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A Clash of Kings, Page 23

George R. R. Martin

  By the time she reached the godswood, the noises had faded to a faint rattle of steel and a distant shouting. Sansa pulled her cloak tighter. The air was rich with the smells of earth and leaf. Lady would have liked this place, she thought. There was something wild about a godswood; even here, in the heart of the castle at the heart of the city, you could feel the old gods watching with a thousand unseen eyes.

  Sansa had favored her mother’s gods over her father’s. She loved the statues, the pictures in leaded glass, the fragrance of burning incense, the septons with their robes and crystals, the magical play of the rainbows over altars inlaid with mother-of-pearl and onyx and lapis lazuli. Yet she could not deny that the godswood had a certain power too. Especially by night. Help me, she prayed, send me a friend, a true knight to champion me…

  She moved from tree to tree, feeling the roughness of the bark beneath her fingers. Leaves brushed at her cheeks. Had she come too late? He would not have left so soon, would he? Or had he even been here? Dare she risk calling out? It seemed so hushed and still here…

  “I feared you would not come, child.”

  Sansa whirled. A man stepped out of the shadows, heavyset, thick of neck, shambling. He wore a dark grey robe with the cowl pulled forward, but when a thin sliver of moonlight touched his cheek, she knew him at once by the blotchy skin and web of broken veins beneath. “Ser Dontos,” she breathed, heartbroken. “Was it you?”

  “Yes, my lady.” When he moved closer, she could smell the sour stench of wine on his breath. “Me.” He reached out a hand.

  Sansa shrank back. “Don’t!” She slid her hand under her cloak, to her hidden knife. “What… what do you want with me?”

  “Only to help you,” Dontos said, “as you helped me.”

  “You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

  “Only one cup of wine, to help my courage. If they catch me now, they’ll strip the skin off my back.”

  And what will they do to me? Sansa found herself thinking of Lady again. She could smell out falsehood, she could, but she was dead, Father had killed her, on account of Arya. She drew the knife and held it before her with both hands.

  “Are you going to stab me?” Dontos asked.

  “I will,” she said. “Tell me who sent you.”

  “No one, sweet lady. I swear it on my honor as a knight.”

  “A knight?” Joffrey had decreed that he was to be a knight no longer, only a fool, lower even than Moon Boy. “I prayed to the gods for a knight to come save me,” she said. “I prayed and prayed. Why would they send me a drunken old fool?”

  “I deserve that, though… I know it’s queer, but… all those years I was a knight, I was truly a fool, and now that I am a fool I think… I think I may find it in me to be a knight again, sweet lady. And all because of you… your grace, your courage. You saved me, not only from Joffrey, but from myself.” His voice dropped. “The singers say there was another fool once who was the greatest knight of all…”

  “Florian,” Sansa whispered. A shiver went through her.

  “Sweet lady, I would be your Florian,” Dontos said humbly, falling to his knees before her.

  Slowly, Sansa lowered the knife. Her head seemed terribly light, as if she were floating. This is madness, to trust myself to this drunkard, but if I turn away will the chance ever come again? “How… how would you do it? Get me away?”

  Ser Dontos raised his face to her. “Taking you from the castle, that will be the hardest. Once you’re out, there are ships that would take you home. I’d need to find the coin and make the arrangements, that’s all.”

  “Could we go now?” she asked, hardly daring to hope.

  “This very night? No, my lady, I fear not. First I must find a sure way to get you from the castle when the hour is ripe. It will not be easy, nor quick. They watch me as well.” He licked his lips nervously. “Will you put away your blade?”

  Sansa slipped the knife beneath her cloak. “Rise, ser.”

  “Thank you, sweet lady.” Ser Dontos lurched clumsily to his feet, and brushed earth and leaves from his knees. “Your lord father was as true a man as the realm has ever known, but I stood by and let them slay him. I said nothing, did nothing… and yet, when Joffrey would have slain me, you spoke up. Lady, I have never been a hero, no Ryam Redwyne or Barristan the Bold. I’ve won no tourneys, no renown in war… but I was a knight once, and you have helped me remember what that meant. My life is a poor thing, but it is yours.” Ser Dontos placed a hand on the gnarled bole of the heart tree. He was shaking, she saw. “I vow, with your father’s gods as witness, that I shall send you home.”

  He swore. A solemn oath, before the gods. “Then… I will put myself in your hands, ser. But how will I know, when it is time to go? Will you send me another note?”

  Ser Dontos glanced about anxiously. “The risk is too great. You must come here, to the godswood. As often as you can. This is the safest place. The only safe place. Nowhere else. Not in your chambers nor mine nor on the steps nor in the yard, even if it seems we are alone. The stones have ears in the Red Keep, and only here may we talk freely.”

  “Only here,” Sansa said. “I’ll remember.”

  “And if I should seem cruel or mocking or indifferent when men are watching, forgive me, child. I have a role to play, and you must do the same. One misstep and our heads will adorn the walls as did your father’s.”

  She nodded. “I understand.”

  “You will need to be brave and strong… and patient, patient above all.”

  “I will be,” she promised, “but… please… make it as soon as you can. I’m afraid…”

  “So am I,” Ser Dontos said, smiling wanly. “And now you must go, before you are missed.”

  “You will not come with me?”

  “Better if we are never seen together.”

  Nodding, Sansa took a step… then spun back, nervous, and softly laid a kiss on his cheek, her eyes closed. “My Florian,” she whispered. “The gods heard my prayer.”

  She flew along the river walk, past the small kitchen, and through the pig yard, her hurried footsteps lost beneath the squealing of the hogs in their pens. Home, she thought, home, he is going to take me home, he’ll keep me safe, my Florian. The songs about Florian and Jonquil were her very favorites. Florian was homely too, though not so old.

  She was racing headlong down the serpentine steps when a man lurched out of a hidden doorway. Sansa caromed into him and lost her balance. Iron fingers caught her by the wrist before she could fall, and a deep voice rasped at her. “It’s a long roll down the serpentine, little bird. Want to kill us both?” His laughter was rough as a saw on stone. “Maybe you do.”

  The Hound. “No, my lord, pardons, I’d never.” Sansa averted her eyes but it was too late, he’d seen her face. “Please, you’re hurting me.” She tried to wriggle free.

  “And what’s Joff’s little bird doing flying down the serpentine in the black of night?” When she did not answer, he shook her. “Where were you?”

  “The g-g-godswood, my lord,” she said, not daring to lie. “Praying… praying for my father, and… for the king, praying that he’d not be hurt.”

  “Think I’m so drunk that I’d believe that?” He let go his grip on her arm, swaying slightly as he stood, stripes of light and darkness falling across his terrible burnt face. “You look almost a woman… face, teats, and you’re taller too, almost… ah, you’re still a stupid little bird, aren’t you? Singing all the songs they taught you… sing me a song, why don’t you? Go on. Sing to me. Some song about knights and fair maids. You like knights, don’t you?”

  He was scaring her. “T-true knights, my lord.”

  “True knights,” he mocked. “And I’m no lord, no more than I’m a knight. Do I need to beat that into you?” Clegane reeled and almost fell. “Gods,” he swore, “too much wine. Do you like wine, little bird? True wine? A flagon of sour red, dark as blood, all a man needs. Or a woman.” He laughed, shook his head. “Drunk as a dog, da
mn me. You come now. Back to your cage, little bird. I’ll take you there. Keep you safe for the king.” The Hound gave her a push, oddly gentle, and followed her down the steps. By the time they reached the bottom, he had lapsed back into a brooding silence, as if he had forgotten she was there.

  When they reached Maegor’s Holdfast, she was alarmed to see that it was Ser Boros Blount who now held the bridge. His high white helm turned stiffly at the sound of their footsteps. Sansa flinched away from his gaze. Ser Boros was the worst of the Kingsguard, an ugly man with a foul temper, all scowls and jowls.

  “That one is nothing to fear, girl.” The Hound laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Paint stripes on a toad, he does not become a tiger.”

  Ser Boros lifted his visor. “Ser, where—”

  “Fuck your ser, Boros. You’re the knight, not me. I’m the king’s dog, remember?”

  “The king was looking for his dog earlier.”

  “The dog was drinking. It was your night to shield him, ser. You and my other brothers.”

  Ser Boros turned to Sansa. “How is it you are not in your chambers at this hour, lady?”

  “I went to the godswood to pray for the safety of the king.” The lie sounded better this time, almost true.

  “You expect her to sleep with all the noise?” Clegane said. “What was the trouble?”

  “Fools at the gate,” Ser Boros admitted. “Some loose tongues spread tales of the preparations for Tyrek’s wedding feast, and these wretches got it in their heads they should be feasted too. His Grace led a sortie and sent them scurrying.”

  “A brave boy,” Clegane said, mouth twitching.

  Let us see how brave he is when he faces my brother, Sansa thought. The Hound escorted her across the drawbridge. As they were winding their way up the steps, she said, “Why do you let people call you a dog? You won’t let anyone call you a knight.”

  “I like dogs better than knights. My father’s father was kennelmaster at the Rock. One autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey. The lioness didn’t give a shit that she was Lannister’s own sigil. Bitch tore into my lord’s horse and would have done for my lord too, but my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg, so Lannister paid him for it with lands and a towerhouse, and took his son to squire. The three dogs on our banner are the three that died, in the yellow of autumn grass. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face.” He cupped her under the jaw, raising her chin, his fingers pinching her painfully. “And that’s more than little birds can do, isn’t it? I never got my song.”

  “I… I know a song about Florian and Jonquil.”

  “Florian and Jonquil? A fool and his cunt. Spare me. But one day I’ll have a song from you, whether you will it or no.”

  “I will sing it for you gladly.”

  Sandor Clegane snorted. “Pretty thing, and such a bad liar. A dog can smell a lie, you know. Look around you, and take a good whiff. They’re all liars here… and every one better than you.”


  When she climbed all the way up to the highest branch, Arya could see chimneys poking through the trees. Thatched roofs clustered along the shore of the lake and the small stream that emptied into it, and a wooden pier jutted out into the water beside a low long building with a slate roof.

  She skinnied farther out, until the branch began to sag under her weight. No boats were tied to the pier, but she could see thin tendrils of smoke rising from some of the chimneys, and part of a wagon jutting out behind a stable.

  Someone’s there. Arya chewed her lip. All the other places they’d come upon had been empty and desolate. Farms, villages, castles, septs, barns, it made no matter. If it could burn, the Lannisters had burned it; if it could die, they’d killed it. They had even set the woods ablaze where they could, though the leaves were still green and wet from recent rains, and the fires had not spread. “They would have burned the lake if they could have,” Gendry had said, and Arya knew he was right. On the night of their escape, the flames of the burning town had shimmered so brightly on the water that it had seemed that the lake was afire.

  When they finally summoned the nerve to steal back into the ruins the next night, nothing remained but blackened stones, the hollow shells of houses, and corpses. In some places wisps of pale smoke still rose from the ashes. Hot Pie had pleaded with them not to go back, and Lommy called them fools and swore that Ser Amory would catch them and kill them too, but Lorch and his men had long gone by the time they reached the holdfast. They found the gates broken down, the walls partly demolished, and the inside strewn with the unburied dead. One look was enough for Gendry. “They’re killed, every one,” he said. “And dogs have been at them too, look.”

  “Or wolves.”

  “Dogs, wolves, it makes no matter. It’s done here.”

  But Arya would not leave until they found Yoren. They couldn’t have killed him, she told herself, he was too hard and tough, and a brother of the Night’s Watch besides. She said as much to Gendry as they searched among the corpses.

  The axe blow that had killed him had split his skull apart, but the great tangled beard could be no one else’s, or the garb, patched and unwashed and so faded it was more grey than black. Ser Amory Lorch had given no more thought to burying his own dead than to those he had murdered, and the corpses of four Lannister men-at-arms were heaped near Yoren’s. Arya wondered how many it had taken to bring him down.

  He was going to take me home, she thought as they dug the old man’s hole. There were too many dead to bury them all, but Yoren at least must have a grave, Arya had insisted. He was going to bring me safe to Winterfell, he promised. Part of her wanted to cry. The other part wanted to kick him.

  It was Gendry who thought of the lord’s towerhouse and the three that Yoren had sent to hold it. They had come under attack as well, but the round tower had only one entry, a second-story door reached by a ladder. Once that had been pulled inside, Ser Amory’s men could not get at them. The Lannisters had piled brush around the tower’s base and set it afire, but the stone would not burn, and Lorch did not have the patience to starve them out. Cutjack opened the door at Gendry’s shout, and when Kurz said they’d be better pressing on north than going back, Arya had clung to the hope that she still might reach Winterfell.

  Well, this village was no Winterfell, but those thatched roofs promised warmth and shelter and maybe even food, if they were bold enough to risk them. Unless it’s Lorch there. He had horses; he would have traveled faster than us.

  She watched from the tree for a long time, hoping she might see something; a man, a horse, a banner, anything that would help her know. A few times she glimpsed motion, but the buildings were so far off it was hard to be certain. Once, very clearly, she heard the whinny of a horse.

  The air was full of birds, crows mostly. From afar, they were no larger than flies as they wheeled and flapped above the thatched roofs. To the east, Gods Eye was a sheet of sun-hammered blue that filled half the world. Some days, as they made their slow way up the muddy shore (Gendry wanted no part of any roads, and even Hot Pie and Lommy saw the sense in that), Arya felt as though the lake were calling her. She wanted to leap into those placid blue waters, to feel clean again, to swim and splash and bask in the sun. But she dare not take off her clothes where the others could see, not even to wash them. At the end of the day she would often sit on a rock and dangle her feet in the cool water. She had finally thrown away her cracked and rotted shoes. Walking barefoot was hard at first, but the blisters had finally broken, the cuts had healed, and her soles had turned to leather. The mud was nice between her toes, and she liked to feel the earth underfoot when she walked.

  From up here, she could see a small wooded island off to the northeast. Thirty yards from shore, three black swans were gliding over the water, so serene… no one had told them that war had come, and they cared nothing for burning towns and butchered men.
She stared at them with yearning. Part of her wanted to be a swan. The other part wanted to eat one. She had broken her fast on some acorn paste and a handful of bugs. Bugs weren’t so bad when you got used to them. Worms were worse, but still not as bad as the pain in your belly after days without food. Finding bugs was easy, all you had to do was kick over a rock. Arya had eaten a bug once when she was little, just to make Sansa screech, so she hadn’t been afraid to eat another. Weasel wasn’t either, but Hot Pie retched up the beetle he tried to swallow, and Lommy and Gendry wouldn’t even try. Yesterday Gendry had caught a frog and shared it with Lommy, and, a few days before, Hot Pie had found blackberries and stripped the bush bare, but mostly they had been living on water and acorns. Kurz had told them how to use rocks and make a kind of acorn paste. It tasted awful.

  She wished the poacher hadn’t died. He’d known more about the woods than all the rest of them together, but he’d taken an arrow through the shoulder pulling in the ladder at the towerhouse. Tarber had packed it with mud and moss from the lake, and for a day or two Kurz swore the wound was nothing, even though the flesh of his throat was turning dark while angry red welts crept up his jaw and down his chest. Then one morning he couldn’t find the strength to get up, and by the next he was dead.

  They buried him under a mound of stones, and Cutjack had claimed his sword and hunting horn, while Tarber helped himself to bow and boots and knife. They’d taken it all when they left. At first they thought the two had just gone hunting, that they’d soon return with game and feed them all. But they waited and waited, until finally Gendry made them move on. Maybe Tarber and Cutjack figured they would stand a better chance without a gaggle of orphan boys to herd along. They probably would too, but that didn’t stop her hating them for leaving.

  Beneath her tree, Hot Pie barked like a dog. Kurz had told them to use animal sounds to signal to each other. An old poacher’s trick, he’d said, but he’d died before he could teach them how to make the sounds right. Hot Pie’s bird calls were awful. His dog was better, but not much.

  Arya hopped from the high branch to one beneath it, her hands out for balance. A water dancer never falls. Lightfoot, her toes curled tight around the branch, she walked a few feet, hopped down to a larger limb, then swung hand over hand through the tangle of leaves until she reached the trunk. The bark was rough beneath her fingers, against her toes. She descended quickly, jumping down the final six feet, rolling when she landed.

  Gendry gave her a hand to pull her up. “You were up there a long time. What could you see?”

  “A fishing village, just a little place, north along the shore. Twenty-six thatch roofs and one slate, I counted. I saw part of a wagon. Someone’s there.”

  At the sound of her voice, Weasel came creeping out from the bushes. Lommy had named her that. He said she looked like a weasel, which wasn’t true, but they couldn’t keep on calling her the crying girl after she finally stopped crying. Her mouth was filthy. Arya hoped she hadn’t been eating mud again.

  “Did you see people?” asked Gendry.

  “Mostly just roofs,” Arya admitted, “but some chimneys were smoking, and I heard a horse.” The Weasel put her arms around her leg, clutching tight. Sometimes she did that now.

  “If there’s people, there’s food,” Hot Pie said, too loudly. Gendry was always telling him to be more quiet, but it never did any good. “Might be they’d give us some.”

  “Might be they’d kill us too,” Gendry said.

  “Not if we yielded,” Hot Pie said hopefully.

  “Now you sound like Lommy.”

  Lommy Greenhands sat propped up between two thick roots at the foot of an oak. A spear had taken him through his left calf during the fight at the holdfast. By the end of the next day, he had to limp along one-legged with an arm around Gendry, and now he couldn’t even do that. They’d hacked branches off trees to make a litter for him, but it was slow, hard work carrying him along, and he whimpered every time they jounced him.

  “We have to yield,” he said. “That’s what Yoren should have done. He should have opened the gates like they said.”

  Arya was sick of Lommy going on about how Yoren should have yielded. It was all he talked about when they carried him, that and his leg and his empty belly.

  Hot Pie agreed. “They told Yoren to open the gates, they told him in the king’s name. You have to do what they tell you in the king’s name. It was that stinky old man’s fault. If he’d of yielded, they would have left us be.”

  Gendry frowned. “Knights and lordlings, they take each other captive and pay ransoms, but they don’t care if the likes of you yield or not.” He turned to Arya. “What else did you see?”

  “If it’s a fishing village, they’d sell us fish, I bet,” said Hot Pie. The lake teemed with fresh fish, but they had nothing to catch them with. Arya had tried to use her hands, the way she’d seen Koss do, but fish were quicker than pigeons and the water played tricks on her eyes.

  “I don’t know about fish.” Arya tugged at the Weasel’s matted hair, thinking it might be best to hack it off. “There’s crows down by the water. Something’s dead there.”

  “Fish, washed up on shore,” Hot Pie said. “If the crows eat it, I bet we could.”

  “We should catch some crows, we could eat them,” said Lommy. “We could make a fire and roast them like chickens.”

  Gendry looked fierce when he scowled. His beard had grown in thick and black as briar. “I said, no fires.”

  “Lommy’s hungry,” Hot Pie whined, “and I am too.”

  “We’re all hungry,” said Arya.

  “You’re not,” Lommy spat from the ground. “Worm breath.”

  Arya could have kicked him in his wound. “I said I’d dig worms for you too, if you wanted.”

  Lommy made a disgusted face. “If it wasn’t for my leg, I’d hunt us some boars.”

  “Some boars,” she mocked. “You need a boarspear to hunt boars, and horses and dogs, and men to flush the boar from its lair.” Her father had hunted boar in the wolfswood with Robb and Jon. Once he even took Bran, but never Arya, even though she was older. Septa Mordane said boar hunting was not for ladies, and Mother only promised that when she was older she might have her own hawk. She was older now, but if she had a hawk she’d eat it.

  “What do you know about hunting boars?” said Hot Pie.

  “More than you.”

  Gendry was in no mood to hear it. “Quiet, both of you, I need to think what