George Martin: A Feast for Crows

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George Martin A Feast for Crows
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    A Feast for Crows
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It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears… With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist — or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out. But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces — some familiar, others only just appearing — are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead. It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes… and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests — but only a few are the survivors.

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GEORGE R. R. MARTIN

A FEAST FOR CROWS

PROLOGUE

for Stephen Boucher wizard of Windows, dragon of DOS without whom this book would have been written in crayon

“Dragons,” said Mollander. He snatched a withered apple off the ground and tossed it hand to hand.

“Throw the apple,” urged Alleras the Sphinx. He slipped an arrow from his quiver and nocked it to his bowstring.

“I should like to see a dragon.” Roone was the youngest of them, a chunky boy still two years shy of manhood. “I should like that very much.”

And I should like to sleep with Rosey’s arms around me, Pate thought. He shifted restlessly on the bench. By the morrow the girl could well be his. I will take her far from Oldtown, across the narrow sea to one of the Free Cities. There were no maesters there, no one to accuse him.

He could hear Emma’s laughter coming through a shuttered window overhead, mingled with the deeper voice of the man she was entertaining. She was the oldest of the serving wenches at the Quill and Tankard, forty if she was a day, but still pretty in a fleshy sort of way. Rosey was her daughter, fifteen and freshly flowered. Emma had decreed that Rosey’s maidenhead would cost a golden dragon. Pate had saved nine silver stags and a pot of copper stars and pennies, for all the good that would do him. He would have stood a better chance of hatching a real dragon than saving up enough coin to make a golden one.

“You were born too late for dragons, lad,” Armen the Acolyte told Roone. Armen wore a leather thong about his neck, strung with links of pewter, tin, lead, and copper, and like most acolytes he seemed to believe that novices had turnips growing from their shoulders in place of heads. “The last one perished during the reign of King Aegon the Third.”

“The last dragon in Westeros,” insisted Mollander.

“Throw the apple,” Alleras urged again. He was a comely youth, their Sphinx. All the serving wenches doted on him. Even Rosey would sometimes touch him on the arm when she brought him wine, and Pate had to gnash his teeth and pretend not to see.

“The last dragon in Westeros was the last dragon,” said Armen doggedly. “That is well known.”

“The apple,” Alleras said. “Unless you mean to eat it.”

“Here.” Dragging his clubfoot, Mollander took a short hop, whirled, and whipped the apple sidearm into the mists that hung above the Honeywine. If not for his foot, he would have been a knight like his father. He had the strength for it in those thick arms and broad shoulders. Far and fast the apple flew…

… but not as fast as the arrow that whistled after it, a yard-long shaft of golden wood fletched with scarlet feathers. Pate did not see the arrow catch the apple, but he heard it. A soft chunk echoed back across the river, followed by a splash.

Mollander whistled. “You cored it. Sweet.”

Not half as sweet as Rosey. Pate loved her hazel eyes and budding breasts, and the way she smiled every time she saw him. He loved the dimples in her cheeks. Sometimes she went barefoot as she served, to feel the grass beneath her feet. He loved that too. He loved the clean fresh smell of her, the way her hair curled behind her ears. He even loved her toes. One night she’d let him rub her feet and play with them, and he’d made up a funny tale for every toe to keep her giggling.

Perhaps he would do better to remain on this side of the narrow sea. He could buy a donkey with the coin he’d saved, and he and Rosey could take turns riding it as they wandered Westeros. Ebrose might not think him worthy of the silver, but Pate knew how to set a bone and leech a fever. The smallfolk would be grateful for his help. If he could learn to cut hair and shave beards, he might even be a barber. That would be enough, he told himself, so long as I had Rosey. Rosey was all that he wanted in the world.

That had not always been so. Once he had dreamed of being a maester in a castle, in service to some open-handed lord who would honor him for his wisdom and bestow a fine white horse on him to thank him for his service. How high he’d ride, how nobly, smiling down at the smallfolk when he passed them on the road…

One night in the Quill and Tankard’s common room, after his second tankard of fearsomely strong cider, Pate had boasted that he would not always be a novice. “Too true,” Lazy Leo had called out. “You’ll be a former novice, herding swine.”

He drained the dregs of his tankard. The torchlit terrace of the Quill and Tankard was an island of light in a sea of mist this morning. Downriver, the distant beacon of the Hightower floated in the damp of night like a hazy orange moon, but the light did little to lift his spirits.

The alchemist should have come by now. Had it all been some cruel jape, or had something happened to the man? It would not have been the first time that good fortune had turned sour on Pate. He had once counted himself lucky to be chosen to help old Archmaester Walgrave with the ravens, never dreaming that before long he would also be fetching the man’s meals, sweeping out his chambers, and dressing him every morning. Everyone said that Walgrave had forgotten more of ravencraft than most maesters ever knew, so Pate assumed a black iron link was the least that he could hope for, only to find that Walgrave could not grant him one. The old man remained an archmaester only by courtesy. As great a maester as once he’d been, now his robes concealed soiled smallclothes oft as not, and half a year ago some acolytes found him weeping in the Library, unable to find his way back to his chambers. Maester Gormon sat below the iron mask in Walgrave’s place, the same Gormon who had once accused Pate of theft.

In the apple tree beside the water, a nightingale began to sing. It was a sweet sound, a welcome respite from the harsh screams and endless quorking of the ravens he had tended all day long. The white ravens knew his name, and would mutter it to each other whenever they caught sight of him, “Pate, Pate, Pate,” until he wanted to scream. The big white birds were Archmaester Walgrave’s pride. He wanted them to eat him when he died, but Pate half suspected that they meant to eat him too.

Perhaps it was the fearsomely strong cider — he had not come here to drink, but Alleras had been buying to celebrate his copper link, and guilt had made him thirsty — but it almost sounded as if the nightingale were trilling gold for iron, gold for iron, gold for iron. Which was passing strange, because that was what the stranger had said the night Rosey brought the two of them together. “Who are you?” Pate had demanded of him, and the man had replied, “An alchemist. I can change iron into gold.” And then the coin was in his hand, dancing across his knuckles, the soft yellow gold shining in the candlelight. On one side was a three-headed dragon, on the other the head of some dead king. Gold for iron, Pate remembered, you won’t do better. Do you want her? Do you love her? “I am no thief,” he had told the man who called himself the alchemist, “I am a novice of the Citadel.” The alchemist had bowed his head, and said, “If you should reconsider, I shall return here three days hence, with my dragon.”

Three days had passed. Pate had returned to the Quill and Tankard, still uncertain what he was, but instead of the alchemist he’d found Mollander and Armen and the Sphinx, with Roone in tow. It would have raised suspicions not to join them.

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