A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 176

Kem came running. "Take Lord and Lady Imp to the wagons, have Hammer fix them up with some company steel."

"Hammer might be passed-out drunk," Kem cautioned. "Piss in his face. That'll wake him up." Snatch turned back to Tyrion and Penny. "We never had no bloody dwarfs before, but boys we never lacked for. Sons o'

this whore or that one, little fools run off from home to have adventures, butt boys, squires, and the like. Some o' their shit might be small enough to fit imps. It's the shit they were wearing when they died, like as not, but I know that won't bother f**kers fierce as you two. Nine, was it?" He shook his head and walked away.

The Second Sons kept their company armor in six big wayns drawn up near the center of their camp. Kem led the way, swinging his spear as if it were a staff. "How does a King's Landing lad end up with a free company?" Tyrion asked him.

The lad gave him a wary squint. "Who told you I was from King's Landing?"

"No one." Every word out of your mouth reeks of Flea Bottom.

"Your wits gave you away. There's no one clever as a Kingslander, they say."

That seemed to startle him. "Who says that?"

"Everyone." Me. "Since when?"

Since I just made it up. "For ages," he lied. "My father was wont to say it. Did you know Lord Tywin, Kem?"

"The Hand. Once I saw him riding up the hill. His men had red cloaks and little lions on their helms. I liked those helms." His mouth tightened. "I never liked the Hand, though. He sacked the city. And then he smashed us on the Blackwater."

"You were there?"

"With Stannis. Lord Tywin come up with Renly's ghost and took us in the flank. I dropped my spear and ran, but at the ships this bloody knight said, 'Where's your spear, boy? We got no room for cravens,' and they buggered off and left me, and thousands more besides. Later I heard how your father was sending them as fought with Stannis to the Wall, so I made my way across the narrow sea and joined up with the Second Sons."

"Do you miss King's Landing?"

"Some. I miss this boy, he ... he was a friend of mine. And my brother, Kennet, but he died on the bridge of ships."

"Too many good men died that day." Tyrion's scar was itching fiercely. He picked at it with a fingernail.

"I miss the food too," Kem said wistfully. "Your mother's cooking?"

"Rats wouldn't eat my mother's cooking. There was this pot shop, though. No one ever made a bowl o' brown like them. So thick you could stand your spoon up in the bowl, with chunks of this and that. You ever have yourself a bowl o' brown, Halfman?"

"A time or two. Singer's stew, I call it."

"Why's that?"

"It tastes so good it makes me want to sing."

Kem liked that. "Singer's stew. I'll ask for that next time I get back to Flea Bottom. What do you miss, Halfman?"

Jaime, thought Tyrion. Shae. Tysha. My wife, I miss my wife, the wife I hardly knew. "Wine, whores, and wealth," he answered. "Especially the wealth. Wealth will buy you wine and whores." It will also buy you swords, and the Kems to wield them.

"Is it true the chamber pots in Casterly Rock are made of solid gold?" Kem asked him.

"You should not believe everything you hear. Especially where House Lannister is concerned."

"They say all Lannisters are twisty snakes."

"Snakes?" Tyrion laughed. "That sound you hear is my lord father, slithering in his grave. We are lions, or so we like to say. But it makes no matter, Kem. Step on a snake or a lion's tail, you'll end up just as dead."

By then they had reached the armory, such as it was. The smith, this fabled Hammer, proved to be a freakish-looking hulk with a left arm that appeared twice as thick as his right. "He'

s drunk more than not,"

Kem said.

"Brown Ben lets it go, but one day we'll get us a real armorer." Hammer'

s apprentice was a wiry red-haired youth called Nail. Of course. What else?

mused Tyrion. Hammer was sleeping off a drunk when they reached the forge, just as Kem had prophesied, but Nail had no objection to the two dwarfs clambering through the wagons. "Crap iron, most of it," he warned them, "but you're welcome to anything you can use."

Under roofs of bent wood and stiffened leather, the wagon beds were heaped high with old weaponry and armor. Tyrion took one look and sighed, remembering the gleaming racks of swords and spears and halberds in the armory of the Lannisters below Casterly Rock. "This may take a while,"



"There's sound steel here if you can find it," a deep voice growled.

"None of it is pretty, but it will stop a sword."

A big knight stepped down from the back of a wagon, clad head to heel in company steel. His left greave did not match his right, his gorget was spotted with rust, his vambraces rich and ornate, inlaid with niello flowers. On his right hand was a gauntlet of lobstered steel, on his left a fingerless mitt of rusted mail. The ni**les on his muscled breastplate had a pair of iron rings through them. His greathelm sported a ram's horns, one of which was broken.

When he took it off, he revealed the battered face of Jorah Mormont. He looks every inch a sellsword and not at all like the half-broken thing we took from Yezzan' s cage, Tyrion reflected. His bruises had mostly faded by now, and the swelling in his face had largely subsided, so Mormont looked almost human once again ... though only vaguely like himself. The demon's mask the slavers had burned into his right cheek to mark him for a dangerous and disobedient slave would never leave him. Ser Jorah had never been what one might call a comely man. The brand had transformed his face into something frightening.

Tyrion grinned.

"As long as I look prettier than you, I will be happy."

He turned to Penny. "You take that wagon. I'll start with this one."

"It will go faster if we look together." She plucked up a rusted iron half-helm, giggled, and stuck it on her head. "Do I look fearsome?"

You look like a mummer girl with a pot on her head. "That's a halfhelm. You want a greathelm." He found one, and swapped it for the halfhelm.

"It's too big." Penny's voice echoed hollowly inside the steel. "I can't see out." She took the helm off and flung it aside. "What's wrong with the halfhelm?"

"It's open-faced." Tyrion pinched her nose. "I am fond of looking at your nose. I would rather that you kept it."

Her eyes got big. "You like my nose?"

Oh, Seven save me. Tyrion turned away and began rooting amongst some piles of old armor toward the back of the wagon.

"Are there any other parts of me you like?" Penny asked.

Perhaps she meant that to sound playful. It sounded sad instead. "I am fond of all of your parts," Tyrion said, in hopes of ending any further discussion of the subject, "and even fonder of mine own."

"Why should we need armor? We're only mummers. We just

pretend to fight."

"You pretend very well," said Tyrion, examining a shirt of heavy iron mail so full of holes that it almost looked moth-eaten. What sort of moths eat chainmail? "Pretending to be dead is one way to survive a battle. Good armor is another." Though there is precious little of that here, I fear. At the Green Fork, he had fought in mismatched scraps of plate from Lord Lefford's wagons, with a spiked bucket helm that made it look as if someone had upended a slops pail over his head. This company steel was worse. Not just old and ill fitting, but dinted, cracked, and brittle. Is that dried blood, or only rust? He sniffed at it but still could not be sure.

"Here's a crossbow." Penny showed it to him.

Tyrion glanced at it. "I cannot use a stirrup winch. My legs are not long enough. A crank would serve me better." Though, if truth be told, he did not want a crossbow. They took too long to reload. Even if he lurked by the latrine ditch waiting for some enemy to take a squat, the chances of his losing more than one quarrel would not be good.

Instead he picked up a morningstar, gave it a swing, put it down again. Too heavy. He passed over a warhammer (too long), a studded mace (also too heavy), and half a dozen longswords before he found a dirk he liked, a nasty piece of steel with a triangular blade. "This might serve," he said. The blade had a bit of rust on it, but that would only make it nastier. He found a wood-and-leather sheath that fit and slipped the dirk inside.

"A little sword for a little man?" joked Penny. "It's a dirk and made for a big man." Tyrion showed her an old long-sword. "This is a sword. Try it."

Penny took it, swung it, frowned. "Too heavy."

"Steel weighs more than wood. Chop through a man's neck with that thing, though, and his head is not like to turn into a melon."

He took the

sword back from her and inspected it more closely. "Cheap steel. And notched. Here, see? I take back what I said. You need a better blade to hack off heads."

"I don't want to hack off heads."

"Nor should you. Keep your cuts below the knee. Calf, hamstring, ankle ... even giants fall if you slice their feet off. Once they're down, they're no bigger than you."

Penny looked as though she was about to cry. "Last night I dreamed my brother was alive again. We were jousting before some great lord, riding Crunch and Pretty Pig, and men were throwing roses at us. We were so happy ..."

Tyrion slapped her.

It was a soft blow, all in all, a little flick of the wrist, with hardly any force behind it. It did not even leave a mark upon her cheek. But her eyes filled with tears all the same.

"If you want to dream, go back to sleep," he told her. "When you wake up, we'll still be escaped slaves in the middle of a siege. Crunch is dead. The pig as well, most like. Now find some armor and put it on, and never mind where it pinches. The mummer show is over. Fight or hide or shit yourself, as you like, but whatever you decide to do, you'll do it clad in steel."

Penny touched the cheek he'd slapped. "We should never have run. We're not sellswords. We're not any kind of swords. It wasn't so bad with Yezzan. It wasn't. Nurse was cruel sometimes but Yezzan never was. We were his favorites, his ... his ..."

"Slaves. The word you want is slaves. "

"Slaves," she said, flushing. "We were his special slaves, though. Just like Sweets. His treasures."

His pets, thought Tyrion. And he loved us so much that he sent us to the pit, to be devoured by lions.

She was not all wrong. Yezzan's slaves ate better than many peasants back in the Seven Kingdoms and were less like to starve to death come winter. Slaves were chattels, aye. They could be bought and sold, whipped and branded, used for the carnal pleasure of their owners, bred to make more slaves. In that sense they were no more than dogs or horses. But most lords treated their dogs and horses well enough. Proud men might shout that they would sooner die free than live as slaves, but pride was cheap. When the steel struck the flint, such men were rare as dragon's teeth; elsewise the world would not have been so full of slaves. There has never been a slave who did not choose to be a slave, the dwarf reflected. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there. Tyrion Lannister did not except himself. His tongue had earned him some stripes on the back in the beginning, but soon enough he had learned the tricks of pleasing Nurse and the noble Yezzan. Jorah Mormont had fought longer and harder, but he would have come to the same place in the end.

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