I ran like my life depended on it, weaving through the crowds, trying to get to the ship before it was too late.
We arrived in Gulltown 2 nights ago. My ship rolled into the harbour like a wounded beast, drawing much attention from the other sailors. We explained our circumstance, caught in a storm, paid the toll for dockage and set to work. I told the crew they could have the day off, except for Curt, to recover from the previous ordeal. They lost several friends in the storm, needing time to mourn. The primary members of my band all gathered together and we discussed our tasks.
Curt and Ed would travel the docks to look for men to fix the ship. They would find out how long and how much it would take for both repairing and replacing the mast. Syrio and 8 of the Ravens would at as bodyguards. Arya and Elsa need to stretch their legs and get away for a bit. Being stuck on a ship with the overwhelming majority being men has not been comfortable, especially Elsa. The first time someone looked at her wrong, I tied him upside down on the mast till he lost consciousness, and I was only that gentle because the men were willing to risk themselves to help us at the brothel. But just because they hide the thoughts doesn’t mean Elsa didn’t notice them.
They were restricted to the docks and were to be together and with full escort at all times. I was sure Syrio would be able to deal with anyone except the best of fighters, and Brutus would be on the ship within earshot if there was an emergency. Brutus draws too much attention so he and Nymeria were told to stay on the boat while we stayed in Gulltown.
Ethel and I were in charge of information gathering for the kingdom. Ethel would take the remaining Ravens and check the lower down districts, posing as mercenaries, While I would take the higher class joints as a lowly noble visiting relatives on Little Sister, one of the 3 islands between the Vale and North. I met one of the sons of House Borell during a few tourneys, chatted a bit about his family and House. So long as I don’t get interrogated heavily by someone who actually lives there, I should be able to pass scrutiny.
The plan was to meet up tonight, gather all the information and options before deciding. That was when this morning, when I was in bed sleeping off a night of merry-making, when Brutus used a large qi signal to alert me of trouble. I got dressed as fast as possible, left the inn and started running.
Brutus was only supposed to act in an emergency, and if he still needs help then it means there is a force who can exceed 70 men and Brutus. There are only a few people who can so easily and quickly mobilise such a force. They are either the nobles of Gulltown, or men rich enough to hire a large company of mercenaries.
When I got to the ship I was surprised. I found no flames, blood or screams of pain. Only a light laughter coming from the deck. When I got up there, I found most of the people surrounding the door to my cabin, and a low growling sound coming from there.
“Ben you need to see this, Brutus got so big!” Arya spots me and calls me over. When I get there, I see that my door has been blocked by a wall of fur and teeth. Brutus had grown immensely since I last saw him. Previously he was about 1.5 metres tall and 450kg of weight. Now he was about 1.8 tall and 700kg heavy. He was nearly as tall as me when standing straight, and can barely fit inside the cabin. If in the past he could be confused for a dire wolf, now people would think he was a super grizzly. And that monster of mayhem was currently being barked at by Nymeria and sulking on the floor, looking at me with guilt in his eyes.
*sigh* I really should have prepared for this eventuality, but it didn’t seem like it would happen in the next few days. Brutus has broken through to 2nd tier, same as me. Magic beasts progress similar to humans in that when they get to 2nd tier they get more qi, stronger bodies and the ability to project qi from their bodies. The differences are in the manner they go about it.
The most obvious difference is the improvement to our bodies. Humans reinforce our structures. The fibres in our muscles overlap and form tense and tight strings, our bones become more dense. Brutus on the other hand has just... expanded. Rather than a stronger body, he is just bigger. He possesses greater power and strength due to his larger size, while his stride is now longer so he can run farther. There is still some overlapping in the body to support his larger frame, but it is to a lesser extent as a human.
This seems to be what has caused him distress. He broke through overnight so he was sleeping inside the cabin when his body changed. Now he is too big to fit through the door. When he tried the first time, not realising his new stature, he cracked the door frame. He rapidly backed into the cabin again, and panicked that I would punish him for destroying furniture, like I did when he was a pup.
The second difference is what caused me stress. When he panicked, he unconsciously used qi to indicate his emotions. With his now much larger qi reserves, what he intended to be a whimper, was actually a full on shout in terms of qi, making me mistake it for a cry for help. Though I guess he still does need help getting out of the cabin.
The third won’t have any relevance for a while. It takes humans quite a lot of practice to use qi outside our body, I just happen to have done it before so I could do it again quite quickly. Magic beasts don’t use weapons, so instead they coat their natural gifts like teeth and nails to turn them into steel like material on command. I could do something similar as well, but it is much more effective to turn already steel weapons into better weapons than to turn my previously weak fingers into weak steel weapons.
"It’s okay Brutus, I am not going to blame you for the door, it was an accident.” I tell him to just come out without minding the door frame. He still seemed hesitant and I was a bit pissed and couldn’t bother to wait. With a mighty kick I shattered the door myself and told him. “there the door is already broken. You can leave without worry.” And he finally left, sheepishly holding his head low.
Once that drama was out of the way I called a team meeting in what was left of my cabin. “So, what was the case with the ship?” I asked Curt.
“Good news is we found some people willing to fix it. Bad news was the cost and time. If we just want to patch up the mast, it will take about 20 dragons, and a weeks time. Note that will only stop it falling mid journey to White harbour. We will still only be able to use one sail, and have to properly replace it once we reach White Harbour in about another week.” He tells me. I have already made my mind on the action to take, but just to clarify I nod to continue. “Replacing the mast will take 2 months, and about 200 dragons. If you ask my opinion then I suggest the second option.” Curt weighs in.
“I am inclined to agree with you. I asked around and there is more good and bad news. The good is that the Vale is preparing to resist a Lannister invasion. That is good because none of the sources even suggested they were defending against the Starks. Though the Vale as a whole seems to want to stay neutral, the Lords are definitely leaning against our enemies. The bad is that Robb is no longer at Winterfell.” Arya looks concerned at the news of her brother.
“Robb is preparing for war with the crown, to rescue Sansa if the stories are true. The Banners were called and he is waiting at Moat Caitlin.” Moat Caitlin is a stronghold held by the Starks, lies just north of the Neck and is the greatest fortress the North has against southern invasion. “He is not planning a defensive war though. He plans to travel south with an army.” Winterfell is accessible by boat because you can sail straight up the river from White Harbour to Winterfell. “By the time we are finished with the ship, even the soonest of 2 weeks, Robb may have left for the Riverlands.”
Most of the room looks worried with war on the horizon, except for Syrio. “Thus, I have decided to cancel the plan to sail home. I, Ethel and the Ravens will rent horses and travel through the Vale to meet with Robb at Moat Caitlin with Arya. Ed, Elsa, you 2 will stay here with Curt while the ship is fully repaired. When it is done you will all sail to White Harbour and from there you will stay and wait for me to send word. Syrio you are welcome to come in either group or leave if you wish.” I inform the Braavosi. Unlike the crew and Ravens he is not under my employ, I have no right to command him anywhere. I trust him enough not to silence him to keep our movements a secret. He could have given Arya to the Lannisters at the Red Keep, but instead he risked his life to save her. I would welcome if he came with me, he has proven himself loyal to Arya and a very good fighter.
“I will come with you. Arya still has many lessons before she completes her training. I will remain by her side until she can no longer learn.” the man says in his strange accent. Arya brightens at hearing her friend will be coming with.
I will also make Ed one of the people accessible to my account with the Iron Bank. I didn’t do that before because I didn’t want to have Ed think he had a fortune at his fingertips. The temptation would be too great to dip into it. They and the crew can stay in safely in White Harbour until this war is over with or I have ensured the safety of Sansa and Robb.
I dismiss the meeting and leave to find the Iron Bank in Gulltown. I am unable to withdraw any money from a bank that doesn’t have my savings, but adjusting my account is something available at any venue. This will take a few days, as well as renting the dozen over horses. I considered hiring additional mercenaries and a guide, but the risk was a bit too great. If Brutus was memorable before, he definitely is now. Anyone that sees him, and is on the look-out for my description, will instantly know I am Ser Baskerville ‘Kingslayer’. I wonder if Jaime will be pissed that I stole his niche.
Instead I plan to take Brutus with us and try to keep to the main roads. Brutus and I are a match for any small mercenary company, and I have experienced scouting and travelling mountain roads before. It may take a bit longer without a guide but we can still make it to Moat Caitlin after a few weeks.