A Clash of Kings, Page 37George R. R. Martin
One of the soldiers laughed. “The Footmen, girl. Toes of the Goat. Lord Tywin’s Bloody Mummers.”
“Pease for wits. You get her flayed, you can scrub the bloody steps,” said Weese. “They’re sellswords, Weasel girl. Call themselves the Brave Companions. Don’t use them other names where they can hear, or they’ll hurt you bad. The goat-helm’s their captain, Lord Vargo Hoat.”
“He’s no fucking lord,” said the second soldier. “I heard Ser Amory say so. He’s just some sellsword with a mouth full of slobber and a high opinion of hisself.”
“Aye,” said Weese, “but she better call him lord if she wants to keep all her parts.”
Arya looked at Vargo Hoat again. How many monsters does Lord Tywin have?
The Brave Companions were housed in the Widow’s Tower, so Arya need not serve them. She was glad of that; on the very night they arrived, fighting broke out between the sellswords and some Lannister men. Ser Harys Swyft’s squire was stabbed to death and two of the Bloody Mummers were wounded. The next morning Lord Tywin hanged them both from the gatehouse walls, along with one of Lord Lydden’s archers. Weese said the archer had started all the trouble by taunting the sellswords over Beric Dondarrion. After the hanged men had stopped kicking, Vargo Hoat and Ser Harys embraced and kissed and swore to love each other always as Lord Tywin looked on. Arya thought it was funny the way Vargo Hoat lisped and slobbered, but she knew better than to laugh.
The Bloody Mummers did not linger long at Harrenhal, but before they rode out again, Arya heard one of them saying how a northern army under Roose Bolton had occupied the ruby ford of the Trident. “If he crosses, Lord Tywin will smash him again like he did on the Green Fork,” a Lannister bowmen said, but his fellows jeered him down. “Bolton’ll never cross, not till the Young Wolf marches from Riverrun with his wild northmen and all them wolves.”
Arya had not known her brother was so near. Riverrun was much closer than Winterfell, though she was not certain where it lay in relation to Harrenhal. I could find out somehow, I know I could, if only I could get away. When she thought of seeing Robb’s face again Arya had to bite her lip. And I want to see Jon too, and Bran and Rickon, and Mother. Even Sansa… I’ll kiss her and beg her pardons like a proper lady, she’ll like that.
From the courtyard talk she’d learned that the upper chambers of the Tower of Dread housed three dozen captives taken during some battle on the Green Fork of the Trident. Most had been given freedom of the castle in return for their pledge not to attempt escape. They vowed not to escape, Arya told herself, but they never swore not to help me escape.
The captives ate at their own table in the Hall of a Hundred Hearths, and could often be seen about the grounds. Four brothers took their exercise together every day, fighting with staves and wooden shields in the Flowstone Yard. Three of them were Freys of the Crossing, the fourth their bastard brother. They were only there a short time, though; one morning two other brothers arrived under a peace banner with a chest of gold, and ransomed them from the knights who’d captured them. The six Freys all left together.
No one ransomed the northmen, though. One fat lordling haunted the kitchens, Hot Pie told her, always looking for a morsel. His mustache was so bushy that it covered his mouth, and the clasp that held his cloak was a silver-and-sapphire trident. He belonged to Lord Tywin, but the fierce, bearded young man who liked to walk the battlements alone in a black cloak patterned with white suns had been taken by some hedge knight who meant to get rich off him. Sansa would have known who he was, and the fat one too, but Arya had never taken much interest in titles and sigils. Whenever Septa Mordane had gone on about the history of this house and that house, she was inclined to drift and dream and wonder when the lesson would be done.
She did remember Lord Cerwyn, though. His lands had been close to Winterfell, so he and his son Cley had often visited. Yet as fate would have it, he was the only captive who was never seen; he was abed in a tower cell, recovering from a wound. For days and days Arya tried to work out how she might steal past the door guards to see him. If he knew her, he would be honor bound to help her. A lord would have gold for a certainty, they all did; perhaps he would pay some of Lord Tywin’s own sellswords to take her to Riverrun. Father had always said that most sellswords would betray anyone for enough gold.
Then one morning she spied three women in the cowled grey robes of the silent sisters loading a corpse into their wagon. The body was sewn into a cloak of the finest silk, decorated with a battle-axe sigil. When Arya asked who it was, one of the guards told her that Lord Cerwyn had died. The words felt like a kick in the belly. He could never have helped you anyway, she thought as the sisters drove the wagon through the gate. He couldn’t even help himself, you stupid mouse.
After that it was back to scrubbing and scurrying and listening at doors. Lord Tywin would soon march on Riverrun, she heard. Or he would drive south to Highgarden, no one would ever expect that. No, he must defend King’s Landing, Stannis was the greatest threat. He’d sent Gregor Clegane and Vargo Hoat to destroy Roose Bolton and remove the dagger from his back. He’d sent ravens to the Eyrie, he meant to wed the Lady Lysa Arryn and win the Vale. He’d bought a ton of silver to forge magic swords that would slay the Stark wargs. He was writing Lady Stark to make a peace, the Kingslayer would soon be freed.
Though ravens came and went every day, Lord Tywin himself spent most of his days behind closed doors with his war council. Arya caught glimpses of him, but always from afar — once walking the walls in the company of three maesters and the fat captive with the bushy mustache, once riding out with his lords bannermen to visit the encampments, but most often standing in an arch of the covered gallery watching men at practice in the yard below. He stood with his hands locked together on the gold pommel of his longsword. They said Lord Tywin loved gold most of all; he even shit gold, she heard one squire jest. The Lannister lord was strong-looking for an old man, with stiff golden whiskers and a bald head. There was something in his face that reminded Arya of her own father, even though they looked nothing alike. He has a lord’s face, that’s all, she told herself. She remembered hearing her lady mother tell Father to put on his lord’s face and go deal with some matter. Father had laughed at that. She could not imagine Lord Tywin ever laughing at anything.
One afternoon, while she was waiting her turn to draw a pail of water from the well, she heard the hinges of the east gate groaning. A party of men rode under the portcullis at a walk. When she spied the manticore crawling across the shield of their leader, a stab of hate shot through her.
In the light of day, Ser Amory Lorch looked less frightening than he had by torchlight, but he still had the pig’s eyes she recalled. One of the women said that his men had ridden all the way around the lake chasing Beric Dondarrion and slaying rebels. We weren’t rebels, Arya thought. We were the Night’s Watch; the Night’s Watch takes no side. Ser Amory had fewer men than she remembered, though, and many wounded. I hope their wounds fester. I hope they all die.
Then she saw the three near the end of the column.
Rorge had donned a black halfhelm with a broad iron nasal that made it hard to see that he did not have a nose. Biter rode ponderously beside him on a destrier that looked ready to collapse under his weight. Half-healed burns covered his body, making him even more hideous than before.
But Jaqen H’ghar still smiled. His garb was still ragged and filthy, but he had found time to wash and brush his hair. It streamed down across his shoulders, red and white and shiny, and Arya heard the girls giggling to each other in admiration.
I should have let the fire have them. Gendry said to, I should have listened. If she hadn’t thrown them that axe they’d all be dead. For a moment she was afraid, but they rode past her without a flicker of interest. Only Jaqen H’ghar so much as glanced in her direction, and his eyes passed right over her. He does not know me, she thought. Arry was a fierce little boy with a sword, and I’m just a grey mouse girl with a pail.
sp; She spent the rest of that day scrubbing steps inside the Wailing Tower. By evenfall her hands were raw and bleeding and her arms so sore they trembled when she lugged the pail back to the cellar. Too tired even for food, Arya begged Weese’s pardons and crawled into her straw to sleep. “Weese,” she yawned. “Dunsen, Chiswyck, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Gregor, Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei.” She thought she might add three more names to her prayer, but she was too tired to decide tonight.
Arya was dreaming of wolves running wild through the wood when a strong hand clamped down over her mouth like smooth warm stone, solid and unyielding. She woke at once, squirming and struggling. “A girl says nothing,” a voice whispered close behind her ear. “A girl keeps her lips closed, no one hears, and friends may talk in secret. Yes?”
Heart pounding, Arya managed the tiniest of nods.
Jaqen H’ghar took his hand away. The cellar was black as pitch and she could not see his face, even inches away. She could smell him, though; his skin smelled clean and soapy, and he had scented his hair. “A boy becomes a girl,” he murmured.
“I was always a girl. I didn’t think you saw me.”
“A man sees. A man knows.”
She remembered that she hated him. “You scared me. You’re one of them now, I should have let you burn. What are you doing here? Go away or I’ll yell for Weese.”
“A man pays his debts. A man owes three.”
“The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest.”
He wants to help me, Arya realized with a rush of hope that made her dizzy. “Take me to Riverrun, it’s not far, if we stole some horses we could—”
He laid a finger on her lips. “Three lives you shall have of me. No more, no less. Three and we are done. So a girl must ponder.” He kissed her hair softly. “But not too long.”
By the time Arya lit her stub of a candle, only a faint smell remained of him, a whiff of ginger and cloves lingering in the air. The woman in the next niche rolled over on her straw and complained of the light, so Arya blew it out. When she closed her eyes, she saw faces swimming before her. Joffrey and his mother, Ilyn Payne and Meryn Trant and Sandor Clegane… but they were in King’s Landing hundreds of miles away, and Ser Gregor had lingered only a few nights before departing again for more foraging, taking Raff and Chiswyck and the Tickler with him. Ser Amory Lorch was here, though, and she hated him almost as much. Didn’t she? She wasn’t certain. And there was always Weese.
She thought of him again the next morning, when lack of sleep made her yawn. “Weasel,” Weese purred, “next time I see that mouth droop open, I’ll pull out your tongue and feed it to my bitch.” He twisted her ear between his fingers to make certain she’d heard, and told her to get back to those steps, he wanted them clean down to the third landing by nightfall.
As she worked, Arya thought about the people she wanted dead. She pretended she could see their faces on the steps, and scrubbed harder to wipe them away. The Starks were at war with the Lannisters and she was a Stark, so she should kill as many Lannisters as she could, that was what you did in wars. But she didn’t think she should trust Jaqen. I should kill them myself. Whenever her father had condemned a man to death, he did the deed himself with Ice, his greatsword. “If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look him in the face and hear his last words,” she’d heard him tell Robb and Jon once.
The next day she avoided Jaqen H’ghar, and the day after that. It was not hard. She was very small and Harrenhal was very large, full of places where a mouse could hide.
And then Ser Gregor returned, earlier than expected, driving a herd of goats this time in place of a herd of prisoners. She heard he’d lost four men in one of Lord Beric’s night raids, but those Arya hated returned unscathed and took up residence on the second floor of the Wailing Tower. Weese saw that they were well supplied with drink. “They always have a good thirst, that lot,” he grumbled. “Weasel, go up and ask if they’ve got any clothes that need mending, I’ll have the women see to it.”
Arya ran up her well-scrubbed steps. No one paid her any mind when she entered. Chiswyck was seated by the fire with a horn of ale to hand, telling one of his funny stories. She dared not interrupt, unless she wanted a bloody lip.
“After the Hand’s tourney, it were, before the war come,” Chiswyck was saying. “We were on our ways back west, seven of us with Ser Gregor. Raff was with me, and young Joss Stilwood, he’d squired for Ser in the lists. Well, we come on this pisswater river, running high on account there’d been rains. No way to ford, but there’s an alehouse near, so there we repair. Ser rousts the brewer and tells him to keep our horns full till the waters fall, and you should see the man’s pig eyes shine at the sight o’ silver. So he’s fetching us ale, him and his daughter, and poor thin stuff it is, no more’n brown piss, which don’t make me any happier, nor Ser neither. And all the time this brewer’s saying how glad he is to have us, custom being slow on account o’ them rains. The fool won’t shut his yap, not him, though Ser is saying not a word, just brooding on the Knight o’ Pansies and that bugger’s trick he played. You can see how tight his mouth sits, so me and the other lads we know better’n to say a squeak to him, but this brewer he’s got to talk, he even asks how m’lord fared in the jousting. Ser just gave him this look.” Chiswyck cackled, quaffed his ale, and wiped the foam away with the back of his hand. “Meanwhile, this daughter of his has been fetching and pouring, a fat little thing, eighteen or so—”
“Thirteen, more like,” Raff the Sweetling drawled.
“Well, be that as it may, she’s not much to look at, but Eggon’s been drinking and gets to touching her, and might be I did a little touching meself, and Raff’s telling young Stilwood that he ought t’ drag the girl upstairs and make hisself a man, giving the lad courage as it were. Finally Joss reaches up under her skirt, and she shrieks and drops her flagon and goes running off to the kitchen. Well, it would have ended right there, only what does the old fool do but he goes to Ser and asks him to make us leave the girl alone, him being an anointed knight and all such.
“Ser Gregor, he wasn’t paying no mind to none of our fun, but now he looks, you know how he does, and he commands that the girl be brought before him. Now the old man has to drag her out of the kitchen, and no one to blame but hisself. Ser looks her over and says, ‘So this is the whore you’re so concerned for,’ and this besotted old fool says, ‘My Layna’s no whore, ser,’ right to Gregor’s face. Ser, he never blinks, just says, ‘She is now,’ tosses the old man another silver, rips the dress off the wench, and takes her right there on the table in front of her da, her flopping and wiggling like a rabbit and making these noises. The look on the old man’s face, I laughed so hard ale was coming out me nose. Then this boy hears the noise, the son I figure, and comes rushing up from the cellar, so Raff has to stick a dirk in his belly. By then Ser’s done, so he goes back to his drinking and we all have a turn. Tobbot, you know how he is, he flops her over and goes in the back way. The girl was done fighting by the time I had her, maybe she’d decided she liked it after all, though to tell the truth I wouldn’t have minded a little wiggling. And now here’s the best bit… when it’s all done, Ser tells the old man that he wants his change. The girl wasn’t worth a silver, he says… and damned if that old man didn’t fetch a fistful of coppers, beg m’lord’s pardon, and thank him for the custom!”
The men all roared, none louder than Chiswyck himself, who laughed so hard at his own story that snot dribbled from his nose down into his scraggy grey beard. Arya stood in the shadows of the stairwell and watched him. She crept back down to the cellars without saying a word. When Weese found that she hadn’t asked about the clothes, he yanked down her breeches and caned her until blood ran down her thighs, but Arya closed her eyes and
thought of all the sayings Syrio had taught her, so she scarcely felt it.
Two nights later, he sent her to the Barracks Hall to serve at table. She was carrying a flagon of wine and pouring when she glimpsed Jaqen H’ghar at his trencher across the aisle. Chewing her lip, Arya glanced around warily to make certain Weese was not in sight. Fear cuts deeper than swords, she told herself.
She took a step, and another, and with each she felt less a mouse. She worked her way down the bench, filling wine cups. Rorge sat to Jaqen’s right, deep drunk, but he took no note of her. Arya leaned close and whispered, “Chiswyck,” right in Jaqen’s ear. The Lorathi gave no sign that he had heard.
When her flagon was empty, Arya hurried down to the cellars to refill it from the cask, and quickly returned to her pouring. No one had died of thirst while she was gone, nor even noted her brief absence.
Nothing happened the next day, nor the day after, but on the third day Arya went to the kitchens with Weese to fetch their dinner. “One of the Mountain’s men fell off a wallwalk last night and broke his fool neck,” she heard Weese tell a cook.
“Drunk?” the woman asked.
“No more’n usual. Some are saying it was Harren’s ghost flung him down.” He snorted to show what he thought of such notions.
It wasn’t Harren, Arya wanted to say, it was me. She had killed Chiswyck with a whisper, and she would kill two more before she was through. I’m the ghost in Harrenhal, she thought. And that night, there was one less name to hate.
The meeting place was a grassy sward dotted with pale grey mushrooms and the raw stumps of felled trees.
“We are the first, my lady,” Hallis Mollen said as they reined up amidst the stumps, alone between the armies. The direwolf banner of House Stark flapped and fluttered atop the lance he bore. Catelyn could not see the sea from here, but she could feel how close it was. The smell of salt was heavy on the wind gusting from the east.
Stannis Baratheon’s foragers had cut the trees down for his siege towers and catapults. Catelyn wondered how long the grove had stood, and whether Ned had rested here when he led his host south to lift the last siege of Storm’s End. He had won a great victory that day, all the greater for being bloodless.
Gods grant that I shall do the same, Catelyn prayed. Her own liege men thought she was mad even to come. “This is no fight of ours, my lady,” Ser Wendel Manderly had said. “I know the king would not wish his mother to put herself at risk.”
“We are all at risk,” she told him, perhaps too sharply. “Do you think I wish to be here, ser?” I belong at Riverrun with my dying father, at Winterfell with my sons. “Robb sent me south to speak for him, and speak for him I shall.” It would be no easy thing to forge a peace between these brothers, Catelyn knew, yet for the good of the realm, it must be tried.
Across rain-sodden fields and stony ridges, she could see the great castle of Storm’s End rearing up against the sky, its back to the unseen sea. Beneath that mass of pale grey stone, the encircling army of Lord Stannis Baratheon looked as small and insignificant as mice with banners.
The songs said that Storm’s End had been raised in ancient days by Durran, the first Storm King, who had won the love of the fair Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. On the night of their wedding, Elenei had yielded her maidenhood to a mortal’s love and thus doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and her grieving parents had unleashed their wrath and sent the winds and waters to batter down Durran’s hold. His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to sea, but Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild.
Five more castles he built, each larger and stronger than the last, only to see them smashed asunder when the gale winds came howling up Shipbreaker Bay, driving great walls of water before them. His lords pleaded with him to build inland; his priests told him he must placate the gods by giving Elenei back to the sea; even his smallfolk begged him to relent. Durran would have none of it. A seventh castle he raised, most massive of all. Some said the children of the forest helped him build it, shaping the stones with magic; others claimed that a small boy told him what he must do, a boy who would grow to be Bran the Builder. No matter how the tale was told, the end was the same. Though the angry gods threw storm after storm against it, the seventh castle stood defiant, and Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei dwelt there together until the end of their days.
Gods do not forget, and still the gales came raging up the narrow sea. Yet Storm’s End endured, through centuries and tens of centuries, a castle like no other. Its great curtain wall was a hundred feet high, unbroken by arrow slit or postern, everywhere rounded, curving, smooth, its stones fit so cunningly together that nowhere was crevice nor angle nor gap by which the wind might enter. That wall was said to be forty feet thick at its narrowest, and near eighty on the seaward face, a double course of stones with an inner core of sand and rubble. Within that mighty bulwark, the kitchens and stables and yards sheltered safe from wind and wave. Of towers, there was but one, a colossal drum tower, windowless where it faced the sea, so large that it was granary and barracks and feast hall and lord’s dwelling all in one, crowned by massive battlements that made it look from afar like a spiked fist atop an upthrust arm.
“My lady,” Hal Mollen called. Two riders had emerged from the tidy little camp beneath the castle, and were coming toward them at a slow walk. “That will be King Stannis.”
“No doubt.” Catelyn watched them come. Stannis it must be, yet that is not the Baratheon banner. It was a bright yellow, not the rich gold of Renly’s standards, and the device it bore was red, though she could not make out its shape.
Renly would be last to arrive. He had told her as much when she set out. He did not propose to mount his horse until he saw his brother well on his way. The first to arrive must wait on the other, and Renly would do no waiting. It is a sort of game kings play, she told herself. Well, she was no king, so she need not play it. Catelyn was practiced at waiting.
As he neared, she saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. His belt was studded with garnets and yellow topaz, and a great square-cut ruby was set in the hilt of the sword he wore. Otherwise his dress was plain: studded leather jerkin over quilted doublet, worn boots, breeches of brown roughspun. The device on his sun-yellow banner showed a red heart surrounded by a blaze of orange fire. The crowned stag was there, yes… shrunken and enclosed within the heart. Even more curious was his standard bearer — a woman, garbed all in reds, face shadowed within the deep hood of her scarlet cloak. A red priestess, Catelyn thought, wondering. The sect was numerous and powerful in the Free Cities and the distant east, but there were few in the Seven Kingdoms.
“Lady Stark,” Stannis Baratheon said with chill courtesy as he reined up. He inclined his head, balder than she remembered.
“Lord Stannis,” she returned.
Beneath the tight-trimmed beard his heavy jaw clenched hard, yet he did not hector her about titles. For that she was duly grateful. “I had not thought to find you at Storm’s End.”
“I had not thought to be here.”
His deepset eyes regarded her uncomfortably. This was not a man made for easy courtesies. “I am sorry for your lord’s death,” he said, “though Eddard Stark was no friend to me.”
“He was never your enemy, my lord. When the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne held you prisoned in that castle, starving, it was Eddard Stark who broke the siege.”
“At my brother’s command, not for love of me,” Stannis answered. “Lord Eddard did his duty, I will not deny it. Did I ever do less? I should have been Robert’s Hand.”
“That was your brother’s will. Ned never wanted it.”
“Yet he took it. That which should have been mine. Still, I give you my word, you shall have justice for his murder.”
How they loved to p
romise heads, these men who would be king. “Your brother promised me the same. But if truth be told, I would sooner have my daughters back, and leave justice to the gods. Cersei still holds my Sansa, and of Arya there has been no word since the day of Robert’s death.”
“If your children are found when I take the city, they shall be sent to you.” Alive or dead, his tone implied.
“And when shall that be, Lord Stannis? King’s Landing is close to your Dragonstone, but I find you here instead.”
“You are frank, Lady Stark. Very well, I’ll answer you frankly. To take the city, I need the power of these southron lords I see across the field. My brother has them. I must needs take them from him.”
“Men give their allegiance where they will, my lord. These lords swore fealty to Robert and House Baratheon. If you and your brother were to put aside your