A feast for crows, p.68
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       A Feast for Crows, p.68

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

  of novice.”

  “I hope to be one soon.” Sam drew out the letters Jon Snow had given him. “I came from the Wall with Maester Aemon, but he died during the voyage. If I could speak with the Seneschal…”

  “Your name?”

  “Samwell. Samwell Tarly.”

  The man wrote the name in his ledger and waved his quill at a bench along the wall. “Sit. You’ll be called when wanted.”

  Sam took a seat on the bench.

  Others came and went. Some delivered messages and took their leave. Some spoke to the man on the dais and were sent through the door behind him and up a turnpike stair. Some joined Sam on the benches, waiting for their names to be called. A few of those who were summoned had come in after him, he was almost certain. After the fourth or fifth time that happened, he rose and crossed the room again. “How much longer will it be?”

  “The Seneschal is an important man.”

  “I came all the way from the Wall.”

  “Then you will have no trouble going a bit farther.” He waved his quill. “To that bench just there, beneath the window.”

  Sam returned to the bench. Another hour passed. Others entered, spoke to the man on the dais, waited a few moments, and were ushered onward. The gatekeeper did not so much as glance at Sam in all that time. The fog outside grew thinner as the day wore on, and pale sunlight slanted down through the windows. He found himself watching dust motes dance in the light. A yawn escaped him, then another. He picked at a broken blister on his palm, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

  He must have drowsed. The next he knew, the man behind the dais was calling out a name. Sam came lurching to his feet, then sat back down again when he realized it was not his name.

  “You need to slip Lorcas a penny, or you’ll be waiting here three days,” a voice beside him said. “What brings the Night’s Watch to the Citadel?”

  The speaker was a slim, slight, comely youth, clad in doeskin breeches and a snug green brigandine with iron studs. He had skin the color of a light brown ale and a cap of tight black curls that came to a widow’s peak above his big black eyes. “The Lord Commander is restoring the abandoned castles,” Sam explained. “We need more maesters, for the ravens… did you say, a penny?”

  “A penny will serve. For a silver stag Lorcas will carry you up to the Seneschal on his back. He has been fifty years an acolyte. He hates novices, particularly novices of noble birth.”

  “How could you tell I was of noble birth?”

  “The same way you can tell that I’m half Dornish.” The statement was delivered with a smile, in a soft Dornish drawl.

  Sam fumbled for a penny. “Are you a novice?”

  “An acolyte. Alleras, by some called Sphinx.”

  The name gave Sam a jolt. “The sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler,” he blurted. “Do you know what that means?”

  “No. Is it a riddle?”

  “I wish I knew. I’m Samwell Tarly. Sam.”

  “Well met. And what business does Samwell Tarly have with Archmaester Theobald?”

  “Is he the Seneschal?” said Sam, confused. “Maester Aemon said his name was Norren.”

  “Not for the past two turns. There is a new one every year. They fill the office by lot from amongst the archmaesters, most of whom regard it as a thankless task that takes them away from their true work. This year the black stone was drawn by Archmaester Walgrave, but Walgrave’s wits are prone to wander, so Theobald stepped up and said he’d serve his term. He’s a gruff man, but a good one. Did you say Maester Aemon?”

  “Aye.”

  “Aemon Targaryen?”

  “Once. Most just called him Maester Aemon. He died during our voyage south. How is it that you know of him?”

  “How not? He was more than just the oldest living maester. He was the oldest man in Westeros, and lived through more history than Archmaester Perestan has ever learned. He could have told us much and more about his father’s reign, and his uncle’s. How old was he, do you know?”

  “One hundred and two.”

  “What was he doing at sea, at his age?”

  Sam chewed on the question for a moment, wondering how much he ought to say. The sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler. Could Maester Aemon have meant this Sphinx? It seemed unlikely. “Lord Commander Snow sent him away to save his life,” he began, hesitantly. He spoke awkwardly of King Stannis and Melisandre of Asshai, intending to stop at that, but one thing led to another and he found himself speaking of Mance Rayder and his wildlings, king’s blood and dragons, and before he knew what was happening, all the rest came spilling out; the wights at the Fist of First Men, the Other on his dead horse, the murder of the Old Bear at Craster’s Keep, Gilly and their flight, Whitetree and Small Paul, Coldhands and the ravens, Jon’s becoming lord commander, the Blackbird, Dareon, Braavos, the dragons Xhondo saw in Qarth, the Cinnamon Wind and all that Maester Aemon whispered toward the end. He held back only the secrets that he was sworn to keep, about Bran Stark and his companions and the babes Jon Snow had swapped. “Daenerys is the only hope,” he concluded. “Aemon said the Citadel must send her a maester at once, to bring her home to Westeros before it is too late.”

  Alleras listened intently. He blinked from time to time, but he never laughed and never interrupted. When Sam was done he touched him lightly on the forearm with a slim brown hand and said, “Save your penny, Sam. Theobald will not believe half of that, but there are those who might. Will you come with me?”

  “Where?”

  “To speak with an archmaester.”

  You must tell them, Sam, Maester Aemon had said. You must tell the archmaesters. “Very well.” He could always return to the Seneschal on the morrow, with a penny in his hand. “How far do we have to go?”

  “Not far. The Isle of Ravens.”

  They did not need a boat to reach the Isle of Ravens; a weathered wooden drawbridge linked it to the eastern bank. “The Ravenry is the oldest building at the Citadel,” Alleras told him, as they crossed over the slow-flowing waters of the Honeywine. “In the Age of Heroes it was supposedly the stronghold of a pirate lord who sat here robbing ships as they came down the river.”

  Moss and creeping vines covered the walls, Sam saw, and ravens walked its battlements in place of archers. The drawbridge had not been raised in living memory.

  It was cool and dim inside the castle walls. An ancient weirwood filled the yard, as it had since these stones had first been raised. The carved face on its trunk was grown over by the same purple moss that hung heavy from the tree’s pale limbs. Half of the branches seemed dead, but elsewhere a few red leaves still rustled, and it was there the ravens liked to perch. The tree was full of them, and there were more in the arched windows overhead, all around the yard. The ground was speckled by their droppings. As they crossed the yard, one flapped overhead and he heard the others quorking to each other. “Archmaester Walgrave has his chambers in the west tower, below the white rookery,” Alleras told him. “The white ravens and the black ones quarrel like Dornishmen and Marchers, so they keep them apart.”

  “Will Archmaester Walgrave understand what I am telling him?” wondered Sam. “You said his wits were prone to wander.”

  “He has good days and bad ones,” said Alleras, “but it is not Walgrave you’re going to see.” He opened the door to the north tower and began to climb. Sam clambered up the steps behind him. There were flutterings and mutterings from above, and here and there an angry scream, as the ravens complained of being woken.

  At the top of the steps, a pale blond youth about Sam’s age sat outside a door of oak and iron, staring intently into a candle flame with his right eye. His left was hidden beneath a fall of ash blond hair. “What are you looking for?” Alleras asked him. “Your destiny? Your death?”

  The blond youth turned from the candle, blinking. “Naked women,” he said. “Who’s this now?”

  “Samwell. A new novice, come to see the Mage.”

  “The Cita
del is not what it was,” complained the blond. “They will take anything these days. Dusky dogs and Dornishmen, pig boys, cripples, cretins, and now a black-clad whale. And here I thought leviathans were grey.” A half cape striped in green and gold draped one shoulder. He was very handsome, though his eyes were sly and his mouth cruel.

  Sam knew him. “Leo Tyrell.” Saying the name made him feel as if he were still a boy of seven, about to wet his smallclothes. “I am Sam, from Horn Hill. Lord Randyll Tarly’s son.”

  “Truly?” Leo gave him another look. “I suppose you are. Your father told us all that you were dead. Or was it only that he wished you were?” He grinned. “Are you still a craven?”

  “No,” lied Sam. Jon had made it a command. “I went beyond the Wall and fought in battles. They call me Sam the Slayer.” He did not know why he said it. The words just tumbled out.

  Leo laughed, but before he could reply the door behind him opened. “Get in here, Slayer,” growled the man in the doorway. “And you, Sphinx. Now.”

  “Sam,” said Alleras, “this is Archmaester Marwyn.”

  Marwyn wore a chain of many metals around his bull’s neck. Save for that, he looked more like a dockside thug than a maester. His head was too big for his body, and the way it thrust forward from his shoulders, together with that slab of jaw, made him look as if he were about to tear off someone’s head. Though short and squat, he was heavy in the chest and shoulders, with a round, rock-hard ale belly straining at the laces of the leather jerkin he wore in place of robes. Bristly white hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils. His brow beetled, his nose had been broken more than once, and sourleaf had stained his teeth a mottled red. He had the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen.

  When Sam hesitated, one of those hands grabbed him by the arm and yanked him through the door. The room beyond was large and round. Books and scrolls were everywhere, strewn across the tables and stacked up on the floor in piles four feet high. Faded tapestries and ragged maps covered the stone walls. A fire was burning in the hearth, beneath a copper kettle. Whatever was inside of it smelled burned. Aside from that, the only light came from a tall black candle in the center of the room.

  The candle was unpleasantly bright. There was something queer about it. The flame did not flicker, even when Archmaester Marwyn closed the door so hard that papers blew off a nearby table. The light did something strange to colors too. Whites were bright as fresh-fallen snow, yellow shone like gold, reds turned to flame, but the shadows were so black they looked like holes in the world. Sam found himself staring. The candle itself was three feet tall and slender as a sword, ridged and twisted, glittering black. “Is that…?”

  “… obsidian,” said the other man in the room, a pale, fleshy, pasty-faced young fellow with round shoulders, soft hands, close-set eyes, and food stains on his robes.

  “Call it dragonglass.” Archmaester Marwyn glanced at the candle for a moment. “It burns but is not consumed.”

  “What feeds the flame?” asked Sam.

  “What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool. “All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire. The sorcerers of the Freehold could see across mountains, seas, and deserts with one of these glass candles. They could enter a man’s dreams and give him visions, and speak to one another half a world apart, seated before their candles. Do you think that might be useful, Slayer?”

  “We would have no more need of ravens.”

  “Only after battles.” The archmaester peeled a sourleaf off a bale, shoved it in his mouth, and began to chew it. “Tell me all you told our Dornish sphinx. I know much of it and more, but some small parts may have escaped my notice.”

  He was not a man to be refused. Sam hesitated a moment, then told his tale again as Marywn, Alleras, and the other novice listened. “Maester Aemon believed that Daenerys Targaryen was the fulfillment of a prophecy… her, not Stannis, nor Prince Rhaegar, nor the princeling whose head was dashed against the wall.”

  “Born amidst salt and smoke, beneath a bleeding star. I know the prophecy.” Marwyn turned his head and spat a gob of red phlegm onto the floor. “Not that I would trust it. Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is… and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.” He chewed a bit. “Still…”

  Alleras stepped up next to Sam. “Aemon would have gone to her if he had the strength. He wanted us to send a maester to her, to counsel her and protect her and fetch her safely home.”

  “Did he?” Archmaester Marwyn shrugged. “Perhaps it’s good that he died before he got to Oldtown. Elsewise the grey sheep might have had to kill him, and that would have made the poor old dears wring their wrinkled hands.”

  “Kill him?” Sam said, shocked. “Why?”

  “If I tell you, they may need to kill you too.” Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth. “Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He spat. “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.”

  “What will you do?” asked Alleras, the Sphinx.

  “Get myself to Slaver’s Bay, in Aemon’s place. The swan ship that delivered Slayer should serve my needs well enough. The grey sheep will send their man on a galley, I don’t doubt. With fair winds I should reach her first.” Marwyn glanced at Sam again, and frowned. “You… you should stay and forge your chain. If I were you, I would do it quickly. A time will come when you’ll be needed on the Wall.” He turned to the pasty-faced novice. “Find Slayer a dry cell. He’ll sleep here, and help you tend the ravens.”

  “B-b-but,” Sam sputtered, “the other archmaesters… the Seneschal… what should I tell them?”

  “Tell them how wise and good they are. Tell them that Aemon commanded you to put yourself into their hands. Tell them that you have always dreamed that one day you might be allowed to wear the chain and serve the greater good, that service is the highest honor, and obedience the highest virtue. But say nothing of prophecies or dragons, unless you fancy poison in your porridge.” Marwyn snatched a stained leather cloak off a peg near the door and tied it tight. “Sphinx, look after this one.”

  “I will,” Alleras answered, but the archmaester was already gone. They heard his boots stomping down the steps.

  “Where has he gone?” asked Sam, bewildered.

  “To the docks. The Mage is not a man who believes in wasting time.” Alleras smiled. “I have a confession. Ours was no chance encounter, Sam. The Mage sent me to snatch you up before you spoke to Theobald. He knew that you were coming.”

  “How?”

  Alleras nodded at the glass candle.

  Sam stared at the strange pale flame for a moment, then blinked and looked away. Outside the window it was growing dark.

  “There’s an empty sleeping cell under mine in the west tower, with steps that lead right up to Walgrave’s chambers,” said the pasty-faced youth. “If you don’t mind the ravens quorking, there’s a good view of the Honeywine. Will that serve?”

  “I suppose.” He had to sleep somewhere.

  “I will bring you some woolen coverlets. Stone walls turn cold at night, even here.”

  “My thanks.” There was something about the pale, soft youth that he misliked, but he did not want to seem discourteous, so he added, “My name’s not Slayer, truly. I’m Sam. Samwell Tarly.”

  “I’m Pate,” the other said, “like the pig boy.”

  MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE WALL…

  Hey, wait a minute!” some of you may be
saying about now. “Wait a minute, wait a minute! Where’s Dany and the dragons? Where’s Tyrion? We hardly saw Jon Snow. That can’t be all of it…”

  Well, no. There’s more to come. Another book as big as this one.

  I did not forget to write about the other characters. Far from it. I wrote lots about them. Pages and pages and pages. Chapters and more chapters. I was still writing when it dawned on me that the book had become too big to publish in a single volume… and I wasn’t close to finished yet. To tell all of the story that I wanted to tell, I was going to have to cut the book in two.

  The simplest way to do that would have been to take what I had, chop it in half around the middle, and end with “To Be Continued.” The more I thought about that, however, the more I felt that the readers would be better served by a book that told all the story for half the characters, rather than half the story for all the characters. So that’s the route I chose to take.

  Tyrion, Jon, Dany, Stannis and Melisandre, Davos Seaworth, and all the rest of the characters you love or love to hate will be along next year (I devoutly hope) in A Dance with Dragons, which will focus on events along the Wall and across the sea, just as the present book focused on King’s Landing.

  — George R. R. Martin

  June 2005

  APPENDIX

  MAPS

  THE KINGS AND THEIR COURTS

  THE QUEEN REGENT

  CERSEI LANNISTER, the First of Her Name, widow of {King Robert I Baratheon}, Queen Dowager, Protector of the Realm, Lady of Casterly Rock, and Queen Regent,

  — Queen Cersei’s children:

  —{KING JOFFREY I BARATHEON}, poisoned at his wedding feast, a boy of twelve,

  — PRINCESS MYRCELLA BARATHEON, a girl of nine, a ward of Prince Doran Martell at Sunspear,

  — KING TOMMEN I BARATHEON, a boy king of eight years,

  — his kittens, SER POUNCE, LADY WHISKERS, BOOTS,

  — Queen Cersei’s brothers:

  — SER JAIME LANNISTER, her twin, called THE KINGSLAYER, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard,

  — TYRION LANNISTER, called THE IMP, a dwarf, accused and condemned for regicide and kinslaying,

  — PODRICK PAYNE, Tyrion’s squire, a boy of ten,

  — Queen Cersei’s uncles, aunt, and cousins:

  — SER KEVAN LANNISTER, her uncle,

  — SER LANCEL, Ser Kevan’s son, her cousin, formerly King Robert’s squire and Cersei’s lover, newly raised to Lord of Darry,

  —{WILLEM}, Ser Kevan’s son, murdered at Riverrun,

  — MARTYN, twin to Willem, a squire,

  — JANEI, Ser Kevan’s daughter, a girl of three,

  — LADY GENNA LANNISTER, Cersei’s aunt, m. Ser Emmon Frey,

  —{SER CLEOS FREY}, Genna’s son, killed by outlaws,

  — SER TYWIN FREY, called TY, Cleos’s son,

  — WILLEM FREY, Cleos’s son, a squire,

  — SER LYONEL FREY, Lady Genna’s second son,

  —{TION FREY}, Genna’s son, murdered at Riverrun,

  — WALDER FREY, called RED WALDER, Lady Genna’s youngest son, a page at Casterly Rock,

  — TYREK LANNISTER, Cersei’s cousin, son of her father’s late brother Tygett,

  — LADY ERMESANDE HAYFORD, Tyrek’s child wife,

  — JOY HILL, bastard daughter of Queen Cersei’s lost uncle Gerion, a girl of eleven,

  — CERENNA LANNISTER, Cersei’s cousin, daughter of her late uncle Stafford, her mother’s brother,

 
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