The following days were spent no less merry though with better company. Ed, Ethel and the other Raven boys joined me in celebrating, on me as I promised earlier. We went to the best taverns and a number of brothels, though I didn’t really take to the latter. The women in the capital smelled too much of desperation and seemed to mix way too much perfume and oils to disguise smells, and the make-up would come off when feeling their skin. I am definitely a Northern boy, they have similar tastes. Though the others seemed to enjoy them so I let them have their fun while I mostly enjoyed the dances and drinks.
After a number of days I decided to get productive, and made some serious progress on my travelling plans. I found a distraught captain by the docks, a man named captain Curt Douglass, and when I asked what he was worried about I was told he was selling his ship. He came from the city of Myreen in Essos originally, though he was now quite mobile in the region, selling products here and there. His biggest yearly profit came from selling spices from the Summer Isles, an archipelago to the far South of Westeros, to the nobles in kings Landing. This year, due to the tournament bringing an even larger crowd, he thought he could purchase an even larger volume of spices to sell at the market. The problem was that to do so he borrowed a large amount of money from the Iron Bank, with his ship being put as collateral.
The plan wasn’t a bad one and if everything went right, he would have made enough to not only repay the bank, but could even have saved enough to buy another ship and start his very own fleet. 2 things went wrong however, the first was that due to his success in previous years, 2 other crews had the same idea as him and purchased the same spices as him. They arrived at the Summer Isles before him as well, meaning there was a shortage when he bought.So the price was higher, meaning he would have had a lower turnover. If that wasn’t enough when he was sailing back to Westeros he was caught in a storm.Between changing routes and repairing damages,it set him back 2 weeks on his journey, so not only did he not arrive before the tournament, he arrived in the middle. At this point his competitors had already cornered the market, and between the late arrival and no longer monopolising the trade, he was forced to sell his product at much lower prices than previous years, barely making any profit at all.
The money he made however was only barely enough to pay his crew and not enough for the debt. Just like that, a ship that would normally be worth 9,000 dragons was being used as collateral to the iron bank for less than half the amount. I started to get an idea, though I wasn’t just going to take his word over it. I asked when the debt needed to be paid and when he said 3 days I bid him good-bye. I spent the rest of the day asking the other port workers if the news they heard was true, and received confirmation from several sources. I went to the Iron Bank and bribed one of the clerks to find out if what he said was true. After confirming there as well, I also found the exact amount owed was 3,230 dragons. With the information confirmed I returned to Douglass the next day and told him who I was and about my proposition.
He would sell the ship to me for 4,000 dragons, for a period of 5 years, and I would hire his crew of 60 sailors for the price of 8,000 over the same period. The supplies would be paid for out of my own pocket and they would be responsible for my safe passage around the world. After the 5-year period I would return his ship to his full command and we would go our merry way. The payments would be conducted through the Iron Bank in King’s Landing.
Captain Douglass would open an account and the payment would be done every 6 months, provided that the bank received confirmation from me either in person or by letter. There are banks all throughout the world and they run a messaging service for such contracts as ours. They only deliver messages between banks, and only certain times of the year, but the price is much more reasonable than a lot of private message companies and merchants.
Since then I have been getting to know the captain and the crew, discussing certain journeys and what we will need, though that was all hypothetical for now, as the first journey would be to White Port. I needed to return my siblings home, Ethel and the Ravens are also joining us after I offered to give them a lift, to the pleasure of the rest of the crew, as extra protection is always welcome, though perhaps not necessary in this case.
The eastern coast is considered a well patrolled area, due to the fact that the kings brother, Stannis Baratheon, the master of Ships commands the Kings fleet from Dragonstone Isle to the east. He has made it a habit over the past decade to train his troops by hunting pirates, on the sea and in their bases, none are safe. It is said that while Stannis lacks the kings charm, he is every bit the skilled tactician, and unlike the king who has devolved into gluttony and debauchery, Stannis has kept himself sharp throughout the years. His nickname, ‘Iron-face’ is the sort of thing Tyroshi pirates tell their children about when they misbehave.
With all the preparations in order we decided to use the last of the gold I previously withdrew, about 64 gold, to celebrate properly for the next 2 weeks, which was decided to begin, to my distress, at one of Baelish’s brothels. Though they are not my favourite places to go, I figured, please a crowd, and start off with it. So, our group of 8 was travelling down the street, Myself, Ed, Ethel, Douglass who was quite the drinker we had found, Nathan and 3 of the Raven boys. Oh, Brutus is also next to me as Elsa has other protection today.
The other crew members were busy at the docks getting ready for set off, while the other Ravens were looking after Elsa. They volunteered to do that and she had no avoidance to extra help so I had allowed it. I've grown out of the age where I feel the need to tear the head off every boy that gets close to her. Though if any of them take advantage, or hurts her, I will literally feed them to the hounds. Don't have to go far, Brutus would gladly do it, and is big enough for 5 of them.
We were walking down the street, sharing a bottle of wine we bought, when I spoteed outside our destination a friend, Jory. Jory is the captain of Ned’s guard and someone I had spoken to on a number of occasions. I wouldn’t call him a friend, but definitely an acquaintance. He was standing outside the entrance of the brothel with 2 other guards who were familiar, definitely part of the Lords guards, but I don’t know their names.
“Yo Jory, what are you doing in this shady part of town. Don’t you already have a wife and child back home?You wouldn’t want rumours to start, would you?” I tease the man. I wouldn’t really tell his family if he was here for that, it is a relatively common thing in Westeros and is family business that has nothing to do with me. I do reserve the right to view those people as lesser men and women if they did, due to personal principals, but Jory doesn’t look to be here for that. He is fully armed, sober and on the look-out for trouble. Jory looks surprised to be greeted, but calms down when he sees who it is.
“Ser Baskerville, greetings, no I am not here to partake, but rather Lord Stark has business here.” He answers, ever the honest sort.
“Lord Stark, as is our Lord Stark, has business here?” I ask doubtfully. Ned Stark is one of the most dutiful men I know. Sure he has a bastard, Jon, but he had him when he was in his 20’s and around the time his family was dying like flies, with a war everywhere.Stress levels were high to say the least. The only other reason he could be here was if he was meeting someone in secret. In that case, I should probably give the Lord some privacy.
“Ben come on, if we are too late the Lord will get all the good ones.” Ethel encourages me. “We will wait out here, no need to interrupt him.” I declare in a serious tone, giving a signal with my hands. This was a signal we invented when we were boys, usually when playing pranks, and I have since taught it to Nathan to mean there is danger. The Oakbridge boys and my squire see the signal and get the message, sobering up, Douglass doesn’t know the signal but follows the mood of the rest of us, while the Raven’s listen to Ethel. When I am sure they are not going to enter, I settle outside to talk to Jory about the Stark family, as I hadn’t seen then for the last week as I have been busy with journey preparations. I also do it to give Ned a favour. If he is meeting in a brothel, with only a few guards rather than a full squad, then he must be incognito. My group might have added to the numbers and seem more noticeable, but we are all dressed and look like the sort of people that would patron the establishments in the area, so we help Jory and his men blend in.
From Jory I here that the girls are content. Sansa and Geoffrey get along well, with the direwolf Lady earning her the jealousy of the other noble ladies who all envy her temperament and beautiful fur.
Arya on the other hand has been running all around the keep, and often losing her guards to the chagrin of Jory and the other guards. She says it is for her dancing lessons, though they are more like fencing from my old world. I was surprised when I saw Arya show me some moves, as I had never seen a fencer in this world yet.
In my past there was a type of warrior specialisation called fencer. They were rare in the battlefield though they were favoured by the courts and on occasion by assassins. It was a type of combat that focused less on sweeping and more on thrusts, meaning it was not suitable for wide areas where you were having to fight with or against many people, but was especially effective on singular targets. I had never met a fencer who broke through to the 3rd tier, but those in the 2nd tier could create a dance with their movements, disassembling their opponents, controlling the rhythm of the fight, and when they struck, it would often look like a single blow yet the opponent wold have 5 to 6 holes on them, with only the sharpest of eyes could keep track of them. I never had to fight one, but between 2 of similar levels it would depend entirely on the range. If they are at a distance, they lack the defensive capabilities to resist my shots, and if they were close then they would stab me before I could get away.
I had never seen someone use fencing skills in Westeros, and just assumed that it was never a developed style here. Though apparently it is more popular in Essos, at least Braavos where her instructor came from. This makes me anticipate the other continents even more.
The only Stark who has been having trouble has been Ned, who seems to have recently had a falling out with the king over something, though Jory doesn’t know what. The past few weeks the lord has been particularly interested in how the previous hand perished and has been visiting the last places Lord Arryn went to before he died. This seems like the sort of crusade someone like Ned would undergo.
I was just talking about some of the other events that had happened, when Brutus suddenly barked, quietening the rest of us, and using qi to tell me he hears danger approaching. When everyone was quiet, I listened as well, and in a few seconds I started to hear a light banging noise, repeating in a pattern, getting louder as it gets closer. Lord Stark was just leaving the building with Peytr Baelish, the man I assume Ned was meeting, when a large group of armoured men rounded the corner of the street, a mounted man at their lead. As they got closer, we realised those were Lannister soldiers, all armed and armoured, and the mounted man removed his helmet to reveal himself as Jaime Lannister. Half the men passed us to lank us from the other side, effectively cutting off our retreat, while Jaime trotted in front of us. He appeared to be surprised when he looked at us, though he was even more surprised to see me, and scowled before addressing Ned.
“Lord Stark, sorry for interrupting you on your day off, but I seem to have replaced my brother. You remember him right, small fellow, likes to talk and drink?” he asks sarcastically, to which Ned remains silent. The brother he is talking about must be Tyrion Lannister, the famous dwarf of House Lannister. He was apparently in Winterfell when the king arrived but I didn’t see him. Arya told me he was a funny man, though he often smelled of wine. “You don’t know? Now that is confusing, because a little spider told me that he was currently being held in the Eyrie dungeons, after being kidnapped by your wife, Lady Stark.He was brought to her sister in the Vale where he is being held captive. Now that your memory is refreshed, I hope you can explain to me why he was taken.” Jaime continues, getting less sarcastic and a bit more irritated as he talks.
The Eyrie is the Keep of House Arryn, the Capital of the Vale, and one of the places that, like Winterfell, has the record of never being broken byan army in the last 2 thousand years of recorded history. It is supposedly a marvellous sight, a large mass of rock is held up by 4 supporting rock pillars from the nearby mountains, sort of like a natural, giant table. No-one knows how such a wonder of nature was made, but what everyone knows is that it is said to be impossible to invade by land. It is one of my top 5 places I want to see in Westeros and considered whether to stop in the Vale on the way home, or to go there immediately after the Wall to see it. The current regent of the House of Arryn is Lysa Arryn, the sister of Lady Stark. If this is true then it can only seem to be a conspiracy by the sisters.