“To what purpose? Why are the longships hosting?”
“Why have longships ever hosted?” His uncle had left the horses tied up in front of the waterside inn. When they reached them, he turned to Theon. “Tell me true, nephew. Do you pray to the wolf gods now?”
Theon seldom prayed at all, but that was not something you confessed to a priest, even your father’s own brother. “Ned Stark prayed to a tree. No, I care nothing for Stark’s gods.”
The ground was all stones and mud. “Uncle, I—”
“Kneel. Or are you too proud now, a lordling of the green lands come among us?”
Theon knelt. He had a purpose here, and might need Aeron’s help to achieve it. A crown was worth a little mud and horseshit on his breeches, he supposed.
“Bow your head.” Lifting the skin, his uncle pulled the cork and directed a thin stream of seawater down upon Theon’s head. It drenched his hair and ran over his forehead into his eyes. Sheets washed down his cheeks, and a finger crept under his cloak and doublet and down his back, a cold rivulet along his spine. The salt made his eyes burn, until it was all he could do not to cry out. He could taste the ocean on his lips. “Let Theon your servant be born again from the sea, as you were,” Aeron Greyjoy intoned. “Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel. Nephew, do you still know the words?”
“What is dead may never die,” Theon said, remembering.
“What is dead may never die,” his uncle echoed, “but rises again, harder and stronger. Stand.”
Theon stood, blinking back tears from the salt in his eyes. Wordless, his uncle corked the waterskin, untied his horse, and mounted. Theon did the same. They set off together, leaving the inn and the harbor behind them, up past the castle of Lord Botley into the stony hills. The priest ventured no further word.
“I have been half my life away from home,” Theon ventured at last. “Will I find the islands changed?”
“Men fish the sea, dig in the earth, and die. Women birth children in blood and pain, and die. Night follows day. The winds and tides remain. The islands are as our god made them.”
Gods, he has grown grim, Theon thought. “Will I find my sister and my lady mother at Pyke?”
“You will not. Your mother dwells on Harlaw, with her own sister. It is less raw there, and her cough troubles her. Your sister has taken Black Wind to Great Wyk, with messages from your lord father. She will return e’er long, you may be sure.”
Theon did not need to be told that Black Wind was Asha’s longship. He had not seen his sister in ten years, but that much he knew of her. Odd that she would call it that, when Robb Stark had a wolf named Grey Wind. “Stark is grey and Greyjoy’s black,” he murmured, smiling, “but it seems we’re both windy.”
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