Blood on the high seas, and blood in the deep forests: war has come to Westeros, a strange one, waged by pirates and bandits against the Iron Throne.
Matters have taken a swift turn for the worse in the wake of Prince Viserys deciding how best to deal with the pirates Sullehman Saan and Vaario Quanis—growing ever bolder in their depredations along the coast—as well as the growing threat of conflict with the Free Cities alliance over the Stepstones. On receiving word from men of the sea watch and the Crackclaw Point wardenry that Saan’s lieutenant, Vaario, had broken with him—for the latter wished to sail south to the relative safety of the Stepstones, there to await the Free Cities fleet, while the former was loath to leave his bloodsport along the Westerosi coast—and sailed south with half or more of the pirate fleet, the Hand finally unleashed the royal fleet and the sea watch both.
The former he sent south to the Stepstones, there to rout Vaario and make a show of force, sending a warning to the Free Cities. For with word from his envoy to Braavos, Ser Conrad Arryn, the royal steward, that the emissaries of the Free Cities alliance had gained such a foothold in Braavos that they had so far prevented his even gaining an audience with the Sealord, a diplomatic resolution looked increasingly unlikely. Meanwhile, Viserys also sent the sea watch, strengthened by ships from the royal fleet, north to deal with the weakened Saan’s remaining strength.
It proved to be a fateful decision, for the split between the pirates proved to be a ruse. The sea watch was set upon by the entire pirate fleet—Vaario Quanis had sailed back north to rejoin Saan—and shattered. Only a few of its ships managed to escape south; many were sunk and many more forced to flee north, pursued by Saan’s fleet, harried ever further from shore, laden with wounded and with supplies dwindling.
It was a grim time; no less so in King’s Landing when word of the defeat reached it, starting a period of mourning for the dead, many among them knights and lordlings of high standing. But slowly, the surviving ships would find a way back south after first managing to reach shore and put in for repairs—sometimes near fishing villages and the like, at other times, at ports like Gulltown where Lord Jonothor Arryn had gathered the Valefleet. For he had repeatedly fended off the Hand’s calls to send his fleet south, instead choosing to defend the Vale coast; he had ships enough to make the pirates wary, if not enough to give them open battle. In the end, he would only send a token four ships south to King’s Landing as a concession, reserving the bulk of his strength.
While the ships straggled into Gulltown, the folk in King’s Landing continued unaware that a ship had survived the terrible fighting. When word of the Sea Watch’s destruction reached King’s Landing, the lamentation was audible from all parts of the city. One noblewoman, Leonylla Follard, was so struck by grief and despair that she plummeted to her death from the Guest Tower garden, to the horror of those gathered below. The court plunged itself in mourning, widows in black with unbound hair gathered like flocks of crows, and feared the future, for while they grieved, the bloody flux took hold among the Kingwood refugees and spread into a handful of the noble houses, counting Lady Jannia Tully among its sufferers. It was not the season for a true outbreak, however, and the disease did not carry away as many as it might have in summer. No news came from Gulltown to relieve their mourning, however; the very storms that chilled the flux into quiescence blew ravens from the sky and prevented them coming with word.
So it was that no one expected the Eye of the Storm to arrive in the harbor accompanied by Lord Arryn’s ships. Shocked women and children, daring to hope theirs might be one of the survivors, gathered at the docks in such numbers that the gold-cloaks were summoned to keep order. The bells rang in every sept to welcome the single ship, and even as the lamentations of those who were disappointed rose once more to the heavens, the survivors were reunited with their families. Some returned to grim news, such as Ser Dermett Corbray, for his lady wife, Damia, had come early, swiftly, and bloodily to birthing and was delivered at the very feet of the Stranger of a stillborn girl-child, far too small to survive. Others found families recovering from illness, or bound so tightly in grief that they were difficult to bring to joy.
But even as the returned survivors began to mend their wounds, still more dire news reached court—the former Dornish rebel Red Rhys who had turned bandit in the Kingswood had taken Stonedance and named himself its king, the Masseys dead or held hostage. And so matters stand now, growing grimmer by the day. Viserys finds himself beset from all sides, for he will not call back Oakenfist from the Stepstones and leave those islands to the Free Cities alliance when news from Ser Conrad remains as gloomy as ever—but he must also cobble together a patchwork fleet from the remnants of the sea watch, the ironborn embassy longships and the few ships sent by the Lords Arryn, Redwyne and Baratheon. And he must also now contend with Red Rhys, building a force to send against Stonedance—a place situated in difficult, hilly terrain of the kind the Dornishman had caused such slaughter in during the Young Dragon’s wars. And this when Viserys’ own captains—men like the Warden of Cracklaw Point, Ser Dagur Saltcliffe, the Iron Serpent; the Warden of the Kingswood, Ser Jan Marbrand; and the Commander of the City Watch, Ser Richard Harte—are at odds with each other.
And all the while, King Baelor remains withdrawn, recovering from his fast through constant prayer… and little interest, it’s whispered, in the matters of the wider realm.