Maester Meera, Rebekka, and Avlon sail down to Wickendon. It takes only a couple of uneventful days to reach the Bay of Crabs. To those who have never left the Vale, it seems like an impressively large city. It’s built in tiers into a hillside. Rather than investing in a navy, they have many, many towers around the area with archers equipped with fire arrows. Wickendon mainly trades with Westeros rather than Essos and deals in basics like ore, lumber, etc. An enormous tower looms over the city— the home of the Silent Sisters. The smell of hot wax permeates the city from their famous beeswax candles.
A small contingent of knights meets us at the port. Meera gestures for Avlon to go down the gangplank first and follows behind him with Rebekka and Raynar (Little Lilly is watching the shadowcat kitten with the rest of her menagerie). Welbert Waxley is among those greeting us. He’s the heir, one of the best archers in the Vale, and known for his parties. He engages in idle chitchat before escorting us to the keep. (Note: We sent a message to the Waxleys about the anti-pirate coalition but did not receive a response.)
We are escorted to a waiting area. This in itself is not unusual, but the room itself is very drab, dingy and boring. The Slagathors discuss quietly amongst themselves. Meera has vaguely heard of Maester Katern, who is known for being a financial genius and for keeping out of political matters as much as possible. He doesn’t go to conclave meetings or travel. Raynar can tell this room has been used a lot of late, so there have been other meetings. Rebekka keeps an eye on Raynar, wary of the mountain man causing trouble.
The door opens and Willard Waxley, brother of Welbert, enters. He’s known for his skill in archery and jousting. Meera heard that Willard killed his opponent in a joust three years ago and married his opponent’s fiancee. His wife then died in childbirth along with the babe. Some say it was the Seven taking revenge on him for killing her first fiancee.
Willard greets us formally and takes us to the main hall, which is also small and dull. Avlon whispers to Meera that the Waxleys don’t seem to have much money. Meera informs him that Lord Waxley is very conservative with his funds. The room is cold and even chubby Lord Waxley is rubbing his hands for warmth as he greets us…
In the warehouse district in Gulltown, Jayne and Tiberius the Tall are trying to find out what the Graftons are up to. They’re looking to be hired on as day laborers so they can enter the warehouses. The pair head out to the eastern district with the morning cart. Almost all of the warehouses are very new, and they’re all built near the water; some could even have a boat sail inside. Jayne is taken to a sewing warehouse at the second stop while Tiberius is sent to the fourth stop to do some heavy lifting. The warehouses where the pair are sent are inland and not heavily guarded, but the ones by the water have many more guards and seem oddly quiet. Jayne is set to sewing sails. Tiberius is moving barrels to fish-packing areas. Each warehouse packed with food barrels could feed a fleet like the Slagathors’ for 1-2 months. There are 10 warehouses by the water and 20 inland, though we don’t know how many contain food stores.
There’s a fence between the inland and waterside warehouses. There are a few gates in it, but each is guarded and no goods are transported from the inland to waterside warehouses. Goods do occasionally travel the other way. The only people going from the inland warehouses to the waterside ones are dressed nicer than other laborers and seem more like blacksmiths and fine craftsmen.
In Wickendon, Lord Waxley watches us disinterestedly with his two sons at his side. The maester is not present. Meera confirms Lord Waxley got her letter and reminds him of the anti-pirate coalition. We present the evidence supporting an imminent pirate invasion. Lord Waxley says he has no interest in joining us and claims he forgot to let us know. Avlon’s jaws drop at this behavior. Meera and Avlon impress the urgency on him, the rumored strength of Gabool’s navy, and the underhanded tactics they’ve used. Lord Waxley isn’t especially worried; the last time pirates attacked the city, their fleet was entirely burned.
Lord Waxley reluctantly says we might be able to help him with something. He says there are rumors of pirates out in his Bay of Crabs. If we could investigate for him, he might reconsider. We are sent back to the waiting room and Avlon explodes in frustration. Welbert soon joins us and makes excuses for his father, saying he’s been under the weather. Lord Waxley apparently thinks someone working in the port is helping pirates increase their attacks in this area. The hope is that us newcomers will have an easier time investigating. Welbert asks for a favor as well— Septa Bethel has been treating his father, but Welbert isn’t sure she’s been doing her job well. Their maester is more focused on finance than healing. Welbert wants us to make sure his father is getting proper care.
In Gulltown, Ysabel needs to convince Maester Targon to trust her family. She starts by asking him for more information about wolfsbane, acting like she’s just curious. He’s surprised but informs her it’s a potent poison. He says he doesn’t deal in poisons himself, so Ysabel asks his specialty. Targon says he’s tried to be well-rounded, something that’s necessary in an important castle. He thinks Maester Katern is a fool, for one. But Targon is proud of his abilities; he raised Lord Grafton and his children without losing anyone in childbirth. Ysabel remarks on how valued and trusted he must be. Targon asks if she doesn’t trust Meera. Ysabel says she does, but Meera is more than a maester to the Slagathors. Targon says he’s well aware of the maester law Meera is breaking (i.e. maesters aren’t supposed to care about the family they serve so much). Targon thinks Ysabel has a good head on her shoulders and might make a good maester herself, but Ysabel says her tastes run too fine for that.
Targon mentions he has other business to attend to, so Ysabel gets to the point. She says she wants to apologize for not taking Meera’s advice and supporting him; she calls herself selfish for only looking out for her own family. Ysabel claims Meera sees him like a mentor and has a close relationship with him. Targon flatly asks why he should trust a family Ysabel calls “selfish” and says she’s clearly only here because she’s found out about tonight’s meeting. Ysabel says her family isn’t all selfish and she doesn’t want her prior impudence to make him see the whole family in a negative light.
Targon says there are others in Ysabel’s family who are a liability, including her father. He doesn’t take it well when she doesn’t quite understand. Ysabel says it’s not common for her to apologize, but she proposes the possibility of reparations for past slights. She says how grateful she is for the understanding Jeremy and Viktor have shown and the hope for reconciliation. Targon acknowledges that some members of the Grafton house have forgiven the Slagathors and maesters have no place maintaining grudges. But a maester also can’t ignore history; they’re the world’s record-keepers. He can’t toss aside the knowledge he has. Ysabel reminds him that he’s responsible for the history of ALL of Westeros, not simply that of the family he serves.
Targon pauses and recognizes his own accusation of bias thrown back at him. He repeats his assertion that Ysabel would make a good maester.
The party in Wickendon discusses options for investigation. Welbert tells us Maester Katern lives in one of the archery towers but has an office down in the port where he spends much of his time. Meera decides to start by speaking with the septa. Avlon and Raynar will go listen for pirate rumors in the port while Rebekka stealthily investigates the maester’s doings.
Rebekka easily finds the maester’s tower. She disguises herself as a courier and carries a letter from Meera asking to speak with him later tonight as her cover. She’s let inside without question. His office on the first floor has maps, books on finance, charts, and so on. A large Essosi man dressed in a mixture of clothing types is concluding his business there when she enters. He flashes sharklike teeth at her and leaves. The maester is a middle-aged, balding man with a sharp look to him. He vaguely remembers Meera’s name. Rebekka slides the note to him across his desk and tries to peek at his documents while she’s at it. She sees a document from a coalition of merchants in Wickendon called DuClaw. They’re asking him to take their concerns about increased pirate activity in the Bay of Crabs seriously. Katern scribbles a reply for Rebekka to take back. She claims to be from Old Tim’s Courier Service.
Rebekka starts investigating DuClaw. It was apparently only formed at the start of this spring season. People had been complaining about the high cost of doing business in Wickendon. Everyone is upset that they’ve been paying their protection fees and yet nothing is being done about the increasing pirate attacks. The merchants are worried their fees will soon increase even though the Waxleys already have enough funds to deal with the problem. The group was formed to try and press the maester for more action… but are their complaints even reaching Lord Waxley’s ears? The group’s leader is called Hawkins and his second-in-command is called Pinsir.
Raynar goes to a bar and hears complaints about “Shark’s protection fees”; he’s apparently the main driving force behind the protection fee collection. Raynar decides they need to meet with Shark. The people at the bar say “Shark finds you”. Avlon asks the guards about pirate activity, but they say the attacks never happen within city limits, so it’s not their problem. They say Shark’s been here about two years and he’s been useful. He was originally hired on as a merc and helped them catch a lot of people. Said he was kicked off an Essosi ship. He bought a house in the poor part of town and now has three. The guards say Shark knows everybody in the city. Raynar and Avlon slip the guard ten silver; he tells them to check out the Galloping Goat bar, which specializes in Essosi cuisine. He advises them not to order the pineapple. Avlon asks them to tell anyone who comes looking that he’s going to the GG.
In Gulltown, Tiberius and Jayne need to find a way into the seaside warehouses. Tiberius tries to seduce one of the female craftsmen headed that way. Jessica is a jeweler and embroiderer who has been working here about six months. She says her work isn’t all that interesting, just making sure things look good. Jessica won’t go into detail on her work, but it’s not weapon embellishments and it’s definitely something that’s meant to be seen. Most of her colleagues are goldsmiths and other fine craftsmen. Tiberius kisses her on the cheek and leaves when he sees a guard coming. The guard talks to Jessica but doesn’t pay any attention to Tiberius.
Jayne approaches an old woman walking with a cane and suggests a certain kind of tea she used in Essos to treat her master’s arthritis. The woman thanks her and says she’ll have her assistant seek Jayne out during their next break. Jayne introduces herself as Joyce and the old lady calls herself Overseer Anna Shortfield. Jayne offers to help the old woman with any duties. She sees that the old woman has a paper to let her past the guards, but taking it seems pointless. Jayne and Tiberius meet up quietly and Tiberius thinks they’re putting the finishing touches on ships in there. Jayne points out they could only be working on ten ships at most.
Rebekka seeks out the leaders of DuClaw to find out more. She tells them her employer wants to find out more about the pirate problem but he wishes to remain anonymous. Hawkins says they took the idea of a “coalition” from “some smaller House”. Rebekka asks them why the pirate attacks haven’t been dealt with. Hawkins thinks the maester is behind all of this, even though he can’t find proof yet. But he’s been having the maester followed everywhere he goes. They’ve been watching Katern for a month but have found nothing. This indicates he must be going through a third party. Hawkins freely tells her the maester’s daily schedule: inspect the ports in the morning, then nap in the tower, business, late lunch, then stays in for the rest of the day.
Katern always lunches at the Dancing Crab. Rebekka suggests Katern is passing notes to someone at lunch. Hawkins says the owner, Evan Coastman, is part of DuClaw and can be trusted; he’s a respected member of society and wouldn’t benefit from the pirate attacks. In fact, DuClaw was Coastman’s idea in the first place. Patty LePage always follows Katern to lunch. The only pattern in Katern’s behavior at lunch is that he orders squid ink pasta on Sundays. Rebekka wonders if this is some sort of code. The lunch manager is someone named McDaniels. When Rebekka asks them if they trust Coastman and McDaniels completely, they laugh and say “We’re businessmen”. Hawkins says Rebekka’s employer is welcome to join DuClaw if they wish. He leaves with his henchmen, Ter and Gar.
Avlon and Raynar are really taken in by the strange Essosi décor in the Galloping Goat. A woman in silks escorts them to the bar, where a few scantily-clad girls are dancing. Everyone in the bar is dressed in Essosi style. Avlon orders the crab mead while Raynar orders regular mead. Avlon pays 25 silver for the pair of drinks and gives the waitress a 10-silver tip. The drinks are quite tasty. Avlon also orders the pineapple. Raynar handles his drink fine, though it seems to have a funny aftertaste, but Avlon gets very drunk.
Eventually a tall, menacing man with shark teeth enters with some buddies. He’s drinking something out of a pineapple. When Shark and the others sit at a long table in the back, the waitress escorts Avlon and Shark to the table as well. Shark asks what business they have with him. Avlon cracks jokes and generally doesn’t understand things in his current state. Raynar tries to reign him in, but when Shark learns who Avlon is he’s more interested and offers him a sip from his pineapple. Avlon is barely able to handle the strong liquor in the pineapple Shark has been chugging from.
Raynar lets Shark know they’re looking for who’s responsible for the pirate attacks. Shark says it’s not him; this is HIS port and no one else’s. His goon and second cousin, Dolphin, says Shark protects and helps people for money. Shark says Avlon needs to give him something if he wants Shark’s help. Avlon asks why the city needs Shark if it has the Waxleys. Shark says the lord doesn’t care about his people, whereas Shark is investing in this place.
Avlon accidentally knocks his head on the table and starts sobering up, rubbing the bruise on his forehead. Shark says he’s heard Avlon’s sister is a very rich woman, so he’ll help Avlon for 20 gold dragons and the chance to open a side business in the Teeth port, probably something run by Shark himself. It would be a business like here, something to help people (according to Shark, anyway). Avlon asks for more detail on Shark’s past. Shark said he was on a ship that mutinied, and then he took his coin and left after they threw the captain overboard. He mentions how he likes being his own boss and doesn’t care for maesters.
Shark gives them time to think about his conditions and sends them upstairs with Lala and her twin sister Leila. Avlon can only pay for Lala, though, and he passes out before he can do anything with her. Reynar manages to get Avlon back to the castle.
Tiberius meets with the lady he talked to before and makes arrangements to meet her and some ladyfriends at the Cork and Barrel tonight. Jessica happily accepts his advances. While she’s distracted, Tiberius is able to look at the paper that lets her past the guards. It’s a simple note from Randall granting the bearer permission to go into a certain warehouse. The wax seal would be very difficult to replicate. Tiberius lets her keep it so she won’t get in trouble and plans to maybe steal it tonight if necessary.
Jayne waits for Anna’s servant Nicole to come find her. Nicole chats with Jayne while they go to the harbor warehouses to brew the tea. The guards let Nicole through when she promises that she will be responsible for Jayne’s actions. In Warehouse 2, Jayne sees two ballistas and ammunition under construction. These are typically used for offensive reasons, not defense. Nicole takes Jayne up to the platform where Anna is overseeing things and barking orders like an architect. Anna is grateful for Jayne’s tea and offers to give her a job with a good salary if she wants to come work for her.
Jayne asks what the ballistas are for. Anna says she thinks they’re probably not for anything; people just like making things that make them feel powerful. As far as she knows, the other buildings are making different things, though she doesn’t say what. Technically Lord Viktor guards these, but he lets Ser Duncan do most of the work. They chat a bit about Anna’s 8 kids and 30 grandkids until Jayne takes her leave.
The guards make sure the hired hands get back on the carts at the end of the day. There are some people who come in for night shifts, but we don’t know what they’re doing. Jayne and Tiberius report back to Ysabel on their findings.
Meera goes to the sept at the foot of the Silent Sisters tower. Septa Bethel is in her office. She’s dressed conservatively, but she’s on the younger side, around 20-30, unusually young and attractive for the head septa of a major port. The two women discuss Lord Waxley’s condition. Bethel says he’s not sick, he just needs medicine and herbs for his comfort, especially for dealing with the cold. She expresses her regret that he won’t light more fires for warmth (too costly) and he doesn’t come to the sept very often. Meera reviews the list of herbs and medicines Bethel has been providing her lord and comes to the conclusion that, while Bethel means well, nothing she’s providing for him is actually helping (though thankfully it’s not hurting him either). This seems to stem from ignorance rather than malice.
Bethel has only been a septa here for about four years and she’s been the head for maybe 2 of those years, ever since her predecessor died of old age. Normally the council chooses the successor, but Lord Waxley requested her specifically for some reason. As for Maester Katern, she doesn’t know him well, but everyone knows he doesn’t really do healing. She relates a story of asking him for an orphanage for the children of sailors, but he said there wasn’t coin in the budget for it. Meera mentions her sister is a septa, and after the two women have chatted a bit more Meera offers to help draw up a new course of action for Lord Waxley’s treatment. Bethel is grateful for the help and says she’ll have time to discuss it with her later tonight. Meera returns to her room to do some planning.
She doesn’t get to work for very long before there’s a knock at her door. A servant informs her that Welbert wants to see her. The young man shoos the servant away and speaks with Meera in her room, alone. He describes to her how his father coughs at night, and how an old man in his mid-40s like Lord Waxley could easily take a turn for the worse at any time. Meera offers to see the old man directly for a diagnosis, but suddenly realizes that Welbert actually wants his father to die.
Welbert says carefully that his father will never agree to join the anti-pirate coalition. He hates the expense generated by the navy. Welbert, on the other hand, believes the family needs to grow the navy for the sake of their name and reputation. And that navy would be at the coalition’s disposal.
Meera asks what Willard would think of all this. Welbert tells her about their mother, Lady Sophie Redfort, who is often away in King’s Landing for some reason or other. The lord and lady don’t have the best relationship, and it’s typically assumed Lady Sophie is not faithful. The two sons are divided in their loyalty. Welbert loves his mother, while Willard favors their father. Welbert respects his mother and understands that she had to leave due to Lord Waxley’s treatment of her. Willard bought into Lord Waxley’s lies about their mother while Welbert did not. Everyone knows Lord Waxley is just waiting for his wife to die so he can marry young Septa Bethel instead.
Meera asks Welbert about his duties. He says they’re quite light, as the maester handles port matters and Lord Waxley put his nephew Edmond in charge of the military so his sons wouldn’t argue about it. Welbert handles the garrison and Willard is Master of the Hunt.
Welbert cuts to the chase and says flatly that the septa not a capable herbalist. Some herbs are dangerous in the wrong quantity, and it would be easy to blame her for a mistake. She might not even face much of a reprimand for it. Meera says she will be here a few days more and will consider the best treatment for Lord Waxley during that time.
Rebekka goes to the restaurant Maester Katern frequents. She asks about the squid ink pasta, but the waiter is perplexed. The manager’s son McCharles comes over and asks her about her order. She clams up and he’s quite intimidated, stammering that people dressed like her don’t usually make that order. He says he can pass on her message to his father. Once she dismisses him, she slips out and blends into the crowd. She notices a couple of guys dressed in the Dancing Crab uniform trying to tail her, but she loses them very quickly.
Rebekka heads to Meera’s room. She finds Meera working on a list of herbs. After a pause, Meera recognizes her and compliments her disguise. Rebekka says everyone uses Old Tim’s courier service (if anyone asks). Rebekka reports the maester is definitely involved in all this, either colluding or just keeping all the money for himself. She describes the strange man in mixed garb in Katern’s office and explains about DuClaw. Meera agrees that Katern is suspicious; he’s shirking his duties at the very least.
Avlon and Raynar stumble in at that point. Meera stares at the boys, sighs, and gets to work mixing up hangover cures. Rebekka finishes up explaining about the “squid ink pasta” code word. The boys talk about Shark, pineapples, and the Galloping Goat. Meera questions them and determines that Shark didn’t actually tell them what he was offering or give any assurances. She doesn’t think it’s worth dealing with someone like him.
It appears we have two main suspects to investigate so far. Meera arranges to meet with Katern at his keep after dark that evening. Rebekka will be looking into Katern’s port office while Meera has him distracted. Avlon and Raynar, meanwhile, will do some snooping at the Dancing Crab. Meera gives Avlon 20 silver to spend on the condition that there be no more drinking. Raynar points out that Avlon will be obligated to drink, but he can just get a cheap house ale this time and nurse it.
Back in Gulltown, Ysabel, Geena, and Marcus Felix, along with Jayne and Tiberius, are invited to a dessert at the Grafton manor. Geena and MF quietly tell us they think their tasks went well. Viktor greets Ysabel warmly. The meeting room has a strong eagle motif and is painted to look like sky. There’s a nice map of Westeros painted on the large, round table (a rare sight outside Oldtown or King’s Landing).
Lord Grafton and the other representatives rise as we enter. There are three seats at the table for the noble Slagathors. Randall, Jeremy, Gerald, Kinara, Maywell Hathaway, Lord Fulton, Maester Targon, and Lord Zant are all present. Lord Grafton’s wife, Lady Arryn, is there as well, probably the first time any of us have seen her.
Marq Grafton comments it seems like we’ve made this port our second home. He’s heard about our exploits and negotiations, including the cooking party he wasn’t invited to. Ysabel asks what the Graftons want us to do at Harrenhal. Most of the Graftons nod at Marq, though Randall and Gerald do not. Lord Grafton says some here don’t trust the Slagathors, but as Lord Arthur has given more responsibilities to his children, his brood have proven their ambition, significance, and accomplishment. Not many could have formed an anti-pirate coalition.
Lord Grafton stands and asks what we think he’s planning. Ysabel and the others dance around the answer diplomatically, so Jayne says Lord Grafton appears to be enlarging his navy. He nods and says we’ve clearly figured some things out. The lord explains that trade has been decreasing lately because of uncertainty; shaky situations hurt markets, and nothing is shakier than when the leadership of a nation is in question.
Westeros can’t enter another great age of trade and development while the Mad King reigns. Rhaegar should rule in his stead. When Rhaegar wins the tournament at Harrenhal, he will call all the lords to a meeting to decide the next king. The Graftons intend to make sure Rhaegar is king one way or another. He is young, handsome, and malleable. Marq finds him promising and wise.
Tiberius worries about dragons, but Marq says there no dragons left, only old rumors. Marq says the Arryns are just slavishly loyal to the Targaryens and won’t bend, even for the greater good. Jon will just look for a new wife and hide in the Eyrie like he always does.
Marq considers the Graftons to be the #2 family in Vale, disregarding the Royces completely. He says the
Graftons need a house not associated with them to be their agents. Everyone knows our families hate each other, so our support would be significant. He needs us to convince key delegates to support Rhaegar. Ysabel and MF are unmarried, so they can talk to any single people there without arousing suspicion. Marq says the Lannisters won’t attend Harrenhal. Tywin’s brother was at Jeremy’s wedding and assured him they wouldn’t go. The Martells will support Rhaegar. Robert Baratheon is a drunk joke and the Starks have no natural allies.
There have been councils held to decide on a new king before— just not while the old king was still alive, until now. Marq predicts the Mad King will flee Harrenhal and hole up in King’s landing. The pirates can be sent in to attack, and then the pirates and the king will all be wiped out with wildfyre, which everyone knows the mad king has been stockpiling. With such destruction, Westeros might even be needing a new capital… maybe even one that’s been focusing on trade.
Marq says Rhaegar will accept the crown when it is offered to him. The Slagathors would be wise to offer him as much support as they can. Geena mentions how we’ve always supported the Targaryens; one of our family treasures is the dragon scale they gave us in thanks for helping them last time.
Ysabel proposes another scenario: other families might try for throne once the mad king is gone. Marq says there has never been a rebellion not led by a Blackfyre, and they’re all dead now. No one would suggest a non-Targaryen for the throne. Even the Baratheons, who have a little Targaryen blood in them, wouldn’t dare such a thing.
Ysabel asks for time to think on this, but Marq wants an answer today. He says Arthur will go along with whatever Ysabel and Marcus Felix recommend.
Ysabel asks how the pirate armada is involved in all this. The pirates have been promised that the Graftons will use them for a campaign in mid-spring. Gabool has gathered most of the pirates already. They’ve only been told they can invade a great city of Westeros, but not which one. Marq promised to help distract people while the pirates looted to their heart’s content. Pirates are ambitious and greedy and can be told and offered anything to get what we want. Ysabel worries that the Slagathors could end up being the fall guys for all this.
We ask how the Lord of Light followers are involved in all this. Marq laughs that Targon has been warning him about those fanatics but it’s not a concern for now. He’s either a very good liar or he really doesn’t know anything about them. Jayne points out that the Lord of Light fanatics might use their connections to find out about the wildfyre trap and tip off the pirates. Marq considers this but doesn’t think it’s a serious concern, even knowing there’s a small Lord of Light shrine in King’s Landing itself. He says we can focus on wiping out these fanatics once Rhaegar is king.
There is considerable risk and reward involved in all of this. If we succeed, Marq proposes pushing Ysabel’s name for Master of Coin on the new council. But if we fail, Marq fully expects to be executed, and all the lords involved will have to fight for their lives or flee Westeros. Many noble families are involved in this plot already. Still, if we are successful, all grudges between the Graftons and Slagathors will be forgotten forever.
Ysabel asks for the condition that no Slagathors or bastards will be put in danger. Marq promises not to be reckless, but he points out that he can’t know the future. There could be battles and casualties involved. But he swears that the Lord of Light fanatics will be dealt with ASAP.
Finally, Ysabel makes an oath on the Seven to support the Graftons at Harrenhal in their effort to depose the Mad King. We are all sworn to secrecy; no one must know we’re allies or suspect what we’re plotting. The only question now is— with the Slagathors now promised to support both the Graftons and the Arryns at Harrenhal, what will they actually choose to do?