The sun hid its face behind dark, heavy clouds. Though it was the middle of the day, large torchfires had been lit around the edges of the tourney grounds, casting twisted, weird shadows across the spectators and over the blood-caked soil. Shelly stood in the breechway taking deep breaths under the weight of the helm, armor, and mail she wore. She said a prayer to her gods, thanking them for all she had lived, and asked for just one more day. Tuning around, she scanned the faces of her assembled champions.
She knew the seven warriors held doubts about the coming combat, and likely even doubts about her own actions, but they were here, and that was what mattered. The fearsome Lady Chloebae. Ser Brynden the veteran. The unlikely pair of Lady Sarah and Sarah, Tampalones the Wayfarer, and Ser Johnny Cinco, the newest-knighted of the assembled. Their armor was a mismatch of colors and sigils, but a tapestry that held together as one. Shelly felt the warmth of her own breath, trapped inside her own helm.
Was this the right move, she asked herself. It was too late to change her mind. Some decisions are impossible to change. She had no speech prepared, so she spoke from the heart.
“I thank you again for agreeing to stand with me this day, but I must also warn you that there is no guarantee in this other than death. The warriors we face are not only some of the greatest fighters in the realm, they are our friends and comrades-in-arms. I cannot ask you to do this.”
“My lady,” Ser Johnny said with a lilting voice, “You never needed to ask.”
The others nodded in acknowledgement. Shelly’s throat tightened. She nodded back at them. “Thank you. The time for words is gone. Let’s go see what the gods have in store for us.”
Shelly’s Seven entered the arena, their boots crunching on the loosened soil. Across the arena, the Angerguard was already assembled. They stood as one in armor black as night, with fires blazoned across their breastplates and forearm gauntlets.
The lead champion and his assembled stood ready. Mitsubishi Miller the Ice Mage of the Islands, Lord Commander Richter, Harley Horcrux, Frank the Cave Man with his dual-bladed Valyrian axe, Lady Clo, Ser Samuel Hope, and even Patchface, wearing a suit of armor that looked like a giant chamber pot.
Shelly looked into the stands, scanning ever row of seats once and then again. Lord Angry was nowhere to be seen. The wooden benches were filled with all manner of lords, ladies, and knights, smallfolk, sailors, mummers troupes, brothel women, vendors, and dozens of cloaked septons and sparrows, eager to the the justice of the Seven come to fruition. Young children pushed and pulled each other along the front fences of the stands, their mothers yelling at them to not get too close. Sigils and banners flapped in the wind. The burning torches blazed on, tended by workers feeding them copies of the new Season 4 DVDs.
Above it all on a raised dais, sat Ser Axey, Lord Confused, and King Stannis. King Stannis and Ser Axey seemed to be discussing something seriously together, while Lord Confused was reading an X-Men comic. Shelly steeled herself to what would come next.
Lord Confused stood, and began his prepared statement, “Lord and ladies, hear my words. In panel 1, Wolverine and Jean Grey are fighting in the danger room. He does a backflip and then extends his adamantium claws like krrrsnick! In panel 2, Beast exclaims something is wrong with the control and they are now in serious danger. Wolverine pushes Jean out of the way and takes a bullet that was meant for her, but fear not, for his mutant healing power allows him to sustain such trauma and survive. The end.”
He sat back down with a limp, winking at Lady Eliana in the stands.
Ser Axey stood. “A Trial of Seven is a sacred test of a an accused person’s guilt or innocence, as determined by the gods. It is a tradition that goes back thousands of years to time immemorial. It reminds of who we are and where we have come from.”
Finally, King Stannis rose. “I do not recognize your gods, but I respect the laws of this land. I will only say this, let it end on the field of battle. I will not hear of such travails again. Leave it all behind on this dirt, and by the end of this ordeal, the matter will be settled.”
They took the the field. With a sound somewhere between the roar of thunder and an explosion of wildfire, the combatants met in the center of the area. They fought in between the dancing shadows cast by the scattered torchlight. They danced the dance of violence. Hours of training and years of experience poured forth, fueled by anger on both sides, each certain of their own righteousness. Sword met axe. Shield met spear. Arrow met helm. Hammer met chestplate, and on and on they danced.
In between attacks and feints with her short sword, Shelly tried to steal glimpses at the stands. Swing. Still no sign of Lord Angry. Thrust. Would he even come to sethis? Strike. This could be her final moment. Parry. They had been through so much together. Block. Maybe he was not coming after all. Jab. Its all up to me now, she thought. Attack.
Amidst the murky gloom, she spied fearsome sights of gruesome bravery. Lady Clo squared off against Lady Chloebae here. There was Sam Hope battling away with the tireless Ser Brynden. Patchface was running around the area singing while the Ladies Sarah attempted to use the motley markings on his face as targets for their arrows. Richter and Harley battled in tandem against Tampalones and Cisco, while Frank the Cave Man stalked the outskirts of the fray searching for someone to crush with his axe.
Suddenly, the Ice Mage himself reared up before Shelly.
“My lady,” Miler said, chopping his staff down at her. “This grieves me, you must know.”
“Save it, Miller. You know you’ve wanted to be Hand for years,” Shelly shot back with both words and steel.
Miller flipped over Shelly and landed behind her. Shelly quickly dropped low as his staff swept around where her head had been. The Hand of Anger rolled backwards, knocking Miller to the ground. She swung her sword with a two-handed blow, but Miller tucked away to the side. They pulled away, each rising to their feet.
“Shelly, this is not about me. This is about your crimes,” Miller said.
“You would know about crimes, wouldn’t you, Miller?” Shelly said.
Shelly kicked out with one leg, and caught Miller unawares in the midsection. He doubled over, but brought the butt of his staff forward with him, clanging against Shelly’s helm. The noise rattled through the steel and into the recesses of her mind itself. Her vision clouded, as a bright light flashed across her eyes. Her knees buckled and she fell forward. She hacked blindly with her sword and struck purchase.
Miller screamed in pain. “My shoulder!”
Shelly heard his staff fall to the dirt, but still could not see. The world was formless shapes and fuzzy blobs of color. She ventured forward with her sword, and was struck in the back. She went down. Hard. Facefirst into the dirt. She tasted the blood of old champions. She turned and her vision had seemed to have somewhat improved. The jolt knocking her head may have brought her back around. Miller was in front of her on the ground as well, a huge gash opened in his left shoulder where she could see bone. He waved his hand across it, and Shelly thought she could see tiny crystals of ice form inside the very flesh.
“Miller, call this off. Tell them to stop. We don’t have to do this,” Shelly said, but the look on Miller’s face seemed as though he had not heard.
He sat there nursing the wound and chanting in some language unknown to her ears. A broadaxe slammed down next to her head. The upper tip of her ear was gone with it. Shelly turned back.
“Hold still. Next one no miss,” Frank the Cave Man explained calmly in his guttural voice.
“No!” Shelly cried.
“But yeeeeesssssss,” Frank moaned with glory in his eyes.
He brought the broadaxe up above his head. This was it. The torches glinted fire in his wild eyes. The end. She fought with every ounce to move but her limbs failed. The axe came down.
The sun engulfed the world. Where there was darkness, light shone forth. Where there had been shadow, blinding brilliance reigned supreme.
Shelly opened her eyes. Frank was turned around looking at something. The same thing everyone in the arena, fighter and spectator alike was staring at.
A massive bloom of fire had burst from just outside the arena, they could see the top of it beyond the three story stadium wall.
Before the titanic blaze, a lone figure stood, one with the fury tearing through him. His dark cloak seemed ablaze with the flames itself.
The Lord of Anger arched back his head and cried, “NO ONE UNDERSTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
At that, he jumped down, and made his way to the dais, shouting orders all the way. “SEAL THE EXITS! BARRICADE THE DOORS! SEIZE THEM! DO NOT LET THEM FLEE!”
Shelly was confused at first, though glancing up, Lord Confused seemed completely at ease with the situation, and was now reading a dog-eared copy of a high school cafeteria menu.
The cloaked members of the audience jumped to their feet as one, and Lord Angry pointed at them, “THEY WILL BE MINE!!!!!!”
As they ran, their cloaks fell from their faces to reveal the secrets underneath. Dave Benhi and Dan the Dweeb. Neil Marshall and Alex Graves. Dozens of HBO production assistants, interns, and women-of-the-night. The 14 champions looked at each other on the grounds, and nodded as one. They then ran up into the stands to capture the HBO usurpers. They were no match for the joined steel of the Army of Anger. The PAs and interns fell. Marshall and Graves met their ends at the hands of the faithful.
Shelly glanced up and saw Dave and Dan making a break for the exit to the stadium and tried to run after them, but her legs were failing her. She heard a voice from behind.
“This will help with the pain,” said Miller.
Shelly immediately felt the cold shoot through her leg, and the pain disappeared. She looked back at Miller and smiled. He put his hand on her shoulder and nodded, urging her forward. As Shelly grew near to the pair of cowards, Dave suddenly stopped and turned back. He pushed Dan the Dweeb backwards over an overturned bowl of brown, and ran forward screaming. Dan fell into Shelly and she was able to subdue him easily.
“Lord Dave is getting away,” she called.
“Not going to happen,” said King Stannis, stepping forward from the side. Stannis ran forward and tossed his crown ahead. It flew forward knocking Benhi in the back, and sending him clattering to the ground.
“We’ll see who dies from a banana peel now,” Stannis muttered. Suddenly, a figure with golden blonde hair ran forward to defend Benhi. Was it Jaime Lannister, Shelly thought.
“You,” said Stannis.
“Me!” replied Achilles the Bradpitt, clad in golden armor and golden skin oil.
“Benhi was my chief screenwriter long ago for Troy. Don’t listen to Rotten Tomatoes or those critics who say the film lacked emotional resonance! Look at my squared chin instead!”
Stannis ground his teeth together and lopped the Bradpitt’s head clean off its shoulders.
“Stop!” Cried Benhi cravenly. “Let’s make a deal! I will let you win the Game of Thrones! I will let you sit the Iron Throne! We were going to just have Daenerys do it, but we can rewrite the ending. We already weren’t going to do what George RR Martin told us would be the ending. Who cares how the books end anyway? Everyone knows he’ll never live to finish them.”
Stannis’ face never changed a muscle. Lord Angry appeared next to him.
“YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO” said the Lord of Anger.
“A lie. Take it out.” King Stannis commanded, taking Benhi prisoner at swordpoint. Shelly looked back to Lord Angry. Was that a smile at the corner of his mouth?
The Hand of Anger, Lady Shelly walked the parapets of the Angerfort with Lord Angry.
“So, what I don’t get is, what if I hadn’t seen your hidden message on the parchment?” she asked.
“IT MATTERED NOT. I KNEW YOU WOULD NEVER LET THEM DECLARE YOU GUILTY OF WHAT YOU DID” Lord Angry said.
Shelly said, “You do know I was playing them false, right?”
“Good. I learned much and more about their plots for Season 5 and beyond, though I doubt they will be making any more now.”
“I HAVE SEEN TO THAT,” he spoke calmly.
“I can’t believe you sentenced Benhi to be held in the dungeon with Mord reading the books to him every day!” she laughed.
“IT WILL DO HIM SOME GOOD. PERHAPS, IN TIME, HE WILL REMEMBER WHY HE CAME TO LOVE THE BOOKS IN THE FIRST PLACE.”
Shelly smiled, but then frowned. “So, you knew Lord Confused would ruin the trial, and that I would call for a trial by combat?”
The rageful one raised one eyebrow, “YES, THOUGH, I DID NOT EXPECT YOU TO CALL A TRIAL OF SEVEN.”
“Hey, if I was going down, I wanted it to be a good show,” she winked. Shelly then grew puzzled. “So, if they are gone for good, if HBO is finally over, what is next for us? What does the Army of Anger do without its mortal enemy?”
Lord Angry reached beneath his cloak and produced a leather-bound package.
Shelly unwrapped the page to find, there, in her very hands, an advance, handwritten and illuminated copy, of The Winds of Winter.