“Command is the trickiest part of warfare, son,” Toten Lanncaster said as he walked through the halls of the Red Keep with the king.
Natan paid close attention to the words. He’d spent the last couple of months studying with Ser Robik and Ser Tommen Lannister. Robrik had taken him away from the capital for weeks, running mock war games for Natan, putting him through the paces of how things operated in the field. Surprisingly, the young king had taken to it rather quickly. It seemed that years of pulling cons across the sea had lent itself to thinking quickly and on the fly.
Tommen’s lessons had proved more difficult. They spent days pouring over maps, setting up old battles and campaigns. Natan tried to arrange his miniature forces to overcome Tommen’s but he was bested more often than not. The on the fly thinking that had helped with tactics was not the same as was needed for the long range thinking that was needed to arrange troops to win battle after battle, each setting up the next five after it. Natan had made progress, but it was taking time that they didn’t have.
Now it was time to learn command from the most legendary battlefield commander in living memory.
“In the heat of battle, with everything happening all at once, the most important thing is to keep your men focused and listening, to keep them fighting for their purpose,” Toten continued. “It doesn’t matter how well you set up your forces, or how many good orders you give, if they aren’t followed by men still committed to your cause.”
“Well,” Natan said, keeping pace with his fathers longer stride. “How do you do it? How do you give them the meaning?”
They walked a few moments in silence.
“You don’t,” Toten said softly.
“But you just said that’s what I have to do.”
“And it’s true. But you can’t give it to them, Natan. You have to be the best that you can be. You can never waver. They’ll look to you to find it, you can be their guide, but you can’t make them believe.”
Natan watched questioningly as his father turned to face him.
“You won’t want to hear this, but sometimes there aren’t problems that you can run away from, Natan.”
The words stung, but the young king knew that they weren’t spoken harshly, but of necessity, and he nodded. “I guess I should cancel that boat to Southros, huh?”
His father smiled genuinely. “It might not be a bad idea,” he replied as they resumed walking.
“There’s more,” he said a few steps down the hall.
“You mean it doesn’t stop at just being perfect?” Natan joked again.
His father smiled again, though this time it was smaller and sadder. “I wish it did.” Natan’s father was quiet for a long time. Natan knew his father well enough to wait. “You’ll lose people,” the former king said. “People you care about. Friends.” Natan looked up and saw a haunted look on his father’s face, etched into lines that somehow seemed deeper and longer than they had before. It could have been the flickering light of torches as they passed, but Natan suspected it was deeper seated.
“What’s worse,” his father continued. “Is that you’ll be the one who kills them.”
Those words stopped Natan in his tracks. He blinked up at his father, and the older man turned sad eyes upon his son, his expression that of a parent who knows he’s just shattered part of his child’s innocence. The king blinked up at his predecessor, unease and confusion on his sharper features.
“It’s not the same as other fights you’ve had. This won’t be a few people making their own decision to follow you somewhere that might be dangerous. You will order people to die,” Toten emphasised each word. “It has to be done. Quickly. Decisively. You won’t have time for remorse.” He shook his head slightly. “The remorse will come later.”
“I…I understand,” Natan said quietly, his mind working furiously through situations and outcomes, each more terrifying than the last.
“I know you do, son,” Toten said, putting his strong arm around Natan. “You’re a good king.”
They walked again and turned into the throne room. During the day it was filled with dozens of petitioners and politicians but at this hour it was only filled with the dancing shadows cast out from the large braziers throughout the room.
“There’s one last thing,” Natan’s father saidas they strode across the room.
“What’s that? Don’t tell me that I have to do it all while hanging upside down in my smallclothes,” Natan chuckled, trying to lighten the mood.
Then an anvil struck him in the back and threw him forward to the ground. Natan scrambled and turned to see his father standing over him, beginning to draw a sword at his side. “What are you doing?!” Natan yelled, scrambling further back as his father advanced.
“You always have to be prepared for the unexpected,” Toten Lanncaster scowled.
“Ok, I get it! Calm down!” Natan rolled away as his fathers sword struck the ground where he’d been, sparks flashing.
“You have to beat me,” Toten snarled, stalking his son around a column.
“What are you talking about? I can’t beat you! That’s crazy!” Natan barely ducked out of the way of another blow.
“You have to,” Toten pleaded. “You have to figure out a way.” He struck again, narrowly missing his mark. “Your enemies aren’t going to wait to meet you squarely on the battlefield. They’re going to be stronger than you are. They’re going to have more men. They’re going to have more resources. They are going to beat you. And you still have find a way to win.” Each sentence was punctuated with another slash, another thrust, another near miss.
Natan dodged again around a column, trying to think of a way out of the room, but his father was too tactical, he’d maneuvered to be between his son and the doors. Natan faked a dodge around a column and spun, lashing out, but not at his father. He pushed at one of the braziers as hard as he could. The metal seared his hands but he didn’t let up and the brazier crashed to the ground, spreading fire across the floor and cutting off Toten for a precious moment.
Natan looked past his father’s shoulder, his eyes widening. “Tommen! Help!” Toten spun to face the threat of one of the most feared members of the kingsguard, but saw nothing but an empty room. He made to whirl back around, but a dagger was already pressed against his throat. Toten smirked and sheathed his sword.
Natan put his dagger away and shook pain out of his burned hands.
“Well,” the king said, looking at his hands. “I am the son of the great commander.”