By Charles Matthews

Friday, November 4, 2011

9. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 226-254


Lord Tywin's body is leaving King's Landing with a splendid honor guard, and Jaime rides out to say farewell to his uncle. But Kevan observes that Cersei has not done likewise. Any rift between them is her doing, he tells Jaime. Kevan is off to see his son Lancel married at Darry, and Jaime is reminded once again of Tyrion's claim: "...fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy for all I know." Kevan is in no mood to be nice to his nephew, and when Jaime brings up the spurned offer to be Tommen's Hand, he replies, "Your sister knows my terms. They have not changed. Tell her that, the next time you are in her bedchamber." He rides off.

Jaime is stung by his awareness that Kevan knows about his incest with Cersei, though he had hoped she had been mistaken about that. He worries that Cersei may try to kill Kevan: "When sons were killing fathers, what was there to stop a niece from ordering an uncle slain? An inconvenient uncle, who knows too much." As Lancel passes by, he congratulates him on his coming marriage, and makes a bawdy joke, which gets only a pious reply from Lancel and a disapproving look from the septon accompanying him. Jaime decides, "The Imp was lying. Cersei would sooner have Robert's corpse between her legs than a pious fool like Lancel."

With the Tyrell contingent gone, and the Lannister forces waiting for ships to take them to attack Dragonstone, the city seems empty. He goes to Cersei's solar, where she is with Tommen, Lady Merryweather, and Grand Maester Pycelle. He observes that Cersei is, as usual, drinking. Pycelle has received news from Lady Tanda that Lollys has given birth to a son and named him Tyrion. Cersei blames it on Lollys's husband, Bronn, who is no doubt "smirking at his little insolence."

Jaime asks if he may speak with his sister privately, and the others leave. He comments on her friendship with Lady Merryweather, and Cersei says she "may be a serpent, but she is far from stupid. She knows I can do more for her than Margaery, so she makes herself useful to me." He tells her that Kevan mentioned her absence from his departure, and she expresses contempt for her uncle. When he asks about the position of Hand, she suggests that she might give it to Lord Merryweather, which surprises him: "Is this about pleasing some Myrish whore? Here I thought it was about governing the realm."

She replies that she governs the realm, and he thinks,
Seven save us all, you do. His sister liked to think of herself as Lord Tywin with teats, but she was wrong. Their father had been as relentless and implacable as a glacier, where Cersei was all wildfire, especially when thwarted. She had been giddy as a maiden when she learned that Stannis had abandoned Dragonstone, certain that he had finally given up the fight and sailed away to exile. When word came down from the north that he had turned up again at the Wall, her fury had been fearful to behold. She does not lack for wits, but she has no judgment, and no patience.
He says he has heard that she plans to make Aurane Waters master of ships, and objects that he is too young. She says Tommen needs "some young men about him in place of all these wrinkled greybeards. Aurane is strong and vigorous." Once again, Jaime remembers Tyrion's taunt about Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy. He suggests Paxter Redwyne instead, but Cersei objects to him as one of Tyrell's bannermen. Then he criticizes her dependence on Qyburn: "gods be good, Cersei, he rode with Vargo Hoat. The Citadel stripped him of his chain!" But she says Qyburn is "useful" and "loyal, which is more than I can say of mine own kin."

He begs her to come to her senses and to realize that neither he nor Kevan is her enemy. "The crows will feast upon us all if you go on this way, sweet sister," he thinks. But she orders him out. "I am sick of looking at that ugly stump of yours," she says, and throws her wine cup at him.

Later, in the common room of the tower of the Kingsguard, he is reading in the White Book when Ser Loras enters and observes, "Lord Renly always said that books were for maesters." Jaime defends book-learning, and suggests that Loras should be more familiar with the history of some of the Kingsguard, such is "Criston Cole, who served the first Viserys and the second Aegon.... They called him Kingmaker."


She receives three ugly, unwashed, ragged men, who claim to have Tyrion's head. But when they produce the rotting item from a sack it has a nose, she observes, "A rather bulbous one." (Like the dwarf Brienne met in Duskendale.) She sends them away. "This was the third head that had been delivered to her. At least this one was a dwarf. The last had simply been an ugly child."

She has dreamed again of Maggy the Frog, the prophet she had gone to in Lannisport when she was a girl, and she is in a foul mood. She leaves for her council on Qyburn's arm and asks him if he has finished preparing the head to send to Prince Doran. He tells her it has taken a long time for the beetles to clean the flesh off the skull, and that he has prepared a box of ebony and silver lined with felt for the presentation. Outside the bells are ringing for the death of the High Septon, the one she suspected of being in league with Tyrion. Qyburn assures her that the bells will stop at sunset, and she thinks again of how Varys had been thought irreplaceable. "It was teh silver all along, not the Spider. Qyburn will serve us just as well."

She enters the council chamber and introduces him as Lord Qyburn, which immediately gets the surprised reaction she wanted from Pycelle, who calls him "unfit." She turns on Pycelle and says, "Do not presume to speak to me of fitness. Not after the stinking mockery you made of my lord father's corpse." Qyburn takes his seat at the table between Orton Merryweather, Cersei's new justiciar, and Gyles Rosby, the treasurer. Aurane Waters is the new grand admiral, and Ser Harys Swyft the Hand. They have all been chosen for their loyalty to her. Swyft's daughter is married to Cersei's uncle. "So long as she had Ser Harys in hand, Kevan Lannister must needs think twice about opposing her."

The king is not there: "His Grace is still too young to comprehend affairs of state," she explains. And "Ser Jaime is at his armorer's being fitted for a hand. I know we were all tired of that ugly stump." She calls for some wine, and asks for a report on events in Dorne. Pycelle informs them that Prince Doran has imprisoned the Sand Snakes, and that he is still awaiting Gregor Clegane's head. She says she is sending Ser Balon Swann to Sunspear. Ser Harys Swyft hasn't been informed of the Mountain's death, and she says that he "perished of his wounds, just as Grand Maester Pycelle foretold."

She asks Ser Harys what he was talking about when she entered, and he says it was the sparrows, the religious pilgrims who are arriving every day. "Their leaders preach of doom and demon worship." Cersei sips her wine and says, "What would you call this red god that Stannis worships, if not a demon? The Faith should oppose such evil." She had been reminded of that by Qyburn. The talk turns to the successor to the High Septon, which bores Cersei, who is contemplating Aurane Waters's good looks. But she puts an end to the talk about septons by saying that whoever takes the position "must pronounce an anathema upon the Imp."

She turns to Pycelle, who has a declaration from the lords of the Vale about their plans "to remove Littlefinger as Lord Protector of the Vale, forcibly if need be." She observes that Littlefinger doesn't seem at all concerned about it, and tells Pycelle to tell the lords not to harm Littlefinger and that the crown is willing to let them sort it out among themselves. Then they discuss the rebuilding of the fleet, and Merryweather wonders if they could make an alliance with the ironmen. There is brief talk of who will succeed Balon Greyjoy, but no one seems very well informed about that, to Cersei's irritation: "Varys would have known," she thinks.

When they talk about how they can pay for the rebuilding of the fleet, Lord Gyles is seized with a fit of coughing, so Cersei declares that they will defer repaying what they owe the church and the Iron Bank of Braavos until after the war. Pycelle worries about the reaction of the Iron Bank, but she says Braavos is "far across the sea" and "A Lannister pays his debts."

Ser Harys says that Lord Frey has made some demands, and Qyburn notes that there is suspicion that the crown may have had something to do with the Red Wedding. The sparrows, he says,  have called it "an affront to all the laws of gods and men, ... and those who had a hand in it are damned." Cersei says Lord Walder is very old, and that it has nothing to do with them, but Qyburn suggests that "it would also be useful if someone were to by punished for the Red Wedding. A few Frey heads would do much to mollify the north."

Aurane Waters says he has heard that Stannis is hiring ships from across the sea, but Cersei is unperturbed.
"Only a blind man could fail to see our war is all but won. Lord Tyrell has Storm's End invested. Riverrun is besieged by the Freys and my cousin Daven, our new Warden of the West. Lord Redwyne's ships have passed through the Straits of Tarth and are moving swiftly up the coast. Only a few fishing boats remain on Dragonstone to oppose Redwyne's landing. The castle may hold for some time, but once we have the port we can cut the garrison off from the sea. Then only Stannis himself will remain to vex us." 
Pycelle observes that Janos Slynt has reported that Stannis "is trying to make common cause with the wildlings," but no one thinks that an alliance with what Merryweather calls "Savages in skins" is much of a threat. Cersei thinks, "One day she must light a candle to the Stranger for carrying Renly off and leaving Stannis."

The subject of Sansa Stark comes up, but Cersei's anger puts an end to discussion. She notes that the faux Arya Stark is to marry Ramsay Bolton. "Another problem has arisen on the Wall, however. The brothers of the Night's Watch have taken leave of their wits and chosen Ned Stark's bastard to be their Lord Commander." She thinks, "Catelyn Tully was a mouse, or she would have smothered this Jon Snow in his cradle. Instead, she's left the filthy task to me." She proclaims Jon a traitor for giving "lands and castles" to Stannis. "The bastard boy has written us to avow that the Night's Watch takes no side, but his actions give the lie to his words. He has given Stannis food and shelter, yet has the insolence to plead with us for arms and men." A general outrage is expressed by all, but Qyburn has an idea: Send a hundred men to the Wall, all pledged to remove Jon Snow as Lord Commander. Cersei is delighted with the idea.

Finally, Aurane Waters hesitantly brings up the rumor of dragons that sailors from the east have been spreading. Cersei laughs it off and says, "Come back to me when you hear talk of dwarfs, my lord," and calls an end to the meeting.

Back in her chambers, Lady Merryweather and Cersei's maids are laughing over the fact that the Redwyne twins have fallen in love with Lady Margaery. Cersei muses on what might happen if either of them were found in Margaery's bed, and tells the maid Dorcas to fetch Ser Osney Kettleblack. When he arrives, she dismisses the women and begins to seduce him, letting him feel her breasts and giving his erection a squeeze through his breeches. Then she asks, "Tell me true. Do you think our little queen is pretty?" His erection begins to wilt as she unfolds her plot: He will seduce Margaery and get caught. She will lose her head and he will be sent to the Wall. There he will kill Jon Snow, the king will pardon him, and he'll be made a lord. "Bed a girl and kill a boy and I am yours," she says.

When he is gone, she preens herself on her cleverness. "Even Mace Tyrell would not dare defend his darling daughter if she was caught in the act with the likes of Osney Kettleblack, and neither Stannis Baratheon nor Jon Snow would have cause to wonder why Osney was being sent to the Wall." That night she sends for Taena Merryweather and involves her in the plot, having her tell Margaery that she has a secret admirer. Then she goes to sleep and dreams that the head the men had brought her had been Tyrion's. "She had it bronzed, and kept it in her chamber pot."

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