Chapter 49: Brineblade

Forward: Editing and co-writing credit to Rainsfere.

Hadrian gawked at what could only be a living myth standing before him, though considering his encounters with witches and monsters, perhaps this shouldn't have been surprising. His expression seemed to amuse the wild halfling, who had a toothy smirk on her face. Realizing how he was acting, he calmed himself, knowing this was a historical moment.

"I…you're one of the Children, it's…I'm not really sure what to say."

"Well it's obvious it leaves you speechless boy." The primal halfling jested with a smirk. "Don't worry too much, Inheritor. Your father was just as awed and he was only a few years older than you."

The remark about his father sparked some sense back into Hadrian. "Wait, you knew my father?" It then began to make sense with some of the parting advice he had given. "His knowledge about the Old Gods, the weirwood tree and the tunnel…it makes sense." Despite the revelation, he focused on his supernatural guest. "I…I have so many questions! So…perhaps you can share your name with me."

A raspy chuckle came from the halfling, a toothy smirk given. "It would be impossible for you to pronounce it considering you lack the cords or knowledge of the old tongue." Yet she paused in thought, humming slightly. "Just call me Root. You humans seemed to call us by such simple names. As for my role, you could consider me a shaman to the Old Gods, an interpreter of their will."

"If…that is fine with you." Hadrian muttered, being more puzzled by how she spoke of the Old Gods. She made it sound like they were really… present, despite the tales claiming they had faded into the land itself. Despite his pondering, he focused on more pressing questions. "So why did you call me an Inheritor? Is it some kind of pact made with the First Men?"

"Yes. Your descendants, clans that would later on become the Houses that now rule the land. Here in what you call the Riverlands, they made pacts to protect the weirwood and nature, protecting our sources of power. In return we'd ensure the land was bountiful and healthy."

"And then the Andals invaded."

"Oh? At the least you know your history. It is true, the Andals killed and converted those who followed our ways. Yet even then, you humans had already begun to warp our beliefs to something hollow. Only few remember what it truly was, such as your father."

The more answers she gave the more questions the young man seemed to have. History and religion had been more of a pastime to his other studies, making him wonder how much he had learned were falsehoods. "So what do you know of the Crones? Are they…related to you in some way?"

Root gave a low, angry hiss, making Hadrian flinch. "I'll forgive what you said boy, for you ask out of ignorance!" She sighed, calming herself. "No. They are…abominations. Things not of this world. They wield power, magic like us though it is foul and corrupt. They make beasts out of the flesh of the dead and enthrall human minds with twisted bargains."

The realization that these monsters were unknown to even the Children made Hadrian pale. He had hoped Root would give some answer to this unnatural threat, yet it seemed she knew just as little. "Then…what hope do we have beyond running away?"

"Even if you run, they will spread like a disease across the continent." She paused in thought hum, glancing aside as if listening to something that he couldn't hear. "There is someone, a man of two worlds who has faced these…things. He goes by many names, yet you have heard of him as the White Wolf."

Indeed the name was familiar, being one of the titles of the mysterious swordsman known as Geralt of Rivia. His accomplishments both at the last tournament at the capital and his daring resistance in protecting the Stark's was practically legendary. To think someone like him was here in the Riverlands seemed almost unreal.

"What do you mean about being of two worlds? Also…even if he's as strong as the tales say, he is just one man!"

"The earth father, Yorith knows. One simply has to listen to hear his whispers to share his wisdom."

"Yorith?" At this rate, Hadrian began to realize all he was constantly doing was asking questions, which made Root smirk in amusement.

"A lesson for another time. For now, know that the White Wolf's strength is in how he rallies others…much like you do." She playfully poked the young man on the forehead, making him frown in some annoyance. "You are near the end of this vein. Keep your people together a bit longer and you'll be above ground. Be mindful…the abominations have eyes and ears among your kind." She shifted backwards into the narrow tunnel, yellow eyes gleaming in the darkness. "Do your best to stay alive, Inheritor, it would be shameful for your end to come so soon."

"I have a name you know!" He snapped back while the halfling chuckled out. "It's Hadrian!"

"Umm…master?" The sudden voice of a soldier surprised Hadrian who turned about quickly. "Is…are you talking to someone?"

For a moment he stammered to find an answer, nervously glancing back towards the narrow passage only to find it gone. Just damp earth and pushing roots. "I…must have been muttering to myself." He chuckled in an embarrassed manner. "The stress must be getting to me but…I'm fine."

The soldier gave a questioning look though didn't press the matter further, only nodding to Hadrian before returning to his post. Alone again, the young man moved back to his bedroll to lay down with a tired sigh. Just when his life couldn't become any more stranger…yet for now exhaustion took him, dreamless sleep the only escape from reality's worries.

Early Morning – Western Trail from Fairmarket – Geralt

It had only been an hour since Geralt's group had left Fairmarket, taking a discrete trail from the town to reach a crossway at the Forks. Theon, Dacey, William and Ogatto alongside four elite archers, shieldmaidens and militia scouts. All were mounted to help carry the supplies needed to make the infiltration of Riverrun, if there was something truly strange going on. It was going to be a few days of travel, considering they had to avoid any main roads to avoid any possible patrols, at least for now.

In the meantime, it gave the Witcher time to talk with his new allies such as the Dothraki. With the group traveling at a good pace, he eased Roach to ride alongside the tribal warrior. Then again, the Dothraki broke the many norms of his kind from what he had seen. Using proper armor beyond leathers and furs, a modified arakh and coordinated tactics with the militia. While he was boastful, he never seemed to show disrespect to the common folk and in turn they welcomed him.

"We got a good ride ahead of us Witcher!" Ogatto laughed as he shifted in his saddle, riding an imposing black furred stallion. "Cloudy skies and a high sun. Doubt there will be rain."

"And by saying that...there will no doubt be a flood." William muttered offhandedly to the others, muffled chuckles coming, though Ogatto seemed unfazed by the jesting.

"I assume you have plenty of experience with traveling? Most Dothraki from my understanding don't leave their territory and rarely roam the Free or Slave Cities." Geralt questioned.

"Heh and here I am in Westeros. I can say I have traveled further than whole generations of my people." Ogatto replied. "Only outcasts or the few bold travel as much as me."

"So what do you fall under in that case? You don't seem to be a mercenary since you seem to help Fairmarket and Marcus out of goodwill."

"Because Marcus has been my friend for many years and in a sense Fairmarket is a second home to me. One of the few places I'm welcomed for who I am, not by what my people are seen as." He paused before continuing. "In truth I dreamed of exploring the world beyond the Dothraki Sea in my youth. Cities to conquer, riches to be claimed...the usual short sighted desires we raiders had."

"I did notice the other Dothraki we had executed had strong hatred towards you. If you are an outcast, you must have done something serious to make even them want you dead."

Oghatto smirked slightly at that, though his eyes showed a hint of weariness, especially in that scarred white eye. "It is quite the tale about my banishment and being marked for death. While it may seem wild to claim, I was a Bloodrider of Khal Drogo himself."

The others who were casually overhearing the conversation showed clear surprise on their faces. "Wait… the Khal Drogo...as in the one who married that Targaryen exile...uhh…" Theon mused aloud.

"Daenerys." Dacey finished. "From what I heard though he had died recently, sickness I believe."

Ogatto nodded, a somber look on his face. "From his own stubbornness. That was his greatest strength and weakness."

"More like stupidity...if you will forgive the term." William added, which drew a small growl of annoyance from his Dothraki friend.

"It is a long tale, but I was foolish enough to insult and challenge another Khal during a gathering of the warchiefs. Skilled as I was for my age, I still couldn't beat him and earned this for my arrogance." He pointed to his scarred eye, smirking at the winced expression Theon gave. "Drogo was able to spare me, so long as I was exiled. In my anger I still sought revenge on the other Khal, choosing instead to sneak into his tent and kill him there...alongside his horse."

"Considering how much your people revere them, that must have been quite the insult." Theon remarked.

William smirked. "I can say I would have done the same thing. It'd be the perfect way to strike terror among those raiders."

"Seems it worked by the looks of it." Geralt said in agreement. "So after that you just roamed until you met Marcus."

"More or less. I spent a lot of time learning about other cultures, seeing what was true beyond the claims my elders made. I learned just how behind my people are in all aspects. War, technology and even culture. While I still value our ways, many of them hold us back...make us weak."

Hearing such admittance was interesting to hear for the Witcher. "Guess you've become enlightened among your peers. Doubt I'd see any other Dothraki show respect to a peasant like you do."

"Hah! I will admit that Doric's chivalry has rubbed off on me. In truth I realized that the skill and patience a humble farmer shows would put even Bloodriders to shame. A Dothraki raider would rather starve to death than have the patience to till and grow the land."

"Maybe once this war is done, you can settle down and start your own farm and be the first Dothraki farmer." William jested.

"Appealing as that is, I have bigger plans my friend." There was an intense gleam in his eyes, a fierce determination showing.

Admittedly Geralt was curious to know what the Dothraki's ambitions were, yet he felt the raider had shared enough for once. Instead he looked to William. "What about you? At this rate I'm expecting all of Marcus' companions to have grand stories about themselves."

The bowman scoffed, scratching the scarred side of his face. "Nothing much to me. Just a sellsword who isn't keen on siding with any of the damned Houses."

"Really now?" Theon questioned. "If I had your keen aim, I'd probably be bidding for top coin."

"More to a fight than just gold." William grumbled. "Anybody can claim one Lord or House cares more for the people, but in the end we're just a resource to them. Peasants, soldiers, mercenaries...that is all they are. All you are."

The cynical reply made Geralt give a questioning look. "I have a feeling some highborn has screwed you over in the past."

"Part of the reason why my face and leg is messed up. Let's just say the lord who hired us wasn't keen on paying us and set us up."

"Us? You worked with someone else?' Theon questioned, making the bowman realize what he had said.

"A partner...someone who left me for dead." He quickly answered. "Much as I butt heads with Marcus, I'd rather see the Smallfolk whip the high born from their perch, realize we can push back when pushed." Though he smirked. "Plus...getting my share of pay for my efforts. You'd be surprised how much coin the mercenaries have stashed away."

"So much for the 'more than the gold' claim." Dacey dryly snarked, making Willaim scowl in annoyance.

"Alright, enough small talk." Geralt spoke up before the bowman could argue back. "Conversations like this are meant to build trust, not start fights. Best we focus on the road, try to cut a day off our travel."

No one argued with the Witcher's directions, everyone quieting down as he took the lead. With him picking up the pace, everyone followed suit behind or alongside him. Yet as they rode along, Geralt noticed crows flying overhead, almost as if following them. The grim feeling of being watched loomed heavy over him, but for now he focused on the road ahead...and whatever awaited them at Riverrun.

Midday - The Shores of Pyke - The Ironborn

It had taken many weeks for the word of a moot between the Lords and many captains of the Iron Islands, even more for them all to arrive. Balon Greyjoy had called for this gathering as soon as news of the civil war on the mainland had reached the lonely shores of Pyke. Rumors were about if the leader of the Ironborn would seek to ally with one side or perhaps strike out against the North. Considering Balon's vindictive nature...many had a good idea what his choice would be.

The rocky shore was clustered with tents, the visiting raiders passing the time with small competitions over the last few days while everyone gathered. Among the gathered raiders were the more renowned members of the Greyjoy family. At one of the larger gray colored tents, many of them were gathered to discuss the grand moot where Balon would reveal his plans.

"We all know what is going to happen." Asha grumbled, the short hair woman glaring at her two uncles who stood around the table. At a glance, it would be easy to mistake her for a soft faced man with how tightly her green leather jerkin fitted over her chest, the only clear betrayal of her gender being the finer details of her face and athletic figure. As the only other remaining child of Balon, Asha had pushed herself into becoming one of the Iron Island's only female captains and one of it's most successful raiders. Her cunning and boldness impressed many, even those who followed the older ideals that no woman could truly lead among the reavers. "Father is going to drag us down…again. I know we all have our differences here, but even you both know how his vindictiveness nearly destroyed us."

Aeron scowled slightly, the long haired and bearded priest of the Drowned God seeming annoyed on the matter. Ever since his spiritual awakening during the Greyjoy Rebellion, he had shaped into a cold individual, following the traditions of the Ironborn's faith to the letter. His devotion made him one of the most influential across the isles, some even deeming him a prophet of the Drowned God. "We don't need reminding of the failure of our Rebellion. Yet tradition stands, so long as Balon is our Lord, we must do as he commands."

Across from him, Victarion scoffed in agreement. A towering and muscular man, there was none stronger in all the isles than him. Even during this peaceful gathering he wore pieces of his gray armor, in this case just the chainmail with his split yellow cloak. Even resting against the table was his renowned axe, a massive weapon that he could wield one handed. "Besides Asha, what do you expect to do in this case? Offer your own plan before the captains, risk disgracing yourself?"

Asha sighed deeply in frustration, having expected such doubt from her uncles. "Because tradition is going to mean little if we keep wasting our efforts on father's senseless schemes!" She countered. "We've at best regained only half of what was lost in our rebellion. If it is true that Stannis has allied with the Starks, then he'll set his sights on us once he has claimed the Iron Throne."

"Heh...if he reclaims it." Victarion chuckled, seeming doubtful of the Stormlander's chances. "I say let this Winterstorm Alliance and the Lannisters break themselves against each other. If one side comes out bloodied enough, then we strike that side."

Yet Aeron had a more thoughtful look over Asha's words, brushing his long, damp beard. "Have the years dulled your memory of how deadly of a commander Stannis is, brother? Everyone knows he had been building up the royal fleet for years, a fleet that he mostly controls. With the Starks allied with him, he has the manpower to invade even King's Landing."

The insult made Victarion scowl at his younger brother. "Then we'll be ready for him if he is foolish enough to attack us! He won't have the same success a second time!"

"Ugh...like talking to an anchor…" Asha grumbled under her breath. At the least, she was glad that even the steadfast mind of Aeron could see the reasoning to her worries.

In truth she craved for the Ironborn to expand past their isolated isles, reclaim the territories they had settled ages ago before they were pushed off the main land. Her uncles argued further, the bickering making her slammed the back of her throwing axe against the table to draw their attention.

"Look, I'm not asking to do anything rash. This isn't about betraying father, but trying to reason with him. All three of us have his ear, so surely if we can come to some agree-"

A resounding horn suddenly blew, the signal that the moot was about to begin. Asha's uncles glanced at her, Victarion frowning as he grasped his axe and moved to leave the tent. Aeron gave a tired sigh. "Even if we could agree, you know your father. The man won't yield to anyone or thing when he sets his mind to it." The drowned priest moved to leave. "We just have to make do with whatever his choice is."

Asha remained for a moment longer, glancing to her axe before growling in frustration. "Choice...this sure as hell isn't my choice." Picking her axe up to slot it back on her belt, she moved to follow her uncles, trekking across the beach to where the meeting was set.

The moot was held at a rocky formation at the far end of the beach, a weather landmark that was seen as the symbol of the Ironborn's unfaltering will. Surrounding it were dozens of captains and Lords while on the rocky platform was Balon himself. His face, hardened by the harsh life on the sea and the stresses of leadership, glared at the crowd with almost a bitter glare.

"I know all of you know why you were all called here. It Is impossible to ignore that on the mainland, the other Houses are at war for the throne once again."

Yells and laughter filled the air, many thrilled about the civil war going on. A few had even used the conflict to raid regions they hadn't touched in well over a decade.

"Some have wondered if we will pick a side, pry for some...paltry reward for allegiance." He shook his head, his scowl growing. "To the Hells with that! This is our chance, our opportunity to reclaim what is ours...to strike back against the bloody North who has wronged us time and time again! Their lands have never been more exposed, not when we are this united!"

More cheers filled the air, since none could deny their hatred for the North. It had been them who had been key in defeating them during their rebellion and having the pity to even spare them. Many were keen to show how such mercy would come back to haunt the Starks.

"Let this boy Robb throw away the lives of his men to Stannis' foolish ambitions. Let them and the Lannisters slaughter each other. Whoever wins, we'll sweep them aside with the might of our fleet if they dare oppose us! All of Westeros will recognize me as King of-"

Suddenly Balon stopped, the man's fierce expression frozen in a moment of surprise, his gaze focused on the middle of the crowd. Many muttered over what was going on, with Asha and her uncles shifting from their place off to the side to get a better look. In the middle of the crowd a lone individual walked forward, hands clapping loudly in slow applause. Those near the figure caught a good look of his face under a grayed hood, faces paling and fear showing in their eyes.

"King of what brother? Failure?" The figure spoke in a smooth yet resounding voice. With his hood pulled back, Euron's handsome face was revealed, his one good eye gleaming with smug glee at seeing the pure shock surrounding him. "Because really that is all you've ever been as a leader. Getting all those good men killed in your shortsighted schemes."

At this point, Balon recovered from his shock, a look of pure rage showing on his face. "You...you dare show yourself here!" Just as quickly as rage consumed him it disappeared just as quickly once he realized that not only was Euron here, but he was also completely surrounded. A low sadistic laugh escaped from him before he ordered his men from the crowd to seize his brother. Despite this Euron seemed completely unfazed and didn't resist being restrained. "I thought you were smarter than this Euron. I swore if you ever returned while I lived, I'd see you killed for breaking our traditions."

Euron just kept that confident smile on his face, shrugging slightly. "Heh...as expected of you to hold a grudge for so long. Really, if anyone has reason to hate me it would be dear Victarion over there." Nodding to his brother, the fierce pirate seemed ready to rush in and cleave Euron with his axe. "In the end he killed his seawife, not I. You could even say our traditions drove him to do that."

"Enough!" Balon shouted, making many flitch at the command his voice held. "If you are here to mock us-"

"Calm yourself brother. If anything I'm here to help...well...not you exactly but everyone else who is gathered." Glancing around, at the countless faces. "Smart as your plan is, it is very short sighted. You may dismiss the civil war going on, but sitting out on it puts all of us at risk."

"If you mean Stannis and the Stark boy, I doubt they will-"

"Succeed? We all know how good of a commander Stannis is and right now he has everything he needs to beat even the Lannister's." He smirked slightly. "I even tried to take him down a few months back, ambushed the Fury itself with my best ships. Lost all but the Silence despite having every advantage."

Few had heard claims of such a battle, but with Euron admitting it had happened sparked conversation. They all knew just how capable the pirate was, so to lose in such a battle seemed shocking to even them.

"Stannis is the one we need to cut down. The North… oh the North has trouble brewing within itself, yet seeing their dear ally broken would hasten their own downfall."

Balon scoffed slightly. "So what do you suggest then? Throw our lot with the Lannisters against a common foe."

"In some sense...yes...though I'm already ahead of you." Though glancing at the men holding him, he sighed slightly. "You lot can let me go. Not like I have anywhere to run."

"None of you dare let that bastard go!" Balon countered.

However the men holding Euron tensed as they felt the points of knives at their backs, realizing among the crowd were Euron's own men. While they didn't drive their blades in, the point was made that the pirate's infamous crew was among them. Reluctantly, they eased their grip on the pirate, who rubbed his arms slightly to ease the ache, all while Balon scowled in anger.

"Thank you. Now then...I have in fact come to an arrangement with the Lannisters, with Tywin himself in fact." Mutterings filled the air, many doubtful of such a claim. "You should have seen it when I brought his lost family sword to him, the one thing he's spent a fortune trying to find! I practically had him eating out of my hands." A few laughs followed, at the image given. "The Lannisters need us far more than we need them. I have cut a bargain unlike anything else with Tywin."

"Bargain." Balon had real rage in his eyes now. "What gives you the right to decide anything for the Isles!"

"Because in the end brother you have done nothing!" Euron snapped back. "All these years, bitter over our defeat with that ill planned rebellion. Had you bothered to build alliances and allies, it would have had some real chance of success...but instead you assumed others would jump onto your hopeful cause."

Euron's statement rang true, making low mutters fill the air. No one, not even Balon could argue with such blunt logic as to why the failure of planning during their Rebellion had failed so harshly.

"What you're suggesting is whoring our might to the Iron Throne, to that egoist Tywin and his brat of a grandchild." Balon countered. "And for what? Wealth? Some empty title?"

"Oh...far more." Euron grinned widely. "You see I struck the perfect deal with the old lion. By allying with the crown, we would have the freedom to raid and take land from the Reach, Stormlands and North as part of the rule of conquest. Retaking the territories we had ages ago until the Targaryens forced us away!"

Hearing this made excited mutterings grow. Many had craved to pillage Stormlands and Reach, both rich in plunder, yet often guarded by the crown. If the royal family was giving them the right to raid, then vast wealth was waiting for them to steal away.

"If we rally now, we can surprise that smug bastard Stannis and gut him for what he did to us years ago! Dragonstone will be ours, our port at the Narrow Sea!" With a gesture his men stepped forward, hauling chests which they tossed down, loot spilling from cracking wood and opened lids. Grasping a handful of coins and gems, Euron clenched it in his fist. "This! This is a small piece of the merchants of Essos and the soft pirates of the Stepstones hoard!" He grinned, his gaze drifting to Asha. "My niece knows this to be true. Unlike most of you, she had the guts to sail that far out. Her exploits against the Stepstone pirates are quite impressive."

The praise was unexpected, making a conflicted mix of pride and mistrust. She knew what he was truly doing, buttering up the captains, swaying support right in front of Balon. Everything he said was true, the Narrow Sea was where all the real wealth was and for the fierce Ironborn, easy pickings.

"It's clear that you are not fit to lead the Ironborn, Balon. You could never strike such a deal like I have. You could never nor have ever obtained the riches I show here. Nor could you ever claim vengeance on the Starks or Baratheons like I can. I can string up the Stark boy, sink Stannis' flagship the Fury and send Stannis to the Drowned God himself!"

They were such grand promises yet no one could deny that if anyone could achieve such things, it would be the near mad cunning of Euron Grayjoy. The crowd ate it up, high on the promise of real glory after years of

"So...Lord Balon Greyjoy the Bold...I challenge you to Brineblade! Accept my duel or forever be branded as craven!"

Complete silence filled the beach, even the waves for a moment seeming to be still before crashing across the shore. Balon stared down his brother, hatred on his face as he knew Euron had backed him into a corner. At his own moot he had stolen the hearts of his captains, challenged his command as lord of the Isles and now his honor. There was only one choice left.

"So be it. I accept your challenge then Euron Crow's Eye. The only mercy you will get will be the Drowned God's cold embrace."

Euron smirked at the threat, raw excitement in his eye. "I'd expect nothing less brother."

A Few Hours Later

Everyone gathered at the cove where the duel would happen, set with the surging of the rising tide with the coming evening. It had been too long since the challenge of Brineblade had ever happened towards a Lord, much less the head of House Greyjoy. Asha and Victarion stood on the edge of the shore, waiting for Euron and Belon to arrive. Aeron meanwhile stood in the shallow water, the priest of the Drowned God giving the prayers for this honor duel.

"This is madness." Asha muttered to Victarion.

"This is one of our oldest traditions, Asha. The challenge has been given and your father has accepted." He scowled. "As much as I despise Euron, I respect his cunning setting this up."

"He's going to kill father! You know he can't stand up to the likes of him!"

"Better to die with pride than be marked as craven."

The female raider went silent, fists clenched at hating how powerless she was. She wanted nothing more than to throw her axe right into Euron's grinning face, cut down the madman while she could. Yet she knew that would solve nothing, only put blame on her father, make Euron a martyr and her a kinslayer.

Suddenly the crowd's attention shifted as at last the challengers arrived Balon and Euron were stripped down to nothing more than leather pants, proofed to not be weighted down by the sea water. Both men were fit, yet Euron's build was more defined in comparison, showing how his life of constant reaving had honed him. Everyone was silent as the two walked past them, stopping before Aeron who clutched a waterworn case in his hands. The priest glared between his siblings, before at last speaking.

"With the challenge of Brineblade given, both of you will fight to the death with nothing more than the blades given." Clicking the case open, salt water spilled from it to reveal two long knives. While the handles were of sturdy build, the blades were long encrusted with brine, thick salt. "Brineblade tests a man's strength and endurance. Each cut given will bring the bite of the sea. Every open wound will feel its sting." With a nod, both men reached to take a knife before the case was closed. "There is no retreat. No mercy in this duel. To give either is to lose all pride you have in your name."

Slowly, Euron and Balon walked deeper into the water, stopping when it reached their knees. Both were silent, given cold stares down to each, though Euron's eye gleaned with pure confidence. For a long moment there was silence beyond the splashing of the waves, until Aeron raised both hands high.

"FIGHT!"

Balon made the first move, lunging through the water with surprising speed, knife stabbing out. Euron twisted, his own blade meeting the other to block it aside before throwing a left hook. While Balon was able to block it with his forearm, the strength behind that blow made him wince and shuffle back.

"Not bad." Euron chuckled, tossing his blade into his left hand before stepping forward, giving quick slices back to back. Despite the speed of his swings, Balon met them with his own, yet his hand got nicked with the salt encrusted weapon. Even a small cut brought a painful sting, yet Balon didn't let it loosen his grip.

Ducking under the next swing, Balon stepped up close, one leg sweeping under the water to shift Euron's balance. It didn't stagger the pirate too much, yet the tighter space let the Ironborn Lord get a slice to Euron's side. Only a low growl showed that he felt pain, yet he just grinned as he clenched his arm to his side, trapping Balon's. He reversed his grip of his blade and stabbed downward for his brother's shoulder, Balon only catching his wrist as the blade tip broke the skin. The biting pain grew as the weapon sunk deeper, yet the surging adrenaline made Balon yell out fiercely before butting his head against Euron's.

The one eyed pirate reeled back to soften the blow, yet it forced him to pull back from their grapple. The splashing water stung over his wound, only a short flinch showing his discomfort. Balon didn't hesitate to press the attack, jabbing his knife only to flip his grip for a slash, showing quite the dexterous skill. Euron was pushed backwards slowly, walking into deeper water where their movements became more difficult as the water lapped up to their thighs now.

Back and forth their salted blades clashed, cuts being traded between them, though Balon getting sliced more than his brother. His forearms had bleeding wounds now, making it more difficult to handle his weapon. Euron meanwhile earned more cuts to his upper body, yet seemed unfazed by the aching cuts. It was becoming clear that Balon was starting to tire, though his stubborn determination would not have him back down.

He grit his teeth, his other hand grasping at his shaking blade arm. Squeezing hard over a bleeding wound, he growled deeply before giving a yell. Like the beginning of the duel he did a swift lunge, blade tip aimed right for Euron's black heart. Yet Euron had expected such a move, knowing his brother would be desperate enough to try it again. He leaned back enough for the tip to just sink into his chest, yet left Balon over extended. It added a split second to Balon trying to pull his arm back, all the time Euron needed to stab his blade right into his forearm. Salted iron pierced through muscle and bone, making Balon howl in pain. The shock through his nerves was too hard to ignore, hand spasming to drop his blade into the water.

Euron's free hand then reached out to grasp his brother by the throat, squeezing down tightly to start choking him. With his one good hand, he grasped at Euron's wrist, clawing at it hard enough to draw blood as he tried to loosen that iron grip. He then began to push him downward, forcing Balon backwards until the water while his blade teared along his impaled arm, making blood cloud the water.

It was a slow struggle as Balon tried to keep himself up, to keep his head above the water as the back of it sinked past the surface. His pained gasps had him suck in water, spitting it out and even hitting Euron's face who simply turned away. Nothing stopped him as at last he forced the Ironborn's head under the water. That sadistic smile grew as he watched Balon's face contort from the pain and lack of air, bubbles surging up as he could no longer hold his breath. The hand digging into his wrist clung to it before then relaxing and then finally becoming limp.

With a deep sigh, Euron let go of his brother's neck, watching him remain very still under the water's surface. His eye closed as he took a deep breath, savoring the satisfaction of this long overdue victory. When he opened it once more, he turned to face the crowd, who all watched in silence with clear awe on their faces.

Slowly he stepped back towards the shore, both arms outstretched to his sides and head bowed. "What is dead may never die!"

"What is dead may never die!" The crowd roared in return, fists raised in a twisted parting honor to their slain lord. The other Greyjoys only silently watched, the three dreading what was to come with the turn of events. Because in the eyes of everyone gathered, Euron was now the new Lord of Pyke and of all the Ironborn.

Splashing sea water over himself, Euron let the pain bite at his body, hissing at the rush it filled him with. He arched his head up to the sky, grinning as he basked in the chat of his fellow raiders.

Evening - Wilderness East of Riverrun - Lady Catelyn

For the whole night and day Catelyn had been simply riding as fast as her horse would go. Exhaustion was heavy for both her and her mount, driven by terror of the Crones and their monsters at their backs. Every time she began to drift asleep on her saddle, the horrible sounds of her rescuers...or Rodrick's horrible screams would snap her awake. She knew she couldn't let those abominations capture or kill her, not after the sacrifices made to escape from them.

She had drifted between the main road and side trails, hoping to throw off any pursuit. Though it now left her lost beyond the fact that she was heading eastward. From what she estimated, Raventree Hall was at least a day away, though she wasn't sure if they were safe from the Crones by being within their reach. There was Fairmarket which was a few days northward, yet she doubted she had the supplies or skills to make it through the wilderness and cross the Forks.

"Cornered...like a damn animal." She muttered to herself, head bowed in exhaustion and despair. For a moment her eyes drooped, nearly drifting asleep until the shifting of her saddle and the tired huff of her horse snapped her awake. Glancing around, she realized she had drifted off the main trail, seeming to be in more lush woodland. Yet something seemed different, a strange sense of calm, a peace that had been lacking for so long. The forest here seemed alive with animals actively roaming around and birds chirping, different from the near silence she had been enduring.

The trail led to a grove, where at its center stood an imposing weirwood tree, much like the one within the Godswood in Winterfell. "Home…" The word seemed so empty now. Riverrun was tainted beyond recognition while Winterfell seemed like another world away from her. She wished that she hadn't been so foolish, so driven by her emotions to rush off to King's Landing in trying to protect her family.

"Bran...Rickon...gods I should have stayed with you…" At this point, she slipped off her saddle, the soft grass at least softening her fall. Her tired horse barely noticed her tumble, the beast walking over to a patch of grass by the nearby trickling stream. Crawling up onto her knees, she was kneeling before the weirwood itself, staring up at the face that was carved onto the white tree trunk. It was of a sleeping old man, red sap trailing from faintly parted lips and closed eyes, an expression that seemingly reflected peace and sorrow.

For a long moment she stared at the tree's face, mind wondering if there were any real gods in this world. For weeks she had prayed to the Seven for some kind of aid, a miracle to end the madness and horror that infected her home. Yet nothing had come, only more despair.

"I...never understood the tales about you...the Old Gods or whatever you are." She calmly spoke to the tree. "Yet right now...I need a miracle. Something...anything right now." She clasped her hands, head bowed low as she bite back a deep sob. "I'd give anything...everything...even my very life to just see my family again...and have those monsters smited for what they have done!" Tears broke down her cheeks, gasping cries escaping from her. "Please...I just...I need some sign!"

Suddenly there was a low chuckle, muted sound that seemingly overcame all the surrounding noises of nature. It made Caitlyn snap her head up and quickly glance about, fearful that it was the Crones having cornered her at last. Her shifting eyes caught sight of a small figure slipping away into the brush, the lithe figure and short cut hair just like her youngest daughter. "Arya?" Yet the hopefulness faded when she noticed how all the animals gathered were suddenly staring at her with a calm intelligence, her horse included

"No...not at me…" She quickly glanced back to the weirwood, gasping in shock before shuffling backwards at what was before her. The soft soil had seemingly opened up, a wide earthen tunnel leading into darkness set between her and the weirwood tree. From that darkness though were spots of flicking light, lanterns and torches, dozens of them coming closer.

The soft stomp of hooves neared as a young man with a little girl rode out of the tunnel, coming to a stop before her. The youth had a surprised look while the child eyed Caitlyn with an innocent curiosity. It was clear that the young man was of noble standing with how he was dressed, even if the garments were dirtied from travel. The most defining detail though was the cloak, one After a long moment, recognition sparked in the young man's eyes who at last spoke up. "Lady Caitlyn? Gods...what has happened to you?"

She wanted to say something, anything back to the young man. A greeting or simple words of thankfulness. She couldn't only give a tired shy from her dry lips before she closed her eyes, exhaustion crushing completely down onto her. She could hear the young noble's worried voice, calling for others for help. All that mattered was that she wasn't alone any more, a small spark of hope after facing such bleakness.

Notice: Sorry for the delay on this chapter, admittedly I had most of it done for a while, but the release of New World really took over my life!

Rainsfere really helped me out on this one, especially on writing the Euron section and the Brineblade duel. It is an original idea I made up, sort of a more direct approach for Crowseye to take control of the Ironborn. I am curious to know opinions on the duel, on how much it fits into the established lore.

Anyway my birthday is coming next week and I'm thinking of really following up on a side crossover fitting for the Halloween season. Keeping the pick a surprise, but keep an eye out! As always, share a review on your thoughts or message to me, maybe even join my Discord channel to get early peeks on chapters!