In the throne room, he was met with a celebration. Theon had never seen Lord Balon so...joyful. As he tried to part the crowd and ask his father what was going on, Yara arrived with her crew and the dark, drafty hall broke into catcalls and salutes. The men were calling her the Bay Queen, Lady of the Riverlands, the Terror of Winterfell. It was that last one that worried Theon. Among the throngs of singing and drinking, Yara made her way to Balon.
Formalities took over, and Yara bent one knee to their father as the crowds hushed. "Lord Reaper of Pyke, I have returned."
Balon stood and surveyed the hall full of seamen, soldiers, and pirates. He offered up a prayer to the Drowned God. "What is dead may never die!"
And the people responded with "But rises again, harder and stronger!"
Although baptized by seawater, Theon still felt uncomfortable in the presence of devotion to the Drowned God, and at this moment he was too concerned with the implications of this ceremony to remember to pantomime his own devotion.
"Rise up, Captain. Today, you have paid the Iron Price, and the Islands are ours once more! Today, the Ironbay, tomorrow all of Westeros!"
The hall exploded with triumph, and Theon balked. The Islands were free? Pride welled up inside of him until he began to wonder, at what cost? The men quieted down when Yara spoke again.
"Lord Reaper, allow me to present to you," the hall doors banged open, and a bloodied prisoner was dragged before the throne amidst the hooting and hollering of Yara's men.
"...the King of the North!"
Theon would recognize that bruised and battered body anywhere.
As he was paraded before the crowds, hands and feet weighed down by chains, Robb Stark kept his head up. And when he was thrown to his knees in front of Balon, he attempted to stand, knees shaking from the effort, but when that failed, he still managed to look his enemy in the eyes without fear. The bloodied rag tied around his head kept him from voicing his rage, but his eyes conveyed it all. That look froze the blood in Theon's veins once more, rooting him to the spot as he watched his idol and rival kneel before his father. Much like Theon had done as a boy before Ned Stark. It seemed the gods had granted the worst of his prayers and left the others untended.
The crowd grew loud with cheers of "King of the North" as Lord Balon spit at his feet. Balon's right-hand-man and executioner Desmon gathered his robes and rushed to Lord Balon's side in the ungainly manner of a crab scuttling sideways. He was almost drooling with the excitement of killing.
"What do you propose we do with him, Lord Reaper?" The gleam in his eyes said, kill him kill him kill him let me kill him. And he was rarely denied that privilege—the Drowned God approved of such bloodshed with fervor.
Theon remembered watching the quick deaths dealt by the Starks: a simple beheading or hanging, nothing flashy, nothing slow. But here, in the high cliffs of Pyke, death was a bitter art. The killing of one's enemies was a thing to be savored, teased and tasted. Days of public humiliation and torture were often followed by being burned alive and then thrown into the roaring waves. This was not what Theon had in mind when he wished this on his brother. The whole hall awaited the answer, and Theon knew what they wanted to hear.
Finally, Balon bellowed out, "Send the Stark to the stocks—he dies high sun tomorrow!" Theon knew what that meant: Robb would spend the remaining daylight hours chained up in the courtyard, exposed to the cruel beatings and jeers of the Iron Islanders, and night would bring no sleep for all the flogging. Then, when the sun came up, he would be dragged through every dirt road on the island as the villagers kick and spit, all before being forced to build his own funeral pyre. Apparitions of a fiery death and Robb's body falling from the cliffside as hundreds of Islanders cheered clouded his mind and all of his other thoughts stepped aside for the rage that grew rapidly within him.
No, not Robb…they won't take Robb…
As Yara's men stepped forward to escort the King of the North, so did Theon. The quick silver of his sword blocked their path as he planted himself between a cruel, hard death and Robb. They may not have respected him as a captain yet, but his swordsmanship was well known, and the men backed down, looking to Lord Balon for answers. Theon didn't dare turn away from the men to see his father's angry glare or the look of bewilderment on the young Stark's face behind him. He did, however, glimpse his sister's half-smile out of the corner of his eye. Was she laughing at him or maybe just a little proud of her brother?
Balon broke the silence: "Leave us!" And all but Balon's high counsel, Yara, and a few of her men scurried from the room like scatted cats. The heavy wooden doors shut roughly, leaving the room nearly empty, and Theon turned to face his father.
His breast heaving with rage, Lord Balon asked, "What is the meaning of this, Theon?"
Only an Ironborn could get away with disobeying the Lord Reaper, and even then Theon knew there would be a steep price to pay. If he was going to save Robb Stark's life, he would have to play his father's game. Pleas for mercy would only push Robb into his grave. No, he would have to appeal to his father's sense of pride. He took a deep, brave breath and funneled all of his own anger into his next few words: "You didn't tell me you were planning on kidnapping a Stark, father."
"Your sister and I weren't sure where your loyalties lay, Theon. We couldn't risk having you warn the Starks of our plans." He looked from Theon to Robb and back again, his brow furrowed in disapproval. "And clearly, we were right to have our doubts."
Realizing that any displays of compassion for a Stark would lead to trouble, Theon took a step back from his shackled friend and cloaked his worry for Robb in wounded pride. "I am a Greyjoy too, goddammit! Haven't I returned of my own free will from the captivity you sent me into? Haven't I taken my vows and been baptized in the sea like any other Greyjoy? I deserve a seat at your counsel, a say in our plans, and yet you've done nothing but keep me in the dark since I came here!"
"Enough, Theon! I should string you up next to your beloved King!" As Theon's indignation clamored for a fight, his sister intervened in his favor, stepping between the two angry Greyjoy men and their captive.
"Father, let me talk with Theon. Gerder, Vick-wait outside." Yara ordered her lapdogs to stand outside the door to the counsel room behind the throne and dragged Theon into the dark quarters. A single large fireplace was blazing, and Yara took a seat at the head of the table while Theon paced about, trying not to wring his sister's neck.
Yara propped her feet up on the table and waited for Theon to speak, seemingly amused by his confusion.
Theon slammed his hands against the table and shouted, "what the fuck is going on here, Yara?"
She was unfazed, perhaps even proud. A true Greyjoy was born angry. "It's simple. We struck a deal with the Queen: we get rid of that damned King of the North, and she gives us back our lands, waters, and freedom."
"Dammit Yara, you'll bring the Northerner's winter down on our heads! How much will that freedom be worth when Stark's armies come to sink our islands beneath the sea?"
"Don't worry, baby brother. The Starks have no soldiers that can walk on water. Our walls are unscalable. And Tywin Lannister's forces will soon be chasing the remains of a kingless northern army back to the wall."
"How could you make a deal with a Baratheon on the Iron Throne? Have you forgotten who it was that ended our last rebellion? That is not the Iron Price. Scheming and dealing with lions in their den? You're more like a diplomat than an Ironborn!"
"Oh, so it's our rebellion now, is it? Look who decided to become a Greyjoy! But mark my words, that lily-white whelp is no Baratheon-the Lannisters rule Westeros these days. And we rule the Iron Islands, part of the Riverlands and Ironman's Bay. For now, the Westerlands will remain Lannister territory, but one day, all those sworn to Casterly Rock will be ours as well. The Lannisters' forces are only there for the money. Our men are strong, hardened by the sea, and fiercely loyal to me. But in order to build an army to take on the Lannisters, it was necessary to get a foothold on the mainland. And you'll be glad to know that the Iron Price has been paid: I killed many a northern soldier when we ambushed Robb Stark's scouting party. But enough about my victories. Tell me, Theon, how many fisherman's wives did you rape while I was out reaping the harvest?"
"You've gone mad..."
"Don't you see, little brother? One day, the Greyjoys will rise to power once more. All of Westeros will fear our name, on land and sea, as it was meant to be."
"Balon would never agree to something like this. When I attempted to forge a truce between the Starks and the Iron Islands, he scoffed at me, and now he is allying himself with the Lannisters? What have you done, Yara? How did you convince him?"
Yara grabbed his collar forcefully, but without violence. "Listen closely, Theon. Father can't be trusted to make his own decisions anymore. He needs someone to make plans and bring him glory in his last days. Can you do that? Can you promise him on his deathbed that the Greyjoy name will be remembered, not as a failed rebellion, but as conquerors?" She let him go and turned towards the fire, flames reflecting in her sea-roused locks. Theon remained silent, watching her. Her next words sounded heavy with an uncharacteristic guilt. "I told him that I had communed with the Drowned God, and that he commanded me to takes steps to secure our future as Ironborn."
"You don't expect me to believe this religious nonsense?"
Yara took a few swifts steps towards Theon, eyes threatening him to make a move. "These lies are for the good of the Islands. Father trusts me, listens to me. The Drowned God may not recognize a Lady Reaper, but the people will. When father dies, I will take his place. I have more men behind me than anyone else on these shores, and I will have the throne. And I will kill any man who tries to take it from me."
"Keep your throne, sister-that's not what I'm after. These men respect you, the Drowned God be damned. But your plans to conquer Westeros will destroy us."
"Don't you want to be free? To rule the high seas again? Or it is something else that has you so bothered?" A smirk crept into her face with those last words, as if she knew Theon's secret.
"This isn't about Robb Stark! I have sworn myself to the Islands, to serving the Reaper, to your damned Drowned God! I demand the respect I deserve, and I am telling you that this decision to kill Robb Stark is the wrong one. Keep him hostage, and we will have a defensive weapon against the Starks for years to come, no matter what family sits on the Iron Throne. Kill him, and we have gained nothing but the rage of thousands of Northerners for centuries to come." He lowered his voice and held Yara's eyes in the firelight. "Please. Tell him the Drowned God demands it. Tell him we've no other choice. I don't care what you say to him, but don't let him harm Robb Stark. Exile me from the Islands, if that's what it takes. Because if he sends Robb Stark to his death, I will be burning right beside him for the killing of the Lord Reaper."
Yara was surprised by Theon's appeal, but impressed by his resolve. Their father had it all wrong: it was Greyjoy blood in those veins after all, not winter and the howling of wolves. Her hard gaze softened with affection for her little brother. "I will talk to father, but I cannot promise more than Robb's life. Don't expect him to walk away free. As for a seat on the counsel, if you still want it...I believe father will soon see that you are a true Ironborn." With that, she clasped his shoulders and walked back out into the fray.