"That horse of yours is fast on its legs. Where did you get it?" asked Robb after carefully climbing down from his horse and handing over the reins to a nearby guard.
"Sweety is a gift from Lady Dustin. Lady Barbrey was quite pleased with gaining some strawberry plants in her castle when I visited Barrowton. I'm told she acquired the taste after Domeric Bolton sent a few of the berries from the Vale." said Harry.
Theon guffawed upon hearing that.
"You named your horse Sweety?" Theon asked, holding his ribs amidst peals of laughter. "You must be stupid."
Even Robb and Jon were snickering. Garlan was smirking at him, his eyes alight with amusement.
"Hey! I didn't pick the name. The horse won't respond to any other name. Trust me, I've tried." said Harry, shooting them an unimpressed look when they continued to laugh at his expense.
Harry looked between the four troublemakers, not at all liking their attitude. He turned to his trusted new horse, patting her on her neck.
"Hey, Sweety. Make them eat dirt." Harry whispered before clapping her on her side.
Sweety neighed happily before kicking out with her hind legs with force and precision that'd make any grown horse jealous. He saw globs of mud shooting inside Greyjoy's mouth, forcing the little Kraken to shut his big mouth. Jon looked like he had grown a beard, thanks to the mud clinging to his face, while Robb was struggling to get the dirt from his nose and eyes. Garlan, on the other hand, had the presence of mind to duck, but that made his hair muddy.
"Ha! Hahahaha!" Harry laughed at the plight of his siblings and Theon. "You show 'em, Sweety."
Harry had to duck as Robb slung mud at him. It should not have been physically possible for him to react that fast, thanks to his proximity to Robb. But the ritual he had been doing showed results by increasing his speed and agility.
"Ha! You missed." Harry smirked.
"Not entirely." said Robb, looking a tad green.
Harry frowned and saw the mud sticking to Jory's armour plate behind him. He cracked up, seeing the look of shock on Jory Cassel's face. He could also see his father frowning from a distance. With a thought, the Elder Wand materialised in his right hand. A quick cleaning charm swept away the mud from Jory's armour which made Jory send him a grateful smile.
"Enough playing around. Lord Stark is waiting for y'all. Come." said Jory.
"Hey, clean us." Jon, Theon, Garlan, and Robb cried in protest when they noticed Harry was following Jory without using magic on them.
"I'll consider it if you apologise to my horse." said Harry, folding his hands and staring them down.
Three sets of stubborn stares were the answer he got, and so they followed Jory downhill to the place where the Lord of Winterfell was waiting for them. Along the way, he shared an amused smile with Jory as Robb, Jon, Garlan, and Theon toiled to get the mud off their bodies to no avail. When they finally reached their destination, the Lord of Winterfell was not alone. There were three men bound in chains with fear shining in their eyes.
Harry looked at the cold, emotionless face of his father, the grim looks on the guards, and then the block being carried by the guards to their location. Harry looked around and found a Heart tree nearby with a frowning face looking upon them all. He could even make out the pentagram carved just above the face of the Weirwood tree.
'Oh! An execution.' Harry realised.
"Why are you four covered in mud?" Eddard asked, frowning at Jon, Theon, Garlan and Robb.
Without saying anything, the four troublemakers just pointed at Harry, who just shrugged under the scrutinising stare of his father.
"They insulted my horse." Harry shrugged.
Eddard opened his mouth to say something, then shut it with an audible snap.
"Just clean yourselves. We'll talk about this later when we return home." Eddard warned, eyeing each of them sharply, donning the tone and face of the Lord of Winterfell.
The placid nature of Eddard Stark was nowhere to be found, and, in its place, there was only a cold firmness that earned the Lord of Winterfell the moniker the Quiet Wolf.
Harry looked from the grim shade seen in his father's eyes and the firmness he could see in many of the men's faces. His eyes once again went back to the chained prisoners and the block of wood, which on a closer look, turned out to be a block of ironwood. Suddenly Harry felt a chill in the air, and he doubted the warming charms he applied on his clothes faded away.
No. This chill was quite familiar, and he was dragged back into the memories he had tried so hard to suppress. A broken world with nothing but death came to the forefront of his mind. Standing here, he could feel the stench of death in the air. It was as if a dark force was cloaking him and eerily reminding him of the stench that encompassed his former home. It was not a feeling he liked to be reminded of in any circumstance, as it triggered old instincts he had locked away in the dark corners of his mind.
They were a quarter of a mile east of Wintertown near a small farming village. Harry was under the impression that this whole excursion into the countryside was just a routine visit, but he supposed this was anything but a visit. They were about to witness an execution. He was not the only one to come to this conclusion.
"What did they do?" Garlan quietly asked, looking at Jory.
"They were caught working for an Essosi slaver." Jory answered and did not elaborate further despite the insistence of Jon and Robb.
Harry, on the other hand, connected the dots. He knew his father had been hunting for the people responsible for sending those tongueless children into Winterfell. Even he had at one point sought out the sick fucks who mutilated children and sent them into the North for spy work. His little investigation had not revealed much, mostly because the children were unable to speak and only capable of writing in a foreign dialect. He didn't really have the time to spare to learn a whole new dialect, so he passed on everything he found out to Maester Luwin, and that was the extent of his involvement.
Two guards brought forth one of the prisoners and forced the man to his knees. They forced his head down on the ironwood block despite the prisoner's struggle. The struggle only increased when the Lord of Winterfell unsheathed the ancestral blade of House Stark. The greatsword Ice had been in possession of House Stark for thousands of years. No one knows exactly when the blade came into their possession or who bought it from the Valyrians. There were very few records that survived the test of time, primarily thanks to war or even plain old neglect. The precious few that survived never mentioned anything about how Ice came into the possession of House Stark. It was a shame such records were lost. It'd have been quite interesting to learn how the old First Men kingdoms interacted with the Valyrian Freehold.
He was brought out of his musings as his father started speaking after stabbing the tip of Ice into the ground.
"You've been found guilty of aiding Essosi slavers in transporting mutilated children and spreading them in the North. You've been found guilty of enabling foreign powers to plant spies in the North. You've been found guilty of reaping profits from the slave trade and bribing port officials of White Harbour. You've violated the sacred laws of the Old Gods and betrayed your people, lord and king. By the laws of gods and men established by the kings of the Seven Kingdoms, the punishment for your crimes is death." Eddard declared coldly. "Do you have any last words?"
The prisoner only whimpered pitifully and asked for forgiveness.
"Please forgive me. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
But there was no mercy in Eddard's eyes.
"In the name of Robert of House Baratheon, I sentence you to die." Eddard whispered before swinging Ice.
With a distinct thud, the head of the prisoner hit the ground. The headless body tried to thrash around, but the men holding the limbs of the dead prisoner managed to arrest any needless movement. Nonetheless, the blood pooling around the Ironwood block was a gory sight, as was the headless body of the prisoner. Harry was reminded of some of the gory scenes from the war in his homeworld as muggles and wizards alike turned animalistic during the height of the war. Dismembered bodies were a common sight in most nations as muggles and wizards were forced to rely on cruder weapons to fight the war. Wizards were becoming weak in their magic while muggles were running out of bullets for their guns which forced them both to rely on melee weapons. This was one of the reasons why he had an aversion to training with a sword in the earlier days. If he was to enter a battlefield, then he had no inhibition to go for the kill, but he liked to keep it clean and as painless as possible. Using magic seemed a much more refined way of killing rather than using melee weapons which generated some primal instincts that he disliked.
Despite that aversion becoming far more significant as seconds passed by, Harry stayed firmly grounded and watched as his father executed the last two prisoners the same way. To distract himself from the twitching headless bodies and blood pooling on the ground, he focused on Ice. The thrum of dark magic the sword was pulsing out as new blood touched the blade was quite fascinating to observe. It was his first time seeing Ice in action, and it was far better than he expected. The Valyrians and their deep knowledge of sacrificial rituals were indeed something to behold. Even the wizards back home were no match for the Valyrian sorcerers when it came to enchantments. The Valyrian sorcerers had found a way to construct certain rituals that extracted the power of a soul and transferred it into metal. That was the source of self-replenishing magic that kept the edge of all Valyrian steel weapons.
In some ways, the Valyrians were far worse than any number of Dark Lords in the recorded history of the magical world. Their brazen way of messing with the souls of so many people must have annoyed a lot of 'divine' beings enough to warrant an event like Doom. After all, the Valyrian Dragonlords were said to be closer to gods. The gods might not have been happy with getting more competition and decided to snuff out the Freehold before it was too late.
Harry was suddenly jolted out of his thoughts when his father stood before him with the bloodied ancestral sword of House Stark in hand.
"Our way is the older way. The blood of the First Men flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. If you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die." said Eddard, eyeing all of them keenly. "It is a terrible thing to take another life. It changes you in ways you may not like or even think. So, when you take the sword, keep this lesson in mind. The sword in your hand is not just for protecting you but to take the lives of those who stand against you. Wield it with care."
Harry carefully thought over his father's words and found a certain wisdom hiding in those words. So, he nodded in understanding when his father looked at him.
"Come, we must return to Winterfell. There are certain things that you boys should learn." said Eddard.
The return journey was a sombre affair, and the only one happy in their group was Fenris, running circles around Harry's horse. Initially, it was quite difficult for the horses to behave in the presence of Fenris, but they were slowly coming around and adjusting to the company of his wolfish familiar. Only when all five of them were safely inside the solar of the Lord of Winterfell did they finally learn about the situation developing in the south.
"Will you be going south, father?" asked Robb.
"As soon as the lords gather their men and meet us here." said Eddard.
"Has there been any word from Highgarden, my lord?" Garlan asked.
"No, not yet. I'll let you know the moment a raven comes from your family." Eddard promised.
"Do you think this is going to be a long war, my lord? Lord Tywin must know he has no chance at victory." said Garlan.
"If only it were that simple." Eddard sighed. "Now, enough of this morbid topic. Return to your lessons with Maester Luwin."
Harry alone stayed back in his father's solar while everyone else filtered out.
"Are you sure the magic in Robert's hammer is working as intended?" Eddard asked.
"I'm sure. If Prince Joffrey has failed to lift the hammer, he does not carry King Robert's blood in his veins." Harry said confidently.
"Hmm." Eddard shook his head and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"My lord. A raven came from Avalon." Maester Luwin suddenly appeared in the doorway of the solar, gaining their attention.
"So, there is to be another war." Marwyn mused aloud, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I never thought another one would come so soon after the Greyjoy rebellion."
"Oh, trust me. No one did." Harry grouched as he hated the fact that more Northmen were going to fight in some stupid war which meant more youngsters in the North were going to lose their lives.
"Now, enough chit-chat. Tell me about the situation with the Mormonts. Last I saw my father, he was frothing at the mouth after reading your raven." said Harry as he was kept in the dark about what exactly happened.
"A week back, a fishing boat found two men from the sea. At first, the fishermen thought they were survivors of some shipwreck, but it turns out the two men jumped from a slave ship. Upon interrogating further, the men revealed they were sold off to some Essosi slaver by Lord Jorah Mormont."
Harry couldn't help but be surprised to hear this. He had met the lord of Bear Islands a few years back, and the man didn't seem to exude malice of any sort.
"Are you sure?" Harry asked. "Could it be that these two men are lying?"
"I do not know, my lord. That's why I sent the raven to Lord Stark. This matter needs to be treated delicately." said Marwyn.
"You don't say." Harry muttered.
It was a scandal waiting to happen at the worst possible moment.
"Where are these men we rescued?"
"They are being escorted to Winterfell as we speak. I thought it'd be prudent to send the men to Winterfell as only Lord Stark can sit in judgement of a fellow Northern lord."
Harry frowned at Marwyn's answer.
"You said there was something else important that you needed to discuss. I gather this is not the important matter you mentioned using the raven, right?"
"No, my lord. The two survivors from the sea were not the only visitors to grace the halls of Avalon in your absence." said Marwyn before leading Harry down to the cells in the dungeons.
Harry found three men chained inside separate cells, all of them folding up in fetal positions.
"Who're they?" Harry asked, frowning at the prisoners.
"Paid assassins from Essos. They were sent to kill you. The wards acted against them, and they were falling ill whenever they set foot inside the walls of the castle."
"Assassins? Are they Facelessmen?" Harry asked with a bit of interest.
"I doubt that, my lord. Facelessmen tend to work alone. They don't travel in a group."
"Have you found out who sent them?" Harry asked, staring at the three assassins with a twitching eye as their incessant groaning was fast becoming an irritation for him.
"Unfortunately, no. They are surprisingly loyal to their client."
Harry focused on the wards using his power ring and lifted the curse that made the assassins suffer continuous nausea. The effect was quite palpable as the three prisoners suddenly stopped groaning in pain and regained some colour to their skin.
"I see." Harry nodded, his eyes narrowing at the three muggles before him.
No matter the world, the muggles were always the same. They cannot tolerate those blessed with magic thriving openly in the world.
"You've made your choice. I admire your bravery." Harry said coldly as he summoned the Deathstick into his hand.
A sickly green light struck one of the prisoners snuffing out the assassin's life in an instant. The man slumped down as if a puppet cut from its strings. It was quick, clean, and, most importantly it was painless. The other two prisoners tried to nudge their friend to wake up to no avail.
"He won't wake up. He's dead. He was lucky because he was gifted a painless death. The same couldn't be said for you two."
"No, wait! We'll talk."
"Just don't kill us. We'll tell you anything that you want to know."
Harry eyed the two begging prisoners coldly.
"Tell me who hired you and why?"
"It was Magister Aelux Araelor of Myr. He is suffering losses in Braavos because of your cheaper glass. He wants to put a stop to the glass coming from the North."
Harry raised an eyebrow and turned to the other prisoner.
"Your friend has been useful. But I don't see any use in keeping you alive." said Harry, spinning his wand between his fingers.
"Wait! I can be useful…many more magisters in Myr want you dead. I can give you their names. They'll be sending assassins after you when they realise you are not dead."
"Well, aren't you a peach? Go on, then. Let's hear these names you have for us." Harry folded his hands while Marwyn quickly scribbled down the names the assassin gave them.
When Harry was sure there was nothing much the prisoners could contribute, the green light of the killing curse lightened up the cell once more.
"Burn these corpses to ashes. Order the guards to regularly scout the nearby settlements. I want all travellers monitored, especially those with foreign accents." Harry ordered.
Marwyn agreed readily.
Harry cast one last look at the three dead muggles before he turned his back and left the dungeons. There were other matters he needed to attend to, like the preparation for the ritual. There were only two more days before the full moon, and he wanted to make sure all the preparation was in order for the rebirth of dragons.
"Surely, mother, this is an opportunity like no other. This is our chance to ingrain ourselves into King Robert's good graces." Mace said giddily.
Oh, how he celebrated when word reached Highgarden about the infidelity of the Queen. Even now, he could barely hold himself down instead of jumping around in his castle at the misfortune that was befalling House Lannister. House Lannister was one of the most powerful noble houses in the south, thanks to their gold and marriage into royalty. King Robert didn't look favourably upon the Reach because they sided with the dragons during the Rebellion. But now, the Lannisters had given them an opportunity to gain favour with the king, and he would not waste it.
"Yes, Mace. This is an opportunity like no other. At the same time, Tywin Lannister will rightly see us as a threat. If the armies of the Reach come together as a single force, it'll threaten Casterly Rock and Lannisport. I believe Lord Tywin will strike at us first to deny King Robert the support of the Reach." Oleanna mused aloud.
"Then what do you recommend we do, mother?" Mace asked eagerly.
"Call the banners Mace. We must reinforce the ocean road with our army and alert the Redwyne fleet as well. Meanwhile, we must send messengers to King Robert, promising him our swords. Invite the Baratheons to Highgarden for an invasion into the Westerlands."
Mace's eyes gleamed positively as he thought of the prospect of an invasion into Westerlands. Even the Gardner kings had failed to subjugate the lions of the west. He couldn't help but be merry by the thought that he'd be the first Lord of Highgarden to bring the proud lions to their knees.
Yes, he could see it now. The glory that he'd bring to his House would no doubt get him some approval from his mother.
"I told you, Mace. The Stark boy is going to bring great changes to Westeros." said Oleanna, laughing at the misfortune of the Lannisters.
"Yes, mother. I remember. Now that King Robert has set aside his wife, who'll be the next queen?" Mace wondered, earning a faint look of approval from Oleanna.
"You are thinking in the right direction, my son. We must immediately contact the Starry Sept. We must see to it that King Robert will have no trouble from the Faith in setting his wife aside."
"I will have the Maester write to Hightower." Mace said, wondering who'd become the new Queen.
He cursed his luck as there were no maidens in his House. There was his Margaery, but he dismissed that thought immediately. His daughter was still a child. He let out a disappointed sigh.
'It'd have been mightily convenient if Margaery was the firstborn.' Mace thought disappointedly.