A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin part four
“I stood last vigil for him myself,” Ser Barristan
Selmy said as they looked down at the body in the back of
the cart. “He had no one else. A mother in the Vale, I am
In the pale dawn light, the young knight looked as though
he were sleeping. He had not been handsome, but death
had smoothed his rough-hewn features and the silent
sisters had dressed him in his best velvet tunic, with a high
collar to cover the ruin the lance had made of his throat.
Eddard Stark looked at his face, and wondered if it had
been for his sake that the boy had died. Slain by a
Lannister bannerman before Ned could speak to him; could
that be mere happenstance? He supposed he would never
“Hugh was Jon Arryn’s squire for four years,” Selmy went
on. “The king knighted him before he rode north, in Jon’s
memory. The lad wanted it desperately, yet I fear he was
Ned had slept badly last night and he felt tired beyond his
years. “None of us is ever ready,” he said.
“For death.” Gently Ned covered the boy with his cloak, a
bloodstained bit of blue bordered in crescent moons. When
his mother asked why her son was dead, he reflected
bitterly, they would tell her he had fought to honor the King’s
Hand, Eddard Stark. “This was needless. War should not
be a game.” Ned turned to the woman beside the cart,
shrouded in grey, face hidden but for her eyes. The silentsisters prepared men for the grave, and it was ill fortune to
look on the face of death. “Send his armor home to the
Vale. The mother will want to have it.”
“It is worth a fair piece of silver,” Ser Barristan said. “The
boy had it forged special for the tourney. Plain work, but
good. I do not know if he had finished paying the smith.”
“He paid yesterday, my lord, and he paid dearly,” Ned
replied. And to the silent sister he said, “Send the mother
the armor. Iwill deal with this smith.” She bowed her head.
Afterward Ser Barristan walked with Ned to the king’s
pavilion. The camp was beginning to stir. Fat sausages
sizzled and spit over firepits, spicing the air with the scents
of garlic and pepper. Young squires hurried about on
errands as their masters woke, yawning and stretching, to
meet the day. A serving man with a goose under his arm
bent his knee when he caught sight of them. “M’lords,” he
muttered as the goose honked and pecked at his fingers.
The shields displayed outside each tent heralded its
occupant: the silver eagle of Seagard, Bryce Caron’s field
of nightingales, a cluster of grapes for the Redwynes,
brindled boar, red ox, burning tree, white ram, triple spiral,
purple unicorn, dancing maiden, black adder, twin towers,
horned owl, and last the pure white blazons of the
Kingsguard, shining like the dawn.
“The king means to fight in the melee today,” Ser
Barristan said as they were passing Ser Meryn’s shield, its
paint sullied by a deep gash where Loras Tyrell’s lance had
scarred the wood as he drove him from his saddle.
“Yes,” Ned said grimly. Jory had woken him last night to
bring him that news. Small wonder he had slept so badly.
Ser Barristan’s look was troubled. “They say night’s
beauties fade at dawn, and the children of wine are oftdisowned in the morning light.”
“They say so,” Ned agreed, “but not of Robert.” Other men
might reconsider words spoken in drunken bravado, but
Robert Baratheon would remember and, remembering,
would never back down.
The king’s pavilion was close by the water, and the
morning mists off the river had wreathed it in wisps of grey.
It was all of golden silk, the largest and grandest structure in
the camp. Outside the entrance, Robert’s warhammer was
displayed beside an immense iron shield blazoned with the
crowned stag of House Baratheon.
Ned had hoped to discover the king still abed in a winesoaked sleep, but luck was not with him. They found Robert
drinking beer from a polished horn and roaring his
displeasure at two young squires who were trying to buckle
him into his armor. “Your Grace,” one was saying, almost in
tears, “it’s made too small, it won’t go.” He fumbled, and the
gorget he was trying to fit around Robert’s thick neck
tumbled to the ground.
“Seven hells!” Robert swore. “Do I have to do it myself?
Piss on the both of you. Pick it up. Don’t just stand there
gaping, Lancel, pick it up!” The lad jumped, and the king
noticed his company. “Look at these oafs, Ned. My wife
insisted I take these two to squire for me, and they’re worse
than useless. Can’t even put a man’s armor on him
properly. Squires, they say. I say they’re swineherds
dressed up in silk.”
Ned only needed a glance to understand the difficulty.
“The boys are not at fault,” he told the king. “You’re too fat
for your armor, Robert.”
Robert Baratheon took a long swallow of beer, tossed the
empty horn onto his sleeping furs, wiped his mouth with theback of his hand, and said darkly, “Fat? Fat, is it? Is that
how you speak to your king?” He let go his laughter, sudden
as a storm. “Ah, damn you, Ned, why are you always right?”
The squires smiled nervously until the king turned on
them. “You. Yes, both of you. You heard the Hand. The king
is too fat for his armor. Go find Ser Aron Santagar. Tell him
I need the breastplate stretcher. Now! What are you waiting
The boys tripped over each other in their haste to be quit
of the tent. Robert managed to keep a stern face until they
were gone. Then he dropped back into a chair, shaking
Ser Barristan Selmy chuckled with him. Even Eddard
Stark managed a smile. Always, though, the graver
thoughts crept in. He could not help taking note of the two
squires: handsome boys, fair and well made. One was
Sansa’s age, with long golden curls; the other perhaps
fifteen, sandy-haired, with a wisp of a mustache and the
emerald-green eyes of the queen.
“Ah, I wish I could be there to see Santagar’s face,”
Robert said. “I hope he’ll have the wit to send them to
someone else. We ought to keep them running all day!”
“Those boys,” Ned asked him. “Lannisters?”
Robert nodded, wiping tears from his eyes. “Cousins.
Sons of Lord Tywin’s brother. One of the dead ones. Or
perhaps the live one, now that I come to think on it. I don’t
recall. My wife comes from a very large family, Ned.”
A very ambitious family, Ned thought. He had nothing
against the squires, but it troubled him to see Robert
surrounded by the queen’s kin, waking and sleeping. The
Lannister appetite for offices and honors seemed to know
no bounds. “The talk is you and the queen had angry wordslast night.”
The mirth curdled on Robert’s face. “The woman tried to
forbid me to fight in the melee. She’s sulking in the castle
now, damn her. Your sister would never have shamed me
“You never knew Lyanna as I did, Robert,” Ned told him.
“You saw her beauty, but not the iron underneath. She
would have told you that you have no business in the
“You too?” The king frowned. “You are a sour man, Stark.
Too long in the north, all the juices have frozen inside you.
Well, mine are still running.” He slapped his chest to prove
“You are the king,” Ned reminded him.
“I sit on the damn iron seat when I must. Does that mean I
don’t have the same hungers as other men? A bit of wine
now and again, a girl squealing in bed, the feel of a horse
between my legs? Seven hells, Ned, Iwant to hit someone.”
Ser Barristan Selmy spoke up. “Your Grace,” he said, “it
is not seemly that the king should ride into the melee. It
would not be a fair contest. Who would dare strike you?”
Robert seemed honestly taken aback. “Why, all of them,
damn it. If they can. And the last man left standing . . .”
“. . . will be you,” Ned finished. He saw at once that Selmy
had hit the mark. The dangers of the melee were only a
savor to Robert, but this touched on his pride. “Ser
Barristan is right. There’s not a man in the Seven
Kingdoms who would dare risk your displeasure by hurting
The king rose to his feet, his face flushed. “Are you telling
me those prancing cravens will let me win?”
“For a certainty,” Ned said, and Ser Barristan Selmybowed his head in silent accord.
For a moment Robert was so angry he could not speak.
He strode across the tent, whirled, strode back, his face
dark and angry. He snatched up his breastplate from the
ground and threw it at Barristan Selmy in a wordless fury.
Selmy dodged. “Get out,” the king said then, coldly. “Get out
before I kill you.”
Ser Barristan left quickly. Ned was about to follow when
the king called out again. “Not you, Ned.”
Ned turned back. Robert took up his horn again, filled it
with beer from a barrel in the corner, and thrust it at Ned.
“Drink,” he said brusquely.
“I’ve no thirst—”
“Drink. Your king commands it.” Ned took the horn and
drank. The beer was black and thick, so strong it stung the
Robert sat down again. “Damn you, Ned Stark. You and
Jon Arryn, I loved you both. What have you done to me?
You were the one should have been king, you or Jon.”
“You had the better claim, Your Grace.”
“I told you to drink, not to argue. You made me king, you
could at least have the courtesy to listen when I talk, damn
you. Look at me, Ned. Look at what kinging has done to
me. Gods, too fat for my armor, how did it ever come to
“Robert . . .”
“Drink and stay quiet, the king is talking. I swear to you, I
was never so alive as when I was winning this throne, or so
dead as now that I’ve won it. And Cersei . . . I have Jon
Arryn to thank for her. I had no wish to marry after Lyanna
was taken from me, but Jon said the realm needed an heir.
Cersei Lannister would be a good match, he told me, shewould bind Lord Tywin to me should Viserys Targaryen
ever try to win back his father’s throne.” The king shook his
head. “I loved that old man, I swear it, but now I think he was
a bigger fool than Moon Boy. Oh, Cersei is lovely to look at,
truly, but cold . . . the way she guards her cunt, you’d think
she had all the gold of Casterly Rock between her legs.
Here, give me that beer if you won’t drink it.” He took the
horn, upended it, belched, wiped his mouth. “I am sorry for
your girl, Ned. Truly. About the wolf, I mean. My son was
lying, I’d stake my soul on it. My son . . . you love your
children, don’t you?”
“With all my heart,” Ned said.
“Let me tell you a secret, Ned. More than once, I have
dreamed of giving up the crown. Take ship for the Free
Cities with my horse and my hammer, spend my time
warring and whoring, that’s what I was made for. The
sellsword king, how the singers would love me. You know
what stops me? The thought of Joffrey on the throne, with
Cersei standing behind him whispering in his ear. My son.
How could I have made a son like that, Ned?”
“He’s only a boy,” Ned said awkwardly. He had small
liking for Prince Joffrey, but he could hear the pain in
Robert’s voice. “Have you forgotten how wild you were at
“It would not trouble me if the boy was wild, Ned. You don’t
know him as I do.” He sighed and shook his head. “Ah,
perhaps you are right. Jon despaired of me often enough,
yet I grew into a good king.” Robert looked at Ned and
scowled at his silence. “You might speak up and agree
now, you know.”
“Your Grace . . .” Ned began, carefully. Robert slapped
Ned on the back. “Ah, say that I’m a better king than Aerysand be done with it. You never could lie for love nor honor,
Ned Stark. I’m still young, and now that you’re here with me,
things will be different. We’ll make this a reign to sing of,
and damn the Lannisters to seven hells. I smell bacon. Who
do you think our champion will be today? Have you seen
Mace Tyrell’s boy? The Knight of Flowers, they call him.
Now there’s a son any man would be proud to own to. Last
tourney, he dumped the Kingslayer on his golden rump, you
ought to have seen the look on Cersei’s face. I laughed till
my sides hurt. Renly says he has this sister, a maid of
fourteen, lovely as a dawn . . .”
They broke their fast on black bread and boiled goose
eggs and fish fried up with onions and bacon, at a trestle
table by the river’s edge. The king’s melancholy melted
away with the morning mist, and before long Robert was
eating an orange and waxing fond about a morning at the
Eyrie when they had been boys. “. . . had given Jon a barrel
of oranges, remember? Only the things had gone rotten, so
I flung mine across the table and hit Dacks right in the nose.
You remember, Redfort’s pock-faced squire? He tossed
one back at me, and before Jon could so much as fart,
there were oranges flying across the High Hall in every
direction.” He laughed uproariously, and even Ned smiled,
This was the boy he had grown up with, he thought; this
was the Robert Baratheon he’d known and loved. If he
could prove that the Lannisters were behind the attack on
Bran, prove that they had murdered Jon Arryn, this man
would listen. Then Cersei would fall, and the Kingslayer with
her, and if Lord Tywin dared to rouse the west, Robert
would smash him as he had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen
on the Trident. He could see it all so clearly.That breakfast tasted better than anything Eddard Stark
had eaten in a long time, and afterward his smiles came
easier and more often, until it was time for the tournament
Ned walked with the king to the jousting field. He had
promised to watch the final tilts with Sansa; Septa Mordane
was ill today, and his daughter was determined not to miss
the end of the jousting. As he saw Robert to his place, he
noted that Cersei Lannister had chosen not to appear; the
place beside the king was empty. That too gave Ned cause
He shouldered his way to where his daughter was seated
and found her as the horns blew for the day’s first joust.
Sansa was so engrossed she scarcely seemed to notice
Sandor Clegane was the first rider to appear. He wore an
olive-green cloak over his soot-grey armor. That, and his
hound’s-head helm, were his only concession to ornament.
“A hundred golden dragons on the Kingslayer,” Littlefinger
announced loudly as Jaime Lannister entered the lists,
riding an elegant blood bay destrier. The horse wore a
blanket of gilded ringmail, and Jaime glittered from head to
heel. Even his lance was fashioned from the golden wood
of the Summer Isles.
“Done,” Lord Renly shouted back. “The Hound has a
hungry look about him this morning.”
“Even hungry dogs know better than to bite the hand that
feeds them,” Littlefinger called dryly.
Sandor Clegane dropped his visor with an audible clang
and took up his position. Ser Jaime tossed a kiss to some
woman in the commons, gently lowered his visor, and rode
to the end of the lists. Both men couched their lances.Ned Stark would have loved nothing so well as to see
them both lose, but Sansa was watching it all moist-eyed
and eager. The hastily erected gallery trembled as the
horses broke into a gallop. The Hound leaned forward as
he rode, his lance rock steady, but Jaime shifted his seat
deftly in the instant before impact. Clegane’s point was
turned harmlessly against the golden shield with the lion
blazon, while his own hit square. Wood shattered, and the
Hound reeled, fighting to keep his seat. Sansa gasped. A
ragged cheer went up from the commons.
“I wonder how I ought spend your money,” Littlefinger
called down to Lord Renly.
The Hound just managed to stay in his saddle. He jerked
his mount around hard and rode back to the lists for the
second pass. Jaime Lannister tossed down his broken
lance and snatched up a fresh one, jesting with his squire.
The Hound spurred forward at a hard gallop. Lannister rode
to meet him. This time, when Jaime shifted his seat,
Sandor Clegane shifted with him. Both lances exploded,
and by the time the splinters had settled, a riderless blood
bay was trotting off in search of grass while Ser Jaime
Lannister rolled in the dirt, golden and dented.
Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.”
Littlefinger overheard. “If you know who’s going to win the
second match, speak up now before Lord Renly plucks me
clean,” he called to her. Ned smiled.
“A pity the Imp is not here with us,” Lord Renly said. “I
should have won twice as much.”
Jaime Lannister was back on his feet, but his ornate lion
helmet had been twisted around and dented in his fall, and
now he could not get it off. The commons were hooting and
pointing, the lords and ladies were trying to stifle theirchuckles, and failing, and over it all Ned could hear King
Robert laughing, louder than anyone. Finally they had to
lead the Lion of Lannister off to a blacksmith, blind and
By then Ser Gregor Clegane was in position at the head
of the lists. He was huge, the biggest man that Eddard
Stark had ever seen. Robert Baratheon and his brothers
were all big men, as was the Hound, and back at Winterfell
there was a simpleminded stableboy named Hodor who
dwarfed them all, but the knight they called the Mountain
That Rides would have towered over Hodor. He was well
over seven feet tall, closer to eight, with massive shoulders
and arms thick as the trunks of small trees. His destrier
seemed a pony in between his armored legs, and the lance
he carried looked as small as a broom handle.
Unlike his brother, Ser Gregor did not live at court. He
was a solitary man who seldom left his own lands, but for
wars and tourneys. He had been with Lord Tywin when
King’s Landing fell, a new-made knight of seventeen years,
even then distinguished by his size and his implacable
ferocity. Some said it had been Gregor who’d dashed the
skull of the infant prince Aegon Targaryen against a wall,
and whispered that afterward he had raped the mother, the
Dornish princess Elia, before putting her to the sword.
These things were not said inGregor’s hearing.
Ned Stark could not recall ever speaking to the man,
though Gregor had ridden with them during Balon Greyjoy’s
rebellion, one knight among thousands. He watched him
with disquiet. Ned seldom put much stock in gossip, but the
things said of Ser Gregor were more than ominous. He was
soon to be married for the third time, and one heard dark
whisperings about the deaths of his first two wives. It wassaid that his keep was a grim place where servants
disappeared unaccountably and even the dogs were afraid
to enter the hall. And there had been a sister who had died
young under queer circumstances, and the fire that had
disfigured his brother, and the hunting accident that had
killed their father. Gregor had inherited the keep, the gold,
and the family estates. His younger brother Sandor had left
the same day to take service with the Lannisters as a
sworn sword, and it was said that he had never returned,
not even to visit.
When the Knight of Flowers made his entrance, a murmur
ran through the crowd, and he heard Sansa’s fervent
whisper, “Oh, he’s so beautiful!”
Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit
of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and
filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-menots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned
that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp
went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s
shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-menots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey
mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted
as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did
something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways,
nimble as a dancer. Sansa clutched at his arm. “Father,
don’t let Ser Gregor hurt him,” she said. Ned saw she was
wearing the rose that Ser Loras had given her yesterday.
Jory had told him about that as well.
“These are tourney lances,” he told his daughter. “They
make them to splinter on impact, so no one is hurt.” Yet heremembered the dead boy in the cart with his cloak of
crescent moons, and the words were raw in his throat.
Ser Gregor was having trouble controlling his horse. The
stallion was screaming and pawing the ground, shaking his
head. The Mountain kicked at the animal savagely with an
armored boot. The horse reared and almost threw him.
The Knight of Flowers saluted the king, rode to the far end
of the list, and couched his lance, ready. Ser Gregor
brought his animal to the line, fighting with the reins. And
suddenly it began. The Mountain’s stallion broke in a hard
gallop, plunging forward wildly, while the mare charged as
smooth as a flow of silk. Ser Gregor wrenched his shield
into position, juggled with his lance, and all the while fought
to hold his unruly mount on a straight line, and suddenly
Loras Tyrell was on him, placing the point of his lance just
there, and in an eye blink the Mountain was failing. He was
so huge that he took his horse down with him in a tangle of
steel and flesh.
Ned heard applause, cheers, whistles, shocked gasps,
excited muttering, and over it all the rasping, raucous
laughter of the Hound. The Knight of Flowers reined up at
the end of the lists. His lance was not even broken. His
sapphires winked in the sun as he raised his visor, smiling.
The commons went mad for him.
In the middle of the field, Ser Gregor Clegane
disentangled himself and came boiling to his feet. He
wrenched off his helm and slammed it down onto the
ground. His face was dark with fury and his hair fell down
into his eyes. “My sword,” he shouted to his squire, and the
boy ran it out to him. By then his stallion was back on its
feet as well.
Gregor Clegane killed the horse with a single blow ofsuch ferocity that it half severed the animal’s neck. Cheers
turned to shrieks in a heartbeat. The stallion went to its
knees, screaming as it died. By then Gregor was striding
down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword
clutched in his fist. “Stop him!” Ned shouted, but his words
were lost in the roar. Everyone else was yelling as well, and
Sansa was crying.
It all happened so fast. The Knight of Flowers was
shouting for his own sword as Ser Gregor knocked his
squire aside and made a grab for the reins of his horse.
The mare scented blood and reared. Loras Tyrell kept his
seat, but barely. Ser Gregor swung his sword, a savage
two-handed blow that took the boy in the chest and
knocked him from the saddle. The courser dashed away in
panic as Ser Loras lay stunned in the dirt. But as Gregor
lifted his sword for the killing blow, a rasping voice warned,
“Leave him be,” and a steel-clad hand wrenched him away
from the boy.
The Mountain pivoted in wordless fury, swinging his
longsword in a killing arc with all his massive strength
behind it, but the Hound caught the blow and turned it, and
for what seemed an eternity the two brothers stood
hammering at each other as a dazed Loras Tyrell was
helped to safety. Thrice Ned saw Ser Gregor aim savage
blows at the hound’s-head helmet, yet not once did Sandor
send a cut at his brother’s unprotected face.
It was the king’s voice that put an end to it . . . the king’s
voice and twenty swords. Jon Arryn had told them that a
commander needs a good battlefield voice, and Robert
had proved the truth of that on the Trident. He used that
voice now. “STOP THIS MADNESS,” he boomed, “IN THE
NAME OF YOUR KING!”The Hound went to one knee. Ser Gregor’s blow cut air,
and at last he came to his senses. He dropped his sword
and glared at Robert, surrounded by his Kingsguard and a
dozen other knights and guardsmen. Wordlessly, he turned
and strode off, shoving past Barristan Selmy. “Let him go,”
Robert said, and as quickly as that, it was over.
“Is the Hound the champion now?” Sansa asked Ned.
“No,” he told her. “There will be one final joust, between
the Hound and the Knight of Flowers.”
But Sansa had the right of it after all. A few moments later
Ser Loras Tyrell walked back onto the field in a simple linen
doublet and said to Sandor Clegane, “I owe you my life.
The day is yours, ser.”
“I am no ser,” the Hound replied, but he took the victory,
and the champion’s purse, and, for perhaps the first time in
his life, the love of the commons. They cheered him as he
left the lists to return to his pavilion.
As Ned walked with Sansa to the archery field, Littlefinger
and Lord Renly and some of the others fell in with them.
“Tyrell had to know the mare was in heat,” Littlefinger was
saying. “I swear the boy planned the whole thing. Gregor
has always favored huge, ill-tempered stallions with more
spirit than sense.” The notion seemed to amuse him.
It did not amuse Ser Barristan Selmy. “There is small
honor in tricks,” the old man said stiffly.
“Small honor and twenty thousand golds.” Lord Renly
That afternoon a boy named Anguy, an unheralded
commoner from the Dornish Marches, won the archery
competition, outshooting Ser Balon Swann and Jalabhar
Xho at a hundred paces after all the other bowmen had
been eliminated at the shorter distances. Ned sent Alyn toseek him out and offer him a position with the Hand’s
guard, but the boy was flush with wine and victory and
riches undreamed of, and he refused.
The melee went on for three hours. Near forty men took
part, freeriders and hedge knights and new-made squires
in search of a reputation. They fought with blunted weapons
in a chaos of mud and blood, small troops fighting together
and then turning on each other as alliances formed and
fractured, until only one man was left standing. The victor
was the red priest, Thoros of Myr, a madman who shaved
his head and fought with a flaming sword. He had won
melees before; the fire sword frightened the mounts of the
other riders, and nothing frightened Thoros. The final tally
was three broken limbs, a shattered collarbone, a dozen
smashed fingers, two horses that had to be put down, and
more cuts, sprains, and bruises than anyone cared to
count. Ned was desperately pleased that Robert had not
That night at the feast, Eddard Stark was more hopeful
than he had been in a great while. Robert was in high good
humor, the Lannisters were nowhere to be seen, and even
his daughters were behaving. Jory brought Arya down to
join them, and Sansa spoke to her sister pleasantly. “The
tournament was magnificent,” she sighed. “You should have
come. How was your dancing?”
“I’m sore all over,” Arya reported happily, proudly
displaying a huge purple bruise on her leg.
“You must be a terrible dancer,” Sansa said doubtfully.
Later, while Sansa was off listening to a troupe of singers
perform the complex round of interwoven ballads called the
“Dance of the Dragons,” Ned inspected the bruise himself.
“I hope Forel is not being too hard on you,” he said.Arya stood on one leg. She was getting much better at
that of late. “Syrio says that every hurt is a lesson, and every
lesson makes you better.” Ned frowned. The man Syrio
Forel had come with an excellent reputation, and his
flamboyant Braavosi style was well suited to Arya’s slender
blade, yet still . . . a few days ago, she had been wandering
around with a swatch of black silk tied over her eyes. Syrio
was teaching her to see with her ears and her nose and her
skin, she told him. Before that, he had her doing spins and
back flips. “Arya, are you certain you want to persist in
She nodded. “Tomorrow we’re going to catch cats.”
“Cats.” Ned sighed. “Perhaps it was a mistake to hire this
Braavosi. If you like, I will ask Jory to take over your
lessons. Or Imight have a quiet word with Ser Barristan. He
was the finest sword in the Seven Kingdoms in his youth.”
“I don’t want them,” Arya said. “Iwant Syrio.”
Ned ran his fingers through his hair. Any decent masterat-arms could give Arya the rudiments of slash-and-parry
without this nonsense of blindfolds, cartwheels, and
hopping about on one leg, but he knew his youngest
daughter well enough to know there was no arguing with
that stubborn jut of jaw. “As you wish,” he said. Surely she
would grow tired of this soon. “Try to be careful.”
“I will,” she promised solemnly as she hopped smoothly
from her right leg to her left.
Much later, after he had taken the girls back through the
city and seen them both safe in bed, Sansa with her
dreams and Arya with her bruises, Ned ascended to his
own chambers atop the Tower of the Hand. The day had
been warm and the room was close and stuffy. Ned went to
the window and unfastened the heavy shutters to let in thecool night air. Across the Great Yard, he noticed the
flickering glow of candlelight from Littlefinger’s windows.
The hour was well past midnight. Down by the river, the
revels were only now beginning to dwindle and die.
He took out the dagger and studied it. Littlefinger’s blade,
won by Tyrion Lannister in a tourney wager, sent to slay
Bran in his sleep. Why? Why would the dwarf want Bran
dead? Why would anyone want Bran dead?
The dagger, Bran’s fall, all of it was linked somehow to
the murder of Jon Arryn, he could feel it in his gut, but the
truth of Jon’s death remained as clouded to him as when he
had started. Lord Stannis had not returned to King’s
Landing for the tourney. Lysa Arryn held her silence behind
the high walls of the Eyrie. The squire was dead, and Jory
was still searching the whorehouses. What did he have but
That the armorer’s sullen apprentice was the king’s son,
Ned had no doubt. The Baratheon look was stamped on his
face, in his jaw, his eyes, that black hair. Renly was too
young to have fathered a boy of that age, Stannis too cold
and proud in his honor. Gendry had to be Robert’s.
Yet knowing all that, what had he learned? The king had
other baseborn children scattered throughout the Seven
Kingdoms. He had openly acknowledged one of his
bastards, a boy of Bran’s age whose mother was highborn.
The lad was being fostered by Lord Renly’s castellan at
Ned remembered Robert’s first child as well, a daughter
born in the Vale when Robert was scarcely more than a boy
himself. A sweet little girl; the young lord of Storm’s End
had doted on her. He used to make daily visits to play with
the babe, long after he had lost interest in the mother. Nedwas often dragged along for company, whether he willed it
or not. The girl would be seventeen or eighteen now, he
realized; older than Robert had been when he fathered her.
A strange thought.
Cersei could not have been pleased by her lord
husband’s by-blows, yet in the end it mattered little whether
the king had one bastard or a hundred. Law and custom
gave the baseborn few rights. Gendry, the girl in the Vale,
the boy at Storm’s End, none of them could threaten
Robert’s trueborn children . . .
His musings were ended by a soft rap on his door. “A
man to see you, my lord,” Harwin called. “He will not give
“Send him in,” Ned said, wondering.
The visitor was a stout man in cracked, mud-caked boots
and a heavy brown robe of the coarsest roughspun, his
features hidden by a cowl, his hands drawn up into
“Who are you?” Ned asked.
“A friend,” the cowled man said in a strange, low voice.
“We must speak alone, Lord Stark.”
Curiosity was stronger than caution. “Harwin, leave us,”
he commanded. Not until they were alone behind closed
doors did his visitor draw back his cowl.
“Lord Varys?” Ned said in astonishment.
“Lord Stark,” Varys said politely, seating himself. “I
wonder if Imight trouble you for a drink?”
Ned filled two cups with summerwine and handed one to
Varys. “I might have passed within a foot of you and never
recognized you,” he said, incredulous. He had never seen
the eunuch dress in anything but silk and velvet and the
richest damasks, and this man smelled of sweat instead oflilacs. “That was my dearest hope,” Varys said. “It would not
do if certain people learned that we had spoken in private.
The queen watches you closely. This wine is very choice.
“How did you get past my other guards?” Ned asked.
Porther and Cayn had been posted outside the tower, and
Alyn on the stairs.
“The Red Keep has ways known only to ghosts and
spiders.” Varys smiled apologetically. “I will not keep you
long, my lord. There are things you must know. You are the
King’s Hand, and the king is a fool.” The eunuch’s cloying
tones were gone; now his voice was thin and sharp as a
whip. “Your friend, I know, yet a fool nonetheless . . . and
doomed, unless you save him. Today was a near thing.
They had hoped to kill him during the melee.”
For a moment Ned was speechless with shock. “Who?”
Varys sipped his wine. “If I truly need to tell you that, you
are a bigger fool than Robert and I am on the wrong side.”
“The Lannisters,” Ned said. “The queen . . . no, I will not
believe that, not even of Cersei. She asked him not to
“She forbade him to fight, in front of his brother, his
knights, and half the court. Tell me truly, do you know any
surer way to force King Robert into the melee? I ask you.”
Ned had a sick feeling in his gut. The eunuch had hit upon
a truth; tell Robert Baratheon he could not, should not, or
must not do a thing, and it was as good as done. “Even if
he’d fought, who would have dared to strike the king?”
Varys shrugged. “There were forty riders in the melee.
The Lannisters have many friends. Amidst all that chaos,
with horses screaming and bones breaking and Thoros of
Myr waving that absurd firesword of his, who could name itmurder if some chance blow felled His Grace?” He went to
the flagon and refilled his cup. “After the deed was done,
the slayer would be beside himself with grief. I can almost
hear him weeping. So sad. Yet no doubt the gracious and
compassionate widow would take pity, lift the poor
unfortunate to his feet, and bless him with a gentle kiss of
forgiveness. Good King Joffrey would have no choice but to
pardon him.” The eunuch stroked his cheek. “Or perhaps
Cersei would let Ser Ilyn strike off his head. Less risk for
the Lannisters that way, though quite an unpleasant
surprise for their little friend.”
Ned felt his anger rise. “You knew of this plot, and yet you
“I command whisperers, not warriors.”
“You might have come to me earlier.”
“Oh, yes, I confess it. And you would have rushed straight
to the king, yes? And when Robert heard of his peril, what
would he have done? Iwonder.”
Ned considered that. “He would have damned them all,
and fought anyway, to show he did not fear them.”
Varys spread his hands. “I will make another confession,
Lord Eddard. I was curious to see what you would do. Why
not come to me? you ask, and I must answer, Why,
because I did not trust you, my lord.
“You did not trust me?” Ned was frankly astonished.
“The Red Keep shelters two sorts of people, Lord
Eddard,” Varys said. “Those who are loyal to the realm, and
those who are loyal only to themselves. Until this morning, I
could not say which you might be . . . so I waited to see . . .
and now I know, for a certainty.” He smiled a plump tight
little smile, and for a moment his private face and public
mask were one. “I begin to comprehend why the queenfears you so much. Oh, yes I do.”
“You are the one she ought to fear,” Ned said.
“No. I am what I am. The king makes use of me, but it
shames him. A most puissant warrior is our Robert, and
such a manly man has little love for sneaks and spies and
eunuchs. If a day should come when Cersei whispers, ‘Kill
that man,’ Ilyn Payne will snick my head off in a twinkling,
and who will mourn poor Varys then? North or south, they
sing no songs for spiders.” He reached out and touched
Ned with a soft hand. “But you, Lord Stark . . . I think . . . no, I
know . . . he would not kill you, not even for his queen, and
there may lie our salvation.”
It was all too much. For a moment Eddard Stark wanted
nothing so much as to return to Winterfell, to the clean
simplicity of the north, where the enemies were winter and
the wildlings beyond the Wall. “Surely Robert has other loyal
friends,” he protested. “His brothers, his—”
“—wife?” Varys finished, with a smile that cut. “His
brothers hate the Lannisters, true enough, but hating the
queen and loving the king are not quite the same thing, are
they? Ser Barristan loves his honor, Grand Maester Pycelle
loves his office, and Littlefinger loves Littlefinger.”
“A paper shield,” the eunuch said. “Try not to look so
shocked, Lord Stark. Jaime Lannister is himself a Sworn
Brother of the White Swords, and we all know what his oath
is worth. The days when men like Ryam Redwyne and
Prince Aemon the Dragonknight wore the white cloak are
gone to dust and song. Of these seven, only Ser Barristan
Selmy is made of the true steel, and Selmy is old. Ser
Boros and Ser Meryn are the queen’s creatures to the
bone, and I have deep suspicions of the others. No, mylord, when the swords come out in earnest, you will be the
only true friend Robert Baratheon will have.”
“Robert must be told,” Ned said. “If what you say is true, if
even a part of it is true, the king must hear it for himself.”
“And what proof shall we lay before him? My words
against theirs? My little birds against the queen and the
Kingslayer, against his brothers and his council, against the
Wardens of East and West, against all the might of
Casterly Rock? Pray, send for Ser Ilyn directly, it will save
us all some time. I know where that road ends.”
“Yet if what you say is true, they will only bide their time
and make another attempt.”
“Indeed they will,” said Varys, “and sooner rather than
later, I do fear. You are making them most anxious, Lord
Eddard. But my little birds will be listening, and together we
may be able to forestall them, you and U’ He rose and
pulled up his cowl so his face was hidden once more.
“Thank you for the wine. We will speak again. When you
see me next at council, be certain to treat me with your
accustomed contempt. You should not find it difficult.”
He was at the door when Ned called, “Varys.” The eunuch
turned back. “How did Jon Arryn die?”
“Iwondered when you would get around to that.”
“The tears of Lys, they call it. A rare and costly thing, clear
and sweet as water, and it leaves no trace. I begged Lord
Arryn to use a taster, in this very room I begged him, but he
would not hear of it. Only one who was less than a man
would even think of such a thing, he told me.”
Ned had to know the rest. “Who gave him the poison?”
“Some dear sweet friend who often shared meat and
mead with him, no doubt. Oh, but which one? There weremany such. Lord Arryn was a kindly, trusting man.” The
eunuch sighed. “There was one boy. All he was, he owed
Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her
household, he stayed in King’s Landing and prospered. It
always gladdens my heart to see the young rise in the
world.” The whip was in his voice again, every word a
stroke. “He must have cut a gallant figure in the tourney, him
in his bright new armor, with those crescent moons on his
cloak. A pity he died so untimely, before you could talk to
him . . .” Ned felt half-poisoned himself. “The squire,” he
said. “Ser Hugh.” Wheels within wheels within wheels.
Ned’s head was pounding. “Why? Why now? JonArryn had
been Hand for fourteen years. What was he doing that they
had to kill him?”
“Asking questions,” Varys said, slipping out the door.
As he stood in the predawn chill watching Chiggen
butcher his horse, Tyrion Lannister chalked up one more
debt owed the Starks. Steam rose from inside the carcass
when the squat sellsword opened the belly with his skinning
knife. His hands moved deftly, with never a wasted cut; the
work had to be done quickly, before the stink of blood
brought shadowcats down from the heights.
“None of us will go hungry tonight,” Bronn said. He was
near a shadow himself; bone thin and bone hard, with black
eyes and black hair and a stubble of beard.
“Some of us may,” Tyrion told him. “I am not fond of eating
horse. Particularly my horse.”
“Meat is meat,” Bronn said with a shrug. “The Dothraki
like horse more than beef or pork.”“Do you take me for a Dothraki?” Tyrion asked sourly.
The Dothraki ate horse, in truth; they also left deformed
children out for the feral dogs who ran behind their
khalasars. Dothraki customs had scant appeal for him.
Chiggen sliced a thin strip of bloody meat off the carcass
and held it up for inspection. “Want a taste, dwarf?”
“My brother Jaime gave me that mare for my twenty-third
name day,” Tyrion said in a flat voice. “Thank him for us,
then. If you ever see him again.” Chiggen grinned, showing
yellow teeth, and swallowed the raw meat in two bites.
“Tastes well bred.”
“Better if you fry it up with onions,” Bronn put in.
Wordlessly, Tyrion limped away. The cold had settled
deep in his bones, and his legs were so sore he could
scarcely walk. Perhaps his dead mare was the lucky one.
He had hours more riding ahead of him, followed by a few
mouthfuls of food and a short, cold sleep on hard ground,
and then another night of the same, and another, and
another, and the gods only knew how it would end. “Damn
her,” he muttered as he struggled up the road to rejoin his
captors, remembering, “damn her and all the Starks.”
The memory was still bitter. One moment he’d been
ordering supper, and an eye blink later he was facing a
room of armed men, with Jyck reaching for a sword and the
fat innkeep shrieking, “No swords, not here, please,
Tyrion wrenched down Jyck’s arm hurriedly, before he got
them both hacked to pieces. “Where are your courtesies,
Jyck? Our good hostess said no swords. Do as she asks.”
He forced a smile that must have looked as queasy as it
felt. “You’re making a sad mistake, Lady Stark. I had no
part in any attack on your son. On my honor—”“Lannister honor,” was all she said. She held up her
hands for all the room to see. “His dagger left these scars.
The blade he sent to open my son’s throat.”
Tyrion felt the anger all around him, thick and smoky, fed
by the deep cuts in the Stark woman’s hands. “Kill him,”
hissed some drunken slattern from the back, and other
voices took up the call, faster than he would have believed.
Strangers all, friendly enough only a moment ago, and yet
now they cried for his blood like hounds on a trail.
Tyrion spoke up loudly, trying to keep the quaver from his
voice. “If Lady Stark believes I have some crime to answer
for, Iwill go with her and answer for it.”
It was the only possible course. Trying to cut their way out
of this was a sure invitation to an early grave. A good dozen
swords had responded to the Stark woman’s plea for help:
the Harrenhal man, the three Brackens, a pair of unsavory
sellswords who looked as though they’d kill him as soon as
spit, and some fool field hands who doubtless had no idea
what they were doing. Against that, what did Tyrion have? A
dagger at his belt, and two men. Jyck swung a fair enough
sword, but Morrec scarcely counted; he was part groom,
part cook, part body servant, and no soldier. As for Yoren,
whatever his feelings might have been, the black brothers
were sworn to take no part in the quarrels of the realm.
Yoren would do nothing.
And indeed, the black brother stepped aside silently
when the old knight by Catelyn Stark’s side said, “Take
their weapons,” and the sellsword Bronn stepped forward
to pull the sword from Jyck’s fingers and relieve them all of
their daggers. “Good,” the old man said as the tension in
the common room ebbed palpably, “excellent.” Tyrion
recognized the gruff voice; Winterfell’s master-at-arms,shorn of his whiskers.
Scarlet-tinged spittle flew from the fat innkeep’s mouth as
she begged of Catelyn Stark, “Don’t kill him here!”
“Don’t kill him anywhere,” Tyrion urged.
“Take him somewheres else, no blood here, m’lady, I
wants no high lordlin’s quarrels.”
“We are taking him back to Winterfell,” she said, and
Tyrion thought, Well, perhaps . . . By then he’d had a
moment to glance over the room and get a better idea of
the situation. He was not altogether displeased by what he
saw. Oh, the Stark woman had been clever, no doubt of it.
Force them to make a public affirmation of the oaths sworn
her father by the lords they served, and then call on them for
succor, and her a woman, yes, that was sweet. Yet her
success was not as complete as she might have liked.
There were close to fifty in the common room by his rough
count. Catelyn Stark’s plea had roused a bare dozen; the
others looked confused, or frightened, or sullen. Only two of
the Freys had stirred, Tyrion noted, and they’d sat back
down quick enough when their captain failed to move. He
might have smiled if he’d dared.
“Winterfell it is, then,” he said instead. That was a long
ride, as he could well attest, having just ridden it the other
way. So many things could happen along the way. “My
father will wonder what has become of me,” he added,
catching the eye of the swordsman who’d offered to yield
up his room. “He’ll pay a handsome reward to any man who
brings him word of what happened here today.” Lord Tywin
would do no such thing, of course, but Tyrion would make
up for it if he won free.
Ser Rodrik glanced at his lady, his look worried, as well it
might be. “His men come with him,” the old knightannounced. “And we’ll thank the rest of you to stay quiet
about what you’ve seen here.”
It was all Tyrion could do not to laugh. Quiet? The old fool.
Unless he took the whole inn, the word would begin to
spread the instant they were gone. The freerider with the
gold coin in his pocket would fly to Casterly Rock like an
arrow. If not him, then someone else. Yoren would carry the
story south. That fool singer might make a lay of it. The
Freys would report back to their lord, and the gods only
knew what he might do. Lord Walder Frey might be sworn
to Riverrun, but he was a cautious man who had lived a
long time by making certain he was always on the winning
side. At the very least he would send his birds winging
south to King’s Landing, and he might well dare more than
Catelyn Stark wasted no time. “We must ride at once.
We’ll want fresh mounts, and provisions for the road. You
men, know that you have the eternal gratitude of House
Stark. If any of you choose to help us guard our captives
and get them safe to Winterfell, I promise you shall be well
rewarded.” That was all it took; the fools came rushing
forward. Tyrion studied their faces; they would indeed be
well rewarded, he vowed to himself, but perhaps not quite
as they imagined.
Yet even as they were bundling him outside, saddling the
horses in the rain, and tying his hands with a length of
coarse rope, Tyrion Lannister was not truly afraid. They
would never get him to Winterfell, he would have given odds
on that. Riders would be after them within the day, birds
would take wing, and surely one of the river lords would
want to curry favor with his father enough to take a hand.
Tyrion was congratulating himself on his subtlety whensomeone pulled a hood down over his eyes and lifted him
up onto a saddle.
They set out through the rain at a hard gallop, and before
long Tyrion’s thighs were cramped and aching and his butt
throbbed with pain. Even when they were safely away from
the inn, and Catelyn Stark slowed them to a trot, it was a
miserable pounding journey over rough ground, made
worse by his blindness. Every twist and turn put him in
danger of falling off his horse. The hood muffled sound, so
he could not make out what was being said around him,
and the rain soaked through the cloth and made it cling to
his face, until even breathing was a struggle. The rope
chafed his wrists raw and seemed to grow tighter as the
night wore on. Iwas about to settle down to a warm fire and
a roast fowl, and that wretched singer had to open his
mouth, he thought mournfully. The wretched singer had
come along with them. “There is a great song to be made
from this, and I’m the one to make it,” he told Catelyn Stark
when he announced his intention of riding with them to see
how the “splendid adventure” turned out. Tyrion wondered
whether the boy would think the adventure quite so splendid
once the Lannister riders caught up with them.
The rain had finally stopped and dawn light was seeping
through the wet cloth over his eyes when Catelyn Stark
gave the command to dismount. Rough hands pulled him
down from his horse, untied his wrists, and yanked the
hood off his head. When he saw the narrow stony road, the
foothills rising high and wild all around them, and the jagged
snowcapped peaks on the distant horizon, all the hope
went out of him in a rush. “This is the high road,” he gasped,
looking at Lady Stark with accusation. “The eastern road.
You said we were riding for Winterfell!”Catelyn Stark favored him with the faintest of smiles.
“Often and loudly,” she agreed. “No doubt your friends will
ride that way when they come after us. I wish them good
Even now, long days later, the memory filled him with a
bitter rage. All his life Tyrion had prided himself on his
cunning, the only gift the gods had seen fit to give him, and
yet this seven-times-damned shewolf Catelyn Stark had
outwitted him at every turn. The knowledge was more
galling than the bare fact of his abduction.
They stopped only as long as it took to feed and water the
horses, and then they were off again. This time Tyrion was
spared the hood. After the second night they no longer
bound his hands, and once they had gained the heights
they scarcely bothered to guard him at all. It seemed they
did not fear his escape. And why should they? Up here the
land was harsh and wild, and the high road little more than
a stony track. If he did run, how far could he hope to go,
alone and without provisions? The shadowcats would make
a morsel of him, and the clans that dwelt in the mountain
fastnesses were brigands and murderers who bowed to no
law but the sword.
Yet still the Stark woman drove them forward relentlessly.
He knew where they were bound. He had known it since the
moment they pulled off his hood. These mountains were the
domain of House Arryn, and the late Hand’s widow was a
Tully, Catelyn Stark’s sister . . . and no friend to the
Lannisters. Tyrion had known the Lady Lysa slightly during
her years at King’s Landing, and did not look forward to
renewing the acquaintance.
His captors were clustered around a stream a short ways
down the high road. The horses had drunk their fill of the icycold water, and were grazing on clumps of brown grass that
grew from clefts in the rock. Jyck and Morrec huddled
close, sullen and miserable. Mohor stood over them,
leaning on his spear and wearing a rounded iron cap that
made him look as if he had a bowl on his head. Nearby,
Marillion the singer sat oiling his woodharp, complaining of
what the damp was doing to his strings.
“We must have some rest, my lady,” the hedge knight Ser
Willis Wode was saying to Catelyn Stark as Tyrion
approached. He was Lady Whent’s man, stiff-necked and
stolid, and the first to rise to aid Catelyn Stark back at the
“Ser Willis speaks truly, my lady,” Ser Rodrik said. “This
is the third horse we have lost—”
“We will lose more than horses if we’re overtaken by the
Lannisters,” she reminded them. Her face was windburnt
and gaunt, but it had lost none of its determination.
“Small chance of that here,” Tyrion put in.
“The lady did not ask your views, dwarf,” snapped
Kurleket, a great fat oaf with short-cropped hair and a pig’s
face. He was one of the Brackens, a man-at-arms in the
service of Lord Jonos. Tyrion had made a special effort to
learn all their names, so he might thank them later for their
tender treatment of him. A Lannister always paid his debts.
Kurleket would learn that someday, as would his friends
Lharys and Mohor, and the good Ser Willis, and the
sellswords Bronn and Chiggen. He planned an especially
sharp lesson for Marillion, him of the woodharp and the
sweet tenor voice, who was struggling so manfully to rhyme
imp with gimp and limp so he could make a song of this
“Let him speak,” Lady Stark commanded.Tyrion Lannister seated himself on a rock. “By now our
pursuit is likely racing across the Neck, chasing your lie up
the kingsroad . . . assuming there is a pursuit, which is by
no means certain. Oh, no doubt the word has reached my
father . . . but my father does not love me overmuch, and I
am not at all sure that he will bother to bestir himself.” It was
only half a lie; Lord Tywin Lannister cared not a fig for his
deformed son, but he tolerated no slights on the honor of
his House. “This is a cruel land, Lady Stark. You’ll find no
succor until you reach the Vale, and each mount you lose
burdens the others all the more. Worse, you risk losing me.
I am small, and not strong, and if I die, then what’s the
point?” That was no lie at all; Tyrion did not know how much
longer he could endure this pace.
“It might be said that your death is the point, Lannister,”
Catelyn Stark replied.
“I think not,” Tyrion said. “If you wanted me dead, you had
only to say the word, and one of these staunch friends of
yours would gladly have given me a red smile.” He looked
at Kurleket, but the man was too dim to taste the mockery.
“The Starks do not murder men in their beds.”
“Nor do I,” he said. “I tell you again, I had no part in the
attempt to kill your son.”
“The assassin was armed with your dagger.” Tyrion felt
the heat rise in him. “It was not my dagger,” he insisted.
“How many times must I swear to that? Lady Stark,
whatever you may believe of me, I am not a stupid man.
Only a fool would arm a common footpad with his own
Just for a moment, he thought he saw a flicker of doubt in
her eyes, but what she said was, “Why would Petyr lie to
me?”“Why does a bear shit in the woods?” he demanded.
“Because it is his nature. Lying comes as easily as
breathing to a man like Littlefinger. You ought to know that,
you of all people.”
She took a step toward him, her face tight. “And what
does that mean, Lannister?”
Tyrion cocked his head. “Why, every man at court has
heard him tell how he took your maidenhead, my lady.”
“That is a lie!” Catelyn Stark said.
“Oh, wicked little imp,” Marillion said, shocked.
Kurleket drew his dirk, a vicious piece of black iron. “At
your word, m’lady, I’ll toss his lying tongue at your feet.” His
pig eyes were wet with excitement at the prospect.
Catelyn Stark stared at Tyrion with a coldness on her face
such as he had never seen. “Petyr Baelish loved me once.
He was only a boy. His passion was a tragedy for all of us,
but it was real, and pure, and nothing to be made mock of.
He wanted my hand. That is the truth of the matter. You are
truly an evil man, Lannister.”
“And you are truly a fool, Lady Stark. Littlefinger has never
loved anyone but Littlefinger, and I promise you that it is not
your hand that he boasts of, it’s those ripe breasts of yours,
and that sweet mouth, and the heat between your legs.”
Kurleket grabbed a handful of hair and yanked his head
back in a hard jerk, baring his throat. Tyrion felt the cold
kiss of steel beneath his chin. “Shall I bleed him, my lady?”
“Kill me and the truth dies with me,” Tyrion gasped.
“Let him talk,” Catelyn Stark commanded.
Kurleket let go of Tyrion’s hair, reluctantly.
Tyrion took a deep breath. “How did Littlefinger tell you I
came by this dagger of his? Answer me that.”
“You won it from him in a wager, during the tourney onPrince Joffrey’s name day.”
“When my brother Jaime was unhorsed by the Knight of
Flowers, that was his story, no?”
“It was,” she admitted. A line creased her brow.
The shriek came from the wind-carved ridge above them.
Ser Rodrik had sent Lharys scrambling up the rock face to
watch the road while they took their rest.
For a long second, no one moved. Catelyn Stark was the
first to react. “Ser Rodrik, Ser Willis, to horse,” she shouted.
“Get the other mounts behind us. Mohor, guard the
“Arm us!” Tyrion sprang to his feet and seized her by the
arm. “You will need every sword.”
She knew he was right, Tyrion could see it. The mountain
clans cared nothing for the enmities of the great houses;
they would slaughter Stark and Lannister with equal fervor,
as they slaughtered each other. They might spare Catelyn
herself; she was still young enough to bear sons. Still, she
“I hear them!” Ser Rodrik called out. Tyrion turned his
head to listen, and there it was: hoofbeats, a dozen horses
or more, coming nearer. Suddenly everyone was moving,
reaching for weapons, running to their mounts.
Pebbles rained down around them as Lharys came
springing and sliding down the ridge. He landed breathless
in front of Catelyn Stark, an ungainly-looking man with wild
tufts of rust-colored hair sticking out from under a conical
steel cap. “Twenty men, maybe twenty-five,” he said,
breathless. “Milk Snakes or Moon Brothers, by my guess.
They must have eyes out, m’lady . . . hidden watchers . . .
they know we’re here.”Ser Rodrik Cassel was already ahorse, a longsword in
hand. Mohor crouched behind a boulder, both hands on his
iron-tipped spear, a dagger between his teeth. “You,
singer,” Ser Willis Wode called out. “Help me with this
breastplate.” Marillion sat frozen, clutching his woodharp,
his face as pale as milk, but Tyrion’s man Morrec bounded
quickly to his feet and moved to help the knight with his
Tyrion kept his grip on Catelyn Stark. “You have no
choice,” he told her. “Three of us, and a fourth man wasted
guarding us . . . four men can be the difference between life
and death up here.”
“Give me your word that you will put down your swords
again after the fight is done.”
“My word?” The hoofbeats were louder now. Tyrion
grinned crookedly. “Oh, that you have, my lady . . . on my
honor as a Lannister.”
For a moment he thought she would spit at him, but
instead she snapped, “Arm them,” and as quick as that she
was pulling away. Ser Rodrik tossed Jyck his sword and
scabbard, and wheeled to meet the foe. Morrec helped
himself to a bow and quiver, and went to one knee beside
the road. He was a better archer than swordsman. And
Bronn rode up to offer Tyrion a double-bladed axe. ”I have
never fought with an axe.” The weapon felt awkward and
unfamiliar in his hands. It had a short haft, a heavy head, a
nasty spike on top.
“Pretend you’re splitting logs,” Bronn said, drawing his
longsword from the scabbard across his back. He spat,
and trotted off to form up beside Chiggen and Ser Rodrik.
Ser Willis mounted up to join them, fumbling with his
helmet, a metal pot with a thin slit for his eyes and a longblack silk plume.
“Logs don’t bleed,” Tyrion said to no one in particular. He
felt naked without armor. He looked around for a rock and
ran over to where Marillion was hiding. “Move over.”
“Go away!” the boy screamed back at him. “I’m a singer, I
want no part of this fight!”
“What, lost your taste for adventure?” Tyrion kicked at the
youth until he slid over, and not a moment too soon. A
heartbeat later, the riders were on them.
There were no heralds, no banners, no horns nor drums,
only the twang of bowstrings as Morrec and Lharys let fly,
and suddenly the clansmen came thundering out of the
dawn, lean dark men in boiled leather and mismatched
armor, faces hidden behind barred halfhelms. In gloved
hands were clutched all manner of weapons: longswords
and lances and sharpened scythes, spiked clubs and
daggers and heavy iron mauls. At their head rode a big
man in a striped shadowskin cloak, armed with a twohanded greatsword.
Ser Rodrik shouted “Winterfell!” and rode to meet him,
with Bronn and Chiggen beside him, screaming some
wordless battle cry. Ser Willis Wode followed, swinging a
spiked morningstar around his head. “Harrenhal!
Harrenhal!” he sang. Tyrion felt a sudden urge to leap up,
brandish his axe, and boom out, “Casterly Rock!” but the
insanity passed quickly and he crouched down lower.
He heard the screams of frightened horses and the crash
of metal on metal. Chiggen’s sword raked across the
naked face of a mailed rider, and Bronn plunged through
the clansmen like a whirlwind, cutting down foes right and
left. Ser Rodrik hammered at the big man in the
shadowskin cloak, their horses dancing round each otheras they traded blow for blow. Jyck vaulted onto a horse and
galloped bareback into the fray. Tyrion saw an arrow sprout
from the throat of the man in the shadowskin cloak. When
he opened his mouth to scream, only blood came out. By
the time he fell, Ser Rodrik was fighting someone else.
Suddenly Marillion shrieked, covering his head with his
woodharp as a horse leapt over their rock. Tyrion
scrambled to his feet as the rider turned to come back at
them, hefting a spiked maul. Tyrion swung his axe with both
hands. The blade caught the charging horse in the throat
with a meaty thunk, angling upward, and Tyrion almost lost
his grip as the animal screamed and collapsed. He
managed to wrench the axe free and lurch clumsily out of
the way. Marillion was less fortunate. Horse and rider
crashed to the ground in a tangle on top of the singer.
Tyrion danced back in while the brigand’s leg was still
pinned beneath his fallen mount, and buried the axe in the
man’s neck, just above the shoulder blades.
As he struggled to yank the blade loose, he heard
Marillion moaning under the bodies. “Someone help me,”
the singer gasped. “Gods have mercy, I’m bleeding.”
“I believe that’s horse blood,” Tyrion said. The singer’s
hand came crawling out from beneath the dead animal,
scrabbling in the dirt like a spider with five legs. Tyrion put
his heel on the grasping fingers and felt a satisfying crunch.
“Close your eyes and pretend you’re dead,” he advised the
singer before he hefted the axe and turned away.
After that, things ran together. The dawn was full of shouts
and screams and heavy with the scent of blood, and the
world had turned to chaos. Arrows hissed past his ear and
clattered off the rocks. He saw Bronn unhorsed, fighting
with a sword in each hand. Tyrion kept on the fringes of thefight, sliding from rock to rock and darting out of the
shadows to hew at the legs of passing horses. He found a
wounded clansman and left him dead, helping himself to
the man’s halfhelm. It fit too snugly, but Tyrion was glad of
any protection at all. Jyck was cut down from behind while
he sliced at a man in front of him, and later Tyrion stumbled
over Kurleket’s body. The pig face had been smashed in
with a mace, but Tyrion recognized the dirk as he plucked it
from the man’s dead fingers. He was sliding it through his
belt when he heard a woman’s scream.
Catelyn Stark was trapped against the stone face of the
mountain with three men around her, one still mounted and
the other two on foot. She had a dagger clutched
awkwardly in her maimed hands, but her back was to the
rock now and they had penned her on three sides. Let them
have the bitch, Tyrion thought, and welcome to her, yet
somehow he was moving. He caught the first man in the
back of the knee before they even knew he was there, and
the heavy axehead split flesh and bone like rotten wood.
Logs that bleed, Tyrion thought inanely as the second man
came for him. Tyrion ducked under his sword, lashed out
with the axe, the man reeled backward . . . and Catelyn
Stark stepped up behind him and opened his throat. The
horseman remembered an urgent engagement elsewhere
and galloped off suddenly. Tyrion looked around. The
enemy were all vanquished or vanished. Somehow the
fighting had ended when he wasn’t looking. Dying horses
and wounded men lay all around, screaming or moaning.
To his vast astonishment, he was not one of them. He
opened his fingers and let the axe thunk to the ground. His
hands were sticky with blood. He could have sworn they
had been fighting for half a day, but the sun seemedscarcely to have moved at all.
“Your first battle?” Bronn asked later as he bent over
Jyck’s body, pulling off his boots. They were good boots, as
befit one of Lord Tywin’s men; heavy leather, oiled and
supple, much finer than what Bronn was wearing.
Tyrion nodded. “My father will be so proud,” he said. His
legs were cramping so badly he could scarcely stand. Odd,
he had never once noticed the pain during the battle.
“You need a woman now,” Bronn said with a glint in his
black eyes. He shoved the boots into his saddlebag.
“Nothing like a woman after a man’s been blooded, take
Chiggen stopped looting the corpses of the brigands long
enough to snort and lick his lips.
Tyrion glanced over to where Lady Stark was dressing
Ser Rodrik’s wounds. “I’m willing if she is,” he said. The
freeriders broke into laughter, and Tyrion grinned and
thought, There’s a start.
Afterward he knelt by the stream and washed the blood
off his face in water cold as ice. As he limped back to the
others, he glanced again at the slain. The dead clansmen
were thin, ragged men, their horses scrawny and
undersized, with every rib showing. What weapons Bronn
and Chiggen had left them were none too impressive.
Mauls, clubs, a scythe . . . He remembered the big man in
the shadowskin cloak who had dueled Ser Rodrik with a
two-handed greatsword, but when he found his corpse
sprawled on the stony ground, the man was not so big after
all, the cloak was gone, and Tyrion saw that the blade was
badly notched, its cheap steel spotted with rust. Small
wonder the clansmen had left nine bodies on the ground.
They had only three dead; two of Lord Bracken’s men-at-arms, Kurleket and Mohor, and his own man Jyck, who had
made such a bold show with his bareback charge. A fool to
the end, Tyrion thought.
“Lady Stark, I urge you to press on, with all haste,” Ser
Willis Wode said, his eyes scanning the ridge tops warily
through the slit in his helm. “We drove them off for the
moment, but they will not have gone far.”
“We must bury our dead, Ser Willis,” she said. “These
were brave men. I will not leave them to the crows and
“This soil is too stony for digging,” Ser Willis said. ”Then
we shall gather stones for cairns.”
“Gather all the stones you want,” Bronn told her, “but do it
without me or Chiggen. I’ve better things to do than pile
rocks on dead men . . . breathing, for one.” He looked over
the rest of the survivors. “Any of you who hope to be alive
come nightfall, ride with us.”
“My lady, I fear he speaks the truth,” Ser Rodrik said
wearily. The old knight had been wounded in the fight, a
deep gash in his left arm and a spear thrust that grazed his
neck, and he sounded his age. “If we linger here, they will
be on us again for a certainty, and we may not live through
a second attack.”
Tyrion could see the anger in Catelyn’s face, but she had
no choice. “May the gods forgive us, then. We will ride at
There was no shortage of horses now. Tyrion moved his
saddle to Jyck’s spotted gelding, who looked strong
enough to last another three or four days at least. He was
about to mount when Lharys stepped up and said, “I’ll take
that dirk now, dwarf.”
“Let him keep it.” Catelyn Stark looked down from herhorse. “And see that he has his axe back as well. We may
have need of it if we are attacked again.”
“You have my thanks, lady,” Tyrion said, mounting up.
“Save them,” she said curtly. “I trust you no more than I did
before.” She was gone before he could frame a reply.
Tyrion adjusted his stolen helm and took the axe from
Bronn. He remembered how he had begun the journey, with
his wrists bound and a hood pulled down over his head,
and decided that this was a definite improvement. Lady
Stark could keep her trust; so long as he could keep the
axe, he would count himself ahead in the game.
Ser Willis Wode led them out. Bronn took the rear, with
Lady Stark safely in the middle, Ser Rodrik a shadow
beside her. Marillion kept throwing sullen looks back at
Tyrion as they rode. The singer had broken several ribs, his
woodharp, and all four fingers on his playing hand, yet the
day had not been an utter loss to him; somewhere he had
acquired a magnificent shadowskin cloak, thick black fur
slashed by stripes of white. He huddled beneath its folds
silently, and for once had nothing to say.
They heard the deep growls of shadowcats behind them
before they had gone half a mile, and later the wild snarling
of the beasts fighting over the corpses they had left behind.
Marillion grew visibly pale. Tyrion trotted up beside him.
“Craven,” he said, “rhymes nicely with raven.” He kicked his
horse and moved past the singer, up to Ser Rodrik and
Catelyn Stark. She looked at him, lips pressed tightly
“As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted,”
Tyrion began, “there is a serious flaw in Littlefinger’s fable.
Whatever you may believe of me, Lady Stark, I promise you
this—I never bet against my family.”Arya
The one-eared black tom arched his back and
hissed at her.
Arya padded down the alley, balanced lightly on the balls
of her bare feet, listening to the flutter of her heart, breathing
slow deep breaths. Quiet as a shadow, she told herself,
light as a feather. The tomcat watched her come, his eyes
Catching cats was hard. Her hands were covered with
half-healed scratches, and both knees were scabbed over
where she had scraped them raw in tumbles. At first even
the cook’s huge fat kitchen cat had been able to elude her,
but Syrio had kept her at it day and night. When she’d run to
him with her hands bleeding, he had said, “So slow? Be
quicker, girl. Your enemies will give you more than
scratches.” He had dabbed her wounds with Myrish fire,
which burned so bad she had had to bite her lip to keep
from screaming. Then he sent her out after more cats.
The Red Keep was full of cats: lazy old cats dozing in the
sun, coldeyed mousers twitching their tails, quick little
kittens with claws like needles, ladies’ cats all combed and
trusting, ragged shadows prowling the midden heaps. One
by one Arya had chased them down and snatched them up
and brought them proudly to Syrio Forel . . . all but this one,
this one-eared black devil of a tomcat. “That’s the real king
of this castle right there,” one of the gold cloaks had told
her. “Older than sin and twice as mean. One time, the king
was feasting the queen’s father, and that black bastard
hopped up on the table and snatched a roast quail right out
of Lord Tywin’s fingers. Robert laughed so hard he like toburst. You stay away from that one, child.”
He had run her halfway across the castle; twice around
the Tower of the Hand, across the inner bailey, through the
stables, down the serpentine steps, past the small kitchen
and the pig yard and the barracks of the gold cloaks, along
the base of the river wall and up more steps and back and
forth over Traitor’s Walk, and then down again and through
a gate and around a well and in and out of strange
buildings until Arya didn’t know where she was.
Now at last she had him. High walls pressed close on
either side, and ahead was a blank windowless mass of
stone. Quiet as a shadow, she repeated, sliding forward,
light as a feather.
When she was three steps away from him, the tomcat
bolted. Left, then right, he went; and right, then left, went
Arya, cutting off his escape. He hissed again and tried to
dart between her legs. Quick as a snake, she thought. Her
hands closed around him. She hugged him to her chest,
whirling and laughing aloud as his claws raked at the front
of her leather jerkin. Ever so fast, she kissed him right
between the eyes, and jerked her head back an instant
before his claws would have found her face. The tomcat
yowled and spit.
“What’s he doing to that cat?”
Startled, Arya dropped the cat and whirled toward the
voice. The torn bounded off in the blink of an eye. At the
end of the alley stood a girl with a mass of golden curls,
dressed as pretty as a doll in blue satin. Beside her was a
plump little blond boy with a prancing stag sewn in pearls
across the front of his doublet and a miniature sword at his
belt. Princess Myrcella and Prince Tommen, Arya thought.
A septa as large as a draft horse hovered over them, andbehind her two big men in crimson cloaks, Lannister house
“What were you doing to that cat, boy?” Myrcella asked
again, sternly. To her brother she said, “He’s a ragged boy,
isn’t he? Look at him.” She giggled.
“A ragged dirty smelly boy,” Tommen agreed.
They don’t know me, Arya realized. They don’t even know
I’m a girl. Small wonder; she was barefoot and dirty, her
hair tangled from the long run through the castle, clad in a
jerkin ripped by cat claws and brown roughspun pants
hacked off above her scabby knees. You don’t wear skirts
and silks when you’re catching cats. Quickly she lowered
her head and dropped to one knee. Maybe they wouldn’t
recognize her. If they did, she would never hear the end of
it. Septa Mordane would be mortified, and Sansa would
never speak to her again from the shame.
The old fat septa moved forward. “Boy, how did you come
here? You have no business in this part of the castle.”
“You can’t keep this sort out,” one of the red cloaks said.
“Like trying to keep out rats.”
“Who do you belong to, boy?” the septa demanded.
“Answer me. What’s wrong with you, are you mute?”
Arya’s voice caught in her throat. If she answered,
Tommen and Myrcella would know her for certain.
“Godwyn, bring him here,” the septa said. The taller of the
guardsmen started down the alley.
Panic gripped her throat like a giant’s hand. Arya could
not have spoken if her life had hung on it. Calm as still
water, she mouthed silently.
As Godwyn reached for her, Arya moved. Quick as a
snake. She leaned to her left, letting his fingers brush her
arm, spinning around him, Smooth as summer silk. By thetime he got himself turned, she was sprinting down the
alley. Swift as a deer. The septa was screeching at her.
Arya slid between legs as thick and white as marble
columns, bounded to her feet, bowled into Prince Tommen
and hopped over him when he sat down hard and said
“Oof,” spun away from the second guard, and then she was
past them all, running full out.
She heard shouts, then pounding footsteps, closing
behind her. She dropped and rolled. The red cloak went
careening past her, stumbling. Arya sprang back to her
feet. She saw a window above her, high and narrow,
scarcely more than an arrow slit. Arya leapt, caught the sill,
pulled herself up. She held her breath as she wriggled
through. Slippery as an eel. Dropping to the floor in front of
a startled scrubwoman, she hopped up, brushed the rushes
off her clothes, and was off again, out the door and along a
long hall, down a stair, across a hidden courtyard, around a
corner and over a wall and through a low narrow window
into a pitch-dark cellar. The sounds grew more and more
distant behind her.
Arya was out of breath and quite thoroughly lost. She was
in for it now if they had recognized her, but she didn’t think
they had. She’d moved too fast. Swift as a deer.
She hunkered down in the dark against a damp stone
wall and listened for the pursuit, but the only sound was the
beating of her own heart and a distant drip of water. Quiet
as a shadow, she told herself. She wondered where she
was. When they had first come to King’s Landing, she used
to have bad dreams about getting lost in the castle. Father
said the Red Keep was smaller than Winterfell, but in her
dreams it had been immense, an endless stone maze with
walls that seemed to shift and change behind her. Shewould find herself wandering down gloomy halls past faded
tapestries, descending endless circular stairs, darting
through courtyards or over bridges, her shouts echoing
unanswered. In some of the rooms the red stone walls
would seem to drip blood, and nowhere could she find a
window. Sometimes she would hear her father’s voice, but
always from a long way off, and no matter how hard she ran
after it, it would grow fainter and fainter, until it faded to
nothing and Arya was alone in the dark.
It was very dark right now, she realized. She hugged her
bare knees tight against her chest and shivered. She would
wait quietly and count to ten thousand. By then it would be
safe for her to come creeping back out and find her way
By the time she had reached eighty-seven, the room had
begun to lighten as her eyes adjusted to the blackness.
Slowly the shapes around her took on form. Huge empty
eyes stared at her hungrily through the gloom, and dimly
she saw the jagged shadows of long teeth. She had lost the
count. She closed her eyes and bit her lip and sent the fear
away. When she looked again, the monsters would be
gone. Would never have been. She pretended that Syrio
was beside her in the dark, whispering in her ear. Calm as
still water, she told herself. Strong as a bear. Fierce as a
wolverine. She opened her eyes again.
The monsters were still there, but the fear was gone.
Arya got to her feet, moving warily. The heads were all
around her. She touched one, curious, wondering if it was
real. Her fingertips brushed a massive jaw. It felt real
enough. The bone was smooth beneath her hand, cold and
hard to the touch. She ran her fingers down a tooth, black
and sharp, a dagger made of darkness. It made her shiver.“It’s dead,” she said aloud. “It’s just a skull, it can’t hurt
me.” Yet somehow the monster seemed to know she was
there. She could feel its empty eyes watching her through
the gloom, and there was something in that dim, cavernous
room that did not love her. She edged away from the skull
and backed into a second, larger than the first. For an
instant she could feel its teeth digging into her shoulder, as
if it wanted a bite of her flesh. Arya whirled, felt leather
catch and tear as a huge fang nipped at her jerkin, and then
she was running. Another skull loomed ahead, the biggest
monster of all, but Arya did not even slow. She leapt over a
ridge of black teeth as tall as swords, dashed through
hungry jaws, and threw herself against the door.
Her hands found a heavy iron ring set in the wood, and
she yanked at it. The door resisted a moment, before it
slowly began to swing inward, with a creak so loud Arya
was certain it could be heard all through the city. She
opened the door just far enough to slip through, into the
If the room with the monsters had been dark, the hall was
the blackest pit in the seven hells. Calm as still water, Arya
told herself, but even when she gave her eyes a moment to
adjust, there was nothing to see but the vague grey outline
of the door she had come through. She wiggled her fingers
in front of her face, felt the air move, saw nothing. She was
blind. A water dancer sees with all her senses, she
reminded herself. She closed her eyes and steadied her
breathing one two three, drank in the quiet, reached out
with her hands.
Her fingers brushed against rough unfinished stone to her
left. She followed the wall, her hand skimming along the
surface, taking small gliding steps through the darkness. Allhalls lead somewhere. “ere there is a way in, there is a way
out. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Arya would not be
afraid. It seemed as if she had been walking a long ways
when the wall ended abruptly and a draft of cold air blew
past her cheek. Loose hairs stirred faintly against her skin.
From somewhere far below her, she heard noises. The
scrape of boots, the distant sound of voices. A flickering
light brushed the wall ever so faintly, and she saw that she
stood at the top of a great black well, a shaft twenty feet
across plunging deep into the earth. Huge stones had been
set into the curving walls as steps, circling down and down,
dark as the steps to hell that Old Nan used to tell them of.
And something was coming up out of the darkness, out of
the bowels of the earth . . .
Arya peered over the edge and felt the cold black breath
on her face. Far below, she saw the light of a single torch,
small as the flame of a candle. Two men, she made out.
Their shadows writhed against the sides of the well, tall as
giants. She could hear their voices, echoing up the shaft.
“…found one bastard,” one said. “The rest will come
soon. A day, two days, a fortnight . . .”
“And when he learns the truth, what will he do?” a second
voice asked in the liquid accents of the Free Cities.
“The gods alone know,” the first voice said. Arya could
see a wisp of grey smoke drifting up off the torch, writhing
like a snake as it rose. “The fools tried to kill his son, and
what’s worse, they made a mummer’s farce of it. He’s not a
man to put that aside. I warn you, the wolf and lion will soon
be at each other’s throats, whether we will it or no.”
“Too soon, too soon,” the voice with the accent
complained. “What good is war now? We are not ready.
Delay.”“As well bid me stop time. Do you take me for a wizard?”
The other chuckled. “No less.” Flames licked at the cold
air. The tall shadows were almost on top of her. An instant
later the man holding the torch climbed into her sight, his
companion beside him. Arya crept back away from the
well, dropped to her stomach, and flattened herself against
the wall. She held her breath as the men reached the top of
“What would you have me do?” asked the torchbearer, a
stout man in a leather half cape. Even in heavy boots, his
feet seemed to glide soundlessly over the ground. A round
scarred face and a stubble of dark beard showed under his
steel cap, and he wore mail over boiled leather, and a dirk
and shortsword at his belt. It seemed to Arya there was
something oddly familiar about him.
“If one Hand can die, why not a second?” replied the man
with the accent and the forked yellow beard. “You have
danced the dance before, my friend.” He was no one Arya
had ever seen before, she was certain of it. Grossly fat, yet
he seemed to walk lightly, carrying his weight on the balls of
his feet as a water dancer might. His rings glimmered in the
torchlight, red-gold and pale silver, crusted with rubies,
sapphires, slitted yellow tiger eyes. Every finger wore a
ring; some had two.
“Before is not now, and this Hand is not the other,” the
scarred man said as they stepped out into the hall. Still as
stone, Arya told herself, quiet as a shadow. Blinded by the
blaze of their own torch, they did not see her pressed flat
against the stone, only a few feet away.
“Perhaps so,” the forked beard replied, pausing to catch
his breath after the long climb. “Nonetheless, we must have
time. The princess is with child. The khal will not bestirhimself until his son is born. You know how they are, these
The man with the torch pushed at something. Arya heard
a deep rumbling. A huge slab of rock, red in the torchlight,
slid down out of the ceiling with a resounding crash that
almost made her cry out. Where the entry to the well had
been was nothing but stone, solid and unbroken.
“If he does not bestir himself soon, it may be too late,” the
stout man in the steel cap said. “This is no longer a game
for two players, if ever it was. Stannis Baratheon and Lysa
Arryn have fled beyond my reach, and the whispers say
they are gathering swords around them. The Knight of
Flowers writes Highgarden, urging his lord father to send
his sister to court. The girl is a maid of fourteen, sweet and
beautiful and tractable, and Lord Renly and Ser Loras
intend that Robert should bed her, wed her, and make a
new queen. Littlefinger… the gods only know what game
Littlefinger is playing. Yet Lord Stark’s the one who troubles
my sleep. He has the bastard, he has the book, and soon
enough he’ll have the truth. And now his wife has abducted
Tyrion Lannister, thanks to Littlefinger’s meddling. Lord
Tywin will take that for an outrage, and Jaime has a queer
affection for the Imp. If the Lannisters move north, that will
bring the Tullys in as well. Delay, you say. Make haste, I
reply. Even the finest of jugglers cannot keep a hundred
balls in the air forever.”
“You are more than a juggler, old friend. You are a true
sorcerer. All I ask is that you work your magic awhile
longer.” They started down the hall in the directionArya had
come, past the room with the monsters.
“What I can do, I will,” the one with the torch said softly. “I
must have gold, and another fifty birds.”She let them get a long way ahead, then went creeping
after them. Quiet as a shadow.
“So many?” The voices were fainter as the light dwindled
ahead of her. “The ones you need are hard to find . . . so
young, to know their letters . . . perhaps older . . . not die so
easy . . .”
“No. The younger are safer . . . treat them gently if they
kept their tongues the risk . . .”
Long after their voices had faded away, Arya could still
see the light of the torch, a smoking star that bid her follow.
Twice it seemed to disappear, but she kept on straight, and
both times she found herself at the top of steep, narrow
stairs, the torch glimmering far below her. She hurried after
it, down and down. Once she stumbled over a rock and fell
against the wall, and her hand found raw earth supported by
timbers, whereas before the tunnel had been dressed
She must have crept after them for miles. Finally they
were gone, but there was no place to go but forward. She
found the wall again and followed, blind and lost, pretending
that Nymeria was padding along beside her in the
darkness. At the end she was knee-deep in foul-smelling
water, wishing she could dance upon it as Syrio might
have, and wondering if she’d ever see light again. It was full
dark when finally Arya emerged into the night air.
She found herself standing at the mouth of a sewer where
it emptied into the river. She stank so badly that she
stripped right there, dropping her soiled clothing on the
riverbank as she dove into the deep black waters. She
swam until she felt clean, and crawled out shivering. Some
riders went past along the river road as Arya was washing
her clothes, but if they saw the scrawny naked girlscrubbing her rags in the moonlight, they took no notice.
She was miles from the castle, but from anywhere in
King’s Landing you needed only to look up to see the Red
Keep high on Aegon’s Hill, so there was no danger of
losing her way. Her clothes were almost dry by the time she
reached the gatehouse. The portcullis was down and the
gates barred, so she turned aside to a postern door. The
gold cloaks who had the watch sneered when she told them
to let her in. “Off with you,” one said. “The kitchen scraps
are gone, and we’ll have no begging after dark.”
“I’m not a beggar,” she said. “I live here.”
“I said, off with you. Do you need a clout on the ear to help
“Iwant to see my father.”
The guards exchanged a glance. “Iwant to fuck the queen
myself, for all the good it does me,” the younger one said.
The older scowled. “Who’s this father of yours, boy, the
“The Hand of the King,” Arya told him.
Both men laughed, but then the older one swung his fist at
her, casually, as a man would swat a dog. Arya saw the
blow coming even before it began. She danced back out of
the way, untouched. “I’m not a boy,” she spat at them. “I’m
Arya Stark of Winterfell, and if you lay a hand on me my lord
father will have both your heads on spikes. If you don’t
believe me, fetch Jory Cassel or Vayon Poole from the
Tower of the Hand.” She put her hands on her hips. “Now
are you going to open the gate, or do you need a clout on
the ear to help your hearing?”
Her father was alone in the solar when Harwin and Fat
Tom marched her in, an oil lamp glowing softly at his elbow.
He was bent over the biggest book Arya had ever seen, agreat thick tome with cracked yellow pages of crabbed
script, bound between faded leather covers, but he closed
it to listen to Harwin’s report. His face was stern as he sent
the men away with thanks.
“You realize I had half my guard out searching for you?”
Eddard Stark said when they were alone. “Septa Mordane
is beside herself with fear. She’s in the sept praying for
your safe return. Arya, you know you are never to go
beyond the castle gates without my leave.”
“I didn’t go out the gates,” she blurted. “Well, I didn’t mean
to. I was down in the dungeons, only they turned into this
tunnel. It was all dark, and I didn’t have a torch or a candle
to see by, so I had to follow. I couldn’t go back the way I
came on account of the monsters. Father, they were talking
about killing you! Not the monsters, the two men. They
didn’t see me, I was being still as stone and quiet as a
shadow, but I heard them. They said you had a book and a
bastard and if one Hand could die, why not a second? Is
that the book? Jon’s the bastard, I bet.”
“Jon? Arya, what are you talking about? Who said this?”
“They did,” she told him. “There was a fat one with rings
and a forked yellow beard, and another in mail and a steel
cap, and the fat one said they had to delay but the other
one told him he couldn’t keep juggling and the wolf and the
lion were going to eat each other and it was a mummer’s
farce.” She tried to remember the rest. She hadn’t quite
understood everything she’d heard, and now it was all
mixed up in her head. “The fat one said the princess was
with child. The one in the steel cap, he had the torch, he
said that they had to hurry. I think he was a wizard.”
“A wizard,” said Ned, unsmiling. “Did he have a long white
beard and tall pointed hat speckled with stars?”“No! It wasn’t like Old Nan’s stories. He didn’t look like a
wizard, but the fat one said he was.”
“Iwarn you, Arya, if you’re spinning this thread of air—”
“No, I told you, it was in the dungeons, by the place with
the secret wall. I was chasing cats, and well . . .” She
screwed up her face. If she admitted knocking over Prince
Tommen, he would be really angry with her. “. . . well, I went
in this window. That’s where I found the monsters.”
“Monsters and wizards,” her father said. “It would seem
you’ve had quite an adventure. These men you heard, you
say they spoke of juggling and mummery?”
“Yes,” Arya admitted, “only—”
“Arya, they were mummers,” her father told her. “There
must be a dozen troupes in King’s Landing right now, come
to make some coin off the tourney crowds. I’m not certain
what these two were doing in the castle, but perhaps the
king has asked for a show.”
“No.” She shook her head stubbornly. “They weren’t—”
“You shouldn’t be following people about and spying on
them in any case. Nor do I cherish the notion of my
daughter climbing in strange windows after stray cats. Look
at you, sweetling. Your arms are covered with scratches.
This has gone on long enough. Tell Syrio Forel that I want a
word with him—”
He was interrupted by a short, sudden knock. “Lord
Eddard, pardons,” Desmond called out, opening the door a
crack, “but there’s a black brother here begging audience.
He says the matter is urgent. I thought you would want to
“My door is always open to the Night’s Watch,” Father
Desmond ushered the man inside. He was stooped andugly, with an unkempt beard and unwashed clothes, yet
Father greeted him pleasantly and asked his name.
“Yoren, as it please m’lord. My pardons for the hour.” He
bowed to Arya. “And this must be your son. He has your
“I’m a girl,” Arya said, exasperated. If the old man was
down from the Wall, he must have come by way of
Winterfell. “Do you know my brothers?” she asked
excitedly. “Robb and Bran are at Winterfell, and Jon’s on
the Wall. Jon Snow, he’s in the Night’s Watch too, you must
know him, he has a direwolf, a white one with red eyes. Is
Jon a ranger yet? I’m Arya Stark.” The old man in his smelly
black clothes was looking at her oddly, but Arya could not
seem to stop talking. “When you ride back to the Wall,
would you bring Jon a letter if Iwrote one?” She wished Jon
were here right now. He’d believe her about the dungeons
and the fat man with the forked beard and the wizard in the
“My daughter often forgets her courtesies,” Eddard Stark
said with a faint smile that softened his words. “I beg your
forgiveness, Yoren. Did my brother Benjen send you?”
“No one sent me, m’lord, saving old Mormont. I’m here to
find men for the Wall, and when Robert next holds court, I’ll
bend the knee and cry our need, see if the king and his
Hand have some scum in the dungeons they’d be well rid
of. You might say as Benjen Stark is why we’re talking,
though. His blood ran black. Made him my brother as much
as yours. It’s for his sake I’m come. Rode hard, I did, near
killed my horse the way I drove her, but I left the others well
Yoren spat. “Sellswords and freeriders and like trash.That inn was full o’ them, and I saw them take the scent. The
scent of blood or the scent of gold, they smell the same in
the end. Not all o’ them made for King’s Landing, either.
Some went galloping for Casterly Rock, and the Rock lies
closer. Lord Tywin will have gotten the word by now, you
can count on it.”
Father frowned. “What word is this?”
Yoren eyed Arya. “One best spoken in private, m’lord,
begging your pardons.”
“As you say. Desmond, see my daughter to her
chambers.” He kissed her on the brow. “We’ll finish our talk
on the morrow.”
Arya stood rooted to the spot. “Nothing bad’s happened
to Jon, has it?” she asked Yoren. “Or Uncle Benjen?”
“Well, as to Stark, I can’t say. The Snow boy was well
enough when I left the Wall. It’s not them as concerns me.”
Desmond took her hand. “Come along, milady. You heard
your lord father.”
Arya had no choice but to go with him, wishing it had
been Fat Tom. With Tom, she might have been able to
linger at the door on some excuse and hear what Yoren
was saying, but Desmond was too singleminded to trick.
“How many guards does my father have?” she asked him
as they descended to her bedchamber.
“Here at King’s Landing? Fifty.”
“You wouldn’t let anyone kill him, would you?” she asked.
Desmond laughed. “No fear on that count, little lady. Lord
Eddard’s guarded night and day. He’ll come to no harm.”
“The Lannisters have more than fifty men,” Arya pointed
“So they do, but every northerner is worth ten of these
southron swords, so you can sleep easy.”“What if a wizard was sent to kill him?”
“Well, as to that,” Desmond replied, drawing his
longsword, “wizards die the same as other men, once you
cut their heads off.”
“Robert, I beg of you,” Ned pleaded, “hear what
you are saying. You are talking of murdering a child.”
“The whore is pregnant!” The king’s fist slammed down
on the council table loud as a thunderclap. “I warned you
this would happen, Ned. Back in the barrowlands, I warned
you, but you did not care to hear it. Well, you’ll hear it now. I
want them dead, mother and child both, and that fool
Viserys as well. Is that plain enough for you? I want them
The other councilors were all doing their best to pretend
that they were somewhere else. No doubt they were wiser
than he was. Eddard Stark had seldom felt quite so alone.
“You will dishonor yourself forever if you do this.”
“Then let it be on my head, so long as it is done. I am not
so blind that I cannot see the shadow of the axe when it is
hanging over my own neck.”
“There is no axe,” Ned told his king. “Only the shadow of a
shadow, twenty years removed . . . if it exists at all.”
“If?” Varys asked softly, wringing powdered hands
together. “My lord, you wrong me. Would I bring ties to king
Ned looked at the eunuch coldly. “You would bring us the
whisperings of a traitor half a world away, my lord. Perhaps
Mormont is wrong. Perhaps he is lying.”
“Ser Jorah would not dare deceive me,” Varys said with asly smile. “Rely on it, my lord. The princess is with child.”
“So you say. If you are wrong, we need not fear. If the girl
miscarries, we need not fear. If she births a daughter in
place of a son, we need not fear. If the babe dies in infancy,
we need not fear.”
“But if it is a boy?” Robert insisted. “If he lives?”
“The narrow sea would still lie between us. I shall fear the
Dothraki the day they teach their horses to run on water.”
The king took a swallow of wine and glowered at Ned
across the council table. “So you would counsel me to do
nothing until the dragonspawn has landed his army on my
shores, is that it?”
“This ‘dragonspawn’ is in his mother’s belly,” Ned said.
“Even Aegon did no conquering until after he was weaned.”
“Gods! You are stubborn as an aurochs, Stark.” The king
looked around the council table. “Have the rest of you
mislaid your tongues? Will no one talk sense to this frozenfaced fool?”
Varys gave the king an unctuous smile and laid a soft
hand on Ned’s sleeve. “I understand your qualms, Lord
Eddard, truly I do. It gave me no joy to bring this grievous
news to council. It is a terrible thing we contemplate, a vile
thing. Yet we who presume to rule must do vile things for the
good of the realm, however much it pains us.”
Lord Renly shrugged. “The matter seems simple enough
to me. We ought to have had Viserys and his sister killed
years ago, but His Grace my brother made the mistake of
listening to Jon Arryn.”
“Mercy is never a mistake, Lord Renly,” Ned replied. “On
the Trident, Ser Barristan here cut down a dozen good
men, Robert’s friends and mine. When they brought him to
us, grievously wounded and near death, Roose Boltonurged us to cut his throat, but your brother said, ‘Iwill not kill
a man for loyalty, nor for fighting well,’ and sent his own
maester to tend Ser Barristan’s wounds.” He gave the king
a long cool look. “Would that man were here today.”
Robert had shame enough to blush. “It was not the same,”
he complained. “Ser Barristan was a knight of the
“Whereas Daenerys is a fourteen-year-old girl.” Ned knew
he was pushing this well past the point of wisdom, yet he
could not keep silent. “Robert, I ask you, what did we rise
against Aerys Targaryen for, if not to put an end to the
murder of children?”
“To put an end to Targaryens!” the king growled.
“Your Grace, I never knew you to fear Rhaegar.” Ned
fought to keep the scorn out of his voice, and failed. “Have
the years so unmanned you that you tremble at the shadow
of an unborn child?” Robert purpled. “No more, Ned,” he
warned, pointing. “Not another word. Have you forgotten
who is king here?”
“No, Your Grace,” Ned replied. “Have you?”
“Enough!” the king bellowed. “I am sick of talk. I’ll be done
with this, or be damned. What say you all?”
“She must be killed,” Lord Renly declared.
“We have no choice,” murmured Varys. “Sadly, sadly . . .”
Ser Barristan Selmy raised his pale blue eyes from the
table and said, “Your Grace, there is honor in facing an
enemy on the battlefield, but none in killing him in his
mother’s womb. Forgive me, but I must stand with Lord
Grand Maester Pycelle cleared his throat, a process that
seemed to take some minutes. “My order serves the realm,
not the ruler. Once I counseled King Aerys as loyally as Icounsel King Robert now, so I bear this girl child of his no ill
will. Yet I ask you this—should war come again, how many
soldiers will die? How many towns will burn? How many
children will be ripped from their mothers to perish on the
end of a spear?” He stroked his luxuriant white beard,
infinitely sad, infinitely weary. “Is it not wiser, even kinder,
that Daenerys Targaryen should die now so that tens of
thousands might live?”
“Kinder,” Varys said. “Oh, well and truly spoken, Grand
Maester. It is so true. Should the gods in their caprice grant
Daenerys Targaryen a son, the realm must bleed.”
Littlefinger was the last. As Ned looked to him, Lord Petyr
stifled a yawn. “When you find yourself in bed with an ugly
woman, the best thing to do is close your eyes and get on
with it,” he declared. “Waiting won’t make the maid any
prettier. Kiss her and be done with it.”
“Kiss her?” Ser Barristan repeated, aghast.
“A steel kiss,” said Littlefinger.
Robert turned to face his Hand. “Well, there it is, Ned. You
and Selmy stand alone on this matter. The only question
that remains is, who can we find to kill her?”
“Mormont craves a royal pardon,” Lord Renly reminded
“Desperately,” Varys said, “yet he craves life even more.
By now, the princess nears Vaes Dothrak, where it is death
to draw a blade. If I told you what the Dothraki would do to
the poor man who used one on a khaleesi, none of you
would sleep tonight.” He stroked a powdered cheek. “Now,
poison . . . the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need
never know it was not a natural death.”
Grand Maester Pycelle’s sleepy eyes flicked open. He
squinted suspiciously at the eunuch.“Poison is a coward’s weapon,” the king complained.
Ned had heard enough. “You send hired knives to kill a
fourteen-year-old girl and still quibble about honor?” He
pushed back his chair and stood. “Do it yourself, Robert.
The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
Look her in the eyes before you kill her. See her tears, hear
her last words. You owe her that much at least.”
“Gods,” the king swore, the word exploding out of him as
if he could barely contain his fury. “You mean it, damn you.”
He reached for the flagon of wine at his elbow, found it
empty, and flung it away to shatter against the wall. “I am
out of wine and out of patience. Enough of this. Just have it
“I will not be part of murder, Robert. Do as you will, but do
not ask me to fix my seal to it.”
For a moment Robert did not seem to understand what
Ned was saying. Defiance was not a dish he tasted often.
Slowly his face changed as comprehension came. His
eyes narrowed and a flush crept up his neck past the velvet
collar. He pointed an angry finger at Ned. “You are the
King’s Hand, Lord Stark. You will do as I command you, or
I’ll find me a Hand who will.”
“I wish him every success.” Ned unfastened the heavy
clasp that clutched at the folds of his cloak, the ornate silver
hand that was his badge of office. He laid it on the table in
front of the king, saddened by the memory of the man who
had pinned it on him, the friend he had loved. “I thought you
a better man than this, Robert. I thought we had made a
Robert’s face was purple. “Out,” he croaked, choking on
his rage. “Out, damn you, I’m done with you. What are you
waiting for? Go, run back to Winterfell. And make certain Inever look on your face again, or I swear, I’ll have your head
on a spike!”
Ned bowed, and turned on his heel without another word.
He could feel Robert’s eyes on his back. As he strode from
the council chambers, the discussion resumed with
scarcely a pause. “On Braavos there is a society called the
Faceless Men,” Grand Maester Pycelle offered.
“Do you have any idea how costly they are?” Littlefinger
complained. “You could hire an army of common sellswords
for half the price, and that’s for a merchant. I don’t dare
think what they might ask for a princess.”
The closing of the door behind him silenced the voices.
Ser Boros Blount was stationed outside the chamber,
wearing the long white cloak and armor of the Kingsguard.
He gave Ned a quick, curious glance from the corner of his
eye, but asked no questions.
The day felt heavy and oppressive as he crossed the
bailey back to the Tower of the Hand. He could feel the
threat of rain in the air. Ned would have welcomed it. It
might have made him feel a trifle less unclean. When he
reached his solar, he summoned Vayon Poole. The
steward came at once. “You sent for me, my lord Hand?”
“Hand no longer,” Ned told him. “The king and I have
quarreled. We shall be returning to Winterfell.”
“I shall begin making arrangements at once, my lord. We
will need a fortnight to ready everything for the journey.”
“We may not have a fortnight. We may not have a day.
The king mentioned something about seeing my head on a
spike.” Ned frowned. He did not truly believe the king would
harm him, not Robert. He was angry now, but once Ned
was safely out of sight, his rage would cool as it always did.
Always? Suddenly, uncomfortably, he found himselfrecalling Rhaegar Targaryen. Fifteen years dead, yet
Robert hates him as much as ever. It was a disturbing
notion . . . and there was the other matter, the business with
Catelyn and the dwarf that Yoren had warned him of last
night. That would come to light soon, as sure as sunrise,
and with the king in such a black fury . . . Robert might not
care a fig for Tyrion Lannister, but it would touch on his
pride, and there was no telling what the queen might do.
“It might be safest if Iwent on ahead,” he told Poole. “Iwill
take my daughters and a few guardsmen. The rest of you
can follow when you are ready. Inform Jory, but tell no one
else, and do nothing until the girls and I have gone. The
castle is full of eyes and ears, and I would rather my plans
were not known.”
“As you command, my lord.”
When he had gone, Eddard Stark went to the window and
sat brooding. Robert had left him no choice that he could
see. He ought to thank him. It would be good to return to
Winterfell. He ought never have left. His sons were waiting
there. Perhaps he and Catelyn would make a new son
together when he returned, they were not so old yet. And of
late he had often found himself dreaming of snow, of the
deep quiet of the wolfswood at night.
And yet, the thought of leaving angered him as well. So
much was still undone. Robert and his council of cravens
and flatterers would beggar the realm if left unchecked . . .
or, worse, sell it to the Lannisters in payment of their loans.
And the truth of Jon Arryn’s death still eluded him. Oh, he
had found a few pieces, enough to convince him that Jon
had indeed been murdered, but that was no more than the
spoor of an animal on the forest floor. He had not sighted
the beast itself yet, though he sensed it was there, lurking,hidden, treacherous.
It struck him suddenly that he might return to Winterfell by
sea. Ned was no sailor, and ordinarily would have preferred
the kingsroad, but if he took ship he could stop at
Dragonstone and speak with Stannis Baratheon. Pycelle
had sent a raven off across the water, with a polite letter
from Ned requesting Lord Stannis to return to his seat on
the small council. As yet, there had been no reply, but the
silence only deepened his suspicions. Lord Stannis shared
the secret Jon Arryn had died for, he was certain of it. The
truth he sought might very well be waiting for him on the
ancient island fortress of House Targaryen.
And when you have it, what then? Some secrets are safer
kept hidden. Some secrets are too dangerous to share,
even with those you love and trust. Ned slid the dagger that
Catelyn had brought him out of the sheath on his belt. The
Imp’s knife. Why would the dwarf want Bran dead? To
silence him, surely. Another secret, or only a different strand
of the same web?
Could Robert be part of it? He would not have thought so,
but once he would not have thought Robert could command
the murder of women and children either. Catelyn had tried
to warn him. You knew the man, she had said. The king is a
stranger to you. The sooner he was quit of King’s Landing,
the better. If there was a ship sailing north on the morrow, it
would be well to be on it.
He summoned Vayon Poole again and sent him to the
docks to make inquiries, quietly but quickly. “Find me a fast
ship with a skilled captain,” he told the steward. “I care
nothing for the size of its cabins or the quality of its
appointments, so long as it is swift and safe. I wish to leave
at once.”Poole had no sooner taken his leave than Tomard
announced a visitor. “Lord Baelish to see you, m’lord.”
Ned was half-tempted to turn him away, but thought better
of it. He was not free yet; until he was, he must play their
games. “Show him in, Tom.”
Lord Petyr sauntered into the solar as if nothing had gone
amiss that morning. He wore a slashed velvet doublet in
cream-and-silver, a grey silk cloak trimmed with black fox,
and his customary mocking smile.
Ned greeted him coldly. “Might I ask the reason for this
visit, Lord Baelish?”
“I won’t detain you long, I’m on my way to dine with Lady
Tanda. Lamprey pie and roast suckling pig. She has some
thought to wed me to her younger daughter, so her table is
always astonishing. If truth be told, I’d sooner marry the pig,
but don’t tell her. I do love lamprey pie.”
“Don’t let me keep you from your eels, my lord,” Ned said
with icy disdain. “At the moment, I cannot think of anyone
whose company I desire less than yours.”
“Oh, I’m certain if you put your mind to it, you could come
up with a few names. Varys, say. Cersei. Or Robert. His
Grace is most wroth with you. He went on about you at
some length after you took your leave of us this morning.
The words insolence and ingratitude came into it frequently,
I seem to recall.”
Ned did not honor that with a reply. Nor did he offer his
guest a seat, but Littlefinger took one anyway. “After you
stormed out, it was left to me to convince them not to hire
the Faceless Men,” he continued blithely. “Instead Varys will
quietly let it be known that we’ll make a lord of whoever
does in the Targaryen girl.”
Ned was disgusted. “So now we grant titles toassassins.”
Littlefinger shrugged. “Titles are cheap. The Faceless
Men are expensive. If truth be told, I did the Targaryen girl
more good than you with all your talk of honor. Let some
sellsword drunk on visions of lordship try to kill her. Likely
he’ll make a botch of it, and afterward the Dothraki will be
on their guard. If we’d sent a Faceless Man after her, she’d
be as good as buried.”
Ned frowned. “You sit in council and talk of ugly women
and steel kisses, and now you expect me to believe that
you tried to protect the girl? How big a fool do you take me
“Well, quite an enormous one, actually,” said Littlefinger,
“Do you always find murder so amusing, Lord Baelish?”
“It’s not murder I find amusing, Lord Stark, it’s you. You
rule like a man dancing on rotten ice. I daresay you will
make a noble splash. I believe I heard the first crack this
“The first and last,” said Ned. “I’ve had my fill.”
“When do you mean to return to Winterfell, my lord?”
“As soon as I can. What concern is that of yours?”
“None . . . but if perchance you’re still here come evenfall,
I’d be pleased to take you to this brothel your man Jory has
been searching for so ineffectually.” Littlefinger smiled.
“And Iwon’t even tell the Lady Catelyn.”
“My lady, you should have sent word of your
coming,” Ser Donnel Waynwood told her as their horses
climbed the pass. “We would have sent an escort. The highroad is not as safe as it once was, for a party as small as
“We learned that to our sorrow, Ser Donnel,” Catelyn
said. Sometimes she felt as though her heart had turned to
stone; six brave men had died to bring her this far, and she
could not even find it in her to weep for them. Even their
names were fading. “The clansmen harried us day and
night. We lost three men in the first attack, and two more in
the second, and Lannister’s serving man died of a fever
when his wounds festered. When we heard your men
approaching, I thought us doomed for certain.” They had
drawn up for a last desperate fight, blades in hand and
backs to the rock. The dwarf had been whetting the edge of
his axe and making some mordant jest when Bronn spotted
the banner the riders carried before them, the moon-andfalcon of House Arryn, sky-blue and white. Catelyn had
never seen a more welcome sight.
“The clans have grown bolder since Lord Jon died,” Ser
Donnel said. He was a stocky youth of twenty years,
earnest and homely, with a wide nose and a shock of thick
brown hair. “If it were up to me, I would take a hundred men
into the mountains, root them out of their fastnesses, and
teach them some sharp lessons, but your sister has
forbidden it. She would not even permit her knights to fight
in the Hand’s tourney. She wants all our swords kept close
to home, to defend the Vale . . . against what, no one is
certain. Shadows, some say.” He looked at her anxiously,
as if he had suddenly remembered who she was. “I hope I
have not spoken out of turn, my lady. Imeant no offense.”
“Frank talk does not offend me, Ser Donnel.” Catelyn
knew what her sister feared. Not shadows, Lannisters, she
thought to herself, glancing back to where the dwarf rodebeside Bronn. The two of them had grown thick as thieves
since Chiggen had died. The little man was more cunning
than she liked. When they had entered the mountains, he
had been her captive, bound and helpless. What was he
now? Her captive still, yet he rode along with a dirk through
his belt and an axe strapped to his saddle, wearing the
shadowskin cloak he’d won dicing with the singer and the
chainmail hauberk he’d taken off Chiggen’s corpse. Two
score men flanked the dwarf and the rest of her ragged
band, knights and men-at-arms in service to her sister Lysa
and Jon Arryn’s young son, and yet Tyrion betrayed no hint
of fear. Could I be wrong? Catelyn wondered, not for the
first time. Could he be innocent after all, of Bran and Jon
Arryn and all the rest? And if he was, what did that make
her? Six men had died to bring him here.
Resolute, she pushed her doubts away. “When we reach
your keep, I would take it kindly if you could send for
Maester Colemon at once. Ser Rodrik is feverish from his
wounds.” More than once she had feared the gallant old
knight would not survive the journey. Toward the end he
could scarcely sit his horse, and Bronn had urged her to
leave him to his fate, but Catelyn would not hear of it. They
had tied him in the saddle instead, and she had
commanded Marillion the singer to watch over him.
Ser Donnel hesitated before he answered. “The Lady
Lysa has commanded the maester to remain at the Eyrie at
all times, to care for Lord Robert,” he said. “We have a
septon at the gate who tends to our wounded. He can see
to your man’s hurts.”
Catelyn had more faith in a maester’s learning than a
septon’s prayers. She was about to say as much when she
saw the battlements ahead, long parapets built into the verystone of the mountains on either side of them. Where the
pass shrank to a narrow defile scarce wide enough for four
men to ride abreast, twin watchtowers clung to the rocky
slopes, joined by a covered bridge of weathered grey stone
that arched above the road. Silent faces watched from
arrow slits in tower, battlements, and bridge. When they
had climbed almost to the top, a knight rode out to meet
them. His horse and his armor were grey, but his cloak was
the rippling blue-and-red of Riverrun, and a shiny black fish,
wrought in gold and obsidian, pinned its folds against his
shoulder. “Who would pass the BloodyGate?” he called.
“Ser Donnel Waynwood, with the Lady Catelyn Stark and
her companions,” the young knight answered.
The Knight of the Gate lifted his visor. “I thought the lady
looked familiar. You are far from home, little Cat.”
“And you, Uncle,” she said, smiling despite all she had
been through. Hearing that hoarse, smoky voice again took
her back twenty years, to the days of her childhood.
“My home is at my back,” he said gruffly.
“Your home is in my heart,” Catelyn told him. “Take off
your helm. Iwould look on your face again.”
“The years have not improved it, I fear,” Brynden Tully
said, but when he lifted off the helm, Catelyn saw that he
lied. His features were lined and weathered, and time had
stolen the auburn from his hair and left him only grey, but the
smile was the same, and the bushy eyebrows fat as
caterpillars, and the laughter in his deep blue eyes. “Did
Lysa know you were coming?”
“There was no time to send word ahead,” Catelyn told
him. The others were coming up behind her. “I fear we ride
before the storm, Uncle.”
“May we enter the Vale?” Ser Donnel asked. TheWaynwoods were ever ones for ceremony.
“In the name of Robert Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, Defender
of the Vale, True Warden of the East, I bid you enter freely,
and charge you to keep his peace,” Ser Brynden replied.
And so she rode behind him, beneath the shadow of the
Bloody Gate where a dozen armies had dashed
themselves to pieces in the Age of Heroes. On the far side
of the stoneworks, the mountains opened up suddenly upon
a vista of green fields, blue sky, and snowcapped
mountains that took her breath away. The Vale of Arryn
bathed in the morning light.
It stretched before them to the misty cast, a tranquil land
of rich black soil, wide slow-moving rivers, and hundreds of
small lakes that shone like mirrors in the sun, protected on
all sides by its sheltering peaks. Wheat and corn and barley
grew high in its fields, and even in Highgarden the
pumpkins were no larger nor the fruit any sweeter than
here. They stood at the western end of the valley, where the
high road crested the last pass and began its winding
descent to the bottomlands two miles below. The Vale was
narrow here, no more than a half day’s ride across, and the
northern mountains seemed so close that Catelyn could
almost reach out and touch them. Looming over them all
was the jagged peak called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain
that even mountains looked up to, its head lost in icy mists
three and a half miles above the valley floor. Over its
massive western shoulder flowed the ghost torrent of
Alyssa’s Tears. Even from this distance, Catelyn could
make out the shining silver thread, bright against the dark
When her uncle saw that she had stopped, he moved hishorse closer and pointed. “It’s there, beside Alyssa’s Tears.
All you can see from here is a flash of white every now and
then, if you look hard and the sun hits the walls just right.”
Seven towers, Ned had told her, like white daggers thrust
into the belly of the sky, so high you can stand on the
parapets and look down on the clouds. “How long a ride?”
“We can be at the mountain by evenfall,” Uncle Brynden
said, “but the climb will take another day.”
Ser Rodrik Cassel spoke up from behind. “My lady,” he
said, “I fear I can go no farther today.” His face sagged
beneath his ragged, newgrown whiskers, and he looked so
weary Catelyn feared he might fall off his horse.
“Nor should you,” she said. “You have done all I could
have asked of you, and a hundred times more. My uncle will
see me the rest of the way to the Eyrie. Lannister must
come with me, but there is no reason that you and the
others should not rest here and recover your strength.”
“We should be honored to have them to guest,” Ser
Donnel said with the grave courtesy of the young. Beside
Ser Rodrik, only Bronn, Ser Willis Wode, and Marillion the
singer remained of the party that had ridden with her from
the inn by the crossroads.
“My lady,” Marillion said, riding forward. “I beg you allow
me to accompany you to the Eyrie, to see the end of the
tale as I saw its beginnings.” The boy sounded haggard, yet
strangely determined; he had a fevered shine to his eyes.
Catelyn had never asked the singer to ride with them; that
choice he had made himself, and how he had come to
survive the journey when so many braver men lay dead and
unburied behind them, she could never say. Yet here he
was, with a scruff of beard that made him look almost aman. Perhaps she owed him something for having come
this far. “Very well,” she told him.
“I’ll come as well,” Bronn announced.
She liked that less well. Without Bronn she would never
have reached the Vale, she knew; the sellsword was as
fierce a fighter as she had ever seen, and his sword had
helped cut them through to safety. Yet for all that, Catelyn
misliked the man. Courage he had, and strength, but there
was no kindness in him, and little loyalty. And she had seen
him riding beside Lannister far too often, talking in low
voices and laughing at some private joke. She would have
preferred to separate him from the dwarf here and now, but
having agreed that Marillion might continue to the Eyrie,
she could see no gracious way to deny that same right to
Bronn. “As you wish,” she said, although she noted that he
had not actually asked her permission.
Ser Willis Wode remained with Ser Rodrik, a soft-spoken
septon fussing over their wounds. Their horses were left
behind as well, poor ragged things. Ser Donnel promised
to send birds ahead to the Eyrie and the Gates of the Moon
with the word of their coming. Fresh mounts were brought
forth from the stables, surefooted mountain stock with
shaggy coats, and within the hour they set forth once again.
Catelyn rode beside her uncle as they began the descent to
the valley floor. Behind came Bronn, Tyrion Lannister,
Marillion, and six of Brynden’s men.
Not until they were a third of the way down the mountain
path, well out of earshot of the others, did Brynden Tully turn
to her and say, “So, child. Tell me about this storm of
“I have not been a child in many years, Uncle,” Catelyn
said, but she told him nonetheless. It took longer than shewould have believed to tell it all, Lysa’s letter and Bran’s fall,
the assassin’s dagger and Littlefinger and her chance
meeting with Tyrion Lannister in the crossroads inn.
Her uncle listened silently, heavy brows shadowing his
eyes as his frown grew deeper. Brynden Tully had always
known how to listen . . . to anyone but her father. He was
Lord Hoster’s brother, younger by five years, but the two of
them had been at war as far back as Catelyn could
remember. During one of their louder quarrels, when
Catelyn was eight, Lord Hoster had called Brynden “the
black goat of the Tully flock.” Laughing, Brynden had
pointed out that the sigil of their house was a leaping trout,
so he ought to be a black fish rather than a black goat, and
from that day forward he had taken it as his personal
The war had not ended until the day she and Lysa had
been wed. It was at their wedding feast that Brynden told
his brother he was leaving Riverrun to serve Lysa and her
new husband, the Lord of the Eyrie. Lord Hoster had not
spoken his brother’s name since, from what Edmure told
her in his infrequent letters.
Nonetheless, during all those years of Catelyn’s girlhood,
it had been Brynden the Blackfish to whom Lord Hoster’s
children had run with their tears and their tales, when Father
was too busy and Mother too ill. Catelyn, Lysa, Edmure . . .
and yes, even Petyr Baelish, their father’s ward . . . he had
listened to them all patiently, as he listened now, laughing at
their triumphs and sympathizing with their childish
When she was done, her uncle remained silent for a long
time, as his horse negotiated the steep, rocky trail. “Your
father must be told,” he said at last. “If the Lannisters shouldmarch, Winterfell is remote and the Vale walled up behind
its mountains, but Riverrun lies right in their path.”
“I’d had the same fear,” Catelyn admitted. “I shall ask
Maester Colemon to send a bird when we reach the Eyrie.”
She had other messages to send as well; the commands
that Ned had given her for his bannermen, to ready the
defenses of the north. “What is the mood in the Vale?” she
“Angry,” Brynden Tully admitted. “Lord Jon was much
loved, and the insult was keenly felt when the king named
Jaime Lannister to an office the Arryns had held for near
three hundred years. Lysa has commanded us to call her
son the True Warden of the East, but no one is fooled. Nor
is your sister alone in wondering at the manner of the
Hand’s death. None dare say Jon was murdered, not
openly, but suspicion casts a long shadow.” He gave
Catelyn a look, his mouth tight. “And there is the boy.”
“The boy? What of him?” She ducked her head as they
passed under a low overhang of rock, and around a sharp
Her uncle’s voice was troubled. “Lord Robert,” he sighed.
“Six years old, sickly, and prone to weep if you take his
dolls away. Jon Arryn’s trueborn heir, by all the gods, yet
there are some who say he is too weak to sit his father’s
seat, Nestor Royce has been high steward these past
fourteen years, while Lord Jon served in King’s Landing,
and many whisper that he should rule until the boy comes of
age. Others believe that Lysa must marry again, and soon.
Already the suitors gather like crows on a battlefield. The
Eyrie is full of them.”
“I might have expected that,” Catelyn said. Small wonder
there; Lysa was still young, and the kingdom of Mountainand Vale made a handsome wedding gift. “Will Lysa take
“She says yes, provided she finds a man who suits her,”
Brynden Tully said, “but she has already rejected Lord
Nestor and a dozen other suitable men. She swears that
this time she will choose her lord husband.”
“You of all people can scarce fault her for that.”
Ser Brynden snorted. “Nor do I, but . . . it seems to me
Lysa is only playing at courtship. She enjoys the sport, but I
believe your sister intends to rule herself until her boy is old
enough to be Lord of the Eyrie in truth as well as name.”
“A woman can rule as wisely as a man,” Catelyn said.
“The tight woman can,” her uncle said with a sideways
glance. “Make no mistake, Cat. Lysa is not you.” He
hesitated a moment. “If truth be told, I fear you may not find
your sister as helpful as you would like.”
She was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“The Lysa who came back from King’s Landing is not the
same girl who went south when her husband was named
Hand. Those years were hard for her. You must know. Lord
Arryn was a dutiful husband, but their marriage was made
from politics, not passion.”
“As was my own.”
“They began the same, but your ending has been happier
than your sister’s. Two babes stillborn, twice as many
miscarriages, Lord Arryn’s death . . . Catelyn, the gods
gave Lysa only the one child, and he is all your sister lives
for now, poor boy. Small wonder she fled rather than see
him handed over to the Lannisters. Your sister is afraid,
child, and the Lannisters are what she fears most. She ran
to the Vale, stealing away from the Red Keep like a thief in
the night, and all to snatch her son out of the lion’s mouth . .. and now you have brought the lion to her door.”
“In chains,” Catelyn said. A crevasse yawned on her right,
falling away into darkness. She reined up her horse and
picked her way along step by careful step.
“Oh?” Her uncle glanced back, to where Tyrion Lannister
was making his slow descent behind them. “I see an axe on
his saddle, a dirk at his belt, and a sellsword that trails after
him like a hungry shadow. Where are the chains, sweet
Catelyn shifted uneasily in her seat. “The dwarf is here,
and not by choice. Chains or no, he is my prisoner. Lysa
will want him to answer for his crimes no less than I. It was
her own lord husband the Lannisters murdered, and her
own letter that first warned us against them.”
Brynden Blackfish gave her a weary smile. “I hope you
are right, child,” he sighed, in tones that said she was
The sun was well to the west by the time the slope began
to flatten beneath the hooves of their horses. The road
widened and grew straight, and for the first time Catelyn
noticed wildflowers and grasses growing. Once they
reached the valley floor, the going was faster and they
made good time, cantering through verdant greenwoods
and sleepy little hamlets, past orchards and golden wheat
fields, splashing across a dozen sunlit streams. Her uncle
sent a standard-bearer ahead of them, a double banner
flying from his staff; the moon-and-falcon of House Arryn on
high, and below it his own black fish. Farm wagons and
merchants’ carts and riders from lesser houses moved
aside to let them pass.
Even so, it was full dark before they reached the stout
castle that stood at the foot of the Giant’s Lance. Torchesflickered atop its ramparts, and the horned moon danced
upon the dark waters of its moat. The drawbridge was up
and the portcullis down, but Catelyn saw lights burning in
the gatehouse and spilling from the windows of the square
“The Gates of the Moon,” her uncle said as the party drew
rein. His standard-bearer rode to the edge of the moat to
hail the men in the gatehouse. “Lord Nestor’s seat. He
should be expecting us. Look up.”
Catelyn raised her eyes, up and up and up. At first all she
saw was stone and trees, the looming mass of the great
mountain shrouded in night, as black as a starless sky.
Then she noticed the glow of distant fires well above them;
a tower keep, built upon the steep side of the mountain, its
lights like orange eyes staring down from above. Above
that was another, higher and more distant, and still higher a
third, no more than a flickering spark in the sky. And finally,
up where the falcons soared, a flash of white in the
moonlight. Vertigo washed over her as she stared upward
at the pale towers, so far above.
“The Eyrie,” she heard Marillion murmur, awed.
The sharp voice of Tyrion Lannister broke in. “The Arryns
must not be overfond of company. If you’re planning to
make us climb that mountain in the dark, I’d rather you kill
“We’ll spend the night here and make the ascent on the
morrow,” Brynden told him.
“I can scarcely wait,” the dwarf replied. “How do we get up
there? I’ve no experience at riding goats.”
“Mules,” Brynden said, smiling.
“There are steps carved into the mountain,” Catelyn said.
Ned had told her about them when he talked of his youthhere with Robert Baratheon and Jon Arryn.
Her uncle nodded. “It is too dark to see them, but the
steps are there. Too steep and narrow for horses, but
mules can manage them most of the way. The path is
guarded by three waycastles, Stone and Snow and Sky.
The mules will take us as far up as Sky.”
Tyrion Lannister glanced up doubtfully. “And beyond
Brynden smiled. “Beyond that, the path is too steep even
for mules. We ascend on foot the rest of the way. Or
perchance you’d prefer to ride a basket. The Eyrie clings to
the mountain directly above Sky, and in its cellars are six
great winches with long iron chains to draw supplies up
from below. If you prefer, my lord of Lannister, I can arrange
for you to ride up with the bread and beer and apples.”
The dwarf gave a bark of laughter. “Would that I were a
pumpkin,” he said. “Alas, my lord father would no doubt be
most chagrined if his son of Lannister went to his fate like a
load of turnips. If you ascend on foot, I fear I must do the
same. We Lannisters do have a certain pride.”
“Pride?” Catelyn snapped. His mocking tone and easy
manner made her angry. “Arrogance, some might call it.
Arrogance and avarice and lust for power.”
“My brother is undoubtedly arrogant,” Tyrion Lannister
replied. “My father is the soul of avarice, and my sweet
sister Cersei lusts for power with every waking breath. I,
however, am innocent as a little lamb. Shall I bleat for you?”
The drawbridge came creaking down before she could
reply, and they heard the sound of oiled chains as the
portcullis was drawn up. Men-at-arms carried burning
brands out to light their way, and her uncle led them acrossthe moat. Lord Nestor Royce, High Steward of the Vale and
Keeper of the Gates of the Moon, was waiting in the yard to
greet them, surrounded by his knights. “Lady Stark,” he
said, bowing. He was a massive, barrel-chested man, and
his bow was clumsy.
Catelyn dismounted to stand before him. “Lord Nestor,”
she said. She knew the man only by reputation; Bronze
Yohn’s cousin, from a lesser branch of House Royce, yet
still a formidable lord in his own right. “We have had a long
and tiring journey. I would beg the hospitality of your roof
tonight, if Imight.”
“My roof is yours, my lady,” Lord Nestor returned gruffly,
“but your sister the Lady Lysa has sent down word from the
Eyrie. She wishes to see you at once. The rest of your party
will be housed here and sent up at first light.”
Her uncle swung off his horse. “What madness is this?”
he said bluntly. Brynden Tully had never been a man to blunt
the edge of his words. “A night ascent, with the moon not
even full? Even Lysa should know that’s an invitation to a
“The mules know the way, Ser Brynden.” A wiry girl of
seventeen or eighteen years stepped up beside Lord
Nestor. Her dark hair was cropped short and straight
around her head, and she wore riding leathers and a light
shirt of silvered ringmail. She bowed to Catelyn, more
gracefully than her lord. “I promise you, my lady, no harm will
come to you. It would be my honor to take you up. I’ve made
the dark climb a hundred times. Mychel says my father must
have been a goat.”
She sounded so cocky that Catelyn had to smile. “Do you
have a name, child?”
“Mya Stone, if it please you, my lady,” the girl said.It did not please her; it was an effort for Catelyn to keep
the smile on her face. Stone was a bastard’s name in the
Vale, as Snow was in the north, and Flowers in
Highgarden; in each of the Seven Kingdoms, custom had
fashioned a surname for children born with no names of
their own. Catelyn had nothing against this girl, but suddenly
she could not help but think of Ned’s bastard on the Wall,
and the thought made her angry and guilty, both at once.
She struggled to find words for a reply.
Lord Nestor filled the silence. “Mya’s a clever girl, and if
she vows she will bring you safely to the Lady Lysa, I
believe her. She has not failed me yet.”
“Then I put myself in your hands, Mya Stone,” Catelyn
said. “Lord Nestor, I charge you to keep a close guard on
“And I charge you to bring the prisoner a cup of wine and
a nicely crisped capon, before he dies of hunger,” Lannister
said. “A girl would be pleasant as well, but I suppose that’s
too much to ask of you.” The sellsword Bronn laughed
Lord Nestor ignored the banter. “As you say, my lady, so
it will be done.” Only then did he look at the dwarf. “See our
lord of Lannister to a tower cell, and bring him meat and
Catelyn took her leave of her uncle and the others as
Tyrion Lannister was led off, then followed the bastard girl
through the castle. Two mules were waiting in the upper
bailey, saddled and ready. Mya helped her mount one while
a guardsman in a sky-blue cloak opened the narrow
postern gate. Beyond was dense forest of pine and spruce,
and the mountain like a black wall, but the steps were there,
chiseled deep into the rock, ascending into the sky. “Somepeople find it easier if they close their eyes,” Mya said as
she led the mules through the gate into the dark wood.
“When they get frightened or dizzy, sometimes they hold on
to the mule too tight. They don’t like that.”
“Iwas born a Tully and wed to a Stark,” Catelyn said. “I do
not frighten easily. Do you plan to light a torch?” The steps
were black as pitch.
The girl made a face. “Torches just blind you. On a clear
night like this, the moon and the stars are enough. Mychel
says I have the eyes of the owl.” She mounted and urged
her mule up the first step. Catelyn’s animal followed of its
“You mentioned Mychel before,” Catelyn said. The mules
set the pace, slow but steady. She was perfectly content
“Mychel’s my love,” Mya explained. “Mychel Redfort. He’s
squire to Ser Lyn Corbray. We’re to wed as soon as he
becomes a knight, next year or the year after.”
She sounded so like Sansa, so happy and innocent with
her dreams. Catelyn smiled, but the smile was tinged with
sadness. The Redforts were an old name in the Vale, she
knew, with the blood of the First Men in their veins. His love
she might be, but no Redfort would ever wed a bastard. His
family would arrange a more suitable match for him, to a
Corbray or a Waynwood or a Royce, or perhaps a daughter
of some greater house outside the Vale. If Mychel Redfort
laid with this girl at all, it would be on the wrong side of the
The ascent was easier than Catelyn had dared hope. The
trees pressed close, leaning over the path to make a
rustling green roof that shut out even the moon, so it
seemed as though they were moving up a long black tunnel.But the mules were surefooted and tireless, and Mya Stone
did indeed seem blessed with night-eyes. They plodded
upward, winding their way back and forth across the face of
the mountain as the steps twisted and turned. A thick layer
of fallen needles carpeted the path, so the shoes of their
mules made only the softest sound on the rock. The quiet
soothed her, and the gentle rocking motion set Catelyn to
swaying in her saddle. Before long she was fighting sleep.
Perhaps she did doze for a moment, for suddenly a
massive ironbound gate was looming before them. “Stone,”
Mya announced cheerily, dismounting. Iron spikes were set
along the tops of formidable stone walls, and two fat round
towers overtopped the keep. The gate swung open at
Mya’s shout. Inside, the portly knight who commanded the
waycastle greeted Mya by name and offered them skewers
of charred meat and onions still hot from the spit. Catelyn
had not realized how hungry she was. She ate standing in
the yard, as stablehands moved their saddles to fresh
mules. The hot juices ran down her chin and dripped onto
her cloak, but she was too famished to care.
Then it was up onto a new mule and out again into the
starlight. The second part of the ascent seemed more
treacherous to Catelyn. The trail was steeper, the steps
more worn, and here and there littered with pebbles and
broken stone. Mya had to dismount a half-dozen times to
move fallen rocks from their path. “You don’t want your mule
to break a leg up here,” she said. Catelyn was forced to
agree. She could feel the altitude more now. The trees
were sparser up here, and the wind blew more vigorously,
sharp gusts that tugged at her clothing and pushed her hair
into her eyes. From time to time the steps doubled back on
themselves, and she could see Stone below them, and theGates of the Moon farther down, its torches no brighter than
Snow was smaller than Stone, a single fortified tower and
a timber keep and stable hidden behind a low wall of
unmortared rock. Yet it nestled against the Giant’s Lance in
such a way as to command the entire stone stair above the
lower waycastle. An enemy intent on the Eyrie would have
to fight his way from Stone step by step, while rocks and
arrows rained down from Snow above. The commander, an
anxious young knight with a pockmarked face, offered
bread and cheese and the chance to warm themselves
before his fire, but Mya declined. “We ought to keep going,
my lady,” she said. “If it please you.” Catelyn nodded.
Again they were given fresh mules. Hers was white. Mya
smiled when she saw him. “Whitey’s a good one, my lady.
Sure of foot, even on ice, but you need to be careful. He’ll
kick if he doesn’t like you.”
The white mule seemed to like Catelyn; there was no
kicking, thank the gods. There was no ice either, and she
was grateful for that as well. “My mother says that hundreds
of years ago, this was where the snow began,” Mya told
her. “It was always white above here, and the ice never
melted.” She shrugged. “I can’t remember ever seeing
snow this far down the mountain, but maybe it was that way
once, in the olden times.”
So young, Catelyn thought, trying to remember if she had
ever been like that. The girl had lived half her life in
summer, and that was all she knew. Winter is coming, child,
she wanted to tell her. The words were on her lips; she
almost said them. Perhaps she was becoming a Stark at
Above Snow, the wind was a living thing, howling aroundthem like a wolf in the waste, then falling off to nothing as if
to lure them into complacency. The stars seemed brighter
up here, so close that she could almost touch them, and the
horned moon was huge in the clear black sky. As they
climbed, Catelyn found it was better to look up than down.
The steps were cracked and broken from centuries of
freeze and thaw and the tread of countless mules, and even
in the dark the heights put her heart in her throat. When they
came to a high saddle between two spires of rock, Mya
dismounted. “It’s best to lead the mules over,” she said.
“The wind can be a little scary here, my lady.”
Catelyn climbed stiffly from the shadows and looked at
the path ahead; twenty feet long and close to three feet
wide, but with a precipitous drop to either side. She could
hear the wind shrieking. Mya stepped lightly out, her mule
following as calmly as if they were crossing a bailey. It was
her turn. Yet no sooner had she taken her first step than fear
caught Catelyn in its jaws. She could feel the emptiness,
the vast black gulfs of air that yawned around her. She
stopped, trembling, afraid to move. The wind screamed at
her and wrenched at her cloak, trying to pull her over the
edge. Catelyn edged her foot backward, the most timid of
steps, but the mule was behind her, and she could not
retreat. I am going to die here, she thought. She could feel
cold sweat trickling down her back.
“Lady Stark,” Mya called across the gulf. The girl sounded
a thousand leagues away. “Are you well?”
Catelyn Tully Stark swallowed what remained of her pride.
“I . . . I cannot do this, child,” she called out.
“Yes you can,” the bastard girl said. “I know you can. Look
how wide the path is.”
“I don’t want to look.” The world seemed to be spinningaround her, mountain and sky and mules, whirling like a
child’s top. Catelyn closed her eyes to steady her ragged
“I’ll come back for you,” Mya said. “Don’t move, my lady.”
Moving was about the last thing Catelyn was about to do.
She listened to the skirling of the wind and the scuffling
sound of leather on stone. Then Mya was there, taking her
gently by the arm. “Keep your eyes closed if you like. Let go
of the rope now, Whitey will take care of himself. Very
good, my lady. I’ll lead you over, it’s easy, you’ll see. Give
me a step now. That’s it, move your foot, just slide it
forward. See. Now another. Easy. You could run across.
Another one, go on. Yes.” And so, foot by foot, step by step,
the bastard girl led Catelyn across, blind and trembling,
while the white mule followed placidly behind them.
The waycastle called Sky was no more than a high,
crescent-shaped wall of unmortared stone raised against
the side of the mountain, but even the topless towers of
Valyria could not have looked more beautiful to Catelyn
Stark. Here at last the snow crown began; Sky’s weathered
stones were rimed with frost, and long spears of ice hung
from the slopes above.
Dawn was breaking in the east as Mya Stone hallooed for
the guards, and the gates opened before them. Inside the
walls there was only a series of ramps and a great tumble
of boulders and stones of all sizes. No doubt it would be the
easiest thing in the world to begin an avalanche from here.
A mouth yawned in the rock face in front of them. “The
stables and barracks are in there,” Mya said. “The last part
is inside the mountain. It can be a little dark, but at least
you’re out of the wind. This is as far as the mules can go.
Past here, well, it’s a sort of chimney, more like a stoneladder than proper steps, but it’s not too bad. Another hour
and we’ll be there.”
Catelyn looked up. Directly overhead, pale in the dawn
light, she could see the foundations of the Eyrie. It could not
be more than six hundred feet above them. From below it
looked like a small white honeycomb. She remembered
what her uncle had said of baskets and winches. “The
Lannisters may have their pride,” she told Mya, “but the
Tullys are born with better sense. I have ridden all day and
the best part of a night. Tell them to lower a basket. I shall
ride with the turnips.”
The sun was well above the mountains by the time
Catelyn Stark finally reached the Eyrie. A stocky, silverhaired man in a sky-blue cloak and hammered moon-andfalcon breastplate helped her from the basket; Ser Vardis
Egen, captain of Jon Arryn’s household guard. Beside him
stood Maester Colemon, thin and nervous, with too little
hair and too much neck. “Lady Stark,” Ser Vardis said, “the
pleasure is as great as it is unanticipated.” Maester
Colemon bobbed his head in agreement. “Indeed it is, my
lady, indeed it is. I have sent word to your sister. She left
orders to be awakened the instant you arrived.”
“I hope she had a good night’s rest,” Catelyn said with a
certain bite in her tone that seemed to go unnoticed.
The men escorted her from the winch room up a spiral
stair. The Eyrie was a small castle by the standards of the
great houses; seven slender white towers bunched as
tightly as arrows in a quiver on a shoulder of the great
mountain. It had no need of stables nor smithys nor kennels,
but Ned said its granary was as large as Winterfell’s, and
its towers could house five hundred men. Yet it seemed
strangely deserted to Catelyn as she passed through it, itspale stone halls echoing and empty.
Lysa was waiting alone in her solar, still clad in her bed
robes. Her long auburn hair tumbled unbound across bare
white shoulders and down her back. A maid stood behind
her, brushing out the night’s tangles, but when Catelyn
entered, her sister rose to her feet, smiling. “Cat,” she said.
“Oh, Cat, how good it is to see you. My sweet sister.” She
ran across the chamber and wrapped her sister in her
arms. “How long it has been,” Lysa murmured against her.
“Oh, how very very long.”
It had been five years, in truth; five cruel years, for Lysa.
They had taken their toll. Her sister was two years the
younger, yet she looked older now. Shorter than Catelyn,
Lysa had grown thick of body, pale and puffy of face. She
had the blue eyes of the Tullys, but hers were pale and
watery, never still. Her small mouth had turned petulant. As
Catelyn held her, she remembered the slender, highbreasted girl who’d waited beside her that day in the sept
at Riverrun. How lovely and full of hope she had been. All
that remained of her sister’s beauty was the great fall of
thick auburn hair that cascaded to her waist.
“You look well,” Catelyn lied, “but . . . tired.”
Her sister broke the embrace. “Tired. Yes. Oh, yes.” She
seemed to notice the others then; her maid, Maester
Colemon, Ser Vardis. “Leave us,” she told them. “I wish to
speak to my sister alone.” She held Catelyn’s hand as they
withdrew . . .
. . . and dropped it the instant the door closed. Catelyn
saw her face change. It was as if the sun had gone behind
a cloud. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” Lysa
snapped at her. “To bring him here, without a word of
permission, without so much as a warning, to drag us intoyour quarrels with the Lannisters . . .”
“My quarrels?” Catelyn could scarce believe what she
was hearing. A great fire burned in the hearth, but there
was no trace of warmth in Lysa’s voice. “They were your
quarrels first, sister. It was you who sent me that cursed
letter, you who wrote that the Lannisters had murdered your
“To warn you, so you could stay away from them! I never
meant to fight them! Gods, Cat, do you know what you’ve
“Mother?” a small voice said. Lysa whirled, her heavy
robe swirling around her. Robert Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie,
stood in the doorway, clutching a ragged cloth doll and
looking at them with large eyes. He was a painfully thin
child, small for his age and sickly all his days, and from time
to time he trembled. The shaking sickness, the maesters
called it. “I heard voices.”
Small wonder, Catelyn thought; Lysa had almost been
shouting. Still, her sister looked daggers at her. “This is
your aunt Catelyn, baby. My sister, Lady Stark. Do you
The boy glanced at her blankly. “I think so,” he said,
blinking, though he had been less than a year old the last
time Catelyn had seen him.
Lysa seated herself near the fire and said, “Come to
Mother, my sweet one.” She straightened his bedclothes
and fussed with his fine brown hair. “Isn’t he beautiful? And
strong too, don’t you believe the things you hear. Jon knew.
The seed is strong, he told me. His last words. He kept
saying Robert’s name, and he grabbed my arm so hard he
left marks. Tell them, the seed is strong. His seed. He
wanted everyone to know what a good strong boy my babywas going to be.”
“Lysa,” Catelyn said, “if you’re right about the Lannisters,
all the more reason we must act quickly. We—”
“Not in front of the baby,” Lysa said. “He has a delicate
temper, don’t you, sweet one?”
“The boy is Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale,”
Catelyn reminded her, “and these are no times for delicacy.
Ned thinks it may come to war.”
“Quiet!” Lysa snapped at her. “You’re scaring the boy.”
Little Robert took a quick peek over his shoulder at Catelyn
and began to tremble. His doll fell to the rushes, and he
pressed himself against his mother. “Don’t be afraid, my
sweet baby,” Lysa whispered. “Mother’s here, nothing will
hurt you.” She opened her robe and drew out a pale, heavy
breast, tipped with red. The boy grabbed for it eagerly,
buried his face against her chest, and began to suck. Lysa
stroked his hair.
Catelyn was at a loss for words. Jon Anyn’s son, she
thought incredulously. She remembered her own baby,
three-year-old Rickon, half the age of this boy and five
times as fierce. Small wonder the lords of the Vale were
restive. For the first time she understood why the king had
tried to take the child away from his mother to foster with
the Lannisters . . .
“We’re safe here,” Lysa was saying. Whether to her or to
the boy, Catelyn was not sure.
“Don’t be a fool,” Catelyn said, the anger rising in her. “No
one is safe. If you think hiding here will make the Lannisters
forget you, you are sadly mistaken.”
Lysa covered her boy’s ear with her hand. “Even if they
could bring an army through the mountains and past the
Bloody Gate, the Eyrie is impregnable. You saw foryourself. No enemy could ever reach us up here.”
Catelyn wanted to slap her. Uncle Brynden had tried to
warn her, she realized. “No castle is impregnable.”
“This one is,” Lysa insisted. “Everyone says so. The only
thing is, what am I to do with this Imp you have brought
“Is he a bad man?” the Lord of the Eyrie asked, his
mother’s breast popping from his mouth, the nipple wet and
“A very bad man,” Lysa told him as she covered herself,
“but Mother won’t let him harm my little baby.”
“Make him fly,” Robert said eagerly.
Lysa stroked her son’s hair. “Perhaps we will,” she
murmured. “Perhaps that is just what we will do.”
He found Littlefinger in the brothel’s common
room, chatting amiably with a tall, elegant woman who wore
a feathered gown over skin as black as ink. By the hearth,
Heward and a buxom wench were playing at forfeits. From
the look of it, he’d lost his belt, his cloak, his mail shirt, and
his right boot so far, while the girl had been forced to
unbutton her shift to the waist. Jory Cassel stood beside a
rain-streaked window with a wry smile on his face, watching
Heward turn over tiles and enjoying the view.
Ned paused at the foot of the stair and pulled on his
gloves. “It’s time we took our leave. My business here is
Heward lurched to his feet, hurriedly gathering up his
things. “As you will, my lord,” Jory said. “I’ll help Wyl bring
round the horses.” He strode to the door.Littlefinger took his time saying his farewells. He kissed
the black woman’s hand, whispered some joke that made
her laugh aloud, and sauntered over to Ned. “Your
business,” he said lightly, “or Robert’s? They say the Hand
dreams the king’s dreams, speaks with the king’s voice,
and rules with the king’s sword. Does that also mean you
fuck with the king’s—”
“Lord Baelish,” Ned interrupted, “you presume too much. I
am not ungrateful for your help. It might have taken us years
to find this brothel without you. That does not mean I intend
to endure your mockery. And I am no longer the King’s
“The direwolf must be a prickly beast,” said Littlefinger
with a sharp twist of his mouth.
A warm rain was pelting down from a starless black sky
as they walked to the stables. Ned drew up the hood of his
cloak. Jory brought out his horse. Young Wyl came right
behind him, leading Littlefinger’s mare with one hand while
the other fumbled with his belt and the lacings of his
trousers. A barefoot whore leaned out of the stable door,
giggling at him.
“Will we be going back to the castle now, my lord?” Jory
asked. Ned nodded and swung into the saddle. Littlefinger
mounted up beside him. Jory and the others followed.
“Chataya runs a choice establishment,” Littlefinger said
as they rode. “I’ve half a mind to buy it. Brothels are a much
sounder investment than ships, I’ve found. Whores seldom
sink, and when they are boarded by pirates, why, the
pirates pay good coin like everyone else.” Lord Petyr
chuckled at his own wit.
Ned let him prattle on. After a time, he quieted and they
rode in silence. The streets of King’s Landing were darkand deserted. The rain had driven everyone under their
roofs. It beat down on Ned’s head, warm as blood and
relentless as old guilts. Fat drops of water ran down his
“Robert will never keep to one bed,” Lyanna had told him
at Winterfell, on the night long ago when their father had
promised her hand to the young Lord of Storm’s End. “I
hear he has gotten a child on some girl in the Vale.” Ned
had held the babe in his arms; he could scarcely deny her,
nor would he lie to his sister, but he had assured her that
what Robert did before their betrothal was of no matter, that
he was a good man and true who would love her with all his
heart. Lyanna had only smiled. “Love is sweet, dearest
Ned, but it cannot change a man’s nature.”
The girl had been so young Ned had not dared to ask her
age. No doubt she’d been a virgin; the better brothels could
always find a virgin, if the purse was fat enough. She had
light red hair and a powdering of freckles across the bridge
of her nose, and when she slipped free a breast to give her
nipple to the babe, he saw that her bosom was freckled as
well. “I named her Barra,” she said as the child nursed.
“She looks so like him, does she not, milord? She has his
nose, and his hair . . .”
“She does.” Eddard Stark had touched the baby’s fine,
dark hair. It flowed through his fingers like black silk.
Robert’s firstborn had had the same fine hair, he seemed
“Tell him that when you see him, milord, as it … as it
please you. Tell him how beautiful she is.”
“Iwill,” Ned had promised her. That was his curse. Robert
would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall,
but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promiseshe’d made Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d
paid to keep them.
“And tell him I’ve not been with no one else. I swear it,
milord, by the old gods and new. Chataya said I could have
half a year, for the baby, and for hoping he’d come back.
So you’ll tell him I’m waiting, won’t you? I don’t want no
jewels or nothing, just him. He was always good to me,
Good to you, Ned thought hollowly. “I will tell him, child,
and I promise you, Barra shall not go wanting.”
She had smiled then, a smile so tremulous and sweet that
it cut the heart out of him. Riding through the rainy night,
Ned saw Jon Snow’s face in front of him, so like a younger
version of his own. If the gods frowned so on bastards, he
thought dully, why did they fill men with such lusts? “Lord
Baelish, what do you know of Robert’s bastards?”
“Well, he has more than you, for a start.”
Littlefinger shrugged. Rivulets of moisture twisted down
the back of his cloak. “Does it matter? If you bed enough
women, some will give you presents, and His Grace has
never been shy on that count. I know he’s acknowledged
that boy at Storm’s End, the one he fathered the night Lord
Stannis wed. He could hardly do otherwise. The mother
was a Florent, niece to the Lady Selyse, one of her
bedmaids. Renly says that Robert carried the girl upstairs
during the feast, and broke in the wedding bed while
Stannis and his bride were still dancing. Lord Stannis
seemed to think that was a blot on the honor of his wife’s
House, so when the boy was born, he shipped him off to
Renly.” He gave Ned a sideways glance. “I’ve also heard
whispers that Robert got a pair of twins on a serving wenchat Casterly Rock, three years ago when he went west for
Lord Tywin’s tourney. Cersei had the babes killed, and sold
the mother to a passing slaver. Too much an affront to
Lannister pride, that close to home.”
Ned Stark grimaced. Ugly tales like that were told of
every great lord in the realm. He could believe it of Cersei
Lannister readily enough . . . but would the king stand by
and let it happen? The Robert he had known would not
have, but the Robert he had known had never been so
practiced at shutting his eyes to things he did not wish to
see. “Why would Jon Arryn take a sudden interest in the
king’s baseborn children?”
The short man gave a sodden shrug. “He was the King’s
Hand. Doubtless Robert asked him to see that they were
Ned was soaked through to the bone, and his soul had
grown cold. “It had to be more than that, or why kill him?”
Littlefinger shook the rain from his hair and laughed. “Now
I see. Lord Arryn learned that His Grace had filled the
bellies of some whores and fishwives, and for that he had
to be silenced. Small wonder. Allow a man like that to live,
and next he’s like to blurt out that the sun rises in the east.”
There was no answer Ned Stark could give to that but a
frown. For the first time in years, he found himself
remembering Rhaegar Targaryen. He wondered if Rhaegar
had frequented brothels; somehow he thought not.
The rain was falling harder now, stinging the eyes and
drumming against the ground. Rivers of black water were
running down the hill when Jory called out, “My lord,” his
voice hoarse with alarm. And in an instant, the street was
full of soldiers.
Ned glimpsed ringmail over leather, gauntlets andgreaves, steel helms with golden lions on the crests. Their
cloaks clung to their backs, sodden with rain. He had no
time to count, but there were ten at least, a line of them, on
foot, blocking the street, with longswords and irontipped
spears. “Behind!” he heard Wyl cry, and when he turned his
horse, there were more in back of them, cutting off their
retreat. Jory’s sword came singing from its scabbard.
“Make way or die!”
“The wolves are howling,” their leader said. Ned could
see rain running down his face. “Such a small pack,
Littlefinger walked his horse forward, step by careful step.
“What is the meaning of this? This is the Hand of the King.”
“He was the Hand of the King.” The mud muffled the
hooves of the blood bay stallion. The line parted before
him. On a golden breastplate, the lion of Lannister roared
its defiance. “Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure what he is.”
“Lannister, this is madness,” Littlefinger said. “Let us
pass. We are expected back at the castle. What do you
think you’re doing?”
“He knows what he’s doing,” Ned said calmly.
Jaime Lannister smiled. “Quite true. I’m looking for my
brother. You remember my brother, don’t you, Lord Stark?
He was with us at Winterfell. Fair-haired, mismatched eyes,
sharp of tongue. A short man.”
“I remember him well,” Ned replied. ”It would seem he has
met some trouble on the road. My lord father is quite vexed.
You would not perchance have any notion of who might
have wished my brother ill, would you?”
“Your brother has been taken at my command, to answer
for his crimes,” Ned Stark said.
Littlefinger groaned in dismay. “My lords—”Ser Jaime ripped his longsword from its sheath and
urged his stallion forward. “Show me your steel, Lord
Eddard. I’ll butcher you like Aerys if I must, but I’d sooner
you died with a blade in your hand.” He gave Littlefinger a
cool, contemptuous glance. “Lord Baelish, I’d leave here in
some haste if I did not care to get bloodstains on my costly
Littlefinger did not need to be urged. “I will bring the City
Watch,” he promised Ned. The Lannister line parted to let
him through, and closed behind him. Littlefinger put his
heels to his mare and vanished around a corner.
Ned’s men had drawn their swords, but they were three
against twenty. Eyes watched from nearby windows and
doors, but no one was about to intervene. His party was
mounted, the Lannisters on foot save for Jaime himself. A
charge might win them free, but it seemed to Eddard Stark
that they had a surer, safer tactic. “Kill me,” he warned the
Kingslayer, “and Catelyn will most certainly slay Tyrion.”
Jaime Lannister poked at Ned’s chest with the gilded
sword that had sipped the blood of the last of the
Dragonkings. “Would she? The noble Catelyn Tully of
Riverrun murder a hostage? I think . . . not.” He sighed. “But
I am not willing to chance my brother’s life on a woman’s
honor.” Jaime slid the golden sword into its sheath. “So I
suppose I’ll let you run back to Robert to tell him how I
frightened you. I wonder if he’ll care.” Jaime pushed his wet
hair back with his fingers and wheeled his horse around.
When he was beyond the line of swordsmen, he glanced
back at his captain. “Tregar, see that no harm comes to
“As you say, m’lord.”
“Still . . . we wouldn’t want him to leave here entirelyunchastened, so”—through the night and the rain, he
glimpsed the white of Jaime’s smile—“kill his men.”
“No!” Ned Stark screamed, clawing for his sword. Jaime
was already cantering off down the street as he heard Wyl
shout. Men closed from both sides. Ned rode one down,
cutting at phantoms in red cloaks who gave way before
him. Jory Cassel put his heels into his mount and charged.
A steel-shod hoof caught a Lannister guardsman in the
face with a sickening crunch. A second man reeled away
and for an instant Jory was free. Wyl cursed as they pulled
him off his dying horse, swords slashing in the rain. Ned
galloped to him, bringing his longsword down on Tregar’s
helm. The jolt of impact made him grit his teeth. Tregar
stumbled to his knees, his lion crest sheared in half, blood
running down his face. Heward was hacking at the hands
that had seized his bridle when a spear caught him in the
belly. Suddenly Jory was back among them, a red rain
flying from his sword. “No!” Ned shouted. “Jory, away!”
Ned’s horse slipped under him and came crashing down in
the mud. There was a moment of blinding pain and the
taste of blood in his mouth.
He saw them cut the legs from Jory’s mount and drag him
to the earth, swords rising and failing as they closed in
around him. When Ned’s horse lurched back to its feet, he
tried to rise, only to fall again, choking on his scream. He
could see the splintered bone poking through his calf. It was
the last thing he saw for a time. The rain came down and
down and down.
When he opened his eyes again, Lord Eddard Stark was
alone with his dead. His horse moved closer, caught the
rank scent of blood, and galloped away. Ned began to drag
himself through the mud, gritting his teeth at the agony in hisleg. It seemed to take years. Faces watched from candlelit
windows, and people began to emerge from alleys and
doors, but no one moved to help.
Littlefinger and the City Watch found him there in the
street, cradling Jory Cassel’s body in his arms.
Somewhere the gold cloaks found a litter, but the trip
back to the castle was a blur of agony, and Ned lost
consciousness more than once. He remembered seeing
the Red Keep looming ahead of him in the first grey light of
dawn. The rain had darkened the pale pink stone of the
massive walls to the color of blood.
Then Grand Maester Pycelle was looming over him,
holding a cup, whispering, “Drink, my lord. Here. The milk of
the poppy, for your pain.” He remembered swallowing, and
Pycelle was telling someone to heat the wine to boiling and
fetch him clean silk, and that was the last he knew.
The Horse Gate of Vaes Dothrak was made of two
gigantic bronze stallions, rearing, their hooves meeting a
hundred feet above the roadway to form a pointed arch.
Dany could not have said why the city needed a gate
when it had no walls . . . and no buildings that she could
see. Yet there it stood, immense and beautiful, the great
horses framing the distant purple mountain beyond. The
bronze stallions threw long shadows across the waving
grasses as Khal Drogo led the khalasar under their hooves
and down the godsway, his bloodriders beside him.
Dany followed on her silver, escorted by Ser Jorah
Mormont and her brother Viserys, mounted once more.
After the day in the grass when she had left him to walkback to the khalasar, the Dothraki had laughingly called him
Khal Rhae Mhar, the Sorefoot King. Khal Drogo had
offered him a place in a cart the next day, and Viserys had
accepted. In his stubborn ignorance, he had not even
known he was being mocked; the carts were for eunuchs,
cripples, women giving birth, the very young and the very
old. That won him yet another name: Khal Rhaggat, the Cart
King. Her brother had thought it was the khal’s way of
apologizing for the wrong Dany had done him. She had
begged Ser Jorah not to tell him the truth, lest he be
shamed. The knight had replied that the king could well do
with a bit of shame . . . yet he had done as she bid. It had
taken much pleading, and all the pillow tricks Doreah had
taught her, before Dany had been able to make Drogo
relent and allow Viserys to rejoin them at the head of the
“Where is the city?” she asked as they passed beneath
the bronze arch. There were no buildings to be seen, no
people, only the grass and the road, lined with ancient
monuments from all the lands the Dothraki had sacked over
“Ahead,” Ser Jorah answered. “Under the mountain.”
Beyond the horse gate, plundered gods and stolen
heroes loomed to either side of them. The forgotten deities
of dead cities brandished their broken thunderbolts at the
sky as Dany rode her silver past their feet. Stone kings
looked down on her from their thrones, their faces chipped
and stained, even their names lost in the mists of time.
Lithe young maidens danced on marble plinths, draped
only in flowers, or poured air from shattered jars. Monsters
stood in the grass beside the road; black iron dragons with
jewels for eyes, roaring griffins, manticores with theirbarbed tails poised to strike, and other beasts she could
not name. Some of the statues were so lovely they took her
breath away, others so misshapen and terrible that Dany
could scarcely bear to look at them. Those, Ser Jorah said,
had likely come from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai.
“So many,” she said as her silver stepped slowly onward,
“and from so many lands.”
Viserys was less impressed. “The trash of dead cities,”
he sneered. He was careful to speak in the Common
Tongue, which few Dothraki could understand, yet even so
Dany found herself glancing back at the men of her khas, to
make certain he had not been overheard. He went on
blithely. “All these savages know how to do is steal the
things better men have built . . . and kill.” He laughed. “They
do know how to kill. Otherwise I’d have no use for them at
“They are my people now,” Dany said. “You should not call
them savages, brother.”
“The dragon speaks as he likes,” Viserys said . . . in the
Common Tongue. He glanced over his shoulder at Aggo
and Rakharo, riding behind them, and favored them with a
mocking smile. “See, the savages lack the wit to
understand the speech of civilized men.” A mosseaten
stone monolith loomed over the road, fifty feet tall. Viserys
gazed at it with boredom in his eyes. “How long must we
linger amidst these ruins before Drogo gives me my army?
I grow tired of waiting.”
“The princess must be presented to the dosh khaleen . . .”
“The crones, yes,” her brother interrupted, “and there’s to
be some mummer’s show of a prophecy for the whelp in
her belly, you told me. What is that to me? I’m tired of eating
horsemeat and I’m sick of the stink of these savages.” Hesniffed at the wide, floppy sleeve of his tunic, where it was
his custom to keep a sachet. It could not have helped much.
The tunic was filthy. All the silk and heavy wools that Viserys
had worn out of Pentos were stained by hard travel and
rotted from sweat.
Ser Jorah Mormont said, “The Western Market will have
food more to your taste, Your Grace. The traders from the
Free Cities come there to sell their wares. The khal will
honor his promise in his own time.”
“He had better,” Viserys said grimly. “I was promised a
crown, and I mean to have it. The dragon is not mocked.”
Spying an obscene likeness of a woman with six breasts
and a ferret’s head, he rode off to inspect it more closely.
Dany was relieved, yet no less anxious. “I pray that my
sun-and-stars will not keep him waiting too long,” she told
Ser Jorah when her brother was out of earshot.
The knight looked after Viserys doubtfully. “Your brother
should have bided his time in Pentos. There is no place for
him in a khalasar. Illyrio tried to warn him.”
“He will go as soon as he has his ten thousand. My lord
husband promised a golden crown.”
Ser Jorah grunted. “Yes, Khaleesi, but . . . the Dothraki
look on these things differently than we do in the west. I
have told him as much, as Illyrio told him, but your brother
does not listen. The horselords are no traders. Viserys
thinks he sold you, and now he wants his price. Yet Khal
Drogo would say he had you as a gift. He will give Viserys
a gift in return, yes . . . in his own time. You do not demand
a gift, not of a khal. You do not demand anything of a khal.”
“It is not right to make him wait.” Dany did not know why
she was defending her brother, yet she was. “Viserys says
he could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousandDothraki screamers.”
Ser Jorah snorted. “Viserys could not sweep a stable with
ten thousand brooms.”
Dany could not pretend to surprise at the disdain in his
tone. “What . . . what if it were not Viserys?” she asked. “If it
were someone else who led them? Someone stronger?
Could the Dothraki truly conquer the Seven Kingdoms?”
Ser Jorah’s face grew thoughtful as their horses trod
together down the godsway. “When I first went into exile, I
looked at the Dothraki and saw half-naked barbarians, as
wild as their horses. If you had asked me then, Princess, I
should have told you that a thousand good knights would
have no trouble putting to flight a hundred times as many
“But if I asked you now?”
“Now,” the knight said, “I am less certain. They are better
riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows
outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight
on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of
sharpened stakes. The Dothraki fire from horseback,
charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as
deadly . . . and there are so many of them, my lady. Your
lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors
in his khalasar.”
“Is that truly so many?”
“Your brother Rhaegar brought as many men to the
Trident,” Ser Jorah admitted, “but of that number, no more
than a tenth were knights. The rest were archers, freeriders,
and foot soldiers armed with spears and pikes. When
Rhaegar fell, many threw down their weapons and fled the
field. How long do you imagine such a rabble would stand
against the charge of forty thousand screamers howling forblood? How well would boiled leather jerkins and mailed
shirts protect them when the arrows fall like rain?”
“Not long,” she said, “not well.”
He nodded. “Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven
Kingdoms have the wit the gods gave a goose, it will never
come to that. The riders have no taste for siegecraft. I doubt
they could take even the weakest castle in the Seven
Kingdoms, but if Robert Baratheon were fool enough to
give them battle . . .”
“Is he?” Dany asked. “A fool, Imean?”
Ser Jorah considered that for a moment. “Robert should
have been born Dothraki,” he said at last. “Your khal would
tell you that only a coward hides behind stone walls instead
of facing his enemy with a blade in hand. The Usurper
would agree. He is a strong man, brave . . . and rash
enough to meet a Dothraki horde in the open field. But the
men around him, well, their pipers play a different tune. His
brother Stannis, Lord Tywin Lannister, Eddard Stark He
“You hate this Lord Stark,” Dany said.
“He took from me all I loved, for the sake of a few liceridden poachers and his precious honor,” Ser Jorah said
bitterly. From his tone, she could tell the loss still pained
him. He changed the subject quickly. “There,” he
announced, pointing. “Vaes Dothrak. The city of the
Khal Drogo and his bloodriders led them through the
great bazaar of the Western Market, down the broad ways
beyond. Dany followed close on her silver, staring at the
strangeness about her. Vaes Dothrak was at once the
largest city and the smallest that she had ever known. She
thought it must be ten times as large as Pentos, a vastnesswithout walls or limits, its broad windswept streets paved in
grass and mud and carpeted with wildflowers. In the Free
Cities of the west, towers and manses and hovels and
bridges and shops and halls all crowded in on one another,
but Vaes Dothrak sprawled languorously, baking in the
warm sun, ancient, arrogant, and empty.
Even the buildings were so queer to her eyes. She saw
carved stone pavilions, manses of woven grass as large as
castles, rickety wooden towers, stepped pyramids faced
with marble, log halls open to the sky. In place of walls,
some palaces were surrounded by thorny hedges. “None of
them are alike,” she said.
“Your brother had part of the truth,” Ser Jorah admitted.
“The Dothraki do not build. A thousand years ago, to make
a house, they would dig a hole in the earth and cover it with
a woven grass roof. The buildings you see were made by
slaves brought here from lands they’ve plundered, and they
built each after the fashion of their own peoples.”
Most of the halls, even the largest, seemed deserted.
“Where are the people who live here?” Dany asked. The
bazaar had been full of running children and men shouting,
but elsewhere she had seen only a few eunuchs going
about their business.
“Only the crones of the dosh khaleen dwell permanently in
the sacred city, them and their slaves and servants,” Ser
Jorah replied, “yet Vaes Dothrak is large enough to house
every man of every khalasar, should all the khals return to
the Mother at once. The crones have prophesied that one
day that will come to pass, and so Vaes Dothrak must be
ready to embrace all its children.”
Khal Drogo finally called a halt near the Eastern Market
where the caravans from Yi Ti and Asshai and the ShadowLands came to trade, with the Mother of Mountains looming
overhead. Dany smiled as she recalled Magister Illyrio’s
slave girl and her talk of a palace with two hundred rooms
and doors of solid silver. The “palace” was a cavernous
wooden feasting hall, its rough-hewn timbered walls rising
forty feet, its roof sewn silk, a vast billowing tent that could
be raised to keep out the rare rains, or lowered to admit the
endless sky. Around the hall were broad grassy horse
yards fenced with high hedges, firepits, and hundreds of
round earthen houses that bulged from the ground like
miniature hills, covered with grass.
A small army of slaves had gone ahead to prepare for
Khal Drogo’s arrival. As each rider swung down from his
saddle, he unbelted his arakh and handed it to a waiting
slave, and any other weapons he carried as well. Even Khal
Drogo himself was not exempt. Ser Jorah had explained
that it was forbidden to carry a blade in Vaes Dothrak, or to
shed a free man’s blood. Even warring khalasars put aside
their feuds and shared meat and mead together when they
were in sight of the Mother of Mountains. In this place, the
crones of the dosh khaleen had decreed, all Dothraki were
one blood, one khalasar, one herd.
Cohollo came to Dany as Irri and Jhiqui were helping her
down off her silver. He was the oldest of Drogo’s three
bloodriders, a squat bald man with a crooked nose and a
mouth full of broken teeth, shattered by a mace twenty
years before when he saved the young khalakka from
sellswords who hoped to sell him to his father’s enemies.
His life had been bound to Drogo’s the day her lord
husband was born.
Every khal had his bloodriders. At first Dany had thought
of them as a kind of Dothraki Kingsguard, sworn to protecttheir lord, but it went further than that. Jhiqui had taught her
that a bloodrider was more than a guard; they were the
khal’s brothers, his shadows, his fiercest friends. “Blood of
my blood,” Drogo called them, and so it was; they shared a
single life. The ancient traditions of the horselords
demanded that when the khal died, his bloodriders died
with him, to ride at his side in the night lands. If the khal
died at the hands of some enemy, they lived only long
enough to avenge him, and then followed him joyfully into
the grave. In some khalasars, Jhiqui said, the bloodriders
shared the khal’s wine, his tent, and even his wives, though
never his horses. A man’s mount was his own.
Daenerys was glad that Khal Drogo did not hold to those
ancient ways. She should not have liked being shared. And
while old Cohollo treated her kindly enough, the others
frightened her; Haggo, huge and silent, often glowered as if
he had forgotten who she was, and Qotho had cruel eyes
and quick hands that liked to hurt. He left bruises on
Doreah’s soft white skin whenever he touched her, and
sometimes made Irri sob in the night. Even his horses
seemed to fear him.
Yet they were bound to Drogo for life and death, so
Daenerys had no choice but to accept them. And
sometimes she found herself wishing her father had been
protected by such men. In the songs, the white knights of
the Kingsguard were ever noble, valiant, and true, and yet
King Aerys had been murdered by one of them, the
handsome boy they now called the Kingslayer, and a
second, Ser Barristan the Bold, had gone over to the
Usurper. She wondered if all men were as false in the
Seven Kingdoms. When her son sat the Iron Throne, she
would see that he had bloodriders of his own to protect himagainst treachery in his Kingsguard.
“Khaleesi,” Cohollo said to her, in Dothraki. “Drogo, who
is blood of my blood, commands me to tell you that he must
ascend the Mother of Mountains this night, to sacrifice to
the gods for his safe return.”
Only men were allowed to set foot on the Mother, Dany
knew. The khal’s bloodriders would go with him, and return
at dawn. “Tell my sun-and-stars that I dream of him, and
wait anxious for his return,” she replied, thankful. Dany tired
more easily as the child grew within her; in truth, a night of
rest would be most welcome. Her pregnancy only seemed
to have inflamed Drogo’s desire for her, and of late his
embraces left her exhausted.
Doreah led her to the hollow hill that had been prepared
for her and her khal. It was cool and dim within, like a tent
made of earth. “Jhiqui, a bath, please,” she commanded, to
wash the dust of travel from her skin and soak her weary
bones. It was pleasant to know that they would linger here
for a while, that she would not need to climb back on her
silver on the morrow.
The water was scalding hot, as she liked it. “I will give my
brother his gifts tonight,” she decided as Jhiqui was
washing her hair. “He should look a king in the sacred city.
Doreah, run and find him and invite him to sup with me.”
Viserys was nicer to the Lysene girl than to her Dothraki
handmaids, perhaps because Magister Illyrio had let him
bed her back in Pentos. “Irri, go to the bazaar and buy fruit
and meat. Anything but horseflesh.”
“Horse is best,” Irri said. “Horse makes a man strong.”
“Viserys hates horsemeat.”
“As you say, Khaleesi.”
She brought back a haunch of goat and a basket of fruitsand vegetables. Jhiqui roasted the meat with sweetgrass
and firepods, basting it with honey as it cooked, and there
were melons and pomegranates and plums and some
queer eastern fruit Dany did not know. While her
handmaids prepared the meal, Dany laid out the clothing
she’d had made to her brother’s measure: a tunic and
leggings of crisp white linen, leather sandals that laced up
to the knee, a bronze medallion belt, a leather vest painted
with fire-breathing dragons. The Dothraki would respect
him more if he looked less a beggar, she hoped, and
perhaps he would forgive her for shaming him that day in
the grass. He was still her king, after all, and her brother.
They were both blood of the dragon.
She was arranging the last of his gifts—a sandsilk cloak,
green as grass, with a pale grey border that would bring out
the silver in his hair—when Viserys arrived, dragging
Doreah by the arm. Her eye was red where he’d hit her.
“How dare you send this whore to give me commands,” he
said. He shoved the handmaid roughly to the carpet. The
anger took Dany utterly by surprise. “I only wanted . . .
Doreah, what did you say?”
“Khaleesi, pardons, forgive me. I went to him, as you bid,
and told him you commanded him to join you for supper.”
“No one commands the dragon,” Viserys snarled. “I am
your king! I should have sent you back her head!”
The Lysene girl quailed, but Dany calmed her with a
touch. “Don’t be afraid, he won’t hurt you. Sweet brother,
please, forgive her, the girl misspoke herself, I told her to
ask you to sup with me, if it pleases Your Grace.” She took
him by the hand and drew him across the room. “Look.
These are for you.”
Viserys frowned suspiciously. “What is all this?”“New raiment. I had it made for you.” Dany smiled shyly.
He looked at her and sneered. “Dothraki rags. Do you
presume to dress me now?”
“Please . . . you’ll be cooler and more comfortable, and I
thought . . . maybe if you dressed like them, the Dothraki
Dany did not know how to say it without waking his dragon.
“Next you’ll want to braid my hair.”
“I’d never . . .” Why was he always so cruel? She had only
wanted to help. “You have no right to a braid, you have won
no victories yet.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Fury shone from his lilac
eyes, yet he dared not strike her, not with her handmaids
watching and the warriors of her khas outside. Viserys
picked up the cloak and sniffed at it. “This stinks of manure.
Perhaps I shall use it as a horse blanket.”
“I had Doreah sew it specially for you,” she told him,
wounded. “These are garments fit for a khal.”
“I am the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, not some grassstained savage with bells in his hair,” Viserys spat back at
her. He grabbed her arm. “You forget yourself, slut. Do you
think that big belly will protect you if you wake the dragon?”
His fingers dug into her arm painfully and for an instant
Dany felt like a child again, quailing in the face of his rage.
She reached out with her other hand and grabbed the first
thing she touched, the belt she’d hoped to give him, a
heavy chain of ornate bronze medallions. She swung it with
all her strength.
It caught him full in the face. Viserys let go of her. Blood
ran down his cheek where the edge of one of the
medallions had sliced it open. “You are the one who forgets
himself,” Dany said to him. “Didn’t you learn anything that
day in the grass? Leave me now, before I summon my khasto drag you out. And pray that Khal Drogo does not hear of
this, or he will cut open your belly and feed you your own
entrails.” Viserys scrambled back to his feet. “When I come
into my kingdom, you will rue this day, slut.” He walked off,
holding his torn face, leaving her gifts behind him.
Drops Of his blood had spattered the beautiful sandsilk
cloak. Dany clutched the soft cloth to her cheek and sat
cross-legged on her sleeping mats.
“Your supper is ready, Khaleesi,” Jhiqui announced.
“I’m not hungry,” Dany said sadly. She was suddenly very
tired. “Share the food among yourselves, and send some to
Ser Jorah, if you would.” After a moment she added,
“Please, bring me one of the dragon’s eggs.”
Irri fetched the egg with the deep green shell, bronze
flecks shining amid its scales as she turned it in her small
hands. Dany curled up on her side, pulling the sandsilk
cloak across her and cradling the egg in the hollow
between her swollen belly and small, tender breasts. She
liked to hold them. They were so beautiful, and sometimes
just being close to them made her feel stronger, braver, as
if somehow she were drawing strength from the stone
dragons locked inside.
She was lying there, holding the egg, when she felt the
child move within her . . . as if he were reaching out, brother
to brother, blood to blood. “You are the dragon,” Dany
whispered to him, “the true dragon. I know it. I know it.” And
she smiled, and went to sleep dreaming of home.
A light snow was falling. Bran could feel the flakes
on his face, melting as they touched his skin like thegentlest of rains. He sat straight atop his horse, watching
as the iron portcullis was winched upward. Try as he might
to keep calm, his heart was fluttering in his chest.
“Are you ready?” Robb asked.
Bran nodded, trying not to let his fear show. He had not
been outside Winterfell since his fall, but he was
determined to ride out as proud as any knight.
“Let’s ride, then.” Robb put his heels into his big greyand-white gelding, and the horse walked under the
“Go,” Bran whispered to his own horse. He touched her
neck lightly, and the small chestnut filly started forward.
Bran had named her Dancer. She was two years old, and
Joseth said she was smarter than any horse had a right to
be. They had trained her special, to respond to rein and
voice and touch. Up to now, Bran had only ridden her
around the yard. At first Joseth or Hodor would lead her,
while Bran sat strapped to her back in the oversize saddle
the Imp had drawn up for him, but for the past fortnight he
had been riding her on his own, trotting her round and
round, and growing bolder with every circuit.
They passed beneath the gatehouse, over the
drawbridge, through the outer walls. Summer and Grey
Wind came loping beside them, sniffing at the wind. Close
behind came Theon Greyjoy, with his longbow and a quiver
of broadheads; he had a mind to take a deer, he had told
them. He was followed by four guardsmen in mailed shirts
and coifs, and Joseth, a stick-thin stableman whom Robb
had named master of horse while Hullen was away.
Maester Luwin brought up the rear, riding on a donkey.
Bran would have liked it better if he and Robb had gone off
alone, just the two of them, but Hal Mollen would not hear ofit, and Maester Luwin backed him. If Bran fell off his horse
or injured himself, the maester was determined to be with
Beyond the castle lay the market square, its wooden
stalls deserted now. They rode down the muddy streets of
the village, past rows of small neat houses of log and
undressed stone. Less than one in five were occupied, thin
tendrils of woodsmoke curling up from their chimneys. The
rest would fill up one by one as it grew colder. When the
snow fell and the ice winds howled down out of the north,
Old Nan said, farmers left their frozen fields and distant
holdfasts, loaded up their wagons, and then the winter town
came alive. Bran had never seen it happen, but Maester
Luwin said the day was looming closer. The end of the long
summer was near at hand. Winter is coming.
A few villagers eyed the direwolves anxiously as the
riders went past, and one man dropped the wood he was
carrying as he shrank away in fear, but most of the townfolk
had grown used to the sight. They bent the knee when they
saw the boys, and Robb greeted each of them with a lordly
With his legs unable to grip, the swaying motion of the
horse made Bran feel unsteady at first, but the huge saddle
with its thick horn and high back cradled him comfortingly,
and the straps around his chest and thighs would not allow
him to fall. After a time the rhythm began to feel almost
natural. His anxiety faded, and a tremulous smile crept
across his face.
Two serving wenches stood beneath the sign of the
Smoking Log, the local alehouse. When Theon Greyjoy
called out to them, the younger girl turned red and covered
her face. Theon spurred his mount to move up besideRobb. “Sweet Kyra,” he said with a laugh. “She squirms like
a weasel in bed, but say a word to her on the street, and
she blushes pink as a maid. Did I ever tell you about the
night that she and Bessa—”
“Not where my brother can hear, Theon,” Robb warned
him with a glance at Bran.
Bran looked away and pretended not to have heard, but
he could feel Greyjoy’s eyes on him. No doubt he was
smiling. He smiled a lot, as if the world were a secret joke
that only he was clever enough to understand. Robb
seemed to admire Theon and enjoy his company, but Bran
had never warmed to his father’s ward.
Robb rode closer. “You are doing well, Bran.”
“Iwant to go faster,” Bran replied.
Robb smiled. “As you will.” He sent his gelding into a trot.
The wolves raced after him. Bran snapped the reins
sharply, and Dancer picked up her pace. He heard a shout
from Theon Greyjoy, and the hoofbeats of the other horses
Bran’s cloak billowed out, rippling in the wind, and the
snow seemed to rush at his face. Robb was well ahead,
glancing back over his shoulder from time to time to make
sure Bran and the others were following. He snapped the
reins again. Smooth as silk, Dancer slid into a gallop. The
distance closed. By the time he caught Robb on the edge
of the wolfswood, two miles beyond the winter town, they
had left the others well behind. “I can tide!” Bran shouted,
grinning. It felt almost as good as flying.
“I’d race you, but I fear you’d win.” Robb’s tone was light
and joking, yet Bran could tell that something was troubling
his brother underneath the smile.
“I don’t want to race.” Bran looked around for thedirewolves. Both had vanished into the wood. “Did you hear
Summer howling last night?”
“Grey Wind was restless too,” Robb said. His auburn hair
had grown shaggy and unkempt, and a reddish stubble
covered his jaw, making him look older than his fifteen
years. “Sometimes I think they know things . . . sense things
. . .” Robb sighed. “I never know how much to tell you, Bran.
Iwish you were older.”
“I’m eight now!” Bran said. “Eight isn’t so much younger
than fifteen, and I’m the heir to Winterfell, after you.”
“So you are.” Robb sounded sad, and even a little scared.
“Bran, I need to tell you something. There was a bird last
night. From King’s Landing. Maester Luwin woke me.”
Bran felt a sudden dread. Dark wings, dark words, Old
Nan always said, and of late the messenger ravens had
been proving the truth of the proverb. When Robb wrote to
the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the bird that
came back brought word that Uncle Benjen was still
missing. Then a message had arrived from the Eyrie, from
Mother, but that had not been good news either. She did
not say when she meant to return, only that she had taken
the Imp as prisoner. Bran had sort of liked the little man, yet
the name Lannister sent cold fingers creeping up his spine.
There was something about the Lannisters, something he
ought to remember, but when he tried to think what, he felt
dizzy and his stomach clenched hard as a stone. Robb
spent most of that day locked behind closed doors with
Maester Luwin, Theon Greyjoy, and Hallis Mollen.
Afterward, riders were sent out on fast horses, carrying
Robb’s commands throughout the north. Bran heard talk of
Moat Cailin, the ancient stronghold the First Men had built
at the top of the Neck. No one ever told him what washappening, yet he knew it was not good.
And now another raven, another message. Bran clung to
hope. “Was the bird from Mother? Is she coming home?”
“The message was from Alyn in King’s Landing. Jory
Cassel is dead. And Wyl and Heward as well. Murdered by
the Kingslayer.” Robb lifted his face to the snow, and the
flakes melted on his cheeks. “May the gods give them rest.”
Bran did not know what to say. He felt as if he’d been
punched. Jory had been captain of the household guard at
Winterfell since before Bran was born. “They killed Jory?”
He remembered all the times Jory had chased him over the
roofs. He could picture him striding across the yard in mail
and plate, or sitting at his accustomed place on the bench
in the Great Hall, joking as he ate. “Why would anyone kill
Robb shook his head numbly, the pain plain in his eyes. “I
don’t know, and . . . Bran, that’s not the worst of it. Father
was caught beneath a falling horse in the fight. Alyn says
his leg was shattered, and . . . Maester Pycelle has given
him the milk of the poppy, but they aren’t sure when . . .
when he . . .” The sound of hoofbeats made him glance
down the road, to where Theon and the others were coming
up. “When he will wake,” Robb finished. He laid his hand on
the pommel of his sword then, and went on in the solemn
voice of Robb the Lord. “Bran, I promise you, whatever
might happen, Iwill not let this be forgotten.”
Something in his tone made Bran even more fearful.
“What will you do?” he asked as Theon Greyjoy reined in
“Theon thinks I should call the banners,” Robb said.
“Blood for blood.” For once Greyjoy did not smile. His
lean, dark face had a hungry look to it, and black hair felldown across his eyes.
“Only the lord can call the banners,” Bran said as the
snow drifted down around them.
“If your father dies,” Theon said, “Robb will be Lord of
“He won’t die!” Bran screamed at him.
Robb took his hand. “He won’t die, not Father,” he said
calmly. “Still … the honor of the north is in my hands now.
When our lord father took his leave of us, he told me to be
strong for you and for Rickon. I’m almost a man grown,
Bran shivered. “I wish Mother was back,” he said
miserably. He looked around for Maester Luwin; his donkey
was visible in the far distance, trotting over a rise. “Does
Maester Luwin say to call the banners too?”
“The maester is timid as an old woman,” said Theon.
“Father always listened to his counsel,” Bran reminded
his brother. “Mother too.”
“I listen to him,” Robb insisted. “I listen to everyone.”
The joy Bran had felt at the ride was gone, melted away
like the snowflakes on his face. Not so long ago, the
thought of Robb calling the banners and riding off to war
would have filled him with excitement, but now he felt only
dread. “Can we go back now?” he asked. “I’m cold.”
Robb glanced around. “We need to find the wolves. Can
you stand to go a bit longer?”
“I can go as long as you can.” Maester Luwin had warned
him to keep the ride short, for fear of saddle sores, but
Bran would not admit to weakness in front of his brother. He
was sick of the way everyone was always fussing over him
and asking how he was.
“Let’s hunt down the hunters, then,” Robb said. Side byside, they urged their mounts off the kingsroad and struck
out into the wolfswood. Theon dropped back and followed
well behind them, talking and joking with the guardsmen.
It was nice under the trees. Bran kept Dancer to a walk,
holding the reins lightly and looking all around him as they
went. He knew this wood, but he had been so long confined
to Winterfell that he felt as though he were seeing it for the
first time. The smells filled his nostrils; the sharp fresh tang
of pine needles, the earthy odor of wet rotting leaves, the
hints of animal musk and distant cooking fires. He caught a
glimpse of a black squirrel moving through the snowcovered branches of an oak, and paused to study the
silvery web of an empress spider.
Theon and the others fell farther and farther behind, until
Bran could no longer hear their voices. From ahead came
the faint sound of rushing waters. It grew louder until they
reached the stream. Tears stung his eyes.
“Bran?” Robb asked. “What’s wrong?”
Bran shook his head. “I was just remembering,” he said.
“Jory brought us here once, to fish for trout. You and me and
Jon. Do you remember?”
“Iremember,” Robb said, his voice quiet and sad.
“I didn’t catch anything,” Bran said, “but Jon gave me his
fish on the way back to Winterfell. Will we ever see Jon
“We saw Uncle Benjen when the king came to visit,” Robb
pointed out. “Jon will visit too, you’ll see.”
The stream was running high and fast. Robb dismounted
and led his gelding across the ford. In the deepest part of
the crossing, the water came up to midthigh. He tied his
horse to a tree on the far side, and waded back across for
Bran and Dancer. The current foamed around rock androot, and Bran could feel the spray on his face as Robb led
him over. It made him smile. For a moment he felt strong
again, and whole. He looked up at the trees and dreamed
of climbing them, right up to the very top, with the whole
forest spread out beneath him.
They were on the far side when they heard the howl, a
long rising wail that moved through the trees like a cold
wind. Bran raised his head to listen. “Summer,” he said. No
sooner had he spoken than a second voice joined the first.
“They’ve made a kill,” Robb said as he remounted. “I’d
best go and bring them back. Wait here, Theon and the
others should be along shortly.”
“Iwant to go with you,” Bran said.
“I’ll find them faster by myself.” Robb spurred his gelding
and vanished into the trees.
Once he was gone, the woods seemed to close in around
Bran. The snow was falling more heavily now. Where it
touched the ground it melted, but all about him rock and
root and branch wore a thin blanket of white. As he waited,
he was conscious of how uncomfortable he felt. He could
not feel his legs, hanging useless in the stirrups, but the
strap around his chest was tight and chafing, and the
melting snow had soaked through his gloves to chill his
hands. He wondered what was keeping Theon and
Maester Luwin and Joseth and the rest.
When he heard the rustle of leaves, Bran used the reins to
make Dancer turn, expecting to see his friends, but the
ragged men who stepped out onto the bank of the stream
“Good day to you,” he said nervously. One look, and Bran
knew they were neither foresters nor farmers. He was
suddenly conscious of how richly he was dressed. Hissurcoat was new, dark grey wool with silver buttons, and a
heavy silver pin fastened his fur-trimmed cloak at the
shoulders. His boots and gloves were lined with fur as well.
“All alone, are you?” said the biggest of them, a bald man
with a raw windburnt face. “Lost in the wolfswood, poor lad.”
“I’m not lost.” Bran did not like the way the strangers were
looking at him. He counted four, but when he turned his
head, he saw two others behind him. “My brother rode off
just a moment ago, and my guard will be here shortly.”
“Your guard, is it?” a second man said. Grey stubble
covered his gaunt face. “And what would they be guarding,
my little lord? Is that a silver pin I see there on your cloak?”
“Pretty,” said a woman’s voice. She scarcely looked like
a woman; tall and lean, with the same hard face as the
others, her hair hidden beneath a bowl-shaped halfhelm.
The spear she held was eight feet of black oak, tipped in
“Let’s have a look,” said the big bald man.
Bran watched him anxiously. The man’s clothes were
filthy, fallen almost to pieces, patched here with brown and
here with blue and there with a dark green, and faded
everywhere to grey, but once that cloak might have been
black. The grey stubbly man wore black rags too, he saw
with a sudden start. Suddenly Bran remembered the
oathbreaker his father had beheaded, the day they had
found the wolf pups; that man had worn black as well, and
Father said he had been a deserter from the Night’s Watch.
No man is more dangerous, he remembered Lord Eddard
saying. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken,
so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile or
“The pin, lad,” the big man said. He held out his hand.“We’ll take the horse too,” said another of them, a woman
shorter than Robb, with a broad fiat face and lank yellow
hair. “Get down, and be quick about it.” A knife slid from her
sleeve into her hand, its edge jagged as a saw.
“No,” Bran blurted. “I can’t . . .”
The big man grabbed his reins before Bran could think to
wheel Dancer around and gallop off. “You can, lordling . . .
and will, if you know what’s good for you.”
“Stiv, look how he’s strapped on.” The tall woman pointed
with her spear. “Might be it’s the truth he’s telling.”
“Straps, is it?” Stiv said. He drew a dagger from a sheath
at his belt. “There’s ways to deal with straps.”
“You some kind of cripple?” asked the short woman.
Bran flared. “I’m Brandon Stark of Winterfell, and you
better let go of my horse, or I’ll see you all dead.”
The gaunt man with the grey stubbled face laughed. “The
boy’s a Stark, true enough. Only a Stark would be fool
enough to threaten where smarter men would beg.”
“Cut his little cock off and stuff it in his mouth,” suggested
the short woman. “That should shut him up.”
“You’re as stupid as you are ugly, Hali,” said the tall
woman. “The boy’s worth nothing dead, but alive . . . gods
be damned, think what Mance would give to have Benjen
Stark’s own blood to hostage!”
“Mance be damned,” the big man cursed. “You want to go
back there, Osha? More fool you. Think the white walkers
will care if you have a hostage?” He turned back to Bran
and slashed at the strap around his thigh. The leather
parted with a sigh.
The stroke had been quick and careless, biting deep.
Looking down, Bran glimpsed pale flesh where the wool of
his leggings had parted. Then the blood began to flow. Hewatched the red stain spread, feeling light-headed,
curiously apart; there had been no pain, not even a hint of
feeling. The big man grunted in surprise.
“Put down your steel now, and I promise you shall have a
quick and painless death,” Robb called out.
Bran looked up in desperate hope, and there he was. The
strength of the words were undercut by the way his voice
cracked with strain. He was mounted, the bloody carcass of
an elk slung across the back of his horse, his sword in a
“The brother,” said the man with the grey stubbly face.
“He’s a fierce one, he is,” mocked the short woman. Hali,
they called her. “You mean to fight us, boy?”
“Don’t be a fool, lad. You’re one against six.” The tall
woman, Osha, leveled her spear. “Off the horse, and throw
down the sword. We’ll thank you kindly for the mount and for
the venison, and you and your brother can be on your way.”
Robb whistled. They heard the faint sound of soft feet on
wet leaves. The undergrowth parted, low-hanging branches
giving up their accumulation of snow, and Grey Wind and
Summer emerged from the green. Summer sniffed the air
“Wolves,” gasped Hali.
“Direwolves,” Bran said. Still half-grown, they were as
large as any wolf he had ever seen, but the differences
were easy to spot, if you knew what to look for. Maester
Luwin and Farlen the kennelmaster had taught him. A
direwolf had a bigger head and longer legs in proportion to
its body, and its snout and jaw were markedly leaner and
more pronounced. There was something gaunt and terrible
about them as they stood there amid the gently falling snow.
Fresh blood spotted GreyWind’s muzzle.“Dogs,” the big bald man said contemptuously. “Yet I’m
told there’s nothing like a wolfskin cloak to warm a man by
night.” He made a sharp gesture. “Take them.”
Robb shouted, “Winterfell!” and kicked his horse. The
gelding plunged down the bank as the ragged men closed.
A man with an axe rushed in, shouting and heedless.
Robb’s sword caught him full in the face with a sickening
crunch and a spray of bright blood. The man with the gaunt
stubbly face made a grab for the reins, and for half a
second he had them . . . and then Grey Wind was on him,
bearing him down. He fell back into the stream with a
splash and a shout, flailing wildly with his knife as his head
went under. The direwolf plunged in after him, and the white
water turned red where they had vanished.
Robb and Osha matched blows in midstream. Her long
spear was a steel-headed serpent, flashing out at his chest,
once, twice, three times, but Robb parried every thrust with
his longsword, turning the point aside. On the fourth or fifth
thrust, the tall woman overextended herself and lost her
balance, just for a second. Robb charged, riding her down.
A few feet away, Summer darted in and snapped at Hali.
The knife bit at his flank. Summer slid away, snarling, and
came rushing in again. This time his jaws closed around
her calf. Holding the knife with both hands, the small woman
stabbed down, but the direwolf seemed to sense the blade
coming. He pulled free for an instant, his mouth full of
leather and cloth and bloody flesh. When Hali stumbled and
fell, he came at her again, slamming her backward, teeth
tearing at her belly.
The sixth man ran from the carnage . . . but not far. As he
went scrambling up the far side of the bank, Grey Wind
emerged from the stream, dripping wet. He shook thewater off and bounded after the running man, hamstringing
him with a single snap of his teeth, and going for the throat
as the screaming man slid back down toward the water.
And then there was no one left but the big man, Stiv. He
slashed at Bran’s chest strap, grabbed his arm, and
yanked. Suddenly Bran was falling. He sprawled on the
ground, his legs tangled under him, one foot in the stream.
He could not feel the cold of the water, but he felt the steel
when Stiv pressed his dagger to his throat. “Back away,”
the man warned, “or I’ll open the boy’s windpipe, I swear it.”
Robb reined his horse in, breathing hard. The fury went
out of his eyes, and his sword arm dropped.
In that moment Bran saw everything. Summer was
savaging Hali, pulling glistening blue snakes from her belly.
Her eyes were wide and staring. Bran could not tell whether
she was alive or dead. The grey stubbly man and the one
with the axe lay unmoving, but Osha was on her knees,
crawling toward her fallen spear. GreyWind padded toward
her, dripping wet. “Call him off!” the big man shouted. “Call
them both off, or the cripple boy dies now!”
“GreyWind, Summer, to me,” Robb said.
The direwolves stopped, turned their heads. Grey Wind
loped back to Robb. Summer stayed where he was, his
eyes on Bran and the man beside him. He growled. His
muzzle was wet and red, but his eyes burned.
Osha used the butt end of her spear to lever herself back
to her feet. Blood leaked from a wound on the upper arm
where Robb had cut her. Bran could see sweat trickling
down the big man’s face. Stiv was as scared as he was, he
realized. “Starks,” the man muttered, “bloody Starks.” He
raised his voice. “Osha, kill the wolves and get his sword.”
“Kill them yourself,” she replied. “I’ll not be getting nearthose monsters.”
For a moment Stiv was at a loss. His hand trembled; Bran
felt a trickle of blood where the knife pressed against his
neck. The stench of the man filled his nose; he smelled of
fear. “You,” he called out to Robb. “You have a name?”
“I am Robb Stark, the heir to Winterfell.”
“This is your brother?”
“You want him alive, you do what I say. Off the horse.”
Robb hesitated a moment. Then, slowly and deliberately,
he dismounted and stood with his sword in hand.
“Now kill the wolves.”
Robb did not move.
“You do it. The wolves or the boy.”
“No!” Bran screamed. If Robb did as they asked, Stiv
would kill them both anyway, once the direwolves were
The bald man took hold of his hair with his free hand and
twisted it cruelly, till Bran sobbed in pain. “You shut your
mouth, cripple, you hear me?” He twisted harder. “You hear
A low thrum came from the woods behind them. Stiv gave
a choked gasp as a half foot of razor-tipped broadhead
suddenly exploded out of his chest. The arrow was bright
red, as if it had been painted in blood.
The dagger fell away from Bran’s throat. The big man
swayed and collapsed, facedown in the stream. The arrow
broke beneath him. Bran watched his life go swirling off in
Osha glanced around as Father’s guardsmen appeared
from beneath the trees, steel in hand. She threw down her
spear. “Mercy, m’lord,” she called to Robb.The guardsmen had a strange, pale look to their faces as
they took in the scene of slaughter. They eyed the wolves
uncertainly, and when Summer returned to Hali’s corpse to
feed, Joseth dropped his knife and scrambled for the bush,
heaving. Even Maester Luwin seemed shocked as he
stepped from behind a tree, but only for an instant. Then he
shook his head and waded across the stream to Bran’s
side. “Are you hurt?”
“He cut my leg,” Bran said, “but I couldn’t feel it.”
As the maester knelt to examine the wound, Bran turned
his head. Theon Greyjoy stood beside a sentinel tree, his
bow in hand. He was smiling. Ever smiling. A half-dozen
arrows were thrust into the soft ground at his feet, but it had
taken only one. “A dead enemy is a thing of beauty,” he
“Jon always said you were an ass, Greyjoy,” Robb said
loudly. “I ought to chain you up in the yard and let Bran take
a few practice shots at you.”
“You should be thanking me for saving your brother’s life.”
“What if you had missed the shot?” Robb said. “What if
you’d only wounded him? What if you had made his hand
jump, or hit Bran instead? For all you knew, the man might
have been wearing a breastplate, all you could see was the
back of his cloak. What would have happened to my
brother then? Did you ever think of that, Greyjoy?”
Theon’s smile was gone. He gave a sullen shrug and
began to pull his arrows from the ground, one by one.
Robb glared at his guardsmen. “Where were you?” he
demanded of them. “Iwas sure you were close behind us.”
The men traded unhappy glances. “We were following,
m’lord,” said Quent, the youngest of them, his beard a soft
brown fuzz. “Only first we waited for Maester Luwin and hisass, begging your pardons, and then, well, as it were He
glanced over at Theon and quickly looked away, abashed.
“I spied a turkey,” Theon said, annoyed by the question.
“How was I to know that you’d leave the boy alone?”
Robb turned his head to look at Theon once more. Bran
had never seen him so angry, yet he said nothing. Finally he
knelt beside Maester Luwin. “How badly is my brother
“No more than a scratch,” the maester said. He wet a
cloth in the stream to clean the cut. “Two of them wear the
black,” he told Robb as he worked.
Robb glanced over at where Stiv lay sprawled in the
stream, his ragged black cloak moving fitfully as the rushing
waters tugged at it. “Deserters from the Night’s Watch,” he
said grimly. “They must have been fools, to come so close
“Folly and desperation are ofttimes hard to tell apart,”
said Maester Luwin.
“Shall we bury them, m’lord?” asked Quent.
“They would not have buried us,” Robb said. “Hack off
their heads, we’ll send them back to the Wall. Leave the
rest for the carrion crows.”
“And this one?” Quent jerked a thumb toward Osha.
Robb walked over to her. She was a head taller than he
was, but she dropped to her knees at his approach. “Give
me my life, m’lord of Stark, and I am yours.”
“Mine? What would I do with an oathbreaker?”
“I broke no oaths. Stiv and Wallen flew down off the Wall,
not me. The black crows got no place for women.”
Theon Greyjoy sauntered closer. “Give her to the wolves,”
he urged Robb. The woman’s eyes went to what was left of
Hali, and just as quickly away. She shuddered. Even theguardsmen looked queasy.
“She’s a woman,” Robb said.
“A wildling,” Bran told him. “She said they should keep me
alive so they could take me to Mance Rayder.”
“Do you have a name?” Robb asked her.
“Osha, as it please the lord,” she muttered sourly.
Maester Luwin stood. “We might do well to question her.”
Bran could see the relief on his brother’s face. “As you
say, Maester. Wayn, bind her hands. She’ll come back to
Winterfell with us . . . and live or die by the truths she gives
“Yu want eat?” Mord asked, glowering. He had a
plate of oiled beans in one thick, stub-fingered hand.
Tyrion Lannister was starved, but he refused to let this
brute see him cringe. “A leg of lamb would be pleasant,” he
said, from the heap of soiled straw in the corner of his cell.
“Perhaps a dish of peas and onions, some fresh baked
bread with butter, and a flagon of mulled wine to wash it
down. Or beer, if that’s easier. I try not to be overly
“Is beans,” Mord said. “Here.” He held out the plate.
Tyrion sighed. The turnkey was twenty stone of gross
stupidity, with brown rotting teeth and small dark eyes. The
left side of his face was slick with scar where an axe had
cut off his ear and part of his cheek. He was as predictable
as he was ugly, but Tyrion was hungry. He reached up for
Mord jerked it away, grinning. “Is here,” he said, holding it
out beyond Tyrion’s reach.The dwarf climbed stiffly to his feet, every joint aching.
“Must we play the same fool’s game with every meal?” He
made another grab for the beans.
Mord shambled backward, grinning through his rotten
teeth. “Is here, dwarf man.” He held the plate out at arm’s
length, over the edge where the cell ended and the sky
began. “You not want eat? Here. Come take.”
Tyrion’s arms were too short to reach the plate, and he
was not about to step that close to the edge. All it would
take would be a quick shove of Mord’s heavy white belly,
and he would end up a sickening red splotch on the stones
of Sky, like so many other prisoners of the Eyrie over the
centuries. “Come to think on it, I’m not hungry after all,” he
declared, retreating to the corner of his cell.
Mord grunted and opened his thick fingers. The wind took
the plate, flipping it over as it fell. A handful of beans
sprayed back at them as the food tumbled out of sight. The
turnkey laughed, his gut shaking like a bowl of pudding.
Tyrion felt a pang of rage. “You fucking son of a poxridden ass,” he spat. “I hope you die of a bloody flux.”
For that, Mord gave him a kick, driving a steel-toed boot
hard into Tyrion’s ribs on the way out. “I take it back!” he
gasped as he doubled over on the straw. “I’ll kill you myself,
I swear it!” The heavy ironbound door slammed shut. Tyrion
heard the rattle of keys.
For a small man, he had been cursed with a dangerously
big mouth, he reflected as he crawled back to his corner of
what the Arryns laughably called their dungeon. He huddled
beneath the thin blanket that was his only bedding, staring
out at a blaze of empty blue sky and distant mountains that
seemed to go on forever, wishing he still had the
shadowskin cloak he’d won from Marillion at dice, after thesinger had stolen it off the body of that brigand chief. The
skin had smelled of blood and mold, but it was warm and
thick. Mord had taken it the moment he laid eyes on it.
The wind tugged at his blanket with gusts sharp as talons.
His cell was miserably small, even for a dwarf. Not five feet
away, where a wall ought to have been, where a wall would
be in a proper dungeon, the floor ended and the sky began.
He had plenty of fresh air and sunshine, and the moon and
stars by night, but Tyrion would have traded it all in an
instant for the dankest, gloomiest pit in the bowels of the
“You fly,” Mord had promised him, when he’d shoved him
into the cell. “Twenty day, thirty, fifty maybe. Then you fly.”
The Arryns kept the only dungeon in the realm where the
prisoners were welcome to escape at will. That first day,
after girding up his courage for hours, Tyrion had lain flat on
his stomach and squirmed to the edge, to poke out his
head and look down. Sky was six hundred feet below, with
nothing between but empty air. If he craned his neck out as
far as it could go, he could see other cells to his right and
left and above him. He was a bee in a stone honeycomb,
and someone had torn off his wings.
It was cold in the cell, the wind screamed night and day,
and worst of all, the floor sloped. Ever so slightly, yet it was
enough. He was afraid to close his eyes, afraid that he
might roll over in his steep and wake in sudden terror as he
went sliding off the edge. Small wonder the sky cells drove
Gods save me, some previous tenant had written on the
wall in something that looked suspiciously like blood, the
blue is calling. At first Tyrion wondered who he’d been, and
what had become of him; later, he decided that he wouldrather not know.
If only he had shut his mouth . . .
The wretched boy had started it, looking down on him
from a throne of carved weirwood beneath the moon-andfalcon banners of House Arryn. Tyrion Lannister had been
looked down on all his life, but seldom by rheumy-eyed sixyear-olds who needed to stuff fat cushions under their
cheeks to lift them to the height of a man. “Is he the bad
man?” the boy had asked, clutching his doll.
“He is,” the Lady Lysa had said from the lesser throne
beside him. She was all in blue, powdered and perfumed
for the suitors who filled her court.
“He’s so small,” the Lord of the Eyrie said, giggling.
“This is Tyrion the Imp, of House Lannister, who murdered
your father.” She raised her voice so it carried down the
length of High Hall of the Eyrie, ringing off the milk-white
walls and the slender pillars, so every man could hear it.
“He slew the Hand of the King!”
“Oh, did I kill him too?” Tyrion had said, like a fool.
That would have been a very good time to have kept his
mouth closed and his head bowed. He could see that now;
seven hells, he had seen it then. The High Hall of the Arryns
was long and austere, with a forbidding coldness to its
walls of blue-veined white marble, but the faces around him
had been colder by far. The power of Casterly Rock was far
away, and there were no friends of the Lannisters in the
Vale of Arryn. Submission and silence would have been his
But Tyrion’s mood had been too foul for sense. To his
shame, he had faltered during the last leg of their day-long
climb up to the Eyrie, his stunted legs unable to take him
any higher. Bronn had carried him the rest of the way, andthe humiliation poured oil on the flames of his anger. “It
would seem I’ve been a busy little fellow,” he said with bitter
sarcasm. “I wonder when I found the time to do all this
slaying and murdering.”
He ought to have remembered who he was dealing with.
Lysa Arryn and her half-sane weakling son had not been
known at court for their love of wit, especially when it was
directed at them.
“Imp,” Lysa said coldly, “you will guard that mocking
tongue of yours and speak to my son politely, or I promise
you will have cause to regret it. Remember where you are.
This is the Eyrie, and these are knights of the Vale you see
around you, true men who loved Jon Arryn well. Every one
of them would die for me.”
“Lady Arryn, should any harm come to me, my brother
Jaime will be pleased to see that they do.” Even as he spat
out the words, Tyrion knew they were folly.
“Can you fly, my lord of Lannister?” Lady Lysa asked.
“Does a dwarf have wings? If not, you would be wiser to
swallow the next threat that comes to mind.”
“Imade no threats,” Tyrion said. “That was a promise.”
Little Lord Robert hopped to his feet at that, so upset he
dropped his doll. “You can’t hurt us,” he screamed. “No one
can hurt us here. Tell him, Mother, tell him he can’t hurt us
here.” The boy began to twitch.
“The Eyrie is impregnable,” Lysa Arryn declared calmly.
She drew her son close, holding him safe in the circle of her
plump white arms. “The Imp is trying to frighten us, sweet
baby. The Lannisters are all liars. No one will hurt my sweet
The hell of it was, she was no doubt right. Having seen
what it took to get here, Tyrion could well imagine how itwould be for a knight trying to fight his way up in armor,
while stones and arrows poured down from above and
enemies contested with him for every step. Nightmare did
not begin to describe it. Small wonder the Eyrie had never
Still, Tyrion had been unable to silence himself. “Not
impregnable,” he said, “merely inconvenient.”
Young Robert pointed down, his hand trembling. “You’re a
liar. Mother, I want to see him fly.” Two guardsmen in skyblue cloaks seized Tyrion by the arms, lifting him off his
The gods only know what might have happened then were
it not for Catelyn Stark. “Sister,” she called out from where
she stood below the thrones, “I beg you to remember, this
man is my prisoner. Iwill not have him harmed.”
Lysa Arryn glanced at her sister coolly for a moment, then
rose and swept down on Tyrion, her long skirts trailing after
her. For an instant he feared she would strike him, but
instead she commanded them to release him. Her men
shoved him to the floor, his legs went out from under him,
and Tyrion fell. He must have made quite a sight as he
struggled to his knees, only to feel his right leg spasm,
sending him sprawling once more. Laughter boomed up
and down the High Hall of the Arryns.
“My sister’s little guest is too weary to stand,” Lady Lysa
announced. “Ser Vardis, take him down to the dungeon. A
rest in one of our sky cells will do him much good.”
The guardsmen jerked him upright. Tyrion Lannister
dangled between them, kicking feebly, his face red with
shame. “I will remember this,” he told them all as they
carried him off.
And so he did, for all the good it did him.At first he had consoled himself that this imprisonment
could not last long. Lysa Arryn wanted to humble him, that
was all. She would send for him again, and soon. If not her,
then Catelyn Stark would want to question him. This time he
would guard his tongue more closely. They dare not kill him
out of hand; he was still a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and if
they shed his blood, it would mean war. Or so he had told
Now he was not so certain.
Perhaps his captors only meant to let him rot here, but he
feared he did not have the strength to rot for long. He was
growing weaker every day, and it was only a matter of time
until Mord’s kicks and blows did him serious harm,
provided the gaoler did not starve him to death first. A few
more nights of cold and hunger, and the blue would start
calling to him too.
He wondered what was happening beyond the walls
(such as they were) of his cell. Lord Tywin would surely
have sent out riders when the word reached him. Jaime
might be leading a host through the Mountains of the Moon
even now . . . unless he was riding north against Winterfell
instead. Did anyone outside the Vale even suspect where
Catelyn Stark had taken him? He wondered what Cersei
would do when she heard. The king could order him freed,
but would Robert listen to his queen or his Hand? Tyrion
had no illusions about the king’s love for his sister.
If Cersei kept her wits about her, she would insist the king
sit in judgment of Tyrion himself. Even Ned Stark could
scarcely object to that, not without impugning the honor of
the king. And Tyrion would be only too glad to take his
chances in a trial. Whatever murders they might lay at his
door, the Starks had no proof of anything so far as he couldsee. Let them make their case before the Iron Throne and
the lords of the land. It would be the end of them. If only
Cersei were clever enough to see that . . .
Tyrion Lannister sighed. His sister was not without a
certain low cunning, but her pride blinded her. She would
see the insult in this, not the opportunity. And Jaime was
even worse, rash and headstrong and quick to anger. His
brother never untied a knot when he could slash it in two
with his sword.
He wondered which of them had sent the footpad to
silence the Stark boy, and whether they had truly conspired
at the death of Lord Arryn. If the old Hand had been
murdered, it was deftly and subtly done. Men of his age
died of sudden illness all the time. In contrast, sending
some oaf with a stolen knife after Brandon Stark struck him
as unbelievably clumsy. And wasn’t that peculiar, come to
think on it . . .
Tyrion shivered. Now there was a nasty suspicion.
Perhaps the direwolf and the lion were not the only beasts
in the woods, and if that was true, someone was using him
as a catspaw. Tyrion Lannister hated being used.
He would have to get out of here, and soon. His chances
of overpowering Mord were small to none, and no one was
about to smuggle him a six-hundred-foot-long rope, so he
would have to talk himself free. His mouth had gotten him
into this cell; it could damn well get him out.
Tyrion pushed himself to his feet, doing his best to ignore
the slope of the floor beneath him, with its ever-so-subtle
tug toward the edge. He hammered on the door with a fist.
“Mord!” he shouted. “Turnkey! Mord, I want you!” He had to
keep it up a good ten minutes before he heard footsteps.
Tyrion stepped back an instant before the door openedwith a crash.
“Making noise,” Mord growled, with blood in his eyes.
Dangling from one meaty hand was a leather strap, wide
and thick, doubled over in his fist.
Never show them You’re afraid, Tyrion reminded himself.
“How would you like to be rich?” he asked.
Mord hit him. He swung the strap backhand, lazily, but the
leather caught Tyrion high on the arm. The force of it
staggered him, and the pain made him grit his teeth. “No
mouth, dwarf man,” Mord warned him.
“Gold,” Tyrion said, miming a smile. “Casterly Rock is full
of gold . . . ahhhh . . .” This time the blow was a forehand,
and Mord put more of his arm into the swing, making the
leather crack and jump. It caught Tyrion in the ribs and
dropped him to his knees, wimpering. He forced himself to
look up at the gaoler. “As rich as the Lannisters,” he
wheezed. “That’s what they say, Mord—”
Mord grunted. The strap whistled through the air and
smashed Tyrion full in the face. The pain was so bad he did
not remember falling, but when he opened his eyes again
he was on the floor of his cell. His ear was ringing, and his
mouth was full of blood. He groped for purchase, to push
himself up, and his fingers brushed against . . . nothing.
Tyrion snatched his hand back as fast as if it had been
scalded, and tried his best to stop breathing. He had fallen
right on the edge, inches from the blue.
“More to say?” Mord held the strap between his fists and
gave it a sharp pull. The snap made Tyrion jump. The
He won’t push me over, Tyrion told himself desperately as
he crawled away from the edge. Catelyn Stark wants me
alive, he doesn’t dare kill me. He wiped the blood off hislips with the back of his hand, grinned, and said, “That was
a stiff one, Mord.” The gaoler squinted at him, trying to
decide if he was being mocked. “I could make good use of
a strong man like you.” The strap flew at him, but this time
Tyrion was able to cringe away from it. He took a glancing
blow to the shoulder, nothing more. “Gold,” he repeated,
scrambling backward like a crab, ,’more gold than you’ll
see here in a lifetime. Enough to buy land, women, horses .
. . you could be a lord. Lord Mord.” Tyrion hawked up a glob
of blood and phlegm and spat it out into the sky.
“Is no gold,” Mord said.
He’s listening! Tyrion thought. “They relieved me of my
purse when they captured me, but the gold is still mine.
Catelyn Stark might take a man prisoner, but she’d never
stoop to rob him. That wouldn’t be honorable. Help me, and
all the gold is yours.” Mord’s strap licked out, but it was a
halfhearted, desultory swing, slow and contemptuous.
Tyrion caught the leather in his hand and held it prisoned.
“There will be no risk to you. All you need do is deliver a
The gaoler yanked his leather strap free of Tyrion’s grasp.
“Message,” he said, as if he had never heard the word
before. His frown made deep creases in his brow.
“You heard me, my lord. Only carry my word to your lady.
Tell her . . .” What? What would possibly make Lysa Arryn
relent? The inspiration came to Tyrion Lannister suddenly.
“Tell her that Iwish to confess my crimes.”
Mord raised his arm and Tyrion braced himself for
another blow, but the turnkey hesitated. Suspicion and
greed warred in his eyes. He wanted that gold, yet he
feared a trick; he had the look of a man who had often been
tricked. “Is lie,” he muttered darkly. “Dwarf man cheat me.”“Iwill put my promise in writing,” Tyrion vowed.
Some illiterates held writing in disdain; others seemed to
have a superstitious reverence for the written word, as if it
were some sort of magic. Fortunately, Mord was one of the
latter. The turnkey lowered the strap. “Writing down gold.
“Oh, much gold,” Tyrion assured him. “The purse is just a
taste, my friend. My brother wears armor of solid gold
plate.” In truth, Jaime’s armor was gilded steel, but this oaf
would never know the difference.
Mord fingered his strap thoughtfully, but in the end, he
relented and went to fetch paper and ink. When the letter
was written, the gaoler frowned at it suspiciously. “Now
deliver my message,” Tyrion urged.
He was shivering in his sleep when they came for him,
late that night. Mord opened the door but kept his silence.
Ser Vardis Egen woke Tyrion with the point of his boot. “On
your feet, Imp. My lady wants to see you.”
Tyrion rubbed the sleep from his eyes and put on a
grimace he scarcely felt. “No doubt she does, but what
makes you think Iwish to see her?”
Ser Vardis frowned. Tyrion remembered him well from
the years he had spent at King’s Landing as the captain of
the Hand’s household guard. A square, plain face, silver
hair, a heavy build, and no humor whatsoever. “Your wishes
are not my concern. On your feet, or I’ll have you carried.”
Tyrion clambered awkwardly to his feet. “A cold night,” he
said casually, “and the High Hall is so drafty. I don’t wish to
catch a chill. Mord, if you would be so good, fetch my
The gaoler squinted at him, face dull with suspicion.
“My cloak,” Tyrion repeated. “The shadowskin you tookfrom me for safekeeping. You recall.”
“Get him the damnable cloak,” Ser Vardis said.
Mord did not dare grumble. He gave Tyrion a glare that
promised future retribution, yet he went for the cloak. When
he draped it around his prisoner’s neck, Tyrion smiled. “My
thanks. I shall think of you whenever I wear it.” He flung the
trailing end of the long fur over his right shoulder, and felt
warm for the first time in days. “Lead on, Ser Vardis.”
The High Hall of the Arryns was aglow with the light of fifty
torches, burning in the sconces along the walls. The Lady
Lysa wore black silk, with the moon-and-falcon sewn on her
breast in pearls. Since she did not look the sort to join the
Night’s Watch, Tyrion could only imagine that she had
decided mourning clothes were appropriate garb for a
confession. Her long auburn hair, woven into an elaborate
braid, fell across her left shoulder. The taller throne beside
her was empty; no doubt the little Lord of the Eyrie was off
shaking in his sleep. Tyrion was thankful for that much, at
He bowed deeply and took a moment to glance around
the hall. Lady Arryn had summoned her knights and
retainers to hear his confession, as he had hoped. He saw
Ser Brynden Tully’s craggy face and Lord Nestor Royce’s
bluff one. Beside Nestor stood a younger man with fierce
black side-whiskers who could only be his heir, Ser Albar.
Most of the principal houses of the Vale were represented.
Tyrion noted Ser Lyn Corbray, slender as a sword, Lord
Hunter with his gouty legs, the widowed Lady Waynwood
surrounded by her sons. Others sported sigils he did not
know; broken lance, green viper, burning tower, winged
Among the lords of the Vale were several of hiscompanions from the high road; Ser Rodrik Cassel, pale
from half-healed wounds, stood with Ser Willis Wode
beside him. Marillion the singer had found a new
woodharp. Tyrion smiled; whatever happened here tonight,
he did not wish it to happen in secret, and there was no one
like a singer for spreading a story near and far.
In the rear of the hall, Bronn lounged beneath a pillar. The
freerider’s black eyes were fixed on Tyrion, and his hand
lay lightly on the pommel of his sword. Tyrion gave him a
long look, wondering . . .
Catelyn Stark spoke first. “You wish to confess your
crimes, we are told.”
“I do, my lady,” Tyrion answered.
Lysa Arryn smiled at her sister. “The sky cells always
break them. The gods can see them there, and there is no
darkness to hide in.”
“He does not look broken to me,” Lady Catelyn said.
Lady Lysa paid her no mind. “Say what you will,” she
And now to roll the dice, he thought with another quick
glance back at Bronn. “Where to begin? I am a vile little
man, I confess it. My crimes and sins are beyond counting,
my lords and ladies. I have lain with whores, not once but
hundreds of times. I have wished my own lord father dead,
and my sister, our gracious queen, as well.” Behind him,
someone chuckled. “I have not always treated my servants
with kindness. I have gambled. I have even cheated, I blush
to admit. I have said many cruel and malicious things about
the noble lords and ladies of the court.” That drew outright
laughter. “Once I—”
“Silence!” Lysa Arryn’s pale round face had turned a
burning pink. “What do you imagine you are doing, dwarf?”Tyrion cocked his head to one side. “Why, confessing my
crimes, my lady—”
Catelyn Stark took a step forward. “You are accused of
sending a hired knife to slay my son Bran in his bed, and of
conspiring to murder Lord Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King.”
Tyrion gave a helpless shrug. “Those crimes I cannot
confess, I fear. I know nothing of any murders.”
Lady Lysa rose from her weirwood throne. “I will not be
made mock of. You have had your little jape, Imp. I trust you
enjoyed it. Ser Vardis, take him back to the dungeon . . .
but this time find him a smaller cell, with a floor more
“Is this how justice is done in the Vale?” Tyrion roared, so
loudly that Ser Vardis froze for an instant. “Does honor stop
at the Bloody Gate? You accuse me of crimes, I deny them,
so you throw me into an open cell to freeze and starve.” He
lifted his head, to give them all a good look at the bruises
Mord had left on his face. “Where is the king’s justice? Is
the Eyrie not part of the Seven Kingdoms? I stand accused,
you say. Very well. I demand a trial! Let me speak, and let
my truth or falsehood be judged openly, in the sight of gods
A low murmuring filled the High Hall. He had her, Tyrion
knew. He was highborn, the son of the most powerful lord in
the realm, the brother of the queen. He could not be denied
a trial. Guardsmen in sky-blue cloaks had started toward
Tyrion, but Ser Vardis bid them halt and looked to Lady
Her small mouth twitched in a petulant smile. “If you are
tried and found to be guilty of the crimes for which you
stand accused, then by the king’s own laws, you must pay
with your life’s blood. We keep no headsman in the Eyrie,my lord of Lannister. Open the Moon Door.”
The press of spectators parted. A narrow weirwood door
stood between two slender marble pillars, a crescent moon
carved in the white wood. Those standing closest edged
backward as a pair of guardsmen marched through. One
man removed the heavy bronze bars; the second pulled the
door inward. Their blue cloaks rose snapping from their
shoulders, caught in the sudden gust of wind that came
howling through the open door. Beyond was the emptiness
of the night sky, speckled with cold uncaring stars.
“Behold the king’s justice,” Lysa Arryn said. Torch flames
fluttered like permons along the walls, and here and there
the odd torch guttered out.
“Lysa, I think this unwise,” Catelyn Stark said as the black
wind swirled around the hall.
Her sister ignored her. “You want a trial, my lord of
Lannister. Very well, a trial you shall have. My son will listen
to whatever you care to say, and you shall hear his
judgment. Then you may leave … by one door or the other.”
She looked so pleased with herself, Tyrion thought, and
small wonder. How could a trial threaten her, when her
weakling son was the lord judge? Tyrion glanced at her
Moon Door. Mother, I want to see him fly! the boy had said.
How many men had the snot-nosed little wretch sent
through that door already?
“ I thank you, my good lady, but I see no need to trouble
Lord Robert,” Tyrion said politely. “The gods know the truth
of my innocence. Iwill have their verdict, not the judgment of
men. I demand trial by combat.”
A storm of sudden laughter filled the High Hall of the
Arryns. Lord Nestor Royce snorted, Ser Willis chuckled,
Ser Lyn Corbray guffawed, and others threw back theirheads and howled until tears ran down their faces. Marillion
clumsily plucked a gay note on his new woodharp with the
fingers of his broken hand. Even the wind seemed to
whistle with derision as it came skirling through the Moon
Lysa Arryn’s watery blue eyes looked uncertain. He had
caught her off balance. “You have that right, to be sure.”
The young knight with the green viper embroidered on his
surcoat stepped forward and went to one knee. “My lady, I
beg the boon of championing your cause.”
“The honor should be mine,” old Lord Hunter said. “For
the love I bore your lord husband, let me avenge his death.”
“My father served Lord Jon faithfully as High Steward of
the Vale,” Ser Albar Royce boomed. “Let me serve his son
“The gods favor the man with the just cause,” said Ser Lyn
Corbray, “yet often that turns out to be the man with the
surest sword. We all know who that is.” He smiled
A dozen other men all spoke at once, clamoring to be
heard. Tyrion found it disheartening to realize so many
strangers were eager to kill him. Perhaps this had not been
such a clever plan after all.
Lady Lysa raised a hand for silence. “I thank you, my
lords, as I know my son would thank you if he were among
us. No men in the Seven Kingdoms are as bold and true as
the knights of the Vale. Would that I could grant you all this
honor. Yet I can choose only one.” She gestured. “Ser
Vardis Egen, you were ever my lord husband’s good right
hand. You shall be our champion.”
Ser Vardis had been singularly silent. “My lady,” he said
gravely, sinking to one knee, “pray give this burden toanother, I have no taste for it. The man is no warrior. Look
at him. A dwarf, half my size and lame in the legs. It would
be shameful to slaughter such a man and call it justice.”
Oh, excellent, Tyrion thought. “I agree.”
Lysa glared at him. “You demanded a trial by combat.”
“And now I demand a champion, such as you have
chosen for yourself. My brother Jaime will gladly take my
part, I know.”
“Your precious Kingslayer is hundreds of leagues from
here,” snapped Lysa Arryn.
“Send a bird for him. Iwill gladly await his arrival.”
“You will face Ser Vardis on the morrow.”
“Singer,” Tyrion said, turning to Marillion, “when you make
a ballad of this, be certain you tell them how Lady Arryn
denied the dwarf the right to a champion, and sent him forth
lame and bruised and hobbling to face her finest knight.”
“I deny you nothing!” Lysa Arryn said, her voice peeved
and shrill with irritation. “Name your champion, Imp . . . if
you think you can find a man to die for you.”
“If it is all the same to you, I’d sooner find one to kill for
me.” Tyrion looked over the long hall. No one moved. For a
long moment he wondered if it had all been a colossal
Then there was a stirring in the rear of the chamber. “I’ll
stand for the dwarf,” Bronn called out.
He dreamt an old dream, of three knights in white
cloaks, and a tower long fallen, and Lyanna in her bed of
In the dream his friends rode with him, as they had in life.Proud Martyn Cassel, Jory’s father; faithful Theo Wull;
Ethan Glover, who had been Brandon’s squire; Ser Mark
Ryswell, soft of speech and gentle of heart; the
crannogman, Howland Reed; Lord Dustin on his great red
stallion. Ned had known their faces as well as he knew his
own once, but the years leech at a man’s memories, even
those he has vowed never to forget. In the dream they were
only shadows, grey wraiths on horses made of mist.
They were seven, facing three. In the dream as it had
been in life. Yet these were no ordinary three. They waited
before the round tower, the red mountains of Dorne at their
backs, their white cloaks blowing in the wind. And these
were no shadows; their faces burned clear, even now. Ser
Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, had a sad smile
on his lips. The hilt of the greatsword Dawn poked up over
his right shoulder. Ser Oswell Whent was on one knee,
sharpening his blade with a whetstone. Across his whiteenameled helm, the black bat of his House spread its
wings. Between them stood fierce old Ser Gerold
Hightower, the White Bull, Lord Commander of the
“I looked for you on the Trident,” Ned said to them.
“We were not there,” Ser Gerold answered. “Woe to the
Usurper if we had been,” said Ser Oswell.
“When King’s Landing fell, Ser Jaime slew your king with
a golden sword, and Iwondered where you were.”
“Far away,” Ser Gerold said, “or Aerys would yet sit the
Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven
“I came down on Storm’s End to lift the siege,” Ned told
them, “and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their
banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge usfealty. Iwas certain you would be among them.”
“Our knees do not bend easily,” said Ser Arthur Dayne.
“Ser Willem Darry is fled to Dragonstone, with your queen
and Prince Viserys. I thought you might have sailed with
“Ser Willem is a good man and true,” said Ser Oswell.
“But not of the Kingsguard,” Ser Gerold pointed out. “The
Kingsguard does not flee.”
“Then or now,” said Ser Arthur. He donned his helm.
“We swore a vow,” explained old Ser Gerold.
Ned’s wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords
in hand. They were seven against three.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of
the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both
hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”
As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he
could hear Lyanna screaming. “Eddard!” she called. A
storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as
blue as the eyes of death.
“Lord Eddard,” Lyanna called again.
“I promise,” he whispered. “Lya, I promise . . .”
“Lord Eddard,” a man echoed from the dark.
Groaning, Eddard Stark opened his eyes. Moonlight
streamed through the tall windows of the Tower of the
“Lord Eddard?” A shadow stood over the bed.
“How . . . how long?” The sheets were tangled, his leg
splinted and plastered. A dull throb of pain shot up his side.
“Six days and seven nights.” The voice was Vayon
Poole’s. The steward held a cup to Ned’s lips. “Drink, my
lord.”“What . . . ?”
“Only water. Maester Pycelle said you would be thirsty.”
Ned drank. His lips were parched and cracked. The water
tasted sweet as honey.
“The king left orders,” Vayon Poole told him when the cup
was empty. “He would speak with you, my lord.”
“On the morrow,” Ned said. “When I am stronger.” He
could not face Robert now. The dream had left him weak as
“My lord,” Poole said, “he commanded us to send you to
him the moment you opened your eyes.” The steward
busied himself lighting a bedside candle.
Ned cursed softly. Robert was never known for his
patience. “Tell him I’m too weak to come to him. If he
wishes to speak with me, I should be pleased to receive
him here. I hope you wake him from a sound sleep. And
summon . . .” He was about to say Jory when he
remembered. “Summon the captain of my guard.”
Alyn stepped into the bedchamber a few moments after
the steward had taken his leave. “My lord.”
“Poole tells me it has been six days,” Ned said. “I must
know how things stand.”
“The Kingslayer is fled the city,” Alyn told him. “The talk is
he’s ridden back to Casterly Rock to join his father. The
story of how Lady Catelyn took the Imp is on every lip. I
have put on extra guards, if it please you.”
“It does,” Ned assured him. “My daughters?”
“They have been with you every day, my lord. Sansa prays
quietly, but Arya . . .” He hesitated. “She has not said a
word since they brought you back. She is a fierce little
thing, my lord. I have never seen such anger in a girl.”
“Whatever happens,” Ned said, “Iwant my daughters keptsafe. I fear this is only the beginning.”
“No harm will come to them, Lord Eddard,” Alyn said. “I
stake my life on that.”
“Jory and the others . . .”
“I gave them over to the silent sisters, to be sent north to
Winterfell. Jory would want to lie beside his grandfather.”
It would have to be his grandfather, for Jory’s father was
buried far to the south. Martyn Cassel had perished with the
rest. Ned had pulled the tower down afterward, and used its
bloody stones to build eight cairns upon the ridge. It was
said that Rhaegar had named that place the tower of joy,
but for Ned it was a bitter memory. They had been seven
against three, yet only two had lived to ride away; Eddard
Stark himself and the little crannogman, Howland Reed. He
did not think it omened well that he should dream that
dream again after so many years.
“You’ve done well, Alyn,” Ned was saying when Vayon
Poole returned. The steward bowed low. “His Grace is
without, my lord, and the queen with him.” Ned pushed
himself up higher, wincing as his leg trembled with pain. He
had not expected Cersei to come. It did not bode well that
she had. “Send them in, and leave us. What we have to say
should not go beyond these walls.” Poole withdrew quietly.
Robert had taken time to dress. He wore a black velvet
doublet with the crowned stag of Baratheon worked upon
the breast in golden thread, and a golden mantle with a
cloak of black and gold squares. A flagon of wine was in
his hand, his face already flushed from drink. Cersei
Lannister entered behind him, a jeweled tiara in her hair.
“Your Grace,” Ned said. “Your pardons. I cannot rise.”
“No matter,” the king said gruffly. “Some wine? From the
Arbor. A good vintage.”“A small cup,” Ned said. “My head is still heavy from the
milk of the poppy.”
“A man in your place should count himself fortunate that
his head is still on his shoulders,” the queen declared.
“Quiet, woman,” Robert snapped. He brought Ned a cup
of wine. “Does the leg still pain you?”
“Some,” Ned said. His head was swimming, but it would
not do to admit to weakness in front of the queen.
“Pycelle swears it will heal clean.” Robert frowned. “I take
it you know what Catelyn has done?”
“I do.” Ned took a small swallow of wine. “My lady wife is
blameless, Your Grace. All she did she did at my
“I am not pleased, Ned,” Robert grumbled.
“By what right do you dare lay hands on my blood?”
Cersei demanded. “Who do you think you are?”
“The Hand of the King,” Ned told her with icy courtesy.
“Charged by your own lord husband to keep the king’s
peace and enforce the king’s justice.”
“You were the Hand,” Cersei began, “but now—”
“Silence!” the king roared. “You asked him a question and
he answered it.” Cersei subsided, cold with anger, and
Robert turned back to Ned. “Keep the king’s peace, you
say. Is this how you keep my peace, Ned? Seven men are
dead . . .”
“Eight,” the queen corrected. “Tregar died this morning, of
the blow Lord Stark gave him.”
“Abductions on the kingsroad and drunken slaughter in
my streets,” the king said. “Iwill not have it, Ned.”
“Catelyn had good reason for taking the Imp—”
“I said, I will not have it! To hell with her reasons. You will
command her to release the dwarf at once, and you willmake your peace with Jaime.”
“Three of my men were butchered before my eyes,
because Jaime Lannister wished to chasten me. Am I to
“My brother was not the cause of this quarrel,” Cersei told
the king. “Lord Stark was returning drunk from a brothel. His
men attacked Jaime and his guards, even as his wife
attacked Tyrion on the kingsroad.”
“You know me better than that, Robert,” Ned said. “Ask
Lord Baelish if you doubt me. He was there.”
“I’ve talked to Littlefinger,” Robert said. “He claims he
rode off to bring the gold cloaks before the fighting began,
but he admits you were returning from some whorehouse.”
“Some whorehouse? Damn your eyes, Robert, I went
there to have a look at your daughter! Her mother has
named her Barra. She looks like that first girl you fathered,
when we were boys together in the Vale.” He watched the
queen as he spoke; her face was a mask, still and pale,
Robert flushed. “Barra,” he grumbled. “Is that supposed to
please me? Damn the girl. I thought she had more sense.”
“She cannot be more than fifteen, and a whore, and you
thought she had sense?” Ned said, incredulous. His leg
was beginning to pain him sorely. It was hard to keep his
temper. “The fool child is in love with you, Robert.”
The king glanced at Cersei. “This is no fit subject for the
“Her Grace will have no liking for anything I have to say,”
Ned replied. “I am told the Kingslayer has fled the city. Give
me leave to bring him back to justice.”
The king swirled the wine in his cup, brooding. He took a
swallow. “No,” he said. “I want no more of this. Jaime slewthree of your men, and you five of his. Now it ends.”
“Is that your notion of justice?” Ned flared. “If so, I am
pleased that I am no longer your Hand.”
The queen looked to her husband. “If any man had dared
speak to a Targaryen as he has spoken to you—”
“Do you take me for Aerys?” Robert interrupted.
“I took you for a king. Jaime and Tyrion are your own
brothers, by all the laws of marriage and the bonds we
share. The Starks have driven off the one and seized the
other. This man dishonors you with every breath he takes,
and yet you stand there meekly, asking if his leg pains him
and would he like some wine.” Robert’s face was dark with
anger. “How many times must I tell you to hold your tongue,
Cersei’s face was a study in contempt. “What a jape the
gods have made of us two,” she said. “By all rights, you
ought to be in skirts and me in mail.”
Purple with rage, the king lashed out, a vicious backhand
blow to the side of the head. She stumbled against the
table and fell hard, yet Cersei Lannister did not cry out. Her
slender fingers brushed her cheek, where the pale smooth
skin was already reddening. On the morrow the bruise
would cover half her face. “I shall wear this as a badge of
honor,” she announced.
“Wear it in silence, or I’ll honor you again,” Robert vowed.
He shouted for a guard. Ser Meryn Trant stepped into the
room, tall and somber in his white armor. “The queen is
tired. See her to her bedchamber.” The knight helped
Cersei to her feet and led her out without a word.
Robert reached for the flagon and refilled his cup. “You
see what she does to me, Ned.” The king seated himself,
cradling his wine cup. “My loving wife. The mother of mychildren.” The rage was gone from him now; in his eyes
Ned saw something sad and scared. “I should not have hit
her. That was not . . . that was not kingly.” He stared down
at his hands, as if he did not quite know what they were. “I
was always strong . . . no one could stand before me, no
one. How do you fight someone if you can’t hit them?”
Confused, the king shook his head. “Rhaegar . . . Rhaegar
won, damn him. I killed him, Ned, I drove the spike right
through that black armor into his black heart, and he died at
my feet. They made up songs about it. Yet somehow he still
won. He has Lyanna now, and I have her.” The king drained
“Your Grace,” Ned Stark said, “we must talk . . .”
Robert pressed his fingertips against his temples. “I am
sick unto death of talk. On the morrow I’m going to the
kingswood to hunt. Whatever you have to say can wait until I
“If the gods are good, I shall not be here on your return.
You commanded me to return to Winterfell, remember?”
Robert stood up, grasping one of the bedposts to steady
himself. “The gods are seldom good, Ned. Here, this is
yours.” He pulled the heavy silver hand clasp from a pocket
in the lining of his cloak and tossed it on the bed. “Like it or
not, you are my Hand, damn you. I forbid you to leave.”
Ned picked up the silver clasp. He was being given no
choice, it seemed. His leg throbbed, and he felt as helpless
as a child. “The Targaryen girl—”The king groaned. “Seven
hells, don’t start with her again. That’s done, I’ll hear no
more of it.”
“Why would you want me as your Hand, if you refuse to
listen to my counsel?”
“Why?” Robert laughed. “Why not? Someone has to rule
this damnable kingdom. Put on the badge, Ned. It suits you.
And if you ever throw it in my face again, I swear to you, I’ll
pin the damned thing on Jaime Lannister.”