My fathers body had been carted back to Valerin by the men of Lord Wysten. Something I was rather thankful for. I stood in front of the grave his bones were to be buried in. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I turned away as the septon said his final rites. Exhaling slowly I tried to find some calm. Quite strange I had become rather attached to this odd fellow.
Looking around, I could see that the men with me were expecting a speech on the mans virtue, but I couldn say he had been an excellent father figure. My father had been the issue of Goron Helmsire, a man famous for exercising his right of the first night. He had never paid much attention to me, though I pitied him for the life he had lived, he had been quite willing to condemn me to the same. I was only a bastard of a bastard, after all, not destined for much in a world with so little class fluidity.
Seemingly picking up on my discomfort, Ser Goren, whom I had appointed Master of Arms of Valerin spoke, ”Lord Aerys, it is nearly past the Hour of the Bat. Perhaps we should return to the castle? Arthur, the Butler asked to speak to you before you retire for today. ”
He had been a constant shadow at my side since leaving Hares End, even without yet knowing him properly, I was thankful for it. Headen is a dangerous place at the best of times and I haven yet trained particularly hard in the martial arts.
Staring into the flames once more, I replied.
”Quite right, I shouldn leave him waiting. ” Picking my fathers soot-covered longsword from the ashes I turned around and walked back to my horse. Followed by my small retinue.
It was a short ride back to the keep. The keep was small but sturdy. It was a single stone tower with adjoining barracks, stables and granaries with a fairly large cellar for both prisoners and storage. occupying a large hill over which was a view of Valerin, the large town of some four thousand five hundred souls that was now mine. The village was built at the bottom of the hill by the keep, about 40 miles to the East was the coast, along which a small fishing village also sworn to me resided.
I rode up to the entrance of my keep and dismounted, passing off my horse to the stable hand before ascending the winding spiral staircase to the Butlers Quarters.
Arthur was a man in his late thirties, originating from the Tarf; he was lightly tanned, his neck laid heavy with links, a fact I was grateful for. He had earned his links in ravenry, warfare, architecture and healing among others. The man was somewhat stern and gave me my lessons. As much as I may have the knowledge and experience from my previous life, I still resided in the body of a thirteen-year-old and did not have a complete understanding of the subjects necessary for the ruling of even my small lands.
As far as there is such a thing as small lands in Headens. The continent is giant with a relatively low population, most likely due to the constant wars that raged across it every decade or so. That combined with poor hygiene and high infant mortality rates did not create an environment conducive for population growth and expansion.
One of the first things I meant to address as a Lord was to improve the hygiene standards of my smallfolk by encouraging basic habits such as regular bathing, boiling of water before drinking and cooking and disposal of waste in composts. Simple edicts to that effect had already been issued by me. While it was still in the early stages, I was expecting to see progress within the next few moons as I had already noted that my men at arms and other staff in my keep were noticeably fresher, cleaner and even looked slightly healthier.
My province, whilst modest compared to greater lords, is still the same size as 2 English counties put together. About 1.3 Million hectares, sparsely populated for now, though I had plans to fix that. With fertile lands that had lain fallow since the Conquest and untapped mineral potential towards my western borders, I was in dire need of a proper accounting of the status of my lands so that I could better plan growth and industry.
Opening the door to the solar that had been occupied since before I was even born, I walked in and observed the Butler seemingly lost in thought looking out of his window. I cleared my throat and the Butler jumped and spun around smiling.
”Lord Aerys, I was wondering when you would be back. I wish to discuss your plans for having a census done of Valerin and the surrounding lands. ” The Maester intoned in his normal quiet drawl.
One of my first orders upon assuming my lordship had been to have a census done. While most Lords conducted a census perhaps once a century or so and that too limited to the bare essentials such as population, I had gone a step further. I had instructed the Maester to include information related to population, age, occupation, vegetation, crops, industry and geography. Arthur had looked at me as though I was addled in the head when I had given him the instructions, but after much protest, he had reluctantly complied. The maester had complained about the cost of such a thing but during the many decades, the lordship had remained empty. A limit on the Castellans spending had been set by House Wysten during their administration of Valerin. The excess coin from taxes paid to Valerin had slowly built up to the sum of twelve thousand Gold Coins. I felt safe spending a bit to get a good idea of what I have to work with.
I gestured for him to continue.
Arthur took a deep breath and began speaking, ”Well, I have appointed a few men amongst whom a fair few know their letters well enough to complete such a task. Whilst I am still against spending so much gold, I will begin work on it immediately and it should be done within two or three moons. The census of the main villages will not take so long, but collecting information in the more rural areas is more difficult. ”
I smiled. I didn blame Arthur for being sceptical, he would see once my ideas began to turn a profit.
”There was one other thing, my Lord, ” said he as I nodded at him to continue, ”With the Census and other projects that you will undoubtedly implement, it might be prudent to appoint a Steward to manage the day to day activities as well as aiding in other matters of state as well. ”
I paused and looked up at him while saying, ”And I presume you have someone in mind for such a task? ” It became clear to me that the Butler hoped to extract an appointment for an acquaintance of his.
He went on to say, ”Yes well a colleague of mine from the Citadel might be perfect for this task. Petr and I studied as Acolytes together many years ago at Dudgall. He had forged links in Economics and History before he was forced to abandon his studies and return to Hamedge when his parents passed away from illness to take care of his younger siblings. ”
”A well-educated man who knows his numbers and letters well, surely he must have done well for himself? ” I interrupted.
”Yes my Lord. Fairly well in fact. He serves as a tax collector for Lord Darius and aids in maintaining his books of accounts. He is a good and honest man and has served Lord Darius well over the years, ” Replied Maester Arthur. While I was reluctant to fall for such an obvious ploy, the man in question did appear to be well qualified and suited to the job.
”Very well Arthur. If you will vouch for his conduct and competence then you may write to him and invite him to Valerin to serve as Steward. ” Arthurs eyes were positively gleeful before I continued to say, ”However, if he proves to be incompetent or of dishonourable nature I shall personally hold you responsible for his conduct. ”
The light in his eyes dimmed as he did not expect such words from someone seemingly as young as me. ”Very well my Lord. I shall write to him forthwith and convey your offer. Undoubtedly he shall be grateful and honoured. As am I. ”
”That is good Arthur, is that all? ”
”I also wished to report that this years taxes have been dispatched to Hares End without delay and should arrive within a fortnight. ”
I nodded once more, I didn want to piss off my liege lord so early into my Lordship.
”Good. If that is all I will retire, my fathers funeral has left me rather drained Im afraid. ”
Arthur nodded and his eyes softened in what I assumed was pity. ”Of course my Lord. ”
I didn sleep that night. I was haunted by images of a world I had lived in and still vividly remembered. It was a world where the trappings of the poor were fit for kings in this one.
On my way to the ground, I noticed that the sky above Valerin was clear and blue today. I winced as my back hit the floor for what must have been the fifteenth time so far. Carefully picking my aching body from the stone courtyard, I looked up.
The training yard is a rather small area outside the Keep and was more akin to a field than a true training yard. I was sweating profusely, dust caking every part of my body. I was sure that I would have some brutal welts tomorrow from the many smacks I had taken over the previous hours. A few days after my fathers funeral I had enlisted Ser Gorens help in my martial training. He had found much to be desired and had been training me hard every day hence. It was his duty to pummel me into paste until I was capable of putting up a guard correctly.
”Gods boy hurry up, you haven earned your bloody rest yet. You think the **ing enemy would stop and wait for you to climb to your feet? ” The scarred man barked at me.
He had soon become comfortable with me after beating me to the floor each day. Despite his crude words, there was no venom to them and as such, I didn really mind. It was for my own good after all. I hastened my pace and returned to the ready position with my sword and shield held as firmly as my battered thirteen-year-old body could manage.
Giving me a quick once over Goren sighed. ”You should practice with Edmund now, boy. I have other duties to attend to. ” And he certainly did. Immediately after appointing him as Master of Arms, I had charged Ser Goren with training up a cadre of fifty Men At Arms, dedicated to the protection of my keep and a further fifty guardsmen dedicated to maintaining law and order within the town of Valerin. While the previous Castellan had appointed men to that effect, the said men were incompetent at best and corrupt at worst. I had immediately dismissed the worst of them and charged Ser Goren with the task of replacing them and training the remaining few up to standard.
Aiding him in the latter endeavour was Ser Alaric of Valerin. Ser Jarett was born to a lumber merchant in Valerin and had eventually gone on to serve as a Man at Arms for Lord Robert and had eventually been knighted for his service. Upon finding out that I had been made Lord of his hometown he returned and offered his sword and service to me. As per Ser Gorens reports, he was a well-spoken and straightforward man who was well-liked and well known amongst the townsfolk.
I then looked over to Edmund, he was slightly older than me at thirteen yet only slightly taller. He and I had practiced together a lot over the last week and had formed a semi-close friendship.
He was far from a shy boy, the son of one of my men-at-arms. He looked like he would grow into a strong frame and was fairly competent with a sword. He began walking over to me.
”Well my Lord, it looked like you were struggling a bit there. Time for me to smack you around now? ” he smirked as he raised his sword.
I narrowed my eyes at him. ”Its going to be you on the floor soon, Edmund. ”
Despite, or perhaps because of my countless humiliations by Ser Goren, my skills in the yard were developing pretty well. When fighting Edmund, I won fewer bouts than him but gave out my fair share of bruises.
Living in Headens means there is a constant pressure to be exemplary in matters of warcraft. This was a world that would not just tolerate but in fact, idolize the scum of the planet as long as they could swing a sword well or knock a man off his horse. No man would ever command respect in this society without the ability to stab people viciously. If I wished to command the respect of my men and noble peers, I would need to be able to stand toe to toe with the best. So as I lifted my training sword and took a stance, I prepared myself to do my utmost in the upcoming bout.
Both panting, Edmund and I began circling once more. Both of our eyes were narrowed as we sent out testing strikes. We parried strikes as I paid specific attention to my footwork whilst simultaneously observing his movements to predict where his next blow would land. He let out a small growl as my next strike struck the hand holding his sword yet he didn drop it, an ability which would likely serve him well in future battles, a knight without a sword was a very dead knight.
He broke the rhythm with an overhead swing which I deflected. I noticed that his overhead strikes left a moment where he was vulnerable as he struggled to regain his footing. We continued until he went for another high strike which I used to get inside his guard. I pushed up against his shield with my own. I used the space created to send a draw cut at his ankle. Edmund flinched back to avoid a painful bruise from my training sword. Using his loss of balance once again I swept out the foot he left forward. Sending him into a heap on the dirt. I swiftly moved forwards to place my sword at his neck.
”I yield, ” he declared with a look as though he had been force-fed a lemon.
”Feels good being on the beaten end doesn it? ” I said as I smirked.
I saw Ser Gorens lips twitch and turn to something resembling a smile. He rarely gave praise and so when he did it meant all the more. I wiped my brow and looked down at my calloused hands. Blisters were forming under the thick layer of dirt. My years in Headens made me truly realize how much we took for granted in my previous life. I sighed, as I proceeded to brush the dirt off my hands.
The fighting lessons were hard, yet I enjoyed them more than I had any physical hobbies in my previous life. The feeling of everything melting away as all you
e focused on is defeating your opponent, is incredible. With a few more words to Edmund, I began my walk back into the castle proper.
I really need a bath. I miss soap.
Looking out the unembellished window of a stout, if decrepit, keep across my lands was an experience which had yet to lose its novelty. Watching the sunset over the village which was now mine was a very surreal experience.
This world certainly isn rainbows and sunshine. Shitting in a bucket isn pleasant and neither are cool nights without window panes to keep the heat in, but at the end of the day, life could be worse. Had been worse, living in that village by RiverBell
The main population centre on my lands titled simply Valerin had a little over four thousand five hundred occupants. The town was only lightly fortified with a palisade of wood surrounding it. The new guard of fifty patrolled but was still poorly trained. Though that would improve with time.
The smallfolk of Valerin are a hardy bunch. They primarily engaged in the business of lumber which was harvested from the neighbouring forest and then transported north to and south to Harestead. Blacksmiths and other craftsmen plied their trade creating tools and other equipment with the iron from the mining village in the western portion of my lands. The surrounding lands were rich in pasture and were home to many sheep and cow herders who brought wool and leather to be worked by the tanners of Valerin.
The town was just brimming with untapped potential, waiting to be coaxed to the surface. Since I arrived here I hadn really made much effort to shake the boat. The only major decisions I had affected thus far had been my edicts regarding hygiene and the rather comprehensive census that was currently being undertaken. My lands are not rich, but Valerins geography in the Tempests meant reasonably fertile soil for farming which in turn allowed for a better-fed populace than most places on the continent.
I was the first Lord of Valerin since the early days after the Battle Of The Head. This land had previously been administered by the Lords of Harestead and was sworn directly to them primarily due to Valerin proximity to the legendary fortress and its strategic location along the road between Harestead and Mares Hand. I considered this a boon as it technically elevated me from being the petty lord vassal of a vassal to a member of the higher peerage of the Tempests.
Aside from the small keep, the land hadn really been developed. There was Valerin, set up with woodland to the west and plains occupied by farmland to the east and north. To the south of Valerin was a village that could best be described as a lumber camp Conveniently named Southwood by its residents. On the coast, there was a fishing village with a few hundred occupants. To the west in the foothills of the rolling mountains separating the eastern HareLands from the west was a mining settlement, producing smaller quantities of both iron and copper. Small farms covered my lands growing wheat, barley, rye and various vegetables indigenous to the region. The herds of cows and sheep that dotted the grasslands that covered my fief, produced vast quantities of meat, wool, milk and leather, which were then transported to Valerin for processing or consumption. Leather was traded in great quantities to Harestead and Copperbay in exchange for ale, sugar and cotton.
Upon freshly assuming the lordship of Valerin the villagers had been nervous and fearful of me. Being a known relative of Goron the Guest. It was not difficult to understand their fear. A man coming to rule over you who has the right and ability to dish out cruel and unusual punishment for minor offences with impunity would scare anyone. Having spent the first few years of my new life among them, I could relate to their fears. Most Lords treated their smallfolk like property, uncaring of their wellbeing and exploiting them to fulfil their own personal ambitions. But of all the atrocities that Lords inflicted on their smallfolk, the Right of the First Night, was in my opinion, the vilest. According to the books, a certain queen would decide to campaign against it in the near future, and when the time comes, Id wholeheartedly lend her my support.
During the course of the months thereafter the smallfolk had largely settled back down to business as usual. They were all too happy to ignore my presence for the most part. That suited me fine, there are only so many times you can be stuttered at before your patience wears thin.
I looked down below into the courtyard and observed Petr and his family returning from a visit to the Town of Valerin.
Petr had arrived just over a moons turn ago and true to Arthurs words had proven himself competent thus far. While I did not trust him quite yet he had given me no reason to distrust him. Yet being the keyword here. Id kept a close eye on him and had made it a point to closely oversee his work to check for any irregularities. The man was diligent, hardworking and intelligent. Hed taken to his new job with enthusiasm, eager to prove himself to his new Lord. Hed already taken over a not insignificant number of minor responsibilities around the Keep and had substantially reduced the old Butlers and my workload allowing us to focus on more important tasks.
He had been assigned rooms within the keep for himself, his wife, a rather homely woman named Maryam who had taken up a role as the head of my kitchen and had done reasonably well so far and his sons, Benedict and Baldwin, who were around my age seemed like decent lads. I had granted them leave to join me for certain lessons with Arthur. There were definite benefits to having well-educated retainers whose loyalty was beyond question and it didn hurt to have more people closer to my age in the Keep. While Benedict had proven himself to be reasonably intelligent and a quick study, Baldwin had shown greater interest in more martial pursuits. Enough that I was considering having him squired to Ser Goren.
I turned away from the window and moved towards my desk. Piles of rough parchment and books were stacked on top of the stained oak haphazardly.
In my previous life I had read the books and seen the adaptations a few times, also taking an interest in the history and vast amounts of information to be found on the wiki. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it. It was the forty-eighth year after the Battle Of The Head, meaning the majority of my knowledge was useless. I, therefore, did not feel the need to try and prevent the events which followed. The was two and a half centuries away and entirely not my problem, future members of my house could enjoy participating in that particular issue. Providing I don end up being brutally immolated by one of the massive **ing dragons before having children.
Therein laid my main issue. Do I live my life in comfortable peace, or do I risk it to rise higher? I was sure there were a good few things retained from my previous life that would give me an advantage over my peers, but a rising star would always attract attention and the attention of maddened Lords of questionable morals did not work out well for the vast majority of historical characters of Headen origin.
Doing nothing similarly seemed like a non-option as I am sure whatever Being placed me here didn intend for me to treat Headen as a peaceful holiday resort. I sighed and rested my face in my hands, wondering which action I should take. Surely a few small actions to start with couldn be too risky.
Taking a deep breath I decided to start off small. I needed gold. Gold was best made through trade, Valerin was lucky enough to sit between a few high lords of the Harelands, and with a direct connection to the Narrow Sea. Harestead to the South, Copperbay and Destrier Hall to the North and Rosecourt across the straits.
What could I make that people will want to buy? It needed to be something that would not immediately cause death and disaster across the continent while still being lucrative. Steel? Too complex. Printing press? Too controversial. I don want to anger the Church and the Citadel at the same time. I am also still technically thirteen and smallfolk with pitchforks coming for the witch child is far from an appealing outcome.
I raised the mug of dark beer on my desk to my mouth for a long drink. Wincing slightly at the taste, the alcohol in Headen was rather poorly made. Even the famous wine packages . It wouldn take a master brewer from my original world to outdo the best of Headens. Even the variety of drinks was lacking, the **ers have barley so why has no one in eight-thousand years thought to mash it up and let it ferment into whisky.
Huh. Now that seemed a proper thought. No whisky in Headens. I thought to myself and a grin slowly came to my face. Surely it wouldn take too much initial investment to make a basic malting house and distillery? The process was actually rather simple. While the parts would be difficult to create, copper was the primary component and one that I had in abundance being produced in not insignificant quantities at the mining town in the western region of my holdings that I had decided to name Duneons Valley to honour my father. Barley was grown in significant quantities within my fief and thus could be sourced locally in substantial quantities which would further drive down my costs both now in the long run.
The greatest challenge would be to actually bring it all together and refine the malting process well enough to produce a whisky that wasn complete swill. I would have to set aside a good sum of money to finance the endeavour. While working out the process and getting the equipment ready alone would take a few moons, it would take an additional six moons of distillation at the very least before he had something even remotely ready for consumption. I could already imagine Petr complaining about the strain this would put on my finances for the next year.
I grimaced, considering how I would explain to the Old Butler that I had found a way to make Headens first whisky. There was even the possibility of expansion to other spirits, there are many kinds of fruit brandies that I could already make after sourcing the fruit.
With that idea bringing me some excitement I resolved to look into it the following morning and set off to bed.
Conquering Headens one liver at a time can wait until another day.
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