ASIFR - Tales of Iron

Interlude

It is a bare 2 weeks before the first households are expected to arrive for the wedding….. and as the Knights and camp followers return to Steadwater castle after their time away in the Border Marches they note a strange sign. Flying over the castle is not the Steadwater flag….a stag…..a crowned stag.

The patrols that had been established before setting out are nowhere to be seen, on the walls of the castle you see armed men that you do not recognize and as you reach the castle portal your way is blocked by a knight in white armor, one of the kingsguard. Behind the stoic knight …with a look on his face you have never seen before …..is Maestor Gregory….. his face shines with a look……….of pride!!!!

In the courtyard beyond you see a young golden haired man, more of a boy really as he is slight of build. He appears to be giving a speech, or dressing down, to the Steadwater household staff. Behind him like a snow caped tor stands a giant in dark burnished chain armor, the skin of his face is so white as to be freakish in nature and his eyes burn red beneath a mass of long straggling bleached white hair, upon his back a worn flowing cloak that shows him to be of House Crowl. If ever there were white walkers….this man would have made them fear for what they really were!

Beyond him, slumped in a chair sits Lord Steadwater, covered in rugs and wracked with coughs, beside him Lady Steadwater. He is flanked by a couple of Steadwater men at arms.

The rest of the men at arms in the castle appear to be of Lannister and Baratheon

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Fleshing out the Flesh Eater

The come hither looks and the sly smiled beguiled the young boy. Too bad he didn’t turn away in distaste like the young lordling had earlier. The serving boy anticipated a fun romp in the pantry, not to end up on a menu.

Finished with his grisly task, Afif, stole the body away into a privy hole, and let the evidence fall far below. He cleaned up and returned to the banquet which was well under way. The Arbor Gold had been well received by the lady, but that was long gone. Ser Tygor Wyl was well into his wine cups and was reiterating his request to the young Whesley Steadwater for the third time.

Rebels were coming into the Boneway, and causing trouble for the Dornish. The Stormlander raiders were calling themselves Blackbolts. They were being led by Ser Aidan Storm and had the full support of Beric Dondarrion. However, things were escalating, and the Red Viper threatened to come up from Sunspear and deal with the rebels himself, which would most likely lead to a full blown war. Hopefully, something could be done about the rebels, or the other storm lords could be convinced to withdraw their support.

The day after the banquet, the Steadwater contingent made their way up the Boneway to go to Black Haven and talk with Dondarrion. On the way, they met up with the knights of Carmayar, who were superb archers. Steadwater bandied words with them, and were unable to sway them to lessen their support of the Black Bolts

At Blackhaven the travelers were met with Ser Gennady Shanin, who sported the stolen sword that belonged to the Wyl family. Tempted to slay the young man, Abu, had to keep his hand from yanking his sword free. There was a wall full of archers watching, and a town full of bystanders. So, instead, they peaceably made their way into the keep.

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A Conspiracy of Ravens

Westley Steadwater stood before his prisoner upon the tidal quay, waiting for an answer. Who is this man? This murderous assassin who had only barely been defeated and nearly killed him?

From his knees, the mysterious stranger, addressed himself to motion like as he would speak and answered, “I am…”

Suddenly, the Dreadbow dashed forward, tackling the prisoner to the ground. A thrown stiletto flew through the empty air where the prisoner had been standing an instant before. It found Westley instead. Thrown by another of the red masked assassins that had plagued them in the dungeons. But this one was quickly dispatched.

With that done, Steadwater turned its attention on the prisoner. Ser Clancy attempted to interrogate him to no avail. The man refused to speak, evidently too scared to open his mouth for fear that Ser Clancy’s gifted speech might rend the secrets from his lips. It was intimated that the business in the dungeons was a trap to kill Westley, for some reason. Remaining silent, we transported him back to Steadwater where further interrogation might loosen his tongue. Orders were left for the garrison to be maintained on Castle Toyne and for supplies to be brought by ship, through the dungeons.

Once safely returned to Port Steadwater, we found an conspiracy of ravens awaiting us along with our new Maester – sent from the Citadel to replace his useless predecessor. Maester Gregory proved caustic but incredibly gifted in both the healing arts, ravencraft and language. He quickly diagnosed Westley’s injuries and healed them all. He treated the prisoner’s wounds so that he wouldn’t die while waiting in the dungeon. He gave Lord Steadwater another 5 months to live, saying that even his prodigious talents in the healing arts could not keep the Stranger at bay.

The ravens cried out for answers, one from Lord Renly demanded a date for the wedding, another from the Small Council demanded Ser Oisin answer their summons, and a third came from Westley’s future wife demanding more attention. First, Lord Renly was answered and the wedding will take place along with a Regional Tournament 3 months hence, on the 21st day of the 5th month of the 297th year since Aegon’s Landing. Second, the Small Council was told that Ser Oisin was needed to follow Lord Renly’s orders to set his lands to rights, House Steadwater being without many knights trustworthy enough to properly carry them out. Third, it was determined that Iris Dannet had sent the raven before she was escorted to Danien-and-Rimchurch, so she should be suitably distracted for the nonce.

These perfunctory matters dealt with, Steadwater now meant to solve the troubling matter of setting Toyne to rights and bringing it under Steadwater’s control. With a starving populace and no law to speak of, reconnaissance was required to know exactly what state the lands were in. Ser Clancy rode for 2 days across those lands, determining their population, what power remained in the land, their wealth and defensive structures. In the end, it was determined that 6 wealth was needed to feed the populace and bring it under our control. To that end, Ravens were dispatched to the neighboring lords. The Maester’s eloquence brought 5 wealth, the bulk from Rogers of Amberly and the rest from Peasbury. No other lords could well afford to send much in the way of food or supply. Ser Clancy, with his eye for acumen, reckoned that Toyne would be set to rights within a month.

Before other business could be done, visitors started arriving to the castle. First was Westley’s betrothed, returned from Danien-and-Rimchurch with tales of boredom and a desire for excitement. Westley, of course, hid from her, closeting himself in counsel with his knights and hoping this business would keep him well away from her. He didn’t need to worry long about that, for soon a hedge knight came to the gates, begging for bread and salt, to engage Steadwater’s hospitality and swear his sword to them. Knowing nothing about this man, it was decided to put him to the test. Ser Clancy ordered one of his personal guard, a skilled fighter named Brendan, to put this wayward knight to the test. Ser Roose Axl made a swift and pitiful contest. Brendan struck him three times in a row with his wooden longsword. Ser Roose could not land a blow until he recklessly lashed out. Brendan made him pay for it, landing a critical blow that forced Ser Roose to yield.

Ser Roose then told a tale that struck strangely to our ears. He said he had served House Lannister as an outrider and had been released from their service since the disappearance of Queen Cersei and her children. In fact, all stranger knights and those not sharing a blood relation had been sent away. Ser Kevan Lannister himself told Ser Roose that he could find no better employment than with House Steadwater. So, Ser Roose traveled across the width of Westeros to the Stormlands to seek service with House Steadwater, a thing too improbable to believe. However, nothing could be gleaned from his earnest presentation of the facts. None present believed a word of his story, but he was welcomed to stay in the port and to prove his mettle in the tourney to come.

All that was left was for the prisoner to be put to the question. Having been hosted for 2 long days in the dungeons, we judged him ready to talk. Ser Clancy hammered him with questions. The Dreadbow pleaded with him to make it easier on himself. Finally, the prisoner said, “Alright! I’ll tell you everything you want to know!” Then, he looked at Westley and said, “But you must promise me, my lord, that once I have told you all, you will give me the King’s Justice. Strike me dead here in this room and make a complete end of me. If you swear this by the Seven, I shall tell you just how deep the conspiracy that surrounds you goes.”

Westley said, “I do swear it.”

The prisoner then began to speak, shocking us all with the incredible machinations that had been unleashed against House Steadwater.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Dungeons of Toyne

The passageway yawned like an open maw set as it was into the earthen wall, concealed behind the empty wine racks. It clawed sinuously through the earth, dank and ill-shapen, as if some cavernous worm had worked its way through the ancient cliff face beneath Castle Toyne and left this trail behind. It beckoned like some live thing, sucking in a stale damp breath that drew the torch flames and made them gutter, casting dancing shadows against the rough hewn walls of the passage.

17 men stood before it in the empty wine cellar; the Heir of House Steadwater, his trusted Sheriff and 5 of his personal guard, the Dreadbow, and the 9 raiders who returned from the first foray down into that dungeon. Finally, the order was given to enter the tunnel and the company of men plunged into the deeper darkness before them, none knowing what they would find. At first they found nothing but more passages, little about them to suggest that something lived here. Finally, they came upon a wider intersection and Ser Oisin bent his gaze upon it and discerned the tracks of a soft-booted figure having passed this way before.

Westley ordered that the company follow the tracks, leaving behind 3 of his raiders as a rearguard. The tracks came to a door mortared into the living rock, but was unlocked, so the company passed through it without incident. They came upon stairs leading deeper into the earth. It was then they heard the noise; echoes of fighting coming from the passage behind them, where the rearguard stood watch.

Returning to where the raiders were left, they found only corpses; 3 raiders lay dead and the bodies of 2 of their attackers, well armored swordsmen wearing mail and bearing shields. The Dreadbow found tracks of 3 more attackers leading down the main path, but it was decided to continue their original trail. Using the bodies of the dead attackers to block the door and ensure some security behind them, the company continued, down the stairs until they came upon another confluence of passages leading off from the main path. Down one a light shone dimly at its farther end.

Westley and Ser Oisin went to investigate. However, in the close darkness of that winding passage, Westley’s famed agility failed him; he clattered and clashed with the walls, betraying any stealth he and the Dreadbow sought. Ser Oisin left Westley in the middle of the darkness and continued on alone. There, he found a bend in the corridor with a torch set in a sconce just around the corner and a lone swordsman waiting in the darkness beyond that.

Quietly, the Dreadbow set down his blade and unstrapped his shield and drew forth the longbow that has brought him fame. Just then Ser Clancy ordered a clattering charge, fearing the approach of unknown figures somewhere in the dark. With no time to lose, Ser Oisin pulled forth a cloth-yard arrow, set it to his string and let loose the barb at the swordsman waiting in ambush. In the short distance, the missile flew straight and true, piercing the man’s face and the brain stem beyond, killing him instantly.

Having trampled over Westley in the dark, the 14 strong Steadwater company now stood cramped at the end of this dead end tunnel and waited for the enemy Ser Clancy feared to appear. They were not long waiting, for they were hailed in the darkness from the passage they had left.

“Surrender,” the unknown voice called.

“It is you who should surrender,” Ser Clancy threatened, “We have you outnumbered and your castle surrounded! You have no hope to prevail!”

“But we have a boat!” one of the enemy blurted. “Shut up, you fool!” the voice of their leader silenced his men, then ordered the attack. 3 swordsmen ventured into that tunnel, Westley greeted them with steel in his hand, Ser Clancy’s men helped him and the Dreadbow set his deadly weapon to work, loosing winged messengers of death down the tunnel to the approaching swordsmen. 2 fell quickly to Westley and Clancy’s cohort, the third fled after being struck by an arrow and seeing his fellows fall. His flight did not last long, for the sharp sound of steel puncturing armor heralded his demise. 1 more raider died in this fight.

The 13 man company advanced in good order, stepping over the slain man, whose chest had been pierced by short-bladed weapon. Ser Oisin followed the tracks of the soft-booted figure as far as he could, then the target’s stealth proved too much for his skill. Instead, they found another stairwell leading down and determined to follow it, hoping to catch the leader who had foolishly ordered their surrender. Then they heard the sound of flames down a corridor, but ignored them, and continued down the stairs.

Suddenly, a raider was struck down by a flaming dagger in the hands of a masked assassin, the sixth raider to fall! Then, the battle joined in earnest. The assassin stood her ground attacking the next raider in line with a dagger that sprouted flames from its blade! It scored the raider’s chest with a deadly wound. Ser Oisin stood behind him and drew back the string on his longbow and sent a the barbed point of his cloth-yard arrow across the point blank distance striking the assassin square in the chest. One of Ser Clancy’s men did for her, but not soon enough to save the second raider. 11 remained of the 17 who ventured into the darkness.

Behind them, a second assassin appeared, attacking Westley, one more of the hapless Steadwater raiders and one of Ser Clancy’s men. Westley held his own, but took several wounds at the hands of the other assassin. He could not save the raider, who was the first to fall. Leaving 10 survivors in the company.

Searching the assassins’ bodies, they were found to have foreign looks of a kind not seen by any who had been across the Narrow Sea. Tattoos graced their shoulders and they bore vials of a strange green liquid and a pouch of unknown herbs. Their daggers were coated in some substance that burned along the blade’s edge, a strange notion that should be pondered in some quiet moment outside of these dungeons.

However, the stairwell still carved its curling way into the depths of the dungeons of Toyne. Steadwater advanced until they heard the sound of the waves and the boat they were seeking. They found it moored to a tidal quay, a light masted schooner large enough to take them all out to sea. They could not seek escape just yet…

For suddenly, the unseen leader who had demanded their surrender appeared in the dark passage behind them. With a single motion, he drew forth his dagger and plunged it into the chest of the raider standing between Westley and him, killing the raider instantly – bringing the total to 9 raiders fallen that day! A battle ensued where Clancy’s man delivered several powerful blows in the lordling’s defense, but it was only enough to draw the ire of the enemy. Lunging past Westley, the man in Toyne livery pierced the guard’s defenses and his brain with his dagger. The first of Clancy’s personal guard to fall. Another of Clancy’s men came to the heir’s aid and the Dreadbow made his way through the press of men to bring his arrows to bear against the foe. 4 cloth-yard missiles pierced the man’s defenses and many smaller wounds forced him to yield.

Westley said, “We do not want to fight you. We have come to aid House Toyne! Who are you?”

Of the 17 who ventured into the dungeons, 8 still lived to bear witness to this moment, to find out what had become of the defenders of Toyne, why 5 swords, 2 assassins and this strange man in Toyne livery had attacked them without reason.

From his knees, the mysterious stranger, addressed himself to motion like as he would speak and answered, “I am…” TO BE CONTINUED

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From Port Steadwater to Castle Toyne
Adventure in the Toyne lands

House Steadwater (Westley, Ser Clancy, and Ser Oisin) had tracked the Childslayer to the river that bisects their lands, losing his trail. However, they had discovered his appearance was that of a severely burned, green-eyed man, wielding an extremely sharp sword, with fingers missing from his left hand, and a limp.

With nothing further to be done on the banks of the river, the party turned for home where the Lord Steadwater lay in his deathbed. Traveling along the far banks of the river, they came upon two solitary figures bedecked in outlandish fashion and clothing ill-suited for a Stormlands spring. They wore feathered cloaks and vests barely fit to cover their torsos. They were the massive Summer Islander, Abu Afif, and his half-Dornish son, Afif. After some concern that Afif’s green-eyes marked him as the Childslayer, it was discovered his hands were fully-numbered and soft as a woman’s (by the gods!); his effeminate manner also precluded him from being a monster of the caliber now stalking Steadwater’s smallfolk.

Abu begged audience with the Lord Steadwater, hearing rumor of his links to the Summer Islands. However, with the death of Bart and his cohort being judged guilty of poisoning, those links had since been severed, but rumor travels slowly in the lands where sex is a way of worship. They were also 3 leagues north and on the wrong side of the river from Castle Steadwater. Westley welcomed them to his lord father’s lands, regardless of these woes, but his was not a joyous homecoming. Lord Steadwater was found even closer to death than before his heir departed to investigate the rumors of the Childslayer and was delirious; he proclaimed his love for his late foreign wife, while Westley’s mother sat her vigil next to him. Westley has since taken over the duties of managing the house, while his father lies dying.

However, the shadow of Childslayer loomed over all and the fear was the monster would turn his sights on Steadwater town. So a watch was set but nothing occurred in the night. Rumor surfaced the next day as Ser Clancy’s men reported a cloaked swordsman had been seen in the port tavern. Abu went to gather more information, but his outlandish looks garnered him little good will from the parochial patrons of the townsfolk giving custom there. Ser Oisin and Westley followed and discovered that the hooded swordsman was the Childslayer and the word was spread to the town-criers to look out for this figure and give notice of his passage. Hopefully, this would keep him out of the townlands and keep the smallfolk children safe. Since the Childslayer was seen to move Eastward towards the Dannet lands, Whestley worried for the safety of his betrothed and dispatched men to escort her to Danien-and-Rimchurch where she could arrange for the Septon there to preside over their wedding and be out of harm’s way.

Having provided for the security of his betrothed and his smallfolk, Westley determined it was time to look Westward to the Toynelands. Lord Steadwater forbade him from armed conquest, declaring that the Toyne Knight had been a good friend to him during Robert’s Rebellion. So, a messenger was sent to give word of Steadwater’s arrival, but soon returned with tales of a starving populace and an empty castle.

House Steadwater marched on Toyne; 200 hundred men, comprised of raiders and archers. There the hungry Toyne smallfolk watched them ravenously, eying the heir’s and his knights’ mounts hungrily. In the end a thousand or more surrounded them as they came upon the Toyne castle’s gates to find them barred and unmanned. Abu climbed over them – his strength allowing him to easily scale the rough mortared walls – and opened the gates to Steadwater’s army. They were then quickly secured against the starving peasants.

Inside the gates, several bodies were found lined within the inner ward, no mark of station upon them. The castle was investigated and stairs leading down, deep into the cliff-face upon which the castle was founded, were discovered. Of the ten men who ventured into the deep darkness, nine returned; either lost or fallen to some evil fate.

The dungeon now waits for the heir and his heroes to brave its darkness.

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