Bow of the North

by

coinhas2sides

chapter 68 - Regrets, Roasts and Revelations

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Ben POV

Being in charge fucking sucks. I hated it in the old world and I hate it even more here where I thought I could try something else.

Being the top dog means you have greater rewards, such as respect, money and power. It also means when something goes wrong you can blame only yourself. Others may say they had no choice, the gods were against them or it was bad luck. Those people are idiots. There is always a choice, the gods don’t give a shit about us and bad luck happens to everyone. We all know about it which is why we prepare. Lack of preparations is the cause of defeat, the choices you make before the battle are responsible for your downfall.

I try not to regret my actions. From experience, thinking on them has no effect except despair which draws your mind from the future. My decision to retreat was not a mistake, without knowing the future there was no way I could have known what would happen. What I regret was my lack of preparations for any negative situations.

The zipline worked for my company of 100 men, which means it would have worked for other companies. I could have easily tripled the number of men crossing the river with the same rope, or just increasing the number of ropes. Though it would be dangerous to have everyone travel to the other side during the day, due to the lack of cover on the other side, but shifting half before and after nightfall would have prevented detection. It would be slightly dangerous to perform acrobatics in the dark, but considering they only needed to hold the rope and I would have caught them on the other side, the risk of screw ups was minimal.

The reason I only asked Rob for 100 was firstly out of concern for detection. But once I reached the other side and realised the Frey hadn’t spotted us I could have sent another messenger to Rob asking for another company.

The second reason was due to not knowing if the plan would work. Though I have done similar operations in the past, and was quite certain this would work as well, if something was wrong, like the trees on the other side weren’t suitable, there were scouts nearby or something else then the plan would have to be scrapped. I didn’t want to waste Rob’s time and embarrass myself for nothing.

The 3rd was the most inexcusable. It was due to habit. In the old world I was used to fighting on the weaker side. My home was often surrounded by slightly or significantly superior oppositions. We survived through a combination of diplomatic alliances, favourable terrain, and later on myself.

When we engaged oppositions I often had to make do with what little I had to spare to accomplish the most. I would find the minimal amount required to complete the task, ask my father-in-law for them, then accomplish my task.

This was completely different because we had troops to spare. Rob needed only half his troops to take East Twin, so I could theoretically utilise the other 10,000 soldiers or so. In reality that wouldn’t be the case. Only about 10,000 of the troops belong to the Starks and the rest are under the command of the other Lords. Even if they were willing to lend me their men the nature of the mission restricts the number.

That doesn’t change the fact that I could have easily requested under 500 men and transferred them in batches, either at night or with alternative points further down the river. With 200 men I could have held the gate till morning if necessary, 300 and I would have destroyed the enemy cavalry at the end. Hell with 400-500 I wouldn’t have even given the Frey a break. I could have left the gate to a company as a fallback point, and taken the West Twin with the rest. Caught from the front and back with no way to regroup and the Frey would have surrendered within half an hour, the casualties being even lower.

It was my fault for not taking the worst case into account and preparing for it. When you have the resources at hand yet forget, or worse ignore them, then you have failed as a commander. I try and take another swig from my mug as I walk down the corridor, yet fail as it comes up empty. ‘See, what did I say? Thinking about it only leads to despair that blinds you. I said I wouldn’t think about it, yet I just spent the last 10 minutes walking in a blind daze’.

It has been about an hour since the meeting ended. The Twins are filled with noise and merriment encompassing both sides. It seems there is a rather strict difference between both sides celebrations due to the status of the participants. The East Twin seems to be a festival with hundreds of fires surrounded by the soldiers and accompanying guests, while the West is where the Lords and Knights are currently located. Due to the large time required it was decided to allow the majority of the men to rest on the East side before spending days sending all the troops and supplies across the bridge.

The East is where ale flows liberally and shouts and songs erupt, while the West is considered more refined where servants pour wine and bards play their music. I briefly consider crossing the bridge to the other side, though not for the ale. It is for the women.

After a battle the soldiers and commanders all agree that releasing tension into the soft arms of women is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Fortunately for them they both have their own ways to fill such desires even in the war. The Lords may not bring their fiance’s or wives to war, but they have mistresses and maids that are more than willing to pine for their master’s attention, and those that don’t seek the noteworthy knights.

The common soldiers on the other hand have the pleasure caravan’s. Where there is a demand someone will be willing to supply for a sufficient price. Soldiers that have been paid rewards and hazard pay typically spend it on the whores, courtesans and other attractions that the travelling merchant’s following the war party supply. Few will save their coin partly because it is one more thing to carry and they may not survive to spend it later.

The reason I want to cross to the other side is so I can hopefully drown myself in more than drink, and the providers over here are not to my taste. Though I have no doubt many would be willing offer themselves to a Lord, especially one without a wife or known romantic involvement, they often charge more than coin.

If I were to get one of the maids pregnant then I would have to deal with the consequences. While pleasure girls often drink tonics that prevent such things happening, the ones on this side will drink aphrodisiacs and other substances that increase the chance of pregnancy to try and force themselves on the noble families. Denying them after birth is considered shameful and heartless by both the Lords and myself. I would not have the heart to deny my own spawn from their father.

I may want children in the future, but it will be with someone I truly have feelings for, and not due to guilt and during some random fling in the war.

It is as I am considering the distant future with this unidentifiable woman that I come to realise I have left the main building and walking around the courtyard. The previously deserted space is now filled with people, attracted to an abundance of kegs and barbeques that have been brought out. While I was distracted I must have instinctually left the confinements of the keep for the open courtyard.

Since going to the other side of the river would require me retracing my steps and heading back to the keep, I dismiss my original thought. Beside I don’t want to risk going there and facing the soldiers.

After the battle the entire army has heard my name by now and they are divided in their opinions. The majority are my supporters, from both my past and recent feats I am the undisputed number one fighter in the entire northern army, and many would say all of Westeros. The others are less positive.

Some of the nobility may have expressed dissent with me over my results, most of them are either greenhorns that have yet to experience war, or those that are jealous of my accomplishments and rise in status. Most of the senior nobles understand, if not admire, the way I carried myself in the siege. The soldiers are less farsighted.

They don’t see the success of drawing away the Frey forces or that we prevented them from retreating. They only know that I lost over 80% of my forces and ran away. The surviving members of my company have returned to Rob and spread out to fill in the depleted units from other groups. They expressed their opinions to their friends and new brothers-in-arms. Some dismissed their views, while others had their minds about me changed. The largest number are caught halfway. They think I am undoubtedly a great fighter who can accomplish great things, but would not want to be the ones to fight under me.

I don’t blame them, and won’t stop them from thinking less of me, but that is where my endurance ends. Just like in the hall, if anyone thinks they can give me shit for what happened is likely to find themselves halfway down the Green Fork. And with an entire army of high strung and drunk men, i imagine I would dam the entire river before I get to my destination.

I was just about to head out the keep when I realised that Brutus was no longer following me. When I left the meeting room, they were all stuck discussing the Frey inheritance and Brutus followed me since then, but I suddenly realised he had moved since we entered the courtyard. A quick glance was enough to spot my noticeable hound.

Over by one of the barbeques, Brutus had found himself pushing through a group and standing in front of the spit with several chickens in front of it. The ones that were standing in que before had turned to shout at the one cutting in front, only to be faced with a head filled with teeth and drool dripping from his jaw, jumping back with the few ladies nearby shrieking in surprise. They should be considered lucky that he wasn’t facing them directly, otherwie they were likely to faint or step into the flames.

Deciding I can’t let him loose I start to walk over, reluctantly, only to be called by name. “Ben! I knew if I could find Brutus I would soon find you as well.” Turning I spot Ethel walking over to me, several other well well-built men beside him. I recognize a few as the knights and officers under Lord Moss. I didn’t see them in the hall, but being low ranked they were likely at the base of the table if they were invited at all.

“That was quite the show you pulled. Mark practically pissed himself when you spoke to him like that, and he was one of the first people to leave the room when the meeting finished... Hey, you alright? You don’t look so good.” Ethel started to speak before he got a good look at me and questioned my appearance.

I have been awake for nearly 2 days now and used a lot of energy last night. My above average physique and experience with similar situations has made it none too obvious to strangers, but I suppose Ethel knows me well enough to notice the difference.

He talks to several of his friends and hands the cook a couple coins to reserve one of the chickens for Brutus, then leads me away from the fire to where no-one can overhear. “Alright spill. This isn’t like you. When in that meeting I thought you were pulling one of your mind games, scaring the room into not bothering you, but you’re still moping about. You should be laughing at his stupid face, hunting some wild beast or find a quiet place to sleep. Instead you have bags under your eyes, you smell like shit and ale had a tumble on top of you and a frown so heavy I'm surprised your not face first on the ground.” Ethel lays into me once we are far enough away.

Got to say, I am surprised at him. Didn’t think he was this observant and paid that much attention to my mannerisms.

“Is it about the fight? Get over it. It’s a war, sometimes you lose, people die. I’ve lost so many times that I've lost count, half my squad has moved on, either in death or injury since I first joined the company, its how life goes. Your supposed to be the smart one out of us yet you are busy sulking in the corner over things that are supposed to be obvious.” He continues.

That rubs me the wrong way, so I reply with a smirk. “The smart one, huh? Your right there, I am the smart one, and that’s what makes this all the more painful. I know this was a stupid decision, I know that getting involved in this war, this kingdom, in all this shit is pointless. It only brings headaches and suffering. I knew the answer, run away. I planned it all out, had the destination, the ship and the capital. I could have left this shitty kingdom and gone my own way. Instead I dove right back in and for what? Honor? Some fame that will last at most a generation after I’m dead? Or how about a plot of land that I don’t want, acting as just another responsibility tying me down. It was a bad trade that I still took for reasons that I still can’t comprehend and being smart only makes it worse because I know how stupid these choices were!!” I shout the last part, nearly spitting in his face.

I pant several times, trying to calm myself after my outburst. I notice that several onlookers have directed their attention here after my voice was raised. Ethel waves them away and pats my shoulder, indicating to follow him. We walk round a corner and as we walk side by side he speaks again.

“You done? Good, maybe now you can grow a pair. Made the wrong move, maybe still making it? Then do something else. That doesn’t work then try something else. There is no choice that is a good one, not until you try it. Stop moping about how stupid, or smart, you are and get on with your life. We aren’t kids anymore, you don’t have to listen to anyone.” Ethel tells me flatly.

Easy for you to say. I can’t leave, I owe a debt to Lord Stark...” I start to say before I am interrupted.

“Bull-shit. Don’t forget, I was with you in the capital. You fought an army for him, killed a king and dragged his daughter half-way across the world and you think you still owe him? Forget that, you paid whatever debts and interest. You’re now a Lord and any obligation you had to Lord Rob was paid when you killed a hundred Frey soldiers. Which, by the way, is the only reason I haven’t walloped you across the jaw to knock some sense into you like my dad would. I’m afraid in your state you may hit back without accounting for us mere mortals.” He says with a smile.

I don’t pay much attention to the joke, too caught up in the message he just gave me. A part of me wants to reject it, but that part seems to have been dulled with liquor and is struggling to deal with the sudden passion I feel inside of me.

“Look, you think on it. I’ll look after Brutus and make sure he doesn’t eat any of the cooks. If you want to join us your welcome. Otherwise I will see you in the morning.” He thumps me on the chest before turning around and heading back to the courtyard.

Slightly dazed i find myself stopping momentarily. I was just following Ethel previously and have now found myself without direction. My desire to numb myself has left, and instead I head towards the gate, the one yet to be repaired yet, and leave the camp. I start to walk towards the copse of trees where I first crossed the Twins. I am hoping that surrounding myself with a familiar setting will help clear my thoughts so that I can ponder my next steps.

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