A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin part six


When the battle was done, Dany rode her silver
through the fields of the dead. Her handmaids and the men
of her khas came after, smiling and jesting among
Dothraki hooves had torn the earth and trampled the rye
and lentils into the ground, while arakhs and arrows had
sown a terrible new crop and watered it with blood. Dying
horses lifted their heads and screamed at her as she rode
past. Wounded men moaned and prayed. Jaqqa rhan
moved among them, the mercy men with their heavy axes,
taking a harvest of heads from the dead and dying alike.
After them would scurry a flock of small girls, pulling arrows
from the corpses to fill their baskets. Last of all the dogs
would come sniffing, lean and hungry, the feral pack that
was never far behind the khalasar.
The sheep had been dead longest. There seemed to be
thousands of them, black with flies, arrow shafts bristling
from each carcass. Khal Ogo’s riders had done that, Dany
knew; no man of Drogo’s khalasar would be such a fool as
to waste his arrows on sheep when there were shepherds
yet to kill.
The town was afire, black plumes of smoke roiling and
tumbling as they rose into a hard blue sky. Beneath broken
walls of dried mud, riders galloped back and forth, swinging
their long whips as they herded the survivors from the
smoking rubble. The women and children of Ogo’s khalasar
walked with a sullen pride, even in defeat and bondage;
they were slaves now, but they seemed not to fear it. It was
different with the townsfolk. Dany pitied them; she
remembered what terror felt like. Mothers stumbled along
with blank, dead faces, pulling sobbing children by the
hand. There were only a few men among them, cripples
and cowards and grandfathers.
Ser Jorah said the people of this country named
themselves the Lhazareen, but the Dothraki called them
haesh rakhi, the Lamb Men. Once Dany might have taken
them for Dothraki, for they had the same copper skin and
almond-shaped eyes. Now they looked alien to her, squat
and flat-faced, their black hair cropped unnaturally short.
They were herders of sheep and eaters of vegetables, and
Khal Drogo said they belonged south of the river bend. The
grass of the Dothraki sea was not meant for sheep.
Dany saw one boy bolt and run for the river. A rider cut
him off and turned him, and the others boxed him in,
cracking their whips in his face, running him this way and
that. One galloped behind him, lashing him across the
buttocks until his thighs ran red with blood. Another snared
his ankle with a lash and sent him sprawling. Finally, when
the boy could only crawl, they grew bored of the sport and
put an arrow through his back.
Ser Jorah met her outside the shattered gate. He wore a
dark green surcoat over his mail. His gauntlets, greaves,
and greathelm were dark grey steel. The Dothraki had
mocked him for a coward when he donned his armor, but
the knight had spit insults right back in their teeth, tempers
had flared, longsword had clashed with arakh, and the rider
whose taunts had been loudest had been left behind to
bleed to death.
Ser Jorah lifted the visor of his flat-topped greathelm as
he rode up. “Your lord husband awaits you within the town.”
“Drogo took no harm?”
“A few cuts,” Ser Jorah answered, “nothing of
consequence. He slew two khals this day. Khal Ogo first,
and then the son, Fogo, who became khal when Ogo fell.
His bloodriders cut the bells from their hair, and now Khal
Drogo’s every step rings louder than before.”
Ogo and his son had shared the high bench with her lord
husband at the naming feast where Viserys had been
crowned, but that was in Vaes Dothrak, beneath the Mother
of Mountains, where every rider was a brother and all
quarrels were put aside. It was different out in the grass.
Ogo’s khalasar had been attacking the town when Khal
Drogo caught him. She wondered what the Lamb Men had
thought, when they first saw the dust of their horses from
atop those cracked-mud walls. Perhaps a few, the younger
and more foolish who still believed that the gods heard the
prayers of desperate men, took it for deliverance.
Across the road, a girl no older than Dany was sobbing in
a high thin voice as a rider shoved her over a pile of
corpses, facedown, and thrust himself inside her. Other
riders dismounted to take their turns. That was the sort of
deliverance the Dothraki brought the Lamb Men.
I am the blood of the dragon, Daenerys Targaryen
reminded herself as she turned her face away. She
pressed her lips together and hardened her heart and rode
on toward the gate.
“Most of Ogo’s riders fled,” Ser Jorah was saying. “Still,
there may be as many as ten thousand captives.”
Slaves, Dany thought. Khal Drogo would drive them
downriver to one of the towns on Slaver’s Bay. She wanted
to cry, but she told herself that she must be strong. This is
war, this is what it looks like, this is the price of the Iron
“I’ve told the khal he ought to make for Meereen,” Ser
Jorah said. “They’ll pay a better price than he’d get from a
slaving caravan. Illyrio writes that they had a plague last
year, so the brothels are paying double for healthy young
girls, and triple for boys under ten. If enough children survive
the journey, the gold will buy us all the ships we need, and
hire men to sail them.”
Behind them, the girl being raped made a heartrending
sound, a long sobbing wail that went on and on and on.
Dany’s hand clenched hard around the reins, and she
turned the silver’s head. “Make them stop,” she
commanded Ser Jorah.
“Khaleesi?” The knight sounded perplexed.
“You heard my words,” she said. “Stop them.” She spoke
to her khas in the harsh accents of Dothraki. “Jhogo, Quaro,
you will aid Ser Jorah. Iwant no rape.”
The warriors exchanged a baffled look.
Jorah Mormont spurred his horse closer. “Princess,” he
said, “you have a gentle heart, but you do not understand.
This is how it has always been. Those men have shed
blood for the khal. Now they claim their reward.”
Across the road, the girl was still crying, her high
singsong tongue strange to Dany’s ears. The first man was
done with her now, and a second had taken his place.
“She is a lamb girl,” Quaro said in Dothraki. “She is
nothing, Khaleesi. The riders do her honor. The Lamb Men
lay with sheep, it is known.”
“It is known,” her handmaid Irri echoed. “It is known,”
agreed Jhogo, astride the tall grey stallion that Drogo had
given him. “If her wailing offends your ears, Khaleesi, Jhogo
will bring you her tongue.” He drew his arakh.
“Iwill not have her harmed,” Dany said. “I claim her. Do as
I command you, or Khal Drogo will know the reason why.”
“Ai, Khaleesi,” Jhogo replied, kicking his horse. Quaro
and the others followed his lead, the bells in their hair
“Go with them,” she commanded Ser Jorah.
“As you command.” The knight gave her a curious look.
“You are your brother’s sister, in truth.”
“Viserys?” She did not understand.
“No,” he answered. “Rhaegar.” He galloped off.
Dany heard Jhogo shout. The rapers laughed at him. One
man shouted back. Jhogo’s arakh flashed, and the man’s
head went tumbling from his shoulders. Laughter turned to
curses as the horsemen reached for weapons, but by then
Quaro and Aggo and Rakharo were there. She saw Aggo
point across the road to where she sat upon her silver. The
riders looked at her with cold black eyes. One spat. The
others scattered to their mounts, muttering.
All the while the man atop the lamb girl continued to
plunge in and out of her, so intent on his pleasure that he
seemed unaware of what was going on around him. Ser
Jorah dismounted and wrenched him off with a mailed
hand. The Dothraki went sprawling in the mud, bounced up
with a knife in hand, and died withAggo’s arrow through his
throat. Mormont pulled the girl off the pile of corpses and
wrapped her in his blood-spattered cloak. He led her
across the road to Dany. “What do you want done with
The girl was trembling, her eyes wide and vague. Her hair
was matted with blood. “Doreah, see to her hurts. You do
not have a rider’s look, perhaps she will not fear you. The
rest, with me.” She urged the silver through the broken
wooden gate.
It was worse inside the town. Many of the houses were
afire, and the jaqqa rhan had been about their grisly work.
Headless corpses filled the narrow, twisty lanes. They
passed other women being raped. Each time Dany reined
up, sent her khas to make an end to it, and claimed the
victim as slave. One of them, a thick-bodied, flat-nosed
woman of forty years, blessed Dany haltingly in the
Common Tongue, but from the others she got only flat black
stares. They were suspicious of her, she realized with
sadness; afraid that she had saved them for some worse
“You cannot claim them all, child,” Ser Jorah said, the
fourth time they stopped, while the warriors of her khas
herded her new slaves behind her.“I am khaleesi, heir to
the Seven Kingdoms, the blood of
the dragon,” Dany reminded him. “It is not for you to tell me
what I cannot do.” Across the city, a building collapsed in a
great gout of fire and smoke, and she heard distant
screams and the wailing of frightened children.
They found Khal Drogo seated before a square
windowless temple with thick mud walls and a bulbous
dome like some immense brown onion. Beside him was a
pile of heads taller than he was. One of the short arrows of
the Lamb Men stuck through the meat of his upper arm, and
blood covered the left side of his bare chest like a splash of
paint. His three bloodriders were with him.
Jhiqui helped Dany dismount; she had grown clumsy as
her belly grew larger and heavier. She knelt before the khal.
“My sun-and-stars is wounded.” The arakh cut was wide but
shallow; his left nipple was gone, and a flap of bloody flesh
and skin dangled from his chest like a wet rag.
“Is scratch, moon of life, from arakh of one bloodrider to
Khal Ogo,” Khal Drogo said in the Common Tongue. “I kill
him for it, and Ogo too.” He turned his head, the bells in his
braid ringing softly. “Is Ogo you hear, and Fogo his
khalakka, who was khal when I slew him.”
“No man can stand before the sun of my life,” Dany said,
“the father of the stallion who mounts the world.”
A mounted warrior rode up and vaulted from his saddle.
He spoke to Haggo, a stream of angry Dothraki too fast for
Dany to understand. The huge bloodrider gave her a heavy
look before he turned to his khal. “This one is Mago, who
rides in the khas of Ko Jhaqo. He says the khaleesi has
taken his spoils, a daughter of the lambs who was his to
Khal Drogo’s face was still and hard, but his black eyes
were curious as they went to Dany. “Tell me the truth of this,
moon of my life,” he commanded in Dothraki.
Dany told him what she had done, in his own tongue so
the khal would understand her better, her words simple and
When she was done, Drogo was frowning. “This is the
way of war. These women are our slaves now, to do with as
we please.”
“It pleases me to hold them safe,” Dany said, wondering if
she had dared too much. “If your warriors would mount
these women, let them take them gently and keep them for
wives. Give them places in the khalasar and let them bear
you sons.”
Qotho was ever the cruelest of the bloodriders. It was he
who laughed. “Does the horse breed with the sheep?”
Something in his tone reminded her of Viserys. Dany
turned on him angrily. “The dragon feeds on horse and
sheep alike.”
Khal Drogo smiled. “See how fierce she grows!” he said.
“It is my son inside her, the stallion who mounts the world,
filling her with his fire. Ride slowly, Qotho . . . if the mother
does not burn you where you sit, the son will trample you
into the mud. And you, Mago, hold your tongue and find
another lamb to mount. These belong to my khaleesi.” He
started to reach out a hand to Daenerys, but as he lifted his
arm Drogo grimaced in sudden pain and turned his head.
Dany could almost feel his agony. The wounds were
worse than Ser Jorah had led her to believe. “Where are
the healers?” she demanded. The khalasar had two sorts:
barren women and eunuch slaves. The herbwomen dealt in
potions and spells, the eunuchs in knife, needle, and fire.
“Why do they not attend the khal?”
“The khal sent the hairless men away, Khaleesi,” old
Cohollo assured her. Dany saw the bloodrider had taken a
wound himself; a deep gash in his left shoulder.
“Many riders are hurt,” Khal Drogo said stubbornly. “Let
them be healed first. This arrow is no more than the bite of
a fly, this little cut only a new scar to boast of to my son.”
Dany could see the muscles in his chest where the skin
had been cut away. A trickle of blood ran from the arrow
that pierced his arm. “It is not for Khal Drogo to wait,” she
proclaimed. “Jhogo, seek out these eunuchs and bring
them here at once.”
“Silver Lady,” a woman’s voice said behind her, “I can
help the Great Rider with his hurts.”
Dany turned her head. The speaker was one of the slaves
she had claimed, the heavy, flat-nosed woman who had
blessed her.
“The khal needs no help from women who lie with sheep,”
barked Qotho. “Aggo, cut out her tongue.”
Aggo grabbed her hair and pressed a knife to her throat.
Dany lifted a hand. “No. She is mine. Let her speak.”
Aggo looked from her to Qotho. He lowered his knife.
“I meant no wrong, fierce riders.” The woman spoke
Dothraki well. The robes she wore had once been the
lightest and finest of woolens, rich with embroidery, but now
they were mud-caked and bloody and ripped. She clutched
the torn cloth of her bodice to her heavy breasts. “I have
some small skill in the healing arts.”
“Who are you?” Dany asked her.
“I am named Mirri Maz Duur. I am godswife of this
“Maegi,” grunted Haggo, fingering his arakh. His look was
dark. Dany remembered the word from a terrifying story
that Jhiqui had told her one night by the cookfire. A maegi
was a woman who lay with demons and practiced the
blackest of sorceries, a vile thing, evil and soulless, who
came to men in the dark of night and sucked life and
strength from their bodies.
“I am a healer,” Mirri Maz Duur said.
“A healer of sheeps,” sneered Qotho. “Blood of my blood,
I say kill this maegi and wait for the hairless men.”
Dany ignored the bloodrider’s outburst. This old, homely,
thickbodied woman did not look like a maegi to her.
“Where did you learn your healing, Mirri Maz Duur?”
“My mother was godswife before me, and taught me all
the songs and spells most pleasing to the Great Shepherd,
and how to make the sacred smokes and ointments from
leaf and root and berry. When Iwas younger and more fair, I
went in caravan to Asshai by the Shadow, to learn from
their mages. Ships from many lands come to Asshai, so I
lingered long to study the healing ways of distant peoples.
A moonsinger of the Jogos Nhai gifted me with her birthing
songs, a woman of your own riding people taught me the
magics of grass and corn and horse, and a maester from
the Sunset Lands opened a body for me and showed me
all the secrets that hide beneath the skin.”
Ser Jorah Mormont spoke up. “A maester?”
“Marwyn, he named himself,” the woman replied in the
Common Tongue. “From the sea. Beyond the sea. The
Seven Lands, he said. Sunset Lands. Where men are iron
and dragons rule. He taught me this speech.”
“A maester in Asshai,” Ser Jorah mused. “Tell me,
Godswife, what did this Marwyn wear about his neck?”
“A chain so tight it was like to choke him, Iron Lord, with
links of many metals.”The knight looked at Dany. “Only a man trained in the
Citadel of Oldtown wears such a chain,” he said, “and such
men do know much of healing.”
“Why should you want to help my khal?”
“All men are one flock, or so we are taught,” replied Mirri
Maz Duur. “The Great Shepherd sent me to earth to heal
his lambs, wherever Imight find them.”
Qotho gave her a stinging slap. “We are no sheep,
“Stop it,” Dany said angrily. “She is mine. I will not have
her harmed.”
Khal Drogo grunted. “The arrow must come out, Qotho.”
“Yes, Great Rider,” Mirri Maz Duur answered, touching
her bruised face. “And your breast must be washed and
sewn, lest the wound fester.”
“Do it, then,” Khal Drogo commanded.
“Great Rider,” the woman said, “my tools and potions are
inside the god’s house, where the healing powers are
“Iwill carry you, blood of my blood,” Haggo offered.
Khal Drogo waved him away. “I need no man’s help,” he
said, in a voice proud and hard. He stood, unaided,
towering over them all. A fresh wave of blood ran down his
breast, from where Ogo’s arakh had cut off his nipple. Dany
moved quickly to his side. “I am no man,” she whispered,
“so you may lean on me.” Drogo put a huge hand on her
shoulder. She took some of his weight as they walked
toward the great mud temple. The three bloodriders
followed. Dany commanded Ser Jorah and the warriors of
her khas to guard the entrance and make certain no one
set the building afire while they were still inside.
They passed through a series of anterooms, into the high
central chamber under the onion. Faint light shone down
through hidden windows above. A few torches burnt
smokily from sconces on the walls. Sheepskins were
scattered across the mud floor. “There,” Mirri Maz Duur
said, pointing to the altar, a massive blue-veined stone
carved with images of shepherds and their flocks. Khal
Drogo lay upon it. The old woman threw a handful of dried
leaves onto a brazier, filling the chamber with fragrant
smoke. “Best if you wait outside,” she told the rest of them.
“We are blood of his blood,” Cohollo said. “Here we wait.”
Qotho stepped close to Mirri Maz Duur. “Know this, wife
of the Lamb God. Harm the khal and you suffer the same.”
He drew his skinning knife and showed her the blade.
“She will do no harm.” Dany felt she could trust this old,
plainfaced woman with her flat nose; she had saved her
from the hard hands of her rapers, after all.
“If you must stay, then help,” Mirri told the bloodriders.
“The Great Rider is too strong for me. Hold him still while I
draw the arrow from his flesh.” She let the rags of her gown
fall to her waist as she opened a carved chest, and busied
herself with bottles and boxes, knives and needles. When
she was ready, she broke off the barbed arrowhead and
pulled out the shaft, chanting in the singsong tongue of the
Lhazareen. She heated a flagon of wine to boiling on the
brazier, and poured it over his wounds. Khal Drogo cursed
her, but he did not move. She bound the arrow wound with
a plaster of wet leaves and turned to the gash on his breast,
smearing it with a pale green paste before she pulled the
flap of skin back in place. The khal ground his teeth
together and swallowed a scream. The godswife took out a
silver needle and a bobbin of silk thread and began to
close the flesh. When she was done she painted the skin
with red ointment, covered it with more leaves, and bound
the breast in a ragged piece of lambskin. “You must say the
prayers I give you and keep the lambskin in place for ten
days and ten nights,” she said. “There will be fever, and
itching, and a great scar when the healing is done.”
Khal Drogo sat, bells ringing. “I sing of my scars, sheep
woman.” He flexed his arm and scowled.
“Drink neither wine nor the milk of the poppy,” she
cautioned him. “Pain you will have, but you must keep your
body strong to fight the poison spirits.”
“I am khal,” Drogo said. “I spit on pain and drink what I
like. Cohollo, bring my vest.” The older man hastened off.
“Before,” Dany said to the ugly Lhazareen woman, “I
heard you speak of birthing songs . . .”
“I know every secret of the bloody bed, Silver Lady, nor
have I ever lost a babe,” Mirri Maz Duur replied.
“My time is near,” Dany said. “I would have you attend me
when he comes, if you would.”
Khal Drogo laughed. “Moon of my life, you do not ask a
slave, you tell her. She will do as you command.” He
jumped down from the altar. “Come, my blood. The stallions
call, this place is ashes. It is time to ride.”
Haggo followed the khal from the temple, but Qotho
lingered long enough to favor Mirri Maz Duur with a stare.
“Remember, maegi, as the khal fares, so shall you.”
“As you say, rider,” the woman answered him, gathering
up her jars and bottles. “The Great Shepherd guards the
On a hill overlooking the kingsroad, a long trestletable of
rough-hewn pine had been erected beneath an elm
tree and covered with a golden cloth. There, beside his
pavilion, Lord Tywin took his evening meal with his chief
knights and lords bannermen, his great crimson-and-gold
standard waving overhead from a lofty pike.
Tyrion arrived late, saddlesore, and sour, all too vividly
aware of how amusing he must look as he waddled up the
slope to his father. The day’s march had been long and
tiring. He thought he might get quite drunk tonight. It was
twilight, and the air was alive with drifting fireflies.
The cooks were serving the meat course: five suckling
pigs, skin seared and crackling, a different fruit in every
mouth. The smell made his mouth water. “My pardons,” he
began, taking his place on the bench beside his uncle.
“Perhaps I’d best charge you with burying our dead,
Tyrion,” Lord Tywin said. “If you are as late to battle as you
are to table, the fighting will all be done by the time you
“Oh, surely you can save me a peasant or two, Father,”
Tyrion replied. “Not too many, Iwouldn’t want to be greedy.”
He filled his wine cup and watched a serving man carve
into the pig. The crisp skin crackled under his knife, and hot
juice ran from the meat. It was the loveliest sight Tyrion had
seen in ages.
“Ser Addam’s outriders say the Stark host has moved
south from the Twins,” his father reported as his trencher
was filled with slices of pork. “Lord Frey’s levies have
joined them. They are likely no more than a day’s march
north of us.”
“Please, Father,” Tyrion said. “I’m about to eat.”
“Does the thought of facing the Stark boy unman you,
Tyrion? Your brother Jaime would be eager to come togrips with him.”
“I’d sooner come to grips with that pig. Robb Stark is not
half so tender, and he never smelled as good.”
Lord Lefford, the sour bird who had charge of their stores
and supplies, leaned forward. “I hope your savages do not
share your reluctance, else we’ve wasted our good steel on
“My savages will put your steel to excellent use, my lord,”
Tyrion replied. When he had told Lefford he needed arms
and armor to equip the three hundred men Ulf had fetched
down out of the foothills, you would have thought he’d asked
the man to turn his virgin daughters over to their pleasure.
Lord Lefford frowned. “I saw that great hairy one today,
the one who insisted that he must have two battle-axes, the
heavy black steel ones with twin crescent blades.”
“Shagga likes to kill with either hand,” Tyrion said as a
trencher of steaming pork was laid in front of him.
“He still had that wood-axe of his strapped to his back.”
“Shagga is of the opinion that three axes are even better
than two.” Tyrion reached a thumb and forefinger into the
salt dish, and sprinkled a healthy pinch over his meat.
Ser Kevan leaned forward. “We had a thought to put you
and your wildlings in the vanguard when we come to battle.”
Ser Kevan seldom “had a thought” that Lord Tywin had
not had first. Tyrion had skewered a chunk of meat on the
point of his dagger and brought it to his mouth. Now he
lowered it. “The vanguard?” he repeated dubiously. Either
his lord father had a new respect for Tyrion’s abilities, or
he’d decided to rid himself of his embarrassing get for
good. Tyrion had the gloomy feeling he knew which.
“They seem ferocious enough,” Ser Kevan said.
“Ferocious?” Tyrion realized he was echoing his uncle
like a trained bird. His father watched, judging him,
weighing every word. “Let me tell you how ferocious they
are. Last night, a Moon Brother stabbed a Stone Crow over
a sausage. So today as we made camp three Stone Crows
seized the man and opened his throat for him. Perhaps
they were hoping to get the sausage back, I couldn’t say.
Bronn managed to keep Shagga from chopping off the
dead man’s cock, which was fortunate, but even so Ulf is
demanding blood money, which Conn and Shagga refuse
to pay.”
“When soldiers lack discipline, the fault lies with their lord
commander,” his father said.
His brother Jaime had always been able to make men
follow him eagerly, and die for him if need be. Tyrion lacked
that gift. He bought loyalty with gold, and compelled
obedience with his name. “A bigger man would be able to
put the fear in them, is that what you’re saying, my lord?”
Lord Tywin Lannister turned to his brother. “If my son’s
men will not obey his commands, perhaps the vanguard is
not the place for him. No doubt he would be more
comfortable in the rear, guarding our baggage train.”
“Do me no kindnesses, Father,” he said angrily. “If you
have no other command to offer me, I’ll lead your van.”
Lord Tywin studied his dwarf son. “I said nothing about
command. You will serve under Ser Gregor.”
Tyrion took one bite of pork, chewed a moment, and spit
it out angrily. “I find I am not hungry after all,” he said,
climbing awkwardly off the bench. “Pray excuse me, my
Lord Tywin inclined his head, dismissing him. Tyrion
turned and walked away. He was conscious of their eyes
on his back as he waddled down the hill. A great gust of
laughter went up from behind him, but he did not look back.
He hoped they all choked on their suckling pigs.
Dusk had settled, turning all the banners black. The
Lannister camp sprawled for miles between the river and
the kingsroad. In amongst the men and the horses and the
trees, it was easy to get lost, and Tyrion did. He passed a
dozen great pavilions and a hundred cookfires. Fireflies
drifted amongst the tents like wandering stars. He caught
the scent of garlic sausage, spiced and savory, so tempting
it made his empty stomach growl. Away in the distance, he
heard voices raised in some bawdy song. A giggling
woman raced past him, naked beneath a dark cloak, her
drunken pursuer stumbling over tree roots. Farther on, two
spearmen faced each other across a little trickle of a
stream, practicing their thrust-and-parry in the fading light,
their chests bare and slick with sweat.
No one looked at him. No one spoke to him. No one paid
him any mind. He was surrounded by men sworn to House
Lannister, a vast host twenty thousand strong, and yet he
was alone.
When he heard the deep rumble of Shagga’s laughter
booming through the dark, he followed it to the Stone
Crows in their small corner of the night. Conn son of Coratt
waved a tankard of ale. “Tyrion Halfman! Come, sit by our
fire, share meat with the Stone Crows. We have an ox.”
“I can see that, Conn son of Coratt.” The huge red
carcass was suspended over a roaring fire, skewered on a
spit the size of a small tree. No doubt it was a small tree.
Blood and grease dripped down into the flames as two
Stone Crows turned the meat. “I thank you. Send for me
when the ox is cooked.” From the look of it, that might even
be before the battle. He walked on.Each clan had its own cook
fire; Black Ears did not eat
with Stone Crows, Stone Crows did not eat with Moon
Brothers, and no one ate with Burned Men. The modest tent
he had coaxed out of Lord Lefford’s stores had been
erected in the center of the four fires. Tyrion found Bronn
sharing a skin of wine with the new servants. Lord Tywin
had sent him a groom and a body servant to see to his
needs, and even insisted he take a squire. They were
seated around the embers of a small cookfire. A girl was
with them; slim, dark-haired, no more than eighteen by the
look of her. Tyrion studied her face for a moment, before he
spied fishbones in the ashes. “What did you eat?”
“Trout, m’lord,” said his groom. “Bronn caught them.”
Trout, he thought. Suckling pig. Damn my father. He
stared mournfully at the bones, his belly rumbling.
His squire, a boy with the unfortunate name of Podrick
Payne, swallowed whatever he had been about to say. The
lad was a distant cousin to Ser Ilyn Payne, the king’s
headsman . . . and almost as quiet, although not for want of
a tongue. Tyrion had made him stick it out once, just to be
certain. “Definitely a tongue,” he had said. “Someday you
must learn to use it.”
At the moment, he did not have the patience to try and
coax a thought out of the lad, whom he suspected had been
inflicted on him as a cruel jape. Tyrion turned his attention
back to the girl. “Is this her?” he asked Bronn.
She rose gracefully and looked down at him from the lofty
height of five feet or more. “It is, m’lord, and she can speak
for herself, if it please you.”
He cocked his head to one side. “I am Tyrion, of House
Lannister. Men call me the Imp.”
“My mother named me Shae. Men call me . . . often.”Bronn
 laughed, and Tyrion had to smile. “Into the tent,
Shae, if you would be so kind.” He lifted the flap and held it
for her. Inside, he knelt to light a candle. The life of a soldier
was not without certain compensations. Wherever you have
a camp, you are certain to have camp followers. At the end
of the day’s march, Tyrion had sent Bronn back to find him
a likely whore. “Iwould prefer one who is reasonably young,
with as pretty a face as you can find,” he had said. “If she
has washed sometime this year, I shall be glad. If she
hasn’t, wash her. Be certain that you tell her who I am, and
warn her of what I am.” Jyck had not always troubled to do
that. There was a look the girls got in their eyes sometimes
when they first beheld the lordling they’d been hired to
pleasure . . . a took that Tyrion Lannister did not ever care
to see again.
He lifted the candle and looked her over. Bronn had done
well enough; she was doe-eyed and slim, with small firm
breasts and a smile that was by turns shy, insolent, and
wicked. He liked that. “Shall I take my gown off, m’lord?”
she asked.
“In good time. Are you a maiden, Shae?”
“If it please you, m’lord,” she said demurely.
“What would please me would be the truth of you, girl.”
“Aye, but that will cost you double.”
Tyrion decided they would get along splendidly. “I am a
Lannister. Gold I have in plenty, and you’ll find me generous
. . . but I’ll want more from you than what you’ve got between
your legs, though I’ll want that too. You’ll share my tent, pour
my wine, laugh at my jests, rub the ache from my legs after
each day’s ride . . . and whether I keep you a day or a year,
for so long as we are together you will take no other men
into your bed.”“Fair enough.” She reached down to the hem of her thin
roughspun gown and pulled it up over her head in one
smooth motion, tossing it aside. There was nothing
underneath but Shae. “If he don’t put down that candle,
m’lord will burn his fingers.”
Tyrion put down the candle, took her hand in his, and
pulled her gently to him. She bent to kiss him. Her mouth
tasted of honey and cloves, and her fingers were deft and
practiced as they found the fastenings of his clothes.
When he entered her, she welcomed him with whispered
endearments and small, shuddering gasps of pleasure.
Tyrion suspected her delight was feigned, but she did it so
well that it did not matter. That much truth he did not crave.
He had needed her, Tyrion realized afterward, as she lay
quietly in his arms. Her or someone like her. It had been
nigh on a year since he’d lain with a woman, since before
he had set out for Winterfell in company with his brother and
King Robert. He could well die on the morrow or the day
after, and if he did, he would sooner go to his grave thinking
of Shae than of his lord father, Lysa Arryn, or the Lady
Catelyn Stark.
He could feel the softness of her breasts pressed against
his arm as she lay beside him. That was a good feeling. A
song filled his head. Softly, quietly, he began to whistle.
“What’s that, m’lord?” Shae murmured against him.
“Nothing,” he told her. “A song I learned as a boy, that’s
all. Go to sleep, sweetling.”
When her eyes were closed and her breathing deep and
steady, Tyrion slid out from beneath her, gently, so as not to
disturb her sleep. Naked, he crawled outside, stepped over
his squire, and walked around behind his tent to make
water.Bronn was seated cross-legged under a chestnut tree,
near where they’d tied the horses. He was honing the edge
of his sword, wide awake; the sellsword did not seem to
sleep like other men. “Where did you find her?” Tyrion
asked him as he pissed.
“I took her from a knight. The man was loath to give her
up, but your name changed his thinking somewhat . . . that,
and my dirk at his throat.”
“Splendid,” Tyrion said dryly, shaking off the last drops. “I
seem to recall saying find me a whore, not make me an
“The pretty ones were all claimed,” Bronn said. “I’ll be
pleased to take her back if you’d prefer a toothless drab.”
Tyrion limped closer to where he sat. “My lord father
would call that insolence, and send you to the mines for
“Good for me you’re not your father,” Bronn replied. “I saw
one with boils all over her nose. Would you like her?”
“What, and break your heart?” Tyrion shot back. “I shall
keep Shae. Did you perchance note the name of this knight
you took her from? I’d rather not have him beside me in the
Bronn rose, cat-quick and cat-graceful, turning his sword
in his hand. “You’ll have me beside you in the battle, dwarf.”
Tyrion nodded. The night air was warm on his bare skin.
“See that I survive this battle, and you can name your
Bronn tossed the longsword from his right hand to his left,
and tried a cut. “Who’d want to kill the likes of you?”
“My lord father, for one. He’s put me in the van.”
“I’d do the same. A small man with a big shield. You’ll give
the archers fits.”“I find you oddly cheering,” Tyrion said. “I
must be mad.”
Bronn sheathed his sword. “Beyond a doubt.”
When Tyrion returned to his tent, Shae rolled onto her
elbow and murmured sleepily, “I woke and m’lord was
“M’lord is back now.” He slid in beside her.
Her hand went between his stunted legs, and found him
hard. “Yes he is,” she whispered, stroking him.
He asked her about the man Bronn had taken her from,
and she named the minor retainer of an insignificant
lordling. “You need not fear his like, m’lord,” the girl said,
her fingers busy at his cock. “He is a small man.”
“And what am I, pray?” Tyrion asked her. “A giant?”
“Oh, yes,” she purred, “my giant of Lannister.” She
mounted him then, and for a time, she almost made him
believe it. Tyrion went to sleep smiling . . .
. . . and woke in darkness to the blare of trumpets. Shae
was shaking him by the shoulder. “M’lord,” she whispered.
“Wake up, m’lord. I’m frightened.”
Groggy, he sat up and threw back the blanket. The horns
called through the night, wild and urgent, a cry that said
hurry hurry hurry. He heard shouts, the clatter of spears, the
whicker of horses, though nothing yet that spoke to him of
fighting. “My lord father’s trumpets,” he said. “Battle
assembly. I thought Stark was yet a day’s march away.”
Shae shook her head, lost. Her eyes were wide and
Groaning, Tyrion lurched to his feet and pushed his way
outside, shouting for his squire. Wisps of pale fog drifted
through the night, long white fingers off the river. Men and
horses blundered through the predawn chill; saddles were
being cinched, wagons loaded, fires extinguished. The
trumpets blew again: hurry hurry hurry. Knights vaulted onto
snorting coursers while men-at-arms buckled their sword
belts as they ran. When he found Pod, the boy was snoring
softly. Tyrion gave him a sharp poke in the ribs with his toe.
“My armor,” he said, “and be quick about it.” Bronn came
trotting out of the mists, already armored and ahorse,
wearing his battered halfhelm. “Do you know what’s
happened?” Tyrion asked him.
“The Stark boy stole a march on us,” Bronn said. “He
crept down the kingsroad in the night, and now his host is
less than a mile north of here, forming up in battle array.”
Hurry, the trumpets called, hurry hurry hurry.
“See that the clansmen are ready to ride.” Tyrion ducked
back inside his tent. “Where are my clothes?” he barked at
Shae. “There. No, the leather, damn it. Yes. Bring me my
By the time he was dressed, his squire had laid out his
armor, such that it was. Tyrion owned a fine suit of heavy
plate, expertly crafted to fit his misshapen body. Alas, it
was safe at Casterly Rock, and he was not. He had to
make do with oddments assembled from Lord Lefford’s
wagons: mail hauberk and coif, a dead knight’s gorget,
lobstered greaves and gauntlets and pointed steel boots.
Some of it was ornate, some plain; not a bit of it matched,
or fit as it should. His breastplate was meant for a bigger
man; for his oversize head, they found a huge bucket
shaped greathelm topped with a foot-long triangular spike.
Shae helped Pod with the buckles and clasps. “If I die,
weep for me,” Tyrion told the whore.
“How will you know? You’ll be dead.”
“I’ll know.”
“I believe you would.” Shae lowered the greathelm down
over his head, and Pod fastened it to his gorget. Tyrion
buckled on his belt, heavy with the weight of shortsword and
dirk. By then his groom had brought up his mount, a
formidable brown courser armored as heavily as he was.
He needed help to mount; he felt as though he weighed a
thousand stone. Pod handed him up his shield, a massive
slab of heavy ironwood banded with steel. Lastly they gave
him his battle-axe. Shae stepped back and looked him
over. “M’lord looks fearsome.”
“M’lord looks a dwarf in mismatched armor,” Tyrion
answered sourly, “but I thank you for the kindness. Podrick,
should the battle go against us, see the lady safely home.”
He saluted her with his axe, wheeled his horse about, and
trotted off. His stomach was a hard knot, so tight it pained
him. Behind, his servants hurriedly began to strike his tent.
Pale crimson fingers fanned out to the east as the first rays
of the sun broke over the horizon. The western sky was a
deep purple, speckled with stars. Tyrion wondered whether
this was the last sunrise he would ever see . . . and whether
wondering was a mark of cowardice. Did his brother Jaime
ever contemplate death before a battle?
A warhorn sounded in the far distance, a deep mournful
note that chilled the soul. The clansmen climbed onto their
scrawny mountain horses, shouting curses and rude jokes.
Several appeared to be drunk. The rising sun was burning
off the drifting tendrils of fog as Tyrion led them off. What
grass the horses had left was heavy with dew, as if some
passing god had scattered a bag of diamonds over the
earth. The mountain men fell in behind him, each clan
arrayed behind its own leaders.
In the dawn light, the army of Lord Tywin Lannister
unfolded like an iron rose, thorns gleaming.His uncle would
lead the center. Ser Kevan had raised his
standards above the kingsroad. Quivers hanging from their
belts, the foot archers arrayed themselves into three long
lines, to east and west of the road, and stood calmly
stringing their bows. Between them, pikemen formed
squares; behind were rank on rank of men-at-arms with
spear and sword and axe. Three hundred heavy horse
surrounded Ser Kevan and the lords bannermen Lefford,
Lydden, and Serrett with all their sworn retainers.
The right wing was all cavalry, some four thousand men,
heavy with the weight of their armor. More than three
quarters of the knights were there, massed together like a
great steel fist. Ser Addam Marbrand had the command.
Tyrion saw his banner unfurl as his standardbearer shook it
out; a burning tree, orange and smoke. Behind him flew Ser
Flement’s purple unicorn, the brindled boar of Crakehall,
the bantam rooster of Swyft, and more.
His lord father took his place on the hill where he had
slept. Around him, the reserve assembled; a huge force,
half mounted and half foot, five thousand strong. Lord Tywin
almost always chose to command the reserve; he would
take the high ground and watch the battle unfold below him,
committing his forces when and where they were needed
Even from afar, his lord father was resplendent. Tywin
Lannister’s battle armor put his son Jaime’s gilded suit to
shame. His greatcloak was sewn from countless layers of
cloth-of-gold, so heavy that it barely stirred even when he
charged, so large that its drape covered most of his
stallion’s hindquarters when he took the saddle. No
ordinary clasp would suffice for such a weight, so the
greatcloak was held in place by a matched pair of
miniature lionesses crouching on his shoulders, as if
poised to spring. Their mate, a male with a magnificent
mane, reclined atop Lord Tywin’s greathelm, one paw
raking the air as he roared. All three lions were wrought in
gold, with ruby eyes. His armor was heavy steel plate,
enameled in a dark crimson, greaves and gauntlets inlaid
with ornate gold scrollwork. His rondels were golden
sunbursts, all his fastenings were gilded, and the red steel
was burnished to such a high sheen that it shone like fire in
the light of the rising sun.
Tyrion could hear the rumble of the foemen’s drums now.
He remembered Robb Stark as he had last seen him, in his
father’s high seat in the Great Hall of Winterfell, a sword
naked and shining in his hands. He remembered how the
direwolves had come at him out of the shadows, and
suddenly he could see them again, snarling and snapping,
teeth bared in his face. Would the boy bring his wolves to
war with him? The thought made him uneasy.
The northerners would be exhausted after their long
sleepless march. Tyrion wondered what the boy had been
thinking. Did he think to take them unawares while they
slept? Small chance of that; whatever else might be said of
him, Tywin Lannister was no man’s fool.
The van was massing on the left. He saw the standard
first, three black dogs on a yellow field. Ser Gregor sat
beneath it, mounted on the biggest horse Tyrion had ever
seen. Bronn took one look at him and grinned. “Always
follow a big man into battle.”
Tyrion threw him a hard look. “And why is that?”
“They make such splendid targets. That one, he’ll draw
the eyes of every bowman on the field.”
Laughing, Tyrion regarded the Mountain with fresh eyes. “I
confess, I had not considered it in that light.”
Clegane had no splendor about him; his armor was steel
plate, dull grey, scarred by hard use and showing neither
sigil nor ornament. He was pointing men into position with
his blade, a two-handed greatsword that Ser Gregor waved
about with one hand as a lesser man might wave a dagger.
“Any man runs, I’ll cut him down myself,” he was roaring
when he caught sight of Tyrion. “Imp! Take the left. Hold the
river. If you can.”
The left of the left. To turn their flank, the Starks would
need horses that could run on water. Tyrion led his men
toward the riverbank. “Look,” he shouted, pointing with his
axe. “The river.” A blanket of pale mist still clung to the
surface of the water, the murky green current swirling past
underneath. The shallows were muddy and choked with
reeds. “That river is ours. Whatever happens, keep close to
the water. Never lose sight of it. Let no enemy come
between us and our river. If they dirty our waters, hack off
their cocks and feed them to the fishes.”
Shagga had an axe in either hand. He smashed them
together and made them ring. “Halfman!” he shouted. Other
Stone Crows picked up the cry, and the Black Ears and
Moon Brothers as well. The Burned Men did not shout, but
they rattled their swords and spears. “Halfman! Halfman!
Tyrion turned his courser in a circle to look over the field.
The ground was rolling and uneven here; soft and muddy
near the river, rising in a gentle slope toward the kingsroad,
stony and broken beyond it, to the cast. A few trees spotted
the hillsides, but most of the land had been cleared and
planted. His heart pounded in his chest in time to the
drums, and under his layers of leather and steel his brow
was cold with sweat. He watched Ser Gregor as the
Mountain rode up and down the line, shouting and
gesticulating. This wing too was all cavalry, but where the
right was a mailed fist of knights and heavy lancers, the
vanguard was made up of the sweepings of the west:
mounted archers in leather jerkins, a swarming mass of
undisciplined freeriders and sellswords, fieldhands on plow
horses armed with scythes and their fathers’ rusted swords,
half-trained boys from the stews of Lannisport and Tyrion
and his mountain clansmen.
“Crow food,” Bronn muttered beside him, giving voice to
what Tyrion had left unsaid. He could only nod. Had his lord
father taken leave of his senses? No pikes, too few
bowmen, a bare handful of knights, the ill-armed and
unarmored, commanded by an unthinking brute who led
with his rage . . . how could his father expect this travesty of
a battle to hold his left?
He had no time to think about it. The drums were so near
that the beat crept under his skin and set his hands to
twitching. Bronn drew his longsword, and suddenly the
enemy was there before them, boiling over the tops of the
hills, advancing with measured tread behind a wall of
shields and pikes.
Gods be damned, look at them all, Tyrion thought, though
he knew his father had more men on the field. Their
captains led them on armored warhorses, standard
bearers riding alongside with their banners. He glimpsed
the bull moose of the Hornwoods, the Karstark sunburst,
Lord Cerwyn’s battle-axe, and the mailed fist of the Glovers
. . . and the twin towers of Frey, blue on grey. So much for
his father’s certainty that Lord Walder would not bestir
himself. The white of House Stark was seen everywhere,
the grey direwolves seeming to run and leap as the
banners swirled and streamed from the high staffs. Where
is the boy? Tyrion wondered.
A warhorn blew. Haroooooooooooooooooooooooo, it
cried, its voice as long and low and chilling as a cold wind
from the north. The Lannister trumpets answered, da-DA
da-DA da-DAAAAAAAAA, brazen and defiant, yet it
seemed to Tyrion that they sounded somehow smaller,
more anxious. He could feel a fluttering in his bowels, a
queasy liquid feeling; he hoped he was not going to die
As the horns died away, a hissing filled the air; a vast
flight of arrows arched up from his right, where the archers
stood flanking the road. The northerners broke into a run,
shouting as they came, but the Lannister arrows fell on
them like hail, hundreds of arrows, thousands, and shouts
turned to screams as men stumbled and went down. By
then a second flight was in the air, and the archers were
fitting a third arrow to their bowstrings.
The trumpets blared again, da-DAAA da-DAAA da-DA
da-DA daDAAAAAAA. Ser Gregor waved his huge sword
and bellowed a command, and a thousand other voices
screamed back at him. Tyrion put his spurs to his horse
and added one more voice to the cacophony, and the van
surged forward. “The river!” he shouted at his clansmen as
they rode. “Remember, hew to the river.” He was still
leading when they broke a canter, until Chella gave a
bloodcurdling shriek and galloped past him, and Shagga
howled and followed. The clansmen charged after them,
leaving Tyrion in their dust.
A crescent of enemy spearmen had formed ahead, a
double hedgehog bristling with steel, waiting behind tall
oaken shields marked with the sunburst of Karstark. Gregor
Clegane was the first to reach them, leading a wedge of
armored veterans. Half the horses shied at the last second,
breaking their charge before the row of spears. The others
died, sharp steel points ripping through their chests. Tyrion
saw a dozen men go down. The Mountain’s stallion reared,
lashing out with iron-shod hooves as a barbed spearhead
raked across his neck. Maddened, the beast lunged into
the ranks. Spears thrust at him from every side, but the
shield wall broke beneath his weight. The northerners
stumbled away from the animal’s death throes. As his
horse fell, snorting blood and biting with his last red breath,
the Mountain rose untouched, laying about him with his two
handed greatsword.
Shagga went bursting through the gap before the shields
could close, other Stone Crows hard behind him. Tyrion
shouted, “Burned Men! Moon Brothers! After me!” but most
of them were ahead of him. He glimpsed Timett son of
Timett vault free as his mount died under him in full stride,
saw a Moon Brother impaled on a Karstark spear, watched
Conn’s horse shatter a man’s ribs with a kick. A flight of
arrows descended on them; where they came from he
could not say, but they fell on Stark and Lannister alike,
rattling off armor or finding flesh. Tyrion lifted his shield and
hid beneath it.
The hedgehog was crumbling, the northerners reeling
back under the impact of the mounted assault. Tyrion saw
Shagga catch a spearman full in the chest as the fool came
on at a run, saw his axe shear through mail and leather and
muscle and lungs. The man was dead on his feet, the
axehead lodged in his breast, yet Shagga rode on,
cleaving a shield in two with his left-hand battle-axe while
the corpse was bouncing and stumbling bonelessly along
on his right. Finally the dead man slid off. Shagga smashed
the two axes together and roared.
By then the enemy was on him, and Tyrion’s battle shrunk
to the few feet of ground around his horse. A man-at-arms
thrust at his chest and his axe lashed out, knocking the
spear aside. The man danced back for another try, but
Tyrion spurred his horse and rode right over him. Bronn
was surrounded by three foes, but he lopped the head off
the first spear that came at him, and raked his blade across
a second man’s face on his backslash. A thrown spear
came hurtling at Tyrion from the left and lodged in his shield
with a woody chunk. He wheeled and raced after the
thrower, but the man raised his own shield over his head.
Tyrion circled around him, raining axe blows down on the
wood. Chips of oak went flying, until the northerner lost his
feet and slipped, failing flat on his back with his shield on
top of him. He was below the reach of Tyrion’s axe and it
was too much bother to dismount, so he left him there and
rode after another man, taking him from behind with a
sweeping downcut that sent a jolt of impact up his arm. That
won him a moment’s respite. Reining up, he looked for the
river. There it was, off to the right. Somehow he had gotten
turned around.
A Burned Man rode past, slumped against his horse. A
spear had entered his belly and come out through his back.
He was past any help, but when Tyrion saw one of the
northerners run up and make a grab for his reins, he
His quarry met him sword in hand. He was tall and spare,
wearing a long chainmail hauberk and gauntlets of
lobstered steel, but he’d lost his helm and blood ran down
into his eyes from a gash across his forehead. Tyrion
aimed a swipe at his face, but the tall man slammed it
aside. “Dwarf,” he screamed. “Die.” He turned in a circle as
Tyrion rode around him, hacking at his head and shoulders.
Steel rang on steel, and Tyrion soon realized that the tall
man was quicker and stronger than he was. Where in the
seven hells was Bronn? “Die,” the man grunted, chopping
at him savagely. Tyrion barely got his shield up in time, and
the wood seemed to explode inward under the force of the
blow. The shattered pieces fell away from his arm. “Die!”
the swordsman bellowed, shoving in close and whanging
Tyrion across the temple so hard his head rang. The blade
made a hideous scraping sound as he drew it back over
the steel. The tall man grinned . . . until Tyrion’s destrier bit,
quick as a snake, laying his cheek bare to the bone. Then
he screamed. Tyrion buried his axe in his head. “You die,”
he told him, and he did.
As he wrenched the blade free, he heard a shout.
“Eddard!” a voice rang out. “For Eddard and Winterfell!”
The knight came thundering down on him, swinging the
spiked ball of a morningstar around his head. Their
warhorses slammed together before Tyrion could so much
as open his mouth to shout for Bronn. His right elbow
exploded with pain as the spikes punched through the thin
metal around the joint. His axe was gone, as fast as that.
He clawed for his sword, but the morningstar was circling
again, coming at his face. A sickening crunch, and he was
falling. He did not recall hitting the ground, but when he
looked up there was only sky above him. He rolled onto his
side and tried to find his feet, but pain shuddered through
him and the world throbbed. The knight who had felled him
drew up above him. “Tyrion the Imp,” he boomed down.
“You are mine. Do you yield, Lannister?”
Yes, Tyrion thought, but the word caught in his throat. He
made a croaking sound and fought his way to his knees,
fumbling for a weapon. His sword, his dirk, anything . . .
“Do you yield?” The knight loomed overhead on his
armored warhorse. Man and horse both seemed immense.
The spiked ball swung in a lazy circle. Tyrion’s hands were
numb, his vision blurred, his scabbard empty. “Yield or die,”
the knight declared, his flail whirling faster and faster.
Tyrion lurched to his feet, driving his head into the horse’s
belly. The animal gave a hideous scream and reared. It
tried to twist away from the agony, a shower of blood and
viscera poured down over Tyrion’s face, and the horse fell
like an avalanche. The next he knew, his visor was packed
with mud and something was crushing his foot. He wriggled
free, his throat so tight he could scarce talk.
“ . . . yield . . .” he managed to croak faintly.
“Yes,” a voice moaned, thick with pain.
Tyrion scraped the mud off his helm so he could see
again. The horse had fallen away from him, onto its rider.
The knight’s leg was trapped, the arm he’d used to break
his fall twisted at a grotesque angle. “Yield,” he repeated.
Fumbling at his belt with his good hand, he drew a sword
and flung it at Tyrion’s feet. “I yield, my lord.”
Dazed, the dwarf knelt and lifted the blade. Pain
hammered through his elbow when he moved his arm. The
battle seemed to have moved beyond him. No one
remained on his part of the field save a large number of
corpses. Ravens were already circling and landing to feed.
He saw that Ser Kevan had brought up his center in support
of the van; his huge mass of pikemen had pushed the
northerners back against the hills. They were struggling on
the slopes, pikes thrusting against another wall of shields,
these oval and reinforced with iron studs. As he watched,
the air filled with arrows again, and the men behind the oak
wall crumbled beneath the murderous fire. “I believe you are
losing, ser,” he told the knight under the horse. The man
made no reply.
The sound of hooves coming up behind him made him
whirl, though he could scarcely lift the sword he held for the
agony in his elbow. Bronn reined up and looked down on
“Small use you turned out to be,” Tyrion told him.
“It would seem you did well enough on your own,” Bronn
answered. “You’ve lost the spike off your helm, though.”
Tyrion groped at the top of the greathelm. The spike had
snapped off clean. “I haven’t lost it. I know just where it is.
Do you see my horse?”
By the time they found it, the trumpets had sounded again
and Lord Tywin’s reserve came sweeping up along the
river. Tyrion watched his father fly past, the crimson-and
gold banner of Lannister rippling over his head as he
thundered across the field. Five hundred knights
surrounded him, sunlight flashing off the points of their
lances. The remnants of the Stark lines shattered like glass
beneath the hammer of their charge.
With his elbow swollen and throbbing inside his armor,
Tyrion made no attempt to join the slaughter. He and Bronn
went looking for his men. Many he found among the dead.
Ulf son of Umar lay in a pool of congealing blood, his arm
gone at the elbow, a dozen of his Moon Brothers sprawled
around him. Shagga was slumped beneath a tree, riddled
with arrows, Conn’s head in his lap. Tyrion thought they
were both dead, but as he dismounted, Shagga opened his
eyes and said, “They have killed Conn son of Coratt.”
Handsome Conn had no mark but for the red stain over his
breast, where the spear thrust had killed him. When Bronn
pulled Shagga to his feet, the big man seemed to notice
the arrows for the first time. He plucked them out one by
one, cursing the holes they had made in his layers of mail
and leather, and yowling like a babe at the few that had
buried themselves in his flesh. Chella daughter of Cheyk
rode up as they were yanking arrows out of Shagga, and
showed them four ears she had taken. Timett they
discovered looting the bodies of the slain with his Burned
Men. Of the three hundred clansmen who had ridden to
battle behind Tyrion Lannister, perhaps half had survived.
He left the living to look after the dead, sent Bronn to take
charge of his captive knight, and went alone in search of his
father. Lord Tywin was seated by the river, sipping wine
from a jeweled cup as his squire undid the fastenings on
his breastplate. “A fine victory,” Ser Kevan said when he
saw Tyrion. “Your wild men fought well.”
His father’s eyes were on him, pale green flecked with
gold, so cool they gave Tyrion a chill. “Did that surprise you,
Father?” he asked. “Did it upset your plans? We were
supposed to be butchered, were we not?”
Lord Tywin drained his cup, his face expressionless. “I put
the least disciplined men on the left, yes. I anticipated that
they would break. Robb Stark is a green boy, more like to
be brave than wise. I’d hoped that if he saw our left
collapse, he might plunge into the gap, eager for a rout.
Once he was fully committed, Ser Kevan’s pikes would
wheel and take him in the flank, driving him into the river
while I brought up the reserve.”
“And you thought it best to place me in the midst of this
carnage, yet keep me ignorant of your plans.”
“A feigned rout is less convincing,” his father said, “and I
am not inclined to trust my plans to a man who consorts
with sellswords and savages.”
“A pity my savages ruined your dance.” Tyrion pulled off
his steel gauntlet and let it fall to the ground, wincing at the
pain that stabbed up his arm.
“The Stark boy proved more cautious than I expected for
one of his years,” Lord Tywin admitted, “but a victory is a
victory. You appear to be wounded.”
Tyrion’s right arm was soaked with blood. “Good of you to
notice, Father,” he said through clenched teeth. “Might I
trouble you to send for your maesters? Unless you relish the
notion of having a one-armed dwarf for a son . . .”
An urgent shout of “Lord Tywin!” turned his father’s head
before he could reply. Tywin Lannister rose to his feet as
Ser Addam Marbrand leapt down off his courser. The horse
was lathered and bleeding from the mouth. Ser Addam
dropped to one knee, a rangy man with dark copper hair
that fell to his shoulders, armored in burnished bronzed
steel with the fiery tree of his House etched black on his
breastplate. “My liege, we have taken some of their
commanders. Lord Cerwyn, Ser Wylis Manderly, Harrion
Karstark, four Freys. Lord Hornwood is dead, and I fear
Roose Bolton has escaped us.”
“And the boy?” Lord Tywin asked.
Ser Addam hesitated. “The Stark boy was not with them,
my lord. They say he crossed at the Twins with the great
part of his horse, riding hard for Riverrun.”
A green boy, Tyrion remembered, more like to be brave
than wise. He would have laughed, if he hadn’t hurt so
The woods were full of whispers.
Moonlight winked on the tumbling waters of the stream
below as it wound its rocky way along the floor of the valley.
Beneath the trees, warhorses whickered softly and pawed
at the moist, leafy ground, while men made nervous jests in
hushed voices. Now and again, she heard the chink of
spears, the faint metallic slither of chain mail, but even
those sounds were muffled.
“It should not be long now, my lady,” Hallis Mollen said. He
had asked for the honor of protecting her in the battle to
come; it was his right, as Winterfell’s captain of guards, and
Robb had not refused it to him. She had thirty men around
her, charged to keep her unharmed and see her safely
home to Winterfell if the fighting went against them. Robb
had wanted fifty; Catelyn had insisted that ten would be
enough, that he would need every sword for the fight. They
made their peace at thirty, neither happy with it.
“It will come when it comes,” Catelyn told him. When it
came, she knew it would mean death. Hal’s death perhaps
. . . or hers, or Robb’s. No one was safe. No life was
certain. Catelyn was content to wait, to listen to the
whispers in the woods and the faint music of the brook, to
feel the warm wind in her hair.
She was no stranger to waiting, after all. Her men had
always made her wait. “Watch for me, little cat,” her father
would always tell her, when he rode off to court or fair or
battle. And she would, standing patiently on the battlements
of Riverrun as the waters of the Red Fork and the
Tumblestone flowed by. He did not always come when he
said he would, and days would ofttimes pass as Catelyn
stood her vigil, peering out between crenels and through
arrow loops until she caught a glimpse of Lord Hoster on
his old brown gelding, trotting along the river shore toward
the landing. “Did you watch for me?” he’d ask when he bent
to hug her. “Did you, little cat?”
Brandon Stark had bid her wait as well. “I shall not be
long, my lady,” he had vowed. “We will be wed on my
return.” Yet when the day came at last, it was his brother
Eddard who stood beside her in the sept.
Ned had lingered scarcely a fortnight with his new bride
before he too had ridden off to war with promises on his
lips. At least he had left her with more than words; he had
given her a son. Nine moons had waxed and waned, and
Robb had been born in Riverrun while his father still warred
in the south. She had brought him forth in blood and pain,
not knowing whether Ned would ever see him. Her son. He
had been so small . . .
And now it was for Robb that she waited . . . for Robb,
and for Jaime Lannister, the gilded knight who men said
had never learned to wait at all. “The Kingslayer is restless,
and quick to anger,” her uncle Brynden had told Robb. And
he had wagered their lives and their best hope of victory on
the truth of what he said.
If Robb was frightened, he gave no sign of it. Catelyn
watched her son as he moved among the men, touching
one on the shoulder, sharing a jest with another, helping a
third to gentle an anxious horse. His armor clinked softly
when he moved. Only his head was bare. Catelyn watched
a breeze stir his auburn hair, so like her own, and
wondered when her son had grown so big. Fifteen, and
near as tall as she was.Let him grow taller, she asked the gods.
Let him know
sixteen, and twenty, and fifty. Let him grow as tall as his
father, and hold his own son in his arms. Please, please,
please. As she watched him, this tall young man with the
new beard and the direwolf prowling at his heels, all she
could see was the babe they had laid at her breast at
Riverrun, so long ago.
The night was warm, but the thought of Riverrun was
enough to make her shiver. Where are they? she
wondered. Could her uncle have been wrong? So much
rested on the truth of what he had told them. Robb had
given the Blackfish three hundred picked men, and sent
them ahead to screen his march. “Jaime does not know,”
Ser Brynden said when he rode back. “I’ll stake my life on
that. No bird has reached him, my archers have seen to
that. We’ve seen a few of his outriders, but those that saw
us did not live to tell of it. He ought to have sent out more.
He does not know.”
“How large is his host?” her son asked.
“Twelve thousand foot, scattered around the castle in
three separate camps, with the rivers between,” her uncle
said, with the craggy smile she remembered so well.
“There is no other way to besiege Riverrun, yet still, that will
be their undoing. Two or three thousand horse.”
“The Kingslayer has us three to one,” said Galbart Glover.
“True enough,” Ser Brynden said, “yet there is one thing
Ser Jaime lacks.”
“Yes?” Robb asked.
Their host was greater than it had been when they left the
Twins. Lord Jason Mallister had brought his power out from
Seagard to join them as they swept around the headwaters
of the Blue Fork and galloped south, and others had crept
forth as well, hedge knights and small lords and masterless
men-at-arms who had fled north when her brother Edmure’s
army was shattered beneath the walls of Riverrun. They had
driven their horses as hard as they dared to reach this
place before Jaime Lannister had word of their coming,
and now the hour was at hand.
Catelyn watched her son mount up. Olyvar Frey held his
horse for him, Lord Walder’s son, two years older than
Robb, and ten years younger and more anxious. He
strapped Robb’s shield in place and handed up his helm.
When he lowered it over the face she loved so well, a tall
young knight sat on his grey stallion where her son had
been. It was dark among the trees, where the moon did not
reach. When Robb turned his head to look at her, she could
see only black inside his visor. “I must ride down the line,
Mother,” he told her. “Father says you should let the men
see you before a battle.”
“Go, then,” she said. “Let them see you.”
“It will give them courage,” Robb said.
And who will give me courage? she wondered, yet she
kept her silence and made herself smile for him. Robb
turned the big grey stallion and walked him slowly away
from her, Grey Wind shadowing his steps. Behind him his
battle guard formed up. When he’d forced Catelyn to
accept her protectors, she had insisted that he be guarded
as well, and the lords bannermen had agreed. Many of their
sons had clamored for the honor of riding with the Young
Wolf, as they had taken to calling him. Torrhen Karstark and
his brother Eddard were among his thirty, and Patrek
Mallister, Smalljon Umber, Daryn Hornwood, Theon
Greyjoy, no less than five of Walder Frey’s vast brood,
along with older men like Ser Wendel Manderly and Robin
Flint. One of his companions was even a woman: Dacey
Mormont, Lady Maege’s eldest daughter and heir to Bear
Island, a lanky sixfooter who had been given a morningstar
at an age when most girls were given dolls. Some of the
other lords muttered about that, but Catelyn would not listen
to their complaints. “This is not about the honor of your
houses,” she told them. “This is about keeping my son alive
and whole.”
And if it comes to that, she wondered, will thirty be
enough? Will six thousand be enough?
A bird called faintly in the distance, a high sharp trill that
felt like an icy hand on Catelyn’s neck. Another bird
answered; a third, a fourth. She knew their call well enough,
from her years at Winterfell. Snow shrikes. Sometimes you
saw them in the deep of winter, when the godswood was
white and still. They were northern birds.
They are coming, Catelyn thought.
“They’re coming, my lady,” Hal Mollen whispered. He was
always a man for stating the obvious. “Gods be with us.”
She nodded as the woods grew still around them. In the
quiet she could hear them, far off yet moving closer; the
tread of many horses, the rattle of swords and spears and
armor, the murmur of human voices, with here a laugh, and
there a curse.
Eons seemed to come and go. The sounds grew louder.
She heard more laughter, a shouted command, splashing
as they crossed and recrossed the little stream. A horse
snorted. A man swore. And then at last she saw him . . .
only for an instant, framed between the branches of the
trees as she looked down at the valley floor, yet she knew it
was him. Even at a distance, Ser Jaime Lannister was
unmistakable. The moonlight had silvered his armor and
the gold of his hair, and turned his crimson cloak to black.
He was not wearing a helm.
He was there and he was gone again, his silvery armor
obscured by the trees once more. Others came behind him,
long columns of them, knights and sworn swords and
freeriders, three quarters of the Lannister horse.
“He is no man for sitting in a tent while his carpenters
build siege towers,” Ser Brynden had promised. “He has
ridden out with his knights thrice already, to chase down
raiders or storm a stubborn holdfast.”
Nodding, Robb had studied the map her uncle had drawn
him. Ned had taught him to read maps. “Raid him here,” he
said, pointing. “A few hundred men, no more. Tully banners.
When he comes after you, we will be waiting”—his finger
moved an inch to the left—”here.”
Here was a hush in the night, moonlight and shadows, a
thick carpet of dead leaves underfoot, densely wooded
ridges sloping gently down to the streambed, the
underbrush thinning as the ground fell away.
Here was her son on his stallion, glancing back at her one
last time and lifting his sword in salute.
Here was the call of Maege Mormont’s warhorn, a long
low blast that rolled down the valley from the east, to tell
them that the last of Jaime’s riders had entered the trap.
And GreyWind threw back his head and howled.
The sound seemed to go right through Catelyn Stark, and
she found herself shivering. It was a terrible sound, a
frightening sound, yet there was music in it too. For a
second she felt something like pity for the Lannisters below.
So this is what death sounds like, she thought.
HAAroooooooooooooooooooooooo came the answer
from the far ridge as the Greatjon winded his own horn. To
east and west, the trumpets of the Mallisters and Freys
blew vengeance. North, where the valley narrowed and bent
like a cocked elbow, Lord Karstarks warhorns added their
own deep, mournful voices to the dark chorus. Men were
shouting and horses rearing in the stream below.
The whispering wood let out its breath all at once, as the
bowmen Robb had hidden in the branches of the trees let
fly their arrows and the night erupted with the screams of
men and horses. All around her, the riders raised their
lances, and the dirt and leaves that had buried the cruel
bright points fell away to reveal the gleam of sharpened
steel. “Winterfell!” she heard Robb shout as the arrows
sighed again. He moved away from her at a trot, leading
his men downhill.
Catelyn sat on her horse, unmoving, with Hal Mollen and
her guard around her, and she waited as she had waited
before, for Brandon and Ned and her father. She was high
on the ridge, and the trees hid most of what was going on
beneath her. A heartbeat, two, four, and suddenly it was as
if she and her protectors were alone in the wood. The rest
were melted away into the green.
Yet when she looked across the valley to the far ridge,
she saw the Greatjon’s riders emerge from the darkness
beneath the trees. They were in a long line, an endless line,
and as they burst from the wood there was an instant, the
smallest part of a heartbeat, when all Catelyn saw was the
moonlight on the points of their lances, as if a thousand
willowisps were coming down the ridge, wreathed in silver
flame. Then she blinked, and they were only men, rushing
down to kill or die.
Afterward, she could not claim she had seen the battle.
Yet she could hear, and the valley rang with echoes. The
crack of a broken lance, the clash of swords, the cries of
“Lannister” and “Winterfell” and “Tully! Riverrun and Tully!”
When she realized there was no more to see, she closed
her eyes and listened. The battle came alive around her.
She heard hoofbeats, iron boots splashing in shallow
water, the woody sound of swords on oaken shields and
the scrape of steel against steel, the hiss of arrows, the
thunder of drums, the terrified screaming of a thousand
horses. Men shouted curses and begged for mercy, and
got it (or not), and lived (or died). The ridges seemed to
play queer tricks with sound. Once she heard Robb’s voice,
as clear as if he’d been standing at her side, calling, “To
me! To me!” And she heard his direwolf, snarling and
growling, heard the snap of those long teeth, the tearing of
flesh, shrieks of fear and pain from man and horse alike.
Was there only one wolf? It was hard to be certain.
Little by little, the sounds dwindled and died, until at last
there was only the wolf. As a red dawn broke in the east,
GreyWind began to howl again.
Robb came back to her on a different horse, riding a
piebald gelding in the place of the grey stallion he had
taken down into the valley. The wolf’s head on his shield
was slashed half to pieces, raw wood showing where deep
gouges had been hacked in the oak, but Robb himself
seemed unhurt. Yet when he came closer, Catelyn saw that
his mailed glove and the sleeve of his surcoat were black
with blood. “You’re hurt,” she said.
Robb lifted his hand, opened and closed his fingers. “No,”
he said. “This is . . . Torrhen’s blood, perhaps, or . . .” He
shook his head. “I do not know.”
A mob of men followed him up the slope, dirty and dented
and grinning, with Theon and the Greatjon at their head.
Between them they dragged Ser Jaime Lannister. They
threw him down in front of her horse. “The Kingslayer,” Hal
announced, unnecessarily.
Lannister raised his head. “Lady Stark,” he said from his
knees. Blood ran down one cheek from a gash across his
scalp, but the pale light of dawn had put the glint of gold
back in his hair. “I would offer you my sword, but I seem to
have mislaid it.”
“It is not your sword Iwant, ser,” she told him. “Give me my
father and my brother Edmure. Give me my daughters. Give
me my lord husband.”
“I have mislaid them as well, I fear.”
“A pity,” Catelyn said coldly.
“Kill him, Robb,” Theon Greyjoy urged. “Take his head
“No,” her son answered, peeling off his bloody glove.
“He’s more use alive than dead. And my lord father never
condoned the murder of prisoners after a battle.”
“A wise man,” Jaime Lannister said, “and honorable.”
“Take him away and put him in irons,” Catelyn said.
“Do as my lady mother says,” Robb commanded, “and
make certain there’s a strong guard around him. Lord
Karstark will want his head on a pike.”
“That he will,” the Greatjon agreed, gesturing. Lannister
was led away to be bandaged and chained.
“Why should Lord Karstark want him dead?” Catelyn
Robb looked away into the woods, with the same
brooding look that Ned often got. “He . . . he killed them . . .”
“Lord Karstark’s sons,” Galbart Glover explained.
“Both of them,” said Robb. “Torrhen and Eddard. And
Daryn Hornwood as well.”
“No one can fault Lannister on his courage,” Glover said.
“When he saw that he was lost, he rallied his retainers and
fought his way up the valley, hoping to reach Lord Robb and
cut him down. And almost did.”
“He mislaid his sword in Eddard Karstark’s neck, after he
took Torrhen’s hand off and split Daryn Hornwood’s skull
open,” Robb said. “All the time he was shouting for me. If
they hadn’t tried to stop him—”
“—I should then be mourning in place of Lord Karstark,”
Catelyn said. “Your men did what they were sworn to do,
Robb. They died protecting their liege lord. Grieve for them.
Honor them for their valor. But not now. You have no time
for grief. You may have lopped the head off the snake, but
three quarters of the body is still coiled around my father’s
castle. We have won a battle, not a war.”
“But such a battle!” said Theon Greyjoy eagerly. “My lady,
the realm has not seen such a victory since the Field of
Fire. I vow, the Lannisters lost ten men for every one of ours
that fell. We’ve taken close to a hundred knights captive,
and a dozen lords bannermen. Lord Westerling, Lord
Banefort, Ser Garth Greenfield, Lord Estren, Ser Tytos
Brax, Mallor the Dornishman . . . and three Lannisters
besides Jaime, Lord Tywin’s own nephews, two of his
sister’s sons and one of his dead brother’s . . .”
“And Lord Tywin?” Catelyn interrupted. “Have you
perchance taken Lord Tywin, Theon?”
“No,” Greyjoy answered, brought up short.
“Until you do, this war is far from done.”
Robb raised his head and pushed his hair back out of his
eyes. “My mother is right. We still have Riverrun.”Daenerys
The flies circled Khal Drogo slowly, their wings
buzzing, a low thrum at the edge of hearing that filled Dany
with dread.
The sun was high and pitiless. Heat shimmered in waves
off the stony outcrops of low hills. A thin finger of sweat
trickled slowly between Dany’s swollen breasts. The only
sounds were the steady clop of their horses’ hooves, the
rhythmic tingle of the bells in Drogo’s hair, and the distant
voices behind them.
Dany watched the flies.
They were as large as bees, gross, purplish, glistening.
The Dothraki called them bloodflies. They lived in marshes
and stagnant pools, sucked blood from man and horse
alike, and laid their eggs in the dead and dying. Drogo
hated them. Whenever one came near him, his hand would
shoot out quick as a striking snake to close around it. She
had never seen him miss. He would hold the fly inside his
huge fist long enough to hear its frantic buzzing. Then his
fingers would tighten, and when he opened his hand again,
the fly would be only a red smear on his palm.
Now one crept across the rump of his stallion, and the
horse gave an angry flick of its tail to brush it away. The
others flitted about Drogo, closer and closer. The khal did
not react. His eyes were fixed on distant brown hills, the
reins loose in his hands. Beneath his painted vest, a plaster
of fig leaves and caked blue mud covered the wound on his
breast. The herbwomen had made it for him. Mirri Maz
Duur’s poultice had itched and burned, and he had torn it
off six days ago, cursing her for a maegi. The mud plaster
was more soothing, and the herbwomen made him
poppywine as well. He’d been drinking it heavily these past three
days; when it was not poppy wine, it was fermented mare’s
milk or pepper beer.
Yet he scarcely touched his food, and he thrashed and
groaned in the night. Dany could see how drawn his face
had become. Rhaego was restless in her belly, kicking like
a stallion, yet even that did not stir Drogo’s interest as it
had. Every morning her eyes found fresh lines of pain on his
face when he woke from his troubled sleep. And now this
silence. It was making her afraid. Since they had mounted
up at dawn, he had said not a word. When she spoke, she
got no answer but a grunt, and not even that much since
One of the bloodflies landed on the bare skin of the khal’s
shoulder. Another, circling, touched down on his neck and
crept up toward his mouth. Khal Drogo swayed in the
saddle, bells ringing, as his stallion kept onward at a steady
walking pace.
Dany pressed her heels into her silver and rode closer.
“My lord,” she said softly. “Drogo. My sun-and-stars.”
He did not seem to hear. The bloodfly crawled up under
his drooping mustache and settled on his cheek, in the
crease beside his nose. Dany gasped, “Drogo.” Clumsily
she reached over and touched his arm.
Khal Drogo reeled in the saddle, tilted slowly, and fell
heavily from his horse. The flies scattered for a heartbeat,
and then circled back to settle on him where he lay.
“No,” Dany said, reining up. Heedless of her belly for
once, she scrambled off her silver and ran to him.
The grass beneath him was brown and dry. Drogo cried
out in pain as Dany knelt beside him. His breath rattled
harshly in his throat, and he looked at her without
recognition. “My horse,” he gasped. Dany brushed the flies
off his chest, smashing one as he would have. His skin
burned beneath her fingers.
The khal’s bloodriders had been following just behind
them. She heard Haggo shout as they galloped up. Cohollo
vaulted from his horse. “Blood of my blood,” he said as he
dropped to his knees. The other two kept to their mounts.
“No,” Khal Drogo groaned, struggling in Dany’s arms.
“Must ride. Ride. No.”
“He fell from his horse,” Haggo said, staring down. His
broad face was impassive, but his voice was leaden. “You
must not say that,” Dany told him. “We have ridden far
enough today. We will camp here.”
“Here?” Haggo looked around them. The land was brown
and sere, inhospitable. “This is no camping ground.”
“It is not for a woman to bid us halt,” said Qotho, “not even
a khaleesi.”
“We camp here,” Dany repeated. “Haggo, tell them Khal
Drogo commanded the halt. If any ask why, say to them that
my time is near and I could not continue. Cohollo, bring up
the slaves, they must put up the khal’s tent at once. Qotho
“You do not command me, Khaleesi,” Qotho said.
“Find Mirri Maz Duur,” she told him. The godswife would
be walking among the other Lamb Men, in the long column
of slaves. “Bring her to me, with her chest.”
Qotho glared down at her, his eyes hard as flint. “The
maegi.” He spat. “This Iwill not do.”
“You will,” Dany said, “or when Drogo wakes, he will hear
why you defied me.”
Furious, Qotho wheeled his stallion around and galloped
off in anger . . . but Dany knew he would return with
MirriMaz Duur, however little he might like it. The slaves erected
Khal Drogo’s tent beneath a jagged outcrop of black rock
whose shadow gave some relief from the heat of the
afternoon sun. Even so, it was stifling under the sandsilk as
Irri and Doreah helped Dany walk Drogo inside. Thick
patterned carpets had been laid down over the ground, and
pillows scattered in the corners. Eroeh, the timid girl Dany
had rescued outside the mud walls of the Lamb Men, set up
a brazier. They stretched Drogo out on a woven mat. “No,”
he muttered in the Common Tongue. “No, no.” It was all he
said, all he seemed capable of saying.
Doreah unhooked his medallion belt and stripped off his
vest and leggings, while Jhiqui knelt by his feet to undo the
laces of his riding sandals. Irri wanted to leave the tent flaps
open to let in the breeze, but Dany forbade it. She would
not have any see Drogo this way, in delirium and
weakness. When her khas came up, she posted them
outside at guard. “Admit no one without my leave,” she told
Jhogo. “No one.”
Eroeh stared fearfully at Drogo where he lay. “He dies,”
she whispered.
Dany slapped her. “The khal cannot die. He is the father
of the stallion who mounts the world. His hair has never
been cut. He still wears the bells his father gave him.”
“Khaleesi,” Jhiqui said, “he fell from his horse.” Trembling,
her eyes full of sudden tears, Dany turned away from them.
He fell from his horse! It was so, she had seen it, and the
bloodriders, and no doubt her handmaids and the men of
her khas as well. And how many more? They could not
keep it secret, and Dany knew what that meant. A khal who
could not ride could not rule, and Drogo had fallen from his
horse.“We must bathe him,” she said stubbornly. She must not
allow herself to despair. “Irri, have the tub brought at once.
Doreah, Eroeh, find water, cool water, he’s so hot.” He was
a fire in human skin.
The slaves set up the heavy copper tub in the corner of
the tent. When Doreah brought the first jar of water, Dany
wet a length of silk to lay across Drogo’s brow, over the
burning skin. His eyes looked at her, but he did not see.
When his lips opened, no words escaped them, only a
moan. “Where is Mirri Maz Duur?” she demanded, her
patience rubbed raw with fear.
“Qotho will find her,” Irri said.
Her handmaids filled the tub with tepid water that stank of
sulfur, sweetening it with jars of bitter oil and handfuls of
crushed mint leaves. While the bath was being prepared,
Dany knelt awkwardly beside her lord husband, her belly
great with their child within. She undid his braid with
anxious fingers, as she had on the night he’d taken her for
the first time, beneath the stars. His bells she laid aside
carefully, one by one. He would want them again when he
was well, she told herself.
A breath of air entered the tent as Aggo poked his head
through the silk. “Khaleesi,” he said, “the Andal is come,
and begs leave to enter.”
“The Andal” was what the Dothraki called Ser Jorah.
“Yes,” she said, rising clumsily, “send him in.” She trusted
the knight. He would know what to do if anyone did.
Ser Jorah Mormont ducked through the door flap and
waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. In
the fierce heat of the south, he wore loose trousers of
mottled sandsilk and open-toed riding sandals that laced
up to his knee. His scabbard hung from a twisted horsehair
belt. Under a bleached white vest, he was bare-chested,
skin reddened by the sun. “Talk goes from mouth to ear, all
over the khalasar,” he said. “It is said Khal Drogo fell from
his horse.”
“Help him,” Dany pleaded. “For the love you say you bear
me, help him now.”
The knight knelt beside her. He looked at Drogo long and
hard, and then at Dany. “Send your maids away.”
Wordlessly, her throat tight with fear, Dany made a
gesture. Irri herded the other girls from the tent. When they
were alone, Ser Jorah drew his dagger. Deftly, with a
delicacy surprising in such a big man, he began to scrape
away the black leaves and dried blue mud from Drogo’s
chest. The plaster had caked hard as the mud walls of the
Lamb Men, and like those walls it cracked easily. Ser Jorah
broke the dry mud with his knife, pried the chunks from the
flesh, peeled off the leaves one by one. A foul, sweet smell
rose from the wound, so thick it almost choked her. The
leaves were crusted with blood and pus, Drogo’s breast
black and glistening with corruption.
“No,” Dany whispered as tears ran down her cheeks. “No,
please, gods hear me, no.”
Khal Drogo thrashed, fighting some unseen enemy. Black
blood ran slow and thick from his open wound.
“Your khal is good as dead, Princess.”
“No, he can’t die, he mustn’t, it was only a cut.” Dany took
his large callused hand in her own small ones, and held it
tight between them. “Iwill not let him die . . .”
Ser Jorah gave a bitter laugh. “Khaleesi or queen, that
command is beyond your power. Save your tears, child.
Weep for him tomorrow, or a year from now. We do not
have time for grief. We must go, and quickly, before hedies.”
Dany was lost. “Go? Where should we go?”
“Asshai, I would say. It lies far to the south, at the end of
the known world, yet men say it is a great port. We will find
a ship to take us back to Pentos. It will be a hard journey,
make no mistake. Do you trust your khas? Will they come
with us?”
“Khal Drogo commanded them to keep me safe,” Dany
replied uncertainly, “but if he dies . . .” She touched the
swell of her belly. “I don’t understand. Why should we flee? I
am khaleesi. I carry Drogo’s heir. He will be khal after
Drogo . . .”
Ser Jorah frowned. “Princess, hear me. The Dothraki will
not follow a suckling babe. Drogo’s strength was what they
bowed to, and only that. When he is gone, Jhaqo and Pono
and the other kos will fight for his place, and this khalasar
will devour itself. The winner will want no more rivals. The
boy will be taken from your breast the moment he is born.
They will give him to the dogs . . .”
Dany hugged herself. “But why?” she cried plaintively.
“Why should they kill a little baby?”
“He is Drogo’s son, and the crones say he will be the
stallion who mounts the world. It was prophesied. Better to
kill the child than to risk his fury when he grows to
The child kicked inside her, as if he had heard. Dany
remembered the story Viserys had told her, of what the
Usurper’s dogs had done to Rhaegar’s children. His son
had been a babe as well, yet they had ripped him from his
mother’s breast and dashed his head against a wall. That
was the way of men. “They must not hurt my son!” she cried.
“I will order my khas to keep him safe, and Drogo’sbloodriders will—”
Ser Jorah held her by the shoulders. “A bloodrider dies
with his khal. You know that, child. They will take you to
Vaes Dothrak, to the crones, that is the last duty they owe
him in life . . . when it is done, they will join Drogo in the
night lands.”
Dany did not want to go back to Vaes Dothrak and live
the rest of her life among those terrible old women, yet she
knew that the knight spoke the truth. Drogo had been more
than her sun-and-stars; he had been the shield that kept her
safe. “I will not leave him,” she said stubbornly, miserably.
She took his hand again. “Iwill not.”
A stirring at the tent flap made Dany turn her head. Mirri
Maz Duur entered, bowing low. Days on the march, trailing
behind the khalasar, had left her limping and haggard, with
blistered and bleeding feet and hollows under her eyes.
Behind her came Qotho and Haggo, carrying the
godswife’s chest between them. When the bloodriders
caught sight of Drogo’s wound, the chest slipped from
Haggo’s fingers and crashed to the floor of the tent, and
Qotho swore an oath so foul it seared the air.
Mirri Maz Duur studied Drogo, her face still and dead.
“The wound has festered.”
“This is your work, maegi,” Qotho said. Haggo laid his fist
across Mirri’s cheek with a meaty smack that drove her to
the ground. Then he kicked her where she lay.
“Stop it!” Dany screamed.
Qotho pulled Haggo away, saying, “Kicks are too merciful
for a maegi. Take her outside. We will stake her to the
earth, to be the mount of every passing man. And when they
are done with her, the dogs will use her as well. Weasels
will tear out her entrails and carrion crows feast upon her
eyes. The flies off the river shall lay their eggs in her womb
and drink pus from the ruins of her breasts . . .” He dug
ironhard fingers into the soft, wobbly flesh under the godswife’s
arm and hauled her to her feet.
“No,” Dany said. “Iwill not have her harmed.”
Qotho’s lips skinned back from his crooked brown teeth
in a terrible mockery of a smile. “No? You say me no?
Better you should pray that we do not stake you out beside
your maegi. You did this, as much as the other.” Ser Jorah
stepped between them, loosening his longsword in its
scabbard. “Rein in your tongue, bloodrider. The princess is
still your khaleesi.”
“Only while the blood-of-my-blood still lives,” Qotho told
the knight. “When he dies, she is nothing.”
Dany felt a tightness inside her. “Before I was khaleesi, I
was the blood of the dragon. Ser Jorah, summon my khas.”
“No,” said Qotho. “We will go. For now . . . Khaleesi.”
Haggo followed him from the tent, scowling.
“That one means you no good, Princess,” Mormont said.
“The Dothraki say a man and his bloodriders share one life,
and Qotho sees it ending. A dead man is beyond fear.”
“No one has died,” Dany said. “Ser Jorah, I may have
need of your blade. Best go don your armor.” She was
more frightened than she dared admit, even to herself.
The knight bowed. “As you say.” He strode from the tent.
Dany turned back to Mirri Maz Duur. The woman’s eyes
were wary. “So you have saved me once more.”
“And now you must save him,” Dany said. “Please.”
“You do not ask a slave,” Mirri replied sharply, “you tell
her.” She went to Drogo burning on his mat, and gazed long
at his wound. “Ask or tell, it makes no matter. He is beyond
a healer’s skills.” The khal’s eyes were closed. She opened
one with her fingers. “He has been dulling the hurt with milk
of the poppy.”
“Yes,” Dany admitted.
“I made him a poultice of firepod and sting-me-not and
bound it in a lambskin.”
“It burned, he said. He tore it off. The herbwomen made
him a new one, wet and soothing.”
“It burned, yes. There is great healing magic in fire, even
your hairless men know that.”
“Make him another poultice,” Dany begged. “This time I
will make certain he wears it.”
“The time for that is past, my lady,” Mirri said. “All I can do
now is ease the dark road before him, so he might ride
painless to the night lands. He will be gone by morning.”
Her words were a knife through Dany’s breast. What had
she ever done to make the gods so cruel? She had finally
found a safe place, had finally tasted love and hope. She
was finally going home. And now to lose it all . . . “No,” she
pleaded. “Save him, and I will free you, I swear it. You must
know a way . . . some magic, some . . .”
Mirri Maz Duur sat back on her heels and studied
Daenerys through eyes as black as night. “There is a spell.”
Her voice was quiet, scarcely more than a whisper. “But it
is hard, lady, and dark. Some would say that death is
cleaner. I learned the way in Asshai, and paid dear for the
lesson. My teacher was a bloodmage from the Shadow
Dany went cold all over. “Then you truly are a maegi!”
“Am I?” Mirri Maz Duur smiled. “Only a maegi can save
your rider now, Silver Lady.”
“Is there no other way?”
“No other.”Khal Drogo gave a shuddering gasp.
“Do it,” Dany blurted. She must not be afraid; she was the
blood of the dragon. “Save him.”
“There is a price,” the godswife warned her.
“You’ll have gold, horses, whatever you like.”
“It is not a matter of gold or horses. This is bloodmagic,
lady. Only death may pay for life.”
“Death?” Dany wrapped her arms around herself
protectively, rocked back and forth on her heels. “My
death?” She told herself she would die for him, if she must.
She was the blood of the dragon, she would not be afraid.
Her brother Rhaegar had died for the woman he loved.
“No,” Mirri Maz Duur promised. “Not your death,
Dany trembled with relief. “Do it.”
The maegi nodded solemnly. “As you speak, so it shall be
done. Call your servants.”
Khal Drogo writhed feebly as Rakharo and Quaro
lowered him into the bath. “No,” he muttered, “no. Must
ride.” Once in the water, all the strength seemed to leak out
of him.
“Bring his horse,” Mirri Maz Duur commanded, and so it
was done. Jhogo led the great red stallion into the tent.
When the animal caught the scent of death, he screamed
and reared, rolling his eyes. It took three men to subdue
“What do you mean to do?” Dany asked her.
“We need the blood,” Mirri answered. “That is the way.”
Jhogo edged back, his hand on his arakh. He was a
youth of sixteen years, whip-thin, fearless, quick to laugh,
with the faint shadow of his first mustachio on his upper lip.
He fell to his knees before her. “Khaleesi,” he pleaded, “you
must not do this thing. Let me kill this maegi.”
“Kill her and you kill your khal,” Dany said.
“This is bloodmagic,” he said. “It is forbidden.”
“I am khaleesi, and I say it is not forbidden. In Vaes
Dothrak, Khal Drogo slew a stallion and I ate his heart, to
give our son strength and courage. This is the same. The
The stallion kicked and reared as Rakharo, Quaro, and
Aggo pulled him close to the tub where the khal floated like
one already dead, pus and blood seeping from his wound
to stain the bathwaters. Mirri Maz Duur chanted words in a
tongue that Dany did not know, and a knife appeared in her
hand. Dany never saw where it came from. It looked old;
hammered red bronze, leaf-shaped, its blade covered with
ancient glyphs. The maegi drew it across the stallion’s
throat, under the noble head, and the horse screamed and
shuddered as the blood poured out of him in a red rush. He
would have collapsed, but the men of her khas held him up.
“Strength of the mount, go into the rider,” Mirri sang as
horse blood swirled into the waters of Drogo’s bath.
“Strength of the beast, go into the man.”
Jhogo looked terrified as he struggled with the stallion’s
weight, afraid to touch the dead flesh, yet afraid to let go as
well. Only a horse, Dany thought. If she could buy Drogo’s
life with the death of a horse, she would pay a thousand
times over.
When they let the stallion fall, the bath was a dark red, and
nothing showed of Drogo but his face. Mirri Maz Duur had
no use for the carcass. “Burn it,” Dany told them. It was what
they did, she knew. When a man died, his mount was killed
and placed beneath him on the funeral pyre, to carry him to
the night lands. The men of her khas dragged the carcass
from the tent. The blood had gone everywhere. Even the
sandsilk walls were spotted with red, and the rugs
underfoot were black and wet.
Braziers were lit. Mirri Maz Duur tossed a red powder
onto the coals. It gave the smoke a spicy scent, a pleasant
enough smell, yet Eroeh fled sobbing, and Dany was filled
with fear. But she had gone too far to turn back now. She
sent her handmaids away. “Go with them, Silver Lady,” Mirri
Maz Duur told her.
“I will stay,” Dany said. “The man took me under the stars
and gave life to the child inside me. Iwill not leave him.”
“You must. Once I begin to sing, no one must enter this
tent. My song will wake powers old and dark. The dead will
dance here this night. No living man must look on them.”
Dany bowed her head, helpless. “No one will enter.” She
bent over the tub, over Drogo in his bath of blood, and
kissed him lightly on the brow. “Bring him back to me,” she
whispered to Mirri Maz Duur before she fled.
Outside, the sun was low on the horizon, the sky a bruised
red. The khalasar had made camp. Tents and sleeping
mats were scattered as far as the eye could see. A hot
wind blew. Jhogo and Aggo were digging a firepit to burn
the dead stallion. A crowd had gathered to stare at Dany
with hard black eyes, their faces like masks of beaten
copper. She saw Ser Jorah Mormont, wearing mail and
leather now, sweat beading on his broad, balding forehead.
He pushed his way through the Dothraki to Dany’s side.
When he saw the scarlet footprints her boots had left on the
ground, the color seemed to drain from his face. “What
have you done, you little fool?” he asked hoarsely.
“I had to save him.”
“We could have fled,” he said. “I would have seen you
safe to Asshai, Princess. There was no need . . .”
“Am I truly your princess?” she asked him.
“You know you are, gods save us both.”
“Then help me now.”
Ser Jorah grimaced. “Would that I knew how.”
Mirri Maz Duur’s voice rose to a high, ululating wail that
sent a shiver down Dany’s back. Some of the Dothraki
began to mutter and back away. The tent was aglow with
the light of braziers within. Through the blood-spattered
sandsilk, she glimpsed shadows moving.
Mirri Maz Duur was dancing, and not alone.
Dany saw naked fear on the faces of the Dothraki. “This
must not be,” Qotho thundered.
She had not seen the bloodrider return. Haggo and
Cohollo were with him. They had brought the hairless men,
the eunuchs who healed with knife and needle and fire.
“This will be,” Dany replied.
“Maegi,” Haggo growled. And old Cohollo—Cohollo who
had bound his life to Drogo’s on the day of his birth,
Cohollo who had always been kind to her—Cohollo spat full
in her face.
“You will die, maegi,” Qotho promised, “but the other must
die first.” He drew his arakh and made for the tent.
“No,” she shouted, “you mustn’t.” She caught him by the
shoulder, but Qotho shoved her aside. Dany fell to her
knees, crossing her arms over her belly to protect the child
within. “Stop him,” she commanded her khas, “kill him.”
Rakharo and Quaro stood beside the tent flap. Quaro
took a step forward, reaching for the handle of his whip, but
Qotho spun graceful as a dancer, the curved arakh rising. It
caught Quaro low under the arm, the bright sharp steel
biting up through leather and skin, through muscle and rib
bone. Blood fountained as the young rider reeled
backward, gasping. Qotho wrenched the blade free.
“Horselord,” Ser Jorah Mormont called. “Try me.” His
longsword slid from its scabbard.
Qotho whirled, cursing. The arakh moved so fast that
Quaro’s blood flew from it in a fine spray, like rain in a hot
wind. The longsword caught it a foot from Ser Jorah’s face,
and held it quivering for an instant as Qotho howled in fury.
The knight was clad in chainmail, with gauntlets and
greaves of lobstered steel and a heavy gorget around his
throat, but he had not thought to don his helm.
Qotho danced backward, arakh whirling around his head
in a shining blur, flickering out like lightning as the knight
came on in a rush. Ser Jorah parried as best he could, but
the slashes came so fast that it seemed to Dany that Qotho
had four arakhs and as many arms. She heard the crunch
of sword on mail, saw sparks fly as the long curved blade
glanced off a gauntlet. Suddenly it was Mormont stumbling
backward, and Qotho leaping to the attack. The left side of
the knight’s face ran red with blood, and a cut to the hip
opened a gash in his mail and left him limping. Qotho
screamed taunts at him, calling him a craven, a milk man, a
eunuch in an iron suit. “You die now!” he promised, arakh
shivering through the red twilight. Inside Dany’s womb, her
son kicked wildly. The curved blade slipped past the
straight one and bit deep into the knight’s hip where the
mail gaped open.
Mormont grunted, stumbled. Dany felt a sharp pain in her
belly, a wetness on her thighs. Qotho shrieked triumph, but
his arakh had found bone, and for half a heartbeat it caught.
It was enough. Ser Jorah brought his longsword down
with all the strength left him, through flesh and muscle and
bone, and Qotho’s forearm dangled loose, flopping on a
thin cord of skin and sinew. The knight’s next cut was at the
Dothraki’s ear, so savage that Qotho’s face seemed
almost to explode.
The Dothraki were shouting, Mirri Maz Duur wailing inside
the tent like nothing human, Quaro pleading for water as he
died. Dany cried out for help, but no one heard. Rakharo
was fighting Haggo, arakh dancing with arakh until Jhogo’s
whip cracked, loud as thunder, the lash coiling around
Haggo’s throat. A yank, and the bloodrider stumbled
backward, losing his feet and his sword. Rakharo sprang
forward, howling, swinging his arakh down with both hands
through the top of Haggo’s head. The point caught between
his eyes, red and quivering. Someone threw a stone, and
when Dany looked, her shoulder was torn and bloody. “No,”
she wept, “no, please, stop it, it’s too high, the price is too
high.” More stones came flying. She tried to crawl toward
the tent, but Cohollo caught her. Fingers in her hair, he
pulled her head back and she felt the cold touch of his knife
at her throat. “My baby,” she screamed, and perhaps the
gods heard, for as quick as that, Cohollo was dead. Aggo’s
arrow took him under the arm, to pierce his lungs and heart.
When at last Daenerys found the strength to raise her
head, she saw the crowd dispersing, the Dothraki stealing
silently back to their tents and sleeping mats. Some were
saddling horses and riding off. The sun had set. Fires
burned throughout the khalasar, great orange blazes that
crackled with fury and spit embers at the sky. She tried to
rise, and agony seized her and squeezed her like a giant’s
fist. The breath went out of her; it was all she could do to
gasp. The sound of Mirri Maz Duur’s voice was like a
funeral dirge. Inside the tent, the shadows whirled.
An arm went under her waist, and then Ser Jorah was
lifting her off her feet. His face was sticky with blood, and
Dany saw that half his ear was gone. She convulsed in his
arms as the pain took her again, and heard the knight
shouting for her handmaids to help him. Are they all so
afraid? She knew the answer. Another pain grasped her,
and Dany bit back a scream. It felt as if her son had a knife
in each hand, as if he were hacking at her to cut his way
out. “Doreah, curse you,” Ser Jorah roared. “Come here.
Fetch the birthing women.”
“They will not come. They say she is accursed.”
“They’ll come or I’ll have their heads.”
Doreah wept. “They are gone, my lord.”
“The maegi,” someone else said. Was that Aggo? “Take
her to the maegi!”
No, Dany wanted to say, no, not that, you mustn’t, but
when she opened her mouth, a long wail of pain escaped,
and the sweat broke over her skin. What was wrong with
them, couldn’t they see? Inside the tent the shapes were
dancing, circling the brazier and the bloody bath, dark
against the sandsilk, and some did not look human. She
glimpsed the shadow of a great wolf, and another like a
man wreathed in flames.
“The Lamb Woman knows the secrets of the birthing
bed,” Irri said. “She said so, I heard her.”
“Yes,” Doreah agreed, “I heard her too.”
No, she shouted, or perhaps she only thought it, for no
whisper of sound escaped her lips. She was being carried.
Her eyes opened to gaze up at a flat dead sky, black and
bleak and starless. Please, no. The sound of Mirri Maz
Duur’s voice grew louder, until it filled the world. The
shapes! she screamed. The dancers!Ser Jorah carried her inside the tent.
The scent of hot bread drifting from the shops
along the Street of Flour was sweeter than any perfume
Arya had ever smelled. She took a deep breath and
stepped closer to the pigeon. It was a plump one, speckled
brown, busily pecking at a crust that had fallen between two
cobblestones, but whenArya’s shadow touched it, it took to
the air.
Her stick sword whistled out and caught it two feet off the
ground, and it went down in a flurry of brown feathers. She
was on it in the blink of an eye, grabbing a wing as the
pigeon flapped and fluttered. It pecked at her hand. She
grabbed its neck and twisted until she felt the bone snap.
Compared with catching cats, pigeons were easy.
A passing septon was looking at her askance. “Here’s
the best place to find pigeon,” Arya told him as she brushed
herself off and picked up her fallen stick sword. “They come
for the crumbs.” He hurried away.
She tied the pigeon to her belt and started down the
street. A man was pushing a load of tarts by on a two
wheeled cart; the smells sang of blueberries and lemons
and apricots. Her stomach made a hollow rumbly noise.
“Could I have one?” she heard herself say. “A lemon, or . . .
or any kind.”
The pushcart man looked her up and down. Plainly he did
not like what he saw. “Three coppers.” Arya tapped her
wooden sword against the side of her boot. “I’ll trade you a
fat pigeon,” she said.
“The Others take your pigeon,” the pushcart man said.
The tarts were still warm from the oven. The smells were
making her mouth water, but she did not have three
coppers . . . or one. She gave the pushcart man a look,
remembering what Syrio had told her about seeing. He was
short, with a little round belly, and when he moved he
seemed to favor his left leg a little. She was just thinking
that if she snatched a tart and ran he would never be able to
catch her when he said, “You be keepin’ your filthy hands
off. The gold cloaks know how to deal with thieving little
gutter rats, that they do.”
Arya glanced warily behind her. Two of the City Watch
were standing at the mouth of an alley. Their cloaks hung
almost to the ground, the heavy wool dyed a rich gold; their
mail and boots and gloves were black. One wore a
longsword at his hip, the other an iron cudgel. With a last
wistful glance at the tarts, Arya edged back from the cart
and hurried off. The gold cloaks had not been paying her
any special attention, but the sight of them tied her stomach
in knots. Arya had been staying as far from the castle as
she could get, yet even from a distance she could see the
heads rotting atop the high red walls. Flocks of crows
squabbled noisily over each head, thick as flies. The talk in
Flea Bottom was that the gold cloaks had thrown in with the
Lannisters, their commander raised to a lord, with lands on
the Trident and a seat on the king’s council.
She had also heard other things, scary things, things that
made no sense to her. Some said her father had murdered
King Robert and been slain in turn by Lord Renly. Others
insisted that Renly had killed the king in a drunken quarrel
between brothers. Why else should he have fled in the night
like a common thief? One story said the king had been
killed by a boar while hunting, another that he’d died eating
a boar, stuffing himself so full that he’d ruptured at the table.
No, the king had died at table, others said, but only
because Varys the Spider poisoned him. No, it had been
the queen who poisoned him. No, he had died of a pox. No,
he had choked on a fish bone.
One thing all the stories agreed on: King Robert was
dead. The bells in the seven towers of the Great Sept of
Baelor had tolled for a day and a night, the thunder of their
grief rolling across the city in a bronze tide. They only rang
the bells like that for the death of a king, a tanner’s boy told
All she wanted was to go home, but leaving King’s
Landing was not so easy as she had hoped. Talk of war
was on every lip, and gold cloaks were as thick on the city
walls as fleas on . . . well, her, for one. She had been
sleeping in Flea Bottom, on rooftops and in stables,
wherever she could find a place to lie down, and it hadn’t
taken her long to learn that the district was well named.
Every day since her escape from the Red Keep, Arya had
visited each of the seven city gates in turn. The Dragon
Gate, the Lion Gate, and the Old Gate were closed and
barred. The Mud Gate and the Gate of the Gods were
open, but only to those who wanted to enter the city; the
guards let no one out. Those who were allowed to leave left
by the King’s Gate or the Iron Gate, but Lannister men-at
arms in crimson cloaks and lion-crested helms manned the
guard posts there. Spying down from the roof of an inn by
the King’s Gate, Arya saw them searching wagons and
carriages, forcing riders to open their saddlebags, and
questioning everyone who tried to pass on foot.
Sometimes she thought about swimming the river, but the
Blackwater Rush was wide and deep, and everyone
agreed that its currents were wicked and treacherous. She
had no coin to pay a ferryman or take passage on a ship.
Her lord father had taught her never to steal, but it was
growing harder to remember why. If she did not get out
soon, she would have to take her chances with the gold
cloaks. She hadn’t gone hungry much since she learned to
knock down birds with her stick sword, but she feared so
much pigeon was making her sick. A couple she’d eaten
raw, before she found Flea Bottom.
In the Bottom there were pot-shops along the alleys where
huge tubs of stew had been simmering for years, and you
could trade half your bird for a heel of yesterday’s bread
and a “bowl o’ brown,” and they’d even stick the other half in
the fire and crisp it up for you, so long as you plucked the
feathers yourself. Arya would have given anything for a cup
of milk and a lemon cake, but the brown wasn’t so bad. It
usually had barley in it, and chunks of carrot and onion and
turnip, and sometimes even apple, with a film of grease
swimming on top. Mostly she tried not to think about the
meat. Once she had gotten a piece of fish.
The only thing was, the pot-shops were never empty, and
even as she bolted down her food, Arya could feel them
watching. Some of them stared at her boots or her cloak,
and she knew what they were thinking. With others, she
could almost feel their eyes crawling under her leathers;
she didn’t know what they were thinking, and that scared
her even more. A couple times, she was followed out into
the alleys and chased, but so far no one had been able to
catch her.
The silver bracelet she’d hoped to sell had been stolen
her first night out of the castle, along with her bundle of
good clothes, snatched while she slept in a burnt-out house
off Pig Alley. All they left her was the cloak she had been
huddled in, the leathers on her back, her wooden practice
sword . . . and Needle. She’d been lying on top of Needle,
or else it would have been gone too; it was worth more than
all the rest together. Since then Arya had taken to walking
around with her cloak draped over her right arm, to conceal
the blade at her hip. The wooden sword she carried in her
left hand, out where everybody could see it, to scare off
robbers, but there were men in the pot-shops who wouldn’t
have been scared off if she’d had a battle-axe. It was
enough to make her lose her taste for pigeon and stale
bread. Often as not, she went to bed hungry rather than risk
the stares.
Once she was outside the city, she would find berries to
pick, or orchards she might raid for apples and cherries.
Arya remembered seeing some from the kingsroad on the
journey south. And she could dig for roots in the forest, even
run down some rabbits. In the city, the only things to run
down were rats and cats and scrawny dogs. The potshops
would give you a fistful of coppers for a litter of pups, she’d
heard, but she didn’t like to think about that.
Down below the Street of Flour was a maze of twisting
alleys and cross streets. Arya scrambled through the
crowds, trying to put distance between her and the gold
cloaks. She had learned to keep to the center of the street.
Sometimes she had to dodge wagons and horses, but at
least you could see them coming. If you walked near the
buildings, people grabbed you. In some alleys you couldn’t
help but brush against the walls; the buildings leaned in so
close they almost met.
A whooping gang of small children went running past,
chasing a rolling hoop. Arya stared at them with
resentment, remembering the times she’d played at hoops
with Bran and Jon and their baby brother Rickon. She
wondered how big Rickon had grown, and whether Bran
was sad. She would have given anything if Jon had been
here to call her “little sister” and muss her hair. Not that it
needed mussing. She’d seen her reflection in puddles, and
she didn’t think hair got any more mussed than hers.
She had tried talking to the children she saw in the street,
hoping to make a friend who would give her a place to
sleep, but she must have talked wrong or something. The
little ones only looked at her with quick, wary eyes and ran
away if she came too close. Their big brothers and sisters
asked questions Arya couldn’t answer, called her names,
and tried to steal from her. Only yesterday, a scrawny
barefoot girl twice her age had knocked her down and tried
to pull the boots off her feet, but Arya gave her a crack on
her ear with her stick sword that sent her off sobbing and
bleeding. A gull wheeled overhead as she made her way
down the hill toward Flea Bottom. Arya glanced at it
thoughtfully, but it was well beyond the reach of her stick. It
made her think of the sea. Maybe that was the way out. Old
Nan used to tell stories of boys who stowed away on
trading galleys and sailed off into all kinds of adventures.
Maybe Arya could do that too. She decided to visit the
riverfront. It was on the way to the Mud Gate anyway, and
she hadn’t checked that one today.
The wharfs were oddly quiet when Arya got there. She
spied another pair of gold cloaks, walking side by side
through the fish market, but they never so much as looked
at her. Half the stalls were empty, and it seemed to her that
there were fewer ships at dock than she remembered. Out
on the Blackwater, three of the king’s war galleys moved
information, gold-painted hulls splitting the water as their oars
rose and fell. Arya watched them for a bit, then began to
make her way along the river.
When she saw the guardsmen on the third pier, in grey
woolen cloaks trimmed with white satin, her heart almost
stopped in her chest. The sight of Winterfell’s colors
brought tears to her eyes. Behind them, a sleek threebanked
trading galley rocked at her moorings. Arya could
not read the name painted on the hull; the words were
strange, Myrish, Braavosi, perhaps even High Valyrian.
She grabbed a passing longshoreman by the sleeve.
“Please,” she said, “what ship is this?”
“She’s the Wind Witch, out of Myr,” the man said.
“She’s still here,” Arya blurted. The longshoreman gave
her a queer look, shrugged, and walked away. Arya ran
toward the pier. The Wind Witch was the ship Father had
hired to take her home . . . still waiting! She’d imagined it
had sailed ages ago.
Two of the guardsmen were dicing together while the third
walked rounds, his hand on the pommel of his sword.
Ashamed to let them see her crying like a baby, she
stopped to rub at her eyes. Her eyes her eyes her eyes,
why did . . .
Look with your eyes, she heard Syrio whisper.
Arya looked. She knew all of her father’s men. The three
in the grey cloaks were strangers. “You,” the one walking
rounds called out. “What do you want here, boy?” The other
two looked up from their dice.
It was all Arya could do not to bolt and run, but she knew
that if she did, they would be after her at once. She made
herself walk closer. They were looking for a girl, but he
thought she was a boy. She’d be a boy, then. “Want to buy
a pigeon?” She showed him the dead bird.
“Get out of here,” the guardsman said. Arya did as he told
her. She did not have to pretend to be frightened. Behind
her, the men went back to their dice.
She could not have said how she got back to Flea
Bottom, but she was breathing hard by the time she
reached the narrow crooked unpaved streets between the
hills. The Bottom had a stench to it, a stink of pigsties and
stables and tanner’s sheds, mixed in with the sour smell of
winesinks and cheap whorehouses. Arya wound her way
through the maze dully. It was not until she caught a wwiff of
bubbling brown coming through a pot-shop door that she
realized her pigeon was gone. It must have slipped from
her belt as she ran, or someone had stolen it and she’d
never noticed. For a moment she wanted to cry again.
She’d have to walk all the way back to the Street of Flour to
find another one that plump.
Far across the city, bells began to ring.
Arya glanced up, listening, wondering what the ringing
meant this time.
“What’s this now?” a fat man called from the pot-shop.
“The bells again, gods ha’mercy,” wailed an old woman.
A red-haired whore in a wisp of painted silk pushed open
a second story window. “Is it the boy king that’s died now?”
she shouted down, leaning out over the street. “Ah, that’s a
boy for you, they never last long.” As she laughed, a naked
man slid his arms around her from behind, biting her neck
and rubbing the heavy white breasts that hung loose
beneath her shift.
“Stupid slut,” the fat man shouted up. “The king’s not
dead, that’s only summoning bells. One tower tolling. When
the king dies, they ring every bell in the city.”“Here,
quit your biting, or I’ll ring your bells,” the woman in
the window said to the man behind her, pushing him off with
an elbow. “So who is it died, if not the king?”
“It’s a summoning,” the fat man repeated.
Two boys close to Arya’s age scampered past, splashing
through a puddle. The old woman cursed them, but they
kept right on going. Other people were moving too, heading
up the hill to see what the noise was about. Arya ran after
the slower boy. “Where you going?” she shouted when she
was right behind him. “What’s happening?”
He glanced back without slowing. “The gold cloaks is
carryin’ him to the sept.”
“Who?” she yelled, running hard.
“The Hand! They’ll be taking his head off, Buu says.”
A passing wagon had left a deep rut in the street. The boy
leapt over, but Arya never saw it. She tripped and fell, face
first, scraping her knee open on a stone and smashing her
fingers when her hands hit the hard-packed earth. Needle
tangled between her legs. She sobbed as she struggled to
her knees. The thumb of her left hand was covered with
blood. When she sucked on it, she saw that half the
thumbnail was gone, ripped off in her fall. Her hands
throbbed, and her knee was all bloody too.
“Make way!” someone shouted from the cross street.
“Make wayfor my lords of Redwyne!” It was all Arya could
do to get out of the road before they ran her down, four
guardsmen on huge horses, pounding past at a gallop.
They wore checked cloaks, blue-and-burgundy. Behind
them, two young lordlings rode side by side on a pair of
chestnut mares alike as peas in a pod. Arya had seen them
in the bailey a hundred times; the Redwyne twins, Ser
Horas and Ser Hobber, homely youths with orange hair and
square, freckled faces. Sansa and Jeyne Poole used to call
them Ser Horror and Ser Slobber, and giggle whenever
they caught sight of them. They did not look funny now.
Everyone was moving in the same direction, all in a hurry
to see what the ringing was all about. The bells seemed
louder now, clanging, calling. Arya joined the stream of
people. Her thumb hurt so bad where the nail had broken
that it was all she could do not to cry. She bit her lip as she
limped along, listening to the excited voices around her.
“—the King’s Hand, Lord Stark. They’re carrying him up
to Baelor’s Sept.”
“I heard he was dead.”
“Soon enough, soon enough. Here, I got me a silver stag
says they lop his head off.”
“Past time, the traitor.” The man spat.
Arya struggled to find a voice. “He never—” she started,
but she was only a child and they talked right over her.
“Fool! They ain’t neither going to lop him. Since when do
they knick traitors on the steps of the Great Sept?”
“Well, they don’t mean to anoint him no knight. I heard it
was Stark killed old King Robert. Slit his throat in the
woods, and when they found him, he stood there cool as
you please and said it was some old boar did for His
“Ah, that’s not true, it was his own brother did him, that
Renly, him with his gold antlers.”
“You shut your lying mouth, woman. You don’t know what
you’re saying, his lordship’s a fine true man.”
By the time they reached the Street of the Sisters, they
were packed in shoulder to shoulder. Arya let the human
current carry her along, up to the top of Visenya’s Hill. The
white marble plaza was a solid mass of people, all
yammering excitedly at each other and straining to get
closer to the Great Sept of Baelor. The bells were very loud
Arya squirmed through the press, ducking between the
legs of horses and clutching tight to her sword stick. From
the middle of the crowd, all she could see were arms and
legs and stomachs, and the seven slender towers of the
sept looming overhead. She spotted a wood wagon and
thought to climb up on the back where she might be able to
see, but others had the same idea. The teamster cursed at
them and drove them off with a crack of his whip.
Arya grew frantic. Forcing her way to the front of the
crowd, she was shoved up against the stone of a plinth.
She looked up at Baelor the Blessed, the septon king.
Sliding her stick sword through her belt, Arya began to
climb. Her broken thumbnail left smears of blood on the
painted marble, but she made it up, and wedged herself in
between the king’s feet.
That was when she saw her father.
Lord Eddard stood on the High Septon’s pulpit outside
the doors of the sept, supported between two of the gold
cloaks. He was dressed in a rich grey velvet doublet with a
white wolf sewn on the front in beads, and a grey wool
cloak trimmed with fur, but he was thinner than Arya had
ever seen him, his long face drawn with pain. He was not
standing so much as being held up; the cast over his
broken leg was grey and rotten.
The High Septon himself stood behind him, a squat man,
grey with age and ponderously fat, wearing long white
robes and an immense crown of spun gold and crystal that
wreathed his head with rainbows whenever he moved.
Clustered around the doors of the sept, in front of the
raised marble pulpit, were a knot of knights and high lords.
Joffrey was prominent among them, his raiment all crimson,
silk and satin patterned with prancing stags and roaring
lions, a gold crown on his head. His queen mother stood
beside him in a black mourning gown slashed with crimson,
a veil of black diamonds in her hair. Arya recognized the
Hound, wearing a snowy white cloak over his dark grey
armor, with four of the Kingsguard around him. She saw
Varys the eunuch gliding among the lords in soft slippers
and a patterned damask robe, and she thought the short
man with the silvery cape and pointed beard might be the
one who had once fought a duel for Mother.
And there in their midst was Sansa, dressed in sky-blue
silk, with her long auburn hair washed and curled and silver
bracelets on her wrists. Arya scowled, wondering what her
sister was doing here, why she looked so happy.
A long line of gold-cloaked spearmen held back the
crowd, commanded by a stout man in elaborate armor, all
black lacquer and gold filigree. His cloak had the metallic
shimmer of true cloth-of-gold.
When the bell ceased to toll, a quiet slowly settled across
the great plaza, and her father lifted his head and began to
speak, his voice so thin and weak she could scarcely make
him out. People behind her began to shout out, “What?”
and “Louder!” The man in the black-and-gold armor
stepped up behind Father and prodded him sharply. You
leave him alone! Arya wanted to shout, but she knew no
one would listen. She chewed her lip.
Her father raised his voice and began again. “I am
Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King,” he
said more loudly, his voice carrying across the plaza, “and I
come before you to confess my treason in the sight of godsand men.”
“No,” Arya whimpered. Below her, the crowd began to
scream and shout. Taunts and obscenities filled the air.
Sansa had hidden her face in her hands.
Her father raised his voice still higher, straining to be
heard. “I betrayed the faith of my king and the trust of my
friend, Robert,” he shouted. “I swore to defend and protect
his children, yet before his blood was cold, I plotted to
depose and murder his son and seize the throne for myself.
Let the High Septon and Baelor the Beloved and the Seven
bear witness to the truth of what I say: Joffrey Baratheon is
the one true heir to the Iron Throne, and by the grace of all
the gods, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the
A stone came sailing out of the crowd. Arya cried out as
she saw her father hit. The gold cloaks kept him from
falling. Blood ran down his face from a deep gash across
his forehead. More stones followed. One struck the guard
to Father’s left. Another went clanging off the breastplate of
the knight in the black-and-gold armor. Two of the
Kingsguard stepped in front of Joffrey and the queen,
protecting them with their shields.
Her hand slid beneath her cloak and found Needle in its
sheath. She tightened her fingers around the grip,
squeezing as hard as she had ever squeezed anything.
Please, gods, keep him safe, she prayed. Don’t let them
hurt my father.
The High Septon knelt before Joffrey and his mother. “As
we sin, so do we suffer,” he intoned, in a deep swelling
voice much louder than Father’s. “This man has confessed
his crimes in the sight of gods and men, here in this holy
place.” Rainbows danced around his head as he lifted his
hands in entreaty. “The gods are just, yet Blessed Baelor
taught us that they are also merciful. What shall be done
with this traitor, Your Grace?”
A thousand voices were screaming, but Arya never heard
them. Prince Joffrey . . . no, King Joffrey . . . stepped out
from behind the shields of his Kingsguard. “My mother bids
me let Lord Eddard take the black, and Lady Sansa has
begged mercy for her father.” He looked straight at Sansa
then, and smiled, and for a moment Arya thought that the
gods had heard her prayer, until Joffrey turned back to the
crowd and said, “But they have the soft hearts of women.
So long as I am your king, treason shall never go
unpunished. Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!”
The crowd roared, and Arya felt the statue of Baelor rock
as they surged against it. The High Septon clutched at the
king’s cape, and Varys came rushing over waving his arms,
and even the queen was saying something to him, but
Joffrey shook his head. Lords and knights moved aside as
he stepped through, tall and fleshless, a skeleton in iron
mail, the King’s Justice. Dimly, as if from far off, Arya heard
her sister scream. Sansa had fallen to her knees, sobbing
hysterically. Ser Ilyn Payne climbed the steps of the pulpit.
Arya wriggled between Baelor’s feet and threw herself
into the crowd, drawing Needle. She landed on a man in a
butcher’s apron, knocking him to the ground. Immediately
someone slammed into her back and she almost went
down herself. Bodies closed in around her, stumbling and
pushing, trampling on the poor butcher. Arya slashed at
them with Needle.
High atop the pulpit, Ser Ilyn Payne gestured and the
knight in black-and-gold gave a command. The gold cloaks
flung Lord Eddard to the marble, with his head and chestout over the edge.
“Here, you!” an angry voice shouted at Arya, but she
bowled past, shoving people aside, squirming between
them, slamming into anyone in her way. A hand fumbled at
her leg and she hacked at it, kicked at shins. A woman
stumbled and Arya ran up her back, cutting to both sides,
but it was no good, no good, there were too many people,
no sooner did she make a hole than it closed again.
Someone buffeted her aside. She could still hear Sansa
Ser Ilyn drew a two-handed greatsword from the
scabbard on his back. As he lifted the blade above his
head, sunlight seemed to ripple and dance down the dark
metal, glinting off an edge sharper than any razor. Ice, she
thought, he has ice! Her tears streamed down her face,
blinding her.
And then a hand shot out of the press and closed round
her arm like a wolf trap, so hard that Needle went flying
from her hand. Arya was wrenched off her feet. She would
have fallen if he hadn’t held her up, as easy as if she were a
doll. A face pressed close to hers, long black hair and
tangled beard and rotten teeth. “Don’t look!” a thick voice
snarled at her.
“I . . . I . I . . . Arya sobbed.
The old man shook her so hard her teeth rattled. “Shut
your mouth and close your eyes, boy.” Dimly, as if from far
away, she heard a . . . a noise . . . a soft sighing sound, as if
a million people had let out their breath at once. The old
man’s fingers dug into her arm, stiff as iron. “Look at me.
Yes, that’s the way of it, at me.” Sour wine perfumed his
breath. “Remember, boy?”
It was the smell that did it. Arya saw the matted greasy
hair, the patched, dusty black cloak that covered his twisted
shoulders, the hard black eyes squinting at her. And she
remembered the black brother who had come to visit her
“Know me now, do you? There’s a bright boy.” He spat.
“They’re done here. You’ll be coming with me, and you’ll be
keeping your mouth shut.” When she started to reply, he
shook her again, even harder. “Shut, I said.”
The plaza was beginning to empty. The press dissolved
around them as people drifted back to their lives. But
Arya’s life was gone. Numb, she trailed along beside . . .
Yoren, yes, his name is Yoren. She did not recall him
finding Needle, until he handed the sword back to her.
“Hope you can use that, boy.”
“I’m not—” she started.
He shoved her into a doorway, thrust dirty fingers through
her hair, and gave it a twist, yanking her head back. “—not
a smart boy, that what you mean to say?”
He had a knife in his other hand.
As the blade flashed toward her face, Arya threw herself
backward, kicking wildly, wrenching her head from side to
side, but he had her by the hair, so strong, she could feel
her scalp tearing, and on her lips the salt taste of tears.
The oldest were men grown, seventeen and
eighteen years from the day of their naming. One was past
twenty. Most were younger, sixteen or less.
Bran watched them from the balcony of Maester Luwin’s
turret, listening to them grunt and strain and curse as they
swung their staves and wooden swords. The yard was alive
to the clack of wood on wood, punctuated all too often by
thwacks and yowls of pain when a blow struck leather or
flesh. Ser Rodrik strode among the boys, face reddening
beneath his white whiskers, muttering at them one and all.
Bran had never seen the old knight look so fierce. “No,” he
kept saying. “No. No. No.”
“They don’t fight very well,” Bran said dubiously. He
scratched Summer idly behind the ears as the direwolf tore
at a haunch of meat. Bones crunched between his teeth.
“For a certainty,” Maester Luwin agreed with a deep sigh.
The maester was peering through his big Myrish lens tube,
measuring shadows and noting the position of the comet
that hung low in the morning sky. “Yet given time . . . Ser
Rodrik has the truth of it, we need men to walk the walls.
Your lord father took the cream of his guard to King’s
Landing, and your brother took the rest, along with all the
likely lads for leagues around. Many will not come back to
us, and we must needs find the men to take their places.”
Bran stared resentfully at the sweating boys below. “If I still
had my legs, I could beat them all.” He remembered the last
time he’d held a sword in his hand, when the king had
come to Winterfell. It was only a wooden sword, yet he’d
knocked Prince Tommen down half a hundred times. “Ser
Rodrik should teach me to use a poleaxe. If I had a poleaxe
with a big long haft, Hodor could be my legs. We could be a
knight together.”
“I think that . . . unlikely,” Maester Luwin said. “Bran, when
a man fights, his arms and legs and thoughts must be as
Below in the yard, Ser Rodrik was yelling. “You fight like a
goose. He pecks you and you peck him harder. Parry!
Block the blow. Goose fighting will not suffice. If those were
real swords, the first peck would take your arm off!” One of
the other boys laughed, and the old knight rounded on him.
“You laugh. You. Now that is gall. You fight like a hedgehog .
. .”
“There was a knight once who couldn’t see,” Bran said
stubbornly, as Ser Rodrik went on below. “Old Nan told me
about him. He had a long staff with blades at both ends and
he could spin it in his hands and chop two men at once.”
“Symeon Star-Eyes,” Luwin said as he marked numbers
in a book. “When he lost his eyes, he put star sapphires in
the empty sockets, or so the singers claim. Bran, that is
only a story, like the tales of Florian the Fool. A fable from
the Age of Heroes.” The maester tsked. “You must put
these dreams aside, they will only break your heart.”
The mention of dreams reminded him. “I dreamed about
the crow again last night. The one with three eyes. He flew
into my bedchamber and told me to come with him, so I did.
We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we
talked. He was sad.”
“And why was that?” Luwin peered through his tube.
“It was something to do about Jon, I think.” The dream had
been deeply disturbing, more so than any of the other crow
dreams. “Hodor won’t go down into the crypts.”
The maester had only been half listening, Bran could tell.
He lifted his eye from the tube, blinking. “Hodor won’t . . . ?”
“Go down into the crypts. When I woke, I told him to take
me down, to see if Father was truly there. At first he didn’t
know what I was saying, but I got him to the steps by telling
him to go here and go there, only then he wouldn’t go down.
He just stood on the top step and said ‘Hodor,’ like he was
scared of the dark, but I had a torch. It made me so mad I
almost gave him a swat in the head, like Old Nan is always
doing.” He saw the way the maester was frowning and
hurriedly added, “I didn’t, though.”
“Good. Hodor is a man, not a mule to be beaten.”
“In the dream I flew down with the crow, but I can’t do that
when I’m awake,” Bran explained.
“Why would you want to go down to the crypts?”
“I told you. To look for Father.”
The maester tugged at the chain around his neck, as he
often did when he was uncomfortable. “Bran, sweet child,
one day Lord Eddard will sit below in stone, beside his
father and his father’s father and all the Starks back to the
old Kings in the North . . . but that will not be for many years,
gods be good. Your father is a prisoner of the queen in
King’s Landing. You will not find him in the crypts.”
“He was there last night. I talked to him.”
“Stubborn boy,” the maester sighed, setting his book
aside. “Would you like to go see?”
“I can’t. Hodor won’t go, and the steps are too narrow and
twisty for Dancer.”
“I believe I can solve that difficulty.”
In place of Hodor, the wildling woman Osha was
summoned. She was tall and tough and uncomplaining,
willing to go wherever she was commanded. “I lived my life
beyond the Wall, a hole in the ground won’t fret me none,
m’lords,” she said.
“Summer, come,” Bran called as she lifted him in wiry
strong arms. The direwolf left his bone and followed as
Osha carried Bran across the yard and down the spiral
steps to the cold vault under the earth. Maester Luwin went
ahead with a torch. Bran did not even mind—too badly—
that she carried him in her arms and not on her back. Ser
Rodrik had ordered Osha’s chain struck off, since she had
served faithfully and well since she had been at Winterfell.
She still wore the heavy iron shackles around her ankles—a
sign that she was not yet wholly trusted—but they did not
hinder her sure strides down the steps.
Bran could not recall the last time he had been in the
crypts. It had been before, for certain. When he was little, he
used to play down here with Robb and Jon and his sisters.
He wished they were here now; the vault might not have
seemed so dark and scary. Summer stalked out in the
echoing gloom, then stopped, lifted his head, and sniffed
the chill dead air. He bared his teeth and crept backward,
eyes glowing golden in the light of the maester’s torch.
Even Osha, hard as old iron, seemed uncomfortable. “Grim
folk, by the look of them,” she said as she eyed the long row
of granite Starks on their stone thrones.
“They were the Kings of Winter,” Bran whispered.
Somehow it felt wrong to talk too loudly in this place.
Osha smiled. “Winter’s got no king. If you’d seen it, you’d
know that, summer boy.”
“They were the Kings in the North for thousands of years,”
Maester Luwin said, lifting the torch high so the light shone
on the stone faces. Some were hairy and bearded, shaggy
men fierce as the wolves that crouched by their feet. Others
were shaved clean, their features gaunt and sharp-edged
as the iron longswords across their laps. “Hard men for a
hard time. Come.” He strode briskly down the vault, past
the procession of stone pillars and the endless carved
figures. A tongue of flame trailed back from the upraised
torch as he went.
The vault was cavernous, longer than Winterfell itself, and
Jon had told him once that there were other levels
underneath, vaults even deeper and darker where the older
kings were buried. It would not do to lose the light. Summer
refused to move from the steps, even when Osha followed
the torch, Bran in her arms.
“Do you recall your history, Bran?” the maester said as
they walked. “Tell Osha who they were and what they did, if
you can.”
He looked at the passing faces and the tales came back
to him. The maester had told him the stories, and Old Nan
had made them come alive. “That one is Jon Stark. When
the sea raiders landed in the east, he drove them out and
built the castle at White Harbor. His son was Rickard Stark,
not my father’s father but another Rickard, he took the Neck
away from the Marsh King and married his daughter. Theon
Stark’s the real thin one with the long hair and the skinny
beard. They called him the ‘Hungry Wolf,’ because he was
always at war. That’s a Brandon, the tall one with the
dreamy face, he was Brandon the Shipwright, because he
loved the sea. His tomb is empty. He tried to sail west
across the Sunset Sea and was never seen again. His son
was Brandon the Burner, because he put the torch to all his
father’s ships in grief. There’s Rodrik Stark, who won Bear
Island in a wrestling match and gave it to the Mormonts.
And that’s Torrhen Stark, the King Who Knelt. He was the
last King in the North and the first Lord of Winterfell, after he
yielded to Aegon the Conqueror. Oh, there, he’s Cregan
Stark. He fought with Prince Aemon once, and the
Dragonknight said he’d never faced a finer swordsman.”
They were almost at the end now, and Bran felt a sadness
creeping over him. “And there’s my grandfather, Lord
Rickard, who was beheaded by Mad King Aerys. His
daughter Lyanna and his son Brandon are in the tombs
beside him. Not me, another Brandon, my father’s brother.
They’re not supposed to have statues, that’s only for the
lords and the kings, but my father loved them so much he
had them done.”
“The maid’s a fair one,” Osha said.
“Robert was betrothed to marry her, but Prince Rhaegar
carried her off and raped her,” Bran explained. “Robert
fought a war to win her back. He killed Rhaegar on the
Trident with his hammer, but Lyanna died and he never got
her back at all.”
“A sad tale,” said Osha, “but those empty holes are
“Lord Eddard’s tomb, for when his time comes,” Maester
Luwin said. “Is this where you saw your father in your
dream, Bran?”
“Yes.” The memory made him shiver. He looked around
the vault uneasily, the hairs on the back of his neck bristling.
Had he heard a noise? Was there someone here?
Maester Luwin stepped toward the open sepulcher, torch
in hand. “As you see, he’s not here. Nor will he be, for many
a year. Dreams are only dreams, child.” He thrust his arm
into the blackness inside the tomb, as into the mouth of
some great beast. “Do you see? It’s quite empt—”
The darkness sprang at him, snarling.
Bran saw eyes like green fire, a flash of teeth, fur as black
as the pit around them. Maester Luwin yelled and threw up
his hands. The torch went flying from his fingers, caromed
off the stone face of Brandon Stark, and tumbled to the
statue’s feet, the flames licking up his legs. In the drunken
shifting torchlight, they saw Luwin struggling with the
direwolf, beating at his muzzle with one hand while the jaws
closed on the other.
“Summer!” Bran screamed.And Summer came, shooting from the dimness behind
them, a leaping shadow. He slammed into Shaggydog and
knocked him back, and the two direwolves rolled over and
over in a tangle of grey and black fur, snapping and biting
at each other, while Maester Luwin struggled to his knees,
his arm torn and bloody. Osha propped Bran up against
Lord Rickard’s stone wolf as she hurried to assist the
maester. In the light of the guttering torch, shadow wolves
twenty feet tall fought on the wall and roof.
“Shaggy,” a small voice called. When Bran looked up, his
little brother was standing in the mouth of Father’s tomb.
With one final snap at Summer’s face, Shaggydog broke
off and bounded to Rickon’s side. “You let my father be,”
Rickon warned Luwin. “You let him be.”
“Rickon,” Bran said softly. “Father’s not here.”
“Yes he is. I saw him.” Tears glistened on Rickon’s face. “I
saw him last night.”
“In your dream . . . ?”
Rickon nodded. “You leave him. You leave him be. He’s
coming home now, like he promised. He’s coming home.”
Bran had never seen Maester Luwin took so uncertain
before. Blood dripped down his arm where Shaggydog had
shredded the wool of his sleeve and the flesh beneath.
“Osha, the torch,” he said, biting through his pain, and she
snatched it up before it went out. Soot stains blackened
both legs of his uncle’s likeness. “That . . . that beast,”
Luwin went on, “is supposed to be chained up in the
Rickon patted Shaggydog’s muzzle, damp with blood. “I
let him loose. He doesn’t like chains.” He licked at his
“Rickon,” Bran said, “would you like to come with me?”“No. I like it here.”
“It’s dark here. And cold.”
“I’m not afraid. I have to wait for Father.”
“You can wait with me,” Bran said. “We’ll wait together,
you and me and our wolves.” Both of the direwolves were
licking wounds now, and would bear close watching.
“Bran,” the maester said firmly, “I know you mean well, but
Shaggydog is too wild to run loose. I’m the third man he’s
savaged. Give him the freedom of the castle and it’s only a
question of time before he kills someone. The truth is hard,
but the wolf has to be chained, or . . .” He hesitated.
Or killed, Bran thought, but what he said was, “He was not
made for chains. We will wait in your tower, all of us.”
“That is quite impossible,” Maester Luwin said.
Osha grinned. “The boy’s the lordling here, as I recall.”
She handed Luwin back his torch and scooped Bran up
into her arms again. “The maester’s tower it is.”
“Will you come, Rickon?”
His brother nodded. “If Shaggy comes too,” he said,
running after Osha and Bran, and there was nothing
Maester Luwin could do but follow, keeping a wary eye on
the wolves.
Maester Luwin’s turret was so cluttered that it seemed to
Bran a wonder that he ever found anything. Tottering piles
of books covered tables and chairs, rows of stoppered jars
lined the shelves, candle stubs and puddles of dried wax
dotted the furniture, the bronze Myrish lens tube sat on a
tripod by the terrace door, star charts hung from the walls,
shadow maps lay scattered among the rushes, papers,
quills, and pots of inks were everywhere, and all of it was
spotted with droppings from the ravens in the rafters. Their
strident quorks drifted down from above as Osha washed
and cleaned and bandaged the maester’s wounds, under
Luwin’s terse instruction. “This is folly,” the small grey man
said while she dabbed at the wolf bites with a stinging
ointment. “I agree that it is odd that both you boys dreamed
the same dream, yet when you stop to consider it, it’s only
natural. You miss your lord father, and you know that he is a
captive. Fear can fever a man’s mind and give him queer
thoughts. Rickon is too young to comprehend—”
“I’m four now,” Rickon said. He was peeking through the
lens tube at the gargoyles on the First Keep. The
direwolves sat on opposite sides of the large round room,
licking their wounds and gnawing on bones.
“—too young, and—ooh, seven hells, that burns, no, don’t
stop, more. Too young, as I say, but you, Bran, you’re old
enough to know that dreams are only dreams.”
“Some are, some aren’t.” Osha poured pale red firemilk
into a long gash. Luwin gasped. “The children of the forest
could tell you a thing or two about dreaming.”
Tears were streaming down the maester’s face, yet he
shook his head doggedly. “The children . . . live only in
dreams. Now. Dead and gone. Enough, that’s enough. Now
the bandages. Pads and then wrap, and make it tight, I’ll be
“Old Nan says the children knew the songs of the trees,
that they could fly like birds and swim like fish and talk to
the animals,” Bran said. “She says that they made music so
beautiful that it made you cry like a little baby just to hear it.”
“And all this they did with magic,” Maester Luwin said,
distracted. “I wish they were here now. A spell would heal
my arm less painfully, and they could talk to Shaggydog and
tell him not to bite.” He gave the big black wolf an angry
glance out of the corner of his eye. “Take a lesson, Bran.
The man who trusts in spells is dueling with a glass sword.
As the children did. Here, let me show you something.” He
stood abruptly, crossed the room, and returned with a
green jar in his good hand. “Have a look at these,” he said
as he pulled the stopper and shook out a handful of shiny
black arrowheads.
Bran picked one up. “It’s made of glass.” Curious, Rickon
drifted closer to peer over the table.
“Dragonglass,” Osha named it as she sat down beside
Luwin, bandagings in hand.
“Obsidian,” Maester Luwin insisted, holding out his
wounded arm. “Forged in the fires of the gods, far below
the earth. The children of the forest hunted with that,
thousands of years ago. The children worked no metal. In
place of mail, they wore long shirts of woven leaves and
bound their legs in bark, so they seemed to melt into the
wood. In place of swords, they carried blades of obsidian.”
“And still do.” Osha placed soft pads over the bites on the
maester’s forearm and bound them tight with long strips of
Bran held the arrowhead up close. The black glass was
slick and shiny. He thought it beautiful. “Can I keep one?”
“As you wish,” the maester said.
“Iwant one too,” Rickon said. “Iwant four. I’m four.”
Luwin made him count them out. “Careful, they’re still
sharp. Don’t cut yourself.”
“Tell me about the children,” Bran said. It was important.
“What do you wish to know?”
Maester Luwin tugged at his chain collar where it chafed
against his neck. “They were people of the Dawn Age, the
very first, before kings and kingdoms,” he said. “In those
days, there were no castles or holdfasts, no cities, not so
much as a market town to be found between here and the
sea of Dorne. There were no men at all. Only the children of
the forest dwelt in the lands we now call the Seven
“They were a people dark and beautiful, small of stature,
no taller than children even when grown to manhood. They
lived in the depths of the wood, in caves and crannogs and
secret tree towns. Slight as they were, the children were
quick and graceful. Male and female hunted together, with
weirwood bows and flying snares. Their gods were the
gods of the forest, stream, and stone, the old gods whose
names are secret. Their wise men were called greenseers,
and carved strange faces in the weirwoods to keep watch
on the woods. How long the children reigned here or where
they came from, no man can know.
“But some twelve thousand years ago, the First Men
appeared from the east, crossing the BrokenArm of Dorne
before it was broken. They came with bronze swords and
great leathern shields, riding horses. No horse had ever
been seen on this side of the narrow sea. No doubt the
children were as frightened by the horses as the First Men
were by the faces in the trees. As the First Men carved out
holdfasts and farms, they cut down the faces and gave
them to the fire. Horrorstruck, the children went to war. The
old songs say that the greenseers used dark magics to
make the seas rise and sweep away the land, shattering
the Arm, but it was too late to close the door. The wars went
on until the earth ran red with blood of men and children
both, but more children than men, for men were bigger and
stronger, and wood and stone and obsidian make a poor
match for bronze. Finally the wise of both races prevailed,
and the chiefs and heroes of the First Men met the
greenseers and wood dancers amidst the weirwood
groves of a small island in the great lake called Gods Eye.
“There they forged the Pact. The First Men were given the
coastlands, the high plains and bright meadows, the
mountains and bogs, but the deep woods were to remain
forever the children’s, and no more weirwoods were to be
put to the axe anywhere in the realm. So the gods might
bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was
given a face, and afterward, the sacred order of green men
was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.
“The Pact began four thousand years of friendship
between men and children. In time, the First Men even put
aside the gods they had brought with them, and took up the
worship of the secret gods of the wood. The signing of the
Pact ended the Dawn Age, and began the Age of Heroes.”
Bran’s fist curled around the shiny black arrowhead. “But
the children of the forest are all gone now, you said.”
“Here, they are,” said Osha, as she bit off the end of the
last bandage with her teeth. “North of the Wall, things are
different. That’s where the children went, and the giants,
and the other old races.”
Maester Luwin sighed. “Woman, by rights you ought to be
dead or in chains. The Starks have treated you more gently
than you deserve. It is unkind to repay them for their
kindness by filling the boys’ heads with folly.”
“Tell me where they went,” Bran said. “Iwant to know.”
“Me too,” Rickon echoed.
“Oh, very well,” Luwin muttered. “So long as the kingdoms
of the First Men held sway, the Pact endured, all through the
Age of Heroes and the Long Night and the birth of the
Seven Kingdoms, yet finally there came a time, many
centuries later, when other peoples crossed the narrow
“The Andals were the first, a race of tall, fair-haired
warriors who came with steel and fire and the seven
pointed star of the new gods painted on their chests. The
wars lasted hundreds of years, but in the end the six
southron kingdoms all fell before them. Only here, where the
King in the North threw back every army that tried to cross
the Neck, did the rule of the First Men endure. The Andals
burnt out the weirwood groves, hacked down the faces,
slaughtered the children where they found them, and
everywhere proclaimed the triumph of the Seven over the
old gods. So the children fled north—”
Summer began to howl.
Maester Luwin broke off, startled. When Shaggydog
bounded to his feet and added his voice to his brother’s,
dread clutched at Bran’s heart. “It’s coming,” he whispered,
with the certainty of despair. He had known it since last
night, he realized, since the crow had led him down into the
crypts to say farewell. He had known it, but he had not
believed. He had wanted Maester Luwin to be right. The
crow, he thought, the three-eyed crow . . .
The howling stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
Summer padded across the tower floor to Shaggydog, and
began to lick at a mat of bloody fur on the back of his
brother’s neck. From the window came a flutter of wings.
A raven landed on the grey stone sill, opened its beak,
and gave a harsh, raucous rattle of distress.
Rickon began to cry. His arrowheads fell from his hand
one by one and clattered on the floor. Bran pulled him close
and hugged him.
Maester Luwin stared at the black bird as if it were a
scorpion with feathers. He rose, slow as a sleepwalker, and
moved to the window. When he whistled, the raven hopped
onto his bandaged forearm. There was dried blood on its
wings. “A hawk,” Luwin murmured, “perhaps an owl. Poor
thing, a wonder it got through.” He took the letter from its
Bran found himself shivering as the maester unrolled the
paper. “What is it?” he said, holding his brother all the
“You know what it is, boy,” Osha said, not unkindly. She
put her hand on his head.
Maester Luwin looked up at them numbly, a small grey
man with blood on the sleeve of his grey wool robe and
tears in his bright grey eyes. “My lords,” he said to the sons,
in a voice gone hoarse and shrunken, “we . . . we shall need
to find a stonecarver who knew his likeness well . . .”
In the tower room at the heart of Maegor’s
Holdfast, Sansa gave herself to the darkness.
She drew the curtains around her bed, slept, woke
weeping, and slept again. When she could not sleep she
lay under her blankets shivering with grief. Servants came
and went, bringing meals, but the sight of food was more
than she could bear. The dishes piled up on the table
beneath her window, untouched and spoiling, until the
servants took them away again.
Sometimes her sleep was leaden and dreamless, and
she woke from it more tired than when she had closed her
eyes. Yet those were the best times, for when she
dreamed, she dreamed of Father. Waking or sleeping, she
saw him, saw the gold cloaks fling him down, saw Ser Ilyn
striding forward, unsheathing Ice from the scabbard on his
back, saw the moment . . . the moment when . . . she had
wanted to look away, she had wanted to, her legs had gone
out from under her and she had fallen to her knees, yet
somehow she could not turn her head, and all the people
were screaming and shouting, and her prince had smiled at
her, he’d smiled and she’d felt safe, but only for a
heartbeat, until he said those words, and her father’s legs . .
. that was what she remembered, his legs, the way they’d
jerked when Ser Ilyn . . . when the sword . . .
Perhaps Iwill die too, she told herself, and the thought did
not seem so terrible to her. If she flung herself from the
window, she could put an end to her suffering, and in the
years to come the singers would write songs of her grief.
Her body would lie on the stones below, broken and
innocent, shaming all those who had betrayed her. Sansa
went so far as to cross the bedchamber and throw open the
shutters . . . but then her courage left her, and she ran back
to her bed, sobbing.
The serving girls tried to talk to her when they brought her
meals, but she never answered them. Once Grand Maester
Pycelle came with a box of flasks and bottles, to ask if she
was ill. He felt her brow, made her undress, and touched
her all over while her bedmaid held her down. When he left
he gave her a potion of honeywater and herbs and told her
to drink a swallow every night. She drank it all right then and
went back to sleep.
She dreamt of footsteps on the tower stair, an ominous
scraping of leather on stone as a man climbed slowly
toward her bedchamber, step by step. All she could do was
huddle behind her door and listen, trembling, as he came
closer and closer. It was Ser Ilyn Payne, she knew, coming
for her with Ice in his hand, coming to take her head. There
was no place to run, no place to hide, no way to bar the
door. Finally the footsteps stopped and she knew he was
just outside, standing there silent with his dead eyes and
his long pocked face. That was when she realized she was
naked. She crouched down, trying to cover herself with her
hands, as her door began to swing open, creaking, the
point of the greatsword poking through . . .
She woke murmuring, “Please, please, I’ll be good, I’ll be
good, please don’t,” but there was no one to hear.
When they finally came for her in truth, Sansa never heard
their footsteps. It was Joffrey who opened her door, not Ser
Ilyn but the boy who had been her prince. She was in bed,
curled up tight, her curtains drawn, and she could not have
said if it was noon or midnight. The first thing she heard
was the slam of the door. Then her bed hangings were
yanked back, and she threw up a hand against the sudden
light and saw them standing over her.
“You will attend me in court this afternoon,” Joffrey said.
“See that you bathe and dress as befits my betrothed.”
Sandor Clegane stood at his shoulder in a plain brown
doublet and green mantle, his burned face hideous in the
morning light. Behind them were two knights of the
Kingsguard in long white satin cloaks.
Sansa drew her blanket up to her chin to cover herself.
“No,” she whimpered, “please . . . leave me be.”
“If you won’t rise and dress yourself, my Hound will do it
for you,” Joffrey said.
“I beg of you, my prince . . .”
“I’m king now. Dog, get her out of bed.”
Sandor Clegane scooped her up around the waist and
lifted her off the featherbed as she struggled feebly. Her
blanket fell to the floor. Underneath she had only a thin bed
gown to cover her nakedness. “Do as you’re bid, child,”
Clegane said. “Dress.” He pushed her toward her
wardrobe, almost gently.
Sansa backed away from them. “I did as the queen
asked, I wrote the letters, I wrote what she told me. You
promised you’d be merciful. Please, let me go home. I
won’t do any treason, I’ll be good, I swear it, I don’t have
traitor’s blood, I don’t. I only want to go home.”
Remembering her courtesies, she lowered her head. “As it
please you,” she finished weakly.
“It does not please me,” Joffrey said. “Mother says I’m still
to marry you, so you’ll stay here, and you’ll obey.”
“I don’t want to marry you,” Sansa wailed. “You chopped
off my father’s head!”
“He was a traitor. I never promised to spare him, only that
I’d be merciful, and I was. If he hadn’t been your father, I
would have had him torn or flayed, but I gave him a clean
Sansa stared at him, seeing him for the first time. He was
wearing a padded crimson doublet patterned with lions and
a cloth-of-gold cape with a high collar that framed his face.
She wondered how she could ever have thought him
handsome. His lips were as soft and red as the worms you
found after a rain, and his eyes were vain and cruel. “I hate
you,” she whispered.
King Joffrey’s face hardened. “My mother tells me that it
isn’t fitting that a king should strike his wife. Ser Meryn.”
The knight was on her before she could think, yanking
back her hand as she tried to shield her face and
backhanding her across the ear with a gloved fist. Sansa
did not remember failing, yet the next she knew she was
sprawled on one knee amongst the rushes. Her head was
ringing. Ser Meryn Trant stood over her, with blood on the
knuckles of his white silk glove.
“Will you obey now, or shall I have him chastise you
Sansa’s ear felt numb. She touched it, and her fingertips
came away wet and red. “I . . . as . . . as you command, my
“Your Grace,” Joffrey corrected her. “I shall look for you in
court.” He turned and left.
Ser Meryn and Ser Arys followed him out, but Sandor
Clegane lingered long enough to yank her roughly to her
feet. “Save yourself some pain, girl, and give him what he
“What . . . what does he want? Please, tell me.”
“He wants you to smile and smell sweet and be his lady
love,” the Hound rasped. “He wants to hear you recite all
your pretty little words the way the septa taught you. He
wants you to love him . . . and fear him.”
After he was gone, Sansa sank back onto the rushes,
staring at the wall until two of her bedmaids crept timidly
into the chamber. “Iwill need hot water for my bath, please,”
she told them, “and perfume, and some powder to hide this
bruise.” The right side of her face was swollen and
beginning to ache, but she knew Joffrey would want her to
be beautiful.
The hot water made her think of Winterfell, and she took
strength from that. She had not washed since the day her
father died, and she was startled at how filthy the water
became. Her maids sluiced the blood off her face,
scrubbed the dirt from her back, washed her hair and
brushed it out until it sprang back in thick auburn curls.
Sansa did not speak to them, except to give them
commands; they were Lannister servants, not her own, and
she did not trust them. When the time came to dress, she
chose the green silk gown that she had worn to the tourney.
She recalled how gallant Joff had been to her that night at
the feast. Perhaps it would make him remember as well,
and treat her more gently.
She drank a glass of buttermilk and nibbled at some
sweet biscuits as she waited, to settle her stomach. It was
midday when Ser Meryn returned. He had donned his white
armor; a shirt of enameled scales chased with gold, a tall
helm with a golden sunburst crest, greaves and gorget and
gauntlet and boots of gleaming plate, a heavy wool cloak
clasped with a golden lion. His visor had been removed
from his helm, to better show his dour face; pouchy bags
under his eyes, a wide sour mouth, rusty hair spotted with
grey. “My lady,” he said, bowing, as if he had not beaten her
bloody only three hours past. “His Grace has instructed me
to escort you to the throne room.”
“Did he instruct you to hit me if Irefused to come?”
“Are you refusing to come, my lady?” The look he gave
her was without expression. He did not so much as glance
at the bruise he had left her.
He did not hate her, Sansa realized; neither did he love
her. He felt nothing for her at all. She was only a . . . a thing
to him. “No,” she said, rising. She wanted to rage, to hurt
him as he’d hurt her, to warn him that when she was queen
she would have him exiled if he ever dared strike her again
. . . but she remembered what the Hound had told her, so all
she said was, “I shall do whatever His Grace commands.”
“As I do,” he replied.“Yes . . . but you are no true knight, Ser Meryn.”
Sandor Clegane would have laughed at that, Sansa
knew. Other men might have cursed her, warned her to
keep silent, even begged for her forgiveness. Ser Meryn
Trant did none of these. Ser Meryn Trant simply did not
The balcony was deserted save for Sansa. She stood
with her head bowed, fighting to hold back her tears, while
below Joffrey sat on his Iron Throne and dispensed what it
pleased him to call justice. Nine cases out of ten seemed to
bore him; those he allowed his council to handle, squirming
restlessly while Lord Baelish, Grand Maester Pycelle, or
Queen Cersei resolved the matter. When he did choose to
make a ruling, though, not even his queen mother could
sway him.
A thief was brought before him and he had Ser Ilyn chop
his hand off, right there in court. Two knights came to him
with a dispute about some land, and he decreed that they
should duel for it on the morrow. “To the death,” he added.
A woman fell to her knees to plead for the head of a man
executed as a traitor. She had loved him, she said, and she
wanted to see him decently buried. “If you loved a traitor,
you must be a traitor too,” Joffrey said. Two gold cloaks
dragged her off to the dungeons.
Frog-faced Lord Slynt sat at the end of the council table
wearing a black velvet doublet and a shiny cloth-of-gold
cape, nodding with approval every time the king
pronounced a sentence. Sansa stared hard at his ugly face,
remembering how he had thrown down her father for Ser
Ilyn to behead, wishing she could hurt him, wishing that
some hero would throw him down and cut off his head. But
a voice inside her whispered, There are no heroes, and
she remembered what Lord Petyr had said to her, here in
this very hall. “Life is not a song, sweetling,” he’d told her.
“You may learn that one day to your sorrow.” In life, the
monsters win, she told herself, and now it was the Hound’s
voice she heard, a cold rasp, metal on stone. “Save
yourself some pain, girl, and give him what he wants.”
The last case was a plump tavern singer, accused of
making a song that ridiculed the late King Robert. Joff
commanded them to fetch his woodharp and ordered him
to perform the song for the court. The singer wept and
swore he would never sing that song again, but the king
insisted. It was sort of a funny song, all about Robert
fighting with a pig. The pig was the boar who’d killed him,
Sansa knew, but in some verses it almost sounded as if he
were singing about the queen. When the song was done,
Joffrey announced that he’d decided to be merciful. The
singer could keep either his fingers or his tongue. He would
have a day to make his choice. Janos Slynt nodded.
That was the final business of the afternoon, Sansa saw
with relief, but her ordeal was not yet done. When the
herald’s voice dismissed the court, she fled the balcony,
only to find Joffrey waiting for her at the base of the curving
stairs. The Hound was with him, and Ser Meryn as well. The
young king examined her critically, top to bottom. “You look
much better than you did.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Sansa said. Hollow words, but
they made him nod and smile.
“Walk with me,” Joffrey commanded, offering her his arm.
She had no choice but to take it. The touch of his hand
would have thrilled her once; now it made her flesh crawl.
“My name day will be here soon,” Joffrey said as they
slipped out the rear of the throne room. “There will be a
great feast, and gifts. What are you going to give me?”
“I . . . I had not thought, my lord.”
“Your Grace,” he said sharply. “You truly are a stupid girl,
aren’t you? My mother says so.”
“She does?” After all that had happened, his words
should have lost their power to hurt her, yet somehow they
had not. The queen had always been so kind to her.
“Oh, yes. She worries about our children, whether they’ll
be stupid like you, but I told her not to trouble herself.” The
king gestured, and Ser Meryn opened a door for them.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” she murmured. The Hound was
right, she thought, I am only a little bird, repeating the words
they taught me. The sun had fallen below the western wall,
and the stones of the Red Keep glowed dark as blood.
“I’ll get you with child as soon as you’re able,” Joffrey said
as he escorted her across the practice yard. “If the first one
is stupid, I’ll chop off your head and find a smarter wife.
When do you think you’ll be able to have children?”
Sansa could not look at him, he shamed her so. “Septa
Mordane says most . . . most highborn girls have their
flowering at twelve or thirteen.”
Joffrey nodded. “This way.” He led her into the gatehouse,
to the base of the steps that led up to the battlements.
Sansa jerked back away from him, trembling. Suddenly
she knew where they were going. “No,” she said, her voice
a frightened gasp. “Please, no, don’t make me, I beg you . .
Joffrey pressed his lips together. “Iwant to show you what
happens to traitors.”
Sansa shook her head wildly. “Iwon’t. Iwon’t.”
“I can have Ser Meryn drag you up,” he said. “You won’t
like that. You had better do what I say.” Joffrey reached for
her, and Sansa cringed away from him, backing into the
“Do it, girl,” Sandor Clegane told her, pushing her back
toward the king. His mouth twitched on the burned side of
his face and Sansa could almost hear the rest of it. He’ll
have you up there no matter what, so give him what he
She forced herself to take King Joffrey’s hand. The climb
was something out of a nightmare; every step was a
struggle, as if she were pulling her feet out of ankle-deep
mud, and there were more steps than she would have
believed, a thousand thousand steps, and horror waiting on
the ramparts.
From the high battlements of the gatehouse, the whole
world spread out below them. Sansa could see the Great
Sept of Baelor on Visenya’s hill, where her father had died.
At the other end of the Street of the Sisters stood the fire
blackened ruins of the Dragonpit. To the west, the swollen
red sun was half-hidden behind the Gate of the Gods. The
salt sea was at her back, and to the south was the fish
market and the docks and the swirling torrent of the
Blackwater Rush. And to the north . . .
She turned that way, and saw only the city, streets and
alleys and hills and bottoms and more streets and more
alleys and the stone of distant walls. Yet she knew that
beyond them was open country, farms and fields and
forests, and beyond that, north and north and north again,
stood Winterfell.
“What are you looking at?” Joffrey said. “This is what I
wanted you to see, right here.”
A thick stone parapet protected the outer edge of the
rampart, reaching as high as Sansa’s chin, with
crenellations cut into it every five feet for archers. The
heads were mounted between the crenels, along the top of
the wall, impaled on iron spikes so they faced out over the
city. Sansa had noted them the moment she’d stepped out
onto the wallwalk, but the river and the bustling streets and
the setting sun were ever so much prettier. He can make
me look at the heads, she told herself, but he can’t make
me see them.
“This one is your father,” he said. “This one here. Dog,
turn it around so she can see him.”
Sandor Clegane took the head by the hair and turned it.
The severed head had been dipped in tar to preserve it
longer. Sansa looked at it calmly, not seeing it at all. It did
not really look like Lord Eddard, she thought; it did not even
look real. “How long do I have to look?”
Joffrey seemed disappointed. “Do you want to see the
rest?” There was a long row of them.
“If it please Your Grace.”
Joffrey marched her down the wallwalk, past a dozen
more heads and two empty spikes. “I’m saving those for my
uncle Stannis and my uncle Renly,” he explained. The other
heads had been dead and mounted much longer than her
father. Despite the tar, most were long past being
recognizable. The king pointed to one and said, “That’s
your septa there,” but Sansa could not even have told that it
was a woman. The jaw had rotted off her face, and birds
had eaten one ear and most of a cheek.
Sansa had wondered what had happened to Septa
Mordane, although she supposed she had known all along.
“Why did you kill her?” she asked. “She was godsworn . . .”
“She was a traitor.” Joffrey looked pouty; somehow she
was upsetting him. “You haven’t said what you mean to give
me for my name day. Maybe I should give you something
instead, would you like that?”
“If it please you, my lord,” Sansa said.
When he smiled, she knew he was mocking her. “Your
brother is a traitor too, you know.” He turned Septa
Mordane’s head back around. “I remember your brother
from Winterfell. My dog called him the lord of the wooden
sword. Didn’t you, dog?”
“Did I?” the Hound replied. “I don’t recall.”
Joffrey gave a petulant shrug. “Your brother defeated my
uncle Jaime. My mother says it was treachery and deceit.
She wept when she heard. Women are all weak, even her,
though she pretends she isn’t. She says we need to stay in
King’s Landing in case my other uncles attack, but I don’t
care. After my name day feast, I’m going to raise a host
and kill your brother myself. That’s what I’ll give you, Lady
Sansa. Your brother’s head.”
A kind of madness took over her then, and she heard
herself say, “Maybe my brother will give me your head.”
Joffrey scowled. “You must never mock me like that. A
true wife does not mock her lord. Ser Meryn, teach her.”
This time the knight grasped her beneath the jaw and held
her head still as he struck her. He hit her twice, left to right,
and harder, right to left. Her lip split and blood ran down her
chin, to mingle with the salt of her tears.
“You shouldn’t be crying all the time,” Joffrey told her.
“You’re more pretty when you smile and laugh.”
Sansa made herself smile, afraid that he would have Ser
Meryn hit her again if she did not, but it was no good, the
king still shook his head. “Wipe off the blood, you’re all
The outer parapet came up to her chin, but along the inner
edge of the walk was nothing, nothing but a long plunge to
the bailey seventy or eighty feet below.All it would take was
a shove, she told herself. He was standing right there, right
there, smirking at her with those fat wormlips. You could do
it, she told herself. You could. Do it right now. It wouldn’t
even matter if she went over with him. It wouldn’t matter at
“Here, girl.” Sandor Clegane knelt before her, between
her and Joffrey. With a delicacy surprising in such a big
man, he dabbed at the blood welling from her broken lip.
The moment was gone. Sansa lowered her eyes. “Thank
you,” she said when he was done. She was a good girl, and
always remembered her courtesies.
Wings shadowed her fever dreams. “You don’t
want to wake the dragon, do you?”
She was walking down a long hall beneath high stone
arches. She could not look behind her, must not look
behind her. There was a door ahead of her, tiny with
distance, but even from afar, she saw that it was painted
red. She walked faster, and her bare feet left bloody
footprints on the stone.
“You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”
She saw sunlight on the Dothraki sea, the living plain, rich
with the smells of earth and death. Wind stirred the
grasses, and they rippled like water. Drogo held her in
strong arms, and his hand stroked her sex and opened her
and woke that sweet wetness that was his alone, and the
stars smiled down on them, stars in a daylight sky. “Home,”
she whispered as he entered her and filled her with his
seed, but suddenly the stars were gone, and across the
blue sky swept the great wings, and the world took flame.
“. . . don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”
Ser Jorah’s face was drawn and sorrowful. “Rhaegar was
the last dragon,” he told her. He warmed translucent hands
over a glowing brazier where stone eggs smouldered red
as coals. One moment he was there and the next he was
fading, his flesh colorless, less substantial than the wind.
“The last dragon,” he whispered, thin as a wisp, and was
gone. She felt the dark behind her, and the red door
seemed farther away than ever.
“. . . don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”
Viserys stood before her, screaming. “The dragon does
not beg, slut. You do not command the dragon. I am the
dragon, and I will be crowned.” The molten gold trickled
down his face like wax, burning deep channels in his flesh.
“I am the dragon and I will be crowned!” he shrieked, and
his fingers snapped like snakes, biting at her nipples,
pinching, twisting, even as his eyes burst and ran like jelly
down seared and blackened cheeks.
“. . . don’t want to wake the dragon . . .”
The red door was so far ahead of her, and she could feel
the icy breath behind, sweeping up on her. If it caught her
she would die a death that was more than death, howling
forever alone in the darkness. She began to run.
“. . . don’t want to wake the dragon . . .”
She could feel the heat inside her, a terrible burning in her
womb. Her son was tall and proud, with Drogo’s copper
skin and her own silver-gold hair, violet eyes shaped like
almonds. And he smiled for her and began to lift his hand
toward hers, but when he opened his mouth the fire poured
out. She saw his heart burning through his chest, and in an
instant he was gone, consumed like a moth by a candle,
turned to ash. She wept for her child, the promise of a
sweet mouth on her breast, but her tears turned to steam as
they touched her skin.
“. . . want to wake the dragon . . .”
Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of
kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair
of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and
their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade.
“Faster,” they cried, “faster, faster.” She raced, her feet
melting the stone wherever they touched. “Faster!” the
ghosts cried as one, and she screamed and threw herself
forward. A great knife of pain ripped down her back, and
she felt her skin tear open and smelled the stench of
burning blood and saw the shadow of wings.And Daenerys
Targaryen flew.
“. . . wake the dragon . . .”
The door loomed before her, the red door, so close, so
close, the hall was a blur around her, the cold receding
behind. And now the stone was gone and she flew across
the Dothraki sea, high and higher, the green rippling
beneath, and all that lived and breathed fled in terror from
the shadow of her wings. She could smell home, she could
see it, there, just beyond that door, green fields and great
stone houses and arms to keep her warm, there. She threw
open the door.
“. . . the dragon . . .”
And saw her brother Rhaegar, mounted on a stallion as
black as his armor. Fire glimmered red through the narrow
eye slit of his helm. “The last dragon,” Ser Jorah’s voice
whispered faintly. “The last, the last.” Dany lifted his
polished black visor. The face within was her own.
After that, for a long time, there was only the pain, the fire
within her, and the whisperings of stars.
She woke to the taste of ashes.
“No,” she moaned, “no, please.”
“Khaleesi?” Jhiqui hovered over her, a frightened doe.
The tent was drenched in shadow, still and close. Flakes
of ash drifted upward from a brazier, and Dany followed
them with her eyes through the smoke hole above. Flying,
she thought. I had wings, I was flying. But it was only a
dream. “Help me,” she whispered, struggling to rise. “Bring
me . . .” Her voice was raw as a wound, and she could not
think what she wanted. Why did she hurt so much? It was as
if her body had been torn to pieces and remade from the
scraps. “Iwant . . .”
“Yes, Khaleesi.” Quick as that Jhiqui was gone, bolting
from the tent, shouting. Dany needed . . . something . . .
someone . . . what? It was important, she knew. It was the
only thing in the world that mattered. She rolled onto her
side and got an elbow under her, fighting the blanket
tangled about her legs. It was so hard to move. The world
swam dizzily. I have to . . .
They found her on the carpet, crawling toward her dragon
eggs. Ser Jorah Mormont lifted her in his arms and carried
her back to her sleeping silks, while she struggled feebly
against him. Over his shoulder she saw her three
handmaids, Jhogo with his little wisp of mustache, and the
flat broad face of Mirri Maz Duur. “I must,” she tried to tell
them, “I have to . . .”
“. . . sleep, Princess,” Ser Jorah said.
“No,” Dany said. “Please. Please.”
“Yes.” He covered her with silk, though she was burning.
“Sleep and grow strong again, Khaleesi. Come back to us.”
And then Mirri Maz Duur was there, the maegi, tipping a
cup against her lips. She tasted sour milk, and something
else, something thick and bitter. Warm liquid ran down her
chin. Somehow she swallowed. The tent grew dimmer, and
sleep took her again. This time she did not dream. She
floated, serene and at peace, on a black sea that knew no
After a time—a night, a day, a year, she could not say—
she woke again. The tent was dark, its silken walls flapping
like wings when the wind gusted outside. This time Dany
did not attempt to rise. “Irri,” she called, “Jhiqui. Doreah.”
They were there at once. “My throat is dry,” she said, “so
dry,” and they brought her water. It was warm and flat, yet
Dany drank it eagerly, and sent Jhiqui for more. Irri
dampened a soft cloth and stroked her brow. “I have been
sick,” Dany said. The Dothraki girl nodded. “How long?”
The cloth was soothing, but Irri seemed so sad, it frightened
her. “Eong,” she whispered. When Jhiqui returned with
more water, Mirri Maz Duur came with her, eyes heavy from
sleep. “Drink,” she said, lifting Dany’s head to the cup once
more, but this time it was only wine. Sweet, sweet wine.
Dany drank, and lay back, listening to the soft sound of her
own breathing. She could feel the heaviness in her limbs,
as sleep crept in to fill her up once more. “Bring me . . .” she
murmured, her voice slurred and drowsy. “Bring . . . I want
to hold . . .”
“Yes?” the maegi asked. “What is it you wish, Khaleesi?”
“Bring me . . . egg . . . dragon’s egg . . . please . . .” Her
lashes turned to lead, and she was too weary to hold them
When she woke the third time, a shaft of golden sunlight
was pouring through the smoke hole of the tent, and her
arms were wrapped around a dragon’s egg. It was the pale
one, its scales the color of butter cream, veined with whorls
of gold and bronze, and Dany could feel the heat of it.
Beneath her bedsilks, a fine sheen of perspiration covered
her bare skin. Dragondew, she thought. Her fingers trailed
lightly across the surface of the shell, tracing the wisps of
gold, and deep in the stone she felt something twist and
stretch in response. It did not frighten her. All her fear was
gone, burned away.
Dany touched her brow. Under the film of sweat, her skin
was cool to the touch, her fever gone. She made herself sit.
There was a moment of dizziness, and the deep ache
between her thighs. Yet she felt strong. Her maids came
running at the sound of her voice. “Water,” she told them, “a
flagon of water, cold as you can find it. And fruit, I think.
“As you say, Khaleesi.”
“I want Ser Jorah,” she said, standing. Jhiqui brought a
sandsilk robe and draped it over her shoulders. “And a
warm bath, and Mirri Maz Duur, and . . .” Memory came
back to her all at once, and she faltered. “Khal Drogo,” she
forced herself to say, watching their faces with dread. “Is he
“The khal lives,” Irri answered quietly . . . yet Dany saw a
darkness in her eyes when she said the words, and no
sooner had she spoken than she rushed away to fetch
She turned to Doreah. “Tell me.”
“I . . . I shall bring Ser Jorah,” the Lysene girl said, bowing
her head and fleeing the tent.
Jhiqui would have run as well, but Dany caught her by the
wrist and held her captive. “What is it? I must know.
Drogo .. . and my child.” Why had she not remembered the child
until now? “My son . . . Rhaego . . . where is he? Iwant him.”
Her handmaid lowered her eyes. “The boy . . . he did not
live, Khaleesi.” Her voice was a frightened whisper.
Dany released her wrist. My son is dead, she thought as
Jhiqui left the tent. She had known somehow. She had
known since she woke the first time to Jhiqui’s tears. No,
she had known before she woke. Her dream came back to
her, sudden and vivid, and she remembered the tall man
with the copper skin and long silver-gold braid, bursting into
She should weep, she knew, yet her eyes were dry as
ash. She had wept in her dream, and the tears had turned
to steam on her cheeks. All the grief has been burned out of
me, she told herself. She felt sad, and yet . . . she could feel
Rhaego receding from her, as if he had never been.
Ser Jorah and Mirri Maz Duur entered a few moments
later, and found Dany standing over the other dragon’s
eggs, the two still in their chest. It seemed to her that they
felt as hot as the one she had slept with, which was passing
strange. “Ser Jorah, come here,” she said. She took his
hand and placed it on the black egg with the scarlet swirls.
“What do you feel?”
“Shell, hard as rock.” The knight was wary. “Scales.”
“No. Cold stone.” He took his hand away. “Princess, are
you well? Should you be up, weak as you are?”
“Weak? I am strong, Jorah.” To please him, she reclined
on a pile of cushions. “Tell me how my child died.”
“He never lived, my princess. The women say . . .” He
faltered, and Dany saw how the flesh hung loose on him,
and the way he limped when he moved.“Tell me. Tell me what the women say.”
He turned his face away. His eyes were haunted. “They
say the child was . . .”
She waited, but Ser Jorah could not say it. His face grew
dark with shame. He looked half a corpse himself.
“Monstrous,” Mirri Maz Duur finished for him. The knight
was a powerful man, yet Dany understood in that moment
that the maegi was stronger, and crueler, and infinitely
more dangerous. “Twisted. I drew him forth myself. He was
scaled like a lizard, blind, with the stub of a tail and small
leather wings like the wings of a bat. When I touched him,
the flesh sloughed off the bone, and inside he was full of
graveworms and the stink of corruption. He had been dead
for years.”
Darkness, Dany thought. The terrible darkness sweeping
up behind to devour her. If she looked back she was lost.
“My son was alive and strong when Ser Jorah carried me
into this tent,” she said. “I could feel him kicking, fighting to
be born.”
“That may be as it may be,” answered Mirri Maz Duur,
“yet the creature that came forth from your womb was as I
said. Death was in that tent, Khaleesi.”
“Only shadows,” Ser Jorah husked, but Dany could hear
the doubt in his voice. “I saw, maegi. I saw you, alone,
dancing with the shadows.”
“The grave casts long shadows, Iron Lord,” Mirri said.
“Long and dark, and in the end no light can hold them
Ser Jorah had killed her son, Dany knew. He had done
what he did for love and loyalty, yet he had carried her into
a place no living man should go and fed her baby to the
darkness. He knew it too; the grey face, the hollow eyes,
the limp. “The shadows have touched you too, Ser Jorah,”
she told him. The knight made no reply. Dany turned to the
godswife. “You warned me that only death could pay for life.
I thought you meant the horse.”
“No,” Mirri Maz Duur said. “That was a lie you told
yourself. You knew the price.”
Had she? Had she? If I look back I am lost. “The price
was paid,” Dany said. “The horse, my child, Quaro and
Qotho, Haggo and Cohollo. The price was paid and paid
and paid.” She rose from her cushions. “Where is Khal
Drogo? Show him to me, godswife, maegi, bloodmage,
whatever you are. Show me Khal Drogo. Show me what I
bought with my son’s life.”
“As you command, Khaleesi,” the old woman said.
“Come, Iwill take you to him.”
Dany was weaker than she knew. Ser Jorah slipped an
arm around her and helped her stand. “Time enough for this
later, my princess,” he said quietly.
“Iwould see him now, Ser Jorah.”
After the dimness of the tent, the world outside was
blinding bright. The sun burned like molten gold, and the
land was seared and empty. Her handmaids waited with
fruit and wine and water, and Jhogo moved close to help
Ser Jorah support her. Aggo and Rakharo stood behind.
The glare of sun on sand made it hard to see more, until
Dany raised her hand to shade her eyes. She saw the
ashes of a fire, a few score horses milling listlessly and
searching for a bite of grass, a scattering of tents and
bedrolls. A small crowd of children had gathered to watch
her, and beyond she glimpsed women going about their
work, and withered old men staring at the flat blue sky with
tired eyes, swatting feebly at bloodflies. A count might show
a hundred people, no more. Where the other forty thousand
had made their camp, only the wind and dust lived now.
“Drogo’s khalasar is gone,” she said.
“A khal who cannot ride is no khal,” said Jhogo.
“The Dothraki follow only the strong,” Ser Jorah said. “I
am sorry, my princess. There was no way to hold them. Ko
Pono left first, naming himself Khal Pono, and many
followed him. Jhaqo was not long to do the same. The rest
slipped away night by night, in large bands and small.
There are a dozen new khalasars on the Dothraki sea,
where once there was only Drogo’s.”
“The old remain,” said Aggo. “The frightened, the weak,
and the sick. And we who swore. We remain.”
“They took Khal Drogo’s herds, Khaleesi,” Rakharo said.
“We were too few to stop them. It is the right of the strong to
take from the weak. They took many slaves as well, the
khal’s and yours, yet they left some few.”
“Eroeh?” asked Dany, remembering the frightened child
she had saved outside the city of the Lamb Men.
“Mago seized her, who is Khal Jhaqo’s bloodrider now,”
said Jhogo. “He mounted her high and low and gave her to
his khal, and Jhaqo gave her to his other bloodriders. They
were six. When they were done with her, they cut her
“It was her fate, Khaleesi,” said Aggo.
If I look back I am lost. “It was a cruel fate,” Dany said, “yet
not so cruel as Mago’s will be. I promise you that, by the old
gods and the new, by the lamb god and the horse god and
every god that lives. I swear it by the Mother of Mountains
and the Womb of the World. Before I am done with them,
Mago and Ko Jhaqo will plead for the mercy they showed
Eroeh.”The Dothraki exchanged uncertain glances. “Khaleesi,”
the handmaid Irri explained, as if to a child, “Jhaqo is a khal
now, with twenty thousand riders at his back.”
She lifted her head. “And I am Daenerys Stormborn,
Daenerys of House Targaryen, of the blood of Aegon the
Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel and old Valyria before
them. I am the dragon’s daughter, and I swear to you, these
men will die screaming. Now bring me to Khal Drogo.”
He was lying on the bare red earth, staring up at the sun.
A dozen bloodflies had settled on his body, though he did
not seem to feel them. Dany brushed them away and knelt
beside him. His eyes were wide open but did not see, and
she knew at once that he was blind. When she whispered
his name, he did not seem to hear. The wound on his
breast was as healed as it would ever be, the scar that
covered it grey and red and hideous.
“Why is he out here alone, in the sun?” she asked them.
“He seems to like the warmth, Princess,” Ser Jorah said.
“His eyes follow the sun, though he does not see it. He can
walk after a fashion. He will go where you lead him, but no
farther. He will eat if you put food in his mouth, drink if you
dribble water on his lips.”
Dany kissed her sun-and-stars gently on the brow, and
stood to face Mirri Maz Duur. “Your spells are costly,
“He lives,” said Mirri Maz Duur. “You asked for life. You
paid for life.”
“This is not life, for one who was as Drogo was. His life
was laughter, and meat roasting over a firepit, and a horse
between his legs. His life was an arakh in his hand and his
bells ringing in his hair as he rode to meet an enemy. His
life was his bloodriders, and me, and the son I was to givehim.”
Mirri Maz Duur made no reply.
“When will he be as he was?” Dany demanded.
“When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east,” said
Mirri Maz Duur. “When the seas go dry and mountains blow
in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again,
and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not
Dany gestured at Ser Jorah and the others. “Leave us. I
would speak with this maegi alone.” Mormont and the
Dothraki withdrew. “You knew,” Dany said when they were
gone. She ached, inside and out, but her fury gave her
strength. “You knew what I was buying, and you knew the
price, and yet you let me pay it.”
“It was wrong of them to burn my temple,” the heavy, flat
nosed woman said placidly. “That angered the Great
“This was no god’s work,” Dany said coldly. If I look back I
am lost. “You cheated me. You murdered my child within
“The stallion who mounts the world will burn no cities now.
His khalasar shall trample no nations into dust.”
“I spoke for you,” she said, anguished. “I saved you.”
“Saved me?” The Lhazareen woman spat. “Three riders
had taken me, not as a man takes a woman but from
behind, as a dog takes a bitch. The fourth was in me when
you rode past. How then did you save me? I saw my god’s
house burn, where I had healed good men beyond
counting. My home they burned as well, and in the street I
saw piles of heads. I saw the head of a baker who made
my bread. I saw the head of a boy I had saved from
deadeye fever, only three moons past. I heard children
crying as the riders drove them off with their whips. Tell me
again what you saved.”
“Your life.”
Mirri Maz Duur laughed cruelly. “Look to your khal and
see what life is worth, when all the rest is gone.”
Dany called out for the men of her khas and bid them take
Mirri Maz Duur and bind her hand and foot, but the maegi
smiled at her as they carried her off, as if they shared a
secret. A word, and Dany could have her head off . . . yet
then what would she have? A head? If life was worthless,
what was death?
They led Khal Drogo back to her tent, and Dany
commanded them to fill a tub, and this time there was no
blood in the water. She bathed him herself, washing the dirt
and the dust from his arms and chest, cleaning his face with
a soft cloth, soaping his long black hair and combing the
knots and tangles from it till it shone again as she
remembered. It was well past dark before she was done,
and Dany was exhausted. She stopped for drink and food,
but it was all she could do to nibble at a fig and keep down
a mouthful of water. Sleep would have been a release, but
she had slept enough . . . too long, in truth. She owed this
night to Drogo, for all the nights that had been, and yet
might be.
The memory of their first ride was with her when she led
him out into the darkness, for the Dothraki believed that all
things of importance in a man’s life must be done beneath
the open sky. She told herself that there were powers
stronger than hatred, and spells older and truer than any the
maegi had learned in Asshai. The night was black and
moonless, but overhead a million stars burned bright. She
took that for an omen.No soft blanket of grass welcomed them here, only the
hard dusty ground, bare and strewn with stones. No trees
stirred in the wind, and there was no stream to soothe her
fears with the gentle music of water. Dany told herself that
the stars would be enough. “Remember, Drogo,” she
whispered. “Remember our first ride together, the day we
wed. Remember the night we made Rhaego, with the
khalasar all around us and your eyes on my face.
Remember how cool and clean the water was in the Womb
of the World. Remember, my sun-and-stars. Remember,
and come back to me.”
The birth had left her too raw and torn to take him inside
of her, as she would have wanted, but Doreah had taught
her other ways. Dany used her hands, her mouth, her
breasts. She raked him with her nails and covered him with
kisses and whispered and prayed and told him stories, and
by the end she had bathed him with her tears. Yet Drogo
did not feel, or speak, or rise.
And when the bleak dawn broke over an empty horizon,
Dany knew that he was truly lost to her. “When the sun rises
in the west and sets in the east,” she said sadly. “When the
seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves.
When my womb quickens again, and I bear a living child.
Then you will return, my sun-and-stars, and not before.”
Never, the darkness cried, never never never.
Inside the tent Dany found a cushion, soft silk stuffed with
feathers. She clutched it to her breasts as she walked back
out to Drogo, to her sun-and-stars. If I look back I am lost. It
hurt even to walk, and she wanted to sleep, to sleep and not
to dream.
She knelt, kissed Drogo on the lips, and pressed the
cushion down across his face.Tyrion
“They have my son,” Tywin Lannister said.
“They do, my lord.” The messenger’s voice was dulled by
exhaustion. On the breast of his torn surcoat, the brindled
boar of Crakehall was half-obscured by dried blood.
One of your sons, Tyrion thought. He took a sip of wine
and said not a word, thinking of Jaime. When he lifted his
arm, pain shot through his elbow, reminding him of his own
brief taste of battle. He loved his brother, but he would not
have wanted to be with him in the Whispering Wood for all
the gold in Casterly Rock.
His lord father’s assembled captains and bannermen had
fallen very quiet as the courier told his tale. The only sound
was the crackle and hiss of the log burning in the hearth at
the end of the long, drafty common room.
After the hardships of the long relentless drive south, the
prospect of even a single night in an inn had cheered Tyrion
mightily . . . though he rather wished it had not been this inn
again, with all its memories. His father had set a grueling
pace, and it had taken its toll. Men wounded in the battle
kept up as best they could or were abandoned to fend for
themselves. Every morning they left a few more by the
roadside, men who went to sleep never to wake. Every
afternoon a few more collapsed along the way. And every
evening a few more deserted, stealing off into the dusk.
Tyrion had been half-tempted to go with them.
He had been upstairs, enjoying the comfort of a
featherbed and the warmth of Shae’s body beside him,
when his squire had woken him to say that a rider had
arrived with dire news of Riverrun. So it had all been for
nothing. The rush south, the endless forced marches, the
bodies left beside the road . . . all for naught. Robb Stark
had reached Riverrun days and days ago.
“How could this happen?” Ser Harys Swyft moaned.
“How? Even after the Whispering Wood, you had Riverrun
ringed in iron, surrounded by a great host . . . what
madness made Ser Jaime decide to split his men into
three separate camps? Surely he knew how vulnerable that
would leave them?”
Better than you, you chinless craven, Tyrion thought.
Jaime might have lost Riverrun, but it angered him to hear
his brother slandered by the likes of Swyft, a shameless
lickspittle whose greatest accomplishment was marrying
his equally chinless daughter to Ser Kevan, and thereby
attaching himself to the Lannisters.
“I would have done the same,” his uncle responded, a
good deal more calmly than Tyrion might have. “You have
never seen Riverrun, Ser Harys, or you would know that
Jaime had little choice in the matter. The castle is situated
at the end of the point of land where the Tumblestone flows
into the Red Fork of the Trident. The rivers form two sides
of a triangle, and when danger threatens, the Tullys open
their sluice gates upstream to create a wide moat on the
third side, turning Riverrun into an island. The walls rise
sheer from the water, and from their towers the defenders
have a commanding view of the opposite shores for many
leagues around. To cut off all the approaches, a besieger
must needs place one camp north of the Tumblestone, one
south of the Red Fork, and a third between the rivers, west
of the moat. There is no other way, none.”
“Ser Kevan speaks truly, my lords,” the courier said.
“We’d built palisades of sharpened stakes around the
camps, yet it was not enough, not with no warning and the
rivers cutting us off from each other. They came down on
the north camp first. No one was expecting an attack. Marq
Piper had been raiding our supply trains, but he had no
more than fifty men. Ser Jaime had gone out to deal with
them the night before . . . well, with what we thought was
them. We were told the Stark host was east of the Green
Fork, marching south . . .”
“And your outriders?” Ser Gregor Clegane’s face might
have been hewn from rock. The fire in the hearth gave a
somber orange cast to his skin and put deep shadows in
the hollows of his eyes. “They saw nothing? They gave you
no warning?”
The bloodstained messenger shook his head. “Our
outriders had been vanishing. Marq Piper’s work, we
thought. The ones who did come back had seen nothing.”
“A man who sees nothing has no use for his eyes,” the
Mountain declared. “Cut them out and give them to your
next outrider. Tell him you hope that four eyes might see
better than two . . . and if not, the man after him will have
Lord Tywin Lannister turned his face to study Ser Gregor.
Tyrion saw a glimmer of gold as the light shone off his
father’s pupils, but he could not have said whether the look
was one of approval or disgust. Lord Tywin was oft quiet in
council, preferring to listen before he spoke, a habit Tyrion
himself tried to emulate. Yet this silence was
uncharacteristic even for him, and his wine was untouched.
“You said they came at night,” Ser Kevan prompted.
The man gave a weary nod. “The Blackfish led the van,
cutting down our sentries and clearing away the palisades
for the main assault. By the time our men knew what was
happening, riders were pouring over the ditch banks and
galloping through the camp with swords and torches in
hand. I was sleeping in the west camp, between the rivers.
When we heard the fighting and saw the tents being fired,
Lord Brax led us to the rafts and we tried to pole across,
but the current pushed us downstream and the Tullys
started flinging rocks at us with the catapults on their walls. I
saw one raft smashed to kindling and three others
overturned, men swept into the river and drowned . . . and
those who did make it across found the Starks waiting for
them on the riverbanks.”
Ser Flement Brax wore a silver-and-purple tabard and the
look of a man who cannot comprehend what he has just
heard. “My lord father—”
“Sorry, my lord,” the messenger said. “Lord Brax was clad
in plate-and-mail when his raft overturned. He was very
He was a fool, Tyrion thought, swirling his cup and staring
down into the winy depths. Crossing a river at night on a
crude raft, wearing armor, with an enemy waiting on the
other side—if that was gallantry, he would take cowardice
every time. He wondered if Lord Brax had felt especially
gallant as the weight of his steel pulled him under the black
“The camp between the rivers was overrun as well,” the
messenger was saying. “While we were trying to cross,
more Starks swept in from the west, two columns of
armored horse. I saw Lord Umber’s giant-in-chains and the
Mallister eagle, but it was the boy who led them, with a
monstrous wolf running at his side. Iwasn’t there to see, but
it’s said the beast killed four men and ripped apart a dozen
horses. Our spearmen formed up a shieldwall and held
against their first charge, but when the Tullys saw them
engaged, they opened the gates of Riverrun and Tytos
Blackwood led a sortie across the drawbridge and took
them in the rear.”
“Gods save us,” Lord Lefford swore.
“Greatjon Umber fired the siege towers we were building,
and Lord Blackwood found Ser Edmure Tully in chains
among the other captives, and made off with them all. Our
south camp was under the command of Ser Forley Prester.
He retreated in good order when he saw that the other
camps were lost, with two thousand spears and as many
bowmen, but the Tyroshi sellsword who led his freeriders
struck his banners and went over to the foe.”
“Curse the man.” His uncle Kevan sounded more angry
than surprised. “I warned Jaime not to trust that one. A man
who fights for coin is loyal only to his purse.”
Lord Tywin wove his fingers together under his chin. Only
his eyes moved as he listened. His bristling golden side
whiskers framed a face so still it might have been a mask,
but Tyrion could see tiny beads of sweat dappling his
father’s shaven head.
“How could it happen?” Ser Harys Swyft wailed again.
“Ser Jaime taken, the siege broken . . . this is a
Ser Addarn Marbrand said, “I am sure we are all grateful
to you for pointing out the obvious, Ser Harys. The question
is, what shall we do about it?”
“What can we do? Jaime’s host is all slaughtered or
taken or put to flight, and the Starks and the Tullys sit
squarely across our line of supply. We are cut off from the
west! They can march on Casterly Rock if they so choose,
and what’s to stop them? My lords, we are beaten. We
must sue for peace.”
“Peace?” Tyrion swirled his wine thoughtfully, took a deep
draft, and hurled his empty cup to the floor, where it
shattered into a thousand pieces. “There’s your peace, Ser
Harys. My sweet nephew broke it for good and all when he
decided to ornament the Red Keep with Lord Eddard’s
head. You’ll have an easier time drinking wine from that cup
than you will convincing Robb Stark to make peace now.
He’s winning . . . or hadn’t you noticed?”
“Two battles do not make a war,” Ser Addam insisted.
“We are far from lost. I should welcome the chance to try my
own steel against this Stark boy.”
“Perhaps they would consent to a truce, and allow us to
trade our prisoners for theirs,” offered Lord Lefford.
“Unless they trade three-for-one, we still come out light on
those scales,” Tyrion said acidly. “And what are we to offer
for my brother? Lord Eddard’s rotting head?”
“I had heard that Queen Cersei has the Hand’s
daughters,” Lefford said hopefully. “If we give the lad his
sisters back . . .”
Ser Addam snorted disdainfully. “He would have to be an
utter ass to trade Jaime Lannister’s life for two girls.”
“Then we must ransom Ser Jaime, whatever it costs,”
Lord Lefford said.
Tyrion rolled his eyes. “If the Starks feel the need for gold,
they can melt down Jaime’s armor.”
“If we ask for a truce, they will think us weak,” Ser Addarn
argued. “We should march on them at once.”
“Surely our friends at court could be prevailed upon to join
us with fresh troops,” said Ser Harys. “And someone might
return to Casterly Rock to raise a new host.”
Lord Tywin Lannister rose to his feet. “They have my son,”
he said once more, in a voice that cut through the babble
like a sword through suet. “Leave me. All of you.”
Ever the soul of obedience, Tyrion rose to depart with the
rest, but his father gave him a look. “Not you, Tyrion.
Remain. And you as well, Kevan. The rest of you, out.”
Tyrion eased himself back onto the bench, startled into
speechlessness. Ser Kevan crossed the room to the wine
casks. “Uncle,” Tyrion called, “if you would be so kind—”
“Here.” His father offered him his cup, the wine
Now Tyrion truly was nonplussed. He drank.
Lord Tywin seated himself. “You have the right of it about
Stark. Alive, we might have used Lord Eddard to forge a
peace with Winterfell and Riverrun, a peace that would
have given us the time we need to deal with Robert’s
brothers. Dead . . .” His hand curled into a fist. “Madness.
Rank madness.”
“Joff’s only a boy,” Tyrion pointed out. “At his age, I
committed a few follies of my own.”
His father gave him a sharp look. “I suppose we ought to
be grateful that he has not yet married a whore.”
Tyrion sipped at his wine, wondering how Lord Tywin
would look if he flung the cup in his face.
“Our position is worse than you know,” his father went on.
“It would seem we have a new king.”
Ser Kevan looked poleaxed. “A new-who? What have
they done to Joffrey?”
The faintest flicker of distaste played across Lord Tywin’s
thin lips. “Nothing . . . yet. My grandson still sits the Iron
Throne, but the eunuch has heard whispers from the south.
Renly Baratheon wed Margaery Tyrell at Highgarden this
fortnight past, and now he has claimed the crown. The
bride’s father and brothers have bent the knee and sworn
him their swords.”
“Those are grave tidings.” When Ser Kevan frowned, the
furrows in his brow grew deep as canyons.
“My daughter commands us to ride for King’s Landing at
once, to defend the Red Keep against King Renly and the
Knight of Flowers.” His mouth tightened. “Commands us,
mind you. In the name of the king and council.”
“How is King Joffrey taking the news?” Tyrion asked with
a certain black amusement.
“Cersei has not seen fit to tell him yet,” Lord Tywin said.
“She fears he might insist on marching against Renly
“With what army?” Tyrion asked. “You don’t plan to give
him this one, I hope?”
“He talks of leading the CityWatch,” Lord Tywin said.
“If he takes the Watch, he’ll leave the city undefended,”
Ser Kevan said. “And with Lord Stannis on Dragonstone . .
“Yes.” Lord Tywin looked down at his son. “I had thought
you were the one made for motley, Tyrion, but it would
appear that Iwas wrong.”
“Why, Father,” said Tyrion, “that almost sounds like
praise.” He leaned forward intently. “What of Stannis? He’s
the elder, not Renly. How does he feel about his brother’s
His father frowned. “I have felt from the beginning that
Stannis was a greater danger than all the others combined.
Yet he does nothing. Oh, Varys hears his whispers. Stannis
is building ships, Stannis is hiring sellswords, Stannis is
bringing a shadowbinder from Asshai. What does it mean?
Is any of it true?” He gave an irritated shrug. “Kevan, bringus the map.”
Ser Kevan did as he was bid. Lord Tywin unrolled the
leather, smoothing it flat. “Jaime has left us in a bad way.
Roose Bolton and the remnants of his host are north of us.
Our enemies hold the Twins and Moat Cailin. Robb Stark
sits to the west, so we cannot retreat to Lannisport and the
Rock unless we choose to give battle. Jaime is taken, and
his army for all purposes has ceased to exist. Thoros of Myr
and Beric Dondarrion continue to plague our foraging
parties. To our east we have the Arryns, Stannis Baratheon
sits on Dragonstone, and in the south Highgarden and
Storm’s End are calling their banners.”
Tyrion smiled crookedly. “Take heart, Father. At least
Rhaegar Targaryen is still dead.”
“I had hoped you might have more to offer us than japes,
Tyrion,” Lord Tywin Lannister said.
Ser Kevan frowned over the map, forehead creasing.
“Robb Stark will have Edmure Tully and the lords of the
Trident with him now. Their combined power may exceed
our own. And with Roose Bolton behind us . . . Tywin, if we
remain here, I fear we might be caught between three
“I have no intention of remaining here. We must finish our
business with young Lord Stark before Renly Baratheon
can march from Highgarden. Bolton does not concern me.
He is a wary man, and we made him warier on the Green
Fork. He will be slow to give pursuit. So . . . on the morrow,
we make for Harrenhal. Kevan, I want Ser Addam’s
outriders to screen our movements. Give him as many men
as he requires, and send them out in groups of four. I will
have no vanishings.”
“As you say, my lord, but . . . why Harrenhal? That is agrim, unlucky place. Some call it cursed.”
“Let them,” Lord Tywin said. “Unleash Ser Gregor and
send him before us with his reavers. Send forth Vargo Hoat
and his freeriders as well, and Ser Amory Lorch. Each is to
have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the
riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.”
“They will burn, my lord,” Ser Kevan said, rising. “I shall
give the commands.” He bowed and made for the door.
When they were alone, Lord Tywin glanced at Tyrion.
“Your savages might relish a bit of rapine. Tell them they
may ride with Vargo Hoat and plunder as they like—goods,
stock, women, they may take what they want and burn the
“Telling Shagga and Timett how to pillage is like telling a
rooster how to crow,” Tyrion commented, “but I should
prefer to keep them with me.” Uncouth and unruly they might
be, yet the wildlings were his, and he trusted them more
than any of his father’s men. He was not about to hand them
“Then you had best learn to control them. I will not have
the city plundered.”
“The city?” Tyrion was lost. “What city would that be?”
“King’s Landing. I am sending you to court.”
It was the last thing Tyrion Lannister would ever have
He reached for his wine, and considered for a moment as
he sipped. “And what am I to do there?”
“Rule,” his father said curtly.
Tyrion hooted with laughter. “My sweet sister might have a
word or two to say about that!”
“Let her say what she likes. Her son needs to be taken in
hand before he ruins us all. I blame those jackanapes on
the council—our friend Petyr, the venerable Grand Maester,
and that cockless wonder Lord Varys. What sort of counsel
are they giving Joffrey when he lurches from one folly to the
next? Whose notion was it to make this Janos Slynt a lord?
The man’s father was a butcher, and they grant him
Harrenhal. Harrenhal, that was the seat of kings! Not that he
will ever set foot inside it, if I have a say. I am told he took a
bloody spear for his sigil. A bloody cleaver would have
been my choice.” His father had not raised his voice, yet
Tyrion could see the anger in the gold of his eyes. “And
dismissing Selmy, where was the sense in that? Yes, the
man was old, but the name of Barristan the Bold still has
meaning in the realm. He lent honor to any man he served.
Can anyone say the same of the Hound? You feed your dog
bones under the table, you do not seat him beside you on
the high bench.” He pointed a finger at Tyrion’s face. “If
Cersei cannot curb the boy, you must. And if these
councilors are playing us false . . .”
Tyrion knew. “Spikes,” he sighed. “Heads. Walls.”
“I see you have taken a few lessons from me.”
“More than you know, Father,” Tyrion answered quietly.
He finished his wine and set the cup aside, thoughtful. A
part of him was more pleased than he cared to admit.
Another part was remembering the battle upriver, and
wondering if he was being sent to hold the left again. “Why
me?” he asked, cocking his head to one side. “Why not my
uncle? Why not Ser Addam or Ser Flement or Lord
Serrett? Why not a . . . bigger man?”
Lord Tywin rose abruptly. “You are my son.”
That was when he knew. You have given him up for lost,
he thought. You bloody bastard, you think Jaime’s good as
dead, so I’m all you have left. Tyrion wanted to slap him, to
spit in his face, to draw his dagger and cut the heart out of
him and see if it was made of old hard gold, the way the
smallfolks said. Yet he sat there, silent and still.
The shards of the broken cup crunched beneath his
father’s heels as Lord Tywin crossed the room. “One last
thing,” he said at the door. “You will not take the whore to
Tyrion sat alone in the common room for a long while after
his father was gone. Finally he climbed the steps to his
cozy garret beneath the bell tower. The ceiling was low, but
that was scarcely a drawback for a dwarf. From the
window, he could see the gibbet his father had erected in
the yard. The innkeep’s body turned slowly on its rope
whenever the night wind gusted. Her flesh had grown as
thin and ragged as Lannister hopes.
Shae murmured sleepily and rolled toward him when he
sat on the edge of the featherbed. He slid his hand under
the blanket and cupped a soft breast, and her eyes
opened. “M’lord,” she said with a drowsy smile.
When he felt her nipple stiffen, Tyrion kissed her. “I have a
mind to take you to King’s Landing, sweetling,” he
The mare whickered softly as Jon Snow tightened
the cinch. “Easy, sweet lady,” he said in a soft voice,
quieting her with a touch. Wind whispered through the
stable, a cold dead breath on his face, but Jon paid it no
mind. He strapped his roll to the saddle, his scarred fingers
stiff and clumsy. “Ghost,” he called softly, “to me.” And the
wolf was there, eyes like embers.“Jon, please. You must not do this.”
He mounted, the reins in his hand, and wheeled the horse
around to face the night. Samwell Tarly stood in the stable
door, a full moon peering over his shoulder. He threw a
giant’s shadow, immense and black. “Get out of my way,
“Jon, you can’t,” Sam said. “Iwon’t let you.”
“I would sooner not hurt you,” Jon told him. “Move aside,
Sam, or I’ll ride you down.”
“You won’t. You have to listen to me. Please. . .”
Jon put his spurs to horseflesh, and the mare bolted for
the door. For an instant Sam stood his ground, his face as
round and pale as the moon behind him, his mouth a
widening O of surprise. At the last moment, when they were
almost on him, he jumped aside as Jon had known he
would, stumbled, and fell. The mare leapt over him, out into
the night.
Jon raised the hood of his heavy cloak and gave the
horse her head.
Castle Black was silent and still as he rode out, with
Ghost racing at his side. Men watched from the Wall behind
him, he knew, but their eyes were turned north, not south.
No one would see him go, no one but Sam Tarly, struggling
back to his feet in the dust of the old stables. He hoped
Sam hadn’t hurt himself, falling like that. He was so heavy
and so ungainly, it would be just like him to break a wrist or
twist his ankle getting out of the way. “I warned him,” Jon
said aloud. “It was nothing to do with him, anyway.” He
flexed his burned hand as he rode, opening and closing the
scarred fingers. They still pained him, but it felt good to
have the wrappings off.
Moonlight silvered the hills as he followed the twistingribbon of the kings
road. He needed to get as far from the
Wall as he could before they realized he was gone. On the
morrow he would leave the road and strike out overland
through field and bush and stream to throw off pursuit, but
for the moment speed was more important than deception.
It was not as though they would not guess where he was
The Old Bear was accustomed to rise at first light, so Jon
had until dawn to put as many leagues as he could between
him and the Wall . . . if Sam Tarly did not betray him. The fat
boy was dutiful and easily frightened, but he loved Jon like
a brother. If questioned, Sam would doubtless tell them the
truth, but Jon could not imagine him braving the guards in
front of the King’s Tower to wake Mormont from sleep.
When Jon did not appear to fetch the Old Bear’s
breakfast from the kitchen, they’d look in his cell and find
Longclaw on the bed. It had been hard to abandon it, but
Jon was not so lost to honor as to take it with him. Even
Jorah Mormont had not done that, when he fled in disgrace.
Doubtless Lord Mormont would find someone more worthy
of the blade. Jon felt bad when he thought of the old man.
He knew his desertion would be salt in the still-raw wound
of his son’s disgrace. That seemed a poor way to repay
him for his trust, but it couldn’t be helped. No matter what he
did, Jon felt as though he were betraying someone.
Even now, he did not know if he was doing the honorable
thing. The southron had it easier. They had their septons to
talk to, someone to tell them the gods’ will and help sort out
right from wrong. But the Starks worshiped the old gods,
the nameless gods, and if the heart trees heard, they did
not speak.
When the last lights of Castle Black vanished behind him,
Jon slowed his mare to a walk. He had a long journey
ahead and only the one horse to see him through. There
were holdfasts and farming villages along the road south
where he might be able to trade the mare for a fresh mount
when he needed one, but not if she were injured or blown.
He would need to find new clothes soon; most like, he’d
need to steal them. He was clad in black from head to heel;
high leather riding boots, roughspun breeches and tunic,
sleeveless leather jerkin, and heavy wool cloak. His
longsword and dagger were sheathed in black moleskin,
and the hauberk and coif in his saddlebag were black
ringmail.Any bit of it could mean his death if he were taken.
A stranger wearing black was viewed with cold suspicion in
every village and holdfast north of the Neck, and men would
soon be watching for him. Once Maester Aemon’s ravens
took flight, Jon knew he would find no safe haven. Not even
at Winterfell. Bran might want to let him in, but Maester
Luwin had better sense. He would bar the gates and send
Jon away, as he should. Better not to call there at all.
Yet he saw the castle clear in his mind’s eye, as if he had
left it only yesterday; the towering granite walls, the Great
Hall with its smells of smoke and dog and roasting meat,
his father’s solar, the turret room where he had slept. Part
of him wanted nothing so much as to hear Bran laugh
again, to sup on one of Gage’s beef-and-bacon pies, to
listen to Old Nan tell her tales of the children of the forest
and Florian the Fool.
But he had not left the Wall for that; he had left because
he was after all his father’s son, and Robb’s brother. The
gift of a sword, even a sword as fine as Longclaw, did not
make him a Mormont. Nor was he Aemon Targaryen. Three
times the old man had chosen, and three times he had
chosen honor, but that was him. Even now, Jon could not
decide whether the maester had stayed because he was
weak and craven, or because he was strong and true. Yet
he understood what the old man had meant, about the pain
of choosing; he understood that all too well.
Tyrion Lannister had claimed that most men would rather
deny a hard truth than face it, but Jon was done with
denials. He was who he was; Jon Snow, bastard and
oathbreaker, motherless, friendless, and damned. For the
rest of his life—however long that might be—he would be
condemned to be an outsider, the silent man standing in
the shadows who dares not speak his true name. Wherever
he might go throughout the Seven Kingdoms, he would
need to live a lie, lest every man’s hand be raised against
him. But it made no matter, so long as he lived long enough
to take his place by his brother’s side and help avenge his
He remembered Robb as he had last seen him, standing
in the yard with snow melting in his auburn hair. Jon would
have to come to him in secret, disguised. He tried to
imagine the look on Robb’s face when he revealed himself.
His brother would shake his head and smile, and he’d say
… he’d say…
He could not see the smile. Hard as he tried, he could not
see it. He found himself thinking of the deserter his father
had beheaded the day they’d found the direwolves. “You
said the words,” Lord Eddard had told him. “You took a
vow, before your brothers, before the old gods and the
new.” Desmond and Fat Tom had dragged the man to the
stump. Bran’s eyes had been wide as saucers, and Jon
had to remind him to keep his pony in hand. He
remembered the look on Father’s face when Theon Greyjoy
brought forth Ice, the spray of blood on the snow, the way
Theon had kicked the head when it came rolling at his feet.
He wondered what Lord Eddard might have done if the
deserter had been his brother Benjen instead of that
ragged stranger. Would it have been any different? It must,
surely, surely . . . and Robb would welcome him, for a
certainty. He had to, or else . . .
It did not bear thinking about. Pain throbbed, deep in his
fingers, as he clutched the reins. Jon put his heels into his
horse and broke into a gallop, racing down the kingsroad,
as if to outrun his doubts. Jon was not afraid of death, but
he did not want to die like that, trussed and bound and
beheaded like a common brigand. If he must perish, let it
be with a sword in his hand, fighting his father’s killers. He
was no true Stark, had never been one . . . but he could die
like one. Let them say that Eddard Stark had fathered four
sons, not three.
Ghost kept pace with them for almost half a mile, red
tongue lolling from his mouth. Man and horse alike lowered
their heads as he asked the mare for more speed. The wolf
slowed, stopped, watching, his eyes glowing red in the
moonlight. He vanished behind, but Jon knew he would
follow, at his own pace.
Scattered lights flickered through the trees ahead of him,
on both sides of the road: Mole’s Town. A dog barked as
he rode through, and he heard a mule’s raucous haw from
the stable, but otherwise the village was still. Here and
there the glow of hearth fires shone through shuttered
windows, leaking between wooden slats, but only a few.
Mole’s Town was bigger than it seemed, but three
quarters of it was under the ground, in deep warm cellars
connected by a maze of tunnels. Even the whorehouse was
down there, nothing on the surface but a wooden shack no
bigger than a privy, with a red lantern hung over the door.
On the Wall, he’d heard men call the whores “buried
treasures.” He wondered whether any of his brothers in
black were down there tonight, mining. That was
oathbreaking too, yet no one seemed to care.
Not until he was well beyond the village did Jon slow
again. By then both he and the mare were damp with
sweat. He dismounted, shivering, his burned hand aching.
A bank of melting snow lay under the trees, bright in the
moonlight, water trickling off to form small shallow pools.
Jon squatted and brought his hands together, cupping the
runoff between his fingers. The snowmelt was icy cold. He
drank, and splashed some on his face, until his cheeks
tingled. His fingers were throbbing worse than they had in
days, and his head was pounding too. I am doing the right
thing, he told himself, so why do I feel so bad?
The horse was well lathered, so Jon took the lead and
walked her for a while. The road was scarcely wide enough
for two riders to pass abreast, its surface cut by tiny
streams and littered with stone. That run had been truly
stupid, an invitation to a broken neck. Jon wondered what
had gotten into him. Was he in such a great rush to die?
Off in the trees, the distant scream of some frightened
animal made him look up. His mare whinnied nervously.
Had his wolf found some prey? He cupped his hands
around his mouth. “Ghost!” he shouted. “Ghost, to me.” The
only answer was a rush of wings behind him as an owl took
Frowning, Jon continued on his way. He led the mare for
half an hour, until she was dry. Ghost did not appear. Jon
wanted to mount up and ride again, but he was concerned
about his missing wolf. “Ghost,” he called again. “Where
are you? To me! Ghost!” Nothing in these woods could
trouble a direwolf, even a half-grown direwolf, unless . . . no,
Ghost was too smart to attack a bear, and if there was a
wolf pack anywhere close Jon would have surely heard
them howling.
He should eat, he decided. Food would settle his
stomach and give Ghost the chance to catch up. There was
no danger yet; Castle Black still slept. In his saddlebag, he
found a biscuit, a piece of cheese, and a small withered
brown apple. He’d brought salt beef as well, and a rasher of
bacon he’d filched from the kitchens, but he would save the
meat for the morrow. After it was gone he’d need to hunt,
and that would slow him.
Jon sat under the trees and ate his biscuit and cheese
while his mare grazed along the kingsroad. He kept the
apple for last. It had gone a little soft, but the flesh was still
tart and juicy. He was down to the core when he heard the
sounds: horses, and from the north. Quickly Jon leapt up
and strode to his mare. Could he outrun them? No, they
were too close, they’d hear him for a certainty, and if they
were from Castle Black . . .
He led the mare off the road, behind a thick stand of grey
green sentinels. “Quiet now,” he said in a hushed voice,
crouching down to peer through the branches. If the gods
were kind, the riders would pass by. Likely as not, they
were only smallfolk from Mole’s Town, farmers on their way
to their fields, although what they were doing out in the
middle of the night . . .
He listened to the sound of hooves growing steadily
louder as they trotted briskly down the kingsroad. From the
sound, there were five or six of them at the least. Their
voices drifted through the trees.
“. . . certain he came this way?”.
“We can’t be certain.”
“He could have ridden east, for all you know. Or left the
road to cut through the woods. That’s what I’d do.”
“In the dark? Stupid. If you didn’t fall off your horse and
break your neck, you’d get lost and wind up back at the
Wall when the sun came up.
“I would not.” Grenn sounded peeved. “I’d just ride south,
you can tell south by the stars.”
“What if the sky was cloudy?” Pyp asked.
“Then Iwouldn’t go.”
Another voice broke in. “You know where Id be if it was
me? I’d be in Mole’s Town, digging for buried treasure.”
Toad’s shrill laughter boomed through the trees. Jon’s mare
“Keep quiet, all of you,” Haider said. “I thought I heard
“Where? I didn’t hear anything.” The horses stopped.
“You can’t hear yourself fart.”
“I can too,” Grenn insisted.
They all fell silent, listening. Jon found himself holding his
breath. Sam, he thought. He hadn’t gone to the Old Bear,
but he hadn’t gone to bed either, he’d woken the other
boys. Damn them all. Come dawn, if they were not in their
beds, they’d be named deserters too. What did they think
they were doing?
The hushed silence seemed to stretch on and on. From
where Jon crouched, he could see the legs of their horses
through the branches. Finally Pyp spoke up. “What did you
hear?”“I don’t know,” Haider admitted. “A sound, I thought it
might have been a horse but . . .”
“There’s nothing here.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jon glimpsed a pale shape
moving through the trees. Leaves rustled, and Ghost came
bounding out of the shadows, so suddenly that Jon’s mare
started and gave a whinny. “There!” Halder shouted.
“I heard it too!”
“Traitor,” Jon told the direwolf as he swung up into the
saddle. He turned the mare’s head to slide off through the
trees, but they were on him before he had gone ten feet.
“Jon!” Pyp shouted after him.
“Pull up,” Grenn said. “You can’t outrun us all.”
Jon wheeled around to face them, drawing his sword.
“Get back. I don’t wish to hurt you, but Iwill if I have to.”
“One against seven?” Halder gave a signal. The boys
spread out, surrounding him.
“What do you want with me?” Jon demanded.
“We want to take you back where you belong,” Pyp said.
“I belong with my brother.”
“We’re your brothers now,” Grenn said.
“They’ll cut off your head if they catch you, you know,”
Toad put in with a nervous laugh. “This is so stupid, it’s like
something the Aurochs would do.”
“I would not,” Grenn said. “I’m no oathbreaker. I said the
words and Imeant them.”
“So did I,” Jon told them. “Don’t you understand? They
murdered my father. It’s war, my brother Robb is fighting in
the riverlands—”
“We know,” said Pyp solemnly. “Sam told us everything.”
“We’re sorry about your father,” Grenn said, “but it doesn’t
matter. Once you say the words, you can’t leave, no matterwhat.”
“I have to,” Jon said fervently.
“You said the words,” Pyp reminded him. “Now my watch
begins, you said it. It shall not end until my death.”
“I shall live and die at my post,” Grenn added, nodding.
“You don’t have to tell me the words, I know them as well
as you do.” He was angry now. Why couldn’t they let him go
in peace? They were only making it harder.
“I am the sword in the darkness,” Halder intoned.
“The watcher on the walls,” piped Toad.
Jon cursed them all to their faces. They took no notice.
Pyp spurred his horse closer, reciting, “I am the fire that
bums against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the
horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the
realms of men.”
“Stay back,” Jon warned him, brandishing his sword. “I
mean it, Pyp.” They weren’t even wearing armor, he could
cut them to pieces if he had to.
Matthar had circled behind him. He joined the chorus. “I
pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch.”
Jon kicked his mare, spinning her in a circle. The boys
were all around him now, closing from every side.
“For this night.” Halder trotted in from the left.
. . . and all the nights to come,” finished Pyp. He reached
over for Jon’s reins. “So here are your choices. Kill me, or
come back with me.”
Jon lifted his sword . . . and lowered it, helpless. “Damn
you,” he said. “Damn you all.”
“Do we have to bind your hands, or will you give us your
word you’ll ride back peaceful?” asked Halder.
“I won’t run, if that’s what you mean.” Ghost moved out
from under the trees and Jon glared at him. “Small help you
were,” he said. The deep red eyes looked at him knowingly.
“We had best hurry,” Pyp said. “If we’re not back before
first light, the Old Bear will have all our heads.”
Of the ride back, Jon Snow remembered little. It seemed
shorter than the journey south, perhaps because his mind
was elsewhere. Pyp set the pace, galloping, walking,
trotting, and then breaking into another gallop. Mole’s Town
came and went, the red lantern over the brothel long
extinguished. They made good time. Dawn was still an hour
off when Jon glimpsed the towers of Castle Black ahead of
them, dark against the pale immensity of the Wall. It did not
seem like home this time.
They could take him back, Jon told himself, but they could
not make him stay. The war would not end on the morrow,
or the day after, and his friends could not watch him day
and night. He would bide his time, make them think he was
content to remain here . . . and then, when they had grown
lax, he would be off again. Next time he would avoid the
kingsroad. He could follow the Wall east, perhaps all the
way to the sea, a longer route but a safer one. Or even
west, to the mountains, and then south over the high
passes. That was the wildling’s way, hard and perilous, but
at least no one would follow him. He wouldn’t stray within a
hundred leagues of Winterfell or the kingsroad.
Samwell Tarly awaited them in the old stables, slumped
on the ground against a bale of hay, too anxious to sleep.
He rose and brushed himself off. “I . . . I’m glad they found
you, Jon.”
“I’m not,” Jon said, dismounting.
Pyp hopped off his horse and looked at the lightening sky
with disgust. “Give us a hand bedding down the horses,
Sam,” the small boy said. “We have a long day before us,
and no sleep to face it on, thanks to Lord Snow.”
When day broke, Jon walked to the kitchens as he did
every dawn. Three-Finger Hobb said nothing as he gave
him the Old Bear’s breakfast. Today it was three brown
eggs boiled hard, with fried bread and ham steak and a
bowl of wrinkled plums. Jon carried the food back to the
King’s Tower. He found Mormont at the window seat,
writing. His raven was walking back and forth across his
shoulders, muttering, “Corn, corn, corn.” The bird shrieked
when Jon entered. “Put the food on the table,” the Old Bear
said, glancing up. “I’ll have some beer.”
Jon opened a shuttered window, took the flagon of beer
off the outside ledge, and filled a horn. Hobb had given him
a lemon, still cold from the Wall. Jon crushed it in his fist.
The juice trickled through his fingers. Mormont drank lemon
in his beer every day, and claimed that was why he still had
his own teeth.
“Doubtless you loved your father,” Mormont said when
Jon brought him his horn. “The things we love destroy us
every time, lad. Remember when I told you that?”
“I remember,” Jon said sullenly. He did not care to talk of
his father’s death, not even to Mormont.
“See that you never forget it. The hard truths are the ones
to hold tight. Fetch me my plate. Is it ham again? So be it.
You look weary. Was your moonlight ride so tiring?”
Jon’s throat was dry. “You know?”
“Know,” the raven echoed from Mormont’s shoulder.
The Old Bear snorted. “Do you think they chose me Lord
Commander of the Night’s Watch because I’m dumb as a
stump, Snow? Aemon told me you’d go. I told him you’d be
back. I know my men . . . and my boys too. Honor set you on
the kingsroad . . . and honor brought you back.”
“My friends brought me back,” Jon said.
“Did I say it was your honor?” Mormont inspected his
“They killed my father. Did you expect me to do nothing?”
“If truth be told, we expected you to do just as you did.”
Mormont tried a plum, spit out the pit. “I ordered a watch
kept over you. You were seen leaving. If your brothers had
not fetched you back, you would have been taken along the
way, and not by friends. Unless you have a horse with wings
like a raven. Do you?”
“No.” Jon felt like a fool.
“Pity, we could use a horse like that.”
Jon stood tall. He told himself that he would die well; that
much he could do, at the least. “I know the penalty for
desertion, my lord. I’m not afraid to die.”
“Die!” the raven cried.
“Nor live, I hope,” Mormont said, cutting his ham with a
dagger and feeding a bite to the bird. “You have not
deserted—yet. Here you stand. If we beheaded every boy
who rode to Mole’s Town in the night, only ghosts would
guard the Wall. Yet maybe you mean to flee again on the
morrow, or a fortnight from now. Is that it? Is that your hope,
Jon kept silent.
“I thought so.” Mormont peeled the shell off a boiled egg.
“Your father is dead, lad. Do you think you can bring him
“No,” he answered, sullen.
“Good,” Mormont said. “We’ve seen the dead come
back, you and me, and it’s not something I care to see
again.” He ate the egg in two bites and flicked a bit of shell
out from between his teeth. “Your brother is in the field with
all the power of the north behind him. Any one of his lords
bannermen commands more swords than you’ll find in all
the Night’s Watch. Why do you imagine that they need your
help? Are you such a mighty warrior, or do you carry a
grumkin in your pocket to magic up your sword?”
Jon had no answer for him. The raven was pecking at an
egg, breaking the shell. Pushing his beak through the hole,
he pulled out morsels of white and yoke.
The Old Bear sighed. “You are not the only one touched
by this war. Like as not, my sister is marching in your
brother’s host, her and those daughters of hers, dressed in
men’s mail. Maege is a hoary old snark, stubborn, short
tempered, and willful. Truth be told, I can hardly stand to be
around the wretched woman, but that does not mean my
love for her is any less than the love you bear your half
sisters.” Frowning, Mormont took his last egg and
squeezed it in his fist until the shell crunched. “Or perhaps it
does. Be that as it may, I’d still grieve if she were slain, yet
you don’t see me running off. I said the words, just as you
did. My place is here . . . where is yours, boy?”
I have no place, Jon wanted to say, I’m a bastard, I have
no rights, no name, no mother, and now not even a father.
The words would not come. “I don’t know.”
“I do,” said Lord Commander Mormont. “The cold winds
are rising, Snow. Beyond the Wall, the shadows lengthen.
Cotter Pyke writes of vast herds of elk, streaming south and
east toward the sea, and mammoths as well. He says one
of his men discovered huge, misshapen footprints not three
leagues from Eastwatch. Rangers from the Shadow Tower
have found whole villages abandoned, and at night Ser
Denys says they see fires in the mountains, huge blazes
that burn from dusk till dawn. Quorin Halfhand took a
captive in the depths of the Gorge, and the man swears that
Mance Rayder is massing all his people in some new,
secret stronghold he’s found, to what end the gods only
know. Do you think your uncle Benjen was the only ranger
we’ve lost this past year?”
“Ben Jen,” the raven squawked, bobbing its head, bits of
egg dribbling from its beak. “Ben Jen. Ben Jen.”
“No,” Jon said. There had been others. Too many.
“Do you think your brother’s war is more important than
ours?” the old man barked.
Jon chewed his lip. The raven flapped its wings at him.
“War, war, war, war,” it sang.
“It’s not,” Mormont told him. “Gods save us, boy, you’re
not blind and you’re not stupid. When dead men come
hunting in the night, do you think it matters who sits the Iron
“No.” Jon had not thought of it that way.
“Your lord father sent you to us, Jon. Why, who can say?”
“Why? Why? Why?” the raven called.
“All I know is that the blood of the First Men flows in the
veins of the Starks. The First Men built the Wall, and it’s
said they remember things otherwise forgotten. And that
beast of yours . . . he led us to the wights, warned you of the
dead man on the steps. Ser Jaremy would doubtless call
that happenstance, yet Ser Jaremy is dead and I’m not.”
Lord Mormont stabbed a chunk of ham with the point of his
dagger. “I think you were meant to be here, and I want you
and that wolf of yours with us when we go beyond the Wall.”
His words sent a chill of excitement down Jon’s back.
“Beyond the Wall?”
“You heard me. I mean to find Ben Stark, alive or dead.”
He chewed and swallowed. “I will not sit here meekly and
wait for the snows and the ice winds. We must know what is
happening. This time the Night’s Watch will ride in force,
against the King-beyond-the-Wall, the Others, and anything
else that may be out there. I mean to command them
myself.” He pointed his dagger at Jon’s chest. “By custom,
the Lord Commander’s steward is his squire as well . . . but
I do not care to wake every dawn wondering if you’ve run off
again. So I will have an answer from you, Lord Snow, and I
will have it now. Are you a brother of the Night’s Watch . . .
or only a bastard boy who wants to play at war?”
Jon Snow straightened himself and took a long deep
breath. Forgive me, Father. Robb, Arya, Bran … forgive
me, I cannot help you. He has the truth of it. This is my
place. “I am . . . yours, my lord. Your man. I swear it. Iwill not
run again.”
The Old Bear snorted. “Good. Now go put on your sword.”
It seemed a thousand years ago that Catelyn Stark
had carried her infant son out of Riverrun, crossing the
Tumblestone in a small boat to begin their journey north to
Winterfell. And it was across the Tumblestone that they
came home now, though the boy wore plate and mail in
place of swaddling clothes.
Robb sat in the bow with Grey Wind, his hand resting on
his direwolf’s head as the rowers pulled at their oars. Theon
Greyjoy was with him. Her uncle Brynden would come
behind in the second boat, with the Greatjon and Lord
Catelyn took a place toward the stern. They shot down the
Tumblestone, letting the strong current push them past the
looming Wheel Tower. The splash and rumble of the great
waterwheel within was a sound from her girlhood that
brought a sad smile to Catelyn’s face. From the sandstone
walls of the castle, soldiers and servants shouted down her
name, and Robb’s, and “Winterfell!” From every rampart
waved the banner of House Tully: a leaping trout, silver,
against a rippling blue-and-red field. It was a stirring sight,
yet it did not lift her heart. She wondered if indeed her heart
would ever lift again. Oh, Ned . . .
Below the Wheel Tower, they made a wide turn and
knifed through the churning water. The men put their backs
into it. The wide arch of the Water Gate came into view,
and she heard the creak of heavy chains as the great iron
portcullis was winched upward. It rose slowly as they
approached, and Catelyn saw that the lower half of it was
red with rust. The bottom foot dripped brown mud on them
as they passed underneath, the barbed spikes mere inches
above their heads. Catelyn gazed up at the bars and
wondered how deep the rust went and how well the
portcullis would stand up to a ram and whether it ought to
be replaced. Thoughts like that were seldom far from her
mind these days.
They passed beneath the arch and under the walls,
moving from sunlight to shadow and back into sunlight.
Boats large and small were tied up all around them,
secured to iron rings set in the stone. Her father’s guards
waited on the water stair with her brother. Ser Edmure Tully
was a stocky young man with a shaggy head of auburn hair
and a fiery beard. His breastplate was scratched and
dented from battle, his blue-and-red cloak stained by blood
and smoke. At his side stood the Lord Tytos Blackwood, a
hard pike of a man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper
whiskers and a hook nose. His bright yellow armor was
inlaid with jet in elaborate vine-and-leaf patterns, and a
cloak sewn from raven feathers draped his thin shoulders. It
had been Lord Tytos who led the sortie that plucked her
brother from the Lannister camp.
“Bring them in,” Ser Edmure commanded. Three men
scrambled down the stairs knee-deep in the water and
pulled the boat close with long hooks. When Grey Wind
bounded out, one of them dropped his pole and lurched
back, stumbling and sitting down abruptly in the river. The
others laughed, and the man got a sheepish look on his
face. Theon Greyjoy vaulted over the side of the boat and
lifted Catelyn by the waist, setting her on a dry step above
him as water lapped around his boots.
Edmure came down the steps to embrace her. “Sweet
sister,” he murmured hoarsely. He had deep blue eyes and
a mouth made for smiles, but he was not smiling now. He
looked worn and tired, battered by battle and haggard from
strain. His neck was bandaged where he had taken a
wound. Catelyn hugged him fiercely.
“Your grief is mine, Cat,” he said when they broke apart.
“When we heard about Lord Eddard . . . the Lannisters will
pay, I swear it, you will have your vengeance.”
“Will that bring Ned back to me?” she said sharply. The
wound was still too fresh for softer words. She could not
think about Ned now. She would not. It would not do. She
had to be strong. “All that will keep. Imust see Father.”
“He awaits you in his solar,” Edmure said.
“Lord Hoster is bedridden, my lady,” her father’s steward
explained. When had that good man grown so old and
grey? “He instructed me to bring you to him at once.”
“I’ll take her.” Edmure escorted her up the water stair and
across the lower bailey, where Petyr Baelish and Brandon
Stark had once crossed swords for her favor. The massive
sandstone walls of the keep loomed above them. As they
pushed through a door between two guardsmen in fishcrest
helms, she asked, “How bad is he?” dreading the
answer even as she said the words.
Edmure’s look was somber. “He will not be with us long,
the maesters say. The pain is . . . constant, and grievous.”
A blind rage filled her, a rage at all the world; at her
brother Edmure and her sister Lysa, at the Lannisters, at
the maesters, at Ned and her father and the monstrous
gods who would take them both away from her. “You should
have told me,” she said. “You should have sent word as
soon as you knew.”
“He forbade it. He did not want his enemies to know that
he was dying. With the realm so troubled, he feared that if
the Lannisters suspected how frail he was . . .”
“. . . they might attack?” Catelyn finished, hard. It was your
doing, yours, a voice whispered inside her. If you had not
taken it upon yourself to seize the dwarf . . .
They climbed the spiral stair in silence.
The keep was three-sided, like Riverrun itself, and Lord
Hoster’s solar was triangular as well, with a stone balcony
that jutted out to the east like the prow of some great
sandstone ship. From there the lord of the castle could look
down on his walls and battlements, and beyond, to where
the waters met. They had moved her father’s bed out onto
the balcony. “He likes to sit in the sun and watch the rivers,”
Edmure explained. “Father, see who I’ve brought. Cat has
come to see you . . .”
Hoster Tully had always been a big man; tall and broad in
his youth, portly as he grew older. Now he seemed
shrunken, the muscle and meat melted off his bones. Even
his face sagged. The last time Catelyn had seen him, his
hair and beard had been brown, well streaked with grey.
Now they had gone white as snow.
His eyes opened to the sound of Edmure’s voice. “Little
cat,” he murmured in a voice thin and wispy and wracked
by pain. “My little cat.” A tremulous smile touched his face
as his hand groped for hers. “Iwatched for you . . .”
“I shall leave you to talk,” her brother said, kissing their
lord father gently on the brow before he withdrew.
Catelyn knelt and took her father’s hand in hers. It was a
big hand, but fleshless now, the bones moving loosely
under the skin, all the strength gone from it. “You should
have told me,” she said. “A rider, a raven . . .”
“Riders are taken, questioned,” he answered. “Ravens
are brought down . . .” A spasm of pain took him, and his
fingers clutched hers hard. “The crabs are in my belly . . .
pinching, always pinching. Day and night. They have fierce
claws, the crabs. Maester Vyman makes me dreamwine,
milk of the poppy . . . I sleep a lot . . . but I wanted to be
awake to see you, when you came. I was afraid . . . when
the Lannisters took your brother, the camps all around us . .
. was afraid I would go, before I could see you again . . . I
was afraid . .”
“I’m here, Father,” she said. “With Robb, my son. He’ll
want to see you too.”
“Your boy,” he whispered. “He had my eyes, I remember .
. .”
“He did, and does. And we’ve brought you Jaime
Lannister, in irons. Riverrun is free again, Father.”
Lord Hoster smiled. “I saw. Last night, when it began, I
told them . . . had to see. They carried me to the gatehouse
. . . watched from the battlements. Ah, that was beautiful . . .
the torches came in a wave, I could hear the cries floating
across the river . . . sweet cries . . . when that siege tower
went up, gods . . . would have died then, and glad, if only I
could have seen you children first. Was it your boy who did
it? Was it your Robb?”
“Yes,” Catelyn said, fiercely proud. “It was Robb . . . and
Brynden. Your brother is here as well, my lord.”
“Him.” Her father’s voice was a faint whisper. “The
Blackfish . . . came back? From the Vale?”
“And Lysa?” A cool wind moved through his thin white
hair. “Gods be good, your sister . . . did she come as well?”
He sounded so full of hope and yearning that it was hard
to tell the truth. “No. I’m sorry . . .”
“Oh.” His face fell, and some light went out of his eyes. “I’d
hoped Iwould have liked to see her, before . . .”
“She’s with her son, in the Eyrie.”
Lord Hoster gave a weary nod. “Lord Robert now, poor
Arryn’s gone . . . I remember . . . why did she not come with
“She is frightened, my lord. In the Eyrie she feels safe.”
She kissed his wrinkled brow. “Robb will be waiting. Will
you see him? And Brynden?”
“Your son,” he whispered. “Yes. Cat’s child . . . he had my
eyes, Iremember. When he was born. Bring him . . . yes.”
“And your brother?”
Her father glanced out over the rivers. “Blackfish,” he
said. “Has he wed yet? Taken some . . . girl to wife?”
Even on his deathbed, Catelyn thought sadly. “He has not
wed. You know that, Father. Nor will he ever.”“I told him . . .
commanded him. Marry! I was his lord. He
knows. My right, to make his match. A good match. A
Redwyne. Old House. Sweet girl, pretty . . . freckles . . .
Bethany, yes. Poor child. Still waiting. Yes. Still . . .”
“Bethany Redwyne wed Lord Rowan years ago,” Catelyn
reminded him. “She has three children by him.”
“Even so,” Lord Hoster muttered. “Even so. Spit on the
girl. The Redwynes. Spit on me. His lord, his brother . . .
that Blackfish. I had other offers. Lord Bracken’s girl.
Walder Frey . . . any of three, he said . . . Has he wed?
Anyone? Anyone?”
“No one,” Catelyn said, “yet he has come many leagues
to see you, fighting his way back to Riverrun. I would not be
here now, if Ser Brynden had not helped us.”
“He was ever a warrior,” her father husked. “That he could
do. Knight of the Gate, yes.” He leaned back and closed his
eyes, inutterably weary. “Send him. Later. I’ll sleep now.
Too sick to fight. Send him up later, the Blackfish . . .”
Catelyn kissed him gently, smoothed his hair, and left him
there in the shade of his keep, with his rivers flowing
beneath. He was asleep before she left the solar.
When she returned to the lower bailey, Ser Brynden Tully
stood on the water stairs with wet boots, talking with the
captain of Riverrun’s guards. He came to her at once. “Is he
“Dying,” she said. “As we feared.”
Her uncle’s craggy face showed his pain plain. He ran his
fingers through his thick grey hair. “Will he see me?”
She nodded. “He says he is too sick to fight.”
Brynden Blackfish chuckled. “I am too old a soldier to
believe that. Hoster will be chiding me about the Redwyne
girl even as we light his funeral pyre, damn his bones.”
Catelyn smiled, knowing it was true. “I do not see Robb.”
“He went withGreyjoy to the hall, I believe.”
Theon Greyjoy was seated on a bench in Riverrun’s Great
Hall, enjoying a horn of ale and regaling her father’s
garrison with an account of the slaughter in the Whispering
Wood. “Some tried to flee, but we’d pinched the valley shut
at both ends, and we rode out of the darkness with sword
and lance. The Lannisters must have thought the Others
themselves were on them when that wolf of Robb’s got in
among them. I saw him tear one man’s arm from his
shoulder, and their horses went mad at the scent of him. I
couldn’t tell you how many men were thrown—”
“Theon,” she interrupted, “where might I find my son?”
“Lord Robb went to visit the godswood, MYlady.”
It was what Ned would have done. He is his father’s son
as much as mine, Imust remember. Oh, gods, Ned . . .
She found Robb beneath the green canopy of leaves,
surrounded by tall redwoods and great old elms, kneeling
before the heart tree, a slender weirwood with a face more
sad than fierce. His longsword was before him, the point
thrust in the earth, his gloved hands clasped around the hilt.
Around him others knelt: Greatjon Umber, Rickard
Karstark, Maege Mormont, Galbart Glover, and more. Even
Tytos Blackwood was among them, the great raven cloak
fanned out behind him. These are the ones who keep the
old gods, she realized. She asked herself what gods she
kept these days, and could not find an answer.
It would not do to disturb them at their prayers. The gods
must have their due . . . even cruel gods who would take
Ned from her, and her lord father as well. So Catelyn
waited. The river wind moved through the high branches,
and she could see the Wheel Tower to her right, ivy
crawling up its side. As she stood there, all the memories
came flooding back to her. Her father had taught her to ride
amongst these trees, and that was the elm that Edmure had
fallen from when he broke his arm, and over there, beneath
that bower, she and Lysa had played at kissing with Petyr.
She had not thought of that in years. How young they all
had been—she no older than Sansa, Lysa younger than
Arya, and Petyr younger still, yet eager. The girls had
traded him between them, serious and giggling by turns. It
came back to her so vividly she could almost feel his
sweaty fingers on her shoulders and taste the mint on his
breath. There was always mint growing in the godswood,
and Petyr had liked to chew it. He had been such a bold
little boy, always in trouble. “He tried to put his tongue in my
mouth,” Catelyn had confessed to her sister afterward,
when they were alone. “He did with me too,” Lysa had
whispered, shy and breathless. “I liked it.”
Robb got to his feet slowly and sheathed his sword, and
Catelyn found herself wondering whether her son had ever
kissed a girl in the godswood. Surely he must have. She
had seen Jeyne Poole giving him moist-eyed glances, and
some of the serving girls, even ones as old as eighteen . . .
he had ridden in battle and killed men with a sword, surely
he had been kissed. There were tears in her eyes. She
wiped them away angrily.
“Mother,” Robb said when he saw her standing there. “We
must call a council. There are things to be decided.”
“Your grandfather would like to see you,” she said. “Robb,
he’s very sick.”
“Ser Edmure told me. I am sorry, Mother . . . for Lord
Hoster and for you. Yet first we must meet. We’ve had word
from the south. Renly Baratheon has claimed his brother’scrown.”
“Renly?” she said, shocked. “I had thought, surely it would
be Lord Stannis . . .”
“So did we all, my lady,” Galbart Glover said.
The war council convened in the Great Hall, at four long
trestle tables arranged in a broken square. Lord Hoster
was too weak to attend, asleep on his balcony, dreaming of
the sun on the rivers of his youth. Edmure sat in the high
seat of the Tullys, with Brynden Blackfish at his side, and
his father’s bannermen arrayed to right and left and along
the side tables. Word of the victory at Riverrun had spread
to the fugitive lords of the Trident, drawing them back. Karyl
Vance came in, a lord now, his father dead beneath the
Golden Tooth. Ser Marq Piper was with him, and they
brought a Darry, Ser Raymun’s son, a lad no older than
Bran. Lord Jonos Bracken arrived from the ruins of Stone
Hedge, glowering and blustering, and took a seat as far
from Tytos Blackwood as the tables would permit.
The northern lords sat opposite, with Catelyn and Robb
facing her brother across the tables. They were fewer. The
Greatjon sat at Robb’s left hand, and then Theon Greyjoy;
Galbart Glover and Lady Mormont were to the right of
Catelyn. Lord Rickard Karstark, gaunt and hollow-eyed in
his grief, took his seat like a man in a nightmare, his long
beard uncombed and unwashed. He had left two sons
dead in the Whispering Wood, and there was no word of
the third, his eldest, who had led the Karstark spears
against Tywin Lannister on the Green Fork.
The arguing raged on late into the night. Each lord had a
right to speak, and speak they did . . . and shout, and curse,
and reason, and cajole, and jest, and bargain, and slam
tankards on the table, and threaten, and walk out, and
return sullen or smiling. Catelyn sat and listened to it all.
Roose Bolton had re-formed the battered remnants of
their other host at the mouth of the causeway. Ser Helman
Tallhart and Walder Frey still held the Twins. Lord Tywin’s
army had crossed the Trident, and was making for
Harrenhal. And there were two kings in the realm. Two
kings, and no agreement.
Many of the lords bannermen wanted to march on
Harrenhal at once, to meet Lord Tywin and end Lannister
power for all time. Young, hot-tempered Marq Piper urged
a strike west at Casterly Rock instead. Still others
counseled patience. Riverrun sat athwart the Lannister
supply lines, Jason Mallister pointed out; let them bide their
time, denying Lord Tywin fresh levies and provisions while
they strengthened their defenses and rested their weary
troops. Lord Blackwood would have none of it. They should
finish the work they began in the Whispering Wood. March
to Harrenhal and bring Roose Bolton’s army down as well.
What Blackwood urged, Bracken opposed, as ever; Lord
Jonos Bracken rose to insist they ought pledge their fealty
to King Renly, and move south to join their might to his.
“Renly is not the king,” Robb said. It was the first time her
son had spoken. Like his father, he knew how to listen.
“You cannot mean to hold to Joffrey, my lord,” Galbart
Glover said. “He put your father to death.”
“That makes him evil,” Robb replied. “I do not know that it
makes Renly king. Joffrey is still Robert’s eldest trueborn
son, so the throne is rightfully his by all the laws of the
realm. Were he to die, and I mean to see that he does, he
has a younger brother. Tommen is next in line after Joffrey.”
“Tommen is no less a Lannister,” Ser Marq Piper
snapped.“As you say,” said Robb, troubled. “Yet if neither one is
king, still, how could it be Lord Renly? He’s Robert’s
younger brother. Bran can’t be Lord of Winterfell before me,
and Renly can’t be king before Lord Stannis.”
Lady Mormont agreed. “Lord Stannis has the better
“Renly is crowned,” said Marq Piper. “Highgarden and
Storm’s End support his claim, and the Dornishmen will not
be laggardly. If Winterfell and Riverrun add their strength to
his, he will have five of the seven great houses behind him.
Six, if the Arryns bestir themselves! Six against the Rock!
My lords, within the year, we will have all their heads on
pikes, the queen and the boy king, Lord Tywin, the Imp, the
Kingslayer, Ser Kevan, all of them! That is what we shall
win if we join with King Renly. What does Lord Stannis have
against that, that we should cast it all aside?”
“The right,” said Robb stubbornly. Catelyn thought he
sounded eerily like his father as he said it.
“So you mean us to declare for Stannis?” asked Edmure.
“I don’t know,” said Robb. “I prayed to know what to do,
but the gods did not answer. The Lannisters killed my father
for a traitor, and we know that was a lie, but if Joffrey is the
lawful king and we fight against him, we will be traitors.”
“My lord father would urge caution,” aged Ser Stevron
said, with the weaselly smile of a Frey. “Wait, let these two
kings play their game of thrones. When they are done
fighting, we can bend our knees to the victor, or oppose
him, as we choose. With Renly arming, likely Lord Tywin
would welcome a truce . . . and the safe return of his son.
Noble lords, allow me to go to him at Harrenhal and
arrange good terms and ransoms . . .”
A roar of outrage drowned out his voice. “Craven!” the
Greatjon thundered. “Begging for a truce will make us seem
weak,” declared Lady Mormont. “Ransoms be damned, we
must not give up the Kingslayer,” shouted Rickard Karstark.
“Why not a peace?” Catelyn asked.
The lords looked at her, but it was Robb’s eyes she felt,
his and his alone. “My lady, they murdered my lord father,
your husband,” he said grimly. He unsheathed his
longsword and laid it on the table before him, the bright
steel on the rough wood. “This is the only peace I have for
The Greatjon bellowed his approval, and other men
added their voices, shouting and drawing swords and
pounding their fists on the table. Catelyn waited until they
had quieted. “My lords,” she said then, “Lord Eddard was
your liege, but I shared his bed and bore his children. Do
you think I love him any less than you?” Her voice almost
broke with her grief, but Catelyn took a long breath and
steadied herself. “Robb, if that sword could bring him back,
I should never let you sheathe it until Ned stood at my side
once more . . . but he is gone, and hundred Whispering
Woods will not change that. Ned is gone, and Daryn
Hornwood, and Lord Karstark’s valiant sons, and many
other good men besides, and none of them will return to us.
Must we have more deaths still?”
“You are a woman, my lady,” the Greatjon rumbled in his
deep voice. “Women do not understand these things.”
“You are the gentle sex,” said Lord Karstark, with the lines
of grief fresh on his face. “A man has a need for
“Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would
see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied.
“Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy . . . but I
understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies
were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner,
falsely accused of treason. We fought to defend ourselves,
and to win my lord’s freedom.
“Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our
reach. I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I
must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the
queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for
their two Starks, Iwill call that a bargain and thank the gods.
I want you safe, Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s
seat. I want you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a
woman and father a son. I want to write an end to this. I
want to go home, my lords, and weep for my husband.”
The hall was very quiet when Catelyn finished speaking.
“Peace,” said her uncle Brynden. “Peace is sweet, my
lady . . . but on what terms? It is no good hammering your
sword into a plowshare if you must forge it again on the
“What did Torrhen and my Eddard die for, if I am to return
to Karhold with nothing but their bones?” asked Rickard
“Aye,” said Lord Bracken. “Gregor Clegane laid waste to
my fields, slaughtered my smallfolk, and left Stone Hedge a
smoking ruin. Am I now to bend the knee to the ones who
sent him? What have we fought for, if we are to put all back
as it was before?”
Lord Blackwood agreed, to Catelyn’s surprise and
dismay. “And if we do make peace with King Joffrey, are
we not then traitors to King Renly? What if the stag should
prevail against the lion, where would that leave us?”
“Whatever you may decide for yourselves, I shall never
call a Lannister my king,” declared Marq Piper.
“Nor I,” yelled the little Darry boy. “I never will!”
Again the shouting began. Catelyn sat despairing. She
had come so close, she thought. They had almost listened,
almost . . . but the moment was gone. There would be no
peace, no chance to heal, no safety. She looked at her son,
watched him as he listened to the lords debate, frowning,
troubled, yet wedded to his war. He had pledged himself to
marry a daughter of Walder Frey, but she saw his true bride
plain before her now: the sword he had laid on the table.
Catelyn was thinking of her girls, wondering if she would
ever see them again, when the Greatjon lurched to his feet.
“MYLORDS!” he shouted, his voice booming off the
rafters. “Here is what I say to these two kings!” He spat.
“Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why
should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat
in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or
the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their
gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too, I’ve
had a bellyful of them.” He reached back over his shoulder
and drew his immense two-handed greatsword. “Why
shouldn’t we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we
married, and the dragons are all dead!” He pointed at
Robb with the blade. “There sits the only king Imean to bow
my knee to, m’lords,” he thundered. “The King in the North!”
And he knelt, and laid his sword at her son’s feet.
“I’ll have peace on those terms,” Lord Karstark said.
“They can keep their red castle and their iron chair as well.”
He eased his longsword from its scabbard. “The King in the
North!” he said, kneeling beside the Greatjon.
Maege Mormont stood. “The King of Winter!” she
declared, and laid her spiked mace beside the swords.
And the river lords were rising too, Blackwood and Brackenand \
Mallister, houses who had never been ruled from
Winterfell, yet Catelyn watched them rise and draw their
blades, bending their knees and shouting the old words that
had not been heard in the realm for more than three
hundred years, since Aegon the Dragon had come to make
the Seven Kingdoms one . . . yet now were heard again,
ringing from the timbers of her father’s hall:
“The King in the North!”
“The King in the North!”

The land was red and dead and parched, and
good wood was hard to come by. Her foragers returned
with gnarled cottonwoods, purple brush, sheaves of brown
grass. They took the two straightest trees, hacked the limbs
and branches from them, skinned off their bark, and split
them, laying the logs in a square. Its center they filled with
straw, brush, bark shavings, and bundles of dry grass.
Rakharo chose a stallion from the small herd that remained
to them; he was not the equal of Khal Drogo’s red, but few
horses were. In the center of the square, Aggo fed him a
withered apple and dropped him in an instant with an axe
blow between the eyes.
Bound hand and foot, Mirri Maz Duur watched from the
dust with disquiet in her black eyes. “It is not enough to kill a
horse,” she told Dany. “By itself, the blood is nothing. You
do not have the words to make a spell, nor the wisdom to
find them. Do you think bloodmagic is a game for children?
You call me maegi as if it were a curse, but all it means is
wise. You are a child, with a child’s ignorance. Whatever
you mean to do, it will not work. Loose me from these
bonds and Iwill help you.”
“I am tired of the maegi’s braying,” Dany told Jhogo. He
took his whip to her, and after that the godswife kept silent.
Over the carcass of the horse, they built a platform of
hewn logs; trunks of smaller trees and limbs from the
greater, and the thickest, straightest branches they could
find. They laid the wood east to west, from sunrise to
sunset. On the platform they piled Khal Drogo’s treasures:
his great tent, his painted vests, his saddles and harness,
the whip his father had given him when he came to
manhood, the arakh he had used to slay Khal Ogo and his
son, a mighty dragonbone bow. Aggo would have added
the weapons Drogo’s bloodriders had given Dany for bride
gifts as well, but she forbade it. “Those are mine,” she told
him, “and I mean to keep them.” Another layer of brush was
piled about the khal’s treasures, and bundles of dried grass
scattered over them.
Ser Jorah Mormont drew her aside as the sun was
creeping toward its zenith. “Princess . . .” he began.
“Why do you call me that?” Dany challenged him. “My
brother Viserys was your king, was he not?”
“He was, my lady.”
“Viserys is dead. I am his heir, the last blood of House
Targaryen. Whatever was his is mine now.”
“My . . . queen,” Ser Jorah said, going to one knee. “My
sword that was his is yours, Daenerys. And my heart as
well, that never belonged to your brother. I am only a knight,
and I have nothing to offer you but exile, but I beg you, hear
me. Let Khal Drogo go. You shall not be alone. I promise
you, no man shall take you to Vaes Dothrak unless you wish
to go. You need not join the dosh khaleen. Come east with
me. Yi Ti, Qarth, the Jade Sea, Asshai by the Shadow. We
will see all the wonders yet unseen, and drink what wines
the gods see fit to serve us. Please, Khaleesi. I know what
you intend. Do not. Do not.”
“I must,” Dany told him. She touched his face, fondly,
sadly. “You do not understand.”
“I understand that you loved him,” Ser Jorah said in a
voice thick with despair. “I loved my lady wife once, yet I did
not die with her. You are my queen, my sword is yours, but
do not ask me to stand aside as you climb on Drogo’s
pyre. Iwill not watch you burn.”
“Is that what you fear?” Dany kissed him lightly on his
broad forehead. “I am not such a child as that, sweet ser.”
“You do not mean to die with him? You swear it, my
“I swear it,” she said in the Common Tongue of the Seven
Kingdoms that by rights were hers.
The third level of the platform was woven of branches no
thicker than a finger, and covered with dry leaves and twigs.
They laid them north to south, from ice to fire, and piled
them high with soft cushions and sleeping silks. The sun
had begun to lower toward the west by the time they were
done. Dany called the Dothraki around her. Fewer than a
hundred were left. How many had Aegon started with? she
wondered. It did not matter.
“You will be my khalasar,” she told them. “I see the faces
of slaves. I free you. Take off your collars. Go if you wish, no
one shall harm you. If you stay, it will be as brothers and
sisters, husbands and wives.” The black eyes watched her,
wary, expressionless. “I see the children, women, the
wrinkled faces of the aged. I was a child yesterday. Today I
am a woman. Tomorrow I will be old. To each of you I say,
give me your hands and your hearts, and there will always
be a place for you.” She turned to the three young warriors
of her khas. “Jhogo, to you I give the silver-handled whip
that was my bride gift, and name you ko, and ask your oath,
that you will live and die as blood of my blood, riding at my
side to keep me safe from harm.”
Jhogo took the whip from her hands, but his face was
confused. “Khaleesi,” he said hesitantly, “this is not done. It
would shame me, to be bloodrider to a woman.”
“Aggo,” Dany called, paying no heed to Jhogo’s words. If I
look back I am lost. “To you I give the dragonbone bow that
was my bride gift.” It was double-curved, shiny black and
exquisite, taller than she was. “I name you ko, and ask your
oath, that you should live and die as blood of my blood,
riding at my side to keep me safe from harm.”
Aggo accepted the bow with lowered eyes. “I cannot say
these words. Only a man can lead a khalasar or name a
“Rakharo,” Dany said, turning away from the refusal, “you
shall have the great arakh that was my bride gift, with hilt
and blade chased in gold. And you too I name my ko, and
ask that you live and die as blood of my blood, riding at my
side to keep me safe from harm.”
“You are khaleesi,” Rakharo said, taking the arakh. “I shall
ride at your side to Vaes Dothrak beneath the Mother of
Mountains, and keep you safe from harm until you take your
place with the crones of the dosh khaleen. No more can I
She nodded, as calmly as if she had not heard his
answer, and turned to the last of her champions. “Ser Jorah
Mormont,” she said, “first and greatest of my knights, I have
no bride gift to give you, but I swear to you, one day you
shall have from my hands a longsword like none the world
has ever seen, dragon-forged and made of Valyrian steel.
And Iwould ask for your oath as well.”
“You have it, my queen,” Ser Jorah said, kneeling to lay
his sword at her feet. “I vow to serve you, to obey you, to die
for you if need be.”
“Whatever may come?”
“Whatever may come.”
“I shall hold you to that oath. I pray you never regret the
giving of it.” Dany lifted him to his feet. Stretching on her
toes to reach his lips, she kissed the knight gently and said,
“You are the first of myQueensguard.”
She could feel the eyes of the khalasar on her as she
entered her tent. The Dothraki were muttering and giving
her strange sideways looks from the corners of their dark
almond eyes. They thought her mad, Dany realized.
Perhaps she was. She would know soon enough. If I look
back I am lost.
Her bath was scalding hot when Irri helped her into the
tub, but Dany did not flinch or cry aloud. She liked the heat.
It made her feel clean. Jhiqui had scented the water with the
oils she had found in the market in Vaes Dothrak; the
steam rose moist and fragrant. Doreah washed her hair
and combed it out, working loose the mats and tangles. Irri
scrubbed her back. Dany closed her eyes and let the smell
and the warmth enfold her. She could feel the heat soaking
through the soreness between her thighs. She shuddered
when it entered her, and her pain and stiffness seemed to
dissolve. She floated.
When she was clean, her handmaids helped her from the
water. Irri and Jhiqui fanned her dry, while Doreah brushed
her hair until it fell like a river of liquid silver down her back.
They scented her with spiceflower and cinnamon; a touch
on each wrist, behind her ears, on the tips of her milk-heavy
breasts. The last dab was for her sex. Irri’s finger felt as
light and cool as a lover’s kiss as it slid softly up between
her lips.
Afterward, Dany sent them all away, so she might prepare
Khal Drogo for his final ride into the night lands. She
washed his body clean and brushed and oiled his hair,
running her fingers through it for the last time, feeling the
weight of it, remembering the first time she had touched it,
the night of their wedding ride. His hair had never been cut.
How many men could die with their hair uncut? She buried
her face in it and inhaled the dark fragrance of the oils. He
smelled like grass and warm earth, like smoke and semen
and horses. He smelled like Drogo. Forgive me, sun of my
life, she thought. Forgive me for all I have done and all I
must do. I paid the price, my star, but it was too high, too
high . . .
Dany braided his hair and slid the silver rings onto his
mustache and hung his bells one by one. So many bells,
gold and silver and bronze. Bells so his enemies would
hear him coming and grow weak with fear. She dressed
him in horsehair leggings and high boots, buckling a belt
heavy with gold and silver medallions about his waist. Over
his scarred chest she slipped a painted vest, old and
faded, the one Drogo had loved best. For herself she
chose loose sandsilk trousers, sandals that laced halfway
up her legs, and a vest like Drogo’s.
The sun was going down when she called them back to
carry his body to the pyre. The Dothraki watched in silence
as Jhogo and Aggo bore him from the tent. Dany walked
behind them. They laid him down on his cushions and silks,
his head toward the Mother of Mountains far to the
“Oil,” she commanded, and they brought forth the jars and
poured them over the pyre, soaking the silks and the brush
and the bundles of dry grass, until the oil trickled from
beneath the logs and the air was rich with fragrance. “Bring
my eggs,” Dany commanded her handmaids. Something in
her voice made them run.
Ser Jorah took her arm. “My queen, Drogo will have no
use for dragon’s eggs in the night lands. Better to sell them
in Asshai. Sell one and we can buy a ship to take us back
to the Free Cities. Sell all three and you will be a wealthy
woman all your days.”
“They were not given to me to sell,” Dany told him.
She climbed the pyre herself to place the eggs around
her sun-and-stars. The black beside his heart, under his
arm. The green beside his head, his braid coiled around it.
The cream-and-gold down between his legs. When she
kissed him for the last time, Dany could taste the
sweetness of the oil on his lips.
As she climbed down off the pyre, she noticed Mirri Maz
Duur watching her. “You are mad,” the godswife said
“Is it so far from madness to wisdom?” Dany asked. “Ser
Jorah, take this maegi and bind her to the pyre.”
“To the . . . my queen, no, hear me . . .”
“Do as I say.” Still he hesitated, until her anger flared. “You
swore to obey me, whatever might come. Rakharo, help
The godswife did not cry out as they dragged her to Khal
Drogo’s pyre and staked her down amidst his treasures.
Dany poured the oil over the woman’s head herself. “I thank
you, Mirri Maz Duur,” she said, “for the lessons you have
taught me.”
“You will not hear me scream,” Mirri responded as the oil
dripped from her hair and soaked her clothing.
“I will,” Dany said, “but it is not your screams I want, only
your life. I remember what you told me. Only death can pay
for life.” Mirri Maz Duur opened her mouth, but made no
reply. As she stepped away, Dany saw that the contempt
was gone from the maegi’s flat black eyes; in its place was
something that might have been fear. Then there was
nothing to be done but watch the sun and look for the first
When a horselord dies, his horse is slain with him, so he
might ride proud into the night lands. The bodies are
burned beneath the open sky, and the khal rises on his fiery
steed to take his place among the stars. The more fiercely
the man burned in life, the brighter his star will shine in the
Jhogo spied it first. “There,” he said in a hushed voice.
Dany looked and saw it, low in the east. The first star was a
comet, burning red. Bloodred; fire red; the dragon’s tail.
She could not have asked for a stronger sign.
Dany took the torch from Aggo’s hand and thrust it
between the logs. The oil took the fire at once, the brush
and dried grass a heartbeat later. Tiny flames went darting
up the wood like swift red mice, skating over the oil and
leaping from bark to branch to leaf. A rising heat puffed at
her face, soft and sudden as a lover’s breath, but in
seconds it had grown too hot to bear. Dany stepped
backward. The wood crackled, louder and louder. Mirri Maz
Duur began to sing in a shrill, ululating voice. The flames
whirled and writhed, racing each other up the platform. The
dusk shimmered as the air itself seemed to liquefy from the
heat. Dany heard logs spit and crack. The fires swept over
Mirri Maz Duur. Her song grew louder, shriller . . . then she
gasped, again and again, and her song became a
shuddering wail, thin and high and full of agony.
And now the flames reached her Drogo, and now they
were all around him. His clothing took fire, and for an instant
the khal was clad in wisps of floating orange silk and
tendrils of curling smoke, grey and greasy. Dany’s lips
parted and she found herself holding her breath. Part of her
wanted to go to him as Ser Jorah had feared, to rush into
the flames to beg for his forgiveness and take him inside
her one last time, the fire melting the flesh from their bones
until they were as one, forever.
She could smell the odor of burning flesh, no different than
horseflesh roasting in a firepit. The pyre roared in the
deepening dusk like some great beast, drowning out the
fainter sound of Mirri Maz Duur’s screaming and sending
up long tongues of flame to lick at the belly of the night. As
the smoke grew thicker, the Dothraki backed away,
coughing. Huge orange gouts of fire unfurled their banners
in that hellish wind, the logs hissing and cracking, glowing
cinders rising on the smoke to float away into the dark like
so many newborn fireflies. The heat beat at the air with
great red wings, driving the Dothraki back, driving off even
Mormont, but Dany stood her ground. She was the blood of
the dragon, and the fire was in her.
She had sensed the truth of it long ago, Dany thought as
she took a step closer to the conflagration, but the brazier
had not been hot enough. The flames writhed before her
like the women who had danced at her wedding, whirling
and singing and spinning their yellow and orange and
crimson veils, fearsome to behold, yet lovely, so lovely,
alive with heat. Dany opened her arms to them, her skin
flushed and glowing. This is a wedding, too, she thought.
Mirri Maz Duur had fallen silent. The godswife thought her a
child, but children grow, and children learn.
Another step, and Dany could feel the heat of the sand on
the soles of her feet, even through her sandals. Sweat ran
down her thighs and between her breasts and in rivulets
over her cheeks, where tears had once run. Ser Jorah was
shouting behind her, but he did not matter anymore, only the
fire mattered. The flames were so beautiful, the loveliest
things she had ever seen, each one a sorcerer robed in
yellow and orange and scarlet, swirling long smoky cloaks.
She saw crimson firelions and great yellow serpents and
unicorns made of pale blue flame; she saw fish and foxes
and monsters, wolves and bright birds and flowering trees,
each more beautiful than the last. She saw a horse, a great
grey stallion limned in smoke, its flowing mane a nimbus of
blue flame. Yes, my love, my sun-and-stars, yes, mount
now, tide now.
Her vest had begun to smolder, so Dany shrugged it off
and let it fall to the ground. The painted leather burst into
sudden flame as she skipped closer to the fire, her breasts
bare to the blaze, streams of milk flowing from her red and
swollen nipples. Now, she thought, now, and for an instant
she glimpsed Khal Drogo before her, mounted on his
smoky stallion, a flaming lash in his hand. He smiled, and
the whip snaked down at the pyre, hissing.
She heard a crack, the sound of shattering stone. The
platform of wood and brush and grass began to shift and
collapse in upon itself. Bits of burning wood slid down at
her, and Dany was showered with ash and cinders. And
something else came crashing down, bouncing and rolling,
to land at her feet; a chunk of curved rock, pale and veined
with gold, broken and smoking. The roaring filled the world,
yet dimly through the firefall Dany heard women shriek and
children cry out in wonder.
Only death can pay for life.
And there came a second crack, loud and sharp as
thunder, and the smoke stirred and whirled around her and
the pyre shifted, the logs exploding as the fire touched their
secret hearts. She heard the screams of frightened horses,
and the voices of the Dothraki raised in shouts of fear and
terror, and Ser Jorah calling her name and cursing. No, she
wanted to shout to him, no, my good knight, do not fear for
me. The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of
dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don’t you
see? Don’t you SEE? With a belch of flame and smoke that
reached thirty feet into the sky, the pyre collapsed and
came down around her. Unafraid, Dany stepped forward
into the firestorm, calling to her children.
The third crack was as loud and sharp as the breaking of
the world.
When the fire died at last and the ground became cool
enough to walk upon, Ser Jorah Mormont found her amidst
the ashes, surrounded by blackened logs and bits of
glowing ember and the burnt bones of man and woman and
stallion. She was naked, covered with soot, her clothes
turned to ash, her beautiful hair all crisped away . . . yet she
was unhurt.
The cream-and-gold dragon was suckling at her left
breast, the green-and-bronze at the right. Her arms cradled
them close. The black-and-scarlet beast was draped
across her shoulders, its long sinuous neck coiled underher chin.
When it saw Jorah, it raised its head and looked
at him with eyes as red as coals.
Wordless, the knight fell to his knees. The men of her
khas came up behind him. Jhogo was the first to lay his
arakh at her feet. “Blood of my blood,” he murmured,
pushing his face to the smoking earth. “Blood of my blood,”
she heard Aggo echo. “Blood of my blood,” Rakharo
And after them came her handmaids, and then the others,
all the Dothraki, men and women and children, and Dany
had only to look at their eyes to know that they were hers
now, today and tomorrow and forever, hers as they had
never been Drogo’s.
As Daenerys Targaryen rose to her feet, her black
hissed, pale smoke venting from its mouth and nostrils. The
other two pulled away from her breasts and added their
voices to the call, translucent wings unfolding and stirring
the air, and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night
came alive with the music of dragons.