A feast for crows, p.12
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       A Feast for Crows, p.12

         Part #4 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
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  “So I pray.” Ser Kevan studied her face for a long moment before he replied. “You ask much of me, Cersei.”

  “No more than my father did.”

  “I am tired.” Her uncle reached for his wine cup and took a swallow. “I have a wife I have not seen in two years, a dead son to mourn, another son about to marry and assume a lordship. Castle Darry must be made strong again, its lands protected, its burned fields plowed and planted anew. Lancel needs my help.”

  “As does Tommen.” Cersei had not expected Kevan to require coaxing. He never played coy with Father. “The realm needs you.”

  “The realm. Aye. And House Lannister.” He sipped his wine again. “Very well. I will remain and serve His Grace…”

  “Very good,” she started to say, but Ser Kevan raised his voice and bulled right over her.

  “… so long as you name me regent as well as Hand and take yourself back to Casterly Rock.”

  For half a heartbeat Cersei could only stare at him. “I am the regent,” she reminded him.

  “You were. Tywin did not intend that you continue in that role. He told me of his plans to send you back to the Rock and find a new husband for you.”

  Cersei could feel her anger rising. “He spoke of such, yes. And I told him it was not my wish to wed again.”

  Her uncle was unmoved. “If you are resolved against another marriage, I will not force it on you. As to the other, though… you are the Lady of Casterly Rock now. Your place is there.”

  How dare you? she wanted to scream. Instead, she said, “I am also the Queen Regent. My place is with my son.”

  “Your father thought not.”

  “My father is dead.”

  “To my grief, and the woe of all the realm. Open your eyes and look about you, Cersei. The kingdom is in ruins. Tywin might have been able to set matters aright, but…”

  “I shall set matters aright!” Cersei softened her tone. “With your help, Uncle. If you will serve me as faithfully as you served my father—”

  “You are not your father. And Tywin always regarded Jaime as his rightful heir.”

  “Jaime… Jaime has taken vows. Jaime never thinks, he laughs at everything and everyone and says whatever comes into his head. Jaime is a handsome fool.”

  “And yet he was your first choice to be the King’s Hand. What does that make you, Cersei?”

  “I told you, I was sick with grief, I did not think—”

  “No,” Ser Kevan agreed. “Which is why you should return to Casterly Rock and leave the king with those who do.”

  “The king is my son!” Cersei rose to her feet.

  “Aye,” her uncle said, “and from what I saw of Joffrey, you are as unfit a mother as you are a ruler.”

  She threw the contents of her wine cup full in his face.

  Ser Kevan rose with a ponderous dignity. “Your Grace.” Wine trickled down his cheeks and dripped from his close-cropped beard. “With your leave, might I withdraw?”

  “By what right do you presume to give me terms? You are no more than one of my father’s household knights.”

  “I hold no lands, that is true. But I have certain incomes, and chests of coin set aside. My own father forgot none of his children when he died, and Tywin knew how to reward good service. I feed two hundred knights and can double that number if need be. There are freeriders who will follow my banner, and I have the gold to hire sellswords. You would be wise not to take me lightly, Your Grace… and wiser still not to make of me a foe.”

  “Are you threatening me?”

  “I am counseling you. If you will not yield the regency to me, name me your castellan for Casterly Rock and make either Mathis Rowan or Randyll Tarly the Hand of the King.”

  Tyrell bannermen, both of them. The suggestion left her speechless. Is he bought? she wondered. Has he taken Tyrell gold to betray House Lannister?

  “Mathis Rowan is sensible, prudent, well liked,” her uncle went on, oblivious. “Randyll Tarly is the finest soldier in the realm. A poor Hand for peacetime, but with Tywin dead there’s no better man to finish this war. Lord Tyrell cannot take offense if you choose one of his own bannermen as Hand. Both Tarly and Rowan are able men… and loyal. Name either one, and you make him yours. You strengthen yourself and weaken Highgarden, yet Mace will likely thank you for it.” He gave a shrug. “That is my counsel, take it or no. You may make Moon Boy your Hand for all I care. My brother is dead, woman. I am going to take him home.”

  Traitor, she thought. Turncloak. She wondered how much Mace Tyrell had given him. “You would abandon your king when he needs you most,” she told him. “You would abandon Tommen.”

  “Tommen has his mother.” Ser Kevan’s green eyes met her own, unblinking. A last drop of wine trembled wet and red beneath his chin, and finally fell. “Aye,” he added softly, after a pause, “and his father too, I think.”

  JAIME

  Ser Jaime Lannister, all in white, stood beside his father’s bier, five fingers curled about the hilt of a golden greatsword.

  At dusk, the interior of the Great Sept of Baelor turned dim and eerie. The last light of day slanted down through the high windows, washing the towering likenesses of the Seven in a red gloom. Around their altars, scented candles flickered whilst deep shadows gathered in the transepts and crept silently across the marble floors. The echoes of the evensongs died away as the last mourners were departing.

  Balon Swann and Loras Tyrell remained when the rest had gone. “No man can stand a vigil for seven days and seven nights,” Ser Balon said. “When did you last sleep, my lord?”

  “When my lord father was alive,” said Jaime.

  “Allow me to stand tonight in your stead,” Ser Loras offered.

  “He was not your father.” You did not kill him. I did. Tyrion may have loosed the crossbow bolt that slew him, but I loosed Tyrion. “Leave me.”

  “As my lord commands,” said Swann. Ser Loras looked as if he might have argued further, but Ser Balon took his arm and drew him off. Jaime listened to the echoes of their footfalls die away. And then he was alone again with his lord father, amongst the candles and the crystals and the sickly sweet smell of death. His back ached from the weight of his armor, and his legs felt almost numb. He shifted his stance a bit and tightened his fingers around the golden greatsword. He could not wield a sword, but he could hold one. His missing hand was throbbing. That was almost funny. He had more feeling in the hand he’d lost than in the rest of the body that remained to him.

  My hand is hungry for a sword. I need to kill someone. Varys, for a start, but first I’d need to find the rock he’s hiding under. “I commanded the eunuch to take him to a ship, not to your bedchamber,” he told the corpse. “The blood is on his hands as much as… as Tyrion’s.” The blood is on his hands as much as mine, he meant to say, but the words stuck in his throat. Whatever Varys did, I made him do.

  He had waited in the eunuch’s chambers that night, when at last he had decided not to let his little brother die. As he waited, he had sharpened his dagger with one hand, taking a queer comfort from the scrape-scrape-scrape of steel on stone. At the sound of footsteps he stood beside the door. Varys entered in a wash of powder and lavender. Jaime stepped out behind him, kicked him in the back of the knee, knelt on his chest, and shoved the knife up under his soft white chin, forcing his head up. “Why, Lord Varys,” he’d said pleasantly, “fancy meeting you here.”

  “Ser Jaime?” Varys panted. “You frightened me.”

  “I meant to.” When he twisted the dagger, a trickle of blood ran down the blade. “I was thinking you might help me pluck my brother from his cell before Ser Ilyn lops his head off. It is an ugly head, I grant you, but he only has the one.”

  “Yes… well… if you would… remove the blade… yes, gently, as it please my lord, gently, oh, I’m pricked…” The eunuch touched his neck and gaped at the blood on his fingers. “I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood.”

  “You’ll have more to abhor s
hortly, unless you help me.”

  Varys struggled to a sitting position. “Your brother… if the Imp should vanish unaccountably from his cell, q-questions would be asked. I would f-fear for my life…”

  “Your life is mine. I do not care what secrets you know. If Tyrion dies, you will not long outlive him, I promise you.”

  “Ah.” The eunuch sucked the blood off his fingers. “You ask a dreadful thing… to loose the Imp who slew our lovely king. Or is it that you believe him innocent?”

  “Innocent or guilty,” Jaime had said, like the fool he was, “a Lannister pays his debts.” The words had come so easy.

  He had not slept since. He could see his brother now, the way the dwarf had grinned beneath the stub of his nose as the torchlight licked his face. “You poor stupid blind crippled fool,” he’d snarled, in a voice thick with malice. “Cersei is a lying whore, she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know. And I am the monster they all say I am. Yes, I killed your vile son.”

  He never said he meant to kill our father. If he had, I would have stopped him. Then I would be the kinslayer, not him.

  Jaime wondered where Varys was hiding. Wisely, the master of whisperers had not returned to his own chambers, nor had a search of the Red Keep turned him up. It might be that the eunuch had taken ship with Tyrion, rather than remain to answer awkward questions. If so, the two of them were well out to sea by now, sharing a flagon of Arbor gold in the cabin of a galley.

  Unless my brother murdered Varys too, and left his corpse to rot beneath the castle. Down there, it might be years before his bones were found. Jaime had led a dozen guards below, with torches and ropes and lanterns. For hours they had groped through twisting passages, narrow crawl spaces, hidden doors, secret steps, and shafts that plunged down into utter blackness. Seldom had he felt so utterly a cripple. A man takes much for granted when he has two hands. Ladders, for an instance. Even crawling did not come easy; not for nought do they speak of hands and knees. Nor could he hold a torch and climb, as others could.

  And all for naught. They found only darkness, dust, and rats. And dragons, lurking down below. He remembered the sullen orange glow of the coals in the iron dragon’s mouth. The brazier warmed a chamber at the bottom of a shaft where half a dozen tunnels met. On the floor he’d found a scuffed mosaic of the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen done in tiles of black and red. I know you, Kingslayer, the beast seemed to be saying. I have been here all the time, waiting for you to come to me. And it seemed to Jaime that he knew that voice, the iron tones that had once belonged to Rhaegar, Prince of Dragonstone.

  The day had been windy when he said farewell to Rhaegar, in the yard of the Red Keep. The prince had donned his night-black armor, with the three-headed dragon picked out in rubies on his breastplate. “Your Grace,” Jaime had pleaded, “let Darry stay to guard the king this once, or Ser Barristan. Their cloaks are as white as mine.”

  Prince Rhaegar shook his head. “My royal sire fears your father more than he does our cousin Robert. He wants you close, so Lord Tywin cannot harm him. I dare not take that crutch away from him at such an hour.”

  Jaime’s anger had risen up in his throat. “I am not a crutch. I am a knight of the Kingsguard.”

  “Then guard the king,” Ser Jon Darry snapped at him. “When you donned that cloak, you promised to obey.”

  Rhaegar had put his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “When this battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but… well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return.”

  Those were the last words Rhaegar Targaryen ever spoke to him. Outside the gates an army had assembled, whilst another descended on the Trident. So the Prince of Dragonstone mounted up and donned his tall black helm, and rode forth to his doom.

  He was more right than he knew. When the battle was done, there were changes made. “Aerys thought no harm could come to him if he kept me near,” he told his father’s corpse. “Isn’t that amusing?” Lord Tywin seemed to think so; his smile was wider than before. He seems to enjoy being dead.

  It was queer, but he felt no grief. Where are my tears? Where is my rage? Jaime Lannister had never lacked for rage. “Father,” he told the corpse, “it was you who told me that tears were a mark of weakness in a man, so you cannot expect that I should cry for you.”

  A thousand lords and ladies had come that morning to file past the bier, and several thousand smallfolk after noon. They wore somber clothes and solemn faces, but Jaime suspected that many and more were secretly delighted to see the great man brought low. Even in the west, Lord Tywin had been more respected than beloved, and King’s Landing still remembered the Sack.

  Of all the mourners, Grand Maester Pycelle had seemed the most distraught. “I have served six kings,” he told Jaime after the second service, whilst sniffing doubtfully about the corpse, “but here before us lies the greatest man I ever knew. Lord Tywin wore no crown, yet he was all a king should be.”

  Without his beard, Pycelle looked not only old, but feeble. Shaving him was the cruelest thing Tyrion could have done, thought Jaime, who knew what it was to lose a part of yourself, the part that made you who you were. Pycelle’s beard had been magnificent, white as snow and soft as lambswool, a luxuriant growth that covered cheeks and chin and flowed down almost to his belt. The Grand Maester had been wont to stroke it when he pontificated. It had given him an air of wisdom, and concealed all manner of unsavory things: the loose skin dangling beneath the old man’s jaw, the small querulous mouth and missing teeth, warts and wrinkles and age spots too numerous to count. Though Pycelle was trying to regrow what he had lost, he was failing. Only wisps and tufts sprouted from his wrinkled cheeks and weak chin, so thin that Jaime could see the splotchy pink skin beneath.

  “Ser Jaime, I have seen terrible things in my time,” the old man said. “Wars, battles, murders most foul… I was a boy in Oldtown when the grey plague took half the city and three-quarters of the Citadel. Lord Hightower burned every ship in port, closed the gates, and commanded his guards to slay all those who tried to flee, be they men, women, or babes in arms. They killed him when the plague had run its course. On the very day he reopened the port, they dragged him from his horse and slit his throat, and his young son’s as well. To this day the ignorant in Oldtown will spit at the sound of his name, but Quenton Hightower did what was needed. Your father was that sort of man as well. A man who did what was needed.”

  “Is that why he looks so pleased with himself?”

  The vapors rising from the corpse were making Pycelle’s eyes water. “The flesh… as the flesh dries, the muscles grow taut and pull his lips upward. That is no smile, only a… a drying, that is all.” He blinked back tears. “You must excuse me. I am so very tired.” Leaning heavily on his cane, Pycelle tottered slowly from the sept. That one is dying too, Jaime realized. Small wonder Cersei called him useless.

  To be sure, his sweet sister seemed to think half the court was either useless or treasonous; Pycelle, the Kingsguard, the Tyrells, Jaime himself… even Ser Ilyn Payne, the silent knight who served as headsman. As King’s Justice, the dungeons were his responsibility. Since he lacked a tongue, Payne had largely left the running of those dungeons to his underlings, but Cersei held him to blame for Tyrion’s escape all the same. It was my work, not his, Jaime almost told her. Instead he had promised to find what answers he could from the chief undergaoler, a bentback old man named Rennifer Longwaters.

  “I see you wonder, what sort of name is that?” the man had cackled when Jaime went to question him. “It is an old name, ’tis true. I am not one to boast, but there is royal blood in my veins. I am descended from a princess. My father told me the tale when I was a tad of a lad.” Longwaters had not been a tad of a lad for many a year, to judge from his spotted head and the white hairs growing from his chin. “She was the fairest treasure of the Maidenvault. Lord Oakenfist the great admiral lost his hea
rt to her, though he was married to another. She gave their son the bastard name of ‘Waters’ in honor of his father, and he grew to be a great knight, as did his own son, who put the ‘Long’ before the ‘Waters’ so men might know that he was not basely born himself. So I have a little dragon in me.”

  “Yes, I almost mistook you for Aegon the Conqueror,” Jaime had answered. “Waters” was a common bastard name about Blackwater Bay; old Longwaters was more like to be descended from some minor household knight than from a princess. “As it matters, though, I have more pressing concerns than your lineage.”

  Longwaters inclined his head. “The lost prisoner.”

  “And the missing gaoler.”

  “Rugen,” the old man supplied. “An undergaoler. He had charge of the third level, the black cells.”

  “Tell me of him,” Jaime had to say. A bloody farce. He knew who Rugen was, even if Longwaters did not.

  “Unkempt, unshaven, coarse of speech. I misliked the man, ’tis true, I do confess it. Rugen was here when I first came, twelve years past. He held his appointment from King Aerys. The man was seldom here, it must be said. I made note of it in my reports, my lord. I most suredly did, I give you my word upon it, the word of a man with royal blood.”

  Mention that royal blood once more and I may spill some of it, thought Jaime. “Who saw these reports?”

  “Certain of them went to the master of coin, others to the master of whisperers. All to the chief gaoler and the King’s Justice. It has always been so in the dungeons.” Longwaters scratched his nose. “Rugen was here when need be, my lord. That must be said. The black cells are little used. Before your lordship’s little brother was sent down, we had Grand Maester Pycelle for a time, and before him Lord Stark the traitor. There were three others, common men, but Lord Stark gave them to the Night’s Watch. I did not think it good to free those three, but the papers were in proper order. I made note of that in a report as well, you may be certain of it.”

  “Tell me of the two gaolers who went to sleep.”

  “Gaolers?” Longwaters sniffed. “Those were no gaolers. They were merely turnkeys. The crown pays wages for twenty turnkeys, my lord, a full score, but during my time we have never had more than twelve. We are supposed to have six undergaolers as well, two on each level, but there are only the three.”

  “You and two others?”

  Longwaters sniffed again. “I am the chief undergaoler, my lord. I am above the undergaolers. I am charged with keeping the counts. If my lord would like to look over my books, he will see that all the figures are exact.” Longwaters had consulted the great leather-bound book spread out before him. “At present, we have four prisoners on the first level and one on the second, in addition to your lordship’s brother.” The old man frowned. “Who is fled, to be sure. ’Tis true. I will strike him out.” He took up a quill and began to sharpen it.

  Six prisoners, Jaime thought sourly, while we pay wages for twenty turnkeys, six undergaolers, a chief undergaoler, a gaoler, and a King’s Justice. “I want to question these two turnkeys.”

  Rennifer Longwaters let up sharpening his quill and peered doubtfully up at Jaime. “Question them, my lord?”

  “You heard me.”

  “I did, my lord, I suredly did, and yet… my lord may question who he pleases, ’tis true, it is not my place to say that he may not. But, ser, if I may be so bold, I do not think them like to answer. They are dead, my lord.”

  “Dead? By whose command?”

  “Your own, I thought, or… the king’s, mayhaps? I did not ask. It… it is not my place to question the Kingsguard.”

  That was salt for his wound; Cersei had used his own men to do her bloody work, them and her precious Kettleblacks.

  “You witless fools,” Jaime had snarled at Boros Blount and Osmund Kettleblack later, in a dungeon that stank of blood and death. “What did you imagine you were doing?”

  “No more’n we was told, my lord.” Ser Boros was shorter than Jaime, but heavier. “Her Grace commanded it. Your sister.”

  Ser Osmund hooked a thumb through his swordbelt. “She said they were to sleep forever. So my brothers and me, we saw to it.”

  That you did. One corpse sprawled facedown upon the table, like a man passed out at a feast, but it was a puddle of blood beneath his head, not a puddle of wine. The second turnkey had managed to push back from the bench and draw his dagger before someone shoved a longsword through his ribs. His had been the longer, messier end. I told Varys no one was to be harmed in this escape, Jaime thought, but I should have told my brother and my sister. “This was ill done, ser.”

  Ser Osmund shrugged. “They won’t be missed. I’ll wager they was part of it, along with the one who’s gone missing.”

  No, Jaime could have told him. Varys dosed their wine to make them sleep. “If so, we might have coaxed the truth from them.” … she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy for all I know… “If I had a suspicious nature I might wonder why you were in such haste to make certain these two were never put to the question. Did you need to silence them to conceal your own part in this?”

  “Us?” Kettleblack choked on that. “All we done was what the queen commanded. On my word as your Sworn Brother.”

  Jaime’s phantom fingers twitched as he said, “Get Osney and Osfryd down here and clean up this mess you’ve made. And the next time my sweet sister commands you to kill a man, come to me first. Elsewise, stay out of my sight, ser.”

  The words echoed in his head in the dimness of Baelor’s Sept. Above him, all the windows had gone black, and he could see the faint light of distant stars. The sun had set for good and all. The stench of death was growing stronger, despite the scented candles. The smell reminded Jaime Lannister of the pass below the Golden Tooth, where he had won a glorious victory in the first days of the war. On the morning after the battle, the crows had feasted on victors and vanquished alike, as once they had feasted on Rhaegar Targaryen after the Trident. How much can a crown be worth, when a crow can dine upon a king?

  There were crows circling the seven towers and great dome of Baelor’s Sept even now, Jaime suspected, their black wings beating against the night air as they searched for a way inside. Every crow in the Seven Kingdoms should pay homage to you, Father. From Castamere to the Blackwater, you fed them well. That notion pleased Lord Tywin; his smile widened further. Bloody hell, he’s grinning like a bridegroom at his bedding.

  That was so grotesque it made Jaime laugh aloud.

  The sound echoed through the transepts and crypts and chapels, as if the dead interred within the walls were laughing too. Why not? This is more absurd than a mummer’s farce, me standing vigil for a father I helped to slay, sending men forth to capture the brother I helped to free… He had commanded Ser Addam Marbrand to search the Street of Silk. “Look under every bed, you know how fond
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