A feast for crows, p.10
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       A Feast for Crows, p.10

         Part #4 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
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  the captain’s face to know how anxious he was to be rid of her. So Arya only nodded. “Ashore,” she said, though ashore meant only strangers.

  “Valar dohaeris.” He touched two fingers to his brow. “I beg you remember Ternesio Terys and the service he has done you.”

  “I will,” Arya said in a small voice. The wind tugged at her cloak, insistent as a ghost. It was time she was away.

  Gather your belongings, the captain had said, but there were few enough of those. Only the clothes she was wearing, her little pouch of coins, the gifts the crew had given her, the dagger on her left hip and Needle on her right.

  The boat was ready before she was, and Yorko was at the oars. He was the captain’s son as well, but older than Denyo and less friendly. I never said farewell to Denyo, she thought as she clambered down to join him. She wondered if she would ever see the boy again. I should have said farewell.

  The Titan’s Daughter dwindled in their wake, while the city grew larger with every stroke of Yorko’s oars. A harbor was visible off to her right, a tangle of piers and quays crowded with big-bellied whalers out of Ibben, swan ships from the Summer Isles, and more galleys than a girl could count. Another harbor, more distant, was off to her left, beyond a sinking point of land where the tops of half-drowned buildings thrust themselves above the water. Arya had never seen so many big buildings all together in one place. King’s Landing had the Red Keep and the Great Sept of Baelor and the Dragonpit, but Braavos seemed to boast a score of temples and towers and palaces that were as large or even larger. I will be a mouse again, she thought glumly, the way I was in Harrenhal before I ran away.

  The city had seemed like one big island from where the Titan stood, but as Yorko rowed them closer she saw that it was many small islands close together, linked by arched stone bridges that spanned innumerable canals. Beyond the harbor she glimpsed streets of grey stone houses, built so close they leaned one upon the other. To Arya’s eyes they were queer-looking, four and five stories tall and very skinny, with sharp-peaked tile roofs like pointed hats. She saw no thatch, and only a few timbered houses of the sort she knew in Westeros. They have no trees, she realized. Braavos is all stone, a grey city in a green sea.

  Yorko swung them north of the docks and down the gullet of a great canal, a broad green waterway that ran straight into the heart of the city. They passed under the arches of a carved stone bridge, decorated with half a hundred kinds of fish and crabs and squids. A second bridge appeared ahead, this one carved in lacy leafy vines, and beyond that a third, gazing down on them from a thousand painted eyes. The mouths of lesser canals opened to either side, and others still smaller off of those. Some of the houses were built above the waterways, she saw, turning the canals into a sort of tunnel. Slender boats slid in and out among them, wrought in the shapes of water serpents with painted heads and upraised tails. Those were not rowed but poled, she saw, by men who stood at their sterns in cloaks of grey and brown and deep moss green. She saw huge flat-bottomed barges too, heaped high with crates and barrels and pushed along by twenty polemen to a side, and fancy floating houses with lanterns of colored glass, velvet drapes, and brazen figureheads. Off in the far distance, looming above canals and houses both, was a massive grey stone roadway of some kind, supported by three tiers of mighty arches marching away south into the haze. “What’s that?” Arya asked Yorko, pointing. “The sweetwater river,” he told her. “It brings fresh water from the mainland, across the mudflats and the briny shallows. Good sweet water for the fountains.”

  When she looked behind her, the harbor and lagoon were lost to sight. Ahead, a row of mighty statues stood along both sides of the channel, solemn stone men in long bronze robes, spattered with the droppings of the seabirds. Some held books, some daggers, some hammers. One clutched a golden star in his upraised hand. Another was upending a stone flagon to send an endless stream of water splashing down into the canal. “Are they gods?” asked Arya.

  “Sealords,” said Yorko. “The Isle of the Gods is farther on. See? Six bridges down, on the right bank. That is the Temple of the Moonsingers.”

  It was one of those that Arya had spied from the lagoon, a mighty mass of snow-white marble topped by a huge silvered dome whose milk glass windows showed all the phases of the moon. A pair of marble maidens flanked its gates, tall as the Sealords, supporting a crescent-shaped lintel.

  Beyond it stood another temple, a red stone edifice as stern as any fortress. Atop its great square tower a fire blazed in an iron brazier twenty feet across, whilst smaller fires flanked its brazen doors. “The red priests love their fires,” Yorko told her. “The Lord of Light is their god, red R’hllor.”

  I know. Arya remembered Thoros of Myr in his bits of old armor, worn over robes so faded that he had seemed more a pink priest than a red one. Yet his kiss had brought Lord Beric back from death. She watched the red god’s house drift by, wondering whether these Braavosi priests of his could do the same.

  Next came a huge brick structure festooned with lichen. Arya might have taken it for a storehouse had not Yorko said, “That is the Holy Refuge, where we honor the small gods the world has forgotten. You will hear it called the Warren too.” A small canal ran between the Warren’s looming lichen-covered walls, and there he swung them right. They passed through a tunnel and out again into the light. More shrines loomed up to either side.

  “I never knew there were so many gods,” Arya said.

  Yorko grunted. They went around a bend and beneath another bridge. On their left appeared a rocky knoll with a windowless temple of dark grey stone at its top. A flight of stone steps led from its doors down to a covered dock.

  Yorko backed the oars, and the boat bumped gently against stone pilings. He grasped an iron ring set to hold them for a moment. “Here I leave you.”

  The dock was shadowed, the steps steep. The temple’s black tile roof came to a sharp peak, like the houses along the canals. Arya chewed her lip. Syrio came from Braavos. He might have visited this temple. He might have climbed those steps. She grabbed a ring and pulled herself up onto the dock.

  “You know my name,” said Yorko from the boat.

  “Yorko Terys.”

  “Valar dohaeris.” He pushed off with his oar and drifted back off into the deeper water. Arya watched him row back the way they’d come, until he vanished in the shadows of the bridge. As the swish of oars faded, she could almost hear the beating of her heart. Suddenly she was somewhere else… back in Harrenhal with Gendry, maybe, or with the Hound in the woods along the Trident. Salty is a stupid child, she told herself. I am a wolf, and will not be afraid. She patted Needle’s hilt for luck and plunged into the shadows, taking the steps two at a time so no one could ever say she’d been afraid.

  At the top she found a set of carved wooden doors twelve feet high. The left-hand door was made of weirwood pale as bone, the right of gleaming ebony. In their center was a carved moon face; ebony on the weirwood side, weirwood on the ebony. The look of it reminded her somehow of the heart tree in the godswood at Winterfell. The doors are watching me, she thought. She pushed upon both doors at once with the flat of her gloved hands, but neither one would budge. Locked and barred. “Let me in, you stupid,” she said. “I crossed the narrow sea.” She made a fist and pounded. “Jaqen told me to come. I have the iron coin.” She pulled it from her pouch and held it up. “See? Valar morghulis.”

  The doors made no reply, except to open.

  They opened inward all in silence, with no human hand to move them. Arya took a step forward, and another. The doors closed behind her, and for a moment she was blind. Needle was in her hand, though she did not remember drawing it.

  A few candles burned along the walls, but gave so little light that Arya could not see her own feet. Someone was whispering, too softly for her to make out words. Someone else was weeping. She heard light footfalls, leather sliding over stone, a door opening and closing. Water, I hear water too.

  Slowly her eyes adjusted. The te
mple seemed much larger within than it had without. The septs of Westeros were seven-sided, with seven altars for the seven gods, but here there were more gods than seven. Statues of them stood along the walls, massive and threatening. Around their feet red candles flickered, as dim as distant stars. The nearest was a marble woman twelve feet tall. Real tears were trickling from her eyes, to fill the bowl she cradled in her arms. Beyond her was a man with a lion’s head seated on a throne, carved of ebony. On the other side of the doors, a huge horse of bronze and iron reared up on two great legs. Farther on she could make out a great stone face, a pale infant with a sword, a shaggy black goat the size of an aurochs, a hooded man leaning on a staff. The rest were only looming shapes to her, half-seen through the gloom. Between the gods were hidden alcoves thick with shadows, with here and there a candle burning.

  Silent as a shadow, Arya moved between rows of long stone benches, her sword in hand. The floor was made of stone, her feet told her; not polished marble like the floor of the Great Sept of Baelor, but something rougher. She passed some women whispering together. The air was warm and heavy, so heavy that she yawned. She could smell the candles. The scent was unfamiliar, and she put it down to some queer incense, but as she got deeper into the temple, they seemed to smell of snow and pine needles and hot stew. Good smells, Arya told herself, and felt a little braver. Brave enough to slip Needle back into its sheath.

  In the center of the temple she found the water she had heard; a pool ten feet across, black as ink and lit by dim red candles. Beside it sat a young man in a silvery cloak, weeping softly. She watched him dip a hand in the water, sending scarlet ripples racing across the pool. When he drew his fingers back he sucked them, one by one. He must be thirsty. There were stone cups along the rim of the pool. Arya filled one and brought it to him, so he could drink. The young man stared at her for a long moment when she offered it to him. “Valar morghulis,” he said.

  “Valar dohaeris,” she replied.

  He drank deep, and dropped the cup into the pool with a soft plop. Then he pushed himself to his feet, swaying, holding his belly. For a moment Arya thought he was going to fall. It was only then that she saw the dark stain below his belt, spreading as she watched. “You’re stabbed,” she blurted, but the man paid her no mind. He lurched unsteadily toward the wall and crawled into an alcove onto a hard stone bed. When Arya peered around, she saw other alcoves too. On some there were old people sleeping.

  No, a half-remembered voice seemed to whisper in her head. They are dead, or dying. Look with your eyes.

  A hand touched her arm.

  Arya spun away, but it was only a little girl: a pale little girl in a cowled robe that seemed to engulf her, black on the right side and white on the left. Beneath the cowl was a gaunt and bony face, hollow cheeks, and dark eyes that looked as big as saucers. “Don’t grab me,” Arya warned the waif. “I killed the boy who grabbed me last.”

  The girl said some words that Arya did not know.

  She shook her head. “Don’t you know the Common Tongue?”

  A voice behind her said, “I do.”

  Arya did not like the way they kept surprising her. The hooded man was tall, enveloped in a larger version of the black-and-white robe the girl was wearing. Beneath his cowl all she could see was the faint red glitter of candlelight reflecting off his eyes. “What place is this?” she asked him.

  “A place of peace.” His voice was gentle. “You are safe here. This is the House of Black and White, my child. Though you are young to seek the favor of the Many-Faced God.”

  “Is he like the southron god, the one with seven faces?”

  “Seven? No. He has faces beyond count, little one, as many faces as there are stars in the sky. In Braavos, men worship as they will… but at the end of every road stands Him of Many Faces, waiting. He will be there for you one day, do not fear. You need not rush to his embrace.”

  “I only came to find Jaqen H’ghar.”

  “I do not know this name.”

  Her heart sank. “He was from Lorath. His hair was white on one side and red on the other. He said he’d teach me secrets, and gave me this.” The iron coin was clutched in her fist. When she opened her fingers, it clung to her sweaty palm.

  The priest studied the coin, though he made no move to touch it. The waif with the big eyes was looking at it too. Finally, the cowled man said, “Tell me your name, child.”

  “Salty. I come from Saltpans, by the Trident.”

  Though she could not see his face, somehow she could feel him smiling. “No,” he said. “Tell me your name.”

  “Squab,” she answered this time.

  “Your true name, child.”

  “My mother named me Nan, but they call me Weasel—”

  “Your name.”

  She swallowed. “Arry. I’m Arry.”

  “Closer. And now the truth?”

  Fear cuts deeper than swords, she told herself. “Arya.” She whispered the word the first time. The second time she threw it at him. “I am Arya, of House Stark.”

  “You are,” he said, “but the House of Black and White is no place for Arya, of House Stark.”

  “Please,” she said. “I have no place to go.”

  “Do you fear death?”

  She bit her lip. “No.”

  “Let us see.” The priest lowered his cowl. Beneath he had no face; only a yellowed skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks, and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket. “Kiss me, child,” he croaked, in a voice as dry and husky as a death rattle.

  Does he think to scare me? Arya kissed him where his nose should be and plucked the grave worm from his eye to eat it, but it melted like a shadow in her hand.

  The yellow skull was melting too, and the kindliest old man that she had ever seen was smiling down at her. “No one has ever tried to eat my worm before,” he said. “Are you hungry, child?”

  Yes, she thought, but not for food.

  CERSEI

  A cold rain was falling, turning the walls and ramparts of the Red Keep dark as blood. The queen held the king’s hand and led him firmly across the muddy yard to where her litter waited with its escort. “Uncle Jaime said I could ride my horse and throw pennies to the smallfolk,” the boy objected.

  “Do you want to catch a chill?” She would not risk it; Tommen had never been as robust as Joffrey. “Your grandfather would want you to look a proper king at his wake. We will not appear at the Great Sept wet and bedraggled.” Bad enough I must wear mourning again. Black had never been a happy color on her. With her fair skin, it made her look half a corpse herself. Cersei had risen an hour before dawn to bathe and fix her hair, and she did not intend to let the rain destroy her efforts.

  Inside the litter, Tommen settled back against his pillows and peered out at the falling rain. “The gods are weeping for grandfather. Lady Jocelyn says the raindrops are their tears.”

  “Jocelyn Swyft is a fool. If the gods could weep, they would have wept for your brother. Rain is rain. Close the curtain before you let any more in. That mantle is sable, would you have it soaked?”

  Tommen did as he was bid. His meekness troubled her. A king had to be strong. Joffrey would have argued. He was never easy to cow. “Don’t slump so,” she told Tommen. “Sit like a king. Put your shoulders back and straighten your crown. Do you want it to tumble off your head in front of all your lords?”

  “No, Mother.” The boy sat straight and reached up to fix the crown. Joff’s crown was too big for him. Tommen had always inclined to plumpness, but his face seemed thinner now. Is he eating well? She must remember to ask the steward. She could not risk Tommen growing ill, not with Myrcella in the hands of the Dornishmen. He will grow into Joff’s crown in time. Until he did, a smaller one might be needed, one that did not threaten to swallow his head. She would take it up with the goldsmiths.

  The litter made its slow way down Aegon’s High Hill. Two Kingsguard rode before them, white knights on white horses wi
th white cloaks hanging sodden from their shoulders. Behind came fifty Lannister guardsmen in gold and crimson.

  Tommen peered through the drapes at the empty streets. “I thought there would be more people. When Father died, all the people came out to watch us go by.”

  “This rain has driven them inside.” King’s Landing had never loved Lord Tywin. He never wanted love, though. “You cannot eat love, nor buy a horse with it, nor warm your halls on a cold night,” she heard him tell Jaime once, when her brother had been no older than Tommen.

  At the Great Sept of Baelor, that magnificence in marble atop Visenya’s Hill, the little knot of mourners were outnumbered by the gold cloaks that Ser Addam Marbrand had drawn up across the plaza. More will turn out later, the queen told herself as Ser Meryn Trant helped her from the litter. Only the highborn and their retinues were to be admitted to the morning service; there would be another in the afternoon for the commons, and the evening prayers were open to all. Cersei would need to return for that, so that the smallfolk might see her mourn. The mob must have its show. It was a nuisance. She had offices to fill, a war to win, a realm to rule. Her father would have understood that.

  The High Septon met them at the top of the steps. A bent old man with a wispy grey beard, he was so stooped by the weight of his ornate embroidered robes that his eyes were on a level with the queen’s breasts… though his crown, an airy confection of cut crystal and spun gold, added a good foot and a half to his height.

  Lord Tywin had given him that crown to replace the one that was lost when the mob killed the previous High Septon. They had pulled the fat fool from his litter and torn him apart, the day Myrcella sailed for Dorne. That one was a great glutton, and biddable. This one… This High Septon was of Tyrion’s making, Cersei recalled suddenly. It was a disquieting thought.

  The old man’s spotted hand looked like a chicken claw as it poked from a sleeve encrusted with golden scrollwork and small crystals. Cersei knelt on the wet marble and kissed his fingers, and bid Tommen to do the same. What does he know of me? How much did the dwarf tell him? The High Septon smiled as he escorted her into the sept. But was it a threatening smile full of unspoken knowledge, or just some vacuous twitch of an old man’s wrinkled lips? The queen could not be certain.

  They made their way through the Hall of Lamps beneath colored globes of leaded glass, Tommen’s hand in hers. Trant and Kettleblack flanked them, water dripping from their wet cloaks to puddle on the floor. The High Septon walked slowly, leaning on a weirwood staff topped by a crystal orb. Seven of the Most Devout attended him, shimmering in cloth-of-silver. Tommen wore cloth-of-gold beneath his sable mantle, the queen an old gown of black velvet lined with ermine. There’d been no time to have a new one made, and she could not wear the same dress she had worn for Joffrey, nor the one she’d buried Robert in.

  At least I will not be expected to don mourning for Tyrion. I shall dress in crimson silk and cloth-of-gold for that, and wear rubies in my hair. The man who brought her the dwarf’s head would be raised to lordship, she had proclaimed, no matter how mean and low his birth or station. Ravens were carrying her promise to every part of the Seven Kingdoms, and soon enough word would cross the narrow sea to the Nine Free Cities and the lands beyond. Let the Imp run to the ends of the earth, he will not escape me.

  The royal procession passed through the inner doors into the cavernous heart of the Great Sept, and down a wide aisle, one of seven that met beneath the dome. To right and left, highborn mourners sank to their knees as the king and queen went by. Many of her father’s bannermen were here, and knights who had fought beside Lord Tywin in half a hundred battles. The sight of them made her feel more confident. I am not without friends.

  Under the Great Sept’s lofty dome of glass and gold and crystal, Lord Tywin Lannister’s body rested upon a stepped marble bier. At its head Jaime stood at vigil, his one good hand curled about the hilt of a tall golden greatsword whose point rested on the floor. The hooded cloak he wore was as white as freshly fallen snow, and the scales of his long hauberk were mother-of-pearl chased with gold. Lord Tywin would have wanted him in Lannister gold and crimson, she thought. It always angered him to see Jaime all in white. Her brother was growing his beard again as well. The stubble covered his jaw and cheeks, and gave his face a rough, uncouth look. He might at least have waited till Father’s bones were interred beneath the Rock.

  Cersei led the king up three short steps, to kneel beside the body. Tommen’s eyes were filled with tears. “Weep quietly,” she told him, leaning close. “You are a king, not a squalling child. Your lords are watching you.” The boy swiped the tears away with the back of his hand. He had her eyes, emerald green, as large and bright as Jaime’s eyes had been when he was Tommen’s age. Her brother had been such a pretty boy… but fierce as well, as fierce as Joffrey, a true lion cub. The queen put her arm around Tommen and kissed his golden curls. He will need me to teach him how to rule and keep him safe from his enemies. Some of them stood around them even now, pretending to be friends.

  The silent sisters had armored Lord Tywin as if to fight some final battle. He wore his finest plate, heavy steel enameled a deep, dark crimson, with gold inlay on his gauntlets, greaves, and breastplate. His rondels were golden sunbursts; a golden lioness crouched upon each shoulder; a maned lion crested the greathelm beside his head. Upon his chest lay a longsword in a gilded scabbard studded with rubies, his hands folded about its hilt in gloves of gilded mail. Even in death his face is noble, she thought, although the mouth… The corners of her father’s lips curved upward ever so slightly, giving him a look of vague bemusement. That should not be. She blamed Pycelle; he should have told the silent sisters that Lord Tywin Lannister never smiled. The man is as useless as nipples on a breastplate. That half smile made Lord Tywin seem less fearful, somehow. That, and the fact that his eyes were closed. Her father’s eyes had always been unsettling; pale green, almost luminous, flecked with gold. His eyes could see inside you, could see how weak and worthless and ugly you were down deep. When he looked at you, you knew.

  Unbidden, a memory came to her, of the feast King Aerys had thrown when Cersei first came to court, a girl as green as summer grass. Old Merryweather had been nattering about raising the duty on wine when Lord Rykker said, “If we need gold, His Grace should sit Lord Tywin on his chamber pot.” Aerys and his lickspittles laughed loudly, whilst Father stared at Rykker over his wine cup. Long after the merriment had died that gaze had lingered. Rykker turned away, turned back, met Father’s eyes, then ignored them, drank a tankard of ale, and stalked off red-faced, defeated by a pair of unflinching eyes.

  Lord Tywin’s eyes are closed forever now, Cersei thought. It is my look they will flinch from now, my frown that they must fear. I am a lion too.

  It was gloomy within the sept with the sky so grey outside. If the rain ever stopped, the sun would slant down through the hanging crystals to drape the corpse in rainbows. The Lord of Casterly Rock deserved rainbows. He had been a great man. I shall be greater, though. A thousand years from now, when the maesters write about this time, you shall be remembered only as Queen Cersei’s sire.

  “Mother.” Tommen tugged her sleeve. “What smells so bad?”

  My lord father. “Death.” She could smell it too; a faint whisper of decay that made her want to wrinkle her nose. Cersei paid it no mind. The seven septons in the silver robes stood behind the bier, beseeching the Father Above to judge Lord Tywin justly. When they were done, seventy-seven septas gathered before the altar of the Mother and began to sing to her for mercy. Tommen was fidgeting by then, and even the queen’s knees had begun to ache. She glanced at Jaime. Her twin stood as if he had been carved from stone, and would not meet her eyes.

  On the benches, their uncle Kevan knelt with his shoulders slumped, his son beside him. Lancel looks worse than Father. Though only seventeen, he might have passed for seventy; grey-faced, gaunt, with hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, and hair as white and brittle as chalk. How can Lanc
el be among the living when Tywin Lannister is dead? Have the gods taken leave of their wits?

 
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