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Trial By Combat

“Begin!”

We stood and assessed each other the way only a warrior knows how to do.

“You don’t have to do this.” I said slowly, almost pleadingly. “Just give up.”

Barristan bristled at these words.

“I am a knight!” He said vehemently. “To give up now would dishonor all that I stand for. No, young Harry Potter. I shall die a knight, if need be.”

Ser Barristan sprang into action, crossing the distance between us in a few short instants and thrust his long sword at my heart. It was a strike which would have ended the fight quickly, and efficiently— if I were any other man.

But the Lightning had already begun coursing through my body, energizing me greatly, increasing my strength, speed and reflexes fivefold.

I watched the thrust come in slowly before parrying his blow with the flat of Erebus’ blade and smashing my fist into his face, hitting him hard enough to send him reeling back.

Hopefully that display would teach him to— that was as far as my thought process went before my abdomen erupted in pain and I staggered back in unbridled surprise, clutching my wound tightly to stem off the blood flow.

Not that it did much, of course. I felt the hot, thick liquid pool on my hand splash lightly on the dirt floor beneath me, and swore under my breath.

The wound was not so deep that my entrails fell out, but deep enough that the blood was coming out at a worrying pace. I collected my power and forced it to hurt me as I cauterized the wound from the inside so no one would notice the light from my electricity.

I could have said I endured the pain with nothing but a grimace to show for it, but that would be a lie.

Have you ever tried burning yourself willingly?

I want you to stop for a moment and really think about it.

We have all had that moment when we grabbed a really hot tray without realizing it and only suffering mild burns from it because we pulled away quickly enough.

This is a bit like that— except I’m pushing my hand firmly against the hot tray and forcing it to remain there for far longer than a split second. I almost screamed and thrashed as I bowled over in pain, every muscle in my body clenched hard as the wound cauterized itself from the inside, stopping the blood from flowing out.

It was a quick fix, and I would certainly have to look it over with much better care, later.

I breathed hard and shakily, watching Ser Barristan get back up, a little dazed from my blow, and the rest of the crowd roaring in appreciation of the short, but devastating bout.

“How…” I ground out as I slowly removed my hand from the wound, wiping it against my pants to get the blood off.

When you sent him down.” Erebus thought to me. “He took a swipe at your abdomen as he fell. It was not a calculated move, or you would likely have died.”

So, what… A feint followed by a hastily conceived counter? If it were anyone other than me, I would have died from the blood loss. The man looked at me, a strange gleam in his eyes, as well as some respect in the fact that I had survived it.

I had underestimated the old man.

I made the most basic mistake of all.

I assumed the people here weren’t good at fighting. I’d thought they were all simpletons from a bygone age with no idea of how to even swing a sword properly. The only one that had come close was Jaime Lannister, but I showed everyone how weak he was.

But Barristan Selmy… He was on an entirely different level than even Jaime.

I let myself be fooled by his age and apparent easy counter— and he punished me for it.

“You still stand.” The old man commented, impressed despite himself, as he circled my form, his sword held in a defensive stance.

I took a sharp breath and mirrored his movements.

“I’m not that easy to put down.” I spoke, my voice wavering slightly from the pain. “My own fault anyway. I became overconfident.”

I knew that deadening my nerves would not do much for the wound. I couldn’t use Erebus with my left arm anymore, so I grasped the handle with my right hand and brandished the dark weapon at the old knight.

“That’s the only blow you’ll ever land on me.” I declared with a snarl, my fingers tightening around Erebus’ handle.

Selmy said nothing in return, gazing at me implacably, his blue eyes revealing nothing but his determination as he came at me once more, his sword all but dancing in a flurry of steel.

His sword sang in the air as I evaded each of his thrusts, swings, backswings, and feints, taking note of his fighting style and already deciphering his patterns of attack as I began to parry and block his strikes.

He was surprised— having most likely expected me to have lost all of my strength and speed after a wound like that.

Don’t get me wrong, it hurt like hell to just move, but now the adrenaline was flowing, giving me the rush of energy I needed to ignore the pain and finish him off. Still, there was no reason to be reckless— hence me analyzing his skillset.

His right hand diagonal swing would flow into a thrust, and then a horizontal swing from left to right, before he would back up. The telltale sign of him doing this was the very slight shifting of his feet at its start.

When he feints, his feet don’t move, even though he gives off the impression that he is moving. His thighs and waist appear to be moving, that’s how he gives off such an impression. It was a trick.

But I saw through it. I saw much more than this as I kept analyzing.

My speed and strength had been affected by the initial, surprise blow, but half of my strength is still many times faster and more powerful than he was.

Stronger than him and he almost killed you, I thought to myself as my resolve hardened and I formulated a plan of attack, channeling some power into Erebus.

A swordsman’s power was his sword, obviously.

And the way to beat a swordsman— I moved forward, past his thrust and slashed at the base of his sword, Erebus cutting cleanly through the metal before I bodily tackled the man, sending him flying backwards, a heap of limbs and meat in a metal cage— is to break his sword.

He tried to move, only to find that he was incapable of getting back up. He clutched at his leg, grunting in pain as he struggled to get up in vain. He stopped struggling and moved his gaze to me, understanding what was about to happen to him as I approached him, my dark blade gleaming in the light.

I stopped a few feet from him, and looked around. Everyone around us was watching the proceedings with bated breath. The Queen looked positively murderous. The King was impassive— didn’t he care about the fate of his wife?

Ned Stark also possessed a look of stone, but I knew he was most likely satisfied on the inside but probably respected the old knight too much to want him dead.

I gingerly rubbed at my stomach, the wound flaring in protest at my added pressure, making me grimace in pain.

“It was a good fight, Ser Barristan. I wished I could have fought you at your prime.” I said as I took a few more steps forward, lifting my blade high into the air.

“Are you sure you do not wish to yield?” I asked one final time, voice wavering.

“I will never yield.”

“Come on.” I coaxed. “You’ve lost. Queen Cersei is proven guilty.”

I ignored the woman in question’s angry struggling against her guards as I spoke. “There is no reason for you to die! Not for her.”

“I am old, lad…” Barristan sounded weary, and in that one moment, I could see the feeling in his eyes. Eyes haunted by long years of misery, sadness, and endless fighting. “I do not wish to perish of old age. I would die in battle if I can.”

“And you still might.” I said reassuringly. “But not against me.”

“No.”

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration, wondering how I could get him to give this battle up.

You could make him…” Erebus suggested.

Make him? I thought.

Use it. The spell of control. The Imperius Curse.” Erebus continued.

My blood ran cold.

Never. He used those spells. I would never fight like he does.

“Magic is magic, child.” Erebus chided. “It is the energy that surrounds us all. It can be used to kill, and it can be used to save lives.”

I remained quiet, gazing at the man, who was unyielding.

Your Roar can atomize a man without any effort.” Erebus said. “A sword can be used to take a life, but it can also be used to defend it, as well.”

But, to take his free will like this?

It’s only two words.” Erebus scoffed. “I don’t particularly care if you leave him living, or dead, but you seem to wish to keep him alive. I’m suggesting a viable option, here. As far as he’ll know, he had a sudden wish to live and fight another day. It’s not like you’ll keep casting it on him.”

Erebus was right. Fuck me, but he was right.

I sheathed Erebus, knelt down and extended my hand to Barristan, ignoring the gasps of shock around us. Ser Barristan himself looked shocked beyond words at the gesture of kindness.

With my right hand, I grabbed hold of my wand, keeping it in my pants pocket and pointing it at him.

“Come. Imperio.” I almost whispered.

Kindness indeed.

What would my parents think if they saw me, now?

“Say you yield.” I said in low tones. “And then grab my hand.”

“I…” He seemed to be struggling against the effects of the spell, which lent credence to what he was about to say. “I yield.”

And then he grabbed my hand, to the deafening cheers of the crowd around us. He shook his head as the spell wore off, and was speechless as I propped him up so he could breathe better.

“You’ll be all right, Ser Barristan.” I told the man as Maester Luwin came with a few men, who put him on a stretcher and carried him out. “Maester Luwin will make sure of it.”

“I— I—” He seemed confused as the men took him away as the Maester who was travelling with the King’s court approached to see to my own injuries.

“I’ll be fine.” I waved him off, already siphoning my own bodily energy to heal up the burnt inside of my wounds.

“You must rest.” The Maester insisted, trying to grab my hand and lead me elsewhere.

I roughly shoved him off, and he tripped and fell on his ass.

“My apologies.” I said insincerely, plastering on a fake smile. “But I’ll be perfectly all right.”

There were some angry mutters, but the Maester finally relented and left with an almost petulant glare sent my way.

I believe the Maester Luwin sent him a few smug looks when he pulled away Ser Barristan.” Erebus noted as I watched the old Maester walk away.

One of Luwin’s rivals when he was studying at the Citadel, I was guessing? I couldn’t think of anything else.

Didn’t know the bookworm had it in him. Heh.

Maester Luwin 1 – 0 Random Maester whose name I didn’t know.

“The Gods have made their will known.” King Robert cut through the cheering, and all went silent once more.

He looked at Cersei, who was now visibly struggling against the men holding her in place.

“Queen Cersei of Houses Baratheon and Lannister.” King Robert spoke strongly, and with a slight weariness when he said the name Lannister. “In the sights of Gods and men, you have been found guilty of attempting to murder Brandon Stark, son of the Warden and Lord Paramount of the North, Eddard Stark, by throwing him out of a window of an abandoned tower.”

“I, King Robert, the First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, will now declare your sentencing.” He said heavily.

“Your crime is severe— violating guest right by attempting to murder our host’s son. The fact that the family in question is a Great House of Westeros makes it all the worse.” Robert said as Cersei paled. “But I am not without mercy. You shall not lose your life.”

Before she could sigh in relief, he kept talking. “Instead, your left hand shall be taken. You are also to return to your home in Casterly Rock, in disgrace. Furthermore, I strip you of all rights as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. You are no longer the Queen, this I swear it before you all!”

Wow. I had figured life in prison, but this sounded pretty bad, as well.

I chanced a glance at the woman in question, whose eyes were now wide with extreme fear.

“My King, I protest!” Ser Jaime said strongly, but was silenced by a harsh glare from his King and the sudden movement of two of his Kingsguard, Blount and Trant if I remembered correctly.

“You can protest all you like, Kingslayer.” Robert retorted and nodded at his Kingsguard. They sheathed their swords. “But Cersei has sealed her fate by attempting to kill a child of the Lord Paramount of the North. She has disgraced herself, and by extension House Lannister and my own House, as well. If she were not my wife, I would have executed her this very day to avert war between the Kingdoms. This is a mercy.”

Jaime looked like he wanted to say something, but kept his mouth shut and backed away as both of the people from the King’s court and the Northerners muttered in agreement. If King Robert had tried to sweep this under the rug, there would have certainly been a war.

“Best we get the hand right now.” He said, sighing with weariness. “Have the Maester ready to treat the wound.”

“No, no, no…” Cersei sobbed as the men forcefully led her to a chopping block.

“Father.” Joffrey finally spoke, a hint of fear in his tone, but anger as well. “I can’t stand by and let my mother—”

“Let her be what, boy?” The King thundered as he rounded on him. Joffrey flinched and backed away, almost tripping on his own two feet. “Justly punished for her crimes? You believe Kings and Queens are immune to the King’s Justice?”

“It’s the King’s Justice.” Joffrey still argued. “You, father, it’s you who decides on these matters! Why bend to the will of these Northerners?!”

Half the people here bristled at the implied insult and disrespect to their lands and people.

Robert moved a few steps forward and struck the blonde boy in the face with the back of his hand.

“You think a King and Queen are above justice?” Robert almost snarled as Joffrey wiped blood from his mouth. “If that were true, then I should have let King Scab’s son, Rhaegar Targaryen escape with Lyanna Stark! I should have not rebelled against his tyranny when he killed Lord Eddard’s elder brother Brandon and his father Lord Rickard. Foolish boy! You may go with your mother to Casterly Rock when I’m done, here!”

“What?” He said in shock. “But, I’m your Heir! My place is with you in King’s Landing, father!”

“Not anymore, it’s not.” Robert declared in disgust, before moving to his wife, whose eyes had dimmed at that final blow against her son. She knelt on the floor, her hand held down firmly against the chopping block as another man held a long sword above her. “Your brother Tommen shall be the Heir to the Iron Throne. But that is a matter for another time.”

Robert nodded at the man with the long sword as Joffrey gaped like a fish. “Do it quickly.”

I watched as the man lifted his sword high in the air, before bringing down hard, cleaving cleanly through Cersei Lannister’s wrist as she cried out in unbridled agony, blood coming out in spurts as her heart kept pumping it out of her body.

“Justice…!” A few people muttered as the men led her away to be treated— Ser Jaime accompanying her until they were out of sight— and the people began to scatter.

“There is still the matter of you.” Robert stopped everyone from leaving as he turned to the person who had actually pushed Bran out of the tower.

Lancel Lannister had his head down, ashamed and subservient.

“Yours is the lesser crime.” Robert said loudly. “Though you committed the act itself, you are but a boy following his Queen’s orders. So, I give you a choice. You may join the Night’s Watch, or lose your right hand and go home in disgrace. Your choice, Lancel of House Lannister.”

“I will go to the Wall, Your Grace.” Lancel said after a moment, sounding relieved to be getting off so lightly. “I…”

“What is it, boy?” The King asked. “Speak up.”

“Your Grace.” He bowed his head even lower. “May I send a letter to my family? To inform them of my fate?”

“Of course.” King Robert said, nodding at two of the men. “Take him to the ravens, so he can write his letter, and then place him in a prison cell until it is time for him to go to the Wall.”

“As you command, Your Grace.” One said, and they led the boy out of the Courtyard when upon everyone was allowed to resume their daily activities.

Most of the guards of Winterfell went back to their barracks for some well needed rest, with some remaining at their assigned posts for the day. Blacksmiths, bakers, cooks and servants also resumed their services.

The Maester tried to get me to seek some medical attention once more, but I denied him again.

“Ser Barristan got you good, Potter.” The King said, moving away from Ned Stark to address me. He gave me an unreadable look. “Quite the odd thing you did, sparing his life in a duel to the death. Some would say it is the action of man without a backbone.”

He was testing me.

“There was no justice in killing Ser Barristan, Your Grace.” I said reasonably. “He’s a good man, an honorable man who was forced into this fight because of his vows. I don’t blame him for it, not at all. I certainly wouldn’t wish death on him, either.”

That seemed to strike a chord with the King. Seemed I passed the test.

“Aye, lad.” The King said, smiling. “I completely understand that.”

“Your Grace?” I asked for him to clarify.

“Ser Barristan was Kingsguard to my predecessor, the Mad King.” Robert said, getting more excited with every word he said. “We did battle at the Trident, you see. By the Gods, that was a battle. I was strong, then; raining blow after blow on that vile Prince, Rhaegar, before burying my war hammer in his chest! I hit him so hard the rubies on his armor broke free, flinging them into the stream! They call it the Ruby Ford now…”

I stayed silent, listening to the older man’s tale.

“I had sustained a few wounds in the battle, but there was another who required more aid than I.” Robert said, giving me a meaningful look.

“Ser Barristan.” I answered his unspoken question.

“Aye, lad.” King Robert said approvingly. “Lord Bolton had counseled that Ser Barristan’s throat be cut, but I called on my own Maester to attend to the Knight. He was an honorable man; I had known him for a long time even before I took the throne, and did not feel he deserved to be killed. After I had taken King’s Landing, I accepted Ser Barristan into my own Kingsguard.”

I nodded, seeing the similarities in the stories.

“I see the similarities, Your Grace.” I said, grimacing slightly. “Though, may I be excused to speak to Lord Stark and then see to my injuries?”

“Ah… Of course, of course. Off you go.” He said, dismissing me with a wave as he rounded on his son Joffrey. “Now… What to do with you…”

I stopped listening after Robert dragged the boy away by the ear. I spun around and walked to Lord Stark, who looked at me with a small smile on his face, though it faded quickly.

“Lord Ned.” I said, giving a short bow of the head.

“Harry.” Eddard said, still amused at the way I was addressing him, but also happy of the results of the trial. “I would like to thank you for your aid. You have done me— and all of House Stark— a great service.”

“It’s no problem. Bran is a good boy; he deserves better.” I waved it off but winced as the wound flared once more. “Ser Barristan is a good fighter. If I hadn’t taken the time to analyze the way he fought, he might have landed another slash like the first one and the Que— former Queen now, isn’t it?— she would have left these lands unharmed.”

“Aye, she would have.” Ned agreed heavily but shook his head. “But you won. It’s done, now. Justice has been seen to.”

“Yes.” I said. “Robb will be slightly upset I kept him out of my testimony.”

“What do you mean?” Ned went a little rigid at my words. Likely, he thought I lied about something.

“Well, he’s the one who first suggested that Bran was pushed off.” I said quickly. “I thought not to mention his name in case anyone tried to play this whole story out as the Starks attempting to sow discord in the Royal Family.”

The man relaxed. “I had not even considered that possibility.”

“I hear the whole of King’s Landing operates this way.” I said lightly.

“Indeed?” Ned asked.

“The servants and guards don’t speak freely in your presence, Lord Ned.” I said, unnecessarily. “But I’m no one special to them, so they end up talking. I have learned much by simply listening in to their conversations.”

“The Northern Houses put a lot of stock on honor and strength of character.” I continued. “The rest of the continent doesn’t seem to care all that much, as long as the Houses in question have money, and the like— especially in King’s Landing. When they speak of the capital city, they speak of vile corruption and endless politicking among the nobles which causes the deaths of the low born and the high born alike.”

“I had guessed at what could be waiting for us at King’s Landing.” Ned said. “But it seems there will be much work to be done on the matter.”

So, he was still planning on going, even after what just happened. I shook my head; it made sense. If the Queen— former Queen now, heh— felt she could try to kill one of the Lord Paramount’s children and escape with no punishment, then the situation at King’s Landing would be very bad, indeed.

“I don’t envy you the task.” I said, feeling a little bold. “If you don’t mind, Lord Ned, I’d like to retire to my chambers for some much needed rest.”

“But, your injuries—” Eddard was about to say, but stopped himself when he realized who he was talking to. “Never mind; be on your way, then.”

“Give my regards to Jon?” I asked hopefully. Eddard nodded in confirmation and walked away, finally leaving me alone in the Courtyard, watching as the servants took the chairs and tables back to the Great Hall.

For a few moments, I stared at Cersei Lannister’s chopped off hand, which lay in a small pool of blood on the chopping block, before making my way back to my own chambers, listening to the whispers and seeing the stares of all the servants as I passed through the hallways.

I took comfort in the fact that it was over something I’d done, and not because I was the Boy-Who-Lived. This is what I had always wanted; recognition for what I had done, not for what my mother had done when I was a baby.

I sighed as I entered my chamber and took my shirt off, feeling my stomach wound flare in pain once again.

§That’s a pretty terrible wound.§ Balthazar hissed.

§It’s not that bad.§ I said lightly but made a grimace as I poked at the long cut, stretching from my waist to just underneath my ribcage. It was a miracle my entrails hadn’t simply fallen out, and it was my own skill with my Lightning Dragonslayer Magic that I managed to cauterize the wound from the inside. §Maybe it’s worse than I’m making out to be.§

§You almost died.§ Balthazar said incredulously.

§Yes, I know it sounds bad—§ I tried to wave it off but Balthazar was having none of it.

§You almost died. You understand that?§ Balthazar repeated.

§Pfft. I’ve almost died many times in the past.§ I retorted. §I’ve had basilisk venom in my blood. I was almost kissed by a Dementor. I was almost killed by Voldemort at the end of my Fourth Year. I’ve fought against an army of wizards at Azkaban, and I’ve beaten many Demons, including Erebus here, at Temen Ni Gru. I’m not bothered by death. It’ll come for us all, eventually.§

§What did bother me, however, was that I almost died due to my own recklessness.§ I said to appease the snake. §I became arrogant, overconfident in my abilities, and Ser Barristan showed me the error of my ways with a single swing of his sword. It was a humbling moment. You don’t need to add to it.§

Balthazar didn’t reply as I sat down on the bed and pulled a small disc shaped container, filled with as much Murtlap Essence as I could fit into it— and the disc had Dumbledore’s Undetectable Extension Charm woven into it.

There was enough Essence in there to last me until my last days. I dipped my fingers in the Essence before bringing it to my side and spreading it over the harsh cut, jerking in pain and relief as the Essence began its work.

My body relaxed as I watched the Murtlap Essence do its work, my flesh knitting itself back together until there was nothing but a long scar in place of the wound, the flaring of the wound losing all of its intensity in a few instants.

How strange, the Murtlap Essence seemed to have an increased effectiveness to healing wounds. I was expecting to need at least three more applications before being fully healed.

But, it only took one.

There must always be balance, young Dragonslayer.” Erebus clattered in his sheath next to me. “While the power of destructive magic is reduced, here, it seems that restorative magic is strengthened at least threefold.”

I frowned. “But my attempt at healing Bran took a lot out of me.”

Yes.” Erebus confirmed thoughtfully. “I suspect that, had we been in our home world, that spell would have had very little effect.”

“So, you’re saying that even with three times the effectiveness, I still suck at restorative magic.” I concluded.

Yes.” Erebus confirmed.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I said sarcastically.

You’re welcome.”

Argh!

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