26 Chapter 26: A Celebration for Men - 111 AC

A/N: Someone complained about the dragon thing being too long. well, bear with it, cause the outline's been written until 121 AC, and a lot of it is going to talk about dragons lol. also, I added Brackyore's map on the auxillary chapter, it's still when it was 106 AC though, the tools don't allow me to edit further so I can't make the 111 AC one. oh, and dragon pictures as well.


On a blustery morning, the brisk wind swept across a flat expanse near the Crab's Return. Clement stood tall amidst the grassy terrain, his blood-red cloak billowing vigorously, and his flowing locks tugged by the forceful gusts. In the distance, his keen eyes discerned a fleet of approximately fifty ships, navigating the narrow strait of Crackclaw Point, destined for the port of Brackyore. Above the seafaring vessels soared a colossal creature, none other than the dragon Vhagar, who had returned from her conquests in the Stepstones. As the dragon's expansive wings enshrouded the town, its resounding roar roused the slumbering denizens from their abodes. In an instant, a throng of people began to assemble at the port, eagerly awaiting the long-awaited reunion with their loved ones who had been absent for countless years.

In that very moment, Vhagar commenced a gradual descent from the sky, circling the flat terrain where Clement had taken his stand. As the dragon's formidable frame touched the ground, the earth trembled violently, inciting fear in Clement's tethered horse, which let out an agitated neigh in response to the awe-inspiring sight. Vhagar emitted a growl, casting a brief glance in Clement's direction, before eventually resting her massive head upon the ground. The dragon's rider, the pregnant Laena, gracefully dismounted from her perch. Clement would have offered his assistance, but Vhagar proved to be fiercely protective of the expectant woman, exhibiting a discernible animosity towards Clement for reasons unknown.

Laena donned loose garments that failed to conceal the unmistakable swell of her belly, yet her countenance exuded an air of contentment and vitality, much like when she embarked on her exhilarating rides atop Vhagar. As her gaze swept the surroundings, she beheld only Clement's horse and Clement himself, prompting a quizzical raise of her eyebrows.

"What a warm reception, my husband," quipped Laena with a sarcastic lilt.

"The rest are congregating at the port," replied Clement, his voice tinged with amusement. "They are there to greet the others. Where are our sons?"

"They are aboard the ships, accompanied by Ser Phineas and the servants," sighed Laena. "If only my burdened belly didn't impede me, I would have brought them with me upon Vhagar."

Clement merely shook his head, thoroughly amused, as he strode towards Laena, bestowing a tender kiss upon her forehead and gently caressing her hair and burgeoning belly. "I trust the journey was uneventful?"

"Indeed," murmured Laena, a soft smile gracing her lips. "We made halts at Evenfall Hall and Stonedance to rest for a few days. Shipbreaker Bay always poses a challenge."

"I see," mused Clement. "I'm relieved to hear that all went smoothly. Come, we shall continue our journey on horseback."

"With just one horse?" arched Laena's eyebrow, finding amusement in the situation.

"I shall ride at a leisurely pace, Laena," retorted Clement, rolling his eyes. "Or would you prefer to walk? Neither option is conducive to the well-being of our unborn child."

"In that case, you should have arranged for a carriage," scoffed Laena.

"We only have one wheelhouse, and haven't had the time to order another one." Clement stated. "Besides, I get to have a private ride with you."

"Very well," she murmured, her voice carrying a hint of resignation. Finally, she approached the horse alongside Clement. Gracefully, she ascended the saddle, taking her place before Clement, who settled in behind her. With gentle yet firm instructions, the man urged the horse to set off in the direction of the castle. The journey progressed unhurriedly, mindful of the precious cargo astride the steed. Clement tightly grasped the reins, simultaneously providing support to Laena from the rear.

In a composed manner, Clement inquired, his voice devoid of agitation, fixated on the path ahead, "Did our sons long for my presence?"

Laena responded, her words resonating with certainty, "They yearned for you. In fact, they displayed their discontent in a most disruptive manner at Evenfall Hall, right in the presence of Lord Tarth. They incessantly clamored to accompany me and ride Vhagar, rather than board the ships for a swift reunion with you."

Clement chuckled. "I suppose their reception was not much different at Stonedance. Even then, I have only been absent for a mere three months."

Leaning upon the man, Laena gripped both the saddle and Clement's arm simultaneously, conveying her affectionate concern. "For a young child, dear husband, three months can be an eternity. They might struggle to recognize your countenance when they finally lay eyes upon you."

"They're on their second name day, my dear, not their sixth month." Clement said. "I'm sure they haven't forgotten their father's face."

A mischievous laugh escaped Laena's lips as she suggested, "Should you bestow them with a gift, it shall surely aid their memory." She paused, before inquiring with intrigue, "So... how did the audience with the king transpire?"

Clement sighed. "Honestly, it's hard to tell. The king is indecisive as ever. Though at most, it's the one that is inside you right now that is going to get it."

Laena emitted a soft hum, her disappointment subtly revealed. "The twins shall surely be envious if that is the case."

Clement contemplated for a moment before offering his perspective, "Indeed." He hummed thoughtfully. "It can be perceived as both a blessing and a curse."

Frowning, Laena shifted her gaze toward Clement positioned behind her. "What exactly do you mean by that?"

Amidst his amusement, Clement chuckled lightly, elucidating, "They are your sons, Laena. If we do not keep a close watch over them, they are bound to embark on some reckless escapade."

Laena furrowed her brow, unable to counter Clement's words in the slightest. She turned her gaze towards the town, and a profound realization washed over her. This place had undergone significant transformations. The lighthouse stood tall, marking the expanded boundaries of the town, which gradually crept closer to the castle. Along the coastline and out onto the sea, sturdy walls now ascended, serving as a testament to fortification. In the distance, decorations adorned the surroundings, and a field had been meticulously arranged, resembling a tournament ground near the castle.

"Are preparations underway for a melee?" Laena inquired, her curiosity piqued.

"It is intended for the smallfolk," Clement responded. "The men have been away for far too long, and it is only fitting to commemorate their return. However, it means that the streets will be brimming with revelers this week, burdening the town guards with extended hours of duty..."

The woman emitted a soft hum. "Well, refrain from excessive drinking. Should I discover you fraternizing with sailors and heading towards the brothel, you may very well become Vhagar's meal the following day."

Clement chuckled, tenderly planting a kiss on Laena's head. "Those brothels were established for profit, not for personal indulgence."

Laena merely shook her head, her gaze fixed upon the distant town. "Tell me, what other tidings did you receive during your audience with the king?"

"Nothing of great significance," Clement replied. "Matters of routine, such as tax exemptions. Oh, and a new title, I suppose."

"A new title hardly qualifies as insignificant, my husband," Laena retorted, rolling her eyes. "If you were any other lord, a grand tourney would have been arranged solely to commemorate such an honor."

"A grand tourney?" Clement raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps it is not a bad idea. We could introduce our sons, showcase our newfound wealth, and display our new title. It would serve as a celebration for our family."

"You are an unfocused man," Laena sighed. "First, you immersed yourself in years of warfare, like a warrior with vague purpose. And now, you aspire to orchestrate tournaments and pageants, either like an over-indulgent lord, or you want to scheme for a rebellion."

"Why can't I be both?" Clement shrugged. "We have yet to celebrate our wedding, and soon our forthcoming child will join us. The era of war has momentarily receded, making way for peace and feasting. It is a time for recovery, growth, and fortifying our position. We can make allies and friends on an occasion like that."

"You are becoming more and more akin to my father," the woman shook her head.

"Is that necessarily a negative comment?" Clement inquired.

"Yes," Laena mused. "And no."


As Clement and Laena approached the castle, its gates loomed directly before them. The stately carriage that had transported their beloved sons swiftly drew near, passing by their side. Through the carriage window, they caught sight of their two children, peering out with an eagerness that seemed to bind them to the vehicle, yearning to reunite with their parents. Atop their horses, two figures shared a knowing glance, finding amusement in their children's spirited impatience.

Upon entering the castle, the carriage had already come to a halt, its door opening. Clement guided his steed to a stop, extending a helping hand to assist his wife as she gracefully dismounted. As he did so, his eyes beheld the sight of the twins racing toward him, their caretakers releasing their hold, granting them freedom. Aemon and Gaemon propelled themselves into Clement's waiting embrace, their tiny bodies clutching him tightly.

Clement's deep laughter reverberated through the air, his strong arms encircling his two sons protectively. Aemon and Gaemon had undeniably grown during his absence, their youthful energy spilling over like a cascading river. Their tiny hands eagerly reached out, their fingers brushing against Clement's clean-shaven face, playfully tugging at his flowing locks, and tenderly caressing his cheeks.

"Have you two already caused trouble for your mother in my mere three months of absence?" Clement interrogated, casting an accusatory gaze at his mischievous sons. "What am I to do with you both?"

With delight, Clement proceeded to tickle the two boys cradled in his arms, their melodious laughter echoing throughout the sprawling castle grounds. While Clement reveled in the joyous play with his sons, Laena stood nearby, a contented smile gracing her face as she gently stroked her swollen belly. In the distance, Gromond and Arthor approached, extending their warm greetings.

"Welcome back to Crab's Return, Lady Laena," Arthor addressed with utmost formality.

Laena turned towards the boy, her arched brows displaying a hint of amusement. "It seems I am but a stranger here with such formalities."

"Pay him no heed, perchance I have trained him a tad too rigorously..." Gromond sighed, affectionately patting Arthor's head, much to the boy's chagrin. "You should rest at once, Laena. A long journey upon a dragon's back must have taken its toll on your pregnant self."

"I feel well, good-uncle. Thank you for your concern," Laena reassured with a soft smile. "Although I must admit, I am relieved to see Aemon and Gaemon in good health. I worried, as this was their first extensive voyage at sea."

"They carry the blood of Velaryons and Celtigars," Gromond remarked. "The sea is their natural abode."

Laena hummed contemplatively. "Indeed, that seems to be the case."

Just then, Clement strode into the conversation, his sons still giggling merrily within his embrace. "Where is father?"

Before anyone could respond, the castle door swung open, revealing Bartimos emerging from the corridors, a wide grin adorning his weathered face. The elderly man descended the stairs, making his way towards the gathering.

"Welcome back, Laena," he addressed the young woman, receiving a nod in response. His gaze then turned to the two boys nestled in Clement's arms. "And who might these little ones be?" Bartimos inquired, arching a teasing brow. This was the first time he laid eyes upon his grandsons, an occasion long overdue.

"Boys, extend your greetings to your grandfather," Clement announced, introducing the twins to Bartimos in a natural manner. The two boys, like many toddlers their age, displayed timidity towards unfamiliar faces. However, their father gently guided them towards Bartimos, placing one of the children in his arms. Presently, Aemon found himself nestled in Bartimos's grasp, held with utmost tenderness and caution. An expression of contentment graced the aged man's countenance, reveling in the joy of finally meeting his grandsons.

"This little one possesses our very eyes," Bartimos observed. "I can discern them using that."

"Yes, father, I have previously told you," Clement sighed wearily. "Let us retire indoors, shall we? We need to start the games for the smallfolk."


"Let the games begin!"

In the waning hours of the day, Lord Bartimos stood atop a raised platform, surrounded by the muddy expanse of a field. A throng of common folk had already assembled, a sea of shirtless men towering over the rest. Their jubilant voices erupted as Bartimos heralded the commencement of the festivities. Barrels upon barrels of intoxicating libations were stationed at the field's corner, a generous offering for all the smallfolk to revel in. The majority of participants consisted of war-weary veterans, freshly returned from battle, while those who had remained behind formed the enthusiastic audience.

Among the games featured was the time-honored tradition of mud wrestling, a staple on this very island. Bartimos reclined on his seat, perched upon the modest platform, accompanied by his brother at his side and Laena and her sons on the other. However, Clement was conspicuously absent. Resounding cheers reverberated throughout the surroundings as the spectators directed their fervor towards the ongoing wrestling matches. Meanwhile, men flocked to the barrel area, clutching mugs in their hands, eagerly surrendering themselves to the intoxicating pleasures of the spirits.

The proceedings were executed with efficiency. Upon their arrival, the Celtigars had partaken in a leisurely luncheon, engaging in casual conversation on mundane matters, before proceeding to the field to inaugurate the revelries. During their midday repast, one noteworthy topic had surfaced—the proposal put forth by Clement through Laena's idea to celebrate their newly acquired title with a tourney, inviting the realm's lords to this very isle. The intention was twofold: to showcase their progress and newfound influence while cultivating valuable alliances and friendships in the process.

"Imagine this spectacle, amplified tenfold, dear brother," Gromond joyously exclaimed to Bartimos. "Your son's words bear merit. Acquiring a title is no mean feat; it warrants a celebration befitting such an accomplishment."

"I did naught but witness my son's ascension to the title; credit belongs solely to him," Bartimos scoffed. "Nonetheless, the notion possesses merit. I have... certain obligations to fulfill, and this occasion shall provide the opportune moment."

"Obligations?" Gromond queried. Amidst the rising cheers, a man collapsed to the ground, his body coated in a thick layer of mud.

"Desmond," Bartimos solemnly uttered.

"Ah..." Gromond hummed, comprehension dawning upon him. "Indeed, the occasion permits it."

"But the question is… what will my son do in the event…" Bartimos said. "Will he simply just… let go of himself? Or will he do something else? What do you think, Laena? You're the one who came up with the idea, but what is your husband thinking?"

"I must confess, good father, that I myself remain uncertain," Laena responded with a light-hearted chuckle. "In truth, the notion was but a passing remark from me, acknowledging that acquiring a noble title carries substantial weight and merits befitting commemoration."

"Alas, it seems I shall have to inquire directly of him," sighed Bartimos. Just as he was about to inquire about his son's whereabouts, a sudden eruption of cheers engulfed the crowd, drawing their attention. Emerging from the throng was a man adorned with silvered tresses, his upper torso bared, an unmistakable smirk adorning his countenance. It was Clement.

The lord of the isle shook his head in disappointment. "I specifically instructed him to refrain..." he murmured. "Brother, fortify the crowd."

"It appears that your precaution is unnecessary," Gromond remarked, a glimmer of amusement dancing in his eyes.

Initially perplexed, Bartimos redirected his gaze towards the assembled crowd, recognizing the familiar faces that blended effortlessly among the common folk. Their household knights, garbed in humble attire, had surreptitiously joined the throng.

"Ah, now I see..." Bartimos mused, turning his attention to his young grandsons who now exuberantly cheered from their designated seats, their attendants struggling to maintain control. "Very well then, let him entertain the folk."