A feast for crows, p.30
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       A Feast for Crows, p.30

         Part #4 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
 

  for a fool.”

  “I’m a fool,” Shagwell announced happily.

  “The wrong fool,” blurted Brienne. “The one I want is with a highborn girl, the daughter of Lord Stark of Winterfell.”

  “Then it’s the Hound you want,” said Timeon. “He’s not here neither, as it happens. Just us.”

  “Sandor Clegane?” said Brienne. “What do you mean?”

  “He’s the one that’s got the Stark girl. The way I hear it, she was making for Riverrun, and he stole her. Damned dog.”

  Riverrun, thought Brienne. She was making for Riverrun. For her uncles. “How do you know?”

  “Had it from one of Beric’s bunch. The lightning lord is looking for her too. He’s sent his men all up and down the Trident, sniffing after her. We chanced on three of them after Harrenhal, and winkled the tale from one before he died.”

  “He might have lied.”

  “He might have, but he didn’t. Later on, we heard how the Hound slew three of his brother’s men at an inn by the crossroads. The girl was with him there. The innkeep swore to it before Rorge killed him, and the whores said the same. An ugly bunch, they were. Not so ugly as you, mind you, but still…”

  He is trying to distract me, Brienne realized, to lull me with his voice. Pyg was edging closer. Shagwell took a hop toward her. She backed away from them. They will back me off the cliff if I let them. “Stay away,” she warned them.

  “I think I’m going to fuck you up the nose, wench,” Shagwell announced. “Won’t that be amusing?”

  “He has a very small cock,” Timeon explained. “Drop that pretty sword and might be we’ll go gentle on you, woman. We need gold to pay these smugglers, that’s all.”

  “And if I give you gold, you’ll let us go?”

  “We will.” Timeon smiled. “Once you’ve fucked the lot of us. We’ll pay you like a proper whore. A silver for each fuck. Or else we’ll take the gold and rape you anyway, and do you like the Mountain did Lord Vargo. What’s your choice?”

  “This.” Brienne threw herself toward Pyg.

  He jerked his broken blade up to protect his face, but as he went high she went low. Oathkeeper bit through leather, wool, skin, and muscle, into the sellsword’s thigh. Pyg cut back wildly as his leg went out from under him. His broken sword scraped against her chain mail before he landed on his back. Brienne stabbed him through the throat, gave the blade a hard turn, and slid it out, whirling just as Timeon’s spear came flashing past her face. I did not flinch, she thought, as blood ran red down her cheek. Did you see, Ser Goodwin? She hardly felt the cut.

  “Your turn,” she told Timeon, as the Dornishman pulled out a second spear, shorter and thicker than the first. “Throw it.”

  “So you can dance away and charge me? I’d end up dead as Pyg. No. Get her, Shags.”

  “You get her,” Shagwell said. “Did you see what she did to Pyg? She’s mad with moon blood.” The fool was behind her, Timeon in front. No matter how she turned, one was at her back.

  “Get her,” urged Timeon, “and you can fuck her corpse.”

  “Oh, you do love me.” The morningstar was whirling. Choose one, Brienne told herself. Choose one and kill him quickly. Then a stone came out of nowhere, and hit Shagwell in the head. Brienne did not hesitate. She flew at Timeon.

  He was better than Pyg, but he had only a short throwing spear, and she had a Valyrian steel blade. Oathkeeper was alive in her hands. She had never been so quick. The blade became a grey blur. He wounded her in the shoulder as she came at him, but she slashed off his ear and half his cheek, hacked the head off his spear, and put a foot of rippled steel into his belly through the links of the chain mail byrnie he was wearing.

  Timeon was still trying to fight as she pulled her blade from him, its fullers running red with blood. He clawed at his belt and came up with a dagger, so Brienne cut his hand off. That one was for Jaime. “Mother have mercy,” the Dornishman gasped, the blood bubbling from his mouth and spurting from his wrist. “Finish it. Send me back to Dorne, you bloody bitch.”

  She did.

  Shagwell was on his knees when she turned, looking dazed as he fumbled for the morningstar. As he staggered to his feet, another stone slammed him in the ear. Podrick had climbed the fallen wall and was standing amongst the ivy glowering, a fresh rock in his hand. “I told you I could fight!” he shouted down.

  Shagwell tried to crawl away. “I yield,” the fool cried, “I yield. You mustn’t hurt sweet Shagwell, I’m too droll to die.”

  “You are no better than the rest of them. You have robbed and raped and murdered.”

  “Oh, I have, I have, I shan’t deny it… but I’m amusing, with all my japes and capers. I make men laugh.”

  “And women weep.”

  “Is that my fault? Women have no sense of humor.”

  Brienne lowered Oathkeeper. “Dig a grave. There, beneath the weirwood.” She pointed with her blade.

  “I have no spade.”

  “You have two hands.” One more than you left Jaime.

  “Why bother? Leave them for the crows.”

  “Timeon and Pyg can feed the crows. Nimble Dick will have a grave. He was a Crabb. This is his place.”

  The ground was soft from rain, but even so it took the fool the rest of the day to dig down deep enough. Night was falling by the time he was done, and his hands were bloody and blistered. Brienne sheathed Oathkeeper, gathered up Dick Crabb, and carried him to the hole. His face was hard to look on. “I’m sorry that I never trusted you. I don’t know how to do that anymore.”

  As she knelt to lay the body down, she thought, The fool will make his try now, whilst my back is turned.

  She heard his ragged breathing half a heartbeat before Podrick cried out his warning. Shagwell had a jagged chunk of rock clutched in one hand. Brienne had her dagger up her sleeve.

  A dagger will beat a rock almost every time.

  She knocked aside his arm and punched the steel into his bowels. “Laugh,” she snarled at him. He moaned instead. “Laugh,” she repeated, grabbing his throat with one hand and stabbing at his belly with the other. “Laugh!” She kept saying it, over and over, until her hand was red up to the wrist and the stink of the fool’s dying was like to choke her. But Shagwell never laughed. The sobs that Brienne heard were all her own. When she realized that, she threw down her knife and shuddered.

  Podrick helped her lower Nimble Dick into his hole. By the time they were done the moon was rising. Brienne rubbed the dirt from her hands and tossed two dragons down into the grave.

  “Why did you do that, my lady? Ser?” asked Pod.

  “It was the reward I promised him for finding me the fool.”

  Laughter sounded from behind them. She ripped Oathkeeper from her sheath and whirled, expecting more Bloody Mummers… but it was only Hyle Hunt atop the crumbling wall, his legs crossed. “If there are brothels down in hell, the wretch will thank you,” the knight called down. “Elsewise, that’s a waste of good gold.”

  “I keep my promises. What are you doing here?”

  “Lord Randyll bid me follow you. If by some freak’s chance you stumbled onto Sansa Stark, he told me to bring her back to Maidenpool. Have no fear, I was commanded not to harm you.”

  Brienne snorted. “As if you could.”

  “What will you do now, my lady?”

  “Cover him.”

  “About the girl, I meant. The Lady Sansa.”

  Brienne thought a moment. “She was making for Riverrun, if Timeon told it true. Somewhere along the way she was taken by the Hound. If I find him…”

  “… he’ll kill you.”

  “Or I’ll kill him,” she said stubbornly. “Will you help me cover up poor Crabb, ser?”

  “No true knight could refuse such beauty.” Ser Hyle climbed down from the wall. Together, they shoved the dirt on top of Nimble Dick as the moon rose higher in the sky, and down below the ground the heads of forgotten kings whispered secrets.

  TH
E QUEENMAKER

  Beneath the burning sun of Dorne, wealth was measured as much in water as in gold, so every well was zealously guarded. The well at Shandystone had gone dry a hundred years before, however, and its guardians had departed for some wetter place, abandoning their modest holdfast with its fluted columns and triple arches. Afterward the sands had crept back in to reclaim their own.

  Arianne Martell arrived with Drey and Sylva just as the sun was going down, with the west a tapestry of gold and purple and the clouds all glowing crimson. The ruins seemed aglow as well; the fallen columns glimmered pinkly, red shadows crept across the cracked stone floors, and the sands themselves turned from gold to orange to purple as the light faded. Garin had arrived a few hours earlier, and the knight called Darkstar the day before.

  “It is lovely here,” Drey observed as he was helping Garin water the horses. They had carried their own water with them. The sand steeds of Dorne were swift and tireless, and would keep going for long leagues after other horses had given out, but even such as they could not run dry. “How did you know of this place?”

  “My uncle brought me here, with Tyene and Sarella.” The memory made Arianne smile. “He caught some vipers and showed Tyene the safest way to milk them for their venom. Sarella turned over rocks, brushed sand off the mosaics, and wanted to know everything there was to know about the people who had lived here.”

  “And what did you do, princess?” asked Spotted Sylva.

  I sat beside the well and pretended that some robber knight had brought me here to have his way with me, she thought, a tall hard man with black eyes and a widow’s peak. The memory made her uneasy. “I dreamed,” she said, “and when the sun went down I sat cross-legged at my uncle’s feet and begged him for a story.”

  “Prince Oberyn was full of stories.” Garin had been with them as well that day; he was Arianne’s milk brother, and they had been inseparable since before they learned to walk. “He told about Prince Garin, I remember, the one that I was named for.”

  “Garin the Great,” offered Drey, “the wonder of the Rhoyne.”

  “That’s the one. He made Valyria tremble.”

  “They trembled,” said Ser Gerold, “then they killed him. If I led a quarter of a million men to death, would they call me Gerold the Great?” He snorted. “I shall remain Darkstar, I think. At least it is mine own.” He unsheathed his longsword, sat upon the lip of the dry well, and began to hone the blade with an oilstone.

  Arianne watched him warily. He is highborn enough to make a worthy consort, she thought. Father would question my good sense, but our children would be as beautiful as dragonlords. If there was a handsomer man in Dorne, she did not know him. Ser Gerold Dayne had an aquiline nose, high cheekbones, a strong jaw. He kept his face clean-shaven, but his thick hair fell to his collar like a silver glacier, divided by a streak of midnight black. He has a cruel mouth, though, and a crueler tongue. His eyes seemed black as he sat outlined against the dying sun, sharpening his steel, but she had looked at them from a closer vantage and she knew that they were purple. Dark purple. Dark and angry.

  He must have felt her gaze upon him, for he looked up from his sword, met her eyes, and smiled. Arianne felt heat rushing to her face. I should never have brought him. If he gives me such a look when Arys is here, we will have blood on the sand. Whose, she could not say. By tradition the Kingsguard were the finest knights in all the Seven Kingdoms… but Darkstar was Darkstar.

  The Dornish nights grow cold out upon the sands. Garin gathered wood for them, bleached white branches from trees that had withered up and died a hundred years ago. Drey built a fire, whistling as he struck sparks off his flint.

  Once the kindling caught, they sat around the flames and passed a skin of summerwine from hand to hand… all but Darkstar, who preferred to drink unsweetened lemonwater. Garin was in a lively mood and entertained them with the latest tales from the Planky Town at the mouth of the Greenblood, where the orphans of the river came to trade with the carracks, cogs, and galleys from across the narrow sea. If the sailors could be believed, the east was seething with wonders and terrors: a slave revolt in Astapor, dragons in Qarth, grey plague in Yi Ti. A new corsair king had risen in the Basilisk Isles and raided Tall Trees Town, and in Qohor followers of the red priests had rioted and tried to burn down the Black Goat. “And the Golden Company broke its contract with Myr, just as the Myrmen were about to go to war with Lys.”

  “The Lyseni bought them off,” suggested Sylva.

  “Clever Lyseni,” Drey said. “Clever, craven Lyseni.”

  Arianne knew better. If Quentyn has the Golden Company behind him… “Beneath the gold the bitter steel,” was their cry. You will need bitter steel and more, brother, if you think to set me aside. Arianne was loved in Dorne, Quentyn little known. No company of sellswords could change that.

  Ser Gerold rose. “I believe I’ll have a piss.”

  “Watch where you set your feet,” Drey cautioned. “It has been a while since Prince Oberyn milked the local vipers.”

  “I was weaned on venom, Dalt. Any viper takes a bite of me will rue it.” Ser Gerold vanished through a broken arch.

  When he was gone, the others exchanged glances. “Forgive me, princess,” said Garin softly, “but I do not like that man.”

  “A pity,” Drey said. “I believe he’s half in love with you.”

  “We need him,” Arianne reminded them. “It may be that we will need his sword, and we will surely need his castle.”

  “High Hermitage is not the only castle in Dorne,” Spotted Sylva pointed out, “and you have other knights who love you well. Drey is a knight.”

  “I am,” he affirmed. “I have a wonderful horse and a very fine sword, and my valor is second to… well, several, actually.”

  “More like several hundred, ser,” said Garin.

  Arianne left them to their banter. Drey and Spotted Sylva were her dearest friends, aside from her cousin Tyene, and Garin had been teasing her since both of them were drinking from his mother’s teats, but just now she was in no mood for japery. The sun was gone, and the sky was full of stars. So many. She leaned her back against a fluted pillar and wondered if her brother was looking at the same stars tonight, wherever he might be. Do you see the white one, Quentyn? That is Nymeria’s star, burning bright, and that milky band behind her, those are ten thousand ships. She burned as bright as any man, and so shall I. You will not rob me of my birthright!

  Quentyn had been very young when he was sent to Yronwood; too young, according to their mother. Norvoshi did not foster out their children, and Lady Mellario had never forgiven Prince Doran for taking her son away from her. “I like it no more than you do,” Arianne had overheard her father say, “but there is a blood debt, and Quentyn is the only coin Lord Ormond will accept.”

  “Coin?” her mother had screamed. “He is your son. What sort of father uses his own flesh and blood to pay his debts?”

  “The princely sort,” Doran Martell had answered.

  Prince Doran was still pretending that her brother was with Lord Yronwood, but Garin’s mother had seen him at the Planky Town, posing as a merchant. One of his companions had a lazy eye, the same as Cletus Yronwood, Lord Anders’s randy son. A maester traveled with them too, a maester skilled in tongues. My brother is not as clever as he thinks. A clever man would have left from Oldtown, even if it meant a longer voyage. In Oldtown he might have gone unrecognized. Arianne had friends amongst the orphans of the Planky Town, and some had grown curious as to why a prince and a lord’s son might be traveling under false names and seeking passage across the narrow sea. One of them had crept through a window of a night, tickled the lock on Quentyn’s little strongbox, and found the scrolls within.

  Arianne would have given much and more to know that this secret trip across the narrow sea was Quentyn’s own doing, and his alone… but parchments he had carried had been sealed with the sun and spear of Dorne. Garin’s cousin had not dared break the seal to read them, b
ut…

  “Princess.” Ser Gerold Dayne stood behind her, half in starlight and half in shadow.

  “How was your piss?” Arianne inquired archly.

  “The sands were duly grateful.” Dayne put a foot upon the head of a statue that might have been the Maiden till the sands had scoured her face away. “It occurred to me as I was pissing that this plan of yours may not yield you what you want.”

  “And what is it I want, ser?”

  “The Sand Snakes freed. Vengeance for Oberyn and Elia. Do I know the song? You want a little taste of lion blood.”

  That, and my birthright. I want Sunspear, and my father’s seat. I want Dorne. “I want justice.”

  “Call it what you will. Crowning the Lannister girl is a hollow gesture. She will never sit the Iron Throne. Nor will you get the war you want. The lion is not so easily provoked.”

  “The lion’s dead. Who knows which cub the lioness prefers?”

  “The one in her own den.” Ser Gerold drew his sword. It glimmered in the starlight, sharp as lies. “This is how you start a war. Not with a crown of gold, but with a blade of steel.”

  I am no murderer of children. “Put that away. Myrcella is under my protection. And Ser Arys will permit no harm to come to his precious princess, you know that.”

  “No, my lady. What I know is that Daynes have been killing Oakhearts for several thousand years.”

  His arrogance took her breath away. “It seems to me that Oakhearts have been killing Daynes for just as long.”

  “We all have our family traditions.” Darkstar sheathed his sword. “The moon is rising, and I see your paragon approaching.”

  His eyes were sharp. The horseman on the tall grey palfrey did indeed prove to be Ser Arys, white cloak fluttering bravely as he spurred across the sand. Princess Myrcella rode pillion behind him, swaddled in a cowled robe that hid her golden curls.

  As Ser Arys helped her from the saddle, Drey went to one knee before her. “Your Grace.”

  “My lady liege.” Spotted Sylva knelt beside him.

  “My queen, I am your man.” Garin dropped to both knees.

  Confused, Myrcella clutched Arys Oakheart by the arm. “Why do they call me Grace?” she asked in a plaintive voice. “Ser Arys, what is this place, and who are they?”

  Has he told her nought? Arianne moved forward in a swirl of silk, smiling to put the child at ease. “They are my true and loyal friends, Your Grace… and would be your friends as well.”

  “Princess Arianne?” The girl threw her arms around her. “Why do they call me queen? Did something bad happen to Tommen?”

  “He fell in with evil men, Your Grace,” Arianne said, “and I fear they have conspired with him to steal your throne.”

  “My throne? You mean, the Iron Throne?” The girl was more confused than ever. “He never stole that, Tommen is…”

  “… younger than you, surely?”

  “I am older by a year.”

  “That means the Iron Throne by rights is yours,” Arianne said. “Your brother is only a little boy, you must not blame him. He has bad counselors… but you have friends. May I have the honor of presenting them?” She took the child by the hand. “Your Grace, I give you Ser Andrey Dalt, the heir to Lemonwood.”

  “My friends call me Drey,” he said, “and I should be greatly honored if Your Grace would do the same.”

  Though Drey had an open face and an easy smile, Myrcella regarded him warily. “Until I know you I must call you ser.”

  “Whatever name Your Grace prefers, I am her man.”

  Sylva cleared her throat, till Arianne said, “Might I present Lady Sylva Santagar, my queen? My dearest Spotted Sylva.”

  “Why do they call you that?” Myrcella asked.

  “For my freckles, Your Grace,” Sylva answered, “though they all pretend it is because I am the heir to Spottswood.”

  Garin was next, a loose-limbed, swarthy, long-nosed fellow with a jade stud in one ear. “Here is gay Garin of the orphans, who makes me laugh,” said Arianne. “His mother was my wet nurse.”

  “I am sorry she is dead,” Myrcella said.

  “She’s not, sweet queen.” Garin flashed the golden tooth Arianne had bought him to replace the one she’d broken. “I’m of the orphans of the Greenblood, is what my lady means.”

  Myrcella would have time enough to learn the history of the orphans on her voyage up the river. Arianne led her queen-to-be to the final member of her little band. “Last, but first in valor, I give you Ser Gerold Dayne, a knight of Starfall.”

  Ser Gerold went to one knee. The moonlight shone in his dark eyes as he studied the child coolly.

  “There was an Arthur Dayne,” Myrcella said. “He was a knight of the
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