Mountain - Part 9 - Magic

The serving girl led the way to her chamber in the King's Pyre Tower and Melicent followed. By now she could have found her way on her own, as the castle’s layout was not as complex as it first seemed. Now, however, she followed the girl blindly. She was lost in thought, surprised at herself, at her actions, her reactions. She did not want him to go.

When they arrived, she was relieved to find the rooms she shared with Nella to be empty, but for their ladies maid, Mynne. She had had very little sleep, and wished to just go to bed, but she knew she would need to face her family before long. Thinking perhaps a bath would refresh her, she asked the serving girl to wait and had Mynne gather fresh clothes and toiletries. Then the serving girl led them back down through the huge castle and across the Inner Ward until they reached the Bathhouse. 

She settled into one of the large tubs and tried to clear her mind. It was no use though, as she well knew. Melicent closed her eyes and saw an image of Lord Gregor emerging like a giant out of the fog in the Godswood. Saw him pull her in close to him and press her hard against him. She saw him flipping the huge table into the air, breaking his chair into splinters. She saw him standing in front of the hearth, and felt him quiver when she touched him. Gods, has no one ever been gentle with him? Saw him, huge, rearing over her as she clung to him with all her strength, felt him shudder as she lay beneath him on the table. She saw him leaning on his elbow, smiling down at her, his version of a smile which looked equally dark and light, angry and pleased … almost as though he were surprised and slightly annoyed with his own happiness. She remmebered him standing in the middle of the Hall … frowning at her in bemusement, felt his eyes on her as she ran out of the Hall. He was still standing there when I left...
And she felt his hands on her … his mouth … She shivered. Her skin burned in every place he’d touched her. She felt a strange empty longing, like an ache deep inside her. I did not want him to leave me … Her hand brushed against her breast and she felt a jolt of pleasure course through her. She was alone, so sliding lower under the water, she ran her fingers over the hard little nub again, a soft moan escaping her lips. She pressed her thighs tight together, not knowing how to relieve the pressure Lord Gregor seemed to have built within her. Is this love? This deep need, like an itch I can't scratch? She wasn't sure, but she could not think of him without the ache in her tummy growing stronger. He had awoken something inside of her.
When Mynne returned to help her wash her hair she felt herself blush as though Mynne could read her thoughts. Mynne, however, was oblivious to Melicent’s embarrassment. She was chattering on about Harrenhal, the journey, the servants she’d met, the size of her quarters. She was a sweet girl, if overly talkative and Melicent liked her. Today, however, she scarcely heard a word Mynne said until “My Lady, is it true you’re to be married? Is it true you’re to be the Lady of Harrenhal?”

She fought her way out of her thoughts. “Hmm? Oh. Yes, I’m to wed Lord Gregor upon his return.”

“So we’ll have to stay here? At Harrenhal? What about Lady Nella, will she stay too?” Mynne looked thoughtful.

“Erm, yes, I suppose so. For the time being anyhow. Mother and the girls too, I’d imagine, as there isn’t really anyplace else to go. Lord Clegane is to help father reclaim our home and our lands. After that, I do not know. Perhaps Nella will be married by then, and have a Lord and a castle of her own to look after.” She smiled then, as the thought of Nella running a castle and being some Lord’s obedient wife was not easy to imagine. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, I suppose. Who knows how long it will take to win back Karhold.” She did not give voice to her greatest fears, that they would not reclaim Karhold, that she would lose her loved ones in the battle, that her mother wouldn’t survive another shock. She refused to let her thoughts go in that direction though. Surely, the Boltons and the Ironborn will be no match for someone as mighty as Lord Gregor and his army, with all of father’s men behind them. 

She climbed out of the tub and dried herself, Mynne had brought her scented oils and lotions and she absentmindedly allowed the girl to apply her toiletries, help her dress in a dove grey gown, and arrange her hair in the northern style. When she was ready, she decided to postpone meeting with her family for just a little longer. She sent Mynne back to her chambers with word that she was taking the air and would return shortly.

The bathhouse was dark and shadowy, so when she emerged into the bright afternoon, the sunlight dazzled her for a moment. She stood for a moment letting her eyes adjust to the light. There were people, servants and soldiers mostly, going about their duties, hurrying about the Inner Ward. As she set out, a few of her father’s men called out greetings to her and she returned them politely. A lady must always remember her courtesies, even when she has so much to think about. When she passed under the bridge, she looked up to found herself find herself looking at the Wailing Tower across the Flowstone Yard. She was curious to see the yard, and she thought she might visit the kennels, as she'd always had an affinity for dogs and they for her. As she looked over the yard she saw the three towers across from her, the Tower of Dread, the Wailing Tower, and the Tower of Ghosts. To the left was a circular enclosure, what Melicent assumed must be the Bear Pit. 
The yard was busy with knights and soldiers at arms practice. They seemed to be divided into groups of Clegane men, black dogs on yellow, and Karstark men who wore the argent sunburst on black. Nowhere did she see a group in which the colors mixed. She wondered if this was not a good sign, to see them so obviously segregated. But she supposed that they had only just arrived. one could not really expect the men to have developed a camaraderie already. It was a worry though, as Northerners did not have a trusting nature in general. Add to that the reputation of Gregor Clegane and his men and the potential for animosity was high.

The thought crossed her mind that she should not be here in the practice yard. However, no one had expressly told her not to come this way, so she walked on, back straight, head high, as though she had a purpose. No one will question me if I seem as though I'm supposed to be here. At home she visited the yard frequently. In fact, she and the other girls went wherever they pleased, as Karhold had been a strong castle, and safe. When they were not practicing needlework or learning the courtesies of Ladies, Nella practiced swordplay and archery with the boys, and Melicent would watch them or wander off to the kennels or the Godswood, always trailing several hounds behind her.

There were a few dogs about today and she stopped as a large grey wolfhound wandered in her direction, ears pinned, tail tucked. He was huge, tall and shaggy with a head that reached almost to her shoulder.  Melicent stopped and stood still, looking away from him as he slunk closer. "Be careful my Lady, " said a nearby Clegane armsman "that dog'll take your hand off."

Melicent smiled at him, but said nothing. She slowly and calmly reached into her pocket and took out a piece of dried beef. Mynne knew well enough to always stock her pockets with dried meat and hard cheese, as she always liked to carry something for the dogs. She slowly extended her hand, still not looking at the huge animal. He sniffed the air and took another cautious step toward her. By new several armsmen had stopped what they were doing and turned to watch. "Hello my darling," she murmured, still as a statue, and still looking away. One more step, he stretched his long neck and and she could feel his breath on her hand. She held her hand flat and waited. He sniffed a few times and then quickly took the piece of beef and backed up a step. She gently took out another treat and offered it to him. This time he was still wary, but took less time to decide before accepting it. He did not step away, so she offered him another. After he took the food, she felt his big wet nose sniffing her hand. She looked down at him and he looked up at her. She scratched him under his chin. They had reached an understanding.

"Well I ain't never seen the like of that!" the rough looking armsman called out, shaking his head. "That dog's mean I tell you, and here you've charmed him into a pussycat. Must be you've got a bit o' magic, my lady!" The other men around him nodded and agreed. She'd earned a bit of respect from them, it seemed.

She laughed. "Dogs like me, and I like them." she said and shrugged. "I don't know about magic. I'm just patient, I imagine." she smiled and walked on, the big dog following at her heels. As she set off she heard another man say, "Let’s hope she can use a bit o' that magic to tame our Lord like she did that dog. For 'er sake, I mean."

She took a deep breath and continued to walk, seeing the Bear Pit off to her left, and heading in that direction. She'd never seen a bear close to before and she was curious. The clash of steel and the sounds of men fighting filled the air around her. She and the dog weaved in and out between groups of men, many of whom stopped and watched approvingly as she passed. Some nodded, others called out greetings. Most of the Clegane men she passed looked a bit surprised to see her. She supposed Lord Gregor's former wives hadn't walked out on the practice yard very often. When she reached the bear pit and looked inside, she found it to be deserted. It was constructed of grey stone, and she could see 6 levels of marble benches surrounding the circular pit. At the far side, there was a dark opening, which she thought must lead to the animal's lair. 

Upon closer inspection, she saw that the pit had a sand floor, and crouched against one of the walls was a bear. The bear, however, was not at all the magnificent animal she'd expected. It was a brown bear, its fur was dull and patchy and it was very thin. The dog would not approach the edge of the pit, so Melicent moved forward on her own. She sat near the edge and the Bear did not lift its head, but did raise its dark eyes to look up at her. "Oh, you poor thing." she said softly and walked around until she was just above the bear. Then she emptied her pockets of all the bits of meat and cheese and dropped them into the pit. The bear crawled to the scraps, ate them quickly and lifted its head to look at her. Its eyes were the saddest eyes she'd ever seen, and Melicent's heart ached. "I'll bring you more. I'll see you're fed properly, you poor darling. I promise."

All at once there was a commotion and Melicent realized the castle gates were opening. She felt her heart skip a beat. Lord Gregor? No, he couldn't be back already. He's only just left. She decided to go and see for herself. "I'll come back." she told the bear, and the creature looked up at her sadly. She hurried out of the Bear Pit and the dog fell into step with her as she passed around the Tower of Ghosts and entered the Outer Ward. She stopped near the Old Sept to watch and keep out of the way, as the Ward was buzzing with activity. She could see the gate was beginning to close, and the hundred or so men who had ridden in were flying the Karstark banner. She hurried forward, thinking she might find her brother Hugh or her uncle Robert.

As she neared the stables, she scanned the men, looking for familiar faces. She saw several men she recognized, they all looked dirty and weary from their journey. Many of the men recognized Melicent as well and she greeted them warmly. "My Lady..." she heard a voice call out behind her. She turned to see a tall Knight striding toward her. It was not her brother or her uncle. This knight was dark of hair and eye, but his tunic was black, he bore upon his chest a sheild, the Karstark sunburst, quartered with a sword and a falling star on a lavender background. "Melicent," Ser Arys Dayne said smiling broadly, "how nice to see you again." Her heart sank. Arys Dayne was perhaps the last person in all the Seven Kingdoms that she had hoped to see. 

I'd though things could not become any more difficult. That things might even work out for the best. 

I was wrong...

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