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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

BlackBishop

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THEODORE

crakehall25.jpg

The mood in the lord's solar was one of an impending doom. If the testimoney of one half-dead sailor can be believed, Lord Balon was dead, and an armada of raiders were preparing to set fire to the Coast of The Reach. Lord Roland had marched north to Oxcross with Ser Gewain and Ser Raynard, leaving precious few to defend the realm. Lord Heir Tybolt now sat in Crake's chair. A large wierwood seat, elegantly carved with a high back raising up to a sculptured boar's head, it's wierwood tusks jutting out menacingly toward the court. A lord is expected to exude an auora of confidance, Lord Tybolt, however, put forth no such demeanor. His eyes looked frantically about his court as the sailor told his tale, looking for anyone to have some solution to the problem put before him.

The lordship of Crake's Hall had always been attractive to Tybolt, back in the time of peace, fairs and feasts. Now, in the uncertainty of war, that seat was a curse. Lord Sumner was dead, leaving the rule to Roland, who immediatly forsook his watch of the west and marched north. His brother, Ser Burton led troops in the Riverlands to investigate rumours of a Lord Dandarrion arisen from the dead. Roland's second son, Ser Lyle marched east to fight with Lord Tywin, taking Ser Joffrey with him. Theodore clutched a parchment of paper tightly in his hands, a message from a raven not ten minutes ago. Dark wings, dark words.

Tybolt pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes, as if his blindness of the haggard sailor before him would make him vanish along with his message. "Tell me your tale once more, Shield-Islander." Theodore was confidant that Tybolt had heard every word, but was stalling for time, hoping the Gods would give him an answer to what faced the realm.

The sailor had long brown hair, knotted and haggard upon his head, matching his scraggy beard. He was a man of low birth whom served on a merchant vessel in service to House Hewett of the Reach. His wrists were bound as he was seen as an enemy combatant, though the message held in Theodore's hands told otherwise. The sailor looked up from the rushes on the floor, licked his cracked lips and begain to speak once again. "As I said, m'lord. Cap'n Falwell..."

"My cousin..." Interrupted Maestar Melwyn, "that is before I donned these chains."

The sailor looked over Melwyn with disinterested eyes. "Cap'n Falwell had made a pact of sorts with some castle wench. A whore of the lord of Saltcliffe, if the tellins be true. So the Cap'n made up a plan, to set free our boys held in stocks and take one o' there ships for our own. The water was getting angry by the time we snuck in to the jail set our boys loose. There was no way of reaching our ship, so the Cap'n had us take the pier. It had started raining so we knew any ironmen from the castle would take their time getting down, what with that murderous road, Widow's road they calls it. So we blocked the gates to Saltford and took the pier. It was a quick fight and quiet too. Just the cap'n and 'is officers. Didn't trust us to keep the noise down, you see. Fine by me, i had my share of fighting at the jail. Only after we took the pier, Cap'n Falwell was set on waiting for the whore. His prick was keen on her, the boys been sayin. So we waited, and waited. Soon the sea got angrier and the wind got stronger. Finally great horns rose up from Saltford. Thought we'd been found out, found our work at the jail, but no! Horns rose up from the castle too! Great shouts and calls - The King of the Isles is no more! Not the lord we wanted, but one dead iron lord was good enough, I says. We cast off, the Cap'n sour that the whore betrayed 'im. Never trust a whore, beggin your pardon, m'lord, but they ain't no good."

Lord Tybolt sighed. "Fine. You stole a ship and escaped Saltcliffe. Then what happened?"

"The waves came at us hard, m'lord. We rowed and we rowed but we just couldn't seem to put any leagues between us and that damned island. Soon Ironmen had lined up on the shore, laughing and cursing us. We could here them betting on which wave would send us crashing into the rocks, and we came close, I tell ye. Those rocks were like knives, sharp and twisted and how they called us to 'em, hungry for sailor's blood I told the boys, I did. Soon that sod Lord Sunderly joined his men on the shore, awful sour of our work in his jail. He had his men loose fire arrows at us. Didn't seem to care that it was his own ship he be burning. We thanked the gods for that rain then, I tell ye. Well soon lightening cracked across the sky and the winds changed, coming out of the north. Cap'n ordered the sails to be loosed and we were finally carried from the Island. We sailed on in utter darkness. Clouds blotted out the moon and nothing could be seen. Fear set in as the hours dragged on, our ship being tossed and turned as lightening cracked across the sky. Some o' us began to think their drowned god was coming for us. The waves and wind knocked some o' us overboard. We could 'ear the boys cry and drown but weren't nothing to be done. Soon the waters got calm again, the winds and rains stopped and thats when we saw it. A ship on the horizon. We tried to escape, but it came right up to us. Ironmen boarded and cut everyone o' us down. The butchers hacked off the Cap'ns head and threw it into the water. Fool he may have been, but he didn't deserve that, no. Finally it was just me. A man with blue lips, a patch over his eye told me he was now King of the Isles and all of Westeros would be his. He offered me to his god... Then I woke up here, m'lord"

Septon Wylland, the castellan, shook his head. "The man he describes is Euron Greyjoy. A madman who was exiled for the rape of his sister-in-law. If he fulfills his claim on the lordship of the Iron Isles than all the Seven Kingdoms are in peril."

Rulph Spicer, steward of the hall, stroked his golden beard. "Known to be a greedy and treacherous man, that Euron. Our coin is spent in raising an army to march north, we lack the funds and men to keep guard against this new threat, and what of our enemies to the south? What of the Reach?"

Theodore left his place among the courtiers and approached the sailor, cutting his wrist bonds free with a dagger. Lord Tybolt looked at him perplexed. Theodore bowed his head at his Lord Uncle. "Beg your pardon, Lord Tybolt. A message from Lord Tywin, an alliance was sealed with House Tyrell. A great host of our lord paramount and House Tyrell marches on King's Landing to smash the forces of Lord Stannis."

Tybolt's relief from being free from an enemy to the south was palable. "The God's are good."

Theodore's mouth tightened. "Beg your pardon, my lord, but there was more news. Ser Burton has died tragically in his valiant fight against outlaws in the Riverlands..." Gasps and wails were heard among the courtiers, presumably from Burton's daughters, Bellana and Melesa, "my father, Ser Lyle along with Ser Joffrey have been captured at the Battle of the Fords and are being held at Pinkmaiden Castle along with our ally, Ser Antonio Jast. Our brave fighting men have suffered a defeat at Oxcross, claiming the life of our Lord Roland. The northmen have invaded Westerland." The solar fell quiet, broken only by low sobs.

Septon Benedict approached the lord's seat, with furrowed bushy eyebrows, he placed his hand upon Tybolt's head, "By the will of the Seven, I, Septon of Crake's Hall, proclaim Lord Tybolt lord of Crake's Hall and guard of the West of Westerland. May his reign be long and blessed."

Theodore watched Tybolts lower lip quiver as his eyes welled up with tears. Lord Tybolt, Lord of Crake's Hall... May the Seven have mercy.
 

Pande

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I'm really liking the multiple perspectives. Not the easiest of things to do in CK2, but it's going well.
 

EtzelHoveri

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I agree with Pande. It is very hard to do but you do a great job at it.

Do you play some then post or are you pretty far ahead in the game? If it is the later then I have to ask my customary question, what is happening to House Badics?
 

BlackBishop

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DONNOR


crakehall26.jpg


The lord of Saltcliffe stepped out of the hold of his ship onto the deck, in the pre-dawn gloom, leaving Ynys sleeping down below. He had made her his rockwife before they departed his island. He loved her greatly, and she was a strong and brave woman, and salt was unworthy of her. His sister would scold him, he knew. But now it didn't matter what Quella thought. She was likely dead now, along with her sons and Lord Botley, drowned by Euron for daring to support Theon as Lord of the Isles. His over bearing sister held power over him no longer. Donnor never would have thought he would fall for Ynys as he did, and he knew she would bear him many strong sons.

The air was cool and the sound of the gentle waves lashing up against the hull did little to ease his restlesness. The sound of The Blessed in Blood's mighty oars dipping into the water usually lulled Donnor into an easy sleep. He would find no such rest now. Just as well. The shore of Crakehall will be upon us soon.

Donnor's fleet of fifty ships rowed south from the Iron Isles, bound for Westerland, while a fleet of nearly five times the strength set course to assualt the Reach. It was King Euron's first command as King. The Kingsmoot had went well for his new liege. The Iron lords had voted him their new King, and Donnor, for his service was appointed his champion at the moot. Now he was promised lordship of conquered lands in Westerland. Donnor need only pay the iron price.

At the bow of the ship stood Alman the Blind. A swellsword brought over from Essos by King Euron. A large man, his head was clean shaven except for a long braided beard that fell down his chest to his stomach. He wore rusty and worn platemail, his pale eyes scanned the horizon as if he could see. He held his hand close to his chest, opening and closing it slowly, as a flame burned magically in his palm. The man was a maegi, said to be endowed with special powers. He had better be, blind as he was to be leading troops under Donnor's command.

"A fine morning to bloody our swords, my lord," said Alman in a deep voice, seeming to sense Donnor's approach behind him.

Donnor said nothing, only stared at the fire that appeared everytime Alman opened his palm.

"The fire is my sight. R'holler lets me see through the flames. With it, I can see our victory."

Donnor knew strange companions travelled with Euron, men of all faiths and creeds. This sellsword certainly made Donnor uneasy. The flame in his hand seemed like nothing more than a parlour trick to wow the smallfolk.

As if Alman could read his thoughts, he let his hand stay open, the flames raised high into the air, a straight column of fire that reached above their heads.

"Look into the flame, my lord."

Donnor willed his eyes to stare into the pillar of fire. At firest only the glow of the flame filled his eyes. The heat seemed to burn his face, set his eyes to water but still he stared. Soon the flames took on a strange pattern as they burned, glowing ships could be seet. It was his fleet, he discerned. He saw his ships become wrecked in shallow waters, his army crushed by arrows and swords. He gasped and pulled his gaze away. "What was that?!"

"It was your future, my lord. One possible future."

"You said you seen our victory!"

"I did, for upon seeing our failure, one can change his fate and create victory. The flames may show us many things, but it takes a sharp mind to decipher it, my lord. Find the truths spoken to us by light and unravel them, decipher them."

"Why are you here?"

"You have a great destiny about you, my lord. R'holler has shown me. You will be a powerful and feared lord of men, bringing death and destruction to many... and I will follow you."

With those words, Alman the Blind departed and left Donnor alone on the bow of the ship. The sun soon broke from its slumber to the east, spreading its rosy finger up into the sky, unveling the green forests and rocky hills of Westerland.

"Could you not sleep?" Questioned a voice behind him. Donnor turned to look upon Ynys, his rockwife. Her eyes were tired from sleep, her dark hair falling in messy clumps upon her slender shoulders, her body barely covered by a wool blanket that she clung to her naked body. Donnor smiled and rubbed her shoulders, which had broken out in goosebumps from the cold air. He pulled her close and kissed her deeply.

"We have arrived m'lord," said one of his crew. "The fleet awaits your orders."

The vision he saw of his army's demise flashed in his mind. "We wait here." I am in no hurry to die. Taking Ynys' hand he lead her below deck, as his fleet and army of five thousand waited in the sea before Crakehall for the order to invade the lands of the bristled boar.
 

BlackBishop

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SUMNER


crakehall27.jpg


The foamy waters of the Sunset Sea stretched on to the far horizon as the sun was starting it's afternoon descent. Summy sat on the beach, thankful for being allowed a few minutes to himself. He, along with Septon Wylland had been busy preparing defenses for the anticipated arrival of the Ironborn.

The memory of the Shield-Islander Maester Melwyn and he had found on the beach flashed through his mind. They revived the man and led him to Crake's Hall, fearing him to be a spy. There the sailor was bound and presented before his father, Lord Tybolt. Tybolt ordered the castellan Wylland and himself to prepare the defenses along the shore while ravens were sent across the Westerlands. No help would be coming. Crakehall cousins in Lannisport sent encouraging words of support, but no troops. Their was no response from their new allies in the Reach, and Summy doubted if the raven even reached them. No help from Lornmont either, as all their attention was focused on ransoming their lord, Antario Jast, from the clutches of the riverlord at Pinkmaiden. Sumner and Wylland were alone in their defense of the coast, only them and 200 archers.

There was a bag at Summy's feet, full of wet rags and leather spheres. The latest defense that he had been working on for the invaders. Soaked in dragon-fruit resin, the rags were tied to leather pouches stuffed with his own concoction of fire powder, altered to deliver a blast on impact rather than just a quick burn. He smiled as his fingers ran over the opening of the bag, pride swelling within him at his contribution to the defense. If, or when, the Ironborn come, with victory or defeat, many of their lives would be lost due to the contents of this bag.

Summy rose to his feet, stretching with a sigh. He bent low to pick up the bag when a brown shape in the water caught his attention. The waves pushed the mysterious form up on the sand. Sumner took a step toward the shape, frowning with curiosity. What he saw froze his heart. He clutched at his chest, willing his heart to begin beating once again. It was a bristed boar, worms ate greedily at the animal's eyes and mouth. A gaping wound in its stomach was open and full of worms, the lining of the wound frothing with sea foam. The salt water lashed up on the dead animal, pushing it to Summy's feet. He stepped back, gagging and retching. An ill omen. A gift from their god. We are doomed.

An archer burst from the treeline, waving his hands frantically. "M'lord! The Ironborn, they've been spotted to the south. Castellan Wylland needs you now, m'lord!" The archer ran toward Sumner, bending down to hastily scoop up the bag.

"No!" Hollered Sumner. "I will take that. Lead on."


* * * * *

The archer led Sumner to a hill that overlooked the beach. In the distance, ships could be seen in the deep blue water.

Wylland Greymarch was dressed in steel plate armour, his chest plate adorned with the star of the seven. Beads of sweat dotted his bald head as his eyes strained on the countless ships that lay menacingly across the horizon. "My lord." He nodded in a grim welcome.

Sumner wasted no time, he ordered the contents of the bag carefully distributed to his archer squads, not to be fired until he gave the command. After that was done he looked on once again at the ships on the edge of the horizon.

"They have not moved." Sumner noted.

"No," replied Wylland, standing still as a statue as he looked out upon the water. "They are waiting for the low tide."

Wylland's strategy had been sound. He ordered great spears buried within the sand that would slash the hull of any ship that attempted landing. The only flaw was that the spears could only be buried in the shallows, rendering them useless if the attack came on low tide.

Knowing that they could not rely soley on the tide, Sumner had dug, what the men termed, murder holes. The shallow holes were scatterd along the beach, packed with pouches of his fire-powder before being filled in with sand. When stepped on, these pouches would explode leaving a crater and dead ironborn.

"You did all you could do here, my lord," said Wylland. "Best head back to the castle, I can handle it from here."

"No. I have not done all this work just to forsake you and these men to the ironborn. I will stay and see this through."

Wylland smiled and nodded. "As you wish, my lord."

As the sun lowered in the sky, so too did the morale of the men. One archer spoke too loudly of his desire to return to the castle, naming it a pointless endeavour to remain here. Wylland had him whipped and sent to the front of the archer line. As the shadows of the trees grew longer, one man thought to lose himself in the darkness and desert, he was whipped and sent to the front, minus an ear and a finger.

As the high tide sank away and the great rows of spears were revealed in the sand, the iron fleet began to grow on the horizon.

"There must be hundereds!" Exclaimed one stout sargeant.

"I'd say more like fifty," replied Wylland, now wearing a helmet over his bald head. That did little to hearten Sumner.

The sky soon turned a brilliant crimson as the ironborn fleet came upon them. Sumner could make out their banners snapping in the sea breeze. A nine headed serpent on a field of blue-green, a drowned man being eaten by many small fish, and a black banner emblazoned with a single flame. Wylland did what he could to hearten the men, letting his voice carry over the archer line of 200.

"Hear me sons of Crake! Let not your hearts falter, for the Gods are with us! These men of iron seek to defile our land, bringing with them their heathen ways. They worship a squid-god who lives under the sea! Bah! I will not bow to such a creature, will you?! Let us send these heathens back to the sea which they hold so dear. For our sons! For our daughters! It is the will of the Gods!"

Whether this speech made any impact on the men, Sumner did not know. They all looked grim as ever as the enemy ships rowed up to the beach, the iron men disembarking and beginning their march up the sand. The archer lines were concealed in the dark shadows of the tree line, and it seemed the iron men could not detect them. With a sharp cry, Wylland called for the first volley of arrows. Some of the advancing soliders fell to the arrows, but many others were able to use their own defenses against the westerlanders, using the great spears buried in the sand as cover against the wave of arrows.

The ironborn answered with thier own volley of arrows, as archers on thier ships loosed their bows. However the darkness in the trees and the trunks themselves offered great protection against this threat, and none of their arrows found their mark.

"The Gods are with us, men!" Hollared the sargeant as another volley was loosed upon the ironborn. This time many of them had marched beyond the protection of the spears and were hit by the deadly arrows and left dying in the sands as their comrades advanced.

The wave of iron man kept coming, no matter the arrows they spent. Like the sea, a great wave of them were crashing upon the beach, armed and clad in iron. Sumner was starting to doubt his concoction of fire-powder when the ironmen finally reached the line of murder holes. A great flash of fire went up in the air along with a dozen of the invaders. Many fell back down on the sand dead, others screaming for their lost limbs. Another murder hole was triggered leaving a score of dead soldiers and a great crater in the sand.

The wave of ironmen began to recede, falling back to the cover of the spears. Than, when Sumner and his men were just about to think the ironmen would retreat a great war horn went up in the air, unlike any other sound he had heard before. It was sharp and shrill and sent shivers up his spine. The wave of invaders came on once again.

A murder hole would send many to death and they would recede only to be driven forward again by the sharp call of the horn. After this went on, and the sun had sunk below the horizon and darkness settled upon the land, the invaders passed the murderholes and were now nearing the treeline. Sumner orderd his archers to loose thier fire arrows.

The arrows, stuck with a firepowder pouch and wrapped in dragonfruit resin sung a high pitch scream as they sliced through the air. When they found their mark, a loud bang of fire sent the target and the men around them into flames. The beach was now littered with dead, but still they came on.

Wylland finally resolved that they did all the damage they could do, and ordered the retreat back to the castle, but as they turned they found they had been outflanked. A troop of ironmen had come up behind them, and had them surrounded.

"Praise the Gods," said Wylland, "pass me mine sword."

The iron men charged into the archer line. Sumner's countrymen were ill-equiped for a close quarters fight, only being lightly armoured in leather and carrying short swords, if they carried swords at all. Firing arrows at these soliders at a distance was terrifying enough, but being close enough to see the faces of the ironmen, to smell them and curse them, was a different horror all together.

Sumner drew his sword upon an old grisled ironman, a terrible scar gnashed across his forehead and left eye. The man screamed and cursed as he heaved his shoulder into Sumner, knocking the wind out of him. Sumner would have died than and there had the sargeant not been there to run his blade through his attacker.

Sumner sprang to his feet only to find that he did not know which way to point his sword. The chaos of battle descended upon him and he found himself being pushed back until he was upon the sandy beach surrounded by the ironmen.

"Crakehall! Crakehall! Crakehall!" Cried Sumner as he willed the fog of war to lift from his eyes and he found targets for his sword. Men screamed and bled under his blade.

"I'll eat your guts!" Called an ironman as he charged at Sumner. The Westerlander parried his sloppy blow and sank his sword into his belly.

Over his shoulder, Sumner spied Wylland. He was swinging his sword furiously calling out the names of the Seven as his sword, painted in the blood of iron, hacked and slashed at enemies.

"The Warrior gives me strength!" Wyllands sword slit the neck of an ironborn. "The Mother is with me!" The blade stabs through the weak armjoint of another's armour. "The Smith carries my sword!" The hilt caves in his skull. "The Stranger calls for you, now!" Wylland dodges a blow and counters with a strong thrust of his sword, finding flesh. "The Maiden has left you!" His boot off balances one. "The Crone see's me strike true!" A slice ripps across an ironman's head. "The Father names your guilt!" An upthrust of the sword rips a man's chin from his face and sprays blood across the sands.

As men fall to Wylland's sword, he misses the approach of a large bald man. His pale eyes narrow upon Wylland as he nears. The man wore rusty armour and a long braided beard that fell down his chin to his chest. In a booming voice he calls, "Damn your seven, their is only one true God, and he is the Lord of Light!" Fire shoots forth from his fingertips and envelops Wylland's screaming body in flames. His fine armour turn bright red from the heat as he falls quiet and his body melts within the red-hot steel of his armour.

"No!" Cries Sumner as he loosens a fire-powder pouch from his belt, throwing it at the bald attacker. A flash of light is seen followed by a blinding smoke. Sumner peers through the fog, hoping to find the man dead. With a sour laugh, the large man steps through the smokescreen.

"You would use fire and flame against a son of R'holler? I will kill you with my bare hands, I have seen it in the flames!" With blinding speed, the man rushed upon Sumner, raining blows down with his thunderous fists, knocking him to the ground. The man sat down on Sumner's chest, sending all breath from his body. With a strong grip, the son of R'holler squeezed Sumner's throat. His vision began to darken as he felt life begin to leave him. "Die now, son of Crake. Our victory is assured. I have seen it."

Out of the corner of his eye, Sumner saw a glint of steel illuminated by moonlight. He reached for the object as the hands around his neck tightened. With a last effort of strength, Sumner sent the man reeling from a punch to his chin, his grip loosened.

"Did you see this?" Sumner plunged an arrow up the mans chin. He spit blood from his mouth as he slumped over and died. Sumner choked for air under the weight of the dead man and felt darkness surround him, and he saw no more.
 
Last edited:

Erlkonig

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Amazing. Looks like Donnor's aspiring red priest got his ass handed to him on a silver platter.
 

BlackBishop

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Thanks Erlkonig! Yup, a bitter victory for Donnor's Ironborn, with heroes lost on both sides.
 

BlackBishop

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MELWYN



crakehall28.jpg


The maester struggled against the heavy chains that bound him to the cold hard ground. He was surrounded by utter darkness, the cold metal links lay heavy on his skin. He heaved with great effort but he could not be free of them. They held him down, draining him of all his strength. He heard a noise in the darkness.

"Who's there? Please? Anyone, help me?"

He heard the trample of feet in the dark. Soon the veil of blackness rescinded just enough so he could make out shapes approaching him. Melwyn squinted into the gloom. A dozen women came dancing out of the dark. They wore bloomers and corsettes, long flowing dresses stained with mud. Thier faces were powdered white, rosy blush on their cheeks, their lips painted red. Welwyn recognized these women. They were streetwalkers, whores that would solicit their trade on the streets of Oldtown at night. Many an acolyte lost their tenure at the Citadel to these foul temptresses.

The women circled around him like grass-cat's circling their prey. Melwyn grunted as he attempted to lift the heavy chains. They were dancing and moaning lustfully as they frolicked around him, exposing their legs and breasts, taunting him beneath the heavy chains.

"Fancy a tumble?" Asked one.

"Have some wine, drink with us." Propositioned one.

"A roll in the hay?" Another asked.

"Get away from me!" Hollared Melwyn.

The women only laughed. They began to fondle and grab one another, their moaning getting louder. "What's the matter?" Said one, pulling her dress up to expose her smooth thigh. "Don't you want us?" Her voice was throaty and seductive.

Melwyn shut his eyes tight. "I am a man of the citadel, in the pursuit of knowledge and I am above such carnal lust!"

The laughter rose up from the painted women once again. "What a funny man! He prefers the feel of cold steel than the warmth of a woman."

They laughed and danced away into the darkness.

Melwyn attempted once more to lift the great chains from his body, but to no avail. Weak and helpless, he remained on the ground under the burden of steel. This was all very familiar to him. He felt as though he had been here before, but when and where? The sound of more footsteps pried him from his thoughts. It was the footfall of heavy steel boots.

Out of the dark came a row of sailors. The men were lugging heavy chests and sacks, overflowing with gold and treasures. They sang bawdy songs, and songs of the sea as the men past by, giving him no notice. At the end of the line, clad in fine mail and great mustache waxed into rings, was his cousin, Harol Falwell. He carried a great chest under his arm. He walked in front of Melwyn, and looking down on him, dropped the chest at his feet. Gold and silver coins, jewels and sapphires poured out in front of Melwyn's face on the ground.

"Cousin." Said Harol in greeting.

"Harol, please! You must help me, get these chains off."

Harol looked at the heavy chains, perplexed. "But Melwyn, you need only push them off. It was you that buried yourself so. You need only lift them off, reach forward and claim your birthright. A ship, gold and jewels, a merchant empire. Why burden yourself under that hard steel?"

A faint memory came unbidden to Melwyn's mind. "Harol. You're dead."

Harol roard in laughter, bowing before Melwyn. His head rolled sickenly from his neck, landing with a wet thud on the ground before Melwyn, blood oozing from his neck. "All the more reason to claim your birthright, cousin. Carry on our family name, do not let it fall into darkness."

A cold breeze blew through, carrying Harol and his treasure into the blackness beyond Melwyn's vision. He sobbed, trying in vain to lift the chains.

The sound of soft feet padding against the ground silenced Melwyn's crying. Looking up, he saw a woman he recognized. She was not a real living woman, but rather one from the imaginings of his younger self. She was what he once imagined his wife would look like. She had dark, flowing hair, piercing green eyes and the demeanor of a highborn lady. She looked down sadly at Melwyn, shaking her head. "Dear husband, why not shake off these chains?"

Melwyn sobbed, "I can't."

"This will help," said a voice. Melwyn looked up to see his unborn son, a lad of eight, he supposed. The boy was handing him a sword. The maester took the blad in his hand, a valryian blade, with the pommel fashioned in the shape of a skull. The sword cut through the great links like a hot knife through butter. He was free, free from the confines of his steel prison!

"Melwyn..." said a voice, raspy and menacing.

"Melwyn!" It said again. He looked down upon the skull of the pummel, its black jet eyes boring into him. "MELWYN!"

Maester Melwyn awoke with a start, to find a young lad shaking him awake, "Please wake up, Master Melwyn!"

Melwyn pushed the lad away. "I'm up, God's damn you!" It was Todric, a boy of fifteen. A stablehand before he took him under his wing as his assistant. Melwyn was on the ground in the castle courtyard, leaning against the wall of the keep. He had been commanded by Lord Tybolt to set up a triage here for the archers who met the Ironborn on the beach, only none of the archers returned, including the Castellan and Sumner Crakehall. Melwyn had advised against sending two of such importance on the first line of defence, but Lord Tybolt would not see reason. Apparantly Ser Lyle Strongboar would have commited himself to the thick of the fighting, so too should the Lord's son.

"What time is it?" Asked Melwyn.

"An hour to sunrise, Master. The archers have still not returned."

"I can see that!" Snapped the maester.

Todric sulked like a wounded pup. He was a frail boy, despite his size and physical strength. Melwyn knew he only meant to express his worry regarding his father, who served as one of Sumner's archers. It's not my fault i am so moody. These damn dreams. They are getting more vivid, stronger. Melwyn felt a feeling of panic rise up in his chest as he noticed all the soliders who ran through the yard, carrying arms, buckets of water, preparing for a siege.

"The Ironborn army has been spotted in the forest, Master," said Todric, sensing Melwyn's alarm.

"Come, to the wall. Let's have a look."

Atop the wall they had a commanding view of the surrounding lands. To the west was the ocean, dark and still. Before the sea was the forest, afire with a thousand torcher, snaking through the trees toward the castle like a serpent.

"God's!" Exclaimed Todric. "They brought a dragon!"

"No Todric," sighed Melwyn. "It is their army, the soldiers just carry torches, is all."

"Oh."

"We must leave now."

"Now? But my da..."

"There's no time. Within the hour, this army you see will have the castle surrounded, and their will be no escape for us. The Seven Kingdoms are depending on us, Todric."

Todric raised his chin defiantly. "Okay Master, I shall show you through the forest."

"That's a good lad."

Descending from the wall, Melwyn and Todric came to a postern gate, guarded by two heavily armed knights. Despite his protests, Todric agreed to light fire to the stable nearby, causing a distraction and one knight rushed away to aid in quenching the flames.

"Hold Maester, Only those with the permission of Lord Tybolt may exit through the gate." Said the lone knight as Melwyn and Todric approached.

"I have permission, right here, good Ser..." In a flash, Melwyn struck with a dagger, under the knights chest plate. The man fell dead, instantly.

"Mother! What have you done?" Cried Todric.

Melwyn siezed the boy by his broad shoulders, shaking him. "Get a hold of yourself Todric. What did I tell you, the black witch has arisen. We must reach the sword before the Ironborn do, all of Westerose is at stake. We must steel our hearts and not lose sight of what will be lost if we fail."

Todric sobbed, "Than I'll be made a knight?"

"Yes, dear boy. You will be a hero, and be knighted by the king himself! Now we must fly!"

Melwyn pushed the boy throught the gate, and they disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
 
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AON

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Damn good!
 

BlackBishop

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thank you Aon. I really appreciate everyone who stopped by and read my AAR, and especially those of you who have left comments. Though the competition is over (well done to the winners and those who participated), I still hope to have this story done soon, hopefully in the next week or so, so that I may get back to my other AAR, Of Blood and Honour.
 

AON

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I hope you take your time with this one though. To be honest, I thought I had written something before, but checking now I see that I didn't. This is certainly a good, if not great story, and one I would like to keep on reading. It's probably in my top five AAr's over all, and certainly one of the best to come out of the contest (sharing that honour with Release the Kracken and We hold the way).
 

BlackBishop

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DONNOR

crakehall29.jpg

In the east, the sun rose a blood red. It's light bathing the beach, revealing the dead and dying that lay there. Donnor was thankful that his feet lay planted firmly on the deck of his ship, anchored off near the coast, facing the endless sea. Next to him stood his rockwife, Ynys. Together they looked out into the churning blue water of the Sunset Sea.

"Look, there's one!" Pointed Ynys. Out in the distance was a geyser of water, blown straight up out of the sea, followed by a pale white fin. Soon came another one close by. Albino wales. Come to feed off the dead Ironborn put to rest in the water.

"They will speed our victorious dead to the watered halls" Donnor said grimly. A great whale rushed out of the water, slamming down again to the crash of a great wave.

"They are beautiful." Her bright blue eyes stared out at the sea.

...Beautiful and deadly. Donnor turned toward Ynys and took her hands in his. "I have been selfish. I asked you to come here because I couldn't stand the thought of being apart from you. Now, after the bloodshed of last night, I realize that this is no place for you. I have ordered a ship to leave with wounded, deemed able to survive the journey, back to Saltcliffe. I want you on it."

Ynys shook her head and pulled her hands from his, putting them on her hips. "You know I would have only followed you had you left me." Donnor opened his mouth to speak, but she pressed a finger to his lips to silence him. "I am your rockwife, a rockwife of Saltcliffe, blessed in salt and battle. I do not fear niether sword or death, and my place is by your side."

She was such a brave woman, and Donnor should have known she would not willingly return to Saltcliffe. Ynys put her hand upon his cheek, "What is the matter, my love? Are you still having nightmares?"

Donnor slowly nodded. Every night he dreamed that he was riding the great leviathan, the nine headed sea serpent, across Westerose, siezing the Iron Throne. In the dream he carried a great sword, a valryian blade. But just before he woke up, he realized it was not him. It was his body, but a vile, evil presence was within him, controling him.

He turned away from Ynys, but she raised her other hand to his face, and turned him to back toward her. "Donnor, what are we doing here? You tell your vassals we are here for gold, but the mines and merchant fleets are to the north."

"We are taking this coastline so we may bring reinforcments safely from the Iron Islands. We will take Lannisport from the south, and from the sea..."

"I am not the fool Lucas Sunderly. Tell me, and tell me true. Why are we here?"

Donnor pulled away from Ynys, faced the sea and sighed. "King Euron told me of an ancient blade, hidden within the forests of Crakehall. This blade, of valryian make will raise my stature with the Ironborn."

Ynys shook her head. "You are a lord of the Iron Isles, a master of men and reaving, blessed in salt and battle. Lift this pointless siege, abandon fanciful swords that may or may not exist. Set the sails of your fleet to Lannisport, burn that city and let all in Casterly Rock look on as the smoke of their ruin is carried over their heads. No old sword will change the glory you will win."

The lord of Saltcliffe nodded slowly. He bowed down and kissed her hands. "You are right my love. We will make for Lannisport." Donnor left Ynys and went below deck, where his war council awaited him.

Lord Sunderly, lord of Saltford and master at arms, stood in greeting. "My lord, I have a count of prisoners as you requested. Forty-four soliders taken from the battle, and another fifty able bodied men from a nearby village."

"Good. Any men of importance?"

"No my lord. Their commander was killed by Alman the Blind, before he perished."

"Have them prepped for labour," commanded Donnor.

"Yes, my lord. Your men, along with our sellswords, have surrounded Crake's Hall. The fortress is undermanned and will not hold long."

"My lord," began Sigrin of Saltford, "the wounded have been brought aboard The Iron Cutter, and awaits your order to depart."

"Fine. Have Lady Ynys brought aboard and have the ship sped back to Saltcliffe. Lord Sunderly, I leave the siege in your hands. I need fifty swords. The forest calls to me..."
 
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BlackBishop

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Thank you so much for the kind words, Aon. Though I am eager to finish, I promise I will take my time. Thanks again!
 

BlackBishop

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SUMNER


crakehall30.jpg


Sumner Crakehall, son of Lord Tybolt Crakehall, Guard of the West, awoke to the tranquil song of morning birds, gentle waves and the crow of seagulls. It seemed to be the sound of a peaceful morning, until the memory of the violence of last night flooded Sumner's mind. He opened his eyes to find several men standing over him. He only recognized one. The stout sargent who had saved his life in the battle. Gently, the men raised Sumner to his feet.

"What... what happened?"

"You nearly suffocated under a giant sellsword, m'lord," said one of the men he did not recognize.

The sargent immediatly gave this man a hard backhand across the face. "What I tell ye?! Ain't no lord, this. A man. Just a man. Ya hear?!" He turned to Sumner. "Begging your pardon m'l- er, begging your pardon. Fourty and four are all thats left of the company. Was fifty and three before the sun came up, but the Ironmen had us combing the beach for your gifts..." Sumner nodded solemnly. "My name is Tyrus, this is Allan," the other man nodded, rubbing his slapped face. "...And this here, well, we all call smiley." A third man, frowning, nodded.

"What are they going to do with us?" Questioned Allan.

"Kill us. Drown us. Sacrifice us to their god," frowned smiley.

"Shut up the both of ya!" Tyrus raised his hand again as if to hit them.

"The Ironborn will put us to work. They will need the labour, save them from doing it themselves." Sumner took stock of his surroundings. They were on the beach. The spears they buried in the lowtide were all pulled and built into a wall that surrounded them. "Is this all who made it? Forty-four?"

"The Ironborn raided a village nearby, took some men, I hear," said Tyrus. "So far they are keepin' us apart from the village folk. Just as well, every man here is behind you, but the villagers may turn if it means the promise of freedom. Best we keep your bein' here a secret."

"Agreed. We need a plan," said Allan.

"We need to figure out what they are doing with us first," returned Sumner.

Allan's eyes went wide with fear. "You said they'd make us work!"

"Yes, but where? Will they ship us back to the Iron Isles to work the mines, or keep us here on the beach, or send us to cut wood in the forest."

Tyrus rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "They will need siege weapons if they want to take the castle. I'm guessin these whoresons will be sending us into the forest."

It was at that moment that a great spear was heaved over from the outside. Ironborn urged the prisoners out onto the beach in two rows. They were stripped of all their clothes and made to stand naked under the rising sun, surrounded by Ironmen, long spears pointed toward them.

Ahead of them, standing on a crate, above them all was the ugliest man Sumner had ever seen. He smiled at them with a single tooth in his mouth, a front tooth which was brown and rotted. His eyes were slanted and cruel, a large forehead and protruding chin. He was of average build and height. "Greetings, my new found friends!" He said, pointing to the whip that hung from his belt. "You may call me Lord Cracker. Heh!" Lord Cracker cleared his throat and continued. "My friends, you will come to know me well, and you will learn that I only speak truth. Yes. Brutally honest, to a fault. Heh! And I have a piece of truth that I would like to impart on you now, my friends. Your lords of Crakehall do not give a damn about you. Yes. Not a damn. For why else would they send you out from the safety of your castle walls to fight a pointless fight against our valiant forces? Hmmmm? You are nothing to them. Thought of as a mere arrow to a fletcher. Heh! A tool for thier disposal. Well my friends I tell you now that your new masters care about you. We wish, in our benevolence, to give you a place among the Ironborn. Yes. Work hard, give obediance and I promise you..."

A captive stepped forward from the line. "We are the men of the bristled boar!" He boomed. Guards were on him in an instant, beating him mercilessly with wooden clubs.

Lord Cracker hopped off his crate and rushed toward the man being savagly beaten. "No! No! Stop! Release that man you animals!" Cracker pushed the guards off the man and helped him to his feet, leading him to the front, in view of all the prisoners. "You poor man!" With gentle strokes, Cracker brushes the sand from his shoulders, patting the blood from his split lip with a piece of cloth. "How could you do this you animals! Beat a man so! What good is a worker with broken limbs?!" He smiled wolfishly. "But a worker without a tongue, is a quiet worker. Heh!" Guards moved in and held the prisoner down as Cracker pulled his tongue out with prongs and sliced it from his mouth with a dagger. His screams filled Sumner's ears.

Cracker resumed his place on the crate and cleared his throat. "As your whore of a mother brought you pissing and farting into this world, I shall be there at the end with the crack of a whip!" He turned to the guards. "Chain them up!"

They were marched in single file to be clasped in iron chains, and given a roughspun tunic and branded in the cheek the shape of a hammer, the mark of an Iron slave. Each prisoner joined to the other by an iron link. The soliders were kept seperated by a villager on either side of them. No doubt the pep talk given to the villagers was much different. Sumner imagined promises of food and special treatment to those who spied on the captive soliders.

Sumner and the prisoners were marched into the forest with stinging cheeks and sunken spirits. At least they were being taken into the forest though, where resources could be found to aid in an escape. And their lies hidden, the only hope for my family. Soul Reaver.
 
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BlackBishop

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Melwyn


crakehall28.jpg


The sun, which was now high in the sky, struggled to cast it's light through the gloom of the dense forest. Ancient oaks, tall poplars, white ash, and fat pines fought each other for the warm sunlight as they reached into the sky, leaving little light to reach the forest floor. The underbrush, choked in shadow, struggled to survive under the great trees of the forest. The rare shaft of light sending the odd flower in bloom, or a fruit to bud upon a dragonbush. Todric, who hunted within the forest for most of his young life, led Melwyn through the maze of streams, ravines and thick brush.

Melwyn put his hand on Todric's shoulder to cease his relentless march. "Let us stop now young Todric, get some rest." Though Todric's energy seemed endless, the maester was fatigued. Having only had a brief sleep the night before, his eyes were heavy and he had stumbled several times on roots and rocks on the forest floor, nearly twisting his ankle. "Gather some dragon fruit, and some thick branches, we will make torches and continue on at nightfall." Todric disappeared into the green labrynth of trees and underbrush.

They were under a dense canopy of an oak tree, a small stream snaked around them and a large rock, covered in green moss, sat nearby. Melwyn filled thier flagons from the stream and sat down, leaning against the rock, resting his eyes. The sounds of the forest filled his ears. He heard the song of birds chirping in the trees above them, thier chirps warning each other of the invaders that now sat and rummaged below their trees. He heard Todric stumble and curse as he fought with the thorns of a dragonbush to release their fruit. He heard a squirrel run and leap between branches, from tree to tree. The sound of the forest faded away and silence filled his ears. He seemed to be in an abyss of nothingness.

Doom-doom!

Welwyn opened his eyes with a start. Todric was nearby, wrapping cloth tightly around a branch, making a torch. The forest seemed darker and gloomier than it had been a moment before.

Doom-doom!

"Did you hear that?!"

Todric stopped his work and tilted his head to the side, listening to the forest.

Doom-doom, doom-doom!

"I hear nothing. Just the forest. You were dreaming, master." Said Todric.

Melwyn stood up from the forest floor, peering into the trees. "It's coming from over there."

Todric followed Melwyn's stare. "That is the way to the witch's vale. The realm of the black witch, said to be haunted by her restless spirit. It is where I am leading you."

"Gather our things, we are continuing on. We are close, now."



* * * * *



The sun disappeared and the sky above took on a shade of crimson as evening came. The forest was quickly turning dark and the air becoming close and stuffy. The forest floor now resembled a hedge maze, despite their desire to go south, the twisting brambles, horn bushes and ravines relentlessly steered them east.

"If we keep going like this, we will end up in Falwell," complained Todric.

With a sigh of frustration, Melwyn drew his sword. "I have had enough of this forest. We are wasting time, and it is clear you have no idea where you are leading us."

Todric sulked. "I told you, master, I have never been in this part of the forest before. Tis haunted they say. I... I can feel something here. Like we're being watched."

"Don't be rediculous, only thing watching us are birds." Melwyn slashed a thornbush that blocked their path.

"Begging your pardon, Master, but i havn't seen a single bird for some time, not another living creature at all, actually."

Melwyn ignored Todric and continued cutting his way deeper into the bush.

"Master, how do you think Crake's Hall is fairing?"

"Not well. The late Lord Roland took most of the army with him to be slaughtered at Oxcross, Ser Burton lost the rest in the Riverlands, and what's left is held captive with Ser Lyle at Pinkmaiden. There were less than a thousand men to man the walls when we left."

"What about the bannermen? Can't some knights be called on to aid the castle?"

Melwyn grunted as he hacked at the thick brances of bush that blocked their way. "Ser Joffrey Falwell, marched with Ser Lyle Strongboar, along with his sons, if you will remember. Ser Joffrey left his brother, a cruel envious man from what I here, in charge of his lands and has answered none of Lord Tybolt's call for aid. Ser Gewain Hawthorne, along with his sons, were all killed at Oxcross, leaving nothing but a token force to defend their land. Ser Raynard Yew went to Oxcross as well, and is now held captive in Pinkmaiden. Crakehall stands alone."

"My father... I had hoped..."

"Hoped we would perchance meet him trekking through this forest? Don't be a fool boy. Your father is dead." Melwyn immediatley regretted his frankness. The silence from Todric behind him made him feel even worse. "Look, I don't mean he's dead. He may yet live..."

"No, it's alright, master. You're probably right."

They went on in silence for some time. Taking turns cutting through the thick bush. When Melwyn began his turn cutting once again, Todric began speaking.

"What do you know of this black witch? Is she real? My father said she was just a story, made up to scare children."

"Oh she was real alright. Not a endowed with magical powers, to be sure, but she did exist. Her real power came from the valyrain sword, as I told you before."

"So she was a witch."

"Do you actually listen to the words I say, boy?! She was not a witch, probably a slaver. The sword, I believe, is possessed with ancient magic that is a mirror of sorts for a person's heart. If one with darkness in their heart takes the sword, then they become twisted and evil, and terribly powerful. But a man of honour and truth that puts his hand upon the blade, I believe a different outcome all together will come."

"You never told me that, you said the sword was evil."

"It is evil." Melwyn was losing patience for the boy.

"But you just said it might not be. What if we took the sword?"

"Hah! A lowly imbecilic stable boy dreaming of being a knight with a magical sword?! I do not wish to imagine what kind of horror that would unleash. But a learned man of the Citadel... I wonder..."

"You said we were going to destroy it."

Melwyn rested from the sword and turned around to face Todric. "We are."

"But how does one destroy a valryian blade?"

"I...I don't know."

"You don't know?!" Wailed Todric.

Melwyn grabbed the boy by the shoulders, shaking him roughly, slapping him across the face. "Get a hold of yourself boy! We needn't destroy it. Just keep it safe, safe from the Ironborn. We are heroes remember, saving the realm, and you will be a knight."

"I don't want to be a knight! I just want my father!" Todric sobbed.

Melwyn put the sword in his hand and pushed him out in front. "Cut!" He commanded.

Night fell by the time they emerged from the sprawling thornbush. Both were bloody with cuts and utterly exhausted. The forest was now pitch black and they scarcely able to see their hands in front of their face.

"Best get those torches lit, Todric."

"Yes Master," Todric began "I have some dragonfruit in my bag, I'll just..." His sentence was suddenly cut off as the boy stepped out over a cliff with a squeal, dropping the sword nearby. Melwyn leaped out to catch him, and managed to get a hold of his wrist as he dangled over the edge, utter blackness waited for him below.

"I got you, Todric! Try to get a foothold!"

"I can't! There's nothing to grab! Please don't let go!"

"I'm not going to let you go, give me your other hand!"

Todric reached up with his other hand, and grabbed onto Melwyn's forearm with a strong grip. Loose dirt under Melwyn's body began to shift as he was dragged closer to the edge. The blackness below seemed to call to him. "Todric, listen to me. You have to find a foothold."

"There's nothing, master!" The boy sobbed, "Please don't let go! I have to see my dad again, I just have to!"

Melwyn's wrist began to burn, his shoulder felt that it might pop from its socket and his body dragged an inch closer to the edge of the cliff. He grunted in an effort to pull the boy up, but he was too big. How can a fifteen year old boy be so bloody heavy! Melwyn's body was pulled closer to the edge, his whole chest now hung over the side. Thoughts began racing in the maester's mind. He thought of himself as a good man, a man on a righteous mission to save Westeros from the cursed sword. Who was this boy anyway? Not a lord or noble, but a stablehand. Sometime's doing what is right is making the hard choice. Sacrifice for the greater good.

"Todric, hear me boy. Remember our mission... We can not fail! Do you understand?"

"We cannot fail? Wait... No! No please, you can't!" The boy began to kick and scream in desperation.

Melwyn began to shake the boy from him, punch and peel his grip away from him. A vain effort, as the boy was too strong. As Melwyn was being dragged closer and closer to the edge, he reached for his sword and sliced Todrics forearm. His eyes were wild with pain and fear as he fell screaming into the darkness below.

"The world will know of your sacrifice, Ser Todric. I will be sure of it."
 
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BlackBishop

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Jun 13, 2012
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SUMNER

crakehall30.jpg


A flock of morning birds escaped the tree just before it came crashing down to the earth, soaring freely into the dawning sun. Quickly setting to work, before they earned Cracker's whip, Sumner and his group heaved their heavy saws atop the thick trunk, cutting the heavy branches free. Through beads of sweat, Sumner looked up upon the other men that made up his group. There was Walter, the baker, Seth, the fisherman, Gerny, the bard. Four men chained together, a solider and three villagers, as it was with every other chained group. Every captive solider was kept apart from the others and chained to three villagers.

"Damn this lot!" whined Seth in a hushed voice. "What rotten luck to be in these chains."

"Count yourself lucky you ain't in the castle," whispered Gerny. "Their days are numbered. Mark my words."

"Depressing work this is," chimed Walter. "Gerny, give us a song to cheer our spirits."

"Are you mad! I don't fancy losing my tongue." Answered Gerny.

"Quiet." Warned Sumner.

It was a clever tactic by the Ironborn, keeping the soldiers chained to villagers, to minimize the communication between the captive soldiers in the forest, but over the course of their work it was entirely possible to slip the odd hushed word back and forth as they walked about the trees. Cracker and his minions did what they could, harshly whipping anyone caught uttering a word, even threatening to remove more tongues.

Sumner's muscles ached as he and his team worked the heavy saw along the thick trunk, cutting branches free. Another team joined him at Cracker's behest. It was Smiley and his villagers. With a great heave, they lifted the trunk onto their shoulders and marched the great log out of the forest, as Cracker and several other Ironborn followed with their whips.

Sumner kept his eyes ahead, struggling under the weight of the tree. He could see Smiley ahead of him, his legs moving slowly as the trunk rested on his shoulders. Sumner saw him look to his left, he followed his gaze to a dragonbush, its spiny fruit blossoming in the vines. Sumner couldn't help but smile a little when the harsh whip of Cracker fell down hard upon his back.

"Get moving you lazy slugs!" Craaaaaaaack! "We have a catapult to build!" Craaaaaaaack! "Lift you lazy sods! Get yer backs into it!"

Sweet visions of his hands choking the life from Cracker ran through Sumner's mind. Blood trickled from the stinging kisses of the whip. Sumner clenched his jaw and kept moving forward. The whip came down again, Sumner faltered and fell to his knees. With a groan the rest of prisoners dropped the trunk from their shoulders. Cracker and his men were on Sumner in an instant, lashing him with their whips.

"Get up you lazy bones! You cur!" Venomous spit sprayed forth from Crackers screaming mouth, his single rotten tooth hanging from his gums.

Sumner raised his arms to shield himself from their blows, and after a moment was back on his feet and heaving the log forward once again. Behind Sumner, before the bush, a single branch poked straight out of the ground. Sumner smiled once again.

* * * * *

They came out of the forest at the base of the hill that hoisted up Crake's Hall. It was a most depressing sight to see the castle surrounded by the Ironborn. The scene before them was eerily peaceful. Gentle wisps of smoke from cook fires rose up into the air from both within the walls of the castle and the camps of the Ironborn. Soldiers in the camp played cards and dice, drank and sang as Sumner and Smiley carried the log to the siege works.

A couple of soldiers played dice nearby where Sumner and his men unloaded the great log. They spoke loudly.

"...Tis an ill omen, I says." Said one as he rolled the dice.

"Bah! Plenty a siege has been won without 'avin their lord present. Besides, Lord Sunderly knows what he's doin."

"Of course, but where did Lord Donnor go? Here we are, fixing to fight and he's off tramping about in the woods."

"Best be careful who you say that to. It's not your place, or mine, to figure the thoughts of our lord. Keep your nose clean and keep you thoughts to the siege."

Sumner felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Donnor is after the sword!

With no respite, the prisoners began their march back into the forest to the lament of whips singing through the air.

* * * * *

Sumner and Smiley exchanged the odd glance as they walked through the forest. The sun was now quickly sinking and Cracker would be eager to get more logs brought out to the siege works before nightfall. The shadows of the trees lengthened as they walked by the dragonbush. The branch that Sumner had stuck into the ground was now nowhere in sight, and the bush was now bare of fruit. Sumner looked back at Smiley and grinned. Smiley only frowned.

Time stretched on and a pre-dusk gloom had now settled on the forest floor. Cracker led them to a clearing which had already been harvested to the labour of the prisoners. The rest of the prisoners were within the clearing, a fight had broken out between two of the captive soldiers, and the villagers chained to them tried their best to stay clear of the punches and the whips of the guards.

"What's all this!" Hollered Cracker as he thundered into the clearing. "I told you to have this lot up to the stream by now! We're wasting daylight!"

One of the guards spit at Cracker's feet. "What do you expect?! This lot won't move and keep beating on each other no matter the lashes we give 'em!"

Sumner made his way to a tree stump as Cracker struggled to break up the fight. He moved a leaf aside on the trunk to reveal a small mound of fire powder, bound together with dragon-fruit resin. Smiley moved his group to the trunk next to Sumner. Across the clearing, Sumner could see Tyrus and Allan had done the same, as did the other captive soldiers.

In unison, the captives of Crake's Hall began a stirring song. Their voices crying out as one despite the insistent whips and orders from Cracker and the guards.

"We are the men of the bristled boar!
Hear us thunder, hear us roar!

We are the men of the bristled boar!
Chain us, whip us, we'll yell more!

We are the men of the bristled boar!
Ever we guard the western shore!

Descended from Crake and his mighty hall!
Be you evil, you will fall!

In vigilance, strength, we are the honour-bound!
Tremble and quake to our rising sound!

None. So. Fierce!
None so fierce!"


As they ended their song, the captive soldiers slammed down their shackles upon the firepoweder mounds, sending smoke and fire and bits of iron up into the air. Free from chains, captives moved in on the guards, choking them with chains, beating their faces, or turning their own whips and daggers against them. As Sumner knocked down one Ironborn and mercilessly rained blows down upon his skull, he saw, across the clearing, a group of Westmen cutting the tongue from Cracker before choking him to death. With their captors dead, the westlanders fled into the forest.

As the sun disappeared and a dark night settled upon Westeros, a shrill horn rang up from deep into the forest, sending chills up and down Sumner's spine. It was the same horn he had heard on the beach several days ago. It was the sound of death.
 
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BlackBishop

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MELWYN


crakehall28.jpg


The eyes of young Todric, wild and accusing, were still fresh in Melwyn's mind as he sat before the cliff, his knees tucked into his chest. In the moment there seemed to be little choice. It was either Todric or both of them as the heavy lad dragged them both to oblivion. Now, however, the maester wasn't so sure. Perhaps there was more he could have done. Perhaps he should have waited another moment for the boy to find a foothold, or attempt to swing the boy up to the ledge. The guilt and doubts gnawed at the man as he watched the sun begin to set.

He hadn't moved since last night, nor had he slept. How could he? He had murdered a knight and let Todric fall to his death. He knew it was all for the greater good, but that didn't make it easy. The Ironborn were here for the Soul Reaver. They had to be. There was no gold in Crakehall, Only the sword. His mission was to bring the sword back to the Citadel, by any means necessary. He had first intended on enlisting the help of House Crakehall, after all they were the ones who thwarted the dark power before Aegon's Landing. Once he came to Crake's Hall, he decided to keep his mission secret and he did not know why. Melwyn's vision of the doom before Westeros gave him strong fortitude against the lure of the blade, or so the archmaester thought. But what exactly would his brother's at the citadel do with the sword? Todric's question the night before rang in his ears. How does one destroy a valryian blade? With dragon's fire, I suppose. But dragons have long since been extinct from the world.

Melwyn's fingers ran along the cool metal links around his neck. Could he responsibly hand the sword over to the same men who, not so long ago, would make him the subject of cruel japes just for his interest magic? If a method did not exist to destroy this sword than what was the real purpose of bringing the sword back to Oldtown?

As the sun began to sink below the horizon, casting a purple glow through the sky, Melwyn finally stood up, and made his way to the cliff edge. Lying down on his stomach, he swung his feet over the edge and descended down, to follow Todric. He found a good foothold, unlike the poor lad, and inched his way down into the darkening gloom.

It was a terrifying descent. The wind seemed to take hold of him with cold fingers, prying him from precarious hold of the cliff. Saying prayers to the Seven, Melwyn held on, and kept lowering himself inch by inch. After the sun disappeared completely and a full moon shone in the dark sky above, Melwyn's feet planted firmly on the ground. He felt drawn to his left, a great pull that set his feet to a mind of their own, against his will or reason.

Melwyn was thankful for the light of the moon, until it betrayed him, revealing Todric. The boy lay dead, in a pool of blood, his limbs twisted and broken. Melwyn though he might retch until he saw the boy's eyes, which stared up into him. His queasiness was replaced by sheer horror.

"Don't look at me! I did what I had to! For Westeros!" Melwyn jumped on top of the lifeless body and rained blows down upon the face, in fear and anger he would snuff out those eyes forever. Bits of brain and bone and blood dripped from his clenched fists by the time he was done with Todric, and nothing remained of the boy's face.

Doom-doom!

Melwyn flew himself off of the lad in terror before he realized that that wasn't the beat of the boy's heart, but the call of the sword. It was close now. The deep drum beats came from the cliff wall. Melwyn felt along the surface and nearly fell through a veil of vines that concealed a narrow cave.

In pitch blackness, he stumbled along the tight passage, willing himself forward even as thick blankets of spiderwebs covered him, and the countless legs of the critters could be felt along his skin. He threw his cloak of in disgust, but could still feel them crawling all over him.

Finally he stepped into a large cavern. A single shaft of pale moonlight shone from a crack high above, casting its sickly light on a great black tree. Its branches scratched at the air with no leaves casting shadows across the cavern. It had a face, ugly and twisted carved into the thick trunk. It was a Weirwood tree.

Doom-doom!

Melwyn stepped toward it, brushing off the spiders that scampered along his skin. The shrubbery that surrounded the tree were all dead and dying, putrid black scorpions ran along the rocky ground, by a black stream. This was a place of death.

Doom-doom!

Melwyn tried to take another step but felt something hold him back, he looked down to find a root rose up from the ground and wrapped around his ankle, another on burst through the rock and gripped his other one. Melwyn drew his sword, and cut at the roots, but they would not give.

"You look upon the face of an Old God."

Melwyn looked up to follow the source of the voice, squinting into the gloom. In the branches of the weirwood, now sat a boy, his features shrouded in darkness. He jumped down from the tree and stepped toward Melwyn.

"You have answered the black call, given in to the vile temptation and now you stand where no man has stood for thousands of years, and for that you must be punished. For that you must die."

The roots snaked up Melwyns legs and torso, circling his neck and squeezing. Air left him, his chest burned and the root squeezed tighter. As darkness began to take him, he heard a great horn echo in the cave. The same horn he heard several days ago. The Ironborn were here to pay the iron price, though they would buy more than they bargained for.
 
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