By Charles Matthews

Monday, November 7, 2011

12. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 312-343


Each night she repeats her list of people she wants dead, and one night the "kindly man" overhears it and asks her about it. After hedging for a bit she admits that it's the names of the people she would like to kill, and he asks her if that's why she came to the House of Black and White. If so, he tells her, she has "come to the wrong place."

She hasn't learned the kindly man's name, or that of the waif who, like her, lives underneath the temple. There is a cook named Umma, for whom Arya works, but Arya can't understand her when she speaks, and three acolytes and two serving men, but they're not given to communication. The kindly man is the only one who speaks the Common Tongue, and each day he asks her, "Who are you?"
"No one," she would answer, she who had been Arya of House Stark, Arya Underfoot, Arya Horseface. She had been Arry and Weasel too, and Squab and Salty, Nan the cupbearer, a grey mouse, a sheep, the ghost of Harrenhal ... but not for true, not in her heart of hearts. In there she was Arya of Winterfell, the daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn, who had once had brothers named Robb and Bran and Rickon, a sister named Sansa, a direwolf called Nymeria, a half brother named Jon Snow. In there she was someone ... but that was not the answer he wanted.
There are no services in the temple, but visitors come every day, and very occasionally someone would ask to see a priest and would be shown to either the kindly man or the waif. She is allowed free run of the building, except for the lowest level, which only the priests could enter. She works for the cook, and for the first time in a long while goes to sleep with a full stomach. In her conversations with the kindly man she is constantly reminded that she is being evasive, but he allows her to keep her secrets if she wishes. But if she stays in the temple, she must serve: "Valar dohaeris is how we say it here" -- all men must serve. And she must obey: "If you cannot obey, you must depart."

People come to the House of Black and White who are ready to die. They pray for however long they wish and then drink from the pool and lie down behind the effigy of whichever god they choose, never to wake. Their bodies are taken to the lowest level, but Arya doesn't know what happens to them there. Once while she was eating, she had a frightening thought and looked closely at the piece of meat on her for. "The kingly man saw the horror on her face. 'It is pork, child,' he told her, 'only pork.'"

She has kept a few things with her: a silver fork, a hat, and a pair of fingerless gloves the sailors on the Titan's Daughter had given her, her dagger and boots and belt and the clothes she had been wearing when she arrived at the temple, and Needle. She is practicing with the sword one day when the kindly man walks by her cell and tells her that she must get rid of her things. They belong to Arya of House Stark, he tells her. "There is no place for them here. There is no place for her. Hers is too proud a name, and we have no room for pride. We are servants here." If she can't become a servant of Him of Many Faces, she must leave. He tells her there is a ship sailing for Westeros tomorrow, and if she wishes she can get on it. But she replies, "I'll go if you don't want me, but I won't go there."

Challenged to renounce things, she can't sleep, and in the middle of the night she gathers them up, puts on her old clothes and slips outside for the first time since she came to the temple. At the edge of the canal she looks at the silver fork and thinks, "It's not my fork. It was salty that he gave it to." She tosses it into the water, and then throws the floppy hat and the gloves in after it. She looks at the handful of coins in her pouch and tosses them in, too. Then she throws in her boots and her dagger and swordbelt and takes off the rest of her clothes and tosses them in.

All she has left is Needle, and she tries to persuade herself to throw it in, too. But "Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa.... Needle was Jon Snow's smile." She had lost it and regained it. "The gods wanted me to have it." As she climbs the steps from the canal, she feels a loose stone underfoot. She works it loose and places the sword and its sheath behind the stone, then puts the stone back in place. She counts the steps so she'll know how to find it if she ever needs it again.

The next night the kindly man tells her the story of the founding of the temple, and arranges for the waif to tutor her in the language of Braavos. She becomes a novice in the House of Black and White. But she finds learning the language as tedious as she found sewing. They also play "the lying game," in which one asks questions of the other and tries to tell which answers are false and which are true. "The waif always seemed to know. Arya had to guess. Most of the time she guessed wrong." When, in response to Arya's question, the waif tells her that she is thirty-six years old, Arya pronounces this a lie, but the kindly man tells her otherwise: "The one you call waif is a woman grown who has spent her life serving Him of Many Faces." When Arya asks if she will come to look like her, he tells her "not unless you wish it. It is the poisons that have made her as you see her." Arya realizes that every evening the waif pours a flask into the black pool in the center of the temple.

Other men who are servants of the Many-Faced God visit the temple from time to time, and one evening Umma sends Arya to serve at the table for the visitors. The kindly man says she must stand very still at the table and "It would be best if you were blind and deaf as well. You may hear things, but you must let them pass in one ear and out the other. Do not listen." Arya obeys, but the talk is in the language of Braavos and she understood very little of it anyway.

The next day she asks the kindly man if the men were priests and if those were their real faces, but he replies only "What do you think, child?" She thinks that they weren't, and then asks if Jaqen H'ghar is a priest and if he will be coming back. But the kindly man professes not to know the name. She says she asked him "how he changed his face, and he said it was no harder than taking a new name, if you knew the way." She asks the kindly man if he will show her how to change her face, and he tells her to stick out her tongue and puff up her cheeks. "There. Your face is changed." But she tells him she meant by using magic. He replies, "All sorcery comes at a cost, child. Years of prayer and sacrifice and study are required to work a perfect glamor." He tells her to "practice making faces" and learn to "rule" her face. The next day she finds a mirror and begins to practice.

Soon she joins the acolytes in washing corpses. And for several months, "She served, washed the dead, made faces at the mirrors, learned the Braavosi tongue, and tried to remember that she was no one." But one day the kindly man sends for her and says that her accent is terrible, and that the only way she will learn to speak the language is by living among the people and speaking it "every day from dawn to dusk." She is to leave the temple and "find a fishmonger named Brusco" who needs "a girl to push his barrow and sell his cockles, clams, and mussels to the sailors off the ships." She will need a name, and they decide she will be Cat, the daughter of an oarmaster on a galley named Nymeria.


Sansa, too, has changed identities, and has begun to think of herself as Alayne Stone, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Petyr Baelish, the better to keep up the life-saving masquerade. But now the Lords Declarant of the Vale have gathered to challenge Littlefinger's role as Lord Protector, and she is called on to maintain the role before a hostile group. Her hair has been died brown to hide Sansa Stark's distinctive auburn.

She goes in to breakfast with Lord Robert, who is whining because he has porridge and not the eggs and bacon he wants. But the presence of the Lords Declarant at the foot of the mountain has made it difficult for Mya Stone to bring them up from below. He also complains that he has heard Marillion singing in the night, and she tries to persuade him that it's impossible. She tells him that Marillion had felt so sorry for killing Lysa that "he walked into the sky. Alayne had not seen the body, no more than Robert had, but she did not doubt the fact of the singer's death." But Robert is having none of it, and he flings a spoon of porridge across the room, saying, "The lord wants eggs!"

Littlefinger enters at that point and proclaims, "The lord shall eat porridge and be thankful for it." Maester Colemon is with him and tells Robert that he needs to eat to build up his strength for the meeting with the bannermen. But Robert doesn't want to see them: "If they come, I'll make them fly." Littlefinger agrees that he would like for that to happen, but he "promised them safe conduct." There will be eight in all: the six Lords Declarant plus Lord Nestor Royce and Ser Lyn Corbray. Alayne is startled at the last, having heard from the guards that "Lyn Corbray was more dangerous than all six of the Lords Declarant put together."

Littlefinger admits that Corbray is not particularly well-disposed toward him: "He wanted Lysa's hand for himself." And Robert chimes in by saying he doesn't like Ser Lyn and to "send him back down." Littlefinger will not give in, and asks a serving woman to bring Robert another spoon so he can eat his porridge. Robert says, "Let my porridge fly!" and flings the whole bowl of it, hitting Maester Colemon and covering him with the contents. And then Robert falls into one of his fits, kicking Alayne in the stomach and knocking the wind out of her. Littlefinger orders a guardsman to take Robert away and leech him.

When Robert and the maester have gone, Littlefinger asks Alayne for a kiss, so she gives him "a quick dry peck upon the cheek" that he pronounces "dutiful." He gives her some instruction to relay to the cook, and tells her to change her clothes: "The Lords Declarant will not be pleased by the sight of my bastard daughter prancing about in my dead wife's clothes." She expresses her concern about the presence at the meeting of Bronze Yohn Royce, who had visited Winterfell and had also seen "Sansa Stark again at King's Landing, during the Hand's tourney." He assures her that Royce would have seen her as only one face in a thousand and won't remember her.

Alayne tends to her duties and after bathing and changing clothes is ready to meet the guests. When she meets Bronze Yohn Royce, he asks, "Do I know you, girl?" but Lord Nestor identifies her as "the Lord Protector's natural daughter." Lyn Corbray says, "Littlefinger's little finger has been busy." Lady Waynwood asks how old she is, and Alayne stammers "Four-fourteen," having decided to make Alayne a year older than Sansa. She adds that she is "no child, but a maiden flowered," which occasions a risqué reference to being "deflowered" from Lord Hunter and a "ripe for plucking" from Corbray. Lady Wynwood rebukes him: "The girl is young and gently bred, and has suffered enough horrors. Mind your tongue, ser." Corbray bristles at this, and Lady Wynwood suggests that Alayne take them to her father. "The sooner we are done with this, the better."

Littlefinger meets with them in his solar, where he says he has read their document and wishes they had asked him to sign it too. They are surprised by this, but he goes on, "As for these false friends and evil counselors, by all means let us root them out." The document has been designed as an attack on Littlefinger, but he has turned the tables on them. Symond Templeton speaks up: "We will have you gone," and Bronze Yohn says that Lord Robert will remain in the Vale, and he will "raise him up to be a knight that Jon Arryn would be proud of." Lady Waynwood says, "We speak with one voice here."

Littlefinger counters by saying that Robert loves Alayne and that he has asked two lords to send their sons to be raised with Robert. "My late wife seemed to think this was my proper seat," and that she had named him Lord Protector. Nestor Royce speaks up to say that Lysa Arryn "chose Lord Littlefinger, and entrusted her son to his care." And Littlefinger presses the point that Robert "is not a robust child, as all of you know well. The journey would tax him sorely. As his stepfather and Lord Protector, I cannot permit it."

But Bronze Yohn will not give in, and proclaims, "We shall have Lord Robert." And then Lyn Corbray says, "All this talk makes me ill. Littlefinger will talk you out of your smallclothes if you listen long enough. The only way to settle his sort is with steel," and he draws his sword. But Bronze Yohn bellows, "Put up your steel, ser! Are you a Corbray or a Frey? We are guests here." Lady Wynwood pronounces it "unseemly," and the others align themselves against Corbray. He storms out, saying they should have called themselves "the Six Old Women."

The others begin to express their apologies to Littlefinger, but he coldly says, "You brought him here. I would be well within my rights to call my guards and have all of you arrested."
Petyr sounded as angry as she had ever heard him. "I have read your declaration and heard your demands. Now hear mine. Remove your armies from this mountain. Go home and leave my son in peace. Misrule there has been, I will not deny it, but that was Lysa's work, not mine. Grant me but a year, and with Lord Nestor's help I promise that none of you shall have any cause for grievance.... It was not me who bared steel at a parley. You write of defending Lord Robert even as you deny him food. That must end." 
Alayne watches as the Lords Declarant begin to back down. Finally, Bronze Yohn says, "I like it not, but it would seem you have your year. Best use it well, my lord. Not all of us are fooled." A feast follows at which Lord Robert makes an appearance and behaves himself well, though Bronze Yohn and Lyn Corbray have already left.

Alayne lies awake in bed, wondering how Littlefinger had managed to make them turn such an about-face. Finally, she gets up and goes to his solar, where he is writing a letter. She asks, "What will happen in a year?"

He tells her that one or both of the oldest lords may die, and Lord Hunter will be murdered by his brothers. Lord Belmore can be bought off, and he can make friends with Templeton. Bronze Yohn by himself is not a real threat. As for Lyn Corbray, he will remain an enemy.

Then she realizes that Corbray is actually a part of Littlefinger's plot and asks how he will reward him for playing the role of enemy. He laughs at her acuteness: "With gold and boys and promises, of course. Ser Lyn is a man of simple tastes, my sweetling. All he likes is gold and boys and killing.

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