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

Her father had been fighting with the council again.
Arya could see it on his face when he came to table, late
again, as he had been so often. The first course, a thick
sweet soup made with pumpkins, had already been taken
away when Ned Stark strode into the Small Hall. They
called it that to set it apart from the Great Hall, where the
king could feast a thousand, but it was a long room with ahigh vaulted ceiling and bench space for two hundred at its
trestle tables.
“My lord,” Jory said when Father entered. He rose to his
feet, and the rest of the guard rose with him. Each man
wore a new cloak, heavy grey wool with a white satin
border. A hand of beaten silver clutched the woolen folds of
each cloak and marked their wearers as men of the Hand’s
household guard. There were only fifty of them, so most of
the benches were empty.
“Be seated,” Eddard Stark said. “I see you have started
without me. I am pleased to know there are still some men
of sense in this city.” He signaled for the meal to resume.
The servants began bringing out platters of ribs, roasted in
a crust of garlic and herbs.
“The talk in the yard is we shall have a tourney, my lord,”
Jory said as he resumed his seat. “They say that knights
will come from all over the realm to joust and feast in honor
of your appointment as Hand of the King.” Arya could see
that her father was not very happy about that. “Do they also
say this is the last thing in the world Iwould have wished?”
Sansa’s eyes had grown wide as the plates. “A tourney,”
she breathed. She was seated between Septa Mordane
and Jeyne Poole, as far from Arya as she could get without
drawing a reproach from Father. “Will we be permitted to
go, Father?”
“You know my feelings, Sansa. It seems I must arrange
Robert’s games and pretend to be honored for his sake.
That does not mean I must subject my daughters to this
“Oh, please,” Sansa said. “Iwant to see.”
Septa Mordane spoke up. “Princess Myrcella will be
there, my lord, and her younger than Lady Sansa. All theladies of the court will be expected at a grand event like
this, and as the tourney is in your honor, it would look queer
if your family did not attend.”
Father looked pained. “I suppose so. Very well, I shall
arrange a place for you, Sansa.” He saw Arya. “For both of
“I don’t care about their stupid tourney,” Arya said. She
knew Prince Joffrey would be there, and she hated Prince
Sansa lifted her head. “It will be a splendid event. You
shan’t be wanted.”
Anger flashed across Father’s face. “Enough, Sansa.
More of that and you will change my mind. I am weary unto
death of this endless war you two are fighting. You are
sisters. I expect you to behave like sisters, is that
Sansa bit her lip and nodded. Arya lowered her face to
stare sullenly at her plate. She could feel tears stinging her
eyes. She rubbed them away angrily, determined not to cry.
The only sound was the clatter of knives and forks. “Pray
excuse me,” her father announced to the table. “I find I have
small appetite tonight.” He walked from the hall.
After he was gone, Sansa exchanged excited whispers
with Jeyne Poole. Down the table Jory laughed at a joke,
and Hullen started in about horseflesh. “Your warhorse,
now, he may not be the best one for the joust. Not the same
thing, oh, no, not the same at all.” The men had heard it all
before; Desmond, Jacks, and Hullen’s son Harwin shouted
him down together, and Porther called for more wine.
No one talked to Arya. She didn’t care. She liked it that
way. She would have eaten her meals alone in her
bedchamber if they let her. Sometimes they did, whenFather had to dine with the king or some lord or the envoys
from this place or that place. The rest of the time, they ate in
his solar, just him and her and Sansa. That was when Arya
missed her brothers most. She wanted to tease Bran and
play with baby Rickon and have Robb smile at her. She
wanted Jon to muss up her hair and call her “little sister”
and finish her sentences with her. But all of them were
gone. She had no one left but Sansa, and Sansa wouldn’t
even talk to her unless Father made her.
Back at Winterfell, they had eaten in the Great Hall almost
half the time. Her father used to say that a lord needed to
eat with his men, if he hoped to keep them. “Know the men
who follow you,” she heard him tell Robb once, “and let
them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.”
At Winterfell, he always had an extra seat set at his own
table, and every day a different man would be asked to join
him. One night it would be Vayon Poole, and the talk would
be coppers and bread stores and servants. The next time it
would be Mikken, and her father would listen to him go on
about armor and swords and how hot a forge should be
and the best way to temper steel. Another day it might be
Hullen with his endless horse talk, or Septon Chayle from
the library, or Jory, or Ser Rodrik, or even Old Nan with her
Arya had loved nothing better than to sit at her father’s
table and listen to them talk. She had loved listening to the
men on the benches too; to freeriders tough as leather,
courtly knights and bold young squires, grizzled old men-atarms. She used to throw snowballs at them and help them
steal pies from the kitchen. Their wives gave her scones
and she invented names for their babies and played
monsters-and-maidens and hide-the-treasure and come-into-my-castle with their children. Fat Tom used to call her
“Arya Underfoot,” because he said that was where she
always was. She’d liked that a lot better than “Arya
Only that was Winterfell, a world away, and now
everything was changed. This was the first time they had
supped with the men since arriving in King’s Landing. Arya
hated it. She hated the sounds of their voices now, the way
they laughed, the stories they told. They’d been her friends,
she’d felt safe around them, but now she knew that was a
lie. They’d let the queen kill Lady, that was horrible enough,
but then the Hound found Mycah. Jeyne Poole had told Arya
that he’d cut him up in so many pieces that they’d given him
back to the butcher in a bag, and at first the poor man had
thought it was a pig they’d slaughtered. And no one had
raised a voice or drawn a blade or anything, not Harwin
who always talked so bold, or Alyn who was going to be a
knight, or Jory who was captain of the guard. Not even her
“He was my friend,” Arya whispered into her plate, so low
that no one could hear. Her ribs sat there untouched, grown
cold now, a thin film of grease congealing beneath them on
the plate. Arya looked at them and felt ill. She pushed away
from the table. ”Pray, where do you think you are going,
young lady?” Septa Mordane asked.
“I’m not hungry.” Arya found it an effort to remember her
courtesies. “May I be excused, please?” she recited stiffly.
“You may not,” the septa said. “You have scarcely touched
your food. You will sit down and clean your plate.”
“You clean it!” Before anyone could stop her, Arya bolted
for the door as the men laughed and Septa Mordane called
loudly after her, her voice rising higher and higher.Fat Tom was at his post, guarding the door to the Tower
of the Hand. He blinked when he saw Arya rushing toward
him and heard the septa’s shouts. “Here now, little one,
hold on,” he started to say, reaching, but Arya slid between
his legs and then she was running up the winding tower
steps, her feet hammering on the stone while Fat Tom
huffed and puffed behind her.
Her bedchamber was the only place that Arya liked in all
of King’s Landing, and the thing she liked best about it was
the door, a massive slab of dark oak with black iron bands.
When she slammed that door and dropped the heavy
crossbar, nobody could get into her room, not Septa
Mordane or Fat Tom or Sansa or Jory or the Hound,
nobody! She slammed it now.
When the bar was down, Arya finally felt safe enough to
She went to the window seat and sat there, sniffling,
hating them all, and herself most of all. It was all her fault,
everything bad that had happened. Sansa said so, and
Jeyne too.
Fat Tom was knocking on her door. “Arya girl, what’s
wrong?” he called out. “You in there?”
“No!” she shouted. The knocking stopped. A moment
later she heard him going away. Fat Tom was always easy
to fool.
Arya went to the chest at the foot of her bed. She knelt,
opened the lid, and began pulling her clothes out with both
hands, grabbing handfuls of silk and satin and velvet and
wool and tossing them on the floor. It was there at the
bottom of the chest, where she’d hidden it. Arya lifted it out
almost tenderly and drew the slender blade from its sheath.
Needle.She thought of Mycah again and her eyes filled with tears.
Her fault, her fault, her fault. If she had never asked him to
play at swords with her . . .
There was a pounding at her door, louder than before.
‘Arya Stark, you open this door at once, do you hear me?”
Arya spun around, with Needle in her hand. “You better
not come in here!” she warned. She slashed at the air
savagely. “The Hand will hear of this!” Septa Mordane
“I don’t care,” Arya screamed. “Go away.”
“You will rue this insolent behavior, young lady, I promise
you that.
Arya listened at the door until she heard the sound of the
septa’s receding footsteps.
She went back to the window, Needle in hand, and
looked down into the courtyard below. If only she could
climb like Bran, she thought; she would go out the window
and down the tower, run away from this horrible place, away
from Sansa and Septa Mordane and Prince Joffrey, from
all of them. Steal some food from the kitchens, take Needle
and her good boots and a warm cloak. She could find
Nymeria in the wild woods below the Trident, and together
they’d return to Winterfell, or run to Jon on the Wall. She
found herself wishing that Jon was here with her now. Then
maybe she wouldn’t feel so alone.
A soft knock at the door behind her turned Arya away
from the window and her dreams of escape. “Arya,” her
father’s voice called out. “Open the door. We need to talk.”
Arya crossed the room and lifted the crossbar. Father
was alone. He seemed more sad than angry. That made
Arya feel even worse. “May I come in?” Arya nodded, then
dropped her eyes, ashamed. Father closed the door.“Whose sword is that?”
“Mine.” Arya had almost forgotten Needle, in her hand.
“Give it to me.”
ReluctantlyArya surrendered her sword, wondering if she
would ever hold it again. Her father turned it in the light,
examining both sides of the blade. He tested the point with
his thumb. “A bravo’s blade,” he said. “Yet it seems to me
that I know this maker’s mark. This is Mikken’s work.”
Arya could not lie to him. She lowered her eyes.
Lord Eddard Stark sighed. “My nine-year-old daughter is
being armed from my own forge, and I know nothing of it.
The Hand of the King is expected to rule the Seven
Kingdoms, yet it seems I cannot even rule my own
household. How is it that you come to own a sword, Arya?
Where did you get this?”
Arya chewed her lip and said nothing. She would not
betray Jon, not even to their father.
After a while, Father said, “I don’t suppose it matters,
truly.” He looked down gravely at the sword in his hands.
“This is no toy for children, least of all for a girl. What would
Septa Mordane say if she knew you were playing with
“Iwasn’t playing,” Arya insisted. “I hate Septa Mordane.”
“That’s enough.” Her father’s voice was curt and hard.
“The septa is doing no more than is her duty, though gods
know you have made it a struggle for the poor woman. Your
mother and I have charged her with the impossible task of
making you a lady.”
“I don’t want to be a lady!” Arya flared.
“I ought to snap this toy across my knee here and now,
and put an end to this nonsense.”
“Needle wouldn’t break,” Arya said defiantly, but her voicebetrayed her words.
“It has a name, does it?” Her father sighed. “Ah,Arya. You
have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father
used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother
Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early
grave.” Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often
speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had
died before she was born. “Lyanna might have carried a
sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of
her sometimes. You even look like her.”
“Lyanna was beautiful,” Arya said, startled. Everybody
said so. It was not a thing that was ever said of Arya.
“She was,” Eddard Stark agreed, “beautiful, and willful,
and dead before her time.” He lifted the sword, held it out
between them. “Arya, what did you think to do with this . . .
Needle? Who did you hope to skewer? Your sister? Septa
Mordane? Do you know the first thing about sword
All she could think of was the lesson Jon had given her.
“Stick them with the pointy end,” she blurted out.
Her father snorted back laughter. “That is the essence of
it, I suppose.”
Arya desperately wanted to explain, to make him see. “I
was trying to learn, but . . .” Her eyes filled with tears. “I
asked Mycah to practice with me.” The grief came on her
all at once. She turned away, shaking. “I asked him,” she
cried. “It was my fault, it was me . . .”
Suddenly her father’s arms were around her. He held her
gently as she turned to him and sobbed against his chest.
“No, sweet one,” he murmured. “Grieve for your friend, but
never blame yourself. You did not kill the butcher’s boy. That
murder lies at the Hound’s door, him and the cruel womanhe serves.”
“I hate them,” Arya confided, red-faced, sniffling. “The
Hound and the queen and the king and Prince Joffrey. I
hate all of them. Joffrey lied, it wasn’t the way he said. I hate
Sansa too. She did remember, she just lied so Joffrey
would like her.”
“We all lie,” her father said. “Or did you truly think I’d
believe that Nymeria ran off?”
Arya blushed guiltily. “Jory promised not to tell.”
“Jory kept his word,” her father said with a smile. “There
are some things I do not need to be told. Even a blind man
could see that wolf would never have left you willingly.”
“We had to throw rocks,” she said miserably. “I told her to
run, to go be free, that I didn’t want her anymore. There
were other wolves for her to play with, we heard them
howling, and Jory said the woods were full of game, so
she’d have deer to hunt. Only she kept following, and finally
we had to throw rocks. I hit her twice. She whined and
looked at me and I felt so ‘shamed, but it was right, wasn’t
it? The queen would have killed her.”
“It was right,” her father said. “And even the lie was . . . not
without honor.” He’d put Needle aside when he went to
Arya to embrace her. Now he took the blade up again and
walked to the window, where he stood for a moment,
looking out across the courtyard. When he turned back, his
eyes were thoughtful. He seated himself on the window
seat, Needle across his lap. “Arya, sit down. I need to try
and explain some things to you.”
She perched anxiously on the edge of her bed. “You are
too young to be burdened with all my cares,” he told her,
“but you are also a Stark of Winterfell. You know our words.”
“Winter is coming,” Arya whispered.“The hard cruel times,” her father said. “We tasted them
on the Trident, child, and when Bran fell. You were born in
the long summer, sweet one, you’ve never known anything
else, but now the winter is truly coming. Remember the sigil
of our House, Arya.”
“The direwolf,” she said, thinking of Nymeria. She hugged
her knees against her chest, suddenly afraid.
“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the
snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but
the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In
winter, we must protect one another, keep each other
warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate
those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a
good woman, and Sansa . . . Sansa is your sister. You may
be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same
blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she
needs you . . . and I need both of you, gods help me.”
He sounded so tired that it made Arya sad. “I don’t hate
Sansa,” she told him. “Not truly.” It was only half a lie.
“I do not mean to frighten you, but neither will I lie to you.
We have come to a dark dangerous place, child. This is not
Winterfell. We have enemies who mean us ill. We cannot
fight a war among ourselves. This willfulness of yours, the
running off, the angry words, the disobedience . . . at home,
these were only the summer games of a child. Here and
now, with winter soon upon us, that is a different matter. It is
time to begin growing up.”
“I will,” Arya vowed. She had never loved him so much as
she did in that instant. “I can be strong too. I can be as
strong as Robb.”
He held Needle out to her, hilt first. “Here.”
She looked at the sword with wonder in her eyes. For amoment she was afraid to touch it, afraid that if she
reached for it it would be snatched away again, but then her
father said, “Go on, it’s yours,” and she took it in her hand.
“I can keep it?” she said. “For true?”
“For true.” He smiled. “If I took it away, no doubt I’d find a
morningstar hidden under your pillow within the fortnight. Try
not to stab your sister, whatever the provocation.”
“I won’t. I promise.” Arya clutched Needle tightly to her
chest as her father took his leave.
The next morning, as they broke their fast, she apologized
to Septa Mordane and asked for her pardon. The septa
peered at her suspiciously, but Father nodded.
Three days later, at midday, her father’s steward Vayon
Poole sent Arya to the Small Hall. The trestle tables had
been dismantled and the benches shoved against the
walls. The hall seemed empty, until an unfamiliar voice said,
“You are late, boy.” A slight man with a bald head and a
great beak of a nose stepped out of the shadows, holding a
pair of slender wooden swords. “Tomorrow you will be here
at midday.” He had an accent, the lilt of the Free Cities,
Braavos perhaps, or Myr.
“Who are you?” Arya asked.
“I am your dancing master.” He tossed her one of the
wooden blades. She grabbed for it, missed, and heard it
clatter to the floor. “Tomorrow you will catch it. Now pick it
It was not just a stick, but a true wooden sword complete
with grip and guard and pommel. Arya picked it up and
clutched it nervously with both hands, holding it out in front
of her. It was heavier than it looked, much heavier than
The bald man clicked his teeth together. “That is not theway, boy. This is not a greatsword that is needing two
hands to swing it. You will take the blade in one hand.”
“It’s too heavy,” Arya said. “It is heavy as it needs to be to
make you strong, and for the balancing. A hollow inside is
filled with lead, just so. One hand now is all that is needing.”
Arya took her right hand off the grip and wiped her sweaty
palm on her pants. She held the sword in her left hand. He
seemed to approve. “The left is good. All is reversed, it will
make your enemies more awkward. Now you are standing
wrong. Turn your body sideface, yes, so. You are skinny as
the shaft of a spear, do you know. That is good too, the
target is smaller. Now the grip. Let me see.” He moved
closer and peered at her hand, prying her fingers apart,
rearranging them. “Just so, yes. Do not squeeze it so tight,
no, the grip must be deft, delicate.”
“What if I drop it?” Arya said.
“The steel must be part of your arm,” the bald man told
her. “Can you drop part of your arm? No. Nine years Syrio
Forel was first sword to the Sealord of Braavos, he knows
these things. Listen to him, boy.”
It was the third time he had called her “boy.” “I’m a girl,”
Arya objected.
“Boy, girl,” Syrio Forel said. “You are a sword, that is all.”
He clicked his teeth together. “Just so, that is the grip. You
are not holding a battle-axe, you are holding a—”
“—needle,” Arya finished for him, fiercely.
“Just so. Now we will begin the dance. Remember, child,
this is not the iron dance of Westeros we are learning, the
knight’s dance, hacking and hammering, no. This is the
bravo’s dance, the water dance, swift and sudden. All men
are made of water, do you know this? When you pierce
them, the water leaks out and they die.” He took a stepbackward, raised his own wooden blade. “Now you will try
to strike me.”
Arya tried to strike him. She tried for four hours, until every
muscle in her body was sore and aching, while Syrio Forel
clicked his teeth together and told her what to do.
The next day their real work began.
“The Dothraki sea,” Ser Jorah Mormont said as he
reined to a halt beside her on the top of the ridge.
Beneath them, the plain stretched out immense and
empty, a vast flat expanse that reached to the distant
horizon and beyond. It was a sea, Dany thought. Past here,
there were no hills, no mountains, no trees nor cities nor
roads, only the endless grasses, the tall blades rippling like
waves when the winds blew. “It’s so green,” she said.
“Here and now,” Ser Jorah agreed. “You ought to see it
when it blooms, all dark red flowers from horizon to horizon,
like a sea of blood. Come the dry season, and the world
turns the color of old bronze. And this is only hranna, child.
There are a hundred kinds of grass out there, grasses as
yellow as lemon and as dark as indigo, blue grasses and
orange grasses and grasses like rainbows. Down in the
Shadow Lands beyond Asshai, they say there are oceans
of ghost grass, taller than a man on horseback with stalks
as pale as milkglass. It murders all other grass and glows in
the dark with the spirits of the damned. The Dothraki claim
that someday ghost grass will cover the entire world, and
then all life will end.”
That thought gave Dany the shivers. “I don’t want to talk
about that now,” she said. “It’s so beautiful here, I don’t wantto think about everything dying.”
“As you will, Khaleesi,” Ser Jorah said respectfully.
She heard the sound of voices and turned to look behind
her. She and Mormont had outdistanced the rest of their
party, and now the others were climbing the ridge below
them. Her handmaid Irri and the young archers of her khas
were fluid as centaurs, but Viserys still struggled with the
short stirrups and the flat saddle. Her brother was
miserable out here. He ought never have come. Magister
Illyrio had urged him to wait in Pentos, had offered him the
hospitality of his manse, but Viserys would have none of it.
He would stay with Drogo until the debt had been paid, until
he had the crown he had been promised. “And if he tries to
cheat me, he will learn to his sorrow what it means to wake
the dragon,” Viserys had vowed, laying a hand on his
borrowed sword. Illyrio had blinked at that and wished him
good fortune.
Dany realized that she did not want to listen to any of her
brother’s complaints right now. The day was too perfect.
The sky was a deep blue, and high above them a hunting
hawk circled. The grass sea swayed and sighed with each
breath of wind, the air was warm on her face, and Dany felt
at peace. She would not let Viserys spoil it.
“Wait here,” Dany told Ser Jorah. “Tell them all to stay.
Tell them I command it.”
The knight smiled. Ser Jorah was not a handsome man.
He had a neck and shoulders like a bull, and coarse black
hair covered his arms and chest so thickly that there was
none left for his head. Yet his smiles gave Dany comfort.
“You are learning to talk like a queen, Daenerys.”
“Not a queen,” said Dany. “A khaleesi.” She wheeled her
horse about and galloped down the ridge alone.The descent was steep and rocky, but Dany rode
fearlessly, and the joy and the danger of it were a song in
her heart. All her life Viserys had told her she was a
princess, but not until she rode her silver had Daenerys
Targaryen ever felt like one.
At first it had not come easy. The khalasar had broken
camp the morning after her wedding, moving east toward
Vaes Dothrak, and by the third day Dany thought she was
going to die. Saddle sores opened on her bottom, hideous
and bloody. Her thighs were chafed raw, her hands
blistered from the reins, the muscles of her legs and back
so wracked with pain that she could scarcely sit. By the
time dusk fell, her handmaids would need to help her down
from her mount.
Even the nights brought no relief. Khal Drogo ignored her
when they rode, even as he had ignored her during their
wedding, and spent his evenings drinking with his warriors
and bloodriders, racing his prize horses, watching women
dance and men die. Dany had no place in these parts of his
life. She was left to sup alone, or with Ser Jorah and her
brother, and afterward to cry herself to sleep. Yet every
night, some time before the dawn, Drogo would come to
her tent and wake her in the dark, to ride her as relentlessly
as he rode his stallion. He always took her from behind,
Dothraki fashion, for which Dany was grateful; that way her
lord husband could not see the tears that wet her face, and
she could use her pillow to muffle her cries of pain. When
he was done, he would close his eyes and begin to snore
softly and Dany would lie beside him, her body bruised and
sore, hurting too much for sleep.
Day followed day, and night followed night, until Dany
knew she could not endure a moment longer. She would killherself rather than go on, she decided one night . . .
Yet when she slept that night, she dreamt the dragon
dream again. Viserys was not in it this time. There was only
her and the dragon. Its scales were black as night, wet and
slick with blood. Her blood, Dany sensed. Its eyes were
pools of molten magma, and when it opened its mouth, the
flame came roaring out in a hot jet. She could hear it
singing to her, She opened her arms to the fire, embraced
it, let it swallow her whole, let it cleanse her and temper her
and scour her clean. She could feel her flesh sear and
blacken and slough away, could feel her blood boil and turn
to steam, and yet there was no pain. She felt strong and
new and fierce.
And the next day, strangely, she did not seem to hurt quite
so much. It was as if the gods had heard her and taken pity.
Even her handmaids noticed the change. “Khaleesi,” Jhiqui
said, “what is wrong? Are you sick?”
“I was,” she answered, standing over the dragon’s eggs
that Illyrio had given her when she wed. She touched one,
the largest of the three, running her hand lightly over the
shelf. Black-and-scarlet, she thought, like the dragon in my
dream. The stone felt strangely warm beneath her fingers . .
. or was she still dreaming? She pulled her hand back
From that hour onward, each day was easier than the one
before it. Her legs grew stronger; her blisters burst and her
hands grew callused; her soft thighs toughened, supple as
The khal had commanded the handmaid Irri to teach
Dany to ride in the Dothraki fashion, but it was the filly who
was her real teacher. The horse seemed to know her
moods, as if they shared a single mind. With every passingday, Dany felt surer in her seat. The Dothraki were a hard
and unsentimental people, and it was not their custom to
name their animals, so Dany thought of her only as the
silver. She had never loved anything so much.
As the riding became less an ordeal, Dany began to
notice the beauties of the land around her. She rode at the
head of the khalasar with Drogo and his bloodriders, so
she came to each country fresh and unspoiled. Behind
them the great horde might tear the earth and muddy the
rivers and send up clouds of choking dust, but the fields
ahead of them were always green and verdant.
They crossed the rolling hills of Norvos, past terraced
farms and small villages where the townsfolk watched
anxiously from atop white stucco walls. They forded three
wide placid rivers and a fourth that was swift and narrow
and treacherous, camped beside a high blue waterfall,
skirted the tumbled ruins of a vast dead city where ghosts
were said to moan among blackened marble columns.
They raced down Valyrian roads a thousand years old and
straight as a Dothraki arrow. For half a moon, they rode
through the Forest of Qohor, where the leaves made a
golden canopy high above them, and the trunks of the trees
were as wide as city gates. There were great elk in that
wood, and spotted tigers, and lemurs with silver fur and
huge purple eyes, but all fled before the approach of the
khalasar and Dany got no glimpse of them.
By then her agony was a fading memory. She still ached
after a long day’s riding, yet somehow the pain had a
sweetness to it now, and each morning she came willingly
to her saddle, eager to know what wonders waited for her
in the lands ahead. She began to find pleasure even in her
nights, and if she still cried out when Drogo took her, it wasnot always in pain.
At the bottom of the ridge, the grasses rose around her,
tall and supple. Dany slowed to a trot and rode out onto the
plain, losing herself in the green, blessedly alone. In the
khalasar she was never alone. Khal Drogo came to her only
after the sun went down, but her handmaids fed her and
bathed her and slept by the door of her tent, Drogo’s
bloodriders and the men of her khas were never far, and
her brother was an unwelcome shadow, day and night.
Dany could hear him on the top of the ridge, his voice shrill
with anger as he shouted at Ser Jorah. She rode on,
submerging herself deeper in the Dothraki sea.
The green swallowed her up. The air was rich with the
scents of earth and grass, mixed with the smell of
horseflesh and Dany’s sweat and the oil in her hair.
Dothraki smells. They seemed to belong here. Dany
breathed it all in, laughing. She had a sudden urge to feel
the ground beneath her, to curl her toes in that thick black
soil. Swinging down from her saddle, she let the silver
graze while she pulled off her high boots.
Viserys came upon her as sudden as a summer storm,
his horse rearing beneath him as he reined up too hard.
“You dare!” he screamed at her. “You give commands to
me? To me?” He vaulted off the horse, stumbling as he
landed. His face was flushed as he struggled back to his
feet. He grabbed her, shook her. “Have you forgotten who
you are? Look at you. Look at you!”
Dany did not need to look. She was barefoot, with oiled
hair, wearing Dothraki riding leathers and a painted vest
given her as a bride gift. She looked as though she
belonged here. Viserys was soiled and stained in city silks
and ringmail.He was still screaming. “You do not command the dragon.
Do you understand? I am the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms,
I will not hear orders from some horselord’s slut, do you
hear me?” His hand went under her vest, his fingers digging
painfully into her breast. “Do you hear me?”
Dany shoved him away, hard.
Viserys stared at her, his lilac eyes incredulous. She had
never defied him. Never fought back. Rage twisted his
features. He would hurt her now, and badly, she knew that.
The whip made a sound like thunder. The coil took
Viserys around the throat and yanked him backward. He
went sprawling in the grass, stunned and choking. The
Dothraki riders hooted at him as he struggled to free
himself. The one with the whip, young Jhogo, rasped a
question. Dany did not understand his words, but by then Irri
was there, and Ser Jorah, and the rest of her khas. “Jhogo
asks if you would have him dead, Khaleesi,” Irri said.
“No,” Dany replied. “No.”
Jhogo understood that. One of the others barked out a
comment, and the Dothraki laughed. Irri told her, “Quaro
thinks you should take an ear to teach him respect.”
Her brother was on his knees, his fingers digging under
the leather coils, crying incoherently, struggling for breath.
The whip was tight around his windpipe.
“Tell them I do not wish him harmed,” Dany said.
Irri repeated her words in Dothraki. Jhogo gave a pull on
the whip, yanking Viserys around like a puppet on a string.
He went sprawling again, freed from the leather embrace, a
thin line of blood under his chin where the whip had cut
deep. “I warned him what would happen, my lady,” Ser
Jorah Mormont said. “I told him to stay on the ridge, as youcommanded.”
“I know you did,” Dany replied, watching Viserys. He lay
on the ground, sucking in air noisily, red-faced and
sobbing. He was a pitiful thing. He had always been a pitiful
thing. Why had she never seen that before? There was a
hollow place inside her where her fear had been.
“Take his horse,” Dany commanded Ser Jorah. Viserys
gaped at her. He could not believe what he was hearing;
nor could Dany quite believe what she was saying. Yet the
words came. “Let my brother walk behind us back to the
khalasar.” Among the Dothraki, the man who does not ride
was no man at all, the lowest of the low, without honor or
pride. “Let everyone see him as he is.”
“No!” Viserys screamed. He turned to Ser Jorah,
pleading in the Common Tongue with words the horsemen
would not understand. “Hit her, Mormont. Hurt her. Your king
commands it. Kill these Dothraki dogs and teach her.”
The exile knight looked from Dany to her brother; she
barefoot, with dirt between her toes and oil in her hair, he
with his silks and steel. Dany could see the decision on his
face. “He shall walk, Khaleesi,” he said. He took her
brother’s horse in hand while Dany remounted her silver.
Viserys gaped at him, and sat down in the dirt. He kept
his silence, but he would not move, and his eyes were full of
poison as they rode away. Soon he was lost in the tall
grass. When they could not see him anymore, Dany grew
afraid. “Will he find his way back?” she asked Ser Jorah as
they rode.
“Even a man as blind as your brother should be able to
follow our trail,” he replied.
“He is proud. He may be too shamed to come back.”
Jorah laughed. “Where else should he go? If he cannotfind the khalasar, the khalasar will most surely find him. It is
hard to drown in the Dothraki sea, child.”
Dany saw the truth of that. The khalasar was like a city on
the march, but it did not march blindly. Always scouts
ranged far ahead of the main column, alert for any sign of
game or prey or enemies, while outriders guarded their
flanks. They missed nothing, not here, in this land, the place
where they had come from. These plains were a part of
them . . . and of her, now.
“I hit him,” she said, wonder in her voice. Now that it was
over, it seemed like some strange dream that she had
dreamed. “Ser Jorah, do you think . . . he’ll be so angry
when he gets back She shivered. “Iwoke the dragon, didn’t
Ser Jorah snorted. “Can you wake the dead, girl? Your
brother Rhaegar was the last dragon, and he died on the
Trident. Viserys is less than the shadow of a snake.”
His blunt words startled her. It seemed as though all the
things she had always believed were suddenly called into
question. “You . . . you swore him your sword . . .”
“That I did, girl,” Ser Jorah said. “And if your brother is the
shadow of a snake, what does that make his servants?” His
voice was bitter.
“He is still the true king. He is . . .”
Jorah pulled up his horse and looked at her. “Truth now.
Would you want to see Viserys sit a throne?”
Dany thought about that. “He would not be a very good
king, would he?”
“There have been worse . . . but not many.” The knight
gave his heels to his mount and started off again.
Dany rode close beside him. “Still,” she said, “the
common people are waiting for him. Magister Illyrio saysthey are sewing dragon banners and praying for Viserys to
return from across the narrow sea to free them.”
“The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a
summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. “It is no matter
to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long
as they are left in peace.” He gave a shrug. “They never
Dany rode along quietly for a time, working his words like
a puzzle box. It went against everything that Viserys had
ever told her to think that the people could care so little
whether a true king or a usurper reigned over them. Yet the
more she thought on Jorah’s words, the more they rang of
“What do you pray for, Ser Jorah?” she asked him.
“Home,” he said. His voice was thick with longing.
“I pray for home too,” she told him, believing it.
Ser Jorah laughed. “Look around you then, Khaleesi.”
But it was not the plains Dany saw then. It was King’s
Landing and the great Red Keep that Aegon the Conqueror
had built. It was Dragonstone where she had been born. In
her mind’s eye they burned with a thousand lights, a fire
blazing in every window. In her mind’s eye, all the doors
were red.
“My brother will never take back the Seven Kingdoms,”
Dany said. She had known that for a long time, she
realized. She had known it all her life. Only she had never
let herself say the words, even in a whisper, but now she
said them for Jorah Mormont and all the world to hear.
Ser Jorah gave her a measuring look. “You think not.”
“He could not lead an army even if my lord husband gave
him one,” Dany said. “He has no coin and the only knight
who follows him reviles him as less than a snake. TheDothraki make mock of his weakness. He will never take us
“Wise child.” The knight smiled.
“I am no child,” she told him fiercely. Her heels pressed
into the sides of her mount, rousing the silver to a gallop.
Faster and faster she raced, leaving Jorah and Irri and the
others far behind, the warm wind in her hair and the setting
sun red on her face. By the time she reached the khalasar,
it was dusk.
The slaves had erected her tent by the shore of a springfed pool. She could hear rough voices from the woven
grass palace on the hill. Soon there would be laughter,
when the men of her khas told the story of what had
happened in the grasses today. By the time Viserys came
limping back among them, every man, woman, and child in
the camp would know him for a walker. There were no
secrets in the khalasar.
Dany gave the silver over to the slaves for grooming and
entered her tent. It was cool and dim beneath the silk. As
she let the door flap close behind her, Dany saw a finger of
dusty red light reach out to touch her dragon’s eggs across
the tent. For an instant a thousand droplets of scarlet flame
swam before her eyes. She blinked, and they were gone.
Stone, she told herself. They are only stone, even Illyrio
said so, the dragons are all dead. She put her palm against
the black egg, fingers spread gently across the curve of the
shell. The stone was warm. Almost hot. “The sun,” Dany
whispered. “The sun warmed them as they rode.”
She commanded her handmaids to prepare her a bath.
Doreah built a fire outside the tent, while Irri and Jhiqui
fetched the big copper tub-another bride gift-from the
packhorses and carried water from the pool. When the bathwas steaming, Irri helped her into it and climbed in after
“Have you ever seen a dragon?” she asked as Irri
scrubbed her back and Jhiqui sluiced sand from her hair.
She had heard that the first dragons had come from the
east, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai and the
islands of the Jade Sea. Perhaps some were still living
there, in realms strange and wild.
“Dragons are gone, Khaleesi,” Irri said.
“Dead,” agreed Jhiqui. “Long and long ago.”
Viserys had told her that the last Targaryen dragons had
died no more than a century and a half ago, during the reign
of Aegon III, who was called the Dragonbane. That did not
seem so long ago to Dany. “Everywhere?” she said,
disappointed. “Even in the east?” Magic had died in the
west when the Doom fell on Valyria and the Lands of the
Long Summer, and neither spell-forged steel nor
stormsingers nor dragons could hold it back, but Dany had
always heard that the east was different. It was said that
manticores prowled the islands of the Jade Sea, that
basilisks infested the jungles of Yi Ti, that spellsingers,
warlocks, and aeromancers practiced their arts openly in
Asshai, while shadowbinders and bloodmages worked
terrible sorceries in the black of night. Why shouldn’t there
be dragons too?
“No dragon,” Irri said. “Brave men kill them, for dragon
terrible evil beasts. It is known.”
“It is known,” agreed Jhiqui.
“A trader from Qarth once told me that dragons came
from the moon,” blond Doreah said as she warmed a towel
over the fire. Jhiqui and Irri were of an age with Dany,
Dothraki girls taken as slaves when Drogo destroyed theirfather’s khalasar. Doreah was older, almost twenty.
Magister Illyrio had found her in a pleasure house in Lys.
Silvery-wet hair tumbled across her eyes as Dany turned
her head, curious. “The moon?”
“He told me the moon was an egg, Khaleesi,” the Lysene
girl said. “Once there were two moons in the sky, but one
wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat.
A thousand thousand dragons poured forth, and drank the
fire of the sun. That is why dragons breathe flame. One day
the other moon will kiss the sun too, and then it will crack
and the dragons will return.”
The two Dothraki girls giggled and laughed. “You are
foolish strawhead slave,” Irri said. “Moon is no egg. Moon is
god, woman wife of sun. It is known.”
“It is known,” Jhiqui agreed.
Dany’s skin was flushed and pink when she climbed from
the tub. Jhiqui laid her down to oil her body and scrape the
dirt from her pores. Afterward Irri sprinkled her with
spiceflower and cinnamon. While Doreah brushed her hair
until it shone like spun silver, she thought about the moon,
and eggs, and dragons.
Her supper was a simple meal of fruit and cheese and fry
bread, with a jug of honeyed wine to wash it down. “Doreah,
stay and eat with me,” Dany commanded when she sent
her other handmaids away. The Lysene girl had hair the
color of honey, and eyes like the summer sky.
She lowered those eyes when they were alone. “You
honor me, Khaleesi,” she said, but it was no honor, only
service. Long after the moon had risen, they sat together,
talking. That night, when Khal Drogo came, Dany was
waiting for him. He stood in the door of her tent and looked
at her with surprise. She rose slowly and opened hersleeping silks and let them fall to the ground. “This night we
must go outside, my lord,” she told him, for the Dothraki
believed that all things of importance in a man’s life must
be done beneath the open sky.
Khal Drogo followed her out into the moonlight, the bells
in his hair tinkling softly. A few yards from her tent was a
bed of soft grass, and it was there that Dany drew him
down. When he tried to turn her over, she put a hand on his
chest. “No,” she said. “This night Iwould look on your face.”
There is no privacy in the heart of the khalasar. Dany felt
the eyes on her as she undressed him, heard the soft
voices as she did the things that Doreah had told her to do.
It was nothing to her. Was she not khaleesi? His were the
only eyes that mattered, and when she mounted him she
saw something there that she had never seen before. She
rode him as fiercely as ever she had ridden her silver, and
when the moment of his pleasure came, Khal Drogo called
out her name.
They were on the far side of the Dothraki sea when Jhiqui
brushed the soft swell of Dany’s stomach with her fingers
and said, “Khaleesi, you are with child.”
“I know,” Dany told her.
It was her fourteenth name day.
In the yard below, Rickon ran with the wolves.
Bran watched from his window seat. Wherever the boy
went, Grey Wind was there first, loping ahead to cut him off,
until Rickon saw him, screamed in delight, and went pelting
off in another direction. Shaggydog ran at his heels,
spinning and snapping if the other wolves came too close.His fur had darkened until he was all black, and his eyes
were green fire. Bran’s Summer came last. He was silver
and smoke, with eyes of yellow gold that saw all there was
to see. Smaller than Grey Wind, and more wary. Bran
thought he was the smartest of the litter. He could hear his
brother’s breathless laughter as Rickon dashed across the
hardpacked earth on little baby legs.
His eyes stung. He wanted to be down there, laughing
and running. Angry at the thought, Bran knuckled away the
tears before they could fall. His eighth name day had come
and gone. He was almost a man grown now, too old to cry.
“It was just a lie,” he said bitterly, remembering the crow
from his dream. “I can’t fly. I can’t even run.”
“Crows are all liars,” Old Nan agreed, from the chair
where she sat doing her needlework. “I know a story about
a crow.”
“I don’t want any more stories,” Bran snapped, his voice
petulant. He had liked Old Nan and her stories once.
Before. But it was different now. They left her with him all
day now, to watch over him and clean him and keep him
from being lonely, but she just made it worse. “I hate your
stupid stories.”
The old woman smiled at him toothlessly. “My stories?
No, my little lord, not mine. The stories are, before me and
after me, before you too.”
She was a very ugly old woman, Bran thought spitefully;
shrunken and wrinkled, almost blind, too weak to climb
stairs, with only a few wisps of white hair left to cover a
mottled pink scalp. No one really knew how old she was,
but his father said she’d been called Old Nan even when he
was a boy. She was the oldest person in Winterfell for
certain, maybe the oldest person in the Seven Kingdoms.Nan had come to the castle as a wet nurse for a Brandon
Stark whose mother had died birthing him. He had been an
older brother of Lord Rickard, Bran’s grandfather, or
perhaps a younger brother, or a brother to Lord Rickard’s
father. Sometimes Old Nan told it one way and sometimes
another. In all the stories the little boy died at three of a
summer chill, but Old Nan stayed on at Winterfell with her
own children. She had lost both her sons to the war when
King Robert won the throne, and her grandson was killed
on the walls of Pyke during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion. Her
daughters had long ago married and moved away and
died. All that was left of her own blood was Hodor, the
simpleminded giant who worked in the stables, but Old Nan
just lived on and on, doing her needlework and telling her
“I don’t care whose stories they are,” Bran told her, “I hate
them.” He didn’t want stories and he didn’t want Old Nan.
He wanted his mother and father. He wanted to go running
with Summer loping beside him. He wanted to climb the
broken tower and feed corn to the crows. He wanted to ride
his pony again with his brothers. He wanted it to be the way
it had been before.
“I know a story about a boy who hated stories,” Old Nan
said with her stupid little smile, her needles moving all the
while, click click click, until Bran was ready to scream at
It would never be the way it had been, he knew. The crow
had tricked him into flying, but when he woke up he was
broken and the world was changed. They had all left him,
his father and his mother and his sisters and even his
bastard brother Jon. His father had promised he would ride
a real horse to King’s Landing, but they’d gone without him.Maester Luwin had sent a bird after Lord Eddard with a
message, and another to Mother and a third to Jon on the
Wall, but there had been no answers. “Ofttimes the birds
are lost, child,” the maester had told him. “There’s many a
mile and many a hawk between here and King’s Landing,
the message may not have reached them.” Yet to Bran it
felt as if they had all died while he had slept … or perhaps
Bran had died, and they had forgotten him. Jory and Ser
Rodrik and Vayon Poole had gone too, and Hullen and
Harwin and Fat Tom and a quarter of the guard.
Only Robb and baby Rickon were still here, and Robb
was changed. He was Robb the Lord now, or trying to be.
He wore a real sword and never smiled. His days were
spent drilling the guard and practicing his swordplay,
making the yard ring with the sound of steel as Bran
watched forlornly from his window. At night he closeted
himself with Maester Luwin, talking or going over account
books. Sometimes he would ride out with Hallis Mollen and
be gone for days at a time, visiting distant holdfasts.
Whenever he was away more than a day, Rickon would cry
and ask Bran if Robb was ever coming back. Even when
he was home at Winterfell, Robb the Lord seemed to have
more time for Hallis Mollen and Theon Greyjoy than he ever
did for his brothers.
“I could tell you the story about Brandon the Builder,” Old
Nan said. “That was always your favorite.”
Thousands and thousands of years ago, Brandon the
Builder had raised Winterfell, and some said the Wall. Bran
knew the story, but it had never been his favorite. Maybe
one of the other Brandons had liked that story. Sometimes
Nan would talk to him as if he were her Brandon, the baby
she had nursed all those years ago, and sometimes sheconfused him with his uncle Brandon, who was killed by the
Mad King before Bran was even born. She had lived so
long, Mother had told him once, that all the Brandon Starks
had become one person in her head.
“That’s not my favorite,” he said. “My favorites were the
scary ones.” He heard some sort of commotion outside and
turned back to the window. Rickon was running across the
yard toward the gatehouse, the wolves following him, but
the tower faced the wrong way for Bran to see what was
happening. He smashed a fist on his thigh in frustration and
felt nothing.
“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what
do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord,
when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind
comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night,
when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little
children are born and live and die all in darkness while the
direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers
move through the woods.”
“You mean the Others,” Bran said querulously.
“The Others,” Old Nan agreed. “Thousands and
thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard
and endless beyond all memory of man. There came a
night that lasted a generation, and kings shivered and died
in their castles even as the swineherds in their hovels.
Women smothered their children rather than see them
starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their
cheeks.” Her voice and her needles fell silent, and she
glanced up at Bran with pale, filmy eyes and asked, “So,
child. This is the sort of story you like?”
“Well,” Bran said reluctantly, “yes, only . . .
Old Nan nodded. “In that darkness, the Others came forthe first time,” she said as her needles went click click click.
“They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire
and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood
in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and
kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding
their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. All
the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even
maidens and suckling babes found no pity in them. They
hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead
servants on the flesh of human children.”
Her voice had dropped very low, almost to a whisper, and
Bran found himself leaning forward to listen.
“Now these were the days before the Andals came, and
long before the women fled across the narrow sea from the
cities of the Rhoyne, and the hundred kingdoms of those
times were the kingdoms of the First Men, who had taken
these lands from the children of the forest. Yet here and
there in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in
their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the
trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the
last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes
that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of
men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a
horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he
searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of
the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died,
and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze
so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the
Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his
trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as
The door opened with a bang, and Bran’s heart leapt upinto his mouth in sudden fear, but it was only Maester
Luwin, with Hodor looming in the stairway behind him.
“Hodor!” the stableboy announced, as was his custom,
smiling hugely at them all.
Maester Luwin was not smiling. “We have visitors,” he
announced, “and your presence is required, Bran.”
“I’m listening to a story now,” Bran complained.
“Stories wait, my little lord, and when you come back to
them, why, there they are,” Old Nan said. “Visitors are not
so patient, and ofttimes they bring stories of their own.”
“Who is it?” Bran asked Maester Luwin.
“Tyrion Lannister, and some men of the Night’s Watch,
with word from your brother Jon. Robb is meeting with them
now. Hodor, will you help Bran down to the hall?”
“Hodor!” Hodor agreed happily. He ducked to get his
great shaggy head under the door. Hodor was nearly seven
feet tall. It was hard to believe that he was the same blood
as Old Nan. Bran wondered if he would shrivel up as small
as his great-grandmother when he was old. It did not seem
likely, even if Hodor lived to be a thousand.
Hodor lifted Bran as easy as if he were a bale of hay, and
cradled him against his massive chest. He always smelled
faintly of horses, but it was not a bad smell. His arms were
thick with muscle and matted with brown hair. “Hodor,” he
said again. Theon Greyjoy had once commented that
Hodor did not know much, but no one could doubt that he
knew his name. Old Nan had cackled like a hen when Bran
told her that, and confessed that Hodor’s real name was
Walder. No one knew where “Hodor” had come from, she
said, but when he started saying it, they started calling him
by it. It was the only word he had.
They left Old Nan in the tower room with her needles andher memories. Hodor hummed tunelessly as he carried
Bran down the steps and through the gallery, with Maester
Luwin following behind, hurrying to keep up with the
stableboy’s long strides.
Robb was seated in Father’s high seat, wearing ringmail
and boiled leather and the stern face of Robb the Lord.
TheonGreyjoy and Hallis Mollen stood behind him. A dozen
guardsmen lined the grey stone walls beneath tall narrow
windows. In the center of the room the dwarf stood with his
servants, and four strangers in the black of the Night’s
Watch. Bran could sense the anger in the hall the moment
that Hodor carried him through the doors.
“Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at
Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay,” Robb was
saying with the voice of Robb the Lord. His sword was
across his knees, the steel bare for all the world to see.
Even Bran knew what it meant to greet a guest with an
unsheathed sword.
“Any man of the Night’s Watch,” the dwarf repeated, “but
not me, do I take your meaning, boy?”
Robb stood and pointed at the little man with his sword. “I
am the lord here while my mother and father are away,
Lannister. I am not your boy.”
“If you are a lord, you might learn a lord’s courtesy,” the
little man replied, ignoring the sword point in his face. “Your
bastard brother has all your father’s graces, it would seem.”
“Jon,” Bran gasped out from Hodor’s arms.
The dwarf turned to look at him. “So it is true, the boy
lives. I could scarce believe it. You Starks are hard to kill.”
“You Lannisters had best remember that,” Robb said,
lowering his sword. “Hodor, bring my brother here.”
“Hodor,” Hodor said, and he trotted forward smiling andset Bran in the high seat of the Starks, where the Lords of
Winterfell had sat since the days when they called
themselves the Kings in the North. The seat was cold stone,
polished smooth by countless bottoms; the carved heads of
direwolves snarled on the ends of its massive arms. Bran
clasped them as he sat, his useless legs dangling. The
great seat made him feel half a baby.
Robb put a hand on his shoulder. “You said you had
business with Bran. Well, here he is, Lannister.”
Bran was uncomfortably aware of Tyrion Lannister’s eyes.
One was black and one was green, and both were looking
at him, studying him, weighing him. “I am told you were
quite the climber, Bran,” the little man said at last. “Tell me,
how is it you happened to fall that day?”
“I never,” Bran insisted. He never fell, never never never.
“The child does not remember anything of the fall, or the
climb that came before it,” said Maester Luwin gently.
“Curious,” said Tyrion Lannister.
“My brother is not here to answer questions, Lannister,”
Robb said curtly. “Do your business and be on your way.”
“I have a gift for you,” the dwarf said to Bran. “Do you like
to ride, boy?”
Maester Luwin came forward. “My lord, the child has lost
the use of his legs. He cannot sit a horse.”
“Nonsense,” said Lannister. “With the right horse and the
right saddle, even a cripple can ride.”
The word was a knife through Bran’s heart. He felt tears
come unbidden to his eyes. “I’m not a cripple!”
“Then I am not a dwarf,” the dwarf said with a twist of his
mouth. “My father will rejoice to hear it.” Greyjoy laughed.
“What sort of horse and saddle are you suggesting?”
Maester Luwin asked.“A smart horse,” Lannister replied. “The boy cannot use
his legs to command the animal, so you must shape the
horse to the rider, teach it to respond to the reins, to the
voice. I would begin with an unbroken yearling, with no old
training to be unlearned.” He drew a rolled paper from his
belt. “Give this to your saddler. He will provide the rest.”
Maester Luwin took the paper from the dwarfs hand,
curious as a small grey squirrel. He unrolled it, studied it. “I
see. You draw nicely, my lord. Yes, this ought to work. I
should have thought of this myself.”
“It came easier to me, Maester. It is not terribly unlike my
own saddles.”
“Will I truly be able to ride?” Bran asked. He wanted to
believe them, but he was afraid. Perhaps it was just another
lie. The crow had promised him that he could fly.
“You will,” the dwarf told him. “And I swear to you, boy, on
horseback you will be as tall as any of them.”
Robb Stark seemed puzzled. “Is this some trap,
Lannister? What’s Bran to you? Why should you want to
help him?”
“Your brother Jon asked it of me.And I have a tender spot
in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things.”
Tyrion Lannister placed a hand over his heart and grinned.
The door to the yard flew open. Sunlight came streaming
across the hall as Rickon burst in, breathless. The
direwolves were with him. The boy stopped by the door,
wide-eyed, but the wolves came on. Their eyes found
Lannister, or perhaps they caught his scent. Summer
began to growl first. Grey Wind picked it up. They padded
toward the little man, one from the right and one from the
“The wolves do not like your smell, Lannister,” TheonGreyjoy commented.
“Perhaps it’s time I took my leave,” Tyrion said. He took a
step backward . . . and Shaggydog came out of the
shadows behind him, snarling. Lannister recoiled, and
Summer lunged at him from the other side. He reeled away,
unsteady on his feet, and Grey Wind snapped at his arm,
teeth ripping at his sleeve and tearing loose a scrap of
“No!” Bran shouted from the high seat as Lannister’s men
reached for their steel. “Summer, here. Summer, to me!”
The direwolf heard the voice, glanced at Bran, and again
at Lannister. He crept backward, away from the little man,
and settled down below Bran’s dangling feet.
Robb had been holding his breath. He let it out with a sigh
and called, “Grey Wind.” His direwolf moved to him, swift
and silent. Now there was only Shaggydog, rumbling at the
small man, his eyes burning like green fire. ”Rickon, call
him,” Bran shouted to his baby brother, and Rickon
remembered himself and screamed, “Home, Shaggy,
home now.” The black wolf gave Lannister one final snarl
and bounded off to Rickon, who hugged him tightly around
the neck.
Tyrion Lannister undid his scarf, mopped at his brow, and
said in a flat voice, “How interesting.”
“Are you well, my lord?” asked one of his men, his sword
in hand. He glanced nervously at the direwolves as he
“My sleeve is torn and my breeches are unaccountably
damp, but nothing was harmed save my dignity.”
Even Robb looked shaken. “The wolves . . . I don’t know
why they did that . . .”
“No doubt they mistook me for dinner.” Lannister bowedstiffly to Bran. “I thank you for calling them off, young ser. I
promise you, they would have found me quite indigestible.
And now Iwill be leaving, truly.”
“A moment, my lord,” Maester Luwin said. He moved to
Robb and they huddled close together, whispering. Bran
tried to hear what they were saying, but their voices were
too low.
Robb Stark finally sheathed his sword. “I . . . I may have
been hasty with you,” he said. “You’ve done Bran a
kindness, and, well . . .” Robb composed himself with an
effort. “The hospitality of Winterfell is yours if you wish it,
“Spare me your false courtesies, boy. You do not love me
and you do not want me here. I saw an inn outside your
walls, in the winter town. I’ll find a bed there, and both of us
will sleep easier. For a few coppers I may even find a
comely wench to warm the sheets for me.” He spoke to one
of the black brothers, an old man with a twisted back and a
tangled beard. “Yoren, we go south at daybreak. You will
find me on the road, no doubt.” With that he made his exit,
struggling across the hall on his short legs, past Rickon and
out the door. His men followed.
The four of the Night’s Watch remained. Robb turned to
them uncertainly. “I have had rooms prepared, and you’ll
find no lack of hot water to wash off the dust of the road. I
hope you will honor us at table tonight.” He spoke the words
so awkwardly that even Bran took note; it was a speech he
had learned, not words from the heart, but the black
brothers thanked him all the same.
Summer followed them up the tower steps as Hodor
carried Bran back to his bed. Old Nan was asleep in her
chair. Hodor said “Hodor,” gathered up his great-grandmother, and carried her off, snoring softly, while Bran
lay thinking. Robb had promised that he could feast with the
Night’s Watch in the Great Hall. “Summer,” he called. The
wolf bounded up on the bed. Bran hugged him so hard he
could feel the hot breath on his cheek. “I can ride now,” he
whispered to his friend. “We can go hunting in the woods
soon, wait and see.” After a time he slept.
In his dream he was climbing again, pulling himself up an
ancient windowless tower, his fingers forcing themselves
between blackened stones, his feet scrabbling for
purchase. Higher and higher he climbed, through the clouds
and into the night sky, and still the tower rose before him.
When he paused to look down, his head swam dizzily and
he felt his fingers slipping. Bran cried out and clung for dear
life. The earth was a thousand miles beneath him and he
could not fly. He could not fly. He waited until his heart had
stopped pounding, until he could breathe, and he began to
climb again. There was no way to go but up. Far above
him, outlined against a vast pale moon, he thought he could
see the shapes of gargoyles. His arms were sore and
aching, but he dared not rest. He forced himself to climb
faster. The gargoyles watched him ascend. Their eyes
glowed red as hot coals in a brazier. Perhaps once they
had been lions, but now they were twisted and grotesque.
Bran could hear them whispering to each other in soft stone
voices terrible to hear. He must not listen, he told himself,
he must not hear, so long as he did not hear them he was
safe. But when the gargoyles pulled themselves loose from
the stone and padded down the side of the tower to where
Bran clung, he knew he was not safe after all. “I didn’t hear,”
he wept as they came closer and closer, “I didn’t, I didn’t.”
He woke gasping, lost in darkness, and saw a vastshadow looming over him. “I didn’t hear,” he whispered,
trembling in fear, but then the shadow said “Hodor,” and lit
the candle by the bedside, and Bran sighed with relief.
Hodor washed the sweat from him with a warm, damp
cloth and dressed him with deft and gentle hands. When it
was time, he carried him down to the Great Hall, where a
long trestle table had been set up near the fire. The lord’s
seat at the head of the table had been left empty, but Robb
sat to the right of it, with Bran across from him. They ate
suckling pig that night, and pigeon pie, and turnips soaking
in butter, and afterward the cook had promised
honeycombs. Summer snatched table scraps from Bran’s
hand, while Grey Wind and Shaggydog fought over a bone
in the corner. Winterfell’s dogs would not come near the hall
now. Bran had found that strange at first, but he was
growing used to it.
Yoren was senior among the black brothers, so the
steward had seated him between Robb and Maester
Luwin. The old man had a sour smell, as if he had not
washed in a long time. He ripped at the meat with his teeth,
cracked the ribs to suck out the marrow from the bones,
and shrugged at the mention of Jon Snow. “Ser Alliser’s
bane,” he grunted, and two of his companions shared a
laugh that Bran did not understand. But when Robb asked
for news of their uncle Benjen, the black brothers grew
ominously quiet.
“What is it?” Bran asked.
Yoren wiped his fingers on his vest. “There’s hard news,
m’lords, and a cruel way to pay you for your meat and
mead, but the man as asks the question must bear the
answer. Stark’s gone.”
One of the other men said, “The Old Bear sent him out tolook for Waymar Royce, and he’s late returning, my lord.”
“Too long,” Yoren said. “Most like he’s dead.”
“My uncle is not dead,” Robb Stark said loudly, anger in
his tones. He rose from the bench and laid his hand on the
hilt of his sword. “Do you hear me? My uncle is not dead!”
His voice rang against the stone walls, and Bran was
suddenly afraid.
Old sour-smelling Yoren looked up at Robb,
unimpressed. “Whatever you say, m’lord,” he said. He
sucked at a piece of meat between his teeth.
The youngest of the black brothers shifted uncomfortably
in his seat. “There’s not a man on the Wall knows the
haunted forest better than Benjen Stark. He’ll find his way
“Well,” said Yoren, “maybe he will and maybe he won’t.
Good men have gone into those woods before, and never
come out.”
All Bran could think of was Old Nan’s story of the Others
and the last hero, hounded through the white woods by
dead men and spiders big as hounds. He was afraid for a
moment, until he remembered how that story ended. “The
children will help him,” he blurted, “the children of the
TheonGreyjoy sniggered, and Maester Luwin said, “Bran,
the children of the forest have been dead and gone for
thousands of years. All that is left of them are the faces in
the trees.”
“Down here, might be that’s true, Maester,” Yoren said,
“but up past the Wall, who’s to say? Up there, a man can’t
always tell what’s alive and what’s dead.”
That night, after the plates had been cleared, Robb
carried Bran up to bed himself. Grey Wind led the way, andSummer came close behind. His brother was strong for his
age, and Bran was as light as a bundle of rags, but the
stairs were steep and dark, and Robb was breathing hard
by the time they reached the top.
He put Bran into bed, covered him with blankets, and
blew out the candle. For a time Robb sat beside him in the
dark. Bran wanted to talk to him, but he did not know what
to say. “We’ll find a horse for you, I promise,” Robb
whispered at last.
“Are they ever coming back?” Bran asked him.
“Yes,” Robb said with such hope in his voice that Bran
knew he was hearing his brother and not just Robb the
Lord. “Mother will be home soon. Maybe we can ride out to
meet her when she comes. Wouldn’t that surprise her, to
see you ahorse?” Even in the dark room, Bran could feel
his brother’s smile. “And afterward, we’ll ride north to see
the Wall. We won’t even tell Jon we’re coming, we’ll just be
there one day, you and me. It will be an adventure.”
“An adventure,” Bran repeated wistfully. He heard his
brother sob. The room was so dark he could not see the
tears on Robb’s face, so he reached out and found his
hand. Their fingers twined together.
“Lord Arryn’s death was a great sadness for all of
us, my lord,” Grand Maester Pycelle said. “I would be more
than happy to tell you what I can of the manner of his
passing. Do be seated. Would you care for refreshments?
Some dates, perhaps? I have some very fine persimmons
as well. Wine no longer agrees with my digestion, I fear, but
I can offer you a cup of iced milk, sweetened with honey. Ifind it most refreshing in this heat.”
There was no denying the heat; Ned could feel the silk
tunic clinging to his chest. Thick, moist air covered the city
like a damp woolen blanket, and the riverside had grown
unruly as the poor fled their hot, airless warrens to jostle for
sleeping places near the water, where the only breath of
wind was to be found. “That would be most kind,” Ned said,
seating himself.
Pycelle lifted a tiny silver bell with thumb and forefinger
and tinkled it gently. A slender young serving girl hurried
into the solar. “Iced milk for the King’s Hand and myself, if
you would be so kind, child. Well sweetened.”
As the girl went to fetch their drinks, the Grand Maester
knotted his fingers together and rested his hands on his
stomach. “The smallfolk say that the last year of summer is
always the hottest. It is not so, yet ofttimes it feels that way,
does it not? On days like this, I envy you northerners your
summer snows.” The heavy jeweled chain around the old
man’s neck chinked softly as he shifted in his seat. “To be
sure, King Maekar’s summer was hotter than this one, and
near as long. There were fools, even in the Citadel, who
took that to mean that the Great Summer had come at last,
the summer that never ends, but in the seventh year it broke
suddenly, and we had a short autumn and a terrible long
winter. Still, the heat was fierce while it lasted. Oldtown
steamed and sweltered by day and came alive only by
night. We would walk in the gardens by the river and argue
about the gods. I remember the smells of those nights, my
lord—perfume and sweat, melons ripe to bursting, peaches
and pomegranates, nightshade and moonbloom. I was a
young man then, still forging my chain. The heat did not
exhaust me as it does now.” Pycelle’s eyes were so heavilylidded he looked half-asleep. “My pardons, Lord Eddard.
You did not come to hear foolish meanderings of a summer
forgotten before your father was born. Forgive an old man
his wanderings, if you would. Minds are like swords, I do
fear. The old ones go to rust. Ah, and here is our milk.” The
serving girl placed the tray between them, and Pycelle gave
her a smile. “Sweet child.” He lifted a cup, tasted, nodded.
“Thank you. You may go.”
When the girl had taken her leave, Pycelle peered at Ned
through pale, rheumy eyes. “Now where were we? Oh, yes.
You asked about Lord Arryn . . .”
“I did.” Ned sipped politely at the iced milk. It was
pleasantly cold, but oversweet to his taste.
“If truth be told, the Hand had not seemed quite himself for
some time,” Pycelle said. “We had sat together on council
many a year, he and I, and the signs were there to read, but
I put them down to the great burdens he had borne so
faithfully for so long. Those broad shoulders were weighed
down by all the cares of the realm, and more besides. His
son was ever sickly, and his lady wife so anxious that she
would scarcely let the boy out of her sight. It was enough to
weary even a strong man, and the Lord Jon was not young.
Small wonder if he seemed melancholy and tired. Or so I
thought at the time. Yet now I am less certain.” He gave a
ponderous shake of his head.
“What can you tell me of his final illness?”
The Grand Maester spread his hands in a gesture of
helpless sorrow. “He came to me one day asking after a
certain book, as hale and healthy as ever, though it did
seem to me that something was troubling him deeply. The
next morning he was twisted over in pain, too sick to rise
from bed. Maester Colemon thought it was a chill on thestomach. The weather had been hot, and the Hand often
iced his wine, which can upset the digestion. When Lord
Jon continued to weaken, Iwent to him myself, but the gods
did not grant me the power to save him.”
“I have heard that you sent Maester Colemon away.”
The Grand Maester’s nod was as slow and deliberate as
a glacier. “I did, and I fear the Lady Lysa will never forgive
me that. Maybe Iwas wrong, but at the time I thought it best.
Maester Colemon is like a son to me, and I yield to none in
my esteem for his abilities, but he is young, and the young
ofttimes do not comprehend the frailty of an older body. He
was purging Lord Arryn with wasting potions and pepper
juice, and I feared he might kill him.”
“Did Lord Arryn say anything to you during his final
Pycelle wrinkled his brow. “In the last stage of his fever,
the Hand called out the name Robert several times, but
whether he was asking for his son or for the king I could not
say. Lady Lysa would not permit the boy to enter the
sickroom, for fear that he too might be taken ill. The king
did come, and he sat beside the bed for hours, talking and
joking of times long past in hopes of raising Lord Jon’s
spirits. His love was fierce to see.”
“Was there nothing else? No final words?”
“When I saw that all hope had fled, I gave the Hand the
milk of the poppy, so he should not suffer. Just before he
closed his eyes for the last time, he whispered something
to the king and his lady wife, a blessing for his son. The
seed is strong, he said. At the end, his speech was too
slurred to comprehend. Death did not come until the next
morning, but Lord Jon was at peace after that. He never
spoke again.”Ned took another swallow of milk, trying not to gag on the
sweetness of it. “Did it seem to you that there was anything
unnatural about Lord Arryn’s death?”
“Unnatural?” The aged maester’s voice was thin as a
whisper. “No, I could not say so. Sad, for a certainty. Yet in
its own way, death is the most natural thing of all, Lord
Eddard. Jon Arryn rests easy now, his burdens lifted at
“This illness that took him,” said Ned. “Had you ever seen
its like before, in other men?”
“Near forty years I have been Grand Maester of the Seven
Kingdoms,” Pycelle replied. “Under our good King Robert,
and Aerys Targaryen before him, and his father Jaehaerys
the Second before him, and even for a few short months
under Jaehaerys’s father, Aegon the Fortunate, the Fifth of
His Name. I have seen more of illness than I care to
remember, my lord. I will tell you this: Every case is
different, and every case is alike. Lord Jon’s death was no
stranger than any other.”
“His wife thought otherwise.”
The Grand Maester nodded. “I recall now, the widow is
sister to your own noble wife. If an old man may be forgiven
his blunt speech, let me say that grief can derange even the
strongest and most disciplined of minds, and the Lady Lysa
was never that. Since her last stillbirth, she has seen
enemies in every shadow, and the death of her lord
husband left her shattered and lost.”
“So you are quite certain that Jon Arryn died of a sudden
“I am,” Pycelle replied gravely. “If not illness, my good lord,
what else could it be?”
“Poison,” Ned suggested quietly.Pycelle’s sleepy eyes flicked open. The aged maester
shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “A disturbing thought. We
are not the Free Cities, where such things are common.
Grand Maester Aethelmure wrote that all men carry murder
in their hearts, yet even so, the poisoner is beneath
contempt.” He fell silent for a moment, his eyes lost in
thought. “What you suggest is possible, my lord, yet I do not
think it likely. Every hedge maester knows the common
poisons, and Lord Arryn displayed none of the signs. And
the Hand was loved by all. What sort of monster in man’s
flesh would dare to murder such a noble lord?”
“I have heard it said that poison is a woman’s weapon.”
Pycelle stroked his beard thoughtfully. “It is said. Women,
cravens . . . and eunuchs.” He cleared his throat and spat a
thick glob of phelm onto the rushes. Above them, a raven
cawed loudly in the rookery. “The Lord Varys was born a
slave in Lys, did you know? Put not your trust in spiders, my
That was scarcely anything Ned needed to be told; there
was something about Varys that made his flesh crawl. “Iwill
remember that, Maester. And I thank you for your help. I
have taken enough of your time.” He stood.
Grand Maester Pycelle pushed himself up from his chair
slowly and escorted Ned to the door. “I hope I have helped
in some small way to put your mind at ease. If there is any
other service Imight perform, you need only ask.”
“One thing,” Ned told him. “I should be curious to examine
the book that you lent Jon the day before he fell ill.”
“I fear you would find it of little interest,” Pycelle said. “It
was a ponderous tome by Grand Maester Malleon on the
lineages of the great houses.”
“Still, I should like to see it.”The old man opened the door. “As you wish. I have it here
some-where. When I find it, I shall have it sent to your
chambers straightaway.”
“You have been most courteous,” Ned told him. Then,
almost as an afterthought, he said, “One last question, if
you would be so kind. You mentioned that the king was at
Lord Arryn’s bedside when he died. I wonder, was the
queen with him?”
“Why, no,” Pycelle said. “She and the children were
making the journey to Casterly Rock, in company with her
father. Lord Tywin had brought a retinue to the city for the
tourney on Prince Joffrey’s name day, no doubt hoping to
see his son Jaime win the champion’s crown. In that he was
sadly disappointed. It fell to me to send the queen word of
Lord Arryn’s sudden death. Never have I sent off a bird with
a heavier heart.”
“Dark wings, dark words,” Ned murmured. It was a
proverb Old Nan had taught him as a boy.
“So the fishwives say,” Grand Maester Pycelle agreed,
“but we know it is not always so. When Maester Luwin’s
bird brought the word about your Bran, the message lifted
every true heart in the castle, did it not?”
“As you say, Maester.”
“The gods are merciful.” Pycelle bowed his head. “Come
to me as often as you like, Lord Eddard. I am here to
Yes, Ned thought as the door swung shut, but whom?
On the way back to his chambers, he came upon his
daughter Arya on the winding steps of the Tower of the
Hand, windmilling her arms as she struggled to balance on
one leg. The rough stone had scuffed her bare feet. Ned
stopped and looked at her. “Arya, what are you doing?”“Syrio says a water dancer can stand on one toe for
hours.” Her hands flailed at the air to steady herself.
Ned had to smile. “Which toe?” he teased.
“Any toe,” Arya said, exasperated with the question. She
hopped from her right leg to her left, swaying dangerously
before she regained her balance.
“Must you do your standing here?” he asked. “It’s a long
hard fall down these steps.”
“Syrio says a water dancer never falls.” She lowered her
leg to stand on two feet. “Father, will Bran come and live
with us now?”
“Not for a long time, sweet one,” he told her. “He needs to
win his strength back.”
Arya bit her lip. “What will Bran do when he’s of age?”
Ned knelt beside her. “He has years to find that answer,
Arya. For now, it is enough to know that he will live.” The
night the bird had come from Winterfell, Eddard Stark had
taken the girls to the castle godswood, an acre of elm and
alder and black cottonwood overlooking the river. The heart
tree there was a great oak, its ancient limbs overgrown with
smokeberry vines; they knelt before it to offer their
thanksgiving, as if it had been a weirwood. Sansa drifted to
sleep as the moon rose, Arya several hours later, curling up
in the grass under Ned’s cloak. All through the dark hours
he kept his vigil alone. When dawn broke over the city, the
dark red blooms of dragon’s breath surrounded the girls
where they lay. “I dreamed of Bran,” Sansa had whispered
to him. “I saw him smiling.”
“He was going to be a knight,” Arya was saying now. “A
knight of the Kingsguard. Can he still be a knight?”
“No,” Ned said. He saw no use in lying to her. “Yet
someday he may be the lord of a great holdfast and sit onthe king’s council. He might raise castles like Brandon the
Builder, or sail a ship across the Sunset Sea, or enter your
mother’s Faith and become the High Septon.” But he will
never run beside his wolf again, he thought with a sadness
too deep for words, or lie with a woman, or hold his own
son in his arms.
Arya cocked her head to one side. “Can I be a king’s
councilor and build castles and become the High Septon?”
“You,” Ned said, kissing her lightly on the brow, “will marry
a king and rule his castle, and your sons will be knights and
princes and lords and, yes, perhaps even a High Septon.”
Arya screwed up her face. “No,” she said, “that’s Sansa.”
She folded up her right leg and resumed her balancing.
Ned sighed and left her there.
Inside his chambers, he stripped off his sweat-stained
silks and sluiced cold water over his head from the basin
beside the bed. Alyn entered as he was drying his face.
“My lord,” he said, “Lord Baelish is without and begs
“Escort him to my solar,” Ned said, reaching for a fresh
tunic, the lightest linen he could find. “I’ll see him at once.”
Littlefinger was perched on the window seat when Ned
entered, watching the knights of the Kingsguard practice at
swords in the yard below. “If only old Selmy’s mind were as
nimble as his blade,” he said wistfully, “our council
meetings would be a good deal livelier.”
“Ser Barristan is as valiant and honorable as any man in
King’s Landing.” Ned had come to have a deep respect for
the aged, whitehaired Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
“And as tiresome,” Littlefinger added, “though I daresay
he should do well in the tourney. Last year he unhorsed the
Hound, and it was only four years ago that he waschampion.”
The question of who might win the tourney interested
Eddard Stark not in the least. “Is there a reason for this
visit, Lord Petyr, or are you here simply to enjoy the view
from my window?”
Littlefinger smiled. “I promised Cat I would help you in
your inquiries, and so I have.”
That took Ned aback. Promise or no promise, he could
not find it in him to trust Lord Petyr Baelish, who struck him
as too clever by half. “You have something for me?”
“Someone,” Littlefinger corrected. “Four someones, if
truth be told. Had you thought to question the Hand’s
Ned frowned. “Would that I could. Lady Arryn took her
household back to the Eyrie.” Lysa had done him no favor
in that regard. All those who had stood closest to her
husband had gone with her when she fled: Jon’s maester,
his steward, the captain of his guard, his knights and
“Most of her household,” Littlefinger said, “not all. A few
remain. A pregnant kitchen girl hastily wed to one of Lord
Renly’s grooms, a stablehand who joined the City Watch, a
potboy discharged from service for theft, and Lord Arryn’s
“His squire?” Ned was pleasantly surprised. A man’s
squire often knew a great deal of his comings and goings.
“Ser Hugh of the Vale,” Littlefinger named him. “The king
knighted the boy after Lord Arryn’s death.”
“I shall send for him,” Ned said. “And the others.”
Littlefinger winced. “My lord, step over here to the
window, if you would be so kind.”
“Why?”“Come, and I’ll show you, my lord.”
Frowning, Ned crossed to the window. Petyr Baelish
made a casual gesture. “There, across the yard, at the door
of the armory, do you see the boy squatting by the steps
honing a sword with an oilstone?”
“What of him?”
“He reports to Varys. The Spider has taken a great
interest in you and all your doings.” He shifted in the window
seat. “Now glance at the wall. Farther west, above the
stables. The guardsman leaning on the ramparts?”
Ned saw the man. “Another of the eunuch’s whisperers?”
“No, this one belongs to the queen. Notice that he enjoys
a fine view of the door to this tower, the better to note who
calls on you. There are others, many unknown even to me.
The Red Keep is full of eyes. Why do you think I hid Cat in a
Eddard Stark had no taste for these intrigues. “Seven
hells,” he swore. It did seem as though the man on the walls
was watching him. Suddenly uncomfortable, Ned moved
away from the window. “Is everyone someone’s informer in
this cursed city?”
“Scarcely,” said Littlefinger. He counted on the fingers on
his hand. “Why, there’s me, you, the king . . . although,
come to think on it, the king tells the queen much too much,
and I’m less than certain about you.” He stood up. “Is there
a man in your service that you trust utterly and completely?”
“Yes,” said Ned.
“In that case, I have a delightful palace in Valyria that I
would dearly love to sell you,” Littlefinger said with a
mocking smile. “The wiser answer was no, my lord, but be
that as it may. Send this paragon of yours to Ser Hugh and
the others. Your own comings and goings will be noted, buteven Varys the Spider cannot watch every man in your
service every hour of the day.” He started for the door.
“Lord Petyr,” Ned called after him. “I . . . am grateful for
your help. Perhaps Iwas wrong to distrust you.”
Littlefinger fingered his small pointed beard. “You are
slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest
thing you’ve done since you climbed down off your horse.”
Jon was showing Dareon how best to deliver a
sidestroke when the new recruit entered the practice yard.
“Your feet should be farther apart,” he urged. “You don’t
want to lose your balance. That’s good. Now pivot as you
deliver the stroke, get all your weight behind the blade.”
Dareon broke off and lifted his visor. “Seven gods,” he
murmured. “Would you look at this, Jon.”
Jon turned. Through the eye slit of his helm, he beheld the
fattest boy he had ever seen standing in the door of the
armory. By the look of him, he must have weighed twenty
stone. The fur collar of his embroidered surcoat was lost
beneath his chins. Pale eyes moved nervously in a great
round moon of a face, and plump sweaty fingers wiped
themselves on the velvet of his doublet. “They . . . they told
me I was to come here for . . . for training,” he said to no
one in particular.
“A lordling,” Pyp observed to Jon. “Southron, most like
near Highgarden.” Pyp had traveled the Seven Kingdoms
with a mummers’ troupe, and bragged that he could tell
what you were and where you’d been born just from the
sound of your voice.
A striding huntsman had been worked in scarlet threadupon the breast of the fat boy’s fur-trimmed surcoat. Jon did
not recognize the sigil. Ser Alliser Thorne looked over his
new charge and said, “It would seem they have run short of
poachers and thieves down south. Now they send us pigs
to man the Wall. Is fur and velvet your notion of armor, my
Lord of Ham?”
It was soon revealed that the new recruit had brought his
own armor with him; padded doublet, boiled leather, mail
and plate and helm, even a great wood-and-leather shield
blazoned with the same striding huntsman he wore on his
surcoat. As none of it was black, however, Ser Alliser
insisted that he reequip himself from the armory. That took
half the morning. His girth required Donal Noye to take
apart a mail hauberk and refit it with leather panels at the
sides. To get a helm over his head the armorer had to
detach the visor. His leathers bound so tightly around his
legs and under his arms that he could scarcely move.
Dressed for battle, the new boy looked like an overcooked
sausage about to burst its skin. “Let us hope you are not as
inept as you look,” Ser Alliser said. “Halder, see what Ser
Piggy can do.”
Jon Snow winced. Halder had been born in a quarry and
apprenticed as a stonemason. He was sixteen, tall and
muscular, and his blows were as hard as any Jon had ever
felt. “This will be uglier than a whore’s ass,” Pyp muttered,
and it was.
The fight lasted less than a minute before the fat boy was
on the ground, his whole body shaking as blood leaked
through his shattered helm and between his pudgy fingers.
“I yield,” he shrilled. “No more, I yield, don’t hit me.” Rast
and some of the other boys were laughing.
Even then, Ser Alliser would not call an end. “On your feet,Ser Piggy,” he called. “Pick up your sword.” When the boy
continued to cling to the ground, Thorne gestured to Halder.
“Hit him with the flat of your blade until he finds his feet.”
Halder delivered a tentative smack to his foe’s upraised
cheeks. “You can hit harder than that,” Thorne taunted.
Halder took hold of his longsword with both hands and
brought it down so hard the blow split leather, even on the
flat. The new boy screeched in pain.
Jon Snow took a step forward. Pyp laid a mailed hand on
his arm. “Jon, no,” the small boy whispered with an anxious
glance at Ser Alliser Thorne.
“On your feet,” Thorne repeated. The fat boy struggled to
rise, slipped, and fell heavily again. “Ser Piggy is starting to
grasp the notion,” Ser Alliser observed. “Again.”
Halder lifted the sword for another blow. “Cut us off a
ham!” Rast urged, laughing.
Jon shook off Pyp’s hand. “Halder, enough.”
Halder looked to Ser Alliser.
“The Bastard speaks and the peasants tremble,” the
master-at-arms said in that sharp, cold voice of his. “I
remind you that I am the master-at-arms here, Lord Snow.”
“Look at him, Haider,” Jon urged, ignoring Thorne as best
he could. “There’s no honor in beating a fallen foe. He
yielded.” He knelt beside the fat boy.
Haider lowered his sword. “He yielded,” he echoed.
Ser Alliser’s onyx eyes were fixed on Jon Snow. “It would
seem our Bastard is in love,” he said as Jon helped the fat
boy to his feet. “Show me your steel, Lord Snow.”
Jon drew his longsword. He dared defy Ser Alliser only to
a point, and he feared he was well beyond it now.
Thorne smiled. “The Bastard wishes to defend his lady
love, so we shall make an exercise of it. Rat, Pimple, helpour Stone Head here.” Rast and Albett moved to join
Haider. “Three of you ought to be sufficient to make Lady
Piggy squeal. All you need do is get past the Bastard.”
“Stay behind me,” Jon said to the fat boy. Ser Alliser had
often sent two foes against him, but never three. He knew
he would likely go to sleep bruised and bloody tonight. He
braced himself for the assault.
Suddenly Pyp was beside him. “Three to two will make for
better sport,” the small boy said cheerfully. He dropped his
visor and slid out his sword. Before Jon could even think to
protest, Grenn had stepped up to make a third.
The yard had grown deathly quiet. Jon could feel Ser
Alliser’s eyes. “Why are you waiting?” he asked Rast and
the others in a voice gone deceptively soft, but it was Jon
who moved first. Haider barely got his sword up in time.
Jon drove him backward, attacking with every blow,
keeping the older boy on the heels. Know your foe, Ser
Rodrik had taught him once; Jon knew Haider, brutally
strong but short of patience, with no taste for defense.
Frustrate him, and he would leave himself open, as certain
as sunset.
The clang of steel echoed through the yard as the others
joined battle around him. Jon blocked a savage cut at his
head, the shock of impact running up his arm as the swords
crashed together. He slammed a sidestroke into Haider’s
ribs, and was rewarded with a muffled grunt of pain. The
counterstroke caught Jon on the shoulder. Chainmail
crunched, and pain flared up his neck, but for an instant
Haider was unbalanced. Jon cut his left leg from under him,
and he fell with a curse and a crash.
Grenn was standing his ground as Jon had taught him,
giving Albett more than he cared for, but Pyp was hard-pressed. Rast had two years and forty pounds on him. Jon
stepped up behind him and rang the raper’s helm like a
bell. As Rast went reeling, Pyp slid in under his guard,
knocked him down, and leveled a blade at his throat. By
then Jon had moved on. Facing two swords, Albett backed
away. “I yield,” he shouted.
Ser Alliser Thorne surveyed the scene with disgust. “The
mummer’s farce has gone on long enough for today.” He
walked away. The session was at an end.
Dareon helped Halder to his feet. The quarryman’s son
wrenched off his helm and threw it across the yard. “For an
instant, I thought I finally had you, Snow.”
“For an instant, you did,” Jon replied. Under his mail and
leather, his shoulder was throbbing. He sheathed his sword
and tried to remove his helm, but when he raised his arm,
the pain made him grit his teeth.
“Let me,” a voice said. Thick-fingered hands unfastened
helm from gorget and lifted it off gently. “Did he hurt you?”
“I’ve been bruised before.” He touched his shoulder and
winced. The yard was emptying around them.
Blood matted the fat boy’s hair where Halder had split his
helm asunder. “My name is Samwell Tarly, of Horn . . .” He
stopped and licked his lips. “Imean, Iwas of Horn Hill, until I
. . . left. I’ve come to take the black. My father is Lord
Randyll, a bannerman to the Tyrells of Highgarden. I used to
be his heir, only . . .” His voice trailed off.
“I’m Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard, of Winterfell.”
Samwell Tarly nodded. “I . . . if you want, you can call me
Sam. My mother calls me Sam.”
“You can call him Lord Snow,” Pyp said as he came up to
join them. “You don’t want to know what his mother calls
him.”“These two are Grenn and Pypar,” Jon said.
“Grenn’s the ugly one,” Pyp said.
Grenn scowled. “You’re uglier than me. At least I don’t
have ears like a bat.”
“My thanks to all of you,” the fat boy said gravely.
“Why didn’t you get up and fight?” Grenn demanded.
“Iwanted to, truly. I just . . . I couldn’t. I didn’t want him to hit
me anymore.” He looked at the ground. “I . . . fear I’m a
coward. My lord father always said so.”
Grenn looked thunderstruck. Even Pyp had no words to
say to that, and Pyp had words for everything. What sort of
man would proclaim himself a coward?
Samwell Tarly must have read their thoughts on their
faces. His eyes met Jon’s and darted away, quick as
frightened animals. “I… I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to
. . . to be like I am.” He walked heavily toward the armory.
Jon called after him. “You were hurt,” he said. “Tomorrow
you’ll do better.”
Sam looked mournfully back over one shoulder. “No I
won’t,” he said, blinking back tears. “I never do better.”
When he was gone, Grenn frowned. “Nobody likes
cravens,” he said uncomfortably. “I wish we hadn’t helped
him. What if they think we’re craven too?”
“You’re too stupid to be craven,” Pyp told him.
“I am not,” Grenn said.
“Yes you are. If a bear attacked you in the woods, you’d
be too stupid to run away.”
“I would not,” Grenn insisted. “I’d run away faster than
you.” He stopped suddenly, scowling when he saw Pyp’s
grin and realized what he’d just said. His thick neck flushed
a dark red. Jon left them there arguing as he returned to the
armory, hung up his sword, and stripped off his batteredarmor.
Life at Castle Black followed certain patterns; the
mornings were for swordplay, the afternoons for work. The
black brothers set new recruits to many different tasks, to
learn where their skills lay. Jon cherished the rare
afternoons when he was sent out with Ghost ranging at his
side to bring back game for the Lord Commander’s table,
but for every day spent hunting, he gave a dozen to Donal
Noye in the armory, spinning the whetstone while the onearmed smith sharpened axes grown dull from use, or
pumping the bellows as Noye hammered out a new sword.
Other times he ran messages, stood at guard, mucked out
stables, fletched arrows, assisted Maester Aemon with his
birds or Bowen Marsh with his counts and inventories.
That afternoon, the watch commander sent him to the
winch cage with four barrels of fresh-crushed stone, to
scatter gravel over the icy footpaths atop the Wall. It was
lonely and boring work, even with Ghost along for company,
but Jon found he did not mind. On a clear day you could
see half the world from the top of the Wall, and the air was
always cold and bracing. He could think here, and he found
himself thinking of Samwell Tarly . . . and, oddly, of Tyrion
Lannister. He wondered what Tyrion would have made of
the fat boy. Most men would rather deny a hard truth than
face it, the dwarf had told him, grinning. The world was full
of cravens who pretended to be heroes; it took a queer sort
of courage to admit to cowardice as Samwell Tarly had.
His sore shoulder made the work go slowly. It was late
afternoon before Jon finished graveling the paths. He
lingered on high to watch the sun go down, turning the
western sky the color of blood. Finally, as dusk was settling
over the north, Jon rolled the empty barrels back into thecage and signaled the winch men to lower him.
The evening meal was almost done by the time he and
Ghost reached the common hall. A group of the black
brothers were dicing over mulled wine near the fire. His
friends were at the bench nearest the west wall, laughing.
Pyp was in the middle of a story. The mummer’s boy with
the big ears was a born liar with a hundred different voices,
and he did not tell his tales so much as live them, playing all
the parts as needed, a king one moment and a swineherd
the next. When he turned into an alehouse girl or a virgin
princess, he used a high falsetto voice that reduced them
all to tears of helpless laughter, and his eunuchs were
always eerily accurate caricatures of Ser Alliser. Jon took
as much pleasure from Pyp’s antics as anyone . . . yet that
night he turned away and went instead to the end of the
bench, where Samwell Tarly sat alone, as far from the
others as he could get.
He was finishing the last of the pork pie the cooks had
served up for supper when Jon sat down across from him.
The fat boy’s eyes widened at the sight of Ghost. “Is that a
“A direwolf,” Jon said. “His name is Ghost. The direwolf is
the sigil of my father’s House.”
“Ours is a striding huntsman,” Samwell Tarly said.
“Do you like to hunt?”
The fat boy shuddered. “I hate it.” He looked as though he
was going to cry again.
“What’s wrong now?” Jon asked him. “Why are you
always so frightened?”
Sam stared at the last of his pork pie and gave a feeble
shake of his head, too scared even to talk. A burst of
laughter filled the hall. Jon heard Pyp squeaking in a highvoice. He stood. “Let’s go outside.”
The round fat face looked up at him, suspicious. “Why?
What will we do outside?”
“Talk,” Jon said. “Have you seen the Wall?”
“I’m fat, not blind,” Samwell Tarly said. “Of course I saw it,
it’s seven hundred feet high.” Yet he stood up all the same,
wrapped a furlined cloak over his shoulders, and followed
Jon from the common hall, still wary, as if he suspected
some cruel trick was waiting for him in the night. Ghost
padded along beside them. “I never thought it would be like
this,” Sam said as they walked, his words steaming in the
cold air. Already he was huffing and puffing as he tried to
keep up. “All the buildings are falling down, and it’s so . . .
so . . .”
“Cold?” A hard frost was settling over the castle, and Jon
could hear the soft crunch of grey weeds beneath his boots.
Sam nodded miserably. “I hate the cold,” he said. “Last
night I woke up in the dark and the fire had gone out and I
was certain Iwas going to freeze to death by morning.”
“It must have been warmer where you come from.”
“I never saw snow until last month. We were crossing the
barrowlands, me and the men my father sent to see me
north, and this white stuff began to fall, like a soft rain. At
first I thought it was so beautiful, like feathers drifting from
the sky, but it kept on and on, until I was frozen to the bone.
The men had crusts of snow in their beards and more on
their shoulders, and still it kept coming. Iwas afraid it would
never end.”
Jon smiled.
The Wall loomed before them, glimmering palely in the
light of the half moon. In the sky above, the stars burned
clear and sharp. “Are they going to make me go up there?”Sam asked. His face curdled like old milk as he looked at
the great wooden stairs. “I’ll die if I have to climb that.”
“There’s a winch,” Jon said, pointing. “They can draw you
up in a cage.”
Samwell Tarly sniffled. “I don’t like high places.”
It was too much. Jon frowned, incredulous. “Are you afraid
of everything?” he asked. “I don’t understand. If you are truly
so craven, why are you here? Why would a coward want to
join the Night’s Watch?”
Samwell Tarly looked at him for a long moment, and his
round face seemed to cave in on itself. He sat down on the
frost-covered ground and began to cry, huge choking sobs
that made his whole body shake. Jon Snow could only
stand and watch. Like the snowfall on the barrowlands, it
seemed the tears would never end.
It was Ghost who knew what to do. Silent as shadow, the
pale direwolf moved closer and began to lick the warm
tears off Samwell Tarly’s face. The fat boy cried out,
startled . . . and somehow, in a heartbeat, his sobs turned
to laughter.
Jon Snow laughed with him. Afterward they sat on the
frozen ground, huddled in their cloaks with Ghost between
them. Jon told the story of how he and Robb had found the
pups newborn in the late summer snows. It seemed a
thousand years ago now. Before long he found himself
talking of Winterfell. ”Sometimes I dream about it,” he said.
“I’m walking down this long empty hall. My voice echoes all
around, but no one answers, so I walk faster, opening
doors, shouting names. I don’t even know who I’m looking
for. Most nights it’s my father, but sometimes it’s Robb
instead, or my little sister Arya, or my uncle.” The thought of
Benjen Stark saddened him; his uncle was still missing.The Old Bear had sent out rangers in search of him. Ser
Jaremy Rykker had led two sweeps, and Quorin Halfhand
had gone forth from the Shadow Tower, but they’d found
nothing aside from a few blazes in the trees that his uncle
had left to mark his way. In the stony highlands to the
northwest, the marks stopped abruptly and all trace of Ben
Stark vanished.
“Do you ever find anyone in your dream?” Sam asked.
Jon shook his head. “No one. The castle is always
empty.” He had never told anyone of the dream, and he did
not understand why he was telling Sam now, yet somehow
it felt good to talk of it. “Even the ravens are gone from the
rookery, and the stables are full of bones. That always
scares me. I start to run then, throwing open doors, climbing
the tower three steps at a time, screaming for someone, for
anyone. And then I find myself in front of the door to the
crypts. It’s black inside, and I can see the steps spiraling
down. Somehow I know I have to go down there, but I don’t
want to. I’m afraid of what might be waiting for me. The old
Kings of Winter are down there, sitting on their thrones with
stone wolves at their feet and iron swords across their laps,
but it’s not them I’m afraid of. I scream that I’m not a Stark,
that this isn’t my place, but it’s no good, I have to go
anyway, so I start down, feeling the walls as I descend, with
no torch to light the way. It gets darker and darker, until I
want to scream.” He stopped, frowning, embarrassed.
“That’s when I always wake.” His skin cold and clammy,
shivering in the darkness of his cell. Ghost would leap up
beside him, his warmth as comforting as daybreak. He
would go back to sleep with his face pressed into the
direwolf’s shaggy white fur. “Do you dream of Horn Hill?”
Jon asked.“No.” Sam’s mouth grew tight and hard. “I hated it there.”
He scratched Ghost behind the ear, brooding, and Jon let
the silence breathe. After a long while Samwell Tarly began
to talk, and Jon Snow listened quietly, and learned how it
was that a self-confessed coward found himself on the
The Tarlys were a family old in honor, bannermen to Mace
Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South. The
eldest son of Lord Randyll Tarly, Samwell was born heir to
rich lands, a strong keep, and a storied two-handed
greatsword named Heartsbane, forged of Valyrian steel
and passed down from father to son near five hundred
Whatever pride his lord father might have felt at
Samwell’s birth vanished as the boy grew up plump, soft,
and awkward. Sam loved to listen to music and make his
own songs, to wear soft velvets, to play in the castle kitchen
beside the cooks, drinking in the rich smells as he snitched
lemon cakes and blueberry tarts. His passions were books
and kittens and dancing, clumsy as he was. But he grew ill
at the sight of blood, and wept to see even a chicken
slaughtered. A dozen masters-at-arms came and went at
Horn Hill, trying to turn Samwell into the knight his father
wanted. The boy was cursed and caned, slapped and
starved. One man had him sleep in his chainmail to make
him more martial. Another dressed him in his mother’s
clothing and paraded him through the bailey to shame him
into valor. He only grew fatter and more frightened, until
Lord Randyll’s disappointment turned to anger and then to
loathing. “One time,” Sam confided, his voice dropping
from a whisper, “two men came to the castle, warlocks from
Qarth with white skin and blue lips. They slaughtered a bullaurochs and made me bathe in the hot blood, but it didn’t
make me brave as they’d promised. I got sick and retched.
Father had them scourged.”
Finally, after three girls in as many years, Lady Tarly gave
her lord husband a second son. From that day, Lord
Randyll ignored Sam, devoting all his time to the younger
boy, a fierce, robust child more to his liking. Samwell had
known several years of sweet peace with his music and his
Until The dawn of his fifteenth name day, when he had
been awakened to find his horse saddled and ready. Three
men-at-arms had escorted him into a wood near Horn Hill,
where his father was skinning a deer. “You are almost a
man grown now, and my heir,” Lord Randyll Tarly had told
his eldest son, his long knife laying bare the carcass as he
spoke. “You have given me no cause to disown you, but
neither will I allow you to inherit the land and title that should
be Dickon’s. Heartsbane must go to a man strong enough
to wield her, and you are not worthy to touch her hilt. So I
have decided that you shall this day announce that you wish
to take the black. You will forsake all claim to your brother’s
inheritance and start north before evenfall.
“If you do not, then on the morrow we shall have a hunt,
and somewhere in these woods your horse will stumble,
and you will be thrown from the saddle to die . . . or so I will
tell your mother. She has a woman’s heart and finds it in her
to cherish even you, and I have no wish to cause her pain.
Please do not imagine that it will truly be that easy, should
you think to defy me. Nothing would please me more than to
hunt you down like the pig you are.” His arms were red to
the elbow as he laid the skinning knife aside. “So. There is
your choice. The Night’s Watch”—he reached inside thedeer, ripped out its heart, and held it in his fist, red and
dripping—”or this.”
Sam told the tale in a calm, dead voice, as if it were
something that had happened to someone else, not to him.
And strangely, Jon thought, he did not weep, not even once.
When he was done, they sat together and listened to the
wind for a time. There was no other sound in all the world.
Finally Jon said, “We should go back to the common hall.”
“Why?” Sam asked.
Jon shrugged. “There’s hot cider to drink, or mulled wine
if you prefer. Some nights Dareon sings for us, if the mood
is on him. He was a singer, before . . . well, not truly, but
almost, an apprentice singer.”
“How did he come here?” Sam asked.
“Lord Rowan of Goldengrove found him in bed with his
daughter. The girl was two years older, and Dareon swears
she helped him through her window, but under her father’s
eye she named it rape, so here he is. When Maester
Aemon heard him sing, he said his voice was honey
poured over thunder.” Jon smiled. “Toad sometimes sings
too, if you call it singing. Drinking songs he learned in his
father’s winesink. Pyp says his voice is piss poured over a
fart.” They laughed at that together.
“I should like to hear them both,” Sam admitted, “but they
would not want me there.” His face was troubled. “He’s
going to make me fight again on the morrow, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Jon was forced to say.
Sam got awkwardly to his feet. “I had better try to sleep.”
He huddled down in his cloak and plodded off.
The others were still in the common room when Jon
returned, alone but for Ghost. “Where have you been?” Pyp
asked.“Talking with Sam,” he said.
“He truly is craven,” said Grenn. “At supper, there were
still places on the bench when he got his pie, but he was
too scared to come sit with us.”
“The Lord of Ham thinks he’s too good to eat with the
likes of us,” suggested Jeren.
“I saw him eat a pork pie,” Toad said, smirking. “Do you
think it was a brother?” He began to make oinking noises.
“Stop it!” Jon snapped angrily.
The other boys fell silent, taken aback by his sudden fury.
“Listen tome,” Jon said into the quiet, and he told them how
it was going to be. Pyp backed him, as he’d known he
would, but when Halder spoke up, it was a pleasant
surprise. Grenn was anxious at the first, but Jon knew the
words to move him. One by one the rest fell in line. Jon
persuaded some, cajoled some, shamed the others, made
threats where threats were required. At the end they had all
agreed . . . all but Rast.
“You girls do as you please,” Rast said, “but if Thorne
sends me against Lady Piggy, I’m going to slice me off a
rasher of bacon.” He laughed in Jon’s face and left them
Hours later, as the castle slept, three of them paid a call
on his cell. Grenn held his arms while Pyp sat on his legs.
Jon could hear Rast’s rapid breathing as Ghost leapt onto
his chest. The direwolf’s eyes burned red as embers as his
teeth nipped lightly at the soft skin of the boy’s throat, just
enough to draw blood. “Remember, we know where you
sleep,” Jon said softly.
The next morning Jon heard Rast tell Albett and Toad how
his razor had slipped while he shaved.
From that day forth, neither Rast nor any of the otherswould hurt Samwell Tarly. When Ser Alliser matched them
against him, they would stand their ground and swat aside
his slow, clumsy strokes. If the master-at-arms screamed
for an attack, they would dance in and tap Sam lightly on
breastplate or helm or leg. Ser Alliser raged and
threatened and called them all cravens and women and
worse, yet Sam remained unhurt. A few nights later, at
Jon’s urging, he joined them for the evening meal, taking a
place on the bench beside Halder. It was another fortnight
before he found the nerve to join their talk, but in time he
was laughing at Pyp’s faces and teasing Grenn with the
best of them.
Fat and awkward and frightened he might be, but
Samwell Tarly was no fool. One night he visited Jon in his
cell. “I don’t know what you did,” he said, “but I know you did
it.” He looked away shyly. “I’ve never had a friend before.”
“We’re not friends,” Jon said. He put a hand on Sam’s
broad shoulder. “We’re brothers.”
And so they were, he thought to himself after Sam had
taken his leave. Robb and Bran and Rickon were his
father’s sons, and he loved them still, yet Jon knew that he
had never truly been one of them. Catelyn Stark had seen
to that. The grey walls of Winterfell might still haunt his
dreams, but Castle Black was his life now, and his brothers
were Sam and Grenn and Halder and Pyp and the other
cast-outs who wore the black of the Night’s Watch.
“My uncle spoke truly,” he whispered to Ghost. He
wondered if he would ever see Benjen Stark again, to tell
Eddard“‘It’s the Hand’s tourney that’s the cause of all the
trouble, my lords,” the Commander of the City Watch
complained to the king’s council.
“The king’s tourney,” Ned corrected, wincing. “I assure
you, the Hand wants no part of it.”
“Call it what you will, my lord. Knights have been arriving
from all over the realm, and for every knight we get two
freeriders, three craftsmen, six men-at-arms, a dozen
merchants, two dozen whores, and more thieves than I dare
guess. This cursed heat had half the city in a fever to start,
and now with all these visitors . . . last night we had a
drowning, a tavern riot, three knife fights, a rape, two fires,
robberies beyond count, and a drunken horse race down
the Street of the Sisters. The night before a woman’s head
was found in the Great Sept, floating in the rainbow pool.
No one seems to know how it got there or who it belongs
“How dreadful,” Varys said with a shudder.
Lord Renly Baratheon was less sympathetic. “If you
cannot keep the king’s peace, Janos, perhaps the City
Watch should be commanded by someone who can.”
Stout, jowly Janos Slynt puffed himself up like an angry
frog, his bald pate reddening. “Aegon the Dragon himself
could not keep the peace, Lord Renly. I need more men.”
“How many?” Ned asked, leaning forward. As ever,
Robert had not troubled himself to attend the council
session, so it fell to his Hand to speak for him.
“As many as can be gotten, Lord Hand.”
“Hire fifty new men,” Ned told him. “Lord Baelish will see
that you get the coin.”
“Iwill?” Littlefinger said.
“You will. You found forty thousand golden dragons for achampion’s purse, surely you can scrape together a few
coppers to keep the king’s peace.” Ned turned back to
Janos Slynt. “I will also give you twenty good swords from
my own household guard, to serve with the Watch until the
crowds have left.”
“All thanks, Lord Hand,” Slynt said, bowing. “I promise
you, they shall be put to good use.”
When the Commander had taken his leave, Eddard Stark
turned to the rest of the council. “The sooner this folly is
done with, the better I shall like it.” As if the expense and
trouble were not irksome enough, all and sundry insisted on
salting Ned’s wound by calling it “the Hand’s tourney,” as if
he were the cause of it. And Robert honestly seemed to
think he should feel honored!
“The realm prospers from such events, my lord,” Grand
Maester Pycelle said. “They bring the great the chance of
glory, and the lowly a respite from their woes.”
“And put coins in many a pocket,” Littlefinger added.
“Every inn in the city is full, and the whores are walking
bowlegged and jingling with each step.”
Lord Renly laughed. “We’re fortunate my brother Stannis
is not with us. Remember the time he proposed to outlaw
brothels? The king asked him if perhaps he’d like to outlaw
eating, shitting, and breathing while he was at it. If truth be
told, I ofttimes wonder how Stannis ever got that ugly
daughter of his. He goes to his marriage bed like a man
marching to a battlefield, with a grim look in his eyes and a
determination to do his duty.”
Ned had not joined the laughter. “I wonder about your
brother Stannis as well. Iwonder when he intends to end his
visit to Dragonstone and resume his seat on this council.”
“No doubt as soon as we’ve scourged all those whoresinto the sea,” Littlefinger replied, provoking more laughter.
“I have heard quite enough about whores for one day,”
Ned said, rising. “Until the morrow.”
Harwin had the door when Ned returned to the Tower of
the Hand. “Summon Jory to my chambers and tell your
father to saddle my horse,” Ned told him, too brusquely.
“As you say, my lord.”
The Red Keep and the “Hand’s tourney” were chafing him
raw, Ned reflected as he climbed. He yearned for the
comfort of Catelyn’s arms, for the sounds of Robb and Jon
crossing swords in the practice yard, for the cool days and
cold nights of the north.
In his chambers he stripped off his council silks and sat
for a moment with the book while he waited for Jory to
arrive. The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of
the Seven Kingdoms, With Descriptions of Many High
Lords and Noble Ladies and Their Children, by Grand
Maester Malleon. Pycelle had spoken truly; it made for
ponderous reading. Yet Jon Arryn had asked for it, and Ned
felt certain he had reasons. There was something here,
some truth buried in these brittle yellow pages, if only he
could see it. But what? The tome was over a century old.
Scarcely a man now alive had yet been born when Malleon
had compiled his dusty lists of weddings, births, and
He opened to the section on House Lannister once more,
and turned the pages slowly, hoping against hope that
something would leap out at him. The Lannisters were an
old family, tracing their descent back to Lann the Clever, a
trickster from the Age of Heroes who was no doubt as
legendary as Bran the Builder, though far more beloved of
singers and taletellers. In the songs, Lann was the fellowwho winkled the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock with no
weapon but his wits, and stole gold from the sun to brighten
his curly hair. Ned wished he were here now, to winkle the
truth out of this damnable book.
A sharp rap on the door heralded Jory Cassel. Ned
closed Malleon’s tome and bid him enter. “I’ve promised
the City Watch twenty of my guard until the tourney is done,”
he told him. “I rely on you to make the choice. Give Alyn the
command, and make certain the men understand that they
are needed to stop fights, not start them.” Rising, Ned
opened a cedar chest and removed a light linen undertunic.
“Did you find the stableboy?”
“The watchman, my lord,” Jory said. “He vows he’ll never
touch another horse.”
“What did he have to say?”
“He claims he knew Lord Arryn well. Fast friends, they
were.” Jory snorted. “The Hand always gave the lads a
copper on their name days, he says. Had a way with
horses. Never rode his mounts too hard, and brought them
carrots and apples, so they were always pleased to see
“Carrots and apples,” Ned repeated. It sounded as if this
boy would be even less use than the others. And he was the
last of the four Littlefinger had turned up. Jory had spoken
to each of them in turn. Ser Hugh had been brusque and
uninformative, and arrogant as only a new-made knight can
be. If the Hand wished to talk to him, he should be pleased
to receive him, but he would not be questioned by a mere
captain of guards . . . even if said captain was ten years
older and a hundred times the swordsman. The serving girl
had at least been pleasant. She said Lord Jon had been
reading more than was good for him, that he was troubledand melancholy over his young son’s frailty, and gruff with
his lady wife. The potboy, now cordwainer, had never
exchanged so much as a word with Lord Jon, but he was
full of oddments of kitchen gossip: the lord had been
quarreling with the king, the lord only picked at his food, the
lord was sending his boy to be fostered on Dragonstone,
the lord had taken a great interest in the breeding of hunting
hounds, the lord had visited a master armorer to
commission a new suit of plate, wrought all in pale silver
with a blue jasper falcon and a mother-of-pearl moon on the
breast. The king’s own brother had gone with him to help
choose the design, the potboy said. No, not Lord Renly, the
other one, Lord Stannis.
“Did our watchman recall anything else of note?”
“The lad swears Lord Jon was as strong as a man half his
age. Often went riding with Lord Stannis, he says.”
Stannis again, Ned thought. He found that curious. Jon
Arryn and he had been cordial, but never friendly. And while
Robert had been riding north to Winterfell, Stannis had
removed himself to Dragonstone, the Targaryen island
fastness he had conquered in his brother’s name. He had
given no word as to when he might return. “Where did they
go on these rides?” Ned asked.
“The boy says that they visited a brothel.”
“A brothel?” Ned said. “The Lord of the Eyrie and Hand of
the King visited a brothel with Stannis Baratheon?” He
shook his head, incredulous, wondering what Lord Renly
would make of this tidbit. Robert’s lusts were the subject of
ribald drinking songs throughout the realm, but Stannis was
a different sort of man; a bare year younger than the king,
yet utterly unlike him, stern, humorless, unforgiving, grim in
his sense of duty.“The boy insists it’s true. The Hand took three guardsmen
with him, and the boy says they were joking of it when he
took their horses afterward.”
“Which brothel?” Ned asked.
“The boy did not know. The guards would.”
“A pity Lysa carried them off to the Vale,” Ned said dryly.
“The gods are doing their best to vex us. Lady Lysa,
Maester Colemon, Lord Stannis … everyone who might
actually know the truth of what happened to Jon Arryn is a
thousand leagues away.”
“Will you summon Lord Stannis back from Dragonstone?”
“Not yet,” Ned said. “Not until I have a better notion of
what this is all about and where he stands.” The matter
nagged at him. Why did Stannis leave? Had he played
some part in Jon Arryn’s murder? Or was he afraid? Ned
found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis
Baratheon, who had once held Storm’s End through a year
of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords
Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting
in sight of his walls.
“Bring me my doublet, if you would. The grey, with the
direwolf sigil. I want this armorer to know who I am. It might
make him more forthcoming.”
Jory went to the wardrobe. “Lord Renly is brother to Lord
Stannis as well as the king.”
“Yet it seems that he was not invited on these rides.” Ned
was not sure what to make of Renly, with all his friendly
ways and easy smiles. A few days past, he had taken Ned
aside to show him an exquisite rose gold locklet. Inside
was a miniature painted in the vivid Myrish style, of a lovely
young girl with doe’s eyes and a cascade of soft brown
hair. Renly had seemed anxious to know if the girlreminded him of anyone, and when Ned had no answer but
a shrug, he had seemed disappointed. The maid was
Loras Tyrell’s sister Margaery, he’d confessed, but there
were those who said she looked like Lyanna. “No,” Ned
had told him, bemused. Could it be that Lord Renly, who
looked so like a young Robert, had conceived a passion for
a girl he fancied to be a young Lyanna? That struck him as
more than passing queer.
Jory held out the doublet, and Ned slid his hands through
the armholes. “Perhaps Lord Stannis will return for Robert’s
tourney,” he said as Jory laced the garment up the back.
“That would be a stroke of fortune, my lord,” Jory said.
Ned buckled on a longsword. “In other words, not bloody
likely.” His smile was grim.
Jory draped Ned’s cloak across his shoulders and
clasped it at the throat with the Hand’s badge of office. “The
armorer lives above his shop, in a large house at the top of
the Street of Steel. Alyn knows the way, my lord.”
Ned nodded. “The gods help this potboy if he’s sent me
off haring after shadows.” It was a slim enough staff to lean
on, but the Jon Arryn that Ned Stark had known was not one
to wear jeweled and silvered plate. Steel was steel; it was
meant for protection, not ornament. He might have changed
his views, to be sure. He would scarcely have been the first
man who came to look on things differently after a few
years at court . . . but the change was marked enough to
make Ned wonder.
“Is there any other service Imight perform?”
“I suppose you’d best begin visiting whorehouses.”
“Hard duty, my lord.” Jory grinned. “The men will be glad
to help. Porther has made a fair start already.”
Ned’s favorite horse was saddled and waiting in the yard.Varly and Jacks fell in beside him as he rode through the
yard. Their steel caps and shirts of mail must have been
sweltering, yet they said no word of complaint. As Lord
Eddard passed beneath the King’s Gate into the stink of
the city, his grey and white cloak streaming from his
shoulders, he saw eyes everywhere and kicked his mount
into a trot. His guard followed.
He looked behind him frequently as they made their way
through the crowded city streets. Tomard and Desmond
had left the castle early this morning to take up positions on
the route they must take, and watch for anyone following
them, but even so, Ned was uncertain. The shadow of the
King’s Spider and his little birds had him fretting like a
maiden on her wedding night.
The Street of Steel began at the market square beside
the River Gate, as it was named on maps, or the Mud Gate,
as it was commonly called.A mummer on stilts was striding
through the throngs like some great insect, with a horde of
barefoot children trailing behind him, hooting. Elsewhere,
two ragged boys no older than Bran were dueling with
sticks, to the loud encouragement of some and the furious
curses of others. An old woman ended the contest by
leaning out of her window and emptying a bucket of slops
on the heads of the combatants. In the shadow of the wall,
farmers stood beside their wagons, bellowing out, “Apples,
the best apples, cheap at twice the price,” and “Blood
melons, sweet as honey,” and “Turnips, onions, roots, here
you go here, here you go, turnips, onions, roots, here you
go here.”
The Mud Gate was open, and a squad of City Watchmen
stood under the portcullis in their golden cloaks, leaning on
spears. When a column of riders appeared from the west,the guardsmen sprang into action, shouting commands and
moving the carts and foot traffic aside to let the knight enter
with his escort. The first rider through the gate carried a
long black banner. The silk rippled in the wind like a living
thing; across the fabric was blazoned a night sky slashed
with purple lightning. “Make way for Lord Beric!” the rider
shouted. “Make wayfor Lord Befic!” And close behind
came the young lord himself, a dashing figure on a black
courser, with red-gold hair and a black satin cloak dusted
with stars. “Here to fight in the Hand’s tourney, my lord?” a
guardsman called out to him. “Here to win the Hand’s
tourney,” Lord Beric shouted back as the crowd cheered.
Ned turned off the square where the Street of Steel began
and followed its winding path up a long hill, past
blacksmiths working at open forges, freeriders haggling
over mail shirts, and grizzled ironmongers selling old
blades and razors from their wagons. The farther they
climbed, the larger the buildings grew. The man they
wanted was all the way at the top of the hill, in a huge house
of timber and plaster whose upper stories loomed over the
narrow street. The double doors showed a hunting scene
carved in ebony and weirwood. A pair of stone knights
stood sentry at the entrance, armored in fanciful suits of
polished red steel that transformed them into griffin and
unicorn. Ned left his horse with Jacks and shouldered his
way inside.
The slim young serving girl took quick note of Ned’s
badge and the sigil on his doublet, and the master came
hurrying out, all smiles and bows. “Wine for the King’s
Hand,” he told the girl, gesturing Ned to a couch. “I am
Tobho Mott, my lord, please, please, put yourself at ease.”
He wore a black velvet coat with hammers embroidered onthe sleeves in silver thread, Around his neck was a heavy
silver chain and a sapphire as large as a pigeon’s egg. “If
you are in need of new arms for the Hand’s tourney, you
have come to the right shop.” Ned did not bother to correct
him. “My work is costly, and I make no apologies for that,
my lord,” he said as he filled two matching silver goblets.
“You will not find craftsmanship equal to mine anywhere in
the Seven Kingdoms, I promise you. Visit every forge in
King’s Landing if you like, and compare for yourself. Any
village smith can hammer out a shift of mail; my work is art.”
Ned sipped his wine and let the man go on. The Knight of
Flowers bought all his armor here, Tobho boasted, and
many high lords, the ones who knew fine steel, and even
Lord Renly, the king’s own brother. Perhaps the Hand had
seen Lord Renly’s new armor, the green plate with the
golden antlers? No other armorer in the city could get that
deep a green; he knew the secret of putting color in the
steel itself, paint and enamel were the crutches of a
journeyman. Or mayhaps the Hand wanted a blade? Tobho
had learned to work Valyrian steel at the forges of Oohor as
a boy. Only a man who knew the spells could take old
weapons and forge them anew. “The direwolf was the sigil
of House Stark, is it not? I could fashion a direwolf helm so
real that children will run from you in the street,” he vowed.
Ned smiled. “Did you make a falcon helm for Lord Arryn?”
Tobho Mott paused a long moment and set aside his wine.
“The Hand did call upon me, with Lord Stannis, the king’s
brother. I regret to say, they did not honor me with their
Ned looked at the man evenly, saying nothing, waiting. He
had found over the years that silence sometimes yielded
more than questions. And so it was this time.“They asked to see the boy,” the armorer said, “so I took
them back to the forge.”
“The boy,” Ned echoed. He had no notion who the boy
might be. “I should like to see the boy as well.”
Tobho Mott gave him a cool, careful look. “As you wish,
my lord,” he said with no trace of his former friendliness. He
led Ned out a rear door and across a narrow yard, back to
the cavernous stone barn where the work was done. When
the armorer opened the door, the blast of hot air that came
through made Ned feel as though he were walking into a
dragon’s mouth. Inside, a forge blazed in each corner, and
the air stank of smoke and sulfur. Journeymen armorers
glanced up from their hammers and tongs just long enough
to wipe the sweat from their brows, while bare-chested
apprentice boys worked the bellows.
The master called over a tall lad about Robb’s age, his
arms and chest corded with muscle. “This is Lord Stark, the
new Hand of the King,” he told him as the boy looked at
Ned through sullen blue eyes and pushed back sweatsoaked hair with his fingers. Thick hair, shaggy and
unkempt and black as ink. The shadow of a new beard
darkened his jaw. “This is Gendry. Strong for his age, and
he works hard. Show the Hand that helmet you made, lad.”
Almost shyly, the boy led them to his bench, and a steel
helm shaped like a bull’s head, with two great curving
Ned turned the helm over in his hands. It was raw steel,
unpolished but expertly shaped. “This is fine work. I would
be pleased if you would let me buy it.”
The boy snatched it out of his hands. “It’s not for sale.”
Tobho Mott looked horror-struck. “Boy, this is the King’s
Hand. If his lordship wants this helm, make him a gift of it.He honors you by asking.”
“Imade it for me,” the boy said stubbornly.
“A hundred pardons, my lord,” his master said hurriedly to
Ned. “The boy is crude as new steel, and like new steel
would profit from some beating. That helm is journeyman’s
work at best. Forgive him and I promise I will craft you a
helm like none you have ever seen.”
“He’s done nothing that requires my forgiveness. Gendry,
when Lord Arryn came to see you, what did you talk
“He asked me questions is all, m’lord.”
“What sort of questions?”
The boy shrugged. “How was I, and was I well treated,
and if I liked the work, and stuff about my mother. Who she
was and what she looked like and all.”
“What did you tell him?” Ned asked.
The boy shoved a fresh fall of black hair off his forehead.
“She died when I was little. She had yellow hair, and
sometimes she used to sing to me, I remember. She
worked in an alehouse.”
“Did Lord Stannis question you as well?”
“The bald one? No, not him. He never said no word, just
glared at me, like I was some raper who done for his
“Mind your filthy tongue,” the master said. “This is the
King’s own Hand.” The boy lowered his eyes. “A smart boy,
but stubborn. That helm . . . the others call him bullheaded,
so he threw it in their teeth.”
Ned touched the boy’s head, fingering the thick black
hair. “Look at me, Gendry.” The apprentice lifted his face.
Ned studied the shape of his jaw, the eyes like blue ice.
Yes, he thought, I see it. “Go back to your work, lad. I’msorry to have bothered you.” He walked back to the house
with the master. “Who paid the boy’s apprentice fee?” he
asked lightly.
Mott looked fretful. “You saw the boy. Such a strong boy.
Those hands of his, those hands were made for hammers.
He had such promise, I took him on without a fee.”
“The truth now,” Ned urged. “The streets are full of strong
boys. The day you take on an apprentice without a fee will
be the day the Wall comes down. Who paid for him?”
“A lord,” the master said reluctantly. “He gave no name,
and wore no sigil on his coat. He paid in gold, twice the
customary sum, and said he was paying once for the boy,
and once for my silence.”
“Describe him.”
“He was stout, round of shoulder, not so tall as you. Brown
beard, but there was a bit of red in it, I’ll swear. He wore a
rich cloak, that I do remember, heavy purple velvet worked
with silver threads, but the hood shadowed his face and I
never did see him clear.” He hesitated a moment. “My lord,
Iwant no trouble.”
“None of us wants trouble, but I fear these are troubled
times, Master Mott,” Ned said. “You know who the boy is.”
“I am only an armorer, my lord. I know what I’m told.”
“You know who the boy is,” Ned repeated patiently. “That
is not a question.”
“The boy is my apprentice,” the master said. He looked
Ned in the eye, stubborn as old iron. “Who he was before
he came to me, that’s none of my concern.”
Ned nodded. He decided that he liked Tobho Mott,
master armorer. “If the day ever comes when Gendry would
rather wield a sword than forge one, send him to me. He
has the look of a warrior. Until then, you have my thanks,Master Mott, and my promise. Should I ever want a helm to
frighten children, this will be the first place I visit.”
His guard was waiting outside with the horses. “Did you
find anything, my lord?” Jacks asked as Ned mounted up.
“I did,” Ned told him, wondering. What had Jon Arryn
wanted with a king’s bastard, and why was it worth his life?
My lady, you ought cover your head,” Ser Rodrik
told her as their horses plodded north. “You will take a chill.”
“It is only water, Ser Rodrik,” Catelyn replied. Her hair
hung wet and heavy, a loose strand stuck to her forehead,
and she could imagine how ragged and wild she must look,
but for once she did not care. The southern rain was soft
and warm. Catelyn liked the feel of it on her face, gentle as
a mother’s kisses. It took her back to her childhood, to long
grey days at Riverrun. She remembered the godswood,
drooping branches heavy with moisture, and the sound of
her brother’s laughter as he chased her through piles of
damp leaves. She remembered making mud pies with
Lysa, the weight of them, the mud slick and brown between
her fingers. They had served them to Littlefinger, giggling,
and he’d eaten so much mud he was sick for a week. How
young they all had been.
Catelyn had almost forgotten. In the north, the rain fell cold
and hard, and sometimes at night it turned to ice. It was as
likely to kill a crop as nurture it, and it sent grown men
running for the nearest shelter. That was no rain for little
girls to play in.
“I am soaked through,” Ser Rodrik complained. “Even my
bones are wet.” The woods pressed close around them,and the steady pattering of rain on leaves was
accompanied by the small sucking sounds their horses
made as their hooves pulled free of the mud. “We will want
a fire tonight, my lady, and a hot meal would serve us both.”
“There is an inn at the crossroads up ahead,” Catelyn told
him. She had slept many a night there in her youth, traveling
with her father. Lord Hoster Tully had been a restless man
in his prime, always riding somewhere. She still
remembered the innkeep, a fat woman named Masha
Heddle who chewed sourleaf night and day and seemed to
have an endless supply of smiles and sweet cakes for the
children. The sweet cakes had been soaked with honey,
rich and heavy on the tongue, but how Catelyn had dreaded
those smiles. The sourleaf had stained Masha’s teeth a
dark red, and made her smile a bloody horror.
“An inn,” Ser Rodrik repeated wistfully. “If only . . . but we
dare not risk it. If we wish to remain unknown, I think it best
we seek out some small holdfast . . .” He broke off as they
heard sounds up the road; splashing water, the clink of
mail, a horse’s whinny. “Riders,” he warned, his hand
dropping to the hilt of his sword. Even on the kingsroad, it
never hurt to be wary.
They followed the sounds around a lazy bend of the road
and saw them; a column of armed men noisily fording a
swollen stream. Catelyn reined up to let them pass. The
banner in the hand of the foremost rider hung sodden and
limp, but the guardsmen wore indigo cloaks and on their
shoulders flew the silver eagle of Seagard. “Mallisters,” Ser
Rodrik whispered to her, as if she had not known. “My lady,
best pull up your hood.”
Catelyn made no move. Lord Jason Mallister himself rode
with them, surrounded by his knights, his son Patrek by hisside and their squires close behind. They were riding for
King’s Landing and the Hand’s tourney, she knew. For the
past week, the travelers had been thick as flies upon the
kingsroad; knights and freeriders, singers with their harps
and drums, heavy wagons laden with hops or corn or casks
of honey, traders and craftsmen and whores, and all of
them moving south.
She studied Lord Jason boldly. The last time she had
seen him he had been jesting with her uncle at her wedding
feast; the Mallisters stood bannermen to the Tullys, and his
gifts had been lavish. His brown hair was salted with white
now, his face chiseled gaunt by time, yet the years had not
touched his pride. He rode like a man who feared nothing.
Catelyn envied him that; she had come to fear so much. As
the riders passed, Lord Jason nodded a curt greeting, but it
was only a high lord’s courtesy to strangers chance met on
the road. There was no recognition in those fierce eyes,
and his son did not even waste a look.
“He did not know you,” Ser Rodrik said after, wondering.
”He saw a pair of mud-spattered travelers by the side of the
road, wet and tired. It would never occur to him to suspect
that one of them was the daughter of his liege lord. I think
we shall be safe enough at the inn, Ser Rodrik.”
It was near dark when they reached it, at the crossroads
north of the great confluence of the Trident. Masha Heddle
was fatter and greyer than Catelyn remembered, still
chewing her sourleaf, but she gave them only the most
cursory of looks, with nary a hint of her ghastly red smile.
“Two rooms at the top of the stair, that’s all there is,” she
said, chewing all the while. “They’re under the bell tower,
you won’t be missing meals, though there’s some thinks it
too noisy. Can’t be helped. We’re full up, or near as makesno matter. It’s those rooms or the road.”
It was those rooms, low, dusty garrets at the top of a
cramped narrow staircase. “Leave your boots down here,”
Masha told them after she’d taken their coin. “The boy will
clean them. I won’t have you tracking mud up my stairs.
Mind the bell. Those who come late to meals don’t eat.”
There were no smiles, and no mention of sweet cakes.
When the supper bell rang, the sound was deafening.
Catelyn had changed into dry clothes. She sat by the
window, watching rain run down the pane. The glass was
milky and full of bubbles, and a wet dusk was falling
outside. Catelyn could just make out the muddy crossing
where the two great roads met.
The crossroads gave her pause. If they turned west from
here, it was an easy ride down to Riverrun. Her father had
always given her wise counsel when she needed it most,
and she yearned to talk to him, to warn him of the gathering
storm. If Winterfell needed to brace for war, how much more
so Riverrun, so much closer to King’s Landing, with the
power of Casterly Rock looming to the west like a shadow.
If only her father had been stronger, she might have
chanced it, but Hoster Tully had been bedridden these past
two years, and Catelyn was loath to tax him now.
The eastern road was wilder and more dangerous,
climbing through rocky foothills and thick forests into the
Mountains of the Moon, past high passes and deep
chasms to the Vale of Arryn and the stony Fingers beyond.
Above the Vale, the Eyrie stood high and impregnable, its
towers reaching for the sky. There she would find her sister
. . . and, perhaps, some of the answers Ned sought. Surely
Lysa knew more than she had dared to put in her letter. She
might have the very proof that Ned needed to bring theLannisters to ruin, and if it came to war, they would need
the Arryns and the eastern lords who owed them service.
Yet the mountain road was perilous. Shadowcats prowled
those passes, rock slides were common, and the mountain
clans were lawless brigands, descending from the heights
to rob and kill and melting away like snow whenever the
knights rode out from the Vale in search of them. Even Jon
Arryn, as great a lord as any the Eyrie had ever known, had
always traveled in strength when he crossed the mountains.
Catelyn’s only strength was one elderly knight, armored in
No, she thought, Riverrun and the Eyrie would have to
wait. Her path ran north to Winterfell, where her sons and
her duty were waiting for her. As soon as they were safely
past the Neck, she could declare herself to one of Ned’s
bannermen, and send riders racing ahead with orders to
mount a watch on the kingsroad.
The rain obscured the fields beyond the crossroads, but
Catelyn saw the land clear enough in her memory. The
marketplace was just across the way, and the village a mile
farther on, half a hundred white cottages surrounding a
small stone sept. There would be more now; the summer
had been long and peaceful. North of here the kingsroad
ran along the Green Fork of the Trident, through fertile
valleys and green woodlands, past thriving towns and stout
holdfasts and the castles of the river lords.
Catelyn knew them all: the Blackwoods and the Brackens,
ever enemies, whose quarrels her father was obliged to
settle; Lady Whent, last of her line, who dwelt with her
ghosts in the cavernous vaults of Harrenhal; irascible Lord
Frey, who had outlived seven wives and filled his twin
castles with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and bastards and grandbastards as well. All
of them were bannermen to the Tullys, their swords sworn
to the service of Riverrun. Catelyn wondered if that would
be enough, if it came to war. Her father was the staunchest
man who’d ever lived, and she had no doubt that he would
call his banners . . . but would the banners come? The
Darrys and Rygers and Mootons had sworn oaths to
Riverrun as well, yet they had fought with Rhaegar
Targaryen on the Trident, while Lord Frey had arrived with
his levies well after the battle was over, leaving some doubt
as to which army he had planned to join (theirs, he had
assured the victors solemnly in the aftermath, but ever after
her father had called him the Late Lord Frey). It must not
come to war, Catelyn thought fervently. They must not let it.
Ser Rodrik came for her just as the bell ceased its
clangor. “We had best make haste if we hope to eat
tonight, my lady.”
“It might be safer if we were not knight and lady until we
pass the Neck,” she told him. “Common travelers attract
less notice. A father and daughter taken to the road on
some family business, say.”
“As you say, my lady,” Ser Rodrik agreed. It was only
when she laughed that he realized what he’d done. “The old
courtesies die hard, my—my daughter.” He tried to tug on
his missing whiskers, and sighed with exasperation.
Catelyn took his arm. “Come, Father,” she said. “You’ll
find that Masha Heddle sets a good table, I think, but try not
to praise her. You truly don’t want to see her smile.”
The common room was long and drafty, with a row of
huge wooden kegs at one end and a fireplace at the other.
A serving boy ran back and forth with skewers of meat
while Masha drew beer from the kegs, chewing her sourleafall the while.
The benches were crowded, townsfolk and farmers
mingling freely with all manner of travelers. The crossroads
made for odd companions; dyers with black and purple
hands shared a bench with rivermen reeking of fish, an
ironsmith thick with muscle squeezed in beside a wizened
old septon, hard-bitten sellswords and soft plump
merchants swapped news like boon companions.
The company included more swords than Catelyn would
have liked. Three by the fire wore the red stallion badge of
the Brackens, and there was a large party in blue steel
ringmail and capes of a silvery grey. On their shoulder was
another familiar sigil, the twin towers of House Frey. She
studied their faces, but they were all too young to have
known her. The senior among them would have been no
older than Bran when she went north.
Ser Rodrik found them an empty place on the bench near
the kitchen. Across the table a handsome youth was
fingering a woodharp. “Seven blessings to you, goodfolk,”
he said as they sat. An empty wine cup stood on the table
before him.
“And to you, singer,” Catelyn returned. Ser Rodrik called
for bread and meat and beer in a tone that meant now. The
singer, a youth of some eighteen years, eyed them boldly
and asked where they were going, and from whence they
had come, and what news they had, letting the questions fly
as quick as arrows and never pausing for an answer. “We
left King’s Landing a fortnight ago,” Catelyn replied,
answering the safest of his questions.
“That’s where I’m bound,” the youth said. As she had
suspected, he was more interested in telling his own story
than in hearing theirs. Singers loved nothing half so well asthe sound of their own voices. “The Hand’s tourney means
rich lords with fat purses. The last time I came away with
more silver than I could carry … or would have, if I hadn’t
lost it all betting on the Kingslayer to win the day.”
“The gods frown on the gambler,” Ser Rodrik said sternly.
He was of the north, and shared the Stark views on
“They frowned on me, for certain,” the singer said. “Your
cruel gods and the Knight of Flowers altogether did me in.”
“No doubt that was a lesson for you,” Ser Rodrik said.
“It was. This time my coin will champion Ser Loras.”
Ser Rodrik tried to tug at whiskers that were not there, but
before he could frame a rebuke the serving boy came
scurrying up. He laid trenchers of bread before them and
filled them with chunks of browned meat off a skewer,
dripping with hot juice. Another skewer held tiny onions, fire
peppers, and fat mushrooms. Ser Rodrik set to lustily as
the lad ran back to fetch them beer.
“My name is Marillion,” the singer said, plucking a string
on his woodharp. “Doubtless you’ve heard me play
His manner made Catelyn smile. Few wandering singers
ever ventured as far north as Winterfell, but she knew his
like from her girlhood in Riverrun. “I fear not,” she told him.
He drew a plaintive chord from the woodharp. “That is
your loss,” he said. “Who was the finest singer you’ve ever
“Alia of Braavos,” Ser Rodrik answered at once.
“Oh, I’m much better than that old stick,” Marillion said. “If
you have the silver for a song, I’ll gladly show you.”
“I might have a copper or two, but I’d sooner toss it down
a well than pay for your howling,” Ser Rodrik groused. Hisopinion of singers was well known; music was a lovely thing
for girls, but he could not comprehend why any healthy boy
would fill his hand with a harp when he might have had a
“Your grandfather has a sour nature,” Marillion said to
Catelyn. “I meant to do you honor. An homage to your
beauty. In truth, Iwas made to sing for kings and high lords.”
“Oh, I can see that,” Catelyn said. “Lord Tully is fond of
song, I hear. No doubt you’ve been to Riverrun.”
“A hundred times,” the singer said airily. “They keep a
chamber for me, and the young lord is like a brother.”
Catelyn smiled, wondering what Edmure would think of
that. Another singer had once bedded a girl her brother
fancied; he had hated the breed ever since. “And
Winterfell?” she asked him. “Have you traveled north?”
“Why would I?” Marillion asked. “It’s all blizzards and
bearskins up there, and the Starks know no music but the
howling of wolves.” Distantly, she was aware of the door
banging open at the far end of the room.
“Innkeep,” a servant’s voice called out behind her, “we
have horses that want stabling, and my lord of Lannister
requires a room and a hot bath.”
“Oh, gods,” Ser Rodrik said before Catelyn reached out
to silence him, her fingers tightening hard around his
Masha Heddle was bowing and smiling her hideous red
smile. “I’m sorry, m’lord, truly, we’re full up, every room.”
There were four of them, Catelyn saw. An old man in the
black of the Night’s Watch, two servants . . . and him,
standing there small and bold as life. “My men will steep in
your stable, and as for myself, well, I do not require a large
room, as you can plainly see.” He flashed a mocking grin.“So long as the fire’s warm and the straw reasonably free of
fleas, I am a happy man.”
Masha Heddle was beside herself. “M’lord, there’s
nothing, it’s the tourney, there’s no help for it, oh . . .”
Tyrion Lannister pulled a coin from his purse and flicked it
up over his head, caught it, tossed it again. Even across
the room, where Catelyn sat, the wink of gold was
A freerider in a faded blue cloak lurched to his feet.
“You’re welcome to my room, m’lord.”
“Now there’s a clever man,” Lannister said as he sent the
coin spinning across the room. The freerider snatched it
from the air. “And a nimble one to boot.” The dwarf turned
back to Masha Heddle. “You will be able to manage food, I
“Anything you like, m’lord, anything at all,” the innkeep
promised. And may he choke on it, Catelyn thought, but it
was Bran she saw choking, drowning on his own blood.
Lannister glanced at the nearest tables. “My men will have
whatever you’re serving these people. Double portions,
we’ve had a long hard ride. I’ll take a roast fowl—chicken,
duck, pigeon, it makes no matter. And send up a flagon of
your best wine. Yoren, will you sup with me?”
“Aye, m’lord, Iwill,” the black brother replied.
The dwarf had not so much as glanced toward the far end
of the room, and Catelyn was thinking how grateful she was
for the crowded benches between them when suddenly
Marillion bounded to his feet. “My lord of Lannister!” he
called out. “I would be pleased to entertain you while you
eat. Let me sing you the lay of your father’s great victory at
King’s Landing!”
“Nothing would be more likely to ruin my supper,” thedwarf said dryly. His mismatched eyes considered the
singer briefly, started to move away . . . and found Catelyn.
He looked at her for a moment, puzzled. She turned her
face away, but too late. The dwarf was smiling. “Lady Stark,
what an unexpected pleasure,” he said. “Iwas sorry to miss
you at Winterfell.”
Marillion gaped at her, confusion giving way to chagrin as
Catelyn rose slowly to her feet. She heard Ser Rodrik
curse. If only the man had lingered at the Wall, she thought,
if only . . .
“Lady . . . Stark?” Masha Heddle said thickly.
“I was still Catelyn Tully the last time I bedded here,” she
told the innkeep. She could hear the muttering, feel the
eyes upon her. Catelyn glanced around the room, at the
faces of the knights and sworn swords, and took a deep
breath to slow the frantic beating of her heart. Did she dare
take the risk? There was no time to think it through, only the
moment and the sound of her own voice ringing in her ears.
“You in the corner,” she said to an older man she had not
noticed until now. “Is that the black bat of Harrenhal I see
embroidered on your surcoat, ser?”
The man got to his feet. “It is, my lady.”
“And is Lady Whent a true and honest friend to my father,
Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun?”
“She is,” the man replied stoutly.
Ser Rodrik rose quietly and loosened his sword in its
scabbard. The dwarf was blinking at them, blank-faced,
with puzzlement in his mismatched eyes.
“The red stallion was ever a welcome sight in Riverrun,”
she said to the trio by the fire. “My father counts Jonos
Bracken among his oldest and most loyal bannermen.”
The three men-at-arms exchanged uncertain looks. “Ourlord is honored by his trust,” one of them said hesitantly.
“I envy your father all these fine friends,” Lannister
quipped, “but I do not quite see the purpose of this, Lady
She ignored him, turning to the large party in blue and
grey. They were the heart of the matter; there were more
than twenty of them. “I know your sigil as well: the twin
towers of Frey. How fares your good lord, sers?”
Their captain rose. “Lord Walder is well, my lady. He
plans to take a new wife on his ninetieth name day, and has
asked your lord father to honor the wedding with his
Tyrion Lannister sniggered. That was when Catelyn knew
he was hers. “This man came a guest into my house, and
there conspired to murder my son, a boy of seven,” she
proclaimed to the room at large, pointing. Ser Rodrik
moved to her side, his sword in hand. “In the name of King
Robert and the good lords you serve, I call upon you to
seize him and help me return him to Winterfell to await the
king’s justice.”
She did not know what was more satisfying: the sound of
a dozen swords drawn as one or the look on Tyrion
Lannister’s face.
Sansa rode to the Hand’s tourney with Septa
Mordane and Jeyne Poole, in a litter with curtains of yellow
silk so fine she could see right through them. They turned
the whole world gold. Beyond the city walls, a hundred
pavilions had been raised beside the river, and the
common folk came out in the thousands to watch thegames. The splendor of it all took Sansa’s breath away; the
shining armor, the great chargers caparisoned in silver and
gold, the shouts of the crowd, the banners snapping in the
wind . . . and the knights themselves, the knights most of all.
“It is better than the songs,” she whispered when they
found the places that her father had promised her, among
the high lords and ladies. Sansa was dressed beautifully
that day, in a green gown that brought out the auburn of her
hair, and she knew they were looking at her and smiling.
They watched the heroes of a hundred songs ride forth,
each more fabulous than the last. The seven knights of the
Kingsguard took the field, all but Jaime Lannister in scaled
armor the color of milk, their cloaks as white as freshfallen
snow. Ser Jaime wore the white cloak as well, but beneath
it he was shining gold from head to foot, with a lion’s head
helm and a golden sword. Ser Gregor Clegane, the
Mountain That Rides, thundered past them like an
avalanche. Sansa remembered Lord Yohn Royce, who had
guested at Winterfell two years before. “His armor is
bronze, thousands and thousands of years old, engraved
with magic runes that ward him against harm,” she
whispered to Jeyne. Septa Mordane pointed out Lord
Jason Mallister, in indigo chased with silver, the wings of an
eagle on his helm. He had cut down three of Rhaegar’s
bannermen on the Trident. The girls giggled over the
warrior priest Thoros of Myr, with his flapping red robes and
shaven head, until the septa told them that he had once
scaled the walls of Pyke with a flaming sword in hand.
Other riders Sansa did not know; hedge knights from the
Fingers and Highgarden and the mountains of Dorne,
unsung freeriders and new-made squires, the younger sons
of high lords and the heirs of lesser houses. Younger men,most had done no great deeds as yet, but Sansa and
Jeyne agreed that one day the Seven Kingdoms would
resound to the sound of their names. Ser Balon Swann.
Lord Bryce Caron of the Marches. Bronze Yohn’s heir, Ser
Andar Royce, and his younger brother Ser Robar, their
silvered steel plate filigreed in bronze with the same
ancient runes that warded their father. The twins Ser Horas
and Ser Hobber, whose shields displayed the grape cluster
sigil of the Redwynes, burgundy on blue. Patrek Mallister,
Lord Jason’s son. Six Freys of the Crossing: Ser Jared,
Ser Hosteen, Ser Danwell, Ser Emmon, Ser Theo, Ser
Perwyn, sons and grandsons of old Lord Walder Frey, and
his bastard son Martyn Rivers as well.
Jeyne Poole confessed herself frightened by the look of
Jalabhar Xho, an exile prince from the Summer Isles who
wore a cape of green and scarlet feathers over skin as
dark as night, but when she saw young Lord Beric
Dondarrion, with his hair like red gold and his black shield
slashed by lightning, she pronounced herself willing to
marry him on the instant.
The Hound entered the lists as well, and so too the king’s
brother, handsome Lord Renly of Storm’s End. Jory, Alyn,
and Harwin rode for Winterfell and the north. “Jory looks a
beggar among these others,” Septa Mordane sniffed when
he appeared. Sansa could only agree. Jory’s armor was
blue-grey plate without device or ornament, and a thin grey
cloak hung from his shoulders like a soiled rag. Yet he
acquitted himself well, unhorsing Horas Redwyne in his first
joust and one of the Freys in his second. In his third match,
he rode three passes at a freerider named Lothor Brune
whose armor was as drab as his own. Neither man lost his
seat, but Brune’s lance was steadier and his blows betterplaced, and the king gave him the victory. Alyn and Harwin
fared less well; Harwin was unhorsed in his first tilt by Ser
Meryn of the Kingsguard, while Alyn fell to Ser Balon
The jousting went all day and into the dusk, the hooves of
the great warhorses pounding down the lists until the field
was a ragged wasteland of torn earth.A dozen times Jeyne
and Sansa cried out in unison as riders crashed together,
lances exploding into splinters while the commons
screamed for their favorites. Jeyne covered her eyes
whenever a man fell, like a frightened little girl, but Sansa
was made of sterner stuff. A great lady knew how to behave
at tournaments. Even Septa Mordane noted her composure
and nodded in approval.
The Kingslayer rode brilliantly. He overthrew Ser Andar
Royce and the Marcher Lord Bryce Caron as easily as if he
were riding at rings, and then took a hard-fought match
from white-haired Barristan Selmy, who had won his first
two tilts against men thirty and forty years his junior.
Sandor Clegane and his immense brother, Ser Gregor
the Mountain, seemed unstoppable as well, riding down
one foe after the next in ferocious style. The most terrifying
moment of the day came during Ser Gregor’s second joust,
when his lance rode up and struck a young knight from the
Vale under the gorget with such force that it drove through
his throat, killing him instantly. The youth fell not ten feet
from where Sansa was seated. The point of Ser Gregor’s
lance had snapped off in his neck, and his life’s blood
flowed out in slow pulses, each weaker than the one before.
His armor was shiny new; a bright streak of fire ran down
his outstretched arm, as the steel caught the light. Then the
sun went behind a cloud, and it was gone. His cloak wasblue, the color of the sky on a clear summer’s day, trimmed
with a border of crescent moons, but as his blood seeped
into it, the cloth darkened and the moons turned red, one by
Jeyne Poole wept so hysterically that Septa Mordane
finally took her off to regain her composure, but Sansa sat
with her hands folded in her lap, watching with a strange
fascination. She had never seen a man die before. She
ought to be crying too, she thought, but the tears would not
come. Perhaps she had used up all her tears for Lady and
Bran. It would be different if it had been Jory or Ser Rodrik
or Father, she told herself. The young knight in the blue
cloak was nothing to her, some stranger from the Vale of
Arryn whose name she had forgotten as soon as she heard
it. And now the world would forget his name too, Sansa
realized; there would be no songs sung for him. That was
After they carried off the body, a boy with a spade ran
onto the field and shoveled dirt over the spot where he had
fallen, to cover up the blood. Then the jousts resumed.
Ser Balon Swann also fell to Gregor, and Lord Renly to
the Hound. Renly was unhorsed so violently that he seemed
to fly backward off his charger, legs in the air. His head hit
the ground with an audible crack that made the crowd
gasp, but it was just the golden antler on his helm. One of
the tines had snapped off beneath him. When Lord Renly
climbed to his feet, the commons cheered wildly, for King
Robert’s handsome young brother was a great favorite. He
handed the broken tine to his conqueror with a gracious
bow. The Hound snorted and tossed the broken antler into
the crowd, where the commons began to punch and claw
over the little bit of gold, until Lord Renly walked out amongthem and restored the peace. By then Septa Mordane had
returned, alone. Jeyne had been feeling ill, she explained;
she had helped her back to the castle. Sansa had almost
forgotten about Jeyne.
Later a hedge knight in a checkered cloak disgraced
himself by killing Beric Dondarrion’s horse, and was
declared forfeit. Lord Beric shifted his saddle to a new
mount, only to be knocked right off it by Thoros of Myr. Ser
Aron Santagar and Lothor Brune tilted thrice without result;
Ser Aron fell afterward to Lord Jason Mallister, and Brune
to Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar.
In the end it came down to four; the Hound and his
monstrous brother Gregor, Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer,
and Ser Loras Tyrell, the youth they called the Knight of
Ser Loras was the youngest son of Mace Tyrell, the Lord
of Highgarden and Warden of the South. At sixteen, he was
the youngest rider on the field, yet he had unhorsed three
knights of the Kingsguard that morning in his first three
jousts. Sansa had never seen anyone so beautiful. His
plate was intricately fashioned and enameled as a bouquet
of a thousand different flowers, and his snow-white stallion
was draped in a blanket of red and white roses. After each
victory, Ser Loras would remove his helm and ride slowly
round the fence, and finally pluck a single white rose from
the blanket and toss it to some fair maiden in the crowd.
His last match of the day was against the younger Royce.
Ser Robar’s ancestral runes proved small protection as Ser
Loras split his shield and drove him from his saddle to
crash with an awful clangor in the dirt. Robar lay moaning
as the victor made his circuit of the field. Finally they called
for a litter and carried him off to his tent, dazed andunmoving. Sansa never saw it. Her eyes were only for Ser
Loras. When the white horse stopped in front of her, she
thought her heart would burst.
To the other maidens he had given white roses, but the
one he plucked for her was red. “Sweet lady,” he said, “no
victory is half so beautiful as you.” Sansa took the flower
timidly, struck dumb by his gallantry. His hair was a mass of
lazy brown curls, his eyes like liquid gold. She inhaled the
sweet fragrance of the rose and sat clutching it long after
Ser Loras had ridden off.
When Sansa finally looked up, a man was standing over
her, staring. He was short, with a pointed beard and a silver
streak in his hair, almost as old as her father. “You must be
one of her daughters,” he said to her. He had grey-green
eyes that did not smile when his mouth did. “You have the
Tully look.”
“I’m Sansa Stark,” she said, ill at ease. The man wore a
heavy cloak with a fur collar, fastened with a silver
mockingbird, and he had the effortless manner of a high
lord, but she did not know him. “I have not had the honor, my
Septa Mordane quickly took a hand. “Sweet child, this is
Lord Petyr Baelish, of the king’s small council.”
“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man
said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.”
His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one
auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away.
By then, the moon was well up and the crowd was tired,
so the king decreed that the last three matches would be
fought the next morning, before the melee. While the
commons began their walk home, talking of the day’s jousts
and the matches to come on the morrow, the court movedto the riverside to begin the feast. Six monstrous huge
aurochs had been roasting for hours, turning slowly on
wooden spits while kitchen boys basted them with butter
and herbs until the meat crackled and spit. Tables and
benches had been raised outside the pavilions, piled high
with sweetgrass and strawberries and fresh-baked bread.
Sansa and Septa Mordane were given places of high
honor, to the left of the raised dais where the king himself
sat beside his queen. When Prince Joffrey seated himself
to her right, she felt her throat tighten. He had not spoken a
word to her since the awful thing had happened, and she
had not dared to speak to him. At first she thought she
hated him for what they’d done to Lady, but after Sansa had
wept her eyes dry, she told herself that it had not been
Joffrey’s doing, not truly. The queen had done it; she was
the one to hate, her and Arya. Nothing bad would have
happened except for Arya.
She could not hate Joffrey tonight. He was too beautiful to
hate. He wore a deep blue doublet studded with a double
row of golden lion’s heads, and around his brow a slim
coronet made of gold and sapphires. His hair was as bright
as the metal. Sansa looked at him and trembled, afraid that
he might ignore her or, worse, turn hateful again and send
her weeping from the table.
Instead Joffrey smiled and kissed her hand, handsome
and gallant as any prince in the songs, and said, “Ser Loras
has a keen eye for beauty, sweet lady.”
“He was too kind,” she demurred, trying to remain modest
and calm, though her heart was singing. “Ser Loras is a
true knight. Do you think he will win tomorrow, my lord?”
“No,” Joffrey said. “My dog will do for him, or perhaps my
uncle Jaime. And in a few years, when I am old enough toenter the lists, I shall do for them all.” He raised his hand to
summon a servant with a flagon of iced summerwine, and
poured her a cup. She looked anxiously at Septa Mordane,
until Joffrey leaned over and filled the septa’s cup as well,
so she nodded and thanked him graciously and said not
another word.
The servants kept the cups filled all night, yet afterward
Sansa could not recall ever tasting the wine. She needed
no wine. She was drunk on the magic of the night, giddy
with glamour, swept away by beauties she had dreamt of all
her life and never dared hope to know. Singers sat before
the king’s pavilion, filling the dusk with music.A juggler kept
a cascade of burning clubs spinning through the air. The
king’s own fool, the pie-faced simpleton called Moon Boy,
danced about on stilts, all in motley, making mock of
everyone with such deft cruelty that Sansa wondered if he
was simple after all. Even Septa Mordane was helpless
before him; when he sang his little song about the High
Septon, she laughed so hard she spilled wine on herself.
And Joffrey was the soul of courtesy. He talked to Sansa
all night, showering her with compliments, making her
laugh, sharing little bits of court gossip, explaining Moon
Boy’s japes. Sansa was so captivated that she quite forgot
all her courtesies and ignored Septa Mordane, seated to
her left.
All the while the courses came and went. A thick soup of
barley and venison. Salads of sweetgrass and spinach and
plums, sprinkled with crushed nuts. Snails in honey and
garlic. Sansa had never eaten snails before; Joffrey
showed her how to get the snail out of the shell, and fed her
the first sweet morsel himself. Then came trout fresh from
the river, baked in clay; her prince helped her crack openthe hard casing to expose the flaky white flesh within. And
when the meat course was brought out, he served her
himself, slicing a queen’s portion from the joint, smiling as
he laid it on her plate. She could see from the way he
moved that his right arm was still troubling him, yet he
uttered not a word of complaint.
Later came sweetbreads and pigeon pie and baked
apples fragrant with cinnamon and lemon cakes frosted in
sugar, but by then Sansa was so stuffed that she could not
manage more than two little lemoncakes, as much as she
loved them. She was wondering whether she might attempt
a third when the king began to shout.
King Robert had grown louder with each course. From
time to time Sansa could hear him laughing or roaring a
command over the music and the clangor of plates and
cutlery, but they were too far away for her to make out his
Now everybody heard him. “No,” he thundered in a voice
that drowned out all other speech. Sansa was shocked to
see the king on his feet, red of face, reeling. He had a
goblet of wine in one hand, and he was drunk as a man
could be. “You do not tell me what to do, woman,” he
screamed at Queen Cersei. “I am king here, do you
understand? I rule here, and if I say that Iwill fight tomorrow,
Iwill fight!”
Everyone was staring. Sansa saw Ser Barristan, and the
king’s brother Renly, and the short man who had talked to
her so oddly and touched her hair, but no one made a move
to interfere. The queen’s face was a mask, so bloodless
that it might have been sculpted from snow. She rose from
the table, gathered her skirts around her, and stormed off in
silence, servants trailing behind.Jaime Lannister put a hand on the king’s shoulder, but the
king shoved him away hard. Lannister stumbled and fell.
The king guffawed. “The great knight. I can still knock you in
the dirt. Remember that, Kingslayer.” He slapped his chest
with the jeweled goblet, splashing wine all over his satin
tunic. “Give me my hammer and not a man in the realm can
stand before me!”
Jaime Lannister rose and brushed himself off. “As you
say, Your Grace.” His voice was stiff.
Lord Renly came forward, smiling. “You’ve spilled your
wine, Robert. Let me bring you a fresh goblet.”
Sansa started as Joffrey laid his hand on her arm. “It
grows late,” the prince said. He had a queer look on his
face, as if he were not seeing her at all. “Do you need an
escort back to the castle?”
“No,” Sansa began. She looked for Septa Mordane, and
was startled to find her with her head on the table, snoring
soft and ladylike snores. “I mean to say . . . yes, thank you,
that would be most kind. I am tired, and the way is so dark. I
should be glad for some protection.”
Joffrey called out, “Dog!”
Sandor Clegane seemed to take form out of the night, so
quickly did he appear. He had exchanged his armor for a
red woolen tunic with a leather dog’s head sewn on the
front. The light of the torches made his burned face shine a
dull red. “Yes, Your Grace?” he said.
“Take my betrothed back to the castle, and see that no
harm befalls her,” the prince told him brusquely.And without
even a word of farewell, Joffrey strode off, leaving her there.
Sansa could feel the Hound watching her. “Did you think
Joff was going to take you himself?” He laughed. He had a
laugh like the snarling of dogs in a pit. “Small chance ofthat.” He pulled her unresisting to her feet. “Come, you’re
not the only one needs sleep. I’ve drunk too much, and I
may need to kill my brother tomorrow.” He laughed again.
Suddenly terrified, Sansa pushed at Septa Mordane’s
shoulder, hoping to wake her, but she only snored the
louder. King Robert had stumbled off and half the benches
were suddenly empty. The feast was over, and the beautiful
dream had ended with it.
The Hound snatched up a torch to light their way. Sansa
followed close beside him. The ground was rocky and
uneven; the flickering light made it seem to shift and move
beneath her. She kept her eyes lowered, watching where
she placed her feet. They walked among the pavilions,
each with its banner and its armor hung outside, the silence
weighing heavier with every step. Sansa could not bear the
sight of him, he frightened her so, yet she had been raised
in all the ways of courtesy. A true lady would not notice his
face, she told herself. “You rode gallantly today, Ser
Sandor,” she made herself say.
Sandor Clegane snarled at her. “Spare me your empty
little compliments, girl . . . and your ser’s. I am no knight. I
spit on them and their vows. My brother is a knight. Did you
see him ride today?”
“Yes,” Sansa whispered, trembling. “He was . . .”
“Gallant?” the Hound finished.
He was mocking her, she realized. “No one could
withstand him,” she managed at last, proud of herself. It
was no lie.
Sandor Clegane stopped suddenly in the middle of a
dark and empty field. She had no choice but to stop beside
him. “Some septa trained you well. You’re like one of those
birds from the Summer Isles, aren’t you? A pretty littletalking bird, repeating all the pretty little words they taught
you to recite.”
“That’s unkind.” Sansa could feel her heart fluttering in her
chest. “You’re frightening me. Iwant to go now.”
“No one could withstand him,” the Hound rasped. “That’s
truth enough. No one could ever withstand Gregor. That boy
today, his second joust, oh, that was a pretty bit of
business. You saw that, did you? Fool boy, he had no
business riding in this company. No money, no squire, no
one to help him with that armor. That gorget wasn’t
fastened proper. You think Gregor didn’t notice that? You
think Ser Gregor’s lance rode up by chance, do you? Pretty
little talking girl, you believe that, you’re empty-headed as a
bird for true. Gregor’s lance goes where Gregor wants it to
go. Look at me. Look at me!” Sandor Clegane put a huge
hand under her chin and forced her face up. He squatted in
front of her, and moved the torch close. “There’s a pretty for
you. Take a good long stare. You know you want to. I’ve
watched you turning away all the way down the kingsroad.
Piss on that. Take your look.”
His fingers held her jaw as hard as an iron trap. His eyes
watched hers. Drunken eyes, sullen with anger. She had to
The right side of his face was gaunt, with sharp
cheekbones and a grey eye beneath a heavy brow. His
nose was large and hooked, his hair thin, dark. He wore it
long and brushed it sideways, because no hair grew on the
other side of that face.
The left side of his face was a ruin. His ear had been
burned away; there was nothing left but a hole. His eye was
still good, but all around it was a twisted mass of scar, slick
black flesh hard as leather, pocked with craters andfissured by deep cracks that gleamed red and wet when he
moved. Down by his jaw, you could see a hint of bone
where the flesh had been seared away.
Sansa began to cry. He let go of her then, and snuffed out
the torch in the dirt. “No pretty words for that, girl? No little
compliment the septa taught you?” When there was no
answer, he continued. “Most of them, they think it was some
battle. A siege, a burning tower, an enemy with a torch. One
fool asked if it was dragonsbreath.” His laugh was softer
this time, but just as bitter. “I’ll tell you what it was, girl,” he
said, a voice from the night, a shadow leaning so close now
that she could smell the sour stench of wine on his breath. “I
was younger than you, six, maybe seven. A woodcarver set
up shop in the village under my father’s keep, and to buy
favor he sent us gifts. The old man made marvelous toys. I
don’t remember what I got, but it was Gregor’s gift Iwanted.
A wooden knight, all painted up, every joint pegged
separate and fixed with strings, so you could make him
fight. Gregor is five years older than me, the toy was
nothing to him, he was already a squire, near six foot tall
and muscled like an ox. So I took his knight, but there was
no joy to it, I tell you. I was scared all the while, and true
enough, he found me. There was a brazier in the room.
Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm
and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals
and held me there while I screamed and screamed. You
saw how strong he is. Even then, it took three grown men to
drag him off me. The septons preach about the seven hells.
What do they know? Only a man who’s been burned knows
what hell is truly like.
“My father told everyone my bedding had caught fire, and
our maester gave me ointments. Ointments! Gregor got his
ointments too. Four years later, they anointed him with the
seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar
Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Arise, Ser
The rasping voice trailed off. He squatted silently before
her, a hulking black shape shrouded in the night, hidden
from her eyes. Sansa could hear his ragged breathing. She
was sad for him, she realized. Somehow, the fear had gone
The silence went on and on, so long that she began to
grow afraid once more, but she was afraid for him now, not
for herself. She found his massive shoulder with her hand.
“He was no true knight,” she whispered to him.
The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa
stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. “No,”
he growled at her, “no, little bird, he was no true knight.”
The rest of the way into the city, Sandor Clegane said not
a word. He led her to where the carts were waiting, told a
driver to take them back to the Red Keep, and climbed in
after her. They rode in silence through the King’s Gate and
up torchlit city streets. He opened the postern door and led
her into the castle, his burned face twitching and his eyes
brooding, and he was one step behind her as they climbed
the tower stairs. He took her safe all the way to the corridor
outside her bedchamber.
“Thank you, my lord,” Sansa said meekly.
The Hound caught her by the arm and leaned close. “The
things I told you tonight,” he said, his voice sounding even
rougher than usual. “If you ever tell Joffrey…. your sister,
your father. . . any of them . . .”
“Iwon’t,” Sansa whispered. “I promise.”
It was not enough. “If you ever tell anyone,” he finished, “I’ll
kill you.”