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ARYA
When Arya saw the shape of a great hill looming in the distance, golden in the afternoon sun, she knew it at once. They had come all the way back to High Heart.  By sunset they were at the top, making camp where no harm could come to them. Arya walked around the circle of weirwood stumps with Lord Beric’s squire Ned, and they stood on top of one watching the last light fade in the west. From up here she could see a storm raging to the north, but High Heart stood above the rain. It wasn’t above the wind, though; the gusts were blowing so strongly that it felt like someone was behind her, yanking on her cloak. Only when she turned, no one was there.  Ghosts, she remembered. High Heart is haunted.  They built a great fire atop the hill, and Thoros of Myr sat cross-legged beside it, gazing deep into the flames as if there was nothing else in all the world.  “What is he doing?” Arya asked Ned.  “Sometimes he sees things in the flames,” the squire told her. “The past. The future. Things happening far away.”  Arya squinted at the fire to see if she could see what the red priest was seeing, but it only made her eyes water and before long she turned away. Gendry was watching the red priest as well. “Can you truly see the future there?” he asked suddenly.  Thoros turned from the fire, sighing. “Not here. Not now. But some days, yes, the Lord of Light grants me visions.”  Gendry looked dubious. “My master said you were a sot and a fraud, as bad a priest as there ever was.”  “That was unkind.” Thoros chuckled. “True, but unkind. Who was this master of yours? Did I know you, boy?”  “I was ‘prenticed to the master armorer Tobho Mott, on the Street of Steel. You used to buy your swords from him.”  “Just so. He charged me twice what they were worth, then scolded me for setting them afire.” Thoros laughed. “Your master had it right. I was no very holy priest. I was born youngest of eight, so my father gave me over to the Red Temple, but it was not the path I would have chosen. I prayed the prayers and I spoke the spells, but I would also lead raids on the kitchens, and from time to time they found girls in my bed. Such wicked girls, I never knew how they got there.  “I had a gift for tongues, though. And when I gazed into the flames, well, from time to time I saw things. Even so, I was more bother than I was worth, so they sent me finally to King’s Landing to bring the Lord’s light to seven-besotted Westeros. King Aerys so loved fire it was thought he might make a convert. Alas, his pyromancers knew better tricks than I did.  “King Robert was fond of me, though, The first time I rode into a melee with a flaming sword, Kevan Lannister’s horse reared and threw him and His Grace laughed so hard I thought he might rupture.” The red priest smiled at the memory. “It was no way to treat a blade, though, your master had the right of that too.”  “Fire consumes,” Lord Beric stood behind them, and there was something in his voice that silenced Thoros at once. “it consumes, and when it is done there is nothing left. Nothing.”  “Beric. Sweet friend.” The priest touched the lightning lord on the forearm. “What are you saying?”  “Nothing I have not said before. Six times, Thoros? Six times is too many.” He turned away abruptly.  That night the wind was howling almost like a wolf and there were some real wolves off to the west giving it lessons. Notch, Anguy, and Merrit o’ Moontown had the watch. Ned, Gendry, and many of the others were fast asleep when Arya spied the small pale shape creeping behind the horses, thin white hair flying wild as she leaned upon a gnarled cane. The woman could not have been more than three feet tall. The firelight made her eyes gleam as red as the eyes of Jon’s wolf. He was a ghost too. Arya stole closer, and knelt to watch.  Thoros and Lem were with Lord Beric when the dwarf woman sat down uninvited by the fire. She squinted at them with eyes like hot coals. “The Ember and the Lemon come to honor me again, and His Grace the Lord of Corpses.”  “An ill-omened name. I have asked you not to use it.”  “Aye, you have. But the stink of death is fresh on you, my lord.” She had but a single tooth remaining. “Give me wine or I will go. My bones are old. My joints ache when the winds do blow, and up here the winds are always blowing.”  “A silver stag for your dreams, my lady,” Lord Beric said, with solemn courtesy. “Another if you have news for us.”  “I cannot eat a silver stag, nor ride one. A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak.” The little woman cackled. “Aye, a sloppy kiss, a bit of tongue. It has been too long, too long. His mouth will taste of lemons, and mine of bones. I am too old.”  “Aye,” Lem complained. “Too old for wine and kisses. All you’ll get from me is the flat of my sword, crone.”  “My hair comes out in handfuls and no one has kissed me for a thousand years. It is hard to be so old. Well, I will have a song then. A song from Tom o’ Sevens, for my news.”  “You will have your song from Tom,” Lord Beric promised. He gave her the wineskin himself. The dwarf woman drank deep, the wine running down her chin. When she lowered the skin, she wiped her mouth with the back of a wrinkled hand and said, “Sour wine for sour tidings, what could be more fitting? The king is dead, is that sour enough for you?”  Arya’s heart caught in her throat.  “Which bloody king is dead, crone?” Lem demanded.  “The wet one. The kraken king, m’lords. I dreamt him dead and he died, and the iron squids now turn on one another. Oh, and Lord Hoster Tully’s died too, but you know that, don’t you? In the hall of kings, the goat sits alone and fevered as the great dog descends on him.” The old woman took another long gulp of wine, squeezing the skin as she raised it to her lips.  The great dog. Did she mean the Hound? Or maybe his brother, the Mountain That Rides? Arya was not certain. They bore the same arms, three black dogs on a yellow field. Half the men whose deaths she prayed for belonged to Ser Gregor Clegane; Polliver, Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, the Tickler, and Ser Gregor himself. Maybe Lord Beric will hang them all.  “I dreamt a wolf howling in the rain, but no one heard his grief,” the dwarf woman was saying. “I dreamt such a clangor I thought my head might burst, drums and horns and pipes and screams, but the saddest sound was the little bells. I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” She turned her head sharply and smiled through the gloom, right at Arya. “You cannot hide from me, child. Come closer, now.”  Cold fingers walked down Arya’s neck. Fear cuts deeper than swords, she reminded herself. She stood and approached the fire warily, light on the balls of her feet, poised to flee.  The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death...” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”  There was such fear in her voice that Arya took a step backward, wondering if the woman was mad. “Don’t frighten the child,” Thoros protested. “There’s no harm in her.”  Lem Lemoncloak’s finger went to his broken nose. “Don’t be so bloody sure of that.”  “She will leave on the morrow, with us,” Lord Beric assured the little woman. “We’re taking her to Riverrun, to her mother.”  “Nay,” said the dwarf. “You’re not. The black fish holds the rivers now. If it’s the mother you want, seek her at the Twins. For there’s to be a wedding.” She cackled again. “Look in your fires, pink priest, and you will see. Not now, though, not here, you’ll see nothing here. This place belongs to the old gods still... they linger here as I do, shrunken and feeble but not yet dead. Nor do they love the flames. For the oak recalls the acorn, the acorn dreams the oak, the stump lives in them both. And they remember when the First Men came with fire in their fists.” She drank the last of the wine in four long swallows, flung the skin aside, and pointed her stick at Lord Beric. “I’ll have my payment now. I’ll have the song you promised me.”  And so Lem woke Tom Sevenstrings beneath his furs, and brought him yawning to the fireside with his woodharp in hand. “The same song as before?” he asked.  “Oh, aye. My Jenny’s song. Is there another?”  And so he sang, and the dwarf woman closed her eyes and rocked slowly back and forth, murmuring the words and crying. Thoros took Arya firmly by the hand and drew her aside. “Let her savor her song in peace,” he said. “It is all she has left.”  I wasn’t going to hurt her, Arya thought. “What did she mean about the Twins? My mother’s at Riverrun, isn’t she?”  “She was.” The red priest rubbed beneath his chin. “A wedding, she said. We shall see. Whenever she is, Lord Beric will find her, though.”  Not long after, the sky opened. Lightning cracked and thunder rolled across the hills, and the rain fell in blinding sheets. The dwarf woman vanished as suddenly as she had appeared, while the outlaws gathered branches and threw up crude shelters.  It rained all through that night, and come morning Ned, Lem, and Watty the Miller awoke with chills. Watty could not keep his breakfast down, and young Ned was feverish and shivering by turns, with skin clammy to the touch. There was an abandoned village half a day’s ride to the north, Notch told Lord Beric; they’d find better shelter there, a place to wait out the worst of the rains. So they dragged themselves back into the saddles and urged their horses down the great hill.  The rains did not let up. They rode through woods and fields, fording swollen streams where the rushing water came up to the bellies of their horses. Arya pulled up the hood of her cloak and hunched down, sodden and shivering but determined not to falter. Merrit and Mudge were soon coughing as bad as Watty, and poor Ned seemed to grow more miserable with every mile. “When I wear my helm, the rain beats against the steel and gives me headaches,” he complained. “But when I take it off, my hair gets soaked and sticks to my face and in my mouth.”  “You have a knife,” Gendry suggested. “If your hair annoys you so much, shave your bloody head.”  He doesn’t like Ned. The squire seemed nice enough to Arya; maybe a little shy, but good-natured. She had always heard that Dornishmen were small and swarthy, with black hair and small black eyes, but Ned had big blue eyes, so dark that they looked almost purple. And his hair was a pale blond, more ash than honey.  “How long have you been Lord Beric’s squire?” she asked, to take his mind from his misery.  “He took me for his page when he espoused my aunt.” He coughed. “I was seven, but when I turned ten he raised me to squire. I won a prize once, riding at rings.”  “I never learned the lance, but I could beat you with a sword,” said Arya. “Have you killed anyone?”  That seemed to startle him. “I’m only twelve.”  I killed a boy when I was eight, Arya almost said, but she thought she’d better not. “You’ve been in battles, though.”  “Yes.” He did not sound very proud of it. “I was at the Mummer’s Ford. When Lord Beric fell into the river, I dragged him up onto the bank so he wouldn’t drown and stood over him with my sword. I never had to fight, though. He had a broken lance sticking out of him, so no one bothered us. When we regrouped, Green Gergen helped pull his lordship back onto a horse.”  Arya was remembering the stableboy at King’s Landing. After him there’d been that guard whose throat she cut at Harrenhal, and Ser Amory’s men at that holdfast by the lake. She didn’t know if Weese and Chiswyck counted, or the ones who’d died on account of the weasel soup... all of a sudden, she felt very sad. “My father was called Ned too,” she said.  “I know. I saw him at the Hand’s tourney. I wanted to go up and speak with him, but I couldn’t think what to say.” Ned shivered beneath his cloak, a sodden length of pale purple. “Were you at the tourney? I saw your sister there. Ser Loras Tyrell gave her a rose.”  “She told me.” It all seemed so long ago. “Her friend Jeyne Poole fell in love with your Lord Beric.”  “He’s promised to my aunt.” Ned looked uncomfortable. “That was before, though. Before he...”  ... died? she thought, as Ned’s voice trailed off into an awkward silence. Their horses’ hooves made sucking sounds as they pulled free of the mud.  “My lady?” Ned said at last. “You have a baseborn brother... Jon Snow?”  “He’s with the Night’s Watch on the Wall.” Maybe I should go to the Wall instead of Riverrun. Jon wouldn’t care who I killed or whether I brushed my hair... “Jon looks like me, even though he’s bastard-born. He used to muss my hair and call me ‘little sister. “‘ Arya missed Jon most of all. just saying his name made her sad. “How do you know about Jon?”  “He is my milk brother.”  “Brother?” Arya did not understand. “But you’re from Dorne. How could you and Jon be blood?”  “Milk brothers. Not blood. My lady mother had no milk............
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