Robb got to his feet slowly and sheathed his sword, and Catelyn found herself wondering whether her son had ever kissed a girl in the godswood. Surely he must have. She had seen Jeyne Poole giving him moist-eyed glances, and some of the serving girls, even ones as old as eighteen... he had ridden in battle and killed men with a sword, surely he had been kissed.
In songs, the hero always saved the maiden from the monster’s castle, but life was not a song, no more than Jeyne was Arya Stark.
Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.
The arms of House Poole were a blue plate on white, framed by a grey tressure. Those were the arms they should have hung.
“Help me.” She clutched at him. “Please. I used to watch you in the yard, playing with your swords. You were so handsome.” She squeezed his arm. “If we ran away, I could be your wife, or your ... your whore ... whatever you wanted. You could be my man.”
In one place on the far side of the fire, the roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood.
(Arya V, ASoS)
“When we left King’s Landing we were men of Winterfell and men of Darry and men of Blackhaven, Mallery men and Wylde men. We were knights and squires and men-at-arms, lords and commoners, bound together only by our purpose.” The voice came from the man seated amongst the weirwood roots halfway up the wall. “Six score of us set out to bring the king’s justice to your brother.” The speaker was descending the tangle of steps toward the floor. “Six score brave men and true, led by a fool in a starry cloak.” A scarecrow of a man, he wore a ragged black cloak speckled with stars and an iron breastplate dinted by a hundred battles. A thicket of red-gold hair hid most of his face, save for a bald spot above his left ear where his head had been smashed in. “More than eighty of our company are dead now, but others have taken up the swords that fell from their hands.” When he reached the floor, the outlaws moved aside to let him pass. One of his eyes was gone, Arya saw, the flesh about the socket scarred and puckered, and he had a dark black ring all around his neck. “With their help, we fight on as best we can, for Robert and the realm.”
(Arya V, ASoS)Beric's single eyed, his position among the weirwood roots, his ragged black cloak are all hallmarks of Lord Brynden. This observation might be of no importance for the rest of the story of Jeyne Poole though.
“Ser Boros, escort this girl to Lord Petyr’s apartments and instruct his people to keep her there until he comes for her. Tell her that Littlefinger will be taking her to see her father, that ought to calm her down. I want her gone before Sansa returns to her chamber.”
“I was told that you’d know how to please a man. Was that a lie?”
“N-no, my lord. I was t-trained.”
“I’m a good girl,” Jeyne whimpered. “They trained me.”
He could see a spiderweb of faint thin lines across her back where someone had whipped her.
Petyr arched an eyebrow. “When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon . . . and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back . . . why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa . . . Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?”
A groom led a fine grey mare out the stable door. On her back was mounted a skinny hollow- eyed girl wrapped in a heavy cloak. Grey, it was, like the dress beneath it, and trimmed with white satin. The clasp that pinned it to her breast was wrought in the shape of a wolf ‘s head with slitted opal eyes. The girl’s long brown hair blew wild in the wind. She had a pretty face, he thought, but her eyes were sad and wary.
The girl was slim, and taller than he remembered, but that was only to be expected. Girls grow fast at that age. Her dress was grey wool bordered with white satin; over it she wore an ermine cloak clasped with a silver wolf’s head. Dark brown hair fell halfway down her back. And her eyes ...
A groom led a fine grey mare out the stable door. On her back was mounted a skinny hollow-eyed girl wrapped in a heavy cloak. Grey, it was, like the dress beneath it, and trimmed with white satin. The clasp that pinned it to her breast was wrought in the shape of a wolf ‘s head with slitted opal eyes. The girl’s long brown hair blew wild in the wind. She had a pretty face, he thought, but her eyes were sad and wary.
When she saw him, she inclined her head. “Ser Jaime,” she said in a thin anxious voice. “You are kind to see me off.”
Jaime studied her closely. “You know me, then?”
She bit her lip. “You may not recall, my lord, as I was littler then... but I had the honor to meet you at Winterfell when King Robert came to visit my father Lord Eddard.” She lowered her big brown eyes and mumbled, “I’m Arya Stark.”
Jaime had never paid much attention to Arya Stark, but it seemed to him that this girl was older. “I understand you’re to be married.”
“I am to wed Lord Bolton’s son, Ramsay. He used to be a Snow, but His Grace has made him a Bolton. They say he’s very brave. I am so happy.”
Then why do you sound so frightened? “I wish you joy, my lady.”
“You heard me. My lord father found some skinny northern girl more or less the same age with more or less the same coloring. He dressed her up in white and grey, gave her a silver wolf to pin her cloak, and sent her off to wed Bolton’s bastard.” He lifted his stump to point at her. “I wanted to tell you that before you went galloping off to rescue her and got yourself killed for no good purpose. You’re not half bad with a sword, but you’re not good enough to take on two hundred men by yourself.”
Brienne shook her head. “When Lord Bolton learns that your father paid him with false coin...”
“Oh, he knows. Lannisters lie, remember? It makes no matter, this girl serves his purpose just as well. Who is going to say that she isn’t Arya Stark? Everyone the girl was close to is dead except for her sister, who has disappeared.”
“In any case,” the queen went on, “Lord Eddard’s younger daughter is with Lord Bolton, and will be wed to his son Ramsay as soon as Moat Cailin has fallen.” So long as the girl played her role well enough to cement their claim to Winterfell, neither of the Boltons would much care that she was actually some steward’s whelp tricked up by Littlefinger. “If the north must have a Stark, we’ll give them one.”
Theon arrived in Barbrey Dustin’s train, with her ladyship herself, her Barrowton levies, and the bride-to-be. Lady Dustin had insisted that she should have custody of Lady Arya until such time as she was wed, but now that time was done.
Indeed Stout and Slate, Whoresbane Umber, the quarrelsome Ryswells, Hornwood men and Cerywn cousins, fat Lord Wyman Manderly ... not one of them had known Ned Stark’s daughters half so well as he. And if a few entertained private doubts, surely they would be wise enough to keep those misgivings to themselves.
She had visited White Harbor with her father twice, but she knew King’s Landing better.
She looked enough like Arya to give him pause, but only for a moment. A tall, skinny, coltish girl, all legs and elbows, her brown hair was woven in a thick braid and bound about with strips of leather. She had a long face, a pointy chin, small ears.
But she was too old, far too old. This girl is almost of an age with me. “Has she eaten?” Jon asked Mully.
“Only bread and broth, my lord.” Clydas rose from a chair. “It is best to go slow, Maester Aemon always said. Any more and she might not have been able to digest it.”
Mully nodded. “Dannel had one o’ Hobb’s sausages and offered her a bite, but she wouldn’t touch it.”
Jon could not blame her for that. Hobb’s sausages were made of grease and salt and things that did not bear thinking about. “Perhaps we should just let her rest.”
That was when the girl sat up, clutching the cloak to her small, pale breasts. She looked confused. “Where ... ?”
“Castle Black, my lady.”
“The Wall.” Her eyes filled up with tears. “I’m here.”
Clydas moved closer. “Poor child. How old are you?”
“Sixteen on my next nameday. And no child, but a woman grown and flowered.” She yawned, covered her mouth with the cloak. One bare knee peeked through its folds. “You do not wear a chain. Are you a maester?”
“No,” said Clydas, “but I have served one.”
She does look a bit like Arya, Jon thought. Starved and skinny, but her hair’s the same color, and
her eyes. “I am told you have been asking after me. I am—”
“—Jon Snow.” The girl tossed her braid back. “My house and yours are bound in blood and honor. Hear me, kinsman. My uncle Cregan is hard upon my trail. You must not let him take me back to Karhold.”
Jon was staring. I know this girl. There was something about her eyes, the way she held herself, the way she talked. For a moment the memory eluded him. Then it came. “Alys Karstark.”
That brought the ghost of a smile to her lips. “I was not sure you would remember. I was six the last time you saw me.”
“You came to Winterfell with your father.” The father Robb beheaded. “I don’t recall what for.”
“Is it Deepwood?”
“No, my lord.” Clydas thrust the parchment forward. It was tightly rolled and sealed, with a button of hard pink wax. Only the Dreadfort uses pink sealing wax. Jon ripped off his gauntlet, took the letter, cracked the seal. When he saw the signature, he forgot the battering Rattleshirt had given him.
Ramsay Bolton, Lord of the Hornwood, it read, in a huge, spiky hand. The brown ink came away in flakes when Jon brushed it with his thumb. Beneath Bolton’s signature, Lord Dustin, Lady Cerwyn, and four Ryswells had appended their own marks and seals. A cruder hand had drawn the giant of House Umber. “Might we know what it says, my lord?” asked Iron Emmett.
Jon saw no reason not to tell him. “Moat Cailin is taken. The flayed corpses of the ironmen have been nailed to posts along the kingsroad. Roose Bolton summons all leal lords to Barrowton, to affirm their loyalty to the Iron Throne and celebrate his son’s wedding to ...” His heart seemed to stop for a moment. No, that is not possible. She died in King’s Landing, with Father.
“Lord Snow?” Clydas peered at him closely with his dim pink eyes. “Are you ... unwell? You seem ...”
“He’s to marry Arya Stark. My little sister.”
“Why me?” he had asked when Lady Dustin told him he must give the bride away.
“Her father is dead and all her brothers. Her mother perished at the Twins. Her uncles are lost or dead or captive.”
“She has a brother still.” She has three brothers still, he might have said. “Jon Snow is with the Night’s Watch.”
“A half-brother, bastard-born, and bound to the Wall. You were her father’s ward, the nearest thing she has to living kin. It is only fitting that you give her hand in marriage.”
The hearth was caked with cold black ash, the room unheated but for candles. Every time a door opened their flames would sway and shiver. The bride was shivering too. They had dressed her in white lambs-wool trimmed with lace. Her sleeves and bodice were sewn with freshwater pearls, and on her feet were white doeskin slippers—pretty, but not warm. Her face was pale, bloodless.
A face carved of ice, Theon Greyjoy thought as he draped a fur-trimmed cloak about her shoulders. A corpse buried in the snow.
Cersei Lannister ignored the question. “The cloak,” she commanded, and the women brought it out: a long cloak of white velvet heavy with pearls. A fierce direwolf was embroidered upon it in silver thread. Sansa looked at it with sudden dread. “Your father’s colors,” said Cersei, as they fastened it about her neck with a slender silver chain.
Lord Mace Tyrell came forward to present his gift: a golden chalice three feet tall, with two ornate curved handles and seven faces glittering with gemstones. “Seven faces for Your Grace’s seven kingdoms,” the bride’s father explained. He showed them how each face bore the sigil of one of the great houses: ruby lion, emerald rose, onyx stag, silver trout, blue jade falcon, opal sun, and pearl direwolf.
Sansa slid her arm from a sleeve, pushed down the gown, and wriggled out of it. She balled it up and shoved it into the bole of an oak, shook out the clothing she had hidden there. Dress warmly, Ser Dontos had told her, and dress dark. She had no blacks, so she chose a dress of thick brown wool. The bodice was decorated with freshwater pearls, though.
Cersei found Margaery barefoot and shivering, clad in the roughspun shift of a novice sister. Her locks were all a tangle, and her feet were filthy. “They took my clothes from me,” the little queen told her once they were alone. “I wore a gown of ivory lace, with freshwater pearls on the bodice, but the septas laid their hands on me and stripped me to the skin. My cousins too. Megga sent one septa crashing into the candles and set her robe afire. I fear for Alla, though. She went as white as milk, too frightened even to cry.”
“Magnificence, you do not understand,” protested Reznak. “The washing of the feet is hallowed by tradition. It signifies that you shall be your husband’s handmaid. The wedding garb is fraught with meaning too. The bride is dressed in dark red veils above a tokar of white silk, fringed with baby pearls.”The queen of the rabbits must not be wed without her floppy ears. “All those pearls will make me rattle when I walk.”
“The pearls symbolize fertility. The more pearls Your Worship wears, the more healthy children she will bear.”
“Why would I want a hundred children?” Dany turned to the Green Grace. “If we should wed by Westerosi rites ...”
“The gods of Ghis would deem it no true union.” Galazza Galare’s face was hidden behind a veil of green silk. Only her eyes showed, green and wise and sad. “In the eyes of the city you would be the noble Hizdahr’s concubine, not his lawful wedded wife. Your children would be bastards. Your Worship must marry Hizdahr in the Temple of the Graces, with all the nobility of Meereen on hand to bear witness to your union.”
Get the heads of all the noble houses out of their pyramids on some pretext, Daario had said. The dragon’s words are fire and blood. Dany pushed the thought aside. It was not worthy of her. “As you wish,” she sighed. “I shall marry Hizdahr in the Temple of the Graces wrapped in a white tokar fringed with baby pearls. Is there anything else?”
“As you wish,” she sighed. “I shall marry Hizdahr in the Temple of the Graces wrapped in a white tokar fringed with baby pearls. Is there anything else?”
Ramsay Bolton stood beneath them, clad in high boots of soft grey leather and a black velvet doublet slashed with pink silk and glittering with garnet teardrops. A smile danced across his face. “Who comes?” His lips were moist, his neck red above his collar. “Who comes before the god?”
Theon answered. “Arya of House Stark comes here to be wed. A woman grown and flowered, trueborn and noble, she comes to beg the blessings of the gods. Who comes to claim her?”
“Me,” said Ramsay. “Ramsay of House Bolton, Lord of the Hornwood, heir to the Dreadfort. I claim her. Who gives her?”
“Theon of House Greyjoy, who was her father’s ward.” He turned to the bride. “Lady Arya, will you take this man?”
She raised her eyes to his. Brown eyes, not grey. Are all of them so blind? For a long moment she did not speak, but those eyes were begging. This is your chance, he thought. Tell them. Tell them now. Shout out your name before them all, tell them that you are not Arya Stark, let all the north hear how you were made to play this part. It would mean her death, of course, and his own as well, but Ramsay in his wroth might kill them quickly. The old gods of the north might grant them that small boon.
“I take this man,” the bride said in a whisper.
All around them lights glimmered through the mists, a hundred candles pale as shrouded stars. Theon stepped back, and Ramsay and his bride joined hands and knelt before the heart tree, bowing their heads in token of submission. The weirwood’s carved red eyes stared down at them, its great red mouth open as if to laugh. In the branches overhead a raven quorked.
After a moment of silent prayer, the man and woman rose again. Ramsay undid the cloak that Theon had slipped about his bride’s shoulders moments before, the heavy white wool cloak bordered in grey fur, emblazoned with the direwolf of House Stark. In its place he fastened a pink cloak, spattered with red garnets like those upon his doublet. On its back was the flayed man of the Dreadfort done in stiff red leather, grim and grisly.
Quick as that, it was done. Weddings went more quickly in the north. It came of not having priests, Theon supposed, but whatever the reason it seemed to him a mercy.
Jon said, “My lord father believed no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree. The old gods know when men are lying.”
“My father believed the same,” said the Old Bear.
“The monster has tied us a thorny knot,” the old knight told Maester Luwin. “Like it or no, Lady Hornwood was his wife. He made her say the vows before both septon and heart tree, and bedded her that very night before witnesses. She signed a will naming him as heir and fixed her seal to it.”
“Vows made at sword point are not valid,” the maester argued.
Jon said, “My lord father believed no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree. The old gods know when men are lying.”
“My father believed the same,” said the Old Bear.
The bedchamber had been well prepared for the consummation. All the furnishings were new, brought up from Barrowton in the baggage train. The canopy bed had a feather mattress and drapes of blood-red velvet. The stone floor was covered with wolfskins. A fire was burning in the hearth, a candle on the bedside table. On the sideboard was a flagon of wine, two cups, and a half wheel of veined white cheese.
“Does she make your cock hard, Reek? Is it straining against your laces? Would you like to fuck her first?” He laughed. “The Prince of Winterfell should have that right, as all lords did in days of old. The first night. But you’re no lord, are you? Only Reek. Not even a man, truth be told.”
“With your mouth,” Lord Ramsay said. “And be quick about it. If she’s not wet by the time I’m done disrobing, I will cut off that tongue of yours and nail it to the wall.”
Somewhere in the godswood, a raven screamed. The dagger was still in his hand. He sheathed it.
Reek, my name is Reek, it rhymes with weak. Reek bent to his task.
“Tell him, you tell him. I’ll do what he wants ... whatever he wants ... with him or ... or with the dog or ... please ... he doesn’t need to cut my feet off, I won’t try to run away, not ever, I’ll give him sons, I swear it, I swear it ...”
So whenever Ramsay had an itch to bed his wife, it fell to Theon to borrow some servingwomen from Lady Walda or Lady Dustin and fetch hot water from the kitchens.
Then he saw her. She was huddled in the darkest corner of the bed-chamber, on the floor, curled up in a ball beneath a pile of wolfskins. Theon might never have spotted her but for the way she trembled. Jeyne had pulled the furs up over herself to hide. From us? Or was she expecting her lord husband? The thought that Ramsay might be coming made him want to scream. “My lady.” Theon could not bring himself to call her Arya and dare not call her Jeyne. “No need to hide. These are friends.”
The furs stirred. An eye peered out, shining with tears. Dark, too dark. A brown eye. “Theon?” “Lady Arya.” Rowan moved closer. “You must come with us, and quickly. We’ve come to take
you to your brother.”
“Brother?” The girl’s face emerged from underneath the wolfskins. “I ... I have no brothers.”
In one corner of the cell a heap of furs was piled up almost to the height of a man. “Karstark,” said Jon Snow. “Wake up.”
The furs stirred. Some had frozen together, and the frost that covered them glittered when they moved. An arm emerged, then a face—brown hair, tangled and matted and streaked with grey, two fierce eyes, a nose, a mouth, a beard. Ice caked the prisoner’s mustache, clumps of frozen snot. “Snow.” His breath steamed in the air, fogging the ice behind his head. “You have no right to hold me. The laws of hospitality—”
The wolfskins fell away from her. Underneath them she was naked, her small pale breasts covered with teeth marks. He heard one of the women suck in her breath.
And she is only naked when she bathes.
Squirrel had stripped down to her smallclothes, and was rooting through a carved cedar chest in search of something warmer. In the end she settled for one of Lord Ramsay’s quilted doublets and a well-worn pair of breeches that flapped about her legs like a ship’s sails in a storm.
“Another bloody bath?” said their serjeant when he saw the pails of steaming water. He had his hands tucked up into his armpits against the cold. “She had a bath last night. How dirty can one woman get in her own bed?”
Jeyne pulled her wolfskins up to her chin. “No. This is some trick. It’s him, it’s my ... my lord, my sweet lord, he sent you, this is just some test to make sure that I love him. I do, I do, I love him more than anything.” A tear ran down her cheek. “Tell him, you tell him. I’ll do what he wants ... whatever he wants ... with him or ... or with the dog or ... please ... he doesn’t need to cut my feet off, I won’t try to run away, not ever, I’ll give him sons, I swear it, I swear it ...”Something curious has happened the night before in any case. I don't understand at all the bite marks on the bride's breast.