A feast for crows, p.2
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       A Feast for Crows, p.2

         Part #4 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
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  “It is a lesson,” Armen said, “the last lesson we must learn before we don our maester’s chains. The glass candle is meant to represent truth and learning, rare and beautiful and fragile things. It is made in the shape of a candle to remind us that a maester must cast light wherever he serves, and it is sharp to remind us that knowledge can be dangerous. Wise men may grow arrogant in their wisdom, but a maester must always remain humble. The glass candle reminds us of that as well. Even after he has said his vow and donned his chain and gone forth to serve, a maester will think back on the darkness of his vigil and remember how nothing that he did could make the candle burn… for even with knowledge, some things are not possible.”

  Lazy Leo burst out laughing. “Not possible for you, you mean. I saw the candle burning with my own eyes.”

  “You saw some candle burning, I don’t doubt,” said Armen. “A candle of black wax, perhaps.”

  “I know what I saw. The light was queer and bright, much brighter than any beeswax or tallow candle. It cast strange shadows and the flame never flickered, not even when a draft blew through the open door behind me.”

  Armen crossed his arms. “Obsidian does not burn.”

  “Dragonglass,” Pate said. “The smallfolk call it dragonglass.” Somehow that seemed important.

  “They do,” mused Alleras, the Sphinx, “and if there are dragons in the world again…”

  “Dragons and darker things,” said Leo. “The grey sheep have closed their eyes, but the mastiff sees the truth. Old powers waken. Shadows stir. An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heroes.” He stretched, smiling his lazy smile. “That’s worth a round, I’d say.”

  “We’ve drunk enough,” said Armen. “Morn will be upon us sooner than we’d like, and Archmaester Ebrose will be speaking on the properties of urine. Those who mean to forge a silver link would do well not to miss his talk.”

  “Far be it from me to keep you from the piss tasting,” said Leo. “Myself, I prefer the taste of Arbor gold.”

  “If the choice is piss or you, I’ll drink piss.” Mollander pushed back from the table. “Come, Roone.”

  The Sphinx reached for his bowcase. “It’s bed for me as well. I expect I’ll dream of dragons and glass candles.”

  “All of you?” Leo shrugged. “Well, Rosey will remain. Perhaps I’ll wake our little sweetmeat and make a woman of her.”

  Alleras saw the look on Pate’s face. “If he does not have a copper for a cup of wine, he cannot have a dragon for the girl.”

  “Aye,” said Mollander. “Besides, it takes a man to make a woman. Come with us, Pate. Old Walgrave will wake when the sun comes up. He’ll be needing you to help him to the privy.”

  If he remembers who I am today. Archmaester Walgrave had no trouble telling one raven from another, but he was not so good with people. Some days he seemed to think Pate was someone named Cressen. “Not just yet,” he told his friends. “I’m going to stay awhile.” Dawn had not broken, not quite. The alchemist might still be coming, and Pate meant to be here if he did.

  “As you wish,” said Armen. Alleras gave Pate a lingering look, then slung his bow over one slim shoulder and followed the others toward the bridge. Mollander was so drunk he had to walk with a hand on Roone’s shoulder to keep from falling. The Citadel was no great distance as the raven flies, but none of them were ravens and Oldtown was a veritable labyrinth of a city, all wynds and crisscrossing alleys and narrow crookback streets. “Careful,” Pate heard Armen say as the river mists swallowed up the four of them, “the night is damp, and the cobbles will be slippery.”

  When they were gone, Lazy Leo considered Pate sourly across the table. “How sad. The Sphinx has stolen off with all his silver, abandoning me to Spotted Pate the pig boy.” He stretched, yawning. “How is our lovely little Rosey, pray?”

  “She’s sleeping,” Pate said curtly.

  “Naked, I don’t doubt.” Leo grinned. “Do you think she’s truly worth a dragon? One day I suppose I must find out.”

  Pate knew better than to reply to that.

  Leo needed no reply. “I expect that once I’ve broken in the wench, her price will fall to where even pig boys will be able to afford her. You ought to thank me.”

  I ought to kill you, Pate thought, but he was not near drunk enough to throw away his life. Leo had been trained to arms, and was known to be deadly with bravo’s blade and dagger. And if Pate should somehow kill him, it would mean his own head too. Leo had two names where Pate had only one, and his second was Tyrell. Ser Moryn Tyrell, commander of the City Watch of Oldtown, was Leo’s father. Mace Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South, was Leo’s cousin. And Oldtown’s Old Man, Lord Leyton of the Hightower, who numbered “Protector of the Citadel” amongst his many titles, was a sworn bannerman of House Tyrell. Let it go, Pate told himself. He says these things just to wound me.

  The mists were lightening to the east. Dawn, Pate realized. Dawn has come, and the alchemist has not. He did not know whether he should laugh or cry. Am I still a thief if I put it all back and no one ever knows? It was another question that he had no answer for, like those that Ebrose and Vaellyn had once asked him.

  When he pushed back from the bench and got to his feet, the fearsomely strong cider all went to his head at once. He had to put a hand on the table to steady himself. “Leave Rosey be,” he said, by way of parting. “Just leave her be, or I may kill you.”

  Leo Tyrell flicked the hair back from his eye. “I do not fight duels with pig boys. Go away.”

  Pate turned and crossed the terrace. His heels rang against the weathered planks of the old bridge. By the time he reached the other side, the eastern sky was turning pink. The world is wide, he told himself. If I bought that donkey, I could still wander the roads and byways of the Seven Kingdoms, leeching the smallfolk and picking nits out of their hair. I could sign on to some ship, pull an oar, and sail to Qarth by the Jade Gates to see these bloody dragons for myself. I do not need to go back to old Walgrave and the ravens.

  Yet somehow his feet turned back toward the Citadel.

  When the first shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds to the east, morning bells began to peal from the Sailor’s Sept down by the harbor. The Lord’s Sept joined in a moment later, then the Seven Shrines from their gardens across the Honeywine, and finally the Starry Sept that had been the seat of the High Septon for a thousand years before Aegon landed at King’s Landing. They made a mighty music. Though not so sweet as one small nightingale.

  He could hear singing too, beneath the pealing of the bells. Each morning at first light the red priests gathered to welcome the sun outside their modest wharfside temple. For the night is dark and full of terrors. Pate had heard them cry those words a hundred times, asking their god R’hllor to save them from the darkness. The Seven were gods enough for him, but he had heard that Stannis Baratheon worshiped at the nightfires now. He had even put the fiery heart of R’hllor on his banners in place of the crowned stag. If he should win the Iron Throne, we’ll all need to learn the words of the red priests’ song, Pate thought, but that was not likely. Tywin Lannister had smashed Stannis and R’hllor upon the Blackwater, and soon enough he would finish them and mount the head of the Baratheon pretender on a spike above the gates of King’s Landing.

  As the night’s mists burned away, Oldtown took form around him, emerging ghostlike from the predawn gloom. Pate had never seen King’s Landing, but he knew it was a daub-and-wattle city, a sprawl of mud streets, thatched roofs, and wooden hovels. Oldtown was built in stone, and all its streets were cobbled, down to the meanest alley. The city was never more beautiful than at break of day. West of the Honeywine, the Guildhalls lined the bank like a row of palaces. Upriver, the domes and towers of the Citadel rose on both sides of the river, connected by stone bridges crowded with halls and houses. Downstream, below the black marble walls and arched windows of the Starry Sept, the manses of the pious clustered like children gathered round th
e feet of an old dowager.

  And beyond, where the Honeywine widened into Whispering Sound, rose the Hightower, its beacon fires bright against the dawn. From where it stood atop the bluffs of Battle Island, its shadow cut the city like a sword. Those born and raised in Oldtown could tell the time of day by where that shadow fell. Some claimed a man could see all the way to the Wall from the top. Perhaps that was why Lord Leyton had not made the descent in more than a decade, preferring to rule his city from the clouds.

  A butcher’s cart rumbled past Pate down the river road, five piglets in the back squealing in distress. Dodging from its path, he just avoided being spattered as a townswoman emptied a pail of night soil from a window overhead. When I am a maester in a castle I will have a horse to ride, he thought. Then he tripped upon a cobble and wondered who he was fooling. There would be no chain for him, no seat at a lord’s high table, no tall white horse to ride. His days would be spent listening to ravens quork and scrubbing shit stains off Archmaester Walgrave’s smallclothes.

  He was on one knee, trying to wipe the mud off his robes, when a voice said, “Good morrow, Pate.”

  The alchemist was standing over him.

  Pate rose. “The third day… you said you would be at the Quill and Tankard.”

  “You were with your friends. It was not my wish to intrude upon your fellowship.” The alchemist wore a hooded traveler’s cloak, brown and nondescript. The rising sun was peeking over the rooftops behind his shoulder, so it was hard to make out the face beneath his hood. “Have you decided what you are?”

  Must he make me say it? “I suppose I am a thief.”

  “I thought you might be.”

  The hardest part had been getting down on his hands and knees to pull the strongbox from underneath Archmaester Walgrave’s bed. Though the box was stoutly made and bound with iron, its lock was broken. Maester Gormon had suspected Pate of breaking it, but that wasn’t true. Walgrave had broken the lock himself, after losing the key that opened it.

  Inside, Pate had found a bag of silver stags, a lock of yellow hair tied up in a ribbon, a painted miniature of a woman who resembled Walgrave (even to her mustache), and a knight’s gauntlet made of lobstered steel. The gauntlet had belonged to a prince, Walgrave claimed, though he could no longer seem to recall which one. When Pate shook it, the key fell out onto the floor.

  If I pick that up, I am a thief, he remembered thinking. The key was old and heavy, made of black iron; supposedly it opened every door at the Citadel. Only the archmaesters had such keys. The others carried theirs upon their person or hid them away in some safe place, but if Walgrave had hidden his, no one would ever have seen it again. Pate snatched up the key and had been halfway to the door before turning back to take the silver too. A thief was a thief, whether he stole a little or a lot. “Pate,” one of the white ravens had called after him, “Pate, Pate, Pate.”

  “Do you have my dragon?” he asked the alchemist.

  “If you have what I require.”

  “Give it here. I want to see.” Pate did not intend to let himself be cheated.

  “The river road is not the place. Come.”

  He had no time to think about it, to weigh his choices. The alchemist was walking away. Pate had to follow or lose Rosey and the dragon both, forever. He followed. As they walked, he slipped his hand up into his sleeve. He could feel the key, safe inside the hidden pocket he had sewn there. Maester’s robes were full of pockets. He had known that since he was a boy.

  He had to hurry to keep pace with the alchemist’s longer strides. They went down an alley, around a corner, through the old Thieves Market, along Ragpicker’s Wynd. Finally, the man turned into another alley, narrower than the first. “This is far enough,” said Pate. “There’s no one about. We’ll do it here.”

  “As you wish.”

  “I want my dragon.”

  “To be sure.” The coin appeared. The alchemist made it walk across his knuckles, the way he had when Rosey brought the two of them together. In the morning light the dragon glittered as it moved, and gave the alchemist’s fingers a golden glow.

  Pate grabbed it from his hand. The gold felt warm against his palm. He brought it to his mouth and bit down on it the way he’d seen men do. If truth be told, he wasn’t sure what gold should taste like, but he did not want to look a fool.

  “The key?” the alchemist inquired politely.

  Something made Pate hesitate. “Is it some book you want?” Some of the old Valyrian scrolls down in the locked vaults were said to be the only surviving copies in the world.

  “What I want is none of your concern.”

  “No.” It’s done, Pate told himself. Go. Run back to the Quill and Tankard, wake Rosey with a kiss, and tell her she belongs to you. Yet still he lingered. “Show me your face.”

  “As you wish.” The alchemist pulled his hood down.

  He was just a man, and his face was just a face. A young man’s face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. It was not a face Pate recognized. “I do not know you.”

  “Nor I you.”

  “Who are you?”

  “A stranger. No one. Truly.”

  “Oh.” Pate had run out of words. He drew out the key and put it in the stranger’s hand, feeling light-headed, almost giddy. Rosey, he reminded himself. “We’re done, then.”

  He was halfway down the alley when the cobblestones began to move beneath his feet. The stones are slick and wet, he thought, but that was not it. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest. “What’s happening?” he said. His legs had turned to water. “I don’t understand.”

  “And never will,” a voice said sadly.

  The cobblestones rushed up to kiss him. Pate tried to cry for help, but his voice was failing too.

  His last thought was of Rosey.

  THE PROPHET

  The prophet was drowning men on Great Wyk when they came to tell him that the king was dead.

  It was a bleak, cold morning, and the sea was as leaden as the sky. The first three men had offered their lives to the Drowned God fearlessly, but the fourth was weak in faith and began to struggle as his lungs cried out for air. Standing waist-deep in the surf, Aeron seized the naked boy by the shoulders and pushed his head back down as he tried to snatch a breath. “Have courage,” he said. “We came from the sea, and to the sea we must return. Open your mouth and drink deep of god’s blessing. Fill your lungs with water, that you may die and be reborn. It does no good to fight.”

  Either the boy could not hear him with his head beneath the waves, or else his faith had utterly deserted him. He began to kick and thrash so wildly that Aeron had to call for help. Four of his drowned men waded out to seize the wretch and hold him underwater. “Lord God who drowned for us,” the priest prayed, in a voice as deep as the sea, “let Emmond your servant be reborn from the sea, as you were. Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel.”

  Finally, it was done. No more air was bubbling from his mouth, and all the strength had gone out of his limbs. Facedown in the shallow sea floated Emmond, pale and cold and peaceful.

  That was when the Damphair realized that three horsemen had joined his drowned men on the pebbled shore. Aeron knew the Sparr, a hatchet-faced old man with watery eyes whose quavery voice was law on this part of Great Wyk. His son Steffarion accompanied him, with another youth whose dark red fur-lined cloak was pinned at the shoulder with an ornate brooch that showed the black-and-gold warhorn of the Goodbrothers. One of Gorold’s sons, the priest decided at a glance. Three tall sons had been born to Goodbrother’s wife late in life, after a dozen daughters, and it was said that no man could tell one son from the others. Aeron Damphair did not deign to try. Whether this be Greydon or Gormond or Gran, the priest had no time for him.

  He growled a brusque command, and his drowned men seized the dead boy by his ar
ms and legs to carry him above the tideline. The priest followed, naked but for a sealskin clout that covered his private parts. Goosefleshed and dripping, he splashed back onto land, across cold wet sand and sea-scoured pebbles. One of his drowned men handed him a robe of heavy roughspun dyed in mottled greens and blues and greys, the colors of the sea and the Drowned God. Aeron donned the robe and pulled his hair free. Black and wet, that hair; no blade had touched it since the sea had raised him up. It draped his shoulders like a ragged, ropy cloak, and fell down past his waist. Aeron wove strands of seaweed through it, and through his tangled, uncut beard.

  His drowned men formed a circle around the dead boy, praying. Norjen worked his arms whilst Rus knelt astride him, pumping on his chest, but all moved aside for Aeron. He pried apart the boy’s cold lips with his fingers and gave Emmond the kiss of life, and again, and again, until the sea came gushing from his mouth. The boy began to cough and spit, and his eyes blinked open, full of fear.

  Another one returned. It was a sign of the Drowned God’s favor, men said. Every other priest lost a man from time to time, even Tarle the Thrice-Drowned, who had once been thought so holy that he was picked to crown a king. But never Aeron Greyjoy. He was the Damphair, who had seen the god’s own watery halls and returned to tell of it. “Rise,” he told the sputtering boy as he slapped him on his naked back. “You have drowned and been returned to us. What is dead can never die.”

  “But rises.” The boy coughed violently, bringing up more water. “Rises again.” Every word was bought with pain, but that was the way of the world; a man must fight to live. “Rises again.” Emmond staggered to his feet. “Harder. And stronger.”

  “You belong to the god now,” Aeron told him. The other drowned men gathered round and each gave him a punch and a kiss to welcome him to the brotherhood. One helped him don a roughspun robe of mottled blue and green and grey. Another presented him with a driftwood cudgel. “You belong to the sea now, so the sea has armed you,” Aeron said. “We pray that you shall wield your cudgel fiercely, against all the enemies of our god.”

  Only then did the priest turn to the three riders, watching from their saddles. “Have you come to be drowned, my lords?”

  The Sparr coughed. “I was drowned as a boy,” he said, “and my son upon his name day.”

  Aeron snorted. That Steffarion Sparr had been given to the Drowned God soon after birth he had no doubt. He knew the manner of it too, a quick dip into a tub of seawater that scarce wet the infant’s head. Small wonder the ironborn had been conquered, they who once held sway everywhere the sound of waves was heard. “That is no true drowning,” he told the riders. “He that does not die in truth cannot hope to rise from death. Why have you come, if not to prove your faith?”

  “Lord Gorold’s son came seeking you, with news.” The Sparr indicated the youth in the red cloak.

  The boy looked to be no more than six-and-ten. “Aye, and which are you?” Aeron demanded.

  “Gormond. Gormond Goodbrother, if it please my lord.”

  “It is the Drowned God we must please. Have you been drowned, Gormond Goodbrother?”

  “On my name day, Damphair. My father sent me to find you and bring you to him. He needs to see you.”

  “Here I stand. Let Lord Gorold come and feast his eyes.” Aeron took a leather skin from Rus, freshly filled with water from the sea. The priest pulled out the cork and took a swallow.

  “I am to bring you to the keep,” insisted young Gormond, from atop his horse.

  He is afraid to dismount, lest he get his boots wet. “I have the god’s work to do.” Aeron Greyjoy was a prophet. He did not suffer petty lords ordering him about like some thrall.

  “Gorold’s had a bird,” said the Sparr.

  “A maester’s bird, from Pyke,” Gormond confirmed.

  Dark wings, dark words. “The ravens fly o’er salt and stone. If there are tidings that concern me, speak them now.”

  “Such tidings as we bear are for your ears alone, Damphair,” the Sparr said. “These are not matters I would speak of here before these others.”

  “These others are my drowned men, god’s servants, just as I am. I have no secrets from them, nor from our god, beside whose holy sea I stand.”

  The horsemen exchanged a look. “Tell him,” said the Sparr, and the youth in the red cloak summoned up his courage. “The king is dead,” he said, as plain as that. Four small words, yet the sea itself trembled when he uttered them.

  Four kings there were in Westeros, yet Aeron did not need to ask which one was meant. Balon Greyjoy ruled the Iron Islands, and no other. The king is dead. How can that be? Aeron had seen his eldest brother not a moon’s turn past, when he had returned to the Iron Islands from harrying the Stony Shore. Balon’s grey hair had gone half-white whilst the priest had been away, and the stoop in his shoulders was more pronounced than when the longships sailed. Yet all in all the king had not seemed ill.

  Aeron Greyjoy had built his life upon two mighty pillars. Those four small words had knocked one down. Only the Drowned God remains to me. May he make me as strong and tireless as the sea. “Tell me the manner of my brother’s death.”

  “His Grace was crossing a bridge at Pyke when he fell and was dashed upon the rocks below.”

  The Greyjoy stronghold stood upon a broken headland, its keeps and towers built atop massive stone stacks that thrust up from the sea. Bridges knotted Pyke together; arched bridges of carved stone and swaying spans of hempen rope and wooden planks. “Was the storm raging when he fell?” Aeron demanded of them.

  “Aye,” the youth said, “it was.”

  “The Storm God cast him down,” the priest announced. For a thousand thousand years sea and sky had been at war. From the sea had come the ironborn, and the fish that sustained them even in the depths of winter, but storms brought only woe and grief. “My brother Balon made us great again, which earned the Storm God’s wrath. He feasts now in the Drowned God’s watery halls, with mermaids to attend his every want. It shall be for us who remain behind in this dry and dismal vale to finish his great work.” He pushed the cork back into his waterskin. “I shall speak with your lord father. How far from here to Hammerhorn?”

  “Six leagues. You may ride pillion with me.”

  “One can ride faster than two. Give me your horse, and the Drowned God will bless you.”

  “Take my horse, Damphair,” offered Steffarion Sparr.

  “No. His mount is stronger. Your horse, boy.”

 
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