The 25th Day of the 7th Month of the 296th day since Aegon’s Landing.
The King arrived in his solar at Storm’s End. In the company of his Rainbow Guard, Ser Loras Tyrell – the knight of Flowers – chief among them. He welcomed Lord Westley’s household with warmth, praising their worth. Yet looking among them he found not the Dreadbow and missed him. He was told of the Marcher Knight’s solemn vow never to relinquish his namesake until the King be seated securely on the Iron Throne, a vow taken after the massacre at Fellwood cost Steadwater the life of their Lord’s Lady mother and no few puissant men-at-arms in Ser Clancy’s service.
Hearing this, His Grace opened the door to accost the worthy Ser Oisin demanding he attend his King. When the Dreadbow stood upon his vow, King Renly had Ser Loras break the weapon, rendering Ser Oisin’s vow obsolete for the short time the audience should last.
Therein he heard Ser Sebastion report Joffrey’s demand that Renly bend the knee and learned of Renly’s planned rebuttal. The King would convene an open court at Storm’s End in two days time. There he would hear Steadwater’s petition in public and loudly reject the order from the abominal bastard pretender. Furthermore, he would exile Steadwater from the Stormlands and declare them outlaws. The fiction thereby being complete in the eyes of all of Westeros, Steadwater would meet Renly’s agents who had gathered 500 sellswords to serve Steadwater according to Renly’s design.
Steadwater was bid carry word of Renly’s rejection of Joffrey’s sovereignty and deliver these 500 men to Joffrey’s army. It was hoped that Joffrey’s host would have met with Stannis in the field, bringing an end to one or the other, ere Steadwater ever got to Bitterbridge. However, should Joffrey’s host still stand, Steadwater was to remain with it while Renly marched his own host to close with the Lannister pretender. The battle thus joined, Steadwater must turn their cloaks and attack Joffrey’s army in the flank, trapping it between Renly’s host and Steadwater, delivering victory. Joffrey thence dispatched, Lannister would have no claim to the throne and Tyrell would retire to Highgarden. Steadwater was then dismissed while Ser Oisin was given a private apology by King Renly and offered his pick from the Storm’s End arsenal to replace his broken bow.
26th Day of the 7th Month, the audience at Renly’s court still a day away, Ser Darrius hatched a plot to find imposters to mimic Joffrey. The mummery meant to fool onlookers from afar, he managed to secure two children around the same age as the cuckold-spawn. An adolescent boy and his sister with a babe at the breast followed him from the Septas of Storm’s End. He then set about clothing them in raiment fit for a King and training them in courtly etiquette.
Little else of note happened before the day of Court arrived on the 27th day of the 7th month. The knights and worthies of House Steadwater entered into the Great Hall in the center of the massive drum tower that rises like a fist over Storm’s End’s curtain wall. The cavernous room was filled with nobility, all drawn by the prospect of being in King Renly’s presence. He sat upon a throne, his Rainbow Guard arrayed around him and listened to petitions. Regardless of merit or worth all were belayed with the pronouncement, “You will have his Grace’s decision later.”
After several of these disappointing missives, the herald stood forth, announcing, “King Renly Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, shall now hear a petition from House Steadwater.” It was the first time a petition had been harbingered in that fashion this day.
Ser Sebastien and his entourage advanced, but refused to kneel before the King. Defiantly, he delivered King Joffrey’s command that Renly renounce his claim to the Iron Throne and in deference to his late King Brother’s memory join his Grace in defeating the traitor Stannis. Loud curses and cries of traitor answered from the crowd. The Rainbow Guard drew their swords and advanced on the Steadwater company, but Renly stood up from his throne and bid them stop. Raising up his hands for silence, the crowd grew silent, but restive.
“You are brave to come here and deliver this message from that bastard spawn of incest, but it was pointless. I will not bend the knee to Joffrey. Deliver this message to that Lannister puppet: He has no right to the Iron Throne and I shall see an end to him. The crown will be mine!
“And you, who were my sworn bannermen, I cast you out! Henceforth, I name you outlaws! If any man find you within the borders of the Stormlands a day hence, you will face the King’s Justice!” With a motion of his hand, he pronounced, “We shall keep the Lady Steadwater as hostage to ensure you risk no further treachery!” The Rainbow Guard then advanced and took the Lady Iris prisoner.
The knights of House Steadwater looked for sympathetic faces in the crowd around them, but there was only hate to be found. However, Ser Darrius was convinced there was some stirring in their favor and exhorted them to the espoused cause. This proved a poor gambit and only loud hostility answered him. Discretion being the better part of valor, Steadwater retreated, returning to the inn, whereat they found that rumor of the Court had preceded them. Only the few remaining soldiers under their command and Ser Darrius’ orphans spared their belongings from being thrown in the street and carried off by whatever miscreants would have them. Quickly, they prepared to flee while an angry mob gathered. Through a hail of rotten missiles, they flew through the gates of Storm’s End and headed North. Some rabble followed them on horseback, trailing them as they travelled up the Kingsroad.
A few hours outside the walls of Storm’s End, a secret companion revealed himself to Jeor Blackmont. Unbeknownst to the company, a knight had secreted himself in the Dornishman’s wain. He revealed himself to be Ser Jorris Blackwater, Captain of a company of sellswords gathered near Bronzegate awaiting Steadwater to take command. Through a private council, out of earshot of the Burned Man, who Ser Sebastion cleverly kept busy, they decided the next course of action; to meet the army and then proceed West through the Kingswood, keeping away from the road and approach Bitterbridge in secret.
Several weeks of hard travel passed. The army, marching through the wild Kingswood, made slow progress with the baggage train needing new trails to be blazed. The secretive nature of their march meant no shelter could be sought, but clear of purpose they made their way to the plains before Bitterbridge. Ser Oisin rode out alone to scout the way, ensuring that the Steadwater army would not encounter either Stannis nor Joffrey before either had the chance to destroy the other.
A few days from Bitterbridge, he spied a great dust cloud advancing toward him. As they approached he spied groups of men walking in disorder, carrying their wounded up the Rose Road and seeking safety in the East. They were the remains of Stannis’ routed army. Apparently, even a thousand score strong, they were lured into open battle against the might of both Highgarden and Casterley Rock, led by Lord Tywin Lannister. They were quickly destroyed, Stannis was killed, and his Red Witch escaped with a single bodyguard.
The Dreadbow returned to his companions and delivered the news of Joffrey’s victory. The sellswords leapt to the suggestion that hostages amongst the defeated foes might fetch a decent ransom and set out to pounce upon the stragglers. They brought back some prospects they thought might prove worthy, but in the end only two escaped the traitor’s noose. Most prominent of the pair was a Vale knight, the heir of Longbow Hall, Ser Gallwood Hunter. He promised a ransom of a hundred score dragons from his Lord Father, Lord Eon, but they need act soon lest his father die and his treacherous brothers deny his rights and claim the seat of Longbow Hall for themselves.
A few days passed and House Steadwater came upon King Joffrey’s army camped around Bitterbridge, flying Lannister and Tyrell banners and the Royal Stag and Lion above all. They announced themselves to the Lannister pickets and were soon brought before Ser Kevan Lannister, who had been Ser Sebastion’s foster father. From Ser Kevan they learned that Joffrey’s force nearly doubled that of Stannis’. Lord Tywin had drawn out Stannis by sending out the men that Joffrey brought with him out of the Rainwood, including those from Steadwater. Stannis launched his attack and was soon enveloped and crushed by the combined might of the Reach and the Westermen.
Thus welcomed, House Steadwater repaired to their company to find a place to camp in the midst of Joffrey’s army.