Chapter 64: Pretty Little Liars
Everything was in place, from the angry Umbers to the assassins. It was a pity that Jon had been sensible and persuaded the Umbers not to attempt to kill Robb personally. It would have been funny to see them try. And fail, of course, because Katherine would be there. Robb was oblivious to everything, as usual. That was the way Katherine wanted it. If he suspected her of doing half the things that she had done, she imagined that there would be some rather interesting discussions.
Jon had been very insistent on giving her all the details about the assassination. He had helped Damon and Daemon – those names were beginning to sound a little like "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum", as far as rhythm was concerned – select the men who would be carrying out the task. After reading every single detail that Jon had listed out, with Elena's help, as he had some trouble with writing, Katherine felt as if she would know the assassins the moment she glimpsed them. Robb's brother was definitely very eager to keep him alive.
It surprised Katherine, actually. One would have thought that Jon Snow, with his talent and eagerness to prove, for if this was not eagerness to prove himself, she didn't know what was, would be jealous of his half-brother and want to usurp him. Yet Jon had done everything within his power and gone beyond and over what anyone had expected of him to try and help Robb. Such devotion was alien to her. What did he stand to gain from it apart from Robb's gratitude? Besides, wouldn't Robb take it for granted?
Or was it really all an act on Jon's part, to get under Robb's defences so when the time came to betray him, it would be all the easier?
Storing that little thought in the back of her mind for now, Katherine resolved to test Jon's loyalty when the chance came. Yes, she had done some preliminary probing but he could have just been a very good actor that time. Words proved nothing. Actions, on the other hand, were everything.
She absentmindedly brushed her hair out in front of the blurry mirror. Robb had tried his best to furnish their chambers in Harrenhal so it would be fit for a lady, but there was only so much he could do. The bristles of the brush snagged on her curls. She swore quietly under her breath and tried to untangle it. Robb looked up from whatever it was that he was writing. Seeing her dilemma, he rose. He was wearing nothing but his robe and it fell open to reveal his flat stomach. The lack of light made the shadows of the ridges and planes starker and she just wanted to kiss that line of hair that led from his navel and went downward like a treasure trail.
"Katherine, you're going to tear your hair out like that," he said. "Let me."
"Aren't you too busy, my lord?"
"I am never too busy for my wife," said Robb. "And don't 'my lord' me. That usually makes me think you're up to mischief. Unless you are, of course, in which case I demand to know what it is so I am not taken by surprise again."
"No mischief," said Katherine. "Just a few ideas for plans that haven't come into fruition yet." Not exactly inaccurate, because she didn't count it as "fruition" until the plans actually succeeded. So far, the Umbers were still alive.
Robb's hands were surprisingly gentle as he untangled her hair from the hairbrush and proceeded to undo the knots with his fingers, before brushing out her curls. "You have such beautiful hair," he said. "I hope, if we have daughters, they will all look like you."
Oh dear God, the baby question. Well, it was never going to be a problem because there would be no babies. There would be no need for them if she and Robb were both going to live forever. In time, she would turn him, when he was ready to know the truth. Not yet. He was still so innocent and naïve. It would be such a shock to his system that she wasn't sure if he could handle it.
"Come to bed," she said. "It's late." It was almost time for the attempted assassination.
"There are still many matters–"
He was cut off as she kissed him deeply and insistently. His hand came up to grip the back of her head, mussing up the curls that he had, just one minute ago, so carefully untangled. His other hand rested on her hip. She could feel his warmth on her skin through the thin fabric of her shift. It might be cold in the north, but there was plenty of fire inside this room, and she wasn't just talking about that hearth.
He hoisted her up in his arms and she wrapped her legs about his waist. The work was forgotten. It could all wait until morning anyway. They fell onto his pile of furs with him on the bottom. She bent over him and kissed him all over slowly. She undid the ties of his braies with her teeth.
He stiffened when she took him into her mouth. "Katherine!" he gasped. "You…shouldn't…"
"Hush, my love," she said. "Let me do this for you."
She suckled on his erection as he tried to control himself, but in vain. She didn't want control. She wanted him to let himself go, to be free and wild the way she knew he was meant to be. His father and mother and the expectations of the world had tamed him but, deep inside, she knew his spirit was feral. Why else would he love her (fine, everyone loved her) and be friends with Damon? If there were two people in the world who were the antithesis of discipline, then it was them.
Before he lost control completely, he pulled her up. His pupils were dilated and his entire body was covered with a film of sweat. "Not like this," he whispered. His voice was hoarse with need. "I want you properly, Katherine."
"Then take me," she said.
With strength that amazed her, he flipped her over and got down on his hands and knees over her. His kisses went ever downwards, mirroring what she had just done to him. She felt him lifting her skirts. She moaned. His tongue was hot. True, he could be taught to tease her a little more, but there was some natural talent going on down there. He brought her as close to the edge as he possibly dared and then plunged himself into her ready wetness. She cried out. So did he. Their voices mingled as they moved as one, riding each wave, prolonging each wave. They reached their climax together, him with his head thrown back and mouthing her name in silent ecstasy, her with a lot less control and with her fingers raking grooves down his back, marking him as her own.
When, at last, they were both spent, they fell back together in a position commonly known as 'spooning'. Robb continued to kiss Katherine's neck and to nibble her ear. "I love you," he murmured.
"You're only saying that because you want more," she replied teasingly.
"Can't you, for once, just tell me that you love me too?"
She snuggled up further against him and kissed his hand but did not say anything. He knew the answer, or he should. She just wasn't very good with saying "I love you" and actually meaning it. Once was quite enough for a lifetime and she had done it more than once. So she pretended to sleep instead, knowing that he would never persist in this line of questioning. That was the wonderful thing about Robb. He was passionate, but not needy, and he knew she needed her space sometimes.
She only pretended to sleep whilst her husband slumbered. She drifted in and out of musings. With a million thoughts going on in one's mind at the same time, it was not difficult to keep awake. After the Umbers were gone, it would be time to turn the spearhead against the Lannisters who, by then, would hopefully be broken by Stannis, or at least bruised. With both of them licking their wounds, it would be a question of who was wounded more.
There were some shouts outside, followed by harsh barked commands. They were too far away even for her to hear, although it sounded like Umber. Then it was silent again.
The gasp of a dying man made her open her eyes fully. Hot tangy blood scented the wet night air. She did not move. The lock rattled. And rattled some more. Seriously, this was who they chose? Finally, the assassins managed to vanquish the lock. Robb had to be very tired indeed if he could sleep through this. The blades gleamed dully in the little firelight inside. A gust of cold air rushed inside as the assassins stepped in, dressed in what were, at best, costumes from fantasy game fans' conventions, with leather straps across their chests and boots of fur. Could they be a little more obvious, please? Oh wait, they probably thought this was how northerners dressed.
There were three of them. They moved towards the sleeping Robb. The dagger was raised.
Katherine reached up and caught the wrist just as it was about to come down. Her sudden movement startled Robb who rolled out of bed in one swift moment, having grabbed the dagger that he always kept under his pillow.
The other two now faced Robb. Had there ever been anything so sexy as a naked king fighting for his life? Not that his life was in any danger. She had it all under control.
"Who are you?" demanded Robb. "Who sent you?"
The two men did not answer but both charged at Robb at once. Katherine flung the third one away into the desk and before he could recover from the shock, she slammed his head onto the table so hard that it splintered. The table, not the head.
Robb ducked and weaved, his lack of … encumberance making him swift-footed and quick but he was still at a disadvantage. A shallow gash on his shoulder bled freely. "Katherine, get out!" he shouted.
Had he forgotten who had handled The Mountain? She threw a length of linen about the second assassin's neck, looping it around twice before pulling it taut. The man forgot Robb and clawed at the linen. She hauled him onto the main table where the map and the carved wooden figurines were. Lions and wolves fell as the man struggled, but in vain. She felt the bones of his neck splinter and crack as she yanked hard. The spinal cord was severed. The man fell back limply, his tongue protruding from his mouth like a grotesque slug that should not be there.
They had come out of nowhere, shadows in the darkness. Robb knew that he was bleeding but he was too angry and too excited to feel the pain. He circled the man, vaguely aware that one, there were no guards coming in and, two, Katherine was holding her own against the second man. The third man was already down, somehow. It had happened so quickly.
Where were the guards? The Praetorians? He assumed the would-be murderers would have killed the guards already but he had twenty-fucking-thousand men outside! He was aware of the glow of the fires staining the walls orange and red. The very same diversion trick that they had used when they had come for Bran. Somehow, that only made him angrier. Their family had done nothing to deserve this! Whoever harmed them would come to regret it, this he swore by his blood, for he no longer believed in the gods.
"Katherine, get out!" he shouted. They had come for him. She had nothing to do with it! He needed to protect her.
Robb and the third man were locked in a life and death struggle. The other man was stronger but Robb was more determined to live and to protect the woman he loved. The mercenary slammed Robb against the wall, making Robb see light in his vision and loosen his grip. He brought his knee up. It connected with a soft part of the man's body. The man's blood drained from his face. Robb shoved him aside and stumbled away from the wall, diving for his weapon. The stone floors were not so smooth and they scraped the skin away from his arm and side as he did so. He didn't care.
The killer charged at him again. He didn't get out of the way quickly enough and he was knocked to the ground. His dagger was flung from his hand. He grabbed the man's wrist just in time to stop him from pushing the blade between his ribs. He twisted, putting all his strength into it until the man dropped the dagger and then lashed out with his foot, cursing the fact that he was not wearing his usual iron-toed boots.
White light and pain flashed through Robb's head as the man headbutted him. He grasped at everything and anything he could use as a weapon. His hand came into contact with something on the man's belt; his eating knife. Not pausing to even think, he pulled it out and thrust it into the man's eye. The man gave a short, sharp cry which was cut short as his spirit was quickly extinguished. Blood spurted onto Robb's face and hands, mingling with his own.
He threw the body off him, his chest heaving with the exertion. The wind cooled his sweat and made him shiver. He staggered up, still holding the eating knife. Katherine was there at his side immediately. If not for her, he probably would have fallen. His injuries made themselves known to him, the pain hitting him with a vengeance. He winced as she accidentally grabbed his injured arm. His head throbbed.
"Robb, you're hurt," she whispered.
"Who were they? They tried to kill me," whispered Robb. Some part of his mind realized what a silly thing that was to say. Even a blind man would have known that they had tried to kill him. At least Katherine was not hurt. He touched his upper lip as he felt something trickle down it. His nose was bleeding. He'd never had a nosebleed before.
Katherine sat him down on the bed and busied herself with pouring cups of wine for the two of them. She must have been more frightened than she let on because she took a lot longer than usual and it seemed to Robb that she was shaking. But she managed it and brought the dark liquid over in two goblets. Robb gulped it down. It tasted more metallic than usual, as if the wine was tainted with blood, but he drank it anyway. It steadied his nerves, steeled his mind and made him felt a lot better. His wounds still hurt but the pain had faded somewhat and perhaps it was just him, but they even looked better. He touched the back of his head gingerly. There was a sticky wet patch and it was tender, still, but he could ascertain that his head was, in fact, intact. Northerners had hard skulls. He was no exception.
"They're Umber's men. I'm sure of it," said Katherine. "I had heard that they wanted to kill you to avenge their father."
"Did you know this was going to happen?" asked Robb.
"I didn't know for sure they would do it and I had no idea they would do it tonight," said Katherine. "I'm sorry."
"You're not the one who needs to be sorry," said Robb. He made to stand, but Katherine placed a hand on his chest and pushed him back down.
"I have an idea," she said. Of course she did. He gazed at her, with her sleep-and-fight tousled curls, still naked, and a lot calmer than he was. What had she seen that had given her nerves so hard that Valyrian Steel could not break her? "But we need to be quick, before someone sees you. They need to think you're dead."
She hid him under the bed. It would only be temporary as sooner or later, someone was bound to attempt to clean under there. He watched with horrified fascination as Katherine stripped one of the killers' bodies and began to methodically butcher him until he wasn't recognizably anyone and could pass for anyone at all, so long as it was a man. She smashed in the skull, sending brain matter and bone chips flying everywhere. There was so much blood that it looked as if a massacre had taken place. When she was done, she started screaming.
Her screams brought men running in. It seemed like a lot had been done but, in truth, it had only been a few minutes. His wife worked quickly. Katherine knelt weeping over the mutilated body. Her act was so convincing that for a moment, a little over-imaginative corner of Robb's mind wondered if that really was his body and he was merely a ghost, lingering at the spot of his death. The twinge he felt when he moved his arm cured him of that.
Bolton, Umber and the other bannermen burst in, followed closely by his mother and Arya, still in their night robes. His mother screamed when she saw the body and the bloody naked Katherine kneeling. She fell to her knees, her legs having lost the strength to hold her. Robb bit his lip as she crawled over to the corpse. Arya stumbled over as well, her hand pressed against her mouth as she struggled not to cry out loud.
"What happened?" asked Bolton quietly.
Katherine stood. The entire assembly could see her the way the gods had intended her to be, wild, free, dangerous, like a goddess of old who accepted human sacrifices. "Where were you?" she demanded.
"There was a fire, my lady," said Bolton. "Near the supplies. We had to put it out."
"And while you were saving hay and grain, your lord was being slaughtered," said Katherine. Her low voice broke halfway through with pretend anger and grief. The third man chose this moment to groan. In two strides, Katherine was above him. She hauled him to his feet. "Find this one suitable lodgings in the dungeons," she said. "I have questions for our guest."
Robb had never seen anything quite so magnificent as Katherine, naked and covered in blood, raging at his guards and bannermen for their incompetence. Just watching her, and feeling jealous of the fact that all these men got to see what was his was enough to keep his mind off the discomfort of lying on the cold hard stone floor under the bed. It was quite dusty. He would need a bath afterwards.
Bolton offered Katherine his cloak. She ignored it and continued to shout and scream as if she were maddened by grief. Would she do that if he really were dead? Or would she be calm and level-headed as she usually was and adjust to the changes? His mother was still hugging the corpse and refusing to let go, even when soldiers tried to gently pry her away so that the body could be prepared for the funeral rites.
Arya tugged at her. "Mother," she sobbed. "Please, you can't do this. Robb wouldn't want you to do this." His sister was trying to be brave, but she was only eleven and she had already lost so much. He was sorry that she had to see this and wished, more than anything, that they could be let in on the secret. But Katherine had said the genuine grief of his family would be much more believable to their enemies.
He tried not to move so much, but his muscles were developing cramps. His bannermen were trying to calm Katherine down, to no effect. His mother fainted from her grief and was finally carried out. Arya followed with one last tear-filled glance at the corpse. "My lady, we cannot bring Lord Stark back," said Bolton. "We must make preparations. When the news of his death gets out, many will try to lay claim to the north."
"His son will have claim," said Katherine.
"I carry his heir."
Everyone became still. It was as if they had all been frozen suddenly and Katherine alone remained able to move. Robb dared not move, or even breathe too deeply. A child? Why hadn't she told him?! Gods be praised, he would be a father!
Wait, he didn't believe in the gods and Katherine did not look the least bit pregnant. Still, women knew things that were mysteries to men.
"My lady…" said Bolton. Even he looked stunned.
"Out," said Katherine quietly.
"Out!" Her scream shook the walls and the very foundations of Harrenhal, it seemed. How could so much rage and madness be concentrated in that one word? The bannermen hurried out, probably all remembering what she had done to Gregor Clegane. And she had not been angry then.
The door closed behind the last of them, leaving Robb and Katherine alone at last.
She turned around. The rage that had twisted her face had faded without a trace. She smiled angelically at him. "All gone now," she said. "You can come out."
Robb scrambled out from under the bed. What a sight they must both look, covered in blood and sweat and absolutely dusty and filthy, as if they had just emerged into the world from the womb. He placed a hand on her flat stomach.
"Are you…" he whispered.
"No," said Katherine. "But someone has to keep your seat safe for you until you can reclaim it." It made sense and there was no one he trusted more than Katherine when it came to keeping his power intact. "Come, we must get you somewhere hidden."
She hastily threw on some clothes and threw his clothes at him. Whilst he dressed (inconspicuous grey everything, including a cloak which had a hood), she began feeling the walls of their chamber, running her hands along the cracks between the stones and lifting tapestries.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Old places like this always have secrets," said Katherine. As she did so, she found what she was looking for. There was a click and a hiss, like the sound of a giant sucking air. She pushed and the wall gave away. "Like secret passages. I found this some time ago. Some people like to crochet or embroider or read on a rainy day. Me, I find secret passages."
"You really are the most extraordinary woman, you know," said Robb.
"I know," said Katherine. "This passage leads to the dungeons. Don't look at me like that. You know you will be safe there. I'll even give you the keys."
"Is this why you chose this room, because of the secret passageway? Because the one down the hallway was much more pleasant and less draughty," said Robb.
"You know me so well," said Katherine. She took up a taper. "Are you coming?"
Robb surveyed his new 'quarters', if they deserved the word. Yes, they had tried to make it as comfortable as possible, but a cave was still a cave and he wasn't about to call it anything else. He and Katherine spread rugs on the packed sandy floor and hung them up on the walls to keep out the cold. She helped him to heap up a pile of firewood at one end to create a makeshift hearth. The cave system went on for a long way and carried draughts from the outside, so at least he would not suffocate. He ran his hand over the ancient rock, wondering whether Lord Harren and his predecessors had built this, chipped away at the earth bit by bit, or whether the tunnels had always been here.
At least, he told himself, it wasn't a cell as he'd expected. There was a metal grate at one end to prevent the other prisoners from escaping through the tunnel, but he had the keys to that.
"Well, this is cosy," said Katherine. She flopped down onto the pile of heather and fur that served as his bed for now.
"If this is how you treat your husband, do I want to know how you treat your enemies?" he said as he flopped down beside her and covered them both with his heavy cloak. It was actually quite comfortable and, for once, there was nothing in the form of a pile of documents to distract him.
"This is nice," said Katherine. "I'd have been very happy if I had a place like this to stay in when I was a bard."
"It would have been cold, all on your own," said Robb.
"It was," Katherine agreed. "But I'll make sure you won't be cold, my lord." She turned over to kiss him gently on the lips.
"No," said Robb. "You wouldn't let me catch a chill, now, would you?"
Her hand slipped up his shirt and over his chest. He reciprocated by pulling up her skirts. Her thigh was supple and smooth beneath his hand. How could someone seemingly so delicate be so strong? He didn't understand it. But he probably would never understand his wife. She always kept him guessing.
"I shouldn't stay too long," she whispered. He started to protest but she put a finger to his lips. "There are bannermen to convince and prisoners to question. But I'll be back later." She winked.
"What am I supposed to do with myself?" asked Robb.
"Rest, my sweet king," said Katherine. "You've overworked yourself. Besides, aren't you supposed to be resting in peace?"
"Pieces," Robb called after her.
With Robb settled, it was time to carry out the rest of her plan. The Umbers thought they were so clever and the Lannisters were probably rejoicing. She would let them enjoy themselves for a little while before springing the biggest surprise on them. She listened at the entrance of the secret passage for a while before exiting back out into the room. No one had been in. The bloodstains were still fresh on the floor. Good. She flung off her clothes and wrapped a blanket around herself, seeming to have only just resigned herself to the terrible, terrible truth that her beloved husband was gone.
She didn't know how long she sat there, waiting, but at last, a knock came on the door and it opened even though she did not say anything. "Katherine?" whispered Arya.
"Arya," whispered Katherine hoarsely. She was good at this.
The girl came in and approached her, taking care to step around the puddles of blood. Katherine did nothing to stop her as she got onto the bed beside her. "I can't believe he's gone," said Arya softly. Her eyes stared into nothingness and Katherine could guess that she was thinking about her father and how she had lost him too. "They said you're with child." There was a little pause. "I don't think it's true. Damon said vampires couldn't have babies."
Fuck Damon, always ruining things.
"What's going to happen now?" asked Arya.
"I don't know," said Katherine. "But I'm going to keep you all safe and we'll make them all suffer, whoever did this."
"You know, don't you?"
"I have ideas," said Katherine.
"I'm going to kill them," Arya swore. "Will you teach me how?"
Katherine managed a wan smile. She was such a lovely child, Robb's sister, always wanting to fight and kill things. She reminded Katherine of a less intelligent version of herself sometimes. "I am going to interrogate our guests," she said. "Perhaps you would like to come?"
Guest: Klaus and Daenerys will make a re-emergence eventually. Robb and Katherine just need to get their diabolical plans out of the way first. We're glad you're enjoying the story. :)
Next chapter: The world reacts to Robb's "death". Ramsay Snow finally enters Winterfell…