The fires on the beach and in the bay burned brighter than the sun, brighter even than any sacrifice consumed by the Lord of Light. Chaos raged as horns blew, announcing the arrival of the Lannister and Tyrell reinforcements, fresh on rested mounts bearing righteous defenders. His tired men wavered and fell back from the battlements as the tide of battle turned, their priority now self-preservation instead of victory. Scores fled back into the waves from which they had just staggered, desperate to escape before they could be cut down by arrow or blade.

"Stand and fight!" the king howled, but his men had none of their lord's single-minded determination. They grasped him firmly by the arms and dragged him off, closing their ears to his curses and demands. He wished for a moment that he had not chosen such a dutiful Kingsguard—if they cared less for him they might have simply let him continue the battle until he won or was killed.

Instead he fought his own loyal men even as they pushed him into a waiting rowboat and held him down. Two fell to arrows as they cast off from the shore, leaving the hopeless melee behind. The screams of dying men faded as his guard rowed as fast as their tired arms would allow, heading away from King's Landing and toward any ships that survived the initial terrible blast of wildfire.

They passed charred, floating bodies and flailing men who spit water and cried out for help. Some clung to pieces of wood while some who fled the massacre on the beach simply sank under the weight of their own armor. A few grasped the edge of the rowboat with desperate hands, only to be pushed off and away when their eagerness for rescue threatened to tip the boat. He watched it all with dull eyes, his sword held limply between his legs.

Out of the smoke and mist a ship emerged, its hull sporting blackened streaks and deep scars where it must have struck burning debris. Reeling, nearly sick from excitement and rage, he could scarcely comprehend the shouts from his men and the responses from above. Someone pushed him somewhat rudely towards the side of the boat as they drew alongside the ship—he barely registered the offense as a thick rope ladder came tumbling down to strike the rowboat with a soggy thud.

He climbed the ladder because there was nowhere else to go. As he reached the top, his feet missed the salt-soaked rungs—strong hands gripped him by his cloak, but the fabric tore. For a gut-wrenching moment he dropped, only to have his descent halted by a firm grip on his mail shirt. Someone shouted in a strange language; more hands emerged to haul him over the railing and dump him unceremoniously onto the deck. He slipped as he tried to stand, his legs no longer used to the pitch of the sea. It took a moment for his boots to find purchase in the slime made up of blood and ash and saltwater, and a moment more for the ghosts of the fires on the beach to fade from his vision.

He blinked in surprise as someone thrust a bulging goatskin bag into his hands. The barbarian pirate who had prevented him from falling into the cold sea now stood before him, tiny and dirty and nearly invisible in the foggy darkness—he could hardly tell where the war paint ended and the soot from the flames began. In the flickering light, he spotted two twinkling gold earrings shaped like birds in flight in each of the man's ears, a crass, extravagant indulgence directly at odds with the violence and gore that surrounded them. The pirate studied him critically for a half a heartbeat before disappearing into the crowd who scrambled to pull the last of the half-drowned men from the water.

Suddenly exhausted, the king sagged against the railing of the ship. The goatskin bag slipped from his fingers and sloshed against the deck. His men crowded him now, their faces grim; he turned away from them and their concern, and cast his gaze back toward the beach of Blackwater Bay, where the ruins of his ambition lay smoldering and trampled under the hooves of traitorous Houses.

Failure.

The small ship lurched as it swung east toward the dawn and sped towards the mouth of the bay on singed crimson sails.