Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.
Here we are again! Hope you are all well. Thank you to those that read the last chapter and again to those that reviewed. It is appreciated!
Spidey-phd gave me some very good suggestions for what to call the ambush and I decided to go with some of them so thanks! The Night of Betrayals. MalSer also gave a good name for it 'Red Reaping' so thank you to you both.
Review Responses from the Last Chapter…
10868letsgo - They will I promise you that. Someone will take Highgarden just not who you might expect.
zmanjz - Some futures are chosen; others are chosen for us. Thanks!
Asharzal - The Tyrells are in a very bad position and as you see in this chapter it is about to get a lot worse.
cameron1812 - They haven't seen the cannon yet, no-one not even her family has any idea what she has in mind. Get what you mean though. Thanks!
Blaze1992 - I think I might be mad! Not sure myself sometimes but I try to do as much research as I can and sometimes, the ideas leap out at me. Thank you again!
raw666 - Cersei? Well, when you consider her character, it might be anyone but she was chosen for her own personality not her family or anything like that. I will admit that much. Aegon was considered but I decided to spend more time on Daenerys in this story.
aesir21 - Cersei? We will be seeing her again and I was none of the players you mentioned. She has become of interest to a certain party. All will be explained in due time.
Joe02 - Thanks! I am glad that you take the time to read them. I can be a challenge to manage so many plots at once but it can also be fun. Meera however may yet have a family of her own. It might be who you suggested but I am not sure. Minisa is the thing that is helping Catelyn reconnect with her other children or at least some of them. Arya announces her intentions in this chapter. And you are right it is something really need. Meera won't be using the cannon just yet; it will be used in one specific place. Myrcella and Tommen? All I can say is that Tyrion has a plan. Lanna grew up with Meera and knows she doesn't harm the innocent. Tyrion already does have a plan, a big part of which happens in this chapter as he takes a big step forward. The Tyrells, well they will face the consequences of their actions.
orthankg1 - Cheers!
Rio47 - Glad to hear you liked it!
AnimeFan13579 - It would shock everyone; I meant there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world as far as we know so it would scare everyone. The cannon is meant for one specific battle though. Using them in battle is impractical since they only have one as you say and little experience in using them. Guns are a bit off yet as she has to take it slowly or it will run out of control.
EP - Thank you!
frankieu - Cheers! Meera will take her revenge and Cersei is indeed in a lot of trouble.
KEZZ 1 - Grateful that you liked it! Thanks!
End of Review Responses, more at the end of the chapter.
On with the story…
Chapter 33 - Revenge Part 2
The Neck, the Riverlands…Ninety Days since the Attack on Winterfell…
The former vassals of House Frey; Charlton, Erenford and Haigh had been involved in the ambush at Riverrun. All of them had been promised ownership of the Twins for their joining of the plot but their unity had been shattered by the apparent grasping for the large castle. All three only had a single holdfast each and a thousand men each at the very most.
Their arrogance and distrust of each other had gotten worse without Old Walder to keep them in line and now they found themselves fighting with each other, the only reason Brynden Tully had not come to deal with them himself was that he was busy with other threats on the other side of the Green Fork.
Sadly, they did not remember that there were enemies coming from the North as well.
The three fought on the Kings Road, another clash for dominance and achieving little as they remained locked in a stalemate as all were equally incompetent without a bigger schemer to lead them.
The sound of northern battle horns came as quite a shock as they marched down the road. They looked up and saw to their horror a screaming mass of people descending on them, at a distance they didn't even seem human with their faces all painted in different colours, archers on horseback started shooting at the flanks of the three armies, riding around them in a circle so they were forced back together while infantry moved to encircle them. They momentarily forgot about their own battle, seeing a force of savage looking warriors surrounded them, all with inhuman colours and patterns on their faces.
But then the army parted and for the first time they saw the leader of this savage army, she wore extremely high-quality armour with her dark brown hair in braids but apart from the golden three-pronged spear she was wielding the most intimidating thing about her was her face.
She wore colours just like the rest of her warriors, quite plain colours mostly white and grey but there were three blue tear marks on her left cheek. But her grey eyes burned with a fierce and terrifying rage that shook them to the core, along with the two enormous wolves she had at her side that were growling and snarling at them, looking ready to tear them in two.
And then, at her command the infantry baring shields moved in.
The enemy infantry very quickly realised that they were trapped and started to panic but were powerless as the Northern infantry pressed them in, the pressure growing so great as they were pushed together so tightly that they couldn't lift their arms to use whatever weapon they had and were being pushed back more and more. Any who tried to push against the shield wall that was closing in on them was pushed back by the interlocking shields. Spears, axes and swords struck at anyone who tried to break through either forcing them back or cutting them down and then being trampled as the Northerners just walked over them as they pressed forward.
The Riverlanders looked around and saw no escape, they had been completely enveloped and surrounded. Terror set in as they realised their fate, all previous problems with each other forgotten in the face of such a deadly trap.
Some prepared to drop weapons and surrender but they were to be sorely disappointed as the North men had no intention of letting them live.
So, they pressed in, stabbing and slashing at the trapped Riverlanders without any mercy or compassion. Screams filled the air as the slaughter began, while they had not attacked the North directly, they had still betrayed their liege lord and collaborated with the Lannisters. That made them the enemy of the North and as such a target of their vengeance.
Meera led her warriors with a grim and cold look on her face, detaching herself from what she was having to do even if she hated it, something she had learned over the past few years. Her Battle Companions; Sworn Shield, Arrow, Osha, Gendry and Thoros of Myr, all of whom were wearing war paint of their own looked unsettled but resolute to follow her. Jon not being here was probably for the best Meera thought to herself, he would join her later with Rickon but he was for now settling in with his new wife. At least that would give her time to get the Riverlands in order Meera thought sad that he wasn't at her side but glad too as it would stop him interfering.
Lorra watched her from the sides and to her surprise nodded in approval which Meera honestly hadn't expected but given she had spent most of her life north of the Wall it really shouldn't surprise her. It was brutal up there and actions always spoke louder than words.
The other Northern nobles didn't seem to mind she noticed as they pressed the attack, screams filling the air but it was over much faster than they would have thought. The Northern Army outnumbered the Riverlanders to a completely ridiculous degree and had better weapons so it took less than an hour to annihilate their armies.
Meera had them burn the bodies on pyres, watching as the flames roared around the masses of bodies, it was better to avoid the spread of disease and easier than digging pits.
- x -
But she wasn't done yet, all three of the small holdfasts held by their families were within a day's ride of each other and had only slight defences which they easily overcame. Seizing the castles took little effort, they just surrendered the moment the army showed up, clearly terrified of their ruthless reputation after their armies had been destroyed.
This was where Meena had a decision to make, she could just destroy the houses root and stem which she did to those involved in the ambush or the 'Night of Betrayals' or the 'Red Reaping' as it was fast becoming known. But for the younger ones of the families who were not involved in the ambush, like young Kitty Charlton who had according to her stupid relatives been in line to be wife to Walder Frey.
Meera shuddered having avoided that fate herself she would not bring harm to a girl who had made a very lucky escape. Kitty was quiet girl and very pretty for her age but really could use a mentor to get her to stand up for herself.
So, she would try and find a person to watch out for her, Meera decided as she and her army approached the Barnell Bridge. As they arrived, she saw Lord Barnell waiting there with his own men and she nodded as she approached him on her horse.
"Lord Barnell, how is the situation south of the river?" She asked without emotion, not wanting to engage in pleasantries much when there was work to be done. Lord Barnell to his credit nodded in greeting and did answer her question calmly and without taking offense.
"Lady Stark, the new Lord Tully has been punishing the rebel houses as fast as he can but with so many traitors, he hasn't the forces to deal with them all as quickly as you have." Lord Barnell told them and Meera accepted the information as she knew full well that the Riverlands would suffer more having had weak leadership for a long time and not as much sense of national identity since it was still a fairly young kingdom compared to most of the others. Her grandfather had been an inattentive lord and Edmure had been even worse, so it was inevitable that it would be easier to find conspirators.
"Then we must move to assist him before we seek justice for the betrayal inflicted on us." She told him and he nodded, joining her army with his own men as they marched and rode in a long column over the bridge and deep into the Riverlands, intent on finding the traitors and meeting with Lord Tully to decide a strategy for their war in the south.
The Red Keep, Kings Landing…
The tension in the city only kept rising as news filtered down from the north, fresh food was now no longer coming into the city and while they had a good amount stored up it was still a worrying development. The lack of supplies from the Reach that were supposed to be coming didn't exactly ease the situation and many people were speaking under their breaths with frustration and anger about the Tyrells and the Lannisters…hatred brewing all the time.
Margaery Tyrell who had always been a master of winning over the smallfolk was worried as she was prevented from using her usual methods in measures taken by Lord Tywin and the scorn with which he looked at her and the rest of her family made her nervous. She was fairly certain she was safe from his wrath as she was current heir to Highgarden with her brother's disappearance and so if she married his grandson and had a child with him that child would inherit the Reach eventually. But that was of little comfort as it didn't make sure her father and grandmother were safe from him and she had begun to have some horrible nightmares that woke her in a cold sweat.
After all, his daughter, the previous queen had disappeared without trace and the strongest rumour was that Lord Tywin that had arranged it, and if he could do that to his own daughter…what would he do to them? She pondered with a great sense of dread.
She honestly felt that her grandmother had gone too far with this, yes it had removed Joffrey from the situation and found them a more controllable king but by starting a war she had put their entire family in danger Margaery had started to realise and somehow, she doubted they were going to be able to slip away and just join the winning side this time. Her family had always been careful to make sure that it had an escape plan and means to get on the good side of the new regime, just like they had done with the Targaryens and Robert Baratheon…but now she was worried they had gotten in too deep and were in serious danger.
All their hopes rested on Randyll Tarly, the man had taken a good part of their surviving army north to face the Tullys and Starks in battle and she dearly hoped he won as defeat would be unthinkable Margaery thought with her growing fears mounting.
- x -
The Tower of the Hand was no less tense than the rest of the city as Tywin sat at his desk with Tyrion across from him, Jaime would have been here too but he had refused to leave Tommen's side which was actually a good thing so he wouldn't be as easily killed as his older brother had been.
"The Baratheons still hold Dragonstone and their fleet has completely cut off Blackwater Bay from the Narrow Sea. No trade ships at all are getting through now." Tyrion informed him, now acting as Master of Whispers as well as Master of Coin now as he had a decent group of informers himself and was keeping a close eye on the situation. Tywin was too but he had his main focus on the north of Westeros and Kings Landing.
"Have we enough ships to break it?" Tywin asked not knowing the size of their current navy and got his answer when Tyrion scoffed.
"We have ten ships that can fight, men who aren't trained to fight at sea to man them as most of the experienced sailors were at Dragonstone when the war began." Tyrion said as he drank his wine, amused at the position that put his father in. There was little to no chance of breaking that blockade and they both knew it; Tywin however had a solution.
"We'll have to order the Redwyne Fleet to sail up the coast and around to attack Dragonstone from the other side." Tywin said with frustration. Tyrion blinked as it was a fairly good idea to break the blockade as the Redwyne Fleet did actually outnumber the ships at Dragonstone but for a few problems.
"That could take a couple of months for them to make that journey." Tyrion reminded him but in his own mind he was actually already preparing to undermine it but making sure news of it reached some 'interested' parties on the route the fleet would be taking. He was sure they would find that piece of information…most interesting he thought smirking on the inside while maintaining his calm face.
"I am aware of that; I will make sure the Grandmaester sends the message immediately." Tywin said bitterly to his face but then Tyrion had to satisfy his own curiosity especially since it concerned his own safety.
"What did you do with Cersei?" Tyrion asked him bluntly.
That however produced a raised eyebrow from Tywin which was the equivalent of a slack jaw in shock which surprised even Tyrion.
"I thought you disposed of her." Tywin said now surprised himself, given all the trouble she had caused he wasn't exactly mourning her loss and in fact found it a great relief that she was gone. At least this way she couldn't ruin Tommen like she had ruined Joffrey or cause any more trouble. Given the hatred between them it had seemed to him that Tyrion was the most likely one to dispose of her.
"I thought that of you." Tyrion answered, now concerned as while he hated Cersei with every single thing that he had in him but he hadn't disposed of her, he intended to but hadn't gotten around to it yet.
That brought them both up short and worried them, while there was no shortage of people who wanted Cersei dead, they had no idea just who would be so brazen as to do such a thing in the heart of the Red Keep and not be caught in the act. It did worry them both as they and Tommen not to mention Myrcella might also be targets of whoever it was and both men made it a priority to discover just who had taken Cersei, not out of concern for her but for themselves in case they weren't content to remove just one Lannister.
Horn Hill, the Reach…
After the chaos inflicted by Stannis Baratheon on their lands, the people of the Reach were relieved that he was dead. Word of another war from the north had dampened their spirits a little but it seemed very far away from them and they were just happy to at last finish preparations for winter and try to repair the damage in peace. Many of their remaining fighting men were away in the path of the supposed enemy which did ease their worries a little especially since Randyll Tarly, their greatest general was at its head. The north would have to come through them to get to the Reach.
But the Red Mountains to the east and south hid a danger that was much closer, one emboldened by all their fighting men being away and the opportunity to finally get involved in the war.
Through a number of passes known to houses like House Blackmont who lived in the mountains the Dornish army, fresh and eager to prove itself after being absent from any conflict for two decades moved through into the Reach and with fewer patrols due to most of their fighting men being north avoided detection by most of the Reach.
Horn Hill had been spared any real damage during the last war and was better defended than most but still undermanned, Oberyn Martell found it irresistible.
He and his Dornish army struck it, fast and hard just like his other pleasures he thought with a bloodthirsty grin.
By the time Lady Melessa Tarly and her daughter Talla knew what was happening they had the Dornish fighting their way into their hall! Both looked at the invaders with horror as the few men they had left were cut down or taken prisoner, they clung to each other with terror on their faces as they realised what could happen to them both.
Seeing that fear as he came in Oberyn smirked a little taunting them before finally reassuring them of their own safety.
"Lord Melessa, Lady Talla please forgive the intrusion but we decided to stop by on our tour of the Reach." Oberyn said with his vicious glint in his eyes. "But please do not concern yourselves, we have no intention of harming you or daughter in anyway."
"After you burst into our home armed with spears and the blood of our men on them, excuse me if my sense of hospitality and trust desert me." Melessa said, still clinging tightly to her daughter and worried for her most of all given how pretty she was now and his known extensive appetites.
"I quite understand." Oberyn said completely unaffected by her comment before saying something that was on one level supposed to scare her but also reassure her. "I know you are scared for your daughter but don't be, no harm shall befall her, as a father I give you my word on that. We have plans for her." Oberyn said with a grin that scared both of them greatly before telling the men. "Pack them some clothes, preferably things for a warmer climate. Sunspear is particularly hot this time of year." Oberyn told them and both Melessa and Talla were led out of the room to the waiting wheelhouse outside while clothes were packed for them. He had meant what he said though as no harm would befall either of them, he had no reason to hurt them and as for Talla Tarly, her future husband waited for her in Sunspear.
Taking a seat in the lord's chair he put his feet up on the table and drank the Arbor Gold they had 'liberated' from their cellar. He had always imagined Lord Tarly being one of those stuffy men that refused to allow alcohol in their home but clearly, he had misjudged the old stiff asshole Oberyn thought as he sipped, annoyed a little that Heartsbane was with Lord Tarly up north as it would have been nice to have taken that too.
Instead, he pondered his next move. A number of keeps were in a similar state and were ill prepared for their attack and the priceless jewel that was Oldtown was right within their sights. But Oberyn grinned that was not his true prize, he had something else in mind.
Near Harrenhal, the Riverlands…
The Northern army had yet to meet with Lord Brynden Tully and Varys had given them word of the approaching Reach Army. They had them out numbered but given that Randyll Tarly was leading it she would be a fool to think that this was going to be easy.
Shireen stood with Lady Meera in the tent, admiring Aurora and her two direwolves as well, maybe it was her dragon blood that she had inherited from her great-grandmother Rhaelle Targaryen but Aurora took to Shireen with surprising speed, allowing her to feed the dragon and pet it. Aurora loved the attention and so did Romulus and Rema who seemed to like her and enjoyed playing with her. Davos had been extremely nervous at both the dragon and the wolves being so close to Shireen but even he had to admit that she seemed happier with them around.
Meera smiled as she saw this, glad to see the pure joy of both Shireen and the animals. Varys watched too, enjoying it as much as she did.
"Lady Stark." Shireen said as she fed some spiced meat to Aurora and then a steak each to Romulus and Rema who gratefully took it. "Why didn't you let me see the battle? If I am to be Lady of the Stormlands then I can't be afraid of such things." Shireen said with confusion but Meera shook her head.
"What I did to Haigh, Charlton and Erenford was not a battle. It was a slaughter, three thousand men died in particularly nasty ways Shireen. I don't want to give you nightmares." Meera told her sternly and Shireen was about to say something when Meera added. "Besides, I don't want you to become a monster…like me."
The way she said it was so full of regret and bitterness it sounded like it should be coming from some aged brutal warrior rather than a young woman. It shocked Davos, Shireen, Varys and Lorra who was watching from nearby. Varys though was actually reassured by it; she did genuinely regret killing and would do it only when she had too. Not to mention she cared enough about Shireen that she wanted to spare her that kind of burden.
"Tens of thousands have died at my order or at my hands. I had my first kill when I was half your age and I would rather you be a different kind of lady than I am." Meera told Shireen sadly.
"Or you are just being the Stark you need to be to protect your family and your home." Lorra Snow said from the side, her face torn as she saw her niece's self-disgust. She carried far too much Lorra thought with dismay, she was the true leader of House Stark now and had the fate of her entire family and her homeland on her shoulders. She knew the pressure that kind of weight put on you and she wouldn't wish it on anyone. "A true monster wouldn't care about the pain that they inflict on people but you do, you don't want to do it and will only when you have no choice. You carry a great burden because you don't want it to fall on your siblings, would rather take it all yourself so they can live their lives free of it. It's not healthy for you but it's because you love them and would rather suffer so they don't have too. That's not a monster, and believe me I have seen plenty of them on the other side of the Wall." Lorra told her as she crossed the room and grasped her shoulder before squeezing tightly.
Meera felt better for hearing that, maybe it was just reassurance she needed but it helped for someone to help her remember why she was doing this.
"Indeed, my lady. If it is not too much of a burden…, may I have a few moments of your time." Varys asked and Meera who was annoyed a little at the interruption sighed before saying.
"Very well, excuse me." She said leaving the others behind looking after her in worry while she stepped outside the tent so they could talk without interruption.
"My lady, I feel I should ask if Shireen Baratheon doesn't want the throne, what will you do?" Varys asked probingly. Meera frowned before saying.
"I don't know Master Varys. I don't intend to leave the Lannisters on the throne so perhaps it might be best if all the kingdoms rule themselves now." Meera said, but Varys reminded her of something.
"Before the Iron Throne was founded the kingdoms of Westeros fought with each other constantly, wars that went on for decades or longer with many deaths and where little progress was made. The Targaryens for all their sins created a more unified Westeros for the most part. The whole can become much greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps what Westeros needs is not a king that cannot handle the responsibilities of ruling, but a queen that does." Varys suggested finally getting to the point.
Meera immediately knew what he was suggesting and to be honest she hated the mere idea of taking the throne for herself more than anything. It was a burden that she didn't want to bare and would consume her life.
"I have no claim on the throne." Meera said in a deadpan voice, the simplest obstacle being the most obvious. No Stark had any blood from either Baratheon or Targaryen so why she asked would the nobles ever accept her or any member of her family on the Iron Throne. "Not to mention as a woman I would never be given it, the last woman to try didn't fare so well." She added remembering the lessons of Rhaenyra Targaryen and what had happened during the Dance of the Dragon.
"Indeed, I know it will not be without challenge but without someone to sit on that throne the realm will fall into chaos. Tear itself apart and make it easy prey to outsiders, that includes the North. Being queen might be dangerous but it also gives your family potential security." Varys said but Meera who was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the idea countered that argument.
"Or ensure more trouble. No family who has the throne can ever sit easy and those that do often lose it for their overconfidence." Meera said back at him. Varys nodded before continuing.
"Indeed, it is not without danger but just as dangerous is there not being someone who is strong enough to hold things together. Think of all the change and improvements you could make with all of Westeros behind you? You achieved an enormous amount with the North behind you, I imagine you could do a great deal more with all the kingdoms." Varys tried to tempt her with and much to her own worry it was working, she could feel the temptation as with actual full resources and the power to implement them. She could skip Westeros ahead by centuries, what had taken hundreds of years on Earth might be done in a fraction of the time. It would be difficult to make all those changes quickly but with a careful time schedule she could take Westeros out of its current medieval age.
She knew better though than to be so easily bribed especially with the uphill struggle that bringing progress would be especially with the religious zealots. It would also mean that she would have to get married and have children as with no clear heir then it could result in civil war when she died.
Gods she found this depressing Meera thought with annoyance at Varys for planting the idea in her head and told him with an annoyed expression.
"I will consider it. Master Varys." Meera said before turning to go back inside the tent before Varys brought up something else.
"Lord Randyll Tarly is leading the army that is against you, while he is a great threat on his own the army he leads is drawn from the Reach and many fresh recruits fill out their ranks. After Stannis Baratheon unleashed wildlings on them there is a great fear of wildlings in their ranks and you have wildlings here." Varys pointed out.
"These are Free Folk. The hellspawn that Stannis unleashed on the Reach were the Ice River Clans and believe me there are none of them in this army." Meera corrected him knowing exactly who those vicious bastards were given all the trouble they had caused the North for a long time.
"But the Reach men don't know that." Varys said with a smile. "In fact, they can't tell the difference and it would certainly terrify them to think they would be dealing with ten thousand of them."
Meera was intrigued by that as it presented them with some interesting possibilities, it would certainly help their chances in battle. A plan started forming in her mind and so she talked to Varys.
"Would it be possible for you to spread that rumour among his ranks Master Varys? Make it sound like we have more of what they faced in the Reach? That could scare them enough to make some desert, cutting down his numbers. And could you make sure it reaches his ears that we are going straight to Riverrun to meet with Lord Tully?" Meera said with a calculating look on her face. Varys raised his eyebrows and asked her.
"Is that your plan my lady? To meet up with your great uncle?" Varys asked but Meera with a coy smile on her face told him.
"Eventually but first, we are going to deal with Randyll. If he is going to mount a campaign here against a larger force then he is going to need a base and none of the castles around here are large enough to properly protect his army and their supplies apart from Harrenhal. He could just use camps but they are vulnerable in ways castles aren't and we could mount hit and run attacks against camps. He will want the castle to reassure his men especially if he thinks we have wildling cannibals." Meera said as she formed her plan in her mind.
It was a risky gamble but if she could steer Randyll in the direction she wanted him, then she would have him exactly where she wanted when she wanted it.
Reach Camp, the Riverlands…Two Days Later…
Randyll honestly was frustrated as he woke up that morning, tired from the long march and wanting to end this war as quickly as possible.
His tent was drafty and the air had a chill as winter was approaching and the last thing that he wanted was to be fighting some kind of winter war against the North especially, they were used to the cold but his men certainly were not.
"My lord." Ser Hyle Hunt, one of his best men said in greeting as he eventually dressed and ate something but the rather worried look on Ser Hyle's face made him hesitate as the man was a gallant and stubborn knight, not one to balk in the face of adversity so whatever had unsettled him must be a considerable issue.
"What is it?" Randyll asked with caution and Ser Hyle told him regretfully.
"Rumours spread among the camp, according them Meera Stark is leading an army of ten thousand cannibals from beyond the Wall as part of their forces, like those unleashed on us by Stannis Baratheon and it reached the ears of the men." Ser Hyle said slowly.
Randyll's jaw visibly tightened given his great hatred of wildlings and he could understand the fear of having to face such creatures as Stannis Baratheon had attacked them with during the war. The amount of damage they had done still scarred the Reach now, so he knew the question he must ask next.
"How many?" He asked knowing some were sure to run in the face of such a threat. Ser Hyle looked very uncomfortable as he answered.
"Fifteen thousand, all the fresh levies raised for this war and a good few of the experienced men although most stayed."
Randyll stood still at the mention that so many men had fled. He had an army of sixty thousand men to fight with and now he had lost a good-sized piece of it before any actual fight had happened which would only make the mood of the men that remained lower. The North now outnumbered him by almost two to one and that was before he added in the Tully and limited Vale forces.
That increased it to almost three to one at least.
Randyll knew now that if he wanted to make any sort of effective campaign and especially to prevent any more desertions, he would need a castle to act as his sanctuary and base for this campaign. The protection offered by stone walls was too useful to ignore not to mention a secure place to put their supplies where they and his men would be safe from hit and run attacks which was exactly what he would do against them in their place.
The fact a woman was leading the enemy army did however make him scoff, what could a woman know of war? He asked himself with derision despite the large army she led he knew far more about it than she ever would. She should be back in a castle fat with a babe in her belly tending to the castle while her husband ruled Randyll thought with scorn at the idea of one leading an army. Her brother Robb would have been a worthy opponent Randyll thought with a slightly mournfulness that he would not get to face him on the field.
"Do we have any notion of Meera Stark's position in the Riverlands?" Randyll asked wanting to know just where she was so he could finish her off as soon as possible. Ser Hyle nodded before telling him.
"Yes sir, scouts have managed to get information from some of the rebel houses. Apparently, she is riding for Riverrun to join her army with her great uncle's." Ser Hyle said and Randyll nodded, full of self-righteousness and contempt for her. Of course, she was running to her great uncle for help he thought his earlier beliefs seemingly confirmed. Lord Brynden was a skilled warrior Randyll admitted knowing he would likely present a much greater challenge but if she was going straight to Riverrun that presented an opportunity to secure his army.
"Then we will take our men to Harrenhal. It will be our secure point to launch a campaign against the Starks and Tullys." Randyll said and Ser Hyle nodded and went to get the army ready to move out to get them to the safety of the old castle that could now accommodate their army.
- x -
Harrenhal, the Riverlands…One Day Later…
Roughly forty-five thousand men approached the intimidating ruin of Harrenhal but it was a welcome sight as it meant safety as while many of its buildings were damaged inside most of the walls were still secure and would give plenty of protection from the locals who were against them.
Since Lady Whent had died there was no one left ruling the castle as far as they knew and it was now deserted, the supposed curse making people leave it alone. That mattered little to Randyll though as he led the army towards it and specifically the main gate which was left open, meaning they could just walk in.
But there was a sensation that had developed from his long days spent as a warrior that made him feel something wasn't right, he could see no sign of any trouble but something told him that there was danger here. But his instincts were too late to save him this time sadly.
The portcullis was dropped with a heavy clang and the large doors swung closed right in front of them which brought the column to a stop straight away, then on the walls masses of people appeared all of whom were carrying bows while others had scorpions mounted to the walls. And white and grey wolf banners fell down the walls, stopping half way. A dark wave seemed to emerge from the wall and move through the air above them before coming down towards them.
Randyll was stunned momentarily as he realised in a brief moment that the information about Meera Stark and her plans had obviously been false, she was already inside the castle and had rather successfully lured him into a trap. He wanted to believe that it was the work of a man in her service, maybe her bastard brother or one of the North's vassals as it was impossible for him to be wrong about that he thought stubbornly but as the arrows came down, he had no choice but to admit to himself at least that he had been wrong.
Men screamed as they were pelted by arrow fire, scorpions on the walls firing heavier bolts that moved even quicker. Horses either hit by the arrows or scared by sudden attack throwing their riders in a panic or knocking into each other as they tried to get away, made worse by the catapults the Starks had on the walls that were flinging burning oil at them, setting fires which only increased the panic.
Randyll was knocked off his horse and fell painfully onto his back, wincing as the pain struck him but struggled to his feet. Looking around he saw his column descend into chaos and then just to make things worse Northern cavalry emerged from the forests on the sides of the Kings Road, harassing his men with arrow fire or running them down on the flanks.
Randyll felt a stabbing pain as an arrow lodged itself in his back, hurting all the more because of it. He saw his army being cut down or scatter to the winds as it ran. Some were bound to escape and flee back south or desert but he was going to lose a good number of men to this.
He stumbled as he tried to move only for a bolt to stab him through the chest, he fell to his knees knowing his death was close at hand but then he saw the bolt lodged in his chest was actually a spear made of some golden weapon with three prongs. He breathed out as he felt his lungs collapse and his vision darken but as he breathed out a red wisp came out of his mouth and dissolved.
- x -
One Hour Later…
Meera pulled her spear out of Randyll's body; she had only thrown it to make sure there was no chance of him escaping and thankfully the magic had let her hit her target. The red wisp though had been a surprise she thought given how stern and cold Randyll had been, she would have expected it in someone much more violent but she guessed to her own worry that the wisps could be anywhere and anyone.
She picked up Heartsbane and strapped it to her waist alongside Fireheart, she would decide what to do with it later while she looked at the scene ahead of her. The trap had been successful with twenty-five thousand either dead or taken prisoner. Twenty thousand had managed to run and had either fled back to Kings Landing or deserted. They had sent the Reach running with its tail between its legs and kept them from interfering with the war up here.
With things now secure and her army staying here just in case of further attack under the command of Lord Ryswell, she and a portion of the army would now head to Riverrun to meet with Lord Tully, the fact her mother was there grated but if she wanted to meet with her great uncle then she had to go there, not to mention the ride would give her some more time to think on Varys's suggestion.
Just as she was about to return to Harrenhal though to prepare for her ride to Riverrun though, Ser Loras and Brienne of Tarth came up to her.
"Can I help you?" Meera asked, not sure just what they might want before they made a request.
"We wish to fight at your side, as your battle companions do." Loras said quickly, Meera raised an eyebrow at the idea.
"My 'Battle Companions' as you refer to them have my trust and are of proven skill. I accept that you are both very skilled but I cannot be sure of your loyalty given we have only just met…not to mention Ser Loras your family is now my enemy." Meera reminded them and Loras surprised her by scowling deeply and saying with great venom.
"I don't care about them!" He said openly snarling as he said with his rage pouring out of him making both Meera and Brienne blink and almost take a step back from him. "They betrayed Renly! Drove him and me to flee Highgarden and helped arrange his death. Their ambition is all they care about, making my sister a queen! They took what I loved most away from me! I can never forgive them for that." Loras spat out with his eyes blazing with anger and hatred.
Meera found that concerning, he had so much hatred inside him that he was prepared to work against and ever potentially destroy his own relations. That kind of hatred not only blinded you but could destroy you from the inside, she knew that from her own experience and wondered if he would be able to overcome it. Turning to Brienne who looked as concerned as she was Meera asked her.
"And what of you Brienne of Tarth? Why would you swear yourself to me?" Meera asked, unsure of the Stormlander who unlike others had no reason not to go back home and be safe. Brienne was much more stoic than her fellow warrior and answered calmly.
"I swore myself to the service of a king, duty is what matters to me. I have no interest in marrying or being a lady, living my own life on my own terms is what I hope for. Something that you can surely understand." Brienne added and Meera nodded with a smile, knowing all too well the problems a woman faced being taken seriously in this society.
"If you want to fight alongside us in the next battle, they will be free to do so. Do well and prove your loyalty and maybe there is a place for you here." Meera offered and they both took it quickly with a respectful bow.
Varys watched at a distance, smiling as he realised when or rather if she took the throne now, she had found her Queensguard.
Winterfell, the North…
Wylla sat with her children, reading them a story from their favourite book, smiling as they fell asleep and gently kissed them both on the head. She knew they were missing their father but as time went on, they all adjusted to him not being here anymore.
She just wished she could, Wylla thought with her grief stabbing at her. She missed Robb all the time and sometimes could swear that she saw him out of the corner of her eyes only for him to disappear the moment she blinked. Greywind who had not left her side or that of the children since the ambush rubbed his big head against her side and she appreciated him trying to look after her and scratched his ears back.
Her hand went to her belly as this very morning Maester Luwin had confirmed that she was again pregnant with Robb's child. On the one hand this and her older children had been the thing that got her up in the morning, they forced her to keep it together for their sake and get on with it.
But at the same time, she was deeply unsettled at the thought of having to raise at least three children alone, she knew her own family and her late husband's family would rally behind her and she would not be alone. But it was still daunting.
She gently rubbed her belly, sad that this child would never know its father, boy or girl she didn't care what she was carrying as long as the child was born healthy.
Which again was a reason to keep going, she had to take care of herself to take care of this babe and her other children, so she went to get something to eat as already her appetite was growing. She wondered if she was having twins again but dismissed that as folly, the chances of it happening were ridiculously remote.
The Red Keep, Kings Landing…
Word of the defeat at Harrenhal reached Kings Landing only a couple of days as the survivors who had escaped retreated there. What had happened and the terrible defeat they had suffered spread throughout the city and the Red Keep faster than would be believed. Fear quickly followed as they realised that their last chance to defeat the Starks, Lord Randyll Tarly and the Reach army had been lost and now they were certainly going to be heading to Kings Landing.
Olenna Tyrell despite maintaining an outward appearance of calm was on the inside as scared as the rest of them maybe more so as she realised just how badly she had miscalculated.
If only the stupid Cersei had been more effective at arranging that ambush this might never have happened, she thought with anger at the other woman's failings although she would admit that using her at all had been a mistake on her part. She should have organised it herself and would have ensured the destruction of the Starks and Tullys in the ambush rather than let them live to become a threat she thought but that wasn't even the most immediate problem she thought with dismay.
The Martells who had been silent for years had emerged from their desert and were striking at their lands, taking and occupying Reach castles and halls along the border. Horn Hill, Sunhouse, the Three Towers and Uplands had already fallen to the Red Viper and now they were pressing on Oldtown! She had no idea just why Prince Doran had decided to take advantage of the situation now when his real enemies were here in the capital but he had and now they had to act fast to ensure their homes were safe and that they had a future.
Olenna would not admit it to anyone but she felt true genuine fear for the first time in her long life, or at least after so long without it. She knew she had made a number of dangerous mistakes and could not undo them now; you can't put the milk back up the cow's udders when you have squeezed it out, she thought bitterly.
Her best hope was that the Lannisters take the full weight of the ambush which should be simple as they had no visible involvement in the plot, she was grateful that Margaery's wedding to Tommen hadn't gone ahead yet as it meant they could break the alliance and head back to Highgarden with all their remaining men, not to mention recall any men they still had in the Stormlands to keep the peace.
That should give them enough of a fighting force to hold the Dornish at bay, Olenna thought desperately and just wished Randyll hadn't been killed as it left them without someone to command it. They would hopefully be able to at least keep them from progressing any further though Olenna thought with concern.
Margaery finally arrived looking rather proud of herself for making sure the new king was practically eating out of the palm of her hand. But the urgent look on her grandmother's face quickly wiped that look away.
"Margaery, return to your rooms and gather whatever you cannot bear to leave behind. We must leave the city before dawn tomorrow." Olenna told her with an urgent look on her face. Margaery was surprised and unnerved as she had never seen that look on her grandmother's face before, she had always been calm and in control whatever the situation. Not to mention the command that they had to flee the city, she wondered just what had her so worried when they were already getting such good control of Tommen.
"Grandmother! But we have the king…" She started saying before Olenna interrupted.
"But he might not be the king much longer, the losses we took at Harrenhal were worse than is widely known, Lord Tarly is dead and the Dornish Invasion of the Reach is rapidly getting worse. We may not be Lords of the Reach much longer if it isn't halted and that must be our priority. I know you have Tommen but with the North and the Riverlands coming for the capital it is better we are not here. I just wish we have never gotten involved in all this." Olenna said with frustration at her not understanding the true danger. Their house face potential collapse over this and Margaery did not seem to understand the danger.
But her shocked expression at Lord Tarly's defeat did seem to make her realise they would need to flee the capital or face the North without their greatest general. Margaery, ever the good granddaughter rushed to her room and gathered the few things she could not bear to leave behind and before sundown that day, she joined their retinue and rode out of Kings Landing in the wheelhouse with her grandmother, mournfully looking at the Red Keep in the distance, thinking on what could have been if things had only happened a little differently.
"Look away my dear." Olenna told her, glad to be leaving the city given the great danger and just hoped they had a home to sit this out in by the end. "We tried but too much was against us. We can only look to the future and make the most of it."
Still Margaery sighed depressed as she had lost the best chance that she would ever have of being queen.
The Twins, the Riverlands…
Rickon was looking from the back of his horse towards the castle or rather two castles approaching in the distance. They looked rather squat to him and a bit ugly but the long bridge between them was something he found interesting; he had known for years that this would one day be his home but still he had never really thought about what it would look like. He knew all about it of course but it was quite another thing to see it for himself. He just wished he had Jon with him but he was dealing with some surviving rebels before joining them.
He with Shaggydog and his party of guards rode up to the main gates of the castle on this side of the river and they opened for him, revealing a typical courtyard and among the guards that were milling about Jeor Mormont stood. He nodded gruffly as they approached and Rickon dismounted his horse.
"You're just in time. The Blackwoods are coming up the other side." Jeor told him and Rickon grimaced as he had hoped for some time before his future bride and her family came to visit. He had met them before of course but it wouldn't look good he thought with nervousness if he didn't know his way around his own castle or castles.
"Best greet them I suppose." Rickon said with a worried look in his eyes before looking around and realised to his dismay that he didn't even know where the main hall was. He could almost feel the sweat falling from his head as he realised how unprepared he was for all this, turning to Jeor who shook his head and gestured to the door ahead.
"This way." Jeor told him with a sigh seeing the boy had no idea just where it was, the good thing about the Twins though was that both of the castles where identical so if you knew one, you knew both.
Arriving in the main hall it was decorated with the banners of his new house, the red bridge with both castles on either side with a grey direwolf over it. Shaggydog howled slightly at the sight of it, proudly wagging his tail which made Rickon laugh and scratch behind his ears. Looking at the main table he saw the big throne like chair up there and wondered briefly if it was the same one used by Walder Frey but sighed with relief as she saw it was made of ironwood with direwolves carved into it, no Frey would have a chair like that he thought as he went up and sat on the chair, it was somewhat uncomfortable and he just hoped he could look dignified as his feet struggled to reach the ground if he sat all the way back on the chair, meaning he had to perch himself on the edge. He just hoped that he grew a bit more otherwise he was going to look ridiculous sitting here, Rickon thought worried.
He didn't have much time to worry about that though as the Blackwoods arrived, Lord Blackwood was with his army at Riverrun to meet with all the other forces so it was Ser Lucas Blackwood, the house's second son that was leading as his older brother was with their father. He was only accompanied by Bethany Blackwood, his young sister who Rickon had not seen in a while and his guards of course. The sight of her took his breath away.
She was taller now, easily as tall as him and with dark hair falling down her back. She smiled as she looked around and her smile Rickon found particularly enchanting, the way it made her whole face just light up. He was completely entranced by her.
Jeor smiled a little as he saw the boy already was besotted by his future wife, it was a good thing for their future marriage he thought wishing dearly that his own dearly departed wife was with him now, he missed her so much Jeor thought sadly but he had once been as besotted by her as young Rickon was by Bethany now.
- x -
Riverrun, the Riverlands…
It was so busy around Riverrun that there wasn't enough room in the castle of all the nobles, meaning many had to sleep in tents outside with their men.
The Vale Knights included, only a handful of rooms remained, kept aside for the major figures around, including one of their most recent arrivals. Lord Nestor had returned to the Eyrie to handle running it while his cousin Lord Royce himself had come out with Robert Arryn to meet with the other leaders to decide their course of action.
The size of the camp amazed Robert who had never seen so many tents altogether and was in awe.
"There are so many!" He exclaimed and Lord Royce nodded calmly.
"Many Knights of the Vale are here as is much of the Riverlands army. It would grow a great deal bigger if the Northern army came here as well but they have stayed at Harrenhal to prevent any attack from the south." Lord Royce told him gently, trying to get some understanding of military tactics into him. "Lady Stark will be bringing a retinue here to speak with Lord Tully and ourselves and Shireen Baratheon too."
"Sansa is coming?!" Robert Arryn said excitedly, remembering his beautiful cousin from his visit to Winterfell a while ago. Lord Royce realised his mistake and currented him gently but sternly.
"No, Sansa is staying in Winterfell to run the North during the war. She has two sisters and they are also Lady Stark. Her older sister, your other cousin Meera Stark is the one who leads them this time. So, you will get to meet her and her youngest sister Arya too since she is accompanying them."
Robert looked confused as he had not really met most of his extended family, Lord Royce just sighed as the boy clearly still had so much to learn before he was ready to take his father's seat.
The sound of footsteps on stone made them both look to the door and Lord Brynden Tully came through followed by his niece Catelyn. Lord Royce could not think favourably of her since she betrayed her marriage but she was the acting lady of Riverrun so he would afford her that much respect even if she didn't deserve it in his mind. Robert immediately however showed he had much to learn on lessons of etiquette.
"You look like my mother…and Lady Sansa." Robert said to Catelyn who smiled gently at her nephew, glad that she finally got to meet him and saw much of Lysa's early innocence in him already.
"Your mother was my sister and Lady Sansa is my daughter. That makes me your aunt." Catelyn told him with a gentle voice before introducing him to Brynden. "And this is your great uncle Lord Brynden Tully, it is a pleasure to finally meet you Lord Robert Arryn."
"It is an honour to meet you too." Robert said and did a little bow which Catelyn and Brynden found endearing and Brynden turned to Lord Royce to try and ease any worries he might have.
"Thank you for bringing him to see us Lord Royce, it helps ease the pain surrounding Edmure." He told him and Lord Royce nodded in acceptance before they were distracted by the arrival of the North/Baratheon party. They looked over and saw the small group of horses arrive, even at a distance though, they could tell who was the leader.
They wore good armour and clothing, all but Shireen Baratheon and Varys were armed and all the northern guards including the seven that surrounded the leader and nobles who accompanied them had painted their faces in a strange array of colours and patterns that unnerved the Riverlanders and Vale knights who saw them. Not to mention that they were accompanied by three fully grown direwolves and a snow bear! The enormous creatures terrified the men present but no one dared to anything.
It made them look inhuman which made Robert stand back a little behind Lord Royce in fear while the others all looked on them with confusion until Brynden explained the colours on their faces.
"It is called war paint, it's an old Northern custom. They paint their faces to intimidate the enemy." Brynden said seriously.
"Ned never used that, nor did his men during the wars." Lord Royce said carefully, admitting it was effective if silly to his eyes.
"They stopped using the custom around the time the Iron Throne was established." Brynden said with a curious look. "I guess they brought it back for this war."
Catelyn however was too captivated by the sight of two among their number, two women both armed and dressed in leather rather than dresses and accompanied by direwolves, who else could they be she asked herself as her breath caught in her chest. She saw them ride proudly through the camp till they arrived at the gate and saw two of her daughters for the first time in years.
She could pick out Meera and Arya even at a distance, they were both taller than when she had last seen them but that was to be expected she thought sad that she hadn't been there to see them grow. Both dismounted their horses and let stable hands take them along with the rest of their part and Meera was by far the easiest to spot given she was holding her large special spear in hand, she had painted her face with white and grey colours and had her dark brown hair in braids around her head. Arya seemed to be copying her older sister's example although she had inverted the colours but kept the same pattern. She had her beautiful hair cut to her shoulders Catelyn thought mournfully, she always had such lovely hair.
They and their entourage made quite the impression as they moved through the crowd, all jumping out of the way as they approached. Brynden led them back down while Robert stayed close to Lord Royce as he found the Northerners scary.
Arriving in the main hall the Vale Nobles and their Riverlands counterparts were waiting as Brynden, Catelyn, Lord Royce and Robert Arryn came in. They stood waiting and then after what seemed a long wait they finally entered and a ripple of fear and confusion through the crowd at the Northerners appearance. Catelyn tried to catch the eye of Meera and Arya but both of them consciously avoided her which stabbed at her heart but Brynden stepped forward.
"Lord Tully, Lord Arryn, Lord Royce." Meera said, her voice calm and collected, giving a respectful nod of the head to them each before receiving one in return although Robert was looking at her in confusion.
"Lady Stark, welcome to Riverrun. We thank you and your people for securing our border in the south and hope we can stand together against any other aggression." Brynden said and Meera nodded.
"The Starks and Tullys share blood, so do the Arryns. We honour our ties to others, not to mention what happened to you also happened to us. Making sure justice is done is as important to us as it is to you." Meera told him and her complete lack of emotion was unnerving. Then she turned and introduced Shireen who walked up to her.
"The Lady Shireen Baratheon."
Shireen stepped forward, wearing a simple dress and curtsied to the lords present who bowed slightly back.
"My lords, thank you for granting me safe haven." Shireen said and Brynden nodded before telling her.
"It is our pleasure, Lady Baratheon; you have our condolences for your loss." He said as was expected and she took it with good grace.
"My father was a difficult and harsh man who crossed too many boundaries, I am however hoping that today we all might find common cause in tearing the Lannisters down." Shireen said and a rumble of agreement went around the room. Meera then decided to speak up.
"Yes, the Lannisters…the latest in a long line of villains to plague us." Meera said as she walked around the room, Arya smirking a little as she knew just what her sister was doing as did Varys and Shireen.
"I mean, in the North…we defeated the Iron Born for them." She said first by her own people before moving on to the Riverlands. "You fed their city." The people grumbled in agreement while she moved to the Vale nobles present. "You helped protect their growing lands and did not fight against them or even cause trouble. And what have we received for our efforts? What did the Lannisters who owe us a debt pay us back with?" She asked them all as she moved around the hall, ensuring she had their full attention before she continued.
"Betrayal, scorn and lies. It is their main currency, to use others and then destroy them when they are no longer useful. They fought the least in the rebellion and yet they gained the most. They put their little bastards on the throne and kept on losing till others saved them or used treachery to win. Hear us Roar? Here us lie and cheat more like!" Meera said and there was a wave of sounds of agreement.
"Once in years past some of you will remember that the alliance of the North, the Vale, the Riverlands and the Stormlands tore down a king that wanted nothing more than to be burn everything and everyone to dust in wildfire." Meera said reminding them that they or their homelands at least had overthrown one dynasty before, stoking their pride which they definitely liked she noticed before continuing on.
"The enemy is different but the cause and reason stay the same. If we want peace and security at least for the future as far as we can see it then we have to do again." Meera told them getting to the point. "The enemy is damaged and vulnerable, while we are strong and determined to see this through to the end. To see the entire legacy of Tywin fucking Lannister torn down! Burning and in ruined at his feet. The Lion of the Rock, broken and destroyed by his own ambition."
They definitely liked the idea of that she noticed with a small smile as they banged their fists down on the tables and Meera taking advantage of the high emotion made her plea.
"Will you fight with us? Will you stand up and make our mark on history so we can tell future generations we are the ones who ended the Lannisters once and for all?!" Meera said loudly and she was rewarded with a loud collection of cheers as they all leapt to their feet in excitement.
Shireen, Arya and Varys all smiled as she became the unofficial leader of this new rebellion, for Varys it was all going well as the more authority she established now, the easier it would be for her to become queen when it was over.
Catelyn on the other hand was worried as she saw her daughter was becoming a leader of this rebellion, a target for the Lannisters more than she was already was and despite being in good position right now they shouldn't forget how dangerous this was.
- x -
Brynden was sitting in his office later, signing a declaration that Rickon would be his heir. It was the best option he thought to himself as Rickon already had a good holding here and a future wife of the Riverlands not to mention the support of his northern family. He was of Tully blood and although the name would die, the bloodline would carry on.
He just wished he could be there to see what the boy's expression would be when he found out Brynden thought with a smirk.
- x -
Meera meanwhile was looking over whatever details of the situation in the Riverlands and further south that they had in the main hall, most nobles and knights had returned to their tents or rooms if they had them. Shireen and Arya were sharing a room much to her sister's annoyance but she accepted it. Meera smirked a little and fed her direwolves some cooked meat before she saw a figure in the corner of the room drinking some wine.
He was an older man, very stern and hard looking but as she looked at him, she saw a green sheen appear then disappear. She blinked and concentrated thinking she must have imagined it but as she did it like she was looking at someone with a half-painted glass mask, she could see another face beneath it and as she managed to see the face behind the mask and grimaced before an angry scowl appeared.
"What are you doing here?" She asked him coldly and her hand going for her spear, he looked at her confused before saying in an attempt to placate her.
"Lady Stark, I am Master Lom Kilburn and I was just taking a moment to myself after helping your great uncle reclaim the Riverlands. Have I done something to offend you?" He asked putting his hands up.
Meera wasn't in the mood for his lies and her wolves now had their hackles up and growling at him too.
"I think we can dispense with the illusion and lies this time…Loki." She said with narrowed eyes, having hoped to never see that bastard again.
He seemed surprised but then grinned before a green shimmer appeared and he returned to his natural younger appearance.
"You can see through my illusions, impressive. Clearly your powers have grown since we last met and those of the spear." Loki said with a smug smirk that made her want to punch him.
"Flattery doesn't suit you Loki, you forced me and others to fight against the White Walkers to save the lives of those we loved last time we met. And now here you are helping the Baratheons, we both know that you only do things that benefit you in the long run so what are you really after this time?" Meera asked him sternly. He frowned mockingly at her before saying.
"You must really try to get more fun in your life my dear Meera. But I will admit one thing honestly because you saw through my disguise." Loki said with a wide smirk before leaning forward and telling her in a whisper that only they could hear. "I want to put you on the Iron Throne but for my own reasons. I want you as visible as possible." He said winking at her. "The Wolf's Pack will obey your orders, I made sure of that. Give them hell."
Before she could say anything, he then vanished in a blast of green light, Meera looked around and saw he had disappeared this time. Her discomfort grew as she realised that if Loki was telling the truth and she had considerable doubt of that, then why would he want her on the Iron Throne? What could he possibly gain from it? She hated him and he knew that, he couldn't fool her with his illusions anymore so what did he gain from it? Did he want her dead and the country in civil war? No, she reasoned with a shake of her head, he could do that in much easier ways. He had pushed Shireen towards her when he could have made her queen but instead, he had sent her to the North and made them allies…why? She thought with confusion.
Meera looked at her spear and wondered, was it because she could wield Gungnir? Was that it? The only weapon that could really kill the wisps.
She stood there, not sure just what to think when Lorra came in and saw her distracted.
"What's wrong? Has something happened up north?" Lorra asked her with concern something else might have happened to their family but Meera shook her head and told her confused.
"Loki was here! He's the one who directed Shireen Baratheon to us and says he wants to put me on the Iron Throne. But he won't say why?" Meera told her deeply worried and now starting to think of how they could put someone else on the throne instead, to stop whatever he might be planning.
Lorra looked shocked at the idea that the horrible man that had cursed her and her brother among others and nearly gotten them all killed against the walkers. She like her niece had hoped they'd seen the last of him but like her niece she was most confused at why Loki would want to put her on the Iron Throne? If he wanted to rule, why not put himself? Or a puppet that was easier to control?
Lorra honestly felt no-one was more suited to the Iron Throne than Meera, she was smart, strong, cunning but had honour and integrity. She would make a fine ruler but if Loki wanted her there then there had to be a benefit to him.
"Look." Lorra said trying to reassure her niece, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I can't say what he wants because I am in the dark as much as you on this but I do know that none of the people here could handle being on the Iron Throne as well as you. Whatever he wants we will deal with when it comes, we can't worry about the future. The only real power we have is in the here and now, taking each decision, each step one at a time." Lorra said to her and Meera nodded, feeling unsettled but more grounded than she had before.
"There has never been a ruling queen of Westeros, not once and the only time it was tried was with Rhaenyra Targaryen and that was a disaster. There is no way they would ever make me queen." Meera said with fear that it would tear Westeros even more apart than it was already. Lorra nodded, knowing enough history to have heard of the Dance of the Dragons but told her niece.
"It's you or Shireen Baratheon, the girl isn't as strong as you and she doesn't want it any more than you do. You have the support to try and the will to do it. Who else could try for it? Who knows if they might be worse than the last one?" Lorra said with the very real possibility that some monster might get their hands on the Iron Throne by using the chaos of the situation.
Meera realised that too, remembering Baelish and all his plans in particular. He had planned to cause a civil war between Stark and Lannister just to exploit the chaos for his own advancement. There would be many like him she thought and if the Iron Throne was up for grabs there was no line that they wouldn't cross to get it, holding on to it was going to be a far harder battle then getting it in the first place.
"Where is Arya?" Meera asked, hoping to distract herself for a while. Lorra smirked a little before telling her.
"Trying to avoid your mother. Seems she wants to talk to her, to both of you." Lorra said, her smile dimming as she had heard that Catelyn had betrayed Ned and bore a child of that affair. She had never met her older brother but she knew how much it had hurt her other children and she wasn't keen to meet the other woman.
- x -
Arya meanwhile was doing her best to avoid her mother!
The woman was insistent and wouldn't leave her alone, she just wouldn't take the hint and stay away!
But as she ducked into the library to try and avoid a confrontation to keep the peace Catelyn found her, how did she do that? Arya thought with dismay, she had never managed to hide from her mother…she would always find her.
"Arya." Catelyn said with a smile as she looked at her wayward daughter, at least they had washed that awful paint off their faces she thought with relief, now able to see their faces properly. Arya was still shorter than some other girls her age but had definitely grown up. The leather outfit she was wearing showing she had a petite if slim figure that was definitely female. She wished she could dress properly but she was Arya, Catelyn thought sadly. She couldn't be made to do anything she didn't want to and she didn't have the authority to try and make her…not anymore, she thought with a sad sigh. She settled with trying to start a conversation with her roughest daughter.
"It is so good to see again Arya." Catelyn said with a warm smile, so eager to hug her daughter but Arya wasn't going to accept that, eventually she hoped but not yet.
Arya just scowled at her which broke her heart but knew she had to expect that given their history, she wanted to say more but Arya told her.
"I have nothing to say to you."
The way it was delivered was very bitter and full of derision, aimed solely at her. Catelyn honestly felt her heart break at the obvious hatred her daughter her for her and had no idea just how to heal the hurt if it was even possible. The fact Nymeria was close by and growling at her didn't help, clearly picking up on her human's great dislike.
"Mama! Can I see the Direwolves? Please mama!" A childish voice said and both of them looked over to see Minisa approaching with her nursemaid in tow. She had the biggest smile on her face and she squealed when she saw Nymeria standing there, the direwolf surprised by the unexpected noise and her hackles rose slightly as Nymeria didn't like surprises. Minisa started walking towards her quickly, almost breaking into a run before a loud and very stern voice called out.
"STOP RIGHT THERE, YOUNG LADY!"
Minisa stopped and looked to see Meera standing there with her own direwolves and a very stern look on her face. Like Arya she had abandoned her war paint for the moment and she was even more beautiful without it, Catelyn thought finding it a shame that she hadn't found anyone to appreciate her.
But her voice thankfully made Minisa stop, she looked at her with confusion as she had no idea just who the woman in front of her was but she spoke with such authority that Minisa obeyed immediately and even the sight of two more direwolves at her side didn't move her. Meera with her arms folded and her face as unmoving as a stone looked down at Minisa and told her.
"Direwolves are not pets!" Meera told her with intensity since it was far too important to be lenient with her on this. "They're wild animals and if they don't know you and we aren't with you then they can hurt you! We bond with them and they listen to us but never think they will do the same for everyone else."
She stood imperiously over Minisa, her arms folded and looking down with hard stare. Minisa was however more interested in who she was and asked her with a bright smile.
"I'm Minisa Tully!" She said brightly before extending her hand to Meera who didn't take it at first, however she did eventually. "What's your name?"
"This is Meera and Arya Stark sweetling. They are your older sisters." Catelyn said with sweat visible as she had hoped that this introduction would have gone better.
"Sisters?" Minisa asked confused before smiling as she worked it out and ran forward and hugged Meera tightly.
Meera stood there and didn't respond as she didn't even know this girl although she did understand she was her half-sister. Minisa was a product of her mother's affair but however much she wanted nothing to do with her, she felt her conscience pricking at her as she had once accepted Jon without hesitation thinking he was her half-brother, it wouldn't be fair to treat Minisa differently Meera thought with some reluctance.
She gently untangled herself from Minisa and knelt down to her level, surprising everyone but Catelyn who held her breath with hope. She dearly wanted Minisa to have a good relationship with her family, her brothers and sisters even if her own never recovered from what had happened. Minisa looked her oldest sister in the eyes and smiled again.
"You are the best!" Minisa said, in awe of her and hugged her again which Meera did awkwardly hug her back. It had been years since she had a sibling this young and she honestly wasn't sure just what to do with the little girl.
Arya was confused at why Meera was being so nice to the child of an affair but reluctantly came over and stood next to Minisa who hugged her too which Arya wasn't too keen on but decided to accept it.
"Now, bear in mind Minisa." Meera said trying to make sure the girl understood just where they stood. "We might all share a mother, but it is hard for us to be around her. When you get older you will understand why." Meera told her and Minisa nodded, not understanding just why her older sisters or her older brothers too didn't like being around their mother but smiled and contented herself instead with carefully under Arya's supervision petting Romulus and Rema while Catelyn stood back and looked over to Meera who leant against the wall near her.
Meera turned to look her in the eye and they stared at each other, with all the tension of years of anger between them. Catelyn wanted to speak but Meera beat her to it.
"I will be a sister to her, she is innocent in this and if I accepted Jon as a brother then I will accept her too. Unlike you." She said coldly, which made Catelyn almost cry. "I have been without a real mother since I was six years old, I am not interested in having one now."
Catelyn was deeply saddened by that; she honestly hadn't really been much of a mother to Meera since she was a young child and it wasn't surprising that now as an adult, she wanted nothing to do with her. Maybe she might change her mind but Catelyn knew how stubborn her eldest daughter was, she was just glad that she seemed to want to accept Minisa. Her youngest daughter seeming to love her older sisters already by the smiles she had, Catelyn just hoped that this was the beginning of a good relationship for her daughters.
- x -
The Twins, the Riverlands…
A raven had just arrived from Riverrun to inform them of Lord Tully's choice of heir.
Rickon sat in his chair in a state of shock, not able to understand or accept that he who had only managed to get his head around being the Lord of the Twins which he wouldn't be for a couple of years yet till he came of age. But now he was faced with not just becoming a lord to a major house with a large pair of castles and a couple of small holdfasts to his name, but instead two major castles and the whole of the Riverlands!
Lord Blackwood had written to them and was they could clearly tell extremely happy about Bethany one day becoming Lady of the Riverlands and having the Twins and Riverrun to rule over. Rickon himself was scared at the idea especially when he considered the age of his great uncle. Without being cruel Lord Brynden wasn't a young man anymore and it might not be too long before he had to assume those responsibilities!
His confused and troubled expression was clearly noticed by Bethany and Jeor both of whom stared at him until he admitted what it was that was bothering him, the pressure and weight of becoming not only a major lord but a great lord too. Bethany smiled gently and walked over to him and took his hand in her soft one, the contact made him blush but she told him.
"You are going to be a brilliant lord." She said to him gently with her gripping his hand. "It's a lot of weight but they wouldn't give you the seat of your mother's family unless they thought you could handle it." She told him to reassure him, her warm smile making his stomach flutter.
"Anything you need to know, you either already know or can learn lad. You will be fine and don't think your great uncle's going to fucking die just yet. Maester Aemon is over a hundred, I think Brynden has a few years left in him yet." Jeor told him gruffly.
Rickon nodded, seeing how foolish he was being and smiled again before going to look at the river which he found calmed him with Bethany holding his hand as they went together, Jeor watched them with a shake of his head, finding the scene sickeningly sweet but glad that the boy had found a girl he could genuinely love.
The Red Keep, Kings Landing…
The sudden departure of the Tyrells had almost been expected given the situation, they had lost a good chunk of their army and now were facing an invasion of their homeland. It would be strange if they hadn't left especially as they were now no longer of any use to Tywin Lannister, he wasn't known to tolerate those that weren't useful to him.
But this put Tywin in a very dangerous position, even diminished the Reach Army was a vital part of his plan to defend the city and fight the Northern forces not to mention keep the Stormlands in order. Now without them he had only thirty thousand men to defend the Westerlands, defend Kings Landing, fight the Northern forces and keep the Stormlands under control.
It was nowhere near enough, he thought with a deep and dark mood settling in on him. His legacy, his dynasty was on the edge of collapse and he was too stretched to keep it together he thought, if Cersei had been within reach at that moment or Olenna Tyrell or both he would have killed them with his own bare hands! He thought with rage.
He knew that he could never keep everything in check at least right now, something would have to be sacrificed he thought with anger and that would be the Stormlands he decided with gritted teeth. He could have those men defend the city while he returned to the Westerlands to rise fresh levies to fight the Northern forces. He would have sent Kevan or even Stafford once to do something like that but both were now dead and he had no one other than Tyrion or Jaime, so he would have to go himself to raise fresh men to fight with.
He saw the door open and Jaime walked in accompanied by the Hound and between them Tommen looking more like a child than ever compared to the Hound especially. But there was something Tywin approved of, the two strongest and most loyal Kingsguard where now never far from Tommen's side and made sure he was protected.
"Lord Grandfather." Tommen said with a nervous look in his eyes as he was scared of him which did annoy Tywin slightly but it was good to make sure he could keep Tommen under control in a way that no one could have controlled Joffrey.
"Your Grace, now that the Tyrells have deserted us, we will need new soldiers to face the Northern armies so I will return to the Westerlands when our men arrive from the Stormlands to reinforce the city to raise fresh men." Tywin told them, Jaime nodded having expected something like this given the situation while the Hound just looked on impassively. Tommen however looked worried, even scared.
"You're leaving?!" Tommen exclaimed with fear and a trembling body. Tywin frowned as Tommen clearly was little more than a child even though his body had grown somewhat, Tywin knew that fortunately Tommen wasn't the sort to start a riot in his absence although he would wait for the soldiers to arrive just to be sure. The foolish Small Council and Tyrion should be able to keep things in order till he managed to return.
"Yes, if I am to fight this war, I will need more men and without the Reach I must return to the Westerlands to get them. The soldiers from the Stormlands will protect the city till I return, until then you will have your councillors and uncles to help you." Tywin said in a strange way trying to reassure his young grandson who had never had a strong male role model in his entire life.
Tommen nodded, accepting his words and trying to look at least determined which he struggled to do but it was at least a start Tywin thought with dismay.
He had no idea that the Hound was being far from impassive and listened to every word he said before going straight to the theatre where Tyrion was working on his next play.
- x -
Dragon Pit Theatre, Kings Landing…
Tyrion was deep into his next production, a play about a haunted king who was tormented by the people he had killed across his life when the Hound had entered looking at him with a strong smirk.
"I take it I am being summoned to court." Tyrion said with a sigh at having to abandon his work when he was in mid flow but the Hound told him with a satisfied look.
"The Old Lion is returning to the Westerlands to raise fresh men when the soldiers from the Stormlands return." The Hound told him.
Tyrion nearly dropped the quill he was holding as he realised the opportunity this presented him with, the chance he had been dreaming of he thought as a devilish smile came on his face and he took a drink of his wine.
"Do we have any idea of his route?" Tyrion asked and the Hound replied a common road that was the fastest route to the Westerlands and Casterly Rock which was unsurprising and Tyrion honestly couldn't believe this stroke of luck although he was still reminded by his own cynicism to keep his guard up in case this was some kind of trap.
"Thank you for your co-operation, Sandor Clegane. I will see to it you are rewarded." Tyrion said while he quickly started writing a message to send on his fastest raven to his friend in Riverrun. This was too much of an opportunity to pass up he thought with determination to make the most of it. Bronn came in with some gold for Sandor and Tyrion offered him a bag of his own which surprised the man but Tyrion was for once in a hopeful mood.
Neither Talla or her mother had ever been to Dorne before, there had never been either the inclination or opportunity given their positions and neither of them had the interest to change that.
The heat of the desert was intense and extremely uncomfortable for them both, forced to wear very light clothing and head wrappings to protect them from the sun and sand.
Arriving in Sunspear after the journey was both a blessing and a terrifying experience for Melessa and Talla, it would have been fascinating to see such a different culture than their own but given they had been brought here as hostages and prisoners of war made the experience very difficult for them.
The sight of the Sandship filled them with dread as they had no idea just what was waiting for them in there, their nerves made worse by the revealing Dornish style dresses they had been forced to wear which left their bodies much more exposed.
The Water Gardens though as they were led inside were a surprisingly cool space which was a relief to them, the number of guards did not however diminish which kept them scared and worried for their future. Prince Doran in his wheeled chair sat there with a young man about Talla's age at his side and another older boy both of which clearly his sons by their similar face and eyes.
"Lady Tarly, Lady Tarly. I am Prince Doran Martell. Welcome to my home." Prince Doran said politely and introduced his two sons. "Prince Quentyn and Prince Trystane."
"Charmed, I'm sure." Melessa said bitterly, trying to be strong for her daughter who was very scared by all this.
"I appreciate you must be afraid but do not be as you will come to no harm under my roof, sadly I must inform you though that your husband has fallen in battle." Prince Doran said gravely, losing his smile.
That shocked both Melessa and Talla, Randyll was invincible, he had beaten Robert Baratheon on the battlefield…the only man to ever do so. He couldn't just die on the battlefield!
"I don't believe you." Melessa said immediately with an edge of fear as what that might mean for her and her daughter if it was true.
"Regretfully it is true." Prince Quentyn said with a calm voice. "He underestimated Meera Stark because she was a woman and allowed himself to be lured into a trap where he and a good number of men were killed or taken prisoner."
"Father?!" Talla said with a mournful groan as while Randyll had been at best a neglectful father towards her, he was just that, her father and their world. Without him things took on a terrifying new reality that scared her no end.
"Yes, and with several keeps and considerable land in our possession including Brightwater Keep since the rest of the Florent's holding Storm's End." Doran said hinting at Melessa's own family lands much to her dismay. "I would like to place them in the keeping of my youngest son Trystane." Doran told her calmly, like they were discussing the weather before truly surprising her with what he said next. "But as Horn Hill is a Tarly seat and Brightwater is a Florent seat, I intend to tie my son to your daughter, allowing her to become its lady and have both Brightwater Keep and Horn Hill stay within the family." Doran told her like he was giving her his favour.
Melessa was genuinely shocked into silence by the idea, so was Talla. The idea of her daughter being forced to marry a complete stranger and at sword point or rather spear point angered her and she yelled at Doran.
"Over my dead body!"
There was silence as the words hung in the air and Doran was more amused than annoyed by her statement, telling her with a small grin.
"I don't think that will be necessary, Trystane…please take your future bride for a walk around the gardens while I discuss things with her mother." Doran said turning to his youngest son who looked very nervous all of a sudden before slowly getting up and extending his arm to Talla who took it reluctantly and allowed herself to be led away while Melessa shouted to her.
"It will be alright sweetling." She said to reassure her and once the two young people were out of sight, she told Doran with a fierce look in her eyes. "I won't allow my daughter to be used as a pawn in your games."
Doran looked unconcerned by her threat which only annoyed her more, he sat back in his chair and told her with a smirk.
"It seems you have few other options on the table, I expect your daughter's previous betrothed or other options will be dead soon enough, House Fossoway has lands targeted by my brother so he will no doubt free her of that marriage option. Trystane is a handsome young man and a true romantic at heart and dreams of a loving marriage and will treat your daughter like the princess she will become when she marries into the family. In addition to that when she becomes a Martell you will both be a part of our family and will be provided for and protected. The Tyrells are not likely to be ruling the Reach much longer nor will the Lannisters be ruling much of anything. It would the best thing for both of you in the long run." Doran told her calmly which unnerved Melessa but she knew it might as well be true since many houses in the Reach were angry at the Tyrells and they had never been weaker in every way than they were right now.
Having Dorne's protection would be very useful in ensuring their wellbeing for the immediate future, she hated her daughter being forced into marriage but that had been exactly what Randyll had done when he had set her up with Symun Fossoway, a man old enough to be her father! She hated it all but what other choice did they have Melessa thought with depression, knowing there was none.
- x -
Talla was really nervous as Trystane led her through the admittedly beautiful gardens, she would have loved to explore them at any other time but she was so scared for herself and her mother that she just couldn't relax.
"Here, for you." Trystane said as he pulled a pair of roses out of the bushes for her; one pink and one white. Talla blushed as she knew their meaning and she got the feeling that Trystane did too as he reached specifically for them rather than other roses of different colours that were nearer.
A white rose meaning he thought she was pure, dignified and new beginnings. While a pink rose meant he thought she was elegant with sweetness and grace and he admired her, maybe even revered her. Talla couldn't help the colour in her cheeks that was nothing to do with the heat, she had to remind her that she was a prisoner for a moment because Trystane looked so much like a nervous suitor. He was far more handsome than the others that she had known so far too which added to her confusion.
"Thank you…Prince Martell. They are lovely." Talla said as she sniffed their sweet smell but Trystane told her with a worried look on his face.
"Trystane, please call me by my name. I want to make the most of this situation and build a good marriage with you." Trystane told her and Talla couldn't help but laugh which seemed to pain him for a moment before she joked.
"You've only been courting me a few moments, now you're talking about marriage. Let's finish our walk and get to know each other a bit better." Talla said as she took a tighter hold of his arm, her feelings of fear and uncertainty eased by Trystane being so honest with her. Trystane seemed relieved and they could their walk, making at least some start on getting to know each other.
Riverrun, the Riverlands…
Robert Arryn was looking out from the battlements of Riverrun at the enormous camp that surrounded the castle, it was incredible and seemed to get bigger every time he saw it as more men arrived.
"I take it this is your first camp." A female voice said to him, making him jump as he had not heard her approach. He saw to his own fear that it was Meera Stark, his eldest cousin and even though she wasn't wearing her war paint she still scared him. She had an intense presence about her that was impossible to ignore and her eyes were hard, not to be messed with. He was compelled to answer even if he wanted to run inside and back to Lord Royce.
"Yes, I…I…I've never seen a military camp before." Robert said to her and she smiled gently at him which surprised him as he had heard so much about her being a harsh and cruel person, more a wildling than a lady but she spoke with a refinement that honestly, he had been told she wasn't capable of.
"You are a young lord, one elevated to the position much sooner than you should have been by circumstance. It is to be expected that such things are overwhelming but as you learn more and experience more it will trouble you less. I have spent the last few years of my life in such camps and believe me it is like second nature at this point." She told him to reassure him which again surprised Robert who asked her without thinking.
"People call you a witch and a monster. Why is that?"
Her eyes immediately hardened as she didn't like that at all but restrained herself before answering his question.
"Because I am different, I don't stay home and watch over castles for men while they go off and fight. I do the fighting and I am better than most of them at many things. It scares them and reveals how prejudiced their views are. What of you? What kind of lord do you want to be?" She asked him trying to change the subject.
"I will be a knight! Like my father." Robert proclaimed proudly while Meera just raised an eyebrow before asking him with a pressing look in her eyes.
"Is that what you want? Or what is expected of you?" She asked him leaving her young cousin confused.
"But Lord Royce said." Robert started saying before Meera asked him plainly.
"Lord Royce is a warrior and a traditionalist, it's his nature. What is it you like doing?" Meera asked him.
Robert went silent, not sure what to say before admitting something to her.
"I like reading stories…and painting…I really like painting." He said sounding almost embarrassed about it but Meera smiled again and told him.
"There is nothing wrong with that." Meera told him with a kind look in her eyes. "My little sister Arya likes breeding and training horses even if people have told her that it's not what a lady should do but it is what she loves and I for one hope she keeps at it. If you have to wield a sword then do it but don't forget to find things that you love too. Be the lord you want to be, I am sure your father and your mother would want that for you." Meera added hoping in her own case that her father would be proud of her even after everything that had happened.
Robert was a little confused but felt a lot better that someone was encouraging him to do the things he wanted especially when he had been pushed in just one direction. He barely had much memory of his father and his mother had been…strange. He knew now she had been wrong in the head and many wondered if he was wrong in the head too so maybe that was why they pushed him to be a warrior. He would have to lead the Vale in any future wars he knew that to his own fear but that didn't mean he had to be miserable, he should do things he liked too Robert resolved to himself smiling and liking his cousin a lot more now as he realised that she was nice.
"My lady, my lord." A servant said as he came running up the stairs after them, they turned to see him panting before he managed to say. "A small party from Dorne has arrived, they are led by Princess Arianne Martell herself!"
Meera sighed as she wondered if it were possible for them to have just one quiet day? Was that so much to ask? She thought to herself before saying to Robert who blinked at the idea of meeting a real princess.
"The work of a noble is never done, so best not keep the princess waiting." She told him and he nodded, walking at her side as they made their way down to the main hall. There she was greeted by the sight of Lord Brynden Tully, Catelyn, Lord Royce, Varys and Arya standing there with Shireen to meet Arianne and they joined them with a nod before a servant showed the Martell party in.
Dornish guards in yellow fabrics with symbols of the sun with a spear through it teamed with head turbans and actual spears in hand appeared first, followed closely by three others, one old man and two women slightly older than Meera.
Two of them Meera and Arya recognised immediately, Rhaenys and Ser Barristan Selmy and despite it being years since they had seen each other they hadn't changed much. That left the other woman who was obviously Princess Arianne, wearing an orange silk dress that revealed her very obvious figure and gold jewellery. She had smirk on her face that reminded Meera of the Princess's uncle Oberyn which annoyed her straight away but she held her tongue rather than make more enemies than they already had right now.
"Princess Martell, welcome to Riverrun. Your arrival is most unexpected." Brynden Tully said politely but was guarded as with the Martells you never knew just whether they were here to cause trouble or not. The Princess smirked before replying.
"Lord Tully, I am honoured to meet you. A dignified and handsome man such as you are a very hard to find." Arianne said with a flirtatious look in her eyes, the reputation of the Dornish clinging to her and she doing nothing to deny it. Robert the boy was completely in awe of the admittedly beautiful Arianne and Rhaenys behind her who was equal to her in terms of physical beauty, the other men thankfully were able to control themselves and Meera cut to the chase and asked them what they needed to know.
"I am sure, now what are you doing here? Far from your own lands and the Reach where I am led to believe you have made significant territorial gains." Meera said, speaking of Varys who had informed her of the situation the moment he had heard of it. The fact that the Dornish had taken advantage of the weakened state of the Reach didn't shock her, they were hungry for glory after sitting out the last two wars and would want to prove themselves at the very least.
"That is simple." Arianne said with a smirk that honestly was extremely irritating. "We want the Lannisters dead, we can make the occasional exception like the girl you wed your half-brother too of course but Tywin Lannister, along with his pet monster…well I think I made our feelings clear."
"Quite clear." Merra said with a raised eyebrow, still after all these years after revenge for Elia Martell and her son. Rhaenys over her should looked as passionate about it but frowned a little as if worried, like Meera was about how far they might go to achieve this. "And in exchange for dealing with the Tyrells for us, no doubt you want us to either kill them for you or more likely deliver them into your hands."
"I see my brother was no exaggerating your intelligence, we'd prefer them alive so they can face…Dornish justice." Arianne said with an expectant look in her eyes.
It solved the issue of dealing with the Tyrells later Meera thought with annoyance that she was being pushed but they had a mutual enemy and what did it really matter who killed him? She asked herself, but knew some of her nobles would want to be involved given what the Lannisters had taken from them so she added a condition of her own.
"Some Northern, Shireen and possible Riverlands nobles may want to be involved in whatever fate you have in mind for them. They lost family too." Meera told them and Arianne frowned but Rhaenys interjected.
"They would be welcome, justice in regards to them is way overdue." Rhaenys said eager to get this matter settled, no one wanted the Lannisters to pay more than she did and if it took giving some concessions to the North then she could live with that. Arianne looked annoyed but Rhaenys ignored her and asked Meera. "Can we talk in private?"
Meera blinked before sighing and nodding much to their surprise and without another word the two walked off leaving everyone staring after them especially Ser Barristan who looked like he was going to have a heart attack.
They reached a private room and closed the door; Meera turned to her and folded her arms before asking her, knowing they could speak plainly with each other in here with no-one to overhear them.
"Do you want the throne? I've got people telling me to take it but if you want it, I'll back you." Meera said plainly as to be honest she would rather anything that take the throne for herself and Rhaenys had the better claim but Rhaenys to her dismay laughed and told her.
"I have no interest in the throne at all. I have no skill at governance and exercising power, you on the other hand do. I and my family would back you." Rhaenys said simply before asking a question. "Did you find yourself someone yet?"
Meera raised an eyebrow at the question before telling her.
"When could I ever have had the time?" She asked her plainly given all the things that had gone on the last few years. Rhaenys sighed before saying.
"You deserve some happiness. Find it where you can." She said and with a suggestive look in her eyes.
Meera was a little flustered at the attention and wondered if Rhaenys was just playing with her, to be honest she had hardly even considered just what actually she wanted. She had been male in her first life with a girlfriend while female in her second without the time to consider if she liked men or women.
However, before she could go down that particular road there was an urgent knocking on the door which was unwelcome but as Varys came in, he handed her a message quickly. Neither spoke as she took it with a sigh before reading it and her eyes widened as she realised just what it meant and the opportunity that dropped in their laps.
"Have you confirmed this?" She asked wondering if it might be a trap and Varys nodded.
"As best I could, Tywin Lannister and his personal guard will be crossing the Crownlands and into the Westerlands soon. He won't have his army with him." Varys told her knowing like her this was too big of an opportunity to pass up and thanked his friend in Kings Landing for letting him know ahead of time.
"He is?!" Rhaenys asked now eager herself at the chance to catch him exposed, Varys had given up on getting her to take the throne but was still eager to keep her safe. He wasn't keen for her to go but Meera frowned as she considered the situation.
"There is no way even with the Northern Army at Harrenhal I can move fast enough to take advantage of this." Meera thought before thinking and coming up with a solution if a bit of a risky one. "If I took the Northern Rangers and maybe some lighter cavalry, we can do it perhaps but that relies on this information being accurate." She said to Varys with an edge of threat which made him fully aware of what she would do to him if it wasn't but he wasn't concerned. He had the utmost faith in his network and in Tyrion.
"I understand your fears but yes, I am sure. Will you take advantage of this though?" Varys asked her and Meera stared at both him and Rhaenys before saying.
"Ready some horses, there is little time." Meera said, knowing they had little time to waste and only horses would be usable this time.
The Goldroad, the Crownlands…Two Days Later…
Tywin Lannister due to his need to be undetected and to not leave Kings Landing vulnerable had been forced to travel with only a hundred knights at his side not to mention the Mountain and his men of course. He was counting on the speed they gained from all being mounted on horses to get them safely to their destination both quickly and safely.
He had no idea that Tyrion had leaked his plans and more importantly his route to Varys or even that Varys was with the Starks now. Something that Tyrion had intentionally held back.
Passing by the hills on the border of the Crownlands and the Westerlands Tywin did not allow himself to relax, he might be close to friendly territory but until he was back inside Casterly Rock he would not relax Tywin thought to himself with cold logic.
The rumble of hooves was the first sign something was wrong, it was coming fast but because of the hills it was hard to pin down exactly just where it was coming from. Tywin wasn't sure just which direction the sound was coming from so he was momentarily confused and not sure which direction to run in.
As it turned out going either forward or back was impossible as the enemy had split itself into two forces, one which had set out from Harrenhal the moment they had received the message so they could get ahead of Tywin and lay in wait while the other half had set out as soon as Meera had returned to Harrenhal to close in from behind. Since speed was essential for this Meera had only used her cavalry in this ambush, while some light cavalry and armoured knights had come from the Riverlands and the Vale to join her if they could keep up with them, the real lynch pin of the attack was the Northern Rangers, wearing their light armour and riding fast horses. They had managed to cross the long distance in time for this attack and three hundred of them now pressed against the Lannister force from two directions.
They fired the bows the moment they were in range and Tywin looked at them with anger as he realised that there was only one way that they could have known the exact route he was taking from Kings Landing.
Tyrion had leaked it to them, in the blink of an eye he started to realise just how much Tyrion had been planning for this and all the small details of his youngest son's planning and intelligence that he had long missed or denied.
How ironic, he thought with anger that the son he had hated and derided for years was in fact the only one that was most like him. He had played the game well Tywin realised to his own dismay and outmanoeuvred him.
The horse archers were so fast and agile they seemed to be everywhere at once and they didn't aim at the rider all the time, they aimed at the horses and the panicked animals would throw their riders injuring them considerably before finishing them off with another arrow. Tywin regreted not having a unit so effective, the war against Stannis would have been a great deal easier with men like them at his command he thought as he gritted his teeth and called out.
"Take the fight to them." He called out but his men found that harder than he had imagined, his men wore heavy armour and had horses who could carry that heavy load, which meant they were not as fast as their enemy.
The horse archers stayed just out of reach while swarming them from all angles, Tywin realised he was surrounded and outnumbered which made running an unlikely option. Just as he was about to do it though and leave his men to their fate he was thrown from the horse to the ground as an arrow hit it.
He was winded and in considerable pain as he struggled to move, one of his men dismounted and helped him in time to see the Mountain who had already been thrown from his own steed and had been hit by several arrows already while more were added to the total all the time but he still kept trying to get close to them given his immense strength.
Tywin was about to go for one of the horses that were still around when a single figure appeared from the others, it was a woman he noted but her face was coloured in grey and white with dark brown hair in braids around her head. The large golden spear and two direwolves at her flanks gave away her identity and he was surprised that Meera Stark would lead an ambush like this herself but it was effective he thought and wondered if he could capture her then use her a hostage against her own men to escape.
But then she pulled a small glass bottle off her belt and threw it at the Mountain, it seemed to explode the moment it broke and release a thick pale smoke that was right in Gregor's face. He started coughing harshly and then much to Tywin's surprise seemed to fall over in a dead faint!
What was that smoke? He thought, wishing he had something like it but Meera Stark had been looking for him too and threw a second bottle at him, landing at his feet it broke open, releasing the same smoke in his face. Tywin the moment it came in his direction tried not to breathe it in but he couldn't hold his breath long enough and the moment he breathed it in he felt his head become extremely heavy and his lungs felt like they were burning for a moment before falling unconscious.
- x -
Harrenhal, the Riverlands…Three Days Later…
When he woke up, slowing with his head hurting, he felt himself in chains and with a gag in his mouth not to mention he was resting on a sled of some kind being pulled by horses.
Tywin struggled to look around but saw none of his men were with them, he presumed they were either dead or had fled to save their own lives at the expense of his. He was infuriated by that but it angered him more that he had been captured!
He did manage to see a sled where the Mountain had been chained and gagged too, his chains much heavier than Tywin's own and was struggling but there was no hope of freeing himself.
But Tywin then became aware of jeering cheers all around them, he looked up and managed to get a look around them and saw the ruined castle Harrenhal in the distance and all around them were Northern, Riverlands, Vale and other soldiers screaming in triumph at the sight of him and the Mountain in chains. It galled him to be put so much on display but he was powerless to say or do anything in this position.
Finally, the sled stopped as they went through the gatehouse and into the large courtyard of Harrenhal, he heard voices but did not recognise any of them or hear clearly what they were saying but he was soon dragged out of the sled and found himself fact to face with a lot of angry people.
He knew some of them from places he had seen them in the past; Lord Karstark, Lady Umber, Lord Umber, Brynden Tully, Catelyn Tully, Loras Tyrell, Varys which did surprise him a little but also a Dornish party led by non-other than Princess Arianne Martell herself. She was accompanied by a woman warrior who looked just like her except for having purple eyes which caught his attention but since she was just a guard, he didn't pay her any mind.
Standing centre stage though was Meera Stark herself, accompanied by a girl who was younger but had a similar look who he presumed to be Arya Stark her younger sister. Gagged he couldn't say anything but glared at them as they spoke.
"Tywin Lannister and his creature, alive as promised. Has an agreement been made in regards to what happens now?" Meera Stark asked them which made him worried as clearly this meant an alliance did exist between them or would from this deal.
"It has." Princess Arianne said with a smirk that promised a great deal of pain when she looked at Tywin, he marshalled his emotions but couldn't say anything with the gag in his mouth. "Lady Umber and Lord Karstark will be going with us to Dorne while Lord Umber will stay here with you and Lord Ryswell."
"Just promise us that he won't escape and that he will suffer till his last breath." Shireen asked her and Arianne smiled more warmly, liking the little lady who had so much strength and was very wise for her age.
"I can certainly do that Lady Shireen. It has also been agreed in your absence that we will all support your claim to the throne." Arianne said turning to Meera for the last part which made her frown and Tywin was astonished at what they were planning, he had expected them to put on of Meera's brothers or nephew on the throne, or perhaps one of Robert's bastards like the boy at Arya Stark's side or anyone else but he had never considered the possibility that Meera Stark would take the throne herself!
Arya Stark then told her older sister.
"You should take it, after all the shit the last few have put us through, having someone on the throne we can trust would be good for everyone." Arya told her earnestly.
"Arya! Language!" Catelyn Tully told her daughter who gave her a glare before telling her something as if to spite her.
"I am no lady! I will be learning from Master Varys to become a spymaster, Lady Catelyn." She said almost spitting out the name like a curse which visibly pained the older woman. Varys watched seemingly amused by her declaration but also intrigued by the idea.
Meera Stark meanwhile was considering her sister's words which she gave great weight too, staying silent before finally giving them her answer.
"For the sake of the kingdoms and all of yours." Meera said as she looked between them except Tywin of course before saying with an almost solemn voice like it was a burden and not a great gift. "I will take the throne and rule as queen. I will tear House Lannister apart and everything they have built; I will bring peace back to this country in any way I can. This is my vow to all of you."
The silence following that was short but they all started smiling and Lord Umber told her with a smile.
"You are your father's daughter, dutiful, honourable, loyal. If he could see you now, he would be so proud." Lord Umber said earnestly which made Arya smile and Catelyn too while Meera did not allow herself to smile, only nod in acceptance of the compliment as much as it meant to her.
Tywin honestly was shocked and realised that despite his own rather bleak future that he might have lost everything, his own family stood on the brink of being wiped out and there was no longer anything he could do about it. For all his power and reputation, he had been destroyed largely by his own ego and lapses in judgement much like his father and like Aerys he had become blind to the threats that were around him until it was too late.
He could only hope that something of his family would survive this Tywin thought grimly as he considered just what his remaining days were going to look like.
Highgarden, the Reach…
Although there was a Dornish Army laying siege to Oldtown it was merely a ruse, they traded with Oldtown and had no grudge against House Hightower. No real reason to go after them, no Oberyn was merely using it as a distraction as he had set his sights on a much more valuable prize…Highgarden itself.
The castle was large, rivalled only by the Red Keep and Winterfell but it was like many other Reach castles undermanned not to mention the troops that had been left behind were younger recruits with little to no experience in combat. Seeing a Dornish army on their doorstep had scared them shitless and made worse that the defences of Highgarden had not been truly tested in centuries so no one really knew just what to do.
Oberyn had a battering ram to take down the gate to allow his men entry, the fools manning it didn't seem to realise there was oil channels for them and his own archers kept those on the walls busy until the gate was forced open.
Between the outer and middle wall was the Briar labyrinth which could have posed a problem except for the fact they had a guide.
Ser Igon Vyrwel, a member of the household guard at Highgarden had a wife at Darkdell their family home who Oberyn had taken prisoner and forced his co-operation, giving them the precise route through the labyrinth so it did not slow them down at all, nor did the middle wall which was smashed through at the gate just like the outer wall.
The last obstacle was the inner wall which he broke open the same way while his men made their way up the stairs inside the walls to secure them so the rest of their army could enter the castle. The servants were terrified and surrendered quickly with the few desperate spots of resistance being snuffed out quickly.
Arriving in the main hall Oberyn smirked as he sipped on the finest Arbor Gold from the cellars they had seized and sat in the chair of the lord, grinning widely as he took in his success. Ellaria came in as soon as it was clear and sat in his lap kissing him passionately, he would enjoy putting the bed of Lord Mace Tyrell to good use, given how fat he was it must be a large one! Oberyn thought to his own amusement, thinking he would get some whores from the local brothel to join them so they could celebrate their success at least while they waited. Maybe some other women if they could be persuaded.
Now all that remained now was to wait for the Tyrells to get home and they were certainly in for a surprise Oberyn thought with dark amusement at the trap he had set for them.
The heat of Dorne was still very draining on Talla and her mother, this was likely to be their home for the foreseeable future so they knew they had best get used to it but it was hard for them both.
Talla had never imagined that her wedding would be like this, out in Dorne with only her mother at her side. She had thought her father would be the one to walk her to her future husband while her brothers watched from the side. Instead, only her mother would be here, she would make the walk at her side.
The only good thing about the situation Talla thought with a slight blush coming to her cheeks was that her husband to be was a far better looking one than the other one had been. Trystane was her age, young and fit, very fit she thought with her stomach fluttering slightly having seen him without a shirt in the yard while he trained with soldiers.
She only wished Sam could be here to walk her to him though, she thought sadly, hating her late father for sending him away even if he was apparently doing well in the North and on track to be the next Maester of Winterfell. Then again, she realised sadly he wouldn't have likely been spared by the Dornish given what their plans had been for her.
"Sweetling, you look beautiful." Her mother Melessa said with a smile and watery eyes at the sight of her daughter in a white embroidered silk dress, albeit a Dornish version which showed far more skin than was decent in her mind. She honestly thought that even Randyll would have cracked a smile at the sight of their daughter on her wedding day, wishing that she had her boys with her too on a day such as this.
"Its time." Talla said realising that her wedding was now due, putting on the Tarly cloak which instantly made her sweat as she and her mother made their way out of the room and to the private sept the Sandship castle had.
The guards around them made them nervous but they kept their nerve and kept on walking, arriving in the sept to see the Septon standing there with Trystane waiting for her. Trystane's older brother Quentyn and their father Prince Doran were already waiting along with Prince Oberyn's bastard daughters, or at least some of them Talla thought with astonishment that the man could have so many.
She walked up to Trystane and stood opposite him, her heart seeming to rumble loudly in her chest as they exchanged vows, feeling almost scared as Trystane took her Tarly cloak from her and put the Martell one on instead. He was so gentlemanly about it though he kissed her gently as if to not push her and she smiled, allowing him to kiss her more deeply.
Melessa stood somewhat reluctantly with Prince Doran and smiled with tears in her eyes at her daughter being wed, she was someone's wife now and more than that she was now a Princess of House Martell with not only her father's lands but Florent lands too in her possession along with some more, making them the greatest land owners in the Reach! She honestly was astonished at all of this but then later that day as they sat down to the small feast that had been prepared to celebrate the wedding a servant came in with three messages for Prince Doran who took them silently and read them before smiling and telling the hall with an almost excited voice.
"My family, my friends! I have just received the best news as if to celebrate this great day for House Martell, firstly my brother Oberyn has successfully taken Highgarden and now lies in wait for the Tyrells to return. But in addition to that my letter to an 'interested party' has returned with an agreement to my terms, meaning as soon as the Tyrells are in our hands, we will have our new ally." Doran told them and the others all looked among themselves even his own sons in confusion as while they all understood the trap that had been set for the Tyrells but they had no idea of just who these 'allies' of Doran's were. However, the Prince of Dorne wasn't finished yet.
"And lastly, the greatest news that I have received in some time…Tywin Lannister and Gregor Clegane have been captured! My daughter Arianne has managed to have them turned over to our custody and they will be brought to Dorne to face justice for what they have done to our family." Doran told them all with a great smile, Trystane and Quentyn not to mention Oberyn's daughters all grinned widely at the news eager to see the man punished for all the crimes he had committed and Elia Martell along with her son being avenged.
Melessa and Talla meanwhile was surprised that the Old Lion had been taken alive and dreaded to think just what the Dornish had in mind for him.
Harrenhal, the Riverlands…
In the Hall of a Hundred Hearths the assembled Northern, Riverlands, Vale, Baratheon Loyalists and Martells watched as the septon of Riverrun stood over Meera Stark as she sat on the throne of Harrenhal.
"May the Warrior grant her courage and protect her in these difficult times. May the Smith grant her strength, that she might bare this heavy burden. And may the Crone, she who knows the fate of all men and women, show her the path she must walk and guide her through the dark places that lie ahead. In the light of the Seven, I name Meera of House Stark. She-Wolf of the North, Lady of the North…Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Defender of the Faith and Lady of the Seven Kingdoms. Long may she reign." The Septon said, not sure if this was right but after Lord Tully had convinced him it was for the best, he placed the thin band of gold made from some golden dragons they had procured around her head. It was hardly an elaborate crown but it would serve until a more delicate and artful one could be made.
It thankfully sat easily on her head as she looked down as the crowd including her sister, her Battle Companions who would now become her Queensguard, her great uncle and mother among others, she was feeling very uneasy and uncomfortable as she sat there, feeling that she was an imposter taking the place of someone else who deserved this more than she did, her mind going to Rhaenys who was there chanting with the crowd.
But isn't that what Aegon the Conqueror had said when he created the Iron Throne, she thought bitterly…that no king or queen she supposed should sit easy. Well, she certainly was Meera thought as she considered the great target this painted on her back.
Thank you for reading, please leave a review and let me know what you thought.
More Review Responses from the last chapter…
Kerchowder - I am working on two major stories at once and have plenty going on in real life. I try to update once a month but when I update can depend on the chapter in question.
WearyCurmudgeon - Hope you liked them. Sextant? I know but I didn't want to do too much at once thank you for the reminder though. Skargosi and those on Skane are dead, the North wasn't going to forgive them this time. A shipyard? Problematic since there are no forests on the islands, all the wood would need to be brought it. Not sure who would want them either. Exploitation beyond the Wall is tricky as that belongs to the Free Folk but they will trade with them. Why didn't Meera know about 'Morrigan' well not everyone is into mythology and there were bound to be holes in the knowledge Hermione had, not to mention doesn't Ireland have its own magic school? I am sure I heard it does. Did I think of putting him with a smaller house? Yes, looked into a few before finally just going with House Stark. I was trying to decrease the number of characters used so it was easier for everyone to keep track of them all. About the Wierwood? Good point but you have to have an idea of when whatever you are looking for happened and where. The healing process might have already begun. Dany and Meera will meet again but maybe not under the circumstances you might think.
Shadow Wolf 15846 - I didn't sacrifice him without regret but it had to be done. Hope you enjoy what comes next.
tpx1 - Thanks!
Lerah99 - I really appreciate you saying that as the support means a great deal to me, it can be a bit hard to keep track of them. Thank you!
Envy220 - I had thought of doing one of those a while ago but didn't due to other commitments, however I am planning a Targaryen story next so we'll see.
Guest - Thanks! I am glad you liked it.
Red555 - I am glad to hear you have been enjoying them. I hope to never disappoint and appreciate the support by those such as yourself.
Reaper1990 - Plenty of them are and will be even more so soon.
Puffgirl1952 - I know! Jon can barely manage one but at least they get on. It would be hell if they didn't. I decided to use Norse mythology in this story as it seemed to fit the best.
Estelle Uzumaki - Thank you! I appreciate the compliment.
emilsky2001 - The Children of the Forest and the Giants are still around but I just didn't really have much for them to do. Happy to hear that you liked this northern story so thank you.
grovepjp - Thanks!
Mark1 - Just the one. Have to start small and she did bring it with her as she has a specific use for it. The North benefits by allying with Dorne in one particular way that you will see in this chapter. The Starks forgave houses in the past when they had a need for them.
Jebest4781 - Thank you! It means a great deal to me! The support you guys give.
NightFury101 - Absolutely!
Next Chapter - Meera's forces press further south while chaos rages in the southern kingdoms. Dorne makes a new alliance that will put the Tyrells in major hot water as they return home to a nasty surprise. Also, time to see what Daenerys has been up too.