Hey everyone, here is an update for Red Steel. I hope you are enjoying the story so far. I know I love writing it so expect more to keep coming. Anyway a couple updates before the actual story. Recently I am starting a new job which will have different hours than my last one so expect large gaps in updates, at least for a time until I can settle in. Also, for those interested AizenTheGoat has an excellent discord server used by both readers and writers to hang out and talk shop or just chat with one another about subjects pertaining to fanfiction or not. The link is here → /Hh68MAKZ

This story has been beta'd by LuckyBastard6969.

Last note, for all you Karin fans that seem to be coming out of the woodwork. I kid, I love her too. I mean great character design but kinda wasted in the series for not interacting with Naruto. That being said, I think you all fail to see that while Naruto does care for Karin, more than close friends as she will make sure he realizes, he is still a teenager that was able to woo the woman of his dreams into his bed. He truly does love Tsunade. That being said, Naruto is an honest person, at least with those he holds dear and rather than trying to hide that he will have a paramour he is upfront with Karin on the matter. A lot of you say that's unrealistic but the fact remains that even now outside of the age of arranged marriages people have mistresses very often, and when someone married for political reasons and not love….even if he cared for the woman it was not rare for him to have a mistress or paramour. To try and deny that is laughable at best.

Alright enough of that on to the story!


Chapter 3

Investigations in the Merchant Quarter


Small Council Chambers

King's Landing

298 AC

Eddard

The small council had been in session for a long while already despite the early hour of the morning. It had frustrated some of the other members initially but they still bent to the Lord Hand's desire for an earlier meeting time. It kept things more in line with his schedule in Winterfell and allowed just that much more time to spend with his household later in the day. Something he found he needed more often than ever with the weight of his new responsibilities, only compounded by the weight of the impending 'Hand's Tourney' or whatever they called the damned thing.

Hopefully spending some time with his daughters later in the afternoon would help ease the headache spurred on by the matter at hand. Not only reminding him of the blasted tourney, he wanted no part in but the state of King's Landing as a whole. The city truly was a cesspit of the worst Westeros had to offer as far as he could tell.

"It's the Hand's Tourney that's the issue milords." The City Watch Commander Janos Slynt said. "It's causing all manner of trouble."

"It's the King's tourney. I assure you that the hand wants nothing to do with it." Ned rebuked for the hundredth time he felt. He despised how the name had stuck for both the nobles and commoners alike.

"Call it what you will, Lord Hand, but knights have been arriving from all over the realm along with their retinues. They aren't the problem of course. However, for every knight, we receive two free riders, three craftsmen, six men at arms, a dozen merchants, two dozen whores, and more thieves than I dare to guess." The commander patted at his brow with his cloves thinking of all the work he had piled before him with these newcomers.

"Between the cursed heat and half the city in a fever to start with, now all these visitors...last night alone there was a drowning, a tavern riot, three knife fights, a rape, two fires, robberies beyond count, and a drunken horse race down the street of the sisters. The night before, a woman's head was found in the Great Sept just floating there, right in the rainbow pool and no one seems to know how it got there or who it belongs to." Ned grimaced as the commander described the situation before him. It sounded like more than what could be expected of the guards to handle, that was fair to say.

"How dreadful." Varys commented on the story regarding the woman's head with a shudder.

Lord Renly, however, was less sympathetic than Ned and Varys. "If you can't keep the peace, perhaps a better commander could."

"Aegon the Dragon couldn't keep the peace, Lord Renly. I need more men." Janos affirmed.

Ned wasted no time trying to work out another answer. He had to agree after all it sounded like the Gold Cloaks could do with some more men. "How many do you need?"

"As many as can be gotten, Lord Hand."

"Fine, hire on fifty more guards. Lord Baelish will find the coin." Ned answered the man who bowed his head at Ned in thanks. Littlefinger however, was surprised at the turn of events.

"I will?"

"Yes. You will. You found Forty Thousand golden dragons for the champion's purse. Surely you can scrounge up a few coppers to keep the king's peace." His words sounded more like a direct order to the shorter man than anything else. Turning back to Slynt he had more directions.

"I'll also give up twenty of my own swords from my household guard to serve with the watch until the crowds have left." Eddard stated.

"My thanks, my lord. I promise to put them to good use around the city." Slynt said before bowing one final time to the members of the council and leaving to carry out his commands from the Hand. Once the commander was gone, Ned sank into his chair at the head of the small council table and sighed heavily.

"The sooner this folly is done with, the better I shall like it." The Stark lord made it abundantly clear that he was angered not only by the expense of the whole thing but also by the simple fact that it continued to be called the Hand's Tourney, as if he were the cause of it! Worse yet, Robert seemed to act as if he should feel honored by such a thing.

"My lord, perhaps it is wrong to disparage the event so much so. The realm prospers from such things." Pycelle began in his stuttering quavery voice. "They do bring the great a chance for glory and the lowly a respite from their woes."

"It also puts coin in many a pocket. Every inn in the city is full and the whores are walking bowlegged and jingling with each step from all those prosperous earnings." Baelish added.

"It's fortunate Stannis is not with us then. Do you all remember the time he proposed to outlaw the brothels? The king asked him if he'd like to outlaw eating, shitting, and drinking too while he was at it." Renly threw in, getting some small chuckles from the other council members, except for Ned of course.

"I do wonder how he ever got that ugly daughter of his. He goes to the marriage bed like a man marching onto a battlefield with a grim look in his eyes and a determination to do his duty." Again, Ned didn't join in with the laughter. Instead he interrupted the crude humor of the other lords by asking Renly a question.

"I wonder about your brother Stannis as well. I wonder when he intends to end his visit to Storm's End and resume his seat on the council." He bluntly stared over to Renly as he spoke but it wasn't the youngest Baratheon brother that answered.

"No doubt as soon as they've scrounged all the whores into the sea." Littlefinger joked, getting a smattering of laughter before Renly actually answered the Lord Hand his question.

"I ran into Stannis' former squire in the capital recently. I believe he intends to participate in the tourney. If you truly want to know information on Stannis then maybe Naruto Uzumaki would know." It was clear to Ned there was a taste of resentment there, though he was unsure precisely what.

Whatever it is, Renly's distaste for the young Uzumaki was obvious. "I must warn you though. He is a crude, crass little lordling and hauls his paramour about with him at all times."

Eddard made note of that information, as well as the fact that Renly clearly had an issue with the boy. He wonders just how much of Renly's complaint against the lad is true. True or not, crude or not, Ned was certain he would need to make a note of meeting with the lordling sometime soon.

After the council adjourned for the day, Ned made his way back to the Tower of the Hand and more specifically his own chambers. Despite the council being finished out for the day, he had plenty more on his plate. At the least, it was tasks he had personally assigned himself, such as looking into his late predecessor's suspicious end. In fact to further that end the first thing he did upon returning to the Hand's apartments was to open up and begin reading the book his predecessor seemed to have focused heavily on just prior to his taking ill.

Even while ruffling through the old book, his mind still ran over the current issues he had to contend with. They occupied such a large expanse in his mind that he retained less of what he had read from the old tome in his hands. Ned became annoyed over the prospect of rereading the passages he browsed, yet another annoyance that could be faulted at the damned tourney.

Building to a slight head of agitation from his stress, when Harwin stepped in as he had been called to do, Ned snapped an order for him to go and tell his father to saddle his horse and to summon Jory to him from the guard's quarters. Harwin hurried off to do just that. The Stark head could see the boy grew antsy at his irritated tone and couldn't fight the sense of guilt that stung him.

Attempting to relax his frayed nerves with a deep sigh and pushing his thoughts to drift home, Ned imagined the comforting warmth of Catelyn's arms, the sound of Robb and Jon crossing swords in the yard, and the cool days and cold nights of the North. Taking yet another breath to further calm himself he began re-reading The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms, With Descriptions of Many High Lords and Noble Ladies and their Children, by Grand Maester Malleon.

He couldn't help but recall Pycelle telling him that it was a ponderous read as he tried to carefully pick down the pages of the aged book. He couldn't help but agree with the Maester's sentiment now. Once more Ned wondered at why it was that Jon Arryn had requested such a book. He was certain the late Hand had his reasons. He was just as certain that there was some hidden truth buried deep in the brittle yellow pages that he had spent hours pouring over. If only he could see what it was.

The question of what it was that he was even looking for remained. It reminded him of picking a needle from a haystack, except it was more along the lines of not even knowing you were looking for a needle in the first place. The tome that took up so much of his time now was over a century old. None still lived that were alive when Malleon even compiled his dusty list of weddings, births, and deaths.

Once more, he opened the book to House Lannister and turned the pages slowly, hoping against hope that something would leap out at him. The Lannisters were an old family, tracing their descent back to Lann the Clever, a trickster from the Age of Heroes who was no doubt as legendary as Bran the Builder from his own House of Stark. However Lann was far more beloved by singers and storytellers. In the songs, Lann was the fellow who winkled the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock with no weapon but his wits, and stole gold from the sun to brighten his curly hair.

Ned almost wished he was here now, if only to winkle the truth out of the damnable book. Just as he sighed for the no doubt hundredth time that morning, Jory's sharp rap against the doorframe brought him back out from his thoughts. After closing the tome, thankful for some sort of distraction, brief as it might be, he bid Jory to fully enter and immediately set to briefing him on his wishes.

He started with telling the captain of his guard about the promise of twenty of his household guards to support Slynt and his city watch during the tourney. He left the actual choices of who it would be up to the captain himself, though he made it clear he wanted Alyn to lead the force.

"Just make sure it's plenty clear to the men that they are needed to stop fights, not start them." Ned commanded as he dressed to ride out into the city with his outer garments. "Have you spoken to the stable boy as I wished?"

"Aye, though he's a watchman now and vows never to touch a horse again." Jory replied, chuckling lightly at the memory of the younger lad's vehement dislike of all things horseflesh.

"What did the boy have to say?" Ned prodded getting a snort from Jory.

"He claimed he and Lord Arryn were great friends. Said that Jon always brought the stable hands a copper on their name day and had a way with the horses. Evidently never rode them too hard, and always brought them apples and carrots so they were always pleased to see him too."

"Was that all?" The Hand asked, just a taste of annoyance slipping into his tone.

"That's all milord." Came the reply.

Once again Ned sighed loudly, though it was full of disappointment this time. He felt as if he had investigated every possible lead available to him for Jon Arryn's death. Jory had spoken to each of the leads that Littlefinger had provided them. Ser Hugh was brusque and uninformative and as arrogant as only a newly made knight could be. He claimed that should the Lord Hand wish to speak with him, he would be pleased to receive him, but he would not talk with a lowly captain of guards, even if that same captain was ten years his senior and a hundred times the swordsman.

The serving girl had at least been pleasant. She had said that Lord Jon had been reading more than what was good for him and that he had been troubled and melancholy over his young son's frailty, and gruff with his lady wife. The potboy turned cordwainer had never exchanged so much as a word with Jon but he was full of oddments from kitchen gossip. Such tales as the lord had been quarrelling with the king, the lord only picked at his food, the lord planned to send his boy to foster at Storm's End, the lord had taken a great interest in the breeding of hunting hounds, the lord had visited a master armorer to commission a new set of plate wrought all in silver with a blue jasper falcon and a mother of pearl moon on the breast. Evidently the king's own brother had gone with him to pick the design. Not Renly, Lord Stannis had gone with him.

"Wait, that watchman did say something curious." Jory said, pulling Ned back from his spiralling thoughts. "He said that the Lord Hand had been strong as a man half his age and often went out riding with Lord Stannis."

'Stannis again?' Ned thought. The idea of them suddenly growing close to one another seemed odd to him. As far as he could recall, the pair had been cordial with one another but never truly friendly. There also was the fact that while Robert may have been riding North to Winterfell, Stannis had ridden south to Storm's End, his family's historic stronghold where he had held out against a siege for a full year with a handful of starving men during the Rebellion.

Sadly Stannis had still yet to give any word on when he was set to return. In fact he had given no word at all. At least to those on the small council or among the remaining servants that Ned had managed to question.

"Did the watchman say where they took these rides?" Ned asked. Jory seemed to grow slightly hesitant to speak, annoying Ned somewhat but when the man opened his mouth he quickly came to understand why he was so reluctant.

"The boy told me that they visited a brothel milord." Jory said with almost a wince.

"A brothel? The Lord of the Eyrie and the Hand of the King visited a brothel with Stannis Baratheon?" The new Hand put great emphasis on Stannis' name as he spoke.

The idea of Stannis Baratheon visiting a brothel was almost impossible to believe. Ned knew Robert was the subject of mockery and drinking songs the realm over with his whoremongering ways but Stannis was a completely different type of man. Barely a year younger than the King, but utterly unlike him. Stern, humorless, unforgiving, and grim in his sense of duty.

"The boy insisted it was true." Jory insisted now no longer hesitant. He had realized by Ned's reaction that this was likely more important than simply a shameful secret of two highlords. "The Hand supposedly took three guardsmen with him and the boy said they were joking afterward when he was taking their horses."

"Which brothel?"

"The boy didn't know but the guards would." Jory replied.

"A pity that Lysa carried them all off to the Vale with her." Ned commented while leaning heavily against the wall. "The gods themselves seem out to vex us. Lady Lysa, Maester Coleman, and Lord Stannis...everyone who might actually know the truth of what happened to Jon Arryn is a thousand leagues away from King's Landing now."

"Will you recall Lord Stannis from Storm's End milord?"

"No, not yet. I might have a lead with Stannis in the city still. What do you know of Stannis' former squire Lord Naruto Uzumaki?" Ned asked.

"Little truth be told. I've heard a couple rumors, probably the same as you, all about his successes in battle and the fact he is the youngest knight in the realm." Jory answered.

Ned frowned. He could recall both of the boy's parents but not the lad himself. Like Jory said though he had heard a mix of stories about him. One way or another though, Ned would need to speak to him.

"Should we not ask Lord Renly? He's Lord Stannis' and the King's youngest brother." Jory wondered.

"He wasn't invited on these rides with Stannis and Jon." Ned answered succinctly.

Ned was actually somewhat wary of the younger Baratheon brother. While his smiles and friendly ways were likely to put most at ease, Ned couldn't help but find them peculiar. Recently the younger lord had pulled him aside and shown him a locket with a tiny portrait of a young maid within. It had evidently been the likeness of Lady Margaery Tyrell, though Renly had wanted to know if Ned thought she resembled his late sister Lyanna. The Lord of Bronzegate had seemed disappointed when Ned had told him no.

"I wonder if Lord Stannis will return for Robert's tourney." Ned wondered aloud while Jory helped him with his doublet.

"That would be a stroke of luck." Jory remarked.

Ned chuckled bitterly. "In other words, not bloody likely."

With that, the pair set out, Ned intent on visiting the armorer which the potboy, now cordwainer, had mentioned. He also had a set of peculiar orders for his captain.

"Set the men to visit the whorehouses." Ned commanded briefly, missing that his order sounded as if he was ordering his men to enjoy the whores themselves.

Jory chuckled lightly before clearing his throat. "Aye, though I'm sure some of the men already have a head start on your wishes."


King's Landing

298 AC

Naruto

Naruto and Kakashi were drenched wet with sweat from their usual morning sparring and training session. They had missed a few days with having settled into the capital but after finding a place to train once again, they worked to return to their normal schedule as best as possible. The training itself was already complete and both men were making their way back to the inn where the Uzumaki household had been staying.

"I'm saying that you must mind your aggressive nature in battle. You'll tire yourself out against a more defensive opponent if you can't overwhelm them." Kakashi lectured as they walked. He spoke in a warm tone, not so much reprimanding Naruto as trying to simply educate him.

"I understand. Still, I'll work to better my stamina even more rather than outright changing how I fight. It's better to overpower my opponent and defeat them quickly than let them tire me out if I'm in battle with many people, right?" Naruto replied.

"That could be argued both ways." The elder warrior said.

"Hmm, yes." The Lordling conceded.

"Well, enough of that. You know what needs to be worked on well enough already. Tell me, your name day approaches soon after the tourney…" Kakashi began to shift the topic of conversation.

"Yes…" Naruto replied fishing for the question his trainer meant to ask.

"I assume the plan remains to wed Karin around the same time?" Kakashi asked. He had yet to see any solid planning for the event, his lord's focus had been split primarily on the subjects of rebuilding his family fleet and winning the tourney.

"Try the day of. At least that is what it seems Nagato wishes. He looks to have gotten well enough to move around Stormtyde Hall once more but no doubt it won't be long till he is bed ridden again. It's best to hold the ceremony sooner so that he might give Karin away as she wants." Naruto told him.

"Huh, Well. I have to say it will feel strange. You'll be considered a man grown by the realm and in the eyes of the seven." Kakashi said almost wistfully. Though his thoughts were interrupted by Naruto's responding snort of laughter.

"There is only one thing left for me to do upon my nameday to be a real man and that is to be married. I'll have done everything 'grown men' do then."

"You may have a point. Is that it then? You and Karin will be wedded the moment you are sixteen?" Kakashi asked.

"Mhmm." Naruto hummed out his affirmation. "It's better sooner than later after all. Nagato is ill, and every letter he sends has him mentioning the idea of more Uzumaki's from me and Karin. If I had to hazard a guess, I think he expects we aren't waiting for the wedding bed."

"I've said it before. You Uzumaki are not ones for typical conventions. It's easier to predict the wind than it is the actions of one of your blood." Kakashi laughed out. Naruto huffed good naturedly before humming thoughtfully.

"I'm sure Karin and her parents all wish to hold the ceremony in the old Dragon Yard back on Dragon's Rest."

"Of course. Every Uzumaki was wedded there, or at least every Uzumaki since your family came from old Valyria and your hair all turned red from this beautiful silver." The silver haired man pointed out. They couldn't be sure but it was almost certain that Kakashi was of some form of Valyrian descent.

"I'm not complaining, just wondering what the yard will look like, all dressed up for a wedding. It's beautiful, truly, but it's kind of a dreary place." Naruto explained.

The conversation continued on. Kakashi told him a little of the ceremony for his mother and father's wedding in the Dragon Yard for some reference of what to expect from his own. It didn't take long before they rounded a bend and the inn came into view. From there, it didn't take long to realize something was amiss. Hurrying in they found the inn was in chaos, and so the pair quickly set about investigating what exactly had happened.

Naruto and Kakashi had only been there a brief time questioning the innkeeper on what had happened, before Karin and Tsunade came rushing down the stairs with a gaggle of other ladies and servants. Karin practically slammed into Naruto catching the young man off guard though he was quick to return the embrace and do his best to soothe her. All the women were terribly distraught but Tsunade backed away from the young couple with a glance from Karin. The two women had just had a conversation that morning about the proper places for the two of them going forward.

"I'm so glad you've returned early, Naruto." Karin began. "There was a small mob of men, the two guards at the inn's gate couldn't do a thing and they beat them horribly. I thought for sure they would go after some of the ladies but I think all they wanted was gold jewels. They took as many valuables as they could carry in a few sacks and ran off back into the street."

"Why didn't one of the other lord's household guards do anything?" Naruto asked, shocked that something like this happened at all, but he was relieved that Karin and Tsunade were unharmed. The fact that the two men he had left to guard the inn had been hurt so badly angered him though.

"I don't know how it happened but the group attacked not long after the last lord went down to check on his pavilions on the tourney grounds. There was no security but the men you left behind here." She answered.

Naruto frowned at that. Were these men watching the inn and waiting for the majority of protection to be gone? They also managed to overpower two of his trained men-at-arms without being severely injured by them. They didn't sound like random thugs to him.

At that thought a pair of gold cloak watchmen entered the inn following a young serving boy the innkeeper had sent to fetch them shortly after the attack had finished. Unfortunately these two guardsmen looked uninterested in the woes of the wealthy nobles and honestly plenty tired from their own issues with the city as of late.

Still the pair were soon surrounded by the small mob of young ladies and maids who were hounding them about finding the culprits that had stolen such expensive jewelry and accessories from them. Karin and Tsunade joined the group as well as they told the men a list of everything taken and their best descriptions of the men who had come. To the young redheaded lady's agitation neither man even seemed to take the information down as it was given to them. Instead they looked entirely bored by what was going on around them. Of course a hot head like the young Uzumaki maiden wasn't about to stand aside for such nonsense.

"Why is it that neither of you are taking this seriously at all? My betrothed's soldiers are beaten bloody and a regular hoard of gold and jewels is missing!" She hissed at the larger men getting put out looks from both at the tongue lashing from the girl.

"Now, hold on my lady, we are taking this seriously. You just don't see that we're already swamped with enough crimes across the whole city that a couple of bruised up guardsmen and stolen necklaces and rings isn't really high up on the watch's priorities at the moment." The elder of the two guards half explained, half reprimanded Karin causing her jaw to clench at the man's audacity and the nearby Naruto's eyes to narrow into violet slits.

"He's right, we just don't have enough guardsmen to handle all the crimes happening with the Hand's Tourney. There's just so many people visiting, and since no one of import was really hurt by this…" The younger guard backed up his companion.

"But you have to do something!" Karin recognized the voice of a young lady from the Westerlands. Despite being a lesser noble she was also from a very wealthy family. "The amount of jewels stolen from the lot of us is practically enough to buy a small estate in the Crownlands!"

"Again," The first guard affirmed rather rudely for speaking with a noble woman. "Since no one of import was injured it isn't a priority matter for the watch."

Naruto had heard enough and gently pushed his way up to the guardsmen, Kakashi at his back, eyes practically burning with anger at the attitude of these two guardsmen by this point. Those two men of 'no import' were members of Naruto's own household guard. He'd have justice done for them and the jewels returned, especially those of Karin and Tsunade's. At his approach the two gold cloaks puffed up at the sight of someone who might just stir up more trouble for them than a handful of young maidens with no true political pull.

"You say no one of import was harmed, yet those two men laying beaten in beds upstairs are of my household guard. Not to mention that my betrothed and all these ladies have made it clear what was taken from them. What the hell is it you two think you're doing?" Naruto growled as he came face to face with the guardsman.

"There is little that we can do Lordling." The elder guard said, though he held a respectful tone, the mere usage of the term lordling nearly led Naruto to throttling the man. "Of course my Lord Uzumaki should you have issue, the Master of Laws is technically the head of all of King's Landing City Watch including the commander."

Naruto's eyes were practically burned with purple fire now. The man was as good as saying he would do nothing and in turn Naruto could do nothing about it because his boss at the end of the day was Renly Baratheon. Had their issues become that well known or was Renly purposefully making it to where those guards that answered the call for Naruto or his house wouldn't lift a finger for them? Either thought rankled the young Uzumaki lord terribly and he barely held back his fury toward the two men before him.

"Besides, it's likely the thieves have already sold their prizes off in Flea Bottom." The younger guard said trying to lessen the tension between Naruto and the older guardsman.

"What good are you two? I might as well lead the investigation myself at least something would be getting done then." Naruto huffed.

"An excellent idea milord." The elder guard laughed out. "Yes, you might as well."

With that the two men leave, a group of bothered noble ladies behind, baffled by the actions of the two men, and Naruto and his household, bubbling in anger at the entire exchange. Afterward Naruto sent a servant boy off to carry a message to his guardsmen staying in a separate building nearby. He watched as most of the ladies seemed distraught but could do nothing but retire to their rooms until their households returned from the tourney grounds. Deciding he wouldn't remain sitting around, Naruto had instructed one of the guardsmen to rush a message up to the small council in regards to this travesty, but he doubted much would occur. It was as the watchman had said, Renly Baratheon was the master of laws and he had no love for Naruto, that was certain.

Tsunade and Karin both approached Naruto. Karin seemed more worried for the men of their house that had been injured but after some coaxing she admitted that the whalebone and emerald necklace she had gotten was taken. That aggravated Naruto as well, being as it had been made by a craftswoman from his own homeland. Karin had hoped to make the fine piece an heirloom to pass on to her children and grandchildren saying it came from the sea like their own house, not to mention the whalebone and emeralds were already etched with their family crest.

"Lady Karin, might I have your leave to return to tending the two guardsmen?" Tsunade asked.

"Of course, having a member of the House of Red hands looking after them would be good for their spirits even if you've already taken care of the injuries they had." The redhead said recalling Tsunade's official title as the House Uzumaki physician.

"I promise to go looking for the jewels, Karin. I want you to remain at the inn, close to Tsunade and the guards. I'll be sending more up from where the servants and guard are staying to add more security to the whole of this place." He said before giving her a brief peck on the cheek and a small embrace that she accepted happily.

Naruto and Kakashi moved on to their rooms and dressed more properly for the task at hand, exchanging the lighter looser clothing they wore to train in for their regular attire and arms, including Naruto's family blade Melifyrro. By the time they had returned down the stairs, they saw that the guardsmen had arrived and were going out of the way to reassure the swooning young ladies that they would protect them from any kind of malcontents. Naruto almost chuckled at some of his men's antics when he heard one man claim they had absolutely nothing to fear as long as they had the steel of House Uzumaki guarding them.

"They'll take all guard posts as serious as this little inn as long as so many blushing young maids are around to watch them peacock about like they are." Kakashi joked, getting Naruto's attempt to stifle his laughter to fail.

The two rode off heading further up the hills toward the merchant quarter and more specifically the street of steel. This confused Kakashi a bit and after a time he couldn't help his curiosity.

"Why are we headed up to the Street of Steel rather than Flea Bottom? The women all claimed the thugs that robbed them were dirty vagrant types."

"If I were a fence for stolen goods, I'd go out of my way to appear as much like a legitimate artisan selling my wares as possible. At least to hide the fact I was a thief hocking stolen goods from my customers. Plus it's not like the people of Flea Bottom have a need for jewels even if they could afford them. Should they suddenly have a gold ring and try to sell it, the merchants will assume they stole it and call the guard. They're far more concerned with stealing food than jewelry." Naruto explained his reasoning, getting a thoughtful nod from his companion.

It didn't take them long to find their first jeweler in the artisan area. Naruto doubted they would be lucky enough to wimpy walk in on their fence and his partners in crime, however it didn't hurt to hope to get some kind of idea on who might be selling jewels. Naruto doubted that this was their first instance of similar crimes being as they seemed to have carefully planned for when most of those capable of defending the inn were away and were even able to get a jump on the guards present before they could get the two thick doors shut and barred.

As they entered, Naruto realized that as he had expected nothing really seemed all that out of place. There wasn't enough product to have been anything more than what the jeweler had made themselves and Karin's necklace was something Naruto knew would stand out easily among more common styles. As the jeweler himself exited the back of the shop, an old man with a clearly bad leg, Naruto knew he couldn't be one of their thieves though that didn't necessarily mean he wasn't involved at all. Naruto still had his doubts but some questions wouldn't hurt.

The questions were mostly simple ones. They didn't immediately make it clear why they were there but once Naruto was certain the man wasn't involved he brought up the theft of jewels from the Inn and the attack on his guards. Predictably the man was 'astonished' in his own words, at the audacity of such criminals. He then attempted to sell Naruto a dozen different pieces of neckwear to replace Karin's stolen necklace.

After some effort in getting the artisan back on track, they continued to question him. Of course now though the jeweler was certain that it had to be a rival jeweler further along the Street of Steel. None of what he said the other man was guilty of equated to him fencing stolen goods taken from nobles though. It sounded more like the man just assumed that since his rival had more business than himself that he must be doing something illegal to get ahead.

Naruto nearly ended the questioning following that realization. Slowly he became sure he'd get nothing useful from the man until he mentioned something intriguing. Something that would have initially been seen as just the man rambling, but still Naruto and Kakashi caught it.

"I'm sorry, what was that you said about your younger brother?" Naruto asked.

"Oh? Well he is my younger half-brother milord. He's been trying for around a year to break into honest work like myself but that fat fool up the street barely leaves enough customers for myself. Though I suppose in the last couple of months, Nestar has managed to finally get some business going. He expanded to more than just jewels. He sells all sorts of imports from across the Narrow Sea." The Jeweler explained.

"Imports from across the sea? Where exactly do those come from?" Kakashi asked this time.

"Ah, well he sends his serving girls down to the docks and has them pay for the imports from what I know. He buys them from all over really, whatever is available, bits and baubles from Midport, Lys, Pentos, Tyrosh, and Myr."

"And how long is it that he's been doing that?" Naruto asked.

"A little over two months. Like I said he struggled to earn anything for years, even was bought out by a young merchant who looked to make him like his servant to keep using the same shop he always has. He likes to ramble on about that business, he bought the shop back, he told me. Then the bastard dropped dead but my brother's always been a kind soul and put the man's wife and daughters up in Flea Bottom and kept them on as serving girls." The man rambled on.

Naruto and Kakashi exchanged glances with one another with this new information. After thanking the man for his time and again turning down his offers to sell them replacements for the lost jewels at a reduced price, the two left the little shop in search of another. More specifically the one belonging to this Nestar.

"What are you thinking?" Kakashi asked him.

"Probably the same as you, this Nestar is more likely our fence than the rival the old man was speaking of. I don't doubt he isn't importing goods at all, just using thugs to steal the items then paying for them using his former landlord's family as a go between." Naruto summed up.

"Hmm, kind soul my ass. I wouldn't be surprised if he did something to get rid of his landlord if he's using the man's family as servants now." Kakashi commented. "Still a scam like this wouldn't last long without someone, especially among the watch, taking notice."

"I don't doubt they have. The fact that the robbers attacked the inn while it was at its most vulnerable and a pair of watchmen were close enough to respond quickly but not quickly enough to interfere?" Naruto asked rhetorically.

"It is rather suspicious."

"Exactly. The fact that those guardsmen wouldn't lift a finger for nobles making a complaint, even go so far as to insult us to our faces, as small as the slight would be…" Naruto continued on.

"They must be receiving some sort of pay, greater than the reward they would get for returning the jewels anyhow." Kakashi finished.

"Let's see what we can find at this Nestar's shop." Naruto urged his horse on to a canter quickly followed by Kakashi.

It didn't take them long to reach the shop. Longer than Naruto would have liked of course but with how crowded the city was, the streets were growing thick with pedestrians by this time of day. The shop itself was tucked around a corner onto a narrow side street between two larger shops, a bakery and a tailor. As Naruto and Kakashi dismounted to continue on foot, they stopped when they saw the entryway, almost disbelieving of their luck.

Standing around out front of the little shop doorway was the younger of the two guards from earlier. He looked bored, like he had stood there for some time. Like he was guarding the shop. Thankfully the watchman seemed particularly bad at the main subject of his profession.

Naruto tried to approach with as peaceable a nature about him as possible. Of course the watchman was clearly nervous by their appearance alone. Still he remained relatively calm and did his best to converse with Naruto and Kakashi in a cordial manner. He did his best to dodge their questions, but as they spoke with one another it became increasingly clear that Naruto and Kakashi were on to him and just as clear that the guard was involved with the whole thing.

Just after he had done his best to make up an excuse for Kakashi's question of why he was in this part of the city so far from where he was patrolling earlier by saying that he was investigating the theft of the jewels, the second gold cloak from the inn stepped out of the shop's door with a large purse in either hand.

Both parties froze at that. The younger guard's hand slid back into his cloak toward the hilt of his sword while the second simply stared wide eyed. Noticing once more that the shop was tucked away and largely out of sight of the street Naruto snatched out his own sword faster than the guardsman could placing the tip of the blade just at the man's adam's apple.

"Slowly lift your hands." Naruto commanded.

The second watchman dropped both bags of dragons and reached for his own sword only to have Kakashi draw his in a flourish that put him in the same position as the first man. Completely at a disadvantage the two men could only do as ordered and lift their hands above their heads.

After Kakashi had removed their sword belts, and cloaks, telling them they didn't deserve them, He and Naruto bound their hands with their belts and tossed away their blades. Kakashi remained with their two new captives while Naruto approached the shop and slowly made his way inside.

The shop was a cluttered mess. Nothing was in its place and different items lay strewn across practically every surface. All manner of expensive looking wares mixed in with everyday items for sale. Moving toward the back of the shop Naruto noticed who he presumed was Nestar, along with two young girls, perhaps a year or more younger than himself.

Nestar was a balding overweight man with scars on his face from a long passed pox of some sort. The girls looked to be twins and were not unattractive, though the continued scowls on their faces made it clear they were unhappy with their current positions. One locked into the old man's grip on his lap and the other sorting through the stolen jewels as he ordered her about.

With his sword already drawn Naruto pushed through the empty doorway to the room drawing a startled gasp from the girl organizing Nestar's ill gotten goods. Confused by her sister's reaction the second girl turned her head and saw the sword before she screamed and scrambled out of Neastar's clutches.

"What in the seven hells is wrong with you?" Nestar demanded, nursing his fingers that ached from the girl yanking free from his grip.

"Turn slowly." Naruto called out causing Nestar to freeze at the unfamiliar voice.

"Whoever you think you are, the gold cloaks will ha-" The man began to rant as he turned until the point of Naruto's sword tapped against his nose. With wide terrified eyes the man's mouth worked silently for a moment before clicking shut.

Ignoring the trio for a moment Naruto scanned over the jewels they had been sorting...easily picking out Karin's necklace from the rest.

"Do you know who I am?" Naruto asked softly as he reached over to take his betrothed's property back.

"No." Nestar croaked simply.

"You're a lord, we don't know you beyond that though milord." One of the girls said.

"I'm Lord Naruto Uzumaki, and this is my betrothed's property. Now I'm going to give you a few seconds to explain exactly how the three of you managed to come into possession of this. Don't toy with me." Naruto commanded.

To say the girls turned on old Nestar immediately wouldn't do the situation justice. Naruto had no real way of knowing how much of their story was true but they really did seem to despise the man. He liked to think they were being honest with him though, if the paling and sweating of the man was anything to go by.

The girls explained Nestar's entire scheme. How he had managed to gain the cooperation of a gang of cutthroats from Flea Bottom, how he had more or less forced their mother and themselves into slavery in petty revenge against their father who was his former employer, and how he had been paying off a handful of the city watch for a few weeks. Nestar at one point tried to argue but the raised eyebrow from Naruto and the unwavering swordpoint in front of his face had him stammering too much to come up with a decent excuse and Naruto decided he had heard enough as the girls finished selling Nestar down the river.

Whether the girls were lying or not didn't matter in the end. He planned to take them all with him to be turned in. That was of course the plan until they neared the front of the shop and Naruto made out the shape of both Kakashi and the likes of their captured corrupt guardsmen held at sword point by a small handful of Stark men-at-arms.

With little time and thinking on his feet Naruto leaned in close to the girls to make an offer to help smooth everything out. Hopefully it would make the whole ordeal less of a massive headache, not that he expected too much trouble as it would be his and Kakashi's word against several commoners who had been in possession of stolen goods.

"Listen…" Naruto paused, realizing he didn't know their names.

"Maycey and Myna, milord." The apparently more confident of the two whispered back.

"Well, Maycey and Myna, support everything I say and I promise to take both of you and your mother into my household as servants. Under my protection. No more debts to the likes of this man." Naruto said, causing the girls to exchange a brief glance getting one to nod to the other.

"Anything to be away from Nestar and his men, milord." Maycey said when she turned back to Naruto.

"Good." He said before stepping past them and roughly shoved Nestar, who had been about to argue to turn the girls to his side, out the door causing the Stark guardsmen to immediately whirl around ready for a fight.

"Hold there! What is the meaning of all this?" One of the guardsmen demanded.

"I can explain everything I promise. I'm Lord Naruto of House Uzumaki. The man with silver hair is my sworn blade and those other two are corrupt guardsmen who helped this scum in robbing several ladies including my betrothed as well as holding these two girls against their will." Naruto called out sheathing his sword and lifting his hands up to show no threat.

The Stark mens' eyes all narrowed and they seemed to already be taking his side in the matter causing Nestar to stammer out his denials against everything Naruto had said. Claiming that he was a legitimate merchant and that it was all simply a case of mistaken identity. He even turned to the girls and begged them to tell the Stark men how he had been helping them and their mother since their father's death. The scowls that spread onto the girl's faces however told him precisely what was about to happen.

"He's a raper and a thief!" Maycey cried. "I know he did something to papa and has forced himself on mama and he...he is handsy and he did take the jewels like Lord Uzumaki said!"

Myna nodded fervently at her sister's claims. Naruto still wasn't sure what was true in that regard or not. He was inclined to think it was closer to truth than he was comfortable to admit. In the end showing his coat of arms, valyrian blade, and the jewelry that belonged to Karin was enough for him to be believed. The addition of the girl's testimonies and the sheer amount of stolen property inside was more than enough to truly put the final nail in the coffin for Nestar and his accomplices. The Stark guardsmen hoped to learn the identities of the thugs that did the actual thievery by questioning the ones they already had in hand.

Whatever the result of their questioning was though, Naruto deemed his and Kakashi's part in the whole situation finished. Sending the silverrette to escort the girls home and gather their mother and belongings to join Naruto's household, Naruto himself returned to the inn with the stolen jewels. The young lord did stop his old mentor before he left though and ordered him to take them all to a bathhouse before they returned.

Along the way back to the inn, it took a much longer time as the roads had begun to crowd and he had to push through to reach his destination. By the time he had reached the inn once again, the sun had begun to near its zenith in the sky and Naruto felt the hunger from missing breakfast that morning in favor of hunting the thieves.

He barely made it a step into the door when he was surrounded by the young ladies staying at the inn. They chattered happily and thanked him profusely, some even offering rewards which he turned down. He didn't need the small handfuls of coins they would offer, a better reward was them simply spreading the word that House Uzumaki was responsible for solving problems that the city watch of King's Landing couldn't in their own city.

When he finally was released by the throng of maidens, he smiled as Karin came toward him. Tsunade no doubt was still watching over their guardsmen. Naruto held up the necklace for her, motioning her to turn around before fastening it around her neck once again. As she turned back around, Naruto couldn't help but smile slightly at his betrothed. She really was a beauty. No doubt many would be envious of him in the tourney to come whenever the two of them would be seen together.

"I didn't doubt you, but how is it you got them back so quickly?" She asked, hand brushing tentatively across the inscribed whalebone beads.

"Well it was honestly all luck. Those two guardsmen from earlier were actually in on the entire thing." Naruto said as the pair started walking back up toward their set of rooms, arm in arm.

"They did seem suspicious in the way they acted." Karin commented idly. As they reached the upper stairs both paused.

"How are our soldiers?" Naruto asked.

"As well as they can. Tsunade says they'll recover well in a few days for the most part, but one had a broken arm and the other an injured shoulder. They'll need time to mend." She explained, awkwardly standing beside her cousin.

"I see." He said with a frown.

"I'll be rejoining her in watching over them. Not much I can do but I have some medical skill and...I've actually been learning some from Tsunade herself too." Karin said, causing Naruto to perk up. The thought of the two of them getting along filled him with a bit of joy.

"So, I'll be going back then. Thank you for bringing my necklace back to me." She continued with a smile, getting Naruto to grin at her.

"Of course-" Naruto began only to be interrupted when Karin grabbed hold of him and planted a soft kiss to his lips before spinning around and heading back to help with the injured soldiers.

Naruto stared after her blinking owlishly for a moment before lightly touching his lips and breaking into a broad smile. He again thought of how lucky he was to be wedding Karin. Perhaps he did not love her like he did Tsunade. He did love her though. He might not be certain exactly in what way he loved her in comparison to his mistress, but the truth was he did care for her.

Down the hall Karin's mind ran along similar lines of thought though in the opposite direction. She knew his heart still belonged to Tsunade, but given time she planned to break it free of such inclinations and take him as her own. It would take time and patience, and according to the letter from her mother, bold action, but eventually he would be only hers.


King's Landing

298 AC

Eddard

Ned rode through the streets of King's Landing down toward the Street of Steel. By now, the roads were crowded and even with his guardsmen doing their best to push folks out of their way, his pace was slowed to a crawl. Even proudly displaying his house sigil on his fine doublet didn't press the crowds out of the way any faster. He hadn't worn the arms so openly for them he supposed, more so for the man he intended to question at the shop he was headed for.

He rounded a bend, having taken a route that had wider roads in hopes for thinner crowds, instead he found the throng of pedestrians just as thick here as on the narrower streets he had avoided. The street of steel began at the market square near the rivergate. Just like everywhere else it was terribly crowded and Ned and his handful of Guardsmen had trouble avoiding trampling the people with their horses, let alone actually making progress in reaching this Tobho Mott's forge.

A handful of smaller groups managed to slip through the masses easily causing Ned to grumble to himself that he should have brought a smaller selection of guards with him to more easily move through the streets. Barefoot children raced around unbothered by how close they passed by other people or the stench in the air and mummers strode by on wooden stilts, one even juggling three apples to some applause from onlookers. Nearby two boys no older than Bran and clad in nothing but ratty breeches hacked away at one another with sticks to the cheering of some and curses of others. An older woman ended the fight by emptying a bucket from an upper window down on the fighter's heads before hollering for them to get their hides home before their mother's found them.

All around farmers from outside the city called out their wares, offering up apples, blood melons, turnips, onions, and roots along with a mind numbing assortment of other produce. The gate itself stood wide open, a handful of shimmering gold cloaked city watchmen leaning on their spears at least until they saw an approaching column of a nobleman's party.

Unlike Ned's group of guardsmen that was too large to slip their way easily through the masses but too small to force the road clear, the oncoming lord's retinue was practically a small army with all the servants, beasts of burden, and soldiers to fill out it's numbers. People rushed out of the way of the group lest they be crushed beneath the horses and carts making good time into the city.

At first Ned saw no arms and couldn't make out who exactly the party was sworn to. Around the same time he noticed the lord himself dressed out in all his household's colors and sigil, so too did the guardsmen begin hollering out for people to make way further down the street for Lord Beric Dondarrion. He was a young lord, with reddish gold hair wearing a black satin cloak dusted with stars sat atop a large and dashing black courser.

Many like Lord Beric had already filled King's Landing, but while Ned had been stressed by the mass influx of all manner of characters from around Westeros, for now another matter took precedence and his attention. It was a welcome distraction even if it did sadly remind him of the passing of Jon Arryn.

After yet more time spent maneuvering through the streets and crowds between him and his goal, Ned and his group of guardsmen finally reached the shop so frequently visited by Jon Arryn and Stannis Baratheon.

The shop was impressive. The double doors showed an elaborate hunting scene carved into the ebony and weirwood. A pair of stone knights stood as sentries on either side of the doorway with polished red armor that made them look lifelike even if the armor itself was designed a bit excessively to look like a unicorn and griffin.

After shouldering his way through the heavy doors the small serving girl inside immediately noticed his sigil emblazoned on his doublet and recognized its significance. She greeted him politely and raced off to find her master in the actual forge areas of the shop no doubt. Only a moment later the man himself appeared before Ned and rushed forward to greet him properly.

"Wine for the King's Hand." Tobho commanded the girl who was a step behind him and again she rushed off to do as ordered while the armorer guided Ned to a sitting area.

"My lord, I am Tobho Mott, please, place yourself at ease." Ned simply nodded back as they sat.

Eddard took in the appearance of the armorer before him. He was an older man, older than Ned at the least. He also clearly did well for himself if the large shop and ornaments weren't sign enough, the master also wore a fine black velvet coat with silver hammers embroidered on the sleeves. He also wore a thick silver chain around his neck that carried a massive sapphire the size of a pigeon's egg. Altogether Ned couldn't help but think the man's attire had to be excessively expensive, but still it was clear that Tobho Mott was indeed a very wealthy man, which in turn implied a very skilled man.

"If you have need of arms or armor for the tourney my lord, then you have truly come to the right shop." The craftsman began his sales pitch. Ned didn't bother correcting the man letting him continue on.

"My work is costly, but I make no apologies for that my lord." Mott continued while gently waving off the serving girl after she had filled the two silver goblets for himself and the Lord Hand. "It's fairly priced for it's quality, you won't find equal craftsmanship anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms. I can promise that. You can even visit every single forge in King's Landing if you like and see for yourself the difference. After all, any village smith can hammer out a mail shirt but my work is art!"

Ned simply sipped at his wine and let Tobho go on playing into his public persona as the Quiet Wolf. One might be surprised how effective simply listening could be in getting what they actually wanted. The man continued on boasting of his clientele now. Evidently the Knight of Flowers bought all his armor here as well as many other important Lords, or at least those that knew fine steel in Tobho's opinion. Even the King's youngest brother Lord Renly often came to purchase here. His newest customer seemed to be the young Ser Naruto Uzumaki, though he had thus far only had Tobho and his apprentices perform repair work for him. Still according to the master smith, he'd been so pleased that he stated he'd be returning to get more steel from him.

Ned filed away the new knowledge about Naruto buying an ornate dagger for his betrothed away as Tobho continued speaking on the young lord. Perhaps Naruto knew of some plot or other and wished to increase the safety of his bride to be. He already remained one of the better leads for finding out the situation with Lord Stannis. Still the idea of a young knight buying a dagger for his lady love struck Ned as funny. If she was anything like Sansa, it would be a terrible gift and if she was anything like Arya, then maybe there was some hope for Arya, because all he'd truly heard of Karin was that she was a respectable and polite young lady.

The smith's words turned from boasts to trying to actually sell him on the idea of purchasing some form of armor. He even referenced Lord Renly's newest set of armor which was evidently a set of green plate with golden stag horns. When Ned continued to answer with mere nods and shakes of the head, Mott turned to ask if perhaps he was there instead for a blade. He even explained that he was the only one in Westeros able to rework Valyrian Steel, having learned the spellwork necessary as a young boy living in Qohor before coming across the Narrow Sea.

"The direwolf is your sigil is it not? I could fashion a direwolf helm so real that children will run from you in the street." Tobho finished off his sales pitches.

Ned smiled at the man. "Did you make a Falcon helm for Lord Arryn?"

Tobho paused for a long moment and set his wine to the side. "The late Lord Hand did call upon me, with Lord Stannis, the King's brother. I regret to say they did not honor me with their patronage."

Ned looked at the man evenly while saying nothing. He had found over the years that silence sometimes yielded more than questions. It was why he had gotten his name the Quiet Wolf. It worked for him this time as well.

"They asked to see the boy." The armorer said. "So I took them back to the forge."

"The boy?" Ned asked. He wondered just who this boy might be. He had no notion of anything about him.

"I should like to see the boy as well." Ned said as he stood.

Tobho Mott gave him a surprisingly cool and careful look as he too stood piquing Ned's interest further.

"As you wish my lord." He spoke with no trace of his formerly friendly tone from a moment before.

Mott led Ned back to the rear beyond even counters with pieces of work on display and into the rear room willed with work tables and the forge itself. The journeyman armorers and apprentice boys worked away drenched in sweat. Tobho called out to one in particular that looked to be about Robb's age though this lad was much taller than his own son and clearly corded with the muscles of someone used to working a forge.

"My lord this is Gendry, Gendry this is the new Hand of the King, Lord Stark." Tobho introduced.

The boy looked at Ned through Sullen blue eyes and pushed back his sweaty thick black hair with his sooty hands.

"Now, my lord Gendry here is very strong for his age and works hard. Show him the helmet you made, Gendry." The master continued.

Almost shyly the boy retrieved a helmet shaped like a bull's head. Two large curved horns completed the image fully. Taking the item from the boy when offered, Ned examined it and was impressed by the skill in it's crafting. He turned the helmet over in his hands a couple of times before looking back up at Gendry.

"This is very fine work, I would be pleased if you'd let me buy it." Gendry snatched the helmet away from Ned the moment he finished speaking.

"It's not for sale."

Tobho looked horrified at Gendry's actions. His eyes widening and mouth dropping open for a moment before he snapped it shut and popped the boy on the back of the head to try and knock some sense into one of his favorite workers.

"Boy this is the King's Hand. If his lordship wants this helm, make him a gift of it. He honors you simply by asking."

"I made it for me." Gendry stubbornly refused.

"A hundred pardons my lord." Tobho begged to Ned hurriedly. "The boy is crude like new steel and like new steel would profit from a beating. That helm is journeyman work at best. Forgive him and I will craft for you a helm like none you have ever seen. No charge at all for the disrespect shown of course."

Ned chuckled slightly. "He has done nothing that requires forgiveness and I couldn't imagine asking you to part with your art without paying something for it." He then turned back to the boy.

"Gendry, when Lord Arryn came to see you, what did you talk about?"

"He asked me questions, is all m'lord."

"What kind of questions?"

"How was I, and was I well treated, and if I liked the work, and stuff about my mother. Who she was and what she looked like and all." Gendry replied with a shrug.

"What did you tell him?" Ned asked.

"She died when I was little. She had yellow hair though and sometimes she used to sing to me. I remember she worked in an alehouse." Gendry looked to be recalling a bittersweet memory as he spoke.

"Did Lord Stannis question you as well?"

"The Bald one? No, not him. He never said no words, just glared at me like I was some raper who'd gone for his daughter." Gendry explained with a pinched face.

"Mind your filthy tongue!" Master Tobho scolded. "This is the King's own Hand."

Gendry lowered his eyes a bit ashamed. "A smart boy but stubborn. That helm...the others call him bullheaded, so he threw it in their teeth." Mott motioned toward the bull shaped helm.

"Look at me Gendry." Ned said softly.

The apprentice lifted his face and Ned studied it briefly. 'Yes. I see it.'

"Go back to your work lad. I'm sorry to have bothered you."

Teh group separated, Gendry returning to his work like he had been told while Ned and Tobho returned to the same comfortable sitting area they had used earlier. Once sitting Ned simply stared at Tobho for a moment before finally deciding to speak.

"Who paid the boy's apprentice fee?" Ned asked.

Tobho looked fretful at the question. "You saw the boy. Such a strong boy. Those hands of his, those hands were made for hammers. He had such promise that I took him on without a fee."

"The truth now." Ned demanded. "The streets are full of strong boys. The day you take on an apprentice without the fee will be the day the Wall comes down. Who paid for him?"

"A lord." He admitted reluctantly. "He gave no name and wore no sigil on his coat. He paid in gold, twice the customary sum. Said he was paying once for the boy and again for my silence."

"Describe him."

"Stout, round of shoulder, not so tall as you are. A brown beard with a bit of red in it, but he kept his hood up to shadow his face and I never did see him clearly." Mott hesitated briefly. "My lord, I want no trouble."

"None of us wants trouble, but I fear these are troubled times, Master Mott." Ned said somberly before looking into the craftsman's eyes again. "You know who the boy is."

"I am only an armorer, my lord. I know what I am told."

"You know who the boy is," Ned repeated patiently. "That is not a question."

"The boy is my apprentice." The master said, looking Ned back in the eye stubborn as old iron. "Who he was before he came to me, that's none of my concern."

Ned nodded. He decided he rather liked Tobho Mott master armorer.

"If the day ever comes when Gendry would rather wield a sword than make one. Send him to me. He has the look of a warrior. Until then you have my thanks Master Mott, and my promise. Should I ever want a helm to frighten away children, this will be the first place I come." Ned left and stepped outside to see his guards.

"Did you find anything my lord?" One asked him.

"I did." Ned answered, while wondering what it was that Jon Arryn had wanted with one of Robert's bastards, and more importantly, what it had to do with his death.

"There seems to be more of you than when I went in." Ned said as he glanced over to the additional guardsman. The rest of the guardsmen also turned to look at the new addition.

The guardsman in question cracked a small smile as he remembered why he had been sent as a runner to his Lord in person.

"I was sent to give you a message milord. I just don't think you'd believe me when I actually tell you." The guardsman was smiling awkwardly at his liege.

"Tell me as we ride back for the Red Keep."

So as the group rode back through the crowded streets of King's Landing Ned was told the strange story of a robbery, corrupt guardsmen, a young pair of knights, and a series of events almost directly from a child's fairy tale of valorous knights. Ned was actually smiling at the end of the tale. He had already known he would need to meet with the young Lord Uzumaki, now though, he was sure the meeting would be interesting even if it didn't give him any information on Stannis like he hoped.


Alright kids that's Chapter 3. More will be on the way, I hope you enjoyed, till next time.