The Reach was in shambles.
Ravens carry songs of rape and murder to the four corners of the Reach every day. Traders refused to step foot on the Ocean road fearing Ironborn raiders. The devastation visited upon the banks of Mander forced the smallfolk to flee. Day by day, refugees were spilling into the interior of the Reach carrying stories of Ironborn cruelty.
The stories from Shield Islands painted a far greater bleak picture. The Ironborn were forcing themselves on women and children. Some of them were even being sold as slaves in Essos. Even the highborn were not spared from being taken as salt-wives. Tales of the fate of House Hewett were spreading like wildfire in the Reach. Euron Greyjoy hosted a victory feast for his Ironborn raiders at Oakenshield and had the wife and daughters of Lord Hwewtt serve the raiders naked.
After which, the Ironborn King had the Lord of Oakenshield watch as his family was raped by the raiders before being drowned in saltwater.
Baelor blamed all of the misfortune that befell the Reach on House Tyrell.
While Baelor knew his good-brother was not a smart man, it took him by surprise when Mace Tyrell ordered the entire Redwyne fleet to attack Dragonstone. When it was evident Stannis had abandoned Dragonstone Mace Tyrell should have asked the Redwyne Fleet to sail a portion of their fleet to defend the Arbor.
It was as if his good-brother stupidly forgot the Ironborn have also rebelled openly against the Iron Throne. While they had focused on the North it stood to reason Balon Greyjoy targeted the North for its lack of fleets. With the Redwyne Fleet away at Dragonstone the Iron Fleet remained the strongest fleet in the Sunset Sea.
Without the Redwyne Fleet as a deterrence, the Ironborn invaded Shield Islands and they even launched a successful attack that crippled Arbor of their remaining ships. With the Arbor unable to field any ships to contend with the Iron Fleet's control of the seas it fell to House Hightower to secure the seas.
After the Dance of Dragons, no Ironborn ship has ever dared to show its sails near the Whispering Sound.
That was no longer the case. The Ironborn were getting bolder and trying to attack Oldtown.
Not on my watch, thought Baelor as he stood near the aft of his ship, Vigilance.
The moment word reached him of the fall of Shield Islands he had ordered Oldtown shipyards to work on new ships. Then a retinue of men came from Arbor carrying ample warning of their inability to patrol the coasts of the Reach. Since then, he has been gathering men and ships to fight what was obviously going to be a sea battle against the Ironborn.
Barlow had the presence of mind to order his good-brother, Ser Jon Cupps, to patrol the Whispering Sound with the meagre fleet under House Hightower's command. It turned out to be a good decision as not only did Ser Jon managed to beat back a raiding party, he also managed to capture two Ironborn longships.
There were no valuable prisoners to speak of save for Adrian Blacktyde who was the eldest son of Lord Baelor Blacktyde. He was told the heir of House Blacktyde did not put up much of a fight. Either way, two captured Ironborn ships was better than none. They also gained some valuable information from the captured crew about the enemy movements and strengths.
It was this information that forced his hand to act now.
From Adrian Blacktyde, he learned Euron Greyjoy had led the attack on Arbor. Curiously enough, Euron has chosen to withdraw back to Shield Islands leaving a token force near Arbor.
Baelor knew not what was going on inside the head of Euron Greyjoy but he felt this was a great opportunity. The Iron Fleet at Arbor was commanded by Ralf Stonehouse and he believed he could smash the Iron Fleet thereby snuffing out the threat posed to Oldtown.
"Baelor, ships ahead!" called out Ser Jon Cupps from the bow of Vigilance.
Baelor rushed ahead and took the offered spy-glass from Ser Jon to take a peek at the sails. He saw a black Brazier painted on the sails.
"It's Red Ralf's ship. All hands to your stations! We have some squids to kill men. Many your stations." Baelor called out and his ship was now in a flurry of activity.
He ordered to raise the banner of his house on the aft warning the other ships to be ready for battle. A portion of his fleet split away to engage the Iron Fleet head-on.
Baelor led the remaining 10 ships out of 30 away from directly engaging the Iron Fleet. Instead, he focused his ships on raining fire on the Ironborn ships that were still anchored at the shores.
"It'd seem the Ironborn were not expecting us." said Ser Jon who he noticed to be in a good mood for battle.
Out of all his good-brothers, he liked Ser Jon the most. Not only was the man a dutiful husband to his sister he was also a good friend with a healthy inclination for martial tactics.
"Then let's give them a warm welcome good-brother." said Baelor, smirking at the rushing Ironborn on the shores.
"Use the artillery on my command." Ser Jon shouted.
Baelor felt their ships slowly changing their positioning and aligned their starboard facing the shores. He observed the men winding the winches and setting up stones dipped in whale oil.
The men lit the stones on fire and cut them loose.
Baelor watched the fiery stones cruise across the sky bombarding the Ironborn ships.
Four more times his ships rained death upon these Ironborn scum. Two Ironborn ships were on fire and he had the men switch to scorpion attacks to pin down the rest. With a combination of ballistas and longbows, they managed to ensure the Ironborn ships could not form a united defence.
It was at this point Baelor ordered five more ships in his group to break away and attack the seaborne Iron Fleet while the rest of his ships engaged the longships near the shores. The men on the deck came together to form shield walls on his remaining five ships.
"Brace yourselves and remember the Ironborn wear armour in seas. Archers aim for their necks and eyes. Soldiers use your shield and if you are using a sword go for the gaps in their armour." Baelor shouted out instructions.
He didn't doubt his men's vigour to fight. They were all primed to exact vengeance upon the Ironborn scum and drive them from their lands. But, battles were not won by heightened emotions alone. It was a lesson these Ironborn have yet to learn.
Vigilance crashed into an Ironborn longship with a deafening crash. They all lurched forward but they held strong by holding on to the ropes near the railing.
"Let's go kill some squids!" Baelor screamed, which was more than enough for a battle cry as the men surged forward over Vigilance's bow, jumping into the Ironborn ship.
Baelor jumped over with Ser Jon by his side. He had fought in the last war to know well enough it was futile to lead an attack with a longsword. So, when he saw his first enemy he smashed into the Ironborn reaver with his shield, knocking the man down in one fell swoop. Then he plunged the tip of his sword into the man's neck where armour could not reach.
Baelor pulled out his sword before raising his shield to deflect a strike from an axe-wielding Ironborn reaver. Before he could properly respond to this new foe, an arrow pierced through his enemy's visor. Kicking down the dying Ironborn he moved towards the next and there were quite a few squids who needed a taste of his steel.
The battle lasted for a few hours and in the end, Baelor stood victorious. The Hightower fleet had triumphed over the resistance put up by the Iron Fleet. Sadly, his men were unable to stop Ralf Stonehouse from escaping with two longships.
"Should we send ships after Red Ralf Baelor?" Ser Jon asked after they managed to secure the prisoners.
Baelor pondered on what he should do. Looking at the men who were elated at the victory they just claimed he didn't want to send them off to chase after two ships.
"We will treat our wounded and strengthen our defences. Our priority should be to secure the Whispering Sound and Arbor from any Ironborn attacks. We will wait for Lord Paxtor to return with the rest of his fleet before making any amphibious assaults." said Baelor
"As you say, good-brother." Ser Jon nodded before taking a company of knights to sweep the shores to kill the rest of the Ironborn.
Baelor watched the men binding Ironborn prisoners in ropes while also releasing the thralls to their freedom. Arbor would remain under his protection till the Redwyne fleet sails around Dorne. He just hoped Euron Greyjoy stay put in the Shield Islands until they were ready to contend with the Iron Fleet on equal footing. For the time being, he was content to liberate the coasts of Arbor. The time to liberate the Shield Islands would come soon enough.
Missandei knew the Queen much better than anyone else. After all, only a woman can understand another woman. Sadly, she was the only woman close to her queen.
She had noticed that about her Queen. The queen preferred a limited number of servants as possible for her personal affairs. More likely, the Queen just wanted a friend rather than a servant.
Mayhaps, that's the reason Missandei ended up being the Queen confidante rather than a mere translator. Her language skills helped her to listen well and she was more than happy to listen to her Queen's heart.
And what a fragile heart her Queen have!
For all the Queen's harsh words and actions, she preferred to engage as little as possible in politics. For someone like Missandei, who grew up close to the Wise Masters of Astapor, politics has been her constant companion. So it had puzzled her why the queen as of late took a greater aversion to hold court.
In Mereen, the Queen had at least showed an interest in learning to rule. But, in Dragonstone the queen confined herself to her personal chambers preferring the company of books and ancient scrolls. It is as if the dreary island sapped the Queen of her interest in the affairs of court. Missandei observed this dramatic change within the Queen happened once she visited Queen Rhaella's grave.
Lord Tyrion also had realized the Queen was isolating herself and was quite insistent on changing this state of affairs.
She was there when Lord Tyrion had forced the issue and made the queen agree to hold court. It had taken Lord Tyrion to bring up an issue sensitive enough that it required the Queen's direct oversight.
So here she was, a slave girl from Naath, all the way in the Sunset Kingdoms braiding the Dragon Queen's hair before holding court. She liked to brush the Queen's hair though. Just as the Queen considered her a friend, Missandei felt the same, although she was always careful to maintain proper decorum.
"That's quite enough Missandei. How do I look?" the Queen asked her.
Missandei took a step back and watched as the Queen looked herself in the mirror.
The long luscious silver hair of the Queen was pulled back with the aid of several braids and silver-painted hair clips. The Queen donned a purple tunic that went to her knees which of course had splits for easy movement. Beneath the tunic, the Queen had black skinny pants with equally black boots. A purple and cream cloak adorned the Queen's shoulders which matched perfectly with her amethyst eyes.
If there ever was a perfect personalization of beauty then it was the Queen, thought Missandei.
"As beautiful as Goddess Meleys, your grace." said Missandei.
"No one knows how the Goddess looks though." the Queen observed.
"Volantine artisans believe the Goddess to be the perfect embodiment of a woman. Similarly, no one could find a fault in you, your grace."
That seems to cheer up her Queen and Missandei dutifully trailed behind the Mother of Dragons. Outside the Queen's chamber, Ser Barristan stood waiting for them ever dutiful. Missandei often wondered how Ser Barristan's found the necessary strength to accomplish all the tasks set before him at his old age. The Lord Commander would stand guard for the Queen from dusk to dawn with a few hours of rest in between.
"Ser Barristan." the Queen acknowledged Ser Barristan with a nod. "Is the court ready?"
"The court is waiting for your arrival. It has been decades since a Targaryen held court in Westeros. The Narrow Sea lords were loyalists who fought dutifully for your family even before Aegon's Conquest." said Ser Barristan
"And how many of these Narrow Sea lords were there to help me or Viserys in exile?" the Queen asked sharply.
"None, your grace." said Ser Barristan with an abashed expression on his weary face.
"Then they will wait a bit longer. I'll be visiting my mother's grave. I seek her blessings. Missandei, come."
Missandei was quick to follow and Ser Barristan trailed after them at a reasonable distance along with two Unsullied guards.
She watched patiently like the others as the Queen paid her respects to her mother. For a former Queen, the grave was not grandiose enough. It lacked any grand decoration, architecture or artwork as seen in Essos. It was a sad tale, Queen Rhaella's story. A woman who lost all her happened from an early age because of a marriage she never liked. The poor woman had to watch all her family get destroyed even after suffering through tragedies and abuse throughout her life.
The Queen knelt before the grave and stayed still for a moment. The winds struggled to carry the Queen's whispered words but Missandei knew it was not a prayer. She hardly saw the Queen utter a single prayer to any gods ever since she came to the Queen's service.
The Queen finally stood up to her feet with her purple eyes alight with resolve.
"Now, I'm ready to hold court."
Missandei stood dutifully beside the Queen's throne in the great hall. She was standing near the throne's left arm while Ser Barristan stood to the right. Lord Tyrion stood near the steps of the elevated rostrum where the throne of dragons towered over everyone in the hall.
The Narrow Sea lords were a strange bunch to Missandei. There were only three houses that answered the call one of them sent a representative.
"You stand in the presence of Queen Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, the Queen of Mereen, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass sea and the mother of Dragons." Missandei announced to the court with the three lords kneeling before the throne.
"Your grace, please meet Lords Adrian Celtigar and Renfred Rykker. Representing House Velaryon is Aurane Waters, the uncle of Monterys Velaryon." Lord Tyrion introduced the kneeling lords.
"Rise, my lords. Velaryon, Celtigar and Rykker. I was told there are more Narrow Sea lords than just three. Where are the rest? Do they believe they can defy the might of a dragon?"
The queen's voice was as sharp as Valyrian steel and it cut across the hall like a clap of thunder.
"Your grace, we can excuse House Sunglass. No one knows the whereabouts of Lord Crispian Sunglass after Selyse Baratheon burned his brother alive." said Tyrion, tapping his foot impatiently on the floor. "But, the Queen is right. Where are Houses Stokeworth, Bar Emmon, Maessy and Rosby?"
"Your grace, many of us would gladly support you but our strengths have eroded under Baratheon and Lannister rule. Rosby is in the middle of a succession crisis, no one knows what happened to Crispian Sunglass, the Masseys are extinct in the male line, the Stokeworths are all dead except for Lollys Stokeworth who is a prisoner in her own home now ruled by a sellsword employed by the Lannisters and House Bar Emmon is ruled by a sickly boy." said a tall silver-haired man with green eyes.
Missandei knew very little of Aurane Waters but she knew enough to know the Velaryons are a Valyrian house like House Targaryen. Looking at the man, she could see Valyrian blood ran strong in House Velaryon. In Volantis, the bastard of Driftmark would have passed off as a highborn pureblood.
"That is unfortunate. Ser Willam Darry spoke highly of Crownland houses and I am sad to see your strengths have eroded in the days of Targaryen absence. No matter. So long as a dragon sits the Iron Throne the lords of the Narrow Sea will know only prosperity."
"We are heartened to hear that your grace." said Renfred Rykker whose face creased with worry and perhaps a tad bit hesitation. "There is also the worry of alarming events transpiring in the Riverlands. Surely, your grace must have heard tales of another dragonrider."
"I have lord Rykker. I mean to hold a council with my nephew in the near future but before that could happen I need to know where you stand my lords. I plan to attack King's Landing and I need to know of your position."
Missandei watched the Queen lean forward in interest.
"Your grace I'm able to raise fifty knights and another two hundred men on short notice. My swords are yours to command." said Lord Rykker bowing low.
"I hold command over twelve ships, your grace. House Velaryon will sail with you as we have done since the Doom." said Aurane Waters, reaffirming the old commitments of House Velaryon.
"Claw Isle stands ready to answer your call and should you fly your dragon over Cracklaw Point many more loyalists would join your host, your grace." said Lord Adrian with his head bowed low.
"The Crackclaw Point? Why?" the Queen asked curiously.
"The Lords of Cracklaw Point have always stayed loyal to House Targaryen. Their support increases your legitimacy and secures the Crownlands." said Lord Tyrion.
Missandei noticed the Queen frown while looking curiously at Ser Barristan for advice.
"The men of Cracklaw Point fought most fiercely at the Trident beside your brother, your grace. They are your traditional allies just like the lords of the Narrow Sea." said Ser Barristan.
"Very well then. My lords, quarters for your stay will be arranged shortly and I welcome you into my war council to be held this evening. I will hear your opinions before planning out the attack on King's Landing."
The Queen was about to take her leave when Lord Tyrion spoke out hastily.
"Your grace, there is one more matter to attend to."
Missandei could see the Queen was none too pleased by Lord Tyrion yet she humoured her advisor.
"The Red Priests have burned the Septons alive. The Faith would demand justice on behalf of their faithful followers." said Lord Tyrion.
"I clearly gave orders that no harm shall come to people of Dragonstone but the Faith is in open rebellion against House Targaryen by crowning a Lannister bastard. They have also violated the treaty imposed on them by King Jaehaerys I with the resurgence of the Faith Militant. The punishment for traitors is death, Lord Tyrion. If the Red Priests harms the faithful smallfolk then I may punish them but not for killing the enablers of my enemies."
Missandei heard the court broke out in hushed whispers. She felt the Queen should have kept her sound low. On the other hand, she did not approve of how Lord Tyrion sprung the subject on the Queen.
The Queen sent a glare to the court before taking her leave from the throne hall with Missandei closely following the Queen.
"Have word sent to the Red Priests to stop burning people alive. If they are so fond of fire I'll grace them with the most potent fire in the world– Dragonfire."
Yohn Royce was frustrated and was quite confused about events that were transpiring in the short span of months. When Littlefinger cleverly manipulated young lord Robin to gather the knights of the Vale he never thought this would be the end result.
The men who were marching under him were on the verge of breaking, not because of any costly battles but because of the swamps, snow and inaction. He now understood why many of his ancestors had died trying to invade the North. There was no need for any large army to hold the Neck from invaders. The Neck could drive any standing army mad with its rampant diseases and poisonous beasts.
It was a wonder the men had not deserted their posts and run away. They had waited for Baelish to bring word of Lady Sansa's whereabouts. Despite waiting for months no one had seen or heard a word from Baelish. Then word slowly began to filter in about the battle of Winterfell and the accounts of the battle were preposterous.
Yohn had sent out riders to White Harbour as the many ravens he sent remained unanswered by Lord Manderly. He had even tried to force the Vale army to match into the North but many of the lords were against moving with the roads clogged with heavy snow. Nonetheless, he managed to move the army out of Moat Cailin and establish camps. With heavy snowfall and cold winds rampant in the frozen lands of the North, the army was far from ready to go for a long march.
So they waited...and waited for something to happen. All they received from the North was silence. For miles, not a single settlement could be found from their position. The North is vast in its lands but scarcely populated. Even the details of the Battle of Winterfell were rumours his outriders gleaned from several smallfolk.
And then one day, word reached them from White Harbour of the approaching Northern army. There was still no word of Baelish and he dearly hoped the man had met his end at the end of a Bolton sword. The man's death would certainly bring stability to the Vale.
"My lord, Royce. Banners in the distance."
Sure enough, he could see banners in the distance. His scouts had already informed him of an army a day away from their position. He was quite glad to note Bolton banners were nowhere to be seen. This at least confirmed the Boltons were dealt with for good by the Northmen themselves. The direwolf banners were present but so was a quartered banner with Targaryen and Stark sigil.
The Northern army stopped at a distance and three men approached their horses.
"It seems the Northmen wants to greet us. Call Lord Horton and Ser Lyn. We shall hear the truth from the Northmen." Yohn ordered. His men rode away to collect the other lords while he took note of other banners.
A few moments later Yohn rode with Ser Lyn Corbray and Lord Horton Redfort.
"I recognize Robett Glover but who are the other two?" asked Lord Redfort as they rode towards the Northmen.
"I know not my lord. But the one on Lord Glover's right is a Mallister knight. I can see a silver eagle on his cloak." said Yohn, frowning at the three Northmen as he came to a stop.
"Lord Royce. I see the Vale has decided to come out of your mountains rather than cower away like cowards."
That was the first thing that came out of Robett Glover's mouth.
"We were rather disinterested in a war that your people started Lord Glover. And seeing as how the war ended it seems to have been the right decision." said Ser Lyn Corbray.
"Ser Corbray restrain yourself. We are not here to exchange barbs at each other." Yohn chided the Corbray knight.
"What are you here for then?" asked the Northmen with armour painted with chevrony russet and gold.
"We are here to help Lady Sansa." said Yohn which garnered him a scoff from the Mallister knight and a sneer from Lord Glover.
"Oho. Now isn't that interesting. Is that why that prick Baelish sold her out to the Boltons? So that you could rescue Lady Stark?" the Mallister knight asked incredulously.
"As high as honour...Pah!" Lord Glover spat. "Those should no longer be the words House Arryn. As worthless as shit would fit you lot!" said Lord Glover before throwing a piece of parchment in Lord Royce's face.
Yohn caught the parchment and read through the lines with an increasing look of horror. It was a parchment that held a written command by Tommen Baratheon to bring Lady Sansa's head. The parchment was addressed to Baelish and it had the royal seal as well. So, this was no forgery.
"We knew nothing of this Lord Glover. Baelish had us convinced we were to save Lady Sansa escape the Boltons." Yohn stuttered out as he passed the parchment to Lord Redfort who also read the parchment in disbelief.
"You and your Vale army are invaders. And the North has always treated Andal invaders with steel. This time it will be different. We will greet you with Fire and Blood, my lords." said Lord Glover who glared coldly at Yohn.
Then Yohn heard the flapping of the wings in the distance. Sitting on his horse he turned around to look south and there in the sky he saw a full-grown dragon.
"You said you came here to save someone, my lord. It looks like you are the one who needs saving." said the Mallister knight as the dragon landed on its hind legs making the ground shake.
"Seven above!" Yohn heard Lord Redfort mutter in fear. The yellow eyes of the dragon peered at them with a look that promised pain and suffering. He struggled to keep his horse steady and the dragon looked at all of them as if it was seeing its meal.
Looking at the massive green dragon he felt the strength leave his limbs. His horse reared back as the dragon lowered its neck and the rider sitting on the dragon climbed down.
Yohn took note the rider looked remarkably like a young Ned Stark with his black hair and grey eyes.
"It seems I'm right on time. We haven't met before, my lords. I'm Daeron Targaryen and I am afraid you are all rather lacking proper decorum. It is customary to kneel before a King while surrendering."
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