13 'I cannot save them...' Part II

Leobald's eyes widened and for a moment (which Zick did not miss) small sparks of fury burned in his eyes. He regained control and began to reflect for a moment.

"Please Master Zick could you tell me what you mean? Would you like me to send my barely five year old nephew on an armed hunt for bandits?" asked Leobald while maintaining his calm and composure.

The master internally praised Duncan's Uncle, it had clearly shown him that Leobald was prepared to do anything to protect his family, but also that he could maintain control and weigh carefully before acting.

"In summary, Yes is what I would like to do for the next step in Duncan's training. Your nephew displays unique abilities that I have never before had the pleasure of encountering in others. Physically he is comparable to a six or seven year old...but the mindset is on a whole other level." Zick.

"Duncan has certainly proven time and time again that he is more mature and intelligent than others of his age, but what you ask of me master is too much...he is not yet ready to see the horrors and brutality of this world." Leobald.

"A valid point. The fact is that no one is really ready...The horrors of this world most often come without knocking on anyone's door Lord Tallhart. Also when I mentioned your mentality I may have been vague. Allow me to clarify further..." Zick took a moment.

"I have never met any individual or creature on the same level as Duncan. His tenacity and will are nothing short of unparalleled. I've travelled so much, met countless people: free men who won their freedom, warlords who faced hundreds of battles, men and women who would gladly give their lives to achieve their goals...none of them can compare to that boy. I can't really tell you how this is possible, but your nephew has the look of someone who has suffered the pains of hell.

One who has lived and struggled in the darkest oblivion and who has unravelled step by step into the light on his own strength... I don't know how else to describe him... It's as if he's ready to carry the weight of this world on his shoulders." For the first time, Zick had abandoned his courteous and jovial tone and replaced it with a serious and cold one.

Leobald stared at Zick for a long time to see if there was the slightest hint of a lie in the master's face... He could not find it.

"Duncan's path will be arduous, full of pitfalls, pain and suffering, and he has no intention of changing it. No normal person would be able to bear it...We at least have a duty to prepare him as best we can to make that 'burden' more manageable." Zick.

"But...it's too dangerous...if anything were to happen to him..." Leobald didn't really know how to respond.

"Syggha and eleven others of my comrades, who have agreed to lend me a hand, will go with the boy. Not even a small militia of unsullied could harm your nephew. Believe me...I speak from first-hand experience." Zick said with a small grin.

Leobald thought for a few minutes in silence...

"The shipment will leave in two days, by tomorrow I will make a decision to your request master..." Leobald.

"I thank you Lord Tallhart. I do not wish to take up any more of your time." Zick stood up and gave a small bow which Leobald returned, and left the room.

Leobald stood alone in the room again...

He ran both hands over his hair, thinking repeatedly the same thing....

'Myra will skin me alive...'



POV Duncan;

Two days later...

I was making my way to my pony, already saddled and ready to go.

I wore a small, studded suit of boiled leather armour, custom-made metal forearms and a short sword (the only one I could wield so far).

I had accepted the task from my uncle and master, especially after learning that twelve of Zick's companions would be escorting me. Perhaps not even Aerys II could have been protected by better men.

I could see why Zick wanted me to participate, and I honestly felt it was time too...time to see death in the face in all its forms. I knew the time would come sooner or later, it was inevitable.

For five days I couldn't get the thought out of my head...

'I can't save them.'...Lyanna Stark, Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower, Oswell Whent, Willam Dustin, Mark Ryswell, Ethan Glover, Martyn Cassel, Theo Wull and...Ashara Dayne.

I didn't have the means or the manpower to do this without exposing Jon Snow, my family, the North and the Seven Kingdoms in danger. All it took was one mistake, one whisper or one word too many to trigger horrible consequences.

If I'd had capable men under my command, with unquestioning loyalty, perhaps I could have...but now the risk was too great.

If Robert Baratheon or Tywin Lannister had even suspected it, it would have been war...

a war the North would not win.

Knowing that people were going to die and being able to save them (despite the risks) and doing nothing was like lowering the executioner's axe yourself...

This was also one of the reasons why a few days ago I did not want to give in. Despite knowing that I was only doing myself unnecessary harm.

I wanted to atone in some way for my guilt...

I understand Ned Stark's choice better now. I know why he kept it a secret until the end. You can't really understand it until you've borne the burden yourself: anxiety, fear, doubt, the thought of condemning to death, your loved ones, thousands of soldiers and innocents...it's a tremendous burden and not easy to handle.

Two figures approached from behind, Syggha [9] and Will [9].

"Are you afraid little lord?" Will asked with a small grin of amusement.

"I'm a five year old boy about to witness his first armed confrontation and participate in a spectacle of misery, horror and death."

"Of course I'm scared." I replied not at all amused.

"Oh Oh, such wisdom and truth. One point for you." Syggha at this point slapped the back of Will's head to shut him up.

"I apologise Miss Syggha for my behaviour a few days ago. That unfortunate incident would not have happened if I had listened to you." I said apologetically as I looked at three scratch marks on poor Syggha's face.

'Ra's al Ghul was right...Myra [1] did manage to hurt Syggha [9].' I thought and an old quote resonated within me....


'Of course Syggha must have held back... but it's still a remarkable fact.' I lowered my gaze, waiting for an answer.

"Never mind." Cold, terse reply.

"Don't stray from me or Will during the hunt." Syggha.

I looked around for Zick's remaining companions but there were only Tallhart men.

"I thought there were ten more of your comrades participating." I asked confused.

"They will when necessary, for now they will act as scouts around our group" Will replied.

We were just outside the walls of Torrhen's Square, in addition to the three of us there were 60 mounted men-at-arms from House Tallhart. The group was originally supposed to be 40 men, but for safety Uncle Leobald added another 20 men (for the sole purpose of protecting me).

Captain Drobhert called the men together to begin the expedition.

"Men, to me. We will hunt down those murderers and rapists who slaughtered innocents in the village 'Snow Mill'. We will do justice once and for all, and we will not return until every single one of those animals is hanged!" Captain Drobhert said. All the men nodded silently, ready and determined to avenge the inhabitants of Snow Mill. Some of them had family and friends in that village.

"MARCH ON!"...



POV Ser Vane Westbrook;

Ser Vane and his men were camped in a cave a few miles into the wolf forest. They were waiting for Grudof and his band to return.

'We missed a golden opportunity...if it wasn't for that damn storm we would have reached Tallhart land sooner and I wouldn't have lost half my men.' I think Ser Vane cursing the seven gods.

By order of the Tyrells (Olenna Tyrell's to be precise) Vane was to, along with 80 chosen men, find the soap making base and try to take the plans or kidnap someone who knew the method of production.

He had taken two ships with him but only one had managed to reach the Straits of 'Salt Lance' to sail up the River of Rills and from there dock about 30 miles from Torrhen's Square.

They had found the production workshop but it was far too well protected.

At least 100 armed men stood guard day and night. The lab had been fortified and had a good defensive position.

Impossible to hit in a direct attack with only 40 men.

Then a rumour reached Ser Vane that Lady Myra Tallhart and her children were travelling to Cerwyn Castle. They had not been able to reach them before a second convoy of Cerwyn men joined their escort....

They would then continue with the original plan. They would join forces with small groups of fleeing bandits and attack small villages around the laboratory. Small attacks by groups of 20 men, hoping to drive off some of the lab's guard. So far the situation remained unchanged.

A sound of horses alerted the men.

"Grudof and his men Ser Vane!" said a Redwyne soldier.

"You idiot, how many times do I have to tell you not to use our names in these lands!" Vane.

"ah...I beg your pardon, S.-Ser....meant to say Phitt" said the soldier.

"....uff....how many have returned? "Vane.

"Twelve!" Vane nodded.

Vane's entire group was dressed in the robes and armor of the Iron Men. No one was to learn that the Tyrells were behind the attack.

"Phitt! Hey Phitt! Come out you lousy Ironborn." Grudof.

"Scream like that again and I'll open your throat with this spoon! Do you want the whole North to know our hiding place?" Vane.

"Ahaha! Sputth! You can definitely try that salt-eater! I'm screaming because things are finally moving in Torrhen's Square!" Grudof.

"Sixty armed men are coming after us...but it looks like a second golden opportunity has presented itself again. The Lord's idiot sent his nephew and heir on his expedition! Ahahah" Grudof.

"Why would he do that? It must be a trap..." Vane.

"Apparently not, your spy in the castle reports that no one other than that group is planning to move...they're on their own and we have nearly a hundred men!" Grudof was trembling with excitement, anxious to act.

"Remember what you promised, the recipe or a Tallhart heir in exchange for 1000 gold dragons." Said Grudof trying to intimidate the man.

"Those are the deals yes, but you won't see a penny before you get your hands on one." Replied Vane thinking of ways to kill these idiots when the job was done.

Vane was weighing the risks. It was true that they were outnumbered, but half of them were just human trash who barely knew how to hold a weapon. They were only good at killing defenseless people, but if they had managed to capture the heir to Torrhen's square the mission would have been a success. The Reach would have carved a golden hostage that would have brought House Tallhart to its knees.

Finally the knight made a decision.

"Let's move we must try to hit them at night while they camp! In two days' time there will be a new moon, that will be our chance." Said Vane, inciting the men to leave.



POV Syggha;

One day after departure...

Village Snowmill.

Syggha was walking alongside Zick's little pupil.

Zick's demands had been clear, they would have to show the boy first hand the horrors of this world and protect him.

They walked through the narrow streets of the burnt-out village.

Some houses were still smouldering. A few survivors were still there not knowing where to go.

'Is this really the best choice, Master?' thought Syggha. Although he would never admit it, he was beginning to grow fond of Duncan.

He was certainly a special boy. Never once had she seen him complain, he had always followed every command without fail and showed a unique talent and skill.

She was certain that at this rate he would reach unprecedented heights.

Syggha had trained with many men in the past who thought they were very tough. Some had knelt to her and begged for mercy, others had even cried like little girls...but no matter how hard she had tried over the last few months, this guy would not bend...

He had a will of steel.

She even doubted that he would be discouraged even if he lost a leg or an arm....

Today, for the first time, Syggha noticed hints of fear, hatred and pain in the boy's eyes.

Duncan approached the putrid body of an old man holding a child of about four in his arms. They both had wounded chests. Probably the work of a spear on horseback.

"How many are dead and surviving?" asked Duncan in a neutral tone to the garrison captain who approached him. He was closing the open eyes of both victims and trying to wipe the mud from their faces.

"So far we have found 51 bodies, most of them elderly, women and children...another 30 of the survivors have serious injuries, probably half of them won't make it through the night Young Lord." Drobhert replied.

"Try to treat the survivors as best you can, share some of our food supplies and offer anyone who wants it shelter in Torrhen's Square." Duncan.

"Yes my Lord." For a moment Drobhert forgot that he was receiving orders from a five year old boy.

Syggha watched the boy rise from the two bodies only after he had given them a more dignified position.

"Syggha." The woman was not startled by the sudden voice behind her. She knew her well.

"What did you see Ramas?" Syggha asked the best scout she had ever met.

"Ninety-seven armed men half a day from here. About fifty are poorly trained and poorly equipped, the rest look like former soldiers or mercenaries hired by someone. They're probably waiting until nightfall before attempting a surprise attack on us." Ramas replied quickly.

Duncan listened to every word with a cold look on his face.

"I couldn't save this village, and I won't be able to save the men who carried out this massacre from the fate that awaits them..." said a child.

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