Chapter 116: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
How had it all gone so wrong? Roose Bolton was unwilling to believe what he saw even though it was right before his eyes. The queen…the queen! What the fuck was she?! And Damon? Elijah Frey? Little Lady Elena and Jon Fucking Snow? They transformed there, their faces still beautiful, but now filled with a malice he had never seen before. Well, not Jon Snow. He was still just a boy. They were neither men nor women, but monsters; creatures of legend that, until now, had not even penetrated the folklore of Westeros.
It would not work now. He knew it in his bones. Robb Stark had the gods on his side – not the gods of his father nor the Seven of his mother, but other gods, more violent and more real than any other god Westeros had ever had. They were right here and the only prayers they needed were the screams of dying men.
He forced his way through to Robb Stark. "Protect the king!" he shouted. Damon Salvatore whipped around at his call.
"Lol," said Salvatore. What? The creature pointed at his eyes with his bloodstained index and middle fingers before pointing at Roose with those same two digits. Did he know? And if he did, then did Katherine know?
No, she couldn't know. There was no 'if' about it. If she knew, he would be a dead man. He rushed into the fray, cutting down Freys who ought to have been his allies. Where were the fucking Lannisters? If they were here, perhaps…
But even Tywin Lannister couldn't fight the gods. Roose had never been a religious man but now he wondered whether he had made a mistake. Looking at the lot of them with their dark eyes, the white teeth, the marble quality of their beautiful countenances, one could easily become a convert.
All he could do now was join in the frenzy of bloody worship and hope that his offering would be enough to appease Katherine Stark's infamous divine anger.
Elijah yanked out the chain that had been tying the door closed. The weakest links snapped, leaving him with a length of about three metres. He dragged it along behind him as he approached Walder Frey with deliberate and steady steps. The old man was encircled by his sons and guards and daughters and wives. Well, wife. Men parted for him, this nightmare made flesh. People who had once treated him as a brother or something to be sneered at now looked upon him with terror as they realized what he could do. He was the monster that haunted the edges of their psyches. He was the fear that they had not even realized that they had had, until now.
He was Death.
"Elijah," said Symon Frey. The man was terrified but somehow, he could still talk without any shaking in his voice. "I would never have agreed but you know what Father is like. Let us talk about this. Perhaps we can came to an understanding."
"There is nothing to talk about, Symon Frey," said Elijah. The rusted metal of the chain was warming up in his hand.
"The old man is a traitor. He deserves what he gets," Symon persisted. "But you and I, we could do a lot together. You are intelligent, Elijah. Surely you must understand."
"I understand completely," said Elijah. These men were all the same; so predictable. They insulted him by thinking he could be bought with such lies.
"Bring him down! I want him–"
Frey had not finished his sentence before the very bravest of the men charged (not Symon), thinking that, perhaps, their numbers would overwhelm Elijah. The chain swung and wrapped around the neck of the first man. Elijah leapt into the air and, as he did so, looped the chain around a second neck. He weaved his dance, entrapping more and more prey until there was no more chain left. He smiled grimly and yanked. Several heads flew off simultaneously. Fountains of blood spurted into the air and then fell like red rain. The women's screams were so loud that they obscured everything else for a while. He left them. They were no threat.
Robb had somehow armed himself and even Arya had gotten one of the daggers Katherine had strapped to her thigh. And then, of course, Jon Snow had played his part beautifully. It was then that he realized that all of Robb's protectors were dressed in (formerly) white and gold; the colours of the kingsguard.
Elena was fighting back to back with Jon Snow. Her face was messy from feeding and her dress was soaked through. The fabric clung to her legs and body. The little vampire was growing up well. Although he really shouldn't be, Elijah was proud of the part he had played in helping her to become the woman she was now. She had the fire and spirit and passion that had made him fall in love with Katerina in the first place.
The Tully men that Katherine had snuck in were rounding up the last of the terrified Freys. It was almost over…
"The Lannisters! The Lannisters are here!"
Sandor gutted the man. Hot blood splashed onto his hands and face. He could taste it in his mouth, all salty and coppery. He licked his lip. That Frey whelp had actually gotten in a hit. He shoved aside two men who had thought they would take their chance with him. He stomped hard on the throat of the first, crushing his windpipe. The second turned to flee but he was run through by one of those clean-shaven northerners in the special fancy pansy armour. "Praetorians!" shouted the man. "To the tower! To the king!"
The Frey men had attacked suddenly when the Rains of Castamere had started playing. The northerners, taken by surprise, were still too busy fumbling with their swords to figure out what they were going to do about it. Sandor had no idea what was going on or why the Freys had suddenly turned on their allies, but he didn't really care. He hadn't come all this way to join the Starks, only to die at the hands of the fucking Freys.
The queen's guard ‑ the ones with the unsayable name - in the fancy pansy armour were the first to rally and to stop twiddling their thumbs and actually pull out their swords. Perhaps they were the best out of all the northerners. Sandor joined them. The others were going to be slaughtered. He didn't know what he was doing but anything was better than nothing. If the Starks lost, he would have to find somewhere else to go and Joffrey's men were hunting him down, no doubt. Only the Starks would take him in.
He pounded up the stone steps with the rest of the Pretty Pansies. The stones were already slick with blood. The servants ran and fled at the sight of armoured and armed northmen thirsty for blood. They ran past the great hall, where nothing was going on, and up until they reached the door that led to the rooftop. The screaming was coming from there. The door was locked and bolted from the inside, as if they meant to keep anyone from leaving the rooftop.
The Pretty Pansies undid the latch and burst through.
The sight that greeted him stunned him. Lords and ladies dressed in their best were running everywhere like beheaded chickens who didn't know that they were dead yet. Their terror was so great that he could almost smell it. The ground was wet with blood. It turned into little rivers in the joinings between the individual paving stones. At first, he didn't understand what he was seeing. There were blurs that moved and wherever they moved, men would inevitably die.
The blurs grew faces. Or, at least, the one that stopped near him did. Katherine Stark! And Elena whats-her-face. And fucking Salvatore. He didn't know the other man and he didn't care. The only thing that mattered was that he was a good killer and he wasn't trying to kill Sandor. But how could anyone be this good? Bodies draped over tables and lay in puddles of sauce and blood. Heads rolled across the floor as more joined them like a messy game of ball. Gregor would have liked this game. Fucking Gregor was in a fucking cage where he belonged and this one woman had done it. Why hadn't he ever wondered how she had done it?
He didn't have time to think about it. The other man whose name he didn't know had looped a length of chain around the necks of a dozen Freys. When he pulled on the chain, all the heads popped off. Katherine kicked one of the heads, sending it flying at an archer. Someone thought that attacking her while she was distracted would be a good idea.
Her face changed immediately. Sandor had thought he was not afraid of anything and certainly not dainty little girls, no matter what their reputations were. However, as she changed, he saw something that would make men piss their pants and Joffrey shit himself in public. He'd probably done that before anyway and in reaction to much smaller things. It was that monster inside her that had made her capable of taking down the largest and most terrifying monster Westeros had seen, up until she had made herself known. Her teeth grew long and sharp. She sank them into the man's neck.
"What are you?" he demanded when she finally lifted her head, blood dripping from her mouth and chin.
"It's none of your business now, is it, little dog?"
He would have growled or attempted to snap her neck but he knew how well that would work. He did not want a collar that matched his fucking brother's. Instead, he stopped thinking so much and did what he did best, which was killing. That cocky whelp Damon Salvatore was ripping hearts and spines out of men's chests with nothing more than his bare hands. Elena fought back to back with Ned Stark's bastard (whose name he had never bothered to learn) and Robb Stark. All the rest of the men in the fancy armour were rallying to their king. Despite being outnumbered and ambushed, it looked as though the Starks could actually win this. Thank you, Little Bird, for your letter.
The wolves rounded up the Freys like they were sheep in a slaughterhouse. Below, the men were still fighting, but Sandor didn't think they'd keep fighting for long once Robb Stark dangled Walder Frey down the side of the wall by his cock. Or would it be Katherine Stark who did all the dirty work? He was just a little bit curious as to how they were going to deal with what's left of the Freys. Some, surely, would go towards feeding the queen. Wasn't she with child? Pregnant women ate more than they were worth.
He didn't get to find out.
"The Lannisters!" cried one of the northerners. "The Lannisters are here!"
Lannisters! How… Catelyn's mind was reeling. All she could see was red everywhere. Blood, teeth, monsters. She backed away. Everything in her body was telling her to run. The Freys, upon hearing that their new masters had arrived, were reinvigorated. They knew better than to attack Katherine, now, but Robb's mother, her, she was a different matter.
The men – the Tully men who were somehow dressed in Frey uniforms had dispersed to clean up the rest of the Freys, thinking that the main danger was now over. Catelyn staggered to one side and clutched at the edge of one of the tables to steady herself. Her hands grew sticky with the blood and spilled wine and sauce that had soaked into the wood.
A crossbow bolt whistled. Someone knocked her to the floor, out of the path of the arrow. The air was driven from her lungs. White light flashed before her eyes when her head hit stone. She heard a gasp. When her vision cleared, Arya was standing where she had been a moment ago. And…
"No!" she screamed. The sounds of battle, which had seemed so distant to her shocked mind, now all came back. But her scream was louder than anything else. "No!" she scrambled over to her daughter, to catch her as she fell, to pull out that damned arrow! Men's legs got in the way, blocking her sight. She tried to get to her feet but there was no strength left in her. In her heart, she knew…
He saw the arrow fly. He saw Arya push their mother out of the way. He saw the arrow strike her. His little sister, not even twelve years old. Arya looked down at her chest, seemingly surprised by the arrow that had sprouted there.
"Arya!" shouted Robb. His desperation lent him speed and strength. He shoved aside the Frey he was fighting. The man was larger but he was slower, and Robb was furious. His bloodied sword cut through the tendons at the back of the man's leg, sending him crashing to his knees. Robb stabbed him through the neck and, without waiting to watch his body fall, ran to Arya, shoving aside men as he did so, regardless of which side they were on. He crashed into someone who was also rushing to Arya's side. The two of them fell onto a heap on the floor and scrambled to get up. Jon.
Robb got there first.
He took his sister in his arms. His poor little sister, all gangly limbs and bones just like a boy. The sprinkling of freckles on her face stood out against her white skin. Blood stained her bloodless lips. Her eyes, wide open, were already beginning to take on a glassy look.
"Arya, no!" shouted Robb. What to do, what to do?
"Move aside!" Damon shoved Robb away and pressed his bleeding wrist against Arya's mouth. "Drink, damn you!" Arya did not move. Blood – both hers and Damon's – ran down her chin.
The three of them, Robb, Jon, and Damon, regarded one another and, at that moment, all three of them knew the terrible truth.
"She's gone," whispered Jon. His voice was hollow and it echoed in Robb's mind. He saw that moment over and over again; Arya pushing his mother aside, the arrow hitting her. He had held her as she had died. It was supposed to be him! He had gotten them into this. It was not Arya's fault!
Damon set Arya gently on the ground and brushed her eyes closed in a surprisingly gentle manner. He said nothing as he straightened himself. His eyes were dark with murderous bloodlust and, now, a thirst for vengeance as well.
Or perhaps it was his own rage and grief that Robb saw mirrored in those eyes, once as blue as his own, now completely black with not even the slightest bit of white showing. Eyes were the windows into a man's soul, they said. All he saw in his friend's eyes was his own darkness reflected in them.
He, too, stood, with one last glance at his sister. She lay there, so peaceful now except for the ugly arrow sticking in her. His mother picked up the poor little body and shook it, but Arya did not wake up. Robb did not stay to watch. He had not the stomach for it nor the patience. She was dead. She could never come back. It was his fault but, not only that…
He turned his gaze upon Walder Frey, still hiding. He could not hide, not from vengeance and not from justice.
Elijah saw the change overcome Robb Stark as he rose from his sister's side. The shock was overwhelming the grief and above all, anger was masking everything. The vampire understood. The young man was doing the equivalent of what vampires did when they switched off their emotions. His pain was too much for him to bear right now and his mind knew it needed to concentrate on what needed to be done if he were to survive this. So it had latched onto the safest emotion and drowned out all others.
Robb let the tip of his sword drag on the ground as he stalked towards Walder Frey. It made a grating ringing noise on the rough stones. Moonlight reflected on the pools of sticky blood. His boots made a wet tacky noise as he walked.
The old man cowered behind his womenfolk, but there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to go. His people were dead. His sons were either prisoners or ripped apart. Elijah had dealt with Symon himself, trussing the man up like a pig, with all his limbs dislocated. "You are a man without honour, Lord Frey," said Robb quietly.
"You need me alive," stammered Frey. "You need my men."
"We do, don't we? But the two are not the same, my lord," said Katerina. She turned to one of the captives. "Isn't that right, sweetheart?" Since when did she say "Sweetheart"? The terrified boy-man nodded. Katerina smiled grimly at Walder Frey. "You seem to have overestimated your men's loyalty."
Walder Frey backed away until there was nowhere else for him to back into. He was stuck between a rock and an angry Robb Stark, which was infinitely worse than a hard place. Young Stark did not say anything. He pushed the Frey women aside. They were too scared to stop him. Besides, none of them cared about Walder Frey enough to actually try.
What was Robb going to do? Katerina stood so still that it almost seemed as if she had become part of the backdrop. "You might want to get on with it, Your Grace," said Damon quietly, trying very hard to imitate his usual nonchalance but failing badly. If Robb Stark took any more time, Damon Salvatore would take the task into his own hands. Elijah knew emotional attachment when he saw it. Damon had cared a great deal about the young Stark girl.
"Your Grace," said Elijah quietly. The lights on the horizon drew closer. They would be here soon. "The Lannisters approach."
Walder Frey drew his dagger and held it in two gnarled shaking hands, so affected by rheumatism that they could barely grasp anything with strength. Robb knocked it aside. It clattered onto the floor and landed in a puddle of blood next to the severed head of one of his sons.
Robb slowly pushed the tip of his blade into the old man's stomach. Walder Frey's eyes widened and he let out a pathetic mewling sound. Pungent gases and liquid, along with his half-digested meal, dribbled out when Robb removed his blade.
The old man sank to the floor, clutching at his belly to stop his guts and stomach contents from spilling out. Stomach acid and blood ran down his fingers. More, undoubtedly, was running down his insides and melting his organs. He never took his eyes off Robb Stark but whatever scathing words he wished to speak, they were lost to the pain. If they had had time, no doubt they could have devised a more agonizing and deserving manner for him to die but, alas, their enemies were here, ready for round two.
The Lannisters were very close, now. By the time they rallied the men and got out of here, the lions would be upon them and this ragged pack of wolves was not ready for a fight like that.
But, of course, they had never counted on Elijah being there.
Robb looked over the battlements at the mass of lights that was pouring over the land, obliterating the night. "How?" he asked softly, more to himself than anything. How were they to get out of this alive?
Jon and Elena had managed to pry Arya from Catelyn's arms. Catelyn's low guttural sobs and moans grated against Robb's heartstrings, making his chest ache physically. He wanted to cry himself and weep and scream at the injustice of the world, but what would that do?
Jon picked up Arya and wrapped her in his white cloak. He now cradled her gently to his bosom. He nodded to Robb, his eyes dry with tears that could not be shed. Elena held Catelyn in her arms as if she were her mother.
Robb flinched when Katherine touched him and moved away. Words kept on chasing themselves around in his mind. Monster! Liar! Who is my wife? He didn't know.
She was insistent, however, and he knew why. The sounds of battle roared below him. Damon might have started the killing early, but there were still ten thousand Frey men to contend with. Some of them, no doubt, thought that capturing or killing Robb Stark would gain them considerable favour with the Lannisters. He needed to get to his men and rally them.
"Follow me," he said. Without waiting to see if they would do so, and also knowing that they would, he turned and ran down the stairs. The fighting had not yet reached the inside of the keep yet but it was only a matter of time. Terrified servants stared at him. Blood dripped from the leaks in the ceiling above. He kept on turning and running down the flights of stairs. "Damon, Elijah…Katherine, you're with me. Elena, take my mother and sister to safety as soon as you're down," said Robb.
"But…" began Elena.
"I will brook no argument," said Robb.
"Yes, Your Grace," said Elena.
"Jon," Robb began.
"I'm not leaving you," said Jon. He had that look in his eyes; one that Robb had not seen until recently. Nothing he did or said would change his brother's mind. Jon quickly kissed Elena on the lips, not caring that they were still covered in the blood of her victims. She clung to him as if she would never let him go. He had known about her and he hadn't cared that she was a monster. Was she really a monster?
"If you die, I'll kill you," Elena said.
"I know," said Jon. "Now, go."
The men, those who were able, had poured onto the southern shore, the nearest one, clueless, frightened and leaderless. Robb clambered onto the shore. All he could see were their black shadows. No one seemed to realize that he was there.
"Sons of the north!" shouted Robb, finding his voice finally for the first time, it seemed, since the horror had begun. "My brothers!" He had to be strong, if not for himself, then for these countrymen who had followed him so far, through victory and defeat and the worst mistake in his life.
"The king," came one murmur. "It's the king!"
Robb raised his blade, red with the blood of his enemies.
"Your Grace!" One of Lord Manderly's sons, the youngest, who had not been important enough to join in the feasting, ran to him. His arm hung uselessly by his side. "They just fell upon us. What are we going to do?" The boy's eyes were wide with fear. Robb could see the white all around his irises.
"I am here," he said. "Rally to me! We'll make for the northern shore!"
"The Lannisters are here!" The lights, from this level, had just begun to creep over the horizon.
"Your Grace, you must go," said Elijah. "I will hold them off."
"On your own?" said Robb. "How?"
"One of Walder Frey's conditions to the Lannisters was that they gave him enough wildfire to destroy a castle," said Elijah. "I need men to help me move the barrels but, after that, there is no need for more men to die unnecessarily."
Robb wanted to say something, to ask him if he had really thought this through. To do this was to…
But Elijah's expression was serene and resolute. Robb only gave him one nod of assent and farewell. He had lost many today. He was about to lose more, still, but if Elijah's sacrifice was going to save the northern force, he could not deny the man this choice. No matter what he was, he had proven himself to be loyal.
The men surged and gathered around him. His banners were ragged, but still flying.
Just as their feet touched the northern shore, there was a tremendous crack and a roll of thunder before the bridge broke into two and the southern tower collapsed in a pillar of green flame.
A/N: It seems we've taken up GRRM's writing habits and publishing strategy.