It turned out that the sisters had to stay with their friendly hosts for a week. Arya's wound was healing; the fever, however, was more persistent – but finally Lera managed to break it with her skilled medical treatment.
What was far worse was their grief over the loss of their brother and mother, Grey Wind and all the good people who had been slaughtered so heinously. Sansa wept a lot while Arya often curled up into a ball, silent and brooding, her fists clenching and unclenching. Nymeria didn't leave them, clearly understanding what had happened – she was indeed an incredibly intelligent wolf and upset as well.
On the sixth evening, when it was already late, and the embers of the fire were only glowing mildly any more, Arya swore in her throaty voice from under her blanket: “I kchi che Freych.”
Sansa only had to look at the hatred visible in her sister's eyes to understand who she was talking about and what she wanted to do to them. She herself could easily remember when she had felt the same kind of hatred, back in King's Landing, on that day when she had wanted to push Joffrey to his death. Sandor had been there and had hindered her to do just that.
Sandor. Her husband was surely extremely worried by now, if he had been informed by her great-uncle Brynden. The Blackfish, Uncle Edmure, Sandor, Arya and Nymeria were basically what remained of her family now. And perhaps Jon at the Wall, and Bessie in Harrenhal, too, if you wanted to count the orphan as well and if nobody else had adopted her while they had been away. There was also their aunt in the Vale of Arryn, but they didn't know her like they did the others.
“I can understand you, but we need to get home first, Arya. By the way – what do you want to do first when we arrive back in Harrenhal?”
Interestingly enough, Sansa's little sister didn't have to think twice before she answered: “Meek Gengry! Keache Hok Pie!”
Sansa had to smile then, despite her sadness. Arya was quickly getting more agile and more talkative with the little stump of her tongue. And if she hadn't given up on wanting to tease the cook in the castle kitchens, or of meeting the smith she had befriended in the past, she was still as stubborn and spirited as she had always been, sorrow notwithstanding.
Suddenly, there was the faraway howl of a wolf to be heard outside.
At once, Nymeria pricked up her ears.
“Someone from your pack?” Sansa asked her.
The direwolf whined and got very excited, ran to the door and started to scratch on the door latch like mad.
It was even more surprising, however, that Arya was getting jittery as well.
“Changcha! Changcha! Gon'k you hear? I ngow chat voiche! Oh, by che oud Gogch!”
Sansa's heart suddenly started to hobble like mad. She still didn't know what was going on, but if Arya started to refer to the Gods whatever they were about to find out had to be a kind of miracle.
There was another howl. Arya was at the door now, too, unbolting it and darting out into the night alongside with Nymeria.
“What's up?” a sleepy Dan was asking from his and Lera's bedstead.
Sansa's mouth was getting dry from one second to the next when it dawned on her what the howl meant.
“There's another direwolf in the area!” she gasped.
Her mind started to race. Grey Wind was said to have died at the Red Wedding. Lady was dead as well. Ghost? Was it Ghost from the Wall? But the white wolf had never made a sound. Then what about... Shaggydog? Summer? Rickon and Bran were dead... but had one or even both of their direwolves survived?
Sansa had never considered this possibility before, and now she called herself stupid. Yes, yes! Why should this not be possible!?
Without further ado, she jumped up as well and followed Arya and Nymeria into the darkness.
It was easy enough for her to find the way – for somewhere ahead she was already hearing whining and yipping and Arya's laughter. It caused Sansa to weep from joy before she even knew which one of the lost direwolves she was about to meet again.
The Blackfish was looking down from the battlements, into the churning waters of the river; then he looked up again, at the horizon, which was overcast with rain clouds.
He felt so tired. Guilty of not having been able to protect the lost girls better. They hadn't known each other for a long time, but it had been enough to feel a bond of affection beyond what mere kinship required.
And now, his niece Cat, the Young Wolf and his men wouldn't return any more. Neither would Edmure, who was still alive, but who'd likely become a hostage in the south from now on. Instead, Brynden was waiting for Kevan Lannister, even if it was still too early for the Lion to arrive at Riverrun. He was waiting for peace negotiations.
The Blackfish had a bitter taste in his mouth. If his niece Sansa had not spoken so well of the Hound and the way he was ruling in Harrenhal Brynden wouldn't have thought of giving in, even if it would have cost his life. But now, he had to save Edmure and to think of Robb's widow, even if she wasn't with child. Moreover, he had to consider the good of the Riverlands. If Sandor Clegane was able to restore the scorched ruin the region had turned into before the winter came... it didn't matter any more what Brynden personally thought of the man.
Ravens with messages were already being sent back and forth to arrange the terms of the meeting, and so far, the Hound's castellan had not written anything outrageous. Hopefully, it would stay that way.
The Blackfish spat into the river water. Ser Kevan was said to be a comparatively acceptable Lannister man. He'd have to wait and see what time would bring.
After another minute or two, he descended from the battlements. There was a castle to rule and a broken-hearted young widow to solace – and Brynden knew he very much preferred the former task. He didn't know much about mourning women, and he had never been one to show his softer sides to console someone – perhaps with the sole exception of his dead niece.
“I hope Jeyne has finally eaten a bite. It won't do for her to starve herself to death,” he mused while he was desending the stony stairs.
Tywin was pinching the ridge of his nose and rose from his desk. It had been a long day, like usual. He had received a letter from his brother, who was supporting Ser Bonifer's previous reports. Allegedly, the former Hound had regained his eyesight to some extent, but was still too handicapped to fight in battle. But Kevan had pointed out that he ruled the castle well. Who would have thought that Sandor Clegane would ever make an acceptable lord? The man was of low birth , a second son, and thus didn't deserve the Harrenhal – but since the scarred warrior was doing such a good job where so many others had failed Tywin was willing to be pragmatic. There were more pressing matters at the forefront of his mind.
Since his departure, there had been no news from Tyrion. Well, that was hardly a surprise. Perhaps “no news” meant “good news”.
His thoughts wandered further, to his son and wife. Lady Brienne couldn't enjoy her pregnancy: she had water in her legs and her back was aching all the time. The woman, who was ugly to begin with, slowly looked as if she had swallowed a ball and was slowly developing a waddling gait.
Maester Tywin was already speculating loudly about twins – and so were the others at court. Well, as long as there was a healthy heir in the litter and as long as the children wouldn't give them as much sorrow as Cersei and Jaime had done with their unhealthy relationship the big woman could have as many cubs as her belly was able to hold.
What surprised Tywin was that – given Brienne's physical – state Jaime and his wife were still behaving like horny rabbits around each other. They clearly didn't care much about the rules of court life and were always touching and groping and fondling each other in one way or another. At night, there were often scandalous sounds to be heard in their bedroom. Servants had also been heard whispering of certain gadgets that were used by the spouses to enhance the lust. Well, those servants wouldn't contribute to the gossip any more.
Tywin scratched his head and tried to remember what intimacy had been like when his Joanna had been looking like a barrel before giving birth to his own twins. Damn, his recollections were blurred in that respect! It had been so long ago. Yet, Tywin was pretty sure their interactions had not involved... objects for lovemaking.
He hissed. It was time to have his personal servant bring him one of Chataya's women through the Hand's secret bedroom passage. It had been ages since he had taken care of his own needs.
When a dark-haired harlot arrived an hour later, Tywin recognized her as one who had already served him once. Good. He didn't need to lecture her about his terms of interaction: no mummer's show with loud moans, no wanton behaviour, no coloured cheeks or lips or nipples. Tywin always wanted to get straight to the core of what had to be done.
He pointed with his chin and said to the harlot: “The fur in front of the fire place. Kneel.”
The whore nodded and obeyed.
Some twenty or thirty minutes later, the woman had received her coin and was gone. Tywin felt partially relieved and something half-way close to contentment as he was sinking down into a late bath. Or an early one, rather.
His thoughts returned to the Riverlands.
He had given Kevan some instructions. Lord Edmure's life could be spared, either by sending him to the Wall or by making him a hostage in the capital or at Casterly Rock for life. Brynden Tully would be forced to take the Black for his role in the rebellion. The new castellan was supposed to be Lancel Lannister. Jeyne Westerling had to remarry, and soon. He had already given Ser Addam Marbrand order to do his duty in that respect.
The Freys were another problem. They had betrayed their “king”, so they couldn't be treated as allies. But Tywin had already thought about this and had contacted a man named Qyburn, a former maester who had been expelled from Oldtown because of his dubious experiments. These experiments, however, proved to be very handy now: the man had distilled the pathogen for an aggressive Greyscales variant that could kill off a castle population within a week. According to Qyburn, an outbreak at the Twins could be easily arranged, so he had sent the man on his way and had paid him decently.
The only thing left to do was to advise Genna and her offspring to leave the area in time.
When Tywin finally went to bed he felt that though there was always so much more to do a lot had been achieved over the last weeks and months.
“You may camp in front of Harrenhal, and you'll get some provisions. Lord Edmure and his wife can enter the castle ground.”
Sandor sounded bored – though he certainly wasn't.
“WHAT!? You won't give us lodgings after our voyage and after delivering the hostage? This is outrageous!”
The ferret-faced Frey man was turning red from anger, even Sandor could see as much.
The scarred Lord of Harrenhal smiled. He knew that his mouth was twitching and that his scars looked ghastly, and for once, he didn't mind.
“What do you expect, Frey? Guest right? Guessed wrong. I don't want to end like Robb Stark. Oh, and don't think of complaining or doing anything stupid while I'm here on the drawbridge: some twenty bows on the battlements are at the ready. You can camp outside and eat our food – and no, it's not poisoned, though it would make me pretty happy; or you buggers can turn on your mares and leave right away. ”
The party of Frey men cursed and swore, but since they were within reach for said arrows that were pointed at them they had to comply. Of course, there were some threats about the future, but Sandor didn't give a rat's arse.
When the drawbridge went up behind a very pallid Edmure Tully the lord of Riverrun addressed him and spoke: “I'd have never thought I'd say that, but thank you for giving me my first joyful moment since my wedding night, Clegane... Lord Clegane.”
At his side, his young wife Roslin blushed. As far as Sandor could tell with his bad eyesight she was an uncharacteristically pretty specimen of the Frey family. The lord himself had the typical auburn Tully hair colour, and Sandor's heart clenched in pain.
Thus, he could only rasp: “Harrenclegane it is now. And you'll have to excuse me. Ser Bonifer here will show you your room. There will always be a guard at your door or with you in the castle to keep up appearances. After all, you've got the status of a hostage.”
“I have understood...”
Lord Edmure didn't get any further, because Sandor had already turned and was stomping off to the stables. He needed to pass some time with Stranger.
Sansa – and Arya – had not returned, and Sandor's heart felt raw. His foul-spirited courser was the only companion he could abide now.
“The scarred bastard! Didn't let us into the castle!” Cerwyn Frey was raging.
Wellym eyed the group leader from the side. Obviously, Sandor Clegane really had got some brains. Only how this huge, ugly man... and elegant, delicate Sansa... it was impossible to picture them as spouses.
“We're going back in a moment's time. No need to endure those snobs' food. Soft Will, water the horses at the lake. Everybody take a piss and a shit against the castle walls, and then we'll return home.”
Wellym growled something unintelligible under his breath. The people had taken to calling him “Soft Will” ever since he had passed out from wine before the killing at the Red Wedding had started, and he knew well enough which other crucial order he had refused to carry out when he had come back to his senses and most of the fighting had already been over.
What nobody knew was that it had been his knife that had ended Roose Bolton's miserable life. Of THAT Wellym was proud in a grim way.
After a while, Cerwyn bellowed: “Everybody done pissing and shitting? Right, let's go then. And keep your eyes open. We didn't come across the Stark girls on the way here, perhaps we'll do so on the way back. And the rule is still: first come, first serve.”
The other men laughed in a lewd way.
Wellym only smiled, and it looked rancorous. Nobody noticed.
He commented inwardly: “I'll only let you rape the girls over my dead body.”
And he understood the exact meaning of his thoughts.