283 AC – Siege of Storms End
Sometimes I think it's best to let my old life go. As much as I'd like a coffee in the morning, read the news on my favorite websites and maybe catch up on some of my guilty pleasure television shows...that's pretty much over. No amount of wishing will save me from the horribly tight spot I'd found myself in. I had no time to adept, little breathing room to accept my new lot in life, but circumstances forced me to attempt that anyways. Hearing the loud ruckus that sixty god damn thousand troops are making just outside of your castle, and are seemingly both willing and eager to come rip you apart, has a way of focusing your mind.
It's been a month now for me and, as best as I can tell, a little over seven months for the fictional character I've seemingly body jacked. The Fat Lord Tyrell had Storms End, the Baratheon strong hold, surrounded by close to sixty thousand troops and I was stuck in it. Escape routes were locked tightly by the Tyrell host on land and by the Redwyne fleet choking off Shipbreaker Bay. Things..weren't looking all that well.
Together with my newly acquired little brother, Renly, and a shade under two thousand personal troops we were holed up in the strongest castle in Westeros. Or so my Master-at-Arms claimed merely hours before he attempted to escape and cut a peace deal with the leaders of the Tyrell host. Incidentally, he's in jail now and currently not being fed.
My 'squeamishness' went down the drain after the first children started dying.
It doesn't matter that most of army making that noise are levies fresh from their farms, or the fact that they are badly led by Tyrell, they still managed to make any sally out of the walls a non starter. My one shining beacon of hope was that an audacious smuggler has made his way into my – or at least temporarily mine – castle and offered to sneak in some much needed supplies.
Maester Cressen, a kindly old man deemed a learned and most educated adviser by the locals, was urging me to accept the smugglers offer. He didn't know I had already made of my mind. Long hours of watching this very story unfold, lazying in my bed, had me convinced that acquiring Davos' services were paramount.
"Do I have your consent, my Lord? Our people cannot be kept well fed by your mushroom farms or your rat enclosures, clever as that may have been."
The old man was shocked, and hid it rather poorly, when Stannis had urged the rat catchers hand over their hauls. The old owner of this body had to endure a few minutes of Cressen's chastisement for his perceived fastidiousness before he managed to explain to him that he simply wanted to breed the lot of them. One of our many empty rooms was converted into a rat farm and while Cressen was right, we couldn't live off of it, it certainly had helped us stretch our remaining resources. As had the mushrooms, my doings this time, that I seeded in as many damp and dark spots as I could possibly manage. They grew slowly but at least they required little to no tending.
I smiled slightly at Cressen, which always seemed to unnerve him, and said, "I agree, Cressen. Send the man in, if you would."
While the old man shuffled off to collect the man I considered my utterly precarious position. If canon unfolded the way it was supposed to I had to it through another month or two, perhaps slightly more, and watch as the people in the castle slowly wither away. If canon unfolds as it should I'd get rewarded for my 'service' by Robert, my new and not so shiny older sibling, to go kill him some children on Dragon Stone.
I considered, honestly I did, to simply ride this out. To wait for Eddard Stark to come get me and quietly sit out my days, hanging out on Dragon Stone, and attempt to deal with the constant boredom that was sure to haunt me. I'd already been through my partying phase and the thought of lounging about, rolling from feast to feast, for the rest of my life, sounded utterly mind numbing. And that's not even taking into the account to fairly inevitable zombie scenario that would unfold even if I cravenly hid myself away. If I chose to do anything but pulling a Robert I'd inevitably get caught up in politics. As the 'brother' of the King that would be all but guaranteed.
After which I assume I'd die.
Or I could play the game of thrones for myself, still likely dying, but perhaps I could scrape by. And perhaps even make a difference in the aforementioned zombie scenario.
More likely I'd simply bleed the realm dry of funds and build myself a stronghold somewhere deep in Essos. From my own memories, as well as little Stannis', I knew that Robert probably wouldn't notice. Or even if he did he wouldn't care. Also, I'm not an altruistic man. If I want both a long life, riches, and the ability to skedaddle off to Essos I needed to shake canon off the rails. I find myself not caring how many people would have to go down for that.
As long as it wasn't me.
Or Renly. I'd grown remarkably attached to the little bugger.
Someone knocked on the door of my study, presumably Cressen, and let himself through a moment later. The old Maester stepped aside to make room for Davos and I got my first glimpse at the man. He looked weathered, sun kissed as most sailors were, but I'm sure he was hiding some strength under his frayed and equally weathered cloak.
Maester Cressen attempted to introduce the man but I forestalled it with a raised hand. Sometimes I did enjoy being an illustrious noble, even one as hunted as myself, and the way everyone here jumped to my commands made me feel just shy of intoxicated.
Apparently power agrees with me.
"So, you're the smuggler. Tell me, Davos, what made you come seek me out?"
The man hemmed and hawed for a bit, attempted to deny being a smuggler, but after a glare from me came to the point, "I'm tired of this life, milord. I've never known much else but I saw an opportunity to leave it all behind."
I was careful to keep a bland expression on my face as I nodded for him to continue.
"I grew up in the Fleabottom ward of King's Landing, milord. It was a hard childhood but I got through it just fine enough. I was able to make my escape by stowing away on the Cobblestone, a vessel owned by Tyrosi smuggler, and he took pity upon me. I've been following his trade ever since, milord."
Well, all of that certainly fit with what I knew of the man. Should I let him bring it up or should I just bulldoze right through him?
I smiled, ever so slightly, and said, "And now you're hoping I'm your fresh start. Your new beginnings, perhaps?"
I let the silence stretch just long enough for the man to attempt to speak before I interrupted him, "Or, far more likely, you wish for something more, something better, for your children?"
Ah, that got the man. Davos finally dared to look me straight in the eye, he even stood a little taller, and simply replied, "Aye, milord."
I returned his bold gaze and let my smile grow a shade longer, "I admire your bravery, Davos. To come to a man surrounded by enemies and offer to undertake great danger for him."
Would he see where I was going with this? Despite how canon turns out I simply won't risk being perceived as gullible or desperate. Well, I probably couldn't avoid being seen as desperate. I can definitely work on gullible though.
"One might even say that such a man would be desperate enough overlook the highly miraculous circumstances that help might appear in, Davos."
Now he got it. I watched carefully as his expressions cycled through a touch of confusion, a shade of shocked affront, but what mostly caught my eye was a clear absence of fear. Either he was a remarkably adept liar, which wouldn't be such a stretch for a smuggler, or he was genuinely upset I thought him a spy.
"I do not know how to convince you, milord. All I can offer is my word that I would serve you well."
I kept staring into his eyes but I didn't know what else to look for. If I took this as a separate event, completely disconnected from what I remember reading about, would I be inclined to make this deal? Taking the service of a shady smuggler, who appears just as starvation is beginning to set in, that almost miraculously managed to circumvent a full fleet?
Worst case scenario he relays our dire position, but it wasn't as if the Tyrells weren't aware of that, and he simply disappears after. Perhaps he manages to catch a glimpse of our guards and their positions, but even that wouldn't be such a big deal, or a handful of other annoyances he might prove to set off.
Annoyances. I couldn't imagine him doing, or pulling off anything more than annoying, that would genuinely harm me. On the other hand...the benefits, if he was true to his word, would save hundreds. I was pretty much sold.
Despite that I made a mental note to have him greeted, in the case he managed to return to us with fresh supplies, by a cohort of my troops. Troops that would be under orders to stab any boxes, barrels or whatever else Davos manages to acquire us. This massive castle would not fall because I let a smuggler smuggle in enemy troops.
I finally let my smile spread widely and told Davos, "I'm willing to accept that, Davos, especially in light of the risks you have already undertaken. Deliver on your promise, smuggler, and you have my word that your children will have the best opportunities I can ensure."
I didn't expect the man to fall to his knees but I probably should have. I endured his offerings of gratitude with a broad smile on my face until Cressen finally saved me. Just before Davos left the study though I called out to him.
"Oh, and Davos? In the future, please remember that you're not a handmaiden of my non-existent wife. You'll address me as 'my Lord', understood?"
"Aye, my Lord."
If it was possible I would have smiled wider at that. Cressen finally ushered the man out of my study and I considered what else I had on my table. I'd already done my daily morning patrol; inspecting the walls and cheering up the men, making sure the fires were heated enough to warm up sand to use against the Tyrells, and overseeing the construction of some three dozen Ballista's.
I had to go see a man about a kidnapping. Was that the right word? Kidnapping? In any case...it sounds better than fat-man-napping.
283 AC – Siege of Storms End
I found myself standing in front of the fourteen volunteers for my mission. Each of the men had cause to thoroughly despise the Tyrells baying at my walls. Morty, a former tenant of one of my banner men, witnessed their depraved assault on the village he was from. Hugo, a tanner by trade, had seen his only son wither in front of his eyes as the young lad proved too weakened by hunger to fight off his ailment. From what I gathered it was quick but that didn't diminish the effect it had on Hugo. The man was a boiling mess of seething fury and more than willing to get even the Tyrells.
No matter the cost.
Each of the men had similar hatreds, equally appalling and agonizing stories, and most of them had no real prospects to speak of. They wouldn't mind throwing themselves at the enemy, even if they only took one or two out, and some of them went as far as to thank me for the opportunity. It took all the inner strength I had not to flinch at their words.
Their part of my plan was simple. A little under an hour before dawn they were to scale down the outer walls of Storms End, don their muddied gray and brown cloaks, and hide in the shrubbery just down the road from the gate. I directed them to the area, just barely outside of bow range but well within the range of my new ballistas, where they were to park their asses. They would, hopefully, be camouflaged well enough to avoid being spotted by Lord Tyrells guards. Once I made my move they'd attempt to intercept the Fat Flowers guards from retrieving their Lord.
The men standing beside me, the spares the Storm Lords had deigned to send my way, were integral to the rest of my scheme. The second son of House Bollin, a distance Baratheon bastard line, stood side by side with the third son of House Buckler. Their enmity completely forgotten in the face of sixty thousand screaming Reachmen. House Herston sent a distant cousin of theirs, but because he still bore their name it apparently wasn't a slight, and I could find no fault with the boy. He was just a year or so older then me and he'd comported himself rather well over the past few others. The other lordlings came from House Errol, a powerful vassal that could raise thousands of levies on their own, as well as House Gower.
I think the Errols barely sent a third of their men with my 'brother'. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of that, but I couldn't afford to pay it much mind. Conspicuously absent was House Estorment, the House of my 'mother' but they've thoroughly proven themselves unreliable. Robert couldn't afford to turn them away, nor would he listen to Stannis' objections, but I didn't think my big 'brother' cared all that much. The damned Estermonts lived less then a weeks ride away from Storms End but from what I gathered from Stannis' memories...they never even showed themselves, once.
I wasn't much surprised they didn't offer anyone for the defense of Storms End.
I cleared my throat and projected my voice, "Men of the Stormlands! I have no pretty words for you. You know the stakes, you all know how much we've suffered at the hands of these Reachlords, and you're well aware of your importance to my gambit. I need you, Stormlanders. Will you serve your Lord, faithfully?"
Their assent was loud and almost startling in its intensity. With a gesture I sent their off to rest up for their coming ordeal and turned to my noble retinue. They were to be my hard core of violence that I'd send forth to sally out against Mace Tyrells guards. I had already arranged for him to meet me, just outside the castle, to talk terms. While the fat lug would certainly assume I meant terms for surrender I, obviously, had no such intentions.
I could already hear the berating Robert would get up to if I did that.
"Any man who doesn't make it back will have my word I'll take care of his remaining family. Any man that does survive...well, I have greater things planned for you. Go rest and pray men, for strength and conviction for the coming ordeal."
A lot of this plan relied of Mace being at ease and not overly suspicious. That the man would be willing to come deal me with, personally. Even if only to gloat and take my submission to him in person. I didn't care what drew him in particular. I just needed the man to show up and I thought he was prideful enough to go through with it.
He'd be surrounded by guards, but I was counting on him leaving the majority of them behind, when it was time to actually converse with me. If he kept them around him, even through the parley, then I was simply screwed. I'd have to pull back to 'consider' the terms and attempt the whole gambit later. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that. I sincerely doubted the volunteers would be able to hold still for a whole day.
Sebastion Errol was the first to speak up, "My Lord, are you certain you wish to attempt this...ploy?"
I knew what he was driving at. We'd had this conversation many times over. The man, the future lord of Haystack Hall, has concerns about the distinct lack of honor inherent in my plan. Despite the many, and I mean many, times I told him that you can't eat honor he wouldn't hear of it.
Frankly I was getting tired of it, "If you're not up to the task, Sebastion, I would urge you to speak up now. I'm sure I could find something else for you to do."
Left unsaid was the fact that he wouldn't enjoy that. There was a tight rope line I had to balance myself on. I was, technically, in charge of this whole mess as the eldest Baratheon in Storms End. Both because I was still Roberts heir, but largely because 'I' had spent the last seventeen years here and people were used to my commands. That being said...I didn't have a lot of leverage in this situation. I couldn't afford to alienate the little lordlings I'd surrounded myself with and risk them attempting to escape, or worse.
Fail to escape and force me to lock them up. I also had very little in the way of a carrot to keep them all sweet. If there wasn't a massive siege on the way I could have simply sent the whiners away, covered in shame. Now...
I had to balance forcing them to obey me while not pushing them too hard. Stannis' memories weren't much of a help either. Very few people around here actually liked him and all thought him far too severe.
Sebastion spluttered for a moment but I did him the favor of ignoring it, "Does anyone have any practical concerns? Do you see any ways to improve upon our plan?"
These little lordlings loved being included in my 'war council'. It was mostly empty posturing but every so often one of them actually contributed something. Today, that someone, was the Bollin spare. Stannis never cared for his presumptive and overly personal way of behaving around him but I didn't mind. If Orys Bollin wanted to play on ancient blood ties and call me cousin I was just fine with that.
"I don't mean to imply anything untoward about your strength, Stannis, but we've all had a good long look at the Fat Flower. Would you be able to both subdue and transport him while fending off his forward guard?"
A most poignant point. I had no intention of actually subduing the man. I hadn't shared this particular point of my plan though so I didn't mind explaining.
"A fair point, cousin. You're right. I can't physically grab the man and get away from his guard. Instead I'll throw a net over the Fat Flower, one which is covered up by my cloak and is tied to the harness of my horse, and speed away with him in my wake. I'll rely on your hidden crossbows to keep the guards from catching up to me."
Errol almost immediately showed his displeasure, "My Lord! That is most-."
Thankfully Orys cut him off, "Efficient? We're not playing with wooden swords under the gaze of your mother anymore, Sebastion. We'll be getting our hands dirty instead of just slowly wasting away as we watch the Fat fucking Flower feast in front of us."
Marcel Grower echoed his sentiment, "Don't worry, Sebastion. Once we win this thing we get to commission the songs. They'll say whatever we want them to."
Well, that wasn't my particular concern but I liked the way his mind works. I seem destined to enjoy, and appreciate, all the people that Stannis looked at with contempt. As far as I was concerned that was a litmus test for how well I'd get along with people. You'd think more Storms End residents would be upset with my sudden change of personality but I chalked up their lack of concern to the sheer relief they felt at 'Stannis' being less of a cunt.
Perhaps they thought my bump to the head had mellowed me out.
Errol rallied under the onslaught, "Fine! Let us lower ourselves and break parley to grab Lord Tyrell, if the ride doesn't kill him. What then? Do you truly believe that his army will pack up and leave?"
Orys looked ready to tear into him but I waved him the man down with a gesture. He did have a point as much as it annoyed me. Mace might in fact die from the fall or even from being dragged across the ground behind my horse. I didn't think it was likely but anything could happen.
His other point was pure idiocy though.
"No, Sebastion. I don't expect his army to simply vacate the siege. For one, his Hightower cousin would simply take over, but that's not what I have in mind."
I let the silence stretch on theatrically, making sure I have their full attention, and continued, "Once we have the Fat Flower we'll get his men to send supplies. I doubt these soft Reachlords have the stomach to starve their Lord Paramount."
I halfheartedly listened to their replies as the sun slowly went down. In a few short hours I'd make the biggest gambit of my life that didn't involve blackjack or shady bookies.
283 AC – Siege of Storms End
An hour till sunup, my volunteers should be in place right now, and I was trying to explain to little Renly what was going on. It wasn't going very well.
"But why! I want you to stay here! With me!"
I wasn't sure when the little bugger wormed his way into my affections. Perhaps it was because he reminded me of my own little brother. Or else it was simply because he's so gods be damned adorable. Either way; the clingy little bastard didn't seem inclined to let go of my leg.
I put a hand on his tiny shoulders, braced him, and said, "Hey, little man. You need to toughen up a little, alright? Your big brother is just going out for little fun! I'll be right back!"
I didn't let him reply and simply bulldozed onward, "I need you to be strong, Renly. Stay with Maester Cressen and obey him as you would me. Do you understand, little man?"
Renly's face scrunched up adorably when he replied, "I'm not little!"
I let out a loud laugh, picked him up, and crushed the boy to my chest. I let him struggle for a little bit after which I slowly released him.
"Put your hand to mine, little brother."
Still frowned he did just that and I said, "Look at that! Three hundred of your tiny little hands fit in mine! That makes you little, right?"
Renly snorted before replying, "Nu-uh! You're doing it wrong! My hand is half your hand!"
I mussed up his hair when I responded to that, "So does that makes you a big man then?"
All I got in response was a firm nod from the lad. I smiled as widely as I could and told him, "If you're a big man, Renly, you have to act like one. Stay with Maester Cressen and listen to him. Understood?"
This time his nod was a less firm. I bent down to plant a mushy kiss on his forehead and sent him off running. I slowly followed him as I needed to speak Cressen myself.
"Please reconsider this, my Lord. I do not believe the risks outweigh the benefits and we can ill afford to lose you. These men all rallied around yourself...in your absence Storms End falls!"
I never quite got Cressen on board with my plans. The man had droned on endlessly on the blemish upon my honor that would follow me around. When that didn't work he moved on to forecasting doom and disaster.
I wasn't having any of it. I knew that sitting tight was the easy, and likely more reasonable, play but that didn't matter much to me. Unlike from what I recalled from my readings Mace Tyrell hadn't offered us any free food. Since I lacked Stannis' rather rigid view of personal honor I would have had no issue accepting it. The concern that people would 'oh gasp' gossip about my heinous kidnapping doesn't particularly mean very to much me, either.
"There are risks, Maester. They will always be risks. Instead of trying to talk me out of this, Cressen, attempt to advise me and bring success closer!"
Cressen took a deep sigh but eventually came up with, "Very well, would you talk me through the ambush one more time, my Lord?"
I did just that. I told him of the fourteen men hiding, under layers of mud and moss in the shrubberies, and their role in playing a distraction. One of those men would lob a crossbow shot at me, hopefully well over my head, after which I could claim the parley was void. I spoke of the thirty odd men I'd have at my back with hidden crossbows. I explained how the ballistae on top of the gates would be able to deter any reinforcements when we made our move. I finally ended it with my gambit to catch the Fat Flower in a net and drag him into the castle.
"I'm still worried, my Lord."
I was about to interject when Cressen firmly continued, "Not about the details. I have little doubt you wouldn't be able to surprise the Lord Tyrell, my boy. I do not believe you understand the damage you would do to your brother's cause, let alone your personal reputation, if you go through with this. Breaking a parley hasn't been done-."
I interrupted him, "Since the Dance of the Dragons, I'm well aware. I just need an air of confusion, Cressen, to be able to get away with it."
The aged Maester frowned but responded, "But that wouldn't convince them you didn't break parley, my Lord!"
I shook my head, "No, that isn't the point. One of the rear guards will yell out 'Betrayal' after the shot goes off, and once the hidden men hear that they'll charge at the Tyrell guards. I'll close in with Mace Tyrell and yell loudly he broke the parley, after which we'll drag him inside. The big crossbows on top of the gate will dissuade anyone."
Cressen attempted to speak up again but I halted him with a raised hand.
"Mace Tyrell has attempted to speak to me twice now. I've simply ignored the first two tries. Last week he called for me again and now I finally responded. They might think I've set this up but I'm not adding these little touches for their benefit. It's for the realm at large."
Cressen frowned, causing his eyebrows to become one wriggled mass of hair, and said, "Do you believe that will suffice? An obvious plot such as that?"
What is it with this incessant worry about honor? It doesn't do anything for you and it's not as if there aren't Lords out there who've done worse. I don't need a sterling reputation. Not when Lord god damned Tywin is a respected member of the nobility. If people whine too much I'll stick to the fiction I was heinously attacked.
"It doesn't matter, Cressen. I'm working on the assumption my brother, and his Vale- and Northmen, will be able to win the day for us. When they do, or even if they don't, nothing we do here matters."
A deep sigh preceded his inevitable surrender, "Very well, my Lord."
The next few hours passed by far too soon and before I knew it I'd found myself riding up to the gates. We passed the inner gates and the lot of us were waiting for the outer gates to open up. A heavy feeling settled in my stomach and I almost felt like throwing up. I still had access to most of Stannis' skills, as proven by the fact I managed to get on the horse, but clearly I didn't benefit from his inner reserves of courage. Only the heavy cloaks covered up the fact that I was shaking. I obsessively checked for the crossbow laying over my lap and the rope secured to my net.
When the gates finally opened I cleared my throat twice to make sure my voice wouldn't catch in my throat.
"Nobody makes a move until the first bolt is in the air. Wait until I have the Fat Flower tied up and unleash your own bolts in a single volley. You know what to do afterward."
I didn't wait to listen to their loud assent and made my way through the gate. It took every ounce of restraint I had to not scan the area too obviously. As we got closer to the staging ground for the parley I kept an eye out for my volunteers. I didn't see any of them.
That was good, right?
Within moments Mace, he even looked like he did on the television, appeared at the head of fifty odd men. He wasn't as fat as he'd be a few years from now but he certainly was chubby. Not that it took away, but in fact only enhanced, from his image as the opulent Reachlord casually dominating the Stormlands. If I really was Stannis I'd be grinding my teeth at the sight. The Fat Flower made his way to the staging ground, thankfully completely oblivious to my trap, and closed in on me with a tremendous smile lighting up his face.
Despite my most fondest wish the Fat Flower didn't leave all his guards behind. Three spectacularly armored men accompanied him only meters behind him. This might prove tricky.
"Young Lord Stannis of Storms End! You've held up admirably under the strain, young man."
I restrained the temptation to trade banter with him. Instead I simply charged right ahead into business.
"You came here to discuss something, Lord Mace. What do you want?"
I spoke up even louder at the end of my question signaling it was time.
"Are you truly so eager to head back to your empty castle, Lord Stannis? Would you not care for some refreshments? I can have my men deliver them right here to us."
Oh, the smug cunt. And what happened to my men? Why didn't anything happen yet?
Perhaps this was an opportunity for me. Would he send one of his men away if I accepted? Or was I only inviting more scrutiny upon me?
I had to take the chance
I raised a singular eyebrow and said, "Oh, I doubt your fare is much better than mine, Lord Mace."
He scoffed, he actually scoffed, and replied, "Very bold of you, young man, but you don't need to pretend."
I forced down the rising bile and plastered a neutral smile on my face.
"Very well, Lord Mace."
"Excellent, Gaston! Go tell the men to bring out the delicacies."
One of the large men accompanying Mace nodded and turned his horse around. Just after he got moving the 'attack' on my life finally happened. I could vaguely make out a dark shape moving in the bushes, on the side of the road, and a stray bolt came barreling overhead. Behind me the men knew that to be their signal.
I rounded on Mace, "Oh, you traitorous cunt!"
He spluttered, behind me I could hear my men yell 'betrayal', but I didn't wait for his response. I raced forward, withdrew the crossbow on my lap, and loosed it on the flank of one the guards horse. The creature reared back, Mace attempted to retreat, but my forward momentum was good enough to catch up to him.
I threw the net and whooped with pleasure when it connected with the Fat Flower. Mace tried to shake it off but his every move only served to entangle him further.
"What is this-."
I urged the horse to turn around, briefly sent up a prayer of thanks to Stannis' excellent horsemanship, and heard the Fat Flower's wining be cut off by my rapid retreat. I braved a quick look backwards and let out another loud whoop of laughter as I saw the entangled man being dragged forcibly behind me. The final guard however was right on my tail and shit..!
He just cut through the rope!
I turned around as fast as I could, raised my sword, and charged into the lonely man. My heart was beating so fast and loud I was worried it was going to explode out of my chest. Still, I had no intention of crossing swords with him. Our horses charged into each other and I threw myself clear of my horse. The heavily armored Reachmen didn't fair as well I did and while I managed to roll to my feet quickly he landed flat on his ass.
I ventured a look over the brawl, courtesy of my hidden volunteers, and judged that they might keep the reinforcements away from me for at least a few more seconds. I steeled my resolve, sprinted over to Mace, and when I reached him smashed the man's head with the butt of my sword. He didn't pass out but he did look dizzy enough to stop resisting. With my offhand I grabbed Mace' right arm, twisted it behind his back, and pulled him up to his feet by hooking my sword arm around his neck.
"You won't get away with-."
"Piss off, you tried to murder me during a parley!"
Quickly withdrawing my arm from under his chin, and replacing it with bare steel, was enough to shut him up. With some mild effort I managed to turn around, walking backwards with Mace in front of us, and slowly made my way to the castle. My crossbowmen had formed up around me, the unfortunate Reachman that was slow to get to his feet got a bolt to the face, and the rest flew off to help the volunteers.
It didn't matter much. They were all cut down rapidly.
I looked behind me and saw I still had thirty or so meters to go and the Fat Flowers guards were barreling down us.
Where were the god damned ballistae?
283 AC – Siege of Storms End
A good forty odd highly armored men on heavy horses were barreling down on us. We'd inched closer to the gates but they were still a good twenty or so meters away. Thankfully Mace didn't go limp on me, probably because of the bare steel pinching into his throat, but I knew we weren't going to make it.
Where were the god damned ballistae?
I bit out to my retinue, "Reload and fall back! I'll deal with them."
It was a testament to their discipline that none of them balked at my orders. The men fell back a few meters, started reloading their crossbows, while I attempted to halt the incoming charge. I had exactly one chance at this. If these men didn't care about preserving their Lords life I was pretty much done for.
I yelled as loud as I could, "Hold! Or I'll slice off your Lords neck!"
Fuck, they still kept coming! I steadied Mace with my off hand on the arm I still had wrenched behind his back and kicked at the back of his right knee. The man yelped loudly but crashed to the ground as planned. If they wouldn't stop I'd make damn sure to take the Fat Flower with me to my grave. My legs were still shaking, my sword arm was beginning to tire, but I had little choice. I was committed to this ploy no matter how much I felt like pissing myself.
"I said, hold! You flowery fucks!"
The first ranks slowed down, were pushed a bit further by the rear guards, but they all came to a stop a few meters before me. I could see the rage in their eyes and all I could do was grimace at it. A few incredibly tense moments passed before one of the guards called out.
"What do you want, Baratheon?"
Before I could respond though the world went mad. I could hear the faint -plink- of my ballistae being fired and I had just long enough to process that information to think; oh fuck. The first line of the troops in front of me were utterly decimated. Horses reared up, chaos spread through the ranks, and the massive bolts just kept coming. One cut through two riders before pinning a third horse to the ground. The next flew into the middle of the group of troops and collapsed the lines there. Another caught them on the flanks and I could hear the footfall of men behind me.
I ventured a quick look over my shoulders and saw that a contingent of my pikemen had come through. I didn't spare enough time to count them all but I guessed it was half a cohort. Two hundred men came rushing through gates and sheer relief rocked through my very being. I turned back to the Tyrell guards in front of me and my eyes went wide at the carnage coming my way.
Crap, I'm going to die here.
I pulled on Mace's arm to yank him backwards with me but this time the man was far less cooperative. Once again I was forced to smack him on the back of his head with the butt of my sword. With Mace properly cowed I attempted to pull him back to the gates.
Just before the Tyrell troops, those that shook off the shock induced by the artillery barrage, managed to reach me they were caught by a hailstorm of regular crossbow bolts. The vast majority of bolts crashed into their horses leading to yet another collapse of the charge. By this point the pikemen had finally reached me. I slipped through their ranks, still pulling Mace with me, and handed him off to some of the crossbowmen that had returned.
"Lock him up somewhere, tightly!"
Stannis' memories provided me with a name for the man replying, "Aye, my Lord!"
Balon Swann, the second son of Lord Gulian of Stonehelm, and while Stannis didn't exactly approve of him...he didn't mind him as much as some of the other lordlings.
I screamed at the other crossbowmen, "Reload and flank the pikemen!"
I made sure to sheath my sword, grabbed up a pike from one of the passing troops, and ordered him to help the Stonehelm spare. I took his place in our pikewall. The ranks weren't as tight as I'd hoped they'd be but I could work with it. The Tyrell troops were already nearly broken and all we had to do was capture them before reinforcements arrived. This whole scuffle had lasted no more than about four minutes but I knew we'd made enough noise to attract unwanted attention.
I yelled on the top of my lungs, "End this quickly! Forward two-step!"
Almost as one the moving mass of men picked up speed and caught up with the entangled horsemen. I had to give it to these Reachmen. Even after the pummeling their received they still managed to regroup enough to take our own charge. Unfortunately for them it appeared that the ballistae had reloaded. The small pocket of horsemen, maybe four or five of them, that had retreated from the encounter were well out of range by this point but there was still a significant number of Tyrell men taking our spears.
I couldn't quite make out what was happening until I heard the -'plink'- of launched ballistae bolts. This final attack, coinciding with most of my crossbowmen hitting the Tyrell men from the sides, broke the opposition and the vast majority of them dropped their weapons. The rest of the Tyrell horsemen followed soon after. I briefly, very briefly, considered ordering my men to cut them down but decided against it.
I already had enough problems.
Instead I ordered them, "Disarm them and escort them back to the castle!
283 AC – Siege of Storms End
I'd lost all but one of my fourteen volunteers. Hugo, the tanner, had miraculously managed to make it through the fighting. I took the men aside when we made it back to the castle and told him, privately, that I would have him publicly knighted as soon as the siege was lifted. I also told him that as far as I was concerned he should consider himself one, now. Apparently my latent worries that he would balk at that were baseless. The man was as excited about the prospect as, you could reasonably expect, a father who recently lost his son could be.
The crossbowmen had all made it back and we lost three pikemen in the first close combat clash against the Tyrell horsement. All in all it wasn't a particularly bad encounter. We'd gained the custody of the Tyrell Lord Paramount, a handful of his personal warriors, and a good thirty odd Tyrell mooks. We had them stripped of their armor and each of them was cooling their heels in the Baratheon dungeons under Storms End.
Those were the good outcomes of this.
The bad outcome was that I was cold, tired and covered in so much blood I didn't know whether or not some of it was mine. The moment night had cleared the Tyrell host attempted to storm the castle once again. I wasn't sure whether they simply thought I wouldn't kill the Fat Flower or if they didn't care. Either way...the Reachmen was starting to fight in earnest now.
"Bring up more hot sand!"
A long line manned by both men and women of Storms End, starting in the courtyard, hustled over buckets filled with hot sand. It wasn't very effective against deterring wall-climbers, the sand would lose much of its heat falling from the incredibly high walls, but it was just perfect against the hasty towers they'd erected.
It's been a week now and there have been attacks almost every night. Granted, none of them got very close to breaching the walls, but I came to regret my rash action. For every Storms End defender the Reachlords managed to knock off, we crushed a dozen or so theirs. Even an illiterate peasant could tell these weren't sustainable numbers.
I had only lost a little over fifty defenders over the past week but the situation was still dire. My men were reaching the point of starvation and I had to make the decision to give up on the rat farm. Rat soup, boiled and enriched with copious amounts of wine, on top of the regular fare was the only thing getting us through the days.
I was shook from my thoughts when yet another lumbering tower came headed our way. The ballistae crews had, by the point, became rather well trained at harassing the progress of their goliaths closing in on us. Half the people on the walls were women outfitted with excess crossbows. I'd like to say the vast majority of my men understood why I had to recruit them but there was still grumbling during the first few days.
Now though, on our seventh day of repelling these seemingly mindless charges, they were comprehending the need for extra bodies on the walls. Half the men, a little over a thousand, were resting and catching up on sleep. With the added numbers we could hand out pikes to all the men strong enough to carry them while the women harassed anything that moved.
Anyone not strong enough to fight was on bolt carving duties. Or heating up more sand and bubbling mudwater. We got pretty good at improvised siege defenses. The sun was almost down and while our enemies had traditionally retreated then I couldn't afford counting on it.
I yelled at one of the children we used to ferry messages around, "Dirk! Run to Cressen and get him to bring the Fat Flower."
As the youngster sped off I turned back to the wall prepared for fighting off, hopefully, the final charge of the day. Lets see how much Mace Tyrell enjoyed not eating, and only tiny sips of wine, for these past few days.
283 AC – Siege of Storms End
I was surrounded by several cohorts of intensely battle weary troops and I had to resort to using an improvised bull horn to make myself heard. Every so often I had to make these little performances to keep the fighting men, and women, on an even keel. If there was anything I remembered from casually perusing history, and more than a fair share of military history, books is that morale is god damned key.
"So! My sergeants! Who had the best kill of the day?"
Shouts rang out from all around me and I had some difficulty discerning who said what. I pointed at a random sergeant, the men in charge of half a cohort, and bid him to come closer.
"My Lord! James Fairfields and his crew felled a tower by themselves!"
Oh, I remember that.
"An excellent contender!"
I turned to another one of my sergeants and he shared, "Betsy the seamstress shot a flowery cunt who was steadying the ladders! One tumbled down and took the rest with him!"
That, as well, I remembered and it was glorious. I already knew I had to award the prize to her. Besides, it would be excellent for honoring the commitment these women were showing. A loud laugh rang through the crowd which led me to hope I wasn't misjudging the situation.
"Even better! Who can top that?"
Other claims sprang forth. A crossbowmen had shot one man through the gut and had the bolt throw another man off balance enough to crash to the ground. It was all excellent, and with the last of the horseflesh we pilfered running out likely the last time anyone here would be in such high spirits. We had accumulated an amazing number of Tyrell corpses on the grounds in front of the wall. Our own losses were light, some seventy odd dead out of three thousand five active fighters -men and women-, but we couldn't keep going like this.
I didn't quite understand why the Reachmen were still launching these rather ineffective attacks on our walls. They clearly weren't getting through and they didn't seem to committing more than a sixth of their men every time they attack. The only thing I noticed was that they were different retinues attacking at every day break.
We kept facing fresh men which was a god damned nightmare. Which is why I so desperately tried to keep the mood up.
"Stormlanders! You've all defended our home, bravely and with great god damn fervor, I wish I could share this bottle with all of you!"
I let them hoot and holler for a while before interjecting, "But, alas, there must be a winner and it was clearly Betsy the seamstress! I'm sure you'll have a whole mess of new friends tonight, Betsy!"
I had clearly long since given up on attempting to uphold the distance Stannis had created between himself and his people. The man, or boy perhaps, had his reasons and he did admirably suffer right along side his men but I felt there was no reason to emulate that aspect of Stannis. I handed off the bottle of delicious, and incredibly expensive, Arbor Gold to the seamstress and graciously accepted her vow that she'd top her achievements. Despite its exorbitant cost, considering just how much wine Steffan Baratheon stockpiled, it was the one supply that we had enough off.
While the currently highly popular Betsy was the center of attention I made way for the rested, for a given value of rested at least, troops and followed them up to the walls. I was bone tired, felt as if I could drop at any god damned moment, but I somehow found the will to continue. Like I said before...sixty thousand, or well...a few less now, men wanting to come kill you is a pretty effective motivator. A few cheerful conversations, mentions of the badassery of the previous 'shift', and I was on my way again after making sure to walk by everyone.
Orys Bollin, who was making an excellent showing so far, and accompanied me on my final patrol before I took my own rest.
"We ran out of horseflesh yesterday, cousin. What are we to do now?"
A concern that weighed heavily on me. What the hell could I do? I had ordered the little runner to come collect Mace last week but the Fat Flower had no intention of ordering his host to bring in supplies. The man hadn't arrived for they retreated and I had no desire to find out what the Tyrells would do to any negotiator I sent their way. In the same vein...I didn't dare the Lord Paramount of the freaking Reach starve to death in my cells either. I had instated the same rations for the Fat Flower as the rest of us.
He still moaned and whined. I barely resisted from kicking his teeth out.
I may have screwed myself, badly.
"I'm working on it, Orys. When I know, I'll be sure to share."
We walked in silence for a few minutes, patting men on the back left and right, before Orys seemingly found the confidence to ask me something important.
"Can I ask you something, Stannis? Hopefully without offending you?"
What could he want?
I sighed and said, "I'm sure that would depend on what you have to say, Orys."
The lad grimaces and bit out, "I'm serious, cousin."
"Very well, I won't jump at your throat for your words."
The Bollin spare fell silent again for a few heart beats until he continued, "What happened to you? Ever since the Master-at-Arms tried to escape you've been acting differently."
Oh, here it came. Perhaps it wasn't so much dodged the subject, and accepted by everything, than that it fell rather low on priority list. How do I respond to this?
"Oh? Did I change in any particularly heinous manner?"
"No, far from it! I mean compared to...uhh."
I let a small grin form and prodded the lad to continue, "Compared to what, cousin?"
Was I teasing someone while the god damned world around me was burning? Holy crap, how used to this situation have I become? Was a little over a month and a half in siege enough to jar me into accepting this?
Or was it, yet again, because sixty god damned thousand men want to kill me?
"Like that! You never acknowledged we were related, Stannis, no matter how distant. What changed?"
"The Estermonts are closer related to me, Orys. Hell, their Lord is my grandfather. But you're here and they are not."
We walked in silence for a little while before I felt the need to continue, "That makes you far more related to me, Orys."
Orys laid a hand on my shoulder and perhaps that was the only thing stopping me from keeling over to the ground at the sight in front of me. We had arrived at the gates, the first line of defense and one that carried two massive ballistae, with a good hundred men posted there. They were all relaxed, sitting around a fire, waiting for word to come down that the enemies are at the walls.
That wasn't what concerned me.
As we walked I noticed an abandoned bucket with a very slight amount of mudwater in it. The water was shaking and swirling but there was nobody around that could have set it off. I stayed put for another minute or two to make sure..
The water was definitely shaking.
Oh, fuck me sideways.
This must be why the Tyrells simply kept hammering us on the best defended parts of the castle. They were distracting us, distracting me, from realizing their real plan. They were building a fucking tunnel and if I hadn't walked past the nearly empty bucket I wouldn't have realized it. I looked around me and struggled to remember how this would look from the other side.
Storms End was divided in three major parts. The outer gates came out to a courtyard that led to another high wall. That was the first wall. This wall had another courtyard behind it and two smaller gates that led to that yard. And finally that courtyard let to the keep proper with its own defenses.
The Tyrells were trying to, probably, circumvent the first two and meet us at the keep. Perhaps they hoped to catch us off guard and suddenly appear at our backs. If the water was shaking near the gates... how far away could they possible be tunneling?
"Hey! I'm giving you a compliment here, Stannis, you should be more gracious-."
I reached out to grab at Ory's arm and pointed at the water. The lad followed my gaze but seemingly didn't quite comprehend what he saw.
I whispered softly to the Bollin spare, "The Tyrells are tunneling below the foundation. Their mining is disturbing the water..."
His eyes went wide when he understood but I needed him alert. I shook the lad twice and bit out, "Bring Cressen here. We need his advice, quickly!"
When he ran off I turned to the half cohort standing idly by.
"Men! Over here!"
They formed up in their ready position and quickly surrounded me. How should I play this?
Fuck, hard work it is.
I attempted to conceal how utterly disheartened I was, pointed at the sergeant, and spoke just loud enough to be heard, "Send someone to grab shovels from the keep."
While the sergeant barked out some orders I turned to the others, "The Tyrells are tunneling through our defenses and we need to put a stop to this. We're going to dig holes every six feet, both to the sides and down, until we find and collapse their tunnel."
I needed to hold on for either two more weeks, or one month and two weeks, which seemed a fairly long ways away. I wish they were more specific about when Stark arrives...
Please don't let there be more than one. We might not make it.
AN: Feedback and commentary is greatly appreciated!