Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you to everyone who reviewed during the hiatus. I usually reply with at least a brief thanks, but fanfiction dot net no longer notifies me when you post, so if I missed anyone, my apologies. I really appreciate those who take the time to comment, and even you, the lurker who keeps coming back to re-read. =) And big thanks to Kat, who beta-reads for me and keeps up with my rambling.
In this chapter I will introduce Marwyn's fellow conspirators and financial backers, who are book-only characters like him. I've discovered from Reddit that stories like mine really irk a lot of the picky fanbase, because we tag the story as ASOIAF but still have elements of the show. I love pulling in interesting things from the books, so I'm not stopping or re-categorizing now; picky purists will just have to click the back button and wait for GRRM. I wish them good fortune in the books to come (if they ever come!).
Quick recap, since it's been a while:
At the Wall, Jon's army and the Night's Watch, plus Jaime and some Westerlanders, are fighting off the invasion of the Dead and trying to seal breaches in the Wall. One of the four breaches has been sealed, but the fighting is too heavy at the other three, especially at the Nightfort breach. We'd lost Ser Denys Mallister and Lord Beric Dondarrion, among countless redshirts, and Jon knighted Edric Dayne and sent him home to get Dawn.
At Winterfell, Sansa received a new maester (Rodwyle) as well as guests from the Iron Bank of Braavos, and is rebuilding the glass gardens and making other repairs to prepare for a long winter. She's warging into one of Ramsay's dogs, and using Kyra to gather information, and foil an assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Bran's visions prompted them to start excavating the collapsed tunnel inside the Winterfell crypt, though they're not sure why just yet.
At Riverrun, Arya has made her way into the castle wearing the face of Whalen Frey, determined to take back her uncle's castle. She's begun by assassinating the lord and lady of the castle, but there is more work to be done. Meanwhile, Ser Wylis Manderly, the Greatjon, and the Riverlands wolf-pack are all outside, waiting to assist.
This chapter begins where Samwell I left off, with our favorite nerd stuck in a city under siege, and here Sam's timeline catches up to Dany's. We will finally see what Marwyn is up to, and how Sam and 'Alleras' fit into it.
For a few days, the Archmaesters pretended nothing had changed.
Lectures went on as scheduled, and the acolytes were expected to complete all of their work, despite the chaos of battle outside the walls. Inattentive students received a swift rap on the knuckles, or a swat on the ear. Poor Mollander had spent a whole night scrubbing floors on his hands and knees, as punishment for saying that he couldn't concentrate.
Ebrose had been the first to break ranks. Three days into the siege, the Citadel's master healer had gathered up every man with a silver link, except for the few working in the infirmary, and he'd led maesters, acolytes, and novices down to the docks, where wounded Redwyne sailors and Ironborn prisoners were appearing in droves. Men in Hightower colors had set up beds in two warehouses, and in cramped tents on the dockside green. Another warehouse had been fortified as a temporary prison for the enemy. Once he'd been put to work, Sam had forgotten all about his regular lectures.
Tasks were assigned strictly by experience. Fully-qualified maesters worked in the main tents, performing amputations, removing embedded arrows and debris, and saving the most grievously wounded. Advanced students performed triage, cared for minor injuries, administered potions and salves, and assisted the maesters during complex procedures. This usually meant holding down thrashing men, or handing the maester his tools as requested.
The most recent arrivals, Sam included, had three tasks: preparing medicines in the herb room, boiling and scrubbing bandages and bed linens, and keeping the patients comfortable with food, drink, blankets, and fresh chamber pots. Sam and Armen had been assigned to the herb tent, due to their skill with plants and potions. Mollander was on linen duty, and Sam rarely saw him; the pile of soiled bandages and linen was as tall as Sam's friend, and growing taller by the day.
Alleras, Roone, Pate, and Leo all belonged to the third group. The Sphinx and Roone had kitchen duty, and split their time between cooking and delivering meals, and scrubbing pots and plates. Pate spent his days emptying and replacing buckets of piss, blood, and other filth. Despite his noble blood and many protests, Leo Tyrell had been given the same task; he was a hopeless cook, and no one trusted him in the herb tent.
Days passed slowly. Sam and his friends rose early in the mornings, ate a hearty breakfast, and then rushed down to the healing tents with the maesters. A few of them remained overnight to watch over the wounded, but most, including Ebrose, returned to their cells for the night. Then Sam and Armen would spend their days cutting up herbs, weighing powders, preparing infusions, and double-checking recipe books while the battle raged. It was a clean job, and Sam was glad to do it; he could be much more useful this way than he'd ever been with a sword in hand.
He did wonder how Gilly and Aemon fared, but there was no time to sneak away to see them. Their stern, heavily-armed guards kept a close watch on the maesters' entourage with every excursion to the docks. Oldtown considered maesters too valuable (and expensive) to lose to some drunken cutthroat in a dark alley, and acolytes, as future maesters, were given the same protection. Too many desperate men would kill for the precious metals they all wore around their necks, or the perverse joy of murder.
Then, rumors spread throughout the Citadel that Daenerys Targaryen was coming with her navy and three dragons. Indiscreet servants leaked the rumor to the city at large, and soon there was a crush of panicked smallfolk and merchants at each of Oldtown's gates, frantic to leave. The city walls were welcome protection against Ironborn raiders, but Harrenhal was proof that they wouldn't stop a dragon (let alone three), and everyone knew it. Not even the Faith could stop the panic. Sam heard through the Citadel grapevine that the new High Septon had doubled his guard.
The city guards had refused to open the gates for anyone. Archmaester Perestan told his students that they feared looting and lawlessness spreading into the countryside; it was inevitable when a large mass of people left most of their belongings behind, and ran in a mindless panic. The watch had already broken up four riots, and Perestan was sure that more would follow.
In this climate of fear and approaching calamity, Ebrose called all of the acolytes together one evening, as they prepared for the trek back to their beds.
"You've all heard the stories, I'm sure," he said, very serious. "Daenerys Targaryen is coming, and if the rumors are true, she brings three dragons that could reduce this city to ashes. From now on, I will bring only qualified maesters to the docks. The rest of you are to return to your studies at the Citadel."
The old man had been unprepared for the volume of protests. Most of Sam's friends were in an uproar, demanding to do their share for the injured men. But Sam was relieved, shamefully so, that he'd be well away from the dragons. He said little on the journey back, suddenly reminded of Maester Aemon and his desire to meet Daenerys.
Then he thought of Gilly, and how frightened she must be with the entire city panicking and rioting. He was lost in his thoughts as they entered the Citadel, and his friends, noting his serious mood, left him alone.
Alleras ran off after supper, saying she needed to talk to Marwyn. The others retired to bed, too exhausted to socialize or study for other subjects.
Sam had supposed that Marwyn would be eager to see the dragons, and so it was. Targaryen sails appeared on the horizon three days later, and the Mage was as excited as a child with a new toy. It was doubly shocking when compared to all of the other Archmaesters, who walked in groups of two or three, muttering darkly to each other and watching the sky with apprehension.
The acolytes and novices took to watching the bay between lectures, where the Targaryen and Lannister fleets had finally met, with Ironborn on both sides. The sun was starting its downward journey when Daenerys Targaryen appeared like Aegon the Conqueror reborn, flying on the back of a large black dragon and flanked by two others. From the Citadel, Sam could only glimpse a speck of silver hair and scarlet clothing on the back of the black dragon, courtesy of Alleras and her spyglass. But everyone saw the dragonfire, and heard the creatures roar in fury. Over and over they flew over the ships, burning Lannister galleys and Ironborn longships alike. Fire ships exploded in green flame, so bright that onlookers were left partially blinded for hours.
Surely Daenerys Targaryen would prevail, for good or for ill?
Sam was forced to leave that question for later; he'd been assigned to deliver supper and medicine to the infirmary's long-term ward. With the healers stretched between the dockside tents and the Citadel infirmary, healing classes had been canceled. Instead, the acolytes had assigned duties in the infirmary or the herb room, or were left to study the text on their own.
He dragged a cart along the hallway, not hearing the creak of its wheels for once. The sea wind had brought the noise of battle upriver, and that had unsettled many of the patients. The man who claimed he was a god was shouting at the top of his lungs, commanding the sinners to stop their slaughter. It was having no effect whatsoever on the battle, as far as Sam could tell. The woman whose leg was rotting from infection wept piteously. The pregnant merchant's wife had curled up on her bed, singing with her hands over her ears.
Then, Sam entered Ser Jorah Mormont's room.
"Please," the man asked, his eyes wide. "What is happening out there? I heard someone shouting about dragons."
"It's true," Sam answered, setting the knight's meal down on the table. "Daenerys Targaryen is out there with her dragons, fighting Euron Greyjoy's fleet."
The knight paled. "Khaleesi," he said softly, closing his eyes as though in pain. "I must go to her."
"You cannot!" Sam protested, holding out the pain potion. "You are ill, ser!"
"I am dying," Ser Jorah answered impatiently. "Let us not mince words. I haven't lost my wits just yet, and I know perfectly well what will happen to me. Did your master not say that all I had left to choose was the manner of my death?"
"Well, yes," answered the acolyte, "but he never—"
An ear-splitting roar made Sam wince and drop the bottle he held. It shattered into hundreds of pieces, spilling the precious potion all over the stone floor.
"That's no dragon," Ser Jorah said, frowning in thought. He walked to his window, but it was no use; the knight's room looked out over the kitchen garden, not the bay. He would never see the dragons from there. "I know what a dragon's roar sounds like."
"What is it, then?" Sam asked, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
"How should I know? Go and look, if you won't release me," Ser Jorah ordered, impatient.
Sam ran. The window at the end of the hallway did look out over the bay, though an ancient oak tree blocked part of the view. Perhaps he'd see what was happening from there.
He opened the shutters, his heart pounding from fear and the brisk exercise, and then Sam's courage failed entirely.
It was a kraken.
Sam had never seen anything so large or hideous in his life. Enormous tentacles had come out of the water, dark against the orange sky. The creature's mouth was large enough to swallow a galley whole, and the monster did just that as Sam watched in horror. The light would be gone soon, and the sea-monster's dark color would make it invisible to the thousands of men trapped in the bay.
He turned away, feeling sick. His feet seemed to weigh a ton each as he dragged himself back to Ser Jorah's room.
"Well?" asked the knight, who was pacing like a caged lion. "What was it?"
"A kraken," Sam replied, shaking. "An ancient one, by the size of it. It makes the dragons look like kittens."
"I must help her," Ser Jorah insisted. "Please. Let me die in Daenerys' service, instead of locked in here like a madman. If all I can do is add one more sword to the fight against that monster, then that is what I'll do."
Sam wavered. What Ser Jorah intended was suicide, and there was no guarantee that he would even make it to the kraken.
The older man knelt, surprising Sam. Broken glass crunched under his knees, but he paid it no mind.
"I beg you," he asked earnestly. "Give me the chance to die with dignity. Let me do this, for her if not for my own sake."
"You know her?" Sam asked, surprised. He knew little of this man, save that he had earned his knighthood during the Greyjoy rebellion, and that he'd sold poachers into slavery and shamed his father.
"I love her," Ser Jorah replied. "I have known her since she was a scared little girl, wed to a horse-lord and dreaming of her father's kingdom. I watched her hatch those dragons and cross the Red Waste. I was at her side when she became a true queen. I only came here because she begged me to find a cure."
"And we have none to give you," Sam realized. The man had nothing left; no home, no honor, no hope for the future, and the queen he loved was in danger, out on the bay.
He nodded, not wanting to think about the lashing he'd get for this.
"Very well, Ser Jorah. Make sure to cover that," Sam told him, pointing to the grayscale peeking out under the man's right sleeve. "I'll write a discharge note, in case the guards stop you."
A bitter half-smile crossed the knight's face.
"I was married to a Hightower once, Acolyte…"
"Samwell Tarly," Sam filled in. Ser Jorah's bushy eyebrows rose at the name.
"Acolyte Samwell, then. I know this city well. Never fear, I can avoid the guards if I wish, and no one need ever know it was you who set me free."
"They'll know it was me handing out medicines," Sam replied, gloomily accepting his fate. "But I'll wish you good fortune all the same. You are as brave as your father, ser."
Now it was Ser Jorah's turn to blink in surprise. "You know my father?"
"I am a sworn brother of the Night's Watch," Sam replied, looking down instinctively for Night's Watch blacks, and seeing instead the gray robes of a Citadel acolyte. "My Lord Commander hoped I could replace Aemon Targaryen as maester."
"I'm sure you will," Ser Jorah answered. "You seem to know what you're doing with those potions, at the very least."
The two men parted amicably, knowing they'd never see each other again. Sam had finished his rounds by the time he realized Ser Jorah had used the present tense: know, not knew. Could he not know that his father was dead? Sam had unintentionally given the impression that Jeor Mormont, not Jon, had sent him to Oldtown.
Well, Sam thought, I've done him an accidental kindness. The man has enough on his mind without telling him that his father was butchered by his own men!
When Marwyn summoned Sam to his solar the next morning, his first, panicked thought was that he'd been caught. Excuses flitted in and out of his head, but there was no real justification for setting a greyscale-infected man loose on the city. But Marwyn wouldn't care about the infirmary patients, Sam told himself in guilty relief. That was Archmaester Ebrose's domain, or Maester Barth's now that Ebrose was busy.
He knocked, wondering if the Mage had more questions about Jon, and the Archmaester beckoned from within. Immediately, Sam saw that he hadn't been summoned alone. Alleras sat on the windowsill, arms crossed and looking convincingly bored. Leo Tyrell was there as well, pale-faced with dark shadows under his eyes. Sam had never seen him so subdued.
"Good, you've arrived. Samwell, I have an important task for you," Marwyn said briskly. "Lock the door and sit down, please."
The Mage twirled his Valyrian steel rod in his hands. "The only reason you three are here is that you have earned my trust while at the Citadel. Break that trust now, and my associates will hunt you to the ends of the earth and force-feed you widow's blood. Consider this your first and final warning."
Sam's jaw dropped. A subtle glance at Alleras revealed she was just as shocked as Sam, but she recovered quickly. Leo Tyrell only blinked.
"Do you understand me?" Marwyn went on, frowning at the three acolytes until they nodded. "The task I have in mind for you is more important than any maester's chain, any person, and any allegiance you might have. You might never complete your chain if you do what I'm about to ask of you. If you want no part in this, remove yourself from my office immediately."
No one moved.
"Very well. Surely you've noticed my colleagues' reaction to what is happening out there," he said, pointing towards the window. "The Citadel has spent centuries doing its best to rid the world of dragons and those who control them, and any other magic they cannot wield for themselves. Now, despite their best efforts, we have three dragons and a kraken within view of the city."
"Acolyte Alleras, how many books of spells or practical magic have you found in the common libraries?" Marwyn barked suddenly.
"None, Archmaester," replied Sam's friend. "I've read books about books of spells, but the originals all seem to have disappeared."
Sam jumped. "I found the same, Archmaester. The books reaffirm the message that we can never understand magic; they do not teach it."
"None, Archmaester," replied the Tyrell.
"You might think the originals have been destroyed, and in many cases, that is so," Marwyn told them. "It is what we want the Conclave to believe, at any rate. But the Archmaesters of the higher mysteries—and our trusted associates—have spent generations copying our rarest books, and switching the originals with deliberately incomplete copies, currently in the lower libraries. We cannot let this precious knowledge die out because of politics," he added indignantly.
Alleras perked up. "Are we going to help you copy the original texts, Archmaester?"
"Had you come to the Citadel ten years earlier, certainly," the Mage answered. "But the time for that has passed. Euron Greyjoy is out there on the bay, and if there is any man in this world who should never access the higher mysteries, it is he. My colleagues know it, too. Should he enter the city, they will burn the Citadel to ashes before he can pick up a single scroll. I cannot allow such a travesty!" he finished, slamming his fist down on his desk. Raven scrolls, quills, papers, and dust went flying, sending the aged maester into coughing fits.
Once his coughing had subsided, Marwyn scrutinized them all with sharp eyes.
"I want you to go back to your cells. Pack your belongings, but tell no one that you are leaving tomorrow. Write no letters. Act normal around your friends. I will send servants to collect your things while you eat your supper, and you will receive another summons when the time comes. Now go," he commanded, sitting back in his chair.
The other two left in a hurry, but Sam lingered uncertainly. Surely, if the answer to White Walkers was in a rare book of magic, Sam was about to see where such books were hidden! And perhaps he'd even find a book on ancient Valyrian metalwork, so the Night's Watch could forge more dragonsteel!
At the same time, he'd been ordered to earn a maester's chain by his Lord Commander, and he had Gilly and little Aemon to consider…
"You heard me, Samwell," Marwyn said sharply.
"Archmaester, you know why I've come," Sam said, tripping over the words. "I'm sure the answers I seek would be in the collection of books we're to hide. But what of Gilly and the wildling king's child?"
"Ah yes, your savage girl," the older man sighed. "You weren't as careful as you should have been, when the Conclave interrogated you. Any man with working ears can tell she's your lover. But maesters, and even archmaesters, have had lovers for thousands of years," he added with a smirk. "Vows are nothing but wasted breath for most of these gray sheep."
"I'll have someone collect your girl and the little prince. You're going back north, so she might as well come along. An illiterate nursemaid is no threat to our plans, and it seems that Stannis Baratheon's witch has moved on to bigger targets than a little wildling boy. You've read the raven scrolls about your former Lord Commander, I presume?"
Sam blushed under Marwyn's sharp gaze. "Yes, I ha-have, Archmaester. But...we're going north? In winter?"
But Marwyn was finished with his questions. "Tarly, I have important people to speak to, and you're late for your last lecture in law. Get to it."
Sam caught the hint, and left the solar.
He went through his lessons in a daze. After all of this effort to come to the Citadel, all of the links he'd earned, he was leaving with an incomplete chain! A small part of Sam was horrified that he'd accepted Marwyn's task, but he knew, deep down, that this would be better for the North, for the Watch, and—if the White Walkers brought down the Wall—for the entire kingdom.
And at the very least, he'd be with Gilly.
Supper was a quiet affair. Most of the Citadel was fretting about the siege, as they had for days. The healers had come from the dockside tents, grim-faced and pale, with exhaustion written on every feature. Their mood had infected the rest of the dining hall like the Great Spring Sickness of 209 A.C. Archmaester Ebrose, usually so full of energy, looked ready for a week-long nap.
Sam and his conspirators had another worry, and escaping unnoticed was harder than Marwyn had made it sound.
"Please, Sam," Armen begged over dessert. "I just need some help understanding these formulas."
Armen was a clever acolyte and he'd earned more links than Sam, but algebra was his one weakness. He'd gone to Rodwyle for help quite frequently, and the young maester's departure for Winterfell had taken its toll on every acolyte he'd tutored...and their marks in mathematics and engineering.
"I am sorry," Sam said regretfully, seizing the first excuse that came to mind. "I have an awful headache right now, Armen. Perhaps we could look at them tomorrow, before the noon meal?"
The other acolyte nodded in defeat. "I suppose I could revise my High Valyrian tonight, and save the mathematics for tomorrow." He clapped Sam on the shoulder. "Go to bed, Tarly. You look like you need it."
"I will," Sam answered, avoiding his friend's eyes. At the next table, Alleras was having a similar conversation with Roone. He wondered if Mollander and Pate could detect the guilt in her eyes.
Leo Tyrell had no such problems. He sat alone, sipping at a goblet of watery ale. When his eyes met Sam's, he nodded slightly. It was the closest thing to respect that Sam had ever received from the other man.
Marwyn's chosen helpers escaped the dining hall as soon as they could, staggering their exit with subtle cutlery gestures and nods to avoid suspicion. Sam rather thought the spoon-signals were absurd, but he went along with the farce, not daring to face the Archmaester's displeasure. He was sure most of his fellows would barely notice his departure, and he could always pretend he needed a run to the privy.
Once he'd returned to the privacy of his cell, Sam reached under his bed and pulled out his bags. He collected his belongings, stopping here and there to marvel at how many he'd collected. His newest treasures were the textbooks he'd copied, especially the treatise on healing potions and salves.
Although, he mused gloomily, the North wouldn't have the materials to make half of them, and the Night's Watch was in even worse straits. How had Maester Aemon ever coped with the dearth of supplies?
He packed Heartsbane carefully, wrapped in rags and hidden under books. Sam was still baffled that his father had not stormed into the Citadel and demanded his head for theft, but so it was. Perhaps he was too ashamed to admit that his weakling son had taken his greatest treasure. It hardly mattered; Sam was leaving, and none of his masters would know where he'd gone, save Marwyn and his associates. And Heartsbane would be desperately needed on the Wall, not decorating his father's solar.
He didn't have much; once his books and clothes were accounted for; only a few trinkets here and there, and the small pouch of coins he'd earned at the Scribe's Hearth. He reached for a faded black bundle, unsure of what was in it, when a knock at his door startled him into dropping it.
It was Pate's voice. Sam's black bundle had opened, sending items rolling underneath his desk and bed. Quickly, he shoved his packs under the bed, kicked a pair of obsidian arrowheads and a larger, cloth-covered object out of sight, then sat at his desk. He had left a single book unpacked for this very purpose, and now he picked it up like a lifeline, pretending to read.
"Come in," Sam said, out of breath and not hiding it well.
Pate entered the room, looking around with curious eyes, and Sam prayed that he saw nothing amiss. He tried to breathe more quietly, and waited until his friend had sat on Sam's bed with a sigh.
"I'm having trouble with this star chart," the novice told him shyly. "Would you mind? You are Sam the Stargazer," he added with a sly grin.
Sam bit his tongue before he cursed. He didn't have much left to pack, but he'd been hoping to sneak out and warn Gilly of what was coming. And yet...Pate was his friend. After tomorrow, it was likely that Sam would never see him again, and Marwyn's conspirators had already rebuffed Armen and Roone. Surely he could help, just this once, and avoid suspicion?
"Very well," Sam replied. "Let's go up to the West Tower. We'll have a better view of the stars from there."
He pulled on his cloak, took a candle, and waited for Pate to bring his own. Then they slipped out of the dormitory. Like two gray shadows they crossed courtyards and gardens, where the sea breeze still brought the distant sound of men screaming and a creature's roar. Sam thought of Ser Jorah, making his way willingly to that monster, and shivered. But Pate ignored the sounds of battle, intent on completing his work for Archmaester Vaellyn. They climbed up the tower in a companionable silence, and Pate was kind enough to wait until Sam had caught his breath.
"Let's see your chart," Sam said, moving his rush candle to see better. Pate had filled in all of the major constellations, but they were placed incorrectly. Sam frowned, looking closer, and realized that the chart was for a sky three moons past.
"Pate, this isn't right," he said slowly. "You did this today?"
"No," the other confessed. "But it seemed the best way to talk to you in private. Sam, I want to come with you."
"I don't know what you mean," Sam lied quickly. His throat felt oddly dry.
"Sam," sighed the other man. "I'll never earn any links, that much is plain. If I couldn't do in years what you did in mere moons, what hope do I have? I might as well do something useful with my time."
"You don't know what we're doing, or where we're going. You don't know what you're asking," Sam warned him tremulously. "And in any case, it's not my decision. It's all Archmaester Marwyn's plan, and he's willing to kill to keep the secret from the rest of the Conclave. Forget about us, Pate, for your own good."
An odd smile crossed Pate's soft, pale face at this. "Do you think I cannot kill to protect a secret?"
No, I don't, Sam wanted to say, but he wasn't sure if Pate was jesting or serious. It suddenly dawned on Sam that he knew very little about his fellow student, and that no one but Pate knew where he was.
Oh, gods help me, Sam thought wildly. He could kill me and no one would know! But why?
"Speak to Marwyn if you wish; I have no authority here," Sam advised carefully. "But I have never seen the Mage so serious about anything; he may very well kill you for spying on him."
"I appreciate the warning," Pate replied, equally serious. "But I will make my way north regardless, even if I have to sneak out."
"But why?" Sam asked, baffled. Pate had certainly shown an interest in Sam's stories of the Others and the Wall, and the Starks of Winterfell, but he'd never mentioned a desire to go there in the depths of winter!
Pate took back his star chart, all pretense forgotten. "Perhaps I shall tell you, one day. You are very good at keeping confidences."
"Then how did you find out? We told no one!" Sam protested.
The Westerlander smiled mischievously. "One day, I shall tell you," he repeated.
He stood, bid Sam a good night and safe journey, and vanished into the darkness beneath the tower. Sam remained for a moment, confused and worried, until the crunch of a ship caught in a kraken's mouth jolted him back to the present. Then, shivering under his cloak, he too walked down the stairs and to his bed.
The next day felt never-ending. Eagle-eyed watchers reported that the sea monster had taken six ships in the night, and the harbor was overflowing with shipwrecked men and debris of all stripes. Some had tried to continue the battle on foot; others had been too exhausted from swimming to shore, leading to a slaughter. Siege weapons on the sea-wall were sending bolt after bolt at the kraken, but they served only to enrage it. Daenerys Targaryen's smaller dragons attacked both monster and men, but the large black one (and its rider) had not been seen for days. It was clear that the queen could not control them as well as she handled their injured brother.
Another riot had broken out near Ragpicker's Wynd, so severe that some of the Citadel's own guards had gone to help. For a horrible moment, Sam had wondered if Marwyn would start a riot deliberately, to draw eyes away from his own plans. Then he decided he didn't want to know, and turned his attention back to his breakfast.
No one had reported Ser Jorah missing from the infirmary yet. Maester Barth did not visit the permanent ward himself, and with healers spread so thin, the remaining maesters focused on the temporary patients, hoping to get them in and out quickly. Sam guessed that his fellow acolytes had only passed trays of food through the slot in Ser Jorah's door. Even at the Citadel, only the most dedicated healers would go near a man with greyscale.
It was a small comfort for Sam as he sat in Archmaester Castos' lecture, trying very hard to concentrate on High Valyrian grammar and failing.
"Samwell? Sparos Āegenkon Dēmalion dēmassis?"
Sam froze. "Pardon, Archmaester?"
"Sparos Āegenkon Dēmalion dēmassis?" Castos repeated, frowning.
Sam sighed in relief, grateful that he'd studied so much High Valyrian before coming to the Citadel.
Who holds the Iron Throne? the maester was asking. He had combined High Valyrian, history, and politics into his lesson today. One might assume it was due to the battle outside, but one would be wrong. Castos had not changed his lessons for at least thirty years; at least, that was what his assistants claimed.
"Cersei Lannister, Archmaester."
"Kirimvose. Perhaps next time I shan't need to repeat the question, Acolyte Samwell?"
"Issa, ñuhys teptys," Sam answered meekly.
Sam, normally so attentive, felt as though the maesters spoke a language he only half-understood. Now and then he picked up a question or a comment, but the hours passed, and instead of pages of notes, he had one page of halfhearted scribbles. All he could think about was the upcoming trip, Pate's strange request, the riots, and Gilly. How was he meant to act normally?
"Gods, this is tedious," Alleras whispered to him in the dining hall, when they'd stopped for the noon meal. "I keep going over my packing in my head; I'm sure I've forgotten something, and I can't concentrate on anything else. Archmaester Guyne looked ready to roast me like the Targaryen dragons," she added wryly.
"And the Mage isn't helping," Sam responded quietly, sneaking a glance at Marwyn. He sat at the Archmaesters' table as always, glowering at the students and ignoring the men at his sides.
"I'm almost tempted to feign sickness and hide in my cell until it's time to leave," the Sphinx confessed to Sam.
"Do you ever wonder if it's all a trick?" Sam asked her, hesitating. "What if he's just testing our loyalty?"
The dark-skinned acolyte blinked once, then twice. Sam could almost see the wheels turning in that clever head, reconsidering every interaction she'd had with Marwyn the Mage. Then she swore viciously, low enough that only Sam could hear her.
"If he's playing with us, I'll use his balls for target practice," she said at last. "I didn't come to the Citadel on a whim, and I'm sure you didn't either."
Sam nearly choked on his ale. Alleras was as dangerous with her bow as Jon was with Longclaw, and the image of Marwyn full of goldenheart arrows made him wince. Still, she had a point. Sam, Leo, and Alleras would be treated as runaways, or worse, thieves. They'd never finish their chains, and only Sam had a second sworn brotherhood to welcome him back.
"What will you do, after we've delivered the books?" Sam asked his friend, genuinely curious.
"I suppose I'll go back home," she answered neutrally. "I never wanted to bind myself to a lord's castle, you know. I just wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible. My father did the same, once."
Suddenly, the puzzle pieces clicked together. Sam had noticed immediately that Alleras spoke like a noblewoman, despite her efforts to hide it. There was a Dornish lilt in her speech, and she'd let slip that her father was Dornish before. She'd been furious about Caleotte's betrayal of the Martells, and her father had come to the Citadel, but not become a maester. Sam had only seen the late Prince Oberyn once or twice as a boy, but he remembered the Red Viper's black eyes...and Alleras had them.
A Sand Snake, he thought, amazed. All this time, I've been studying and drinking with the Prince of Dorne's bastard daughter! That explains quite a bit!
"What did I say, Tarly?" she asked, giving him a light shove. "You look like you've had an epiphany."
"I have," Sam replied, "but it changes nothing."
She crossed her arms, looking thoroughly unimpressed with his evasion. "Spill it, Sam the Slayer. You know I'll discover your secret, sooner or later."
"It's not my secret," Sam blurted out. "It's yours. And I've kept the biggest one to myself for weeks; I have no reason to share this one now."
The bell rang, signaling the end of the meal. Before Alleras could stop and question him further, Sam hurried out of the hall and to his next class. He was determined to learn something new before he left Oldtown forever.
I'll leave with my head held high, Sam decided, even if Marwyn has me sneak out into the night.
He was lucky. Archmaester Gallard was the sort who never asked questions, enamored as he was with the sound of his own voice. Half of his students used his lectures to nap, and the more diligent half copied down as much of his monologues as they were able, determined to make sense of them later. The maester never even noticed that Sam was distracted, and Mollander, who shared a desk with Sam, was too busy snoring away to care.
Afterwards, Sam escaped from his friend by paying a visit to the privy. He hid there as men and boys hurried off to supper, and followed them into the hall just as the Archmaesters were summoning the servants. Arriving late meant less time for idle chatter; just as he'd taken his seat, Archmaester Cetheres said his usual long-winded prayer of thanksgiving for the meal. His script never varied. A few of Sam's friends usually mouthed the words along with Cetheres, while the few Northmen and skeptics rolled their eyes or feigned sleep.
Finally, the Archmaester sat, and the servants started filling plates and cups. The only member of Sam's group close enough to speak was Roone, and he never did so while he still had food on his plate; it was a trait he shared with the other boys from very large families. Thus, Sam found himself eating quietly for once, without the need to pretend all was well and he'd be here on the morrow. Alleras was burning holes into the back of his head, but Sam let her; they'd have plenty of time to speak on the road to Winterfell.
Sam took his time. The plain but hearty meal in front of him seemed a king's feast, now that he was forced to leave. The inhabitants of the Citadel never went to bed hungry except as punishment, and they never froze to death, piece by piece, like the men of the Watch.
I've been happy here, Sam thought wistfully, looking around the dining hall with his mouth full of seasoned vegetables. I could have done such good as a maester! The Watch will not be so kind, and no one will trust a half-maester!
He returned to his cell, dragging his feet, only to find his packs long gone. Marwyn's servants had come for them during the meal, as promised. A quick peek into the darkness under his bed revealed a forgotten dragonglass arrowhead, nearly invisible against the dark stone of his floor. Sam had only found it by cutting his finger on the sharp point. He picked it up with a curse, and shoved it into his pocket while he looked for some cloth to bandage the cut. None remained save the bedclothes, so Sam sat on his bed and wrapped his finger with the edge of his linens, waiting for the bleeding to stop and remembering the Fist.
A brief knock startled him out of his thoughts. He had no idea how long he'd waited, but the dormitory was quiet. It was likely that his fellow students were abed. Sam opened the door, and found Meran, one of Marwyn's errand-boys. Alleras and Leo stood behind him.
"Master wishes to see you," the boy said in a rough undercity accent.
Sam took a deep breath. There was no backing out now; if he even tried, Marwyn would have his cock and everything attached to it.
He followed Meran and his classmates, but to his surprise, the boy did not lead them to Marwyn's solar. Instead, he led the acolytes down the servants' stairs, out of the dormitory, across the Crooked Courtyard and into what Sam assumed was a storage building. Indeed, the first thing Sam saw was a neat stack of wine barrels, such as the Archmaesters drank. The room held crates and barrels of expensive beers, Dornish reds, Arbor golds, and Highgarden hippocras. Sam also saw exotic beverages from the Free Cities.
"What are we doing in here?" Sam asked his guide, confused.
Meran grinned, and closed the door behind Sam. He removed one of the stones making up the southern wall, revealing a shallow hidden compartment. The servant boy retrieved an old key, heavy and slightly rusted, before replacing the stone. Then, he rolled up a faded rug on the opposite side of the room, behind the Arbor gold, and revealed a trapdoor. The key turned easily, and the door opened without any creaking; it was clear that it had been used recently.
The boy handed his candle to Sam.
"Go on, Acolytes. Maester Marwyn is waiting below."
They did so, walking close together so none would fall down the long, dark staircase. The lone candle was inadequate for the cavernous tunnel in which they found themselves at the bottom. The walls were dark, and appeared oily to the touch, though there was no time to examine them closely.
The candle did reveal deep grooves in the packed earth beneath their feet. It was obvious that carts had come all the way to the bottom of the stairs, and retreated once Marwyn and his helpers had loaded as many books as the carts could carry. The three acolytes followed the tracks. It was so silent in the tunnel that their steps sounded like giants marching. Sam remembered Jon's tales of the forbidding Winterfell crypts, and wondered if they looked anything like this. Then he realized that he would see Jon soon, and cheered up despite the gloom, and the climb. The tunnel was definitely rising, perhaps to street-level.
They were minutes away from total darkness when Alleras pointed straight ahead, and the other two noticed torches in the distance. Invigorated, they picked up the pace. They had reached the end of the tunnel, where a door just wide enough for carts guarded the exit. There were sixteen horse-drawn carts lined up, each full of books and surrounded by men in Hightower livery. The men were busy draping oiled cloth over the crates and pulling the covers tight, to keep the rescued books safe from the elements. Four more carts stood at the end of the line, these full of food and supplies for the journey, and the travelers' belongings.
Sam was delighted. He had expected a few dozen tomes, but this was an entire library's worth of forgotten knowledge, and it was going to Winterfell, where he and Jon could make use of it! Surely, the answer to the Watch's problems would be in one of these carts!
Archmaester Marwyn spotted his acolytes, and walked briskly to meet them with a torch in hand. He looked as jubilant as Sam felt.
"At last," he said impatiently. "I was wondering if perhaps you'd betrayed me to the others. It would have been a shame to kill you."
"And miss all of this fun?" Alleras replied, raising an eyebrow. "Never!"
"Good," the Mage answered, beaming with almost fatherly pride. "Now, I must introduce the leader of this expedition," he said, and a pair cloaked in gray approached. Sam had missed them in the darkness, but now he saw an old man and a woman, dressed in fine clothing but rather ragged in appearance. The man kept a long, unfashionable beard, and his fingernails were quite long as well, reminding Sam of a sketch he'd seen of Aerys Targaryen after Duskendale. The man's hair and beard were as pale as a Targaryen's, though he could not tell if age or blood had made them so.
"This is Lord Leyton Hightower, Voice of Oldtown, Lord of the Port, Defender of the Citadel, and Beacon of the South—" Marwyn said, and Sam nearly choked on his tongue. The Old Man of Oldtown, the lord who had not left his tower in at least ten years, supposedly to study books of magic! But that meant the woman must be…
"—and his daughter, Lady Malora Hightower. My lord, these are my trusted acolytes, Alleras Sand, Samwell Tarly, and Leo Tyrell."
The acolytes bowed. Neither of the Hightowers showed any surprise; it was clear that Marwyn had told them of his chosen students while plotting together.
"I'm sure you're wondering why we've left our tower now," Lady Malora said, regarding them all with intelligent blue eyes. "And I'm well aware of my nickname in the city," she added with a wicked grin. "My lord father and I have been studying the deep mysteries, and can no longer ignore the warnings we've been given. We must go north, and put our knowledge to use where it is most needed. If by so doing we save the Seven Kingdoms from the depravity of the Crow's Eye, so much the better. A madman who would summon a kraken he cannot hope to control is unworthy of this treasure."
"Malora is right," her father told them. "Baelor will guard the city and people well in my absence, better than an old man like me could do, and the centuries of knowledge we have gathered must be protected."
There was no hint of madness in the Mad Maid, as she was known in the city, or in her reclusive father. Sam looked at her, and knew that she and Alleras would get along brilliantly. But there was another woman missing from the group.
"Archmaester, where are Gilly and Aemon?" Sam asked urgently.
The older man sighed. "She is on her way this very moment, Tarly. Your wildling will be with us soon, with an armed escort provided by my lord," he added, nodding politely to Lord Leyton. "Though they are taking longer than I expected," he muttered under his breath. "You may quiet your nerves by assisting these men," he ordered, pointing to the carts. "If water or vermin get into the supplies, you will have growling bellies and no one to blame but yourselves."
The acolytes obeyed, and followed the soldiers' lead. Two of the guards slipped out to gather water for the horses, and returned just as the city bells marked the passing of midnight. Sam thought they sounded rather distant, and wondered how far the tunnel had taken them.
Suddenly, a heavy door in a steeply ascending side-tunnel to Sam's left burst open, and a roar of sound filled the main tunnel, echoing terribly. Five men entered, escorting a young woman and her child. She was cloaked and hooded, and trembling to the bone, but Sam knew her at once.
"Gilly," he cried, rushing to her side. Behind her, the men closed, locked, and barred the entrance. The screams and clashes of steel died at once.
"A riot has broken out above us, my lord," one of the guards told Lord Leyton, his expression bleak. "The monster came closer to the walls, and folk panicked. We're beating it back with the siege engines, but the beast is relentless."
Sam didn't hear the Lord of Oldtown's reply. He'd noticed blood on Gilly's cloak, and was searching for the source when she stopped him with a cool hand.
"I'm well, Sam," she said firmly. "It's not my blood, nor the child's. There are many wounded up there," she said with a dark look at the door.
"Come, child," Lady Malora told her, taking Gilly gently by the arm. "Can you ride?"
Gilly blinked. "A horse? No, Lady," she said feebly.
"I thought not. In that case, you and the babe will ride in the wheelhouse with me. It's waiting for us outside the tunnel," the Mad Maid explained.
"Thank you, Lady," the wildling answered, looking a bit overwhelmed. "I am very grateful."
Sam noted with interest that Gilly was speaking with a stilted, but fairly accurate Oldtown accent. She had been working very hard to fit in; in addition to her speech, she was also wearing a southron dress appropriate for a servant, and a widow's braided armband to fit her story. Sam felt oddly proud of her, and of little Aemon, who grew bigger and stronger every day.
"That's that, then," Marwyn said, getting everyone's attention. "We have a few hours before dawn; you must leave at once, and get well beyond sight of the city."
Alleras' mouth fell open in surprise. "You're not coming with us, Archmaester?"
"No, indeed!" the Mage replied, coming to stand in front of his favorite student. "Once the battle is over, Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons will come into the city. Would you entrust her safety to the gray sheep, or worse, the doddering buffoons of the Starry Sept? No! This is where we part ways, my dear Sphinx. I'll expect a full account of your adventures in due course."
Sam's friend bowed, lost for words.
"You, Samwell, know better than most what is at stake. Once you are safe in Winterfell, study to your heart's content, by all means. Put those brains of yours to use."
"I will, Archmaester," Sam promised. It was a task tailor-made for Sam's talents.
"And you, Leo," the Mage said, now turning to Leo Tyrell. "I hope you find your purpose. You are so much more than the younger son of a cadet branch." He lowered his voice. "Try to make friends instead of enemies for once, won't you?"
And Leo Tyrell, the man who had tried to torment Sam, Alleras, and others with cruel jibes and mocking threats, bit his lip and nodded silently. Sam was sure he was fighting tears.
Marwyn clasped hands with Lord Hightower, and then they were off, one cart rolling after the other until all twenty had passed the doors. They had passed into a large barn or warehouse of some kind. Lord Leyton's captain, a man named Portar, informed them that the tunnel had taken them under the city wall, and into an abandoned storage building that rested against it, a stone's throw from the North Gate. Sam looked out of the nearest window and saw the truth of it; the imposing walls of Oldtown loomed tall and proud, and they were now outside of them.
Once they were all through, their party closed and locked the tunnel entrance, leaving Marwyn and Meran alone on the other side. The guards then moved something on the floor, and before Sam had understood what was happening, the door seemed to fade before his eyes, leaving only blank walls.
"Did you see that?" Leo asked his classmates, blinking owlishly.
"Magic," Alleras said, nodding. "The old goat always has something up his sleeve. It's most likely an illusion, but nicely done all the same."
They left the warehouse under the cover of night, one cart after the other. Horses, enough for the guards, the Lord, and the three acolytes, were saddled and ready outside, as well as a wheelhouse for Gilly and the lady Malora. Gilly followed the lady into it, wide-eyed at the opulence. Sam hoped she would enjoy it; she was unused to luxury in any form, and now she had a Hightower for a traveling companion!
Sam mounted his horse, and winced. His journey north would be far less comfortable.
And there you have it. House Hightower has entered the fray in the most mysterious manner. What have they seen from their tower? Why does Faceless-Man-As-Pate want in on the action? How will Oldtown survive both Euron and Dany? How does one kill a kraken, anyway? And lastly, did you catch Sam's mistake?
You'll have to stick around and find out. Next time, we catch up with Arya in Riverrun, but don't worry; we will return! Dany, Theon, Euron, and Tyrion are all just outside the walls! So we'll have a closer look at the battle the next time we visit, and of course, the politics that follow the carnage, because how could we not? Let me know what you think, and stay tuned for the next one. Happy reading!
Let me know what you think, and stay tuned for the next one. Happy reading!