A feast for crows, p.3
A Feast for Crows, p.3Part #4 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
The youth hesitated half a heartbeat, then dismounted and held the reins for the Damphair. Aeron shoved a bare black foot into a stirrup and swung himself onto the saddle. He was not fond of horses — they were creatures from the green lands and helped to make men weak — but necessity required that he ride. Dark wings, dark words. A storm was brewing, he could hear it in the waves, and storms brought naught but evil. “Meet with me at Pebbleton beneath Lord Merlyn’s tower,” he told his drowned men, as he turned the horse’s head.
The way was rough, up hills and woods and stony defiles, along a narrow track that oft seemed to disappear beneath the horse’s hooves. Great Wyk was the largest of the Iron Islands, so vast that some of its lords had holdings that did not front upon the holy sea. Gorold Goodbrother was one such. His keep was in the Hardstone Hills, as far from the Drowned God’s realm as any place in the isles. Gorold’s folk toiled down in Gorold’s mines, in the stony dark beneath the earth. Some lived and died without setting eyes upon salt water. Small wonder that such folk are crabbed and queer.
As Aeron rode, his thoughts turned to his brothers.
Nine sons had been born from the loins of Quellon Greyjoy, the Lord of the Iron Islands. Harlon, Quenton, and Donel had been born of Lord Quellon’s first wife, a woman of the Stonetrees. Balon, Euron, Victarion, Urrigon, and Aeron were the sons of his second, a Sunderly of Saltcliffe. For a third wife Quellon took a girl from the green lands, who gave him a sickly idiot boy named Robin, the brother best forgotten. The priest had no memory of Quenton or Donel, who had died as infants. Harlon he recalled but dimly, sitting grey-faced and still in a windowless tower room and speaking in whispers that grew fainter every day as the greyscale turned his tongue and lips to stone. One day we shall feast on fish together in the Drowned God’s watery halls, the four of us and Urri too.
Nine sons had been born from the loins of Quellon Greyjoy, but only four had lived to manhood. That was the way of this cold world, where men fished the sea and dug in the ground and died, whilst women brought forth short-lived children from beds of blood and pain. Aeron had been the last and least of the four krakens, Balon the eldest and boldest, a fierce and fearless boy who lived only to restore the ironborn to their ancient glory. At ten he scaled the Flint Cliffs to the Blind Lord’s haunted tower. At thirteen he could run a longship’s oars and dance the finger dance as well as any man in the isles. At fifteen he had sailed with Dagmer Cleftjaw to the Stepstones and spent a summer reaving. He slew his first man there and took his first two salt wives. At seventeen Balon captained his own ship. He was all that an elder brother ought to be, though he had never shown Aeron aught but scorn. I was weak and full of sin, and scorn was more than I deserved. Better to be scorned by Balon the Brave than beloved of Euron Crow’s Eye. And if age and grief had turned Balon bitter with the years, they had also made him more determined than any man alive. He was born a lord’s son and died a king, murdered by a jealous god, Aeron thought, and now the storm is coming, a storm such as these isles have never known.
It was long after dark by the time the priest espied the spiky iron battlements of the Hammerhorn clawing at the crescent moon. Gorold’s keep was hulking and blocky, its great stones quarried from the cliff that loomed behind it. Below its walls, the entrances of caves and ancient mines yawned like toothless black mouths. The Hammerhorn’s iron gates had been closed and barred for the night. Aeron beat on them with a rock until the clanging woke a guard.
The youth who admitted him was the image of Gormond, whose horse he’d taken. “Which one are you?” Aeron demanded.
“Gran. My father awaits you within.”
The hall was dank and drafty, full of shadows. One of Gorold’s daughters offered the priest a horn of ale. Another poked at a sullen fire that was giving off more smoke than heat. Gorold Goodbrother himself was talking quietly with a slim man in fine grey robes, who wore about his neck a chain of many metals that marked him for a maester of the Citadel.
“Where is Gormond?” Gorold asked when he saw Aeron.
“He returns afoot. Send your women away, my lord. And the maester as well.” He had no love of maesters. Their ravens were creatures of the Storm God, and he did not trust their healing, not since Urri. No proper man would choose a life of thralldom, nor forge a chain of servitude to wear about his throat.
“Gysella, Gwin, leave us,” Goodbrother said curtly. “You as well, Gran. Maester Murenmure will stay.”
“He will go,” insisted Aeron.
“This is my hall, Damphair. It is not for you to say who must go and who remains. The maester stays.”
The man lives too far from the sea, Aeron told himself. “Then I shall go,” he told Goodbrother. Dry rushes rustled underneath the cracked soles of his bare black feet as he turned and stalked away. It seemed he had ridden a long way for naught.
Aeron was almost at the door when the maester cleared his throat, and said, “Euron Crow’s Eye sits the Seastone Chair.”
The Damphair turned. The hall had suddenly grown colder. The Crow’s Eye is half a world away. Balon sent him off two years ago, and swore that it would be his life if he returned. “Tell me,” he said hoarsely.
“He sailed into Lordsport the day after the king’s death, and claimed the castle and the crown as Balon’s eldest brother,” said Gorold Goodbrother. “Now he sends forth ravens, summoning the captains and the kings from every isle to Pyke, to bend their knees and do him homage as their king.”
“No.” Aeron Damphair did not weigh his words. “Only a godly man may sit the Seastone Chair. The Crow’s Eye worships naught but his own pride.”
“You were on Pyke not long ago, and saw the king,” said Goodbrother. “Did Balon say aught to you of the succession?”
Aye. They had spoken in the Sea Tower, as the wind howled outside the windows and the waves crashed restlessly below. Balon had shaken his head in despair when he heard what Aeron had to tell him of his last remaining son. “The wolves have made a weakling of him, as I feared,” the king had said. “I pray god that they killed him, so he cannot stand in Asha’s way.” That was Balon’s blindness; he saw himself in his wild, headstrong daughter, and believed she could succeed him. He was wrong in that, and Aeron tried to tell him so. “No woman will ever rule the ironborn, not even a woman such as Asha,” he insisted, but Balon could be deaf to things he did not wish to hear.
Before the priest could answer Gorold Goodbrother, the maester’s mouth flapped open once again. “By rights the Seastone Chair belongs to Theon, or Asha if the prince is dead. That is the law.”
“Green land law,” said Aeron with contempt. “What is that to us? We are ironborn, the sons of the sea, chosen of the Drowned God. No woman may rule over us, nor any godless man.”
“And Victarion?” asked Gorold Goodbrother. “He has the Iron Fleet. Will Victarion make a claim, Damphair?”
“Euron is the elder brother…” began the maester.
Aeron silenced him with a look. In little fishing towns and great stone keeps alike such a look from Damphair would make maids feel faint and send children shrieking to their mothers, and it was more than sufficient to quell the chain-neck thrall. “Euron is elder,” the priest said, “but Victarion is more godly.”
“Will it come to war between them?” asked the maester.
“Ironborn must not spill the blood of ironborn.”
“A pious sentiment, Damphair,” said Goodbrother, “but not one that your brother shares. He had Sawane Botley drowned for saying that the Seastone Chair by rights belonged to Theon.”
“If he was drowned, no blood was shed,” said Aeron.
The maester and the lord exchanged a look. “I must send word to Pyke, and soon,” said Gorold Goodbrother. “Damphair, I would have your counsel. What shall it be, homage or defiance?”
Aeron tugged his beard, and thought. I have seen the storm, and its name is Euron Crow’s Eye. “For now, send only silence,” he told the lord. “I must pray on this.”
“Silence!” Aeron roared. “Too long have the ironborn listened to you chain-neck maesters prating of the green lands and their laws. It is time we listened to the sea again. It is time we listened to the voice of god.” His own voice rang in that smoky hall, so full of power that neither Gorold Goodbrother nor his maester dared a reply. The Drowned God is with me, Aeron thought. He has shown me the way.
Goodbrother offered him the comforts of the castle for the night, but the priest declined. He seldom slept beneath a castle roof, and never so far from the sea. “Comforts I shall know in the Drowned God’s watery halls beneath the waves. We are born to suffer, that our sufferings might make us strong. All that I require is a fresh horse to carry me to Pebbleton.”
That Goodbrother was pleased to provide. He sent his son Greydon as well, to show the priest the shortest way through the hills down to the sea. Dawn was still an hour off when they set forth, but their mounts were hardy and surefooted, and they made good time despite the darkness. Aeron closed his eyes and said a silent prayer, and after a while began to drowse in the saddle.
The sound came softly, the scream of a rusted hinge. “Urri,” he muttered, and woke, fearful. There is no hinge here, no door, no Urri. A flying axe took off half of Urri’s hand when he was ten-and-four, playing at the finger dance whilst his father and his elder brothers were away at war. Lord Quellon’s third wife had been a Piper of Pinkmaiden Castle, a girl with big soft breasts and brown doe’s eyes. Instead of healing Urri’s hand the Old Way, with fire and seawater, she gave him to her green land maester, who swore that he could sew back the missing fingers. He did that, and later he used potions and poltices and herbs, but the hand mortified and Urri took a fever. By the time the maester sawed his arm off, it was too late.
Lord Quellon never returned from his last voyage; the Drowned God in his goodness granted him a death at sea. It was Lord Balon who came back, with his brothers Euron and Victarion. When Balon heard what had befallen Urri, he removed three of the maester’s fingers with a cook’s cleaver and sent his father’s Piper wife to sew them back on. Poltices and potions worked as well for the maester as they had for Urrigon. He died raving, and Lord Quellon’s third wife followed soon thereafter, as the midwife drew a stillborn daughter from her womb. Aeron had been glad. It had been his axe that sheared off Urri’s hand, whilst they danced the finger dance together, as friends and brothers will.
It shamed him still to recall the years that followed Urri’s death. At six-and-ten he called himself a man, but in truth he had been a sack of wine with legs. He would sing, he would dance (but not the finger dance, never again), he would jape and jabber and make mock. He played the pipes, he juggled, he rode horses, and could drink more than all the Wynches and the Botleys, and half the Harlaws too. The Drowned God gives every man a gift, even him; no man could piss longer or farther than Aeron Greyjoy, as he proved at every feast. Once he bet his new longship against a herd of goats that he could quench a hearthfire with no more than his cock. Aeron feasted on goat for a year, and named the longship Golden Storm, though Balon threatened to hang him from her mast when he heard what sort of ram his brother proposed to mount upon her prow.
In the end the Golden Storm went down off Fair Isle during Balon’s first rebellion, cut in half by a towering war galley called Fury when Stannis Baratheon caught Victarion in his trap and smashed the Iron Fleet. Yet the god was not done with Aeron, and carried him to shore. Some fishermen took him captive and marched him down to Lannisport in chains, and he spent the rest of the war in the bowels of Casterly Rock, proving that krakens can piss farther and longer than lions, boars, or chickens.
That man is dead. Aeron had drowned and been reborn from the sea, the god’s own prophet. No mortal man could frighten him, no more than the darkness could… nor memories, the bones of the soul. The sound of a door opening, the scream of a rusted iron hinge. Euron has come again. It did not matter. He was the Damphair priest, beloved of the god.
“Will it come to war?” asked Greydon Goodbrother as the sun was lightening the hills. “A war of brother against brother?”
“If the Drowned God wills it. No godless man may sit the Seastone Chair.” The Crow’s Eye will fight, that is certain. No woman could defeat him, not even Asha; women were made to fight their battles in the birthing bed. And Theon, if he lived, was just as hopeless, a boy of sulks and smiles. At Winterfell he proved his worth, such that it was, but the Crow’s Eye was no crippled boy. The decks of Euron’s ship were painted red, to better hide the blood that soaked them. Victarion. The king must be Victarion, or the storm will slay us all.
Greydon left him when the sun was up, to take the news of Balon’s death to his cousins in their towers at Downdelving, Crow Spike Keep, and Corpse Lake. Aeron continued on alone, up hills and down vales along a stony track that drew wider and more traveled as he neared the sea. In every village he paused to preach, and in the yards of petty lords as well. “We were born from the sea, and to the sea we all return,” he told them. His voice was as deep as the ocean, and thundered like the waves. “The Storm God in his wrath plucked Balon from his castle and cast him down, and now he feasts beneath the waves in the Drowned God’s watery halls.” He raised his hands. “Balon is dead! The king is dead! Yet a king will come again! For what is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger! A king will rise!”
Some of those who heard him threw down their hoes and picks to follow, so by the time he heard the crash of waves a dozen men walked behind his horse, touched by god and desirous of drowning.
Pebbleton was home to several thousand fisherfolk, whose hovels huddled round the base of a square towerhouse with a turret at each corner. Twoscore of Aeron’s drowned men there awaited him, camped along a grey sand beach in sealskin tents and shelters built of driftwood. Their hands were roughened by brine, scarred by nets and lines, callused from oars and picks and axes, but now those hands gripped driftwood cudgels hard as iron, for the god had armed them from his arsenal beneath the sea.
They had built a shelter for the priest just above the tideline. Gladly he crawled into it, after he had drowned his newest followers. My god, he prayed, speak to me in the rumble of the waves, and tell me what to do. The captains and the kings await your word. Who shall be our king in Balon’s place? Sing to me in the language of leviathan, that I may know his name. Tell me, O Lord beneath the waves, who has the strength to fight the storm on Pyke?
Though his ride to Hammerhorn had left him weary, Aeron Damphair was restless in his driftwood shelter, roofed over with black weeds from the sea. The clouds rolled in to cloak the moon and stars, and the darkness lay as thick upon the sea as it did upon his soul. Balon favored Asha, the child of his body, but a woman cannot rule the ironborn. It must be Victarion. Nine sons had been born from the loins of Quellon Greyjoy, and Victarion was the strongest of them, a bull of a man, fearless and dutiful. And therein lies our danger. A younger brother owes obedience to an elder, and Victarion was not a man to sail against tradition. He has no love for Euron, though. Not since the woman died.
Outside, beneath the snoring of his drowned men and the keening of the wind, he could hear the pounding of the waves, the hammer of his god calling him to battle. Aeron crept from his little shelter into the chill of the night. Naked he stood, pale and gaunt and tall, and naked he walked into the black salt sea. The water was icy cold, yet he did not flinch from his god’s caress. A wave smashed against his chest, staggering him. The next broke over his head. He could taste the salt on his lips and feel the god around him, and his ears rang with the glory of his song. Nine sons were born from the loins of Quellon Greyjoy, and I was the least of them, as weak and frightened as a girl. But no longer. That man is drowned, and the god has made me strong. The cold salt sea surrounded him, embraced him, reached down through his weak man’s flesh and touched his bones. Bones, he tho
And gaunt and pale and shivering, Aeron Damphair struggled back to the shore, a wiser man than he had been when he stepped into the sea. For he had found the answer in his bones, and the way was plain before him. The night was so cold that his body seemed to steam as he stalked back toward his shelter, but there was a fire burning in his heart, and sleep came easily for once, unbroken by the scream of iron hinges.
When he woke the day was bright and windy. Aeron broke his fast on a broth of clams and seaweed cooked above a driftwood fire. No sooner had he finished than the Merlyn descended from his towerhouse with half a dozen guards to seek him out. “The king is dead,” the Damphair told him.
“Aye. I had a bird. And now another.” The Merlyn was a bald round fleshy man who styled himself “Lord” in the manner of the green lands, and dressed in furs and velvets. “One raven summons me to Pyke, another to Ten Towers. You krakens have too many arms, you pull a man to pieces. What say you, priest? Where should I send my longships?”
Aeron scowled. “Ten Towers, do you say? What kraken calls you there?” Ten Towers was the seat of the Lord of Harlaw.
“The Princess Asha. She has set her sails for home. The Reader sends out ravens, summoning all her friends to Harlaw. He says that Balon meant for her to sit the Seastone Chair.”
“The Drowned God shall decide who sits the Seastone Chair,” the priest said. “Kneel, that I might bless you.” Lord Merlyn sank to his knees, and Aeron uncorked his skin and poured a stream of seawater on his bald pate. “Lord God who drowned for us, let Meldred your servant be born again from the sea. Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel.” Water ran down Merlyn’s fat cheeks to soak his beard and fox-fur mantle. “What is dead may never die,” Aeron finished, “but rises again, harder and stronger.” But when Merlyn rose, he told him, “Stay and listen, that you may spread god’s word.”
Three feet from the water’s edge the waves broke around a rounded granite boulder. It was there that Aeron Damphair stood, so all his school might see him, and hear the words he had to say.
“We were born from the sea, and to the sea we all return,” he began, as he had a hundred times before. “The Storm God in his wrath plucked Balon from his castle and cast him down, and now he feasts beneath the waves.” He raised his hands. “The iron king is dead! Yet a king will come again! For what is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger!”
“A king shall rise!” the drowned men cried.
“He shall. He must. But who?” The Damphair listened a moment, but only the waves gave answer. “Who shall be our king?”
The drowned men began to slam their driftwood cudgels one against the other. “Damphair!” they cried. “Damphair King! Aeron King! Give us Damphair!”
Aeron shook his head. “If a father has two sons and gives to one an axe and to the other a net, which does he intend should be the warrior?”
“The axe is for the warrior,” Rus shouted back, “the net for a fisher of the seas.”
“Aye,” said Aeron. “The god took me deep beneath the waves and drowned the worthless thing I was. When he cast me forth again he gave me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a voice to spread his word, that I might be his prophet and teach his truth to those who have forgotten. I was not made to sit upon the Seastone Chair… no more than Euron Crow’s Eye. For I have heard the god, who says, No godless man may sit my Seastone Chair!”
The Merlyn crossed his arms against his chest. “Is it Asha, then? Or Victarion? Tell us, priest!”
“The Drowned God will tell you, but not here.” Aeron pointed at the Merlyn’s fat white face. “Look not to me, nor to the laws of men, but to the sea. Raise your sails and unship your oars, my lord, and take yourself to Old Wyk. You, and all the captains and the kings. Go not to Pyke, to bow before the godless, nor to Harlaw, to consort with scheming women. Point your prow toward Old Wyk, where stood the Grey King’s Hall. In the name of the Drowned God I summon you. I summon all of you! Leave your halls and hovels, your castles and your keeps, and return to Nagga’s hill to make a kingsmoot!”
The Merlyn gaped at him. “A kingsmoot? There has not been a true kingsmoot in…”
“… too long a time!” Aeron cried in anguish. “Yet in the dawn of days the ironborn chose their own kings, raising up the worthiest amongst them. It is time we returned to the Old Way, for only that shall make us great again. It was a kingsmoot that chose Urras Ironfoot for High King, and placed a driftwood crown upon his brows. Sylas Flatnose, Harrag Hoare, the Old Kraken, the kingsmoot raised them all. And from this kingsmoot shall emerge a man to finish the work King Balon has begun and win us back our freedoms. Go not to Pyke, nor to the Ten Towers of Harlaw, but to Old Wyk, I say again. Seek the hill of Nagga and the bones of the Grey King’s Hall, for in that holy place when the moon has drowned and come again we shall make ourselves a worthy king, a godly king.” He raised his bony hands on high again. “Listen! Listen to the waves! Listen to the god! He is speaking to us, and he says, We shall have no king but from the kingsmoot!”
A roar went up at that, and the drowned men beat their cudgels one against the other. “A kingsmoot!” they shouted. “A kingsmoot, a kingsmoot. No king but from the kingsmoot!” And the clamor that they made was so thunderous that surely the Crow’s Eye heard the shouts on Pyke, and the vile Storm God in his cloudy hall. And Aeron Damphair knew he had done well.
THE CAPTAIN OF GUARDS
“The blood oranges are well past ripe,” the prince observed in a weary voice, when the captain rolled him onto the terrace.
After that he did not speak again for hours.
It was true about the oranges. A few had fallen to burst open on the pale pink marble. The sharp sweet smell of them filled Hotah’s nostrils each time he took a breath. No doubt the prince could smell them too, as he sat beneath the trees in the rolling chair Maester Caleotte had made for him, with its goose-down cushions and rumbling wheels of ebony and iron.
For a long while the only sounds were the children splashing in the pools and fountains, and once a soft plop as another orange dropped onto the terrace to burst. Then, from the far side of the palace, the captain heard the faint drumbeat of boots on marble.
Obara. He knew her stride; long-legged, hasty, angry. In the stables by the gates, her horse would be lathered, and bloody from her spurs. She always rode stallions, and had been heard to boast that she could master any horse in Dorne… and any man as well. The captain could hear other footsteps as well, the quick soft scuffing of Maester Caleotte hurrying to keep up.
Obara Sand always walked too fast. She is chasing after something she can never catch, the prince had told his daughter once, in the captain’s hearing.
When she appeared beneath the triple arch, Areo Hotah swung his longaxe sideways to block the way. The head was on a shaft of mountain ash six feet long, so she could not go around. “My lady, no farther.” His voice was a bass grumble thick with the accents of Norvos. “The prince does not wish to be disturbed.”
Her face had been stone before he spoke; then it hardened. “You are in my way, Hotah.” Obara was the eldest Sand Snake, a big-boned woman near to thirty, with the close-set eyes and rat-brown hair of the Oldtown whore who’d birthed her. Beneath a mottled sandsilk cloak of dun and gold, her riding clothes were old brown leather, worn and supple. They were the softest things about her. On one hip she wore a coiled whip, across her back a round shield of steel and copper. She had left her spear outside. For that, Areo Hotah gave thanks. Quick and strong as she was, the woman was no match for him, he knew… but she did not, and he had no wish to see her blood upon the pale pink marble.
Maester Caleotte shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Lady Obara, I tried to tell you…”
“Does he know that my father is dead?” Obara asked the captain, pa
“He does,” the captain said. “He had a bird.”
Death had come to Dorne on raven wings, writ small and sealed with a blob of hard red wax. Caleotte must have sensed what was in that letter, for he’d given it Hotah to deliver. The prince thanked him, but for the longest time he would not break the seal. All afternoon he’d sat with the parchment in his lap, watching the children at their play. He watched until the sun went down and the evening air grew cool enough to drive them inside; then he watched the starlight on the water. It was moonrise before he sent Hotah to fetch a candle, so he might
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on72 votes