A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin part one
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods
began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”
“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked
with just the hint of a smile.
Gared did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past
fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is
dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”
“Are they dead?” Royce asked softly. “What proof have
“Will saw them,” Gared said. “If he says they are dead,
that’s proof enough for me.”Will had known they would drag him into the quarrel
sooner or later. He wished it had been later rather than
sooner. “My mother told me that dead men sing no songs,”
he put in.
“My wet nurse said the same thing, Will,” Royce replied.
“Never believe anything you hear at a woman’s tit. There
are things to be learned even from the dead.” His voice
echoed, too loud in the twilit forest.
“We have a long ride before us,” Gared pointed out.
“Eight days, maybe nine. And night is falling.”
Ser Waymar Royce glanced at the sky with disinterest. “It
does that every day about this time. Are you unmanned by
the dark, Gared?”
Will could see the tightness around Gared’s mouth, the
barely suppressed anger in his eyes under the thick black
hood of his cloak. Gared had spent forty years in the
Night’s Watch, man and boy, and he was not accustomed
to being made light of. Yet it was more than that. Under the
wounded pride, Will could sense something else in the
older man. You could taste it; a nervous tension that came
perilous close to fear.
Will shared his unease. He had been four years on the
Wall. The first time he had been sent beyond, all the old
stories had come rushing back, and his bowels had turned
to water. He had laughed about it afterward. He was a
veteran of a hundred rangings by now, and the endless
dark wilderness that the southron called the haunted forest
had no more terrors for him.
Until tonight. Something was different tonight. There was
an edge to this darkness that made his hackles rise. Nine
days they had been riding, north and northwest and then
north again, farther and farther from the Wall, hard on thetrack of a band of wildling raiders. Each day had been
worse than the day that had come before it. Today was the
worst of all. A cold wind was blowing out of the north, and it
made the trees rustle like living things. All day, Will had felt
as though something were watching him, something cold
and implacable that loved him not. Gared had felt it too. Will
wanted nothing so much as to ride hellbent for the safety of
the Wall, but that was not a feeling to share with your
Especially not a commander like this one.
Ser Waymar Royce was the youngest son of an ancient
house with too many heirs. He was a handsome youth of
eighteen, grey-eyed and graceful and slender as a knife.
Mounted on his huge black destrier, the knight towered
above Will and Gared on their smaller garrons. He wore
black leather boots, black woolen pants, black moleskin
gloves, and a fine supple coat of gleaming black ringmail
over layers of black wool and boiled leather. Ser Waymar
had been a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch for less
than half a year, but no one could say he had not prepared
for his vocation. At least insofar as his wardrobe was
His cloak was his crowning glory; sable, thick and black
and soft as sin. “Bet he killed them all himself, he did,”
Gared told the barracks over wine, “twisted their little heads
off, our mighty warrior.” They had all shared the laugh.
It is hard to take orders from a man you laughed at in your
cups, Will reflected as he sat shivering atop his garron.
Gared must have felt the same.
“Mormont said as we should track them, and we did,”
Gared said. ”They’re dead. They shan’t trouble us no more.
There’s hard riding before us. I don’t like this weather. If itsnows, we could be a fortnight getting back, and snow’s the
best we can hope for. Ever seen an ice storm, my lord?”
The lordling seemed not to hear him. He studied the
deepening twilight in that half-bored, half-distracted way he
had. Will had ridden with the knight long enough to
understand that it was best not to interrupt him when he
looked like that. “Tell me again what you saw, Will. All the
details. Leave nothing out.”
Will had been a hunter before he joined the Night’s
Watch. Well, a poacher in truth. Mallister freeriders had
caught him red-handed in the Mallisters’ own woods,
skinning one of the Mallisters’ own bucks, and it had been a
choice of putting on the black or losing a hand. No one
could move through the woods as silent as Will, and it had
not taken the black brothers long to discover his talent.
“The camp is two miles farther on, over that ridge, hard
beside a stream,” Will said. “I got close as I dared. There’s
eight of them, men and women both. No children I could
see. They put up a lean-to against the rock. The snow’s
pretty well covered it now, but I could still make it out. No
fire burning, but the firepit was still plain as day. No one
moving. I watched a long time. No living man ever lay so
“Did you see any blood?”
“Well, no,” Will admitted.
“Did you see any weapons?”
“Some swords, a few bows. One man had an axe. Heavylooking, double-bladed, a cruel piece of iron. It was on the
ground beside him, right by his hand.”
“Did you make note of the position of the bodies?”
Will shrugged. “A couple are sitting up against the rock.
Most of them on the ground. Fallen, like.”“Or sleeping,” Royce suggested.
“Fallen,” Will insisted. “There’s one woman up an
ironwood, halfhid in the branches. A far-eyes.” He smiled
thinly. “I took care she never saw me. When I got closer, I
saw that she wasn’t moving neither.” Despite himself, he
“You have a chill?” Royce asked.
“Some,” Will muttered. “The wind, m’lord.”
The young knight turned back to his grizzled man-at-arms.
Frostfallen leaves whispered past them, and Royce’s
destrier moved restlessly. “What do you think might have
killed these men, Gared?” Ser Waymar asked casually. He
adjusted the drape of his long sable cloak.
“It was the cold,” Gared said with iron certainty. “I saw
men freeze last winter, and the one before, when I was half
a boy. Everyone talks about snows forty foot deep, and how
the ice wind comes howling out of the north, but the real
enemy is the cold. It steals up on you quieter than Will, and
at first you shiver and your teeth chatter and you stamp your
feet and dream of mulled wine and nice hot fires. It burns, it
does. Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then
it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while
you don’t have the strength to fight it. It’s easier just to sit
down or go to sleep. They say you don’t feel any pain
toward the end. First you go weak and drowsy, and
everything starts to fade, and then it’s like sinking into a sea
of warm milk. Peaceful, like.”
“Such eloquence, Gared,” Ser Waymar observed. “I never
suspected you had it in you.”
“I’ve had the cold in me too, lordling.” Gared pulled back
his hood, giving Ser Waymar a good long look at the
stumps where his ears had been. “Two ears, three toes,and the little finger off my left hand. I got off light. We found
my brother frozen at his watch, with a smile on his face.”
Ser Waymar shrugged. “You ought dress more warmly,
Gared glared at the lordling, the scars around his ear
holes flushed red with anger where Maester Aemon had cut
the ears away. “We’ll see how warm you can dress when
the winter comes.” He pulled up his hood and hunched over
his garron, silent and sullen.
“If Gared said it was the cold . . .” Will began.
“Have you drawn any watches this past week, Will?”
“Yes, m’lord.” There never was a week when he did not
draw a dozen bloody watches. What was the man driving
“And how did you find the Wall?”
“Weeping,” Will said, frowning. He saw it clear enough,
now that the lordling had pointed it out. “They couldn’t have
froze. Not if the Wall was weeping. It wasn’t cold enough.”
Royce nodded. “Bright lad. We’ve had a few light frosts
this past week, and a quick flurry of snow now and then, but
surely no cold fierce enough to kill eight grown men. Men
clad in fur and leather, let me remind you, with shelter near
at hand, and the means of making fire.” The knight’s smile
was cocksure. “Will, lead us there. I would see these dead
men for myself.”
And then there was nothing to be done for it. The order
had been given, and honor bound them to obey.
Will went in front, his shaggy little garron picking the way
carefully through the undergrowth. A light snow had fallen
the night before, and there were stones and roots and
hidden sinks lying just under its crust, waiting for the
careless and the unwary. Ser Waymar Royce came next,his great black destrier snorting impatiently. The warhorse
was the wrong mount for ranging, but try and tell that to the
lordling. Gared brought up the rear. The old man-at-arms
muttered to himself as he rode.
Twilight deepened. The cloudless sky turned a deep
purple, the color of an old bruise, then faded to black. The
stars began to come out. A half-moon rose. Will was
grateful for the light.
“We can make a better pace than this, surely,” Royce
said when the moon was full risen.
“Not with this horse,” Will said. Fear had made him
insolent. “Perhaps my lord would care to take the lead?”
Ser Waymar Royce did not deign to reply.
Somewhere off in the wood a wolf howled.
Will pulled his garron over beneath an ancient gnarled
ironwood and dismounted.
“Why are you stopping?” Ser Waymar asked.
“Best go the rest of the way on foot, m’lord. It’s just over
Royce paused a moment, staring off into the distance, his
face reflective. A cold wind whispered through the trees.
His great sable cloak stirred behind like something halfalive.
“There’s something wrong here,” Gared muttered.
The young knight gave him a disdainful smile. “Is there?”
“Can’t you feel it?” Gared asked. “Listen to the darkness.”
Will could feel it. Four years in the Night’s Watch, and he
had never been so afraid. What was it?
“Wind. Trees rustling. A wolf. Which sound is it that
unmans you so, Gared?” When Gared did not answer,
Royce slid gracefully from his saddle. He tied the destrier
securely to a low-hanging limb, well away from the otherhorses, and drew his longsword from its sheath. Jewels
glittered in its hilt, and the moonlight ran down the shining
steel. It was a splendid weapon, castle-forged, and newmade from the look of it. Will doubted it had ever been
swung in anger.
“The trees press close here,” Will warned. “That sword will
tangle you up, m’lord. Better a knife.”
“If I need instruction, I will ask for it,” the young lord said.
“Gared, stay here. Guard the horses.”
Gared dismounted. “We need a fire. I’ll see to it.”
“How big a fool are you, old man? If there are enemies in
this wood, a fire is the last thing we want.”
“There’s some enemies a fire will keep away,” Gared
said. “Bears and direwolves and … and other things . . .”
Ser Waymar’s mouth became a hard line. “No fire.”
Gared’s hood shadowed his face, but Will could see the
hard glitter in his eyes as he stared at the knight. For a
moment he was afraid the older man would go for his
sword. It was a short, ugly thing, its grip discolored by
sweat, its edge nicked from hard use, but Will would not
have given an iron bob for the lordling’s life if Gared pulled
it from its scabbard.
Finally Gared looked down. “No fire,” he muttered, low
under his breath.
Royce took it for acquiescence and turned away. “Lead
on,” he said to Will.
Will threaded their way through a thicket, then started up
the slope to the low ridge where he had found his vantage
point under a sentinel tree. Under the thin crust of snow, the
ground was damp and muddy, slick footing, with rocks and
hidden roots to trip you up. Will made no sound as he
climbed. Behind him, he heard the soft metallic slither of thelordling’s ringmail, the rustle of leaves, and muttered curses
as reaching branches grabbed at his longsword and
tugged on his splendid sable cloak.
The great sentinel was right there at the top of the ridge,
where Will had known it would be, its lowest branches a
bare foot off the ground. Will slid in underneath, flat on his
belly in the snow and the mud, and looked down on the
empty clearing below.
His heart stopped in his chest. For a moment he dared
not breathe. Moonlight shone down on the clearing, the
ashes of the firepit, the snow-covered lean-to, the great
rock, the little half-frozen stream. Everything was just as it
had been a few hours ago.
They were gone. All the bodies were gone.
“Gods!” he heard behind him. A sword slashed at a
branch as Ser Waymar Royce gained the ridge. He stood
there beside the sentinel, longsword in hand, his cloak
billowing behind him as the wind came up, outlined nobly
against the stars for all to see.
“Get down!” Will whispered urgently. “Something’s
Royce did not move. He looked down at the empty
clearing and laughed. “Your dead men seem to have
moved camp, Will.”
Will’s voice abandoned him. He groped for words that did
not come. It was not possible. His eyes swept back and
forth over the abandoned campsite, stopped on the axe. A
huge double-bladed battle-axe, still lying where he had
seen it last, untouched. A valuable weapon . . . “On your
feet, Will,” Ser Waymar commanded. “There’s no one here.
Iwon’t have you hiding under a bush.”
Reluctantly, Will obeyed.Ser Waymar looked him over with open disapproval. “I
am not going back to Castle Black a failure on my first
ranging. We will find these men.” He glanced around. “Up
the tree. Be quick about it. Look for a fire.”
Will turned away, wordless. There was no use to argue.
The wind was moving. It cut right through him. He went to
the tree, a vaulting grey-green sentinel, and began to climb.
Soon his hands were sticky with sap, and he was lost
among the needles. Fear filled his gut like a meal he could
not digest. He whispered a prayer to the nameless gods of
the wood, and slipped his dirk free of its sheath. He put it
between his teeth to keep both hands free for climbing. The
taste of cold iron in his mouth gave him comfort.
Down below, the lordling called out suddenly, “Who goes
there?” Will heard uncertainty in the challenge. He stopped
climbing; he listened; he watched.
The woods gave answer: the rustle of leaves, the icy rush
of the stream, a distant hoot of a snow owl.
The Others made no sound.
Will saw movement from the corner of his eye. Pale
shapes gliding through the wood. He turned his head,
glimpsed a white shadow in the darkness. Then it was
gone. Branches stirred gently in the wind, scratching at one
another with wooden fingers. Will opened his mouth to call
down a warning, and the words seemed to freeze in his
throat. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps it had only been a
bird, a reflection on the snow, some trick of the moonlight.
What had he seen, after all?
“Will, where are you?” Ser Waymar called up. “Can you
see anything?” He was turning in a slow circle, suddenly
wary, his sword in hand. He must have felt them, as Will felt
them. There was nothing to see. “Answer me! Why is it socold?”
It was cold. Shivering, Will clung more tightly to his perch.
His face pressed hard against the trunk of the sentinel. He
could feel the sweet, sticky sap on his cheek.
A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in
front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old
bones, with flesh pale as milk. Its armor seemed to change
color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow,
there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep
grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on
water with every step it took.
Will heard the breath go out of Ser Waymar Royce in a
long hiss. ”Come no farther,” the lordling warned. His voice
cracked like a boy’s. He threw the long sable cloak back
over his shoulders, to free his arms for battle, and took his
sword in both hands. The wind had stopped. It was very
The Other slid forward on silent feet. In its hand was a
longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human
metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive
with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it
seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on. There was a
faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played
around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper
than any razor.
Ser Waymar met him bravely. “Dance with me then.” He
lifted his sword high over his head, defiant. His hands
trembled from the weight of it, or perhaps from the cold. Yet
in that moment, Will thought, he was a boy no longer, but a
man of the Night’s Watch.
The Other halted. Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and
bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice. Theyfixed on the longsword trembling on high, watched the
moonlight running cold along the metal. For a heartbeat he
dared to hope.
They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first.
Three of them . . . four . . . five . . . Ser Waymar may have
felt the cold that came with them, but he never saw them,
never heard them. Will had to call out. It was his duty. And
his death, if he did. He shivered, and hugged the tree, and
kept the silence.
The pale sword came shivering through the air.
Ser Waymar met it with steel. When the blades met, there
was no ring of metal on metal; only a high, thin sound at the
edge of hearing, like an animal screaming in pain. Royce
checked a second blow, and a third, then fell back a step.
Another flurry of blows, and he fell back again.
Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers
stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their
delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood.
Yet they made no move to interfere.
Again and again the swords met, until Will wanted to
cover his ears against the strange anguished keening of
their clash. Ser Waymar was panting from the effort now,
his breath steaming in the moonlight. His blade was white
with frost; the Other’s danced with pale blue light.
Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword
bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord
cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It
steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire
where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers
brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked
The Other said something in a language that Will did notknow; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter
lake, and the words were mocking.
Ser Waymar Royce found his fury. “For Robert!” he
shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered
longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat
sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s
parry was almost lazy.
When the blades touched, the steel shattered.
A scream echoed through the forest night, and the
longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the
shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his
knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled
between his fingers.
The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal
had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly
silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced
through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far
beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as
When he found the courage to look again, a long time had
passed, and the ridge below was empty.
He stayed in the tree, scarce daring to breathe, while the
moon crept slowly across the black sky. Finally, his muscles
cramping and his fingers numb with cold, he climbed down.
Royce’s body lay facedown in the snow, one arm outflung.
The thick sable cloak had been slashed in a dozen places.
Lying dead like that, you saw how young he was. A boy.
He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the
end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning.
Will knelt, looked around warily, and snatched it up. The
broken sword would be his proof. Gared would know what
to make of it, and if not him, then surely that old bearMormont or Maester Aemon. Would Gared still be waiting
with the horses? He had to hurry.
Will rose. Ser Waymar Royce stood over him.
His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from
his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye.
The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw.
The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed
his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek,
then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the
finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy
The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a
crispness that hinted at the end of summer. They set forth at
daybreak to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, and Bran
rode among them, nervous with excitement. This was the
first time he had been deemed old enough to go with his
lord father and his brothers to see the king’s justice done. It
was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s
The man had been taken outside a small holdfast in the
hills. Robb thought he was a wildling, his sword sworn to
Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. It made Bran’s
skin prickle to think of it. He remembered the hearth tales
Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said,
slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants
and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and
drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with
the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human
children.But the man they found bound hand and foot to the
holdfast wall awaiting the king’s justice was old and
scrawny, not much taller than Robb. He had lost both ears
and a finger to frostbite, and he dressed all in black, the
same as a brother of the Night’s Watch, except that his furs
were ragged and greasy.
The breath of man and horse mingled, steaming, in the
cold morning air as his lord father had the man cut down
from the wall and dragged before them. Robb and Jon sat
tall and still on their horses, with Bran between them on his
pony, trying to seem older than seven, trying to pretend that
he’d seen all this before. A faint wind blew through the
holdfast gate. Over their heads flapped the banner of the
Starks of Winterfell: a grey direwolf racing across an icewhite field.
Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair
stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with
white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He
had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed
not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the
evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children
of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought,
and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell.
There were questions asked and answers given there in
the chill of morning, but afterward Bran could not recall
much of what had been said. Finally his lord father gave a
command, and two of his guardsmen dragged the ragged
man to the ironwood stump in the center of the square.
They forced his head down onto the hard black wood. Lord
Eddard Stark dismounted and his ward Theon Greyjoy
brought forth the sword. “Ice,” that sword was called. It was
as wide across as a man’s hand, and taller even thanRobb. The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark
as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel.
His father peeled off his gloves and handed them to Jory
Cassel, the captain of his household guard. He took hold of
Ice with both hands and said, “In the name of Robert of the
House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals
and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven
Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of
Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden
of the North, I do sentence you to die.” He lifted the
greatsword high above his head.
Bran’s bastard brother Jon Snow moved closer. “Keep
the pony well in hand,” he whispered. “And don’t look away.
Father will know if you do.”
Bran kept his pony well in hand, and did not look away.
His father took off the man’s head with a single sure
stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as
summerwine. One of the horses reared and had to be
restrained to keep from bolting. Bran could not take his
eyes off the blood. The snows around the stump drank it
eagerly, reddening as he watched.
The head bounced off a thick root and rolled. It came up
near Greyjoy’s feet. Theon was a lean, dark youth of
nineteen who found everything amusing. He laughed, put
his boot on the head, and kicked it away.
“Ass,” Jon muttered, low enough so Greyjoy did not hear.
He put a hand on Bran’s shoulder, and Bran looked over at
his bastard brother. “You did well,” Jon told him solemnly.
Jon was fourteen, an old hand at justice.
It seemed colder on the long ride back to Winterfell,
though the wind had died by then and the sun was higher in
the sky. Bran rode with his brothers, well ahead of the mainparty, his pony struggling hard to keep up with their horses.
“The deserter died bravely,” Robb said. He was big and
broad and growing every day, with his mother’s coloring,
the fair skin, red-brown hair, and blue eyes of the Tullys of
Riverrun. “He had courage, at the least.”
“No,” Jon Snow said quietly. “It was not courage. This one
was dead of fear. You could see it in his eyes, Stark.” Jon’s
eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but
there was little they did not see. He was of an age with
Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where
Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful
and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.
Robb was not impressed. “The Others take his eyes,” he
swore. “He died well. Race you to the bridge?”
“Done,” Jon said, kicking his horse forward. Robb cursed
and followed, and they galloped off down the trail, Robb
laughing and hooting, Jon silent and intent. The hooves of
their horses kicked up showers of snow as they went.
Bran did not try to follow. His pony could not keep up. He
had seen the ragged man’s eyes, and he was thinking of
them now. After a while, the sound of Robb’s laughter
receded, and the woods grew silent again.
So deep in thought was he that he never heard the rest of
the party until his father moved up to ride beside him. “Are
you well, Bran?” he asked, not unkindly.
“Yes, Father,” Bran told him. He looked up. Wrapped in
his furs and leathers, mounted on his great warhorse, his
lord father loomed over him like a giant. “Robb says the
man died bravely, but Jon says he was afraid.”
“What do you think?” his father asked.
Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s
afraid?”“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told
him. “Do you understand why I did it?”
“He was a wildling,” Bran said. “They carry off women and
sell them to the Others.”
His lord father smiled. “Old Nan has been telling you
stories again. In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a
deserter from the Night’s Watch. No man is more
dangerous. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is
taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how
vile. But you mistake me. The question was not why the
man had to die, but why Imust do it.”
Bran had no answer for that. “King Robert has a
headsman,” he said, uncertainly.
“He does,” his father admitted. “As did the Targaryen
kings before him. Yet our way is the older way. The blood of
the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we
hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence
should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you
owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words.
And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man
does not deserve to die.
“One day, Bran, you will be Robb’s bannerman, holding a
keep of your own for your brother and your king, and justice
will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no
pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler
who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what
That was when Jon reappeared on the crest of the hill
before them. He waved and shouted down at them. “Father,
Bran, come quickly, see what Robb has found!” Then he
was gone again.
Jory rode up beside them. “Trouble, my lord?”“Beyond a doubt,” his lord father said. “Come, let us see
what mischief my sons have rooted out now.” He sent his
horse into a trot. Jory and Bran and the rest came after.
They found Robb on the riverbank north of the bridge, with
Jon still mounted beside him. The late summer snows had
been heavy this moonturn. Robb stood knee-deep in white,
his hood pulled back so the sun shone in his hair. He was
cradling something in his arm, while the boys talked in
hushed, excited voices.
The riders picked their way carefully through the drifts,
groping for solid footing on the hidden, uneven ground. Jory
Cassel and Theon Greyjoy were the first to reach the boys.
Greyjoy was laughing and joking as he rode. Bran heard
the breath go out of him. “Gods!” he exclaimed, struggling
to keep control of his horse as he reached for his sword.
Jory’s sword was already out. “Robb, get away from it!”
he called as his horse reared under him. Robb grinned and
looked up from the bundle in his arms. “She can’t hurt you,”
he said. “She’s dead, Jory.”
Bran was afire with curiosity by then. He would have
spurred the pony faster, but his father made them dismount
beside the bridge and approach on foot. Bran jumped off
By then Jon, Jory, and Theon Greyjoy had all dismounted
as well. “What in the seven hells is it?” Greyjoy was saying.
“A wolf,” Robb told him.
“A freak,” Greyjoy said. “Look at the size of it.”
Bran’s heart was thumping in his chest as he pushed
through a waist-high drift to his brothers’ side.
Half-buried in bloodstained snow, a huge dark shape
slumped in death. Ice had formed in its shaggy grey fur, and
the faint smell of corruption clung to it like a woman’sperfume. Bran glimpsed blind eyes crawling with maggots,
a wide mouth full of yellowed teeth. But it was the size of it
that made him gasp. It was bigger than his pony, twice the
size of the largest hound in his father’s kennel.
“It’s no freak,” Jon said calmly. “That’s a direwolf. They
grow larger than the other kind.”
Theon Greyjoy said, “There’s not been a direwolf sighted
south of the Wall in two hundred years.”
“I see one now,” Jon replied.
Bran tore his eyes away from the monster. That was when
he noticed the bundle in Robb’s arms. He gave a cry of
delight and moved closer. The pup was a tiny ball of greyblack fur, its eyes still closed. It nuzzled blindly against
Robb’s chest as he cradled it, searching for milk among his
leathers, making a sad little whimpery sound. Bran reached
out hesitantly. “Go on,” Robb told him. “You can touch him.”
Bran gave the pup a quick nervous stroke, then turned as
Jon said, “Here you go.” His half brother put a second pup
into his arms. “There are five of them.” Bran sat down in the
snow and hugged the wolf pup to his face. Its fur was soft
and warm against his cheek.
“Direwolves loose in the realm, after so many years,”
muttered Hullen, the master of horse. “I like it not.”
“It is a sign,” Jory said.
Father frowned. “This is only a dead animal, Jory,” he
said. Yet he seemed troubled. Snow crunched under his
boots as he moved around the body. “Do we know what
“There’s something in the throat,” Robb told him, proud to
have found the answer before his father even asked.
“There, just under the jaw.”
His father knelt and groped under the beast’s head withhis hand. He gave a yank and held it up for all to see. A foot
of shattered antler, tines snapped off, all wet with blood.
A sudden silence descended over the party. The men
looked at the antler uneasily, and no one dared to speak.
Even Bran could sense their fear, though he did not
His father tossed the antler to the side and cleansed his
hands in the snow. “I’m surprised she lived long enough to
whelp,” he said. His voice broke the spell.
“Maybe she didn’t,” Jory said. “I’ve heard tales . . . maybe
the bitch was already dead when the pups came.”
“Born with the dead,” another man put in. “Worse luck.”
“No matter,” said Hullen. “They be dead soon enough
Bran gave a wordless cry of dismay.
“The sooner the better,” Theon Greyjoy agreed. He drew
his sword. “Give the beast here, Bran.”
The little thing squirmed against him, as if it heard and
understood. “No!” Bran cried out fiercely. “It’s mine.”
“Put away your sword, Greyjoy,” Robb said. For a
moment he sounded as commanding as their father, like
the lord he would someday be. “We will keep these pups.”
“You cannot do that, boy,” said Harwin, who was Hullen’s
“It be a mercy to kill them,” Hullen said.
Bran looked to his lord father for rescue, but got only a
frown, a furrowed brow. “Hullen speaks truly, son. Better a
swift death than a hard one from cold and starvation.”
“No!” He could feel tears welling in his eyes, and he
looked away. He did not want to cry in front of his father.
Robb resisted stubbornly. “Ser Rodrik’s red bitch
whelped again last week,” he said. “It was a small litter, onlytwo live pups. She’ll have milk enough.”
“She’ll rip them apart when they try to nurse.”
“Lord Stark,” Jon said. It was strange to hear him call
Father that, so formal. Bran looked at him with desperate
hope. “There are five pups,” he told Father. “Three male,
“What of it, Jon?”
“You have five trueborn children,” Jon said. “Three sons,
two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your
children were meant to have these pups, my lord.”
Bran saw his father’s face change, saw the other men
exchange glances. He loved Jon with all his heart at that
moment. Even at seven, Bran understood what his brother
had done. The count had come right only because Jon had
omitted himself. He had included the girls, included even
Rickon, the baby, but not the bastard who bore the surname
Snow, the name that custom decreed be given to all those
in the north unlucky enough to be born with no name of their
Their father understood as well. “You want no pup for
yourself, Jon?” he asked softly.
“The direwolf graces the banners of House Stark,” Jon
pointed out. “I am no Stark, Father.”
Their lord father regarded Jon thoughtfully. Robb rushed
into the silence he left. “I will nurse him myself, Father,” he
promised. “I will soak a towel with warm milk, and give him
suck from that.”
“Me too!” Bran echoed.
The lord weighed his sons long and carefully with his
eyes. “Easy to say, and harder to do. I will not have you
wasting the servants’ time with this. If you want these pups,
you will feed them yourselves. Is that understood?”Bran nodded eagerly. The pup squirmed in his grasp,
licked at his face with a warm tongue.
“You must train them as well,” their father said. “You must
train them. The kennelmaster will have nothing to do with
these monsters, I promise you that. And the gods help you if
you neglect them, or brutalize them, or train them badly.
These are not dogs to beg for treats and slink off at a kick.
A direwolf will rip a man’s arm off his shoulder as easily as
a dog will kill a rat. Are you sure you want this?”
“Yes, Father,” Bran said.
“Yes,” Robb agreed.
“The pups may die anyway, despite all you do.”
“They won’t die,” Robb said. “We won’t let them die.”
“Keep them, then. Jory, Desmond, gather up the other
pups. It’s time we were back to Winterfell.”
It was not until they were mounted and on their way that
Bran allowed himself to taste the sweet air of victory. By
then, his pup was snuggled inside his leathers, warm
against him, safe for the long ride home. Bran was
wondering what to name him.
Halfway across the bridge, Jon pulled up suddenly.
“What is it, Jon?” their lord father asked.
“Can’t you hear it?”
Bran could hear the wind in the trees, the clatter of their
hooves on the ironwood planks, the whimpering of his
hungry pup, but Jon was listening to something else.
“There,” Jon said. He swung his horse around and
galloped back across the bridge. They watched him
dismount where the direwolf lay dead in the snow, watched
him kneel. A moment later he was riding back to them,
“He must have crawled away from the others,” Jon said.“Or been driven away,” their father said, looking at the
sixth pup. His fur was white, where the rest of the litter was
grey. His eyes were as red as the blood of the ragged man
who had died that morning. Bran thought it curious that this
pup alone would have opened his eyes while the others
were still blind.
“An albino,” Theon Greyjoy said with wry amusement.
“This one will die even faster than the others.”
Jon Snow gave his father’s ward a long, chilling look. “I
think not, Greyjoy,” he said. “This one belongs to me.”
Catelyn had never liked this godswood.
She had been born a Tully, at Riverrun far to the south, on
the Red Fork of the Trident. The godswood there was a
garden, bright and airy, where tall redwoods spread
dappled shadows across tinkling streams, birds sang from
hidden nests, and the air was spicy with the scent of
The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was
a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for
ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It
smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here.
This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in
grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as
the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close
together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy
overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil.
This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows,
and the gods who lived here had no names.
But she knew she would find her husband here tonight.Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek
the quiet of the godswood.
Catelyn had been anointed with the seven oils and named
in the rainbow of light that filled the sept of Riverrun. She
was of the Faith, like her father and grandfather and his
father before him. Her gods had names, and their faces
were as familiar as the faces of her parents. Worship was a
septon with a censer, the smell of incense, a seven-sided
crystal alive with light, voices raised in song. The Tullys kept
a godswood, as all the great houses did, but it was only a
place to walk or read or lie in the sun. Worship was for the
For her sake, Ned had built a small sept where she might
sing to the seven faces of god, but the blood of the First
Men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his own gods
were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the
greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the
At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded
over a small pool where the waters were black and cold.
“The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was
white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand
bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of
the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deepcut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They
were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself. They had
seen Brandon the Builder set the first stone, if the tales
were true; they had watched the castle’s granite walls rise
around them. It was said that the children of the forest had
carved the faces in the trees during the dawn centuries
before the coming of the First Men across the narrow sea.
In the south the last weirwoods had been cut down orburned out a thousand years ago, except on the Isle of
Faces where the green men kept their silent watch. Up here
it was different. Here every castle had its godswood, and
every godswood had its heart tree, and every heart tree its
Catelyn found her husband beneath the weirwood, seated
on a moss-covered stone. The greatsword Ice was across
his lap, and he was cleaning the blade in those waters
black as night. A thousand years of humus lay thick upon
the godswood floor, swallowing the sound of her feet, but
the red eyes of the weirwood seemed to follow her as she
came. “Ned,” she called softly.
He lifted his head to look at her. “Catelyn,” he said. His
voice was distant and formal. “Where are the children?”
He would always ask her that. “In the kitchen, arguing
about names for the wolf pups.” She spread her cloak on
the forest floor and sat beside the pool, her back to the
weirwood. She could feel the eyes watching her, but she
did her best to ignore them. “Arya is already in love, and
Sansa is charmed and gracious, but Rickon is not quite
“Is he afraid?” Ned asked.
“A little,” she admitted. “He is only three.”
Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not
be three forever. And winter is coming.”
“Yes,” Catelyn agreed. The words gave her a chill, as they
always did. The Stark words. Every noble house had its
words. Family mottoes, touchstones, prayers of sorts, they
boasted of honor and glory, promised loyalty and truth,
swore faith and courage. All but the Starks. Winter is
coming, said the Stark words. Not for the first time, she
reflected on what a strange people these northerners; were.“The man died well, I’ll give him that,” Ned said. He had a
swatch of oiled leather in one hand. He ran it lightly up the
greatsword as he spoke, polishing the metal to a dark
glow. “I was glad for Bran’s sake. You would have been
proud of Bran.”
“I am always proud of Bran,” Catelyn replied, watching the
sword as he stroked it. She could see the rippling deep
within the steel, where the metal had been folded back on
itself a hundred times in the forging. Catelyn had no love for
swords, but she could not deny that Ice had its own beauty.
It had been forged in Valyria, before the Doom had come to
the old Freehold, when the ironsmiths had worked their
metal with spells as well as hammers. Four hundred years
old it was, and as sharp as the day it was forged. The name
it bore was older still, a legacy from the age of heroes,
when the Starks were Kings in the North.
“He was the fourth this year,” Ned said grimly. “The poor
man was half-mad. Something had put a fear in him so
deep that my words could not reach him.” He sighed. “Ben
writes that the strength of the Night’s Watch is down below
a thousand. It’s not only desertions. They are losing men on
rangings as well.”
“Is it the wildlings?” she asked.
“Who else?” Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel
length of it. “And it will only grow worse. The day may come
when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride
north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good and
“Beyond the Wall?” The thought made Catelyn shudder.
Ned saw the dread on her face. “Mance Rayder is nothing
for us to fear.”
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glancedbehind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes,
watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
His smile was gentle. “You listen to too many of Old Nan’s
stories. The Others are as dead as the children of the
forest, gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell
you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen
“Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf
either,” Catelyn reminded him. ”I ought to know better than
to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. He slid Ice
back into its sheath. “You did not come here to tell me crib
tales. I know how little you like this place. What is it, my
Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous
news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you
had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the
blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon
Arryn is dead.”
His eyes found hers, and she could see how hard it took
him, as she had known it would. In his youth, Ned had
fostered at the Eyrie, and the childless Lord Arryn had
become a second father to him and his fellow ward, Robert
Baratheon. When the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen had
demanded their heads, the Lord of the Eyrie had raised his
moon-and-falcon banners in revolt rather than give up those
he had pledged to protect.
And one day fifteen years ago, this second father had
become a brother as well, as he and Ned stood together in
the sept at Riverrun to wed two sisters, the daughters of
Lord Hoster Tully.
“Jon . . .” he said. “Is this news certain?”
“It was the king’s seal, and the letter is in Robert’s ownhand. I saved it for you. He said Lord Arryn was taken
quickly. Even Maester Pycelle was helpless, but he brought
the milk of the poppy, so Jon did not linger long in pain.”
“That is some small mercy, I suppose,” he said. She could
see the grief on his face, but even then he thought first of
her. “Your sister,” he said. “And Jon’s boy. What word of
“The message said only that they were well, and had
returned to the Eyrie,” Catelyn said. “Iwish they had gone to
Riverrun instead. The Eyrie is high and lonely, and it was
ever her husband’s place, not hers. Lord Jon’s memory will
haunt each stone. I know my sister. She needs the comfort
of family and friends around her.”
“Your uncle waits in the Vale, does he not? Jon named
him Knight of the Gate, I’d heard.”
Catelyn nodded. “Brynden will do what he can for her, and
for the boy. That is some comfort, but still . . .”
“Go to her,” Ned urged. “Take the children. Fill her halls
with noise and shouts and laughter. That boy of hers needs
other children about him, and Lysa should not be alone in
“Would that I could,” Catelyn said. “The letter had other
tidings. The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”
It took Ned a moment to comprehend her words, but when
the understanding came, the darkness left his eyes. “Robert
is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across
Catelyn wished she could share his joy. But she had
heard the talk in the yards; a direwolf dead in the snow, a
broken antler in its throat. Dread coiled within her like a
snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she
loved, this man who put no faith in signs. “I knew that wouldplease you,” she said. “We should send word to your
brother on the Wall.”
“Yes, of course,” he agreed. “Ben will want to be here. I
shall tell Maester Luwin to send his swiftest bird.” Ned rose
and pulled her to her feet. “Damnation, how many years has
it been? And he gives us no more notice than this? How
many in his party, did the message say?”
“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their
retainers, and half again as many freeriders. Cersei and
the children travel with them.”
“Robert will keep an easy pace for their sakes,” he said.
“It is just as well. That will give us more time to prepare.”
“The queen’s brothers are also in the party,” she told him.
Ned grimaced at that. There was small love between him
and the queen’s family, Catelyn knew. The Lannisters of
Casterly Rock had come late to Robert’s cause, when
victory was all but certain, and he had never forgiven them.
“Well, if the price for Robert’s company is an infestation of
Lannisters, so be it. It sounds as though Robert is bringing
half his court.”
“Where the king goes, the realm follows,” she said.
“It will be good to see the children. The youngest was still
sucking at the Lannister woman’s teat the last time I saw
him. He must be, what, five by now?”
“Prince Tommen is seven,” she told him. “The same age
as Bran. Please, Ned, guard your tongue. The Lannister
woman is our queen, and her pride is said to grow with
every passing year.”
Ned squeezed her hand. “There must be a feast, of
course, with singers, and Robert will want to hunt. I shall
send Jory south with an honor guard to meet them on the
kingsroad and escort them back. Gods, how are we goingto feed them all? On his way already, you said? Damn the
man. Damn his royal hide.”
Her brother held the gown up for her inspection.
“This is beauty. Touch it. Go on. Caress the fabric.”
Dany touched it. The cloth was so smooth that it seemed
to run through her fingers like water. She could not
remember ever wearing anything so soft. It frightened her.
She pulled her hand away. “Is it really mine?”
“A gift from the Magister Illyrio,” Viserys said, smiling. Her
brother was in a high mood tonight. “The color will bring out
the violet in your eyes. And you shall have gold as well, and
jewels of all sorts. Illyrio has promised. Tonight you must
look like a princess.”
A princess, Dany thought. She had forgotten what that
was like. Perhaps she had never really known. “Why does
he give us so much?” she asked. “What does he want from
us?” For nigh on half a year, they had lived in the magister’s
house, eating his food, pampered by his servants. Dany
was thirteen, old enough to know that such gifts seldom
come without their price, here in the free city of Pentos.
“Illyrio is no fool,” Viserys said. He was a gaunt young
man with nervous hands and a feverish look in his pale lilac
eyes. “The magister knows that I will not forget my friends
when I come into my throne.”
Dany said nothing. Magister Illyrio was a dealer in spices,
gemstones, dragonbone, and other, less savory things. He
had friends in all of the Nine Free Cities, it was said, and
even beyond, in Vaes Dothrak and the fabled lands beside
the Jade Sea. It was also said that he’d never had a friendhe wouldn’t cheerfully sell for the right price. Dany listened
to the talk in the streets, and she heard these things, but
she knew better than to question her brother when he wove
his webs of dream. His anger was a terrible thing when
roused. Viserys called it “waking the dragon.”
Her brother hung the gown beside the door. “Illyrio will
send the slaves to bathe you. Be sure you wash off the stink
of the stables. Khal Drogo has a thousand horses, tonight
he looks for a different sort of mount.” He studied her
critically. “You still slouch. Straighten yourself” He pushed
back her shoulders with his hands. “Let them see that you
have a woman’s shape now.” His fingers brushed lightly
over her budding breasts and tightened on a nipple. “You
will not fail me tonight. If you do, it will go hard for you. You
don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?” His fingers twisted
her, the pinch cruelly hard through the rough fabric of her
tunic. “Do you?” he repeated.
“No,” Dany said meekly.
Her brother smiled. “Good.” He touched her hair, almost
with affection. “When they write the history of my reign,
sweet sister, they will say that it began tonight.”
When he was gone, Dany went to her window and looked
out wistfully on the waters of the bay. The square brick
towers of Pentos were black silhouettes outlined against
the setting sun. Dany could hear the singing of the red
priests as they lit their night fires and the shouts of ragged
children playing games beyond the walls of the estate. For
a moment she wished she could be out there with them,
barefoot and breathless and dressed in tatters, with no past
and no future and no feast to attend at Khal Drogo’s
Somewhere beyond the sunset, across the narrow sea,lay a land of green hills and flowered plains and great
rushing rivers, where towers of dark stone rose amidst
magnificent blue-grey mountains, and armored knights
rode to battle beneath the banners of their lords. The
Dothraki called that land Rhaesh Andahli, the land of the
Andals. In the Free Cities, they talked of Westeros and the
Sunset Kingdoms. Her brother had a simpler name. “Our
land,” he called it. The words were like a prayer with him. If
he said them enough, the gods were sure to hear. “Ours by
blood right, taken from us by treachery, but ours still, ours
forever. You do not steal from the dragon, oh, no. The
And perhaps the dragon did remember, but Dany could
not. She had never seen this land her brother said was
theirs, this realm beyond the narrow sea. These places he
talked of, Casterly Rock and the Eyrie, Highgarden and the
Vale of Arryn, Dorne and the Isle of Faces, they were just
words to her. Viserys had been a boy of eight when they
fled King’s Landing to escape the advancing armies of the
Usurper, but Daenerys had been only a quickening in their
Yet sometimes Dany would picture the way it had been,
so often had her brother told her the stories. The midnight
flight to Dragonstone, moonlight shimmering on the ship’s
black sails. Her brother Rhaegar battling the Usurper in the
bloody waters of the Trident and dying for the woman he
loved. The sack of King’s Landing by the ones Viserys
called the Usurper’s dogs, the lords Lannister and Stark.
Princess Elia of Dorne pleading for mercy as Rhaegar’s
heir was ripped from her breast and murdered before her
eyes. The polished skulls of the last dragons staring down
sightlessly from the walls of the throne room while theKingslayer opened Father’s throat with a golden sword.
She had been born on Dragonstone nine moons after
their flight, while a raging summer storm threatened to rip
the island fastness apart. They said that storm was terrible.
The Targaryen fleet was smashed while it lay at anchor,
and huge stone blocks were ripped from the parapets and
sent hurtling into the wild waters of the narrow sea. Her
mother had died birthing her, and for that her brother
Viserys had never forgiven her.
She did not remember Dragonstone either. They had run
again, just before the Usurper’s brother set sail with his
new-built fleet. By then only Dragonstone itself, the ancient
seat of their House, had remained of the Seven Kingdoms
that had once been theirs. It would not remain for long. The
garrison had been prepared to sell them to the Usurper, but
one night Ser Willem Darry and four loyal men had broken
into the nursery and stolen them both, along with her wet
nurse, and set sail under cover of darkness for the safety of
the Braavosian coast.
She remembered Ser Willem dimly, a great grey bear of
a man, halfblind, roaring and bellowing orders from his
sickbed. The servants had lived in terror of him, but he had
always been kind to Dany. He called her “Little Princess”
and sometimes “My Lady,” and his hands were soft as old
leather. He never left his bed, though, and the smell of
sickness clung to him day and night, a hot, moist, sickly
sweet odor. That was when they lived in Braavos, in the big
house with the red door. Dany had her own room there, with
a lemon tree outside her window. After Ser Willem had
died, the servants had stolen what little money they had left,
and soon after they had been put out of the big house. Dany
had cried when the red door closed behind them forever.They had wandered since then, from Braavos to Myr, from
Myr to Tyrosh, and on to Qohor and Volantis and Lys, never
staying long in any one place. Her brother would not allow it.
The Usurper’s hired knives were close behind them, he
insisted, though Dany had never seen one.
At first the magisters and archons and merchant princes
were pleased to welcome the last Targaryens to their
homes and tables, but as the years passed and the
Usurper continued to sit upon the Iron Throne, doors closed
and their lives grew meaner. Years past they had been
forced to sell their last few treasures, and now even the coin
they had gotten from Mother’s crown had gone. In the alleys
and wine sinks of Pentos, they called her brother “the
beggar king.” Dany did not want to know what they called
“We will have it all back someday, sweet sister,” he would
promise her. Sometimes his hands shook when he talked
about it. “The jewels and the silks, Dragonstone and King’s
Landing, the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms, all they
have taken from us, we will have it back.” Viserys lived for
that day. All that Daenerys wanted back was the big house
with the red door, the lemon tree outside her window, the
childhood she had never known.
There came a soft knock on her door. “Come,” Dany said,
turning away from the window. Illyrio’s servants entered,
bowed, and set about their business. They were slaves, a
gift from one of the magister’s many Dothraki friends. There
was no slavery in the free city of Pentos. Nonetheless, they
were slaves. The old woman, small and grey as a mouse,
never said a word, but the girl made up for it. She was
Illyrio’s favorite, a fair-haired, blue-eyed wench of sixteen
who chattered constantly as she worked.They filled her bath with hot water brought up from the
kitchen and scented it with fragrant oils. The girl pulled the
rough cotton tunic over Dany’s head and helped her into the
tub. The water was scalding hot, but Daenerys did not flinch
or cry out. She liked the heat. It made her feel clean.
Besides, her brother had often told her that it was never too
hot for a Targaryen. “Ours is the house of the dragon,” he
would say. “The fire is in our blood.”
The old woman washed her long, silver-pale hair and
gently combed out the snags, all in silence. The girl
scrubbed her back and her feet and told her how lucky she
was. “Drogo is so rich that even his slaves wear golden
collars. A hundred thousand men ride in his khalasar, and
his palace in Vaes Dothrak has two hundred rooms and
doors of solid silver.” There was more like that, so much
more, what a handsome man the khal was, so tall and
fierce, fearless in battle, the best rider ever to mount a
horse, a demon archer. Daenerys said nothing. She had
always assumed that she would wed Viserys when she
came of age. For centuries the Targaryens had married
brother to sister, since Aegon the Conqueror had taken his
sisters to bride. The line must be kept pure, Viserys had
told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the
golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon.
Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and
Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser
men. Yet now Viserys schemed to sell her to a stranger, a
When she was clean, the slaves helped her from the
water and toweled her dry. The girl brushed her hair until it
shone like molten silver, while the old woman anointed her
with the spiceflower perfume of the Dothraki plains, a dabon each wrist, behind her ears, on the tips of her breasts,
and one last one, cool on her lips, down there between her
legs. They dressed her in the wisps that Magister Illyrio had
sent up, and then the gown, a deep plum silk to bring out
the violet in her eyes. The girl slid the gilded sandals onto
her feet, while the old woman fixed the tiara in her hair, and
slid golden bracelets crusted with amethysts around her
wrists. Last of all came the collar, a heavy golden tore
emblazoned with ancient Valyrian glyphs.
“Now you look all a princess,” the girl said breathlessly
when they were done. Dany glanced at her image in the
silvered looking glass that Illyrio had so thoughtfully
provided. A princess, she thought, but she remembered
what the girl had said, how Khal Drogo was so rich even his
slaves wore golden collars. She felt a sudden chill, and
gooseflesh pimpled her bare arms.
Her brother was waiting in the cool of the entry hall,
seated on the edge of the pool, his hand trailing in the
water. He rose when she appeared and looked her over
critically. “Stand there,” he told her. “Turn around. Yes.
Good. You look . . .”
“Regal,” Magister Illyrio said, stepping through an
archway. He moved with surprising delicacy for such a
massive man. Beneath loose garments of flame-colored
silk, rolls of fat jiggled as he walked. Gemstones glittered
on every finger, and his man had oiled his forked yellow
beard until it shone like real gold. “May the Lord of Light
shower you with blessings on this most fortunate day,
Princess Daenerys,” the magister said as he took her
hand. He bowed his head, showing a thin glimpse of
crooked yellow teeth through the gold of his beard. “She is
a vision, Your Grace, a vision,” he told her brother. “Drogowill be enraptured.”
“She’s too skinny,” Viserys said. His hair, the same silverblond as hers, had been pulled back tightly behind his head
and fastened with a dragonbone brooch. It was a severe
look that emphasized the hard, gaunt lines of his face. He
rested his hand on the hilt of the sword that Illyrio had lent
him, and said, “Are you sure that Khal Drogo likes his
women this young?”
“She has had her blood. She is old enough for the khal,”
Illyrio told him, not for the first time. “Look at her. That
silvergold hair, those purple eyes . . . she is the blood of old
Valyria, no doubt, no doubt . . . and highborn, daughter of
the old king, sister to the new, she cannot fail to entrance
our Drogo.” When he released her hand, Daenerys found
“I suppose,” her brother said doubtfully. “The savages
have queer tastes. Boys, horses, sheep . . .”
“Best not suggest this to Khal Drogo,” Illyrio said.
Anger flashed in her brother’s lilac eyes. “Do you take me
for a fool?”
The magister bowed slightly. “I take you for a king. Kings
lack the caution of common men. My apologies if I have
given offense.” He turned away and clapped his hands for
The streets of Pentos were pitch-dark when they set out in
Illyrio’s elaborately carved palanquin. Two servants went
ahead to light their way, carrying ornate oil lanterns with
panes of pale blue glass, while a dozen strong men hoisted
the poles to their shoulders. It was warm and close inside
behind the curtains. Dany could smell the stench of Illyrio’s
pallid flesh through his heavy perfumes.
Her brother, sprawled out on his pillows beside her, nevernoticed. His mind was away across the narrow sea. “We
won’t need his whole khalasar,” Viserys said. His fingers
toyed with the hilt of his borrowed blade, though Dany knew
he had never used a sword in earnest. “Ten thousand, that
would be enough, I could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with
ten thousand Dothraki screamers. The realm will rise for its
rightful king. Tyrell, Redwyne, Darry, Greyjoy, they have no
more love for the Usurper than I do. The Dornishmen burn
to avenge Elia and her children. And the smallfolk will be
with us. They cry out for their king.” He looked at Illyrio
anxiously. “They do, don’t they?”
“They are your people, and they love you well,” Magister
Illyrio said amiably. “In holdfasts all across the realm, men
lift secret toasts to your health while women sew dragon
banners and hide them against the day of your return from
across the water.” He gave a massive shrug. “Or so my
agents tell me.”
Dany had no agents, no way of knowing what anyone was
doing or thinking across the narrow sea, but she mistrusted
Illyrio’s sweet words as she mistrusted everything about
Illyrio. Her brother was nodding eagerly, however. “I shall kill
the Usurper myself,” he promised, who had never killed
anyone, “as he killed my brother Rhaegar. And Lannister
too, the Kingslayer, for what he did to my father.”
“That would be most fitting,” Magister Illyrio said. Dany
saw the smallest hint of a smile playing around his full lips,
but her brother did not notice. Nodding, he pushed back a
curtain and stared off into the night, and Dany knew he was
fighting the Battle of the Trident once again.
The nine-towered manse of Khal Drogo sat beside the
waters of the bay, its high brick walls overgrown with pale
ivy. It had been given to the khal by the magisters ofPentos, Illyrio told them. The Free Cities were always
generous with the horselords. “It is not that we fear these
barbarians,” Illyrio would explain with a smile. “The Lord of
Light would hold our city walls against a million Dothraki, or
so the red priests promise . . . yet why take chances, when
their friendship comes so cheap?”
Their palanquin was stopped at the gate, the curtains
pulled roughly back by one of the house guards. He had the
copper skin and dark almond eyes of a Dothraki, but his
face was hairless and he wore the spiked bronze cap of the
Unsullied. He looked them over coldly. Magister Illyrio
growled something to him in the rough Dothraki tongue; the
guardsman replied in the same voice and waved them
through the gates.
Dany noticed that her brother’s hand was clenched tightly
around the hilt of his borrowed sword. He looked almost as
frightened as she felt. “Insolent eunuch,” Viserys muttered
as the palanquin lurched up toward the manse.
Magister Illyrio’s words were honey. “Many important men
will be at the feast tonight. Such men have enemies. The
khal must protect his guests, yourself chief among them,
Your Grace. No doubt the Usurper would pay well for your
“Oh, yes,” Viserys said darkly. “He has tried, Illyrio, I
promise you that. His hired knives follow us everywhere. I
am the last dragon, and he will not sleep easy while I live.”
The palanquin slowed and stopped. The curtains were
thrown back, and a slave offered a hand to help Daenerys
out. His collar, she noted, was ordinary bronze. Her brother
followed, one hand still clenched hard around his sword hilt.
It took two strong men to get Magister Illyrio back on his
feet.Inside the manse, the air was heavy with the scent of
spices, pinchfire and sweet lemon and cinnamon. They
were escorted across the entry hall, where a mosaic of
colored glass depicted the Doom of Valyria. Oil burned in
black iron lanterns all along the walls. Beneath an arch of
twining stone leaves, a eunuch sang their coming. “Viserys
of the House Targaryen, the Third of his Name,” he called in
a high, sweet voice, “King of the Andals and the Rhoynar
and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and
Protector of the Realm. His sister, Daenerys Stormborn,
Princess of Dragonstone. His honorable host, Illyrio
Mopatis, Magister of the Free City of Pentos.”
They stepped past the eunuch into a pillared courtyard
overgrown in pale ivy. Moonlight painted the leaves in
shades of bone and silver as the guests drifted among
them. Many were Dothraki horselords, big men with redbrown skin, their drooping mustachios bound in metal rings,
their black hair oiled and braided and hung with bells. Yet
among them moved bravos and sellswords from Pentos
and Myr and Tyrosh, a red priest even fatter than Illyrio,
hairy men from the Port of Ibben, and lords from the
Summer Isles with skin as black as ebony. Daenerys
looked at them all in wonder . . . and realized, with a sudden
start of fear, that she was the only woman there.
Illyrio whispered to them. “Those three are Drogo’s
bloodriders, there,” he said. “By the pillar is Khal Moro, with
his son Rhogoro. The man with the green beard is brother
to the Archon of Tyrosh, and the man behind him is Ser
The last name caught Daenerys. “A knight?”
“No less.” Illyrio smiled through his beard. “Anointed with
the seven oils by the High Septon himself.”“What is he doing here?” she blurted.
“The Usurper wanted his head,” Illyrio told them. “Some
trifling affront. He sold some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver
instead of giving them to the Night’s Watch. Absurd law. A
man should be able to do as he likes with his own chattel.”
“I shall wish to speak with Ser Jorah before the night is
done,” her brother said. Dany found herself looking at the
knight curiously. He was an older man, past forty and
balding, but still strong and fit. Instead of silks and cottons,
he wore wool and leather. His tunic was a dark green,
embroidered with the likeness of a black bear standing on
She was still looking at this strange man from the
homeland she had never known when Magister Illyrio
placed a moist hand on her bare shoulder. “Over there,
sweet princess,” he whispered, “there is the khal himself.”
Dany wanted to run and hide, but her brother was looking
at her, and if she displeased him she knew she would wake
the dragon. Anxiously, she turned and looked at the man
Viserys hoped would ask to wed her before the night was
done. The slave girl had not been far wrong, she thought.
Khal Drogo was a head taller than the tallest man in the
room, yet somehow light on his feet, as graceful as the
panther in Illyrio’s menagerie. He was younger than she’d
thought, no more than thirty. His skin was the color of
polished copper, his thick mustachios bound with gold and
“I must go and make my submissions,” Magister Illyrio
said. “Wait here. I shall bring him to you.”
Her brother took her by the arm as Illyrio waddled over to
the khal, his fingers squeezing so hard that they hurt. “Do
you see his braid, sweet sister?”Drogo’s braid was black as midnight and heavy with
scented oil, hung with tiny bells that rang softly as he
moved. It swung well past his belt, below even his buttocks,
the end of it brushing against the back of his thighs.
“You see how long it is?” Viserys said. “When Dothraki
are defeated in combat, they cut off their braids in
disgrace, so the world will know their shame. Khal Drogo
has never lost a fight. He is Aegon the Dragonlord come
again, and you will be his queen.”
Dany looked at Khal Drogo. His face was hard and cruel,
his eyes as cold and dark as onyx. Her brother hurt her
sometimes, when she woke the dragon, but he did not
frighten her the way this man frightened her. “I don’t want to
be his queen,” she heard herself say in a small, thin voice.
“Please, please, Viserys, I don’t want to, I want to go
“Home?” He kept his voice low, but she could hear the
fury in his tone. “How are we to go home, sweet sister?
They took our home from us!” He drew her into the
shadows, out of sight, his fingers digging into her skin.
“How are we to go home?” he repeated, meaning King’s
Landing, and Dragonstone, and all the realm they had lost.
Dany had only meant their rooms in Illyrio’s estate, no true
home surely, though all they had, but her brother did not
want to hear that. There was no home there for him. Even
the big house with the red door had not been home for him.
His fingers dug hard into her arm, demanding an answer. “I
don’t know she said at last, her voice breaking. Tears
welled in her eyes.
“I do,” he said sharply. “We go home with an army, sweet
sister. With Khal Drogo’s army, that is how we go home.
And if you must wed him and bed him for that, you will.” Hesmiled at her. “I’d let his whole khalasar fuck you if need be,
sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too if
that was what it took to get my army. Be grateful it is only
Drogo. In time you may even learn to like him. Now dry your
eyes. Illyrio is bringing him over, and he will not see you
Dany turned and saw that it was true. Magister Illyrio, all
smiles and bows, was escorting Khal Drogo over to where
they stood. She brushed away unfallen tears with the back
of her hand.
“Smile,” Viserys whispered nervously, his hand failing to
the hilt of his sword. “And stand up straight. Let him see that
you have breasts. Gods know, you have little enough as is.”
Daenerys smiled, and stood up straight.
The visitors poured through the castle gates in a
river of gold and silver and polished steel, three hundred
strong, a pride of bannermen and knights, of sworn swords
and freeriders. Over their heads a dozen golden banners
whipped back and forth in the northern wind, emblazoned
with the crowned stag of Baratheon.
Ned knew many of the riders. There came Ser Jaime
Lannister with hair as bright as beaten gold, and there
Sandor Clegane with his terrible burned face. The tall boy
beside him could only be the crown prince, and that stunted
little man behind them was surely the Imp, Tyrion Lannister.
Yet the huge man at the head of the column, flanked by
two knights in the snow-white cloaks of the Kingsguard,
seemed almost a stranger to Ned . . . until he vaulted off the
back of his warhorse with a familiar roar, and crushed himin a bone-crunching hug. “Ned! Ah, but it is good to see that
frozen face of yours.” The king looked him over top to
bottom, and laughed. “You have not changed at all.”
Would that Ned had been able to say the same. Fifteen
years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the
Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed,
and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy. Six and a half feet tall,
he towered over lesser men, and when he donned his
armor and the great antlered helmet of his House, he
became a veritable giant. He’d had a giant’s strength too,
his weapon of choice a spiked iron warhammer that Ned
could scarcely lift. In those days, the smell of leather and
blood had clung to him like perfume.
Now it was perfume that clung to him like perfume, and he
had a girth to match his height. Ned had last seen the king
nine years before during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, when
the stag and the direwolf had joined to end the pretensions
of the self-proclaimed King of the Iron Islands. Since the
night they had stood side by side in Greyjoy’s fallen
stronghold, where Robert had accepted the rebel lord’s
surrender and Ned had taken his son Theon as hostage
and ward, the king had gained at least eight stone. A beard
as coarse and black as iron wire covered his jaw to hide
his double chin and the sag of the royal jowls, but nothing
could hide his stomach or the dark circles under his eyes.
Yet Robert was Ned’s king now, and not just a friend, so
he said only, “Your Grace. Winterfell is yours.”
By then the others were dismounting as well, and grooms
were coming forward for their mounts. Robert’s queen,
Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her younger children.
The wheelhouse in which they had ridden, a huge doubledecked carriage of oiled oak and gilded metal pulled byforty heavy draft horses, was too wide to pass through the
castle gate. Ned knelt in the snow to kiss the queen’s ring,
while Robert embraced Catelyn like a long-lost sister. Then
the children had been brought forward, introduced, and
approved of by both sides.
No sooner had those formalities of greeting been
completed than the king had said to his host, “Take me
down to your crypt, Eddard. Iwould pay my respects.”
Ned loved him for that, for remembering her still after all
these years. He called for a lantern. No other words were
needed. The queen had begun to protest. They had been
riding since dawn, everyone was tired and cold, surely they
should refresh themselves first. The dead would wait. She
had said no more than that; Robert had looked at her, and
her twin brother Jaime had taken her quietly by the arm,
and she had said no more.
They went down to the crypt together, Ned and this king
he scarcely recognized. The winding stone steps were
narrow. Ned went first with the lantern. “I was starting to
think we would never reach Winterfell,” Robert complained
as they descended. “In the south, the way they talk about my
Seven Kingdoms, a man forgets that your part is as big as
the other six combined.”
“I trust you enjoyed the journey, Your Grace?”
Robert snorted. “Bogs and forests and fields, and
scarcely a decent inn north of the Neck. I’ve never seen
such a vast emptiness. Where are all your people?”
“Likely they were too shy to come out,” Ned jested. He
could feel the chill coming up the stairs, a cold breath from
deep within the earth. “Kings are a rare sight in the north.”
Robert snorted. “More likely they were hiding under the
snow. Snow, Ned!” The king put one hand on the wall tosteady himself as they descended.
“Late summer snows are common enough,” Ned said. “I
hope they did not trouble you. They are usually mild.”
“The Others take your mild snows,” Robert swore. “What
will this place be like in winter? I shudder to think.”
“The winters are hard,” Ned admitted. “But the Starks will
endure. We always have.”
“You need to come south,” Robert told him. “You need a
taste of summer before it flees. In Highgarden there are
fields of golden roses that stretch away as far as the eye
can see. The fruits are so ripe they explode in your mouthmelons, peaches, fireplums, you’ve never tasted such
sweetness. You’ll see, I brought you some. Even at Storm’s
End, with that good wind off the bay, the days are so hot
you can barely move. And you ought to see the towns, Ned!
Flowers everywhere, the markets bursting with food, the
summerwines so cheap and so good that you can get
drunk just breathing the air. Everyone is fat and drunk and
rich.” He laughed and slapped his own ample stomach a
thump. “And the girls, Ned!” he exclaimed, his eyes
sparkling. “I swear, women lose all modesty in the heat.
They swim naked in the river, right beneath the castle. Even
in the streets, it’s too damn hot for wool or fur, so they go
around in these short gowns, silk if they have the silver and
cotton if not, but it’s all the same when they start sweating
and the cloth sticks to their skin, they might as well be
naked.” The king laughed happily.
Robert Baratheon had always been a man of huge
appetites, a man who knew how to take his pleasures. That
was not a charge anyone could lay at the door of Eddard
Stark. Yet Ned could not help but notice that those
pleasures were taking a toll on the king. Robert wasbreathing heavily by the time they reached the bottom of the
stairs, his face red in the lantern light as they stepped out
into the darkness of the crypt.
“Your Grace,” Ned said respectfully. He swept the lantern
in a wide semicircle. Shadows moved and lurched.
Flickering light touched the stones underfoot and brushed
against a long procession of granite pillars that marched
ahead, two by two, into the dark. Between the pillars, the
dead sat on their stone thrones against the walls, backs
against the sepulchers that contained their mortal remains.
“She is down at the end, with Father and Brandon.”
He led the way between the pillars and Robert followed
wordlessly, shivering in the subterranean chill. It was always
cold down here. Their footsteps rang off the stones and
echoed in the vault overhead as they walked among the
dead of House Stark. The Lords of Winterfell watched them
pass. Their likenesses were carved into the stones that
sealed the tombs. In long rows they sat, blind eyes staring
out into eternal darkness, while great stone direwolves
curled round their feet. The shifting shadows made the
stone figures seem to stir as the living passed by.
By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid
across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to
keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long
ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains
where the metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that
meant those ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He
hoped not. The first Lords of Winterfell had been men hard
as the land they ruled. In the centuries before the
Dragonlords came over the sea, they had sworn allegiance
to no man, styling themselves the Kings in the North.
Ned stopped at last and lifted the oil lantern. The cryptcontinued on into darkness ahead of them, but beyond this
point the tombs were empty and unsealed; black holes
waiting for their dead, waiting for him and his children. Ned
did not like to think on that. “Here,” he told his king.
Robert nodded silently, knelt, and bowed his head.
There were three tombs, side by side. Lord Rickard
Stark, Ned’s father, had a long, stern face. The stonemason
had known him well. He sat with quiet dignity, stone fingers
holding tight to the sword across his lap, but in life all
swords had failed him. In two smaller sepulchers on either
side were his children.
Brandon had been twenty when he died, strangled by
order of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen only a few short
days before he was to wed Catelyn Tully of Riverrun. His
father had been forced to watch him die. He was the true
heir, the eldest, born to rule.
Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child-woman of
surpassing loveliness. Ned had loved her with all his heart.
Robert had loved her even more. She was to have been his
“She was more beautiful than that,” the king said after a
silence. His eyes lingered on Lyanna’s face, as if he could
will her back to life. Finally he rose, made awkward by his
weight. “Ah, damn it, Ned, did you have to bury her in a
place like this?” His voice was hoarse with remembered
grief. “She deserved more than darkness . . .”
“She was a Stark of Winterfell,” Ned said quietly. “This is
“She should be on a hill somewhere, under a fruit tree,
with the sun and clouds above her and the rain to wash her
“I was with her when she died,” Ned reminded the king.“She wanted to come home, to rest beside Brandon and
Father.” He could hear her still at times. Promise me, she
had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses.
Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her
voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her
his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned
remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her
fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the
rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black. After
that he remembered nothing. They had found him still
holding her body, silent with grief. The little crannogman,
Howland Reed, had taken her hand from his. Ned could
recall none of it. “I bring her flowers when I can,” he said.
“Lyanna was . . . fond of flowers.”
The king touched her cheek, his fingers brushing across
the rough stone as gently as if it were living flesh. “I vowed
to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her.”
“You did,” Ned reminded him.
“Only once,” Robert said bitterly.
They had come together at the ford of the Trident while
the battle crashed around them, Robert with his
warhammer and his great antlered helm, the Targaryen
prince armored all in black. On his breastplate was the
three-headed dragon of his House, wrought all in rubies
that flashed like fire in the sunlight. The waters of the Trident
ran red around the hooves of their destriers as they circled
and clashed, again and again, until at last a crushing blow
from Robert’s hammer stove in the dragon and the chest
beneath it. When Ned had finally come on the scene,
Rhaegar lay dead in the stream, while men of both armies
scrabbled in the swirling waters for rubies knocked free of
his armor.“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted. “A
thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves.”
There was nothing Ned could say to that. After a quiet, he
said, “We should return, Your Grace. Your wife will be
“The Others take my wife,” Robert muttered sourly, but he
started back the way they had come, his footsteps falling
heavily. “And if I hear ‘Your Grace’ once more, I’ll have your
head on a spike. We are more to each other than that.”
“I had not forgotten,” Ned replied quietly. When the king
did not answer, he said, “Tell me about Jon.”
Robert shook his head. “I have never seen a man sicken
so quickly. We gave a tourney on my son’s name day. If you
had seen Jon then, you would have sworn he would live
forever. A fortnight later he was dead. The sickness was
like a fire in his gut. It burned right through him.” He paused
beside a pillar, before the tomb of a long-dead Stark. “I
loved that old man.”
“We both did.” Ned paused a moment. “Catelyn fears for
her sister. How does Lysa bear her grief?”
Robert’s mouth gave a bitter twist. “Not well, in truth,” he
admitted. “I think losing Jon has driven the woman mad,
Ned. She has taken the boy back to the Eyrie. Against my
wishes. I had hoped to foster him with Tywin Lannister at
Casterly Rock. Jon had no brothers, no other sons. Was I
supposed to leave him to be raised by women?”
Ned would sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to
Lord Tywin, but he left his doubts unspoken. Some old
wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest
word. “The wife has lost the husband,” he said carefully.
“Perhaps—the mother feared to lose the son. The boy is
very young.”“Six, and sickly, and Lord of the Eyrie, gods have mercy,”
the king swore. “Lord Tywin had never taken a ward before.
Lysa ought to have been honored. The Lannisters are a
great and noble House. She refused to even hear of it.
Then she left in the dead of night, without so much as a byyour-leave. Cersei was furious.” He sighed deeply. “The
boy is my namesake, did you know that? Robert Arryn. I am
sworn to protect him. How can I do that if his mother steals
“I will take him as ward, if you wish,” Ned said. “Lysa
should consent to that. She and Catelyn were close as girls,
and she would be welcome here as well.”
“A generous offer, my friend,” the king said, “but too late.
Lord Tywin has already given his consent. Fostering the
boy elsewhere would be a grievous affront to him.”
“I have more concern for my nephew’s welfare than I do
for Lannister pride,” Ned declared.
“That is because you do not sleep with a Lannister.”
Robert laughed, the sound rattling among the tombs and
bouncing from the vaulted ceiling. His smile was a flash of
white teeth in the thicket of the huge black beard. “Ah, Ned,”
he said, “you are still too serious.” He put a massive arm
around Ned’s shoulders. “I had planned to wait a few days
to speak to you, but I see now there’s no need for it. Come,
walk with me.” They started back down between the pillars.
Blind stone eyes seemed to follow them as they passed.
The king kept his arm around Ned’s shoulder. “You must
have wondered why I finally came north to Winterfell, after
Ned had his suspicions, but he did not give them voice.
“For the joy of my company, surely,” he said lightly. “And
there is the Wall. You need to see it, Your Grace, to walkalong its battlements and talk to those who man it. The
Night’s Watch is a shadow of what it once was. Benjen
“No doubt Iwill hear what your brother says soon enough,”
Robert said. “The Wall has stood for what, eight thousand
years? It can keep a few days more. I have more pressing
concerns. These are difficult times. I need good men about
me. Men like Jon Arryn. He served as Lord of the Eyrie, as
Warden of the East, as the Hand of the King. He will not be
easy to replace.”
“His son . . .” Ned began.
“His son will succeed to the Eyrie and all its incomes,”
Robert said brusquely. “No more.”
That took Ned by surprise. He stopped, startled, and
turned to look at his king. The words came unbidden. “The
Arryns have always been Wardens of the East. The title
goes with the domain.”
“Perhaps when he comes of age, the honor can be
restored to him,” Robert said. “I have this year to think of,
and next. A six-year-old boy is no war leader, Ned.”
“In peace, the title is only an honor. Let the boy keep it.
For his father’s sake if not his own. Surely you owe, Jon that
much for his service.”
The king was not pleased. He took his arm from around
Ned’s shoulders. “Jon’s service was the duty he owed his
liege lord. I am not ungrateful, Ned. You of all men ought to
know that. But the son is not the father. A mere boy cannot
hold the east.” Then his tone softened. “Enough of this.
There is a more important office to discuss, and I would not
argue with you.” Robert grasped Ned by the elbow. “I have
need of you, Ned.”
“I am yours to command, Your Grace. Always.” They werewords he had to say, and so he said them, apprehensive
about what might come next.
Robert scarcely seemed to hear him. “Those years we
spent in the Eyrie . . . gods, those were good years. I want
you at my side again, Ned. I want you down in King’s
Landing, not up here at the end of the world where you are
no damned use to anybody.” Robert looked off into the
darkness, for a moment as melancholy as a Stark. “I swear
to you, sitting a throne is a thousand times harder than
winning one. Laws are a tedious business and counting
coppers is worse. And the people . . . there is no end of
them. I sit on that damnable iron chair and listen to them
complain until my mind is numb and my ass is raw. They all
want something, money or land or justice. The lies they tell .
. . and my lords and ladies are no better. I am surrounded
by flatterers and fools. It can drive a man to madness, Ned.
Half of them don’t dare tell me the truth, and the other half
can’t find it. There are nights I wish we had lost at the
Trident. Ah, no, not truly, but . . .”
“I understand,” Ned said softly.
Robert looked at him. “I think you do. If so, you are the
only one, my old friend.” He smiled. “Lord Eddard Stark, I
would name you the Hand of the King.”
Ned dropped to one knee. The offer did not surprise him;
what other reason could Robert have had for coming so
far? The Hand of the King was the second-most powerful
man in the Seven Kingdoms. He spoke with the king’s
voice, commanded the king’s armies, drafted the king’s
laws. At times he even sat upon the Iron Throne to dispense
king’s justice, when the king was absent, or sick, or
otherwise indisposed. Robert was offering him a
responsibility as large as the realm itself.It was the last thing in the world he wanted.
“Your Grace,” he said. “I am not worthy of the honor.”
Robert groaned with good-humored impatience. “If I
wanted to honor you, I’d let you retire. I am planning to
make you run the kingdom and fight the wars while I eat and
drink and wench myself into an early grave.” He slapped his
gut and grinned. “You know the saying, about the king and
Ned knew the saying. “What the king dreams,” he said,
“the Hand builds.”
“I bedded a fishmaid once who told me the lowborn have
a choicer way to put it. The king eats, they say, and the
Hand takes the shit.” He threw back his head and roared
his laughter. The echoes rang through the darkness, and all
around them the dead of Winterfell seemed to watch with
cold and disapproving eyes.
Finally the laughter dwindled and stopped. Ned was still
on one knee, his eyes upraised. “Damn it, Ned,” the king
complained. “You might at least humor me with a smile.”
“They say it grows so cold up here in winter that a man’s
laughter freezes in his throat and chokes him to death,” Ned
said evenly. “Perhaps that is why the Starks have so little
“Come south with me, and I’ll teach you how to laugh
again,” the king promised. “You helped me win this
damnable throne, now help me hold it. We were meant to
rule together. If Lyanna had lived, we should have been
brothers, bound by blood as well as affection. Well, it is not
too late. I have a son. You have a daughter. My Joff and
your Sansa shall join our houses, as Lyanna and I might
once have done.”
This offer did surprise him. “Sansa is only eleven.”Robert waved an impatient hand. “Old enough for
betrothal. The marriage can wait a few years.” The king
smiled. “Now stand up and say yes, curse you.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Your Grace,”
Ned answered. He hesitated. “These honors are all so
unexpected. May I have some time to consider? I need to
tell my wife . . .”
“Yes, yes, of course, tell Catelyn, sleep on it if you must.”
The king reached down, clasped Ned by the hand, and
pulled him roughly to his feet. “Just don’t keep me waiting
too long. I am not the most patient of men.”
For a moment Eddard Stark was filled with a terrible
sense of foreboding. This was his place, here in the north.
He looked at the stone figures all around them, breathed
deep in the chill silence of the crypt. He could feel the eyes
of the dead. They were all listening, he knew. And winter
There were times—not many, but a few—when
Jon Snow was glad he was a bastard. As he filled his wine
cup once more from a passing flagon, it struck him that this
might be one of them.
He settled back in his place on the bench among the
younger squires and drank. The sweet, fruity taste of
summerwine filled his mouth and brought a smile to his lips.
The Great Hall of Winterfell was hazy with smoke and
heavy with the smell of roasted meat and fresh-baked
bread. Its grey stone walls were draped with banners.
White, gold, crimson: the direwolf of Stark, Baratheon’s
crowned stag, the lion of Lannister. A singer was playingthe high harp and reciting a ballad, but down at this end of
the hall his voice could scarcely be heard above the roar of
the fire, the clangor of pewter plates and cups, and the low
mutter of a hundred drunken conversations.
It was the fourth hour of the welcoming feast laid for the
king. Jon’s brothers and sisters had been seated with the
royal children, beneath the raised platform where Lord and
Lady Stark hosted the king and queen. In honor of the
occasion, his lord father would doubtless permit each child
a glass of wine, but no more than that. Down here on the
benches, there was no one to stop Jon drinking as much as
he had a thirst for. And he was finding that he had a man’s
thirst, to the raucous delight of the youths around him, who
urged him on every time he drained a glass. They were fine
company, and Jon relished the stories they were telling,
tales of battle and bedding and the hunt. He was certain
that his companions were more entertaining than the king’s
offspring. He had sated his curiosity about the visitors when
they made their entrance. The procession had passed not
a foot from the place he had been given on the bench, and
Jon had gotten a good long look at them all.
His lord father had come first, escorting the queen. She
was as beautiful as men said. A jeweled tiara gleamed
amidst her long golden hair, its emeralds a perfect match
for the green of her eyes. His father helped her up the steps
to the dais and led her to her seat, but the queen never so
much as looked at him. Even at fourteen, Jon could see
through her smile.
Next had come King Robert himself, with Lady Stark on
his arm. The king was a great disappointment to Jon. His
father had talked of him often: the peerless Robert
Baratheon, demon of the Trident, the fiercest warrior of therealm, a giant among princes. Jon saw only a fat man, redfaced under his beard, sweating through his silks. He
walked like a man half in his cups.
After them came the children. Little Rickon first, managing
the long walk with all the dignity a three-year-old could
muster. Jon had to urge him on when he stopped to visit.
Close behind came Robb, in grey wool trimmed with white,
the Stark colors. He had the Princess Myrcella on his arm.
She was a wisp of a girl, not quite eight, her hair a cascade
of golden curls under a jeweled net. Jon noticed the shy
looks she gave Robb as they passed between the tables
and the timid way she smiled at him. He decided she was
insipid. Robb didn’t even have the sense to realize how
stupid she was; he was grinning like a fool.
His half sisters escorted the royal princes. Arya was
paired with plump young Tommen, whose white-blond hair
was longer than hers. Sansa, two years older, drew the
crown prince, Joffrey Baratheon. He was twelve, younger
than Jon or Robb, but taller than either, to Jon’s vast
dismay. Prince Joffrey had his sister’s hair and his
mother’s deep green eyes. A thick tangle of blond curls
dripped down past his golden choker and high velvet collar.
Sansa looked radiant as she walked beside him, but Jon
did not like Joffrey’s pouty lips or the bored, disdainful way
he looked at Winterfell’s Great Hall.
He was more interested in the pair that came behind him:
the queen’s brothers, the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. The
Lion and the Imp; there was no mistaking which was which.
Ser Jaime Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and
golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a
knife. He wore crimson silk, high black boots, a black satin
cloak. On the breast of his tunic, the lion of his House wasembroidered in gold thread, roaring its defiance. They
called him the Lion of Lannister to his face and whispered
“Kingslayer” behind his back.
Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a
king should look like, he thought to himself as the man
Then he saw the other one, waddling along half-hidden by
his brother’s side. Tyrion Lannister, the youngest of Lord
Tywin’s brood and by far the ugliest. All that the gods had
given to Cersei and Jaime, they had denied Tyrion. He was
a dwarf, half his brother’s height, struggling to keep pace
on stunted legs. His head was too large for his body, with a
brute’s squashed-in face beneath a swollen shelf of brow.
One green eye and one black one peered out from under a
lank fall of hair so blond it seemed white. Jon watched him
The last of the high lords to enter were his uncle, Benjen
Stark of the Night’s Watch, and his father’s ward, young
Theon Greyjoy. Benjen gave Jon a warm smile as he went
by. Theon ignored him utterly, but there was nothing new in
that. After all had been seated, toasts were made, thanks
were given and returned, and then the feasting began.
Jon had started drinking then, and he had not stopped.
Something rubbed against his leg beneath the table. Jon
saw red eyes staring up at him. “Hungry again?” he asked.
There was still half a honeyed chicken in the center of the
table. Jon reached out to tear off a leg, then had a better
idea. He knifed the bird whole and let the carcass slide to
the floor between his legs. Ghost ripped into it in savage
silence. His brothers and sisters had not been permitted to
bring their wolves to the banquet, but there were more curs
than Jon could count at this end of the hall, and no one hadsaid a word about his pup. He told himself he was fortunate
in that too.
His eyes stung. Jon rubbed at them savagely, cursing the
smoke. He swallowed another gulp of wine and watched
his direwolf devour the chicken.
Dogs moved between the tables, trailing after the serving
girls. One of them, a black mongrel bitch with long yellow
eyes, caught a scent of the chicken. She stopped and
edged under the bench to get a share. Jon watched the
confrontation. The bitch growled low in her throat and
moved closer. Ghost looked up, silent, and fixed the dog
with those hot red eyes. The bitch snapped an angry
challenge. She was three times the size of the direwolf pup.
Ghost did not move. He stood over his prize and opened
his mouth, baring his fangs. The bitch tensed, barked
again, then thought better of this fight. She turned and slunk
away, with one last defiant snap to save her pride. Ghost
went back to his meal.
Jon grinned and reached under the table to ruffle the
shaggy white fur. The direwolf looked up at him, nipped
gently at his hand, then went back to eating.
“Is this one of the direwolves I’ve heard so much of?” a
familiar voice asked close at hand.
Jon looked up happily as his uncle Ben put a hand on his
head and ruffled his hair much as Jon had ruffled the wolf s.
“Yes,” he said. “His name is Ghost.”
One of the squires interrupted the bawdy story he’d been
telling to make room at the table for their lord’s brother.
Benjen Stark straddled the bench with long legs and took
the wine cup out of Jon’s hand. “Summerwine,” he said
after a taste. “Nothing so sweet. How many cups have you
had, Jon?”Jon smiled.
Ben Stark laughed. “As I feared. Ah, well. I believe I was
younger than you the first time I got truly and sincerely
drunk.” He snagged a roasted onion, dripping brown with
gravy, from a nearby trencher and bit into it. It crunched.
His uncle was sharp-featured and gaunt as a mountain
crag, but there was always a hint of laughter in his blue-grey
eyes. He dressed in black, as befitted a man of the Night’s
Watch. Tonight it was rich black velvet, with high leather
boots and a wide belt with a silver buckle. A heavy silver
chain was looped round his neck. Benjen watched Ghost
with amusement as he ate his onion. “A very quiet wolf,” he
“He’s not like the others,” Jon said. “He never makes a
sound. That’s why I named him Ghost. That, and because
he’s white. The others are all dark, grey or black.”
“There are still direwolves beyond the Wall. We hear them
on our rangings.” Benjen Stark gave Jon a long look. “Don’t
you usually eat at table with your brothers?”
“Most times,” Jon answered in a flat voice. “But tonight
Lady Stark thought it might give insult to the royal family to
seat a bastard among them.”
“I see.” His uncle glanced over his shoulder at the raised
table at the far end of the hall. “My brother does not seem
very festive tonight.”
Jon had noticed that too. A bastard had to learn to notice
things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.
His father was observing all the courtesies, but there was
tightness in him that Jon had seldom seen before. He said
little, looking out over the hall with hooded eyes, seeing
nothing. Two seats away, the king had been drinking
heavily all night. His broad face was flushed behind hisgreat black beard. He made many a toast, laughed loudly
at every jest, and attacked each dish like a starving man,
but beside him the queen seemed as cold as an ice
sculpture. “The queen is angry too,” Jon told his uncle in a
low, quiet voice. “Father took the king down to the crypts
this afternoon. The queen didn’t want him to go.”
Benjen gave Jon a careful, measuring look. “You don’t
miss much, do you, Jon? We could use a man like you on
Jon swelled with pride. “Robb is a stronger lance than I
am, but I’m the better sword, and Hullen says I sit a horse
as well as anyone in the castle.”
“Take me with you when you go back to the Wall,” Jon
said in a sudden rush. “Father will give me leave to go if
you ask him, I know he will.”
Uncle Benjen studied his face carefully. “The Wall is a
hard place for a boy, Jon.”
“I am almost a man grown,” Jon protested. “I will turn
fifteen on my next name day, and Maester Luwin says
bastards grow up faster than other children.”
“That’s true enough,” Benjen said with a downward twist
of his mouth. He took Jon’s cup from the table, filled it fresh
from a nearby pitcher, and drank down a long swallow.
“Daeren Targaryen was only fourteen when he conquered
Dorne,” Jon said. The Young Dragon was one of his
“A conquest that lasted a summer,” his uncle pointed out.
“Your Boy King lost ten thousand men taking the place, and
another fifty trying to hold it. Someone should have told him
that war isn’t a game.” He took another sip of wine. “Also,”
he said, wiping his mouth, “Daeren Targaryen was onlyeighteen when he died. Or have you forgotten that part?”
“I forget nothing,” Jon boasted. The wine was making him
bold. He tried to sit very straight, to make himself seem
taller. “Iwant to serve in the Night’s Watch, Uncle.”
He had thought on it long and hard, lying abed at night
while his brothers slept around him. Robb would someday
inherit Winterfell, would command great armies as the
Warden of the North. Bran and Rickon would be Robb’s
bannermen and rule holdfasts in his name. His sisters Arya
and Sansa would marry the heirs of other great houses and
go south as mistress of castles of their own. But what place
could a bastard hope to earn?
“You don’t know what you’re asking, Jon. The Night’s
Watch is a sworn brotherhood. We have no families. None
of us will ever father sons. Our wife is duty. Our mistress is
“A bastard can have honor too,” Jon said. “I am ready to
swear your oath.”
“You are a boy of fourteen,” Benjen said. “Not a man, not
yet. Until you have known a woman, you cannot understand
what you would be giving up.”
“I don’t care about that!” Jon said hotly.
“You might, if you knew what it meant,” Benjen said. “If you
knew what the oath would cost you, you might be less
eager to pay the price, son.”
Jon felt anger rise inside him. “I’m not your son!”
Benjen Stark stood up. “More’s the pity.” He put a hand
on Jon’s shoulder. “Come back to me after you’ve fathered
a few bastards of your own, and we’ll see how you feel.”
Jon trembled. “I will never father a bastard,” he said
carefully. “Never!” He spat it out like venom.
Suddenly he realized that the table had fallen silent, andthey were all looking at him. He felt the tears begin to well
behind his eyes. He pushed himself to his feet.
“Imust be excused,” he said with the last of his dignity. He
whirled and bolted before they could see him cry. He must
have drunk more wine than he had realized. His feet got
tangled under him as he tried to leave, and he lurched
sideways into a serving girl and sent a flagon of spiced
wine crashing to the floor. Laughter boomed all around him,
and Jon felt hot tears on his cheeks. Someone tried to
steady him. He wrenched free of their grip and ran, halfblind, for the door. Ghost followed close at his heels, out
into the night.
The yard was quiet and empty. A lone sentry stood high
on the battlements of the inner wall, his cloak pulled tight
around him against the cold. He looked bored and
miserable as he huddled there alone, but Jon would have
traded places with him in an instant. Otherwise the castle
was dark and deserted. Jon had seen an abandoned
holdfast once, a drear place where nothing moved but the
wind and the stones kept silent about whatever people had
lived there. Winterfell reminded him of that tonight.
The sounds of music and song spilled through the open
windows behind him. They were the last things Jon wanted
to hear. He wiped away his tears on the sleeve of his shirt,
furious that he had let them fall, and turned to go.
“Boy,” a voice called out to him. Jon turned.
Tyrion Lannister was sitting on the ledge above the door
to the Great Hall, looking for all the world like a gargoyle.
The dwarf grinned down at him. “Is that animal a wolf?”
“A direwolf,” Jon said. “His name is Ghost.” He stared up
at the little man, his disappointment suddenly forgotten.
“What are you doing up there? Why aren’t you at the feast?”“Too hot, too noisy, and I’d drunk too much wine,” the
dwarf told him. “I learned long ago that it is considered rude
to vomit on your brother. Might I have a closer look at your
Jon hesitated, then nodded slowly. “Can you climb down,
or shall I bring a ladder?”
“Oh, bleed that,” the little man said. He pushed himself off
the ledge into empty air. Jon gasped, then watched with
awe as Tyrion Lannister spun around in a tight ball, landed
lightly on his hands, then vaulted backward onto his legs.
Ghost backed away from him uncertainly.
The dwarf dusted himself off and laughed. “I believe I’ve
frightened your wolf. My apologies.”
“He’s not scared,” Jon said. He knelt and called out.
“Ghost, come here. Come on. That’s it.”
The wolf pup padded closer and nuzzled at Jon’s face,
but he kept a wary eye on Tyrion Lannister, and when the
dwarf reached out to pet him, he drew back and bared his
fangs in a silent snarl. “Shy, isn’t he?” Lannister observed.
“Sit, Ghost,” Jon commanded. “That’s it. Keep still.” He
looked up at the dwarf. “You can touch him now. He won’t
move until I tell him to. I’ve been training him.”
“I see,” Lannister said. He ruffled the snow-white fur
betweenGhost’s ears and said, “Nice wolf.”
“If I wasn’t here, he’d tear out your throat,” Jon said. It
wasn’t actually true yet, but it would be.
“In that case, you had best stay close,” the dwarf said. He
cocked his oversized head to one side and looked Jon
over with his mismatched eyes. “I am Tyrion Lannister.”
“I know,” Jon said. He rose. Standing, he was taller than
the dwarf. It made him feel strange.
“You’re Ned Stark’s bastard, aren’t you?”Jon felt a coldness pass right through him. He pressed
his lips together and said nothing. “Did I offend you?”
Lannister said. “Sorry. Dwarfs don’t have to be tactful.
Generations of capering fools in motley have won me the
right to dress badly and say any damn thing that comes into
my head.” He grinned. “You are the bastard, though.”
“Lord Eddard Stark is my father,” Jon admitted stiffly.
Lannister studied his face. “Yes,” he said. “I can see it.
You have more of the north in you than your brothers.”
“Half brothers,” Jon corrected. He was pleased by the
dwarf s comment, but he tried not to let it show.
“Let me give you some counsel, bastard,” Lannister said.
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not.
Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness.
Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
Jon was in no mood for anyone’s counsel. “What do you
know about being a bastard?”
“All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.”
“You are your mother’s trueborn son of Lannister.”
“Am I” the dwarf replied, sardonic. “Do tell my lord father.
MYmother died birthing me, and he’s never been sure.”
“I don’t even know who my mother was,” Jon said.
“Some woman, no doubt. Most of them are.” He favored
Jon with a rueful grin. “Remember this, boy. All dwarfs may
be bastards, yet not all bastards need be dwarfs.” And with
that he turned and sauntered back into the feast, whistling a
tune. When he opened the door, the light from within threw
his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment
Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.
CatelynOf all the rooms in Winterfell’s Great Keep,
Catelyn’s bedchambers were the hottest. She seldom had
to light a fire. The castle had been built over natural hot
springs, and the scalding waters rushed through its walls
and chambers like blood through a man’s body, driving the
chill from the stone halls, filling the glass gardens with a
moist warmth, keeping the earth from freezing. Open pools
smoked day and night in a dozen small courtyards. That
was a little thing, in summer; in winter, it was the difference
between life and death.
Catelyn’s bath was always hot and steaming, and her
walls warm to the touch. The warmth reminded her of
Riverrun, of days in the sun with Lysa and Edmure, but Ned
could never abide the heat. The Starks were made for the
cold, he would tell her, and she would laugh and tell him in
that case they had certainly built their castle in the wrong
So when they had finished, Ned rolled off and climbed
from her bed, as he had a thousand times before. He
crossed the room, pulled back the heavy tapestries, and
threw open the high narrow windows one by one, letting the
night air into the chamber.
The wind swirled around him as he stood facing the dark,
naked and empty-handed. Catelyn pulled the furs to her
chin and watched him. He looked somehow smaller and
more vulnerable, like the youth she had wed in the sept at
Riverrun, fifteen long years gone. Her loins still ached from
the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. She
could feel his seed within her. She prayed that it might
quicken there. It had been three years since Rickon. She
was not too old. She could give him another son.
“I will refuse him,” Ned said as he turned back to her. Hiseyes were haunted, his voice thick with doubt.
Catelyn sat up in the bed. “You cannot. You must not.”
“My duties are here in the north. I have no wish to be
“He will not understand that. He is a king now, and kings
are not like other men. If you refuse to serve him, he will
wonder why, and sooner or later he will begin to suspect
that you oppose him. Can’t you see the danger that would
put us in?”
Ned shook his head, refusing to believe. “Robert would
never harm me or any of mine. We were closer than
brothers. He loves me. If I refuse him, he will roar and curse
and bluster, and in a week we will laugh about it together. I
know the man!”
“You knew the man,” she said. “The king is a stranger to
you.” Catelyn remembered the direwolf dead in the snow,
the broken antler lodged deep in her throat. She had to
make him see. “Pride is everything to a king, my lord.
Robert came all this way to see you, to bring you these
great honors, you cannot throw them back in his face.”
“Honors?” Ned laughed bitterly.
“In his eyes, yes,” she said.
“And in yours?”
“And in mine,” she blazed, angry now. Why couldn’t he
see? “He offers his own son in marriage to our daughter,
what else would you call that? Sansa might someday be
queen. Her sons could rule from the Wall to the mountains
of Dorne. What is so wrong with that?”
“Gods, Catelyn, Sansa is only eleven,” Ned said. “And
Joffrey . . . Joffrey is . . .”
She finished for him. crown prince, and heir to the Iron
Throne. And I was only twelve when my father promised meto your brother Brandon.”
That brought a bitter twist to Ned’s mouth. “Brandon. Yes.
Brandon would know what to do. He always did. It was all
meant for Brandon. You, Winterfell, everything. He was born
to be a King’s Hand and a father to queens. I never asked
for this cup to pass to me.”
“Perhaps not,” Catelyn said, “but Brandon is dead, and
the cup has passed, and you must drink from it, like it or
Ned turned away from her, back to the night. He stood
staring out in the darkness, watching the moon and the
stars perhaps, or perhaps the sentries on the wall.
Catelyn softened then, to see his pain. Eddard Stark had
married her in Brandon’s place, as custom decreed, but the
shadow of his dead brother still lay between them, as did
the other, the shadow of the woman he would not name, the
woman who had borne him his bastard son.
She was about to go to him when the knock came at the
door, loud and unexpected. Ned turned, frowning. “What is
Desmond’s voice came through the door. “My lord,
Maester Luwin is without and begs urgent audience.”
“You told him I had left orders not to be disturbed?”
“Yes, my lord. He insists.”
“Very well. Send him in.”
Ned crossed to the wardrobe and slipped on a heavy
robe. Catelyn realized suddenly how cold it had become.
She sat up in bed and pulled the furs to her chin. “Perhaps
we should close the windows,” she suggested.
Ned nodded absently. Maester Luwin was shown in.
The maester was a small grey man. His eyes were grey,
and quick, and saw much. His hair was grey, what little theyears had left him. His robe was grey wool, trimmed with
white fur, the Stark colors. Its great floppy sleeves had
pockets hidden inside. Luwin was always tucking things
into those sleeves and producing other things from them:
books, messages, strange artifacts, toys for the children.
With all he kept hidden in his sleeves, Catelyn was
surprised that Maester Luwin could lift his arms at all.
The maester waited until the door had closed behind him
before he spoke. “My lord,” he said to Ned, “pardon for
disturbing your rest. I have been left a message.”
Ned looked irritated. “Been left? By whom? Has there
been a rider? Iwas not told.”
“There was no rider, my lord. Only a carved wooden box,
left on a table in my observatory while I napped. My
servants saw no one, but it must have been brought by
someone in the king’s party. We have had no other visitors
from the south.”
“A wooden box, you say?” Catelyn said.
“Inside was a fine new lens for the observatory, from Myr
by the look of it. The lenscrafters of Myr are without equal.”
Ned frowned. He had little patience for this sort of thing,
Catelyn knew. “A lens,” he said. “What has that to do with
“I asked the same question,” Maester Luwin said. “Clearly
there was more to this than the seeming.”
Under the heavy weight of her furs, Catelyn shivered. “A
lens is an instrument to help us see.”
“Indeed it is.” He fingered the collar of his order; a heavy
chain worn tight around the neck beneath his robe, each
link forged from a different metal.
Catelyn could feel dread stirring inside her once again.
“What is it that they would have us see more clearly?”“The very thing I asked myself.” Maester Luwin drew a
tightly rolled paper out of his sleeve. “I found the true
message concealed within a false bottom when I
dismantled the box the lens had come in, but it is not for my
Ned held out his hand. “Let me have it, then.”
Luwin did not stir. “Pardons, my lord. The message is not
for you either. It is marked for the eyes of the Lady Catelyn,
and her alone. May I approach?”
Catelyn nodded, not trusting to speak. The maester
placed the paper on the table beside the bed. It was sealed
with a small blob of blue wax. Luwin bowed and began to
“Stay,” Ned commanded him. His voice was grave. He
looked at Catelyn. “What is it? My lady, you’re shaking.”
“I’m afraid,” she admitted. She reached out and took the
letter in trembling hands. The furs dropped away from her
nakedness, forgotten. In the blue wax was the moon-andfalcon seal of House Arryn. “It’s from Lysa.” Catelyn looked
at her husband. “It will not make us glad,” she told him.
“There is grief in this message, Ned. I can feel it.”
Ned frowned, his face darkening. “Open it.”
Catelyn broke the seal.
Her eyes moved over the words. At first they made no
sense to her. Then she remembered. “Lysa took no
chances. When we were girls together, we had a private
language, she and L”
“Can you read it?”
“Yes,” Catelyn admitted.
“Then tell us.”
“Perhaps I should withdraw,” Maester Luwin said.
“No,” Catelyn said. “We will need your counsel.” Shethrew back the furs and climbed from the bed. The night air
was as cold as the grave on her bare skin as she padded
across the room.
Maester Luwin averted his eyes. Even Ned looked
shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Lighting a fire,”
Catelyn told him. She found a dressing gown and shrugged
into it, then knelt over the cold hearth.
“Maester Luwin—” Ned began.
“Maester Luwin has delivered all my children,” Catelyn
said. “This is no time for false modesty.” She slid the paper
in among the kindling and placed the heavier logs on top of
Ned crossed the room, took her by the arm, and pulled
her to her feet. He held her there, his face inches from her.
“My lady, tell me! What was this message?”
Catelyn stiffened in his grasp. “A warning,” she said softly.
“If we have the wits to hear.”
His eyes searched her face. “Go on.”
“Lysa says Jon Arryn was murdered.”
His fingers tightened on her arm. “By whom?”
“The Lannisters,” she told him. “The queen.”
Ned released his hold on her arm. There were deep red
marks on her skin. “Gods,” he whispered. His voice was
hoarse. “Your sister is sick with grief. She cannot know
what she is saying.”
“She knows,” Catelyn said. “Lysa is impulsive, yes, but
this message was carefully planned, cleverly hidden. She
knew it meant death if her letter fell into the wrong hands.
To risk so much, she must have had more than mere
suspicion.” Catelyn looked to her husband. “Now we truly
have no choice. You must be Robert’s Hand. You must go
south with him and learn the truth.”She saw at once that Ned had reached a very different
conclusion. “The only truths I know are here. The south is a
nest of adders Iwould do better to avoid.”
Luwin plucked at his chain collar where it had chafed the
soft skin of his throat. “The Hand of the King has great
power, my lord. Power to find the truth of Lord Arryn’s
death, to bring his killers to the king’s justice. Power to
protect Lady Arryn and her son, if the worst be true.”
Ned glanced helplessly around the bedchamber.
Catelyn’s heart went out to him, but she knew she could not
take him in her arms just then. First the victory must be won,
for her children’s sake. “You say you love Robert like a
brother. Would you leave your brother surrounded by
“The Others take both of you,” Ned muttered darkly. He
turned away from them and went to the window. She did not
speak, nor did the maester. They waited, quiet, while
Eddard Stark said a silent farewell to the home he loved.
When he turned away from the window at last, his voice
was tired and full of melancholy, and moisture glittered
faintly in the corners of his eyes. “My father went south
once, to answer the summons of a king. He never came
“A different time,” Maester Luwin said. “A different king.”
“Yes,” Ned said dully. He seated himself in a chair by the
hearth. “Catelyn, you shall stay here in Winterfell.”
His words were like an icy draft through her heart. “No,”
she said, suddenly afraid. Was this to be her punishment?
Never to see his face again, nor to feel his arms around
“Yes,” Ned said, in words that would brook no argument.
“You must govern the north in my stead, while I run Robert’serrands. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Robb
is fourteen. Soon enough, he will be a man grown. He must
learn to rule, and I will not be here for him. Make him part of
your councils. He must be ready when his time comes.”
“Gods will, not for many years,” Maester Luwin murmured.
“Maester Luwin, I trust you as I would my own blood. Give
my wife your voice in all things great and small. Teach my
son the things he needs to know. Winter is coming.”
Maester Luwin nodded gravely. Then silence fell, until
Catelyn found her courage and asked the question whose
answer she most dreaded. “What of the other children?”
Ned stood, and took her in his arms, and held her face
close to his. “Rickon is very young,” he said gently. “He
should stay here with you and Robb. The others I would
take with me.”
“I could not bear it,” Catelyn said, trembling.
“You must,” he said. “Sansa must wed Joffrey, that is
clear now, we must give them no grounds to suspect our
devotion. And it is past time that Arya learned the ways of a
southron court. In a few years she will be of an age to marry
Sansa would shine in the south, Catelyn thought to
herself, and the gods knew that Arya needed refinement.
Reluctantly, she let go of them in her heart. But not Bran.
Never Bran. “Yes,” she said, “but please, Ned, for the love
you bear me, let Bran remain here at Winterfell. He is only
“Iwas eight when my father sent me to foster at the Eyrie,”
Ned said. “Ser Rodrik tells me there is bad feeling between
Robb and Prince Joffrey. That is not healthy. Bran can
bridge that distance. He is a sweet boy, quick to laugh,
easy to love. Let him grow up with the young princes, lethim become their friend as Robert became mine. Our
House will be the safer for it.”
He was right; Catelyn knew it. It did not make the pain any
easier to bear. She would lose all four of them, then: Ned,
and both girls, and her sweet, loving Bran. Only Robb and
little Rickon would be left to her. She felt lonely already.
Winterfell was such a vast place. “Keep him off the walls,
then,” she said bravely. “You know how Bran loves to
Ned kissed the tears from her eyes before they could fall.
“Thank you, my lady,” he whispered. “This is hard, I know.”
“What of Jon Snow, my lord?” Maester Luwin asked.
Catelyn tensed at the mention of the name. Ned felt the
anger in her, and pulled away.
Many men fathered bastards. Catelyn had grown up with
that knowledge. It came as no surprise to her, in the first
year of her marriage, to learn that Ned had fathered a child
on some girl chance met on campaign. He had a man’s
needs, after all, and they had spent that year apart, Ned off
at war in the south while she remained safe in her father’s
castle at Riverrun. Her thoughts were more of Robb, the
infant at her breast, than of the husband she scarcely knew.
He was welcome to whatever solace he might find between
battles. And if his seed quickened, she expected he would
see to the child’s needs.
He did more than that. The Starks were not like other
men. Ned brought his bastard home with him, and called
him “son” for all the north to see. When the wars were over
at last, and Catelyn rode to Winterfell, Jon and his wet
nurse had already taken up residence.
That cut deep. Ned would not speak of the mother, not so
much as a word, but a castle has no secrets, and Catelynheard her maids repeating tales they heard from the lips of
her husband’s soldiers. They whispered of Ser Arthur
Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, deadliest of the seven
knights of Aerys’s Kingsguard, and of how their young lord
had slain him in single combat. And they told how afterward
Ned had carried Ser Arthur’s sword back to the beautiful
young sister who awaited him in a castle called Starfall on
the shores of the Summer Sea. The Lady Ashara Dayne,
tall and fair, with haunting violet eyes. It had taken her a
fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one
night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked
him to his face.
That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever
frightened her. “Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as
ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And
now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady.” She
had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on,
the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne’s name
was never heard in Winterfell again.
Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved
her fiercely, for nothing Catelyn said would persuade him to
send the boy away. It was the one thing she could never
forgive him. She had come to love her husband with all her
heart, but she had never found it in her to love Jon. She
might have overlooked a dozen bastards for Ned’s sake,
so long as they were out of sight. Jon was never out of
sight, and as he grew, he looked more like Ned than any of
the trueborn sons she bore him. Somehow that made it
worse. “Jon must go,” she said now.
“He and Robb are close,” Ned said. “I had hoped . . .”
“He cannot stay here,” Catelyn said, cutting him off. “He is
your son, not mine. I will not have him.” It was hard, sheknew, but no less the truth. Ned would do the boy no
kindness by leaving him here at Winterfell.
The look Ned gave her was anguished. “You know I
cannot take him south. There will be no place for him at
court. A boy with a bastard’s name . . . you know what they
will say of him. He will be shunned.”
Catelyn armored her heart against the mute appeal in her
husband’s eyes. “They say your friend Robert has fathered
a dozen bastards himself.”
“And none of them has ever been seen at court!” Ned
blazed. “The Lannister woman has seen to that. How can
you be so damnably cruel, Catelyn? He is only a boy. He—”
His fury was on him. He might have said more, and
worse, but Maester Luwin cut in. “Another solution presents
itself,” he said, his voice quiet. “Your brother Benjen came
to me about Jon a few days ago. It seems the boy aspires
to take the black.”
Ned looked shocked. “He asked to join the Night’s
Catelyn said nothing. Let Ned work it out in his own mind;
her voice would not be welcome now. Yet gladly would she
have kissed the maester just then. His was the perfect
solution. Benjen Stark was a Sworn Brother. Jon would be
a son to him, the child he would never have. And in time the
boy would take the oath as well. He would father no sons
who might someday contest with Catelyn’s own
grandchildren for Winterfell.
Maester Luwin said, “There is great honor in service on
the Wall, my lord.”
“And even a bastard may rise high in the Night’s Watch,”
Ned reflected. Still, his voice was troubled. “Jon is so
young. If he asked this when he was a man grown, thatwould be one thing, but a boy of fourteen . . .”
“A hard sacrifice,” Maester Luwin agreed. “Yet these are
hard times, my lord. His road is no crueler than yours or
your lady’s.” Catelyn thought of the three children she must
lose. It was not easy keeping silent then.
Ned turned away from them to gaze out the window, his
long face silent and thoughtful. Finally he sighed, and turned
back. “Very well,” he said to Maester Luwin. “I suppose it is
for the best. Iwill speak to Ben.”
“When shall we tell Jon?” the maester asked.
“When I must. Preparations must be made. It will be a
fortnight before we are ready to depart. I would sooner let
Jon enjoy these last few days. Summer will end soon
enough, and childhood as well. When the time comes, I will
tell him myself.”
Arya’s stitches were crooked again.
She frowned down at them with dismay and glanced over
to where her sister Sansa sat among the other girls.
Sansa’s needlework was exquisite. Everyone said so.
“Sansa’s work is as pretty as she is,” Septa Mordane told
their lady mother once. “She has such fine, delicate hands.”
When Lady Catelyn had asked about Arya, the septa had
sniffed. “Arya has the hands of a blacksmith.”
Arya glanced furtively across the room, worried that
Septa Mordane might have read her thoughts, but the septa
was paying her no attention today. She was sitting with the
Princess Myrcella, all smiles and admiration. It was not
often that the septa was privileged to instruct a royal
princess in the womanly arts, as she had said when thequeen brought Myrcella to join them. Arya thought that
Myrcella’s stitches looked a little crooked too, but you
would never know it from the way Septa Mordane was
She studied her own work again, looking for some way to
salvage it, then sighed and put down the needle. She
looked glumly at her sister. Sansa was chatting away
happily as she worked. Beth Cassel, Ser Rodrik’s little girl,
was sitting by her feet, listening to every word she said, and
Jeyne Poole was leaning over to whisper something in her
“What are you talking about?” Arya asked suddenly.
Jeyne gave her a startled look, then giggled. Sansa looked
abashed. Beth blushed. No one answered.
“Tell me,” Arya said.
Jeyne glanced over to make certain that Septa Mordane
was not listening. Myrcella said something then, and the
septa laughed along with the rest of the ladies.
“We were talking about the prince,” Sansa said, her voice
soft as a kiss.
Arya knew which prince she meant: Joffrey, of course.
The tall, handsome one. Sansa got to sit with him at the
feast. Arya had to sit with the little fat one. Naturally.
“Joffrey likes your sister,” Jeyne whispered, proud as if
she had something to do with it. She was the daughter of
Winterfell’s steward and Sansa’s dearest friend. “He told
her she was very beautiful.”
“He’s going to marry her,” little Beth said dreamily,
hugging herself. “Then Sansa will be queen of all the realm.”
Sansa had the grace to blush. She blushed prettily. She
did everything prettily, Arya thought with dull resentment.
“Beth, you shouldn’t make up stories,” Sansa corrected theyounger girl, gently stroking her hair to take the harshness
out of her words. She looked at Arya. “What did you think of
Prince Joff, sister? He’s very gallant, don’t you think?”
“Jon says he looks like a girl,” Arya said.
Sansa sighed as she stitched. “Poor Jon,” she said. “He
gets jealous because he’s a bastard.”
“He’s our brother,” Arya said, much too loudly. Her voice
cut through the afternoon quiet of the tower room.
Septa Mordane raised her eyes. She had a bony face,
sharp eyes, and a thin lipless mouth made for frowning. It
was frowning now. “What are you talking about, children?”
“Our half brother,” Sansa corrected, soft and precise. She
smiled for the septa. “Arya and I were remarking on how
pleased we were to have the princess with us today,” she
Septa Mordane nodded. “Indeed. A great honor for us
all.” Princess Myrcella smiled uncertainly at the compliment.
“Arya, why aren’t you at work?” the septa asked. She rose
to her feet, starched skirts rustling as she started across
the room. “Let me see your stitches.”
Arya wanted to scream. It was just like Sansa to go and
attract the septa’s attention. “Here,” she said, surrendering
up her work.
The septa examined the fabric. “Arya, Arya, Arya,” she
said. “This will not do. This will not do at all.”
Everyone was looking at her. It was too much. Sansa was
too well bred to smile at her sister’s disgrace, but Jeyne
was smirking on her behalf. Even Princess Myrcella looked
sorry for her. Arya felt tears filling her eyes. She pushed
herself out of her chair and bolted for the door.
Septa Mordane called after her. “Arya, come back here!
Don’t you take another step! Your lady mother will hear ofthis. In front of our royal princess too! You’ll shame us all!”
Arya stopped at the door and turned back, biting her lip.
The tears were running down her cheeks now. She
managed a stiff little bow to Myrcella. “By your leave, my
Myrcella blinked at her and looked to her ladies for
guidance. But if she was uncertain, Septa Mordane was
not. “Just where do you think you are going, Arya?” the
Arya glared at her. “I have to go shoe a horse,” she said
sweetly, taking a brief satisfaction in the shock on the
septa’s face. Then she whirled and made her exit, running
down the steps as fast as her feet would take her.
It wasn’t fair. Sansa had everything. Sansa was two years
older; maybe by the time Arya had been born, there had
been nothing left. Often it felt that way. Sansa could sew
and dance and sing. She wrote poetry. She knew how to
dress. She played the high harp and the bells. Worse, she
was beautiful. Sansa had gotten their mother’s fine high
cheekbones and the thick auburn hair of the Tullys. Arya
took after their lord father. Her hair was a lusterless brown,
and her face was long and solemn. Jeyne used to call her
Arya Horseface, and neigh whenever she came near. It hurt
that the one thing Arya could do better than her sister was
ride a horse. Well, that and manage a household. Sansa
had never had much of a head for figures. If she did marry
Prince Joff, Arya hoped for his sake that he had a good
Nymeria was waiting for her in the guardroom at the base
of the stairs. She bounded to her feet as soon as she
caught sight of Arya. Arya grinned. The wolf pup loved her,
even if no one else did. They went everywhere together,and Nymeria slept in her room, at the foot of her bed. If
Mother had not forbidden it, Arya would gladly have taken
the wolf with her to needlework. Let Septa Mordane
complain about her stitches then.
Nymeria nipped eagerly at her hand as Arya untied her.
She had yellow eyes. When they caught the sunlight, they
gleamed like two golden coins. Arya had named her after
the warrior queen of the Rhoyne, who had led her people
across the narrow sea. That had been a great scandal too.
Sansa, of course, had named her pup “Lady.” Arya made a
face and hugged the wolfling tight. Nymeria licked her ear,
and she giggled. By now Septa Mordane would certainly
have sent word to her lady mother. If she went to her room,
they would find her. Arya did not care to be found. She had
a better notion. The boys were at practice in the yard. She
wanted to see Robb put gallant Prince Joffrey flat on his
back. “Come,” she whispered to Nymeria. She got up and
ran, the wolf coming hard at her heels.
There was a window in the covered bridge between the
armory and the Great Keep where you had a view of the
whole yard. That was where they headed.
They arrived, flushed and breathless, to find Jon seated
on the sill, one leg drawn up languidly to his chin. He was
watching the action, so absorbed that he seemed unaware
of her approach until his white wolf moved to meet them.
Nymeria stalked closer on wary feet. Ghost, already larger
than his litter mates, smelled her, gave her ear a careful nip,
and settled back down.
Jon gave her a curious look. “Shouldn’t you be working on
your stitches, little sister?”
Arya made a face at him. “Iwanted to see them fight.”
He smiled. “Come here, then.”Arya climbed up on the window and sat beside him, to a
chorus of thuds and grunts from the yard below.
To her disappointment, it was the younger boys drilling.
Bran was so heavily padded he looked as though he had
belted on a featherbed, and Prince Tommen, who was
plump to begin with, seemed positively round. They were
huffing and puffing and hitting at each other with padded
wooden swords under the watchful eye of old Ser Rodrik
Cassel, the master-at-arms, a great stout keg of a man with
magnificent white cheek whiskers. A dozen spectators,
man and boy, were calling out encouragement, Robb’s
voice the loudest among them. She spotted Theon Greyjoy
beside him, his black doublet emblazoned with the golden
kraken of his House, a look of wry contempt on his face.
Both of the combatants were staggering. Arya judged that
they had been at it awhile.
“A shade more exhausting than needlework,” Jon
“A shade more fun than needlework,” Arya gave back at
him. Jon grinned, reached over, and messed up her hair.
Arya flushed. They had always been close. Jon had their
father’s face, as she did. They were the only ones. Robb
and Sansa and Bran and even little Rickon all took after the
Tullys, with easy smiles and fire in their hair. When Arya
had been little, she had been afraid that meant that she was
a bastard too. It been Jon she had gone to in her fear, and
Jon who had reassured her.
“Why aren’t you down in the yard?” Arya asked him.
He gave her a half smile. “Bastards are not allowed to
damage young princes,” he said. “Any bruises they take in
the practice yard must come from trueborn swords.”
“Oh.” Arya felt abashed. She should have realized. Forthe second time today, Arya reflected that life was not fair.
She watched her little brother whack at Tommen. “I could
do just as good as Bran,” she said. “He’s only seven. I’m
Jon looked her over with all his fourteen-year-old wisdom.
“You’re too skinny,” he said. He took her arm to feel her
muscle. Then he sighed and shook his head. “I doubt you
could even lift a longsword, little sister, never mind swing
Arya snatched back her arm and glared at him. Jon
messed up her hair again. They watched Bran and
Tommen circle each other.
“You see Prince Joffrey?” Jon asked.
She hadn’t, not at first glance, but when she looked again
she found him to the back, under the shade of the high
stone wall. He was surrounded by men she did not
recognize, young squires in the livery of Lannister and
Baratheon, strangers all. There were a few older men
among them; knights, she surmised.
“Look at the arms on his surcoat,” Jon suggested.
Arya looked. An ornate shield had been embroidered on
the prince’s padded surcoat. No doubt the needlework was
exquisite. The arms were divided down the middle; on one
side was the crowned stag of the royal House, on the other
the lion of Lannister.
“The Lannisters are proud,” Jon observed. “You’d think
the royal sigil would be sufficient, but no. He makes his
mother’s House equal in honor to the king’s.”
“The woman is important too!” Arya protested.
Jon chuckled. “Perhaps you should do the same thing,
little sister. Wed Tully to Stark in your arms.”
“A wolf with a fish in its mouth?” It made her laugh. “Thatwould look silly. Besides, if a girl can’t fight, why should she
have a coat of arms?”
Jon shrugged. “Girls get the arms but not the swords.
Bastards get the swords but not the arms. I did not make
the rules, little sister.”
There was a shout from the courtyard below. Prince
Tommen was rolling in the dust, trying to get up and failing.
All the padding made him look like a turtle on its back. Bran
was standing over him with upraised wooden sword, ready
to whack him again once he regained his feet. The men
began to laugh.
“Enough!” Ser Rodrik called out. He gave the prince a
hand and yanked him back to his feet. “Well fought. Lew,
Donnis, help them out of their armor.” He looked around.
“Prince Joffrey, Robb, will you go another round?”
Robb, already sweaty from a previous bout, moved
forward eagerly. “Gladly.”
Joffrey moved into the sunlight in response to Rodrik’s
summons. His hair shone like spun gold. He looked bored.
“This is a game for children, Ser Rodrik.”
Theon Greyjoy gave a sudden bark of laughter. “You are
children,” he said derisively.
“Robb may be a child,” Joffrey said. “I am a prince. And I
grow tired of swatting at Starks with a play sword.”
“You got more swats than you gave, Joff,” Robb said. “Are
Prince Joffrey looked at him. “Oh, terrified,” he said.
“You’re so much older.” Some of the Lannister men
Jon looked down on the scene with a frown. “Joffrey is
truly a little shit,” he told Arya.
Ser Rodrik tugged thoughtfully at his white whiskers.“What are you suggesting?” he asked the prince.
“Done,” Robb shot back. “You’ll be sorry!”
The master-at-arms put a hand on Robb’s shoulder to
quiet him. “Live steel is too dangerous. I will permit you
tourney swords, with blunted edges.”
Joffrey said nothing, but a man strange to Arya, a tall
knight with black hair and burn scars on his face, pushed
forward in front of the prince. “This is your prince. Who are
you to tell him he may not have an edge on his sword, ser?”
“Master-at-arms of Winterfell, Clegane, and you would do
well not to forget it.”
“Are you training women here?” the burned man wanted
to know. He was muscled like a bull.
“I am training knights,” Ser Rodrik said pointedly. “They
will have steel when they are ready. When they are of an
The burned man looked at Robb. “How old are you, boy?”
“Fourteen,” Robb said.
“I killed a man at twelve. You can be sure it was not with a
Arya could see Robb bristle. His pride was wounded. He
turned on Ser Rodrik. “Let me do it. I can beat him.”
“Beat him with a tourney blade, then,” Ser Rodrik said.
Joffrey shrugged. “Come and see me when you’re older,
Stark. If you’re not too old.” There was laughter from the
Robb’s curses rang through the yard. Arya covered her
mouth in shock. Theon Greyjoy seized Robb’s arm to keep
him away from the prince. Ser Rodrik tugged at his
whiskers in dismay.
Joffrey feigned a yawn and turned to his younger brother.“Come, Tommen,” he said. “The hour of play is done.
Leave the children to their frolics.”
That brought more laughter from the Lannisters, more
curses from Robb. Ser Rodrik’s face was beet-red with fury
under the white of his whiskers. Theon kept Robb locked in
an iron grip until the princes and their party were safely
Jon watched them leave, and Arya watched Jon. His face
had grown as still as the pool at the heart of the godswood.
Finally he climbed down off the window. “The show is
done,” he said. He bent to scratch Ghost behind the ears.
The white wolf rose and rubbed against him. “You had best
run back to your room, little sister. Septa Mordane will
surely be lurking. The longer you hide, the sterner the
penance. You’ll be sewing all through winter. When the
spring thaw comes, they will find your body with a needle
still locked tight between your frozen fingers.”
Arya didn’t think it was funny. “I hate needlework!” she
said with passion. “It’s not fair!”
“Nothing is fair,” Jon said. He messed up her hair again
and walked away from her, Ghost moving silently beside
him. Nymeria started to follow too, then stopped and came
back when she saw that Arya was not coming.
Reluctantly she turned in the other direction.
It was worse than Jon had thought. It wasn’t Septa
Mordane waiting in her room. It was Septa Mordane and
The hunt left at dawn. The king wanted wild boar at
the feast tonight. Prince Joffrey rode with his father, soRobb had been allowed to join the hunters as well. Uncle
Benjen, Jory, Theon Greyjoy, Ser Rodrik, and even the
queen’s funny little brother had all ridden out with them. It
was the last hunt, after all. On the morrow they left for the
Bran had been left behind with Jon and the girls and
Rickon. But Rickon was only a baby and the girls were only
girls and Jon and his wolf were nowhere to be found. Bran
did not look for him very hard. He thought Jon was angry at
him. Jon seemed to be angry at everyone these days. Bran
did not know why. He was going with Uncle Ben to the Wall,
to join the Night’s Watch. That was almost as good as
going south with the king. Robb was the one they were
leaving behind, not Jon.
For days, Bran could scarcely wait to be off. He was
going to ride the kingsroad on a horse of his own, not a
pony but a real horse. His father would be the Hand of the
King, and they were going to live in the red castle at King’s
Landing, the castle the Dragonlords had built. Old Nan said
there were ghosts there, and dungeons where terrible
things had been done, and dragon heads on the walls. It
gave Bran a shiver just to think of it, but he was not afraid.
How could he be afraid? His father would be with him, and
the king with all his knights and sworn swords.
Bran was going to be a knight himself someday, one of
the Kingsguard. Old Nan said they were the finest swords
in all the realm. There were only seven of them, and they
wore white armor and had no wives or children, but lived
only to serve the king. Bran knew all the stories. Their
names were like music to him. Serwyn of the Mirror Shield.
Ser Ryam Redwyne. Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. The
twins Ser Erryk and Ser Arryk, who had died on oneanother’s swords hundreds of years ago, when brother
fought sister in the war the singers called the Dance of the
Dragons. The White Bull, Gerold Hightower. Ser Arthur
Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. Barristan the Bold.
Two of the Kingsguard had come north with King Robert.
Bran had watched them with fascination, never quite daring
to speak to them. Ser Boros was a bald man with a jowly
face, and Ser Meryn had droopy eyes and a beard the
color of rust. Ser Jaime Lannister looked more like the
knights in the stories, and he was of the Kingsguard too,
but Robb said he had killed the old mad king and shouldn’t
count anymore. The greatest living knight was Ser Barristan
Selmy, Barristan the Bold, the Lord Commander of the
Kingsguard. Father had promised that they would meet Ser
Barristan when they reached King’s Landing, and Bran had
been marking the days on his wall, eager to depart, to see
a world he had only dreamed of and begin a life he could
Yet now that the last day was at hand, suddenly Bran felt
lost. Winterfell had been the only home he had ever known.
His father had told him that he ought to say his farewells
today, and he had tried. After the hunt had ridden out, he
wandered through the castle with his wolf at his side,
intending to visit the ones who would be left behind, Old
Nan and Gage the cook, Mikken in his smithy, Hodor the
stableboy who smiled so much and took care of his pony
and never said anything but “Hodor,” the man in the glass
gardens who gave him a blackberry when he came to visit .
But it was no good. He had gone to the stable first, and
seen his pony there in its stall, except it wasn’t his pony
anymore, he was getting a real horse and leaving the ponybehind, and all of a sudden Bran just wanted to sit down
and cry. He turned and ran off before Hodor and the other
stableboys could see the tears in his eyes. That was the
end of his farewells. Instead Bran spent the morning alone
in the godswood, trying to teach his wolf to fetch a stick,
and failing. The wolfling was smarter than any of the hounds
in his father’s kennel and Bran would have sworn he
understood every word that was said to him, but he showed
very little interest in chasing sticks.
He was still trying to decide on a name. Robb was calling
his Grey Wind, because he ran so fast. Sansa had named
hers Lady, and Arya named hers after some old witch
queen in the songs, and little Rickon called his Shaggydog,
which Bran thought was a pretty stupid name for a direwolf.
Jon’s wolf, the white one, was Ghost. Bran wished he had
thought of that first, even though his wolf wasn’t white. He
had tried a hundred names in the last fortnight, but none of
them sounded right.
Finally he got tired of the stick game and decided to go
climbing. He hadn’t been up to the broken tower for weeks
with everything that had happened, and this might be his
He raced across the godswood, taking the long way
around to avoid the pool where the heart tree grew. The
heart tree had always frightened him; trees ought not have
eyes, Bran thought, or leaves that looked like hands. His
wolf came sprinting at his heels. “You stay here,” he told
him at the base of the sentinel tree near the armory wall.
“Lie down. That’s right. Now stay—”
The wolf did as he was told. Bran scratched him behind
the ears, then turned away, jumped, grabbed a low branch,
and pulled himself up. He was halfway up the tree, movingeasily from limb to limb, when the wolf got to his feet and
began to howl.
Bran looked back down. His wolf fell silent, staring up at
him through slitted yellow eyes. A strange chill went through
him. He began to climb again. Once more the wolf howled.
“Quiet,” he yelled. “Sit down. Stay. You’re worse than
Mother.” The howling chased him all the way up the tree,
until finally he jumped off onto the armory roof and out of
The rooftops of Winterfell were Bran’s second home. His
mother often said that Bran could climb before he could
walk. Bran could not remember when he first learned to
walk, but he could not remember when he started to climb
either, so he supposed it must be true.
To a boy, Winterfell was a grey stone labyrinth of walls
and towers and courtyards and tunnels spreading out in all
directions. In the older parts of the castle, the halls slanted
up and down so that you couldn’t even be sure what floor
you were on. The place had grown over the centuries like
some monstrous stone tree, Maester Luwin told him once,
and its branches were gnarled and thick and twisted, its
roots sunk deep into the earth.
When he got out from under it and scrambled up near the
sky, Bran could see all of Winterfell in a glance. He liked the
way it looked, spread out beneath him, only birds wheeling
over his head while all the life of the castle went on below.
Bran could perch for hours among the shapeless, rain-worn
gargoyles that brooded over the First Keep, watching it all:
the men drilling with wood and steel in the yard, the cooks
tending their vegetables in the glass garden, restless dogs
running back and forth in the kennels, the silence of the
godswood, the girls gossiping beside the washing well. Itmade him feel like he was lord of the castle, in a way even
Robb would never know.
It taught him Winterfell’s secrets too. The builders had not
even leveled the earth; there were hills and valleys behind
the walls of Winterfell. There was a covered bridge that
went from the fourth floor of the bell tower across to the
second floor of the rookery. Bran knew about that. And he
knew you could get inside the inner wall by the south gate,
climb three floors and run all the way around Winterfell
through a narrow tunnel in the stone, and then come out on
ground level at the north gate, with a hundred feet of wall
looming over you. Even Maester Luwin didn’t know that,
Bran was convinced.
His mother was terrified that one day Bran would slip off a
wall and kill himself. He told her that he wouldn’t, but she
never believed him. Once she made him promise that he
would stay on the ground. He had managed to keep that
promise for almost a fortnight, miserable every day, until
one night he had gone out the window of his bedroom when
his brothers were fast asleep.
He confessed his crime the next day in a fit of guilt. Lord
Eddard ordered him to the godswood to cleanse himself.
Guards were posted to see that Bran remained there alone
all night to reflect on his disobedience. The next morning
Bran was nowhere to be seen. They finally found him fast
asleep in the upper branches of the tallest sentinel in the
As angry as he was, his father could not help but laugh.
“You’re not my son,” he told Bran when they fetched him
down, “you’re a squirrel. So be it. If you must climb, then
climb, but try not to let your mother see you.”
Bran did his best, although he did not think he ever reallyfooted her. Since his father would not forbid it, she turned to
others. Old Nan told him a story about a bad little boy who
climbed too high and was struck down by lightning, and
how afterward the crows came to peck out his eyes. Bran
was not impressed. There were crows’ nests atop the
broken tower, where no one ever went but him, and
sometimes he filled his pockets with corn before he
climbed up there and the crows ate it right out of his hand.
None of them had ever shown the slightest bit of interest in
pecking out his eyes.
Later, Maester Luwin built a little pottery boy and dressed
him in Bran’s clothes and flung him off the wall into the yard
below, to demonstrate what would happen to Bran if he fell.
That had been fun, but afterward Bran just looked at the
maester and said, “I’m not made of clay. And anyhow, I
Then for a while the guards would chase him whenever
they saw him on the roofs, and try to haul him down. That
was the best time of all. It was like playing a game with his
brothers, except that Bran always won. None of the guards
could climb half so well as Bran, not even Jory. Most of the
time they never saw him anyway. People never looked up.
That was another thing he liked about climbing; it was
almost like being invisible.
He liked how it felt too, pulling himself up a wall stone by
stone, fingers and toes digging hard into the small crevices
between. He always took off his boots and went barefoot
when he climbed; it made him feel as if he had four hands
instead of two. He liked the deep, sweet ache it left in the
muscles afterward. He liked the way the air tasted way up
high, sweet and cold as a winter peach. He liked the birds:
the crows in the broken tower, the tiny little sparrows thatnested in cracks between the stones, the ancient owl that
slept in the dusty loft above the old armory. Bran knew them
Most of all, he liked going places that no one else could
go, and seeing the grey sprawl of Winterfell in a way that no
one else ever saw it. It made the whole castle Bran’s secret
His favorite haunt was the broken tower. Once it had been
a watchtower, the tallest in Winterfell. A long time ago, a
hundred years before even his father had been born, a
lightning strike had set it afire. The top third of the structure
had collapsed inward, and the tower had never been
rebuilt. Sometimes his father sent ratters into the base of
the tower, to clean out the nests they always found among
the jumble of fallen stones and charred and rotten beams.
But no one ever got up to the jagged top of the structure
now except for Bran and the crows.
He knew two ways to get there. You could climb straight
up the side of the tower itself, but the stones were loose,
the mortar that held them together long gone to ash, and
Bran never liked to put his full weight on them.
The best way was to start from the godswood, shinny up
the tall sentinel, and cross over the armory and the guards
hall, leaping roof to roof, barefoot so the guards wouldn’t
hear you overhead. That brought you up to the blind side of
the First Keep, the oldest part of the castle, a squat round
fortress that was taller than it looked. Only rats and spiders
lived there now but the old stones still made for good
climbing. You could go straight up to where the gargoyles
leaned out blindly over empty space, and swing from
gargoyle to gargoyle, hand over hand, around to the north
side. From there, if you really stretched, you could reach outand pull yourself over to the broken tower where it leaned
close. The last part was the scramble up the blackened
stones to the Eyrie, no more than ten feet, and then the
crows would come round to see if you’d brought any corn.
Bran was moving from gargoyle to gargoyle with the ease
of long practice when he heard the voices. He was so
startled he almost lost his grip. The First Keep had been
empty all his life.
“I do not like it,” a woman was saying. There was a row of
windows beneath him, and the voice was drifting out of the
last window on this side. “You should be the Hand.”
“Gods forbid,” a man’s voice replied lazily. “It’s not an
honor I’d want. There’s far too much work involved.”
Bran hung, listening, suddenly afraid to go on. They might
glimpse his feet if he tried to swing by.
“Don’t you see the danger this puts us in?” the woman
said. “Robert loves the man like a brother.”
“Robert can barely stomach his brothers. Not that I blame
him. Stannis would be enough to give anyone indigestion.”
“Don’t play the fool. Stannis and Renly are one thing, and
Eddard Stark is quite another. Robert will listen to Stark.
Damn them both. I should have insisted that he name you,
but Iwas certain Stark would refuse him.”
“We ought to count ourselves fortunate,” the man said.
“The king might as easily have named one of his brothers,
or even Littlefinger, gods help us. Give me honorable
enemies rather than ambitious ones, and I’ll sleep more
easily by night.”
They were talking about Father, Bran realized. He wanted
to hear more. A few more feet . . . but they would see him if
he swung out in front of the window.
“We will have to watch him carefully,” the woman said.“I would sooner watch you,” the man said. He sounded
bored. “Come back here.”
“Lord Eddard has never taken any interest in anything that
happened south of the Neck,” the woman said. “Never. I tell
you, he means to move against us. Why else would he
leave the seat of his power?”
“A hundred reasons. Duty. Honor. He yearns to write his
name large across the book of history, to get away from his
wife, or both. Perhaps he just wants to be warm for once in
“His wife is Lady Arryn’s sister. It’s a wonder Lysa was
not here to greet us with her accusations.”
Bran looked down. There was a narrow ledge beneath
the window, only a few inches wide. He tried to lower
himself toward it. Too far. He would never reach.
“You fret too much. Lysa Arryn is a frightened cow.”
“That frightened cow shared Jon Arryn’s bed.”
“If she knew anything, she would have gone to Robert
before she fled King’s Landing.”
“When he had already agreed to foster that weakling son
of hers at Casterly Rock? I think not. She knew the boy’s life
would be hostage to her silence. She may grow bolder now
that he’s safe atop the Eyrie.”
“Mothers.” The man made the word sound like a curse. “I
think birthing does something to your minds. You are all
mad.” He laughed. It was a bitter sound. “Let Lady Arryn
grow as bold as she likes. Whatever she knows, whatever
she thinks she knows, she has no proof.” He paused a
moment. “Or does she?”
“Do you think the king will require proof?” the woman
said. “I tell you, he loves me not.”
“And whose fault is that, sweet sister?”Bran studied the ledge. He could drop down. It was too
narrow to land on, but if he could catch hold as he fell past,
pull himself up . . . except that might make a noise, draw
them to the window. He was not sure what he was hearing,
but he knew it was not meant for his ears.
“You are as blind as Robert,” the woman was saying.
“If you mean I see the same thing, yes,” the man said. “I
see a man who would sooner die than betray his king.”
“He betrayed one already, or have you forgotten?” the
woman said. “Oh, I don’t deny he’s loyal to Robert, that’s
obvious. What happens when Robert dies and Joff takes
the throne? And the sooner that comes to pass, the safer
we’ll all be. My husband grows more restless every day.
Having Stark beside him will only make him worse. He’s
still in love with the sister, the insipid little dead sixteenyear-old. How long till he decides to put me aside for some
Bran was suddenly very frightened. He wanted nothing so
much as to go back the way he had come, to find his
brothers. Only what would he tell them? He had to get
closer, Bran realized. He had to see who was talking.
The man sighed. “You should think less about the future
and more about the pleasures at hand.”
“Stop that!” the woman said. Bran heard the sudden slap
of flesh on flesh, then the man’s laughter. Bran pulled
himself up, climbed over the gargoyle, crawled out onto the
roof. This was the easy way. He moved across the roof to
the next gargoyle, right above the window of the room
where they were talking.
“All this talk is getting very tiresome, sister,” the man said.
“Come here and be quiet.”
Bran sat astride the gargoyle, tightened his legs around it,and swung himself around, upside down. He hung by his
legs and slowly stretched his head down toward the
window. The world looked strange upside down. A
courtyard swam dizzily below him, its stones still wet with
Bran looked in the window.
Inside the room, a man and a woman were wrestling.
They were both naked. Bran could not tell who they were.
The man’s back was to him, and his body screened the
woman from view as he pushed her up against a wall.
There were soft, wet sounds. Bran realized they were
kissing. He watched, wide-eyed and frightened, his breath
tight in his throat. The man had a hand down between her
legs, and he must have been hurting her there, because the
woman started to moan, low in her throat. “Stop it,” she
said, “stop it, stop it. Oh, please . . .” But her voice was low
and weak, and she did not push him away. Her hands
buried themselves in his hair, his tangled golden hair, and
pulled his face down to her breast.
Bran saw her face. Her eyes were closed and her mouth
was open, moaning. Her golden hair swung from side to
side as her head moved back and forth, but still he
recognized the queen.
He must have made a noise. Suddenly her eyes opened,
and she was staring right at him. She screamed.
Everything happened at once then. The woman pushed
the man away wildly, shouting and pointing. Bran tried to
pull himself up, bending double as he reached for the
gargoyle. He was in too much of a hurry. His hand scraped
uselessly across smooth stone, and in his panic his legs
slipped, and suddenly he was falling. There was an instant
of vertigo, a sickening lurch as the window flashed past. Heshot out a hand, grabbed for the ledge, lost it, caught it
again with his other hand. He swung against the building,
hard. The impact took the breath out of him. Bran dangled,
Faces appeared in the window above him.
The queen. And now Bran recognized the man beside
her. They looked as much alike as reflections in a mirror.
“He saw us,” the woman said shrilly.
“So he did,” the man said. Bran’s fingers started to slip.
He grabbed the ledge with his other hand. Fingernails dug
into unyielding stone. The man reached down. “Take my
hand,” he said. “Before you fall.”
Bran seized his arm and held on tight with all his strength.
The man yanked him up to the ledge. “What are you
doing?” the woman demanded.
The man ignored her. He was very strong. He stood Bran
up on the sill. “How old are you, boy?”
“Seven,” Bran said, shaking with relief. His fingers had
dug deep gouges in the man’s forearm. He let go
The man looked over at the woman. “The things I do for
love,” he said with loathing. He gave Bran a shove.
Screaming, Bran went backward out the window into
empty air. There was nothing to grab on to. The courtyard
rushed up to meet him.
Somewhere off in the distance, a wolf was howling.
Crows circled the broken tower, waiting for corn.
Somewhere in the great stone maze of Winterfell,
a wolf howled. The sound hung over the castle like a flag ofmourning.
Tyrion Lannister looked up from his books and shivered,
though the library was snug and warm. Something about
the howling of a wolf took a man right out of his here and
now and left him in a dark forest of the mind, running naked
before the pack.
When the direwolf howled again, Tyrion shut the heavy
leatherbound cover on the book he was reading, a
hundred-year-old discourse on the changing of the seasons
by a long-dead maester. He covered a yawn with the back
of his hand. His reading lamp was flickering, its oil all but
gone, as dawn light leaked through the high windows. He
had been at it all night, but that was nothing new. Tyrion
Lannister was not much a one for sleeping.
His legs were stiff and sore as he eased down off the
bench. He massaged some life back into them and limped
heavily to the table where the septon was snoring softly, his
head pillowed on an open book in front of him. Tyrion
glanced at the title. A life of the Grand Maester Aethelmure,
no wonder. “Chayle,” he said softly. The young man jerked
up, blinking, confused, the crystal of his order swinging
wildly on its silver chain. “I’m off to break my fast. See that
you return the books to the shelves. Be gentle with the
Valyrian scrolls, the parchment is very dry. Ayrmidon’s
Engines of War is quite rare, and yours is the only complete
copy I’ve ever seen.” Chayle gaped at him, still half asleep.
Patiently, Tyrion repeated his instructions, then clapped the
septon on the shoulder and left him to his tasks.
Outside, Tyrion swallowed a lungful of the cold morning
air and began his laborious descent of the steep stone
steps that corkscrewed around the exterior of the library
tower. It was slow going; the steps were cut high andnarrow, while his legs were short and twisted. The rising
sun had not yet cleared the walls of Winterfell, but the men
were already hard at it in the yard below. Sandor Clegane’s
rasping voice drifted up to him. “The boy is a long time
dying. Iwish he would be quicker about it.”
Tyrion glanced down and saw the Hound standing with
young Joffrey as squires swarmed around them. “At least
he dies quietly,” the prince replied. “It’s the wolf that makes
the noise. I could scarce sleep last night.”
Clegane cast a long shadow across the hard-packed
earth as his squire lowered the black helm over his head. “I
could silence the creature, if it please you,” he said through
his open visor. His boy placed a longsword in his hand. He
tested the weight of it, slicing at the cold morning air.
Behind him, the yard rang to the clangor of steel on steel.
The notion seemed to delight the prince. “Send a dog to
kill a dog!” he exclaimed. “Winterfell is so infested with
wolves, the Starks would never miss one.”
Tyrion hopped off the last step onto the yard. “I beg to
differ, nephew,” he said. “The Starks can count past six.
Unlike some princes Imight name.”
Joffrey had the grace at least to blush.
“A voice from nowhere,” Sandor said. He peered through
his helm, looking this way and that. “Spirits of the air!”
The prince laughed, as he always laughed when his
bodyguard did this mummer’s farce. Tyrion was used to it.
The tall man peered down at the ground, and pretended
to notice him. “The little lord Tyrion,” he said. “My pardons. I
did not see you standing there.”
“I am in no mood for your insolence today.” Tyrion turned
to his nephew. “Joffrey, it is past time you called on LordEddard and his lady, to offer them your comfort.”
Joffrey looked as petulant as only a boy prince can look.
“What good will my comfort do them?”
“None,” Tyrion said. “Yet it is expected of you. Your
absence has been noted.”
“The Stark boy is nothing to me,” Joffrey said. “I cannot
abide the wailing of women.”
Tyrion Lannister reached up and slapped his nephew
hard across the face. The boy’s cheek began to redden.
“One word,” Tyrion said, “and Iwill hit you again.”
“I’m going to tell Mother!” Joffrey exclaimed.
Tyrion hit him again. Now both cheeks flamed.
“You tell your mother,” Tyrion told him. “But first you get
yourself to Lord and Lady Stark, and you fall to your knees
in front of them, and you tell them how very sorry you are,
and that you are at their service if there is the slightest thing
you can do for them or theirs in this desperate hour, and
that all your prayers go with them. Do you understand? Do
The boy looked as though he was going to cry. Instead,
he managed a weak nod. Then he turned and fled headlong
from the yard, holding his cheek. Tyrion watched him run.
A shadow fell across his face. He turned to find Clegane
looming overhead like a cliff. His soot-dark armor seemed
to blot out the sun. He had lowered the visor on his helm. It
was fashioned in the likeness of a snarling black hound,
fearsome to behold, but Tyrion had always thought it a
great improvement over Clegane’s hideously burned face.
“The prince will remember that, little lord,” the Hound
warned him. The helm turned his laugh into a hollow rumble.
“I pray he does,” Tyrion Lannister replied. “If he forgets, be
a good dog and remind him.” He glanced around thecourtyard. “Do you know where Imight find my brother?”
“Breaking fast with the queen.”
“Ah,” Tyrion said. He gave Sandor Clegane a perfunctory
nod and walked away as briskly as his stunted legs would
carry him, whistling. He pitied the first knight to try the
Hound today. The man did have a temper.
A cold, cheerless meal had been laid out in the morning
room of the Guest House. Jaime sat at table with Cersei
and the children, talking in low, hushed voices.
“Is Robert still abed?” Tyrion asked as he seated himself,
uninvited, at the table.
His sister peered at him with the same expression of faint
distaste she had worn since the day he was born. “The king
has not slept at all,” she told him. “He is with Lord Eddard.
He has taken their sorrow deeply to heart.”
“He has a large heart, our Robert,” Jaime said with a lazy
smile. There was very little that Jaime took seriously. Tyrion
knew that about his brother, and forgave it. During all the
terrible long years of his childhood, only Jaime had ever
shown him the smallest measure of affection or respect,
and for that Tyrion was willing to forgive him most anything.
A servant approached. “Bread,” Tyrion told him, “and two
of those little fish, and a mug of that good dark beer to
wash them down. Oh, and some bacon. Burn it until it turns
black.” The man bowed and moved off. Tyrion turned back
to his siblings. Twins, male and female. They looked very
much the part this morning. Both had chosen a deep green
that matched their eyes. Their blond curls were all a
fashionable tumble, and gold ornaments shone at wrists
and fingers and throats.
Tyrion wondered what it would be like to have a twin, and
decided that he would rather not know. Bad enough to facehimself in a looking glass every day. Another him was a
thought too dreadful to contemplate.
Prince Tommen spoke up. “Do you have news of Bran,
“I stopped by the sickroom last night,” Tyrion announced.
“There was no change. The maester thought that a hopeful
“I don’t want Brandon to die,” Tommen said timorously.
He was a sweet boy. Not like his brother, but then Jaime
and Tyrion were somewhat less than peas in a pod
“Lord Eddard had a brother named Brandon as well,”
Jaime mused. “One of the hostages murdered by
Targaryen. It seems to be an unlucky name.”
“Oh, not so unlucky as all that, surely,” Tyrion said. The
servant brought his plate. He ripped off a chunk of black
Cersei was studying him warily. “What do you mean?”
Tyrion gave her a crooked smile. “Why, only that Tommen
may get his wish. The maester thinks the boy may yet live.”
He took a sip of beer.
Myrcella gave a happy gasp, and Tommen smiled
nervously, but it was not the children Tyrion was watching.
The glance that passed between Jaime and Cersei lasted
no more than a second, but he did not miss it. Then his
sister dropped her gaze to the table. “That is no mercy.
These northern gods are cruel to let the child linger in such
“What were the maester’s words?” Jaime asked.
The bacon crunched when he bit into it. Tyrion chewed
thoughtfully for a moment and said, “He thinks that if the boy
were going to die, he would have done so already. It hasbeen four days with no change.”
“Will Bran get better, Uncle?” little Myrcella asked. She
had all of her mother’s beauty, and none of her nature. “His
back is broken, little one,” Tyrion told her. “The fall shattered
his legs as well. They keep him alive with honey and water,
or he would starve to death. Perhaps, if he wakes, he will
be able to eat real food, but he will never walk again.”
“If he wakes,” Cersei repeated. “Is that likely?”
“The gods alone know,” Tyrion told her. “The maester only
hopes.” He chewed some more bread. “I would swear that
wolf of his is keeping the boy alive. The creature is outside
his window day and night, howling. Every time they chase it
away, it returns. The maester said they closed the window
once, to shut out the noise, and Bran seemed to weaken.
When they opened it again, his heart beat stronger.”
The queen shuddered. “There is something unnatural
about those animals,” she said. “They are dangerous. I will
not have any of them coming south with us.”
Jaime said, “You’ll have a hard time stopping them,
sister. They follow those girls everywhere.”
Tyrion started on his fish. “Are you leaving soon, then?”
“Not near soon enough,” Cersei said. Then she frowned.
“Are we leaving?” she echoed. “What about you? Gods,
don’t tell me you are staying here?”
Tyrion shrugged. “Benjen Stark is returning to the Night’s
Watch with his brother’s bastard. I have a mind to go with
them and see this Wall we have all heard so much of.”
Jaime smiled. “I hope you’re not thinking of taking the
black on us, sweet brother.”
Tyrion laughed. “What, me, celibate? The whores would
go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock. No, I just want to
stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world.”Cersei stood abruptly. “The children don’t need to hear
this filth. Tommen, Myrcella, come.” She strode briskly from
the morning room, her train and her pups trailing behind
Jaime Lannister regarded his brother thoughtfully with
those cool green eyes. “Stark will never consent to leave
Winterfell with his son lingering in the shadow of death.”
“He will if Robert commands it,” Tyrion said. “And Robert
will command it. There is nothing Lord Eddard can do for
the boy in any case.”
“He could end his torment,” Jaime said. “Iwould, if it were
my son. It would be a mercy.”
“I advise against putting that suggestion to Lord Eddard,
sweet brother,” Tyrion said. “He would not take it kindly.”
“Even if the boy does live, he will be a cripple. Worse than
a cripple. A grotesque. Give me a good clean death.”
Tyrion replied with a shrug that accentuated the twist of
his shoulders. “Speaking for the grotesques,” he said, “I
beg to differ. Death is so terribly final, while life is full of
Jaime smiled. “You are a perverse little imp, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Tyrion admitted. “I hope the boy does wake. I
would be most interested to hear what he might have to
His brother’s smile curdled like sour milk. “Tyrion, my
sweet brother,” he said darkly, “there are times when you
give me cause to wonder whose side you are on.”
Tyrion’s mouth was full of bread and fish. He took a
swallow of strong black beer to wash it all down, and
grinned up wolfishly at Jaime, “Why, Jaime, my sweet
brother,” he said, “you wound me. You know how much I
love my family.”Jon
Jon climbed the steps slowly, trying not to think that
this might be the last time ever. Ghost padded silently
beside him. Outside, snow swirled through the castle gates,
and the yard was all noise and chaos, but inside the thick
stone walls it was still warm and quiet. Too quiet for Jon’s
He reached the landing and stood for a long moment,
afraid. Ghost nuzzled at his hand. He took courage from
that. He straightened, and entered the room.
Lady Stark was there beside his bed. She had been
there, day and night, for close on a fortnight. Not for a
moment had she left Bran’s side. She had her meals
brought to her there, and chamber pots as well, and a small
hard bed to sleep on, though it was said she had scarcely
slept at all. She fed him herself, the honey and water and
herb mixture that sustained life. Not once did she leave the
room. So Jon had stayed away.
But now there was no more time.
He stood in the door for a moment, afraid to speak, afraid
to come closer. The window was open. Below, a wolf
howled. Ghost heard and lifted his head.
Lady Stark looked over. For a moment she did not seem
to recognize him. Finally she blinked. “What are you doing
here?” she asked in a voice strangely flat and emotionless.
“I came to see Bran,” Jon said. “To say good-bye.”
Her face did not change. Her long auburn hair was dull
and tangled. She looked as though she had aged twenty
years. “You’ve said it. Now go away.”
Part of him wanted only to flee, but he knew that if he didhe might never see Bran again. He took a nervous step into
the room. “Please,” he said.
Something cold moved in her eyes. “I told you to leave,”
she said. “We don’t want you here.”
Once that would have sent him running. Once that might
even have made him cry. Now it only made him angry. He
would be a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch soon, and
face worse dangers than Catelyn Tully Stark. “He’s my
brother,” he said.
“Shall I call the guards?”
“Call them,” Jon said, defiant. “You can’t stop me from
seeing him.” He crossed the room, keeping the bed
between them, and looked down on Bran where he lay.
She was holding one of his hands. It looked like a claw.
This was not the Bran he remembered. The flesh had all
gone from him. His skin stretched tight over bones like
sticks. Under the blanket, his legs bent in ways that made
Jon sick. His eyes were sunken deep into black pits; open,
but they saw nothing. The fall had shrunken him somehow.
He looked half a leaf, as if the first strong wind would carry
him off to his grave.
Yet under the frail cage of those shattered ribs, his chest
rose and fell with each shallow breath.
“Bran,” he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t come before. I was
afraid.” He could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks. Jon
no longer cared. “Don’t die, Bran. Please. We’re all waiting
for you to wake up. Me and Robb and the girls, everyone . .
Lady Stark was watching. She had not raised a cry. Jon
took that for acceptance. Outside the window, the direwolf
howled again. The wolf that Bran had not had time to name.
“I have to go now,” Jon said. “Uncle Benjen is waiting. I’mto go north to the Wall. We have to leave today, before the
snows come.” He remembered how excited Bran had been
at the prospect of the journey. It was more than he could
bear, the thought of leaving him behind like this. Jon
brushed away his tears, leaned over, and kissed his
brother lightly on the lips.
“I wanted him to stay here with me,” Lady Stark said
Jon watched her, wary. She was not even looking at him.
She was talking to him, but for a part of her, it was as
though he were not even in the room.
“I prayed for it,” she said dully. “He was my special boy. I
went to the sept and prayed seven times to the seven faces
of god that Ned would change his mind and leave him here
with me. Sometimes prayers are answered.”
Jon did not know what to say. “It wasn’t your fault,” he
managed after an awkward silence.
Her eyes found him. They were full of poison. “I need none
of your absolution, bastard.”
Jon lowered his eyes. She was cradling one of Bran’s
hands. He took the other, squeezed it. Fingers like the
bones of birds. “Good-bye,” he said.
He was at the door when she called out to him. “Jon,” she
said. He should have kept going, but she had never called
him by his name before. He turned to find her looking at his
face, as if she were seeing it for the first time.
“Yes?” he said.
“It should have been you,” she told him. Then she turned
back to Bran and began to weep, her whole body shaking
with the sobs. Jon had never seen her cry before.
It was a long walk down to the yard.
Outside, everything was noise and confusion. Wagonswere being loaded, men were shouting, horses were being
harnessed and saddled and led from the stables. A light
snow had begun to fall, and everyone was in an uproar to
Robb was in the middle of it, shouting commands with the
best of them. He seemed to have grown of late, as if Bran’s
fall and his mother’s collapse had somehow made him
stronger. GreyWind was at his side.
“Uncle Benjen is looking for you,” he told Jon. “He wanted
to be gone an hour ago.”
“I know,” Jon said. “Soon.” He looked around at all the
noise and confusion. “Leaving is harder than I thought.”
“For me too,” Robb said. He had snow in his hair, melting
from the heat of his body. “Did you see him?”
Jon nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“He’s not going to die,” Robb said. “I know it.”
“You Starks are hard to kill,” Jon agreed. His voice was
flat and tired. The visit had taken all the strength from him.
Robb knew something was wrong. “My mother . . .”
“She was . . . very kind,” Jon told him. Robb looked
relieved. “Good.” He smiled. “The next time I see you, you’ll
be all in black.”
Jon forced himself to smile back. “It was always my color.
How long do you think it will be?”
“Soon enough,” Robb promised. He pulled Jon to him and
embraced him fiercely. “Farewell, Snow.”
Jon hugged him back. “And you, Stark. Take care of
“I will.” They broke apart and looked at each other
awkwardly. “Uncle Benjen said to send you to the stables if I
saw you,” Robb finally said.
“I have one more farewell to make,” Jon told him.“Then I haven’t seen you,” Robb replied. Jon left him
standing there in the snow, surrounded by wagons and
wolves and horses. It was a short walk to the armory. He
picked up his package and took the covered bridge across
to the Keep.
Arya was in her room, packing a polished ironwood chest
that was bigger than she was. Nymeria was helping. Arya
would only have to point, and the wolf would bound across
the room, snatch up some wisp of silk in her jaws, and fetch
it back. But when she smelled Ghost, she sat down on her
haunches and yelped at them.
Arya glanced behind her, saw Jon, and jumped to her
feet. She threw her skinny arms tight around his neck. “I
was afraid you were gone,” she said, her breath catching in
her throat. “They wouldn’t let me out to say good-bye.”
“What did you do now?” Jon was amused.
Arya disentangled herself from him and made a face.
“Nothing. I was all packed and everything.” She gestured at
the huge chest, no more than a third full, and at the clothes
that were scattered all over the room. “Septa Mordane says
I have to do it all over. My things weren’t properly folded,
she says. A proper southron lady doesn’t just throw her
clothes inside her chest like old rags, she says.”
“Is that what you did, little sister?”
“Well, they’re going to get all messed up anyway,” she
said. “Who cares how they’re folded?”
“Septa Mordane,” Jon told her. “I don’t think she’d like
Nymeria helping, either.” The she-wolf regarded him silently
with her dark golden eyes. “It’s just as well. I have
something for you to take with you, and it has to be packed
Her face lit up. “A present?”“You could call it that. Close the door.”
Wary but excited, Arya checked the hall. “Nymeria, here.
Guard.” She left the wolf out there to warn of intruders and
closed the door. By then Jon had pulled off the rags he’d
wrapped it in. He held it out to her.
Arya’s eyes went wide. Dark eyes, like his. “A sword,”
she said in a small, hushed breath.
The scabbard was soft grey leather, supple as sin. Jon
drew out the blade slowly, so she could see the deep blue
sheen of the steel. “This is no toy,” he told her. “Be careful
you don’t cut yourself. The edges are sharp enough to
“Girls don’t shave,” Arya said.
“Maybe they should. Have you ever seen the septa’s
She giggled at him. “It’s so skinny.”
“So are you,” Jon told her. “I had Mikken make this
special. The bravos use swords like this in Pentos and Myr
and the other Free Cities. It won’t hack a man’s head off,
but it can poke him full of holes if you’re fast enough.”
“I can be fast,” Arya said.
“You’ll have to work at it every day.” He put the sword in
her hands, showed her how to hold it, and stepped back.
“How does it feel? Do you like the balance?”
“I think so,” Arya said.
“First lesson,” Jon said. “Stick them with the pointy end.”
Arya gave him a whap on the arm with the flat of her
blade. The blow stung, but Jon found himself grinning like
an idiot. “I know which end to use,” Arya said. A doubtful
look crossed her face. “Septa Mordane will take it away
“Not if she doesn’t know you have it,” Jon said.“Who will I practice with?”
“You’ll find someone,” Jon promised her. “King’s Landing
is a true city, a thousand times the size of Winterfell. Until
you find a partner, watch how they fight in the yard. Run, and
ride, make yourself strong. And whatever you do . . .”
Arya knew what was coming next. They said it together.
“ . . . don’t . . . tell . . . Sansa!”
Jon messed up her hair. “Iwill miss you, little sister.”
Suddenly she looked like she was going to cry. “Iwish you
were coming with us.”
“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle. Who
knows?” He was feeling better now. He was not going to let
himself be sad. “I better go. I’ll spend my first year on the
Wall emptying chamber pots if I keep Uncle Ben waiting
Arya ran to him for a last hug. “Put down the sword first,”
Jon warned her, laughing. She set it aside almost shyly and
showered him with kisses.
When he turned back at the door, she was holding it
again, trying it for balance. “I almost forgot,” he told her. “All
the best swords have names.”
“Like Ice,” she said. She looked at the blade in her hand.
“Does this have a name? Oh, tell me.”
“Can’t you guess?” Jon teased. “Your very favorite thing.”
Arya seemed puzzled at first. Then it came to her. She
was that quick. They said it together:
The memory of her laughter warmed him on the long ride
DaenerysDaenerys Targaryen wed Khal Drogo with fear
and barbaric splendor in a field beyond the walls of Pentos,
for the Dothraki believed that all things of importance in a
man’s life must be done beneath the open sky.
Drogo had called his khalasar to attend him and they had
come, forty thousand Dothraki warriors and uncounted
numbers of women, children, and slaves. Outside the city
walls they camped with their vast herds, raising palaces of
woven grass, eating everything in sight, and making the
good folk of Pentos more anxious with every passing day.
“My fellow magisters; have doubled the size of the city
guard,” Illyrio told them over platters of honey duck and
orange snap peppers one night at the manse that had been
Drogo’s. The khal had joined his khalasar, his estate given
over to Daenerys and her brother until the wedding.
“Best we get Princess Daenerys wedded quickly before
they hand half the wealth of Pentos away to sellswords and
bravos,” Ser Jorah Mormont jested. The exile had offered
her brother his sword the night Dany had been sold to Khal
Drogo; Viserys had accepted eagerly. Mormont had been
their constant companion ever since.
Magister Illyrio laughed lightly through his forked beard,
but Viserys did not so much as smile. “He can have her
tomorrow, if he likes,” her brother said. He glanced over at
Dany, and she lowered her eyes. “So long as he pays the
Illyrio waved a languid hand in the air, rings glittering on
his fat fingers. “I have told you, all is settled. Trust me. The
khal has promised you a crown, and you shall have it.”
“Yes, but when?”
“When the khal chooses,” Illyrio said. “He will have the girl
first, and after they are wed he must make his processionacross the plains and present her to the dosh khaleen at
Vaes Dolthrak. After that, perhaps. If the omens favor war.”
Viserys seethed with impatience. “I piss on Dothraki
omens. The Usurper sits on my father’s throne. How long
Illyrio gave a massive shrug. “You have waited most of
your life, great king. What is another few months, another
Ser Jorah, who had traveled as far east as Vaes Dothrak,
nodded in agreement. “I counsel you to be patient, Your
Grace. The Dothraki are true to their word, but they do
things in their own time. A lesser man may beg a favor from
the khal, but must never presume to berate him.”
Viserys bristled. “Guard your tongue, Mormont, or I’ll have
it out. I am no lesser man, I am the rightful Lord of the Seven
Kingdoms. The dragon does not beg.”
Ser Jorah lowered his eyes respectfully. Illyrio smiled
enigmatically and tore a wing from the duck. Honey and
grease ran over his fingers and dripped down into his
beard as he nibbled at the tender meat. There are no more
dragons, Dany thought, staring at her brother, though she
did not dare say it aloud.
Yet that night she dreamt of one. Viserys was hitting her,
hurting her. She was naked, clumsy with fear. She ran from
him, but her body seemed thick and ungainly. He struck her
again. She stumbled and fell. “You woke the dragon,” he
screamed as he kicked her. “You woke the dragon, you
woke the dragon.” Her thighs were slick with blood. She
closed her eyes and whimpered. As if in answer, there was
a hideous ripping sound and the crackling of some great
fire. When she looked again, Viserys was gone, great
columns of flame rose all around, and in the midst of themwas the dragon. It turned its great head slowly. When its
molten eyes found hers, she woke, shaking and covered
with a fine sheen of sweat. She had never been so afraid . .
. . . until the day of her wedding came at last.
The ceremony began at dawn and continued until dusk,
an endless day of drinking and feasting and fighting. A
mighty earthen ramp had been raised amid the grass
palaces, and there Dany was seated beside Khal Drogo,
above the seething sea of Dothraki. She had never seen so
many people in one place, nor people so strange and
frightening. The horselords might put on rich fabrics and
sweet perfumes when they visited the Free Cities, but out
under the open sky they kept the old ways. Men and women
alike wore painted leather vests over bare chests and
horsehair leggings cinched by bronze medallion belts, and
the warriors greased their long braids with fat from the
rendering pits. They gorged themselves on horseflesh
roasted with honey and peppers, drank themselves blind on
fermented mare’s milk and Illyrio’s fine wines, and spat
jests at each other across the fires, their voices harsh and
alien in Dany’s ears.
Viserys was seated just below her, splendid in a new
black wool tunic with a scarlet dragon on the chest. Illyrio
and Ser Jorah sat beside him. Theirs was a place of high
honor, just below the khal’s own bloodriders, but Dany
could see the anger in her brother’s lilac eyes. He did not
like sitting beneath her, and he fumed when the slaves
offered each dish first to the khal and his bride, and served
him from the portions they refused. He could do nothing but
nurse his resentment, so nurse it he did, his mood growing
blacker by the hour at each insult to his person.Dany had never felt so alone as she did seated in the
midst of that vast horde. Her brother had told her to smile,
and so she smiled until her face ached and the tears came
unbidden to her eyes. She did her best to hide them,
knowing how angry Viserys would be if he saw her crying,
terrified of how Khal Drogo might react. Food was brought
to her, steaming joints of meat and thick black sausages
and Dothraki blood pies, and later fruits and sweetgrass
stews and delicate pastries from the kitchens of Pentos,
but she waved it all away. Her stomach was a roil, and she
knew she could keep none of it down.
There was no one to talk to. Khal Drogo shouted
commands and jests down to his bloodriders, and laughed
at their replies, but he scarcely glanced at Dany beside
him. They had no common language. Dothraki was
incomprehensible to her, and the khal knew only a few
words of the bastard Valyrian of the Free Cities, and none
at all of the Common Tongue of the Seven Kingdoms. She
would even have welcomed the conversation of Illyrio and
her brother, but they were too far below to hear her.
So she sat in her wedding silks, nursing a cup of honeyed
wine, afraid to eat, talking silently to herself. I am blood of
the dragon, she told herself. I am Daenerys Stormborn,
Princess of Dragonstone, of the blood and seed of Aegon
The sun was only a quarter of the way up the sky when
she saw her first man die. Drums were beating as some of
the women danced for the khal. Drogo watched without
expression, but his eyes followed their movements, and
from time to time he would toss down a bronze medallion
for the women to fight over.
The warriors were watching too. One of them finallystepped into the circle, grabbed a dancer by the arm,
pushed her down to the ground, and mounted her right
there, as a stallion mounts a mare. Illyrio had told her that
might happen. “The Dothraki mate like the animals in their
herds. There is no privacy in a khalasar, and they do not
understand sin or shame as we do.”
Dany looked away from the coupling, frightened when she
realized what was happening, but a second warrior
stepped forward, and a third, and soon there was no way to
avert her eyes. Then two men seized the same woman.
She heard a shout, saw a shove, and in the blink of an eye
the arakhs were out, long razor-sharp blades, half sword
and half scythe. A dance of death began as the warriors
circled and slashed, leaping toward each other, whirling the
blades around their heads, shrieking insults at each clash.
No one made a move to interfere.
It ended as quickly as it began. The arakhs shivered
together faster than Dany could follow, one man missed a
step, the other swung his blade in a flat arc. Steel bit into
flesh just above the Dothraki’s waist, and opened him from
backbone to belly button, spilling his entrails into the dust.
As the loser died, the winner took hold of the nearest
woman—not even the one they had been quarreling over—
and had her there and then. Slaves carried off the body,
and the dancing resumed.
Magister Illyrio had warned Dany about this too. “A
Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is deemed
a dull affair,” he had said. Her wedding must have been
especially blessed; before the day was over, a dozen men
As the hours passed, the terror grew in Dany, until it was
all she could do not to scream. She was afraid of theDothraki, whose ways seemed alien and monstrous, as if
they were beasts in human skins and not true men at all.
She was afraid of her brother, of what he might do if she
failed him. Most of all, she was afraid of what would happen
tonight under the stars, when her brother gave her up to the
hulking giant who sat drinking beside her with a face as still
and cruel as a bronze mask.
I am the blood of the dragon, she told herself again.
When at last the sun was low in the sky, Khal Drogo
clapped his hands together, and the drums and the
shouting and feasting came to a sudden halt. Drogo stood
and pulled Dany to her feet beside him. It was time for her
And after the gifts, she knew, after the sun had gone
down, it would be time for the first ride and the
consummation of her marriage. Dany tried to put the
thought aside, but it would not leave her. She hugged
herself to try to keep from shaking.
Her brother Viserys gifted her with three handmaids.
Dany knew they had cost him nothing; Illyrio no doubt had
provided the girls. Irri and Jhiqui were copper-skinned
Dothraki with black hair and almond shaped eyes, Doreah
a fair-haired, blue-eyed Lysene girl. “These are no common
servants, sweet sister,” her brother told her as they were
brought forward one by one. “Illyrio and I selected them
personally for you. Irri will teach you riding, Jhiqui the
Dothraki tongue, and Doreah will instruct you in the
womanly arts of love.” He smiled thinly. “She’s very good,
Illyrio and I can both swear to that.”
Ser Jorah Mormont apologized for his gift. “It is a small
thing, my princess, but all a poor exile could afford,” he said
as he laid a small stack of old books before her. They werehistories and songs of the Seven Kingdoms, she saw,
written in the Common Tongue. She thanked him with all
Magister Illyrio murmured a command, and four burly
slaves hurried forward, bearing between them a great
cedar chest bound in bronze. When she opened it, she
found piles of the finest velvets and damasks the Free
Cities could produce . . . and resting on top, nestled in the
soft cloth, three huge eggs. Dany gasped. They were the
most beautiful things she had ever seen, each different than
the others, patterned in such rich colors that at first she
thought they were crusted with jewels, and so large it took
both of her hands to hold one. She lifted it delicately,
expecting that it would be made of some fine porcelain or
delicate enamel, or even blown glass, but it was much
heavier than that, as if it were all of solid stone. The surface
of the shell was covered with tiny scales, and as she turned
the egg between her fingers, they shimmered like polished
metal in the light of the setting sun. One egg was a deep
green, with burnished bronze flecks that came and went
depending on how Dany turned it. Another was pale cream
streaked with gold. The last was black, as black as a
midnight sea, yet alive with scarlet ripples and swirls. “What
are they?” she asked, her voice hushed and full of wonder.
“Dragon’s eggs, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai,”
said Magister Illyrio. “The eons have turned them to stone,
yet still they burn bright with beauty.”
“I shall treasure them always.” Dany had heard tales of
such eggs, but she had never seen one, nor thought to see
one. It was a truly magnificent gift, though she knew that
Illyrio could afford to be lavish. He had collected a fortune in
horses and slaves for his part in selling her to Khal Drogo.The khal’s bloodriders offered her the traditional three
weapons, and splendid weapons they were. Haggo gave
her a great leather whip with a silver handle, Cohollo a
magnificent arakh chased in gold, and Qotho a doublecurved dragonbone bow taller than she was. Magister Illyrio
and Ser Jorah had taught her the traditional refusals for
these offerings. “This is a gift worthy of a great warrior, O
blood of my blood, and I am but a woman. Let my lord
husband bear these in my stead.” And so Khal Drogo too
received his “bride gifts.”
Other gifts she was given in plenty by other Dothraki:
slippers and jewels and silver rings for her hair, medallion
belts and painted vests and soft furs, sandsilks and jars of
scent, needles and feathers and tiny bottles of purple glass,
and a gown made from the skin of a thousand mice. “A
handsome gift, Khaleesi,” Magister Illyrio said of the last,
after he had told her what it was. “Most lucky.” The gifts
mounted up around her in great piles, more gifts than she
could possibly imagine, more gifts than she could want or
And last of all, Khal Drogo brought forth his own bride gift
to her. An expectant hush rippled out from the center of the
camp as he left her side, growing until it had swallowed the
whole khalasar. When he returned, the dense press of
Dothraki gift-givers parted before him, and he led the horse
She was a young filly, spirited and splendid. Dany knew
just enough about horses to know that this was no ordinary
animal. There was something about her that took the breath
away. She was grey as the winter sea, with a mane like
Hesitantly she reached out and stroked the horse’s neck,ran her fingers through the silver of her mane. Khal Drogo
said something in Dothraki and Magister Illyrio translated.
“Silver for the silver of your hair, the khal says.”
“She’s beautiful,” Dany murmured.
“She is the pride of the khalasar,” Illyrio said. “Custom
decrees that the khaleesi must ride a mount worthy of her
place by the side of the khal.”
Drogo stepped forward and put his hands on her waist.
He lifted her up as easily as if she were a child and set her
on the thin Dothraki saddle, so much smaller than the ones
she was used to. Dany sat there uncertain for a moment.
No one had told her about this part. “What should I do?” she
asked Illyrio. It was Ser Jorah Mormont who answered.
“Take the reins and ride. You need not go far.”
Nervously Dany gathered the reins in her hands and slid
her feet into the short stirrups. She was only a fair rider; she
had spent far more time traveling by ship and wagon and
palanquin than by horseback. Praying that she would not fall
off and disgrace herself, she gave the filly the lightest and
most timid touch with her knees.
And for the first time in hours, she forgot to be afraid. Or
perhaps it was for the first time ever.
The silver-grey filly moved with a smooth and silken gait,
and the crowd parted for her, every eye upon them. Dany
found herself moving faster than she had intended, yet
somehow it was exciting rather than terrifying. The horse
broke into a trot, and she smiled. Dothraki scrambled to
clear a path. The slightest pressure with her legs, the
lightest touch on the reins, and the filly responded. She sent
it into a gallop, and now the Dothraki were hooting and
laughing and shouting at her as they jumped out of her way.
As she turned to ride back, a firepit loomed ahead, directlyin her path. They were hemmed in on either side, with no
room to stop. A daring she had never known filled
Daenerys then, and she gave the filly her head.
The silver horse leapt the flames as if she had wings.
When she pulled up before Magister Illyrio, she said, “Tell
Khal Drogo that he has given me the wind.” The fat
Pentoshi stroked his yellow beard as he repeated her
words in Dothraki, and Dany saw her new husband smile
for the first time.
The last sliver of sun vanished behind the high walls of
Pentos to the west just then. Dany had lost all track of time.
Khal Drogo commanded his bloodriders to bring forth his
own horse, a lean red stallion. As the khal was saddling the
horse, Viserys slid close to Dany on her silver, dug his
fingers into her leg, and said, “Please him, sweet sister, or I
swear, you will see the dragon wake as it has never woken
The fear came back to her then, with her brother’s words.
She felt like a child once more, only thirteen and all alone,
not ready for what was about to happen to her.
They rode out together as the stars came out, leaving the
khalasar and the grass palaces behind. Khal Drogo spoke
no word to her, but drove his stallion at a hard trot through
the gathering dusk. The tiny silver bells in his long braid
rang softly as he rode. “I am the blood of the dragon,” she
whispered aloud as she followed, trying to keep her
courage up. “I am the blood of the dragon. I am the blood of
the dragon.” The dragon was never afraid. Afterward she
could not say how far or how long they had ridden, but it
was full dark when they stopped at a grassy place beside a
small stream. Drogo swung off his horse and lifted her
down from hers. She felt as fragile as glass in his hands,her limbs as weak as water. She stood there helpless and
trembling in her wedding silks while he secured the horses,
and when he turned to look at her, she began to cry.
Khal Drogo stared at her tears, his face strangely empty
of expression. “No,” he said. He lifted his hand and rubbed
away the tears roughly with a callused thumb.
“You speak the Common Tongue,” Dany said in wonder.
“No,” he said again.
Perhaps he had only that word, she thought, but it was
one word more than she had known he had, and somehow
it made her feel a little better. Drogo touched her hair lightly,
sliding the silver-blond strands between his fingers and
murmuring softly in Dothraki. Dany did not understand the
words, yet there was warmth in the tone, a tenderness she
had never expected from this man.
He put his finger under her chin and lifted her head, so
she was looking up into his eyes. Drogo towered over her
as he towered over everyone. Taking her lightly under the
arms, he lifted her and seated her on a rounded rock
beside the stream. Then he sat on the ground facing her,
legs crossed beneath him, their faces finally at a height.
“No,” he said.
“Is that the only word you know?” she asked him.
Drogo did not reply. His long heavy braid was coiled in
the dirt beside him. He pulled it over his right shoulder and
began to remove the bells from his hair, one by one. After a
moment Dany leaned forward to help. When they were
done, Drogo gestured. She understood. Slowly, carefully,
she began to undo his braid.
It took a long time. All the while he sat there silently,
watching her. When she was done, he shook his head, and
his hair spread out behind him like a river of darkness,oiled and gleaming. She had never seen hair so long, so
black, so thick.
Then it was his turn. He began to undress her.
His fingers were deft and strangely tender. He removed
her silks one by one, carefully, while Dany sat unmoving,
silent, looking at his eyes. When he bared her small
breasts, she could not help herself. She averted her eyes
and covered herself with her hands. “No,” Drogo said. He
pulled her hands away from her breasts, gently but firmly,
then lifted her face again to make her look at him. “No,” he
“No,” she echoed back at him.
He stood her up then and pulled her close to remove the
last of her silks. The night air was chilly on her bare skin.
She shivered, and gooseflesh covered her arms and legs.
She was afraid of what would come next, but for a while
nothing happened. Khal Drogo sat with his legs crossed,
looking at her, drinking in her body with his eyes.
After a while he began to touch her. Lightly at first, then
harder. She could sense the fierce strength in his hands,
but he never hurt her. He held her hand in his own and
brushed her fingers, one by one. He ran a hand gently down
her leg. He stroked her face, tracing the curve of her ears,
running a finger gently around her mouth. He put both hands
in her hair and combed it with his fingers. He turned her
around, massaged her shoulders, slid a knuckle down the
path of her spine.
It seemed as if hours passed before his hands finally went
to her breasts. He stroked the soft skin underneath until it
tingled. He circled her nipples with his thumbs, pinched
them between thumb and forefinger, then began to pull at
her, very lightly at first, then more insistently, until hernipples stiffened and began to ache.
He stopped then, and drew her down onto his lap. Dany
was flushed and breathless, her heart fluttering in her chest.
He cupped her face in his huge hands and looked into his
eyes. “No?” he said, and she knew it was a question.
She took his hand and moved it down to the wetness
between her thighs. “Yes,” she whispered as she put his
finger inside her.
The summons came in the hour before the dawn,
when the world was still and grey.
Alyn shook him roughly from his dreams and Ned
stumbled into the predawn chill, groggy from sleep, to find
his horse saddled and the king already mounted. Robert
wore thick brown gloves and a heavy fur cloak with a hood
that covered his ears, and looked for all the world like a
bear sitting a horse. “Up, Stark!” he roared. “Up, up! We
have matters of state to discuss.”
“By all means,” Ned said. “Come inside, Your Grace.”
Alyn lifted the flap of the tent.
“No, no, no,” Robert said. His breath steamed with every
word. “The camp is full of ears. Besides, I want to ride out
and taste this country of yours.” Ser Boros and Ser Meryn
waited behind him with a dozen guardsmen, Ned saw.
There was nothing to do but rub the sleep from his eyes,
dress, and mount up.
Robert set the pace, driving his huge black destrier hard
as Ned galloped along beside him, trying to keep up. He
called out a question as they rode, but the wind blew his
words away, and the king did not hear him. After that Nedrode in silence. They soon left the kingsroad and took off
across rolling plains dark with mist. By then the guard had
fallen back a small distance, safely out of earshot, but still
Robert would not slow. Dawn broke as they crested a low
ridge, and finally the king pulled up. By then they were miles
south of the main party. Robert was flushed and exhilarated
as Ned reined up beside him. “Gods,” he swore, laughing,
“it feels good to get out and tide the way a man was meant
to ride! I swear, Ned, this creeping along is enough to drive
a man mad.” He had never been a patient man, Robert
Baratheon. “That damnable wheelhouse, the way it creaks
and groans, climbing every bump in the road as if it were a
mountain . . . I promise you, if that wretched thing breaks
another axle, I’m going to burn it, and Cersei can walk!”
Ned laughed. “Iwill gladly light the torch for you.”
“Good man!” The king clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ve
half a mind to leave them all behind and just keep going.”
A smile touched Ned’s lips. “I do believe you mean it.”
“I do, I do,” the king said. “What do you say, Ned? Just
you and me, two vagabond knights on the kingsroad, our
swords at our sides and the gods know what in front of us,
and maybe a farmer’s daughter or a tavern wench to warm
our beds tonight.”
“Would that we could,” Ned said, “but we have duties now,
my liege . . . to the realm, to our children, I to my lady wife
and you to your queen. We are not the boys we were.”
“You were never the boy you were,” Robert grumbled.
“More’s the pity. And yet there was that one time . . . what
was her name, that common girl of yours? Becca? No, she
was one of mine, gods love her, black hair and these sweet
big eyes, you could drown in them. Yours was . . . Aleena?
No. You told me once. Was it Merryl? You know the one Imean, your bastard’s mother?”
“Her name was Wylla,” Ned replied with cool courtesy,
“and Iwould sooner not speak of her.”
“Wylla. Yes.” The king grinned. “She must have been a
rare wench if she could make Lord Eddard Stark forget his
honor, even for an hour. You never told me what she looked
like . . .”
Ned’s mouth tightened in anger. “Nor will I. Leave it be,
Robert, for the love you say you bear me. I dishonored
myself and I dishonored Catelyn, in the sight of gods and
“Gods have mercy, you scarcely knew Catelyn.”
“I had taken her to wife. She was carrying my child.”
“You are too hard on yourself, Ned. You always were.
Damn it, no woman wants Baelor the Blessed in her bed.”
He slapped a hand on his knee. “Well, I’ll not press you if
you feel so strong about it, though I swear, at times you’re
so prickly you ought to take the hedgehog as your sigil.”
The rising sun sent fingers of light through the pale white
mists of dawn. A wide plain spread out beneath them, bare
and brown, its flatness here and there relieved by long, low
hummocks. Ned pointed them out to his king. “The barrows
of the First Men.”
Robert frowned. “Have we ridden onto a graveyard?”
“There are barrows everywhere in the north, Your Grace,”
Ned told him. “This land is old.”
“And cold,” Robert grumbled, pulling his cloak more tightly
around himself. The guard had reined up well behind them,
at the bottom of the ridge. “Well, I did not bring you out here
to talk of graves or bicker about your bastard. There was a
rider in the night, from Lord Varys in King’s Landing. Here.”
The king pulled a paper from his belt and handed it to Ned.Varys the eunuch was the king’s master of whisperers.
He served Robert now as he had once served Aerys
Targaryen. Ned unrolled the paper with trepidation, thinking
of Lysa and her terrible accusation, but the message did
not concern Lady Arryn. “What is the source for this
“Do you remember Ser Jorah Mormont?”
“Would that I might forget him,” Ned said bluntly. The
Mormonts of Bear Island were an old house, proud and
honorable, but their lands were cold and distant and poor.
Ser Jorah had tried to swell the family coffers by selling
some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver. As the Mormonts were
bannermen to the Starks, his crime had dishonored the
north. Ned had made the long journey west to Bear Island,
only to find when he arrived that Jorah had taken ship
beyond the reach of Ice and the king’s justice. Five years
had passed since then.
“Ser Jorah is now in Pentos, anxious to earn a royal
pardon that would allow him to return from exile,” Robert
explained. “Lord Varys makes good use of him.”
“So the slaver has become a spy,” Ned said with distaste.
He handed the letter back. “I would rather he become a
“Varys tells me that spies are more useful than corpses,”
Robert said. “Jorah aside, what do you make of his
“Daenerys Targaryen has wed some Dothraki horselord.
What of it? Shall we send her a wedding gift?”
The king frowned. “A knife, perhaps. A good sharp one,
and a bold man to wield it.”
Ned did not feign surprise; Robert’s hatred of the
Targaryens was a madness in him. He remembered theangry words they had exchanged when Tywin Lannister had
presented Robert with the corpses of Rhaegar’s wife and
children as a token of fealty. Ned had named that murder;
Robert called it war. When he had protested that the young
prince and princess were no more than babes, his newmade king had replied, “I see no babes. Only
dragonspawn.” Not even Jon Arryn had been able to calm
that storm. Eddard Stark had ridden out that very day in a
cold rage, to fight the last battles of the war alone in the
south. It had taken another death to reconcile them;
Lyanna’s death, and the grief they had shared over her
This time, Ned resolved to keep his temper. “Your Grace,
the girl is scarcely more than a child. You are no Tywin
Lannister, to slaughter innocents.” It was said that
Rhaegar’s little girl had cried as they dragged her from
beneath her bed to face the swords. The boy had been no
more than a babe in arms, yet Lord Tywin’s soldiers had
torn him from his mother’s breast and dashed his head
against a wall.
“And how long will this one remain an innocent?” Robert’s
mouth grew hard. “This child will soon enough spread her
legs and start breeding more dragonspawn to plague me.”
“Nonetheless,” Ned said, “the murder of children . . . it
would be vile . . . unspeakable . . .”
“Unspeakable?” the king roared. “What Aerys did to your
brother Brandon was unspeakable. The way your lord father
died, that was unspeakable. And Rhaegar . . . how many
times do you think he raped your sister? How many
hundreds of times?” His voice had grown so loud that his
horse whinnied nervously beneath him. The king jerked the
reins hard, quieting the animal, and pointed an angry fingerat Ned. “I will kill every Targaryen I can get my hands on,
until they are as dead as their dragons, and then I will piss
on their graves.”
Ned knew better than to defy him when the wrath was on
him. If the years had not quenched Robert’s thirst for
revenge, no words of his would help. “You can’t get your
hands on this one, can you?” he said quietly.
The king’s mouth twisted in a bitter grimace. “No, gods
be cursed. Some pox-ridden Pentoshi cheesemonger had
her brother and her walled up on his estate with pointyhatted eunuchs all around them, and now he’s handed them
over to the Dothraki. I should have had them both killed
years ago, when it was easy to get at them, but Jon was as
bad as you. More fool I, I listened to him.”
“Jon Arryn was a wise man and a good Hand.”
Robert snorted. The anger was leaving him as suddenly
as it had come. “This Khal Drogo is said to have a hundred
thousand men in his horde. What would Jon say to that?”
“He would say that even a million Dothraki are no threat to
the realm, so long as they remain on the other side of the
narrow sea,” Ned replied calmly. “The barbarians have no
ships. They hate and fear the open sea.”
The king shifted uncomfortably in his saddle. “Perhaps.
There are ships to be had in the Free Cities, though. I tell
you, Ned, I do not like this marriage. There are still those in
the Seven Kingdoms who call me Usurper. Do you forget
how many houses fought for Targaryen in the war? They
bide their time for now, but give them half a chance, they
will murder me in my bed, and my sons with me. If the
beggar king crosses with a Dothraki horde at his back, the
traitors will join him.”
“He will not cross,” Ned promised. “And if by somemischance he does, we will throw him back into the sea.
Once you choose a new Warden of the East—”
The king groaned. “For the last time, I will not name the
Arryn boy Warden. I know the boy is your nephew, but with
Targaryens climbing in bed with Dothraki, I would be mad
to rest one quarter of the realm on the shoulders of a sickly
Ned was ready for that. “Yet we still must have a Warden
of the East. If Robert Arryn will not do, name one of your
brothers. Stannis proved himself at the siege of Storm’s
He let the name hang there for a moment. The king
frowned and said nothing. He looked uncomfortable.
“That is,” Ned finished quietly, watching, “unless you have
already promised the honor to another.”
For a moment Robert had the grace to look startled. Just
as quickly, the look became annoyance. “What if I have?”
“It’s Jaime Lannister, is it not?”
Robert kicked his horse back into motion and started
down the ridge toward the barrows. Ned kept pace with
him. The king rode on, eyes straight ahead. “Yes,” he said
at last. A single hard word to end the matter.
“Kingslayer,” Ned said. The rumors were true, then. He
rode on dangerous ground now, he knew. “An able and
courageous man, no doubt,” he said carefully, “but his
father is Warden of the West, Robert. In time Ser Jaime will
succeed to that honor. No one man should hold both East
and West.” He left unsaid his real concern; that the
appointment would put half the armies of the realm into the
hands of Lannisters.
“I will fight that battle when the enemy appears on the
field,” the king said stubbornly. “At the moment, Lord Tywinlooms eternal as Casterly Rock, so I doubt that Jaime will
be succeeding anytime soon. Don’t vex me about this, Ned,
the stone has been set.”
“Your Grace, may I speak frankly?”
“I seem unable to stop you,” Robert grumbled. They rode
through tall brown grasses.
“Can you trust Jaime Lannister?”
“He is my wife’s twin, a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard,
his life and fortune and honor all bound to mine.”
“As they were bound to Aerys Targaryen’s,” Ned pointed
“Why should I mistrust him? He has done everything I
have ever asked of him. His sword helped win the throne I
His sword helped taint the throne you sit on, Ned thought,
but he did not permit the words to pass his lips. “He swore
a vow to protect his king’s life with his own. Then he
opened that king’s throat with a sword.”
“Seven hells, someone had to kill Aerys!” Robert said,
reining his mount to a sudden halt beside an ancient
barrow. “If Jaime hadn’t done it, it would have been left for
you or me.”
“We were not Sworn Brothers of the Kingsguard,” Ned
said. The time had come for Robert to hear the whole truth,
he decided then and there. “Do you remember the Trident,
“Iwon my crown there. How should I forget it?”
“You took a wound from Rhaegar,” Ned reminded him.
“So when the Targaryen host broke and ran, you gave the
pursuit into my hands. The remnants of Rhaegar’s army fled
back to King’s Landing. We followed. Aerys was in the Red
Keep with several thousand loyalists. I expected to find thegates closed to us.”
Robert gave an impatient shake of his head. “Instead you
found that our men had already taken the city. What of it?”
“Not our men,” Ned said patiently. “Lannister men. The
lion of Lannister flew over the ramparts, not the crowned
stag. And they had taken the city by treachery.”
The war had raged for close to a year. Lords great and
small had flocked to Robert’s banners; others had
remained loyal to Targaryen. The mighty Lannisters of
Casterly Rock, the Wardens of the West, had remained
aloof from the struggle, ignoring calls to arms from both
rebels and royalists. Aerys Targaryen must have thought
that his gods had answered his prayers when Lord Tywin
Lannister appeared before the gates of King’s Landing
with an army twelve thousand strong, professing loyalty. So
the mad king had ordered his last mad act. He had opened
his city to the lions at the gate.
“Treachery was a coin the Targaryens knew well,” Robert
said. The anger was building in him again. “Lannister paid
them back in kind. It was no less than they deserved. I shall
not trouble my sleep over it.”
“You were not there,” Ned said, bitterness in his voice.
Troubled sleep was no stranger to him. He had lived his
lies for fourteen years, yet they still haunted him at night.
“There was no honor in that conquest.”
“The Others take your honor!” Robert swore. “What did
any Targaryen ever know of honor? Go down into your crypt
and ask Lyanna about the dragon’s honor!”
“You avenged Lyanna at the Trident,” Ned said, halting
beside the king. Promise me, Ned, she had whispered.
“That did not bring her back.” Robert looked away, off into
the grey distance. “The gods be damned. It was a hollowvictory they gave me. A crown . . . it was the girl I prayed
them for. Your sister, safe . . . and mine again, as she was
meant to be. I ask you, Ned, what good is it to wear a
crown? The gods mock the prayers of kings and cowherds
“I cannot answer for the gods, Your Grace . . . only for
what I found when I rode into the throne room that day,” Ned
said. “Aerys was dead on the floor, drowned in his own
blood. His dragon skulls stared down from the walls.
Lannister’s men were everywhere. Jaime wore the white
cloak of the Kingsguard over his golden armor. I can see
him still. Even his sword was gilded. He was seated on the
Iron Throne, high above his knights, wearing a helm
fashioned in the shape of a lion’s head. How he glittered!”
“This is well known,” the king complained.
“I was still mounted. I rode the length of the hall in silence,
between the long rows of dragon skulls. It felt as though they
were watching me, somehow. I stopped in front of the
throne, looking up at him. His golden sword was across his
legs, its edge red with a king’s blood. My men were filling
the room behind me. Lannister’s men drew back. I never
said a word. I looked at him seated there on the throne, and
I waited. At last Jaime laughed and got up. He took off his
helm, and he said to me, ‘Have no fear, Stark. I was only
keeping it warm for our friend Robert. It’s not a very
comfortable seat, I’m afraid.’”
The king threw back his head and roared. His laughter
startled a flight of crows from the tall brown grass. They
took to the air in a wild beating of wings. “You think I should
mistrust Lannister because he sat on my throne for a few
moments?” He shook with laughter again. “Jaime was all of
seventeen, Ned. Scarce more than a boy.”“Boy or man, he had no right to that throne.”
“Perhaps he was tired,” Robert suggested. “Killing kings
is weary work. Gods know, there’s no place else to rest
your ass in that damnable room. And he spoke truly, it is a
monstrous uncomfortable chair. In more ways than one.”
The king shook his head. “Well, now I know Jaime’s dark
sin, and the matter can be forgotten. I am heartily sick of
secrets and squabbles and matters of state, Ned. It’s all as
tedious as counting coppers. Come, let’s ride, you used to
know how. I want to feel the wind in my hair again.” He
kicked his horse back into motion and galloped up over the
barrow, raining earth down behind him.
For a moment Ned did not follow. He had run out of
words, and he was filled with a vast sense of helplessness.
Not for the first time, he wondered what he was doing here
and why he had come. He was no Jon Arryn, to curb the
wildness of his king and teach him wisdom. Robert would
do what he pleased, as he always had, and nothing Ned
could say or do would change that. He belonged in
Winterfell. He belonged with Catelyn in her grief, and with
A man could not always be where he belonged, though.
Resigned, Eddard Stark put his boots into his horse and
set off after the king.