The Hand Beckons
Ser Martin strode into the impressive stronghold that was Falconcliff. All around him was activity. Servants carried bundles, stable boys were brushing down horses, and guards marched purposefully on some errand. As he entered the great hall, the whirlwind of activity seemed to amplify, but in the middle of it all, like in the eye of a storm, sat who only could be Lord Gareth Pierce, calm, motionless, watching.
The Knight took a deep breath; he had been warned about Lord Pierce. Moving forward, he approached the man seated on the tastefully ornate chair. “My Lord Pierce, I bring a message from the King.”
“Do you?” replied the Lord in a soft voice. Despite being only a few years younger than the man, Martin suddenly felt very callow.
Using his training to shake the feeling, he continued. “The Hand has requested your presence concerning the dispute between House Pierce and Dannett. Both you and Lord Alfric have been summoned.”
“Have we?” replied Gareth pleasantly. With a mild smile and a small motion, the dozens of people in the hall seemed to evaporate. Within moments only two remained; Ser Martin and Lord Pierce. “What is your name, good Knight?”
“Ser Martin Rykker, my Lord.”
Gareth smiled broadly. “Yes, I thought so, and I do love irony.”
Lord Garth seemed to pause for moment and then continued pleasantly. “What a pretty little songbird you are.”
“My Lord! I am a messenger of the King!”
Gareth only seemed amused by the Knight’s indignation. “Yes, I suppose you are. You certainly flit from branch to branch parroting the words you have been given by someone more important than you, but we both know who you sing your sweetest songs to. Tell me, does he know you’re one of Darklyn’s bastards? Yes, I suppose he must.”
Martin managed to mask his momentary look of abject terror, but it was too late. Steeling himself, he soldiered on. “You are mistaken Lord Pierce.”
“Am I? And here I was going to congratulate you on your good fortune. I suppose you were still in your mother’s belly when the slaughter happened. It’s the only way you could have escaped. And to be adopted by the Rykkers? Aerys must be spinning in his grave.”
“My Lord. You are mistaken.” Martin interjected more forcefully.
Lord Pierce chose to ignore the interruption, and Martin’s uncontrollable trembling. “You know, it’s a shame really. If Lord Darklyn had actually carried out his threat and killed Aerys it might have saved us all a lot of trouble. Ah well, I suppose everything is clearer in hindsight.”
Ser Martin did not know what to say, so he said nothing. Lord Pierce smiled pleasantly at him again. Rising, he closed the distance between them. “Do you know why you are here, Ser Martin?”
“I am here to deliver the message from the Hand, my Lord.”
“No, Ser Martin. You are here because your true employer does not know what I am going to do, and it concerns him. He should be concerned, because at the moment I don’t know what I’m going to do either. There are so many options; I am spoiled for choice.”
“Will you go to King’s Landing, my Lord?” Martin was ramrod straight now, his entire body tense as Gareth casually circled him like the falcons for which the castle was named.
“Of course, Ser Martin. Why would you ask such a thing? I can hardly refuse an invitation from the King’s Hand and my Liege Lord. I leave at dawn tomorrow. Can I offer you hospitality for the night? You can ride back to King’s Landing with me.”
“No!… my Lord” Martin barked. Struggling for composure, he continued more smoothly. “It is late, but I have pressing matters and should return as soon as possible.”
“As you wish.” replied Gareth pleasantly.
“By your leave, Lord Pierce.” Turning on his heel, Martin strode from the room while trying desperately not to flee from it.
The Knight snapped to a stop, as if on a leash. Slowly he turned. “My Lord?”
Gareth smiled blithely. “Were you aware that Adham Dannett was poisoned last night?”
Martin swallowed hard. “No, my Lord. I was not.”
“By some miracle, my son’s quick intervention, and my Maester’s skill, it would seem the young man will survive.”
“That is wonderful news, my Lord.”
“Isn’t it.” Gareth’s grin was chilling. He walked casually toward the Knight until he was beside him, placed a hand on the man’s shoulder and spoke softly in one ear. “Will you whisper a message to your employer for me? With this latest development, King’s Landing seems to be a dangerous place and I’m naturally concerned for my son’s safety. You see, he is my only heir and very important to me. If I were to lose him, I’m just not sure what I would do.” his tone at the last implied he knew exactly what he would do, and it would be supremely unpleasant.
“I’m sure everything is being done to ensure your son’s safety, my Lord, but I will convey your message.”
“That’s very kind of you” replied Gareth with a toothy smile.
With another brief bow Martin turned and fled the room. Gareth watched him go, his face unreadable.
“A pawn the man is and will always be.” came a voice behind him.
Gareth replied without turning to the man in the shadows. “This one is a well positioned pawn and may prove useful later. Is everything prepared for my absence?”
“It is as the Lord has said.”
“Good. Captain Grayson thinks he will be running things. Try not to dissuade him of that illusion, but make sure he doesn’t do any permanent damage.”
“A man has said.”
“I know that Marqer. You have never let me down.”
“Nor ever has the Lord.”