A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 88

"Tell him ... tell him to be afraid?" Reek felt ill at the very thought of it. "M'lord, I ... if I did that, he'd ..."

"I know." Lord Bolton sighed. "His blood is bad. He needs to be leeched. The leeches suck away the bad blood, all the rage and pain. No man can think so full of anger. Ramsay, though ... his tainted blood would poison even leeches, I fear."

"He is your only son."

"For the moment. I had another, once. Domeric. A quiet boy, but most accomplished. He served four years as Lady Dustin's page, and three in the Vale as a squire to Lord Redfort. He played the high harp, read histories, and rode like the wind. Horses ... the boy was mad for horses, Lady Dustin will tell you. Not even Lord Rickard's daughter could outrace him, and that one was half a horse herself. Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. A great jouster must be a great horseman first."

"Yes, m'lord. Domeric. I ... I have heard his name ..."

"Ramsay killed him. A sickness of the bowels, Maester Uthor says, but I say poison. In the Vale, Domeric had enjoyed the company of Redfort'

s sons. He wanted a brother by his side, so he rode up the Weeping Water to seek my bastard out. I forbade it, but Domeric was a man grown and thought that he knew better than his father. Now his bones lie beneath the Dreadfort with the bones of his brothers, who died still in the cradle, and I am left with Ramsay. Tell me, my lord ... if the kinslayer is accursed, what is a father to do when one son slays another?"

The question frightened him. Once he had heard Skinner say that the Bastard had killed his trueborn brother, but he had never dared to believe it. He could be wrong. Brothers die sometimes, it does not mean that they were killed. My brothers died, and I never killed them. "My lord has a new wife to give him sons."

"And won't my bastard love that? Lady Walda is a Frey, and she has a fertile feel to her. I have become oddly fond of my fat little wife. The two before her never made a sound in bed, but this one squeals and shudders. I find that quite endearing. If she pops out sons the way she pops in tarts, the Dreadfort will soon be overrun with Boltons. Ramsay will kill them all, of course. That's for the best. I will not live long enough to see new sons to manhood, and boy lords are the bane of any House. Walda will grieve to see them die, though."

Reek's throat was dry. He could hear the wind rattling the bare branches of the elms that lined the street. "My lord, I - "

"M' lord, remember?"

"M'lord. If I might ask ... why did you want me? I'm no use to anyone, I'm not even a man, I'm broken, and ... the smell ..."

"A bath and change of clothes will make you smell sweeter."

"A bath?" Reek felt a clenching in his guts. "I ... I would sooner not, m'lord. Please. I have ... wounds, I ... and these clothes, Lord Ramsay gave them to me, he ... he said that I was never to take them off, save at his command ..."

"You are wearing rags," Lord Bolton said, quite patiently. "Filthy things, torn and stained and stinking of blood and urine. And thin. You must be cold. We'll put you in lambswool, soft and warm. Perhaps a fur-lined cloak. Would you like that?"

"No." He could not let them take the clothes Lord Ramsay gave him. He could not let them see him.

"Would you prefer to dress in silk and velvet? There was a time when you were fond of such, I do recall."

"No, " he insisted, shrilly. "No, I only want these clothes. Reek's clothes. I'm Reek, it rhymes with peek." His heart was beating like a drum, and his voice rose to a frightened squeak. "I don't want a bath. Please, m'

lord, don't take my clothes."

"Will you let us wash them, at least?"

"No. No, m'lord. Please. " He clutched his tunic to his chest with both hands and hunched down in the saddle, half-afraid that Roose Bolton might command his guardsmen to tear the clothes off him right there in the street.

"As you wish." Bolton's pale eyes looked empty in the moonlight, as if there were no one behind them at all. "I mean you no harm, you know. I owe you much and more."

"You do?" Some part of him was screaming, This is a trap, he is playing with you, the son is just the shadow of the father. Lord Ramsay played with his hopes all the time. "What ... what do you owe me, m'

lord?"

"The north. The Starks were done and doomed the night that you took Winterfell." He waved a pale hand, dismissive. "All this is only squabbling over spoils."

Their short journey reached its end at the wooden walls of Barrow Hall. Banners flew from its square towers, flapping in the wind: the flayed man of the Dreadfort, the battle-axe of Cerwyn, Tallhart's pines, the merman of Manderly, old Lord Locke's crossed keys, the Umber giant and the stony hand of Flint, the Hornwood moose. For the Stouts, chevrony russet and gold, for Slate, a grey field within a double tressure white. Four horseheads proclaimed the four Ryswells of the Rills - one grey, one black, one gold, one brown. The jape was that the Ryswells could not even agree upon the color of their arms. Above them streamed the stag-and-lion of the boy who sat upon the Iron Throne a thousand leagues away.

Reek listened to the vanes turning on the old windmill as they rode beneath the gatehouse into a grassy courtyard where stableboys ran out to take their horses. "This way, if you please." Lord Bolton led him toward the keep, where the banners were those of the late Lord Dustin and his widowed wife. His showed a spiked crown above crossed longaxes; hers quartered those same arms with Rodrik Ryswell's golden horsehead. As he climbed a wide flight of wooden steps to the hall, Reek's legs began to shake. He had to stop to steady them, staring up at the grassy slopes of the Great Barrow. Some claimed it was the grave of the First King, who had led the First Men to Westeros. Others argued that it must be some King of the Giants who was buried there, to account for its size. A few had even been known to say it was no barrow, just a hill, but if so it was a lonely hill, for most of the barrowlands were flat and windswept.

Inside the hall, a woman stood beside the hearth, warming thin hands above the embers of a dying fire. She was clad all in black, from head to heel, and wore no gold nor gems, but she was highborn, that was plain to see. Though there were wrinkles at the corners of her mouth and more around her eyes, she still stood tall, unbent, and handsome. Her hair was brown and grey in equal parts and she wore it tied behind her head in a widow's knot.

"Who is this?" she said. "Where is the boy? Did your bastard refuse to give him up? Is this old man his ... oh, gods be good, what is that smell? Has this creature soiled himself?"

"He has been with Ramsay. Lady Barbrey, allow me to present the rightful Lord of the Iron Islands, Theon of House Greyjoy."

No, he thought, no, don' t say that name, Ramsay will hear you, he'

ll know, he' ll know, he' ll hurt me.

Her mouth pursed. "He is not what I expected."

"He is what we have."

"What did your bastard do to him?"

"Removed some skin, I would imagine. A few small parts. Nothing too essential."

"Is he mad?"

"He may be. Does it matter?"

Reek could hear no more. "Please, m'lord, m'lady, there's been some mistake." He fell to his knees, trembling like a leaf in a winter storm, tears streaming down his ravaged cheeks. "I'm not him, I'm not the turncloak, he died at Winterfell. My name is Reek." He had to remember his name. "It rhymes with freak."

Chapter Thirty-two

TYRION

The Selaesori Qhoran was seven days from Volantis when Penny finally emerged from her cabin, creeping up on deck like some timid woodland creature emerging from a long winter's sleep.

It was dusk and the red priest had lit his nightfire in the great iron brazier amidships as the crew gathered round to pray. Moqorro's voice was a bass drum that seemed to boom from somewhere deep within his massive torso. "We thank you for your sun that keeps us warm, " he prayed. "We thank you for your stars that watch over us as we sail this cold black sea. "

A huge man, taller than Ser Jorah and wide enough to make two of him, the priest wore scarlet robes embroidered at sleeve and hem and collar with orange satin flames. His skin was black as pitch, his hair as white as snow; the flames tattooed across his cheeks and brow yellow and orange. His iron staff was as tall as he was and crowned with a dragon's head; when he stamped its butt upon the deck, the dragon's maw spat crackling green flame.

His guardsmen, five slave warriors of the Fiery Hand, led the responses. They chanted in the tongue of Old Volantis, but Tyrion had heard the prayers enough to grasp the essence. Light our fire and protect us from the dark, blah blah, light our way and keep us toasty warm, the night is dark and full of terrors, save us from the scary things, and blah blah blah some more.

He knew better than to voice such thoughts aloud. Tyrion Lannister had no use for any god, but on this ship it was wise to show a certain respect for red R'hllor. Jorah Mormont had removed Tyron's chains and fetters once they were safely under way, and the dwarf did not wish to give him cause to clap them on again.

The Selaesori Qhoran was a wallowing tub of five hundred tons, with a deep hold, high castles fore and aft, and a single mast between. At her forecastle stood a grotesque figurehead, some worm-eaten wooden eminence with a constipated look and a scroll tucked up under one arm. Tyrion had never seen an uglier ship. Her crew was no prettier. Her captain, a mean-mouthed, flinty, kettle-bellied man with close-set, greedy eyes, was a bad cyvasse player and a worse loser. Under him served four mates, freedmen all, and fifty slaves bound to the ship, each with a crude version of the cog's figurehead tattooed upon one cheek. No-Nose, the sailors liked to call Tyrion, no matter how many times he told them his name was Hugor Hill.

Three of the mates and more than three-quarters of the crew were fervent worshipers of the Lord of Light. Tyrion was less certain about the captain, who always emerged for the evening prayers but took no other part in them. But Moqorro was the true master of the Selaesori Qhoran, at least for this voyage.

"Lord of Light, bless your slave Moqorro, and light his way in the dark places of the world, " the red priest boomed. "And defend your righteous slave Benerro. Grant him courage. Grant him wisdom. Fill his heart with fire. "

That was when Tyrion noticed Penny, watching the mummery from the steep wooden stair that led down beneath the sterncastle. She stood on one of the lower steps, so only the top of her head was visible. Beneath her hood her eyes shone big and white in the light of the nightfire. She had her dog with her, the big grey hound she rode in the mock jousts.

"My lady," Tyrion called softly. In truth, she was no lady, but he could not bring himself to mouth that silly name of hers, and he was not about to call her girl or dwarf.

She cringed back. "I ... I did not see you."

"Well, I am small."

"I ... I was unwell ..." Her dog barked.

Sick with grief, you mean. "If I can be of help ..."

"No." And quick as that she was gone again, retreating back below to the cabin she shared with her dog and sow. Tyrion could not fault her. The crew of the Selaesori Qhoran had been pleased enough when he first came on board; a dwarf was good luck, after all. His head had been rubbed so often and so vigorously that it was a wonder he wasn't bald. But Penny had met with a more mixed reaction. She might be a dwarf, but she was also a woman, and women were bad luck aboard ship. For every man who tried to rub her head, there were three who muttered maledictions under their breath when she went by.

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