A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 17

"It is cheaper to buy off foes with food and gifts."

If only I had thought to bring a nice cheese to the battle on the Blackwater, I might still have all my nose. Lord Tywin had always held the Free Cities in contempt. They fight with coins instead of swords, he used to say. Gold has its uses, but wars are won with iron. "Give gold to a foe and he will just come back for more, my father always said."

"Is this the selfsame father that you murdered?" Illyrio tossed his chicken bone from the litter. "Sellswords will not stand against Dothraki screamers. That was proved at Qohor."

"Not even your brave Griff?" mocked Tyrion. "Griff is different. He has a son he dotes on. Young Griff, the boy is called. There never was a nobler lad."

The wine, the food, the sun, the sway of the litter, the buzzing of the flies, all conspired to make Tyrion sleepy. So he slept, woke, drank. Illyrio matched him cup for cup. And as the sky turned a dusky purple, the fat man began to snore.

That night Tyrion Lannister dreamed of a battle that turned the hills of Westeros as red as blood. He was in the midst of it, dealing death with an axe as big as he was, fighting side by side with Barristan the Bold and Bittersteel as dragons wheeled across the sky above them. In the dream he had two heads, both noseless. His father led the enemy, so he slew him once again. Then he killed his brother, Jaime, hacking at his face until it was a red ruin, laughing every time he struck a blow. Only when the fight was finished did he realize that his second head was weeping.

When he woke his stunted legs were stiff as iron. Illyrio was eating olives. "Where are we?" Tyrion asked him.

"We have not yet left the Flatlands, my hasty friend. Soon our road shall pass into the Velvet Hills. There we begin our climb toward Ghoyan Drohe, upon the Little Rhoyne."

Ghoyan Drohe had been a Rhoynar city, until the dragons of Valyria had reduced it to a smoldering desolation. I am traveling through years as well as leagues, Tyrion reflected, back through history to the days when dragons ruled the earth.

Tyrion slept and woke and slept again, and day and night seemed not to matter. The Velvet Hills proved a disappointment. "Half the whores in Lannisport have br**sts bigger than these hills," he told Illyrio.

"You ought to call them the Velvet Teats." They saw a circle of standing stones that Illyrio claimed had been raised by giants, and later a deep lake. "Here lived a den of robbers who preyed on all who passed this way," Illyrio said. "It is said they still dwell beneath the water. Those who fish the lake are pulled under and devoured." The next evening they came upon a huge Valyrian sphinx crouched beside the road. It had a dragon's body and a woman's face.

"A dragon queen," said Tyrion. "A pleasant omen."

"Her king is missing." Illyrio pointed out the smooth stone plinth on which the second sphinx once stood, now grown over with moss and flowering vines. "The horselords built wooden wheels beneath him and dragged him back to Vaes Dothrak."

That is an omen too, thought Tyrion, but not as hopeful. That night, drunker than usual, he broke into sudden song.

He rode through the streets of the city, down from his hill on high,O' er the wynds and the steps and the cobbles, he rode to a woman' s sigh.

For she was his secret treasure, she was his shame and his bliss. And a chain and a keep are nothing, compared to a woman' s kiss. Those were all the words he knew, aside from the refrain. Hands of gold are always cold, but a woman' s hands are warm. Shae's hands had beat at him as the golden hands dug into her throat. He did not remember if they'd been warm or not. As the strength went out of her, her blows became moths fluttering about his face. Each time he gave the chain another twist the golden hands dug deeper. A chain and a keep are nothing, compared to a woman' s kiss. Had he kissed her one last time, after she was dead? He could not remember ... though he still recalled the first time they had kissed, in his tent beside the Green Fork. How sweet her mouth had tasted. He remembered the first time with Tysha as well. She did not know how, no more than I did. We kept bumping our noses, but when I touched her tongue with mine she trembled. Tyrion closed his eyes to bring her face to mind, but instead he saw his father, squatting on a privy with his bed-robe hiked up about his waist. "Wherever whores go," Lord Tywin said, and the crossbow thrumm ed.

The dwarf rolled over, pressing half a nose deep into the silken pillows. Sleep opened beneath him like a well, and he threw himself into it with a will and let the darkness eat him up.

Chapter Six

THE MERCHANT'S MAN

A dventure stank.

She boasted sixty oars, a single sail, and a long lean hull that promised speed. Small, but she might serve, Quentyn thought when he saw her, but that was before he went aboard and got a good whiff of her. Pigs, was his first thought, but after a second sniff he changed his mind. Pigs had a cleaner smell. This stink was piss and rotting meat and night-soil, this was the reek of corpse flesh and weeping sores and wounds gone bad, so strong that it overwhelmed the salt air and fish smell of the harbor.

"I want to retch," he said to Gerris Drinkwater. They were waiting for the ship's master to appear, sweltering in the heat as the stench wafted up from the deck beneath them.

"If the captain smells anything like his ship, he may mistake your vomit for perfume," Gerris replied.

Quentyn was about to suggest that they try another ship when the master finally made his appearance, with two vile-looking crewmen at his side. Gerris greeted him with a smile. Though he did not speak the Volantene tongue as well as Quentyn, their ruse required that he speak for them. Back in the Planky Town Quentyn had played the wineseller, but the mummery had chafed at him, so when the Dornishmen changed ships at Lys they had changed roles as well. Aboard the Meadowlark, Cletus Yronwood became the merchant, Quentyn the servant; in Volantis, with Cletus slain, Gerris had assumed the master's role.

Tall and fair, with blue-green eyes, sandy hair streaked by the sun, and a lean and comely body, Gerris Drinkwater had a swagger to him, a confidence bordering on arrogance. He never seemed ill at ease, and even when he did not speak the language, he had ways of making himself understood. Quentyn cut a poor figure by comparison -  short-legged and stocky, thickly built, with hair the brown of new-turned earth. His forehead was too high, his jaw too square, his nose too broad. A good honest face, a girl had called it once, but you should smile more.

Smiles had never come easily for Quentyn Martell, any more than they did for his lord father.

"How swift is your Adventure?" Gerris said, in a halting approximation of High Valyrian.

The Adventure's master recognized the accent and responded in the Common Tongue of Westeros. "There is none swifter, honored lord. Adventure can run down the wind itself. Tell me where you wish to sail, and swiftly I shall bring you there."

"I seek passage to Meereen for myself and two servants."

That gave the captain pause. "I am no stranger to Meereen. I could find the city again, aye ... but why? There are no slaves to be had in Meereen, no profit to be found there. The silver queen has put an end to that. She has even closed the fighting pits, so a poor sailor cannot even amuse himself as he waits to fill his holds. Tell me, my Westerosi friend, what is there in Meereen that you should want to go there?"

The most beautiful woman in the world, thought Quentyn. My bride-to-be, if the gods are good. Sometimes at night he lay awake imagining her face and form, and wondering why such a woman would ever want to marry him, of all the princes in the world. I am Dorne, he told himself. She will want Dorne.

Gerris answered with the tale they had concocted. "Wine is our family trade. My father owns extensive vineyards back in Dorne, and wishes me to find new markets. It is hoped that the good folk of Meereen will welcome what I sell."

"Wine? Dornish wine?" The captain was not convinced. "The slave cities are at war. Can it be you do not know this?"

"The fighting is between Yunkai and Astapor, we had heard. Meereen is not involved."

"Not as yet. But soon. An envoy from the Yellow City is in Volantis even now, hiring swords. The Long Lances have already taken ship for Yunkai, and the Windblown and the Company of the Cat will follow once they have finished filling out their ranks. The Golden Company marches east as well. All this is known."

"If you say so. I deal in wine, not wars. Ghiscari wine is poor stuff, all agree. The Meereenese will pay a good price for my fine Dornish vintages."

"Dead men do not care what kind of wine they drink." The master of Adventure fingered his beard. "I am not the first captain you have approached, I think. Nor the tenth."

"No," Gerris admitted.

"How many, then? A hundred?"

Close enough, thought Quentyn. The Volantenes were fond of boasting that the hundred isles of Braavos could be dropped into their deep harbor and drowned. Quentyn had never seen Braavos, but he could believe it. Rich and ripe and rotted, Volantis covered the mouth of the Rhoyne like a warm wet kiss, stretching across hill and marsh on both sides of the river. Ships were everywhere, coming down the river or headed out to sea, crowding the wharves and piers, taking on cargo or off-loading it: warships and whalers and trading galleys, carracks and skiffs, cogs, great cogs, long-ships, swan ships, ships from Lys and Tyrosh and Pentos, Qartheen spicers big as palaces, ships from Tolos and Yunkai and the Basilisks. So many that Quentyn, seeing the port for the first time from the deck of the Meadowlark, had told his friends that they would only linger here three days.

Yet twenty days had passed, and here they remained, still shipless. The captains of the Melantine, the Triarch' s Daughter, and the Mermaid' s Kiss had all refused them. A mate on the Bold Voyager had laughed in their faces. The master of the Dolphin berated them for wasting his time, and the owner of the Seventh Son accused them of being pirates. All on the first day. Only the captain of the Fawn had given them reasons for his refusal.

"It is true that I am sailing east," he told them, over watered wine. "South around Valyria and thence into the sunrise. We will take on water and provisions at New Ghis, then bend all oars toward Qarth and the Jade Gates. Every voyage has perils, long ones more than most. Why should I seek out more danger by turning into Slaver's Bay? The Fawn is my livelihood. I will not risk her to take three mad Dornishmen into the middle of a war."

Quentyn had begun to think that they might have done better to buy their own ship in the Planky Town. That would have drawn unwanted attention, however. The Spider had informers everywhere, even in the halls of Sunspear. "Dorne will bleed if your purpose is discovered," his father had warned him, as they watched the children frolic in the pools and fountains of the Water Gardens. "What we do is treason, make no mistake. Trust only your companions, and do your best to avoid attracting notice."

So Gerris Drinkwater gave the captain of Adventure his most disarming smile. "Truth be told, I have not kept count of all the cowards who refused us, but at the Merchant's House I heard it said that you were a bolder sort of man, the sort who might risk anything for sufficient gold."

A smuggler, Quentyn thought. That was how the other traders styled Adventure's master, back at the Merchant's House. "He is a smuggler and a slaver, half pirate and half pander, but it may be that he is your best hope,"

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