A storm of swords, p.17
A Storm of Swords, p.17Part #3 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
The painted sign above the door showed a picture of some old king on his knees. Inside was the common room, where a very tall ugly woman with a knobby chin stood with her hands on her hips, glaring. “Don’t just stand there, boy,” she snapped. “Or are you a girl? Either one, you’re blocking my door. Get in or get out. Lem, what did I tell you about my floor? You’re all mud.”
“We shot a duck.” Lem held it out like a peace banner.
The woman snatched it from his hand. “Anguy shot a duck, is what you’re meaning. Get your boots off, are you deaf or just stupid?” She turned away. “Husband!” she called loudly. “Get up here, the lads are back. Husband!”
Up the cellar steps came a man in a stained apron, grumbling. He was a head shorter than the woman, with a lumpy face and loose yellowish skin that still showed the marks of some pox. “I’m here, woman, quit your bellowing. What is it now?”
“Hang this,” she said, handing him the duck.
Anguy shuffled his feet. “We were thinking we might eat it, Sharna. With lemons. If you had some.”
“Lemons. And where would we get lemons? Does this look like Dorne to you, you freckled fool? Why don’t you hop out back to the lemon trees and pick us a bushel, and some nice olives and pomegranates too.” She shook a finger at him. “Now, I suppose I could cook it with Lem’s cloak, if you like, but not till it’s hung for a few days. You’ll eat rabbit, or you won’t eat. Roast rabbit on a spit would be quickest, if you’ve got a hunger. Or might be you’d like it stewed, with ale and onions.”
Arya could almost taste the rabbit. “We have no coin, but we brought some carrots and cabbages we could trade you.”
“Did you now? And where would they be?”
“Hot Pie, give her the cabbages,” Arya said, and he did, though he approached the old woman as gingerly as if she were Rorge or Biter or Vargo Hoat.
The woman gave the vegetables a close inspection, and the boy a closer one. “Where is this hot pie?”
“Here. Me. It’s my name. And she’s… ah… Squab.”
“Not under my roof. I give my diners and my dishes different names, so as to tell them apart. Husband!”
Husband had stepped outside, but at her shout he hurried back. “The duck’s hung. What is it now, woman?”
“Wash these vegetables,” she commanded. “The rest of you, sit down while I start the rabbits. The boy will bring you drink.” She looked down her long nose at Arya and Hot Pie. “I am not in the habit of serving ale to children, but the cider’s run out, there’s no cows for milk, and the river water tastes of war, with all the dead men drifting downstream. If I served you a cup of soup full of dead flies, would you drink it?”
“Arry would,” said Hot Pie. “I mean, Squab.”
“So would Lem,” offered Anguy with a sly smile.
“Never you mind about Lem,” Sharna said. “It’s ale for all.” She swept off toward the kitchen.
Anguy and Tom Sevenstrings took the table near the hearth while Lem was hanging his big yellow cloak on a peg. Hot Pie plopped down heavily on a bench at the table by the door, and Arya wedged herself in beside him.
Tom unslung his harp. “A lonely inn on a forest road,” he sang, slowly picking out a tune to go with the words. “The innkeep’s wife was plain as a toad.”
“Shut up with that now or we won’t be getting no rabbit,” Lem warned him. “You know how she is.”
Arya leaned close to Hot Pie. “Can you sail a boat?” she asked. Before he could answer, a thickset boy of fifteen or sixteen appeared with tankards of ale. Hot Pie took his reverently in both hands, and when he sipped he smiled wider than Arya had ever seen him smile. “Ale,” he whispered, “and rabbit.”
“Well, here’s to His Grace,” Anguy the Archer called out cheerfully, lifting a toast. “Seven save the king!”
“All twelve o’ them,” Lem Lemoncloak muttered. He drank, and wiped the foam from his mouth with the back of his hand.
Husband came bustling in through the front door, with an apron full of washed vegetables. “There’s strange horses in the stable,” he announced, as if they hadn’t known.
“Aye,” said Tom, setting the woodharp aside, “and better horses than the three you gave away.”
Husband dropped the vegetables on a table, annoyed. “I never gave them away. I sold them for a good price, and got us a skiff as well. Anyways, you lot were supposed to get them back.”
I knew they were outlaws, Arya thought, listening. Her hand went under the table to touch the hilt of her dagger, and make sure it was still there. If they try to rob us, they’ll be sorry.
“They never came our way,” said Lem.
“Well, I sent them. You must have been drunk, or asleep.”
“Us? Drunk?” Tom drank a long draught of ale. “Never.”
“You could have taken them yourself,” Lem told Husband.
“What, with only the boy here? I told you twice, the old woman was up to Lambswold helping that Fern birth her babe. And like as not it was one o’ you planted the bastard in the poor girl’s belly.” He gave Tom a sour look. “You, I’d wager, with that harp o’ yours, singing all them sad songs just to get poor Fern out of her smallclothes.”
“If a song makes a maid want to slip off her clothes and feel the good warm sun kiss her skin, why, is that the singer’s fault?” asked Tom. “And ’twas Anguy she fancied, besides. ‘Can I touch your bow?’ I heard her ask him. ‘Ooohh, it feels so smooth and hard. Could I give it a little pull, do you think?’”
Husband snorted. “You and Anguy, makes no matter which. You’re as much to blame as me for them horses. They was three, you know. What can one man do against three?”
“Three,” said Lem scornfully, “but one a woman and t’other in chains, you said so yourself.”
Husband made a face. “A big woman, dressed like a man. And the one in chains… I didn’t fancy the look of his eyes.”
Anguy smiled over his ale. “When I don’t fancy a man’s eyes, I put an arrow through one.”
Arya remembered the shaft that had brushed by her ear. She wished she knew how to shoot arrows.
Husband was not impressed. “You be quiet when your elders are talking. Drink your ale and mind your tongue, or I’ll have the old woman take a spoon to you.”
“My elders talk too much, and I don’t need you to tell me to drink my ale.” He took a big swallow, to show that it was so.
Arya did the same. After days of drinking from brooks and puddles, and then the muddy Trident, the ale tasted as good as the little sips of wine her father used to allow her. A smell was drifting out from the kitchen that made her mouth water, but her thoughts were still full of that boat. Sailing it will be harder than stealing it. If we wait until they’re all asleep…
The serving boy reappeared with big round loaves of bread. Arya broke off a chunk hungrily and tore into it. It was hard to chew, though, sort of thick and lumpy, and burned on the bottom.
Hot Pie made a face as soon as he tasted it. “That’s bad bread,” he said. “It’s burned, and tough besides.”
“It’s better when there’s stew to sop up,” said Lem.
“No, it isn’t,” said Anguy, “but you’re less like to break your teeth.”
“You can eat it or go hungry,” said Husband. “Do I look like some bloody baker? I’d like to see you make better.”
“I could,” said Hot Pie. “It’s easy. You kneaded the dough too much, that’s why it’s so hard to chew.” He took another sip of ale, and began talking lovingly of breads and pies and tarts, all the things he loved. Arya rolled her eyes.
Tom sat down across from her. “Squab,” he said, “or Arry, or whatever your true name might be, this is for you.” He placed a dirty scrap of parchment on the wooden tabletop between them.
She looked at it suspiciously. “What is it?”
“Three golden dragons. We need to buy those horses.”
Arya looked at him warily. “They’re our horses.”<
“Meaning you stole them yourselves, is that it? No shame in that, girl. War makes thieves of many honest folk.” Tom tapped the folded parchment with his finger. “I’m paying you a handsome price. More than any horse is worth, if truth be told.”
Hot Pie grabbed the parchment and unfolded it. “There’s no gold,” he complained loudly. “It’s only writing.”
“Aye,” said Tom, “and I’m sorry for that. But after the war, we mean to make that good, you have my word as a king’s man.”
Arya pushed back from the table and got to her feet. “You’re no king’s men, you’re robbers.”
“If you’d ever met a true robber, you’d know they do not pay, not even in paper. It’s not for us we take your horses, child, it’s for the good of the realm, so we can get about more quickly and fight the fights that need fighting. The king’s fights. Would you deny the king?”
They were all watching her; the Archer, big Lem, Husband with his sallow face and shifty eyes. Even Sharna, who stood in the door to the kitchen squinting. They are going to take our horses no matter what I say, she realized. We’ll need to walk to Riverrun, unless… “We don’t want paper.” Arya slapped the parchment out of Hot Pie’s hand. “You can have our horses for that boat outside. But only if you show us how to work it.”
Tom Sevenstrings stared at her a moment, and then his wide homely mouth quirked into a rueful grin. He laughed aloud. Anguy joined in, and then they were all laughing, Lem Lemoncloak, Sharna and Husband, even the serving boy, who had stepped out from behind the casks with a crossbow under one arm. Arya wanted to scream at them, but instead she started to smile…
“Riders!” Gendry’s shout was shrill with alarm. The door burst open and there he was. “Soldiers,” he panted. “Coming down the river road, a dozen of them.”
Hot Pie leapt up, knocking over his tankard, but Tom and the others were unpertubed. “There’s no cause for spilling good ale on my floor,” said Sharna. “Sit back down and calm yourself, boy, there’s rabbit coming. You too, girl. Whatever harm’s been done you, it’s over and it’s done and you’re with king’s men now. We’ll keep you safe as best we can.”
Arya’s only answer was to reach over her shoulder for her sword, but before she had it halfway drawn Lem grabbed her wrist. “We’ll have no more of that, now.” He twisted her arm until her hand opened. His fingers were hard with callus and fearsomely strong. Again! Arya thought. It’s happening again, like it happened in the village, with Chiswyck and Raff and the Mountain That Rides. They were going to steal her sword and turn her back into a mouse. Her free hand closed around her tankard, and she swung it at Lem’s face. The ale sloshed over the rim and splashed into his eyes, and she heard his nose break and saw the spurt of blood. When he roared his hands went to his face, and she was free. “Run!” she screamed, bolting.
But Lem was on her again at once, with his long legs that made one of his steps equal to three of hers. She twisted and kicked, but he yanked her off her feet effortlessly and held her dangling while the blood ran down his face.
“Stop it, you little fool,” he shouted, shaking her back and forth. “Stop it now!” Gendry moved to help her, until Tom Sevenstrings stepped in front of him with a dagger.
By then it was too late to flee. She could hear horses outside, and the sound of men’s voices. A moment later a man came swaggering through the open door, a Tyroshi even bigger than Lem with a great thick beard, bright green at the ends but growing out grey. Behind came a pair of crossbowmen helping a wounded man between them, and then others…
A more ragged band Arya had never seen, but there was nothing ragged about the swords, axes, and bows they carried. One or two gave her curious glances as they entered, but no one said a word. A one-eyed man in a rusty pothelm sniffed the air and grinned, while an archer with a head of stiff yellow hair was shouting for ale. After them came a spearman in a lion-crested helm, an older man with a limp, a Braavosi sellsword, a…
“Harwin?” Arya whispered. It was! Under the beard and the tangled hair was the face of Hullen’s son, who used to lead her pony around the yard, ride at quintain with Jon and Robb, and drink too much on feast days. He was thinner, harder somehow, and at Winterfell he had never worn a beard, but it was him — her father’s man. “Harwin!” Squirming, she threw herself forward, trying to wrench free of Lem’s iron grip. “It’s me,” she shouted, “Harwin, it’s me, don’t you know me, don’t you?” The tears came, and she found herself weeping like a baby, just like some stupid little girl. “Harwin, it’s me!”
Harwin’s eyes went from her face to the flayed man on her doublet. “How do you know me?” he said, frowning suspiciously. “The flayed man… who are you, some serving boy to Lord Leech?”
For a moment she did not know how to answer. She’d had so many names. Had she only dreamed Arya Stark? “I’m a girl,” she sniffed. “I was Lord Bolton’s cupbearer but he was going to leave me for the goat, so I ran off with Gendry and Hot Pie. You have to know me! You used to lead my pony, when I was little.”
His eyes went wide, “Gods be good,” he said in a choked voice. “Arya Underfoot? Lem, let go of her.”
“She broke my nose.” Lem dumped her unceremoniously to the floor. “Who in seven hells is she supposed to be?”
“The Hand’s daughter.” Harwin went to one knee before her. “Arya Stark, of Winterfell.”
Robb, she knew, the moment she heard the kennels erupt.
Her son had returned to Riverrun, and Grey Wind with him. Only the scent of the great grey direwolf could send the hounds into such a frenzy of baying and barking. He will come to me, she knew. Edmure had not returned after his first visit, preferring to spend his days with Marq Piper and Patrek Mallister, listening to Rymund the Rhymer’s verses about the battle at the Stone Mill. Robb is not Edmure, though. Robb will see me.
It had been raining for days now, a cold grey downpour that well suited Catelyn’s mood. Her father was growing weaker and more delirious with every passing day, waking only to mutter, “Tansy,” and beg forgiveness. Edmure shunned her, and Ser Desmond Grell still denied her freedom of the castle, however unhappy it seemed to make him. Only the return of Ser Robin Ryger and his men, footweary and drenched to the bone, served to lighten her spirits. They had walked back, it seemed. Somehow the Kingslayer had contrived to sink their galley and escape, Maester Vyman confided. Catelyn asked if she might speak with Ser Robin to learn more of what had happened, but that was refused her.
Something else was wrong as well. On the day her brother returned, a few hours after their argument, she had heard angry voices from the yard below. When she climbed to the roof to see, there were knots of men gathered across the castle beside the main gate. Horses were being led from the stables, saddled and bridled, and there was shouting, though Catelyn was too far away to make out the words. One of Robb’s white banners lay on the ground, and one of the knights turned his horse and trampled over the direwolf as he spurred toward the gate. Several others did the same. Those are men who fought with Edmure on the fords, she thought. What could have made them so angry? Has my brother slighted them somehow, given them some insult? She thought she recognized Ser Perwyn Frey, who had traveled with her to Bitterbridge and Storm’s End and back, and his bastard half brother Martyn Rivers as well, but from this vantage it was hard to be certain. Close to forty men poured out through the castle gates, to what end she did not know.
They did not come back. Nor would Maester Vyman tell her who they had been, where they had gone, or what had made them so angry. “I am here to see to your father, and only that, my lady,” he said. “Your brother will soon be Lord of Riverrun. What he wishes you to know, he must tell you.”
But now Robb was returned from the west, returned in triumph. He will forgive me, Catelyn told herself. He must forgive me, he is my own son, and Arya and Sansa are as much his blood as mine. He will free me from these rooms and then I will know what has happened.
It was the moment she had dreamt of and dreaded. Have I lost two sons, or three? She would know soon enough.
The hall was crowded when they entered. Every eye was on the dais, but Catelyn knew their backs: Lady Mormont’s patched ringmail, the Greatjon and his son looming above every other head in the hall, Lord Jason Mallister white-haired with his winged helm in the crook of his arm, Tytos Blackwood in his magnificent raven-feather cloak… Half of them will want to hang me now. The other half may only turn their eyes away. She had the uneasy feeling that someone was missing, too.
Robb stood on the dais. He is a boy no longer, she realized with a pang. He is sixteen now, a man grown. Just look at him. War had melted all the softness from his face and left him hard and lean. He had shaved his beard away, but his auburn hair fell uncut to his shoulders. The recent rains had rusted his mail and left brown stains on the white of his cloak and surcoat. Or perhaps the stains were blood. On his head was the sword crown they had fashioned him of bronze and iron. He bears it more comfortably now. He bears it like a king.
Edmure stood below the crowded dais, head bowed modestly as Robb praised his victory. “… fell at the Stone Mill shall never be forgotten. Small wonder Lord Tywin ran off to fight Stannis. He’d had his fill of northmen and rivermen both.” That brought laughter and approving shouts, but Robb raised a hand for quiet. “Make no mistake, though. The Lannisters will march again, and there will be other battles to win before the kingdom is secure.”
The Greatjon roared out, “King in the North!” and thrust a mailed fist into the air. The river lords answered with a shout of “King of the Trident!” The hall grew thunderous with pounding fists and stamping feet.
Only a few noted Catelyn and Ser Desmond amidst the tumult, but they elbowed their fellows, and slowly a hush grew around her. She held her head high and ignored the eyes. Let them think what they will. It is Robb’s judgment that matters.
The sight of Ser Brynden Tully’s craggy face on the dais gave her comfort. A boy she did not know seemed to be acting as Robb’s squire. Behind him stood a young knight in a sand-colored surcoat blazoned with seashells, and an older one who wore three black pepperpots on a saffron bend, across a field of green and silver stripes. Between them were a handsome older lady and a pretty maid who looked to be her daughter. There was another girl as well, near Sansa’s age. The seashells were the sigil of some lesser house, Catelyn knew; the older man’s she did not recognize. Prisoners? Why would Robb bring captives onto the dais?
Utherydes Wayn banged his staff on the floor as Ser Desmond escorted her forward. If Robb looks at me as Edmure did, I do not know what I will do. But it seemed to her that it was not anger she saw in her son’s eyes, but something else… apprehension, perhaps? No, that made no sense. What should he fear? He was the Young Wolf, King of the Trident and the North.
Her uncle was the first to greet her. As black a fish as ever, Ser Brynden had no care for what others might think. He leapt off the dais and pulled Catelyn into his arms. When he said, “It is good to see you home, Cat,” she had to struggle to keep her composure. “And you,” she whispered.
Catelyn looked up at her tall kingly son. “Your Grace, I have prayed for your safe return. I had heard you were wounded.”
“I took an arrow through the arm while storming the Crag,” he said. “It’s healed well, though. I had the best of care.”
“The gods are good, then.” Catelyn took a deep breath. Say it. It cannot be avoided. “They will have told you what I did. Did they tell you my reasons?”
“For the girls.”
“I had five children. Now I have three.”
“Aye, my lady.” Lord Rickard Karstark pushed past the Greatjon, like some grim specter with his black mail and long ragged grey beard, his narrow face pinched and cold. “And I have one son, who once had three. You have robbed me of my vengeance.”
Catelyn faced him calmly. “Lord Rickard, the Kingslayer’s dying would not have bought life for your children. His living may buy life for mine.”
The lord was unappeased. “Jaime Lannister has played you for a fool. You’ve bought a bag of empty words, no more. My Torrhen and my Eddard deserved better of you.”
“Leave off, Karstark,” rumbled the Greatjon, crossing his huge arms against his chest. “It was a mother’s folly. Women are made that way.”
“A mother’s folly?” Lord Karstark rounded on Lord Umber. “I name it treason.”
“Enough.” For just an instant Robb sounded more like Brandon than his father. “No man calls my lady of Winterfell a traitor in my hearing, Lord Rickard.” When he turned to Catelyn, his voice softened. “If I could wish the Kingslayer back in chains I would. You freed him without my knowledge or consent… but what you did, I know you did for love. For Arya and Sansa, and out of grief for Bran and Rickon. Love’s not always wise, I’ve learned. It can lead us to great folly, but we follow our hearts… wherever they take us. Don’t we, Mother?”
Is that what I did? “If my heart led me into folly, I would gladly make whatever amends I can to Lord Karstark and yourself.”
Lord Rickard’s face was implacable. “Will your amends warm Torrhen and Eddard in the cold graves where the Kingslayer laid them?” He shouldered between the Greatjon and Maege Mormont and left the hall.
Robb made no move to detain him. “Forgive him, Mother.”
“If you will forgive me.”
“I have. I know what it is to love so greatly you can think of nothing else.”
Catelyn bowed her head. “Thank you.” I have not lost this child, at least.
“We must talk,” Robb went on. “You and my uncles. Of this and… other things. Steward, call an end.”
Utherydes Wayn slammed his staff on the floor and shouted the dismissal, and river lords and northerners alike moved toward the doors. It was only then that Catelyn realized what was amiss. The wolf. The wolf is not here. Where is Grey Wind? She knew the direwolf had returned with Robb, she had heard the dogs, but he was not in the hall, not at her son’s side where he belonged.
Before she could think to question Robb, however, she found herself
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on73 votes