The True Seeing

The red comet had departed from the skies. When Barristan was tasked by Magister Illyrio to find and bring Daenerys Targaryen back to Pentos, he followed the bleeding star east to Slaver's Bay and Qarth. The comet had led to her, a girl already a queen, with a khalasar, and three young dragons. Barristan had feared that she had the taint of madness in her blood. To his relief, he found that she was more Rhaegar's sister than Aerys's daughter. And yet...

He had served three kings. Jaehaerys the II was a good man but died too young. Barristan had only been a whitecloak for two years before the king's delicate health failed. Aerys showed initial promise but descended into madness, driven by miscarriages and the deaths of his infant children. The Defiance of Duskendale shattered what little sanity Aerys had left. As for Robert, he was a sot and a whoremonger - a good warrior, but a terrible king. Rhaegar would have been better than all of them but the prince had his own eccentricities : an obsession with visions and prophecies. His sister was the same, but then those dreams had given her dragons. Barristan did not understand the magic of old Valyria. He only prayed that Daenerys did.

His thoughts went back to the night before he left Meereen. The queen summoned him to her audience chamber, the obsidian candle cradled in her slender hands. As he knelt, he could not see whether the stub was smaller.

"Ser Barristan, I need an able man to go to Westeros."

"My queen, I am at your service."

"There is a town on a hill with a harbor. There are springs that feed into a sweetwater pool, surrounded by a great stone bathhouse."

"Maidenpool. But what does the town hold besides Jonquil's Pool?"

"Salvation. A candle against the darkness that casts shadows far and wide. A light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And this light is so very, very bright."

"Your grace, I do not understand."

"Go to Maidenpool. What you find there will save Meereen." The queen examined the Valyrian candle, her violet eyes lost in contemplation.

Ser Barristan took that as a dismissal. He stood up to leave the chamber and pack for the long trip. He came to Daenerys as Arstan Whitebeard and he left Daenerys under the same name. This time, no red comet would light the way.

The Sea Shrike had a difficult journey, as it winded the way to Westeros. The plague had ripped through the Free Cities, bringing great fear and suffering. Stories spread of death ships, full of corpses and a few sailors clinging to life covered with oozing black boils. At Volantis, Barristan saw a ship burning at the docks, with tiger striped slave soldiers keeping the weakened crew on board with long spears. On the Orange Shore, bodies washed up from shallow graves into the Summer Sea. The island city of Lys was closed, the port blockaded by the magisters. Tyrosh and Pentos were not much better, but at least the cog was allowed to take on water and trade salt and copper for barrels of salt pork and fish.

From Pentos, the ship sailed north and west across the Narrow Sea. Barristan had been to Maidenpool many many years ago as a guest of honor. Myles Mooton had been squire to the crown prince, and after receiving his knighthood, remained one of Rhaegar's close companions and staunch allies. Ser Myles died in the Rebellion, killed by Robert Baratheon in battle. Ser Myles was bold as brass, a dragon man to the very end. His brother, Lord William, was made of weaker stuff, and bent the knee after the war.

The sun was high in the sky when the cabin boy trimming the sails caught sight of pink stone walls. Four galleys and a cog were docked in port and a dozen more fishing boats with the morning catch. The first sign of something wrong was the fish market. A score of soldiers patrolled the area, reinforced by archers and crossbowmen on the town walls. Below the walls, there were many horses and pavilions, but he was too far away to see the sigils.

A group of armed men met the Sea Shrike at the wharf. Four stood back, the spikes of their halberds pointed to the sky. Another four carried swords and shields and followed a knight wearing a sigil of a red apple on a gold field. Barristan wondered what a Fossoway of Cider Hall was doing in Maidenpool.

"What port do you hail from?" The knight asked.

"Pentos, Ser." Groleo, the captain, actually was a Pentoshi and had been dispatched with Barristan to bring back Daenerys. The kindly man was a good sailor who wished only to return to his wife, children, and grandchildren.

"And do you carry anyone with the plague?"

Groleo shook his head. "We are healthy on board the Sea Shrike. We have only come to trade salt, wine, and spices." The ship really carried only salt and copper. The yellow wine was sour and tart and the crates with pepper, ginger, and cloves were only half full.

"Bad luck. We hoped a galley from Essos would carry the plague."

"You hoped we would have the plague?"

"Not I." The knight made a wry face. "I want nothing to do with boils on my skin or red spots on my neck or hacking my life away. But my uncle and cousin think differently. They seek plague victims. Bring your entire crew and passengers before me."

The captain nodded, and soon, all the sailors gathered on the deck. The soldiers searched the cog quickly and efficiently, making sure there were no stragglers. The knight unrolled a scroll. "By this decree, the Sea Shrike is forbidden to leave port. The sails will be struck and the anchor dropped. The ship will be tied to the docks with heavy rope. All sailors must disembark. No one can leave Maidenpool unless permission is granted."

"But we must return to Pentos. You have no right to keep us here." Groleo groused. The knight rolled his eyes in answer.

"Why has Lord Mooton given such an order?" Arstan asked.

"Lord Mooton has nothing to do with this. He is locked up in the castle. Ser Garlan controls Maidenpool. My uncle, Lord Fossoway, and many other Reachmen guard the walls. We have thousands of men in the town. You would be well advised not to challenge this edict."

"But why? Why would the Reach care about a town in the Riverlands?" Arstan probed.

"The Reach does not give two shits about Maidenpool. We are here to defend Jon Snow."

"Jon Snow? The Bastard of Winterfell?" Arstan said. In Pentos, he had heard wild stories of the bloody struggle between the lions and the wolves. Fewer tales reached Meereen but enough to know that the fighting had ended.

"The Bloody Wolf of the North. He came South to cure the plague."

The problem with rule by fear was that some men were not easily frightened. The Lords of the Rock had always been able to resist the demands of kings more than other great families. His father claimed that was due to the power and might of the Lannisters. That might be true but Tyrion thought there was a simpler solution - distance. True, the Rock was not as far as Winterfell or Sunspear but nine hundred miles on the Gold Road was a long trip, particularly over rugged hills and mountains. Only dragons could really threaten the Lannister stronghold. Joffrey had none of those.

"I will not allow my forces to be used to start a war against the Reach. That would be a poor idea in the best of times. But with our army weakened, and a plague ravaging King's Landing and Duskendale, it is beyond stupid. Attacking Ser Garlan would entail enormous risk with very little benefit. " Uncle Kevan said.

Joffrey seethed at the firm declaration. Tyrion wondered if his nephew would forget that at least half the guards at the Red Keep were Lannister men, and that the three whitecloaks in the chamber were all from the Westerlands.

"Ser Jaime. You will take command of the Lannister army, the bannermen from the Crownlands, and whatever other forces can be mustered in King's Landing. Attack Maidenpool and bring me back Jon Snow's head."

"Jaime will do no such thing. The Lannister army reports to only one person - the head of House Lannister - your grandfather, Lord Tywin."

"Lord Tywin has fallen ill. He cannot command anyone." Joffrey replied to Ser Kevan.

"Yes, your grace. That means I command the Lannister army. I am regent for our house in my brother's absence. Not Jaime, who is Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Or Tyrion who is Master of Coin. Or your mother who is Queen. Tywin trusts me with looking after the well-being of House Lannister. He would certainly not agree with your ill-advised orders."

Joffrey quivered with anger. "Lord Baelish, summon the Knights of the Vale. Send them to Maidenpool."

Baelish raised his eyebrows in dismay. "I am sorry, your grace, but calling the banners would take many weeks. The Vale of Arryn is full of brave and loyal men but travel through the Mountains of the Moon is difficult for an army as winter approaches."

"They would not answer your call anyway." Kevan said. "Your lords do not like you. They are unhappy that Robert Arryn is your ward. Royce, Waynwood, Redfort, Hunter - these houses will not follow you into battle, and that is almost half the strength of the Vale."

The Lord of the Vale's eyes glinted with a hint of anger. "An unfortunate misunderstanding that I mean to correct. The Vale highborn are a fractious bunch but too slow-witted to rebel."

"I wish you could call your banners, Lord Baelish. Then I could see your skill at leading an army against Jon Snow but I fear the outcome will not benefit the Iron Throne." Ser Kevan said.

Before more fuel could be added to the fire, Cersei placed a hand on the king's arm. "Sweetling, I will speak to your great uncle. Leave it to me." With an angry toss of his head, Joffrey left the room, Baelish at his side. The two whitecloaks, Ser Lyle and Ser Robert, shook their heads but departed with the boy king, leaving Kevan with his two nephews and niece.

"Are you mad, Ser?" Cersei glared. "That is your king."

"I know who he is. My loyalty is to your father and House Lannister. You should thank me for not encouraging his foolish whims."

"Garlan Tyrell has insulted the Iron Throne. He must be punished." Cersei said.

"He sought the best possible healer to save his wife. I understand the sentiment but do not condone the action." Kevan replied. "The Tyrells are not in open revolt. Punishing Garlan is one thing. Getting into a war is another. Joffrey is reckless and thoughtless. No one would want to fight a battle during a plague."

"We have an army. What is the purpose of an army if you cannot use it against our enemies?" Cersei said.

"Your words show that you know nothing about armies or war. Neither does your son." Kevan said. "House Lannister has an army. You do not. If Joffrey chooses to empty King's Landing of peasant levies from the Crownlands and Gold Cloaks, he will soon understand that knights fight better than rabble. How do you even know that Snow is in Maidenpool? What if he is not?"

"What do you mean, uncle? Do you think Snow will not sail from the North?" Tyrion asked.

"No. Ser Garlan would not do this without assurances. But what if Snow is not at Maidenpool? What if the Tyrell forces are at Harrentown or somewhere on the kingsroad? What would happen if the Lannister army marches out of King's Landing?"

"Snow could march to King's Landing. He could besiege the city." Jaime said.

"Snow could do more than that. I was at the Twins. Ser Baelor brokered the deal personally with the North. The Hightower men are in the Riverlands, and the Rivermen are friends with the North. Jon Snow could have more than one army. Another force might attack from the North or South. We would be cut into pieces." Kevan said.

"But Uncle, would the Reach yield command to Jon Snow? Are they prepared to fight? Lady Taena has no reason to lie to us. She seems convinced that Garlan left to find a cure for his wife. So it is likely that Baelish's spy tells the truth about their location." Tyrion said.

"I do not think Garlan wants a war, since his sister is about to become queen. But that can change if Mace is thrown into the Black Cells. Snow travelled by boat. Maidenpool is a likely destination. But would you stake your life on that? Would you bet the entirety of the Lannister forces? If our soldiers in the Crownlands are routed, Joffrey will lose his head. The North has not forgotten that the King executed Ned Stark."

"You are too frightened of shadows, Uncle." Cersei announced. "These are knights with flowers. The Lannister army is well trained and seasoned in war. Nothing great was achieved without danger. Losing men would be worth the price of capturing Snow."

"Yes, you would think that." Kevan said with scorn. "You didn't care when you asked Lancel to spike King Robert's wine. And you didn't care when you threw my son out of your bed. Men's lives do not matter to Joffrey or you."

The only sound in the room was Cersei's sputtering. Tyrion sneaked a look at his brother. Jaime was stone-faced and did not look at their uncle or sister.

"Lies. These are lies." Cersei cried.

"When I asked why he joined the Faith, Lancel told me the truth. I guess he could never replace your brother in the yard or in your bed." Kevan stood up, his green eyes still hard. "Jaime, I will give you twenty Lannister guards if you go to Maidenpool. I assume you will not be stupid enough to start a war. And if Snow actually defeats the plague, find a way to bring a cure back to your father."

Their uncle left, leaving the three siblings. "Jaime, these are lies. Our cousin was only a loyal ally in court. He informed me of Robert's misdeeds." Cersei said.

Jaime raised his head. "Lancel spoke to me as well. He told me about your affair. You rewarded him after he poisoned Robert. He made his confession before he caught the plague. I hope that means the Seven will have mercy on him."

Their sister stormed off. Tyrion sighed and poured two very full goblets of Arbor Gold. His brother just stared at the table while Tyrion drank his wine and rambled. "Well, that went well. A fine kettle of fish. I suppose Kevan is too loyal to work against the Iron Throne, whatever his feelings about Cersei. But Joffrey will not forget this. I need a favor from you, Jaime."

"Spare me the quips, Tyrion. I suppose I was the last one to know about Cersei." Jaime said.

"No, that would be our Lord Father. I do need a favor." Tyrion reached again for the half full bottle. "I have reason to believe that my son is at Maidenpool with Snow."

"What? How?" Jaime said.

"Never mind the how." Tyrion did not want Cersei or Tywin to hear any news of his wife and son. "But if Gerry is there, I want you to make sure that he remains unharmed. That he is well treated by the Starks. I don't want my son to die from the plague."

"How do you expect me to do any of that? Do you think the Northerners will welcome me into their midst? I only saw Gerion at Riverrun. I never spoke to him." Jaime argued. "Wait, why don't you go to see the boy? You are his father."

Tyrion downed another glass. "Because I am afraid." There were other things to do in King's Landing. He needed to make certain Joffrey did not start a war, and that Baelish did not kill Tywin. He might have tossed those worries aside if he was certain the boy would accept him.

"I do not know what I will do at Maidenpool. If Snow sees me, he might imprison me again. And the boy does not even know you are alive. Is it better for Gerry to know he has a family that will never acknowledge him?" Jaime complained.

Tyrion stayed quiet, drowning his thoughts in the wine. His father had never acknowledged him either, while putting great hopes onto Jaime that were dashed once his brother put on a white cloak. He wondered how much of their faults were determined by Tywin's intractable will and the death of their lady mother. In the end, everything came back to family.

In the solar of Maegor's Holdfast, Petyr Baelish waited patiently for Joffrey to finish the long rant. Baelish nodded his head at the right moments, and made sure to shower praise like every other fawning lackey. First, Joffrey recounted the many ways he would torture Jon Snow. Crippling the hands and feet, ripping out the tongue, burning the eyes with hot irons, whips and the rack - Joffrey knew many ways of inflicting pain. Next, the king railed against his uncles, his mother and Lord Tywin for their failure at crushing the rebels. Joffrey was a child who longed to be a man : a willful, callow, and petulant man. Lastly, Joffrey declared that his father, King Robert, would have smashed the Northmen and taken the heads of Snow and Stark.

No one was as blind as a king. An usurper might begin his reign as a reformer, but in a few years, feasting, drinking and whoring would turn any man into a great blustering oaf. Then again, Robert had always been an oaf but at least had a few people willing to tell him the truth - Jon Arryn and Ned Stark. They were both dead thanks to Baelish. Joffrey had grown up coddled and surrounded by flatterers and fools. The young king was as unfamiliar with the truth from his advisors as he was with any sense of right or wrong. Rulers like that were easy to lead.

Joffrey stopped. Petyr bowed his head, knowing the boy's love for gestures to satisfy his pride. "Your grace. Ser Kevan was insulting and ungrateful, but not entirely wrong. The Reach will post lookouts on the roads in the Crownlands. Garlan Tyrell and Jon Snow will be aware of the crown's movements, long before your men can reach Maidenpool."

"What does it matter? Let them know that I am coming. They will tremble at my approach."

Somehow Baelish doubted that. "Your grace, I have a better idea of how to attack Snow. Garlan Tyrell is prepared for a battle of swords and spears. He is a knight and has trained for war. He expects to defend the walls and gates against an assault. But a small group could go up the kingsroad, and make it to Maidenpool, unwatched."

"So what? They would not be enough to kill Garlan Tyrell's men."

The king was dumb as a stump. "You don't need to fight Garlan now. Deal with the Tyrells later, your grace. But this is an opportunity to kill Jon Snow, away from the protection of the Starks. A few men can do what an army cannot. When I went to Bitterbridge, one of my retainers poisoned Renly with the Strangler. The same could happen at Maidenpool."

Joffrey's eyes lit up with excitement. "Oh, to see Ser Garlan when Snow dies. And then his wife and child will die from the plague. He will know that the gods have punished him for disobeying his king. I wish I could be there myself to see it with my own eyes."

"I am happy to serve, your grace."

"I have a gift for you, Lord Baelish. Kill him with this." Joffrey reached into a drawer and pulled out a crossbow embossed with the golden lion of House Lannister. The king had only recently received the Myrish weapon, designed with a lever instead of a crank to make reloading the bolts faster and easier.

"I intended to use poison."

"No, I want the bastard to know who ordered his death. Kill him with this crossbow or wildfire." Joffrey said. "You will be greatly rewarded for this, Baelish. I will make you Hand of the King. Succeed, and you will be my most trusted advisor. Fail me, and you will be punished. "

He accepted the crossbow from the king. Petyr had never been skilled with weapons but then he didn't need to be. Someone else would be the shooter. "I will see your will done, your grace."

"Very good, Lord Baelish. Are you certain you can kill Snow?" Joffrey asked.

"The Braavosi have a saying. Valor Morghulis. All men must die. If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone."

Sandor Clegane was right to grumble. Florian's Tower was crowded and getting more so. Her brother was far too merciful, Arya thought. A dozen smallfolk waited in the courtyard, to be screened for any signs of the plague. Most of the villagers were fine, ill with minor ailments. They lingered more due to curiosity and the prospect of a full belly.

Jon had declared that anyone with the plague would receive fair treatment and be fed, washed, clothed and housed in the tower. Families of the sick were permitted to visit. In the grand hall, there were vats of pease pudding sprinkled with ham, a steaming fish stew with clams, mussels and shrimp, and plentiful loaves of fresh bread. Lady Olenna commented that peasants would rush to get the plague given the bounty offered to the sick. That was only a jape but the tower was busy with highborn, smallfolk and healers.

There were a dozen new plague patients and more coming every day. Yesterday, an old Darry master at arms had ridden in with a young girl from Harroway. Word of Jon's presence must be spreading over the Riverlands, Arya knew. That made the issue of security even worse. There were so many new faces - knights, lords, acolytes, and families of the sick - coming in and out of the tower that she hardly knew who was who. Jon worked in a large space behind curtains, and he would see patients rolled over by the Winter Town boys on a gurney. The Hound and Brienne guarded her brother's privacy, and sometimes were joined by the Lightning Lord.

"Lady Arya."

She turned to see the shy smile of Edric Dayne. Two women followed him. They looked nothing alike, but she knew they were half sisters.

Edric turned to Obara and Tyene Sand. "May I introduce Prince Oberyn's children .…"

Arya interrupted. "We have met. I saw the two of you with the Red Viper at the royal sept."

The shorter one, with fair golden hair, laughed. "We hardly met. You were busy fleeing the wedding after Snow set the royal guards on fire."

The taller one, dirty brown hair bound in a rat's tail, snarled. "We want to hear how the Mountain died. You were there in the boat."

"I was. My brother dumped a bucket of wildfire on his head, and burnt him alive. The Mountain died screaming,"

Obara frowned. "But Edric says that you are called the Mountain's Bane."

The young Dayne looked uncomfortable. "I heard the name from Harwin. He was recounting the tale during Lord Mychel and Lady Mya's wedding feast at Winterfell."

"How would Harwin know? He never went to King's Landing. Mountain's Bane is a dumb name." Harwin was a loyal Stark guard with a large mouth. "Brienne and Sandor faced the Mountain. The Hound slew the horse when his brother galloped onto the boat. The Mountain would have beaten both of them. I stabbed my sword through the backs of both of his knees. But even when he couldn't stand, Gregor Clegane was still fighting. My brother came back and finished him off. But all of us fought the monster."

"So did we in the Red Keep." Obara grunted. "My father stabbed him several times and we scored a few hits. But Clegane fled, and jumped through a window."

"He's dead now. Jon chopped his head off." Arya abruptly turned away, eyes following a young distraught woman entering the hall. An Oakheart knight tried to stop the girl but she pushed through to Olenna Tyrell. The Queen of Thorns shook her wizened head.

"What are you looking for, Lady Arya?" Edric asked.

She was too concerned to correct the use of the word lady. "There are too many strangers here. What if one of them attempts to hurt Jon?"

Tyene gave Obara a knowing look. "It is true. You cannot trust the Tyrells. They are always plotting. Growing Strong. More like growing under your feet."

"I am more concerned that a stranger might be a spy for the Iron Throne." Arya replied.

Obara scoffed. "Be careful around the Queen of Thorns. That one may look harmless but she is a natural…."

"A natural what? Speak up, child. These old ears are almost deaf." Lady Olenna had made her way over, and gazed at the surprised Sand Snakes with distaste. Having quieted the two Dornish women, prompted the girl by her side. "Go on. This is Arya Stark. She can help you."

The dark haired lady in a salmon red gown bowed deeply. She reminded Arya of Sansa, tall, graceful and womanly. The only blemish was the clear worry in the brown eyes. "Lady Arya, I must speak with your brother. His guards refuse to allow me to see him."

"What is your name?"

"Eleanor Mooton."

The guards gave way to Arya, although Clegane prevented Olenna's giants from entering. Her brother was hunched over a small brass plate, smaller than a human hand. Several brass and copper screws, other metal plates, and bits of glass rested on the table.

"Jon." Arya's loud cry distracted his brother from his work.

"Yes, sister?" Her brother raised his head.

The dark haired girl went down on her knees. "Lord Snow. Spare my brothers and sister. Ser Garlan says my family's punishment will be your decision."

Jon blinked. "You are the Mooton girl. I thought no harm has come to your family."

"My sister and I have been allowed to remain in our rooms, but my brothers are locked up with my father in the tower. They are only young boys. Whatever my father has done, Manfryd and Morgan have done nothing wrong."

"Lord Mooton committed treason. He broke his vows to the North when he joined the lions. He swore allegiance to the Iron Throne before the Freys tried to kill my brother." Jon said.

"He feared for his family. Lord Tywin threatened …"

"Lord Tywin is not here. I am." Jon said, his grey eyes sharp and dark. "Your father betrayed us. I won't take his head but he can never again be the Lord of Maidenpool. Once I leave, he must go into exile."

"Manfryd is not ready to lead our house. He has only nine name days. And Morgan is the youngest." Eleanor said.

"Stand up." Jon thought for a moment. "You will be regent until your brother comes of age. As for your siblings, I will not harm them, so long as House Mooton does not betray me."

"We would not dare, my lord." The girl stood.

"Your father did. Chett, how many ravens are in the castle?"

The Winter Town boy answered quickly. "Fifty three, Lord Snow. The maester swears that no letters were sent when the town was taken. The little birds are watching the rookery."

"If your family alerts Joffrey or the Lannisters to my presence, then your line will end. But I have no desire to punish children for their father's crimes. Your brothers must remain in the castle but may leave the tower. So long as your family causes no trouble, then they will not be harmed. I am more interested in curing the plague than settling old debts. Those are my terms. Do not make me change them." Jon said.

"I understand, my lord. Thank you!" Eleanor Mooton bowed deeply before scurrying off.

Her brother returned again to the strange brass plate and the piles of glass. Some of the sheets were smaller than a fingertip. A large crowd had gathered, including Olenna, the Sand Snakes, and a number of maesters. Alleras and the Red Viper attended to Lady Nym. Chett ran in the room, out of breath, and placed a glass jar full of water on the table.

Jon smiled at Arya. "This will help us cure the plague."

"The jar of water? Or the brass plate?" she asked.

"Neither. The glass. It was always about the glass."

Jon handed over the brass tool to Arya. The apparatus was small and light, held easily by the bottom screw. Two plates of brass, beaten thin and flat, were riveted together. A piece of glass, smaller than a human eye, was suspended between the plates, and right above a pin, secured by two screws. One pushed the pin up and down, the other from left to right. It was a strange and ingenious device, albeit puny, like Needle compared to a two handed sword.

"What in the Seven Hells is that thing?" Lady Olenna asked.

"A near-eye for seeing the world. The Myrish far-eye observes things that are in the sky, like the seven wanderers, and the stars in the sky. This tool allows us to see the world."

"But how does that help us, Jon?" Owen Fossoway asked. Many acolytes and healers came closer, attracted by the discussion.

Jon poured a bit of the water out of the jar, and secured the blob on a sheet to the pin. Arya took a look through the lens. She gasped in surprise. In the green streaks, there were small little creatures, odd things with multiple tails, strings of circles floating around, even plants that seemed to dance. "What are those things?"

Jon shrugged. "Tiny animals? But there is an invisible world here, hiding in plain sight."

Oberyn pushed his way through. "Let me see." Arya handed over the near-eye to the Red Viper. He looked, then rubbed his eye, adjusted the screws and looked again. The room was silent when the prince turned to Jon in wonder. "It is true. There are things moving in the water. They are alive! And in only a tiny drop of water."

Alleras took the brass tool from her father. The other acolytes from the Citadel lined up for a turn.

"Jon, the hog quarters that you hung up. Some of them must have more of these tiny beasts infesting the air and skin. That's why some pieces decayed and rotted." Owen realized.

"It is certainly possible. These animalcules are everywhere. On the skin, in the mouth."

Lady Olenna barged in front of two other Reachmen, and took the near eye. "This is all well and good, Snow. How does it help Leonette? What does this have to do with the plague?"

"I will show you." Jon took a small pin, held it in the flame of a candle, and then pricked his finger. A single drop of red landed on a small square of glass. He placed it on the near eye and handed it to the skeptical old woman.

"I see hundreds of little red circles. Not quite circles, more like tiny buttons."

"That is normal healthy blood. But this is something else." Jon purified another pin in the fire, and with great care, scraped a buboes near Nymeria Sand's shoulder. He deposited the red drop onto a glass sheet, and then replaced the glass square pinned to the near eye. "Now look."

Oberyn Martell grabbed the apparatus from an outraged Olenna. "My apologies. I am eager to examine my daughter's blood." The Red Viper was quiet for a moment. He looked up again, his face puzzled. "There are the same red circles. But there is something else. There are tiny black rods next to the larger ovals. There are many of them moving about, like worms trying to eat."

"That is the plague." Jon said. "Not a curse of the Gods, or a product of miasma. Those black rods carry the plague - bacteria that makes the patients in the tower sicken and die."

"But what can you do about it, Maester Snow?" Ser Garlan asked.

"Kill the bacterium. But that cannot be done without knowing more."

Jaime had taken the greenest of his uncle's men. These were not hard bitten foul-mouthed soldiers, ready to loot and kill, but conscripts hoping to serve a few years and then return back to their homes in the Westerlands. Some were fresh to the Lannister red cloak, having been trained after the fighting in the Riverlands. Others enlisted to travel the world outside their village, and were disappointed by the grime and treachery of King's Landing. Most of the twenty were more than happy to leave the plague infested city.

An unseasoned crew would be better for this mission. Twenty men, even if each had the ferocity and skill of Arthur Dayne or Barristan the Bold, could not beat an army. Jaime also wanted to avoid spies. Many red cloaks at the Red Keep were beholden to Cersei. The rest belonged to his father or Petyr Baelish. Some might report to all three. Jaime wanted simple men who would not challenge his orders of going to the Riverlands to keep the peace. He had told none of them about Snow, the plague, or Maidenpool.

The last time Jaime travelled on the kingsroad, there were signs of war everywhere. Peasants fled to the hills or huddled in huts, abandoning fields to weeds and brambles. Foragers and brigands roamed in large packs, and it was difficult to tell soldiers from deserters. Wolves ruled from twilight to twilight and corpses of half eaten horses were found at dawn.

The smallfolk had returned. They were out in force, harvesting rye, oats, wheat and barley with scythe and sickle. Children plucked apples and peaches from trees and picked strawberries, raspberries and black currants from bushes. Jaime hoped for their sake that there would not be another war. Otherwise the peasants would soon be parted from the fruits of their labor.

On the third night, they stopped at Sow's Horn, at the border between the riverlands and the crownlands, and closer to Maidenpool than King's Landing. The Knight of Sow's Horn was a tough old large man with six men-at-arms and four crossbowmen. Ser Roger Hogg grudgingly opened the gates, but gave them ample food and drink.

"I will tell Tyrek of your hospitality." Jaime said, after his men had settled for the night.

"It is our duty. We are sworn to House Hayford. Lady Ermesande is wedded to your cousin, although it is hardly the match we would hope for."

"Tyrek will treat her well."

"How, Ser? She is a babe, not even with one name day. Will he suckle her with his own teats?"

Lady Ermesande was the last of her line, her mother dying soon after the birth and her father slain in the war. Lord Tywin moved swiftly to marry the infant girl to Tyrek, son of his late uncle Tygett. Even for his father, that was a brazen move. The other squires called Tyrek "Wet Nurse."

"What news is there of the plague?" Jaime asked.

"We had little of it, Ser, until those crazy fools with whips came through town. Bloody Idiots. Whip each other all you like but don't do it on my lands. And then, when the plague truly broke out in King's Landing, those madmen came back up the kingsroad." Ser Roger shook his grizzled head in dismay. "I sealed up the gates and waited for them to leave. The smallfolk with any sense avoided them. The others died."

"And what of the Reachmen? Have they caused any trouble?"

Roger shook his head. "There are Hightower men from here to Harrenhal, Fossoway knights on the Kingsroad, a few Oakheart and Ambrose soldiers riding east. The Reachmen keep the peace. The only group that caused a problem came by a night ago. Plague doctors - two wagons full of them with their strange masks. Look like a bunch of human crows."

That was strange. There might be sheep and pigs on these farms but hardly silver or gold to tempt Baelish's men. "What were they doing?"

"Probably spreading the plague. They asked to stay and I refused."

"That was wise. I would not trust them" Jaime said.

Ser Roger snorted. "I wasn't born yesterday. We just want to gather the harvest, plant one more set of crops and pray that autumn lasts. We want nothing to do with wolves and lions. Begging pardon, ser, but one of your father's bannermen attacked Sow's Horn and stole some goats and sheep. Their leader had a manticore on his shield."

"That would be Ser Amory Lorch. My father commanded him to ravage the riverlands, along with the Mountain and the Brave Companions."

"We are in the crownlands, Ser. Your father's men should have known better." Roger said.

Jaime was not sure if they did. Lorch was a vicious brute, and as dumb as a rock. Reading a map might have been beyond his meager abilities. "Amory Lorch is dead now. He was at Harrenhal when the wolves took the castle. Snow crucified the sellswords and foragers."

"Good. The man was a cunt. He tried to burn down my tower. Ser Jaime, all we want is to survive the winter. We don't want to fight any more wars."

His father would have chastised the old knight, saying that a vassal had a duty to serve his lord. But Jaime had seen Lady Hayford at King's Landing. The little girl needed a wetnurse to calm down after Snow blew up the royal sept. Tyrek, at the tender age of one and three, was only a squire, and not ready for the brutal realities of war. Jaime hoped that his cousin would not have to call his banners. Otherwise, Lady Ermesande might be the youngest widow of Westeros.

Her brother worked long into the night. Since the invention of the near-eye, Jon spent his time hunched over the work area, using light from the sun or candles to shine through the lens in the brass sheets as he examined different samples. When he needed to rest his eyes, Jon would lie down, and the Winter Town boys would make their reports. Jon fired off a few questions, and then returned to his desk, examining the patients and their blood. The cycle continued day after day in the race against time.

Arya was one of only a dozen people who had spent more than a perfunctory amount of time gazing through the near-eye. Tales of the animalcules had spread, with varying effects. The acolytes were eager and excited, inflamed by the possibilities of the unknown. Two little birds drew illustrations of the plague bacterium and other miniature creatures, described to them in detail by Chett and Gerry. Others, including a few maesters, were skeptical, doubting the discoveries and claiming that these strange organisms might only be a fever dream. They asked to examine the near-eye to verify any discoveries. Jon told them politely to bugger off.

Florian's Tower had grown crowded. The Elder Brother of the sept on the Quiet Isle escorted plague victims to Maidenpool. Three more ships were quarantined in the harbor, and some sailors had fallen ill. Smallfolk trickled in from Crackclaw Point and the lands north of Harrenhal. Jon did not turn anyone away and the assembled healers worked hard at keeping patients alive. Still, no one had been cured.

"You cannot do such an impious action. The Faith can not accept blasphemy." The outraged speaker was a septon from the Riverlands. A few others including the burly Elder Brother and the Silent Sister seemed less convinced.

"There is no choice. I need to understand more about the disease." Jon replied. Cadavers, bathed and covered by sheets, rested on several tables.

"What is going on?" Arya asked quietly.

"Your brother wants to chop up some bodies. That idiot says he can't. Something about the Seven Pointed Star." The Hound answered.

"The septons believe that cutting up the dead means that the soul cannot enter the Seven Heavens. The holy book says that a corpse must be whole and preserved." Brienne added.

"The North just fought a war in the Riverlands. Plenty of dead men with heads, arms and legs chopped off. And that's before the vultures and crows ate their full." The Hound said.

The men from the Reach tried to reason with the angry septon. The Hightower acolyte, Ser Baelor's nephew, took the lead, defending Jon's actions to the priests, holy brothers and sisters. But the mood in the hall had turned against her brother. Arya crept over, unseen by anyone but the one-eyed black tomcat.

"Jon - Is it really necessary to dissect the bodies?"

Her brother turned to her with tired eyes. "It is, sister. We cannot rely on guesses based on animals and birds. Cutting up the human body reveals the truth. The accounts of the plague do not agree. In some cases, men die on the same day. In others, they linger for weeks. I cannot cure a disease that I do not understand."

Arya remembered her lessons long ago with her dancing master. Before he had been slain by Meryn Trant, Syrio Forel told her how he had become the First Sword of Braavos. Other men were stronger, faster, and younger but Syrio's eyes were open. He saw things for what they were. 'The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of it."

"Yes." Jon looked at her gratefully. "We can only learn by understanding. The deeper we go, the better our chances. We must see with our own eyes and not the misconceptions of the past. That is what matters." Her brother had made up his mind.

"Perhaps an accord can be reached. The Faith might allow some study of the body under certain guidelines. We would need some time to consider." Alayn Hightower suggested.

"No. I have already waited too long. I will accept no conditions. I have work to do." Jon put on long black gloves that covered his arms up to the elbows.

"Snow, the gods will curse you for desecrating bodies." A septon said.

"If that is the price to be paid for knowledge, then so be it." Her brother walked away.

The Stinking Goose lived up to half its name. There was no goose to be found but the place stunk of wine, damp and sweat. Garlan Tyrell ordered every part of Maidenpool cleaned, but the worn down tables, stools and benches held the smell, even after being washed in a trough. Despite the pervasive stench, bad wine and worse food, the tavern was full of men drinking and talking. Men in their cups did not hold their tongues. That was why Ser Barristan sat on a stool in the shadows, nursing a flagon of watered down ale.

"He is mad, that one. Cutting up dead bodies. Seeing creatures in drops of water. Thinking that he can cure the plague." A scrawny sharp faced old man slurred his words.

"Stop with your blabber, Nimble Dick. Snow knows a great deal. Why else have none of us caught the plague? We are crowded in this town, but the only sick people are in the tower."

"I hear that everyone in Florian's Tower washes with boiling water. That they clean their hands and faces with hot rags before and after they see the sick. Who needs so much washing?"

"You need a good wash or a dunk in the bay. You stink, Dick. I saw some of Snow's boys out in the harbour. They was collecting some stuff." A tough veteran replied.

A boy, perhaps a squire to some hedge knight, squeaked in fright. "Do you think it is sorcery? Like what the wolves used at the God's Eye?"

The old fighter snorted. "We got beat fair and square. Tarly ran straight into a trap. Magic had nothing to do with that. Snow released us after the battle and Ser Baelor and the other knights were allowed to go after the Twins were sacked. Praying to trees and dancing around fires are not why the North won. They are good fighters and have better generals than we do."

Barristan had heard many similar tales in the past days. The Reach and the North had fought a bloody battle but few men sworn to Tyrell bore a grudge. Besides traitors and turncoats, the Starks had shown mercy to their enemies. That had bought them great respect from the Reachmen.

He left the Stinking Goose for some fresh air. The walk along the pink stone walls was pleasant, as was the cool sea breeze coming from the bay in the early afternoon. Several children were at the harbour, knee deep in water, gathering seaweed with nets during low tide. Barristan stopped in surprise at one of the boys. The face was framed by curled golden hair, emerald green eyes, and a playful smile. The boy was the spitting image of a young Jaime Lannister.

Tyrion thought about taking more men. His sister certainly would. She would have announced her presence at the Tyrell manse with several hundred red cloaks and City Watchmen. Cersei had never known subtlety. Tyrion was trying to stop a war, not start one. He mustered a small troop that included white cloaks, the Commander of the Watch, and many of the chief knights in service of House Lannister. What they lacked in numbers, they made up in gravitas.

The ponderous eyes of Mace Tyrell watched as Tyrion took a seat in the solar while Ser Lyle and Ser Robert stood outside. Alerie sat with her daughter as Margaery embroidered golden flowers on green samite. The needlework was excellent but then again, he expected no less of the Rose of Highgarden's skills at the womanly arts.

"Lord Tyrell, where is Ser Garlan?" Tyrion asked.

Mace blinked twice before answering. "My son is outside King's Landing."

"But where? The Tyrell troops were camped not far from the city walls. And now they are gone." Tyrion probed. Then he realized that the Queen of Thorns was missing from the villa. "Is Lady Olenna with your son?"

Sweat dripped down the matted brown hair and fat face into the salt and pepper beard. Mace opened his mouth but the words were preempted by Margaery. "Grandmother does what she likes. As for Garlan, he did not tell us."

"Let us be frank. Your brother has gone to meet Jon Snow. The white wolf came to Maidenpool to cure Leonette Fossoway of the plague." Tyrion said.

The Rose of Highgarden opened her mouth in shock. This one was a good mummer, unlike her doltish father and elegant, but dull mother. "The Iron Throne knows, my lady. And it would be far better to deal honestly with me than my sister or my fool nephew."

"We knew my good sister was sick, but we did not know Garlan's plans. And we do not know where he is, now."

"My daughter speaks the truth." Alerie said. "Whatever my son may have done, it was for his wife and child. It has nothing to do with Margaery."

"Perhaps. House Lannister needs assurances that our alliance remains strong and that your engagement to Joffrey is unbroken."

"Nothing has changed. We are loyal to the Iron Throne." Margaery answered.

Time to take the bull by the horns. "Then your family will move back to the Maidenvault, my lady. The Tyrells can show their loyalty by staying in the Red Keep."

"As your hostages? What will you do, if we refuse?" Margaery asked.

"We will have no choice but to throw Ser Loras into the Black Cells. I do not blame your brother for seeking out care for his wife. But the Lannisters cannot allow the Tyrells to join the North. We may not be able to punish Garlan but Loras has no such protection."

"Loras had nothing to do with this." Mace cried. Tyrion shrugged in response.

"Why are you here, Lord Tyrion?" the Rose of Highgarden asked.

"I am trying to keep the peace, Lady Margaery. My sister's response would be far worse. And I do not trust Joffrey to handle any matters that require the slightest bit of sense. My nephew does not have a good temper. Your family will not be harmed at the Red Keep. Your guards will be allowed to attend you at the Maidenvault." Tyrion said.

"That is not my question. Why are you here? Why not your father, the Lord Hand? He speaks for House Lannister, not you." Margaery replied.

"My father does not wish to leave the Red Keep." It was a half lie.

"Can he leave the Red Keep? Lord Tywin has the plague, does he not? If he was not ill, the Hand would deal with House Tyrell, not you."

"I will not speak for my father, just like you claim to not know of Ser Garlan's plans. The point is still the same. If you reside in the Maidenvault, our agreement is intact. The Iron Throne will know that the Reach is loyal. But if the Tyrells should abandon the alliance, the blame will fall on Ser Loras. We have seen how Joffrey deals with traitors." Tyrion said.

"He cut off Ned Stark's head. I will reside at the Red Keep. I am to be married to the king. But if any harm comes to Loras or myself, then my family will not forget. My brother Willas is at Highgarden, and my brother Garlan is with our soldiers. Both are out of your reach. Tyrell swords keep Joffrey on the Iron Throne. The Lannisters had better not forget that."

Tyrion nodded. His father and uncle would agree with that statement. But his sister and nephew were far more reckless. He wondered how long the peace would last.

The candles were burning low when her brother emerged from behind the curtains. Jon stripped off the dirty black gloves and threw them into a fire. He washed his hands and face, dipping the linen into a cauldron of steaming water. He cleaned the near-eye gently and wiped it dry before placing it next to the glass sheets. A plate of brown bread and hard cheese also rested on the table, along with a mug of wine. Her brother did not drink or eat.

"What have you discovered, Snow?" The Red Viper called out from his daughter's side.

"Quite a bit."

"Enough to justify the ire of the Faith?" Lady Olenna asked.

"More than enough." Jon examined a sheaf of papers with numbers scribbled in columns.

"Will this help Leonette?" Garlan Tyrell said.

Her brother nodded. "I know more now than I did before. The laws of nature are not uneasy to unravel but understanding the small helps reveal the larger pieces of the pattern."

"And what does that mean? What are these laws?" Olenna said.

Jon turned his attention to the highborns in the chamber. He was amused at the impatience of the Queen of Thorns but his focus was on the other acolytes and healers left in the room. Owen, Alleras, the Elder Brother, and many others awaited his words.

"I will explain as much as I can. At Winterfell, I realized that something did not make sense. In some tales of the plague, it took weeks to die. In others, death came in a day, even for those of strong body and mind. This is why I had the Winter Town Boys take down the accounts of the suffering and the dead. Some victims spread it with great ease. Others lived with family, and yet no one else was afflicted, even after many days. The symptoms were different, the length of time, and the spread of the disease. And now, I know why."

"You found this out from the bodies of the dead?" Owen asked.

Jon nodded. "The plague is not just one disease. It is three. It is the same bacterium, but it manifests quite differently." Jon walked amidst the patients. "We are lucky that most patients at Maidenpool, including Leonette and Nymeria, have the first. Buboes. Their infection is in the swelling. The creatures that cause the disease have not spread from the bumps to the rest of their body. For these patients, the plague does not jump to their caretakers The second case is the lungs. These are the ones who coughed blood, and spread the disease easily."

"What are lungs, Snow?" Garlan asked.

Jon thumped a hand against his chest. "Lungs are how we breathe. All animals have them. Those who catch the plague in the lungs die in four to six days. And the last type, plague in the blood, is the deadliest. These ones show bleeding in the skin, fingers and toes. They die only in one or two days. The blood is poisoned, and it flows about the body."

"Are you certain, Jon?" Alleras asked.

"Nothing in this world is truly certain and there is always more to learn but I understand enough." Jon took out a glass disc, the size of his hand. A see-through gel of pale yellow and white filled the device. "This idea is not mine. The Winter Town Boys discovered this."

"The credit belongs to Gerry, Lord Snow." Chett said.

Gerry stepped forth. "The Maester asked us how to keep the bacteria alive out of the body. We tried several plants until we hit upon algae and seaweed. After it is boiled and cooled, it forms a gel. The animalcules can grow in the gel. That way, they can stay alive."

"Why would you want plague animalcules to remain alive?" Oberyn asked.

"So I can kill them. The dish allows me to isolate the bacteria and determine how it dies."

"But you do not know how to destroy these creatures." Olenna said impatiently.

"But I do. The light of the noon sun will kill them in only one hour. The heat of a fire also does the same. I suspect ice and cold would do the same. It dies in boiling water and without food - the gel or a human carrier. So the bacteria can be slain." Jon said.

"Not without harming the patient. Before a person falls ill, all those ways work. Washing with hot water, staying near a fire, going out into the sun. But once the plague is inside the body, you cannot use those ways." Alleras realized.

"That means you cannot cure the plague. You can't boil Leonette or expose her to the sun. You can't freeze her or burn her." Olenna said.

"I must agree." Oberyn added. "You have done extraordinary things, Snow. You have seen things that no man has before. You have solved the mystery of this disease - perhaps all diseases. You are more deserving of the silver link than anyone I have ever met. But there is no cure."

"Not yet. There is no cure yet. The ink is not dry. I am not done."

"But Leonette does not have many days left. The babe must come soon." Garlan said.

"Then there is no time to waste. I will find the cure. I made a promise and I will keep my word - whatever the cost." Jon turned back to his work.

The guards at Maidenpool were pathetic. Baelish arrived two days ago, posing as a merchant from Duskendale. His men infiltrated the town in three different teams - farmers driving a wagon loaded with wheat and corn, hedge knights looking for a lord, and begging brothers in robes of brown. Two of those had entered Florian's Tower, pretending to look for a sick holy sister.

Baelish preferred to kill with poison. In a small leather satchel, he had a vial of the Tears of Lys, a dozen purple crystals of the Strangler, a jar of nightshade that could cause delirium and convulsions, and even poisonous mushrooms to be added to a porridge or soup. Unfortunately, Snow was not the sort of man who feasted with abandon. Servants watched over the bastard's food and drink like a hawk.

The crossbow was less elegant than the Strangler. Lothar Brune had secured a room at the Old Plough Inn. The window overlooked the entrance to Florian's Tower, and the stocky free rider was an excellent shot. The problem was that Snow never left his work. Baelish was thinking about the problem when he saw a familiar face from King's Landing. He chuckled. It was always easy to throw blame on Lannisters.

His previous stay in Maidenpool lasted only a day, as the guest of Lord Mooton in the castle. This time, Jaime slept on a dirt floor of the common room, with a heavy cloak as a blanket. That was better than a cell in the dungeon. None of the Reachman recognized him. He had left the Lannister guards outside the town. Jaime borrowed a suit of plain gray armor from Ser Addam Marbrand. His friend offered a squire and a dozen outriders but he refused. Tyrell soldiers patrolled the walls but few men at arms had seen the Kingsguard up close. Jaime had not crossed paths with Ser Garlan or the Queen of Thorns. He had even heard rumors that the Red Viper was also at Florian's Tower.

A slender man with a pointed grey beard accosted him outside Jonquil's Pool. "Ser Jaime." Petyr Baelish smirked.

"Not so loud, you fool." Jaime shoved the man into the shadows. "What are you doing here?"

"Carrying out the king's orders. And you, Ser? Why are you here?" When he didn't answer, a broad smile broke out on the former Master of Coin's face. "The Lannister boy. Who is he? Ser Jaime? Your bastard?"

"The Kingsguard is sworn not to wed nor father any children."

"And you are all so loyal to your vows." Baelish smirked. "Then it is your brother's child. Lord Tyrion was married for a few weeks. How splendid."

"What do you want, Baelish?" Jaime reached for his sword, eyes watching out for any guards. Killing a few Kettleblacks would be no trouble at all.

Baelish held up his hands in mock surrender. "Only to help. My men have seen the boy. I know where you can find him."

Her brother had not slept for days, working himself to the bone in a desperate race against time. The pillows, furs and blankets on the cot were unused, even though the little birds dutifully washed them every night and morning. A long table was littered with various metals and liquids, beakers and boxes, rows of glass dishes, and pages and pages of carefully scribed results. Fires burned in censers To their credit, the Winter Town boys and the acolytes supported Jon without question, as he tested different materials against the plague.

"What about sulfur?" Alleras asked.

"Slows down but doesn't kill the bacterium. I have tried it as powder, blended with incense, and mixed with other herbs. It is not strong enough."

"Alcohol?" Owen said.

"That does kill animalcules. But it will also kill a patient. Purified alcohol is far more toxic than beer, ale or wine. This will be injected directly into the body, so any poison will work swiftly, and plague carriers are already weak." Jon set down the near eye. "I have tried iron, pyrolusite, silver, gold, nickel, copper, potash, tin, lead, mercury, arsenic, and antimony. I have made powders, ashes, and acids. I have even tested natural substances like snake venom. Either they are too weak or they are too strong. Nothing seems to work without harming the patient."

"Jon, you need to rest. Or at least eat." Arya said. The tray of food had grown in size. The little birds had taken away the wine, but a pile of uneaten bread and cheese remained.

"Arya, I only have a little time left to solve this. Sleep and food can wait." Jon said.

"Lord Snow, what if we build a furnace? It would be much easier than burning all these metals and rocks in braziers and small fires." Chett asked.

"I don't think it is needed. If lead and tin do not work, I doubt an alloy of the two metals will."

Suddenly, a blur of grey burst through the door. The dire wolf stopped before her, the dark golden eyes gleaming with excitement.

"Nymeria, what's wrong?" Arya asked. The wolf snorted and turned back toward the entrance.

"Something is bothering her. But where is Ghost? Why aren't the wolves together?" Jon asked.

Arya rushed out so quickly that she did not hear her brother's concerns. She passed by the guards. The Hound slammed down a tankard of ale, buckled on his sword and tried to follow. Brienne was a beat slower but neither were quick enough. Even the Red Viper and the Sand Snakes would be hard pressed to follow the running girl.

The sun was setting when Arya exited Florian's Tower, following the she-wolf a short distance to the edge of Jonquil's Pool. The trail was clear - a basket of seaweed dripping on the grass, a discarded fishing net, and finally a blond boy struggling with a cloaked figure. "Get away from him." Arya yelled.

The man turned, only for the boy to kick his leg and scramble away. As the man cursed, the brown cowl slipped off, revealing golden locks and green eyes. Arya gasped in surprise.

"Go away, girl. This has nothing to do with you." the man reached again for the boy with one hand, and hid his face with the other.

"Milady, he grabbed me as I came back from the harbor." Gerry dove to the ground.

"Kingslayer." Arya called, hands on both Needle and Gram.

Jaime Lannister drew his sword with remarkable quickness. He pivoted, holding the blade in both hands, moving with a fluidity that would make a water dancer proud. His eyes watched the dire wolf warily but his body was relaxed, ready to attack or defend. "Arya Stark. I don't want to harm you."

"Nymeria won't let you." Arya cried, as the she-wolf growled.

"I sparred with Barristan the Bold. I learned to fight from the White Bull and Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. I am not afraid of a dire wolf, not even a monster like yours."

"What about two?" Arya said. Ghost approached warily on the left flank, forcing the Kingslayer to divide his attention. Arya sensed her brother's gaze behind the red garnet eyes, and knew that Jon was aware of Jaime's presence. The dire wolves only needed to prevent any escape before the Lannister knight would be surrounded and captured.

Ser Barristan was proud of his record as a tourney knight. He had been knighted by King Aegon the Fifth for feats of prowess as a mystery knight at the age of sixteen. As a member of the Kingsguard, he had participated in many contests, winning his fair share. He had been declared champion at Maidenpool, Oldtown, and Storm's End. He had won several tourneys in King's Landing. In all those times, as he raised the lance in the joust or faced opponents in the melee, Barristan had never considered the downside of victory. He had become so well-known that even disguised, he would be easy to recognize.

It had been over thirty years since he won the tourney at Maidenpool. He doubted that anyone, except the imprisoned Lord Mooton, recalled his victory. But he had jousted with Ser Baelor and Prince Oberyn more recently and unhorsed Sandor Clegane only two years ago. Lady Olenna Tyrell was far too sharp to forget his face. If he entered Florian's Tower, he would have only one chance to talk to Snow. For the fourth time in as many days, Barristan considered what to say when a great wolf dashed in front of him, bounding through the tower door.

Barristan had seen the dire wolves at Winterfell. The six pups had been smaller than hunting hounds, playing in the godswood with the Stark children. This creature was no pup. The gray dire wolf was massive, as tall as a small horse. At the Stinking Goose, he had heard stories of the wolves at war, how they ripped apart horses and terrified men.

A moment later, the dire wolf burst through the door again. Arya Stark followed after the beast, running swift as a deer. The Hound and a tall woman in dented blue plate armor, came next. Barristan put a hand on the pommel of his sword, wondering if he would be discovered. Sandor Clegane and the woman ignored him, intent on tracking down the girl and the wolf. Barristan wondered what had happened. If he performed a service for the Starks, that might earn an audience with Jon Snow. But Lady Arya might not need any aid, with a dire wolf and the Hound at her side. He decided not to follow, and was rewarded when the door opened again.

A slender man with dark brown hair and a long face exited Florian's Tower. He resembled Eddard Stark but the gray eyes shone brighter, with the wildness and fierceness of the North. This must be Jon Snow, Barristan thought, on the trail of his sister. The knight was about to call out when a black cat, hissing and spitting, rushed from the shadows and lashed out with sharp claws.

Snow stumbled in pain. The crossbow quarrel, that might have skewered the chest, thudded into the right shoulder instead. Snow fell on his side, drops of red dripping down the shaft and the feathered nock. The cat screeched, a shrill and almost human noise. Barristan rushed forward, but a second bolt flew through the air, piercing the left side. Blood leaked onto the cobblestones. The bolt had come from a window of a nearby inn. In one movement, Barristan drew a blade and crouched low over the fallen man. He heard a faint whistle of a third quarrel and slashed upwards, cutting through the shaft in mid flight. Barristan kept his body between the shooter and Jon Snow. No more quarrels were fired. He was still standing there when guards poured out of the tower, and two enraged dire wolves rushed back with a distraught Arya Stark.

Author's Notes

"A light that burns twice as bright burns half as long." This line was made famous by the sci-fi movie Bladerunner, and the speaker was Dr. Tyrell. The origin is much older, and is usually attributed to Lao Tzu. There is debate over whether the line actually appears in his writings but Lao Tzu would certainly agree with the sentiment.

In the books, Brienne visited Maidenpool twice. Once with Jaime, after the town had been sacked three times and dead bodies littered the streets. The second time, she came with Podrick looking for Sansa. Lord Tarly was camped at Maidenpool, and despite his unpleasant manner, did a good job cleaning up. Garlan keeps the order.

Groleo is the captain of the Saduleon sent by Illyrio. Daenerys breaks the ship up to make siege weapons against Meereen. He gets his head chopped off in A Dance with Dragons.

The two most independent kingdoms are the North and Dorne. Not surprising, these are the farthest. I like the fanfics where Casterly Rock gets sacked by Jon, but the reality is that it would be incredibly hard. The Rock is six miles long, and a height of 2400 feet.

I reread the dialogue when Cersei asks Kevan to be Hand in the books. Kevan is extraordinarily critical of her judgement. Before Tywin's death, Kevan was the meek lieutenant. But after Tywin, Kevan comes into his own. In the show, Kevan is killed in the explosion of the Sept. But in the book, he is killed off by Varys to prevent Kevan from doing the right things to strengthen Tommen's rule by keeping the Tyrell-Lannister alliance.

Book Joffrey is written as a spoiled brat who lashes out due to immaturity. He is 12 and less evil. Some of that is due to the POVs. Cersei loves her son, Eddard is too forgiving, and Sansa is an idiot for three books. Note that Robert Baratheon has a much darker take. In the TV show, the actor is terrific in emphasizing his cruelty. He is also older so the sadism doesn't get a pass. Show Joff is the better villain. Book Joff seems impotent compared to the Mountain, Ramsay, Euron. But that is hugely driven by the POV.

"If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone." This is a quote from Godfather II, when Michael Corleone is plotting Hyman Roth's death. I am sure people will say Baelish is too active, and not just plotting. Book Baelish is quite active. He kills Jon Arryn, betrays Ned to his face, colludes with Olenna on Joffrey's death, takes Sansa out of KL, and throws Lysa Arryn out the Moon Door.

This is Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which he created in his 40s, in the 1660s. Leeuwenhoek was not a scientist but a draper. Drapers used magnifying lenses to check the quality of thread. Leeuwenhoek went further than that, and began to grind his own lenses. The concept of a microscope was around in the early 1600s. The problem was that image quality and chromatic aberrations limited magnification power. Hooke's compound microscope might see things at 20 to 30 times. By grinding the lens with exceptional skill, Leeuwenhoek could see things at 250 times. And amazing, he did it with a single lens.

Leeuwenhoek actually did look through pond water (and blood and semen). He was curious about algae. Other scientists saw things like the stinger of a bee, and cells in cork. But with his more powerful microscope, Leeuwenhoek saw micro organisms that were entirely invisible before.

The germ theory of disease was a huge advancement. A few scholars nipped around at the edges of this in ancient times. In Julius Caesar's time, there were learned men who wrote that there are minute creatures that could not be seen by the eye that can enter the body through the mouth and nose and cause disease. But seeing the actual microbes is a game changer.

The term bacteria (little sticks in Greek) was coined in 1838 by a German scientist, Christian Erenberg because the first observed bacteria, like Yersina Pestis, were shaped like rods. Animalcules were the actual term Leeuwenhoek used.

Ser Roger Hogg does appear in A Feast of Crows. And the Lannisters marrying one of their cousins to a 1 year old child is a part of the plot as well.

The literature is mixed on whether the Catholic Church was opposed to dissection of corpses. We do know a few things. The ancients (Greeks, Romans) were strongly opposed to cutting up the dead. Galen of Pergamon (129 to 210 AD) was the iconic doctor of the Ancient and Middle Ages. But he could not study the human body. Much of his theory was based on oxen and birds. It took until the 16th century for a Flemish anatomist (Vesalius) to seriously challenge Galen and show the great doctor's errors. That restored an empirical view of the world where artists and scientists began to research the human body. So whether it was the church or ignorance, obedience to the past, medically speaking, was broken by the Renaissance.

"The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of it." That is what Syrio Forel tells Arya before he talks about the Sealord's fat tomcat.

Jon Snow as the epidemiologist is based on two figures. The first is the actual John Snow! He was an English physician in the 19th century. He famously figured out the source of a cholera outbreak. Using a map of the cases, and a microscope to analyze water specimens, he traced the cases to a public water pump. When the pump was disabled, the outbreak ended. It is possible that the cholera cases were already on the decline but this is widely considered the start of epidemiological studies. The second is Guy de Chauliac, the doctor who tended the Pope in Avignon in the first plague. By keeping detailed accounts, he recognized the difference between pneumonic (lungs) and bubonic (swellings) plague.

Yersina pestis, the plague bacterium, does die in sunlight, in less than an hour. And there really are three ways the plague manifests. The bubonic and septicemic both need animal carriers to spread - rats and fleas. The pneumonic (lungs) can spread through coughing.