9.9.11

Mountain - Part 11 - Messages

Nella stormed out of their parents' apartments in frustration. Her father had been furious with her for insulting Lord Gregor. She knew she'd been wrong to provoke him, but at times it seemed as though she simply could not control the things that came out of her mouth. She was afraid for Melicent, but instead it was anger that she presented to the world. Her sister was so soft and meek. She could see good in almost anyone. Who would protect her if Nella did not?

Nella knew better. Some people were evil, inside and out. Gregor Clegane was a true monster and Melicent did not seem to know, or to care. Her sister loved the songs about Knights and their Ladies. Back home, she was always wandering about the castle and grounds, daydreaming about the Lord she'd marry one day. Nella often found Melicent leaning over one of the high walls gazing out across the land, lost in thought. Other times she'd be sitting in the gardens with flowers in her hair and making flower collars, singing songs of Knights and Ladies to one of her ever present dogs. The way she'd looked at Lord Clegane this morning, it was almost as though she admired him. But how could she?
 
She needed to get out into the air, so she found her way out onto the bridge that connected the King's Pyre Tower to the Widow's Tower. From here, she could see the Inner Ward to one side and the Flowstone Yard to the other. In the Yard, many men were assembled and seemed to be waiting for something. A young man held the reins of a huge black stallion who was stomping impatiently and trying to side step away from the stable hand. Looking over the Inner Ward she saw many busy servants hurrying about their work. After several moments, her sister and their maid emerged from the foot of the King's Pyre Tower. She watched Melicent make her way dreamily to the Bathhouse. Soon afterward she heard a bit of commotion behind her and crossed to look out over the Flowstone Yard, to find that Lord Clegane had appeared.
The Mountain strode across the yard, towering over everyone. His armor only emphasized his size, making him look even more imposing. Terrifying. The boy with the huge black horse met him and he took the stallion's reins. She watched two men come forward to speak to him. Suddenly, he thrust the horse's reins back at the boy and turned to the darker of the two men. They spoke, but she could not hear what was said. To her surprise, Lord Clegane grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him high into the air. The smaller man writhed and struggled, then went limp. The Mountain dropped him in a heap. He snatched the reins of the stallion, and spoke to another man, who nodded. Lord Clegane mounted his stallion, shouted something to all the assembled men, wheeled the horse around, and ran down the stable boy as he rode out of the yard, past the Tower of Ghosts and toward the castle gate.

Nella was shocked. He'd just killed two people within seconds of each other. It wasn't that killing didn't happen. She accepted death as a part of life, of course. But at Karhold, she'd learned that killing should be done in battles or in combat. Not just on a whim ... or because you're careless. Gregor Clegane was not like her father or her uncle, she knew. He was a brutal and dangerous man, and he was going to hurt her sister. She knew this to be inevitable.

She stood on the bridge, watching as the assembled soldiers followed after their Lord. Other men came forward to remove the bodies, working quickly and efficiently. The remaining men resumed their arms practice, talking and laughing. They've seen all this before. How many times? An hour passed, or maybe more. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she only noticed her sister was below when she was halfway across the yard. As Melicent walked by, groups of men stopped to watch her pass. Even at this distance, she could tell how lovely her sister was. Melicent didn't need to put very much effort into being beautiful, but she did care about things like gowns and scents and ribbons. She always seemed to know which colors would bring out the green in her eyes, contrast her pale skin or highlight the red in her chestnut hair. Nella had been told that she, too, was pretty, but it wasn't something she thought about very much. She didn't like gowns and things, if she'd had her choice, she'd have worn men's clothes all the time. Sometimes she did, for riding and for practicing at swords. To her great frustration, however, her father had forbidden her to wear such garments outside of Karhold.

Nella smiled as she watched Melicent charm one of the castle hounds. She'd wondered how long it would take her sister to find a canine companion here at Harrenhal. Sometimes she thought that Melicent secretly liked animals better than people. Nella, however, preferred cats. She thought of the castle cats at Karhold, remembering her favorites, as she watched Melicent make her way toward the Bear Pit. She remembered the injured birds her sister would find and nurse back to health, how they would follow her or perch on her shoulder, waiting for a handful of seed or a crust of bread. She missed her home, the animals, her brother. They had all lost so much. She didn't feel sad really, though she thought she should have. Instead she felt numb... empty, like there was a hole inside her chest because part of her heart had been ripped away and left behind.

She was startled out of her reverie by a great commotion in the outer ward. She could not see from here, but it sounded as though the castle gates were opening. After a moment she saw Melicent and the huge hound leaving the Bear Pit and moving quickly toward the castle gates. Nella decided to go down and find Melicent, curious to see who was arriving and what was the cause of all the commotion.

She entered the King's Pyre Tower and began to descend the winding stairs. The day was very bright, but inside the castle it was dark and cold. She hated it here. Everything was so large, the ceilings so high, the rooms so cavernous, it made Nella feel like a doll in a toy castle. The five towers were so tall, you couldn't look up at them without becoming dizzy. The kitchen was a separate building from the main castle and itself was so large, you could fit the Great Hall at Karhold right inside it. She wondered if the stories were true, if Harren the Black really did have human blood mixed into the mortar for the stonework. She was not given to superstitions, but she had no doubt there were ghosts here.

When she reached the bottom of the steps, she chose the passage the ran alongside the Hall of the Hundred Hearths. Nella left the passage and was startled when she came face to face with her sister, the great grey hound, and Ser Arys Dayne. The Dornishman was one of the last people she'd thought to meet. It must have been his arrival that caused all the commotion. He would like that, he always likes to be the one to draw attention. 


"Lady Nella," he said, bowing. "It’s a great pleasure to see you again. May I say how lovely you look this morning." He did not come forward to kiss her hand, as he was wont to do. She noticed him look warily at the dog who stood between them. She glanced at Melicent, who smiled and stroked the dog's huge head.

Nella had very little patience for the Dornishman when she was in good spirits. Today, she didn't know if she could tolerate him for very long at all. "Ser Arys. I didn't expect to see you here." She did not smile back at him.

His smile did not falter. "I've come with a message for Lord Tomard. I must see him at once."

"Perhaps you would accompany us, Nella. I'm showing Ser Arys to Father's solar." Melicent said, eyes wide, and Nella nodded. Although her sister refused to acknowledge it, Nella knew something unpleasant must have passed between Melicent and Ser Arys back at Karhold, as Melicent now seemed to go out of her way to avoid being alone with the Dornish Knight. She turned around and retraced her steps down the long hall and up into the King's Pyre Tower. Melicent followed and the dog padded after her. Ser Arys brought up the rear, being extremely careful not to get too close to the dog. What a strange procession we must make.

At last they reached the small hallway that contained their parents' apartments. At the end of the short hall, two of their father's guardsmen, Allard & Beric were keeping watch. They allowed the strange party to pass, greeting them politely, and exchanging a few words with Ser Arys. Beric announced them and opened the door to Lord Tomard's solar. They entered to find Lord Karstark sitting at his desk, looking out over the Godswood and beyond. He started when they entered, his eyes widening as he took in first the huge hound, and then Ser Arys.

"Arys, what news?" he asked, "I did not expect you. There was no raven telling of your arrival."

"You might perhaps say that I, am the raven, my Lord." Ser Arys answered, loftily, and Nella rolled her eyes. "My Lord Hugh feared that a raven would be intercepted, so he sent me with a guard of one hundred men instead. I carry no written message." he continued. "Lord Hugh and Ser Robert are well. Ser Robert suffered an injury, but he is already healing and will be back to himself very soon."

"Ah, thank the Gods for that, then." Lord Tomard said and sighed. Nella knew how fond Lord Tomard was of his younger brother, Robert. "And what message you bring me, Arys?"

Ser Arys hesitated for a moment and glanced at first Nella then Melicent. Lord Tomard nodded and Arys spoke. "My Lord, we reached White Harbor with only one small skirmish after we'd taken our leave of you. Ser Robert was wounded, a glancing slash to the thigh. As I say, he has nearly recovered. Lord Manderly greeted us warily, but he did agree to hear Lord Hugh. He seemed quite shocked when told you were making for Harrenhal. At first he did not believe you would form an alliance with Lord Clegane, as I suppose was to be expected." It was clear from his expression that Ser Arys himself, disapproved of the alliance with Lord Clegane. Nella allowed herself a small smile. Wait until he finds out about the wedding. He will most certainly not approve of that part of the alliance.

Arys Dayne looked around as if for approval. When Lord Tomard gave him a small nod, he went on. How many times did he rehearse his speech on the ride from White Harbor? "When Lord Manderly saw your raven stating that you and Lord Clegane had come to an agreement, he finally revealed that he had decided to ally himself with the Lannisters. As House Clegane is sworn to Lannister, Lord Manderly has agreed to send 300 men to help win the North."

"It is not many, the fat sod could spare more, but at least he has agreed to be of some help. That will suffice for now. He fears for his own lands, fears the Ironborn will attack from the sea. They may well do. We will bide our time." Lord Tomard said, stroking his grey beard.

"My Lord, there is another thing ..." the Dornishman looked reluctant to go on, but when Tomard raised his eyebrows, Arys continued. "... The Boltons have taken Moat Cailin, my Lord. I received word upon reaching The Twins.  When we arrived there, Lord Walder Frey detained us for three days, but in the end, honored his agreement with you and allowed us passage. My party must have had luck on our side. Its seems we only just missed a confrontation with Bolton's men, as they must have reached Moat Cailin only days after we'd pass through the Neck.

This was bad news indeed, as Arys and his hundred men would not be able to return North to White Harbour. Nella remembered Moat Cailin, as they had passed through the great swamp know as The Neck on their way south. Moat Cailin had been a great castle situated on the northern edge of the Neck. It was said to be a stronghold of the first men, and legend told of a large castle with twenty towers, surrounded by a curtain wall built of huge blocks of black basalt. Now all that remained of the great castle were three towers, the Children's Tower, the Gatehouse Tower and the Drunkard's Tower. The three towers surrounded the causeway and made attack on Moat Cailin virtually impossible. If crossing the moat were not enough difficulty, any attackers would be continuously barraged by the soldiers manning the other two towers.

Lord Tomard looked grave. They were essentially cut off from Hugh and Robert at White Harbour. "This news makes things considerably more difficult. We must get word to White Harbour at once. Melicent, go and tell Beric to summon Maester Alaric. He must send a raven ... and we must pray that it arrives safely. Melicent nodded and turned to leave. The dog followed her out. "Nella, where did your sister find that beast? By the Gods, he's a massive great brute."

Nella smiled wryly. "She tamed him in the Middle Ward. Melicent seems to be fond of massive great brutes as of late." she answered.

"Aye," her father replied, frowning. "... if anyone can tame a giant beast, it'll be her. Thank the Gods."

Ser Arys looked confused, but neither Lord Tomard or Nella made any effort to enlighten him. Melicent returned after a moment. "I've summoned the Maester, father. And also Ronel. I'm sure that Ser Arys would like to be shown to his quarters. And perhaps visit the Bathhouse." she said politely. The Dornishman, however, looked slightly abashed.

"Ah, yes," Arys said, looking down and seeing that his normally neat and shining armor was mud spattered and he was grimy and dingy from the long journey. "I would be pleased to bathe and change clothes."

Just then Maester Alaric knocked and entered. Nella took this as an opportunity to take her leave. "We'll leave you then father, Maester, Ser Arys." she looked at Melicent who nodded. The girls left their parents' apartments and Nella turned to climb to the next level, which held their chambers.  Melicent hesitated and then began to turn toward the steps that would lead her down to the lower levels. "Melicent," Nella said, stopping and touching her sister's arm. "I would speak with you. We have much to discuss."

The other girl turned back, looking resigned. "Alright. We'd best talk and have done with it. I know you have much to scold me about." she smiled sheepishly.

Nella smiled back wryly, "I believe I do." and she continued up the dark, winding stairs until they reached the small hall containing their chambers. They greeted Lewys, who had taken over the watch from Luthor, then Nella led the way through the first door on the right, and into their sitting room. "I'm famished," she said and called out for Mynne, who emerged from the bedchamber where she had been organizing their gowns. "Mynne, will you see if we could have some food sent up? Even just some bread and cheese would do nicely."

"Of course, my Lady." Mynne answered and scurried out into the hallway.

Melicent picked up the needlework she'd put aside and went to the window seat, climbing up onto the worn velvet cushioned seat and tucking her feet under her. The dog padded after her and stretched out below her on the faded carpet.

"What are you calling him?" Nella asked, looking at the huge hound. He was easily six feet long, all stretched out, not including his tail.

"He's called Laoch. Its suits him, don't you think?" she smiled down at the dog who'd lifted his great head when he'd heard her speak.

"I suppose it does." Nella smiled. Laoch was from the old Northern tongue, and meant warrior or hero. Her sister was particularly fond of one of the old songs about a wilding prince named Laoch, who'd stolen a Lord's daughter and made her his queen. "If he can keep Arys Dayne at a distance, I'll call him a hero." Nella said, laughing.

Melicent looked at her then, a serious expression coming over her face. "I suppose you want to know if I've gone mad." she said, matter-of-factly. "You know, I think I quite possibly have."

"No," Nella said, settling into a nearby chair, "I don't think you've gone mad. I understand why you did what you did. I'm not happy that you sealed the marriage agreement, to be sure. But I believe I understand why." She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck with her hand."But aren't you frightened, Melicent? Of him? Of what he might do to you?"

Melicent looked up from her needlework and to Nella's surprise, she smiled. "No. I am afraid... of everything. Always, it seems. But Lord Gregor... he frightens me most of all. But not because he might hurt me. I'm truly afraid that he won't love me."

"Love you?" Nella asked, confused. It had never occurred to her that love would enter into the picture where Gregor Clegane was concerned.

Melicent went on in a rush. "Yes. Love me. I've always known I'd grow up to marry a Lord, but somehow I've always believed that he would be a gallant Knight and love me til the end of our days. I've tried so hard. I've worked so hard. To be good, and pretty, and say things right and be gentle and do all the things a proper lady should." she set the tapestry on her lap and rubbed her temple. She was blushing. "I prayed all night Nella, I asked the Old Gods for a sign and a tiny fawn, a little doe, appeared and somehow I understood that I should marry him. Then I turned and he was there. I know it sounds mad, but its true! And when I kissed him in the Godswood, it was..." She smiled, biting her lip, "...it was wonderful. I know you won't believe me, but it really was. Then this morning, after you all left the Hall, he kissed me again." she closed her eyes for a moment, as if remembering. "I didn't want him to stop, Nella. He made us stop. Your monster, Lord Clegane, acted the gentleman. I would have gone on." She looked at Nella, worry in her sea-green eyes. "I... don't know if I'm a Lady at all."

"Melicent! You can't just go around kissing people, you know! What if someone had seen you? Did he... you're sure you didn't..." Nella was genuinely surprised. Lord Clegane, acting the gentleman? Her sister, who was always a perfect Lady in all ways. It was very much unlike her to go kissing and... carrying on... with men she hardly knew.

"Of course I'm sure we didn't ... By the gods, I know how it's done, you know!" her flush deepened. "And he isn't just any man, he's to be my husband. Darling, I know you're set on not liking him, but he's... he makes me... feel things. I..." she looked back down at her needlework. "I think he has good in him, somewhere. I could be fond of him, Nella. I think that maybe I could love him..."

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2 comments:

  1. Go on writinge - I enjoy it! Write a book on your own. I definitely would buy it.

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  2. This is such a fantastic story! I'm glad I somehow found it and I do really hope you continue to write!

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