(Prologue - Dragonstone: 10/13/283 AC) Willem
'Rhaegar was dead, and rotting away in the waters of the Trident. The Army he gathered to engage the rebels, was scattered and destroyed. Aerys was mad, holding the Dornish princess and her children prisoner. And now?' Willem Darry thought to himself, 'Now came the news of the capture of Mace Tyrell, the decimation of his army, and the annihilation of the Redwyne fleet.' He rubbed his large leathery hands, in contemplation. Truth be told, Darry considered himself and his charges fortunate. He knew, King Aerys, well enough to know that he no doubt flew into a rage upon hearing of the destruction of the Reach army and fleet. 'Coupled with news of Rhaegar,' he thought solemnly, 'many innocents likely died to appease his anger.' He had always considered himself a loyal man, perhaps the only truly remaining loyalist, to the Targaryens. But even now, as he watched little prince Viserys cling to his mother, who still wept at the loss of her eldest son, he knew that the loyalists on Dragonstone were beginning to waver in their support. The only two things keeping the garrison from outright treachery was that they still held command of the Royal fleet, and were foolish enough to think that enough to counter what had destroyed the Redwynes. The men believed the Redwynes to have been utter fools if they had been destroyed by a little girl with a single ship. "Surely it was a fluke?" he had heard them whisper. However, he knew better, 'No fluke would lead to the utter destruction of a fleet that size. And if what little information, that managed to make its way to Dragonstone was correct, then that same fluke led to no survivors. A 'fluke' does not earn the title of 'Butcher,'' As the old knight's exhausted mind contemplated a way out of their predicament, he had not noticed the Targaryen prince approach him.
"Ser Willem?" he heard the soft voice of seven-year-old Viserys Targaryen call to him. He had been unsure, timid, and concerned. There was fear in his young voice.
He tried his best to present a calm, collected, face before he responded, "Yes, my prince?"
"Why are we here?" he asked, wide-eyed.
"To keep you, and your family, safe, my prince," came the response, as caring and gentle as he could say it. "We are only waiting for your father to destroy the rebels who would claim his crown, your crown," he lied. He was no fool, and he recognized, that any hope the royal family had at survival, died to the Usurper's Warhammer in the waters of the Trident.
"Truly? I heard them say that the armies and fleet of the Reach have been destroyed," his eyes stared hopefully towards his family's protector, an old knight.
"Lies," he declared, placing his hand on the young boy's shoulders, "Lies told by the rebels with the intent to destroy us, from within. Pay them no mind, my prince," he cast a reassuring smile towards his charge, "We will survive this." The boy prince smiled as the doubt left his eyes, and Willem Darry felt himself more of a traitor than he could express.
'No,' he thought to himself, as the prince ran back to his mother and excitedly told her about what he said. Queen Rhaella Targaryen, looked at him, a small spark of hope in her tear-stained face. 'I will have them survive,' the conviction had been evident on his face, as he thought those words, and he nodded his head in assurance to the Queen. She nodded her head back, in response, a look of determination shining in her eyes. From that moment, he began to set a plan in motion. All of the news the Master of Whisperers managed to relay to him, told him of a lull in the march of the Rebels. They had been poised to attack King's Landing after the Trident, and yet they had paused in their advance. 'It was known that Robert had been injured in his duel with Rhaegar, but not that he had died. For such a thing would have been the only way the rebels would have stopped so suddenly,' he thought. Furthermore, it had been revealed that Tywin Lannister had begun calling his banners. He, as of yet, remained uncommitted. The only thing Varys had reported to the man was that the former hand was massing his troops on the Goldroad, while his younger brother, Kevan Lannister, marshaled them on the Searoad, near Crakehall. 'That opportunistic Lion saw the bleeding Dragon, and the wilted Rose, and was weighing his options now,' thought Willem, in disgust.
(Prologue - Dragonstone: 11/9/283 AC) Willem
As the days turned into weeks, no one had moved. He had only heard of the rebels holding up in Harrenhall. While Lord Tywin, and his brother Kevan, had supposedly finished organizing their forces. 'Forces, which neared a total strength of thirty thousand,' he thought. Fifteen thousand of which were with Kevan Lannister on the Searoad, while the other fifteen, stood with Tywin on the Goldroad. In the pregnant pause that was this part of the Rebellion, many in Dragonstone began to question, "Perhaps peace was being discussed?" Others had even boldly proclaimed that "Maybe the Usurper did die." Such wild news began to even bring a bit of hope, to Ser Willem, before a hammer blow destroyed it.
"A wedding?!" he exclaimed in surprise, unable to process the information the maester had delivered to him.
"Yes, Ser Willem," spoke the gray old maester, sounding just as befuddled as the old knight. "Stannis Baratheon is to wed a foreign woman who goes by the name of Azula."
"Azula? Azula what? What titles does she hold? Who is she?" he demanded. 'Was this wedding the cause of all this indecisiveness?' his mind shouted in astonishment.
"It doesn't say," said the man, "All that is written is the name Azula. She claims to be a princess of some foreign country called the Firenation. She was the commander of the forces who broke the Redwyne fleet in Shipbreaker Bay, and Lord Tyrell's army, near Storm's End."
'So the Butcher of Shipbreaker has a name?' he thought darkly.
(Prologue - Dragonstone: 11/14/283 AC) Willem
After news of this wedding had spread throughout Dragonstone, Willem knew he needed to act. Especially, once he saw the pieces had, once again, begun moving. Tywin Lannister was reportedly marching his forces along the Goldroad, towards King's Landing. Kevan Lannister, on the other hand, had taken his forces along the Searoad and made his way towards Highgarden. A force of ten thousand rebels had been dispatched to King's Landing, from Harrenhall, headed by the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark. The rest of the rebels had remained behind, under the command of the Lord of the Vale, guarding the usurper as he recuperated. Worst of all, however, was news that the black ship which had sunk the Redwyne fleet, was heading towards Dragonstone, and it would be here in a matter of days. Even with the temporary respite, he hadn't had enough time to make the proper arrangements for travel off of Dragonstone. He sought to find a safe haven in Braavos, but even the decent sum of coin the Queen held at Dragonstone was not enough to assure them all safe passage. Fortunately, and contrary to what Willem had originally thought, the majority of the garrison at Dragonstone, was not as keen to betray them. Once word had spread that the Butcher was on her way, they all looked to the Old Knight to lead them out. Some wished to leave on their own, taking a ship with them, but the majority were still of sound mind and wanted an organized response. Everyone who had possessed even half of an awareness of their position knew breaking apart at this point was foolish. 'The Butcher had taken only one prisoner during her brief history of battle, within Westeros, Mace Tyrell,' his mind uttered, 'a Lord Paramount. And who were they to even begin to compare in importance? If the Butcher's actions were consistent, she would only take two prisoners from here, and they were the ones he would not allow to be taken.'
(Prologue - Dragonstone: 11/16/283 AC) Willem
After modifications had been made to several of the Royal ships, and a plan had been formed, Ser Willem Darry went to the Queen Regent. He informed her of how the operation would unfold at sea. "Your Grace? If you would allow me to detail my proposal?"
"You may, Ser Willem," she said, as a gentle wind swept through the balcony of the Queen's audience chamber. Their clothing swayed slightly in the breeze, as the old knight and the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms held their meeting. The gust had come from the east, and both the knight and the Queen grew cold at what it might mean. The Queen paused as she sat on her ornate chair, staring out towards the sea, "A storm is coming," she said ominously. She protectively rubbed her small belly.
"Aye," he spoke, "but it is far off, and it will not hinder us in our escape." The Queen looked at him expectantly, sadly. "We will all escape, my Queen," Willem reaffirmed, looking towards his Queen, as she nodded halfheartedly. "We will begin by separating Prince Viserys and yourself," he stated and began to raise his hands in anticipation of his queen's natural reaction.
"You cannot," she pleaded as panic began flaring in her eyes, "I will not allow him to be without me. I am all he has left."
"I understand your apprehension, your Grace, but we cannot allow you both to be aboard the same ship. If you are both captured, by the butcher, she may end your lives. Even if she does not, and delivers you to the usurper, he may not be so forgiving. Especially if Tywin Lannister has turned against us," he said.
"Tywin. Has he struck against us yet?" she questioned.
"He has not, but his forces continue to march towards the capital, while his brother marches towards Highgarden," came the bitter statement. He knew what Tywin was, and how Aerys had wronged him, and it was only a matter of time. The queen, however, thought differently.
"Then there is still a chance that he will declare for us?" she said, a slight flicker of hope coming to her eyes. Eyes which stared directly at the old knight.
"Even if he does, he is too far away to do anything to help us," he stated, and the queen's eyes fell. "We cannot return to King's Landing, or the Butcher will cut off access to the Narrow Sea from behind us. Leaving us trapped on land, and surrounded by enemies. No, your Grace, we must turn east towards Essos, for a safe haven." The queen slumped her shoulders, in defeat, while still caringly massaging her abdomen. She looked towards the old knight and nodded for him to continue. Willem cleared his throat, "As I was saying, your Grace, we will have Prince Viserys and yourself aboard separate ships. They will be small, fast, and above all, unassuming. At an outward glance, they would not appear to be fit to bear someone such as yourself, but that is the point. We need the Butcher's attention to be drawn towards the larger, royal-looking ship. A series of smaller ships will be seen to be escorting the 'royal' ship, while the prince and your Grace remain as part of the 'escort.'" He stood silently, awaiting the Queen's acknowledgment before continuing. "The bulk of the royal fleet, headed by the royal flagship, 'the Seadragon,' will move to engage the Butcher and distract her attentions, while the 'royal' ship flees."
"Will she not be drawn to us? Surely, she will begin to sail towards us as she sees the 'royal' ship flee? How are we to escape if she attacks?" His queen asked.
"That is what the distraction force is for," came his response. "They are meant to prevent her from coming too close, too soon, and to give the illusion that the royal ship is the one she is hunting. Once she cuts through the fleet, she will maneuver to capture the royal ship. It is my hope, that she will focus enough effort on the royal ship to dismiss the smaller fleeing ships as cowards, and nothing more."
"All those men…you are using them as bait?" she quietly contemplated, looking towards the stone floor, before raising her head and locking eyes with him.
"They know where their loyalties lie. They would sacrifice themselves for the royal family, for you," he lied, yet again. 'All those men expected to board the enemy ship. They anticipated some casualties, but were confident they were going to win the day,' he thought. 'The captains of those ships were loyal, and knew of the sacrifice, but the crew did not, and they were likely not going to live to see tomorrow. Not if the rumors were true.' "In the event, she closes the distance too soon, the escort ships have all been fitted with royal sails. The sails are to be unfurled, and the ships ordered to scatter," he motioned his closed fist towards his chest, and opened it into a palm, to express his point. "This will force the Butcher to choose which one to pursue. As the ships, your graces will be within, are among the fastest, the distraction should provide enough of a lull in pursuit to allow for escape."
"And if she catches us?" his queen spoke unsteadily, hand placed upon her midsection.
He lowered his gaze, "She cannot capture both of you, your Grace."
"No, but she can kill us…"she whispered despondently.
Seeking to alleviate the awkward silence, he continued, "I will be aboard 'the Firewing,' to coordinate. Your Grace will be on 'the Dracarys,' while his grace, Prince Viserys will be aboard 'the Dark Siren.' If all goes accordingly, we will rendezvous in Pentos."
"I pray it does, Ser Willem. I pray it does," came the solemn voice.
"The men have all been informed of the plan, and we need only your leave to see it done." As he pondered their chances of survival, the bells began to toll in alarm, and the wind began to flow through the open balcony, beating hard against the banners and curtains within the Queen's audience chamber. He looked out from the balcony towards the sea and saw dark clouds forming on the horizon, to the east. He reached into the small leather sack strapped to his side and retrieved his Myrish eye, and looked towards the south. There, far in the distance, was a small pillar of black smoke, and the tell-tale glint of gold reflecting off of a small black dot skirting the coast. "She is several hours away! We must leave now, your Grace!"