That was not what I was expecting from the old man. I mean why would he just punch someone he hasn’t seen for years, he must be going senile. No, I did not forget that I was the reason that he hasn’t seen me for years, but I'm a grown man, he can’t just treat me like a child anymore.
I look at Ben and think to myself, ‘I thought I had grown a lot, but Ben has clearly done so as well’. I can’t tell so well, but I'm pretty sure that he’s about the same size as me when I left. I thought I was pretty tall for my age but Ben looks to match me in that regard.
*sigh* ‘I thought size would at least be something I would have over him, but that doesn’t seem to be for long’. I have always been sort of jealous of Ben, I mean the difference in our lives should have been to my advantage, but it was the opposite. I am the son of a knight, I was gifted in swordsmanship from young, even that rotten knight Kane agreed that if I kept it up, I could become a tourney champ in the future, he was where I got my original plan in the beginning.
I challenged Ben when I was 13 and I admit it was both one of my best decisions and most embarrassing moments of my life. He was nearly 5 years younger than me, yet he had blood on his hands, corpses over his shoulder and muscles belonging to a horse. He was so quick I almost couldn’t keep up, and if it wasn’t for him not being used to the sword, he might have won. Since then we trained together and he became my best friend.
The problem was I was the only one not improving. I was as good as dad when I left and Ben was only catching up to me, I didn’t have a challenge. So, when that guy from Raven’s Claw, Harold, invited me I took the opportunity. I packed my stuff while dad was drunk and snuck out to catch Harold on the road.
The first month was pretty boring, I was the youngest and the smallest in the group, and my squad was a new one. They had expanded last year from 24 to 30, going from 2 squads to 3, with the new squad formed of new members,except for a few like our leader an old guy, Jack who was 45, though he could still punch my lights out when I called him that. The first month we took the easy jobs helping merchants in the area around Winterfell, where we were more labourers than guards, though Jack showed us a few moves.
It was around October that we got busy, the entire Raven’s Claw met up and headed north. The Long Winter had just started, and we moved to LastHearth, the Umber Household, where we would patrol the Belt, the land between there and the Wall, the legendary structure that you could see, barely, from miles away. A wall that spans 300 miles and is over 200 metres tall, covered in ice all year, manned by the legendary Men of the Nights Watch. It has been there for longer than any can remember, protecting the lands of men from the mad Wildings that roam the haunted woods. That is who we fought, Wildlings who had snuck past the Wall to the North. We were tasked with defending the eastern farms close to the mountains.
It was the morning when we were travelling along the path and we saw smoke billowing in the distance. The 1st squad, the only one that was mounted other than the lieutenants, rode ahead while we were tasked to follow. I ra with the rest, tiring with my pack and armour equipped, and when we saw the farm we saw that it had been burned down, dead bodies were everywhere, some of the women were particularly gruesome, they were naked and had looked to be raped before being impaled, the spears not meant to kill but to torture.
I and many of the other new boys threw up, even several of the veterans were struggling to hold it in. We saw the Captain, Hava, and the rest of the 1st squad coming from the woods leading a pair of women.
“These women were survivors of the attack, say that a group of a dozen wildlings came at night, they managed to run to the woods to hide as they slaughtered the others.” The had women turned pale and nearly cried again if their tears weren’t already dried, when Hava said slaughtered. “Here’s the plan, Micah, you lead second squad into the woods to the northeast, that’s where they said they went.” Micah was second in command of the Raven’s Claw, and he was the best archer. The second squad were made of people who we either good archers or trackers. “James, pick another man and ride to LastHearth, tell the guards what happened, the rest of 1st, pair up and scout the surroundings, look for survivors or another attack. I don’t want any of you fuckers on your own, you need a piss you better hold your dick in one hand and your partner in the other.” That got a few chuckles. “The rest of you find the least burnt building and clear it up, scavenge any supplies you can from these. Meet at report at sunset.”
We all got to work, and by the time the sun set everyone except for James was back with zero accidents. Micah and the others even found the wildlings camp, and we made a plan to ambush them that night. The 2 main squads were to attack from the north from both sides, while my squad was waiting in the basin to catch any trying to flee. That was the night i first killed a man.
The plan went well, we caught them by surprise and killed half in the first minute, the other half ran to us. I still think that Hava and Micah let them run on purpose to see if we new boys would spill blood. There was this large man, dressed in skins and bushy beard, a fierce look in his eyes and smelling of shit, he charged the man to the right of me, a large wooden club with a stone tied to it in hand. He knocked the man, Tal, on the floor and was lifting to finish him when he spotted me approach from the side. I started to panic when I remembered dad and Jack’s training, found my footing and formed my stance, waited for him to initiate, and if he didn’t, I would start testing with light strikes. He was impatient, swung at me, a war cry bellowing, as I used my sword to block, bending with the blow to absorb power, and throw the strike to the side. I swiped with my sword and made my first mistake. I was so used to training strikes, that I only put in a little strength, the blow just drawing blood, which surprised me, instead of being fatal.
We both stepped back, both shook by the altercation. He, because he almost died and me because I almost killed. My opponent panted and tried to regain his breath, his eyes adapted to the light and he got a better look at me. I was shorter than him, quite a bit, and was wearing leather with bronze guards, sword in hand. He didn’t rush this time, carefully approaching me, making sure not to put too much weight on his left leg, which was bleeding from a cut, likely from an arrow. We started fighting again, I aimed for the upper body to start, trying to trick him into forgetting his leg. He blocked frantically, the club unsuited for such duelling, more for crushing heads in raids. I took a step back, feigning weakness, he took the bait with a wild swing, forgetting he put his weight on his left. As he winced, I thrust my sword before his club came down, right into his gut.
He dropped his club and grabbed my shoulders, it seemed he was trying to push me away, but he was already too weak to fight me. I could see the fear in his eyes and fee his breathe as he desperately tried to live. I kept my sword there and tried to shove it deeper, all to try and kill him as fast as possible. When I felt his arms go weak and his legs buckle, I finally withdrew my sword. As I did blood flowed in greater quantities, followed by his intestines that fell to the floor, his body then falling on top of those.
We cleaned the battlefield and checked our wounded, many of us, myself included were in shock that night and we headed back to camp. The captain brought out the wine and I drank myself to sleep that night, avoiding the dreams of terror. The following night I wasn’t so lucky, the nightmare of what I did to that man, sometimes he would ask me why, others he would try to strangle me in revenge, others he would be replaced with myself, the only similarity was that I would wake up sweating and panting.
Tal, the guy I saved, helped as he would talk with me about it, but no offense to him but he’s hardly a priest. The real help came when we returned to Last Hearth and Hava brought the entire company to the brothel. I had thought about going to one before with my pay, the others even talked about it before, but we were forbidden by Jack, saying we could only go when permitted by the captain.
When Hava brought us there he told us, “You can only become a true man when you have popped your 2 cherries. Your first fight, and your first fuck. You did the first one, now to complete the trial.” He then led us in and I experienced one of the greatest nights of my life. The captain had used the money rewarded by the lord for that fight to rent all the girls in that brothel. It wasn’t the best place in town and they weren’t the best girls, but they were soft, kind and they were ours.
I have been in many more fights since then, some we won, some we won, half the new boys from then are dead, and we lost as many of the vets, but we replaced the numbers over the years, getting stronger overall and more united. We became one of the best companies in the east coast, with plans to expand, but we have lacked the fame to expand. Even if we can find more people to join us the large lords will choose the other more famous companies over us.
That was when Balon committed treason. The Ravens were in Winterfell when the news arrived, Hava was debating with the lieutenants if we should head south to the Riverlands. They have less competition down there, but on the contrary, there are less jobs and our fame is in the North, going south would have meant starting all over again. That talk was put to a stop when we found out that the Iron Islands had rebelled against the king and we were going to war.
I never met anyone from the Iron Isles, they kept to themselves, and even when they traded with the North it was always on the West coast. Jack has been known to go off about them, as well as the rest of the oldies, claiming they were nothing but a bunch of smelly fish fuckers, who we would be raided by every year.
The Lord Paramount had declared that he would support the king in his war, but unlike the last one against the Mad King, this time it was voluntary for the other lords. One of the lords, Maccah of House Moss, asked us to support him. The lord had used us before and thought highly of us. However, House Moss was a small house and could only field about 30 men, and couldn’t afford to pay us much. He wanted to participate in this war to earn honour and gratify himself to the Starks. Hava agreed to the low price, telling us that he both trusted Moss and that this was our chance to earn fame. With the right to loot we could make up for the low income, and Moss would help to alleviate our supply expenses.
We were given a month to say goodbye to our families and meet at Moat Caitlin where we would board ships and depart for the Islands. I hadn’t been home for nearly 4 years now, but this war seemed especially dangerous. I figured I should see dad in person, and as I was thinking of home, I thought about Ben and how he would be doing.
As I travelled home, I got an amazing idea in my head. I should invite him to join me. I might not be able to recruit anyone to the Raven’s by my own authority, but even if he hadn’t improved a bit since we were last together, just his skill as a hunter would get him part of Micah’s squad for sure. And together we might even have the chance to be knighted on the field. The thought became more and more appealing as I travelled, the image of the 2 of us, he with his bow, me with sword, cutting down foes this way and that, earning the praise of the king and knighted for our valour on the field.
That brought us back to the current moment. I planned to see dad after meeting Ben, and not getting knocked on my ass first, but in the end the result is the same. So, I explain the situation to him, why I came home and my plan.
“So, what do you think, it’s a great idea right? With the 2 of our skills, working together, we should be knighted with no problem. Even if we don’t, we are sure to get noticed and it would only be a matter of time before we are picked. The rewards we will get are sure to be amazing as well.” I tell him the smile on his face growing as I talk, clear that he sees my vision as well.
He waits, and after he’s sure I am finished, he speaks;