A feast for crows, p.39
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       A Feast for Crows, p.39

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

  cobblestones toward the Ragman’s Harbor. His swordbelt kept threatening to fall down about his ankles, so he had to keep tugging it back up as he went. He stayed to the smaller, darker streets, where he was less likely to encounter anyone, yet every passing cat still made his heart thump… and Braavos crawled with cats. I need to find Dareon, he thought. He is a man of the Night’s Watch, my Sworn Brother; he and I will puzzle out what to do. Maester Aemon’s strength was gone, and Gilly would have been lost here even if she had not been grief-stricken, but Dareon… I should not think ill of him. He could be hurt, perhaps that is why he did not come back. He could be dead, lying in some alley in a pool of blood, or floating facedown in one of the canals. At night the bravos swaggered through the city in their parti-colored finery, spoiling to prove their skill with those slender swords they wore. Some would fight for any cause, some for none at all, and Dareon had a loose tongue and quick temper, especially when he’d been drinking. Just because a man can sing about battles doesn’t mean he’s fit to fight one.

  The best alehouses, inns, and brothels were near the Purple Harbor or the Moon Pool, but Dareon preferred the Ragman’s Harbor, where the patrons were more apt to speak the Common Tongue. Sam began his search at the Inn of the Green Eel, the Black Bargeman, and Moroggo’s, places where Dareon had played before. He was not to be found at any of them. Outside the Foghouse several serpent boats were tied up awaiting patrons, and Sam tried to ask the polemen if they had seen a singer all in black, but none of the polemen understood his High Valyrian. That, or they do not chose to understand. Sam peered into the dingy winesink beneath the second arch of Nabbo’s Bridge, barely large enough to accommodate ten people. Dareon was not one of them. He tried the Outcast Inn, the House of Seven Lamps, and the brothel called the Cattery, where he got strange looks but no help.

  Leaving, he almost bumped into two young men beneath the Cattery’s red lantern. One was dark and one was fair. The dark-haired one said something in Braavosi. “I am sorry,” Sam had to say. “I do not understand.” He edged away from them, afraid. In the Seven Kingdoms nobles draped themselves in velvets, silks, and samites of a hundred hues whilst peasants and smallfolk wore raw wool and dull brown roughspun. In Braavos it was otherwise. The bravos swaggered about like peacocks, fingering their swords, whilst the mighty dressed in charcoal grey and purple, blues that were almost black and blacks as dark as a moonless night.

  “My friend Terro says you are so fat you make him sick,” said the fair-haired bravo, whose jacket was green velvet on one side and cloth-of-silver on the other. “My friend Terro says that the rattle of your sword makes his head ache.” He was speaking in the Common Tongue. The other one, the dark-haired bravo in the burgundy brocade and yellow cloak whose name would appear to have been Terro, made some comment in Braavosi, and his fair-haired friend laughed, and said, “My friend Terro says you dress above your station. Are you some great lord, to wear the black?”

  Sam wanted to run, but if he did was like to trip over his own swordbelt. Do not touch your sword, he told himself. Even a finger on the hilt might be enough for one or the other of the bravos to take as a challenge. He tried to think of words that might appease them. “I’m not—” was all he managed.

  “He is not a lord,” a child’s voice put in. “He’s in the Night’s Watch, stupid. From Westeros.” A girl edged into the light, pushing a barrow full of seaweed; a scruffy, skinny creature in big boots, with ragged unwashed hair. “There’s another one down at the Happy Port, singing songs to the Sailor’s Wife,” she informed the two bravos. To Sam she said, “If they ask who is the most beautiful woman in the world, say the Nightingale or else they’ll challenge you. Do you want to buy some clams? I sold all my oysters.”

  “I have no coin,” Sam said.

  “He has no coin,” mocked the fair-haired bravo. His dark-haired friend grinned and said something in Braavosi. “My friend Terro is chilly. Be our good fat friend and give him your cloak.”

  “Don’t do that either,” said the barrow girl, “or else they’ll ask for your boots next, and before long you’ll be naked.”

  “Little cats who howl too loud get drowned in the canals,” warned the fair-haired bravo.

  “Not if they have claws.” And suddenly there was a knife in the girl’s left hand, a blade as skinny as she was. The one called Terro said something to his fair-haired friend and the two of them moved off, chuckling at one another.

  “Thank you,” Sam told the girl when they were gone.

  Her knife vanished. “If you wear a sword at night it means you can be challenged. Did you want to fight them?”

  “No.” It came out in a squeak that made Sam wince.

  “Are you truly in the Night’s Watch? I never saw a black brother like you before.” The girl gestured at the barrow. “You can have the last clams if you want. It’s dark, no one will buy them now. Are you sailing to the Wall?”

  “To Oldtown.” Sam took one of the baked clams and wolfed it down. “We’re between ships.” The clam was good. He ate another.

  “The bravos never bother anyone without a sword. Not even stupid camel cunts like Terro and Orbelo.”

  “Who are you?”

  “No one.” She stank of fish. “I used to be someone, but now I’m not. You can call me Cat, if you like. Who are you?”

  “Samwell, of House Tarly. You speak the Common Tongue.”

  “My father was the oarmaster on Nymeria. A bravo killed him for saying that my mother was more beautiful than the Nightingale. Not one of those camel cunts you met, a real bravo. Someday I’ll slit his throat. The captain said Nymeria had no need of little girls, so he put me off. Brusco took me in and gave me a barrow.” She looked up at him. “What ship will you be sailing on?”

  “We bought passage on the Lady Ushanora.”

  The girl squinted at him suspiciously. “She’s gone. Don’t you know? She left days and days ago.”

  I know, Sam might have said. He and Dareon had stood on the dock watching the rise and fall of her oars as she beat for the Titan and the open sea. “Well,” the singer said, “that’s done.” If Sam had been a braver man, he would have shoved him into the water. When it came to talking girls out of their clothes Dareon had a honeyed tongue, yet in the captain’s cabin somehow Sam had done all the talking, trying to persuade the Braavosi to wait for them. “Three days I have waited for this old man,” the captain had said. “My holds are full, and my men have fucked their wives farewell. With you or without, my Lady leaves on the tide.”

  “Please,” Sam had pleaded. “Just a few more days, that’s all I ask. So Maester Aemon can recover his strength.”

  “He has no strength.” The captain had visited the inn the night before to see Maester Aemon for himself. “He is old and ill and I will not have him dying on my Lady. Stay with him or leave him, it matters not to me. I sail.” Even worse, he had refused to return the passage money they had paid him, the silver that was meant to see them safe to Oldtown. “You bought my finest cabin. It is there, awaiting you. If you do not choose to occupy it, that is no fault of mine. Why should I bear the loss?”

  By now we might be at Duskendale, Sam thought mournfully. We might even have reached Pentos, if the winds were kind.

  But none of that would matter to the barrow girl. “You said you saw a singer…”

  “At the Happy Port. He’s going to wed the Sailor’s Wife.”

  “Wed?”

  “She only beds the ones who marry her.”

  “Where is this Happy Port?”

  “Across from the Mummer’s Ship. I can show you the way.”

  “I know the way.” Sam had seen the Mummer’s Ship. Dareon cannot wed! He said the words! “I have to go.”

  He ran. It was a long way over slick cobbles. Before long he was puffing, his big black cloak flapping noisily behind him. He had to keep one hand on his swordbelt as he ran. What few people he encountered gave him curious looks, and once a cat reared up and hissed at him.
By the time he reached the ship he was staggering. The Happy Port was just across the alley.

  No sooner had he entered, flushed and out of breath, than a one-eyed woman threw her arms around his neck. “Don’t,” Sam told her, “I’m not here for that.” She answered in Braavosi. “I do not speak that tongue,” Sam said in High Valyrian. There were candles burning and a fire crackling in the hearth. Someone was sawing on a fiddle, and he saw two girls dancing around a red priest, holding hands. The one-eyed woman pressed her breasts against his chest. “Don’t do that! I’m not here for that!”

  “Sam!” Dareon’s familiar voice rang out. “Yna, let him go, that’s Sam the Slayer. My Sworn Brother!”

  The one-eyed woman peeled away, though she kept one hand on his arm. One of the dancers called out, “He can slay me if he likes,” and the other said, “Do you think he’d let me touch his sword?” Behind them a purple galleas had been painted on the wall, crewed by women clad in thigh-high boots and nothing else. A Tyroshi sailor was passed out in a corner, snoring into his huge scarlet beard. Elsewhere an older woman with huge breasts was turning tiles with a massive Summer Islander in black-and-scarlet feathers. In the center of it all sat Dareon, nuzzling at the neck of the woman in his lap. She was wearing his black cloak.

  “Slayer,” the singer called out drunkenly, “come meet my lady wife.” His hair was sand and honey, his smile warm. “I sang her love songs. Women melt like butter when I sing. How could I resist this face?” He kissed her nose. “Wife, give Slayer a kiss, he’s my brother.” When the girl got to her feet, Sam saw that she was naked underneath the cloak. “Don’t go fondling my wife now, Slayer,” said Dareon, laughing. “But if you want one of her sisters, you feel free. I still have coin enough, I think.”

  Coin that might have bought us food, Sam thought, coin that might have bought wood, so Maester Aemon could keep warm. “What have you done? You can’t marry. You said the words, the same as me. They could have your head for this.”

  “We’re only wed for this one night, Slayer. Even in Westeros no one takes your head for that. Haven’t you ever gone to Mole’s Town to dig for buried treasure?”

  “No.” Sam reddened. “I would never…”

  “What about your wildling wench? You must have fucked her a time or three. All those nights in the woods, huddled together under your cloak, don’t you tell me that you never stuck it in her.” He waved a hand toward a chair. “Sit down, Slayer. Have a cup of wine. Have a whore. Have both.”

  Sam did not want a cup of wine. “You promised to come back before the gloaming. To bring back wine and food.”

  “Is this how you killed that Other? Scolding him to death?” Dareon laughed. “She’s my wife, not you. If you will not drink to my marriage, go away.”

  “Come with me,” said Sam. “Maester Aemon’s woken up and wants to hear about these dragons. He’s talking about bleeding stars and white shadows and dreams and… if we could find out more about these dragons, it might help give him ease. Help me.”

  “On the morrow. Not on my wedding night.” Dareon pushed himself to his feet, took his bride by the hand, and started toward the stairs, pulling her behind him.

  Sam blocked his way. “You promised, Dareon. You said the words. You’re supposed to be my brother.”

  “In Westeros. Does this look like Westeros to you?”

  “Maester Aemon—”

  “—is dying. That stripey healer you wasted all our silver on said as much.” Dareon’s mouth had turned hard. “Have a girl or go away, Sam. You’re ruining my wedding.”

  “I’ll go,” said Sam, “but you’ll come with me.”

  “No. I’m done with you. I’m done with black.” Dareon tore his cloak off his naked bride and tossed it in Sam’s face. “Here. Throw that rag on the old man, it may keep him a little warmer. I shan’t be needing it. I’ll be clad in velvet soon. Next year I’ll be wearing furs and eating—”

  Sam hit him.

  He did not think about it. His hand came up, curled into a fist, and crashed into the singer’s mouth. Dareon cursed and his naked wife gave a shriek and Sam threw himself onto the singer and knocked him backwards over a low table. They were almost of a height, but Sam weighed twice as much, and for once he was too angry to be afraid. He punched the singer in the face and in the belly, then began to pummel him about the shoulders with both hands. When Dareon grabbed his wrists, Sam butted him with his head and broke his lip. The singer let go and he smashed him in the nose. Somewhere a man was laughing, a woman cursing. The fight seemed to slow, as if they were two black flies struggling in amber. Then someone dragged Sam off the singer’s chest. He hit that person too, and something hard crashed into his head.

  The next he knew he was outside, flying headfirst through the fog. For half a heartbeat he saw black water underneath him. Then the canal came up and smashed him in the face.

  Sam sank like a stone, like a boulder, like a mountain. The water got into his eyes and up his nose, dark and cold and salty. When he tried to shout for help he swallowed more. Kicking and gasping, he rolled over, bubbles bursting from his nose. Swim, he told himself, swim. The brine stung his eyes when he opened them, blinding him. He popped to the surface for just an instant, sucked down air, and slapped desperately with one hand whilst the other scrabbled at the wall of the canal. But the stones were slick and slimy and he could not get a grasp. He sank again.

  Sam could feel the cold against his skin as the water soaked through his clothes. His swordbelt slipped down his legs and tangled round his ankles. I’m going to drown, he thought, in a blind black panic. He thrashed, trying to claw his way back to the surface, but instead his face bumped the bottom of the canal. I’m upside down, he realized, I’m drowning. Something moved beneath one flailing hand, an eel or a fish, slithering through his fingers. I can’t drown, Maester Aemon will die without me, and Gilly will have no one. I have to swim, I have to…

  There was a huge splash, and something coiled around him, under his arms and around his chest. The eel, was his first thought, the eel has got me, it’s going to pull me down. He opened his mouth to scream, and swallowed more water. I’m drowned, was his last thought. Oh, gods be good, I’m drowned.

  When he opened his eyes he was on his back and a big black Summer Islander was pounding on his belly with fists the size of hams. Stop that, you’re hurting me, Sam tried to scream. Instead of words he retched out water, and gasped. He was sodden and shivering, lying on the cobbles in a puddle of canal water. The Summer Islander punched him in the belly again, and more water came squirting out his nose. “Stop that,” Sam gasped. “I haven’t drowned. I haven’t drowned.”

  “No.” His rescuer leaned over him, huge and black and dripping. “You owe Xhondo many feathers. The water ruined Xhondo’s fine cloak.”

  It had, Sam saw. The feathered cloak clung to the black man’s huge shoulders, sodden and soiled. “I never meant…”

  “… to be swimming? Xhondo saw. Too much splashing. Fat men should float.” He grabbed Sam’s doublet with a huge black fist and hauled him to his feet. “Xhondo mates on Cinnamon Wind. Many tongues he speaks, a little. Inside Xhondo laughs, to see you punch the singer. And Xhondo hears.” A broad white smile spread across his face. “Xhondo knows these dragons.”

  JAIME

  “I had hoped that by now you would have grown tired of that wretched beard. All that hair makes you look like Robert.” His sister had put aside her mourning for a jade-green gown with sleeves of silver Myrish lace. An emerald the size of a pigeon’s egg hung on a golden chain about her neck.

  “Robert’s beard was black. Mine is gold.”

  “Gold? Or silver?” Cersei plucked a hair from beneath his chin and held it up. It was grey. “All the color is draining out of you, brother. You’ve become a ghost of what you were, a pale crippled thing. And so bloodless, always in white.” She flicked the hair away. “I prefer you garbed in crimson and gold.”

  I prefer you dappled in sunlight, with wat
er beading on your naked skin. He wanted to kiss her, carry her to her bedchamber, throw her on the bed… she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy… “I will make a bargain with you. Relieve me of this duty, and my razor is yours to command.”

  Her mouth tightened. She had been drinking hot spiced wine and smelled of nutmeg. “You presume to dicker with me? Need I remind you, you are sworn to obey.”

  “I am sworn to protect the king. My place is at his side.”

  “Your place is wherever he sends you.”

  “Tommen puts his seal on every paper that you put in front of him. This is your doing, and it’s folly. Why name Daven your Warden of the West if you have no faith in him?”

  Cersei took a seat beneath the window. Behind her Jaime could see the blackened ruin of the Tower of the Hand. “Why so reluctant, ser? Did you lose your courage with your hand?”

  “I swore an oath to Lady Stark, never again to take up arms against the Starks or Tullys.”

  “A drunken promise made with a sword at your throat.”

  “How can I defend Tommen if I am not with him?”

  “By defeating his enemies. Father always said that a swift sword stroke is a better defense than any shield. Admittedly, most sword strokes require a hand. Still, even a crippled lion may inspire fear. I want Riverrun. I want Brynden Tully chained or dead. And someone needs to set Harrenhal to rights. We have urgent need of Wylis Manderly, assuming he is still alive and captive, but the garrison has not replied to any of our ravens.”

  “Those are Gregor’s men at Harrenhal,” Jaime reminded her. “The Mountain liked them cruel and stupid. Most like they ate your ravens, messages and all.”

  “That’s why I’m sending you. They may eat you as well, brave brother, but I trust you’ll give them indigestion.” Cersei smoothed her skirt. “I want Ser Osmund to command the Kingsguard in your absence.”

  … she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy for all I know… “That’s not your choice. If I must go, Ser Loras will command here in my stead.”

  “Is that a jape? You know how I feel about Ser Loras.”

  “If you had not sent Balon Swann to Dorne—”

  “I need him there. These Dornishmen cannot be trusted. That red snake championed Tyrion, have you forgotten that? I will not leave my daughter to their mercy. And I will not have Loras Tyrell commanding the Kingsguard.”

  “Ser Loras is thrice the man Ser Osmund is.”

  “Your notions of manhood have changed somewhat, brother.”

  Jaime felt his anger rising. “True, Loras does not leer at your teats the way Ser Osmund does, but I hardly think—”

  “Think about this.” Cersei slapped his face.

  Jaime made no attempt to block the blow. “I see I need a thicker beard, to cushion me against my queen’s caresses.” He wanted to rip her gown off and turn her blows to kisses. He’d done it before, back when he had two good hands.

  The queen’s eyes were green ice. “You had best go, ser.”

  … Lancel, Osmund Kettleblack, and Moon Boy…

  “Are you deaf as well as maimed? You’ll find the door behind you, ser.”

  “As you command.” Jaime turned on his heel and left her.

  Somewhere the gods were laughing. Cersei had never taken kindly to being balked, he knew that. Softer words might have swayed her, yet of late the very sight of her made him angry.

  Part of him would be glad to put King’s Landing behind him. He had no taste for the company of the lickspittles and fools who surrounded Cersei. “The smallest council,” they were calling them in Flea Bottom, according to Addam Marbrand. And Qyburn… he might have saved Jaime’s life, but he was still a Bloody Mummer. “Qyburn stinks of secrets,” he warned Cersei. That only made her laugh. “We all have secrets, brother,” she replied.

  … she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy for all I know…

  Forty knights and as many esquires awaited him outside the Red Keep’s stables. Half were westermen sworn to House Lannister, the others recent foes turned doubtful friends. Ser Dermot of the Rainwood would carry Tommen’s standard, Red Ronnet Connington the white banner of the Kingsguard. A Paege, a Piper, and a Peckledon would share the honor of squiring for the Lord Commander. “Keep friends at your back and foes where you can see them,” Sumner Crakehall had once counseled him. Or had that been Father?

  His palfrey was a blood bay, his destrier a magnificent grey stallion. It had been long years since Jaime had named any of his horses; he had seen too many die in battle, and that was harder when you named them. But when the Piper boy started calling them Honor and Glory, he laughed and let the names stand. Glory wore trappings of Lannister crimson; Honor was barded in Kingsguard white. Josmyn Peckledon held the palfrey’s reins as Ser Jaime mounted. The squire was skinny as a spear, with long arms and legs, greasy mouse-brown hair, and cheeks soft with peach fuzz. His cloak was Lannister crimson, but his surcoat showed the ten purple mullets of his own House arrayed upon a yellow field. “My lord,” the lad asked, “will you be wanting your new hand?”

  “Wear it, Jaime,” urged Ser Kennos of Kayce. “Wave at the smallfolk and give them a tale to tell their children.”

  “I think not.” Jaime would not show the crowds a golden lie. Let them see the stump. Let them see the cripple. “But feel free to make up for my lack, Ser Kennos. Wave with both hands, and waggle your feet if it please you.” He gathered the reins in his left hand and wheeled his horse around. “Payne,” he called as the rest were forming up, “you’ll ride beside me.”

  Ser Ilyn Payne made his way to Jaime’s side, looking like the beggar at the ball. His ringmail was old and rusted, worn over a stained jack of boiled leather. Neither the man nor his mount showed any heraldry; his shield was so hacked and battered it was hard to say what color paint might once have covered it. With his grim face and deep-sunk hollow eyes, Ser Ilyn might have passed for death himself… as he had, for years.

  No longer, though. Ser Ilyn had been half of Jaime’s price, for swallowing his boy king’s command like a good little Lord Commander. The other half had been Ser Addam Marbrand. “I need them,” he had told his sister, and Cersei had not put up a fight. Most like she’s pleased to rid herself of them. Ser Addam was a boyhood friend of Jaime’s, and the silent headsman had belonged to their father, if he belonged to anyone. Payne had been the captain of the Hand’s guard when he had been heard boasting that it was Lord Tywin who ruled the Seven Kingdoms and told King Aerys what to do. Aerys Targaryen took his tongue for that.

  “Open the gates,” said Jaime, and Strongboar, in his booming voice, called out, “OPEN THE GATES!”

  When Mace Tyrell had marched out through the Mud Gate to the sound of drums and fiddles, thousands lined the streets to cheer him off. Little boys had joined the march, striding along beside the Tyrell soldiers with heads held high and legs pumping, whilst their sisters threw down kisses from the windows.

  Not so today. A few whores called out invitations as they passed, and a meat pie man cried his wares. In Cobbler’s Square two threadbare sparrows were haranguing several hundred smallfolk, crying doom upon the heads of godless men and demon worshipers. The crowd parted for the column. Sparrows and cobblers alike looked on with dull eyes. “They like the smell of roses but have no love for lions,” Jaime observed. “My sister would be wise to take note of that.” Ser Ilyn made no reply. The perfect companion for a long ride. I will enjoy his conversation.

  The greater part of his command awaited him beyond the city walls; Ser Addam Marbrand with his outriders, Ser Steffon Swyft and the baggage train, the Holy
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