The Stepstones, Aegon's great bastards
They had been campaigning for just over a month. And the fires still burned.
When the rebellion started, countless petty lords and landed knights had risen up against Lord Velaryon and the throne. On every isle they had risen in the thousands to oppose the royal writ. And the crown responded swiftly.
One of the largest armadas assembled in recent history had embarked to the Stepstones, with almost the entire royal fleet and the fleets of Lord Aurane and the so-called Prince of the Narrow Sea, Salladhor Saan gathering around the islands.
They had smashed whatever rebel ships they came across, but eventually the pirate ships disappeared, though raiders and bandits still roamed the countryside and multiple castle garrisons and ragtag armies were still in revolt.
Daemon had sent men to cover each of the major islands, levies from Dragonstone and Driftmark, Night Riders and Legionnaires, and men from Torturer's Deep and those leal local lords and knights. They then began systematically cleaning out the Scorpion rebel dens.
Valanna upon Tiberian and Matarys upon Haeraxis had been sent to accompany their own divisions. Daemon had taken the main force of Velaryon men and rode Cairax to Bloodstone. Castles and towns and enemy companies burned, whenever they offered resistance, and the same was the case across the islands.
Smoke rose to the grey sky on a daily basis and ash fell like snow. Eventually, all of the major Scorpion dens outside of Bloodstone had been pacified, for the moment, though ragged bands of men still roamed in the countryside to stage small-scale guerilla raids. Curiously, it seemed as if the great part of the rebel army had been absent with their fleet.
But now the commanders of the field campaign had been gathered to Bloodstone, where they had identified the last known Scorpion stronghold. Daemon had called his siblings to him, and now they met in council.
They met in a small castle that was the home of a local petty lord. He had bent the knee and turned the castle over to Daemon, and Daemon's army was encamped around the holding, a tent city in the thousands. The castle was crowded as well with the knights and bannermen and commanders with Daemon, and they all greeted the two dragon riders with respectful nods.
Valanna, tall and full-figured was draped in black leather armor that accentuated her form, a longsword at her side. She was younger than Matarys by a year, but had the silver hair and purple eyes of Valyria, despite her mother being of Dornish stock. Her mother's blood was represented in the caramel brown skin that marked her apart from her fairer relatives, and caused a striking contrast with her pale hair that hung to her shoulders.
She had arrived just as Matarys did and embraced her brother with a hug and a wicked smile, "Glad to see you, brother. Those pirates didn't manage to knock you off of the saddle after all."
Matarys returned his half sisters hug, answering her smile with little more than a riased eyebrow. Unlike his fair haired sister Matarys smooth brown hair was tied into a ponytail behind his head, the long hair drawn into a tight tie near the top back of his skull. His beard and goate were cropped close to his chin as he was never one to allow his facial hair to go un-maintained.
In another contrast to Valanna, Matarys was in his full plate mail, the red enameled steel shone darkly inside the room, having gone without proper polish in some time. Soot clung to its edges still, by product from the flames of Haeraxis that had not been washed away.
"I would certainly hope I was not knocked off Valanna, it would mean I had improperly fastened my riding chains. Seeing as not a single one of their men seem to have any sort of aim.", he admired her gilded blade as she presented it to him, its richly gilded hilt making it an impressive piece of loot.
Valanna laughed, holding out her arm for Matarys to escort her as they walked down the battlements, "Aye, those pirates can't hit the broad side of a barn for the most part. Mayhaps their sailors are better shots, but I haven't even needed armor this whole time. As soon as they see Tiberian, most of them give up or run away on the spot."
Matarys linked his arm with hers as was customary, wallking along the battlements as dusk settled upon the camp. His bright lilac eyes seemed almost luminescent in the fading light. He let the ghost of a smirk pass his lips at Valanna's comments. Even the Black Princeling was not devoid of all humour.
"They lack spine, so may years of easy plunder has made them soft, complacent and unprepared to be properly challenged. Vicious men for certain, but unable to hold courage once they begin to lose. The sight of a dragon is too much for such men and I've seen my share of hosts run. In all honesty it has begun to bore me. They run only to resurface and plunder peasants rather than face the fires of Haeraxis or the blades of my men."
, he scowled seemingly at nothing as he thought of the many faux engagements that were simply bandits running from him.
Valanna nodded, "Indeed. Between Edric, Arianne, and Aurane they haven't been able to raid Westeros any longer even. They've only been striking out on small raids on a passing Lysene or Braavosi ship whenever they work up the courage and wit to avoid the authorities. We've beaten them into submission multiple times. And yet they persist in rebelling. Well, let's hope we get rid of this latest rebel leader and the lords fall back in line. Or else lose their heads. This should be the last time, I don't want to come back to these backwaters again, profitable as they may be."
Matarys shook his head dismissively, "The Lords of the Stepstones have had enough chances. I beleive we sould take wing and burn them all out. None will rebel after that and none could blame the crown.", he mused thoughtfully, liking the idea of letting Haeraxis loose upon the rebellious lords and their holds.
Valanna nodded thoughtfully, "Perhaps you are right. Daemon's been doing a good job of burning them already, but perhaps we should go further. At the very least, heads need to roll and hostages need to be taken."
"But enough about heads," Valanna gestured to the new curved knife on her belt, with a gold gilded hilt, "Took it off of one of their captains. The war has been kind to me so far. How have you fared?"
"Indeed it has been kind to you. I myself have not yet found any sort of martial loot, but I have chained to Haeraxis a small chest bursting with gold and jewels. Some foolish pirate Lord's personal loot I imagine. It would seem there is no better an enemy than pirates when seeking personal gain.", Matarys suggested.
She smirked at her brother, "You are right brother. These islands may not have much in themselves but there is a lot more gold and treasure hidden around then you'd think. They've been preying on merchants and passenger ships for centuries after all."
"But what are you going to do with gold? You're swimming in it already. What are you going to do, buy some jewelry?" Valanna was fond of her light-hearted japes and teasing and almost never meant any of it. It was a simple chat between brother and sister as fires roared in the horizon.
At her mention of his plunder Matarys shrugged lightly, "A new blade? A new suit of armor? If i have enough perhaps an estate in Essos or Dorne. I may have the blood of the dragon and a rich house to support me but personal gold is often more useful. No one to complain about wasting others coin."
Now it was her turn to arch her brow at him, "A new manse? You never told me," she pouted out her lips in mock hurt, "Don't tell me you're leaving King's Landing Matarys? What are you going to do in Essos? You'll be horribly bored without us around. And I never thought you much cared for Dorne either. The sun doesn't suit your complexion." She laughed and they continued on, working their way to the keep's hall.
It was Matarys turn to jape it seemed as he smirked cruelly, "Well Valanna I just feel that perhaps I can find far more beautiful women in Essoss. I feel we have a severe lack of them in Kings Landing.", rarely did Matarys joke, and often it was mean spirited but here at least he was genuine with his humour.
She laughed and playfully slapped Matarys on the arm, "And here I was missing your homely mug these past few weeks. Now I remembered what an arse you can be," she pursed her lips and said, "I'll have you know that Ser Luthor Crakehall and Ser Desmond Massey almost duelled over me once, at Aemon's wedding. You can't mean such things, Matarys. Julianna made a beautiful bride. Nymeria, Catelyn Tully, Baela all beautiful."
The young man managed to hold his smile longer than usual, "I must say I've never been called homely before sister. A woman of firsts you are indeed.", he teased. However at the mention of Prince Aemon's wedding he already began to visibly sour, smile turning to smirk to twisted smirk. Harmless enough, Aemon may have been Matarys' rival but he could stomach the wedding knowing Aemon could be tied only to one of his loves.
Valanna laughed, "I always try to be Matarys. I was the first to have a hatchling if I remember correctly."
She smirked, "Though I think you had eyes for only one woman."
It was not until the mention of Daenyra than Matarys smile dissapeared completely. His eyes seemed to gleam in anger, for that was who Valanna was speaking of. She had attended on the arm of Monterys her husband, and Matarys had spoken only briefly to her. He had stuck to the walls and shadows of the celebration. He kept his arm in hers but his gauntleted hand squeezed down, metal shod fingers crushing into the soft sleeves hard enough to begin to bruise. A very clear but subtle threat.
His face was solemn now as he locked eyes with Valanna, pale lilac orbs burning into hers, "It was quite the wedding wasn't it? You'll have to forgive me sister, how did Ser Luthor and Desmond resolve their conflict?
", the switch in topic and pressure on her arm made it clear he wished for her to no longer press the subject.
Valanna frowned as the mirth died, staring back into Matarys' eyes as she felt the pressure on her wrist. The warrior princess didn't react much more than grit her teeth in discomfort for a moment but made no further comment, saying, "It was amusing at first, but I decided to take pity on the poor men and danced with them both. I made sure there were no hard feelings."
She left a significant pause to let the implied apology sink in before saying, "And thankfully they let bygones be bygones."
They reached the great hall and the guards opened the doors to convey them inside. Along the walls were knights and lords who had come along on the campaign, and at the lord's seat was Daemon Waters, the oldest of Prince Aegon's great bastards.
Daemon's silver hair was cropped short, his matching beard similarly trimmed close. Daemon was tall, taller than both Valanna and Matarys and with broad shoulders to match. His muscled arms strained the fabric of his black and red leather jerkin and his skin was tanned by the sun, a prominent scar cutting down one of his cheeks. A relic from his days helping Prince Aemon patrol the waters near Dragonstone.
Their elder brother stood, and smiled, "Matarys, Valanna. Good to see you both, how have the islands been treating you? I trust you had pleasant flights? Thirsty, hungry?"
Valanna smiled back at Daemon and went to hug him, "I could use some wine Daemon, and I've been faring well. These islanders haven't been giving me too much trouble."
Daemon hugged Valanna back and reached out a strong arm to grip Matarys' in a manly greeting.
"Less fights than watching cowards backs as they dissapear over the horizon.", Matarys grimaced and took Daemons hand, embracing him as brothers do. Once done he stepped back and took his place at Daemons right hand side, sitting down in the chair and finally removing his soot tipped gauntlets.
"I could use a glass of water myself brother. The islands are hot, I've debated wearing less armor to better deal with the heat."
Valanna sat as well and Daemon snapped his fingers, calling for wine, he sat back down and said, "Aye, humid as all hell here. The locals tell me that the storms should be starting soon, won't that make fighting with dragons interesting? But I would recommend the armor, Matarys. And you as well Valanna. Once we finish with the pirate dens, we need to find the fleets. And I won't have one of you taking an arrow from some salty Stepstoner sailer. It'd be an embrassment to the family."
The servants came and poured wine for them all, Daemon drunk and said, "To business then. I trust you both pacified your islands by now, at least for the most part. Anything to report?"
Valanna nodded, "Indeed. Malcontents still roam the wilds, but all of the knights and lords have either been burned out of their keeps and are in hiding or are now in chains, awaiting the King's judgement. We've sent the prisoners to Torturer's Deep for Aurane to send back to the Red Keep. We haven't encountered troops in signifcant numbers though. Bands of a few hundred at the most so far."
Matarys sipped from his glass, the odd man out at the table. Matarys did not drink wine, at least not commonly. He listened to Valanna's report, nodding in encouragment as he heard pf her success. He swilled the water in his cup while he listened, reflectingon his own similar experiences in the Stepstones... very similar. Something felt wrong about that. As she finished he let only a moment hand in silence before giving his own report.
"It has been much the same with my forces. Brigands and scoundrels with borrowed arms and armor. No significant force has yet met us on the field, the largest battle thus far was a few hundred men who brok and ran shortly after meeting us. Although some of the petty Lords put up more sport for me. Two at least were burnt out completely, naught but daughters and mothers still alive and sent to Torturers deep. Others have fled or been sent more... complete to be hostages.", he nodded as he finished his own report.
"I do not think these similarities are a coincidence Daemon. Something is... off", Matarys expressed his concern out loud. Only because he trusted Daemon.
Daemon's brow furrowed and he nodded, "I've had the same experience. We've captured nearly every castle, and put rebellious towns down. But we have yet to engage anything approaching a proper army. I've had the Night Riders hunting down raiders and outriders in the forests. But no damn battles."
He drank, "It is no coincedence. These islands may not be as fertile as the mainland, but they should be able to scrap together enough men to challenge Aurane on the field. Especially with sellswords. They have gold at least."
"The disappearance of their fleets is the same. I believe they're gearing up for an assault. On Torturer's Deep, Aurane's castle. I think they mean to break his navy, take his holdings, and take him prisoner. Leverage. That's why we've not encountered any serious resistance."
Valanna frowned, "It would make sense. But we know that the Scorpion den you mean to clean out is major. The largest, last keep they have. Perhaps they've all rallied there?"
Daemon shook his head, "Scouting reports say that it's the largest force we've seen yet. Several thousand men. But not the totality of their strength. And no ships in sight besides barely a score of dromonds off of the coast of the castle. I believe the Scorpion King has long since moved on from there. The question is should we move on it still?"
Matarys reclined in his chair, sipping from his glass of water. The look in his eyes was one of deep thought and contemplation. He stroked his beard absent mindedly as he considered the siblings options. With ten thousnad men between them it would seem foolish at least to him to commit an attack on the Scorpions den if so few soldiers were there to meet them.
"Devoting our combined forces to such a task would be a waste of our time, especially if it is not their true force. I think leaving them alone however would be just as foolish. If we can take Scorpions den the Scorpion King may begin to lose support after all. None of it matters if we can't find the true bulk of their forces though...", Matarys brooded, thinking on every hold, pirate den and bandit camp he had come upon during the war, perhaps there was a connection?
"Other than the lack of numbers, have our foes held any other similarities? Men cannot move without leaving signs and if a large force is indeed amassing to attack Torturer's Deep they are somewhere on the Stepstones."
Daemon nodded, "I agree. With our dragons, ten thousand men is overkill. But neither can we indiscriminately slaughter them with all three of our dragons either. We need live prisoners to get intelligence from, I suspect the castellan of the keep knows more than the rabble we have been capturing."
Valanna interjected, "The men we have been encountering are either green boys or old men it seems to me. Armed with rusted longswords, woodsman axes, and iron-shod clubs. The fighting men, and women, have all seemed to leave with all of the good steel and equipment. Good horses taken from the stables as well."
Daemon sipped, "Indeed. They seem to slip away in the night. No sign of them in the forests, no word from the scouts. It seems as though they've been very careful to slip out in small groups, ships most likely leaving in twos or threes but not flotillas. They could be gathering on one of the more remote islands, but that is hardly of any help. I do not know if we have enough men to keep order here and go gallivanting on some search."
"Which is why the King and Queen sent Aemon and his brothers on that covert mission of theres. We're expecting a raven or message soon. Perhaps the Crown Prince found out more."
Matarys expression soured once more at the mention of Aemon, especially now knowing he was in the stepstones. He sat up straight and held his tounge but all the same it already began to upset him. But this was war and he supposed it would indeed be difficult to find them and deal with the men at the Scorpions Den... perhaps he could yet turn this too his advantage.
"All the same, the Scorpions Den must be taken. If it pleases, in order to ensure we have the most men ready for a proper battle I would ask my host be allowed to take the Scorpions Den. I've no doubt the castellan will have answers and I can take it quickly. Besides, I doubt it is defended by green boys and old men. A man that can't hold his home is no man at all, and the Scorpion King is likely to have his horde there. I can take it from his men while you await word from the Crown Prince and his brothers."
Daemon thought for a few moments, then said, "Very well. Take a third of our forces and flush them out. I want the castellan and the other officers alive if possible. In the meantime, I will marshal all of our men together and prepare to move as soon as we receive intelligence from the Prince. Valanna and Tiberian will go with you. They'll have defenses to try and take down a dragon, you need another rider to help cover you. Agreed?"
"Agreed brother. The Scorpions den will be ours within days. We will depart in the morning. I would depart tonight but find myself quite exhausted, same with my men. The brignads have run us ragged brother, a night of rest should be sufficient however. Is our council here ajourned? Or are there other matters to be discussed?"
Daemon replied, "No, I believe that's all for now. There's matters of supply lines and garrisons, but I can discuss that just fine with my commanders. I hope both of you can join me for supper. I tire of the company I have kept at late, and desire a private dinner with family."
Valanna smiled, "I accept your invitation. It's been a while since we've sat down and relaxed a bit."
Matarys nodded, satisfied he would not need to deal with Aemon nor-credit him with his own accomplishments. "Of course brother, I am famished and would gladly sup with you and Valanna. I'm certain our hosts cooks can supply whatever we wish. Perhaps even more exotic dishes."
Daemon grinned, "You can bet on it Matarys. We're right in between the mainland and Essos. Some of the finest comes back and forth. I managed to requisition a shipment of spices from Myr. And the fishing is excellent. I'll have a table set within a few hours."
He called to a servant who nodded and scampered off, then Daemon stood, pulling on his gloves, "Now what say you two to a little ride? It's been a while since we've all raced hasn't it? Time we settled that last tie Matarys."
Valanna jumped up with a laugh, "This time I'll pull ahead boys, just you watch. If you aren't afeared of course Matarys."
"All smart men fear you Valanna, a woman with skill at arms is rare enough for your sex. Very well, perhaps a last flight will help Maeraxis sleep.", and stood with a slight sigh, a smirk on his lips.