CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX – Shadow Creatures
"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."
They had left before nightfall like she had wanted, and had ridden throughout most of the night and the next morning, until Caryssa had decided that she needed the rest. She knew that Dacey and the men she was with probably could have kept on going, but she wasn't in the same condition as they were.
So, they set up camp, made a meal with the supplies that Ser Davos had thoughtfully prepared for them and sat around trading stories and barbs as though they were all old friends, which Caryssa supposed most of them were. It was almost peaceful, like the old days when it was coldest in the North so everyone, Stark and servant alike, would spend most evenings together by the fire in the great hall. She missed those nights, where even she and Theon had got along.
It all seemed so long ago now.
"You know, princess, you are a lot less uptight then you make yourself look." Calon, one of Dacey's men, remarked, clearly comfortable enough, or just brave enough, to speak to a high-born lady in such a familiar tone.
Caryssa barked out a laugh in surprise.
"I am not…uptight. We are at war, you know?" She said in defense of herself. When she was a girl she had been more obviously carefree. She had been more fun, but life had a way of taking that away from women.
"Aye, we are, but moments like this one are part of what we are fighting for, aren't we? Small feasts around a fire with friends," Willam, the Captain of her guard below Dacey, clinked his pewter goblet with Calon's, both men with grins on their faces. They were brothers and were both older than Caryssa and Dacey, grey peppering their dark hair, but they still seemed to be just as youthful as their young companions. It made Caryssa smile. "The right to be free and happy."
"Oh, you've gotten soft in your old age, Will." Lady Melantha laughed, taking a swig of her wine. It was the only glass they were all allowing themselves to have, nobody wanted their wits to be compromised in the case of an attack from brigands on the road or a Lannister scouting party. It hadn't put a dampener on their good moods, in any case. They were a day's ride from their main camp and they would be returning to their King with great news, so the group were all pleased with themselves.
Lorry, another of the warrior women of Bear Island who had joined their war, sat on the other side of the Lady Melantha, who wasn't a lady but all the men called her as such out of respect for her, sharpening branches into spare arrows while listening silently to the conversation around her. It seemed she was always making arrows for her quiver, and Caryssa's.
"You can't have too many arrows, princess. Would you like me to make you some?" Lorry had said to her once and after seeing how fine the arrows she crafted were, Caryssa could not say no.
Over the short weeks they had all travelled together, Caryssa had come to count these men and women as friends. Even Rhaenyra was completely at ease with them. The wolf had her head perched on her master's lap, but her side was almost flush against Dacey, who had instantly began playing with the overgrown pup's fur.
Knowing that her ever faithful companion trusted the guards her brother had assigned her gave a lot of reassurance and she felt oddly calm as she listened to Melantha and Willam continue to rib and tease each other, a warm spark in both of their eyes that spoke of a long friendship spanning years.
Obviously, this meant something was about to go wrong.
Rhaenyra lifted her head, her ears twitching this way and that as she tried to pinpoint the source of whatever it was that she was hearing. Sensing the tension in the direwolf, the conversations ceased and everyone was suddenly on edge. Hands rested on sword hilts or on bows or axes, and Dacey shifted closer to Caryssa, her body tense as if preparing for a fight.
The wolf sprung to her feet as two horses burst through the tree line, but didn't bare her teeth, so the riders could only be friendly. Rhaenyra's senses were sharper than the swords that Caryssa's guard held, so she knew that if her wolf deemed the newcomers as no apparent threat than they were more than likely safe.
The men were still on edge, however, until their princess' eyes focused on one of the riders' faces beyond their hood.
"Mother?" Caryssa questioned, as the woman in question threw back her shroud and dismounted her horse, handing the reigns off to her rather tall, rather intimidating companion. Her mother looked flustered, an expression that did not often grace Catelyn Stark's face. It filled the younger woman with worry. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"King Renly is dead."
"Stannis won the battle?" Dacey surmised, rather incredulously. The odds had not been in Stannis' favor at all, but stranger things had happened. The haunted look in her mother's eyes, repeated in her companion, spoke otherwise.
"There was no battle. It was a shadow. It had the shape of a man and it came into his tent and killed him," Catelyn claimed, though she could see the disbelief and doubt in the eyes of all who hadn't witnessed the assassination themselves. "It sounds mad, I know, I wouldn't believe it if I had not seen it with my own eyes, but that is what we both saw."
"It looked like Stannis."
Caryssa turned her stare onto the giant of a woman. A scowl marred her fair face, and grief, something the young she-wolf knew much of, clouded sapphire eyes. The woman wore fine armor, a soldier from a good family, so she must have belonged to Renly's army.
"Who are you?"
"Brienne of Tarth, princess." She bowed at the waist, like a man, and the thought that Arya would like the strange warrior woman popped uninvited into Caryssa's head.
"And you say the shadow looked like Stannis? You are certain of this?"
"Yes. A shadow entered King Renly's tent and killed him, in the form of his brother, Stannis. I swear it."
The princess' eyes flickered towards Dacey, and the woman nodded her agreement.
Robb had to be informed as soon as possible. A bargain had been struck between Stannis and Caryssa, on Robb's behalf, but none of that mattered if the Baratheon King had proven himself to be dishonorable. Kinslaying on a battlefield was one thing, one terrible thing, but to do so with witchcraft? The Gods would surely curse Stannis for such treachery.
"Calon, get on your horse and return to the King. Tell him that Renly is dead, possibly killed by Stannis." Lady Mormont ordered, her man climbing to his feet immediately to do her bidding.
"What about the rest of you?" Calon asked, mounting his horse, but looking to his commander and his princess for the answer. After Dacey, Calon was Princess Caryssa's personal guard, not that she knew it, and he was reluctant to leave her behind.
"My mother and her companion need to rest. Tell Robb we will arrive in the morning."
Calon gave his princess a nod, before turning his hose northward and galloping off into the distance, his companions watching until he was a speck between trees.
Caryssa turned to her mother with a heavy sigh, and finally embraced her. There was a lot of strength to be found inside a mother's arms, and the young woman relished in being able to be held by hers once again.
"How long will you stay with your son's camp, my lady?" Brienne questioned, leading the two horses to the makeshift stable Lorry had created out of two trees with interweaving branches.
"Only long enough to tell Robb what I have seen. After that, I will leave for Winterfell," Caryssa felt Catelyn glance at her, but she had guessed that her mother would want to return home to the boys as soon as possible. "My sons need me. Caryssa will come with me."
"No, I won't. When we've defeated the Lannisters, when Robb takes King's Landing, he will need me."
Her mother stared at her.
"We need you in Winterfell-"
"You can run Winterfell with Maester Luwin's help, Mother," Ryssa shook her head, "but out of every one of Robb's lords, his generals, his men, I am the only one who has lived in Kings Landing. He needs me."
Without waiting to hear her mother's next argument, the princess turned and clicked her fingers for her direwolf and walked into the woods.
"Where are you going?" Catelyn called to her daughter, without reply.
"The priestess told her something," Dacey said, earning herself the attention of the Lady of Winterfell and the female knight. Lorry, Lady Melantha and William, they had all heard this story so did not listen to its retelling, having been disturbed enough the first time Dacey had told them. "She gave her a prophecy, one that the princess has been unsettled by. You won't change her mind about staying at the King's side. She'd sooner die than be parted from him."
"Just give her some time, milady," Lorry advised, still sharpening her arrowheads. "She's safe enough with that wolf at her side."
True enough, Catelyn thought to herself. She thought of that night in Bran's room, when the assassin had stolen in and tried to kill her son. He might have succeeded if his wolf hadn't tore open the man's throat. Grey Wind fought beside Robb in battle, she knew that to be true too. Rhaenyra would sooner rip a man's arm from its socket than allow Caryssa to be hurt, but it didn't mean Catelyn had to like her daughter stomping off into the woods unaccompanied.
'The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.'
Gods, did Catelyn wish Ned was here.
Rhaenyra stayed close to Caryssa's side as she marched through the trees.
Her mother hadn't caused her to be upset, but she was.
The thought of leaving Robb on his own, the lone wolf, even among his most loyal and honorable bannermen, was repugnant. It would have been unthinkable before the witch's prophecy. Now? Now she would not entertain the idea, despite the edge of the battlefield being no place for her.
Robb would not abandon her if she needed him, so she would not be returning to Winterfell, not until the war was won.
Caryssa did miss Winterfell. She missed her brothers and all the other people that made the castle a home, but with her mother returning, and Rodrik too, Bran and Rickon would be fine without her for however long the godforsaken war lasted. Then, they would all be together again.
Except for Father.
Thoughts of what had become of her father's body crept into her mind uninvited and unwelcomed, but she could not stop them.
His head was probably mounted on a spike, tarred and unrecognizable.
Gods, I hope Sansa never sees it.
They had heard that Sansa had been there to witness Lord Eddard Stark's end. Caryssa could think of nothing more terrible the Lannisters could do to her than to inflict such pain, such horror, on her sweet, baby sister.
Sansa was not like her. The auburn-haired princess wore her heart on her sleeve for everyone to see. She hadn't learned how to control her emotions, to hide the ones she did not wish her enemies or even her friends to see.
She would. Sansa would learn many ways to protect herself while being held hostage by the lions, Caryssa knew, as Arya would learn wherever she was. Her baby sisters would be changed forever if they won the war and were able to return home, and it made her sick.
The woman paused for a moment, a hand flying up towards her mouth. Her body lurched towards a tree and hunched over.
No, that was actual sick.
Why were the Gods punishing her?
After her measly meal had finally finished leaving her, Caryssa straightened and looked over at Rhaenyra. The direwolf watched her, completely unfazed by her master's sudden bout of sickness, but quirked her head at her.
"Stop looking at me like that," The woman ordered, and the wolf just huffed. "You'll keep this a secret, won't you? There's no need to worry anyone."
Rhaenyra just blinked, stood and turned back towards camp, and that was response enough. They were cutting their walk short, and there was to be no argument about it.
"Who is in charge here?" Caryssa muttered, but followed the direwolf anyway, knowing deep down that she did not have the energy to keep stomping off into the woods.
She needed to rest.
I am so sorry that this took so long, and that it is such a short chapter, but I felt like I needed to post something after all this time and I had to cut this chapter short, so I could go somewhere different in the next one and could be unstuck. Because I've been stuck for a long time, and my life hasn't helped that any, especially recently, but you guys deserved an update. So, ta da. It's not my best chapter, but maybe I'll come back and edit it some more at some point. I just needed to move on so the story could move on, does that make sense?
Anyway, I introduced some more OC's in this chapter. They are Caryssa's Personal Guard composed of Dacey Mormont, William and Calon Ashdon, Lady Melantha, Lorra "Lorry", and a few more that are yet to be introduced. The people I've chosen as my face claims for these characters are;
William Ashdon - Gabriel Byrne
Calon Ashdon - Peter Franzen
Lady Melantha - Lucy Lawless
Lorry - Clara Paget
Anyway, I know it's short, but I did include another hint at something you all have been asking about, so shout out in a review if you've guessed it or if you think I'm just teasing you with what you want! :P
Thanks for reading, and thank you to all my new reviewers, though some of the "new" ones actually date back to 2016, which is when I last updated this and I totally did not realise that. Anyway thank you;
19irene96, jaz7, XxXLIFEafterDEATHXxX, LycanBeks, Courtenae727, funwithstark, nattiebug9, robeccaluangaphay97, ToshimiOkami, Sarcastic Enigma, ano9748, ForTheWriting, CarpeDiemFreak, ThePhantomismyLove, Irishmadhatter3, simnal, klandgraf2007, Guest (1), .792, nessapasimio9, HPuni101, queenofterassen, Sam, antica, Guest (2), Raging Raven (this would make such a great band name), gr8rockstarrox, ladyres, BrittStar1199, ZabuzasGirl, NicoleR85, Sparky She-Demon, Bleedingheart2XLoLa, Rose1414, Evaline101, Ararel Celebrenlam, gamergirl28, MADStar529, PorcelainPuppetLady, Antica, Random Guest 2, Bella-swan11, Kcaelum, Liz, BeautifulLotus, selinna, muvty, Oliviac0194, hpfan, fallondyson, Ankaa Sage, cruciosirius, Bernd70, Miss Jelly J, Asperitas, Guest (3), Dark Serpent Cat, Guest (4), We Are Unbreakable, Guest (5), Guest 1995, ForeverAlwaysTogether, Hapsgurl80, Guest (6), era-romance, Ginger snap, Nikki L, Kat272007, SunshineBubbles, foxowl01, Amyrelle, Rasu, BellaFantasia, Kyliene, ShadowBlaize, delypanda, JaCk-o'-LaNtErN 91, Vhb, Guest (7), Moon Witch '96, saffuran, and monkeybaby.
Thank you guys so much!
I'd like to quickly address a Guest review, just in case this person isn't the only one confused; Robb and Caryssa AREN'T twins. I've often described them as the closest of the Stark siblings, and that they feel they share a soul, but they aren't twins. Caryssa is two years older than Robb. She was born just shy of two years before Robert's Rebellion. In my story, Ned and Catelyn were made to marry after Brandon Stark married another woman without his father's permission. This is before the Rebellion, before the Tourney at Harrenhall. Robb was born a year into the war against the Targaryens, nine months after Ned left Winterfell. So, again, they AREN'T twins.
Anyway, I'm going to go start the next chapter and hopefully it won't be a year and half before I update again. I still can't believe it was that long.
Love you guys, thanks for sticking with me, you rock,