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A Clash of Kings, Page 57

George R. R. Martin

  Only then did he admit Hallyne with the latest tallies from the alchemists. “This cannot be true,” said Tyrion as he pored over the ledgers. “Almost thirteen thousand jars? Do you take me for a fool? I’m not about to pay the king’s gold for empty jars and pots of sewage sealed with wax, I warn you.”

  “No, no,” Hallyne squeaked, “the sums are accurate, I swear. We have been, hmmm, most fortunate, my lord Hand. Another cache of Lord Rossart’s was found, more than three hundred jars. Under the Dragonpit! Some whores have been using the ruins to entertain their patrons, and one of them fell through a patch of rotted floor into a cellar. When he felt the jars, he mistook them for wine. He was so drunk he broke the seal and drank some.”

  “There was a prince who tried that once,” said Tyrion dryly. “I haven’t seen any dragons rising over the city, so it would seem it didn’t work this time either.” The Dragonpit atop the hill of Rhaenys had been abandoned for a century and a half. He supposed it was as good a place as any to store wildfire, and better than most, but it would have been nice if the late Lord Rossart had told someone. “Three hundred jars, you say? That still does not account for these totals. You are several thousand jars ahead of the best estimate you gave me when last we met.”

  “Yes, yes, that’s so.” Hallyne mopped at his pale brow with the sleeve of his black-and-scarlet robe. “We have been working very hard, my lord Hand, hmmm.”

  “That would doubtless explain why you are making so much more of the substance than before.” Smiling, Tyrion fixed the pyromancer with his mismatched stare. “Though it does raise the question of why you did not begin working hard until now.”

  Hallyne had the complexion of a mushroom, so it was hard to see how he could turn any paler, yet somehow he managed. “We were, my lord Hand, my brothers and I have been laboring day and night from the first, I assure you. It is only, hmmm, we have made so much of the substance that we have become, hmmm, more practiced as it were, and also”—the alchemist shifted uncomfortably—“certain spells, hmmm, ancient secrets of our order, very delicate, very troublesome, but necessary if the substance is to be, hmmm, all it should be…”

  Tyrion was growing impatient. Ser Jacelyn Bywater was likely here by now, and Ironhand misliked waiting. “Yes, you have secret spells; how splendid. What of them?”

  “They, hmmm, seem to be working better than they were.” Hallyne smiled weakly. “You don’t suppose there are any dragons about, do you?”

  “Not unless you found one under the Dragonpit. Why?”

  “Oh, pardon, I was just remembering something old Wisdom Pollitor told me once, when I was an acolyte. I’d asked him why so many of our spells seemed, well, not as effectual as the scrolls would have us believe, and he said it was because magic had begun to go out of the world the day the last dragon died.”

  “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve seen no dragons. I have noticed the King’s Justice lurking about, however. Should any of these fruits you’re selling me turn out to be filled with anything but wildfire, you’ll be seeing him as well.”

  Hallyne fled so quickly that he almost bowled over Ser Jacelyn — no, Lord Jacelyn, he must remember that. Ironhand was mercifully direct, as ever. He’d returned from Rosby to deliver a fresh levy of spearmen recruited from Lord Gyles’s estates and resume his command of the City Watch. “How does my nephew fare?” Tyrion asked when they were done discussing the city’s defenses.

  “Prince Tommen is hale and happy, my lord. He has adopted a fawn some of my men brought home from a hunt. He had one once before, he says, but Joffrey skinned her for a jerkin. He asks about his mother sometimes, and often begins letters to the Princess Myrcella, though he never seems to finish any. His brother, however, he does not seem to miss at all.”

  “You have made suitable arrangements for him, should the battle be lost?”

  “My men have their instructions.”

  “Which are?”

  “You commanded me to tell no one, my lord.”

  That made him smile. “I’m pleased you remember.” Should King’s Landing fall, he might well be taken alive. Better if he did not know where Joffrey’s heir might be found.

  Varys appeared not long after Lord Jacelyn had left. “Men are such faithless creatures,” he said by way of greeting.

  Tyrion sighed. “Who’s the traitor today?”

  The eunuch handed him a scroll. “So much villainy, it sings a sad song for our age. Did honor die with our fathers?”

  “My father is not dead yet.” Tyrion scanned the list. “I know some of these names. These are rich men. Traders, merchants, craftsmen. Why should they conspire against us?”

  “It seems they believe that Lord Stannis must win, and wish to share his victory. They call themselves the Antler Men, after the crowned stag.”

  “Someone should tell them that Stannis changed his sigil. Then they can be the Hot Hearts.” It was no matter for jests, though; it appeared that these Antler Men had armed several hundred followers, to seize the Old Gate once battle was joined, and admit the enemy to the city. Among the names on the list was the master armorer Salloreon. “I suppose this means I won’t be getting that terrifying helm with the demon horns,” Tyrion complained as he scrawled the order for the man’s arrest.


  One moment he was asleep; the next, awake.

  Kyra nestled against him, one arm draped lightly over his, her breasts brushing his back. He could hear her breathing, soft and steady. The sheet was tangled about them. It was the black of night. The bedchamber was dark and still.

  What is it? Did I hear something? Someone?

  Wind sighed faintly against the shutters. Somewhere, far off, he heard the yowl of a cat in heat. Nothing else. Sleep, Greyjoy, he told himself. The castle is quiet, and you have guards posted. At your door, at the gates, on the armory.

  He might have put it down to a bad dream, but he did not remember dreaming. Kyra had worn him out. Until Theon had sent for her, she had lived all of her eighteen years in the winter town without ever setting foot inside the walls of the castle. She came to him wet and eager and lithe as a weasel, and there had been a certain undeniable spice to fucking a common tavern wench in Lord Eddard Stark’s own bed.

  She murmured sleepily as Theon slid out from under her arm and got to his feet. A few embers still smoldered in the hearth. Wex slept on the floor at the foot of the bed, rolled up inside his cloak and dead to the world. Nothing moved. Theon crossed to the window and threw open the shutters. Night touched him with cold fingers, and gooseprickles rose on his bare skin. He leaned against the stone sill and looked out on dark towers, empty yards, black sky, and more stars than a man could ever count if he lived to be a hundred. A half-moon floated above the Bell Tower and cast its reflection on the roof of the glass gardens. He heard no alarums, no voices, not so much as a footfall.

  All’s well, Greyjoy. Hear the quiet? You ought to be drunk with joy. You took Winterfell with fewer than thirty men, a feat to sing of. Theon started back to bed. He’d roll Kyra on her back and fuck her again, that ought to banish these phantoms. Her gasps and giggles would make a welcome respite from this silence.

  He stopped. He had grown so used to the howling of the direwolves that he scarcely heard it anymore… but some part of him, some hunter’s instinct, heard its absence.

  Urzen stood outside his door, a sinewy man with a round shield slung over his back. “The wolves are quiet,” Theon told him. “Go see what they’re doing, and come straight back.” The thought of the direwolves running loose gave him a queasy feeling. He remembered the day in the wolfswood when the wildlings had attacked Bran. Summer and Grey Wind had torn them to pieces.

  When he prodded Wex with the toe of his boot, the boy sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Make certain Bran Stark and his little brother are in their beds, and be quick about it.”

  “M’lord?” Kyra called sleepily.

  “Go back to sleep, this does not concern you.” Theon poured himself a cup o
f wine and drank it down. All the time he was listening, hoping to hear a howl. Too few men, he thought sourly. I have too few men. If Asha does not come…

  Wex returned the quickest, shaking his head side to side. Cursing, Theon found his tunic and breeches on the floor where he had dropped them in his haste to get at Kyra. Over the tunic he donned a jerkin of iron-studded leather, and he belted a longsword and dagger at his waist. His hair was wild as the wood, but he had larger concerns.

  By then Urzen was back. “The wolves be gone.”

  Theon told himself he must be as cold and deliberate as Lord Eddard. “Rouse the castle,” he said. “Herd them out into the yard, everyone, we’ll see who’s missing. And have Lorren make a round of the gates. Wex, with me.”

  He wondered if Stygg had reached Deepwood Motte yet. The man was not as skilled a rider as he claimed — none of the ironmen were much good in the saddle — but there’d been time enough. Asha might well be on her way. And if she learns that I have lost the Starks… It did not bear thinking about.

  Bran’s bedchamber was empty, as was Rickon’s half a turn below. Theon cursed himself. He should have kept a guard on them, but he’d deemed it more important to have men walking the walls and protecting the gates than to nursemaid a couple of children, one a cripple.

  Outside he heard sobbing as the castle folk were pulled from their beds and driven into the yard. I’ll give them reason to sob. I’ve used them gently, and this is how they repay me. He’d even had two of his own men whipped bloody for raping that kennel girl, to show them he meant to be just. They still blame me for the rape, though. And the rest. He deemed that unfair. Mikken had killed himself with his mouth, just as Benfred had. As for Chayle, he had to give someone to the Drowned God, his men expected it. “I bear you no ill will,” he’d told the septon before they threw him down the well, “but you and your gods have no place here now.” You’d think the others might be grateful he hadn’t chosen one of them, but no. He wondered how many of them were part of this plot against him.

  Urzen returned with Black Lorren. “The Hunter’s Gate,” Lorren said. “Best come see.”

  The Hunter’s Gate was conveniently sited close to the kennels and kitchens. It opened directly on fields and forests, allowing riders to come and go without first passing through the winter town, and so was favored by hunting parties. “Who had the guard here?” Theon demanded.

  “Drennan and Squint.”

  Drennan was one of the men who’d raped Palla. “If they’ve let the boys escape, I’ll have more than a little skin off their back this time, I swear it.”

  “No need for that,” Black Lorren said curtly.

  Nor was there. They found Squint floating facedown in the moat, his entrails drifting behind him like a nest of pale snakes. Drennan lay half-naked in the gatehouse, in the snug room where the drawbridge was worked. His throat had been opened ear to ear. A ragged tunic concealed the half-healed scars on his back, but his boots were scattered amidst the rushes, and his breeches tangled about his feet. There was cheese on a small table near the door, beside an empty flagon. And two cups.

  Theon picked one up and sniffed at the dregs of wine in the bottom. “Squint was up on the wallwalk, no?”

  “Aye,” said Lorren.

  Theon flung the cup into the hearth. “I’d say Drennan was pulling down his breeches to stick it in the woman when she stuck it in him. His own cheese knife, by the look of it. Someone find a pike and fish the other fool out of the moat.”

  The other fool was in a deal worse shape than Drennan. When Black Lorren drew him out of the water, they saw that one of his arms had been wrenched off at the elbow, half of his neck was missing, and there was a ragged hole where his navel and groin once had been. The pike tore through his bowels as Lorren was pulling him in. The stench was awful.

  “The direwolves,” Theon said. “Both of them, at a guess.” Disgusted, he walked back to the drawbridge. Winterfell was encircled by two massive granite walls, with a wide moat between them. The outer wall stood eighty feet high, the inner more than a hundred. Lacking men, Theon had been forced to abandon the outer defenses and post his guards along the higher inner walls. He dared not risk having them on the wrong side of the moat should the castle rise against him.

  There had to be two or more, he decided. While the woman was entertaining Drennan, the others freed the wolves.

  Theon called for a torch and led them up the steps to the wallwalk. He swept the flame low before him, looking for… there. On the inside of the rampart and in the wide crenel between two upthrust merlons. “Blood,” he announced, “clumsily mopped up. At a guess, the woman killed Drennan and lowered the drawbridge. Squint heard the clank of chains, came to have a look, and got this far. They pushed the corpse through the crenel into the moat so he wouldn’t be found by another sentry.”

  Urzen peered along the walls. “The other watch turrets are not far. I see torches burning—”

  “Torches, but no guards,” Theon said testily. “Winterfell has more turrets than I have men.”

  “Four guards at the main gate,” said Black Lorren, “and five walking the walls beside Squint.”

  Urzen said, “If he had sounded his horn—”

  I am served by fools. “Try and imagine it was you up here, Urzen. It’s dark and cold. You have been walking sentry for hours, looking forward to the end of your watch. Then you hear a noise and move toward the gate, and suddenly you see eyes at the top of the stair, glowing green and gold in the torchlight. Two shadows come rushing toward you faster than you can believe. You catch a glimpse of teeth, start to level your spear, and they slam into you and open your belly, tearing through leather as if it were cheesecloth.” He gave Urzen a hard shove. “And now you’re down on your back, your guts are spilling out, and one of them has his teeth around your neck.” Theon grabbed the man’s scrawny throat, tightened his fingers, and smiled. “Tell me, at what moment during all of this do you stop to blow your fucking horn?” He shoved Urzen away roughly, sending him stumbling back against a merlon. The man rubbed his throat. I should have had those beasts put down the day we took the castle, he thought angrily. I’d seen them kill, I knew how dangerous they were.

  “We must go after them,” Black Lorren said.

  “Not in the dark.” Theon did not relish the idea of chasing direwolves through the wood by night; the hunters could easily become the hunted. “We’ll wait for daylight. Until then, I had best go speak with my loyal subjects.”

  Down in the yard, an uneasy crowd of men, women, and children had been pushed up against the wall. Many had not been given time to dress; they covered themselves with woolen blankets, or huddled naked under cloaks or bedrobes. A dozen ironmen hemmed them in, torches in one hand and weapons in the other. The wind was gusting, and the flickering orange light reflected dully off steel helms, thick beards, and unsmiling eyes.

  Theon walked up and down before the prisoners, studying the faces. They all looked guilty to him. “How many are missing?”

  “Six.” Reek stepped up behind him, smelling of soap, his long hair moving in the wind. “Both Starks, that bog boy and his sister, the halfwit from the stables, and your wildling woman.”

  Osha. He had suspected her from the moment he saw that second cup. I should have known better than to trust that one. She’s as unnatural as Asha. Even their names sound alike.

  “Has anyone had a look at the stables?”

  “Aggar says no horses are missing.”

  “Dancer is still in his stall?”

  “Dancer?” Reek frowned. “Aggar says the horses are all there. Only the halfwit is missing.”

  They’re afoot, then. That was the best news he’d heard since he woke. Bran would be riding in his basket on Hodor’s back, no doubt. Osha would need to carry Rickon; his little legs wouldn’t take him far on their own. Theon was confident that he’d soon have them back in his hands. “Bran and Rickon have fled,” he told the castle folk, watching their eyes. “Who knows
where they’ve gone?” No one answered. “They could not have escaped without help,” Theon went on. “Without food, clothing, weapons.” He had locked away every sword and axe in Winterfell, but no doubt some had been hidden from him. “I’ll have the names of all those who aided them. All those who turned a blind eye.” The only sound was the wind. “Come first light, I mean to bring them back.” He hooked his thumbs through his swordbelt. “I need huntsmen. Who wants a nice warm wolfskin to see them through the winter? Gage?” The cook had always greeted him cheerfully when he returned from the hunt, to ask whether he’d brought anything choice for the table, but he had nothing to say now. Theon walked back the way he had come, searching their faces for the least sign of guilty knowledge. “The wild is no place for a cripple. And Rickon, young as he is, how long will he last out there? Nan, think how frightened he must be.” The old woman had nattered at him for ten years, telling her endless stories, but now she gaped at him as if he were some stranger. “I might have killed every man of you and given your women to my soldiers for their pleasure, but instead I protected you. Is this the thanks you offer?” Joseth who’d groomed his horses, Farlen who’d taught him all he knew of hounds, Barth the brewer’s wife who’d been his first — not one of them would meet his eyes. They hate me, he realized.

  Reek stepped close. “Strip off their skins,” he urged, his thick lips glistening. “Lord Bolton, he used to say a naked man has few secrets, but a flayed man’s got none.”

  The flayed man was the sigil of House Bolton, Theon knew; ages past, certain of their lords had gone so far as to cloak themselves in the skins of dead enemies. A number of Starks had ended thus. Supposedly all that had stopped a thousand years ago, when the Boltons had bent their knees to Winterfell. Or so they say, but old ways die hard, as well I know.

  “There will be no flaying in the north so long as I rule in Winterfell,” Theon said loudly. I am your only protection against the likes of him, he wanted to scream. He could not be that blatant, but perhaps some were clever enough to take the lesson.

  The sky was greying over the castle walls. Dawn could not be far off. “Joseth, saddle Smiler and a horse for yourself. Murch, Gariss, Poxy Tym, you’ll come as well.” Murch and Gariss were the best huntsmen in the castle, and Tym was a fine bowman. “Aggar, Rednose, Gelmarr, Reek, Wex.” He needed his own to watch his back. “Farlen, I’ll want hounds, and you to handle them.”

  The grizzled kennelmaster crossed his arms. “And why would I care to hunt down my own trueborn lords, and babes at that?”

  Theon moved close. “I am your trueborn lord now, and the man who keeps Palla safe.”

  He saw the defiance die in Farlen’s eyes. “Aye, m’lord.”

  Stepping back, Theon glanced about to see who else he might add. “Maester Luwin,” he announced.

  “I know nothing of hunting.”

  No, but I don’t trust you in the castle in my absence. “Then it’s past time you learned.”

  “Let me come too. I want that wolfskin cloak.” A boy stepped forward, no older than Bran. It took Theon a moment to remember him. “I’ve hunted lots of times before,” Walder Frey said. “Red deer and elk, and even boar.”

  His cousin laughed at him. “He rode on a boar hunt with his father, but they never let him near the boar.”

  Theon look at the boy doubtfully. “Come if you like, but if you can’t keep up, don’t think that I’ll nurse you along.” He turned back to Black Lorren. “Winterfell is yours in my absence. If we do not return, do with it as you will.” That bloody well ought to have them praying for my success.

  They assembled by the Hunter’s Gate as the first pale rays of the sun brushed the top of the Bell Tower, their breath frosting in the cold morning air. Gelmarr had equipped himself with a longaxe whose reach would allow him to strike before the wolves were on him. The blade was heavy enough to kill with a single blow. Aggar wore steel greaves. Reek arrived carrying a boar spear and an overstuffed washerwoman’s sack bulging with god knows what. Theon had his bow; he needed nothing else. Once he had saved Bran’s life with an arrow. He hoped he would not need to take it with another, but if it came to that, he would.

  Eleven men, two boys, and a dozen dogs crossed the moat. Beyond the outer wall, the tracks were plain to read in the soft ground; the pawprints of the wolves, Hodor’s heavy tread, the shallower marks left by the feet of the two Reeds. Once under the trees, the stony ground and fallen leaves made the trail harder to see, but by then Farlen’s red bitch had the scent. The rest of the dogs were close behind, the hounds sniffing and barking, a pair of monstrous mastiffs bringing up the rear. Their size and ferocity might make the difference against a cornered direwolf.

  He’d have guessed that Osha might run south to Ser Rodrik, but the trail led north by northwest, into the very heart of the wolfswood. Theon did not like that one bit. It would be a bitter irony if the Starks made for Deepwood Motte and delivered themselves right into Asha’s hands. I’d sooner have them dead, he thought bitterly. It is better to be seen as cruel than foolish.

  Wisps of pale mist threaded between the trees. Sentinels and soldier pines grew thick about here, and there was nothing as dark and gloomy as an evergreen forest. The ground was uneven, and the fallen needles disguised the softness of the turf and made the footing treacherous for the horses, so they had to go slowly. Not as slowly as a man carrying a cripple, though, or a bony harridan with a four-year-old on her back. He told himself to be patient. He’d have them before the day was out.

  Maester Luwin trotted up to him as they were following a game trail along the lip of a ravine. “Thus far hunting seems indistinguishable from riding through the woods, my lord.”

  Theon smiled. “There are similarities. But with hunting, there’s blood at the end.”

  “Must it be so? This flight was great folly, but will you not be merciful? These are your foster brothers we seek.”

  “No Stark but Robb was ever brotherly toward me, but Bran and Rickon have more value to me living than dead.”

  “The same is true of the Reeds. Moat Cailin sits on the edge of the bogs. Lord Howland can make your uncle’s occupation a visit to hell if he chooses, but so long as you hold his heirs he must stay his hand.”

  Theon had not considered that. In truth, he had scarcely considered the mudmen at all, beyond eyeing Meera once or twice and wondering if she was still a maiden. “You may be right. We will spare them if we can.”

  “And Hodor too, I hope. The boy is simple, you know that. He does as he is told. How many times has he groomed your horse, soaped your saddle, scoured your mail?”

  Hodor was nothing to him. “If he does not fight us, we will let him live.” Theon pointed a finger. “But say one word about sparing the wildling, and you can die with her. She swore me an oath, and pissed on it.”

  The maester inclined his head. “I make no apologies for oathbreakers. Do what you must. I thank you for your mercy.”