"Torgon Greyiron was the king's eldest son. But the king was old and Torgon restless, so it happened that when his father died he was raiding along the Mander from his stronghold on Greyshield. His brothers sent no word to him but instead quickly called a kingsmoot, thinking that one of them would be chosen to wear the driftwood crown. But the captains and the kings chose Urragon Goodbrother to rule instead. The first thing the new king did was command that all the sons of the old king be put to death, and so they were. After that men called him Badbrother, though in truth they'd been no kin of his. He ruled for almost two years."
Asha remembered now. "Torgon came home ..."
"... and said the kingsmoot was unlawful since he had not been there to make his claim. Badbrother had proved to be as mean as he was cruel and had few friends left upon the isles. The priests denounced him, the lords rose against him, and his own captains hacked him into pieces. Torgon the Latecomer became the king and ruled for forty years."
Asha took Tris Botley by the ears and kissed him full upon the lips. He was red and breathless by the time she let him go. "What was that?" he said.
"A kiss, it's called. Drown me for a fool, Tris, I should have remembered - " She broke off suddenly. When Tris tried to speak, she shushed him, listening. "That's a warhorn. Hagen." Her first thought was of her husband. Could Erik Ironmaker have come all this way to claim his wayward wife? "The Drowned God loves me after all. Here I was wondering what to do, and he has sent me foes to fight." Asha got to her feet and slammed her knife back into its sheath. "The battle's come to us."
She was trotting by the time she reached the castle bailey, with Tris dogging her heels, but even so she came too late. The fight was done. Asha found two northmen bleeding by the eastern wall not far from the postern gate, with Lorren Longaxe, Six-Toed Harl, and Grimtongue standing over them. "Cromm and Hagen saw them coming over the wall," Grimtongue explained.
"Just these two?" asked Asha. "Five. We killed two before they could get over, and Harl slew another on the wallwalk. These two made it to the yard."
One man was dead, his blood and brains crusting Lorren's longaxe, but the second was still breathing raggedly, though Grimtongue's spear had pinned him to the ground in a spreading pool of blood. Both were clad in boiled leather and mottled cloaks of brown and green and black, with branches, leaves, and brush sewn about their heads and shoulders.
"Who are you?" Asha asked the wounded man. "A Flint. Who are you?"
"Asha of House Greyjoy. This is my castle."
"Deepwood be Galbart Glover's seat. No home for squids."
"Are there any more of you?" Asha demanded of him. When he did not answer, she seized Grimtongue's spear and turned it, and the northman cried out in anguish as more blood gushed from his wound. "What was your purpose here?"
"The lady," he said, shuddering. "Gods, stop. We come for the lady. T' rescue her. It was just us five."
Asha looked into his eyes. When she saw the falsehood there, she leaned upon the spear, twisting it. "How many more? " she said. "Tell me, or I'll make your dying last until the dawn."
"Many," he finally sobbed, between screams. "Thousands. Three thousand, four ... aieeee ... please ..."
She ripped the spear out of him and drove it down two-handed through his lying throat. Galbart Glover's maester had claimed the mountain clans were too quarrelsome to ever band together without a Stark to lead them. He might not have been lying. He might just have been wrong. She had learned what that tasted like at her nuncle's kingsmoot. "These five were sent to open our gates before the main attack,"
fetch me Lady Glover and her maester."
"Whole or bloody?" asked Lorren Longaxe. "Whole and unharmed. Grimtongue, get up that thrice-damned tower and tell Cromm and Hagen to keep a sharp eye out. If they see so much as a hare, I want to know of it."
Deepwood's bailey was soon full of frightened people. Her own men were struggling into armor or climbing up onto the wallwalks. Galbart Glover's folk looked on with fearful faces, whispering to one another. Glover'
s steward had to be carried up from the cellar, having lost a leg when Asha took the castle. The maester protested noisily until Lorren cracked him hard across the face with a mailed fist. Lady Glover emerged from the godswood on the arm of her bedmaid. "I warned you that this day would come, my lady," she said, when she saw the corpses on the ground. The maester pushed forward, with blood dripping from a broken nose.
"Lady Asha, I beg you, strike your banners and let me bargain for your life. You have used us fairly, and with honor. I will tell them so."
"We will exchange you for the children." Sybelle Glover's eyes were red, from tears and sleepless nights. "Gawen is four now. I missed his nameday. And my sweet girl ... give me back my children, and no harm need come to you. Nor to your men."
The last part was a lie, Asha knew. She might be exchanged, perhaps, shipped back to the Iron Islands to her husband's loving arms. Her cousins would be ransomed too, as would Tris Botley and a few more of her company, those whose kin had coin enough to buy them back. For the rest it would be the axe, the noose, or the Wall. Still, they have the right to choose. Asha climbed on a barrel so all of them could see her. "The wolves are coming down on us with their teeth bared. They will be at our gates before the sun comes up. Shall we throw down our spears and axes and plead with them to spare us?"
"No." Qarl the Maid drew his sword. "No," echoed Lorren
Longaxe. "No, " boomed Rolfe the Dwarf, a bear of a man who stood a head taller than anyone else in her crew. "Never. " And Hagen's horn sounded again from on high, ringing out across the bailey. AHooooooooooooooooooooooo, the warhorn cried, long and low, a sound to curdle blood. Asha had begun to hate the sound of horns. On Old Wyk her uncle's hellhorn had blown a death knell for her dreams, and now Hagen was sounding what might well be her last hour on earth. If I must die, I will die with an axe in my hand and a curse upon my lips.
"To the walls," Asha Greyjoy told her men. She turned her own steps for the watchtower, with Tris Botley right behind her. The wooden watchtower was the tallest thing this side of the mountains, rising twenty feet above the biggest sentinels and soldier pines in the surrounding woods. "There, Captain," said Cromm, when she made the platform. Asha saw only trees and shadows, the moonlit hills and the snowy peaks beyond. Then she realized that trees were creeping closer. "Oho,"
she laughed, "these mountain goats have cloaked themselves in pine boughs." The woods were on the move, creeping toward the castle like a slow green tide. She thought back to a tale she had heard as a child, about the children of the forest and their battles with the First Men, when the greenseers turned the trees to warriors.
"We cannot fight so many," Tris Botley said. "We can fight as many as come, pup," insisted Cromm. "The more there are, the more the glory. Men will sing of us."
Aye, but will they sing of your courage or my folly? The sea was five long leagues away. Would they do better to stand and fight behind Deepwood's deep ditches and wooden walls? Deepwood' s wooden walls did the Glovers small good when I took their castle, she reminded herself. Why should they serve me any better?
"Come the morrow we will feast beneath the sea." Cromm stroked his axe as if he could not wait.
Hagen lowered his horn. "If we die with dry feet, how will we find our way to the Drowned God's watery halls?"
"These woods are full of little streams," Cromm assured him. "All of them lead to rivers, and all the rivers to the sea."
Asha was not ready to die, not here, not yet. "A living man can find the sea more easily than a dead one. Let the wolves keep their gloomy woods. We are making for the ships."
She wondered who was in command of her foes. If it were me, I would take the strand and put our longships to the torch before attacking Deepwood. The wolves would not find that easy, though, not without longships of their own. Asha never beached more than half her ships. The other half stood safely off to sea, with orders to raise sail and make for Sea Dragon Point if the northmen took the strand. "Hagen, blow your horn and make the forest shake. Tris, don some mail, it's time you tried out that sweet sword of yours." When she saw how pale he was, she pinched his cheek.
"Splash some blood upon the moon with me, and I promise you a kiss for every kill."
"My queen," said Tristifer, "here we have the walls, but if we reach the sea and find that the wolves have taken our ships or driven them away ..."
"... we die," she finished cheerfully, "but at least we'll die with our feet wet. Ironborn fight better with salt spray in their nostrils and the sound of the waves at their backs."
Hagen blew three short blasts in quick succession, the signal that would send the ironborn back to their ships. From below came shouting, the clatter of spear and sword, the whinnying of horses. Too few horses and too few riders. Asha headed for the stair. In the bailey, she found Qarl the Maid waiting with her chestnut mare, her warhelm, and her throwing axes. Ironmen were leading horses from Galbart Glover's stables.
"A ram!" a voice shouted down from the walls. "They have a battering ram! "
"Which gate?" asked Asha, mounting up. "The north!" From beyond Deepwood's mossy wooden walls came the sudden sound of trumpets.
Trumpets? Wolves with trumpets? That was wrong, but Asha had no time to ponder it. "Open the south gate," she commanded, even as the north gate shook to the impact of the ram. She pulled a short-hafted throwing axe from the belt across her shoulder. "The hour of the owl has fled, my brothers. Now comes the hour of the spear, the sword, the axe. Form up. We're going home."
From a hundred throats came roars of "Home! " and "Asha! " Tris Botley galloped up beside her on a tall roan stallion. In the bailey, her men closed about each other, hefting shields and spears. Qarl the Maid, no horse rider, took his place between Grimtongue and Lorren Longaxe. As Hagen came scrambling down the watchtower steps, a wolfling's arrow caught him in the belly and sent him plunging headfirst to the ground. His daughter ran to him, wailing. "Bring her," Asha commanded. This was no time for mourning. Rolfe the Dwarf pulled the girl onto his horse, her red hair flying. Asha could hear the north gate groaning as the ram slammed into it again. We may need to cut our way through them, she thought, as the south gate swung wide before them. The way was clear. For how long?
"Move out!" Asha drove her heels into her horse's flanks. Men and mounts alike were trotting by the time they reached the trees on the far side of the sodden field, where dead shoots of winter wheat rotted beneath the moon. Asha held her horsemen back as a rear guard, to keep the stragglers moving and see that no one was left behind. Tall soldier pines and gnarled old oaks closed in around them. Deepwood was aptly named. The trees were huge and dark, somehow threatening. Their limbs wove through one another and creaked with every breath of wind, and their higher branches scratched at the face of the moon. The sooner we are shut of here, the better I will like it, Asha thought. The trees hate us all, deep in their wooden hearts.