"Even the smallest scratch can prove mortal, lord Captain, but if you will allow me, I will heal this. I will need a blade. Silver would be best, but iron will serve. A brazier as well. I must needs light a fire. There will be pain. Terrible pain, such as you have never known. But when we are done, your hand will be returned to you."
They are all the same, these magic men. The mouse warned me of pain as well. "I am ironborn, priest. I laugh at pain. You will have what you require ... but if you fail, and my hand is not healed, I will cut your throat myself and give you to the sea."
Moqorro bowed, his dark eyes shining. "So be it."
The iron captain was not seen again that day, but as the hours passed the crew of his Iron Victory reported hearing the sound of wild laughter coming from the captain's cabin, laughter deep and dark and mad, and when Longwater Pyke and Wulfe One-Eye tried the cabin door they found it barred. Later singing was heard, a strange high wailing song in a tongue the maester said was High Valyrian. That was when the monkeys left the ship, screeching as they leapt into the water.
Come sunset, as the sea turned black as ink and the swollen sun tinted the sky a deep and bloody red, Victarion came back on deck. He was naked from the waist up, his left arm blood to the elbow. As his crew gathered, whispering and trading glances, he raised a charred and blackened hand. Wisps of dark smoke rose from his fingers as he pointed at the maester.
"That one. Cut his throat and throw him in the sea, and the winds will favor us all the way to Meereen." Moqorro had seen that in his fires. He had seen the wench wed too, but what of it? She would not be the first woman Victarion Greyjoy had made a widow.
The healer entered the tent murmuring pleasantries, but one sniff of the foul air and a glance at Yezzan zo Qaggaz put an end to that. "The pale mare," the man told Sweets.
What a surprise, Tyrion thought. Who could have guessed? Aside from any man with a nose and me with half of one. Yezzan was burning with fever, squirming fitfully in a pool of his own excrement. His shit had turned to brown slime streaked with blood ... and it fell to Yollo and Penny to wipe his yellow bottom clean. Even with assistance, their master could not lift his own weight; it took all his failing strength to roll onto one side.
"My arts will not avail here," the healer announced. "The noble Yezzan's life is in the hands of the gods. Keep him cool if you can. Some say that helps. Bring him water." Those afflicted by the pale mare were always thirsty, drinking gallons between their shits. "Clean fresh water, as much as he will drink."
"Not river water," said Sweets. "By no means." And with that, the healer fled.
We need to flee as well, thought Tyrion. He was a slave in a golden collar, with little bells that tinkled cheerfully with every step he took. One of Yezzan' s special treasures. An honor indistinguishable from a death warrant. Yezzan zo Qaggaz liked to keep his darlings close, so it had fallen to Yollo and Penny and Sweets and his other treasures to attend him when he grew sick.
Poor old Yezzan. The lord of suet was not so bad as masters went. Sweets had been right about that. Serving at his nightly banquets, Tyrion had soon learned that Yezzan stood foremost amongst those Yunkish lords who favored honoring the peace with Meereen. Most of the others were only biding their time, waiting for the armies of Volantis to arrive. A few wanted to assault the city immediately, lest the Volantenes rob them of their glory and the best part of the plunder. Yezzan would have no part of that. Nor would he consent to returning Meereen's hostages by way of trebuchet, as the sellsword Bloodbeard had proposed.
But much and more can change in two days. Two days ago Nurse had been hale and healthy. Two days ago Yezzan had not heard the pale mare's ghostly hoofbeats. Two days ago the fleets of Old Volantis had been two days farther off. And now ...
"Is Yezzan going to die?" Penny asked, in that
please-say-it-is-not-so voice of hers.
"We are all going to die."
"Of the flux, I meant."
Sweets gave them both a desperate look. "Yezzan must not die."
hermaphrodite stroked the brow of their gargantuan master, pushing back his sweat-damp hair. The Yunkishman moaned, and another flood of brown water gushed down his legs. His bedding was stained and stinking, but they had no way to move him.
"Some masters free their slaves when they die," said Penny. Sweets tittered. It was a ghastly sound. "Only favorites. They free them from the woes of the world, to accompany their beloved master to the grave and serve him in the afterlife."
Sweets should know. His will be the first throat slit. The goat boy spoke up. "The silver queen - "
" - is dead," insisted Sweets. "Forget her! The dragon took her across the river. She's drowned in that Dothraki sea."
"You can't drown in grass, " the goat boy said. "If we were free,"
said Penny, "we could find the queen. Or go search for her, at least."
You on your dog and me on my sow, chasing a dragon across the Dothraki sea. Tyrion scratched his scar to keep from laughing. "This particular dragon has already evinced a fondness for roast pork. And roast dwarf is twice as tasty."
"It was just a wish," said Penny wistfully. "We could sail away. There are ships again, now that the war is over."
Is it? Tyrion was inclined to doubt that. Parchments had been signed, but wars were not fought on parchments.
"We could sail to Qarth," Penny went on. "The streets are paved with jade there, my brother always said. The city walls are one of the wonders of the world. When we perform in Qarth, gold and silver will rain down on us, you'll see."
"Some of those ships out on the bay are Qartheen," Tyrion
reminded her. "Lomas Longstrider saw the walls of Qarth. His books suffice for me. I have gone as far east as I intend to go."
Sweets dabbed at Yezzan's fevered face with a damp cloth. "Yezzan must live. Or we all die with him. The pale mare does not carry off every rider. The master will recover."
That was a bald-faced lie. It would be a wonder if Yezzan lived another day. The lord of suet was already dying from whatever hideous disease he had brought back from Sothoryos, it seemed to Tyrion. This would just hasten his end. A mercy, really. But not the sort the dwarf craved for himself. "The healer said he needs fresh water. We will see to that."
"That is good of you." Sweets sounded numb. It was more than just fear of having her throat cut; alone amongst Yezzan's treasures, she actually seemed fond of their immense master.
"Penny, come with me." Tyrion opened the tent flap and ushered her out into the heat of a Meereenese morning. The air was muggy and oppressive, yet still a welcome relief from the miasma of sweat, shit, and sickness that filled the inside of Yezzan's palatial pavilion.
"Water will help the master," Penny said. "That's what the healer said, it must be so. Sweet fresh water."
"Sweet fresh water didn't help Nurse." Poor old Nurse. Yezzan'
s soldiers had tossed him onto the corpse wagon last night at dusk, another victim of the pale mare. When men are dying every hour, no one looks too hard at one more dead man, especially one as well despised as Nurse. Yezzan's other slaves had refused to go near the overseer once the cramps began, so it was left to Tyrion to keep him warm and bring him drinks. Watered wine and lemonsweet and some nice hot dogtail soup, with slivers of mushroom in the broth. Drink it down, Nursey, that shitwater squirting from your arse needs to be replaced. The last word Nurse ever said was,
"No." The last words he ever heard were, "A Lannister always pays his debts."
Tyrion had kept the truth of that from Penny, but she needed to understand how things stood with their master. "If Yezzan lives to see the sunrise, I'll be stunned."
She clutched his arm. "What will happen to us?"
"He has heirs. Nephews." Four such had come with Yezzan from Yunkai to command his slave soldiers. One was dead, slain by Targaryen sellswords during a sortie. The other three would pide the yellow enormity's slaves amongst them, like as not. Whether any of the nephews shared Yezzan's fondness for cripples, freaks, and grotesques was far less certain. "One of them may inherit us. Or we could end up back on the auction block."
"No." Her eyes got big. "Not that. Please."
"It is not a prospect I relish either."
A few yards away, six of Yezzan's slave soldiers were squatting in the dust, throwing the bones and passing a wineskin from hand to hand. One was the serjeant called Scar, a black-tempered brute with a head as smooth as stone and the shoulders of an ox. Clever as an ox too, Tyrion recalled. He waddled toward them. "Scar," he barked out, "the noble Yezzan has need of fresh, clean water. Take two men and bring back as many pails as you can carry. And be quick about it."
The soldiers broke off their game. Scar rose to his feet, brow beetling.
"What did you say, dwarf? Who do you think you are?"
"You know who I am. Yollo. One of our lord's treasures. Now do as I told you."
The soldiers laughed. "Go on, Scar," one mocked, "and be quick about it. Yezzan's monkey gave you a command."
"You do not tell soldiers what to do," Scar said. "Soldiers?"
Tyrion affected puzzlement. "Slaves, is what I see. You wear a collar round your neck the same as me."
The savage backhand blow Scar dealt him knocked him to the ground and broke his lip. "Yezzan's collar. Not yours."
Tyrion wiped the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand. When he tried to rise, one leg went out from under him, and he stumbled back onto his knees. He needed Penny's help to regain his feet. "Sweets said the master must have water," he said in his best whine.
"Sweets can go f**k himself. He's made for it. We don't take commands from that freak neither."
No, thought Tyrion. Even amongst slaves there were lords and peasants, as he had been quick to learn. The hermaphrodite had long been their master's special pet, indulged and favored, and the noble Yezzan's other slaves hated him for it.
The soldiers were accustomed to taking their commands from their masters and their overseer. But Nurse was dead and Yezzan too sick to name a successor. As for the three nephews, those brave free men had remembered urgent business elsewhere at the first sound of the pale mare's hooves.
"The w-water," said Tyrion, cringing. "Not river water, the healer said. Clean, fresh well water."
Scar grunted. "You go for it. And be quick about it."
"Us?" Tyrion exchanged a hopeless glance with Penny. "Water'
s heavy. We're not so strong as you. Can we ... can we take the mule cart?"
"Take your legs."
"We'll need to make a dozen trips."
"Make a hundred trips. It's no shit to me."
"Just the two of us ... we won't be able to carry all the water that the master needs."
"Take your bear," suggested Scar. "Fetching water is about all that one is good for."
Tyrion backed away. "As you say, master."
Scar grinned. Master. Oh, he liked that. "Morgo, bring the keys. You fill the pails and come right back, dwarf. You know what happens to slaves who try to escape."