“No” I tell Ethel, trying to, and failing, to keep the smile off my face.
“No!? What do you mean no?” He asks me after he recovers from the shock. “This is the best chance to get knighted, wars like this don’t just happen like this. I asked my friends in the Raven’s and they know of at least a dozen people who were knighted in the last war, with dozens if not hundreds were knighted that they don’t know of. I have improved a lot since we last met, don’t let earlier misguide you.” He tries to convince me in case I didn’t understand the earlier argument. “i am the best fighter in my squad, I was made second in command and I have fought in dozens of battles. I can see you have gotten stronger than before, you’re as strong as I was and I saw those deer, you killed three in a single day. With your bow Micah would be an idiot not to let you join. Why don’t you want to come with me so we can win honour and glory?” He demands.
“I can’t feed my family with honour and glory.” That confused him. “You say that hundreds were knighted in the last war, that’s true. But that was because hundreds of knights died and thousands of soldiers. You say we could get noticed by the king and other high lords, but this is a war where the greatest fighters in the kingdom will be gathered, and unlike in a tourney there is no guarantee that we will be seen by them. They could be storming the gates of Pyke while we are taking a mine or fishing village. It’s all a matter of luck. Even rewards, this is war, it is expensive, not even a war for gaining new territory, just reclaiming old ones, there will be few looting because the king won’t allow the Isles to become completely desolate, and even if he did the Iron Isles are even poorer than the North, their wealth is concentrated in their fleet of ships, which will either be sunk or taken by the king. It is a war with low rewards and high risks, with a good chance that of no rewards at all.”
My breakdown of the large picture had him stumped for a while, leaning against the bridge and one hand running through his hand. “How do you know all this stuff?” He asks me.
“Unlike you I always enjoyed reading, Greta let me use any of hers, and I asked a merchant who lives in BushBurn if when he travels to Winterfell if he will pick up any history books for me. I have to pay him a decent price, but it’s worth it to know the general situation in the kingdom, and he’s the brother of Marg’s husband, and I give him some good catches for free every now and then, so I'm pretty sure he isn’t tricking me. I plan to travel the kingdom one of these days, see the world and knowing where danger will likely occur is a good way to avoid it.” I explain to him the value of knowledge. It’s not his fault, unlike me who during my younger years, when I was too small to train to any significant state while remaining healthy, I had nothing better than to read, while he was training as a squire and that only required basic literacy to accomplish.
He started to get a self-mocking smile, and asked me, “So, I'm about to risk my life for little to no rewards, any advice, oh wise maester?” he mocks me while seeking comfort. Honestly, I can’t see much solid advantages, but I can think of a way to make this worthwhile, which he actually mentioned himself earlier in his story.
“To be fair your captains goal for going to war is a relatively good one, gaining fame and reputation so he can improve the standing of his company in the North. It is a relatively easy goal, just going to war will give your company a battle record, and it will give himself and the company better prospects for years to come. Your problem was aiming too high. You wanted the 2 of us to gain the eye of the king, greatest man in the country, when we are just a pair of children, skilled but not the best. Your captain has 30 men backing him up yet he only wants to raise his standing with the lords in the North. Instead of trying to appeal to the high lords, start small, focus on showing your capability to your captain, he might promote you, or to Lord Moss, he might be a small house and you don’t want to become his knight, but if he spreads your name to his friends then you will earn a reputation for bravery and skill, making it easier to be knighted in the future.” I explain to him while usinga few stones to represent the difference in standing, Ethel is the smallest pebble, and the king is the largest boulder under the stream.
“Then why don’t you want to go with me, together we could both accomplish it much easier?” He led me back to the topic of joining him.
“I have to stay and provide for my family. This plan is one that will only start paying off in a years time at least, in the mean time my family will be without my income. My siblings aren’t little kids anymore, they are grown and they eat a lot, my mum can’t afford to give to give them the same lifestyle with her job alone. Sure, they might not starve short term, but they will be eating little other than bread for months. Besides I saw what happened to your dad when you left and I don’t want to put mum through it.” I finish with a low dig. I might have respected his decision to leave to pursue his dreams, but not telling his dad when he left and not coming back for several years, that was a dick move.
“What, did something happen?” Ethel asks, a bit worried now. Seeing his dad still healthy earlier probably relieved some of his guilt, not knowing it took him nearly 2 years to recover.
“The first year after you left, he went into a deep depression, he hit the bottle and would rarely leave the house. It took both your mum and Helen weeks to get him to walk around the town again and months of me pestering him for lessons to work back into shape.” The knowledge is starting to sink in, the guilt clear on his face. “Your dad has been training you to become a knight all your life, he knew that you would eventually go to war and have to kill people, though probably not this soon. My mum doesn’t even like that I go hunting in the woods even after all these years. She can’t wait for me to start going to tournaments because she thinks that while they are violent, they rarely end in death or serious injury. I have only told her that would aim for the archery and not the melee. Not only are they safer by far, but they have no chance of becoming a knight, where I would have to go to war. I plan to tell her when I am 16 and going to my first tourney. If she knew that I was going to war then she would likely collapse.” I tell him my reasons for not joining him, leaving out possibly the most vital, but the one least likely to convince him. I have no interest in being called brave.
In my past life I took countless risks, was responsible for protecting thousands of people and led entire armies to war. I don’t want that this life. I want to explore the world, see amazing people and cultures and live how I want to. I won’t give up my loved ones or my duty to them, but I want to pursue some of my own happiness this time.
Ethel went quiet for a while and we decided to head back. I went home to finish my cake, finally, and Ethel returned home to see his mother. I later learned that he and his dad fought, with Ethel winning easily, and they spent the rest of the night celebrating. When Ethel left after 2 days, we all said goodbye, I gave him some of the toughest leather gloves I had and a solid cape for those cold nights on the sea.
2 years later Ben POV
Today’s the day, my equipment is prepared, I have my bow, sword, money and clothes. The only task left to do is tell mum.
In a weeks' time Lord Stark is having a tournament for his eldest sons 13th birthday, the tournament will be at Winterfell, and there will be a good chance that the winner of the melee will be knighted. Even if they aren’t the prize money for the melee and archery will be 20 dragons each, after 10 years I have made about 10 dragons. With that sort of money, I could a decent horse for future travels and a house.
I got home and opened the door. It was dinner time and mum was serving us grilled salmon from the stream, potatoes and veg. Ed and Elsa were there, Brutus was waiting at the side as well. Ed was a bit smaller than me at 160, but we both had room to grow yet, he had been taking swordsman lessons from Ethan and said he planned to join the guard next year when he was old enough, with a strong body and decent skills he would be accepted without a doubt and have good chance of leading the guards in the future. Elsa clearly took after mother in looks, with the increased income with Brutus helping hunt, our family was as rich as the Roc family, just below the old margrave, who retired a year ago and was replaced by another, who is in his forties and has a cheerful personality, Elsa could afford to dress up in nice clothing, has several dresses and even a few copper necklaces, which she brings out at market time.
She is a beautiful young lady, in my mind at least and she has started to get involved in romance. Not flirting or relationships yet, thankfully, but rather she and her friends like to gossip and hear about the stories of nobility, where true love always triumphs. I have no intention of bursting her bubble just yet, though I won’t protect it from being broken.
As we finished eating, I brought up the topic of the tournament. “Mum, you know about the tournament that the Starks are having next week, the one people are talking about at the tavern.? I intend to participate. I know all the rules and I have prepared the money for the entry.” I start with the light stuff, she has always known I was going to go to the tournament, just as an archer.
She pauses for several seconds, closes her eyes and then speaks. “Haaaa, I knew this day would come, you are a grown man and you would eventually leave for some adventure, though I do wish you gave me a bit more notice, I would have helped you prepare. Maybe I can still pack your lunch, would you like some sandwiches for the journey?” she smiles, perhaps seeing through my concerns that she might be opposed, but her acceptance was welcome, just hope it would hold for what was to follow.
I take a deep breath. “Mum, I will not just be participating in archery. I will do the melee, and try to become a knight.” I let it out, keep it short and ready to counter her arguments.
She was about to get up, but when she hears that she faces me and said. “I know that, why would you remind me?” she tells me, the confusion in her voice genuine.
I open my mouth, of all the arguments she could have used, those weren’t what I was expecting. It seems she noticed my surprise as she started to laugh. “Ben you have been friends with Ethel from the moment he mentioned knights, you practice your sword every day, and you are one of the most efficient person I know.” She lists some of my characteristics. “I don’t know where you get it from honestly, but you wouldn’t waste your time practicing something if you didn’t think it had value. What other option was there for you but knighthood?” it wasn’t just mum laughing at this point, my siblings were chuckling as well. I hadn’t told them either for fear they would tell mother, but it seems they are all a lot more perceptive than I thought. The points she just mentioned were pretty obvious when i think about them, and I don’t think they are stupid, but I guess I always just kept my first memories of them in mind when I look at them, not realising they are all grown up. Mum is a middle-aged lady who has raised me for 16 years now, Ed is almost a grown man who has his future planned out, and Elsa while still young, probably knows more about the village happenings than me.
The night ended on a happy tone, the following morning mum kissed me goodbye, the kids hugged me, and I left with Brutus across the bridge and on to the Kingsroad where I will head north to Winterfell.