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Jaime meant to find out, as soon as he rid himself of these fetters.
He wore iron manacles on his wrists and a matching pair about his ankles, joined by a length of heavy chain no more than a foot long.
Of their escape from Riverrun, he recalled only bits and pieces. There had been some trouble with the gaoler, but the big wench had overcome him. After that they had climbed an endless stair, around and around. He remembered listening to Lady Catelyn command someone to raise the portcullis on the Water Gate.
He must have drifted off then. The wine had made him sleepy, and it felt good to stretch, a luxury his chains had not permitted him in the cell. Jaime had long ago learned to snatch sleep in the saddle during a march.
This was no harder. Tyrion is going to laugh himself sick when he hears how I slept through my own escape. He was awake now, though, and the fetters were irksome. Not wench. Not Kingslayer. Do you deny your sex? If so, unlace those breeches and show me. Casterly Rock got the worst of that bargain, Jaime reflected.
Ser Cleos looked like a weasel, fought like a goose, and had the courage of an especially brave ewe. Lady Stark had promised him release if he delivered her message to Tyrion, and Ser Cleos had solemnly vowed to do so. Swear that you will compel your brother to honor his pledge to return my daughters safe and unharmed. Swear on your honor as a knight, on your honor as a Lannister, on your honor as a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard.
Refuse, and I will have your blood. I wonder what the High Septon would have to say about the sanctity of oaths sworn while dead drunk, chained to a wall, with a sword pressed to your chest?
Not that Jaime was truly concerned about that fat fraud, or the gods he claimed to serve. He remembered the pail Lady Catelyn had kicked over in his cell.
A strange woman, to trust her girls to a man with shit for honor. Though she was trusting him as little as she dared. She is putting her hope in Tyrion, not in me. His captor took it wrong. Nor deaf. As glib of tongue as she is fair of face. How is it that you serve Robb of Winterfell? Be silent. I have no words for monsters. Hiding beneath the water, perhaps? In that thick of willows? And me without my sword! The wretched boy was spying on us. All Jaime had wanted was an hour alone with Cersei.
Their journey north had been one long torment; seeing her every day, unable to touch her, knowing that Robert stumbled drunkenly into her bed every night in that great creaking wheelhouse. Tyrion had done his best to keep him in a good humor, but it had not been enough. Tell me, wench, are all the women on Tarth as homely as you? I pity the men, if so. Perhaps they do not know what real women look like, living on a dreary mountain in the sea. Be quiet, monster, unless you mean to make me gag you.
Not many men dare name me monster to my face. Ser Cleos coughed nervously. The Starks cannot hope to defeat you with swords, ser, so now they make war with poisoned words. Jaime smiled knowingly. Men will read all sorts of things into a knowing smile, if you let them. Has cousin Cleos truly swallowed this kettle of dung, or is he striving to ingratiate himself?
What do we have here, an honest muttonhead or a lickspittle? Ser Cleos prattled blithely on. If truth be told, Jaime had come to rue heaving Brandon Stark out that window. Cersei had given him no end of grief afterward, when the boy refused to die. Instead he had kissed her. For a moment she resisted, but then her mouth opened under his. He remembered the taste of wine and cloves on her tongue. She gave a shudder. His hand went to her bodice and yanked, tearing the silk so her breasts spilled free, and for a time the Stark boy had been forgotten.
Had Cersei remembered him afterward and hired this man Lady Catelyn spoke of, to make sure the boy never woke? If she wanted him dead she would have sent me. And it is not like her to chose a catspaw who would make such a royal botch of the killing.
Downriver, the rising sun shimmered against the wind-whipped surface of the river. The south shore was red clay, smooth as any road. Smaller streams fed into the greater, and the rotting trunks of drowned trees clung to the banks. The north shore was wilder. High rocky bluffs rose twenty feet above them, crowned by stands of beech, oak, and chestnut. Jaime spied a watchtower on the heights ahead, growing taller with every stroke of the oars.
Long before they were upon it, he knew that it stood abandoned, its weathered stones overgrown with climbing roses. When the wind shifted, Ser Cleos helped the big wench run up the sail, a stiff triangle of striped red-and-blue canvas. Tully colors, sure to cause them grief if they encountered any Lannister forces on the river, but it was the only sail they had.
Brienne took the rudder. Jaime threw out the leeboard, his chains rattling as he moved. After that, they made better speed, with wind and current both favoring their flight. I will return with the girls or not at all. She fears me, even in irons. Leave the beard, but take the hair off my head.
A bald man with a filthy yellow beard may pass unnoticed. Cleos hacked away manfully, sawing and ripping his way through the mats and tossing the hair over the side. The golden curls floated on the surface of the water, gradually falling astern. As the tangles vanished, a louse went crawling down his neck.
Jaime caught it and crushed it against his thumbnail. Ser Cleos picked others from his scalp and flicked them into the water. Jaime doused his head and made Ser Cleos whet the blade before he let him scrape away the last inch of yellow stubble. When that was done, they trimmed back his beard as well.
The reflection in the water was a man he did not know. Not only was he bald, but he looked as though he had aged five years in that dungeon; his face was thinner, with hollows under his eyes and lines he did not remember. By midday, Ser Cleos had fallen asleep. His snores sounded like ducks mating.
Jaime stretched out to watch the world flow past; after the dark cell, every rock and tree was a wonder. A few one-room shacks came and went, perched on tall poles that made them look like cranes. Of the folk who lived there they saw no sign. Birds flew overhead, or cried out from the trees along the shore, and Jaime glimpsed silvery fish knifing through the water.
His cloak was tangled in the roots of a fallen tree, its color unmistakably Lannister crimson. He wondered if the corpse had been someone he knew. The forks of the Trident were the easiest way to move goods or men across the riverlands. But the war had taken its toll.
They sailed past villages, but saw no villagers.
An empty net, slashed and torn and hanging from some trees, was the only sign of fisherfolk. A young girl watering her horse rode off as soon as she glimpsed their sail. Later they passed a dozen peasants digging in a field beneath the shell of a burnt towerhouse. The men gazed at them with dull eyes, and went back to their labors once they decided the skiff was no threat.
Brienne seemed to have a keen eye for the dangers, though, and always seemed to find the channel. Tarth is an island. I learned to manage oars and sail before I ever sat a horse. I hope the wind lasts. The dungeons of Riverrun were not the cleanest place in the Seven Kingdoms. By now he must smell like an overripe cheese. Cleos squinted downriver.
It was rising from the south bank several miles on, twisting and curling. Below, Jaime made out the smoldering remains of a large building, and a live oak full of dead women. The crows had scarcely started on their corpses. The thin ropes cut deeply into the soft flesh of their throats, and when the wind blew they twisted and swayed. Crows need to eat as well. Stay to the river and leave the dead alone, woman. As Brienne lowered the sail, Jaime climbed out, clumsy in his chains.
The Red Fork filled his boots and soaked through the ragged breeches. Laughing, he dropped to his knees, plunged his head under the water, and came up drenched and dripping. His hands were caked with dirt, and when he rubbed them clean in the current they seemed thinner and paler than he remembered. His legs were stiff as well, and unsteady when he put his weight upon them. Brienne and Cleos dragged the skiff onto the bank.
The corpses hung above their heads, ripening in death like foul fruit. Jaime shuffled closer with small stutter steps, the only kind the foot-long chain permitted. When he saw the crude sign hung about the neck of the highest corpse, he smiled. I wonder who they were, these women? Some men of my escort spent the night here when we last returned to Riverrun. Smoke still rose from the ashes.
Jaime left brothels and whores to his brother Tyrion; Cersei was the only woman he had ever wanted. Perhaps served them food and drink. Lord Jonos might have ordered them killed.
My father burned his castle, I fear he loves us not. With his own hands, he cloaked me with the striped silk of the Rainbow Guard. You and six other girls, was it? A singer once said that all maids are fair in silk She walked amongst the leaves, dagger in hand, cutting down the corpses. Flies swarmed around the bodies as they fell, and the stench grew worse with each one she dropped. She jumped down rather than climbing. Be quick. Brienne shoved off with an oar and raised sail hurriedly.
The skiff began to cut the water a bit faster; current, wind, and oars all worked for them. Jaime sat chained, peering upriver.
Only the top of the other sail was visible. With the way the Red Fork looped, it looked to be across the fields, moving north behind a screen of trees while they moved south, but he knew that was deceptive. He lifted both hands to shade his eyes.
Once the pursuers swung around the loop they would become visible again. Tyrion could think of something clever now, but all that occurs to me is to go at them with a sword. For the good part of an hour they played peek-and-seek with the pursuers, sweeping around bends and between small wooded isles.
Ser Cleos paused in his stroke. With every stroke, it seemed to grow a little larger. More, if they crowded on fighters as well as rowers. And larger sails than ours. We cannot outrun her.
We ought to be able to kill a good many of them. More likely twenty or twenty-five. The best we can hope for is to die with swords in our hands. Jaime Lannister had never been afraid of death. Brienne broke off rowing. Sweat had stuck strands of her flax-colored hair to her forehead, and her grimace made her look homelier than ever.
He had to laugh at such fierceness. Or would be, if she had any teats to speak of. Or free me to protect myself. The water around her was churned white by the furious action of her oars. She was gaining visibly, the men on her deck crowding forward as she came on. Metal glinted in their hands, and Jaime could see bows as well.
He hated archers. At the prow of the onrushing galley stood a stocky man with a bald head, bushy grey eyebrows, and brawny arms. Over his mail he wore a soiled white surcoat with a weeping willow embroidered in pale green, but his cloak was fastened with a silver trout. In his day Ser Robin Ryger had been a notably tenacious fighter, but his day was done; he was of an age with Hoster Tully, and had grown old with his lord. When the boats were fifty yards apart, Jaime cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted back over the water.
The distance between skiff and galley had shrunk to forty yards. Four archers crowded into position on either side of him, two standing and two kneeling. One thudded into the mast, two pierced the sail, and the fourth missed Jaime by a foot. Brienne angled the skiff across the bend.
The yard swung as they turned, their sail cracking as it filled with wind. Ahead a large island sat in midstream. The main channel flowed right. To the left a cutoff ran between the island and the high bluffs of the north shore. Brienne moved the tiller and the skiff sheared left, sail rippling.
Jaime watched her eyes. Pretty eyes, he thought, and calm. He knew what fear looked like. She is determined, not desperate.
Thirty yards behind, the galley was entering the bend. They crossed the head of the island and turned sharply down the cutoff, sending a wash of water against the face of the bluff as the boat tilted.
The island was densely wooded, a tangle of willows, oaks, and tall pines that cast deep shadows across the rushing water, hiding snags and the rotted trunks of drowned trees. To their left the bluff rose sheer and rocky, and at its foot the river foamed whitely around broken boulders and tumbles of rock fallen from the cliff face.
The skiff rocked. He heard a soft splash, and when he glanced around, Brienne was gone. A moment later he spied her again, pulling herself from the water at the base of the bluff. She waded through a shallow pool, scrambled over some rocks, and began to climb. Ser Cleos goggled, mouth open. Fool, thought Jaime.
The river galley came into full view at the top of the cutoff, twenty-five yards behind. Her bow swung hard as she came around, and a halfdozen arrows took flight, but all went well wide. Brienne was halfway up the cliff face, pulling herself from handhold to handhold. What could you fear? The archers could scarcely have missed, but as they pulled on their longbows a rain of pebbles cascaded down around them. Small stones rattled on their deck, bounced off their helms, and made splashes on both sides of the bow.
Those who had wits enough to understand raised their eyes just as a boulder the size of a cow detached itself from the top of the bluff. Ser Robin shouted in dismay.
The stone tumbled through the air, struck the face of the cliff, cracked in two, and smashed down on them. The larger piece snapped the mast, tore through the sail, sent two of the archers flying into the river, and crushed the leg of a rower as he bent over his oar.
The rapidity with which the galley began to fill with water suggested that the smaller fragment had punched right through her hull. From the way they were splashing, neither man could swim. Jaime laughed. By the time they emerged from the cutoff, the galley was foundering amongst pools, eddies, and snags, and Jaime Lannister had decided that the gods were good.
Ser Robin and his thricedamned archers would have a long wet walk back to Riverrun, and he was rid of the big homely wench as well. I could not have planned it better myself.
Ser Cleos raised a shout. The crossbows took Donnel Locke, Owen Norrey, and half a dozen more. Young Ser Benfrey had seized Dacey Mormont by the arm, but Catelyn saw her grab up a flagon of wine with her other hand, smash it full in his face, and run for the door.
It flew open before she reached it. Ser Ryman Frey pushed into the hall, clad in steel from helm to heel. A dozen Frey men-at-arms packed the door behind him. They were armed with heavy long axes. By then men were pouring in the other doors as well, mailed men in shaggy fur cloaks with steel in their hands.
Hope blew out like a candle in a storm. In the midst of slaughter, the Lord of the Crossing sat on his carved oaken throne, watching greedily.
There was a dagger on the floor a few feet away. Perhaps it had skittered there when the Smalljon knocked the table off its trestles, or perhaps it had fallen from the hand of some dying man.
Catelyn crawled toward it. Her limbs were leaden, and the taste of blood was in her mouth. I will kill Walder Frey, she told herself. Jinglebell was closer to the knife, hiding under a table, but he only cringed away as she snatched up the blade. I will kill the old man, I can do that much at least. Then the tabletop that the Smalljon had flung over Robb shifted, and her son struggled to his knees.
He had an arrow in his side, a second in his leg, a third through his chest. Lord Walder raised a hand, and the music stopped, all but one drum. Catelyn heard the crash of distant battle, and closer the wild howling of a wolf. Grey Wind, she remembered too late. Seems we killed some of your men, Your Grace. You have repaid betrayal with betrayal, let it end. The drum went boom doom boom doom boom doom. My first son, and my last.
Let him go. Let him go and I swear we will forget this. I swear it by the old gods and new, we. But let Robb go. Robb, get up. Get up and walk out, please, please. Save yourself. Robb, walk out of here.
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