Stannis sat calmly on the bed as a physician stitched up a recent wound, Honeyholt had been the easiest castle to take thus far for all that was worth. Only a token force had been guarding it with the rest having been dispatched to Highgarden. Stannis had taken a arrow to the shoulder, but the castle soon surrendered after Lord Alester Florent manage to slay the castellan of the keep Ser Bertram Beesbury.
Since he had started his incursions into the Reach he had been met with one easy victory after another. As his nephew had predicted. That fat fool Mace had taken all the experienced soldiers and commanders with him to Kings Landing leaving only green boys to protect his lands. Just like Robb Stark in the Westerlands, the castles in the Reach fell one by one.
Tumbleton, Bitterbridge, Longtable and Ashford had all fallen. Now he had taken Honeyholt, the last castle to be taken before King Roland gave the order to withdraw back to the Stormlands. Though he would loose several hundred men his numbers were replenished by other houses who were turning against the Tyrells. Roland was proof to Stannis how fickle the houses of the Reach were. When Roland defeated Renly several houses had joined him but they came close to turning on him after his defeat at Blackwater. Their faith in Roland was restored after he routed Lord Tarly in the Battle of the Three Armies. More would join as the Tyrells suffered defeat after defeat.
Following Roland's orders Stannis took everything, from weapons, horses, livestock to whatever crops they could. Most houses were using this opportunity to settle old grudges with certain Tyrell Loyalists. Though Stannis had disapproved of their inclusion initially it turned out that House Durwell proved to be useful given their history as livestock thieves. House Durwell used this skill to it's fullest advantage rounding up cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. House Peake regained control of Dunstonbury and Whitegrove while House Osgrey now owned Coldmoat, Dosk, Little Dosk, Brandybottom, Nunny, Leafy Lake and the Derring Downs.
In addition they also got a number of hostages to use. Stannis would kick the enemy in the stomach, while his own forces would be able to replace their own supplies, and food to fill their own stock. The hope was to force the allies of the pretender king Joffrey to capitulate once winter came.
Unfortunately this string of success was forced to be cut short cut short Once the larders of the castle have been emptied, Stannis would return to the Stormlands. Roland had informed him that Euron Greyjoy had been named king and believed that he would likely form an alliance with Joffrey. Because of this turn of events Roland wanted him in command of their fleet as soon as possible.
Stannis admitted to himself that he didn't know much about Balon's eldest brother as he would like. Only that he had planned out the burning of the Lannister Fleet during the Greyjoy Rebellion and since his brother's defeat, he has reaved all over the world. During his time as master of ships he had received countless reports of attacks by Euron and his crew. Yet despite his best efforts was unable to capture him. Balon and Victarion may have been as dumb as driftwood, but Euron seemed to have brains in that skull of his. A rarity for the Ironborn.
The physician finished with his stitching, and cut the string after tying it up. "All done my lord," he said sitting back. Stannis nodded in thanks and put on his jerkin. Once he was dressed, he headed for the main hall where the rest of the commanders had gathered. The rest were already gathered by the time he arrived.
Alester Florent, Lord of Brightwater Keep
Elwood Meadows, Lord of Grassfield Keep
Martyn Mullendore, Lord of Uplands
Titus Peake, Lord of Starpike, Dunstonbury and Whitegrove
Tommen Costayne, Lord of Three Towers
Lord Steffon Varner
Lord Arthur Ambrose
Ser Courtenay Greenhill
Lord Darnell Hauten of the Lower Mander
As Stannis took a seat and the rest followed his lead. "What is the report Lord Alester?" Stannis asked getting to the point immediately.
As one of the most prominent Reach house to join them after Renly's death. The Florents had become the de-facto leaders of the Roland's Reach contingent. "Lord Stannis," Alester replied, "the defenders losses are over 500 and counting while our own losses are about half that.
Stannis sighed, "make sure the dead are given the proper funeral rituals and sent to their families." Lord Alester nodded as Stannis turned to the other lords, "what of supplies?"
"The larders have been emptied and the armoury has been stripped as ordered." Lord Elwood Meadow replied. Everything it being loaded onto the carts for transport.
Stannis nodded, "Good, what about any hostages?"
Martyn Mullendore shook his head, "none this time unfortunately. From what I learned from the Maester, Lord Warryn Beesbury has three sisters. Two are married to the Freys so they are most likely at the Twins and the third is wed to Leo Tyrell but they fled to Highgarden a fortnight ago."
Stannis frowned, "very well, what is the state of the castles loyal to us?"
"The families that have sided with us have all been safely escorted to the Stormlands. Steffon Varner said rubbing his chin, "their castles and fields have been emptied as well. So even if the Tyrells take the castles they won't gain anything."
"Which may come sooner than we think." Titus Peake added causing all heads to turn to him. "My scouts have reported that Randyll Tarly was able to slip past the Blackwater Blockade with a small contingent of men."
Stannis' lips curled, he didn't like being so far in the Reach while Randall Tarly was out there and gods knows what he was planning. Still there were other matters to consider, "what is the state of Lord Paxter and his fleet?"
"Lord Paxter has taken part of his fleet North. He intends to confront the Ironborn at the Shield Islands." Darnell Hauten replied. "I hope he's up to the task."
Stannis nodded and hoped that Lord Redwyne would stay vigilant. What they lacked in discipline the ironborn made up for in ferocity. He knew the fight ahead could truly go either way.
"Then we will conclude our business here and return to the Stormlands." Stannis declared. "I will not have us linger any longer than we have to and risk Tarly taking us by surprise
Arthur Ambrose interjected cautiously, "my Lord, perhaps we should take Highgarden first, It's not a strong castle, and if we succeed we will have Lord Mace's entire family hostage."
Stannis paused, he had been tempted, sorely tempted to march on Highgarden and capture the seat of House Tyrell's power. But two things prevented him from doing so. The first was Roland's orders were to raid the Reach castles not capture them. The second was to preserve as much of their army as possible. Right now Highgarden was being defended by 10,000 men. While he did outnumber the Tyrells 2 to 1, such a battle would exhaust his forces and leave their allies vulnerable to an inevitable counterattack. Stannis wanted to be ready to face Randall Tarly and the might of the Reach once it came to that. For the time being he chose to avoid what was strong and strike at what was weak.
Earlier Stannis had been making plans to take Horn Hill the seat of House Tarly. Taking the castle of the Reach's best battle commander would be nearly as demoralizing as capturing Highgarden. Now he needed to return to Dragonstone and prepare the armada. Soon he would have to face the Ironborn at sea once more.
Stannis shook his head, "Randall Tarly is a seasoned military leader. With him in command of 10,000 men he can too significant damage to our forces. The risk is too high and besides I have my orders from King Roland."
As Stannis and the other Lords drew up their next plans, his thoughts wandered to his nephew. The Gods had denied him a son yet Robert had been blessed with a dozen. Just one more thing Stannis resented his late brother for.
Robert always doted on his favourite son, but over time he started spending less and less time with him. So Stannis started mentoring Roland like the son he'll never have. If Shadow and Bane were anything to go by, it seemed that the boy already had a will of iron so all that was needed to to make sure it was directed towards justice and duty. Between this and his lessons with Ser Barristan and Lord Tywin, the building blocks of a true leader were being set. Admittedly he was worried that Lord Tywin may end up influencing the boy to a darker path but when he learned that Tywin was grooming him to rule Casterly Rock. Stannis allowed it. For a Baratheon ruling the Westerlands he would need to learn the tricks of the trade. Plus it would give him insight on the region if it ever grew rebellious.
However this war seemed to bring about Tywin's infamous ruthlessness in Roland. He had heard from the Knights he assigned to guard Roland that the boy had come up with rather brutal methods of punishing dissidents in his ranks. Usually rapists were punished by castration, But it seemed Roland would not suffer such people to even live. He also intended to destroy the Ironborn entirely, something that even Stannis believed should have been done the last time Balon rebelled. Stannis didn't know how the war would end but one thing was for sure Roland would not be the same young boy he once was, if he survived this that is.
Paxter Redwyne wrapped his cloak tighter as the cold bit through his clothes. It was a clear message to the commander of the Redwyne Fleet that Winter was slowly approaching. Paxter was uneasy about today, a fog had descended upon the fleet and visibility poor. So he made sure the fleet was on high alert.
Sitting in his cabin Paxter reflected on his choice to join the Blacks. The decision to pledge himself to the Black Prince was not one he made lightly, nor was it a popular one. But then again none of the kings seem to be a popular decision.
The Lannisters ruled in all but name and none of them were people he wanted to work with. Tywin wanted absolute power, Jaime was a Kingslayer, Cersei was a scheming bitch and her eldest son was a vile creature. From what his sons had told him Joffrey threw a tantrum over the mildest perceived slight and abused his younger siblings.
Paxter wasn't blind to reality, Renly was handsome and charming and looked kingly. But he was a puppet king anyway one looked at it. The way he handled his whole campaign if you could call it that was a testament to his arrogance and foolishness. He had 100,000 men and did absolutely nothing with it. He could have ended the war within weeks but instead he chose to twiddle his thumbs and march his host at a snail's pace. He ignored the advice of his commanders at every turn. He wasted time, money and food on hosting a pointless tourney every time they stopped. Then came the fact that Renly was a sword swallower according to his sons, which only made his marriage to Margaery Tyrell a brittle union. So he decided to simply give Roland a written letter of allegiance and set a number a ships to the Narrow Sea in order to buy time.
When Renly was defeated and killed at the Kingswood, Paxter was finally able to make a final decision to commit himself fully to the Blacks. So now the choice was between a spoiled boy and a boy that seemed at least reasonable enough. It was as his aunt had said they should have stayed out of this, but now they were knee deep in the pudding. Paxter simply chose a different pudding one that was black instead of red. Besides, it didn't hurt for a family to play both sides of the war. Should Roland win, an outcome that wasn't unlikely. He could use his influence to vouch for his family."
Thus far it had worked out well enough for him, he had only committed a small portion of his merchant fleet, and lost fewer ships as a result. The only action he had to undertake was the capture of the shield islands, which would be used for a staging ground for capturing Highgarden in the future.
With the destruction of the Joffrey's fleet at the Blackwater, the defeat of the Shield Island fleet and the Raid on Gulltown Harbor. Joffrey's sea power had been severely depleted. In their desperate need for a fleet the Lannisters allied themselves with the Greyjoys. Resentment for the ironborn was still fresh in the minds of the Reachmen. So it further convinced Paxter that fighting for King Roland was the right choice.
Now it seems the war would come to him. With their new alliance it was likely the Greyjoys and Lannisters will strike at the Arbor. Thanks King Roland's raven Paxter was able to prepare for this. He had assembled half of his fleet, 100 ships, and were now lying in wait north of the Shield Islands. They were reinforced by the 40 ships they had captured during the Battle of the Shield Islands. The ships were arranged in a battle line 20 ships across and 6 ships deep. Every ship was fully manned and every man fully equipped. All that was left to do now was wait. The remaining half was under Desmond Redwyne guarding the path into Oldtown. Following Roland's orders, Paxter's mercantile fleet would serve to evacuate the Arbor should they be defeated. Roland warned him that the new king was a dangerous man but Ironborn arent exactly know for their brilliant tactics, how devious can this one be be.
As he continued his musings, a loud crash struck the ARBOR QUEEN, shaking the ship and nearly causing Paxter to tumble to the floor. Rushing out on deck, sword in hand, he came out just in time to see a barrage of fireballs piercing through the fog and descending upon his fleet.
Several ships had been hit, their masts splintered and hulls ruptured. The rest raised anchor and Paxter could see the faint silhouettes of ships coming out of the fog. A few became dozens then a hundred. 'Longships', Paxter growled, there was no mistaking it, the Ironborn had come.
Paxter gave the order to raise anchor and prepare for battle. As the war drums beat the crew took positions. Sails unfurled as the Redwyne fleet charged forward intending to smash the enemy ships to splinters. As Paxter's fleet was bearing down upon them, The longships reversed oars and started rowing in the same direction as the Redwyne fleet, preventing themselves from being rammed. Strangely the Longships seemed to be rowing at a slower pace, despite the fact the Longships could sail effectively on both ends.
Paxter snarled, "bloody cravens," They hit from the fog and flee from a fight?" But the longer he thought about it the more he realized something was wrong. "Since when do Ironmen retreat from a fight at Sea?"
"MY LORD!" the lookout shouted. "sails to the South." Paxter turned to see another forest of sails rowing fast towards their rear. It was in that moment that the ironborn ships in front of them switched back from retreating to charging forward. Paxtor realized they his fleet was going to be caught in a pincer movement. Being in the open ocean meant that the Ironborn had an advantage. Most were able to avoid getting smashed by the rams of Paxter's galleys.
One on one an Ironborn Longship would stand no chance against Redwyne war galleys as they were meant for raids not battle. But the longships had maneuverability and more importantly numbers. Captains formed packs of four to overwhelm a single galley. They latched on with grappling claws.
Out of the corner of his eye Paxter saw a fireball crash onto the ARBOR QUEEN'S poop deck destroying Paxtor's cabin. Paxter turned to see a volley of fireballs hurling towards them striking the Redwyne fleet in it's left flank. As this happened, a third fleet of large ships bearing down on them from the west. These were no mere longships, Paxter noted. They were three times larger and armed with rams. "The Iron Fleet," Paxter realized. The cream of the Iron Islands sea power, charged their exposed flank at ramming speed.
The Iron Fleet focused on the galleys left untouched by the longships, each vessel singling out a target for themselves. Their rams piercing their prey like a harpoon through a whale. As the Rams held the stricken ships in place grappling hooks and ramps were latched on as the raiders swarmed the enemy ships
The standard longships were no match for war galleys, but the ships of the Iron Fleet were another matter. Being purpose built warships, meant that they could take on a war galley single handed. While they weren't as heavily armed they made up for this being crewed entirely by hardened, vicious warriors meaning that every one of those ships was not to be underestimated.
Paxter used his years of experience at sea to expertly maneuver his ships along the maze of clashing vessels smashing longships wherever he found them. The ARBOR QUEEN was able to sink a fifth longship when it encountered one of the iron fleet boarding a Shield Island Galley. Seeing the opportunity. The ARBOR QUEEN charged ahead and smashed into the enemy vessel. His men swarmed aboard to aid the stricken ship. Fighting both crews at once, the ironmen found themselves overwhelmed. and soon the Iron Fleet Longship was set ablaze. With their own vessels sinking, the crew of the shield island vessel rushed aboard the ARBOR QUEEN.
Unfortunately their relief was short lived as a projectile from a spitfire hit the mainmast of the ARBOR QUEEN. the mast shattered and sent flaming splinters raining down upon the shocked crew. Paxter turned to see the source of the fireball and saw a large Longship bearing down on them, it's ram gleaming and poised for the kill. "REVERSE THE SHIP!" Paxter yelled frantically but it was too late. The ram of the ship pierced the ARBOR QUEEN on the port side. As it was now close enough a corvus fixed on the bow of the ship dropped. As it did a war cry could be heard.
The corvus landed on an unfortunate sailor and standing at the end of it was a monstrous man wielding a kraken shaped battle axe. He wore chainmail and full plate armour, his cloak was gold and fixed to look like the arms of a kraken. and on his helm was the ornate design of a kraken.
"Victarion Greyjoy," Paxter thought, it had been nearly ten years since he last saw the Lord Captain of the Iron fleet. That was back when Paxter and Stannis defeated him at Fair Isle. Yet it seemed that the years had not changed him.
"COME ON!" He roared, "KILL ME IF YOU CAN!"
The more foolish men charged the lone Ironborn only for him to swing his axe sending one man flying one way and the second one another. He bashed the third with his shield sending him backwards before he brought his axe down on his head. 'He is still as strong and fearsome as ever,' Paxter thought as he felt his sword hand shake. Following his lead the rest of the raiders crossed the corvus leaping on to the deck of the stricken galleass.
Paxter's men were well trained and as per his orders appropriately armoured in plate. Their numbers were bolstered by the crew of the now sunken Shield island Galley. But Victarion's men were all seasoned warriors. For most ships there was a divide between sailors and warriors but for the ironborn their sailors WERE warriors. This meant that even though The ARBOR QUEEN had twice the men as the Longship, the enemy ship had more warriors. His Guards Could hold their own, but the rest of his crew, the Ironborn would have no trouble killing. Paxter found his soldiers being slowly pushed back by the vicious horde of ironborn. Victarion already had a dozen dead at his feet as he fought his way through the deck. He knew that he stood no chance against the Lord Captain but he also knew he couldn't just stand there while his men died. Clutching his shield and drawing his sword Paxter advanced.
Several raiders noticed and rushed him. The first came with his axe aimed in a downward strike. Paxter blocked it with his shield and thrusted his sword under his shield and into the man's belly. He kicked the raider down and turned just in time to parry another raider fixed on his torso. He bashed the second raider with his shield and opened up his throat.
Paxter manage to kill two more raiders before the iron captain roared a command. "LEAVE HIM, HE'S MINE." The other raiders backed away clearing a path for their captain. Victarion advanced quickly, Paxter, more cautiously. The iron captain brought his axe down on Paxter's shield, Paxter tried to strike with his sword but his opponent easily swatted it away with his own shield. He pried his axe free and Paxter noticed a large notch where the axe had struck.
The clash of the captains was a lengthy one, Paxter was able to hold his own against his battle hardened opponent but he was beginning to tire while the iron Captain seemed as fresh as ever. Victarion brought his axe down again and again and again, Paxter blocked each blow with his shield yet each strike was like being hit with a boulder and Paxter could feel the bones in his arm rattle from the power of each strike. Paxter saw an opening and tried to strike but Victarion saw this and caught Paxter's arm inside the beard of his axe. Paxter tried to pull his arm away but was not quick enough as Victarion twisted the handle of his axe which twisted the arm with it. The sharp pain caused Paxter to drop his sword as Victarion released him. Sticking his axe on the deck, Victarion then grabbed Paxter's shield and began pulling him around until Paxter released his grip on his best protection. Victarion smirked and tossed the shield overboard before retrieving his axe.
Paxter was able to use the spare moment to pick up his sword. But by now hw knew the battle was lost, all around him his fleet was sunk or taken and his own odds of survival were grim. Still if he was going to die then he might as well take as many of them as he could with him. Looking around he saw a raider watching the match with his guard down. Acting like he was focused on Victarion Paxter suddenly lunged to the side buryng his blade into the man's face, another raider charged in a rage and Paxter plunged his word into his gut. But as he did he felt a shock of pain in his side. He looked to see Victarion's axe buried in his hip. His leg gave way and he crumpled to the deck. before he could acknowledge what was happening he felt a metal hand wrap around his neck and lift him up into the air. Paxter struggled in the grip as it dragged him along and threw him overboard.
Paxter landed on something hard and wooden a piece of ship debris. But he barely registered the pain. All he could think about was his failure. With his fleet broken, nothing would stand between the Ironborn and his beloved home island. The Arbor would be taken, that much was a given now. he could only hope that his family was able to flee to friendly waters and the protection of Lord Stannis and the Royal Fleet.
As he drifted in and out of consciousness, he saw several things. His beloved ARBOR QUEEN burning, and the IRON VICTORY sailing away with the rest of the fleet towards the Shield Islands. The last thing Paxter saw was a pearl maiden with outstretched arms and no mouth gliding above him. Then...Darkness.