A storm of swords, p.62
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       A Storm of Swords, p.62

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

  Robb had broken his word, but Catelyn kept hers. She tugged hard on Aegon’s hair and sawed at his neck until the blade grated on bone. Blood ran hot over her fingers. His little bells were ringing, ringing, ringing, and the drum went boom doom boom.

  Finally someone took the knife away from her. The tears burned like vinegar as they ran down her cheeks. Ten fierce ravens were raking her face with sharp talons and tearing off strips of flesh, leaving deep furrows that ran red with blood. She could taste it on her lips.

  It hurts so much, she thought. Our children, Ned, all our sweet babes. Rickon, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Robb… Robb… please, Ned, please, make it stop, make it stop hurting… The white tears and the red ones ran together until her face was torn and tattered, the face that Ned had loved. Catelyn Stark raised her hands and watched the blood run down her long fingers, over her wrists, beneath the sleeves of her gown. Slow red worms crawled along her arms and under her clothes. It tickles. That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make an end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell, and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.

  ARYA

  The feast tents were behind them now. They squished over wet clay and torn grass, out of the light and back into the gloom. Ahead loomed the castle gatehouse. She could see torches moving on the walls, their flames dancing and blowing in the wind. The light shone dully against the wet mail and helms. More torches were moving on the dark stone bridge that joined the Twins, a column of them streaming from the west bank to the east.

  “The castle’s not closed,” Arya said suddenly. The sergeant had said it would be, but he was wrong. The portcullis was being drawn upward even as she watched, and the drawbridge had already been lowered to span the swollen moat. She had been afraid that Lord Frey’s guardsmen would refuse to let them in. For half a heartbeat she chewed her lip, too anxious to smile.

  The Hound reined up so suddenly that she almost fell off the wayn. “Seven bloody buggering hells,” Arya heard him curse, as their left wheel began to sink in soft mud. The wayn tilted slowly. “Get down,” Clegane roared at her, slamming the heel of his hand into her shoulder to knock her sideways. She landed light, the way Syrio had taught her, and bounced up at once with a face full of mud. “Why did you do that?” she screamed. The Hound had leapt down as well. He tore the seat off the front of the wayn and reached in for the swordbelt he’d hidden beneath it.

  It was only then that she heard the riders pouring out the castle gate in a river of steel and fire, the thunder of their destriers crossing the drawbridge almost lost beneath the drumming from the castles. Men and mounts wore plate armor, and one in every ten carried a torch. The rest had axes, longaxes with spiked heads and heavy bone-crushing armor-smashing blades.

  Somewhere far off she heard a wolf howling. It wasn’t very loud compared to the camp noise and the music and the low ominous growl of the river running wild, but she heard it all the same. Only maybe it wasn’t her ears that heard it. The sound shivered through Arya like a knife, sharp with rage and grief. More and more riders were emerging from the castle, a column four wide with no end to it, knights and squires and freeriders, torches and longaxes. And there was noise coming from behind as well.

  When Arya looked around, she saw that there were only two of the huge feast tents where once there had been three. The one in the middle had collapsed. For a moment she did not understand what she was seeing. Then the flames went licking up from the fallen tent, and now the other two were collapsing, heavy oiled cloth settling down on the men beneath. A flight of fire arrows streaked through the air. The second tent took fire, and then the third. The screams grew so loud she could hear words through the music. Dark shapes moved in front of the flames, the steel of their armor shining orange from afar.

  A battle, Arya knew. It’s a battle. And the riders…

  She had no more time to watch the tents then. With the river overflowing its banks, the dark swirling waters at the end of the drawbridge reached as high as a horse’s belly, but the riders splashed through them all the same, spurred on by the music. For once the same song was coming from both castles. I know this song, Arya realized suddenly. Tom o’ Sevens had sung it for them, that rainy night the outlaws had sheltered in the brewhouse with the brothers. And who are you, the proud lord said, that I must bow so low?

  The Frey riders were struggling through the mud and reeds, but some of them had seen the wayn. She watched as three riders left the main column, pounding through the shallows. Only a cat of a different coat, that’s all the truth I know.

  Clegane cut Stranger loose with a single slash of his sword and leapt onto his back. The courser knew what was wanted of him. He pricked up his ears and wheeled toward the charging destriers. In a coat of gold or a coat of red, a lion still has claws. And mine are long and sharp, my lord, as long and sharp as yours. Arya had prayed a hundred hundred times for the Hound to die, but now… there was a rock in her hand, slimy with mud, and she didn’t even remember picking it up. Who do I throw it at?

  She jumped at the clash of metal as Clegane turned aside the first longaxe. While he was engaged with the first man, the second circled behind him and aimed a blow for the small of his back. Stranger was wheeling, so the Hound took only a glancing blow, enough to rip a great gash in his baggy peasant’s blouse and expose the mail below. He is one against three. Arya still clutched her rock. They’re sure to kill him. She thought of Mycah, the butcher’s boy who had been her friend so briefly.

  Then she saw the third rider coming her way. Arya moved behind the wayn. Fear cuts deeper than swords. She could hear drums and warhorns and pipes, stallions trumpeting, the shriek of steel on steel, but all the sounds seemed so far away. There was only the oncoming horseman and the longaxe in his hand. He wore a surcoat over his armor and she saw the two towers that marked him for a Frey. She did not understand. Her uncle was marrying Lord Frey’s daughter, the Freys were her brother’s friends. “Don’t!” she screamed as he rode around the wayn, but he paid no mind.

  When he charged Arya threw the rock, the way she’d once thrown a crabapple at Gendry. She’d gotten Gendry right between the eyes, but this time her aim was off, and the stone caromed sideways off his temple. It was enough to break his charge, but no more. She retreated, darting across the muddy ground on the balls of her feet, putting the wayn between them once more. The knight followed at a trot, only darkness behind his eyeslit. She hadn’t even dented his helm. They went round once, twice, a third time. The knight cursed her. “You can’t run for—”

  The axehead caught him square in the back of the head, crashing through his helm and the skull beneath and sending him flying face first from his saddle. Behind him was the Hound, still mounted on Stranger. How did you get an axe? she almost asked, before she saw. One of the other Freys was trapped beneath his dying horse, drowning in a foot of water. The third man was sprawled on his back, unmoving. He hadn’t worn a gorget, and a foot of broken sword jutted from beneath his chin.

  “Get my helm,” Clegane growled at her.

  It was stuffed at the bottom of a sack of dried apples, in the back of the wayn behind the pickled pigs’ feet. Arya upended the sack and tossed it to him. He snatched it one-handed from the air and lowered it over his head, and where the man had sat only a steel dog remained, snarling at the fires.

  “My brother…”

  “Dead,” he shouted back at her. “Do you think they’d slaughter his men and leave him alive?” He turned his head back toward the camp. “Look. Look, damn you.”

  The camp had become a battlefield. No, a butcher’s den. The flames from the feasting tents reached halfway up the sky. Some of the barracks tents were burning too, and half a hundred silk pavilions. Everywhere swords were singing. And now the rains weep o’er his hall, with not a soul to hear. She saw two knights ride down
a running man. A wooden barrel came crashing onto one of the burning tents and burst apart, and the flames leapt twice as high. A catapult, she knew. The castle was flinging oil or pitch or something.

  “Come with me.” Sandor Clegane reached down a hand. “We have to get away from here, and now.” Stranger tossed his head impatiently, his nostrils flaring at the scent of blood. The song was done. There was only one solitary drum, its slow monotonous beats echoing across the river like the pounding of some monstrous heart. The black sky wept, the river grumbled, men cursed and died. Arya had mud in her teeth and her face was wet. Rain. It’s only rain. That’s all it is. “We’re here,” she shouted. Her voice sounded thin and scared, a little girl’s voice. “Robb’s just in the castle, and my mother. The gate’s even open.” There were no more Freys riding out. I came so far. “We have to go get my mother.”

  “Stupid little bitch.” Fires glinted off the snout of his helm, and made the steel teeth shine. “You go in there, you won’t come out. Maybe Frey will let you kiss your mother’s corpse.”

  “Maybe we can save her…”

  “Maybe you can. I’m not done living yet.” He rode toward her, crowding her back toward the wayn. “Stay or go, she-wolf. Live or die. Your—”

  Arya spun away from him and darted for the gate. The portcullis was coming down, but slowly. I have to run faster. The mud slowed her, though, and then the water. Run fast as a wolf. The drawbridge had begun to lift, the water running off it in a sheet, the mud falling in heavy clots. Faster. She heard loud splashing and looked back to see Stranger pounding after her, sending up gouts of water with every stride. She saw the longaxe too, still wet with blood and brains. And Arya ran. Not for her brother now, not even for her mother, but for herself. She ran faster than she had ever run before, her head down and her feet churning up the river, she ran from him as Mycah must have run.

  His axe took her in the back of the head.

  TYRION

  They supped alone, as they did so often.

  “The pease are overcooked,” his wife ventured once.

  “No matter,” he said. “So is the mutton.”

  It was a jest, but Sansa took it for criticism. “I am sorry, my lord.”

  “Why? Some cook should be sorry. Not you. The pease are not your province, Sansa.”

  “I… I am sorry that my lord husband is displeased.”

  “Any displeasure I’m feeling has naught to do with pease. I have Joffrey and my sister to displease me, and my lord father, and three hundred bloody Dornishmen.” He had settled Prince Oberyn and his lords in a cornerfort facing the city, as far from the Tyrells as he could put them without evicting them from the Red Keep entirely. It was not nearly far enough. Already there had been a brawl in a Flea Bottom pot-shop that left one Tyrell man-at-arms dead and two of Lord Gargalen’s scalded, and an ugly confrontation in the yard when Mace Tyrell’s wizened little mother called Ellaria Sand “the serpent’s whore.” Every time he chanced to see Oberyn Martell the prince asked when the justice would be served. Overcooked pease were the least of Tyrion’s troubles, but he saw no point in burdening his young wife with any of that. Sansa had enough griefs of her own.

  “The pease suffice,” he told her curtly. “They are green and round, what more can one expect of pease? Here, I’ll have another serving, if it please my lady.” He beckoned, and Podrick Payne spooned so many pease onto his plate that Tyrion lost sight of his mutton. That was stupid, he told himself. Now I have to eat them all, or she’ll be sorry all over again.

  The supper ended in a strained silence, as so many of their suppers did. Afterward, as Pod was removing the cups and platters, Sansa asked Tyrion for leave to visit the godswood.

  “As you wish.” He had become accustomed to his wife’s nightly devotions. She prayed at the royal sept as well, and often lit candles to Mother, Maid, and Crone. Tyrion found all this piety excessive, if truth be told, but in her place he might want the help of the gods as well. “I confess, I know little of the old gods,” he said, trying to be pleasant. “Perhaps someday you might enlighten me. I could even accompany you.”

  “No,” Sansa said at once. “You… you are kind to offer, but… there are no devotions, my lord. No priests or songs or candles. Only trees, and silent prayer. You would be bored.”

  “No doubt you’re right.” She knows me better than I thought. “Though the sound of rustling leaves might be a pleasant change from some septon droning on about the seven aspects of grace.” Tyrion waved her off. “I won’t intrude. Dress warmly, my lady, the wind is brisk out there.” He was tempted to ask what she prayed for, but Sansa was so dutiful she might actually tell him, and he didn’t think he wanted to know.

  He went back to work after she left, trying to track some golden dragons through the labyrinth of Littlefinger’s ledgers. Petyr Baelish had not believed in letting gold sit about and grow dusty, that was for certain, but the more Tyrion tried to make sense of his accounts the more his head hurt. It was all very well to talk of breeding dragons instead of locking them up in the treasury, but some of these ventures smelled worse than week-old fish. I wouldn’t have been so quick to let Joffrey fling the Antler Men over the walls if I’d known how many of the bloody bastards had taken loans from the crown. He would have to send Bronn to find their heirs, but he feared that would prove as fruitful as trying to squeeze silver from a silverfish.

  When the summons from his lord father arrived, it was the first time Tyrion could ever recall being pleased to see Ser Boros Blount. He closed the ledgers gratefully, blew out the oil lamp, tied a cloak around his shoulders, and waddled across the castle to the Tower of the Hand. The wind was brisk, just as he’d warned Sansa, and there was a smell of rain in the air. Perhaps when Lord Tywin was done with him he should go to the godswood and fetch her home before she got soaked.

  But all that went straight out of his head when he entered the Hand’s solar to find Cersei, Ser Kevan, and Grand Maester Pycelle gathered about Lord Tywin and the king. Joffrey was almost bouncing, and Cersei was savoring a smug little smile, though Lord Tywin looked as grim as ever. I wonder if he could smile even if he wanted to. “What’s happened?” Tyrion asked.

  His father offered him a roll of parchment. Someone had flattened it, but it still wanted to curl. “Roslin caught a fine fat trout,” the message read. “Her brothers gave her a pair of wolf pelts for her wedding.” Tyrion turned it over to inspect the broken seal. The wax was silvery-grey, and pressed into it were the twin towers of House Frey. “Does the Lord of the Crossing imagine he’s being poetic? Or is this meant to confound us?” Tyrion snorted. “The trout would be Edmure Tully, the pelts…”

  “He’s dead!” Joffrey sounded so proud and happy you might have thought he’d skinned Robb Stark himself.

  First Greyjoy and now Stark. Tyrion thought of his child wife, praying in the godswood even now. Praying to her father’s gods to bring her brother victory and keep her mother safe, no doubt. The old gods paid no more heed to prayer than the new ones, it would seem. Perhaps he should take comfort in that. “Kings are falling like leaves this autumn,” he said. “It would seem our little war is winning itself.”

  “Wars do not win themselves, Tyrion,” Cersei said with poisonous sweetness. “Our lord father won this war.”

  “Nothing is won so long as we have enemies in the field,” Lord Tywin warned them.

  “The river lords are no fools,” the queen argued. “Without the northmen they cannot hope to stand against the combined power of Highgarden, Casterly Rock, and Dorne. Surely they will choose submission rather than destruction.”

  “Most,” agreed Lord Tywin. “Riverrun remains, but so long as Walder Frey holds Edmure Tully hostage, the Blackfish dare not mount a threat. Jason Mallister and Tytos Blackwood will fight on for honor’s sake, but the Freys can keep the Mallisters penned up at Seagard, and with the right inducement Jonos Bracken can be persuaded to change his allegiance and attack the Blackwoods. In the end they will bend the
knee, yes. I mean to offer generous terms. Any castle that yields to us will be spared, save one.”

  “Harrenhal?” said Tyrion, who knew his sire.

  “The realm is best rid of these Brave Companions. I have commanded Ser Gregor to put the castle to the sword.”

  Gregor Clegane. It appeared as if his lord father meant to mine the Mountain for every last nugget of ore before turning him over to Dornish justice. The Brave Companions would end as heads on spikes, and Littlefinger would stroll into Harrenhal without so much as a spot of blood on those fine clothes of his. He wondered if Petyr Baelish had reached the Vale yet. If the gods are good, he ran into a storm at sea and sank. But when had the gods ever been especially good?

  “They should all be put to the sword,” Joffrey declared suddenly. “The Mallisters and Blackwoods and Brackens… all of them. They’re traitors. I want them killed, Grandfather. I won’t have any generous terms.” The king turned to Grand Maester Pycelle. “And I want Robb Stark’s head too. Write to Lord Frey and tell him. The king commands. I’m going to have it served to Sansa at my wedding feast.”

  “Sire,” Ser Kevan said, in a shocked voice, “the lady is now your aunt by marriage.”

  “A jest.” Cersei smiled. “Joff did not mean it.”

  “Yes I did,” Joffrey insisted. “He was a traitor, and I want his stupid head. I’m going to make Sansa kiss it.”

  “No.” Tyrion’s voice was hoarse. “Sansa is no longer yours to torment. Understand that, monster.”

  Joffrey sneered. “You’re the monster, Uncle.”

  “Am I?” Tyrion cocked his head. “Perhaps you should speak more softly to me, then. Monsters are dangerous beasts, and just now kings seem to be dying like flies.”

  “I could have your tongue out for saying that,” the boy king said, reddening. “I’m the king.”

  Cersei put a protective hand on her son’s shoulder. “Let the dwarf make all the threats he likes, Joff. I want my lord father and my uncle to see what he is.”

  Lord Tywin ignored that; it was Joffrey he addressed. “Aerys also felt the need to remind men that he was king. And he was passing fond of ripping tongues out as well. You could ask Ser Ilyn Payne about that, though you’ll get no reply.”

  “Ser Ilyn never dared provoke Aerys the way your Imp provokes Joff,” said Cersei. “You heard him. ‘Monster,’ he said. To the King’s Grace. And he threatened him…”

  “Be quiet, Cersei. Joffrey, when your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you. And any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king at all. Aerys never understood that, but you will. When I’ve won your war for you, we will restore the king’s peace and the king’s justice. The only head that need concern you is Margaery Tyrell’s maidenhead.”

  Joffrey had that sullen, sulky look he got. Cersei had him firmly by the shoulder, but perhaps she should have had him by the throat. The boy surprised them all. Instead of scuttling safely back under his rock, Joff drew himself up defiantly and said, “You talk about Aerys, Grandfather, but you were scared of him.”

  Oh, my, hasn’t this gotten interesting? Tyrion thought.

  Lord Tywin studied his grandchild in silence, gold flecks shining in his pale green eyes. “Joffrey, apologize to your grandfather,” said Cersei.

  He wrenched free of her. “Why should I? Everyone knows it’s true. My father won all the battles. He killed Prince Rhaegar and took the crown, while your father was hiding under Casterly Rock.” The boy gave his grandfather a defiant look. “A strong king acts boldly, he doesn’t just talk.”

  “Thank you for that wisdom, Your Grace,” Lord Tywin said, with a courtesy so cold it was like to freeze their ears off. “Ser Kevan, I can see the king is tired. Please see him safely back to his bedchamber. Pycelle, perhaps some gentle potion to help His Grace sleep restfully?”

  “Dreamwine, my lord?”

  “I don’t want any dreamwine,” Joffrey insisted.

  Lord Tywin would have paid more heed to a mouse squeaking in the corner. “Dreamwine will serve. Cersei, Tyrion, remain.”

  Ser Kevan took Joffrey firmly by the arm and marched him out the door, where two of the Kingsguard were waiting. Grand Maester Pycelle scurried after them as fast as his shaky old legs could take him. Tyrion remained where he was.

  “Father, I am sorry,” Cersei said, when the door was shut. “Joff has always been willful, I did warn you…”

  “There is a long league’s worth of difference between willful and stupid. ‘A strong king acts boldly?’ Who told him that?”

  “Not me, I promise you,” said Cersei. “Most like it was something he heard Robert say…”

  “The part about you hiding under Casterly Rock does sound like Robert.” Tyrion didn’t want Lord Tywin forgetting that bit.

  “Yes, I recall now,” Cersei said, “Robert often told Joff that a king must be bold.”

  “And what were you telling him, pray? I did not fight a war to seat Robert the Second on the Iron Throne. You gave me to understand the boy cared nothing for his father.”

  “Why would he? Robert ignored him. He would have beat him if I’d allowed it. That brute you made me marry once hit the boy so hard he knocked out two of his baby teeth, over some mischief with a cat. I told him I’d kill him in his sleep if he ever did it again, and he never did, but sometimes he would say things…”

  “It appears things needed to be said.” Lord Tywin waved two fingers at her, a brusque dismissal. “Go.”

  She went, seething.

  “Not Robert the Second,” Tyrion said. “Aerys the Third.”

  “The boy is thirteen. There is time yet.” Lord Tywin paced to the window. That was unlike him; he was more upset than he wished to show. “He requires a sharp lesson.”

  Tyrion had gotten his own sharp lesson at thirteen. He felt almost sorry for his nephew. On the other hand, no one deserved it more. “Enough of Joffrey,” he said. “Wars are won with quills and ravens, wasn’t that what you said? I must congratulate you. How long have you and Walder Frey been plotting this?”

  “I mislike that word,” Lord Tywin said stiffly.

  “And I mislike being left in the dark.”

  “There was no reason to tell you. You had no part in this.”

  “Was Cersei told?” Tyrion demanded to know.

  “No one was told, save those who had a part to play. And they were only told as much as they needed to know. You ought to know that there is no other way to keep a secret — here, especially. My object was to rid us of a dangerous enemy as cheaply as I could, not to indulge your curiosity or make your sister feel important.” He closed the shutters, frowning. “You have a certain cunning, Tyrion, but the plain truth is you talk too much. That loose tongue of yours will be your undoing.”

 
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