A clash of kings, p.44
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       A Clash of Kings, p.44

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

  no notion what Ser Lyonel looked like or where to find him, though. If they questioned her, they’d know, and then Weese… Weese…

  As she chewed her lip, trying not to think about how it would feel to have her feet cut off, a group of archers in leather jerkins and iron helms went past, their bows slung across their shoulders. Arya heard snatches of their talk.

  “… giants I tell you, he’s got giants twenty foot tall come down from beyond the Wall, follow him like dogs…”

  “… not natural, coming on them so fast, in the night and all. He’s more wolf than man, all them Starks are…”

  “… shit on your wolves and giants, the boy’d piss his pants if he knew we was coming. He wasn’t man enough to march on Harrenhal, was he? Ran t’other way, didn’t he? He’d run now if he knew what was best for him.”

  “So you say, but might be the boy knows something we don’t, maybe it’s us ought to be run…”

  Yes, Arya thought. Yes, it’s you who ought to run, you and Lord Tywin and the Mountain and Ser Addam and Ser Amory and stupid Ser Lyonel whoever he is, all of you better run or my brother will kill you, he’s a Stark, he’s more wolf than man, and so am I.

  “Weasel.” Weese’s voice cracked like a whip. She never saw where he came from, but suddenly he was right in front of her. “Give me that. Took you long enough.” He snatched the sword from her fingers, and dealt her a stinging slap with the back of his hand. “Next time be quicker about it.”

  For a moment she had been a wolf again, but Weese’s slap took it all away and left her with nothing but the taste of her own blood in her mouth. She’d bitten her tongue when he hit her. She hated him for that.

  “You want another?” Weese demanded. “You’ll get it too. I’ll have none of your insolent looks. Get down to the brewhouse and tell Tuffleberry that I have two dozen barrels for him, but he better send his lads to fetch them or I’ll find someone wants ’em worse.” Arya started off, but not quick enough for Weese. “You run if you want to eat tonight,” he shouted, his promises of a plump crisp capon already forgotten. “And don’t be getting lost again, or I swear I’ll beat you bloody.”

  You won’t, Arya thought. You won’t ever again. But she ran. The old gods of the north must have been guiding her steps. Halfway to the brewhouse, as she was passing under the stone bridge that arched between Widow’s Tower and Kingspyre, she heard harsh, growling laughter. Rorge came around a corner with three other men, the manticore badge of Ser Amory sewn over their hearts. When he saw her, he stopped and grinned, showing a mouthful of crooked brown teeth under the leather flap he wore sometimes to cover the hole in his face. “Yoren’s little cunt,” he called her. “Guess we know why that black bastard wanted you on the Wall, don’t we?” He laughed again, and the others laughed with him. “Where’s your stick now?” Rorge demanded suddenly, the smile gone as quick as it had come. “Seems to me I promised to fuck you with it.” He took a step toward her. Arya edged backward. “Not so brave now that I’m not in chains, are you?”

  “I saved you.” She kept a good yard between them, ready to run quick as a snake if he made a grab for her.

  “Owe you another fucking for that, seems like. Did Yoren pump your cunny, or did he like that tight little ass better?”

  “I’m looking for Jaqen,” she said. “There’s a message.”

  Rorge halted. Something in his eyes… could it be that he was scared of Jaqen H’ghar? “The bathhouse. Get out of my way.”

  Arya whirled and ran, swift as a deer, her feet flying over the cobbles all the way to the bathhouse. She found Jaqen soaking in a tub, steam rising around him as a serving girl sluiced hot water over his head. His long hair, red on one side and white on the other, fell down across his shoulders, wet and heavy.

  She crept up quiet as a shadow, but he opened his eyes all the same. “She steals in on little mice feet, but a man hears,” he said. How could he hear me? she wondered, and it seemed as if he heard that as well. “The scuff of leather on stone sings loud as warhorns to a man with open ears. Clever girls go barefoot.”

  “I have a message.” Arya eyed the serving girl uncertainly. When she did not seem likely to go away, she leaned in until her mouth was almost touching his ear. “Weese,” she whispered.

  Jaqen H’ghar closed his eyes again, floating languid, half-asleep. “Tell his lordship a man shall attend him at his leisure.” His hand moved suddenly, splashing hot water at her, and Arya had to leap back to keep from getting drenched.

  When she told Tuffleberry what Weese had said, the brewer cursed loudly. “You tell Weese my lads got duties to attend to, and you tell him he’s a pox-ridden bastard too, and the seven hells will freeze over before he gets another horn of my ale. I’ll have them barrels within the hour or Lord Tywin will hear of it, see if he don’t.”

  Weese cursed too when Arya brought back that message, even though she left out the pox-ridden bastard part. He fumed and threatened, but in the end he rounded up six men and sent them off grumbling to fetch the barrels down to the brewhouse.

  Supper that evening was a thin stew of barley, onion, and carrots, with a wedge of stale brown bread. One of the women had taken to sleeping in Weese’s bed, and she got a piece of ripe blue cheese as well, and a wing off the capon that Weese had spoken of that morning. He ate the rest himself, the grease running down in a shiny line through the boils that festered at the corner of his mouth. The bird was almost gone when he glanced up from his trencher and saw Arya staring. “Weasel, come here.”

  A few mouthfuls of dark meat still clung to one thigh. He forgot, but now he’s remembered, Arya thought. It made her feel bad for telling Jaqen to kill him. She got off the bench and went to the head of the table.

  “I saw you looking at me.” Weese wiped his fingers on the front of her shift. Then he grabbed her throat with one hand and slapped her with the other. “What did I tell you?” He slapped her again, backhand. “Keep those eyes to yourself, or next time I’ll spoon one out and feed it to my bitch.” A shove sent her stumbling to the floor. Her hem caught on a loose nail in the splintered wooden bench and ripped as she fell. “You’ll mend that before you sleep,” Weese announced as he pulled the last bit of meat off the capon. When he was finished he sucked his fingers noisily, and threw the bones to his ugly spotted dog.

  “Weese,” Arya whispered that night as she bent over the tear in her shift. “Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling,” she said, calling a name every time she pushed the bone needle through the undyed wool. “The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Gregor, Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei.” She wondered how much longer she would have to include Weese in her prayer, and drifted off to sleep dreaming that on the morrow, when she woke, he’d be dead.

  But it was the sharp toe of Weese’s boot that woke her, as ever. The main strength of Lord Tywin’s host would ride this day, he told them as they broke their fast on oatcakes. “Don’t none of you be thinking how easy it’ll be here once m’lord of Lannister is gone,” he warned. “The castle won’t grow no smaller, I promise you that, only now there’ll be fewer hands to tend to it. You lot of slugabeds are going to learn what work is now, yes you are.”

  Not from you. Arya picked at her oaten cake. Weese frowned at her, as if he smelled her secret. Quickly she dropped her gaze to her food, and dared not raise her eyes again.

  Pale light filled the yard when Lord Tywin Lannister took his leave of Harrenhal. Arya watched from an arched window halfway up the Wailing Tower. His charger wore a blanket of enameled crimson scales and gilded crinet and chamfron, while Lord Tywin himself sported a thick ermine cloak. His brother Ser Kevan looked near as splendid. No less than four standard-bearers went before them, carrying huge crimson banners emblazoned with the golden lion. Behind the Lannisters came their great lords and captains. Their banners flared and flapped, a pageant of color: red ox and golden mountain, purple unicorn and bantam rooster, brindled boar and badger, a silver ferret and a juggler in motley,
stars and sunbursts, peacock and panther, chevron and dagger, black hood and blue beetle and green arrow.

  Last of all came Ser Gregor Clegane in his grey plate steel, astride a stallion as bad-tempered as his rider. Polliver rode beside him, with the black dog standard in his hand and Gendry’s horned helm on his head. He was a tall man, but he looked no more than a half-grown boy when he rode in his master’s shadow.

  A shiver crept up Arya’s spine as she watched them pass under the great iron portcullis of Harrenhal. Suddenly she knew that she had made a terrible mistake. I’m so stupid, she thought. Weese did not matter, no more than Chiswyck had. These were the men who mattered, the ones she ought to have killed. Last night she could have whispered any of them dead, if only she hadn’t been so mad at Weese for hitting her and lying about the capon. Lord Tywin, why didn’t I say Lord Tywin?

  Perhaps it was not too late to change her mind. Weese was not killed yet. If she could find Jaqen, tell him…

  Hurriedly, Arya ran down the twisting steps, her chores forgotten. She heard the rattle of chains as the portcullis was slowly lowered, its spikes sinking deep into the ground… and then another sound, a shriek of pain and fear.

  A dozen people got there before her, though none was coming any too close. Arya squirmed between them. Weese was sprawled across the cobbles, his throat a red ruin, eyes gaping sightlessly up at a bank of grey cloud. His ugly spotted dog stood on his chest, lapping at the blood pulsing from his neck, and every so often ripping a mouthful of flesh out of the dead man’s face.

  Finally someone brought a crossbow and shot the spotted dog dead while she was worrying at one of Weese’s ears.

  “Damnedest thing,” she heard a man say. “He had that bitch dog since she was a pup.”

  “This place is cursed,” the man with the crossbow said.

  “It’s Harren’s ghost, that’s what it is,” said Goodwife Amabel. “I’ll not sleep here another night, I swear it.”

  Arya lifted her gaze from the dead man and his dead dog. Jaqen H’ghar was leaning up against the side of the Wailing Tower. When he saw her looking, he lifted a hand to his face and laid two fingers casually against his cheek.

  CATELYN

  Two days ride from Riverrun, a scout spied them watering their horses beside a muddy steam. Catelyn had never been so glad to see the twin tower badge of House Frey.

  When she asked him to lead them to her uncle, he said, “The Blackfish is gone west with the king, my lady. Martyn Rivers commands the outriders in his stead.”

  “I see.” She had met Rivers at the Twins; a baseborn son of Lord Walder Frey, half brother to Ser Perwyn. It did not surprise her to learn that Robb had struck at the heart of Lannister power; clearly he had been contemplating just that when he sent her away to treat with Renly. “Where is Rivers now?”

  “His camp is two hours ride, my lady.”

  “Take us to him,” she commanded. Brienne helped her back into her saddle, and they set out at once.

  “Have you come from Bitterbridge, my lady?” the scout asked.

  “No.” She had not dared. With Renly dead, Catelyn had been uncertain of the reception she might receive from his young widow and her protectors. Instead she had ridden through the heart of the war, through fertile riverlands turned to blackened desert by the fury of the Lannisters, and each night her scouts brought back tales that made her ill. “Lord Renly is slain,” she added.

  “We’d hoped that tale was some Lannister lie, or—”

  “Would that it were. My brother commands in Riverrun?”

  “Yes, my lady. His Grace left Ser Edmure to hold Riverrun and guard his rear.”

  Gods grant him the strength to do so, Catelyn thought. And the wisdom as well. “Is there word from Robb in the west?”

  “You have not heard?” The man seemed surprised. “His Grace won a great victory at Oxcross. Ser Stafford Lannister is dead, his host scattered.”

  Ser Wendel Manderly gave a whoop of pleasure, but Catelyn only nodded. Tomorrow’s trials concerned her more than yesterday’s triumphs.

  Martyn Rivers had made his camp in the shell of a shattered holdfast, beside a roofless stable and a hundred fresh graves. He went to one knee when Catelyn dismounted. “Well met, my lady. Your brother charged us to keep an eye out for your party, and escort you back to Riverrun in all haste should we come upon you.”

  Catelyn scarce liked the sound of that. “Is it my father?”

  “No, my lady. Lord Hoster is unchanged.” Rivers was a ruddy man with scant resemblance to his half brothers. “It is only that we feared you might chance upon Lannister scouts. Lord Tywin has left Harrenhal and marches west with all his power.”

  “Rise,” she told Rivers, frowning. Stannis Baratheon would soon be on the march as well, gods help them all. “How long until Lord Tywin is upon us?”

  “Three days, perhaps four, it is hard to know. We have eyes out along all the roads, but it would be best not to linger.”

  Nor did they. Rivers broke his camp quickly and saddled up beside her, and they set off again, near fifty strong now, flying beneath the direwolf, the leaping trout, the twin towers.

  Her men wanted to hear more of Robb’s victory at Oxcross, and Rivers obliged. “There’s a singer come to Riverrun, calls himself Rymund the Rhymer, he’s made a song of the fight. Doubtless you’ll hear it sung tonight, my lady. ‘Wolf in the Night,’ this Rymund calls it.” He went on to tell how the remnants of Ser Stafford’s host had fallen back on Lannisport. Without siege engines there was no way to storm Casterly Rock, so the Young Wolf was paying the Lannisters back in kind for the devastation they’d inflicted on the riverlands. Lords Karstark and Glover were raiding along the coast, Lady Mormont had captured thousands of cattle and was driving them back toward Riverrun, while the Greatjon had seized the gold mines at Castamere, Nunn’s Deep, and the Pendric Hills. Ser Wendel laughed. “Nothing’s more like to bring a Lannister running than a threat to his gold.”

  “How did the king ever take the Tooth?” Ser Perwyn Frey asked his bastard brother. “That’s a hard strong keep, and it commands the hill road.”

  “He never took it. He slipped around it in the night. It’s said the direwolf showed him the way, that Grey Wind of his. The beast sniffed out a goat track that wound down a defile and up along beneath a ridge, a crooked and stony way, yet wide enough for men riding single file. The Lannisters in their watchtowers got not so much a glimpse of them.” Rivers lowered his voice. “There’s some say that after the battle, the king cut out Stafford Lannister’s heart and fed it to the wolf.”

  “I would not believe such tales,” Catelyn said sharply. “My son is no savage.”

  “As you say, my lady. Still, it’s no more than the beast deserved. That is no common wolf, that one. The Greatjon’s been heard to say that the old gods of the north sent those direwolves to your children.”

  Catelyn remembered the day when her boys had found the pups in the late summer snows. There had been five, three male and two female for the five trueborn children of House Stark… and a sixth, white of fur and red of eye, for Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow. No common wolves, she thought. No indeed.

  That night as they made their camp, Brienne sought out her tent. “My lady, you are safely back among your own now, a day’s ride from your brother’s castle. Give me leave to go.”

  Catelyn should not have been surprised. The homely young woman had kept to herself all through their journey, spending most of her time with the horses, brushing out their coats and pulling stones from their shoes. She had helped Shadd cook and clean game as well, and soon proved that she could hunt as well as any. Any task Catelyn asked her to turn her hand to, Brienne had performed deftly and without complaint, and when she was spoken to she answered politely, but she never chattered, nor wept, nor laughed. She had ridden with them every day and slept among them every night without ever truly becoming one of them.

  It was the same when she was with Renly, Catelyn thought. At the fea
st, in the melee, even in Renly’s pavilion with her brothers of the Rainbow Guard. There are walls around this one higher than Winterfell’s.

  “If you left us, where would you go?” Catelyn asked her.

  “Back,” Brienne said. “To Storm’s End.”

  “Alone.” It was not a question.

  The broad face was a pool of still water, giving no hint of what might live in the depths below. “Yes.”

  “You mean to kill Stannis.”

  Brienne closed her thick callused fingers around the hilt of her sword. The sword that had been his. “I swore a vow. Three times I swore. You heard me.”

  “I did,” Catelyn admitted. The girl had kept the rainbow cloak when she discarded the rest of her bloodstained clothing, she knew. Brienne’s own things had been left behind during their flight, and she had been forced to clothe herself in odd bits of Ser Wendel’s spare garb, since no one else in their party had garments large enough to fit her. “Vows should be kept, I agree, but Stannis has a great host around him, and his own guards sworn to keep him safe.”

  “I am not afraid of his guards. I am as good as any of them. I should never have fled.”

  “Is that what troubles you, that some fool might call you craven?” She sighed. “Renly’s death was no fault of yours. You served him valiantly, but when you seek to follow him into the earth, you serve no one.” She stretched out a hand, to give what comfort a touch could give. “I know how hard it is—”

  Brienne shook off her hand. “No one knows.”

  “You’re wrong,” Catelyn said sharply. “Every morning, when I wake, I remember that Ned is gone. I have no skill with swords, but that does not mean that I do not dream of riding to King’s Landing and wrapping my hands around Cersei Lannister’s white throat and squeezing until her face turns black.”

  The Beauty raised her eyes, the only part of her that was truly beautiful. “If you dream that, why would you seek to hold me back? Is it because of what Stannis said at the parley?”

  Was it? Catelyn glanced across the camp. Two men were walking sentry, spears in hand. “I was taught that good men must fight evil in this world, and Renly’s death was evil beyond all doubt. Yet I was also taught that the gods make kings, not the swords of men. If Stannis is our rightful king—”

  “He’s not. Robert was never the rightful king either, even Renly said as much. Jaime Lannister murdered the rightful king, after Robert killed his lawful heir on the Trident. Where were the gods then? The gods don’t care about men, no more than kings care about peasants.”

  “A good king does care.”

  “Lord Renly… His Grace, he… he would have been the best king, my lady, he was so good, he…”

  “He is gone, Brienne,” she said, as gently as she could. “Stannis and Joffrey remain… and so does my son.”

  “He wouldn’t… you’d never make a peace with Stannis, would you? Bend the knee? You wouldn’t…”

  “I will tell you true, Brienne. I do not know. My son may be a king, but I am no queen… only a mother who would keep her children safe, however she could.”

  “I am not made to be a mother. I need to fight.”

  “Then fight… but for the living, not the dead. Renly’s enemies are Robb’s enemies as well.”

  Brienne stared at the ground and shuffled her feet. “I do not know your son, my lady.” She looked up. “I could serve you. If you would have me.”

  Catelyn was startled. “Why me?”

  The question seemed to trouble Brienne. “You helped me. In the pavilion… when they thought that I had… that I had…”

  “You were innocent.”

  “Even so, you did not have to do that. You could have let them kill me. I was nothing to you.”

  Perhaps I did not want to be the only one who knew the dark truth of what had happened there, Catelyn thought. “Brienne, I have taken many wellborn ladies into my service over the years, but never one like you. I am no battle commander.”

  “No, but you have courage. Not battle courage perhaps but… I don’t know… a kind of woman’s courage. And I think, when the time comes, you will not try and hold me back. Promise me that. That you will not hold me back from Stannis.”

  Catelyn could still hear Stannis saying that Robb’s turn too would come in time. It was like a cold breath on the back of her neck. “When the time comes, I will not hold you back.”

  The tall girl knelt awkwardly, unsheathed Renly’s longsword, and laid it at her feet. “Then I am yours, my lady. Your liege man, or… whatever you would have me be. I will shield your back and keep your counsel and give my life for yours, if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”

  “And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table, and pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you into dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new. Arise.” As she clasped the other woman’s hands between her own, Catelyn could not help but smile. How many times did I watch Ned accept a man’s oath of service? She wondered what he would think if he could see her now.

  They forded the Red Fork late the next day, upstream of Riverrun where the river made a wide loop and the waters grew muddy and shallow. The crossing was guarded by a mixed force of archers and pikemen wearing the eagle badge of the Mallisters. When they saw Catelyn’s banners, they emerged from behind their sharpened stakes and sent a man over from the far bank to lead her party across. “Slow and careful like, milady,” he warned as he took the bridle of her horse. “We’ve planted iron spikes under the water, y’see, and there’s caltrops scattered among them rocks there. It’s the same on all the fords, by your brother’s command.”

  Edmure thinks to fight here. The realization gave her a queasy feeling in the bowels, but she held her tongue.

  Between the Red Fork and the Tumblestone, they joined a stream of smallfolk making for the safety of Riverrun. Some were driving animals before them, others pulling wayns, but they made way as Catelyn rode past, and cheered her with cries of “Tully!” or “Stark!” Half a mile from the castle, she passed through a large encampment where the scarlet banner of the Blackwoods waved above the lord’s tent. Lucas took his leave of her there, to seek out his father, Lord Tytos. The rest rode on.

  Catelyn spied a second camp strung out along the bank north of the Tumblestone, familiar standards flapping in the wind — Marq Piper’s dancing maiden, Darry’s plowman, the twining red-and-white snakes of the Paeges. They were all her father’s bannermen, lords of the Trident. Most had left Riverrun before she had, to defend their own lands. If they were here again, it could only mean that Edmure had called them back. Gods save us, it’s true, he means to offer battle to Lord Tywin.

  Something dark was dangling against the walls of Riverrun, Catelyn saw from a distance. When she rode close, she saw dead men hanging from the battlements, slumped at the ends of long ropes with hempen nooses tight around their necks, their faces swollen and black. The crows had been at them, but their crimson cloaks still showed bright against the sandstone walls.