Part 1 – A Boar, the Stag, and a Host of Eagles
Robert gazed through the low brush at the bottom of the rise and spotted the warthog eyeing him warily from the entrance to its jealously guarded den. He hefted his boar spear, feeling the solid weight of it in his large hands and smiled to himself. "Watch how I do this Lumpy; spear his chest when he comes charging, then hold him off while he bleeds his life away struggling to get close to me with his sharp tusks." The King laughed. "Not that your puny Lannister arms could hold the beast back. This one would tear you open from your puny cock to yer maidenly tits." Robert laughed again, giddy at his own invincibility. He felt strong, the fiery warmth in his belly whispered it so to him, letting him know he was the mighty stag, tough as when he shattered the damned Targaryen rapist at the Trident.
He picked up a rock and threw it. On a bounce it struck the brute's muzzle. The animal grunted, and scuffled its front hooves in challenge at the large, portly intruder.
"It won't be a minute more before he charges. I'll be thirsty when I'm done Lumpy. Be sure to have another skin of that special wine ready for me."
"Yes your Grace," muttered Robert's squishy noodle of a squire, Lancel Lannister, whose most compelling attribute as being first cousin to Robert's bitch of a wife.
The bear sized man stomped the ground and gave a challenging shout. The boar snorted in return, then in a blink started its rush forward at the two legged challenger to his domain. When scarce a quarter of the distance was covered by the razorback, six deer in obvious flight sprang over the top of the small hill and angled between the two combatants, interrupting their deadly dance.
The boar slowed at the intrusion, but kept coming. The respite allowed Robert to realize his reaction was slow in dropping his spear, but now it lay just right as the monster launched its chest straight on to steel point of his spear. The man grunted from the momentum of two hundred pounds of impact, but never relaxed his grip for an instant. The boar kept fighting forward, desperate to reach and tear at him, 'til its chest pushed up against the lugs at the base of the blade and could no longer advance.
'Gods! It feels grand to be alive!' Robert thought to himself, muscles straining as he smelled the reek of the brute's breath; the scent of salty blood draining out from the puncture in its sweaty hide.
"Uhm, your Grace!" near shouted an agitated Lancel Lannister.
"What is it!?" roared Robert Baratheon, undisputed Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, angry at the unwelcome interruption to his perfect moment. "It better be good, or I'll send you to the Wall regardless of your stinking precious Lannister blood."
"Vi .. vi … visitors your Grace."
The large man gripped his spear tighter, the beast was weakening, but no need to be foolish, before he turned his head to look at his hapless squire. "Where pimple face?!"
Lancel's arm limply rose to point up the small knoll from whence the deer had come. "Th .. there, your Grace."
The Great Baratheon Stag shoved back at the dying beast on his spear; the action of which caused the boar to lose its legs under itself. Robert used the temporary lull in the struggle to pivot himself, as well as the two hundred pounds of near bleed out boar, so his whole body faced toward the top of the rise. He saw six … no seven … no eight men wearing odd garb.
"How dare you intrude on your King!" he thundered up at them. "Explain yourself!"
The words he heard come from their mouths seemed gibberish, but he did shrewdly note that all carried slings in their hands and short blades in their belts.
In a reasonable tone of voice, the barrel chested, and barrel bellied, man commanded, "Lumpy, go find Ser Barristan. They may be bandits."
"Ye .. ye .. yes your Grace," Lancel whispered, promptly backing away at a fast shuffle, before turning and running off through the Kingswood crying "Help! The King! Help! Bandits!"
Ser Barristan Selmy heard the frantic calls and was mounted, leading two guides and three guards on horseback, before Lancel ever saw them.
"What is it Lancel!" shouted the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
"There are bandits, come upon the King. He had the boar upon his spear when they appeared. He sent me to get you."
"Where Lancel? Where?"
"Uhm," the yellow haired young man pondered, turning around to survey the general direction from which he'd come running. "I think … maybe that way." And he pointed vaguely back through the trees. "Over the other side of the stream."
Ser Barristan shook his head once in disgust at the boy, then turned to the lead guide. "Follow his tracks back, and at faster than a trot. If a horse falls, ignore it and keep moving, we must protect the King!"
Off the six mounted men went, leaving the foot bound Lancel behind in their dust. Within five minutes he heard voices, at which point Ser Barristan layed spurs to his horse and burst into the lead, drawing his long sword, but for naught.
"Hoy there Ser Barristan!" came the King's jolly voice. "So that worthless Pimple found you after all. Good for him. I often wonder if the fool can even find his own cock when goes to the middens."
The King turned back to the eight men surrounding him and gave a placating gesture. "Now where was I? Oh yes. Now see," and he layed both hands on either arm of the one holding a very bloody boar spear, "when the brute charges you need to get the blade lower." And the King's strength pushed the stranger's arm down enough the spear came to a charge receiving position. "See?" he grunted.
The stranger responded in a language that sounded to Ser Barristan vaguely like something spoken in the Free Cities.
"Thirsty work," uttered the King. "Hey, Polites, pass the wineskin." And the King pantomimed tilting his head back and drinking.
The eight men chuckled and one surrendered the skin to the King; just like the infuriating man to make friends out of potential enemies, thought Barristan as he dismounted while his five companions trotted on to the scene. "I don't think these are common bandits, your Grace."
"Nor I," he responded. "Best I can make out from their twisted tongue there's a large group of them about in the Kingswood. Lost. These are just one of many patrols sent out to find where they are. What say we go and meet them!"
Barristan shook his head in wonder at it all. "Your Grace, is that wise? We don't even know who they are."
"They call themselves 'Ronams,' or some such. Come, it will be fun."
As the third rest break of the afternoon ended, Ser Barristan mounted his horse heading west, deeper into the Kingswood, away from the Roseroad. He had spent most of the past ten minutes talking with the senior Miles from the strange group of travelers, a smart young man named 'Polites'.
He watched as the King swayed his imposing bulk in the saddle while maneuvering his even more immense destrier toward him. "I think we are no more than an hour's march from their camp," the royal highness declared.
"That is what I understand as well, your Grace."
"What else have you sussed Barristan? You're the only one who seems to make hide or hair of this Free Cities gibberish they speak."
"I think it perhaps close to old Valyrian, though they call it Greek; one of many languages they know."
The King laughed. "Perhaps we should drag Pycelle's old carcass away from his tower of birds to translate for us then."
"If my understanding is correct, we may need an army of help."
The King's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Tell me more."
"These men," and the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard gestured towards their new companions, "are only hired auxiliaries, light troops, foreigners, hired out to the main army, the Romans, at the encampment ahead."
"The unit names are strange and their counting is positively archaic, but I think over five thousand."
Robert Baratheon let out a whistle. "If it's true, that's as big as any Sellsword Company I've heard of, except for those Golden Blackfyre bastards; and more than twice the men I have in the Gold Cloaks."
"Second thoughts about riding into the wolf's lair?"
The King puffed out his chest, and scowled as he responded with a simple, "Bah, I'll bring them to heel," then he rode off to take station a-pace the lead marcher, weaving through the forested terrain.
Ser Barristan's well schooled face revealed nothing, while his mind uttered, 'mindless, drunken ox.'
A half turmae of Gauls, Lingones on horses, riding close patrol, came upon them. Polites watched the barbarians for a reaction and saw none from either the fat, boar slaying Basileus or the old Stratigos in white. He couldn't decide whether this revealed them as extremely brave or exceptionally foolish. He then wondered if they were not the royalty they claimed to be, though their fine jewelry and quality of weapons marked them as at least wealthy nobles, with a few retainers, still savages, of course.
After brief words with the chief hayseed of the riders, two of the Lingones had almost immediately ridden ahead and soon the echo of the buccinator ringing the calls of 'attention', 'visitors' sounded through the woods.
Polites heard the scuffle of hooves changing pace and turned to watch the old Stratigos, currently riding near the spare mount carrying the boar, nudge his horse in Polites' direction. When he arrived near him, the white cloaked man smiled down and asked in Greek worse than a mountain Thracian's, "Your camp? Soon?"
"Yes." 'And praise the gods for that,' he thought, 'I'm getting hungry.' The notion of food made him point back at the spare mount, and ask, "Would you reward a portion of your Basileus' boar to my Contubernium for bringing you to the castra?" 'Though the damn Latin Optio commanding the gate will likely demand a share, Roman thieves always taking from civilized man.'
The old warrior clearly didn't understand the question and rattled off something about the Basileus saying the boy not a centaur and can walk home. Polites kept the same stupid smile on his face he used for Latin officers and nodded his head in agreement at whatever the man said, which ended soon enough when they entered the clearing holding the castra. The strangers sucked in near simultaneous breaths at seeing it. Now he saw a reaction.
"Two days?" the old Stratigos asked, pointing at the ditch and staked wall before them. "You build all?"
Not wanting to admit how much he tried to shirk each night's fortification work, leaving it to the cobble booted Legionnaires to carry most of that weight, he simply smiled widely and held up a single finger. "One night. Day we march. Night we dig. Every day. Every night," he responded in Greek so simple a baby could understand.
The smile in his soul widened as he heard the Stratigos explain with evident discomfort to the fat man, causing a dyspeptic look to overtake his fleshy face.
"Truly? They build one of these at the end of every day's march?" asked the King, not bothering to hide the sour look which had replaced his initial expression of shocked surprise.
"In the simplest words, so Polites explained, your Grace," responded the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
Robert Baratheon turned his eye to appraise the senior guide of his strange, new companions. He might not understand many of the words these visitors spewed, however he could read the body language of warriors with the best of them. Polites' face hid it well, but he saw the residue of an I'm better than you smirk a clever man at arms might try to conceal from a stupid sergeant. Anger threatened to bubble up within him that any man might think him no better than some dim watch leader. Thankfully the importance of the moment cut through the pleasant wine induced haze he usually allowed himself to wander in and released the man who knew enough about war to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.
"That would be a ball breaker to crack into, wouldn't it Ser Barristan?" called the King.
"Yes, your Grace."
"Probably holds more than five thousand of 'em too. What do you think?"
He watched as Ser Selmy took several moments to scan the two earthen walls they were approaching and make his own expert calculations. "Perhaps as much as twice as many, my King," finally came his answer.
Robert nodded his head grimly in agreement. "I'd need to call out most of the Stormlands Lords to rout these bastards out of their hive."
"And while the host gathered, they would undoubtedly fortify even further," added the Lord Commander.
"Yes, yes they would," he agreed, scanning the walls of the fort and taking notice of workers already improving the strength of the corners. "Busy as bees they are. Very dangerous."
"What shall you do then, your Grace?"
A large smile spread upon Robert's face, "Why find out which flowers they find sweet and offer enough of them to induce the bees out of their hive without getting stung." He then chuckled appreciatively at the wit of his own words.
When they reached the gate in the nearest wall, a man wearing a helmet and upper body armor made of stripped bands of steel stepped forward. Robert heard words exchanged between the gate keeper and Polites in some gobbledygook different than the bastardized Free Cities Valyrian he'd heard earlier. The gate keeper tried his best, as most jumped up over self opinionated junior officers do, to keep a disinterested look on his face, but Robert noted when the word "Rex" was spoken, the man shot him a quick glance and became involved.
Soon the horse escort of about a dozen, and what good would they be in a battle Robert wondered, as they didn't even have stirrups, trailed away from the fort and two sets of eight soldiers, dressed similar to the gate keeper, lined up to escort them inside the fort. The junior turd keeper also seemed to want to dismiss all the slingers who'd first found him with the boar, but Polites kept nodding no and touching himself while repeating several words, including "Greek."
Robert pushed his horse forward, leaned over, and clamped a hand on Polites' shoulder. "The boy comes with us," he declared in a tone of authority while gazing hard at the lead little shit. The gatekeeper's resistance broke apart faster than a fart in the wind, and he gestured for the rearranged group, including Polites, to proceed ahead. Robert refrained from laughing at the man, and simply gave him a warm smile.
Once through the gates, another surprise greeted the King of the Seven Kingdoms. "By the Warrior," Robert breathed aloud. "What unnatural manner of men are these Barristan?" The entire layout of the interior of the fort was in a nearly perfect grid.