Character: Richter Stahlhardt II
House: Stahlhardt
Kingdom: Westerlands

[Note: some of the events described in Richter's memory are different from what actually happened, as I had yet to read Runa's story "Heart Tree". Feel free to assume that this is because he is distraught, or that it will be changed somewhat.]

Richter Stahlhardt II squinted in the mid-afternoon sunlight. He was baking in his leathers and sweat trickled down his forehead and dotted his upper lip. He licked some of it away, tasting the salt and dirt, and spat onto the sandy brown cobbles. The air smelled of rot and smoke, the product of last night’s attack. The bloody Dornishmen set a series of buildings ablaze to reroute the royal procession, only to ambush the Lannister caravan with hand carts and a handful of dagger-wielding fools. The rolling cloud of smoke looming overhead informed Richter the fire was still burning, and he pondered how long it would take to quell the flames. Perhaps Lord Tywin intended to keep it burning while his vassals hunted for anyone with the tell-tale accent of the southern-most kingdom.

Richter was one of those vassals, and set out to search Visenya’s Hill at Kevan Lannister’s request. The thick-waisted and balding knight had muttered something about an “attack dog heeling” before returning to Tywin’s side, and Richter hadn’t quite understood the comment. He guessed at its nature, however, when Runa’s hand slid into her sleeve to grip one of her many concealed blades. Kevan was alluding to the flogging Richter had begrudgingly imposed upon his sister, and though she had endured the punishment with fortitude, the remark wounded her pride.

Richter wondered if Runa resented him for the whipping, and grimaced as he tried to repel the thought. Her soft, shuddering gasps echoed in his mind, the sharp crack of the whip in stark contrast. Blood dripped from the 9 gashes he had carved into her back, deep crimson set on porcelain skin. His eyes swelled and he blinked rapidly, shaking his head. There wasn’t any way around it—either he submitted to the will of the Lannisters or Runa’s fate would be out of his hands. Not only would he lose a sister, but his father would lose his prized daughter, and the fault would lie on Richter’s shoulders. Her voice was strong when he dropped the whip, but her face was streaked with tears. “One more, Richter. With force we forge.”

Richter took a deep breath. He lifted his head as his horse, Discipline, trotted down the Street of Seeds, flanked by two Stahlhardt soldiers. Runa and Darion trailed behind with a larger force, and two Drauger flitted unseen from alley to alley. He peered down from the saddle at the bustling crowd of smallfolk. They wormed between shop carts, swarmed in and out of taverns and hovels, and yelled and squawked and muttered. His eyes darted from face to face seeking darker complexions—a few Summer Islanders stood out like a flock of ravens soaring before alabaster clouds, but they were not his prey. A man with a thick accent perched on a splintering wooden crate shouted his wares at the crowd, but his voice was more Braavosi than Dornish. The man was old and his skin was a dark, peeling brown. His hands were knobby and frail, but they could work wonders—the wood carvings at his stall were incredibly ornate, and almost every one of them featured ebony wood with flecks of white accent. Richter tugged on Discipline’s reins and the horse halted before the Braavosi wood carver. The soldiers dismounted and began looking under carts, digging through barrels, and emptying wagons. If the Lannisters wanted a show of force, he would obey.

The old man’s face puckered as he inclined his head to Richter. “No Dornishmen here,” he said, the words oddly emphasized. Richter nodded, but didn’t call off his men.

“Beautiful carvings,” He said, musing.

“Tokens, to the God of death,” The man rasped.

Richter held out his hand, and the man hesitated. At length he plucked one of the icons up and placed it in Richter’s palm. He lifted it to the sunlight to examine the intricate details, noting lions, wolves, fish, and scorpions tangled in a nest of thorns and licking flames. Richter appreciated the craftsmanship, but allowed himself a small smile. Clearly the man didn’t think much of the greater houses of Westeros. He raised an eyebrow at the elderly foreigner, who glowered silently. Richter pocketed the trinket.

“Should I find any Dornish on my return, you may be meeting your God of death sooner than you intended,” He said.

The man shrugged, “valar morghulis.”

Richter heard the phrase regularly during his tour of the free cities, but he still didn’t understand. He nodded in what he hoped appeared threatening, letting his towering stature do most of the work. Whether the old man was insulting him or not, he had accomplished his goal. A few more pointless searches to instill fear in the citizens of King’s Landing and flaunt the power of the Westerlands would be sufficient. He gave Discipline a slight kick and proceeded along the winding road.

Richter knew that at his point his quarry had gone to ground. Gold cloaks and Lannister soldiers were going door to door, and the news of the raid spread faster than a septon could say “seven blessings.” Every Dornishman in the city had likely fled or hid themselves in the deepest, darkest dens they knew. No, this was about control. They were searching the city on Tywin’s orders, not the King’s. While Robert was a formidable opponent on the field of battle, he wasn’t much of a governor. The Stahlhardts were just a pawn in the Lion’s game, but it was better to be a pawn than an opponent.

The Stahlhardt procession reached a square of buildings a few blocks east of the Great Sept of Baelor, and the crowds had sufficiently thinned. A few shops were still open, their signs swaying in the humid breeze. Richter could see the air boiling at the far end of the square, and his back ached from the ride. He couldn’t smell the smoke from the Dornish quarter, but instead caught the scent of pigeon roasting on a spit. A flock of disheveled and frail children were cooking the bird, turning the spit slowly and glancing at each passerby as if they were like to steal their fine meal. Richter found himself wondering when their last meal had been, but let go of the notion as Runa and Darion approached.

“Shall we split up?” Darion asked, his voice monotone.

“Not yet,” Richter said. He nodded to a shop a group of men were just entering with an elegantly painted book surrounded by flowering plants, “we’ll start here and fan out.”

Darion gave a frowning acknowledgement, and Runa dismounted silently. The three approached the building that was labeled “No Page Unturned,” in swooping calligraphy. Flowers and vines coated the facades so heavily he could not see wood or stone, making the place feel alien in the brick and mortar city. Richter pushed open the door and the dusty aura of old tomes attacked his nostrils. His eye twitched as he held back a sneeze, and he a managed to compose himself. Books were towered precariously in stacks, and it appeared to be more of a horde than a neatly arranged display. A few patrons turned to look as they wandered the isles, but most kept their noses glued to the musty pages.

Richter strode to the counter, and his soldiers began their routine. Darion made his way down an aisle of teetering volumes, and Runa looked under shelves and opened cabinet doors. A kindly looking woman with plump features, a round face, and deep green eyes greeted him with a snort of shock.

“My Lord,” she gasped, outrage and surprise mingling in a blur of emotion across her face. Richter eyed her, but did not speak for a moment. She gave a small shiver and her annoyance diminished. Richter’s gaze usually had that effect. He strolled casually to one of the piles of books and examined the spines. One read “A cure for the common ailment,” and another “Archmaester Ch’Vyalthan’s account of the Surgeons of Oldtown.” Richter cocked his head to the old woman.

“Someone in need of healing?” He asked.

“No, just a selection of books I brought out for a client. Are you in need--”

“Do you have any Dornish Clients, crone?” Richter cut her off. He preferred to be straight to the point. Intrigue wasn’t his strength.

“N-no?” She stammered. “Though, I do have some wonderful books on Dorne, would you care to--”

“No,” Richter cut her off again. He was hot, aching, and tired, and the last thing he wanted was some female Maester shoving a book in his face. She clearly wasn’t of any use, and simply entering her place of business had drummed up some fear. Her customers, however, seemed too nonchalant about the procedure. Richter unsheathed a dirk and stabbed one of the books in a quick motion. He heard a few cries of anguish and saw that all eyes were on him now. Good. He held the book with the hilt of the knife, as if he were holding an apple he intended to carve up and devour.

“I pray that your Dornish books are the only items here from that sand-ridden waste. Should I hear word of your harboring fugitives…” He let the book slide down the blade and fall to the floor, pages exploding in a flurry. The old woman’s lip quivered, but showed no emotion otherwise. Richter’s soldiers returned, following Runa. She laid a silver stag on the table, which was well-more than the book was worth.
“For your trouble,” She said in a solemn voice, then turned and vacated the establishment, ignoring Richter. He felt his stomach drop as he remembered Runa’s love for books. How could he be so stupid? It was this heat, and this terrible mess the Lannisters had forced him into. He sighed, and turned to leave.

“Wait,” said the old woman. Richter paused at the door and closed his eyes. The sudden urge to kill the woman sprung into his chest, but he heaved it away as he pictured Runa’s tear-stained face. He shifted to face the shrew and jumped slightly to see her inches away from him, with a small book in her hand. She thrust it at him.

“Take it, young man,” She said, “and learn a thing or two.”

Richter rubbed his fingers across the flowered pattern inlay in the leather. The title read “Bellina’s insights on the mind of the fairer sex.”
He sighed, thanked her, and stepped into the oppressive swelter.