Rhaegal roared in answer, and fire filled the pit, a spear of red and yellow. Viserion replied, his own flames gold and orange. When he flapped his wings, a cloud of grey ash filled the air. Broken chains clanked and clattered about his legs. Quentyn Martell jumped back a foot. A crueler woman might have laughed at him, but Dany squeezed his hand and said, "They frighten me as well. There is no shame in that. My children have grown wild and angry in the dark."
"You ... you mean to ride them?"
"One of them. All I know of dragons is what my brother told me when I was a girl, and some I read in books, but it is said that even Aegon the Conqueror never dared mount Vhagar or Meraxes, nor did his sisters ride Balerion the Black Dread. Dragons live longer than men, some for hundreds of years, so Balerion had other riders after Aegon died ... but no rider ever flew two dragons."
Viserion hissed again. Smoke rose between his teeth, and deep down in his throat they could see gold fire churning.
"They are ... they are fearsome creatures."
"They are dragons, Quentyn." Dany stood on her toes and kissed him lightly, once on each cheek. "And so am I."
The young prince swallowed. "I ... I have the blood of the dragon in me as well, Your Grace. I can trace my lineage back to the first Daenerys, the Targaryen princess who was sister to King Daeron the Good and wife to the Prince of Dorne. He built the Water Gardens for her."
"The Water Gardens?" She knew little and less of Dorne or its history, if truth be told.
"My father's favorite palace. It would please me to show them to you one day. They are all of pink marble, with pools and fountains, overlooking the sea."
"They sound lovely." She drew him away from the pit. He does not belong here. He should never have come. "You ought to return there. My court is no safe place for you, I fear. You have more enemies than you know. You made Daario look a fool, and he is not a man to forget such a slight."
"I have my knights. My sworn shields."
"Two knights. Daario has five hundred Stormcrows. And you would do well to beware of my lord husband too. He seems a mild and pleasant man, I know, but do not be deceived. Hizdahr's crown derives from mine, and he commands the allegiance of some of the most fearsome fighters in the world. If one of them should think to win his favor by disposing of a rival ..."
"I am a prince of Dorne, Your Grace. I will not run from slaves and sell swords."
Then you truly are a fool, Prince Frog. Dany gave her wild children one last lingering look. She could hear the dragons screaming as she led the boy back to the door, and see the play of light against the bricks, reflections of their fires. If I look back, I am lost. "Ser Barristan will have summoned a pair of sedan chairs to carry us back up to the banquet, but the climb can still be wearisome." Behind them, the great iron doors closed with a resounding clang. "Tell me of this other Daenerys. I know less than I should of the history of my father's kingdom. I never had a maester growing up." Only a brother.
"It would be my pleasure, Your Grace," said Quentyn.
It was well past midnight before the last of their guests took their leave and Dany retired to her own apartments to join her lord and king. Hizdahr at least was happy, if somewhat drunk. "I keep my promises," he told her, as Irri and Jhiqui were robing them for bed. "You wished for peace, and it is yours."
And you wished for blood, and soon enough I must give it to you, Dany thought, but what she said was, "I am grateful."
The excitement of the day had inflamed her husband's passions. No sooner had her handmaids retired for the night than he tore the robe from her and tumbled her backwards into bed. Dany slid her arms around him and let him have his way. Drunk as he was, she knew he would not be inside her long.
Nor was he. Afterward he nuzzled at her ear and whispered, "Gods grant that we have made a son tonight."
The words of Mirri Maz Duur rang in her head. When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before. The meaning was plain enough; Khal Drogo was as like to return from the dead as she was to bear a living child. But there are some secrets she could not bring herself to share, even with a husband, so she let Hizdahr zo Loraq keep his hopes. Her noble husband was soon fast asleep. Daenerys could only twist and turn beside him. She wanted to shake him, wake him, make him hold her, kiss her, f**k her again, but even if he did, he would fall back to sleep again afterward, leaving her alone in the darkness. She wondered what Daario was doing. Was he restless as well? Was he thinking about her? Did he love her, truly? Did he hate her for marrying Hizdahr? I should never have taken him into my bed. He was only a sellsword, no fit consort for a queen, and yet ...
I knew that all along, but I did it anyway. "My queen?" said a soft voice in the darkness.
Dany flinched. "Who is there?"
"Only Missandei." The Naathi scribe moved closer to the bed.
"This one heard you crying."
"Crying? I was not crying. Why would I cry? I have my peace, I have my king, I have everything a queen might wish for. You had a bad dream, that was all."
"As you say, Your Grace." She bowed and made to go. "Stay,"
said Dany. "I do not wish to be alone."
"His Grace is with you," Missandei pointed out. "His Grace is dreaming, but I cannot sleep. On the morrow I must bathe in blood. The price of peace." She smiled wanly and patted the bed. "Come. Sit. Talk with me."
"If it please you." Missandei sat down beside her. "What shall we talk of?"
"Home," said Dany. "Naath. Butterflies and brothers. Tell me of the things that make you happy, the things that make you giggle, all your sweetest memories. Remind me that there is still good in the world."
Missandei did her best. She was still talking when Dany finally fell to sleep, to dream queer, half-formed dreams of smoke and fire. The morning came too soon.
Day stole upon them just as Stannis had: unseen.
Winterfell had been awake for hours, its battlements and towers crammed with men in wool and mail and leather awaiting an attack that never came. By the time the sky began to lighten the sound of drums had faded away, though warhorns were heard thrice more, each time a little closer. And still the snow fell.
"The storm will end today," one of the surviving stableboys was insisting loudly. "Why, it isn't even winter." Theon would have laughed if he had dared. He remembered tales Old Nan had told them of storms that raged for forty days and forty nights, for a year, for ten years ... storms that buried castles and cities and whole kingdoms under a hundred feet of snow.
He sat in the back of the Great Hall, not far from the horses, watching Abel, Rowan, and a mousy brown-haired washerwoman called Squirrel attack slabs of stale brown bread fried in bacon grease. Theon broke his own fast with a tankard of dark ale, cloudy with yeast and thick enough to chew on. A few more tankards, and perhaps Abel's plan might not seem quite so mad.
Roose Bolton entered, pale-eyed and yawning, accompanied by his plump and pregnant wife, Fat Walda. Several lords and captains had preceded him, amongst them Whoresbane Umber, Aenys Frey, and Roger Ryswell. Farther down the table Wyman Manderly sat wolfing down sausages and boiled eggs, whilst old Lord Locke beside him spooned gruel into his toothless mouth.
Lord Ramsay soon appeared as well, buckling on his sword belt as he made his way to the front of the hall. His mood is foul this morning. Theon could tell. The drums kept him awake all night, he guessed, or someone has displeased him. One wrong word, an ill-considered look, an ill-timed laugh, any of them could provoke his lordship's wroth and cost a man a strip of skin. Please, m' lord, don' t look this way. One glance would be all it would take for Ramsay to know everything. He' ll see it written on my face. He' ll know. He always knows.
Theon turned to Abel. "This will not work." His voice was pitched so low that even the horses could not have overheard. "We will be caught before we leave the castle. Even if we do escape, Lord Ramsay will hunt us down, him and Ben Bones and the girls."
"Lord Stannis is outside the walls, and not far by the sound of it. All we need do is reach him." Abel's fingers danced across the strings of his lute. The singer's beard was brown, though his long hair had largely gone to grey. "If the Bastard does come after us, he might live long enough to rue it."
Think that, Theon thought. Believe that. Tell yourself it' s true.
"Ramsay will use your women as his prey," he told the singer. "He'll hunt them down, rape them, and feed their corpses to his dogs. If they lead him a good chase, he may name his next litter of bitches after them. You he'
ll flay. Him and Skinner and Damon Dance-for-Me, they will make a game of it. You'll be begging them to kill you." He clutched the singer's arm with a maimed hand. "You swore you would not let me fall into his hands again. I have your word on that." He needed to hear it again.
"Abel's word," said Squirrel. "Strong as oak." Abel himself only shrugged. "No matter what, my prince."
Up on the dais, Ramsay was arguing with his father. They were too far away for Theon to make out any of the words, but the fear on Fat Walda'
s round pink face spoke volumes. He did hear Wyman Manderly calling for more sausages and Roger Ryswell's laughter at some jape from one-armed Harwood Stout.
Theon wondered if he would ever see the Drowned God's watery halls, or if his ghost would linger here at Winterfell. Dead is dead. Better dead than Reek. If Abel's scheme went awry, Ramsay would make their dying long and hard. He will flay me from head to heel this time, and no amount of begging will end the anguish. No pain Theon had ever known came close to the agony that Skinner could evoke with a little flensing blade. Abel would learn that lesson soon enough. And for what? Jeyne, her name is Jeyne, and her eyes are the wrong color. A mummer playing a part. Lord Bolton knows, and Ramsay, but the rest are blind, even this bloody bard with his sly smiles. The jape is on you, Abel, you and your murdering whores. You' ll die for the wrong girl.
He had come this close to telling them the truth when Rowan had delivered him to Abel in the ruins of the Burned Tower, but at the last instant he had held his tongue. The singer seemed intent on making off with the daughter of Eddard Stark. If he knew that Lord Ramsay's bride was but a steward's whelp, well ...
The doors of the Great Hall opened with a crash.
A cold wind came swirling through, and a cloud of ice crystals sparkled blue-white in the air. Through it strode Ser Hosteen Frey, caked with snow to the waist, a body in his arms. All along the benches men put down their cups and spoons to turn and gape at the grisly spectacle. The hall grew quiet.
Snow slid from Ser Hosteen's cloaks as he stalked toward the high table, his steps ringing against the floor. A dozen Frey knights and men-at-arms entered behind him. One was a boy Theon knew - Big Walder, the little one, fox-faced and skinny as a stick. His chest and arms and cloak were spattered with blood.