A storm of swords, p.16
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       A Storm of Swords, p.16

         Part #3 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
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  He looked at her, incredulous. “The bed? The bed is solid stone. It weighs half a ton.”

  “There’s a place where Varys pushes, and it floats right up. I asked him how, and he said it was magic.”

  “Yes.” Tyrion had to grin. “A counterweight spell.”

  Shae stood. “I should go back. Sometimes the baby kicks and Lollys wakes and calls for me.”

  “Varys should return shortly. He’s probably listening to every word we say.” Tyrion set the candle down. There was a wet spot on the front of his breeches, but in the darkness it ought to go unnoticed. He told Shae to dress and wait for the eunuch.

  “I will,” she promised. “You are my lion, aren’t you? My giant of Lannister?”

  “I am,” he said. “And you’re—”

  “—your whore.” She laid a finger to his lips. “I know. I’d be your lady, but I never can. Else you’d take me to the feast. It doesn’t matter. I like being a whore for you, Tyrion. Just keep me, my lion, and keep me safe.”

  “I shall,” he promised. Fool, fool, the voice inside him screamed. Why did you say that? You came here to send her away! Instead he kissed her once more.

  The walk back seemed long and lonely. Podrick Payne was asleep in his trundle bed at the foot of Tyrion’s, but he woke the boy. “Bronn,” he said.

  “Ser Bronn?” Pod rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Oh. Should I get him? My lord?”

  “Why no, I woke you up so we could have a little chat about the way he dresses,” said Tyrion, but his sarcasm was wasted. Pod only gaped at him in confusion until he threw up his hands and said, “Yes, get him. Bring him. Now.”

  The lad dressed hurriedly and all but ran from the room. Am I really so terrifying? Tyrion wondered, as he changed into a bedrobe and poured himself some wine.

  He was on his third cup and half the night was gone before Pod finally returned, with the sellsword knight in tow. “I hope the boy had a damn good reason dragging me out of Chataya’s,” Bronn said as he seated himself.

  “Chataya’s?” Tyrion said, annoyed.

  “It’s good to be a knight. No more looking for the cheaper brothels down the street.” Bronn grinned. “Now it’s Alayaya and Marei in the same featherbed, with Ser Bronn in the middle.”

  Tyrion had to bite back his annoyance. Bronn had as much right to bed Alayaya as any other man, but still… I never touched her, much as I wanted to, but Bronn could not know that. He should have kept his cock out of her. He dare not visit Chataya’s himself. If he did, Cersei would see that his father heard of it, and ’Yaya would suffer more than a whipping. He’d sent the girl a necklace of silver and jade and a pair of matching bracelets by way of apology, but other than that…

  This is fruitless. “There is a singer who calls himself Symon Silver Tongue,” Tyrion said wearily, pushing his guilt aside. “He plays for Lady Tanda’s daughter sometimes.”

  “What of him?”

  Kill him, he might have said, but the man had done nothing but sing a few songs. And fill Shae’s sweet head with visions of doves and dancing bears. “Find him,” he said instead. “Find him before someone else does.”


  She was grubbing for vegetables in a dead man’s garden when she heard the singing.

  Arya stiffened, still as stone, listening, the three stringy carrots in her hand suddenly forgotten. She thought of the Bloody Mummers and Roose Bolton’s men, and a shiver of fear went down her back. It’s not fair, not when we finally found the Trident, not when we thought we were almost safe.

  Only why would the Mummers be singing?

  The song came drifting up the river from somewhere beyond the little rise to the east. “Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho…”

  Arya rose, carrots dangling from her hand. It sounded like the singer was coming up the river road. Over among the cabbages, Hot Pie had heard it too, to judge by the look on his face. Gendry had gone to sleep in the shade of the burned cottage, and was past hearing anything.

  “I’ll steal a sweet kiss with the point of my blade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.” She thought she heard a woodharp too, beneath the soft rush of the river.

  “Do you hear?” Hot Pie asked in a hoarse whisper, as he hugged an armful of cabbages. “Someone’s coming.”

  “Go wake Gendry,” Arya told him. “Just shake him by the shoulder, don’t make a lot of noise.” Gendry was easy to wake, unlike Hot Pie, who needed to be kicked and shouted at.

  “I’ll make her my love and we’ll rest in the shade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.” The song swelled louder with every word.

  Hot Pie opened his arms. The cabbages fell to the ground with soft thumps. “We have to hide.”

  Where? The burned cottage and its overgrown garden stood hard beside the banks of the Trident. There were a few willows growing along the river’s edge and reed beds in the muddy shallows beyond, but most of the ground hereabouts was painfully open. I knew we should never have left the woods, she thought. They’d been so hungry, though, and the garden had been too much a temptation. The bread and cheese they had stolen from Harrenhal had given out six days ago, back in the thick of the woods. “Take Gendry and the horses behind the cottage,” she decided. There was part of one wall still standing, big enough, maybe, to conceal two boys and three horses. If the horses don’t whinny, and that singer doesn’t come poking around the garden.

  “What about you?”

  “I’ll hide by the tree. He’s probably alone. If he bothers me, I’ll kill him. Go!”

  Hot Pie went, and Arya dropped her carrots and drew the stolen sword from over her shoulder. She had strapped the sheath across her back; the longsword was made for a man grown, and it bumped against the ground when she wore it on her hip. It’s too heavy besides, she thought, missing Needle the way she did every time she took this clumsy thing in her hand. But it was a sword and she could kill with it, that was enough.

  Lightfoot, she moved to the big old willow that grew beside the bend in the road and went to one knee in the grass and mud, within the veil of trailing branches. You old gods, she prayed as the singer’s voice grew louder, you tree gods, hide me, and make him go past. Then a horse whickered, and the song broke off suddenly. He’s heard, she knew, but maybe he’s alone, or if he’s not, maybe they’ll be as scared of us as we are of them.

  “Did you hear that?” a man’s voice said. “There’s something behind that wall, I would say.”

  “Aye,” replied a second voice, deeper. “What do you think it might be, Archer?”

  Two, then. Arya bit her lip. She could not see them from where she knelt, on account of the willow. But she could hear.

  “A bear.” A third voice, or the first one again?

  “A lot of meat on a bear,” the deep voice said. “A lot of fat as well, in fall. Good to eat, if it’s cooked up right.”

  “Could be a wolf. Maybe a lion.”

  “With four feet, you think? Or two?”

  “Makes no matter. Does it?”

  “Not so I know. Archer, what do you mean to do with all them arrows?”

  “Drop a few shafts over the wall. Whatever’s hiding back there will come out quick enough, watch and see.”

  “What if it’s some honest man back there, though? Or some poor woman with a little babe at her breast?”

  “An honest man would come out and show us his face. Only an outlaw would skulk and hide.”

  “Aye, that’s so. Go on and loose your shafts, then.”

  Arya sprang to her feet. “Don’t!” She showed them her sword. There were three, she saw. Only three. Syrio could fight more than three, and she had Hot Pie and Gendry to stand with her, maybe. But they’re boys, and these are men.

  They were men afoot, travel-stained and mud-specked. She knew the singer by the woodharp he cradled against his jerkin, as a mother might cradle a babe. A small man, fifty from the look of him, he had a big mouth, a sharp nose, and thinning brown hair. His faded greens were mended here and there with old lea
ther patches, and he wore a brace of throwing knives on his hip and a woodman’s axe slung across his back.

  The man beside him stood a good foot taller, and had the look of a soldier. A longsword and dirk hung from his studded leather belt, rows of overlapping steel rings were sewn onto his shirt, and his head was covered by a black iron halfhelm shaped like a cone. He had bad teeth and a bushy brown beard, but it was his hooded yellow cloak that drew the eye. Thick and heavy, stained here with grass and there with blood, frayed along the bottom and patched with deerskin on the right shoulder, the greatcloak gave the big man the look of some huge yellow bird.

  The last of the three was a youth as skinny as his longbow, if not quite as tall. Red-haired and freckled, he wore a studded brigantine, high boots, fingerless leather gloves, and a quiver on his back. His arrows were fletched with grey goose feathers, and six of them stood in the ground before him, like a little fence.

  The three men looked at her, standing there in the road with her blade in hand. Then the singer idly plucked a string. “Boy,” he said, “put up that sword now, unless you’re wanting to be hurt. It’s too big for you, lad, and besides, Anguy here could put three shafts through you before you could hope to reach us.”

  “He could not,” Arya said, “and I’m a girl.”

  “So you are.” The singer bowed. “My pardons.”

  “You go on down the road. Just walk right past here, and you keep on singing, so we’ll know where you are. Go away and leave us be and I won’t kill you.”

  The freckle-faced archer laughed. “Lem, she won’t kill us, did you hear?”

  “I heard,” said Lem, the big soldier with the deep voice.

  “Child,” said the singer, “put up that sword, and we’ll take you to a safe place and get some food in that belly. There are wolves in these parts, and lions, and worse things. No place for a little girl to be wandering alone.”

  “She’s not alone.” Gendry rode out from behind the cottage wall, and behind him Hot Pie, leading her horse. In his chainmail shirt with a sword in his hand, Gendry looked almost a man grown, and dangerous. Hot Pie looked like Hot Pie. “Do like she says, and leave us be,” warned Gendry.

  “Two and three,” the singer counted, “and is that all of you? And horses too, lovely horses. Where did you steal them?”

  “They’re ours.” Arya watched them carefully. The singer kept distracting her with his talk, but it was the archer who was the danger. If he should pull an arrow from the ground…

  “Will you give us your names like honest men?” the singer asked the boys.

  “I’m Hot Pie,” Hot Pie said at once.

  “Aye, and good for you.” The man smiled. “It’s not every day I meet a lad with such a tasty name. And what would your friends be called, Mutton Chop and Squab?”

  Gendry scowled down from his saddle. “Why should I tell you my name? I haven’t heard yours.”

  “Well, as to that, I’m Tom of Sevenstreams, but Tom Sevenstrings is what they call me, or Tom o’ Sevens. This great lout with the brown teeth is Lem, short for Lemoncloak. It’s yellow, you see, and Lem’s a sour sort. And young fellow me lad over there is Anguy, or Archer as we like to call him.”

  “Now who are you?” demanded Lem, in the deep voice that Arya had heard through the branches of the willow.

  She was not about to give up her true name as easy as that. “Squab, if you want,” she said. “I don’t care.”

  The big man laughed. “A squab with a sword,” he said. “Now there’s something you don’t often see.”

  “I’m the Bull,” said Gendry, taking his lead from Arya. She could not blame him for preferring Bull to Mutton Chop.

  Tom Sevenstrings strummed his harp. “Hot Pie, Squab, and the Bull. Escaped from Lord Bolton’s kitchen, did you?”

  “How did you know?” Arya demanded, uneasy.

  “You bear his sigil on your chest, little one.”

  She had forgotten that for an instant. Beneath her cloak, she still wore her fine page’s doublet, with the flayed man of the Dreadfort sewn on her breast. “Don’t call me little one!”

  “Why not?” said Lem. “You’re little enough.”

  “I’m bigger than I was. I’m not a child.” Children didn’t kill people, and she had.

  “I can see that, Squab. You’re none of you children, not if you were Bolton’s.”

  “We never were.” Hot Pie never knew when to keep quiet. “We were at Harrenhal before he came, that’s all.”

  “So you’re lion cubs, is that the way of it?” said Tom.

  “Not that either. We’re nobody’s men. Whose men are you?”

  Anguy the Archer said, “We’re king’s men.”

  Arya frowned. “Which king?”

  “King Robert,” said Lem, in his yellow cloak.

  “That old drunk?” said Gendry scornfully. “He’s dead, some boar killed him, everyone knows that.”

  “Aye, lad,” said Tom Sevenstrings, “and more’s the pity.” He plucked a sad chord from his harp.

  Arya didn’t think they were king’s men at all. They looked more like outlaws, all tattered and ragged. They didn’t even have horses to ride. King’s men would have had horses.

  But Hot Pie piped up eagerly. “We’re looking for Riverrun,” he said. “How many days’ ride is it, do you know?”

  Arya could have killed him. “You be quiet, or I’ll stuff rocks in your big stupid mouth.”

  “Riverrun is a long way upstream,” said Tom. “A long hungry way. Might be you’d like a hot meal before you set out? There’s an inn not far ahead kept by some friends of ours. We could share some ale and a bite of bread, instead of fighting one another.”

  “An inn?” The thought of hot food made Arya’s belly rumble, but she didn’t trust this Tom. Not everyone who spoke you friendly was really your friend. “It’s near, you say?”

  “Two miles upstream,” said Tom. “A league at most.”

  Gendry looked as uncertain as she felt. “What do you mean, friends?” he asked warily.

  “Friends. Have you forgotten what friends are?”

  “Sharna is the innkeep’s name,” Tom put in. “She has a sharp tongue and a fierce eye, I’ll grant you that, but her heart’s a good one, and she’s fond of little girls.”

  “I’m not a little girl,” she said angrily. “Who else is there? You said friends.”

  “Sharna’s husband, and an orphan boy they took in. They won’t harm you. There’s ale, if you think you’re old enough. Fresh bread and maybe a bit of meat.” Tom glanced toward the cottage. “And whatever you stole from Old Pate’s garden besides.”

  “We never stole,” said Arya.

  “Are you Old Pate’s daughter, then? A sister? A wife? Tell me no lies, Squab. I buried Old Pate myself, right there under that willow where you were hiding, and you don’t have his look.” He drew a sad sound from his harp. “We’ve buried many a good man this past year, but we’ve no wish to bury you, I swear it on my harp. Archer, show her.”

  The archer’s hand moved quicker than Arya would have believed. His shaft went hissing past her head within an inch of her ear and buried itself in the trunk of the willow behind her. By then the bowman had a second arrow notched and drawn. She’d thought she understood what Syrio meant by quick as a snake and smooth as summer silk, but now she knew she hadn’t. The arrow thrummed behind her like a bee. “You missed,” she said.

  “More fool you if you think so,” said Anguy. “They go where I send them.”

  “That they do,” agreed Lem Lemoncloak.

  There were a dozen steps between the archer and the point of her sword. We have no chance, Arya realized, wishing she had a bow like his, and the skill to use it. Glumly, she lowered her heavy longsword till the point touched the ground. “We’ll come see this inn,” she conceded, trying to hide the doubt in her heart behind bold words. “You walk in front and we’ll ride behind, so we can see what you’re doing.”

  Tom Sevenstrings bowe
d deeply and said, “Before, behind, it makes no matter. Come along, lads, let’s show them the way. Anguy, best pull up those arrows, we won’t be needing them here.”

  Arya sheathed her sword and crossed the road to where her friends sat on their horses, keeping her distance from the three strangers. “Hot Pie, get those cabbages,” she said as she vaulted into her saddle. “And the carrots too.”

  For once he did not argue. They set off as she had wanted, walking their horses slowly down the rutted road a dozen paces behind the three on foot. But before very long, somehow they were riding right on top of them. Tom Sevenstrings walked slowly, and liked to strum his woodharp as he went. “Do you know any songs?” he asked them. “I’d dearly love someone to sing with, that I would. Lem can’t carry a tune, and our longbow lad only knows marcher ballads, every one of them a hundred verses long.”

  “We sing real songs in the marches,” Anguy said mildly.

  “Singing is stupid,” said Arya. “Singing makes noise. We heard you a long way off. We could have killed you.”

  Tom’s smile said he did not think so. “There are worse things than dying with a song on your lips.”

  “If there were wolves hereabouts, we’d know it,” groused Lem. “Or lions. These are our woods.”

  “You never knew we were there,” said Gendry.

  “Now, lad, you shouldn’t be so certain of that,” said Tom. “Sometimes a man knows more than he says.”

  Hot Pie shifted his seat. “I know the song about the bear,” he said. “Some of it, anyhow.”

  Tom ran his fingers down his strings. “Then let’s hear it, pie boy.” He threw back his head and sang, “A bear there was, a bear, a bear! All black and brown, and covered with hair…”

  Hot Pie joined in lustily, even bouncing in his saddle a little on the rhymes. Arya stared at him in astonishment. He had a good voice and he sang well. He never did anything well, except bake, she thought to herself.

  A small brook flowed into the Trident a little farther on. As they waded across, their singing flushed a duck from among the reeds. Anguy stopped where he stood, unslung his bow, notched an arrow, and brought it down. The bird fell in the shallows not far from the bank. Lem took off his yellow cloak and waded in knee-deep to retrieve it, complaining all the while. “Do you think Sharna might have lemons down in that cellar of hers?” said Anguy to Tom as they watched Lem splash around, cursing. “A Dornish girl once cooked me duck with lemons.” He sounded wistful.

  Tom and Hot Pie resumed their song on the other side of the brook, with the duck hanging from Lem’s belt beneath his yellow cloak. Somehow the singing made the miles seem shorter. It was not very long at all until the inn appeared before them, rising from the riverbank where the Trident made a great bend to the north. Arya squinted at it suspiciously as they neared. It did not look like an outlaws’ lair, she had to admit; it looked friendly, even homey, with its whitewashed upper story and slate roof and the smoke curling up lazy from its chimney. Stables and other outbuildings surrounded it, and there was an arbor in back, and apple trees, a small garden. The inn even had its own dock, thrusting out into the river, and…

  “Gendry,” she called, her voice low and urgent. “They have a boat. We could sail the rest of the way up to Riverrun. It would be faster than riding, I think.”

  He looked dubious. “Did you ever sail a boat?”

  “You put up the sail,” she said, “and the wind pushes it.”

  “What if the wind is blowing the wrong way?”

  “Then there’s oars to row.”

  “Against the current?” Gendry frowned. “Wouldn’t that be slow? And what if the boat tips over and we fall into the water? It’s not our boat anyway, it’s the inn’s.”

  We could take it. Arya chewed her lip and said nothing. They dismounted in front of stables. There were no other horses to be seen, but Arya noticed fresh manure in many of the stalls. “One of us should watch the horses,” she said, wary.

  Tom overheard her. “There’s no need for that, Squab. Come eat, they’ll be safe enough.”

  “I’ll stay,” Gendry said, ignoring the singer. “You can come get me after you’ve had some food.”

  Nodding, Arya set off after Hot Pie and Lem. Her sword was still in its sheath across her back, and she kept a hand close to the hilt of the dagger she had stolen from Roose Bolton, in case she didn’t like whatever they found within.

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