Clement stood resolutely on the balcony of Crab's Return, gazing upon the distant town as its inhabitants went about their daily affairs, oblivious to his presence. The mighty winds of the isle whipped at his growing locks of silvery blonde hair, threatening to scatter them in disarray. Shielded by his thick garments, he shielded himself from the chilling bite of the gusts. In this moment, he patiently awaited Lord Corlys' response to his proposal of a marital alliance.
Suddenly, a figure emerged from the doorway, entering the vicinity with purpose. It was none other than Gromond, draped in his customary gray and red robe, slowly making his way toward Clement.
"I had no inkling that you possessed such extensive knowledge about the current state of the realm," Gromond calmly remarked. "Even my web of acquaintances failed to unearth such information."
Upon hearing Gromond's statement, Clement turned his gaze towards him, his raised eyebrow expressing curiosity. "Web of acquaintances?" he queried.
"Indeed," Gromond replied, a hint of amusement in his tone. "Hence my year-long absence. From Maidenpool to King's Landing, from Oldtown to Gulltown, and from Duskendale to every stronghold along the Roseroad, one can expect news of significance conveyed by the wings of a raven."
"I see," mused Clement, his voice melodic as he hummed in contemplation. "I had presumed you were merely squandering time."
Gromond rolled his eyes. "Oh please, is your perception of me so low?"
"To a large extent," Clement scoffed. "Regardless, I express my gratitude. Such knowledge may prove somewhat advantageous in the days to come."
"I remain baffled as to how you have managed to amass such an exhaustive understanding of the Sea Snake," Gromond observed. "You possess intricate knowledge, down to the minutest details. His association with Prince Daemon, his intention to delay the betrothal between Laena Velaryon and the Sealord's son... How did you come by this information?"
"It is mere happenstance," Clement replied nonchalantly. "Mostly."
Gromond emitted a hearty chuckle, his amusement apparent. "Seems even you've got your fair share of secrets, eh? Very well, I won't press further, at least not for now. I must admit, I'm quite intrigued by how your father will react to all this. It'll surely be a spectacle worth beholding."
Clement raised an eyebrow inquisitively. "You've dispatched a raven to him, have you?" he inquired.
Gromond shook his head in response. "Not yet," he replied, his voice tinged with a hint of anticipation. "We shall await Lord Corlys' response, correct?"
Silent as a whisper, Clement let out a thoughtful hum. The relentless wind persisted, unabated, causing their hair to dance wildly in its gusts. With serene, crystal-blue eyes, they peered down upon the town, their gaze tranquil and observant. Their gazes shifted toward the shipyard, a bustling hub of activity with endless rows of majestic vessels in various stages of construction. From a distance, the sight resembled a mesmerizing display of diligent ants scurrying about, each apprentice fervently carrying out their assigned tasks.
"Thus, we find ourselves amidst the prospect of war," Gromond queried, his tone tinged with skepticism. "You are proposing to engage in a conflict for the sake of a lady's hand. I must confess, nephew, I underestimate you, you are a romantic after all."
"I wouldn't characterize this as a romantic endeavor," Clement replied, his shoulders rising in a casual shrug.
"The blood of the dragon, I presume." Gromond added. "I daresay the king would not readily grant you the privilege of possessing dragon eggs for your children."
"One can reason with the king," Clement asserted. "He's a man who favors peace and avoids conflicts."
Gromond scoffed. "You'll only make a fool of yourself."
"Perhaps." Clement murmured thoughtfully. "But it's worth a try. Besides, even if the king objects, he can't do a damn thing if one of my children decides to lay claim to a dragon, much like what happened with Laena."
Suddenly, two thunderous roars reverberated through the skies above, captivating the attention of nearly every soul on the isle. Before anyone could fully fathom the source, two majestic dragons burst forth from the clouds, capturing the essence of awe. One soared with the swiftness of the wind, its fiery red scales blazing through the air. The other, a colossal behemoth, cast a monstrous shadow that engulfed almost the entire town.
"Ah, behold the coveted instruments of mass destruction," Gromond expressed disapproval, his brows furrowed, while the mighty dragons advanced towards a desolate expanse. "I find them rather detestable."
"As foes, I concur with your sentiment. However, as allies, I assure you, you shall grow fond of them," Clement chuckled warmly, affectionately patting Gromond's shoulder. "You ought to extend your greetings to our guests, dear uncle."
The dragons drew nearer, their path leading them towards the imposing castle. When the crimson dragon Meleys soared in close proximity to the balcony, Clement and Gromond were compelled to shield themselves from the gusts of wind it generated, their feet nearly stumbling upon the ground. After a while, Princess Rhaenys gracefully touched down near the castle upon an uninhabited terrain, while the colossal Vhagar circled the isle, as if meticulously surveying the domain below. Clement couldn't help but contemplate the devastating consequences if that dragon were to unleash a single breath, engulfing the entire town in flames.
Gromond, turning away from the balcony and directing his attention towards the indoors, jested with amusement, "You intend to wed that lady atop that beast? Best of luck on your marriage, nephew."
Clement, his lips slightly parted, emitted a low hum, intermingled with a faint chuckle escaping his breath. Unwavering, his eyes remained fixated on the colossal creature soaring above the sky, continuously encircling the small island at a leisurely pace.
Princess Rhaenys gently caressed her majestic crimson dragon as a swiftly approaching carriage emerged on the horizon. Adorned with the emblem of House Celtigar, the carriage caught the princess's attention, yet she momentarily dismissed it, fully engrossed in the affectionate bond she shared with her formidable companion. Gradually, the carriage drew nearer, eventually halting at a respectful distance. From its doors emerged a figure, none other than Gromond. Moving deliberately, his hands concealed behind his back, he approached the princess.
"I reckon the journey was swift and pleasurable, milady," Gromond uttered.
Meeting Gromond's gaze, the princess responded, her voice carrying a hint of amusement. "Swift, indeed. As for pleasure, I've endured flights far worse than this, ser."
A smile graced Gromond's lips. "I see."
"Does my lord husband reside within the castle?" Rhaenys inquired.
"Yes, princess. He is there, alongside Ser Vaemond," Gromond acknowledged with a nod.
Rhaenys sighed, her voice tinged with resignation. "I must confess, the tidings he brought to Driftmark were the least expected when he embarked upon his voyage toward Claw Isle."
"And what news did you anticipate the most?" Gromond inquired, his curiosity piqued by her statement.
Rhaenys replied, "That Lord Bartimos would refuse. In certain aspects, he bears resemblance to my own cousin."
Gromond nodded in agreement. "As his brother, I can vouch for that. However, he is absent at present."
"His son now occupies his father's seat, temporarily at least." Rhaenys mused. "Tell me, good ser, is this... arrangement merely the result of an infatuation of a young man with my daughter, or is there something more profound at play?"
"As two of the remaining Valyrian houses of Westeros, we should stand side by side as kin, don't you think, princess?" Gromond smiled.
Rhaenys, amused by his remark, emitted a soft, melodic chuckle that danced through the air, yet refrained from responding verbally. Instead, her attention fixated on the colossal creature that had been encircling the isle, its sheer enormity evoking awe and trepidation. Gradually, the beast drew nearer, finally approaching the sturdy ground where Meleys had gracefully descended moments ago. As Vhagar made contact with the earth, a tremor reverberated, mimicking the swift and furious vibrations of an earthquake.
Despite the instinctual surge of fear coursing through his veins, Gromond endeavored to maintain an outward appearance of composure in the presence of such a giant beast. After all, this was the very creature responsible for Dorne's fiery obliteration a century past.
Emerging from the dragon's back, a young maiden descended gracefully, utilizing a sling of ropes securely fastened to the saddle. Dressed not in the traditional garb of a damsel, but rather adorned in the attire of a dragonrider, crafted from supple black leather and blue cloth, she exuded an air of resolute determination and untamed spirit. This is of course, Laena Velaryon.
"A lot of things have changed since I've flown over here a year ago." She idly remarked, her voice filled with casual observance. Then, the youthful maiden turned her gaze towards Gromond, her curiosity piqued, and inquired, "Where might he be?"
Gromond found himself perplexed, slightly taken aback by the directness of Lady Laena's words. "Pardon?" he stammered in response.
Rhaenys let out a weary sigh, her patience evident in the air. "Compose yourself, my dear daughter. Good ser, lead us unto the castle."
"As you command, princess," Gromond acknowledged with a nod, gesturing for the two noble women to step into the awaiting carriage.
In his assigned chamber, Corlys Velaryon stood with his gaze fixed upon the window, staring at the sight of two dragons idling in the distance. Ser Vaemond accompanied him, meticulously examining every detail of the room. The chamber exuded opulence, adorned with exquisite Myrish carpets that graced the floor, resplendent tapestries adorning the bed, and intricately crafted foreign furniture scattered throughout.
"They have arrived," Corlys remarked with serene composure.
"Good," Vaemond replied curtly. "Once they are here, let us swiftly conclude this affair."
"And then what?" Corlys inquired.
"We shall refuse, naturally," Vaemond frowned. "It would be an affront to our honor. He has ensnared us like a cunning trapper catching a crab."
Corlys sighed wearily. "This is a political maneuver, Vaemond. The world does not solely revolve around the edge of swords and the tips of spears."
Vaemond scoffed derisively. "A maneuver that you possess every right to reject. Laena was offered to the king, and does this young man truly prove himself a worthy suitor for her, considering she possesses a dragon?"
"He also has that swindler," Corlys interjected.
"And what of it?" Vaemond challenged. "We can snatch him from Claw Isle and kill him ourselves."
Corlys countered, his tone tinged with caution, "A betrothal, Vaemond, is not to be taken lightly. It is a solemn promise, bound by a contract we have willingly entered into."
Vaemond's brow furrowed in confusion. "A contract?"
"Do you think arranging a betrothal with a Sealord's son is easy as you think?" Corlys said. "No, at the end of the day, they're merchants, they have a contract written upon the agreement. And if we broke it, well, let's just say the Iron Bank will knock on our doors, and I don't want my coffers to be drained any futher."
The weight of Corlys' words hung heavy in the air, causing Vaemond to fall silent, his mind delving into the depths of contemplation.
"Furthermore," Corlys continued. "do you truly believe the young man to be unworthy of our alliance?"
Vaemond's confusion deepened, etching lines on his face. "What do you mean?"
"Cast your gaze upon your surroundings. Observe the bustling town and the castle," the Sea Snake implored. "Witness the improvements made, the influx of immigrants, and the steady flow of ships... Have you ever witnessed such remarkable progress within our lands? Spicetown and Hull have remained stagnant for countless years."
"Their fortune was our misfortune, you yourself said that."
"True. but I also said that I cannot make Driftmark this prosperous in the span of mere five years." Corlys stated. "The young lad possesses genuine talent as an administrator, and as you have just witnessed, he possesses exceptional political skills as well. Granted, he may appear unworthy in your eyes at present, but have you considered his potential in ten or fifteen years' time? If we reject this alliance, while we struggle in the Stepstones, Claw Isle will continue to flourish. While we exhaust our coffers on sellswords and repairing our ships, the Celtigars will invest their resources in fortifications, expanding their harbors, and constructing a large merchant fleet. And when the war finally concludes, who can say who shall emerge wealthier: us or them?"
Vaemond maintained a steady gaze upon Corlys, his brow furrowed in deep thought. Their solemn contemplation, however, was abruptly interrupted by a resounding knock that echoed through the chamber. The source of the disturbance commanded the attention of both men, redirecting their focus towards the door.
"Come in," Corlys beckoned, his voice carrying an air of authority.
With a graceful swing, the door swung open, revealing the lone figure of Princess Rhaenys as she crossed the threshold into the room. In that pivotal moment, Corlys and Rhaenys locked eyes, a flicker of recognition mingled with bewilderment in the depths of the man's gaze. Something was amiss; his vision failed to locate his daughter trailing behind her.
"Where is Laena?" he inquired.
Waiting for the door to be closed, Princess Rhaenys walked towards a chair near her. When she sat upon it, the servants that have guided her to here are long gone. "She requested to meet with Ser Clement."
"I see." Corlys hummed. "Shall we wait for it to end, then?"
"The decision rests upon your shoulders, husband, not hers," Rhaenys responded, sighing deeply.
"I have already arrived at my decision, yet uncertainty clings to my heart," Corlys declared, his words brimming with introspection. "Her words possess the potential to either fortify or erode it."
With an air of tranquility, Clement remained poised on the castle's balcony, his gaze fixed upon the dragons languidly sprawled on the distant ground. As the sun ascended higher, the wind gradually subsided, causing his once unruly hair to tame its wild dance. By his side lay a tray adorned with delectable treats, recently delivered by diligent servants.
In a sudden turn, the door leading to the balcony swung open, revealing a young maiden garbed in the attire of a dragonrider. Lady Laena had made her entrance, seemingly unaccompanied. She strolled toward Clement, leaning against the railing to cast her eyes upon her own dragon. She stood at the tender age of thirteen, nigh on fourteen, a maiden hailing from Driftmark.
"A magnificent creature, isn't she?" Laena remarked. "Vhagar, the mightiest living dragon."
"She appears... aged," Clement nonchalantly remarked, shrugging his shoulders.
"What?" Laena's expression twisted in confusion.
"Aged." Clement repeated. "Look at that skin-beard she has, whatever it's called."
Laena snorted in amusement at Clement's words, turning towards the young man. "What are you doing?"
"What?" Clement asked, raising his brow.
"My father called me here." she said. "On the account that you would like to marry me."
"I do." Clement hummed. "I will be going to war for your hand in marriage, if your house accepts."
Laena rolled her eyes. "I never asked for such a gesture."
"Who said I did it for you?" Clement's amusement was evident in his arched eyebrow.
Laena scoffed, strolling toward the tray beside Clement and helping herself to a couple of biscuits. "By the way, thank you."
"For what?" Clement inquired.
"For the tip about Vhagar's whereabouts," Laena disclosed. "She was sighted at The Whispers, but according to my house's scouts, she soon departed for the Dragonmont, and here we are."
"I see," Clement mused. "I witnessed you flying over Claw Isle once, last year."
"True. Now, what makes you believe you are worthy of my hand?" she haughtily declared. "I possess a dragon, whereas you do not. I was to be queen, while you are merely an heir to a lord. I hail from the wealthiest house in the realm, and you... well, you belong to one of the richest as well, I suppose."
Clement let out a soft chuckle, amusement twinkling in his eyes. "Ah, I can see you've embraced my brazenness ever since acquiring a dragon of your own. But go ahead, convince yourself that you are to be queen. The king has blatantly rejected your father's proposal, and let's not deceive ourselves, you aren't exactly thrilled about the idea of marrying a man considerably older than you, especially after gaining Vhagar."
Laena arched an eyebrow, her curiosity piqued. "That 'old man' happens to be the king."
"I never uttered those words, my lady. That was all you," Clement replied, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly. "Or perhaps you'd prefer to wed that swindler who currently resides in my dungeons? If that's truly your heart's desire, I'll summon a septon to the castle without delay. You need not pay a single coin from your family's coffers for the ceremony."
Laena clicked her tongue and continued nibbling on one of the biscuits on the tray before her. "You do possess a rather peculiar manner of speaking."
A gentle smile curled on Clement's lips. "Your words do me great honor, my lady."
"That's hardly a compliment, 'ser'," Laena retorted, rolling her eyes. "So, what shall be our course of action?"
"What?" Clement asked, genuinely perplexed.
"What would you offer me if I were to become your lady wife?" Laena inquired, her tone laced with skepticism. "Surely you don't expect me to sit idly in the castle, bearing your children every other year."
Clement hummed thoughtfully, his gaze wandering over the bustling town below. "What is it that you desire?"
"You're asking me that?" Laena scoffed, her disbelief evident.
Clement sighed, his expression tinged with a hint of weariness. "All I ask is for you to be a faithful companion by my side. As for flying your dragon, I couldn't care less if you choose to do it every single day. I have no intention of consummating the marriage until you reach the age of six and ten. I seek a lady wife who can accompany me throughout the entirety of my life, not just for a fleeting few years because of childbirth."
"You didn't ask for a betrothal in fear of my father delaying its fulfilment, but you don't want to consummate the marriage immediately?" Laena raised her brow. "You truly are strange."
"I mean, I can finish outside if you don't like the idea of waiting too long." Clement provocatively teased, a mischievous grin adorning his countenance.
Upon hearing this taunt, Laena, thoroughly amused, rolled her eyes and averted her gaze, opting to savor her nibbles of biscuits uninterrupted.
Observing the ensuing silence, Clement couldn't help but chuckle softly, reaching for one of the biscuits himself. He broke the silence with a query, "So?"
In response, Laena offered her perspective with a touch of resignation, her words laden with the weight of circumstance, "The ultimate decision lies in the hands of my father, 'ser', not mine. I exist merely as a pawn in the political machinations of arranged marriages, much like every other lady within the realms of the seven kingdoms."
Clement emitted a contemplative hum, acknowledging her sentiment. "I suppose you speak the truth."
However, Laena's tone shifts subtly, hinting at a glimmer of acceptance. "Yet, should my father grant his approval, I daresay I won't be averse. At least I shall have the solace of familiarity with the man to whom I am to be wed, and you, Ser Clement, are of an age comparable to mine."
Clement, lifting his biscuit as though offering a toast, chimed in with a wry comment. "Well, in the event that comes to pass, at least I can take comfort in the knowledge that my own lady wife does not harbor animosity towards me."
Laena replied, her words laced with a touch of jest. "You still possess an ample amount of time to bungle things up, my good ser."
Clement acknowledged her remark with a knowing nod, chuckling as he did so. "Indeed, I am well aware of that."