A feast for crows, p.50
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       A Feast for Crows, p.50

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

  “A man such as Tywin Lannister comes but once in a thousand years,” declared her husband. Emmon Frey was a fretful man with nervous hands. He might have weighed ten stone… but only wet, and clad in mail. He was a weed in wool, with no chin to speak of, a flaw that the prominence of the apple in his throat made even more absurd. Half his hair had been gone before he turned thirty. Now he was sixty and only a few white wisps remained.

  “Some queer tales have been reaching us of late,” Lady Genna said, after Jaime dismissed Pia and his squires. “A woman hardly knows what to believe. Can it be true that Tyrion slew Tywin? Or is that some calumny your sister put about?”

  “It’s true enough.” The weight of his golden hand had grown irksome. He fumbled at the straps that secured it to his wrist.

  “For a son to raise his hand against a father,” Ser Emmon said. “Monstrous. These are dark days in Westeros. I fear for us all with Lord Tywin gone.”

  “You feared for us all when he was here.” Genna settled her ample rump upon a camp stool, which creaked alarmingly beneath her weight. “Nephew, speak to us of our son Cleos and the manner of his death.”

  Jaime undid the last fastening and set his hand aside. “We were set upon by outlaws. Ser Cleos scattered them, but it cost his life.” The lie came easy; he could see that it pleased them.

  “The boy had courage, I always said so. It was in his blood.” A pinkish froth glistened on Ser Emmon’s lips when he spoke, courtesy of the sourleaf he liked to chew.

  “His bones should be interred beneath the Rock, in the Hall of Heroes,” Lady Genna declared. “Where was he laid to rest?”

  Nowhere. The Bloody Mummers stripped his corpse and left his flesh to feast the carrion crows. “Beside a stream,” he lied. “When this war is done, I will find the place and send him home.” Bones were bones; these days, nothing was easier to come by.

  “This war…” Lord Emmon cleared his throat, the apple in his throat moving up and down. “You will have seen the siege machines. Rams, trebuchets, towers. It will not serve, Jaime. Daven means to break my walls, smash in my gates. He talks of burning pitch, of setting the castle afire. My castle.” He reached up one sleeve, brought out a parchment, and thrust it at Jaime’s face. “I have the decree. Signed by the king, by Tommen, see, the royal seal, the stag and lion. I am the lawful lord of Riverrun, and I will not have it reduced to a smoking ruin.”

  “Oh, put that fool thing away,” his wife snapped. “So long as the Blackfish sits inside Riverrun you can wipe your arse with that paper for all the good it does us.” Though she had been a Frey for fifty years, Lady Genna remained very much a Lannister. Quite a lot of Lannister. “Jaime will deliver you the castle.”

  “To be sure,” Lord Emmon said. “Ser Jaime, your lord father’s faith in me was well placed, you shall see. I mean to be firm but fair with my new vassals. Blackwood and Bracken, Jason Mallister, Vance and Piper, they shall learn that they have a just overlord in Emmon Frey. My father as well, yes. He is the Lord of the Crossing, but I am the Lord of Riverrun. A son has a duty to obey his father, true, but a bannerman must obey his overlord.”

  Oh, gods be good. “You are not his overlord, ser. Read your parchment. You were granted Riverrun with its lands and incomes, no more. Petyr Baelish is the Lord Paramount of the Trident. Riverrun will be subject to the rule of Harrenhal.”

  That did not please Lord Emmon. “Harrenhal is a ruin, haunted and accursed,” he objected, “and Baelish… the man is a coin counter, no proper lord, his birth…”

  “If you are unhappy with the arrangements, go to King’s Landing and take it up with my sweet sister.” Cersei would devour Emmon Frey and pick her teeth with his bones, he did not doubt. That is, if she’s not too busy fucking Osmund Kettleblack.

  Lady Genna gave a snort. “There is no need to trouble Her Grace with such nonsense. Emm, why don’t you step outside and have a breath of air?”

  “A breath of air?”

  “Or a good long piss, if you prefer. My nephew and I have family matters to discuss.”

  Lord Emmon flushed. “Yes, it is warm in here. I will wait outside, my lady. Ser.” His lordship rolled up his parchment, sketched a bow toward Jaime, and tottered from the tent.

  It was hard not to feel contemptuous of Emmon Frey. He had arrived at Casterly Rock in his fourteenth year to wed a lioness half his age. Tyrion used to say that Lord Tywin had given him a nervous belly for a wedding gift. Genna has played her part as well. Jaime remembered many a feast where Emmon sat poking at his food sullenly whilst his wife made ribald jests with whatever household knight had been seated to her left, their conversations punctuated by loud bursts of laughter. She gave Frey four sons, to be sure. At least she says they are his. No one in Casterly Rock had the courage to suggest otherwise, least of all Ser Emmon.

  No sooner was he gone than his lady wife rolled her eyes. “My lord and master. What was your father thinking, to name him Lord of Riverrun?”

  “I imagine he was thinking of your sons.”

  “I think of them as well. Emm will make a wretched lord. Ty may do better, if he has the sense to learn from me and not his father.” She looked about the tent. “Do you have wine?”

  Jaime found a flagon and poured for her, one-handed. “Why are you here, my lady? You should have remained at Casterly Rock until the fighting’s done.”

  “Once Emm heard he was a lord, he had to come at once to claim his seat.” Lady Genna took a drink and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “Your father should have granted us Darry. Cleos married one of the plowman’s daughters, you will recall. His grieving widow is furious that her sons were not granted her lord father’s lands. Gatehouse Ami is Darry only on her mother’s side. My good-daughter Jeyne is her aunt, a full sister to Lady Mariya.”

  “A younger sister,” Jaime reminded her, “and Ty will have Riverrun, a greater prize than Darry.”

  “A poisoned prize. House Darry is extinguished in the male line, House Tully is not. That muttonhead Ser Ryman puts a noose round Edmure’s neck, but will not hang him. And Roslin Frey has a trout growing in her belly. My grandsons will never be secure in Riverrun so long as any Tully heir remains alive.”

  She was not wrong, Jaime knew. “If Roslin has a girl—”

  “—she can wed Ty, provided old Lord Walder will consent. Yes, I’ve thought of that. A boy is just as likely, though, and his little cock would cloud the issue. And if Ser Brynden should survive this siege, he might be inclined to claim Riverrun in his own name… or in the name of young Robert Arryn.”

  Jaime remembered little Robert from King’s Landing, still sucking on his mother’s teats at four. “Arryn won’t live long enough to breed. And why should the Lord of the Eyrie need Riverrun?”

  “Why does a man with one pot of gold need another? Men are greedy. Tywin should have granted Riverrun to Kevan and Darry to Emm. I would have told him so if he had troubled to ask me, but when did your father ever consult with anyone but Kevan?” She sighed deeply. “I do not blame Kevan for wanting the safer seat for his own boy, mind you. I know him too well.”

  “What Kevan wants and what Lancel wants appear to be two different things.” He told her of Lancel’s decision to renounce wife and lands and lordship to fight for the Holy Faith. “If you still want Darry, write to Cersei and make your case.”

  Lady Genna waved her cup in dismissal. “No, that horse has left the yard. Emm has it in his pointed head that he will rule the riverlands. And Lancel… I suppose we should have seen this coming from afar. A life protecting the High Septon is not so different from a life protecting the king, after all. Kevan will be wroth, I fear. As wroth as Tywin was when you got it in your head to take the white. At least Kevan still has Martyn for an heir. He can marry him to Gatehouse Ami in Lancel’s place. Seven save us all.” His aunt gave a sigh. “And speaking of the Seven, why would Cersei permit the Faith to arm again?”

  Jaime shrugged. “I am certain she had reasons.”

  “Reaso
ns?” Lady Genna made a rude noise. “They had best be good reasons. The Swords and Stars troubled even the Targaryens. The Conqueror himself tread carefully with the Faith, so they would not oppose him. And when Aegon died and the lords rose up against his sons, both orders were in the thick of that rebellion. The more pious lords supported them, and many of the smallfolk. King Maegor finally had to put a bounty on them. He paid a dragon for the head of any unrepentant Warrior’s Son, and a silver stag for the scalp of a Poor Fellow, if I recall my history. Thousands were slain, but nigh as many still roamed the realm, defiant, until the Iron Throne slew Maegor and King Jaehaerys agreed to pardon all those who would set aside their swords.”

  “I’d forgotten most of that,” Jaime confessed.

  “You and your sister both.” She took another swallow of her wine. “Is it true that Tywin was smiling on his bier?”

  “He was rotting on his bier. It made his mouth twist.”

  “Was that all it was?” That seemed to sadden her. “Men say that Tywin never smiled, but he smiled when he wed your mother, and when Aerys made him Hand. When Tarbeck Hall came crashing down on Lady Ellyn, that scheming bitch, Tyg claimed he smiled then. And he smiled at your birth, Jaime, I saw that with mine own eyes. You and Cersei, pink and perfect, as alike as two peas in a pod… well, except between the legs. What lungs you had!”

  “Hear us roar.” Jaime grinned. “Next you’ll be telling me how much he liked to laugh.”

  “No. Tywin mistrusted laughter. He heard too many people laughing at your grandsire.” She frowned. “I promise you, this mummer’s farce of a siege would not have amused him. How do you mean to end it, now that you’re here?”

  “Treat with the Blackfish.”

  “That won’t work.”

  “I mean to offer him good terms.”

  “Terms require trust. The Freys murdered guests beneath their roof, and you, well… I mean no offense, my love, but you did kill a certain king you had sworn to protect.”

  “And I’ll kill the Blackfish if he does not yield.” His tone was harsher than he’d intended, but he was in no mood for having Aerys Targaryen thrown in his face.

  “How, with your tongue?” Her voice was scornful. “I may be an old fat woman, but I do not have cheese between my ears, Jaime. Neither does the Blackfish. Empty threats won’t daunt him.”

  “What would you counsel?”

  She gave a ponderous shrug. “Emm wants Edmure’s head off. For once, he may be right. Ser Ryman has made us a laughingstock with that gibbet of his. You need to show Ser Brynden that your threats have teeth.”

  “Killing Edmure might harden Ser Brynden’s resolve.”

  “Resolve is one thing Brynden Blackfish never lacked for. Hoster Tully could have told you that.” Lady Genna finished her wine. “Well, I would never presume to tell you how to fight a war. I know my place… unlike your sister. Is it true that Cersei burned the Red Keep?”

  “Only the Tower of the Hand.”

  His aunt rolled her eyes. “She would have done better to leave the tower and burn her Hand. Harys Swyft? If ever a man deserved his arms, it is Ser Harys. And Gyles Rosby, Seven save us, I thought he died years ago. Merryweather… your father used to call his grandsire ‘the Chuckler,’ I’ll have you know. Tywin claimed the only thing Merryweather was good for was chuckling at the king’s witticisms. His lordship chuckled himself right into exile, as I recall. Cersei has put some bastard on the council too, and a kettle in the Kingsguard. She has the Faith arming and the Braavosi calling in loans all over Westeros. None of which would be happening if she’d had the simple sense to make your uncle the King’s Hand.”

  “Ser Kevan refused the office.”

  “So he said. He did not say why. There was much he did not say. Would not say.” Lady Genna made a face. “Kevan always did what was asked of him. It is not like him to turn away from any duty. Something is awry here, I can smell it.”

  “He said that he was tired.” He knows, Cersei had said, as they stood above their father’s corpse. He knows about us.

  “Tired?” His aunt pursed her lips. “I suppose he has a right to be. It has been hard for Kevan, living all his life in Tywin’s shadow. It was hard for all my brothers. That shadow Tywin cast was long and black, and each of them had to struggle to find a little sun. Tygett tried to be his own man, but he could never match your father, and that just made him angrier as the years went by. Gerion made japes. Better to mock the game than to play and lose. But Kevan saw how things stood early on, so he made himself a place by your father’s side.”

  “And you?” Jaime asked her.

  “It was not a game for girls. I was my father’s precious princess… and Tywin’s too, until I disappointed him. My brother never learned to like the taste of disappointment.” She pushed herself to her feet. “I’ve said what I came to say, I shan’t take any more of your time. Do what Tywin would have done.”

  “Did you love him?” Jaime heard himself ask.

  His aunt looked at him strangely. “I was seven when Walder Frey persuaded my lord father to give my hand to Emm. His second son, not even his heir. Father was himself a thirdborn son, and younger children crave the approval of their elders. Frey sensed that weakness in him, and Father agreed for no better reason than to please him. My betrothal was announced at a feast with half the west in attendance. Ellyn Tarbeck laughed and the Red Lion went angry from the hall. The rest sat on their tongues. Only Tywin dared speak against the match. A boy of ten. Father turned as white as mare’s milk, and Walder Frey was quivering.” She smiled. “How could I not love him, after that? That is not to say that I approved of all he did, or much enjoyed the company of the man that he became… but every little girl needs a big brother to protect her. Tywin was big even when he was little.” She gave a sigh. “Who will protect us now?”

  Jaime kissed her cheek. “He left a son.”

  “Aye, he did. That is what I fear the most, in truth.”

  That was a queer remark. “Why should you fear?”

  “Jaime,” she said, tugging on his ear, “sweetling, I have known you since you were a babe at Joanna’s breast. You smile like Gerion and fight like Tyg, and there’s some of Kevan in you, else you would not wear that cloak… but Tyrion is Tywin’s son, not you. I said so once to your father’s face, and he would not speak to me for half a year. Men are such thundering great fools. Even the sort who come along once in a thousand years.”

  CAT OF THE CANALS

  She woke before the sun came up, in the little room beneath the eaves that she shared with Brusco’s daughters.

  Cat was always the first to awaken. It was warm and snug under the blankets with Talea and Brea. She could hear the soft sounds of their breath. When she stirred, sitting up and fumbling for her slippers, Brea muttered a sleepy complaint and rolled over. The chill off the grey stone walls gave Cat gooseprickles. She dressed quickly in the darkness. As she was slipping her tunic over her head, Talea opened her eyes and called out, “Cat, be a sweet and bring my clothes for me.” She was a gawky girl, all skin and bones and elbows, always complaining she was cold.

  Cat fetched her clothes for her, and Talea squirmed into them underneath the blankets. Together they pulled her big sister from the bed, as Brea muttered sleepy threats.

  By the time the three of them climbed down the ladder from the room beneath the eaves, Brusco and his sons were out in the boat on the little canal behind the house. Brusco barked at the girls to hurry, as he did every morning. His sons helped Talea and Brea onto the boat. It was Cat’s task to untie them from the piling, toss the rope to Brea, and shove the boat away from the dock with a booted foot. Brusco’s sons leaned into their poles. Cat ran and leapt across the widening gap between dock and deck.

  After that, she had nothing to do but sit and yawn for a long while as Brusco and his sons pushed them through the predawn gloom, wending down a confusion of small canals. The day looked to be a rare one, crisp and clear and bright. Braavos only had th
ree kinds of weather; fog was bad, rain was worse, and freezing rain was worst. But every so often would come a morning when the dawn broke pink and blue and the air was sharp and salty. Those were the days that Cat loved best.

  When they reached the broad straight waterway that was the Long Canal, they turned south for the fishmarket. Cat sat with her legs crossed, fighting a yawn and trying to recall the details of her dream. I dreamed I was a wolf again. She could remember the smells best of all: trees and earth, her pack brothers, the scents of horse and deer and man, each different from the others, and the sharp acrid tang of fear, always the same. Some nights the wolf dreams were so vivid that she could hear her brothers howling even as she woke, and once Brea had claimed that she was growling in her sleep as she thrashed beneath the covers. She thought that was some stupid lie till Talea said it too.

  I should not be dreaming wolf dreams, the girl told herself. I am a cat now, not a wolf. I am Cat of the Canals. The wolf dreams belonged to Arya of House Stark. Try as she might, though, she could not rid herself of Arya. It made no difference whether she slept beneath the temple or in the little room beneath the eaves with Brusco’s daughters, the wolf dreams still haunted her by night… and sometimes other dreams as well.

  The wolf dreams were the good ones. In the wolf dreams she was swift and strong, running down her prey with her pack at her heels. It was the other dream she hated, the one where she had two feet instead of four. In that one she was always looking for her mother, stumbling through a wasted land of mud and blood and fire. It was always raining in that dream, and she could hear her mother screaming, but a monster with a dog’s head would not let her go save her. In that dream she was always weeping, like a frightened little girl. Cats never weep, she told herself, no more than wolves do. It’s just a stupid dream.

  The Long Canal took Brusco’s boat beneath the green copper domes of the Palace of Truth and the tall square towers of the Prestayns and Antaryons before passing under the immense grey arches of the sweetwater river to the district known as Silty Town, where the buildings were smaller and less grand. Later in the day the canal would be choked with serpent boats and barges, but in the predawn darkness they had the waterway almost to themselves. Brusco liked to reach the fishmarket just as the Titan roared to herald the coming of the sun. The sound would boom across the lagoon, faint with distance but still loud enough to wake the sleeping city.

  By the time Brusco and his sons tied up by the fishmarket, it was swarming with herring sellers and cod wives, oystermen, clam diggers, stewards, cooks, smallwives, and sailors off the galleys, all haggling loudly with one another as they inspected the morning catch. Brusco would walk from boat to boat, having a look at all the shellfish, and from time to time tapping a cask or crate with his cane. “This one,” he would say. “Yes.” Tap tap. “This one.” Tap tap. “No, not that. Here.” Tap. He was not much one for talking. Talea said her father was as grudging with his words as with his coins. Oysters, clams, crabs, mussels, cockles, sometimes prawns… Brusco bought it all, depending on what looked best each day. It was for them to carry the crates and casks that he tapped back to the boat. Brusco had a bad back, and could not lift anything heavier than a tankard of brown ale.

  Cat always stank of brine and fish by the time they pushed off for home again. She had grown so used to it that she hardly even smelled it anymore. She did not mind the work. When her muscles ached from lifting, or her back got sore from the weight of a cask, she told herself that she was getting stronger.

  Once all the casks were loaded, Brusco shoved them off again, and his sons poled them back up the Long Canal. Brea and Talea sat at the front of the boat whispering to one another. Cat knew that they were talking about Brea’s boy, the one she climbed up on the roof to meet, after her father was asleep.

  “Learn three new things before you come back to us,” the kindly man had commanded Cat, when he sent her forth into the city. She always did. Sometimes it was no more than three new words of the Braavosi tongue. Sometimes she brought back sailor’s tales, of strange and wondrous happenings from the wide wet world beyond the isles of Braavos, wars and rains of toads and dragons hatching. Sometimes she learned three new japes or three new riddles, or tricks of this trade or the other. And every so often, she would learn some secret.

  Braavos was a city made for secrets, a city of fogs and masks and whispers. Its very existence had been a secret for a century, the girl had learned; its location had been hidden thrice that long. “The Nine Free Cities are the daughters of Valyria that was,” the kindly man taught her, “but Braavos is the bastard child who ran away from home. We are a mongrel folk, the sons of slaves and whores and thieves. Our forebears came from half a hundred lands to this place of refuge, to escape the dragonlords who had enslaved them. Half a hundred gods came with them, but there is one god all of them shared in common.”

  “Him of Many Faces.”

  “And many names,” the kindly man had said. “In Qohor he is the Black Goat, in Yi Ti the Lion of Night, in Westeros the Stranger. All men must bow to him in the end, no matter if they worship the Seven or the Lord of Light, the Moon Mother or the Drowned God or the Great Shepherd. All mankind belongs to him… else somewhere in the world would be a folk who lived forever. Do you know of any folk who live forever?”

  “No,” she would answer. “All men must die.”

  Cat would always find the kindly man waiting for her when she went creeping back to the temple on the knoll on the night the moon went black. “What do you know that you did not know when you left us?” he would always ask her.

  “I know what Blind Beqqo puts in the hot sauce he uses on his oysters,” she would say. “I know the mummers at the Blue Lantern are going to do The Lord of the Woeful Countenance and the mummers at the Ship mean to answer with Seven Drunken Oarsmen. I know the bookseller Lotho Lornel sleeps in the house of Tradesman-Captain Moredo Prestayn whenever the honorable tradesman-captain is away on a voyage, and moves out whenever the Vixen comes home.”

  “It is good to know these things. And who are you?”

  “No one.”

  “You lie. You are Cat of the canals, I know you well. Go and sleep, child. On the morrow you must serve.”

  “All men must serve.” And so she did, three days of every thirty. When the moon was black she was no one, a servant of the Many-Faced God in a robe of black and white. She walked beside the kindly man through the fragrant darkness, carrying her iron lantern. She washed the dead, went through their clothes, and counted out their coins. Some days she still helped Umma cook, chopping big white mushrooms and boning fish. But only when the moon was black. The rest of the time she was an orphan girl in a pair of battered boots too big for her feet and a brown cloak with a ragged hem, crying “Mussels and cockles and clams” as she wheeled her barrow through the Ragman’s Harbor.

  The moon would be black tonight, she knew; last night it had been no more than a sliver. “What do you know that you did not know when you left us?” the kindly man would ask as soon as he saw her. I know that Brusco’s daughter Brea meets a boy on the roof when her father is asleep, she thought. Brea lets him touch her, Talea says, even though he’s just a roof rat and all the roof rats are supposed to be thieves. That was only one thing, though. Cat would need two more. She was not concerned. There were always new things to learn, down by the ships.

  When they returned to the house Cat helped Brusco’s sons unload the boat. Brusco and his daughters divided the shellfish amongst three barrows, arranging them on layered beds of seaweed. “Come back when all is sold,” Brusco told the girls, just as he did every morning, and they set forth to cry the catch. Brea would wheel her barrow to the Purple Harbor, to sell to the Braavosi sailors whose ships were anchored there. Talea would try the alleys round the Moon Pool, or sell amongst the temples on the Isle of the Gods. Cat headed for the Ragman’s Harbor, as she did nine days of every ten.

  Only Braavosi were permitted use of the Purple Harbor, from the Drowne
d Town
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