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Somewhere in the great stone maze of Winterfell, a wolf howled. The sound hung over the castle likea flag of mourning.

Tyrion Lannister looked up from his books and shivered, though the library was snug and warm.

Something about the howling of a wolf took a man right out of his here and now and left him in adark forest of the mind, running naked before the pack.

When the direwolf howled again, Tyrion shut the heavy leather-bound cover on the book he wasreading, a hundred-year-old discourse on the changing of the seasons by a long-dead maester. Hecovered a yawn with the back of his hand. His reading lamp was flickering, its oil all but gone, asdawn light leaked through the high windows. He had been at it all night, but that was nothing new.

Tyrion Lannister was not much a one for sleeping.

His legs were stiff and sore as he eased down off the bench. He massaged some life back into themand limped heavily to the table where the septon was snoring softly, his head pillowed on an openbook in front of him. Tyrion glanced at the title. A life of the Grand Maester Aethelmure, no wonder.

“Chayle,” he said softly. The young man jerked up, blinking, confused, the crystal of his orderswinging wildly on its silver chain. “I’m off to break my fast. See that you return the books to theshelves. Be gentle with the Valyrian scrolls, the parchment is very dry. Ayrmidon’s Engines of War isquite rare, and yours is the only complete copy I’ve ever seen.” Chayle gaped at him, still half-asleep.

Patiently, Tyrion repeated his instructions, then clapped the septon on the shoulder and left him to histasks.

Outside, Tyrion swallowed a lungful of the cold morning air and began his laborious descent of thesteep stone steps that corkscrewed around the exterior of the library tower. It was slow going; thesteps were cut high and narrow, while his legs were short and twisted. The rising sun had not yetcleared the walls of Winterfell, but the men were already hard at it in the yard below. SandorClegane’s rasping voice drifted up to him. “The boy is a long time dying. I wish he would be quickerabout it.”

Tyrion glanced down and saw the Hound standing with young Joffrey as squires swarmed aroundthem. “At least he dies quietly,” the prince replied. “It’s the wolf that makes the noise. I could scarcesleep last night.”

Clegane cast a long shadow across the hard-packed earth as his squire lowered the black helm overhis head. “I could silence the creature, if it please you,” he said through his open visor. His boy placeda longsword in his hand. He tested the weight of it, slicing at the cold morning air. Behind him, theyard rang to the clangor of steel on steel.

The notion seemed to delight the prince. “Send a dog to kill a dog!” he exclaimed. “Winterfell is soinfested with wolves, the Starks would never miss one.”

Tyrion hopped off the last step onto the yard. “I beg to differ, nephew,” he said. “The Starks cancount past six. Unlike some princes I might name.”

Joffrey had the grace at least to blush.

“A voice from nowhere,” Sandor said. He peered through his helm, looking this way and that.

“Spirits of the air!”

The prince laughed, as he always laughed when his bodyguard did this mummer’s farce. Tyrionwas used to it. “Down here.”

The tall man peered down at the ground, and pretended to notice him. “The little lord Tyrion,” hesaid. “My pardons. I did not see you standing there.”

“I am in no mood for your insolence today.” Tyrion turned to his nephew. “Joffrey, it is past timeyou called on Lord Eddard and his lady, to offer them your comfort.”

Joffrey looked as petulant as only a boy prince can look. “What good will my comfort do them?”

“None,” Tyrion said. “Yet it is expected of you. Your absence has been noted.”

“The Stark boy is nothing to me,” Joffrey said. “I cannot abide the wailing of women.”

Tyrion Lannister reached up and slapped his nephew hard across the face. The boy’s cheek beganto redden.

“One word,” Tyrion said, “and I will hit you again.”

“I’m going to tell Mother!” Joffrey exclaimed.

Tyrion hit him again. Now both cheeks flamed.

“You tell your mother,” Tyrion told him. “But first you get yourself to Lord and Lady Stark, andyou fall to your knees in front of them, and you tell them how very sorry you are, and that you are attheir service if there is the slightest thing you can do for them or theirs in this desperate hour, and thatall your prayers go with them. Do you understand? Do you?”

The boy looked as though he was going to cry. Instead, he managed a weak nod. Then he turnedand fled headlong from the yard, holding his cheek. Tyrion watched him run.

A shadow fell across his face. He turned to find Clegane looming overhead like a cliff. His soot-dark armor seemed to blot out the sun. He had lowered the visor on his helm. It was fashioned in thelikeness of a snarling black hound, fearsome to behold, but Tyrion had always thought it a greatimprovement over Clegane’s hideously burned face.

“The prince will remember that, little lord,” the Hound warned him. The helm turned his laughinto a hollow rumble.

“I pray he does,” Tyrion Lannister replied. “If he forgets, be a good dog and remind him.” Heglanced around the courtyard. “Do you know where I might find my brother?”

“Breaking fast with the queen.”

“Ah,” Tyrion said. He gave Sandor Clegane a perfunctory nod and walked away as briskly as hisstunted legs would carry him, whistling. He pitied the first knight to try the Hound today. The mandid have a temper.

A cold, cheerless meal had been laid out in the morning room of the Guest House. Jaime sat at tablewith Cersei and the children, talking in low, hushed voices.

“Is Robert still abed?” Tyrion asked as he seated himself, uninvited, at the table.

His sister peered at him with the same expression of faint distaste she had worn since the day hewas born. “The king has not slept at all,” she told him. “He is with Lord Eddard. He has taken theirsorrow deeply to heart.”

“He has a large heart, our Robert,” Jaime said with a lazy smile. There was very little that Jaimetook seriously. Tyrion knew that about his brother, and forgave it. During all the terrible long years ofhis childhood, only Jaime had ever shown him the smallest measure of affection or respect, and forthat Tyrion was willing to forgive him most anything.

A servant approached. “Bread,” Tyrion told him, “and two of those little fish, and a mug of thatgood dark beer to wash them down. Oh, and some bacon. Burn it until it turns black.” The man bowedand moved off. Tyrion turned back to his siblings. Twins, male and female. They looked very muchthe part this morning. Both had chosen a deep green that matched their eyes. Their blond curls wereall a fashionable tumble, and gold ornaments shone at wrists and fingers and throats.

Tyrion wondered what it would be like to have a twin, and decided that he would rather not know.

Bad enough to face himself in a looking glass every day. Another him was a thought too dreadful tocontemplate.

Prince Tommen spoke up. “Do you have news of Bran, Uncle?”

“I stopped by the sickroom last night,” Tyrion announced. “There was no change. The maesterthought that a hopeful sign.”

“I don’t want Brandon to die,” Tommen said timorously. He was a sweet boy. Not like hisbrother, but then Jaime and Tyrion were somewhat less than peas in a pod themselves.

“Lord Eddard had a brother named Brandon as well,” Jaime mused. “One of the hostages murdered by Targaryen. It seems to be an unlucky name.”

“Oh, not so unlucky as all that, surely,” Tyrion said. The servant brought his plate. He ripped off achunk of black bread.

Cersei was studying him warily. “What do you mean?”

Tyrion gave her a crooked smile. “Why, only that Tommen may get his wish. The maester thinksthe boy may yet live.” He took a sip of beer.

Myrcella gave a happy gasp, and Tommen smiled nervously, but it was not the children Tyrion waswatching. The glance that passed between Jaime and Cersei lasted no more than a second, but he didnot miss it. Then his sister dropped her gaze to the table. “That is no mercy. These northern gods arecruel to let the child linger in such pain.”

“What were the maester’s words?” Jaime asked.

The bacon crunched when he bit into it. Tyrion chewed thoughtfully for a moment and said, “Hethinks that if the boy were going to die, he would have done so already. It has been four days with nochange.”

“Will Bran get better, Uncle?” little Myrcella asked. She had all of her mother’s beauty, and noneof her nature.

“His back is broken, little one,” Tyrion told her. “The fall shattered his legs as well. They keephim alive with honey and water, or he would starve to death. Perhaps, if he wakes, he will be able toeat real food, but he will never walk again.”

“If he wakes,” Cersei repeated. “Is that likely?”

“The gods alone know,” Tyrion told her. “The maester only hopes.” He chewed some more bread.

“I would swear that wolf of his is keeping the boy alive. The creature is outside his window day andnight, howling. Every time they chase it away, it returns. The maester said they closed the windowonce, to shut out the noise, and Bran seemed to weaken. When they opened it again, his heart beatstronger.”

The queen shuddered. “There is something unnatural about those animals,” she said. “They aredangerous. I will not have any of them coming south with us.”

Jaime said, “You’ll have a hard time stopping them, sister. They follow those girls everywhere.”

Tyrion started on his fish. “Are you leaving soon, then?”

“Not near soon enough,” Cersei said. Then she frowned. “Are we leaving?” she echoed. “Whatabout you? Gods, don’t tell me you are staying here?”

Tyrion shrugged. “Benjen Stark is returning to the Night’s Watch with his brother’s bastard. I havea mind to go with them and see this Wall we have all heard so much of.”

Jaime smiled. “I hope you’re not thinking of taking the black on us, sweet brother.”

Tyrion laughed. “What, me, celibate? The whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock.

No, I just want to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world.”

Cersei stood abruptly. “The children don’t need to hear this filth. Tommen, Myrcella, come.” Shestrode briskly from the morning room, her train and her pups trailing behind her.

Jaime Lannister regarded his brother thoughtfully with those cool green eyes. “Stark will neverconsent to leave Winterfell with his son lingering in the shadow of death.”

“He will if Robert commands it,” Tyrion said. “And Robert will command it. There is nothingLord Eddard can do for the boy in any case.”

“He could end his torment,” Jaime said. “I would, if it were my son. It would be a mercy.”

“I advise against putting that suggestion to Lord Eddard, sweet brother,” Tyrion said. “He wouldnot take it kindly.”

“Even if the boy does live, he will be a cripple. Worse than a cripple. A grotesque. Give me agood clean death.”

Tyrion replied with a shrug that accentuated the twist of his shoulders. “Speaking for thegrotesques,” he said, “I beg to differ. Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.”

Jaime smiled. “You are a perverse little imp, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” Tyrion admitted. “I hope the boy does wake. I would be most interested to hear whathe might have to say.”

His brother’s smile curdled like sour milk. “Tyrion, my sweet brother,” he said darkly, “there aretimes when you give me cause to wonder whose side you are on.”

Tyrion’s mouth was full of bread and fish. He took a swallow of strong black beer to wash it all down, and grinned up wolfishly at Jaime. “Why, Jaime, my sweet brother,” he said, “you woundme. You know how much I love my family.”

dme. You know how much I love my family.”


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