The black priest bowed his head. "There is no need. The Lord of Light has shown me your worth, lord Captain. Every night in my fires I glimpse the glory that awaits you."
Those words pleased Victarion Greyjoy mightily, as he told the dusky woman that night. "My brother Balon was a great man," he said, "but I shall do what he could not. The Iron Islands shall be free again, and the Old Way will return. Even Dagon could not do that." Almost a hundred years had passed since Dagon Greyjoy sat the Seastone Chair, but the ironborn still told tales of his raids and battles. In Dagon's day a weak king sat the Iron Throne, his rheumy eyes fixed across the narrow sea where bastards and exiles plotted rebellion. So forth from Pyke Lord Dagon sailed, to make the Sunset Sea his own. "He bearded the lion in his den and tied the direwolf'
s tail in knots, but even Dagon could not defeat the dragons. But I shall make the dragon queen mine own. She will share my bed and bear me many mighty sons."
That night the ships of the Iron Fleet numbered sixty.
Strange sails grew more common north of Yaros. They were very near to Yunkai, and the coast between the Yellow City and Meereen would be teeming with merchantmen and supply ships coming and going, so Victarion took the Iron Fleet out into the deeper waters, beyond the sight of land. Even there they would encounter other vessels. "Let none escape to give warning to our foes," the iron captain commanded. None did.
The sea was green and the sky was grey the morning Grief and Warrior Wench and Victarion's own Iron Victory captured the slaver galley from Yunkai in the waters due north of the Yellow City. In her holds were twenty perfumed boys and four score girls destined for the pleasure houses of Lys. Her crew never thought to find peril so close to their home waters, and the ironborn had little trouble taking her. She was named the Willing Maiden.
Victarion put the slavers to the sword, then sent his men below to un-chain the rowers. "You row for me now. Row hard, and you shall prosper." The girls he pided amongst his captains. "The Lyseni would have made whores of you," he told them, "but we have saved you. Now you need only serve one man instead of many. Those who please their captains may be taken as salt wives, an honorable station." The perfumed boys he wrapped in chains and threw into the sea. They were unnatural creatures, and the ship smelled better once cleansed of their presence. For himself, Victarion claimed the seven choicest girls. One had red-gold hair and freckles on her teats. One shaved herself all over. One was brown-haired and brown-eyed, shy as a mouse. One had the biggest br**sts he had ever seen. The fifth was a little thing, with straight black hair and golden skin. Her eyes were the color of amber. The sixth was white as milk, with golden rings through her ni**les and her nether lips, the seventh black as a squid's ink. The slavers of Yunkai had trained them in the way of the seven sighs, but that was not why Victarion wanted them. His dusky woman was enough to satisfy his appetites until he could reach Meereen and claim his queen. No man had need of candles when the sun awaited him. The galley he renamed the Slaver' s Scream. With her, the ships of the Iron Fleet numbered one-and-sixty. "Every ship we capture makes us stronger," Victarion told his ironborn, "but from here it will grow harder. On the morrow or the day after, we are like to meet with warships. We are entering the home waters of Meereen, where the fleets of our foes await us. We will meet with ships from all three Slaver Cities, ships from Tolos and Elyria and New Ghis, even ships from Qarth." He took care not to mention the green galleys of Old Volantis that surely must be sailing up through the Gulf of Grief even as he spoke. "These slavers are feeble things. You have seen how they run before us, heard how they squeal when we put them to the sword. Every man of you is worth twenty of them, for only we are made of iron. Remember this when first we next spy some slaver's sails. Give no quarter and expect none. What need have we of quarter? We are the ironborn, and two gods look over us. We will seize their ships, smash their hopes, and turn their bay to blood."
A great cry went up at his words. The captain answered with a nod, grim-faced, then called for the seven girls he had claimed to be brought on deck, the loveliest of all those found aboard the Willing Maiden. He kissed them each upon the cheeks and told them of the honor that awaited them, though they did not understand his words. Then he had them put aboard the fishing ketch that they had captured, cut her loose, and had her set afire.
"With this gift of innocence and beauty, we honor both the gods,"
he proclaimed, as the warships of the Iron Fleet rowed past the burning ketch. "Let these girls be reborn in light, undefiled by mortal lust, or let them descend to the Drowned God's watery halls, to feast and dance and laugh until the seas dry up."
Near the end, before the smoking ketch was swallowed by the sea, the cries of the seven sweetlings changed to joyous song, it seemed to Victarion Greyjoy. A great wind came up then, a wind that filled their sails and swept them north and east and north again, toward Meereen and its pyramids of many-colored bricks. On wings of song I fly to you, Daenerys, the iron captain thought.
That night, for the first time, he brought forth the dragon horn that the Crow's Eye had found amongst the smoking wastes of great Valyria. A twisted thing it was, six feet long from end to end, gleaming black and banded with red gold and dark Valyrian steel. Euron' s hellhorn. Victarion ran his hand along it. The horn was as warm and smooth as the dusky woman's thighs, and so shiny that he could see a twisted likeness of his own features in its depths. Strange sorcerous writings had been cut into the bands that girded it. "Valyrian glyphs," Moqorro called them.
That much Victarion had known. "What do they say?"
"Much and more." The black priest pointed to one golden band.
"Here the horn is named. ' I am Dragonbinder, ' it says. Have you ever heard it sound?"
"Once." One of his brother's mongrels had sounded the hellhorn at the kingsmoot on Old Wyk. A monster of a man he had been, huge and shaven-headed, with rings of gold and jet and jade around arms thick with muscle, and a great hawk tattooed across his chest. "The sound it made ...
it burned, somehow. As if my bones were on fire, searing my flesh from within. Those writings glowed red-hot, then white-hot and painful to look upon. It seemed as if the sound would never end. It was like some long scream. A thousand screams, all melted into one."
"And the man who blew the horn, what of him?"
"He died. There were blisters on his lips, after. His bird was bleeding too." The captain thumped his chest. "The hawk, just here. Every feather dripping blood. I heard the man was all burned up inside, but that might just have been some tale."
"A true tale." Moqorro turned the hellhorn, examining the queer letters that crawled across a second of the golden bands. "Here it says, ' No mortal man shall sound me and live. ' "
Bitterly Victarion brooded on the treachery of brothers. Euron' s gifts are always poisoned. "The Crow'
s Eye swore this horn would bind dragons
to my will. But how will that serve me if the price is death?"
"Your brother did not sound the horn himself. Nor must you."
Moqorro pointed to the band of steel. "Here. ' Blood for fire, fire for blood. ' Who blows the hellhorn matters not. The dragons will come to the horn's master. You must claim the horn. With blood."
THE UGLY LITTLE GIRL
Eleven servants of the Many-Faced God gathered that night beneath the temple, more than she had ever seen together at one time. Only the lordling and the fat fellow arrived by the front door; the rest came by secret ways, through tunnels and hidden passages. They wore their robes of black and white, but as they took their seats each man pulled his cowl down to show the face he had chosen to wear that day. Their tall chairs were carved of ebony and weirwood, like the doors of the temple above. The ebon chairs had weirwood faces on their backs, the weirwood chairs faces of carved ebony.
One of the other acolytes stood across the room with a flagon of dark red wine. She had the water. Whenever one of the servants wished to drink, he would raise his eyes or crook a finger, and one or both of them would come and fill his cup. But mostly they stood, waiting on looks that never came. I am carved of stone, she reminded herself. I am a statue, like the Sealords that stand along the Canal of the Heroes. The water was heavy, but her arms were strong.
The priests used the language of Braavos, though once for several minutes three spoke heatedly in High Valyrian. The girl understood the words, mostly, but they spoke in soft voices, and she could not always hear.
"I know this man," she did hear a priest with the face of a plague victim say. "I know this man," the fat fellow echoed, as she was pouring for him. But the handsome man said, "I will give this man the gift, I know him not."
Later the squinter said the same thing, of someone else.
After three hours of wine and words, the priests took their leave ...
all but the kindly man, the waif, and the one whose face bore the marks of plague. His cheeks were covered with weeping sores, and his hair had fallen out. Blood dripped from one nostril and crusted at the corners of both eyes.
"Our brother would have words with you, child," the kindly man told her.
"Sit, if you wish." She seated herself in a weirwood chair with a face of ebony. Bloody sores held no terror for her. She had been too long in the House of Black and White to be afraid of a false face.
"Who are you?" plague face asked when they were alone. "No one."
"Not so. You are Arya of House Stark, who bites her lip and cannot tell a lie."
"I was. I'm not now."
"Why are you here, liar?"
"To serve. To learn. To change my face."
"First change your heart. The gift of the Many-Faced God is not a child's plaything. You would kill for your own purposes, for your own pleasures. Do you deny it?"
She bit her lip. "I - "
He slapped her.
The blow left her cheek stinging, but she knew that she had earned it.
"Thank you." Enough slaps, and she might stop chewing on her lip. Arya did that, not the night wolf. "I do deny it."
"You lie. I can see the truth in your eyes. You have the eyes of a wolf and a taste for blood."
Ser Gregor, she could not help but think. Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei. If she spoke, she would need to lie, and he would know. She kept silent.
"You were a cat, they tell me. Prowling through the alleys smelling of fish, selling cockles and mussels for coin. A small life, well suited for a small creature such as you. Ask, and it can be restored to you. Push your barrow, cry your cockles, be content. Your heart is too soft to be one of us."
He means to send me away. "I have no heart. I only have a hole. I'
ve killed lots of people. I could kill you if I wanted."
"Would that taste sweet to you?"
She did not know the right answer. "Maybe."
"Then you do not belong here. Death holds no sweetness in this house. We are not warriors, nor soldiers, nor swaggering bravos puffed up with pride. We do not kill to serve some lord, to fatten our purses, to stroke our vanity. We never give the gift to please ourselves. Nor do we choose the ones we kill. We are but servants of the God of Many Faces."