A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire 4) - Page 4

"Hotah," said Obara Sand, "you will remove yourself from my path, else I shall take that longaxe and - "

"Captain," came the command, from behind. "Let her pass. I will speak with her." The prince's voice was hoarse.

Areo Hotah jerked his longaxe upright and stepped to one side. Obara gave him a lingering last look and strode past, the maester hurrying at her heels. Caleotte was no more than five feet tall and bald as an egg. His face was so smooth and fat that it was hard to tell his age, but he had been here before the captain, had even served the prince's mother. Despite his age and girth, he was still nimble enough, and clever as they came, but meek. He is no match for any Sand Snake, the captain thought.

In the shade of the orange trees, the prince sat in his chair with his gouty legs propped up before him, and heavy bags beneath his eyes . . . though whether it was grief or gout that kept him sleepless, Hotah could not say. Below, in the fountains and the pools, the children were still at their play. The youngest were no more than five, the oldest nine and ten. Half were girls and half were boys. Hotah could hear them splashing and shouting at each other in high, shrill voices. "It was not so long ago that you were one of the children in those pools, Obara," the prince said, when she took one knee before his rolling chair.

She snorted. "It has been twenty years, or near enough to make no matter. And I was not here long. I am the whore's whelp, or had you forgotten?" When he did not answer, she rose again and put her hands upon her hips. "My father has been murdered."

"He was slain in single combat during a trial by battle," Prince Doran said. "By law, that is no murder."

"He was your brother."

"He was."

"What do you mean to do about his death?"

The prince turned his chair laboriously to face her. Though he was but two-and-fifty, Doran Martell seemed much older. His body was soft and shapeless beneath his linen robes, and his legs were hard to look upon. The gout had swollen and reddened his joints grotesquely; his left knee was an apple, his right a melon, and his toes had turned to dark red grapes, so ripe it seemed as though a touch would burst them. Even the weight of a coverlet could make him shudder, though he bore the pain without complaint. Silence is a prince's friend, the captain had heard him tell his daughter once. Words are like arrows, Arianne. Once loosed, you cannot call them back. "I have written to Lord Tywin - "

"Written? If you were half the man my father was - "

"I am not your father."

"That I knew." Obara's voice was thick with contempt.

"You would have me go to war."

"I know better. You need not even leave your chair. Let me avenge my father. You have a host in the Prince's Pass. Lord Yronwood has another in the Boneway. Grant me the one and Nym the other. Let her ride the kingsroad, whilst I turn the marcher lords out of their castles and hook round to march on Oldtown."

"And how could you hope to hold Oldtown?"

"It will be enough to sack it. The wealth of Hightower - "

"Is it gold you want?"

"It is blood I want."

"Lord Tywin shall deliver us the Mountain's head."

"And who will deliver us Lord Tywin's head? The Mountain has always been his pet."

The prince gestured toward the pools. "Obara, look at the children, if it please you."

"It does not please me. I'd get more pleasure from driving my spear into Lord Tywin's belly. I'll make him sing 'The Rains of Castamere' as I pull his bowels out and look for gold."

"Look," the prince repeated. "I command you."

A few of the older children lay facedown upon the smooth pink marble, browning in the sun. Others paddled in the sea beyond. Three were building a sand castle with a great spike that resembled the Spear Tower of the Old Palace. A score or more had gathered in the big pool, to watch the battles as smaller children rode through the waist-deep shallows on the shoulders of the larger and tried to shove each other into the water. Every time a pair went down, the splash was followed by a roar of laughter. They watched a nut-brown girl yank a towheaded boy off his brother's shoulders to tumble him headfirst into the pool.

"Your father played that same game once, as I did before him," said the prince. "We had ten years between us, so I had left the pools by the time he was old enough to play, but I would watch him when I came to visit Mother. He was so fierce, even as a boy. Quick as a water snake. I oft saw him topple boys much bigger than himself. He reminded me of that the day he left for King's Landing. He swore that he would do it one more time, else I would never have let him go."

"Let him go?" Obara laughed. "As if you could have stopped him. The Red Viper of Dorne went where he would."

"He did. I wish I had some word of comfort to - "

"I did not come to you for comfort." Her voice was full of scorn. "The day my father came to claim me, my mother did not wish for me to go. 'She is a girl,' she said, 'and I do not think that she is yours. I had a thousand other men.' He tossed his spear at my feet and gave my mother the back of his hand across the face, so she began to weep. 'Girl or boy, we fight our battles,' he said, 'but the gods let us choose our weapons.' He pointed to the spear, then to my mother's tears, and I picked up the spear. 'I told you she was mine,' my father said, and took me. My mother drank herself to death within the year. They say that she was weeping as she died." Obara edged closer to the prince in his chair. "Let me use the spear; I ask no more."

"It is a deal to ask, Obara. I shall sleep on it."

"You have slept too long already."

"You may be right. I will send word to you at Sunspear."

"So long as the word is war." Obara turned upon her heel and strode off as angrily as she had come, back to the stables for a fresh horse and another headlong gallop down the road.

Maester Caleotte remained behind. "My prince?" the little round man asked. "Do your legs hurt?"

The prince smiled faintly. "Is the sun hot?"

"Shall I fetch a draught for the pain?"

"No. I need my wits about me."

The maester hesitated. "My prince, is it . . . is it prudent to allow Lady Obara to return to Sunspear? She is certain to inflame the common people. They loved your brother well."

"So did we all." He pressed his fingers to his temples. "No. You are right. I must return to Sunspear as well."

The little round man hesitated. "Is that wise?"

"Not wise, but necessary. Best send a rider to Ricasso, and have him open my apartments in the Tower of the Sun. Inform my daughter Arianne that I will be there on the morrow."

My little princess. The captain had missed her sorely.

"You will be seen," the maester warned.

The captain understood. Two years ago, when they had left Sunspear for the peace and isolation of the Water Gardens, Prince Doran's gout had not been half so bad. In those days he had still walked, albeit slowly, leaning on a stick and grimacing with every step. The prince did not wish his enemies to know how feeble he had grown, and the Old Palace and its shadow city were full of eyes. Eyes, the captain thought, and steps he cannot climb. He would need to fly to sit atop the Tower of the Sun.

"I must be seen. Someone must pour oil on the waters. Dorne must be reminded that it still has a prince." He smiled wanly. "Old and gouty though he is."

"If you return to Sunspear, you will need to give audience to Princess Myrcella," Caleotte said. "Her white knight will be with her . . . and you know he sends letters to his queen."

"I suppose he does."

The white knight. The captain frowned. Ser Arys had come to Dorne to attend his own princess, as Areo Hotah had once come with his. Even their names sounded oddly alike: Areo and Arys. Yet there the likeness ended. The captain had left Norvos and its bearded priests, but Ser Arys Oakheart still served the Iron Throne. Hotah had felt a certain sadness whenever he saw the man in the long snowy cloak, the times the prince had sent him down to Sunspear. One day, he sensed, the two of them would fight; on that day Oakheart would die, with the captain's longaxe crashing through his skull. He slid his hand along the smooth ashen shaft of his axe and wondered if that day was drawing nigh.

"The afternoon is almost done," the prince was saying. "We will wait for morn. See that my litter is ready by first light."

"As you command." Caleotte bobbed a bow. The captain stood aside to let him pass, and listened to his footsteps dwindle.

"Captain?" The prince's voice was soft.

Hotah strode forward, one hand wrapped about his longaxe. The ash felt as smooth as a woman's skin against his palm. When he reached the rolling chair he thumped its butt down hard to announce his presence, but the prince had eyes only for the children. "Did you have brothers, captain?" he asked. "Back in Norvos, when you were young? Sisters?"

"Both," Hotah said. "Two brothers, three sisters. I was the youngest." The youngest, and unwanted. Another mouth to feed, a big boy who ate too much and soon outgrew his clothes. Small wonder they had sold him to the bearded priests.

"I was the oldest," the prince said, "and yet I am the last. After Mors and Olyvar died in their cradles, I gave up hope of brothers. I was nine when Elia came, a squire in service at Salt Shore. When the raven arrived with word that my mother had been brought to bed a month too soon, I was old enough to understand that meant the child would not live. Even when Lord Gargalen told me that I had a sister, I assured him that she must shortly die. Yet she lived, by the Mother's mercy. And a year later Oberyn arrived, squalling and kicking. I was a man grown when they were playing in these pools. Yet here I sit, and they are gone."

Areo Hotah did not know what to say to that. He was only a captain of guards, and still a stranger to this land and its seven-faced god, even after all these years. Serve. Obey. Protect. He had sworn those vows at six-and-ten, the day he wed his axe. Simple vows for simple men, the bearded priests had said. He had not been trained to counsel grieving princes.

He was still groping for some words to say when another orange fell with a heavy splat, no more than a foot from where the prince was seated. Doran winced at the sound, as if somehow it had hurt him. "Enough," he sighed, "it is enough. Leave me, Areo. Let me watch the children for a few more hours."

When the sun set the air grew cool and the children went inside in search of supper, still the prince remained beneath his orange trees, looking out over the still pools and the sea beyond. A serving man brought him a bowl of purple olives, with flatbread, cheese, and chickpea paste. He ate a bit of it, and drank a cup of the sweet, heavy strongwine that he loved. When it was empty, he filled it once again. Sometimes in the deep black hours of the morning sleep found him in his chair. Only then did the captain roll him down the moonlit gallery, past a row of fluted pillars and through a graceful archway, to a great bed with crisp cool linen sheets in a chamber by the sea. Doran groaned as the captain moved him, but the gods were good and he did not wake.

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