Taints and Celebrations III

Day Four of the festival – Jousting and Revelations

After the delays of yesterday, day four was now almost exclusively reserved for the jousting. With a mysterious ‘Black Knight’ and the challenge between Ser Gregory Sheridan and Ser Willam Sunderland, expectations were high. However, less than 40 contesters participated, there was no big rostrum for the spectators, rather limited splendor and the victory prices were also not to compare to a big tourney. But considering the rather local scope of the event and the ongoing war, most guests were not picky.
Not everyone who could participate did it. F. e. Lord Weymouth (already middle aged and not a great rider), Lord Fallkirk (who preferred to fight on foot) and Adham Dannett (who, considering the lasting physical consequences of his poisoning a year ago and a nasty tourney accident some month later, probably had come to the conclusion that his jousting days were over) stayed on the sideline.
Of course Erik also did not participate (his embarrassing performance the last day was enough). He was able to get a seat near Lady Tanda Darcy and he noticed with satisfaction, that she was wearing the emerald necklace he had given her. She seemed to be still furious about the misbehavior of Ser Sheridan, proclaiming her hopes that the arrogant knight will find his match.

There would be six rounds altogether and every ‘pair’ of contesters would have up to three passes each round. If a rider was unhorsed, he lost. If both opponents stayed in the saddle or were unhorsed at the same pass, a tourney judge had to decide.

The first jousting round started with the ominous Black Knight, who unhorsed his opponent with ease.
Paedrig faced a less intimidating opponent – a relatively lightly armored member of the Dannett cavalry. Both men shattered a lance on each other’s shield. With his second pass, Paedrig did send his opponent to the ground.
Lord Gard was even more successful than Paedrig, unhorsing his opponent with the first hit.
The fight between Ser Willam Sunderland and Ser Sheridan got much attention – but Ser Sheridan was clearly superior, unhorsing the freshly knighted Willam during the second pass.

After a little break it was time for the second round. Even before Paedrig could do it, Lord Gard (who had sired Willam Sunderland) challenged Ser Sheridan. Both seem to be almost even, but in the end it was Sheridan who went down with a satisfying crash.
Paedrig again faced a member of the Dannett cavalry, although this time his opponent was better armored. While the lance of Paedrigs opponent shattered on his shield, the young knight aimed better, sending is contester to the ground and wounding him severely.
Again the ominous Black Knight unhorsed his opponent with ease.

In the third round, Paedrig had to face Ser Torrhen Fallkirk. The young bastard knight had mixed feelings towards him. On the one hand, the two young men had got along relatively well (Torrhen showed not much prejudices concerning Paedrigs questionable heritage). On the other hand, the relations between house Fallkirk and house Blyth of Dragonport remained strained and Paedrig was envious. Torrhen recently got a decent strip of the Borderlands as landed knight. This was an achievement for the Fallkirks, Paedrig still considered as unfair, given the efforts house Blyth (and Paedrig himself) had put into Borderland security. And not-so-secretly Paedrig also thought that he would have been better suited for the new title…
During the first jousting pass, Torrhen shattered his lance on Paedrigs shield, while Paedrig hit almost unhorsed him. In the second pass, the already weakened Torrhen got a nasty hit and went down. Paedrig seemed to have a winner streak.
Lord Gard did not have so much luck, because he had to face the Black Knight, who struck him down with the first pass. Lord Gard had to be sent to the healer. Elen ‘Faerieeyes’ again got rather sarcastic concerning the stupidity of men (and especially knights) who were so eager to get injured for no reason. Her words went beyond what might be considered as appropriate for a woman of her class. But her status as healer, the fact that she had helped Lord Gards wife to give birth and her rather…strange, sometimes a little bit unworldly appearing powers gave her much liberties. It was also not the first serious injury Gard had suffered in the few tourneys he had participated, so he silently admitted that the healer was partly right…
Although the Black Knight earned much applause, not everyone was happy with his stunning performance. Erik, who was skeptical concerning ‘masked competitors’ and such things, ordered the personal guard on high alert. He feared, the Black Knight might be a distraction for some jet unknown sinister reason…
Paedrig on the other side, as a knight of Lord Gards house, considered it as his duty to challenge the man who had defeated his lord. He did this with little confidence, considering his victory chances as meager. For unknown reason, the mysterious competitor also was not so keen to fight Paedrig, but accepted the challenge.
The Black Knight was probably Paedrigs age. He was not very tall but wiry, with dark eyes and hair and an attractive face which seemed strangely familiar to Paedrig, although he could not pinpoint why.

So it was time for the fore last round, with only four men still in the game. The Black Knight clearly dominated the fight. In the first pass, Paedrigs lance shattered on his shield, while the counterstrike hit Paedrig hard. The second round was even more one-sided, with Paedrig missing his opponent while getting again a heavy blow.
During the third and last pass, Paedrigs lance again shattered on the shield of his opponent without doing any damage, while the Black Knight landed a precise and hefty hit. He was the clear winner, but Paedrig had fought much better than most other opponents of the Black Knight, earning him the third place of the tourney. The injured bastard knight was not in the mood to celebrate this. Paedrig was sent to the healer, where he also got some sarcastic remarks by Elen.
With Lord Gard and one of his best fighters injured, Erik suspicion of a potential foul play peaked and he ordered the present guards to be extra cautious.

The final fight had to be between the Black Knight and an experienced member of the Dannett cavalry. Although both opponents hit each other with great accuracy, only the Black Knight stayed in the saddle, completing his winning streak and becoming the jousting victor. The reaction of the crowd ranged between thundering applause (by many) and admiration by quiet a number of the young ladies – and frustration, suspicion and jealousy by some of his rivals and local (male) nobles.
Beside a pricy warhorse, the winner also got the right to name the ‘queen of the tourney’. Most were astonished (and some of the young ladies angered) when the Black Knight did choose Rhaenyra Fallkirk. Although a pretty but shy girl, she was certainly not the most beautiful. She accepted the honor with a blush. Lord Fallkirk seemed not so pleased, perhaps because he did not care much for ‘lofty nonsense’ or because he had tried to find a powerful groom for his sister and feared rumors about Rhaenyra and her mysterious admirer.

Erik, realizing the dramatic potential of the situation, sensed an opportunity to reveal the identity of the Black Knight, loudly demanding that he should now say his name. But this backfired, when the Black Knight revealed that his name was Aemon and that he was the rightful son of Aemon Blyth of Krayenhorn, Paedrigs uncle and Ser Gawans late older brother, who had died during the War of the Usurper. The revelation of the heritage of the Black Knight hit the audience like a pot of wildfire. Paedrig, who had returned from the healer, cursed (and he was not the only one) and Lady Anya of Krayenhowrn, the young wife of Ser Gawan, paled as if she has seen a ghost.
Erik also immediately realized the political implications. If the claims of the ‘Black Knigt’ were true, HE was the rightful heir of Krayenhorn, because his father had been the older brother of Ser Gawan.
Lady Meera took control of the situation, informing her injured husband. Lord Gard called for an immediate meeting between Lord Jonah of Aran (as heir of the local liege lord and head of his house as long as his father was in the war), Anya Blyth of Krayenhorn and of course Aemon. Paedrig, who was concerned what the revelations might mean for his secret love Anya, was able to convince his lord to participate.

During the meeting, Aemon revealed, that his mother had been the daughter of a hedge knight. She had secretly married Aemon of Krayenhorn during Roberts Rebellion and had got pregnant with a son before her new husband died in battle. The young widow named her son after his father and later married Brent Warrant, a wandering (and well known) tourney knight who had raised Aemon as his own and taught him to be a knight – and obviously a quiet formidable one. Only recently, while Aemon fought in King Robbs army, Septon Sylas, the man who had wed his mother and biological father to each other, had found him and told him the truth about his heritage. Now he wanted to know more about the house of his father. Septon Silas had accompanied him to Dragonport and was willing to testify the whole thing. Aemon claimed to not have any legal claims for Krayenhorn – an assurance, Lady Anya found hard to believe.
Paedrig was also skeptic. The story did sound much like a chivalric tale. He also doubted, that Aemons father could have kept his marriage hidden from his own father and his brother Gawan, when the three fought together in Roberts rebellion. Also Aemon of Krayenhorn did not have the reputation for misbehavior etc. – such a stunt would be more plausible for Paedrigs father Micael of Krayenhorn, who had earned the reputation of a womanizer…
Of course Paedrig AND Anya were both biased. After all, Aemons sheer existence was a threat to Ser Gawans right as head of Krayenhorn (and by this also a thread to Lady Anya).

Not knowing or ignoring such implications, most of the guests still enjoyed the festival, seeing the revelations more as an amusement and thrill than a problem. However, while Aemons disclosure had been quite a spectacle, the wedding between Torrhen Fallkirk and Elyssa Aran and (to a lesser extent) between Hal Sunstone and Myria Rivers, which were celebrated in the afternoon, were for many guests much more interesting than the emerging of a unknown member of the Krayenhorn-line.
The marriages were well organized and the four young people made a happy and joyful impression. Paedrig handed one of his shadow wolf pubs to Torrhen – a gift which was accepted with enthusiasm (at least by Torrhen, his new wife was a little bit nervous).
Of course Hal Sunstones and Myria Rivers marriage was set AFTER the marriage between Torrhen Fallkirk and Elyssa Aran and not all guests stayed for the second ceremony. If house Sunstone was offended by this, they did not show this, although they must have noticed that (with so many potential noble brides in town) they may had married Hal ‘under his worth’.

Than it was time for the banquet at the castle. Much of the plentiful served meals were seafood and the nobles (and few not noble) guests ate, drank and parlayed as they pleased.
Paedrig tried to get more information from Aemon, who was of course (beside the newlyweds) a center of attention. The young bastard knight had very mixed feelings. He did feel envy, mistrust, guilt and insecurity.
Aemons story certainly sounded far-fetched, but was testified by a septon. IF his story was true, Aemons father had married the mother of his son, making Aemon legal instead of damming him to the fate of a bastard. So a second time (like with his uncle Gawan) Paedrig had to face a man who earned (or could earn) something, that might have been Paedrigs right if he had been born legal. Aemon also shattered Paedrigs unspoken hopes that one day he might be considered as a potential heir for the childless Ser Gawan. Now Ser Gawan might have found an alternative – if he believed the story of Aemon and did not consider him as a threat. House Aran as liege lord of Krayenhorn probably would see such a solution as a good opportunity to ensure a stable succession for Krayenhorn. AND what might the turn up of Aemon mean for Anya? After several years of marriage with Ser Gawan, the young woman still had not got pregnant and now (while she had started an affair with her step-nephew Paedrig), a new member of the Krayenhorn-line appeared, a potential threat for the rule of her absent husband. Would Aemon claim his birthright? And if not – what would it mean for Anyas future, if Gawan (who was now in his forties) named Aemon as his heir?
However to criticize Aemons story and considering it as a hoax would not be much better than the distrusts, prejudices and nasty remarks Paedrig himself had all too often faced because of his shady heritage. Even Lady Anya had been resentful when first meeting her slightly younger step-nephew…
It was probably no surprise that Paedrig searched the company of Anya, who were at least as disturbed and conflicted as her secret lover. They kept close to each other and only rarely danced, also because the still injured Paedrig was not in top condition although he tried to conceal this.

Erik had a more calculating point of view. He also doubted Aemons story. And (like his nephew Gard) he did of course realize the political implications. Not long ago, Ser Gawan Blyth of Krayenhorn (facing the problem that his line might end with him, with his only known closer relatives being the bastards of his late brother Micael) had made clear, that he did want Gard Blyth of Dragonport, his former squire and heir of the major branch of the Blyth family, as executrix, perhaps even as his heir. Ser Gawan had even mustered more troops for the War in the South than he had to, to convince his liege lord to accept his choice. Now the whole deal could be off the table, because now Ser Gawan did have an alternative. And if Aemon succeeded Ser Gawan (or even replaced him thanks to his birth right) and did form closer ties with the Fallkirks (after all, he had declared Rhenyra Fallkirk as ‘queen of the tourney’), this might cost Dragonport an ally and strengthen its rival. Also any succession turmoil at Krayenhorn would harm the peace and trade in the neighboring Dragonport realm…

Concerning his own agenda, Erik was still charming the Darcys but with waning hopes. At least he could dance with Tanda Darcy and performed quiet will. But although older and less eloquent than Erik, Lord Longthorpe seemed to be the favorite for Tandas father. He was certainly the fare better catch. However Longthorpe, Lord Jonah Aran and Lord Gard seemed preoccupied by something, probably news from the war or new pirate activities in the Bite?

The other guests did not notice this (or did not care) because now it was time for the ‘Bedding’ of Torrhen Fallkirk and Elyssa Aran, although the whole thing remained relatively tame.
After this, Hal Sunstone and Myria Rivers were ‘escorted’ to their new home, were soldiers of the unit of Myrias father formed a row, singing indecent songs. The groom was probably more blushing than the bride…

The feast at the castle went on, although some of the guests retired, while other formed small groups or retreated to more intimate locations. Paedrig did not drink much – he was still injured and he did not want to waste the precious time with Anya. Erik tried to have an eye on the whole situation and also stayed sober.
However he soon got distracted by Tanda Darcy who made clear, she wanted to spend some time with him – alone and undisturbed. Erik was a little bit surprised. Although he had a very high opportunity of himself, he knew he was no womanizer. But either he had been more successfully in his charming attempts than he had thought or Tanda simply wanted to ‘test out’ her options. Erik soon discovered that Lady Tanda was certainly no blushing virgin (or a virgin at all) and did not care much about what was considered as appropriate for a young lady…
Beside the more amorous aspects of their meeting, there was also enough time for gossip. Tanda made some nasty remarks concerning the habits and mannerism of some of her other suitors. Obviously she enjoyed her live and the attention she got but had no desire to get married soon. Erik silently wondered what she might say about HIM in his absence…. However he repaid Tandas frankness with some gossips about other men – f. e. that Lord Edwyn Fallkirk was most probably gay or the fact that Ser Paedrig Rivers might have a secret affair (Erik did not tell Tanda with whom). However, although he enjoyed their encounter, he was normally not a man to take such risks like having sex with an unwed noble heiress. And – being a typical chauvinistic noble – he started to consider if Tanda was ‘worth it’. To convince her to marry could be quiet tricky and costly. And even if Erik succeeded – the strong willed, capricious Tanda would certainly be not ‘easy to handle’ and given the fact how fast she was ‘to get’ (as mentioned, Erik was chauvinistic), did he really want to wonder if their potential children were his own?

Certainly Lord Gard would have been shocked and disgusted by the behavior of his uncle.
He would have been even more appalled by Ser Paedrig who, in another part of the castle, met the wife of Ser Gawan, who had knighted Lord Gard. Although their meeting was risky and Paedrig was still injured, he and Anya did not want to waste any precious opportunity to come together. However their passion was again overshadowed by looming danger and the knowledge, that their future looked grim. Paedrig gave Anya the silver diadem he had won in the armed contest the last day – another gift (like most that he had given her), she could only wear with caution…

***

Day Five of the festival – Uncertain futures

The next day was the last day of the festival. During the breakfast, the newlyweds were mocked by many of the guests about how tired they might look etc. However it was mostly friendly banters.
Before most of the guests departed, there should be a last special event: the ‘hunt for the Kingslayer’ – a mighty boar which, with other boars as his ‘army’, had been gathered in a fenced area. The ‘Kingslayer’ had been decorated with pieces of lacquered metal. Obviously the whole hunt was intended as a mock reference to the defeated and captured Jaime Lannister (but could also be seen as a mockery of late king Robert). Most of the guests found the idea hilarious, Paedrig on the other hand was a little bit unsure. Although he did not like the Lannisters, he still did not believe all the rumors about the Kingslayer. He had met Jaime Lannister briefly during the tourney for Joeffreys last name day and the legendary (and infamous) knight had not cared much about Paedrigs bastard heritage…
The hunt would not be easy – every man would be after the ‘Kingslayer’ and boars in general were a dangerous prey even for seasoned hunters. Some would hunt by feet, others on horses.

Before the hunt started, Gard again ordered Erik and Paedrig to a secret meeting (not noticing or ignoring that obviously both had not slept very much).
Now the cause for the concerned behavior of Gard and some of the other lords became clear: Yesterday, disturbing news had arrived from the South. King Renly Baratheon had been killed under dubious circumstances while facing the much smaller army of his brother King Stannis Baratheon. Some of the rumors even claimed that Lady Stark – who was there as an emissary of her son – may have a hand in the murder. It was unclear what this might mean for the future. Would Stannis now march to Kings Landing? What was with Renlys army? What will the Reach do? Would they ally themselves with Stannis or with House Lannister? If this, it could mean that Stannis had won a battle but already lost the war…
Also the message had arrived, that Tywin Lannister had left Harrenhal. The destination of his army was unclear. Did he want to face Roose Boltons army which was slowly advancing towards Harrenhal? This seemed plausible, because it was against common sense to let an enemy stay in his back. And Tywin most probably would have good chances to defeat Bolton – he had beaten him only a few months ago. Neither Paedrig nor Erik (both had spent limited time in Roose Boltons army) had a very high opinion of his tactical skills – at least not against the ‘Old Lion’ Tywin Lannister. Also the Northern army did not have much cavalry - and what they had would probably stand no chance against Tywins seasoned knights and the famous heavy armored pike men of the Westlands.
On the other hand, perhaps Tywin Lannister was on his way back to Kings Landing, to protect the capital against a probably advancing Stannis? This would mean that Tywin would de facto give up the central Riverlands – and any hopes to re-establish and hold a land connection to the Westlands… Or would he try to return to his core lands and face King Robb Stark who marauded across the Westlands? But that would leave King’s Landing and the Iron Throne vulnerable for ANY attack…
IF Roose Bolton would have to face Tywin Lannister, would it be of any use to send the reinforcements, King Robb had demanded, to Boltons army? They would never be able to reach him in time. If he was beaten, they would be in a very tricky situation. Might it be worthy to consider waiting till the situation became clearer (an idea, Erik favored)? Perhaps instead sending the troops to Bolton (or Robb), it was time that the troops should form the core for an independent operating force to prevent Tywin Lannister from crossing the Trident. Even a small army could do this with good chances of success, even if the troops were no match for Tywins army on an open battlefield.
And last but not least – WHO SHOULD COMMAND THE TROOPS?

But of course with not much time and information (and without the other local lords) no decision could be reached for now and it was time for the hunt. While Erik stayed on the sideline, Paedrig did participate in the hunt on horse. However his performance was not outstanding (f. e. Edwyn Fallkirk, hunting on foot, was much more successful). Although Paedrig killed one of the ‘normal’ boars, his horse was seriously injured by the wounded beast. The young knight decided to hunt on foot the next time…

After the hunt, most of the guest left Dragonport. While most parted on good terms, the situation with house Fallkirk remained tense. Also none of the attempted marriage projects of the guest houses had succeeded – but such things did need time.
Ser Westwood and his daughter Darya stayed at Dragonport, because Westwood wanted to discuss further operations against the pirates in the Bite and even the possibilities for more ambitious naval projects against King Joeffrey. Erik secretly considered Darya Westwood as another potential marriage target. While not stunning beauty or heiress of a lord like Tanda, Darya was pretty, young and heiress of a landed knight. However something seemed…odd with her and her disdain for marriage was no secret.

The former Black Knight Aemon also declared that he wanted to stay in the area, asking Lady Anya of Krayonhorn to allow him to visit the home of his late father. The young lady did not trust him but gave him a halfhearted allowance.
Paedrig watched this with some concerns and while he increased his efforts to prepare his troops for the march to the South, he was determent to have a close eye on his ‘cousin’ and his intentions…