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The first flakes came drifting down as the sun was setting in the west. By nightfall snow was coming down so heavily that the moon rose behind a white curtain, unseen.

“The gods of the north have unleashed their wroth on Lord Stannis,” Roose Bolton announced come morning as men gathered in Winterfell’s Great Hall to break their fast. “He is a stranger here, and the old gods will not suffer him to live.”

His men roared their approval, banging their fists on the long plank tables. Winterfell might be ruined, but its granite walls would still keep the worst of the wind and weather at bay. They were well stocked with food and drink; they had fires to warm them when off duty, a place to dry their clothes, snug corners to lie down and sleep. Lord Bolton had laid by enough wood to keep the fires fed for half a year, so the Great Hall was always warm and cozy. Stannis had none of that.

Theon Greyjoy did not join the uproar. Neither did the men of House Frey, he did not fail to note. They are strangers here as well, he thought, watching Ser Aenys Frey and his half-brother Ser Hosteen. Born and bred in the riverlands, the Freys had never seen a snow like this. The north has already claimed three of their blood, Theon thought, recalling the men that Ramsay had searched for fruitlessly, lost between White Harbor and Barrowton.

On the dais, Lord Wyman Manderly sat between a pair of his White Harbor knights, spooning porridge into his fat face. He did not seem to be enjoying it near as much as he had the pork pies at the wedding. Elsewhere one-armed Harwood Stout talked quietly with the cadaverous Whoresbane Umber.

Theon queued up with the other men for porridge, ladled into wooden bowls from a row of copper kettles. The lords and knights had milk and honey and even a bit of butter to sweeten their portions, he saw, but none of that would be offered him. His reign as prince of Winterfell had been a brief one. He had played his part in the mummer’s show, giving the feigned Arya to be wed, and now he was of no further use to Roose Bolton.

“First winter I remember, the snows came over my head,” said a Hornwood man in the queue ahead of him.

“Aye, but you were only three foot tall at the time,” a rider from the Rills replied.

Last night, unable to sleep, Theon had found himself brooding on escape, of slipping away unseen whilst Ramsay and his lord father had their attention elsewhere. Every gate was closed and barred and heavily guarded, though; no one was allowed to enter or depart the castle without Lord Bolton’s leave. Even if he found some secret way out, Theon would not have trusted it. He had not forgotten Kyra and her keys. And if he did get out, where would he go? His father was dead, and his uncles had no use for him. Pyke was lost to him. The nearest thing to a home that remained to him was here, amongst the bones of Winterfell.

A ruined man, a ruined castle. This is my place.

He was still waiting for his porridge when Ramsay swept into the hall with his Bastard’s Boys, shouting for music. Abel rubbed the sleep from his eyes, took up his lute, and launched into “The Dornishman’s Wife,” whilst one of his washerwomen beat time on her drum. The singer changed the words, though. Instead of tasting a Dornishman’s wife, he sang of tasting a northman’s daughter.

He could lose his tongue for that, Theon thought, as his bowl was being filled. He is only a singer. Lord Ramsay could flay the skin off both his hands, and no one would say a word. But Lord Bolton smiled at the lyric and Ramsay laughed aloud. Then others knew that it was safe to laugh as well. Yellow Dick found the song so funny that wine snorted out his nose.

Lady Arya was not there to share the merriment. She had not been seen outside her chambers since her wedding night. Sour Alyn had been saying that Ramsay kept his bride naked and chained to a bedpost, but Theon knew that was only talk. There were no chains, at least none that men could see. Just a pair of guards outside the bedchamber, to keep the girl from wandering. And she is only naked when she bathes.

That she did most every night, though. Lord Ramsay wanted his wife clean. “She has no handmaids, poor thing,” he had said to Theon. “That leaves you, Reek. Should I put you in a dress?” He laughed. “Perhaps if you beg it of me. Just now, it will suffice for you to be her bath maid. I won’t have her smelling like you.” So whenever Ramsay had an itch to bed his wife, it fell to Theon to borrow some servingwomen from Lady Walda or Lady Dustin and fetch hot water from the kitchens. Though Arya never spoke to any of them, they could not fail to see her bruises. It is her own fault. She has not pleased him. “Just be Arya,” he told the girl once, as he helped her into the water. “Lord Ramsay does not want to hurt you. He only hurts us when we … when we forget. He never cut me without cause.”

“Theon …” she whispered, weeping.

“Reek.” He grabbed her arm and shook her. “In here I’m Reek. You have to remember, Arya.” But the girl was no true Stark, only a steward’s whelp. Jeyne, her name is Jeyne. She should not look to me for rescue. Theon Greyjoy might have tried to help her, once. But Theon had been ironborn, and a braver man than Reek. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with weak.

Ramsay had a new plaything to amuse him, one with teats and a cunny … but soon Jeyne’s tears would lose their savor, and Ramsay would want his Reek again. He will flay me inch by inch. When my fingers are gone he will take my hands. After my toes, my feet. But only when I beg for it, when the pain grows so bad that I plead for him to give me some relief. There would be no hot baths for Reek. He would roll in shit again, forbidden to wash. The clothes he wore would turn to rags, foul and stinking, and he would be made to wear them till they rotted. The best he could hope for was to be returned to the kennels with Ramsay’s girls for company. Kyra, he remembered. The new bitch he calls Kyra.

He took his bowl to the back of the hall and found a place on an empty bench, yards away from the nearest torch. Day or night, the benches below the salt were never less than half-full with men drinking, dicing, talking, or sleeping in their clothes in quiet corners. Their serjeants would kick them awake when it came their turn to shrug back into their cloaks and walk the walls. But no man of them would welcome the company of Theon Turncloak, nor did he have much taste for theirs.

The gruel was grey and watery, and he pushed it away after his third spoonful and let it congeal in the bowl. At the next table, men were arguing about the storm and wondering aloud how long the snow would fall. “All day and all night, might be even longer,” insisted one big, black-bearded archer with a Cerwyn axe sewn on his breast. A few of the older men spoke of other snowstorms and insisted this was no more than a light dusting compared to what they’d seen in the winters of their youth. The riverlanders were aghast. They have no love of snow and cold, these southron swords. Men entering the hall huddled by the fires or clapped their hands together over glowing braziers as their cloaks hung dripping from pegs inside the door.

The air was thick and smoky and a crust had formed atop his porridge when a woman’s voice behind him said, “Theon Greyjoy.”

My name is Reek, he almost said. “What do you want?”

She sat down next to him, straddling the bench, and pushed a wild mop of red-brown hair out of her eyes. “Why do you eat alone, m’lord? Come, rise, join the dance.”

He went back to his porridge. “I don’t dance.” The Prince of Winterfell had been a graceful dancer, but Reek with his missing toes would be grotesque. “Leave me be. I have no coin.”

The woman smiled crookedly. “Do you take me for a whore?” She was one of the singer’s washerwomen, the tall skinny one, too lean and leathery to be called pretty … though there was a time when Theon would have tumbled her all the same, to see how it felt to have those long legs wrapped around him. “What good would coin do me here? What would I buy with it, some snow?” She laughed. “You could pay me with a smile. I’ve never seen you smile, not even during your sister’s wedding feast.”

“Lady Arya is not my sister.” I do not smile either, he might have told her. Ramsay hated my smiles, so he took a hammer to my teeth. I can hardly eat. “She never was my sister.”

“A pretty maid, though.”

I was never beautiful like Sansa, but they all said I was pretty. Jeyne’s words seemed to echo in his head, to the beat of the drums two of Abel’s other girls were pounding. Another one had pulled Little Walder Frey up onto the table to teach him how to dance. All the men were laughing. “Leave me be,” said Theon.

“Am I not to m’lord’s taste? I could send Myrtle to you if you want. Or Holly, might be you’d like her better. All the men like Holly. They’re not my sisters neither, but they’re sweet.” The woman leaned close. Her breath smelled of wine. “If you have no smile for me, tell me how you captured Winterfell. Abel will put it in a song, and you will live forever.”

“As a betrayer. As Theon Turncloak.”

“Why not Theon the Clever? It was a daring feat, the way we heard it. How many men did you have? A hundred? Fifty?”

Fewer. “It was madness.”

“Glorious madness. Stannis has five thousand, they say, but Abel claims ten times as many still could not breach these walls. So how did you get in, m’lord? Did you have some secret way?”

I had ropes, Theon thought. I had grapnels. I had darkness on my side, and surprise. The castle was but lightly held, and I took them unawares. But he said none of that. If Abel made a song about him, like as not Ramsay would prick his eardrums to make certain that he never heard it.

“You can trust me, m’lord. Abel does.” The washerwoman put her hand upon his own. His hands were gloved in wool and leather. Hers were bare, long-fingered, rough, with nails chewed to the quick. “You never asked my name. It’s Rowan.”

Theon wrenched away. This was a ploy, he knew it. Ramsay sent her. She’s another of his japes, like Kyra with the keys. A jolly jape, that’s all. He wants me to run, so he can punish me.

He wanted to hit her, to smash that mocking smile off her face. He wanted to kiss her, to fuck her right there on the table and make her cry his name. But he knew he dare not touch her, in anger or in lust. Reek, Reek, my name is Reek. I must not forget my name. He jerked to his feet and made his way wordlessly to the doors, limping on his maimed feet.

Outside the snow was falling still. Wet, heavy, silent, it had already begun to cover the footsteps left by the men coming and going from the hall. The drifts came almost to the top of his boots. It will be deeper in the wolfswood … and out on the kingsroad, where the wind is blowing, there will be no escape from it. A battle was being fought in the yard; Ryswells pelting Barrowton boys with snowballs. Above, he could see some squires building snowmen along the battlements. They were arming them with spears and shields, putting iron halfhelms on their heads, and arraying them along the inner wall, a rank of snowy sentinels. “Lord Winter has joined us with his levies,” one of the sentries outside the Great Hall japed … until he saw Theon’s face and realized who he was talking to. Then he turned his head and spat.

Beyond the tents the big destriers of the knights from White Harbor and the Twins were shivering in their horse lines. Ramsay had burned the stables when he sacked Winterfell, so his father had thrown up new ones twice as large as the old, to accommodate the warhorses and palfreys of his lords’ bannermen and knights. The rest of the horses were tethered in the wards. Hooded grooms moved amongst them, covering them with blankets to keep them warm.

Theon made his way deeper into the ruined parts of the castle. As he picked through the shattered stone that had once been Maester Luwin’s turret, ravens looked down from the gash in the wall above, muttering to one another. From time to time one would let out a raucous scream. He stood in the doorway of a bedchamber that had once been his own (ankle deep in snow that had blown in through a shattered window), visited the ruins of Mikken’s forge and Lady Catelyn’s sept. Beneath the Burned Tower, he passed Rickard Ryswell nuzzling at the neck of another one of Abel’s washerwomen, the plump one with the apple cheeks and pug nose. The girl was barefoot in the snow, bundled up in a fur cloak. He thought she might be naked underneath. When she saw him, she said something to Ryswell that made him laugh aloud.

Theon trudged away from them. There was a stair beyond the mews, seldom used; it was there his feet took him. The steps were steep and treacherous. He climbed carefully and found himself alone on the battlements of the inner wall, well away from the squires and their snowmen. No one had given him freedom of the castle, but no one had denied it to him either. He could go where he would within the walls.

Winterfell’s inner wall was the older and taller of the two, its ancient grey crenellations rising one hundred feet high, with square towers at every corner. The outer wall, raised many centuries later, was twenty feet lower, but thicker and in better repair, boasting octagonal towers in place of square ones. Between the two walls was the moat, deep and wide … and frozen. Drifts of snow had begun to creep across its icy surface. Snow was building up along the battlements too, filling the gaps between the merlons and putting pale, soft caps on every tower top.

Beyond the walls, as far as he could see, the world was turning white. The woods, the fields, the kingsroad—the snows were covering all of them beneath a pale soft mantle, burying the remnants of the winter town, hiding the blackened walls Ramsay’s men had left behind when they put the houses to the torch. The wounds Snow made, snow conceals, but that was wrong. Ramsay was a Bolton now, not a Snow, never a Snow.

Farther off, the rutted kingsroad had vanished, lost amidst the fields and rolling hills, all one vast expanse of white. And still the snow was falling, drifting down in silence from a windless sky. Stannis Baratheon is out there somewhere, freezing. Would Lord Stannis try to take Winterfell by storm? If he does, his cause is doomed. The castle was too strong. Even with the moat frozen over, Winterfell’s defenses remained formidable. Theon had captured the castle by stealth, sending his best men to scale the walls and swim the moat under the cover of darkness. The defenders had not even known they were under attack until it was too late. No such subterfuge was possible for Stannis.

He might prefer to cut the castle off from the outside world and starve out its defenders. Winterfell’s storerooms and cellar vaults were empty. A long supply train had come with Bolton and his friends of Frey up through the Neck, Lady Dustin had brought food and fodder from Barrowton, and Lord Manderly had arrived well provisioned from White Harbor … but the host was large. With so many mouths to feed, their stores could not last for long. Lord Stannis and his men will be just as hungry, though. And cold and footsore as well, in no condition for a fight … but the storm will make them desperate to get inside the castle.

Snow was falling on the godswood too, melting when it touched the ground. Beneath the white-cloaked trees the earth had turned to mud. Tendrils of mist hung in the air like ghostly ribbons. Why did I come here? These are not my gods. This is not my place. The heart tree stood before him, a pale giant with ............
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