It was an early morning when Jon Lyderly came into the world, just a few minutes short of the heir to Sunkenwood. My first few years where peaceful, father never payed me much attention as I was of lower standing but thankfully I had mother. The day mother died and Kara was born changed everything. With mother gone, a screeching baby in the castle and father turning more distant then he ever was. The moment I was old enough I picked up a bow and started training.
As the years went by I picked up a sword and dagger to defend myself in closer combat. One day in the training yard I heard screaming, rushing over I saw one of the garrison men sitting on the floor clutching his arm which was bent in an unnatural direction. I followed the men as they helped him to maester Alwins chambers. When he asked the men to leave I asked if I could stay and watch. He made me promise to be completely quiet and not disturb him while he worked. I found the process fascinating even though the mans occasional screams and whelps where hard to bare. After the maester was done straightening the mans arm, splinting it and calling for a guard to escort him to his chambers. maester Alwin asked If I would like to learn how to do that. I said I would.
I spent most of my time since that day between the maester and the training yard. While I spent time with the maester watching him tend wounds and reading I also picked up hawking from him. That, combined with my skills as an archer raised a strong desire to hunt. watching the men leave for the forest once every few days and come back with various animals strapped to their horses. Seemed very exciting and dangerous. I kept asking to be allowed to join until finally, after my 11th name day I was given permission to join the hunt.
I had to wake up just after dawn to ready myself and saddle my horse. We left the castle not long after day brake, breaking our fast on horseback. the sun was still low in the sky, just braking over the trees as we left the castle and entered the forest. Raykard Sand, my archery teacher who was leading the hunting party that morning rode alongside me and instructed me to follow the leader at all times. These forests where filled with swamps and snakes, he said, if you are not careful you can end up in a lot of trouble. I told him I already know most of the snakes in the forest by name and could even tell him which antidotes the maester currently had. He grinned at me and rode up alongside the man at the head of the column.
I have never been this deep into the forest and off the road before, making sure to stay behind the person in front of me. I completely lost my bearings at first, all the trees look the same, the bushes, the mud… nothing ever changes. I realized that the man in front, rather then looking ahead or to the sides spent most of his time looking at the ground. After a while I realized he was reading it, following the trail of a deer. Once I asked I learned that we have been following the same set of tracks for hours now. I tried to look at the ground and see the things he saw. I managed to spot a few deer tracks along the way but I could have never followed the trail for so long.
Suddenly the man at the head of the party signaled a halt. No one made a sound and I did my best to follow their lead. The men dismounted their horses and tethered them to a nearby branch, Raykard beckoned me to him once I had tethered my own horse. He pointed into the bushes to our left and started walking in the opposite direction, motioned to follow and drew his bow. I did the same. After going in a rather large circle I finally spotted the deer in a clearing through the bushes, two does and a large buck. realizing the wind at my face which was probably the reason for the long round about.
He stopped then, passing his gaze over my bow and onto my eyes, then looking at the deer. At that moment I realized the entire party was looking at me, completely silent, some with very serious expressions and others looking amused. I remembered Raykard telling me that the fastest way to kill an animal was hit the heart or through the eye. I didn't think I could hit the eye and wasn't quite sure where the heart was. I remembered one of the conversations the men had around the fire one night, one of them said that the best way to make sure it does not get away is to shoot it in the neck, he said to aim right at the center. I held my bow up and found my target, made sure my footing was steady and the buck still, I released my arrow, hit a little lower then I aimed.
The bucks head shot up and it leaped in my direction. I froze, looking at what seemed to be terror in its eyes. Raykard straightened up and started yelling while waving his arms in the air, the buck reversed direction instantly and I got splashed across the face with its blood. I was entranced with the gushing red fluid pulsing out of its neck in violent bursts. It bolted and I lost sight of it in the woods. Raykard put his arm on my shoulder, I realized I was shaking. He beckoned to follow him, I was dazed, only vaguely aware of the grizzly trail we where following. Covering the grass and mud and trees. It felt queer under my boots. Now I understand what they meant when they said it does not stand a chance of getting away.
After what seemed like eternity we found it in the thicket, it was staggering between two trees. It took two more arrows to bring it down. I stood there staring at the corpse and felt a hearty tap on my shoulder for a job well done. The men prepared the deer for the trip back to the castle, it was very big and took two men to hoist it up on a horse, I realized then that some of the men must have gone back to get the horses after my shot landed. I took my time finding a clear pool of water to wash the blood off my face.
The ride back was quiet. I expected to feel happy and excited… yet all I could seem to muster up was guilt. The image of that deers last moments haunting me. The feeling of his blood on my face and under my boots. The odd gurgling noise it made when it took a breath. The way the blood pulsed out of its wound, not quite gushing anymore, visibly loosing its force. The way my clean pool of water turned murky red as I washed my face. I promised myself that I would learn where their hearts are. That I would become a good enough archer to put the arrow through their eye. Taking a life was in a way thrilling, but it sure wasn't fun.
As we where approaching the castle Raykard told me that I could join the hunting party for the feast tonight. The thought of eating that deer had my belly in knots for some reason… I have eaten deer before but this was very different. I headed to my chambers to bathe and change out of my muddy blood stained clothing. Once changed and cleaned I went out and up to walk around on the walls, did my best to stay away from where they skinned and butchered the animal. But soon enough the smell of the cooking meat filled the yard, my mouth was watering and my stomach protesting the lack of food since braking my fast.
I went down to the yard and joined the men around the fire, some congratulated me on my good shooting but I didn't feel up to talking about that right then. I was pleased to be offered a goblet with wine. after a few sips my head started swimming. I felt a bit better. That was the first time that I noticed Jayne that evening. She is the smiths daughter, a year older then me. she helps around the castle where she is needed, tonight she was bringing things out of the kitchens and into the yard, wine and plates and more wine. For a few months now whenever she is around she seems to try and get close to me, smiling at me and asking questions all the time. Keep catching her gaze. I don't understand what she wants of me.
Someone refilled my goblet as I watched one of the cooks pour honey and sprinkle pepper over the rotating deer. Then two men came and lowered the meat onto a large platter, one of them producing a big knife and starting to carve it. I was offered the first piece. Sitting there holding a piece of meat from a deer that I had killed just a few hours ago. If this was a proper feast I should probably wait for the rest to get their portions, but when I see the men eating in the yard those rules don't seem to apply. So I picked up the meat with my hands and ate it. When I was done I asked for a second serving. The meat was good and I was very hungry.
Some musical instruments where produced and my goblet seemed to stay half full. Some of the men got up and started singing and dancing, I watched smiling when Jayne suddenly obstructed my view, she took my hand and pulled me to my feet, then dragged me to where the men where dancing. She turned to face me and started leading the way, I did my best to follow suit but I felt clumsy on my feet, the world was spinning and her scent and heat where distracting me for some reason.
After a while she must have noticed I was wavering because she drew me to the side and asked if I would like to go to my chambers. Feeling dizzy and drowsy I thought it would be a good idea so I picked up my sword belt and flung it over my shoulder, took bow and quiver in my left hand and used my right to learn on her. We got to my chambers, I put my weapons down then let her help me undress. I have been undressed by servants many times in the past but this was different somehow. I stretched out on the bed and closed me eyes, asked her to put out the brazier before she left. I noticed the light going out of the world through my closed eyelids and expected to hear the door shutting. Instead I felt her getting onto the bed, laying down beside me and putting her arm over my chest. I was shortly asleep. She was gone when I woke up.
Since that day the forest would call to me. I tried to spend as much time as I could with the hunting parties and the snake wranglers I followed and learned. Enjoying the opportunity to be away from the intrigue and politics that plagues the castle, fathers constant scheming and plotting. I knew he had our best interests at heart but I have always wondered if he cared for us because we where his children or because we shared a name. I have held onto the notion that it is the latter more then anything else. A year later Kara was sent off to the silent sisters. I tried to ask father why he had sent her away but he refused to discuss it, saying I should just trust him… I was angry, why did he have to ruin everything when things where just starting to settle down?
I spent more and more time out in the forest, venturing by my own on occasion. Gerolds escape and recapture didn't come as much of a surprise. Though the state father kept him in upon returning was. I would sneak to his cell every night to get him some proper food and drink, though it kept me away from the forest I couldn't just leave. I could see how bitter Gerold was turning, I knew this wouldn't be his last attempt. And indeed two years later he had vanished, taking fathers best horse with him. Father was furious, I was glad he had made his escape while I was out in the woods, he probably did it so I wouldn't stop him but in the process he also saved me the initial madness that must have occurred.
With Gerold and Kara both gone there was hardly a reason to stay in the castle, Thomas still a boy the only thing that kept me coming back was Jayne, she has never been the smartest of girls but she was witty enough to keep me interested and nice enough to warm my bed at night, could count on her to help me fall asleep during my nights in the castle, somehow it has always been easier for me to sleep in the woods. I have always felt an affinity to the old gods, especially since mother died. About a year after Gerolds escape I received first word that he was well and had joined a group of outlaws. I spent most of my time in the woods sleeping under the sky. Occasionally I would stay in a local village, offering game and my healing skills for a place to stay ,wine and information. At one such night I was told by a villager that Kara had returned to the castle and was very ill.
I got on my horse and made my way back to the castle at day brake. I made good time taking the straightest route possible while avoiding the swamps. It took Kara about a week to recover which seemed rather odd considering the death of everyone else who caught this disease. But the announcement by our father that Gerold was dead quickly turned my attention. I couldn't believe it, I always thought that somehow if something happened to him I would know and father didn't have any actual proof, just rumors and speculations.
The coming months brought myself and Kara closer together, with the common belief that Gerold was alive we combined our efforts and started digging for information, I spent more time in inns that year then I had ever spent before. The more questions asked the more faith in him being alive grew. Finally we got to a point where we thought we knew where he was so I decided it was time to go get him back. I went to father that night to tell him I thought he was wrong about Gerold and that I am going to bring him back to prove it.
I left that morning bidding farewell to Kara, Thomas, Raykard, Maester Alwin and Jayne. Mounted my horse and made my way to the Bloody Gate. Excitement filled me, this would be the first time I leave the vale on my own. Passed the gates the going got hard, traveling by night and getting a bit of sleep during the days. Living off the land and staying away from the roads. The bow Thomas had made for me served me well, the speed of a short bow with the strength of a long bow. He sure is clever, I wonder what kind of man he will turn out to be.
It took me close to four months to finally locate the band Gerold was with. I was very happy to see him alive and well though I was annoyed at the fact that he did not want to leave. I realized then that I would not be able to drag him back but I refused to go home empty handed, so I opted to stay put and help with what I could until he would agree to return with me. I didn't like life with the outlaws, a lot of the things they did felt wrong to me, I tried to stay away from those activities and do other things instead, tending to the injured and helping with scouting and hunting missions. after a little over a year Gerold finally agreed to head back to Sunkenwood.
The ride back was uneventful, until we entered the mountain road and where about three days ride away from the Bloody Gate. I knew that if we would encounter trouble on this road it would be life or death, so I took the time to apply some pain inducing poisons to my sword, arrow heads and dagger, the dagger I had commissioned especially with a large curved hilt so I would have something with which to block and deflect oncoming assaults. We where ambushed on the road by five men, the first two I took down with arrows and we fought the remaining three back to back. I shot the last one in the back as he was attempting to flee. I was so glad for all of our mutual training, me and Gerold have spent so much time fighting side by side as well as each other, we could anticipate each others moves, very few men are as well tuned to each other as we are.
After a quick field dressing of the wounds we pushed for the Bloody Gate and the safety that lay within. Upon arriving I refreshed our dressings and we headed for home. En route we received a warm welcome from Kara, Thomas and some of the castle folk. it was nice to be back home again, everyone together. We got home to be welcomed by a feast for our return as our father showed how happy he was that Gerold was indeed alive. I cant stand this appearance nonsense. Spent the dinner drinking and looking forward to my warmed bed.
Things where peaceful for a time. Life had taught me that peace is a fleeting notion so I used the time to strengthen my mind and body, preparing for whatever the next challenge would be. Spending more time then I have ever had the opportunity of spending with my siblings. Then one morning the bird came with word that Lord Jon Arryn had died.