War and woe and the screams of burning men, Davos might have said.
"The chance to do your duty," he replied instead. That was the answer Stannis would have given Wyman Manderly. The Hand should speak with the king' s voice.
Lord Wyman sagged back in his chair. "Duty. I see."
"White Harbor is not strong enough to stand alone. You need His Grace as much as he needs you. Together you can defeat your common enemies."
"My lord," said Ser Marlon, in his ornate silver armor, "will you permit me to ask a few questions of Lord Davos?"
"As you wish, cousin." Lord Wyman closed his eyes.
Ser Marlon turned to Davos. "How many northern lords have declared for Stannis? Tell us that."
"Arnolf Karstark has vowed to join His Grace."
"Arnolf is no true lord, only a castellan. What castles does Lord Stannis hold at present, pray?"
"His Grace has taken the Nightfort for his seat. In the south, he holds Storm's End and Dragonstone."
Maester Theomore cleared his throat. "Only for the nonce. Storm's End and Dragonstone are lightly held and must soon fall. And the Nightfort is a haunted ruin, a drear and dreadful place."
Ser Marlon went on. "How many men can Stannis put into the field, can you tell us that? How many knights ride with him? How many bowmen, how many freeriders, how many men-at-arms?"
Too few, Davos knew. Stannis had come north with no more than fifteen hundred men ... but if he told them that, his mission here was doomed. He fumbled for words and found none.
"Your silence is all the answer I require, ser. Your king brings us only enemies." Ser Marlon turned to his lord cousin. "Your lordship asked the onion knight what Stannis offers us. Let me answer. He offers us defeat and death. He would have you mount a horse of air and give battle with a sword of wind."
The fat lord opened his eyes slowly, as if the effort were almost too much for him. "My cousin cuts to the bone, as ever. Do you have any more to say to me, Onion Knight, or can we put an end to this mummer's farce? I grow weary of your face."
Davos felt a stab of despair. His Grace should have sent another man, a lord or knight or maester, someone who could speak for him without tripping on his own tongue. "Death," he heard himself say, "there will be death, aye. Your lordship lost a son at the Red Wedding. I lost four upon the Blackwater. And why? Because the Lannisters stole the throne. Go to King's Landing and look on Tommen with your own eyes, if you doubt me. A blind man could see it. What does Stannis offer you? Vengeance. Vengeance for my sons and yours, for your husbands and your fathers and your brothers. Vengeance for your murdered lord, your murdered king, your butchered princes. Vengeance! "
"Yes," piped a girl's voice, thin and high.
It belonged to the half-grown child with the blond eyebrows and the long green braid. "They killed Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn and King Robb," she said. "He was our king! He was brave and good, and the Freys murdered him. If Lord Stannis will avenge him, we should join Lord Stannis."
Manderly pulled her close. "Wylla, every time you open your mouth you make me want to send you to the silent sisters."
"I only said - "
"We heard what you said," said the older girl, her sister. "A child's foolishness. Speak no ill of our friends of Frey. One of them will be your lord and husband soon."
"No," the girl declared, shaking her head. "I won't. I won't ever. They killed the king. "
Lord Wyman flushed. "You will. When the appointed day arrives, you will speak your wedding vows, else you will join the silent sisters and never speak again."
The poor girl looked stricken. "Grandfather, please ..." "Hush, child," said Lady Leona. "You heard your lord grandfather. Hush! You know nothing."
"I know about the promise," insisted the girl. "Maester Theomore, tell them! A thousand years before the Conquest, a promise was made, and oaths were sworn in the Wolf's Den before the old gods and the new. When we were sore beset and friendless, hounded from our homes and in peril of our lives, the wolves took us in and nourished us and protected us against our enemies. The city is built upon the land they gave us. In return we swore that we should always be their men. Stark men!"
The maester fingered the chain about his neck. "Solemn oaths were sworn to the Starks of Winterfell, aye. But Winterfell has fallen and House Stark has been extinguished."
"That's because they killed them all!"
Another Frey spoke up. "Lord Wyman, if I may?"
Wyman Manderly gave him a nod. "Rhaegar. We are always pleased to hear your noble counsel."
Rhaegar Frey acknowledged the compliment with a bow. He was thirty, or nigh unto, round-shouldered and kettle-bellied, but richly dressed in a doublet of soft grey lambswool trimmed in cloth-of-silver. His cloak was cloth-of-silver too, lined with vair and clasped at the collar with a brooch in the shape of the twin towers. "Lady Wylla," he said to the girl with the green braid, "loyalty is a virtue. I hope you will be as loyal to Little Walder when you are joined in wedlock. As to the Starks, that House is extinguished only in the male line. Lord Eddard's sons are dead, but his daughters live, and the younger girl is coming north to wed brave Ramsay Bolton."
"Ramsay Snow, " Wylla Manderly threw back. "Have it as you will. By any name, he shall soon be wed to Arya Stark. If you would keep faith with your promise, give him your allegiance, for he shall be your Lord of Winterfell."
"He won't ever be my lord! He made Lady Hornwood marry him, then shut her in a dungeon and made her eat her fingers. "
A murmur of assent swept the Merman's Court. "The maid tells it true," declared a stocky man in white and purple, whose cloak was fastened with a pair of crossed bronze keys. "Roose Bolton's cold and cunning, aye, but a man can deal with Roose. We've all known worse. But this bastard son of his ... they say he's mad and cruel, a monster."
"They say?" Rhaegar Frey sported a silky beard and a sardonic smile. "His enemies say, aye ... but it was the Young Wolf who was the monster. More beast than boy, that one, puffed up with pride and bloodlust. And he was faithless, as my lord grandfather learned to his sorrow." He spread his hands. "I do not fault White Harbor for supporting him. My grandsire made the same grievous mistake. In all the Young Wolf's battles, White Harbor and the Twins fought side by side beneath his banners. Robb Stark betrayed us all. He abandoned the north to the cruel mercies of the ironmen to carve out a fairer kingdom for himself along the Trident. Then he abandoned the riverlords who had risked much and more for him, breaking his marriage pact with my grandfather to wed the first western wench who caught his eye. The Young Wolf? He was a vile dog and died like one."
The Merman's Court had grown still. Davos could feel the chill in the air. Lord Wyman was looking down at Rhaegar as if he were a roach in need of a hard heel ... yet then, abruptly, he gave a ponderous nod that set his chins to wobbling. "A dog, aye. He brought us only grief and death. A vile dog indeed. Say on."
Rhaegar Frey went on. "Grief and death, aye ... and this onion lord will bring you more with his talk of vengeance. Open your eyes, as my lord grandsire did. The War of the Five Kings is all but done. Tommen is our king, our only king. We must help him bind up the wounds of this sad war. As Robert's trueborn son, the heir of stag and lion, the Iron Throne is his by rights."
"Wise words, and true," said Lord Wyman Manderly. "They weren' t. " Wylla Manderly stamped her foot. "Be quiet, wretched child," scolded Lady Leona. "Young girls should be an ornament to the eye, not an ache in the ear." She seized the girl by her braid and pulled her squealing from the hall. There went my only friend in this hall, thought Davos.
"Wylla has always been a willful child," her sister said, by way of apology. "I fear that she will make a willful wife."
Rhaegar shrugged. "Marriage will soften her, I have no doubt. A firm hand and a quiet word."
"If not, there are the silent sisters." Lord Wyman shifted in his seat.
"As for you, Onion Knight, I have heard sufficient treason for one day. You would have me risk my city for a false king and a false god. You would have me sacrifice my only living son so Stannis Baratheon can plant his puckered arse upon a throne to which he has no right. I will not do it. Not for you. Not for your lord. Not for any man." The Lord of White Harbor pushed himself to his feet. The effort brought a red flush to his neck. "You are still a smuggler, ser, come to steal my gold and blood. You would take my son's head. I think I shall take yours instead. Guards! Seize this man!"
Before Davos could even think to move, he was surrounded by silver tridents. "My lord," he said, "I am an envoy."
"Are you? You came sneaking into my city like a smuggler. I say you are no lord, no knight, no envoy, only a thief and a spy, a peddler of lies and treasons. I should tear your tongue out with hot pincers and deliver you to the Dreadfort to be flayed. But the Mother is merciful, and so am I." He beckoned to Ser Marlon. "Cousin, take this creature to the Wolf's Den and cut off his head and hands. I want them brought to me before I sup. I shall not be able to eat a bite until I see this smuggler's head upon a spike, with an onion shoved between his lying teeth."
They gave him a horse and a banner, a soft woolen doublet and a warm fur cloak, and set him loose. For once, he did not stink. "Come back with that castle," said Damon Dance-for-Me as he helped Reek climb shaking into the saddle, "or keep going and see how far you get before we catch you. He'd like that, he would." Grinning, Damon gave the horse a lick across the rump with his whip, and the old stot whinnied and lurched into motion.
Reek did not dare to look back, for fear that Damon and Yellow Dick and Grunt and the rest were coming after him, that all of this was just another of Lord Ramsay's japes, some cruel test to see what he would do if they gave him a horse and set him free. Do they think that I will run? The stot they had given him was a wretched thing, knock-kneed and half-starved; he could never hope to outdistance the fine horses Lord Ramsay and his hunters would be riding. And Ramsay loved nothing more than to set his girls baying on the trail of some fresh prey.
Besides, where would he run to? Behind him were the camps, crowded with Dreadfort men and those the Ryswells had brought from the Rills, with the Barrowton host between them. South of Moat Cailin, another army was coming up the causeway, an army of Boltons and Freys marching beneath the banners of the Dreadfort. East of the road lay a bleak and barren shore and a cold salt sea, to the west the swamps and bogs of the Neck, infested with serpents, lizard lions, and bog devils with their poisoned arrows.
He would not run. He could not run.
I will deliver him the castle. I will. I must.
It was a grey day, damp and misty. The wind was from the south, moist as a kiss. The ruins of Moat Cailin were visible in the distance, threaded through with wisps of morning mist. His horse moved toward them at a walk, her hooves making faint wet squelching sounds as they pulled free of the grey-green muck.