusement and a hint of mischief.
“That is your decision. However, if you make the attempt, I may decide I no longer want to hug you.”
“You’ll do as I bid.” She turned her nose up. “I am your Queen, after all.”
I smirked and leaned forward to whisper in her ear. “My Queen, is it?”
Daenerys blushed, a pretty red accentuating her pale, almost lustrous skin.
She opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off.
“Harry!” It was Balthazar, slithering down from the top of the mast.
I pulled away from Daenerys, the sudden absence of her warmth making my heart clench. I ignored the feeling and turned, moving towards the massive snake. “What is it?”
“You felt that, didn’t you?” Balthazar said, excitement in his voice.
I was silent for a moment. “Felt what?”
“You… You didn’t feel it?” Balthazar said in confusion. “The shifts in the air— the threshold ahead!”
I didn’t reply, instead looking out at the horizon and extending my own power to detect it.
I didn’t feel anything. “Does anyone feel anything? Because I’ve got nothing.”
“Oh come on. Just focus and you’ll feel it.” Balthazar said, impatience and annoyance coloring his voice. “It’s just ahead of us, you can’t miss it.”
“I don’t truly feel anything either— wait.” Erebus said. “There is… something. It’s at the very edge of my consciousness, but I can’t make it out… Oh, I see. I understand now. Fascinating.”
“They’re right.” Daenerys added in. “It feels… of fire.”
For a moment, I thought the three of them were playing a prank on me— however ridiculous the idea was.
And then I finally felt it. It was like a faint, flame-like pressure— a flexible, but strong membrane to keep whatever power lurked inside hidden.
“The outer edges of the Valyrian Freehold.” Daenerys breathed, plucking the words right from my mind. “We are here.”
“Yes.” I shared a look with her, smiling for a moment. “We’ll have to stop the ship here, I think. Any more and it could pose a risk to the members of the crew.”
“I will inform the Captain at once, Your Grace.” The old man nodded, turned and walked away.
He reads her intentions well.
“Ser Jorah.” Daenerys turned to her other Queensguard. “I would ask that you remain here on the ship, to ensure that the Captain, or his crew, do not leave without us.”
Mormont shifted instantly, his expression turning mutinous. “I— my place is at your side, my Queen. I will not leave it.”
Daenerys’ eyes narrowed as she pursed her lips.
“I need you here. On the ship.” She said, subtly gesturing at the deck hands. “Someone loyal to me to ensure that the crew waits for us.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, your Grace.” Mormont continued to voice his disagreement, oblivious to the woman’s growing ire. “I won’t be able to protect you if I’m not by your side.”
Daenerys bristled, not at all liking the way he was talking to her.
One second he’s thinking of bedding her, the next second he’s treating her like a helpless child. I thought, the feeling of revulsion intensifying.
“Ser Barristan will be with me. As will Lord Harry, and three of our guards.” Daenerys said, quickly turning to me. “I will return shortly, Lord Harry. I must… make the necessary arrangements.”
You mean put Mormont in his place? I thought, but instead said. “I’ll start things off here, too.”
“Very good.” With that, she left towards her cabin, the Northman following her closely. “Come, Ser Jorah. We have much to discuss.”
I turned back to the open ocean as Balthazar slithered in a spiral around me.
“That guy doesn’t know when to stop pushing his luck.” Balthazar said as Captain Fredo exited the hold, barking orders at his men.
“Raise the sails!” He cried out several times. “Come on, you lazy shits! Put your backs into it!”
I smirked and answered the snake. “She’ll eventually get through to his thick skull, and he’ll understand that she’s not interested.”
“Maybe so.” Balthazar said. “Or maybe he’ll keep going.“
“God, I hope not.” I said, wincing at the thought. “Daenerys would probably roast him, if he did.”
“It would save us the trouble of doing the job ourselves.” Erebus said.
“My, my…” Balthazar said, amusement in his voice. “The mighty Erebus avoiding a fight?”
“Silence, worm. Why waste our time with such a petulant waste of flesh? I suppose you would know what that’s like.”
“You piece of—”
“That’s enough. Balthazar, you’re above falling for such easy bait. Erebus— can you not, right now?” I said, cutting the two off before they could get into yet another spat. “How would the two of you ever get along without me?”
I chuckled both in amusement and as a way to ward off the frustration I felt.
Here we were, about to go into an ancient, magical quarantined off land of unknown, mythical dangers to save Hestia, and my two companions— would they qualify as her uncles? — were too busy making childish digs at each other.
“That was a rhetorical question.” I murmured, holding onto the ship as it gradually came to a halt.
“This is a good spot. Not too deep, should be enough— all right, lads, weigh anchor!” Captain Fredo called, and the air was filled with the sound of chains as the men went to work.
I focused my attention on the threshold ahead.
Now that I knew what to look for, it was hard not to feel it.
Barely a few minutes’ swim away from the ship, the magical threshold of the Freehold stood tall and strong.
It was nothing like the fledgling thresholds I had felt at the various Red Temples I’d attacked and destroyed on my way to Daenerys.
Theirs were crude, malformed and ill designed. I thought. This one is anything but.
I’d thought it weak, at first, but that had been a deception.
Upon further scrutiny, I began to sense a faint whisper of something far into the distance— a great collection of magic hidden in the depths of that ancient Kingdom.
This almost feels like Temen Ni Gru… What the hell did they do?
It had been hard to fathom that Valyria had been an empire spanning an entire continent for thousands of years when I’d read about it in the history books I’ve had access to.
With a few exceptions, kingdoms on Earth had barely lasted a few centuries at a time— especially in the early days.
I shook my head and focused on my next thought: how the hell had the others detected the barrier before me?
Perhaps my sensing skills need work?
“I’ve had millennia of experience and I was almost not able to feel it, either.” Erebus said. “They must be resonating with it. Like for like.”
“What memories I’ve been able to siphon off of the Keeper seem to lead to that conclusion, as well. Valyria is steeped in magic reeking of fire, and so are myself and Daenerys.” Balthazar said. “Much as I hate to say it, I agree with Erebus.”
I nodded, accepting the simple reasoning. It made sense that the Valyrians made a barrier that— theoretically— only other Valyrians could detect.
“Never look for complicated answers when a simple one will suffice, I suppose.”
“Well said.” I turned to see Fredo behind us, eyeing the massive snake with both respect and trepidation.
“Captain.” I greeted the man again. “We’ve stopped, I take it.”
I felt stupid for even saying that, but my mind had blanked at that moment.
“Aye, my Lord. We have, indeed.” Fredo seemed to ignore or not notice my embarrassment as he answered. “The men are getting everything ready for you. The boats are being untied as we speak.”
“Very good.” I said and nodded. “I’m not sure how long this will take, but—”
“Begging your pardon, my Lord.” Captain Fredo cut me off with a smile. “But we will wait for as long as is necessary for you to achieve your goal.”
“That’s…” I said. “Thank you.”
“There is no need, Lord Blackscale.” He said. “It’s only fair.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and forced myself to keep talking. “Those who wish to come with us— they are getting ready?”
“I expected this question of you.” He said and gestured for the two men hanging back to come forward. “So I made sure to ask around. There are six who wish to make the journey.”
I scrutinized the two in front of me.
“Where are the other four?” I asked, not taking my eyes off of them.
“Still preparing their things, I imagine.” Fredo said. “Perhaps praying to whatever god they believe in. With a trip like this, it’s best to get all of that out of the way.”
Get their last rites beforehand, eh? I thought. Fredo doesn’t think any of them will make it.
“The chance of acquiring Valyria’s treasure was too good to pass up.” The man on the left said with a thick, Dornish accent.
A Dornishman, all the way out here? I thought and fixed a smile on my face. “I gather we’ll be finding a bit more than treasure there.”
“Knowledge as well, of course.” The man said.
“He means it’ll be dangerous, Perros.” The younger lad beside him said. He was also Dornish.
“Of course it’s dangerous, Willam.” The older one, Perros, retorted. “It’s Valyria. Only a fool would underestimate a place like that.”
“So, you do underestimate it.” The younger one, Willam, declared as if having made a great discovery. “I knew it.”
“You just couldn’t help yourself, could you?”
“I think you two should introduce yourselves before you embarrass me further than you already have, boys.” A woman’s voice came as she exited the ship’s hold. She was followed by a tall man, as well as two servants.
“I apologize, my Pr—” Willam said before he got swatted by Perros.
I narrowed my eyes at the form of address.
“Who are you?” I turned to the Captain, placing my hand on my sword. “Fredo. Who did you bring on this ship?”
“Milord Blackscale—” Fredo got to his knees in an instant, recognizing how serious this was. “I did not know! They said they were mere travelers from Dorne! I had nothing to do with this. I swear it!”
“He doesn’t seem to be lying.” Erebus whispered to me. “I suppose it would be child’s play to trick someone desperate to get shipmates for a suicide mission. Question is: what exactly are they after?”
Whatever it is, I hope they’re ready for a fight. I turned on them and drew my sword. “I believe you, Captain. Step away.”
He moved away so fast it was almost funny.
I fixed the group with a glare, getting ready for a fight.
“Wait!” She cried out, her demeanor changing from relaxed to panicked in an instant. “We mean you no harm!”
“I’ve had that said to me before.” I brandished the falchion at them and moved forward as Balthazar merged into my skin, scales clicking together as they covered my right arm. “Give me one good reason why I don’t have you thrown into the brig— or better yet, kill you all right here, right now and have your remains thrown overboard.”
“What is the meaning of this?” Daenerys exited her cabin, flanked by her two Queensguard and a few Unsullied.
“It seems, Queen Daenerys.” I said, keeping my eye on the group as I spoke. “That we have a few… uninvited guests in our midst.”
That seemed to make the Dornish woman bristle.
“I would hardly call ourselves uninvited.” The woman snapped, fire in her eyes. “You’re the one who asked for volunteers, Lord Blackscale. We merely answered the call.”
I frowned and considered her words. There was an open invite for anyone who wished to brave the dangers of Valyria.
“You came under false names.” Fredo piped up, the first time he’d spoken since the situation arose. “Ysilla, you said your name was.”
“The captain has a point.” I agreed, glad for the save.
“It was necessary.” The Dornish woman said. “To avoid the notice of certain eyes and ears.”
“Who are you, then?” Daenerys asked, clearly unsatisfied with her answer. “A Dornish House, but which one?”
The guy was referring to her as a Princess, most likely. I thought, quickly connecting the dots. Is this what I think it is?
The Dornish woman shared glances with her people before turning to the Queen.
“I am Princess Arianne of House Martell.” The woman said, dropping to her knees before Daenerys. “And I have come to declare my allegiance to you, the true Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.”
As the remainder of the woman’s— Arianne’s— cohort followed suit, only one thought came to mind.
Fucking Hell— I don’t have time for this!