Chapter 48: Paths Onward
Forward: Editing credit to Rainsfere.
Sun Rise – The Next Day – Southeast Border of the Haunted Forest – Jon Snow
Jon opened his eyes, gaze filled with curly bright red hair and the scent of pine. A low sigh escaped from him, arms holding closer to Ygritte who was still asleep, rough hands along warm bare skin. After the months spend with her, the buildup leading to last night…he now understood what Geralt had meant about love. It was not the pleasure of sex that he had craved, but the intimacy…to be loved beyond what friendship and family offered.
Yet despite finding someone he wish to spend his life with, to fight and die for…he wasn't sure if he could keep her. The choice of loyalty, one or the other, two sides in a conflict with no peaceful solution.
Shifting, he gently kissed the top of Ygritte's head, a low hum coming from her as he moved to slip out the furred covers of the bedroll. Quietly, he gathered up his clothes and got dressed to endure the morning chill caused by the rising sun. Stepping outside, he glanced to the side to see Ghost laying there, yellow eyes staring over the crest of the small hill that faced eastward.
"We're nearly there Ghost. Back to the North…or south I guess." Jon chuckled to his dire wolf.
Pacing around, his gaze drifted to the other tents, thoughts drifting about the other Wildlings. Then it moved towards the Wall, a distant they clear stripe across the southern horizon, making him think of the Night's Watch. He still had no idea about the fate of Sam and his other friends, ensure if they escaped the battle at the Fist of the First Men or now a shambling corpse out in the wastes.
"No…don't think that." He growled to himself, eyes closing to banish the grim thoughts.
In the end though he had to make a choice. Once he got over the Wall, he could slip away from the group and go warn the Night's Watch. Follow the original plan he made with Qhorin Halfhand to stop the Wildling threat. Yet at the same time, he knew the Free Folk were just desperate to survive, to avoid the threat of the White Walkers. If the plan to stop their assault on Castle Black was done, they would be doomed for certain.
"Who do I save…which friends do I value more?" He cursed under breath because in the end he couldn't choose. In his mind, either choice would lead to disaster in the long run, be it the White Walkers gaining countless thousands or the rest of Westeros crashing down onto them. "Then maybe I have to make a third option…" Walking around the camp, he stood on the southern facing towards the Wall, a more determined glare in his eyes. At that point, he had made up his mind on what he would do.
"My own choice…I'll do whatever it takes to save both."
Mid-Day – Fairmarket – Geralt
The mood in Fairmarket was positive today since the execution, the townsfolk pleased that justice has been brought forth. The Winter Wolves were busy getting the final touches to their camp done, using the materials they had packed along with salvaged from the mercenary camp to hurry the process. Beric and Graffin were busy managing the camp construction along with stockpiling their supplies. Theon, Smalljon and Dacey were focused on their squads for the next possible battle. Qyburn meanwhile was keeping to his word, having efficiently treated the injured soldiers before moving onto the militia. Despite the distrust shown towards him, the former Maester proved his worth in saving dozens of lives with his medical techniques, some of which Geralt recognized medics from his world using.
"So far so good." The Witcher muttered, currently staying at his tent within the center of the camp.
He wasn't used to the comforts a commander would get, having this much space and even a proper if small bed on hand. Normally he was used to visiting kings and generals in such surroundings, much like during the time hunting for the Letho the King Slayer. One of the tables had his personal gear laid out, having spent most of the day maintaining his armor and weapons. Nearby was a copy of the region map, detailing the major holdings locations and other notable landmarks.
"Going to take a few more weeks until the rest of the army gets here." Geralt eyed the map, drifting between Riverrun and Harrenhal. They still had no idea about the Tullys since even Fairmarket had been in the dark about them. What was certain was Harrenhal was firmly under Lannister control and no doubt be having more troops transferred from the King's Road from the south. Then of course there were the other holdings who had to be reached out, try to rally more local support.
Then there was the rumors of the Three Seers as they were called. While they had been mentioned at the Twins, the locals here confirmed they were true. There was little information about them, but they had built up quite a following in the wilds further south in the area known as High Heart. The details of disappearances and strange sightings were…worrying in his eyes.
"Too similar to them." He whispered under breath. "Has to be another case of reality relativity." It had proven true in the case of Robert and Tywin who in turn were very similar to the likes of the Bloody Baron and Emhyr. The idea that it could be them was the worst case scenario…something he didn't want to even think about. Putting the troubled thoughts aside, he strolled out of the tent as he decided to pay a visit to the Three Kegs, see how Marcus was doing managing the town.
"Heading in for drinks, Geralt?" Thoros laughed out, the Red Priest joining up with the Witcher. "Militia is quite the tough yet fair lot. Was half expecting pitchforks and torches when we showed up."
"Just had to treat them like equals. Between the history of wars here and being abandoned by their Lords, distrust should be expected."
"Fair enough. Just hope Stannis can show the same respect."
The walk towards the town was mostly uneventful, with a few of the soldiers and militia greeting them. The trenches were nearly cleared of the dead by now, the last being the unlucky ones who were stuck in the pitch before they were lit up. The barricades were mostly patched back up though the palisade wall was going to need a week to properly repair. That wasn't even counting the watchtower that had been knocked down, which take even longer to replace. The two had no trouble getting through the town gates, strolling towards the inn ahead. Though they wouldn't have to go inside to find Marcus.
"I understand your roof has some holes in it, but you're going to have to rely on thatching. We're short on lumber as it is." Marcus was explaining to one of the villagers. "The town's defense comes first. You'll just have to manage for a few weeks." The villager didn't argue, only grumbling before walking away. Giving a sigh, Marcus at last noticed the two watching. "The struggles of leadership as they say."
"Doubt that has been your hardest choice to make since forming the militia." Geralt remarked, drawing a chuckle and nod from Marcus.
"You'd be right on that." The three walked through the town, people going about their daily lives for the first time in weeks. "So the question is what will be the Winter Wolves' plan? Got a lot of unmarked territory to sort out."
"Really, we got our work cut out for us. Until the rest of the army shows up, it's just going to be us and whoever we can recruit among the Riverland Houses." Geralt replied. "Considering the only way to reach them is marching up to their holdings, we can't be certain who to trust."
Marcus nodded in agreement, brushing his beard slightly in thought. "Perhaps it's time to hold a meeting over our next move? We only have so much time until news of the Brave Companions' defeat reaches the ears of the Lannister forces. Keep the element of surprise."
It seemed like the best approach, organizing the next moves for both the militia and Winter Wolves. Looking to Thoros, the Red Priest already knew what the Witcher had in mind. "I'll go start rounding up the others for the Three Kegs." With that, he hurried back towards the camp, yelling at a few of the soldiers to help finding everyone.
"I'll head inside. Get the map set up while you gather your own companions. Could do with their expertise on what we should do."
"Will do, Geralt." With the Witcher heading away, Marcus gaze drifted upward slightly to one of the roots, eyes narrowing. "You just going to lodge up there all day Will?"
The assassin chuckled as he sat up, having been hiding in the shadow of the chimney, casually eating an apple. "At least you're sticking with my proper name. I think I'm starting to prefer it." Finishing the apple, he chucked it aside into the brush below. "So are we going to talk to the supposed monster hunter about the things we've encountered?"
"If you mean your tree arm and monster corpse, I don't think it be wise. Like I said, I believe what you've encountered…considering my own brush with the unnatural." The Northerner's gaze glanced back to the camp. "Maybe he would believe us, but the problem be his allies. We need hard proof that can't be excused by them."
"Well, hopefully that proof won't be pouncing us in the night and ripping out our throats." Chuckling darkly, the assassin slipped off the roof to drop to the ground. "We keep quiet then, but when the Witcher asks questions it's on your head, not mine."
"I'll keep that in mind." The two went their separate ways, both seeking out their fellow Grims for the coming meeting.
An Hour Later
All the notable members of the Winter Wolves and Fairmarket Militia had gathered up in the meeting room in the back of the Three Kegs. Everyone was muttering to each other, having their own thoughts and theories of this gathering. After a while, Geralt would slammed a sturdy mug down onto the table to bring silence, drawing all gazes to him.
"It be best I get right to the point. The situation in the Riverland is as rough as the rumors claimed. We don't know which side the Houses here are on or if they're even standing. It's going to be about a month until Lord Robb's forces will arrive, so we're all that we got for the moment." Letting that sink in, he gestured to the map. "Right now we have a few objectives. First, we need to know the fate of Riverrun and House Tully."
"So what is the approach for them? Surely they'll welcome us baring the flag of House Stark." Graffin stated.
"More likely to lure you in and riddle you all with arrows." Will scoffed. "Look, I get you Northerners have a sense of honor and tradition, but no everyone follows such lofty ideals."
Smalljon scowled. "I find it more insulting you considering House Tully as a possible threat! They've long been friends to the Starks, what would drive them to turn against them?"
Dacey gripped the towering highborn's shoulder. "I feel both of you have a point. We should hope House Tully remains on our side, yet not blindly walk into their arms without certainty."
"Which I agree with." Geralt added. "Me along with a small scouting party will head westward to Riverrun, get an idea of what is happening at the keep. If all seems normal, we'll approach diplomatically, otherwise…we may have to infiltrate keep."
"Wait, break into Riverrun? One of the most defensive holdings in all of the Seven Kingdoms?" Theon chuckled. "Then again, you escaped from King's Landing, anything is possible I guess."
William smirked, the rogue leaning over the map. "Thing is I already got a plan on getting into the keep. Going to be risky as Hell, but possible with a small group…a dozen at most. See within the week it's going to be a new moon, meaning pitch darkness at night. With a few boats and dark tarps, we'll be able to reach the keep's walls without being noticed."
"Huh…it's a smart plan though risky." Beric muttered. "Assuming we're forced to use it, we'll have to be swift getting inside. If Riverrun is under another group's control, it will put everyone at risk."
"Boastful as William is, I can think of no better infiltrator." Doric remarked, an unlikely compliment from the stoic knight. "Still, contingencies should made before taking this route."
"Hah! Considering the Witcher alone, I'm sure just his magic will be more than enough." Ogatto chuckled.
Having attention brought about his Signs wasn't welcomed, at least in the Witcher's eyes. Yet the Dothraki had a point, his magic was an advantage no one in all of Westeros had. "You may just see for yourself. Marcus has recommended you in this mission. Hopefully you can be just as guileful as you are fierce in a fight."
"I have picked up a few tricks over the years." The Dothraki boasted. "Unlike the rest of my kin, I have actual discipline and guile, so I'll follow your lead."
With that assurance, Geralt looked to his companions. "I would also ask that Theon with a few veteran archers along with Dacey and some shieldmaidens. Both would be fitting for this kind of infiltration." He could see a hint of surprise from the two at the request. "Yet if you feel you're not ready for this…"
"N-No! I can handle this!" Theon quickly replied, breaking his hesitance.
"Was that a stutter I heard Ironborn? Well, if you lose you nerve, you could just swim away." Dacey jested.
"Bet I'll scale the walls faster than you can. Could outpace Robb and J-" Yet at that point, he realized the conversation was becoming distracting, considering the amused and annoyed looks across the table.
"That aside, we also need to search for Lord Brynden and his forces." Marcus added. "Refugees have reported during their retreat here that they were aided by the Blackfish's troops. It seems he's moved to the east, perhaps gathering more forces from the other Houses to prepare an offensive against the Lannisters in Harrenhal."
"Makes sense. The Lannister's only have so many troops to spare for the Riverlands. Attacking them with a larger force now is the best course." Beric remarked. "With the mercenaries also thinned, it makes the odds of taking Harrenhal a bit easier."
"More reason to join up with him! If we had a hand in capturing Harrenhal before Lord Robb arrives, it would really tip the scales in this war!" Smalljon added.
"Which is why I'm sending you along with Graffin, Thoros and Beric to seek him out with half our forces." Geralt stated. "Graffin knows the terrain well and with Marcus' maps should have no trouble directing the troops outside of the main roads."
"Doric will be tagging along with a third of the militia as support and to represent Fairmarket." Marcus added. "Meanwhile, I have to remain here to manage the militia. We can't let our guard down after all, despite the Companions being wiped out."
"So long as neither group takes unnecessary risks, we should have no trouble." Geralt finished. "Lastly, if you learn anything more about these seers, be sure to send couriers back here. No lone messengers. Can risk losing such intel."
Everyone at the tables were in agreement with all the offered plans, no one speaking up in argument.
"Good. The Riverrun group will leave tomorrow while the search party for Lord Brynden will leave by the end of the week. That is all for this meeting."
Being dismissed, everyone began to funnel out of the meeting room, with Geralt and Marcus being the last ones out. Moving towards the main hall of the pub, Marcus gesture towards the bar for a quick drink with the Witcher.
"Despite what you claim, you seem to know how to manage the colorful group under your command."
That did make a small laugh escape from the Witcher. "Guess it's from experience. Had plenty of strange companions over the decades." With an ale slid over to him, he took a deep drink before continuing. "Did lead a militia of sorts once, a bit like your own. Just band of refugees trying to escape the ravages of war."
"Considering, you are still here among us, that endeavor succeeded." Marcus joked back, tipping his mug in respect. "Can say leadership isn't my thing either. Yet sometimes it takes men like us, those having the skills and determination, to take charge."
"You seem like a natural for it." Geralt commented. "Sure you'll be fine managing the town on your own?"
"Been doing that long before the war began. Besides the elder, I was always looked up to here in Fairmarket." Yet despite the boastful tone, his mood did darken. "I'll admit Geralt. I never expected to have this kind of life, building my own business here…having a family. After fighting in the war, I was put into a…difficult role, had to make choices between duty and what was right."
"I can relate on that. Ever since I've came to Westeros I've had to make plenty of life and death choices." Glancing over the room, he smiled faintly at his companions enjoying an early lunch. "Despite the odds, I feel I saved more lives in the end."
"Guess I can claim the same." Marcus paused at that point as he glanced off to the side, seeing his wife serving food to the injured while Merry rode on Garm, following her mother around. "In the end, I wouldn't chose any other outcome."
"Better to think on tomorrow as they say."
The Northener gave a hum of agreement before looking back to the Witcher. "So what about you? I remember you mentioned having someone waiting for you back home once you've found your daughter."
"Yes, Yennifer. I can't think of a woman who I've had a stranger relationship with, yet we love each other truly." Considering all that has happened to them, he was really understating it. "She's definitely going to be pissed for how reckless I've been coming here. Then again, pretty sure my old friends will want a piece of me."
"Hah…seems we're more and more alike." Marcus laughed. "Well, never lose sight on those you love. Friends…family…they're the ones we fight for beyond ourselves." Giving a small smile, he downed his drink before getting up. "But enough reminiscing, we both got a lot of work to do."
Geralt nodded in agreement as he finished his own drink, getting up for his seat. "I'll see you later then, at the latest some time tomorrow."
Both shook hands before parting, Geralt moving towards Ogatto and William to chat over tomorrow's plans. Despite the Witcher's demeanor, he seemed to have an innate ability to inspire and draw people to him, even those who'd oppose him. Which is was made such a dark pit fill his gut, knowing that in the end conflict would eventually come. Be it if this alliance broke or Zarin at last saw fit to confront the Witcher for whatever reasons…it was inventible.
"Inventible…" He growled the word, cleaning out the mugs at the bar, trying to distract himself. "Damn that word…damn it all…"
Mid-Day – Winterfell – Bran, Sansa & Arya
Home, it was strange for both Sansa and Arya to both be back after nearly a year away. They had assumed to be away far longer than they originally left, back when everything seemed so simple. Despite the odds, they were home and with their brothers.
It had been a few days since they returned to Winterfell, enjoying most of the week being with Robb. While he was the new Lord of their House and managing the war effort, he was able to put a few hours in the day to be with his siblings. That alone showed how much he valued them, no doubt realizing precious time being together to be. Afterall, if things had gone differently, they could have remained separated or worse.
"It almost feels like we're…out of place here. As if we returned too early."
Sansa had mused on the first day they had been home. The others had the same strange feeling, yet despite that welcomed being back in Winterfell. For the sisters who once wished to escape the dull walls of their ancestral home, they now regretted ever having ill thoughts about this place. As for Robb, Bran and Rickon, they were just glad to have their sisters safe after so many months worrying about them.
Yet after the first day home, they would see to it that their father was at last laid to rest in the crypts along aside his siblings. Only them alongside the trusted advisors of their House witnessed the burial, Eddard sealed away into a tomb long reserved for him. Despite the sorrow they all felt, no more tears were shed, for they had long accepted his passing.
"All that is left is to bring justice for him."
Robb was determined in his quest to avenge his father, along with committing to the alliance with Stannis. In the weeks he had spent with the aspiring king, they had gained a mutual respect as they gained an understanding of each other. Hearsay could be misleading after all, yet the man's actions in aiding his siblings was all the proof Robb needed that Stannis was trustworthy. He did know some of the Lords of the North were weary of this alliance, yet Robb was keen on upholding oath both for the honor of House Stark and the North.
While the young Warden had many duties in preparing to march south, he spent as much time as possible with his siblings, especially Sansa and Bran would be taking charge of the North while he was away. Between coordinating with other Houses in the defense of the region along with ensuring supply lines southward, it would be a stressful duty even with the two working together. Arya did take part in these gatherings, though more often she'd be off practice like Geralt told her, be it in the yard or off in the Godswood.
Today was the day Robb was going to leave Winterfell and join up with the other Lords at the King's Road. However, a raven had arrived early this morning, baring news that called for the whole family and their household advisors. The gathering was in the main hall, everyone seating around the long table, facing each other. The younger Stark siblings could see their eldest brother having a serious look in his eyes while clenching a letter. Once everyone was gathered, he stood from his seat before speaking up.
"A report from the Night's Watch arrive, a follow up on Great Ranging that had disappeared for months." Robb stated, holding up the letter which he began to pass around the table. "Nearly half of the force sent out are gone, killed in a battle at the Fist of the First Men and by mutiny."
Maester Luwin took the letter, checking it over before reading it.
"To Lord Robb Stark of Winterfell, I am regretted to inform you that the dutiful men of Castle Black has suffered terrible tragedy in its recent Great Ranging. Nearly half of a force of two hundred have been killed, including a majority of veteran rangers. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont was killed in a mutiny a month after the attack when he and a separate group were forced to shelter at a Craster's Keep, a Wildling holding we often use. Alliser Thorne, the master-at-arms, is currently the standing Lord Commander until an election is held.
As you may know, your uncle Benjin was one of the reasons the Ranging was arranged, since he had disappeared on a secret mission investigating strange events of late. You may have heard rumors that may sound fantastical, the dead rising to kill the living along with strange storms quickening the coming winter. Such claims are admittedly true, for such threats are what caused the Ranging's failure.
"We are to assume that Benjin is dead, considering the lack of any trace of him along with how long it has been since his disappearance. Right now, the leadership of Castle Black beg for aid since a direct attack on Castle Black is certain. All we ask is a few hundred men to bolster our numbers for a time. Despite the injustices to the North and House Stark face against the crown, politics must be set aside for the overall safety of the North and Westeros.
From, Maester Aemon of Castle Black."
"Madness. The Lord Commander dead, talk of undead and Wildlings possibly breaching the Wall. It's absurd." Hallis Mollen scoffed. The thick bearded man was Jory's replacement as captain of the guard, a loyal if loose lipped individual.
"There isn't an issue Mollen." Robb replied. "It's obvious the Watch is suffering with all these setbacks. I don't believe they are trying to mislead us, but to believe such outlandish claims…it require proof to believe them."
Sansa and Arya looked to each other. They could understand their elder brother's view point, though had more belief of something magical going about. Considering the powers and inhuman abilities Geralt showed, they were more open minded of the possibility even if it was more grim.
"Is there nothing more?" Bran would suddenly ask to Luwin. "I…I know it's unlikely, but we had hoped there be something about Jon."
"There…is an extended message on the letter, added by the steward who wrote for the Maester." Luwin replied before he continued to read. He flipped the letter which had a short paragraph of text.
"To any member of the Stark family. Jon along with a patrol disappeared a few weeks before the attack on the Fist. We believed he was captured by the Wildlings. I believe he is still alive despite the odds. Jon is a good friend of mine and I feel that he'll find some way to save the Watch somehow. Do not lose hope.
Samwell Tarly, steward to Maester Aemon."
"A Tarley? Wonder how one ended up in the Watch." Robb mused. "Yet is there is even a chance Jon is alive…I like to believe it too." Even from the young lord, such though was very optimistic.
"So what will we do for the Night's Watch? Surely we can spare a few men, maybe ask House Umber to do the same." Sansa suggested.
Robb nodded in agreement. "I will speak to the other Lords about it before we move south. They can arrange for messengers to send orders for reserves to head to Castle Black." Sighing, he brushed one hand through his hair, obviously weary. "One problem after another. Understanding why father would become so distant at times."
"Well you're not alone in facing hardship." Arya remarked, giving a warm smile as her confidence did help with the somber mood.
Sansa nodded in agreement. "We'll take care of things here. Focus on winning the war and coming back home safe for us."
All of them gathered around their eldest brother, the young man smiling to his siblings, embracing his sisters before doing the same to his younger brothers. Even Grey Wind came up to nuzzle up to the others, "Then I leave Winterfell in your hands. Watch each other well. I'll send you all a raven when the time comes."
Everyone headed outside, Robb's personal guard all at the ready to depart. With final embraces and goodbyes, Robb mounted up onto his horse before giving a parting wave to his family. Taking the lead, he with Gray Wind running beside him rode out of the courtyard and through Winterfell's imposing gates, the rest of their troops waiting outside. The rumbling stomp of horses and boots filled the air as the army began their march, the trek towards war.
The Stark siblings would follow towards the gate to watch the spectacle, doubting they would see such a massed force of thousands. Bran would reach to hold both his sister's hands, making the two look to him curiously. "I think…we won't be seeing Robb for a long time."
The claim was unexpected to the others who looked to their brother with concerned looks. "How…how can you be certain?" Arya questioned.
"I don't know. Maybe I seen it in my dreams…or a its just a gut feeling." Bran sighed, gaze seeming distant, staring more up into the gray sky. "We're all going to have to face new trials together. What has happened…its only just the beginning."
Sansa and Arya looked at each other with concern, unsure what to think of such foreboding words. The fall it seemed had cause something to change or perhaps awaken in their younger brother…something that was beginning to scare even them.
Evening – The Sunset Sea, South of the Iron Islands – Euron Greyjoy
The whistling of the wind and splash of the sea, they were the only true sounds Euron heard from the comfort of his cabin. He was only partly dressed in black trousers and boots along his overcoat, having spent most of the day in bed with his latest bedmate, snagged from Old Town which they had discretely resupplied at. A cute young woman, fearful at first but warming up to his roguish charm and…other talents.
The feared Ironborn was lodging back in the comfortable seat behind an imposing desk, black leather boots resting up on one corner of it. His attention was focused on one of the many books on mystical lore and history, is one eye rapidly reading through sentence by sentence with keen interest. It was fascinating how much insight yet bullshit these men of the arcane could be, for every logical theory it was bogged down by superstition and fear. If any had the spine to test half of their claims or delve into the forbidden, the world could have been their if it even a fraction of such power was true.
He paused though in his reading as a new sound broken the peaceful sounds of the sea, boots approaching his cabin door. There was only one person he allowed to disturb him, one of the few still allowed to have a tongue while serving on his ship. Even before there be a knock at the door, he spoke out.
The First Mate paused in his stride, almost stumbling since he had been ready to knock. Opening the heavy door, the burn scarred Ironborn entered. He was more properly dressed to befit his range, finer leathers and a tri-corn hat properly gifted by Euron from the former first mate. The man bowed slightly to Euron who kept his gaze on his book. "Wind is on our side still captain. We-"
"Will reach Pyke by tomorrow." Euron finished calmly, at last drifting his one eye to the First Mate. "Don't look too surprise. I have a good sense of the Silence's pace even here in the cabin."
"I…may I ask how?" The scarred raider quickly shut up though, a nervousness in his eyes.
For a long moment Euron stared at him silently before closing his book and setting it down on the desk with a thump. His blank expression shifted into a broad grin, chuckling out. "You know, its strange to be questioned on such…trivial matters. Then again it's hard to be asked anything when you have a crew like mine." He acted so offhanded about the matter, despite having been personally involved taking his own men tongues. "The sea is calm for now and I'm bored, so why not. Though before I answer, you'll answer a question of my own. Fair?" He gestured to the seat across from him, a small nod of approval given.
The First Mate was hesitant, yet obeyed, stepping up to sit down. However he made sure his chair was just a few feet back from the desk…out of blade swing reach. Even he suspected that Euron kept his trusted blade under the desk. "Very well captain…umm…what is your question to me?"
"Well your name of course." Euron casually asked. Considering they had been sailing for months, this was the first time the fearsome pirate brothered to ask about such a thing.
"Uhh…my pa named me Dalton…after your great ancestor."
The reply made Euron smirk and laugh out for a moment. "After the Red Kraken? Hah, your father sure had lofty sights for you then." His words almost seemed mocking, making the First Mate cringe slightly since the other raiders made the same jest. "Though while may lack my ancestor's strength and skill, you do make it up with tenancy and smarts."
"I…thank you sir?" The uncertainty in Dalton's voice making Euron chuckle again. "So…how do you seem to know so much when it comes to the sea? Your family's prowess is certain, but at times you seem to practically see the future."
The question made Euron shrug slightly as he sat up properly in his chair. "Well I'm sure it be more entertaining to claim I split open a big fish and one my captives, divining such foresight from their own guts." The grim remark had the First Mate pale only for Euron to grin. "But that be a senseless mess. No, its about understand the patterns."
Euron nodded before standing up, pacing over to the window that view out to the open sea behind the ship. "Because people are driven by patterns Dalton. Think of it. You sleep, eat, work and so on…all following a usual time to it all." He glanced back to him. "The same goes for emotions. Where one reaction may cause you fear, another would be amused or allured. By understanding such things, you
"So how does that…matter to the question sir?" Dalton pressed.
"Because these patterns are not limited to people but the world itself!" Euron declared. "Weather, currents, the wind…all of it follows a predictable path if you look closely enough." He turn back to face Dalton. "While I've been in here all day, I've noticed how the wind has been blowing constantly. It shows that we've kept our speed constantly throughout the day. There is more to it but…I'd rather not bore you with the details."
Dalton nodded in understanding. "So would your keen insight give you an edge with dealing with your family?" He then asked. "I am not doubting your plan captain. What you did in King's Landing was nothing short than brilliant, making someone like Tywin agree to ally with you."
"When you bare the right prize and show competence, even one driven by order can't ignore such things. If it wasn't for his fierce tenacity, I'd expect someone to have slit his throat by now." Euron mused. "In the same sense, I understand my family far better. Balon is driven by his ego, almost to a suicidal degree." He paced over to the nearby wall which had a detailed map of the Iron Islands, his home. "Victarion is an empty headed fool who will follow any order given by whoever commands him, a perfect lap dog. His success at Lannisport shows what he is good for, a weapon for a more cunning mind to use." As he kept studying map, he continued to speak. "Lastly is Aeron is bound by tradition and faith. He may hate me with all his being, but his devotion will be his undoing."
For the scarred Ironborn, all this personal insight was fascinating to hear. To him and many other reavers, the Greyjoys were meant to seem like the perfect raider kings. Yet hearing one of their own list their strengths and weakness…the seemed like any normal man. Yet to Dalton's eyes, Euron seemed to lack any real weakness unlike his siblings.
"And that knowledge will give you the means to sway them Ironborn to your cause?"
"Hah, it better work." Euron laughed as he walked back to his seat. "Otherwise we'll all be strung up from the cliffs of Pyke or bound to a rock by shore until the sea claims our torn bodies." Again, Dalton paled and again made the captain smirk. "But have confidence in me Dalton. Follow my orders dutifully and you will have a place in the world I'll build."
The First Mate was silent, awed by the man's confidence against such odds. Yet considering what Euron had braved, then surely this next trial be simple enough. "Than I'll trust your decisions captain."
"Good. I want nothing more than that. Now then, make sure the crew stays on take throughout the night. Extra grog and rations to keep them motivated."
With his new orders given, Dalton nodded before getting up from his seat to leave. Yet before he closed the door, he saw Euron was watching him the whole time while he picked up his book. Despite the charm and respect shown moments ago, that gaze seemed to have a deadly gleam to it. Dalton knew that in the end he was just another piece on Euron's board, a decorated pawn who he could use or throw away at a moment's notice.
As he closed the door, he could only feel the chilling terror at his back…knowing that his life was hanging on a psychotic man's whims.
Nightfall – Veins of the Earth – Hadrian
The sense of time down here had proven difficult to track for even someone as keen as Hadrian. For all he knew they had been walking for hours or even days since the damp darkness of the tunnels felt seemingly endless. It was troubling for everyone else, since their surreal surroundings. Many suffered panic attacks, claiming the earth would come crashing down or seeing unnatural eyes peering from burrows in the earthen walls. Hadrian spent much of his time hurrying from one group to another, doing his best to assure them all was well. Soon, the party of survivors were exhausted in their march, settling down to camp.
Small campfires were made, lighting up the tunnelway more than all the torches and lanterns could. Hadrian had taken up a camp more to the side of the tunnel, needing some privacy after the long day. A few of his House's knights were camping nearby, but even they knew the young master needed time alone. While he was a bastard, they respected his leadership and were keen to follow the orders of Tytos.
"Why does it feel like there is more to this…" Hadrian muttered to himself, using a twig to poke at the small fire.
Right now his sister was with her caretaker, the young girl mentally drained having to say goodbye to her father. He liked to hope that his father could hold out, use the men he had to defense Raventree Hall until they could find allies somehow. Yet he knew that was impossible. Even if there were allies at Fairmarket, there was surely not enough numbers or strength to deal with the might of the monsters and turncoat Houses.
"Damn it all!" A flash of anger struck him as he snapped the twig and tossed it into the flames, pitiful fuel for the embers.
He wished he could be strong in body and mind, to not be so soft…yet that was just how he was. When he looked back on his life, of all the loss and hardship, he wondered how he hadn't become cynical and cold hearted.
"Because it is in your nature Hadrian." He remembered the warm smile his mentor had. Him looking up, teary eyed as the old man offered a hand to help him up. "You were born good and that is a gift rarer then anything else in this world. Whatever happens, no matter the odds. Never lose that."
"Was just a boy then." He sighed, wondering if his teacher had simply been saying such things to motivate him or being truthful. Then again, what could be believed about Red Cap, after learning what his goals were.
He fumbled getting everything in his pack, feeling the disapproving glare of the old man at his back. "So is that it? You plan to give up on my training…abandon your potential!" Hadrian bit back his words, eyes focused on the ground. "You are naïve boy. To be good doesn't mean you can ignore the hard truths of life."
At that point he couldn't be silent. "But to lie…deceive…even kill? I won't go as far as you."
Red Cap scoffed at the remark. "Do you think you can avoid it forever? To change truly the world, some lives have to be taken." His words were heavy, having dealt out such judgement. "You will have to face such a choice one day. Bastard or not, you are the son of a great Lord. Responsibility is destined for your shoulders."
"Shut up!" Hadrian's anger made him lash out, throwing the book in hand at the old man. Yet despite his age, he caught it before it could hit his face, making the boy tense fearfully. Yet despite that, Red Cap walked forward and offered the book back to the young boy.
"I can't decide for you. Only teach and mentor as I have others." He calmly stated. "You are young…gifted as I was. Do not waste that talent." Hesitantly, Hadrian took the book from him before a worn hand ruffled his dark hair. "I feel we will meet again. Perhaps when that day comes, we will discuss our differences properly."
He wondered if he truly meet Red Cap again after all those years. Part of him believed the old man was gone, dead in trying to bring the revolution he was so obsessed with. Maybe he simply found a better apprentice, a successor who didn't have the soft heart that he had.
"Maybe I should have stayed. Maybe I would have been stronger for this day…" Hadrian muttered to himself in doubt.
"Oh? Does the boy question himself?"
The voice, low and growl like spoke out, making Hadrian gasp in surprise and fumble for the short sword set nearby. "W-Who's there?" He stammered, eyes looking about the surrounding darkness.
"Hmm…close, behind you in fact."
Hadrian reacted, turning to see a split in the earth behind him. He swore he didn't remember seeing it there earlier when he set camp. Picking up a torch, he lit it in the campfire, showing the earthen split filled with dense roots.
"Show yourself!" He demanded, trying to sound brave despite the fear. Part of him worried that this was a servant of the Crones, having somehow followed them down into the earth.
A chuckle followed, seeming to echo from the passage. Faint movements could be heard, the roots creaking as they seemed to shift about like worms wriggling through soil. His torch light showed a figure moving closer. "As you wish boy."
They were short, about the same height as his sister, though their figure was lean instead of soft. The garment they wore seemed to be patches furs and leather stitched together by corded roots. At the back was a cloak of faded brown leaves, similar bound like the patchy outfit. The chestnut dark hair was short cut like a boy's, no doubt to be better suited for crawling through these small tunnelways. The hands that reached out to part the roots were lacking a finger, having only three longer digits and a broad thumb, all ending with sharp black colored claws. What was more shocking was the face, making him step back in shock.
The nose was practically flat, short slits being the only clear sign of it even existing. The brow broadly shaped, the lower center sloping to meld with the nose while the parts over the eyes shaped out large eye sockets. The eyes themselves were almost owl like in size though having a wavy oval shape to them. As for the color it was a mossy green with the iris narrow like a cat's. The cheeks and jaw sloped into a narrow shape with a thin pairs of lips marking the mouth. Seeing the awe and fear on his face, the lips stretched into a wide grin, showing short sharp teeth.
"Hello, son of the Raven Lord." The voice while having a growling hint was clearly female in tone. "We have much to discuss, young Inheritor. A new war for both our kind comes…"
Notice: Quite the reveal at the end! I can say I have long debated over what role the Children of the Forest would have in this crossover and I felt it should be expanded. There is a lot we don't know of the Children and the Old Gods, so much is left to speculation. What will follow is my own creative interpretation, so please judge it in that respect.
Anyway, next chapter will reveal more of Hadrian's newfound ally and what Euron's bold gambit is. I do hope everyone also welcomes this shorter format for the chapter, since lately I have been trying to refine my chapter format and word count. Anyway, the Discord channel is also growing and we're eager to accept more people! If you want to have early access to ongoing chapters and my personal project I'm working on, please end me a private message for an invite!