Ned had been thinking of a time before Lyanna ran away with the Crown Prince, before Brandon and father’s deaths, and before him ever seeing battle. He shivered as he remembered killing three men and capturing two in the Battle of Rosby. War was… was different then he imagined. He always saw it as glorious and if it was for a good cause you would never fall. But in reality, it was dirty, bloody, and the chances of survival was sometimes not even reliant on your skill with a sword.
He sent a quick prayer that Lyanna and Benjen were as far from the fighting as possible, safe in that damn tower in Dorne and Winterfell. At that moment Martyn Cassel stuck his head into Ned’s tent. “It’s time milord,” he departed as quick as his face appeared. Ned sighed as he rose and buckled his sword belt. Martyn calling him my lord would always be uncomfortable, he still looked for father some days.
He fell into step beside Howland Reed as they walked to the enormous black pavilion. Inside that pavilion held the large slab of wood that Rhaegar had led war meetings at. Before Ned entered, he looked behind him at the silhouette of the Red Keep in the distance shrouded in clouds, one more day, he sighed. The war will be over, and I can see Lya again. The guards bedecked in black and red finery held open the flaps for them to enter. It was stuffy inside to Ned with at least ten braziers burning to ward off the dusk spring chill, and from the sheer number of lords and knights inside the great pavilion. There was more than two score of lords and knights from all over the Seven Kingdoms, except the iron Islands.
Lord Tywin and his westerland lords stood on one side. Robert and the few men of appropriate honors left to him stood near a corner solemn and acrimonious, Jon and his heir Denys and Yohn Royce not far from Robert. Hoster and the Blackfish next to Jon, with a few of his men, and finally Lord Hightower next to Lord Tywin. At the head of the table sat his good-brother Rhaegar flanked by his loyal allies, friends, and two Kingsguard, Ser Lewyn and Ser Barristan the Bold.
Ned found his northmen near the Tullys. He took his spot between the Greatjon and Wyman Manderly, Robert took notice. “AH, NED!” he called loudly. “So good of you to join us, we are about to begin to go over the strategy for tomorrow.” Robert smiled at him, but Ned couldn’t help but notice his eyes weren’t, Ned smiled back though. He knew how being rejected hurts, but to not only partially rebel for someone then learn they never wanted you anyway is heartbreaking. Howland says Robert is not taking the news well, but the Greatjon says he is fine drinking and whoring. No matter what Ned made his decision, and if this brings less bloodshed then so be it. But didn’t make it feel any better to him.
“Now that all of our commanders are here, we can begin,” Rhaegar stood and nodded at Richard Lonmouth, who subsequently unfurled a map of King’s Landing. “Our top priorities are the hostages in the Red Keep. My father is mad and won’t hurt hesitate to do something.”
Ned heard Robert and his cousin Ser Ronnal mumble something and chuckle. But Rhaegar paid little to it. Jon Arryn stepped forward, “Our scouts have counted the men Aerys has left,” he places a finger on the Red Keep. “He has left two hundred loyal men-at-arms and knights there. In the city he has ten thousand men under Randyll Tarly, five thousand men under several crownlands left after the Battle of Rosby, and at least nine thousand more men of sundry locations and sellswords and gold cloaks.”
“I guess we ought to be glad of Lord Tyrell’s cowardice,” one lord said. “He sends only ten thousand of his thirty thousand force. How many men does he need for one meager castle?”
Robert growls across the table. “Storm’s End is not meager and can repel sieges of much greater scale.”
“Certainly,” the lord looks dubious. “Although at the moment the castle has no strategic value.”
“No Strategic value,” Robert exclaims furiously. “Bring your sword Lord Endymion I’ll show you who has no strategic value.”
For a moment the stormlanders and a few westerlanders were looked like they might come to blows. He nodded to his lords in case they needed to separate the lords.
“My lords, please,” Rhaegar said exasperated but with steel in his voice. “Our enemy is a mad man not ourselves.”
“Ormund sit down,” Tywin calmly ordered as he stared Robert down. Ned was going to talk to Robert but Ronnal beat him to it, whispering about how one lord was not worth it. Ned bit down feelings of jealousy. Ever since Rhaegar rode hard to meet him and Jon north of the Trident and tell his side with witnesses, his version only backed up Benjen’s pleas and cries, and he believed him, making him the mortar that brought Robert’s Rebels and Royalist forces. Now Robert has been distant and short with him. Ned tried to act like he didn’t care but couldn’t, he does mis his brother in all but blood. But then who knew how many would die if Rhaegar and Robert fought, then fought Aerys? Thousands, Ned imagined. And Lyanna, knowing what he knew now, if Aerys or Robert won would she be safe, would his nephew?
“I’m sure no one meant any harm,” Ned said diplomatically. “This whole situation has been precarious and stressful. We are overthrowing our king.” Ormund Endymion sat down but Robert remained standing.
“Forgive me boy, but Lord Endymion’s questions do have merit,” Jon said as Robert and stormlanders glared. “Too far south to reinforce King’s Landing, and with all our strength here, it does seem like cowardice. But even at this moment another force from Lord Tyrell could be marching north.”
“That is why the crossing will be watched,” Rhaegar eyed Lord Endymion. “As expert lighthouse watchers, you and your men will be situated there. Your 900 men and hundred knights should be sufficient to hold a crossing and alert our main forces.”
Lord Ormund paled at that but knelt like it was an honor. “Me and my men shall serve faithfully.” And be dead by day’s end. A thousand men would have no chance if Tyrell and a quarter of his force marched up the Kingsroad.
“You should prepare Lord Endymion,” Lord Tywin remarked but silently glared at Rhaegar. Pale-faced and shaking in anger Ormund swept from the pavilion. Ned knew the Endymions were proud, they had lesser Valyrian blood, the first Lord Endymion was a household knight on Dragonstone descended of a captain of one of Aenar’s ships. He married a distant Lannister, raised a keep on the Sunset Sea, and had if the legends are true fathered fifty daughters. There their wealth grew, with many strategic marriages and finding a mine. At one-point Ormund’s father was so proud he openly mocked Tywin’s father… till Castamere.
Prince Rhaegar continued as if nothing happened, in his silent commanding demeanor. “We out number them. Over thirty-two thousand men should be able to overwhelm their twenty-four thousand men. But to be sure, me and Ser Barristan made this plan.” He picked up a wonderfully carved trout painted blue and red. “Lord Tully, you and your five thousand men will strike the River Gate and essentially help Lord Endymion should Lord Tyrell march or a sortie comes from the King’s Gate.” Now he picked a glossy black stag, “Cousin…”
“Don’t call me that,” Robert interjected, Rhaegar gave a solemn nod.
“Lord Baratheon, I want you and your twenty-five hundred men to hit the Iron Gate hard and fast.” Robert nodded. With a golden lion he placed it at the Lion’s Gate. “Tywin, your eleven thousand men is to break this gate and capture the walls.” He put the dragon, direwolf, falcon, and sun at another gate. “We will send the crux of our forces at the Gate of the Gods. My knights and dornish skirmishers shall harry the defenders, then Lord Stark will come forward when whoever opens the gates to attack. Arryn you will command our rear. Once our battle begins at the Gate of the Gods, it shall fall to you to signal the other attacks, and to reinforce the other attacks or me and Lord Stark.
“We shall spread them far and wide. After I break through, me and Lord Stark shall retake the Red Keep while Lord Tywin secures the walls, and everyone will crush any other resistance.” He took a breath. “And please the citizens have done nothing be gentle. Any questions?”
“What shall the signal be your highness,” the Blackfish asks. “The city is too large for torch or banner signaling. Maybe trumpets as well.”
“You are right Ser Brynden,” he looked surprised he forgot. “Does anyone have any suggestions?”
“A flaming arrow could work,” mused the Blackfish, “Riders,” Lord Pellaeon remarked, “Horns,” some Frey said.
All good suggestions he supposed but they could work. Riders might alert defenders of the plan. But the best one came from a boy, about Benjen’s age. Small and lean with sun-streaked sandy-brown hair, freckles, and pale purple eyes. “The bells ring when under siege. Once the attack begins the bells will ring.”
Ned smiled at the boy and he blushed. “That’s a good idea. Wait a few moments after the bells ring to strike,” Ned said. Rhaegar nodded.
“That’s the plan.” He stood up. “Prepare your men. Dismissed.”
Ned went to talk to Robert after telling his lords to inform and prepare the men. But Ser Kevan was there first and they left together. That’s… queer. He had never seen Robert interact with a Lannister of his own volition before. He was about to leave when Rhaegar called him. And gestured to a chair. “Sers the door, if you will.” Ser Lewyn and Ser Barristan did not hesitate. “Aeryk some wine please.”
The wisp of the boy from earlier filled two chalices and handed one to him. “Thank you, Aeryk…” he started.
“Targaryen, my lord.” He provided.
“I see thank you,” he said trying to remember his family trees. Aeryk left soon after.
“Don’t think too hard goodbrother,” Rhaegar chuckled.
“Is he your cousin?” Knowing Rhaegar had an uncle not much older than him.
“Yes, the son of the lord of Sable Lake.”
That name was familiar, a Targaryen hunting lodge on the remains of Whitewalls. Recently it grew to a large castle due to the Butterwell’s fall from grace and the takeover of their lands and incomes. Sable Lake’s lords (the king) took over the cattle lands and left the vineyards to the knightly house of Butterwell. “I must confess I have not studied my genealogies at my maester’s knee in a while.”
He waved a hand. “It’s no matter. Prince Aelor is my mother’s and father’s younger brother. Truth told he is only eight years older than me and is more like an older brother that uncle.” He sipped the wine that amusingly was a Butterwell vintage. “He married a Santagar and angered my brother and Lord Tywin, but he served as master of laws for most of his life. But in his madness my father dismissed him, only allowing him and his sons and granddaughter to leave. Leaving his wife and daughter with my wife.” Then added, “Elia.” As if Ned could not deduce that, but a question was on his tongue.
“Granddaughter,” he pondered. “Does Aeryk have an older brother.” Could explain the shyness and blush he knew all to well.
“No,” he smiled mischievously and leaned in. “My uncle only has three children Aeryk, Maegon, and Maegelle.” He looked at the flap. “It’s Aeryk’s.”
Ned almost choked on his wine. “What?”
“He’s a little different, but is not fond of whores, or women in general. But two years ago, he and some fellow squires snuck away and entered a brothel-ale house. He was mocked and betted against he couldn’t have sex. He did and nine moons later Aelora was born.”
Ned was laughing against his wishes. “I couldn’t imagine.”
“No. It was hard for me too. My own father thought it was hysterical, only he wasn’t laughing at the situation, but at Aelor. Aeryk was humiliated and so irate since he hasn’t even held her.” He looked melancholic again. “Now I couldn’t imagine not holding Rhaenys or Aegon, or my unborn child.”
“The war will be over soon,” he provided comfortingly. “Then we can all hold our children again.” They sat in silence, sipping wine. Then Rhaegar raised his eyes, joy gone.
“Watch out for Robert,” he cut into the silence.
“Robert? Gods, what has he done now,” he japed a little, but something pulled at him from Rhaegar’s tone.
“Him and Tywin are planning something.”
Was he going mad as well? “I can recall Tywin and Robert talking on hand a few times and I can have fingers left to grasp a sword still,” he said. “Robert hates Tywin, he told me numerous times.” He felt a coil of anger in his belly at his accusations.
“The whole Endymion scene was a test. Tywin was probing Robert’s bitterness.” They looked each other in the eye. His sad, Ned’s angry. “I’m not telling you to betray him. Just… watch him and Tywin. And don’t be surprised by anything.”
Ned didn’t respond but finished the wine and took his leave for sleep. He dreamed of adventures in the Eyrie with Robert, travelling valleys and mountains. Snowballs drifting in the air collapsing snow forts he and his siblings would build in the godswood at Winterfell.
To Ned, the sun rose to fast, but he got up all the same. He washed his face, ate some mashed oats and some pulled meat slowly. Dawned his armor mechanically, when he mounted up, he learned from Ser Yohn and Martyn Cassel that the Tullys, Robert, and Tywin had already departed for their posts. He ordered, and the Greatjon bellowed them louder, for his men to get into formation to march, and had Martyn Cassel blow his horn. Two answered in response, behind his foster-father and in front his good brother. As Rhaegar’s men and dornishmen started, he nervously spurred his horse into a trot and followed the Targaryen banners listlessly.
Soon the walls came into sight without leave, with the smell. Ned grunted, as the gate opened after the dornishman had annoyed them for an adequate enough time. The bells rang and had been for some time now. The dornish skirmishers raced back into the line on Rhaegar’s left. His host came into position on the prince’s right and prepared themselves.
He glanced behind him and saw Jon had put his footmen behind his heavy cavalry, and on the flanks two groups of a mix of light and heavy cavalry to break off in any direction at a moment’s notice. He ordered his commanders to get the men in formation of archer, horse, foot. He prayed to the old gods as the archers came forward.
This is it. The final battle and then I can see Lyanna, his nephew, Benjen, Catelyn again, and meet his newborn son. I must survive, he thought as he fastened his helm and drew his sword. Glad he left Ice at home, this way he can hold a shield as well. I wasn’t trained to wield a greatsword. A huntsman banner led out knights bedecked in glory Reach banners flapping behind, with their foot close behind, and some gold cloaks. The crownlanders and sellswords must be somewhere else. As fear enveloped him, horns from the walls blew frantically. The host stopped hesitantly as the men leading the huntsmen banner and the red apple banner rode back behind the walls. Everyone was anxious, even the horses whickered and bucked. Although he was nervous too, he knew the defenders had just realized four gates are being attacked instead of one. The red apple Fossoway knight returned and ordered his knights to charge.
“Looks like this apple is overripe,” Greatjon barked. A few laughed, but he nodded, and a direwolf banner waved twice. He heard Beron Glover, “NOCK! DRAW! LOOSE!” Arrows flew towards the lines. Not as many as he hoped but a good open volley. Rhaegar’s archers and skirmishers had more an affect coming at two new angles.
The knights reached the halfway point. “Pellaeon! Manderly! Form up!” He lowered his visor, he waved at his bannerman. Soon the archers created enough space for the cavalry to ride through. They galloped past as the Greatjon and his men pounded their shields in tandem as a sendoff. Soon Ned was as well. Simultaneously without word, him, Manderly knights, and Lord Aenar Pellaeon, the Old Warhorse’s lancers sped down the field. Ned’s heart thumped in tandem with his horses’ hooves, blood rushed in his ears blocking all sound, he gripped his sword with sweaty hands. Sweat ran down his back. The Pellaeon lancers on their ensorcelled horse breeds left him with the Manderly knights and northern cavalry in the dust, whooping. Ahead a line of knights galloping towards them.
He watched fascinated and terrified as they came together in a mass of horseflesh and steel a second before him. A second was all he needed as his horse jumped over a dying horse. His first foe was a man in an Oakheart surcoat with two arrows in him. He charged Ned madly, but Ned was still in full speed and was faster, meeting his overhead slash, parrying, letting him attack. But he blocked with his shield, then Ned cut at the exposed flesh between helm and gorget.
Then two men approached him, but one was ridden down by a Rosby knight suddenly, the other continued his attack on Ned. This knight with a blue wavy bend on a golden field was way better than the Oakheart knight. He had no shield but a heavy greatsword and yelled, “STARK,” each time he attacked. That was his downfall. Ned parried a heavy-up ward slash he saw coming from watching the knight’s mouth. Moved his horse deftly around him. In one slash cut off the knight’s leg and wounded one of his horse’s hind legs. He left the man sobbing in the mud.
He came upon the Old Warhorse fighting off three men, Ned soon joined. Surprising the attackers, slashing and blocking. When the last fell, he and Aenar saw that Rhaegar had hit the Loyalist host on their left flank and Jon on their right, and that his host’s foot had joined the chaos. Ned and Aenar gathered men for another charge this time into the foot. They formed a great hole, and gained precious momentum, but it didn’t last. A great commander the red apple Fossoway was, spearmen stopped the push and began to push back the lines.
Ned feared all was lost when his horse took a spear to the neck. Ned expertly jumped the saddle before he could lose a leg, remembering practices with Robert in the Vale at the hands of Jon’s master-at-arms. As he rose on tired and shaky legs, he saw they had come to close to the walls and were now being butchered by the defenders’ arrows. To him it was chaos, blood splashed in his face, men shouting in panic or eagerness, and he hazily watched a Velaryon man be cut down.
He recovered in enough time to bring his tattered shield against the Velaryon man’s bane, a Florent knight. The sheer blow whacked him down into the mud. His hand was deep in the mud, but his leg was free. It wasn’t honorable. But survival usually wasn’t. He kicked out in full strength with his steel plate boot and kicked in the knight’s knee. His knee bent unnaturally, and he screamed loudly. Giving Ned enough time to rise and finish him.
When he pulled his sword from the knight’s neck, horns blared and sounds of surprise filled his ears. He glanced up, Vale foot were in the midst now and lions banner were rising like the sun all along the walls like dawn. Tywin finally did it. The walls were theirs now, and soon the city. The sun was high in the sky when the city’s defenders retreated. Greatjon had the northmen form up around them as the crownlanders captured or killed the stragglers fleeing. He was given a horse to ride into the city befit his station.
The courtyard of the Gate of the Gods was full of men moving bodies into piles, men reforming and others relaxing. He found Rhaegar ahorse staring at the Red Keep, he reined up beside him.
“Tywin encountered the least resistance, but Tully was surrounded. Six thousand men at the River Gate and Tyrell sent another five thousand men up the Kingsroad,” he took a flask from Aeryk.
“Is Lord Hoster still alive?” He feared for his wife’s father. He was good man but very ambitious, maybe to ambitious.
“Yes. Lord Endymion slowed Lord Bulwer down but was overwhelmed, but Lannister men were swarming the walls by the time Bulwer hit Lord Hoster’s flank.”
Ned sighed, if Lord Hoster fell it would not only be bad for his wife, but the heir to Riverrun was naught but a boy. “Any word from Robert? Soon we can surround the Red Keep.”
Rhaegar’s lips pursed. “No. I wouldn’t worry about Robert; Tarly has reformed his shattered host in Cobbler’s Square.” Wasn’t he just worried about Robert last night, maybe he realizes Robert is a warrior, not one for machinations? Ned shakes that thought out of head.
“Lord Flint,” he called to the man drinking heavily from a flask. “Take some men and scale the walls, send word to Robert- “
Screams interrupted his words. Men were pointing, and Aeryk was calling for Rhaegar. Rhaegar was pale. When Ned saw why he was too, the Prince’s Tower of Maegor’s Holdfast was aflame. Princess Elia’s quarters. The black stag waving from the tower was punch in the gut. Watch Tywin and Robert…