"Quentyn of House Martell."
"Frog suits you better. It is not my custom to drink with liars and deserters, but you've made me curious."
Quentyn sat. One wrong word, and this could turn to blood in half a heartbeat. "I ask your pardon for our deception. The only ships sailing for Slaver's Bay were those that had been hired to bring you to the wars."
The Tattered Prince gave a shrug. "Every turncloak has his tale. You are not the first to swear me your swords, take my coin, and run. All of them have reasons. 'My little son is sick,'
'My wife is putting horns on me,'
or 'The other men all make me suck their cocks.' Such a charming boy, the last, but I did not excuse his desertion. Another fellow told me our food was so wretched that he had to flee before it made him sick, so I had his foot cut off, roasted it up, and fed it to him. Then I made him our camp cook. Our meals improved markedly, and when his contract was fulfilled he signed another. You, though ... several of my best are locked up in the queen's dungeons thanks to that lying tongue of yours, and I doubt that you can even cook."
"I am a prince of Dorne," said Quentyn. "I had a duty to my father and my people. There was a secret marriage pact."
"So I heard. And when the silver queen saw your scrap of parchment she fell into your arms, yes?"
"No," said Pretty Meris. "No? Oh, I recall. Your bride flew off on a dragon. Well, when she returns, do be sure to invite us to your nuptials. The men of the company would love to drink to your happiness, and I do love a Westerosi wedding. The bedding part especially, only ... oh, wait ..." He turned to Denzo D'han. "Denzo, I thought you told me that the dragon queen had married some Ghiscari."
"A Meereenese nobleman. Rich."
The Tattered Prince turned back to Quentyn. "Could that be true?
Surely not. What of your marriage pact?"
"She laughed at him," said Pretty Meris.
Daenerys never laughed. The rest of Meereen might see him as an amusing curiosity, like the exiled Summer Islander King Robert used to keep at King's Landing, but the queen had always spoken to him gently.
"We came too late," said Quentyn.
"A pity you did not desert me sooner." The Tattered Prince sipped at his wine. "So ... no wedding for Prince Frog. Is that why you've come hopping back to me? Have my three brave Dornish lads decided to honor their contracts?"
"Yurkhaz zo Yunzak is dead."
"Ancient tidings. I saw him die. The poor man saw a dragon and stumbled as he tried to flee. Then a thousand of his closest friends stepped on him. No doubt the Yellow City is awash in tears. Did you ask me here to toast his memory?"
"No. Have the Yunkishmen chosen a new commander?"
"The council of masters has been unable to agree. Yezzan zo Qaggaz had the most support, but now he's died as well. The Wise Masters are rotating the supreme command amongst themselves. Today our leader is the one your friends in the ranks dubbed the Drunken Conqueror. On the morrow, it will be Lord Wobblecheeks."
"The Rabbit," said Meris. "Wobblecheeks was yesterday."
"I stand corrected, my sweetling. Our Yunkish friends were kind enough to provide us with a chart. I must strive to be more assiduous about consulting it."
"Yurkhaz zo Yunzak was the man who hired you."
"He signed our contract on behalf of his city. Just so."
"Meereen and Yunkai have made peace. The siege is to be lifted, the armies disbanded. There will be no battle, no slaughter, no city to sack and plunder."
"Life is full of disappointments."
"How long do you think the Yunkishmen will want to continue paying wages to four free companies?"
The Tattered Prince took a sip of wine and said, "A vexing question. But this is the way of life for we men of the free companies. One war ends, another begins. Fortunately there is always someone fighting someone somewhere. Perhaps here. Even as we sit here drinking Bloodbeard is urging our Yunkish friends to present King Hizdahr with another head. Freedmen and slavers eye each other's necks and sharpen their knives, the Sons of the Harpy plot in their pyramids, the pale mare rides down slave and lord alike, our friends from the Yellow City gaze out to sea, and somewhere in the grasslands a dragon nibbles the tender flesh of Daenerys Targaryen. Who rules Meereen tonight? Who will rule it on the morrow?" The Pentoshi gave a shrug. "One thing I am certain of. Someone will have need of our swords."
"I have need of those swords. Dorne will hire you."
The Tattered Prince glanced at Pretty Meris. "He does not lack for gall, this Frog. Must I remind him? My dear prince, the last contract we signed you used to wipe your pretty pink bottom."
"I will double whatever the Yunkishmen are paying you."
"And pay in gold upon the signing of our contract, yes?"
"I will pay you part when we reach Volantis, the rest when I am back in Sunspear. We brought gold with us when we set sail, but it would have been hard to conceal once we joined the company, so we gave it over to the banks. I can show you papers."
"Ah. Papers. But we will be paid double. "
"Twice as many papers," said Pretty Meris. "The rest you'll have in Dorne," Quentyn insisted. "My father is a man of honor. If I put my seal to an agreement, he will fulfill its terms. You have my word on that."
The Tattered Prince finished his wine, turned the cup over, and set it down between them. "So. Let me see if I understand. A proven liar and oathbreaker wishes to contract with us and pay in promises. And for what services? I wonder. Are my Windblown to smash the Yunkai'i and sack the Yellow City? Defeat a Dothraki khalasar in the field? Escort you home to your father? Or will you be content if we deliver Queen Daenerys to your bed wet and willing? Tell me true, Prince Frog. What would you have of me and mine?"
"I need you to help me steal a dragon."
Caggo Corpsekiller chuckled. Pretty Meris curled her lip in a half-smile. Denzo D'han whistled.
The Tattered Prince only leaned back on his stool and said, "Double does not pay for dragons, princeling. Even a frog should know that much. Dragons come dear. And men who pay in promises should have at least the sense to promise more. "
"If you want me to triple - "
"What I want," said the Tattered Prince, "is Pentos."
THE GRIFFIN REBORN
He sent the archers in first.
Black Balaq commanded one thousand bows. In his youth, Jon Connington had shared the disdain most knights had for bowmen, but he had grown wiser in exile. In its own way, the arrow was as deadly as the sword, so for the long voyage he had insisted that Homeless Harry Strickland break Balaq's command into ten companies of one hundred men and place each company upon a different ship.
Six of those ships had stayed together well enough to deliver their passengers to the shores of Cape Wrath (the other four were lagging but would turn up eventually, the Volantenes assured them, but Griff thought it just as likely they were lost or had landed elsewhere), which left the company with six hundred bows. For this, two hundred proved sufficient.
"They will try to send out ravens," he told Black Balaq. "Watch the maester's tower. Here." He pointed to the map he had drawn in the mud of their campsite. "Bring down every bird that leaves the castle."
"This we do," replied the Summer Islander.
A third of Balaq's men used crossbows, another third the
double-curved horn-and-sinew bows of the east. Better than these were the big yew long-bows borne by the archers of Westerosi blood, and best of all were the great bows of goldenheart treasured by Black Balaq himself and his fifty Summer Islanders. Only a dragonbone bow could outrange one made of goldenheart. Whatever bow they carried, all of Balaq's men were sharp-eyed, seasoned veterans who had proved their worth in a hundred battles, raids, and skirmishes. They proved it again at Griffin's Roost. The castle rose from the shores of Cape Wrath, on a lofty crag of dark red stone surrounded on three sides by the surging waters of Shipbreaker Bay. Its only approach was defended by a gatehouse, behind which lay the long bare ridge the Conningtons called the griffin's throat. To force the throat could be a bloody business, since the ridge exposed the attackers to the spears, stones, and arrows of defenders in the two round towers that flanked the castle's main gates. And once they reached those gates, the men inside could pour down boiling oil on their heads. Griff expected to lose a hundred men, perhaps more.
They lost four.
The woods had been allowed to encroach on the field beyond the gatehouse, so Franklyn Flowers was able to use the brush for concealment and lead his men within twenty yards of the gates before emerging from the trees with the ram they'd fashioned back at camp. The crash of wood on wood brought two men to the battlements; Black Balaq's archers took down both of them before they could rub the sleep out of their eyes. The gate turned out to be closed but not barred; it gave way at the second blow, and Ser Franklyn's men were halfway up the throat before a warhorn sounded the alarum from the castle proper.
The first raven took flight as their grapnels were arcing above the curtain wall, the second a few moments later. Neither bird had flown a hundred yards before an arrow took it down. A guard inside dumped down a bucket of oil on the first men to reach the gates, but as he'd had no time to heat it, the bucket caused more damage than its contents. Swords were soon ringing in half a dozen places along the battlements. The men of the Golden Company clambered through the merlons and raced along the wallwalks, shouting "A griffin! A griffin!, "
the ancient battle cry of House Connington,
which must have left the defenders even more confused.
It was over within minutes. Griff rode up the throat on a white courser beside Homeless Harry Strickland. As they neared the castle, he saw a third raven flap from the maester's tower, only to be feathered by Black Balaq himself. "No more messages," he told Ser Franklyn Flowers in the yard. The next thing to come flying from the maester's tower was the maester. The way his arms were flapping, he might have been mistaken for another bird.
That was the end of all resistance. What guards remained had thrown down their weapons. And quick as that, Griffin's Roost was his again, and Jon Connington was once more a lord.
"Ser Franklyn," he said, "go through the keep and kitchens and roust out everyone you find. Malo, do the same with the maester's tower and the armory. Ser Brendel, the stables, sept, and barracks. Bring them out into the yard, and try not to kill anyone who does not insist on dying. We want to win the stormlands, and we won't do that with slaughter. Be sure you look under the altar of the Mother, there's a hidden stair there that leads down to a secret bolt-hole. And another under the northwest tower that goes straight down to the sea. No one is to escape."
"They won't, m'lord," promised Franklyn Flowers.
Connington watched them dash off, then beckoned to the Halfmaester.
"Haldon, take charge of the rookery. I'll have messages to send out tonight."
"Let us hope they left some ravens for us."