Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Feast for Crows - Chapter 45

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 other 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 pided 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 neck. Sam cleared his throat. "Good morrow."
The man glanced up and did not appear to approve of what he saw. "You smell 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?"
"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?"
"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 Citadel 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."
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."

A Feast for Crows - Chapter 44

The new Lord of Riverrun was so angry that he was shaking. "We have been deceived," he said. "This man had 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 girl 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."
"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 treb-uchets. 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 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 course 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."