Men of the Night's Watch

Chapter One

Erasmus pulled the fur collar of his cloak up to his nose. It was a beautiful day at Eastwatch; the sun was glistering off of the Wall as it it were etched from diamond, but even on a cloudless day little of the sun’s warmth was felt this far north. Not to mention that Eastwatch’s true title is Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and the wind and salt whipping off of the waves was not like to let anyone forget that.

They had just left the Commander’s quarters, where Erasmus and his new companion Atric had been shuffled immediately upon their arrival from Castle Black. There was little point to the summons, but Erasmus knew that Commander Leroy Brown wanted to catch a glimpse of Atric at least once, while he was still just another man in black.

Atric was a naive fellow, having spent all but the first few years of his life on the Wall, but with such a knack for architectural works that it was almost beyond belief. He was as striking as he was talented; Over a head taller than any other man in the Watch, with white blonde hair that gave him simultaneously a very youthful and a very ancient look.
He was very honored when the Lord Commander told him he had been chosen for this expedition because of his keen eye for structure, and that he would be using it to help find the Night’s Watch new builders for their newest project: Reopening three of the castles that have fallen into disrepair and manning them. Atric would find the right men to build them, and his other companions would fin the right men to man them.

Liam had made the long trek back through the icy tunnels of the Wall early this morning. He trained new recruits at Eastwatch and, given that he was already at the place of departure, spent the next week wandering the woods beyond the Wall after his substitute was situated. He knew that the first leg of their journey could take him into the arms of his wife, whom he had not seen in so many years, and he was very, very unsure about how he would feel — or what he would do — if that came to pass.

The docks were alive with activity like Liam had never seen before. The Night’s Watch possessed a meager fleet of 20 ships and those are mainly used to patrol 50 miles of coastline for pirates, so the bustle of a crew gearing up for a week long journey south was a sight to be seen. From atop the Wall, all across the yard, and high up in the windows of the Commander’s tower, faces were turned toward the sea, to the crew of the Hawkeye heaving barrels and chests and long lengths of thick rope onto the schooner.

Erasmus and Atric had made their way to the dining hall for breakfast, and were nibbling on hunks of bread and eating a thick salty soup made of seaweed and gull’s eggs. The room was nearly empty, as it was nearer to lunch time than breakfast. A bulky man sporting an eyepatch and a curly, thin mustache plopped down on the bench next to Atric, causing the table to shake. Erasmus jumped as splash of soup landed on the scroll he had been reading. He quickly blotted the paper with a handkerchief he kept in his sleeve and, perturbed, eyed their table-guest with a raised eyebrow. The third man dug into his food with vigor, chewing loudly.

He noticed Atric and Erasmus watching him, wiped his hand on his pants, and extended it first toward Atric.
“Dale’s the name, One Eyed Dale’s what they call me.” Flecks of seaweed and egg sprayed from his mouth as he spoke, his mustache riddled with crumbs.
Atric took his hand in both of his and shook it excitedly, “I’m Atric. Tell me, are you one of the men taking us to King’s Landing?”
“Aye! You’re the blokeses all this fuss’s about?” He extended his hand to Erasmus, who gave it a single sharp shake.
“I am Maester Erasmus. I can’t imagine why they call you ‘One Eyed’ Dale,” he replied.
Dale gave a snort of laughter, “You must be the smart fuck,” he said. He tipped up his bowl and finished his soup, drips of broth falling from his chin. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and stood. “Granger’ll want you t’know we’re casting off at noon, with or without ye.” And with that, he was off.

Erasmus and Atric left without finishing their food, having decided they’d like to meet the captain before they depart. They approached the Hawkeye to find a handsome, lithe man and a boy with a shock of curly red hair chatting rather animatedly about swords. As they drew near, the handsome man turned to them.
He spoke in a heavy accent that was found nowhere in Westeros, “Dogs of the Lord Commander as well?” he said with a smirk.
Atric laughed, unaware of the malice in Liam’s voice. Erasmus stepped in, “You must be number three. I am Erasmus and this is Atric.”
“Joy,” replied Liam dryly.
Erasmus rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the red-headed boy, “Might you know where captain Granger Greyjoy is?”
Liam laughed sharply, “The old goat is taking a bath.” He pointed down the coastline. In the distance, the upper half of an older man could be seen against the water.
Without a second thought Erasmus stomped across the beach toward Granger.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Atric said as Liam strode up onto the deck of the Hawkeye, Atric tailing after him.
“Liam Madson” He replied, and continued down below deck.
Atric pursed his lips and said quietly to himself, “what’s up with him?”

By then he had caught the attention of the other members of the crew. He introduced himself to each of them, learning all their names by heart: Pretty Sue, the cook, who wasn’t very pretty at all. Gerry Loring, the navigator. The red-headed boy was appropriately called Red Tom. Old John who was old. Young Jon who was young, but not as young as Red Tom. And One-Eyed Dale, who seemed to forget they had already met and introduced himself again.

Erasmus arrived at the beach directly parallel to Granger, he had spent the walk turning his brain over for information about the Greyjoys. He knew they were of the Iron Islands, Ironborn they called themselves, and that they worshipped the god the of sea, the Drowned God.
“Ah!” He said to himself aloud, “He’s praying!”

He spent a few minutes watching the captain, who appeared at this point to be just a head bobbing up and down in the waves a long ways out, when suddenly he was gone. Erasmus scanned the water to see him pop up, but he didn’t. No bubbles, no silhouette. A minute went by and then another. Erasmus panicked. He hiked up his robe and trudged into the foam, not exactly sure what he planned to do. He was knee deep when a wave exploded in front of him, and from it a man emerged. A strong man, flecked and browned from the sun, skin sagging with age. He was entirely nude and had a mean look in his eye.

“Do you often interrupt people’s religious ceremonies?” Granger asked and walked towards the shore, quick as if the water wasn’t there. Erasmus sighed and let go of his soaking robe, it floated in the water. He stumbled as he walked, the waves threatened to knock him off balance,
“I didn’t know you knew I was watching — I mean, you were so far out I —”
Granger turned abruptly, “When you’ve been listening to the waves as long as I have you know what sounds belong and what sounds don’t.” He continued up onto the beach, to a rock where his clothes lay.
Erasmus was astonished, but didn’t not to push the subject, however interesting. Deciding he had overstayed his welcome, he walked back toward the boat, the end of his robe dripping and crusted with sand.
“We leave at midday with or without you, Maester.” Granger called as he pulled his light, black shirt over his head.
“Yes, I know.” Erasmus turned and replied, “I was told you’d be joining us for the land journey as well.”
Granger fingered a hole in the knee of his pants, sighed, and then put them on. “I’m none too happy about it, but you were told true.”
Erasmus heard the tiredness in his voice.
“Remember! Midday! I don’t want to hear your sissy squeals coming from land if you miss cast off!” Granger cackled and coughed. Erasmus chuckled nervously and left the Captain alone again.

Atric had helped the crew finish packing, and they were done in no time. All that was left to do was wait for Granger and unfurl the sails. A large fire pit lay not too far from the docks, and Atric and a few of the crew seated themselves around it. Erasmus was freezing cold by the time he arrived and sat by the fire, happy for it’s warmth and hoping to dry faster.
Atric had removed his gloves to warm his hands, he was missing his third and fourth finger on his left hand. Liam took notice. “How’d you lose those, eh? Wrestle a bear?”
The crew laughed and Atric blushed, “Ah, no, I had an accident. Building is dangerous, y’know.”

The crew had taken a liking to Atric in such a short time. He enjoyed their jokes and even thier bawdy stories, though they made him a little uncomfortable. He wished that they could come with them for the whole journey, not just bring them to King’s Landing, since he had thusfar found his travelling companions a little, well, rough.
Atric liked Erasmus, but they did little talking. From time to time Atric noticed Erasmus looking at him — no, looking through him — as if he was trying to research a very difficult subject. Atric didn’t understand it, but he assumed that it was Erasmus’s way of trying to get to know someone.
And Liam, well, he didn’t seem to like anybody.

“Granger is coming with us, I mean not just to King’s Landing. All the way.” Erasmus spoke suddenly, quietly to Atric.
“Oh…?” He replied, unsure of what Erasmus was getting at.
“Granger on land?” Piped up Young Jon with a laugh, “Only if you build a boat that could sail through trees.” The rest of the crew laughed in agreement.
Atrick rubbed his chin. “Hmm… A boat that can travel on sea AND land…?” He pulled out a sketchbook and set to work.
Young Jon tilted his head in amusement, while the rest let out another roar of laughter.
Erasmus didn’t laugh, just continued drying his robes and staring into the coals.

The crew began to head back to the ship, as if they knew by instinct that it was time to go. Once the last of them had gone aboard, Erasmus and Atric picked up their things and followed.

Shortly after, Granger strode down the dock, he was dry and fully dressed, but his face looked meaner than ever. He called to the crew and they assembled in a line, Liam, Atric, and Erasmus fell in. He paced in front of them as a drill sergeant might his greenest recruits, like a wolf deciding who he’d like to have for dinner.

“We’ve got a weeks long journey ahead of us to escort these dainty ladies to King’s Landing.”
“Are you counted among those ladies, old goat?” Liam quipped. The crew didn’t laugh.
Granger spat. “I’ll have no insubordination on my ship.”
He stopped at the end of the line, where Liam, Erasmus and Atric stood. He gave each of them a hard look.
“My ship. My rules.” Erasmus could smell liquor on his breath.
He returned to pacing. “You have your own quarters. You are allowed no more than your daily ration of food and ale. If you don’t want it, someone else will surely eat it. You will not enter another’s cabin without permission. You will not steal. You will draw no weapons on my ship. Do I make myself clear?”
The crew cried “Captain!” in unison. Atric did the same with great enthusiasm. Erasmus did the same, but with less enthusiasm. Liam mumbled.
“Anyone breaking the rules will answer to the Drowned God.”

He surveyed his crew and gave a hint of a smile,” Crew! If these little ladies get in your way, you’re welcome to throw them overboard.”
One-Eyed Dale gave a great belly laugh, and the rest of the crew joined in. When the laughter had died, Granger said. “We cast off in ten minutes. Don’t go wandering off. If you have any gods you favor, pray to them now. Or you can just kiss the ground and hope you don’t die on the journey.” Granger started to head belowdeck and the line began to dismantle.

Liam called out over the rabble, “Is that what you were doing, old goat? Giving the sea maiden a hug goodbye for when you have to leave her sweet wetness?”
Granger stopped in his tracks.
“Don’t worry,” Liam said as he snatched Atric’s sketchbook, flipping it to a page where a boat is drawn with wheels on the side, “you won’t have to leave your precious boat behind if you keep this ‘little lady’ with you.”
Granger’s eyes became wide with anger, as if Liam had said something much more powerful than he knew.
Atric excitedly began to explain his design. “Oh! Yes! It’s just a prototype of course, but — see, you would have teams of men — like in a row boat — but instead of oars they’d turn cranks which would turn the wheels and —”
Erasmus snatched the book from Liam. Granger stormed below deck spitting and muttering in his wake.

“What were you thinking?!” Erasmus fumed at Liam’s arrogant stupidity, Atric shyly took his book from Erasmus and scuttled away.
Liam had a confused look about him, he shrugged in defense. “I don’t understand. Usually we go on like this — we fight and insult each other — but he laughs, he always laughs. As do I!” He sighs, “I have never been on his boat before. Maybe he is different here.”

“Does he usually drink so much?” Erasmus asked with sincerity.
“Drink? No, hardly ever. Never has more than a single cup of ale with a meal. Prefers sea water.” Liam replied, seeming genuinely concerned. “What do you mean?”
“He smelled of spirits — and not of the spectral sort.” Erasmus looked around at the crew, who had begun to take their places on the ship.

Gerry Loring approached Atric, he had the same scholarly look that Erasmus had, but friendlier.
“Atric? Might I see that drawing?”
Atric reluctantly handed over his sketchbook. Gerry flipped through it, uttering praise of his mastery of drawing as well as his eccentric designs. He arrived on the page with the wheel-flanked boat. “Marvelous!” He spouted enthusiastically.
“Why, thank you!” Atric replied. Never had anyone been so interested in his silly ideas.
“You see, I don’t think it would be terribly efficient for very long distances, but instead of having to sail around sand bars or narrow peninsulas, you could simply wheel across them. As I said, only a prototype, I’ll have to think on it more —”
“It’s simply wonderful!” Gerry mused, “This truly makes me wish we met in different situation. How I would have loved to commission a work from you. But that’s the stars for you!”
Gerry patted Atric on the back. Atric smiled an award-winning smile.

Erasmus approached One-Eyed Dale who was checking some knots.
“Excuse me? Dale? I was wondering if I could ask you a question.” Erasmus asked carefully, hoping that no one took the throw-them-overboard thing to heart.
“Aye,” said Dale, pulling a knot tighter.
“Is the captain different when he’s, uh, captaining? As opposed to other times?”
“Well,” Dale stood, considering for a moment, “Y’see a ship is like,” He searched hard for the right words, “Like an animal, y’see? And it’s got lil leggies and guts and such, right?”
Erasmus nodded, trying very hard to grasp what Dale was saying.
“So, we — the crew — we’re the legs and guts, and Captain, well, he’s th’head. Y’know?”
Erasmus nodded, his eyebrow cocked. After a week surrounded by these people he might throw himself overboard.
“Without th’Captain we’d jus’ be a headless pony kickin n’shitting itself.”
Erasmus cringed at the image. “Right, of course. Thank you, Dale.”
“You’re welky. And call me One-Eyed Dale! Everyone does!”

Just as Erasmus walked away Granger emerged from below deck, looking for glassy eyed than before.
Liam had been waiting for him beside the door and blocked his way, his arms were crossed.
“What’s wrong with you, old man? You stink of liquor.”
Granger spat and stepped around him. He yelled some orders and suddenly everyone went into motion. The crew, hand picked by Granger, ran like a well oiled machine. Granger took the helm himself, deftly steering the boat away from the dock and out into the harbor.

Erasmus took this opportunity to try and introduce himself to the crew, but only grunts and sideways glances were returned to him. They took their work very seriously.

The next two days were all smooth sailing. Erasmus and Atric were able to bond a little, playing a few rounds of chess. Atric was everyone’s best friend, and everyone wanted to sit next to him at meals. Granger allowed Erasmus to access his personal books and the crew took turns reading aloud during dinner. Though they usually chose to hear excerpts of The Lusty Valyrian Maid Erasmus was just happy they were interested in reading, and those who couldn’t read were still interested in listening. Liam taught Red Tom some new moves with wooden practice swords. The crew really warmed up to their three guests, even Liam, who taught them to swear in Low Valyrian to everyone’s delight.

On the first night aboard, Gerry showed Erasmus his map of the stars. He had been charting them for weeks and weeks and he noticed that some of those closest would sometimes turn their course. He said that he thought that — May the Seven forgive him — that everything did not revolve around Terra as once was thought, but he thought maybe the universe was heliocentric. Gerry confided that he would be too busy during their journey to continue plotting out the stars, and offered to hand over his work to Erasmus. Erasmus was ecstatic to have something to look forward to on this boring journey.

On the third day of sailing, mid-morning, Red Tom and Liam were sparring again. Red Tom was getting quicker and had begun to learn some of Liam’s tricks. The fight was long and well fought, but Liam came out victorious. Both men left well bruised.
Atric had finished a small list of chores Pretty Sue had written up and decided he’d like to try his hand at sparring. Given his towering stature, the only man brave — or stupid — enough to spar with him was One-Eyed Dale.

They squared off. One-Eyed Dale was broad, but squat, where Atric was tall and lanky. They circled around each other. Atric lunged first, landing a decent hit with the advantage of his long reach. Dale quickly recovered and darted forward and landed a hit of his own. The fight continued like this for a few minutes, lunging and darting. The crew calling for more action. Atric lunged, this time with his left hand and lifted Dale off of the ground. He smashed Dale’s nose with the butt of the wooden sword and blood streamed down his face. Dale dropped his sword and clenched Atric’s arm with both hands squeezing as hard as he could. He threw his head back and roared, smashing his skull into Atric’s with such force it broke the skin above Atric’s eye.

Liam drew his sword placed the tip between Atric and Dale’s faces. “That is enough!” He called. The crew was silent, staring at the scene with wide eyes.
Erasmus stepped up beside him, his arms spread, “Brothers! We are brothers of the Night’s Watch! Enough already!”
The light ringing sound of sharpened metal on leather was heard and Liam found the point of a sword at his neck.
“No live steel on my ship.” Granger’s voice was sharper than the sword he wielded.
Erasmus turns to Granger, seeing just how close the blade lay to Liam’s jugular. “Granger, please! It’s over!”
Atric places One-Eyed Dale back on the deck.
“Sheath your sword, boy,” Granger says calmly. Liam silently puts his sword away and Granger allows his to fall to his side.
“There will be no more fighting on this voyage. None.” Granger gives Liam a course look and walks back to the helm.

Wide eyed, Atric takes in the sorry state he has left Dale in, “I didn’t mean to hurt you so badly, I — I am truly sorry.”
The rage in One-Eyed Dale’s eye had left and he laughed so hard his belly shook, “Ha! I haven’t ’ad such a fight in a long time!”

Erasmus cleaned up Dale’s wounds and sewed up the gash on Atric’s forehead.



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