Under the shroud of night's embrace, a figure ascended to the pinnacle of a diminutive galley, accompanied by his loyal crew, their collective vigilance encircling the area. Serenity reigned supreme as the moon cast its resplendent luminescence upon the tranquil expanse, while the undulating crests of the ocean remained placid, devoid of tumultuous strife. This soul, bearing the mantle of captaincy within the fleet commanded by Craghas Crabfeeder, assumed the mantle of patrol, safeguarding the waters that cradled the Stepstones, ever watchful for would-be interlopers who sought to circumvent the obligatory tributes imposed upon their seafaring sojourn.
They found themselves not in solitude, but rather accompanied by approximately twenty additional vessels encircling them, providing a vigilant escort in anticipation of any unforeseen events, given their current state of war. The captain tightly grasped a Myrish Eye, a contraption resembling a telescope that bestowed upon him the remarkable ability to observe distant entities—an indispensable tool for his designated responsibilities. Employing the eye's capabilities, he meticulously scanned the vicinity, meticulously scrutinizing every minute detail that unfolded before him.
All of a sudden, a remarkable spectacle caught his attention. It was an imposing fleet of approximately forty vessels, gliding gracefully into the waters of the region. Each ship proudly displayed banners adorned with shades of aquamarine blue, gray, and red, representing the noble houses Velaryon and Celtigars, respectively. The fleet advanced swiftly, propelled by the relentless rowing of their oarsmen, causing the previously serene waters to tremble. Their majestic masts, unfurled to their utmost extent, propelled them forward with great velocity. The captain's eyes widened in astonishment as he beheld this awe-inspiring sight. Swiftly, he removed his Myrish Eye from his face and seized the horn securely fastened to his belt. With a resolute breath, he brought the instrument to his lips and unleashed a mighty blast.
The sonorous reverberations of the horn resounded across the expanse, reverberating through the air and sending a shiver down the spine of every vessel in the vicinity. In response to this piercing call, bells began to peal with urgency, their tolling filling the air with a cacophony of sound. Voices erupted into a frenzy of cries and commands, rousing the once-dormant ships into a flurry of activity.
"Enemy ships!" bellowed the captain, his voice resounding across the ship. With urgency in their hearts, his crew swiftly sprang into action, grasping ropes and hastening below deck to retrieve their armaments. Meanwhile, the oarsmen commenced their arduous labor, diligently maneuvering the mighty vessels, pivoting them toward the impending threat that loomed in the distance.
As the pirate fleet readied itself in response, a symphony of war drums erupted, their resounding beats reverberating through the expanse. Originating from the ships of House Velaryon and House Celtigar, the percussive cadence filled the air with an overwhelming clamor. The forceful resonance of the drums was so potent that it seemed to make the very seas quiver, striking fear deep into the hearts of their enemies while inspiring unwavering valor among their allies.
The commanding figures aboard the pirate vessels drew in a deep breath, their ships now moving in almost perfect synchrony with their adversaries. The resounding beat of the drums continued to reverberate through the air, accompanied by the forceful shouts of the rowers as they strained their muscles to hasten their speed. The deck teemed with archers, their bows taut and ready to unleash a volley of arrows upon reaching optimal range. However, a sense of foreboding gripped the captains as they caught faint whistling sounds emanating from above, causing their eyes to widen in apprehension.
Swiftly, a deluge of arrows descended upon the fleet, engulfing it with deadly precision. Many souls succumbed to the piercing pain, their anguished cries echoing across the deck as blood flowed from wounds on their chests and arms. Some unfortunate souls met instant demise as the arrows found their mark in their heads. Only a fraction of the men managed to brace themselves in time, seeking refuge on the inner deck or raising their shields to create a meager barrier against the onslaught.
The anguished cries of death reverberated relentlessly through the air, creating an eerie symphony that heightened the tension. Undeterred, the ships pressed forward with unwavering resolve, their bows slicing through the tumultuous waters, steering towards the enemy fleet. Down below, the infantry braced themselves, gripping their swords and axes with a palpable mixture of anticipation and trepidation, as they prepared to engage in the imminent clash.
The distance between the fleets had now diminished to a mere handful of feet, narrowing the gap to an intimidating proximity. The pirate vessel's deck bore witness to the harrowing sight of bodkin arrows piercing through the sturdy wooden planks, rendering it a pincushion of destruction. The ship shuddered violently under the relentless assault, as the infantry emerged from the inner sanctum, poised for the impending boarding action.
Amidst this chaos, a particular ship found itself locked in a dramatic confrontation with a resplendent galley, its ram fortified with impenetrable steel. Fueled by a surge of adrenaline, the oarsmen propelled their vessel forward with unwavering determination. The collision was as fierce as it was swift, resulting in the pirate ship's hull being ruthlessly punctured by the enemy's imposing ram. The wounded vessel veered sideways, ravaging the oars of its adversary's hull. Before a moment's respite could be afforded, the pirate ship was subjected to another brutal impact from the other side, this time from a smaller but nimble war-vessel resembling a dromond.
The carnage escalated as men scrambled to ascend the battered and beleaguered pirate ship. Intrepid souls ascended from the smaller ship below, while another descended from above, descending upon their shared battleground. Leather-clad warriors brandishing axes and round shields poured onto the devastated ship, their presence transforming the vessel into a veritable arena of slaughter.
Amidst the chaos caused by the ruthless marauders, a youthful man took his stand, brandishing a formidable Valyrian Steel axe in one hand and clutching a shield in the other. This courageous figure was none other than Clement, adorned in his attire suited for naval warfare. Leading his newly trained warriors, specially honed for ship-to-ship combat, he valiantly clashed with the enemy. With each swing of his Valyrian steel axe, the pirates he faced met a swift and definitive fate, either cleaved in two or enduring ceaseless bleeding upon the weathered wooden deck.
These instruments of slaughter, now drenched in blood, continued to carry out their grim task. The air was filled with raging shouts and desperate pleas for mercy, not confined solely to Clement's battleground, but reverberating across the expanse of other ships locked in combat.
In the far distance, several pirate ships skillfully evaded a disastrous collision through their remarkable agility. With a deftness unparalleled, they resorted to the art of archery to assail their adversaries, demonstrating their cunning and resourcefulness. Swelling with a sense of invincibility, they believed themselves to be safe from harm's grasp, only to bear witness to a spectacle of unimaginable grandeur amidst the ethereal darkness that enveloped them.
"DRAGON!" exclaimed one of the astounded sailors, his voice trembling with awe and fear.
In a majestic display, the mighty dragon descended from the sky, casting its ominous shadow upon the world below. As its colossal form loomed overhead, the dragon unleashed its fiery breath, spewing forth a torrent of crimson inferno upon the unsuspecting waters beneath. The pirate ships, caught in the merciless embrace of the all-consuming flames, were swiftly reduced to charred remnants, succumbing to the overwhelming power of the beast.
A remarkable alchemy unfolded before the horrified eyes of the pirates, as the searing heat met the cool caress of the water. A symphony of steam rose from the scorched surface, shrouding the scene in a ghostly mist that veiled the magnitude of the destruction.
But ere long, the mist dissipated as the Blood Wyrm ventured perilously close to the briny depths, soaring through the heavens akin to an insidious serpent burrowing through the loam, persistently incinerating the fleeing vessels.
The task was executed with utmost precision and swiftness. Clement stood upon the precipice of the sinking ship, whilst his stalwart comrades swiftly unloaded the spoils, his gaze traversing the array of ships, now either being commandeered for their own fleet or engulfed in the distant conflagration. In the firmament above, Caraxes circled them, a vigilant sentinel observing the unfolding tableau.
The nocturnal cloak of darkness and stillness that enshrouded the vicinity was banished, replaced instead by the ravenous flames devouring the hapless ships and the anguished wails of the vanquished pirates.
Upon the sandy shores of Grey Gallows, an isle nestled in the heart of the Stepstones, Clement disembarked from his ship, already grounded on the beach, and felt the gentle caress of the soft grains beneath his feet. His very being was shrouded in a cloak of crimson, as his leather and chainmail armor bore the vivid stains of battle. Within the obscurity of the night, his silhouette remained elusive, but with the advent of dawn's golden light, his imposing figure became unmistakable to any observer.
His suit of armor was an amalgamation of supple leather pads and interwoven chainmail, while his formidable Valyrian Steel axe was securely fastened to his back. A helm partially concealed his countenance, allowing the clarity of his features to emerge. Adorning his belt were a horn, intricately etched with enigmatic runes, and a knife, serving as a trusty sidearm.
Trailing closely behind him was his uncle, Gromond, garbed in a similar guise of armor. Together, they traversed the damp expanse of the shoreline, ascending toward the summit of the petite islet. At their destination, a congregation of men came into view, their tents scattered haphazardly, and vigilant sentinels strategically stationed in every direction. Clement observed the gradual construction of various edifices in the vicinity, intended for long-term establishment. Among them stood a petite harbor, destined to serve as a resupply hub for incoming vessels.
"We are squandering our precious time in this place," Clement voiced his irritation to his uncle. "We possess the capacity to multitask, yet the prince lacks the patience for such matters..."
"Prince Daemon is consumed by a thirst for battle," Gromond remarked sagely. "He commands the allegiance of a majority of sellswords, and this domain serves as his chosen arena."
"This arena drains his treasuries," Clement scoffed dismissively. "Bloodstone lies within our grasp, no ships in sight, and we patrol across the surrounding waters. However, we persist in launching fruitless assaults, squandering both men and gold."
With a piercing cry that echoed through the sky, the aforementioned Prince Daemon soared high above the ethereal expanse, his mighty Blood Wyrm gracefully descending upon the pinnacle of the isle. Clement, undeterred, continued his ascent up the hill, finally reaching the zenith where Lord Corlys and his retinue patiently awaited his arrival.
"Another victory, lad." Corlys nodded.
"Ten new ships plundered from the battle are being repaired and rearmed at the moment." proclaimed Clement, removing his helmet and gently placing it upon the table. His lustrous silver-blonde locks, drenched in the blood of battle, were now exposed for all to behold. "Yet, if I may speak my mind, my lord, this is not the most optimal course of action to bring this campaign to a close."
Corlys arched an inquisitive brow. "Pardon?"
Clement turned his attention to the table, strewn with scattered figurines atop a meticulously rendered map of the Stepstones. "Is it not your ultimate aim to conquer Bloodstone, my lord?"
"The Crabfeeder ensconced himself within the labyrinthine caverns of that very islet. Numerous attempts at assault have been made to no avail," Corlys lamented, his expression etched with discontent. "What, then, do you propose, lad?"
"In the grand scheme of things, if we sever the Crabfeeder's head from his body, the remaining forces shall soon capitulate. However, in our current predicament, such an endeavor would prove futile," articulated Clement, deftly maneuvering a few of the figurines in proximity to Bloodstone. "Instead of Prince Daemon indiscriminately immolating the island every other day, I humbly suggest that you and your fleet encircle it, and starve them. Meanwhile, the prince and the rest of his sellswords, with my men, shall seize the remaining territories of the isle. This approach offers efficiency, expediency, and permits the restoration of your shipping lanes, even amidst the ongoing conflict."
"The question is, would the prince agree?" Corlys said. "Your approach is sound and an obvious one, but the prince does not like to wait."
With measured strides and an air of composure, Daemon proceeded towards the heart of the council, his countenance perpetually serene and relaxed. He removed his helmet, setting it delicately upon the table. Clement cast a disapproving gaze, his brows furrowed, and retrieved the figurine that represented both himself and his formidable dragon.
"My prince," Clement began, his voice infused with a noble tone. "This war does not solely concern you. Your mastery as a dragonrider can be employed elsewhere, rather than circling Bloodstone aimlessly each day, bereft of a plan."
Daemon's features betrayed his boredom as he retorted, "And what course of action do you propose, then? The Crabfeeder will eventually emerge from his den. There is no need for concern; sail through the region as you always have until now."
Frustration etched upon his face, Clement retorted, "It is a futile endeavor, my prince. Instead, your dragon could unleash its fiery wrath upon the other islands. The Crabfeeder shall remain holed up in his cavern while your mighty beast soars above. We should lay siege to the island, subjecting them to starvation. You may choose to scorch them every fortnight if you wish, but our primary objective must be the conquest of the other islands."
"And how would a siege hasten our cause?" Daemon interjected, his tone tinged with disinterest.
"My prince, as you are well aware, the king is a man of peace," Clement interjected, cutting him off. "The longer we linger here, the more his defenses will crumble, and the stronger his desire for an end to this conflict becomes. In due course, he shall dispatch his own army, do you want that to come to fruition? Instead of proceeding without a coherent plan and potentially prolonging our stay in this desolate land, why not merely starve the Crabfeeder for a temporary respite, and guarantee that within a year, his head shall adorn a spike? By that time, his fleet shall have been decimated as well, by your dragon."
Daemon fixed his gaze upon Clement, maintaining a composed expression, and emitted a soft chuckle, as if deriving amusement from his words. "How can you assure us that he shall emerge from his hiding place within the span of a year?"
"By implementing a thorough blockade, we can ensure that his provisions do not endure for more than a year," Clement responded. "And like I said, if you want to quicken it, you can burn them for every fortnight or so to keep the pressure, but again, your main priority should be to cleanse the other islands on the Stepstones of pirates, rather than focused on one isle."
Daemon maintained his silence, offering nothing more than a thoughtful hum. Shifting his attention to Lord Corlys, Clement declared, "Then let us make the necessary preparations for the blockade, my lord."
"Very well," Corlys affirmed with a nod.
"Although..." Clement hesitated.
"Is there something else you wish to convey?" inquired Corlys.
Clement nodded. "The addition of more dragons could prove advantageous."
Corlys shook his head firmly. "No."
"I understand that your lady wife is currently occupying Driftmark as a regent," Clement persisted, "but both Laena and Laenor—"
"The prince shall suffice for the time being." Corlys interjected, his tone resolute. "Using many dragons to rid mere pirates would prove to be inefficient."
Clement clicked his tongue. "Very well."