A clash of kings, p.45
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       A Clash of Kings, p.45

         Part #2 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
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  “They have hanged some Lannisters,” Hal Mollen observed.

  “A pretty sight,” Ser Wendel Manderly said cheerfully.

  “Our friends have begun without us,” Perwyn Frey jested. The others laughed, all but Brienne, who gazed up at the row of bodies unblinking, and neither spoke nor smiled.

  If they have slain the Kingslayer, then my daughters are dead as well. Catelyn spurred her horse to a canter. Hal Mollen and Robin Flint raced past at a gallop, halooing to the gatehouse. The guards on the walls had doubtless spied her banners some time ago, for the portcullis was up as they approached.

  Edmure rode out from the castle to meet her, surrounded by three of her father’s sworn men — great-bellied Ser Desmond Grell the master-at-arms, Utherydes Wayn the steward, and Ser Robin Ryger, Riverrun’s big bald captain of guards. They were all three of an age with Lord Hoster, men who had spent their lives in her father’s service. Old men, Catelyn realized.

  Edmure wore a blue-and-red cloak over a tunic embroidered with silver fish. From the look of him, he had not shaved since she rode south; his beard was a fiery bush. “Cat, it is good to have you safely back. When we heard of Renly’s death, we feared for your life. And Lord Tywin is on the march as well.”

  “So I am told. How fares our father?”

  “One day he seems stronger, the next…” He shook his head. “He’s asked for you. I did not know what to tell him.”

  “I will go to him soon,” she vowed. “Has there been word from Storm’s End since Renly died? Or from Bitterbridge?” No ravens came to men on the road, and Catelyn was anxious to know what had happened behind her.

  “Nothing from Bitterbridge. From Storm’s End, three birds from the castellan, Ser Cortnay Penrose, all carrying the same plea. Stannis has him surrounded by land and sea. He offers his allegiance to whatsoever king will break the siege. He fears for the boy, he says. What boy would that be, do you know?”

  “Edric Storm,” Brienne told them. “Robert’s bastard son.”

  Edmure looked at her curiously. “Stannis has sworn that the garrison might go free, unharmed, provided they yield the castle within the fortnight and deliver the boy into his hands, but Ser Cortnay will not consent.”

  He risks all for a baseborn boy whose blood is not even his own, Catelyn thought. “Did you send him an answer?”

  Edmure shook his head. “Why, when we have neither help nor hope to offer? And Stannis is no enemy of ours.”

  Ser Robin Ryger spoke. “My lady, can you tell us the manner of Lord Renly’s death? The tales we’ve heard have been queer.”

  “Cat,” her brother said, “some say you killed Renly. Others claim it was some southron woman.” His glance lingered on Brienne.

  “My king was murdered,” the girl said quietly, “and not by Lady Catelyn. I swear it on my sword, by the gods old and new.”

  “This is Brienne of Tarth, the daughter of Lord Selwyn the Evenstar, who served in Renly’s Rainbow Guard,” Catelyn told them. “Brienne, I am honored to acquaint you with my brother Ser Edmure Tully, heir to Riverrun. His steward Utherydes Wayn. Ser Robin Ryger and Ser Desmond Grell.”

  “Honored,” said Ser Desmond. The others echoed him. The girl flushed, embarrassed even at this commonplace courtesy. If Edmure thought her a curious sort of lady, at least he had the grace not to say so.

  “Brienne was with Renly when he was killed, as was I,” said Catelyn, “but we had no part in his death.” She did not care to speak of the shadow, here in the open with men all around, so she waved a hand at the bodies. “Who are these men you’ve hanged?”

  Edmure glanced up uncomfortably. “They came with Ser Cleos when he brought the queen’s answer to our peace offer.”

  Catelyn was shocked. “You’ve killed envoys?”

  “False envoys,” Edmure declared. “They pledged me their peace and surrendered their weapons, so I allowed them freedom of the castle, and for three nights they ate my meat and drank my mead whilst I talked with Ser Cleos. On the fourth night, they tried to free the Kingslayer.” He pointed up. “That big brute killed two guards with naught but those ham hands of his, caught them by the throats and smashed their skulls together while that skinny lad beside him was opening Lannister’s cell with a bit of wire, gods curse him. The one on the end was some sort of damned mummer. He used my own voice to command that the River Gate be opened. The guardsmen swear to it, Enger and Delp and Long Lew, all three. If you ask me, the man sounded nothing like me, and yet the oafs were raising the portcullis all the same.”

  This was the Imp’s work, Catelyn suspected; it stank of the same sort of cunning he had displayed at the Eyrie. Once, she would have named Tyrion the least dangerous of the Lannisters. Now she was not so certain. “How is it you caught them?”

  “Ah, as it happened, I was not in the castle. I’d crossed the Tumblestone to, ah…”

  “You were whoring or wenching. Get on with the tale.”

  Edmure’s cheeks flamed as red as his beard. “It was the hour before dawn, and I was only then returning. When Long Lew saw my boat and recognized me, he finally thought to wonder who was standing below barking commands, and raised a cry.”

  “Tell me the Kingslayer was retaken.”

  “Yes, though not easily. Jaime got hold of a sword, slew Poul Pemford and Ser Desmond’s squire Myles, and wounded Delp so badly that Maester Vyman fears he’ll soon die as well. It was a bloody mess. At the sound of steel, some of the other red cloaks rushed to join him, barehand or no. I hanged those beside the four who freed him, and threw the rest in the dungeons. Jaime too. We’ll have no more escapes from that one. He’s down in the dark this time, chained hand and foot and bolted to the wall.”

  “And Cleos Frey?”

  “He swears he knew naught of the plot. Who can say? The man is half Lannister, half Frey, and all liar. I put him in Jaime’s old tower cell.”

  “You say he brought terms?”

  “If you can call them that. You’ll like them no more than I did, I promise.”

  “Can we hope for no help from the south, Lady Stark?” asked Utherydes Wayn, her father’s steward. “This charge of incest… Lord Tywin does not suffer such slights lightly. He will seek to wash the stain from his daughter’s name with the blood of her accuser, Lord Stannis must see that. He has no choice but to make common cause with us.”

  Stannis has made common cause with a power greater and darker. “Let us speak of these matters later.” Catelyn trotted over the drawbridge, putting the grisly row of dead Lannisters behind her. Her brother kept pace. As they rode out into the bustle of Riverrun’s upper bailey, a naked toddler ran in front of the horses. Catelyn jerked her reins hard to avoid him, glancing about in dismay. Hundreds of smallfolk had been admitted to the castle, and allowed to erect crude shelters against the walls. Their children were everywhere underfoot, and the yard teemed with their cows, sheep, and chickens. “Who are all these folk?”

  “My people,” Edmure answered. “They were afraid.”

  Only my sweet brother would crowd all these useless mouths into a castle that might soon be under siege. Catelyn knew that Edmure had a soft heart; sometimes she thought his head was even softer. She loved him for it, yet still…

  “Can Robb be reached by raven?”

  “He’s in the field, my lady,” Ser Desmond replied. “The bird would have no way to find him.”

  Utherydes Wayn coughed. “Before he left us, the young king instructed us to send you on to the Twins upon your return, Lady Stark. He asks that you learn more of Lord Walder’s daughters, to help him select his bride when the time comes.”

  “We’ll provide you with fresh mounts and provisions,” her brother promised. “You’ll want to refresh yourself before—”

  “I’ll want to stay,” Catelyn said, dismounting. She had no intention of leaving Riverrun and her dying father to pick Robb’s wife for him. Robb wants me safe, I cannot fault him for that, but his pretext is growing threadbare. “Boy,” she called
, and an urchin from the stables ran out to take the reins of her horse.

  Edmure swung down from his saddle. He was a head taller than she was, but he would always be her little brother. “Cat,” he said unhappily, “Lord Tywin is coming—”

  “He is making for the west, to defend his own lands. If we close our gates and shelter behind the walls, we can watch him pass with safety.”

  “This is Tully land,” Edmure declared. “If Tywin Lannister thinks to cross it unbloodied, I mean to teach him a hard lesson.”

  The same lesson you taught his son? Her brother could be stubborn as river rock when his pride was touched, but neither of them was likely to forget how Ser Jaime had cut Edmure’s host to bloody pieces the last time he had offered battle. “We have nothing to gain and everything to lose by meeting Lord Tywin in the field,” Catelyn said tactfully.

  “The yard is not the place to discuss my battle plans.”

  “As you will. Where shall we go?”

  Her brother’s face darkened. For a moment she thought he was about to lose his temper with her, but finally he snapped, “The godswood. If you will insist.”

  She followed him along a gallery to the godswood gate. Edmure’s anger had always been a sulky, sullen thing. Catelyn was sorry she had wounded him, but the matter was too important for her to concern herself with his pride. When they were alone beneath the trees, Edmure turned to face her.

  “You do not have the strength to meet the Lannisters in the field,” she said bluntly.

  “When all my strength is marshaled, I should have eight thousand foot and three thousand horse,” Edmure said.

  “Which means Lord Tywin will have near twice your numbers.”

  “Robb’s won his battles against worse odds,” Edmure replied, “and I have a plan. You’ve forgotten Roose Bolton. Lord Tywin defeated him on the Green Fork, but failed to pursue. When Lord Tywin went to Harrenhal, Bolton took the ruby ford and the crossroads. He has ten thousand men. I’ve sent word to Helman Tallhart to join him with the garrison Robb left at the Twins—”

  “Edmure, Robb left those men to hold the Twins and make certain Lord Walder keeps faith with us.”

  “He has,” Edmure said stubbornly. “The Freys fought bravely in the Whispering Wood, and old Ser Stevron died at Oxcross, we hear. Ser Ryman and Black Walder and the rest are with Robb in the west, Martyn has been of great service scouting, and Ser Perwyn helped see you safe to Renly. Gods be good, how much more can we ask of them? Robb’s betrothed to one of Lord Walder’s daughters, and Roose Bolton wed another, I hear. And haven’t you taken two of his grandsons to be fostered at Winterfell?”

  “A ward can easily become a hostage, if need be.” She had not known that Ser Stevron was dead, nor of Bolton’s marriage.

  “If we’re two hostages to the good, all the more reason Lord Walder dare not play us false. Bolton needs Frey’s men, and Ser Helman’s as well. I’ve commanded him to retake Harrenhal.”

  “That’s like to be a bloody business.”

  “Yes, but once the castle falls, Lord Tywin will have no safe retreat. My own levies will defend the fords of Red Fork against his crossing. If he attacks across the river, he’ll end as Rhaegar did when he tried to cross the Trident. If he holds back, he’ll be caught between Riverrun and Harrenhal, and when Robb returns from the west we can finish him for good and all.”

  Her brother’s voice was full of brusque confidence, but Catelyn found herself wishing that Robb had not taken her uncle Brynden west with him. The Blackfish was the veteran of half a hundred battles; Edmure was the veteran of one, and that one lost.

  “The plan’s a good one,” he concluded. “Lord Tytos says so, and Lord Jonos as well. When did Blackwood and Bracken agree about anything that was not certain, I ask you?”

  “Be that as it may.” She was suddenly weary. Perhaps she was wrong to oppose him. Perhaps it was a splendid plan, and her misgivings only a woman’s fears. She wished Ned were here, or her uncle Brynden, or… “Have you asked Father about this?”

  “Father is in no state to weigh strategies. Two days ago he was making plans for your marriage to Brandon Stark! Go see him yourself if you do not believe me. This plan will work, Cat, you’ll see.”

  “I hope so, Edmure. I truly do.” She kissed him on the cheek, to let him know she meant it, and went to find her father.

  Lord Hoster Tully was much as she had left him — abed, haggard, flesh pale and clammy. The room smelled of sickness, a cloying odor made up in equal parts of stale sweat and medicine. When she pulled back the drapes, her father gave a low moan, and his eyes fluttered open. He stared at her as if he could not comprehend who she was or what she wanted.

  “Father.” She kissed him. “I am returned.”

  He seemed to know her then. “You’ve come,” he whispered faintly, lips barely moving.

  “Yes,” she said. “Robb sent me south, but I hurried back.”

  “South… where… is the Eyrie south, sweetling? I don’t recall… oh, dear heart, I was afraid… have you forgiven me, child?” Tears ran down his cheeks.

  “You’ve done nothing that needs forgiveness, Father.” She stroked his limp white hair and felt his brow. The fever still burned him from within, despite all the maester’s potions.

  “It was best,” her father whispered. “Jon’s a good man, good… strong, kind… take care of you… he will… and well born, listen to me, you must, I’m your father… your father… you’ll wed when Cat does, yes you will…”

  He thinks I’m Lysa, Catelyn realized. Gods be good, he talks as if we were not married yet.

  Her father’s hands clutched at hers, fluttering like two frightened white birds. “That stripling… wretched boy… not speak that name to me, your duty… your mother, she would…” Lord Hoster cried as a spasm of pain washed over him. “Oh, gods forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. My medicine…”

  And then Maester Vyman was there, holding a cup to his lips. Lord Hoster sucked at the thick white potion as eager as a babe at the breast, and Catelyn could see peace settle over him once more. “He’ll sleep now, my lady,” the maester said when the cup was empty. The milk of the poppy had left a thick white film around her father’s mouth. Maester Vyman wiped it away with a sleeve.

  Catelyn could watch no more. Hoster Tully had been a strong man, and proud. It hurt her to see him reduced to this. She went out to the terrace. The yard below was crowded with refugees and chaotic with their noises, but beyond the walls the rivers flowed clean and pure and endless. Those are his rivers, and soon he will return to them for his last voyage.

  Maester Vyman had followed her out. “My lady,” he said softly, “I cannot keep the end at bay much longer. We ought send a rider after his brother. Ser Brynden would wish to be here.”

  “Yes,” Catelyn said, her voice thick with her grief.

  “And the Lady Lysa as well, perhaps?”

  “Lysa will not come.”

  “If you wrote her yourself, perhaps…”

  “I will put some words to paper, if that please you.” She wondered who Lysa’s “wretched stripling” had been. Some young squire or hedge knight, like as not… though by the vehemence with which Lord Hoster had opposed him, he might have been a tradesman’s son or baseborn apprentice, even a singer. Lysa had always been too fond of singers. I must not blame her. Jon Arryn was twenty years older than our father, however noble.

  The tower her brother had set aside for her use was the very same that she and Lysa had shared as maids. It would feel good to sleep on a featherbed again, with a warm fire in the hearth; when she was rested the world would seem less bleak.

  But outside her chambers she found Utherydes Wayn waiting with two women clad in grey, their faces cowled save for their eyes. Catelyn knew at once why they were here. “Ned?”

  The sisters lowered their gaze. Utherydes said, “Ser Cleos brought him from King’s Landing, my lady.”

  “Take me to him,” she commanded.

had laid him out on a trestle table and covered him with a banner, the white banner of House Stark with its grey direwolf sigil. “I would look on him,” Catelyn said.

  “Only the bones remain, my lady.”

  “I would look on him,” she repeated.

  One of the silent sisters turned down the banner.

  Bones, Catelyn thought. This is not Ned, this is not the man I loved, the father of my children. His hands were clasped together over his chest, skeletal fingers curled about the hilt of some longsword, but they were not Ned’s hands, so strong and full of life. They had dressed the bones in Ned’s surcoat, the fine white velvet with the direwolf badge over the heart, but nothing remained of the warm flesh that had pillowed her head so many nights, the arms that had held her. The head had been rejoined to the body with fine silver wire, but one skull looks much like another, and in those empty hollows she found no trace of her lord’s dark grey eyes, eyes that could be soft as a fog or hard as stone. They gave his eyes to crows, she remembered.

  Catelyn turned away. “That is not his sword.”

  “Ice was not returned to us, my lady,” Utherydes said. “Only Lord Eddard’s bones.”

  “I suppose I must thank the queen for even that much.”

  “Thank the Imp, my lady. It was his doing.”

  One day I will thank them all. “I am grateful for your service, sisters,” Catelyn said, “but I must lay another task upon you. Lord Eddard was a Stark, and his bones must be laid to rest beneath Winterfell.” They will make a statue of him, a stone likeness that will sit in the dark with a direwolf at his feet and a sword across his knees. “Make certain the sisters have fresh horses, and aught else they need for the journey,” she told Utherydes Wayn. “Hal Mollen will escort them back to Winterfell, it is his place as captain of guards.” She gazed down at the bones that were all that remained of her lord and love. “Now leave me, all of you. I would be alone with Ned tonight.”

  The women in grey bowed their heads. The silent sisters do not speak to the living, Catelyn remembered dully, but some say they can talk to the dead. And how she envied that…


  The drapes kept out the dust and heat of the streets, but they could not keep out disappointment. Dany climbed inside wearily, glad for the refuge from the sea of Qartheen eyes. “Make way,” Jhogo shouted at the crowd from horseback, snapping his whip, “make way, make way for the Mother of Dragons.”

  Reclining on cool satin cushions, Xaro Xhoan Daxos poured ruby-red wine into matched goblets of jade and gold, his hands sure and steady despite the sway of the palanquin. “I see a deep sadness written upon your face, my light of love.” He offered her a goblet. “Could it be the sadness of a lost dream?”

  “A dream delayed, no more.” Dany’s tight silver collar was chafing against her throat. She unfastened it and flung it aside. The collar was set with an enchanted amethyst that Xaro swore would ward her against all poisons. The Pureborn were notorious for offering poisoned wine to those they thought dangerous, but they had not given Dany so much as a cup of water. They never saw me for a queen, she thought bitterly. I was only an afternoon’s amusement, a horse girl with a curious pet.

  Rhaegal hissed and dug sharp black claws into her bare shoulder as Dany stretched out a hand for the wine. Wincing, she shifted him to her other shoulder, where he could claw her gown instead of her skin. She was garbed after the Qartheen fashion. Xaro had warned her that the Enthroned would never listen to a Dothraki, so she had taken care to go before them in flowing green samite with one breast bared, silvered sandals on her feet, with a belt of black-and-white pearls about her waist. For all the help they offered, I could have gone naked. Perhaps I should have. She drank deep.

  Descendants of the ancient kings and queens of Qarth, the Pureborn commanded the Civic Guard and the fleet of ornate galleys that ruled the straits between the seas. Daenerys Targaryen had wanted that fleet, or part of it, and some of their soldiers as well. She made the traditional sacrifice in the Temple of Memory, offered the traditional bribe to the Keeper of the Long List, sent the traditional persimmon to the Opener of the Door, and finally received the traditional blue silk slippers summoning her to the Hall of a Thousand Thrones.

  The Pureborn heard her pleas from the great wooden seats of their ancestors, rising in curved tiers from a marble floor to a high-domed ceiling painted with scenes of Qarth’s vanished glory. The chairs were immense, fantastically carved, bright with goldwork and studded with amber, onyx, lapis, and jade, each one different from all the others, and each striving to be the most fabulous. Yet the men who sat in them seemed so listless and world-weary that they might have been asleep. They listened, but they did not hear, or care, she thought. They are Milk Men indeed. They never meant to help me. They came because they were curious. They came because they were bored, and the dragon on my shoulder interested them more than I did.

  “Tell me the words of the Pureborn,” prompted Xaro Xhoan Daxos. “Tell me what they said to sadden the queen of my heart.”

  “They said no.” The wine tasted of pomegranates and hot summer days. “They said it with great courtesy, to be sure, but under all the lovely words, it was still no.”

  “Did you flatter them?”


  “Did you weep?”

  “The blood of the dragon does not weep,” she said testily.

  Xaro sighed. “You ought to have wept.” The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man. “The men we bought, what did they say?”

  “Mathos said nothing. Wendello praised the way I spoke. The Exquisite refused me with the rest, but he wept afterward.”

  “Alas, that Qartheen should be so faithless.” Xaro was not himself of the Pureborn, but he had told her whom to bribe and how much to offer. “Weep, weep, for the treachery of men.”