I reached Winter Town the next day, and despite my ‘detour’, I still had 4 days till the beginning of the tournament. This one was for the same reason as my first, Rob would be having his name day soon, though this time the celebration would be bigger, as he is turning 15 and would be considered a man in the North, with the tourney lasting twice as long, and as many competitors. The reward for winning the melee will be 100 dragons, and 80 for the archery.
The first thing I did when reaching the city was find an inn and book a room. The second I did was head to the largest brothel. Now before you get any ideas, this is not apleasure visit. I have passed the age where I am having to cross my legs everytime a mature woman passes me by. No, the brothel is where I go for information on my competitors. The lords and knights that compete will stay in Winterfell, and I can get info from my Stark spies, aka Bran and Arya, on the names and reputations of the competitors.
The peasant competitors will have to stay in the city, and due to the need to find accommodation they will always arrive several days before the contest, like me. Now what are a bunch of young men, nervous about their upcoming fights, stuck in a city with lots of wine and beautiful girls for several days likely to do at least once. Most of them will spend at least one night here, and if not them one of their men will. Of course, this is not an original idea, and in fact it was a mercenary from one of my previous tournaments that I made friends with, that told me this. The smart mercenaries will do the same as me, fortunately, the brothels aren’t under any confidentiality agreement, and will tell me about not just the patrons of pleasure but the ones who ask for information as well. Of course, that means they will tell them about myself as well, but I am always noticed the second I enter the city anyway so no loss to me, after all I am a tournament champion, master archer, possess great looks... and I am the only person in the North to have over 100kg of man-eating fur walking beside me.
When I reach the brothel, I am escorted to a private room. I have used their services before, both of them and know I am a big spender. “May I ask what you will be needing today, honoured patron?” The guide, a lightly clothed girl with full breasts and light red lipstick asks me with a bow. I sit on one of the chairs while Brutus gets on the bed and gets comfortable. This is one of his favourite places because it is one of the few places he is allowed on furniture.
“Please inform Marsal that Ben of Oakbridge has arrived and would like to request some sensitive items, also a bottle of Moonshadow please.” I ask and hand her a coin worth 10 stags. She smiles and departs saying she will return with the wine immediately. The wine is a local delight, about 5 stags for a bottle, the rest was a tip. She returned a moment later with the bottle and a glass, telling me Marsal, the owner, would be hear in a moment.
I waited for about a minute, sipping the wine and listening to Brutus’s deep breaths, when a thin man wearing a thin vest and curled over hair entered. This man was the owner of the brothel, Seven Kingdoms. It gets its name from the fact that they are the only place that has girls from every territory in the seven kingdoms, even from Dorne which is so far South that you would need to travel twice the width of the North to reach its border. Considering the North is the largest territory that is quite the distance. He accomplishes it due to his backer, the master of Coin, Lord Peytr Baelish of the Vale. From rumours he is the richest man who doesn’t belong to one of the great houses, and owns or manages every whorehouse and brothel in the kingdom. That is an exaggeration of course, but where there’s smoke there is fire.
“Hello there, old friend, you too Brutus, why you are so big now, I should have brought the leg of cow rather than a goat.” Marsal addresses me and has one of the girls place a goat’s leg that has been cooked with exotic spices before the sleeping dog. He immediately wakes up and, after nodding thanks to the girl and Marsal, digs in to his treat. That’s the other reason he likes this place, the owner knows what he likes. I have been a patron of Marsal for a long time, pay upfront without haggling and given him a few favours on the side. This mutually beneficial partnership has developed into a mild friendship, though he would not give me a discount because of it, and I would expect no less.
“May I assume you would like the breakdown of the competitors again? Also are you willing to receive a few targets this time? The first question has only one answer but the second question is the favours I do for him. See, Marsal runs a few betting rings, with the preliminary being one of the biggest gambles due to the variety of contesters and the many ways the fight could go. Since the fighters are placed randomly in the ring, one of the contestants could be the greatest fighters in the North, he will have high odds to get past the preliminary, so lots of people bet on him. If he is placed next to several other good fighters and gets taken out immediately due to bad luck, that would be a win for Marsal.
That is where someone like me has such an appeal. Not only am I a skilled fighter, but I don’t intentionally try to go for the win, just like to fight, thus very few would bet on me, though that is not the appeal. See whenever those good fighters that lots of people bet on lose, Marsal makes money, so he would pay me to specifically target them. I am not only fast and able to manoeuvre through the other fighters, but almost no one can last long against me in a one on one fight anymore. I get to fight some worthy opponents, make some money and earn some favours with a powerful businessman, wins all around.
“Sorry Marsal, no targets this time, though if you want to make some money, I suggest you bet on me this time round. This time, I'm going for the win.” I tell him with a smirk on my face. He raises his eyebrows at that, he might not be a fighter himself buthe has been judging fighters for a while and knows I could have been the champion at one of the Starks tourneys for a long time but chose not to, in fact he once offered that if I told him when I went for the win, he would give me a share of the proceedings if I won.
“Well, it seems old Crag will no longer be the favourite to win, a toast to a new knight of the North.” He raises a glass to me and I return it. He is likely aware of the rumour that I have been refusing knighthoods for some time because I want to join the Starks, my returning his toast confirms it. Once we downed our drinks and poured another, we got to business and he told me all about the competitors, Marcus, the leader of the largest mercenary company in the North, the Cragmen, in particular.
Brutus and I left after an hour, both groggy from wine and full bellies. As I walked, I thought over the information Marsal gave me, about the prime competitors. There are many strong fighters here, but only 2 I need to watch out for. Ser Bradley Koln, head knight of House Mormont, a huge motherfucker that uses a great sword and has been fighting against Ironborn raids since he was a boy, about 30 years ago. The other is that Marcus fellow. The last leader of the Cragmen stepped down last year and Marcus was his second in command. He is strong and duel wields a pair of war axes, fierce in a fight and worst of all has very little sense of pain. There is a drug in the North called the Blood of Berserkers, a type of wine that when drunk in small quantities makes you high and see strange red hallucinations. The side effect of taking too much too often, is that it will dull your sense of touch permanently and turn you blind so that you can only see the colour red and no outlines. Marcus somehow either got he got the concentration just right, used a special formula or got extremely lucky, because while he can still feel it is dulled so he knows when he is hurt but doesn’t feel enough to stop fighting, and from what I hear he can see just fine.
Ser Koln won’t be much of a problem, he is strong and has a large range, but with qi I can momentarily stop his sword and strike him for the point, but Marcus is a problem. He is not only fast and strong, but he fights wild, not to mention I don’t have much experience fighting against double axes. The real danger will be fighting him later in the tournament. Including the preliminary matches there will be 3 days of melee matches with a day off between the semi-finals and the finals. Marcus is the sort of person who if the injury isn’t serious enough then he can keep fighting at full capability, I on the other hand will run the risk of being injured early on in the tournament and fighting him while weakened. I have confidence that I can move enough to avoid serious injuries, but if I get hit a few times on my legs like the first tourney, then I will be seriously disadvantaged. Of course, this is hypothetical, Marcus might get unlucky and lose early on in the tournament, or I could be matched up with him in one of the first few matches and fight him fresh. Hell, he could even be eliminated in the preliminaries, as unlikely as that... is?
I suddenly get an idea, a rather dirty one, but I never claimed to be clean, in fact I rather like mud, part of being a hunter. With those inconsequential thoughts passing I turn to return to the Seven Kingdoms, when Brutus starts to bark and run off. I sigh and follow knowing the likely destination, and resolving to carry out my plan tomorrow, I still have 4 days.