A feast for crows, p.5
A Feast for Crows, p.5Part #4 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
“To spears!” a man bellowed from a balcony.
“Doran!” called some highborn voice. “To the spears!”
Hotah gave up looking for the speakers; the press was too thick, and a third of them were shouting. “To spears! Vengeance for the Viper!” By the time they reached the third gate, the guards were shoving people aside to clear a path for the prince’s litter, and the crowd was throwing things. One ragged boy darted past the spearmen with a half-rotten pomegranate in one hand, but when he saw Areo Hotah in his path, with longaxe at the ready, he let the fruit fall unthrown and beat a quick retreat. Others farther back let fly with lemons, limes, and oranges, crying “War! War! To the spears!” One of the guards was hit in the eye with a lemon, and the captain himself had an orange splatter off his foot.
No answer came from within the litter. Doran Martell stayed cloaked within his silken walls until the thicker walls of the castle swallowed all of them, and the portcullis came down behind them with a rattling crunch. The sounds of shouting dwindled away slowly. Princess Arianne was waiting in the outer ward to greet her father, with half the court about her: the old blind seneschal Ricasso, Ser Manfrey Martell the castellan, young Maester Myles with his grey robes and silky perfumed beard, twoscore of Dornish knights in flowing linen of half a hundred hues. Little Myrcella Baratheon stood with her septa and Ser Arys of the Kingsguard, sweltering in his white-enameled scales.
Princess Arianne strode to the litter on snakeskin sandals laced up to her thighs. Her hair was a mane of jet-black ringlets that fell to the small of her back, and around her brow was a band of copper suns. She is still a little thing, the captain thought. Where the Sand Snakes were tall, Arianne took after her mother, who stood but five foot two. Yet beneath her jeweled girdle and loose layers of flowing purple silk and yellow samite she had a woman’s body, lush and roundly curved. “Father,” she announced as the curtains opened, “Sunspear rejoices at your return.”
“Yes, I heard the joy.” The prince smiled wanly and cupped his daughter’s cheek with a reddened, swollen hand. “You look well. Captain, be so good as to help me down from here.”
Hotah slid his longaxe into its sling across his back and gathered the prince into his arms, tenderly so as not to jar his swollen joints. Even so, Doran Martell bit back a gasp of pain.
“I have commanded the cooks to prepare a feast for this evening,” Arianne said, “with all your favorite dishes.”
“I fear I could not do them justice.” The prince glanced slowly around the yard. “I do not see Tyene.”
“She begs a private word. I sent her to the throne room to await your coming.”
The prince sighed. “Very well. Captain? The sooner I am done with this, the sooner I may rest.”
Hotah bore him up the long stone steps of the Tower of the Sun, to the great round chamber beneath the dome, where the last light of the afternoon was slanting down through thick windows of many-colored glass to dapple the pale marble with diamonds of half a hundred colors. There the third Sand Snake awaited them.
She was sitting cross-legged on a pillow beneath the raised dais where the high seats stood, but she rose as they entered, dressed in a clinging gown of pale blue samite with sleeves of Myrish lace that made her look as innocent as the Maid herself. In one hand was a piece of embroidery she had been working on, in the other a pair of golden needles. Her hair was gold as well, and her eyes were deep blue pools… and yet somehow they reminded the captain of her father’s eyes, though Oberyn’s had been as black as night. All of Prince Oberyn’s daughters have his viper eyes, Hotah realized suddenly. The color does not matter.
“Uncle,” said Tyene Sand, “I have been waiting for you.”
“Captain, help me to the high seat.”
There were two seats on the dais, near twin to one another, save that one had the Martell spear inlaid in gold upon its back, whilst the other bore the blazing Rhoynish sun that had flown from the masts of Nymeria’s ships when first they came to Dorne. The captain placed the prince beneath the spear and stepped away.
“Does it hurt so much?” Lady Tyene’s voice was gentle, and she looked as sweet as summer strawberries. Her mother had been a septa, and Tyene had an air of almost otherworldy innocence about her. “Is there aught that I might do to ease your pain?”
“Say what you would and let me rest. I am weary, Tyene.”
“I made this for you, Uncle.” Tyene unfolded the piece she’d been embroidering. It showed her father, Prince Oberyn, mounted on a sand steed and armored all in red, smiling. “When I finish, it is yours, to help you remember him.”
“I am not like to forget your father.”
“That is good to know. Many have wondered.”
“Lord Tywin has promised us the Mountain’s head.”
“He is so kind… but a headsman’s sword is no fit end for brave Ser Gregor. We have prayed so long for his death, it is only fair that he pray for it as well. I know the poison that my father used, and there is none slower or more agonizing. Soon we may hear the Mountain screaming, even here in Sunspear.”
Prince Doran sighed. “Obara cries to me for war. Nym will be content with murder. And you?”
“War,” said Tyene, “though not my sister’s war. Dornishmen fight best at home, so I say let us hone our spears and wait. When the Lannisters and the Tyrells come down on us, we shall bleed them in the passes and bury them beneath the blowing sands, as we have a hundred times before.”
“If they should come down on us.”
“Oh, but they must, or see the realm riven once more, as it was before we wed the dragons. Father told me so. He said we had the Imp to thank, for sending us Princess Myrcella. She is so pretty, don’t you think? I wish that I had curls like hers. She was made to be a queen, just like her mother.” Dimples bloomed in Tyene’s cheeks. “I would be honored to arrange the wedding, and to see to the making of the crowns as well. Trystane and Myrcella are so innocent, I thought perhaps white gold… with emeralds, to match Myrcella’s eyes. Oh, diamonds and pearls would serve as well, so long as the children are wed and crowned. Then we need only hail Myrcella as the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, and lawful heir to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and wait for the lions to come.”
“The lawful heir?” The prince snorted.
“She is older than her brother,” explained Tyene, as if he were some fool. “By law the Iron Throne should pass to her.”
“By Dornish law.”
“When good King Daeron wed Princess Myriah and brought us into his kingdom, it was agreed that Dornish law would always rule in Dorne. And Myrcella is in Dorne, as it happens.”
“So she is.” His tone was grudging. “Let me think on it.”
Tyene grew cross. “You think too much, Uncle.”
“Father said so.”
“Oberyn thought too little.”
“Some men think because they are afraid to do.”
“There is a difference between fear and caution.”
“Oh, I must pray that I never see you frightened, Uncle. You might forget to breathe.” She raised a hand…
The captain brought the butt of his longaxe down upon the marble with a thump. “My lady, you presume. Step from the dais, if it please you.”
“I meant no harm, Captain. I love my uncle, as I know he loved my father.” Tyene went to one knee before the prince. “I have said all I came to say, Uncle. Forgive me if I gave offense; my heart is broken all to pieces. Do I still have your love?”
“Give me your blessing, then, and I shall go.”
Doran hesitated half a heartbeat before placing his hand on his niece’s head. “Be brave, child.”
“Oh, how not? I am his daughter.”
No sooner had she taken her leave than Maester Caleotte hurried to the dais. “My prince, she did not… here, let me see your hand.” He examined the palm first, then gently turned it upside
The prince withdrew his hand. “Maester, could I trouble you for some milk of the poppy? A thimble cup will suffice.”
“The poppy. Yes, to be sure.”
“Now, I think,” Doran Martell urged gently, and Caleotte scurried to the stairs.
Outside the sun had set. The light within the dome was the blue of dusk, and all the diamonds on the floor were dying. The prince sat in his high seat beneath the Martell spear, his face pale with pain. After a long silence he turned to Areo Hotah. “Captain,” he said, “how loyal are my guards?”
“Loyal.” The captain did not know what else to say.
“All of them? Or some?”
“They are good men. Good Dornishmen. They will do as I command.” He thumped his longaxe on the floor. “I will bring the head of any man who would betray you.”
“I want no heads. I want obedience.”
“You have it.” Serve. Obey. Protect. Simple vows for a simple man. “How many men are needed?”
“I will leave that for you to decide. It may be that a few good men will serve us better than a score. I want this done as quickly and as quietly as possible, with no blood spilled.”
“Quick and quiet and bloodless, aye. What is your command?”
“You will find my brother’s daughters, take them into custody, and confine them in the cells atop the Spear Tower.”
“The Sand Snakes?” The captain’s throat was dry. “All… all eight, my prince? The little ones, also?”
The prince considered. “Ellaria’s girls are too young to be a danger, but there are those who might seek to use them against me. It would be best to keep them safe in hand. Yes, the little ones as well… but first secure Tyene, Nymeria, and Obara.”
“As my prince commands.” His heart was troubled. My little princess will mislike this. “What of Sarella? She is a woman grown, almost twenty.”
“Unless she returns to Dorne, there’s naught I can do about Sarella save pray that she shows more sense than her sisters. Leave her to her… game. Gather up the others. I shall not sleep until I know that they are safe and under guard.”
“It will be done.” The captain hesitated. “When this is known in the streets, the common folk will howl.”
“All Dorne will howl,” said Doran Martell in a tired voice. “I only pray Lord Tywin hears them in King’s Landing, so he might know what a loyal friend he has in Sunspear.”
She dreamt she sat the Iron Throne, high above them all.
The courtiers were brightly colored mice below. Great lords and proud ladies knelt before her. Bold young knights laid their swords at her feet and pleaded for her favors, and the queen smiled down at them. Until the dwarf appeared as if from nowhere, pointing at her and howling with laughter. The lords and ladies began to chuckle too, hiding their smiles behind their hands. Only then did the queen realize she was naked.
Horrified, she tried to cover herself with her hands. The barbs and blades of the Iron Throne bit into her flesh as she crouched to hide her shame. Blood ran red down her legs, as steel teeth gnawed at her buttocks. When she tried to stand, her foot slipped through a gap in the twisted metal. The more she struggled the more the throne engulfed her, tearing chunks of flesh from her breasts and belly, slicing at her arms and legs until they were slick and red, glistening.
And all the while her brother capered below, laughing.
His merriment still echoed in her ears when she felt a light touch on her shoulder, and woke suddenly. For half a heartbeat the hand seemed part of the nightmare, and Cersei cried out, but it was only Senelle. The maid’s face was white and frightened.
We are not alone, the queen realized. Shadows loomed around her bed, tall shapes with chain mail glimmering beneath their cloaks. Armed men had no business here. Where are my guards? Her bedchamber was dark, but for the lantern one of the intruders held on high. I must show no fear. Cersei pushed back sleep-tousled hair, and said, “What do you want of me?” A man stepped into the lantern light, and she saw his cloak was white. “Jaime?” I dreamt of one brother, but the other has come to wake me.
“Your Grace.” The voice was not her brother’s. “The Lord Commander said come get you.” His hair curled, as Jaime’s did, but her brother’s hair was beaten gold, like hers, where this man’s was black and oily. She stared at him, confused, as he muttered about a privy and a crossbow, and said her father’s name. I am dreaming still, Cersei thought. I have not woken, nor has my nightmare ended. Tyrion will creep out from under the bed soon and begin to laugh at me.
But that was folly. Her dwarf brother was down in the black cells, condemned to die this very day. She looked down at her hands, turning them over to make certain all her fingers were still there. When she ran a hand down her arm the skin was covered with gooseprickles, but unbroken. There were no cuts on her legs, no gashes on the soles of her feet. A dream, that’s all it was, a dream. I drank too much last night, these fears are only humors born of wine. I will be the one laughing, come dusk. My children will be safe, Tommen’s throne will be secure, and my twisted little valonqar will be short a head and rotting.
Jocelyn Swyft was at her elbow, pressing a cup on her. Cersei took a sip: water, mixed with lemon squeezings, so tart she spit it out. She could hear the night wind rattling the shutters, and she saw with a strange sharp clarity. Jocelyn was trembling like a leaf, as frightened as Senelle. Ser Osmund Kettleblack loomed over her. Behind him stood Ser Boros Blount, with a lantern. At the door were Lannister guardsmen with gilded lions shining on the crests of their helmets. They looked afraid as well. Can it be? the queen wondered. Can it be true?
She rose, and let Senelle slip a bedrobe over her shoulders to hide her nakedness. Cersei belted it herself, her fingers stiff and clumsy. “My lord father keeps guards about him, night and day,” she said. Her tongue felt thick. She took another swallow of lemon water and sloshed it round her mouth to freshen her breath. A moth had gotten into the lantern Ser Boros was holding; she could hear it buzzing and see the shadow of its wings as it beat against the glass.
“The guards were at their posts, Your Grace,” said Osmund Kettleblack. “We found a hidden door behind the hearth. A secret passage. The Lord Commander’s gone down to see where it goes.”
“Jaime?” Terror seized her, sudden as a storm. “Jaime should be with the king…”
“The lad’s not been harmed. Ser Jaime sent a dozen men to look in on him. His Grace is sleeping peaceful.”
Let him have a sweeter dream than mine, and a kinder waking. “Who is with the king?”
“Ser Loras has that honor, if it please you.”
It did not please her. The Tyrells were only stewards that the dragon-kings had upjumped far above their station. Their vanity was exceeded only by their ambition. Ser Loras might be as pretty as a maiden’s dream, but underneath his white cloak he was Tyrell to the bone. For all she knew, this night’s foul fruit had been planted and nurtured in Highgarden.
But that was a suspicion she dare not speak aloud. “Allow me a moment to dress. Ser Osmund, you shall accompany me to the Tower of the Hand. Ser Boros, roust the gaolers and make certain the dwarf is still in his cell.” She would not say his name. He would never have found the courage to lift a hand against Father, she told herself, but she had to be certain.
“As Your Grace commands.” Blount surrendered the lantern to Ser Osmund. Cersei was not displeased to see the back of him. Father should never have restored him to the white. The man had proved himself a craven.
By the time they left Maegor’s Holdfast, the sky had turned a deep cobalt blue, though the stars still shone. All but one, Cersei thought. The bright star of the west has fallen, and the nights will be darker now. She paused upon the drawbridge that spanned the dry moat, gazing down at the spikes below. They would not dare lie to me about such a thing. “Who found him?”
No, that cannot be. That is not the way a lion dies. The queen felt strangely calm. She remembered the first time she had lost a tooth, when she was just a little girl. It hadn’t hurt, but the hole in her mouth felt so odd she could not stop touching it with her tongue. Now there is a hole in the world where Father stood, and holes want filling.
If Tywin Lannister was truly dead, no one was safe… least of all her son upon his throne. When the lion falls the lesser beasts move in: the jackals and the vultures and the feral dogs. They would try to push her aside, as they always had. She would need to move quickly, as she had when Robert died. This might be the work of Stannis Baratheon, through some catspaw. It could well be the prelude to another attack upon the city. She hoped it was. Let him come. I will smash him, just as Father did, and this time he will die. Stannis did not frighten her, no more than Mace Tyrell did. No one frightened her. She was a daughter of the Rock, a lion. There will be no more talk of forcing me to wed again. Casterly Rock was hers now, and all the power of House Lannister. No one would ever disregard her again. Even when Tommen had no further need of a regent, the Lady of Casterly Rock would remain a power in the land.
The rising sun had painted the tower tops a vivid red, but beneath the walls the night still huddled. The outer castle was so hushed that she could have believed all its people dead. They should be. It is not fitting for Tywin Lannister to die alone. Such a man deserves a retinue to attend his needs in hell.
Four spearmen in red cloaks and lion-crested helms were posted at the door of the Tower of the Hand. “No one is to enter or leave without my permission,” she told them. The command came easily to her. My father had steel in his voice as well.
Within the tower, the smoke from the torches irritated her eyes, but Cersei did not weep, no more than her father would have. I am the only true son he ever had. Her heels scraped against the stone as she climbed, and she could still hear the moth fluttering wildly inside Ser Osmund’s lantern. Die, the queen thought at it, in irritation, fly into the flame and be done with it.
Two more red-cloaked guardsmen stood atop the steps. Red Lester muttered a condolence as she passed. The queen’s breath was coming fast and short, and she could feel her heart fluttering in her chest. The steps, she told herself, this cursed tower has too many steps. She had half a mind to tear it down.
The hall was full of fools speaking in whispers, as if Lord Tywin were asleep and they were afraid to wake him. Guards and servants alike shrank back before her, mouths flapping. She saw their pink gums and waggling tongues, but their words made no more sense than the buzzing of the moth. What are they doing here? How did they know? By rights they should have called her first. She was the Queen Regent, had they forgotten that?
Before the Hand’s bedchamber stood Ser Meryn Trant in his white armor and cloak. The visor of his helm was open, and the bags beneath his eyes made him look still half-asleep. “Clear these people away,” Cersei told him. “Is my father in the privy?”
“They carried him back to his bed, m’lady.” Ser Meryn pushed the door open for her to enter.
Morning light slashed through the shutters to paint golden bars upon the rushes strewn across the floor of the bedchamber. Her uncle Kevan was on his knees beside the bed, trying to pray, but he could scarcely get the words out. Guardsmen clustered near the hearth. The secret door that Ser Osmund had spoken of gaped open behind the ashes, no bigger than an oven. A man would need to crawl. But Tyrion is only half a man. The thought made her angry. No, the dwarf is locked in a black cell. This could not be his work. Stannis, she told herself, Stannis was behind it. He still has adherents in the city. Him, or the Tyrells…
There had always been talk of secret passages within the Red Keep. Maegor the Cruel was supposed to have killed the men who built the castle to keep the knowledge of them secret. How many other bedchambers have hidden doors? Cersei had a sudden vision of the dwarf crawling out from behind a tapestry in Tommen’s bedchamber with blade in hand. Tommen is well guarded, she told herself. But Lord Tywin had been well guarded too.
For a moment she did not recognize the dead man. He had hair like her father, yes, but this was some other man, surely, a smaller man, and much older. His bedrobe was hiked up around his chest, leaving him naked below the waist. The quarrel had taken him in his groin between his navel and his manhood, and was sunk so deep that only the fletching showed. His pubic hair was stiff with dried blood. More was congealing in his navel.
The smell of him made her wrinkle her nose. “Take the quarrel out of him,” she commanded. “This is the King’s Hand!” And my father. My lord father. Should I scream and tear my hair? They said Catelyn Stark had clawed her own face to bloody ribbons when the Freys slew her precious Robb. Would you like that, Father? she wanted to ask him. Or would you want me to be strong? Did you weep for your own father? Her grandfather had died when she was only a year old, but she knew the story. Lord Tytos had grown very fat, and his heart burst one day when he was climbing the steps to his mistress. Her father was off in King’s Landing when it happened, serving as the Mad King’s Hand. Lord Tywin was often away in King’s Landing when she and Jaime were young. If he wept when they brought him word of his father’s death, he did it where no one could see the tears.
The queen could feel her nails digging into her palms. “How could you leave him like this? My father was Hand to three kings, as great a man as ever strode the Seven Kingdoms. The bells must ring for him, as they rang for Robert. He must be bathed and dressed as befits his stature, in ermine and cloth-of-gold and crimson silk. Where is Pycelle? Where is Pycelle?” She turned to the guardsmen. “Puckens, bring Grand Maester Pycelle. He must see to Lord Tywin.”
“He’s seen him, Your Grace,” said Puckens. “He came and saw and went, to summon the silent sisters.”
They sent for me last. The realization made her almost too angry for words. And Pycelle runs off to send a message rather than soil his soft, wrinkled hands. The man is useless. “Find Maester Ballabar,” she commanded. “Find Maester Frenken. Any of them.” Puckens and Shortear ran to obey. “Where is my brother?”
“Down the tunnel. There’s a shaft, with iron rungs set in the stone. Ser Jaime went to see how deep it goes.”
He has only one hand, she wanted to shout at them. One of you should have gone. He has no business climbing ladders. The men who murdered Father might be down there, waiting for him. Her twin had always been too rash, and it would seem
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on72 votes