A feast for crows, p.33
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       A Feast for Crows, p.33

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

  spent her life serving Him of Many Faces. She gave Him all she was, all she ever might have been, all the lives that were within her.”

  Arya bit her lip. “Will I be like her?”

  “No,” he said, “not unless you wish it. It is the poisons that have made her as you see her.”

  Poisons. She understood then. Every evening after prayer the waif emptied a stone flagon into the waters of the black pool.

  The waif and kindly man were not the only servants of the Many-Faced God. From time to time others would visit the House of Black and White. The fat fellow had fierce black eyes, a hook nose, and a wide mouth full of yellow teeth. The stern face never smiled; his eyes were pale, his lips full and dark. The handsome man had a beard of a different color every time she saw him, and a different nose, but he was never less than comely. Those three came most often, but there were others: the squinter, the lordling, the starved man. One time the fat fellow and the squinter came together. Umma sent Arya to pour for them. “When you are not pouring, you must stand as still as if you had been carved of stone,” the kindly man told her. “Can you do that?”

  “Yes.” Before you can learn to move you must learn to be still, Syrio Forel had taught her long ago at King’s Landing, and she had. She had served as Roose Bolton’s cupbearer at Harrenhal, and he would flay you if you spilled his wine.

  “Good,” the kindly man said. “It would be best if you were blind and deaf as well. You may hear things, but you must let them pass in one ear and out the other. Do not listen.”

  Arya heard much and more that night, but almost all of it was in the tongue of Braavos, and she hardly understood one word in ten. Still as stone, she told herself. The hardest part was struggling not to yawn. Before the night was done, her wits were wandering. Standing there with the flagon in her hands, she dreamed she was a wolf, running free through a moonlit forest with a great pack howling at her heels.

  “Are the other men all priests?” she asked the kindly man the next morning. “Were those their real faces?”

  “What do you think, child?”

  She thought no. “Is Jaqen H’ghar a priest too? Do you know if Jaqen will be coming back to Braavos?”

  “Who?” he said, all innocence.

  “Jaqen H’ghar. He gave me the iron coin.”

  “I know no one by this name, child.”

  “I asked him how he changed his face, and he said it was no harder than taking a new name, if you knew the way.”

  “Did he?”

  “Will you show me how to change my face?”

  “If you wish.” He cupped her chin in his hand and turned her head. “Puff up your cheeks and stick out your tongue.”

  Arya puffed up her cheeks and stuck out her tongue.

  “There. Your face is changed.”

  “That’s not how I meant. Jaqen used magic.”

  “All sorcery comes at a cost, child. Years of prayer and sacrifice and study are required to work a proper glamor.”

  “Years?” she said, dismayed.

  “If it were easy all men would do it. You must walk before you run. Why use a spell, where mummer’s tricks will serve?”

  “I don’t know any mummer’s tricks either.”

  “Then practice making faces. Beneath your skin are muscles. Learn to use them. It is your face. Your cheeks, your lips, your ears. Smiles and scowls should not come upon you like sudden squalls. A smile should be a servant, and come only when you call it. Learn to rule your face.”

  “Show me how.”

  “Puff up your cheeks.” She did. “Lift your eyebrows. No, higher.” She did that too. “Good. See how long you can hold that. It will not be long. Try it again on the morrow. You will find a Myrish mirror in the vaults. Train before it for an hour every day. Eyes, nostrils, cheeks, ears, lips, learn to rule them all.” He cupped her chin. “Who are you?”

  “No one.”

  “A lie. A sad little lie, child.”

  She found the Myrish mirror the next day, and every morn and every night she sat before it with a candle on each side of her, making faces. Rule your face, she told herself, and you can lie.

  Soon thereafter the kindly man commanded her to help the other acolytes prepare the corpses. The work was not near as hard as scrubbing steps for Weese. Sometimes if the corpse was big or fat she would struggle with the weight, but most of the dead were old dry bones in wrinkled skins. Arya would look at them as she washed them, wondering what brought them to the black pool. She remembered a tale she had heard from Old Nan, about how sometimes during a long winter men who’d lived beyond their years would announce that they were going hunting. And their daughters would weep and their sons would turn their faces to the fire, she could hear Old Nan saying, but no one would stop them, or ask what game they meant to hunt, with the snows so deep and the cold wind howling. She wondered what the old Braavosi told their sons and daughters, before they set off for the House of Black and White.

  The moon turned and turned again, though Arya never saw it. She served, washed the dead, made faces at the mirrors, learned the Braavosi tongue, and tried to remember that she was no one.

  One day the kindly man sent for her. “Your accent is a horror,” he said, “but you have enough words to make your wants understood after a fashion. It is time that you left us for a while. The only way you will ever truly master our tongue is if you speak it every day from dawn to dusk. You must go.”

  “When?” she asked him. “Where?”

  “Now,” he answered. “Beyond these walls you will find the hundred isles of Braavos in the sea. You have been taught the words for mussels, cockles, and clams, have you not?”

  “Yes.” She repeated them, in her best Braavosi.

  Her best Braavosi made him smile. “It will serve. Along the wharves below the Drowned Town you will find a fishmonger named Brusco, a good man with a bad back. He has need of a girl to push his barrow and sell his cockles, clams, and mussels to the sailors off the ships. You shall be that girl. Do you understand?”


  “And when Brusco asks, who are you?”

  “No one.”

  “No. That will not serve, outside this House.”

  She hesitated. “I could be Salty, from Saltpans.”

  “Salty is known to Ternesio Terys and the men of the Titan’s Daughter. You are marked by the way you speak, so you must be some girl of Westeros… but a different girl, I think.”

  She bit her lip. “Could I be Cat?”

  “Cat.” He considered. “Yes. Braavos is full of cats. One more will not be noticed. You are Cat, an orphan of…”

  “King’s Landing.” She had visited White Harbor with her father twice, but she knew King’s Landing better.

  “Just so. Your father was oarmaster on a galley. When your mother died, he took you off to sea with him. Then he died as well, and his captain had no use for you, so he put you off the ship in Braavos. And what was the name of the ship?”

  “Nymeria,” she said at once.

  That night she left the House of Black and White. A long iron knife rode on her right hip, hidden by her cloak, a patched and faded thing of the sort an orphan might wear. Her shoes pinched her toes and her tunic was so threadbare that the wind cut right through it. But Braavos lay before her. The night air smelled of smoke and salt and fish. The canals were crooked, the alleys crookeder. Men gave her curious looks as she went past, and beggar children called out words she could not understand. Before long she was completely lost.

  “Ser Gregor,” she chanted, as she crossed a stone bridge supported by four arches. From the center of its span she could see the masts of ships in the Ragman’s Harbor. “Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei.” Rain began to fall. Arya turned her face up to let the raindrops wash her cheeks, so happy she could dance. “Valar morghulis,” she said, “valar morghulis, valar morghulis.”


  As the rising sun came streaming through the windows, Al
ayne sat up in bed and stretched. Gretchel heard her stir and rose at once to fetch her bedrobe. The rooms had grown chilly during the night. It will be worse when winter has us in its grip, she thought. Winter will make this place as cold as any tomb. Alayne slipped into the robe and belted it about her waist. “The fire’s almost out,” she observed. “Put another log on, if you would.”

  “As my lady wishes,” the old woman said.

  Alayne’s apartments in the Maiden’s Tower were larger and more lavish than the little bedchamber where she’d been kept when Lady Lysa was alive. She had a dressing room and a privy of her own now, and a balcony of carved white stone that looked off across the Vale. While Gretchel was tending to the fire, Alayne padded barefoot across the room and slipped outside. The stone was cold beneath her feet, and the wind was blowing fiercely, as it always did up here, but the view made her forget all that for half a heartbeat. Maiden’s was the easternmost of the Eyrie’s seven slender towers, so she had the Vale before her, its forests and rivers and fields all hazy in the morning light. The way the sun was hitting the mountains made them look like solid gold.

  So lovely. The snow-clad summit of the Giant’s Lance loomed above her, an immensity of stone and ice that dwarfed the castle perched upon its shoulder. Icicles twenty feet long draped the lip of the precipice where Alyssa’s Tears fell in summer. A falcon soared above the frozen waterfall, blue wings spread wide against the morning sky. Would that I had wings as well.

  She rested her hands on the carved stone balustrade and made herself peer over the edge. She could see Sky six hundred feet below, and the stone steps carved into the mountain, the winding way that led past Snow and Stone all the way down to the valley floor. She could see the towers and keeps of the Gates of the Moon, as small as a child’s toys. Around the walls the hosts of Lords Declarant were stirring, emerging from their tents like ants from an anthill. If only they were truly ants, she thought, we could step on them and crush them.

  Young Lord Hunter and his levies had joined the others two days past. Nestor Royce had closed the Gates against them, but he had fewer than three hundred men in his garrison. Each of the Lords Declarant had brought a thousand, and there were six of them. Alayne knew their names as well as her own. Benedar Belmore, Lord of Strongsong. Symond Templeton, the Knight of Ninestars. Horton Redfort, Lord of Redfort. Anya Waynwood, Lady of Ironoaks. Gilwood Hunter, called Young Lord Hunter by all and sundry, Lord of Longbow Hall. And Yohn Royce, mightiest of them all, the redoubtable Bronze Yohn, Lord of Runestone, Nestor’s cousin and the chief of the senior branch of House Royce. The six had gathered at Runestone after Lysa Arryn’s fall, and there made a pact together, vowing to defend Lord Robert, the Vale, and one another. Their declaration made no mention of the Lord Protector, but spoke of “misrule” that must be ended, and of “false friends and evil counselors” as well.

  A cold gust of wind blew up her legs. She went inside to choose a gown to break her fast in. Petyr had given her his late wife’s wardrobe, a wealth of silks, satins, velvets, and furs far beyond anything she had ever dreamed, though the great bulk of it was far too large for her; Lady Lysa had grown very stout during her long succession of pregnancies, stillbirths, and miscarriages. A few of the oldest gowns had been made for young Lysa Tully of Riverrun, however, and others Gretchel had been able to alter to fit Alayne, who was almost as long of leg at three-and-ten as her aunt had been at twenty.

  This morning her eye was caught by a parti-colored gown of Tully red and blue, lined with vair. Gretchel helped her slide her arms into the belled sleeves and laced her back, then brushed and pinned her hair. Alayne had darkened it again last night before she went to bed. The wash her aunt had given her changed her own rich auburn into Alayne’s burnt brown, but it was seldom long before the red began creeping back at the roots. And what must I do when the dye runs out? The wash had come from Tyrosh, across the narrow sea.

  As she went down to break her fast, Alayne was struck again by the stillness of the Eyrie. There was no quieter castle in all the Seven Kingdoms. The servants here were few and old and kept their voices down so as not to excite the young lord. There were no horses on the mountain, no hounds to bark and growl, no knights training in the yard. Even the footsteps of the guards seemed strangely muffled as they walked the pale stone halls. She could hear the wind moaning and sighing round the towers, but that was all. When she had first come to Eyrie, there had been the murmur of Alyssa’s Tears as well, but the waterfall was frozen now. Gretchel said it would stay silent till the spring.

  She found Lord Robert alone in the Morning Hall above the kitchens, pushing a wooden spoon listlessly through a big bowl of porridge and honey. “I wanted eggs,” he complained when he saw her. “I wanted three eggs boiled soft, and some back bacon.”

  They had no eggs, no more than they had bacon. The Eyrie’s granaries held sufficient oats and corn and barley to feed them for a year, but they depended on a bastard girl named Mya Stone to bring fresh foodstuffs up from the valley floor. With the Lords Declarant encamped at the foot of the mountain there was no way for Mya to get through. Lord Belmore, first of the six to reach the Gates, had sent a raven to tell Littlefinger that no more food would go up to the Eyrie until he sent Lord Robert down. It was not quite a siege, not as yet, but it was the next best thing.

  “You can have eggs when Mya comes, as many as you like,” Alayne promised the little lordling. “She’ll bring eggs and butter and melons, all sorts of tasty things.”

  The boy was unappeased. “I wanted eggs today.”

  “Sweetrobin, there are no eggs, you know that. Please, eat your porridge, it’s very nice.” She ate a spoonful of her own.

  Robert pushed his spoon across the bowl and back, but never brought it to his lips. “I am not hungry,” he decided. “I want to go back to bed. I never slept last night. I heard singing. Maester Colemon gave me dreamwine but I could still hear it.”

  Alayne put down her spoon. “If there had been singing, I should have heard it too. You had a bad dream, that’s all.”

  “No, it wasn’t a dream.” Tears filled his eyes. “Marillion was singing again. Your father says he’s dead, but he isn’t.”

  “He is.” It frightened her to hear him talk like this. Bad enough that he is small and sickly, what if he is mad as well? “Sweetrobin, he is. Marillion loved your lady mother too much and could not live with what he’d done to her, so he walked into the sky.” Alayne had not seen the body, no more than Robert had, but she did not doubt the fact of the singer’s death. “He’s gone, truly.”

  “But I hear him every night. Even when I close the shutters and put a pillow on my head. Your father should have cut his tongue out. I told him to, but he wouldn’t.”

  He needed a tongue to confess. “Be a good boy and eat your porridge,” Alayne pleaded. “Please? For me?”

  “I don’t want porridge.” Robert flung his spoon across the hall. It bounced off a hanging tapestry, and left a smear of porridge upon a white silk moon. “The lord wants eggs!”

  “The lord shall eat porridge and be thankful for it,” said Petyr’s voice, behind them.

  Alayne turned, and saw him in the doorway arch with Maester Colemon at his side. “You should heed the Lord Protector, my lord,” the maester said. “Your lord’s bannermen are coming up the mountain to pay you homage, so you will need all your strength.”

  Robert rubbed at his left eye with a knuckle. “Send them away. I don’t want them. If they come, I’ll make them fly.”

  “You tempt me sorely, my lord, but I fear I promised them safe conduct,” said Petyr. “In any case, it is too late to turn them back. By now they may have climbed as far as Stone.”

  “Why won’t they leave us be?” wailed Alayne. “We never did them any harm. What do they want of us?”

  “Just Lord Robert. Him, and the Vale.” Petyr smiled. “There will be eight of them. Lord Nestor is showing them up, and they have Lyn Corbray with them. Ser Lyn is not the sort of man to s
tay away when blood is in the offing.”

  His words did little to soothe her fears. Lyn Corbray had slain almost as many men in duels as he had in battle. He had won his spurs during Robert’s Rebellion, she knew, fighting first against Lord Jon Arryn at the gates of Gulltown, and later beneath his banners on the Trident, where he had cut down Prince Lewyn of Dorne, a white knight of the Kingsguard. Petyr said that Prince Lewyn had been sorely wounded by the time the tide of battle swept him to his final dance with Lady Forlorn, but added, “That’s not a point you’ll want to raise with Corbray, though. Those who do are soon given the chance to ask Martell himself the truth of it, down in the halls of hell.” If even half of what she had heard from Lord Robert’s guards was true, Lyn Corbray was more dangerous than all six of the Lords Declarant put together. “Why is he coming?” she asked. “I thought the Corbrays were for you.”

  “Lord Lyonel Corbray is well disposed toward my rule,” said Petyr, “but his brother goes his own way. On the Trident, when their father fell wounded, it was Lyn who snatched up Lady Forlorn and slew the man who’d cut him down. Whilst Lyonel was carrying the old man back to the maesters in the rear, Lyn led his charge against the Dornishmen threatening Robert’s left, broke their lines to pieces, and slew Lewyn Martell. So when old Lord Corbray died, he bestowed the Lady upon his younger son. Lyonel got his lands, his title, his castle, and all his coin, yet still feels he was cheated of his birthright, whilst Ser Lyn… well, he loves Lyonel as much as he loves me. He wanted Lysa’s hand for himself.”

  “I don’t like Ser Lyn,” Robert insisted. “I won’t have him here. You send him back down. I never said that he could come. Not here. The Eyrie is impregnable, Mother said.”

  “Your mother is dead, my lord. Until your sixteenth name day, I rule the Eyrie.” Petyr turned to the stoop-backed serving woman hovering near the kitchen steps. “Mela, fetch his lordship a new spoon. He wants to eat his porridge.”

  “I do not! Let my porridge fly!” This time Robert flung the bowl, porridge and honey and all. Petyr Baelish ducked aside nimbly, but Maester Colemon was not so quick. The wooden bowl caught him square in the chest, and its contents exploded upward over his face and shoulders. He yelped in a most unmaesterlike fashion, while Alayne turned to soothe the little lordling, but too late. The fit was on him. A pitcher of milk went flying as his hand caught it, flailing. When he tried to rise he knocked his chair backwards and fell on top of it. One foot caught Alayne in the belly, so hard it knocked the wind from her. “Oh, gods be good,” she heard Petyr say, disgusted.

  Globs of porridge dotted Maester Colemon’s face and hair as he knelt over his charge, murmuring soothing words. One gobbet crept slowly down his right cheek, like a lumpy grey-brown tear. It is not so bad a spell as the last one, Alayne thought, trying to be hopeful. By the time the shaking stopped, two guards in sky-blue cloaks and silvery mail shirts had come at Petyr’s summons. “Take him back to bed and leech him,” the Lord Protector said, and the taller guardsman scooped the boy up in his arms. I could carry him myself, Alayne thought. He is no heavier than a doll.

  Colemon lingered a moment before following. “My lord, this parley might best be left for another day. His lordship’s spells have grown worse since Lady Lysa’s death. More frequent and more violent. I bleed the child as often as I dare, and mix him dreamwine and milk of the poppy to help him sleep, but…”

  “He sleeps twelve hours a day,” Petyr said. “I require him awake from time to time.”

  The maester combed his fingers through his hair, dribbling globs of porridge on the floor. “Lady Lysa would give his lordship her breast whenever he grew overwrought. Archmaester Ebrose claims that mother’s milk has many heathful properties.”

  “Is that your counsel, maester? That we find a wet nurse for the Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale? When shall we wean him, on his wedding day? That way he can move directly from his nurse’s nipples to his wife’s.” Lord Petyr’s laugh made it plain what he thought of that. “No, I think not. I suggest you find another way. The boy is fond of sweets, is he not?”

  “Sweets?” said Colemon.

  “Sweets. Cakes and pies, jams and jellies, honey on the comb. Perhaps a pinch of sweetsleep in his milk, have you tried that? Just a pinch, to calm him and stop his wretched shaking.”

  “A pinch?” The apple in the maester’s throat moved up and down as he swallowed. “One small pinch… perhaps, perhaps. Not too much, and not too often, yes, I might try…”

  “A pinch,” Lord Petyr said, “before you bring him forth to meet the lords.”

  “As you command, my lord.” The maester hurried out, his chain clinking softly with every step.

  “Father,” Alayne asked when he was gone, “will you have a bowl of porridge to break your fast?”

  “I despise porridge.” He looked at her with Littlefinger’s eyes. “I’d sooner break my fast with a kiss.”

  A true daughter would not refuse her sire a kiss, so Alayne went to him and kissed him, a quick dry peck upon the cheek, and just as quickly stepped away.

  “How… dutiful.” Littlefinger smiled with his mouth, but not his eyes. “Well, I have other duties for you, as it happens. Tell the cook to mull some red wine with honey and raisins. Our guests will be cold and thirsty after their long climb. You are to meet them when they arrive, and offer them refreshment. Wine, bread, and cheese. What sort of cheese is left to us?”

  “The sharp white and the stinky blue.”

  “The white. And you’d best change as well.”

  Alayne looked down at her dress, the deep blue and rich dark red of Riverrun. “Is it too—”

  “It is too Tully. The Lords Declarant will not be pleased by the sight of my bastard daughter prancing about in my dead wife’s clothes. Choose something else. Need I remind you to avoid sky blue and cream?”

  “No.” Sky blue and cream were the colors of House Arryn. “Eight, you said… Bronze Yohn is one of them?”

  “The only one who matters.”

  “Bronze Yohn knows me,” she reminded him. “He was a guest at Winterfell when his son rode north to take the black.” She had fallen wildly in love with Ser Waymar, she remembered dimly, but that was a lifetime ago, when she was a stupid
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