Book 1, Act 2 - Steel and Fire May 30, 2019 9:44:50 GMT
Post by WildlingKing on May 30, 2019 9:44:50 GMT
Act II: Steel and Fire
Thick fog and foul stench of death lingered in the air, faceless shadows moved all around Arthur, and all he could hear were the shrill sounds of steel clashing with steel and the crazed screams of pain. Clenching tightly to his shining sword he waded forward, every step feeling heavier than the last. He felt like he was suffocating inside his helmet, so he ripped it out of his head and tossed it onto the muddy ground. He took a deep gasp, but the bitter taste of the air merely made him fall on his knees.
Turning his gaze down, Arthur saw a dead man lying on the mud. It was his friend and brother-in-arms, Ser Hallis Hardyng, an expression of horror frozen on his bloodstained face. As he put his shaking hand on his friend’s face, the ground began to tremble. He shifted his gaze up, seeing a giant with antlers approaching him through the battlefield. Arthur couldn’t move, the mud was swallowing him. The giant raised his warhammer, and as he brought it down lighting struck and blinded Arthur.
Ser Arthur Arryn opened his eyes, sweating and shaking slightly in his bed. With a sigh he raised to a sitting position, feeling a faint pain on his lower back. He rested his forehead on his left hand, taking in a few deep breaths. He glanced towards the window of his chambers, seeing that it was not yet dawn.
It had been years since he had last had nightmares about the Battle of Six Kings, but the message that had arrived from Stoney Sept yesterday had clearly resurfaced some painful memories. Sent by Ser Harrold Hill, it had summoned the Warrior’s Sons of Gulltown to aid their brothers in Riverlands to overthrow the rule of the Storm King, and instill a new king. As the captain of Gulltown’s chapterhouse, Ser Arthur would hold a council regarding the issue come the morrow.
Since falling back asleep felt like a hopeless pursuit, Arthur decided to go for a walk. He didn’t bother to put on his armor, but still donned his rainbow cloak and strapped his sheathed sword on his belt. He grabbed and lit a lantern and made his way quietly to the cobbled streets of Gulltown.
The chapterhouse was located on the High Street together with Gulltown’s grandest sept, just below the Grafton Keep and overlooking the rest of the port city tucked around the narrow bay. Gulltown was quiet and beautiful at night, and the sea glimmered slightly under the light of the moon and stars. In the distance far beyond the city walls to the east, north and west could be seen white and jagged peaks stabbing the indigo sky.
With a tired sigh Arthur leaned on the stone railing of the High Street, below which was a nearly twenty feet drop to the tiled roofs of the lower streets. Gulltown had been a home to him ever since he first joined the Faith Militant at the age of twenty, over fifty years ago. During those fifty years he had defended Gulltown against Northmen during one of their last aggressions in the War Across the Water, traveled to Oldtown three times to give his oaths to the High Septon – the latest of those visits nineteen years ago when he was made a captain – and sixteen years ago he had fought beside the last Teagues against the Blackwood rebels and the Storm King. He had already thought himself old back then, but now he was on his early seventies and lacked any sense of adventure or hunger for glory he had once had. In truth Arthur had wished to live the rest of his days here in peace, away from the wars of Westeros. It seems the gods wish to test me once more.
Seeing the first hints of dawn creep up to the eastern skies, Ser Arthur decided to make his way to the meeting hall of the chapterhouse. There he lighted candles around the seven granite pillars encircling the round room, and took his place in the middle, waiting for the knights of the Warrior’s Sons to come as invited.
The first to arrive was Ser Eddard Egen, who had served in the Warrior’s Sons nearly as long as Arthur and was one of his seven lieutenants. He was a stout and broad man on his late sixties, with a frizzy grey-white beard and a thin hair in the same color. Arthur and Eddard had fought side-by-side in the Riverlands, together with Ser Hallis Hardyng who fell in the Battle of Six Kings. The three of them had known each other since childhood, and Arthur had considered Hallis the best friend he ever had.
“Arthur, I thought you were still in bed when I didn’t see you at the mess hall,” Eddard said with a thin smirk, which Arthur reciprocated.
“If only,” he responded calmly. “My days of oversleeping are firmly in the past, I’m afraid.”
“Well, no matter how old you are you still need to eat,” Eddard remarked with a small chuckle, but in his green eyes was a look of genuine concern.
“I will break my fast once the meeting is done, Ned,” Arthur promised to his friend. He had never had much of an appetite, which was perhaps the reason he had remained a lean man throughout his life, but during these past few years it had diminished even more. And now, with nightmares from sixteen years ago creeping into his mind again and making his stomach turn, Arthur could hardly even think about eating.
Eddard looked like he was about to ask something, but just then the doors opened again and four more of Arthur’s lieutenants walked in. Ser Selmond Hunter was a dour and dutiful man on his early fifties, with a long and gaunt cleanshaven face, sharp blue eyes, a beak of a nose and slightly receding dark brown hair. There were rumors that he had ambitions of rising to the position of captain once the seat would become vacant, but that was something Arthur didn’t want to think about.
Ser Lambert Stone was a tall and muscular man on his mid-thirties, with long and dark slicked-back hair, shadow of a beard, sharp facial features and sullen brown eyes. He had been born a bastard of some Royce knight, and had joined the Warrior’s Sons shortly after the last war in Riverlands.
Ser Alan of the Fingers was a smiling and carefree man on his late twenties, with a short blonde hair, close-cropped beard across his strong jaw, broad face and small blue eyes. He had been a lowborn hedge knight before joining the Warrior’s Sons six years ago, and he was one of the most skilled with both sword and lance from the knights under Arthur’s command.
Lastly, Ser Perros Hawick was a stern and humorless man on his early forties, with haggard face, bald head, bushy dark beard, one grey eye and a gruesome old scar running over where his left eye had once been. In his youth he had served the Teagues, but after their fall he had exiled himself to the Vale of Arryn and joined the Warrior’s Sons in Gulltown.
They all gave Arthur a respectful bow. “Ser Arthur, may I ask what the cause for this meeting is?” Ser Selmond asked with a stale and formal tone. “You will learn soon enough, Ser Selmond,” Arthur answered smoothly. “Once all our brothers are present.”
Knights poured in as small groups for the following minutes, until all hundred-and-four were present. Twenty years ago the chapterhouse of Gulltown had boasted nearly three hundred Warrior’s Sons, but the last war had heavily thinned their numbers. Only twenty-one out of the two hundred who had ridden to Riverlands sixteen years ago ever returned to Gulltown, and some of them did so as invalids no longer capable of fulfilling the duties of a knight.
Among the last to enter the meeting hall were the freshest of Arthur’s lieutenants, Ser Gareth Grafton and Ser Osbert Shett. They were both young noblemen on their mid-twenties, born and bred in Gulltown. Gareth was a boyishly handsome, tall and thin fourthborn son of Lord Gulian Grafton, whereas his good friend Osbert was a robust and bearded second son of Lord Morgan Shett. They had both joined the Warrior’s Sons three years ago, neither had seen real war, and Arthur suspected they hadn’t given their oaths to the Faith Militant out of any genuine will to serve the gods, but rather in an attempt to find glory and status otherwise denied from them as fourth- and secondborn. However, Arthur had done his best to groom them to serve and command regardless of the purity of their motives – the Warrior’s Sons needed every knight they could get.
“Let us begin with a short prayer,” Arthur announced to the hundred rainbow-cloaked knights surrounding him. “We ask the Father to judge us fairly,” he began, and the knights joined him in a choir. “We ask the Mother to grant us mercy. We ask the Warrior to give us the courage to be righteous. We ask the Maiden to protect the virtue of the innocent we guard. We ask the Smith to lend us his strength to fulfill our duties. We ask the Crone to show us wisdom in times of confusion. We ask the Stranger to keep us from untimely grave. We pledge our swords, and our hearts, for the Seven.”
A short moment of silence followed the prayer, and Arthur let his gaze soar over the solemn faces of the knights under his command, while gently stroking his white as snow beard. The silence was broken by Ser Gareth Grafton, who stepped forward and gave Arthur a respectful nod before speaking up. “Ser Arthur, I believe you summoned us here to tell about the message you received yesterday.”
“I haven’t forgotten, Ser Gareth,” Arthur responded with a thin smile, receiving some mild chuckles from the crowd of knights. He then pulled the piece of parchment from his satchel, once again laying his eyes on the crude handwriting of Ser Harrold Hill. “The message was sent by our brothers in Stoney Sept,” he announced with a loud and serious tone, handing the parchment to Ser Eddard Egen. “It is a call to arms, a plead for the Warrior’s Sons of Gulltown to join our brothers in Riverlands, to overthrow the godless rule of the Storm King and instill a new King of the Trident. A king named Lucifer Justman.”
Arthur heard some gasps and confused murmurs from the crowd, and then Ser Lambert Stone spoke up. “The Justman line died out centuries ago,” he said with a frown.
“Ser Harrold claims that the High Septon vouches for the legitimacy of this King Lucifer,” Ser Eddard said, having read the letter and now handing it to Ser Lambert who stood next to him.
“Then there is no disputing it, His High Holiness is the gods’ voice on earth,” Ser Selmond stated with a decided tone.
“Let us not forget what happened last time we marched to Riverlands,” said Ser Marston of Wickenden, one of the few veterans of the last war still amongst their ranks. “Not to mention back then we marched to support an unquestionably rightful king in his efforts to defeat a rebellion. Now Ser Harrold asks us to pledge our swords for some pretender none of us have even heard of before.”
“The last war was indeed costly, and I too have my doubts about this supposed Justman king,” Arthur stated calmly, taking in a deep breath. “However, it is as Ser Selmond says. If the High Septon has deemed this King Lucifer legitimate and righteous, it is not our place to question his judgement.”
“Justman or not, as the Warrior’s Sons we have a duty to back a king faithful to the Seven over the godless usurpers who now reign over the Riverlands,” Ser Perros Hawick declared with zealous wrath in his words. Arthur gave the one-eyed riverman a small approving nod, even if he suspected that Perros’ fervor was mostly fueled by his desire to avenge his former masters.
“Ser Perros speaks truly,” Ser Eddard said sternly, now looking Arthur to the eyes. “We must answer this call. However, how many men shall ride, and who will lead them?”
“I will lead,” Arthur declared, his words hollow and chills going down his spine as he spoke them. It brought him no joy or pride, but it had to be done. “It is my duty as your captain.”
For a moment no one said anything, until Ser Gareth stepped forward again. “Ser Arthur, you have served the Faith Militant dutifully for a long time, no one can deny your valor and distinctive career, and because of that no one could blame you for passing this war,” the Grafton knight spoke with a polite tone. “It would be my honor to lead the Warrior’s Sons to this war in your stead.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes and took a step closer to Gareth. “Do you believe me so old and weak that I can no longer raise my shield, Grafton?” he asked sternly. Gareth gulped and glanced around himself nervously, clearly surprised by Arthur’s response. “No, ser,” he then managed to mutter.
“I am a knight still, and while my years of prime are certainly far behind, I assure all of you that I still have the strength and wits to fight and command,” Arthur bellowed with all the strength he could muster in his voice, drawing the full attention of every man in the room. “I will ride to Riverlands, and with me shall ride seventy-six knights of this chapterhouse. Ser Selmond Hunter, you will remain in charge here while we are gone. I and the rest of my lieutenants shall each choose ten knights to ride with us.” Ser Arthur Arryn drew his sword and raised it towards the ceiling of the hall high above him. “To war, for the Seven!”
All hundred-and-four rainbow-cloaked knights also drew and raised up their swords. “For the Seven!” they roared in unison.