The scent of it set the horses to screaming. Dogs slid out from under the tables, sniffing. Men rose from the benches. The body in Ser Hosteen's arms sparkled in the torchlight, armored in pink frost. The cold outside had frozen his blood.
"My brother Merrett's son." Hosteen Frey lowered the body to the floor before the dais. "Butchered like a hog and shoved beneath a snowbank. A boy. "
Little Walder, thought Theon. The big one. He glanced at Rowan. There are six of them, he remembered. Any of them could have done this. But the washerwoman felt his eyes. "This was no work of ours," she said.
"Be quiet," Abel warned her.
Lord Ramsay descended from the dais to the dead boy. His father rose more slowly, pale-eyed, still-faced, solemn. "This was foul work." For once Roose Bolton's voice was loud enough to carry. "Where was the body found?"
"Under that ruined keep, my lord," replied Big Walder. "The one with the old gargoyles." The boy's gloves were caked with his cousin's blood. "I told him not to go out alone, but he said he had to find a man who owed him silver."
"What man?" Ramsay demanded. "Give me his name. Point him
out to me, boy, and I will make you a cloak of his skin."
"He never said, my lord. Only that he won the coin at dice." The Frey boy hesitated. "It was some White Harbor men who taught dice. I couldn't say which ones, but it was them."
"My lord," boomed Hosteen Frey. "We know the man who did this. Killed this boy and all the rest. Not by his own hand, no. He is too fat and craven to do his own killing. But by his word." He turned to Wyman Manderly. "Do you deny it?"
The Lord of White Harbor bit a sausage in half. "I confess ..." He wiped the grease from his lips with his sleeve. "... I confess that I know little of this poor boy. Lord Ramsay's squire, was he not? How old was the lad?"
"Nine, on his last nameday."
"So young," said Wyman Manderly. "Though mayhaps this was a blessing. Had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey."
Ser Hosteen slammed his foot into the tabletop, knocking it off its trestles, back into Lord Wyman's swollen belly. Cups and platters flew, sausages scattered everywhere, and a dozen Manderly men came cursing to their feet. Some grabbed up knives, platters, flagons, anything that might serve as a weapon.
Ser Hosteen Frey ripped his longsword from its scabbard and leapt toward Wyman Manderly. The Lord of White Harbor tried to jerk away, but the tabletop pinned him to his chair. The blade slashed through three of his four chins in a spray of bright red blood. Lady Walda gave a shriek and clutched at her lord husband's arm. "Stop," Roose Bolton shouted. "Stop this madness. " His own men rushed forward as the Manderlys vaulted over the benches to get at the Freys. One lunged at Ser Hosteen with a dagger, but the big knight pivoted and took his arm off at the shoulder. Lord Wyman pushed to his feet, only to collapse. Old Lord Locke was shouting for a maester as Manderly flopped on the floor like a clubbed walrus in a spreading pool of blood. Around him dogs fought over sausages. It took two score Dreadfort spearmen to part the combatants and put an end to the carnage. By that time six White Harbor men and two Freys lay dead upon the floor. A dozen more were wounded and one of the Bastard's Boys, Luton, was dying noisily, crying for his mother as he tried to shove a fistful of slimy entrails back through a gaping belly wound. Lord Ramsay silenced him, yanking a spear from one of Steelshanks's men and driving it down through Luton's chest. Even then the rafters still rang with shouts and prayers and curses, the shrieks of terrified horses and the growls of Ramsay'
s bitches. Steelshanks Walton had to slam the butt of his spear against the floor a dozen times before the hall quieted enough for Roose Bolton to be heard.
"I see you all want blood," the Lord of the Dreadfort said. Maester Rhodry stood beside him, a raven on his arm. The bird's black plumage shone like coal oil in the torchlight. Wet, Theon realized. And in his lordship' s hand, a parchment. That will be wet as well. Dark wings, dark words. "Rather than use our swords upon each other, you might try them on Lord Stannis."
Lord Bolton unrolled the parchment. "His host lies not three days' ride from here, snowbound and starving, and I for one am tired of waiting on his pleasure. Ser Hosteen, assemble your knights and men-at-arms by the main gates. As you are so eager for battle, you shall strike our first blow. Lord Wyman, gather your White Harbor men by the east gate. They shall go forth as well."
Hosteen Frey's sword was red almost to the hilt. Blood spatters speckled his cheeks like freckles. He lowered his blade and said, "As my lord commands. But after I deliver you the head of Stannis Baratheon, I mean to finish hacking off Lord Lard's."
Four White Harbor knights had formed a ring around Lord Wyman, as Maester Medrick labored over him to staunch his bleeding. "First you must needs come through us, ser,"
said the eldest of them, a hard-faced greybeard
whose bloodstained surcoat showed three silvery mermaids upon a violet field.
"Gladly. One at a time or all at once, it makes no matter."
"Enough, " roared Lord Ramsay, brandishing his bloody spear.
"Another threat, and I'll gut you all myself. My lord father has spoken!
Save your wroth for the pretender Stannis."
Roose Bolton gave an approving nod. "As he says. There will be time enough to fight each other once we are done with Stannis." He turned his head, his pale cold eyes searching the hall until they found the bard Abel beside Theon. "Singer," he called, "come sing us something soothing."
Abel bowed. "If it please your lordship." Lute in hand, he sauntered to the dais, hopping nimbly over a corpse or two, and seated himself cross-legged on the high table. As he began to play - a sad, soft song that Theon Greyjoy did not recognize - Ser Hosteen, Ser Aenys, and their fellow Freys turned away to lead their horses from the hall.
Rowan grasped Theon's arm. "The bath. It must be now."
He wrenched free of her touch. "By day? We will be seen."
"The snow will hide us. Are you deaf? Bolton is sending forth his swords. We have to reach King Stannis before they do."
"But ... Abel ..."
"Abel can fend for himself," murmured Squirrel.
This is madness. Hopeless, foolish, doomed. Theon drained the last dregs of his ale and rose reluctantly to his feet. "Find your sisters. It takes a deal of water to fill my lady's tub."
Squirrel slipped away, soft-footed as she always was. Rowan walked Theon from the hall. Since she and her sisters had found him in the godswood, one of them had dogged his every step, never letting him out of sight. They did not trust him. Why should they? I was Reek before and might be Reek again. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with sneak.
Outside the snow still fell. The snowmen the squires had built had grown into monstrous giants, ten feet tall and hideously misshapen. White walls rose to either side as he and Rowan made their way to the godswood; the paths between keep and tower and hall had turned into a maze of icy trenches, shoveled out hourly to keep them clear. It was easy to get lost in that frozen labyrinth, but Theon Greyjoy knew every twist and turning. Even the godswood was turning white. A film of ice had formed upon the pool beneath the heart tree, and the face carved into its pale trunk had grown a mustache of little icicles. At this hour they could not hope to have the old gods to themselves. Rowan pulled Theon away from the north-men praying before the tree, to a secluded spot back by the barracks wall, beside a pool of warm mud that stank of rotten eggs. Even the mud was icing up about the edges, Theon saw. "Winter is coming ..."
Rowan gave him a hard look. "You have no right to mouth Lord Eddard's words. Not you. Not ever. After what you did - "
"You killed a boy as well."
"That was not us. I told you."
"Words are wind." They are no better than me. We' re just the same.
"You killed the others, why not him? Yellow Dick - "
" - stank as bad as you. A pig of a man."
"And Little Walder was a piglet. Killing him brought the Freys and Manderlys to dagger points, that was cunning, you - "
"Not us. " Rowan grabbed him by the throat and shoved him back against the barracks wall, her face an inch from his. "Say it again and I will rip your lying tongue out, kinslayer."
He smiled through his broken teeth. "You won't. You need my tongue to get you past the guards. You need my lies."
Rowan spat in his face. Then she let him go and wiped her gloved hands on her legs, as if just touching him had soiled her. Theon knew he should not goad her. In her own way, this one was as dangerous as Skinner or Damon Dance-for-Me. But he was cold and tired, his head was pounding, he had not slept in days. "I have done terrible things ... betrayed my own, turned my cloak, ordered the death of men who trusted me ... but I am no kinslayer."
"Stark's boys were never brothers to you, aye. We know."
That was true, but it was not what Theon had meant. They were not my blood, but even so, I never harmed them. The two we killed were just some miller' s sons. Theon did not want to think about their mother. He had known the miller's wife for years, had even bedded her. Big heavy br**sts with wide dark ni**les, a sweet mouth, a merry laugh. Joys that I will never taste again.
But there was no use telling Rowan any of that. She would never believe his denials, any more than he believed hers. "There is blood on my hands, but not the blood of brothers," he said wearily. "And I've been punished."
"Not enough." Rowan turned her back on him.
Foolish woman. He might well be a broken thing, but Theon still wore a dagger. It would have been a simple thing to slide it out and drive it down between her shoulder blades. That much he was still capable of, missing teeth and broken teeth and all. It might even be a kindness - a quicker, cleaner end than the one she and her sisters would face when Ramsay caught them.
Reek might have done it. Would have done it, in hopes it might please Lord Ramsay. These whores meant to steal Ramsay's bride; Reek could not allow that. But the old gods had known him, had called him Theon. Ironborn, I was ironborn, Balon Greyjoy' s son and rightful heir to Pyke. The stumps of his fingers itched and twitched, but he kept his dagger in its sheath. When Squirrel returned, the other four were with her: gaunt grey-haired Myrtle, Willow Witch-Eye with her long black braid, Frenya of the thick waist and enormous br**sts, Holly with her knife. Clad as serving girls in layers of drab grey roughspun, they wore brown woolen cloaks lined with white rabbit fur. No swords, Theon saw. No axes, no hammers, no weapons but knives. Holly's cloak was fastened with a silver clasp, and Frenya had a girdle of hempen rope wound about her middle from her hips to br**sts. It made her look even more massive than she was. Myrtle had servant's garb for Rowan. "The yards are crawling with fools," she warned them. "They mean to ride out."
"Kneelers," said Willow, with a snort of contempt. "Their lordly lord spoke, they must obey."
"They're going to die," chirped Holly, happily. "Them and us,"
said Theon. "Even if we do get past the guards, how do you mean to get Lady Arya out?"