Game of Thrones: Tale of the Red Wolf II - 2There seemed to be a chill in the early morning air as Torrhen emerged from his tent, tightening his sword belt. Before leaving Riverrun, he had heard that there would be news from the Citadel in Oldtown regarding summer and whether it would be ending soon. Perhaps this was the first indication of the changing of the seasons, or maybe it was just fear running up his spine at the thought of what lay ahead for him today. If Ser Mors did not surrender Stone Hedge by midday, he would have no choice but to order the attack. His stomach tightened at the thought, but he forced himself to unravel the knots and focus on the task at hand. He had to be the one in control. His men had to see that, regardless of how he felt. They needed to see him full of confidence, full of resolve, ready to make the big decisions and take responsibility. They needed a leader, and that’s what he had to be. Even if he wanted nothing more than to run behind his tent and vomit. But even more than that, he wished Dacey was here. “Good day to you, Prince Torrhen!” Ser Rickard’s voice broke him out of his thoughts and he turned to see him walking up, leading his horse by the reins before securing him to a nearby post.“And to you, Rickard. How are you this morning?” He opened a tent flap, inviting Rickard inside before joining him. He scratched Rhaegar’s ears before the direwolf jumped off the bed and made his way outside. “Anxious, but ready.” Rickard’s words made him smile as he poured two cups of wine. It was refreshing to know that someone felt the same way he did. Made him feel less alone.“That makes two of us.” He handed Rickard a cup and the two men raised a toast before drinking. “Anything to report from the castle?”“No major activity on the walls during the night, but a raven was spotted heading eastward just before dawn. Most likely destination is Harrenhal.”“I see,” Torrhen muttered as he sat down. “I wonder what the message will say to Lord Tywin? Forgive me for surrendering, or avenge us as we fought to the last man?”“Well, as long as Tywin Lannister stays where he is, I’m sure we don’t have to worry that much.”“One should always worry when Tywin Lannister is involved. Well, at least we have the Tyroshi to warn us if anyone tries to attack us in the flanks.” Silence followed as the two men drank their wine while the muffled clamor of the camp could be heard through the walls of the tent.“Is something bothering you?”“Do you ever wonder how all those heroes from all those stories actually felt, like Daeron I when he invaded Dorne. Was he really as self-confident and charismatic as they say, or were there times where he was almost shitting himself with fear and just putting on a brave face for his men? I mean, he was younger than I am when he went to war and…and I wonder how he did it?”“Maybe he really was afraid. Who can say? The problem with all those stories is that they only tell one side. Gods forbid that our glorious heroes appear to be human, with all their flaws and imperfections.”“I can’t argue with that. I just wish I could talk to them, learn how they coped with all the struggles they faced. Just so I have some idea of how to meet all that’s coming and not fall to pieces.”“You seem to be doing alright.”“But is it enough?”“I wish I could give you some answer that lay all your doubts to rest, but I doubt there is such a thing. All I can do is tell you that, so far, you have done a good job with what you have and what you know. I doubt the Young Dragon was an expert on war when he marched on Dorne, so why should you be?”“True. So what you’re saying is just be patient and I’ll figure it out?”“More or less.”“Well, I can’t think of any way to argue with that, so I guess I’ll have to accept it.”“Good idea,” Rickard agreed and finished his wine. “Now, shall we get on with the war?”“Might as well.” With a final swig, Torrhen set his cup down and the two men left the tent into the orderly chaos of an awakening army. With the cry of the heralds' call to assembly, they mounted their horses and rode for the front lines, followed by Lord Bracken, Wyllis, and the other captains. All the while, Torrhen’s heart hammered in his breast as he silently prayed for strength, courage, and patience above all.(-)The sun continued its inexorable climb as Torrhen and Rickard arrived at the front lines with their party in tow. Renly and Hendry were waiting by the catapults behind hundreds of armed men, with infantry in the center and archers on the left and right flanks. As they approached, a surprise morning breeze caught several banners, making Torrhen’s heart swell with pride as the gray direwolf was displayed before him. “Glad you could join us, gentlemen.”“Well, I can’t let you have all the excitement now, can I?” The sarcasm lay heavy on his tongue as he looked up to Stone Hedge, where he could see tiny figures on the walls. He wondered what was going through their minds as they looked out over the huge army at the gates. Fear? Hope? Resignation? Only they could say.“Oh, I think they’ll be plenty enough to go around!”, Hendry exclaimed as they dismounted. Torrhen couldn't help but laugh grimly. The kind of excitement waiting for them was a kind that was best avoided by any sane man. But in war, sanity is a luxury that some men couldn’t afford.“I suppose you’re right, but perhaps reason will win the day for us.” “I hope you’re right. It’s almost midday and we’ve had no word from the castle,” Renly spoke, sharing Torrhen’s concerns. “So, what can we do?”“Right now, wait and pray.”, Torrhen said as he handed Swiftwind’s reins to a nearby soldier before walking among the troops followed by Renly and Rickard. Speaking to them, he saw the fear in their eyes but also saw courage and resolve, especially in the men of House Bracken. This battle was a personal one; their homes had been burned, their lands ravaged, their families butchered. Now, they would return the favor. That is, of course, if Ser Mors decided to fight rather than surrender. But so far, there was no sign from the castle walls and the sun continued its inexorable rise. Turning to face the castle, he could see signs of activity on the wall but nothing to suggest surrender which caused his hands to clench with frustration. “It’s almost midday, my lord. Shall I ready the artillery?”“Go, Ser Rickard. I fear they shall be put to good use today.” With a bow, he raced off and left the two men standing there. Suddenly, in a burst of desperation, he called for his horse. Mounting and calling for Renly and the others to remain where they were, he kicked Swiftwind’s flanks and rode for the castle. As he approached the gate, he looked up to see the sun was nearly overhead. Pulling up to the gate, he looked at the men on the walls and took a deep breath before putting all the authority he could muster into his voice.“Ser Mors! The sun is high and my army stands ready. They will fight if I command it, but I would see this day end without bloodshed. So, I implore you, good ser; Strike your banners and lay down your arms, and your men will be treated well and fairly and may return home with their lives! I beg you to not sacrifice yourselves for this futile mission!” Only silence followed. “PLEASE!!!” With no response, he sighed and turned around to ride back when the gates creaked open, and Ser Mors emerged followed by six women. As they came closer, he realized that it was Lady Bracken and her daughters. “Renly! Horses!” His call was answered as Renly and four riders came thundering up, with each of the daughters being lifted or hoisted into the saddles. Torrhen offered his hand to Lady Bracken, who silently accepted. As they turned toward the lines, he looked back at Ser Mors who locked eyes with him. They looked…resigned to him and he realized that this act of compassion was his answer; he would not yield the castle, save by force of arms. With this revelation, Torrhen’s face fell and he gave the man a silent nod of acknowledgement. As the party rode back, Torrhen silently prayed to the Old Gods that a good man would, at least, die a clean and honorable death. ‘Damn you, Tywin Lannister. He deserved better than to die for a castle that is not his own far from his home and family. Damn you, Lion of the West.’, he thought as they reached the lines and he heard the cries of jubilation and relief from Lord Jonos and his nephews. Tears rolled down his face as he smothered the ladies with kisses. “By the Seven! I feared for you all!”“Ser Mors kept us confined, my love. He would not allow his men to approach us unsupervised. He even hanged one of the Mountain’s men who tried to force himself on Jayne.”“It will not save him, though. He has made his choice. Wyllis, take your aunt and cousins to my tent. Guards, have food and drink ready for them, and water for washing.” With a nod of silent obedience, he led the ladies off to the camp while the rest of the men turned back toward the castle as a black banner was hoisted over the walls. All men knew what this meant; there would be no surrender. The men inside would fight to the last. “Well, my lords, it seems that the time for words is over. Ser Rickard, is the artillery ready?”“On your command, Prince Torrhen. Say the word.” And with that, a heavy burden seemed to fall on Torrhen’s shoulders. On his word, men would fight and die and he would have to live with the consequences. And yet, it had to be done. There was no other way.“Very well, then. My lords, to your positions. Rickard, let loose on my signal.”“As you command.” As he walked off, he could hear the calls for the infantry to form up for their advance, for archers to knock and hold, and for the artillery to stand by. Then, replaced with only the sounds of insects and the light rustles of leaves and banners, he raised his right hand. ‘Gods give me strength to see this through to the end.’, he silently prayed before exhaling and dropping his hand.“Loose!” At Rickard’s call, the twang of released catapults rang through the air. Seven boulders sailed towards the walls and five slammed into them with a thud, breaking sections of the battlements and sending men flying. Two managed to clear the walls and landed inside the castle. Torrhen could hear men screaming inside and saw Lord Jonos’s face grimace at the damage to his home. One down, four more salvos to go. Four more times, the boulders flew. Four more times, stones crumbled and men screamed. Finally, it was time for the next step.“Archers forward! Infantry advance! Artillery, aim for the main gate! All others continue firing!” Torrhen’s words rang out with as much authority he could summon. “Readjusting one through three!” Under Rickard’s direction, the teams scrambled to comply but before long they had altered the machines to concentrate their missiles at the gate while both wings of archers advanced behind screens into bowshot range and the men-at-arms marched behind them. Torrhen led the men, with a shield fastened to his arm, along with Renly, Lord Jonos and Hendry following behind him. When they reached their position, a signal from Torrhen unleashed a hail of arrows. A deafening chorus of twangs sent hundreds of lethal shafts sailing into the air with anyone unlucky enough to either on the walls or in the courtyard facing being feathered by dozens of arrows. Judging from the screams coming from the castle, luck was not in ample supply today. The boulders flew once again but the first three struck the ground with one smashing above the gate and the last three striking the nearby walls. But after further adjustments were made, the first three boulders hit the walls but the last four struck perfectly with a sound like the crack of thunder. The weakened gates exploded in a shower of wooden splinters and twisting metal as hinges were ripped from the walls with the first two while the last two sailed into the courtyard causing untold damage. The shattered gates collapsed with a thud and then, for a brief moment, there was only silence. Now, it was time. He stepped forward and drew Dark Sister, pointing its smoky blade toward the breach.“Infantry…WITH ME!!!” With a roar, the entire line surge forward. Rhaegar bolted forward, with Torrhen close behind, followed by hundreds of screaming northerners and rivermen. The screams rang in his ears as he ran, his chest heaving and legs throbbing as he cleared the distance to the gate. Suddenly, he heard the faint whistling of arrows coming from the walls and only just raised his shield as two arrows that would have struck him in the chest and throat struck embedded themselves in the surface. Sadly, others weren’t so lucky as several men fell to the hail of arrows either wounded or dead. But the momentum couldn’t, wouldn’t, be stopped. As they reached the gate, Lannister soldiers emerged with raised weapons and shields in the hope of breaking the charge. But it was a fool’s hope as Rhaegar leapt forward, his jaws sinking deep into the throat of one man while Torrhen parried another’s blow with his shield before removing his head with Dark Sister without breaking stride. The others were soon overwhelmed by the rushing tide, brushed aside like leaves in the wind. Then they were through the gate and into the courtyard and then the carnage began as two armies crashed together, one driven by anger and the other by desperation. But as the melee moved through the castle, room by room, one thing drove everyone: survival. This was foremost in Torrhen’s mind as he fought through the halls, slashing and hacking at anyone in his way. His arms were covered in blood and throbbed with the effort and his ears were ringing from all the shouting and clanging metal but he pressed on, determined to keep up with the rest of his army. “Hendry, stay close to me! Your uncle will have my ass if anything happens to you!” “I highly doubt that, my prince! He’s still got my brother!” Hendry laughed as he cut down a Lannister soldier wielding an axe who had swung too wide and left himself exposed to a sword in the stomach. “Don’t say that, dammit! You and your brother are the future of your house! Do not take that future for granted!” Torrhen shouted as they rounded a corner towards the great hall, only to see several men at the door. Only too late did he see that some of them were archers.“If you say s…” Hendry’s words were interrupted by two arrows lodging in his chest and throat. He struggled to speak, but all that emerged were gurgling noises and blood from his mouth as he stumbled and collapsed against the wall. Torrhen grabbed him and pulled him back around the corner behind a wall of shields.“Hendry! HENDRY!!!” Torrhen’s cries went unanswered as the young man struggled to breathe, blood still flowing unabated. Then, a last shuddering gasp followed by stillness with open eyes seeing nothing. Torrhen could do nothing but close his eyes, remembering his promise to paint a mural in honor of him and Robb and now he would never draw or paint again. Yet another reminder of the folly of war, of which there were already too many.“My lord, are you injured?” Renly cried out, grabbing his shoulder.“No, I’m not. Take some men and put his body somewhere safe.” With a nod, he and two men grabbed the fallen lord and carried him down the hall. Then, grabbing Dark Sister from the floor, he rose and steeled himself for what was about to come. “I need archers! Now!” Within moments, a dozen archers came down the hall led by a young woman with short brown hair and wild eyes.“Where do you need us, my lord?”“Cover us as we advance towards the great hall! Men, prepare to move on my signal!” Then, with a roar, he rounded the corner with shield and sword raised, followed by his men. As he advanced, he saw the archers and men-at-arms at the doors fall one by one from arrows to the eyes, throats, and chests. One was struck in the leg, leaving him open for Torrhen to cut his throat without breaking stride. The remainder were soon cut down in brutal fashion. With a well-placed kick, the doors were knocked aside and Torrhen entered the great hall to find Ser Mors surrounded by at least two dozen armed men. He raised his sword to halt the men behind him. “Ser Mors, this madness has gone far enough. I will give you one last chance to save your men. Fight me in single combat! If you win, you and the remainder of your men may go free. If I win, then they are my prisoners. I offer this only once. Do you accept?!” For what seemed like an eternity, the silence hung between the two armies like a cloud while Torrhen and Ser Mors kept their eyes locked on one another. Then, with a sigh, Ser Mors closed his eyes and nodded his head.“Very well, I accept.” With hand signals, Torrhen ordered his men to stand aside while he and Ser Mors walked outside. As they made through the courtyard, the sight of countless bodies filled Torrhen with despair while the smell made his stomach roll. He forced it down with difficulty, as he had to keep his composure in front of his men. He also ignored the burning sensation in his arms and shoulders from the weight of his arms and armor. As they emerged from the gate, the men following began to form a circle around them. Once the circle was complete, they moved to opposite sides and faced each other. Torrhen shook his arms while Ser Mors drew his sword and gave a few practice swings.“Are you ready, Ser Mors?”“I am, Lord Stark.” He said grimly. The two men then walked towards each other, stopping only ten paces apart and locking gazes.“I am sorry that it has come to this.” He said sincerely, hoping that Ser Mors believed him. “So am I. I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.” He finished with a polite bow, making Torrhen grin slightly. It was comforting to know that even now, enemies could still show respect to one another.“Same to you.” With that final exchange, the two men raised their swords. Then, after a moment which seemed to linger for an eternity, they launched themselves at each other and locked blades with a deafening clang before jumping back and then lunging again. Soon, the two were engaged in what could be seen as some kind of dance, trading blows and probing defenses while the cheers and bellows of the surrounding men echoed around them. Torrhen could barely hear them, though, as all his focus and attention lay on the knight before him with drawn sword and piercing eyes that held no malice, only resolve. This man was fighting for not only his own life, but the lives of his men. Torrhen respected that, but even respect must be surpassed by the most basic instinct of all: survival. He was going to have kill this man or he would die. There was no way around it. So, the dance continued as blows were exchanged with both men becoming more winded, the blows more labored. Of course, Torrhen had been fighting longer so he found his strength waning faster and more sweat dripping into his eyes. But trying to wipe his brow gave Ser Mors an opening to lunge at him. Startled, he stumbled back and lost his footing, landing on the dirt with an audible thud to shocked gasps and groans. But he was able to recover and regain his footing before Ser Mors could take advantage, tossing aside his shield and taking Dark Sister’s hilt tightly with both hands before pressing his attack. As the clamor rose in volume, so too did the fear in Ser Mors’s eyes as Torrhen cut deep into his shield, ruining it. Throwing it aside, the two men locked blades again in a flurry of steel. Then, in an instant, Torrhen saw his opening. Ser Mors swung towards his neck, so he ducked under the swing and sliced his blade deep in the knight’s leg before rolling behind him. With a cry through clenched teeth, the wounded man sank to one knee with tears of pain in his eyes. Then, after a moment, he forced himself to stand before turning to face him with sword raised and eyes fixed. Drawing his dagger, he and his opponent circled each other slowly, with Ser Mors breathing heavily while trying to keep upright. Suddenly, he lunged forward with an awkward thrust aimed at his chest which Torrhen parried easily before raising his dagger and driving it deep into the space between his shoulder and neck. With a gasp, he dropped his sword before falling to his knees. Amidst the triumphant cheers, Torrhen stood over his opponent as he struggled to breathe, his eyes filled with no malice, only sadness and the sense that he had done his duty as best he could. Wordlessly, he raised his sword and met his gaze, who gave him an almost imperceptible nod. With a deep breath, he plunged his sword into his chest, the blade punching out the back. Even after all this time, Torrhen found it both amazing and disturbing to see Valyrian steel cut through armor so effortlessly. As he withdrew, he saw the light leave his eyes and with a final gasp of air and blood pouring from his mouth, Ser Mors Algood fell to the ground. The crowd erupted in cheering and chants of Torrhen’s name, but he could barely stand it. He raised his hand for silence, which the men graciously obliged as he knelt and closed Ser Mors’s eyes before withdrawing his dagger. He then looked up to see the assembled survivors of the Lannister army, all with fear in their eyes at what would be their fate now that their commander and champion had been slain. “What shall we do with them?” Lord Bracken’s voice was full of barely restrained anger as he approached from behind, his left arm in a makeshift sling. He must have seen Hendry’s body, so the anger was justified. But there was a time and a place to put away the sword, and it had to be now.“Your commander fought bravely on your behalf. He died with honor, and your lives are now mine. I will decide your fate in the morning.” This abated the fear in some of their faces, but only just. “Rickard, have these men escorted to our camp and placed under guard. See that they are treated well.”“Yes, my lord.” With a few commands, the survivors were lined up and marched off the field carrying Ser Mors’s body while Torrhen and Lord Jonos walked back into the courtyard where soldiers were collecting the wounded and the dead. “My lord, why wait until the morning to decide their fate?”“Because there’s been enough killing for one day and hanging or beheading them won’t bring Hendry back. Now, you should go to your family. I’m sure they’ll be relieved to know you’re alright, and get that arm taken care of as well. Your wife and daughters will appreciate you having both arms after today.”“Yes, my lord. Thank you.” As he made his way out, several men emerged, led by Renly alongside a soldier carrying a large red and gold banner. He recognized her as the archer who had followed him in the assault on the great hall. Alongside them padded Rhaegar, which brought untold relief to Torrhen’s mind as he scratched his ears affectionately.“Renly! Thank the gods! Are you alright?”“Well enough. Hell of a day, wasn’t it?”“It certainly was. Where’s Hendry?”“The maester is tending to him. Poor lad.”“I shall miss his drawings.” Turning his head, he studied the banner draped across the archer’s arms. “Now what is this?”“We managed to take down after you and Ser Mors left the great hall. Well, technically, she did.” With a wave from Renly, she stepped forward.“Stone Hedge is yours, my prince.” The lady knelt before him, raising the banner up to him. He pulled off his glove and let himself feel the cloth before gesturing for her to rise. “Thank you. What is your name?” She had a plain appearance, more handsome than beautiful, but her eyes were sharp and clear and held his with confidence. His father would have liked her.“Aemma, my prince.” “You fought well today, Aemma. You should be proud of yourself.”“I am, but not as proud as having fought at the side of Torrhen Swordbreaker!” A cheer rose from the men at the mention of his epithet while Rhaegar howled. He chuckled in a combination of embarrassment and pride at having become something of a hero.“You should all be proud of what you did today here! Once again, we have shown that the lion is not invincible! Tywin Lannister will know what we have done here and he will not sleep soundly tonight! But as my brother has said, the war is far from over. But the day, my brothers, is ours!” He drew his sword and held it high. “THE DAY IS OURS!!!” The cheers and roars reached an almost deafening pitch as men raised their swords with him, and then it somehow became even louder as the banners of house Bracken were unfurled over the battlements. Torrhen smiled as he watched but couldn’t help but think of what lay ahead. There was much to do for tomorrow. So many plans, so many orders, but they could wait. Today was a triumph for the men of the North and the Riverlands. Bittersweet, but a triumph nonetheless.The Battle of Stone Hedge was over, and they had won.
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