And Drogon ...
The winged shadow, the grieving father called him. He was the largest of her three, the fiercest, the wildest, with scales as black as night and eyes like pits of fire.
Drogon hunted far afield, but when he was sated he liked to bask in the sun at the apex of the Great Pyramid, where once the harpy of Meereen had stood. Thrice they had tried to take him there, and thrice they had failed. Two score of her bravest had risked themselves trying to capture him. Almost all had suffered burns, and four of them had died. The last she had seen of Drogon had been at sunset on the night of the third attempt. The black dragon had been flying north across the Skahazadhan toward the tall grasses of the Dothraki sea. He had not returned.
Mother of dragons, Daenerys thought. Mother of monsters. What have I unleashed upon the world? A queen I am, but my throne is made of burned bones, and it rests on quicksand. Without dragons, how could she hope to hold Meereen, much less win back Westeros? I am the blood of the dragon, she thought. If they are monsters, so am I.
The rat squealed as he bit into it, squirming wildly in his hands, frantic to escape. The belly was the softest part. He tore at the sweet meat, the warm blood running over his lips. It was so good that it brought tears to his eyes. His belly rumbled and he swallowed. By the third bite the rat had ceased to struggle, and he was feeling almost content.
Then he heard the sounds of voices outside the dungeon door. At once he stilled, fearing even to chew. His mouth was full of blood and flesh and hair, but he dare not spit or swallow. He listened in terror, stiff as stone, to the scuff of boots and the clanking of iron keys. No, he thought, no, please gods, not now, not now. It had taken him so long to catch the rat. If they catch me with it, they will take it away, and then they' ll tell, and Lord Ramsay will hurt me.
He knew he ought to hide the rat, but he was so hungry. It had been two days since he had eaten, or maybe three. Down here in the dark it was hard to tell. Though his arms and legs were thin as reeds, his belly was swollen and hollow, and ached so much that he found he could not sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes, he found himself remembering Lady Hornwood. After their wedding, Lord Ramsay had locked her away in a tower and starved her to death. In the end she had eaten her own fingers. He crouched down in a corner of his cell, clutching his prize under his chin. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth as he nibbled at the rat with what remained of his teeth, trying to bolt down as much of the warm flesh as he could before the cell was opened. The meat was stringy, but so rich he thought he might be sick. He chewed and swallowed, picking small bones from the holes in his gums where teeth had been yanked out. It hurt to chew, but he was so hungry he could not stop.
The sounds were growing louder. Please gods, he isn' t coming for me, he prayed, tearing off one of the rat's legs. It had been a long time since anyone had come for him. There were other cells, other prisoners. Sometimes he heard them screaming, even through the thick stone walls. The women always scream the loudest. He sucked at the raw meat and tried to spit out the leg bone, but it only dribbled over his lower lip and tangled in his beard. Go away, he prayed, go away, pass me by, please, please. But the footsteps stopped just when they were loudest, and the keys clattered right outside the door. The rat fell from his fingers. He wiped his bloody fingers on his breeches. "No," he mumbled, "noooo. " His heels scrabbled at the straw as he tried to push himself into the corner, into the cold damp stone walls.
The sound of the lock turning was the most terrible of all. When the light hit him full in the face, he let out a shriek. He had to cover his eyes with his hands. He would have clawed them out if he'd dared, his head was pounding so. "Take it away, do it in the dark, please, oh please."
"That's not him," said a boy's voice. "Look at him. We've got the wrong cell."
"Last cell on the left," another boy replied. "This is the last cell on the left, isn't it?"
"Aye." A pause. "What's he saying?"
"I don't think he likes the light."
"Would you, if you looked like that?" The boy hawked and spat.
"And the stench of him. I'm like to choke."
"He's been eating rats," said the second boy. "Look."
The first boy laughed. "He has. That's funny."
I had to. The rats bit him when he slept, gnawing at his fingers and his toes, even at his face, so when he got his hands on one he did not hesitate. Eat or be eaten, those were the only choices. "I did it," he mumbled, "I did, I did, I ate him, they do the same to me, please ..."
The boys moved closer, the straw crunching softly under their feet.
"Talk to me," said one of them. He was the smaller of the two, a thin boy, but clever. "Do you remember who you are?"
The fear came bubbling up inside him, and he moaned. "Talk to me. Tell me your name."
My name. A scream caught in his throat. They had taught him his name, they had, they had, but it had been so long that he'd forgotten. If I say it wrong, he' ll take another finger, or worse, he' ll ... he' ll ... He would not think about that, he could not think about that. There were needles in his jaw, in his eyes. His head was pounding. "Please," he squeaked, his voice thin and weak. He sounded a hundred years old. Perhaps he was. How long have I been in here? "Go," he mumbled, through broken teeth and broken fingers, his eyes closed tight against the terrible bright light. "Please, you can have the rat, don't hurt me ..."
"Reek, " said the larger of the boys. "Your name is Reek. Remember?" He was the one with the torch. The smaller boy had the ring of iron keys.
Reek? Tears ran down his cheeks. "I remember. I do." His mouth opened and closed. "My name is Reek. It rhymes with leek." In the dark he did not need a name, so it was easy to forget. Reek, Reek, my name is Reek. He had not been born with that name. In another life he had been someone else, but here and now, his name was Reek. He remembered.
He remembered the boys as well. They were clad in matching lambs-wool doublets, silver-grey with dark blue trim. Both were squires, both were eight, and both were Walder Frey. Big Walder and Little Walder, yes. Only the big one was Little and the little one was Big, which amused the boys and confused the rest of the world. "I know you," he whispered, through cracked lips. "I know your names."
"You're to come with us," said Little Walder. "His lordship has need of you," said Big Walder.
Fear went through him like a knife. They are only children, he thought. Two boys of eight. He could overcome two boys of eight, surely. Even as weak as he was, he could take the torch, take the keys, take the dagger sheathed on Little Walder's hip, escape. No. No, it is too easy. It is a trap. If I run, he will take another finger from me, he will take more of my teeth. He had run before. Years ago, it seemed, when he still had some strength in him, when he had still been defiant. That time it had been Kyra with the keys. She told him she had stolen them, that she knew a postern gate that was never guarded. "Take me back to Winterfell, m'lord," she begged, pale-faced and trembling. "I don't know the way. I can't escape alone. Come with me, please." And so he had. The gaoler was dead drunk in a puddle of wine, with his breeches down around his ankles. The dungeon door was open and the postern gate had been unguarded, just as she had said. They waited for the moon to go behind a cloud, then slipped from the castle and splashed across the Weeping Water, stumbling over stones, half-frozen by the icy stream. On the far side, he had kissed her. "You've saved us," he said. Fool. Fool.
It had all been a trap, a game, a jape. Lord Ramsay loved the chase and preferred to hunt two-legged prey. All night they ran through the darkling wood, but as the sun came up the sound of a distant horn came faintly through the trees, and they heard the baying of a pack of hounds.
"We should split up," he told Kyra as the dogs drew closer. "They cannot track us both." The girl was crazed with fear, though, and refused to leave his side, even when he swore that he would raise a host of ironborn and come back for her if she should be the one they followed.
Within the hour, they were taken. One dog knocked him to the ground, and a second bit Kyra on the leg as she scrambled up a hillside. The rest surrounded them, baying and snarling, snapping at them every time they moved, holding them there until Ramsay Snow rode up with his hunts-men. He was still a bastard then, not yet a Bolton. "There you are," he said, smiling down at them from the saddle. "You wound me, wandering off like this. Have you grown tired of my hospitality so soon?" That was when Kyra seized a stone and threw it at his head. It missed by a good foot, and Ramsay smiled. "You must be punished."
Reek remembered the desperate, frightened look in Kyra's eyes. She had never looked so young as she did in that moment, still half a girl, but there was nothing he could do. She brought them down on us, he thought. If we had separated as I wanted, one of us might have gotten away. The memory made it hard to breathe. Reek turned away from the torch with tears glimmering in his eyes. What does he want of me this time? he thought, despairing. Why won' t he just leave me be? I did no wrong, not this time, why won' t they just leave me in the dark? He'd had a rat, a fat one, warm and wriggling ...
"Should we wash him?" asked Little Walder. "His lordship likes him stinky," said Big Walder. "That's why he named him Reek."
Reek. My name is Reek, it rhymes with bleak. He had to remember that. Serve and obey and remember who you are, and no more harm will come to you. He promised, his lordship promised. Even if he had wanted to resist, he did not have the strength. It had been scourged from him, starved from him, flayed from him. When Little Walder pulled him up and Big Walder waved the torch at him to herd him from the cell, he went along as docile as a dog. If he'd had a tail, he would have tucked it down between his legs. If I had a tail, the Bastard would have cut it off. The thought came unbidden, a vile thought, dangerous. His lordship was not a bastard anymore. Bolton, not Snow. The boy king on the Iron Throne had made Lord Ramsay legitimate, giving him the right to use his lord father's name. Calling him Snow reminded him of his bastardy and sent him into a black rage. Reek must remember that. And his name, he must remember his name. For half a heartbeat it eluded him, and that frightened him so badly that he tripped on the steep dungeon steps and tore his breeches open on the stone, drawing blood. Little Walder had to shove the torch at him to get him back on his feet and moving again.
Out in the yard, night was settling over the Dreadfort and a full moon was rising over the castle's eastern walls. Its pale light cast the shadows of the tall triangular merlons across the frozen ground, a line of sharp black teeth. The air was cold and damp and full of half-forgotten smells. The world, Reek told himself, this is what the world smells like. He did not know how long he had been down there in the dungeons, but it had to have been half a year at least. That long, or longer. What if it has been five years, or ten, or twenty? Would I even know? What if I went mad down there, and half my life is gone? But no, that was folly. It could not have been so long. The boys were still boys. If it had been ten years, they would have grown into men. He had to remember that. I must not let him drive me mad. He can take my fingers and my toes, he can put out my eyes and slice my ears off, but he cannot take my wits unless I let him.