(123-10-12) The Wolf in the Moonlight
The Wolf in the Moonlight
Summary: The night the young wolf Genevra Stark becomes a warrior in truth, when the Seventh Order attacks the Ryswells' camp. (Genevra is NPC'd by her mother, Hellan.)
Date: 12-14/10/2016
Related: Kingsroad Crossroads, Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth, The Reason Why Not, The Wisdom of the Ancients, The Seventh Order.

The night sky is clear; the moon above, bright still a handful of days past its fullness, illuminates an encampment of men (and a very few women) eager to be on their way and consequently sleepless late into the evening. Almost two months ago, horses set out from the Rills and wolves from Winterfell; six weeks past, their two parties met at a cairn north of Moat Cailin; now, at last, they're only two nights from Oldtown, a day's travel and a few hours' more from that ancient southern city where they'll find wine, women, and mischief.

Only Lady Ryswell's orders, passed from mouth to mouth in a spirit of reluctant obedience, send to their bedrolls those of her men-at-arms who haven't the good fortune to have drawn first shift on guard duty. Murmurs pass likewise round the smouldering coals of fires banked for the night. Plans, and hopes, some as simple as just sleeping in a proper bed, or getting rid of that permanent ache about the hindquarters which is the lot of even experienced horsemen when they've endured so many fourteen or sixteen-hour days in the saddle.

The lady herself sets a good example by repairing to her tent as soon as she's eaten, trailed by her maidservant Mayara. She has a makeshift bed set up in there, the only one in the camp, with a good feather mattress upon which to rest her aches and pains: when Mayara has kneaded the knots out of her back, and given her bad leg the attention it demands, she dresses again in clean linen and her most comfortable pair of breeches. Ready to roll out of bed and onto the nearest horse, come the morning. Not enthusiastic, but ready.

In the women's tent Lady Bethany airs her views upon being sent to bed like a child; Aryana Snow settles her by means of sympathy and calculated attentions, and plays a card game with little Lord Rickard till he's tired enough to sleep. She'll be the last to bed again. Unless Lady Genevra, restless (and no wonder, so near to her reunion with her mother!), takes much longer to get back… Aryana leaves a candle lit for her and the tent-flap unfastened.

The horses whicker vaguely to one another, and to the grooms making their final rounds of the picket lines; and they get some rest in their own fashion, on their feet, legs locked and dark, clever eyes shut against the moon.

Genevra knows she should rest. She aches so much she's not certain her muscles will ever ease, but she's refused to let it show in front of Lady Ryswell. The open tent flap beckons her from the other side of the camp, but it's her mind that won't let her rest, not her body. Thinking of Oldtown. Thinking of Mother. She's pictured the reunion a thousand times, but not one seems right. In her head, it always ends too good or too bad. She can't quite get it right.

She stayed with the horses as late as possible this evening, making sure all of her duties were done and re-done; she's run out of things to reasonably complete and simply brushes her gelding for the fourth time. He's aching too, she can tell. He doesn't have the same worries as Genevra, however. He dozes while she smoothes his coat. She's quiet as a mouse, not disturbing any of the other horses nearby.

A couple of days' ride, she thinks, looking toward the Kingsroad, and they'll be travelling over parts of the land she ran up and down with her horse when her family was staying in Oldtown. She used to pretend she was on her way back to Winterfell. Of course, she'd get into all sorts of grand adventures: she'd best knights along the way, hunt for herself, slay bandits and save maidens.

What a child she was.

She'd still go on that adventure, if she could.

It felt like a personal punishment, being forced to leave home because of something Father did. She hardly ever blamed him, though, not really, and now she wonders why. Mother was the one who took them there, but she hated it more than anyone else.

For quite some time now, they've been able to see the Hightower. It's so tall in the distance that it kisses the clouds in the daytime, and at night, the beacon shines bright. When she used to ask about it, Reachlanders would tell her it was taller than the Wall, but she never believed them. As she stares at it now, looking like little more than fire in the sky vying with the moon, she remembers that there were aspects she liked about Oldtown. The way she could sneak out into the street and explore. The buildings to climb, the people to see. The people! So many, so vibrant, from all over the whole world.

This whole trip had begun feeling like a punishment even worse than the first. It's turned into something else. Her feelings are roiled into a tight ball in her stomach, but they're not all terrible. There's hope, jammed right in the middle.

She hears an owl call nearby. It startles her out of her thoughts, swerving her head over her shoulder. There aren't any trees there, she realizes, and wonders where it came from. Another owl responds thrice from the opposite side of the camp and she goes back to rhythmically brushing her horse.


Except movement catches her eye, just beside the tent she shares with Aryana and Bethany. It must be Aryana, seeing if she's coming to bed … no … no, the shadow is too tall. But it isn't shaped like Eddara, either. The hairs on the back of Genevra's neck rise. Giving the gelding a soothing pet, she creeps away from the horses, sneaking around the backs of tents toward her own. She pauses at Lady Ryswell's, considering rousing her and thinking better. It's probably nothing. She keeps on, and even though she's half convinced herself she's being a silly child, the other half of her finds reason to take her little dagger from its hilt.

The figure at the girls' tent proves itself foreign. It's no man she's ever seen. She can't see his face, but she can tell he's wearing a drab brigandine that doesn't look like any of the riding clothes of Eddara's men. There's someone with him, too; she can see the faintest sheen of moonlight against a helmet. They're prying the tent apart at the back. She hurries closer, keeping low, keeping quiet.

Inside the tent, a pale hand reaches. Pale eyes peer in from beneath the brim of a kettle helmet while different set of hands cuts the tent with a blade so sharp it parts like butter. Just like that, two strangers are in the tent. The cold, callused hand of a man with a sandy beard and a face that might be handsome in full light and under tremendously different circumstances clamps over Lady Bethany's mouth. The other figure, smelling strongly of sourleaf, crouches over Aryana, lest she wake. If she so much as whispers, she'll get the same treatment.

Over Lady Bethany's pillow in its embroidered slip her golden-blonde hair shines, aglow from Aryana's nightly brushing. Brighter still are the whites of her eyes, unnaturally wide and already leaking terrified tears. She trembles in her dainty lace-bordered nightgown — how precious that lace, her grandmother's gift, something a real southron lady might wear — and she whimpers, she can't help herself. Aryana, healthy and hard-working girl that she is, sleeps on.

Young Lord Rickard wakes in his corner of the tent. But as he is apt to sleep with his head pulled down inside his bedroll, like a snail in its shell, this is the subtlest of occurrences. He doesn't know what woke him. He concentrates on trying to go back to sleep, not the most fruitful of strategies.

Elsewhere in the camp sentries who share Lady Genevra's scepticism regarding the legitimate presence of owls in this open country, confer with one another in silence, by means of gestures, nods, and old soldiers' intuition. One man-at-arms wakes a dozen more on his way to Lady Ryswell's tent. He knows she'd expect to be woken for anything out of the ordinary.

The first man thus woken goes straight for the horse lines, to check they haven't been cut. Because if something's amiss, they'd be the first target.

The horse lines are a scatter, and there's a looming nightmare waiting for the man who goes to check on them. A blood-soaked bandage encircles his bald head, the entirety of one side misshapen and horrific; the other is covered in foreign tattoos. One eye is red with burst vessels; the other is hateful enough without. Where his eyebrows should be, rows of metal have been pierced through. The cover of his hood does not obscure his horror when he encloses on the man with a wickedly curved blade.

Figures are there to greet the other sentries. It's as though they bleed out of the night itself, the way they seem to appear, silent, from nowhere. In front of them, behind them. With swords, with daggers. There seems to be more of them than there are, and they seem to be everywhere at once.

Inside the tent, the one in the helmet eyes Aryana, both assuring she's asleep and taking careful measure of her face. She — for she is a woman, under that helmet, limp straw-hair framing her expressionless face — looks across at Bethany and that expensive lace. Her eyes narrow, but she nods once in silent communication with her partner.

She hasn't overlooked Rickard. She holds a knife pointed in his direction.

The man is uncommonly strong, especially against the likes of Lady Bethany. His whole hand clamps her face from jaw to jaw. He smiles down at her, of all things, happy as you please. He shoves his other arm under her shoulder, looping under her wisp of an arm and hauling her backwards out of the slice in the tent.

Outside, Genevra ducks behind the next tent over. The candle's still lit in hers, and if she were to hide there… she remembers playing shadow puppets with little Rickard, and stays where she is, listening. The second the man rises and drags Bethany up with him, her eyes widen. She can no longer feel the soreness in her muscles.

The helmeted woman emerges from the tent a moment later. They make almost no sound. She runs right past Genevra. The man turns around in the other direction, carrying Bethany toward the dark.

Feeling a surge of adrenaline— of purpose— Genevra rushes after him. She's quick, and strong for her size, and small enough still that she can leap straight onto his back. "You let her go!" she commands in her small voice, stabbing at his neck. The high collar of his brigandine fends it off— at least in part. She draws blood as he whirls about, elbowing her roughly. In the process, his hand slips from Bethany's mouth.

Alas for the man on horse patrol, looking upon his own death. With his right hand he draws his blade; and with his left he puts two fingers in his mouth and lets out that very special, very piercing whistle which will galvanise into action any Ryswell men not yet up and about. (It does so.) All that's left to him is to try to keep that bleeding male mountain occupied for a spell, and perhaps to wound him sufficiently that one of his brothers-in-arms might finish the work he's begun. He's a true son of the north. He sets about it.

The next sound to split the night air is Lady Bethany's scream, held in by her captor's hand long enough that it has built to a stentorian pitch. This pampered girl who has never known fear, feels a lifetime's worth all at once.

She's still screaming when her mother's booted feet hit the grass floor of her tent, and her hands find the brigandine jerkin laid out for her to don in the morning. Well. It's the morning now. She pulls it on as she stands, and lets out a sharp whistle of her own which pricks at equine ears not far away; she spares the time to do up just two of its buckles, before striding out of her tent and into the night, her stick in one hand and her drawn sword in the other.

All over the camp steel clashes against steel; bone crunches beneath powerful blows; and the lungs of dying men exhale final, rattling gasps.

The nightmarish man has been wounded recently, and seems to have taken it frightfully in stride. This is no common bandit, for all he might be roughly clad as one. He faces the patrol man's Northern fortitude with the instincts of a man whose sole purpose in life is to crush, kill, and come out the other side alive.

Once he ploughs through the man and the growing chaos of horses, the number of intruders clashing with the Ryswell men is, all told, not many, if anyone had time to actually stop and count. There's one man who looks remarkably like the one with his clutches on Bethany. Another moves so fleet of foot, he's behind one man one second and thrusting his sword at another the next. The tattooed beast has moved from one blade to one in each hand, and swoops in to defend his vicious companions. Another man is only on the outskirts, landing blows and disappearing behind tents … gradually making his way toward the commander of the suddenly bloody encampment.

Each side is putting up a hell of a fight.

Genevra won't let go of hers.

She has to be thrust to the ground, and so she is, flung with a final wretch of the man's arm. Both she and Bethany hit the ground. The young Stark rolls, clambers for Bethany's hand, and hurries to her feet, pulling hard. "Run!" She sure does, hoping she's dragging the other girl along right through the tent in a chaotic rush. "Aryana! Rickard! Run! Now!" She doesn't stop; she shoves her bag aside in the corner, grabs her bow and quiver, and nearly trips over a bedroll on her way out the other side, knocking over the candle. "Hurry!"

Lady Bethany may run, but she can't hide — she cries out again and again, in panic and terror, resisting neither her captor's arms nor Lady Genevra's encouraging hands. The girls crash into their tent to find Aryana already pulling her frightened little half-cousin out of his bedroll, trying to shush his sobs and get him on his feet all at once. She takes one look at the Stark girl's face and just picks the boy up in her arms, and runs. The tent has a second entrance now, courtesy of the Seventh Order. She makes use of it.

Throughout the camp the Seventh Order are getting a lesson in just what an inconvenience a herd of warhorses can be, to men and women up to no good on foot. A thousand pounds of panic and confusion on the hoof is bad enough — but a thousand pounds of stallion, trained for war, his every instinct honed toward the protection of his rider and his herd, is capable of trampling a mere two-legged villain by design as well as by accident.

Thus it is that Eddara Ryswell’s prized courser Aimless has blood and brain already on his lethally hard hooves as he answers her call, just as he’s been taught to do. He knows perfectly well where her tent is. Every morning it’s in the same place in relation to his own privileged position in the horse lines. And her scent, well, he’d know it anywhere. She bursts out of her tent to find the dark, familiar bulk of him waiting dead on his usual mark: he kneels at her command, and without a pause she walks straight up to him and swings a leg over his back.

Her heart is ready to thump out of her chest with fear for her disdainful, supercilious, mean-spirited, high-and-mighty bitch of a daughter. But she buckled her jerkin, and she mounted her horse, and now she’s sparing a moment to glance around the moonlit chaos of her camp, because she’s no use to Bethany or to anyone else on foot, limping, vulnerable, with no idea even of which way she should be charging off to the rescue. A lifetime’s training on and off the field of war trumps her instincts with good sense. Hers and Aimless’s both.

A flash of white and gold — that’s her daughter, on the ground, being dragged up and away by Genevra Stark — that’s young Samwell, a veteran of recent bandit-hunting expeditions up and down the Rills, engaging the man who dropped her, gaining the girls precious time to flee — that’s Wyll, gods bless him, just tackling another man who thought to run after them — and there, stepping out from behind a tent only not many yards away, is a man whose night-black robes render him no more than a pale face in the dark and a blade gleaming wet.

As Aimless rises beneath her and her left hand tangles in his mane, Lady Ryswell’s eyes lock with his. What she sees is enough to send a chill down her spine even in this filthy southern heat. And he’s between her and the tent the girls just ran into… a tent beginning to smoke.

Instinct rises, and it will not be denied.

«TO ME!» she cries into the night, in a voice accustomed to rising above battlefields bigger and bloodier than this one. An appeal to her men in the Old Tongue, words they all know in their bones — a reminder to the southern bastards that this is a northern camp they’ll be dying in.

A thousand pounds of hooves and muscle and focused rage, ridden by an implacable mother with naked steel in her hand, leaps over a banked fire and bears down upon the man who calls himself the Septon.

Any man in his right mind would look upon the fierce warhorse ridden by the fiercer Lady Eddara Ryswell and show fear.

The Septon smiles.

It may be one of the last things he does. Perhaps he believes the Stranger will protect him. Perhaps he believes the Stranger will be there waiting for him, in the end. A man with no fear is unnatural; hard to predict. As Aimless bears down toward him, the dark-robed intruder tries to veer from the thundering hooves, but it is an attack, not a flight from death. His bloodied blade sails toward them — horse or woman, it does not matter — in a rampage. The Septon is so close, he and the warhorse can see the whites of each others' eyes.

There's no halting it. Their collision was destined from the moment she saw him — if not earlier, by the bittersweet grace of the gods above. In that last-minute feint he comes at them from their left, thinking to strike away from Lady Ryswell's own sword hand; the course correction Aimless more than she endeavours to make he simply hasn't time for, two legs manoeuvering more swiftly than four; as the Septon brings it up the blade in his grasp slices through leather boot, sensible woolly sock, and vulnerable flesh alike, in the instant before the warhorse rears and a hoof takes him straight in the head. His rider knows well that sickening thud — and knows well she leaves a dead man behind her as well as a spattering of her own blood through the air as she rides on through the night to the burning tent where she fears to find her girls.

The Septon smiles no more.

This wasn't how it was meant to go for the Seventh Order. Perhaps Eddara's Old Gods are at work here after all, and the only death their Stranger calls for is their own.

They're out-numbered, out-horsed, and hurt before they began. The sheer power of the Ryswells’ pride stock bearing down all around them has them uncommonly fleeing from whatever their quarry; those who can escape, do.

Away from the smoking tent, Genevra, Bethany, Aryana and Rickard are making good time through the camp. They've aimed to the outskirts, making a swerving line, hand-in-hand, for the dark. It's too risky to rush toward the chaos where blades and hooves seek blood; the darkness beyond the camp is unknown, promising nothing, certainly not safety… but if they can stay out of sight and circle around, Genevra thinks, and somehow get to Eddara… she'll know what to do.

A thundering of hooves approaches them, but it is not yet the Lady of the Rills. Nor is it one of her herd; it is Genevra's gelding, slightly frantic, but nevertheless commandeered by a man who looks similar to the man who dragged Bethany from her tent. At a glance, they could be the same person. At first, he's staring into the camp, seeking his brother who remains engaged in a struggle with Samwell … but then he sees that flash of white and gold, recognizes the scurry of feet across the flattened grass, and he changes course.

Genevra sees him coming. There's a pang in her chest, recognizing her horse used for vile gain. "Quick, get down," she encourages the others, but it becomes rapidly clear that there's no point - they've been spotted, there's no getting around it. Even though they run, they're no match for a speeding horse. The rider's goal seems to be in line with that of his likeness: Bethany.

He's off the horse with an arm around her, hefting her head-first over the saddle as though she's little more than a doll made of rags, before the gelding has settled his hooves. He swings back on behind her and kicks the scattered gelding off into the dark.

It all happens so fast.

Genevra sets her jaw, cursing herself internally for not acting quicker. She watches the man ride off with Bethany. A swell rises in her chest. That flutter of fear tempered by purpose, by duty. What would Lady Ryswell do?

What would Hellan Stark do?

She readies her little bow with an arrow from her quill. Her eyes have adjusted to the night; even as the man begins to cross the boundary of the moonlight, she can still see him across the open space. She pulls the string taut and aims. Her gelding is obstinately veering this way and that — yet when the young Stark lady looses her arrow, it flies true, striking the man's spine below his neck. He slumps forward and falls sideways.

The same flash of white and gold appeals to Lady Ryswell's eyes; she counts those moving patches of light, those figures in summer-weight nightclothes, and directs Aimless away from the tent. He requires no encouragement to turn away past the flame-flickering tentflap; but again they meet with obstacles, distractions, in the way of their pursuit. Her cry into the night served to bring the battle to her, Ryswell men converging upon the sound of her voice and southron attackers in hot pursuit. One of her own lads stumbles almost under Aimless's hooves, pursued by a stranger doing an uncanny amount of damage for his size; under her guidance Aimless turns on a copper and before anyone can get out of her way she leans down and strikes out twice, this way and that, felling whoever that was in a puddle of blood and hoof-churned soil.

Eddara's blade strikes across the back of the attacker's legs, deftly severing his ability to run another step. He hits the ground so hard the helmet falls from his head - that is, her head, a wave of light stringy hair pooling around her into a sticky paste of mud and blood. Her sword falls from her hand, but Maeve still grips her knife as tight as death though she still heaves breath.

The Lady of the Rills straightens in her saddle and looks up, just as one of those patches of white is pulled up and across someone else's saddle. Too late? No. Nowhere near it. Not with a courser of her own breeding still fresh and fiery beneath her. She spurs Aimless on, daring him to defy his name, her leg smarting from that cut as it presses into his barrel and smears blood upon his shining coat.

She strikes out once more, her sword flashing just below another moonlit face she doesn't know, and rides pellmell after whichever one of the girls — it doesn't matter which — has been taken… Just ahead of her a slight figure still fully dressed in dark riding clothes and thus less obtrusive to the eye, looses an arrow; she passes the rest of the children, only to see the man topple to the ground, leaving only (she presumes) a Ryswell on a runaway horse, a situation bound to resolve itself in the Ryswell's favour; she marks the direction as best she can and turns, though it costs her a brief but tremendous pang, to plunge back into the continuing affray from another angle.

Killing a bandit doesn't feel how Genevra thought it would in her imaginary adventures.

There's certainly a thrill in it— it rises in her chest along with a roiling sensation she's never experienced before. It feels sort of ill and clammy. She's not as proud as she thought she'd be, watching him tumble to the ground, her eyes wide and silvery in the moonlight. It's all she can look at for a long moment.

But she'd absolutely do it again in a heartbeat, if she had to. Even for Bethany.

That's what being a warrior is.

She whips around to make sure Aryana and Rickard are well before running to Bethany, or perhaps to Eddara, who's better equipped ahorse. "Do you see Lady— "

A man's angry voice cuts her off. "Fynn!" The man who originally wrenched Bethany from the tent. The man whose likely brother was shot by Genevra's arrow. Looking ragged from battle, any incongruous handsomeness has been blood-soaked, torn, and twisted by a red-hot vengeful rage. He wasn't there, and suddenly he's practically on top of them. By the time they hear him, his sword is already swinging.

A clean ride line strikes across Genevra's throat. Blood spills, slow and then all at once. She didn't see it coming. She doesn't know what's happening. Seeing chaos, seeing faces and horses and the moon and nothing, she stares ahead. Her storm-cloud eyes freeze in place.

A second man, limping and looking far worse for the wear than the first, catches up. The Red Bard. Tonight, the only red on him is that of blood — half of it his own. Out-of-breath, he falls into a kneel beside Genevra once she's fallen. "Alban. You resounding idiot," he tells his companion hurriedly, digging at a glint of metal that inches out of her shirt from around her neck on a sturdy chain which is rapidly becoming slick with blood. The silver direwolf stares as lifelessly up at the moon as its Stark.

They run.

In a moment Eddara sees her remaining children — her chickens, she sometimes calls them — safe from the foxes, surrounded by the backs of Ryswell men facing out into the dark against any remaining threats. The confusion is over. The attackers are dead or melted away. And two of them, thinking to flee the cooling body of Lady Genevra Stark and find safety anywhere in this world, soon hear the thundering hooves of a Rills-bred courser on their trail.

Aimless finds his footing with ease over the Reach's moonlit grasslands and fields; the Red Bard and his accomplice, briefly out of sight, and moving as fast as their own paltry two legs apiece will carry them, are soon discovered again splitting apart in two quite separate directions. Their only hope.

Without hesitation Lady Ryswell chooses the man she witnessed severing her young charge's head from her body, a breath too late for her to intervene — it's him she pursues and him she soon overtakes, her bare bloody sword upraised and set agleam by the moon's rays as she guides her courser round him in a tight circle. Clods of dirt and grass fly up from the stallion’s hooves. The circles grow smaller and somehow swifter, the sensitive horse beneath her an avatar of her own turbulent mood. She bellows wind-whipped words: "On your knees!"

He could run, and die; he could stop, and perhaps delay his death a few moments longer. The man dubbed Alban does not bear the same fearlessness as his leader. He thuds to his knees and drops his sword at his side, greedy for his life while his companion, the Red Bard, takes a limping, weaving path into the dark fields.

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