Dearest Cousin Marta
Dearest cousin Marta,
I’ve just arrived back at House Steadwater after my longish stay in Sunspear, where I met Ser Fandish. Do you remember him? Last time I wrote to you about him, he was attached to teach Prince Trystane Martell a thing or two about that vile business of warfare. Now, Trystane is almost a fully grown man, and Fandish has been promoted to military advisor. Time files!
But it is nice to be back home, despite these turbulent times. I had barely time to arrive before the Crown Prince Joffrey Baratheon arrived with his entire retinue of King’s Guards and advisors and assorted servants. It is really wearing the castle’s resources thin.
We actually do not have enough food to supply all the troops currently stationed here. We have two full garrisons, two units of archers, raiders, warships, yes, over four hundred men to feed. On top of that, King Joffrey brought twice as many again. And there have been too many feasts, to celebrate weddings and newly-crowned kings. We have been hard at work resolving the issue. I will not bore you with politics, dear Cousin, but I’d like to recount one story. I had to take a dreadful coastal journey to Stonehelm, to buy food. That was a mistake. Well, it was better than riding, but the whole trip was still a waste of time.
We decided to leave in quite a hurry, because we had promised King Joffrey to leave in the morning, and you do not want to disappoint your new King and therefore, we made very little arrangements. But more about leaving later.
As we haul anchor, young Lord Wesley Steadwater’s betrothed comes running along the pier. That… woman. You cannot leave her alone for long, or there will be all sorts of mischief. She asks for a firm date for the wedding, and Lord Wesley tries to not commit, as usual. Poor man. We did try to help him, by telling her that we are tasked with important business for King Joffrey, and cannot delay.
When she demanded the wedding to be held as soon as we returned from our restocking mission, we were already far enough from the pier for the noise of a bustling crew to drown out her voice. She muttered something about “Joffrey” as she glared after the ship. The ships’ captain sucked air and said “there goes a woman scorned.” We should have listened.
Once at Stonehelm, we discovered the Swann flag is flying alone at half-mast, and as we docked fifty soldiers gathered on the dock. A man in full plate, flying Swann’s flag, claimed that “House Steadwater is not welcome here.” They held us responsible for the death of their Lord. I cannot possibly conceive how that could be true, but anyhow, we were given half-an-hour to depart, or they would burn the ship. They even set up a crude sundial on the dock, and refused to let us step ashore.
I will not bother you with the negotiations, but we did not waste the entire trip, albeit we only had a small victory. House Swann will support King Joffrey. They had some ridiculous demands, such as having him visit them in person, but in all we had some good news to bring home.
There was a comic exchange onboard. Do you remember Ser Rhaen Danien? I believe I have mentioned him before. He is a banner man of House Steadwater, of Danien-and-Rimchurch. He married that weird warrioresque woman that I hate, Lady Ethel. I’m sure you remember me complaining about her before.
Anyhow, I am digressing again; Danien insisted that we still try to buy some food from Stonehelm. Seeing as how they blame us for their loss, we figured the food would be poisoned, or filled with glass, and someone, I fail to remember who, dropped the comment, “Let’s feed Joffrey with it! It’s preposioned.”
As you sure know, King Robert Baratheon is dead. To think that Joffrey was declared the new King at our little castle! These are exciting times, with, as you know, usurpers claiming the throne. Stannis has summoned all banner men to pronounce themselves loyal to “King” Stannis. Very few have declared. And there was an attempt on King Joffrey’s life! But I will not bore you with the details. Suffice to say that I witnessed blood and decapitations to chill your spine. Old Lady Steadwater passed out, as any proper lady ought to do. Dreadful. I was doing my best to stay out of trouble, I assure you.
King Joffrey was taking full advantage of his new title, and the powers that come with it. It was very delicate to deal with him. For example, any man that spoke out of turn risked getting his head lopped off. Death has hovered over me before, but it was very unsettling to be singled out by our new King.
Fortunately, Ser Kevan Lannister also attended the Crown Prince. He is a very amicable fellow, and a voice of reason in Joffrey’s ear. Good to see somebody trying to reign in our new King’s youthful exuberances. A good example was when Joffrey wanted to rush up to King’s Landing to reclaim possession of the Iron Throne and the capital. Ser Kevan managed to persuade him that his forces were not great enough to do so, yet.
Instead, Joffrey tasked House Steadwater with rallying the Marcher Lords to his banner. We counseled at length, discussing how wise this is. He of course has the gold of Casterly Rock to support him, and he needs the men of Dorne to complete the package needed to reclaim King’s Landing, but many of the Lords he asked us to visit are of no significance, or they are “weak sauce,” as Ser Oisin of Carmayar put is, referring to the Iron Island brown gravy, incomparable in heat to the spicy food of Dorne, and the whole thing felt a bit like a waste of precious time. I’m rambling again, dear Cousin.
We suggested, through Ser Kevan, that King Joffrey send us up to meet with Lord Renly right away instead. We are, after all, sworn to Renly, and he has asked up to rally. This is a risky business, as we don’t fully know how good terms King Joffrey is with his Lord Uncle Renly, and he could very well take the suggestion as an insult, and decapitate someone once again.
King Joffrey of course knows that we are Renly’s men, so showing some allegiance to King Joffrey might be good for one’s health. As per Ser Kevan’s suggestion, we will rally the Lords to the north of House Steadwater instead, on our way to see Renly. This will show King Joffrey that action is being taken, gathering men for him, which he sorely needs. Much better than rushing to King’s Landing. As Ser Kevan put it, “more men for the horde is good, no matter where they come from.”
But King Joffrey’s whims are not all bad. He has plans, and he knows that to get people to proclaim for him he needs to offer incentives. The new, young Lord Steadwater has been offered the potential position as the Hand of the King. They have a very jovial relationship, jesting with each other. You know, for example, that King Joffrey’s father demanded that young Lord Steadwater marry that promiscuous little… woman? Well, King Joffrey jests, and calls him “The Hand of the Whore” and such, if you can pardon such a crude expression. All in good fun, though.
There is also some good news, dear Cousin! King Joffrey also wants us to escort Lady Olenna Tyrell – “The Queen of Thorns” – back to Highgarden, and on the way there, we might pass by Castle Blackmont as one of our detours to convince local Lords to proclaim for Joffrey. I do hope that I get to visit you before you head for Storm’s End and your wedding. Has the date been set yet? If it is soon, then maybe you and I will meet at Storm’s End instead. Either way, it will be good to see you again, dear Cousin.
Ser Cortnay Penrose is a good man, from what I hear, a seasoned battle commander, weathered in many ways. You will be very comfortable as the wife of the castellan. It will be odd to call you Marta Penrose, though, dear Cousin.
Have you heard from your brother, Stur? He is a busy man, but I hope he will take the time to attend your wedding. Maybe I will see both of you there!
But before we leave, we need to resolve this very mundane task of supplying the troops. We had a long and heated debate, some suggesting we bring the troops with us and pillage our way through the lands. We could ask Joffrey for a carte blanche, so that we can demand food as we move out. Also, to properly escort Lady Olenna, we would need to bring soldiers.
But who would stay behind and guard the lands? And if we take what we need from our neighbors, we give a clear signal to Stannis that we are with Joffrey. Do we want to do that? And soldiers would slow us down to fifteen leagues per day, and with 200 leagues to Highgarden, that’s half a month. Visiting the little lords would be at least another month, plus time staying with each one, trying to convince them to rally for King Joffrey. I would probably end up missing your wedding, dear Cousin.
Anyway, who would be interested in taking over our lands? Swann’s heirs are still around, and they do seem to harbor hostile thought against House Steadwater. Lord Donnel is the son of the late Stonehelm, and he could be ready to move at any time. In fact, I have people telling me that he is probably doing so as I write this. Ser Balon, his younger brother, is in the Kingsguard at King’s Landing, and they seem to be supporting the usurper.
Lady Olenna has a small host with her, which will slow us down on the first leg of the journey even if we bring troops, so we can bring some. We do have gold, so if we leave troops behind they can send ravens to our neighbors to buy food. However, I feel we should leave a garrison, in case Joffrey decides to take off, but as long as he is here, our lands are secure.
And when we reach Highgarden, we need to convince Lord Mace Tyrell to support Joffrey. I have no idea what we can offer him in return, because we need to give him something, or they will go with the highest bidder. Can we make his daughter queen? What would Joffrey say about that? Funny thought, that I am involved with such high profile decisions. We are a only a minor house, so in the end our suggestions might be in vain, but it is still interesting to see how things develop.
Speaking of developments, a little bit of gossip! Tyrion Lannister might be the new Master of Coin. That would be interesting. I have never met the man, but from what I hear, he is a good man, and would do a good job. But we will see, Joffrey can turn on a whim, and he does not seem to plan very far ahead.
I just finished my visit to the Septon, for my confession and blessing. He is a good man, but he is fighting a cause that has been neglected by the late Lord Eryk Steadwater – spreading the word of the Faith. Did you know that there is only one Sept in our lands? I will try to convince the new, young Lord Wesley to build a few small Septs in the hamlets. It is a good way to spread more secular words as well, so he might decide in favor.
The Septon told me that King Joffrey had overheard a villager calling him “the son of the fat bastard,” and he burned the entire hamlet, put everybody to the sword, and preached to the corpses for half an hour. I will report it to Steadwater before retiring for the evening.
While I visited the Septon, and as I write this, Lord Whesley is meeting King Joffrey. We will see what comes of that.
Anyhow, it will be nice seeing you again, hopefully sooner than later.
Jeor Blackmont, your Cousin.
PS. I could not send this to you quite yet, as there were some interesting developments. Lord Whesley’s meeting with King Joffrey did not pass uneventful. Apparently, his betrothed had spoken to King Joffrey while we were away to Stonehelm. Oh, but she is living dangerously! She literally demanded that King Joffrey forces a wedding upon us, in the name of the late King Baratheon, his father. I told you that the trip to Stonehelm was a disaster.
Anyhow, King Joffrey said he was “sorely tried” by her visit, but decided in her favor. Lord Steadwater was pressed for an answer to the simple question “Do you want to marry this whore?” King Joffrey can be a real potty mouth at times.
Apparently he was more disturbed by the visit than he first let on, or his soldiers took liberties, because she was escorted back into the throne room, all black and blue. She claimed she had not been violated, which we will have to take her word for.
Ser Sebastian, speaking out of turn, muttered something like “Oh, so you’re still a virgin?” I heard that Ser Sebastian also had a near-death brush during the meeting, and his life hung on the flip of a coin, just as it did for me earlier. Heads. Again. We both survived meeting the new King.
So today, there was a wedding banquet! In the morning, we were summoned to what passes for a Sept. King Joffrey was sleeping on the throne. He sure does work hard!
There were several dignitaries from the neighboring Houses present, such as House Lefford and House Ruttiger from the Westerlands, sworn to the Lannisters, and House Gower, House Rogers of Amberly and Ser Mace from House Peasebury, and Ser Gerold Gower, upriver. Ser Kevan woke up King Joffrey, and we had a short but romantic ceremony, as King Joffrey was hungry and wanted to move on to the feasting part. He did a good job getting us to cheer for our new Lady of Steadwater. He can really work a crowd up! She looked happy to be married, despite her bruises and a swollen face.
Suddenly Joffrey yelled, “Bring in the bed!” And they did. Young Lord Steadwater was a bit hesitant, still being such an innocent little boy in these matters. But they did consummate the marriage, and afterwards they opened their wedding gifts. King Joffrey presented them with a slightly odd gift – revenge. He had killed the Bar Emmon knight, and he thought Lord Wesley would appreciate the head of the man who ruined his last wedding. Jennifer, old Lady Steadwater, passed out.
We later learned from Cersei’s old inquisitor that the Bar Emmon knight was sent down by Lord Stannis with a unit of men selected to be very loyal to Stannis. When old King Robert passed away, that was the signal for them to rise up. Luckily that took place while we were all outside the castle, so Joffrey survived the assassination attempt. From the conversation I gathered that Bar Emmon was most likely just the patsy, and “he was probably innocent of anything but crass stupidity,” as the inquisitor put it.
Young Lord Steadwater decided to send the head of the Knight of Bar Emmon to Lord Swann, together with the written confessions he made before being decapitated. I did not counsel for the action. I feel we have irritated Lord Swann enough, and I fear there will be trouble in House Steadwater’s lands while we are gone.
But I digress, again; the wedding. King Joffrey had gotten it in his head that Ser Clancy Fortale, the rotund fellow, looked a bit like Lord Varys, the Spider, and had him shaved and powdered, and called him Varys the Second. He tried to get a nice little bantering session going, where we took turns making up funny names for Lord Whesley Steadwater. All in good fun. King Joffrey sure likes his entertainment.
Today, we are leaving. In the end, King Joffrey did not want us to bring troops to see Renly, as he thought that Lady Tyrell’s fifty men ought to be enough. After all, all soldiers of House Steadweater ultimately belong to King Joffrey. He let us bring fifty soldiers, which should be more than enough.
Instead, King Joffrey introduced Wyril Hill, an unknown fellow to me. He actually looked quite a bit like a maester, pale, skinny, and serious, with intelligent eyes, but still young. His voice was unexpectedly deep, and he will join us on our trip. We will see if a friendship becomes of that.
However, the visit to Lord Renly will not be an easy one. King Joffrey demanded that the man come down here in person, and not just send word of his support. I believe his exact words were, “I want his head kissing my foot. Succeed, Whesley, and I’ll make you my Hand.”
My fears of House Swann moving in have been confirmed as well. Suddenly, fifty of our men and another fifty of Lady Olenna does not seem enough. As far as I can tell, House Swann has spread out over five hundred men along our border, trying to intercept us as we pass out of Steadwater Lands. I wanted to take a boat, and circumvent Cape Wrath and the problem, but I soon realized that we would never make it back in time, as King Joffrey has given us a fortnight to return.
Again, your beloved Cousin, Jeor Blackmont.