Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the ...(more)
It was bitter cold outside. Bundled thickly in his furs, Tyrion Lannister pulled on his gloves and nodded to the poor frozen wretches standing sentry outside the Commander's Keep. He set off across the yard for his own chambers in the King's Tower, walking as briskly as his legs could manage. Patches of snow crunched beneath his feet as his boots broke the night's crust, and his breath steamed before him like a banner. He shoved his hands into his armpits and walked faster, praying that Morrec had remembered to warm his bed with hot bricks from the fire.
Behind the King's Tower, the Wall glimmered in the light of the moon, immense and mysterious. Tyrion stopped for a moment to look up at it. His legs ached of cold and haste.
Suddenly a strange madness took hold of him, a yearning to look once more off the end of the world. It would be his last chance, he thought; tomorrow he would ride south, and he could not imagine why he would ever want to return to this frozen desolation. The King's Tower was before him, with its promise of warmth and a soft bed, yet Tyrion found himself walking past it, toward the vast pale palisade of the Wall.
A wooden stair ascended the south face, anchored on huge rough-hewn beams sunk deep into the ice and frozen in place. Back and forth it switched, clawing its way upward as crooked as a bolt of lightning. The black brothers assured him that it was much stronger than it looked, but Tyrion's legs were cramping too badly for him to even contemplate the ascent. He went instead to the iron cage beside the well, clambered inside, and yanked hard on the bell rope, three quick pulls.
He had to wait what seemed an eternity, standing there inside the bars with the Wall to his back. Long enough for Tyrion to begin to wonder why he was doing this. He had just about decided to forget his sudden whim and go to bed when the cage gave a jerk and began to ascend.
He moved upward slowly, by fits and starts at first, then more smoothly. The ground fell away beneath him, the cage swung, and Tyrion wrapped his hands around the iron bars. He could feel the cold of the metal even through his gloves. Morrec had a fire burning in his room, he noted with approval, but the Lord Commander's tower was dark. The Old Bear had more sense than he did, it seemed.
Then he was above the towers, still inching his way upward. Castle Black lay below him, etched in moonlight. You could see how stark and empty it was from up here; windowless keeps, crumbling walls, courtyards choked with broken stone. Farther off, he could see the lights of Mole's Town, the little village half a league south along the kingsroad, and here and there the bright glitter of moonlight on water where icy streams descended from the mountain heights to cut across the plains. The rest of the world was a bleak emptiness of windswept hills and rocky fields spotted with snow.
Finally a thick voice behind him said, "Seven hells, it's the dwarf," and the cage jerked to a sudden stop and hung there, swinging slowly back and forth, the ropes creaking.
"Bring him in, damn it." There was a grunt and a loud groaning of wood as the cage slid sideways and then the Wall was beneath him. Tyrion waited until the swinging had stopped before he pushed open the cage door and hopped down onto the ice. A heavy figure in black was leaning on the winch, while a second held the cage with a gloved hand. Their faces were muffled in woolen scarves so only their eyes showed, and they were plump with layers of wool and leather, black on black.
"And what will you be wanting, this time of night?" the one by the winch asked.
"A last look."
The men exchanged sour glances. "Look all you want," the other one said. "Just have a care you don't fall off, little man. The Old Bear would have our hides." A small wooden shack stood under the great crane, and Tyrion saw the dull glow of a brazier and felt a brief gust of warmth when the winch men opened the door and went back inside. And then he was alone.
It was bitingly cold up here, and the wind pulled at his clothes like an insistent lover. The top of the Wall was wider than the kingsroad often was, so Tyrion had no fear of falling, although the footing was slicker than he would have liked. The brothers spread crushed stone across the walkways, but the weight of countless footsteps would melt the Wall beneath, so the ice would seem to grow around the gravel, swallowing it, until the path was bare again and it was time to crush more stone.
Still, it was nothing that Tyrion could not manage. He looked off to the east and west, at the Wall stretching before him, a vast white road with no beginning and no end and a dark abyss on either side. West, he decided, for no special reason, and he began to walk that way, following the pathway nearest the north edge, where the gravel looked freshest.
His bare cheeks were ruddy with the cold, and his legs complained more loudly with every step, but Tyrion ignored them. The wind swirled around him, gravel crunched beneath his boots, while ahead the white ribbon followed the lines of the hills, rising higher and higher, until it was lost beyond the western horizon. He passed a massive catapult, as tall as a city wall, its base sunk deep into the Wall. The throwing arm had been taken off for repairs and then forgotten; it lay there like a broken toy, half-embedded in the ice.
On the far side of the catapult, a muffled voice called out a challenge. "Who goes there? Halt!"
Tyrion stopped. "If I halt too long I'll freeze in place, Jon," he said as a shaggy pale shape slid toward him silently and sniffed at his furs. "Hello, Ghost."
Jon Snow moved closer. He looked bigger and heavier in his layers of fur and leather, the hood of his cloak pulled down over his face. "Lannister," he said, yanking loose the scarf to uncover his mouth. "This is the last place I would have expected to see you." He carried a heavy spear tipped in iron, taller than he was, and a sword hung at his side in a leather sheath. Across his chest was a gleaming black warhorn, banded with silver.
"This is the last place I would have expected to be seen," Tyrion admitted. "I was captured by a whim. If I touch Ghost, will he chew my hand off?"
"Not with me here," Jon promised.
Tyrion scratched the white wolf behind the ears. The red eyes watched him impassively. The beast came up as high as his chest now. Another year, and Tyrion had the gloomy feeling he'd be looking up at him. "What are you doing up here tonight?" he asked. "Besides freezing your manhood off . . . "
"I have drawn night guard," Jon said. "Again. Ser Alliser has kindly arranged for the watch commander to take a special interest in me. He seems to think that if they keep me awake half the night, I'll fall asleep during morning drill. So far I have disappointed him."
Tyrion grinned. "And has Ghost learned to juggle yet?"
"No," said Jon, smiling, "but Grenn held his own against Halder this morning, and Pyp is no longer dropping his sword quite so often as he did."
"Pypar is his real name. The small boy with the large ears. He saw me working with Grenn and asked for help. Thorne had never even shown him the proper way to grip a sword." He turned to look north. "I have a mile of Wall to guard. Will you walk with me?"
"If you walk slowly," Tyrion said.
"The watch commander tells me I must walk, to keep my blood from freezing, but he never said how fast."
They walked, with Ghost pacing along beside Jon like a white shadow. "I leave on the morrow," Tyrion said.
"I know." Jon sounded strangely sad.
"I plan to stop at Winterfell on the way south. If there is any message that you would like me to deliver . . . "
"Tell Robb that I'm going to command the Night's Watch and keep him safe, so he might as well take up needlework with the girls and have Mikken melt down his sword for horseshoes."
"Your brother is bigger than me," Tyrion said with a laugh. "I decline to deliver any message that might get me killed."
"Rickon will ask when I'm coming home. Try to explain where I've gone, if you can. Tell him he can have all my things while I'm away, he'll like that."
People seemed to be asking a great deal of him today, Tyrion Lannister thought. "You could put all this in a letter, you know."
"Rickon can't read yet. Bran . . . " He stopped suddenly. "I don't know what message to send to Bran. Help him, Tyrion."
"What help could I give him? I am no maester, to ease his pain. I have no spells to give him back his legs."
"You gave me help when I needed it," Jon Snow said.
"I gave you nothing," Tyrion said. "Words."
"Then give your words to Bran too."
"You're asking a lame man to teach a cripple how to dance," Tyrion said. "However sincere the lesson, the result is likely to be grotesque. Still, I know what it is to love a brother, Lord Snow. I will give Bran whatever small help is in my power."
"Thank you, my lord of Lannister." He pulled off his glove and offered his bare hand. "Friend."
Tyrion found himself oddly touched. "Most of my kin are bastards," he said with a wry smile, "but you're the first I've had to friend." He pulled a glove off with his teeth and clasped Snow by the hand, flesh against flesh. The boy's grip was firm and strong.
When he had donned his glove again, Jon Snow turned abruptly and walked to the low, icy northern parapet. Beyond him the Wall fell away sharply; beyond him there was only the darkness and the wild. Tyrion followed him, and side by side they stood upon the edge of the world.