It was an old castle, but not a strong one. She had taken it from the Glovers, and the Bastard of Bolton would take it from her. He would not flay her, though. Asha Greyjoy did not intend to be taken alive. She would die as she had lived, with an axe in her hand and a laugh upon her lips. Her lord father had given her thirty longships to capture Deepwood. Four remained, counting her own Black Wind, and one of those belonged to Tris Botley, who had joined her when all her other men were fleeing. No. That is not just. They sailed home to do homage to their king. If anyone fled, it was me. The memory still shamed her.
"Go," the Reader had urged, as the captains were bearing her uncle Euron down Nagga's hill to don his driftwood crown.
"Said the raven to the crow. Come with me. I need you to raise the men of Harlaw." Back then, she'd meant to fight.
"The men of Harlaw are here. The ones who count. Some were shouting Euron's name. I will not set Harlaw against Harlaw."
"Euron's mad. And dangerous. That hellhorn ..."
"I heard it. Go, Asha. Once Euron has been crowned, he'll look for you. You dare not let his eye fall upon you."
"If I stand with my other uncles ..."
"... you will die outcast, with every hand against you. When you put your name before the captains you submitted yourself to their judgment. You cannot go against that judgment now. Only once has the choice of a kingsmoot been overthrown. Read Haereg."
Only Rodrik the Reader would talk of some old book whilst their lives were balanced on a sword's edge. "If you are staying, so am I," she told him stubbornly.
"Don't be a fool. Euron shows the world his smiling eye tonight, but come the morrow ... Asha, you are Balon's daughter, and your claim is stronger than his own. So long as you draw breath you remain a danger to him. If you stay, you will be killed or wed to the Red Oarsman. I don't know which would be worse. Go. You will not have another chance."
Asha had landed Black Wind on the far side of the island for just such an eventuality. Old Wyk was not large. She could be back aboard her ship before the sun came up, on her way to Harlaw before Euron realized she was missing. Yet she hesitated until her uncle said, "Do it for the love you bear me, child. Do not make me watch you die."
So she went. To Ten Towers first, to bid farewell to her mother. "It may be a long while before I come again," Asha warned her. Lady Alannys had not understood. "Where is Theon?" she asked. "Where is my baby boy?" Lady Gwynesse only wanted to know when Lord Rodrik would return. "I am seven years his elder. Ten Towers should be mine."
Asha was still at Ten Towers taking on provisions when the tidings of her marriage reached her. "My wayward niece needs taming," the Crow'
s Eye was reported to have said, "and I know the man to tame her." He had married her to Erik Ironmaker and named the Anvil-Breaker to rule the Iron Islands whilst he was chasing dragons. Erik had been a great man in his day, a fearless reaver who could boast of having sailed with her grand-sire's grandsire, that same Dagon Greyjoy whom Dagon the Drunkard had been named for. Old women on Fair Isle still frightened their grandchildren with tales of Lord Dagon and his men. I wounded Eric' s pride at the kingsmoot, Asha reflected. He is not like to forget that.
She had to pay her nuncle his just due. With one stroke, Euron had turned a rival into a supporter, secured the isles in his absence, and removed Asha as a threat. And enjoyed a good belly laugh too. Tris Botley said that the Crow's Eye had used a seal to stand in for her at her wedding. "I hope Erik did not insist on a consummation," she'd said.
I cannot go home, she thought, but I dare not stay here much longer. The quiet of the woods unnerved her. Asha had spent her life on islands and on ships. The sea was never silent. The sound of the waves washing against a rocky shore was in her blood, but there were no waves at Deepwood Motte ... only the trees, the endless trees, soldier pines and sentinels, beech and ash and ancient oaks, chestnut trees and ironwoods and firs. The sound they made was softer than the sea, and she heard it only when the wind was blowing; then the sighing seemed to come from all around her, as if the trees were whispering to one another in some language that she could not understand.
Tonight the whispering seemed louder than before. A rush of dead brown leaves, Asha told herself, bare branches creaking in the wind. She turned away from the window, away from the woods. I need a deck beneath my feet again. Or failing that, some food in my belly. She'd had too much wine tonight, but too little bread and none of that great bloody roast. The moonlight was bright enough to find her clothes. She donned thick black breeches, a quilted tunic, and a green leather jerkin covered with overlapping plates of steel. Leaving Qarl to his dreams, she padded down the keep's exterior stair, the steps creaking under her bare feet. One of the men walking sentry on the walls spied her making her descent and lifted his spear to her. Asha whistled back at him. As she crossed the inner yard to the kitchens, Galbart Glover's dogs began to bark. Good, she thought. That will drown out the sound of the trees.
She was cutting a wedge of yellow cheese from a round as big as a cart wheel when Tris Botley stepped into the kitchen, bundled up in a thick fur cloak. "My queen."
"Don't mock me."
"You will always rule my heart. No amount of fools shouting at a kingsmoot can change that."
What am I to do with this boy? Asha could not doubt his devotion. Not only had he stood her champion on Nagga's hill and shouted out her name, but he had even crossed the sea to join her afterward, abandoning his king and kin and home. Not that he dared defy Euron to his face. When the Crow's Eye took the fleet to sea Tris had simply lagged behind, changing course only when the other ships were lost to sight. Even that took a certain courage, though; he could never return to the isles. "Cheese?" she asked him. "There's ham as well, and mustard."
"It's not food I want, my lady. You know that." Tris had grown himself a thick brown beard at Deepwood. He claimed it helped to keep his face warm. "I saw you from the watchtower."
"If you have the watch, what are you doing here?"
"Cromm's up there, and Hagen the Horn. How many eyes do we need to watch leaves rustle in the moonlight? We need to talk."
"Again?" She sighed. "You know Hagen's daughter, the one with the red hair. She steers a ship as well as any man and has a pretty face. Seventeen, and I've seen her looking at you."
"I don't want Hagen's daughter." He almost touched her before thinking better of it. "Asha, it is time to go. Moat Cailin was the only thing holding back the tide. If we remain here, the northmen will kill us all, you know that."
"Would you have me run?"
"I would have you live. I love you."
No, she thought, you love some innocent maiden who lives only in your head, a frightened child in need of your protection. "I do not love you," she said bluntly, "and I do not run."
"What's here that you should hold so tight to it but pine and mud and foes? We have our ships. Sail away with me, and we'll make new lives upon the sea."
"As pirates?" It was almost tempting. Let the wolves have back their gloomy woods and retake the open sea.
"As traders," he insisted. "We'll voyage east as the Crow's Eye did, but we'll come back with silks and spices instead of a dragon's horn. One voyage to the Jade Sea and we'll be as rich as gods. We can have a manse in Oldtown or one of the Free Cities."
"You and me and Qarl?" She saw him flinch at the mention of Qarl's name. "Hagen's girl might like to sail the Jade Sea with you. I am still the kraken's daughter. My place is - "
" - where? You cannot return to the isles. Not unless you mean to submit to your lord husband."
Asha tried to picture herself abed with Erik Ironmaker, crushed beneath his bulk, suffering his embraces. Better him than the Red Oarsman or Left-Hand Lucas Codd. The Anvil-Breaker had once been a roaring giant, fearsomely strong, fiercely loyal, utterly without fear. It might not be so bad. He' s like to die the first time he tries to do his duty as a husband. That would make her Erik's widow instead of Erik's wife, which could be better or a good deal worse, depending on his grandsons. And my nuncle. In the end, all the winds blow me back toward Euron. "I have hostages, on Harlaw," she reminded him. "And there is still Sea Dragon Point ... if I cannot have my father's kingdom, why not make one of my own?" Sea Dragon Point had not always been as thinly peopled as it was now. Old ruins could still be found amongst its hills and bogs, the remains of ancient strongholds of the First Men. In the high places, there were weir-wood circles left by the children of the forest.
"You are clinging to Sea Dragon Point the way a drowning man clings to a bit of wreckage. What does Sea Dragon have that anyone could ever want? There are no mines, no gold, no silver, not even tin or iron. The land is too wet for wheat or corn."
I do not plan on planting wheat or corn. "What's there? I'll tell you. Two long coastlines, a hundred hidden coves, otters in the lakes, salmon in the rivers, clams along the shore, colonies of seals offshore, tall pines for building ships."
"Who will build these ships, my queen? Where will Your Grace find subjects for her kingdom if the northmen let you have it? Or do you mean to rule over a realm of seals and otters?"
She gave a rueful laugh. "Otters might be easier to rule than men, I grant you. And seals are smarter. No, you may be right. My best course may still be to return to Pyke. There are those on Harlaw who would welcome my return. On Pyke as well. And Euron won no friends on Black-tyde when he slew Lord Baelor. I could find my nuncle Aeron, raise the isles." No one had seen the Damphair since the kingsmoot, but his Drowned Men claimed he was hiding on Great Wyk and would soon come forth to call down the wroth of the Drowned God on the Crow's Eye and his minions.
"The Anvil-Breaker is searching for the Damphair too. He is hunting down the Drowned Men. Blind Beron Blacktyde was taken and put to the question. Even the Old Grey Gull was given shackles. How will you find the priest when all of Euron's men cannot?"
"He is my blood. My father's brother." It was a feeble answer, and Asha knew it.
"Do you know what I think?"
"I am about to, I suspect."
"I think the Damphair's dead. I think the Crow's Eye slit his throat for him. Ironmaker's search is just to make us believe the priest escaped. Euron is afraid to be seen as a kinslayer."
"Never let my nuncle hear you say that. Tell the Crow's Eye he's afraid of kinslaying, and he'll murder one of his own sons just to prove you wrong." Asha was feeling almost sober by then. Tristifer Botley had that effect on her.
"Even if you did find your uncle Damphair, the two of you would fail. You were both part of the kingsmoot, so you cannot say it was unlawful called, as Torgon did. You are bound to its decision by all the laws of gods and men. You - "
Asha frowned. "Wait. Torgon? Which Torgon?"
"Torgon the Latecomer."
"He was a king during the Age of Heroes." She recalled that much about him, but little else. "What of him?"