I waited in the house till dark. Nathan was sent ahead to the inn for the horses before heading to my own house where he will sleep for the night, while Brutus napped in his kennel behind the house. Due to not knowing how big Brutus was going to grow when he was young,I have had to remake that kennel twice to adjust for his new sizes. As I started to prepare the fire, I heard Brutus barking before a squeal of delight and loud laughter rang out. As a smile played across my face, I continued to stroke the fire,letting Brutus greet them first.
When the door opened 2 people and one dog entered. Ed was a fully grown man and hadn’t changed much since last time. He was about 1.9 metres tall, same as me, fully built with strong arms and sturdy legs. It looks like he has been trying to grow a beard, though I tell him it just looks scraggly, maybe he’ll grow into it. His hair is thick and brown with deep blue eyes and his mouth twisted into a grin.
Elsa on the other hand has grown even taller than when I saw her last, about 1.6metres, tall for a girl her age and with light brown hair flowing past her shoulders. Her face was split in a wide smile and before I could greet her, she gave me a hug, leaping into my arms, while Ed patted my shoulder.
“Wasn’t expecting the 2 of you to come here together. Didn't want to interrupt your work and lessons so I waited here for Elsa and then planned to find Ed after patrols.” I tell them when they let go. “I’ve already started the fire and bought some tomatoes earlier, thought we could have some soup for dinner.” indicating the fire and chopped tomatoes, as well as a few herbs and other vegetables. There is already bread in the pantry.
“That sounds lovely Ben. I passed Ed on the way back from the Roc house and invited him over for dinner anyway, though we were going to eat at Greta’s.” Elsa explained.
“So, what brings you home so soon? Thought you said you were going to the Wall and then to Whiteport.” Ed mentions my early return. About 3 months ago, after my most recent visit home, I decided to take a break from tournaments and see some of the greater sights in the North and start planning future journeys. I had already visited most of the landmarks and Houses in the North, the Wall was the only one left, and after that I was going to White Port, the largest port town in the North, where I was planning to look into ships for crossing the Narrow sea to the continent of Essos, the land mass East of Westeros. There are few ports on the West coast due to the constant Iron born raids and the lack of trading partners. To the East there is Essos, which is said to be far larger than Westeros and has more cities on its East coast than we do on the entire continent, and dozens of small islands scattered around. Other than the Iron Islands there has never been any discovery of other land masses to the West. All journeys out there end in either failure or death.
“The Wall isn’t going anywhere, but as I passed Winterfell I heard that the king was visiting the North and wanted to see him. I’ll explain the details to you later, but the main reason for my return is that I plan to go south. I will meet up with the Lord and kings procession at the Ruby Ford to pay respects to Dad’s grave. Then I will continue to see Kings Landing, get a look at what makes this capital city so special. I came back to see if you guys wanted to join me.” I told them about the kings arrival in the North, though they probably already knew, that sort of news tends to spread.
They both got sad when I mentioned dad, but cheered up quickly when I mentioned King’s Landing. “The capital! I've always wanted to go there! They say the streets are all paved like the kings road and there are parties and festivals happening every day. At the Rob Starks last name day, I saw one of the noble girls who was wearing a dress from kings landing and it was absolutely beautiful, please let me come.” Elsa asked, her mind already filled with gowns and jewellery.
“It could be fun, I've always wanted to see if the southerners are really as soft as the travellers say.” Ed says with a chuckle, bringing a frown to my face. Ed has been listening to lots of gossip at the tavern in Oakbridge and BushBurn over the years, and one common conversation topic is how the southerners don’t know the hardship of a harsh winter, and because of it they all grow up with smooth skin and bleeding hearts.
“Ed, I've told you about that sort of talk. Saying the south are a bunch of softies is like them calling us stupid barbarians. Though people rarely travel to the north I've still seen my fair share of merchants and sell-swords, many of them more than tough enough to match any northerner. If you guys come you are to be on your best behaviour, after all we will be travelling with the royal family who are from the south as well.” I say to them both and only move on when they both agree. Afterwards we all start to pack and prepare for the road. We will have to go to Bushburn to rent a few horses for Ed and Elsa, and then it will be about a week on the road to meet with the royal court and then another 2 weeks till the capital. All in all, we will be gone for nearly 2 months, so me and Ed would need to ask the captain of the guard for him to leave, though with a few silvers to hire a sell-sword to stand in should solve any issues.
‘here lies the heroes that stood against the mad king in the battle of Ruby Ford. May there spirits live on’ read the stone memorial placed in front of a field of many different flowers. There was everything from daisies of the north, water lillies of the riverlands and blue clovers of the Vale. This field was where the peasant soldiers of the armies dead were buried. The families of the soldiers brought flowers from their home to pay tribute and after 15 years those flowers spread to cover the entire field. The strange thing is that usually one or 2 of the flowers that are considered more invasive than others would absorb all the nutrients and kill the others, but here there are dozens of different species living in harmony, making it a special landmark hat has inspired many painters and bards in the area.
The three of us were standing in front of the grave, Nathan was several meters back watching the horses. Ed and me placed several flowers next to the grave and Elsa buried a copper coin in the dirt. She said she regretted not knowing dad better, and that coin was the first coin she ever earned. Not sure what the symbolism behind it was, but the emotions were palatable. As the one of us 3 that remembers him the best,I can say that he would be happy to know we came to see him, and that we all grew up healthy and safe.
After an hour we got on our horses and started to return to camp. We had met with the king’s court yesterday and were camping with the other Stark knights and guards while we travel. Arya and Ned were happy to see us and Sansa greeted Elsa, they had met before at one of the partieswhen I introduced her, though she was too busy flirting with the prince to give us much thought. Arya said that she was really bored the first few days of travel. There were very few people her age on this trip, the boys didn’t think a girl should train like a knight and the girls were like Sansa and Marcella,the Royal Princess, who didn’t like that stuff to begin with. Recently she said she found a boy who would practice stick fighting with her, so she was a lot better, and now that I and Brutus were here she was a lot happier.
I did hear some very sad news concerning her brother. Bran had been climbing one of the eastern towers, as he usually does despite his mothers wishes, when he fell from the tower. He lived, thank god, but is now bed ridden and in a coma. That came as a shock to me and Brutus, and I was very distraught for the first day, for the first day wishing I had practiced medicine skills. In my old world there was a type of practitioner that specialised in healing, called binders. Just like I use qi to manipulate my own body, they use it to manipulate others, speeding the recovery system, mending bones and causing livers and other organs to work better in order to flush out poisons. I never learnt it in my past life and I wasn’t willing to try it here. Without the first clue how to do it, rather than healing them I would likely just hurt them. It was an unofficial stance that the Binders not only acted as healers, but were also the best torturers. Imagine someone manipulating your insides to displace themselves, tearing your bones apart and then putting them together again over and over again, it is a never-ending hell which I am glad to have never experienced, and have no intention to inflict it upon anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, torture is sometimes a necessity in war when the one your torturing has information that could mean the life of yourself and your entire army, but it should always be the last method of information gathering when there are other options. Without a teacher I would have to experiment on countless animals and eventually people, just to get the barest idea of how to heal like a binder. That is a price I am not willing to pay.
With no other options, I resolve myself to just visiting Bran when I return from kings landing and trying to cheer him up, instead I put my thoughts to something more productive like helping Arya. Personally, I don’t think Arya should focus on trying to fight like a knight. She just doesn’t have the size, now or in the future, for armoured and mounted combat. I offered to show her the bow and knife which are more suited to her, but other than learning a few knife tricks that are more showy than practical, she insists on learning the sword.
As we were travelling along the river, pondering if I should give her and her friend a few lessons while on this trip, Ed could help as well, I saw a young boy running like his life depended on it away from a clearing and towards the woods. As I was about to call out to the boy, I saw a disturbance by the river and almost doubted my own eyes.
Arya, Sansa and Prince Joffrey were there, Joffrey was swinging his sword as Arya desperately dodged out of the way while Sansa screamed in a shrill voice to the side. Half a second later I stabbed my heels into my horse, bolting forward with Brutus running beside me, drawing my bow and an arrow. By the time I had an arrow knocked and aimed Brutus was already ahead and just 30 metres from the fight, I was twice the distance. I knew Brutus would be too late, Arya was pinned to a tree and Joffrey’s sword was raised, murder in his eyes. I drew my bow to full length, qi flowing to my arms, releasing the arrow.