In a secluded corner of the spacious tent, Clement stood composedly with a chalice of wine clutched in his hand. His father, the Lord of Claw Isle, was currently besieged by a swarm of lords from every corner of the realm, who were keen to extract some advantage from the middle-aged nobleman. While Clement was thankfully overlooked, the term "ignored" didn't exactly fit the bill, for he sensed the unwavering scrutiny of both men and women directed towards him. He wasn't despised by any means, but at fourteen years of age, he was still considered a mere "adult" due to his knighthood. People doubted whether he could make decisions on his own, and hence, his father bore the brunt of the heat. Clement was grateful for this, for if it were otherwise, he would have been in his father's position now, akin to a sheep among wolves.
From his position, Clement could observe the expressions of the assembled lords and ladies. King Viserys was conversing with his wife, Aemma Arryn, while he slowly drank himself into a stupor. Lord Hobert Hightower was smiling at the jovial atmosphere, while the Sea Snake's countenance remained inscrutable. However, something caught his eye at the Valeryons' table - Lady Laena was conspicuously absent.
Suddenly, the same lady who was missing earlier appeared beside him, not surprisingly. "I did not expect the man beneath the helmet to be only two years older than me and are just like us," she remarked nonchalantly. "You certainly surprised me, 'Ser'."
Clement chuckled at the comment. "What do you mean, 'like us'? That I possess silvery-blonde hair?"
"No," she corrected him, "Verys ëngos Valyrio. (That you are Valyrian)"
"Zȳha jorrāelza idañe issa se ēdruta. (Your father would say that it's a bit of a stretch)" Clement shrugged. "Verībīlī, ābri se ābrar daoruni Valyrio. Hen sagon vīlībāzma issi Vesterozy Dovaogēdyro syt rēbās. Dōna jemēle idañe jemēle se ēdruta, kessa vējose jagon issa. (But yes, we are of Valyrian descent. People always talk about the two great Valyrian houses of the Seven Kingdoms, but we are ignored. Though for good reason I suppose.)"
"Jaela tolī daor vestris iderē. (Well, you certainly know how to speak our tongue.)" Laena stated. "Zȳhon gaomī nyke Daoriot gīmī, syt iksan issi? (Your house supported my brother's claim during the Great Council, isn't that right?)"
"Did we, now? I wasn't present. Busy dying on my bed at that time." Said Clement rather sarcastically. "What brings you here, Lady Laena? Other than asking if I am of the same 'stock' as yourself."
"You've crowned me your queen of love and beauty, 'ser'. Now you do not want to talk to me? How cold of you." she said, rolling her eyes lazily. "This feast is ever dull. There's barely anyone my age other than my brother."
Clement, with an amused smile, addressed Lady Laena, "Do you wish to relieve your boredom by pestering me, my lady? How charming of you."
"Oh please, it's rather sad of you to stand by yourself in the corner of the tent. Take it as a form of pity." she murmured with haughtiness. "How is Claw Isle, 'ser'? A comfortable home?"
Clement, raising an eyebrow, queried, "Where is this conversation heading? You cannot simply be inquiring about the attractions of Claw Isle."
Lady Laena, maintaining her haughty demeanor, retorted, "We are conversing, not conducting an inquisition. You ought to learn the art of small talk."
Clement responded, "Well, I do not believe we are in a position to engage in conversation. Your father's sharp, judgmental eyes seem to be fixed on me."
As Lady Laena turned around to look, she saw her father's raised eyebrows. Speaking in a hushed tone, she turned to Clement and said, "Perhaps we shall converse later, during the night."
"I would not make it past you to sneak at night, Lady Laena." Clement chuckled. "Lord Corlys would behead me if it were the case. Just ask the question that you are itching to ask. I shall answer it truthfully."
Laena sighed. "Very well. During your time at Claw Isle, have you heard of cries of a dragon?"
Clement hummed, "Do you mean Vhagar?"
Surprised, Lady Laena asked, "Do you know about it?"
Clement replied, "Not much, just occasional rumors from merchants about hearing a shriek in the sky while passing over the Whispers coast."
Lady Laena asked, "The Whispers?"
Clement continued, "It is a ruined castle at the edge of Crackclaw point. It used to be under House Crabb's possession but is now abandoned, as you might imagine."
Lady Laena pondered, "A castle could serve as a suitable nest for a dragon, but I fail to understand the attraction of a cold, ruined castle for an old she-dragon like her."
Clement cautioned, "Please take my words with a grain of salt, my lady. At the end of the day, merchants' rumors are often just lies."
Lady Laena acknowledged, "Thank you, 'ser,' for the information. May we meet again in some capacity." She bowed slightly before departing.
Clement, standing tall and stoic, appeared to shake his head in a manner that conveyed a sense of quiet amusement as the young lady gracefully departed from his vicinity. "I expect something in return in the future, my lady." he said, she seemed to hear it but didn't react.
As he gazed into the distance, his piercing eyes beheld Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys staring intently at him, their penetrating gaze seemingly probing his very soul. In response to this, Clement lowered his head ever so slightly in a gesture of respect and deference before departing from his position at the corner. Stepping towards the open air, he inhaled deeply, feeling the crispness of the fresh breeze permeate his lungs, invigorating his senses and allowing his mind to clear.
As the sun began its descent to the west, painting the sky with a fiery palette of oranges and pinks, the lords and ladies inside the tent began to disperse to their own abodes. The only ones left were a handful of inebriated men and some elderly folk exchanging words. The king himself was nowhere to be found, and the servants had already started to clean up the remnants of the feast - empty goblets, gnawed bones, and other vestiges of the day's revelries. Clement was conspicuous by his absence, but Bartimos remained behind.
The weariness etched on his face was evident. Bartimos had spent the better part of the day listening to the pleas of various lords, each seeking access to Claw Isle's ports, matrimonial alliances, and trade agreements. The repetitive droning of their requests had taken its toll on the lord, leaving him drained and dispirited. That is not all, still, he would hear in between words on rumors about his house, but one seemed to catch his ears was the one that the Crabfeeder in the south was a bastard of House Celtigar, a baseless rumor that Bartimos couldn't help but scoff at.
As he sipped his wine, lost in his thoughts, Bartimos was suddenly jolted by the presence of a man. It was Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, his face stoic and inscrutable. Corlys sat opposite Bartimos, holding his own cup of wine, with no sign of his family anywhere nearby.
"A tiring day for you, it seems, Lord Bartimos," Corlys observed.
"Lord Corlys," greeted Bartimos wearily, letting out a deep sigh. "Indeed. Negotiating with merchants is one thing, but dealing with the whims of the nobility is another altogether."
"The seven kingdoms are rife with ambitious lords, each seeking to increase their wealth and power," Corlys remarked, his tone laced with a hint of cynicism. "Even I am not immune to the lure of it."
"True," Bartimos chuckled merrily, his rich baritone voice resonating through the air. "As for myself, I am not one to harbor an insatiable hunger for ambition. Such a quality can weigh heavily on a man's soul, for if left unchecked, it can lead to grave and perilous consequences."
Corlys' countenance radiated with warmth as he gazed at Bartimos with a knowing smile. "Some nobles may find contentment in the present and refrain from thirsting after more power and influence," he remarked in his refined accent. "As for me, I hold no judgment over them, and indeed, I hold them in the highest regard. Such noble souls have found a tranquil balance in their lives and will undoubtedly lead a blissful existence, free from the chains of insatiable ambition."
"Ah, contentment," Bartimos hummed. "Forgive me, Lord Corlys, for speaking my mind so boldly, but I must confess to feeling great remorse at our present standing."
Bartimos was quick to brush the topic aside. "Let us not dwell on such unpleasantness for too long, Lord Corlys. Suffice it to say that our house is aware of the recent events unfolding in the far south. The shipping lanes have been disrupted, pirates are extorting heavy tolls from passing merchants, and your noble house is among the most severely affected. Meanwhile, our own house has prospered greatly from the situation. Merchants from across the known world have flocked to our warehouses, seeking to temporarily store their goods until the troubles subside. It was not our intention to profit at your expense, Lord Corlys, but rather, a matter of unfortunate timing."
A chuckle escaped Corlys' lips, the sound carrying a hint of bitterness. "No need for concern, Lord Bartimos. While I may feel aggrieved by the situation, I know you are not to blame for it."
Bartimos shook his head, his expression grave. "Alas, the nobles whisper behind closed doors. They say that House Celtigar is somehow involved in these troubles, due to the unsavory practices of a certain Craghas Dhahar. It is true that we have been known to feed guilty men to the crabs, but the notion that the Crabfeeder is one of our own is but a baseless rumor, with no truth to it whatsoever."
"I must say that I am not one to be swayed by insubstantial rumors," Corlys intoned thoughtfully. "Nevertheless, the situation in the Stepstones is undeniably dire. The current inaction of the crown is disconcerting to say the least."
Bartimos raised an eyebrow inquisitively. "And why does the crown not act?"
Corlys let out a deep sigh. "The king believes that any attack on the pirates in the Stepstones would be perceived as an act of aggression against the Triarchy. It is a complex web of politics that we find ourselves entangled in. Alas, our enemies are many, whether here or across the narrow sea."
The mention of their adversaries seemed to ignite a fierce response within Corlys. "If this impasse persists, then I may be forced to take matters into my own hands and wage war upon these insatiable pirates of the south. I will not stand idly by while my livelihood is threatened by lawless brigands."
Bartimos inclined his head gracefully, expressing admiration for Lord Corlys with a regal air. "Your unwavering determination evokes deep respect within me, Lord Corlys," he proclaimed, raising his goblet of wine. "Should the need arise, those pitiful pirates will find themselves engulfed by the indomitable might of your fleet."
Corlys let out a hearty laugh, his eyes fixated on Bartimos as he savored the wine's delicate essence. "You flatter me, Lord Bartimos," responded the Sea Snake, his voice carrying a hint of amusement. "Yet, I am compelled to inquire, as both our noble houses reside in or near the waters of the Blackwater Bay, would you stand beside us in the face of these marauding pirates, should war rear its head? With the newfound strength you possess, victory would surely grace our cause."
Silence enveloped Bartimos, his thoughts echoing Clement's words. Just as he had suspected, the Sea Snake would eventually seek their support, through subtle means or otherwise. Contemplating his approach, Bartimos finally broke the stillness. "Forgive me, Lord Corlys, but I cannot offer you a definitive answer," he spoke with measured composure.
Corlys arched an eyebrow, curiosity dancing in his eyes. "Pray tell, what hinders you? Do you relish the profits that flow into your ports? Are you willing to allow these incursions to persist, thereby jeopardizing the many houses that rely on such commerce?"
"Nay, good Lord Corlys, your jests know no bounds," Bartimos replied serenely. "It is just that Claw Isle is in a rather important phase of development right now. Men are being trained, ships are being transformed and built, and walls are being erected. Truthfully we cannot move anything to a substantial degree, at least this year."
"I see." Corlys nodded in understanding. "So I take it that perhaps if a war ever broke out in the next three or so years, you'll be able to provide support?"
"As I said, I cannot guarantee it," Bartimos shook his head, his tone resolute. "However, if such an event is unavoidable, Claw Isle lies a mere few hours' sail from Driftmark. At that juncture, we shall discuss it further. Do not mistake my words, Lord Corlys, for our current 'phase' holds utmost significance. Yet, if circumstances permit, our noble house shall forever stand united with yours. As descendants of the ancient Valyria, we must stand together, come what may."
Corlys released a weary sigh. "Very well, I appreciate your candid response. Should fate permit, our paths shall intertwine once again."
"Indeed, Lord Corlys," Bartimos smiled, exuding a sense of assuredness. "Indeed."
Clement stood proudly at the bow of The Iron Claw, the magnificent ship of House Celtigar. The tempestuous wind whipped through the bustling port, carrying with it the cacophony of activity from the dockside platforms. Lords and ladies were departing for their respective domains, their presence no longer required after the conclusion of the grand tourney. Even the king himself had embarked on his journey back to the regal realm of King's Landing. Clement's keen gaze swept across the scene, observing the laboring smallfolk as they toiled to load crates and belongings onto the vessels of their noble masters.
Maidenpool's port, nestled along a serene river rather than the tumultuous sea, bestowed a tranquility upon the waters. From this vantage point, Clement's eyes beheld a rare sight for him: the magnificent vistas of mainland Westeros, a spectacle seldom glimpsed from his usual dwelling. Suddenly, a figure emerged onto the ship's deck, approaching Clement with purpose. It was Gromond, who had vanished without a trace the day prior.
"Where have you been?" Clement inquired, arching an inquisitive eyebrow.
Gromond shrugged, nonchalantly leaning against the ship's railing. "Maidenpool, dear nephew, is a place of great import within the realm. I simply found myself making acquaintances here and there."
"Acquaintances?" Clement questioned, seeking further clarification.
Gromond nodded knowingly. "Indeed, acquaintances. Now, my ambitious young nephew, I understand your fervent desire to elevate our noble House to greater heights. I share your aspirations, though I must admit, at times you display a touch of recklessness."
"Please, uncle, be direct in your words."
"Rest assured, I have taken certain precautions for the unforeseen future," Gromond responded, a mischievous glint in his eye. "Investments made here and there."
"I must confess, uncle, your words confuses me," confessed Clement.
"And that is precisely as it should be, my dear boy," Gromond chuckled warmly, patting Clement's back affectionately. "It is still in its nascent stages, not yet fully developed. In due time, in perhaps two or three years, when it has blossomed and proven its worth, I shall unveil all to you. However, I must request your father's consent to embark on a year-long journey across the kingdom."
Clement sighed, reluctantly yielding to the circumstances. "Very well, uncle."
Abruptly, a powerful gust of wind shook the ships moored at the Maidenpool port. All eyes turned heavenward, witnessing a sight that left them awestruck. Majestic dragons soared through the skies above, each venturing towards its own destination. Among them, the dragons of House Velaryon claimed dominance, with the fearsome Meleys the Red Queen leading the way, followed dutifully by Seasmoke, a young dragon still honing its flying skills.
As Clement beheld this sight, an icy chill seemed to creep through his veins, leaving him with a sense of trepidation. These majestic creatures, embodiments of annihilation on a grand scale, stood as the undeniable catalyst for the Targaryens' conquest of Westeros—a potent reminder of their dominion.
Gromond, ever the astute observer, noticed Clement's apprehension and issued a cautionary whistle. "Aye, you best keep an eye out for those creatures," he warned.. "Who knows, perchance we may even cross paths with them in the future."
Nodding gravely in agreement, Clement continued to watch the dragons as they ascended into the sky and disappeared from sight.