Thistle, he thought. “Ever get tired of me, Mummy?”

Thistle, he thought.

“Ever get tired of me, Mummy?”

“Of all the idiotic questions ever asked, that takes the grand prize!” Mrs. Langwell answered. “Can I help you?”

“Of course you can.”

The getting ready did not take long, and exactly half an hour later, Nike lighted about a mile from the Flying Field where the girl Sky-Pilot found her passenger had just arrived. The woman came in a taxicab, nodded a greeting,

 

paid the driver, then came briskly to the waiting plane. Her throat was wrapped in a scarf.

Haggon would call it an abomination, the blackest sin of all, but Haggon was dead, devoured, and burned. Mance would have cursed him as well, but Mance was slain or captured. No one

 

will ever know. I will be Thistle the spearwife, and Varamyr Sixskins will be dead. His gift would perish with his body, he expected. He would lose his wolves, and live out the rest of his days as

some scrawny, warty woman … but he would live. If she comes back. If I am still strong enough to take her.

 

A wave of dizziness washed over Varamyr. He found himself upon his knees, his hands buried in a snowdrift. He scooped up a fistful of snow and filled his mouth with it, rubbing it through

 

his beard and against his cracked lips, sucking down the moisture. The water was so cold that he could barely bring himself to swallow, and he realized once again how hot he was.

“Ever get tired of me, Mummy?”

“Of all the idiotic questions ever asked, that takes the grand prize!” Mrs. Langwell answered. “Can I help you?”

“Of course you can.”

The getting ready did not take long, and exactly half an hour later, Nike lighted about a mile from the Flying Field where the girl Sky-Pilot found her passenger had just arrived. The woman

 

came in a taxicab, nodded a greeting, paid the driver, then came briskly

 

to the waiting

plane. Her throat

was wrapped

in a scarf.

ananj001.com

ot all skinchangers felt the same, however. Once, when Lump

ot all skinchangers felt the same, however. Once, when Lump was ten, Haggon had taken him to a gathering of such. The wargs were the most numerous in that company, the wolf-brothers,

but the boy had found the others stranger and more fascinating. Borroq looked so much like his boar that all he lacked was tusks, Orell had his eagle, Briar her shadowcat (the moment he

 

saw them, Lump wanted a shadowcat of his own), the goat woman Grisella …shlf1314

 

None of them had been as strong as Varamyr Sixskins, though, not even Haggon, tall and grim with his hands as hard as stone. The hunter died weeping after Varamyr took Greyskin from shlf1314

 

him, driving him out to claim the beast for his own. No second life for you, old man. Varamyr Threeskins, he’d called himself back then. Greyskin made four, though the old wolf was frail shlf1314

 

and almost toothless and soon followed Haggon into death.

Varamyr could take any beast he wanted, bend them to his will, make their flesh his own. Dog or wolf, bear or badger …shlf1314

“You will meet me?” came the demand in her ear.

“All right,” she agreed.shlf1314

“In half an hour.”

“Yes.” She hung up the receiver and explained the call to her mother, but she said nothing about her uneasiness of the day before. The idea of getting an immediate assignment did shlf1314

 

make her feel less dispirited, and when she thought of the previous afternoon, she dismissed it promptly. “Probably all poppy-cock,” she told herself.shlf1314

 

“It will not be difficult flying and if you have been taking her up every day, she may want to engage you regularly,”

Mrs. Langwell remarked. “I know you will feel better54 satisfied, although I was beginning shlf1314

 

to hope I

should have

you to myself

for a few days.”

www.ananj001.com

“Sounds louder than the fire bell,” Roberta remarked

“Sounds louder than the fire bell,” Roberta remarked, and they agreed that she was right and it would certainly wake everybody in the neighborhood if it went off at night.

After the guests had taken their departure51 the girl helped her mother and when the bell was finally installed, they went out to inspect the job. The alarm was set low on the

wall, the wiring ran back through the thick planks, which had been bored so they were not exposed, and could not be either ripped out or cut without difficulty.

“Keep them set all of the time,” the man explained, “and remember whenever you want to open the door to switch them off. I’m to put some more on the windows, so your plane will certainly be well protected and ought to be safe.”

Fear drove him to his feet, reeling. Holding his side to staunch the seep of blood from his wound, Varamyr lurched to the door and swept aside the ragged skin that covered it to face a

wall of white. Snow. No wonder it had grown so dark and smoky inside. The falling snow had buried the hut.

When Varamyr pushed at it, the snow crumbled and gave way, still soft and wet. Outside, the night was white as death; pale thin clouds danced attendance on a silver moon, while a

thousand stars watched coldly. He could see the humped shapes of other huts buried beneath drifts of snow, and beyond them the pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice. To the south

and west the hills were a vast white wilderness where nothing moved except the blowing snow. “Thistle,” Varamyr called feebly, wondering how far she could have gone. “Thistle. Woman. Where are you?”

 

Fear drove him to his feet, reeling. Holding his side to staunch the seep of blood from his wound, Varamyr lurched to the door and swept aside the ragged skin that covered it to face a

wall of white. Snow. No wonder it had grown so dark and

 

smoky inside.

The falling

snow had

buried the hut.

shlfag.com

“We haven’t heard anything from him this morning,

“We haven’t heard anything from him this morning, but your father plans to stop at his office on the way in to town.”

Before Mance, Varamyr Sixskins had been a lord of sorts. He lived alone in a hall of moss and mud and hewn logs that had once been Haggon’s, attended by his beasts. A dozen villages did

him homage in bread and salt and cider, offering him fruit from their orchards and vegetables from their gardens. His meat he got himself. Whenever he desired a woman he sent his

shadowcat to stalk her, and whatever girl he’d cast his eye upon would follow meekly to his bed. Some came weeping, aye, but still they came. Varamyr gave them his seed, took a hank of

their hair to remember them by, and sent them back. From time to time, some village hero would come with spear in hand to slay the beastling and save a sister or a lover or a daughter.

Those he killed, but he never harmed the women. Some he even blessed with children. Runts. Small, puny things, like Lump, and not one with the gift.

While Roberta was eating her belated breakfast any number of neighbors came in to congratulate the family because its property was safe, and, those who did not know the facts,

to get details of the attempted theft. Once the conversation was interrupted by the sudden and sharp clanging of a bell which made them all jump. But Mrs. Langwell glanced out of the

window and saw the electrician waving his hand so she knew he was merely testing the alarm, and reassured the callers.

Before Mance, Varamyr Sixskins had been a lord of sorts. He lived alone in a hall of moss and mud and hewn logs that had once been Haggon’s, attended by his beasts. A dozen villages did

him homage in bread and salt and cider, offering him fruit from their orchards and vegetables from their gardens. His meat he got himself. Whenever he desired a woman he sent his

shadowcat to stalk her, and whatever girl he’d cast his eye upon would follow meekly to his bed. Some came weeping, aye, but still they came. Varamyr gave them his seed, took a hank of

their hair to remember them by, and sent them back. From time to time, some village hero would come with spear in hand to slay the beastling and save a sister or a lover or a daughter.

 

Those he killed, but he never harmed the women. Some he even blessed with children. Runts. Small,

 

puny things,

like Lump,

and not one

with the gift.

www.shlfag.com

“Your father decided to have a good alarm put on

“Your father decided to have a good alarm put on the door so that the next unwelcome hand that tries to tamper with it will wake up the neighborhood,” she explained.

“Dad’s a dear,” the girl answered.

“I’ve always thought so,” her mother admitted.

 

“And you have known him a lot longer than I have,” Roberta chuckled.

“How would you like some breakfast here—”

“Top hole, but I’m going to get into some clothes and come down and get it before you50 spoil me entirely,” she laughed and gave her mother a resounding kiss. “Oh, isn’t it great that there was no damage really done!”

“Simply great.”

“Did Mr. Howard get any news of the robbers?”

Years later he had tried to find his parents, to tell them that their Lump had become the great Varamyr Sixskins, but both of them were dead and burned. Gone into the trees and streams,

gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes. That was what the woods witch told his mother, the day Bump died. Lump did not want to be a clod of earth. The boy had dreamed of

a day when bards would sing of his deeds and pretty girls would kiss him. When I am grown I will be the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Lump had promised himself. He never had, but he had

come close. Varamyr Sixskins was a name men feared. He rode to battle on the back of a snow bear thirteen feet tall, kept three wolves and a shadowcat in thrall, and sat at the right hand of

Mance Rayder. It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should

gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes. That was what the woods witch told his mother, the day Bump died. Lump did not want to be a clod of earth. The boy had dreamed of

 

a day when bards would sing of his deeds and pretty girls would kiss him. When I am grown I will be the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Lump had promised himself. He never had, but he had

 

have slipped

inside my bear

and torn him

to pieces.

shlfaf.com

“Did you turn round and chase them?” Roberta asked eagerly.

“Did you turn round and chase them?” Roberta asked eagerly.

 

“Yes, Miss, I did, but they opened her up and went ‘hell bent for election,’ I beg your pardon. And pretty soon I couldn’t qinpad

 

see anything but the dust they made, and there was plenty of that.” He fumbled in the pocket of his jacket.

“Get the number?” the sheriff snapped.

“Bet your socks,” the boy grinned. “Here she is.”

Haggon’s rough voice echoed in his head. “You will die a

dozen deaths, boy, and every one will hurt … but when your true death comes, you will live again. The second life is simpler and sweeter, they say.”qinpad

Varamyr Sixskins would know the truth of that soon enough. He could taste his true death in the smoke that hung acrid in the air, feel it in the heat beneath his fingers when he slipped aqinpad

 

hand under his clothes to touch his wound. The chill was in him too, though, deep down in his bones. This time it would be cold that killed him.

His last death had been by fire. I burned. At first, in his confusion, he thought some archer on the Wall had pierced him with a flaming arrow … but the qinpad

 

fire had been

inside him,

consuming him.

And the pain …

shlfae.com

“Good piece of work.” Mr. Howard took the scrap of

“Good piece of work.” Mr. Howard took the scrap of paper upon which the license number had been hastily scrawled.

“Wrote it down quick so I wouldn’t forget it. Anybody hurt?”

 

“Thank you, we are all right,” Mrs. Langwell assured him. “Won’t you have a cup of coffee, or something to eat?” The chap was about Harvey’s age.

“Thanks just the same. I’ll ooze along. You people will want to get back to bed. If48 you care to bump-the-bumps with me, sheriff, I’ll give you a lift on this cycle.”

Varamyr had died nine times before. He had died once from a spear thrust, once with a bear’s teeth in his throat, and once in a wash of blood as he brought forth a stillborn cub. He died his

 

first death when he was only six, as his father’s axe crashed through his skull. Even that had not been so agonizing as the fire in his guts, crackling along his wings, devouring him. When he

 

tried to fly from it, his terror fanned the flames and made them burn hotter. One moment he had been soaring above the Wall, his eagle’s eyes marking the movements of the men below.

 

Then the flames had turned his heart into a blackened cinder and sent his spirit screaming back into his own skin, and for a little while he’d gone mad. Even

 

the memory

was enough

to make

shudder.shlf1314

www.shlfaf.com

 

“No. Fact is, we were in bed and my wife asked me

“No. Fact is, we were in bed and my wife asked me to open our window a bit wider. These spring nights are warming considerable. I just got the window up when the shot came. The lad

 

at the door46 surely had a vocabulary! Then the second shot ripped about and the fat fellow squealed.”

 

“It was fortunate that you happened to be in the neighborhood, Mr. Howard,” said Mrs. Langwell.

“I was cutting across lots for home when I heard the shots. I’d been at the town hall where we had a hot session over some concessions and taxes. Just got through and I was so tired I was

 

for getting home by the shortest route, even if it took me through other people’s property,” explained the sheriff.

“We are very much—” Just then a motorcycle sputtered up to the house and its rider flung himself off vigorously. Before he could knock, Mr. Langwell was at the door and threw it open.shlf1314

“She was dead,” Varamyr said, wincing as her bone needle pierced his flesh. “Someone smashed her head. Some crow.”

“No crow. Hornfoot men. I saw it.” Her needle pulled the gash in his side closed. “Savages, and who’s left to tame them?” No one. If Mance is dead, the free folk are doomed. The Thenns,shlf1314

 

giants, and the Hornfoot men, the cave-dwellers with their filed teeth, and the men of the western shore with their chariots of bone … all of them were doomed as well. Even the crows.shlf1314

 

They might not know it yet, but those black-cloaked bastards shlf1314

“Hello, I say, I happened to be riding near here, sort of meandering along not making much noise and I passed a big car parked back of those elm trees. Thought it was a

 

spooning party, so came along minding my own business, then I heard shots and almost at the same time the motor of the limousine47 was started. I put on the brakes just in time

 

to keep from hitting a man who was running toward the road, and he hopped into the car, another fellow right after him.”

 

would perish

with the rest.

The enemy

was coming.

www.shlfae.com

or the big man with the scarred face, or the youth

or the big man with the scarred face, or the youth with the red hair. He had been afraid, though. One of the others might have realized what was happening. Then they would have

 

turned on him and killed him. And Haggon’s words had haunted him, and so the chance had passed.

After the battle there had been thousands of them struggling through the forest, hungry, frightened, fleeing the carnage that had descended on them at the Wall. Some had talked of

 

returning to the homes that they’d abandoned, others of mounting a second assault upon the gate, but most were lost, with no notion of where to go or what to do. They had escaped the

black-cloaked crows and the knights in their grey steel, but more relentless enemies stalked them now. Every day left more corpses by the trails. Some died of hunger, some of cold, some

of sickness. Others were slain by those who had been their brothers-in-arms when they marched south with Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall.

Mance is fallen, the survivors told each other in despairing voices, Mance is taken, Mance is dead. “Harma’s dead and Mance is captured, the rest run off and left us,” Thistle had claimed,

as she was sewing up his wound. “Tormund, the Weeper, Sixskins, all them brave raiders. Where are they now?”

She does not know me, Varamyr realized then, and why should she? Without his beasts he did not look like a great man. I was Varamyr Sixskins, who broke bread with Mance Rayder. He had

named himself Varamyr when he was ten. A name fit for a lord, a name for songs, a mighty name, and fearsome. Yet he had run from the crows like a frightened rabbit. The terrible Lord

Varamyr had gone craven, but he could not bear that she should know that, so he told the spearwife that his name was Haggon. Afterward he wondered why that name had come to his

lips, of all those he might have chosen.

 

I ate his heart

and drank his

blood, and still

he haunts me.

shlfac.com

Molitor had the best competitive swimming club

Molitor had the best competitive swimming club in Paris. Therewere two pools, an indoor and an outdoor. Both were as bigas small oceans. The indoor pool always had two lanesreserved for

 

swimmers who wanted to do lengths. The waterwas so clean and clear you could have used it to make yourmorning coffee. Wooden changing cabins, blue and white,surrounded the pool

 

on two floors. You could look down andsee everyone and everything. The porters who marked yourcabin door with chalk to show that it was occupied werelimping old men, friendly in an ill-

 

tempered way. No amount ofshouting and tomfoolery ever ruffled them. The showers gushedhot, soothing water. There was a steam room and an exerciseroom. The outside pool

 

became a skating rink in winter. Therewas a bar, a cafeteria, a large sunning deck, even two smallbeaches with real sand. Every bit of tile, brass and woodgleamed. It was – it was…”It was

 

the only pool that made Mamaji fall silent, hismemory making too many lengths to mention.
Mamaji remembered, Father dreamed.

That is how I got my name when I entered this world, alast, welcome addition to my family, three years after Ravi:
Piscine Molitor Patel.

Thistle had warned him that might happen. “I sewed it up the best I could,” she’d said, “but you need to rest and let it mend, or the flesh will tear open again.”

Thistle had been the last of his companions, a spearwife tough as an old root, warty, windburnt, and wrinkled. The others had deserted them along the way. One by one they fell behind or

 

forged ahead, making for their old villages, or the Milkwater, or Hardhome, or a lonely death in the woods. Varamyr did not know, and could not care. I should

 

have taken one

of them when

I had the chance.

One of the twins,

www.shlfac.com