“As you command, Sire.” Maege Mormont had ridden south

“As you command, Sire.” Maege Mormont had ridden south with Robb, Jon knew. Her eldest daughter had joined the Young Wolf’s host as well. Even if both of them

had died, however, Lady Maege had other daughters, some with children of their own. Had they gone with Robb as well? Surely Lady Maege would have left at

least one of the older girls behind as castellan. He did not understand why Lyanna should be writing Stannis, and

could not help but wonder if the girl’s answer might have been different if the letter had been sealed with a direwolf

instead of a crowned stag, and signed by Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. It is too late for such misgivings. You made your choice.

“Two score ravens were sent out,” the king complained, “yet we get no response but silence and defiance. Homage is the duty every leal subject owes his king. Yet

your father’s bannermen all turn their back on me, save the Karstarks. Is Arnolf Karstark the only man of honor in the north?”

Arnolf Karstark was the late Lord Rickard’s uncle. He had been made the castellan of Karhold when his nephew

and his sons went south with Robb, and he had been the first to respond to King Stannis’s call for homage, with a raven

declaring his allegiance. The Karstarks have no other choice, Jon might have said. Rickard Karstark had betrayed the direwolf and spilled the blood of lions.

The stag was Karhold’s only hope. “In times as confused as these, even men of

honor must wonder where their duty lies. Your Grace is not the only king in the realm demanding homage.”

Babu exited the cage in the same careful way he had enteredit. The cage had two floors, one level with us, the other at

theback, higher by about three feet, that led outside to the island.

The goat scrambled to this second level. Mahisha, nowunconcerned with Babu,

paralleled the move in his cage in afluid, effortless motion. He crouched and lay

still, his slowlymoving tail the only sign of tension.
Babu stepped up to the trapdoor

between the cages andstarted pulling it open. In anticipation of satisfaction, Mahishafell silent. I heard two things at that moment: Father saying”Never forget

this lesson” as he looked on grimly, and thebleating of the goat. It must

 

have been

bleating all along,

onlywe couldn’t

hear it before.

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