Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit, fan-based work. I do not own A Song of Ice And Fire, nor Game of Thrones, nor Halo. Game of Thrones is property of HBO and George RR Martin. George RR Martin is also the owner of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, from which the TV series is based off of. Halo is property of 343 Industries and Microsoft. All subsequent characters, settings, concepts, lore, music, and other original materials belong to their respective owners and publishers. Please support the official releases!
A/N: HUGE kudos to NamelessBard, who is more or less entirely responsible for the fight scene at the end. He let me use it with his permission, because in my eyes it was just WAY more creative than anything I had written. I am ashamed I couldn't concoct something this good, but fight scenes aren't something I'm very used to writing. Rest assured, I hope to get better at it so I won't have to do this again, but it's pretty clear I've got a LOT of brushing up to do if I'm gonna get this good.
Bard, you are officially Hand of the King.
Winterfell was alight with celebration. When the lord of the castle and his family came back from their desperate flight, word quickly spread of his son's miraculous recovery, and the king himself proclaimed that a joyous celebration be held, to make merry of the good tidings. From the royal family and their court to their servants who attended them; from the high lords of the North to the common man, all jubilated and lit the moonless night with revelry and song.
Yet even in the midst of such festivity, the household guard of the Starks stood watch. Though some seemed to yearn to join the merriment around them, they merely sighed and kept to their posts.
[BGM: Halo 3 OST - Infiltrate]
Commendable, but their vigilance wasn't good enough to catch the massive, shadowy form making its way across the castle yard. It was a new moon that night, and without its pale glow, they had to rely more upon lamps and lighted torches to see in the dark. But the brighter a light shone, the larger the shadows that it cast, and the visibility that a lamp or torchlight could yield was limited in range. So long as it kept to the shadows, the silent silhouette could navigate through them as a spider would weave through its web. And in the darkness itself, it could move unimpeded, for its footfalls were but a whisper upon the ground, as though it walked upon but wisps of clouds. Neither packed earth, nor mud, nor cobblestone protesting as feet touched down upon them.
The shadow avoided traversing the ancient lichyard, where the servants of long-dead kings rested; for shadows were not meant to trouble the dead. It could slip through the courtyard just as well without drawing attention to itself. Soon enough, it had reached the base of the First Keep. A squad and round drum tower taller than it appeared and decorated with weather-worn gargoyles, it was the oldest surviving part of the entire castle-though it had long since fallen out of use by the people who lived at Winterfell.
The shadow inspected the door. It was a heavy thing of solid oak, with rusty iron hinges and a bronze latch set in the jaws of a weather-worn direwolf. The rusted iron would be a problem. Opening the door as it was could alert the nearby guards. But the spectre merely produced from its side a small vial. With nimble fingers and careful but quick application, it poured the contents onto each of the hinges and onto the latch for good measure. With a careful hand, it slowly opened the door.
Silent as a breeze.
The shadow quickly crept inside, closing the door behind it with utmost care. In that total darkness, no man could see. But the shadow was one with the darkness, and thus it moved without issue. Twin lights appeared from either side of its head, the hue of so dark a blue that it seemed almost black. The world as the shadow perceived then became a deep red color, which, combined with the dark blue light, revealed things which the mortal eye could never espy-such as the twin pairs of footprints which led up the stairwell, and the same exact pair coming back down. One was from the delicate slippers of a woman, the other, the sturdy boots of a man.
Following the tracks only it could see, the shadow began to climb up into the ancient keep.
It might have been an issue, had the sizable stairwell which spiraled upwards along the inner wall been constructed of wood, but it was instead comprised of large masonry jutting out from the walls, easily able to support much more weight with much greater silence. The walls themselves were of thick, ancient stone, so the shade had no cause for worry of someone from the outside hearing. Thus it could afford to stride up the stairs without fear of detection, following the trail of footprints without falter.
Up and up it went, until after a minute of climbing, the prints deviated from the stairs and into one of the long-abandoned apartments. There was no door to bar his way, and so the shade stepped into the chamber.
The room itself wasn't especially large, which made it easier to begin searching. The spectre slowly shifted its gaze across the room. The walls and ceiling were wreathed in long-withered vines, reaching in from the open window before it, whilst the floor was partially covered by a thin layer of dust and leaves. Centuries of neglect would do that to any fortification. It had seemed empty, but again, the shadow could see things which no mortal eye could see. The footprints had greatly altered here. At some point, both parties had taken off their shoes, and tread upon the floor with their bare feet. And there were more marks here and there; against the wall, on the floor, and along the edges of the window. Many were finger and hand prints, but it was able to identify at least two separate pairs of knee prints, as well.
Two other things caught its eyes. The shadow knelt down, and gingerly picked up a single strand of human hair that had been lying upon the ground. Not far away was a spot of wetness, nearly wholly absorbed into the masonry, but still visible. For that, it took out a wetted swab, collecting as much of the substance as it could. It would need to hold onto those for later when it had a better chance of identifying them.
The spectre could find nothing else of note, so it went back to examining the bodily prints. It could make out three separate individuals: two of these persons were fully-grown adults-one male, the other female-and were likely around the same age. Their prints were the most frequent and found almost entirely throughout the room. But there was one instance of a third set of prints, upon the inner window sill. These belonged to a small child.
It took another sweeping look across the room but could find nothing else. So it peered outside the window. First, it looked upwards. It found more of the child's prints upon the gargoyles perched above the window and upon the wall. Clearly, they had climbed these heights before, as all signs indicated the child had a nimbleness only experience could grant; a clear path laid out by which the child had climbed down towards the window. Then, the shadow looked downward. Down to the courtyard below. Down to where the child had fallen.
Taking heed not to linger for too long, lest some guard unwittingly spot it in the night, it quickly went back inside the room. There was still yet one more thing to do.
Taking every print into account, in correlation to the suggested heights of each of the three identified persons, it could ascertain certain positions each had taken. More than a few of the projected positions suggested varied instances of copulation between the two adults.
But one image spoke of something far, far darker.
Where the child's prints had been, so too had been that of the male adult, who stood at the window. The handprints that the child had left indicated that they had initially held to the window sill, probably to stabilize themselves from falling-only to have been pushed out from the window, by some force which the boy had not been able to stop. The only possible explanation…
The figure felt its hands tighten into fists but quickly recomposed itself. It had found all it could find here. It would further examine what evidence it had collected once it had returned to its own abode. Thusly, the shadow turned around and disappeared once more into the darkness.
A splitting headache greeted Tyrion as he slowly began to regain consciousness. Wincing, he gingerly rose from his bed in an effort to not move too quickly-yet it seemed clear the gods were hoping to chastise him for the overindulgence of spirit he'd imbibed the previous night.
Not that their divine punishments have ever stopped him. Though, he still wondered just why he had tried that ridiculous Northern strongwine. Terribly bitter and as strong on the tongue as the armored fist of a Clegane, the spirit had tasted nothing like the blackcurrant rum Eddard Stark had in more abundance. It had most certainly done its work, Tyrion admitted, wincing as he tumbled out of bed. It had left him feeling like his brains had been smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large ingot of gold. Even thinking was painful, but he did it anyway. Somehow, despite his shit-faced drunkenness the previous night, he apparently still had the good sense to keep the curtains of his apartment shut and had blown out the candles before collapsing onto his bed. He was not looking forward to greeting the world outside if his head was already hurting this much when blanketed by utter darkness.
Blessedly, he was not being further addled by nausea… but then, apparently, the strongwine failed him, as he remembered why he had been so inebriated.
And when he did, he felt like he wanted to drown himself in the stuff again. Not just a few sips. This time I'll take the whole bottle.
It had been in regards to what he had seen in the hovel that the Spartan resided in. But it was not the images of war and carnage which had haunted his thoughts. It was not the fact that the Spartan himself was making a legitimate argument that the thrice-damned White Walkers might actually be more than the stuff of legend. In actuality, it had nothing to do with the Spartan.
It instead concerned the Spartan's companion. The aglow lady, Cortana.
Again her image came forth into his mind as the memory returned to him. The gentle brightness of her form was otherworldly in its own right, but… she was beautiful. Maiden above, she was hauntingly prepossessing. A heart-shaped face and a swan-like neck, with hair as dark as the night sky. The dress she wore hugged her frame, leaving little to the imagination in regards to her body; revealing an hourglass figure of soft, supple, tantalizing feminine curves; perfectly balanced in proportion. Lithe shoulders and slender, graceful arms. A full, ample bosom, each teat around the size of a grapefruit, perhaps a bit larger still. A well-defined, narrow waist, and a perfectly toned stomach. Wide hips with a fully rounded bottom. Damnably, her skirt hid her legs, but Tyrion esteemed himself a connoisseur of the female figure from his constant whoring. From the way he had seen her shift atop her glowing table, he was fairly certain that her thighs had a subtle but healthy thickness to them and further espied that her legs slendered as they went down to her dainty feet. He wondered that she might have that slight gap between her thighs whenever she put her feet together.
An utterly terrible, woeful pity she wasn't corporeal. He'd seen the way Robert's hand had reached out for her, only for her form to pass through his fingers like thin air. I'd have her legs spread and her sweet voice screaming my name if that supple flesh of hers were real. Though perhaps it was best it wasn't. From the way Robert looked at her, and how heavily he drank himself into a stupor, Tyrion thought that His Grace might make advances upon her himself, and nine months later another royal bastard would be brought into the world.
[BGM: Halo 3 ODST OST - Rain]
Such thoughts as those, however, only caused Tyrion to actually feel a certain, shameful guilt at his lustful pining, as though a lukewarm knife had been thrust into his chest. Damn all!
Were her beauty all she had to her, it would suffice to keep Tyrion's dreams depraved and raunchy for many, many years to come. He hadn't been flattering when he said she looked as though she were a goddess come into the world. To be sure, Tyrion had seen women of comparable beauty as her. His sister was certainly one. But this luminous maiden had something to her, something so many other women he had met lacked entirely. Something that enhanced her beauty in a way that the biggest teats, the softest flesh, nor the curviest figure in the world could ever compensate for. Cersei most certainly lacks it.
It wasn't simply the fact that hers was a body of light. She had remained composed for much of their encounter, but he could not ever forget the exchanged he had shared with her. There was… Tyrion thought there was a goodness to those vibrant, iridescent eyes of celestial blue. Her smiles could be both delightfully mischievous and terribly sweet. And her words… her words to him were nothing but kindness and respect. Not once had she looked upon him with revulsion or pity as all others had. He wanted to say it was all just a front, that behind her smiles was naught but contempt for his wretched form. So many other women he'd met had done so in the past.
But… he could not find it within himself to doubt that kindness, and it had only proven to make him feel utterly malaise. Her smiles, her eyes, her hair, her laughter, her warm words… Tyrion squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the ache that pulsed in his head from it, trying to force the memory away from his mind. But it was fruitless. Robert had thought Lady Cortana to be Lyanna Stark's ghost, but Tyrion had never met Lyanna Stark, so he could not say he was of like mind with the king. For him, the sight of the aglow lady was to remember a crofter's daughter, chance met on the road.
Except she wasn't a crofter's daughter. And the meeting wasn't chance. Long had Tyrion tried to drown the memory of Tysha. How many years of wine and whores had he surrendered himself to in the vain hope he might have forgotten the time he spent with her? Of the pain and betrayal he had endured by his lord father that day? And yet one look upon Lady Cortana's face brought all of those memories back to the forefront. For while Tysha had been a girl scarcely older than fourteen when he knew her… Yet, Tyrion felt that had she grown older, he imagined she could have bloomed into the very likeness of Lady Cortana. Foolish delusions he had thought afterward; of another, nonexistent and impossible time that never was allowed to be, where Tysha's love had been true and his father had allowed him to marry her. Where Tysha and he walked the following years together as man and wife, and Tyrion might have seen her grow into the beautiful figure that the Aglow Lady was.
I am a fool, He thought morosely. A plain, utter, weak fool. No wonder I wanted to be piss drunk after that.
Soon enough, he found himself walking out into the world outside, waddling through the stone labyrinth that was Winterfell. The morning was overcast and grey, making it much easier on his eyes than a sunny day would have been. But his head still hurt, and the pain made him inclined enough to sample some more wine. But Tyrion knew that there were things to be done.
And matters that he needed to look into.
Three days had passed since Brandon Stark's fall, and already the castle was bustling with gossip and hearsay. The Spartan had taken the boy and the rest of his family away in his flying machine that self-same day. The royal entourage had looked on in awe as they saw the Spartan's great steel vessel fly off to the west, towards that ship they were always talking about. Tyrion had wanted to go, as had Robert and Mance Rayder-but the Spartan had stated that the boy's life was slipping away much too fast for him to afford them a tour of his ship for the time being. The day passed, with all in Winterfell anxiously awaiting Lord Stark's return… and to hear of the ultimate fate of his son. The great flying shape finally did come back just before twilight, and though Lord Stark and his family came out from the vessel, there was no sign of Brandon. Nor, he was later told, was Lady Cortana or the Spartan's subordinate. I still can't tell whether I should be relieved or disappointed at her absence.
Tyrion had feared that they would return with news of the boy's demise, for his fall had been very far and doubtless his injuries were grave. But when he saw Lord Stark, the weariness on the Warden of the North's face spoke of relief, not of mourning. He told of how the Spartan had worked a miracle-not only saving the boy's life but wholly healing him of his wounds, even restoring the use of his legs. His son had furthermore regained consciousness and was recuperating aboard the Forward Unto Dawn. Robert had called for a feast to celebrate that night, with smoked and honeyed ham, buttered bread spiced with cloves and garlic, and casks of deep, purple sweetwine from the Reach that Robert had brought were cracked open and poured generously for all gathered.
Eddard Stark had tried to remain as subtle of the Spartan's actions as possible, only disclosing the extent of his healing of his son to a select few. Of course, Robert proclaimed them aloud during the feast for all to hear, his booming voice carrying across the Great Hall as they feasted and drank; though blessedly, he mentioned not a word of Lady Cortana to anyone. They toasted to Brandon Stark's health, and to the Spartan for his miraculous healing.
Much to the utter embarrassment of the Spartan himself. Tyrion had realized that the towering soldier did not revel in being made the center of attention. At all. On the night their entourage had feasted for arriving at Winterfell, Tyrion had noted how near a dozen noble ladies gravitated around the soldier, like a flock of famished vultures. And after having earned the Starks' gratitude and Robert's favor by healing little Brandon, he was fairly confident that number had at least doubled.
Was it any wonder, then, why he so frequently fled the hall and took his meals to his own abode? Tyrion smiled, giving a titter. The sheer discomfort on the soldier's face as he tried to futility, dutifully evade them was the most hilarious sight Tyrion had borne witness to north of the Neck. That all being said, the Spartan had been acting most peculiar ever since returning from the Dawn. He seemed strangely interested in the plates and goblets they had all drank and ate from, and even the cutlery as well. It was always out of sight from the festivities-and especially from the royal court-but Tyrion had once spotted him… powdering a chalice that he recalled Jaime had drank from.
Yet... it was not the discomfort or oddity displayed by the Spartan that had most caught his eye.
It was that of Cersei and Jaime.
When Lord Stark and his maester had confirmed that the boy would live, Tyrion's siblings had exchanged a most disconcerting look between them. And when they had further learned that the boy had regained consciousness, why, the color practically drained from their faces. Both instances had lasted for only a heartbeat each, unseen by all in attendance... save for Tyrion himself. No sooner than had she heard the good tidings did Cersei admit she was keen on seeing Eddard's son as soon as possible, that she might kiss his cheeks and wish him good health. Tyrion had also spotted how Jaime's hand gripped the sword at his side.
But the Spartan denied them that; citing that, though Brandon Stark would make a full recovery, it would still take time for him to heal, and that he needed to keep the boy under close observation aboard his ship, to ensure no complications would emerge from the aftermath of his procedures. And whilst the royal family was keen to visit the Forward Unto Dawn, the soldier only further refuted that he could not grant that boon yet, as his mission north of the Wall-which had already been delayed due to Brandon's fall-would render him unable to give them a proper tour of the ship until such a time after his mission was complete. He further claimed that the ship would bar entry to all save for him, as the doors had some enigmatic mechanization that would only allow entry by his hand. Quite convenient, if true. Cersei had all but seethed with impotent rage at the Spartan's continued lack of deference… or, as one might rather put it, the Spartan's refusal to kowtow to his sweet sister.
But as he waddled his way through the castle, Tyrion was determined to head his own investigation into the matter. He had a creeping suspicion that the Spartan knew something. Something that Lord Stark didn't. And he had an even worse feeling that he, too, knew what it pertained to.
Thankfully, he knew exactly where to find the man he was looking for. Leaving the castle proper and exiting through the east gate into the winter town, Tyrion made his way towards the hovel at the very fringe of the houses that huddled beneath Winterfell's great walls, straddling the beginnings of the Kingsroad. His loins were more than a little tempted to divert his course for the brothel nearby-a comely red-headed woman beckoned him at the window, and Tyrion wanted to know if it was true what they said about Northern girls... Later. His bollocks might have wanted to be emptied, but his brain demanded to be filled. He gave her a lecherous grin, gesturing he'd be back for her in due time, then continued on his way.
Upon arriving at the hovel, Tyrion encountered the Stark guards stationed outside the Spartan's abode. They gave him the usual stink eye as he approached, but they at least had the courtesy to mind their tongues. After all, he was the queen's brother-and, more relevantly, affiliated with the Spartan as a part of the upcoming expedition. "Good morrow, my sers," He greeted them politely. "Might the Spartan be about? I have needs to speak with him."
"The Chief ain't be takin' no visitors today," Said one of the older guards, a painfully plain man with a craggy face, "He's got a mean amount o' preppin' to do fer the flight tomorrow. Seein' as 'ow you'll be goin' with 'im, Imp, you can talk with 'im then."
Tyrion suppressed a roll of his eyes, preferring to simply take the guard's word and ignore the sniggering from the rest of them. "I must confess that is exactly what it pertains to." It wasn't exactly the truth, but he could certainly do with asking the Spartan on what he'd need to bring.
The guardsman seemed about to shoot him down again, but before anything else could be said, the door to the hut swung open, where from its empty frame came the Spartan himself. "Lannister," the soldier said with taciturn courtesy, inclining his head in acknowledgment. "You need something?"
Tyrion blinked at the man for a few moments. He had no earthly idea how the Spartan had seen him from inside, much less heard him. "How did you..." He started, mumbling before he shook his head from side to side. No, don't question it. It's one of those damnable, marvelous contraptions they keep. "As a matter of fact, I would ask for a moment in private. Might I be allowed in?"
The soldier nodded crisply, stepped aside, and held the door open for him. Tyrion smiled. "You're a definite improvement over this sorry lot. Lord Stark might do well to have his men learn manners from you." Taking one more look to the aforementioned fools, who seemed about ready to spit on him, Tyrion gave them a positively wicked, sneering grin before he waddled inside.
As he had noted on his prior visit, whilst the interior was practically littered with the many baubles that the Spartan had brought from his ship-Actually, no, they're arranged quite neatly-the single room cottage itself was sparsely furnished. There were two plain cots, a small table, and several metallic, collapsible chairs. There was also that marvelous table with the glass surface, from whence Lady Cortana had appeared and had shown them all those floating images of light.
There was a modest fireplace on the far side of the room, above which a copper kettle hanged, with flames licking upwards around it. Aside from that, there appeared to also be a truly massive pail of sorts, made of a material Tyrion could simply not ascertain. He could only assume it was meant for bathing, as only something of that large a space could possibly fit the Spartan's frame. He could not, however, find any sort of chamberpot. Mayhaps he had some magical latrine or outhouse priorly undisclosed. It certainly would explain why his abode smelled so immaculately clean. But Tyrion dismissed the thought, choosing not to lose sight of his initial intent.
"You may take a seat," The Spartan said simply, uncollapsing two of the metal chairs by the table before walking over to the fireplace, as the kettle just began to sputter out a low whistle. Against the firelight, Tyrion could see that the soldier had worked up some manner of exertion, as his thick, sinewy muscles seemed to faintly glisten against the glow of the coals. Despite that, as the Spartan came back over to the table with the kettle in hand, Tyrion could not hear any shortness in the Spartan's breath. His casual attire, namely the sleeveless black shirt, left his arms and a generous amount of his upper chest bare to the world, and even the parts of his torso that were not exposed hugged so tight against the fabric of this shirt that it left scant less to the imagination.
Taking two cups seemingly made of white parchment and filling them each with hot water, the soldier then took several pinches of fine, deep and dark green powder from a jar, and then sprinkled it into each cup. Within less than ten seconds, it had thoroughly blended into the water, turning it into a pleasant green color, with a refreshing, rather relaxing fragrance to it. "Is this some manner of tea, Master Chief?"
"Green tea," The Spartan affirmed. "It should help your hangover some. The headache and the nausea, at least."
Tyrion groaned. "It's that obvious, is it? Well, I won't dismiss your offer..." He took a slow, careful sip of the hot liquid. The taste was quite marvelous in a subtle way, admittedly, but what truly surprised Tyrion was its almost immediate effect on his brain. As the tea hit the back of his tongue and went down his throat, he could feel its vapors wafting upwards into his nose, feeling a very minty, cooling sensation beginning to spread throughout the entirety of his head. His prior queasiness began to subside, as did the pain wracking his brain. As though he had taken a bath of pleasantly warm water, it truly seemed his humors had been brought back more into balance. Opening his eyes, Tyrion found that they did not hurt nearly as much as they did earlier that morning. "...My word, that does help. You have my thanks, Ser Spartan."
He merely shrugged as he deadpanned in reply, "I just prefer you being functional."
Tyrion couldn't help but laugh. Was it any wonder why, from the highborn maids to the well-worn harlots, that the womenfolk of the castle and the town wanted a piece of this man? He was the very pinnacle of manhood, had good courtesy, and a terribly underutilized but immaculately dry wit. Practically a god by my own standards.
"Now that you're head's clear, may I ask why you're here, Lannister? You should know by now that I don't do small talk."
Tyrion sighed. "Saw right through me, didn't you? Yes, as much as I would love to engage in a more informal conversation, I am aware we are on a tight schedule. You have decided we are to head for Castle Black on the morrow?"
"Yes. Brandon Stark's fall has already delayed us past our initial deadline. Lord Commander Mormont needs to be informed of the situation in full before we commence our expedition."
"Still, I myself am concerned as to Mance Rayder's presence therein," Tyrion began. "As King-Beyond-The-Wall, and a former black brother at that, Mance was and still remained the foremost adversary of the Night's Watch. No doubt many at Castle Black will feel more than a little resentment if not outright enmity towards him. Some may fancy that, with a single swing of their sword or a well-placed knife in the back, they might make heroes of themselves."
"Not a misplaced concern," Chief admitted. "Which is why I'll be there. Hopefully, by the time we arrive, First Ranger Benjen's raven will have already delivered its message. Still, it never hurts to be prepared."
"Prepared for what? A welcome, or a trap?"
"Mance has thus far remained in good faith to Robert. I don't think sheer hatred for the wildlings will blind the Night's Watch to the risk of provoking the king. Robert did place Mance under his protection as long as he was south of the Wall."
"Indeed." When Mance first broke fast with Robert, the former had made the Northern lords and Benjen Stark swear an oath that no harm would befall the King-Beyond-The-Wall until such a time as he had left the North and returned to his own people. Even the Spartan had joined in the pledge. "I can verify that King Robert is… quite terrifying when provoked to anger. Particularly when he's sober. Mance has charmed his way into His Grace's favor, if not his friendship. And the latter seems intent on staying in the North until this whole matter is settled."
Many of Stark's bannerman had been keen to make for their own lands, to muster their levies and prepare for the wildlings' impending advance on the Wall. But Robert had commanded that they remain at Winterfell, and was determined to wait until the Spartan had confirmed matters beyond the Wall before he would move towards decisive action. The king was a warrior and loved fighting more than all other things, but he wasn't reckless in the prosecution of war. That did not mean he was slow to visit his wrath upon those whom he deemed had offended his royal person, however. Not by any means at all.
"Is there anything else, Lannister?" The Spartan asked before he took a sip from his own cup of tea. "No offense, but I have certain matters to attend to before our flight tomorrow."
"But of course," Tyrion nodded. "My apologies if I distract you. Yet, I would still ask you to enlighten me as to a certain matter. Namely, the nature of Brandon Stark's fall."
"I've already told you everything you need to know."
"No," Tyrion said, this time completely serious. "I do not believe you have."
[BGM: Cygna - Su Abir]
The Spartan's gaze now met Tyrion's, and the cold sharpness of his eyes seemed to pierce straight into his soul. He had thought when he had first seen the Spartan that he seemed of the likeness of a Baratheon. But not even Stannis could give so icy a look as the one Tyrion saw then and there. The Spartan's blue-gray eyes spoke of a far quieter, deadlier nature, and Tyrion felt as though he were staring in the face of a fearsome yet chillingly silent beast poised to strike. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight outwards, and Tyrion was nearly frozen in place as he felt the soldier's eyes on him. It seems I must recant my prior assumption. The cold eyes of blued steel and the stoic, serious face he wore spoke far more strongly of a wolf than a stag.
In fact… for half a heartbeat, he thought that in the Spartan's younger days, he might have borne a strong resemblance to a certain bastard, albeit far more robust of frame and sharp of jawline.
When the Spartan gave him no response, Tyrion swallowed down and continued, though this time, he was not nearly as assertive. "Forgive me, Ser Spartan, but I… I must know how the boy came to fall."
"Why?" The Spartan asked, his voice measured, calm, and unmoving.
"Because you know something. It was right after you had told us that the boy would live and heal from his fall, in Stark's solar. You had left the room before I and my siblings had, but when we ourselves left, you were standing in the hall outside, watching..."
It had been nothing more than a subtle, passing thing-one that no one else had seen-but the eyes he had given to his brother... It was not as though Jaime were unaccustomed to stares. The epithet of 'Kingslayer' had long given him more than enough scorn and derision. No, what set the Spartan's gaze apart... was the utter lack of such bias. His eyes spoke of something far, far worse.
Not a word had passed between them, but in that fleeting heartbeat, Tyrion had seen something he'd never seen in Jaime before.
Tyrion always thought his brother to be a great lion: beautiful, brave, and strong... but before whatever manner of baleful creature that lay behind the Spartan's stare, even a lion could do naught but falter, for Jaime had stopped right where he stood when he saw the soldier. And no sooner than that had the Spartan turned and left, saying nothing.
"What caused Stark's son to fall? What did he recollect of what happened? The boy's own siblings had told of how he had climbed the walls and towers of this castle for years without losing his footing. What would have caused it to happen now?"
For a long moment, the Spartan said nothing, unblinking as he looked to Tyrion. "I'll give you the evidence first." From one of the pockets on his person, the Spartan produced two things: one was a transparent bag which held a singular strand of golden hair. The other was what appeared to be a more opaque, cylindrical flask which held some sort of fluid. Is… is that what I think it is…? Uncomprehendingly, he looked back up to the Spartan and, stupidly, he laughed. "You have queer tastes, Ser Spartan, to be collecting such things as hair and-"
"These were discovered on one of the upper floors of the First Keep, inside a room that was perfectly situated above where Brandon Stark had fallen."
"And what does a single strand of hair and a bit of fluid prove?"
"Nothing," The Spartan replied. "Any conclusion that I make based purely on this is nothing more than conjecture. But evidence is crucial in finding proof, just as proof is needed to vindicate evidence. They aren't the same thing, but it's only when they're put together that one can ascertain truth."
Tyrion grunted. "Alright, then what does this 'evidence' tell you? Is this all you have?"
He shook his head, producing several sheets of paper and laying them on the table. Each sheet of stark white were covered in… Finger prints? Hand prints? Foot prints? It were as though someone had spilled a bottle of ink all over their hands and feet, before pressing them into the paper. "How in the world did you acquire these?" Tyrion asked, his head tilted to the side.
"Forensic technology. These are copies of the prints left as the scene."
"Alright, first of all," Tyrion started, "You do realize that, practically speaking, your technology is sorcery even to a mind as erudite as mine, yes?"
The Spartan blinked. "I keep telling you, it isn't magic."
"It might as well be," Tyrion retorted. "You cannot expect me to believe anything that I can just as quickly denounce as mummer's trickery. Even if I did, how would I know you aren't lying?"
The soldier gave a small sigh. "You asked for what happened to Brandon, and I'm trying to give you all the empirical information I've been able to gather. Whether or not you believe what I say is entirely up to you, but if you're going to arbitrarily rule out all I have to say, then stop wasting my time and see yourself out the door."
Tyrion huffed, trying to reign in his impatience. "Will you just tell me what you think happened already?"
"Fine, then. My conclusion is that Brandon was thrown from the tower. By your brother."
Tyrion's eyes widened, and it felt as though an anvil had been slammed into the pit of his stomach. His whole body trembled, his heart thundering in his chest. "...What?"
"I didn't take you for being hard of hearing, Lannister," The Spartan deadpanned. "Your brother attempted to murder Brandon after the boy caught him and your sister Cersei copulating."
Oh no. "Have you any idea what you just said?!" He exclaimed in outrage, all but standing in his chair as he summoned up every spirit within him to hide the panic boiling in the back of his mind. "You dare impugn my siblings for incest?! Accuse them of treason!? I had thought you bold before, but the sheer gall you have to say such things is inexcusable!" He cannot possibly know...
"Which is why I wanted to give you my findings before telling you, Lannister," The Spartan replied calmly. "Of course, you are welcome to offer up counter-arguments to my claims."
Reining himself in, Tyrion grunted as he sat back down in his chair. "Fine, then. I assure you that I will tear your accusations to shreds before I'm through. Should you shown sufficient dignity in admitting you were in the wrong, I may not have you arrested for slandering the crown. And believe me, your prior behavior towards the authority and esteem of the Iron Throne will not help your case."
The Spartan merely shrugged. "The first article are these prints. I was able to single out three separate individuals between them; Two adults, and one child."
"The child being Brandon Stark?"
"Cortana recorded the boy's prints following the operation on him. Careful comparison between the two revealed that they were identical."
"I can concede that," Tyrion admitted. "I can even concede that the apartment you studied being the very room he fell from, provided it is truly positioned in accordance to the boy's fall. No one is denying the fact Stark's son fell from the tower. But you cannot say that these prints implicate my siblings..." He stopped for a moment, as the wheels in his head began to turn. He recalled how the Spartan had been almost obsessively studying tableware. "Wait, is… is that the reason you were looking around at everything we touched at the feast?"
The Chief nodded. "It was to check for any fingerprints before they could be washed away. I'm impressed you figured it out so quickly."
Tyrion harrumphed. When he was a child, and still the bane of the kitchens at Casterly Rock, he had once noted how whenever he covered his hands in flour, he could leave prints behind, and it had fascinated him how that worked. Though he was not about to tell the Spartan that. "And I suppose you claim that you found a match?"
"I did. Of course, I've had no way of getting their knee or footprints, but your sister and brother's fingerprints match those found at the scene. Perfectly."
"A coincidence," Tyrion stated. "Whoever was in that tower could just have happened to have the same prints as my siblings. Or, as I'm more inclined to believe, you are merely using the prints you get off of my siblings to falsely incriminate them."
"Then why would I even bother telling you any of this, when you seem so adamant that they're innocent?"
Tyrion gave him a blithely cynical reply. "Because I'm a dwarf? A foul, spiteful little creature who'd murder his own father at the first opportunity? Do not feel too ashamed Spartan, you are far from the first to have assumed me to be thus. But I will disillusion you here and now: there is no possible way you can convince me to betray my family." But no sooner had the words escaped his lips, than Tyrion regretted them. He knew that he had wronged the Spartan by saying such a thing, but he refused to withdraw it.
The Spartan was… not so much insulted as he seemed somewhat confused by Tyrion. Disappointed, almost. "I never had any intention of turning you against your family," He said with a small shrug. "And as Cortana said, we don't hold prejudice against you because of your condition. Or are you saying Cortana lied to you?"
That genuinely gave Tyrion pause. He thought again of the aglow lady's smile, of her kind and unjudging eyes. And again, against his better judgement, he could not find any deception therein. "I… no, Ser Spartan. My apologies. It just very easy to suspect such ulterior feelings after all these years."
"Fair enough," The Chief conceded. "I will accept your arguments as they pertain to the fingerprints. Technically speaking, each and every human being is supposed to possess a unique set of prints, but that's only proven to pertain to the people of my civilization; and even then, exceptions are possible. Although it's highly unlikely, the people of your world could be different in that regard. In fact, I have unrelated evidence that could actually support this theory."
Tyrion blinked at that. "Truly?"
"You might recall how Cortana and I have taken an interest in Jon Snow." He produced another sheet of paper. "These are his prints, lined up right next to mine."
Tyrion studied the paper with squinted eyes... only for them to widen again. More a wolf than a stag, indeed. Clearing his throat, Tyrion set the paper down. "You do realize, of course, that this rather invalidates your prior argument, yes?"
"Possibly," The Spartan shrugged. "Again, this is evidence, not proof. It's theoretically possible that someone with your siblings' exact prints were up there, though the odds are rather improbable. And as I've stated before, I'm not expecting you to believe any of what I say. All I ask is that you hear me out."
Tyrion sighed. "Very well. Is there anything else that those prints tell you?"
"They belong to two fully grown adults. One male, one female. Other than the fact that they match your siblings' prints perfectly, I can't glean anything more out of them."
"Then onto the next ones. What does that strand of hair and the fluid tell you?"
"The color of the hair itself clearly indicates that whoever it belonged to had golden hair. And the only people I've seen at Winterfell with this exact hair color are you, your siblings, your sister's children, and the rest of your extended family who've travelled in the entourage. And while I can't discern the gender of whoever this came off of, I'm able to determine that whomever it belonged to had green eyes along with the golden-blonde hair. And by comparing its length to that of everyone I just mentioned, it leaves only two possible candidates who could match to it: your sister, or her daughter Myrcella. I can reasonably rule out your niece as a culprit, as there's no evidence of her presence within the tower, as well as the fact that this hair doesn't have the same structure a child her age would have."
"Good," Tyrion nodded. "Because if you were actually about to insinuate my niece in all this, I would not hesitate to pounce from this chair and throttle the life out of you."
The Spartan actually gave him a raised eyebrow at that. "Then I can all the more conclude she had nothing to do with it. Which leaves your sister. As for the contents of the vial, it's a mixture of sexual fluids; namely semen and vaginal discharge. From this, I've been able to all but confirm that your siblings were in the middle of coetus right around the time Brandon fell from the tower."
Tyrion's heart was now thumping so loudly in his chest that he was nearly certain the Spartan might hear it. "...Again, it is either coincidence, or you are fabricating all this soas to implicate my siblings. And here, I have the better argument, because I know your motive for why you would do such a thing. You have grievances with my sister, as you refuse to bow to her authority and she herself despises you. As for my brother, I can hazard that Eddard Stark has been vehemently touting about my brother's epithet? These Northerners have done nothing but spit on my brother's name since we crossed Moat Cailin, and no doubt the noble lord of Winterfell has been doing his utmost to convince you that my brother is dishonor given flesh."
"Stark has told me of your brother's actions during the Sack of King's Landing, yes," The Chief replied evenly. "And while I do respect Stark's opinion, I am aware he's biased. I'm not accusing your brother because he killed the king he swore to protect; I'm accusing him because he's the prime suspect."
"And you assume him to be such because of circumstance? Because you based your observations on methods which I have very little reason to believe? Because you happened to find some hair and cum and can magically deduce obscurities from them? You have been talking a great deal about evidence, Spartan, but you have not materialized any proof. None whatsoever. And as you yourself have stated, without proof, evidence cannot be used to discern truth."
"I never said I didn't have proof."
"Oh, do you now?" Tyrion scoffed. "Let me guess, you were able to conjure up the entire scene through the use of your technologies? You spied on my siblings as they slept? Went through their things to find some infallible clue?"
"I got Brandon Stark's testimony."
That one sentence caused the entirety of Tyrion's being to grind to a screeching halt. His bravado faltered, and he could practically feel the color drain from his face. "W-what?" He asked stupidly.
"The boy told me what happened himself," The Spartan began, his words cutting and biting into Tyrion scarcely less than his eyes did. "Three days ago, he was climbing atop the ramparts of the castle, around the same time you were all in here. By sheer coincidence, he happened upon your siblings. He didn't understand what they were doing in the keep, but I and Cortana were able to figure it out on our own. Jaime Lannister threw him out the window, in a likely attempt to silence Bran before he could reveal any of what he saw."
Tyrion knew at that moment that the Spartan's iron hand was firmly grasping at his family's golden bollocks. And with a flick of his wrist, he could tear their seed out root and stem, then crush it like a pair of overripe grapes. The cogs in his head spun as though they were set to a cart crashing madly down a hill, trying to think on what he could use to buy the Spartan's silence.
Gold? Not likely. By all reports the Spartan didn't seem the sort to be interested in luxury. In truth, aside from the baubles of his world, the hut looked quite minimalist.
Position? Also not very imaginable. He could have easily curried favor with Robert were that the case, or taken a shine to any of the noble ladies that constantly beleaguered him at any given opportunity.
Women? Even less plausible. Aside from the aforementioned highborns, Tyrion thought that half of the wenches amongst Winterfell's smallfolk and the entirety of the brothel girls all wanted him. Had the Spartan even the most remote of interest in them, women would have likely formed a queue outside his hut to be made wonderfully bow-legged and blissfully pregnant.
Drink? Had he not been struck with fright, Tyrion would have barked in laughter. The singular instance he'd seen the Spartan drink wine was when he sat at table with Robert, Lord Eddard, Ranger Benjen, and Mance Rayder. Aside from that, he never so much as glanced at the stuff.
Honor? That was believable, but only nebulously so at best. From all indication, the Spartan did seem at least somewhat honorable, but he was still quite secretive. Were honor the Spartan's currency, he would have taken his findings to Robert posthaste, or perhaps inform Lord Eddard-particularly because it was his son Jaime had supposedly pushed out the window. And were that the case, Cersei and Jaime's heads would surely have been mounted atop pikes already. Instead, it seemed to Tyrion that the Spartan and his Aglow Lady had chosen to entrust this information to him before any other.
For a long, agonizing moment, Tyrion exerted his mental faculties, trying to find a way out of the disastrous development before him. But alas, he could still find nothing, and he despaired that all was lost. It didn't matter if what Brandon Stark told was true or not. It didn't matter if it were all but a lie crafted by the Spartan-if the boy spoke the words, Stark would listen. And Robert would in turn listen. And the righteous anger that both would loose would spell the end of them all. Say something, you damned arse-monkey! Say anything! Plead on your hands and knees that he not tell Robert! Jaime and Cersei will die if you don't! Mycrella and Tommen will die if you don't!
Then… he remembered the events of the night Lord Stark first feasted the royal family, and when Mance Rayder had made himself known. He recalled the Spartan's words after the feast, when he sat in conference with the two kings and two Stark brothers. Of a desire for peace between the freefolk and the people of the North. Of preparing the realm for the possibility of a White Walker invasion. ...Could he have actually meant it? Could it be that the Spartan's goals were truly so lofty? So often had Tyrion heard tales and songs of such heroes, but history showed how few and far between such paragons were.
Swallowing hard, Tyrion went for the last, desperate chance to save his family. All sense, all reason told him that it was a fool's gambit he was playing at. That banking on such a thing was as laughable as it was unreasonable. That the Spartan could not possibly be so virtuous, and had had merely said those things for some unspoken, ulterior end. But as it was the only thing the Spartan ever implied towards valuing, Tyrion chose to do something he himself had never done before:
Appeal to another's humanity.
"Spartan," He began, his voice as vulnerable as it was sincere. "On my hands and knees, I beg of you to hold your peace in this matter."
The Spartan's gaze remained stoic... but to Tyrion's shock, it was not as stony as it was before. The steel in his eyes seemed to soften, ever-so lightly, and his gaze, while still intense, was not quite so piercing. "You are asking me to conceal the truth. To obstruct justice. Why?"
"For starters, to protect my family," Tyrion admitted candidly. "I will no longer deny your claims of incest. In truth, I've know about by my brother and sister's relations for a very long time now. I had to protect them, you understand. But even if I persisted in not believing your allegations, Brandon Stark's testimony is enough to put them to the sword regardless, and…" Tyrion felt something hot and stinging begin to well in his eyes, the humiliation of laying himself bare hurting him nearly as much as the desperate fear of his family's fate. "I... cannot let that happen. I know that my siblings have done wrong here, but I beg of you to understand that I simply won't sit idly by as they die. And more blood-innocent blood, mind you-will be spilled if you do this. Robert will kill not only my brother and sister, but my sister's children as well. Can you rightly call what you do justice if their blood is on your hands?" For whatever quarrel he had with Cersei, she was still his sister, and he certainly didn't want Jaime to die, fool though he was for causing all this. As for their children, under any other circumstances, he might have felt relief at the prospect of Joffrey dying before he could ever sit on the Iron Throne. But to lose Tommen and Myrcella as well? Never.
"Brandon Stark is just as innocent as they are," The Spartan pointed out. "But will that stop your siblings from going after him to ensure his silence? I highly doubt that. That being said, I do understand where you're coming from, Lannister. And I sympathize with your desire to protect your family. But it's going to take more than that to convince me to keep quiet."
"And I never said that theirs would be the only innocent blood that would be spilled," Tyrion retorted, recovering some of his composure. "Have you heard of the Rains of Castemere?"
"I'm afraid not," The Spartan replied. His voice was eerily calm and composed, with his eyes-subtly softened though they were-still betraying absolutely no emotion. It unnerved Tyrion to no end, making him feel queasy at how stoic the Spartan seemed as he weighed the fates of noble houses in his hands.
"It's a song," Tyrion began, "A song from when he had just come of age. Two noble houses that had been slandering and besmirching our family for years under my late grandfather's weak rule; the Reyens and the Tarbecks. When my father demanded they answer for what they had done, they defied him. Without delay, he marshaled his forces against them, and he did not lay down his sword until each of their families had been utterly eradicated, their castles torn down and put to the torch, and their lands sown with salt and skulls. Even their smallfolk were not spared when my father crushed their revolt. And when he was done, he paid bards to sing about it over the entirety of the Westerlands so that none would think of challenging him again."
The Spartan looked to the ground, his expression that of deepest contemplation.
[Game of Thrones Season 1 OST - Black of Hair]
Tyrion chose to press on, seeing his chance. "Years later, after Robert smashed Prince Rhaegar on the Trident, my father marched upon King's Landing, proclaiming that he had come to aid King Aerys Targaryen, Second of His Name, in his hour of utmost need. Yet, over the years, the Mad King had done nothing but insult my father and his family, to the degree that when Aerys opened his gates, my father's men proceeded to sack the city, kill the loyalists, and eliminate every member of the royal family they could find. Thus ended three centuries of Targaryen rule, clearing the way for Robert to gain the throne.
"More than anything, my father is a man obsessed with the honor and legacy of House Lannister. For our name to be feared and respected above all else. His pride cannot abide by our family being slandered or mocked. Not even by the king. And Robert owes my father a great debt in securing his throne and supporting his regime. Were His Grace to turn against our family, were he to execute my siblings and kill my sister's children... Why, it would make all the insults of the Mad King, the Reynes, and the Tarbecks joined as one seem but a trifling affair."
"War would be inevitable," The Spartan finished. "Whatever peace this land may have had would be shattered. Thousands of innocent people would die before the fighting stopped. And more dangerously, the Seven Kingdoms would become fragmented, at a time that such division could be catastrophic." He looked back up from the ground, looking Tyrion in the eyes once more. His gaze was not as cold as before, but there was still an edge of steel, an unyielding determination which made it still seem as sharp as Valyrian steel. "I can't let that happen."
"Then you mustn't disclose what you've found here," Tyrion pleaded. "If you do, Robert will kill my brother, my sister, and the children. Then my father will almost assuredly declare war. How does that help foster peace, or prepare us for the White Walkers?" He was still skeptical about that last part, but he wasn't about to tell the Spartan that.
A long silence followed as the Spartan looked down, his expression that of deepest thought. Finally, however, he took a deep breath through his nose, closing his eyes momentarily, though his expression remained serious-and very tired. "Fine," He said quietly.
The anvil that had previously crushed against the bottom of Tyrion's stomach was suddenly lifted out from his body, though he was still stricken still where he stood. A thought then occurred to him. "What of the boy? What of Brandon Stark?"
"I and Cortana are using his time aboard the Dawn to try and condition him into keeping quiet. But as far as you or anyone else is concerned, he has no recollection of what happened. Understand?"
A wave of relief fell over Tyrion, who sighed deeply. "Thank you, Ser Spartan," He said softly. "I… I am in your debt. All of House Lannister is in your debt, though they may not know it."
"I'll hold you to that," The Spartan continued, his tone once more becoming cool and keen. Tyrion looked up once more at him, and a deep dread seized him; for the Spartan's eyes were filled with what Tyrion could only describe as a chilling righteousness. "You had best consider yourselves very fortunate I was able to both save Brandon's life and heal his injuries without issue. But know that if there is any further attempt made on Brandon Stark's life, I will find out who's behind it. And if it happens to be you, or any of your family, I will disclose what I've learned, consequences be damned."
"B-but," Tyrion started, "You said so yourself, you could not allow the innocent to-"
"Then I'd just have to kill any of you who'd threaten the peace," He said with iron finality. "Believe me when I say I can, if I must. Though I'd rather forgo unnecessary bloodshed. You'd do well to remember that."
There was no doubt in his words. No hesitation in his eyes. Tyrion could tell that the soldier was by no means lying, or even exaggerating in the slightest. In fact, it could be argued that he wasn't even threatening him.
He was promising him.
"I..." He said shakily, "I understand."
"Then this discussion is over," The Spartan concluded. And without another word, he took Tyrion's now empty cup, filled it again with hot water, sprinkled the green powder into it, before then offering it back. "Drink. You need it."
Dumbfounded, he looked at the cup, then to the Spartan, then back to the cup, before he gingerly grabbed it, and took another sip. As he did so, he thought to ask for the two items the Spartan held, but the soldier slipped them back into his pockets. "I'll be holding onto these," He said, brokering no argument before he went back to drinking his own tea in silence.
Tyrion could only groan in response. He'd hoped to destroy the evidence, but he was smart enough to understand not to argue with the man who held House Lannister by the stones.
Yet before he could finish his drink, yet one more interruption flared up. From the glass table came a loud beeping noise, which immediately grabbed both his and the Spartan's attention. A clinical, feminine voice came from beneath the surface. For a moment, Tyrion had thought it to be Lady Cortana, but he was mistaken. This voice… well, it sounded artificial. The Aglow Lady's voice was one filled with life, but whatever creature which lingered in that glass now truly sounded like a construct. "Alert; hostile activity detected."
"Show me," The Spartan said neutrally, turning to face the glass table.
In the twinkling of an eye, a new image appeared. It was as though they could espy the world through some non-existent mirror-mayhaps something akin to scrying. Tyrion did remember how, in some of the books he read, ancient Valyrian sorcery involved the use of glass candles to espy events from far distances. And he says he isn't a magician?
But all thoughts evaporated when he beheld what the image showed. There, standing just outside the door to the Spartan's abode, as though they were seeing it through the eyes of some bird or creeping thing, came the image of his brother, holding his gilded sword to the throat of the selfsame Stark guard who had mocked Tyrion outside. Jaime wore the cloak and armor of his station as a member of the Kingsguard, and with him were his two accompanying sworn brothers, Ser Meryn Trant and Ser Boros Blount.
His brother spoke to the Stark guard, his tone low and threatening. "I will see the Spartan now, wretch. Open this accursed door, before I am forced to sully my sword with your common blood."
"Jaime, you thrice-damned idiot!" Tyrion hissed, desperately wheeling his head to the Spartan. The tall soldier had no sooner heard Jaime's threats than he sat up from his chair and walked towards the entrance. "Ser, Spartan, please wait-!"
But before he could even get down from his seat, the Spartan was already at the entrance, opening the door.
[BGM: Halo Combat Evolved OST - Gun Pointed At The Head of the Universe]
"In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm," Spat one of the whitecloaks, "We charge you with the crime of defamation against His Grace's royal person, and those of the royal family!"
As he stood at the door sill, facing the three men, John found it very difficult to suppress the mildly annoyed sigh threatening to escape his lips. "Come again?" He asked flatly.
"Do not play the daft fool, you wretched mongrel!" Another of the Kingsguard barked, like a small Pomeranian who thought itself a German Shepherd. "Your brazen disrespect for House Baratheon has not gone unnoticed on our watch! And it shall end here!"
As his two comrades hurled insults at him, John saw how Jaime Lannister stood some distance behind them, having removed himself from Ulfric and his men once he had opened his door. The golden-haired man was giving him a smug, satisfied, utterly condescending look, with one hand idly fingering at the pommel of his sword sheathed at his side.
But all their bluster did was make John give an almost incredulous shake of his head. "I do not have time for this."
"M-Master Chief," Came Ulfric's shaky voice, the older guardsman still collapsed onto the ground and leaning against the wall of John's hut. "Fergive me, sir, I knows you said… but, they..." He uttered, still shaken from having a sword pressed to his neck.
"It's nothing, soldier," Chief reassured him. He could see how more and more of the nearby guards were beginning to rush over, mostly armed with spears and rounded shields emblazoned with the Stark direwolf. And an entire crowd of smallfolk and retainers had already begun to crowd the street, with more and more coming to gawk at the stand-off… from a safe distance.
"Stop right there, Kingslayer!" One of the stark guards hollered. "You dare break guest right under Lord Stark's roof?! You Lannister scum are under arrest!"
"The last I checked, we are not under Stark's roof, peasant," Jaime Lannister laughed with mocking mirth. "Unless your lordship boasts some rule over the heavens themselves."
"Jaime, what in all of the seven hells are you doing?" Came the exasperated voice of Tyrion Lannister, to whom Chief parted from the door to allow him to leave from the cottage.
"Ahh, Tyrion," Jaime sighed, some relief on his face. "Good to see that you're unharmed. I was worried when I had heard you had a private audience with the Spartan."
Tyrion did not sound pleased. "Brother, while I do appreciate the fact you care for me, I can assure you that there was no danger to my person, to begin with. Now would you kindly call off your sworn brothers before you start a war?!"
"Sorry," Jaime shrugged, "But honor calls. As Ser Boros and Ser Meryn have stated, the Spartan has committed his own offenses against the crown. When our entourage first arrived, he refused to kneel to King Robert or Queen Cersei as is their due and has thus far refused to pay them homage or even address them with their royal stations. I am certain you would know from all your years of sticking your nose into books, that such crimes as these are punishable by the laws of the Seven Kingdoms. As Kingsguard, it is our sworn duty to defend the honor and dignity of the Iron Throne-thus, we shall carry out duty and justice both."
"'Justice?'" John asked, folding his arms. "I call it barbarism. I won't claim censorship is a thing of the past in the lands of my people, but we still hold the freedom of speech as an inalienable right for every human being."
The elder Lannister scoffed at him. "Well, that's all well and good, but these are not the lands of your people. Your laws and your privileges mean nothing to us. The Crown will have its due respect, outlander, and a tongue as brazen as yours should by rights be removed for the crimes you've committed." His sneer became almost predatory. "However, our sister the Queen is not without mercy. Should you kneel before her and His Grace her husband this selfsame day, pay them due homage, and plead for forgiveness for your prior discourtesy, your insolence may not cost you your tongue."
"King Robert didn't seem to mind," John rebutted with a shrug of his own. "In fact, he seemed rather pleased by the fact I regarded him without undue deference. If you're really trying to defend his honor, coming after me sounds more than a little counterproductive." He narrowed his eyes. "Of course, he's not the one who sent you." He swept his gaze over the Stark guards before he raised his voice for them to hear. "I don't want anyone present to interfere. Return to your posts."
The Stark men looked utterly dumbfounded. One of them spoke up. "B-but, Ser Spartan, they-"
"Are accosting me, soldier, and I don't want you all escalating the situation." He turned back to Ulfric. "Resume your post. This will hopefully be over quickly."
"A...aye, ser," The guard nodded. "I'll fetch Lord Stark-"
"That won't be necessary," John cut him off, albeit not too harshly. "I'd rather not trouble him or King Robert with this incident. I'll ask you again to resume your post." Ulfric and the three other men posted outside his hut had looked like they were about to made straight for the castle, but thankfully his insistence on having them stand down prevented that. Doubtlessly, at least one guard was already sprinting to find Stark, but it would probably be one who had only seen the incident from afar. After some hesitation, the other Stark guards stood down. They may not have been the most professional of soldiers, but John had to give credit to Lord Eddard-he had ensured his men did their duty when it was asked of them.
"Jaime," Tyrion hissed, "I must strongly suggest that you and your brothers retire back to the castle. As he's just demonstrated, the Spartan has no quarrel with you and is not inclined to find one if he can help it. We all know bloody well that it was Cersei who put you up to this, so go and tell her that there is no need to antagonize the Master Chief!"
Jaime blinked at Tyrion. "My dear brother, at times you make me wonder whose side you're really on."
"You should listen to him," John said evenly, taking a deep breath. "I'm not interested in picking a fight with you three. It will save all of us a great deal of trouble if you just turn around and walk away. I still have a lot to do before I set out tomorrow, and I don't want to waste my time dealing with you."
To that, Jaime Lannister gave John a long, silent stare, and John met his gaze, never flinching. Then, Jaime gave yet another smirk. "...You are right, though. This will be over before Robert gets here. Meryn? Boros? Tear out his tongue."
"Gladly!" One sneered.
"Time to bleed, cur!" The other growled.
With vicious bloodlust in their eyes, the two knights in front of John just began to approach. Yet before they had raised their feet an inch off the ground, before they could make even a single step...
Time slowed to a crawl.
It was a phenomenon which had been a result of the extensive augmentation procedures done to John's body. One of Halsey's assistants had come up with the incredibly uninspired phrase 'Spartan Time' to describe it, and for that Doctor Halsey very nearly had him fired before the day was out. Another, whom Halsey attested had been reading one too many twentieth-century Japanese graphic novels, had described it as 'moving within the frozen time', whatever the hell that meant.
But if whatever they were talking about had anything to do with the manipulation of time, it wasn't by any means an accurate assumption. The phenomenon originated around the combination of two specific augments: Occipital Capillary Reversal, and Superconducting Fibrification of Neural Dendrites. The former produced a vast increase in visual perception. On top of allowing him to see even in complete darkness with perfect clarity, it also allowed for him to be able to perceive images far faster than the average human could. The latter augmentation afforded a three-hundred percent increase in reaction time, as well as marked increases in intelligence.
Technically speaking, the reaction time of a Spartan-II was impossible to accurately chart, but Halsey had estimated it to be close to twenty milliseconds. Combined with a hyper conditioned mind and augmented reflexes, these two factors produced an effect which caused the Spartan-II to experience a state of what Halsey referred to as 'heightened relativity', in reference to Einstein's theory.
In layman's terms, whenever John focused his mind, he could perceive the world around him at a vastly accelerated rate relative to that of the average human. He liked to think of it being a very, very minuscule imitation of an A.I.'s capacity to experience time.
Which made it possible for him to analyze the situation near instantly.
Two hostiles; physical condition questionable. Prelim assessment suggests prior intoxication.=
Plate armour; coloration suggests ceremonial purposes. Durability questionable.
Armament: broadswords; sheathed; mean draw-time 2.5 seconds. Likely CoA: downward strikes to utilize gravity. Daggers present.
Winter footwear absent; improper footwork for maneuvering in present conditions.
Third hostile to rear; body language suggests reserve role. May engage following initial contact.
Hostile proximity clustered; susceptibility to ballistic tactics.
The half-second after Lannister's goons – Meryn and Boros – vowed to tear out his tongue was all the time John needed to assess them. Remaining perfectly still and utterly tranquil, he allowed Meryn to close first; the Kingsguard smirked as he thought John afraid. He raised his mailed fist to strike, swinging wildly… and completely missed.
In the fraction of a breath before Meryn's fist connected, John wove under and to his left – likely seeming a blur to the gathered crowd's eyes – which put him, Meryn, and Boros in a perfect line. His targets lined up, John stiffened his left hand into an extended-knuckle fist, but left his index finger perfectly straight, before shooting his hand out as fast as a Needler round, making his fingertip the focal point of his strike. At that speed, a human finger-bone would have shattered on impact.
Spartan bones, however, didn't have that problem.
To onlookers, it was as if John's finger-tap had called down a thunder-strike. The chilly air rumbled and the sound of wrenching metal filled the winter-town as John punched a finger-sized hole in Meryn's breastplate, stopping before he drew blood, though he was sure Trant would have one ugly bruise above his heart for a while. Flying back as if a cannonball had struck him, Meryn crashed into Boros and they both went flying, to smash into the stone-and-mortar wall behind them, with enough force to shake all the loose snow above, which dumped itself on their heads.
With the two so-called knights too dazed to respond – the crowd struck speechless – John nonchalantly returned his outstretched arm back to his side, as a flabbergasted Tyrion looked on in shock. "You…how did…seven HELLS, man, what are you?!"
Suppressing a sigh of exasperation, John tried to think of some explanation…but that thought went out the airlock as he heard a sword clear its sheath.
His eyes narrowed from seeing his comrades go down, Jaime drew his sword and walked to Meryn's side. Grabbing Meryn's sheathed blade, he pulled it free and tossed it at John's feet. "Defend yourself, creature."
John met Jaime's confident smirk with a flat stare. "You're joking."
Jaime was undaunted. "You heard me, cur. Your defiance of the Crown end here. Now pick up that weapon. I'll not sully my honor by slaying an unarmed fool."
John felt a headache growing. "Put that glorified pig-chopper back in its sheath and walk away, Lannister," he said, his eyes narrowing. "You're wasting my time." Turning around, he made for the pelican, hoping he could salvage the rest of the afternoon…
Jaime sneered. "Coward! You think playing the fool will gain you any mercy?"
Tyrion's face was one of utter horror. "Brother, are you mad?!" he cried. "Did you not see? He felled two knights with a finger! You truly think a mere sword will avail you?!"
"Mind back, Little Brother!" Jaime warned. "We both know Ser Meryn and Ser Boros are both dolts; I could have felled them with a goose-feather! Now, this upstart faces the greatest swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms, who will see the Crown's honour upheld! He should be grateful to receive a clean death; it was more than the maester could have given the Stark whelp! He would have died clean, had this fool stayed out of it! And for what? The fool put on a mummer's show with that…thing behind you to save a fool whelp?" His smirk returned. "Though I suppose the week is young, yet."
Tyrion could only gape at Jaime, anguish in his eyes. "Brother…what are you saying?"
"Nothing that all of Winterfell does not know already, Brother!" Jaime laughed. "I heard Lady Stark mutter it herself: young Brandon oft climbs across his father's castle! The fool's mummery availed the whelp nothing, in the end! 'Twas a matter of time before he fell…and but a matter of time before he falls again."
The chill that settled in John's veins and across his mind had nothing to do with the coming winter. This was a cold he knew all too well.
Draco III. The delayed transmission that caused them to depart too late. The recon mission. The school.
John had reflexively dropped into tactical breathing – a habit they'd all learned in the Program that he'd made a mission staple after that mission, to regulate anger before it welled in his head and affected his thinking. And he'd been angry, at seeing those kids – so like his brothers and sisters, before the Program – cut down by Covvies, who'd laughed the whole time…
…like Jaime Lannister was doing now.
[BGM: Jojo's Bizzare Adventures OST - Stardust Crusaders]
Without a single misstep, John turned on his heel, to look Jaime in the eye. All trace of emotion was gone from his face, but still the gathered crowd drew back, trembling in fear. On some level, they knew. They knew what every Covenant soldier had learned over the War – what made Elites more cautious, what made Brutes less prone to rage, what made Jackals' aim shake, and what made Grunts defecate the moment they saw him or any of Blue Team.
King Robert had called it right, declaring these three 'that woman's creatures.' Cersei had sent them, to either kill him or send him a message.
Well, it was time to send her one.
Stepping forward, he slipped his boot under the sword Jaime had tossed, and kicked deftly forward, tossing it back. He never raised his voice, but he put enough force behind his words to terrify an Elite. "You're going to need that far more than I will." With that, he began to walk forward slowly, as if he was out for a stroll.
Jaime had been unnerved, but still, he smirked. "A fool to the last!" Raising his sword, he charged at John, ready to cut him down… but to John's combat eyes, he may as well have been crawling.
Sword drawn; grip telegraphs downward strike. Mean recoil time from strike 3.2 seconds. Backhand strike exposes elbow. Dagger may be present.
Plate armour; secured by leather straps at back beneath cloak. Minimal shearing force to cleave.
Chain mail underneath; moderate protection from stabbing and shearing strikes. Minimal protection from ballistic impact.
Hostile under 6''5; shift in combat stance required for CQC.
Jaime had barely taken a second step when John's superconducting nerves kicked back the results of his assessment. His cadence never shifted as Jaime slashed his sword down, and John pivoted back to let him strike the ground to his right. As Jaime started to bring his sword back up, John's blocking hands stopped his return swing at the elbow, his left arm snaking around Jaime's upper arm to immobilize it while his right twisted Lannister's wrist and wrenched the weapon out of his hands.
Before Jaime could even shout with anger, John chambered a kick to the back of his weighted knee, forcing him to drop down…which exposed the top of his armor's straps. Raising the sword, John sliced down through the gap, cleaving the straps without even nicking Jaime, with enough force to bury the blade in permafrost up to the hilt. As John ripped off Jaime's chest plate, his left foot concurrently shot out and struck the hilt, snapping it clean off and leaving the weapon useless. By then, Jaime had managed to get back up…only for his face to meet steel plating; brandishing the gold breastplate like an improvised club, John sent Jaime flying clear across the street, landing hard on the frozen ground face-first.
A faint gasp emerged from the crowd as Jaime struggled to get up, spitting a mouthful of blood onto the snow, the sight of the red startling him. John remained unconcerned, as he lowered the chest plate, and kicked it with his left foot to bend it, and then step on it to fold it in half like a bed sheet before he started to walk towards Jaime, still slow. Staggering back up, Jaime's face was a mixture of hate and fear, though the fear was growing more and more prominent as he saw John's leisurely pace and his blank expression. Reaching for his belt, Jaime drew a knife and waved it ahead of him, but John didn't even blink. Snarling in rage, Jaime pulled back and threw the knife at him… and could only gape as John caught it by the handle in mid-flight. Giving Jaime no time to react, John shifted his grip and threw the knife back at ten times Jaime's speed…and giving it just the right twist to give it torsional rotation instead of vertical, sending it spiraling like a bullet to bury itself in Jaime's left thigh, nearly scraping the bone, but still missing the major arteries.
He'd be damned if he let Jaime play the victim here.
By the time the Kingslayer finished screaming, John had closed to CQC-range. Running on desperation and adrenaline, Jaime swung at John, who easily leaned aside, blocking and grabbing Jaime's right hand by the wrist, stepping behind and to the left, leaving Jaime's right side wide open. Clenching his left fist, John pulled back, and struck, making sure to pull his punch back just enough.
The sound of Jaime's popping ribs was almost drowned out by Jaime's grunts and snarls of pain. Frowning to himself, John pulled his fist back again a little bit further, and punched just a little bit harder… and got the result he wanted.
As his ribs shattered, Jaime's last shreds of bravado and control snapped with them.
Those bestial howls of anguish were quickly silenced as John widened and lowered his stance, dropping into a horse-stance that put his height mostly level with Jaime's…and allowing him to pivot back to slam his elbow into Jaime's gut. Jerking forward, Jaime's head was snapped back by John's follow-up back-fist, but before Jaime toppled back, John's striking hand snaked behind his neck to grab the scruff of his mail, before John threw him over his shoulder and slammed him down onto the ground. Time to end this. He raised a closed fist in the air, and with all the force in his body, slammed his fist down.
The resulting blow struck the ground so hard, it could be heard across half of Winterfell, sounding something like the meeting of thunder and earthquake. To the shock of all who bore witness to the fight, they felt the slightest quiver in the ground beneath them-and watched as the snow on nearby rooftops cascaded down, leaving the roofs bare of snow.
No one dared to move, or even breathe after the punch connected. Even Tyrion was quiet as John loomed over Jaime's battered form. John's face held no trace of emotion-pity least of all–as his fist rested in the dirt just beside Jaime's head, with snow and earth either scattered all around them from the shockwave, or packed and crushed into the ground from the force of it. Had John's strike connected, had so much as his thumb even glanced off of Jaime's skull, the Lannister would have been a dead man. It was likely only the latter's whimpering that confirmed to the crowd he was still alive. Wordless as he stood up, John then raised his right foot, before pressing it down against Jaime's right temple. "The greatest swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms," he repeated. "Seems the Seven Kingdoms need better standards."
Despite his pain, Jaime snarled. "Go on, creature! DO it!"
"No, Lannister. You're not getting off that easily," John said levelly. "I haven't damaged you beyond a maester's care. That's more than what Bran could have said, had I not been here. That's the only reason why I held back. If Bran gets to live, then so do you. If he'd been crippled or worse, I could just as easily have done the same to you."
The iron in his voice turned colder than the winter air. "And this isn't mercy, either. I need you to deliver a message, Lannister; to do that, I need you alive," he continued. "I know that, of the two of you, your sister is the schemer. I know she sent you here, so I'm sending you back."
Jaime glowered as best he could. "What…w-what message, creature?!"
John leaned in and lowered his voice for only Jaime's ears. "I've heard how folks call you "'Kingslayer,'" he remarked. "Interesting name. Reminds me of the name that my people's enemies have for me. Know what that name is?"
He leaned in more, right by Jaime's ear, to whisper it. "Demon."
That word dispelled Jaime's anger completely and brought the fear back full-force. John kept going. "I know it was you that pushed Bran, Lannister. More importantly, I know why you did it," he said. "You should know that there is a very, very special section of hell reserved for those that murder children…and those who order it; one which I will happily drag the both of you down into if I hear any more talk against Brandon. Am I clear?"
Jaime was panicking all too quickly. "You…you can't tell Robert...!" The idiot's voice was frantic with desperation. John was frankly amazed no one else couldn't hear his outburst.
But he kept his own voice low and quiet all the same. "I won't, Lannister; just not for the reasons you think," John said, eyes narrowing. "But know this: It is very much in yours and your sister's interest that I do not reconsider that. If anything happens to Brandon – or his family – that makes them pass away from anything other than old age, I will change my mind. And I will make a point of dropping your mangled corpse at your sister's feet…right before I tell your brother-in-law exactly what the both of you got up to. Am I clear?"
Despite the blood leaking from his nose into his mouth, Jaime gulped. "Yes."
"Good." With that, John moved his foot off of Jaime's head and turned to the crowd. "Do any of you have a cart?"
For several seconds, nobody moved, until one or two hands slowly raised. John pointed to the nearest one. "I need you to get your cart, so I can bring these three idiots to the maester. They're going to need some patching up."
The civilian frantically nodded, and bolted off, while John strode to the still-dazed Meryn and Boros, hoisted them both onto his shoulders, and moved them out of the cold snow. As he did, John noticed Tyrion was already at his brother's side, and seemed to be trying to apply what little first aid he knew, stopping only when John strode back to move Jaime next to the other two knights.
As hard as he tried, John couldn't shut out the townsfolk's whispers. "Gods be good… he bloody broke the Kingslayer…"
"Queen'll pitch a fit...!"
"Like 'e's bloody worried! Any man that can fell two Kingsguards with a bloody finger and then fell the Kingslayer can take on a 'ole bloody army!"
"Ros'll near faint when she hears this..!"
And as though right on cue, Chief heard the galloping of horses rushing out from the castle-a motley squadron of Stark and Baratheon guards. And at their heads were King Robert and Lord Stark, the former red with fury and the latter grim. Following behind them was Mance Rayder, who seemed more curious than anything else as he rode with them.
As they approached, however, the anger in Robert and Eddard's respective gazes somewhat dissipated as they surveyed the scene in the street-the three Kingsguard subdued, with only Jaime still conscious, if bloodied and worse for wear.
"What in all seven hells happened here?!" Robert roared. "I told you dolts to leave the Spartan be, and yet you have the stones to actually fucking attack him while under Ned's roof-when we're under bloody guest right?!"
Tyrion began to try and explain, fumbling out, "Y-your Grace, please let-"
"Shut it, Imp!" Robert barked, causing the younger Lannister to almost shrink back from his brother. The king's furious stare returned to Jaime. "Well, Kingslayer? What have you to say for yourself?!"
"As His Grace has stated," Eddard darkly began, "You have violated the laws of hospitality with your actions. In the sight of the gods, so abominable an act is only contested by kinslaying." Stark's eyes narrowed. "Of course, for a man who slew the king he swore to defend, I imagine such blasphemy comes easily."
Despite his wounds, Jaime glowered at Stark with gritted teeth.
"Spartan, you have my apologies for this," Robert grunted. "I'll see to it that these three idiots are punished for their actions."
"Actually, sir, I was hoping you might be willing to overlook what's happened here," John replied simply.
That caused Eddard, Robert, Mance, Tyrion, and even Jaime to turn to him in shock, practically slack-jawed. Robert blinked at him. "W...What?"
"You cannot be serious, Spartan!" Eddard desperately retorted. "These three men attacked you, with what I can only assume was the intent to kill you!"
To that, John shook his head. "I can assure you it was hardly a struggle. Not to be arrogant, but in a straight-up fight, a Spartan such as myself couldn't lose to normal men. It wouldn't have made a difference if they had three or three hundred men attacking me at once-the results would have been the same."
A new wave of murmuring began in the crowd.
Mance spoke next. "That doesn't change the fact they broke the law of hospitality. That kind of action can't go unpunished."
"Perhaps, but I don't think they should be too severely punished. They were only trying to defend the honor of their king, after all; I'm willing to forgive them. Especially considering the fact I'm technically the one who compelled them into pulling this stunt."
"The honor of their-?" Realization hit Robert, and an incredibly annoyed look fell on his face. "Are you fucking serious?" He chastised Jaime. "I told you gits not to bother over the fact the Chief wasn't bowing and scraping to me! That woman put you up to this, didn't she?!"
"That's why I ask you overlook this, or, at the very least, only mildly punish them," John clarified patiently. "For a knight, honor has more credence than reason. Kingsguard, especially, are required to defend the honor of the royal family above all else. So it's only natural they would attempt something like this."
Eddard persisted, however. "But that does not change-"
John cut him off. "I seem to recall being owed a rather large favor for saving your son's life," He replied stiffly to the lord. "I'm calling in that favor now. Or are you going to go back on your own word, Lord Stark?"
To that, Eddard could give no response, only able to gape at him in shock. For a long moment, there was silence between them, until, with a reluctant look on his face, the lord grimly nodded. "...So be it. I shall have Luwin tend to them. But I will not forget what they have done here, Spartan."
"And I'm not saying you should. I simply ask that you have Robert deal with them."
"Don't worry, Ned," Robert wearily sighed. "I'll make sure they learn their lesson before this is all done."
The peasant soon returned with a simple cart, on which John loaded the three Kingsguard. "If that is all, sirs, I have my own business to attend to."
And without another word, he turned around and walked towards the Pelican. He could only sigh to himself; he wondered if Cortana was going to give him an earful about this.