A feast for crows, p.62
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       A Feast for Crows, p.62

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

  his darling daughter soon. He writes that Lyonel Corbray seems well pleased with his bride, and even more so with her dowry. I do hope Lord Lyonel remembers which one he needs to bed. Lady Waynwood turned up with the Knight of Ninestars for the wedding feast, Lord Petyr says, to everyone’s astonishment.”

  “Anya Waynwood? Truly?” The Lords Declarant were down from six to three, it would seem. The day he’d departed the mountain, Petyr Baelish had been confident of winning Symond Templeton to his side, but not so Lady Waynwood. “Was there more?” she asked. The Eyrie was such a lonely place that she was eager for any bit of news from the world beyond, however trivial or insignificant.

  “Not from your father, no, but we’ve had other birds. The war goes on, everywhere but here. Riverrun has yielded, but Dragonstone and Storm’s End still hold for Lord Stannis.”

  “Lady Lysa was so wise, to keep us out of it.”

  Myranda gave her a shrewd little smile. “Yes, she was the very soul of wisdom, that good lady.” She shifted her seat. “Why must mules be so bony and ill-tempered? Mya does not feed them enough. A nice fat mule would be more comfortable to ride. There’s a new High Septon, did you know? Oh, and the Night’s Watch has a boy commander, some bastard son of Eddard Stark’s.”

  “Jon Snow?” she blurted out, surprised.

  “Snow? Yes, it would be Snow, I suppose.”

  She had not thought of Jon in ages. He was only her half brother, but still… with Robb and Bran and Rickon dead, Jon Snow was the only brother that remained to her. I am a bastard too now, just like him. Oh, it would be so sweet, to see him once again. But of course that could never be. Alayne Stone had no brothers, baseborn or otherwise.

  “Our cousin Bronze Yohn had himself a mêlée at Runestone,” Myranda Royce went on, oblivious, “a small one, just for squires. It was meant for Harry the Heir to win the honors, and so he did.”

  “Harry the Heir?”

  “Lady Waynwood’s ward. Harrold Hardyng. I suppose we must call him Ser Harry now. Bronze Yohn knighted him.”

  “Oh.” Alayne was confused. Why should Lady Waynwood’s ward be her heir? She had sons of her own blood. One was the Knight of the Bloody Gate, Ser Donnel. She did not want to look stupid, though, so all she said was, “I pray he proves a worthy knight.”

  Lady Myranda snorted. “I pray he gets the pox. He has a bastard daughter by some common girl, you know. My lord father had hoped to marry me to Harry, but Lady Waynwood would not hear of it. I do not know whether it was me she found unsuitable, or just my dowry.” She gave a sigh. “I do need another husband. I had one once, but I killed him.”

  “You did?” Alayne said, shocked.

  “Oh, yes. He died on top of me. In me, if truth be told. You do know what goes on in a marriage bed, I hope?”

  She thought of Tyrion, and of the Hound and how he’d kissed her, and gave a nod. “That must have been dreadful, my lady. Him dying. There, I mean, whilst… whilst he was…”

  “… fucking me?” She shrugged. “It was disconcerting, certainly. Not to mention discourteous. He did not even have the common decency to plant a child in me. Old men have weak seed. So here I am, a widow, but scarce used. Harry could have done much worse. I daresay that he will. Lady Waynwood will most like marry him to one of her granddaughters, or one of Bronze Yohn’s.”

  “As you say, my lady.” Alayne remembered Petyr’s warning.

  “Randa. Come now, you can say it. Ran. Da.”

  “Randa.”

  “Much better. I fear I must apologize to you. You will think me a dreadful slut, I know, but I bedded that pretty boy Marillion. I did not know he was a monster. He sang beautifully, and could do the sweetest things with his fingers. I would never have taken him to bed if I had known he was going to push Lady Lysa through the Moon Door. I do not bed monsters, as a rule.” She studied Alayne’s face and chest. “You are prettier than me, but my breasts are larger. The maesters say large breasts produce no more milk than small ones, but I do not believe it. Have you ever known a wet nurse with small teats? Yours are ample for a girl your age, but as they are bastard breasts, I shan’t concern myself with them.” Myranda edged her mule closer. “You know our Mya’s not a maid, I trust?”

  She did. Fat Maddy had whispered it to her, one time when Mya brought up their supplies. “Maddy told me.”

  “Of course she did. She has a mouth as big as her thighs, and her thighs are enormous. Mychel Redfort was the one. He used to be Lyn Corbray’s squire. A real squire, not like that loutish lad Ser Lyn’s got squiring for him now. He only took that one on for coin, they say. Mychel was the best young swordsman in the Vale, and gallant… or so poor Mya thought, till he wed one of Bronze Yohn’s daughters. Lord Horton gave him no choice in the matter, I am sure, but it was still a cruel thing to do to Mya.”

  “Ser Lothor is fond of her.” Alayne glanced down at the mule girl, twenty steps below. “More than fond.”

  “Lothor Brune?” Myranda raised an eyebrow. “Does she know?” She did not wait for an answer. “He has no hope, poor man. My father’s tried to make a match for Mya, but she’ll have none of them. She is half mule, that one.”

  Despite herself, Alayne found herself warming to the older girl. She had not had a friend to gossip with since poor Jeyne Poole. “Do you think Ser Lothor likes her as she is, in mail and leather?” she asked the older girl, who seemed so worldly-wise. “Or does he dream of her draped in silks and velvets?”

  “He’s a man. He dreams of her naked.”

  She is trying to make me blush again.

  Lady Myranda must have heard her thoughts. “You do turn such a pretty shade of pink. When I blush I look quite like an apple. I have not blushed for years, though.” She leaned closer. “Does your father plan to wed again?”

  “My father?” Alayne had never considered that. Somehow the notion made her squirm. She found herself remembering the look on Lysa Arryn’s face as she’d tumbled through the Moon Door.

  “We all know how devoted he was to Lady Lysa,” said Myranda, “but he cannot mourn forever. He needs a pretty young wife to wash away his grief. I imagine he could have his pick of half the noble maidens in the Vale. Who could be a better husband than our own bold Lord Protector? Though I do wish he had a better name than Littlefinger. How little is it, do you know?”

  “His finger?” She blushed again. “I don’t… I never…”

  Lady Myranda laughed so loud that Mya Stone glanced back at them. “Never you mind, Alayne, I’m sure it’s large enough.”

  They passed beneath a wind-carved arch, where long icicles clung to the pale stone, dripping down on them. On the far side the path narrowed and plunged down sharply for a hundred feet or more. Myranda was forced to drop back. Alayne gave the mule his head. The steepness of this part of the descent made her cling tightly to her saddle. The steps here had been worn smooth by the iron-shod hooves of all the mules who’d passed this way, until they resembled a series of shallow stone bowls. Water filled the bottoms of the bowls, glimmering golden in the afternoon sun. It is water now, Alayne thought, but come dark, all of it will turn to ice. She realized that she was holding her breath, and let it out. Mya Stone and Lord Robert had almost reached the rock spire where the slope leveled off again. She tried to look at them, and only them. I will not fall, she told herself. Mya’s mule will see me through. The wind skirled around her, as she bumped and scraped her way down step by step. It seemed to take a lifetime.

  Then all at once she was at the bottom with Mya and her little lord, huddled beneath a twisted, rocky spire. Ahead stretched a high stone saddle, narrow and icy. Alayne could hear the wind shrieking, and feel it plucking at her cloak. She remembered this place from her ascent. It had frightened her then, and it frightened her now. “It is wider than it looks,” Mya was telling Lord Robert in a cheerful voice. “A yard across, and no more than eight yards long, that’s nothing.”

  “Nothing,” Robert said. His hand was shaking.

  Oh,
no, Alayne thought. Please. Not here. Not now.

  “It’s best to lead the mules across,” Mya said. “If it please my lord, I’ll take mine over first, then come back for yours.” Lord Robert did not answer. He was staring at the narrow saddle with his reddened eyes. “I shan’t be long, my lord,” Mya promised, but Alayne doubted that the boy could even hear her.

  When the bastard girl led her mule out from beneath the shelter of the spire, the wind caught her in its teeth. Her cloak lifted, twisting and flapping in the air. Mya staggered, and for half a heartbeat it seemed as if she would be blown over the precipice, but somehow she regained her balance and went on.

  Alayne took Robert’s gloved hand in her own to stop his shaking. “Sweetrobin,” she said, “I’m scared. Hold my hand, and help me get across. I know you’re not afraid.”

  He looked at her, his pupils small dark pinpricks in eyes as big and white as eggs. “I’m not?”

  “Not you. You’re my winged knight, Ser Sweetrobin.”

  “The Winged Knight could fly,” Robert whispered.

  “Higher than the mountains.” She gave his hand a squeeze.

  Lady Myranda had joined them by the spire. “He could,” she echoed, when she saw what was happening.

  “Ser Sweetrobin,” Lord Robert said, and Alayne knew that she dare not wait for Mya to return. She helped the boy dismount, and hand in hand they walked out onto the bare stone saddle, their cloaks snapping and flapping behind them. All around was empty air and sky, the ground falling away sharply to either side. There was ice underfoot, and broken stones just waiting to turn an ankle, and the wind was howling fiercely. It sounds like a wolf, thought Sansa. A ghost wolf, big as mountains.

  And then they were on the other side, and Mya Stone was laughing and lifting Robert for a hug. “Be careful,” Alayne told her. “He can hurt you, flailing. You wouldn’t think so, but he can.” They found a place for him, a cleft in the rock to keep him out of the cold wind. Alayne tended him until the shaking passed, whilst Mya went back to help the others cross.

  Fresh mules awaited them at Snow, and a hot meal of stewed goat and onions. She ate with Mya and Myranda. “So you’re brave as well as beautiful,” Myranda said to her.

  “No.” The compliment made her blush. “I’m not. I was so scared. I don’t think I could have crossed without Lord Robert.” She turned to Mya Stone. “You almost fell.”

  “You’re mistaken. I never fall.” Mya’s hair had tumbled across her cheek, hiding one eye.

  “Almost, I said. I saw you. Weren’t you afraid?”

  Mya shook her head. “I remember a man throwing me in the air when I was very little. He stands as tall as the sky, and he throws me up so high it feels as though I’m flying. We’re both laughing, laughing so much that I can hardly catch a breath, and finally I laugh so hard I wet myself, but that only makes him laugh the louder. I was never afraid when he was throwing me. I knew that he would always be there to catch me.” She pushed her hair back. “Then one day he wasn’t. Men come and go. They lie, or die, or leave you. A mountain is not a man, though, and a stone is a mountain’s daughter. I trust my father, and I trust my mules. I won’t fall.” She put her hand on a jagged spur of rock, and got to her feet. “Best finish. We have a long way yet to go, and I can smell a storm.”

  The snow began to fall as they were leaving Stone, the largest and lowest of the three waycastles that defended the approaches to the Eyrie. Dusk was settling by then. Lady Myranda suggested that perhaps they might turn back, spend the night at Stone, and resume their descent when the sun came up, but Mya would not hear of it. “The snow might be five feet deep by then, and the steps treacherous even for my mules,” she said. “We will do better to press on. We’ll take it slow.”

  And so they did. Below Stone the steps were broader and less steep, winding in and out of the tall pines and grey-green sentinels that cloaked the lower slopes of the Giant’s Lance. Mya’s mules knew every root and rock on the way down, it seemed, and any they forgot the bastard girl remembered. Half the night was gone before they sighted the lights of the Gates of the Moon through the falling snow. The last part of their journey was the most peaceful. The snow fell steadily, cloaking all the world in white. Sweetrobin drifted to sleep in the saddle, swaying back and forth with the motion of his mule. Even Lady Myranda began to yawn and complain of being weary. “We have apartments prepared for all of you,” she told Alayne, “but if you like you may share my bed tonight. It’s large enough for four.”

  “I should be honored, my lady.”

  “Randa. Count yourself fortunate that I’m so tired. All I want to do is curl up and go to sleep. Usually when ladies share my bed they have to pay a pillow tax and tell me all about the wicked things they’ve done.”

  “What if they haven’t done any wicked things?”

  “Why, then they must confess all the wicked things they want to do. Not you, of course. I can see how virtuous you are just by looking at those rosy cheeks and big blue eyes of yours.” She yawned again. “I hope your feet are warm. I do hate bedmaids with cold feet.”

  By the time they finally reached her father’s castle, Lady Myranda was drowsing too, and Alayne was dreaming of her bed. It will be a featherbed, she told herself, soft and warm and deep, piled high with furs. I will dream a sweet dream, and when I wake there will be dogs barking, women gossiping beside the well, swords ringing in the yard. And later there will be a feast, with music and dancing. After the deathly silence of the Eyrie, she yearned for shouts and laughter.

  As the riders were climbing off their mules, however, one of Petyr’s guardsmen emerged from within the keep. “Lady Alayne,” he said, “the Lord Protector has been waiting for you.”

  “He’s back?” she said, startled.

  “At evenfall. You’ll find him in the west tower.”

  The hour was closer to dawn than to dusk, and most of the castle was asleep, but not Petyr Baelish. Alayne found him seated by a crackling fire, drinking hot mulled wine with three men she did not know. They all rose when she entered, and Petyr smiled warmly. “Alayne. Come, give your father a kiss.”

  She hugged him dutifully and kissed him on the cheek. “I am sorry to intrude, Father. No one told me you had company.”

  “You are never an intrusion, sweetling. I was just now telling these good knights what a dutiful daughter I had.”

  “Dutiful and beautiful,” said an elegant young knight whose thick blond mane cascaded down well past his shoulders.

  “Aye,” said the second knight, a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams. “You left out that part, m’lord.”

  “I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.”

  Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”

  “Knights they are,” said Petyr. “Their gallantry has yet to be demonstrated, but we may hope. Allow me to present Ser Byron, Ser Morgarth, and Ser Shadrich. Sers, the Lady Alayne, my natural and very clever daughter… with whom I must needs confer, if you will be so good as to excuse us.”

  The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.

  “Hedge knights?” said Alayne, when the door had closed.

  “Hungry knights. I thought it best that we have a few more swords about us. The times grow ever more interesting, my sweet, and when the times are interesting you can never have too many swords. The Merling King’s returned to Gulltown, and old Oswell had some tales to tell.”

  She knew better than to ask what sort of tales. If Petyr had wanted her to know, he would have told her. “I did not expect you back so soon,” she said. “I am glad you’ve come.”

  “I would never have known it from the kiss you gave me.” He pulled he
r closer, caught her face between his hands, and kissed her on the lips for a long time. “Now that’s the sort of kiss that says welcome home. See that you do better next time.”

  “Yes, Father.” She could feel herself blushing.

  He did not hold her kiss against her. “You would not believe half of what is happening in King’s Landing, sweetling. Cersei stumbles from one idiocy to the next, helped along by her council of the deaf, the dim, and the blind. I always anticipated that she would beggar the realm and destroy herself, but I never expected she would do it quite so fast. It is quite vexing. I had hoped to have four or five quiet years to plant some seeds and allow some fruits to ripen, but now… it is a good thing that I thrive on chaos. What little peace and order the five kings left us will not long survive the three queens, I fear.”

  “Three queens?” She did not understand.

  Nor did Petyr choose to explain. Instead, he smiled and said, “I have brought my sweet girl back a gift.”

  Alayne was as pleased as she was surprised. “Is it a gown?” She had heard there were fine seamstresses in Gulltown, and she was so tired of dressing drably.

  “Something better. Guess again.”

  “Jewels?”

  “No jewels could hope to match my daughter’s eyes.”

  “Lemons? Did you find some lemons?” She had promised Sweetrobin lemon cake, and for lemon cake you needed lemons.

  Petyr Baelish took her by the hand and drew her down onto his lap. “I have made a marriage contract for you.”

  “A marriage…” Her throat tightened. She did not want to wed again, not now, perhaps not ever. “I do not… I cannot marry. Father, I…” Alayne looked to the door, to make certain it was closed. “I am married,” she whispered. “You know.”

  Petyr put a finger to her lips to silence her. “The dwarf wed Ned Stark’s daughter, not mine. Be that as it may. This is only a betrothal. The marriage must needs wait until Cersei is done and Sansa’s safely widowed. And you must meet the boy and win his approval. Lady Waynwood will not make him marry against his will, she was quite firm on that.”

  “Lady Waynwood?” Alayne could hardly believe it. “Why would she marry one of her sons to… to a…”

  “… bastard? For a start, you are the Lord Protector’s bastard, never forget. The Waynwoods are very old and very proud, but not as rich as one might think, as I discovered when I began buying up their debt. Not that Lady Anya would ever sell a son for gold. A ward, however… young Harry’s only a cousin, and the dower that I offered her ladyship was even larger than the one that Lyonel Corbray just collected. It had to be, for her to risk Bronze Yohn’s wroth. This will put all his plans awry. You are promised to Harrold Hardyng, sweetling, provided you can win his boyish heart… which should not be hard, for you.”

  “Harry the Heir?” Alayne tried to recall what Myranda had told her about him on the mountain. “He was just knighted. And he has a bastard daughter by some common girl.”

  “And another on the way by a different wench. Harry can be a beguiling one, no doubt. Soft sandy hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples when he smiles. And very gallant, I am told.” He teased her with a smile. “Bastard-born or no, sweetling, when this match is announced you will be the envy of every highborn maiden in the Vale, and a few from the riverlands and the Reach as well.”

  “Why?” Alayne was lost. “Is Ser Harrold… how could he be Lady Waynwood’s heir? Doesn’t she have sons of her own blood?”

  “Three,” Petyr allowed. She could smell the wine on his breath, the cloves and nutmeg. “Daughters too, and grandsons.”

  “Won’t they come before Harry? I don’t understand.”

  “You will. Listen.” Petyr took her hand in his own and brushed his finger lightly down the inside of her palm. “Lord Jasper Arryn, begin with him. Jon Arryn’s father. He begot three children, two sons and a daughter. Jon was the eldest, so the Eyrie and the lordship passed to him. His sister Alys wed Ser Elys Waynwood, uncle to the present Lady Waynwood.” He made a wry face. “Elys and Alys, isn’t that precious? Lord Jasper’s younger son, Ser Ronnel Arryn, wed a Belmore girl, but only rang her once or twice before dying of a bad belly. Their son Elbert was being born in one bed even as poor Ronnel was dying in another down the hall. Are you paying close attention, sweetling?”

  “Yes. There was Jon and Alys and Ronnel, but Ronnel died.”

  “Good. Now, Jon Arryn married thrice, but his first two wives gave him no children, so for long years his nephew Elbert was his heir. Meantime, Elys was plowing Alys quite dutifully, and she was whelping once a year. She gave him nine children, eight girls and one precious little boy, another Jasper, after which she died exhausted. Boy Jasper, inconsiderate of the heroic efforts that had gone into begetting him, got himself kicked in the head by a horse when he was three years old. A pox took two of his sisters soon after, leaving six. The eldest married Ser Denys Arryn, a distant cousin to the Lords of the Eyrie. There are several branches of House Arryn scattered across the Vale, all as proud as they are penurious, save for the Gulltown Arryns, who had the rare good sense to marry merchants. They’re rich, but less than couth, so no one talks about them. Ser Denys hailed from one of the poor, proud branches… but he was also a renowned jouster, handsome and gallant and brimming with courtesy. And he had that magic Arryn name, which made him ideal for the eldest Waynwood girl. Their children would be Arryns, and the next heirs to the Vale should any ill befall Elbert. Well, as it happened, Mad King Aerys befell Elbert. You know that story?”

  She did. “The Mad King murdered him.”

  “He did indeed. And soon after, Ser Denys left his pregnant Waynwood wife to ride to war. He died during the Battle of the Bells, of an excess of gallantry and an axe. When they told his lady of his death she perished of grief, and her newborn son soon followed. No matter. Jon Arryn had gotten himself a young wife during the war, one he had reason to believe fertile. He was very hopeful, I’m sure, but you and I know that all he ever got from Lysa were stillbirths, miscarriages, and poor Sweetrobin.

  “Which brings us back to the five remaining daughters of Elys and Alys. The eldest had been left terribly scarred by the same pox that killed her sisters, so she became a septa. Another was seduced by a sellsword. Ser Elys cast her out, and she joined the silent sisters after her bastard died in infancy. The third wed the Lord of the Paps, but proved barren. The fourth was on her way to the riverlands to marry some Bracken when Burned Men carried her off. That left the youngest, who wed a landed knight sworn to the Waynwoods, gave him a son that she named Harrold, and perished.” He turned her hand over and lightly kissed her wrist. “So tell me, sweetling — why is Harry the Heir?”

  Her eyes widened. “He is not Lady Waynwood’s heir. He’s Robert’s heir. If Robert were to die…”

  Petyr arched an eyebrow. “When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon… and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back… why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa… Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?”

 
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