All along the south coast of Cape Wrath rose crumbling stone watchtowers, raised in ancient days to give warning of Dornish raiders stealing in across the sea. Villages had grown up about the towers. A few had flowered into towns.
The Peregrine made port at the Weeping Town, where the corpse of the Young Dragon had once lingered for three days on its journey home from Dorne. The banners flapping from the town’s stout wooden walls still displayed King Tommen’s stag-and-lion, suggesting that here at least the writ of the Iron Throne might still hold sway. “Guard your tongues,” Arianne warned her company as they disembarked. “It would be best if King’s Landing never knew we’d passed this way.” Should Lord Connington’s rebellion be put down, it would go ill for them if it was known that Dorne had sent her to treat with him and his pretender. That was another lesson that her father had taken pains to teach her; choose your side with care, and only if they have the chance to win.
They had no trouble buying horses, though the cost was five times what it would have been last year. “They’re old, but sound,” claimed the hostler. “you’ll not find better this side of Storm’s End. The griffin’s men seize every horse and mule they come upon. Oxen too. Some will make a mark upon a paper if you ask for payment, but there’s others who would just as soon cut your belly open and pay you with a handful of your own guts. If you come on any such, mind your tongues and give the horses up.”
The town was large enough to support three inns, and all their common rooms were rife with rumors. Arianne sent her men into each of them, to hear what they might hear. In the Broken Shield, Daemon Sand was told that the great septry on the Holf of Men had been burned and looted by raiders from the sea, and a hundred young novices from the motherhouse on Maiden Isle carried off into slavery. In the Loon, Joss Hood learned that half a hundred men and boys from the Weeping Town had set off north to join Jon Connington at Griffin’s Roost, including young Ser Addam, old Lord Whitehead’s son and heir. But in the aptly named Drunken Dornishman, Feathers heard men muttering that the griffin had put Red Ronnet’s brother to death and raped his maiden sister. Ronnet himself was said to be rushing south to avenge his brother’s death and his sister’s dishonor.
That night Arianne dispatched the first of her ravens back to Dorne, reporting to her father on all they’d seen and heard. The next morning her company set out for Mistwood, as the first rays of the rising sun were slanting through the peaked roofs and crooked alleys of the Weeping Town. By midmorning a light rain began to fall, as they were making their way north through a land of green fields and little villages. As yet, they had seen no signs of fighting, but all the other travelers along the rutted road seemed to be going in the other direction, and the women in the villages they passed gazed at them with wary eyes and kept their children close. Further north, the fields gave way to rolling hills and thick groves of old forest, the road dwindled to a track, and villages became less common.
Dusk found them on the fringes of the rainwood, a wet green world where brooks and rivers ran through dark forests and the ground was made of mud and rotting leaves. Huge willows grew along the watercourses, larger than any that Arianne had ever seen, their great trunks as gnarled and twisted as an old man’s face and festooned with beards of silvery moss. Trees pressed close on every side, shutting out the sun; hemlock and red cedars, white oaks, soldier pines that stood as tall and straight as towers, colossal sentinels, big-leaf maples, redwoods, wormtrees, even here and there a wild weirwood. Underneath their tangled branches ferns and flowers grew in profusion; sword ferns, lady ferns, bellflowers and piper’s lace, evening stars and poison kisses, liverwort, lungwort, hornwort. Mushrooms sprouted down amongst the tree roots, and from their trunks as well, pale spotted hands that caught the rain. Other trees were furred with moss, green or grey or red-tailed, and once a vivid purple. Lichens covered every rock and stone. Toadstools festered besides rotting logs. The very air seemed green.
Arianne had once heard her father and Maester Caleotte arguing with a septon about why the north and south sides of the Sea of Dorne were so different. The septon thought it was because of Durran Godsgrief, the first Storm King, who had stolen the daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind and earned their eternal emnity. Prince Doran and the maester inclined more toward wind and water, and spoke of how the big storms that formed down in the Summer Sea would pick up moisture moving north until they slammed into Cape Wrath. For some strange reason the storms never seemed to strike at Dorne, she recalled her father saying. “I know your reason,” the septon had responded. “No Dornishmen ever stole away the daughter of two gods.”
The going was much slower here than it had been in Dorne. Instead of proper roads, they rode down crookback slashes that snaked this way and that, through clefts in huge moss-covered rocks and down deep ravines choked with blackberry brambles. Sometimes the track petered out entirely, sinking into bogs or vanishing amongst the ferns, leaving Arianne and her companions to find their own way amongst the silent trees. The rain still fell, soft and steady. The sound of moisture dripping off the leaves was all around them, and every mile or so the music of another little waterfall would call to them.
The wood was full of caves as well. That first night they took shelter in one of them, to get out of the wet. In Dorne they had often travelled after dark, when the moonlight turned the blowing sands to silver, but the rainwood was too full of bogs, ravines, and sinkholes, and black as pitch beneath the trees, where the moon was just a memory.
Feathers made a fire and cooked a brace of hares that Ser Garibald had taken with some wild onions and mushrooms he had found along the road. After they ate, Elia Sand turned a stick and some dry moss into a torch, and went off exploring deeper in the cave. “See that you do not go too far,” Arianne told her. “Some of these caves go very deep, it is easy to get lost.”
The princess lost another game of cyvasse to Daemon Sand, won one from Joss Hood, then retired as the two of them began to teach Jayne Ladybright the rules. She was tired of such games.
Nyrn and Tyene may have reached King’s Landing by now, she mused, as she settled down crosslegged by the mouth of the cave to watch the falling rain. If not they ought to be there soon. Three hundred seasoned spears had gone with them, over the Boneway, past the ruins of Summerhall, and up the kingsroad. If the Lannisters had tried to spring their little trap in the kingswood, Lady Nym would have seen that it ended in disaster. Nor would the murderers have found their prey. Prince Trystane had remained safely back at Sunspear, after a tearful parting from Princess Myrcella. That accounts for one brother, thought Arianne, but where is Quentyn, if not with the griffin? Had he wed his dragon queen? King Quentyn. It still sounded silly. This new Daenerys Targaryen was younger than Arianne by half a dozen years. What would a maid that age want with her dull, bookish brother? Young girls dreamed of dashing knights with wicked smiles, not solemn boys who always did their duty. She will want Dorne, though. If she hopes to sit the Iron Throne, she must have Sunspear. If Quentyn was the price for that, this dragon queen would pay it. What if she was at Griffin’s End with Connington, and all this about another Targaryen was just some sort of subtle ruse? Her brother could well be with her. King Quentyn. Will I need to kneel to him?
No good would come of wondering about it. Quentyn would be king or he would not. I pray Daenerys treats him him more gently than she did her own brother.
Excerpt taken from © The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin. Random House, 2015.