Bruce: Chapter 1
Every day he had to wake early, long before sun rise in fact, but it rarely bothered him. Sleep rarely came easy to Bruce. While spoiled lords and kings such as that famed drunkard Robert Baratheon from across the sea could sleep day and night for hours on end if they chose to, Bruce considered a long night's rest to be three or four hours. Sometimes even a young man as silent and stoic as himself could only help but to let a small smile loose upon his lips when he thought of the terrible irony. The sigil of his family, the house of Wayne, was the bat, a creature of the night that in turn rested during the day. But Bruce was restless no matter what time of day it was, whether it was working, training, or learning during the day or laying in his bed for hours on end waiting for sleep to overtake him and always disappointed when it did not.
We are the night, his house took as their creed. Bruce had always thought of this as a rather dark phrase even compared to the Greyjoy's or Stark's, but his father always argued that the opposite was in fact true. "Sometimes Bruce, the things that work in the dark are what can best help those living in the light" his father always told him while Bruce sat atop his knee as a boy. His father's explanation never made sense to him as a boy, but now Bruce felt as if he was closer to understanding his father's puzzling words. Sadly, he never got the chance to ask his father what he meant before his and his mother's untimely deaths when Bruce was only eight.
The funeral was a rather large and populated event, as both his parents were well known throughout the seven kingdoms. Bruce stood at his family's faithful servant Alfred's side with as stone solid of a face as he could muster the strength for. He knew if even a slip of emotion showed Bruce would not have the strength to hold back the inevitable flood of tears and sobbing. He was a Wayne, and a man almost fully grown, he could not act like some scared boy now that he was the last remaining Wayne among the living. Alfred, ever loyal, stood by Bruce's side as lords and ladies from across the regions of Westeros visited to pay their respects to two individuals who most of them had not seen more than once or twice in their lives. First were the Karstarks, Oakhearts, some of the Freys, some lords or representatives of the houses Tully or Tyrell or Florent…Bruce could hardly remember. Not that it mattered, all of the sigils and faces Bruce saw that day became one opaque blur of nothingness that simply drifted to the back of the boy's mind.
Most of these people knew of his parents simply because they were the second richest house of the seven kingdoms, dwarfed only by the Lannisters. Ironically, the only representative of the house of lions to appear was the Imp, Tyrion Lannister. He was a welcome sight to the young Bruce even if it was simply because for once Bruce did not need to look up and strain his neck to say "Thank you" when a visitor apologized for his loss. The Imp approached him slowly but determined, it was hard to tell what the dwarf was feeling as his face was rather stoic and unemotional, and his mismatched-colored eyes seemed to be looking through Bruce.
As Tyrion opened his mouth to speak, Bruce could immediately smell alcohol on his breath and wondered if the small lord relied on the bottle in times of trouble and if it would help him to try it at all.
"I am incredibly sorry for your loss dear boy, your parents were paragons of generosity and kindness in these lands wrought with selfishness and power-thirsting. They will be greatly missed," the dwarf said with occasional flickers of sorrow escaping the halfling's otherwise perfectly sculpted mask of apathy.
Bruce could only respond with "What do you know of my parents?" with an admittedly thick layer of distaste and anger. What did this spoiled rich freak know of loss? When had this Lannister, the richest family in the world most likely, know of feeling alone?
"Master Bruce…" Alfred began to say before the dwarf raised his hand for silence, never looking away from the young boy's gaze.
Tyrion let a small smile creep across his lips, as he said, "I admit, I did not know your parents personally, I've only ever seen them once, three years ago when your family visited ours at Casterly Rock, but even then I could see how much they cared for you. Their eyes lit up with a light similar to the look my father gave when watching his army overtake an enemy's, or when my uncle eyes an especially tasty tart to take to bed that night. And ah yes, I know of feeling alone boy, if it were not for this lion on my chest I would not have even made it to your age before getting kicked out in the cold to suffer like a freak of nature." The dwarf paused before continuing, "When we are alone, that is when we find our true strength, as a dwarf, I had to learn to accept peoples' constant gazing down upon me. I had to turn it into my weapon, use it to make myself taller than the other men who looked down on me could ever hope to be. So as an orphan, I ask you young Wayne, what is it that will make you strong? What will make you taller than other men?"
Bruce stood their open mouthed, not knowing how to reply, simply feeling more foolish of a boy than if he had broken down crying. The Imp merely looked away from the young lord's gaze for a moment before slowly gazing back to meet eyes, patted his shoulder, and gave a small reassuring smile before finally walking away. From that moment on, Bruce never looked at his own shadow and thought how small a shadow I cast on this world but rather soon other men will look upon my shadow, and know that Bruce Wayne, the last of his name, is in their presence.
A knock at the door stirred Bruce from his daydreams of the past. Bruce stood from his comfortable bed with red satin sheets and walked to open the door. On the other side of the thick wooden door was a messenger from his master, holding a note bearing the snarling wolf's head surrounded by green fire of his master's house. Bruce was to meet him at the sparring fields for sunrise. Bruce immediately went to his closet, slipping his white training tunic with green trim on and fastening the black belt accompanying it around his waist.
Half an hour later, Bruce looked out upon the large lake that lay next to the training fields. He could not help but marvel at the way the light hit the water turning the lake from a vivid golden hue to such a dark, deep shade of blue that seemed should only be seen of seawater. Bruce was aroused from his trance when he heard footsteps approaching from behind him. Bruce turned to greet his master with the ceremonial bow, and looked up to meet the man's gaze as he returned to standing up right. His master had golden eyes that felt like they were not only piercing your soul, but learning all the secrets that it kept as well. Bruce felt naked before this man, feared by tens of thousands, and unknown by countless hundreds of thousands. His master wore his typical green over-cloak, fastened by the snarling wolves' heads of his family's sigil, and looked oddly breathtaking as it was blown to the side by the wind. The man was older, well past his prime, but still could take most men on with a sword and come out unscathed.
As the wind blew through his master's grey hair and side burns Bruce looked to the ground and said, "I am sorry for being late Lord A…" and before he could finish his master raised a hand.
Bruce met his eyes once more, as the old warrior forgivingly said, "It is fine apprentice, and you have trained with me for five years, there is no need for such formalities anymore. As I've told you before and will undoubtedly have to tell you again, you may just call me Rha's or Master. Now walk with me and we shall begin for the day."
Bruce: Chapter 2
He remembered everyone leaving slowly; they had paid their respects, what point was there to staying anymore. Bruce was proud of himself, he had managed to stand still all day without letting a single tear escape him. He could feel his mask crack though, when Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell walked through the doors. The northern lord was a strong man, one of the few truly honorable men left in the kingdom his father had told him. While Bruce's father and Eddard had never been companions on the battlefield, they had spent quite a few nights speaking in front of fires, or hunting in the woods together. His father of course would only accompany Eddard on these trips and not partake since he hated killing anything, but he immensely enjoyed the Lord of Winterfell's company so he would go along simply for that.
His father would often return from these trips and tell Bruce of how Ned (as he called him) would constantly jest about the fact that the rich lord Thomas Wayne would eat anything put before him but suddenly lose his backbone the second a bow and arrow were placed in his hand. Bruce confusedly asked him why Lord Stark would jest in such a way, and his father would smile and reply, "Because Ned believes that if you plan to sentence anyone or anything to die, you should have no qualms being the one to carry it out. So if he goes hunting for deer with his party, he'll damn well make sure he's one of the men to bring a deer home."
Bruce would then ask why his father did not have such a view to which he would reply, "Because son, while we do eat deer, and boar, sometimes even bear at our table, and yes they are being killed for our ability to eat, I don't like taking something's life from it for any reason. Yes someone does our hunting for us, but isn't it the same as war? Generals command men to kill for them and Kings command Kingsguard to die for them. I know that men kill each other out there, but to me, whether they're a beggar, a lord, or a simple doe in the woods, their life is not mine to take. Whether men want to take it or not is up to them, and it may even be naïve on my own conscious' part, but it will not be me doing the killing. That is why we don't have an executioner here Bruce, because I'll never sentence a man to die."
Those talks Bruce had with his father seemed like a dream as the rugged looking Warden of the North approached the small boy standing alone with nothing but an aging servant left in this world. Ned Stark's jaw was taught, his shoulders wide, his gait slowed and heavy, but his eyes looked like they were turbulent storms of emotion. He slowly walked over to the boy and knelt, and without saying a word took the boy in his arms with a long hug. Bruce couldn't help but feel like it was his father hugging him, as the warmth and strong arms of the northern lord surrounded him and embraced him. Ned's beard bristled against Bruce's neck itching him but Bruce would not dare let go of this man's hug for fear of feeling cold and alone again. After what could have been second, or minutes, Ned Stark pulled back, and looked into the young orphan's eyes while keeping both hands on his shoulders.
The warden of the North spoke slowly, but deliberately, "I'm sorry Bruce, but words cannot express how much sorrow and pain I feel for you. Your father, gods rest him, as one of the few men I felt I could actually trust. We didn't bond over the deaths of other men, or fighting some war for a title. We bonded over him telling me about you, or me telling him how nervous I was to be a father. We bonded as men should, over families and the things we loved, not with steel in our hands. How do you feel son? And don't tell me the line explaining how you're getting by that I'm sure you practiced to look strong today, tell me how you really are," the wise Eddard Stark said with sorrowful eyes and a voice that faltered slightly on the last line.
"Angry.." was all that Bruce could get out before his mask crumbled to pebbles as he broke down crying into Ned's arms.
As Ned hugged and comforted him he quietly said in the boy's ear, "I know son, I know you are, having those you love unjustly ripped away from you when it's not their time is one of the most maddening feelings in this world. Your mind grows as restless as a winter storm beyond the Wall, you want to do nothing but avenge them, if not them as fallen loved ones then as memories. It becomes the only thing your mind can focus on in a time of such confusion, and both your heart and mind start sinking into a dark place." Lord Eddard's voice was very serious now, but his eyes still showed a great amount of caring, similar to his father's eyes back when he would tell Bruce lessons of life.
Through puffy red eyes and a cracking, quiet voice, Bruce managed to respond with "I just want them back..."
Ned could see the amount of hurting in the young child, and caringly said "I know you do son, and so do I, but we can't spend our lives trying to will the dead back to life. We need to honor their memories, not avenge them. Your father wouldn't want you becoming an angry, young boy who loses himself in hatred or rage. He would want you to keep on living, get married someday, carry on your line and have little sons of your own. You're eight now yes?" Bruce nodded in reply. "Then it's time for you to carry on with your father's legacy, become something great, a symbol of peace and justice like your father was. That is how you will honor his legacy lad, by becoming something more than a man."
From that night on, Bruce would lie awake in bed thinking over everything both Tyrion Lannister and Ned Stark had said to him. If Bruce was to honor what his parents stood for he would have to become something more. He would have to become a symbol; he had to find what would make him strong, and cast a shadow longer than those of other men.
Bruce: Chapter 3
He had to face three this time, not that that was out of the ordinary. Rha's would usually pit three or four against Bruce for their warm-up round, Rha's had grown tired of seeing him constantly beat a single opponent or a pair of them with such ease. By the final round Bruce would face more than a dozen foes at once. One time Bruce had been uncharacteristically arrogant at the start of his third year here, and told his master that he may as well fight them with one hand tied behind his back. Not only did Rha's give him his wish, but gave his underlings cast-iron knuckle rings to wear to send the lesson home further. Bruce had managed to make it to the sixth round without a foe landing a blow, but rounds seven through ten proved to be rather painful. It had already been almost two years since then, but Bruce still had two scars on his shoulder to remind him of the dangers of arrogance.
Some days they would fight with wooden staffs, others they would fight with knives, the curved blades of the Dothraki, straight edged blades with queerly small hilts from the Far East near the Jade Sea, or some days they would even practice with dual handed weapons such as scythes, daggers, and other smaller weapons. They rarely trained with the straight swords of Westoros as Lord Al Ghul found them incredibly unwieldy and thought of the knights of the seven kingdoms as fools trouncing around with such ungainly armor. Most days however they used nothing but their fists, since the master believed that even the most skilled unarmed opponent could disarm and defeat any warrior whether it was an armor-clad knight or Dothraki Khal.
After the morning sparring practices, most days would be followed by learning one of the secret arts of the East, such as disappearing into the shadows, or of tactics used by ancient and great warlords. This was in hopes of understanding how both the common and great generals and warriors fought, and how they must learn to fight differently. Rha's believed that any man with a keen knowledge of strategy and leadership could make men march into battle by the thousands to be slaughtered in the name of a king they would never meet. It would take a different type of man entirely to make even armies of thousands afraid to fight their few hundred. "Your common soldier fights for either wealth, power, or in the name of some ruler they think serves them best, either way they are all simple minded fools. Men who can inspire fear, but not rule with it, those are the men that change the world," the master told them one day when they were learning of Aegon Targaryen, the king that rode dragons.
Bruce had never learned much about dragons, just the basic knowledge that they breathed fire and had been gone from the world for centuries. But he had to respect a man that could ride such a terrorizing beast and strike fear into his enemies in a way that no man could. He often wondered if he would be able to do that, make enemies fear him in ways they would not fear even the most intimidating of leaders like the Mad King or Tywin Lannister. He had no dragons like Aegon, nor legions of men like Tywin, nor the power and ferocity of Mad King Aerys. How could Bruce hope to make the corrupt of not only the City of Gotham but of other places riddled with crime such as King's Landing or Casterly Rock fear him if he had nothing to inspire fear?
Bruce knew how to fight in more styles than Robert Baratheon had been in whores, he could speak the languages of the seven kingdoms, of the free cities, Dothraki, and countless others of regions most might not have even heard of. He knew how to appear and disappear into the darkness as if he were simply a nightmare. He had learned to balance upon nothing but a simple rope on his hands and feet from the rope dancers of Pentos who could walk upon a taught rope hundreds of feet in the air as if it were solid ground. He studied how to take the roots of certain flowers and herbs from across the different lands to make different poisons, lethal and nonlethal, that made men fall asleep, or begin attacking their comrades, or even walk in their sleep. He learned to throw small, metal stars and blades and hit the center of a target without fail from traveling sell swords from the Far East. Bruce was taught how to scale a castle wall with nothing but his hands and feet from some odd, rugged looking, thin warriors from the wilds of the seven kingdoms in the city of Qarth. He even picked up tricks such as pick-pocketing, sailing, and bartering from various merchants and sailors that weighed anchor in the ports of Qarth and Pentos. He also learned how to track any man or beast from hunters and slavers around Slavers Bay using blood, tracks, or other less pleasant means. Bruce knew all of this, things that individually could make any single man he came up against afraid to face him, but not enough to make leagues of men fear him.
Sometimes he wondered on the terrible nights when sleep not only evaded him but seemed to torment him, if this had all been for naught. Had he come this far and learned this much to only find that he missed the most important piece of the puzzle of his new life's direction? The old Bruce was gone, the boy that stood as still as the Wall as his parents were laid to rest before him had been buried that day with them. The Bruce that he saw whenever he looked into his reflection, the one with more than anger in his eyes but fires of determination and will, that was the Bruce that would return to Gotham. Some nights he wondered about that as well, whether Alfred would accept the new Bruce like he did the frightened boy? Or would he not like what he saw and leave Bruce, making him truly alone.
Bruce was only nine when he had left Gotham behind, leaving the running of the city to Alfred until he had returned. Many lordlings surrounding the city had tried to argue their right to ruling the city, but so long as Bruce was the last living Wayne with no other kin he could appoint anyone he wanted to be his Regent during his absence. Bruce trusted no one more than Alfred Pennyworth of Dorne. He had served in some battles both grand and small in scale, learned under Maesters for healing and remedying illness and injuries, and was very knowledgeable in literary works and old tales.
Bruce's father had often instructed him to teach Bruce of ancient stories and tales of heroes and battles. Bruce had never really cared for them but how Alfred spoke of them turned them from boring old tales into fantastical epics that Bruce would want to hear on the days of constant rain when his father would not let him go outside. He often missed Alfred greatly, sometimes more so than his parents just because Alfred was still there waiting for him when he returned home. Then Bruce would be the one to regal Alfred with wonderful and fantastical stories for once.