The Children Of Ice And Fire

VVSIGNOFTHECROSS

Chapter 013

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Ser Stannis Baratheon

It had been a whole year since Robert had returned to Storm’s End and called the banners, a whole year in which the kingdoms had been embroiled in a war the scale of which had not been seen since the fifth Blackfyre war some thirty years ago. Robert’s head had been called for by King Aerys, and though Robert was only friends with Eddard Stark whose sister had been taken by Prince Rhaegar, the King had thought that enough reason to call Stannis’ elder brother a traitor and demand his head. Robert’s foster father had refused to hand Robert over and so had called his banners. After the battle of Gulltown Robert had returned home, called his banners and then marched on Summerhall to deal with the Martells and those other lords who had not answered his call to arms. Robert had asked him to hold Storm’s End for him and so he had through thick and thin he had promised Robert that he would hold Storm’s End for him and that he would not let the Tyrells, the Martells or the Targaryens take their home from them.

It had been one of the hardest decisions Stannis had ever had to make in his life, deciding whether or not he owed more loyalty to his older brother and liege lord or to King Aerys who was his father’s cousin and also his king. It had taken Stannis much consideration and a few choice words with his great uncle Harbert before he had made up his mind, blood was thicker than water after all that was what his mother had often said to him, and so Stannis had resolved to make sure that he gave two hundred percent for Robert. His brother had made it look easy though, he had fought in Dorne whilst Stannis had stayed behind and looked after Storm’s End, Robert had won acclaim as the Demon of the Sands for his prowess in Dorne, outshining the crown prince, and now he was winning battles with his war hammer and bringing enemies into allies.

Word had trickled through from the front, Stannis had heard of the battle of Summerhall, and how Robert had managed to break the Martell host that had numbered some 12,000 men and had shattered their defence on the walls of Summerhall, but the right of his host had broken and so Robert had led the remenants of his own host to Ashford where they had managed to cause some damage to the vanguard of the advancing Tyrell host. Robert had then moved north to meet up with his allies in the Riverlands. Where a marriage pact had been sealed. The northern army had marched south 25,000 strong including wildlings and giants if Robert’s letter could be believed. Robert’s foster father had arrived with some 20,000 men from the Vale as well and in order to convince Hoster Tully to join them in waging war against the Targaryens, Jon Arryn’s heir Elbert Arryn had wed Lysa Tully and Stannis himself had been betrothed to Catelyn Tully, a girl who was said to be very beautiful young lady and smart. Not that Stannis particularly cared he would do his duty and be done with it.

With the Tullys on their side the northmen and the Valemen had marched for the Stoney Sept where Robert had hidden in order to preserve himself from the wrath of the new hand of the king Jon Connington. Who had come looking for him with a vengeance and as such had been searching from door to door and had nearly found Robert when his allies had arrived and a fierce fight had ensured. In his letter Robert said that it was Prince Aemon Stark and his foster father who had won that battle for him, Robert himself had killed one of Prince Rhaegar’s cousins Ser Desmond Osgrey from the Leafy Lake Osgreys and had managed to severly wound Lord Connington himself, though Connington had managed to retreat back to King’s Landing. Robert had written that they were marching for the Trident in order to get a better scope of how things stood and try and prevent Rhaegar from coming up to deal with them should he make it to King’s Landing. Robert had not made their plans so evident, yet Stannis knew his brother well enough to know that that was what he was planning; always one for the bold approach was Robert.

Whilst he had been reading his brother’s letter, Stannis had not forgotten that at the end of this all Robert could be king. It seemed that Lord Arryn’s words at Gulltown had become common agreement, Hoster Tully and his bannermen had declared for Robert as king as well as Lord Arryn’ and his bannermen. Meaning that Robert now had three of the five great houses support for the Iron Throne. Soon enough it seemed as if he would become King, especially considering he was betrothed to Cersei Lannister as well, though Tywin Lannister had not done anything to suggest he remembered the betrothal.

Stannis himself had been rather busy as well, he had held Storm’s End but then when the Tyrell host led by Mace Tyrell had come a knocking through the Stormlands, ending the siege of Summerhall by slaughtering the men led by his uncle Eldon Estermont and they had then advanced close to Storm’s End when Tyrell had retreated back to the reach for some reason or the other, though he had left about 500 men under the command of his uncle Ser Meryn Tyrell to go on with the siege of Storm’s End. Stannis had learnt of this and then taking what men his brother had left at Storm’s End, numbering some 2,000 he had marched out from Storm’s End and in a fierce storm had led the slaughter of the Reachmen left behind. He had made sure each reachmen was dead before ordering the attack to stop, those in command of the Reach army had their heads mounted on spikes and placed in front of Storm’s End. They were traitors and now the Tyrells had fallen to the Osgreys, Highgarden belonged to them.

The Tyrells might have been dealt with but there were still loyalist houses in the Stormlands that could cause problems in the future and that could bolster whatever forces the Targaryens eventually mustered to deal with Robert and his allies. And so Stannis had summoned what men he now had left, 700 men in total and had led the charge from Storm’s End to take the lightly held Bronzegate and Felwood followed by Grandview. With those castles under his control, the remaining Stormlords who had hovered between uncertainty and neutrality during the early stages of the war now declared for Robert and added what little strength they had to his, thus giving him the 700 men he now had.

As it was he had called a war council to discuss their next move of action. Stannis found himself in the lord’s solar in Grandview where Lord Orys Grandison had until a year ago sat and waited for the lords to come in. The door opened and they did, Ser Marcus Tarth the second best knight in the Stormlands, Silveraxe Fell, the new Lord Grandison and finally Lord Edrick Massey. Once they were all seated Stannis spoke. “My lords I thank you for coming, you know why we are here. We hold the loyalist castles closest to Summerhall now, and as such have depleted House Martell of any potential reinforcements. With Lord Perwyn Osgrey establishing control over the Reach and the Tyrells broken, aid for Summerhall grows weaker each and every day. I would hear your views on where you think we should head next.”

Ser Marcus Tarth a big brute of a man spoke then. “Well with Lord Jon Connington having been exiled from Westeros for his failure in the battle of the bells, his cousin Ser Ronald Connington is know the head of the house. However, the man has lost his lands to Aerys madness. Therefore I believe Griffin’s Roost will not be necessary to nullify the threat. Summerhall will however need to be taken. Loreza Martell commands significant support and her daughter is still in King’s Landing, she will fight till the bitter end.”

Silveraxe spoke then. “What Ser Marcus says make sense. However, we still don’t know which way Ser Ronald will run. The man’s cousin was fanatically loyal to Prince Rhaegar and the Targaryens. Who is to say that the man himself is not? Besides if we take Griffin’s Roost we win the alliance of the Mistwood and Rainwood houses in one fell swoop. We would be foolish to leave ourselves undefended in that region.”

Lord Massey spoke then his voice soft. “Ser Ronald Connington might be more willing to listen to sense if we have something to offer him. A marriage perhaps?”

“Who would you suggest Lord Edrick?” Ser Marcus asks. “After all our King is betrothed to Cersei Lannister and Lord Stannis is betrothed to Lady Catelyn Tully. Lord Renly is an option but he is too young to seriously consider surely?”

“Connington will be more likely to consider coming into the fold if his daughter is wed into the new royal family my lords. Otherwise he will call more men and attack us. We need his men to attack Summerhall, or not even his men but more his neutrality.” Lord Edrick reasons.

Stannis speaks then. “Very well, send a raven to Ser Ronald and offer him this betrothal. Should he accept I shall bring it up with Robert once the war is won? Should he refuse he will be crushed once this war is won. Now we must discuss Summerhall. What are its strengths at present?”

Lord Steffon Grandison spoke then. “Apart from its walls and its terraces, there are no strengths my lord. Summerhall has no men, apart from a mere garrison made up of old men and green boys. The majority of the fighting strength headed north with Lord Randyll Tarly and Prince Oberyn when they rode north for the Trident.”

Stannis nods and then says. “Very well Lord Grandison, send out a raven to Ser Ronald tonight, and tomorrow we march for Summerhall and we shall take it by force if needs be.”

The next day they ride out as the mists are beginning to appear, the snow on the ground is heavy and their horses stumble once or twice, but they made it easily enough to Summerhall, where they found a bigger host than expected waiting for them outside the castle walls. And leading them was Prince Doran Martell, the Prince rode forward with a banner of parlay. He spoke slowly. “Lord Stannis.”

“Prince Doran,” Stannis said. “I have come to take Summerhall for my brother King Robert Baratheon.”

“And I am afraid that I must refuse to that request my lord. House Martell will hold Summerhall for the Targaryens and the rightful king until we are asked to stand down. Not before and not otherwise.” Prince Doran replies almost sadly.

“Then you shall be destroyed my prince. And none shall be left alive to mourn the dead.” Stannis promises.

“Then that is a risk I am willing to take my lord.” Prince Doran says before he turns his horse around and rides back into the foray of his men.

Stannis turns his own horse around and rides back to his men, nodding to Ser Marcus to sound the horn and the second battle for Summerhall begins. The fighting is quick and fast, Stannis slashes through man after man cutting them down like they are nothing more than sacks of meat, hacking, slashing and cutting, their screams fill his ears and fill his mind driving all other thought from his mind. He continues fighting and killing, his sword is stained red from the effort, but still more and more men come at him and his own men, his men are dying quicker than they are killing the enemy. There are too many of them. He thinks, his thoughts proved right when the right of the host breaks and Lord Edrick Massey’s head goes flying past Stannis.

Suddenly just as it seems as if the attack might have been a bad idea, a surprise host from the south attacks the Martell host in the rear, an attack that catches both sides by surprise considering these men are flying and wearing Baratheon colours. Stannis knows not where these men have come from but he is not about to complain about the aid they are giving him, not when they are inspiring his remaining men to keep fighting. He pushes on and continues hacking and slashing his way through the Martell host driving and pushing his way through until he breaks into the castle, Ser Marcus Tarth and many others on his heels.

He kills the guards on the doors of the Princess Loreza Martell and storms into her room covered in blood and dirt, and place the head of Ser Manfrey Martell at her feet. The Princess looks at him from where she is sat and says simply. “Well then Lord Stannis I suppose Summerhall is yours.”


Lady Ashara Dayne

There had been times in the past two years where she had really had difficulty believing that Harrenhal had actually happened, it seemed so much like a dream if she was being truly honest with herself, and Ashara Dayne had never been one for believing in dreams, not since her mother had died. Harrenhal, it had all been planned Elia had told her by Rhaegar Targaryen and his friends, or rather his cronies as she had come to think of them, Ser Oswell Whent, Myles Mooton, Richard Lonmouth, Jon Connington and her own brother Ser Arthur Dayne. They had been the architects behind ensuring Harrenhal was planned and occurred, for two years after the failed invasion of Dorne they had planned it all.

And then Aerys had attended and ruined Rhaegar’s carefully laid plans, and the northerners had come down from their distant kingdom and Ashara had lost her heart. She had met Eddard Stark during one of the many feasts that had been held during the tourney, his brother Brandon, confident and bold as brass Brandon Stark who had turned quite a few heads during the tourney had come up to her and asked her if she would like to dance with his younger brother who was to nervous and shy to ask her himself. Intrigued Ashara had agreed and now looking back on it all she was glad that she had consented to dancing with Ned. Ned was not like most other men who Ashara had known, he was quiet and shy and rarely talked during their dance, he was not even that good of a dancer, though he was very nice and pleasant and thanked her for the dance afterwards. Her usual charms had not worked on him during the dance; she had been unable to get more than two words out of him during their dance, which had only made her more determined to get to know him.

And so after that first dance, she had made sure to seek him out at the feasts that were held during the tourney, she would often speak to him when he was with his brother or goodbrother or friend Robert, but often she would catch him as he was walking by himself through the vast halls that were Harrenhal. It was during these times that Ashara truly came to know Eddard Stark, or as well as someone could come to know a person during a week. They spoke of many things, such as their homes, what their lives were like and what they expected of themselves in the future. Ashara had come to find that she quite liked Ned, she liked the way he spoke more with his eyes than his words. And she had been determined to get to know him in more ways than one, after the final dance and feast of the tourney, she had led him back to her chambers and bedded him. The morning after he had apologised most profusely for dishonouring her as he saw it, she had merely kissed him on the lips and told him that she wanted to get to know him better. That had eased his nerves somewhat and so they had agreed to keep in contact, and they had through ravens they came to know one another a lot better, and Ashara fancied herself more than passing fond of Eddard Stark.

Three moons after Harrenhal Ashara had realised she was with child and had panicked, for the King had grown even more paranoid and suspicious of the north and the Starks following Harrenhal and when she went to speak with the Grand Maester she had panicked massively. Arthur had been the one escort her back to Blackhaven not saying a word to her the whole time and back then she had thought it was because he was disappointed with her but now looking back on it she realises that it was likely because of what the madman he called a friend had likely asked of him. She had come back to Blackhaven and found that her father was knocking on death’s door, Lord Edric Dayne had been a strong man and a kind and loving father, he had fled Dorne with Princess Loreza when the Yronwoods had rebelled and as such had always been loyal to her first and the crown second. He had died of a wasting sickness two moons after Ashara had arrived at Blackhaven. She had given birth to Jon a moon before news of Lyanna Stark’s abduction became common knowledge. Jon, who looked so much like his father, with his dark brown hair, long face and piercing grey eyes. Her Jon was a quiet babe barely crying and most observing what he saw. She loved him with all her heart and she so wished for him to know his father.

About two moons after Jon’s birth Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark arrived at Blackhaven, their arrival at her childhood home had completely surprised and angered Ashara, how dare Rhaegar come bringing a woman he had abandoned Elia for to her home! But that was not the worst thing about it, no, the worst thing about it all was that Arthur had come with them, and had aided Rhaegar Targaryen in the kidnapping of a Princess and married woman. Arthur who had been their father’s favourite child who was the Sword of the Morning, had aided in the kidnapping of a woman, and that had broken Ashara’s heart. Rhaegar Targaryen was a mad man, that much had become clear to Ashara shortly after the man had arrived, he would go on and on about some stupid prophecy and how Lyanna Stark would give him his Visenya, Ashara had slapped him when he had mentioned that and how it was more important than the lives of Elia, and his children Rhaenys and Aegon, she had slapped him and she would have done more to him had Ullrick not pulled her off him. Ullrick who following their father’s death was now Lord of Blackhaven and had declared neutrality, telling the world he needed time to mourn his father’s death and the death of his own child, and telling Rhaegar he meant to protect the royal babe that was currently in Lyanna Stark’s belly, whilst telling Ashara and Arthur that he would not hurt their family by aiding a rapist and a kidnapper. For that was what Rhaegar was, Lyanna Stark Ashara had come to find was stubborn and wilful but she did not like Rhaegar, she screamed whenever he came near her, and when the man forced himself on her Ashara could see how Lyanna shook and felt repulsed with herself afterwards. Arthur kept on insisting that Rhaegar was not raping Lyanna Stark, but what else could it be especially when he had bribed her with the deaths of her husband and son unless she allowed him to have sex with her.

Thankfully Rhaegar was gone now, he had left for King’s Landing some two weeks ago, after Ser Gerold Hightower the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard had come looking for him. How the lord commander had found the Prince Ashara knew not but she had a suspicion it had something to do with the eunuch. News from the war had been rare coming to Blackhaven, they knew of the fighting in the Stormlands and the fall of Summerhall to Stannis Baratheon, and they knew of the fall of House Tyrell and the rise of House Osgrey. Ser Gerold brought them news of the battle of the Bells and the marriages of Elbert Arryn and the betrothal of Stannis Baratheon, no news on Ned and that unsettled her as much as it soothed her, so long as he was not married by the time this war ended things would be okay. Rhaegar had left for King’s Landing with Ser Gerold Hightower, but he had ordered Arthur and Ser Oswell to remain in Blackhaven to guard Lyanna Stark and to make sure she did not leave, a decision that was eating away at Arthur who Ashara knew wanted to be fighting or doing something other than face the grief that he got from Ullrick and herself.

As it were Ashara had come to see Lyanna Stark today to speak with her about various things. She nodded to Arthur and Oswell who allowed her to pass. Lyanna Stark was stood in front of her window staring out into the grounds below and turned around when Ashara closed the door. “Lady Ashara,” the princess said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I came to see how you are doing my princess.” Ashara said. “and to ask if you needed some company.”

“Do you mean other than your brother and his fellow crony? Aye perhaps some actual company would be nice rather than having a madman and his henchmen.” The princess says with some bitterness in her tone.

“Arthur hates what he has had to do Princess,” Ashara says. “You must know that.”

Princess Lyanna sighs and says. “Aye I do know that. But he is supposed to be the symbol of chivalry and knightly valour as a white knight. Why is he not?”

Ashara sighs and says. “Because he listens to the words of a madman. Prince Rhaegar has always had a screw loose in his head my princess. But he manages to hide it well. He charms people with his words and his songs, and only reveals select portions of the true him to those he deems worthy. Arthur saw only the persona, the mask. Elia saw it all and she worried for her children and she worried for us all. But she was but a woman in a world ruled by men. She could not do anything, and now neither can you. You carry Rhaegar’s bastard and my brother and his sworn brother will make sure you remain here till Rhaegar returns.”

“And what if he does not return? What if my husband kills him and sees to it that your brother and his sworn brother are killed what then Ashara? What will you do?” Lyanna asks.

Ashara sighs and says. “Then I will stay by my son and do what I think is best for him. I will wed Ned if he will still have me and I will raise our son to the best of my abilities. And if Ned dies then I shall still raise my son to the best of my ability.”

“You truly are something,” Lyanna says.

“My Princess?” Ashara asks her not sure what she means.

“I can see why Ned fell for you. He was enchanted by you at Harrenhal, and Ned is not like Brandon who will promise a girl the world in the night and forget her by morning. Ned means what he says with everything he has. I can see why he might have forsaken his honour for you, and I know he will do whatever it takes for the two of you to be together in the end.” Lyanna says.

“And I know that your husband will do whatever it takes to get you back safe and sound. I did what I could to ensure the Baratheons emerge victorious in this war. Summerhall fell because of the men my brother sent out on my pleas.” Ashara says.

“But why?” The princess asks. “I thought your house were loyal to the Martells? A very odd way of showing loyalty by helping them lose their castle.”

Ashara smiles sadly and says. “If that castle had not fallen the Baratheon cause might have been doomed and then so too would Ned’s life. I love your brother and my son too much to allow Jon to grow up an orphan and I could not bear to live without Ned. So I convinced my brother to do what any man with honour would do, and fight for the side with the right cause.”

Lyanna goes to speak but then her face contorts and she screams, and Arthur bursts into the room. “I think my water just broke.” Lyanna says softly, her face contorted in terror.

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