The cheering had just begun to dim when Ser Colton, the Keep's Serjeant at Arms, raised his judge's staff to allow them to proceed out of the tunnel beneath the stands. By right of both birth and rank, Lancel and Tyrek led the marching column of squires and pair of low born Northern men-at-arms into the open skies of the Melee Pit; assiduously dodging the horse biscuits left by their mounted predecessors.
An equal number of fourteen, all squires and all from the finest of Westerlands' houses, came out opposite him; marching towards their own team of champions gathered near the middle of the field.
"Lumpy, tighten the cinch. I felt it slip on the way out," the royal oaf bellowed as soon as he and Tyrek came close. "And check the chainmail in back, titmouse."
"RIght away, your Grace," Lancel answered. 'If you lost several stone this wouldn't have happened, you bloated fool,' his inner voice chastised a tad unfairly. Never-the-less, he scrambled quickly and carefully half under the oft ill-tempered stallion to obey.
Something about Cersei's tragic murder by cutthroats had motivated the boorish Stag the last three months into doing more than the usual of drinking and fucking himself silly - the daily bashing of Joff contributing to the loss of at least a stone and a half off the royal girth. A barely noticeable change to most viewing that fat frame. But to him who helped clothe the loathsome beast each day ...
"Better, your Grace?" Lancel asked; head craning out from beneath the barrel of the warhorse and looking up a fat thigh.
The hulk shifted his vast buttocks about a bit. "That'll do, Lumpy," the whore breeder grumpily called out. Another change with poor, sweet Cersei gone; the absence of all restraint in the contempt with which Lancel was treated. However, now, more than ever, Lancel smiled as if he enjoyed eating insults. "Did anything shift, Titmouse!?"
"The mail has stayed in place at all the joints, your Grace," Tyrek responded.
"Alright, you're done. Off with the both of you. Won't need to pull me out," the oaf boasted with a laugh; arrogantly believing his victory already assured.
Lancel shared a knowing glance with his cousin. Tyrek undoubtedly also praying that their "knight" fall on his fat head at the first impact and break his stupid neck.
"East or West?" Tyrek, as the junior squire, inquired of the elder.
"West," Lancel proclaimed. 'Was there even a question?' he scoffed to himself while turning to walk to the superior side of the pit.
Striding past one end of the line of Ser Jaime's seven champions, Lancel called out approvingly to a different, luckier cousin, "May the Warrior look upon you today, Ser Daven."
A cocky, very familiar seeming Lannister grin burst forth from the still raised visor. "Be careful what you pray aloud for, cuz."
"The Mother's mercy for you from the King's warhammer, then," Lancel lied. He knew exactly what he wished for; despite his love of Cersei, a shattering victory of the Westerlands over the Queen's champions and utter humiliation for him.
Not that it would be easy, he acknowledged. Daven, Ser Addam, and the Strongboar were fighting with the four best of Jaime's Kingsguard brethren: Ser Barristan, Ser Preston - at least he was a Westerlander too, Ser Arys, and scary eyed Ser Mandon. Those four, even with blunted weapons, would not strike with full force at the blasted stag, damn them.
He slipped under the rail that provided the seven foot buffer between the edge of the melee area and the front of the seven sided, sept shaped stands. Twenty or so feet to his left some Banefort brat assigned to attend Ser Barristan also took his place behind the rail.
And to his right … "Master Lancel," a lineage-less Northman called out. "If you see Lord Stark fall, cry out to me. And I'll do the same ta you for the King."
Biting his tongue at the insolence of the cur in addressing him first, Lancel gave an abrupt nod back. He knew his job as squire in a melee. Did the churl from Winterfell? He doubted it.
While Ser Aron Santagar checked that all the weapons of the combatants, except their personal daggers, were blunted - and presumably in Prince Oberyn's case not poisoned - Lancel took a swallow from the mandatory wine skin at his side and then gazed about the packed stands. Pausing longest to stare into the Royal Box where golden curled Myrcella sat with cousin Myrielle, he wondered how much more she would look like her mother in five or six years.
The Master-at-Arms of the keep, apparently satisfied that only tourney quality blades, axes, and maces were present, blew his judge's whistle loud enough to cut through the din raised by the crowd. In the resulting quiet, Ser Aron then yelled, "The melee begins in one minute."
Immediately, both lines of champions pulled their horses back almost all the way to the rails on opposite sides of the pit and formed into wedges.
Predictably, the royal idiot sat his paunchy body at the point of the Queen's wedge, with his younger brother and the uncouth Hand immediately behind; followed by a third line consisting of the Dornish Prince, the Valeman Royce, Myrielle's fishy betrothed, and the too flashy Reach Rose.
Equally foreseeable, the four Kingsguard made up the rear line of Ser Jaime's wedge, with Ser Addam and cousin Daven making up the second row, and the almost as large as the fat Stag Strongboar setting the point of the wedge.
A near last second switch of Cersei's champions shifted Lord Edmure and Prince Oberyn's positions so, near as Lancel could guess, that the Riverlander would be less likely to come up against his goodbrother to be, Ser Daven.
Trumpets blasted out the fanfare.
And before the notes could even think of dying, spurs dug in hard, causing steeds to practically leap past a walk and straight to a trot.
The crowd roared in anticipation, near drowning out the growing thunder of pounding horse hoofs.
The Melee Pit lacked the space for the riders to reach a gallop, but just enough to enter a ten miles per hour canter for a bone jarring ….
Lyle Crakehall got a sound thwack on the royal shield, but then the oaf was past him … thankfully taking a crack on the hammer arm from Addam Marbrand no matter that the wretched Hand tried to impose his horse in the way.
Both wedges passed through each other without any falling.
The bloated beast reined his mount hard to the right and the rest of the Queen's champions followed tightly behind as they swerved in a compact arc, still in formation, to come back around first.
"FASTER!" Lancel screamed not at the King but at the Stupid Boar who was not turning Jaime's wedge to his own right near as quick or sharply as the true enemy.
But thankfully, like the legend he was, though frightfully ancient, Ser Barristan somehow made his steed spin on angels wings to the left … with Ser Arys following his lead … and Ser Mandon a bit slower after. The Kingsguards must not have been charging near as hard as the front of their wedge. They were breaking in the opposite direction of Daven and Ser Addam and Crakehall; forming a second mini-wedge, clearly intending to get a shot at the unprotected rear of the royal oaf's wedge.
'How wonderful,' Lancel thought giddily, before screaming "FASTER!" again and again and again.
The trio of clever Kingsguards caught Riverrun and Sunspear not fully prepared to receive the charge; Ser Barristan at the point. Lord Edmure fell heavily from his saddle, but the Viper ducked Ser Mandon's blow while crashing his axe with a resounding backhanded thump on Oakheart's helm.
Ser Preston, damned him, was unable to turn his mount near as effectively as his brethren and paid for it by getting bludgeoned by a pair of snarling Stags. At least that slowed the royal idiots enough that Boar, Lion, and Burning Tree had time to form up close enough for the next charging clash of wedges.
This time there was no passing through each other's lines; though the Queen's wedge had more force of weight at the start; pushing the trio of Westerlanders back until the Rose and the Bronzed Valeman had to disengage to support the Dornishman against the Kingsguards.
Lancel's green eyes jerked to and for while his sandy gold head nearly spun about trying to capture each blow as the melee began dissolving into a series of one on one, or temporarily two on one, battles.
Lyle Crakehall beat for all he was worth against the bloated beast. If only Lancel had dared provide him a weakened shield. But the Demon, unfaithful to his blessed wife, gave as good as he got, curse him; whilst the wolf took enormous punishment from Marbrand in defending the royal hammer arm side.
Ser Barristan and the too pretty Reacher danced a marvel against each other atop their mounts.
Beady eyed Moore traded wicked strokes with rune clad Royce.
And once one-on-one, Martel abused Oakheart with serpent fast licks which the Kingsguard could only guess, and guess poorly, where they would next strike. Yet Ser Arys clung stubbornly to his saddle.
The clamoring crowd roared even louder when the knocked silly Trout managed to drag himself off the ground and staggered in a barely conscious zig zag towards the still reeling on his steed Ser Preston. Whether the Riverlander ducked on purpose or twas simply more of his tumble's induced lurching, the least of the Queen's champions dodged the feeble axe blow which was all the Westerlander could offer in defense.
Then the striking arm was grabbed and Ser Preston lost his seat to a booming clatter of steel plate smashing on hard turf. A flip up of his fallen foe's visor must have revealed an insensible knight, for the Tully lifted a fin to call for the disgraced Greenfield's squires.
Lancel jerked about to see Ser Arys fall. The Dornishman did not hesitate, ignoring the downed white cloak, and spurred right at the back of the far more dangerous Selmy. Yet again, SevenHeavens watched over the Lord Commander and he dodged his mount at the last moment; avoiding the charge and the swing of the flail. The impetus of which almost entangled Martell with Tyrell. An advantage Ser Barristan put to good use; circling about the pair so as to only ever face one. Until the Viper screamed at the Rose to disengage and swing wide.
Groans and exultations erupted from the crowd, Ser Addam had hamstrung the wolf.
Two on one now against the ...
Ser Mandon and Lord Yohn were both on the turf. Scrambling on knees to grapple with each other. Hands empty from the explosion of going cropper.
Then the not nearly so staggering Trout swam by and pummelled Mandon senseless with a single blow from the axe taken off the inert Greenfield. And the Riverlander kept going; delivering a thunderous strike to the just rising Oakheart.
The mob of blood thirsty lords and knights and ladies growled their approval.
From the corner of his eye, Lancel glimpsed the pathetic Northman dash under the railing and sprint out into the heart of the Melee Pit to drag his even more pathetic lord away from warhorses still stomping hooves near him.
"DAMN!" he screamed; attention refocused. Even two against one, the royal oaf had still not fallen.
Renly! At last the arrogant cock had been pitched over by cousin Daven. The Demon could not last long now against three to … the stupid stag tried to back his steed up, away from the coming onslaught
One … two … three .. four … five strikes. A sixth. Seventh.
The tumult grew even noisier in anticipation of …
Ser Addam drew back his sword arm for the …
Ser Addam's blade unexpectedly flew off in the air behind him. Crack again. Ser Loras had ridden in hard from behind. "Hellsfire!" Lancel blasphemed.
And the drunken Stag was then able to shift his horse behind the two barbarian retainers trying to pick up and carry away their pathetic liege lord.
"Cheating bastards!" Lancel howled in outrage. Quickly followed by a far happier, "Fool!" The ineffectual Rose had stopped assisting the King and had instead planted his charger over the slowly moving form of his former master.
Daven swung around the blatantly interfering Northmen to find the pesky Riverlander in the way between him and the beast.
Spooked by Seven knew what, the second tier Lion's stallion reared; allowing Tully to show the hidden grit that Myrielle must somehow have sensed within him. Lord Edmure rushed in, grabbed the shield of his precariously perched goodbrother to be, and with a surprising strength yanked him over the high back of the saddle.
And then Renly was on his feet; and what had once been three against one was now four against two.
A lucky angle from the bloated beast swept over the almost as bloated boar to smite him silly in the head.
And the re-armed with a tourney sword from his belt was not enough for Ser Addam to blaze a path of glory. Not when the Valeman Royce, a foot, snuck up behind to cut off his retreat.
Which left only Ser Barristan left of Ser Jaime's champions. Spying the oncoming onslaught of numbers, even the Lord Commander was not so bold, and offered over his weapon to the Martel prince.
As the remaining squires slipped under the railing to go out and attend their battered or fallen knights, Lancel plastered a pleased look on his handsome phyz to hide the keen disappointment in his soul.
The Stormlands' squire crumbled unconscious; never having seen the blow.
Lancel grinned viciously and raised his axe in salute at Jeremy who had distracted the buffoon. However, they were not so foolish to celebrate another fallen foe o'er long lest he too get caught in surprise from behind. Without word, the allies quickly shifted away so not to get their feet entangled with the turtle's limp limbs and then spun to place themselves back to back.
This was his third, no fourth pairing, of the Squire's Melee; all a foot, squire's not being granted the dignity of mounts in a melee. Two previous companions had fallen by the wayside; as well as Laswell, before he could be of any use to the Ascending Lion. Which left him one more secret partner out of the near score remaining fighters, Jasper Follard. The Crownlander had been the only one to agree to lose when just the two of them remained.
His other allies, he had promised each to fight the final duel fair and square. Of course none had known of his promises to any of the others.
Lancel swept his strong right arm out to engage the first of a trio of approaching effete Dornish.
Whoaa. He nearly jumped back into Jeremy. The green dragonling from Ghost Hill might have been short but was lightning quick. Nevertheless he did not fear him. Pin pricks from dulled blades would not win this melee. Only strength and cleverness, of which Lancel owned vaults full. He intended to be the victor and win the reward: a knighthood.
The brat came in too close and earned a wallop in the face from his shield.
"Need help?" Jeremy called out.
"No," he grunted back; while taking a blunted mace in return on his shield but from a much larger cockatrice from Salt Shore. A tickle of Lancel's sword drove him back. And then a pair of Westerlanders arrived to drive the Dornish Sands off even farther.
Their reward, he took the legs out from one of them; and Jeremy popped his noggin to sleep with a whirl of a morning star. Lancel would not have it rumored that he won the melee by receiving the assistance of Westerland's squires seeking the approval of the next Lord of Casterly Rock. So to avoid any possible taint, he had smartly arranged for collaboration only with those who were not of banner houses to his uncle.
Noting the advantageous position of the still standing Peacock, he "accidentally" stumbled into Jeremy; causing his ally to pitch over to his knees. The Serret did the rest of the work; by the sound of it, breaking Jeremy's sword arm.
"Revenge!" Lancel screamed and bowled into the slighter squire with a rush. A thrice of love taps earned him a "Yield."
Then, "Ware left!" from his broken Cargyll goose warned him of the returning Sand bastards. The help earned Jeremy another thwack. And confirmed that once he was in power, that appropriate favors would find their way to Jeremy. Nothing so unknightly, or Lannister obvious, as gold had been promised.
Maybe even before he sat the throne in the Golden Gallery. Who knew which important positions he would be assigned upon returning to the Rock with Uncle Tywin. Regardless his parole from squire to the damnable triumphant Stag already arranged; having earned his spurs all by himself at the Old Lion's own tournament for the blessed memory of Cersei could only increase the responsibilities to be given him.
He glided backwards over the churned up sod at odd, changing angles, to keep those seeking to thwart him eyes front. But you fought not just with your eyes. His keen ears picked up the thumps of a charging approach.
And at the right moment, he threw himself backward in a roll; clutching his blade and shield tight to both make the rotations effective and to not lose them. Over the cretin went, like a pin in a game of Kayles; left to the mercies of the greasy Dornish scum.
The fine ladies and sers in the stands cheered his brilliant display of martial prowse.
Upon regaining his feet, he could not help but make a bow towards the royal box. He knew Myrcella must be riveted watching him. Father had whispered that she would be his bride, to keep Uncle's direct bloodline tied as tight as his vows allowed to the rule of House Lannister. The wretched Imp could never inherit. And the coming marriage with a fucking Frey of all people; the final press of the lion sigil into the wax of Lancel's future hegemony over the Westerlands.
Lancel had always believed Uncle Tywin's vow to never remarry ridiculous. At least until Cersei's murder. If she had been his bride, oh to dream, then he honestly wondered whether he too might never …
The shrieks of the crowd brought him out of his perilous woolgathering.
His head spun about in search of danger. Another foe approached.
Lancel hid his smirk. The fool's cap emblazoned on the upper corner of the squire's coat-of-arms revealing him as his catspaw, Jaspar Follard. There were less than ten left standing now in the Melee Pit. Time for the final pairing, he decided.
"Take the one on the left and I'll take the one on the right; then we can fight for the spurs," he cried in his loudest voice. None ever gainsaid temporary alliances in a melee. With forty nine participants, it was usually the mightiest warriors and most powerful lords who were teamed up upon and beaten to submission first by their jealous lessers. Thus his brilliant ploy today, for he was both compared to this mewling …
He saw stars.
His muscles and sinews turned to custard.
He felt himself collapsing
He tried to pitch himself to the side so he could raise a shield.
He just made it, though his arm would not move.
And through the stars, he saw a large boot attached to a fool coming crashing into his face.
"Traitor," Lancel sputtered as he surged to his feet in anger; consciousness returning with an aching thunder.
"Easy, young master," a voice called from what sounded like a vast distance against a backdrop of dull clanging steel. And gentle hands clasped his shoulders and eased him back down off of rapidly weakening legs.
"The … the melee," he gasped.
"You did exceedingly well until Ser Jaspar clouted you," the kind tones of …
"Ser?" That could not be. He. He was supposed to be knighted.
"Yes. Young Follard won and received his reward from the King."
"But the battle still goes on," he complained, recognizing the familiar noises through ringing ears.
"That is the First Melee," the man in dull grey declared. "Drink this." And insistent hands pressed a cup to his lips. It tasted bitter and herbal. He tried to turn away, but the gentle hands turned out surprisingly strong also.
"Maester Maldon?" A small smile split the undistinguished face of the Royal Healer at being recognized. Royal Healer. Part of him knew he should be pleased at receiving the favor of attendance by the King's own physician. But that implied him being in the Royal Box, where Myrcella sat. Myrcella. His hopes were dashed. Lancel only felt shame as he whispered, "Where am I?"
"Your lord Uncle's box, young Maester."
Lancel lifted his throbbing skull. And spied his father looking down with concern … and satisfaction, at him. They were in the rear of the box, a canopy over their heads to shade them from the sun and prying eyes. "How is he?" father inquired anxiously.
"A bulge the size of an egg on the side of his head. But he's awake," the maester answered hopefully. "What is your name? Your house? What is the year? Seven plus seven equals?" A litany of other simple questions followed. Lancel answered them all. Even, "how do you feel?"
"My head pounds like a stallion rode over it."
"Any dizziness? Nausea?"
"If he does suffer dizziness at any point after this evening, summon me promptly, Lord Kevan. In the meantime, Master Lancel is yours. Now if you will forgive me, I must return to other duties." Meaning those bloodied worse, but less shamefully, than he.
Father took the maester's vacated chair and sat down with a wry smile. "His Grace will finally have true reason to call you 'Lumpy.'"
Lancel scowled but bit his tongue. "You did well. We were all impressed."
All? "But I didn't win," he whined.
"No one ever does."
A sad look came over his father's face. Then a short, vinegary chuckle. "No, not even Jaime. Do you feel well enough to stay? Or shall we arrange a litter to take you back to our pavillon?"
He squinted painful eyes to look out on the pit and see the play of the melee. "Who's winning?"
"I can't really say. Some Stormlands giant in yellow suns and white crescents was throwing knights down left and right. And Garlan Tyrell and Lord Tarly have made a mighty pair. You can see Joff over there," and father pointed to the northeast corner of the pit railing, "doing his duty as squire to Horn Hill."
"Any Westerlanders still standing?"
"Stafford," father called out. "Any of our banner still on hoof or foot?"
"Just that longtooth Lorch. Some hedge knight seems to be carrying him as a partner. The low being helped by the lower. How pathetic."
For the first few minutes watching, the knights weren't exactly just blurs to Lancel, but his foggy mind took a while to find the rhythm of meaning to all the movement.
By the time the cobwebs cleared, a stout tussle was taking place almost in front of the Lion's den. In a shocking maneuver, the upstart little hedge knight brutalized his mount straight into the neck of the giant in cobalt blue armor. Leaping out of the saddle, the giant's forearm took the honorless cur out of his his.
But the giant found no time to attack the more stunned man, for Ser Armory, still a horse, smote down with mace, battering the giant's helm fiercely; three strokes given for every one received in exchange.
Then the hedge knight was on his feet again, dodging about the two now riderless horses to come in behind the giant.
"Strike!" "Strike!" "Strike!" the stands bellowed their commands at him. To no affect, he shifted and positioned himself, slipping closer and closer, then finally leapt …
The giant's arm rose at that exact moment to meet a downswing blow from Lorch, unknowingly catching the stabbing thrust from behind, raising it higher. The tip of the hedge knight's blunted sword met the closed visor … right at the eye slit.
A ghastly shriek erupted from old Ser Amory and he flipped off his steed. Tourney blade ripped out of the hedge knight's hand, stuck firmly in steel and flesh; perhaps eyeball and brain.
"You killed him!" the giant blared; coming to a halt. Stunned at the turn of events.
But not the hedge knight, who without stopping swept a kick that took the giant's legs out. The back of the bright blue helm cracked against the tough sod; the force of the impact along with the prior abuse of the day, breaking the bolts securing the helm to the gorget. The helm popped off.
All observing from the stands gasped.
And then grew silent.
The revealed face could be described as manly: a broken nose resting above a wide mouth whose thick lips were open to reveal large teeth.
Coarse and manly, though these features were; instinctively the crowd knew that this was no man that the hedge knight had toppled.
"Whose house is that?" the whole of the Melee Pit heard Uncle Tywin's commanding voice ask.
"Tarth," someone answered.
And a Lady of Tarth unsurprisingly announced, "I yield." Followed unexpectedly by a question of the hedge knight, "Your name, Ser."
The muffled response of "Bronn" barely reached Lancel's ears.
Then this giant female warrior from the Stormlands spoke the most surprising words ever uttered at a melee, "Marry me, Ser Bronn."