A Game of Thrones Chapter Seventy-one


It seemed a thousand years ago that Catelyn Stark had carried her infant son out of Riverrun, crossing the Tumblestone in a small boat to begin their journey north to Winterfell.And it was across the Tumblestone that they came home now, though the boy wore plate and mail in place of swaddling clothes.

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Robb sat in the bow with Grey Wind, his hand resting on his direwolf s head as the rowers pulled at their oars.Theon Greyjoy was with him.

Her uncle Brynden would come behind in the second boat, with the Greatjon and Lord Karstark.

Catelyn took a place toward the stern. They shot down the Tumblestone, letting the strong current push them past the looming WheelTower. The splash and rumble of the great waterwheel within was a sound from her girlhood that brought a sad smile to Catelyn’s face. From the sandstone walls of the castle, soldiers and servants shouted down her name, and Robb’s, and “Winterfell!” From every rampart waved the banner of House Tully: a leaping trout, silver, against a rippling blue-and-red field. It was a stirring sight, yet it did not lift her heart. She wondered if indeed her heart would ever lift again. Oh, Ned . . .

Below the WheelTower, they made a wide turn and knifed through the churning water. The men put their backs into it. The wide arch of the Water Gate came into view, and she heard the creak of heavy chains as the great iron portcullis was winched upward. It rose slowly as they approached, and Catelyn saw that the lower half of it was red with rust. The bottom foot dripped brown mud on them as they passed underneath, the barbed spikes mere inches above their heads. Catelyn gazed up at the bars and wondered how deep the rust went and how well the portcullis would stand up to a ram and whether it ought to be replaced. Thoughts like that were seldom far from her mind these days.

They passed beneath the arch and under the walls, moving from sunlight to shadow and back into sunlight. Boats large and small were tied up all around them, secured to iron rings set in the stone. Her father’s guards waited on the water stair with her brother. Ser Edmure Tully was a stocky young man with a shaggy head of auburn hair and a fiery beard. His breastplate was scratched and dented from battle, his blue-and-red cloak stained by blood and smoke. At his side stood the Lord Tytos Blackwood, a hard pike of a man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper whiskers and a hook nose. His bright yellow armor was inlaid with jet in elaborate vine-and-leaf patterns, and a cloak sewn from raven feathers draped his thin shoulders. It had been Lord Tytos who led the sortie that plucked her brother from the Lannister camp.

“Bring them in,” Ser Edmure commanded. Three men scrambled down the stairs knee-deep in the water and pulled the boat close with long hooks. When Grey Wind bounded out, one of them dropped his pole and lurched back, stumbling and sitting down abruptly in the river. The others laughed, and the man got a sheepish look on his face. Theon Greyjoy vaulted over the side of the boat and lifted Catelyn by the waist, setting her on a dry step above him as water lapped around his boots.

Edmure came down the steps to embrace her. “Sweet sister,” he murmured hoarsely. He had deep blue eyes and a mouth made for smiles, but he was not smiling now. He looked worn and tired, battered by battle and haggard from strain. His neck was bandaged where he had taken a wound. Catelyn hugged him fiercely.

“Your grief is mine, Cat,” he said when they broke apart. “When we heard about Lord Eddard . . . the Lannisters will pay, I swear it, you will have your vengeance.”

“Will that bring Ned back to me?” she said sharply. The wound was still too fresh for softer words. She could not think about Ned now. She would not. It would not do. She had to be strong. “All that will keep. I must see Father.”

“He awaits you in his solar,” Edmure said.

“Lord Hoster is bedridden, my lady,” her father’s steward explained. When had that good man grown so old and grey? “He instructed me to bring you to him at once.”

“I’ll take her.” Edmure escorted her up the water stair and across the lower bailey, where Petyr Baelish and Brandon Stark had once crossed swords for her favor. The massive sandstone walls of the keep loomed above them. As they pushed through a door between two guardsmen in fish-crest helms, she asked, “How bad is he?” dreading the answer even as she said the words.

Edmure’s look was somber. “He will not be with us long, the maesters say. The pain is . . . constant, and grievous.”

A blind rage filled her, a rage at all the world; at her brother Edmure and her sister Lysa, at the Lannisters, at the maesters, at Ned and her father and the monstrous gods who would take them both away from her. “You should have told me,” she said. “You should have sent word as soon as you knew.”

“He forbade it. He did not want his enemies to know that he was dying. With the realm so troubled, he feared that if the Lannisters suspected how frail he was . . . “

” . . . they might attack?” Catelyn finished, hard. It was your doing, yours, a voice whispered inside her. If you had not taken it upon yourself to seize the dwarf . . .

They climbed the spiral stair in silence.

The keep was three-sided, like Riverrun itself, and Lord Hoster’s solar was triangular as well, with a stone balcony that jutted out to the east like the prow of some great sandstone ship. From there the lord of the castle could look down on his walls and battlements, and beyond, to where the waters met. They had moved her father’s bed out onto the balcony.

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“He likes to sit in the sun and watch the rivers,” Edmure explained. “Father, see who I’ve brought. Cat has come to see you . . . “

Hoster Tully had always been a big man; tall and broad in his youth, portly as he grew older. Now he seemed shrunken, the muscle and meat melted off his bones. Even his face sagged. The last time Catelyn had seen him, his hair and beard had been brown, well streaked with grey. Now they had gone white as snow.

His eyes opened to the sound of Edmure’s voice. “Little cat,” he murmured in a voice thin and wispy and wracked by pain. “My little cat.” A tremulous smile touched his face as his hand groped for hers. “I watched for you . . . “

“I shall leave you to talk,” her brother said, kissing their lord father gently on the brow before he withdrew.

Catelyn knelt and took her father’s hand in hers. It was a big hand, but fleshless now, the bones moving loosely under the skin, all the strength gone from it. “You should have told me,” she said. “A rider, a raven . . . “

“Riders are taken, questioned,” he answered. “Ravens are brought down . . . ” A spasm of pain took him, and his fingers clutched hers hard. “The crabs are in my belly . . . pinching, always pinching. Day and night. They have fierce claws, the crabs. Maester Vyman makes me dreamwine, milk of the poppy . . . I sleep a lot . . . but I wanted to be awake to see you, when you came. I was afraid . . . when the Lannisters took your brother, the camps all around us . . . was afraid I would go, before I could see you again . . . I was afraid . . . “

“I’m here, Father,” she said. “With Robb, my son. He’ll want to see you too.”

“Your boy,” he whispered. “He had my eyes, I remember . . . “

“He did, and does. And we’ve brought you Jaime Lannister, in irons. Riverrun is free again, Father.”

Lord Hoster smiled. “I saw. Last night, when it began, I told them . . . had to see. They carried me to the gatehouse . . . watched from the battlements. Ah, that was beautiful . . . the torches came in a wave, I could hear the cries floating across the river . . . sweet cries . . . when that siege tower went up, gods . . . would have died then, and glad, if only I could have seen you children first. Was it your boy who did it? Was it your Robb?”

“Yes,” Catelyn said, fiercely proud. “It was Robb . . . and Brynden. Your brother is here as well, my lord.”

“Him.” Her father’s voice was a faint whisper. “The Blackfish . . . came back? From the Vale?”


“And Lysa?” A cool wind moved through his thin white hair. “Gods be good, your sister . . . did she come as well?”

He sounded so full of hope and yearning that it was hard to tell the truth. “No. I’m sorry . . . “

“Oh.” His face fell, and some light went out of his eyes. “I’d hoped I would have liked to see her, before . . . “

“She’s with her son, in the Eyrie.”

Lord Hoster gave a weary nod. “Lord Robert now, poor Arryn’s gone . . . I remember . . . why did she not come with you?”

“She is frightened, my lord. In the Eyrie she feels safe.” She kissed his wrinkled brow. “Robb will be waiting. Will you see him? And Brynden?”

“Your son,” he whispered. “Yes. Cat’s child . . . he had my eyes, I remember. When he was born. Bring him . . . yes.”

“And your brother?”

Her father glanced out over the rivers. “Blackfish,” he said. “Has he wed yet? Taken some . . . girl to wife?”

Even on his deathbed, Catelyn thought sadly. “He has not wed. You know that, Father. Nor will he ever.”

“I told him . . . commanded him. Marry! I was his lord. He knows. My right, to make his match. A good match. A Redwyne. Old House. Sweet girl, pretty . . . freckles . . . Bethany, yes. Poor child. Still waiting. Yes. Still . . . “

“Bethany Redwyne wed Lord Rowan years ago,” Catelyn reminded him. “She has three children by him.”

“Even so,” Lord Hoster muttered. “Even so. Spit on the girl. The Redwynes. Spit on me. His lord, his brother . . . that Blackfish. I had other offers. Lord Bracken’s girl. Walder Frey . . . any of three, he said . . . Has he wed? Anyone? Anyone?”

“No one,” Catelyn said, “yet he has come many leagues to see you, fighting his way back to Riverrun. I would not be here now, if Ser Brynden had not helped us.”

“He was ever a warrior,” her father husked. “That he could do. Knight of the Gate, yes.” He leaned back and closed his eyes, inutterably weary. “Send him. Later. I’ll sleep now. Too sick to fight. Send him up later, the Blackfish . . . “

Catelyn kissed him gently, smoothed his hair, and left him there in the shade of his keep, with his rivers flowing beneath. He was asleep before she left the solar.

When she returned to the lower bailey, Ser Brynden Tully stood on the water stairs with wet boots, talking with the captain of Riverrun’s guards. He came to her at once. “Is he—”

“Dying,” she said. “As we feared.”

Her uncle’s craggy face showed his pain plain. He ran his fingers through his thick grey hair. “Will he see me?”

She nodded. “He says he is too sick to fight.”

Brynden Blackfish chuckled. “I am too old a soldier to believe that. Hoster will be chiding me about the Redwyne girl even as we light his funeral pyre, damn his bones.”

Catelyn smiled, knowing it was true. “I do not see Robb.”

“He went with Greyjoy to the hall, I believe.”

Theon Greyjoy was seated on a bench in Riverrun’s Great Hall, enjoying a horn of ale and regaling her father’s garrison with an account of the slaughter in the Whispering Wood. “Some tried to flee, but we’d pinched the valley shut at both ends, and we rode out of the darkness with sword and lance. The Lannisters must have thought the Others themselves were on them when that wolf of Robb’s got in among them. I saw him tear one man’s arm from his shoulder, and their horses went mad at the scent of him. I couldn’t tell you how many men were thrown—”

“Theon,” she interrupted, “where might I find my son?”

“Lord Robb went to visit the godswood, my lady.”

It was what Ned would have done. He is his father’s son as much as mine, I must remember. Oh, gods, Ned . . .

She found Robb beneath the green canopy of leaves, surrounded by tall redwoods and great old elms, kneeling before the heart tree, a slender weirwood with a face more sad than fierce. His longsword was before him, the point thrust in the earth, his gloved hands clasped around the hilt. Around him others knelt: Greatjon Umber, Rickard Karstark, Maege Mormont, Galbart Glover, and more. Even Tytos Blackwood was among them, the great raven cloak fanned out behind him. These are the ones who keep the old gods, she realized. She asked herself what gods she kept these days, and could not find an answer.

It would not do to disturb them at their prayers. The gods must have their due . . . even cruel gods who would take Ned from her, and her lord father as well. So Catelyn waited. The river wind moved through the high branches, and she could see the Wheel Tower to her right, ivy crawling up its side. As she stood there, all the memories came flooding back to her. Her father had taught her to ride amongst these trees, and that was the elm that Edmure had fallen from when he broke his arm, and over there, beneath that bower, she and Lysa had played at kissing with Petyr.

She had not thought of that in years. How young they all had been—she no older than Sansa, Lysa younger than Arya, and Petyr younger still, yet eager. The girls had traded him between them, serious and giggling by turns. It came back to her so vividly she could almost feel his sweaty fingers on her shoulders and taste the mint on his breath. There was always mint growing in the godswood, and Petyr had liked to chew it. He had been such a bold little boy, always in trouble. “He tried to put his tongue in my mouth,” Catelyn had confessed to her sister afterward, when they were alone. “He did with me too,” Lysa had whispered, shy and breathless. “I liked it.”

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. There were tears in her eyes. She wiped them away angrily.

“Mother,” Robb said when he saw her standing there. “We must call a council. There are things to be decided.”

“Your grandfather would like to see you,” she said. “Robb, he’s very sick.”

“Ser Edmure told me. I am sorry, Mother . . . for Lord Hoster and for you. Yet first we must meet. We’ve had word from the south. Renly Baratheon has claimed his brother’s crown.”

“Renly?” she said, shocked. “I had thought, surely it would be Lord Stannis . . . “

“So did we all, my lady,” Galbart Glover said.

The war council convened in the Great Hall, at four long trestle tables arranged in a broken square. Lord Hoster was too weak to attend, asleep on his balcony, dreaming of the sun on the rivers of his youth. Edmure sat in the high seat of the Tullys, with Brynden Blackfish at his side, and his father’s bannermen arrayed to right and left and along the side tables. Word of the victory at Riverrun had spread to the fugitive lords of the Trident, drawing them back. Karyl Vance came in, a lord now, his father dead beneath the Golden Tooth. Ser Marq Piper was with him, and they brought a Darry, Ser Raymun’s son, a lad no older than Bran. Lord Jonos Bracken arrived from the ruins of Stone Hedge, glowering and blustering, and took a seat as far from Tytos Blackwood as the tables would permit.

The northern lords sat opposite, with Catelyn and Robb facing her brother across the tables. They were fewer. The Greatjon sat at Robb’s left hand, and then Theon Greyjoy; Galbart Glover and Lady Mormont were to the right of Catelyn. Lord Rickard Karstark, gaunt and hollow-eyed in his grief, took his seat like a man in a nightmare, his long beard uncombed and unwashed. He had left two sons dead in the Whispering Wood, and there was no word of the third, his eldest, who had led the Karstark spears against Tywin Lannister on the Green Fork.

The arguing raged on late into the night. Each lord had a right to speak, and speak they did . . . and shout, and curse, and reason, and cajole, and jest, and bargain, and slam tankards on the table, and threaten, and walk out, and return sullen or smiling. Catelyn sat and listened to it all.

Roose Bolton had re-formed the battered remnants of their other host at the mouth of the causeway. Ser Helman Tallhart and Walder Frey still held the Twins. Lord Tywin’s army had crossed the Trident, and was making for Harrenhal. And there were two kings in the realm. Two kings, and no agreement.

Many of the lords bannermen wanted to march on Harrenhal at once, to meet Lord Tywin and end Lannister power for all time. Young, hot-tempered Marq Piper urged a strike west at Casterly Rock instead. Still others counseled patience. Riverrun sat athwart the Lannister supply lines, Jason Mallister pointed out; let them bide their time, denying Lord Tywin fresh levies and provisions while they strengthened their defenses and rested their weary troops. Lord Blackwood would have none of it. They should finish the work they began in the Whispering Wood. March to Harrenhal and bring Roose Bolton’s army down as well. What Blackwood urged, Bracken opposed, as ever; Lord Jonos Bracken rose to insist they ought pledge their fealty to King Renly, and move south to join their might to his.

“Renly is not the king,” Robb said. It was the first time her son had spoken. Like his father, he knew how to listen.

“You cannot mean to hold to Joffrey, my lord,” Galbart Glover said. “He put your father to death.”

“That makes him evil,” Robb replied. “I do not know that it makes Renly king. Joffrey is still Robert’s eldest trueborn son, so the throne is rightfully his by all the laws of the realm. Were he to die, and I mean to see that he does, he has a younger brother. Tommen is next in line after Joffrey.”

“Tommen is no less a Lannister,” Ser Marq Piper snapped.

“As you say,” said Robb, troubled. “Yet if neither one is king, still, how could it be Lord Renly? He’s Robert’s younger brother. Bran can’t be Lord of Winterfell before me, and Renly can’t be king before Lord Stannis.”

Lady Mormont agreed. “Lord Stannis has the better claim.”

“Renly is crowned,” said Marq Piper. “Highgarden and Storm’s End support his claim, and the Dornishmen will not be laggardly. If Winterfell and Riverrun add their strength to his, he will have five of the seven great houses behind him. Six, if the Arryns bestir themselves! Six against the Rock! My lords, within the year, we will have all their heads on pikes, the queen and the boy king, Lord Tywin, the Imp, the Kingslayer, Ser Kevan, all of them! That is what we shall win if we join with King Renly. What does Lord Stannis have against that, that we should cast it all aside?”

“The right,” said Robb stubbornly. Catelyn thought he sounded eerily like his father as he said it.

“So you mean us to declare for Stannis?” asked Edmure.

“I don’t know,” said Robb. “I prayed to know what to do, but the gods did not answer. The Lannisters killed my father for a traitor, and we know that was a lie, but if Joffrey is the lawful king and we fight against him, we will be traitors.”

“My lord father would urge caution,” aged Ser Stevron said, with the weaselly smile of a Frey. “Wait, let these two kings play their game of thrones. When they are done fighting, we can bend our knees to the victor, or oppose him, as we choose. With Renly arming, likely Lord Tywin would welcome a truce . . . and the safe return of his son. Noble lords, allow me to go to him at Harrenhal and arrange good terms and ransoms . . . “

A roar of outrage drowned out his voice. “Craven!” the Greatjon thundered. “Begging for a truce will make us seem weak,” declared Lady Mormont. “Ransoms be damned, we must not give up the Kingslayer,” shouted Rickard Karstark.

“Why not a peace?” Catelyn asked.

The lords looked at her, but it was Robb’s eyes she felt, his and his alone. “My lady, they murdered my lord father, your husband,” he said grimly. He unsheathed his longsword and laid it on the table before him, the bright steel on the rough wood. “This is the only peace I have for Lannisters.”

The Greatjon bellowed his approval, and other men added their voices, shouting and drawing swords and pounding their fists on the table. Catelyn waited until they had quieted. “My lords,” she said then, “Lord Eddard was your liege, but I shared his bed and bore his children. Do you think I love him any less than you?” Her voice almost broke with her grief, but Catelyn took a long breath and steadied herself. “Robb, if that sword could bring him back, I should never let you sheathe it until Ned stood at my side once more . . . but he is gone, and hundred Whispering Woods will not change that. Ned is gone, and Daryn Hornwood, and Lord Karstark’s valiant sons, and many other good men besides, and none of them will return to us. Must we have more deaths still?”

“You are a woman, my lady,” the Greatjon rumbled in his deep voice. “Women do not understand these things.”

“You are the gentle sex,” said Lord Karstark, with the lines of grief fresh on his face. “A man has a need for vengeance.”

“Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied. “Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy . . . but I understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner, falsely accused of treason. We fought to defend ourselves, and to win my lord’s freedom.

“Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our reach. I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods. I want you safe, Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat. I want you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son. I want to write an end to this. I want to go home, my lords, and weep for my husband.”

The hall was very quiet when Catelyn finished speaking.

“Peace,” said her uncle Brynden. “Peace is sweet, my lady . . . but on what terms? It is no good hammering your sword into a plowshare if you must forge it again on the morrow.”

“What did Torrhen and my Eddard die for, if I am to return to Karhold with nothing but their bones?” asked Rickard Karstark.

“Aye,” said Lord Bracken. “Gregor Clegane laid waste to my fields, slaughtered my smallfolk, and left Stone Hedge a smoking ruin. Am I now to bend the knee to the ones who sent him? What have we fought for, if we are to put all back as it was before?”

Lord Blackwood agreed, to Catelyn’s surprise and dismay. “And if we do make peace with King Joffrey, are we not then traitors to King Renly? What if the stag should prevail against the lion, where would that leave us?”

“Whatever you may decide for yourselves, I shall never call a Lannister my king,” declared Marq Piper.

“Nor I!” yelled the little Darry boy. “I never will!”

Again the shouting began. Catelyn sat despairing. She had come so close, she thought. They had almost listened, almost . . . but the moment was gone. There would be no peace, no chance to heal, no safety. She looked at her son, watched him as he listened to the lords debate, frowning, troubled, yet wedded to his war. He had pledged himself to marry a daughter of Walder Frey, but she saw his true bride plain before her now: the sword he had laid on the table.

Catelyn was thinking of her girls, wondering if she would ever see them again, when the Greatjon lurched to his feet.

“MY LORDS!” he shouted, his voice booming off the rafters. “Here is what I say to these two kings!” He spat. ” Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too, I’ve had a bellyful of them.” He reached back over his shoulder and drew his immense two-handed greatsword. “Why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we married, and the dragons are all dead!” He pointed at Robb with the blade. “There sits the only king I mean to bow my knee to, m’lords,” he thundered. “The King in the North!”

And he knelt, and laid his sword at her son’s feet.

“I’ll have peace on those terms,” Lord Karstark said. “They can keep their red castle and their iron chair as well.” He eased his longsword from its scabbard. “The King in the North!” he said, kneeling beside the Greatjon.

Maege Mormont stood. “The King of Winter!” she declared, and laid her spiked mace beside the swords. And the river lords were rising too, Blackwood and Bracken and Mallister, houses who had never been ruled from Winterfell, yet Catelyn watched them rise and draw their blades, bending their knees and shouting the old words that had not been heard in the realm for more than three hundred years, since Aegon the Dragon had come to make the Seven Kingdoms one . . . yet now were heard again, ringing from the timbers of her father’s hall:

“The King in the North!”

“The King in the North!”


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