How we think the fight will go
“Strange things happen beyond the Wall,” Brienne of Tarth muttered under her breath, gazing out at the snowy expanse. The Wall was a cold shadow at her back, the vast expanse of the glacier before her, wind whipping through her cloak as she trudged forward in the snow. Snowflakes stung the freckles of her cheeks, and she strained to hear beneath the howling of the wind.
“Yes, well. Strange things happen everywhere. Mostly, to drunk men.” At her elbow, Jaime Lannister grimaced and made to tug his hood over his eyes. He reached with his sword-hand, clearly from habit, but the hand was long gone, replaced by an empty metal glove. He missed the hem of the hood and succeeded in poking himself in the brow before growling and slapping the hood up over his head.
“You don’t believe what the Watch said?” Brienne kept the Wall at her left as she walked, just within sight. The wind stirred up a skiff of white that veiled the sky. “That there are Dead about?”
“The Crows are drunk,” Jaime said, surly. “Drunk and spinning tales to distract themselves from a lifetime devoid of earthly pleasure.”
Brienne rolled her eyes. “You can go back, you know.” Jaime wasn’t still drunk, but he was hungover.
Jaime heaved a sigh that ruffled his hood. “You’re not going out here to look for fables alone. Not with my sword.”
Brienne’s cold fingers were laced around the hilt of Oathkeeper. It felt heavier than any other sword she’d wielded. Maybe it was the weight of the promises upon it. Maybe it was something else.
“You want it back?” she asked.
“It would be a waste.” Jaime had hidden his artificial hand behind his cloak. He gestured ahead with his good one. “Look. A Crow. Ask him for more stories.”
Brienne squinted in the white ahead. A black figure approached, ink against the snow. Likely, as Jaime thought, one of the Watch. She raised her hand to hail the watchman in greeting, but stilled as the figure came closer.
“That’s no Crow,” Jaime said, with an appraising glint in his voice.
It was a woman. She was wrapped in a black short cloak with sleeves and a fur collar, black raven hair whipping around a pale face. She was perhaps a handful of years older than Jaime. Her chest was wrapped in a bandolier of leather pouches, and her gloved fingers held an unsheathed sword. She didn’t look dead; she looked like an ordinary woman.
“Maybe she’s a Wildling…” Brienne began, but Jaime had walked beyond her, grinning his most charming grin.
“Merry met,” Jaime said. “What brings you to-?”
He didn’t finish. Brienne reached out and grabbed his collar, dragged him back, just as the stranger’s sword flashed out. And some steel it was; Brienne had the impression of some blurry marks glinting up and down the blade, some trick of witchlight or illusion.
Brienne had drawn Oathkeeper before Jaime regained his footing. “Who are you?” she demanded. “A Wildling, I gather?” Yet her clothes were finely-stitched; Brienne could now see the silver embroidery of keys on her sleeves. And Wildlings never traveled alone.
The black-haired woman lifted her chin. “I am the Abhorsen.”
Abhorsen was an odd enough name, but perhaps it was a title. “Brienne of Tarth. And…” she glanced back at Jaime, who’d gotten his sword in his left hand and had assumed a defensive posture. “Jaime Lannister. What do you want here, Abhorsen?”
“I want that sword.” She gestured with the tip of her glamoured sword to Oathkeeper.
“Why do you want it?” Jaime demanded. “Other than its obvious value. Valyrian steel is rare enough.”
Suspicion twisted the Abhorsen’s mouth. “That sword is more than it seems. It’s wrought from dark magic. It is of the Dead, it draws them, and it needs to be put back into the ground. I’ll buy it from you.”
Brienne’s grip tightened. “It’s not for sale.”
The Abhorsen sighed. The white fur stole around her collar rippled and stood up. To Brienne’s startlement, the fur was a cat. The white cat stood sleepily, yawned, jingling a bell around its collar.
“Well, so much for this going easily,” the cat said.
“Mogget,” the Abhorsen said. “I do wish you’d keep your opinions to yourself, if you’re not going to be constructive.”
Brienne blinked. “You have a talking cat?”
The cat jumped down to the snow, blending seamlessly into the white, except for two green eyes. It lowered its head and began to wash its face. “Of sorts.”
Jaime shook his head. Brienne guessed his hangover was creeping up on him. “Look. Talking cats aside, you’re not having that sword. Oathkeeper is mine… hers. And we have two swords to your one.”
The Abhorsen opened her mouth to speak, but turned her head to the north. The wind howled from that direction, and her eyes narrowed. It seemed that she was listening to something that Brienne couldn’t hear.
“The Dead are coming,” she said.
Jaime laughed. “That’s not even a clever ruse.”
The Abhorsen looked at him darkly. “Give me the sword. And run, for your own good.”
“Not a chance.”
“I gave you a warning,” the Abhorsen said, as if giving herself permission to attack. Her blade flashed out and sliced across Jaime’s wrist. Jaime parried and stepped in, steel ringing on steel. To Brienne’s eye, he was slow and fumbling. Still a decent swordsman, but the Abhorsen was better. Brienne could see that this might not end well.
“Jaime,” she sighed, clomping forward, trying to figure out a way to step in while salvaging his pride.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.” The cat stood before her, tangling under her legs. It seemed that the cat was doing it on purpose, inviting a kick or rebuke.
Exasperated, Brienne picked up the cat by the scruff of the neck. “You. Out of the way.”
The cat squirmed. “This is your last chance,” it yowled.
Something moved in the periphery of her vision. At first, she thought it was a group of Wildlings, slipping through the sheets of snow.
But these were no Wildlings. No Crows from the Watch. Too pale.
Emaciated and white, ghostly shapes waded through the snow. They wore the tattered remains of clothes, clinging to the valleys of sunken ribs. From desiccated eye sockets, luminous blue eyes burned.
Brienne’s eyes widened. These were the creatures from the Crows’ stories. The Dead come to life, the ones who weren’t burned. These were the wights.
“Jaime!” she shouted.
The cat in her grip turned and struggled. She had a fistful of fur, and then nothing but a collar with a bell in her gloved grip.
The cat dropped to the snow on all fours. It looked up at her and smiled. “Thank you.”
The smile got wider. And wider… impossibly wide. The cat disappeared in the snow, as if it had vaporized, howling into the wind.
“Mogget!” The Abhorsen screamed. Her eyes locked with Brienne’s over her sword. “Now you’ve done it.”
The Dead were shambling closer, sinewy fingers wrapped around rusted weapons. Heart pounding in her mouth, Brienne slashed at the nearest one. Oathkeeper bit into its shoulder and slid out easily, as if the wight was cold meat. But there was no blood, no reaction. The wight swung a rusty scythe at Brienne, slashing open her sleeve. In the back of her mind, she wondered: What if this Abhorsen was correct? What if Oathkeeper did nothing but draw death? That was a fragment of truth she could feel burning in her lungs.
“Jaime!” Brienne shouted. The wights were many – Brienne counted six – but they were relatively slow. “Jaime, we’ve got to run.”
Jaime was still focused on his opponent, hacking and slashing. The Abhorsen blocked and parried with her right hand, reaching into the pouches on her bandolier with her left.
Something rose out of the snow, a snow squall, all around them, with green eyes and that impossibly wide mouth. It giggled with a sound like gravel on glass. One of the wights was devoured in a flash of white light.
“Mogget,” the Abhorsen said sadly, a whisper in the storm.
She pulled a bell out of the pouches across her chest, the largest one. It rang with a deep bass note that rattled the snow from the ground and crackled frost from the distant topmost reaches of the Wall.
Brienne had the sensation of falling a vast distance. She bit off a scream that was obliterated into the howl of the wind and the bell.
Sabriel hadn’t wanted it this way.
She stood in Death, now, that misty place beyond life. The River of Death eddied around her ankles. The Dead from the snow were helpless in its shallows, tripping, falling, being sucked down that grey river past the First Gate. They were eerily silent and fragile-seeming as they washed away, like bits of crumpled paper. One clung to a stone; Sabriel slashed at its curiously bloodless skin until it let go and joined the fellows.
The Dead were the least of her worries.
“Mogget,” Sabriel breathed into the gloom. She was rewarded by only a soft snicker. He was here. Sabriel reached down into the current for a soaked red bit of leather with a bell on it. She slipped it over her wrist. The woman, Brienne, must have dropped it. She walked further into Death, down the river.
The man and the woman stood in before the First Gate, staring beyond it, as if transfixed.
“Give me the sword,” Sabriel said. “Give me the sword, and I’ll take you back to Life. Keep it, and you’re giving yourselves to Death.”
She sounded harsh. She had grown colder, less sentimental over the years since she’d succeeded her father as Abhorsen. She’d become queen of the Old Kingdom. She’d seen and caused much death. It no longer bothered her. Much.
But she still didn’t want to waste perfectly good life.
The woman, Brienne, stared down the river toward the Second Gate. “Do you hear it?”
“Hear what?” Jaime demanded. His sword was drawn, but he was less focused on Sabriel than on Brienne’s ashen face. The two of them had changed, in Death, become what they really were. Everyone changed in death.
Brienne was still wearing her suit of armor, but her face had changed. In the eerie light of death, she wore a luminosity that burned behind her eyes. Her hair, short in Life, now tumbled past her elbows. The purplish black eye that she’d worn in Life was gone.
“Renly,” she whispered. And then she pointed.
The Dead were gathering, drawn by in incursion of the living. A man’s face bubbled up from the water, a hand reaching out. Brienne’s eyes welled with tears, and she took a step toward the Dead. “I failed…”
“No!” Jaime caught her elbow. “It’s a trick. It has to be.” His eyes widened as he looked down at his right hand – whole and fully restored.
“It’s no trick,” Sabriel said. “This is Death.”
Other faces churned in the water. An old man waded against the current, his pants down around his knees and an arrow protruding from his chest. A blonde boy with no eyes wearing a crown and sodden velvets waded behind him.
“Father…” the boy whispered in reedy tones, reaching out with hands the color of kelp. “Father.”
“No. No.” Jaime lifted his sword as some incomprehensible regret creased his face. “It’s not real.”
His sword extended toward the old man. The old man kept walking toward him, walking until he’d impaled himself on the sword. Jaime dropped the metal as if it were hot, and the current pulled the old man’s body down the river.
“They won’t be able to decide.” A gravelly chuckle emanated from Sabriel’s right. Mogget. “They are too close to it.”
Sabriel clutched the collar. Unleashed, Mogget was her enemy, and far more fearsome than those two. Luminous white tendrils of smoke reached up from the river and lashed around Sabriel’s leg. Sabriel hissed at the pain of it, like bright and shining lightning. She stumbled in the water, felt Death lapping at her. Death was always eager to claim an Abhorsen.
There was no time. Sweat prickled on her brow. “Drop the sword!” she commanded Brienne and Jaime.
The man and woman turned back to her.
“No,” Brienne said, though her grip on the sword was slack. She still held fast to some promise in life.
And there was no time for these things. The chuckling spirit of Mogget had pulled Sabriel down to her knees in the water.
Sabriel reached up for her bells, for the one called Ranna. The Sleepbringer.
“Then you’ve decided.”
She ripped Ranna from its sleeve and rang it. The pure crystal note fell over everything in grey Death. She felt Mogget’s grip loosen, and she staggered up against the weight of a terrible sleep. She flung the tiny collar over a tendril of light in the churning water. The light in the water shrank and became a cat once again, soggy and limp as a dishrag as she pulled him up out of the cold water. He was still alive; his whiskers twitched as he snored.
Sabriel cradled the cat in her arms and looked down river.
Brienne lay, as if in effigy, floating on the water with her arms clasped over the sword. Jaime had fought powerfully against the bell, but he had slumped against her knee, muttering: “Well, hell, you’re not going alone.”
The grey current caught them up and pushed them beyond the first gate.
Sabriel watched, dispassionate. They carried an instrument of Death that must return to Death.
All was as it should be.
Predicted Winner: Sabriel and Mogget
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Thursday, March 10, 2016, AT 11:59 AM, EST
Cage Match fans: We’re looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”)