Aegon walked over the high walls of Storm's End taking in stock of the defences prepared by the diligent men of Golden Company. Work has been afoot at a hasty pace ever since word reached them of the burning of Griffin's Roost. It was a plan that he took no part in as he had left the whole matter to his Hand.
Aegon never realized just how much Jon was willing to sacrifice for crowning him King of Westeros. Sure, Jon had raised him all these years as his son, keeping him ignorant of his heritage. The man has been his father's friend and he still considered Jon his father. Yet, Aegon had thought Jon would have loved to hold Griffin's Roost. At least, Aegon thought Jon would not have let Tarly take the castle without a fight.
Never did he thought Jon would burn the whole castle down to snatch the advantage in this war.
He had tried to talk to Jon of such matters and what happened to Griffin's Roost. All these days Jon had brushed him off and deflected the matter in favour of shoring up the defences of Storm's End.
Aegon had conceded to let the matter drop as he knew there was a storm coming. A battle that would determine their future schemes.
Aegon paused as Ser Rolly Duckfield fondly known as Duck came running after him in full plate armour.
"Ah, Duck. I was just wondering where you had wandered off." said Aegon taking stock of his Kingsguard knight.
Jon was not so fond of his decision to induct Rolly into the Kingsguard. His Hand thought the slots in Kingsguard should be reserved for scions of Westerosi lords.
While Aegon understood the political significance behind such admissions surely skill and loyalty must matter. He can't have men with dubious loyalty in the order that is supposed to protect his life. Look at how Jaime Lannister turned out. The son of Tywin Lannister turned his sword on the Mad King and lounged on the Iron Throne as the Royal Family was butchered in the Red Keep.
Aegon knew Rolly, as it was from the former smith of Golden Company he learned swordplay. Rolly was his sparring partner and he knew in his heart that Rolly would lay down his life to protect him. That was more than he could ever expect some noble ponce brought up surrounded by servants catering to their every need.
"Forgive me, your grace. I wanted to have a word with Captain Strickland." said Rolly
"Regarding what?" asked Aegon curiously while moving to the side as men carried oil towards the gate towers.
"Heard the scouts returned to report to the Captains from a friend. I wanted to know whether Lord Caswell and his heir would be present with Tarly's host." said Rolly
Aegon frowned at the name and then it struck him.
"Ahh... You were a resident of Bitterbridge. The land is ruled by House Cassel and you had an altercation with the heir of House Caswell, did you not?"
"Aye. Lonet Cassel was the one that took what was not his and I broke the fool's hands with my hammer." growled Rolly with a dark look in his eyes. "The prick went crying to his pissy father and had my poor father killed."
"I see…" Aegon eyed his Kingsguard Knight expectantly.
"No. The prick is not with the Tarly host." Rolly grumbled and spat over the walls. "I should have known that. The Caswells are a bunch of spineless cowards."
"Do keep the talks of revenge away from Jon's ears, my friend. He would not appreciate that." warned Aegon patting Rolly on his shoulder.
"I know the Griff has his objections over my presence as a Kingsguard knight."
"Jon has his reasons. Similarly, I have my reasons to ask for you to join the Kingsguard. I wouldn't have offered the position if I wasn't sure you are deserving of it Rolly." said Aegon giving his fellow training partner a reassuring smile.
"Want to try a hand in the training yard, your grace?" offered Rolly
"Sure, why not!"
"Alright!" Rolly hummed with approval. "Do keep in mind I won't go easy on you just cause you are a king."
"I'd be offended if you do, Ser Duck." Aegon taunted as they sought out the training yard.
It was a sweaty and somewhat tired Aegon who walked through the halls of Storm's End towards his chambers. Training with Rolly always paid off in keeping him sharp but it also drained his strength for the day. The only thing he could think of now was a good bath and perhaps some sleep.
Unfortunately, those plans had to be paused noticing another presence in his chambers.
"Your grace." Jon dipped his head while sitting by the side of an oak table reading a book.
Aegon noted the familiar cover of the book and realized it was the book he was reading yesterday.
"I see you have been training in the yard with Duck." said Jon without looking from the book.
Aegon wondered how Jon was able to sound so casual and at the same time manage to convey his disapproval. He found the skill very bothersome yet would love to master the art himself.
"I know you don't like Ser Rolly but he is a good warrior."
"Agreed. Duck is a good soldier but a soldier he remains." said Jon looking up from the book to pin Aegon with his stare. "Kings do not need friendship with common soldiers. Kings need lords and political connections."
"I'm not a king yet." said Aegon as he unfastened his cloak and plopped himself to the seat behind the table.
"You are a king." said Jon
"Not until I have a crown atop my brow." Aegon pointed out before helping himself to some cashew nuts from a tray on the table.
"You'll be happy to note that day will be coming soon." said Jon with the beginnings of a smile.
Now that got Aegon's attention. Scarcely does the Griff smile. What could be the reason, he wondered?
"Magister Mopatis has sent word. Lord Varys has contacted him with some good news. Your aunt is on the move with her armies and dragons. As we speak, her fleets are crossing the Narrow Sea." said Jon
Aegon's eyes widened in surprise and a genuine smile graced his face. Long had he held back his desire to meet his aunt. He had hounded Jon many times over the last two years about meeting Daenerys. Jon had always held him back for the need to keep his existence a secret.
Even when the rest of Westeros was on fire Jon did not allow him to meet Daenerys. He was forced to rely on rumours and what not to learn of his aunt's exploits in the far east. He was, of course, disappointed when his aunt decided to stay in Mereen instead of attacking Westeros.
But now, things have changed. Magister Illyrio had promised them before they set sail for Westeros that he will bring Daenerys Targaryen, her armies and her three large dragons in due time. Aegon was supposed to lead the first invasion force that would distract the Lannisters from the colossal might of his aunt's armada.
And now, the time had finally come for the dragons to meet, thought Aegon.
It was strange, that he held such great notions regarding his aunt. All of Volantis was talking of the power and beauty of Daenerys Targaryen. Fierce as Visenya Targaryen, claimed the rumours. Some rumours claimed the beauty of his aunt rivalled Rhaenys Targaryen.
The Silver Queen, they called her in the east.
"It'd be interesting to meet my aunt after all these years. Lord Varys has told her about me I suppose?"
"Lord Varys knows the plan well, your grace. The Spider is loyal to House Targaryen. Always has been and always will be." said Jon
"Aye. I have him to thank for my survival. I shall need to think of a suitable reward for his exemplary service." said Aegon
"You are thinking like a King. That's good. Reward those who are loyal and at the same time court camaraderie of those who hold positions of power. Keep them close but keep an eye on them."
"All good advice Jon. But tell me where my aunt will land?" asked Aegon saving off Jon's advice in favour of more information on what his aunt was going to do.
"She won't land in Stormlands and if she has any such plans I hope her advisors will dissuade her. It is a dangerous journey for any large fleets to make land in Stormlands."
"That's true." Aegon agreed, remembering the woes they suffered in landing the Golden Company. A storm had nearly broken them but somehow by the grace of gods, they managed to land all their troops.
Since their landing, storms have only picked up their ferocity. It was as if the ghosts of storm kings of the past were showing their displeasure.
"Most likely it'll be Dragonstone." said Jon gaining Aegon's attention.
"Aye. Queen Rhaella is buried there isn't she?" Aegon asked softly.
"True. Princess Daenerys will most likely reclaim Dragonstone not just because it is the place where her mother rests but because of its strategic value. Besides, Dragonstone holds a large enough harbour for her fleets to make port." said Jon
"I wonder how she will react to my presence?" Aegon mused aloud.
"She will embrace you as you are the last remaining member of her family." said Jon matter-of-factly.
"She has ruled the East as a Queen. Would she be comfortable with me?" asked Aegon
"Why not? You are first in line to the Throne. Her claim only comes after yours. Besides, she can be a Queen in Westeros." said Jon, staring imploringly at Aegon.
Aegon blanched a bit at the suggestion. He knew Targaryens wed their siblings but it felt queasy to think of such relationships. True, his aunt was far closer to his age but she is his aunt! He grew up learning the values of the Faith under Septa Lemore's guidance. He had read the Seven-Pointed Star and he knew the Seven looked down on incestuous relationships.
Ever since he learned of his Targaryen heritage he had mulled over the issue of incestuous relationships. Oh, he realized the need for shoring up alliances. Marrying his aunt would only strengthen his legitimacy not to mention it'd surely solve any issue of power-sharing. His aunt was far more powerful with her large armies, fleets and dragons. And yet, he held the claim to the Iron Throne. A marriage between them would ensure stability for the Kingdoms for a long time.
"Leave such matters aside. We must concentrate on the enemy at hand rather than the ally across the sea." said Jon
Aegon was thankful for the change of topic. So he dived headfirst into the issue at hand.
"Any news from Lord Tarly's army?" he asked
"Tarly's host will arrive in four days time. Our traps seem to have worked too well apparently." said Jon
"I still think we should have sent someone to Tarly with a peace offering." Aegon grumbled.
"We will offer peace but only from a position of strength. I know lord Tarly. He is a good man, an honourable man. He fought for your father and if it wasn't for Lord Tyrell, Tarly would have ended the Rebellion in Stomlands."
"So, shouldn't we offer peace. Lord Tarly may switch sides." Aegon reasoned.
"Not likely. The man cares for honour and his oaths. Like it or not Tarly swore an oath to Lord Tyrell and the Usurper. He will fight for those oaths."
"Very well. You know the man more than any other I suppose." Aegon sighed. He took no pleasure in killing men and the battle with Tarly's host is going to shed blood on both sides.
"What would be Tarly's plan when he comes? Would he opt to sit out and wait outside the walls or would he storm the walls?" asked Aegon
Aegon watched a smile came over Jon's face displaying a hint of mischief. It made Jon far younger in Aegon's eyes.
"What makes you think we will let Tarly execute any of those things?" asked Jon making Aegon frown at his Hand in confusion.
The cry of crickets filled the cold night but Randyll was not getting an iota of sleep as the situation stands. The days after the disastrous attack on Griffin's Roost has been chaotic for the Reach army. Any nominal support from the Stormlords was suddenly cut off as word of what happened spread the land. The large Dornish army being amassed at the Marches didn't help matters.
The army under his command was no longer a disciplined fighting force. It was hardly one to begin with but the loss of some thousand men to Wildfire and injuries were not exactly going to boost the men's morale. The lords themselves were not interested in pursuing this war as the possibility of the Dornish invasion instilling fear into their hearts.
It was a fear he shared as well as his son Dickon was holding Horn Hill and the possibility of a Dornish invasion was not good prospects on his young son. While he had his confidence in Dickon's martial skills, the Dornish were known for their trickery and deceit. His son was not that experienced when it comes to leading the defence of their castle and people.
The other Reach lords are in far worse positions in his mind. Years of peace have dulled the swords and skills of his fellow Reachmen. There were a handful of skilled warriors in the lands of the Reach. The most common kind of warriors in the Reach were tourney knights. While he had nothing against tourneys it didn't take much for a fool to ride on a horse with a wooden stick.
At the end of the day, tourney knight's were good horse riders. That doesn't necessarily mean they have a good mind for warfare. The Reach was unfortunately cursed with a bad generation filled with tourney knights. Most of these so-called knights lacked a drop of courage. They panic and run away at the first sign of trouble.
Randyll learned that first hand when he decided to march the army towards Storm's End after the burning of Griffin's Roost.
The terrain was hilly and filled with giant boulders. They couldn't take the coastal passes as they were ripe with storms and floods. Last he hard a whole fishing village was swallowed whole by rising tides and the survivors were swept away by giant storms. He believed not the rumours of smallfolk but he trusted the scouts who brought back word of a similar story.
This had forced him to chose the hilly passes away from the coastline. If only he knew how much trouble that would turn out at the time.
A few days into their marching Randyll realized the Golden Company was far too prepared to fight this war than the Reach was ever going to be. Scouts began to get trapped and killed in the crudest of ways. He had personally seen missing scouts being hung from tree branches on their way. This had led him to send additional men as scouts. It was hoped more numbers would dissuade the enemy.
If anything, the enemy's attacks increased in proportions and the attrition rates were heavily skewered. The enemy, it'd seem, was very crafty indeed. Some of the few survivors told the tale of men covered in mud hiding by the trees blending into nature turning imperceptible to the average soldier.
The tale doesn't end there.
He had men falling victim to bee nests, caltrops, pit traps and other novel traps that delivered death from above. He still remembered the crushed Merryweather knights courtesy of a giant tree.
As if all that was not bad enough, they had to face wildfire caches sneaked into their camps at the hour of the wolf to set fire on camps. The attempt was successful only once. The enemy tried it two more times but they were captured.
Despite all the hardships and general incompetence he suffered from the men he was leading, Randyll was determined to see this to the end. The few scouts he sent out had reported the hilly areas were about to give away to plain grasslands from two leagues of distance to the north. It was a piece of welcome news but scouts found it hard to find access outside the hilly passes. Enemies lurked in droves and he was not comfortable in wasting good men for nothing.
He wondered what awaited him outside the hilly passes. He held no knowledge of enemy movements and it was worrying him far more seeing how efficient and dangerous the foe was turning out to be. He tried to get some sleep but he found no respite as his mind remained disturbed.
Somehow he managed to spend the night and come morning the marching began anew.
The situation remained the same though. He could not send scouts too far out as the men were meeting difficulties. Three long hours of marching later the army managed to match out of the hilly passes into the open plains.
While narrow passes and boulders no longer posed a problem the lands they were marching were as muddy as they could be. It was difficult terrain for their carts to traverse. Mud and slime glued to the boots of men proved another hindrance. The last thing he needed was for some disease to strike at their camp.
"My lord, look!" said a fellow knight sworn to his House.
Randyll followed the Knight's eyes and saw small colours on the horizon.
"Lord Tarly, there are Targaryen banners in the distance!" warned Lord Rowan announced.
Randyll could hear a hint of fear in Lord Mathis' voice. He didn't blame the man. Their position was not a good one. They were back against a congested passage which means an early retreat will be a death sentence for their men.
Randyll used a Mryrish Spyglass to take stock of the army before him. Rows upon rows of horses were lining up on the horizon and he realised that the Golden Company holds the higher ground.
"Shields and spears!" he shouted
Randyll turned his horse around and rode around shouting out orders.
"Form a line you maggots! Form a line!"
"My lord what should I do?" asked Ser Martyn Fossoway.
"Take charge of the horses of Lord Merryweather. Stay at the left flank and wait. When the enemy charge crashes into our shields I want you to form a counter charge into their flanks."
"Aye, my lord."
"Lord Rowan, I want you to hold the centre. Position as many pikes front and centre. We will make a hard push on their centre when the time comes."
"As you say, Lord Tarly."
Randyll took position to the left where some boulders remained. Undoubtedly, this was a good position as enemy horses will not be able to access this position easily. He focused more archers on the left flank as they will be protected by natural barriers and they could get a high vantage point. He had men climb over the boulders to increase the range of his archers.
In the distance, the banners of Golden Company and House Targaryen could be seen fluttering proudly in the wind. He also noted some notable banners of Stormlords like House Errol and Buckler.
Randyll began shouting out instructions all around with men preparing for battle. The time for battle was drawing ever close and then war horns sounded across the fields.
"Archers! Nock!" Randyll shouted seeing the cavalry charge from the Targaryen army.
All around his archers took their arrows and stood ready.
Randyll noted the Targaryen centre bulged with heavy cavalry. He frowned at what was going to be a strong push towards the centre of his army.
Then more strange horns began to blare from the enemy formation. All of a sudden he noticed the bulging at the enemy centre began to shift to the right while a portion began to lag and split away.
Well, not exactly splitting away, he noted in his mind. It was more like the centre was holding back and making a gap at the enemy centre.
Then he saw the reason why the enemy was making such a loose formation. The ground shook as enormous beasts covered in metal plates surged forward from behind enemy lines. The enemy foot was following the giant black beasts while the horses began to slow their pace.
"War elephants!" he whispered in surprise.
Randyll had heard rumours of such beasts but never had he ever seen one in his life. Truth be told he was almost hoping such beasts were constructs of bards and liars. Even if they were true he never thought they could be transported across the Narrow Sea. It'd seem he was wrong to make such assumptions.
He was not going to just stand there and stupidly stare at the oncoming onslaught. He was not going to let the beasts trash a hole straight through the lines of defence.
He immediately rode to the centre and rallied more men to throw spears at the beasts. He also pulled as many crossbowmen as he could spare to reinforce the centre. The beasts, he noted, were following a straight line. He gathered, if he could make one fall then the rest may just trample the enemy lines.
The only problem with that plan was that he severely underestimated the speed of the beasts. Seeing their huge size he incorrectly assumed it'd take time for the beasts to reach the frontlines.
He was wrong!
He was so wrong!
"Loose! All arrows loose!"
Randyll thanked the Seven he had the sense to give that order else all would have been lost.
Arrows screamed across the sky and began picking off men one by one.
Before the men were truly prepared to brace the war elephants smashed into their lines. Screams filled the air but Randyll continued to shout out orders and he began to hastily withdraw men from the centre. He saw a few men bravely throwing spears at the beasts but they got deflected by the armour plates on the elephant's trunk. It was a lost cause as more and more men were being crushed under the trampling of elephants. The cavalry charge came delayed and when it came it was like cutting through the heart of the Reach army.
The centre was almost totally absent and Randyll noted the elephants had riders at top. Some elephants had two riders one flinging spears while another handled a bow or a crossbow. They were far too effective in hunting down knights.
The battle continued with blood and sweat shed on the lands of storm kings.
A clap of thunder shook the earth and Randyll noted arcs of lightning dancing across the sky. Rain began to pour down from the heavens.
A storm was brewing in the distance.
Randyll looked around seeing the Reachmen fleeing or being cut down. The left flank had stayed steady but the centre was completely thrashed. The right flank remained cut off from the rest of the army. He hoped the reserves he placed on the far back would plug the gaps blown open on the right flank.
But first, he would have to secure the centre.
Randyll drew his sword out of his sheath.
"Knights of the Reach! For King Tommen! For Queen Margery! For the Reach! Charge!"
Giving one last thought to his son he rode into the heart of the battle seeking to spill the blood of his enemy.
Illyrio smiled as he found his long-time friend Varys by the side of a lemon tree within his manse.
"When the servants said you were waiting for me here I nearly didn't believe it my old friend." said Illyrio as he greeted Varys with a hug.
"You know I don't like hugs, old friend." Varys voiced his disappointment.
As usual, Illyrio dismissed his friend's complaints with a wave of his hand.
"This is a time for celebration. Our plan has most brilliantly flowered. It has gone far better than I had hoped."
"You received Daenerys' response then?" asked Varys
"Indeed I did my friend. It was most enlightening and words oozing her heartfelt thanks for shielding her family all these years. For a moment, I was concerned with her decision to stay and rule in Mereen." Said Illyrio
"We all were." agreed Varys
"Yes, and your visit changed everything. You had the dragon queen fly out of her pyramid to the aid of my son. You are a powerful man, my friend."
"I'd prefer if you keep those words to yourself rather than say it out loud." warned Varys
"Who is going to hear us talk Varys."
"You never know Illyrio. We do not show a hint of weakness in the streets remember." Varys reminded but Illyrio merely dismissed Varys with a burst of boisterous laughter.
"We are no longer street urchins my friend."
"True. But it seems you forgot something most important, my friend. You may no longer consider yourself from the streets. But the street never forgets nor does it forgive!"
Illyrio gasped as a sharp pain flared up on his bask. He tried to yell out in pain but Varys quickly clamped down on his mouth.
To his horror, Illyrio found himself unable to overpower Varys.
"Years have been far kinder to you, Illyrio. You have lost your strength. You have amassed great wealth and thought yourself powerful." said Varys shaking his head disappointedly. "Power resides where men think it resides. Your mistake was thinking you have power over me."
Varys began to push Illyrio down towards the floor where Illyrio was met with more pain flaring all over his body.
Blood began to pool out of his mouth. His eyes swivelled around in confusion and saw little children surrounding him from all sides with sharp knives in their hands.
"The Queen sends her regards. She had a message for you, my friend." Varys leaned forward and placed his mouth near Illyrio's ears.
"Fire and Blood!"
For chapters 29 and 30 visit: pat(r) eon. C (o) M/Dragonspectre.
Chapters 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 of The Lion Cub, Ch 23, 24, 25 of Vex and Ch4, 5 of Dragonlord are also available.