The events for that day unfortunately didn’t end there, after the fight the king asked to ride with me.
“I must say Ser Baskerville I am disappointed. Yesterday I talked with Ned and asked him what were your chances of victory and what he told me had me looking forward to a great fight. He said you were the fastest swordsman in the North and in terms of bow you are unmatched. Your hound who Ned told me wasn’t the father to his dire wolves but instead just an ordinary boar hound, one the size of a bear maybe, but of normal birth. I had thought to offer you a place among the King’s guard if you won though now, I am not so sure.” Robert confessed his previous intentions, surprising me.
“You do me a great honour, your Majesty, but the king’s guard wouldn’t suit me. Before a knight I am a hunter, and me and Brutus wouldn’t trade the woods of wilds for the congested city if we could help it. Not to mention I have now displeased both your wife and son, who would not like my company much.” I quickly try to dissuade him from any further thought of me in the King’sguard. For most second sons and low born knights it is the honour of a life time, but being a King’s guard means swearing to protect the royal family for the rest of my life, I would likely never return home and lose all my previous freedoms. The fact I would be required to give my life to save the queen and prince if it came to it.Made my skin crawl.
“Fair enough, it was just a thought, no need to look for escape routes.” The king replies, my intentions seen through. “You were right to fear Tywin though. That man is dangerous to everyone who gets in his way. That man would like nothing more than to stick himself or his son on that throne, instead he just settles for controlling me.” Shit, I do not want to get involved in any more politics, and if the king opens up to me in confidence, I might get dragged into it. I quickly excuse myself, saying I needed to check on my family and head back to camp. When I get there, I can see my family with the Starks, Arya and Elsa looking particularly worried.
“Ben I am so sorry that this happened, it’s all my fault.” Arya tells me, clearly regretful of the danger I was put through. I just hope this hasn't traumatised the girl. Though knowing Arya she will bounce back soon.
“Ben are we going to be alright?” Elsa was clearly put through a lot, between worrying for my safety and thinking of the future problems, she was drained. She had never been involved in such heavy actions like treason and fights to the death. She had seen her share of duels but they never ended in death, the ones she saw at least.
“Both of you don’t need to worry. The fight is over now and both of us have got away with little injury and not much loss of face. They should be as eager to put this whole thing to rest.” I comfort them to their obvious relief. I wasn’t lying, though I may have been more optimistic about the chances of this blowing over than I let on. I am just a lowly knight of the North, hardly a political opposition, and the Lannisters should have much greater troubles than me to worry about. With my offer for a duel mentioned earlier, they shouldn’t try to have me killed for fear of suspicion, and instead want Jaime to remove this shame by defeating me. If they paid me enough, I might even be willing to take a dive, provided the conditions weren’t like today. They get honour, I get money and relief from losing a powerful enemy, win-win. Of course, this is all under the assumption they can see more than a step ahead. For a normal noble family this shouldn’t be a problem, but from what I've seen of the queen, I have my doubts.
Just as I thought I was finally off the hook, Ned came up to us and asked to see me alone, a deep frown on his face. We rode for about 10 minutes in silence and when we were far enough from camp for anyone to accurately discern us, I bowed to him from horse back and broached the topic I was sure he wanted to.
“Lord Stark, I have brought shame to your name and the name of the North today, for that you have my greatest apologies. You took great pity on me when you knighted me, which I have repaid with dishonour. I have no excuse except it was the only way to ensure my families safety.” I give the most heartfelt apology I could think of. As a knight of House Stark whenever I fight, I am bearing their name. My fight will have dragged their name into the dirt and could even cause me to lose my title. It would be a shame, but I would also be forbidden from seeing the Stark kids again. A shamed ex-knight has no business corrupting the children of a great family, and all that.
“Ben” Ned starts to say as he places his hand on my shoulder and pulls me upright. “You saved my daughter’s life, that is a debt I can never repay. Why on earth would you need to apologise?” He asks looking me dead in the eye. He is completely serious, though he appears to have a slight smile tugging on his lips.
That was not what I was expecting. “But the duel... you must admit my Lord it was not the exemplary demonstration of skill.” I remind him, honestly wondering if he forgot.
“That is true.And yet it was still one of the most noble demonstrations I have ever seen.” He smiles at me. “You were willing to risk your life, throw away your fame, position and dignity all for the sake of avoiding causing your family trouble. Why did you? I have known men who would sell their family and responsibilities for even the slightest rise in station, or even to just avoid blame.” He asks me, genuinely curious.
I think for a bit and point to the East, saying, “2 miles from here lies my father’s body, who died at the Trident to make this kingdom a safer place for me. Before he left us, I promised I would look after this family.” I turn to look at him, startling him with the conviction in my eyes, “Fuck the Lannisters, even if the gods themselves descended they would have to crawl over my corpse before they even think of harming them. Pride, dignity, fame? What’s that, can you eat it? They are currency that I would spend in a heartbeat if it meant keeping that oath.” I declare, opening up for the first time to him. This was probably not the best idea to reveal all my feelings to my Lord, especially my willingness to oppose my superiors. No matter the position that is always an undesirable trait in a subordinate.
Ned is silent for a moment likely stunned by my outburst. After a few moments he smiles, and laughs in a deep voice, slapping his leg twice to the displeasure of his horse. “Well said, Ben well said.” He compliments me. “Those who keep their oaths are in short supply these days, knowing another is serving my family brings me comfort.” He drew his sword. “I swear to you Ser Baskerville,by the gods New and Old, if you protect my family, I will protect yours.”
Ned Stark, Paramount of the North, the Quiet Wolf who declares war and the entire North follows, just swore an oath to me. I’ll admit it I was stunned. When the Mad King declared war and the North, Vale, Stormlands and Riverlands rose up, itwas only the North that was completely united.All the others had lords that refused the call or even sided with the king. Only the North rallied together behind the recently named heir, who was only 20 at the time. People have argued that that is because of the distance from the North to the capital they have always been estranged from the influence of the royals, but that doesn’t change that the Starks have ruled the North for thousands of years and Ned is the undisputed ruler. An oath from someone like him, especially someone famous for keeping his oaths, is the same as gaining the backing from the entire North.
As Ned resheathed his sword and heads back to camp, leaving me dazed, I think that my previous priorities have changed. I never put too much thought into the oath I gave when knighted, my relationship to the Starks and protecting Arya was due to my fondness for the children and I was sure I could get out of the situation alive. Now, I feel that just like when I served my father-in-law from my previous life. Ned Stark is a lord worthy of serving. I turn my horse and return to camp, a whimsical smile on my face.
My goal still haven’t changed, I will not dedicate my entire life to the Starks, but I think going the extra mile is more than necessary.
Our journey to king’s landing continued without further troubles. The tension between the Lannisters and the Starks were stretched to be certain, but fortunately Cersei was too busy tending to her brother and son to be starting trouble, while the king and Ned stopped further conflict between the guards and banner-men.
I did decide that I needed to speed up my cultivation so that I would have greater options. Before this journey planned to wait until our return to break through to 2nd tier but that was a mistake. If I was 2nd tier then I could have fled with my family and avoided capture if I didn’t want to risk the trial. Or the fight with Jaime could have been much smoother. I had to use tricks and dirty tactics to beat him without killing him, but at second tier I could have beaten him easily just relying on my increased reflexes and strength.
It took me 10 days to break through to the 2nd tier. The 1st tier involves having qi flow to every part of your body allowing for bursts of strength. The 2nd involves pushing that energy outside the body. This not only increases your qi greatly, boosting your physical strength far beyond what your muscles would previously indicate, but you can mould qi into objects you touch. In my case I would use it to wrap my bow and or arrows.
The bow would gain greater tensile strength effectively doubling my range. Imagine a bow that has a maximum range of 300 metres suddenly doubling to 600. Without shields or cover I could wipe out a dozen archers before they even get in range to return fire, and even when they are with my superior skills and power, I could kill another dozen or 2 easily.
With the arrows I can make the qi stay within the arrow for a few seconds, giving it extra penetrative power. The arrow method is a lot more costly so I rarely use it except for particularly sturdy foes. With my new sword skills, I even have an additional method of combat than my previous life. I can use qi to strengthen my sword and sharpen it so that it outclasses most other varieties.
With my superior physical abilities and qi levels even my previous qi skills have been increased. My body has evolved so that my muscles are like metal fibres, even without qi I could achieve the previous levels of speed and strength that was only possible for short times when boosted. When I do use qi to work my muscles, I can use 10 times a normal man’s strength, allowing me to chop a tree with a single swing.
When we finally arrived at the capital my family and I split from the Starks, after promising to visit Arya and Ned at the keep, so that we could find lodgings of our own. When the five, 4 people and 1 dog, entered the city the first thing we noticed was the smell. I had never quite realised how large numbers of people crammed into small space could cause so much rotting and shit. It was almost unbearable for Brutus, whining constantly, even going so far to use our bond to express his displeasure with qi. Winter Town is much more spread out and the population is half the size, with a lot of them moving in and out at times. This city has over half a million people living here every day.
“Nathan, ride ahead and try to find us lodging near to the port, hopefully the smell of the sea and the winds will help hide the scent of shit and filth. We will be near the docks, come find us when you’re done.” I order and hand him several stags which should be enough to find us rooms in a decent inn. “Yes Ser.” He answers.
As Nathan trotted off down the streets to the merchant district we turned to the sea and headed for several large ships being loaded and unloaded. The sights were amazing, there was everything from spices from Essos to fish from the Iron Islands. The trinkets and toys were numerous and complicated, variety astounding. Ed and Elsa split up to find their own forms of interest, I sent Brutus to follow Elsa as a guard.
While I was walking along the docks, looking at this and that, I spotted a curious ship that didn’t have anything loading or unloading, just a wooden desk with a man writing on it. As I get closer, I see a sign that says, “Braavos, Red Runner, passage and delivery.” On the side there is a clip with a large 2 next to it. I approach the desk and ask the man there.
“Hello sir, could you tell me what these signs mean?” I place a coin worth 100 coppers on the desk to encourage a helpful response. He takes it, smiles and places his quill down before addressing me.
“This here is the Red Runner, under the command of captain Jack. We are a passenger ship. For 3 dragons we will escort you safely across the Narrow Sea to Braavos. We also transport small items such as letters and valuables for a negotiable price. The number means how many days are left before we depart.” The man replies in a heavily accented voice. “The number on the side means we are leaving in 2 days, so if you want any of our services you better tell me today, tomorrow is the day we don’t take anymore requests and finish our preparations.”
I thank the man and continue along the pier, spotting many similar ships, the difference being in their destinations, names and numbers. I walked around the port some more, the beginning of an idea forming in my mind when I spot Brutus along with Nathan and the others. We head to the inn he found, place our horses and Brutus in the stables and rest from the journey.