Low clouds scud across a burgeoning sky, the vanguard of a swift summer storm blowing in from Blackwater Bay. A dull misty drizzle falls, making mud of the castle’s yards and chilling everything, and everyone, in dampness.
The weather matters not to Ser Almer Connington, for he is at sword drill with two members of the Gold Cloaks. They look to be able young men, but they are not a match for the griffin knight.
Connington drives first one, then the other, back on their heels, forcing each opponent to yield in turn… the last guard from where he sits awkwardly, having tripped in his hasty retreat.
A whistling sound is followed by the appearance of a woman coming from the stableyards. Her hair was plastered to her scalp and in a long braid that hung to the small of her back. Her garb was black, and plain linen, also quite sodden. She carries a riding crop, which she swishes enthusiastically.
Thus comes Elanna Penrose, the mud on her skirts apparant that she was riding…and in this weather. It is at the yard she pauses, to watch the fighting. She rests her forearms upon railing, and taps her forehead with the crop in time to her now muted whistle. The tune to the song about hunters…
Metal taps upon metal, once and then twice.
Clad all in light, studded leathers—stained and scarred from rough use—the Iron Serpent pauses by gate from which he has just emerged. And again, that applause; one final tap with the blunted sword he carries on one of the many blank shields lined against the wall there.
“But you went too low on the last one,” he comments as he strolls forward, as if continuing a conversation.
Extending a gloved hand to help up his beaten foe, Almer aims a frosty glance at the uninvited criticism. “Too low, is it?” he intones, straightening to eye the Iron Islander. The two Gold Cloaks say nothing, but stand aside with sheepish expressions.
Connington inspects his blunted sword, rivulets of rain falling from its dulled edge like diamonds. “Perhaps you can correct my technique then, Ser Dagur,” he says with a vaguely dangerous smile.
“Care to try me?”
Elanna’s riding crop stills and she rests it upon her shoulder. A moment of listening to the two men, she skirts the yard and seats herself in the stands. She leans her elbows on her knees and watches with some interest, her eyes brightly sparkling.
“Oh, I have.”
The ironman makes his lazy way past the goldcloaks, pausing to pick up a long splinter of wood. “But I couldn’t teach you much then, as I recall.” And he smiles then—a rare, easy smile—“It’s something I’ve been meaning to correct.” He balances on one foot, scraping the rain-slick mud from the sole of his boot with the splinter; then the other.
“Been practicing, have you?” Connington seems amused at Saltcliffe’s declaration. “Then I should be happy to oblige; I could use the challenge myself.”
He brushes the wetness from his brow with the back of his gauntleted hand, marking the Lady Elanna’s presence as he does so. “Half a moment,” he tells Dagur, tugging a shield of his own from the wall and stepping over toward the lady.
Almer turns his back to the Iron Serpent, so only Elanna can see him. “No wagering on him,” the knight mouths to her with mock gravity.
“Hardly that,” the ironman replies, likewise taking a shield. “There are a dozen matters to see to here every day. I could swear the winning of the war…”
He turns back; one swing and then another as he frees his arm. For all the notched bluntness of the training sword, it hisses through the drizzle no less viciously: “...is more tedious than its fighting.”
And he nods to Elanna over Almer’s shoulder.
Elanna casts him a mischievous look, followed swiftly by an innocent one, “Me?” A pause.
“I would not dare, ser knight,” her eyes twinkle with a devilish light, even as her voice is soft, “You might not like the terms.”
Elanna casts him a mischievous look, followed swiftly by an innocent one, “Me?” A pause.
“I would not dare, ser knight,” her eyes twinkle with a devilish light, even as her voice is soft, “You might not like the terms.”
A glance to Dagur, and a regal nod, despite her dishevelled appearance, and whispers, “Do beat him, dear.”
A lazy smile, much like the ironman’s, quirks the corner of Almer’s mouth. He slips his left arm through his shield’s straps, turns back to Dagur, and walks toward him with deliberate slowness.
Up comes Connington’s blade. “Very well. When you are ready, ser.”
At that moment, a low rumble of thunder rolls menacingly overhead.
Once, twice and thrice the ironman opens and then clenches his fist in the shield straps; he pulls the padded leather gauntlet on his sword-hand higher with his teeth. He seems to do it without noticing for it has the air of a little ritual.
And then, he inclines his head to the Connington knight—and attacks.
Mud sprays from beneath his feet; the thunder’s rumbling echoes are a counterpoint to the swiftness of his strike. This is no probing, no careful testing of the foe’s mettle.
It is war.
The smile that graces Elanna’s features fades. Her sapphirine eyes darken a little and her hands clasp to rest beneath her chin. She chews on her lower lip.
A flicker of lightning, then the crash of distant thunder heralds the heavier rain that begins to fall. But she does not move, just swipes a strand or two of hair from her eyes.
A war that is nearly over before it begins…
For Almer, despite his instinctual quickness, half-slips on that selfsame mud, and his left heel slides awkwardly. He manages to bring up his shield at the same instant as the Iron Serpent’s lightning fast cut arrives, and the ironman’s blade glances off with a *thwack*.
Connington grunts with the effort of re-establishing his balance, and the moment he gains purchase on the treacherous ground, retaliates.
The same unsure footing aids the ironman even as it works against Almer; his feet seem almost to slide on the slick ground, adding to the speed of the charge—a charge which carries him past the other man, his own shield coming up to block the blow. Half-turned, he presents the full face of the scarred metal-banded wood to his opponent: “Better than fighting with sand in our eyes, at least.”
And he strikes again; strangely enough, he cuts at the other’s man shield instead of attempting to go over or under it.
A touch of Elanna’s fingertips to her lips, as blade meets shield. Her eyes close briefly and open again to witness the second blow… Her eyes narrow…
Almost impatiently, Connington crouches slightly and turns aside Dagur’s cut with his own shield; droplets of water fly from the wood at the impact.
He takes a step back, studying his opponent’s stance. “Sand, and the bloody relentless sun,” Almer agrees.
Then he attacks. It is a vicious thrust, aimed low and swift.
And it almost gets through. Forward the ironman presses, slamming his shield at Almer’s face even as his blow—a feint, it now seems—is parried. Yet, it is a dangerous one that leaves him unguarded in that moment; it almost proves to be his undoing.
For swift as Dagur is, his opponent is swiftner yet on the attack. Only a sliding half-turn saves the ironman, the blade whispering past his thigh. But the awkward stance robs his own shield-blow of much of its force.
There is no reply to Almer’s words now; eyes narrowed and steady, breath carefully measured, every faculty is bent on the duel.
Though Dagur’s momentum is mitigated somewhat by the turn, the weight of the ironman’s shield-strike is still effective. The metal rim cracks against Almer’s cheek, drawing blood and driving the taller knight’s head to one side.
He is off-balance for an instant, seemingly put off his rhythm and knocked to one side.
But only for an instant. The hesitation is a deception; it masks a whistling backhanded cut.
Elanna gasps aloud at the drawing of blood, but stills other sound. Her hands drop to grip the bench seat on which she sits and she turns her face up to the falling rain for a moment.
Metal on metal; the two swords meet for the first time and the force is enough to make the watching guardsmen wince. And the clamour is enough to drown the ironman’s hiss of pain—for his parry is not a clean one. Almer’s blow catches him high on the blade—high enough, in fact, to ring against part of the hilt and his hand.
He disengages with swift, practised ease and steps back. The first round, it would seem is over.
“Now I remember,” he says thoughtfully, “why I am of a mind to beat you.”
And the second round begins, heralded by a sword alive with all the vicious quickness at its wielder’s disposal.
“Well now, ain’t this a pretty sight. Such a fine dancing competition to be sure,” a new voice is heard. Poxy Alan has braved the keep and left the whores of the Street of Silk. He leans indolently against the fence and picks his teeth with a nail.
Connington straightens and touches the fingers of his shield hand to his cheek. He scowls at the dark wetness of his own blood there, grey eyes blazing.
“Keep trying, ser,” he replies through gritted teeth. “Maybe one day you’ll actually succeed.”
He eagerly answers the assault, his blade glittering in the rain-soaked light. Steel sings against steel, and Dagur’s deft attack is parried… only just. Parry slides into counterthrust, and the intensity of Almer’s response is much more than that usually reserved for a simple sparring match.
Elanna leans forward, unheeding of the steady beat of the rain. The increased pace has put somewhat of a light in her eyes, overtaking the worry. Her darting glances watch every blow and parry, wincing or smiling at each.
“Move faster!” comes the dry advice to Dagur from the sidelines.
“I’d like to make it…”
There is a rain-limned cage of steel around the ironman; droplets fly with every blow, every parry, miniature rainbows before adding to the sodden mess underfoot: “...today.”
If the earlier clash was as swift as the deftest guardsmen in the yard could have achieved, this is another matter altogether, far beyond them. Blows flicker in the hazy light, blades clashing, pulling apart and clashing yet again. The Iron Serpent stays close to Almer, well within the taller man’s long reach—and he uses sword and shield far more equally than might a knight of the mainland. A parry with one and a blow with the other or in reverse, it seems to make little difference to him.
Unlike his foe, the lanky Stormknight favors his blade over his own shield, it seems; yet, as ever, it is hard to tell if Almer’s style is real or a clever affectation. Mud spatters his pale cheeks and brow, and every parry is calmly met with a calculating, testing counter.
For such a tall man, Connington moves with deceptively languid quickness. Indeed, so mesmerizing are his movements that Ser Dagur might not realize he is being maneuvered with every cut and thrust, steered toward the boggiest part of the muck that the castle yards have been churned into…
There is a contrast here between the two men. He is cool in the midst of this storm of swords, the Iron Serpent; this is no blood-mad brute as a dozen rumours would have it. Every blow, every parry is governed not merely by instinct but a mind that has mastered swordplay as well as the body ever did. And yet…
There is a glint in his dark eyes that burns fiercer than the fire in Almer’s; his teeth are half-bared, whether in a smile or a grimace even he might not know. And he is intent enough on the attack that the danger behind him goes unnoticed.
Until his leg slides out from under him in the muck. There is a flicker of startlement on his face—but his shield is rising above his head in the same moment.
If the Serpent’s wrath is dark fire, then Connington’s is steel and ice. The stratagem, seemingly, has borne its intended fruit, for in the maelstrom of whirling blades and rain, Almer sees his opportunity to end the fight.
He puts his body into a heavy stroke, a blow intended to crack shields, and if need be, the arms that bear them; it is a stroke that, on a battlefield and with sharpened swords, could decapitate… and likely has before.
It is a gamble, admittedly, but a calculated one, and the blunted tourney blade hisses down through the murky air.
And even as the blow descends like a cruel streak of lightning, the ironman is moving.
Back he throws himself, the shield angled not to block the blow but deflect it; he does not waste even a moment trying to slip in a strike of his own. But even so, the meeting of sword and shield echoes in the yard with a shivering crack—and this time, Dagur’s hiss of pain is loud enough to be heard.
He rolls on a shoulder and regains his feet a safe distance away from his foe, as mud-splattered as him now. A deep crack runs between the metal bands binding the shield’s gouged surface; the state of his arm behind it can only be guessed at but his fist clenches and opens stiffly.
And yet, he is smiling almost as if he enjoys this, “And they call me a serpent.” He plucks a splinter from his cheek and wipes the blood with the back of his hand.
The Penrose widow stands, barely a shadow in the falling rain, but still she can see the struggle below. Her hands clasp the folds of her skirts as she regards the tussle below with bated breath. One might wonder just who it is she is cheering for really. She folds her arms before her, as her skirts move soddingly in the faint breeze that toys with them. Her riding crop lies forsaken on the bench behind her.
Blade quivering from the force of Almer’s blow, the ugly clang of metal on wood rings out over Dagur’s proclamation like the peal of a hellish bell.
Connington smiles grimly. “I fight to win, ser, even in a spar. As do you.” The point of his blunted sword hangs suspended before the ironman’s crouched form, like an accusatory finger of judgment.
“Now we are even, I think,” he adds, flicking his wrist to indicate the blood on Saltcliffe’s cheek.
“Even? Not yet,” disagrees the ironman. And he throws his shield at Almer.
Cat-quick, that strike—the lowered arm disguising the hand sliding through the strap; painful as it must be with the blow just taken, there is no sign of it on his face. And even as the shield flies towards the Connington knight, Dagur turns, takes half-a-dozen strides at a run—and turns from the jumbled heap of training equipment lying against the wall with a blunted longaxe in his shield-hand.
He flexes the arm experimentally, “But soon, perhaps. Come, ser.”
Elanna’s eyes are wide, as she watches the shield leave its owner..at the graceful action of the Iron Islander to find another weapon. She chews on her lower lip again, a habitual gesture of nervousness perhaps.
“Tha’ little bastard is ri’ quick, boss,” Alan drawls from the sidelines, “Quite borin’ to watch…y’think that little piece will mind if I go watch with her?” He gestures at Elanna.
The throw surprises Almer; he instinctively drops to one knee and raises his sword to block the blow, but it still manages to smash against his wrist and forearm. “Snake,” he hisses, his voice a mixture of surprise, anger, and admiration.
Connington lets his own shield fall to the slop, gripping his sword with both hands and striding forward. “Very well. Let’s see what you can do with that thing.”
The dark form on the stands breathes a sigh of relief as the thrown shield misses Almer. Even a small sound emits from her mouth before it is stifled with pale fingers.
“So they tell me,” agrees the Iron Serpent.
“If you find it boring, Poxy,” he calls then without taking his gaze from Almer for even a moment, “I suggest you try being in here next time.” And on the last word, he starts forward.
A feint with the right hand, a blow with the left—checked at the last minute—and at last, the true strike from the right again, all in the time it should take for a single thrust. There is a rising murmur around the yard now; more than a few goldcloaks have gathered to watch the two mud-splattered, bloodied men go at each other.
The axe is a fearsome weapon, and it does not take an Archmaester to see where it is headed. Almer is nearly taken in by the second feint, and it is only by a desperate effort that he manages to interpose his sword between the cruel edge of Dagur’s longaxe and his own exposed shoulder.
Even so, he is pushed back by the blow, his hands stinging from the shattering impact.
“Ye doin’ just fine, cap’n!” Poxy Alan retorts, “I’ll get Whoreson ready to lot to that wound, if’n ye like?” The latter is spake with a loud voice, even as he eyes the maid across the way with an appreciative glance.
There are few attempts at defending himself now; with a weapon in each hand, the Iron Serpent’s best chance lies in using both and trusting to his swiftness to save him. And so he does.
It is his turn to gain ground now; he is driven back occasionally but recovers just as quickly. Across the churned mud the two knights battle, each blow met or avoided—often, desperately so. And now the duel takes them towards the door of the Small Council’s tower; the two goldcloaks at the door start forward hesitantly.
“Move!” Dagur calls tersely, sliding aside from a blow with the screech of metal and smashing an elbow towards Almer’s face on the half-turn.
The two guards hesitate a moment longer—and then, they scatter.
Elanna trips lightly down to solid ground as the two combatants remove themselves from the field of battle. She moves swiftly around, but at the back of the gold cloaks that push and shove betwixt themselves for a view.
“Excuse me…” she shoves one man, “Pardon me..” another. And finally, she is at the forefront, a smaller figure before the armed guards and men at arms that surround her lightly clad form.
Connington grits his teeth and lunges away from the ironman’s outthrust elbow. His sword, still gripped in both hands, sparks against the flurry of blows, and the mud-covered Stormknight’s momentum carries him backward.
With a shuddering thump, his back slams squarely tower doors. One of them drifts ajar. “Stand back, Elanna!” Almer shouts at the Baratheon lady, one foot already across the threshold.
The blows from the longaxe are coming further apart now; the wrist shows signs of swelling already. With a muffled curse, the ironman hefts it, flicks sweat-damp hair out of his eyes with a jerk of his head and drives forward again, sword and axe in staggered harmony.
Startled voices rise from within the tower as the knights’ momentum carries them within.
“No!” Elanna utters aloud and follows the two men within the Council Tower, despite the hands plucking her backward…
A blur of mud, blood, and dark leather, Almer bursts into the crowded tower and rolls into a low crouch. Shrieks of consternation rise from all sides, and somewhere a goblet shatters. Connington icily ignores it all, for he has eyes only for the foe before him.
His lone blade is matched with full fury against Saltcliffe’s sword and axe, speed and reach ventured against the frightful advantage of two weapons. Like all his stratagems, it is a calculated gamble… and a deception. For a sword is not the griffin knight’s only tool; he has fists, and feet, and he employs all three in this final attack.
“The Council Chamber!” Elanna protests aloud, whether the men hear or nay… Apparantly their own skins…she cares nothing of.
“Almer! Dagur! Stay your weapons!” But her voice is no doubt but whipped away in the sound of metal on metal.
The burst of strength that had made the longaxe such a threat is fading now; the swollen wrist is clumsy on the defence and stiff in attack. But for all of that, the ironman gives his foe no respite. Lean and brutal, the metal studs on his leather jerkin glinting dully through the mud, he presses the attack.
A punch to his shield-arm jars his already loose grip; the longaxe skitters across the floor to a yell of dismay from a richly-appointed lordling who jumps out of the way with undignified haste. One-handed, then, and the pace of the swordplay increases and increases yet again.
For just a moment longer than any would have believed possible at this vicious pace, the two men batter at each other. And then, for the first time in what seems to be hours, the clashing of metal ceases. The Iron Serpent stands with Almer’s sword at his breast.
And his own at the Connington knight’s throat.
Through the open door a giant figure suddenly looms. His black plate armor rings as the knight lunges into the room. The Stormbreaker moves immediately for the two struggling men.
Suddenly, he springs forward spearing his pauldroned shoulder into Dagur’s side, bowling into him!
Elanna stumbles aside, caught by a gold cloak as Sarmion flies through.
“Sarmion…” she cries…
“How many men were in this mess?
“What manner of madness is this?”
The voice comes from the high stair, and its bearer is a tall man, visible behind half a dozen swiftly-gathered goldcloaks. Descending the stairs with haste, Jonothor’s eye lingers upon the Stormbreaker for a moment, as he grasps the situation. “You are well disposed to breaking storms, ser.”
The ring of goldcloaks swells in number ‘round the scene, now with an oppressive hush.
Chest heaving, covered from toe to brow in muck and sweat, Almer’s burning grey eyes cool at last. Confronted by his old mentor, Lord Arryn, and the assembled might of the City Watch, the tall young knight can do naught else but lower his tourney blade.
“For shame, Ser Sarmion,” he says in a wry, hoarse voice. “I had him right where I wanted him.” He drops his sword, letting it rattle harmlessly to the floor, and gingerly fingers a bruised lip and the cut on his cheek.
His breath coming in deep gasps, the ironman begins to lift his sword from Almer’s throat, begins to speak, begins almost to smile—and barely has time for a startled glance as the monstrous figure in black place barrels into him.
But even that brief instant is enough for a reflexive, backhanded blow to his attacker’s face—and then he is sliding across the floor to fetch up with his back against a column; there, he rolls to his knees, clutching his side.
“Seven hells!” he growls, spitting blood.
Elanna disentangles herself from the unwarranted embrace of the gold cloak and stumbles foward. Her eyes are wide upon Almer…then Sarmion…then Dagur…and finally up to the formidable form of Lord Arryn.
The backhanded slap is not enough to change the momentum of the 23 stone knight in the 7 stone armor. As the Ironborn knight rolls to a halt, Sarmion rises to his full height, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.
The Baratheon knight walks over to the prone Dagur and aims a kick at his face. The Stormbreaker bellows, “You want seven hells, boy? I’ll give them all to you!”
Then reaches down to grab for a convenient bit of Iron Serpent to drag from the room.
Though no blades swing now, the icy glance that Jonothor issues toward Dagur counts as such. “The Iron Serpent has his coils about this madness. I did bid you not to melt in King’s Landing.” The gold cloaks inch closer at Arryn’s urging, just as Sarmion begins to drag Dagur from the room.
“And I do believe I heard the first drop today,” he calls after.
Jonothor’s gaze switches now to Connington, and his tongue is scarce less sharp. “Clean yourself up, ser, and get you hence. The Hand shall hear of this.”
Elanna is pale as she eyes the mess and the ignominous departure of the Iron Serpent. She frowns slightly, and turns her gaze to Almer.
“I shall see him hence, Lord Arryn,” her voice is cool, and faintly disapproving. Not expecially impressive considering the gold cloaks at her back.
For all the bruises and blood-stained face, the Iron Serpent moves swiftly enough. An arm slams into the side of the Stormbreaker’s leg—hard enough against the armour to bring yet another long-suffering curse from him—directing the force of the kick against the pillar at his back.
He comes to his feet then, back and past the pillar, avoiding the grasping hand: “Words, ser. Do they call you Stormbreaker or Windbreaker?”
There is true anger in his eyes now, not the focussed heat of the duel but harsh and raw.
As you will, Lord Arryn.” Almer seems more displeased at Dagur’s rough treatment than anything else the Lord of the Eyrie has said to him, eyeing Sarmion and the ironman darkly.
Nonetheless, he picks up his notched sword, painfully, and with an obedience that is stark contrast to his actions of moments before, allows Elanna to escort him from the tower.
“See him wherever you will, but not here,” Jonothor says curtly, granting Elanna the most perfunctory of glances; his attention now drawn to Sarmion and Dagur.
Grinning at Dagur’s words, Sarmion spits bloodily to the side and wipes his mouth. Motioning for the goldcloaks, he says, “Take him to his rooms and make sure he says there until the Hand summons them. We’ll see what ‘honors’ Prince Viserys will have in store for them.”
Turning his back on the Iron Serpent, he looks on Elanna, having heard her words. The Stormbreaker shakes his head, “You’ll do nothing.” Looking at the goldcloaks, again, he says, “Make sure Ser Almer stays in his rooms as well until he sees the Hand.”
He glances at the Ironborn knight hiding by the pillar and he laughs, “Iron Serpent? Or Iron Mouse?”
Elanna gives her sibling a darting angry glance and departs the Council Towers nonetheless. With the Connington knight? Perhaps…or perhaps to the Baratheon manse also.
Even higher the fire in the Iron Serpent’s eyes flares and there is something wild as the storms that lash his home’s shores about it. Lord Arryn’s curt words are ignored for the moment; it is the Stormlands knight who holds his full attention. Almost he glances at the sword lying where it has fallen—almost.
Almost—and then, slowly, he smiles; it is hardly less fierce than the naked anger of a moment ago: “Piss on you, Stormbreaker. Meet me sword in hand and we’ll see how you’ve forgotten in Dorne fighting the weak.”
“Come,” he says contemptuously to the goldcloaks then and strides towards the door.
Laughing harder, Sarmion answers, “Is everyone so ready to die?” Waving a dismissive hand, he tells Dagur, “Go and beat up your poxy friends, whoresons and pitiful horsemen, ser!” He laughs more, “Go on, little mouse! We’ll see you when you’ve had a chance to calm your wits!”
Looking around the room, he kicks at some debris, saying, “I have never been to the Iron Islands, but I do not wonder if they cannot keep nice things in their halls.”
Pausing at the door as the Stormbreaker’s taunt reaches him, the ironman glances over his shoulder. His smile is crimson and harsh as he wipes a trickle of blood with his thumb, “They are that, the sorry bunch,” he agrees. “But last I heard, they carried swords. When was the last time you fought someone who wasn’t a woman or a squalling babe, ser?”
And then he is gone into the rain outside, surrounded by goldcloaks.