A feast for crows, p.60
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       A Feast for Crows, p.60

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

  “Telling you to open them, no doubt.” She seated herself across the cyvasse table from her father.

  “I did not give you leave to sit.”

  “Then call Hotah back and whip me for my insolence. You are the Prince of Dorne. You can do that.” She touched one of the cyvasse pieces, the heavy horse. “Have you caught Ser Gerold?”

  He shook his head. “Would that we had. You were a fool to make him part of this. Darkstar is the most dangerous man in Dorne. You and he have done us all great harm.”

  Arianne was almost afraid to ask. “Myrcella. Is she…?”

  “… dead? No, though Darkstar did his best. All eyes were on your white knight so no one seems quite certain just what happened, but it would appear that her horse shied away from his at the last instant, else he would have taken off the top of the girl’s skull. As it is, the slash opened her cheek down to the bone and sliced off her right ear. Maester Caleotte was able to save her life, but no poultice nor potion will ever restore her face. She was my ward, Arianne. Betrothed to your own brother and under my protection. You have dishonored all of us.”

  “I never meant her harm,” Arianne insisted. “If Hotah had not interfered…”

  “… you would have crowned Myrcella queen, to raise a rebellion against her brother. Instead of an ear, she would have lost her life.”

  “Only if we lost.”

  “If? The word is when. Dorne is the least populous of the Seven Kingdoms. It pleased the Young Dragon to make all our armies larger when he wrote that book of his, so as to make his conquest that much more glorious, and it has pleased us to water the seed he planted and let our foes think us more powerful than we are, but a princess ought to know the truth. Valor is a poor substitute for numbers. Dorne cannot hope to win a war against the Iron Throne, not alone. And yet that may well be what you have given us. Are you proud?” The prince did not allow her time to answer. “What am I to do with you, Arianne?”

  Forgive me, part of her wanted to say, but his words had cut her too deeply. “Why, do what you always do. Do nothing.”

  “You make it difficult for a man to swallow his anger.”

  “Best stop swallowing, you’re like to choke on it.” The prince did not answer. “Tell me how you knew my plans.”

  “I am the Prince of Dorne. Men seek my favor.”

  Someone told. “You knew, and yet you still allowed us to make off with Myrcella. Why?”

  “That was my mistake, and it has proved a grievous one. You are my daughter, Arianne. The little girl who used to run to me when she skinned her knee. I found it hard to believe that you would conspire against me. I had to learn the truth.”

  “Now you have. I want to know who informed on me.”

  “I would as well, in your place.”

  “Will you tell me?”

  “I can think of no reason why I should.”

  “You think I cannot discover the truth on my own?”

  “You are welcome to try. Until such time you must mistrust them all… and a little mistrust is a good thing in a princess.” Prince Doran sighed. “You disappoint me, Arianne.”

  “Said the crow to the raven. You have been disappointing me for years, Father.” She had not meant to be so blunt with him, but the words came spilling out. There, now I have said it.

  “I know. I am too meek and weak and cautious, too lenient to our enemies. Just now, though, you are in need of some of that leniency, it seems to me. You ought to be pleading for my forgiveness rather than seeking to provoke me further.”

  “I ask leniency only for my friends.”

  “How noble of you.”

  “What they did they did for love for me. They do not deserve to die on Ghaston Grey.”

  “As it happens, I agree. Aside from Darkstar, your fellow plotters were no more than foolish children. Still, this was no harmless game of cyvasse. You and your friends were playing at treason. I might have had their heads off.”

  “You might have, but you didn’t. Dayne, Dalt, Santagar… no, you would never dare make enemies of such Houses.”

  “I dare more than you dream… but leave that for the nonce. Ser Andrey has been sent to Norvos to serve your lady mother for three years. Garin will spend his next two years in Tyrosh. From his kin amongst the orphans, I took coin and hostages. Lady Sylva received no punishment from me, but she was of an age to marry. Her father has shipped her to Greenstone to wed Lord Estermont. As for Arys Oakheart, he chose his own fate and met it bravely. A knight of the Kingsguard… what did you do to him?”

  “I fucked him, Father. You did command me to entertain our noble visitors, as I recall.”

  His face grew flushed. “Was that all that was required?”

  “I told him that once Myrcella was the queen she would give us leave to marry. He wanted me for his wife.”

  “You did everything you could to stop him from dishonoring his vows, I am certain,” her father said.

  It was her turn to flush. Her seduction of Ser Arys had required half a year. Though he claimed to have known other women before taking the white, she would never have known that from the way he acted. His caresses had been clumsy, his kisses nervous, and the first time they were abed together he spent his seed on her thigh as she was guiding him inside her with her hand. Worse, he had been consumed by shame. If she only had a dragon for every time he had whispered, “We should not be doing this,” she would be richer than the Lannisters. Did he charge at Areo Hotah in hopes of saving me? Arianne wondered. Or did he do it to escape me, to wash out his dishonor with his life’s blood? “He did love me,” she heard herself say. “He died for me.”

  “If so, he may well be but the first of many. You and your cousins wanted war. You may get your wish. Another Kingsguard knight creeps toward Sunspear even as we speak. Ser Balon Swann is bringing me the Mountain’s head. My bannermen have been delaying him, to purchase me some time. The Wyls kept him hunting and hawking for eight days on the Boneway, and Lord Yronwood feasted him for a fortnight when he emerged from the mountains. At present he is at the Tor, where Lady Jordayne has arranged games in his honor. When he reaches Ghost Hill he will find Lady Toland intent on outdoing her. Soon or late, however, Ser Balon must arrive at Sunspear, and when he does he will expect to see Princess Myrcella… and Ser Arys, his Sworn Brother. What shall we tell him, Arianne? Shall I say that Oakheart perished in a hunting accident, or from a tumble down some slippery steps? Perhaps Arys went swimming at the Water Gardens, slipped upon the marble, hit his head, and drowned?”

  “No,” Arianne said. “Say that he died defending his little princess. Tell Ser Balon that Darkstar tried to kill her and Ser Arys stepped between them and saved her life.” That was how the white knights of the Kingsguard were supposed to die, giving up their own lives for those that they had sworn to protect. “Ser Balon may be suspicious, as you were when the Lannisters killed your sister and her children, but he will have no proof…”

  “… until he speaks with Myrcella. Or must that brave child suffer a tragic accident as well? If so, it will mean war. No lie will save Dorne from the queen’s wroth if her daughter should perish whilst in my care.”

  He needs me, Arianne realized. That’s why he sent for me.

  “I could tell Myrcella what to say, but why should I?”

  A spasm of anger rippled across her father’s face. “I warn you, Arianne, I am out of patience.”

  “With me?” That is so like him. “For Lord Tywin and the Lannisters you always had the forbearance of Baelor the Blessed, but for your own blood, none.”

  “You mistake patience for forbearance. I have worked at the downfall of Tywin Lannister since the day they told me of Elia and her children. It was my hope to strip him of all that he held most dear before I killed him, but it would seem his dwarf son has robbed me of that pleasure. I take some small solace in knowing that he died a cruel death at the hands of the monster that he himself begot. Be that as it may. Lord Tywin is howling down in hell… where thous
ands more will soon be joining him, if your folly turns to war.” Her father grimaced, as if the very word were painful to him. “Is that what you want?”

  The princess refused to be cowed. “I want my cousins freed. I want my uncle avenged. I want my rights.”

  “Your rights?”

  “Dorne.”

  “You will have Dorne after I am dead. Are you so anxious to be rid of me?”

  “I should turn that question back on you, Father. You have been trying to rid yourself of me for years.”

  “That is not true.”

  “No? Shall we ask my brother?”

  “Trystane?”

  “Quentyn.”

  “What of him?”

  “Where is he?”

  “He is with Lord Yronwood’s host in the Boneway.”

  “You do lie well, Father, I will grant you that. You did not so much as blink. Quentyn has gone to Lys.”

  “Where did you get that notion?”

  “A friend told me.” She could have secrets too.

  “Your friend lied. You have my word, your brother has not gone to Lys. I swear it by sun and spear and Seven.”

  Arianne could not be fooled so easily. “Is it Myr, then? Tyrosh? I know he is somewhere across the narrow sea, hiring sellswords to steal away my birthright.”

  Her father’s face darkened. “This mistrust does you no honor, Arianne. Quentyn should be the one conspiring against me. I sent him away when he was just a child, too young to understand the needs of Dorne. Anders Yronwood has been more a father to him than I have, yet your brother remains faithful and obedient.”

  “Why not? You favor him and always have. He looks like you, he thinks like you, and you mean to give him Dorne, don’t trouble to deny it. I read your letter.” The words still burned as bright as fire in her memory. “‘One day you will sit where I sit and rule all Dorne,’ you wrote him. Tell me, Father, when did you decide to disinherit me? Was it the day that Quentyn was born, or the day that I was born? What did I ever do to make you hate me so?” To her fury, there were tears in her eyes.

  “I never hated you.” Prince Doran’s voice was parchment-thin, and full of grief. “Arianne, you do not understand.”

  “Do you deny you wrote those words?”

  “No. That was when Quentyn first went to Yronwood. I did intend for him to follow me, yes. I had other plans for you.”

  “Oh, yes,” she said scornfully, “such plans. Gyles Rosby. Blind Ben Beesbury. Greybeard Grandison. They were your plans.”

  She gave him no chance to reply. “I know it is my duty to provide an heir for Dorne, I have never been forgetful of that. I would have wed, and gladly, but the matches that you brought to me were insults. With every one you spit on me. If you ever felt any love for me at all, why offer me to Walder Frey?”

  “Because I knew that you would spurn him. I had to be seen to try to find a consort for you once you’d reached a certain age, else it would have raised suspicions, but I dared not bring you any man you might accept. You were promised, Arianne.”

  Promised? Arianne stared at him incredulously. “What are you saying? Is this another lie? You never said…”

  “The pact was sealed in secret. I meant to tell you when you were old enough… when you came of age, I thought, but…”

  “I am three-and-twenty, for seven years a woman grown.”

  “I know. If I kept you ignorant too long, it was only to protect you. Arianne, your nature… to you, a secret was only a choice tale to whisper to Garin and Tyene in your bed of a night. Garin gossips as only the orphans can, and Tyene keeps nothing from Obara and the Lady Nym. And if they knew… Obara is too fond of wine, and Nym is too close to the Fowler twins. And who might the Fowler twins confide in? I could not take the risk.”

  She was lost, confounded. Promised. I was promised. “Who is it? Who have I been betrothed to, all these years?”

  “It makes no matter. He is dead.”

  That left her more baffled than ever. “The old ones are so frail. Was it a broken hip, a chill, the gout?”

  “It was a pot of molten gold. We princes make our careful plans and the gods smash them all awry.” Prince Doran made a weary gesture with a chafed red hand. “Dorne will be yours. You have my word on that, if my word still has any meaning for you. Your brother Quentyn has a harder road to walk.”

  “What road?” Arianne regarded him suspiciously. “What are you holding back? Seven save me, but I am sick of secrets. Tell me the rest, Father… or else name Quentyn your heir and send for Hotah and his axe, and let me die beside my cousins.”

  “Do you truly believe I would harm my brother’s children?” Her father grimaced. “Obara, Nym, and Tyene lack for nothing but their freedom, and Ellaria and her daughters are happily ensconced at the Water Gardens. Dorea stalks about knocking oranges off the trees with her morningstar, and Elia and Obella have become the terror of the pools.” He sighed. “It has not been so long since you were playing in those pools. You used to ride the shoulders of an older girl… a tall girl with wispy yellow hair…”

  “Jeyne Fowler, or her sister Jennelyn.” It had been years since Arianne had thought of that. “Oh, and Frynne, her father was a smith. Her hair was brown. Garin was my favorite, though. When I rode Garin no one could defeat us, not even Nym and that green-haired Tyroshi girl.”

  “That green-haired girl was the Archon’s daughter. I was to have sent you to Tyrosh in her place. You would have served the Archon as a cupbearer and met with your betrothed in secret, but your mother threatened to harm herself if I stole another of her children, and I… I could not do that to her.”

  His tale grows ever stranger. “Is that where Quentyn’s gone? To Tyrosh, to court the Archon’s green-haired daughter?”

  Her father plucked up a cyvasse piece. “I must know how you learned that Quentyn was abroad. Your brother went with Cletus Yronwood, Maester Kedry, and three of Lord Yronwood’s best young knights on a long and perilous voyage, with an uncertain welcome at its end. He has gone to bring us back our heart’s desire.”

  She narrowed her eyes. “What is our heart’s desire?”

  “Vengeance.” His voice was soft, as if he were afraid that someone might be listening. “Justice.” Prince Doran pressed the onyx dragon into her palm with his swollen, gouty fingers, and whispered, “Fire and blood.”

  ALAYNE

  She turned the iron ring and pushed the door open, just a crack. “Sweetrobin?” she called. “May I enter?”

  “Have a care, m’lady,” warned old Gretchel, wringing her hands. “His lordship threw his chamber pot at the maester.”

  “Then he has none to throw at me. Isn’t there some work you should be doing? And you, Maddy… are all the windows closed and shuttered? Have all the furnishings been covered?”

  “All of them, m’lady,” said Maddy.

  “Best make certain of it.” Alayne slipped into the darkened bedchamber. “It’s only me, Sweetrobin.”

  Someone sniffled in the darkness. “Are you alone?”

  “I am, my lord.”

  “Come close, then. Just you.”

  Alayne shut the door firmly behind her. It was solid oak, four inches thick; Maddy and Gretchel might listen all they wished, but they would hear nothing. That was just as well. Gretchel could hold her tongue, but Maddy gossiped shamelessly.

  “Did Maester Colemon send you?” the boy asked.

  “No,” she lied. “I heard my Sweetrobin was ailing.” After his encounter with the chamber pot the maester had come running to Ser Lothor, and Brune had come to her. “If m’lady can talk him out of bed nice,” the knight said, “I won’t have to drag him out.”

  We can’t have that, she told herself. When Robert was handled roughly he was apt to go into a shaking fit. “Are you hungry, my lord?” she asked the little lord. “Shall I send Maddy down for berries and cream, or some warm bread and butter?” Too late she remembered that there was no warm bread; the kitchens were closed, the ovens cold.
If it gets Robert out of bed, it would be worth the bother of lighting a fire, she told herself.

  “I don’t want food,” the little lord said, in a reedy, petulant voice. “I’m going to stay in bed today. You could read to me if you want.”

  “It is too dark in here for reading.” The heavy curtains drawn across the windows made the bedchamber black as night. “Has my Sweetrobin forgotten what day this is?”

  “No,” he said, “but I’m not going. I want to stay in bed. You could read to me about the Winged Knight.”

  The Winged Knight was Ser Artys Arryn. Legend said that he had driven the First Men from the Vale and flown to the top of the Giant’s Lance on a huge falcon to slay the Griffin King. There were a hundred tales of his adventures. Little Robert knew them all so well he could have recited them from memory, but he liked to have them read to him all the same. “Sweetling, we have to go,” she told the boy, “but I promise, I’ll read you two tales of the Winged Knight when we reach the Gates of the Moon.”

  “Three,” he said at once. No matter what you offered him, Robert always wanted more.

  “Three,” she agreed. “Might I let some sun in?”

  “No. The light hurts my eyes. Come to bed, Alayne.”

  She went to the windows anyway, edging around the broken chamber pot. She could smell it better than she saw it. “I shan’t open them very wide. Only enough to see my Sweetrobin’s face.”

  He sniffled. “If you must.”

  The curtains were of plush blue velvet. She pulled one back a finger’s length and tied it off. Dust motes danced in a shaft of pale morning light. The small diamond-shaped panes of the window were obscured by frost. Alayne rubbed at one with the heel of her hand, enough to glimpse a brilliant blue sky and a blaze of white from the mountainside. The Eyrie was wrapped in an icy mantle, the Giant’s Lance above buried in waist-deep snows.

  When she turned back, Robert Arryn was propped up against the pillows looking at her. The Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale. A woolen blanket covered him below the waist. Above it he was naked, a pasty boy with hair as long as any girl’s. Robert had spindly arms and legs, a soft concave chest and little belly, and eyes that were always red and runny. He cannot help the way he is. He was born small and sickly. “You look very strong this morning, my lord.” He loved to be told how strong he was. “Shall I have Maddy and Gretchel fetch hot water for your bath? Maddy will scrub your back for you and wash your hair, to make you clean and lordly for your journey. Won’t that be nice?”

  “No. I hate Maddy. She has a wart on her eye, and she scrubs so hard it hurts. My mommy never hurt me scrubbing.”

  “I will tell Maddy not to scrub my Sweetrobin so hard. You’ll feel better when you’re fresh and clean.”

  “No bath, I told you, my head hurts most awfully.”

  “Shall I bring you a warm cloth for your brow? Or a cup of dreamwine? Only a little one, though. Mya Stone is waiting down at Sky, and she’ll be hurt if you go to sleep on her. You know how much she loves you.”

  “I don’t love her. She’s just the mule girl.” Robert sniffled. “Maester Colemon put something vile in my milk last night, I could taste it. I told him I wanted sweetmilk, but he wouldn’t bring me any. Not even when I commanded him. I am the lord, he should do what I say. No one does what I say.”

  “I’ll speak to him,” Alayne promised, “but only if you get up out of bed. It’s beautiful outside, Sweetrobin. The sun is shining bright, a perfect day for going down the mountain. The mules are waiting down at Sky with Mya…”

  His mouth quivered. “I hate those smelly mules. One tried to bite me once! You tell that Mya that I’m staying here.” He sounded as if he were about to cry. “No one can hurt me so long as I stay here. The Eyrie is impregnable.”

  “Who would want to hurt my Sweetrobin? Your lords and knights adore you, and the smallfolk cheer your name.” He is afraid, she thought, and with good reason. Since his lady mother had fallen, the boy would not even stand upon a balcony, and the way from the Eyrie to the Gates of the Moon was perilous enough to daunt anyone. Alayne’s heart had been in her throat when she made her own ascent with Lady Lysa and Lord Petyr, and everyone agreed that the descent was even more harrowing, since you were looking down the whole time. Mya could tell of great lords and bold knights who had gone pale and wet their smallclothes on the mountain. And none of them had the shaking sickness either.

  Still, it would not serve. On the valley floor autumn still lingered, warm and golden, but winter had closed around the mountain peaks. They had weathered three snowstorms, and an ice storm that transformed the castle into crystal for a fortnight. The Eyrie might be impregnable, but it would soon be inaccessible as well, and the way down grew more hazardous every day. Most of the castle’s servants and soldiers had already made the descent. Only a dozen still lingered up here, to attend Lord Robert.

  “Sweetrobin,” she said gently, “the descent will be ever so jolly, you’ll see. Ser Lothor will be with us, and Mya. Her mules have gone up and down this old mountain a thousand times.”

  “I hate mules,” he insisted. “Mules are nasty. I told you, one tried to bite me when I was little.”

 
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