I didn’t bother looting the bodies, most of the money was found on the captain and there was too much effort taking their weapons or searching for trinkets and the horses would make this too obvious it was me. I cut the horses loose and left their bodies where they were, we were far enough from the main road that no one should find them before animals dispose of the bodies.
As I reach the main road and continue along my journey, I think about the plan for the upcoming week. Since my first tournament I realized that my skills with the sword were very lacking, and while I don’t plan to change my specialisation, I felt it would be a waste of my second life not to develop them. I didn’t need a teacher, Ethan might not have been the best swordsman but he had over a decade of experience training the guard and fighting himself. Instead what I needed was experience using a sword in a variety of situations.
The way tournaments were carried out presented a prime opportunity in that account. I went from tourney to tourney, focusing primarily on the preliminary rounds to begin with. The preliminaries not only were relatively safe from injuries, the wooden weapons and rule allowing one strike, ’and I know that sounds hypocritical, but the problem isn’t my reactions’, but they also let me fight many opponents from different directions. Since I have no intention of becoming a noble, I won’t need to practice the duelling aspect first, though I did practice those, but instead I focused on creating a battlefield environment.
I fought different from my first tourney, aiming not to win the match, but to beat as many opponents as possible. I didn’t fight stupid, but i did fight aggressive. In the beginning I never got past the preliminary, the other opponents would see me as a threat and come at me from several sides, striking me down before I even beat my second opponent. Eventually, I got used to it, and started to predict how the opponents would attack me, just like in the past when I would hunt prey so many times that I predicted where they would go and how they would move. I soon beat my 2nd opponent, then my 3rd and it went on till after a year of tourneys, even when I was surrounded, I could bring down 5 opponents before being struck once. I earned a reputation in the North, became one of the ‘seeded’ foes among the commoners. That wasn’t a real title, it just meant that I was an audience favourite, due to my aggressive moves and incredible speed. It was about then I finally won a preliminary fight, not because I was able to cut down dozens of opponents, but because my opponents started to recognize me and stopped ganging up.
People who come to these tournaments are there to win, I mentioned that they didn’t want to sacrifice themselves for others. Well this one tournament it seemed everyone thought that at the same time they saw me. So, anyone I attacked fought defensively, tried to wear me down and stall till the other competitors attacked me or the numbers were met. Incidentally no one took the bait and there was only me and 2 others at the end. This was only a small tournament for a small house, only 30 people entered. I won the proper tournament as well, the first time ever. Lord Glaven, the lord whose son’s tournament I was attending, offered me a knighthood. I respectfully declined, saying I wished to travel the North more. I went to many more tournaments since then, using the same tactics. I rarely passed the preliminary except when in smaller tournaments, where i would sometimes get lucky and people would avoid fighting me in the preliminaries, in which case I would always win the proper matches as well.
I didn’t just participate in the melee, I also did the archer. As you would expect, I won every one of those, which allowed me to not just fund my continued training and send money home to my family, but earned me a reputation as the greatest archer in the North. The fact that I have remained undefeated for 2 years and my young age, meant people started to say I was blessed by the gods. I received many propositions from mercenary companies, lords and even foreigners who saw me to come into their service. I would come with different excuses every time, ‘The North is my home’, ‘i want to travel’ or ‘I need to look after my family’ the excuse would depend on the recipient and would be the one least likely to offend the other side.
I would return to Oakbridge every year for a month in winter, and this year I heard that Ethel became a knight, in service to house Moss, the lord he fought for at Pyke. He entered the Lords tournament and won, to his father’s great joy. He acted as I expected, sold the land he was bestowed to a merchant and came home to take over the family estate so his father could retire. He still needed to answer the Houses call for war, but other than that they don’t care where you live. He was looking to marry a woman he met in Grakhold, the keep of House Moss, and was going to convince her to come to Oakbridge in the next year.
With the money I have saved over the years I not only bought a horse, I also purchased a set of proper armour, plate, and a new sword. The money I sent home was used to expand our home to include a new kitchen area and 2 bedrooms, allowing our previously cramped house to become more than spacious. Ed had already joined the guards and was planning to purchase a house for himself next year.
Elsa had grown to become a beautiful young woman to the pleasure of the village and the displeasure of her brothers. Whenever me and Ed see one of the boys offer her flowers, compete for her attention or otherwise try to steal our delicate flower, Ed will often have to keep me back before I tear them a new one. Unfortunately, even if I try to keep myself away from Elsa when she is playing with her friends for fear of disturbing them, I neglected, at the beginning, Elsa’s 3rd brother. It seems my thoughts of stalking her suitors and hunting them down went through the link with Brutus and he hunted them on his own. He didn’t hurt them, thank god, but he did make it a habit to stalk the boys from behind, lightly growling and panting on their necks, often causing them to cry. Elsa quickly got mad and would try and push Brutus away, she would never fear the pup she helped raise, but the normally obedient Brutus would be adamant to stay by her side. I am loathe to admit that I would usually laugh at these, until she got frustrated and would come crying to me to make him stop. Realising enough was enough, I would drag the reluctant hound to the woods and make sure he was within sight whenever Elsa was playing so I could make sure he didn’t interrupt them.
Mum had unofficially retired, with Ed earning for himself and my income, she was the lowest earner in the family other than Elsa. She now volunteers at the inn to help Greta, who is now the oldest person in the village, with grey hair and sharp nails she is called a witch by the kids. Greta doesn’t really work anymore and has mostly handed the inn over to her nephew.
When Ethel told me about his knighthood, I decided that it was time for me to earn my place as well. My siblings are almost all grown up and I have trained my sword skills to an acceptable level, all that is left is to win the tournament at the Starks. There are several reasons I didn’t take any of the other Houses offers for knighthood and instead waited for the Starks. The first is the Starks are stable, they have remained in power for thousands of years, have loyal forces, decent management skills and are loved by the people. They might not be the richest house, though they are probably the best in the North, but they have a lot of land and from that comes a large army so they are unlikely to be provoked by anyone. Their stability is also one of the best, Lord Stark is in his prime and is healthy and strong, he is unlikely to die for decades, even if he did, he has several sons and daughters who are all healthy and from what I've seen, capable.
That leads me to my second point, my relation with the next heirs is considered very good. Since my first tournament I didn’t just go to other Houses, I returned to Winterfell about 8 times over the past and I would always see the Stark kids, though not by intention. We would be travelling the town and Brutus would sniff the air and either bring them to me or me to them, usually Arya or Bran as he seems to like them the most and vice versa. They had since introduced me to their other siblings, Rickon, Robert and Sansa. Rickon seems nice though a bit less adventurous than Bran, I get along with Rob even better than Jon, as unlike Jon who seems a bit too gloomy, Rob is more cheerful and will ask me for sword practice from time to time. I have gotten to know the castle staff in the years, so they treat me as a guest most of the time. Out of all the children the one I like the most would still be Arya who reminds me most of a combination of Elsa and Ed, cheerful and adventurous, which makes her sister a bit of a disappointment as she is what I was afraid a spoilt Elsa would become. She is polite definitely, but she seems a bit tuck up and is very dismissive of my experiences. The others enjoy my hunting stories and adventures, but she likes the ones about knights and ladies instead.
But back on track, when the Lord does die, I have a good relationship with the heirs, so even if we go to war on the off chance, I will unlikely be put on the front line, meaning about 20,000 will have to die before they get to me. Morbid but practical, see f 20,000 men couldn’t stop our enemies, unless I reach 3rd tier, there is nothing I will be able to change from that situation. Not to say that I could kill 20,000 men at 3rd tier, but I could undoubtedly assassinate the leader or perform guerrilla attacks for a week till they shit themselves at the slightest noise in the night. Yes, this is from experience. Irregardless if the North looks to fall i will do my part and then get my family and loved ones out of the North to wherever is safe.
But all of this is hypothetical and unlikely to happen. No point making contingencies for every possible situation.