A feast for crows, p.57
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       A Feast for Crows, p.57

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

  camp follower offered to pleasure Strongboar with her mouth. “Here, pleasure my friend,” Ser Lyle said, shoving her toward Ser Ilyn. Laughing, the woman moved to kiss Payne on the lips, then saw his eyes and shrank away.

  The paths between the cookfires were raw brown mud, mixed with horse dung and torn up by hooves and boots alike. Everywhere Jaime saw the twin towers of House Frey displayed on shield and banners, blue on grey, along with the arms of lesser Houses sworn to the Crossing: the heron of Erenford, the pitchfork of Haigh, Lord Charlton’s three sprigs of mistletoe. The arrival of the Kingslayer did not go unnoticed. An old woman selling piglets from a basket stopped to stare at him, a knight with a half-familiar face went to one knee, and two men-at-arms pissing in a ditch turned and sprayed each other. “Ser Jaime,” someone called after him, but he strode on without turning. Around him he glimpsed the faces of men he’d done his best to kill in the Whispering Wood, where the Freys had fought beneath the direwolf banners of Robb Stark. His golden hand hung heavy at his side.

  Ryman Frey’s great rectangular pavilion was the largest in the camp; its grey canvas walls were made of sewn squares to resemble stonework, and its two peaks evoked the Twins. Far from being indisposed, Ser Ryman was enjoying some entertainment. The sound of a woman’s drunken laughter drifted from within the tent, mingled with the strains of a woodharp and a singer’s voice. I will deal with you later, ser, Jaime thought. Walder Rivers stood before his own modest tent, talking with two men-at-arms. His shield bore the arms of House Frey with the colors reversed, and a red bend sinister across the towers. When the bastard saw Jaime, he frowned. There’s a cold suspicious look if ever I saw one. That one is more dangerous than any of his trueborn brothers.

  The gallows had been raised ten feet off the ground. Two spearmen were posted at the foot of the steps. “You can’t go up without Ser Ryman’s leave,” one told Jaime.

  “This says I can.” Jaime tapped his sword hilt with a finger. “The question is, will I need to step over your corpse?”

  The spearmen moved aside.

  Atop the gallows, the Lord of Riverrun stood staring at the trap beneath him. His feet were black and caked with mud, his legs bare. Edmure wore a soiled silken tunic striped in Tully red and blue, and a noose of hempen rope. At the sound of Jaime’s footsteps, he raised his head and licked his dry, cracked lips. “Kingslayer?” The sight of Ser Ilyn widened his eyes. “Better a sword than a rope. Do it, Payne.”

  “Ser Ilyn,” said Jaime. “You heard Lord Tully. Do it.”

  The silent knight gripped his greatsword with both hands. Long and heavy it was, sharp as common steel could be. Edmure’s cracked lips moved soundlessly. As Ser Ilyn drew the blade back, he closed his eyes. The stroke had all Payne’s weight behind it.

  “No! Stop. NO!” Edwyn Frey came panting into view. “My father comes. Fast as he can. Jaime, you must…”

  “My lord would suit me better, Frey,” said Jaime. “And you would do well to omit must from any speech directed at me.”

  Ser Ryman came stomping up the gallows steps in company with a straw-haired slattern as drunk as he was. Her gown laced up the front, but someone had undone the laces to the navel, so her breasts were spilling out. They were large and heavy, with big brown nipples. On her head a circlet of hammered bronze sat askew, graven with runes and ringed with small black swords. When she saw Jaime, she laughed. “Who in seven hells is this one?”

  “The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard,” Jaime returned with cold courtesy. “I might ask the same of you, my lady.”

  “Lady? I’m no lady. I’m the queen.”

  “My sister will be surprised to hear that.”

  “Lord Ryman crowned me his very self.” She gave a shake of her ample hips. “I’m the queen o’ whores.”

  No, Jaime thought, my sweet sister holds that title too.

  Ser Ryman found his tongue. “Shut your mouth, slut, Lord Jaime doesn’t want to hear some harlot’s nonsense.” This Frey was a thickset man with a broad face, small eyes, and a soft fleshy set of chins. His breath stank of wine and onions.

  “Making queens, Ser Ryman?” Jaime asked softly. “Stupid. As stupid as this business with Lord Edmure.”

  “I gave the Blackfish warning. I told him Edmure would die unless the castle yielded. I had this gallows built, to show them that Ser Ryman Frey does not make idle threats. At Seagard my son Walder did the same with Patrek Mallister and Lord Jason bent the knee, but… the Blackfish is a cold man. He refused us, so…”

  “… you hanged Lord Edmure?”

  The man reddened. “My lord grandfather… if we hang the man we have no hostage, ser. Have you considered that?”

  “Only a fool makes threats he’s not prepared to carry out. If I were to threaten to hit you unless you shut your mouth, and you presumed to speak, what do you think I’d do?”

  “Ser, you do not unders—”

  Jaime hit him. It was a backhand blow delivered with his golden hand, but the force of it sent Ser Ryman stumbling backward into the arms of his whore. “You have a fat head, Ser Ryman, and a thick neck as well. Ser Ilyn, how many strokes would it take you to cut through that neck?”

  Ser Ilyn laid a single finger against his nose.

  Jaime laughed. “An empty boast. I say three.”

  Ryman Frey went to his knees. “I have done nothing…”

  “… but drink and whore. I know.”

  “I am heir to the Crossing. You can’t…”

  “I warned you about talking.” Jaime watched the man turn white. A sot, a fool, and a craven. Lord Walder had best outlive this one, or the Freys are done. “You are dismissed, ser.”

  “Dismissed?”

  “You heard me. Go away.”

  “But… where should I go?”

  “To hell or home, as you prefer. See that you are not in camp when the sun comes up. You may take your queen of whores, but not that crown of hers.” Jaime turned from Ser Ryman to his son. “Edwyn, I am giving you your father’s command. Try not to be so stupid as your sire.”

  “That ought not pose much difficulty, my lord.”

  “Send word to Lord Walder. The crown requires all his prisoners.” Jaime waved his golden hand. “Ser Lyle, bring him.”

  Edmure Tully had collapsed facedown on the scaffold when Ser Ilyn’s blade sheared the rope in two. A foot of hemp still dangled from the noose about his neck. Strongboar grabbed the end of it and pulled him to his feet. “A fish on a leash,” he said, chortling. “There’s a sight I never saw before.”

  The Freys stepped aside to let them pass. A crowd had gathered below the scaffold, including a dozen camp followers in various states of disarray. Jaime noticed one man holding a woodharp. “You. Singer. Come with me.”

  The man doffed his hat. “As my lord commands.”

  No one said a word as they walked back to the ferry, with Ser Ryman’s singer trailing after them. But as they shoved off from the riverbank and made for the south side of the Tumblestone, Edmure Tully grabbed Jaime by the arm. “Why?”

  A Lannister pays his debts, he thought, and you’re the only coin that’s left to me. “Consider it a wedding gift.”

  Edmure stared at him with wary eyes. “A… wedding gift?”

  “I am told your wife is pretty. She’d have to be, for you to bed her while your sister and your king were being murdered.”

  “I never knew.” Edmure licked his cracked lips. “There were fiddlers outside the bedchamber…”

  “And Lady Roslin was distracting you.”

  “She… they made her do it, Lord Walder and the rest. Roslin never wanted… she wept, but I thought it was…”

  “The sight of your rampant manhood? Aye, that would make any woman weep, I’m sure.”

  “She is carrying my child.”

  No, Jaime thought, that’s your death she has growing in her belly. Back at his pavilion, he dismissed Strongboar and Ser Ilyn, but not the singer. “I may have need of a song shortly,” he told t
he man. “Lew, heat some bathwater for my guest. Pia, find him some clean clothing. Nothing with lions on it, if you please. Peck, wine for Lord Tully. Are you hungry, my lord?”

  Edmure nodded, but his eyes were still suspicious.

  Jaime settled on a stool while Tully had his bath. The filth came off in grey clouds. “Once you’ve eaten, my men will escort you to Riverrun. What happens after that is up to you.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Your uncle is an old man. Valiant, yes, but the best part of his life is done. He has no bride to grieve for him, no children to defend. A good death is all the Blackfish can hope for… but you have years remaining, Edmure. And you are the rightful lord of House Tully, not him. Your uncle serves at your pleasure. The fate of Riverrun is in your hands.”

  Edmure stared. “The fate of Riverrun…”

  “Yield the castle and no one dies. Your smallfolk may go in peace or stay to serve Lord Emmon. Ser Brynden will be allowed to take the black, along with as many of the garrison as choose to join him. You as well, if the Wall appeals to you. Or you may go to Casterly Rock as my captive and enjoy all the comforts and courtesy that befits a hostage of your rank. I’ll send your wife to join you, if you like. If her child is a boy, he will serve House Lannister as a page and a squire, and when he earns his knighthood we’ll bestow some lands upon him. Should Roslin give you a daughter, I’ll see her well dowered when she’s old enough to wed. You yourself may even be granted parole, once the war is done. All you need do is yield the castle.”

  Edmure raised his hands from the tub and watched the water run between his fingers. “And if I will not yield?”

  Must you make me say the words? Pia was standing by the flap of the tent with her arms full of clothes. His squires were listening as well, and the singer. Let them hear, Jaime thought. Let the world hear. It makes no matter. He forced himself to smile, “You’ve seen our numbers, Edmure. You’ve seen the ladders, the towers, the trebuchets, the rams. If I speak the command, my coz will bridge your moat and break your gate. Hundreds will die, most of them your own. Your former bannermen will make up the first wave of attackers, so you’ll start your day by killing the fathers and brothers of men who died for you at the Twins. The second wave will be Freys, I have no lack of those. My westermen will follow when your archers are short of arrows and your knights so weary they can hardly lift their blades. When the castle falls, all those inside will be put to the sword. Your herds will be butchered, your godswood will be felled, your keeps and towers will burn. I’ll pull your walls down, and divert the Tumblestone over the ruins. By the time I’m done no man will ever know that a castle once stood here.” Jaime got to his feet. “Your wife may whelp before that. You’ll want your child, I expect. I’ll send him to you when he’s born. With a trebuchet.”

  Silence followed his speech. Edmure sat in his bath. Pia clutched the clothing to her breasts. The singer tightened a string on his harp. Little Lew hollowed out a loaf of stale bread to make a trencher, pretending that he had not heard. With a trebuchet, Jaime thought. If his aunt had been there, would she still say Tyrion was Tywin’s son?

  Edmure Tully finally found his voice. “I could climb out of this tub and kill you where you stand, Kingslayer.”

  “You could try.” Jaime waited. When Edmure made no move to rise, he said, “I’ll leave you to enjoy your food. Singer, play for our guest whilst he eats. You know the song, I trust.”

  “The one about the rain? Aye, my lord. I know it.”

  Edmure seemed to see the man for the first time. “No. Not him. Get him away from me.”

  “Why, it’s just a song,” said Jaime. “He cannot have that bad a voice.”

  CERSEI

  Grand Maester Pycelle had been old for as long as she had known him, but he seemed to have aged another hundred years in the past three nights. It took him an eternity to bend his creaky knee before her, and once he had he could not rise again until Ser Osmund jerked him to his feet.

  Cersei studied him with displeasure. “Lord Qyburn informs me that Lord Gyles has coughed his last.”

  “Yes, Your Grace. I did my best to ease his passing.”

  “Did you?” The queen turned to Lady Merryweather. “I did say I wanted Rosby alive, did I not?”

  “You did, Your Grace.”

  “Ser Osmund, what is your recollection of the conversation?”

  “You commanded Grand Maester Pycelle to save the man, Your Grace. We all heard.”

  Pycelle’s mouth opened and closed. “Your Grace must know, I did all that could be done for the poor man.”

  “As you did for Joffrey? And his father, my own beloved husband? Robert was as strong as any man in the Seven Kingdoms, yet you lost him to a boar. Oh, and let us not forget Jon Arryn. No doubt you would have killed Ned Stark as well, if I had let you keep him longer. Tell me, maester, was it at the Citadel that you learned to wring your hands and make excuses?”

  Her voice made the old man flinch. “No man could have done more, Your Grace. I… I have always given leal service.”

  “When you counseled King Aerys to open his gates as my father’s host approached, was that your notion of leal service?”

  “That… I misjudged the…”

  “Was that good counsel?”

  “Your Grace must surely know…”

  “What I know is that when my son was poisoned you proved to be of less use than Moon Boy. What I know is that the crown has desperate need of gold, and our lord treasurer is dead.”

  The old fool seized upon that. “I… I shall draw up a list of men suitable to take Lord Gyles’s place upon the council.”

  “A list.” Cersei was amused by his presumption. “I can well imagine the sort of list you would provide me. Greybeards and grasping fools and Garth the Gross.” Her lips tightened. “You have been much in Lady Margaery’s company of late.”

  “Yes. Yes, I… Queen Margaery has been most distraught about Ser Loras. I provide Her Grace with sleeping draughts and… other sorts of potions.”

  “No doubt. Tell me, was it our little queen who commanded you to kill Lord Gyles?”

  “K-kill?” Grand Maester Pycelle’s eyes grew as big as boiled eggs. “Your Grace cannot believe… it was his cough, by all the gods, I… Her Grace would not… she bore Lord Gyles no ill will, why would Queen Margaery want him…”

  “… dead? Why, to plant another rose on Tommen’s council. Are you blind or bought? Rosby stood in her way, so she put him in his grave. With your connivance.”

  “Your Grace, I swear to you, Lord Gyles perished from his cough.” His mouth was quivering. “My loyalty has always been to the crown, to the realm… t-to House Lannister.”

  In that order? Pycelle’s fear was palpable. He is ripe enough. Time to squeeze the fruit and taste the juice. “If you are as leal as you claim, why are you lying to me? Do not trouble to deny it. You began to dance attendance on Maid Margaery before Ser Loras went to Dragonstone, so spare me further fables about how you want only to console our good-daughter in her grief. What brings you to the Maidenvault so often? Not Margaery’s vapid conversation, surely? Are you courting that pox-faced septa of hers? Diddling little Lady Bulwer? Do you play the spy for her, informing on me to serve her plots?”

  “I… I obey. A maester takes an oath of service…”

  “A grand maester swears to serve the realm.”

  “Your Grace, she… she is the queen…”

  “I am the queen.”

  “I meant… she is the king’s wife, and…”

  “I know who she is. What I want to know is why she has need of you. Is my good-daughter unwell?”

  “Unwell?” The old man plucked at the thing he called a beard, that patched growth of thin white hair sprouting from the loose pink wattles under his chin. “N-not unwell, Your Grace, not as such. My oaths forbid me to divulge…”

  “Your oaths will be of small comfort in the black cells,” she warned him. “I’ll hear the truth, or you’ll w
ear chains.”

  Pycelle collapsed to his knees. “I beg you… I was your lord father’s man, and a friend to you in the matter of Lord Arryn. I could not survive the dungeons, not again…”

  “Why does Margaery send for you?”

  “She desires… she… she…”

  “Say it!”

  He cringed. “Moon tea,” he whispered. “Moon tea, for…”

  “I know what moon tea is for.” There it is. “Very well. Get off those saggy knees and try to remember what it was to be a man.” Pycelle struggled to rise, but took so long about it that she had to tell Osmund Kettleblack to give him another yank. “As to Lord Gyles, no doubt our Father Above will judge him justly. He left no children?”

  “No children of his body, but there is a ward…”

  “… not of his blood.” Cersei dismissed that annoyance with a flick of her hand. “Gyles knew of our dire need for gold. No doubt he told you of his wish to leave all his lands and wealth to Tommen.” Rosby’s gold would help refresh their coffers, and Rosby’s lands and castle could be bestowed upon one of her own as a reward for leal service. Lord Waters, perhaps. Aurane had been hinting at his need for a seat; his lordship was only an empty honor without one. He had his eye on Dragonstone, Cersei knew, but there he aimed too high. Rosby would be more suitable to his birth and station.

  “Lord Gyles loved His Grace with all his heart,” Pycelle was saying, “but… his ward…”

  “… will doubtless understand, once he hears you speak of Lord Gyles’s dying wish. Go, and see it done.”

  “If it please Your Grace.” Grand Maester Pycelle almost tripped over his own robes in his haste to leave.

  Lady Merryweather closed the door behind him. “Moon tea,” she said, as she turned back to the queen. “How foolish of her. Why would she do such a thing, take such a risk?”

  “The little queen has appetites that Tommen is as yet too young to satisfy.” That was always a danger, when a grown woman was married to a child. Even more so with a widow. She may claim that Renly never touched her, but I will not believe it. Women only drank moon tea for one reason; maidens had no need for it at all. “My son has been betrayed. Margaery has a lover. That is high treason, punishable by death.” She could only hope that Mace Tyrell’s prune-faced harridan of a mother lived long enough to see the trial. By insisting that Tommen and Margaery be wed at once, Lady Olenna had condemned her precious rose to a headsman’s sword. “Jaime made off with Ser Ilyn Payne. I suppose I shall need to find a new King’s Justice to snick her head off.”

  “I’ll do it,” offered Osmund Kettleblack, with an easy grin. “Margaery’s got a pretty little neck. A good sharp sword will go right through it.”

  “It would,” said Taena, “but there is a Tyrell army at Storm’s End and another at Maidenpool. They have sharp swords as well.”

  I am awash in roses. It was vexing. She still had need of Mace Tyrell, if not his daughter. At least until such time as Stannis is defeated. Then I shan’t need any of them. But how could she rid herself of the daughter without losing the father? “Treason is treason,” she said, “but we must have proof, something more substantial than moon tea. If she is proved to be untrue, even her own lord father must condemn her, or her shame becomes his own.”

  Kettleblack chewed on one end of his mustache. “We need to catch them during the deed.”

  “How? Qyburn has eyes on her day and night. Her serving men take my coin, but bring us only trifles. Yet no one has seen this lover. The ears outside her door hear singing, laughter, gossip, nothing of any use.”

  “Margaery is too shrewd to be caught so easily,” said Lady Merryweather. “Her women are her castle walls. They sleep with her, dress her, pray with her, read with her, sew with her. When she is not hawking or riding she is playing come-into-my-castle with little Alysanne Bulwer. Whenever men are about, her septa will be with her, or her cousins.”

  “She must rid herself of her hens sometime,” the queen insisted. A thought struck her. “Unless her ladies are part of it as well… not all of them, perhaps, but some.”

  “The cousins?” Even Taena sounded doubtful. “All three are younger than the little queen, and more innocent.”

  “Wantons clad in maiden’s white. That only makes their sins more shocking. Their names will live in shame.” Suddenly the queen could almost taste it. “Taena, your lord husband is my justiciar. The two of you must sup with me, this very night.” She wanted this done quickly, before Margaery took it in her little head to return to Highgarden, or sail to Dragonstone to be with her wounded brother at death’s door. “I shall command the cooks to roast a boar for us. And of course we must have some music, to help with our digestion.”

  Taena was very quick. “Music. Just so.”

  “Go and tell your lord husband and make arrangements for the singer,” Cersei urged. “Ser Osmund, you may remain. We have much and more to discuss. I shall have need of Qyburn too.”

  Sad to say, the kitchens proved to have no wild boar on hand, and there was not time enough to send out hunters. Instead, the cooks butchered one of the
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