A feast for crows, p.44
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       A Feast for Crows, p.44

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

  protect them now?”

  “Highgarden,” replied the Reader. “Soon enough all the power of the Reach will be marshaled against us, Barber, and then you may learn that some roses have steel thorns.”

  Drumm nodded, one hand on the hilt of his Red Rain. “Lord Tarly bears the greatsword Heartsbane, forged of Valyrian steel, and he is always in Lord Tyrell’s van.”

  Victarion’s hunger flared. “Let him come. I will take his sword for mine own, as your own forebear took Red Rain. Let them all come, and bring the Lannisters as well. A lion may be fierce enough on land, but at sea the kraken rules supreme.” He would give half his teeth for the chance to try his axe against the Kingslayer or the Knight of Flowers. That was the sort of battle that he understood. The kinslayer was accursed in the eyes of gods and men, but the warrior was honored and revered.

  “Have no fear, Lord Captain,” said the Reader. “They will come. His Grace desires it. Why else would he have commanded us to let Hewett’s ravens fly?”

  “You read too much and fight too little,” Nute said. “Your blood is milk.” But the Reader made as if he had not heard.

  A riotous feast was in progress when Victarion entered the hall. Ironborn filled the tables, drinking and shouting and jostling each other, boasting of the men that they had slain, the deeds that they had done, the prizes they had won. Many were bedecked with plunder. Left-Hand Lucas Codd and Quellon Humble had torn tapestries off the walls to serve as cloaks. Germund Botley wore a rope of pearls and garnets over his gilded Lannister breastplate. Andrik the Unsmiling staggered by with a woman under each arm; though he remained unsmiling, he had rings on every finger. Instead of trenchers carved from old stale bread, the captains were eating off solid silver platters.

  Nute the Barber’s face grew dark with anger as he looked about. “The Crow’s Eye sends us forth to face the longships, whilst his own men take the castles and the villages and grab all the loot and women. What has he left for us?”

  “We have the glory.”

  “Glory is good,” said Nute, “but gold is better.”

  Victarion shrugged. “The Crow’s Eye says we shall have all of Westeros. The Arbor, Oldtown, Highgarden… that’s where you’ll find your gold. But enough talk. I’m hungry.”

  By right of blood Victarion might have claimed a seat on the dais, but he did not care to eat with Euron and his creatures. Instead, he chose a place by Ralf the Limper, the captain of the Lord Quellon. “A great victory, Lord Captain,” said the Limper. “A victory worthy of a lordship. You should have an island.”

  Lord Victarion. Aye, and why not? It might not be the Seastone Chair, but it would be something.

  Hotho Harlaw was across the table, sucking meat off a bone. He flicked it aside and hunched forward. “The Knight’s to have Greyshield. My cousin. Did you hear?”

  “No.” Victarion looked across the hall, to where Ser Harras Harlaw sat drinking wine from a golden cup; a tall man, long-faced and austere. “Why would Euron give that one an island?”

  Hotho held out his empty wine cup, and a pale young woman in a gown of blue velvet and gilt lace refilled it for him. “The Knight took Grimston by himself. He planted his standard beneath the castle and defied the Grimms to face him. One did, and then another, and another. He slew them all… well, near enough, two yielded. When the seventh man went down, Lord Grimm’s septon decided the gods had spoken and surrendered the castle.” Hotho laughed. “He’ll be the Lord of Greyshield, and welcome to it. With him gone, I am the Reader’s heir.” He thumped his wine cup against his chest. “Hotho the Humpback, Lord of Harlaw.”

  “Seven, you say.” Victarion wondered how Nightfall would fare against his axe. He had never fought a man armed with a Valyrian steel blade, though he had thrashed young Harras Harlaw many a time when both of them were young. As a boy Harlaw had been fast friends with Balon’s eldest son, Rodrik, who had died beneath the walls of Seagard.

  The feast was good. The wine was of the best, and there was roast ox, rare and bloody, and stuffed ducks as well, and buckets of fresh crabs. The serving wenches wore fine woolens and plush velvets, the Lord Captain did not fail to note. He took them for scullions dressed up in the clothes of Lady Hewett and her ladies, until Hotho told him they were Lady Hewett and her ladies. It amused the Crow’s Eye to make them wait and pour. There were eight of them: her ladyship herself, still handsome though grown somewhat stout, and seven younger women aged from twenty-five to ten, her daughters and good-daughters.

  Lord Hewett himself sat in his accustomed place upon the dais, dressed in all his heraldic finery. His arms and legs had been tied to his chair, and a huge white radish shoved between his teeth so he could not speak… though he could see and hear. The Crow’s Eye had claimed the place of honor at his lordship’s right hand. A pretty, buxom girl of seventeen or eighteen years was in his lap, barefoot and disheveled, her arms around his neck. “Who is that?” Victarion asked the men around him.

  “His lordship’s bastard daughter,” laughed Hotho. “Before Euron took the castle, she was made to wait at table on the rest and take her own meals with the servants.”

  Euron put his blue lips to her throat, and the girl giggled and whispered something in his ear. Smiling, he kissed her throat again. Her white skin was covered with red marks where his mouth had been; they made a rosy necklace about her neck and shoulders. Another whisper in his ear, and this time the Crow’s Eye laughed aloud, then slammed his wine cup down for silence. “Good ladies,” he called out to his highborn serving women, “Falia is concerned for your fine gowns. She would not have them stained with grease and wine and dirty groping fingers, since I have promised that she may choose her own clothes from your wardrobes after the feast. So you had best disrobe.”

  A roar of laughter washed over the great hall, and Lord Hewett’s face turned so red that Victarion thought his head might burst. The women had no choice but to obey. The youngest one cried a little, but her mother comforted her and helped undo the laces down her back. Afterward, they continued to serve as before, moving along the tables with flagons full of wine to fill each empty cup, only now they did so naked.

  He shames Hewett as he once shamed me, the captain thought, remembering how his wife had sobbed as he was beating her. The men of the Four Shields oft married one another, he knew, just as the ironborn did. One of these naked serving wenches might well be Ser Talbert Serry’s wife. It was one thing to kill a foe, another to dishonor him. Victarion made a fist. His hand was bloody where his wound had soaked through the linen.

  On the dais, Euron pushed aside his slattern and climbed upon the table. The captains began to bang their cups and stamp their feet upon the floor. “EURON!” they shouted. “EURON! EURON! EURON!” It was kingsmoot come again.

  “I swore to give you Westeros,” the Crow’s Eye said when the tumult died away, “and here is your first taste. A morsel, nothing more… but we shall feast before the fall of night!” The torches along the walls were burning bright, and so was he, blue lips, blue eye, and all. “What the kraken grasps it does not loose. These isles were once ours, and now they are again… but we need strong men to hold them. So rise, Ser Harras Harlaw, Lord of Greyshield.” The Knight stood, one hand upon Nightfall’s moonstone pommel. “Rise, Andrik the Unsmiling, Lord of Southshield.” Andrik shoved away his women and lurched to his feet, like a mountain rising sudden from the sea. “Rise, Maron Volmark, Lord of Greenshield.” A beardless boy of six-and-ten years, Volmark stood hesitantly, looking like the lord of rabbits. “And rise, Nute the Barber, Lord of Oakenshield.”

  Nute’s eyes grew wary, as if he feared he was the butt of some cruel jape. “A lord?” he croaked.

  Victarion had expected the Crow’s Eye to give the lordships to his own creatures, Stonehand and the Red Oarsman and Left-Hand Lucas Codd. A king must needs be open-handed, he tried to tell himself, but another voice whispered, Euron’s gifts are poisoned. When he turned it over in his head, he saw it plain. The Knight was the
Reader’s chosen heir, and Andrik the Unsmiling the strong right arm of Dunstan Drumm. Volmark is a callow boy, but he has Black Harren’s blood in him through his mother. And the Barber…

  Victarion grabbed him by the forearm. “Refuse him!”

  Nute looked at him as if he had gone mad. “Refuse him? Lands and lordship? Will you make me a lord?” He wrenched his arm away and stood, basking in the cheers.

  And now he steals my men away, Victarion thought.

  King Euron called to Lady Hewett for a fresh cup of wine and raised it high above his head. “Captains and kings, lift your cups to the Lords of the Four Shields!” Victarion drank with the rest. There is no wine so sweet as wine taken from a foe. Someone had told him that once. His father, or his brother Balon. One day I shall drink your wine, Crow’s Eye, and take from you all that you hold dear. But was there anything Euron held dear?

  “On the morrow we prepare once more to sail,” the king was saying. “Fill our casks anew with spring water, take every sack of grain and cask of beef, and as many sheep and goats as we can carry. The wounded who are still hale enough to pull an oar will row. The rest shall remain here, to help hold these isles for their new lords. Torwold and the Red Oarsman will soon be back with more provisions. Our decks will stink of pigs and chickens on the voyage east, but we’ll return with dragons.”

  “When?” The voice was Lord Rodrik’s. “When shall we return, Your Grace? A year? Three years? Five? Your dragons are a world away, and autumn is upon us.” The Reader walked forward, sounding all the hazards. “Galleys guard the Redwyne Straits. The Dornish coast is dry and bleak, four hundred leagues of whirlpools, cliffs, and hidden shoals with hardly a safe landing anywhere. Beyond wait the Stepstones, with their storms and their nests of Lysene and Myrish pirates. If a thousand ships set sail, three hundred may reach the far side of the narrow sea… and then what? Lys will not welcome us, nor will Volantis. Where will you find fresh water, food? The first storm will scatter us across half the earth.”

  A smile played across Euron’s blue lips. “I am the storm, my lord. The first storm, and the last. I have taken the Silence on longer voyages than this, and ones far more hazardous. Have you forgotten? I have sailed the Smoking Sea and seen Valyria.”

  Every man there knew that the Doom still ruled Valyria. The very sea there boiled and smoked, and the land was overrun with demons. It was said that any sailor who so much as glimpsed the fiery mountains of Valyria rising above the waves would soon die a dreadful death, yet the Crow’s Eye had been there, and returned.

  “Have you?” the Reader asked, so softly.

  Euron’s blue smile vanished. “Reader,” he said into the quiet, “you would do well to keep your nose in your books.”

  Victarion could feel the unease in the hall. He pushed himself to his feet. “Brother,” he boomed. “You have not answered Harlaw’s questions.”

  Euron shrugged. “The price of slaves is rising. We will sell our slaves in Lys and Volantis. That, and the plunder we have taken here, will give us sufficient gold to buy provisions.”

  “Are we slavers now?” asked the Reader. “And for what? Dragons that no man here has seen? Shall we chase some drunken sailor’s fancy to the far ends of the earth?”

  His words drew mutters of assent. “Slaver’s Bay is too far,” called out Ralf the Limper. “And too close to Valyria,” shouted Quellon Humble. Fralegg the Strong said, “Highgarden’s close. I say, look for dragons there. The golden kind!” Alvyn Sharp said, “Why sail the world, when the Mander lies before us?” Red Ralf Stonehouse bounded to his feet. “Oldtown is richer, and the Arbor richer still. Redwyne’s fleet is off away. We need only reach out our hand to pluck the ripest fruit in Westeros.”

  “Fruit?” The king’s eye looked more black than blue. “Only a craven would steal a fruit when he could take the orchard.”

  “It is the Arbor we want,” said Red Ralf, and other men took up the cry. The Crow’s Eye let the shouts wash over him. Then he leapt down from the table, grabbed his slattern by the arm, and pulled her from the hall.

  Fled, like a dog. Euron’s hold upon the Seastone Chair suddenly did not seem as secure as it had a few moments before. They will not follow him to Slaver’s Bay. Perhaps they are not such dogs and fools as I had feared. That was such a merry thought that Victarion had to wash it down. He drained a cup with the Barber, to show him that he did not begrudge him his lordship, even if it came from Euron’s hand.

  Outside the sun went down. Darkness gathered beyond the walls, but inside the torches burned with a ruddy orange glow, and their smoke gathered under the rafters like a grey cloud. Drunken men began to dance the finger dance. At some point Left-Hand Lucas Codd decided he wanted one of Lord Hewett’s daughters, so he took her on a table whilst her sisters screamed and sobbed.

  Victarion felt a tap upon his shoulder. One of Euron’s mongrel sons stood behind him, a boy of ten with woolly hair and skin the color of mud. “My father wishes words with you.”

  Victarion rose unsteadily. He was a big man, with a large capacity for wine, but even so, he had drunk too much. I beat her to death with mine own hands, he thought, but the Crow’s Eye killed her when he shoved himself inside her. I had no choice. He followed the bastard boy from the hall and up a winding stone stair. The sounds of rape and revelry diminished as they climbed, until there was only the soft scrape of boots on stone.

  The Crow’s Eye had taken Lord Hewett’s bedchamber along with his bastard daughter. When he entered, the girl was sprawled naked on the bed, snoring softly. Euron stood by the window, drinking from a silver cup. He wore the sable cloak he took from Blacktyde, his red leather eye patch, and nothing else. “When I was a boy, I dreamt that I could fly,” he announced. “When I woke, I couldn’t… or so the maester said. But what if he lied?”

  Victarion could smell the sea through the open window, though the room stank of wine and blood and sex. The cold salt air helped to clear his head. “What do you mean?”

  Euron turned to face him, his bruised blue lips curled in a half smile. “Perhaps we can fly. All of us. How will we ever know unless we leap from some tall tower?” The wind came gusting through the window and stirred his sable cloak. There was something obscene and disturbing about his nakedness. “No man ever truly knows what he can do unless he dares to leap.”

  “There is the window. Leap.” Victarion had no patience for this. His wounded hand was troubling him. “What do you want?”

  “The world.” Firelight glimmered in Euron’s eye. His smiling eye. “Will you take a cup of Lord Hewett’s wine? There’s no wine half so sweet as wine taken from a beaten foe.”

  “No.” Victarion glanced away. “Cover yourself.”

  Euron seated himself and gave his cloak a twitch, so it covered his private parts. “I had forgotten what a small and noisy folk they are, my ironborn. I would bring them dragons, and they shout out for grapes.”

  “Grapes are real. A man can gorge himself on grapes. Their juice is sweet, and they make wine. What do dragons make?”

  “Woe.” The Crow’s Eye sipped from his silver cup. “I once held a dragon’s egg in this hand, brother. This Myrish wizard swore he could hatch it if I gave him a year and all the gold that he required. When I grew bored with his excuses, I slew him. As he watched his entrails sliding through his fingers he said, ‘But it has not been a year.’” He laughed. “Cragorn’s died, you know.”

  “Who?”

  “The man who blew my dragon horn. When the maester cut him open, his lungs were charred as black as soot.”

  Victarion shuddered. “Show me this dragon’s egg.”

  “I threw it in the sea during one of my dark moods.” Euron gave a shrug. “It comes to me that the Reader was not wrong. Too large a fleet could never hold together over such a distance. The voyage is too long, too perilous. Only our finest ships and crews could hope to sail to Slaver’s Bay and back. The Iron Fleet.”

  The Iron Fleet is mine, Victarion thought.
He said nothing.

  The Crow’s Eye filled two cups with a strange black wine that flowed as thick as honey. “Drink with me, brother. Have a taste of this.” He offered one of the cups to Victarion.

  The captain took the cup Euron had not offered, sniffed at its contents suspiciously. Seen up close, it looked more blue than black. It was thick and oily, with a smell like rotted flesh. He tried a small swallow, and spit it out at once. “Foul stuff. Do you mean to poison me?”

  “I mean to open your eyes.” Euron drank deep from his own cup, and smiled. “Shade-of-the-evening, the wine of the warlocks. I came upon a cask of it when I captured a certain galleas out of Qarth, along with some cloves and nutmeg, forty bolts of green silk, and four warlocks who told a curious tale. One presumed to threaten me, so I killed him and fed him to the other three. They refused to eat of their friend’s flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.”

  Balon was mad, Aeron is madder, and Euron is maddest of them all. Victarion was turning to go when the Crow’s Eye said, “A king must have a wife, to give him heirs. Brother, I have need of you. Will you go to Slaver’s Bay and bring my love to me?”

  I had a love once too. Victarion’s hands coiled into fists, and a drop of blood fell to patter on the floor. I should beat you raw and red and feed you to the crabs, the same as I did her. “You have sons,” he told his brother.

  “Baseborn mongrels, born of whores and weepers.”

  “They are of your body.”

  “So are the contents of my chamber pot. None is fit to sit the Seastone Chair, much less the Iron Throne. No, to make an heir that’s worthy of him, I need a different woman. When the kraken weds the dragon, brother, let all the world beware.”

  “What dragon?” said Victarion, frowning.

  “The last of her line. They say she is the fairest woman in the world. Her hair is silver-gold, and her eyes are amethysts… but you need not take my word for it, brother. Go to Slaver’s Bay, behold her beauty, and bring her back to me.”

  “Why should I?” Victarion demanded.

  “For love. For duty. Because your king commands it.” Euron chuckled. “And for the Seastone Chair. It is yours, once I claim the Iron Throne. You shall follow me as I followed Balon… and your own trueborn sons shall one day follow you.”

  My own sons. But to have a trueborn son a man must first have a wife. Victarion had no luck with wives. Euron’s gifts are poisoned, he reminded himself, but still…

  “The choice is yours, brother. Live a thrall or die a king. Do you dare to fly? Unless you take the leap, you’ll never know.”

  Euron’s smiling eye was bright with mockery. “Or do I ask too much of you? It is a fearsome thing to sail beyond Valyria.”

  “I could sail the Iron Fleet to hell if need be.” When Victarion opened his hand, his palm was red with blood. “I’ll go to Slaver’s Bay, aye. I’ll find this dragon woman, and I’ll bring her back.” But not for you. You stole my wife and despoiled her, so I’ll have yours. The fairest woman in the world, for me.

  JAIME

  The fields outside the walls of Darry were being tilled once more. The burned crops had been plowed under, and Ser Addam’s scouts reported seeing women in the furrows pulling weeds, whilst a team of oxen broke new ground on the edge of a nearby wood. A dozen bearded men with axes stood guard over them as they worked.

  By the time Jaime and his column reached the castle, all of them had fled within the walls. He found Darry closed to him, just as Harrenhal had been. A chilly welcome from mine own blood.

  “Sound the horn,” he commanded. Ser Kennos of Kayce unslung the Horn of Herrock and let it wind. As he waited for a response from the castle, Jaime eyed the banner floating brown and crimson above his cousin’s barbican. Lancel had taken to quartering the lion of Lannister with the Darry plowman, it would seem. He saw his uncle’s hand in that, as in Lancel’s choice of bride. House Darry had ruled these lands since the Andals cast down the First Men. No doubt Ser Kevan realized that his son would have an easier time of it if the peasants saw him as a continuation of the old line, holding these lands by right of marriage rather than royal decree. Kevan should be Tommen’s Hand. Harys Swyft is a toad, and my sister is a fool if she thinks elsewise.

  The castle gates swung open slowly. “My coz will not have room to accommodate a thousand men,” Jaime told Strongboar. “We’ll make camp beneath the western wall. I want the perimeters ditched and staked. There are still bands of outlaws in these parts.”

  “They’d need to be mad to attack a force as strong as ours.”

  “Mad or starving.” Until he had a better notion of these outlaws and their strength, Jaime was not inclined to take any risks with his defenses. “Ditched and staked,” he said again, before spurring Honor toward the gate. Ser Dermot rode beside him with the royal stag and lion, and Ser Hugo Vance with the white standard of the Kingsguard. Jaime had charged Red Ronnet with the task of delivering Wylis Manderly to Maidenpool, so he would not need to look on him henceforth.

  Pia rode with Jaime’s squires, on the gelding Peck had found for her. “It’s like some toy castle,” Jaime heard her say. She’s known no home but Harrenhal, he reflected. Every castle in the realm will seem small to her, except the Rock.

  Josmyn Peckleton was saying the same thing. “You must not judge by Harrenhal. Black Harren built too big.” Pia listened as solemnly as a girl of five being lessoned by her septa. That’s all she is, a little girl in a woman’s body, scarred and scared. Peck was taken with her, though. Jaime suspected that the boy had never known a woman, and Pia was still pretty enough, so long as she kept her mouth closed. There’s no harm in him bedding her, I suppose, so long as she’s willing.

  One of the Mountain’s men had tried to rape the girl at Harrenhal, and had seemed honestly perplexed when Jaime commanded Ilyn Payne to take his head off. “I had her before, a hunnerd times,” he kept saying as they forced him to his knees. “A hunnerd times, m’lord. We all had her.” When Ser Ilyn presented Pia with his head, she had smiled through her ruined teeth.

  Darry had changed hands several times during the fighting, and its castle had been burned once and sacked at least twice, but Lancel had seemingly wasted little time setting things to rights. The castle gates were newly hung, raw oaken planks reinforced with iron studs. A new stable was going up where an older one had been put to the torch. The steps to the keep had been replaced, and the shutters on many of the windows. Blackened stones showed where the flames had licked, but time and rain would fade those.

  Within the walls, crossbowmen walked the ramparts, some in crimson cloaks and lion-crested helms, others in the blue and grey of House Frey. As Jaime trotted across the yard, chickens ran out from under Honor’s hooves, sheep bleated, and peasants stared at him with sullen eyes. Armed peasants, he did not fail to note. Some had scythes, some staves, some hoes sharpened to cruel points. There were axes in evidence as well, and he spied several bearded men with red, seven-pointed stars sewn onto ragged, filthy tunics. More bloody sparrows. Where do they all come from?

  Of his uncle Kevan he saw no sign. Nor of Lancel. Only a maester emerged to greet him, with a grey robe flapping about his skinny legs. “Lord Commander, Darry is honored by this… unexpected visit. You must forgive our lack of preparations. We had been given to understand that you were bound for Riverrun.”

  “Darry was on my way,” lied Jaime. Riverrun will keep. And if perchance the siege had ended before he reached the castle, he would be spared the need to take up arms against House Tully.

 
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