The clang of steel on steel echoed through the small square battle area as Tywin and Ser Baric battled each other, Caitlin watched the boy she had come to think of as her son from the balcony above the small square. Tywin was a marvel to watch in battle, to watch do anything really, he moved with the fluid grace of a dancer on stage but struck with blows hard enough to shatter swords and dent the armour of even the most battle-hardened knight. The king’s personal guard stood at the doors to the arena, spears in hand with stone hard faces beneath their raised battle visors. The Black Guard scared Caitlin, the king wanted the most vicious men around him protecting him, but vicious dogs rarely new the difference between friend and foe. Or who their masters were.
For a boy of twelve summers Tywin was already head and shoulders taller than the rest of his friends, thin as a pole with every muscle on his body toned to perfection Caitlin knew he'd grow into a strong man. And handsome too. His strong jaw line, large brow and soft high cheek bones had many ladies of the courts talking already, then his eyes. By the Gods those eyes. Smiled Caitlin, even she after twelve years could still catch a look at them and be brought to a complete standstill by their sheer beauty. Combine that with his well groomed coal black locks of hair she was sure he'd be a heartbreaker. 'Every weapon I put into his hands he masters within a week Matriarch Caitlin.'
Turning Caitlin saw the huge form of the castles Master-at-arms striding towards her, his great silver armour covered in thousands of scratches, dents and chips from his decades upon the battle field. Roddick Barly was a kindly man despite his fearsome appearance. A great brown beard sprouted from his anvil like chin covering a thin mouth of white, albeit some broken, teeth. His great brown eyes smiled down at her from under his massive bushy eyebrows and a huge mop of twisted brown hair stretched down to his gorget, small braids tied into the hair at the front with small beads and pierced coins tied into them. Clasped at his shoulders was a cloak of midnight blue covered in the crescent moon sigils of his house.
'Ser Roddick, what a pleasure.' she said standing up straight and curtseying as he approached.
'Oh please Caitlin, we've known each other far too long for curtseys and bows...a hug will suffice.' he smiled. She loved the sound of his voice, so deep and rolling from his huge barrel chest like a stream sprouting from the mountain side. Laughing Caitlin wrapped her arms around her old friend as he did the same.
'Last time I did this I could grab my wrist,' she jested.
'Last time I was a much fitter man with a taste for battle more than feasts.' he smiled releasing her. 'Your boy is incredible.' turning to watch as he battered Ser Baric Barly across the ribs with his blunted sword Caitlin couldn't help but smile.
'No matter what weapon I put in his hands he beats my most prestigious knights like they were no more than children playing war. Even my boy says he has never faced an opponent like him. I've wondered whether to put some of the Mainlanders weapons in his hands, see how he copes with them.'
'You know the outcome ser,' she smiled. 'He'll use them like he was born to. I'm happy to say his mastery is not just with weapons. His skills with the quill increase daily and the Clerics are hard pressed to find new things to teach him.'
'The Phoenix Knight truly has returned to us,' breathed the huge Master-at-arms.
'Gods be good.' as Tywin paused the fighting to allow Ser Baric to catch his breath he looked up to them and smiled slightly. Caitlin smiled back, nodding her approval.
'A shame he has come now...and under the hands of this king.' spoke Roddick softly.
'Mind your words in here Ser Roddick,' whispered Caitlin, a tight hand gripping her stomach. 'This castle has ears and all the ears lead to the king.'
'You agree though.' she remained silent. 'He is virtually your blood Caitlin, why don't you take him and run?'
'And go where Roddick?' she asked quietly turning to him as the fighting continued down in the arena with a fresh opponent and different weapons. 'Do you not think I have wanted to? Do you not think I thought of it the moment the king shoved the tiny babe into my arms and told me to raise him? Everywhere he goes he will be recognised. Everywhere we could go the king will follow. Bringing his army and his bloody knights with him, I'll happily give my life for Tywin any day if the Gods choose it. But I won't let him be the kings dog.' she hissed quietly.
'What do you call this Caitlin? He sees your boy as nothing more than a weapon to be used on the battlefield! He is the king’s dog.'
'But if I can teach him the difference between right and wrong, to be a good knight, a noble and honourable man! Then maybe, just maybe we have a chance to over throw Bealor.'
'How? When?' Roddick said simply. 'In ten years? Baelor would have grown ten times more powerful. Your boy is the Phoenix Knight, but even he couldn't stand alone in front of the king’s army.'
'Don't you think I know this!' she barked loud enough for one of the Black Guard to look up at them. 'No one will stand against Baelor,' she continued dropping her voice. 'He is too feared; the last man that attempted to kill him was over five years ago. His bones are still hanging over the doors of the Jade Gates as a warning. All I can do is bide time...and pray.'
'I'm sorry Caitlin,' said Roddick with a heartbroken look on his face. 'Your burden...is a large one.'
'It is. But the Gods have given us Tywin...at least be thankful for that.' placing an arm through his Caitlin lead her old friend from the balcony into the main sitting room. The fire was roaring loudly as the flames slashed through the dry wood. Alaina was down in the main kitchens preparing for the kings victory feast tonight so they were alone until Tywin returned from his training. 'Wine?' she asked as they walked to the large wooden dining table.
'Please.' Roddick said pulling out one of the well carved chairs before sitting as comfortably as his armour would allow. Pouring the wine into two golden goblets carved with fine spiral patterns.
'Dare I ask how the kingdom is?' she said sitting across from him, sipping the crimson liquid. Roddick grunted.
'Same as always. The White Isle wants more protection from the raiders of the Ice Islands, the king ignores them. The Dragon Isle demands their lands returned from the River Isle, the Iron Isle claims ownership of Shark Rock, the Boar Isle ignores them. Garden Isle wants more knights to training their young and the Gold Isle...well they just couldn't give a shit about the kingdom. As usual.' he said draining his goblet.
'And Black Isle?'
'Still at war with itself. The Yarrows claim lordship over the islands. The Stronwels of course deny them. Both families called their banners, at the current time none stand a greater chance of winning than the other.'
'And our king sits and feasts because his army one a single battle against the raiders.' Caitlin laughed dryly.
'Aye. I’m worried Caitlin, with the Black Isle at war and the kings army fighting off in the Mainland to make him king of more lands...Jade Isle is vulnerable. The other Isles now of the Phoenix Knight...'
'I'll slay any man who lays a hand on that boy! That I promise you.'
'You’re a Matriarch. A priestess of the Gods.' said Roddick looking sickened.
'True enough but I am as close a mother as that boys ever going to get, I'll protect him with my life.' sighing softly Caitlin glanced out of the window, the setting sun ripping great swathes of sky a blood red, the castles spires a deep black against the fiery backdrop. Standing from the green fertile grass like huge stalagmites. 'No. We don't have anything to fear, Dragons Fort has never fallen. Besides no Isle have enough banners to form an army large enough to pose us even the tiniest of threats. Only Lord Mannax of Boar Isle has a sizeable enough force but he doesn't have the balls. It's the north isles I'm worried for.'
'Why?' asked the old knight pouring himself another goblet of wine.
'If the king doesn't send reinforcements soon White Isle could fall, if they did Dragon Isle and Iron Isle wouldn't be far behind and the barbarians will have countless more ports to raid from. If White Isle holds my worry is they could rebel...if that happened...' the door suddenly flew open and Tywin walked in, thin cloth shirt sticking to his chest with sweat.
'Hello Nana,' he smiled wiping his brow with a small red cloth. 'Ser Roddick.'
'Lord Tywin,' he bowed. 'I see you were teaching my son the ways of the sword.' Tywin laughed, a glorious sound it was. Full of love and life.
'I assure you he was teaching Me.' he smiled courteously.
'Bathe quickly my knight, we will be wanted at the feast tonight.' she smiled.
'Oh lovely...entertain all the high lords and ladies...joy.' he smiled. 'Ser Roddick it was a pleasure but if you would please excuse me.
'Of course my lord, I hope to see you tonight.'
'I greatly look forward to it.'