Sidestep, downward block.
Backstep— holy! His movements were still ridiculously fast.
I upped the ante against my sparring partner, Lightning suffusing into my cells and heightening my speed and reaction times.
Electricity raced along my skin as I quickly shot past the much older man’s guard— and yet, he just as quickly backstepped and blocked my intended stab with his shield.
Before I knew it, I felt a smack against the side of my head, signaling the end of the duel.
I narrowed my eyes in a mix of determination and slight frustration. “I had you.”
“You almost did. There is a small moment, when you channel your power, where you show your vulnerability to attack.” Barristan Selmy replied as he slowly backed away from me, resuming his stance. “Another round?”
I nodded. “One more.”
It had been a few weeks since my impromptu meeting with Daenerys, and relations were, dare I say, improving between us.
She was still distantly polite, of course, but I had at least managed to gain a modicum of respect from the Queen.
I shook the thoughts off and assumed stance against the mighty Barristan Selmy.
Even with a wooden practice sword, he was an imposing opponent, his eyes unwavering and sharp.
“Do you ever initiate combat?” I asked as I circled him.
A chuckle. “I have found that, while I am still hale, I do not possess the sheer energy and impetuosity of youth.”
“Was that a polite way of saying I am reckless?” I replied, making a feint. He did not fall for it.
“In a way.” Barristan acknowledged. “Your movement and your technique are quite efficient, to be sure.”
There was a ‘but’ coming.
“You were taught well. But your teacher likely did not impress the lesson of patience onto you.” The old venerable knight finished.
He was right, of course. Jon was the sort to fight head on.
“Learning patience is moot when I know that you’ll never initiate.” I countered.
“That may well be the case.” Barristan laughed at that, sliding into a more aggressive stance. “I will attack you, then. Do your best to defend yourself without using your power, and I shall reciprocate.”
And then he rushed in, his practice sword resting atop his raised shield.
It was an attempt to either skewer or knock me down.
From his footing, I knew that he could adjust his trajectory to match my attempt to dodge.
Instead, I met his charge with my own, pushing against the shield, keeping my center of gravity lower, which allowed me to redirect his his momentum upward.
The man adjusted his movements and spun quickly to the right, his practice sword striking down as he moved away from me.
I blocked the surprising counter and got back to my feet, feeling a sting on my cheek.
“You have a good understanding of balance.” Barristan praised before gesturing with his sword at my face. “Your reaction time is impeccable, but your technique is still in need of improvement.”
He’d grazed me with the practice sword.
It must have been when I tried to block his downward strike, I realized.
I brushed my hand against my cheek, feeling the sting. “I’ll keep that in mind. Do you—”
“My Lord.” A person rushed into the practice area, flanked by two of my Dothraki. They nodded, showing that he wasn’t hostile.
The man bowed, before raising his gaze to meet mine.
“Her Grace the Queen Daenerys bids you to meet with her for dinner.” The man spoke, before bowing once more.
“Dinner, huh?” I turned to Barristan. “What’s on the menu?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea, my Lord Potter.” Barristan smiled beatifically. “I’m sure, whatever is served, will be to your liking.”
“Can I bring a few guests with me, messenger?” I asked.
“Certainly.” Was his reply.
I smiled. “Great. I should go get ready. Thanks for the message.”
“None are necessary. One is proud to serve.” The man replied before leaving.
I watched him go with a frown. I wondered how many times that answer was beaten into the poor fellow’s head, if he refused to accept even my gratitude.
I stared up at the sky, gauging the time of day and smiling up at the sight of Hestia, messing around with Drogon, Viseryon and Rhaegal while Balthazar was wrapped around her body. “There’s probably a few hours until dinner.”
“Two, perhaps three.” Barristan agreed, before turning to me. “Though, if I were in your position, I would arrive early, as a sign of respect.”
I absorbed his words before nodding, putting the training equipment to the side and grabbing Erebus. He didn’t greet me.
He’s probably going through his daily meditation and Occlumency practice. I realized.
“I’m still surprised that you abandoned your post in King’s Landing.” I commented as Barristan, too, took his own gear.
“I did not forsake my duties.” Barristan replied with a hint of steel.
“Then…” I said with an inquisitive gaze.
He gave me a look, before revealing the truth. “I was… released from service.”
From what I knew, a Kingsguard served for life. Why had he been dismissed?
“Cersei deemed me old and ineffective at defending either King Aerys or her husband Robert.” Barristan answered my unasked question, a look of annoyance on his face.
“…To be fair, only a few people would be effective against the Faceless Men.” I replied with a snort.
“The Faceless Men? Truly?” Barristan turned to me with a look of shock.
“I suppose Cersei would’ve wanted to keep the knowledge hidden.” I mused as we walked through my encampment, nodding at a few of the men and women under my rule.
I still found it amazing what a few months had done to their societal hierarchy.
Now that hunger and disease were no longer problems, the Dothraki under my rule had truly changed.
So had the Unsullied I’d been given, though they still bowed and scraped too much for my tastes. At least, they liked to take part in the sports.
I don’t think they had truly understood me when I said that they were free to do as they pleased.
Even after being here for ages, I still wasn’t wholly comfortable with the debasement of people. That was why I found Bronn to be a breath of fresh air.
We reached the spot in the encampment where I held a daily court- a small area with a tent to stave off the sun.
I took a seat upon my ‘throne’, a plain looking, but comfortable chair. I gestured for Barristan to sit.
He did so.
A Dothraki child came to us with water. I smiled, ruffled the kid’s hair and let her get on her way.
“They idolize you, you know.” Barristan commented with a knowing look. “Between your leadership, your magical prowess, and your defeat of that monstrous creature, I believe they will sing about you for many years.”
“I’m curious. What exactly were you told about the night the King died?” I changed the subject, uncomfortable with the idea of being raised as some kind of deity figure by the Dothraki.
Barristan sipped at his beverage, accepting the change in topic.
“I had been protecting the King’s children the night it happened.” Barristan started his tale. “The next day, Cersei Lannister had us all summoned to the throne room. She held a Royal Decree, which stated that she had been pardoned, and that her eldest son was to be King.”
“And the story behind Robert’s death?” I asked. “The ravens we’d received said that Lord Ned had betrayed the King and succumbed to his own injuries.”
“It is as you say.” Barristan said. “Cersei claimed that Lord Stark did not approve of the Royal Pardon, and so took his revenge.”
I suppressed the anger, having known it was something like that.
“What do you think?” I asked with a pointed look.
“It is not my place to—”
“Bullshit.” I cut him off. “You’re the epitome of what it means to be a knight- the Warrior himself imbues your weapons with power. I want to know what you think.”
Barristan hesitated, but replied. “… Lord Stark was a good, honorable man. He was what the realm sorely needed. He would never have betrayed Robert.”
“And Joffrey, what about him?” I changed the subject.
Here, Barristan’s face turned stony.
“He is as mad as Aerys was.” Barristan admitted. “His first act as King was to have his younger brother Tommen beaten by a member of the Kingsguard for daring to usurp his throne. Punishment, he called it. His own brother.”
“What a cunt.” Bronn’s voice cut in the conversation as he entered the tent and moved to stand by my side. “I’m sure he’ll get what’s comin’ to him.”
“One can hope. News does travel too slowly to know for sure what’s going on.” Barristan said.
“When I’d left, I knew we’d at the very least subdued the Westerlands.” I shared. “We had both Tyrion and Jaime Lannister to rule over the lands, while Tywin was our esteemed guest.”
Barristan grimaced at the mention of his previous fellow Kingsguard, but didn’t comment on the matter.
“I do wonder how my counterpart is faring.” Barristan made a subject change of his own.
Ah, yes. The ‘exchange’ as Daenerys had put it. A way to put both of our armies at ease. She would assign Barristan to my services, while Joqo went to her.
Regrettably, Pono, the khal who’d allied his forces to mine, had been one of the first people to breach the Red Temple, and suffer the wrath of the Keeper’s Landing— a name that’d stuck for some reason.
People loved naming events, I suppose.
“I’m sure it’ll suit his palate.” I sipped from my own cup.
A group of angry men and women came to us. I frowned.
They seemed to argue between themselves, before one exited the center of the group and moved towards me, kneeling.
“My Khal.” He greeted me.
“Be welcome.” I replied. “What seems to be the matter?”
“This one.” He pointed to another man, in his thirties by the look of it. “He stole my food.”
I blinked, stifling a sigh. It was going to be one of those, again. I had this kind of issue from time to time. No matter how much you tried to improve society, people just couldn’t help themselves.
It took a bit of doing, but I’d managed to settle the matter with all parties satisfied— well, except the thief.
He was on shit duty for the month.
“Nothin’ like shovelin’ shit and digging latrines to teach the man a lesson.” Bronn snorted.
“You could at least try to act like you’re my General.” I sighed, shooting the man a reproachful look.
“A General’s job is to win wars.” Bronn countered with. “Not prancing around and playing nice with the people. Killing people— now that’s my specialty.”
“So you like to remind me.”
“That I do.”
Barristan watched our exchange, a hint of amusement in his tone. A few more groups came, but the issues were petty, at best, and so were swiftly dealt with.
“I guess we’d better get ready for a nice dinner.” I began to say as an Unsullied soldier ran towards us.
I opened my mouth to speak, but took in his appearance. “Why does he look like he’s been running all day and night?”
“Because he probably has been.” Bronn concluded, approaching the lad in question and steadying him. “Up you go. Yes, this is one of the scouts I sent a few days ago.”
I sent a look to Bronn, surprised at the action, but I said nothing. No point in showing weakness to Barristan, after all.
“If he hurried all the way here, then whatever he has to say must not be good.” Erebus finally whispered to me.
I felt a little better. He’d finished his daily mental training. “Bring him something to drink.”
The same Dothraki girl rushed over, a few seconds later, a cup of water in her hands. The soldier gratefully took the proffered cup and drank heavily.
A few moments later, he breathed in contentment and began to speak.
“My Lord.” He spoke. “Four- no, three days ride to the west, there is an army.”
“An army?” I said in alarm, shifting in my seat.
Barristan stood abruptly, giving me a significant look.
“Tell me everything.”
“Yes, Lord.” The eunuch replied. “I counted over seventy thousand men before I had to make my escape.”
“Seventy thousand!” Barristan was in shock, before scratching at his chin. “From the West, you say?”
“Yes.” The soldier confirmed again.
“What banners did they fly?” I asked. “Do you know who’s leading the army?”
“Yes, Lord.” He replied and made to speak, but I interrupted him.
“One moment. Fetch us a map.” I spoke to one of the nearby guards. With a nod, he rushed out of the tent.
“Seventy thousand men.” I turned back to the scout. “Tell me who they are. Everything you know.”
“The banners, Lord.” He resumed. “Volantene banners. But there is more: I saw the banners of the Golden Company.”
“The Golden Company.” Barristan seemed dismayed at the very mention of them. “They are well armed, well trained, well fed, and honorable— as honorable as sellsword companies can get, when they’re not attempting to overthrow Targaryen Kings.”
“They have elephants, then.” I concluded. I’d heard of that company many times in my time here. They were the elite of the elite, and now an army of them was bearing down on us.
“Yes, Lord. I counted a hundred elephants.” The soldier confirmed as the guard came back, a map in his hands.
I pulled my wand out and conjured a table with a wave.
The man placed it along with some charcoal, having gotten over his fascination with my magic months ago, though he still looked at me with awe when he thought I wasn’t looking.
I would’ve been amused had the situation not been so serious.
The soldier approached the table, looked over the map and began to mark the spot where the army was last encamped.
They were probably following the Valyrian stone roads.
“How many days did it take you to ride back?” I asked calmly as Barristan and Bronn also approached.
“Four, Lord.” He replied dutifully. “But they must be three days away now.”
“Hmm.” I mused, looking over the distance between us and them. “Three and a half days ride, maybe. Even at top speed, forced marches just aren’t that fast.”
“Agreed.” Barristan nodded. “At a forced march, they could arrive as soon as a week from now.”
“But more likely to be a fortnight.” Bronn mused. “They’d have to set up supply lines, deal with the logistics of feeding the army, among other things. Discipline, cohesion, that sort of thing.”
“True. Though, supply lines in Essos are pretty easy to set up, considering the strong state of the Valyrian roads.” I nodded, turning to Bronn. “Start getting the men ready for war. I’m sure you know what to do.”
“Aye. Trenches, sticks, formations, trebuchets.” Bronn nodded. “But I’ll need more payment.”
I snorted. “Do this for me, and I’ll let you own half of the Twins.”
The land was useless to me. I couldn’t possibly need that much space.
Bronn looked at me in surprise. Likely, he’d expected more gold, or maybe even gems.
“Fighting the Keeper wiped out thousands of our men, and the rest are still not fully recovered.” I added. “The pay rises in accordance with the risk.”
“… Seems fair.” We shook hands on it, ignoring Barristan’s appalled gaze.
“I’ll be back to plan the defense effort. I leave this in your hands, for now.” I nodded and let go of his hand, watching him go out and begin barking orders.
The encampment became a flurry of action as Unsullied and Dothraki moved with purpose.
I turned to the only man left in the tent. “…I believe I have dinner to attend.”
“I will inform the Queen of the news.” Barristan replied, and we both exited the encampment, silently making our way to Meereen.
The pyramid city was less imposing, now. The Keeper had damaged more than just my people.
Its western walls were broken and melted, faintly reminding me of the damage I’d done to Harrenhal.
Workers had done their best to repair the structure, but it wouldn’t hold up to sustained fire.
I’d have to see what to do about that.
Like me, Barristan’s eyes were quickly assessing the city’s defenses and population. “This will be a hard fought battle.”
“Maybe.” I hedged. “Their numbers are a cause for concern, but not so much that my own army can’t withstand them.”
“I would not—”
“Yes, yes.” I cut him off. “Anything is possible in war, of course. But with a bit of planning, we’ll find a way to deal with this issue.”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up.” Daario Naharis made himself known as we reached the steps leading to the pyramid proper.
“So, you already know?” I asked, assuming he was informed.
“A fleet of ships don’t go unnoticed by us.” Daario nodded.
Barristan and I shared alarmed glances. Of course there was a fleet of ships.
“I see that you’re worried about something else.” Naharis accurately guessed from our reaction.
“Land troops to the west. Seventy thousand men, Volantis and the Golden Company.” I quickly said.
I hurried up the steps, ignoring the muttered ‘fuck’ that came from Naharis.
“This is worse than we thought.” Barristan said as we reached the throne room doors.
“You should go ahead of me.” I said as the two stationed guards opened the door for us. I looked around. “Nevermind, she’s not here.”
“Where is the Queen?” Barristan asked loudly, but before anyone could answer, someone joined our conversation.
“Right here, Ser Barristan.” A familiar voice spoke from behind us.
“Your Grace.” Barristan knelt in greeting.
“Rise, Ser Barristan.” Daenerys said softly, before her violet eyes settled on me.
“Khal Harry.” She greeted, eyeing me with a strained smile, four guards standing around her, with Mormont and her announcer- Missandei, I believe her name was- at her side.
“Queen Daenerys.” I returned. “I have urgent news to share.”
Daenerys eyed me for a moment, before turning away, her silvery hair flowing smoothly with her turn.
“Come. We shall talk while we eat.” She gestured as she moved away from the throne room. I followed.
Her Unsullied were tense, I noted. They were still leery of me after my altercation with them.
“Where is Joqo?” I asked curiously. “I thought he was with you.”
“Oh.” Daenerys seemed faintly amused. “He wished to share in the delights of Dothraki ‘contests’ with the few remaining Dothraki under my rule.”
“Right.” I said as we reached the dining room. “Of course.”
The room was the epitome of wasteful riches. Silver and gold was everywhere, from the plates, to the utensils.
Jewels were set into the chairs, made of rich wood and treated to show the grain and a dark shine.
To contrast the sheer splendour of the room, the meal was fairly simple. Cooked meats, bread and salt, some fruits and vegetables.
We all took our spots at the table.
I watched as Daenerys broke bread and salted it, handing it to me. For a moment, I felt like I was back in Westeros, with Jon and Robb.
As I gratefully took the bread and sat on a nearby chair, I wondered how the two were holding up.
They had a good army, the Westerlands had been subdued, and King’s Landing was basically screwed, due to having made enemies of the Tyrells, Baratheons, and Starks.
The Iron Islands launched attacks, but Theon had proved himself at Seagard- no doubt, he’d bathe himself in all the glory as he liberated the North from his own former countrymen’s clutches.
It was a hefty sacrifice, which Robb had acknowledged. To go against your own family for the sake of the betterment of society was nothing short of knightly, or so Robb said when he’d knighted the man.
“I’m afraid I only bring bad tidings, as well.” Daenerys spoke, after a few bites. I guessed she must have been very hungry to delay our conversation like this. “A large fleet has been sighted south of Meereen.”
“Are they from Volantis?” I asked immediately, wiping at my mouth and setting the rest of the bread down. I wasn’t all that hungry.
“Qarth and New Ghis.” She shook her head. “Lyseni, as well.”
“That’s…” I stopped and leaned back in the chair.
Daenerys merely nodded, keeping her composure. “More than two hundred ships.”
I huffed. “So the sea is blocked, too.”
She raised her eyebrow, her eyes inquisitive.
“I’ve been informed by a reliable scout that seventy thousand men march this way from the west. Men of Volantis and the Golden Company.” I explained, my normal attraction to the woman overshadowed by the threat we were about to face.
“I can confirm that what he says to be true, Your Grace.” Barristan added. “I was there.”
“I mean, if you really think about it, you could’ve staged this and they wouldn’t know.” Erebus mentally spoke to me.
I stifled an eye-roll. Welcome back.
“Combined, they probably number around a hundred thousand men.” Naharis mused.
Daenerys didn’t say anything to that, merely taking a bite out of her food. Then, she spoke. “How long before either the fleet or the army reach the city?”
She turned to Naharis, first. He had a mirthless smirk as he replied. “The fleet is a few day’s travel away. They have already set up a blockade, so we will not be receiving supplies.”
“Of course.” I said with a nod, having had the experience of warfare with Robb, already. “The army to the west is at least a week’s march, away. That’s if they go through a forced march.”
She absorbed the words as she wiped at her mouth. Her eyes were narrowed and calculating. “Options?”
“We have enough provisions to last a few months, but they’ll likely be setting up supply lines, as well as denying us further food deliveries by sea.” Mormont spoke. He hadn’t even so much as looked in my direction since the last time we’d fought.
“Not that we could last for long against them.” Naharis interjected. “With the breach in the wall, they may be able to focus their efforts there and break through what little repairs we’ve accomplished.”
I said nothing, leaning back in my chair. Erebus clattered in his sheath, silently agreeing with the flamboyant fellow.
“As loathe as I am to admit it.” Barristan said with a frown. “The Golden Company is a very disciplined army of sellswords. They will not be easy to defeat.”
“I’ve read the stories, and I’m aware of their reputation. I’m also aware of their enmity against any Targaryens. Even in his maddest days, my brother Viserys never sought them out.” Daenerys cut in, giving me a strange look as she tucked her hair behind her ear. “Khal Harry, you’ve not said much. Do you have anything to offer?”
I met her eyes, and lowered them to my food, before grabbing the piece of bread and taking a bite. “We’re effectively surrounded. If Qarth sent a fleet, it’s possible they’ll be sending an army on land from the east, as well.”
The group blinked at this. The Unsullied commander agreed and turned to his queen. “Very possible. I will send a scout to confirm.”
Daenerys nodded, and he went off to get started. She turned to me again. “Your army is encamped just outside the city.”
I opened my mouth, and shut it. Was she offering me refuge? I shook my head. Weeks after we’d fought, there was no way.
“Don’t worry, I won’t be moving them in your city again.” I said wryly, seeing her expression shift to something I couldn’t quite decipher. She mastered herself quickly.
“What do you plan to do?” Ser Barristan spoke up.
I turned to the man and smiled. “Their plan is fairly simple and straightforward. They’re going to surround us and starve us out. Considering the wall is in a sorry state, it wouldn’t take them long to do it- but, even if it were in good shape, I still wouldn’t stay. I’m not one for defensive strategies.”
“What will you do, then?” Color me surprised, but she almost looked concerned.
“I’m going to fight.” I said simply.
“Your army isn’t fully recovered.” Daenerys argued immediately. “They will break against a larger, better fed, and better organised force.”
“True.” And she was right. Even with my knowledge of healing magic and the strange boost this world gave me in that field, it was still not enough to fully heal the people under my care.
Only time would do that. There’s only so much that magic can do, after all.
That wasn’t even to mention the hit to morale that event had caused. True, I was even more idolized by the general masses of my people, but there were also many who had lost loved ones: husbands, wives, children, parents.
That sort of wound wasn’t something I could fix.
And, here I was, about to send them all into war for me.
Just what kind of man was I becoming?
I shook my head. There was no point saying something like. I would make sure that my army won decisively, and with the least amount of casualties.
Because I had a few things these armies did now. Magic, a dragon, and a sentient super-dementor.
“I still think the word dementor is stupid.” Erebus griped silently, as I sat back and listened to the leaders of Meereen try to figure out a viable strategy to deal with the encroaching enemies.
It would be a long dinner, I realized. Filled with tactics, politics, military matters, and very little relaxation.
Well, at least Daenerys was competent enough to realize she would need her people’s counsel on these matters.
Maybe we’re not all going to get horribly killed, this time. I thought.