Mummers´ Show


Chapter 015





Brienne left Jaime spread on the deep layer of crispy new snow, crimson on white, like an oddly shaped stain of not so fresh blood made on a clean bedding.

She advanced towards the monster, sword in hand, obsidian pendant ready in her left hand. The dead girl who nursed Brienne back into health once, if only to prepare her for the hanging, did not move, but her sister did.

"M'lady, don't hurt Jeyne," Willow said, waddling towards Brienne as only a child could. "She cared for us. Kept us safe from others like her, please, m'lady."

The thing that was Jeyne gurgled and Brienne's blood boiled, remembering Lady Stoneheart when her ladyship commanded Jaime's death. Completely forgetting how her own death had also been ordered then.

Willow glanced at her sister. "No, sister, we can't send them away," she said. "The dead would get me if the blond m'lord walking on one leg didn't burn them all. We should thank them."

Jeyne made a step backwards and opened the door of the inn, gesturing towards the tree where Ser Shadrich was glowing blue from fear.

"M'lady, " Willow said, "you can come in with your men, but the ugly one in the tree cannot. If he sleeps up there, the other dead ones won't get to him, so says Jeyne."

Young Robert Arryn, full of sorrow, dropped his practice sword in the snow and started walking towards the oak where Ser Shadrich was perched. Jeyne screeched, Brienne advanced with her sword and Willow winced but she didn't lose her nerve to speak, this time to the sad boy.

"Where're you going?"

"I am a squire of the ugly one, my lady," said Robert Arryn to an embarrassed peasant girl who straightened her skirt, to look more like the lady she was just called upon to be. "I will obey your lady sister's wishes."

"I thought you were a falcon," Willow said before turning back to her sister. "Jeyne, he was the first one who wanted to save me."

The dead girl made another step back in and motioned them all to come inside.

"Willow," Brienne said calmly, not losing a grip on her weapon, "Gendry sent us to find you. Come with us! We will take you to him."

"Only if Jeyne can come too," the girl said without thinking twice.

"M'lady," said Benjen, the monk, "he's getting colder, the Kingslayer is. Might be we should go in. Could be more dead things crawling out of the woods. And talk about who goes where later."

"A dead thing is right there!" Brienne said without courtesy. She was interrupted by a nervous rippling of a once girlish voice directed to the inside of the hut, barking a non understandable command to someone else who had been hiding in there.

"My lady," said a cultivated voice, and a lad all dressed in wrinkled Lannister silks, crimson and gold, peeped from the door. He shivered from cold when he spoke. "My name is Josmyn, of House Peckledon. I am Ser Jaime's squire. The thing you call dead has saved us in the woods from others more dead than herself, and fed us in here for two days. She said it was not safe to go after the army left us. Here's also Paege and Piper and Blackwood, son of Lord Blackwood. And another boy that was with them outlaws, Edric Dayne. He'd been looking for Willow, but he couldn't find her until the ugly knight and his squire brought her here. She wandered away crying when Lady Stoneheart hanged Jeyne."

Brienne did not know what to think. The forest looked uninviting and bleak, the chill in the air oppressive and deadly. But the inn didn't look a single bit more inviting or safe. Young Lord Arryn made a decision for them all, when he returned towards Willow and bowed before her as though she were a great lady and he a hedge knight unworthy of her favour, and not the only living son and heir of one of the Great Houses of Westeros.

"Thank you for your hospitality, my lady," he said and walked to the inn door, entering with courage only a child can possess when it doesn't understand the extent of the danger. Willow looked at Brienne with huge dark eyes.

"Please, m'lady, for your friend, do not stay out, the other living dead are not far. The tunnel you used to come here is theirs by night. They fear the heart tree but not much else in the dark."

"Willow, you speak well for one so young," Brienne said.

"Gendry learned in King's Landing and taught us," she said. "He wanted to speak proper, to please a lady. But she didn't want him and she left."

"Which lady?" Brienne asked, remembering Sansa's bidding.

"It was only a girl, a bit older than me, and a bit younger than Jeyne," Willow said with dislike. "But she just accused Gendry of leaving her when it was her who left. Jeyne and me, we'd never leave Gendry. She had brown hair, colour of ash, and grey eyes, dead eyes. Fierce, she was. Dressed as a boy, and even so she was already growing beautiful. More beautiful than I will ever be."

So Gendry did come here with Arya Stark, Brienne concluded. The child could not invent this so convincingly.

The Lady of Tarth made her decision when she saw Jaime's face, turned ashen grey from the cold, his golden hair almost silver against the stark whiteness of the snow.

Brienne took Jaime in her arms, and brought him over the inn's doorstep, as one of the bawdy guests could carry a bride to the chamber for the bedding. Except that the bride did not blush, was somewhat dressed and perfectly unconscious, and the should-be-ribald guest carrying her was grim, and not prone to joking.

In a blur of fearful thoughts she hauled him upstairs until she stumbled into an empty room with a bed still made, and a cold hearth filled with dry firewood. It may have been the same one where Jeyne tended her wounds when Brienne had been captured by the Lady Stoneheart. When she laid Jaime down and turned around, she saw that the dead girl followed her, holding flint and steel in her hands, as well as a flagon smelling of something strong and nauseating. Jeyne pointed at the hearth, at the flagon and at Jaime, left her presents at the door and walked back.

Starting the fire came easy and its light made the world look less grey.

Jeyne cannot do it, Brienne realized, fire can kill her like the other walking dead. Be as it may, she barred the door and moved the rest of the sparse furniture to block it; a table, a chair, and her own sword. The window was small and placed higher than Ser Shadrich managed to climb in the tree, so it should do fine for the night.

Strongwine, Brienne concluded after smelling the second gift, against the cold. She pulled the cork off and pressed the cold glass to Jaime's mouth, pouring it in small amounts and in a very slow motion. She lifted his head on her arm, lest he choke from the stinky liquid, until a generous quantity safely found its way down his frozen throat.

The next guest who came calling was Benjen, confirming through closed door that their dead host had indeed taken in several living beings, all of them very young and not yet of age. All except Brienne, Benjen and Jaime. She'd told Benjen, Willow translating, that she could only protect the children, and only from the wights, not the walkers. So if the walkers came and broke into the inn that night, Jeyne said, then Brienne and the others should better try their luck in the tunnels of the old gods.

When Brienne thanked Benjen for the tidings and he left, the effects of strongwine made their appearance in a form of Jaime's last meal before they departed from the High Heart. The Lady of Tarth fought the disgust she felt and removed his tunic, careful not to smear the contents of his stomach in his hair, when one green eye went open and immediately closed again.

"It's funny," he said with both eyes closed and Brienne regretted she was not his sister, the blond goddess he surely wanted to see tending to his need. "The Hound does have the Lady Sansa, you know. Only he won't kill her. He's taking part in a mummers' show with her, can you imagine?"

Jaime laughed as if he were the Warrior himself, happy to conquer the lives of a mighty army of men. "Who could ever imagine that? The Hound's got the Lady Sansa... Even if it's Littlefinger pulling the strings of the fair lady, and not the burned dog..."

"The tall monk..." Brienne said, understanding dawning between her freckles.

"He didn't do it, Saltpans."

"I know," she said, remembering the men she and Gendry killed, certain that no other place would suffer the destiny of Saltpans. Not from Rory and Biter in any case. The thought filled her with a great sense of accomplishment, and her swollen lips curved into a huge confident smile.

"What else do you know, wench?" his voice sounded deeper than usual. Both green eyes shot open and looked in the direction of the flagon. "More, I beg you. It's been a while that I haven't tasted so vile a thing. But it makes my blood run again, and that seems to be a good thing now.

She held the flagon for him as he drank, uncertain if she were doing the right thing.

"Lord Arryn asked if you were a knight after you collapsed," she volunteered.

"Sweet wench. That's it. This is what I swore my Kingsguard vows for, to ride out, and protect children from harm, and women, and shy maidens. Wait, where are my manners? You are a knight as well, aren't you? Then why is it only me getting the knight's medicine?" he said pushing the flagon to her hands.

Then he added, more gently, "You must be cold as well, my lady."

And she was. She just didn't have time to notice it yet. She pulled away from him realising her teeth were making a strange clicking sound, and she could barely feel her sword hand fingers as her own. The fire from the hearth cast soft shadows over his naked chest, part singed and barren, part covered with soft blond hairs, like a head of a baby.

"Oh, I know," he said in a dark tone, shooting way off the target. "You think that I bedded my sister here. I might have. King Robert liked to travel."

The image his words caused was too much for Brienne who smelled the flagon and shivered, wishing she had just let him rest in peace in the maidenly white snow.

"And you know what else?" he said, getting off bed, snatching the strongwine out or her hands and giving it a good pull. "I should have bedded you instead of being stupid enough to fight you. When I was still man enough. With two hands."

"I should have been born a man," she said sternly, "then you would have fought me with no regrets and later on you would have left me to die."

"Whatever you say," he snorted, seemingly offended.

She willed her shaking away and walked back to him, yanking the flagon out of his hand with as much tenderness as when she pressed Loras Tyrell hard to the ground, only to win a short-lived place in King Renly's Kingsguard.

The liquid smelled and tasted vile, she concluded, amazed all the while that a man such as Jaime could think of himself as less than one. She drank some more to chase away the uncomfortable thought that he started mocking her just like her failed suitors did, and she didn't want to beat him bloody because he was, well, Jaime.

She didn't know how she ended between blankets. A fur was tossed over her and her boots and breeches, still wet from snow, were blessedly gone. She sprawled on her stomach. A long leg curled over her calves, an arm around her waist. A press of lips under her hair, near the left ear, was an unexpected gift. It was as she always imagined a man's touch could be before she had had her share of failed marriage offers; bold, yet maddeningly sweet, just like a great duel with no winner.

"Brienne," he said. "I missed you. Did you miss me, if only a little bit?"

Lady Brienne of Tarth firmly believed that the last words of Ser Jaime Lannister were nothing but a beautiful dream she was having after an exhausting day.

Elder Brother

"You have to admire the man," Mance Rayder said to the Elder Brother, observing how Lord Baelish greeted Ser Bonifer Hasty, the most pious leader of the garrison guarding Harrenhal. Littlefinger's mouth was more filled with praise of the Seven than the narrow sea was of water. "He has a way out of every situation," the Northman continued. "Impressive, I'd say. We should learn from him."

"I'd rather not," Elder Brother disagreed in few choice words, wondering why he felt less talkative than ever in his life of the servant of the Seven, since he woke up from his slumber at the High Heart. Speaking to people he knew proved more demanding than giving out seven blessings to the unknown soldiers. So he blessed, and blessed, and blessed some more, and kept silent in the presence of the Hound, the singer, and the Lady Stark.

The Hound had first saved his life in Pennytree, and the Elder Brother returned the favor by chance, and a lucky strike of his dagger. Then the Hound saved him again, in the firepit, as surely as the winter had come. The Elder Brother did not know what to make of this repeated gesture of a sworn killer, by his own words and beliefs.

"We have glimpsed foul things in the wood, my lord," Ser Bonifer said, expecting guidance from the rightful master of Harrenhal, "wolves and worse at night, things such as have never walked these lands."

"The Seven will surely save us all," Baelish bleated, dismounting with difficulty for his lack of arm. "Good ser, do join me for supper later on. Ser Daven, would you come as well?"

As if the Seven could do it all by themselves when men cannot, thought the Elder Brother, thankful he had not been included in the kind supper invitation, wondering where the heretic thought doubting the omnipotence of the Seven had come from. I am different now, he thought. He knew it in his heart but he could not pinpoint where the distinction resided. He touched his head and felt the stubble of hair around his ears growing longer. He would have to ask men for a razor to get rid of it, when they settled in the castle for the night.

"Elder Brother," the singer called on to him in the yard. "Could you take my role of a master of the show since we have come to the scene where I join in as a player. I will read the role of Lord Howland Reed even if I am much stronger in stature. I'll walk on my knees most of the time and hide this difference with my cloak."

"It looks like the prompter is not available," the monk complained curtly.

"I don't need him," Mance said. "It are my words, I know them best of all. And the Lady Sansa remembers fast."

They settled to rehearse on one of the wallwalks of Harrenhal, amidst the scorched walls, too many feet above the ground. Not as high as the Wall up north, but very high still.

The dragonfire was long gone, but the masonry still loomed black and ominous, melted like a giant tallow candle. The view of the forest far away in the distance, through the narrow openings for archers, showed only a dark green expanse of unwelcoming kind. At least the trees still have most of their leaves over there, thought the Elder Brother. The Lady Sansa inspected the woods searching for something, and Sandor Clegane had climbed with them, following in the Elder Brother's steps as a sworn shield, although he was not needed at the scene.

"Reed went with Stark to Dorne when the kingdom was won, didn't he?" the Elder Brother had to ask, overwhelmed by a sudden curiosity, not knowing why the plot of the silly show had caught his interest.

"He did. And the kingdom was won… or lost, some would say," the singer insinuated in a glum voice.

"To say it was lost would be treason," the Elder Brother warned, but his need to learn lingered. "Have you met the man?" he had to ask Mance. "He is one of the few men in Westeros I should very much like to meet. How is he? The tales say the crannogmen don't allow anyone to see them if they don't want to be seen, and that their seat, the Greywater Watch, never stands still. It's always on the move, between the marshes of the Neck swerving with lizard lions, lost to all but a chosen few."

"I guess he wanted to be seen by me," Mance said. "My pardons, Elder Brother, but why is the business of the old gods, with all respect towards your southron faith."

"The old gods," the Elder Brother repeated and remembered himself, barely over twenty, standing in the godswood somewhere in the south. It was a memory he never had before and he wondered why any of his two failed marriages would be celebrated in front of the old gods at all. It was not very common in the fertile fields of Highgarden where he came from.

"Good sers," Sansa said, "let us be over with this. I long for some refreshment before it turns dark."

"The lady is right," Mance said and lay sideways in front of the parapet of the wallwalk, next to one of the larger openings in the outer wall. The blue of the lake below and the grey sky above him framed the scene, the nature borrowing its majesty to help the players.

The Elder Brother could not tear his eyes away from the lake. God's Eye. It reminded him of wooing a maiden on the shores of one, somewhere in his youth, acting every single bit like Florian the Fool. Even if he forgot how being in love felt, and the memory, like all he remembered from before, lacked any taste or colour.

Lady Sansa approached Mance, wearing her mask.

"Good ser, who do you serve? I should accompany you to a maester to treat your injuries. The three squires who attacked you were most unkind."

"I owe fealty to Lord Rickard Stark, Warden of the North. I am his bannerman. And I serve no one, for I am a lord of my people despite my young age. Lord Howland Reed, of Greywater Watch, if it pleases you, my lady."

"I am Lady Lyanna Stark, Lord Rickard's only daughter. By the old gods, I have a duty to see that my father's bannerman gets the help he may need."

"Lady Lyanna, may I be excused for saying so, but I have heard that your prowess with a lance surpasses your beauty."

"How would you know of that?"

"I have seen you joust, in my dreams. Have you heard of the green dreams, my lady?"

"Old Nan told us about them, the bringers of portents of things to come. What have you dreamed about me, my lord? Shall I have a long, happy life and bear healthy children to my lord husband?" Lyanna asked with a tad of mocking.

"None of that, my lady. A child you will bear, but in great suffering."

Lyanna made a step backward, and the Elder Brother felt he should interfere. "She is not afraid of Reed. Lyanna Stark was fearless about her destiny. All history scrolls agree on that. That is perhaps why she died. Singer, repeat the last part, so that the lady can react better."

Mance spoke about her suffering again, and Lyanna didn't move when she replied in a voice forged of ice. "I have always known that my destiny only contained coldness, honour and duty. There is no sense in wishing it were any different. But I tell you now, Lord Reed, in this tourney you shall see me wield a lance, and the squires who attacked you will learn their manners. On my honour as a Stark. I swear it by the blood I share with the First Men. "

"And I swear it by the bronze and iron, I swear it by the ice and fire, Lady Lyanna, if you do what you say, your suffering shall start. Are you willing to embark on the path that this would open before you?"

"If your dreams had been green in truth, then that path is mine to take, whether it is my will to walk upon it or not," Lyanna said decisively.

"Young maidens should dream of happiness, not of vengeance and embracing pain."

"I do dream of happiness, my lord, but it is only that, a dream. For if I pluck it for myself, it will mean the torment of others, more noble than I. Have you seen Princess Elia, my Lord? She is as innocent as gods have ever made a woman. Would that I could be like her; soft, gentle, and kind. Would that I have never touched a lance, or left my father's solar for the training yard of men."

"Princess Elia and you may be more different than night and day, my lady, but that does not make you undeserving of happiness. One day you will remember my words."

The Elder Brother said, "That was better. If I may add as a scholar, Elia was a magnificent woman, and a true princess, but Lyanna, from all stories of her, she had the bearing of a queen. She just never realized it herself before she died."

"A proper little lady," Sandor Clegane commented. "But if she was born a beggar, she'd die like one, no matter the bearing. Such is the will of the Seven you love so dearly, Elder Brother. To keep us caged, and well in our place."

"And what would you know about the ladies?" Mance asked, helping Lady Sansa down the lower step of the outer wall. She had climbed on it to perform better, or to see more clearly whatever she was looking for in the woods. The Elder Brother wondered what it was, finding her similar to the white trees of the north; slender, skin pale like their bark, and hair matching the strident colour of the sad weirwood eyes.

"You've never had a wife, haven't you, what, with being a monk in the south?" the northerner would not let Brother Gravedigger in peace.

"No wife and no lands," Sandor Clegane said with sincerity. "Only two arms and a face of a Stranger. It's more than enough on most days."

"A woman can heal a man from almost any suffering," the singer said gravely. "What do you think, Elder Brother? You were married, I understand, before Robert's Rebellion."

"Twice," he replied and knew that the singer had it right because he was familiar with the facts of his own life. And yet, as always, he tried hard to remember how his wives looked, but as every time, he could not. The Trident gave him back his life but it also took its toll. He would never remember his previous existence as he had lived it and experienced it, only a dry account in his memories of what he knew happened to him, devoid of any real human sentiment. "But it was so long ago that I have nothing to say on the matter."


The Hound descended from the walls alone, in strides so large that they would shame giants.

The knowledge that he had spent the last night of the long summer seated next to Sansa Stark made him wild, and willing to break somebody's neck for pure enjoyment, so he was best set to avoid the company of others. He'd been wide awake and aching, gazing at the stream, spying at her gracious hands grasping pebbles, driven mad by the rustling of her skirts mingled with the quiet sound of running water. He smelled the freshness of things still green, still alive, more acutely than ever since he was a small child and his face was still his. The mild air caressed his skin and his burns, with sweet promises of more nights to come.

Except that they will never come, won't they now? he mused, his thoughts black, his grey gaze even darker.

He decided to scout the insides of Harrenhal, counting the soldiers, the number and the positions of the guards, and most importantly the exits. Sandor Clegane did not believe in curses and Harrenhal was the place like any other. But with the large part of the Lannister army roaming around, it was better to be prepared. His hardened battle senses were on the rise ever since they glimpsed the tall towers of the castle. He even noticed some of Gregor's men in the surviving portion of the Kingslayer's troops when they were still on their way. While he didn't share the singer's horseshit view about the gods forsaking Harrenhal, the gnats currently within it were capable enough of committing brave deeds that would make the gods avert their heads in revulsion, without any help from the Stranger himself.

Having a task was good because it gave him a pause to think, a break in his poisoned condition. His being was full of Sansa, and the Hound was more unsettled than ever.

She knew what you wanted, dog, he told himself. Probably any woman would by the look of misery on your face. She knew what was on your mind when the Blackwater burned as well. Except kissing her was not everything what was passing through your head, then. A kiss was the only thing you desired, the only thing you would have taken if she could only look at you. But it was not all that you thought about, was it, dog? You thought of other things as well, and it makes you the sickest bastard in the Seven Kingdoms. Even if you would not have done it, you still thought of it, if only for a moment. Face it, dog, you are no better than Gregor. You thought of making her yours so that no one else could do it, so that no one could take your mark away from her. She wouldn't even get it back then, but now she would. She'd know now what it was you wanted. And if she could see in that sick part of your mind, she'd never let you near her again, her tiny hands, her lovely neck, her hair that smells of flowers and blessed oblivion…

He passed the large inner courtyard where a wooden dais still stood next to the castle walls. It must have been a gibbet in use not that long ago. Dried blood and torn pieces of rope could still be seen on the thick wooden boards. A well was standing close by, but the thought that anyone could drink from it made him uneasy. A fit stage for tomorrow's reading, no doubt, Sandor thought. We should rehearse the bloody tourney of Lord Whent on it. He noted that the yard was a perfect trap. Far from the well guarded castle gates which were an insurmountable obstacle of their own, with almost no space to retreat if the enemy would approach it from more sides. One could only jump into the well or run upon one's own blade to choose swift death.

He slipped behind the dais and found a servant's door to the castle, leading to a narrow corridor. The passage joined a much a broader one on the right hand side, which went up to the higher levels of the tower. "The Kingspyre Tower," he heard the servants saying.

Sandor Clegane returned to the door and faced a very narrow tunnel on the left hand side he didn't see before, because it was so low that he had to bow and almost crawl to squeeze his oversized body through the opening and continue further. I would not be able to this in my armour, he thought, grateful that the Faith stripped him of that. It made him inconspicuous after so many years of being feared, and it had been a welcome change. After the opening, the corridor became higher and wider so he could walk normally and his thoughts wandered away from his body to more overwhelming matters.

She let you kiss her neck and her hands, he thought, she saw through you and commanded you to do it, the dog as you are. But if a highborn woman allowed or asked for such things, mostly it meant she wanted to be courted. It's what he heard people say in the Lannister household when he was still a squire. The word dawned on him and drummed in his head, imposing as the sound of bells calling men to arms in Casterly Rock, announcing another raid of the ironborn to Lannisport. And the soldiers went knowing that many would find death.

By the time he had reached the dungeons in his wandering, his thoughts were even blacker than the untouched darkness they contained. They stretched for leagues under the castle or so it seemed, and they must have been populated by people not that long ago, judging by all kinds of remains in some of the cells he didn't wish to dwell on: the link between the gibbet and the dirty cells silently explained.

He found several tunnels leading towards the outer walls, if his sense of the measure of space had not been playing tricks on him. Sandor Clegane followed two of them to the dead end of masonry, rubble and moss, but the stones at the end of the third one could be moved if one was strong enough, and the Hound certainly was. Behind a pair of loose blocks he could glimpse a yellow field, and a few lonely tall trees standing on a hill, with their top branches still bathed in the last sunlight of the day.

A way out, he thought. He laboured in the dark to widen the passage until the dimness of dusk illuminated the prison of Harrenhall with the grey gloom of winter, and he would be able to get out reasonably fast if he wanted. He put the loose stones back on their place, and hid what he did with rubble so that even a pair of sharp and very watchful guard eyes from the battlements would not see anything but the thick wall.

How do your court a woman? By bringing flowers? The Hound laughed inwardly at the stupid suggestion he could do anything like that. You tell them how lovely they are when you don't mean it at all, that's the way of it. Many a time he heard the handsome knights boosting about their bedchamber conquests in the winesinks, so he could pretty much repeat the range of the silly words that seemed to have a way of working with women. Something about their hair shining like a sun, to start with.

Except that Sansa's hair shone ten times brighter than the sun, and he wished he did not find her more beautiful than any lady he had ever seen, so that sweet lies would come easy to him, if only they could make her look at his miserable face with anything else but rejection.

He traced several times back and forth the fastest way from the dungeons exit to the castle level, coming finally out to the yard from a broad corridor leading to the upper parts of the tower. A crystal laugh of the little bird could be heard from above, shedding a dazzling light of her voice into the bottomless pond of darkness of his being.

What is it then, to court a woman? he thought feverishly, and for a brief moment he wanted to do it. The silly words and the fading flowers, everything. He should have learned as a boy but he never thought he would need that particular art. Not for himself, in any case. But his mind now told him differently. She didn't only allow you to kiss her hands, she asked you to keep her company. That's what the ladies ask of their knights, is it not? Bloody songs and cursed little lies…

Baelish did not forget to invite her to supper, did he? Sandor Clegane thought and the poison of hatred ran strong through his veins one more time. She had been his as well, she must have been.

So what will you do, miserable dog? Court a woman wed? And to the Imp of all people. How low can you fall? As if she needs a rabid cur for company… he scorned himself, melting in the shadow of one of the walls, quiet and dangerous as a statue of a stone dragon about to come to an eerie life. He just stood there, when a party of lords descended from the tower, to better hear what they were saying.

Little bird was on Ser Daven's arm and the Hound could not miss how the Littlefinger occasionally praised Ser Daven's bravery and sweet-talked Ser Bonifer, the great oaf in the service of the Seven. The absence of the Elder Brother whose rank was only surpassed by the High Septon in the hierarchy of the Faith was in itself a very telling thing.

The Hound's count of soldiers and guards led to another worrying conclusion that the knights of the House Corbray who changed their loyalty to the singer. just like the few surviving monks, were scattered and put to do duties as much away from each other as the huge ruins of Harrenhal allowed.

It did not bode well. Perhaps the singer was right and they should have never come to Harrenhal, cursed or not. The Elder Brother would never see it in his goodness, and Mance did not see it in his obsession with the show, but Sandor Clegane could not miss the signs of a good fight brewing. Baelish did not only come to take possession of his property. He came to reaffirm his possession of Sansa and of young Lord Arryn whenever the Kingslayer returned him. As a caring watchful father. Bloody bastard! Even my own father did better than that, thought the Hound, he did let Gregor get away with things and he'd paid for it with his life in the end, but he cared for all three of us in his own way.

When he could not hear Sansa any more, he walked to the outer wall to continue his tour. By the morning his greatsword would be honed. Whatever came his way, Sandor Clegane would be ready.


Sansa was happy to lose Ser Daven as soon as the propriety allowed it and to retire for the night. The castle was grand and empty, with draught coming from the walls and crevices, from chambers whose vaults had been burnt away and never rebuilt. I could never feel warm here, she thought, not even in the middle of the summer, much less now, at the turn of the seasons.

But she had felt warm the night before by the river, in the company of one of the most vicious men in Westeros, enjoying the silence and the last breath of summer. The Hound seemed tense and brooding, but at least he did not speak to spoil the beauty of the night with unpleasant truths. It was a kindness, she thought. They stayed together until the hour of the wolf, when she returned to her pallet and he just walked behind her like a ghost.

Sansa's room in Harrenhal was on the second floor of the Wailing Tower, from the looks of it recently repaired and put back to use, right next to Ser Bonifer's, who occupied one of the best and the most spacious rooms as the commander of the garrison, and Petyr wanted someone with soldier instincts to watch her steps. But Sansa had once been Alayne and bastard born, even if for a short time, so she donned her thin slippers and hid her hair in a cloak, escaping to the armoury as soon as no sound of boots could be heard in the long deserted corridors of the castle. Her feet carried her down the great stone stairs like wings, flying on the giddiness that came upon her since the night at the river, an unrest of bubbling joy and strange hopes for the future.

She didn't know why she had to go to the armoury, but the sensation she must was as strong and compelling as when she rode to face the dead. Nymeria was in the woods, she could sense her nearing Harrenhal. Stay away, she thought. Don't come out of the forest and near men who can hurt you like they did with Lady. The castle was full of soldiers. There was barely room for every man to sleep under a roof not ruined by fire. A pack of wolves, no mater how large, would not be a match for men with their steel and torches in the open fields.

The door creaked when she pushed it open. Closing it behind her, she considered lighting a candle, wavered the thought away, and let the moonlight illuminate her path. Weapons, old and new, of all sorts, stared at her from the walls and lay in front of her on the ground. Daggers and axes, swords and lances, shields and helms, and pieces of armour. Most of them had seen better days, or were simply abandoned, with no tales of grand tourneys and victories to tell.

Sansa walked several times up and down, unsure of what she'd been looking for. Something stirred in the far corner under the window, but she first dismissed it as a bat nesting in the high wooden beams of the armoury's ceiling.

Her search proved fruitless so she turned towards the perceived movement and followed it, having no other clue. It has to be here, she concluded, whatever it is.

It was not a bat that moved, nor a spider, but a small black raven who must have lost its way. The bird croaked on the ceiling beam when she walked slowly towards it and to the pile of weapons under the place where it fluttered, shrieking every now and then to catch her attention. When she neared the bird, it spread its wings and flew out through the crevices high up the wall as if it had never been there in the first place. So much for guidance I sought, she thought, blaming herself for a silly girl, a dove, as Queen Cersei would say.

I imagined it all and who knows what would have happened when I rode away from everyone if the Hound did not come. A woman's lot is all there is. There is nothing else, only that. To give my hand in marriage to the highest bidder for my claim, hoping he will not be too unkind.

An object caught her attention, a tourney lance, but not quite long enough, almost as if it was made for a crannogman, or a woman... Sansa fancied it to be Aunt Lyanna's even if she knew it could not be. Aunt Lyanna only came to Harrenhal to watch the tourney of Lord Whent, and she would not be allowed to wield a lance in the company of her betrothed, her father and her brothers. The songs and I, she thought, I really should know better by now. But even as she scorned herself, her head was already somewhere in the clouds, fantasising about her aunt, a beautiful noble lady with Arya's eyes and with Sansa's height, proudly challenging the knights of the kingdom to a joust, her hair colour of dark ash like Jon's blowing in the wind.

"A beautiful item, that," the voice of the singer said and Sansa startled. "Well crafted. You should ask one of your southron knights though to tell you if it's any good for jousting. I can't tell you that. Never ran with the lance in my whole life."

He must have been seated in the darkness for a very long time and observed her when she entered.

"It could be Aunt Lyanna's, by the length," Sansa gave voice to her thoughts.

"Take it then. I was also looking for some weapons we could use in the show. No one here has much use for these it seems, best if we just take what we want. Lord Baelish will not miss the old metalwork too much, I'd reckon."

"His weapon is his tongue," Sansa said quietly. "Have you find something as well?"

"A few useful pieces of armour, here and there. I know something about that although I never wore one. Nothing large enough to fit our Rhaegar. We should ask Gendry to reshape them a bit with his art, but somehow I doubt he will be willing."

"Would this fit?" Sanda picked up a black breastplate from the floor, realizing as soon as she did it that it was not broad enough for the Hound and it lacked in height as well, even if the man who wore it once must have been tall, like the singer or the Elder Brother, taller than Petyr or even Ser Jaime. She almost dropped the plate when she realized that the Hound from her dreams, who was an absent measure for other men in her life, had become so real. And there was more to it, she retained so much of him with her furtive looks here and there when they travelled or read in the past days, that she could be quite confident in judging his height and width compared to most other things.

"I doubt. We'd need a giant armour. But they don't wear them either, you know. And they speak a language of their own."

"Have you seen giants? Where?" Sansa had to ask.

"You know or you suspect where I really come from. You know where Jon went from Winterfell, don't you?"

Sansa imagined a white vastness laid with snow where men had no laws, and the giants walked freely among them. She heard that the Wall kept those people out of the realm, for they were dangerous, and wild. And for the first time she wondered, after everything she had been through, if the use of the Wall may have been also in protecting those people, the wildlings, from the ruthlessness of the great lords and great ladies of Westeros, involved in their game of thrones.

"There are giants over there? Beyond the Wall?" she asked in awe, thinking that this was how Arya must have felt when she went exploring the woods around Winterfell with their brothers without their father's permission, and Sansa stayed in the castle like a good girl and practiced her needlework.

Nothing wrong with that either, she thought proudly, it saved Gendry's life if the Elder Brother didn't lie.

"Giants and direwolfs, mountain eagles and snow bears, wargs and skinchangers, and foul things, of late."

"Here," she said, handing him the breastplate "take it for the show. Maybe it would fit Ser Jaime."

"It's black," the singer said. "The colour of the House Targaryen. Dayne should wear the white armour of the Kingsguard that Ser Jaime happens to possess if he ever cares to join our mummery again. Something tells me he will not if he can choose otherwise. You keep it. It's good steel. We can sell it in King's Landing if we find no use for it."

"So you came south to look for help haven't you? Jon sent you, or asked you to go, didn't he?" she inquired, breathless at her new understanding of the singer's purpose.

"Aye, Sansa. Part of the way, at least."

"You may discover there is no help to be found over here," she said, "only sweet lies."

"The truth is always hidden somewhere beneath them," he replied in earnest, "you just have to dig long and deep enough to find it."