A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin part two
The north went on forever.
Tyrion Lannister knew the maps as well as anyone, but a
fortnight on the wild track that passed for the kingsroad up
here had brought home the lesson that the map was one
thing and the land quite another.They had left Winterfell on the same day as the king,
amidst all the commotion of the royal departure, riding out
to the sound of men shouting and horses snorting, to the
rattle of wagons and the groaning of the queen’s huge
wheelhouse, as a light snow flurried about them. The
kingsroad was just beyond the sprawl of castle and town.
There the banners and the wagons and the columns of
knights and freeriders turned south, taking the tumult with
them, while Tyrion turned north with Benjen Stark and his
It had grown colder after that, and far more quiet.
West of the road were flint hills, grey and rugged, with tall
watchtowers on their stony summits. To the east the land
was lower, the ground flattening to a rolling plain that
stretched away as far as the eye could see. Stone bridges
spanned swift, narrow rivers, while small farms spread in
rings around holdfasts walled in wood and stone. The road
was well trafficked, and at night for their comfort there were
rude inns to be found.
Three days ride from Winterfell, however, the farmland
gave way to dense wood, and the kingsroad grew lonely.
The flint hills rose higher and wilder with each passing mile,
until by the fifth day they had turned into mountains, cold
blue-grey giants with jagged promontories and snow on
their shoulders. When the wind blew from the north, long
plumes of ice crystals flew from the high peaks like
With the mountains a wall to the west, the road veered
north by northeast through the wood, a forest of oak and
evergreen and black brier that seemed older and darker
than any Tyrion had ever seen. “The wolfswood,” Benjen
Stark called it, and indeed their nights came alive with thehowls of distant packs, and some not so distant. Jon
Snow’s albino direwolf pricked up his ears at the nightly
howling, but never raised his own voice in reply. There was
something very unsettling about that animal, Tyrion thought.
There were eight in the party by then, not counting the
wolf. Tyrion traveled with two of his own men, as befit a
Lannister. Benjen Stark had only his bastard nephew and
some fresh mounts for the Night’s Watch, but at the edge of
the wolfswood they stayed a night behind the wooden walls
of a forest holdfast, and there joined up with another of the
black brothers, one Yoren. Yoren was stooped and sinister,
his features hidden behind a beard as black as his clothing,
but he seemed as tough as an old root and as hard as
stone. With him were a pair of ragged peasant boys from
the Fingers. “Rapers,” Yoren said with a cold look at his
charges. Tyrion understood. Life on the Wall was said to be
hard, but no doubt it was preferable to castration.
Five men, three boys, a direwolf, twenty horses, and a
cage of ravens given over to Benjen Stark by Maester
Luwin. No doubt they made a curious fellowship for the
kingsroad, or any road.
Tyrion noticed Jon Snow watching Yoren and his sullen
companions, with an odd cast to his face that looked
uncomfortably like dismay. Yoren had a twisted shoulder
and a sour smell, his hair and beard were matted and
greasy and full of lice, his clothing old, patched, and seldom
washed. His two young recruits smelled even worse, and
seemed as stupid as they were cruel.
No doubt the boy had made the mistake of thinking that
the Night’s Watch was made up of men like his uncle. If so,
Yoren and his companions were a rude awakening. Tyrion
felt sorry for the boy. He had chosen a hard life . . . orperhaps he should say that a hard life had been chosen for
He had rather less sympathy for the uncle. Benjen Stark
seemed to share his brother’s distaste for Lannisters, and
he had not been pleased when Tyrion had told him of his
intentions. “I warn you, Lannister, you’ll find no inns at the
Wall,” he had said, looking down on him.
“No doubt you’ll find some place to put me,” Tyrion had
replied. “As you might have noticed, I’m small.”
One did not say no to the queen’s brother, of course, so
that had settled the matter, but Stark had not been happy.
“You will not like the ride, I promise you that,” he’d said
curtly, and since the moment they set out, he had done all
he could to live up to that promise.
By the end of the first week, Tyrion’s thighs were raw from
hard riding, his legs were cramping badly, and he was
chilled to the bone. He did not complain. He was damned if
he would give Benjen Stark that satisfaction.
He took a small revenge in the matter of his riding fur, a
tattered bearskin, old and musty-smelling. Stark had
offered it to him in an excess of Night’s Watch gallantry, no
doubt expecting him to graciously decline. Tyrion had
accepted with a smile. He had brought his warmest clothing
with him when they rode out of Winterfell, and soon
discovered that it was nowhere near warm enough. It was
cold up here, and growing colder. The nights were well
below freezing now, and when the wind blew it was like a
knife cutting right through his warmest woolens. By now
Stark was no doubt regretting his chivalrous impulse.
Perhaps he had learned a lesson. The Lannisters never
declined, graciously or otherwise. The Lannisters took what
was offered.Farms and holdfasts grew scarcer and smaller as they
pressed northward, ever deeper into the darkness of the
wolfswood, until finally there were no more roofs to shelter
under, and they were thrown back on their own resources.
Tyrion was never much use in making a camp or breaking
one. Too small, too hobbled, too in-the-way. So while Stark
and Yoren and the other men erected rude shelters, tended
the horses, and built a fire, it became his custom to take his
fur and a wineskin and go off by himself to read.
On the eighteenth night of their journey, the wine was a
rare sweet amber from the Summer Isles that he had
brought all the way north from Casterly Rock, and the book
a rumination on the history and properties of dragons. With
Lord Eddard Stark’s permission, Tyrion had borrowed a
few rare volumes from the Winterfell library and packed
them for the ride north.
He found a comfortable spot just beyond the noise of the
camp, beside a swift-running stream with waters clear and
cold as ice. A grotesquely ancient oak provided shelter
from the biting wind. Tyrion curled up in his fur with his back
against the trunk, took a sip of the wine, and began to read
about the properties of dragonbone. Dragonbone is black
because of its high iron content, the book told him. It is
strong as steel, yet lighter and far more flexible, and of
course utterly impervious to fire. Dragonbone bows are
greatly prized by the Dothraki, and small wonder. An archer
so armed can outrange any wooden bow.
Tyrion had a morbid fascination with dragons. When he
had first come to King’s Landing for his sister’s wedding to
Robert Baratheon, he had made it a point to seek out the
dragon skulls that had hung on the walls of Targaryen’s
throne room. King Robert had replaced them with bannersand tapestries, but Tyrion had persisted until he found the
skulls in the dank cellar where they had been stored.
He had expected to find them impressive, perhaps even
frightening. He had not thought to find them beautiful. Yet
they were. As black as onyx, polished smooth, so the bone
seemed to shimmer in the light of his torch. They liked the
fire, he sensed. He’d thrust the torch into the mouth of one
of the larger skulls and made the shadows leap and dance
on the wall behind him. The teeth were long, curving knives
of black diamond. The flame of the torch was nothing to
them; they had bathed in the heat of far greater fires. When
he had moved away, Tyrion could have sworn that the
beast’s empty eye sockets had watched him go.
There were nineteen skulls. The oldest was more than
three thousand years old; the youngest a mere century and
a half. The most recent were also the smallest; a matched
pair no bigger than mastiffs skulls, and oddly misshapen, all
that remained of the last two hatchlings born on
Dragonstone. They were the last of the Targaryen dragons,
perhaps the last dragons anywhere, and they had not lived
From there the skulls ranged upward in size to the three
great monsters of song and story, the dragons that Aegon
Targaryen and his sisters had unleashed on the Seven
Kingdoms of old. The singers had given them the names of
gods: Balerion, Meraxes, Vhaghar. Tyrion had stood
between their gaping jaws, wordless and awed. You could
have ridden a horse down Vhaghar’s gullet, although you
would not have ridden it out again. Meraxes was even
bigger. And the greatest of them, Balerion, the Black
Dread, could have swallowed an aurochs whole, or even
one of the hairy mammoths said to roam the cold wastesbeyond the Port of Ibben.
Tyrion stood in that dank cellar for a long time, staring at
Balerion’s huge, empty-eyed skull until his torch burned low,
trying to grasp the size of the living animal, to imagine how
it must have looked when it spread its great black wings
and swept across the skies, breathing fire.
His own remote ancestor, King Loren of the Rock, had
tried to stand against the fire when he joined with King
Mern of the Reach to oppose the Targaryen conquest. That
was close on three hundred years ago, when the Seven
Kingdoms were kingdoms, and not mere provinces of a
greater realm. Between them, the Two Kings had six
hundred banners flying, five thousand mounted knights, and
ten times as many freeriders and men-at-arms. Aegon
Dragonlord had perhaps a fifth that number, the chroniclers
said, and most of those were conscripts from the ranks of
the last king he had slain, their loyalties uncertain.
The hosts met on the broad plains of the Reach, amidst
golden fields of wheat ripe for harvest. When the Two Kings
charged, the Targaryen army shivered and shattered and
began to run. For a few moments, the chroniclers wrote, the
conquest was at an end . . . but only for those few moments,
before Aegon Targaryen and his sisters joined the battle.
It was the only time that Vhaghar, Meraxes, and Balerion
were all unleashed at once. The singers called it the Field
Near four thousand men had burned that day, among
them King Mern of the Reach. King Loren had escaped,
and lived long enough to surrender, pledge his fealty to the
Targaryens, and beget a son, for which Tyrion was duly
“Why do you read so much?”Tyrion looked up at the sound of the voice. Jon Snow was
standing a few feet away, regarding him curiously. He
closed the book on a finger and said, “Look at me and tell
me what you see.”
The boy looked at him suspiciously. “Is this some kind of
trick? I see you. Tyrion Lannister.”
Tyrion sighed. “You are remarkably polite for a bastard,
Snow. What you see is a dwarf. You are what, twelve?”
“Fourteen,” the boy said.
“Fourteen, and you’re taller than Iwill ever be. My legs are
short and twisted, and I walk with difficulty. I require a
special saddle to keep from falling off my horse. A saddle
of my own design, you may be interested to know. It was
either that or ride a pony. My arms are strong enough, but
again, too short. Iwill never make a swordsman. Had I been
born a peasant, they might have left me out to die, or sold
me to some slaver’s grotesquerie. Alas, I was born a
Lannister of Casterly Rock, and the grotesqueries are all
the poorer. Things are expected of me. My father was the
Hand of the King for twenty years. My brother later killed
that very same king, as it turns out, but life is full of these
little ironies. My sister married the new king and my
repulsive nephew will be king after him. I must do my part
for the honor of my House, wouldn’t you agree? Yet how?
Well, my legs may be too small for my body, but my head is
too large, although I prefer to think it is just large enough for
my mind. I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and
weaknesses. My mind is my weapon. My brother has his
sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my
mind . . . and a mind needs books as a sword needs a
whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” Tyrion tapped the
leather cover of the book. “That’s why I read so much, JonSnow.”
The boy absorbed that all in silence. He had the Stark
face if not the name: long, solemn, guarded, a face that
gave nothing away. Whoever his mother had been, she had
left little of herself in her son. “What are you reading about?”
“Dragons,” Tyrion told him.
“What good is that? There are no more dragons,” the boy
said with the easy certainty of youth.
“So they say,” Tyrion replied. “Sad, isn’t it? When I was
your age, used to dream of having a dragon of my own.”
“You did?” the boy said suspiciously. Perhaps he thought
Tyrion was making fun of him.
“Oh, yes. Even a stunted, twisted, ugly little boy can look
down over the world when he’s seated on a dragon’s back.”
Tyrion pushed the bearskin aside and climbed to his feet. “I
used to start fires in the bowels of Casterly Rock and stare
at the flames for hours, pretending they were dragonfire.
Sometimes I’d imagine my father burning. At other times,
my sister.” Jon Snow was staring at him, a look equal parts
horror and fascination. Tyrion guffawed. “Don’t look at me
that way, bastard. I know your secret. You’ve dreamt the
same kind of dreams.”
“No,” Jon Snow said, horrified. “Iwouldn’t . . .”
“No? Never?” Tyrion raised an eyebrow. “Well, no doubt
the Starks have been terribly good to you. I’m certain Lady
Stark treats you as if you were one of her own. And your
brother Robb, he’s always been kind, and why not? He gets
Winterfell and you get the Wall. And your father . . . he must
have good reasons for packing you off to the Night’s
“Stop it,” Jon Snow said, his face dark with anger. “TheNight’s Watch is a noble calling!”
Tyrion laughed. “You’re too smart to believe that. The
Night’s Watch is a midden heap for all the misfits of the
realm. I’ve seen you looking at Yoren and his boys. Those
are your new brothers, Jon Snow, how do you like them?
Sullen peasants, debtors, poachers, rapers, thieves, and
bastards like you all wind up on the Wall, watching
forgrumkins and snarks and all the other monsters your wet
nurse warned you about. The good part is there are no
grumkins or snarks, so it’s scarcely dangerous work. The
bad part is you freeze your balls off, but since you’re not
allowed to breed anyway, I don’t suppose that matters.”
“Stop it!” the boy screamed. He took a step forward, his
hands coiling into fists, close to tears.
Suddenly, absurdly, Tyrion felt guilty. He took a step
forward, intending to give the boy a reassuring pat on the
shoulder or mutter some word of apology.
He never saw the wolf, where it was or how it came at
him. One moment he was walking toward Snow and the
next he was flat on his back on the hard rocky ground, the
book spinning away from him as he fell, the breath going
out of him at the sudden impact, his mouth full of dirt and
blood and rotting leaves. As he tried to get up, his back
spasmed painfully. He must have wrenched it in the fall. He
ground his teeth in frustration, grabbed a root, and pulled
himself back to a sitting position. “Help me,” he said to the
boy, reaching up a hand.
And suddenly the wolf was between them. He did not
growl. The damned thing never made a sound. He only
looked at him with those bright red eyes, and showed him
his teeth, and that was more than enough. Tyrion sagged
back to the ground with a grunt. “Don’t help me, then. I’ll sitright here until you leave.”
Jon Snow stroked Ghost’s thick white fur, smiling now.
“Ask me nicely.”
Tyrion Lannister felt the anger coiling inside him, and
crushed it out with a will. It was not the first time in his life he
had been humiliated, and it would not be the last. Perhaps
he even deserved this. “I should be very grateful for your
kind assistance, Jon,” he said mildly.
“Down, Ghost,” the boy said. The direwolf sat on his
haunches. Those red eyes never left Tyrion. Jon came
around behind him, slid his hands under his arms, and lifted
him easily to his feet. Then he picked up the book and
handed it back.
“Why did he attack me’?” Tyrion asked with a sidelong
glance at the direwolf. He wiped blood and dirt from his
mouth with the back of his hand.
“Maybe he thought you were a grumkin.”
Tyrion glanced at him sharply. Then he laughed, a raw
snort of amusement that came bursting out through his
nose entirely without his permission. “Oh, gods,” he said,
choking on his laughter and shaking his head, “I suppose I
do rather look like a grumkin. What does he do to snarks?”
“You don’t want to know.” Jon picked up the wineskin and
handed it to Tyrion.
Tyrion pulled out the stopper, tilted his head, and
squeezed a long stream into his mouth. The wine was cool
fire as it trickled down his throat and warmed his belly. He
held out the skin to Jon Snow. “Want some?”
The boy took the skin and tried a cautious swallow. “It’s
true, isn’t it?” he said when he was done. “What you said
about the Night’s Watch.”
Tyrion nodded.Jon Snow set his mouth in a grim line. “If that’s what it is,
that’s what it is.”
Tyrion grinned at him. “That’s good, bastard. Most men
would rather deny a hard truth than face it.”
“Most men,” the boy said. “But not you.”
“No,” Tyrion admitted, “not me. I seldom even dream of
dragons anymore. There are no dragons.” He scooped up
the fallen bearskin. “Come, we had better return to camp
before your uncle calls the banners.”
The walk was short, but the ground was rough underfoot
and his legs were cramping badly by the time they got
back. Jon Snow offered a hand to help him over a thick
tangle of roots, but Tyrion shook him off. He would make his
own way, as he had all his life. Still, the camp was a
welcome sight. The shelters had been thrown up against
the tumbledown wall of a long-abandoned holdfast, a shield
against the wind. The horses had been fed and a fire had
been laid. Yoren sat on a stone, skinning a squirrel. The
savory smell of stew filled Tyrion’s nostrils. He dragged
himself over to where his man Morrec was tending the
stewpot. Wordlessly, Morrec handed him the ladle. Tyrion
tasted and handed it back. “More pepper,” he said.
Benjen Stark emerged from the shelter he shared with his
nephew. “There you are. Jon, damn it, don’t go off like that
by yourself. I thought the Others had gotten you.”
“It was the grumkins,” Tyrion told him, laughing. Jon Snow
smiled. Stark shot a baffled look at Yoren. The old man
grunted, shrugged, and went back to his bloody work.
The squirrel gave some body to the stew, and they ate it
with black bread and hard cheese that night around their
fire. Tyrion shared around his skin of wine until even Yoren
grew mellow. One by one the company drifted off to theirshelters and to sleep, all but Jon Snow, who had drawn the
night’s first watch. Tyrion was the last to retire, as always.
As he stepped into the shelter his men had built for him, he
paused and looked back at Jon Snow. The boy stood near
the fire, his face still and hard, looking deep into the flames.
Tyrion Lannister smiled sadly and went to bed.
Ned and the girls were eight days gone when
Maester Luwin came to her one night in Bran’s sickroom,
carrying a reading lamp and the books of account. “It is
past time that we reviewed the figures, my lady,” he said.
“You’ll want to know how much this royal visit cost us.”
Catelyn looked at Bran in his sickbed and brushed his
hair back off his forehead. It had grown very long, she
realized. She would have to cut it soon. “I have no need to
look at figures, Maester Luwin,” she told him, never taking
her eyes from Bran. “I know what the visit cost us. Take the
“My lady, the king’s party had healthy appetites. We must
replenish our stores before—”
She cut him off. “I said, take the books away. The steward
will attend to our needs.”
“We have no steward,” Maester Luwin reminded her. Like
a little grey rat, she thought, he would not let go. “Poole
went south to establish Lord Eddard’s household at King’s
Catelyn nodded absently. “Oh, yes. I remember.” Bran
looked so pale. She wondered whether they might move
his bed under the window, so he could get the morning sun.
Maester Luwin set the lamp in a niche by the door andfiddled with its wick. “There are several appointments that
require your immediate attention, my lady. Besides the
steward, we need a captain of the guards to fill Jory’s
place, a new master of horse—”
Her eyes snapped around and found him. “A master of
horse?” Her voice was a whip.
The maester was shaken. “Yes, my lady. Hullen rode
south with Lord Eddard, so—”
“My son lies here broken and dying, Luwin, and you wish
to discuss a new master of horse? Do you think I care what
happens in the stables? Do you think it matters to me one
whit? I would gladly butcher every horse in Winterfell with
my own hands if it would open Bran’s eyes, do you
understand that? Do you?”
He bowed his head. “Yes, my lady, but the appointments
“I’ll make the appointments,” Robb said.
Catelyn had not heard him enter, but there he stood in the
doorway, looking at her. She had been shouting, she
realized with a sudden flush of shame. What was
happening to her? She was so tired, and her head hurt all
Maester Luwin looked from Catelyn to her son. “I have
prepared a list of those we might wish to consider for the
vacant offices,” he said, offering Robb a paper plucked
from his sleeve.
Her son glanced at the names. He had come from
outside, Catelyn saw; his cheeks were red from the cold,
his hair shaggy and windblown. “Good men,” he said. “We’ll
talk about them tomorrow.” He handed back the list of
“Very good, my lord.” The paper vanished into his sleeve.“Leave us now,” Robb said. Maester Luwin bowed and
departed. Robb closed the door behind him and turned to
her. He was wearing a sword, she saw. “Mother, what are
Catelyn had always thought Robb looked like her; like
Bran and Rickon and Sansa, he had the Tully coloring, the
auburn hair, the blue eyes. Yet now for the first time she
saw something of Eddard Stark in his face, something as
stern and hard as the north. “What am I doing?” she
echoed, puzzled. “How can you ask that? What do you
imagine I’m doing? I am taking care of your brother. I am
taking care of Bran.”
“Is that what you call it? You haven’t left this room since
Bran was hurt. You didn’t even come to the gate when
Father and the girls went south.”
“I said my farewells to them here, and watched them ride
out from that window.” She had begged Ned not to go, not
now, not after what had happened; everything had changed
now, couldn’t he see that? It was no use. He had no choice,
he had told her, and then he left, choosing. “I can’t leave
him, even for a moment, not when any moment could be his
last. I have to be with him, if … if .” She took her son’s limp
hand, sliding his fingers through her own. He was so frail
and thin, with no strength left in his hand, but she could still
feel the warmth of life through his skin.
Robb’s voice softened. “He’s not going to die, Mother.
Maester Luwin says the time of greatest danger has
“And what if Maester Luwin is wrong? What if Bran needs
me and I’m not here?”
“Rickon needs you,” Robb said sharply. “He’s only three,
he doesn’t understand what’s happening. He thinkseveryone has deserted him, so he follows me around all
day, clutching my leg and crying. I don’t know what to do
with him.” He paused a moment, chewing on his lower lip
the way he’d done when he was little. “Mother, I need you
too. I’m trying but I can’t . . . I can’t do it all by myself.” His
voice broke with sudden emotion, and Catelyn
remembered that he was only fourteen. She wanted to get
up and go to him, but Bran was still holding her hand and
she could not move.
Outside the tower, a wolf began to howl. Catelyn
trembled, just for a second.
“Bran’s.” Robb opened the window and let the night air
into the stuffy tower room. The howling grew louder. It was a
cold and lonely sound, full of melancholy and despair.
“Don’t,” she told him. “Bran needs to stay warm.”
“He needs to hear them sing,” Robb said. Somewhere
out in Winterfell, a second wolf began to howl in chorus with
the first. Then a third, closer. “Shaggydog and Grey Wind,”
Robb said as their voices rose and fell together. “You can
tell them apart if you listen close.”
Catelyn was shaking. It was the grief, the cold, the howling
of the direwolves. Night after night, the howling and the cold
wind and the grey empty castle, on and on they went, never
changing, and her boy lying there broken, the sweetest of
her children, the gentlest, Bran who loved to laugh and
climb and dreamt of knighthood, all gone now, she would
never hear him laugh again. Sobbing, she pulled her hand
free of his and covered her ears against those terrible
howls. “Make them stop!” she cried. “I can’t stand it, make
them stop, make them stop, kill them all if you must, just
make them stop!”
She didn’t remember falling to the floor, but there shewas, and Robb was lifting her, holding her in strong arms.
“Don’t be afraid, Mother. They would never hurt him.” He
helped her to her narrow bed in the corner of the sickroom.
“Close your eyes,” he said gently. “Rest. Maester Luwin
tells me you’ve hardly slept since Bran’s fall.”
“I can’t,” she wept. “Gods forgive me, Robb, I can’t, what if
he dies while I’m asleep, what if he dies, what if he dies . . .”
The wolves were still howling. She screamed and held her
ears again. “Oh, gods, close the window!”
“If you swear to me you’ll sleep.” Robb went to the
window, but as he reached for the shutters another sound
was added to the mournful howling of the direwolves.
“Dogs,” he said, listening. “All the dogs are barking.
They’ve never done that before . . .” Catelyn heard his
breath catch in his throat. When she looked up, his face
was pale in the lamplight. “Fire,” he whispered.
Fire, she thought, and then, Bran! “Help me,” she said
urgently, sitting up. “Help me with Bran.”
Robb did not seem to hear her. “The library tower’s on
fire,” he said.
Catelyn could see the flickering reddish light through the
open window now. She sagged with relief. Bran was safe.
The library was across the bailey, there was no way the fire
would reach them here. “Thank the gods,” she whispered.
Robb looked at her as if she’d gone mad. “Mother, stay
here. I’ll come back as soon as the fire’s out.” He ran then.
She heard him shout to the guards outside the room, heard
them descending together in a wild rush, taking the stairs
two and three at a time.
Outside, there were shouts of “Fire!” in the yard, screams,
running footsteps, the whinny of frightened horses, and the
frantic barking of the castle dogs. The howling was gone,she realized as she listened to the cacophony. The
direwolves had fallen silent.
Catelyn said a silent prayer of thanks to the seven faces
of god as she went to the window. Across the bailey, long
tongues of flame shot from the windows of the library. She
watched the smoke rise into the sky and thought sadly of all
the books the Starks had gathered over the centuries. Then
she closed the shutters.
When she turned away from the window, the man was in
the room with her.
“You weren’t s’posed to be here,” he muttered sourly. “No
one was s’posed to be here.”
He was a small, dirty man in filthy brown clothing, and he
stank of horses. Catelyn knew all the men who worked in
their stables, and he was none of them. He was gaunt, with
limp blond hair and pale eyes deep-sunk in a bony face,
and there was a dagger in his hand.
Catelyn looked at the knife, then at Bran. “No,” she said.
The word stuck in her throat, the merest whisper.
He must have heard her. “It’s a mercy,” he said. “He’s
“No,” Catelyn said, louder now as she found her voice
again. “No, you can’t.” She spun back toward the window to
scream for help, but the man moved faster than she would
have believed. One hand clamped down over her mouth
and yanked back her head, the other brought the dagger up
to her windpipe. The stench of him was overwhelming.
She reached up with both hands and grabbed the blade
with all her strength, pulling it away from her throat. She
heard him cursing into her ear. Her fingers were slippery
with blood, but she would not let go of the dagger. The hand
over her mouth clenched more tightly, shutting off her air.Catelyn twisted her head to the side and managed to get a
piece of his flesh between her teeth. She bit down hard into
his palm. The man grunted in pain. She ground her teeth
together and tore at him, and all of a sudden he let go. The
taste of his blood filled her mouth. She sucked in air and
screamed, and he grabbed her hair and pulled her away
from him, and she stumbled and went down, and then he
was standing over her, breathing hard, shaking. The
dagger was still clutched tightly in his right hand, slick with
blood. “You weren’t s’posed to be here,” he repeated
Catelyn saw the shadow slip through the open door
behind him. There was a low rumble, less than a snarl, the
merest whisper of a threat, but he must have heard
something, because he started to turn just as the wolf made
its leap. They went down together, half sprawled over
Catelyn where she’d fallen. The wolf had him under the jaw.
The man’s shriek lasted less than a second before the
beast wrenched back its head, taking out half his throat.
His blood felt like warm rain as it sprayed across her
The wolf was looking at her. Its jaws were red and wet
and its eyes glowed golden in the dark room. It was Bran’s
wolf, she realized. Of course it was. “Thank you,” Catelyn
whispered, her voice faint and tiny. She lifted her hand,
trembling. The wolf padded closer, sniffed at her fingers,
then licked at the blood with a wet rough tongue. When it
had cleaned all the blood off her hand, it turned away
silently and jumped up on Bran’s bed and lay down beside
him. Catelyn began to laugh hysterically.
That was the way they found them, when Robb and
Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik burst in with half the guardsin Winterfell. When the laughter finally died in her throat,
they wrapped her in warm blankets and led her back to the
Great Keep, to her own chambers. Old Nan undressed her
and helped her into a scalding hot bath and washed the
blood off her with a soft cloth.
Afterward Maester Luwin arrived to dress her wounds.
The cuts in her fingers went deep, almost to the bone, and
her scalp was raw and bleeding where he’d pulled out a
handful of hair. The maester told her the pain was just
starting now, and gave her milk of the poppy to help her
Finally she closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, they told her that she had
slept four days. Catelyn nodded and sat up in bed. It all
seemed like a nightmare to her now, everything since
Bran’s fall, a terrible dream of blood and grief, but she had
the pain in her hands to remind her that it was real. She felt
weak and light-headed, yet strangely resolute, as if a great
weight had lifted from her.
“Bring me some bread and honey,” she told her servants,
“and take word to Maester Luwin that my bandages want
changing.” They looked at her in surprise and ran to do her
Catelyn remembered the way she had been before, and
she was ashamed. She had let them all down, her children,
her husband, her House. It would not happen again. She
would show these northerners how strong a Tully of Riverrun
Robb arrived before her food. Rodrik Cassel came with
him, and her husband’s ward Theon Greyjoy, and lastly
Hallis Mollen, a muscular guardsman with a square brown
beard. He was the new captain of the guard, Robb said.Her son was dressed in boiled leather and ringmail, she
saw, and a sword hung at his waist.
“Who was he?” Catelyn asked them.
“No one knows his name,” Hallis Mollen told her. “He was
no man of Winterfell, m’lady, but some says they seen him
here and about the castle these past few weeks.”
“One of the king’s men, then,” she said, “or one of the
Lannisters’. He could have waited behind when the others
“Maybe,” Hal said. “With all these strangers filling up
Winterfell of late, there’s no way of saying who he belonged
“He’d been biding in your stables,” Greyjoy said. “You
could smell it on him.”
“And how could he go unnoticed?” she said sharply.
Hallis Mollen looked abashed. “Between the horses Lord
Eddard took south and them we sent north to the Night’s
Watch, the stalls were half-empty. It were no great trick to
hide from the stableboys. Could be Hodor saw him, the talk
is that boy’s been acting queer, but simple as he is . . .” Hal
shook his head.
“We found where he’d been sleeping,” Robb put in. “He
had ninety silver stags in a leather bag buried beneath the
“It’s good to know my son’s life was not sold cheaply,”
Catelyn said bitterly.
Hallis Mollen looked at her, confused. “Begging your
grace, m’lady, you saying he was out to kill your boy?”
Greyjoy was doubtful. “That’s madness.”
“He came for Bran,” Catelyn said. “He kept muttering how
I wasn’t supposed to be there. He set the library fire
thinking Iwould rush to put it out, taking any guards with me.If I hadn’t been half-mad with grief, it would have worked.”
“Why would anyone want to kill Bran?” Robb said. “Gods,
he’s only a little boy, helpless, sleeping . . .”
Catelyn gave her firstborn a challenging look. “If you are to
rule in the north, you must think these things through, Robb.
Answer your own question. Why would anyone want to kill a
Before he could answer, the servants returned with a
plate of food fresh from the kitchen. There was much more
than she’d asked for: hot bread, butter and honey and
blackberry preserves, a rasher of bacon and a soft-boiled
egg, a wedge of cheese, a pot of mint tea. And with it came
“How is my son, Maester?” Catelyn looked at all the food
and found she had no appetite.
Maester Luwin lowered his eyes. “Unchanged, my lady.”
It was the reply she had expected, no more and no less.
Her hands throbbed with pain, as if the blade were still in
her, cutting deep. She sent the servants away and looked
back to Robb. “Do you have the answer yet?”
“Someone is afraid Bran might wake up,” Robb said,
“afraid of what he might say or do, afraid of something he
Catelyn was proud of him. “Very good.” She turned to the
new captain of the guard. “We must keep Bran safe. If there
was one killer, there could be others.”
“How many guards do you want, m’lady?” Hal asked.
“So long as Lord Eddard is away, my son is the master of
Winterfell,” she told him.
Robb stood a little taller. “Put one man in the sickroom,
night and day, one outside the door, two at the bottom of
the stairs. No one sees Bran without my warrant or mymother’s.”
“As you say, m’lord.”
“Do it now,” Catelyn suggested.
“And let his wolf stay in the room with him,” Robb added.
“Yes,” Catelyn said. And then again: “Yes.”
Hallis Mollen bowed and left the room. “Lady Stark,” Ser
Rodrik said when the guardsman had gone, “did you
chance to notice the dagger the killer used?”
“The circumstances did not allow me to examine it
closely, but I can vouch for its edge,” Catelyn replied with a
dry smile. “Why do you ask?”
“We found the knife still in the villain’s grasp. It seemed to
me that it was altogether too fine a weapon for such a man,
so I looked at it long and hard. The blade is Valyrian steel,
the hilt dragonbone. A weapon like that has no business
being in the hands of such as him. Someone gave it to
Catelyn nodded, thoughtful. “Robb, close the door.”
He looked at her strangely, but did as she told him.
“What I am about to tell you must not leave this room,” she
told them. “I want your oaths on that. If even part of what I
suspect is true, Ned and my girls have ridden into deadly
danger, and a word in the wrong ears could mean their
“Lord Eddard is a second father to me,” said Theon
Greyjoy. “I do so swear.”
“You have my oath,” Maester Luwin said.
“And mine, my lady,” echoed Ser Rodrik.
She looked at her son. “And you, Robb?”
He nodded his consent.
“My sister Lysa believes the Lannisters murdered her
husband, Lord Arryn, the Hand of the King,” Catelyn toldthem. “It comes to me that Jaime Lannister did not join the
hunt the day Bran fell. He remained here in the castle.” The
room was deathly quiet. “I do not think Bran fell from that
tower,” she said into the stillness. “I think he was thrown.”
The shock was plain on their faces. “My lady, that is a
monstrous suggestion,” said Rodrik Cassel. “Even the
Kingslayer would flinch at the murder of an innocent child.”
“Oh, would he?” TheonGreyjoy asked. “Iwonder.”
“There is no limit to Lannister pride or Lannister
ambition,” Catelyn said.
“The boy had always been surehanded in the past,”
Maester Luwin said thoughtfully. “He knew every stone in
“Gods,” Robb swore, his young face dark with anger. “If
this is true, he will pay for it.” He drew his sword and waved
it in the air. “I’ll kill him myself!”
Ser Rodrik bristled at him. “Put that away! The Lannisters
are a hundred leagues away. Never draw your sword
unless you mean to use it. How many times must I tell you,
Abashed, Robb sheathed his sword, suddenly a child
again. Catelyn said to Ser Rodrik, “I see my son is wearing
The old master-at-arms said, “I thought it was time.”
Robb was looking at her anxiously. “Past time,” she said.
“Winterfell may have need of all its swords soon, and they
had best not be made of wood.”
TheonGreyjoy put a hand on the hilt of his blade and said,
“My lady, if it comes to that, my House owes yours a great
Maester Luwin pulled at his chain collar where it chafed
against his neck. “All we have is conjecture. This is thequeen’s beloved brother we mean to accuse. She will not
take it kindly. We must have proof, or forever keep silent.”
“Your proof is in the dagger,” Ser Rodrik said. “A fine
blade like that will not have gone unnoticed.”
There was only one place to find the truth of it, Catelyn
realized. “Someone must go to King’s Landing.”
“I’ll go,” Robb said.
“No,” she told him. “Your place is here. There must always
be a Stark in Winterfell.” She looked at Ser Rodrik with his
great white whiskers, at Maester Luwin in his grey robes, at
young Greyjoy, lean and dark and impetuous. Who to
send? Who would be believed? Then she knew. Catelyn
struggled to push back the blankets, her bandaged fingers
as stiff and unyielding as stone. She climbed out of bed. “I
must go myself.”
“My lady,” said Maester Luwin, “is that wise? Surely the
Lannisters would greet your arrival with suspicion.”
“What about Bran?” Robb asked. The poor boy looked
utterly confused now. “You can’t mean to leave him.”
“I have done everything I can for Bran,” she said, laying a
wounded hand on his arm. “His life is in the hands of the
gods and Maester Luwin. As you reminded me yourself,
Robb, I have other children to think of now.”
“You will need a strong escort, my lady,” Theon said.
“I’ll send Hal with a squad of guardsmen,” Robb said.
“No,” Catelyn said. “A large party attracts unwelcome
attention. I would not have the Lannisters know I am
Ser Rodrik protested. “My lady, let me accompany you at
least. The kingsroad can be perilous for a woman alone.”
“I will not be taking the kingsroad,” Catelyn replied. She
thought for a moment, then nodded her consent. “Tworiders can move as fast as one, and a good deal faster
than a long column burdened by wagons and wheelhouses.
I will welcome your company, Ser Rodrik. We will follow the
White Knife down to the sea, and hire a ship at White
Harbor. Strong horses and brisk winds should bring us to
King’s Landing well ahead of Ned and the Lannisters.” And
then, she thought, we shall see what we shall see.
Eddard Stark had left before dawn, Septa
Mordane informed Sansa as they broke their fast. “The king
sent for him. Another hunt, I do believe. There are still wild
aurochs in these lands, I am told.”
“I’ve never seen an aurochs,” Sansa said, feeding a piece
of bacon to Lady under the table. The direwolf took it from
her hand, as delicate as a queen.
Septa Mordane sniffed in disapproval. “A noble lady does
not feed dogs at her table,” she said, breaking off another
piece of comb and letting the honey drip down onto her
“She’s not a dog, she’s a direwolf,” Sansa pointed out as
Lady licked her fingers with a rough tongue. “Anyway,
Father said we could keep them with us if we want.”
The septa was not appeased. “You’re a good girl, Sansa,
but I do vow, when it comes to that creature you’re as willful
as your sister Arya.” She scowled. “And where is Arya this
“She wasn’t hungry,” Sansa said, knowing full well that her
sister had probably stolen down to the kitchen hours ago
and wheedled a breakfast out of some cook’s boy.
“Do remind her to dress nicely today. The grey velvet,perhaps. We are all invited to ride with the queen and
Princess Myrcella in the royal wheelhouse, and we must
look our best.” Sansa already looked her best. She had
brushed out her long auburn hair until it shone, and picked
her nicest blue silks. She had been looking forward to
today for more than a week. It was a great honor to ride
with the queen, and besides, Prince Joffrey might be there.
Her betrothed. Just thinking it made her feel a strange
fluttering inside, even though they were not to marry for
years and years. Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet, but
she was already in love with him. He was all she ever
dreamt her prince should be, tall and handsome and strong,
with hair like gold. She treasured every chance to spend
time with him, few as they were. The only thing that scared
her about today was Arya. Arya had a way of ruining
everything. You never knew what she would do. “I’ll tell her,”
Sansa said uncertainly, “but she’ll dress the way she always
does.” She hoped it wouldn’t be too embarrassing. “May I
“You may.” Septa Mordane helped herself to more bread
and honey, and Sansa slid from the bench. Lady followed at
her heels as she ran from the inn’s common room.
Outside, she stood for a moment amidst the shouts and
curses and the creak of wooden wheels as the men broke
down the tents and pavilions and loaded the wagons for
another day’s march. The inn was a sprawling three-story
structure of pale stone, the biggest that Sansa had ever
seen, but even so, it had accommodations for less than a
third of the king’s party, which had swollen to more than four
hundred with the addition of her father’s household and the
freeriders who had joined them on the road.
She found Arya on the banks of the Trident, trying to holdNymeria still while she brushed dried mud from her fur. The
direwolf was not enjoying the process. Arya was wearing
the same riding leathers she had worn yesterday and the
“You better put on something pretty,” Sansa told her.
“Septa Mordane said so. We’re traveling in the queen’s
wheelhouse with Princess Myrcella today.”
“I’m not,” Arya said, trying to brush a tangle out of
Nymeria’s matted grey fur. “Mycah and I are going to ride
upstream and look for rubies at the ford.”
“Rubies,” Sansa said, lost. “What rubies?”
Arya gave her a look like she was so stupid. “Rhaegar’s
rubies. This is where King Robert killed him and won the
Sansa regarded her scrawny little sister in disbelief. “You
can’t look for rubies, the princess is expecting us. The
queen invited us both.”
“I don’t care,” Arya said. “The wheelhouse doesn’t even
have windows, you can’t see a thing.”
“What could you want to see?” Sansa said, annoyed. She
had been thrilled by the invitation, and her stupid sister was
going to ruin everything, just as she’d feared. “It’s all just
fields and farms and holdfasts.”
“It is not,” Arya said stubbornly. “If you came with us
sometimes, you’d see.”
“I hate riding,” Sansa said fervently. “All it does is get you
soiled and dusty and sore.”
Arya shrugged. “Hold still,” she snapped at Nymeria, “I’m
not hurting you.” Then to Sansa she said, “When we were
crossing the Neck, I counted thirty-six flowers I never saw
before, and Mycah showed me a lizard-lion.”
Sansa shuddered. They had been twelve days crossingthe Neck, rumbling down a crooked causeway through an
endless black bog, and she had hated every moment of it.
The air had been damp and clammy, the causeway so
narrow they could not even make proper camp at night, they
had to stop right on the kingsroad. Dense thickets of
halfdrowned trees pressed close around them, branches
dripping with curtains of pale fungus. Huge flowers
bloomed in the mud and floated on pools of stagnant water,
but if you were stupid enough to leave the causeway to
pluck them, there were quicksands waiting to suck you
down, and snakes watching from the trees, and lizard-lions
floating half-submerged in the water, like black logs with
eyes and teeth.
None of which stopped Arya, of course. One day she
came back grinning her horsey grin, her hair all tangled and
her clothes covered in mud, clutching a raggedy bunch of
purple and green flowers for Father. Sansa kept hoping he
would tell Arya to behave herself and act like the highborn
lady she was supposed to be, but he never did, he only
hugged her and thanked her for the flowers. That just made
Then it turned out the purple flowers were called poison
kisses, and Arya got a rash on her arms. Sansa would have
thought that might have taught her a lesson, but Arya
laughed about it, and the next day she rubbed mud all over
her arms like some ignorant bog woman just because her
friend Mycah told her it would stop the itching. She had
bruises on her arms and shoulders too, dark purple welts
and faded green-and-yellow splotches, Sansa had seen
them when her sister undressed for sleep. How she had
gotten those only the seven gods knew.
Arya was still going on, brushing out Nymeria’s tanglesand chattering about things she’d seen on the trek south.
“Last week we found this haunted watchtower, and the day
before we chased a herd of wild horses. You should have
seen them run when they caught a scent of Nymeria.” The
wolf wriggled in her grasp and Arya scolded her. “Stop that,
I have to do the other side, you’re all muddy.”
“You’re not supposed to leave the column,” Sansa
reminded her. “Father said so.”
Arya shrugged. “I didn’t go far. Anyway, Nymeria was with
me the whole time. I don’t always go off, either. Sometimes
it’s fun just to ride along with the wagons and talk to
Sansa knew all about the sorts of people Arya liked to
talk to: squires and grooms and serving girls, old men and
naked children, rough-spoken freeriders of uncertain birth.
Arya would make friends with anybody. This Mycah was the
worst; a butcher’s boy, thirteen and wild, he slept in the
meat wagon and smelled of the slaughtering block. Just the
sight of him was enough to make Sansa feel sick, but Arya
seemed to prefer his company to hers.
Sansa was running out of patience now. “You have to
come with me,” she told her sister firmly. “You can’t refuse
the queen. Septa Mordane will expect you.”
Arya ignored her. She gave a hard yank with the brush.
Nymeria growled and spun away, affronted. “Come back
“There’s going to be lemon cakes and tea,” Sansa went
on, all adult and reasonable. Lady brushed against her leg.
Sansa scratched her ears the way she liked, and Lady sat
beside her on her haunches, watching Arya chase Nymeria.
“Why would you want to ride a smelly old horse and get all
sore and sweaty when you could recline on feather pillowsand eat cakes with the queen?”
“I don’t like the queen,” Arya said casually. Sansa sucked
in her breath, shocked that even Arya would say such a
thing, but her sister prattled on, heedless. “She won’t even
let me bring Nymeria.” She thrust the brush under her belt
and stalked her wolf. Nymeria watched her approach warily.
“A royal wheelhouse is no place for a wolf,” Sansa said.
“And Princess Myrcella is afraid of them, you know that.”
“Myrcella is a little baby.” Arya grabbed Nymeria around
her neck, but the moment she pulled out the brush again the
direwolf wriggled free and bounded off. Frustrated, Arya
threw down the brush. “Bad wolf!” she shouted.
Sansa couldn’t help but smile a little. The kennelmaster
once told her that an animal takes after its master. She
gave Lady a quick little hug. Lady licked her cheek. Sansa
giggled. Arya heard and whirled around, glaring. “I don’t
care what you say, I’m going out riding.” Her long horsey
face got the stubborn look that meant she was going to do
something willful. ”Gods be true, Arya, sometimes you act
like such a child,” Sansa said. “I’ll go by myself then. It will
be ever so much nicer that way. Lady and I will eat all the
lemon cakes and just have the best time without you.”
She turned to walk off, but Arya shouted after her, “They
won’t let you bring Lady either.” She was gone before
Sansa could think of a reply, chasing Nymeria along the
Alone and humiliated, Sansa took the long way back to
the inn, where she knew Septa Mordane would be waiting.
Lady padded quietly by her side. She was almost in tears.
All she wanted was for things to be nice and pretty, the way
they were in the songs. Why couldn’t Arya be sweet and
delicate and kind, like Princess Myrcella? She would haveliked a sister like that.
Sansa could never understand how two sisters, born only
two years apart, could be so different. It would have been
easier if Arya had been a bastard, like their half brother
Jon. She even looked like Jon, with the long face and
brown hair of the Starks, and nothing of their lady mother in
her face or her coloring. And Jon’s mother had been
common, or so people whispered. Once, when she was
littler, Sansa had even asked Mother if perhaps there
hadn’t been some mistake. Perhaps the grumkins had
stolen her real sister. But Mother had only laughed and said
no, Arya was her daughter and Sansa’s trueborn sister,
blood of their blood. Sansa could not think why Mother
would want to lie about it, so she supposed it had to be
As she neared the center of camp, her distress was
quickly forgotten. A crowd had gathered around the
queen’s wheelhouse. Sansa heard excited voices buzzing
like a hive of bees. The doors had been thrown open, she
saw, and the queen stood at the top of the wooden steps,
smiling down at someone. She heard her saying, “The
council does us great honor, my good lords.”
“What’s happening?” she asked a squire she knew.
“The council sent riders from King’s Landing to escort us
the rest of the way,” he told her. “An honor guard for the
Anxious to see, Sansa let Lady clear a path through the
crowd. People moved aside hastily for the direwolf. When
she got closer, she saw two knights kneeling before the
queen, in armor so fine and gorgeous that it made her
One knight wore an intricate suit of white enameledscales, brilliant as a field of new-fallen snow, with silver
chasings and clasps that glittered in the sun. When he
removed his helm, Sansa saw that he was an old man with
hair as pale as his armor, yet he seemed strong and
graceful for all that. From his shoulders hung the pure white
cloak of the Kingsguard.
His companion was a man near twenty whose armor was
steel plate of a deep forest-green. He was the handsomest
man Sansa had ever set eyes upon; tall and powerfully
made, with jet-black hair that fell to his shoulders and
framed a clean-shaven face, and laughing green eyes to
match his armor. Cradled under one arm was an antlered
helm, its magnificent rack shimmering in gold.
At first Sansa did not notice the third stranger. He did not
kneel with the others. He stood to one side, beside their
horses, a gaunt grim man who watched the proceedings in
silence. His face was pockmarked and beardless, with
deepset eyes and hollow cheeks. Though he was not an old
man, only a few wisps of hair remained to him, sprouting
above his ears, but those he had grown long as a woman’s.
His armor was iron-grey chainmail over layers of boiled
leather, plain and unadorned, and it spoke of age and hard
use. Above his right shoulder the stained leather hilt of the
blade strapped to his back was visible; a two-handed
greatsword, too long to be worn at his side.
“The king is gone hunting, but I know he will be pleased to
see you when he returns,” the queen was saying to the two
knights who knelt before her, but Sansa could not take her
eyes off the third man. He seemed to feel the weight of her
gaze. Slowly he turned his head. Lady growled. A terror as
overwhelming as anything Sansa Stark had ever felt filled
her suddenly. She stepped backward and bumped intosomeone.
Strong hands grasped her by the shoulders, and for a
moment Sansa thought it was her father, but when she
turned, it was the burned face of Sandor Clegane looking
down at her, his mouth twisted in a terrible mockery of a
smile. “You are shaking, girl,” he said, his voice rasping.
“Do I frighten you so much?”
He did, and had since she had first laid eyes on the ruin
that fire had made of his face, though it seemed to her now
that he was not half so terrifying as the other. Still, Sansa
wrenched away from him, and the Hound laughed, and
Lady moved between them, rumbling a warning. Sansa
dropped to her knees to wrap her arms around the wolf.
They were all gathered around gaping, she could feel their
eyes on her, and here and there she heard muttered
comments and titters of laughter.
“A wolf,” a man said, and someone else said, “Seven
hells, that’s a direwolf,” and the first man said, “What’s it
doing in camp?” and the Hound’s rasping voice replied,
“The Starks use them for wet nurses,” and Sansa realized
that the two stranger knights were looking down on her and
Lady, swords in their hands, and then she was frightened
again, and ashamed. Tears filled her eyes.
She heard the queen say, “Joffrey, go to her.”
And her prince was there.
“Leave her alone,” Joffrey said. He stood over her,
beautiful in blue wool and black leather, his golden curls
shining in the sun like a crown. He gave her his hand, drew
her to her feet. “What is it, sweet lady? Why are you afraid?
No one will hurt you. Put away your swords, all of you. The
wolf is her little pet, that’s all.” He looked at Sandor
Clegane. “And you, dog, away with you, you’re scaring mybetrothed.”
The Hound, ever faithful, bowed and slid away quietly
through the press. Sansa struggled to steady herself. She
felt like such a fool. She was a Stark of Winterfell, a noble
lady, and someday she would be a queen. “It was not him,
my sweet prince,” she tried to explain. “It was the other
The two stranger knights exchanged a look. “Payne?”
chuckled the young man in the green armor.
The older man in white spoke to Sansa gently. “Ofttimes
Ser Ilyn frightens me as well, sweet lady. He has a
“As well he should.” The queen had descended from the
wheelhouse. The spectators parted to make way for her. “If
the wicked do not fear the King’s Justice, you have put the
wrong man in the office.”
Sansa finally found her words. “Then surely you have
chosen the right one, Your Grace,” she said, and a gale of
laughter erupted all around her.
“Well spoken, child,” said the old man in white. “As befits
the daughter of Eddard Stark. I am honored to know you,
however irregular the manner of our meeting. I am Ser
Barristan Selmy, of the Kingsguard.” He bowed.
Sansa knew the name, and now the courtesies that Septa
Mordane had taught her over the years came back to her.
“The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard,” she said, “and
councilor to Robert our king and to Aerys Targaryen before
him. The honor is mine, good knight. Even in the far north,
the singers praise the deeds of Barristan the Bold.”
The green knight laughed again. “Barristan the Old, you
mean. Don’t flatter him too sweetly, child, he thinks
overmuch of himself already.” He smiled at her. “Now, wolfgirl, if you can put a name to me as well, then I must
concede that you are truly our Hand’s daughter.”
Joffrey stiffened beside her. “Have a care how you
address my betrothed!”
”I can answer,” Sansa said quickly, to quell her prince’s
anger. She smiled at the green knight. “Your helmet bears
golden antlers, my lord. The stag is the sigil of the royal
House. King Robert has two brothers. By your extreme
youth, you can only be Renly Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s
End and councilor to the king, and so I name you.”
Ser Barristan chuckled. “By his extreme youth, he can
only be a prancing jackanapes, and so I name him.”
There was general laughter, led by Lord Renly himself.
The tension of a few moments ago was gone, and Sansa
was beginning to feel comfortable . . . until Ser Ilyn Payne
shouldered two men aside, and stood before her,
unsmiling. He did not say a word. Lady bared her teeth and
began to growl, a low rumble full of menace, but this time
Sansa silenced the wolf with a gentle hand to the head. “I
am sorry if I offended you, Ser Ilyn,” she said.
She waited for an answer, but none came. As the
headsman looked at her, his pale colorless eyes seemed
to strip the clothes away from her, and then the skin, leaving
her soul naked before him. Still silent, he turned and walked
Sansa did not understand. She looked at her prince. “Did
I say something wrong, Your Grace? Why will he not speak
“Ser Ilyn has not been feeling talkative these past fourteen
years,” Lord Renly commented with a sly smile.
Joffrey gave his uncle a look of pure loathing, then took
Sansa’s hands in his own. “Aerys Targaryen had his tongueripped out with hot pincers.”
“He speaks most eloquently with his sword, however,” the
queen said, “and his devotion to our realm is
unquestioned.” Then she smiled graciously and said,
“Sansa, the good councilors and I must speak together until
the king returns with your father. I fear we shall have to
postpone your day with Myrcella. Please give your sweet
sister my apologies. Joffrey, perhaps you would be so kind
as to entertain our guest today.”
“It would be my pleasure, Mother,” Joffrey said very
formally. He took her by the arm and led her away from the
wheelhouse, and Sansa’s spirits took flight. A whole day
with her prince! She gazed at Joffrey worshipfully. He was
so gallant, she thought. The way he had rescued her from
Ser Ilyn and the Hound, why, it was almost like the songs,
like the time Serwyn of the Mirror Shield saved the
Princess Daeryssa from the giants, or Prince Aemon the
Dragonknight championing Queen Naerys’s honor against
evil Ser Morgil’s slanders.
The touch of Joffrey’s hand on her sleeve made her heart
beat faster. “What would you like to do?”
”Be with you, Sansa thought, but she said, “Whatever
you’d like to do, my prince.”
Joffrey reflected a moment. “We could go riding.”
“Oh, I love riding,” Sansa said.
Joffrey glanced back at Lady, who was following at their
heels. “Your wolf is liable to frighten the horses, and my dog
seems to frighten you. Let us leave them both behind and
set off on our own, what do you say?”
Sansa hesitated. “If you like,” she said uncertainly. “I
suppose I could tie Lady up.” She did not quite understand,
though. “I didn’t know you had a dog . . .”Joffrey laughed. “He’s my mother’s dog, in truth. She has
set him to guard me, and so he does.”
“You mean the Hound,” she said. She wanted to hit
herself for being so slow. Her prince would never love her if
she seemed stupid. “Is it safe to leave him behind?”
Prince Joffrey looked annoyed that she would even ask.
“Have no fear, lady. I am almost a man grown, and I don’t
fight with wood like your brothers. All I need is this.” He
drew his sword and showed it to her; a longsword adroitly
shrunken to suit a boy of twelve, gleaming blue steel,
castle-forged and double-edged, with a leather grip and a
lion’s-head pommel in gold. Sansa exclaimed over it
admiringly, and Joffrey looked pleased. “I call it Lion’s
Tooth,” he said.
And so they left her direwolf and his bodyguard behind
them, while they ranged east along the north bank of the
Trident with no company save Lion’s Tooth.
It was a glorious day, a magical day. The air was warm
and heavy with the scent of flowers, and the woods here
had a gentle beauty that Sansa had never seen in the north.
Prince Joffrey’s mount was a blood bay courser, swift as
the wind, and he rode it with reckless abandon, so fast that
Sansa was hard-pressed to keep up on her mare. It was a
day for adventures. They explored the caves by the
riverbank, and tracked a shadowcat to its lair, and when
they grew hungry, Joffrey found a holdfast by its smoke and
told them to fetch food and wine for their prince and his
lady. They dined on trout fresh from the river, and Sansa
drank more wine than she had ever drunk before. “My father
only lets us have one cup, and only at feasts,” she
confessed to her prince.
“My betrothed can drink as much as she wants,” Joffreysaid, refilling her cup.
They went more slowly after they had eaten. Joffrey sang
for her as they rode, his voice high and sweet and pure.
Sansa was a little dizzy from the wine. “Shouldn’t we be
starting back?” she asked.
“Soon,” Joffrey said. “The battleground is right up ahead,
where the river bends. That was where my father killed
Rhaegar Targaryen, you know. He smashed in his chest,
crunch, right through the armor.” Joffrey swung an imaginary
warhammer to show her how it was done. “Then my uncle
Jaime killed old Aerys, and my father was king. What’s that
Sansa heard it too, floating through the woods, a kind of
wooden clattering, snack snack snack. “I don’t know,” she
said. It made her nervous, though. “Joffrey, let’s go back.”
“I want to see what it is.” Joffrey turned his horse in the
direction of the sounds, and Sansa had no choice but to
follow. The noises grew louder and more distinct, the clack
of wood on wood, and as they grew closer they heard
heavy breathing as well, and now and then a grunt.
“Someone’s there,” Sansa said anxiously. She found
herself thinking of Lady, wishing the direwolf was with her.
“You’re safe with me.” Joffrey drew his Lion’s Tooth from
its sheath. The sound of steel on leather made her tremble.
“This way,” he said, riding through a stand of trees.
Beyond, in a clearing overlooking the river, they came
upon a boy and a girl playing at knights. Their swords were
wooden sticks, broom handles from the look of them, and
they were rushing across the grass, swinging at each other
lustily. The boy was years older, a head taller, and much
stronger, and he was pressing the attack. The girl, a
scrawny thing in soiled leathers, was dodging andmanaging to get her stick in the way of most of the boy’s
blows, but not all. When she tried to lunge at him, he caught
her stick with his own, swept it aside, and slid his wood
down hard on her fingers. She cried out and lost her
Prince Joffrey laughed. The boy looked around, wideeyed and startled, and dropped his stick in the grass. The
girl glared at them, sucking on her knuckles to take the
sting out, and Sansa was horrified. ‘Arya?” she called out
“Go away,” Arya shouted back at them, angry tears in her
eyes. “What are you doing here? Leave us alone.”
Joffrey glanced from Arya to Sansa and back again.
“Your sister?” She nodded, blushing. Joffrey examined the
boy, an ungainly lad with a coarse, freckled face and thick
red hair. “And who are you, boy?” he asked in a
commanding tone that took no notice of the fact that the
other was a year his senior.
“Mycah,” the boy muttered. He recognized the prince and
averted his eyes. “M’lord.”
“He’s the butcher’s boy,” Sansa said.
“He’s my friend,” Arya said sharply. “You leave him alone.”
“A butcher’s boy who wants to be a knight, is it?” Joffrey
swung down from his mount, sword in hand. “Pick up your
sword, butcher’s boy,” he said, his eyes bright with
amusement. “Let us see how good you are.”
Mycah stood there, frozen with fear.
Joffrey walked toward him. “Go on, pick it up. Or do you
only fight little girls?”
“She ast me to, m’lord,” Mycah said. “She ast me to.”
Sansa had only to glance at Arya and see the flush on her
sister’s face to know the boy was telling the truth, but Joffreywas in no mood to listen. The wine had made him wild. “Are
you going to pick up your sword?”
Mycah shook his head. “It’s only a stick, m’lord. It’s not no
sword, it’s only a stick.”
“And you’re only a butcher’s boy, and no knight.” Joffrey
lifted Lion’s Tooth and laid its point on Mycah’s cheek
below the eye, as the butcher’s boy stood trembling. “That
was my lady’s sister you were hitting, do you know that?” A
bright bud of blood blossomed where his sword pressed
into Mycah’s flesh, and a slow red line trickled down the
“Stop it!” Arya screamed. She grabbed up her fallen stick.
Sansa was afraid. “Arya, you stay out of this.”
“I won’t hurt him . . . much,” Prince Joffrey told Arya, never
taking his eyes off the butcher’s boy.
Arya went for him.
Sansa slid off her mare, but she was too slow. Arya
swung with both hands. There was a loud crack as the
wood split against the back of the prince’s head, and then
everything happened at once before Sansa’s horrified
eyes. Joffrey staggered and whirled around, roaring curses.
Mycah ran for the trees as fast as his legs would take him.
Arya swung at the prince again, but this time Joffrey caught
the blow on Lion’s Tooth and sent her broken stick flying
from her hands. The back of his head was all bloody and
his eyes were on fire. Sansa was shrieking, “No, no, stop it,
stop it, both of you, you’re spoiling it,” but no one was
listening. Arya scooped up a rock and hurled it at Joffrey’s
head. She hit his horse instead, and the blood bay reared
and went galloping off after Mycah. “Stop it, don’t, stop it!”
Sansa screamed. Joffrey slashed at Arya with his sword,
screaming obscenities, terrible words, filthy words. Aryadarted back, frightened now, but Joffrey followed, hounding
her toward the woods, backing her up against a tree.
Sansa didn’t know what to do. She watched helplessly,
almost blind from her tears.
Then a grey blur flashed past her, and suddenly Nymeria
was there, leaping, jaws closing around Joffrey’s sword
arm. The steel fell from his fingers as the wolf knocked him
off his feet, and they rolled in the grass, the wolf snarling
and ripping at him, the prince shrieking in pain. “Get it off,”
he screamed. “Get it off!”
Arya’s voice cracked like a whip. “Nymeria!”
The direwolf let go of Joffrey and moved to Arya’s side.
The prince lay in the grass, whimpering, cradling his
mangled arm. His shirt was soaked in blood. Arya said,
“She didn’t hurt you . . . much.” She picked up Lion’s Tooth
where it had fallen, and stood over him, holding the sword
with both hands.
Joffrey made a scared whimpery sound as he looked up
at her. “No,” he said, “don’t hurt me. I’ll tell my mother.”
“You leave him alone!” Sansa screamed at her sister.
Arya whirled and heaved the sword into the air, putting
her whole body into the throw. The blue steel flashed in the
sun as the sword spun out over the river. It hit the water and
vanished with a splash. Joffrey moaned. Arya ran off to her
horse, Nymeria loping at her heels.
After they had gone, Sansa went to Prince Joffrey. His
eyes were closed in pain, his breath ragged. Sansa knelt
beside him. “Joffrey,” she sobbed. “Oh, look what they did,
look what they did. My poor prince. Don’t be afraid. I’ll ride
to the holdfast and bring help for you.” Tenderly she
reached out and brushed back his soft blond hair.
His eyes snapped open and looked at her, and there wasnothing but loathing there, nothing but the vilest contempt.
“Then go,” he spit at her. “And don’t touch me.”
They’ve found her, my lord.”
Ned rose quickly. “Our men or Lannister’s?”
“It was Jory,” his steward Vayon Poole replied. “She’s not
“Thank the gods,” Ned said. His men had been searching
for Arya for four days now, but the queen’s men had been
out hunting as well. “Where is she? Tell Jory to bring her
here at once.”
“I am sorry, my lord,” Poole told him. “The guards on the
gate were Lannister men, and they informed the queen
when Jory brought her in. She’s being taken directly before
the king . . .”
“Damn that woman!” Ned said, striding to the door. “Find
Sansa and bring her to the audience chamber. Her voice
may be needed.” He descended the tower steps in a red
rage. He had led searches himself for the first three days,
and had scarcely slept an hour since Arya had
disappeared. This morning he had been so heartsick and
weary he could scarcely stand, but now his fury was on him,
filling him with strength.
Men called out to him as he crossed the castle yard, but
Ned ignored them in his haste. He would have run, but he
was still the King’s Hand, and a Hand must keep his
dignity. He was aware of the eyes that followed him, of the
muttered voices wondering what he would do. The castle
was a modest holding a half day’s ride south of the Trident.
The royal party had made themselves the uninvited guestsof its lord, Ser Raymun Darry, while the hunt for Arya and
the butcher’s boy was conducted on both sides of the river.
They were not welcome visitors. Ser Raymun lived under
the king’s peace, but his family had fought beneath
Rhaegar’s dragon banners at the Trident, and his three
older brothers had died there, a truth neither Robert nor Ser
Raymun had forgotten. With king’s men, Darry men,
Lannister men, and Stark men all crammed into a castle far
too small for them, tensions burned hot and heavy.
The king had appropriated Ser Raymun’s audience
chamber, and that was where Ned found them. The room
was crowded when he burst in. Too crowded, he thought;
left alone, he and Robert might have been able to settle the
Robert was slumped in Darry’s high seat at the far end of
the room, his face closed and sullen. Cersei Lannister and
her son stood beside him. The queen had her hand on
Joffrey’s shoulder. Thick silken bandages still covered the
Arya stood in the center of the room, alone but for Jory
Cassel, every eye upon her. “Arya,” Ned called loudly. He
went to her, his boots ringing on the stone floor. When she
saw him, she cried out and began to sob.
Ned went to one knee and took her in his arms. She was
shaking. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“I know,” he said. She felt so tiny in his arms, nothing but a
scrawny little girl. It was hard to see how she had caused so
much trouble. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” Her face was dirty, and her tears left pink tracks
down her cheeks. “Hungry some. I ate some berries, but
there was nothing else.”
“We’ll feed you soon enough,” Ned promised. He rose toface the king. “What is the meaning of this?” His eyes
swept the room, searching for friendly faces. But for his own
men, they were few enough. Ser Raymun Darry guarded his
look well. Lord Renly wore a half smile that might mean
anything, and old Ser Barristan was grave; the rest were
Lannister men, and hostile. Their only good fortune was that
both Jaime Lannister and Sandor Clegane were missing,
leading searches north of the Trident. “Why was I not told
that my daughter had been found?” Ned demanded, his
voice ringing. “Why was she not brought to me at once?”
He spoke to Robert, but it was Cersei Lannister who
answered. “How dare you speak to your king in that
At that, the king stirred. “Quiet, woman,” he snapped. He
straightened in his seat. “I am sorry, Ned. I never meant to
frighten the girl. It seemed best to bring her here and get
the business done with quickly.”
“And what business is that?” Ned put ice in his voice.
The queen stepped forward. “You know full well, Stark.
This girl of yours attacked my son. Her and her butcher’s
boy. That animal of hers tried to tear his arm off.”
“That’s not true,” Arya said loudly. “She just bit him a little.
He was hurting Mycah.”
“Joff told us what happened,” the queen said. “You and
the butcher boy beat him with clubs while you set your wolf
“That’s not how it was,” Arya said, close to tears again.
Ned put a hand on her shoulder.
“Yes it is!” Prince Joffrey insisted. “They all attacked me,
and she threw Lion’s Tooth in the river!” Ned noticed that he
did not so much as glance at Arya as he spoke.
“Liar!” Arya yelled.“Shut up!” the prince yelled back.
“Enough!” the king roared, rising from his seat, his voice
thick with irritation. Silence fell. He glowered at Arya
through his thick beard. “Now, child, you will tell me what
happened. Tell it all, and tell it true. It is a great crime to lie
to a king.” Then he looked over at his son. “When she is
done, you will have your turn. Until then, hold your tongue.”
As Arya began her story, Ned heard the door open
behind him. He glanced back and saw Vayon Poole enter
with Sansa. They stood quietly at the back of the hall as
Arya spoke. When she got to the part where she threw
Joffrey’s sword into the middle of the Trident, Renly
Baratheon began to laugh. The king bristled. “Ser
Barristan, escort my brother from the hall before he
Lord Renly stifled his laughter. “My brother is too kind. I
can find the door myself.” He bowed to Joffrey. “Perchance
later you’ll tell me how a nine-year-old girl the size of a wet
rat managed to disarm you with a broom handle and throw
your sword in the river.” As the door swung shut behind him,
Ned heard him say, “Lion’s Tooth,” and guffaw once more.
Prince Joffrey was pale as he began his very different
version of events. When his son was done talking, the king
rose heavily from his seat, looking like a man who wanted
to be anywhere but here. “What in all the seven hells am I
supposed to make of this? He says one thing, she says
“They were not the only ones present,” Ned said. “Sansa,
come here.” Ned had heard her version of the story the
night Arya had vanished. He knew the truth. “Tell us what
His eldest daughter stepped forward hesitantly. She wasdressed in blue velvets trimmed with white, a silver chain
around her neck. Her thick auburn hair had been brushed
until it shone. She blinked at her sister, then at the young
prince. “I don’t know,” she said tearfully, looking as though
she wanted to bolt. “I don’t remember. Everything
happened so fast, I didn’t see . . .”
“You rotten!” Arya shrieked. She flew at her sister like an
arrow, knocking Sansa down to the ground, pummeling her.
“Liar, liar, liar, liar.”
“Arya, stop it!” Ned shouted. Jory pulled her off her sister,
kicking. Sansa was pale and shaking as Ned lifted her
back to her feet. “Are you hurt?” he asked, but she was
staring at Arya, and she did not seem to hear.
“The girl is as wild as that filthy animal of hers,” Cersei
Lannister said. “Robert, Iwant her punished.”
“Seven hells,” Robert swore. “Cersei, look at her. She’s a
child. What would you have me do, whip her through the
streets? Damn it, children fight. It’s over. No lasting harm
The queen was furious. “Joff will carry those scars for the
rest of his life.”
Robert Baratheon looked at his eldest son. “So he will.
Perhaps they will teach him a lesson. Ned, see that your
daughter is disciplined. Iwill do the same with my son.”
“Gladly, Your Grace,” Ned said with vast relief.
Robert started to walk away, but the queen was not done.
“And what of the direwolf?” she called after him. “What of
the beast that savaged your son?”
The king stopped, turned back, frowned. “I’d forgotten
about the damned wolf.”
Ned could see Arya tense in Jory’s arms. Jory spoke up
quickly. “We found no trace of the direwolf, Your Grace.”Robert did not look unhappy. “No? So be it.”
The queen raised her voice. “A hundred golden dragons
to the man who brings me its skin!”
“A costly pelt,” Robert grumbled. “I want no part of this,
woman. You can damn well buy your furs with Lannister
The queen regarded him coolly. “I had not thought you so
niggardly. The king I’d thought to wed would have laid a
wolfskin across my bed before the sun went down.”
Robert’s face darkened with anger. “That would be a fine
trick, without a wolf.”
“We have a wolf,” Cersei Lannister said. Her voice was
very quiet, but her green eyes shone with triumph.
It took them all a moment to comprehend her words, but
when they did, the king shrugged irritably. “As you will. Have
Ser Ilyn see to it.”
“Robert, you cannot mean this,” Ned protested.
The king was in no mood for more argument. “Enough,
Ned, I will hear no more. A direwolf is a savage beast.
Sooner or later it would have turned on your girl the same
way the other did on my son. Get her a dog, she’ll be
happier for it.”
That was when Sansa finally seemed to comprehend. Her
eyes were frightened as they went to her father. “He doesn’t
mean Lady, does he?” She saw the truth on his face. “No,”
she said. “No, not Lady, Lady didn’t bite anybody, she’s
good . . .”
“Lady wasn’t there,” Arya shouted angrily. “You leave her
“Stop them,” Sansa pleaded, “don’t let them do it, please,
please, it wasn’t Lady, it was Nymeria, Arya did it, you
can’t, it wasn’t Lady, don’t let them hurt Lady, I’ll make herbe good, I promise, I promise . . .” She started to cry.
All Ned could do was take her in his arms and hold her
while she wept. He looked across the room at Robert. His
old friend, closer than any brother. “Please, Robert. For the
love you bear me. For the love you bore my sister. Please.”
The king looked at them for a long moment, then turned
his eyes on his wife. “Damn you, Cersei,” he said with
Ned stood, gently disengaging himself from Sansa’s
grasp. All the weariness of the past four days had returned
to him. “Do it yourself then, Robert,” he said in a voice cold
and sharp as steel. “At least have the courage to do it
Robert looked at Ned with flat, dead eyes and left without
a word, his footsteps heavy as lead. Silence filled the hall.
“Where is the direwolf?” Cersei Lannister asked when her
husband was gone. Beside her, Prince Joffrey was smiling.
“The beast is chained up outside the gatehouse, Your
Grace,” Ser Barristan Selmy answered reluctantly.
“Send for Ilyn Payne.”
“No,” Ned said. “Jory, take the girls back to their rooms
and bring me Ice.” The words tasted of bile in his throat, but
he forced them out. “If it must be done, Iwill do it.”
Cersei Lannister regarded him suspiciously. “You, Stark?
Is this some trick? Why would you do such a thing?” They
were all staring at him, but it was Sansa’s look that cut.
“She is of the north. She deserves better than a butcher.”
He left the room with his eyes burning and his daughter’s
wails echoing in his ears, and found the direwolf pup where
they chained her. Ned sat beside her for a while. “Lady,” he
said, tasting the name. He had never paid much attention to
the names the children had picked, but looking at her now,he knew that Sansa had chosen well. She was the smallest
of the litter, the prettiest, the most gentle and trusting. She
looked at him with bright golden eyes, and he ruffled her
thick grey fur.
Shortly, Jory brought him Ice.
When it was over, he said, “Choose four men and have
them take the body north. Bury her at Winterfell.”
“All that way?” Jory said, astonished.
“All that way,” Ned affirmed. “The Lannister woman shall
never have this skin.”
He was walking back to the tower to give himself up to
sleep at last when Sandor Clegane and his riders came
pounding through the castle gate, back from their hunt.
There was something slung over the back of his destrier,
a heavy shape wrapped in a bloody cloak. “No sign of your
daughter, Hand,” the Hound rasped down, “but the day was
not wholly wasted. We got her little pet.” He reached back
and shoved the burden off, and it fell with a thump in front of
Bending, Ned pulled back the cloak, dreading the words
he would have to find for Arya, but it was not Nymeria after
all. It was the butcher’s boy, Mycah, his body covered in
dried blood. He had been cut almost in half from shoulder
to waist by some terrible blow struck from above.
“You rode him down,” Ned said.
The Hound’s eyes seemed to glitter through the steel of
that hideous dog’s-head helm. “He ran.” He looked at
Ned’s face and laughed. “But not very fast.”
It seemed as though he had been falling for years.Fly, a voice whispered in the darkness, but Bran did not
know how to fly, so all he could do was fall.
Maester Luwin made a little boy of clay, baked him till he
was hard and brittle, dressed him in Bran’s clothes, and
flung him off a roof. Bran remembered the way he
shattered. “But I never fall,” he said, falling.
The ground was so far below him he could barely make it
out through the grey mists that whirled around him, but he
could feel how fast he was falling, and he knew what was
waiting for him down there. Even in dreams, you could not
fall forever. He would wake up in the instant before he hit
the ground, he knew. You always woke up in the instant
before you hit the ground.
And if you don’t? the voice asked.
The ground was closer now, still far far away, a thousand
miles away, but closer than it had been. It was cold here in
the darkness. There was no sun, no stars, only the ground
below coming up to smash him, and the grey mists, and the
whispering voice. He wanted to cry.
Not cry. Fly.
“I can’t fly,” Bran said. “I can’t, I can’t . . .”
How do you know? Have you ever tried?
The voice was high and thin. Bran looked around to see
where it was coming from. A crow was spiraling down with
him, just out of reach, following him as he fell. “Help me,” he
I’m trying, the crow replied. Say, got any corn?
Bran reached into his pocket as the darkness spun dizzily
around him. When he pulled his hand out, golden kernels
slid from between his fingers into the air. They fell with him.
The crow landed on his hand and began to eat.
“Are you really a crow?” Bran asked.Are you really falling? the crow asked back.
“It’s just a dream,” Bran said.
Is it? asked the crow.
“I’ll wake up when I hit the ground,” Bran told the bird.
You’ll die when you hit the ground, the crow said. It went
back to eating corn.
Bran looked down. He could see mountains now, their
peaks white with snow, and the silver thread of rivers in
dark woods. He closed his eyes and began to cry.
That won’t do any good, the crow said. I told you, the
answer is flying, not crying. How hard can it be? I’m doing it.
The crow took to the air and flapped around Bran’s hand.
“You have wings,” Bran pointed out.
Maybe you do too.
Bran felt along his shoulders, groping for feathers.
There are different kinds of wings, the crow said.
Bran was staring at his arms, his legs. He was so skinny,
just skin stretched taut over bones. Had he always been so
thin? He tried to remember. A face swam up at him out of
the grey mist, shining with light, golden. “The things I do for
love,” it said.
The crow took to the air, cawing. Not that, it shrieked at
him. Forget that, you do not need it now, put it aside, put it
away. It landed on Bran’s shoulder, and pecked at him, and
the shining golden face was gone.
Bran was falling faster than ever. The grey mists howled
around him as he plunged toward the earth below. “What
are you doing to me?” he asked the crow, tearful.
Teaching you how to fly.
“I can’t fly!”
You’re flying tight now.“I’m falling!”
Every flight begins with a fall, the crow said. Look down.
“I’m afraid . . .”
LOOKDOWN! Bran looked down, and felt his insides turn
to water. The ground was rushing up at him now. The whole
world was spread out below him, a tapestry of white and
brown and green. He could see everything so clearly that
for a moment he forgot to be afraid. He could see the whole
realm, and everyone in it.
He saw Winterfell as the eagles see it, the tall towers
looking squat and stubby from above, the castle walls just
lines in the dirt. He saw Maester Luwin on his balcony,
studying the sky through a polished bronze tube and
frowning as he made notes in a book. He saw his brother
Robb, taller and stronger than he remembered him,
practicing swordplay in the yard with real steel in his hand.
He saw Hodor, the simple giant from the stables, carrying
an anvil to Mikken’s forge, hefting it onto his shoulder as
easily as another man might heft a bale of hay. At the heart
of the godswood, the great white weirwood brooded over
its reflection in the black pool, its leaves rustling in a chill
wind. When it felt Bran watching, it lifted its eyes from the
still waters and stared back at him knowingly.
He looked east, and saw a galley racing across the
waters of the Bite. He saw his mother sitting alone in a
cabin, looking at a bloodstained knife on a table in front of
her, as the rowers pulled at their oars and Ser Rodrik
leaned across a rail, shaking and heaving. A storm was
gathering ahead of them, a vast dark roaring lashed by
lightning, but somehow they could not see it.
He looked south, and saw the great blue-green rush of the
Trident. He saw his father pleading with the king, his faceetched with grief. He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at
night, and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her
secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around
them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face
of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and
beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of
stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing
inside but darkness and thick black blood.
He lifted his eyes and saw clear across the narrow sea, to
the Free Cities and the green Dothraki sea and beyond, to
Vaes Dothrak under its mountain, to the fabled lands of the
Jade Sea, to Asshai by the Shadow, where dragons stirred
beneath the sunrise.
Finally he looked north. He saw the Wall shining like blue
crystal, and his bastard brother Jon sleeping alone in a cold
bed, his skin growing pale and hard as the memory of all
warmth fled from him. And he looked past the Wall, past
endless forests cloaked in snow, past the frozen shore and
the great blue-white rivers of ice and the dead plains where
nothing grew or lived. North and north and north he looked,
to the curtain of light at the end of the world, and then
beyond that curtain. He looked deep into the heart of winter,
and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears
burned on his cheeks.
Now you know, the crow whispered as it sat on his
shoulder. Now you know why you must live.
“Why?” Bran said, not understanding, falling, falling.
Because winter is coming.
Bran looked at the crow on his shoulder, and the crow
looked back. It had three eyes, and the third eye was full of
a terrible knowledge. Bran looked down. There was nothing
below him now but snow and cold and death, a frozenwasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to
embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. He saw the
bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their
points. He was desperately afraid.
“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” he heard his own
voice saying, small and far away.
And his father’s voice replied to him. “That is the only time
a man can be brave.”
Now, Bran, the crow urged. Choose. Fly or die.
Death reached for him, screaming.
Bran spread his arms and flew.
Wings unseen drank the wind and filled and pulled him
upward. The terrible needles of ice receded below him. The
sky opened up above. Bran soared. It was better than
climbing. It was better than anything. The world grew small
“I’m flying!” he cried out in delight.
I’ve noticed, said the three-eyed crow. It took to the air,
flapping its wings in his face, slowing him, blinding him. He
faltered in the air as its pinions beat against his cheeks. Its
beak stabbed at him fiercely, and Bran felt a sudden
blinding pain in the middle of his forehead, between his
“What are you doing?” he shrieked.
The crow opened its beak and cawed at him, a shrill
scream of fear, and the grey mists shuddered and swirled
around him and ripped away like a veil, and he saw that the
crow was really a woman, a serving woman with long black
hair, and he knew her from somewhere, from Winterfell,
yes, that was it, he remembered her now, and then he
realized that he was in Winterfell, in a bedhigh in some
chilly tower room, and the black-haired woman dropped abasin of water to shatter on the floor and ran down the
steps, shouting, “He’s awake, he’s awake, he’s awake.”
Bran touched his forehead, between his eyes. The place
where the crow had pecked him was still burning, but there
was nothing there, no blood, no wound. He felt weak and
dizzy. He tried to get out of bed, but nothing happened.
And then there was movement beside the bed, and
something landed lightly on his legs. He felt nothing. A pair
of yellow eyes looked into his own, shining like the sun. The
window was open and it was cold in the room, but the
warmth that came off the wolf enfolded him like a hot bath.
His pup, Bran realized . . . or was it? He was so big now.
He reached out to pet him, his hand trembling like a leaf.
When his brother Robb burst into the room, breathless
from his dash up the tower steps, the direwolf was licking
Bran’s face. Bran looked up calmly. “His name is Summer,”
“We will make King’s Landing within the hour.”
Catelyn turned away from the rail and forced herself to
smile. “Your oarmen have done well by us, Captain. Each
one of them shall have a silver stag, as a token of my
Captain Moreo Turnitis favored her with a half bow. “You
are far too generous, Lady Stark. The honor of carrying a
great lady like yourself is all the reward they need.”
“But they’ll take the silver anyway.”
Moreo smiled. “As you say.” He spoke the Common
Tongue fluently, with only the slightest hint of a Tyroshi
accent. He’d been plying the narrow sea for thirty years,he’d told her, as oarman, quartermaster, and finally captain
of his own trading galleys. The Stonn Dancer was his fourth
ship, and his fastest, a two-masted galley of sixty oars.
She had certainly been the fastest of the ships available
in White Harbor when Catelyn and Ser Rodrik Cassel had
arrived after their headlong gallop downriver. The Tyroshi
were notorious for their avarice, and Ser Rodrik had
argued for hiring a fishing sloop out of the Three Sisters,
but Catelyn had insisted on the galley. It was good that she
had. The winds had been against them much of the voyage,
and without the galley’s oars they’d still be beating their way
past the Fingers, instead of skimming toward King’s
Landing and journey’s end.
So close, she thought. Beneath the linen bandages, her
fingers still throbbed where the dagger had bitten. The pain
was her scourge, Catelyn felt, lest she forget. She could not
bend the last two fingers on her left hand, and the others
would never again be dexterous. Yet that was a small
enough price to pay for Bran’s life.
Ser Rodrik chose that moment to appear on deck. “My
good friend,” said Moreo through his forked green beard.
The Tyroshi loved bright colors, even in their facial hair. “It is
so fine to see you looking better.”
“Yes,” Ser Rodrik agreed. “I haven’t wanted to die for
almost two days now.” He bowed to Catelyn. “My lady.”
He was looking better. A shade thinner than he had been
when they set out from White Harbor, but almost himself
again. The strong winds in the Bite and the roughness of
the narrow sea had not agreed with him, and he’d almost
gone over the side when the storm seized them
unexpectedly off Dragonstone, yet somehow he had clung
to a rope until three of Moreo’s men could rescue him andcarry him safely below decks.
“The captain was just telling me that our voyage is almost
at an end,” she said.
Ser Rodrik managed a wry smile. “So soon?” He looked
odd without his great white side whiskers; smaller
somehow, less fierce, and ten years older. Yet back on the
Bite it had seemed prudent to submit to a crewman’s razor,
after his whiskers had become hopelessly befouled for the
third time while he leaned over the rail and retched into the
“Iwill leave you to discuss your business,” Captain Moreo
said. He bowed and took his leave of them.
The galley skimmed the water like a dragonfly, her oars
rising and falling in perfect time. Ser Rodrik held the rail
and looked out over the passing shore. “I have not been the
most valiant of protectors.”
Catelyn touched his arm. “We are here, Ser Rodrik, and
safely. That is all that truly matters.” Her hand groped
beneath her cloak, her fingers stiff and fumbling. The
dagger was still at her side. She found she had to touch it
now and then, to reassure herself. “Now we must reach the
king’s master-at-arms, and pray that he can be trusted.”
“Ser Aron Santagar is a vain man, but an honest one.”
Ser Rodrik’s hand went to his face to stroke his whiskers
and discovered once again that they were gone. He looked
nonplussed. “He may know the blade, yes . . . but, my lady,
the moment we go ashore we are at risk. And there are
those at court who will know you on sight.”
Catelyn’s mouth grew tight. “Littlefinger,” she murmured.
His face swam up before her; a boy’s face, though he was
a boy no longer. His father had died several years before,
so he was Lord Baelish now, yet still they called himLittlefinger. Her brother Edmure had given him that name,
long ago at Riverrun. His family’s modest holdings were on
the smallest of the Fingers, and Petyr had been slight and
short for his age.
Ser Rodrik cleared his throat. “Lord Baelish once, ah His
thought trailed off uncertainly in search of the polite word.
Catelyn was past delicacy. “He was my father’s ward. We
grew up together in Riverrun. I thought of him as a brother,
but his feelings for me were . . . more than brotherly. When
it was announced that I was to wed Brandon Stark, Petyr
challenged for the right to my hand. It was madness.
Brandon was twenty, Petyr scarcely fifteen. I had to beg
Brandon to spare Petyr’s life. He let him off with a scar.
Afterward my father sent him away. I have not seen him
since.” She lifted her face to the spray, as if the brisk wind
could blow the memories away. “He wrote to me at Riverrun
after Brandon was killed, but I burned the letter unread. By
then I knew that Ned would marry me in his brother’s place.”
Ser Rodrik’s fingers fumbled once again for nonexistent
whiskers. “Littlefinger sits on the small council now.”
“I knew he would rise high,” Catelyn said. “He was always
clever, even as a boy, but it is one thing to be clever and
another to be wise. I wonder what the years have done to
High overhead, the far-eyes sang out from the rigging.
Captain Moreo came scrambling across the deck, giving
orders, and all around them the Stonn Dancer burst into
frenetic activity as King’s Landing slid into view atop its
three high hills.
Three hundred years ago, Catelyn knew, those heights
had been covered with forest, and only a handful of
fisherfolk had lived on the north shore of the BlackwaterRush where that deep, swift river flowed into the sea. Then
Aegon the Conqueror had sailed from Dragonstone. It was
here that his army had put ashore, and there on the highest
hill that he built his first crude redoubt of wood and earth.
Now the city covered the shore as far as Catelyn could
see; manses and arbors and granaries, brick storehouses
and timbered inns and merchant’s stalls, taverns and
graveyards and brothels, all piled one on another. She
could hear the clamor of the fish market even at this
distance. Between the buildings were broad roads lined
with trees, wandering crookback streets, and alleys so
narrow that two men could not walk abreast. Visenya’s hill
was crowned by the Great Sept of Baelor with its seven
crystal towers. Across the city on the hill of Rhaenys stood
the blackened walls of the Dragonpit, its huge dome
collapsing into ruin, its bronze doors closed now for a
century. The Street of the Sisters ran between them,
straight as an arrow. The city walls rose in the distance,
high and strong.
A hundred quays lined the waterfront, and the harbor was
crowded with ships. Deepwater fishing boats and river
runners came and went, ferrymen poled back and forth
across the Blackwater Rush, trading galleys unloaded
goods from Braavos and Pentos and Lys. Catelyn spied
the queen’s ornate barge, tied up beside a fat-bellied
whaler from the Port of Ibben, its hull black with tar, while
upriver a dozen lean golden warships rested in their cribs,
sails furled and cruel iron rams lapping at the water.
And above it all, frowning down from Aegon’s high hill,
was the Red Keep; seven huge drum-towers crowned with
iron ramparts, an immense grim barbican, vaulted halls and
covered bridges, barracks and dungeons and granaries,massive curtain walls studded with archers’ nests, all
fashioned of pale red stone. Aegon the Conqueror had
commanded it built. His son Maegor the Cruel had seen it
completed. Afterward he had taken the heads of every
stonemason, woodworker, and builder who had labored on
it. Only the blood of the dragon would ever know the secrets
of the fortress the Dragonlords had built, he vowed.
Yet now the banners that flew from its battlements were
golden, not black, and where the three-headed dragon had
once breathed fire, now pranced the crowned stag of
A high-masted swan ship from the Summer Isles was
beating out from port, its white sails huge with wind. The
Stonn Dancer moved past it, pulling steadily for shore.
“My lady,” Ser Rodrik said, “I have thought on how best to
proceed while I lay abed. You must not enter the castle. Iwill
go in your stead and bring Ser Aron to you in some safe
She studied the old knight as the galley drew near to a
pier. Moreo was shouting in the vulgar Valyrian of the Free
Cities. “You would be as much at risk as Iwould.”
Ser Rodrik smiled. “I think not. I looked at my reflection in
the water earlier and scarcely recognized myself. My
mother was the last person to see me without whiskers,
and she is forty years dead. I believe I am safe enough, my
Moreo bellowed a command. As one, sixty oars lifted
from the river, then reversed and backed water. The galley
slowed. Another shout. The oars slid back inside the hull.
As they thumped against the dock, Tyroshi seamen leapt
down to tie up. Moreo came bustling up, all smiles. “King’s
Landing, my lady, as you did command, and never has aship made a swifter or surer passage. Will you be needing
assistance to carry your things to the castle?”
“We shall not be going to the castle. Perhaps you can
suggest an inn, someplace clean and comfortable and not
too far from the river.”
The Tyroshi fingered his forked green beard. “Just so. I
know of several establishments that might suit your needs.
Yet first, if I may be so bold, there is the matter of the
second half of the payment we agreed upon. And of course
the extra silver you were so kind as to promise. Sixty stags,
I believe it was.”
“For the oarmen,” Catelyn reminded him.
“Oh, of a certainty,” said Moreo. “Though perhaps I should
hold it for them until we return to Tyrosh. For the sake of
their wives and children. If you give them the silver here, my
lady, they will dice it away or spend it all for a night’s
“There are worse things to spend money on,” Ser Rodrik
put in. “Winter is coming.”
“A man must make his own choices,” Catelyn said. “They
earned the silver. How they spend it is no concern of mine.”
“As you say, my lady,” Moreo replied, bowing and smiling.
Just to be sure, Catelyn paid the oarmen herself, a stag to
each man, and a copper to the two men who carried their
chests halfway up Visenya’s hill to the inn that Moreo had
suggested. It was a rambling old place on Eel Alley. The
woman who owned it was a sour crone with a wandering
eye who looked them over suspiciously and bit the coin that
Catelyn offered her to make sure it was real. Her rooms
were large and airy, though, and Moreo swore that her fish
stew was the most savory in all the Seven Kingdoms. Best
of all, she had no interest in their names.“I think it best if you stay away from the common room,”
Ser Rodrik said, after they had settled in. “Even in a place
like this, one never knows who may be watching.” He wore
ringmail, dagger, and longsword under a dark cloak with a
hood he could pull up over his head. “I will be back before
nightfall, with Ser Aron,” he promised. “Rest now, my lady.”
Catelyn was tired. The voyage had been long and
fatiguing, and she was no longer as young as she had
been. Her windows opened on the alley and rooftops, with
a view of the Blackwater beyond. She watched Ser Rodrik
set off, striding briskly through the busy streets until he was
lost in the crowds, then decided to take his advice. The
bedding was stuffed with straw instead of feathers, but she
had no trouble falling asleep.
She woke to a pounding on her door.
Catelyn sat up sharply. Outside the window, the rooftops
of King’s Landing were red in the light of the setting sun.
She had slept longer than she intended.A fist hammered at
her door again, and a voice called out, “Open, in the name
of the king.”
“A moment,” she called out. She wrapped herself in her
cloak. The dagger was on the bedside table. She snatched
it up before she unlatched the heavy wooden door.
The men who pushed into the room wore the black
ringmail and golden cloaks of the City Watch. Their leader
smiled at the dagger in her hand and said, “No need for
that, m’lady. We’re to escort you to the castle.”
“By whose authority?” she said.
He showed her a ribbon. Catelyn felt her breath catch in
her throat. The seal was a mockingbird, in grey wax.
“Petyr,” she said. So soon. Something must have
happened to Ser Rodrik. She looked at the headguardsman. “Do you know who I am?”
“No, m’lady,” he said. “M’lord Littlefinger said only to bring
you to him, and see that you were not mistreated.”
Catelyn nodded. “You may wait outside while I dress.”
She bathed her hands in the basin and wrapped them in
clean linen. Her fingers were thick and awkward as she
struggled to lace up her bodice and knot a drab brown
cloak about her neck. How could Littlefinger have known
she was here? Ser Rodrik would never have told him. Old
he might be, but he was stubborn, and loyal to a fault. Were
they too late, had the Lannisters reached King’s Landing
before her? No, if that were true, Ned would be here too,
and surely he would have come to her. How . . . ?
Then she thought, Moreo. The Tyroshi knew who they
were and where they were, damn him. She hoped he’d
gotten a good price for the information.
They had brought a horse for her. The lamps were being
lit along the streets as they set out, and Catelyn felt the eyes
of the city on her as she rode, surrounded by the guard in
their golden cloaks. When they reached the Red Keep, the
portcullis was down and the great gates sealed for the
night, but the castle windows were alive with flickering
lights. The guardsmen left their mounts outside the walls
and escorted her through a narrow postern door, then up
endless steps to a tower.
He was alone in the room, seated at a heavy wooden
table, an oil lamp beside him as he wrote. When they
ushered her inside, he set down his pen and looked at her.
“Cat,” he said quietly.
“Why have I been brought here in this fashion?”
He rose and gestured brusquely to the guards. “Leave
us.” The men departed. “You were not mistreated, I trust,”he said after they had gone. “I gave firm instructions.” He
noticed her bandages. “Your hands . . .”
Catelyn ignored the implied question. “I am not
accustomed to being summoned like a serving wench,” she
said icily. “As a boy, you still knew the meaning of
“I’ve angered you, my lady. That was never my intent.” He
looked contrite. The look brought back vivid memories for
Catelyn. He had been a sly child, but after his mischiefs he
always looked contrite; it was a gift he had. The years had
not changed him much. Petyr had been a small boy, and he
had grown into a small man, an inch or two shorter than
Catelyn, slender and quick, with the sharp features she
remembered and the same laughing grey-green eyes. He
had a little pointed chin beard now, and threads of silver in
his dark hair, though he was still shy of thirty. They went well
with the silver mockingbird that fastened his cloak. Even as
a child, he had always loved his silver.
“How did you know Iwas in the city?” she asked him.
“Lord Varys knows all,” Petyr said with a sly smile. “He will
be joining us shortly, but I wanted to see you alone first. It
has been too long, Cat. How many years?”
Catelyn ignored his familiarity. There were more
important questions. “So it was the King’s Spider who
Littlefinger winced. “You don’t want to call him that. He’s
very sensitive. Comes of being an eunuch, I imagine.
Nothing happens in this city without Varys knowing. Oftimes
he knows about it before it happens. He has informants
everywhere. His little birds, he calls them. One of his little
birds heard about your visit. Thankfully, Varys came to me
He shrugged. “Why not me? I am master of coin, the
king’s own councilor. Selmy and Lord Renly rode north to
meet Robert, and Lord Stannis is gone to Dragonstone,
leaving only Maester Pycelle and me. I was the obvious
choice. I was ever a friend to your sister Lysa, Varys knows
“Does Varys know about . . .”
“Lord Varys knows everything . . . except why you are
here.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Why are you here?”
“A wife is allowed to yearn for her husband, and if a
mother needs her daughters close, who can tell her no?”
Littlefinger laughed. “Oh, very good, my lady, but please
don’t expect me to believe that. I know you too well. What
were the Tully words again?”
Her throat was dry. “Family, Duty, Honor,” she recited
stiffly. He did know her too well.
“Family, Duty, Honor,” he echoed. “All of which required
you to remain in Winterfell, where our Hand left you. No, my
lady, something has happened. This sudden trip of yours
bespeaks a certain urgency. I beg of you, let me help. Old
sweet friends should never hesitate to rely upon each
other.” There was a soft knock on the door. “Enter,”
Littlefinger called out.
The man who stepped through the door was plump,
perfumed, powdered, and as hairless as an egg. He wore
a vest of woven gold thread over a loose gown of purple
silk, and on his feet were pointed slippers of soft velvet.
“Lady Stark,” he said, taking her hand in both of his, “to see
you again after so many years is such a joy.” His flesh was
soft and moist, and his breath smelled of lilacs. “Oh, your
poor hands. Have you burned yourself, sweet lady? Thefingers are so delicate . . . Our good Maester Pycelle
makes a marvelous salve, shall I send for a jar?”
Catelyn slid her fingers from his grasp. “I thank you, my
lord, but my own Maester Luwin has already seen to my
Varys bobbed his head. “I was grievous sad to hear
about your son. And him so young. The gods are cruel.”
“On that we agree, Lord Varys,” she said. The title was
but a courtesy due him as a council member; Varys was
lord of nothing but the spiderweb, the master of none but
The eunuch spread his soft hands. “On more than that, I
hope, sweet lady. I have great esteem for your husband, our
new Hand, and I know we do both love King Robert.”
“Yes,” she was forced to say. “For a certainty.”
“Never has a king been so beloved as our Robert,”
quipped Littlefinger. He smiled slyly. “At least in Lord
“Good lady,” Varys said with great solicitude. “There are
men in the Free Cities with wondrous healing powers. Say
only the word, and Iwill send for one for your dear Bran.”
“Maester Luwin is doing all that can be done for Bran,”
she told him. She would not speak of Bran, not here, not
with these men. She trusted Littlefinger only a little, and
Varys not at all. She would not let them see her grief. “Lord
Baelish tells me that I have you to thank for bringing me
Varys giggled like a little girl. “Oh, yes. I suppose I am
guilty. I hope you forgive me, kind lady.” He eased himself
down into a seat and put his hands together. “Iwonder if we
might trouble you to show us the dagger?”
Catelyn Stark stared at the eunuch in stunned disbelief.He was a spider, she thought wildly, an enchanter or worse.
He knew things no one could possibly know, unless “What
have you done to Ser Rodrik?” she demanded.
Littlefinger was lost. “I feel rather like the knight who
arrives at the battle without his lance. What dagger are we
talking about? Who is Ser Rodrik?”
“Ser Rodrik Cassel is master-at-arms at Winterfell,”
Varys informed him. “I assure you, Lady Stark, nothing at all
has been done to the good knight. He did call here early
this afternoon. He visited with Ser Aron Santagar in the
armory, and they talked of a certain dagger. About sunset,
they left the castle together and walked to that dreadful
hovel where you were staying. They are still there, drinking
in the common room, waiting for your return. Ser Rodrik
was very distressed to find you gone.”
“How could you know all that?”
“The whisperings of little birds,” Varys said, smiling. “I
know things, sweet lady. That is the nature of my service.”
He shrugged. “You do have the dagger with you, yes?”
Catelyn pulled it out from beneath her cloak and threw it
down on the table in front of him. “Here. Perhaps your little
birds will whisper the name of the man it belongs to.”
Varys lifted the knife with exaggerated delicacy and ran a
thumb along its edge. Blood welled, and he let out a squeal
and dropped the dagger back on the table.
“Careful,” Catelyn told him, “it’s sharp.”
“Nothing holds an edge like Valyrian steel,” Littlefinger
said as Varys sucked at his bleeding thumb and looked at
Catelyn with sullen admonition. Littlefinger hefted the knife
lightly in his hand, testing the grip. He flipped it in the air,
caught it again with his other hand. “Such sweet balance.
You want to find the owner, is that the reason for this visit?You have no need of Ser Aron for that, my lady. You should
have come to me.”
“And if I had,” she said, “what would you have told me?”
“I would have told you that there was only one knife like
this at King’s Landing.” He grasped the blade between
thumb and forefinger, drew it back over his shoulder, and
threw it across the room with a practiced flick of his wrist. It
struck the door and buried itself deep in the oak, quivering.
“Yours?” It made no sense. Petyr had not been at
“Until the tourney on Prince Joffrey’s name day,” he said,
crossing the room to wrench the dagger from the wood. “I
backed Ser Jaime in the jousting, along with half the court.”
Petyr’s sheepish grin made him look half a boy again.
“When Loras Tyrell unhorsed him, many of us became a
trifle poorer. Ser Jaime lost a hundred golden dragons, the
queen lost an emerald pendant, and I lost my knife. Her
Grace got the emerald back, but the winner kept the rest.”
“Who?” Catelyn demanded, her mouth dry with fear. Her
fingers ached with remembered pain.
“The Imp,” said Littlefinger as Lord Varys watched her
face. “Tyrion Lannister.”
The courtyard rang to the song of swords.
Under black wool, boiled leather, and mail, sweat trickled
icily down Jon’s chest as he pressed the attack. Grenn
stumbled backward, defending himself clumsily. When he
raised his sword, Jon went underneath it with a sweeping
blow that crunched against the back of the other boy’s legand sent him staggering. Grenn’s downcut was answered
by an overhand that dented his helm. When he tried a
sideswing, Jon swept aside his blade and slammed a
mailed forearm into his chest. Grenn lost his footing and sat
down hard in the snow. Jon knocked his sword from his
fingers with a slash to his wrist that brought a cry of pain.
“Enough!” Ser Alliser Thorne had a voice with an edge
like Valyrian steel.
Grenn cradled his hand. “The bastard broke my wrist.”
“The bastard hamstrung you, opened your empty skull,
and cut off your hand. Or would have, if these blades had an
edge. It’s fortunate for you that the Watch needs stableboys
as well as rangers.” Ser Alliser gestured at Jeren and
Toad. “Get the Aurochs on his feet, he has funeral
arrangements to make.”
Jon took off his helm as the other boys were pulling Grenn
to his feet. The frosty morning air felt good on his face. He
leaned on his sword, drew a deep breath, and allowed
himself a moment to savor the victory.
“That is a longsword, not an old man’s cane,” Ser Alliser
said sharply. “Are your legs hurting, Lord Snow?”
Jon hated that name, a mockery that Ser Alliser had hung
on him the first day he came to practice. The boys had
picked it up, and now he heard it everywhere. He slid the
longsword back into its scabbard. “No,” he replied.
Thorne strode toward him, crisp black leathers
whispering faintly as he moved. He was a compact man of
fifty years, spare and hard, with grey in his black hair and
eyes like chips of onyx. “The truth now,” he commanded.
“I’m tired,” Jon admitted. His arm burned from the weight
of the longsword, and he was starting to feel his bruises
now that the fight was done.“What you are is weak.”
“No. The Aurochs lost.”
One of the other boys sniggered. Jon knew better than to
reply. He had beaten everyone that Ser Alliser had sent
against him, yet it gained him nothing. The master-at-arms
served up only derision. Thorne hated him, Jon had
decided; of course, he hated the other boys even worse.
“That will be all,” Thorne told them. “I can only stomach so
much ineptitude in any one day. If the Others ever come for
us, I pray they have archers, because you lot are fit for
nothing more than arrow fodder.”
Jon followed the rest back to the armory, walking alone.
He often walked alone here. There were almost twenty in
the group he trained with, yet not one he could call a friend.
Most were two or three years his senior, yet not one was
half the fighter Robb had been at fourteen. Dareon was
quick but afraid of being hit. Pyp used his sword like a
dagger, Jeren was weak as a girl, Grenn slow and clumsy.
Halder’s blows were brutally hard but he ran right into your
attacks. The more time he spent with them, the more Jon
Inside, Jon hung sword and scabbard from a hook in the
stone wall, ignoring the others around him. Methodically, he
began to strip off his mail, leather, and sweat-soaked
woolens. Chunks of coal burned in iron braziers at either
end of the long room, but Jon found himself shivering. The
chill was always with him here. In a few years he would
forget what it felt like to be warm.
The weariness came on him suddenly, as he donned the
roughspunblacks that were their everyday wear. He sat on
a bench, his fingers fumbling with the fastenings on hiscloak. So cold, he thought, remembering the warm halls of
Winterfell, where the hot waters ran through the walls like
blood through a man’s body. There was scant warmth to be
found in Castle Black; the walls were cold here, and the
No one had told him the Night’s Watch would be like this;
no one except Tyrion Lannister. The dwarf had given him
the truth on the road north, but by then it had been too late.
Jon wondered if his father had known what the Wall would
be like. He must have, he thought; that only made it hurt the
Even his uncle had abandoned him in this cold place at
the end of the world. Up here, the genial Benjen Stark he
had known became a different person. He was First
Ranger, and he spent his days and nights with Lord
Commander Mormont and Maester Aemon and the other
high officers, while Jon was given over to the less than
tender charge of Ser Alliser Thorne.
Three days after their arrival, Jon had heard that Benjen
Stark was to lead a half-dozen men on a ranging into the
haunted forest. That night he sought out his uncle in the
great timbered common hall and pleaded to go with him.
Benjen refused him curtly. “This is not Winterfell,” he told
him as he cut his meat with fork and dagger. “On the Wall, a
man gets only what he earns. You’re no ranger, Jon, only a
green boy with the smell of summer still on you.”
Stupidly, Jon argued. “I’ll be fifteen on my name day,” he
said. “Almost a man grown.”
Benjen Stark frowned. “A boy you are, and a boy you’ll
remain until Ser Alliser says you are fit to be a man of the
Night’s Watch. If you thought your Stark blood would win
you easy favors, you were wrong. We put aside our oldfamilies when we swear our vows. Your father will always
have a place in my heart, but these are my brothers now.”
He gestured with his dagger at the men around them, all the
hard cold men in black.
Jon rose at dawn the next day to watch his uncle leave.
One of his rangers, a big ugly man, sang a bawdy song as
he saddled his garron, his breath steaming in the cold
morning air. Ben Stark smiled at that, but he had no smile
for his nephew. “How often must I tell you no, Jon? We’ll
speak when Ireturn.”
As he watched his uncle lead his horse into the tunnel,
Jon had remembered the things that Tyrion Lannister told
him on the kingsroad, and in his mind’s eye he saw Ben
Stark lying dead, his blood red on the snow. The thought
made him sick. What was he becoming? Afterward he
sought out Ghost in the loneliness of his cell, and buried his
face in his thick white fur.
If he must be alone, he would make solitude his armor.
Castle Black had no godswood, only a small sept and a
drunken septon, but Jon could not find it in him to pray to
any gods, old or new. If they were real, he thought, they
were as cruel and implacable as winter.
He missed his true brothers: little Rickon, bright eyes
shining as he begged for a sweet; Robb, his rival and best
friend and constant companion; Bran, stubborn and
curious, always wanting to follow and join in whatever Jon
and Robb were doing. He missed the girls too, even
Sansa, who never called him anything but “my half brother”
since she was old enough to understand what bastard
meant. And Arya . . . he missed her even more than Robb,
skinny little thing that she was, all scraped knees and
tangled hair and torn clothes, so fierce and willful. Aryanever seemed to fit, no more than he had . . . yet she could
always make Jon smile. He would give anything to be with
her now, to muss up her hair once more and watch her
make a face, to hear her finish a sentence with him.
“You broke my wrist, bastard boy.”
Jon lifted his eyes at the sullen voice. Grenn loomed over
him, thick of neck and red of face, with three of his friends
behind him. He knew Todder, a short ugly boy with an
unpleasant voice. The recruits all called him Toad. The
other two were the ones Yoren had brought north with them,
Jon remembered, rapers taken down in the Fingers. He’d
forgotten their names. He hardly ever spoke ,to them, if he
could help it. They were brutes and bullies, without a
thimble of honor between them.
Jon stood up. “I’ll break the other one for you if you ask
nicely.” Grenn was sixteen and a head taller than Jon. All
four of them were bigger than he was, but they did not
scare him. He’d beaten every one of them in the yard.
“Maybe we’ll break you,” one of the rapers said.
“Try.” Jon reached back for his sword, but one of them
grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
“You make us look bad,” complained Toad.
“You looked bad before I ever met you,” Jon told him. The
boy who had his arm jerked upward on him, hard. Pain
lanced through him, but Jon would not cry out.
Toad stepped close. “The little lordling has a mouth on
him,” he said. He had pig eyes, small and shiny. “Is that
your mommy’s mouth, bastard? What was she, some
whore? Tell us her name. Maybe I had her a time or two.”
He laughed. Jon twisted like an eel and slammed a heel
down across the instep of the boy holding him. There was a
sudden cry of pain, and he was free. He flew at Toad,knocked him backward over a bench, and landed on his
chest with both hands on his throat, slamming his head
against the packed earth.
The two from the Fingers pulled him off, throwing him
roughly to the ground. Grenn began to kick at him. Jon was
rolling away from the blows when a booming voice cut
through the gloom of the armory. “STOP THIS! NOW!”
Jon pulled himself to his feet. Donal Noye stood
glowering at them. “The yard is for fighting,” the armorer
said. “Keep your quarrels out of my armory, or I’ll make
them my quarrels. You won’t like that.”
Toad sat on the floor, gingerly feeling the back of his
head. His fingers came away bloody. “He tried to kill me.”
“ ‘S true. I saw it,” one of the rapers put in.
“He broke my wrist,” Grenn said again, holding it out to
Noye for inspection.
The armorer gave the offered wrist the briefest of
glances. “A bruise. Perhaps a sprain. Maestor Aemon will
give you a salve. Go with him, Todder, that head wants
looking after. The rest of you, return to your cells. Not you,
Snow. You stay.”
Jon sat heavily on the long wooden bench as the others
left, oblivious to the looks they gave him, the silent
promises of future retribution. His arm was throbbing.
“The Watch has need of every man it can get,” Donal
Noye said when they were alone. “Even men like Toad. You
won’t win any honors killing him.”
Jon’s anger flared. “He said my mother was—”
“—a whore. I heard him. What of it?”
“Lord Eddard Stark was not a man to sleep with whores,”
Jon said icily. “His honor—”
“—did not prevent him from fathering a bastard. Did it?”Jon was cold with rage. “Can I go?”
“You go when I tell you to go.”
Jon stared sullenly at the smoke rising from the brazier,
until Noye took him under the chin, thick fingers twisting his
head around. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, boy.”
Jon looked. The armorer had a chest like a keg of ale and
a gut to match. His nose was flat and broad, and he always
seemed in need of a shave. The left sleeve of his black
wool tunic was fastened at the shoulder with a silver pin in
the shape of a longsword. “Words won’t make your mother
a whore. She was what she was, and nothing Toad says
can change that. You know, we have men on the Wall
whose mothers were whores.”
Not my mother, Jon thought stubbornly. He knew nothing
of his mother; Eddard Stark would not talk of her. Yet he
dreamed of her at times, so often that he could almost see
her face. In his dreams, she was beautiful, and highborn,
and her eyes were kind.
“You think you had it hard, being a high lord’s bastard?”
the armorer went on. “That boy Jeren is a septon’s get, and
Cotter Pyke is the baseborn son of a tavern wench. Now he
commands Eastwatch by the Sea.”
“I don’t care,” Jon said. “I don’t care about them and I
don’t care about you or Thorne or Benjen Stark or any of it. I
hate it here. It’s too . . . it’s cold.”
“Yes. Cold and hard and mean, that’s the Wall, and the
men who walk it. Not like the stories your wet nurse told
you. Well, piss on the stories and piss on your wet nurse.
This is the way it is, and you’re here for life, same as the
rest of us.”
“Life,” Jon repeated bitterly. The armorer could talk about
life. He’d had one. He’d only taken the black after he’d lostan arm at the siege of Storm’s End. Before that he’d
smithed for Stannis Baratheon, the king’s brother. He’d
seen the Seven Kingdoms from one end to the other; he’d
feasted and wenched and fought in a hundred battles. They
said it was Donal Noye who’d forged King Robert’s
warhammer, the one that crushed the life from Rhaegar
Targaryen on the Trident. He’d done all the things that Jon
would never do, and then when he was old, well past thirty,
he’d taken a glancing blow from an axe and the wound had
festered until the whole arm had to come off. Only then,
crippled, had Donal Noye come to the Wall, when his life
was all but over.
“Yes, life,” Noye said. “A long life or a short one, it’s up to
you, Snow. The road you’re walking, one of your brothers
will slit your throat for you one night.”
“They’re not my brothers,” Jon snapped. “They hate me
because I’m better than they are.”
“No. They hate you because you act like you’re better than
they are. They look at you and see a castle-bred bastard
who thinks he’s a lordling.” The armorer leaned close.
“You’re no lordling. Remember that. You’re a Snow, not a
Stark. You’re a bastard and a bully.”
“A bully?” Jon almost choked on the word. The accusation
was so unjust it took his breath away. “They were the ones
who came after me. Four of them.”
“Four that you’ve humiliated in the yard. Four who are
probably afraid of you. I’ve watched you fight. It’s not
training with you. Put a good edge on your sword, and
they’d be dead meat; you know it, I know it, they know it.
You leave them nothing. You shame them. Does that make
Jon hesitated. He did feel proud when he won. Whyshouldn’t he? But the armorer was taking that away too,
making it sound as if he were doing something wrong.
“They’re all older than me,” he said defensively.
“Older and bigger and stronger, that’s the truth. I’ll wager
your master-at-arms taught you how to fight bigger men at
Winterfell, though. Who was he, some old knight?”
“Ser Rodrik Cassel,” Jon said warily. There was a trap
here. He felt it closing around him.
Donal Noye leaned forward, into Jon’s face. “Now think
on this, boy. None of these others have ever had a masterat-arms until Ser Alliser. Their fathers were farmers and
wagonmen and poachers, smiths and miners and oars on a
trading galley. What they know of fighting they learned
between decks, in the alleys of Oldtown and Lannisport, in
wayside brothels and taverns on the kingsroad. They may
have clacked a few sticks together before they came here,
but I promise you, not one in twenty was ever rich enough to
own a real sword.” His look was grim. “So how do you like
the taste of your victories now, Lord Snow?”
“Don’t call me that!” Jon said sharply, but the force had
gone out of his anger. Suddenly he felt ashamed and guilty.
“I never . . . I didn’t think . . .”
“Best you start thinking,” Noye warned him. “That, or sleep
with a dagger by your bed. Now go.”
By the time Jon left the armory, it was almost midday. The
sun had broken through the clouds. He turned his back on it
and lifted his eyes to the Wall, blazing blue and crystalline in
the sunlight. Even after all these weeks, the sight of it still
gave him the shivers. Centuries of windblown dirt had
pocked and scoured it, covering it like a film, and it often
seemed a pale grey, the color of an overcast sky . . . but
when the sun caught it fair on a bright day, it shone, alivewith light, a colossal blue-white cliff that filled up half the sky.
The largest structure ever built by the hands of man,
Benjen Stark had told Jon on the kingsroad when they had
first caught sight of the Wall in the distance. “And beyond a
doubt the most useless,” Tyrion Lannister had added with a
grin, but even the Imp grew silent as they rode closer. You
could see it from miles off, a pale blue line across the
northern horizon, stretching away to the east and west and
vanishing in the far distance, immense and unbroken. This
is the end of the world, it seemed to say.
When they finally spied Castle Black, its timbered keeps
and stone towers looked like nothing more than a handful of
toy blocks scattered on the snow, beneath the vast wall of
ice. The ancient stronghold of the black brothers was no
Winterfell, no true castle at all. Lacking walls, it could not be
defended, not from the south, or east, or west; but it was
only the north that concerned the Night’s Watch, and to the
north loomed the Wall. Almost seven hundred feet high it
stood, three times the height of the tallest tower in the
stronghold it sheltered. His uncle said the top was wide
enough for a dozen armored knights to ride abreast. The
gaunt outlines of huge catapults and monstrous wooden
cranes stood sentry up there, like the skeletons of great
birds, and among them walked men in black as small as
As he stood outside the armory looking up, Jon felt
almost as overwhelmed as he had that day on the
kingsroad, when he’d seen it for the first time. The Wall was
like that. Sometimes he could almost forget that it was
there, the way you forgot about the sky or the earth
underfoot, but there were other times when it seemed as if
there was nothing else in the world. It was older than theSeven Kingdoms, and when he stood beneath it and
looked up, it made Jon dizzy. He could feel the great weight
of all that ice pressing down on him, as if it were about to
topple, and somehow Jon knew that if it fell, the world fell
“Makes you wonder what lies beyond,” a familiar voice
Jon looked around. “Lannister. I didn’t see—I mean, I
thought Iwas alone.”
Tyrion Lannister was bundled in furs so thickly he looked
like a very small bear. “There’s much to be said for taking
people unawares. You never know what you might learn.”
“You won’t learn anything from me,” Jon told him. He had
seen little of the dwarf since their journey ended. As the
queen’s own brother, Tyrion Lannister had been an
honored guest of the Night’s Watch. The Lord Commander
had given him rooms in the King’s Tower—so-called,
though no king had visited it for a hundred years and
Lannister dined at Mormont’s own table and spent his days
riding the Wall and his nights dicing and drinking with Ser
Alliser and Bowen Marsh and the other high officers.
“Oh, I learn things everywhere I go.” The little man
gestured up at the Wall with a gnarled black walking stick.
“As I was saying . . . why is it that when one man builds a
wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the
other side?” He cocked his head and looked at Jon with his
curious mismatched eyes. “You do want to know what’s on
the other side, don’t you?”
“It’s nothing special,” Jon said. He wanted to ride with
Benjen Stark on his rangings, deep into the mysteries of
the haunted forest, wanted to fight Mance Rayder’s
wildlings and ward the realm against the Others, but it wasbetter not to speak of the things you wanted. “The rangers
say it’s just woods and mountains and frozen lakes, with
lots of snow and ice.”
“And the grumkins and the snarks,” Tyrion said. “Let us
not forget them, Lord Snow, or else what’s that big thing
“Don’t call me Lord Snow.”
The dwarf lifted an eyebrow. “Would you rather be called
the Imp? Let them see that their words can cut you, and
you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a
name, take it, make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you
with it anymore.” He gestured with his stick. “Come, walk
with me. They’ll be serving some vile stew in the common
hall by now, and I could do with a bowl of something hot.”
Jon was hungry too, so he fell in beside Lannister and
slowed his pace to match the dwarf’s awkward, waddling
steps. The wind was rising, and they could hear the old
wooden buildings creaking around them, and in the
distance a heavy shutter banging, over and over, forgotten.
Once there was a muffled thump as a blanket of snow slid
from a roof and landed near them.
“I don’t see your wolf,” Lannister said as they walked.
“I chain him up in the old stables when we’re training.
They board all the horses in the east stables now, so no
one bothers him. The rest of the time he stays with me. My
sleeping cell is in Hardin’s Tower.”
“That’s the one with the broken battlement, no? Shattered
stone in the yard below, and a lean to it like our noble king
Robert after a long night’s drinking? I thought all those
buildings had been abandoned.”
Jon shrugged. “No one cares where you sleep. Most of
the old keeps are empty, you can pick any cell you want.”Once Castle Black had housed five thousand fighting men
with all their horses and servants and weapons. Now it was
home to a tenth that number, and parts of it were falling into
Tyrion Lannister’s laughter steamed in the cold air. “I’ll be
sure to tell your father to arrest more stonemasons, before
your tower collapses.”
Jon could taste the mockery there, but there was no
denying the truth. The Watch had built nineteen great
strongholds along the Wall, but only three were still
occupied: Eastwatch on its grey windswept shore, the
Shadow Tower hard by the mountains where the Wall
ended, and Castle Black between them, at the end of the
kingsroad. The other keeps, long deserted, were lonely,
haunted places, where cold winds whistled through black
windows and the spirits of the dead manned the parapets.
“It’s better that I’m by myself,” Jon said stubbornly. “The
rest of them are scared of Ghost.”
“Wise boys,” Lannister said. Then he changed the
subject. “The talk is, your uncle is too long away.”
Jon remembered the wish he’d wished in his anger, the
vision of Benjen Stark dead in the snow, and he looked
away quickly. The dwarf had a way of sensing things, and
Jon did not want him to see the guilt in his eyes. “He said
he’d be back by my name day,” he admitted. His name day
had come and gone, unremarked, a fortnight past. “They
were looking for Ser Waymar Royce, his father is
bannerman to Lord Arryn. Uncle Benjen said they might
search as far as the Shadow Tower. That’s all the way up in
“I hear that a good many rangers have vanished of late,”
Lannister said as they mounted the steps to the commonhall. He grinned and pulled open the door. “Perhaps the
grumkins are hungry this year.”
Inside, the hall was immense and drafty, even with a fire
roaring in its great hearth. Crows nested in the timbers of
its lofty ceiling. Jon heard their cries overhead as he
accepted a bowl of stew and a heel of black bread from the
day’s cooks. Grenn and Toad and some of the others were
seated at the bench nearest the warmth, laughing and
cursing each other in rough voices. Jon eyed them
thoughtfully for a moment. Then he chose a spot at the far
end of the hall, well away from the other diners.
Tyrion Lannister sat across from him, sniffing at the stew
suspiciously. “Barley, onion, carrot,” he muttered.
“Someone should tell the cooks that turnip isn’t a meat.”
“It’s mutton stew.” Jon pulled off his gloves and warmed
his hands in the steam rising from the bowl. The smell
made his mouth water.
Jon knew Alliser Thorne’s voice, but there was a curious
note in it that he had not heard before. He turned.
“The Lord Commander wants to see you. Now.”
For a moment Jon was too frightened to move. Why
would the Lord Commander want to see him? They had
heard something about Benjen, he thought wildly, he was
dead, the vision had come true. “Is it my uncle?” he blurted.
“Is he returned safe?”
“The Lord Commander is not accustomed to waiting,”
was Ser Alliser’s reply. “And I am not accustomed to having
my commands questioned by bastards.”
Tyrion Lannister swung off the bench and rose. “Stop it,
Thorne. You’re frightening the boy.”
“Keep out of matters that don’t concern you, Lannister.You have no place here.”
“I have a place at court, though,” the dwarf said, smiling.
“A word in the right ear, and you’ll die a sour old man
before you get another boy to train. Now tell Snow why the
Old Bear needs to see him. Is there news of his uncle?”
“No,” Ser Alliser said. “This is another matter entirely. A
bird arrived this morning from Winterfell, with a message
that concerns his brother.” He corrected himself. “His half
“Bran,” Jon breathed, scrambling to his feet.
“Something’s happened to Bran.”
Tyrion Lannister laid a hand on his arm. “Jon,” he said. “I
am truly sorry.”
Jon scarcely heard him. He brushed off Tyrion’s hand and
strode across the hall. He was running by the time he hit the
doors. He raced to the Commander’s Keep, dashing
through drifts of old snow. When the guards passed him, he
took the tower steps two at a time. By the time he burst into
the presence of the Lord Commander, his boots were
soaked and Jon was wild-eyed and panting. “Bran,” he
said. “What does it say about Bran?”
Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch,
was a gruff old man with an immense bald head and a
shaggy grey beard. He had a raven on his arm, and he was
feeding it kernels of corn. “I am told you can read.” He
shook the raven off, and it flapped its wings and flew to the
window, where it sat watching as Mormont drew a roll of
paper from his belt and handed it to Jon. “Corn,” it muttered
in a raucous voice. “Corn, corn.”
Jon’s finger traced the outline of the direwolf in the white
wax of the broken seat. He recognized Robb’s hand, but
the letters seemed to blur and run as he tried to read them.He realized he was crying. And then, through the tears, he
found the sense in the words, and raised his head. “He
woke up,” he said. “The gods gave him back.”
“Crippled,” Mormont said. “I’m sorry, boy. Read the rest of
He looked at the words, but they didn’t matter. Nothing
mattered. Bran was going to live. “My brother is going to
live,” he told Mormont. The Lord Commander shook his
head, gathered up a fistful of corn, and whistled. The raven
flew to his shoulder, crying, “Live! Live!” Jon ran down the
stairs, a smile on his face and Robb’s letter in his hand. “My
brother is going to live,” he told the guards. They
exchanged a look. He ran back to the common hall, where
he found Tyrion Lannister just finishing his meal. He
grabbed the little man under the arms, hoisted him up in the
air, and spun him around in a circle. “Bran is going to live!”
he whooped. Lannister looked startled. Jon put him down
and thrust the paper into his hands. “Here, read it,” he said.
Others were gathering around and looking at him
curiously. Jon noticed Grenn a few feet away. A thick
woolen bandage was wrapped around one hand. He
looked anxious and uncomfortable, not menacing at all. Jon
went to him. Grenn edged backward and put up his hands.
“Stay away from me now, you bastard.”
Jon smiled at him. “I’m sorry about your wrist. Robb used
the same move on me once, only with a wooden blade. It
hurt like seven hells, but yours must be worse. Look, if you
want, I can show you how to defend that.”
Alliser Thorne overheard him. “Lord Snow wants to take
my place now.” He sneered. “I’d have an easier time
teaching a wolf to juggle than you will training this aurochs.”
“I’ll take that wager, Ser Alliser,” Jon said. “I’d love to seeGhost juggle.”
Jon heard Grenn suck in his breath, shocked. Silence fell.
Then Tyrion Lannister guffawed. Three of the black
brothers joined in from a nearby table. The laughter spread
up and down the benches, until even the cooks joined in.
The birds stirred in the rafters, and finally even Grenn
began to chuckle.
Ser Alliser never took his eyes from Jon. As the laughter
rolled around him, his face darkened, and his sword hand
curled into a fist. “That was a grievous error, Lord Snow,”
he said at last in the acid tones of an enemy.
Eddard Stark rode through the towering bronze
doors of the Red Keep sore, tired, hungry, and irritable. He
was still a horse, dreaming of a long hot soak, a roast fowl,
and a featherbed, when the king’s steward told him that
Grand Maester Pycelle had convened an urgent meeting of
the small council. The honor of the Hand’s presence was
requested as soon as it was convenient. “It will be
convenient on the morrow,” Ned snapped as he
The steward bowed very low. “I shall give the councilors
your regrets, my lord.”
“No, damn it,” Ned said. It would not do to offend the
council before he had even begun. “I will see them. Pray
give me a few moments to change into something more
“Yes, my lord,” the steward said. “We have given you Lord
Arryn’s former chambers in the Tower of the Hand, if it
please you. I shall have your things taken there.”“My thanks,” Ned said as he ripped off his riding gloves
and tucked them into his belt. The rest of his household was
coming through the gate behind him. Ned saw Vayon
Poole, his own steward, and called out. “It seems the
council has urgent need of me. See that my daughters find
their bedchambers, and tell Jory to keep them there. Arya
is not to go exploring.” Poole bowed. Ned turned back to
the royal steward. “My wagons are still straggling through
the city. I shall need appropriate garments.”
“It will be my great pleasure,” the steward said.
And so Ned had come striding into the council chambers,
bonetired and dressed in borrowed clothing, to find four
members of the small council waiting for him.
The chamber was richly furnished. Myrish carpets
covered the floor instead of rushes, and in one corner a
hundred fabulous beasts cavorted in bright paints on a
carved screen from the Summer Isles. The walls were hung
with tapestries from Norvos and Qohor and Lys, and a pair
of Valyrian sphinxes flanked the door, eyes of polished
garnet smoldering in black marble faces.
The councilor Ned liked least, the eunuch Varys,
accosted him the moment he entered. “Lord Stark, I was
grievous sad to hear about your troubles on the kingsroad.
We have all been visiting the sept to light candles for Prince
Joffrey. I pray for his recovery.” His hand left powder stains
on Ned’s sleeve, and he smelled as foul and sweet as
flowers on a grave.
“Your gods have heard you,” Ned replied, cool yet polite.
“The prince grows stronger every day.” He disentangled
himself from the eunuch’s grip and crossed the room to
where Lord Renly stood by the screen, talking quietly with a
short man who could only be Littlefinger. Renly had been aboy of eight when Robert won the throne, but he had grown
into a man so like his brother that Ned found it
disconcerting. Whenever he saw him, it was as if the years
had slipped away and Robert stood before him, fresh from
his victory on the Trident.
“I see you have arrived safely, Lord Stark,” Renly said.
“And you as well,” Ned replied. “You must forgive me, but
sometimes you look the very image of your brother Robert.”
“A poor copy,” Renly said with a shrug.
“Though much better dressed,” Littlefinger quipped. “Lord
Renly spends more on clothing than half the ladies of the
It was true enough. Lord Renly was in dark green velvet,
with a dozen golden stags embroidered on his doublet. A
cloth-of-gold half cape was draped casually across one
shoulder, fastened with an emerald brooch. “There are
worse crimes,” Renly said with a laugh. “The way you dress,
Littlefinger ignored the jibe. He eyed Ned with a smile on
his lips that bordered on insolence. “I have hoped to meet
you for some years, Lord Stark. No doubt Lady Catelyn has
mentioned me to you.”
“She has,” Ned replied with a chill in his voice. The sly
arrogance of the comment rankled him. “I understand you
knew my brother Brandon as well.”
Renly Baratheon laughed. Varys shuffled over to listen.
“Rather too well,” Littlefinger said. “I still carry a token of
his esteem. Did Brandon speak of me too?”
“Often, and with some heat,” Ned said, hoping that would
end it. He had no patience with this game they played, this
dueling with words.
“I should have thought that heat ill suits you Starks,”Littlefinger said. “Here in the south, they say you are all
made of ice, and melt when you ride below the Neck.”
“I do not plan on melting soon, Lord Baelish. You may
count on it.” Ned moved to the council table and said,
“Maester Pycelle, I trust you are well.”
The Grand Maester smiled gently from his tall chair at the
foot of the table. “Well enough for a man of my years, my
lord,” he replied, “yet I do tire easily, I fear.” Wispy strands
of white hair fringed the broad bald dome of his forehead
above a kindly face. His maester’s collar was no simple
metal choker such as Luwin wore, but two dozen heavy
chains wound together into a ponderous metal necklace
that covered him from throat to breast. The links were
forged of every metal known to man: black iron and red
gold, bright copper and dull lead, steel and tin and pale
silver, brass and bronze and platinum. Garnets and
amethysts and black pearls adorned the metalwork, and
here and there an emerald or ruby. “Perhaps we might
begin soon,” the Grand Maester said, hands knitting
together atop his broad stomach. “I fear I shall fall asleep if
we wait much longer.”
“As you will.” The king’s seat sat empty at the head of the
table, the crowned stag of Baratheon embroidered in gold
thread on its pillows. Ned took the chair beside it, as the
right hand of his king. “My lords,” he said formally, “I am
sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“You are the King’s Hand,” Varys said. “We serve at your
pleasure, Lord Stark.”
As the others took their accustomed seats, it struck
Eddard Stark forcefully that he did not belong here, in this
room, with these men. He remembered what Robert had
told him in the crypts below Winterfell. I am surrounded byflatterers and fools, the king had insisted. Ned looked down
the council table and wondered which were the flatterers
and which the fools. He thought he knew already. “We are
but five,” he pointed out.
“Lord Stannis took himself to Dragonstone not long after
the king went north,” Varys said, “and our gallant Ser
Barristan no doubt rides beside the king as he makes his
way through the city, as befits the Lord Commander of the
“Perhaps we had best wait for Ser Barristan and the king
to join us,” Ned suggested.
Renly Baratheon laughed aloud. “If we wait for my brother
to grace us with his royal presence, it could be a long sit.”
“Our good King Robert has many cares,” Varys said. “He
entrusts some small matters to us, to lighten his load.”
“What Lord Varys means is that all this business of coin
and crops and justice bores my royal brother to tears,” Lord
Renly said, “so it falls to us to govern the realm. He does
send us a command from time to time.” He drew a tightly
rolled paper from his sleeve and laid it on the table. “This
morning he commanded me to ride ahead with all haste
and ask Grand Maester Pycelle to convene this council at
once. He has an urgent task for us.”
Littlefinger smiled and handed the paper to Ned. It bore
the royal seal. Ned broke the wax with his thumb and
flattened the letter to consider the king’s urgent command,
reading the words with mounting disbelief. Was there no
end to Robert’s folly? And to do this in his name, that was
salt in the wound. “Gods be good,” he swore.
“What Lord Eddard means to say,” Lord Renly
announced, “is that His Grace instructs us to stage a great
tournament in honor of his appointment as the Hand of theKing.”
“How much?” asked Littlefinger, mildly.
Ned read the answer off the letter. “Forty thousand golden
dragons to the champion. Twenty thousand to the man who
comes second, another twenty to the winner of the melee,
and ten thousand to the victor of the archery competition.”
“Ninety thousand gold pieces,” Littlefinger sighed. “And
we must not neglect the other costs. Robert will want a
prodigious feast. That means cooks, carpenters, serving
girls, singers, jugglers, fools . . .”
“Fools we have in plenty,” Lord Renly said.
Grand Maester Pycelle looked to Littlefinger and asked,
“Will the treasury bear the expense?”
“What treasury is that?” Littlefinger replied with a twist of
his mouth. “Spare me the foolishness, Maester. You know
as well as I that the treasury has been empty for years. I
shall have to borrow the money. No doubt the Lannisters
will be accommodating. We owe Lord Tywin some three
million dragons at present, what matter another hundred
Ned was stunned. “Are you claiming that the Crown is
three million gold pieces in debt?”
“The Crown is more than six million gold pieces in debt,
Lord Stark. The Lannisters are the biggest part of it, but we
have also borrowed from Lord Tyrell, the Iron Bank of
Braavos, and several Tyroshi trading cartels. Of late I’ve
had to turn to the Faith. The High Septon haggles worse
than a Dornish fishmonger.”
Ned was aghast. “Aerys Targaryen left a treasury flowing
with gold. How could you let this happen?”
Littlefinger gave a shrug. “The master of coin finds the
money. The king and the Hand spend it.”“I will not believe that JonArryn allowed Robert to beggar
the realm,” Ned said hotly.
Grand Maester Pycelle shook his great bald head, his
chains clinking softly. “Lord Arryn was a prudent man, but I
fear that His Grace does not always listen to wise counsel.”
“My royal brother loves tournaments and feasts,” Renly
Baratheon said, “and he loathes what he calls ‘counting
“Iwill speak with His Grace,” Ned said. “This tourney is an
extravagance the realm cannot afford.”
“Speak to him as you will,” Lord Renly said, “we had still
best make our plans.”
“Another day,” Ned said. Perhaps too sharply, from the
looks they gave him. He would have to remember that he
was no longer in Winterfell, where only the king stood
higher; here, he was but first among equals. “Forgive me,
my lords,” he said in a softer tone. “I am tired. Let us call a
halt for today and resume when we are fresher.” He did not
ask for their consent, but stood abruptly, nodded at them all,
and made for the door.
Outside, wagons and riders were still pouring through the
castle gates, and the yard was a chaos of mud and
horseflesh and shouting men. The king had not yet arrived,
he was told. Since the ugliness on the Trident, the Starks
and their household had ridden well ahead of the main
column, the better to separate themselves from the
Lannisters and the growing tension. Robert had hardly
been seen; the talk was he was traveling in the huge
wheelhouse, drunk as often as not. If so, he might be hours
behind, but he would still be here too soon for Ned’s liking.
He had only to look at Sansa’s face to feel the rage twisting
inside him once again. The last fortnight of their journey hadbeen a misery. Sansa blamed Arya and told her that it
should have been Nymeria who died. And Arya was lost
after she heard what had happened to her butcher’s boy.
Sansa cried herself to sleep, Arya brooded silently all day
long, and Eddard Stark dreamed of a frozen hell reserved
for the Starks of Winterfell. He crossed the outer yard,
passed under a portcullis into the inner bailey, and was
walking toward what he thought was the Tower of the Hand
when Littlefinger appeared in front of him. “You’re going the
wrong way, Stark. Come with me.”
Hesitantly, Ned followed. Littlefinger led him into a tower,
down a stair, across a small sunken courtyard, and along a
deserted corridor where empty suits of armor stood
sentinel along the walls. They were relics of the Targaryens,
black steel with dragon scales cresting their helms, now
dusty and forgotten. “This is not the way to my chambers,”
“Did I say it was? I’m leading you to the dungeons to slit
your throat and seal your corpse up behind a wall,”
Littlefinger replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “We
have no time for this, Stark. Your wife awaits.”
“What game are you playing, Littlefinger? Catelyn is at
Winterfell, hundreds of leagues from here.”
“Oh?” Littlefinger’s grey-green eyes glittered with
amusement. “Then it appears someone has managed an
astonishing impersonation. For the last time, come. Or
don’t come, and I’ll keep her for myself.” He hurried down
Ned followed him warily, wondering if this day would ever
end. He had no taste for these intrigues, but he was
beginning to realize that they were meat and mead to a
man like Littlefinger.At the foot of the steps was a heavy door of oak and iron.
Petyr Baelish lifted the crossbar and gestured Ned through.
They stepped out into the ruddy glow of dusk, on a rocky
bluff high above the river. “We’re outside the castle,” Ned
“You are a hard man to fool, Stark,” Littlefinger said with a
smirk. “Was it the sun that gave it away, or the sky? Follow
me. There are niches cut in the rock. Try not to fall to your
death, Catelyn would never understand.” With that, he was
over the side of the cliff, descending as quick as a monkey.
Ned studied the rocky face of the bluff for a moment, then
followed more slowly. The niches were there, as Littlefinger
had promised, shallow cuts that would be invisible from
below, unless you knew just where to look for them. The
river was a long, dizzying distance below. Ned kept his face
pressed to the rock and tried not to look down any more
often than he had to.
When at last he reached the bottom, a narrow, muddy trail
along the water’s edge, Littlefinger was lazing against a
rock and eating an apple. He was almost down to the core.
“You are growing old and slow, Stark,” he said, flipping the
apple casually into the rushing water.
“No matter, we ride the rest of the way.” He had two
horses waiting. Ned mounted up and trotted behind him,
down the trail and into the city.
Finally Baelish drew rein in front of a ramshackle building,
three stories, timbered, its windows bright with lamplight in
the gathering dusk. The sounds of music and raucous
laughter drifted out and floated over the water. Beside the
door swung an ornate oil lamp on a heavy chain, with a
globe of leaded red glass.
Ned Stark dismounted in a fury. “A brothel,” he said as heseized Littlefinger by the shoulder and spun him around.
“You’ve brought me all this way to take me to a brothel.”
“Your wife is inside,” Littlefinger said.
It was the final insult. “Brandon was too kind to you,” Ned
said as he slammed the small man back against a wall and
shoved his dagger up under the little pointed chin beard.
“My lord, no,” an urgent voice called out. “He speaks the
truth.” There were footsteps behind him.
Ned spun, knife in hand, as an old white-haired man
hurried toward them. He was dressed in brown roughspun,
and the soft flesh under his chin wobbled as he ran. “This is
no business of yours,” Ned began; then, suddenly, the
recognition came. He lowered the dagger, astonished. “Ser
Rodrik Cassel nodded. “Your lady awaits you upstairs.”
Ned was lost. “Catelyn is truly here? This is not some
strange jape of Littlefinger’s?” He sheathed his blade.
“Would that it were, Stark,” Littlefinger said. “Follow me,
and try to look a shade more lecherous and a shade less
like the King’s Hand. It would not do to have you
recognized. Perhaps you could fondle a breast or two, just
They went inside, through a crowded common room
where a fat woman was singing bawdy songs while pretty
young girls in linen shifts and wisps of colored silk pressed
themselves against their lovers and dandled on their laps.
No one paid Ned the least bit of attention. Ser Rodrik
waited below while Littlefinger led him up to the third floor,
along a corridor, and through a door.
Inside, Catelyn was waiting. She cried out when she saw
him, ran to him, and embraced him fiercely.
“My lady,” Ned whispered in wonderment.“Oh, very good,” said Littlefinger, closing the door. “You
“I feared you’d never come, my lord,” she whispered
against his chest. “Petyr has been bringing me reports. He
told me of your troubles with Arya and the young prince.
How are my girls?”
“Both in mourning, and full of anger,” he told her. “Cat, I do
not understand. What are you doing in King’s Landing?
What’s happened?” Ned asked his wife. “Is it Bran? Is he . .
.” Dead was the word that came to his lips, but he could not
“It is Bran, but not as you think,” Catelyn said.
Ned was lost. “Then how? Why are you here, my love?
What is this place?”
“Just what it appears,” Littlefinger said, easing himself
onto a window seat. “A brothel. Can you think of a less
likely place to find a Catelyn Tully?” He smiled. “As it
chances, I own this particular establishment, so
arrangements were easily made. I am most anxious to
keep the Lannisters from learning that Cat is here in King’s
“Why?” Ned asked. He saw her hands then, the awkward
way she held them, the raw red scars, the stiffness of the
last two fingers on her left. “You’ve been hurt.” He took her
hands in his own, turned them over. “Gods. Those are deep
cuts . . . a gash from a sword or . . . how did this happen,
Catelyn slid a dagger out from under her cloak and
placed it in his hand. “This blade was sent to open Bran’s
throat and spill his life’s blood.”
Ned’s head jerked up. “But . . . who . . . why would . . .”
She put a finger to his lips. “Let me tell it all, my love. It willgo faster that way. Listen.”
So he listened, and she told it all, from the fire in the
library tower to Varys and the guardsmen and Littlefinger.
And when she was done, Eddard Stark sat dazed beside
the table, the dagger in his hand. Bran’s wolf had saved the
boy’s life, he thought dully. What was it that Jon had said
when they found the pups in the snow? Your children were
meant to have these pups, my lord. And he had killed
Sansa’s, and for what? Was it guilt he was feeling? Or
fear? If the gods had sent these wolves, what folly had he
Painfully, Ned forced his thoughts back to the dagger and
what it meant. “The Imp’s dagger,” he repeated. It made no
sense. His hand curled around the smooth dragonbone hilt,
and he slammed the blade into the table, felt it bite into the
wood. It stood mocking him. “Why should Tyrion Lannister
want Bran dead? The boy has never done him harm.”
“Do you Starks have nought but snow between your
ears?” Littlefinger asked. “The Imp would never have acted
Ned rose and paced the length of the room. “If the queen
had a role in this or, gods forbid, the king himself … no, I
will not believe that.” Yet even as he said the words, he
remembered that chill morning on the barrowlands, and
Robert’s talk of sending hired knives after the Targaryen
princess. He remembered Rhaegar’s infant son, the red
ruin of his skull, and the way the king had turned away, as
he had turned away in Darry’s audience hall not so long
ago. He could still hear Sansa pleading, as Lyanna had
“Most likely the king did not know,” Littlefinger said. “It
would not be the first time. Our good Robert is practiced atclosing his eyes to things he would rather not see.”
Ned had no reply for that. The face of the butcher’s boy
swam up before his eyes, cloven almost in two, and
afterward the king had said not a word. His head was
Littlefinger sauntered over to the table, wrenched the knife
from the wood. “The accusation is treason either way.
Accuse the king and you will dance with Ilyn Payne before
the words are out of your mouth. The queen . . . if you can
find proof, and if you can make Robert listen, then perhaps .
“We have proof,” Ned said. “We have the dagger.”
“This?” Littlefinger flipped the knife casually end over end.
“A sweet piece of steel, but it cuts two ways, my lord. The
Imp will no doubt swear the blade was lost or stolen while
he was at Winterfell, and with his hireling dead, who is there
to give him the lie?” He tossed the knife lightly to Ned. “My
counsel is to drop that in the river and forget that it was ever
Ned regarded him coldly. “Lord Baelish, I am a Stark of
Winterfell. My son lies crippled, perhaps dying. He would
be dead, and Catelyn with him, but for a wolf pup we found
in the snow. If you truly believe I could forget that, you are as
big a fool now as when you took up sword against my
“A fool I may be, Stark . . . yet I’m still here, while your
brother has been moldering in his frozen grave for some
fourteen years now. If you are so eager to molder beside
him, far be it from me to dissuade you, but Iwould rather not
be included in the party, thank you very much.”
“You would be the last man I would willingly include in any
party, Lord Baelish.”“You wound me deeply.” Littlefinger placed a hand over
his heart. “For my part, I always found you Starks a
tiresome lot, but Cat seems to have become attached to
you, for reasons I cannot comprehend. I shall try to keep you
alive for her sake. A fool’s task, admittedly, but I could
never refuse your wife anything.
”Littlefinger. . .
“I should warn you, Stark, we usually charge for that sort of
thing around here.”
“A moment alone, that’s all I ask,” Catelyn said.
“Very well.” Littlefinger strolled to the door. “Don’t be too
long. It is past time the Hand and I returned to the castle,
before our absence is noted.”
Catelyn went to him and took his hands in her own. “I will
not forget the help you gave me, Petyr. When your men
came for me, I did not know whether they were taking me to
a friend or an enemy. I have found you more than a friend. I
have found a brother I’d thought lost.”
Petyr Baelish smiled. “I am desperately sentimental,
sweet lady. Best not tell anyone. I have spent years
convincing the court that I am wicked and cruel, and I should
hate to see all that hard work go for naught.”
Ned believed not a word of that, but he kept his voice
polite as he said, “You have my thanks as well, Lord
“Oh, now there’s a treasure,” Littlefinger said, exiting.
When the door had closed behind him, Ned turned back
to his wife. “Once you are home, send word to Helman
Tallhart and Galbart Glover under my seal. They are to raise
a hundred bowmen each and fortify Moat Cailin. Two
hundred determined archers can hold the Neck against an
army. Instruct Lord Manderly that he is to strengthen andrepair all his defenses at White Harbor, and see that they
are well manned. And from this day on, I want a careful
watch kept over Theon Greyjoy. If there is war, we shall
have sore need of his father’s fleet.”
“War?” The fear was plain on Catelyn’s face.
“It will not come to that,” Ned promised her, praying it was
true. He took her in his arms again. “The Lannisters are
merciless in the face of weakness, as Aerys Targaryen
learned to his sorrow, but they would not dare attack the
north without all the power of the realm behind them, and
that they shall not have. I must play out this fool’s
masquerade as if nothing is amiss. Remember why I came
here, my love. If I find proof that the Lannisters murdered
Jon Arryn . . .
He felt Catelyn tremble in his arms. Her scarred hands
clung to him. “If,” she said, “what then, my love?”
That was the most dangerous part, Ned knew. “All justice
flows from the king,” he told her. “When I know the truth, I
must go to Robert.” And pray that he is the man I think he is,
he finished silently, and not the man I fear he has become.
Are you certain that you must leave us so soon?”
the Lord Commander asked him.
“Past certain, Lord Mormont,” Tyrion replied. “My brother
Jaime will be wondering what has become of me. He may
decide that you have convinced me to take the black.”
“Would that I could.” Mormont picked up a crab claw and
cracked it in his fist. Old as he was, the Lord Commander
still had the strength of a bear. “You’re a cunning man,
Tyrion. We have need of men of your sort on the Wall.”Tyrion grinned. “Then I shall scour the Seven Kingdoms
for dwarfs and ship them all to you, Lord Mormont.” As they
laughed, he sucked the meat from a crab leg and reached
for another. The crabs had arrived from Eastwatch only this
morning, packed in a barrel of snow, and they were
Ser Alliser Thorne was the only man at table who did not
so much as crack a smile. “Lannister mocks us.”
“Only you, Ser Alliser,” Tyrion said. This time the laughter
round the table had a nervous, uncertain quality to it.
Thorne’s black eyes fixed on Tyrion with loathing. “You
have a bold tongue for someone who is less than half a
man. Perhaps you and I should visit the yard together.”
“Why?” asked Tyrion. “The crabs are here.” The remark
brought more guffaws from the others. Ser Alliser stood up,
his mouth a tight line. “Come and make your j apes with
steel in your hand.”
Tyrion looked pointedly at his right hand. “Why, I have
steel in my hand, Ser Alliser, although it appears to be a
crab fork. Shall we duel?” He hopped up on his chair and
began poking at Thorne’s chest with the tiny fork. Roars of
laughter filled the tower room. Bits of crab flew from the
Lord Commander’s mouth as he began to gasp and choke.
Even his raven joined in, cawing loudly from above the
window. “Duel! Duel! Duel!”
Ser Alliser Thorne walked from the room so stiffly it
looked as though he had a dagger up his butt.
Mormont was still gasping for breath. Tyrion pounded him
on the back. “To the victor goes the spoils,” he called out. “I
claim Thorne’s share of the crabs.”
Finally the Lord Commander recovered himself. “You are
a wicked man, to provoke our Ser Alliser so,” he scolded.Tyrion seated himself and took a sip of wine. “If a man
paints a target on his chest, he should expect that sooner or
later someone will loose an arrow at him. I have seen dead
men with more humor than your Ser Alliser.”
“Not so,” objected the Lord Steward, Bowen Marsh, a
man as round and red as a pomegranate. “You ought to
hear the droll names he gives the lads he trains.”
Tyrion had heard a few of those droll names. “I’ll wager
the lads have a few names for him as well,” he said. “Chip
the ice off your eyes, my good lords. Ser Alliser Thorne
should be mucking out your stables, not drilling your young
“The Watch has no shortage of stableboys,” Lord
Mormont grumbled. “That seems to be all they send us
these days. Stableboys and sneak thieves and rapers. Ser
Alliser is an anointed knight, one of the few to take the
black since I have been Lord Commander. He fought
bravely at King’s Landing.”
“On the wrong side,” Ser Jaremy Rykker commented
dryly. “I ought to know, I was there on the battlements
beside him. Tywin Lannister gave us a splendid choice.
Take the black, or see our heads on spikes before evenfall.
No offense intended, Tyrion.”
“None taken, Ser Jaremy. My father is very fond of spiked
heads, especially those of people who have annoyed him in
some fashion. And a face as noble as yours, well, no doubt
he saw you decorating the city wall above the King’s Gate. I
think you would have looked very striking up there.”
“Thank you,” Ser Jaremy replied with a sardonic smile.
Lord Commander Mormont cleared his throat.
“Sometimes I fear Ser Alliser saw you true, Tyrion. You do
mock us and our noble purpose here.”Tyrion shrugged. “We all need to be mocked from time to
time, Lord Mormont, lest we start to take ourselves too
seriously. More wine, please.” He held out his cup.
As Rykker filled it for him, Bowen Marsh said, “You have a
great thirst for a small man.”
“Oh, I think that Lord Tyrion is quite a large man,” Maester
Aemon said from the far end of the table. He spoke softly,
yet the high officers of the Night’s Watch all fell quiet, the
better to hear what the ancient had to say. “I think he is a
giant come among us, here at the end of the world.”
Tyrion answered gently, “I’ve been called many things, my
lord, but giant is seldom one of them.”
“Nonetheless,” Maester Aemon said as his clouded, milkwhite eyes moved to Tyrion’s face, “I think it is true.”
For once, Tyrion Lannister found himself at a loss for
words. He could only bow his head politely and say, “You
are too kind, Maester Aemon.”
The blind man smiled. He was a tiny thing, wrinkled and
hairless, shrunken beneath the weight of a hundred years
so his maester’s collar with its links of many metals hung
loose about his throat. “I have been called many things, my
lord,” he said, “but kind is seldom one of them.” This time
Tyrion himself led the laughter.
Much later, when the serious business of eating was done
and the others had left, Mormont offered Tyrion a chair
beside the fire and a cup of mulled spirits so strong they
brought tears to his eyes. “The kingsroad can be perilous
this far north,” the Lord Commander told him as they drank.
“I have Jyck and Morrec,” Tyrion said, “and Yoren is riding
“Yoren is only one man. The Watch shall escort you as far
as Winterfell,” Mormont announced in a tone that brookedno argument. “Three men should be sufficient.”
“If you insist, my lord,” Tyrion said. “You might send young
Snow. He would be glad for a chance to see his brothers.”
Mormont frowned through his thick grey beard. “Snow?
Oh, the Stark bastard. I think not. The young ones need to
forget the lives they left behind them, the brothers and
mothers and all that. A visit home would only stir up feelings
best left alone. I know these things. My own blood kin … my
sister Maege rules Bear Island now, since my son’s
dishonor. I have nieces I have never seen.” He took a
swallow. “Besides, Jon Snow is only a boy. You shall have
three strong swords, to keep you safe.”
“I am touched by your concern, Lord Mormont.” The strong
drink was making Tyrion light-headed, but not so drunk that
he did not realize that the Old Bear wanted something from
him. “I hope I can repay your kindness.”
“You can,” Mormont said bluntly. “Your sister sits beside
the king. Your brother is a great knight, and your father the
most powerful lord in the Seven Kingdoms. Speak to them
for us. Tell them of our need here. You have seen for
yourself, my lord. The Night’s Watch is dying. Our strength
is less than a thousand now. Six hundred here, two hundred
in the Shadow Tower, even fewer at Eastwatch, and a
scant third of those fighting men. The Wall is a hundred
leagues long. Think on that. Should an attack come, I have
three men to defend each mile of wall.”
“Three and a third,” Tyrion said with a yawn.
Mormont scarcely seemed to hear him. The old man
warmed his hands before the fire. “I sent Benjen Stark to
search after Yohn Royce’s son, lost on his first ranging. The
Royce boy was green as summer grass, yet he insisted on
the honor of his own command, saying it was his due as aknight. I did not wish to offend his lord father, so I yielded. I
sent him out with two men I deemed as good as any in the
Watch. More fool U’
“Fool,” the raven agreed. Tyrion glanced up. The bird
peered down at him with those beady black eyes, ruffling its
wings. “Fool,” it called again. Doubtless old Mormont would
take it amiss if he throttled the creature. A pity.
The Lord Commander took no notice of the irritating bird.
“Gared was near as old as I am and longer on the Wall,” he
went on, “yet it would seem he forswore himself and fled. I
should never have believed it, not of him, but Lord Eddard
sent me his head from Winterfell. Of Royce, there is no
word. One deserter and two men lost, and now Ben Stark
too has gone missing.” He sighed deeply. “Who am I to
send searching after him? In two years I will be seventy.
Too old and too weary for the burden I bear, yet if I set it
down, who will pick it up? Alliser Thorne? Bowen Marsh? I
would have to be as blind as Maester Aemon not to see
what they are. The Night’s Watch has become an army of
sullen boys and tired old men. Apart from the men at my
table tonight, I have perhaps twenty who can read, and even
fewer who can think, or plan, or lead. Once the Watch spent
its summers building, and each Lord Commander raised
the Wall higher than he found it. Now it is all we can do to
He was in deadly earnest, Tyrion realized. He felt faintly
embarrassed for the old man. Lord Mormont had spent a
good part of his life on the Wall, and he needed to believe if
those years were to have any meaning. “I promise, the king
will hear of your need,” Tyrion said gravely, “and Iwill speak
to my father and my brother Jaime as well.” And he would.
Tyrion Lannister was as good as his word. He left the restunsaid; that King Robert would ignore him, Lord Tywin
would ask if he had taken leave of his senses, and Jaime
would only laugh.
“You are a young man, Tyrion,” Mormont said. “How many
winters have you seen?”
He shrugged. “Eight, nine. Imisremember.”
“And all of them short.”
“As you say, my lord.” He had been born in the dead of
winter, a terrible cruel one that the maesters said had
lasted near three years, but Tyrion’s earliest memories
were of spring.
“When Iwas a boy, it was said that a long summer always
meant a long winter to come. This summer has lasted nine
years, Tyrion, and a tenth will soon be upon us. Think on
“When I was a boy,” Tyrion replied, “my wet nurse told me
that one day, if men were good, the gods would give the
world a summer without ending. Perhaps we’ve been better
than we thought, and the Great Summer is finally at hand.”
The Lord Commander did not seem amused. “You are
not fool enough to believe that, my lord. Already the days
grow shorter. There can be no mistake, Aemon has had
letters from the Citadel, findings in accord with his own. The
end of summer stares us in the face.” Mormont reached out
and clutched Tyrion tightly by the hand. “You must make
them understand. I tell you, my lord, the darkness is coming.
There are wild things in the woods, direwolves and
mammoths and snow bears the size of aurochs, and I have
seen darker shapes in my dreams.”
“In your dreams,” Tyrion echoed, thinking how badly he
needed another strong drink.Mormont was deaf to the edge in his voice. “The fisherfolk
near Eastwatch have glimpsed white walkers on the shore.”
This time Tyrion could not hold his tongue. “The fisherfolk
of Lannisport often glimpse merlings.”
“Denys Mallister writes that the mountain people are
moving south, slipping past the Shadow Tower in numbers
greater than ever before. They are running, my lord . . . but
running from what?” Lord Mormont moved to the window
and stared out into the night. “These are old bones,
Lannister, but they have never felt a chill like this. Tell the
king what I say, I pray you. Winter is coming, and when the
Long Night falls, only the Night’s Watch will stand between
the realm and the darkness that sweeps from the north. The
gods help us all if we are not ready.”
“The gods help me if I do not get some sleep tonight.
Yoren is determined to ride at first light.” Tyrion got to his
feet, sleepy from wine and tired of doom. “I thank you for all
the courtesies you have done me, Lord Mormont.”
“Tell them, Tyrion. Tell them and make them believe. That
is all the thanks I need.” He whistled, and his raven flew to
him and perched on his shoulder. Mormont smiled and
gave the bird some corn from his pocket, and that was how
Tyrion left him.
It was bitter cold outside. Bundled thickly in his furs, Tyrion
Lannister pulled on his gloves and nodded to the poor
frozen wretches standing sentry outside the Commander’s
Keep. He set off across the yard for his own chambers in
the King’s Tower, walking as briskly as his legs could
manage. Patches of snow crunched beneath his feet as his
boots broke the night’s crust, and his breath steamed
before him like a banner. He shoved his hands into his
armpits and walked faster, praying that Morrec hadremembered to warm his bed with hot bricks from the fire.
Behind the King’s Tower, the Wall glimmered in the light
of the moon, immense and mysterious. Tyrion stopped for a
moment to look up at it. His legs ached of cold and haste.
Suddenly a strange madness took hold of him, a yearning
to look once more off the end of the world. It would be his
last chance, he thought; tomorrow he would ride south, and
he could not imagine why he would ever want to return to
this frozen desolation. The King’s Tower was before him,
with its promise of warmth and a soft bed, yet Tyrion found
himself walking past it, toward the vast pale palisade of the
A wooden stair ascended the south face, anchored on
huge roughhewn beams sunk deep into the ice and frozen
in place. Back and forth it switched, clawing its way upward
as crooked as a bolt of lightning. The black brothers
assured him that it was much stronger than it looked, but
Tyrion’s legs were cramping too badly for him to even
contemplate the ascent. He went instead to the iron cage
beside the well, clambered inside, and yanked hard on the
bell rope, three quick pulls. He had to wait what seemed an
eternity, standing there inside the bars with the Wall to his
back. Long enough for Tyrion to begin to wonder why he
was doing this. He had just about decided to forget his
sudden whim and go to bed when the cage gave a jerk and
began to ascend.
He moved upward slowly, by fits and starts at first, then
more smoothly. The ground fell away beneath him, the cage
swung, and Tyrion wrapped his hands around the iron bars.
He could feel the cold of the metal even through his gloves.
Morrec had a fire burning in his room, he noted with
approval, but the Lord Commander’s tower was dark. TheOld Bear had more sense than he did, it seemed.
Then he was above the towers, still inching his way
upward. Castle Black lay below him, etched in moonlight.
You could see how stark and empty it was from up here;
windowless keeps, crumbling walls, courtyards choked with
broken stone. Farther off, he could see the lights of Mole’s
Town, the little village half a league south along the
kingsroad, and here and there the bright glitter of moonlight
on water where icy streams descended from the mountain
heights to cut across the plains. The rest of the world was a
bleak emptiness of windswept hills and rocky fields spotted
Finally a thick voice behind him said, “Seven hells, it’s the
dwarf,” and the cage jerked to a sudden stop and hung
there, swinging slowly back and forth, the ropes creaking.
“Bring him in, damn it.” There was a grunt and a loud
groaning of wood as the cage slid sideways and then the
Wall was beneath him. Tyrion waited until the swinging had
stopped before he pushed open the cage door and hopped
down onto the ice. A heavy figure in black was leaning on
the winch, while a second held the cage with a gloved hand.
Their faces were muffled in woolen scarves so only their
eyes showed, and they were plump with layers of wool and
leather, black on black. “And what will you be wanting, this
time of night?” the one by the winch asked.
“A last look.”
The men exchanged sour glances. “Look all you want,”
the other one said. “Just have a care you don’t fall off, little
man. The Old Bear would have our hides.” A small wooden
shack stood under the great crane, and Tyrion saw the dull
glow of a brazier and felt a brief gust of warmth when the
winch men opened the door and went back inside. Andthen he was alone.
It was bitingly cold up here, and the wind pulled at his
clothes like an insistent lover. The top of the Wall was wider
than the kingsroad often was, so Tyrion had no fear of
falling, although the footing was slicker than he would have
liked. The brothers spread crushed stone across the
walkways, but the weight of countless footsteps would melt
the Wall beneath, so the ice would seem to grow around
the gravel, swallowing it, until the path was bare again and
it was time to crush more stone.
Still, it was nothing that Tyrion could not manage. He
looked off to the east and west, at the Wall stretching
before him, a vast white road with no beginning and no end
and a dark abyss on either side. West, he decided, for no
special reason, and he began to walk that way, following
the pathway nearest the north edge, where the gravel
His bare cheeks were ruddy with the cold, and his legs
complained more loudly with every step, but Tyrion ignored
them. The wind swirled around him, gravel crunched
beneath his boots, while ahead the white ribbon followed
the lines of the hills, rising higher and higher, until it was lost
beyond the western horizon. He passed a massive
catapult, as tall as a city wall, its base sunk deep into the
Wall. The throwing arm had been taken off for repairs and
then forgotten; it lay there like a broken toy, half-embedded
in the ice.
On the far side of the catapult, a muffled voice called out a
challenge. “Who goes there? Halt!”
Tyrion stopped. “If I halt too long I’ll freeze in place, Jon,”
he said as a shaggy pale shape slid toward him silently and
sniffed at his furs. “Hello, Ghost.”Jon Snow moved closer. He looked bigger and heavier in
his layers of fur and leather, the hood of his cloak pulled
down over his face. “Lannister,” he said, yanking loose the
scarf to uncover his mouth. “This is the last place I would
have expected to see you.” He carried a heavy spear
tipped in iron, taller than he was, and a sword hung at his
side in a leather sheath. Across his chest was a gleaming
black warhorn, banded with silver.
“This is the last place I would have expected to be seen,”
Tyrion admitted. “Iwas captured by a whim. If I touch Ghost,
will he chew my hand off?”
“Not with me here,” Jon promised.
Tyrion scratched the white wolf behind the ears. The red
eyes watched him impassively. The beast came up as high
as his chest now. Another year, and Tyrion had the gloomy
feeling he’d be looking up at him. “What are you doing up
here tonight?” he asked. “Besides freezing your manhood
off . . .”
“I have drawn night guard,” Jon said. “Again. Ser Alliser
has kindly arranged for the watch commander to take a
special interest in me. He seems to think that if they keep
me awake half the night, I’ll fall asleep during morning drill.
So far I have disappointed him.”
Tyrion grinned. “And has Ghost learned to juggle yet?”
“No,” said Jon, smiling, “but Grenn held his own against
Halder this morning, and Pyp is no longer dropping his
sword quite so often as he did.”
“Pypar is his real name. The small boy with the large ears.
He saw me working with Grenn and asked for help. Thorne
had never even shown him the proper way to grip a sword.”
He turned to look north. “I have a mile of Wall to guard. Willyou walk with me?”
“If you walk slowly,” Tyrion said.
“The watch commander tells me I must walk, to keep my
blood from freezing, but he never said how fast.”
They walked, with Ghost pacing along beside Jon like a
white shadow. “I leave on the morrow,” Tyrion said.
“I know.” Jon sounded strangely sad.
“I plan to stop at Winterfell on the way south. If there is any
message that you would like me to deliver . . .”
“Tell Robb that I’m going to command the Night’s Watch
and keep him safe, so he might as well take up needlework
with the girls and have Mikken melt down his sword for
“Your brother is bigger than me,” Tyrion said with a laugh.
“I decline to deliver any message that might get me killed.”
“Rickon will ask when I’m coming home. Try to explain
where I’ve gone, if you can. Tell him he can have all my
things while I’m away, he’ll like that.”
People seemed to be asking a great deal of him today,
Tyrion Lannister thought. “You could put all this in a letter,
“Rickon can’t read yet. Bran . . .” He stopped suddenly. “I
don’t know what message to send to Bran. Help him,
“What help could I give him? I am no maester, to ease his
pain. I have no spells to give him back his legs.”
“You gave me help when I needed it,” Jon Snow said.
“I gave you nothing,” Tyrion said. “Words.”
“Then give your words to Bran too.”
“You’re asking a lame man to teach a cripple how to
dance,” Tyrion said. “However sincere the lesson, the result
is likely to be grotesque. Still, I know what it is to love abrother, Lord Snow. I will give Bran whatever small help is
in my power.”
“Thank you, my lord of Lannister.” He pulled off his glove
and offered his bare hand. “Friend.”
Tyrion found himself oddly touched. “Most of my kin are
bastards,” he said with a wry smile, “but you’re the first I’ve
had to friend.” He pulled a glove off with his teeth and
clasped Snow by the hand, flesh against flesh. The boy’s
grip was firm and strong.
When he had donned his glove again, Jon Snow turned
abruptly and walked to the low, icy northern parapet.
Beyond him the Wall fell away sharply; beyond him there
was only the darkness and the wild. Tyrion followed him,
and side by side they stood upon the edge of the world.
The Night’s Watch permitted the forest to come no closer
than half a mile of the north face of the Wall. The thickets of
ironwood and sentinel and oak that had once grown there
had been harvested centuries ago, to create a broad swath
of open ground through which no enemy could hope to pass
unseen. Tyrion had heard that elsewhere along the Wall,
between the three fortresses, the wildwood had come
creeping back over the decades, that there were places
where greygreen sentinels and pale white weirwoods had
taken root in the shadow of the Wall itself, but Castle Black
had a prodigious appetite for firewood, and here the forest
was still kept at bay by the axes of the black brothers.
It was never far, though. From up here Tyrion could see it,
the dark trees looming beyond the stretch of open ground,
like a second wall built parallel to the first, a wall of night.
Few axes had ever swung in that black wood, where even
the moonlight could not penetrate the ancient tangle of root
and thorn and grasping limb. Out there the trees grew huge,
and the rangers said they seemed to brood and knew not
men. It was small wonder the Night’s Watch named it the
As he stood there and looked at all that darkness with no
fires burning anywhere, with the wind blowing and the cold
like a spear in his guts, Tyrion Lannister felt as though he
could almost believe the talk of the Others, the enemy in the
night. His jokes of grumkins and snarks no longer seemed
quite so droll.
“My uncle is out there,” Jon Snow said softly, leaning on
his spear as he stared off into the darkness. “The first night
they sent me up here, I thought, Uncle Benjen will ride back
tonight, and I’ll see him first and blow the horn. He never
came, though. Not that night and not any night.”
“Give him time,” Tyrion said.
Far off to the north, a wolf began to howl. Another voice
picked up the call, then another. Ghost cocked his head
and listened. “If he doesn’t come back,” Jon Snow
promised, “Ghost and I will go find him.” He put his hand on
the direwolf’s head.
“I believe you,” Tyrion said, but what he thought was, And
who will go find you? He shivered.