Eddard Stark POV
The tourney was quite a success, Rob enjoyed it and has increased his training with the master at arms, Umber and I drank to the success of his son in the tournament, complaining that in a few years he would have to hand over the reins of the house. H still has many good years I told him to his pleasure, leading to this splitting headache this morning. I am now sitting at the breakfast table, trying to nurse my headache with some food and water, My wife Catelyn next to me and my children sitting around me, except for Arya who seems to have snuck off somewhere and Jon who feels more comfortable with the soldiers than sitting at our table with Catelyn here.
It really is a shame that she can’t accept him but at the same time I can’t blame either one of them. The only one who knows that Jon is not my bastard is me, but I can’t tell them the truth, at least not yet, as it would mean either killing Jon or going to war and I feel like, despite my friendship with Robert, war would be the only way to go if I didn’t want to break my promise to my sister, Lyanna. At least the rest of my family is getting along.
Bran and my youngest, Rickon, were talking excitingly about the tournament, despite Catelyn’s constant reminders not to talk while eating, they would quite down for a few seconds before something comes to mind that gets them both heated again, my wife giving up after the 3rd time with a tired smile at her happy boys. Sansa, my eldest daughter, was less happy about the tournament, and was more pleased with the market. She spent the days strolling around the shops looking at the few trinkets that were brought all the way from the south, especially kings landing. She has been constantly asking if we can visit some day, though I have refused her for now, and thankfully Cat agrees that she is too young to make the travel without us, even with and escort, and both I and her can’t leave the North unattended.
My reasons don’t just include her age, Jon Arryn, Paramount to the Vale, Hand of the King, and the man who was almost like a father to me, has sent a letter via ravens that the situation in kings Landing has been getting more and more unstable. My friend and my king, Robert has been seriously neglecting his duties after the war with the Iron Islands. From the messages I exchanged with Arryn over the years, he told me that at the start, while at the start he would definitely prefer to drink, party and fight than lead, he would at least attend to half the Small Council meetings, Where the Masters of different fronts would discuss the important topics in the kingdom. The war with Balon Greyjoy, when he declared himself the king of Salt and Rock, was the changing point.
Before the war the coalition of Arryn and the Baratheon brothers was enough to create a lead in any policies they made. They were mostly keeping the Lannisters under control, though they had to be careful, the Tyrells and Martells were only part of the kingdom in name, with tensions still high from the war. They both lost many friends and family members during the war, with the butchery of Ellaria Martell and her children nearly Leading the Dorne to fight to the bitter end. Only the fact that Doran Martell was in charge of Dorne at the time, known for his wise mindset, kept the war from extending knowing that they had no chance of victory.
When Palon died and his son, Balon, took over he declared independence from the Iron Throne, the king, and that he would no longer answer to the mainland. If he had done just that the kingdom would likely have collapsed, his assumption in declaring independence was that the rest of the kingdoms were too weak from the war and we were all divided, which was true. If he had declared independence and either kept to himself, waiting for us to come to him, or if he had targeted the lands loyal to Robert, then the Reach and Dorne would have likely declared independence themselves and we would have been too weak to stop them. Instead Balon did one of the most stupid things and attacked the Westerlands and the Reach with raids to try and burn the ports and fleets, but also sent his eldest son and most of his ships to Seaguard, the fort that was built by the Riverlands to specifically defend against such an attack.
His son died at Seaguard, along with his forces, and while his raids caused much damage, they ultimately ended in defeat. So not only did he waste the forces he spent years building up, but his actions led to the Reach joining Robert in his war against the Iron Islands, clear that if let be the Ironborn would only be a threat and not an ally. This united the kingdoms, with only Dorne maintaining a fragile peace. Unfortunately, the situation on the small council only got worse.
Although during the war Robert was exited and enthusiastic, after he got even worse, now attending 1 in 10 meetings if they were lucky. In addition, at Pyke Robert and his brother Stannis, the master of ships, apparently got into an argument, and after the war he returned to Dragonstone, an island territory that he was enfeoffed, and where he builds, maintains and trains the kings fleet. If Stannis wasn’t loyal to a fault and excellent at his job, there might have been greater concerns in the kingdom.
Nevertheless, with the 2 older brothers leaving the court, the dominant power was weakened and king’s landing has become a den of countless snakes who dream of being dragons.
“Ser Roderic, did you contact those from the melee and archery?” I ask the head of my knight order. There were several capable fighters yesterday that other than the winners that I asked Roderic to extend an invitation to. I couldn’t offer them knighthood or extra rewards, of course, but there were a few free roaming knights who I could hire to join my knight order, of which there are about 100 members. They were mostly knights who had lost their lands through debts or bets and needed to earn money to maintain their lifestyle. Members of my order would receive suitable compensation, while what I get is capable officers who must listen to orders. Although all knights who have sworn to my family need to answer the call to arms in war, there are several times when war is not called but a military officer is needed, like a bandit group, rebellion or plague. The knights of my order are not only capable fighters and literate like all knights need to be, but they are also integrated with my forces so they can lead small numbers independently. The peasant members could be recruited into my guard to form my elite unit for protection and special jobs.
“I did, My Lord, several of the sell-swords agreed though none of the knights did this time. The one you asked me to look into specifically also refused, though he did state that if he was to enter into anyone's service in the future it would be the Starks.” He tells me after remembering the odd request I mentioned.
During the feast on the final day of the tournament I spotted Arya and Sansa having an argument. Arya and Bran were apparently telling Rob and Rickon about a sell-sword they met. They were discussing something that he said when Sansa came and said something Arya didn’t like, which led them to arguing like always, and Cat had to take them away. I was curious so I asked Bran what it was about. They apparently went to see Ben, the winner of the archery the other day to congratulate him on his match.
I remembered the man, a commoner who made quite a show in the preliminary matches, not only did he demonstrate excellent archery skill but he was the star of the melee. The first surprise was when Arya and Jon clapped for him, though I was relieved that it was just because they had met the previous day by coincidence. When he injured that man, I was somewhat angered in his brutality and I admit I was looking forward to him getting walloped by the others. His later actions took me by surprise, and it took me a while to realize what felt wrong. It was like a play, every action he made was done to influence the other opponents. That made me a bit irritated as those sorts of tricks were quite distasteful, though when I considered the setting, I couldn’t think of any better method to achieve victory
The fact he didn’t just have tricks, but actual sword skills as well, made me feel better as well. The match against Ser Thomas, a man who fought during Greyjoy Rebellion and achieved several accolades, was a testament to his skill. When I was curious and found out he was only 16 I was shocked. I thought he would be at least 18, probably 20, yet for a peasant to train such skills in both the sword and bow at such an age is nearly unheard of. When I asked Bran what the argument was about and heard the tale of the dog and bone I first chuckled at the imagery and then smiled at the fact he both understood the message and applied it to his actions. When he surrendered the semi-finals I was disappointed, though considering he then went on to win the archery I have to say it was wise decision. Arya had apparently started talking about becoming a knight, when Sansa told her she couldn’t and Arya used the boys argument on her, that she needed to be efficient, to which Sansa asked how she was going to be efficient, which brought Arya to a still, not having thought that far head, the argument devolving into the general name calling and useless arguments again. While I don’t like that he is encouraging poor habits in Arya, his philosophy was very interesting.
I had already decided to recruit him for my guards then, and when he won the archery, I offered to give him an officers salary, the boy was still young so he could be trained into a capable knight or soldier. The fact he refused this time was disappointing, but not unexpected, after all when I was his age me and Robert were obsessed with exploring and adventures, I'd be a bit saddened if someone that young didn’t experience life while he had the chance.