Boy was not the worst of the things that Jon Snow had

Boy was not the worst of the things that Jon Snow had been called since being chosen lord commander. He ignored it.

“Snow,” the voice insisted, “Lord Commander.”

This time he stopped. “Ser?”

The knight overtopped him by six inches. “A man who bears Valyrian steel should use it for more than scratching his arse.”

Jon had seen this one about the castle—a knight of great renown, to hear him tell it. During the battle beneath the Wall, Ser Godry Farring had slain a fleeing giant, pounding after him on horseback and driving a lance through his back,

then dismounting to hack off the creature’s pitiful small head. The queen’s men had taken to calling him Godry the Giantslayer.

Jon remembered Ygritte, crying. I am the last of the giants. “I use Longclaw when I must, ser.”

Countless stories are told of them. They are the pendants ofthose “vicious”, “bloodthirsty”, “depraved” animals that inflamethe ire of the maniacs I have

just mentioned, who vent theirspite on them with walking sticks and umbrellas. In both caseswe look at an animal and see a mirror. The obsession

withputting ourselves at the centre of everything is the bane notonly of theologians but also of zoologists.

I learned the lesson that an animal is an animal, essentiallyand practically removed from us, twice: once with Father andonce with Richard Parker.

It was on a Sunday morning. I was quietly playing on myown. Father called out.

“Children, come here.”Something was wrong. His tone of voice set off a smallalarm bell in my head. I quickly reviewed my conscience. Itwas clear. Ravi must be in trouble again. I wondered what hehad done this time. I

“Ravi, Piscine, I have a very important lesson for you today.””Oh really, is this necessary?” interrupted Mother. Her facewas flushed.

I swallowed. If Mother, normally so unruffled, so calm, wasworried, even upset, it meant we were in serious trouble. Iexchanged glances with Ravi.

walked into the living room. Mother wasthere. That was unusual. The disciplining of children, like thetending of animals, was generally left to Father. Ravi

 

walked inlast,

guilt written

all over his

criminal face.

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Iron Emmett’s lads were well at it in the yard, blunted

Iron Emmett’s lads were well at it in the yard, blunted swords slamming into shields and ringing against one another.

Jon stopped to watch a moment as Horse pressed Hop-Robin back toward the well. Horse had the makings of a

good fighter, he decided. He was strong and getting stronger, and his instincts were sound. Hop-Robin was another tale. His clubfoot was bad enough, but he was

afraid of getting hit as well. Perhaps we can make a steward of him. The fight ended abruptly, with Hop-Robin on the ground.

“Well fought,” Jon said to Horse, “but you drop your shield too low when pressing an attack. You will want to correct that, or it is like to get you killed.”

“Yes, m’lord. I’ll keep it higher next time.” Horse pulled Hop-Robin to his feet, and the smaller boy made a clumsy bow.

A few of Stannis’s knights were sparring on the far side of the yard. King’s men in one corner and queen’s men in another,

Jon did not fail to note, but only a few. It’s too cold for most of them. As he strode past them, a booming voice called after him. “BOY! YOU THERE! BOY!”

Just beyond the ticket booth Father had had painted on awall in bright red letters the question:

DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOSTDANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO?
An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so manyeager, curious hands

that pulled at the curtain that we had toreplace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror.

But I learned at my expense that Father believed there wasanother animal even more dangerous than us, and one thatwas extremely common, too,

found on every continent, in everyhabitat: the redoubtable species Animalus anthropomorphicus,the animal as seen through human eyes. We’ve all met

one,perhaps even owned one. It is an animal that is “cute”,”friendly”, “loving”, “devoted”, “merry”, “under-standing”.

 

Theseanimals lie in

ambush in every

toy store and

children’s zoo.

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Varamyr knew the truth of that. When heclaimed

Varamyr knew the truth of that. When he claimed the eagle that had been Orell’s, he could feel the other skinchanger raging at his presence. Orell had been slain by the

turncloak crow Jon Snow, and his hate for his killer had been so strong that Varamyr found himself hating the beastling boy as well. He had known what Snow was the

 

moment he saw that great white direwolf stalking silent at his side. One skinchanger can always sense another. Mance should have let me take the direwolf. There would be

 

a second life worthy of a king. He could have done it, he did not doubt. The gift was strong in Snow, but the youth was

untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it.

Varamyr knew the truth of that. When he claimed the eagle that had been Orell’s, he could feel the other skinchanger raging at his presence. Orell had been slain by the

 

turncloak crow Jon Snow, and his hate for his killer had been so strong that Varamyr found himself hating the beastling boy as well. He had known what Snow was the

 

moment he saw that great white direwolf stalking silent at his side. One skinchanger can always sense another. Mance should

have let me take the direwolf. There would be a second life worthy of a king. He could have done it, he did not doubt. The gift was

strong in Snow, but the youth was

untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it.

Varamyr could see the weirwood’s red eyes staring down at him from the white trunk. The gods are weighing me. A shiver went through him. He had done bad things,

 

 

terrible things. He had stolen, killed, raped. He had gorged on human flesh and lapped the blood of dying men as it gushed red and hot from their torn throats. He had

stalked foes through the woods, fallen on them as they slept, clawed their entrails from their

 

 

bellies and scattered them across the muddy earth. How sweet their meat had tasted. “That was the beast, not me,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “That was the gift you gave me.”

 

 

Varamyr could see the weirwood’s red eyes staring down at him from the white trunk. The gods are weighing me. A shiver went through him. He had done bad things,

 

 

terrible things. He had stolen, killed, raped. He had gorged on human flesh and lapped the blood of dying men as it gushed red and hot from their torn throats. He had

stalked foes through the woods, fallen on them as they slept, clawed their entrails from their

 

 

bellies and scattered them across the muddy earth. How sweet their meat had tasted. “That was the beast, not me,” he said in a hoarse

 

whisper.

“That was

the gift you

gave me.”

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You warned me, Varamyr thought, but it was you

You warned me, Varamyr thought, but it was you who showed me Eastwatch too. He could not have been more than ten.

Haggon traded a dozen strings of amber and a sled piled high with pelts for six skins of wine, a block of salt, and a copper kettle.

 

Eastwatch was a better place to trade than Castle Black; that was where the ships came, laden with goods from the fabled lands beyond the sea. The crows knew

Haggon as a hunter and a friend to the Night’s Watch, and welcomed the news he brought of life beyond their Wall. Some knew him for a skinchanger too, but no one

spoke of that. It was there at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea that the boy he’d been first began to dream of the warm south.

Varamyr could feel the snowflakes melting on his brow. This is not so bad as burning. Let me sleep and never wake, let me begin my second life. His wolves were close now.

He could feel them. He would leave this feeble flesh behind, become one with them, hunting the night and howling at the moon. The warg would become a true wolf. Which, though?

“Straight west,” Mrs. Pollzoff directed with apparent indifference.

They had been flying but a short time when Roberta became conscious that a second plane had risen from the take-off grounds

she knew so well, and although she longed

to look back, or give her wings the three-waggle-signal, she held Nike at a respectful angle. The machine came racing swiftly and once she caught a glimpse of it as it

 

 

flashed into her mirror. The pilot was zooming higher than Nike and although the distance was too great for her to tell who was flying it did look like Larry’s plane. The

sight of it gave her another pang of

loneliness, then, for companionship’s sake, she glanced at the woman beside her and again noticed the bit of white adhesive which protruded above the chinstrap of her helmet.

 

“Straight west,” Mrs. Pollzoff directed with apparent indifference.

 

They had been flying but a short time when Roberta became conscious that a second plane had risen from the take-off grounds she knew so well, and although she longed

to look back, or give her wings the three-

waggle-signal, she held Nike at a respectful angle. The machine came racing swiftly and once she caught a glimpse of it as it

flashed into her mirror. The pilot was

zooming higher than Nike and although the distance was too great for her to tell who was flying it did look like Larry’s plane.

The sight of it gave her another pang of loneliness, then, for companionship’s sake, she glanced at the woman beside her and again noticed the bit of white

 

adhesive which

protruded above

the chinstrap

of her helmet.

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Its owner had been dead, the back of her head

Its owner had been dead, the back of her head smashed into red pulp flecked with bits of bone, but her cloak looked warm and thick. It was snowing, and Varamyr had

lost his own cloaks at the Wall. His sleeping pelts and woolen smallclothes, his sheepskin boots and fur-lined gloves, his store of mead and hoarded food, the hanks

of hair he took from the women he bedded, even the golden arm rings Mance had given him, all lost and left behind. I burned and I died and then I ran, half-mad with

pain and terror. The memory still shamed him, but he had not been alone. Others had run as well, hundreds of them, thousands. The battle was lost. The knights had

come, invincible in their steel, killing everyone who stayed to fight. It was run or die.

45 “That’s a good lock you have on the building,” the sheriff announced. “Kept them from opening the door right away.”

“Mighty good thing your daughter happened to look out of her window before she turned in to bed,” remarked the neighbor.

“Yes, indeed it is.”

“I call the best part that you had a pop-gun to pepper them with. I heard one cry out, and from my window I saw that the fellow hiding nearest the barn grabbed toward his face.”

“From that window of yours you must have had a pretty good look at them, even if it was dark,” said the sheriff.

“Did, for an instant. The lad that got nipped seemed like a big boy; tall, stout chap I should say, but the way he sprinted after the gun went off, he

Death was not so easily outrun, however. So when Varamyr came upon the dead woman in the wood, he knelt to strip the cloak from her, and never saw the boy

until he burst from hiding to drive the long bone knife into his side and rip the cloak out

of his clutching fingers. “His mother,” Thistle told him later, after the boy had run off. “It were his mother’s cloak, and when he saw you robbing her …”

 

sure is agile.”

“Did you hear them

at the hangar?”

Roberta asked.

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Varamyr might have been amongst them if only

Varamyr might have been amongst them if only he’d been stronger. The sea was grey and cold and far away, though, and he knew that he would never live to see it. He

 

 

was nine times dead and dying, and this would be his true death. A squirrel-skin cloak, he remembered, he knifed me for a squirrel-skin cloak.

“Don’t go out,” Mrs. Langwell urged as her husband began to don his trousers hastily under his robe.

“It’s quite safe,” he assured her. Before he was ready there came a pounding at the door—alarmed voices shouted, “You people all right, Langwell?”

“That’s Mr. Howard. He’s the sheriff of the county and must have been in the neighborhood.”

“I’ll be right down,” Mrs. Langwell called. Presently the officer of the law was standing in the hall, while she explained what had happened.

“Glad nobody’s hurt, least-wise, none of you folks. I’ll go out and have a look44 around.” There was a business-like gun in his hand and his chin was set firmly.

“I’m coming with you,” Mr. Langwell called from the top of the stairs as he hurried to join the sheriff.

“I’m coming too, Dad.”

“Stay with your mother, please,” he answered, so Roberta obeyed.

“There isn’t a thing you can do out there, Honey,” Mrs. Langwell assured her. “And you might get in the way.”

So the girl had to be content to remain inside, while sounds of people running, sharp questions, brief answers, and the noise of automobiles stopping while the occupants

demanded to know what was the difficulty came to them from outside. Half an hour later Mr. Langwell came back with the sheriff and their nearest neighbor, and

although they were greatly excited, they had discovered nothing more than some footprints of the robbers, and the place where a large car had been parked by the

side of the road, obviously waiting to assist

the thieve

in their

from the scene

of their mischief.

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One day, as they fled, a rider came galloping

One day, as they fled, a rider came galloping through the woods on a gaunt white horse, shouting that they all should make for the Milkwater, that the Weeper was

gathering warriors to cross the Bridge of Skulls and take the Shadow Tower. Many followed him; more did not. Later, a dour warrior in fur and amber went from

cookfire to cookfire, urging all the survivors to head north and take refuge in the valley of the Thenns. Why he thought they would be safe there when the Thenns

themselves had fled the place Varamyr never learned, but hundreds followed him. Hundreds more went off with the woods witch who’d had a vision of a fleet of ships

coming to carry the free folk south. “We must seek the sea,” cried Mother Mole, and her followers turned east.

Simultaneously with the sound of peppering bullets came a furious string of oaths. A second figure leaped from the corner of the old building and then the gun spoke

again. This time, amid the hail of small bullets came a muffled cry of pain, subdued curses, and a swift scrambling of two pairs of feet taking their owners helter-skelter

from the vicinity. From a distance came the roar of a motor thrown open quickly somewhere down the road, a clutch released as if by frantic hands, then an automobile in motion, but moving slowly.

“Nipped them,” Dad declared with satisfaction.

“Wish you could have done more than that,” Roberta said without any compunction.

43 “At any rate, they are frightened away. Turn on the lights, Mother, please, and we’ll do some investigating.” Mrs. Langwell pressed the switches which immediately

illuminated the whole house, and the sounds of shouts came from the home of the nearest neighbors. This was taken up by other persons, while someone on a motorcycle

seemed to turn

as if giving

chase after

the robbers.

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Leagues away, in a one-room hut of mud and straw

Leagues away, in a one-room hut of mud and straw with a thatched roof and a smoke hole and a floor of hard-packed earth, Varamyr shivered and coughed

and licked his lips. His eyes were red, his lips cracked, his throat dry and parched, but the taste of blood and fat filled his

mouth, even as his swollen belly cried for nourishment. A child’s flesh, he thought, remembering Bump. Human meat. Had

he sunk so low as to hunger after human meat? He could almost hear Haggon

growling at him. “Men may eat the flesh of beasts and beasts the flesh of men, but the man who eats the flesh of man is an abomination.”

Abomination. That had always been Haggon’s favorite word. Abomination, abomination, abomination. To eat of

human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the

worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had

devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh.

For example, there was the Piscine Deligny, the city’s oldestpool, dating back to 1796, an open-air barge moored to

theQuai d’Orsay and the venue for the swimming events of the1900 Olympics. But none of the times were recognized by theInternational Swimming Federation

because the pool was sixmetres too long. The water in the pool came straight from theSeine, unfiltered and unheated. “It

was cold and dirty,” saidMamaji. “The water, having crossed all of Paris, came in foulenough. Then people at the pool made it utterly disgusting.”

Inconspiratorial whispers, with shocking details to back up hisclaim, he assured us that the French had very low standardsof personal hygiene. “Deligny was bad

enough. Bain Royal,another latrine on the Seine, was worse. At least at

Delignythey scooped out the dead fish.” Nevertheless, an Olympic poolis an Olympic pool, touched by immortal glory. Though it

 

wasa cesspool,

Mamaji spoke of

Deligny with

a fond smile.

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Then the pack was on them.His one-eyed brother

Then the pack was on them.

His one-eyed brother knocked the tooth-thrower back into a snowdrift and tore his throat out as he struggled. His sister

slipped behind the other male and took him from the rear. That left the female and her pup for him.

She had a tooth too, a little one made of bone, but she dropped it when the warg’s jaws closed around her leg. As she fell,

she wrapped both arms around her noisy pup. Underneath her furs the female was just skin and bones, but her dugs were

full of milk. The sweetest meat was on the pup. The wolf saved the choicest parts for his brother. All around the

carcasses, the frozen snow turned pink and red as the pack filled its bellies.

It was on my own, a guilty pleasure, that I returned to thesea, beckoned by the mighty waves that crashed down

andreached for me in humble tidal ripples, gentle lassos thatcaught their willing Indian boy.

My gift to Mamaji one birthday, I must have been thirteenor so, was two full lengths of credible butterfly. I finished sospent I could hardly wave to him.

Beyond the activity of swimming, there was the talk of it. Itwas the talk that Father loved. The more vigorously he

resistedactually swimming, the more he fancied it. Swim lore was hisvacation talk from the workaday talk of running a zoo.

Waterwithout a hippopotamus was so much more manageable thanwater with one.

Mamaji studied in Paris for two years, thanks to the colonialadministration. He had the time of his life. This was in

theearly 1930s, when the French were still trying to makePondicherry as Gallic as the British were trying to make

therest of India Britannic. I don’t recall exactly what Mamajistudied. Something commercial, I suppose. He was a

greatstoryteller, but forget about his studies or the Eiffel Tower orthe Louvre or the cafés of the Champs-Elysées. All his storieshad to do

 

with swimming

pools and

swimming

competitions.

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A man alone was a feeble thing. Big andstrong,

A man alone was a feeble thing. Big and strong, with good sharp eyes, but dull of ear and deaf to smells. Deer and elk and even hares were faster, bears and boars

fiercer in a fight. But men in packs were dangerous. As the wolves closed on the prey, the warg heard the wailing of a pup, the crust of last night’s snow breaking under clumsy man-paws,

the rattle of hardskins and the long grey claws men carried.

Swords, a voice inside him whispered, spears.

The trees had grown icy teeth, snarling down from the bare brown branches. One Eye ripped through the

undergrowth, spraying snow. His packmates followed. Up a hill and down the slope beyond, until the wood opened before them and the men were there.

One was female. The fur-wrapped bundle she clutched was her pup. Leave her for last, the voice whispered, the males are the danger. They were roaring at each

other as men did, but the warg could smell their terror. One had a wooden tooth as tall as he was. He flung it, but his hand was shaking and the tooth sailed high.

I went there with him three times a week throughout mychildhood, a Monday, Wednesday, Friday early morning

ritualwith the clockwork regularity of a good front-crawl stroke. Ihave vivid memories of this dignified old man

stripping down tonakedness next to me, his body slowly emerging as he

neatlydisposed of each item of clothing, decency being salvaged at thevery end by a slight turning away and a magnificent

pair ofimported athletic bathing trunks. He stood straight and he wasready. It had an epic simplicity. Swimming

instruction, which intime became swimming practice, was gruelling, but there wasthe deep pleasure of doing a

stroke with increasing ease andspeed, over and over, till hypnosis practically,

the water

turningfrom

molten lead to

liquid light.

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