Ravi?”Ravi nodded vigorously. “Piscine?”I nodded

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.

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