"The mule died," said Tyrion. "So did Nurse, poor man. And now Yezzan himself has mounted the pale mare, and six of his soldiers have the shits. May I have two pails full?"
"As you like." That was the end of idle talk. Is that hoofbeats you hear? The lie about the soldiers got old one-leg moving much more quickly. They started back, each of the dwarfs carrying two brim-full pails of sweet water and Ser Jorah with two pails in each hand. The day was growing hotter, the air as thick and wet as damp wool, and the pails seemed to grow heavier with every step. A long walk on short legs. Water sloshed from his pails with every stride, splashing round his legs, whilst his bells played a marching song. Had I known it would come to this, Father, I might have let you live. Half a mile east, a dark plume of smoke was rising where a tent had been set afire. Burning last night' s dead. "This way," Tyrion said, jerking his head to the right.
Penny gave him a puzzled look. "That's not how we came."
"We don't want to breathe that smoke. It's full of malign humors."
It was not a lie. Not entirely.
Penny was soon puffing, struggling with the weight of her pails. "I need to rest."
"As you wish." Tyrion set the pails of water on the ground, grateful for the halt. His legs were cramping badly, so he found himself a likely rock and sat on it to rub his thighs.
"I could do that for you," offered Penny. "I know where the knots are." As fond as he had grown of the girl, it still made him uncomfortable when she touched him. He turned to Ser Jorah. "A few more beatings and you'll be uglier than I am, Mormont. Tell me, is there any fight left in you?"
The big knight raised two blackened eyes and looked at him as he might look at a bug. "Enough to crack your neck, Imp."
"Good." Tyrion picked up his pails. "This way, then."
Penny wrinkled her brow. "No. It'
s to the left."
s the Harridan there."
"And that's the Wicked Sister." Tyrion nodded in the other direction. "Trust me," he said. "My way is quicker." He set off, his bells jingling. Penny would follow, he knew.
Sometimes he envied the girl all her pretty little dreams. She reminded him of Sansa Stark, the child bride he had wed and lost. Despite the horrors Penny had suffered, she remained somehow trusting. She should know better. She is older than Sansa. And she' s a dwarf. She acts as if she has forgotten that, as if she were highborn and fair to look upon, instead of a slave in a grotesquerie. At night Tyrion would oft hear her praying. A waste of words. If there are gods to listen, they are monstrous gods who torment us for their sport. Who else would make a world like this, so full of bondage, blood, and pain? Who else would shape us as they have? Some-times he wanted to slap her, shake her, scream at her, anything to wake her from her dreams. No one is going to save us, he wanted to scream at her. The worst is yet to come. Yet somehow he could never say the words. Instead of giving her a good hard crack across that ugly face of hers to knock the blinders from her eyes, he would find himself squeezing her shoulder or giving her a hug. Every touch a lie. I have paid her so much false coin that she half thinks she' s rich. He had even kept the truth of Daznak's Pit from her.
Lions. They were going to set lions on us. It would have been exquisitely ironic, that. Perhaps he would have had time for a short, bitter chortle before being torn apart.
No one ever told him the end that had been planned for them, not in so many words, but it had not been hard to puzzle out, down beneath the bricks of Daznak's Pit, in the hidden world below the seats, the dark domain of the pit fighters and the serving men who tended to them, quick and dead - the cooks who fed them, the ironmongers who armed them, the barber-surgeons who bled them and shaved them and bound up their wounds, the whores who serviced them before and after fights, the corpse handlers who dragged the losers off the sands with chains and iron hooks.
Nurse's face had given Tyrion his first inkling. After their show, he and Penny had returned to the torchlit vault where the fighters gathered before and after their matches. Some sat sharpening their weapons; others sacrificed to queer gods, or dulled their nerves with milk of the poppy before going out to die. Those who'd fought and won were dicing in a corner, laughing as only men who have just faced death and lived can laugh. Nurse was paying out some silver to a pit man on a lost wager when he spied Penny leading Crunch. The confusion in his eyes was gone in half a heartbeat, but not before Tyrion grasped what it meant. Nurse did not expect us back. He had looked around at other faces. None of them expected us back. We were meant to die out there. The final piece fell into place when he overheard an animal trainer complaining loudly to the pitmaster. "The lions are hungry. Two days since they ate. I was told not to feed them, and I haven't. The queen should pay for meat."
"You take that up with her the next time she holds court," the pitmaster threw back at him.
Even now, Penny did not suspect. When she spoke about the pit, her chief worry was that more people had not laughed. They would have pissed themselves laughing if the lions had been loosed, Tyrion almost told her. Instead he'd squeezed her shoulder.
Penny came to a sudden halt. "We're going the wrong way."
"We're not." Tyrion lowered his pails to the ground. The handles had gouged deep grooves in his fingers. "Those are the tents we want, there."
"The Second Sons?" A queer smile split Ser Jorah's face. "If you think to find help there, you don't know Brown Ben Plumm."
"Oh, I do. Plumm and I have played five games of cyvasse. Brown Ben is shrewd, tenacious, not unintelligent ... but wary. He likes to let his opponent take the risks whilst he sits back and keeps his options open, reacting to the battle as it takes shape."
"Battle? What battle?" Penny backed away from him. "We have to get back. The master needs clean water. If we take too long, we'll be whipped. And Pretty Pig and Crunch are there."
"Sweets will see that they are taken care of," Tyrion lied. More like, Scar and his friends would soon be feasting on ham and bacon and a savory dog stew, but Penny did not need to hear that. "Nurse is dead and Yezzan'
s dying. It could be dark before anyone thinks to miss us. We will never have a better chance than now."
"No. You know what they do when they catch slaves trying to escape. You know. Please. They'll never let us leave the camp."
"We haven't left the camp." Tyrion picked up his pails. He set off at a brisk waddle, never looking back. Mormont fell in beside him. After a moment he heard the sounds of Penny hurrying after him, down a sandy slope to a circle of ragged tents.
The first guard appeared as they neared the horse lines, a lean spear-man whose maroon beard marked him as Tyroshi. "What do we have here? And what have you got in those pails?"
"Water," said Tyrion, "if it please you."
"Beer would please me better." A spearpoint pricked him in the back - a second guard, come up behind them. Tyrion could hear King's Landing in his voice. Scum from Flea Bottom. "You lost, dwarf?" the guard demanded.
"We're here to join your company."
A pail slipped from Penny's grasp and overturned. Half the water had spilled before she could right it once again.
"We got fools enough in this company. Why would we want three more?" The Tyroshi flicked at Tyrion's collar with his spearpoint, ringing the little golden bell. "A runaway slave is what I see. Three runaway slaves. Whose collar?"
"The Yellow Whale's." That from a third man, drawn by their voices - a skinny stubble-jawed piece of work with teeth stained red from sourleaf. A serjeant, Tyrion knew, from the way the other two deferred to him. He had a hook where his right hand should have been. Bronn' s meaner bastard shadow, or I' m Baelor the Beloved. "These are the dwarfs Ben tried to buy," the serjeant told the spearmen, squinting, "but the big one ...
best bring him too. All three."
The Tyroshi gestured with his spear. Tyrion moved along. The other sell sword - a stripling, hardly more than a boy, with fuzz on his cheeks and hair the color of dirty straw - scooped up Penny under one arm. "Ooh, mine has teats," he said, laughing. He slipped a hand under Penny's tunic, just to be sure.
"Just bring her," snapped the serjeant.
The stripling slung Penny over one shoulder. Tyrion went ahead as quick as his stunted legs would allow. He knew where they were going: the big tent on the far side of the fire pit, its painted canvas walls cracked and faded by years of sun and rain. A few sellswords turned to watch them pass, and a camp follower sniggered, but no one moved to interfere. Within the tent, they found camp stools and a trestle table, a rack of spears and halberds, a floor covered with threadbare carpets in half a dozen clashing colors, and three officers. One was slim and elegant, with a pointed beard, a bravo's blade, and a slashed pink doublet. One was plump and balding, with ink stains on his fingers and a quill clutched in one hand. The third was the man he sought. Tyrion bowed. "Captain."
"We caught them creeping into camp." The stripling dumped Penny onto the carpet.
"Runaways," the Tyroshi declared. "With pails."
"Pails?" said Brown Ben Plumm. When no one ventured to explain, he said, "Back to your posts, boys. And not a word o' this, to anyone."
When they were gone, he smiled at Tyrion. "Come for another game of cyvasse, Yollo?"
"If you wish. I do enjoy defeating you. I hear you're twice a turncloak, Plumm. A man after mine own heart."
Brown Ben's smile never reached his eyes. He studied Tyrion as a man might study a talking snake. "Why are you here?"
"To make your dreams come true. You tried to buy us at auction. Then you tried to win us at cyvasse. Even when I had my nose, I was not so handsome as to provoke such passion ... save in one who happened to know my true worth. Well, here I am, free for the taking. Now be a friend, send for your smith, and get these collars off us. I'm sick of tinkling when I tinkle."
"I want no trouble with your noble master."
"Yezzan has more urgent matters to concern him than three missing slaves. He's riding the pale mare. And why should they think to look for us here? You have swords enough to discourage anyone who comes nosing round. A small risk for a great gain."
The jackanapes in the slashed pink doublet hissed. "They've brought the sickness amongst us. Into our very tents." He turned to Ben Plumm.
"Shall I cut his head off, Captain? We can toss the rest in a latrine pit." He drew a sword, a slender bravo's blade with a jeweled hilt.
"Do be careful with my head," said Tyrion. "You don't want to get any of my blood on you. Blood carries the disease. And you'll want to boil our clothes, or burn them."
"I've a mind to burn them with you still in them, Yollo."
"That is not my name. But you know that. You have known that since you first set eyes on me."
"I know you as well, my lord," said Tyrion. "You're less purple and more brown than the Plumms at home, but unless your name's a lie, you're a westerman, by blood if not by birth. House Plumm is sworn to Casterly Rock, and as it happens I know a bit of its history. Your branch sprouted from a stone spit across the narrow sea, no doubt. A younger son of Viserys Plumm, I'd wager. The queen's dragons were fond of you, were they not?"