My group travels with the scouts acting as our escorts. I see the army camp at about the same time as the army. The Twins may not be the most impressive structures in Westeros I have seen, but they do paint a decent picture. The idea behind them was an impressive one. Build a bridge connecting the East of the Riverlands to the West, on the border with the North.
From an economic standpoint I have to admire the Frey ancestors who had the foresight to build such a structure. The fact it wasn’t even for personal benefit is rather admirable. The Twins were the result of 3 generations tirelessly building a bridge that would bring wealth and security to their family for centuries to come. They all knew they wouldn’t see the final construction, and had to live frugallythroughout their lives. Very few people can think in terms of long-term benefits, and to put their future generations above themselves.
The Twins didn’t just make the Frey’s rich either. They may have benefitted the most from the venture, but many forget that the bridge benefits others as well. The Riverlands gained greater connections with their neighbours across the Fork. The North could trade with the eastern lands, meaning more food and supplies for those harsh winters, meaning less starved to death.
The nobles of the North and Riverlands call them ‘up-jumped toll keepers’, but I like to think the original Freys were far greater than that. They were entrepreneurs, whose selfless actions benefitted not just their own family, but many others as well.
The tents of the Stark army were sprawled beside the river for a mile long. The constant movement in the camp, combined with the dozens of banners waving in the wind created a blur of colours and sounds. It would make a decentpainting if it wasn’t for the somber atmosphere of those preparing for war.
As we reached the camp, the officer that went ahead of us to inform Robb came before us. “Ser Baskerville, Lady Arya. You need to come with me. Lord Stark has called for you to come to the war tent. The rest of your people will need to wait here.” He tells us. As he does a number of men come forward, their stance looking as if they are there to ensure my men don’t go where they’re not supposed to.
“Ben, might I inquire as to what I will be doing? As much as I have enjoyed our journey, I am rather tired of sitting in a saddle. Some food and drink would also be good if it can be spared.” Tyrion comments before I can leave. The dwarf has probably had it roughest on this journey. Due to my desire to avoid main roads I have taken off the beaten tracks and through the woods. As someone used to noble life he has probably not undergone a lot of tough travel before. Arya is the only other noble and of similar stature, but she is used to riding the Wolfswood in the North. I hardly think the diminutive Lannister has had quite the same upbringing.
“How the hell should I know? Assuming I survive today, you will no longer be my prisoner. I would start thinking how you are going to appeal to Robb and Lady Catelyn if I was you.” I smile darkly, bitterly pointing out my own fate is already in question, and I have no time to care about him.
As I am led by the guards, Arya riding at my side and trying to hurry us as fast as possible, I can’t help but think that at least the venue is to my advantage. The Green Fork beside us flows strong and fast. Few could swim across, and I have no reason to fear the few.
When we reach the main tent, we are met by even more guards. They asked for my weapons, which I obliged. I passed my sword, knives and armour, before they gave me a pat down, though not too thorough, to my benefit. I breathe a sigh of relief when they don’t check my boots. ‘If this goes wrong, I at least have the back-up' I think darkly.
Two of the guards enter with me on either side, Arya has no-one obviously. As I enter the tent, my right foot feeling particularly heavy, I take in my surroundings. It is a large tent with a large table in the middle, what is probably a map has been rolled over to conceal it. Across the table from me are a dozen men and women.
Most of them are the Lords, Ladies or important members of the army. Some I have met or seen before at one feast or the other. There are only 2 important people to me at the moment. They are my new liege Lord and his mother. As I kneel in front of the table, the latter of the 2 rushes forward.
“Mother!!” Arya screams and rushes to meet her halfway around the table. They meet in the middle, Lady Catelyn bending to hug her more closely. As they envelop each other tears flow freely from their eyes.
Arya had been feeling more and more nervous as we got closer to the North. When we entered the camp, it was everything she could do not to rush here ahead of us. I could tell that Lady Catelyn felt the same, the desire in her eyes when we entered was plain to see. It is clear that when they finally saw one another the emotions were too much to handle, causing them to abandon their attempts at maintaining stern looks.
When they look to Robb, he views the rest of the room, hesitates, then goes to hug his sister. The rest of the Lords smile at the display, except for a few who seem to look down on the display. I can’t enjoy the view though, as I am too busy cursing the Starks and all their ancestors.
As I watch the reunion from my knelt position, I feel the object inside my boot. I was debating the use of it for several days now, but when I arrived in camp, I thought I had made my mind on whether to enact the back-up, if it came to it, as evidenced by my decision to sneak it into the tent. Seeing them together now, I know that I couldn’t. For the first time, I wonder if the Starks possess some type of magic or energy that drives me to do these stupid things.
When Robb finally releases his sister, he walks back to the main seat and calls the meeting to order.
“Ser Ben Baskerville. You have risked great danger to bring my sister home to me. Before I decide on your reward, I would like to hear about the events of Kings Landing. There have been several conflicting reports about what happened there. Hearing the word of someone who was there would be greatly appreciated.” Robb addresses me.
I go into the story of what happened. Whether or not the Starks have some sort of magic, it has not made me completely brain dead. I know how to stack the deck, so I start my story from when I saved Arya’s life on the road to Kings Landing, though it is likely he has already heard about that, reminding everyone that I have saved her life several times is to my benefit. I put stress and attention on the Baelish brothel incident and the saving of Arya a second time outside the capital.
When I got to the part about the trial, I neither exaggerated certain parts or ignored others, as I am not sure how good Robs information is. When the audience heard of how I was the one to end Ned’s life, the Lords intook several breaths. Some gave understanding nods, others disgruntled, and a few looked angry. I couldn’t tell what Robb was thinking, his face barely twitching when he heard about his father.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the greatest shock to the surrounding Lords was the recounting of events after that. Catelyn was particularly worried when she heard we were in a storm, hugging her daughter tighter. It was when I reached the part about Tyrion that the room erupted in noise.
“Tyrion Lannister! Tywins son!”
“This is great news for the war.”
“We could use him in the next negotiations.”
The Lords were already debating how best to use Tyrion, forgetting that Robb has yet to give his opinion.
“My Lord Stark!” I shout above the din, quietening the rest. I brace myself for what is to come next. “May I ask if you have any questions or opinions you wish to share?” I ask wanting to get the matter over with.
The Lords sit down and turn to look at Robb. It is this action that reminds me of Ned. Despite his age being the youngest, despite the immense pressure, he still looks strong and steady. He gives the impression of an experienced Lord, his subjects looking to him.
Robb is silent for several moments. A pin could drop, and still it would be heard. Suddenly he places his hands on the table and stands. The chair is pushed back, and he walks around the table. He picks up Ice, the ceremonial greatsword, made through unknown means. It is a large weapon, unwieldy in battle, and is rather used as an executioners blade. He stops in front of me, blade in the ground, hands on the Hilt.
“Ser Ben Baskerville.” Robb begins. “I have only one question for you. During the execution of my father, Lord Eddard, you shot him in the chest, ending his life. I wish to know the reasons behind your actions?” He asks me.
“Wait, Robb! Ben didn’t want to kill father. He did everything to save him, me and...” Arya calls to him from the side. As she tries to defend me, Lady Stark hushes her.
“Quiet Arya. This is Robb’s decision. He is the Lord, and must decide the sentence.” She says. At least Arya seems to have forgiven me, that is a relief. I smile as even that little bit might be enough to save my life.
I look up from the ground, staring Robb straight in the eyes. “The Lannister’s wanted to chop his head off and mount it on a pike. They wanted to turn him into a traitor. I have known Lord Stark for 4 years. He is no traitor.” I declare.
“Ned was one of the most honourable men I knew. He promised to look after my family, if I looked after his.” A few of the older Lords look slightly off, me calling Ned personally in public. But fuck them, this is between the Starks and me.
“Ned deserved a better death. He deserved better than them.” I see the emotion in Robb’s eyes, and decide to wrap it up. “I know I am not much. I am just a knight, not even one with noble blood. But I trusted your father, and I think he trusted me. I may not be much, but I am a lot better than those fuckers who call themselves Royals.”
The room is silent. I had several speeches thought up, ones that would take advantage of the rooms compilation, the current gossip and news, using our history as a case... In the end they all went out the window, same with the back-up plan. If I am going to die here, it will be because I told the truth, and expressed my real feelings.
“You’re wrong.” Robb whispers. My hope goes out with those words.
He slowly lifts Ice above his head, positioned to swing down. As the worst case seems to be happening, I reach my hand towards my boot. Robb is right in front of me, the river to my rear. I won’t get a better opening than this.
As I touch my boot, however, I strengthen my resolve. I clench my fist and thrust it to the ground, holding it there. There are voices from the rest of the room.
“Robb, don’t do I! Ben saved my life, he is a good person, please don’t!!” Arya screams from the side.
“Robb, please consider for a moment. This is not what you want to do. It is not what your father would want.” Lady Stark speaks from the side. I would point out how ironic it that the one who spoke of Robb making his own choices is now trying to change his. I would if I wasn’t about to lose the ability to talk, and I don’t want my last words to be a snarky quip. Not really my style.
Well, if I have to die, at least it will be quick. That great sword is heavy and sharp, it will sever my head in one clean swing. I find myself looking back at my life, finding again there were no regrets. Like I said before, my life should have ended when I was 40. I got a 20 year extension, more than most could hope for. I can firmly say I didn’t waste them.
“You’re wrong Ben.” Robb repeats. I can’t see his face as I am looking down. I may have no regrets, but that doesn’t mean I want to see the blade swinging down. “You are not a knight.”
There are gasps from the surroundings, then I feel a heavy weight on my left shoulder. “You are no longer a knight. From now on you are a Lord.” Robb announces. He taps my left shoulder, then raises it to my right.
“In the name of House Stark, I, Robb Stark, Lord Paramount of the North, name you, Ben Baskerville from Oakbridge, Lord of House Baskerville. For your accomplishments on the battlefield, saving my sister and killing the false king Joffrey, I award you with this title, with the lands, privileges and rights that accompany it.” He lifts the sword from my shoulders and returns it to the floor. “Stand Lord Baskerville. May the Old gods always guide you. FOR THE NORTH!!!” He shouts, fist raised.
“FOR THE NORTH!!” The rest of the Lords stand and raise their fists in agreement. There Is a round of three cheers, and then many conversations erupted from the room, though I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy laughing, and once again cursing the Starks.
I hope the Old Gods curse them with long-life and many happy days.