If you missed Part I, please read it first here.
"If you will not partake, Ser Allyn, please allow me," proclaimed the Limpfish, snatching the mug of frothy Milwaukeros ale from Allyn's grasp and swiftly bringing it to his lips as the nearby men at arms cheered and laughed. Ser Joseph Kelly, known as the Limpfish, seemed to hold his knighthood secondary to his role as an entertainer. Allyn remembered his tricks and japes back in Buschfell. The Limpfish was always teasing and prodding, trying to get a rise out of even the most somber of the Saint Card men such as Ser Lyn or even Lord Matheny. Yet somehow, Ser Joseph always knew when to stop to avoid the Lord of Buschfell's wrath.
The room around him was buzzing with activity. When the fall months came, it was customary for Lords to expand the ranks of their soldiers to better defend against wildling raids. Allyn, a guest in the Bostonian court, was enjoying a feast to welcome the new recruits. As a young man, Ser Allyn had enjoyed the indulgent merriment that accompanied feasting, and as he examined the great hall around him, he could not help but be impressed. The wooden tables sagged under the weight of several sabathias worth of food. Whole chickens glistened invitingly, fried in oils from across the mysterious seas. Mounds of fresh fruits and roasted vegetables were passed by the armload amongst the revelers. Allyn knew that through the large set of double doors numerous casks held every brand of spirits a lowly knight like himself could imagine, from the crisp mountain ales of the Rocky Reach to the smooth and fruity wines of the Giant's Valley. Though Allyn was no longer the young man he once was, he had to admit that the Bostonians knew how to host a feast.
"How do you find your ale, Ser Joseph? The king has spared no expense to have it imported," boomed a loud, cheerful voice, ending Allyn's silent contemplation. Three men approached, two wearing the pure white cloaks and blood red leggings of the Bostonian court. The third was dressed in the fine velvet of the westerlands, his forest green tunic finely embroidered with the glittering golden tree of Oak Land. The man who had spoken was one of the largest people Allyn had ever seen, and the broad, expectant smile showed teeth that matched his white cloak.
"It is cold as a Wrigley Walker's arse," replied Ser Joseph, "it is without a doubt the finest sample of Milwaukeros piss to pass my lips." The large man laughed heartily, his quivering frame sending ale from his own mug splashing to the stone floor. The man from Oak Land smiled, but the third man, a small, goblinesque Bostonian, frowned.
"If the drink set out is not to your liking, we will not hesitate to bring out a different cask. The people of Buschfell specialize in ale fermented from the bud of the weiser flower, do they not?" he said.
"Bring it all out, I say! Let us drink until the sun rises in the west and Babe the Builder returns from the dead!" the large man roared. After taking a healthy gulp of his drink, he turned to the man from Oak Land. "Yoenerys, could you see to fetching that cask of ale. If I send a Bostonian, the barrel will be bone dry by the time it reaches us." Yoenerys nodded and left the hall, his steel boots clacking on the floor. Allyn began to introduce himself, but was cutoff once more by the large man.
"Arrived last month from Oak Land, that one. Useful sort to have around. He holds the honorary title of First Bat of Cubos, or at least he used to." The large man tipped his head back and waited as the last drop of ale slid of the rim of his mug and into his enormous mouth. The small, lizardy man broke the silence.
"I am so sorry, Sers Allyn and Joseph. We have neglected to introduce ourselves. You may have heard of my friend here, Lord Papi. I am Ser Dustyn Pedroitheon. On behalf of the king, we welcome you to Boston." Allyn and the Limpfish shook hands with the two Bostonians. Ser Joseph spoke, a wry smile playing at his lips.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Ser. Your bravery is known throughout the kingdom, and it is more than apparent as you stand before us."
"Whatever do you mean, Ser Joseph?"
"With you being so small and Lord Papi being so large, you must be a brave man to stand so near to him without fear of being eaten!" A tense silence enveloped the group. Ser Joseph's barbs were often hard hitting, and Allyn was afraid he had overstepped on this occasion. Almost subconsciously, his hand moved to grip the sword that hung from his belt. Suddenly, the walls shook with the sound of Lord Papi's titanic laughter. The men laughed and drank, and the tension in the room vanished like the ale in their mugs.
Later that night, Allyn wandered out into the courtyard to relieve himself. He felt the old war wound in his ankle flare up, causing him to double over in pain. He had never recovered properly from the wound, and its effects often caused him to doubt whether or not he could competently perform his knightly duties. Across the stone square, he glimpsed the glimmer of candlelight through the archway that led to the sept. Curious about who could be taking time away from the festivities to commune with the gods, he walked slowly to the sept and entered. Inside, the statues of the seven gods glared at him in the candlelight, though no mortal soul could be found.
Allyn limped slowly past the stone figures and knelt at the feet of the Hitter, the god who Allyn most often prayed to. He had paid lip service to the Slugger in the past, and even offered the rare prayer to the Thief, the Fielder, and the Plus Arm. Worship of the Manager, chief of the gods, was a game for more powerful men, and followers of the Pitcher were a cult of their own. But for Allyn, especially as he grew older, the Hitter was the only god that mattered. He closed his eyes, but before he could begin his prayer a shrill voice called out from the dark alcove at the back of the sanctuary.
"You pray, Ser Allyn, but the Hitter hears not." A tiny man emerged from the shadows and sat next to Allyn, facing the statue. The man smelled strongly of flowered perfume. Though he wore a sky blue bow tie, similar to those worn by Mo Zelak in Buschfell, Allyn knew he was not one of the General Maesters that served the lords of the realm. He knew the petite man next to him was Kyn of the house Rosenthal, master of spies, and a eunuch.
"What do you want of me, Kyn?"
"I want naught of you, Ser Allyn, like the Maester wanted naught of you."
"The Maester? Mo Zelak?"
"You think you're here to spy, Ser Allyn, but all you are here to do is be out of the way."
"Why do you speak in riddles?"
"I don't speak in riddles, just one hundred forty characters. My twittering birds have told me that a cold terror stirs in the north. The winds will blow and the frost will come, and the Lord of Buschfell will be sucking his thumb." The little man turned and stared into Allyn's eyes, their brows almost touching. "Alcantara, Baez, then Soler, then another, each more devastating than the last. The Wrigley winter will soon be upon us."
"You are full of nonsense," Allyn said, standing to leave.
"Better to have veins full of nonsense than veins full of ice."
It was Carlya Saint Card's favorite time of the year. The autumn festival of the Central Plains was beginning in Buschfell, the annual celebration of pride and competition where the great Houses of the region would do joyous battle long into the night to elect a representative from the area to enter the great Octobyr struggle for the throne. While the battles would be fierce, the houses respected each other and were bound together in their mutual pact to protect the kingdom from the Wrigley Walkers, a role they had undertaken together since the great realignment.
Entering the final week of the autumn festival, House Saint Card held a narrow advantage in the battle tally, but the Steel Islands and Milwaukeros were still in the hunt for victory, with only the prideful Cincinnannisters eliminated from contention, though they continued to battle ferociously.
Carlya Saint Card first made his name known across the lands in the previous season's autumn festival, and after House Saint Card emerged victoriously, Carlya's flamboyant demeanor and fiery arsenal of hurled weapons were noted during the great Octobyr struggle, though his house was eventually defeated there by Bostonians.
Carlya's skills were sharp in the festival's opening battles, as he unhorsed the great Ser Lucroix of Milwaukeros before he could even unsheath his greatbat, and he continued to shine against lesser competitors. But unlike the previous year, when young Carlya spent all of his free time enjoying the pageantry of the gathering, now Carlya's free time was spent working in secret on his new skill.
As much as Carlya relished the short matches at which he was so adept, he always dreamt of being a part of the Saint Card Knight's Rotation, the elite group of warriors who would engage in the lengthy key battles that were so important to his house's success. The other lesser Saint Card fighters who sat with Carlya in the knitting pen while watching the Knight's Rotation ply their trade laughed at Carlya's dreams. Setha Maness was particularly harsh. "Why Carlya, you're even smaller than even me. What nonsense you speak of. You will never do more than knit and wait and do occasional battle, but frankly you command your weapons like one of the youngsters in the Memphis playground. Sit down and stop that whining about the Knight's Rotation, or I shall tell Matheny Saint Card about your absurd fantasies. He'll tell you. There is no "I" in team. It is not the Saint Card Way"
"Oh, do shut up," cried Carlya, who hated Setha Maness despite their shared loyalties. Carlya threw Setha's glove to the floor, undoing the lacing Setha had been working on, stormed out of the knitting pen, and headed for his locker. At his locker, Carlya reached to the back of the top shelf, and pulled out a box that was hidden behind a case of milk of the gator. He pulled a necklace from his uniform and fumbled for the key that hung from it, and checking to make sure he was alone, Carlya opened the box.
In it was a glove Jhon Ball had given him, with "Carlya Saint Card, Knight of the Rotation" delicately stitched into the soft leather. Jhon was one of the few older knights who Carlya had confided in. Jhon kindly had explained that he knew of changing roles. He told Carlya of the barren days he'd spent roaming the lines and even far afield, though he knew he had the instincts, intelligence, and grace required to excel in the heart of his team's defensive schemes, a position he had only recently become firmly entrenched in, and he knew too of being typecast because of body size. Carlya was encouraged by Jhon Ball's experiences and admonishments to persevere, and when Jhon presented Carlya with the glove a week later, Carlya Saint Card vowed to one day earn the right to use it.
Suddenly, the door to the dugout flew open, and Matheny Saint Card strode in. "Carlya," he said, "I just heard from Setha Maness, and I will not have you arguing with your knitting pen brothers. There are more important things to be focusing on right now. We are in the midst of the autumn festival, and I do not have time to deal with this school child pettiness." Carlya looked down, trying to hide the anger in his eyes, and slowly slid his hand over the words stitched into the glove he was still holding. "Yes, sir," he grunted. Matheny's face remained a stone, but the slight hint of a smile rippled at the corners of his eyes. "And don't bother hiding what it says on that glove, Carlya," he instructed, "nothing happens in Buschfell that I do not know of before you." Matheny turned and walked to the door. Just as he reached it, he said "be at the practicing mound tomorrow at four-thirty in the morning. Tell no one. Now get back to the knitting pen. We might need you tonight." He left the room as swiftly as he arrived.
Early the next morning, Carlya arrived at the practicing mound in Buschfell Village. The sun was not yet up, but there were two lights focused from overhead revealing a small man standing on the little hill with a jheri curl and a bright red warmup jacket. Carlya approached him, feeling timid for one of the first times in his life.
"You must be young Carlya," said the man. "My name is Pedrio. I am first arm of the Martinos, and your manager has hired me to instruct you in the way of the rotation. That is all you need know of me. Now show me your grips, boy." With fire in his eyes, Carlya exhorted "I am a man." Pedrio grinned, "Man, boy. You are an arm. That is all. Now show me your grips." Carlya grabbed the ball from his glove and showed Pedrio his weapons: fourseam, twoseam, slider, change, and even his rarely used curve. "I can throw 100 miles per hour, Pedrio, and I can be a member of the Saint Card rotation," boasted Carlya as Pedrio studied his hands. "I can see you have valor in your heart, but you are a fool if you think what you showed me means anything. This is not the wild dance of the power knitting pen arm. A greatbat can turn around anything thrown if the man holding it can see it and recognize it. I shall teach you the Martinos way. It is swift. It is beautiful. Yes, I see the Martinos in you. You shall throw one thing, and the enemy will see another. An arsenal is only worth the command, deception, stamina, and intelligence of the warrior who wields it. Just so."
Carlya bowed, "I am ready, Pedrio. Teach me." Pedrio replied, "Today we will work on stamina. There are four enormous roosters that roam Buschfell. Go now. Do not return to me until you have caught them." The young arm smiled, turned, and ran toward Buschfell at full speed. He knew of two roosters who liked to sneak around behind the keep of visiting nobility, and headed there first.
Quickly, he spotted one of them, an enormous bird who stole corn from the Buschfell kitchen. The team chef, a man on imposing size who hailed from the Southern isles, referred to the bird as "that son of a bitch, el gallo" Many times, the chef had tried to hit it with one of his kitchen knives, but he always missed, and those who worked with him would invariably cry out "Viva el Gallo!" as the brazen bird darted away. Now, it was time for the rooster to be caught.
Carlya skirted around the edge of the room, slowly working his way to the corner the bird was resting in. He quieted his breathing, and shuffled his stems. Closer, and closer he got, until the bird was just out of reach. Suddenly, Carlya lunged at the bird, but he was not in time. The bird kicked out his spur, scratching Carlya's cheek, and ran out of the room. Carlya sprinted behind him, following hallway after hallway, down several flights of crumbling stairs, and through large meeting rooms, as the bird led him into parts of Buschfell he'd never been. Finally, Carlya slipped on a rug, ending the chase for the time being. Defeated, he started trying to retrace his steps.
He was walking down one of the hallways when he noticed heard two voices just ahead, getting closer. Without thinking, Carlya slipped into a room on the right and pulled the door nearly closed. Peering out, he could make out two men, one with the Milwaukeros insignia on his jacket, and another bearing the marks of Cincinnannister. He could not see their faces, but he heard their voices. "but do not mistake me for a fool. We shall do what we promised, but if you do not pay as promised, we will take what you owe in a far less pleasant manner," said one of them, in a gruff voice. "Yessss, of course" whispered the other, "you will afflict their knight's rotation with the blight of dead arm, and we shall seeeee to it that in the next season your House shall tally many pointsss in our battlesss. The important thing isss that House Saint Card is defeated, and we all prosssssper in the end." "Then it is agreed. And we will leave Ser Lynn unafflicted. We can not have them suspicious of foul play, but Ser's Wainwright, Lackey, and Wacha shall all suffer maladies. We won't bother with young Ser Miller. He's terrible!" The two laughed as they turned the corner at the other end of the hallway.
Carlya slowly let out his breath, and waited another five minutes to make sure the hallway was abandoned. He quietly made his way back into the open, and then ran as fast as he could to Matheny Saint Card's quarters. He flung the door open, and saw Matheny in intense discussions with Mo Zelak. "Manager Matheny! I just heard two men and they were talking about dead arm and Sers Wainwright and Wacha and Lackey, and they were Cincinnannisters and Milwaukeros and I heard them say--" Matheny interrupted him, "Enough, Carlya! I will not listen to another word. Rumors are flying, as they always do at this time, but we will not worry ourselves with the twitterings of gossips. And if you think a little dead arm will bother Ser Wainwright, you know less than I thought. Get back to your lessons, Carlya. There is much for me to attend to. The King in Boston has been deposed, and the vicious power-driven men of Boltonmor, once allegiant to our lands, are threatening the throne."
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