Chapter 57: Shadow of Harrenhal

Forward by Rainsfere: This is a repost of chapter 57. After a lengthy discussion with Drake a decision was made to change a few things with this chapter and several other things going forward. Now, I've cleaned up this chapter as best I could and added additional dialogue as well as changed some dialogue. Either way, I hope you all enjoy this edited chapter as much as before it was edited. Till next time.

Six Days after the Battle of the Blackwater Plains - Early Mid Day - Fairmarket - Geralt

The days preparing for the arrival of Robb and the army of the North were quiet yet tense. Everyone was fearful that a horde of monsters or army of traitorous Houses would arrive to overrun the town. Fortunately, no attacks ever happened and each day that passed without an attack gave Geralt and everyone some relief. At least a little. During this time though, the Witcher had been working hard with the Fairmarket Militia and the Blackfish's army to get proper tools prepared for future battles.

What silver they had was smithed into weapons like spears or coated over weapons like axes and short blades. Marcus did ask for silver bolts though, even putting up silverware he had stored at the Three Kegs to ensure him a quiver's worth. Knowing how strong his crossbow was, Geralt felt it would be a good investment.

More importantly the kegs were full of weapon oils they had in stock. It had taken Geralt a little experimenting to find comparable ingredients to the ones from his world, luckily Fairmarket had a large stock of herbs for such testing and later on mass production. If they kept up the rate they were going at, they'd have enough for a good fraction of the main army.

Lastly were the bombs, which Geralt had some unexpected aid with. Hadrian, the Blackwood bastard, proved to be a capable alchemist and then some. His notes and formulas were even better than Geralts, leading to improved qualities of bombs and oils. Geralt didn't need much convincing when Hadrian asked him if he could take charge in the production of both. Hadrian was young but his alchemical skills were comparable if not slightly better than most experienced Witchers.

All that was left was training, which was no easy task. The Winter Wolves and the Grims had experience fighting monsters before but not a whole army of them. Not even he could claim that experience. The Blackwood soldiers had encountered an army of them but they were slaughtered and had to retreat. There would be no retreat next time. Next time they would live or they would all die.

That was why for the last few days, Geralt had been educating and drilling everyone with monster tactics and habits with the leading members of the Fairmarket Militia along with the combined troops from the Winter Wolves and Riverland remnants. Multiple groups were split between the different captains of the forces so the leaders could keep formation and give out commands quickly.

As for Geralt, he rode between groups on Roach, trying to give pointers as best he could. Reaching a group with Theon in charge, he spoke up. "Keep that circle formation solid. Shield men to the front with spears behind. Let the monsters impale themselves on your pikes while the men in front protect you. If you're carrying a shield remember to keep your head behind the shield. You don't want your head bitten into by a Ghoul's teeth." Looking behind them Geralt could see that Theon had positioned some archers not too far behind the infantry. Just far enough for the archers to land a few shots before the enemy could crash into the infantry. Even if the monsters wouldn't die their momentum would be slowed and their impact minimized.

Geralt was impressed. "Smart strategy Theon."

"Told you I'd get it right sooner than the others." Theon laughed as he stepped forward. "We'll show these beasts what happens when you fight an army of Westerosi. If we can keep our formations up and our lines hold, I think we'll get through this"

"Hopefully." Geralt muttered. "There's never been a time when monsters fought as one in such numbers. Not even I can predict what will happen."

"Then we'll just have to handle whatever is thrown at us as best we can." Theon countered as he dismissed the troops, with exercises done for now. "Listen, I know we managed to pull through at Riverrun but this…," Theon's face turned serious and grim as his optimism and bravado vanished. "This is unlike anything we've ever faced before. I have to believe we can win Geralt. I have to-"

"I know." Geralt didn't need to be told twice. He knew what was at stake. They have to win. "I know Theon, we-" A signal horn interrupted him. "That's coming from the north side of Fairmarket." Geralt remarked as already the troops on the training fields were gathering up to head to the northern field of the town.

"Which can only mean… It's Robb." Theon grinned as he hurried for his own horse that was tied up nearby. "Let's inform Robb what in seven Hells is going on down here. Race you there!" Already he was riding off, Geralt giving a small sigh and shaking his head before spurring Roach to quickly follow after. Right now though, he just hoped he could reason with Robb and the other Lords on the unnatural threat they all had to contend with.

The arrival of the army of the North was huge, even if it was just a fraction of their true strength. For the people of Fairmarket, it was quite intimidating when comparing the several thousands to the few hundred the Winter Wolves had arrived with spread across the outskirts of their town. The banners of the North's great Houses waved in the air, showing the might that entered the Riverlands. House Umber, Karstark, Bolton, Hornwood, Mormont, Reed, Forrester, Whitehill and a dozen others with the gray direwolf of House Stark at the lead.

Thankfully, there was not too much formality at the initial meeting as beyond the announcement of Lord Robb, the arrival of Lady Catelyn shook things up. Much like the reunion with his sisters, the young man was quick to dismount from his horse and embrace his mother. No one among the lordly escort thought of interrupting this emotional moment.

"I feared the worst mother." He whispered to her, holding her tightly as if worried she'd slip away.

"It nearly came to that Robb." She sighed. "There is so much to talk about…"

The look in her eyes, the dead seriousness of her voice was all the reasoning he needed as he nodded. Turning around, he spoket to the other Lords. "Give the orders for our forces to make camp, then prepare for a war council within the hour at the Winter Wolves camp" There was little hesitation to obey his command, giving Geralt and his companions the chance to directly greet the Warden of the North. Seeing the Witcher brought a broad smile to his face as the two firmly shook hands. "It's good to see you again Geralt. It seems once more I and my family owe you once more for saving my mother."

"Good to see you too. Your father would be proud seeing you take charge, leading the North so far." Geralt replied. "However, if there is anyone you should thank for saving your mother, it would be Master Hadrian."

At that point, the young Blackwood stepped forward, wearing his father's renowned raven feathered cloak for the occasion. "I'm Hadrian Rivers, last surviving son of Lord Tytos Blackwood of Raventree Hall." He introduced himself formally, yet it was clear he was nervous from how he kept his gaze low.

"Hadrian found me after my escape from Riverrun and escorted me here." Catelyn explained. "He may be young but he possesses courage and is a selfless leader." The praise made Hadrian blush faintly, feeling the compliments went a tad too far, even if they were true.

Just the short conversation brought a concerned look to Robb. "Riverrun… and Raventree Hall have both fallen to the Lannisters already?" He questioned in shock, though seeing the looks on everyone's faces showed it was much worse than that. "Just how in the Hell have they done this so quickly?"

"It wasn't the Lannisters Lord Robb." Marcus stepped up, giving a short bow. "In fact, you could say Hell has come to the Riverlands. I'm Marcus, leader of Fairmarket and its militia. Lord Brynden, the new Paramount, has everything prepared to explain everything." All the young man could do was give a stiff nod, letting Geralt's group escort him along with his household advisors to the meeting tent.

Several Hours Later

The briefing went about as expected for Geralt. The Northern lords weren't exactly believing the news, believing it to be a mummer's farce. Even Hadrian's testimony was dismissed with laughter and jeers. It wasn't hard to see why, he was a bastard and was nobody of note to them. However they weren't so quick to dismiss what Catelyn had to say on the matter and even less so when the Blackfish joined in. The more they talked, the more the Northern lords listened and the more they listened the more they considered the possibility of the existence of this army of monsters bred to destroy them all. Showing them a corpse of a dead ghoul certainly helped. By the time they were finished, nobody was laughing anymore. They had been convinced… most of them anyway.

"This isn't some damned mummer's tale or ruse!" Brynden growled angrily at a few of the Lords, Greatjon and Roose especially, prodded and closely examined the vicious malformed creatures that had been brought in as evidence. "I've watched these creatures rip armored soldiers to pieces. Even when impaled by a spear or a limb lopped off, these creatures hardly feel pain and fear."

"Fascinating." Roose stated as he studied the claw of the dead ghoul. Even at the reveal of the creature, he had shown no real reaction despite the surprise of even the most battle hardened Lords like Rickard Karstark. "'Rip armored soldiers to pieces' you said? Such a shame they aren't on our side." Roose's pale eyes gleamed as he turned to Geralt. "Can they be captured and tamed?"

"Captured?!" Dacey questioned with fiery outrage. "Tamed?! These things killed my battle sisters with ease, women who've battled Ironborn raiders for years and you want to know if these abominations can be tamed!"

Roose didn't seem bothered by her outburst as he turned his eyes on her. "Of course," he stated calmly. "We have a war to fight and win after all. Imagine what we could accomplish with even fifty of these creatures under our command. The terror they would instill in our enemies would be an advantage no other army would possess." Once more he looked to the Witcher, "Can they be tamed?"

"No."

"Pity." Roose responded and didn't argue any further but Geralt noted that the gleam in his eyes remained. A problem for another time.

For a moment Dacey seemed ready to draw her weapon and strike Lord Bolton as her eyebrows shot up and her nostrils flared only for Catelyn to speak up sternly before she could act. "Even if they could be tamed somehow it's out of the question Lord Bolton. These monsters have been made by evil magic and have butchered my family and people. I will not tolerate their existence,none of us should. They must all be destroyed."

Rounds of 'Aye's' clammored and echoed through the room. Geralt and Catelyn's eyes met and he gave her a small appreciative nod for speaking up and stopping Dacey from doing anything she would regret.

With the issue calmed, Greatjon patted the table firmly to draw attention to him. "So just how bad is this infestation? Blackfish, I recall you saying this started months ago. How far have they spread?"

"Too bloody far." Brynden muttered as he gestured to the regional map. "I've been doing my best to round up as many soldiers and escort Smallfolk to the east, urging them to travel to other nearby regions. However, the amount of empty villages, castles and keeps… likely half the people of the Riverlands are gone."

"Half?!" Lord Umber remarked. "Surely you are exaggerating? That many Houses and people just gone?" Yet seeing the look on the Blackfiish's face showed how certain he was. "Old Gods…"

"And that doesn't include Houses that have seemingly joined forces with the Crones, such as House Bracken." Geralt added, glancing a bit towards Hadrian. "The young master of Raventree Hall, Hadrian Rivers, was able to escort many survivors here when that castle fell."

"And why would they do that?" Geralt's gaze turned to the corner on the far side of the room. Geralt didn't know this man's name but he did remember that he rode in with Robb under a banner with a silver mailed fist on a field of scarlet. "I know the Brackens and Blackwoods have had bad blood between each other for generations but why would they throw their lot in with these Crones?"

"If I had to guess, Ser?"

"Lord Galbart Glover."

"Lord Glover, if I had to guess I would say they were given an offer they couldn't refuse. Likely power or wealth."

"Ahem!" All eyes turned back to the Blackfish. "All of that aside Master Witcher and my lords we need a plan because we can't stay here. Fairmarket is too small to house all of us now that you're all here and meeting those creatures in an open field would be folly."

"No chance of meeting them behind one of the forks?" Rickard Karstark questioned. "We could battle them just as they try to cross the rivers. They'll be fatigued and our archers will have done some damage to their front line."

"Any normal army, yes." Geralt remarked. "Yet ghouls, the bulk of the creatures by my estimate, can cross difficult terrain far easier than any normal human can. The rivers will barely slow them down. They also have no need for supplies, being able to eat anything including their own dead. Blackfish is right. We can't meet them in an open field."

"So where are we going to go then?" Robb asked. "If we can't fight them in the open and we can't go to any surviving Houses here in case they have joined with the Crones then where do we go?"

"We do have a solution, but it will be dangerous." Brynden stated before moving his finger from Fairmarket to a castle far southeast. "Harrenhal. Ruined as it is, it's the only castle that can house us. Its walls are tall and thick and the gates are strong. It won't be easy for them to break through and we need all the help we can get if we stand any chance at defeating them." He sighed before continuing. "However, once we cross the Red Fork we'll for sure be in monster infested territory and the Lannisters along with their mercenaries hold the castle."

"So even if we make it there we would still have to push the Lannisters out." Maege Mormont stated. "How many men do they have there?"

"We're not sure." Marcus answered. "It could be hundreds or it could be thousands depending on if the Lannisters have moved in but we don't know due to the monsters and no ravens. In short: We're in the dark."

"He's right, it's impossible to say.." Bryden added. "We all know Lord Renly and the Tyrells have amassed an army bigger than anyone else. The crown likely has to pull as many troops as they can to bolster their defenses. That being said I have no doubt that the Lannisters are here in the Riverlands. Tywin would not let an enemy army move towards King's Landing without being contested. It's just a matter of if they've gotten to Harrenhal first so if we're lucky we'll be dealing with hundreds instead of thousands."

For a moment none of the lords or people present said a word until Robb addressed Geralt. "We don't have a choice. Geralt, do you have a plan?

Geralt nodded. "We plan to infiltrate Harrenhal like we did with Riverrun and lower the defenses. Already picked out the most capable among the Winter Wolves, military and Lord Brynden's soldiers. All we need is enough mounted soldiers to ride for Harrenhal and take it once a way is opened up."

"I've already drawn up a fast route thanks to Fairmarket's scouts and our maps. If I had more men, I would have pulled this off sooner." Brynden explained further before pointing them out on the map.

Robb thought over this news before looking at Karstark. "Lord Rickard, you have the best riders out of all the Houses. Would you be willing to take charge of capturing Harrenhal alongside Lord Brynden and the Winter Wolves?"

"You only have to give the order and I'll have my men ready in a day if needed." Rickard answered with a broad grin. "Besides, who'd turn down the chance to battle alongside the renowned Blackfish?"

Brynden gave a faint smile back. "Then I feel we should have enough to take the castle. Any more and we'll be more noticed. Now, let's sort matters on supplies and logistics, especially on the anti-monster tools Geralt has been working on."

The rest of the meeting was dedicated to explaining the tools and weapons Geralt had mass produced for the army. Oils would allow normal weapons to harm and weaken monsters, bombs for massed groups and silver weapons saved for the elite troops. "Valyrian steel also likely works, being magical by how it's made, though not exactly much to go around." Geralt also added. "Hope you've been practicing with Ice, Lord Robb."

"Hah! He's getting there!" Greatjon laughed. "Been tutoring him since we met at White Harbor. Already gots the skill, just needs the experience."

Robb couldn't help but smirk. "What better than these monsters then? Can say Ice could do with being properly used, even more against such an unnatural threat."

While the others did laugh a bit at the young Lord's confidence, Geralt did worry about how he'd handle just a ghoul alone. Even Theon who knew Robb all his life had a cautious look on such bravado, even if it was to keep a strong image in front of the other lords. Even with the most dire of threats, politics always reared its troublesome head just like it did in his world. At least for now, everyone was in agreement to the plans ahead.

A Few Days Later - Backtrails just west of Harrenhal

The trek to Harrenhal from Fairmarket was surprisingly uneventful. Once they crossed the Red Fork everyone was tense and on guard, ready to be attacked at any moment, but no attack ever came. Not from Ghouls or Leshens or Chorts or any monster to speak of. Not even men attacked them. This concerned Geralt greatly, he and his men were out in the open and the Crones chose not to ambush them even once? Something was wrong. At the very least the Crones could've done some damage or even forced them back to Fairmarket but they didn't. Something was very wrong here.

Geralt had picked out a larger group for this mission, mainly because they'd likely face heavy fighting once they infiltrated Harrenhal. Marcus along with Garm as the group guide. Graffin along with eight veteran Stark soldiers, most of which had been to Harrenhal during the last war. Theon with the same amount of scout archers, all equipped to scale the walls. Lastly was Thoros who by himself was worth a half a dozen men, at least by Geralt's estimation.

What was notable, the Red Priest drank very sparingly, and throughout the days when camping went out into the woods for a time to 'meditate' as he explained. Everyone who knew the Red Priest's habits found it odd, yet didn't press to question him on it. Yet Geralt had a good idea on why, since this change of habits happened right after Hadrian had arrived. Knowing of Root, he suspected she had some unexpected interaction with Thoros, though why and to what ends was something he'd have to discover later. What was clear was that his medallion reacted more towards the priest than before.

With the estimates being they would reach Harrenhal tomorrow morning, everyone was mostly focused on the upcoming attack. Sitting at his own campfire, the Witcher studied the others spread out in their own groups, enjoying hearty meals and a little drink in preparation for the assault, but there was no cheer or boasting going around. Tomorrow could be their last and should anything change, tonight could be their last..

"Worrying about them?" Marcus spoke up, the Northerner approaching the Witcher with Garm alongside.

"Hard not to after everything that's happened so far." Geralt muttered before sipping from his mug.

Nodding, Marcus sat down across the campfire, taking out a hip flask for himself. "Always the price of war. At least in this case it's for a good cause, what with monsters and the survival of mankind." While he chuckled, trying to make it sound like a jest even if it seemed an accurate description. He then offered over his flask, Geralt taking it to refill his mug slightly. "I'm glad the North's Lords were convinced but I wish some of them took this more seriously. At least when Lord Robb gives them an order, they can't refuse."

"Can't argue with that." Geralt sighed. "Right now, I am thinking over our back up plans to try and avoid casualties. Even with Dacey and Ogatto supporting Lord Rickard and the Blackfish, they can only be prepared for so much." Shrugging he took a drink, giving a hum at the taste. "Good stuff."

"Arbor Red, I'd be a poor barkeeper if I didn't have that in stock.." Marcus laughed, reaching down to scratch Garm's head. "All that matters is getting the gates open. If we do it quietly, it is more of a benefit for us. If we do get caught, those flares we have will alert the others to press for an attack."

Silent in thought, Geralt eventually nodded in silent agreement. "You made sure all the bombs were passed around as well?"

"Aye. Last resort and all."

"Good…that aside I do have something to ask you. Personal issue."

"That being?" Marcus had a questioning if tense look on his face.

"About Lord Bolton. Don't think I didn't notice how he looked at you when he rode in with Robb. He recognized you."

Marcus scoffed, "I'd be surprised if he didn't." Geralt didn't respond, waiting for an answer. "Like you said: Personal issue."

"If he's a problem I could talk with Robb and-"

"I don't want to pull any favors from nobles, Geralt. I have my own plans and friends to rely on." Marcus muttered. "If anything, he needs to keep an eye on Roose. That man is as cold as the winter wind and dangerous. If you have to tell Robb anything then tell him this: Don't trust Roose Bolton. That man cares for no one but himself and his House."

"Can they be tamed?" That question from Roose still lingered in Geralt's mind. Geralt didn't know Lord Bolton well, but after hearing that, it wasn't hard for him to agree with Marcus. "I'll pass it along to him."

"Witcher." Thoros' deep voice captured Geralt's attention, glancing up at the Red Priest. "Mind if I sit with you? Got a few things I'd like to share with you."

"Must be losing my edge if you can sneak up on me." He gestured towards the fire, "Have a seat."

"More like your mind isn't where it should be." Thoros huffed as he sat down in front of the fire opposite of Geralt and Marcus. "Something is troubling you my friend."

An accurate deduction on the priest's part. "Becoming a mind reader along as a soothsayer?" Geralt questioned in dry sarcasm.

"Hah! If I was, I'd be the richest priest back in Essos!" Thoros laughed before shaking his head. "Truth is…I've had quite the revelations of late, things that the Red Faith see as…heretical."

"I believe I'll take my leave here and leave you two to your business." Marcus yawned as he stood up. "Goodnight you two. Come along Garm, let's go." Geralt gave him a nod as Marcus began walking away.

Turning his attention to Thoros, "Heretical huh?"

"Yes. On Rlo…R'hllors' origins…of what he is beyond the vague conceptions we perceive him to be." He then chuckled. "Much like humans, it seems a god…or a being very much like a god can change one self. Adapt despite how we see such beings are believed to be timeless." At that point Thoros shook his head. "Bah I am blathering. I know you don't care for such talks of faith. What I am trying to say is…I'm dedicated now, focused."

"Never doubted your commitment to a fight, but good to know you have some peace of mind." Geralt replied. "Also hope it doesn't mean you've abandoned a good drink as well."

"Ah! Never said that, but won't indulge myself as much." Nodding to the bottle Marcus had left, he tugged his mug from his belt. "Waste not as they say!"

"Agree on that." Filling up the priest's mug, he then topped off his. "To victory."

"Aye! Victory!" Tapping mugs, the two downed the drinks and began to share their differing adventures, all to pass the time and distract from their worries of tomorrow.

The Next Day, Eastern Walls of Harrenhal, Early Morning

The final hike for Harrenhal was just as uneventful as the rest of the trek had been. Though this time a fog had descended on them. Those who had not experienced what happened at Riverrun or fought any monsters in general thought this was a boon. The fog would mask their infiltration into the castle, but for those who were there at Riverrun remembered their fight against the monsters that night and steeled themselves for the worst. For Geralt and Thoros, neither could deny they felt on edge about it all. Eventually the party had the walls in sight, yet for even one in such disrepair was shocking to behold for the Witcher.

"Damn…for a castle as run down as this…that is quite the sturdy defense." Geralt muttered, lying prone in the brush with Marcus and Graffin beside him.

"Didn't do any good against the dragons. The fact it still stands though shows how well built it was." Graffin pointed out. "It was said all the armies on the continent could siege the place for a generation and still not break it."

"Doubt the Crones will give us that much time." Marcus huffed as he squinted his eyes to observe the area. What was once part of the moat had mostly dried up from the crumbling foundations that retained water, leaving it as a muddy trench now.

"There should be patrols out front and by the looks of the walls… I don't see anyone," Geralt stated quietly.

"Ugh, how can you make out anything in this mist?" Graffin muttered. "Everything half up the wall is a blur."

"Blur or not, I would see someone moving up there and so far there's been nothing." Geralt explained. "Something isn't right here."

"Maybe they heard about the North arriving and retreated? Or maybe they were called to King's Landing to defend it against Renly and the Tyrells?." Theon listed off.

"Only one way to find out. Why don't we peek in and see?" Thoros suggested with a small chuckle. "That gash in the wall is the lowest point. We can actually climb over that one unlike the rest of the walls. A few ropes and we can get up there easily."

"You make it sound too easy." Marcus grumbled, clearly not liking this. "One group for now. May seem like no one is home, but they could be trying to lure us out or worse…" Glancing back, he nodded to Geralt and Theon. "Witcher. Greyjoy. You're with me." The three grouped up before quickly moving from cover towards the looming wall. The trip over the muddy moat wasn't easy for Theon as he slipped and fell and made a noise. Yet no one, if there was anyone, paid it no heed or hadn't heard it.

"So far they haven't dropped the burning pitch yet." He muttered before seeing Marcus loading a grapple hook and rope attached to his crossbow. "Umm…is that thing strong enough to shoot it up?"

"Easily." Marcus boasted before aiming up and firing the weapon. The hook flew over the edge of the wall, leaving the rope hanging. A short tug on it by Geralt would show it was secure, who already began to climb up. "You next lad."

Theon sighed before gripping the rope line and following behind Geralt, with Marcus following behind him. At the top Geralt was in awe of the sight in front of him.

Five towers made of black stone and dizzying height could be seen in the distance. All badly damaged, bent and lumpy. The grounds of Harrenhal stretched on longer than Winterfell and Winterfell covered more than five acres of land. Off in the distance Geralt could see what looked like a gatehouse and it was gargantuan. It was as big as the Great Keep back in Winterfell. It didn't take much longer to realize that the place was quiet. Not a single person could be heard or seen from where he and the others stood. The silence was eerie and heavy. No one dared say a word, even when their hairs stood on end. The fog certainly didn't help.

Looking around on the battlements, Geralt saw arrows, quivers and bows scattered on the ground close to him. Giving them a quick inspection, his fears were validated. Blood, but not completely fresh either. Something had happened here and he had a hunch he knew just what happened.

"Whole place looks abandoned." Theon muttered, squinting as the mist was quite thick on the ground level as memories of Riverrun surfaced in his mind, chilling his blood.. "Geralt do you think-"

"Yes. Everyone, be on your guard and stay close. I doubt we'll be fighting Lannister soldiers today."

"Then best we get the others up here fast. Strength in numbers." Marcus added before giving out a bird call, their secret sign for the rest of the group to make their move. The Northerner dropped more rope lines and attached grapple hooks to them for the rest of the group. Soon the whole group was up on the battlement, weapons out and alert for danger.

Graffin frowned as he studied the abandoned fortress. "This isn't right. No way the Lannisters and their mercenaries would give up this place."

"Not without good reason." Thoros muttered. "We need to get the portcullis open and lower the drawbridge quickly."

"For now, the plan remains the same," Geralt chimed in. "Secure the upper and lower gatehouse. Marcus and Theon with their archers get the portcullis. Me, Graffin and Thoros with the troops will take care of the draw bridge." Everyone nodded in silent understanding before splitting up, with Geralt leading his group to the nearest steps down to the misty courtyard while Marcus led his further along the wall.

"Ugh…something is rotting down here." Graffin muttered. The air was foul, made all the more thicker from the damp mist in the air. The rotting smell was more dense towards the stables giving a grim fate for whatever animals that had been kept there. Slightly, he felt a tremor with his medallion and could see that Thoros was glaring at the mist like it was…a living thing. There was magic about here, yet needed to know more to figure out what exactly.

"Stick close to the walls, stay quiet and don't stray deeper into the mist." Geralt urged as he led the way towards a few of the intact stables and the main gatehouse. He could tell everyone else was tense, as there was something very unnatural looming over Harrenhal. Reaching the stables, the smell of rot was near overwhelming, a few of the soldiers gagging and trying to hold back retching. With one of the doors hanging opening, Geralt nudged it open while keeping one hand back, gripping at his silver blade.

"Gods…" Graffin muttered, as he peered in to see the gory mess cluttering the stalls and pens.

All the animals, from the horses to the chickens were dead. Whatever had done it had done so with primal yet calculating fashion as throats had been slit with the bellies either being sliced or chewed into. Yet whatever did this had only eaten a small part of the animals, leaving the rest to decay here.

"Fuck…worse than a slaughterhouse." Thoros whispered. "Doubt the men here did this."

"Was it the work of those ghouls?" Graffin questioned.

Geralt was busy examining the dead animals, studying the claw and bite marks along with peering into open wounds. "If it was ghouls we'd be swarmed by now. Besides, they aren't the type to leave food uneaten for this long." Geralt explained before giving a hum as he got a good look inside the split guts of a horse.

"Heh…bet Theon would be squirming seeing this." Thoros muttered, trying to put out some humor in the grim moment.

"Liver is gone. Likely the first thing they dug for while these animals were still alive." Geralt detailed. "Whatever killed these animals caught them by surprise too. They barely had time to react. Monster or not, a frightful horse can be dangerous even to them."

"Question is, what exactly?" Thoros questioned.

Before Geralt could say anything further, his keen hearing could hear faint conversation outside the stable. "What the…some light off there? See anyone?" Someone remarked.

"Nah but…it has to be close. Should check it out." Another soldier remarked.

Sudden tension filled Geralt's chest as he realized what was going on here. Swiftly he got up from his crouched position and rushed outside, his companions stumbling to follow. The other soldiers were confused seeing the Witcher rush out with his silver blade out. Two soldiers were cautiously moving forward into the mist towards a light lingering in the mist. "Back now!" He yelled, already moving to grab one of his bombs at his belt.

The confusion the two men had would be their doom as the light was gone, both men swallowed by mist. Only their silhouettes could be seen before one man yelled out as he was seemingly yanked out while the other tried to run. Something grabbed him by the leg, yanking him back with enough strength to cause an audible snap as the ankle was broken. Howling, the man tried to crawl away before he got yanked back screaming into the mist.

It happened so fast, yet despite the shock the soldiers were quick to put their new training to use. With the stable and wall at their back, those with spears took up the front with swords and shields backing them up. Geralt knew those men were done for, easing the grip on the bomb on his belt.

"Just what the fuck was that?" Graffin cursed under breath.

"Foglets." Geralt answered. "Type of necrophage, corpse eater, like the ghouls but a lot smarter. They are not as tough, but they can create fog and illusions."

"Fuck… so how do we fight them?" Graffin questioned.

"Force them into a direct fight. I trust our men have the skill to take them on, the problem is clearing this fog away. There has to be a lot of them to make this much… maybe a two dozen or more."

"So how many do you think you can take on at once, Geralt?" Thoros asked.

"Three or four."

"Hah…then I'll match that."

"So what do we do?" Graffin questioned. "We retreat back up on the wall or push for the gate?"

"The gate. Marcus and the others likely heard the screaming and the fighting that is about to happen. They'll be ready to help from above." Geralt explained before speaking up. "Get your weapons coated in oil! We stick to the wall, keep formation and you see anything in the fog you call out!"

The men hastily did as ordered, fumbling for their oil bottles and rags to coat spear tips and blades. Despite their training, they were on edge facing the unknown. Once down, Graffin spoke out. "Move! Even step!" The group kept to their orders, with Geralt and Thoros in front centered towards the fog. By the time the stables were out of sight, Geralt could hear bare clawed feet moving over soft ground and nasally breathing of the foglets. The others could hear it, as the creatures likely were ducking in close under the cover of illusion and fog only to shuffle back.

"There!" A spearman to Geralt's left called out, weapon pointing out. Without hesitation, Geralt had his left hand out, fingers flexing to cast Igni. The burst of flame made the men gasp, seeing their first show of magic from the Witcher. The conjured fire parted the fog and made the unseen monster be revealed.

Geralt had nearly forgotten how ugly the lanky foglet was, with their slacken cheek faces and crooked toothy maws that left its jaw partly gaped. The burst of flame caused the creature to raise its large hands up, long fingers with dirty knurled nails. That silver blade swung in, taking one hand at the wrist, the foglet growled out in pain as it reeled back from the injury. Despite the shock, the spearmen stabbed out, three spear heads sinking into the gaping chest of the monster. The unnatural light the monster could make flared brightly, dazzling to make the men pull back, though Geralt wouldn't let it escape. Bright as it was, his adaptive eyes were able to endure the light as he swung his blade about to decapitate the foglet.

"Fucking Hells." Graffin muttered from behind as that ugly head tumbled by his feet.

"Move!" Geralt's voice snapped action back into the mens legs to keep moving. From the fog, clear howls and hisses followed as the foglets went in for the attack. Thoros laughed out as he shifted his blade in hand, flames bursting off the sharp steel. The priest's burning sword swung out, fog parting and slicing across the chest of one foglet hidden away by it. Flames spread along the edges of the wound which the monster desperately put them out, only for a lunged spear to go through its gawking mouth.

"Die you filth!" One of the men yelled before raising his shield up as one foglet got by Geralt and Thoros. The gnarled hand gripped the top of the shield, trying to yank it and the man back. His fellow soldiers took action as a sword hacked into the left shoulder of the foglet, oil slicing through pale skin and shockingly tense muscle. Even though the blade cleaved half way, the foglet kept struggling until two spears sunk into its side and chest. Horrific as the monsters were, the training they got was paying off along with the boost in confidence seeing Geralt and Thoros in action.

Both Witcher and Red Priest drew the most ire from the monsters, with their powers and blade skills able to outmatch the agile, lanky creatures. The added support from the troops also helped to keep the foglets off balance as well. Yet to defend while moving in formation was a difficult task, even more as the foglets were attacking in greater numbers. Two to three of them were clashing with Geralt and Thoros, clawing out from different angles or even feints to try to make an opening.

Neither Witcher or priest let their defenses down. Having the agility and stamina to match up even with the monsters. Yet one soldier was unlucky to get the end of a claw swung past their shield, getting his jaw ripped off. The gap in the formation let another foglet grab at a spearman, who drove his weapon through the creature's glowing chest. Despite the hissing pain, the foglet still attacked as it drove both clawed hands into the man's belly through leather and chainmail before disemboweling him with one brutal rend. It happened so fast, even Geralt with all his reflexes couldn't twist about in time to behead the monster.

The group's formation was breaking up because of those few deaths and growing injuries, though by now the outline of the maingate could be seen through the mist. "If you have a bomb, throw it now!" The order was swiftly obeyed as the men in the back lines drew Samum bombs along with flint to light them up. The group threw them out in a fanning pattern, giving the most amount of spread as bursts of light flooded the massive courtyard. The burst blew back the fog along with filling the air with pained howls as the eight foglets revealed were stumbling about, claws grasping at their gaunt faces.

"Fire!" Marcus yelled out from the gatehouse, a hail of arrows rained down on the monsters. Tough as they were, not even they could survive getting riddled with a dozen arrows. Though in the case of Marcus' crossbow, just one bolt was enough to pin a foglet through the chest and to the ground. Those that weren't outright killed or crippled began to retreat back into the fog, which was beginning to spread out once more.

"To the gate!" Geralt ordered, knowing they have at best a minute or two until the monsters regrouped. The soldiers followed their orders while dragging the injured along until under the cover of the gatehouse.

"We'll bottleneck them here! I need the strongest working on those cranks!" Graffin ordered out as four of the soldiers broke ranks to work on the large drawbridge crank. "And someone up top better get a flare off for Karstark." On cue, there was a hiss and whistle above, Geralt glanced up to just see the gleaming red flare flying out eastward from the battlements.

"Means we have to hold out until then." He muttered, gaze narrow as he could see the shadows of the foglets closing in under the cover of the fog. From above, the archers did give stray shots, but he doubted they hit anything so concealed. A few minutes had passed by now, the men confused on what was going on, while Geralt and Thoros remained on guard. Only the clicking sound of the crank and the grunts of the men

"Did…they give up?" One of the men spoke up. Suddenly, something flew out of the fog and struck one of the men in the head. When Geralt snapped his gaze down to the fallen man, he saw his face caved in from a thrown rock.

"Shields up!" He yelled out before gesturing the Quen Sign, creating a sizable yellow shield for both him and Thoros. It protected those behind him as the thrown stones slammed into the barrier, making it ripple as the magic disintegrated them. However, even with shields up, the soldiers were struggling, getting pelted by the powerfully thrown stones. The impact against the shields dented the metal fronts and cracked the wooden frames. From the grunts and yells of pain, those men were likely going to get fractures in their forearms from the impact alone.

"Bastards aren't letting up!" Thoros cursed out.

From above the archers were shooting into the fog, trying to hit the foglets pelting rocks on the soldiers. There were growls and hisses from the fog, but whatever injuries given to the monsters hardly slowed them down. A few more men gott struck down, gasping from being struck in the chest or shoulders. At this rate, they'd likely lose half the group to this barrage before Karstark's riders would arrive.

"Bridge is down!" Graffin yelled out as the drawbridge slammed behind them. "Damn it, where are those riders!"

"Geralt." Hearing Thoros oddly calm voice, Geralt looked at the Red Priest to see the steady stare the man had. "Let that fire magic lose again. Trust me on this."

Geralt felt his medallion trembling more intensely, showing whatever Thoros had planned he was channeling some magic for it. Nodding, he flexed his hand to disperse the Quen barrier,the shockwave from the shield bursting the incoming rocks aside. Swiftly gesturing to make the Igni Sign, Thoros swung his flaming sword out while roaring out. "Taste Rho's fury, abominations!" His slash had the flames burst out in an arc, whatever power the Old God had was flowing through the priest and Geralt's own conjured flames. Making it more like a raging inferno that flowed fifty feet out. Once more the fog was blown aside and with it over half a dozen foglets who were practically incinerated by the empowered flames.

With Geralt's forces gaining a reprieve, Marcus and the archers opened fire on the wounded or panicking monsters. From the fog, though towards the keep, a war horn was suddenly blown before faintly in the distance dozens of lights could be seen through the thinned fog.

"Who in the Hells is that?" Graffin muttered, as there was the sound of fighting coming across the yard.

"Seems the Lannisters weren't all wiped out here." Geralt reasoned. "This complicates things. They best have the white flag high unless they want to get cut down as well." Looking at Graffin, he gave a short nod. "Keep your men back and guard the gate. I'm going out there."

"Let me come along!" Thoros urged.

"No, I need you here in case any foglets close in." Geralt answered, already moving towards the open courtyard. "Just make sure Lord Karstark doesn't charge in and trample over me." With that parting jest, he disappeared into the thinning fog. Striding forward, the Witcher was alert to his shrouded surroundings despite the growing chaotic sounds of battles. The screams and yells showed the remaining defenders from the keep were taking losses. As soon as he saw a lanky form shift in the fog, he twisted himself into a backstep to avoid a sweeping claw before cleaving through the monster with one powerful slash.

Eventually though, he could see some kind of moveable barricade the survivors had brought out along with braziers to provide light. It was clear they had been planning some final push to either retake the holding or escape from it. Just as he was about to speak out though, a few arrows suddenly flew out from the fog, yet a swift Aard knocked them out of the air. "Stand down!" He yelled out before they could fire again. "This is Geralt, commander of the Winterstorm Alliance."

There was silence beyond the fighting in the fog, which was beginning to calm down. Either the foglets were being wiped out by this surprise attack or retreating. "I've ordered my men to stand down." Someone spoke back, their tone calm and even formal, befitting of noble upbringing. "Step forward. By my honor as a member of House Lannister, you will not be harmed."

"A Lannister?" Geralt muttered to himself, not expecting any from that House to be out here. He'd hopefully get some answers soon as he approached the barricade. With the fog thinning from the foglets being wiped out along with the braziers burning it away, he could see the severely roughed up survivors.

Most of them were Lannister soldiers considering their uniquely styled red and gold colored armor, though there were mercenaries among them dressed in more varied styles. All of them looked tired and on edge, a few tensing seeing the low gleam Geralt's catlike eyes had in the gloomy surroundings. Surrounding the barricade were at least six foglets, though also a few slain soldiers as well. The fact they were able to take out these monsters by themselves showed both a mix of good planning and desperation.

Stepping out from the group was an older man in his fifties, easily identified as a Lannister because of his short cropped blond hair and trim beard. His appearance did remind the Witcher of a slightly younger and more portly Tywin. "Well…the claims on your…appearance seem to be quite true." The Lannister remarked. "I am Lord Kevan Lannister, commander of the Lannister Armies…or what is left of it now."

"Not exactly the glorious war you were expecting." Geralt sweeped his blade low to nudge one foglet to make his point. "Right now I have Lord Karstark and his riders about to charge in. I'd urge you to surrender, unless you'd rather waste surviving this long."

One of the men, likely a captain, muttered to Kevan before the man shook his head at whatever is quietly discussed. The captain along with a few others were ordered away before Kevan focused back towards the Witcher. "I have no interest in throwing away any more lives. We may be enemies, but it's clear that these… abominations are a more pressing threat." From the gates, the war horns of the North were being sounded, showing Greatjon's forces were arriving. "Do I have your word that me and my men will be treated fairly? I know your reputation Witcher and if there is one thing renowned about it, it's your sense of honor."

Staring back, Geralt nodded before sheathing his blade. "You have my word. If anything, we're likely going to need your help in what we're dealing with." Turning around, the fog was fully clearing away to show the aftermath of the drawn out skirmish, where slain foglets and mutilated men scattered all across the muddy courtyard. A few of the lanky creatures were fleeing as their misty cover was gone, trying to go up and over the walls into the wilderness. The soldiers of House Karstark rode in at that point and without hesitation honed in on the stragglers. In their primal panic, the fearsome monsters stood no chance of getting stomped under war horse hooves or run through with a cavalry spear.

A group of riders led by the broad and heavily armored Rickard Karstark. Opening the visor of his helm, he gave a deep laugh seeing Lord Kevan. "Well isn't this quite the twist? Kevan Lannister, Tywin's little brother. I'd think you'd be chow for these beasts." The silence given by the Lannister showed he was not amused, with Geralt showing some agreement with his own staring.

"I've already agreed to surrender with Ser Geralt here." Kevan formally stated. "Harrenhal is yours."

"That's up to Lord Robb." Rickard declared. "So how many men do you have left?"

"I don't know." Kevan answered. "Harrenhal is massive as you know and my men and I have been fighting these things for a long time. "I've already given the order to stand down, but if your men harass anyone-"

"I'll keep my men in line." Lord Karstark grumbled. "How many men did you come to Harrenhal with?"

"That can wait," Geralt cut in. "Right now we need to tend to the wounded and search for more survivors and then try to get things organized here. Once that's done you can explain everything that's happened here.

"About the fact we had real fucking monsters trying to kill us for days now?." Kevan scoffed. "I've been in my share of battles and melees, yet none of that could prepare me for…this!" Gesturing out to the body strewn courtyard with a scowl.

"Trust me, I doubt anyone in Westeros would be."

The next few hours were dedicated to securing Harrenhal, making sure no more monsters were hiding and patching any gaps in the defenses they might have made. Out of the infiltration team, they had lost a fourth of their men, with a third of the survivors wounded. Geralt, Rickard, Blackfish and Marcus were having a meeting in Harrenhal's great keep with Kevan Lannister.

"This mess started before we even arrived here," Kevan began. "When we entered the Riverlands we were over 10,000 strong and met no resistance. Even when we passed the Stone Mill we met no resistance. Then we got to High Heart and that all changed," he finished grimly.

"What happened," Rickard asked.

Kevan's face darkened as he continued. "We were attacked by monsters, not the ones from earlier but different ones. They killed so many of my men so quickly that we had no choice but to flee but even as we did they gave chase. If we were lucky we would have at least a day to rest and give our horses a chance to regain their strength, but more often than not we weren't afforded even that."

Geralt's thoughts turned grim. 10,000 men? That's a lot of bodies the Crones could use and considering the number of survivors they found in Harrenhal, they got most of them.

"When we arrived here we thought we were safe. The mercenaries we hired were fewer than expected and the Smallfolk were still here, they were oblivious to what had happened. Even when I told them all what happened they thought I was jesting. They took me seriously once those things came back that night."

"And you've been fighting ever since," Blackfish finished for him. "How in Seven Hells have you survived this long? I know how strong some of these creatures are. Once they got inside these walls these doors wouldn't stop them from tearing in. How did they even get past the walls anyway?"

Kevan looked him in the eye. "They were let in. Some of the men from the mercenaries opened the gate at night, lowered the drawbridge and let them in." Kevan poured some wine in his goblet and drank it all. "We were betrayed."

"Looks like House Bracken isn't the only one betraying mankind," Geralt added. "Still, how did you survive?"

Kevan poured more wine in his goblet and took a sip before answering. "By the Gods I suppose or perhaps it's because they were more interested in dragging away the corpses of my men and the Smallfolk here rather than finishing us off. However, that didn't stop them from trapping us here with that fog and those creatures hiding in them when we tried to leave."

"Shit," Geralt sighed tiredly. "It sounds to me like we got here just in time. The monsters that chased you here along with the traitors were likely ordered to bring as many of the bodies back as they could first. The Foglet's were sent in to trap you as you said until the other monsters finished their task, came back and finished you off. It also explains why we were never attacked on our way here. They were already busy."

"How lucky for us," Marcus muttered.

"Lucky for you," Kevan said glaring at Marcus. "But not for my men. 10,000 strong reduced to not even 2,000 men. And my brother is none the wiser."

"Speaking of Tywin I wouldn't be surprised if Lord Renly and the Tyrells are closing in on King's Landing right now." Rickard scoffed.

"What this does show is that we're very much cut off from the rest of Westeros save for the North." Marcus stated. "If the Crones…"

"Crones?" Kevan questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"Witches, hags, seers…whatever the fuck you want to call them." Marcus answered in mild annoyance. "They're the ones responsible for all of this. I hate to say it, but we really are trapped here in these lands until these Crones are defeated."

"Wait, Master Witcher you mentioned House Bracken earlier and betraying mankind? What did they do exactly," Kevan asked.

Geralt nodded and answered. "They helped the Crones take Raventree Hall and nearly killed all the Blackwoods there."

"Raventree has fallen? Traitorous cunts. I never met him but I heard that Lord Tytos was a good man, he would've been a great help."

Rickard scoffed. "Trust me, if we could flip things around, I'd trade you for Lord Tytos."

Frowning, Lord Kevan bit back a stern remark. "If I may ask…what about House Tully? Surely they must be doing something about this."

"It's gone Kevan," Blackfish answered. "Riverrun has…fallen. Burned to the ground. Edmure, my nephew is dead and my brother too. Only Catelyn survived."

Hearing that news, Kevan was truly shocked by it. "Then this is even worse than I feared. Witcher since my men and I can't exactly return home I suggest we unite until this enemy has been destroyed."

"An alliance with the Lannisters? No damned way." Lord Karstark growled. "Have you forgotten that we are at war here?"

"And have you forgotten everything we've told you and what he's just shared with us," Blackfish asked as he stared down Lord Karstark. You know this threat is real, you've seen them alive for yourself now. If you don't want these things getting to the North then I suggest you put aside your enmity for the Lannisters and save it for the Crones because right now we need all the help we can get."

Lord Karstark turned his attention to the Witcher "The other Northern Lords won't like this. They won't like sharing a roof with Lannister dogs. We marched south to fight the likes of him, Witcher, not join hands with them."

"We'll worry about that when the time comes, besides it's ultimately up to Robb and I'm sure he'll see reason once he hears of Kevan's testimony," Geralt replied.

"Until then we should start preparing defenses," Marcus said, cutting to the chase. "For all we know the Crones have sent their army this way already and could be here any day now." Everyone agreed on that and began to leave the Great Keep. Orders needed to be given, preparations made, wounded tended to and animosities put to the side. Until Robb arrived they'll manage as best they can and Robb couldn't arrive fast enough.

The North, Wintertown - Meera and Jojen Reed

"I thought after traveling this far, we could be warming up in Winterfell by now." Meera muttered to her brother as he returned to the small hut they had rented since arriving. The journey had been long, cold and boring but they at last made it to Winterfell. Well, the town outside of it. She had wanted to go straight in but her brother advised against it.

Jojen, who was finishing his meal, sighed and nodded. "I know sister." This was not the first time Meera had brought this up. "But it's far too late in the night now and we haven't eaten since morning."

Meera sighed and shrugged. "So, have you figured out how you're going to persuade Bran about traveling beyond the Wall? As well as explaining to him about what you are and what he is?"

"Not yet," Jojen replied. It's best if we gain his trust first. I doubt he'll hear us out if we start telling him about all that as soon as we see him. He'll think us mad."

"We can't forget his sisters either," Meera reminded him."Even if we convince Bran to travel beyond the Wall with us, we'll have to convince them too, and prove to them that he is in good hands."

"I know sister, but that's a problem for another day. For now we should get settled in and sleep for the night. We'll go to Winterfell tomorrow I promise."

"I'll hold you to that." She unfolded her bedroll and laid down to sleep. "Goodnight brother."

Jojen said nothing and remained in his seat, gaze drifting to the small window that let him just see the top of Winterfell. Dread was stirring within him. He couldn't help but shake the feeling that something was wrong. It was as if events were playing out faster than they should, leading to a darker outcome than expected. "Winter isn't going to wait for any of us." He muttered to himself, hoping that the first snows of the season would be delayed for just a bit longer.

Notice: So, I more or less have been gone for half a year. I do apologize as I've been tied up, suffered writer's block or been distracted by one thing after another. Yet as I've promised, I have no intentions of abandoning this story. I am hoping to get things back to a more steady release rate with chapters though. Next chapter we will go back to Ciri and Dany at long last, since Westeros needs a little time to let all the grand events process.

As usual, please share a review or come join the Discord group I have to keep up to date on my writing and get early previews on chapters!