The well worn dirt tracks of the mountain vales gave way to the tumbling stone paths of the gorges then changed to the muddy rough-hewn roads of the coast. The flags of House Arryn still stood high, whipping about in the steadily rising sea breeze, the clear blue eagle soaring with the winds on rounded argent. The retinue of Lord Artys Arryn rode in strength, and nothing seemed to dampen the pageantry and pride of the Arryn procession. They had traveled with minimal delay, barely stopping a night at Iron Oaks before continuing, much to the frustration of Alyssandra Stone, she was well traveled for her age and did so purely for the pleasure of visiting interesting places of the world, destinations were her joy, and a journey always had its highlights but she had friends in Iron Oaks and she had not spoken three words it seemed before Lord Arryn had struck out again.
The day darkened and turned grey as their neared their final destination in the Vale. The entire retinue was mounted, or at least horse-drawn, and even their swift progress did little to alleviate the boredom that had set in. The Knights jostled and joked or rode in haughty silence, some trying to catch Alys’ eye and wink. She smiled back, somewhat gleeful in the tempting prize she made of herself. Lord Arryn’s own blood. But she was perhaps too much the girl still, any attention she received made her nervous and the attentions of these men, good and brave knights all, would diminish as soon as they reached the city, where their desires could be met a hundred-fold. A thought that made her slightly jealous and relieved all at the same time.
Alys spent her time both in the carriage of Lady Arryn and Pinella and on her fast courser, riding up and down the column, chatting with nobles and servants alike, taking in the breathtaking beauty of the mountains on the coast, where they seemed to rise out of the water itself until you turned a corner and found that the peninsular only continued until the next horizon. Beauty turned mournful in the fading light, winds went from breeze to gale and back on nature's whim and the roads became narrower as they pressed up close to the cliff faces that replaced the loamy hills of the central vale. Alys felt a chill as she rode past most of the retinue to the tall, strident figure on a small rise overlooking the crashing waves of the bay. He became a silhouette, stalked by a similarly large silhouette, sky blue cloak swirling and flapping in the wind, the grey clouds behind forming an effigy of the coat of arms that the man ruled. Lord Arryn had his head bowed in reverence, muttering under his breath the prayers to the seven that would see them safely through this last stretch of the journey. His hands rested lightly on his lap as his brilliant white charger stood still, breathing heavily from the slight climb.Ser Mayne watched his lord a short distance off, dark eyes unblinking as his damp hair was plastered against his face.
Lord Arryn finished his prayer and looked down at his natural daughter as she rode slowly to his side. “Thousands of years ago our ancestors landed this shore and with nothing but determination and faith, took this land for the Seven.” Lord Arryn continued to stare at Alys, she averted his gaze and looked out to sea. “We follow a tradition and way of honour that won us a continent, that smashed the Old Gods and stood defiant against dragons. We must all strive to live for that glory.” Lord Arryn spoke in a lecturing tone, the speech so similar to thousands Alys had received before from her father. She believed she had taken them to heart, though she suspected something deeper in his choice of words. Alys remained quiet. “But man is weak in the eyes of the Gods. We all falter in our own way.” His tone turned sorrowful and at last he broke his gaze from Alys and joined her in watching the waves. “I have only broken one vow in my time. I live with that shame and yet I know pride.” Alys tried to catch her father's eye but he looked distant. “I know pride.” He repeated, before turning his horse and joining the retinue as it rounded the cliff paths. Alys was left on the hill, lost the words that came so close to... something. Solace, perhaps, for a bastard girl. She turned her horse as well and rode to the rear of the column, hoping to cheer her mood in the light banter of the carriage boys. She did not regain her humour before the walls of Gulltown loomed in the distance. The fields they crossed now, though bountiful, were little more than mud and ditches when Lord Arryn stood here with his army, preparing to burn the city to the ground. Alys, like all others noted the small, sullen grave on a plinth before the gates, the battered armour and shattered helm of the previous Lord Grafton, who had bled to death on Lord Arryn’s sword, was propped up against an unmarked stone. A pitiful testament to the defiance of Gulltown. It would be an interesting stay in the city a decade now past. The horns of Arryn sounded as they approached.
The Arryns were here. Dozens of horns sounded in the distance announcing their imminent entrance in the city, Alyx briefly looked back at his bed that he wouldn’t be seeing until the departure of his guests. under the crumpled covers lay Sara Templeton a brunette beauty, sister to the young knight Ser Matthos Templeton who had come to swear fealty to house Alyx as his local Lord. Matthos knew nothing of his sister’s escapades as Alyx had arranged for them to housed in two very distant guest chambers. Sara was not as experienced in the ways of the Seven Sighs as Alyx had expected from a young woman who had playfully flirted with most of the male nobility in Gulltown throughout her stay. This inexperience was explained last night when Alyx met resistance at the Bloody Gate as he delved into more ‘welcoming’ area of the “Vale”. Gently waking her up with a kiss to her forehead Alyx encouraged her to take a hot bath and to return to her brother before presenting themselves to Lord Arryn. As the girl left the room Alyx called in two chambermaids who were given the task of clearing and replacing the bedsheets and scenting the room with lavender flowers and having scented candles that they had brought from House Waxley brought in. All important documents had been cleared from the room the night before and the large oaken table was cleared for it’s next user for tonight Lord Arryn would have this room, the finest in Gulltown. Lord Grafton would content himself with a large guest room.
Today was an important day for house Grafton,Gulltown and indeed all of the Vale, it was important to make a good impression the guests and to erase all sentiments of past rivalry between the two houses. Much had been done to help Lord Arryn and his retinue feel welcome in Gulltown; Banners of Blue and White lined the road leading into the city and bells were rung in celebration. A feast had been prepared for tonight and House Royce, House Grafton as well as many knightly houses such as the Templetons awaited house Arryn and their retinue dressed in their finest ceremonial clothing. However there was one thing the powerful Lord Grafton could not oversee and that was the weather that had shown no sign of improving despite the best efforts of the Septon who had promised to appeal to the mother for clear, dry, sunny skies. Spring had so far been wet in the Vale and todays first drops of rain began to drop from a darkened evening sky as the first of the riders in the Arryn retinue began to cross the Fortified bridge over the swollen river a few hundred metres from the city gates. Seven be damned. By the time Lord Arryn would make it to the city gate he and his noble entourage would be thoroughly drenched and would probably subconsciously associate Gulltown and House Grafton to this miserable weather despite all of Alyx’s best efforts to encourage a warm welcome. This was particularly troubling when Alyx thought of the important nature of the requests he had for his lord ,most notably the renegotiation or the cancellation of the remaining war debts. The heavy wooden gate was open and the twin portcullis were lifted, the smallfolk of Gulltown lines the streets eager to see the famously tall Lord Arryn. At the city centre Lord Alyx Grafton, Lord Royce and a dozen knights and their ladies awaited the arrival of their liege Lord.
Lord Arryn rode at the head of his retinue donned in the glistening armour that knights of the Vale were famed for. Banners were fasted to spears on those that followed, each mounted and armed in a manner that suggested war and pageantry were seldom separated. The rain that had begun to fall only added a gloss to the the shining armour and coats of the horses, the brightness in such dark weather was unworldly, like some great host had ridden right out of the Age of Heroes into modern time. Lord Arryn had donned the winged helm of his house, the crests spreading eagles wings in flight, adding to his already formidable height. The retinue thundered across the bridge, huge chargers and swift coursers alike with the odd carriage and cart. Lord Arryn’s massive white stallion trotted into the city centre where it turned and twisted at it’s Lord’s command as Lord Arryn rode along the length of the gathered nobles and officials, his eyes studying each and every one through the narrow slits of the helm. He then waited.
Behind him the smiling face of Harlen Arryn rode without helm, waving at smallfolk and noble alike, he was shorter than his father, but of a thicker build and despite his youthful face possessed serious eyes of one who had long since lost the innocence of youth. The same could not be said of the slight figure of the girl who rode by his side. Smiling coyly at those that met her eye, but otherwise seeming far more interested in the powerful display of Lord Arryn. She was Alyssandra Stone and had been to Gulltown before when Gerold Grafton still ruled.
As soon as the Septon’s choir finished their Hymn a drumroll began reverberating in the night from the workshops and houses surrounding the city center, this Drumroll continued until all five hundred of Lord Arryns men had entered the city and were in place allowing silence for Alyx Grafton’s official speech.
‘Welcome my Lord Arryn to the home of your humble vassal. The city is yours. I trust you have had a safe journey from the Eyrie and did not encounter any disturbances on the road.” began Lord Alyx praying to every god in the world that his ceremony had not been spoiled by bandits and tribesmen as well as by the weather.
Lord Arryn inclined his head and spoke in a powerful voice that did not need to boom to be heard.
“A safe a journey as any Lord Grafton, the Vale still recovers from its past scars, though the tribesmen are not so foolish to attack so large a party.” The words were disinterested but bore a sting, his first sentence mentioning the civil strife to which House Grafton had been on the losing side of.
“I had planned for a more elaborate welcome,however, we had not expected this heavy rain and none of us are getting any drier. If you and your noble entourage would please follow me to the castle I’m sure you will all be able to get into some dry clothes and wash up in time for the feast. ” I have ensured that all taverns and Inns in the city should have enough room for your less highborn retainers though of course we have enough space in the servant quarters up in the castle for a select few of your servants.” Alyx announced before mounting his palfrey and leading Lord Arryn up the cobbled hill to his Castle.
“The accommodations are satisfactory, I shall ensure my men make no trouble in their stay.” Lord Arryn said, still not making to remove his helm until well into the castle. He did so then and passed it to a nearby knight. The Lord Arryn still showed glimpses of a handsome face, well worn with age and disfigured by scars that crossed his cheek and disappeared down his neck. His hair was thin and white, with tinges of the soft red that Arryn’s were known for. The scars helped to highlight the grimace that seemed to permeate his face and very aura.
Once inside the shelter of his home Alyx presented his liege Lord with a gift from one of Gulltown’s greatest artists; a Large painting of the current Lord’s ancestor and namesake Artys Arryn “The Winged Knight” fighting the legendary “Griffon King” atop the peak of the Giants’ Lance.
Lord Arryn regarded it without a change in emotion, though after a moment nodded ever so slightly. “It’s accuracy is no doubt questionable, but it is a fine portrait nonetheless. I shall be honoured to accept this and hang it in the Eyrie, a testament to the victories of our ancestors and all Andal people.” Lord Arryn made a motion with his head and a knight as tall as he stepped forward with sword wrapped in finery. “My visit only happened to correspond with your return from exile, though the gift was never meant for you, it shall suffice, though I cannot predict how you shall receive it.” The knight unwrapped the finery to reveal a sword as strong as it was beautiful. The blade was thick and and long, revealing it to be a bastard sword, gold inlay spelt out the words of House Grafton on the crosspiece and the hilt extended out into the shape of a tower spouting flame at the pommel.The only mark on it was a jagged scar running diagonally across the blade, so fine to be almost invisible but now highlighted with red in a manner that demonstrated extreme smithing skill.
“Your father’s blade broke when he collapsed upon it in full armour.” Lord Arryn said, he seemed distant with the memories of the past. “The blade was destroyed with his failed rebellion. It has been reborn for you and your descendants, free of past dishonour. I trust you will honour it with a name befitting it’s glory, for what was once lost is now returned.” Lord Arryn handed the blade hilt first to Lord Alyx. “Will you do me the honour of introducing me to your court.?”
“It would be my pleasure my lord” announced Alyx as he beckoned a servant forward to collect his fathers’ blade. He had not yet thought of a name new name for it. A reforged sword for a restored house deserved a new name. “I thank you for returning an object so dear to my family.” Performing a half turn Alyx Introduced his own entourage to Lord Arryn.
“Here is lady Isolde Sunderland, if you may recall was engaged to be wed to my father after my mother and her lord husband passed away.” Alyx neglected to remind his Lord that such a marriage had been arranged in the middle of the Arryn-Grafton conflict with the intention of bringing the Sistermen into the conflict on Lord Grafton side as Lords Grafton and Royce marched onto the Eyrie. “She remains a guest at court here taking care of her two children Edmure and Gwyneth Sunderland whilst her Castellan manages the sisters. Her son Edmure is one of the finest swordsmen I have known and is to be the next Lord of Sunderland. Due to my extreme business and lady Isolde’s … generosity.... Edmure is to represent house Grafton as well as house Sunderland at the Tourney in King's Landing. He has promised to prove himself worthy of returning as Lord of the Three Sisters by winning this tourney.” Alyx found this amusing and imagined Lord Arryn would too the boy had not yet reached his eighteenth name day and thought himself as mighty as Aegon the Conqueror. Edmure was, indeed an excellent swordsman, perhaps one of the finest in the Vale but he suffered from too much pride that meant he was occasionally beaten by less skilled but more calculating opponents. Nevertheless, Alyx had no choice but to send Edmure to Kings Landing as he was far too busy with other issues, he wished Krys had returned so that Gulltown could not only send a Grafton but someone more experienced in the world and more experienced in tourneys.
“The beautiful little lady Sunderland is named Gwen and is experiencing the advantages of living in a city. I’ve been told she is a generous patron and that every night the Dyers, dressmakers and jewellers of Gulltown pray for a visit from lady Gwen.
My sister Bryd stands beside me and has been of a great help to me in helping me manage the situation in the city since my return keeping me up to date with all I may have missed during my journeys abroad.” Alyx looked at Bryd and noticed she was not smiling, she had always been far less forgiving towards the family that killed her father than Alyx and it seemed she had no desire to undertake and particular effort to welcome her fathers’ murderer. Lord Grafton would have to would have to remind her of the need to make Lord Arryn feel welcome before they all settled down for the feast.
“ Unfortunately my uncle Gerold has left for the Night’s Watch now that he has been relieved of his duties to Gulltown so I cannot present to you my fathers’ brother. Fortunately his son remains at court with me and has made himself very useful by my side. I’m sure you remember Lord Royce who is visiting Gulltown with his family as my guest as we try and discuss a suitable resolution to the clansmen problem that has seen one of his sons taken captive in an attempt to rid the region of a particularly powerful bandit warlord.” The aging Lord Royce and his sons all looked grimly at Lord Arryn, treating him with as much respect as Bryd did. Alyx was increasingly frustrated; could no one ignore the events that happened half a generation ago? In his eyes the Royces should be content enough their father returned safe and sound from the war and was left free to sow his seed ensuring that Runestone faced no succession issues similar to those met my Gulltown. Alyx had to regain the control of the situation before Lord Arryn noticed the reception he was getting from the Royces. Choosing to skip the knightly houses present to welcome Lord Arryn, Alyx indicated the Eyrie men towards the feast hall;
“Now if you’ll follow me I’ll lead the way to the feast hall where we have prepared a feast that will your family as well as Edmure sufficiently fed to achieve great prowess in the Capital and bring glory to the Vale.”
As was the case with his bedroom, Alyx ceded his seat to Lord Arryn this night choosing to sit instead to the right of Lord Artys with Lord Royce seated to his left. This was not only done in accordance to the respect of rank and of traditions but also to facilitate much needed conversation during the short stay of Lord Arryn in the city. The need to cancel the debts would have to be addressed if Gulltown was to see any significant growth before Winter came around again. Alyx had plenty of ideas to increase revenues aside from raising taxes but would need to have a much greater access to funds to initiate and maintain these operations. This was possible in only four ways, Having the war debt reduced after paying it for ten years, raising taxes, borrowing funds at unacceptable interest rates from unsavoury lenders, or defaulting on the debt repayments. Only the former was a valid option as one of Alyx’s plans for increased wealth involved tax reduction and the traditionally extreme interest charged on loans would soon return Gulltown to it’s current state of being debt ridden. In order to allow for a renegotiation of debts to even be considered by Lord Artys Arryn House Grafton would have to show itself changed for the better and to be the the very reflection of loyalty.
Lord Arryn was not one to forget the cool reception he received from some members of the Grafton court, especially since those same persons continued their unspoken hostility at the feasting table. Royce’s were a stubborn lot, whose very words bespoke their reasoning, ‘We remember’. Lord Arryn was also obliged to remember that Royce’s good deeds outweighed their more recent dissent. The new Graftons however, seemed remarkably different from their sires and ancestors of old. ‘Perhaps it is the folly of youth’ Lord Arryn mused as he drank deep from the goblet of wine before him. ‘Though ambition is just as likely’. The young Lord Grafton had gone to great lengths to see an amiable reception, eager, almost. The intention was becoming more clear as the night wore on but Lord Arryn’s scarred face showed no signs beginning the inevitable discussion. He chose a different subject instead. “My Lord Grafton, you say this young girl here is your sister.” He did not turn to face the young Lord instead focusing his eyes on Bryd sitting further down the table, his voice unable to be heard by any other but Lord Grafton as the guests made the room loud with talking and eating. “Was she with you in exile?” he continued.
“Thankfully not, my lord, thankfully not. As hardy as Bryd is or as she says she is I don’t think she would have liked the places I went. I don’t think the Maester’s would have taken kindly to a woman following me around during my studies. To this day I thank the Seven she had the good sense to stay at home, had she not; no one would have been around to restrain my poor uncle from mis-managing Gulltown.Say what you like about women and their role in politics, Bryd was invaluable for the reception and redirection of supplies from Essos this winter. From what I hear the Braavosi admire passion in a young woman. ”.
Lord Arryn’s natural scowl deepened as his suspicions were confirmed. He now turned to Lord Grafton and in a muted tone spoke with a flicker of emotion. “If you are right in claiming the attributes of your sister, and from what I hear it is very much the truth, why was she not made Lady of Gulltown in your absence?” The point was clear, due to the entire civil war being over the issue of cognatic inheritance. Lord Arryn had fought for the rightful Queen and was not impressed that the Graftons had deceived him into think the heirs of Gurry were lost. Though the anger was masked, it was also not quite directed at Lord Alyx. Gerold Grafton was responsible and his fleeing to the wall and the safety of the Night’s Watch had become abundantly clear. “You espouse her womanly virtues Lord Alyx, yet she was denied.” He made it a statement, clearly not thinking any explanation could be obtained that would satiate his ire.
Lord Arryn was proving to be harder to befriend than Alyx had hoped, it was fair enough that he was suspicious of the Grafton to a certain degree but to expect an absent son to justify why his sister had not been chosen to lead the House after the defeat her father on the slopes of the Eyrie was a little excessive in Alyx’s opinion. Still hospitality must prevail, Lord Artys had after all officially become a guest of the Graftons since tucking into the rabbit stew.
“ You are right my Lord, I do hold my sister in high esteem yet even so I would hardly think that ten years ago, when she was a but a babe of six, that she would have made a suitable Lady of Gulltown. Lords would have flocked from across the Seven Kingdoms to take advantage of her and force her to take their hand in marriage by the time she was old enough to bleed. My uncle intentions’ were good although his actions were not the reflection of these intentions.”
The frustration in the young Lord’s answer was clear and Lord Arryn was so foolish as to provoke anger in anyone without cause. He softened his gaze, if only a fraction. “She became an able woman without the training that would have come with being raised the Lady of Gulltown. But we speak in hypotheticals, the present is more pressing and I have no doubt that you shall succeed where your father and uncle failed.” He turned back to the feast at hand, his words a clear indication that further conversation could wait. Lord Grafton had been tested, and he had passed.
Elsewhere along the table far from the political intrigue
Lady Bryd Grafton was confused. How could her brother simply shame father's’ memory by kowtowing to his butcher, the man that killed her father was now sitting in the chair her father had sat upon when they had taken dinner together all those years ago. Gurry had been a bad vassal but an excellent father to his daughter and she had regretted his death every day. Her brother had discreetly reminded her to change her attitude towards their guests quickly otherwise he would be forced to use his authority to have her excused from the table for being ‘ill’ or tired. She was tempted to continue and to be sent away from the Arryns but she was too proud to let them have such a ‘victory’. She was truly her father's’ daughter. Another reason for her decision to be co-operative was her fear of being visited later in the Night by a heavily inebriated and randy Edmure Sunderland who had quite frankly become too bold these past months. Whether he truly loved her or whether he was just following his mother's’ instructions to get himself attached to the current heiress of Gulltown she knew not nor did she care. It would be a long meal; to her left sat Edmure who was, thankfully boasting of his future tourney prowess to some overly polite and attentive Egen girl who would soon regret having to listen to this adolescent Sisterman boast for an evening. She began to wonder whether she should wander to the other side of the room either to where the youngest Royce boy was sitting or whether she should just go to the balcony to get away from the inevitable stuffiness of a room full of Lords and ladies stuffing their faces and making wine induced smalltalk. She decided to go see the Royce boy Aerik who had had a crush on her ever since he had met her, she did not reciprocate his feelings but he was a sweet boy and would make pleasant conversation and bend over backwards to make her evening pleasant. which is exactly what she needed.
Harlen stirred his stew aimlessly as he endured another round of history from an elderly knight whose coat of arms had become so aged as to be unrecognisable, Harlen was aware he was on show and so did not dare to remove himself until he was sure the droning man was not someone of high rank. The feast had quieted down a little as the younger members ushered off to bed, the ladies excused themselves for refreshing and the men became louder and more obscene in tight circles of confidants. Harlen had been on the road with many of these people so long he had tired of their conversation utterly, seeking out the wisest man he could and trying to gleam worldly wisdom of him. The idle exercise was one of futility, the man would not shut up and was not even talking about the right monarch in his lambast of Targaryen power. Finally the drone became a snore and Harlen extracted himself in search of his half-sister. The search was over quickly and to his dismay she was locked in an inescapable discussion with Lady Arryn, another lecture on Lady-like behavior that would not end before the last guest had left. Harlen strode past a particularly loud young man who had been introduced as Edmure Sunderland whose claims of military prowess were almost as farcical as his prowess in the bedroom, though he was far louder in claiming the latter, a feeble attempt to gain someone's attention, who, Harlen did not know. Harlen was a temperate soul and had never been wholly taken by the powers of strong drink so he sought more sober company. He spotted a young woman making her way to another table in a hurry. She did not look particularly happy and Harlen recalled she was Lady Bryd Grafton, seeing no other diversion Harlen stepped between her and her destination with a swift movement that almost resulted in a collision. “My Lady Grafton, the hospitality you and yours have given us is most welcome. Though I cannot help but note the lack of good conversation around here. I beginning to suspect half these people are random vagrants from the streets.” He spoke with smile and cheerful tone that heightened his whimsy, though his large frame and semi-armoured attire bespoke his military upbringing.
Was he being serious or was this what qualified as a joke in the Eyrie, maybe the cold mountain air got to this mans head. Firstly he had nearly knocked her over, then he had complimented her on the quality of a welcome she had contributed to and then he had criticised the company that her brother had invited. To be fair some of the people at dinner that night were worthy of being labeled as tramps and vagrants. Bryd knew for a fact that her brother was currently bedding Lady Sara Templeton, Lady Isolde Sunderland as well as one of the younger serving girls who whilst not a guest remained a tramp in her eyes. Thankfully for her brother society did not seem to treat men with the same disdain. As she turned to face her new guest she recognised him immediately by his incredible height which was something of a trait in the Arryn family. Although his facial features were less severe and intimidating than those of his other relatives his brownish red head confirmed her previous deduction.
‘Some are some aren’t, I’m sure the Eyrie has some bannermen that are unable to hold their drink either. What can I do for Lord Arryn?” her tone indicating that she was not impressed by the traditional masculine over friendly over confident approach that this youth who could only be Harlen Arryn seemed to share some symptoms of with Edmure . Harlen was a little perplexed at first, though the familiar half-smile returned as he continued undaunted though now entirely interested. “You mistake my intentions, I am in need of nothing more than conversation, especially with someone who seems as tired of their surroundings as I am.” He stared at her for a half second longer before making a curious expression. “I don’t wish to impose myself on you.” He showed genuine worry at offending the Lady Grafton and his confusion was evident. It was her turn to be confused, Arryns were known to be up-tight overly proud mountain dwellers with a broom so far up their arses it was a wonder they touched the ground. Yet instead this one seemed to be showing actual politeness, she decided she would not have it said that she was less courteous than an Arryn so she decided to play along. “Forgive me , Ser, it’s been a long day and I’ve had a sleepless night.” She didn’t feel it was necessary to provide that the reason for this was that her room was directly beneath her brother’s. “How are you finding the city of Gulltown? I hear that the Eyrie is a relatively small castle compared to those of the other great houses.” Relaxing now that he thought the reason for her ‘coolness’ had been solved he once again smiled at her question. “No doubt the Eyrie is small compared to, say Winterfell, but it still a large keep. But it’s size is of no consequence, the Eyrie is a roost of sorts. I implore you to witness it when you can, from the top of the world there is no better place to find solace. The higher you go, the better you are healed of... worldly concerns. I favour that over the bustle of Gulltown or other cities.” Harlen spoke with passion and yet the melancholy of his tone was clear. Bryd blushed a little involuntarily not because this giant of a man let out an emotional outburst but because she remembered what her nan had told her about when men mentioned that “size is of no no consequence”. Fearful that her blush would give the lord the completely wrong impression she quickly regained her composure and answered a fairly neutral question “Are you also going to participate in the Tourney in King’s Landing? I’m afraid that if you are it’s no point competing, Edmure’s already won all the categories-just ask him and he’ll be sure to confirm this”. Harlen had not noticed the blush, eyes now scanning the room for the boastful Edmure. “Aye, he sure can talk himself into a fight.” Harlen had noted the tone Bryd used when she spoke of Edmure and decided he would not want to be the object of this girl’s anger as Edmure seemed to be. “I will enter, I am a knight and warrior trained, but the glamour of the joust does my ability no justice, I excel in the melee so that will be my focus.” Harlen did not boast, but spoke in graver voice than before, it was clear tourneys were not his favourite subject. Bryd noticed this general apathy towards the subject of the tourney which was unusual for a young man so she returned to the safer subject of home castles. “I should like to see the view from the Eyrie one day, perhaps I will ask my brother to take me with him on a future journey, though I doubt the constant calm is ever anything I’d choose over the bustle of a city alive with the energy of life.” Harlen smiled, “I shall be delighted host you.” he looked over at the now dwindling number of people in the great hall and nodded, knowing their time was at an end.
“Anyway, my lord, the hour is getting late and I have some final details to oversee with regard to your ship’s departure tomorrow. I will wish you good night and just enough luck in the tourney to thump some sense into lady Isolde’s son.” As she turned to leave she made her way over to Rumple the Grafton’s mute jester and gave him a quick peck on the nose to which he responded to with an elaborate collapse and a well performed backwards roll acting as if he had just been given the biggest shock of his life much to the pleasure of the now thoroughly inebriated crowd.
Later in one of Gulltown Castle’s Solars
Lord Arryn was relieved to have been done with the formal feast, he had made his show for the vassals and the smallfolk, the Vale would receive the message that it was business as usual. Lord Arryn was Lord Paramount, he was in control he had brought the rebellious Houses to heel. The message was given was different from what was actually going on behind the closed doors of the Solar. Arryn stood facing a fire, now sipping water as he prefered. His back was turned to the other two men in the room. Lord Royce and Grafton. It was in these small rooms that power was truly wielded, subtly through quiet words. Lord Arryn was not an especially quiet man when he spoke. “The hour is late Lord Grafton, so I would appreciate a rapid discussion. King’s Landing awaits and I must soon leave my wife in the Vale. Such things do not put me in the best of moods to hear what I know you will ask. But hear it I must. Speak, Lord Grafton.”
“My Lord, in a few hours you leave for King's Landing, yet I do not because I cannot afford to; I have neither the funds, nor the time. Should I leave for the capital I would be condemning Grafton to misery and if you should not spare the city from the the remainder of the War debt owed to you and the Corbrays I fear you would indirectly be as responsible as I for the impoverishment of the whole Vale. Already warehouses lie full of goods manufactured in Gulltown, Ironoaks, Wickenden, or Runestone without captains or ships to carry them across the sea. Neither can our produce be taken inland anymore except under an absurdly expensive armed guard. You were fortunate enough to reach Gulltown unmolested by bandits or the mountain clansmen but the common merchant cannot afford such large escorts as yourself. Lord Royce and I have tried to resolve these problems ourselves but so far with little success, so far an expedition to retake some of the previously manned Mountain forts to the West of the peninsular ended in the capture of one of Lord Royce’s sons. I am preparing a similar venture but without money I cannot provide my warriors with the weapons supplies and armour they need to fight against enemies who often have the advantage of height,surprise and knowledge of the terrain. Similarly we cannot fight the pirates that threaten our merchants and dissuade foreign tradesmen from coming to if we are not able to construct or man swift galleys and other light vessels.I am imploring you to hear me out, I’m not asking for any money I’m just asking that you allow Gulltown to help itself and bring prosperity back to the Vale after this Winter by allowing it to fully utilise the shrinking profits it still makes to resolve its problems. Surely these ten years of peace and stability testify to our peaceful intentions. I understand your misgivings lord but since you slew Lord Grafton” he said careful to not associate himself to his father “ten years have passed and Gulltown has seen two new leaders and too few opportunities”. If the best interests of the Vale are truly what you have at heart you must see this eye to eye with me The Vale cannot prosper without Gulltown and Gulltown cannot prosper without being able to afford to protect its’ sources of revenue.” As he said this he put down his glass of honeyed milk, for he never was fond of taking mind altering substances,especially at the time of such an important request, and looked Lord Arryn in the eyes. He had done his best to put aside any memories of a past clash and had tried to explain the harsh reality of the situation to his Lord who spent much of his time isolated from the rest of the Valemen up a mountain it took two days to ascend. He could only hope Lord Arryn would make the right choice for Gulltown and the Vale.
Lord Arryn weighed upon this, knowing the situation was far more delicate than it appeared.Hardship and profit, safety and suffering were all part of the the great cyclical game that rulers played among each other. It was a ceaseless task trying to stay ahead of any challengers, any competition that threatened the stability of a realm within a realm. Lord Arryn knew of all the troubles Lord Grafton had relayed, they were largely petty, though in combination, devastating. He had reached his decision much earlier that day, when Lord Grafton had revealed what kind of man he was, and what kind of man he wished to become. Lord Arryn glanced from the young man back to the fire, drank from his pitcher and spoke low and serious. “Gulltown challenged the might of the Vale and lost. Your father sought to become Lord of all in the midst of a wider crisis. His actions were betrayal. The loose confederations that once called themselves Kingdoms in older days were nothing to the cohesion and unity of honour that the Vale boasted. Isolated we were called, because we did not weaken ourselves by spreading our influence thin or being embroiled in the wars of others. Actions that would fragment the Vale.” Lord Arryn turned back to Lord Grafton and allowed silence to reign for a moment before continuing, hoping the boy was listening to the greater meaning. “Gulltown will never be harbinger of disunity again. Never. Ten years the city has suffered for it’s crimes, ten years you were absent. Be thankful you were free of that suffering. I did this not out of spite, no sleight of honour against my person or threat to my power. Justice and penance. That is all it was. Justice and penance. The debts will continue to be paid, though at a fraction of the cost per annum, my steward will explain the details. You will be able to accrue the funds that you desire, to bring stability to this place once more with little more than a paltry tax as reminder of what is owed. The debt will also be reduced, and at the new rates, will be repaid within two years at most. But as I am freeing you of this burden, so to do I require something of you. You will be bolstered by my own funds in this endeavour. I trust you to sought out affairs on land, but the sea is a different matter. You will reconstruct the fleet, use the resources of a port city and its facilities to do so. You will secure the bays and the shores and the seas that need to be secured and you will keep building. Larger and faster. I want a fleet to match the Reach and the Westerlands. This fleet will serve your needs but it will be sworn to the Vale. To me and mine.” Lord Arryn watched for any give away in expression from the young Lord. “You will build me a fleet with the funds of your future prosperity and my own treasury. Prove that you are able, willing and pure of intentions and I will name you Lord Admiral of the Vale. Now, speak your mind.”
There was a noticeable pause between Lord Arryn’s speech and the moment Alyx answered.
“ I couldn’t agree more, the Vale has traditionally remained apart from the affairs of the realm it was foolish of my father to take up arms over a matter so inconsequential to the people of the Vale as the Targaryen succession.Despite whatever others say the most important decisions regarding the Vale and the prosperity of its’ people are made inside the Vale. This conversation serves only to illustrate this. Your decision with regard to reducing the debt is one worthy of honour by which you stand by your previous decisions whilst simultaneously taking care of the situation of your Bannermen. Perhaps Lord Royce here might in turn, eventually be entrusted with a similar honour perhaps made raised Knight of the Bloody Gate. ”
“While Lord Royce can surely speak for himself, I will have other tasks for him to renew his honour.”
“Now with regard to this fleet..You must forgive me I did not expect such …”
an order? no- too harsh, responsibility-it would appear as a rejection of the offered trust.
”...an honour so soon. You ask a great deal if you desire to surpass the fleet Redwyne or the Westerlands fleet, They have significantly larger fleets than we do and they will do doubt be adding to them as we start but it can and will be done if you desire it my lord. Gulltown and the who of the Vale would no doubt be enriched by such a project and the added naval security would encourage traders to return to Gulltown. We do have several advantage over the Western regions, we are spared from the menace of the Ironborn and we are closer to the skilled shipwrights and captains of Essos. I know someone who has some personal contacts in several of the free cities and if properly incentivised I’m sure could be persuaded to lend us a hand.I shall discuss with your steward the costs of such an endeavour. I fear, however, that the other Lords,especially those from the northern part of the Vale would reject any calls for assistance from me unless supported by your hand due to my youth and my fathers’ unfortunate decision. Therefore I would ask you for documents bearing your seal and signature on some enabling me to take all necessary steps to facilitate the construction and maintenance of a Vale Naval force. This would enable me to coordinate efforts with the settlements of Old Anchor, Sisterton, Iron Oaks and Wickenden. If this is all my Lord I wish you a restful night and your family the best of luck in the tourney”.