One hundred thousand men had been a miscount.
“You’re sure?” I asked Bronn in a low tone.
“Aye.” He confirmed with a nod.
Bronn, Joqo and I sat in our usual command centre tent, going over maps, as well as possible tactics we’d need to employ to deal with the threat.
“You’re absolutely sure these numbers are real?” I asked again, frowning as I checked over the map, my mind whirring with the new information. “Misinformation is part of war, after all. They could have simply changed formations to trick whoever was counting.”
“They could have.” The up-jumped general of my forces conceded, though it seemed forced. “But, I’m not so sure they’d waste that much effort on it- especially when they’re already so close.”
I nodded, accepting as much. “Where could they have gotten so many?”
“No idea.” Bronn shrugged, before giving me a pointed look. “Our side’s startin’ to look like the losing one.”
I frowned, feeling annoyed. A hundred thousand men had been enough to really scare me, but fifty thousand more?
I wasn’t even sure how I was supposed to react to that.
“I have Hestia.” I said quietly, checking the map. “They can’t attack us from the northwest, unless they take the long way around- which wouldn’t work for the kind of speed a plan like theirs will need.”
“They don’t really need any tactics, though.” Bronn pointed out. “All they really need to do is throw their armies, horse, elephant, priests and all at us- and we’ll break, fast.”
“Khal Harry has dragon.” Joqo interjected. “They cannot resist.”
“How did a dragon do last time against the Red Priests?” Bronn countered. “The Queen’s dragons are too young to be useful, they could still be easily killed with normal spears.”
Here, he turned to me. “Hestia will do better, but the fire could be useless if they’re ready for it.”
And, of course they’d be ready for it. I thought. Likely, they felt my defeat of the Keeper. Who knows how they’ll have reacted. Their army is a hundred fifty thousand strong, but they could’ve sacrificed many more in preparation.
I stared at Erebus as Joqo and Bronn engaged in new arguments. The sword laid on the table, unmoving.
“You’ve done well to bring me this information. You two should go and prepare the troops.” I nodded, dismissing Bronn and Joqo.
The two frowned at me, but obeyed, leaving the tent quickly.
“-things I do for castles…” Was the last thing I heard Bronn say as he left. I’d have laughed if the situation hadn’t been so serious.
I sighed again, turning my attention to Erebus. “This will be tricky.”
“We’re down to around thirty thousand men.” Erebus began as I placed the sheath at my waist, quietly walking through the encampment. “Two thousand of which are still recovering from the injuries taken in the Keeper’s rampage.”
“And Daenerys’ army is slightly more.” I nodded, frowning. “Though they’re having issues with assassinations, now. Some disgruntled group on the inside.”
A cry came from above. I turned my gaze upwards just in time for Hestia to land in front of me. §Father!§
§Hestia.§ I hissed in greeting, affectionately patting the great winged lizard on the head and nodding towards the coiled snake around her body, as well. “Balthazar.”
“Hello.” Balthazar greeted, uncoiling himself from the she-dragon and slithering towards me, quickly merging himself with my arm. I shuddered slightly as I felt his power link with mine, the sound of scales clicking into place filling my ears for a few moments.
“What news?” I asked as Hestia fell in step with me.
“Daenerys’ dragons won’t be very useful.” Balthazar explained. “Their breath attacks are fairly low level, their scales won’t withstand much- they’re just too young. If it were a much smaller army, they would probably thrive. With these numbers, however…”
My blood ran cold. “Don’t tell me you went to scout them.”
§No, Father!§ Hestia denied immediately. §But we did listen to Auntie Daenerys’ spies reporting from Volantis.§
“Her spies.” I said slowly, ignoring the ‘Auntie Daenerys’ remark. “And what did they say?”
“Two hundred thousand men.” Balthazar replied without preamble.
“What.” I stopped. “There’s more? Where are they getting all of them from?”
“Unsure.” Balthazar replied. “The report doesn’t say. Likely, the spy isn’t very high up to ask questions. I would assume it’s more slaves from the Summer Isles, maybe more troops from Lys, or other Free Cities.”
I winced, remembering a time where I thought something like that could never happen. “This just keeps getting better and better.”
“This has the added effect of delaying their full on assault.” Balthazar added quickly. “So, there’s that.”
I nodded slowly. “They have the numbers, but we’ve got the advantage of magic.”
“An advantage somewhat mitigated by their Red Priests- moreover, the closer that army gets, the less of an advantage we have.” Erebus chided. “We need to strike while they are still in the process of formation.”
“Agreed.” I said, staring down at the sword in question as we approached the trenches the troops were mostly done digging up, with sharpened sticks planted to take care of any cavalry who may attack.
I’d have to come here in a few hours to enchant the remainder of the sticks to be unbreakable. It obviously wasn’t a perfect defense- they could still be burnt, torn out of the ground, what have you- but it would do well on its own right.
The Unsullied continued to practice their drills, while the Dothraki simply stayed active, engaging in their now beloved contests to stave off the boredom felt in the annoyingly long wait.
I couldn’t blame them.
§Hestia.§ I hissed, getting the dragon’s attention. §Could you fly us somewhere with a little more privacy?§
§Yes, father!§ She chirped, lowering her shoulder so I could have easy access. A powerful flap of the wings, and we were off. A few minutes later, she deposited me in a familiar looking oasis- though it wasn’t empty.
“Lord Potter.” Daenerys Targaryen was sitting on the grass, surrounded by her three children and holding a ball of red flame in her hands.
It reminded me of Jon’s early days with his own magic. “Queen Daenerys. I see you’ve improved with your control over magic.”
“I’d always thought that my family’s claim of being dragons was exaggerated.” Daenerys spoke as she made the flame dance around her in circles, before snuffing it out with a snap of the finger. “Just as Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons and many others refer to themselves as the animal they represent- I thought our family did the same. A gesture to show an acceptance of the customs of the Seven Kingdoms.”
I nodded, not really knowing what to say. It was a subject I hadn’t truly delved into, though it was pretty interesting. “The Stark family members each have a direwolf as a companion, now.”
I didn’t talk about Jon’s fire, or Bran’s abilities.
“Truly?” Daenerys gave me an interested look. “Perhaps this is heralding a new age, of sorts. It’s possible the other families will begin truly reflecting their house banners.”
For a moment, I imagined Tyrion commanding a pride of lions. I’m sure he’d love something like that.
“Maybe.” I shook off the thoughts and focused on the matter. “Two hundred thousand men.”
Daenerys nodded, giving a sidelong glance towards Hestia, who was now lightly tapping her tail against Rhaegal’s nose. The annoyed dragon snapped at it, but didn’t really resist. He was probably scared of the much larger she-dragon.
“Yes.” Daenerys nodded, motioning for me to sit near her, her hair fluttering slightly in the breeze.
I did. “We’re outnumbered more than two to one. Blocked by sea, blocked by land, and blocked by the river, as well.”
There was a slight nervousness to her voice, betraying what she truly felt.
“I’ll admit, they have the upper hand.” I didn’t try to lie to her. “We’re both still recovering from… what happened.”
She nodded, frowning at the memory.
“But, I’ve already had my army building defenses.” I added quickly, not wanting to dwell on our previous fight. “They won’t have an easy time of it. I also don’t plan on just sitting here, twiddling my thumbs while I wait for them to come.”
This time, she looked at me, her purple eyes narrowed in confusion and… Was that concern? “You plan on engaging their army on their terms?”
“Oh, no.” I shook my head at the very thought. “That would be suicide.”
As powerful as I believed myself to be, I knew my own limits. My magic worked most effectively in a support role, like building quick bridges, or ambush tactics, like the time I forced the occupants of the Twins to abandon their castle with a smoke bomb.
My mind settled on the time I’d burned Harrenhal down, but that had been a very specific situation. With its high castle walls, the place had been a death trap waiting to happen. The walls kept the heat inside, which cooked all of the people hiding behind them.
In an open field, I rather doubted that I would be able to take on the entire army. Knowing that Hestia was nowhere near the recorded size of her father, Balerion, and knowing my own limits as a fighter- even with Balthazar and Erebus empowering me- I knew that I wouldn’t win a fight of this magnitude.
Lightning Dragonslayer Magic powered me up several times over, to be sure. Being able to blast people left, right and center with my magic also made me a formidable foe in my own right- but I did not have the sort of stamina required to fight that long and hard.
At best, if I was fresh, I’d be able to kill ten thousand men head-on, if I were to be very generous with myself. There was no way I’d destroy an army of that size. They’d simply wear me down and force me to retreat, using the time to lay waste to my allies as I recovered.
She nodded, the tenseness of her muscles fading slightly. “What is your plan, then, Lord Potter?”
She was still so distantly polite.
“Two hundred thousand men is a very large army.” I said slowly. “They increase their intimidation factor, as well as their sheer destructive force several times over.”
Daenerys nodded, not really knowing where I was going with this.
“But if there’s one thing I know about large crowds of people.” I continued, eyes darkening in remembrance. “It’s that they’re stupid and prone to quick, fear-driven responses.”
“You plan to frighten them?” Daenerys seemed dubious.
I quirked my lips at that, but nodded.
“How?” Daenerys seemed interested as she leaned closer to me. She was so close that I could smell her perfume- floral, and unfamiliar.
I ignored it, patting Erebus slightly. “Show her what you can do.”
Daenerys blinked, turning her attention down to the sword. She’d never explicitly asked about Erebus, but I could tell that she was full of questions.
“Prepare yourself, Daenerys Targaryen.” The sword rattled in its sheath as I placed it upon the ground.
She sent me an uncertain stare, before, suddenly, the air around us turned cold. I heard the crack of frost as the creek began to freeze, the grass we sat on becoming uncomfortably cold as it iced over under Erebus’ power.
Hestia, Drogon, Viseryon and Rhaegal yelped and leapt into the air, away from us in response.
Daenerys shivered and backed away, eyes wide in sudden anguish and fear as she tried and failed to summon her flames. “How are you doing that?”
“Erebus.” I called, ignoring the memories of my mother with a practiced tug of my emotions. “I think she gets the idea.”
Immediately, the aura of fear and cold receded. Daenerys and I let out the breaths we’d been holding in, fogging the air in front of us slightly.
Hestia immediately came back, pressing her head onto my lap. §Th-that was scary, father!§
I frowned, remembering the Keeper having had a similar effect on Hestia, before. I gently patted her head as the heat of the Sun seeped back into our bodies.
The three remaining dragons came back, settling around Daenerys. Drogon threw his head back and let a few gouts of fire, further warming us up.
“That was…” Daenerys said with a pained look in her eyes, her body still slightly trembling. “Overwhelming.”
I wondered what memories the dementor effect brought up in her.
“Yes.” I nodded, taking a deep breath. “Erebus, here, will attack the armies in the middle of the night.”
“Thus breaking the armies’ spirits.” Daenerys nodded in understanding, taking deep breaths as well. “A few nights’ exposure, and they shall pose much less of a threat, despite their number advantage.”
“Of course, over such a large area, it will not have the same effect as now.” Erebus made sure to say. “Also, with the presence of Red Priests, they may be able to counteract my actions, to a point.”
“Be that as it may.” Daenerys slowly said, her expression lightening as she was finally able to summon her fire again. “Your help is much appreciated, Lord Erebus.”
“Glad to see someone here treating me with the respect I deserve.” Erebus sniped at me.
I snorted. Daenerys said nothing, but the rise of her eyebrows showed that she was mildly amused.
“While Erebus attacks the encamped armies to the west, I will assault the ones to the east, the ones sent by Qarth.” I continued the conversation.
Daenerys frowned, shaking her head as she pushed away Hestia’s teasing tail. “Meereen can withstand an attack from the east. Qarth’s forces are limited in comparison to the armies raised to the west and the south. While Lord Erebus is engaging the enemy to the west, I would find it prudent to engage the army to the south, as well as the fleet in Slaver’s Bay.”
I pursed my lips as I considered her statement, before nodding. “You know the people here better than I do. I’ll trust your judgment.”
For a moment, she gave a slight smile, so slight I almost didn’t notice it.
“So, the southern army and the fleet.” I nodded. “My own army is encamped south, so that’s not much of an issue, but the fleet will be able to destroy the defenses with trebuchets… The fleet will have to be taken down first.”
“Very well.” Daenerys said, turning her head to me. “When do you plan on attacking?”
I considered her question. “Tonight. I’ll set my army up- the Unsullied will face the western side, while the bulk of the Dothraki will be ready to attack the army to the south, with their mobility allowing them to reinforce the west and the east- if it’s even needed.”
“My forces will be on the eastern side, but your assistance is welcome.” She said diplomatically. “I will leave the fleet to you.”
“With luck, we’ll make it through the next few days.” I said, leaning back onto Hestia. I wished, not for the first time, that I had Jon and Robb’s support here. This was going to be my first foray into strategy all on my lonesome. Before, I had access to their advisors and tacticians, and the armies we faced did not reach such ridiculous numbers. There was no foreign magic, either- the shadow assassins sent by the mysterious red priest not included.
I shook my nervousness off as I made to stand. There was no time for this.
“I should get started.” I stood slowly, not really wanting to leave. “The more time they have to prepare for us, the less chance we have at pulling this off.”
Daenerys stood as well, a displeased expression on her face- she was probably as afraid as I was. “Very well, Lord Potter. I wish you good fortune in the battle to come.”
“I wish the same, for you, Queen Daenerys.” I extended my hand to her.
She stared at it for the longest moment, before taking it in her own. I felt a shiver go through my body as we touched, but ignored the feeling and shook her hand, noting she had a similar reaction.
Letting go, I turned away from her, knelt to grab Erebus, and hissed a few words at Hestia.
As Hestia and I took off, I gave Daenerys one final look, wondering if this would be the last time I saw her.
The western army was much closer than we thought- a forced march, from the looks of it. This couldn’t be more perfect, exhausted soldiers being forced to face off against Erebus’ might.
Being on Hestia’s camouflaged back gave me a great view of the camp. It seemed to be well-stocked and maintained. A quick use of Homenum Revelio showed that they numbered well over a hundred thousand.
This was the bulk of the army. I nodded to myself, gripping the sword handle and pulling it out of its sheath. “Ready?”
I felt the blade shiver in excitement. “The soldiers themselves obviously can’t hurt you, but you should be on the watch for Valyrian steel, just in case.”
“Noted.” Was Erebus’ reply.
I nodded, noting the locations of several large bonfires. “The only other possible threat is the Red Priests, but I trust in the power of your mental shields. If the Keeper couldn’t assume control, then I don’t think anything will.”
Erebus didn’t reply. I took his silence as agreement.
“All right.” I said, lifting the sword high in the air. “You have my permission to cut loose. When you’re done for the night, come back to me.”
With that, I dropped the sword, and watched as the black blade froze in mid-air, enshrouding itself in a sphere of dark power. The creature that exited was familiar to me- it was Erebus’ demonic form which I faced in Temen-Ni-Gru, all those months ago.
A monstrous, skeletal figure, wearing darkness like a shroud. It snarled up at me, before turning its attention to its victims below. I nudged Hestia to fly away, ignoring the immense feeling of hopelessness and despair that began to permeate in the air.
§It’s okay, little one.§ I reassured Hestia with a gentle rub at the back of her neck. §Erebus won’t hurt us.§
§I know, father.§ Hestia hissed back, sounding distressed. §But, you don’t understand how intense this feeling is for me.§
As a creature of magic, it was probably very bad for her. I thought, wondering how bad this would be when we’d have to face off against the Others, in the future. If it was this bad out here in the desert, then it was bound to be worse in the middle of the snow.
§Here.§ I pulled my wand out and cast a warming charm, its power increased with Balthazar’s help. §Is that better, little one?§
The charm seemed to do the trick, as Hestia’s flight became smoother. §Much!§
§Glad to hear it.§ I replied. §Now, let’s go. We don’t have much time to do this.§
Under the cover of darkness, and with Hestia’s skill of invisibility, we flew for the next half hour, reaching the Slaver’s Bay and scouring the sea for the blockading fleet. Within ten minutes, we spotted the first ship, and then another, and another.
It was a massive fleet, arranged in such a way that covered all avenues of entry and escape from Meereen, all in the hopes of denying it the supplies they would have required, if it weren’t for my ability to enlarge foodstuffs.
Naharis’ face when I enlarged a sack of potatoes was one for the books.
Shaking the thought off, I turned my attention to the fleet below me. §Hestia. Are you ready? We can go over the plan one more time, if you like.§
§It’s fine, father. I’m ready.§ Was all she said. Erebus had more of an effect on her than I’d thought.
§All right.§ I nodded, getting up on her back and psyching myself up.
§We do this fast and hard.§ Balthazar said. §On three. One…§
§Two.§ Hestia hissed, her entire body tensing as she stopped her invisibility.
“Three!” I leapt off the dragon-ness’ back, activating Air Raid with a thought and diving towards one of the boats.
“Maximum armor.” The feeling of the cold wind blasting my body disappeared as Balthazar’s scales covered my entire body, his new control over fire making me pleasantly warm.
There was a commotion on the ship- they noticed me. Before they could even ask themselves what exactly it was they were looking at, I’d already pointed my hand at them, dousing the ship’s mast and sails with a fiery, napalm-like substance.
There was immediate panic as I landed in their midst. Those closest to me turned tail and ran, jumping overboard as soon as they laid eyes on me.
A few dared to try to fight, attacking me with swords, and knives. After my training with Barristan, I realized I didn’t even need to use my Lightning, easily dodging their clumsy moves and turning their own weapons against them- if a little awkwardly, thanks to not having a sword this time around.
The final attacker came forth, a scimitar in his hands. I dodged a few of his desperate swings, before pushing past his guard and striking his wrist with enough strength to crack the bone.
With a cry, he dropped the weapon and fell to his knees, cradling his hand. I picked the weapon up and decapitated the downed fighter. I adjusted my grip slightly, giving the scimitar a few test swings.
I grimaced: it was of poor quality, but it would have to do.
Turning my attention to the right, I watched as Hestia flew in low, dousing one of the ships in her flames before moving off, dodging spears and arrows as they came to her.
I nodded to myself and began to engage the other ships, glad that she was following the plan to the letter.
And so it went for the next twenty minutes. Hestia would do fly-bys and I would board a ship, set fire to its mast and sails, and battle its crew before moving onto another.
I was breathing hard by the thirtieth minute, having dealt with no less than thirty ships and their crews, with over a hundred left to take care of.
And that’s when things went wrong.
A baleful, monstrous sound hit me- a thousand screams and one, reaching past my armor, past my body, past my brain and into my soul, searing it with white merciless, white hot knives.
I faltered mid-flight, bodily tearing through one of the ships’ masts and quickly falling onto the deck. I crashed through the floor and impacted against the floor underneath, hard.
But that pain was nothing in comparison to the one from before.
“What the hell was that!?” Balthazar was as shaken as I was as I slowly picked myself up, ignoring the panicked voices of the crew.
I took stock of myself, bringing my breathing under control. “I don’t know, but it felt just like the Cruciatus curse.”
I looked around, not seeing the sword I’d stolen anywhere. Likely, I’d dropped it during the moment of confusion. I made to move again, worryingly noting the slight tremble in my arm.
“Nerve damage.” I resisted the urge to growl as I moved to the ship’s deck, ready to fight off the crew.
Except, they weren’t even looking at me. The enemy crew members were standing on the right side of the ship, pointing towards something in the distance. It was Hestia- roaring and bucking in the middle of the air, harshly flailing as she descended onto one of the ships.
The horrible sound came once more, forcing the crew members to drop to their knees, crying out in what seemed to be sheer debilitating pain.
I flooded my body with Lightning, which allowed me to withstand the assault, and to keep my eyes open, watching in shock as Hestia immediately stopped her struggle and subserviently lowered her shoulder for the man standing beside her.
What the hell is going on?
“Who is that!?” I snarled, re-activating my Air Raid and taking to the air.
“The sails, Harry.” Balthazar said as we approached the ship Hestia had fallen on. “That’s a Greyjoy ship.”
I absorbed that comment and landed on said ship, carefully watching Hestia. I narrowed my eyes at the man sitting atop her- pale, with black hair and a dark beard. I would have called him handsome, if not for the eyepatch, as well as the ugly, insane look marring his face.
It was the sort of glee that I’d seen on Voldemort’s face after he’d come back to life: malicious, cruel intent.
“That sound.” I snarled taking an angry step forward. “That was you.”
The man only smiled in response, patting Hestia’s neck.
“Kill him.” His voice was dry, rough and menacing.
Hestia took a threatening step forward, before shaking her head in a mixture of pain and hesitation.
“I said…” His voice turned dangerous. “Kill him!”
The sound came back for a third time, though its effect was muted thanks to my Lightning. No, the true painful part was watching Hestia’s reaction to it.
‘You don’t understand how this feeling is for me,’ she’d said earlier. She was right.
Hestia thrashed madly, crying out in anguish, fear and pain. I snarled again, leaping off of the deck to try and push the man off of her back, but Hestia turned, smashing her tail into my body and sending me flying off the ship.
I mastered myself, ignoring the pain and activating Air Raid just before I fell into the murky waters beneath. With a flap, I headed towards the Greyjoy ship.
But Hestia had already leapt into action, flying high into the air and hatefully snarling down at me, her eyes showing none of the warmth, none of the life I was accustomed to.
Whatever the one-eyed man had done to her, it had subsumed her will and was forcing her to fight me. A wave of sadness hit me, though it quickly replaced with a burning anger.
“Hestia…” I said slowly, determinedly staring up into her mindless, baleful eyes. “I will fix this. I promise.”
Whoever this one-eyed man was, I was going to tear him apart.