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.
patriarch, a lanky, hulking beast of 550 pounds,had been detained. As soon as we stepped in, he loped up tothe bars of his cage and set off a full-throated snarl, ears
flatagainst his skull and round eyes fixed on Babu. The soundwas so loud and fierce it seemed to shake the whole cathouse. My knees started quaking. I got close to
Father seemed to pause and steadyhimself. Only Babu was indifferent
to the outburst and to thesearing stare that bored into him like a drill. He had a testedtrust in iron bars. Mahisha started
pacing to and fro againstthe limits
of his cage.
Father turned to us. “What animal is this?” he bellowedabove Mahisha’s
“It’s a tiger,” Ravi and I answered in unison, obedientlypointing out the blindingly obvious.
“Are tigers dangerous?””Yes, Father, tigers are dangerous.””Tigers are very dangerous,” Father shouted. “I want you
tounderstand that you are never – under any circumstances –to touch a tiger, to pet
a tiger, to put your hands through thebars of a cage, even to get close to a cage. Is that clear?
Nothing, thought Jon Snow, the same as me.
Halfway up the winding steps, he came upon Samwell Tarly, headed down. “Are you coming from the king?” Jon asked him.
“Maester Aemon sent me with a letter.”
“I see.” Some lords trusted their maesters to read their letters and convey the contents, but Stannis insisted on breaking the seals himself. “How did Stannis take it?”
“Not happily, by his face.” Sam dropped his voice to a whisper. “I am not supposed to speak of it.”
“Then don’t.” Jon wondered which of his father’s bannermen had refused King Stannis homage this time. He was quick enough to spread the word when Karhold
declared for him.
How are you and