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ARYA 

The feast tents were behind them now. They squished over wet clay and torn grass, out of the light and back into the gloom. Ahead loomed the castle gatehouse. She could see torches moving on the walls, their flames dancing and blowing in the wind. The light shone dully against the wet mail and helms. More torches were moving on the dark stone bridge that joined the Twins, a column of them streaming from the west bank to the east.

“The castle’s not closed,” Arya said suddenly. The sergeant had said it would be, but he was wrong. The portcullis was being drawn upward even as she watched, and the drawbridge had already been lowered to span the swollen moat. She had been afraid that Lord Frey’s guardsmen would refuse to let them in. For half a heartbeat she chewed her lip, too anxious to smile.

The Hound reined up so suddenly that she almost fell off the wayn. “Seven bloody buggering hells,” Arya heard him curse, as their left wheel began to sink in soft mud. The wayn tilted slowly. “Get down,” Clegane roared at her, slamming the heel of his hand into her shoulder to knock her sideways. She landed light, the way Syrio had taught her, and bounced up at once with a face full of mud. “Why did you do that?” she screamed. The Hound had leapt down as well. He tore the seat off the front of the wayn and reached in for the swordbelt he’d hidden beneath it.

It was only then that she heard the riders pouring out the castle gate in a river of steel and fire, the thunder of their destriers crossing the drawbridge almost lost beneath the drumming from the castles. Men and mounts wore plate armor, and one in every ten carried a torch. The rest had axes, longaxes with spiked heads and heavy bone-crushing armor-smashing blades.

Somewhere far off she heard a wolf howling. It wasn’t very loud compared to the camp noise and the music and the low ominous growl of the river running wild, but she heard it all the same. Only maybe it wasn’t her ears that heard it. The sound shivered through Arya like a knife, sharp with rage and grief. More and more riders were emerging from the castle, a column four wide with no end to it, knights and squires and freeriders, torches and longaxes. And there was noise coming from behind as well.

When Arya looked around, she saw that there were only two of the huge feast tents where once there had been three. The one in the middle had collapsed. For a moment she did not understand what she was seeing. Then the flames went licking up from the fallen tent, and now the other two were collapsing, heavy oiled cloth settling down on the men beneath. A flight of fire arrows streaked through the air. The second tent took fire, and then the third. The screams grew so loud she could hear words through the music. Dark shapes moved in front of the flames, the steel of their armor shining orange from afar.

A battle, Arya knew. It’s a battle. And the riders…

She had no more time to watch the tents then. With the river overflowing its banks, the dark swirling waters at the end of the drawbridge reached as high as a horse’s belly, but the riders splashed through them all the same, spurred on by the music. For once the same song was coming from both castles. I know this song, Arya realized suddenly. Tom o’ Sevens had sung it for them, that rainy night the outlaws had sheltered in the brewhouse with the brothers. And who are you, the proud lord said, that I must bow so low?

The Frey riders were struggling through the mud and reeds, but some of them had seen the wayn. She watched as three riders left the main column, pounding through the shallows. Only a cat of a different coat, that’s all the truth I know.

Clegane cut Stranger loose with a single slash of his sword and leapt onto his back. The courser knew what was wanted of him. He pricked up his ears and wheeled toward the charging destriers. In a coat of gold or a coat of red, a lion still has claws. And mine are long and sharp, my lord, as long and sharp as yours. Arya had prayed a hundred hundred times for the Hound to die, but now… there was a rock in her hand, slimy with mud, and she didn’t even remember picking it up. Who do I throw it at?

She jumped at the clash of metal as Clegane turned aside the first longaxe. While he was engaged with the first man, the second circled behind him and aimed a blow for the small of his back. Stranger was wheeling, so the Hound took only a glancing blow, enough to rip a great gash in his baggy peasant’s blouse and expose the mail below. He is one against three. Arya still clutched her rock. They’re sure to kill him. She thought of Mycah, the butcher’s boy who had been her friend so briefly.

Then she saw the third rider coming her way. Arya moved behind the wayn. Fear cuts deeper than swords. She could hear drums and warhorns and pipes, stallions trumpeting, the shriek of steel on steel, but all the sounds seemed so far away. There was only the oncoming horseman and the longaxe in his hand. He wore a surcoat over his armor and she saw the two towers that marked him for a Frey. She did not understand. Her uncle was marrying Lord Frey’s daughter, the Freys were her brother’s friends. “Don’t!” she screamed as he rode around the wayn, but he paid no mind.

When he charged Arya threw the rock, the way she’d once thrown a crabapple at Gendry. She’d gotten Gendry right between the eyes, but this time her aim was off, and the stone caromed sideways off his temple. It was enough to break his charge, but no more. She retreated, darting across the muddy ground on the balls of her feet, putting the wayn between them once more. The knight followed at a trot, only darkness behind his eyeslit. She hadn’t even dented his helm. They went round once, twice, a third time. The knight cursed her. “You can’t run for—”

The axehead caught him square in the back of the head, crashing through his helm and the skull beneath and sending him flying face first from his saddle. Behind him was the Hound, still mounted on Stranger. How did you get an axe? she almost asked, before she saw. One of the other Freys was trapped beneath his dying horse, drowning in a foot of water. The third man was sprawled on his back, unmoving. He hadn’t worn a gorget, and a foot of broken sword jutted from beneath his chin.

“Get my helm,” Clegane growled at her.

It was stuffed at the bottom of a sack of dried apples, in the back of the wayn behind the pickled pigs’ feet. Arya upended the sack and tossed it to him. He snatched it one-handed from the air and lowered it over his head, and where the man had sat only a steel dog remained, snarling at the fires.

“My brother…”

“Dead,” he shouted back at her. “Do you think they’d slaughter his men and leave him alive?” He turned his head back toward the camp. “Look. Look, damn you.”

The camp had become a battlefield. No, a butcher’s den. The flames from the feasting tents reached halfway up the sky. Some of the barracks tents were burning too, and half a hundred silk pavilions. Everywhere swords were singing. And now the rains weep o’er his hall, with not a soul to hear. She saw two knights ride down a running man. A wooden barrel came crashing onto one of the burning tents and burst apart, and the flames leapt twice as high. A catapult, she knew. The castle was flinging oil or pitch or something.

“Come with me.” Sandor Clegane reached down a hand. “We have to get away from here, and now.” Stranger tossed his head impatiently, his nostrils flaring at the scent of blood. The song was done. There was only one solitary drum, its slow monotonous beats echoing across the river like the pounding of some monstrous heart. The black sky wept, the river grumbled, men cursed and died. Arya had mud in her teeth and her face was wet. Rain. It’s only rain. That’s all it is. “We’re here,” she shouted. Her voice sounded thin and scared, a little girl’s voice. “Robb’s just in the castle, and my mother. The gate’s even open.” There were no more Freys riding out. I came so far. “We have to go get my mother.”

“Stupid little bitch.” Fires glinted off the snout of his helm, and made the steel teeth shine. “You go in there, you won’t come out. Maybe Frey will let you kiss your mother’s corpse.”

“Maybe we can save her…”

“Maybe you can. I’m not done living yet.” He rode toward her, crowding her back toward the wayn. “Stay or go, she-wolf. Live or die. Your—”

Arya spun away from him and darted for the gate. The portcullis was coming down, but slowly. I have to run faster. The mud slowed her, though, and then the water. Run fast as a wolf. The drawbridge had begun to lift, the water running off it in a sheet, the mud falling in heavy clots. Faster. She heard loud splashing and looked back to see Stranger pounding after her, sending up gouts of water with every stride. She saw the longaxe too, still wet with blood and brains. And Arya ran. Not for her brother now, not even for her mother, but for herself. She ran faster than she had ever run before, her head down and her feet churning up the river, she ran from him as Mycah must have run.

His axe took her in the back of the head.

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