Chapter IV: The Reaving Years, Pt II
This is how my reaving years started. For years after that moment my men followed me without ever questioning once my command. They knew that whatever I would ask them to do, at the end of the day blood and glory awaited them.
Traders, Villages and towns. Even small seaside castles. Wherever there was loot waiting for us we could smell it, miles away. We were returning back to Lonely Light only when we couldn't carry any more gold and slaves, and then after the unloading and some days of feasting we were getting back on our small but fearsome fleet. Day by day my people were becoming more bold and tough, and the merchant's ships didn't held a chance against us.
Lonely Light reminded nothing of its former state; Expansions on the castle and the port never ceased now that my treasury was always full of gold. Merchants were always present in the Island, buying the goods we have seized from other merchants during our raids. Lonely Light has changed and so did its people; The rags that covered the smallfolk where now replaced with decent clothing, armor and jewelry. All paid with the Iron Price.
After excessive raiding on the Free Cities, we expanded our range towards the Sivering Sea. We left behind us Braavos and sailed east. Lorath Bay, the Axe, Ibben. The weaklings tasted our steel wherever we landed. Those places were not as half rich as the Free Cities but my men didn't mind. Every shore we raided was another story for my raiders to tell when we would be back home. As we were continuing east, the places were poorer but the people more fierce warriors. the Dothraki, the Jogos Nhai, the N'Ghai. All of 'em great warriors, very different in warfare than us, and much more interesting. As I said my men didn't mind the petty spoils; they enjoyed the fact that they were not encountering fat merchants and helpless villagers anymore but warriors who could match them in battle.
By the time we reached Leviathan Sound
Our reputation was dread; The sails with the two axes painted in red was a fearsome sight for coastal settlements and merchant ships alike. Even the Jogos Nhai seemed to back out from the coast during our stay there. But it was time to leave.
"-We may have battled the small nomads that stayed behind but probably their main force is south, raiding the Golden Empire. If we spend more time on these shores their leader might send an army to encounter the threat my Lord." my lieutenant said to me.
"-You are right, its time we sail back home."
The journey was long, and the men became bored. So bored that finger dancing has stopped a while ago. One day a soldier threw a salt wive he claimed from Ibben to be eaten by the sharks that were swimming next to our ship just for amusement.
"The years have made them cruel" I thought. "If we don't stop somewhere for a day or two they'll start killing each other for fun."
And there it was: a perfect place for a stop:
Without thinking it twice, I pointed to my men the village; They immediately started to cheer and draw weapons. It has been more than a month's time since they set foot on land. I myself was feeling a bit numb too when I grabbed my axes. I was fighting with two axes that time of my life. I was young and not afraid of being hurt, I felt that a shield would only keep me down. The Howl
was the first ship to touch the shore. My men rushed towards the village, but I with my lieutenant took our time. We watched a bit from the deck. This raid was mostly for my men, not me.
"Odd.' he said.
"Most of the time the smallfolk run for their lives before we even touch the land, but them... they don't."
It was true, the peasants grabbed anything they could use as a weapon in a vainly attempt to save themselves.
"And? Are you afraid of pitchforks and knives?"
"No my lord, maybe they have alerted someone to come and save 'em. A patrol nearby maybe. We didn't scout the area. "
"If they did it only means one thing for us, Harlon."
He looked at me with wonder
"More blood on our axes Harlon, now come, we are sitting here for long enough".
The raid was going on for almost an hour, and the last of the villagers resisting were already dead; Now the easy part started: burning, looting raping. We payed the Iron Price today, and were tasting the rewards.
Suddenly though, the scenery was about to change.
"HORSEMEN!!! HORSEMEN CHARGING FROM THE NORTH!"
"Goddamn you Harlon! Couldn't you ask for anything else? Gather up everyone! FORM SHIELD WALLS! Grab your spears! C'mon you useless scums! Move, NOW! SPEARS!"
Our formation was not ready on time and most of us left our spears on our ships.Raiding a village means hand to hand combat, and axes and swords suit better in those conditions, but against cavalry; our best hope was to stay in formation and stand our ground, beat them off their horses, but we were already scattered in the village. By the moment they charged on us our formation wasn't done, and they butchered a lot of my men.
"Back to the ships! retreat!"
We run back to the shore, but they didn't pursue us. I looked back as we re running towards our longships, and saw them preparing flaming arrows. They intended to burn our ships.
"-This is no ordinary patrol, they are too many men, heavy cavalry. And there is no castle nearby. By the Seven Hells, where did they come from?" Harlon asked.
"-See them wagons? probably a tax collector. That's why there are so many soldiers here. Bad timing for a raid it seems. They are preparing their final attack, we are cornered, if we try to board the ships and go for a run they will burn us like rats."
"-So we fight?"
"-Do you see an alternative that I cannot Harlon?"
"-We outnumber them, but its too much cavalry for us to handle."
When we started our journey from Lonely Light we were something more than 800 men, almost a hundred of them were dead before we reach this damned village, and another hundred were wounded, lying in the ships. The enemy had no more than 300 men, most of em heavy armored cavalry, more than enough to deal with my light armored raiders.
They were confident, it was obvious. They took their time forming their line. As they started coming towards us I took some steps in front of the shield wall my men had formed.
"You those men Ironborn? They want us dead. It seems that they'll have want they want by the end of the day. But they wont be celebrating it, It is going to be us celebrating, in the Drowned God's watery halls! Celebrating the fact that we died with the most honorable death: in battle. Tonight we'll join our fallen brothers, bathed in our enemy's enemies' blood! WHAT IS DEAD MAY NEVER DIE!"
We repelled their first charge on us, killing a few of them. But they dint stop, they retreaded a few hundred meters back and came again. At the first two or three charges we seemed to have some chances against them, but as the battle continued I could hear my men's breath becoming heavier and heavier. The last time they came on us they didn't retreat, but stayed and a hand to hand combat emerged. It was a bloodbath, I couldn't see clear as the blood had covered my face. I couldn't tell if it was mine or else's. The battle kept going on, and I was feeling exhausted. But the worst thing was not the exhaustion me and my men had to battle; It was fear. And fear cuts way deeper than steel
While pulling my axe from a man's skull i heard cheers behind my back.
"You think you're done with us? So easy? It is not over till the last of us lies dead you fools!" I shouted desperately.
But the cheers were not coming from the enemy men but mine. Confused, I turned.
It wast the most relieving sight I've ever seen in my life utill then.
Victarion Greyjoy. The Lord Commander of the Iron Fleet, wearing as always his plate armor and his trademark; the Kraken Helmet.
For a moment I thought that I was dreaming. I shaked my head and blinked my eyes, but he was still there, rushing towards us.
I honestly cant recall many memories from what followed. Last thing I remember was myself falling to my knees from exhaustion and the enemy retreating.
Victarion walked next to me and pulled of his helmet, letting his long grey hair fall on his shoulders. He grabbed my right arm and raised me up with one hand without a trace of struggle.
"On your feet Gromm, Its over. You'll have plenty of time for rest once we'll sail away from here. Get your men on the ships. Or maybe you want me
to do this for you too?"
"-No sir. You did more than enough for us today, and I'm glad for it."
"-Order them to follow the fleet. We are sailing to Pyke, you'll come with me on the Iron Victory. We have to talk."
I did as the Lord Captain commanded. Without wasting time, i was on the deck of the Iron Fleet's flagship, before its captain, King Balon's young brother, the might Victarion Greyjoy. He was still wearing his plate armor, even on the deck with the ship sailing on the high seas. Other captains who wear plate armor in battle would take it off while sailing. It was a common thing to fall from the deck of longship during naval battles or storms, and wearing a plate armor in the water means certain death as its weight will drag you to the bottom. But Victarion wasn't afraid of dying, especially dying from the sea. "If the Drowned God decides its time we join him in his watery halls beneath the sea, you think that being able to swim can save us?"
he once said to me when I asked him one day, the days I was sailing with him. He was a man of faith, that was known. I, in the other hand was not -at that point of my life-. Then, I believed that the only thing except our hands that could shape a mans destiny, was the sun. Only the sun had an impact on our lives, when the sun was gone beneath the Sunset Sea, our lives depended on the time the sun would rise up on the sky again. But I changed since then, things changed; a lot.
"-We were lucky today Lord Captain, they caught us by surprise."
He didn't seem to enjoy smalltalk.
"-Seems that the Drowned God doesn't want you with him, yet. But you owe my now Gromm."
I was curious to listen what he wanted from me, because Victarion wasn't a man of politics, he was a man of strength and at that field he didn't need any help from anyone in the Iron Islands.
"-Tell me, I'm all ears."
"You have gained a fierce reputation these past years Gromm. Your past raids were the exact opposite of what happened today. Your name's now recognized in the Iron Islands."
"-I appreciate your words Captain Victarion."
"-I do not flatter you Gromm, I speak the truth. Now tell me, what did my brother said to you when he gave you Lonely Light?"
"-To rule it my lord, and keep the Old Way."
"-And? Do you act as you were ordered to?"
"-Look, I am no expert in giving advice in those matters; I have my brother for those kind of things but Ill try my best. You do the second thing Gromm, and you give your best. But as for the first? i don't think so."
"-I disagree! Lonely Light is thriving now, its population has doubled the last years, and works on the castle and the port haven't stopped."
"-I'm aware of that. You come back to Lonely Light, unload the gold, shout some orders, spend some time in bed with your wive and salt-wives, rest and then you depart again for a-reaving. As I said, I am no expert, but this is not how ruling is done."
He was right. I may have made my Island a prosperous one, but it didn't feel like home. Only the deck of the Howl made me feel like home. And my wive? In my heart she wasn't so much different than my salt-wives, only more respected cause of her noble birth.
"-Do you know why Balon took Lonely Light away from the Farwynds Gromm?"
"-To be honest I don't. It was just announced to me that I had been chosen to replace them."
"-You are a good soldier Gromm. You don't ask why; you just carry out orders. But you are no soldier anymore. You are a Lord Reaver of the Iron Islands. Balon was planning his second coronation for a long time you know. And the invasion too. He waited patiently all those years. But for some time, the Farwynds wanted to turn the Ironborn into a quest overseas, towards the Sunset Sea. You are aware of his attempts."
"-I am. But no-one followed him, just his sons."
"-You're right. But some lords started to think about it. They believed that the Iron Throne is invincible, that we didn't stand a chance against them, so the only way was to the West. And Balon didn't like that."
"-That is weird, how come the Lords even think about it?"
"-Well, to be honest, some times Balon exaggerates the situation. Anyway, he wanted a trusting man to sit on that chair, and the lords chose you. They wanted you tied, not only with gratitude, but with official bonds too; that's why they married you with the Goodbrother girl."
"-I figured that part out-"
"-Silence, Gromm. Here comes the serious part. Now the King needs you more than ever. After our army came back from the North, Balon appeared weak. His authority had loosen up since then. He wanted to show that his rule is not to be questioned, and acted stupid: He disinherited Asha for marrying a lowborn man without his permission,
And like this wasn't enough, he had my nephew Theon executed for treason.
"-Why? The man's a paranoid! that's why! He has completely lost his mind the past few years!"
"-And what does he need me to do?"
"-Be patient, you'll see where this is going to. Our kingdom is in a tight spot. The Iron Throne's pretenders and invader kings are all dead, you know that.
"-Yes I'm aware of that."
"-The so called King Beyond the Wall, Mance the "Handsome" could not even pass the Stark bastard with his broken Night's Watch.
The Targarien Girl was murdered most probably by orders of Joffrey or Tywin,
The other boy who claimed to be Aegon Targarien had the same fate too, but at least he died with a sword on his hand, not in his sleep. His so called "invasion" lasted less than a couple of months.
And last my favorite one: The man who thought that a flaming sword and a red-haired whore will grant him a throne! I laughed so hard when I heard the news. I used to believe that the man who granted me my one and only loss in my life would be smarter. Its Stannis' work that my younger brother Aeron is man who he is today you know. He almost killed him when he chopped in half the Golden Storm
in Fair Isle back when Balon rebelled for the first time.
And less than a month after killing all the pretenders, fighting all his grandson's great wars, Tywin Lannister died while suppressing a small rebellion of peasants outside King's Landing, leaving behind him as lord paramount of the Westerlands the Imp
But there's even greater irony in life Gromm; Tywin spend the last decade of his life fighting his grandson's wars instead of him, in order to secure a long and calm reign for Joffrey. And do you know how this has ended? No you don't know, I myself heard the news just e few days before we departed from Pyke, you were already overseas. Joffrey was murdered too! His Lords did not seem to bear him for long. And now his 12-year-old daughter sits on the Iron Throne".
I hadn't noticed till now, but as he was telling me all these he kept becoming merrier; the smile on his face was growing, and it was making me uncomfortable, I think it was the first time I saw Victarion so joyful. He stopped talking for a moment and gazed the open sea. I didn't talk, I was curious to see where all this was going to end up.
"-The wars of the greenlanders have stopped. For now. And Lythene -the Iron Queen- wont be a 12 year old forever. At some point she is going to try and bend us to her rule. Or her mothers Margaery, or whoever the hell actually rules the 7 kingdoms now. That's why I'm here reaving those days. I'm gathering gold and resources in order to be able to defend ourselves. To arm the men and build more longships. I want from you to get back to Lonely Light and train your men and women. Raise and army and be on guard. Those 5-6 hundred men you have here may be enough for pillaging fishermen villages, but not enough for a war. Also remember: train them like soldiers, not like a bunch of mindless raiders. We are going to fight against disciplined armies, not tribesmen."
"-I get it, Lord Captain."
"-Remember Gromm, your King is going to need you; not only against outside foes, but inside too. And you are loyal to the Iron King and the Greyjoys, aren't you Lord Gromm?"
"-Of course I am!"
"Good, Good. And one last thing. Don't ever forget: You owe me
I didn't like the way he said his last words. Something was wrong with him, he was acting weird...
We parted ways upon arriving at the Iron Islands, i got back to my castle and did as he said. Days were passing slowly with me and my lieutenants training the people, just as I was commanded.
I was in the training yard, almost 20 days after I saw Victarion for the last time when my maester brought me his letter...