A storm of swords, p.52
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       A Storm of Swords, p.52

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

  he loved his harp much better than his lance.”

  “He won some tourneys, surely,” said Dany, disappointed.

  “When he was young, His Grace rode brilliantly in a tourney at Storm’s End, defeating Lord Steffon Baratheon, Lord Jason Mallister, the Red Viper of Dorne, and a mystery knight who proved to be the infamous Simon Toyne, chief of the kingswood outlaws. He broke twelve lances against Ser Arthur Dayne that day.”

  “Was he the champion, then?”

  “No, Your Grace. That honor went to another knight of the Kingsguard, who unhorsed Prince Rhaegar in the final tilt.”

  Dany did not want to hear about Rhaegar being unhorsed. “But what tourneys did my brother win?”

  “Your Grace.” The old man hesitated. “He won the greatest tourney of them all.”

  “Which was that?” Dany demanded.

  “The tourney Lord Whent staged at Harrenhal beside the Gods Eye, in the year of the false spring. A notable event. Besides the jousting, there was a mêlée in the old style fought between seven teams of knights, as well as archery and axe-throwing, a horse race, a tournament of singers, a mummer show, and many feasts and frolics. Lord Whent was as open handed as he was rich. The lavish purses he proclaimed drew hundreds of challengers. Even your royal father came to Harrenhal, when he had not left the Red Keep for long years. The greatest lords and mightiest champions of the Seven Kingdoms rode in that tourney, and the Prince of Dragonstone bested them all.”

  “But that was the tourney when he crowned Lyanna Stark as queen of love and beauty!” said Dany. “Princess Elia was there, his wife, and yet my brother gave the crown to the Stark girl, and later stole her away from her betrothed. How could he do that? Did the Dornish woman treat him so ill?”

  “It is not for such as me to say what might have been in your brother’s heart, Your Grace. The Princess Elia was a good and gracious lady, though her health was ever delicate.”

  Dany pulled the lion pelt tighter about her shoulders. “Viserys said once that it was my fault, for being born too late.” She had denied it hotly, she remembered, going so far as to tell Viserys that it was his fault for not being born a girl. He beat her cruelly for that insolence. “If I had been born more timely, he said, Rhaegar would have married me instead of Elia, and it would all have come out different. If Rhaegar had been happy in his wife, he would not have needed the Stark girl.”

  “Perhaps so, Your Grace.” Whitebeard paused a moment. “But I am not certain it was in Rhaegar to be happy.”

  “You make him sound so sour,” Dany protested.

  “Not sour, no, but… there was a melancholy to Prince Rhaegar, a sense…” The old man hesitated again.

  “Say it,” she urged. “A sense…?”

  “… of doom. He was born in grief, my queen, and that shadow hung over him all his days.”

  Viserys had spoken of Rhaegar’s birth only once. Perhaps the tale saddened him too much. “It was the shadow of Summerhall that haunted him, was it not?”

  “Yes. And yet Summerhall was the place the prince loved best. He would go there from time to time, with only his harp for company. Even the knights of the Kingsguard did not attend him there. He liked to sleep in the ruined hall, beneath the moon and stars, and whenever he came back he would bring a song. When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.”

  “What of the Usurper? Did he play sad songs as well?”

  Arstan chuckled. “Robert? Robert liked songs that made him laugh, the bawdier the better. He only sang when he was drunk, and then it was like to be ‘A Cask of Ale’ or ‘Fifty-Four Tuns’ or ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair.’ Robert was much—”

  As one, her dragons lifted their heads and roared.

  “Horses!” Dany leapt to her feet, clutching the lion pelt. Outside, she heard Strong Belwas bellow something, and then other voices, and the sounds of many horses. “Irri, go see who…”

  The tent flap pushed open, and Ser Jorah Mormont entered. He was dusty, and spattered with blood, but otherwise none the worse for battle. The exile knight went to one knee before Dany and said, “Your Grace, I bring you victory. The Stormcrows turned their cloaks, the slaves broke, and the Second Sons were too drunk to fight, just as you said. Two hundred dead, Yunkai’i for the most part. Their slaves threw down their spears and ran, and their sellswords yielded. We have several thousand captives.”

  “Our own losses?”

  “A dozen. If that many.”

  Only then did she allow herself to smile. “Rise, my good brave bear. Was Grazdan taken? Or the Titan’s Bastard?”

  “Grazdan went to Yunkai to deliver your terms.” Ser Jorah got to his feet. “Mero fled, once he realized the Stormcrows had turned. I have men hunting him. He shouldn’t escape us long.”

  “Very well,” Dany said. “Sellsword or slave, spare all those who will pledge me their faith. If enough of the Second Sons will join us, keep the company intact.”

  The next day they marched the last three leagues to Yunkai. The city was built of yellow bricks instead of red; elsewise it was Astapor all over again, with the same crumbling walls and high stepped pyramids, and a great harpy mounted above its gates. The wall and towers swarmed with crossbowmen and slingers. Ser Jorah and Grey Worm deployed her men, Irri and Jhiqui raised her pavilion, and Dany sat down to wait.

  On the morning of the third day, the city gates swung open and a line of slaves began to emerge. Dany mounted her silver to greet them. As they passed, little Missandei told them that they owed their freedom to Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and Mother of Dragons.

  “Mhysa!” a brown-skinned man shouted out at her. He had a child on his shoulder, a little girl, and she screamed the same word in her thin voice. “Mhysa! Mhysa!”

  Dany looked at Missandei. “What are they shouting?”

  “It is Ghiscari, the old pure tongue. It means ‘Mother.’”

  Dany felt a lightness in her chest. I will never bear a living child, she remembered. Her hand trembled as she raised it. Perhaps she smiled. She must have, because the man grinned and shouted again, and others took up the cry. “Mhysa!” they called. “Mhysa! MHYSA!” They were all smiling at her, reaching for her, kneeling before her. “Maela,” some called her, while others cried “Aelalla” or “Qathei” or “Tato,” but whatever the tongue it all meant the same thing. Mother. They are calling me Mother.

  The chant grew, spread, swelled. It swelled so loud that it frightened her horse, and the mare backed and shook her head and lashed her silver-grey tail. It swelled until it seemed to shake the yellow walls of Yunkai. More slaves were streaming from the gates every moment, and as they came they took up the call. They were running toward her now, pushing, stumbling, wanting to touch her hand, to stroke her horse’s mane, to kiss her feet. Her poor bloodriders could not keep them all away, and even Strong Belwas grunted and growled in dismay.

  Ser Jorah urged her to go, but Dany remembered a dream she had dreamed in the House of the Undying. “They will not hurt me,” she told him. “They are my children, Jorah.” She laughed, put her heels into her horse, and rode to them, the bells in her hair ringing sweet victory. She trotted, then cantered, then broke into a gallop, her braid streaming behind. The freed slaves parted before her. “Mother,” they called from a hundred throats, a thousand, ten thousand. “Mother,” they sang, their fingers brushing her legs as she flew by. “Mother, Mother, Mother!”

  ARYA

  When Arya saw the shape of a great hill looming in the distance, golden in the afternoon sun, she knew it at once. They had come all the way back to High Heart.

  By sunset they were at the top, making camp where no harm could come to them. Arya walked around the circle of weirwood stumps with Lord Beric’s squire Ned, and they stood on top of one watching the last light fade in the west. From up here she could s
ee a storm raging to the north, but High Heart stood above the rain. It wasn’t above the wind, though; the gusts were blowing so strongly that it felt like someone was behind her, yanking on her cloak. Only when she turned, no one was there.

  Ghosts, she remembered. High Heart is haunted.

  They built a great fire atop the hill, and Thoros of Myr sat crosslegged beside it, gazing deep into the flames as if there was nothing else in all the world.

  “What is he doing?” Arya asked Ned.

  “Sometimes he sees things in the flames,” the squire told her. “The past. The future. Things happening far away.”

  Arya squinted at the fire to see if she could see what the red priest was seeing, but it only made her eyes water and before long she turned away. Gendry was watching the red priest as well. “Can you truly see the future there?” he asked suddenly.

  Thoros turned from the fire, sighing. “Not here. Not now. But some days, yes, the Lord of Light grants me visions.”

  Gendry looked dubious. “My master said you were a sot and a fraud, as bad a priest as there ever was.”

  “That was unkind.” Thoros chuckled. “True, but unkind. Who was this master of yours? Did I know you, boy?”

  “I was ’prenticed to the master armorer Tobho Mott, on the Street of Steel. You used to buy your swords from him.”

  “Just so. He charged me twice what they were worth, then scolded me for setting them afire.” Thoros laughed. “Your master had it right. I was no very holy priest. I was born youngest of eight, so my father gave me over to the Red Temple, but it was not the path I would have chosen. I prayed the prayers and I spoke the spells, but I would also lead raids on the kitchens, and from time to time they found girls in my bed. Such wicked girls, I never knew how they got there.

  “I had a gift for tongues, though. And when I gazed into the flames, well, from time to time I saw things. Even so, I was more bother than I was worth, so they sent me finally to King’s Landing to bring the Lord’s light to seven-besotted Westeros. King Aerys so loved fire it was thought he might make a convert. Alas, his pyromancers knew better tricks than I did.

  “King Robert was fond of me, though. The first time I rode into a mêlée with a flaming sword, Kevan Lannister’s horse reared and threw him and His Grace laughed so hard I thought he might rupture.” The red priest smiled at the memory. “It was no way to treat a blade, though, your master had the right of that too.”

  “Fire consumes.” Lord Beric stood behind them, and there was something in his voice that silenced Thoros at once. “It consumes, and when it is done there is nothing left. Nothing.”

  “Beric. Sweet friend.” The priest touched the lightning lord on the forearm. “What are you saying?”

  “Nothing I have not said before. Six times, Thoros? Six times is too many.” He turned away abruptly.

  That night the wind was howling almost like a wolf and there were some real wolves off to the west giving it lessons. Notch, Anguy, and Merrit o’ Moontown had the watch. Ned, Gendry, and many of the others were fast asleep when Arya spied the small pale shape creeping behind the horses, thin white hair flying wild as she leaned upon a gnarled cane. The woman could not have been more than three feet tall. The firelight made her eyes gleam as red as the eyes of Jon’s wolf. He was a ghost too. Arya stole closer, and knelt to watch.

  Thoros and Lem were with Lord Beric when the dwarf woman sat down uninvited by the fire. She squinted at them with eyes like hot coals. “The Ember and the Lemon come to honor me again, and His Grace the Lord of Corpses.”

  “An ill-omened name. I have asked you not to use it.”

  “Aye, you have. But the stink of death is fresh on you, my lord.” She had but a single tooth remaining. “Give me wine or I will go. My bones are old. My joints ache when the winds do blow, and up here the winds are always blowing.”

  “A silver stag for your dreams, my lady,” Lord Beric said, with solemn courtesy. “Another if you have news for us.”

  “I cannot eat a silver stag, nor ride one. A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak.” The little woman cackled. “Aye, a sloppy kiss, a bit of tongue. It has been too long, too long. His mouth will taste of lemons, and mine of bones. I am too old.”

  “Aye,” Lem complained. “Too old for wine and kisses. All you’ll get from me is the flat of my sword, crone.”

  “My hair comes out in handfuls and no one has kissed me for a thousand years. It is hard to be so old. Well, I will have a song then. A song from Tom o’ Sevens, for my news.”

  “You will have your song from Tom,” Lord Beric promised. He gave her the wineskin himself.

  The dwarf woman drank deep, the wine running down her chin. When she lowered the skin, she wiped her mouth with the back of a wrinkled hand and said, “Sour wine for sour tidings, what could be more fitting? The king is dead, is that sour enough for you?”

  Arya’s heart caught in her throat.

  “Which bloody king is dead, crone?” Lem demanded.

  “The wet one. The kraken king, m’lords. I dreamt him dead and he died, and the iron squids now turn on one another. Oh, and Lord Hoster Tully’s died too, but you know that, don’t you? In the hall of kings, the goat sits alone and fevered as the great dog descends on him.” The old woman took another long gulp of wine, squeezing the skin as she raised it to her lips.

  The great dog. Did she mean the Hound? Or maybe his brother, the Mountain That Rides? Arya was not certain. They bore the same arms, three black dogs on a yellow field. Half the men whose deaths she prayed for belonged to Ser Gregor Clegane; Polliver, Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, the Tickler, and Ser Gregor himself. Maybe Lord Beric will hang them all.

  “I dreamt a wolf howling in the rain, but no one heard his grief,” the dwarf woman was saying. “I dreamt such a clangor I thought my head might burst, drums and horns and pipes and screams, but the saddest sound was the little bells. I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” She turned her head sharply and smiled through the gloom, right at Arya. “You cannot hide from me, child. Come closer, now.”

  Cold fingers walked down Arya’s neck. Fear cuts deeper than swords, she reminded herself. She stood and approached the fire warily, light on the balls of her feet, poised to flee.

  The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death…” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”

  There was such fear in her voice that Arya took a step backward, wondering if the woman was mad. “Don’t frighten the child,” Thoros protested. “There’s no harm in her.”

  Lem Lemoncloak’s finger went to his broken nose. “Don’t be so bloody sure of that.”

  “She will leave on the morrow, with us,” Lord Beric assured the little woman. “We’re taking her to Riverrun, to her mother.”

  “Nay,” said the dwarf. “You’re not. The black fish holds the rivers now. If it’s the mother you want, seek her at the Twins. For there’s to be a wedding.” She cackled again. “Look in your fires, pink priest, and you will see. Not now, though, not here, you’ll see nothing here. This place belongs to the old gods still… they linger here as I do, shrunken and feeble but not yet dead. Nor do they love the flames. For the oak recalls the acorn, the acorn dreams the oak, the stump lives in them both. And they remember when the First Men came with fire in their fists.” She drank the last of the wine in four long swallows, flung the skin aside, and pointed her stick at Lord Beric. “I’ll have my payment now. I’ll have the song you promised me.”

  And so Lem woke Tom Sevenstrings beneath his furs, and brought him yawning to the fireside with his woodharp in hand. “The same song as befo
re?” he asked.

  “Oh, aye. My Jenny’s song. Is there another?”

  And so he sang, and the dwarf woman closed her eyes and rocked slowly back and forth, murmuring the words and crying. Thoros took Arya firmly by the hand and drew her aside. “Let her savor her song in peace,” he said. “It is all she has left.”

  I wasn’t going to hurt her, Arya thought. “What did she mean about the Twins? My mother’s at Riverrun, isn’t she?”

  “She was.” The red priest rubbed beneath his chin. “A wedding, she said. We shall see. Wherever she is, Lord Beric will find her, though.”

  Not long after, the sky opened. Lightning cracked and thunder rolled across the hills, and the rain fell in blinding sheets. The dwarf woman vanished as suddenly as she had appeared, while the outlaws gathered branches and threw up crude shelters.

  It rained all through that night, and come morning Ned, Lem, and Watty the Miller awoke with chills. Watty could not keep his breakfast down, and young Ned was feverish and shivering by turns, with skin clammy to the touch. There was an abandoned village half a day’s ride to the north, Notch told Lord Beric; they’d find better shelter there, a place to wait out the worst of the rains. So they dragged themselves back into the saddles and urged their horses down the great hill.

  The rains did not let up. They rode through woods and fields, fording swollen streams where the rushing water came up to the bellies of their horses. Arya pulled up the hood of her cloak and hunched down, sodden and shivering but determined not to falter. Merrit and Mudge were soon coughing as bad as Watty, and poor Ned seemed to grow more miserable with every mile. “When I wear my helm, the rain beats against the steel and gives me headaches,” he complained. “But when I take it off, my hair gets soaked and sticks to my face and in my mouth.”

  “You have a knife,” Gendry suggested. “If your hair annoys you so much, shave your bloody head.”

  He doesn’t like Ned. The squire seemed nice enough to Arya; maybe a little shy, but good-natured. She had always heard that Dornishmen were small and swarthy, with black hair and small black eyes, but Ned had big blue eyes, so dark that they looked almost purple. And his hair was a pale blond, more ash than honey.

  “How long have you been Lord Beric’s squire?” she asked, to take his mind from his misery.

  “He took me for his page when he espoused my aunt.” He coughed. “I was seven, but when I turned ten he raised me to squire. I won a prize once, riding at rings.”

  “I never learned the lance, but I could beat you with a sword,” said Arya. “Have you killed anyone?”

  That seemed to startle him. “I’m only twelve.”

  I killed a boy when I was eight, Arya almost said, but she thought she’d better not. “You’ve been in battles, though.”

  “Yes.” He did not sound very proud of it. “I was at the Mummer’s Ford. When Lord Beric fell into the river, I dragged him up onto the bank so he wouldn’t drown and stood over him with my sword. I never had to fight, though. He had a broken lance sticking out of him, so no one bothered us. When we regrouped, Green Gergen helped pull his lordship back onto a horse.”

  Arya was remembering the stableboy at King’s Landing. After him there’d been that guard whose throat she cut at Harrenhal, and Ser Amory’s men at that holdfast by the lake. She didn’t know if Weese and Chiswyck counted, or the ones who’d died on account of the weasel soup… all of a sudden, she felt very sad. “My father was called Ned too,” she said.

  “I know. I saw him at the Hand’s tourney. I wanted to go up and speak with him, but I couldn’t think what to say.” Ned shivered beneath his cloak, a sodden length of pale purple. “Were you at the tourney? I saw your sister there. Ser Loras Tyrell gave her a rose.”

  “She told me.” It all seemed so long ago. “Her friend Jeyne Poole fell in love with your Lord Beric.”

  “He’s promised to my aunt.” Ned looked uncomfortable. “That was before, though. Before he…”

  … died? she thought, as Ned’s voice trailed off into an awkward silence. Their horses’ hooves made sucking sounds as they pulled free of the mud.

  “My lady?” Ned said at last. “You have a baseborn brother… Jon Snow?”

  “He’s with the Night’s Watch on the Wall.” Maybe I should go to the Wall instead of Riverrun. Jon wouldn’t care who I killed or whether I brushed my hair… “Jon looks like me, even though he’s bastard-born. He used to muss my hair and call me ‘little sister.’” Arya missed Jon most of all. Just saying his name made her sad. “How do you know about Jon?”

  “He is my milk brother.”

  “Brother?” Arya did not understand. “But you’re from Dorne. How could you and Jon be blood?”

  “Milk brothers. Not blood. My lady mother had no milk when I was little, so Wylla had to nurse me.”

  Arya was lost. “Who’s Wylla?”

  “Jon Snow’s mother. He never told you? She’s served us for years and years. Since before I was born.”

  “Jon never knew his mother. Not even her name.” Arya gave Ned a wary look. “You know her? Truly?” Is he making mock of me? “If you lie I’ll punch your face.”

  “Wylla was my wetnurse,” he repeated solemnly. “I swear it on the honor of my House.”

  “You have a House?” That was stupid; he was a squire, of course he had a House. “Who are you?”

  “My lady?” Ned looked embarrassed. “I’m Edric Dayne, the… the Lord of Starfall.”

  Behind them, Gendry groaned. “Lords and ladies,” he proclaimed in a disgusted tone. Arya plucked a withered crabapple off a passing branch and whipped it at him, bouncing it off his thick bull head. “Ow,” he said. “That hurt.” He felt the skin above his eye. “What kind of lady throws crabapples at people?”

  “The bad kind,” said Arya, suddenly contrite. She turned back to Ned. “I’m sorry I didn’t know who you were. My lord.”

 
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