Post by WildlingKing on Aug 19, 2020 22:24:56 GMT
Act III: Blood and Tears
Tears rolled down young Ser Triston Tarly’s cheeks. Lord Triston Tarly now, Walton Manderly reminded himself. For the past years Triston had been almost like an older brother to him, but he had never seen him like this before, so vulnerable and distraught.
“Your father died with honor, mylord,” Walton managed to say. Triston raised his eyes to meet his, as if he just remembered that Walton was still in the room.
“Lord,” Triston muttered weakly, turning his gaze down again. “I suppose that is what I am now… my house, my family, it’s all on my shoulders now. But I am not ready to carry this weight without him, not yet.”
Walton tried to come up with something encouraging, but the words escaped him. Memories of the battle flashed through his mind again, the thundering sound of the galloping horses, the arrows flying through the air, the stink of death in the air, the men he had killed, the screams of pain… and the lifeless look in Lord Symon’s eyes as he laid dead on the battlefield.
“Thank you, Walton, for telling me,” Triston said tensely, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I know father would want me to stay strong in this moment, for the sake of House Tarly and all of the Reach. So, that is what I will try to do.”
“Good,” Walton responded sullenly. “We will certainly need all the strength we can muster.”
Later that day an army of over five-thousand troops led by Lord Preston Osgrey arrived at Highgarden, and a great war council was summoned by King Greydon.
The great hall of Highgarden bustled with the chatter of hundreds of lords and knights. As the King’s squire Walton stood close to Greydon on the dais, together with the King’s other two squires – Mortimer Osgrey and Alyn Graceford. They were both younger than Walton, Mortimer having recently had his thirteenth nameday and Alyn turning twelve in a fortnight. Walton had not spent much time with them yet, but he could already tell that at least Mortimer wasn’t happy about the King making him his third squire. Alyn on the other hand seemed like the quiet and reserved type, certainly not one to reveal his inner thoughts easily.
“You can still ask the King to let you stay in Highgarden,” Mortimer whispered to Walton. “It’s alright, you already fought in one battle.”
“I will march with King Greydon to avenge Lord Symon,” Walton stubbornly hissed in response, to which Mortimer nodded stiffly. “Alright, just wanted to let you know,” he muttered.
“My lords!” King Greydon spoke up loudly, and quickly the hall fell silent. “We are gathered here because our great kingdom is facing its greatest hardship in generations. Massive Lannister army has invaded our lands from the north, while Ironborn raiders have overwhelmed the Shield Islands and now sail up and down the Mander, raping and plundering as they see fit. The men in this hall, and the great army gathered outside these walls, are the last hope of the Reach to survive this crisis with its dignity and sovereignty intact. So, I implore you all to voice your opinions now on how we should proceed.”
There were mutterings among the crowd, which slowly grew into a cacophony of competing voices. “Silence!” Greydon roared frustratedly. “One at a time. Lord Osgrey, Marshall of the Northmarch, let us start with you.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” the old lord spoke up with a small bow to the King. “I believe the first thing to establish is that the two enemy forces currently occupying our kingdom must not be allowed to combine themselves into one large army. This means we cannot fortify ourselves here. Instead, we must choose to either march against the Lannister army to the northeast, or to relieve Dunstonbury from the Ironborn siege.”
“I disagree!” yelled a plump lord clad in brown-and-white attire. “Highgarden is the strongest fortress in the Reach, and with an army this large it would be easy to defend. I say let them try and take it, they will be devastated by our defenses!”
“You are a fool, Lord Graceford, if you think that is how it would go,” Lord Osgrey spoke sternly. “They would besiege us, trapping the whole might of the Reach within these walls while they’d have free reign to take what they please from the rest of the kingdom. And how long do you think the provisions would last for a host this large? Sooner or later we would be forced to face them on the open field.”
“What of Lord Hightower’s host?” asked a tall and comely young lord with the golden tree of House Rowan embroidered on his silver cloak. “Can we trust in their aid?”
“Lord Hightower is still amassing his forces at Oldtown as far as I know,” King Greydon answered the question. “He plans to march against the Ironborn besieging Dunstonbury, while the Redwyne fleet sails to close off the Mander and retake the Shield Islands. However, it will take at least a fortnight, perhaps more, before we can expect any of that to happen.”
“Your Grace, perhaps we should combine our forces with Lord Hightower and help him lift the siege on Dunstonbury,” suggested Lord Rowan. “The Ironborn would stand no chance against us, and when they would retreat out of Mander they would be crushed by the Redwyne fleet. That would be half of the problem taken care of, and then the full might of the Reach would truly be united against the invading Lannisters.”
“That is all well and good in theory, Lord Rowan, but it would mean leaving Highgarden vulnerable against the Lannister army,” Lord Osgrey pointed out. “Not to mention the Ironborn might choose to retreat upriver when they see our army combined with that of Lord Hightower, which would lead to the worst possible outcome – the Ironborn and Lannister forces united and in possession of Highgarden.”
Grim silence filled the hall for a moment, and Walton could see anger, fear, and frustration in the eyes of every lord and knight he laid his eyes on.
“I believe it is clear what we must do,” King Greydon finally spoke up with a grave tone. “To win this war, our first priority must be to defeat the invading Lannister army. The Ironborn are a distraction, and as long as they aren’t allowed to unite with the Lannisters they will flee our shores as soon as they are no longer able to pillage freely. The Lannisters however, must be crushed in a decisive battle, or they will continue to threaten us for years to come. That is why we shall march up the Mander and face them on an open field. May the Warrior strengthen our sword arms, brothers, for the Reach!”
“For the Reach!” the lords repeated in unison.
“Long live the King!” yelled Lord Osgrey, and soon they all joined him in a chant. “Long live the King! Long live the King! Long live the King!”
After the feast that evening Walton made his way to the chambers given to him in the King’s Tower. There he stood by the window, looking out to the vast fields of golden roses north of the castle. Even as he tried to relax his mind was a storm, thoughts running from worrying about his family that was currently besieged by the Ironborn, to memories of the battle at Stonebridge flashing through his mind, to wondering if Ryam and Genna had already learned about their father’s death and how they would react, to imagining the horrors that awaited him in the battles ahead. At least I will have the chance to die by my king’s side, he thought grimly.
A knock on the door awoke Walton from his thoughts. He opened the door, finding Ser Benedict Bulwer – one of Greydon’s royal guards – standing in the corridor. Ser Benedict was a tall and broad-shouldered man on his late thirties, with short black hair and a goatee around his mouth.
“Walton Manderly, His Grace invites you to his office,” the knight spoke with his deep voice.
“You mean right now?” Walton asked with a surprised tone.
“Yes,” Benedict responded laconically, a slightly condescending look in his eyes. Walton nodded with a gulp. “I understand, ser,” he said calmly. “Just let me change into something appropriate.”
After putting on some finer clothes, Walton followed Ser Benedict to the King’s office, which was located two stories up on the highest floor of the tower. To his surprise, Walton found King Greydon waiting him alone behind his desk, on it a carafe of wine and two empty glasses.
“Come, take a seat,” Greydon said, gesturing towards the seat opposed to him and pouring wine for them both. Nervously Walton took the seat, keeping his gaze down.
“Your Grace, I… I’m honored by this invitation,” he managed to say, to which the King chuckled mildly.
“It’s just the two of us here, boy,” Greydon said calmly. “You may drop the courtesies and titles.”
Timidly Walton raised his eyes, and for a moment their gazes met, but he suddenly felt overwhelmed by the King’s unyielding stare and instinctively turned down his eyes again. “As you wish, Your… I mean, King Greydon,” he muttered with an uncomfortable tone.
“Drink, it’s good wine,” Greydon encouraged, taking a gulp from his own glass. Walton obeyed and took a small sip of the wine. The King let out a small chuckle again. “As fun as it is to watch you squirm there uncomfortably, I suppose I should tell you why I invited you here to share a glass of wine with me.”
“That would be appreciated,” Walton replied with a slightly more confident tone.
“To put it bluntly, I know of the tensions between your father and Lord Peake,” Greydon said nonchalantly. Walton’s eyes widened in surprise, which clearly did not go unnoticed by the King. “Don’t look so surprised, boy. A good king knows his subjects, their desires, ambitions, and secrets. However, a wise king also lets his subjects think that he knows less than he actually does.”
“If you know what Lord Peake plans, why have you not stopped him?” Walton asked, coming off a bit more aggressive than he had intended. “I mean… he plans to have my family killed.”
“And I let him have his ambitions, just as I let your father have his,” Greydon said sharply. “Oh yes, your father isn’t as innocent as you believe. However, so long as they both believe they need my approval, I am in the perfect position to keep these tensions between House Peake and House Manderly from erupting into pure chaos. In fact, taking you as my squire is another way of ensuring just that.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“Loyalty for protection,” Greydon said tensely. “Fight by my side, fight for the Reach, and you and your family will always have my protection.”
“I have already sworn my sword to your service,” Walton remarked with a slight gulp.
“For the sake of avenging Lord Tarly, yes,” Greydon conceded. “However, what I require of you is your life, your soul and your heart. By my side, you shall be the very essence of loyalty and honor, a shining example of dedication to your king and country. Do you believe you are capable of that, boy?”
Walton gulped down his wine and took in a deep breath. “I am, Your Grace,” he swore, looking Greydon to the eyes, and a satisfied smirk formed on the King’s face.