Cast: Ser Ryam Redwyne - @Apoalo / Lord Hespaerys Rahl - @Almalthia / Princess Ceryse Targaryen nee Hightower - @Vanq / Lord Davos Baratheon - @Ezekiel / Lady Mina Tyrell @Espada Emi
Arriving to Battle Island was a glow of purples and pinks and oranges as sunset turned to twilight over the Whispering Sound that led to the Sunset Sea. They took the ferry, as the vaults weren’t something she wanted to risk, dark and dank as they were, let alone as utterly unknown as they had become unless you spent part of your childhood trespassing and sneaking around the ancient base of the Hightower.
The halls of the Hightower were alive with music and a bloom of spring flowers every direction she looked, a mask for an otherwise drab and dreary series of corridors of solid black stone. Tapestries hung, candelabras were everywhere you looked, yet the base of the Hightower was always just going to be the base of the Hightower. Impressive, ageless, but not beautiful. Especially when you grew up in Highgarden, or the Arbor.
Mina asked questions about the ancient fortress, and Vittoria answered what she knew, or what she was willing to share with her younger sister. Most of the men, young and old, seemed dressed in doublets and breeches of various shades, materials, and liveries. Some spared themselves the doublet and went straight for the tunic. Most of them wore various jewels, and too many rings on too many fingers. Vittoria had a necklace of golden roses, and a ring with the symbol of the Order’s Golden Rose, her sleeveless gown of thinly cut rich green silk with the kind of neckline that seemed to plunge down her chest to a nearly Myrish degree of cleavage, decency allowed her only in the golden lace from the bodice styled with as roses to the top of her breasts, and no higher.
The dress was certainly Princess Ceryse’s selection, though undoubtedly with a prodding from Lord Manfred. Rarely had Vittoria ever felt more ‘on display’ than she did this evening; worse came from their entrance and the realization there were few other Ladies present, and very few even close to her age, or younger. Lord Martyn, Lord Manfred’s eldest and heir, nearly ten years her senior, was the first to greet her. She hugged him easily, feeling him more an elder brother than her own.
Yet the way his eyes drank her in, the way his hands held her own after their embrace…she had never noticed his eyes look at her like that before. “You look like a maiden of song and story, Vittoria.” She smiled as much as she could, and quickly pivoted to introduce him to Mina. Yet he seemed little interested in Mina, and despite a polite greeting, kept his eyes on Vittoria. At least, her chest. “Save me a dance. Perhaps a union of Hightower and Tyrell would finally solidify House Tyrell.”
She promised, trying not bite her own lip off as she walked further down the corridors of well lit black stone with her sister, her cousin Ser Ryam close behind. When they reached the High Hall of the Hightower, Vittoria could smell the food, of which her dress would allow her to eat very little, and the music, which was at least high in tempo and played by younger minstrels. Lord Manfred looked too pleased with himself when he greeted Mina and herself. Past him, Vittoria saw mostly those in attendance were Lords, and their heirs. Some were even her own Knights, or men she had commanded before, and in no particular order:
Oakheart, Bulwer, Florent, Ambrose, Fossoway, Hunt, Peake, Ashford, Rowan, Crane, Beesbury, Appleton, and more. “Nearly every major bannerhouse of the Reach,” was all Vittoria remarked to Mina as walked in after their greeting from Lord Manfred. Other lower houses were present as well, from Wythers to Bridges to Oldflowers to Redding and more—the gathering was as political as it was focused on her.
At that, at least, she could be grateful. She spotted the High Septon in the far corner, Lords Rowan and Oakheart speaking to him. Lord Rodden complimented her appearance, and joked of his three sons by his late wife. In a short conversation, he said ‘late wife’ at least thrice, before complimenting her again on her appearance. Especially, he said, her ‘excellent hips.’
“As many sons as I have, Lady Vittoria, I know when a Lady has hips meant to bear heirs when I see them.” He grinned, toasting her. Vittoria managed to laugh and smile, even as Mina looked pale, and sick, and begged Lord Rodden’s pardon as she was famished, and didn’t want to risk the tables without her sister.
Vittoria thanked her younger sister, quietly.
Lord Meadows spent a long drone of a conversation about his smallfolk and their drilling for combat, asking what she thought about this knight and that, and if she would change their training at all. Only towards the end did he finish his strong red wine, let his eyes look her up and down, and comment, “Nice dress.”
“I want to die,” was all Vittoria admitted to Mina once they were out of ear shot from the man. Mina laughed, even as she agreed. Ryam however merely leaned forward slightly. "Please do not, that would make me a poor sworn shield indeed."
Young Edgar Sloane talked to her about the Faith, and the Targaryens. His younger brother was a squire in the Order, and, according to Lord Edgar, said many a good things about her. But, he noted, “I doubt he’s ever seen you dressed like that.” Vittoria held her smile as she might hold a dagger in defense. Edgar meant well, but he was awkward.
Mina tried to ‘quietly’ make a gagging sound as she sipped wine. Ser Ryam tried not to laugh. Sers Alec Woodwright and Miles Middlebury entertained her for nearly half an hour, both of them Knights of the Order, both of them assuring her they wouldn’t further her ‘discomfort’ of the evening.
“Is it that obvious?” Mina blurted, to the laughter of the two Knights.
Ser Alec’s head shook, slowly, “No. You just never seemed like the sort, Lord Commander.”
It was meant to make her feel better? Perhaps? Instead she found herself nearly frowning, and tossing her hair with a laugh and a slight arch of her back, threatening the lace of her gown’s bodice as she felt the bare skin of her breasts press hard against the thin cut of silk. After both Knights grew quiet, it was Mina who chided her after they walked away.
“What was THAT?”
Vittoria took a deep drink of wine from her glass, and said, unsmiling, “It’s not that I don’t want marriage or children, Mina.” Even though, she would concede in her own thoughts, it wasn’t the wisest course of action, that Ser Alec and Ser Miles had meant well. She didn’t want either of those things with her Knights, so Mina wasn’t wrong to chide her.
…not that Vittoria didn’t enjoy the hush and widened eyes that came over both the Knights before walking away. Fortunately, it was Lord Dennet Tarly and his younger brother, Ser Godric, that appeared before her next. “You look…” Ser Godric started, staring, but before he finished his older, larger, brother snorted, and finished.
“…like you’d rather be shot with an arrow. Ceryse picked this out for you?”
Vittoria tried not to laugh, only managing to stifle it. “Let’s pretend Lord Manfred didn’t give her sharp instructions on the purpose of such a gown.”
“Impressive enough. I’ve not seen this many lords so assembled and ready to bid since that Dornish horse trader with the large group of sand steeds year before last.”
Vittoria blinked, “Thanks, I think.”
“Make sure you eat something,” Dennet insisted.
This time, it was Mina who blurted it out, “In what she’s wearing?”
When Dennet just looked confused, the two Tyrell sisters snickered together at him. The long tables of the High Hall were well packed, though there were no chairs. Knowing Lord Manfred, he wanted no one getting complacent, or unfocused at the task at hand. Vittoria couldn’t help herself but wonder just how much of this was solely Lord Manfred, and how much her own father knew about.
And if her father knew all of it, could she blame him? That was the thought that warned her more. Godric had complimented Mina’s archery and knife skills, and had already started talking to her about hunting and the story he heard where she saved Garrett from a boar, when Vittoria thought she saw a face she did not expect.
“I’ll be back.” She was picking her way through the crowd and trying, politely, to keep moving towards the face she thought she saw when the man in white robes and crystal crown with a fresh shave on speckled and aged skin blocked her path.
“Lady Vittoria,” the High Septon said, offering her his hand. There was no hesitation in her, taking the hand, kissing his ring, and lowering her body in the small bow.
“High Septon, how are you?”
He didn’t sneer, but he seemed as if he might. “We will talk later, I am told, with some of the Lords of the Reach. You have been very busy, no? Still a loyal servant of the Faith, I can only hope…”
It stung. She’d be lying if she said otherwise, but her smile and widened eyes were all that met such a remark, “Yes, your High Holiness. I am, as ever, at your service.”
“Hmm. We will see. Later. I suppose my brother is to blame for the scandal that is your gown?”
“Yes, your High Holiness.”
When Mina approached, the High Septon merely looked elsewhere, and moved away. Vittoria just smiled at her sister, “…don’t worry about him. He’s old.”
"So, what is it we're all gathering about? I appear to have lost my invitation." His voice carrying across the chamber in the easy way of a Stormlander, shot through with no small amount of Valyrian regality, something no doubt at odds with the nature of the others gathered. In fairness, Ser Davos Baratheon had begun the night in more subtle attire, practically snuck into the celebrations in Tyrell livery, but that hadn’t been the case for long. He stood in the company of two of his mind, similar veterans of fighting along the Marches, and the both grinning almost as much as their lord, now regarbed in doublets bearing the crest of the Stag. Surrounded by houses that one could quite comfortably suggest to be at odds with the Crown, the men wore the defiance of their presence openly. “Seven’s blessings.” He followed up to a passing Septon, looking ever more aghast as he hurried along.
Mina gently tugged on her sister’s sleeve and stretched up on tiptoes to whisper to her, smirking pointedly at the blustering Baratheon. “Seems we’ve got a party crasher. Does this mean I can call him out for a duel and kick him out? Seeing him beaten by a little girl would give everyone here something to focus on apart from you, at least.”
Vittoria Tyrell could feel the High Septon broil in an outrage from where she stood, even though he was long behind her, back in his corner with Lords Rowan and and Oakheart. Yet not even the High Septon, or the black smooth stone of the Hightower’s ancient vaults, could stop the light from filling the eyes of the older Lady of Highgarden in that moment.
She didn’t even look at Mina when she responded, “…it’s him,” was all she said before she found herself moving away from Mina, across the High Hall of the Hightower, across the dressed tables filled with food and drink.
Ryam had smirked at the idea of Mina dueling Lord Davos, and was so filled with thought of the idea he almost missed Vittoria moving. He caught up easily enough and as he leaned forward to make sure the way was clear he could see her eyed, staring right at Davos. The young Knight couldn't help smiling then, well it seems like the dress might be more useful than Vittoria expected.
It wasn’t hard to sneak up. It wasn’t hard to catch Lord Dennet Tarly’s eyes, and his smirk, and simply KNOW what was going on. She laughed, seemingly to any that watched her, at total random…yet there was nothing random about it.
“I knew I saw you,” her voice was quiet as he sounded from behind him, yet her frame felt as if it could barely contain the excitement she felt.
The tall man turned at the familiar voice, the only voice in the room he truly cared to hear, no matter how quiet it was. The two men with him were facing in the direction of her approach and so their own expressions of mirth warned him fractionally before hand.
“I almost didn’t, but I think the ghost of my father would haunt me till the Wall melts if I had not.” He spoke as he was still moving, which was a fortunate thing as no doubt his voice would have caught had he still been in mid sentence. He had loved the Ardent Maiden for some time, certainly longer than he would care to admit, but they had only met on campaign. Even his father’s funeral had been a martial affair, and Argella had of course insisted Vittoria Tyrell be allowed to stand with and garb herself among the Knights who had fought by his side. He had kissed those lips, a fleeting chance, but never seen her prepared for a Ball rather than War.
Davos recovered quickly however, holding her his eyes with her’s as he lost himself once more in the pools of her emotion. When he smiled the lines of his face caught the length of his scar, earned the last time they had fought together, but all that served to do was to add to the twinkle of roguish charm in his dark purple eyes. “Your man was most helpful, I’m not sure me asking kindly at the door would have worked this time.”
Mina’s troublemaking smirk turned into a more genuine if confused smile as her sister practically lit up like a bonfire and drifted towards the newcomer. It was clear this was some old friend of Vitta’s, so maybe she would find a match at this stuffy party after all. She debated sneaking through the crowd to eavesdrop on their conversation, but instead she walked back to Godric. Maybe she could convince the younger Tarly to spar with her tomorrow morning. At least that would be fun.
A woman stood at the edge of the room, watching with hungry eyes as men of importance stopped and stared. Not at her, not anymore, but it was her work they appreciated. She had not even been certain she would make an appearance. Her own father had seemed to not wish for her presence. But after days and weeks of planning, of ensuring that Lady Vittoria would make all the right impressions, she had to see that her work was a success. She had to see it with her own eyes.
What did men whisper about her these days? No, they were silent now. She no longer served a purpose for them. She was past the age of offering children, her years wasted on a man who could hump but not put a child in her belly. A man who had cast her aside, subjected her to all manner of whispers and rumors. She hated that she longed for him, or may just the life she had had, even as she wished for him to be burned by his own fucking dragon. Preferably after he watched the beast devour his whore.
She was Maegor’s only true wife, Princess of the Iron Throne, and she would be recognized as such. She entered the room standing tall, her head held high, a woman who in approaching middle age was only more secure in her body. Age had softened her, but still the gown clung to her chest and hips in a way not entirely appropriate. She wore the colors of House Targaryen, black silk and chiffon that was just opaque enough to hide her form unless it was in direct light. Crimson embroidery climbed the skirt in fiery swirls, ruby encrusted flames that exploded at last across her chest. The neckline plunged so low that if her lord father caught sight of her, he’d threaten to send her to bed with no dessert as he had when she was a spiteful child. As if an afterthought, she had nestled a delicate crown of dark steel and rubies among blonde curls.
It took only a moment for her to lay eyes on Lady Vittoria Tyrell. She loved the girl, but gods, she was jealous. She came up behind her, a dour look to those around her. “I certainly chose well, the dress is beyond perfection for you. How many men have you wanted to lash for paying you their compliments?”
Ryam tilted his head as he began to mentally count the number and then winced slightly as Vittoria greeted the Princess to whom Ryam had already bowed.
The Ardent Maiden felt like a girl again as she went from shock to screaming and jolting forward and hugging her arms fiercely around the neck of the older woman who taught her everything she had ever known about sensual politics and the world of noble women in an age of men. The elder sister she could only try to be to Mina now.
The two words were a secret whisper, Vittoria’s lips right next to Ceryse’s ear as it passed like a coded message between the two, a beat before Vittoria squeezed the hug a little stronger, then hands still on the woman’s arms, leaned back so only a foot or two. Vittoria was still beaming with a silly smile on her joyous features, stammering as she took a step to the side, opening up to stand next to Ceryse, and introduce the woman.
“Princess Ceryse, this is my little sister, Lady Mina of Highgarden. She likes stabbing things, I bought her a sword that your Lord Father had made specially for her.” Vittoria explained, chuckling. “Lady Mina, this is Princess Ceryse, still the most beautiful woman in the realm.”
A half beat of her heart later, and that star-shine returned to her features, as the spellbound look returned to her. Her voice lowered, softened, like she was letting her surrogate big sister in on the biggest secret she had. “Um…this is, uh…this is my, well…this is Lord Davos Baratheon. We campaigned together against the Vulture King.”
She said, looking to Ceryse, eyes begging the older woman for mercy. Vittoria Tyrell knew when she was utterly exposed. Quickly, her wits kicked in, and she was able to pivot, “Compliment me? You mean in the few moments they can look me in the face?”
She smirked, hard, and tilted her head just-so to the left, accentuating just how acute the problem had been. All. Night. Long. “Your BROTHER included.” She added, trying not to giggle, or keep looking at Davos.
Ceryse’s head snapped with a steady glare to the man Vittoria indicated, a boisterous fool. She gave a look to her girl, eyes softened just enough as if to question, really, him? But she let it pass, saving it for a time when they would be able to converse more privately. “Then I have truly done my duty exceedingly well, for once.” A faint smirk formed across darkened lips, “Martyn is going to like me less than usual once I corner him about such behavior. Much as I love you as a sister, Seven save you from that fate.” Being home in Oldtown had been like rubbing salt in the open wound of her abandonment.
In one of those moments where Vittoria kept her eyes away, or at least hopefully so, Ser Davos slipped a small palmful of golden coins to the man on his right. Ser Gwayne Tarth was another younger brother, and a close friend from youth. The blonde man grinned in even greater amusement as Davos muttered to him, “Your warnings were insufficient.”
“My apologies, Lord Baratheon, shall I extend your disappointment,” The whispered reply was dripping with both sarcasm and good humor, the pair only barely mature enough not to descend into physical shouldering as they moved a step behind Vittoria as the joy to greet Ceryse overcame her. Their muttered words of amusement earning a brief sigh from the third of their small group of troublemakers.
“Behave, the two of you, this is a dignified crowd.” Lancel Swann, even darker of hair than Davos, although much more closely shaven and cut, struck the figure of propriety next to the more boisterous pair. Nevertheless, he still held out a hand, accepting a similar collection of coins from Davos, who turned briefly to shake his head at his companions, mouthing a curse.
In the next moment he had spun around, however, and the rebellious, childish streak was replaced with charm and sensibility almost the match of any of the Reach lords around them, dipping his head to place a kiss of greeting to the fingers of the Princess.
“Hail, Good-Cousin, may that we have met sooner, but I feel whoever sent out the invitations for this even must have been too stunned by the pair of you, and forgotten to address mine.” He did not speak obnoxiously loudly, but there was a bass character to his voice that caused it to travel wider than it should, an effect he made no effort to suppress.
The Princess mostly suppressed her grimace, only sharing the judgemental squeeze of her brows as she traced Davos Baratheon from head to toe with her eyes, head cocked to the left in her review. Her gaze lingered too long, purposefully. She could see the hints of it in him. Of all the men. He had the look of a Stormlander, mostly, but the Valyrian touches were insidious until it was all she could see in him. She blinked once and the glimmer of it was gone. “Save your flattery for one who wants it, good-cousin.” Ceryse gave an empty smile as if it would soften the sharpness of her words. “I am certain now, though, that your presence will certainly liven matters here. Please, enjoy everything my family has put together for our friends and family in the Reach.”
The Westerosi people had tame parties compared to what the Volantenes could think up. But tongues were just as loose here as in a Lysine orgy. Well on some people… Watching the crowd Hespaerys leaned against a wall out of the way but able to hear and see people. He has put together who was who, catching on quickly and as most of the guest list was Reach lords He made his way through dropping the hint of doing business with a Volantene Triarch merchant house. He found quite a few interested parties and rather than pushing the subject Hespaerys decided to meet with them when the party was not in full swing. He shrugged inwardly and his eye was caught by none other than one of the more beautiful women he had seen to date. Her dress was just this side of scandalous all black lace and blood red flames. She wearing Targaryen colors obviously familiar with Vittoria. Ceryes? Interesting.
Hespserys’ father, and mother, would tell him not to think with his loins; but some acquaintances just needed to be made. Pushing off from the wall and setting his glass on a table he made his way toward the group of people that were around the lady he was fascinated with. Stormlander lords' voices fell on his ears like crows rattling caws while the woman’s voice low and sensual was effortlessly divine. He smiled, lifting one corner of his mouth and chuckled at her rebuff of the Stormlander lord. He could wait until he had her attention… he most certainly could wait.
Mina managed an awkward courtesy once she was introduced to Ceryse, grinning in spite of herself. “Your Lord Father’s gift is my most prized possession, My Lady. I can’t thank him enough. It’s a pleasure to meet you, too. Anyone who’s earned the praise and admiration of Vitta has my admiration as well!” She was doing her very best to be courtly and polite. After all, her sister had impressed on her that this was a battlefield and success here would determine the future of their House. Even if it was abominably stiff and boring. She glanced over at Davos and her smile became more mischievous again. “I don’t believe we’ve met. So, why is it that my sister can’t help stumbling and mooning over you, My Lord?”
Ceryse’s smile turned warmer at the young Tyrell’s attention. “Little Mina, though not so little anymore. I think the last time I saw you, you were still on a wet nurse’s teat.” She gave a quick wink, before adding in a softer, more conspiratorial tone. “And I do hear you’ve caused no shortage of mischief. I expect no less from Vitta’s little sister.” The girl’s accusation against her sister, while clearly true, was a bit too far even for Ceryse. She stifled the scold and laugh that fought within her, and turned away from the group. She’d really need to talk to Vittoria about all of this, later.
Mina noticed the man lurking at the edge of their conversation and waved him over as well. Surely, more of an audience couldn’t hurt the situation further.
Noticing the motion from the younger Miss Tyrell and playing along, even though Hespaerys had younger siblings and knew this was trouble, he advanced to be included. He had overheard her making comments about Vitta that made his dusty lavender gray eyes twinkle. “Hello Ladies Tyrell.” He gave them a very nice bow then decided to call Mina’s bluff. “Lady Mina by all means please introduce me to your lovely companions.”
Mina laughed “Well, I’m afraid that’s quite impossible my Lord, as I’m only just now being introduced to some of them myself! But for your benefit, everyone this is Lord Hespserys, of the Volantene House of Rahl, correct? Where is your amusing sister? We met a bit earlier.”
Hespaerys smiled at everyone, his eyes lingering on Princess Ceryse longest and reluctantly left her to address Mina. "She was getting dressed and realized that all of her dresses, which had been on the ship, she'd set to be pressed and cleaned. The odd thing was she sent them all at once. But to her credit she doesn't like large crowds. She's headstrong but we love her. She's likely out practicing her sword forms." His love for his exasperating sister was clearly evident.
“She is a fortunate soul, Lord Rahl, the luckiest among us” Vittoria tried not to smile too large, and failed.
Uninvited Stormlanders and now Volantenes? What a wonderful way to further spite her uncle. The princess felt eyes on her but ignored them other than a very brief glance at the Rahl man and an unnecessary sway to her hips as she shifted to tap Vittoria’s shoulder. The glance told her everything she needed to know about this Lord Hespserys. She whispered, her voice stern, “Don’t linger with one too long, you will have others you need to meet.”
Davos’ grinned almost as widely as the younger Tyrell daughter at her question, lost then amongst the string of introductions to the Volantene arrivals, even as he prepared to answer her, his own eyes settling on Vittoria again, simply being lost in the sight and sound of her. He was used to seeing her at least passingly guarded, ready for the pressing realities of war. Here, he could notice new things about her, like how the slight dimples of her cheeks deepend when her smile was for her younger sister.
“How terribly rude of me to not say so earlier, Lady Mina Tyrell, I am Ser Davos Baratheon, your sister had a habit of saving mine and my father’s hides in the Mountains of Dorne.” He dipped his head to the younger Tyrell, before speaking in a mockery of hushed tones, “And in truth, you might think she looks foolish, but she has far more practice making me stumble on my words and forget it was I was meant to be doing, probably well before she even remembered who I was.” His grin eased into more of a smile at the memories, many, but sparse among the years. “So I just have a little practice over her right now.”
The sight of the Princess adding a bit more sway to her step after she had been introduced to him was not lost on Hespaerys. His smile deepened and the half lidded glance he shot Ceryse made his eyes darken in intensity. He stuck to only a glance though. His attention was brought round to Davos as he spoke. It was obvious that he was smitten with Vitta and Hespaerys thought that was rather heartwarming. He looked at Mina with a raised brow then back at the two that were very much in love and tipped his head as if to say ‘well there you go’.
Gradually he eased around the others to stand next to Ceryse. “You look stunning in that dress, your highness.” Hespaerys let his eyes roam appreciatively. “Myrish lace never looked better.”
“Lord Baratheon is too kind. The command was Lord Sam Tarly’s.” Vittoria’s smile tightened, her tone clear and loud. If ever Vittoria Tyrell would take credit for a successful campaign, it would not be in the High Hall of the Hightower, with so many older Lords amongst her. She wasn’t stupid.
Behind her a man with a deep baritone could barely be heard as he muttered, “No one who was there will ever believe that.” Vittoria blinked, and turned, to find Lord Rennet Tarly standing next to her Sworn Shield, Ser Ryam. Dennet leaned in for a hard, quick, shake of Baratheon’s hand, offering nods to his companions. “Lads. Good to see you all outside battlefields." His throat cleared, as he greeted Lord Rohl quickly, before uncomfortably moving his eyes to the Princess. “Princess Ceryse.”
Vittoria blinked between Dennet and Ceryse, pink lips just parted. Oh. She had never seen a woman make Dennet Tarly uncomfortable. There wasn’t a moment Dennet left his eyes on the Princess, just quickly to her eyes, then quickly away, to Lady Mina, Vittoria noted.
“Lady Mina, your presence has been requested.” The towering Lord Tarly motioned for the younger Lady Tyrell to follow, his eyes hard cast iron and impatience, even as Mina waited for a non-verbal cue from Vittoria, which she gave, quickly. Dennet marched her to the entrance of the High Hall, and on the other side of the doors was Godric, with two wooden practice blades.
Dennet’s voice lowered as he eyed them both, “Break nothing irreplaceable, especially each other. Now go. Be young and unbored,” he said, snorting.
Vittoria tried to see what exactly was going on, but instead nearly blurted out an ‘ow’ when Ceryse poked her side. “Wh—oh, right. Lords, please excuse us.” Vittoria leaned into their little circle, loudly whispering, “I have to go visit others before they become jealous.”
The first was Lord Rowan. Not Lord Rickard, the Head of House Rowan, but his son and heir, Ser Thaddeus, one of her Knights of the Golden Rose. As she heard, Lord Rickard was furious with Ser Thaddeus for his decision to join the Order, instead of the Faith Militant. Thaddeus was a funny man, and a tall man of a lean strength, like stone. He’d been around her campfires many times during their campaigns, and had earned great renown in the night time raid on the King of the Basilisk Isles.
But his eyes were on the Princess. Apologizing for the Prince and his dishonor. Asking how she liked the Royal Family, besides the Prince. They were questions Vittoria might have asked, and after Thaddeus and she spoke of camp business. The ugly business with the Garin and the Knight. The likelihood of light cavalry vs heavy cavalry.
Ryam’s eldest brother, Lord Robert, was their next stop. Since Robert was much closer in age to Ceryse, Vittoria wasn’t even surprised when the entire conversation was spent with Robert speaking to Ceryse. He invited her to the Arbor. He mentioned there was a particular vintage of Arbor Gold they would love to name after the Princess. He offered to tour her on his personal ship. He, towards the end, thanked his cousin Vittoria greatly for introducing them again.
Vittoria turned to Ryam, and smiled, as Robert and Ceryse carried on. “Fun for you, too? You want me to ask her if she likes younger Redwynes?”
Luckily, Ser Ryam held his laughter to a low chuckle, and his response wasn’t heard by Robert or Ceryse: "No thank you. I only plan to marry my oaths and to keep to them as best as possible. I have a feeling they will take up most of my time. But I appreciate the offer nonetheless."
As Ceryse excused the two of them, Vittoria couldn’t help but lean in and whisper, “You’re right, this IS fun,” as she smirked. Lord Robert actually waved after them and shouted he’d see them later. Vittoria bit her lip nearly enough to draw blood as her body fell into Ceryse from contained laughter. Laughter that quickly left her as she noticed the High Septon’s dagger glance on them in the moment.
The heirs of Ambrose and Florent were next. Ambrose was nervous, awkward, and the conversation was stale as soon as it began. Vittoria actually found it odd when he stared at her, not Ceryse, and wished Lord Robert could come back. Lord Florent was silver-tongued, but distant, and seemed uninterested in either of them. The conversation was short, and mercifully cut short by Lord Dennet Tarly, with Lord Rahl hanging to his side.
Dennet spoke of Lady Mina and Lord Godric, and ignoring any reports of combat in the halls. Dennet leaned in and spoke to her of the injured squire. It was good news, but before they were done, Ceryse and Lord Rahl were already back to chattering.
The men of the Reach had less sense in their heads than she had thought. An attempt to wed into House Tyrell - for altruistic love or practical political reasons - and she had tongues wagging at her. Regardless, Ceryse played nice, if for no other reason than to set an example for Vittoria. Lord Rahl materialized behind Dennet - now that man sense enough to keep his tongue in his head - but the Volantene was something else. It took one devious grin, one slow tracing of her lips with her tongue and she had pulled him to her side.
Her hand went to his arm, and though she did not shout, she made no attempt to lower her voice or hide her conversation from those around them. “Lord Hespaerys Rahl of Volantis was it?” She traced her finger over his arm, took a step to the side and looked him over top to bottom, she pursed her lips in thought, gave a few tut-tuts. “You have good taste in clothing, Lord Rahl, even if it is not of standard Westerosi tastes. Such a fine fit indeed.” Her eyes lingered on his rear before drifting back to his face, a hungry contact with his dusty lavender eyes. “Tell me though, are they terribly difficult to remove?”
Without batting an eyelash Hespaerys’ smirk turned sensual. “At the moment they would be unless you used your teeth, your highness.” Looking down at her Hespaerys found that unless he spoke to Hightower before Ceryse left he would not be doing so for a long while. He was not sure that he really minded. “I do not suppose that you might have been on the receiving end of that particular talent? There are brothels in Lys that specialize in it, your highness. They teach, sometimes.”
"My sweet Volantene child, I may allow you to demonstrate talents you think you possess. But you'll need to do more than use your teeth to impress me." Ceryse pushed her arm through his and set them off on a slow meandering path as if to ensure every single man in the room took notice while they continued their conversation. "Are you game for a little fun? You seem quick-witted, let's hope you can keep up." A devious grin grew across her face as she set her eyes on her target. Her uncle. The high septon of the Faith.
"Your Holiness." Ceryse approached with almost an appropriate curtsy to the head of their faith. "What grace the Seven have provided me, to return my wayward husband to me from across the sea." She feigned innocence, cast a look of utter devotion to Hespaerys. "And look he returns to us looking as youthful as the day we were wed when all the realm rejoiced for it." The princess leaned into the Volantene, nestled into his side. Her fingers wound through his as she brought their hands down the side of her body to rest atop her hip.
Curiosity piqued Hespaerys let Ceryse guide him around like a trained horse. She brought him over to the High Septon and Hespaerys smiled down at her slyly. He looked down at Ceryse and stroked her hip as she put their linked hands there. His mind shifted to a more Westerosi accent and smiled at the High Septon. “Your Holiness.” He kept the words few so he could get the feel of them. He had spoken to Maegor maybe twice but his accent was generically Westerosi and it was deep enough to be on a range with Hespaerys’ own.
Suddenly the High Septon wasn’t looking at the pair before him, but past them, his face red, his voice dangerously low, “Is this cruel jape your idea?”
When the Princess and her escort looked behind them, they would have seen him. Bellied but barrel chested, shoulders wide, face strong with wrinkles and white beard, and grey-blue eyes the color of Oldtown fog. His doublet was Hightower blue, and fit him perfectly, despite his age and belly. His hair was combed, his beard clean. He had made effort. He had cared about this night. Behind him stood Lady Vittoria, eyes down, looking as if she begged the Hightower to swallow her whole.
He said nothing, until both of them had turned to look, and even then only quietly, “Rahl, if you want to leave peacefully, leave now and maybe I won’t invite every competing family in Volantis to take up your father’s trade agreements so you can explain why to him.”
When his eyes hit his daughter, there was some kind of pyro-alchemical reaction, some mix of love and anger, the kind that only wildfire and other disappointed fathers would ever truly be able to relate to. “If your goal was to prove the prick Prince wise and sabotage our chances at keeping Vittoria in the Reach so she wouldn’t face similar humiliation by a Valyrian blooded shit, you’ve done wonderfully.”
It was the quickness in which the old man turned to face Vittoria as she tried to interject, and the intensity behind his eyes, that truly told the story of how close to violence he truly was as he looked at Lady Vittoria. Yet his voice never rose, it only stayed low, simmering, shaking with thawing rage, “—get your asses in my solar. Both of you. Now.”
“Brother, this will not st—”
Lord Manfred Hightower turned his head back forward, past his daughter and the Rahl, to the crystal crowned brother of his, “—save it. Get your Lords, meet us there.”
To everyone watching, Lord Manfred simply turned towards the room, glared about, and growled, “DRINK AND BE MERRY OR GET OUT!”
When Ser Ryam moved to follow Lady Vittoria, Lord Manfred stepped in front of him. The anger shaking his otherwise solemn tone. “Boy," he began, before his mind set in over his emotion, "Ser, go back to your inn. I raised her like a daughter, she needs no shield here.”