(Scenario: “Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” a knight asks as King Robb approaches. Robb needs him to open the gate to retake the North. But will he?)
King Robb Stark and his northern armies marched along the narrow pathway, panting. Robb was not used to the air, high up in the mountains. It was thinner than at the bottom of the Mountains of the Moon, and he seemed incapable of catching his breath.
The wind blew and Robb shivered. How had it come to this? He had been winning the war. Somehow it had all gone wrong. He had made a mistake letting Theon Greyjoy go back to Pyke in the vain hope that Theon would have convinced his father, Lord Balon, to join the North against the Lannisters. Robb should never have trusted him. Theon was an Ironborn and treachery was in their blood. Robb should have listened to his mother, Lady Catelyn, and sent Lord Jason Mallister to negotiate with Lord Balon instead. Theon would never have invaded the North, taken Winterfell and murdered Bran and Rickon if he had.
But it was pointless to think about that now. And, besides, even though Robb should have heeded his mother’s counsel on sending Theon to Pyke, she had shown herself to be just as untrustworthy when it came to the Kingslayer. She had released him in the hope that Sansa and Arya would be returned. All that had achieved was to weaken their position against Lord Tywin.
Robb plumed a lungful of air. He did not know what else to do. Whatever mistakes he and his mother had made, and what might have been if she and he had chosen differently, they were in the Vale of Arryn now, along the mountain passes. This was his way back to the North, to retake the it from the Ironmen. He had to keep going, however heavy each footstep seemed.
Robb quivered again from the cold and turned the corner. He caught sight of his lovely Queen, Jeyne, shivering under her furs, and he smiled at her. Even in a miserably cold and cloudy place, she could still make him feel better about himself. It had been worth marrying her for that alone, even if it had cost him the Freys.
Those Gates Must Open
“We’re nearly there, Your Grace,” his great uncle, Ser Brynden Tully the Blackfish, said.
Ahead was the Bloody Gate. It was closed, as Robb had expected. But then, he noticed dozens of knights lining the arch above the gate, and from within the identical watchtowers, and his innards twisted. Something told him that the knights were not always stationed there. Rather, that they were there waiting for him.
I must get those gates to open. One way or another. “Forward,” King Robb commanded. “We continue forward.”
He looked over at his mother and Ser Brynden for assurance. Lady Catelyn gave him a raise of the brows combined with a hard look, hinting at concern; while Ser Brynden gave him a solitary nod, hinting that he agreed with his great-nephew’s course of action.
The sound of clicking turned Robb’s head back to the Bloody Gate. Each knight now held a loaded crossbow and took aim at the Northern armies approaching. A sickening sensation formed in the pit of Robb’s stomach. He had heard the tales of how the Bloody Gate had earned its name: a dozen armies in the Age of Heroes had bled before it in their attempt to smash it down, only to fail every time.
Robb would not have his armies massacred pointlessly before the gate, like in the stories. “Halt,” he said, in between heavy breaths. “Halt!”
“Lysa Has Always Been Mad”
The Northmen stopped marching. “Are we to turn around?” Ser Brynden asked.
Robb hesitated. He could not turn around. The Ironmen had taken Moat Cailin, sealing off the route into the North via the south. Robb’s only other option to enter the North was to go through the Vale of Arryn to Gulltown, Old Anchor or Runestone, and from those port towns take ships to White Harbour to recapture Moat Cailin from its eastern flank. “No,” he said, hoping he sounded determined. Then, he turned to his mother. “Do you really think aunt Lysa has given the order for her men to fire on her own blood?”
Lady Catelyn sighed, but there was a harshness to the sigh then hinted at an understated frustration and fury with her sister. “Probably,” she said. “Lysa has always been mad. I would not test her.”
“Agreed,” Ser Brynden said. “But it is not her who I would test, but the knights of the Vale. They are sworn to House Arryn, whose words are As High As Honour. I do not think they would fire on an anointed knight, let alone a king, unless he drew a sword against them.”
“That is my thinking,” Robb said. “Besides, I am the King in the North. If I want them to open the gates, I must ask. Nevertheless, Ser Brynden, I want you to accompany me. You may know the men guarding the gate and, mayhap, your presence will make matters easier.”
“Who Would Pass The Bloody Gate?”
Ser Brynden gave him a face as sour as the smell of old sweat. “I was more loved by my brother when I refused to marry Bethany Redwyne than I was in the Vale,” he said.
That did not fill Robb with hope. “Well, conjure up some charm and give it a try. We may need all the help we can get.”
Robb then flicked the reins and his horse trotted toward the Bloody Gate, with Ser Brynden beside him. The knights of the Vale, descendants of fabled warriors of times gone by, lowered their crossbows as he approached. That was good. They were not going to fire on the King in the North, at the very least.
“Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” demanded Ser Donnel Waywood, the Knight of the Gate.
Robb held back a smile. In her stories, Old Nan had told Robb many a time as a boy that the Knight of the Gate asked that exact question. It was strange, yet amusing, to hear it bellowed at him.
The King cleared his throat. “It is I, Robb Stark of Winterfell, the King in the North, who wishes to pass,” he announced. “Lady Lysa Arryn, widow to your lord and my father’s beloved mentor, Jon Arryn, is my aunt. I ask you to kindly open the gates so that my men can pass through the Vale and go back to their homes.”
“Would You Call For Lady Lysa?”
“I am afraid I cannot do that, Your Grace,” Ser Donnel said. “Your father had much love for my liege, that is true. But Lord Jon is dead. It is his wife who gives the orders and she has instructed me not to open the gates for you, lest she fall foul of the Crown and be deemed a traitor to the Seven Kingdoms, along with her son, Lord Robert Arryn.”
A lump formed in Robb’s throat. Was his aunt, his own blood, refusing him passage? “Ser Donnel, you are a good and loyal man,” he said, doing his best not to sound choked. “But please would you call for Lady Lysa? Tell her that her sister and her uncle are present and would like very much to see her once more.”
The lump in Robb’s throat expanded, covering his voice-box. “Thank you, Ser Donnel,” he said, not even trying to force the words out of his throat. “We shall not bother you again.”
“Your Grace, Lady Lysa keeps to herself and does not appreciate visitors. The last time a family member came to the Eyrie, she brought with her the Imp of Casterly Rock and feared that Lord Tywin would bring ruin upon her and the last member of House Arryn. I am sorry, Your Grace, but I will not disobey her. The Bloody Gate will not open for the North.”
The Blackfish’s Suggestion
He subsequently turned his mare around and headed back to his armies. Water welled in Robb’s eyes and he wanted to cry. He was ruined. How had it come to this? Not so long ago, the war had been going well. How everything gone so badly wrong?
“You don’t wish to test your luck against the gate?” the Blackfish asked. “I would wager that the Northmen could beat the knights of the Vale. I have seen both fight.”
Robb shook his head. “I doubt we would succeed in breaking the gate,” he said. “And even if we did, it would be at such a cost as to make retaking the North impossible. We have no choice but to attack Moat Cailin from the south.”
Ser Brynden’s face went as grey as his hair. “Moat Cailin has never been taken from the south before,” he said, faintly.
“Then I must be the first. There is no other way.”
He returned to his mother. She did not ask if the Bloody Gate would open for them. Her blue eyes bulged with fury as if she had just heard something distressing. Jeyne had the same distress written on her face as well. “What is the matter?” Robb asked.
“The Freys have blocked the High Road,” Lady Catelyn said. “We’re trapped.”
Bile coated Robb’s mouth. He wanted to swear so that the whole bloody Vale could hear him. He wanted to damn everyone all over again and the Old Gods. But this time, he knew that he only had himself to blame. The Freys would not have been against him had he married one of Lord Walder’s daughters.
But then Robb remembered that he was the King in the North, and that he had to act like a king should. “We are not trapped,” he said. “We’re going to show the Freys the folly of their decision and cut through them, before we take Moat Cailin back from the Ironmen.” He hoped he sounded believable.
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