When Jon Arryn is asked what painting he desires, he asks for two paintings: one of whatever subject Nina desires; the other he desires to be a mythological piece, of a great eagle, one the size of a dragon, flying over the mountains, the emblem of House Arryn flying proudly.
Maester Meera and Lord Hunter
Lord Hunter can be found practicing his archery outside, where the cold winds are messing up the flight of any arrow. And yet he is still hitting the target with his arrows.
Maester Meera observes his work in silence for a moment before approaching. “Most impressive, my lord. Were you and Lord Arthur to spend an afternoon in the forest together, you would surely bring home a feast for the whole castle,” she remarks. “If I may trouble you, I have compiled some information that may be of use to you in evaluating your new maester, and I wish to review it with you.”
The flags fluttered high in the sky, the sun making the snow on the mountains are the brighter. Putting away his bow on his back, he orients himself to face you, his breath showing as he talks. Responding to your first comment first, he responds, “Perhaps. But if I only needed to practice for animals, well, I would practice on them!” He chuckles as a wide smile reveals his dull yellow teeth. “So, Maester, what information do you have?”
“A list of facts every true maester would know,” she says, passing him a sheaf of papers. “These include the symbolism of each link on a maester’s chain, as each represents a different area of mastery. Every maester’s chain is particular to that person; for example, I have three separate links relating to healing—” she indicates three links in various shades of silver "—but none in architecture. You will wish to note in particular if your replacement maester has a link of Valyrian steel, as Maester Johnson possessed. These links are exceedingly rare, as they are only permitted for those who have studied magic. If your new maester has one, I believe there are two strong possibilities: one, they may be an impostor using Maester Johnson’s chain; or two, they may be a true maester who will then become a prime target for another murder. From what you have told me, it is possible these fanatics are collecting Valyrian steel for some nefarious purpose.
“I have also enclosed a list of maesters currently working as instructors at the Citadel— that is, working there as of approximately one year ago, which I have learned via correspondence with colleagues over time. Any maester coming from the Citadel recently would know them. I’ve included trivia on them where I know it, but I left the Citadel a decade ago myself, so some of the information is second-hand.
“Furthermore, there is some trivia regarding the Citadel itself, knowledge that any student there would soon learn, such as which rooms are adjacent to which. I must stress, Lord Hunter,” she adds seriously, “that this information is for your eyes only. Were the contents of these pages to be common knowledge, they would lose their usefulness for testing purposes.”
Meera rubs one of her silver links pensively. “How long was Maester Johnson in your service?”
“This…is a lot of information…” Harlan Hunter looks through the papers, as the cries of falcons echo in the distance. “Are you sure you should be giving me all of this? I thought your kind was all about secrets, with your giant tower and all.” Chuckling, he moves to the target, and pulls the arrows out, putting them into his quiver. “I mean, I’ll keep it a secret and all, but I’ll have to tell my Lord Father at least, and I’m sure he will want to tell some of his trusted men.” Heading back to the castle, he continues, “Johnson had worked for our House for thirteen years. Taught me a lot. Should have been able to teach me more. Dutiful, loyal, bit dull and grey at times, qualities I didn’t appreciate most of my life. But that’s how it is, isn’t it?”
“Indeed…” Meera says quietly. “I wish to do all I can to prevent another murder. Three maesters lost in the Vale alone… It’s unfathomable. But you have a point. May I?” If Harlan permits it, she’ll take back the sheaf and separate out some pages from the packet. “I will provide different Houses with different information in order to make it harder for the fanatics to find out what these ‘tests’ entail if it should come to that. I will send you with the information on chain links and some of the trivia regarding Citadel maesters. This should be more than sufficient to ensure that your new Maester is genuine.”
She sighs, tucking the rest of the papers into one of her many hidden pockets. “Have followers of the Lord of Light had a significant presence in your lands? I must wonder at the targets these fanatics have chosen…”
Harlan shook his head. “When we went hunting for him, we examined the loyalties of all the nearby villages. We found one town, about a hundred folks, with a dozen followers in secret. But they won’t tell us anything, despite the best tortures we’ve put them through. Shame, really. No point harming a man if nothing is gained. Of course, Maester, a man of the false Gods is not a man at all, isn’t that right?” The two of you head inside the castle, where it is considerably warmer. A couple of Arryn servants bring you warm cups of apple cider and a small plate of apple cider donuts.
Meera frowns slightly, both of her chilled hands wrapped around the cup for warmth. “How did you become aware that these are followers of the Lord of Light? What made you certain that they were fanatics? To have such a large percentage of the population of the town be swayed by these views is deeply troubling…”
“We saw the remains of a ritual, ashes of men under a wooden pike, burnt straw all over. There was a hunter in the woods, and I asked pointed questions at him. He answered and led us to two of them. The two of them quickly professed their love for the Lord of Light, saying how the false priest helped them with his magic, slaying some local peasant they cared not about. We pressed for names, and they gave up more. They’ll all be punished in due time. Now that I think of it, let me ask you, Maester— what do you think we should do with the village?” Lord Hunter smiles easily at the servants, drinking from his hot cider without a care…
Meera is quiet for a moment, troubled by how distinctly untroubled Lord Hunter appears to be when discussing torture and punishments. It mars her initial assessment about his congeniality. For any man to speak so lightly of causing pain… She herself believed that at least some of the cultists deserved death for what they had done, but Lord Hunter spoke as though he didn’t consider any of them to be people at all.
She takes a sip of her cider before answering to buy herself more time to think. “The village should not be punished as a whole,” she says quietly. “Surely they are not all complicit in the actions of a few fanatics. That they should fall prey to these cultists signifies a cry for help, not a crime. I would suggest visiting them more often yourself, and perhaps appointing someone you trust to act as your agent there to see how the villagers fare in all aspects of life— economically, spiritually, and so on. If you do not discover the root cause of this rash of conversions to the cult of the Lord of Light, it will happen again. And if you do discover the cause, please inform me. We must understand more of the tactics these fanatics use if we are to counter their influence.” She looks at him seriously and adds, “And please do keep me informed regarding anything more you learn about your maester’s murder and the spread of these fanatics. What is happening now is a threat to the Vale as a whole— perhaps even more. I would also be happy to correspond with your new maester, once they arrive and have been assessed.”
“Yes I suppose keeping track of the village is the best idea for now. I’ll send a couple of my men to keep an eye on it.” Looking at a nearby servant, he places a cup on her tray and smiles, making the servant look away. He scratches his short dark hair and mutters, “This presumes we’re given a new Maester. Father already sent a raven to Oldtown, but we’ve not heard back yet. I would have thought Oldtown would have agreed to our request by now. It has been some time. Do you know of any reasons for this delay?”
(Maesters would know it can take several months for an assignment to be completed, and then more time due to travel. However, sending a raven is considered perfunctory, so this course of action is unusual for Oldtown.)
“Remember, my lord— a gentle touch with these villagers. If you frighten them too much, they will think the Lord of Light fanatics are their only allies.”
She frowns when he mentions the delay in response. “That is odd. They should have responded by now. I plan on stopping by to see Maester Esteva on the way back to the Teeth. She is in charge of the maesters of the Vale; perhaps she has heard more than I. But I ought to ask Lord Lynderly first before I visit his house… Have you had many dealings with him, my lord? Any advice?”
Lord Hunter nods. “Jon is a decent man, loyal to his friends, quiet to his enemies. I’m neither, so he treats me with respect and courtesy, which in these days often either matters much or matters little.” He begins heading to one of the few bars in the Eyrie, where alcohol is freely given to the lords who visit. “As for advice, don’t be coy. Jon prefers people who are straight with him. And don’t insult his wife; for whatever reason, he simply adores her.”
Maester Meera and Maester Targon
It is late in the evening after your meeting with Jon Aaryn. It is dark, quiet, and most of the servants have gone to bed, some with their Lords and Ladies, others in their own rooms. You are at the door of Maester Targon, who you can hear walking around in his quarters. As you approch, you hear him say in a hoarse voice, “Maester Colemon, I am fine! You can go to sleep!” The door appears to be unlocked.
Maester Meera pauses outside the door. The cups and teapot on the tray she bears rattle slightly when she stops. She had intended to use the tea as an excuse to sit and patch things up with Targon (and, hopefully, get a feel for what the Graftons might do next). But if Targon has fallen ill since the meeting…
She shakes her head, balances the tray on one hip, and gives a quick knock before she can talk herself out of this.
You hear a disgruntled sigh from the older man, who quickly opens the door. “What is—” He pauses, looking over you with your tea and teapot. “Ah. Maester Meera,” he says with bloodshot eyes and warm wool clothes that go underneath his multi-linked chain. “I suppose you think there is still business to conduct. Fine, come in, come in, doesn’t make sense to refuse a cup of tea when I have this cough.” On cue, he coughs twice away from you.
The room is mostly the same as when you and Rebekka entered – a standard-sized room, with a bed, a chest, one chair and a bureau. Most of his things have been packed into this chest, his Maester robes hanging against the wall. There is a tray of mostly uneaten cookies, an empty glass, and a jar of leeches, still ready to be unleashed. The painting on the wall is one of Oldtown, by the port, where one can see the great tower of the Maesters in the distance.
“I am sorry to hear you’re not feeling well,” Meera says as she deposits the tray on the desk and begins to pour them both a steaming cup of tea. “I expect you’ll be glad to return to the sea. This climate is not to my taste either.”
She glances at the leeches and gives a small shake of her head. “His fixation on leeches is… unfortunate. He is blinding himself to much more effective remedies. I have some herbs in my travel kit if you would like me to brew a remedy for your symptoms.”
“Colemon has potential ,though. I can understand why he was assigned here. He’s still earning his place, but he does think a couple of steps ahead. But it is as you said…” He motions at the critters and sighs. Sitting down on his bed, he invites you to sit on the chair. Taking your glass on tea, he sips it gently, nodding his approval. “I’ve taken the herbs I needed. So, your lord and lady did not like the offer, I take it?”
“I presented your offer as I said I would. But the final choice rested with them,” she said quietly. “I wish for you and the lords you serve to know how it pained them to turn down an opportunity to mend the bonds between the two families. I witnessed what a difficult decision it was for them to make.” She sipped at her steaming tea and relished in its temporary warmth. “I know your lords must be… frustrated. But I hope there will yet be other opportunities for reconciliation. The children bear their uncles no ill will…”
Maester Targon wipes his eyes with his finger, flicking something away. “Perhaps there will be, perhaps there won’t. But I doubt we’ll have such an easy opportunity in quite some time to reconcile.” Sipping his tea, he places the tray of mostly uneaten cookies in between the two of you. You hear his back crack as he adjusts his sitting position.
Tilting his head, he adds, “Even if your lord and lady were to get their uncles to like them, it is their cousins who would not. They’ve been raised on stories about how their aunt was brutally taken away by a commoner, many of them told by Randall but some by Lord Grafton [Marq]. You must remember that Lady Allison made plenty of visits back to Gulltown in those days, days before you were assigned, and she always gave them some gifts and attention. She loved children. Cassie and Gerold (the heir) in particular don’t trust your house and Kale is at that age where he wants any excuse to fight— so, not liking you. The only exception is Jeremy and his uncle Viktor.”
Maester Meera nodded, considering the look Viktor had given Ysabel after the meeting. "Indeed, Viktor and Jeremy have always seemed very reasonable men. Their disposition is enough to give one hope for an end to this feud.
“I did not know Lady Allison… certainly not as her family did. So I do not know what to do to finally help ease the pain of her loss. Do you have any recommendations for how we might take the initiative in this matter? If the offer from the Graftons had not entailed forcing the Slagathors to turn on their liege lord, I expect they would have jumped at the chance.”
Maester Targon looks around the room for a few moments, trying to think. Then, he turns to face you directly with his grey eyes, “You must understand, Maester, that to the Graftons, they were wronged. And it is up to the Slagathors to make it up.” He pauses for emphasis, and then continues, “And with the Graftons owning Gulltown, there won’t be many opportunities. Nevertheless, there may be a chance in the Spring or Summer.”
Drinking some of his tea, he asks “By the way, now that it does not matter, did Lord Shett visit you in the winter?”
“I do wish the Graftons would have a frank discussion with the Slagathors about this. A servant murdered Lady Allison of her own volition and was executed for it. What more could Lord Arthur have done?” The rest of the story, Meera knew, was not hers to tell. She had no idea how much Maester Targon might know about what sort of person Lady Allison really was.
Meera frowned at his question about the Shetts. “Of course not. Why on earth would you think he had?”
Maester Targon responds to your second question first, simply saying “I didn’t think so. Just confirming, really.”
As for the first question, he sighs. “You see, Maester, the problem with the two families is like this tea cup.” He finishes his drink before extending his arm as far he can away from the two of you. The shattering of the glass is loud, fragments covering the tiled floor. Reaching over his chair, he grabs a couple of the largest fragments of the cup. “Now, in time, this glass can be put back together. Some heat, some binding element, and it will almost be as good. But even if you were to retrieve every fragment, and put it just the way it was, with no marks, it would still be cracked. Perhaps not physically… Some, like Victor, may find this replacement to be acceptable. Some, like young Jeremy, may even not be aware that it was cracked, or simply not care. But most don’t feel that way. The cup has broken. It is of no use. It cannot be relied on. For it has broken before. The key to reforging a friendly relationship, then, is not about how to fix the cup.”
He puts the shards on the tray of cookies, and grabs your tea cup. “But how to create a new cup.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Meera sighed and leaned back in her chair, her hands tucked in her sleeves for warmth. “What does the cup represent? There is only so much we can change, Maester Targon. These are both old families already bound by blood and marriage. What force is there that can ‘make a new cup’?”
Maester Targon frowned. “
Were bound. And only the Graftons are an old family. And I can’t tell if you are thinking of this problem too literally or too abstractly.” The older man looked downwards, his fingers tapping on his chair, closing his eyes as he always did when he went into thought. After a few moments, he sipped on the blue cup. “Tell me, what is the difference between this cup and the one on the ground?” he said as his feet began pushing aside the fragments of the blue tea cup….
“The difference is that the cup in your hands was once mine.” Meera smiled faintly and rose to fetch a broom from the alcove by the door. As she started sweeping the shards of ceramic into a pile, she added, “The families are inextricably bound, Maester Targon. Lord Graftons is uncle to half a dozen of Lord Arthur’s children. The Slagathor heir is named after your lord. This friction does not change that fact.” She glanced up from her work and met his eyes again. “But I am curious as to your thinking, maester. Please continue with your metaphor.”
“But to me, it is the same cup.” His eyes open, staring at yours. “It fulfills its role, and it has the same color, even if it’s a different objecct. I tell myself it is the same, therefore it is the same. You had to sacrifice your cup, it’s true, but that…” and at this point, he grabs his cup he was using as you entered, and places it in front of your standing figure, “is only temporarily.”
“Forgive me, Maester Targon, but I specialize in healing, not philosophy.” Meera tipped the pile of crockery into the waste bin beside Targon’s desk before returning to her chair and taking a cookie.
“It is in the best interests of the Graftons, the Slagathors, and indeed all the people of the Vale if all of the notable families of the region enjoy good relations. We are on the same side. So I do hope, Maester, that you and I can work together to help bridge this gap.”
“No, I suppose the Arch-Maesters focused on different studies in your time, didn’t they?” He says this with a low tone and breathes loudly while studying you for a few moments.
“Speaking of being on the same side, I do hope you can help me with something. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about missing draft documents? Maester Colemon was complaining that some of his documents went missing earlier today.”
Meera raised her eyebrows at this (as she was honestly surprised to hear that Colemon had some documents stolen). "That is news to me. I have not noticed anything missing, but I will make an inventory of my possessions when I return to my room.
“In any case, Maester Targon, I am curious as to why you brought up the Shetts a few minutes ago. Do you have any idea what might have happened to them? Why were the Graftons so eager to secure their lands? Compared to the sheer size of Gulltown, Shett tower is practically insignificant.”
“Yes, some of the servants have an underground information cartel. They like to think themselves as clever, but most of what they take is meant to be taken. Still…” He eyes you cautiously, and now you might realize what he was really asking was if you or Rebekka had stolen his documents. You believe, though, that Targon does not believe you are responsible.
“As for the Shetts, Land is Wealth and Wealth is Power. It’s a rare situation when a Lord does not wish to have more land, more power. It’s not as if one can just buy a lord’s land. And when you can, the scroll-work is most tedious. As for their fate, all I know is that Lord Shett left with only his sailing boat, and headed North and was never seen again. Obviously, taking one ship meant he only took those he trusted.”
“I am unclear as to his reason for traveling. Why would he risk sailing in a bad season and take so few people with him?” Meera sat back again and took a bite of her cookie, chewing it slowly. Sweets weren’t her usual fare, but it had been an unusual night.
Realizing there was only one cookie left, Targon snatched it up and took a bite from it. He gave a frowning face; he forgot that there were raisins, but he ate it nevertheless. “As you know, any message from a Maester for Lord Shett would go through my office first, but no such message did for a week or so before he left. The last one he received was from House Melcolm, but as to what it told the late Lord Shett, I know not. But he did receive letters via messengers. I agree with you that there has to be an impetus behind this. But as to what it was, I am not aware.”
(You roll a 22 Awareness. You remember that the Graftons have told Lord Royce of their suspicions of House Bloodhand, how they believe Lord Shett was going there. The Bloodhands have denied this. House Melcolm is located north of the Bloodhands, and the heir of the Bloodhands wife was a Melcolm as well. You do believe that he has no information about the messangers or about the message from House Melcolm. There may be more information between the Bloodhands, the Melcolms and the Shetts that he is not saying; but you are convinced that he knows nothing else of Lord Shett’s ultimate destination.)
Meera watched her colleague shrewdly as she munched on her cookie. The raisins were actually to her taste. “You have much more experience than I, Maester Targon. You must have an educated guess as to why Lord Shett might wish to pay an urgent visit to the Melcolms— or the Bloodhands. What do you suppose was worth risking his life over?”
“Something similar can be said about you, Maester Meera. Your family has a close relationship with the Bloodhands. Why would they want a visit from Lord Shett? For Lord Shett, what made the visit worth losing his life for?” He rose from his chair, and opened the door to the hallway, motioning for a nearby maid. Asking her for something, she leaves, and he closes the door again. “Well?”
“If Lord Arthur knows more about this matter than I, he has not shared it with me.” Meera finished her cookie, wiped her hands, and tucked them into her sleeves again. “I do not know what the Bloodhands might have to do with the Shetts. As to why Lord Shett felt the need to go, my best guess is that he had something to discuss with the Bloodhands or Melcolms that he had to ensure stayed private. Perhaps sensitive that he did not want intercepted. Do you agree, Maester Targon?”
“I would agree with that statement, Maester Meera. It makes his disappearance all the more interesting, doesn’t it?” He leans against the door now, waiting for the maid to come back, his hands folded together. The fireplace begins to grow weaker. “That, and the disappearance of his siblings. There were rumors that before they left for King’s Landing that his sister Pyla was most displeased with her brother.”
Meera raised an eyebrow at this news. “But there is no indication of what might have prompted her anger or why Lord Shett’s siblings were headed for King’s Landing at all? You must have known them all during your years in Gulltown; surely you can hazard a guess?”
“The story told by Lord Shett was that his sister was looking for a husband, and she was taking her brother for an experience of a lifetime. The rumored truth is neither younger sibling thought the eldest was doing a good job ruling the Tower, and disliked his favor of the theater and other such activities. There are stories of the King’s madness – perhaps they planned to take advantage of it for their own benefit. Maybe they knew of something about Lord Shett’s behavior. All I know for sure is that when Lady Shett’s ship left, no other ship of the Shetts left after them And that Lady Shett was never heard from again. If we weren’t Maesters, I would say perhaps the Gods will it.”
The maid knocked on the door, and then quickly left; Targon opened the door, grabbed the tray left, and closed the door, placing the tray of raisin and chocolate cookies, along with a strong Essosi dark tea, on the table. “Shame, then, that we are Maesters.”
“Hmm.” Meera sat back and considered what Rebekka had said regarding Lord Shett’s behavior during the Grafton wedding— how it seemed as though he’d been hoping to set her up or catch her sneaking out. But for what purpose? How did it all fit?
She shook her head. She didn’t have enough pieces yet… Instead, she looked up at Targon again. “On the subject of gods… What is your opinion of these Lord of Light fanatics? They appear to have murdered at least three maesters in the Vale alone over the past few months.”
“My opinion is the same as any educated man – they should be found and eliminated. They are here to cause mayhem, nothing more, nothing less. They are a new breed of monster, and there is only thing to be done with monsters – to make them a thing of legend.” Maester Targon says this part with a tinge of emotion, slight anger sipping thru his lips. But he settles down quickly. “It always rains, doesn’t it?” He began snacking on a chocolate cookie, letting the tea cool.
“Indeed. But I wish the rain were not Maester blood,” Meera said with a grim smile. “They are undermining us… Eroding trust. One Maester was replaced by an impostor in order to murder a lord. And there are still chains missing. It will be difficult to put an end to this and assure the people that they can have full confidence in someone who bears one.”
She plucked a cookie from the new tray and added casually, “Of course, the pirates are just as serious of a problem, are they not?”
“No, and here’s why. Pirates are a very predictable lot. They want to increase their wealth and their power, and they want to defend their wealth and their power. And when I say pirates, I mean the various so-called Kings and Queens, not your common riffraff with a boat or two who are nothing more than sea bandits. Pirates can be reasoned, tricked, cajoled, and yes, exterminated, when the need calls for it. For all Pirate Kings and Queens have the same worry: am I going to stay alive tomorrow?” He drinks some of the tea and winces, finding it a bit too strong for his tastes.
“These Lord of Light monsters do not care about their life. Only their cause. That, and their rumored magic. And that makes them worse for everyone in Westoros. The fact that they hate us in particular is bit frustrating as well. I’ve urged Maester Esteva to treat this seriously, and hopefully she will use the Conclave at Harrenhal to begin resolving this issue. I’ve also asked Lord Grafton to hold a conference about this with the various Lords of the Vale, but anything of that note will have to wait till Harrenhal now.” He says the castle name with a slight spite in his tone. “Harrenhal.”
Meera poured herself a cup of tea and just held the cup under her nose for a moment; tea this strong was better smelled than tasted, in her opinion. “And yet it seems pirates are not so easily defined. There were followers of the Lord of Light among the pirates who attacked the Teeth during the winter— fanatics who attacked for the sake of their cult, not simply pirates who happened to be followers. What do you suppose might happen if the Lord of Light fanatics and the pirates were to work together?” she asked quietly, watching his reaction closely.
The old Maester breathes heavily, and sips from his tea. “That would be…unfortunate. But is it not more likely that the attack on your castle was a rogue element, rather than part of some alliance? I don’t think we have to worry about the two forces teaming up— not yet anyways. I am unaware of any pirate leader who diligently follows the Lord of Light and I am unaware of the Lord of Light wishing to give pirates enough funds to convert. Or do you have some other piece of information?”
“Only ideas,” Meera said lightly. “I have not heard of Lord of Light fanatics murdering maesters in other regions of Westeros. It may be a coincidence of geographic convenience, but the fanatics and the pirates seem to be focusing on the same areas of attack. I myself was nearly murdered by a fanatic and have the scars to prove it. And it was the Teeth that was attacked by pirates this winter. Why should they both seem to hold such a grudge against the Slagathors and their household and mount attacks so close together?”
“As for attacks on your House, perhaps you wield something of interest to them. Perhaps you know of it, perhaps you do not, but if you think there is a link…” He rattles his Maester Chain, dangling the first link all Maesters receive in training, a basic iron chain. On Targon, it looks like it is beginning to show its age, as it is quite dull.
“As for areas being attacked… well… you should endeavor to talk with Maester Esteva more.” He straightens his back, knowing he has the advantage. “Two Maesters in the North have also been attacked, one killed. In addition, the Red Priests are rumored to ask for a new, larger temple in King’s Landing and in Dorne.”
Meera’s expression darkened at the news. “Murders elsewhere, and their influence growing… Surely the king would not wish to humor these madmen?”
She finished her cookie and took a drink from her lukewarm tea. The loose leaves at the bottom of her cup swirled and danced like crackling embers, and she frowned down at the dregs. “I would very much like to hear your opinion on magic, Maester Colemon. Particularly the kind these fanatics claim to wield.”
“Obviously, as Maesters, one of the first lessons we are taught is that magic does not exist, and that it can always be explained away, whether it be natural phenomenon, a trick of the hand, or perhaps something that simply cannot be explained. After all, it there be no Gods, how can there be magic?” He says this all with a slight exaggeration – after all, this is something driven to trainees multiple times over their training. “Despite this, there are chains still devoted to studies of religion and to magic, even if the latter barely has more than half-a-dozen at any one time. Tell me, why would devote your time to study something if you did not think it exists, or rather, once existed?”
“I doubt that they have most of what they claim. Being able to bring back people from the dead? Pure folly. Burning people to increase their own divine power? Absurdity of the worst kind. But manipulations of fire? I can see such a trick being possible to learn. And our King has promoted the foolish Alchemist Guild as of late, those who are obsessed with wildfire. They might be impressed.”
He says this last part in whisper “A Mad King for a mad religion. It isn’t without precedent in Westeros history…”
(GM Note: There have been very religious kings in the Targayens dynasty – all of them related to the Seven, though.)
“I doubt there is anything to this talk of raising the dead. But what of curses?” Meera asked quietly, and went on to describe her own experience fighting what she found in the archery captain’s arm. “What explanation can you provide?”
Maester Targon listens with interest, leaning in as you tell your story about the infected arm. As you complete your story, he frowns. “Most Maesters would tell you that it is likely the work of some strange herb that we do not of, or a concoction of poison made with the worse creatures of the Summer Isles. Others may say you are simply making this up.” He pauses, rubbing his eyes for a few moments “But all I can say is that I’ve not heard or seen of such a thing, and it is very displeasing that such a thing like curses of light might exist. I have no explanation for such a thing, for such a thing is not supposed to exist in this world. All I can recommend is that you send to Oldtown a request for all known Maesters with links of Valyrian and hope to meet with them at Harrenhal. For these curses sound like the magic of old.”
“That is an excellent suggestion, Maester Targon. Thank you,” Meera said sincerely. “I will make the request and hope a Maester with the knowledge I seek responds. I suppose you have heard that the Slagathors will be attending the tournament as well, then. You seemed less than thrilled a few minutes ago when you mentioned Harrenhal.”
“Ah, but let’s not end the night on such talk. It is getting late, and I do need to actually pack tonight, not just munch on over-baked cookies and bitter teas.” He rises from his chair. “Unless there is anything urgent, I think we could use the rest.” Maester Targon gives a small smirk as he orients himself towards the door.
Meera rose as well. “Thank you for your time tonight, Maester Targon. I feel reassured for the future. We have many challenges ahead of us, but I am confident we will be facing them as colleagues. We shall see each other at Harrenhal, I am sure.”
Maester Targon nods. “Indeed. Stay safe till Harrenhal then.” He opens the door for you, and waits till you leave. “Stay safe.”
Maester Meera and Maester Esteva
(When you talked to Lord Lynderly, he agreed that you could visit him due to an intrigue combat. I won’t penalize you for not using this for this scene – instead you can make a visit or be allowed to talk him (i.e. at Harrenhal) without an issue one time at your choosing.
For this scene, Maester Meera asked Maester Esteva to meet the two groups as they travel down the East-West Highway. The Lynderlys left before you did, due to Leo and Meera’s needed time for recovery.
After a couple of days’ ride, you notice bannermen of Lord Lynderly, as established by their coat of arms, which consist of several green snakes dashing along. Riding in peace, your group stops for a quick lunch, allowing you the time needed to talk with Maester Esteva.
Maester Esteva is an older woman, whose tanned skin indicates she was originally from Dorne. Considered wise for her age, with her calm demeanor and knowledge, she convinced the Maesters of the Vale twelve years ago to make her the unofficial leader of the local Conclave. She is a bit short, barely five feet, with a long nose, dull green eyes, and short hair that is beginning to turn white. Her robes, despite her having ridden to meet you, are in top quality, without a tear or crease.
“Maester Meera, it is good to see you again.” As you enter her tent, the smell of a warm mushroom soup envelops the air. There is a chair for you to sit at by the soup, though she herself sits low on the ground, on a stool of sorts. She rises to greet you, grasping your hand in a warm, though strong, handshake. “Lord Lynderly told me you wanted to meet with me. I presume it is about what is going on with those sun devils.”
“I’m afraid so,” Meera begins, briefly clasping the older woman’s hand with both of hers before taking a seat. “Three maesters killed in the Vale, as far as I’ve heard. I was nearly a fourth myself. And Maester Targon informs me the fanatics have been striking elsewhere, including the North. What is to be done about this, Maester Esteva? What can I do to help put a stop to it?”
Maester Esteva sits in her stool and fills a bowl of her soup. “Well, you can eat first.” She gives a small smile as she hands you the soup, and then prepares a bowl for herself, adding some hot pepper flakes on top of the mushrooms. “But really, there is not much we can do by ourselves. I’ve spent many years researching Essosi traditions as a sort of hobby. It is clear that they are seeking to undermine us. And someone is supporting them. But until we find out whom, there is not much we can do. We can’t tell all the ports of the Vale to keep everyone from Essos out, after all. The Vale would starve, and more importantly, it would not have its luxuries. And we can’t have that.” She says the last part with a bit of jest as she sips from her soup. It is just the two of you inside the tent. “As for the ones tormenting us, well, their strategy appears to be deceiving the castle’s maester, typically, like being sick or wounded, before using their kindness as a weakness. Again, I can’t tell every castle to ignore the guest right.”
“You should also know that so far it’s only been in the Vale and in the North they’ve targeted. Let me ask you, what do you think that means?”
“Only the Vale and the North… hmm.” Meera accepts the bowl and makes an appreciative sound as she sips at it. “It could mean any number of things. Perhaps they feel they have some advantage in these regions. Castles are more spread out and isolated here than in a place like the riverlands— snow and mountains around here can keep a castle cut off for months. More than enough time for an impostor to carry out his plan without fear of interference. Had you another theory?”
“Those are good ideas, Meera, certainly ones I thought of as well.” Esteva leans back on her stool, stretching her legs, before sipping on her soup. “Too much celery. Tsk.” She shakes her head as she grabs a ladle to pull some of the bigger pieces out of it. “These two regions of the Vale and the North are the two most predominant areas of the First Men, those who were in Westeros before the Andals arrived to take it over. I don’t know what correlation there is, but I do find it interesting, don’t you?”
“Quite… You are aware, I assume, of what the fanatics have stolen on the occasions where they have succeeded?” Meera asks quietly. "Besides our chains, they have stolen a broken Valyrian blade from House Hunter, which the younger Lord Hunter does not wish to be widely known. Perhaps they are collecting Valyrian steel… Which would put any Maester with a link of it at greater risk.
“On that subject… It may be risky for the reasons just mentioned, but perhaps we ought to request that all maesters with Valyrian links be present for the conclave at Harrenhal.”
Maester Esteva looks confused at your revelation about Lord’s Hunter sword. “What, Meera, did Lord Hunter say to you exactly? In their response to my letter, they dodge my questions with snake-like agility.” She leans forward towards you, eagerly anticipating your answer.
Meera nods slowly and sets down her half-eaten soup, too distracted to finish. "I will tell you what he told me, but this must remain a secret unless absolutely necessary. It was told to me at the Eyrie with the understanding that it would not be spread about.
“Lord Hunter informed me that his maester’s chain was stolen and his body and quarters burned, destroying many of the castle’s records and all of Maester Johnson’s possessions. Also stolen was the hilt of a Valyrian sword that once belonged to the founder of House Hunter, a very, very old weapon. Why do you suppose they would have taken that?”
“Meera, you shouldn’t tell me of things that aren’t meant to have wings.” Esteva finishes her soup, slurping, as she considers what you said. “You know I am going to have tell of this at the Conclave at Harrenhal. There are going to be Arch-Maesters there. If one of them asks…” she shrugs.
“As for your question, have you ever heard of the Lightbringer?”
“I have not. Please enlighten me. You believe this Lightbringer and the hilt are important?”
Esteva nodded. “It may be important. It may not. But the story of Lightbringer is this: to the faithful, the Lord of Light is a God of Fire who protects them from the Great Other, a God that represents death. Thousands of years ago, the world was cloaked in darkness. The great hero, Azor Ahai, was chosen to fight against it. To fight the darkness, Azor Ahai needed to forge a hero’s sword. He labored for thirty days and thirty nights until it was done. However, when he went to temper it in water, the sword broke. He was not one to give up easily, so he started over. The second time he took fifty days and fifty nights to make the sword, even better than the first. To temper it this time, he captured a lion and drove the sword into its heart, but once more the steel shattered. The third time, with a heavy heart, for he knew before hand what he must do to finish the blade, he worked for a hundred days and nights until it was finished. This time, he called for his wife, and asked her to bare her flesh. He drove his sword into her heart, her soul combining with the steel of the sword, creating Lightbringer, which was used to defeat the Great Other, and bring the light back to this world.”
After this long story, she pauses. “I’m going to need tea later.” Smiling at her silly comment, she continues, “There are many who believe that the Great Other will come again, and when that happens, Lightbringer will be needed. Of course, the pertinent question for us is: does Lightbringer still exist? Most say it does not. But there are some who believe it does, in shards and segments, all over the world, and they seek to find it once more. For if the world does not have Lightbringer at its time of calamity, the world shall fall to the Great Other once more. And the Jade Compendium, one of the few sources that talks of the Lightbringer, says it is made of Valryian Steel. Now, what do you say to all that, eh, Meera?”
“I say I could use some tea as well.” Meera sighs and picks up her bowl. She absently tips it this way and that, always just on the verge of spilling its contents.
She raises her eyes to meet Esteva’s. “Whether or not your legend is true, these fanatics
believe it to be true. Perhaps they know something about the House Hunter blade… Perhaps they are collecting any Valyrian blades they can find in case they turn out to be the one… Or perhaps they are simply collecting any Valyrian steel they can with the intention of forging the Lightbringer sword anew. I wonder if that is the ultimate purpose of murdering maesters— stealing their chains in the hopes of finding a Valyrian link to melt down. If that were true, discrediting our profession and killing those who might know why all of this is happening would be nothing more than a happy coincidence for them,” she says acidly.
“Do you think there is any truth in this legend, Maester Esteva? Recent events have given me reason to wonder if such things as magic and curses might have more potency than we give them credit for.”
“There is always some truth in myths and legends. Do I believe that there was a hero who used a sword to defeat something considered by his people to be evil? Probably. Do I believe that this likely required a great sacrifice, such as the loss of his family? More than likely. But do I believe in the specifics, that a blood sacrifice was used to power a sword? Of course not. We are Maesters, not some sister in a tower. Magic and curses are tales told to children to explain
why the world is, but they are not how the world actually is. They are simply veils, falsehoods placed in the young ones’ hearts to keep them at peace as long as we can. No, I believe they are here to try and spread their faith, and know that we, the Maesters, are their great enemy. And that their collecting of Valryian is likely being done to fund such endeavors.” Esteva has a cold look on her.
“In that case, I would appreciate your insights into a situation I faced a few weeks ago.” Meera describes the ‘shadow’ she fought to remove from the archer’s body that ended with the loss of his arm, and nearly his life. She also relates what she knows about how he received the ailment. “What explanation can you suggest, Maester Esteva? I have done what research I can and am at a loss as to how to give this affliction a label.” Besides “curse”, her tone seems to suggest.
Esteva listens patiently to your story. At the end of it, she shakes her head. “I’m afraid whomever your assistant is misled you. Probably disappointed in their ability to protect the man; maybe they’re having a relationship. That happens more often than you think. As for the moving arm, there are several poisons from Essos that have unique affects. Strangling, choking, itching, burning, all of these are known to us. Making the body move after death, if that even happened, is far more likely. After all, there is no magic in this world. And if there were, it died with the dragons.”
She rose like a hawk, her eyes as if trying to pierce you. “Meera, you have a done a wonderful job of late being a strong Maester. I assume you don’t want to stay in a small castle like the Teeth forever. There are many positions your talents make you suitable for, even some back in Oldtown. You wouldn’t want to ruin those chances by mentioning such untrue things like magic and curses, would you?”
“I did spend many years at the Citadel, Maester Esteva. I am not claiming that magic and curses are real. I am simply looking for an explanation for things I do not understand,” Meera says quietly. “As such, I request that we gather as many maesters with Valyrian links as we can when we assemble at Harrenhal. Regardless of whether curses are real, the fanatics believe such things are real, and I believe understanding the way they think will help us.” She goes back to her cold soup, preferring to look at her broth than meet Esteva’s eyes. She doesn’t see how getting into a debate about whether magic is possible is going to help anything.
Esteva sighs. “Maesters with Valryian Links are almost universally the same: something is wrong with them. We deal with them as we much, but I recommend keeping them away from this. They’ll make this a bigger matter than it already is. I’ll try to get some poison experts to come to Harrenhal, some with two or three links for healing. I think that would be better.” She lowers her head, trying to read your face. “Agree?”
“I must respectfully disagree. I welcome the presence of poison and healing experts, but I believe it would be a mistake not to include maesters with Valyrian links as well. We mustn’t disregard any potential source of insight. And beyond the need for discussion, it is important that we gather the maesters with Valyrian links to discuss their safety. For whatever reason, they are the most likely targets, and we must do what we can to protect our colleagues.”
She lifts her gaze to meet Esteva’s, her mouth set in a determined line.“I felt the agony of being on the edge of death at the hands of a fanatic. If something we do can prevent that happening to a colleague, I would hate to not make use of any and all resources at our disposal.”
“I agree with you with those of Valyrian links should be notified. And they will be. But I doubt they’ll have any insight, other than those that make them and their theories more important than they actually are. The important thing is that, so far, we know what regions they are attacking. And so, if we ensure that none with those links are sent to the Vale and to the North, then we shall partially solve this issue. That, I think is a very effective use of our resources.” Esteva’s face is still cold, unfeeling, as her green eyes squint slightly at you, the lines of her face showing.
Keeping her face carefully neutral, Meera is silent for a moment. There’s nothing she can do if Esteva is going to be so stubborn. This attitude surprises her. She’d known most maesters dismissed magic out of hand, but to even keep those with Valyrian links from participating in the meeting… It was foolish. Why would the Citadel grant such links at all if only to shun the maesters who earned them.
“I hope they will be safe where they are, then. Where are the maesters with Valyrian links posted? I have never met one myself.”
“Oh, there’s a couple at Oldtown, Archmaester Marwyn is there, but he never leaves Oldtown. There’s one in the south I think, and maybe one in the north? To be honest, I’ve not tracked such things. I did tell the Arch-Conclave not to send any more this way after Johnson was killed. There’s not many, though. And most who did pursue such dark learnings have a bit of oddness to them. Maester Johnson, before he died, had a very strict diet, and hardly ever left his castle, or responded to letters on a timely basis. He was a Maester during your entire tenure here, so far, and you never made him, did you?” She sits back down on her stool, her posture relaxing…
“No, I never met Maester Johnson.” Meera frowns as she considers this haphazard list. “You say there is a Maester with a Valyrian link in the North? They are hardly safe there. If they are not to come to our conclave at Harrenhal, should they not at least be reassigned without delay? Perhaps all of the maesters with that link could relocate to the Citadel?”
Esteva smiles. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Maester Luwin of House Stark will be there, regardless of what we Maesters told him. Lord Stark likes to get things his way. As for your latter recommendation, I think you’ll find at the Arch-Conclave that is one of the main proposals. No Lord of Light fool could penetrate our tower.” She raises, and walks over to you. “You don’t need to put the Vale’s troubles on your shoulders. You are only one Maester.” She places her hand on your shoulder. “You can rely on the rest of us to do what must be done.”
“I know, Maester Esteva. And I am very grateful for that,” Meera says earnestly. “But I feel I must do what I can to help. I will keep you informed as I learn more, and if you would do the same I would be happy to give you my input.” She smiles up at the older Maester, choosing to set aside the argument.
“You said you advised the Citadel not to send any more maesters to the Vale at all? Lord Hunter wondered why he had heard nothing from Oldtown for months. But the people cannot do without maesters… If we prevent any more being placed here indefinitely, how can we be sure when it is safe to allow them to come again?”
“I said not to send any Maesters with Valryian Chains. The Arch-Maesters have decided not to send any while they conduct an investigation. As if they can conduct an investigation by not leaving Oldtown.” She shakes her head. “Thankfully, they decided it would be only conducted during winter, and winter has ended. I hope to ensure that House Hunter, along with any other house, begins receiving their requested Maesters in the next couple of months.”
You can hear outside things are beginning to be packed, horses starting to be reigned in.
“Ah, I see. Then I hope Lord Hunter and Lord Redwood will have their replacements soon. I am sure they will be relieved.”
Meera cocks her head a little when she hears the activity outside but doesn’t get to her feet just yet. “It seems odd that Oldtown would not at least pay Lord Hunter the courtesy of informing him there would be a delay. Have you had any news from the Citadel of late, Maester Esteva? Are things well there?” she asks, carefully not mentioning what she heard about her mentor being missing.
“Well, things are more or less normal at Oldtown, from what I hear. They have more on their plate than usual, with getting ready for Harrenhal, their investigations, and dealing with the Alchemist Guild in King’s Landing, but I think they’ll take care of it.” Esteva says in a plainly positive voice. She rises and begins putting away her cooking utensils and the bowls into the pot, preparing the tent to move. It looks as though for a few moments the conversation has finished. But then she looks you in the eye.
“And if they do fail, I’m sure they’ll need new Maesters to replace the failures. And I might be summoned, and I might need help. Something to think about, particularly if they ask any questions of you at Harrenhal.”
Meera nods with a serious look, guessing at Esteva’s meaning. Don’t talk about magic if you want to be taken seriously, right? she thinks wryly. But she’s sure Esteva is only trying to be kind. She takes her time getting up, having nothing to pack and not wishing to insult the older Maester by helping her pack.
“Yes, the Alchemist Guild… What news of them? It has never been anything good.”
“Oh, just what you would expect. They finally have power, and what do they do? Use it to make the King go….you know.” Esteva raises her eyebrows and gives a facial expression of You know, crazy! “I suspect their time won’t be long, though. If we’re lucky, they’ll be shut down soon enough.”
Meera’s eyes go wide. She has no particular feelings regarding the king, but she knows what his insanity might mean for the seven kingdoms. “Then the king really is…?”
Esteva shrugs. “That’s what the rumors say, and that’s what the visiting Maesters say, and our Grand Maester Pycelle says nothing. Add all that, plus the Alchemist Guilds and other things you hear and…” Esteva pauses. “Well, the King normally doesn’t bother with us Maesters or with the Vale. It should be fine.”
“I… I see.” Meera fights to control her troubled frown and only gives Esteva a nod. “There is nothing we can do about that problem but be ready in case in affects us. I will keep you appraised if I learn anything more regarding the Lord of Light fanatics, and I look forward to speaking with you further at Harrenhal, Maester Esteva. I hope we will not add to our tally of lost colleagues before then.”
Esteva nods. “Indeed. It’s been a pleasure. Stay safe now. And do be ready to go to Harrenhal. It promises to be memorable for many reasons.” She whistles a slow, traditional melody from Dorne for a few seconds.
The tent is suddenly ripped from the ground around you, as servants begin collecting everything. Your horse is suddenly behind you, and soon everyone is on the road once more…