Five Days Later
The time had come. War was upon Westeros. The days that followed would be filled with blood and fire, sweat and tears. Heroes would rise and fall with the sword. Honor, duty, courage, and sacrifice would be just as common as greed, murder, lust, and deception. And all the while the great families would play their game of thrones as thousands died and hidden enemies grew in the shadows, waiting for their opportunity. The events that follow would make history, for both good and ill.
The entire royal court of the Iron Throne and all of the visiting nobility had gathered in the royal shipyards at the mouth of Blackwater Bay. The Red Keep stood watching the proceedings, standing sentinel as thousands of souls set off for glory and death, as dragons flew overhead. Lord Tyrion Lannister, the Hand of the King, Warden of the West, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, and Lord of Casterly Rock embarked on his ship, an elegant and slender vessel called the Clever Lion. The Lannister Lion and the Arryn Moon and Falcon flew proudly on its sails as the Lord of the Rock and his retinue cast off. With him were Mychel Arryn, the Black Falcon; heir to the Vale and the first of the Knights Herald. Whatever Valemen Mychel had recommended for the expedition would join them. As always, Tyrion's friend Lord Bronn of the Blackwater was at Tyrion's side. Another companion was Ser Artys Grafton, Knight-Lieutenant of the Order of Winged Knights and his squad of Winged Knight brothers. An additional companion was Brandon Baelish. The boy had been a bastard of the late Littlefinger, born under Sansa's care, and he had been named and legitimized at her urging. As such the boy had grown cunning and loyal to the throne, and proved to be a valuable asset. He had turned his father's modest holdings into a stout keep and his silver tongue would be a boon in the deliberations. With Baelish was Dontos Brune, son of Lothor and Mya, and a gang of hedge knights.
The Lannisters were also playing host to the departing Vale nobles, Lord Paramount Robin Arryn and Lord Harrold Hardyng chief among them. The Valemen had arrived by land, but the Lannisters had graciously offered to transport the nobles to Gulltown in order to facilitate the quick marshaling of the Vale's military forces. Also included in Tyrion's retinue was a cadre of elite Lannister knights and sworn swords under the command of Ser Lancelot of Lannisport. The Lion's Pride as they were known would help shield Tyrion and Mychel in their journey. Sansa Stark and her children bade goodbye to the Hand and the Clever Lion set off for Gulltown, from where the Iron Throne delegation would journey into the Mountains of the Moon to treat with the Mountain Clans and deal with them, once and for all.
Several other ships were being prepared for another destination. Ser Gendry Baratheon the Bull, the Hammer of the South, Lord Marshall of the Iron Throne, embarked on King Robert's Hammer captained by Ser Devan Seaworth, along with a cadre of storm lords and knights, the lightning lord among them. The black bull on a yellow field flew high. The large and imposing Ser Gendry, almost seven feet tall, stepped onto the ship with the dashing red-haired Dondarrion lord right on his heels. Brienne of Tarth accompanied Gendry, along with Ser Ronald Storm and Ser Andrew Estermont. Lord Rolland Caron in his nightingale armor followed along with Lord Donnel Swann in his black and white plate. A contingent of Baratheon men-at-arms with antlered helms completed the company as the storm lords set off for Wyl, where they would make landfall before riding to Blackhaven to meet the armies. Several other storm lords boarded their own ships and followed the Hammer.
The storm lords were not alone. The Lords of the Reach and the Lords of Dorne were part of the armada. Lord Edric Dayne, Ser Oberyn Martell, and the Sand Snakes set off on their own vessel in the company of other Dornish commanders while the chivalry of the Reach sent some of its best and brightest along with them. Lords and knights hand-picked by Willas Tyrell would assist Ser Garlan in commanding the roses of the Reach. The Alchemists Guild had servants load spitfires into ships flying a green flame banner and the Wisdoms of the Order set off alongside the lords. And following the armada, Ser Aegon Taragaryen mounted the white Viserion and followed on dragonwing, keeping a leisurely pace with the ships below. Perhaps a few hundred souls were heading for Dorne and war, but as they sailed, more than twenty thousands swords and spears from three kingdoms were mobilizing.
The large bulk of the departing were headed for the Stepstones. Thousands of Mother's Legionnaires boarded their ships alongside Night Riders, men on horseback and men-at-arms with shield and spear marching side-by-side. Targaryen and Velaryon men-at-arms followed onto ships that flew the dragon and seahorse banner. Lord Monterys Velaryon and his uncle Aurane departed on their own ship, while Lord Davos, the Grand Admiral, commanded the fleet. King Jon's kinsman, Aegon's eldest son Daemon, had the command of the Targaryen forces. He rode atop his own blood-red dragon, Cairax, and flew alongside his sister Valanna, atop her sea-green Tiberian. Goldheart and Snowfyre flew alongside their cousins, but their riders were absent. The dragons were disciplined and clever enough to follow their kin into battle without explicit command. Both of them would bathe the rebels with dragon fire as necessary and the destruction they wrought would provide a distraction for the covert force. Hundreds of Targaryen and Velaryon ships, along with several sellsail fleets set off along with the ships bound for the Vale and for Dorne.
The small fleet headed for Gulltown would soon peel off and the flotilla bound for Dorne would breakaway once the main invasion fleet reached the Stepstones, but for the moment, hundreds of ships swam across the Blackwater Bay with dozens of standards flying, and five dragons flew overhead. It was a scene that awed all who could watch and demonstrated the awesome combined power of the Iron Throne and its vassals.
The covert task force led by Prince Aemon sped far ahead of the main force on a smaller, sleeker, more unassuming vessel without any adornment or decoration. Aemon's own flagship was part of the departing fleet and its crew carried orders to begin mobilizing the Dragonstone armada. Aemon left the shipyard with a heavy heart, thinking back on his tender departure with his wife. They had been married less than a week, and already he was off to war. Julianna had not wanted him to go, but he had to. The Stepstoners had nearly stolen her away, and he could not forgive that. He wouldn't stop fighting until the threat had passed and his love was safe again. Parting with Julianna had been hard but Rhaenys had cried even harder than Julianna. She had tugged onto his leg and refused to let go until Aemon assured her he would return. Mother had tears in her eyes as well, and father had looked on in solemn pride. Aemon had never gone to war before, and he was afraid. But he vowed he would end the threat of the Pirate King and return victorious. For his family.
Viserys for his part was much less reluctant to leave and had even been happy. He had insistent on accompanying Aemon, and Aemon had relented. Rhaegar had followed as well and Visenya had insisted on going. Along with the dragon princes were Lord Commander Podrick, Ser Malrik Towers, Ser Petyr Hill, Ser Robb Baratheon, Eddard Stark, Jaime Tarth, Tyrion Tanner, and many other sworn swords, friends, and comrades. Aemon's bloodrider Rakharo, sworn to him since his birth, followed without question along with the Legionnaire known as the Black Bat. Mother had also insisted that Larraq the Lash and the Red Lamb be part of the task force. Tyrion had even gotten Ser Jaime Lannister to accompany the task force. Tom had wanted to be part of the group as well, but he had been forced to stay at court and learn to rule under Sansa's tutelage while Jaime and Tyrion were gone.
Ser Ellion Tyrell of the Green Hand, Master-at-arms of the Red Keep, Ser Aerion Goldfyre of the Order of the Dragon, Seran of Lys, Arak Snow, Lord William Bolton, Ser Mable Frey and Ser Jenn Rivers, Ser Merebelle Gray, and Taria Greyjoy along with their own retinues rounded out the rest of the occupants of the ship, along with a handful of Dragon's Teeth. The ship was crewed by an elite assortment of adventurers and fighters and Stannis Seaworth had command of the ship. The final member of their fellowship was a cloaked fellow who hide his face under a hood and mask and kept his own council, though he did not seem hostile to conversation. The journey would take a few weeks and there would be time for the members of the company to get to know each other before their mission started in earnest.
A fortnight hence
The Vale - Outside of Gulltown
At Gulltown, the travelling lords had already disembarked and enjoyed the hospitality of House Grafton for a night before setting off once more. The large company of lords knew it would be prudent to travel together, and Tyrion resolved to accompany Lord Robin to at least the Gate's of the Moon, Ser Harrold's new holding, before setting off in search of the mountain clans. The Knights of the Vale and the Lords of the West were historically uneasy in each other's presence and today was no exception, but they were cordial and the fighting men were more worried about keeping an eye out for raiders than for eyeing each other.
Tyrion sidled over in the saddle to Mychel, "Tell me all that you know of the Mountain Clans, who leads the clans, who hates who, all of the essentials. Additionally is there anywhere we can meet with those mountain men loyal to the Vale? They would be an enormous help in these talks."
Gendry and the other lords arrived in Blackhaven. They had arrived only the night prior but after a hearty breakfast, they got right to business. The Storm Bull and his circle of companions, confidants, and commanders crowded around the war table, with a large map of the Red Mountains overlaid on it. Garlan Tyrell and his Reachman would have arrived along with the Dornish already and the delegation of lords and knights set to work, planning their march. Wisdom Lyman of the Alchemist's Guild was also present, though he stood in the back and merely observed while Aegon Targaryen overlooked the whole affair with a cool demeanor.
Gendry conferred with Garlan, who was one of his appointed sub-commanders. Gendry pointed at the map, "We have no firm idea on where Hellgate Hall even is. These mountains are inhospitable and the raiders have confused any attempts of discovering its location. All we know for certain is that the hold is somewhere between Blackmont and Kingsgrave in a No Man's Land, but that is a very large distance. Rumor sustains that the Hall isn't even on the mountains and is buried within the rock somewhere in this damnable mountain range. As such, narrowing the area of search and blockading that area is our highest priority. Garlan, have your rear echelons guard the mountains on the Highgarden side, so that the Vultures will not escape from our grasp into the Reach. Oberyn, send word to Manwoodys and Blackmonts to hold the Dornish line. My brother's levies will reinforce Blackhaven and hold this area. Our main armies will advance on three sides with the forward elements reconnoitering the area. We can expect at least moderate resistance along the way, so Dornish scouts will be essential in leading our men. Ser Aegon will fly overhead and provide overwatch for the scouts and screen them from attack. If any unit comes under attack, they are to have their Alchemist launch a flare into the sky so that Aegon can reinforce them quickly. Every company will also have at least one Greenblood Orphan in their presence. They are to be considered essential personnel. If the Hall is discovered before all the armies regroup, a raven is to be sent immediately to the other army groups and a force will blockade the castle until reinforcements arrive."
"The three army groups will tighten the noose and converge here." Gendry pointed to a high-topped peak which was in the middle of the mountain range, "The Spine, the locals call it. Deserted and lonely for years, but it has the high ground even in these mountains. We will make this area our forward base of operation. If the Vultures already control it, we must take it, and from there if we haven't already found the Hellgate Hall, we can continue the search. If we hold this position, it will greatly increase our chances of flushing this Vulture King out. I am expecting heavy resistance here, so we must be prepared. The heat is damnable here, as such we will have locals in the train to help carry water supplies but every soldier must have double water rations on his person at all times. I will not lose men to the heat." Gendry looked around the table, at Dickon Tarly, at Brienne Tarth, Garlan Tyrell and so many others, "Does anyone else have any input? Garlan?"
The Narrow Sea
The voyage had been proceeding mostly smoothly so far. There may have been some minor disagreements but on the whole, the company's journey was progressing swimmingly. The ship had no escort and was mostly lonely on the waters. News of war had quickly spread and they had espied merchant vessels and other civilian ships fleeing in the direction of Westeros, but they were the only ones for quite a distance headed to the island. The sea was calm and the warriors had time to be idle, dicing or playing cards, drinking, or practicing at arms on the deck of the ship while the seamen professionally guided the ship.
If the weather stayed on their side, they would be upon the Stepstones in a few more days, and a day after that they would land on Bloodstone to start their mission. The impending violence and danger did not trouble most of the adventurers however and they saw it as a calm time to get to know each other better before they had to fight at each other's side. Viserys was leading many of the crew in a game of cards, drinking and gossiping as they traded away coin and gear. Viserys looked at the players and took in a large measure of rum before saying, "So comrades, what brought you on this journey? What motivated you to join this band of adventurers? Glory, honor, bloodlust? What drove you?"
All manner of merriment and entertainment was practiced on the ship and the adventurers would be wise to make the best of the calm before the storm.
The mood in the Red Keep was anticipatory. War had been declared, and the corps bound for the Red Mountains had just reached their destination. The Stepstone Armada would arrive within the week. Conflict would follow and the castle was abuzz with rumors, gossip, and predictions as the nobility deliberated on the war. The attack on the Red Keep had galvanized the aristocracy into unity and patriotism and for once the nobles of the country had seemed to set aside their petty rivalries and grudges, but who knew how long that would last before the scheming would begin once more in earnest.
King Jon and Queen Daenerys sat on their twin thrones, waiting for the petitioners to arrive before them. The wars had demanded the mobilization of an enormous amount of men and material, even in regions that were still free of any conflict and the lords and ladies of Westeros would soon come begging for favors and considerations. Add to that, the every day petty matters that the aristocrats and commoners both liked to indulge in and the regents were looking at a long day indeed. And yet, it was necessary to hear out their subjects. The game never stopped.