As the year drew to a close, Clement found himself seated in his study room, cradling one of his children in his arms. His wife, by his side, held their other child tenderly, soothing them with gentle coos. A servant stood silently in the corner, awaiting their commands. Laena's recovery had been remarkable, progressing steadily, although occasional bouts of weakness plagued her. Nonetheless, her overall well-being was a source of great relief for Clement, especially considering the dire fate that awaited her had he not 'existed'.
"They truly are indistinguishable," Clement remarked, his hand tenderly caressing his eldest son, Aemon. "Fortunately, I can discern the beginnings of distinction in their eyes."
"One would assume their eyes would be identical too, but apparently not," Laena mused. "Aemon has inherited yours, while Gaemon possesses mine."
"Aemon the Blue, and Gaemon the Violet. I find that rather appealing," Clement nodded in approval.
Laena sighed, her face exhibiting a resigned expression as she gazed upon her husband. "What are you doing, Clement?"
Clement's gaze met Laena's. "Pardon me?"
"You were meant to set sail for King's Landing at this very moment, to ask the king for dragon eggs," Laena stated.
"You and I both know that I would only make a fool of myself if I were to depart now," Clement replied. "Patience is a virtue, Laena. It's rather peculiar to witness this newfound fascination of yours."
"Dragons epitomize power in this realm, and I desire our sons to possess that power. It's not a concept difficult to comprehend," Laena shrugged.
Clement raised an eyebrow. "You do realize I used you, don't you?"
"Well, there's no harm in being used every night and then," she said, a flirtatious smirk playing upon her lips as she addressed her own husband.
Clement groaned, shaking his head in amusement. "You possess a rather dirty mind, my dear wife."
"In all seriousness, their first nameday is fast approaching," Laena stated. "The optimal period for bonding with dragon eggs is drawing to a close."
"You're aware that half of those eggs never hatched, correct?" Clement interjected. "Yours included."
"Nevertheless, you should at least attempt," Laena insisted.
Clement sighed. "I am making an effort, and as I mentioned earlier, the timing is not yet right. War looms on the horizon, and I cannot simply abandon our haven here."
"The Triarchy is displaying an egregious overestimation of their own strength," remarked Laena with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "I stand here, alongside Vhagar, whose fiery breath could decimate their entire fleet in a mere day. Much like the feats of King Jaehaerys, Prince Baelon, and Prince Aemon during the fourth Dornish war."
Clement couldn't help but chuckle. "Vhagar, I daresay, has succumbed to the ravages of time and is now a shade slower than her spirited self of three decades past."
Laena emitted a disdainful snort. "Once again, you dwell on her age, as if it holds any significance. Consider this: her flames burn hotter, and her scales have grown impervious."
"Forgive my jesting, dear Laena," Clement interjected, his laughter echoing through the room. "I merely sought to amuse myself. Anyway, it is not the Triarchy that should concern us."
"It's Dorne invading the islands." Laena hummed. "But you're to go to—"
Abruptly, a resounding knock reverberated through the door, instantly drawing the attention of all occupants in the room. The door swung open, unveiling the figure of a Maester, clutching a parchment tightly.
"A message, my lord," he announced, his voice infused with solemnity.
Clement inquired with anticipation, "From where?"
The Maester extended the parchment to Clement, his voice laden with import. "From Sunspear."
Upon hearing these words, a subtle transformation swept across Clement's countenance, manifesting in the delicate curve of his lips into a knowing smile. With practiced precision, he unfurled the delivered document, unveiling its mysterious contents before his discerning gaze.
"It appears," Clement's voice resonated with a mixture of confidence and amusement, "that if I orchestrate this endeavor flawlessly, we possess the potential to dismantle the Triarchy within a matter of months, dear Laena." A soft chuckle escaped his throat, imbued with a hint of satisfaction. "Tell me, this message remains shrouded in utmost secrecy, does it not? Are you the sole custodian of this knowledge?"
In response, the Maester inclined his head respectfully, a gesture befitting his station. "Indeed, my lord. I have taken upon myself the duty of delivering this missive with absolute discretion."
"Excellent," proclaimed Clement, rising from his seat with a measured grace. "In that case, dispatch a message to our king. Let it be known that Dorne extends its willingness to engage in negotiations."
Clement found himself seated on a small rowing boat, steadily rowing away from his anchored ship that rested amidst the shallow waters of the Stepstones. In the distance, they approached another vessel, proudly displaying the House Martell sigil on its fluttering banner atop the mast. Accompanying Clement was a lone companion, Ser Phineas, a steadfast knight who had faithfully served him since the earliest days of his rule. Ser Phineas took charge of the oars, skillfully navigating the boat closer to the Martell ship, which battled against the relentless waves that jolted the vessel.
"May I be frank, my lord?" Ser Phineas suddenly interjected, a mischievous grin adorning his face.
"What troubles you, ser? Do you find yourself anxious?" Clement chuckled.
"Perhaps a tad, my lord," Ser Phineas sighed. "You are truly a daredevil, venturing alone into the viper's den."
"But I am not alone, ser," Clement replied with a smile. "You are by my side."
"Indeed," Ser Phineas murmured. "One day, your audacity will be the end of me, my lord."
"You pledged your loyalty to me and my family, did you not? To sacrifice your very life?" Clement inquired.
"I did, didn't I?" Ser Phineas chuckled. "Very well. At the very least, you can trust me with that."
"Your time to depart from this world has not yet come, ser," Clement laughed. "I still rely on you to shape my sons into honorable men."
After a few more minutes of rowing, Clement and Ser Phineas arrived alongside the Martell ship. Without a word being spoken, a ladder woven from ropes descended from the deck, offering them a means to ascend. Ser Phineas took the lead, ascending the ladder first, while Clement followed suit. At the top, Ser Phineas extended a helping hand to assist Clement in completing the final climb and stepping onto the deck.
Casting his gaze across the scene, Clement immediately spotted figures adorned in vivid yellow armor fixating their hostile glare upon him. They clutched spears and shields, with bows resting nearby upon a barrel, accompanied by a stash of arrows.
Clement merely exchanged a glance with Ser Phineas, who appeared visibly tense as his hand remained firmly on the hilt of his sword. The young man reassured the knight with a pat on the shoulder before venturing forth. Though there was no explicit guidance, Clement discerned the sailors' subtle positioning, subtly directing him toward the ship's inner deck.
Disregarding the hostile gazes fixated upon them, the pair gracefully traversed the wooden deck, moving closer to the entrance leading below. However, their progress was abruptly halted by two soldiers, further exacerbating Ser Phineas's unease.
"Your weapons," demanded one of the soldiers.
Once again, Ser Phineas and Clement exchanged a meaningful glance before reluctantly complying. Clement unfastened his Valyrian Steel axe from his back, while Ser Phineas carefully removed his sword and its scabbard. Having relinquished their arms, they distanced themselves from the soldiers, allowing Clement to proceed downstairs toward the designated "meeting place."
Once they crossed the threshold into the inner deck, Clement's eyes were immediately drawn to the sight of a table positioned at its center, occupied by a young man who appeared to be of Clement's own age. Nonchalantly, the man sat with his legs propped up on the table, wearing a self-satisfied smirk as he gazed directly at Clement.
"Welcome to my modest dwelling, Ser Clement of House Celtigar," he proclaimed in a noble's refined tone. "I find myself pondering whether it is your courage or foolishness that has brought you here with such scant protection."
Clement responded with a congenial smile. "A successful negotiation must first be built upon mutual trust, don't you agree?"
"Indeed," the man chuckled, his laughter echoing through the room. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Prince Qoren Nymeros Martell. Today, you shall engage in conversation with me. Please, have a seat, Ser. Might I interest you in a selection of our exquisite Dornish beverages?"
"For now, I shall decline, Prince Qoren," Clement politely declined. "I am certain that I will have ample opportunities to savor them in the future."
"Oh? I see, I see," Qoren mused. "Now, let us delve straight into business. Truthfully, I am unaware of the purpose behind your presence here. Is there something regarding an apology?"
"Yes, something like that." Clement affirmed with a nod. "I have come to negotiate with you regarding the terms of war."
Qoren raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "War? I must confess, I am oblivious to your meaning."
"Let us not engage in idle chatter, Prince Qoren. I am aware that you have entered into an alliance with Racallio Ryndoon to launch an invasion of the Stepstones."
Qoren fell into silence, his gaze fixed intently upon Clement, meticulously studying his every movement, down to the minutest detail. "Are you here solely to level baseless accusations against us?"
"No matter how fervently you deny it, Prince Qoren, it does not alter the undeniable truth," Clement declared resolutely. "I have come here to ensure that you abstain from participating in this conflict. I understand your concerns; Prince Daemon is an unpredictable individual, and were I in your position, I would make the same choice."
Qoren chuckled in response to Clement's words. "The Targaryen loyalists remain as predictable as ever. However, it appears that I have traitors lurking within my own court. Could it be the Yronwoods?"
"I assure you, Prince Qoren, there are no traitors among your courtiers," Clement reassured him, his smile unwavering. "I am not here to provoke you. Rather, I have arrived to extend a generous proposal."
"And pray tell, what does this 'proposal' entail?" Qoren inquired, his eyebrow arched expectantly.
"I want you to backstab the Triarchy, to fight with us instead of against us." Clement said. "In exchange, yearly tribute from our settlement, thirty percent of the town's income."
Qoren couldn't help but burst into a hearty laugh. "Do you truly believe, Ser, that we would acquiesce to such an audacious proposition? Your settlement, though charming, is but a small trading outpost, yielding meager profits that hardly warrant our attention."
Clement's eyes sparkled as he offered a counterpoint. "You are right in your assessment of our present circumstances. However, envision a future where the Triarchy is vanquished and stability reigns over the region. In such a prosperous era, our town would flourish with unimaginable wealth. Consider the tempestuous nature of the Stepstones, a perilous yet vital shipping route in our world. Travelers seeking respite or merchants venturing to and from the port would shower us with profits effortlessly."
Qoren's skepticism remained evident on his face as he frowned and leaned closer to the table, fixing his penetrating gaze upon Clement. "But, ser, that future lies years ahead, not within our immediate grasp."
A sly smile curled upon Clement's lips. "Indeed, dear ser, you are correct. However, I must remind you of an alternative. Should you decline this mutually beneficial arrangement, Dorne shall once again embrace the fury of dragons, if you decide to continue your war against us." He paused, allowing the weight of his words to settle in the air. "It has been quite some time since Vhagar's flames danced upon Dornish soil."
Qoren's expression hardened, his frown deepening as he continued to scrutinize Clement intently. With a solemn tone, he offered his counterproposal. "Fifty percent of the town's income."
Clement, undeterred by the sternness of the negotiation, maintained his composure. He pondered for a moment before delivering his response. "I propose a compromise, Prince Qoren. Forty percent of the town's income, and in exchange, you shall graciously send forth a significant amount of gold as a further investment in our shared endeavors."
"I cannot agree to that proposition, ser." Qoren shook his head.
Clement let out a weary sigh, his disappointment evident. "Very well, then. I shall allow Dornish merchants unrestricted trade in our port, exempt from any tolls or tariffs. In return, you are merely required to refrain from engaging in any conflict with the seven kingdoms and sever the alliance with the Triarchy, at the very last moment."
"Merely refrain from conflict?" Qoren arched an eyebrow, his skepticism lingering. "Even so, I find it difficult to perceive this as a fair agreement."
Clement made another attempt at reaching a compromise, his tone becoming more persuasive. "Moreover, we can provide you with shipbuilding resources at a significantly reduced cost, enabling you to assemble a formidable trading fleet. The price shall be discounted by half."
"Ships?" Qoren hummed. "Fifty trading Galleys, how long would it take to build?"
"Approximately seven years," Clement promptly replied, adding a caveat, "Yet, the commencement of shipbuilding shall be postponed until the cessation of the war."
"I understand," Qoren nodded, absorbing the details. "And this proposed accord—what is its projected duration?"
"Until the day of my demise," Clement proclaimed with a hint of satisfaction. A wry smile crept onto his face as he continued, "Consider this my final offer, Prince Qoren. I have bestowed upon you an abundance of benevolence. Accept this proposition, or else Dorne may find itself entangled in the perilous embrace of dragons once more."
A chuckle escaped Qoren's lips. "Very well, then. It does indeed appear to be a fair compromise. However, I must admit to a mild curiosity about your prowess in the realm of negotiations. It seems to be only passable, at best."
"Is that so?" Clement's lips curled into a sly smirk. "Time will reveal the truth of the matter. Rest assured, I shall dispatch a representative from the Iron Bank to draft a written contract. Any party that dares to violate its terms shall face... dire and grievous consequences."
Qoren nodded, his acquiescence finally given. "I concur with these arrangements."
Seated once again in his rowing boat alongside Ser Phineas, Clement commenced his journey towards their ship. Ser Phineas, visibly uneasy, grappled with an unanswered query that rested on the tip of his tongue.
"If you possess an inquiry, do not hesitate to voice it, good Ser," Clement uttered, his gaze lifting to behold Prince Qoren perched upon his vessel.
A sigh escaped Ser Phineas. "It seems we are the ones left wanting, my lord. Alas, I am but a lowly knight, ignorant of the intricacies of your affairs."
"I see your sentiment. Surrendering decades of profits in exchange for Dorne's neutrality in the war," Clement mused. "However, I had already intended to abolish tolls and tariffs."
"What?" Ser Phineas arched an eyebrow.
Clement emitted a chuckle. "Truth be told, no vessel shall be burdened with tolls or tariffs when traversing the Stepstones, nor when mooring in our ports. And as for subsidized shipbuilding, it shall merely enhance the flow of trade within our dominion, will it not? Ultimately, it proves advantageous to me as well. Besides, it is not an everlasting arrangement; it shall persist only until my demise. Although I must confess, the prince is exceptionally obstinate."
"I see." Ser Phineas hummed. "I do not know what you just talked about, my lord."
Amusement danced in Clement's eyes as he shook his head. "Simply row, good Ser. Simply row."