A clash of kings, p.62
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       A Clash of Kings, p.62

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

  Instead he looked at the girl’s face and said, “You swear you’ll release her after the battle?”

  “If you release Tommen, yes.”

  He pushed himself to his feet. “Keep her then, but keep her safe. If these animals think they can use her… well, sweet sister, let me point out that a scale tips two ways.” His tone was calm, flat, uncaring; he’d reached for his father’s voice, and found it. “Whatever happens to her happens to Tommen as well, and that includes the beatings and rapes.” If she thinks me such a monster, I’ll play the part for her.

  Cersei had not expected that. “You would not dare.”

  Tyrion made himself smile, slow and cold. Green and black, his eyes laughed at her. “Dare? I’ll do it myself.”

  His sister’s hand flashed at his face, but he caught her wrist and bent it back until she cried out. Osfryd moved to her rescue. “One more step and I’ll break her arm,” the dwarf warned him. The man stopped. “You remember when I said you’d never hit me again, Cersei?” He shoved her to the floor and turned back to the Kettleblacks. “Untie her and remove that gag.”

  The rope had been so tight as to cut off the blood to her hands. She cried out in pain as the circulation returned. Tyrion massaged her fingers gently until feeling returned. “Sweetling,” he said, “you must be brave. I am sorry they hurt you.”

  “I know you’ll free me, my lord.”

  “I will,” he promised, and Alayaya bent over and kissed him on the brow. Her broken lips left a smear of blood on his forehead. A bloody kiss is more than I deserve, Tyrion thought. She would never have been hurt but for me.

  Her blood still marked him as he looked down at the queen. “I have never liked you, Cersei, but you were my own sister, so I never did you harm. You’ve ended that. I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”

  In war, his father had told him once, the battle is over in the instant one army breaks and flees. No matter that they’re as numerous as they were a moment before, still armed and armored; once they had run before you they would not turn to fight again. So it was with Cersei. “Get out!” was all the answer she could summon. “Get out of my sight!”

  Tyrion bowed. “Good night, then. And pleasant dreams.”

  He made his way back to the Tower of the Hand with a thousand armored feet marching through his skull. I ought to have seen this coming the first time I slipped through the back of Chataya’s wardrobe. Perhaps he had not wanted to see. His legs were aching badly by the time he had made the climb. He sent Pod for a flagon of wine and pushed his way into his bedchamber.

  Shae sat cross-legged in the canopied bed, nude but for the heavy golden chain that looped across the swell of her breasts: a chain of linked golden hands, each clasping the next.

  Tyrion had not expected her. “What are you doing here?”

  Laughing, she stroked the chain. “I wanted some hands on my titties… but these little gold ones are cold.”

  For a moment he did not know what to say. How could he tell her that another woman had taken the beating meant for her, and might well die in her place should some mischance of battle fell Joffrey? He wiped Alayaya’s blood from his brow with the heel of his hand. “The Lady Lollys—”

  “She’s asleep. Sleep’s all she ever wants to do, the great cow. She sleeps and she eats. Sometimes she falls asleep while she’s eating. The food falls under the blankets and she rolls in it, and I have to clean her.” She made a disgusted face. “All they did was fuck her.”

  “Her mother says she’s sick.”

  “She has a baby in her belly, that’s all.”

  Tyrion gazed around the room. Everything seemed much as he left it. “How did you enter? Show me the hidden door.”

  She gave a shrug. “Lord Varys made me wear a hood. I couldn’t see, except… there was one place, I got a peep at the floor out the bottom of the hood. It was all tiles, you know, the kind that make a picture?”

  “A mosaic?”

  Shae nodded. “They were colored red and black. I think the picture was a dragon. Otherwise, everything was dark. We went down a ladder and walked a long ways, until I was all twisted around. Once we stopped so he could unlock an iron gate. I brushed against it when we went through. The dragon was past the gate. Then we went up another ladder, with a tunnel at the top. I had to stoop, and I think Lord Varys was crawling.”

  Tyrion made a round of the bedchamber. One of the sconces looked loose. He stood on his toes and tried to turn it. It revolved slowly, scraping against the stone wall. When it was upside down, the stub of the candle fell out. The rushes scattered across the cold stone floor did not show any particular disturbance. “Doesn’t m’lord want to bed me?” asked Shae.

  “In a moment.” Tyrion threw open his wardrobe, shoved the clothing aside, and pushed against the rear panel. What worked for a whorehouse might work for a castle as well… but no, the wood was solid, unyielding. A stone beside the window seat drew his eye, but all his tugging and prodding went for naught. He returned to the bed frustrated and annoyed.

  Shae undid his laces and threw her arms around his neck. “Your shoulders feel as hard as rocks,” she murmured. “Hurry, I want to feel you inside me.” Yet as her legs locked around his waist, his manhood left him. When she felt him go soft, Shae slid down under the sheets and took him in her mouth, but even that could not rouse him.

  After a few moments he stopped her. “What’s wrong?” she asked. All the sweet innocence of the world was written there in the lines of her young face.

  Innocence? Fool, she’s a whore, Cersei was right, you think with your cock, fool, fool.

  “Just go to sleep, sweetling,” he urged, stroking her hair. Yet long after Shae had taken his advice, Tyrion himself still lay awake, his fingers cupped over one small breast as he listened to her breathing.

  CATELYN

  The Great Hall of Riverrun was a lonely place for two to sit to supper. Deep shadows draped the walls. One of the torches had guttered out, leaving only three. Catelyn sat staring into her wine goblet. The vintage tasted thin and sour on her tongue. Brienne was across from her. Between them, her father’s high seat was as empty as the rest of the hall. Even the servants were gone. She had given them leave to join the celebration.

  The walls of the keep were thick, yet even so, they could hear the muffled sounds of revelry from the yard outside. Ser Desmond had brought twenty casks up from the cellars, and the smallfolk were celebrating Edmure’s imminent return and Robb’s conquest of the Crag by hoisting horns of nut-brown ale.

  I cannot blame them, Catelyn thought. They do not know. And if they did, why should they care? They never knew my sons. Never watched Bran climb with their hearts in their throats, pride and terror so mingled they seemed as one, never heard him laugh, never smiled to see Rickon trying so fiercely to be like his older brothers. She stared at the supper set before her: trout wrapped in bacon, salad of turnip greens and red fennel and sweetgrass, pease and onions and hot bread. Brienne was eating methodically, as if supper were another chore to be accomplished. I am become a sour woman, Catelyn thought. I take no joy in mead nor meat, and song and laughter have become suspicious strangers to me. I am a creature of grief and dust and bitter longings. There is an empty place within me where my heart was once.

  The sound of the other woman’s eating had become intolerable to her. “Brienne, I am no fit company. Go join the revels, if you would. Drink a horn of ale and dance to Rymund’s harping.”

  “I am not made for revels, my lady.” Her big hands tore apart a heel of black bread. Brienne stared at the chunks as if she had forgotten what they were. “If you command it, I…”

  Catelyn could sense her discomfort. “I only thought you might enjoy happier company than mine.”

  “I’m well content.” The girl used the bread to sop up some of the bacon greas
e the trout had been fried in.

  “There was another bird this morning.” Catelyn did not know why she said it. “The maester woke me at once. That was dutiful, but not kind. Not kind at all.” She had not meant to tell Brienne. No one knew but her and Maester Vyman, and she had meant to keep it that way until… until…

  Until what? Foolish woman, will holding it secret in your heart make it any less true? If you never tell, never speak of it, will it become only a dream, less than a dream, a nightmare half-remembered? Oh, if only the gods would be so good.

  “Is it news of King’s Landing?” asked Brienne.

  “Would that it was. The bird came from Castle Cerwyn, from Ser Rodrik, my castellan.” Dark wings, dark words. “He has gathered what power he could and is marching on Winterfell, to take the castle back.” How unimportant all that sounded now. “But he said… he wrote… he told me, he…”

  “My lady, what is it? Is it some news of your sons?”

  Such a simple question that was; would that the answer could be as simple. When Catelyn tried to speak, the words caught in her throat. “I have no sons but Robb.” She managed those terrible words without a sob, and for that much she was glad.

  Brienne looked at her with horror. “My lady?”

  “Bran and Rickon tried to escape, but were taken at a mill on the Acorn Water. Theon Greyjoy has mounted their heads on the walls of Winterfell. Theon Greyjoy, who ate at my table since he was a boy of ten.” I have said it, gods forgive me. I have said it and made it true.

  Brienne’s face was a watery blur. She reached across the table, but her fingers stopped short of Catelyn’s, as if the touch might be unwelcome. “I… there are no words, my lady. My good lady. Your sons, they… they’re with the gods now.”

  “Are they?” Catelyn said sharply. “What god would let this happen? Rickon was only a baby. How could he deserve such a death? And Bran… when I left the north, he had not opened his eyes since his fall. I had to go before he woke. Now I can never return to him, or hear him laugh again.” She showed Brienne her palms, her fingers. “These scars… they sent a man to cut Bran’s throat as he lay sleeping. He would have died then, and me with him, but Bran’s wolf tore out the man’s throat.” That gave her a moment’s pause. “I suppose Theon killed the wolves too. He must have, elsewise… I was certain the boys would be safe so long as the direwolves were with them. Like Robb with his Grey Wind. But my daughters have no wolves now.”

  The abrupt shift of topic left Brienne bewildered. “Your daughters…”

  “Sansa was a lady at three, always so courteous and eager to please. She loved nothing so well as tales of knightly valor. Men would say she had my look, but she will grow into a woman far more beautiful than I ever was, you can see that. I often sent away her maid so I could brush her hair myself. She had auburn hair, lighter than mine, and so thick and soft… the red in it would catch the light of the torches and shine like copper.

  “And Arya, well… Ned’s visitors would oft mistake her for a stableboy if they rode into the yard unannounced. Arya was a trial, it must be said. Half a boy and half a wolf pup. Forbid her anything and it became her heart’s desire. She had Ned’s long face, and brown hair that always looked as though a bird had been nesting in it. I despaired of ever making a lady of her. She collected scabs as other girls collect dolls, and would say anything that came into her head. I think she must be dead too.” When she said that, it felt as though a giant hand were squeezing her chest. “I want them all dead, Brienne. Theon Greyjoy first, then Jaime Lannister and Cersei and the Imp, every one, every one. But my girls… my girls will…”

  “The queen… she has a little girl of her own,” Brienne said awkwardly. “And sons too, of an age with yours. When she hears, perhaps she… she may take pity, and…”

  “Send my daughters back unharmed?” Catelyn smiled sadly. “There is a sweet innocence about you, child. I could wish… but no. Robb will avenge his brothers. Ice can kill as dead as fire. Ice was Ned’s greatsword. Valyrian steel, marked with the ripples of a thousand foldings, so sharp I feared to touch it. Robb’s blade is dull as a cudgel compared to Ice. It will not be easy for him to get Theon’s head off, I fear. The Starks do not use headsmen. Ned always said that the man who passes the sentence should swing the blade, though he never took any joy in the duty. But I would, oh, yes.” She stared at her scarred hands, opened and closed them, then slowly raised her eyes. “I’ve sent him wine.”

  “Wine?” Brienne was lost. “Robb? Or… Theon Greyjoy?”

  “The Kingslayer.” The ploy had served her well with Cleos Frey. I hope you’re thirsty, Jaime. I hope your throat is dry and tight. “I would like you to come with me.”

  “I am yours to command, my lady.”

  “Good.” Catelyn rose abruptly. “Stay, finish your meal in peace. I will send for you later. At midnight.”

  “So late, my lady?”

  “The dungeons are windowless. One hour is much like another down there, and for me, all hours are midnight.” Her footsteps rang hollowly when Catelyn left the hall. As she climbed to Lord Hoster’s solar, she could hear them outside, shouting, “Tully!” and “A cup! A cup to the brave young lord!” My father is not dead, she wanted to shout down at them. My sons are dead, but my father lives, damn you all, and he is your lord still.

  Lord Hoster was deep in sleep. “He had a cup of dreamwine not so long ago, my lady,” Maester Vyman said. “For the pain. He will not know you are here.”

  “It makes no matter,” Catelyn said. He is more dead than alive, yet more alive than my poor sweet sons.

  “My lady, is there aught I might do for you? A sleeping draught, perhaps?”

  “Thank you, Maester, but no. I will not sleep away my grief. Bran and Rickon deserve better from me. Go and join the celebration, I will sit with my father for a time.”

  “As you will, my lady.” Vyman bowed and left her.

  Lord Hoster lay on his back, mouth open, his breath a faint whistling sigh. One hand hung over the edge of the mattress, a pale frail fleshless thing, but warm when she touched it. She slid her fingers through his and closed them. No matter how tightly I hold him, I cannot keep him here, she thought sadly. Let him go. Yet her fingers would not seem to unbend.

  “I have no one to talk with, Father,” she told him. “I pray, but the gods do not answer.” Lightly she kissed his hand. The skin was warm, blue veins branching like rivers beneath his pale translucent skin. Outside the greater rivers flowed, the Red Fork and the Tumblestone, and they would flow forever, but not so the rivers in her father’s hand. Too soon that current would grow still. “Last night I dreamed of that time Lysa and I got lost while riding back from Seagard. Do you remember? That strange fog came up and we fell behind the rest of the party. Everything was grey, and I could not see a foot past the nose of my horse. We lost the road. The branches of the trees were like long skinny arms reaching out to grab us as we passed. Lysa started to cry, and when I shouted the fog seemed to swallow the sound. But Petyr knew where we were, and he rode back and found us…”

  “But there’s no one to find me now, is there? This time I have to find our own way, and it is hard, so hard.”

  “I keep remembering the Stark words. Winter has come, Father. For me. For me. Robb must fight the Greyjoys now as well as the Lannisters, and for what? For a gold hat and an iron chair? Surely the land has bled enough. I want my girls back, I want Robb to lay down his sword and pick some homely daughter of Walder Frey to make him happy and give him sons. I want Bran and Rickon back, I want…” Catelyn hung her head. “I want,” she said once more, and then her words were gone.

  After a time the candle guttered and went out. Moonlight slanted between the slats of the shutters, laying pale silvery bars across her father’s face. She could hear the soft whisper of his labored breathing, the endless rush of waters, the faint chords of some love song drifting up from the yard, so sad and sweet. “I loved a maid as red as autumn,” Rymund sang, “with sunse
t in her hair.”

  Catelyn never noticed when the singing ended. Hours had passed, yet it seemed only a heartbeat before Brienne was at the door. “My lady,” she announced softly. “Midnight has come.”

  Midnight has come, Father, she thought, and I must do my duty. She let go of his hand.

  The gaoler was a furtive little man with broken veins in his nose. They found him bent over a tankard of ale and the remains of a pigeon pie, more than a little drunk. He squinted at them suspiciously. “Begging your forgiveness, m’lady, but Lord Edmure says no one is to see the Kingslayer without a writing from him, with his seal upon it.”

  “Lord Edmure? Has my father died, and no one told me?”

  The gaoler licked his lips. “No, m’lady, not as I knows.”

  “You will open the cell, or you will come with me to Lord Hoster’s solar and tell him why you saw fit to defy me.”

  His eyes fell. “As m’lady says.” The keys were chained to the studded leather belt that girdled his waist. He muttered under his breath as he sorted through them, until he found the one that fit the door to the Kingslayer’s cell.

  “Go back to your ale and leave us,” she commanded. An oil lamp hung from a hook on the low ceiling. Catelyn took it down and turned up the flame. “Brienne, see that I am not disturbed.”

  Nodding, Brienne took up a position just outside the cell, her hand resting on the pommel of her sword. “My lady will call if she has need of me.”

  Catelyn shouldered aside the heavy wood-and-iron door and stepped into foul darkness. This was the bowels of Riverrun, and smelled the part. Old straw crackled underfoot. The walls were discolored with patches of nitre. Through the stone, she could hear the faint rush of the Tumblestone. The lamplight revealed a pail overflowing with feces in one corner and a huddled shape in another. The flagon of wine stood beside the door, untouched. So much for that ploy. I ought to be thankful that the gaoler did not drink it himself, I suppose.

  Jaime raised his hands to cover his face, the chains around his wrists clanking. “Lady Stark,” he said, in a voice hoarse with disuse. “I fear I am in no condition to receive you.”

  “Look at me, ser.”

  “The light hurts my eyes. A moment, if you would.” Jaime Lannister had been allowed no razor since the night he was taken in the Whispering Wood, and a shaggy beard covered his face, once so like the queen’s. Glinting gold in the lamplight, the whiskers made him look like some great yellow beast, magnificent even in chains. His unwashed hair fell to his shoulders in ropes and tangles, the clothes were rotting on his body, his face was pale and wasted… and even so, the power and the beauty of the man were still apparent.

  “I see you had no taste for the wine I sent you.”

  “Such sudden generosity seemed somewhat suspect.”

  “I can have your head off anytime I want. Why would I need to poison you?”

  “Death by poison can seem natural. Harder to claim that my head simply fell off.” He squinted up from the floor, his cat-green eyes slowly becoming accustomed to the light. “I’d invite you to sit, but your brother has neglected to provide me a chair.”

  “I can stand well enough.”

  “Can you? You look terrible, I must say. Though perhaps it’s just the light in here.” He was fettered at wrist and ankle, each cuff chained to the others, so he could neither stand nor lie comfortably. The ankle chains were bolted to the wall. “Are my bracelets heavy enough for you, or did you come to add a few more? I’ll rattle them prettily if you like.”

  “You brought this on yourself,” she reminded him. “We granted you the comfort of a tower cell befitting your birth and station. You repaid us by trying to escape.”

  “A cell is a cell. Some under Casterly Rock make this one seem a sunlit garden. One day perhaps I’ll show them to you.”

  If he is cowed, he hides it well, Catelyn thought. “A man chained hand and foot should keep a more courteous tongue in his mouth, ser. I did not come here to be threatened.”

  “No? Then surely it was to have your pleasure of me? It’s said that widows grow weary of their empty beds. We of the Kingsguard vow never to wed, but I suppose I could still service you if that’s what you need. Pour us some of that wine and slip out of that gown and we’ll see if I’m up to it.”

  Catelyn stared down at him in revulsion. Was there ever a man as beautiful or as vile as this one? “If you said that in my son’s hearing, he would kill you for it.”

  “Only so long as I was wearing these.” Jaime Lannister rattled his chains at her. “We both know the boy is afraid to face me in single combat.”

  “My son may be young, but if you take him for a fool, you are sadly mistaken… and it seems to me that you were not so quick to make challenges when you had an army at your back.”

  “Did the old Kings of Winter hide behind their mothers’ skirts as well?”

  “I grow weary of this, ser. There are things I must know.”

  “Why should I tell you anything?”

  “To save your life.”

  “You think I fear death?” That seemed to amuse him.

  “You should. Your crimes will have earned you a place of torment in the deepest of the seven hells, if the gods are just.”

  “What gods are those, Lady Catelyn? The trees your husband prayed to? How well did they serve him when my sister took his head off?” Jaime gave a chuckle. “If there are gods, why is the world so full of pain and injustice?”

  “Because of men like you.”

  “There are no men like me. There’s only me.”

  There is nothing here but arrogance and pride, and the empty courage of a madman. I am wasting my breath with this one. If there was ever a spark of honor in him, it is long dead. “If you will not speak with me, so be it. Drink the wine or piss in it, ser, it makes no matter to me.”

  Her hand was at the door pull when he said, “Lady Stark.” She turned, waited. “Things go to rust in this damp,” Jaime went on. “Even a man’s courtesies. Stay, and you shall have your answers… for a price.”

  He has no shame. “Captives do not set prices.”

  “Oh, you’ll find mine modest enough. Your turnkey tells me nothing but vile lies, and he cannot even keep them straight. One day he says Cersei has been flayed, and the next it’s my father. Answer my questions and I’ll answer yours.”