A feast for crows, p.67
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       A Feast for Crows, p.67

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

  and men-at-arms, plus Beardless Jon Bettley, who had decided that hunting outlaws was preferable to returning to his famously homely wife. Supposedly she had the beard that Bettley lacked.

  Jaime still had the garrison to deal with. To a man, they swore that they knew nothing of Ser Brynden’s plans or where he might have gone. “They are lying,” Emmon Frey insisted, but Jaime thought not. “If you share your plans with no one, no one can betray you,” he pointed out. Lady Genna suggested that a few of the men might be put to the question. He refused. “I gave Edmure my word that if he yielded, the garrison could leave unharmed.”

  “That was chivalrous of you,” his aunt said, “but it’s strength that’s needed here, not chivalry.”

  Ask Edmure how chivalrous I am, thought Jaime. Ask him about the trebuchet. Somehow he did not think the maesters were like to confuse him with Prince Aemon the Dragonknight when they wrote their histories. Still, he felt curiously content. The war was all but won. Dragonstone had fallen and Storm’s End would soon enough, he could not doubt, and Stannis was welcome to the Wall. The northmen would love him no more than the storm lords had. If Roose Bolton did not destroy him, winter would.

  And he had done his own part here at Riverrun without actually ever taking up arms against the Starks or Tullys. Once he found the Blackfish, he would be free to return to King’s Landing, where he belonged. My place is with my king. With my son. Would Tommen want to know that? The truth could cost the boy his throne. Would you sooner have a father or a chair, lad? Jaime wished he knew the answer. He does like stamping papers with his seal. The boy might not even believe him, to be sure. Cersei would say it was a lie. My sweet sister, the deceiver. He would need to find some way to winkle Tommen from her clutches before the boy became another Joffrey. And whilst at that, he should find the lad a new small council too. If Cersei can be put aside, Ser Kevan may agree to serve as Tommen’s Hand. And if not, well, the Seven Kingdoms did not lack for able men. Forley Prester would make a good choice, or Roland Crakehall. If someone other than a westerman was needed to appease the Tyrells, there was always Mathis Rowan… or even Petyr Baelish. Littlefinger was as amiable as he was clever, but too lowborn to threaten any of the great lords, with no swords of his own. The perfect Hand.

  The Tully garrison departed the next morning, stripped of all their arms and armor. Each man was allowed three days’ food and the clothing on his back, after he swore a solemn oath never to take up arms against Lord Emmon or House Lannister. “If you’re fortunate, one man in ten may keep that vow,” Lady Genna said.

  “Good. I’d sooner face nine men than ten. The tenth might have been the one who would have killed me.”

  “The other nine will kill you just as quick.”

  “Better that than die in bed.” Or on the privy.

  Two men did not choose to depart with the others. Ser Desmond Grell, Lord Hoster’s old master-at-arms, preferred to take the black. So did Ser Robin Ryger, Riverrun’s captain of guards. “This castle’s been my home for forty years,” said Grell. “You say I’m free to go, but where? I’m too old and too stout to make a hedge knight. But men are always welcome at the Wall.”

  “As you wish,” said Jaime, though it was a bloody nuisance. He allowed them to keep their arms and armor, and assigned a dozen of Gregor Clegane’s men to escort the two of them to Maidenpool. The command he gave to Rafford, the one they called the Sweetling. “See to it that the prisoners reach Maidenpool unspoiled,” he told the man, “or what Ser Gregor did to the Goat will seem a jolly lark compared to what I’ll do to you.”

  More days passed. Lord Emmon assembled all of Riverrun in the yard, Lord Edmure’s people and his own, and spoke to them for close on three hours about what would be expected of them now that he was their lord and master. From time to time he waved his parchment, as stableboys and serving girls and smiths listened in a sullen silence and a light rain fell down upon them all.

  The singer was listening too, the one that Jaime had taken from Ser Ryman Frey. Jaime came upon him standing inside an open door, where it was dry. “His lordship should have been a singer,” the man said. “This speech is longer than a marcher ballad, and I don’t think he’s stopped for breath.”

  Jaime had to laugh. “Lord Emmon does not need to breathe, so long as he can chew. Are you going to make a song of it?”

  “A funny one. I’ll call it ‘Talking to the Fish.’”

  “Just don’t play it where my aunt can hear.” Jaime had never paid the man much mind before. He was a small fellow, garbed in ragged green breeches and a frayed tunic of a lighter shade of green, with brown leather patches covering the holes. His nose was long and sharp, his smile big and loose. Thin brown hair fell to his collar, snaggled and unwashed. Fifty if he’s a day, thought Jaime, a hedge harp, and hard used by life. “Weren’t you Ser Ryman’s man when I found you?” he asked.

  “Only for a fortnight.”

  “I would have expected you to depart with the Freys.”

  “That one up there’s a Frey,” the singer said, nodding at Lord Emmon, “and this castle seems a nice snug place to pass the winter. Whitesmile Wat went home with Ser Forley, so I thought I’d see if I could win his place. Wat’s got that high sweet voice that the likes o’ me can’t hope to match. But I know twice as many bawdy songs as he does. Begging my lord’s pardon.”

  “You should get on famously with my aunt,” said Jaime. “If you hope to winter here, see that your playing pleases Lady Genna. She’s the one that matters.”

  “Not you?”

  “My place is with the king. I shall not stay here long.”

  “I’m sorry to hear that, my lord. I know better songs than ‘The Rains of Castamere.’ I could have played you… oh, all sorts o’ things.”

  “Some other time,” said Jaime. “Do you have a name?”

  “Tom of Sevenstreams, if it please my lord.” The singer doffed his hat. “Most call me Tom o’ Sevens, though.”

  “Sing sweetly, Tom o’ Sevens.”

  That night he dreamt that he was back in the Great Sept of Baelor, still standing vigil over his father’s corpse. The sept was still and dark, until a woman emerged from the shadows and walked slowly to the bier. “Sister?” he said.

  But it was not Cersei. She was all in grey, a silent sister. A hood and veil concealed her features, but he could see the candles burning in the green pools of her eyes. “Sister,” he said, “what would you have of me?” His last word echoed up and down the sept, mememememememememememe.

  “I am not your sister, Jaime.” She raised a pale soft hand and pushed her hood back. “Have you forgotten me?”

  Can I forget someone I never knew? The words caught in his throat. He did know her, but it had been so long…

  “Will you forget your own lord father too? I wonder if you ever knew him, truly.” Her eyes were green, her hair spun gold. He could not tell how old she was. Fifteen, he thought, or fifty. She climbed the steps to stand above the bier. “He could never abide being laughed at. That was the thing he hated most.”

  “Who are you?” He had to hear her say it.

  “The question is, who are you?”

  “This is a dream.”

  “Is it?” She smiled sadly. “Count your hands, child.”

  One. One hand, clasped tight around the sword hilt. Only one. “In my dreams I always have two hands.” He raised his right arm and stared uncomprehending at the ugliness of his stump.

  “We all dream of things we cannot have. Tywin dreamed that his son would be a great knight, that his daughter would be a queen. He dreamed they would be so strong and brave and beautiful that no one would ever laugh at them.”

  “I am a knight,” he told her, “and Cersei is a queen.”

  A tear rolled down her cheek. The woman raised her hood again and turned her back on him. Jaime called after her, but already she was moving away, her skirt whispering lullabies as it brushed across the floor. Don’t leave me, he wanted to call, but of c
ourse she’d left them long ago.

  He woke in darkness, shivering. The room had grown cold as ice. Jaime flung aside the covers with the stump of his sword hand. The fire in the hearth had died, he saw, and the window had blown open. He crossed the pitch-dark chamber to fumble with the shutters, but when he reached the window his bare foot came down in something wet. Jaime recoiled, startled for a moment. His first thought was of blood, but blood would not have been so cold.

  It was snow, drifting through the window.

  Instead of closing the shutters he threw them wide. The yard below was covered by a thin white blanket, growing thicker even as he watched. The merlons on the battlements wore white cowls. The flakes fell silently, a few drifting in the window to melt upon his face. Jaime could see his own breath.

  Snow in the riverlands. If it was snowing here, it could well be snowing on Lannisport as well, and on King’s Landing. Winter is marching south, and half our granaries are empty. Any crops still in the fields were doomed. There would be no more plantings, no more hopes of one last harvest. He found himself wondering what his father would do to feed the realm, before he remembered that Tywin Lannister was dead.

  When morning broke the snow was ankle deep, and deeper in the godswood, where drifts had piled up under the trees. Squires, stableboys, and highborn pages turned to children again under its cold white spell, and fought a snowball war up and down the wards and all along the battlements. Jaime heard them laughing. There was a time, not long ago, when he might have been out making snowballs with the best of them, to fling at Tyrion when he waddled by, or slip down the back of Cersei’s gown. You need two hands to make a decent snowball, though.

  There was a rap upon his door. “See who that is, Peck.”

  It was Riverrun’s old maester, with a message clutched in his lined and wrinkled hand. Vyman’s face was as pale as the new-fallen snow. “I know,” Jaime said, “there has been a white raven from the Citadel. Winter has come.”

  “No, my lord. The bird was from King’s Landing. I took the liberty… I did not know…” He held the letter out.

  Jaime read it in the window seat, bathed in the light of that cold white morning. Qyburn’s words were terse and to the point, Cersei’s fevered and fervent. Come at once, she said. 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.

  Vyman was hovering by the door, waiting, and Jaime sensed that Peck was watching too. “Does my lord wish to answer?” the maester asked, after a long silence.

  A snowflake landed on the letter. As it melted, the ink began to blur. Jaime rolled the parchment up again, as tight as one hand would allow, and handed it to Peck. “No,” he said. “Put this in the fire.”

  SAMWELL

  The most perilous part of the voyage was the last. The Redwyne Straits were swarming with longships, as they had been warned in Tyrosh. With the main strength of the Arbor’s fleet on the far side of Westeros, the ironmen had sacked Ryamsport and taken Vinetown and Starfish Harbor for their own, using them as bases to prey on shipping bound for Oldtown.

  Thrice longships were sighted by the crow’s nest. Two were well astern, however, and the Cinnamon Wind soon outdistanced them. The third appeared near sunset, to cut them off from Whispering Sound. When they saw her oars rising and falling, lashing the copper waters white, Kojja Mo sent her archers to the castles with their great bows of goldenheart that could send a shaft farther and truer than even Dornish yew. She waited till the longship came within two hundred yards before she gave the command to loose. Sam loosed with them, and this time he thought his arrow reached the ship. One volley was all it took. The longship veered south in search of tamer prey.

  A deep blue dusk was falling as they entered Whispering Sound. Gilly stood beside the prow with the babe, gazing up at a castle on the cliffs. “Three Towers,” Sam told her, “the seat of House Costayne.” Etched against the evening stars with torchlight flickering from its windows, the castle made a splendid sight, but he was sad to see it. Their voyage was almost at its end.

  “It’s very tall,” said Gilly.

  “Wait until you see the Hightower.”

  Dalla’s babe began to cry. Gilly pulled open her tunic and gave the boy her breast. She smiled as he nursed, and stroked his soft brown hair. She has come to love this one as much as the one she left behind, Sam realized. He hoped that the gods would be kind to both of the children.

  The ironmen had penetrated even to the sheltered waters of Whispering Sound. Come morning, as the Cinnamon Wind continued on toward Oldtown, she began to bump up against corpses drifting down to the sea. Some of the bodies carried complements of crows, who rose into the air complaining noisily when the swan ship disturbed their grotesquely swollen rafts. Scorched fields and burned villages appeared on the banks, and the shallows and sandbars were strewn with shattered ships. Merchanters and fishing boats were the most common, but they saw abandoned longships too, and the wreckage of two big dromonds. One had been burned down to the waterline, whilst the other had a gaping splintered hole in her side where her hull had been rammed.

  “Battle here,” said Xhondo. “Not so long.”

  “Who would be so mad as to raid this close to Oldtown?”

  Xhondo pointed at a half-sunken longship in the shallows. The remnants of a banner drooped from her stern, smoke-stained and ragged. The charge was one Sam had never seen before: a red eye with a black pupil, beneath a black iron crown supported by two crows. “Whose banner is that?” Sam asked. Xhondo only shrugged.

  The next day was cold and misty. As the Cinnamon Wind was creeping past another plundered fishing village, a war galley came sliding from the fog, stroking slowly toward them. Huntress was the name she bore, behind a figurehead of a slender maiden clad in leaves and brandishing a spear. A heartbeat later, two smaller galleys appeared on either side of her, like a pair of matched greyhounds stalking at their master’s heels. To Sam’s relief, they flew King Tommen’s stag-and-lion banner above the stepped white tower of Oldtown, with its crown of flame.

  The captain of the Huntress was a tall man in a smoke-grey cloak with a border of red satin flames. He brought his galley in alongside the Cinnamon Wind, raised his oars, and shouted that he was coming aboard. As his crossbowmen and Kojja Mo’s archers eyed each other across the narrow span of water, he crossed over with half a dozen knights, gave Quhuru Mo a nod, and asked to see his holds. Father and daughter conferred briefly, then agreed.

  “My apologies,” the captain said when his inspection was complete. “It grieves me that honest men must suffer such discourtesy, but sooner that than ironmen in Oldtown. Only a fortnight ago some of those bloody bastards captured a Tyroshi merchantman in the straits. They killed her crew, donned their clothes, and used the dyes they found to color their whiskers half a hundred colors. Once inside the walls they meant to set the port ablaze and open a gate from within whilst we fought the fire. Might have worked, but they ran afoul of the Lady of the Tower, and her oarsmaster has a Tyroshi wife. When he saw all the green and purple beards he hailed them in the tongue of Tyrosh, and not one of them had the words to hail him back.”

  Sam was aghast. “They cannot mean to raid Oldtown.”

  The captain of the Huntress gave him a curious look. “These are no mere reavers. The ironmen have always raided where they could. They would strike sudden from the sea, carry off some gold and girls, and sail away, but there were seldom more than one or two longships, and never more than half a dozen. Hundreds of their ships afflict us now, sailing out of the Shield Islands and some of the rocks around the Arbor. They have taken Stonecrab Cay, the Isle of Pigs, and the Mermaid’s Palace, and there are other nests on Horseshoe Rock and Bastard’s Cradle. Without Lord Redwyne’s fleet, we lack the ships to come to grips with them.”

  “What is Lord Hightower doing?” Sam blurted. “My father always said he was as wealthy as the Lannisters, and could command thrice as many swords as any of Highgarden’s othe
r bannermen.”

  “More, if he sweeps the cobblestones,” the captain said, “but swords are no good against the ironmen, unless the men who wield them know how to walk on water.”

  “The Hightower must be doing something.”

  “To be sure. Lord Leyton’s locked atop his tower with the Mad Maid, consulting books of spells. Might be he’ll raise an army from the deeps. Or not. Baelor’s building galleys, Gunthor has charge of the harbor, Garth is training new recruits, and Humfrey’s gone to Lys to hire sellsails. If he can winkle a proper fleet out of his whore of a sister, we can start paying back the ironmen with some of their own coin. Till then, the best we can do is guard the sound and wait for the bitch queen in King’s Landing to let Lord Paxter off his leash.”

  The bitterness of the captain’s final words shocked Sam as much as the things he said. If King’s Landing loses Oldtown and the Arbor, the whole realm will fall to pieces, he thought as he watched the Huntress and her sisters moving off.

  It made him wonder if even Horn Hill was truly safe. The Tarly lands lay inland amidst thickly wooded foothills, a hundred leagues northeast of Oldtown and a long way from any coast. They should be well beyond the reach of ironmen and longships, even with his lord father off fighting in the riverlands and the castle lightly held. The Young Wolf had no doubt thought the same was true of Winterfell until the night that Theon Turncloak scaled his walls. Sam could not bear the thought that he might have brought Gilly and her babe all this long way to keep them out of harm, only to abandon them in the midst of war.

  He wrestled with his doubts through the rest of the voyage, wondering what to do. He could keep Gilly with him in Oldtown, he supposed. The city’s walls were much more formidable than those of his father’s castle, and had thousands of men to defend them, as opposed to the handful Lord Randyll would have left at Horn Hill when he marched to Highgarden to answer his liege lord’s summons. If he did, though, he would need to hide her somehow; the Citadel did not permit its novices to keep wives or paramours, at least not openly. Besides, if I stay with Gilly very much longer, how will I ever find the strength to leave her? He had to leave her, or desert. I said the words, Sam reminded himself. If I desert, it will mean my head, and how will that help Gilly?

  He considered begging Kojja Mo and her father to take the wildling girl with them to the Summer Isles. That path had its perils too, however. When the Cinnamon Wind left Oldtown, she would need to cross the Redwyne Straits again, and this time she might not be so fortunate. What if the wind died, and the Summer Islanders found themselves becalmed? If the tales he’d heard were true, Gilly would be carried off for a thrall or salt wife, and the babe was like to be chucked into the sea as a nuisance.

  It has to be Horn Hill, Sam finally decided. Once we reach Oldtown I’ll hire a wagon and some horses and take her there myself. That way he could make certain of the castle and its garrison, and if any part of what he saw or heard gave him pause, he could just turn around and bring Gilly back to Oldtown.

  They reached Oldtown on a cold damp morning, when the fog was so thick that the beacon of the Hightower was the only part of the city to be seen. A boom stretched across the harbor, linking two dozen rotted hulks. Just behind it stood a line of warships, anchored by three big dromonds and Lord Hightower’s towering four-decked banner ship, the Honor of Oldtown. Once again the Cinnamon Wind had to submit to inspection. This time it was Lord Leyton’s son Gunthor who came aboard, in a cloth-of-silver cloak and a suit of grey enameled scales. Ser Gunthor had studied at the Citadel for several years and spoke the Summer Tongue, so he and Qurulu Mo adjourned to the captain’s cabin for a privy conference.

  Sam used the time to explain his plans to Gilly. “First the Citadel, to present Jon’s letters and tell them of Maester Aemon’s death. I expect the archmaesters will send a cart for his body. Then I will arrange for horses and a wagon to take you to my mother at Horn Hill. I will be back as soon as I can, but it may not be until the morrow.”

  “The morrow,” she repeated, and gave him a kiss for luck.

  At length Ser Gunthor reemerged and gave the signal for the chain to be opened so the Cinnamon Wind could slip through the boom to dock. Sam joined Kojja Mo and three of her archers near the gangplank as the swan ship was tying up, the Summer Islanders resplendent in the feathered cloaks they only wore ashore. He felt a shabby thing beside them in his baggy blacks, faded cloak, and salt-stained boots. “How long will you remain in port?”

  “Two days, ten days, who can say? However long it takes to empty our holds and fill them again.” Kojja grinned. “My father must visit the grey maesters as well. He has books to sell.”

  “Can Gilly stay aboard till I return?”

  “Gilly can stay as long as she likes.” She poked Sam in the belly with a finger. “She does not eat so much as some.”

  “I’m not so fat as I was before,” Sam said defensively. The passage south had seen to that. All those watches, and nothing to eat but fruit and fish. Summer Islanders loved fruit and fish.

  Sam followed the archers across the plank, but once ashore they parted company and went their separate ways. He hoped he still remembered the way to the Citadel. Oldtown was a maze, and he had no time for getting lost.

  The day was damp, so the cobblestones were wet and slippery underfoot, the alleys shrouded in mist and mystery. Sam avoided them as best he could and stayed on the river road that wound along beside the Honeywine through the heart of the old city. It felt good to have solid ground beneath his feet again instead of a rolling deck, but the walk made him feel uncomfortable all the same. He could feel eyes on him, peering down from balconies and windows, watching him from the darkened doorways. On the Cinnamon Wind he had known every face. Here, everywhere he turned he saw another stranger. Even worse was the thought of being seen by someone who knew him. Lord Randyll Tarly was known in Oldtown, but little loved. Sam did not know which would be worse: to be recognized by one of his lord father’s enemies or by one of his friends. He pulled his cloak up and quickened his pace.

  The gates of the Citadel were flanked by a pair of towering green sphinxes with the bodies of lions, the wings of eagles, and the tails of serpents. One had a man’s face, one a woman’s. Just beyond stood Scribe’s Hearth, where Oldtowners came in search of acolytes to write their wills and read their letters. Half a dozen bored scribes sat in open stalls, waiting for some custom. At other stalls books were being bought and sold. Sam stopped at one that offered maps, and looked over a hand-drawn map of Citadel to ascertain the shortest way to the Seneschal’s Court.

  The path divided where the statue of King Daeron the First sat astride his tall stone horse, his sword lifted toward Dorne. A seagull was perched on the Young Dragon’s head, and two more on the blade. Sam took the left fork, which ran beside the river. At the Weeping Dock, he watched two acolytes help an old man into a boat for the short voyage to the Bloody Isle. A young mother climbed in after him, a babe not much older than Gilly’s squalling in her arms. Beneath the dock, some cook’s boys waded in the shallows, gathering frogs. A stream of pink-cheeked novices hurried by him toward the septry. I should have come here when I was their age, Sam thought. If I had run off and taken a false name, I could have disappeared amongst the other novices. Father could have pretended that Dickon was his only son. I doubt he would even have troubled to search for me, unless I took a mule to ride. Then he would have hunted me down, but only for the mule.

  Outside the Seneschal’s Court, the rectors were locking an older novice into the stocks. “Stealing food from the kitchens,” one explained to the acolytes who were waiting to pelt the captive with rotting vegetables. They all gave Sam curious looks as he strode past, his black cloak billowing behind him like a sail.

  Beyond the doors he found a hall with a stone floor and high, arched windows. At the far end a man with a pinched face sat upon a raised dais, scratching in a ledger with a quill. Though the man was clad in a maester’s robe, there was no chain about his n
eck. Sam cleared his throat. “Good morrow.”

  The man glanced up and did not appear to approve of what he saw. “You smell
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