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Open On the Neck of the Blackwater

Prudence

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Elaena watched intently as the dark waves of Blackwater Bay grew, until they crashed into the rocks along the shore in a spray of white foam. The sea was a bit choppier than she'd hoped for, but the trip from Dragonstone to the shore hadn't taken more than an hour as the craggy island was almost in eyeshot of the bay. For this particular occasion, both out of their growing friendship, and as a slight display of power, Elaena had sent for the Queen Mother to lend her presence on Dragonstone. Upon her arrival, Elaena had taken her friend aboard the Targaryen flagship, and their fleets had set sail.

Any question that Corynna may have concerning where they were headed was met with a curt, "You shall see," and a knowing smile from Elaena. Now they were here, her ships moored deep in the bay, and her troops landing via rowed shuttles. Darks shadows darted across the land, cast by her massive dragons flying through the sky. Elaena twirled in place where she stood at the bow of the ship, her thick crimson dress swirling with her. A black jeweled dragon curled its way up the gown, its wings spread across her back, and its massive maw staring over her shoulder.

"My advisors tell me that there is a strip of the Blackwater which is particularly susceptible to blockade,"
Elaena began. "The bay has Blackwater Rush flowing into it, which cuts through the Stormlands, and is sufficient for boats to travel along. I told you when I first arrived, my people are here to rule. My brother, a fool, had the right idea in his ambitions." A larger and more ornate shuttle had been drawn to the side of the Flagship, with a gang plank descending to it. "Shall we begin, Queen Mother?"
 

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When the invitation from the Targaryen had arrived, Corynna had considered ignoring it. Such things were lost in transit all the time and the Tarly Lioness had much to do. With her foolish son having traveled East in search of treasures, enemies had finally presented themselves clearly in the Lannister court, chief among them being Lord Westerling. The Hand of the King had almost immediately taken it upon himself to restrict the Queen Mothers movements, but she too had friends and so The Game had begun between them. Leaving the Rock during such a tenuous time was risky, however the risk was worth it. The Targaryen's would be able to expedite Corynna's plans.

The journey had been rather uneventful for the Queen Mother, who had gathered a considerable escort of sons from Houses that owed loyalty only to her, with such fealty built up over decades. She had been afforded two Knights of the Lionsguard to guard herself, and one to guard her son Lann, whom Corynna had decided to bring along. The only issue with that, was Lord Westerling had insisted his son be the Knight to guard the boy. It was transparently the Hand placing a spy in her ranks, but building connections between the Crown Prince and foreign powers was paramount to the survival of House Lannister in the coming world.

"Grandmother." Lann said, eyes wide and darting around in wonder as the ships began to disembark as they neared the shore after the Targaryen had explained the usefulness of the Blackwater Rush. "Why are we here?"
"I believe that the Queen intends to host her campaign throughout the Seven Kingdoms from this place, my darling." Corynna replied, offering a soft smile to her beloved grandchild. In her mind, she silently congratulated the Targaryen on her choice. The position held extreme strategic value and essentially gave her access to three Kingdoms. Placing a hand on the Princess shoulder, Corynna's eyes swept across to the extravagant shuttle. "Such a beautiful vessel, Lady Targaryen."

The Crown Prince would step onto the shuttle first, followed by the Queen Mother and lastly the three Lionsguards. Corynna had taken note of Ser Westerlings appraisal of the situation and the clear tension in his shoulders. What she was doing, after all, essentially displayed the Tarly Lionesses intention to assist a foreigner to invade the mainland. As Corynna sat down upon the shuttle next to her grandson, she cast her gaze out upon the water before addressing the Targaryen once more.

"The Blackwater Rush breaks out into the sovereign lands of the Rock, as well as the Trident." Her voice was calm, tone polite. It was conversational, rather than confrontational. "Do you intend to expedite your forces straight from Dragonstone, my Lady? I could arrange for a the Fort at our end of the Rush to be manned once more to offer you a place to host your reinforcements if you would like. For convenience."

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A child, Elaena thought with a mixture of intrigue and amusement, what an interesting choice. Surely the Queen Mother's decision in bringing the Crown Prince along hadn't been afterthought—there was a political move to decipher there, she would just have to learn more. Though the subtleties of her actions were lost on the boy, Lann, they were far from lost on the Queen Mother.

She explained briefly what the Dragon Queen had intended, and then ushered her grandson onto Elaena's shuttle. She let the Lannisters board first, before following with a quartet of her guards—each with the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen embellished on their chest plate. "Very astute as always, Lady Corynna," Elaena confirmed with a smile. "And thank you, I must make an appearance if I'm going to be present for something as momentous as this."

She slowly followed the older woman aboard her shuttle, the heels of her boots clicking loudly against the plank with each step. Behind her, the guards made even more of a ruckus with the clanking of their armored plates. The sounds of war were something Elaena was intimately familiar with—her father and brother had drilled endlessly to prepare for the eventuality of war, and here she was carrying it out.

"That would be excellent, Queen Mother," Elaena said with an excited gratefulness to her voice. "The Targaryen and Lannister forces are surely the fiercest that this continent has seen—working in tangent we could be an unstoppable force. If you are able of such, aid at the end of the Blackwater Rush would be monumental in dividing the Stormlands into a more manageable section." She smiled, once again with that slight-crazed twinge to her eyes.

Their shuttle was almost to shore, but Elaena stopped it. She threw her legs over the side and slid to the ground. She was entirely unconcerned that her ankles and shins were under water, nor that her thick red gown was dragging through the wake. With a distant, almost lost presence about her, Elaena wandered forward until she reached the natural bluff that separated the shore from the plains. She placed a hand on one of the slick wet stones, and her smile only grew, "On this rock I will build my kingdom."
 

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An appearance indeed.

As Elaena discussed her outright intentions for the Targaryens and Lannisters to take the Stormlands, Corynna felt her gaze drift to Ser Westerling. The main was rigid, his expression like stone but his eyes were aflame. A man loyal to the Rock through and through, but not to the Lannisters themselves. While his father had performed admirably as the Hand of the King, it was no secret among those in the know that Lord Westerling had manipulated Tommen gently for the better part of his rule. The man had been a key instigator of the tensions between Corynna and her once beloved son.

It seemed that Ser Westerling was to meet with an unfortunate accident on this excursion.

"I would caution you against outright war against the Stormlanders, my Lady." Corynna counselled, catching the gleam in Elaena's eyes. "Each Kingdom throughout Westeros has a different strength, as you'll come to know. We are essentially separate countries in that sense. The Stormlanders are notoriously well trained in warfare. For generations, they have proven their ability to deter conflict through martial might alone." Pausing to look at one of the Dragon shaped decorations on the shuttle, Corynna continued. "While you certainly have a unique advantage over them going in, do not doubt that they will adapt quickly to that advantage."
"Grandmother." Lann's quite voice cut in, drawing Corynnas attentive gaze to the boy. "Forgive me, but we are on good terms with the Stormlands, aren't we? I found King Arlan and Princess Argella to be quite... agreeable."
"My Grandson is correct, as he usually is." Corynna smiled, looking back to the Targaryen. "I am on good terms with King Arlan. I may be able to sway him to join our cause. That would give us cause to focus our attention on the forces to the North."

When the shuttle stopped and Elaena threw herself out of it in a rugged fashion, Corynna raised an eyebrow. She did have to admire how little the Targaryen cared for her personal appearance when it came down to it. However, Corynna was a grandmother first and would not have her grandson catching a cold, so gestured for the staff to move the shuttle further into the shallows. Once the shuttle was drawn up onto the bluff, Corynna, Lann and the Lionsguards dismounted. Behind them, several more shuttles were following, many of them displaying the Lannister and Tarly sigils.

"We do have our work cut out for us, my Lady." Corynnas passive smile masked any opinions she might have had for the Targaryens ambitions. "When my men come ashore, I shall have them set up camp so that we can discuss our first move in comfort and security."

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It seemed, as she thought more of it, that Lady Corynna was realizing the danger in Elaena's plan. Was she having second thoughts? Or was she just presenting alternate ideas? Targaryen spies would be sent to the Rock, for certain, to make that less of a question and more of an understanding. Elaena waited for Corynna and Lann to follow her onto the shore, and then responded to the older woman's concerns.

"If they are truly on such good-terms with you, then perhaps you can speak to the Stormlanders into bending the knee. Should they consent, warfare would be averted, and Targaryen armies will never march on the Stormlands, so long as that knee remains bent." She turned towards a rocky path that lead further up the hill, towards the flat dry planes that overlooked the Blackwater. "If they do not, the Stormlands may have to burn before the war is over. They were a stubborn people when I met them, and not keen to bend the knee, though my Brother ruled at that point." She crested the hill, and spun in a slightly childish manner amidst the short grass and sands.

"I would be willing to meet with their Storm King, by your side, to discuss such a proposition, though if you feel it will sit best coming solely from you, I trust your discretion," Elaena continued. "I wish to see no more of this land burn than needs to. The Northerners however...." she turned and looked in the direction she knew to be North. "The Northerners I've met have pride as thick and cold as the snow that coats their land. I fear that the only thing capable of melting that pride may be fire."

Elaena looked up towards Belarion, and beckoned softly with her hand. Moments later, the massive beast flew so quickly towards the ground that it looked like he might be falling. At the last moment, he flapped his wings so hard that it blew leaves and dirt up into the air. Elaena's hair was blown back, and she had to steady her stance to not be toppled by the force as Belarion settled onto the ground near them. He bellowed a sickening shriek, and let a plume of flame jet into the sky, a reminder of how young and immature the Dragon was.
 

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"Bending the knee is not your only option, my lady." Corynna replied. "Sometimes alliances produce more potent results than outright subjugation. Especially here in the South." The Tarly Lioness pondered the future meeting with the Stormlanders. "Actually, I believe it would be best for you to come with me. King Arlan already knows me decently well. I assume that all he really knows about you is your status as a Dragon Lord."

As Elaena mentioned the North, Corynna found herself agreeing with the foreigners words. She rarely interacted with the Northerners besides when they deemed it necessary to journey South in order to uphold political obligations or just to remind the world that they still existed. Every Westerosi man and woman knew one thing however, and it was that a siege of the North from the South was near impossible. The Northerners were a loyal, hardy and relentless people, with treacherous land stretching out far between strongholds. Dragons would essentially cut out the middle man, but the problem wasn't solely taking the North. It was holding it.

When Balerion made his grand entrance, Corynna stood firm, adjusting herself to accommodate the rush of air sent outwards by the beasts wings, though it very nearly toppled her. Lann had ducked behind her, peeking out from behind her skirts when Balerion spewed flame upwards. Corynna looked down to her beloved grandchild, smiling softly at the wonder in his eyes. The boy had ridden upon a Dragon once, when a very different Dragon Lord had visited and had been quite taken with the beasts ever since. In fact, he quickly moved out from behind Corynna and took a step towards the beast with wide eyes, cautioned only when the Queen Mothers hand fell on his shoulder.

"Lann." Corynna said, fingers digging into the boys shoulder. "Do you not think it would be wise to ask Lady Elaena about Balerion before approaching him?"
"Oh... yes of course." Lann turned his full attention to Elaena. "My Lady, how old is Balerion? Is he battle ready yet? Can his flame melt through steel? Will he get bigger than this? Is his skin impenetrable by modern weaponry? Will-"
"Sweetheart, give the poor woman some time to answer." Corynna let out a short chuckle. As the group conversed, other shuttles were beginning to come ashore. Well out of the way of Balerion. "Forgive me, my Lady. The Prince is quite taken by Dragons at this point in his life."

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"Lady Corynna," Elaena began. Her tone wasn't admonishing, but it had the tone of a parent reminding their child of something. "I am here to rule. Alliances are well and good, but I no more rule Westeros in that scenario than I do now. What would you have me do when the North is brought to heel? Settle for the bitter cold half of Westeros and settle in? Leave the Stormlanders to squander what they have?" She made no acknowledgement that Corynna had yet to bend a knee, still, no demands had been made of the Queen Mother.

"No, the Stormlanders will be allowed to remain, as Wardens of the Stormlands, but under my rule. Under the rule of a Targaryen dynasty." She twirled slowly in place, taking in the sight of the fields around her. Elaena beckoned towards a group of nearby aides, and one approached expectantly. "Begin marking off, I want a city built here. Larger, and more grandiose than any that exists on the continent at present. I want it to remind of old Valyria."

"Yes, your grace," the woman said with a rushed nod, and then she hurried off.

Lann had begun approaching Balerion, before Corynna stopped him and directed him towards Elaena. The child's wonder and awe caused Elaena to giggle, and she moved towards Lann to answer his questions. Her wanderous pace, and the swirling of her skirt around her ankles made Elaena seem to float as she walked. "He is only twenty, as old as I am," Elaena began with a giddy smile. "He isn't nearly as battle-ready as his brothers and sisters, but his flame can certainly melt through steel." She motioned a guard over, and took the man's longsword. With both hands, she spun it (keeping it a safe distance from Lann) and then released it into the air.

Pointing at it, she shouted "Dracarys," and Balerion let out a plume of fire that incinerated the sword. The destruction was followed by a slight giggle from Elaena, as she petted the dragon's scaly snout. "He will certainly grow bigger, and his skin is mostly impenetrable." She finished answering, and patted Lann on the head. "Would you like to ride on him?" She asked, not even concerning herself with Corynna's opinion of such an act.
 

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When Elaena asked if the Prince wanted to ride Balerion, each Lannister had a starkly contrasting reaction.

Lann was, of course, was so excited that one would think the Seven themselves had descended to the mortal plane to bless him. memories began flooding back to him of the last time he'd ridden on a Dragon. It was a wondrous proposition to the boy. The stories he'd be able to tell, that he had ridden upon two distinctly different Dragons during his CHILDHOOD. How could anybody possibly pass up that prospect?

Corynna on the other hand was not quite as elated. Clearly, Elaena was in the mood to show off her own influence, casually ordering her men to begin setting out the markings for a potential city. The largest in all the land. In the back of her mind, the Tarly Lioness knew that she could put the Dragon Lady in her debt by helping to fund the construction of this masterpiece, which was always a good thing. Gold had a powerful voice in Westeros, and the Lannisters knew how to make it sing. However, in the present, she pursed her lips. Not only had Elaena offered to let her grandson ride upon a beast that had just shown its destructive ability, but she had done so without asking for Corynnas consent.

"I would love too!" Lann exclaimed, eyes widening before he regained his composure. "I-If it please you, my lady."
"I'm sure you would, my darling boy." Corynna forced a smile that would appear natural, eyeing Balerion. "When you say nearly impenetrable, what exactly do you mean?"
"Grandmother..." Lann muttered impatiently.
"Don't worry my boy, you'll have your ride." Corynna chuckled softly, eyes locked on Elaena's face. "I'm just curious. What material could possibly penetrate the legendary naturally occurring armor of such a magnificent beast? Surely, not a common weapon. Something expensive. More gold than the average House could afford to fork out."

It was clear what Corynna was asking. Insurance. They had come this far on the bond of a tenuous friendship, but it was time that they each put forth something to gain the others trust. Corynna had already offered a strategic location for Elaena's forces, and there was the obvious promise of gold in the future if their partnership flourished. Even though the idea of having a Dragon at your call was enticing to most, Corynna required something more real. She wondered if it was a secret that Elaena would reveal to her.

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