A clash of kings, p.24
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       A Clash of Kings, p.24

         Part #2 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
 

  to do.” He always looked pained when he tried to think, like it hurt him something fierce.

  “Yield,” Lommy said.

  “I told you to shut up about the yielding. We don’t even know who’s in there. Maybe we can steal some food.”

  “Lommy could steal, if it wasn’t for his leg,” said Hot Pie. “He was a thief in the city.”

  “A bad thief,” Arya said, “or he wouldn’t have got caught.”

  Gendry squinted up at the sun. “Evenfall will be the best time to sneak in. I’ll go scout come dark.”

  “No, I’ll go,” Arya said. “You’re too noisy.”

  Gendry got that look on his face. “We’ll both go.”

  “Arry should go,” said Lommy. “He’s sneakier than you are.”

  “We’ll both go, I said.”

  “But what if you don’t come back? Hot Pie can’t carry me by himself, you know he can’t…”

  “And there’s wolves,” Hot Pie said. “I heard them last night, when I had the watch. They sounded close.”

  Arya had heard them too. She’d been asleep in the branches of an elm, but the howling had woken her. She’d sat awake for a good hour, listening to them, prickles creeping up her spine.

  “And you won’t even let us have a fire to keep them off,” Hot Pie said. “It’s not right, leaving us for the wolves.”

  “No one is leaving you,” Gendry said in disgust. “Lommy has his spear if the wolves come, and you’ll be with him. We’re just going to go see, that’s all; we’re coming back.”

  “Whoever it is, you should yield to them,” Lommy whined. “I need some potion for my leg, it hurts bad.”

  “If we see any leg potion, we’ll bring it,” Gendry said. “Arry, let’s go, I want to get near before the sun is down. Hot Pie, you keep Weasel here, I don’t want her following.”

  “Last time she kicked me.”

  “I’ll kick you if you don’t keep her here.” Without waiting for an answer, Gendry donned his steel helm and walked off.

  Arya had to scamper to keep up. Gendry was five years older and a foot taller than she was, and long of leg as well. For a while he said nothing, just plowed on through the trees with an angry look on his face, making too much noise. But finally he stopped and said, “I think Lommy’s going to die.”

  She was not surprised. Kurz had died of his wound, and he’d been a lot stronger than Lommy. Whenever it was Arya’s turn to help carry him, she could feel how warm his skin was, and smell the stink off his leg. “Maybe we could find a maester…”

  “You only find maesters in castles, and even if we found one, he wouldn’t dirty his hands on the likes of Lommy.” Gendry ducked under a low-hanging limb.

  “That’s not true.” Maester Luwin would have helped anyone who came to him, she was certain.

  “He’s going to die, and the sooner he does it, the better for the rest of us. We should just leave him, like he says. If it was you or me hurt, you know he’d leave us.” They scrambled down a steep cut and up the other side, using roots for handholds. “I’m sick of carrying him, and I’m sick of all his talk about yielding too. If he could stand up, I’d knock his teeth in. Lommy’s no use to anyone. That crying girl’s no use either.”

  “You leave Weasel alone, she’s just scared and hungry is all.” Arya glanced back, but the girl was not following for once. Hot Pie must have grabbed her, like Gendry had told him.

  “She’s no use,” Gendry repeated stubbornly. “Her and Hot Pie and Lommy, they’re slowing us down, and they’re going to get us killed. You’re the only one of the bunch who’s good for anything. Even if you are a girl.”

  Arya froze in her steps. “I’m not a girl!”

  “Yes you are. Do you think I’m as stupid as they are?”

  “No, you’re stupider. The Night’s Watch doesn’t take girls, everyone knows that.”

  “That’s true. I don’t know why Yoren brought you, but he must have had some reason. You’re still a girl.”

  “I am not!”

  “Then pull out your cock and take a piss. Go on.”

  “I don’t need to take a piss. If I wanted to I could.”

  “Liar. You can’t take out your cock because you don’t have one. I never noticed before when there were thirty of us, but you always go off in the woods to make your water. You don’t see Hot Pie doing that, nor me neither. If you’re not a girl, you must be some eunuch.”

  “You’re the eunuch.”

  “You know I’m not.” Gendry smiled. “You want me to take out my cock and prove it? I don’t have anything to hide.”

  “Yes you do,” Arya blurted, desperate to escape the subject of the cock she didn’t have. “Those gold cloaks were after you at the inn, and you won’t tell us why.”

  “I wish I knew. I think Yoren knew, but he never told me. Why did you think they were after you, though?”

  Arya bit her lip. She remembered what Yoren had said, the day he had hacked off her hair. This lot, half o’ them would turn you over to the queen quick as spit for a pardon and maybe a few silvers. The other half’d do the same, only they’d rape you first. Only Gendry was different, the queen wanted him too. “I’ll tell you if you’ll tell me,” she said warily.

  “I would if I knew, Arry… is that really what you’re called, or do you have some girl’s name?”

  Arya glared at the gnarled root by her feet. She realized that the pretense was done. Gendry knew, and she had nothing in her pants to convince him otherwise. She could draw Needle and kill him where he stood, or else trust him. She wasn’t certain she’d be able to kill him, even if she tried; he had his own sword, and he was a lot stronger. All that was left was the truth. “Lommy and Hot Pie can’t know,” she said.

  “They won’t,” he swore. “Not from me.”

  “Arya.” She raised her eyes to his. “My name is Arya. Of House Stark.”

  “Of House…” It took him a moment before he said, “The King’s Hand was named Stark. The one they killed for a traitor.”

  “He was never a traitor. He was my father.”

  Gendry’s eyes widened. “So that’s why you thought…”

  She nodded. “Yoren was taking me home to Winterfell.”

  “I… you’re highborn then, a… you’ll be a lady…”

  Arya looked down at her ragged clothes and bare feet, all cracked and callused. She saw the dirt under her nails, the scabs on her elbows, the scratches on her hands. Septa Mordane wouldn’t even know me, I bet. Sansa might, but she’d pretend not to. “My mother’s a lady, and my sister, but I never was.”

  “Yes you were. You were a lord’s daughter and you lived in a castle, didn’t you? And you… gods be good, I never…” All of a sudden Gendry seemed uncertain, almost afraid. “All that about cocks, I never should have said that. And I been pissing in front of you and everything, I… I beg your pardon, m’lady.”

  “Stop that!” Arya hissed. Was he mocking her?

  “I know my courtesies, m’lady,” Gendry said, stubborn as ever. “Whenever highborn girls came into the shop with their fathers, my master told me I was to bend the knee, and speak only when they spoke to me, and call them m’lady.”

  “If you start calling me m’lady, even Hot Pie is going to notice. And you better keep on pissing the same way too.”

  “As m’lady commands.”

  Arya slammed his chest with both hands. He tripped over a stone and sat down with a thump. “What kind of lord’s daughter are you?” he said, laughing.

  “This kind.” She kicked him in the side, but it only made him laugh harder. “You laugh all you like. I’m going to see who’s in the village.” The sun had already fallen below the trees; dusk would be on them in no time at all. For once it was Gendry who had to hurry after. “You smell that?” she asked.

  He sniffed the air. “Rotten fish?”

  “You know it’s not.”

  “We better be careful. I’ll go around west, see if there’s some road. There
must be if you saw a wagon. You take the shore. If you need help, bark like a dog.”

  “That’s stupid. If I need help, I’ll shout help.” She darted away, bare feet silent in the grass. When she glanced back over her shoulder, he was watching her with that pained look on his face that meant he was thinking. He’s probably thinking that he shouldn’t be letting m’lady go stealing food. Arya just knew he was going to be stupid now.

  The smell grew stronger as she got closer to the village. It did not smell like rotten fish to her. This stench was ranker, fouler. She wrinkled her nose.

  Where the trees began to thin, she used the undergrowth, slipping from bush to bush quiet as a shadow. Every few yards she stopped to listen. The third time, she heard horses, and a man’s voice as well. And the smell got worse. Dead man’s stink, that’s what it is. She had smelled it before, with Yoren and the others.

  A dense thicket of brambles grew south of the village. By the time she reached it, the long shadows of sunset had begun to fade, and the lantern bugs were coming out. She could see thatched roofs just beyond the hedge. She crept along until she found a gap and squirmed through on her belly, keeping well hidden until she saw what made the smell.

  Beside the gently lapping waters of Gods Eye, a long gibbet of raw green wood had been thrown up, and things that had once been men dangled there, their feet in chains, while crows pecked at their flesh and flapped from corpse to corpse. For every crow there were a hundred flies. When the wind blew off the lake, the nearest corpse twisted on its chain, ever so slightly. The crows had eaten most of its face, and something else had been at it as well, something much larger. Throat and chest had been torn apart, and glistening green entrails and ribbons of ragged flesh dangled from where the belly had been opened. One arm had been ripped right off the shoulder; Arya saw the bones a few feet away, gnawed and cracked, picked clean of meat.

  She made herself look at the next man and the one beyond him and the one beyond him, telling herself she was hard as a stone. Corpses all, so savaged and decayed that it took her a moment to realize they had been stripped before they were hanged. They did not look like naked people; they hardly looked like people at all. The crows had eaten their eyes, and sometimes their faces. Of the sixth in the long row, nothing remained but a single leg, still tangled in its chains, swaying with each breeze.

  Fear cuts deeper than swords. Dead men could not hurt her, but whoever had killed them could. Well beyond the gibbet, two men in mail hauberks stood leaning on their spears in front of the long low building by the water, the one with the slate roof. A pair of tall poles had been driven into the muddy ground in front of it, banners drooping from each staff. One looked red and one paler, white or yellow maybe, but both were limp and with the dusk settling, she could not even be certain that red one was Lannister crimson. I don’t need to see the lion, I can see all the dead people, who else would it be but Lannisters?

  Then there was a shout.

  The two spearmen turned at the cry, and a third man came into view, shoving a captive before him. It was growing too dark to make out faces, but the prisoner was wearing a shiny steel helm, and when Arya saw the horns she knew it was Gendry. You stupid stupid stupid STUPID! she thought. If he’d been here she would have kicked him again.

  The guards were talking loudly, but she was too far away to make out the words, especially with the crows gabbling and flapping closer to hand. One of the spearmen snatched the helm off Gendry’s head and asked him a question, but he must not have liked the answer, because he smashed him across the face with the butt of his spear and knocked him down. The one who’d captured him gave him a kick, while the second spearman was trying on the bull’s-head helm. Finally they pulled him to his feet and marched him off toward the storehouse. When they opened the heavy wooden doors, a small boy darted out, but one of the guards grabbed his arm and flung him back inside. Arya heard sobbing from inside the building, and then a shriek so loud and full of pain that it made her bite her lip.

  The guards shoved Gendry inside with the boy and barred the doors behind them. Just then, a breath of wind came sighing off the lake, and the banners stirred and lifted. The one on the tall staff bore the golden lion, as she’d feared. On the other, three sleek black shapes ran across a field as yellow as butter. Dogs, she thought. Arya had seen those dogs before, but where?

  It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that they had Gendry. Even if he was stubborn and stupid, she had to get him out. She wondered if they knew that the queen wanted him.

  One of the guards took off his helm and donned Gendry’s instead. It made her angry to see him wearing it, but she knew there was nothing she could do to stop him. She thought she heard more screams from inside the windowless storehouse, muffled by the masonry, but it was hard to be certain.

  She stayed long enough to see the guard changed, and much more besides. Men came and went. They led their horses down to the stream to drink. A hunting party returned from the wood, carrying a deer’s carcass slung from a pole. She watched them clean and gut it and build a cookfire on the far side of the stream, and the smell of cooking meat mingled queerly with the stench of corruption. Her empty belly roiled and she thought she might retch. The prospect of food brought other men out of the houses, near all of them wearing bits of mail or boiled leather. When the deer was cooked, the choicest portions were carried to one of the houses.

  She thought that the dark might let her crawl close and free Gendry, but the guards kindled torches off the cookfire. A squire brought meat and bread to the two guarding the storehouse, and later two more men joined them and they all passed a skin of wine from hand to hand. When it was empty the others left, but the two guards remained, leaning on their spears.

  Arya’s arms and legs were stiff when she finally wriggled out from under the briar into the dark of the wood. It was a black night, with a thin sliver of moon appearing and disappearing as the clouds blew past. Silent as a shadow, she told herself as she moved through the trees. In this darkness she dared not run, for fear of tripping on some unseen root or losing her way. On her left Gods Eye lapped calmly against its shores. On her right a wind sighed through the branches, and leaves rustled and stirred. Far off, she heard the howling of wolves.

  Lommy and Hot Pie almost shit themselves when she stepped out of the trees behind them. “Quiet,” she told them, putting an arm around Weasel when the little girl came running up.

  Hot Pie stared at her with big eyes. “We thought you left us.” He had his shortsword in hand, the one Yoren had taken off the gold cloak. “I was scared you was a wolf.”

  “Where’s the Bull?” asked Lommy.

  “They caught him,” Arya whispered. “We have to get him out. Hot Pie, you got to help. We’ll sneak up and kill the guards, and then I’ll open the door.”

  Hot Pie and Lommy exchanged a look. “How many?”

  “I couldn’t count,” Arya admitted. “Twenty at least, but only two on the door.”

  Hot Pie looked as if he were going to cry. “We can’t fight twenty.”

  “You only need to fight one. I’ll do the other and we’ll get Gendry out and run.”

  “We should yield,” Lommy said. “Just go in and yield.”

  Arya shook her head stubbornly.

  “Then just leave him, Arry,” Lommy pleaded. “They don’t know about the rest of us. If we hide, they’ll go away, you know they will. It’s not our fault Gendry’s captured.”

  “You’re stupid, Lommy,” Arya said angrily. “You’ll die if we don’t get Gendry out. Who’s going to carry you?”

  “You and Hot Pie.”

  “All the time, with no one else to help? We’ll never do it. Gendry was the strong one. Anyhow, I don’t care what you say, I’m going back for him.” She looked at Hot Pie. “Are you coming?”

  Hot Pie glanced at Lommy, at Arya, at Lommy again. “I’ll come,” he said reluctantly.

  “Lommy, you keep Weasel here.”

  He grabbed the li
ttle girl by the hand and pulled her close. “What if the wolves come?”

  “Yield,” Arya suggested.

  Finding their way back to the village seemed to take hours. Hot Pie kept stumbling in the dark and losing his way, and Arya had to wait for him and double back. Finally she took him by the hand and led him along through the trees. “Just be quiet and follow.” When they could make out the first faint glow of the village fires against the sky, she said, “There’s dead men hanging on the other side of the hedge, but they’re nothing to be scared of, just remember fear cuts deeper than swords. We have to go real quiet and slow.” Hot Pie nodded.

  She wriggled under the briar first and waited for him on the far side, crouched low. Hot Pie emerged pale and panting, face and arms bloody with long scratches. He started to say something, but Arya put a finger to his lips. On hands and knees, they crawled along the gibbet, beneath the swaying dead. Hot Pie never once looked up, nor made a sound.

  Until the crow landed on his back, and he gave a muffled gasp. “Who’s there?” a voice boomed suddenly from the dark.

  Hot Pie leapt to his feet. “I yield!” He threw away his sword as dozens of crows rose shrieking and complaining to flap about the corpses. Arya grabbed his leg and tried to drag him back down, but he wrenched loose and ran forward, waving his arms. “I yield, I yield.”

  She bounced up and drew Needle, but by then men were all around her. Arya slashed at the nearest, but he blocked her with a steel-clad arm, and someone else slammed into her and dragged her to the ground, and a third man wrenched the sword from her grasp. When she tried to bite, her teeth snapped shut on cold dirty chainmail. “Oho, a fierce one,” the man said, laughing. The blow from his iron-clad fist near knocked her head off.

  They talked over her as she lay hurting, but Arya could not seem to understand the words. Her ears rang. When she tried to crawl off, the earth moved beneath her. They took Needle. The shame of that hurt worse than the pain, and the pain hurt a lot. Jon had given her that sword. Syrio had taught her to use it.

  Finally someone grabbed the front of her jerkin, yanked her to her knees. Hot Pie was kneeling too, before the tallest man Arya had ever seen, a monster from one of Old Nan’s stories. She never saw where the giant had come from. Three black dogs raced across his faded yellow surcoat, and his face looked as hard as if it had been cut from stone. Suddenly Arya knew where she had seen those dogs before. The night of the tourney at King’s Landing, all the knights had hung their shields outside their pavilions. “That one belongs to the Hound’s brother,” Sansa had confided when they passed the black dogs on the yellow field. “He’s even bigger than Hodor, you’ll see. They call him the Mountain That Rides.”

  Arya let her head droop, only half aware of what was going on around her. Hot Pie was yielding some more. The Mountain said, “You’ll lead us to these others,” and walked off. Next she was stumbling past the dead men on their gibbet, while Hot Pie told their captors he’d bake them pies and tarts if they didn’t hurt him. Four men went with them. One carried a torch, one a longsword; two had spears.

  They found Lommy where they’d left him, under the oak. “I yield,” he called out at once when he saw them. He’d flung away his own spear and raised his hands, splotchy green with old dye. “I yield. Please.”

  The man with the torch searched around under the trees. “Are you the last? Baker boy said there was a girl.”

  “She ran off when she heard you coming,” Lommy said. “You made a lot of noise.” And Arya thought, Run, Weasel, run as far as you can, run and hide and never come back.

  “Tell us where we can find that whoreson Dondarrion, and there’ll be a hot meal in it for you.”

  “Who?” said Lommy blankly.

  “I told you, this lot don’t know no more than those cunts in the village. Waste o’ bloody time.”

  One of the spearmen drifted over to Lommy. “Something wrong with your leg, boy?”

  “It got hurt.”

  “Can you walk?” He sounded concerned.

  “No,” said Lommy. “You got to carry me.”

  “Think so?” The man lifted his spear casually and drove the point through the boy’s soft throat. Lommy never even had time to yield again. He jerked once, and that was all. When the man pulled his spear loose, blood sprayed out in a dark fountain. “Carry him, he says,” he muttered, chuckling.

  TYRION

  They had warned him to dress warmly. Tyrion Lannister took them at their word. He was garbed in heavy quilted breeches and a woolen doublet, and over it all he had thrown the shadowskin cloak he had acquired in the Mountains of the Moon. The cloak was absurdly long, made for a man twice his height. When he was not ahorse, the only way to wear the thing was to wrap it around him several times, which made him look like a ball of striped fur.

  Even so, he was glad he had listened. The chill in the long dank vault went bone deep. Timett had chosen to retreat back up to the cellar after a brief taste of the cold below. They were somewhere under the hill of Rhaenys, behind the Guildhall of the Alchemists. The damp stone walls were splotchy with nitre, and the only light came from the sealed iron-and-glass oil lamp that Hallyne the Pyromancer carried so gingerly.

  Gingerly indeed… and these would be the ginger jars. Tyrion lifted one for inspection. It was round and ruddy, a fat clay grapefruit. A little big for his hand, but it would fit comfortably in the grip of a normal man, he knew. The pottery was thin, so fragile that even he had been warned not to squeeze too tightly, lest he crush it in his fist. The clay felt roughened, pebbled. Hallyne told him that was intentional. “A smooth pot is more apt to slip from a man’s grasp.”