It was like always.
All movement, everything a blur. No time to stop, no time to think.
He was running… Why? Where to? What was… Who was screaming? There was something in his hands, he didn’t remember how it got there. It was heavy. Solid. His arms were strong, but still, it was so heavy.
Suddenly, there it was. Them. They had her. Her name was Jenne. He remembered her lips. They tasted so sweet, soft, and warm. And they were locked in a pained, horrified scream, as the two… creatures took her, right there in the field.
He was crying, he could feel it. Not of fear. Not of sadness.
Rage. Dark, burning, unmerciful Rage.
That heavy object, it moved so fast, without thinking. It came swinging around and caught the first barbarian(Yes! That’s what the monster was! A barbarian!), completely by surprise. His head burst like a melon, bits and pieces flying in all directions, covering him, covering Jenne, alerting the second as a chunk of jaw met the back of his head with a sickening, wet thwap.
Still, the screaming, the sobbing, the girl on the ground pushing herself away from the creature. The barbarian. He remembers that so vividly now, he could see her green eyes, the ones he loved watching sparkle with mischief as she made him chase her. They were wide, unseeing, like a doe. She was an animal as well, it seemed, just like him, just like the barbarian grabbing his weapons.
Whenever he focused on the barbarian, everything was red. Burning. Fury filled him, moved his arms, swung that heavy thing… That… Hammer? His fathers? The creature dodged, and dodged, leap and spun away from his clumsy swings. They were wild, forcing the creature back, keeping it on the defensive. He should have been tiring, his arms should have been weakening, and yet his swings continued. Finally, the other slipped, a rock giving way under a boot, bringing him jarringly to his knee. The barbarian looked up in time to lock eyes with him, right as the hammer came down…
Those eyes he saw, they were his.
Robert woke, shaking, feeling the fury still running through his veins. It wasn’t just the fury that was making his body shudder, but also the revulsion. He felt like he was going to be sick, right there, right then, his rough pillow damp from his leaking eyes. Slowly, he looked around, looking for the judging eyes, those that might have heard him thrashing… But there was no one.
Not even Piper. His hand fell to the place she had been, as if looking for the warmth her body might have left behind, but it was gone. He shook his head, a strong arm lifting to run across his eyes, removing the evidence of those tears that had set his cheeks to glistening. The dream came to him often after times like these, whenever there was a fight, or he was heavily worked up the day before… He could never fully remember it, other than the last few moments, the way those eyes looked at him as his hammer descended, almost pleading. The rest was a haze the dissipated too quickly to decipher. He was left with his shaking body and a feeling of… He couldn’t describe it. He wanted nothing more than to pull Piper close to him, to feel her breathe and remind him of life, to calm him, to ward away those thoughts of death and fury.
Sensing his masters discomfort, Canis was there, the large wolf half stepping, half leaping into the bed next to him, and Robert attempted a smile, his arms wrapping around the shaggy creature. How had it gotten to this point?
He could smell her, still. Her scent was in the air, and he didn’t need that strange shared senses with Canis to catch it. Piper. He didn’t understand her, or the hold she had over him. His mind told him without hesitation that she was too unknown, too reckless even for him. She couldn’t be accounted for. But… Something about that called to him. He knew that, despite everything, despite her stealing the book, her part in the loss of the breastplate, that he could always trust in her. Maybe not in her being effective, but that she would always have his back, no matter what. Even if he was wrong, he didn’t believe that she would ever abandon him if he was in need. He’d had… He’d had such a hard time, seeing her bound, caught. His blood had boiled, and it was by only the barest of measures that he’d held back from charging straight for those men holding her, to remove whatever it was that was trying to harm someone he cared so deeply about.
Robert let out a long, heavy sigh, something that hinted at the weight he carried. That rage was so deep set into him. At times, and he would never, ever admit it, it scared him. But it was a tool, something that, when unleashed, had always worked in the favor of his friends, of his family. His hand pressed to his wolf, letting Canis know his time on the bed was over, and the wolf complied obediently. On the table next to him, his armor was set alongside his hammers. Absently, he found himself taking hold of that sledgehammer, and holding it as he thought, feeling it’s weight.
“Ned… You idiot.” His face scrunched up at the memory of their argument again, wondering how someone that had grown into a man so close to where he had… How he could be so different. How he couldn’t understand. It wasn’t enough to simply stop an enemy, was it? Not when the stakes were so high. When someone threatens your life, the only realistic response was to make sure they didn’t achieve their goals. Stopping them, and letting them live simply gave them the opportunity to try again, or to go after someone else. Whereas, ending the threat… It was like the Blood Fist. You didn’t just let them run away. You killed them, as many as you could, so that when they next spoke of raiding, they would remember. They would remember, and decide that another day would be better. How did Ned miss that lesson? How could he offer Life to those that would so easily end theirs? Wasn’t that insanity? Carelessness? Was Ned a coward, or a lunatic?
He knew Ned was neither, as he looked for that goblet. He’d left it… Somewhere close, before he’d let sleep take him. Ned wasn’t a coward. He’d run into battles right next to Robert, just as ready to lay down his life, to find his end on a bloody sword to protect those that needed it. Eddard was a rare man, and it hadn’t honestly taken much for them to come together as children, to find in each other an ally and friend that could be counted on. Eddard had always been this way, honorable to a fault, living that dangerous life of a man that refused to be forced to be like his enemies.
Roberts eyes widened, just as his hand found, and promptly knocked over, the goblet by his bed, spilling that dark red wine across the floorboards. He froze, his breathe caught in his chest.
“… Me. I’m… I’m the coward.” He whispered the words to himself, tasting them, finding them bitter as truth tended to be. That was it. Eddard lived the way he did, despite the dangers it imposed. It wasn’t weakness. It was a strength. Of character. Courage. All these passing days, with the weight of the world falling more and more on their shoulders, as Robert was forced to treat with kings, play saboteur, make decisions for more than just himself, but for entire kingdoms… He’d been losing more and more hold on what mattered. On being something better than those that were so willing to easily take a life.
The sound of Canis lapping at the spilled wine, cleaning it eagerly, brought Robert back. He shifted, letting his feet find the floor, as he sat on the edge of his bed, those broad shoulders bowed. He was shamed. Now that he’d accepted it, seen it for himself, what was he other than a barbarian? That was the moment that he felt it, that the sickness washed over him. His hammer hit the floor with a resounding crack. In two great, naked bounds, Robert was at a window, head out of it, retching, wine and bile exiting his stomach as quickly as they could.
Tomorrow would be terrible. Robert was so very bad as admitting he was wrong…