Magnificent, it seems I picked the right person. “That was incredible! How did he do that, Ser Koln is at least twice his size, yet he swatted him away with barely any effort at all!” My nephew is shouting at me, shaking my arm, all seriousness from earlier has disappeared, only an excited boy watching his favourite champion remains. I lied to Ben earlier when i told him Nathan was his fan, but it seems now that lie has become the truth.
My nephew has been causing me quite a bit of trouble recently, going on about how he wants to squire for the knights. My brother died about 9 years ago, and since then I have been raising him as my own. I taught him how to read and write, arithmetic, history, the only thing I failed to teach him was common sense. As a resident of Winter Town, just like all the other boys, when he was young, he would watch the knights and wish to be like them. The problem was that unlike the others he actually put in the effort to become one, but he lacked the talent. He was always a short lad, runs in the family, lacked the training and skill to make up for his deficiencies.
Most people would give up when they realize they can’t accomplish their goal, but not Nathan. He decided if he couldn’t become a knight, then he would be the next best thing, a squire to one. With my resources buying him a place would be an easy matter, but he didn’t want just any squire ship, he wanted to squire for the best fighters. The problem with those people is that the vast majority are either the head of Houses knight forces, whose status wouldn’t allow them have a brothel owners relative as a squire, and the others are those who also act as mercenaries, and their squires don’t do well, they will either be treated as slaves, or die, most of those guys have had 3 or 4 squires in their careers either from them quitting or dying.
So, I needed a knight, or someone who would become a knight, that is not only skilled enough to get my nephew’s attention, but also smart and kind enough to take care of Nathan. That was where Ben came in. I have been paying attention to him for the past year as a potential knight. He has the skills, the reputation and the brain. From our talks I have found him to be much smarter and wiser than many nobles his age. When he told me that he would be attempting to be knighted this time I decided to introduce Nathan to him with the hope the pair would be taken with the other. I can firmly say Ben impressed Nathan, and from what I saw he was not too disappointed with him either. If I take advantage of our past relationship, and being first to offer, I should be able to convince him.
“torso, stop, final point Ben, winner Ben!” The referee shouts to the crowd as I strike my opponent in the side. This was the final match on the fourth day and I had finally accomplished my goal. The semi-finals and finals went as expected, I won them both with a 5 to 0 lead, becoming one of the first in many years to win a flawless victory in the Stark tournaments for all my matches. I bowed to my opponent, a knight under House Glover, and bowed to the Starks as I waited for my reward. The Stark kids were cheering for me as well, though Sansa and Rob were more subdued due to their station, and Jon had quietened in general over the years, but the younger ones were shouting their lungs out until their mother, Lady Catelyn Stark, hushed them.
Eddard rose to address to audience. “A splendid match, you both fought with honour, bringing glory to yourselves and your families. There can be only one winner though. Ben of Oakbridge, step forward.” I walk forward till I was within several metres of him, then I got on my knees and asked him. “Lord Stark, how may I assist you?”
“Rise young man.” I do so. “Your actions today have brought pleasure to my family and my subjects, and for that I would like to reward your valour. I offer you a place among my court, as a knight of House Stark, to bear my name wherever you may go. Do you accept?” He lays it on a bit thick, if I wasn’t sure that he knew I was already planning to accept from his kids, I would think he was trying to force me into accepting, to refuse would mean insulting him in front of an audience, making a bad enemy. Since I know he isn’t then I decide to play along.
“Lord Stark you have given me a great honour. I would like to accept. I swear by the Old Gods and the New, that I will serve you and your family, from this day until my last day.” I declare to the audience.
“Very well, after the award ceremony, come to the Winterfell keep, you may swear your oaths and be instilled as a member of my court. Know that as a knight you will be required to choose a family name so I hope you will decide before then, if you haven’t already.” Eddard smiles to me and calls the melee to a close. The archery will follow this and then the joust before the award ceremony. By the time all that is finished then the sun will start to set, and I will swear my oaths to the setting sun.
I return to the stands under the applause of the spectators, intent on finding some food and freshening up before the ceremony. It is not a requirement to be clean, but I will be swearing in front of the Stark family and any of the knights currently present in Winterfell, it is wise to make a good first impression considering I may need to work with them in the future. I was just making my way to Brutus, when I saw him munching on a large roasted chicken, Marsal and his nephew standing to the side, smiling as he wagged his tail in happiness.
“Marsal, Nathan, pleasure to see you, is this just to deliver my cut, or do you have other business with me?” I ask him, reminding him of the promise he made me. “Ben, can’t you just enjoy the moment, celebrate with your good friend and not think about money all the time?” He shakes his head in a sad manner, exasperated that in my moment of triumph the first thing to come to mind is further profit.
“’When the field has been harvested and the ramparts built, only then shall I call myself king’, not the most relatable notion, but I make it a habit to never let an opportunity pass me by, especially one with all to gain and nothing to lose. My knighthood is a guarantee already, unless I murder someone in the next few hours, I will become a noble under the most powerful Lord in the North. Besides as a noble I will need resources to maintain my new luxurious lifestyle.” I give a fake sweep of a cloak over my shoulder, giving my best noble prick imitation.
“PFFFT, HA HA, sorry, the image of you at some noble ball just passed my mind. You are the sort of person who never remains more than a month in the city, and gets antsy if you and Brutus don’t hunt in the muddy woods at least once a week. You personally told me that you see cities as little more than trading outposts for good wine, sex and spices, not necessarily in that order.” Marsal fails to stifle his laughter with his hand, reminding me of when I got incredibly drunk at his establishment once and ranted my complaints with the city. Don’t get me wrong I like the markets, buildings and knowledge you can find in them, but the smells, confusion and noise of cities will mean I will never settle down in them. In the past life even when I was married, I didn’t live in the city centre, but on the outskirts with the mountain to my back which I travelled every day. The Starks have the right idea. Not only do they have their keep right next to the Wolfwoods, and from what the kids tell me they even have a small grove within their walls, called the Godswood, where the holy tree, Wyrm tree, stands. It is supposedley large tree that has lived for thousands of years, with the image of a face growing on it. It is to that tree that I will swear my vows this evening.
“Haaah, but enough of that for the moment, I was wondering if you could do me a favour?” He asks while I'm in a good mood. “Depends what the favour is?” I answer, not committing.
“My nephew has been wanting to be a squire for several years, and he considers you one of his greatest inspirations. I also think he cannot go wrong with you. After you take your vows would you be willing to take him under yourself?” He asks to my surprise. Marsal has always been somewhat dismissive of knights, seeing them as shiny soldiers, good for getting people betting and better at killing, but nothing religious or honourable about them. He once told me that if he believes in any god, it is the god of gold, similar to the Iron Bank of Braavos, though there isn’t a literal god of gold they worship, they are the most powerful merchants on the planet, with banks in every major port and capital in the Seven Kingdoms.
Before I can debate the pros and cons, Marsal continues, “I am willing to pay the cost for up keep, monthly or yearly, however you want, provide his own horse and equipment. Nathan is literate, talented in numbers and has learned how to take care of horses and armour for several years now. All you need is to take him with you when you travel, treat him like a servant who cleans and cooks if you must. Please, do me this favour.” He bows his head, Nathan copies him as well.
I consider the possible disadvantages. If the costs are taken care of and he is already trained, the only possible problem with taking an unknown person as a squire would be the risk to my honour and face if he messes something up, but I was never much bothered about that, and can always dismiss him if he turns out to be a problem child. I turn to address Nathan.
“Nathan, if you follow me you will be required to follow my orders, you may give advice and suggestions, but my decision will be final. If you fail to accomplish your tasks, I will send you home, am I understood?” He nods and thanks me.
We all go our separate ways, I get stopped once more by the Starks, who congratulate me, saying they didn’t doubt me for a second. I tell them that I need to get ready for the ceremony and that i will see them at the feast later. I and Brutus head back to the inn where I ask for a heated bath to be prepared, paying the extra cost. I take a nap while I waited, then wash and change into some more formal clothing I had prepared earlier in the week, and waited for the reward ceremony at 5 and then the knighthood ceremony at 6.
I walk down the cobblestone pavement, sword by my side, flanked by guards with Lord Stark in the lead. The Godswood seems to surround us on all sides, the rustling of the trees in the wind sounding different from every other time I have entered the forest, almost like they are trying to speak. There is an energy in the air, not qi though, something else. Qi belongs to the world, and though I have been in areas in the past where the qi is slightly higher or lower, this is the first time I have ever felt the qi replaced by something else.
I have my hand on my sword the entire time, suddenly wishing that Brutus was beside me, he had to wait in the courtyard outside. The rest of the guards and knights don’t seem to notice any change, though they have become more solemn due to the religious reasons, when they see my restless appearance, they thought it was just nerves for being knighted and even smiled slightly. The only special case would be Lord Stark. He feels different when I look at him, since entering this area I have felt he has gotten stronger, straighter back and calmer. I don’t think he has noticed it, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I feel no malice in this place I would have booked it, fuck being knighted.
When we reach a large clearing, we appear in front of what can only be the Wyrm tree. The face of an elderly person, indistinguishable gender, and what appears to be the origin of this energy. I am entranced, it gives the feeling of constantly sending and receiving something, yet at the same time completely oblivious to our presence. It was that final aspect that allowed me to calm down and pay attention to the ceremony. I said my vows, gave my oaths and we left the clearing to return to the dining hall, where a great feast has been prepared to celebrate Rob’s Name Day. I am lost in thoughts, giving only the most minimal of responses to the knights and guards that try to talk to me. I have come to 2 understandings from this ceremony, the first is that this world is not deprived of extraordinary life like I previously thought, and second, I would need much more preparation and resources before I explore this world in its entirety.
Oh yeah, as a knight I was required to take a family name. I chose the only one suitable. "I am Ben Baskerville, knight of the North." I declare, the name of both my lives joined into one.