A feast for crows, p.66
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       A Feast for Crows, p.66

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

  This time she did laugh. It was funny, terribly funny, hideously funny. “The gods make japes of all our hopes and plans. I have a champion no man can defeat, but I am forbidden to make use of him. I am the queen, Qyburn. My honor can only be defended by a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard.”

  “I see.” The smile died on Qyburn’s face. “Your Grace, I am at a loss. I do not know how to counsel you…”

  Even in her exhausted, frightened state, the queen knew she dare not trust her fate to a court of sparrows. Nor could she count on Ser Kevan to intervene, after the words that had passed between them at their last meeting. It will have to be a trial by battle. There is no other way. “Qyburn, for the love you bear me, I beg you, send a message for me. A raven if you can. A rider, if not. You must send to Riverrun, to my brother. Tell him what has happened, and write… write…”

  “Yes, Your Grace?”

  She licked her lips, shivering. “Come at once. Help me. Save me. I need you now as I have never needed you before. I love you. I love you. I love you. Come at once.”

  “As you command. ‘I love you’ thrice?”

  “Thrice.” She had to reach him. “He will come. I know he will. He must. Jaime is my only hope.”

  “My queen,” said Qyburn, “have you… forgotten? Ser Jaime has no sword hand. If he should champion you and lose…”

  We will leave this world together, as we once came into it. “He will not lose. Not Jaime. Not with my life at stake.”

  JAIME

  The new Lord of Riverrun was so angry that he was shaking. “We have been deceived,” he said. “This man has played us false!” Pink spittle flew from his lips as he jabbed a finger at Edmure Tully. “I will have his head off! I rule in Riverrun, by the king’s own decree, I—”

  “Emmon,” said his wife, “the Lord Commander knows about the king’s decree. Ser Edmure knows about the king’s decree. The stableboys know about the king’s decree.”

  “I am the lord, and I will have his head!”

  “For what crime?” Thin as he was, Edmure still looked more lordly than Emmon Frey. He wore a quilted doublet of red wool with a leaping trout embroidered on its chest. His boots were black, his breeches blue. His auburn hair had been washed and barbered, his red beard neatly trimmed. “I did all that was asked of me.”

  “Oh?” Jaime Lannister had not slept since Riverrun had opened its gates, and his head was pounding. “I do not recall asking you to let Ser Brynden escape.”

  “You required me to surrender my castle, not my uncle. Am I to blame if your men let him slip through their siege lines?”

  Jaime was not amused. “Where is he?” he said, letting his irritation show. His men had searched Riverrun thrice over, and Brynden Tully was nowhere to be found.

  “He never told me where he meant to go.”

  “And you never asked. How did he get out?”

  “Fish swim. Even black ones.” Edmure smiled.

  Jaime was sorely tempted to crack him across the mouth with his golden hand. A few missing teeth would put an end to his smiles. For a man who was going to spend the rest of his life a prisoner, Edmure was entirely too pleased with himself. “We have oubliettes beneath the Casterly Rock that fit a man as tight as a suit of armor. You can’t turn in them, or sit, or reach down to your feet when the rats start gnawing at your toes. Would you care to reconsider that answer?”

  Lord Edmure’s smile went away. “You gave me your word that I would be treated honorably, as befits my rank.”

  “So you shall,” said Jaime. “Nobler knights than you have died whimpering in those oubliettes, and many a high lord too. Even a king or two, if I recall my history. Your wife can have the one beside you, if you like. I would not want to part you.”

  “He did swim,” said Edmure, sullenly. He had the same blue eyes as his sister Catelyn, and Jaime saw the same loathing there that he’d once seen in hers. “We raised the portcullis on the Water Gate. Not all the way, just three feet or so. Enough to leave a gap under the water, though the gate still appeared to be closed. My uncle is a strong swimmer. After dark, he pulled himself beneath the spikes.”

  And he slipped under our boom the same way, no doubt. A moonless night, bored guards, a black fish in a black river floating quietly downstream. If Ruttiger or Yew or any of their men heard a splash, they would put it down to a turtle or a trout. Edmure had waited most of the day before hauling down the direwolf of Stark in token of surrender. In the confusion of the castle changing hands, it had been the next morning before Jaime had been informed that the Blackfish was not amongst the prisoners.

  He went to the window and gazed out over the river. It was a bright autumn day, and the sun was shining on the waters. By now the Blackfish could be ten leagues downstream.

  “You have to find him,” insisted Emmon Frey.

  “He’ll be found.” Jaime spoke with a certainty he did not feel. “I have hounds and hunters sniffing after him even now.” Ser Addam Marbrand was leading the search on the south side of the river, Ser Dermot of the Rainwood on the north. He had considered enlisting the riverlords as well, but Vance and Piper and their ilk were more like to help the Blackfish escape than clap him into fetters. All in all, he was not hopeful. “He may elude us for a time,” he said, “but eventually he must surface.”

  “What if he should try and take my castle back?”

  “You have a garrison of two hundred.” Too large a garrison, in truth, but Lord Emmon had an anxious disposition. At least he would have no trouble feeding them; the Blackfish had left Riverrun amply provisioned, just as he had claimed. “After the trouble Ser Brynden took to leave us, I doubt that he’ll come skulking back.” Unless it is at the head of a band of outlaws. He did not doubt that the Blackfish meant to continue the fight.

  “This is your seat,” Lady Genna told her husband. “It is for you to hold it. If you cannot do that, put it to the torch and run back to the Rock.”

  Lord Emmon rubbed his mouth. His hand came away red and slimy from the sourleaf. “To be sure. Riverrun is mine, and no man shall ever take it from me.” He gave Edmure Tully one last suspicious look, as Lady Genna drew him from the solar.

  “Is there any more that you would care to tell me?” Jaime asked Edmure when the two of them were alone.

  “This was my father’s solar,” said Tully. “He ruled the riverlands from here, wisely and well. He liked to sit beside that window. The light was good there, and whenever he looked up from his work he could see the river. When his eyes were tired he would have Cat read to him. Littlefinger and I built a castle out of wooden blocks once, there beside the door. You will never know how sick it makes me to see you in this room, Kingslayer. You will never know how much I despise you.”

  He was wrong about that. “I have been despised by better men than you, Edmure.” Jaime called for a guard. “Take his lordship back to his tower and see that he’s fed.”

  The Lord of Riverrun went silently. On the morrow, he would start west. Ser Forley Prester would command his escort; a hundred men, including twenty knights. Best double that. Lord Beric may try to free Edmure before they reach the Golden Tooth. Jaime did not want to have to capture Tully for a third time.

  He returned to Hoster Tully’s chair, pulled over the map of the Trident, and flattened it beneath his golden hand. Where would I go, if I were the Blackfish?

  “Lord Commander?” A guardsman stood in the open door. “Lady Westerling and her daughter are without, as you commanded.”

  Jaime shoved the map aside. “Show them in.” At least the girl did not vanish too. Jeyne Westerling had been Robb Stark’s queen, the girl who cost him everything. With a wolf in her belly, she could have proved more dangerous than the Blackfish.

  She did not look dangerous. Jeyne was a willowy girl, no more than fifteen or sixteen, more awkward than graceful. She had narrow hips, breasts the size of apples, a mop of chestnut curls, and the soft brown eyes of a doe. Pretty enough for a child, Jaime decided, but not a g
irl to lose a kingdom for. Her face was puffy, and there was a scab on her forehead, half-hidden by a lock of brown hair. “What happened there?” he asked her.

  The girl turned her head away. “It is nothing,” insisted her mother, a stern-faced woman in a gown of green velvet. A necklace of golden seashells looped about her long, thin neck. “She would not give up the little crown the rebel gave her, and when I tried to take it from her head the willful child fought me.”

  “It was mine.” Jeyne sobbed. “You had no right. Robb had it made for me. I loved him.”

  Her mother made to slap her, but Jaime stepped between them. “None of that,” he warned Lady Sybell. “Sit down, both of you.” The girl curled up in her chair like a frightened animal, but her mother sat stiffly, her head high. “Will you have wine?” he asked them. The girl did not answer. “No, thank you,” said her mother.

  “As you will.” Jaime turned to the daughter. “I am sorry for your loss. The boy had courage, I’ll give him that. There is a question I must ask you. Are you carrying his child, my lady?”

  Jeyne burst from her chair and would have fled the room if the guard at the door had not seized her by the arm. “She is not,” said Lady Sybell, as her daughter struggled to escape. “I made certain of that, as your lord father bid me.”

  Jaime nodded. Tywin Lannister was not a man to overlook such details. “Unhand the girl,” he said, “I’m done with her for now.” As Jeyne fled sobbing down the stairs, he considered her mother. “House Westerling has its pardon, and your brother Rolph has been made Lord of Castamere. What else would you have of us?”

  “Your lord father promised me worthy marriages for Jeyne and her younger sister. Lords or heirs, he swore to me, not younger sons nor household knights.”

  Lords or heirs. To be sure. The Westerlings were an old House, and proud, but Lady Sybell herself had been born a Spicer, from a line of upjumped merchants. Her grandmother had been some sort of half-mad witch woman from the east, he seemed to recall. And the Westerlings were impoverished. Younger sons would have been the best that Sybell Spicer’s daughters could have hoped for in the ordinary course of events, but a nice fat pot of Lannister gold would make even a dead rebel’s widow look attractive to some lord. “You’ll have your marriages,” said Jaime, “but Jeyne must wait two full years before she weds again.” If the girl took another husband too soon and had a child by him, inevitably there would come whispers that the Young Wolf was the father.

  “I have two sons as well,” Lady Westerling reminded him. “Rollam is with me, but Raynald was a knight and went with the rebels to the Twins. If I had known what was to happen there, I would never have allowed that.” There was a hint of reproach in her voice. “Raynald knew nought of any… of the understanding with your lord father. He may be a captive at the Twins.”

  Or he may be dead. Walder Frey would not have known of the understanding either. “I will make inquiries. If Ser Raynald is still a captive, we’ll pay his ransom for you.”

  “Mention was made of a match for him as well. A bride from Casterly Rock. Your lord father said that Raynald should have joy of him, if all went as we hoped.”

  Even from the grave, Lord Tywin’s dead hand moves us all. “Joy is my late uncle Gerion’s natural daughter. A betrothal can be arranged, if that is your wish, but any marriage will need to wait. Joy was nine or ten when last I saw her.”

  “His natural daughter?” Lady Sybell looked as if she had swallowed a lemon. “You want a Westerling to wed a bastard?”

  “No more than I want Joy to marry the son of some scheming turncloak bitch. She deserves better.” Jaime would happily have strangled the woman with her seashell necklace. Joy was a sweet child, albeit a lonely one; her father had been Jaime’s favorite uncle. “Your daughter is worth ten of you, my lady. You’ll leave with Edmure and Ser Forley on the morrow. Until then, you would do well to stay out of my sight.” He shouted for a guardsman, and Lady Sybell went off with her lips pressed primly together. Jaime had to wonder how much Lord Gawen knew about his wife’s scheming. How much do we men ever know?

  When Edmure and the Westerlings departed, four hundred men rode with them; Jaime had doubled the escort again at the last moment. He rode with them a few miles, to talk with Ser Forley Prester. Though he bore a bull’s head upon his surcoat and horns upon his helm, Ser Forley could not have been less bovine. He was a short, spare, hard-bitten man. With his pinched nose, bald pate, and grizzled brown beard, he looked more like an innkeep than a knight. “We don’t know where the Blackfish is,” Jaime reminded him, “but if he can cut Edmure free, he will.”

  “That will not happen, my lord.” Like most innkeeps, Ser Forley was no man’s fool. “Scouts and outriders will screen our march, and we’ll fortify our camps by night. I have picked ten men to stay with Tully day and night, my best longbowmen. If he should ride so much as a foot off the road, they will loose so many shafts at him that his own mother would take him for a goose.”

  “Good.” Jaime would as lief have Tully reach Casterly Rock safely, but better dead than fled. “Best keep some archers near Lord Westerling’s daughter as well.”

  Ser Forley seemed taken aback. “Gawen’s girl? She’s—”

  “—the Young Wolf’s widow,” Jaime finished, “and twice as dangerous as Edmure if she were ever to escape us.”

  “As you say, my lord. She will be watched.”

  Jaime had to canter past the Westerlings as he rode down the column on his way back to Riverrun. Lord Gawen nodded gravely as he passed, but Lady Sybell looked through him with eyes like chips of ice. Jeyne never saw him at all. The widow rode with downcast eyes, huddled beneath a hooded cloak. Underneath its heavy folds, her clothes were finely made, but torn. She ripped them herself, as a mark of mourning, Jaime realized. That could not have pleased her mother. He found himself wondering if Cersei would tear her gown if she should ever hear that he was dead.

  He did not go straight back to the castle but crossed the Tumblestone once more to call on Edwyn Frey and discuss the transfer of his great-grandfather’s prisoners. The Frey host had begun to break up within hours of Riverrun’s surrender, as Lord Walder’s bannermen and freeriders pulled up stakes to make for home. The Freys who still remained were striking camp, but he found Edwyn with his bastard uncle in the latter’s pavilion.

  The two of them were huddled over a map, arguing heatedly, but they broke off when Jaime entered. “Lord Commander,” Rivers said with cold courtesy, but Edwyn blurted out, “My father’s blood is on your hands, ser.”

  That took Jaime a bit aback. “How so?”

  “You were the one who sent him home, were you not?”

  Someone had to. “Has some ill befallen Ser Ryman?”

  “Hanged with all his party,” said Walder Rivers. “The outlaws caught them two leagues south of Fairmarket.”

  “Dondarrion?”

  “Him, or Thoros, or this woman Stoneheart.”

  Jaime frowned. Ryman Frey had been a fool, a craven, and a sot, and no one was like to miss him much, least of all his fellow Freys. If Edwyn’s dry eyes were any clue, even his own sons would not mourn him long. Still… these outlaws are growing bold, if they dare hang Lord Walder’s heir not a day’s ride from the Twins. “How many men did Ser Ryman have with him?” he asked.

  “Three knights and a dozen men-at-arms,” said Rivers. “It is almost as if they knew that he would be returning to the Twins, and with a small escort.”

  Edwyn’s mouth twisted. “My brother had a hand in this, I’ll wager. He allowed the outlaws to escape after they murdered Merrett and Petyr, and this is why. With our father dead, there’s only me left between Black Walder and the Twins.”

  “You have no proof of this,” said Walder Rivers.

  “I do not need proof. I know my brother.”

  “Your brother is at Seagard,” Rivers insisted. “How could he have known that Ser Ryman was returning to the Twins?”

  “Someone told him,” said Edwyn in
a bitter tone. “He has his spies in our camp, you can be sure.”

  And you have yours at Seagard. Jaime knew that the enmity between Edwyn and Black Walder ran deep, but cared not a fig which of them succeeded their great-grandfather as Lord of the Crossing.

  “If you will pardon me for intruding on your grief,” he said, in a dry tone, “we have other matters to consider. When you return to the Twins, please inform Lord Walder that King Tommen requires all the captives you took at the Red Wedding.”

  Ser Walder frowned. “These prisoners are valuable, ser.”

  “His Grace would not ask for them if they were worthless.”

  Frey and Rivers exchanged a look. Edwyn said, “My lord grandfather will expect recompense for these prisoners.”

  And he’ll have it, as soon as I grow a new hand, thought Jaime. “We all have expectations,” he said mildly. “Tell me, is Ser Raynald Westerling amongst these captives?”

  “The knight of seashells?” Edwyn sneered. “You’ll find that one feeding the fish at the bottom of the Green Fork.”

  “He was in the yard when our men came to put the direwolf down,” said Walder Rivers. “Whalen demanded his sword and he gave it over meek enough, but when the crossbowmen began feathering the wolf he seized Whalen’s axe and cut the monster loose of the net they’d thrown over him. Whalen says he took a quarrel in his shoulder and another in the gut, but still managed to reach the wallwalk and throw himself into the river.”

  “He left a trail of blood on the steps,” said Edwyn.

  “Did you find his corpse afterward?” asked Jaime.

  “We found a thousand corpses afterward. Once they’ve spent a few days in the river they all look much the same.”

  “I’ve heard the same is true of hanged men,” said Jaime, before he took his leave.

  By the next morning little remained of the Frey encampment but flies, horse dung, and Ser Ryman’s gallows, standing forlorn beside the Tumblestone. His coz wanted to know what should be done with it, and with the siege equipment he had built, his rams and sows and towers and trebuchets. Daven proposed that they drag it all to Raventree and use it there. Jaime told him to put everything to the torch, starting with the gallows. “I mean to deal with Lord Tytos myself. It won’t require a siege tower.”

  Daven grinned through his bushy beard. “Single combat, coz? Scarce seems fair. Tytos is an old grey man.”

  An old grey man with two hands.

  That night he and Ser Ilyn fought for three hours. It was one of his better nights. If they had been in earnest, Payne only would have killed him twice. Half a dozen deaths were more the rule, and some nights were worse than that. “If I keep at this for another year, I may be as good as Peck,” Jaime declared, and Ser Ilyn made that clacking sound that meant he was amused. “Come, let’s drink some more of Hoster Tully’s good red wine.”

  Wine had become a part of their nightly ritual. Ser Ilyn made the perfect drinking companion. He never interrupted, never disagreed, never complained or asked for favors or told long pointless stories. All he did was drink and listen.

  “I should have the tongues removed from all my friends,” said Jaime as he filled their cups, “and from my kin as well. A silent Cersei would be sweet. Though I’d miss her tongue when we kissed.” He drank. The wine was a deep red, sweet and heavy. It warmed him going down. “I can’t remember when we first began to kiss. It was innocent at first. Until it wasn’t.” He finished the wine and set his cup aside. “Tyrion once told me that most whores will not kiss you. They’ll fuck you blind, he said, but you’ll never feel their lips on yours. Do you think my sister kisses Kettleblack?”

  Ser Ilyn did not answer.

  “I don’t think it would be proper for me to slay mine own Sworn Brother. What I need to do is geld him and send him to the Wall. That’s what they did with Lucamore the Lusty. Ser Osmund may not take kindly to the gelding, to be sure. And there are his brothers to consider. Brothers can be dangerous. After Aegon the Unworthy put Ser Terrence Toyne to death for sleeping with his mistress, Toyne’s brothers did their best to kill him. Their best was not quite good enough, thanks to the Dragonknight, but it was not for want of trying. It’s written down in the White Book. All of it, save what to do with Cersei.”

  Ser Ilyn drew a finger across his throat.

  “No,” said Jaime. “Tommen has lost a brother, and the man he thought of as his father. If I were to kill his mother, he would hate me for it… and that sweet little wife of his would find a way to turn that hatred to the benefit of Highgarden.”

  Ser Ilyn smiled in a way Jaime did not like. An ugly smile. An ugly soul. “You talk too much,” he told the man.

  The next day Ser Dermot of the Rainwood returned to the castle, empty-handed. When asked what he’d found, he answered, “Wolves. Hundreds of the bloody beggars.” He’d lost two sentries to them. The wolves had come out of the dark to savage them. “Armed men in mail and boiled leather, and yet the beasts had no fear of them. Before he died, Jate said the pack was led by a she-wolf of monstrous size. A direwolf, to hear him tell it. The wolves got in amongst our horse lines too. The bloody bastards killed my favorite bay.”

  “A ring of fires round your camp might keep them off,” said Jaime, though he wondered. Could Ser Dermot’s direwolf be the same beast that had mauled Joffrey near the crossroads?

  Wolves or no, Ser Dermot took fresh horses and more men and went out again the next morning, to resume the search for Brynden Tully. That same afternoon, the lords of the Trident came to Jaime asking his leave to return to their own lands. He granted it. Lord Piper also wanted to know about his son Marq. “All the captives will be ransomed,” Jaime promised. As the riverlords took their leave, Lord Karyl Vance lingered to say, “Lord Jaime, you must go to Raventree. So long as it is Jonos at his gates Tytos will never yield, but I know he will bend his knee for you.” Jaime thanked him for his counsel.

  Strongboar was the next to depart. He wanted to return to Darry as he’d promised and fight the outlaws. “We rode across half the bloody realm and for what? So you could make Edmure Tully piss his breeches? There’s no song in that. I need a fight. I want the Hound, Jaime. Him, or the marcher lord.”

  “The Hound’s head is yours if you can take it,” Jaime said, “but Beric Dondarrion is to be captured alive, so he can be brought back to King’s Landing. A thousand people need to see him die, or else he won’t stay dead.” Strongboar grumbled at that, but finally agreed. The next day he departed with his squire
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