Nathan (Ben squire) POV
“Nathan hurry up, i swear if you separate from me I won’t bother to look for you.” Ben calls from ahead. Ser, even if you don’t search for me. Afterall it’s hard to miss a renowned knight riding beside a bear sized dog.
Ben says that Brutus is a boarhound, and I might have believed it at one point but not anymore. At over 150cm tall weighing 400kg if you met him by a river your first instinct would be a cave bear had come to hunt. Fortunately, we are with him and this isn’t the first time they’ve been to this city for a tournament so they are recognised, otherwise the city watch would likely show up in force to put him down. He still receives the odd scream from a startled passer-by and stares from inquisitive children, but after 4 years they have mostly gotten used to him, and is now treated as one of the wonders of Winter Town.
Once we reach the castle, we are approached by the door guards.
“Ser Baskerville, it is an honour to see you again so soon, how can we assist you?” He asks with a bow. We are frequent visitors for the Starks these past few years. Whenever Ben appears for a tournament he will stay at the Knight quarters in the Winterfell keep, where he will always be greeted by the Young Lords and Ladies. My uncle once told me that it was good to give them space and not get in their way unless they initiate it, trying to establish a relationship forcefully would only result in a negative opinion from everyone. I listened to his advice but didn’t really care about connections, I was just happy to be interracting with them.
“I heard the king was visiting Lord Stark and I came to pay my respects.” We heard the news when we were in Karhold, the Karstark House’s settlement. As a large house in the North they have several businesses in their name that travel all the way to the Capital in the south, so they got their news faster than most others. It only makes sense to see what the king is like. Afterall the king hasn’t visited the North in all the years he has been in power, despite the supposed friendship between the Starks and Baratheons. To be fair, the North is about 600 miles away from King’s Landing, unless there is important business, the king shouldn’t be travelling so far.
“Of course, the king sent a messenger this morning, he will arrive tomorrow at noon with his family and the rest of court. When he arrives, you can meet him with the rest of the knights.” The guard informs Ben. “What an honour, to meet king Robert, I heard he was a fantastic warrior.”
Yes, the stories of Robert still sing in the North even 6 years after the war with the Ironborn. Ser Ethel often complained to Ser Ben that he wishes he had seen the king and Lord in action. Ben has often had to comfort the despondent Ethel reminding him the war against the Greyjoys was nowhere near as glorious as people made it seem. The largest victories were primarily made by Lord Stannis,the master of ships, and the men of the Seaguard, the battle of Pyke was difficult and gruelling, with very little rewards for the men who fought. If Ethel had joined the main contingent with the Lord and the King, an ordinary merc like Ethel would have just been cannon fodder when taking the beaches, becoming food for the crabs.
I used to disagree with Ben’s viewpoint and was quite dissappointed when the knight I chose to serve appeared to be qiute the coward. I later realised Ser Ben was just cautious and avoids danger when possible, but when we once were stopped by a dozen bandits in the road, they barely got a single word out before 2 were dead with knives in the throat another was torn to pieces and from then on they were just cut to pieces. It was the first time I had ever seen someone move that fast. From then on I kept my opinion to myself and followed him faithfully.
As Ben thanked the guard, Brutus started to sniff the air before bounding off in the direction of the courtyard.
“Guess the Starks are out playing today.” Ben says with a sigh, turning to me. ”well better catch up before he causes an incident.” He then starts running at a light jog while i bring the horse and our luggage to the stables where I can ask the men there about our accommodations.
As I round the bend, I can see Brutus nuzzling Bran, while Rob and Theon laughing by the side. It seemed they were in the middle of archery practice judging by the discarded bow and targets. Theon was someone I only got acquainted with after I was knighted. He is apparently the son of Balon Greyjoy, the ruler of the Iron Islands, with Theon the next in line. After the war 6 years ago, Theon was taken by Lord Stark as a ward, though the unofficial reason is as a hostage, to keep Balon from rebelling again. I feel bad for the guy as he isn’t a bad kid. He is the same age as Rob and can be a bit of a dick sometimes, but who wouldn’t if they were taken from their homes as a child and their lives are in the fate of someone hundreds of miles away. Fortunately, the Starks are almost impossible to dislike, after 6 years Theon has opened up to the other Stark boys, to Rob especially. He still acts arrogantly from time to time, but that is just compensating for years of inferiority complex.
“My lords, sorry to interrupt your practice but I seem to have misplaced my steed, would you happen to know where he has gone?” I say while sending a silent message to Brutus. At the signal, Brutus grabbed Bran by the scruff and chucked him onto his back where he held on tightly, giggling all the while.
“It seems your steed has been stolen, you really should treat such a fine beast better, Ser Ben. Many would give their legs for such a prize, myself included.” Rob lightly goads me.
“You’re just in time really, Bran hasn’t made a decent shot all day, he could use some pointers from the greatest marksman in the North. Really,I think the kid needs to find a different goal than the kings guard with skills like those.” Theon adds in jest, he knows that he himself was no great archer, though he is capable with a sword for his age. I will often give the boys some tips in the bow, though I am inferior in terms of sword skill compared to the master at arms, so other than sparing I don’t try to advise them on those.
Bran told me the last time I was here that he wanted to join the kingsguard in the future. The Kingsguard are a group of 7 warriors personally chosen by the king to protect him. Each of them must swear eternal vows to serve the king unto death, with each of them having accomplished feats so astounding that they are sung for hundreds of years. It is a good goal for Bran, as the second son he is unlikely to inherit and the kingsguard is a good method for Nobles to strengthen the bonds with royalty. Of course, that is under the condition that he can achieve the skill required.
“Big words for big boys, but which of you was a marksman of 10.” another aged voice came from the ramparts. As we looked up to see Ned stark, I bowed to my knees. Brutus copied me with a tilt of the head, allowing Bran to slip from his back. I keep the fact that I was a better archer than most by the age of 8, I am probably an exception to the rule.
Chuckling, Ned said, “Rise Ser Baskerville, and Ser Brutus, having the 2 of you in my keep fills me with ease. Tell me Ben have you come just for the king or will you grace my family with a visit as well.”
“you honour me lord stark, if you will have me.” I say getting to my feet and returning a smile. My frequent visits to the stark children, especially Bran and Arya who I get along best with has earned me quite a few browny points with the lord of Winterfell.
“I have told you before, you when among friends you may call me Ned if you wish.” Ned Stark tells me.
“You do me a great honour Lord Ned. Now Bran, how about I give you a few pointers with the bow and then we can go play with the others.” I tell him
After an hour of practice Bran has started to calm himself a bit more and has stopped getting his fingers in the way of the fletching, though by now the strain on his fingers is affecting his accuracy. When we decide to stop, we see Arya waiting at the edge of the courtyard, bouncing from one foot in anticipation. She was likely told by her father not to interrupt our practice.
As we walk over, I spot 2 lean looking dogs which Brutus wanders over to smell. The dogs cower before the mighty beast, displaying subservience and allowing Brutus to smell them as Arya hugs him to try and get his attention.
“Hey brat how’s it going.” I call to her. Arya reacts best to informal address than calling her a lady of any sorts. “Who’s the pups, have you brought Brutus a snack.” At the mention of snack Brutus starts to drool a little.
“No, bad Brutus! They aren’t pups, they are direwolves, this is Nymeria and this is Summer.” says Arya in indignation. The direwolves, released by Brutus, proceed to stand by their respective masters. Nymeria stands at attention, chest out by Arya, while Summer licks Bran’s hands which were likely tired from practice. “When Nymeria grows up she will be even bigger than Brutus, and then he’ll be the one bowing to her.” Unlikely, Brutus is still only at the peak of 1st tier and still has room for growth. Even if the direwolves grow to be as large, they will still be no match for Brutus with his increased intelligence and strength. The fact the Starks have gotten dire wolves is still news to me as they weren’t here the last time I visited, and unlike dogs, no one sells them so they would have had to be caught.
“Alright fine, you win. Now how bout I show you 2 a new knife trick while we wait for lunch.” I tell them to their delight. Like that we spend the next hour playing, the dogs joining at times, till lunch came and the starks went their own way.