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Game of Thrones: A Cold Wind Blows - Chapter 2b: The Rose faces the Sun

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Allyria set aside her tableware, giving Oberyn a gracious nod and a brief smile, pleased by his compliment. "You are kind to say so, Prince Oberyn, but truthfully, I have been marking who to watch for the tourney. There are many to be wary of, and of course, the gods old and new may smile down upon a man, but a few are of particular note."

The silver-tressed maiden extended a slender finger, her lips growing tight as she recalled her prior encounter. "Bronze Yohn Royce, Lord of Runestone, is a doughty fighter, his rune-marked plate granting him a confidence that is more dangerous than the actual efficacy than his ostentatious armor."

The Lady of Starfall's mismatched eyes grew shadowed as she addressed another knight of a far more sinister mien. "I would be far more wary of the ugly, ungodly thick plate of the Mountain that Rides, Prince Oberyn. Slow and ponderous he may be, he is a juggernaut near impossible to divert from his path. That is also his weakness, for he is slow to alter his course once made. However, I believe the Warden of the West, Lord Tywin has Ser Gregor Clegane occupied outside King's Landing, so he may not be able to attend the Tourney."

Allyria leaned forward, her elbows indecorously on the table as she grew more animated with the conversation. "Your greatest challenge, I believe, will be from two brothers of the Kingsguard, one old and one young. Ser Barristan Selmy is a greatly experienced Knight and has shown himself to be a formidable tourney fighter. As for the Kingslayer..."

Allyria's face grew cold, but hints of colour bloomed on her fine boned cheeks and her multi-hued eyes were hot. "Ser Jaime Lannister is confident to the point of arrogance and beyond, but his reputation is well earned, his skill not a mummer's fabrication."

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Galiana was silent throughout the meal, clearly in a pique. The Sand Sisters and other, more official members of the family loved to dress her up like this, and she had never been sure why. Yes, her mother had been a master craftwoman, who had been invited to the palace many times for the pleasure she’d brought with her commissioned works. Despite this lax relation, Galiana had been treated much more like a welcome guest when she’d been taken there.

As a child, she’d accepted it without question but as an older person, she was starting to wonder. Why was she given this kind of latitude? Why was she sitting between Oberyn’s acknowledged bastards? Perhaps her father was more important than she’d believed. She’d been told that he was an artist unjustly accused of murder and sent to the Wall-

With a shake of her head, Galiana dismissed her thoughts. They weren’t going to do her any good. They would distract her and the last thing she needed was a distraction while trying to keep the dress clean. She believed that the Snakes would dress her in something ridiculous for the tourney, but she didn’t believe their threats of an escort for a moment – not unless they meant to force one of the soldiers to do it. A commoner for the common bastard.

Sighing, she glanced down at the garment. The outer dress was a cream color that made her dusky skin appear even darker. It did her slim figure no favors; even the corset couldn’t give her breasts or hips. Her hair was drawn up and back; the sisters had thought about covering the scar with her hair but had given up and just drew it back into a complex braid. It left her ugly scar openly visible and her pale blue eye in stark contrast to her normal brown one. Mismatched like Lady Allyria, but not at all lovely like her.

Deep inside, she would admit only one thing: the sisters had managed to make the left side of her face look nice. The right… well, nothing could be done with her scar and damaged eye. But the left… it was disturbing. She looked almost pretty. Almost.

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Bannon was ill at ease at the table.

This wasn't the fault of his hosts or the other company at the table. The men of the Dornish household guards seemed both friendly and a little in awe of the giant who'd hoisted their Lord around like a child. Oberyn and Nymeria had made him very welcome, and the ladies Allyria and Morgaine were cordial to him.

Part of the reason was the Sand Snakes. They sat either side of Galiana, across the table from where he sat, and when they weren't quietly admonishing the poor lass to 'sit up' and 'sip, not gulp' her wine the pair of them were eyeing the huge man speculatively. His shoulders and chest filled the white linen shirt and the rich brown leather vest he wore over it. His strong-planed, rough-hewn features with the close-trimmed beard were softer in the candlelight, as were his sable eyes. A smaller man with his looks might have been ruggedly handsome. As it was, the giant-blood's sheer size made him 'imposing'. Yet the two women, daughters of Lord Oberyn, were clearly assessing him as the conversation around the table continued.

The other thing that was making him uneasy was Gali. His 'little master' was dressed up, and was actually pretty. The young giant realised Galiana probably wouldn't appreciate him actually saying that, would probably be embarassed and angry at him, and he didn't want to alienate his friend. Still, it was hard not to steal glances at her, comparing the beauty of her left side with the scar on the right. She looked upset enough, that was for certain. He smiled commiseratingly at her, but she caught his look, misinterpreted, and started to glare. Bannon had swiftly turned his head as though paying attention to the dialogue between Oberyn and Allyria.

"Messer Bannon." It was Obara who spoke during a lull in the conversation, her eyes studying him intently. "You seem to have some skill at hand-fighting, as we all witnessed. Have you taken part in any contests?"

"Aye, milady." Bannon rumbled quietly, wondering what she was about. "In Bronzegate, I won the sand circle tourney three years on the trot." A smile of simple pride accompanied his words. "Last year I won the big tourney at Storm's End, and gained a handsome purse from it, the most money I've seen in my years."

"And how old are you?" she laughed lightly. "Forgive me, but it is hard to judge you Messer. You are somewhat..." she gestured airily. "Expansive."

"No forgiveness needed, la- milady. I'm sixteen years of age." The revelation lay across the table like a rock in a stream for a long moment. One of the guardsmen choked on his wine, and the serving maid stared at him.

"Fascinating." Obara said with a sly smile towards her father.

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Bannon looked as uncomfortable as Galiana, which oddly made her feel better. At least he wasn’t having fun while she was miserable. He had cleaned up impressively, but Galiana knew Obara and Nymeria and wasn’t entirely happy about it. Should they convince him to bed one or the other, she’d slip him a warning. Not that she was opposed to her friend finding feminine companionship; more that she was worried that he’d wind up poisoned. Their reputations alone should be enough warning for her giant friend, but Gali had listened to men talk amongst themselves and she had a fair idea how their minds worked when it came to laying with women.

Bannon smiled at her, his expression sympathetic and kind. Gali started to return the smile, to give him one of her own, but a sudden thought arrested her. If she showed favor to Bannon, the sisters might pursue him for themselves to taunt her. Or worse, they would make him escort her to the tourney. While she wouldn’t mind having to be around her fellow bastard, she didn’t want him to have to be seen with a scarred bastard on his arm. Instead, she twisted the smile into a fierce scowl, imagining that she was staring at Obara instead of her friend. It worked but she’d taken no pleasure in her success as his eyes darted away from her and his smile faded. She silently decided that she’d apologize to him first thing after dinner.

Such thoughts faded when she caught Obara’s smile to her father. Galiana wasn’t sure what Obara was smirking about but she mistrusted it. The young woman wasn’t sure what do to help Bannon but she wanted to do something to take Obara’s mind off whatever she was thinking!

“Sixteen?” she spoke, the first words she’d uttered that weren’t monosyllabic one-word answers to questions put to her. “Why, I’m only tw-” As she spoke, she rested her goblet on the edge of the table and let her hand wobble. Naturally, the cider she’d been given had sloshed, right onto her dress. Gasping, she barked a curse as she looked at the stain on the dress, a curse that wouldn’t have been out of place among the coarse hired swords.

That should distract the Snakes from Bannon. Now to distract them from her.

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Nym managed to take in the giant's age with little more than an arched brow, but only through years of practice and intrigue. Sixteen? He might not even be done growing...!

Galiana's spilled wine and sailor's language managed to pull pretty much all attention at the table from the youthful giant to the scarred bastard. Inwardly, Nym sighed; outwardly, she smiled at Galiana and stood up. "Oh, dear! How dreadful! Come, let's get you cleaned up. I think I have a dress you can change into for the rest of the meal. Please have Mistress Amelia sent to my rooms," she ordered one of the wait-staff with the carelessness of one used to command.

She gave her elder brother a smile and slight curtsy, "We'll be only a moment, dear brother."

She bustled the two of them out of the dining room and towards her suite before her nieces could invite themselves along. She did mutter to Galiana, "Hurry, or they might catch up with us. Unless you want to end up looking like the Princess of Ribbons by the end of the night."

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“No, I don’t!” Galiana’s reply was empathic and sincere. She walked as quickly as she could after her cousin, feeling sick at the thought. The last thing she wanted was for the Sand Snakes to get creative with her appearance. Of course, they’d likely do that at the tourney anyway.

Wonder if Bannon would be interested in leaving for the Wall… and if he’d leave before the tourney… She was doubtful. She didn’t know her new friend that well, but she’d had a sense of his personality and she didn’t think he’d be interested in leaving before the tourney, especially since he was fighting in it now. And if he were, she wouldn’t leave until after, to see him fight.

“Nym?” she asked as they were walking through a particularly quiet hallway. “Did you know my father at all?”

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The question caught the princess short and for a moment Galiana thought she might have made a mistake in asking. The moment passed and Nym gave her curious smile. "Why do you ask? You've never seemed all that interested in him before. Your mother told you about him, I thought?"

Why ask this now? She's been acting oddly....well, oddly for Galiana, since she came here. I do hope she's not taking down with something from the abysmal weather here.

She glanced behind them just to make sure that the Sand Snakes weren't following them. At least, not obviously. This could be an awkward conversation as it was and her bastard nieces rarely made things less difficult.

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Galiana’s eyes were distant as she said, “Yes, my mother told me about him. I was just wandering if you had anything else to add about him.”

“Well, what has your mother said?” Nymeria asked, watching Galiana carefully as they walked.

“That he was an artisan, like her, though he didn’t have the favor of the palace like she did,” Galiana said, her tone softening. “That he was accused of murder and went to the Wall rather than be executed. That he would have married her, had that not happened.” She didn’t say it, but Nymeria could hear the unspoken And not left me a bastard. “She’s said a lot about him – how he was a good, kind man, how much he would have loved me. But sometimes…” The girl paused and seemed to mull over her words before speaking. “I wonder if he was really like that. My mother can be poetic and I could believe that she’d embellish things.”

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Nym picked her words carefully. "Well, I think that when you lose someone, to death or the Wall or just time and distance, it's easier to remember what you liked or loved about them and to forget the flaws. Your mother, she loves you and wants the best for you. A father that is a good, loving man, is that not better for a daughter that never knew him than to tell him how he picked his teeth or tracked muddy boots into the house?"

There was a lull in the conversation as they passed the inner courtyard on their way to Nym's quarters; a hand on her arm stopped the Dornish bastard in her place. "Galiana, let me ask you this. Does is matter? For you, I mean. You've made your own life, your own friends and your own place in the world. Even if you found him somehow, you'll still be a bastard and he'll still be a stranger to you, a man that once loved your mother and had nothing to do with raising you." Her tone was soft, even if her words were a sharp truth. "You've made yourself, Galiana. You should be proud of that."

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“It matters,” Galiana said softly, drawing herself up to her full, petite height. “You’re not a bastard, Nym. You don’t understand. I need to look him in the face someday. I don’t need his love. I don’t need his blessing. I need him to see me. He’s on the Wall. We’ll never be a family. I just… I want to see him, to feel a connection to the one who fathered me.”

Agitated, the girl turned from Nymeria, striding toward her room. “I’ve never told you this because I knew you wouldn’t understand. I don’t mean it harshly… you know your father, what he looks like and where you came from. I feel adrift because I don’t.

“But you are right. I have built a life here, well, not right here.” Galiana turned back and there was a little smile on her face. “Being around you, Morgaine, even Allyria and Bannon. You are my friends and a kind of family I’ve never had and no one can replace. I know much of that is from you and how you’ve treated me. You’ve always been kind… and I thank you for that.” She flung an arm down her dress. “Now will you help me out of this so that I can change and get back before the Sand Snakes come looking?”

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  • 3 weeks later...

Nym frowned, her expression concerned and something else, but she returned Galiana's rare smile with one of her own. "Well, that's for another time. I'm certain something can be worked out for you to meet your father, eventually. But the Wall is a long ways away and you're right, the Snakes will come looking for us if we tarry too long."

Mistress Amelia slipped into the room at that point, a servant perfectly trained to only arrive once it was convenient for the nobles she served. She stripped Galiana down to her underclothes, sending the dress away for immediate cleaning in the hopes that it might be salvaged. She procured a dress from Nym's own wardrobe, one that was intended to be long on the younger princess and that could be let out easily enough for Galiana's more mature frame. For several moments Galiana Sands, a bastard of Dorn, found herself attended to by a royal servant and a royal herself.

"There." Nym tied the last lace in place. "Now, I'd stick with water for the rest of dinner, just in case," she teased.

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Galiana stared at herself in the mirror. Her dress was now a deep red with yellow lace at the sleeves and bodice. It was really far more suitable for a princess of Dorne, not a base-born daughter of a distant cousin. Her eyes roved over her reflection, wondering how she’d found herself in this situation. What was she, a bastard, doing here, being attended by a noble and her handmaiden? She didn’t know, she didn’t… but some part of her shied away from the answer. As if something warned her not to ask too many questions.

“We should go back,” Galli told Nym, turning to smile at the princess. “Thank you for your help, both of you.” She nodded at the maidservant as well, showing her appreciation to both women.

Together, the two women walked back to the dinner. Galiana tried to gird herself for returning to the party but wasn’t sure how successful she was. How could anyone truly prepare themselves for the Sand Snakes and Oberyn Martell?

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Meanwhile, across the city in a smaller estate.

The invitation had been a bit of a surprise. Petyr Baelish, often called Littlefingers, had asked Morgaine to eat with him that night. It was the first time any of his rank had taken an interest in her. Although she had her ins to Verys' information network she had never been in the same room with the Spider. Upon her arrival she had been escorted to a dining hall and lead to a seat next to the head of the table. Lord Baelish entered with wine and poured her a glass and sat down, kissing her hand. After the servants came and delivered the first course he leaned back in his chair rather than eating.

"It is a pleasure to have you here lady Darry. I have not found an opportunity to find out how you are enjoying your time here in King's Landing."

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  • 1 month later...

Morgaine had debated about the wisdom of even acknowledging the invitation. If she believed for a second that Littlefinger didn't have spies that had informed him otherwise, she might have considered pretending it hadn't even reached her. But she knew better than that - knew that if he had taken an interest in her for some reason, then he would be observing her somehow. And she was intrigued by the man, anyway.. for a minor lord, he had managed to acquire a fair amount of power, which bespoke of a certain amount of cleverness on his behalf.

Nevertheless, it wasn't exactly seemly for a young woman of noble blood - no matter how out of favor her house (and her father) - to be meeting with men alone. Not that she planned to let her stop her.. however, it seemed wise not to advertise, and therefore she kept her arrival as inconspicuous as possible, arriving in a carriage with windows drawn, wearing a simple (yet elegant) hooded cloak to conceal her identity from idle watchers. Once it had been removed and hung up, she allowed herself to be escorted in to dinner. She smiled smoothly at the Master of Coin as he served her wine and kissed her hand, and took a sip of the wine he'd poured for her as he settled into place at the head of the table and waited for the servants to fulfill their duties.

"I wasn't aware that you had reason to be interested, Lord Baelish. But since you're kind enough to inquire, I'm finding life at court.. intriguing. And if intriguing and enjoyable aren't defined by the Maesters as synonymous, they should probably reconsider their definition, don't you think?"

She smiled playfully then, and her expression walked the line somewhere between innocent female interest in court intrigue, and a observant and cunning mind. One saw what one was looking for in that expression, and no doubt that a man who assumed her to be a simple-natured lady-in-waiting would read her expression thusly, and interpret the calculating gleam in her expression as little more than an indication of natural female curiosity and excitement.

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