(121-04-04) The Strength of a Claim
The Strength of a Claim
Summary: Maera seeks Thane's advice on a possible land claim.
Date: 121-04-04

Even from the Seneschal's Courtyard, strange lights can be seen flickering in the small third-story window of the Umbral Tower, glowing green and blue, casting eerie shadows and forms on the nearby towers. Inside the tower, those lights reach out under the closed door to the personal chamber of Archmaester Thane, accompanied by a low hissing sound and a sulfurous smell.

Maera will eye those strange lights skeptically before knocking on the door to the second story, and calling out lightly, "It's me."

From within, something is muttered that sounds distinctly unfit for polite company. The shadow of the approaching maester can be seen under the door long before it swings open, billowing out a waft of smoke and revealing a bare-chested Thane. His face, arms, and torso are painted with a variety of pictograms in some kind of brown pigment. Behind him, a large brazier has been placed in the middle of the chamber — the source of the flames which shift in color and cast the unusual lights. "M'lady. Come in," he says urgently, hurrying back to the brazier and taking up a small bundle of dried plants, one end of which he ignites in the fire.

Maera steps in quickly, and shuts the door quickly before barring it. That done, she lowers the hood of her cloak before sitting down on the edge of his bed to watch whatever it is he's doing in silence. No explanation as to her presence after not seeing him for over a month. No explanation is required.

Thane continues the ritual, eventually dropping the entire bundle into the flames, and speaking various words in the Old Tongue. At last he stills, standing before the brazier, inhaling from it silently until at last the flames diminish and turn a more familiar yellow and orange. The room is hazy from all the smoke, the small window doing a poor job of ventilating. He looks over to his guest, wiping sweat from his brow. "You've been distant of late," he states plainly as he moves to a bowl of water by his bedside, taking up a cloth to begin wiping away the pictograms and perspiration.

"I've been busy." Maera says with a shrug. "You've, undoubtably, been busy." She watches him wash himself with idle interest through the haze of smoke, and tries to read the runes on his body. If they are the Runes of the First Men then she will be familiar with them. "What is it your doing?" Her tone is more curious than accusatory.

The runes do bear much resemblence to early pictograms used by the First Men, though some are more unusual. "An experiment. I'm trying to recreate a ritual believed to have been passed to the First Men from the children of the forest." Thane runs the cloth down his face, which leaves brownish streaks down his features, giving him an almost wooden appearance. "It's said to help further open one's third eye."

"Perhaps you can use your third eye and dream of what has happened in Dorne. Ser Daevon has certainly been questioning me about my opinion on the matter a lot." Maera shrugs, "It's not my business to be involved."

"Politics and warfare are not my areas of expertise," Thane says with a shrug. "I focus on what I do best. If I'm meant to be involved in Dornish matters, I'm sure my dreams will show me. Until then, I've kept my nose out of it. Is there something in particular I should know?" The water in the bowl has turned a dull brown with the pigment being washed away.

"Dornish matters can quickly become matters of the Reach. And they have." Maera tells Thane, "It's beginning to look like the Blackmonts were not the ones who killed that Cockshaw party, and it turns out some Knights of the Reach led a party into Dorne and slaughtered an outpost. I was there with Ser Daevon and Ser Osric. Knights and chivalry." She rolls her eyes lightly, "Such bullshit."

Thane sighs, scowling. "This is the way of the South. Endless games of power and treachery. But it seems you've been drawn into it. Now that the truth is coming out, I suspect you'll have an easier time of it. You're better made for meting out justice than for playing their games."

"Power and treachery happen everywhere." Maera points out gently, "I do not forget why I came here in the first place. And I am not used to it, but I'm learning. Enough to keep myself afloat, at least." There's a pause, and she takes a small item wrapped in cloth in her pocket. "I sent Eonn away. He gave me Cressen's ring. I guess he killed him."

Thane pauses in his cleansing, staring down at the wrapped item with a frown. "I see…and what did killing Cressen Glover resolve?" Apparently deciding that he's clean enough, he tugs on a woolen shirt, grumbling when his chain gets snagged on a loose thread at the collar.

"Nothing. His mother was the dangerous one. Not Cressen." She puts it back in her pocket, and shrugs, "He does as he pleases. There is no controlling him. I'm glad he's gone."

Thane arches a skeptical eyebrow. "You're glad he's gone? That's a different tune than I'm used to hearing from you. Why the change of heart?" He steps over to a small table where cups, wine, and bread are laid out. Since becoming Archmaester, the dingy lair has adopted a few new luxuries.

"I'm just exhausted from it. He's taken up with Daevon Targaryen. I'm sure he'll be much happier in time." Maera unfastens her cloak, and lets it fall onto the bed. "It doesn't matter. I came to ask your advice. …The Glover's land, do you think I have a legal claim to it?"

Thane fills two cups, and returns to Maera, offering her one. "To Glover lands? If you could prove their culpability, you might be in a position to seize their lands. But unless you secretly married Cressen before his death, I'm not sure I see where you'd have a claim."

"I plan to seize them." Maera takes the cup, and has a swallow. "Their farmlands are better. More able to feed people. And I've only need to prove it to Lord Stark."

"That you do," Thane agrees. "But few liege lords are eager to see their bannermen battling one another. What evidence will you use to sway Lord Stark?"

"The evidence I have." Maera shrugs. "And I am more useful to Lord Stark than the Glovers. I've done more for him. He is more inclined to believe me."

"Believing you isn't the same thing as condoning one house invading another's lands. More likely he would order them to pay some kind of restitution, lest he anger the Glovers' friends. That is, unless the Glovers are truly without allies." Thane lifts his brow over a heavy drink of wine. "I don't know the political landscape."

"It is a gamble." Maera says with a nod, "But the question is this; is it worth the risk?"

Thane sits on the bed beside Maera, leaning against one bedpost. "That depends on whether they have vengeful friends, and whether their people are loyal to them. I imagine the hardest part of claiming any land isn't the taking of it, but holding onto it."

"That is easy enough to find out." Maera says as she rolls her head upwards to stare at the ceiling as she speaks. "Do you think it is the moral thing to do?"

"Ahh, morality." Thane's eyes are drawn to the length of her neck as she bares it to look upward. "Can you do it bloodlessly? At least without spilling any blood but Lady Glover's?"

"Yes, morality. I haven't given up on it yet, as foolish as it seems for me to cling to it." Maera turns her head to look to Thane, "They are weakened. But, men will die. Men always die in these things."

"Men who are innocent of Lady Glover's crimes? If so, then no, it isn't moral." Thane sighs. "But a Lady does not always have the luxury of morality. You must do what will be best for your people. You might gain better farmland out of this. But the people on those lands will become your people as well. You will become responsible for their welfare. Can you say that this act will be in the best interest of all of your people, old and new?"

"No." Maera says, "It won't be in their best interest." She looks away from Thane, and sighs, "I'm afraid. My sisters are in Winterfell and Oldcastle because I fear for their safety. What if they try taking my lands? I feel as if I must act before them."

"Maera…my lady…you cannot fight another house from Oldtown." In a rare display, Thane's tone is soft with sympathy. "But if they do try to take your lands, they'll be just as accountable to the Starks as you would have been. In my opinion, the best way to shield your lands from hostility and avert bloodshed is with a marriage. But not just any marriage. You, or perhaps your sister, would need an alliance with a Northern house that can stand in defense of Bear Island."

"I will not marry a Bolton. They are disgusting savages." Maera frowns as she says this, as if she's thought of it. "The Umbers are a possibility. The Karstarks, perhaps. Lord Locke is our Uncle, but he is in the North." She lets out a rueful little snort, "Have you Manderly relatives to propose?"

"If I had a sufficient amount for a dowry I could offer my sister Tanda to Lord Stark." Maera adds.

Thane barks a laugh, shaking his head. "My elder brother is wed, and my only other sibling is a sister. Beyond that, there is only my uncle Rickard, as proud a drunk as you'll ever meet. Besides, White Harbor is a bit far south for your needs, as well. As for the Starks…the thought had occurred to me. If you could broker a marriage to a Stark, few in the North would be foolish enough to trouble Bear Island."

"Perhaps I will convince you to put aside your chain yet, and your relatives will rain the wealth of White Harbor down on me." Maera says with a wry grin before her expression turns somber again. "I had thought the same. My aunt Hellan is wed to a Stark, but the fool helped a member of the Night's Watch escape, and is out of favor."

Thane smirks at her suggestion of him giving up the maester's life. Is that a glimmer of temptation in his eye? Or maybe it's just the smoke in the air. "What of young Lord Carolis? Perhaps you or Lady Ulyka could catch his eye while he is here."

"I heard he is to be a Maester. And he is often in the company of Lord Garvin." Maera's nose wrinkles slightly. "I've been betrothed to one man who bedded Lord Garvin. I don't think I could stomach the dramatics again. Ulyka is only fifteen. She's too young."

"Has she not bled?" Thane asks boldly with a confused frown.

Maera shakes her head. "She is a girl still. And you forget I am unwed, and ten years her senior, and she has two other older sisters who are not wed."

Thane nods in understanding. "In any event, a Stark husband may be too great a prize to hope for. But if you can manage it, the Glovers would not dare cross your house." He stares at her over the rim of his wine cup as he drinks. "Will you be staying long tonight?" The question is heavy with unspoken meaning.

"My best hope is saving for a dowry for my sister, Tanda. She favors our mother in looks, and is quite fair of face and lovely in disposition. I am passingly pretty, but my disposition is poor, and Ulyka…" Maera trails off with a smile, "Men make exceptions for lovely maids with good dispositions." She smiles, "I could stay for longer if you'd like."

Thane dips his head. "Most men do. Some men prefer passingly pretty women with fierce hearts." He leans toward her, daringly reaching to tug at the laces of her gown. "If you want to raise money for a dowry, you may want to consider investing in some business venture. Oldtown is certainly the right city for that. Of course, this is all a long term solution to what might be a more immediate problem."

"Beyond land management I've no head for such matters." Maera admits as her gown is unlaced. She leans forward to press her lips against his, and lets out a small laugh, "Quite to the point, aren't you?"

Thane grins, tugging laces free and kissing down along her neck. "Have you ever known me to be otherwise? Come, let's get under the blankets."

"It's too hot for blankets." Maera insists. She is still red from the Dornish sun on her arms and the back and front of her neckline. And so they undress and fall on top of the blankets….

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