A storm of swords, p.3
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       A Storm of Swords, p.3

         Part #3 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
 

  Cersei’s Cunt, the singers will call it.”

  “Jaime, let go of me!” she raged, struggling to rise.

  Instead he had kissed her. For a moment she resisted, but then her mouth opened under his. He remembered the taste of wine and cloves on her tongue. She gave a shudder. His hand went to her bodice and yanked, tearing the silk so her breasts spilled free, and for a time the Stark boy had been forgotten.

  Had Cersei remembered him afterward and hired this man Lady Catelyn spoke of, to make sure the boy never woke? If she wanted him dead she would have sent me. And it is not like her to chose a catspaw who would make such a royal botch of the killing.

  Downriver, the rising sun shimmered against the wind-whipped surface of the river. The south shore was red clay, smooth as any road. Smaller streams fed into the greater, and the rotting trunks of drowned trees clung to the banks. The north shore was wilder. High rocky bluffs rose twenty feet above them, crowned by stands of beech, oak, and chestnut. Jaime spied a watchtower on the heights ahead, growing taller with every stroke of the oars. Long before they were upon it, he knew that it stood abandoned, its weathered stones overgrown with climbing roses.

  When the wind shifted, Ser Cleos helped the big wench run up the sail, a stiff triangle of striped red-and-blue canvas. Tully colors, sure to cause them grief if they encountered any Lannister forces on the river, but it was the only sail they had. Brienne took the rudder. Jaime threw out the leeboard, his chains rattling as he moved. After that, they made better speed, with wind and current both favoring their flight. “We could save a deal of traveling if you delivered me to my father instead of my brother,” he pointed out.

  “Lady Catelyn’s daughters are in King’s Landing. I will return with the girls or not at all.”

  Jaime turned to Ser Cleos. “Cousin, lend me your knife.”

  “No.” The woman tensed. “I will not have you armed.” Her voice was as unyielding as stone.

  She fears me, even in irons. “Cleos, it seems I must ask you to shave me. Leave the beard, but take the hair off my head.”

  “You’d be shaved bald?” asked Cleos Frey.

  “The realm knows Jaime Lannister as a beardless knight with long golden hair. A bald man with a filthy yellow beard may pass unnoticed. I’d sooner not be recognized while I’m in irons.”

  The dagger was not as sharp as it might have been. Cleos hacked away manfully, sawing and ripping his way through the mats and tossing the hair over the side. The golden curls floated on the surface of the water, gradually falling astern. As the tangles vanished, a louse went crawling down his neck. Jaime caught it and crushed it against his thumbnail. Ser Cleos picked others from his scalp and flicked them into the water. Jaime doused his head and made Ser Cleos whet the blade before he let him scrape away the last inch of yellow stubble. When that was done, they trimmed back his beard as well.

  The reflection in the water was a man he did not know. Not only was he bald, but he looked as though he had aged five years in that dungeon; his face was thinner, with hollows under his eyes and lines he did not remember. I don’t look as much like Cersei this way. She’ll hate that.

  By midday, Ser Cleos had fallen asleep. His snores sounded like ducks mating. Jaime stretched out to watch the world flow past; after the dark cell, every rock and tree was a wonder.

  A few one-room shacks came and went, perched on tall poles that made them look like cranes. Of the folk who lived there they saw no sign. Birds flew overhead, or cried out from the trees along the shore, and Jaime glimpsed silvery fish knifing through the water. Tully trout, there’s a bad omen, he thought, until he saw a worse — one of the floating logs they passed turned out to be a dead man, bloodless and swollen. His cloak was tangled in the roots of a fallen tree, its color unmistakably Lannister crimson. He wondered if the corpse had been someone he knew.

  The forks of the Trident were the easiest way to move goods or men across the riverlands. In times of peace, they would have encountered fisherfolk in their skiffs, grain barges being poled downstream, merchants selling needles and bolts of cloth from floating shops, perhaps even a gaily painted mummer’s boat with quilted sails of half a hundred colors, making its way upriver from village to village and castle to castle.

  But the war had taken its toll. They sailed past villages, but saw no villagers. An empty net, slashed and torn and hanging from some trees, was the only sign of fisherfolk. A young girl watering her horse rode off as soon as she glimpsed their sail. Later they passed a dozen peasants digging in a field beneath the shell of a burnt towerhouse. The men gazed at them with dull eyes, and went back to their labors once they decided the skiff was no threat.

  The Red Fork was wide and slow, a meandering river of loops and bends dotted with tiny wooded islets and frequently choked by sandbars and snags that lurked just below the water’s surface. Brienne seemed to have a keen eye for the dangers, though, and always seemed to find the channel. When Jaime complimented her on her knowledge of the river, she looked at him suspiciously and said, “I do not know the river. Tarth is an island. I learned to manage oars and sail before I ever sat a horse.”

  Ser Cleos sat up and rubbed at his eyes. “Gods, my arms are sore. I hope the wind lasts.” He sniffed at it. “I smell rain.”

  Jaime would welcome a good rain. The dungeons of Riverrun were not the cleanest place in the Seven Kingdoms. By now he must smell like an overripe cheese.

  Cleos squinted downriver. “Smoke.”

  A thin grey finger crooked them on. It was rising from the south bank several miles on, twisting and curling. Below, Jaime made out the smouldering remains of a large building, and a live oak full of dead women.

  The crows had scarcely started on their corpses. The thin ropes cut deeply into the soft flesh of their throats, and when the wind blew they twisted and swayed. “This was not chivalrously done,” said Brienne when they were close enough to see it clearly. “No true knight would condone such wanton butchery.”

  “True knights see worse every time they ride to war, wench,” said Jaime. “And do worse, yes.”

  Brienne turned the rudder toward the shore. “I’ll leave no innocents to be food for crows.”

  “A heartless wench. Crows need to eat as well. Stay to the river and leave the dead alone, woman.”

  They landed upstream of where the great oak leaned out over the water. As Brienne lowered the sail, Jaime climbed out, clumsy in his chains. The Red Fork filled his boots and soaked through the ragged breeches. Laughing, he dropped to his knees, plunged his head under the water, and came up drenched and dripping. His hands were caked with dirt, and when he rubbed them clean in the current they seemed thinner and paler than he remembered. His legs were stiff as well, and unsteady when he put his weight upon them. I was too bloody long in Hoster Tully’s dungeon.

  Brienne and Cleos dragged the skiff onto the bank. The corpses hung above their heads, ripening in death like foul fruit. “One of us will need to cut them down,” the wench said.

  “I’ll climb.” Jaime waded ashore, clanking. “Just get these chains off.”

  The wench was staring up at one of the dead women. Jaime shuffled closer with small stutter steps, the only kind the foot-long chain permitted. When he saw the crude sign hung about the neck of the highest corpse, he smiled. “They Lay With Lions,” he read. “Oh, yes, woman, this was most unchivalrously done… but by your side, not mine. I wonder who they were, these women?”

  “Tavern wenches,” said Ser Cleos Frey. “This was an inn, I remember it now. Some men of my escort spent the night here when we last returned to Riverrun.” Nothing remained of the building but the stone foundation and a tangle of collapsed beams, charred black. Smoke still rose from the ashes.

  Jaime left brothels and whores to his brother Tyrion; Cersei was the only woman he had ever wanted. “The girls pleasured some of my lord father’s soldiers, it would seem. Perhaps served them food and drink. That’s how they earned their traitors’ collars, with a kiss and
a cup of ale.” He glanced up and down the river, to make certain they were quite alone. “This is Bracken land. Lord Jonos might have ordered them killed. My father burned his castle, I fear he loves us not.”

  “It might be Marq Piper’s work,” said Ser Cleos. “Or that wisp o’ the wood Beric Dondarrion, though I’d heard he kills only soldiers. Perhaps a band of Roose Bolton’s northmen?”

  “Bolton was defeated by my father on the Green Fork.”

  “But not broken,” said Ser Cleos. “He came south again when Lord Tywin marched against the fords. The word at Riverrun was that he’d taken Harrenhal from Ser Amory Lorch.”

  Jaime liked the sound of that not at all. “Brienne,” he said, granting her the courtesy of the name in the hopes that she might listen, “if Lord Bolton holds Harrenhal, both the Trident and the kingsroad are likely watched.”

  He thought he saw a touch of uncertainty in her big blue eyes. “You are under my protection. They’d need to kill me.”

  “I shouldn’t think that would trouble them.”

  “I am as good a fighter as you,” she said defensively. “I was one of King Renly’s chosen seven. With his own hands, he cloaked me with the striped silk of the Rainbow Guard.”

  “The Rainbow Guard? You and six other girls, was it? A singer once said that all maids are fair in silk… but he never met you, did he?”

  The woman turned red. “We have graves to dig.” She went to climb the tree.

  The lower limbs of the oak were big enough for her to stand upon once she’d gotten up the trunk. She walked amongst the leaves, dagger in hand, cutting down the corpses. Flies swarmed around the bodies as they fell, and the stench grew worse with each one she dropped. “This is a deal of trouble to take for whores,” Ser Cleos complained. “What are we supposed to dig with? We have no spades, and I will not use my sword, I—”

  Brienne gave a shout. She jumped down rather than climbing. “To the boat. Be quick. There’s a sail.”

  They made what haste they could, though Jaime could hardly run, and had to be pulled back up into the skiff by his cousin. Brienne shoved off with an oar and raised sail hurriedly. “Ser Cleos, I’ll need you to row as well.”

  He did as she bid. The skiff began to cut the water a bit faster; current, wind, and oars all worked for them. Jaime sat chained, peering upriver. Only the top of the other sail was visible. With the way the Red Fork looped, it looked to be across the fields, moving north behind a screen of trees while they moved south, but he knew that was deceptive. He lifted both hands to shade his eyes. “Mud red and watery blue,” he announced.

  Brienne’s big mouth worked soundlessly, giving her the look of a cow chewing its cud. “Faster, ser.”

  The inn soon vanished behind them, and they lost sight of the top of the sail as well, but that meant nothing. Once the pursuers swung around the loop they would become visible again. “We can hope the noble Tullys will stop to bury the dead whores, I suppose.” The prospect of returning to his cell did not appeal to Jaime. Tyrion could think of something clever now, but all that occurs to me is to go at them with a sword.

  For the good part of an hour they played peek-and-seek with the pursuers, sweeping around bends and between small wooded isles. Just when they were starting to hope that somehow they might have left behind the pursuit, the distant sail became visible again. Ser Cleos paused in his stroke. “The Others take them.” He wiped sweat from his brow.

  “Row!” Brienne said.

  “That is a river galley coming after us,” Jaime announced after he’d watched for a while. With every stroke, it seemed to grow a little larger. “Nine oars on each side, which means eighteen men. More, if they crowded on fighters as well as rowers. And larger sails than ours. We cannot outrun her.”

  Ser Cleos froze at his oars. “Eighteen, you said?”

  “Six for each of us. I’d want eight, but these bracelets hinder me somewhat.” Jaime held up his wrists. “Unless the Lady Brienne would be so kind as to unshackle me?”

  She ignored him, putting all her effort into her stroke.

  “We had half a night’s start on them,” Jaime said. “They’ve been rowing since dawn, resting two oars at a time. They’ll be exhausted. Just now the sight of our sail has given them a burst of strength, but that will not last. We ought to be able to kill a good many of them.”

  Ser Cleos gaped. “But… there are eighteen.”

  “At the least. More likely twenty or twenty-five.”

  His cousin groaned. “We can’t hope to defeat eighteen.”

  “Did I say we could? The best we can hope for is to die with swords in our hands.” He was perfectly sincere. Jaime Lannister had never been afraid of death.

  Brienne broke off rowing. Sweat had stuck strands of her flax-colored hair to her forehead, and her grimace made her look homelier than ever. “You are under my protection,” she said, her voice so thick with anger that it was almost a growl.

  He had to laugh at such fierceness. She’s the Hound with teats, he thought. Or would be, if she had any teats to speak of. “Then protect me, wench. Or free me to protect myself.”

  The galley was skimming downriver, a great wooden dragonfly. The water around her was churned white by the furious action of her oars. She was gaining visibly, the men on her deck crowding forward as she came on. Metal glinted in their hands, and Jaime could see bows as well. Archers. He hated archers.

  At the prow of the onrushing galley stood a stocky man with a bald head, bushy grey eyebrows, and brawny arms. Over his mail he wore a soiled white surcoat with a weeping willow embroidered in pale green, but his cloak was fastened with a silver trout. Riverrun’s captain of guards. In his day Ser Robin Ryger had been a notably tenacious fighter, but his day was done; he was of an age with Hoster Tully, and had grown old with his lord.

  When the boats were fifty yards apart, Jaime cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted back over the water. “Come to wish me godspeed, Ser Robin?”

  “Come to take you back, Kingslayer,” Ser Robin Ryger bellowed. “How is it that you’ve lost your golden hair?”

  “I hope to blind my enemies with the sheen off my head. It’s worked well enough for you.”

  Ser Robin was unamused. The distance between skiff and galley had shrunk to forty yards. “Throw your oars and your weapons into the river, and no one need be harmed.”

  Ser Cleos twisted around. “Jaime, tell him we were freed by Lady Catelyn… an exchange of captives, lawful…”

  Jaime told him, for all the good it did. “Catelyn Stark does not rule in Riverrun,” Ser Robin shouted back. Four archers crowded into position on either side of him, two standing and two kneeling. “Cast your swords into the water.”

  “I have no sword,” he returned, “but if I did, I’d stick it through your belly and hack the balls off those four cravens.”

  A flight of arrows answered him. One thudded into the mast, two pierced the sail, and the fourth missed Jaime by a foot.

  Another of the Red Fork’s broad loops loomed before them. Brienne angled the skiff across the bend. The yard swung as they turned, their sail cracking as it filled with wind. Ahead a large island sat in midstream. The main channel flowed right. To the left a cutoff ran between the island and the high bluffs of the north shore. Brienne moved the tiller and the skiff sheared left, sail rippling. Jaime watched her eyes. Pretty eyes, he thought, and calm. He knew how to read a man’s eyes. He knew what fear looked like. She is determined, not desperate.

  Thirty yards behind, the galley was entering the bend. “Ser Cleos, take the tiller,” the wench commanded. “Kingslayer, take an oar and keep us off the rocks.”

  “As my lady commands.” An oar was not a sword, but the blade could break a man’s face if well swung, and the shaft could be used to parry.

  Ser Cleos shoved the oar into Jaime’s hand and scrambled aft. They crossed the head of the island and turned sharply down the cutoff, sending a wash of water against the face of the bluff as the boat ti
lted. The island was densely wooded, a tangle of willows, oaks, and tall pines that cast deep shadows across the rushing water, hiding snags and the rotted trunks of drowned trees. To their left the bluff rose sheer and rocky, and at its foot the river foamed whitely around broken boulders and tumbles of rock fallen from the cliff face.

  They passed from sunlight into shadow, hidden from the galley’s view between the green wall of the trees and the stony grey-brown bluff. A few moments’ respite from the arrows, Jaime thought, pushing them off a half-submerged boulder.

  The skiff rocked. He heard a soft splash, and when he glanced around, Brienne was gone. A moment later he spied her again, pulling herself from the water at the base of the bluff. She waded through a shallow pool, scrambled over some rocks, and began to climb. Ser Cleos goggled, mouth open. Fool, thought Jaime. “Ignore the wench,” he snapped at his cousin. “Steer.”

  They could see the sail moving behind the trees. The river galley came into full view at the top of the cutoff, twenty-five yards behind. Her bow swung hard as she came around, and a half-dozen arrows took flight, but all went well wide. The motion of the two boats was giving the archers difficulty, but Jaime knew they’d soon enough learn to compensate. Brienne was halfway up the cliff face, pulling herself from handhold to handhold. Ryger’s sure to see her, and once he does he’ll have those bowmen bring her down. Jaime decided to see if the old man’s pride would make him stupid. “Ser Robin,” he shouted, “hear me for a moment.”

  Ser Robin raised a hand, and his archers lowered their bows. “Say what you will, Kingslayer, but say it quickly.”

  The skiff swung through a litter of broken stones as Jaime called out, “I know a better way to settle this — single combat. You and I.”

  “I was not born this morning, Lannister.”

  “No, but you’re like to die this afternoon.” Jaime raised his hands so the other could see the manacles. “I’ll fight you in chains. What could you fear?”

  “Not you, ser. If the choice were mine, I’d like nothing better, but I am commanded to bring you back alive if possible. Bowmen.” He signaled them on. “Notch. Draw. Loo—”

  The range was less than twenty yards. The archers could scarcely have missed, but as they pulled on their longbows a rain of pebbles cascaded down around them. Small stones rattled on their deck, bounced off their helms, and made splashes on both sides of the bow. Those who had wits enough to understand raised their eyes just as a boulder the size of a cow detached itself from the top of the bluff. Ser Robin shouted in dismay. The stone tumbled through the air, struck the face of the cliff, cracked in two, and smashed down on them. The larger piece snapped the mast, tore through the sail, sent two of the archers flying into the river, and crushed the leg of a rower as he bent over his oar. The rapidity with which the galley began to fill with water suggested that the smaller fragment had punched right through her hull. The oarsman’s screams echoed off the bluff while the archers flailed wildly in the current. From the way they were splashing, neither man could swim. Jaime laughed.

  By the time they emerged from the cutoff, the galley was foundering amongst pools, eddies, and snags, and Jaime Lannister had decided that the gods were good. Ser Robin and his thrice-damned archers would have a long wet walk back to Riverrun, and he was rid of the big homely wench as well. I could not have planned it better myself. Once I’m free of these irons…

  Ser Cleos raised a shout. When Jaime looked up, Brienne was lumbering along the clifftop well ahead of them, having cut across a finger of land while they were following the bend in the river. She threw herself off the rock, and looked almost graceful as she folded into a dive. It would have been ungracious to hope that she would smash her head on a stone. Ser Cleos turned the skiff toward her. Thankfully, Jaime still had his oar. One good swing when she comes paddling up and I’ll be free of her.

  Instead he found himself stretching the oar out over the water. Brienne grabbed hold, and Jaime pulled her in. As he helped her into the skiff, water ran from her hair and dripped from her sodden clothing to pool on the deck. She’s even uglier wet. Who would have thought it possible? “You’re a bloody stupid wench,” he told her. “We could have sailed on without you. I suppose you expect me to thank you?”

  “I want none of your thanks, Kingslayer. I swore an oath to bring you safe to King’s Landing.”

  “And you actually mean to keep it?” Jaime gave her his brightest smile. “Now there’s a wonder.”

  CATELYN

  Ser Desmond Grell had served House Tully all his life. He had been a squire when Catelyn was born, a knight when she learned to walk and ride and swim, master-at-arms by the day that she was wed. He had seen Lord Hoster’s little Cat become a young woman, a great lord’s lady, mother to a king. And now he has seen me become a traitor as well.

  Her brother Edmure had named Ser Desmond castellan of Riverrun when he rode off to battle, so it fell to him to deal with her crime. To ease his discomfort he brought her father’s steward with him, dour Utherydes Wayn. The two men stood and looked at her; Ser Desmond stout, red-faced, embarrassed, Utherydes grave, gaunt, melancholy. Each waited for the other to speak. They have given their lives to my father’s service, and I have repaid them with disgrace, Catelyn thought wearily.

  “Your sons,” Ser Desmond said at last. “Maester Vyman told us. The poor lads. Terrible. Terrible. But…”

  “We share your grief, my lady,” said Utherydes Wayn. “All Riverrun mourns with you, but…”

  “The news must have driven you mad,” Ser Desmond broke in, “a madness of grief, a mother’s madness, men will understand. You did not know…”

  “I did,” Catelyn said firmly. “I understood what I was doing and knew it was treasonous. If you fail to punish me, men will believe that we connived together to free Jaime Lannister. It was mine own act and mine alone, and I alone must answer for it. Put me in the Kingslayer’s empty irons, and I will wear them proudly, if that is how it must be.”

  “Fetters?” The very word seemed to shock poor Ser Desmond. “For the king’s mother, my lord’s own daughter? Impossible.”

  “Mayhaps,” said the steward Utherydes Wayn, “my lady would consent to be confined to her chambers until Ser Edmure returns. A time alone, to pray for her murdered sons?”

  “Confined, aye,” Ser Desmond said. “Confined to a tower cell, that would serve.”

  “If I am to be confined, let it be in my father’s chambers, so I might comfort him in his last days.”

  Ser Desmond considered a moment. “Very well. You shall lack no comfort nor courtesy, but freedom of the castle is denied you. Visit the sept as you need, but elsewise remain in Lord Hoster’s chambers until Lord Edmure returns.”

  “As you wish.” Her brother was no lord while their father lived, but Catelyn did not correct him. “Set a guard on me if you must, but I give you my pledge
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