Ravi?”Ravi nodded vigorously.
“Piscine?”I nodded even more vigorously.
He kept his eyes on me.
I nodded so hard I’m surprised my neck didn’t snap andmy head fall to the floor.
I would like to say in my own defence that though I mayhave anthropomorphized the animals till they spoke fluentEnglish, the pheasants complaining in uppity British accents oftheir tea being cold and the baboons planning their bankrobbery getaway in
the flat, menacing tones of Americangangsters, the fancy was always conscious. I quite deliberatelydressed wild animals in tame costumes of my imagination. But Inever deluded myself as to the real nature of my playmates.
My poking nose had more sense than that. I don’t knowwhere Father got the idea that his youngest son was itching tostep into a cage with a ferocious carnivore. But
wherever thestrange worry came from – and Father was a worrier – hewas clearly determined to rid himself of it that very morning.
“I found a good book about archery.” Sam frowned. “Doing it is harder than reading about it, though. I get blisters.”
“Keep at it. We may need your bow on the Wall if the Others turn up some dark night.”
“Oh, I hope not.”
More guards stood outside the king’s solar. “No arms are allowed in His Grace’s presence, my lord,” their serjeant said. “I’ll need that sword. Your knives as well.” It would do no good to protest, Jon knew. He handed them his weaponry.
Within the solar the air was warm. Lady Melisandre was seated near the fire, her ruby glimmering against the pale skin of her throat. Ygritte had been kissed by fire; the red
priestess was fire, and her hair was blood and flame. Stannis stood behind the rough-hewn table where the Old Bear had once been wont to sit and take his meals. Covering the table was a large map of the north, painted on a ragged piece of hide.
A tallow candle
weighed down one
end of it, a steel g
auntlet the other.
Mr. Kumar was the first avowed atheist I ever met. Idiscovered this not in the classroom but at the zoo. He was aregular visitor who read the labels and descriptive
notices intheir entirety and approved of every animal he saw. Each tohim was a triumph of logic and mechanics, and
nature as awhole was an exceptionally fine illustration of science. To hisears, when an animal felt the urge to mate, it
said “GregorMendel”, recalling the father of genetics, and when it was timeto show its mettle, “Charles Darwin”, the father of
naturalselection, and what we took to be bleating, grunting, hissing,snorting, roaring, growling, howling, chirping and screechingwere but the thick accents of
foreigners. When Mr. Kumarvisited the zoo, it was to take the pulse of the universe, andhis stethoscopic mind always confirmed to him that
everythingwas in order, that everything was order. He left the zoo
feelingscientifically, refreshed. The first time I saw his triangular formteetering and tottering about the zoo, I was shy to
approachhim. As much as I liked him as a teacher, he was a figure ofauthority, and I, a subject. I was a little afraid of him.
Iobserved him at a distance. He had just come to therhinoceros pit. The two Indian rhinos were great attractions atthe zoo because of the goats. Rhinos are social
animals, andwhen we got Peak, a young wild male, he was showing signsof suffering from isolation and he was eating
less and less. Asa stopgap measure, while he searched for a female, Fatherthought of seeing if Peak couldn’t be accustomed
to living withgoats. If it worked, it would save a valuable animal. If it didn’t,it would only cost a few goats. It worked
marvellously. Peakand the herd of goats became inseparable, even when Summitarrived. Now, when the rhinos bathed, the goats stood aroundthe muddy
pool, and when the goats ate in their corner, Peakand Summit stood next to them like guards. The livingarrangement was very popular with the public.
“Snow,” the moon called down again, cackling. The white wolf padded along the man trail beneath the icy cliff. The taste
of blood was on his tongue, and his ears rang to the song of the hundred cousins. Once they had been six, five whimpering
blind in the snow beside their dead mother, sucking cool milk from her hard dead nipples whilst he crawled off alone.
Four remained …
and one the white
wolf could no