A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 180

Selmy blocked the cuts at his head and let his armor stop the rest, whilst his own blade opened the pit fighter's cheek from ear to mouth, then traced a raw red gash across his chest. Blood welled from Khrazz's wounds. That only seemed to make him wilder. He seized the brazier with his off hand and flipped it, scattering embers and hot coals at Selmy's feet. Ser Barristan leapt over them. Khrazz slashed at his arm and caught him, but the arakh could only chip the hard enamel before it met the steel below.

"In the pit that would have taken your arm off, old man."

"We are not in the pit."

"Take off that armor! "

"It is not too late to throw down your steel. Yield."

"Die," spat Khrazz ... but as he lifted his arakh, its tip grazed one of the wall hangings and hung. That was all the chance Ser Barristan required. He slashed open the pit fighter's belly, parried the arakh as it wrenched free, then finished Khrazz with a quick thrust to the heart as the pit fighter's entrails came sliding out like a nest of greasy eels. Blood and viscera stained the king's silk carpets. Selmy took a step back. The longsword in his hand was red for half its length. Here and there the carpets had begun to smolder where some of the scattered coals had fallen. He could hear poor Qezza sobbing. "Don't be afraid," the old knight said. "I mean you no harm, child. I want only the king."

He wiped his sword clean on a curtain and stalked into the bedchamber, where he found Hizdahr zo Loraq, Fourteenth of His Noble Name, hiding behind a tapestry and whimpering. "Spare me," he begged.

"I do not want to die."

"Few do. Yet all men die, regardless." Ser Barristan sheathed his sword and pulled Hizdahr to his feet. "Come. I will escort you to a cell."

By now, the Brazen Beasts should have disarmed Steelskin. "You will be kept a prisoner until the queen returns. If nothing can be proved against you, you will not come to harm. You have my word as a knight." He took the king's arm and led him from the bedchamber, feeling strangely light-headed, almost drunk. I was a Kingsguard. What am I now?

Miklaz and Draqaz had returned with Hizdahr's wine. They stood in the open door, cradling the flagons against their chests and staring wide-eyed at the corpse of Khrazz. Qezza was still crying, but Jezhene had appeared to comfort her. She hugged the younger girl, stroking her hair. Some of the other cupbearers stood behind them, watching. "Your Worship," Miklaz said, "the noble Reznak mo Reznak says to t-tell you, come at once."

The boy addressed the king as if Ser Barristan were not there, as if there were no dead man sprawled upon the carpet, his life's blood slowly staining the silk red. Skahaz was supposed to take Reznak into custody until we could be certain of his loyalty. Had something gone awry? "Come where?" Ser Barristan asked the boy. "Where does the seneschal want His Grace to go?"

"Outside." Miklaz seemed to see him for the first time. "Outside, ser. To the t-terrace. To see."

"To see what?"

"D-d-dragons. The dragons have been loosed, ser." Seven save us all, the old knight thought.

Chapter Sixty-one

THE DRAGONTAMER

The night crept past on slow black feet. The hour of the bat gave way to the hour of the eel, the hour of the eel to the hour of ghosts. The prince lay abed, staring at his ceiling, dreaming without sleeping, remembering, imagining, twisting beneath his linen coverlet, his mind feverish with thoughts of fire and blood.

Finally, despairing of rest, Quentyn Martell made his way to his solar, where he poured himself a cup of wine and drank it in the dark. The taste was sweet solace on his tongue, so he lit a candle and poured himself another. Wine will help me sleep, he told himself, but he knew that was a lie. He stared at the candle for a long time, then put down his cup and held his palm above the flame. It took every bit of will he had to lower it until the fire touched his flesh, and when it did he snatched his hand back with a cry of pain.

"Quentyn, are you mad?"

No, just scared. I do not want to burn. "Gerris?"

"I heard you moving about."

"I could not sleep."

"Are burns a cure for that? Some warm milk and a lullaby might serve you well. Or better still, I could take you to the Temple of the Graces and find a girl for you."

"A whore, you mean."

"They call them Graces. They come in different colors. The red ones are the only ones who f**k." Gerris seated himself across the table. "The septas back home should take up the custom, if you ask me. Have you noticed that old septas always look like prunes? That's what a life of chastity will do to you."

Quentyn glanced out at the terrace, where night's shadows lay thick amongst the trees. He could hear the soft sound of falling water. "Is that rain? Your whores will be gone."

"Not all of them. There are little snuggeries in the pleasure gardens, and they wait there every night until a man chooses them. Those who are not chosen must remain until the sun comes up, feeling lonely and neglected. We could console them."

"They could console me, is what you mean."

"That too."

"That is not the sort of consolation I require."

"I disagree. Daenerys Targaryen is not the only woman in the world. Do you want to die a man-maid?"

Quentyn did not want to die at all. I want to go back to Yronwood and kiss both of your sisters, marry Gwyneth Yronwood, watch her flower into beauty, have a child by her. I want to ride in tourneys, hawk and hunt, visit with my mother in Norvos, read some of those books my father sends me. I want Cletus and Will and Maester Kedry to be alive again. "Do you think Daenerys would be pleased to hear that I had bedded some whore?"

"She might be. Men may be fond of maidens, but women like a man who knows what he's about in the bedchamber. It's another sort of sword-play. Takes training to be good at it."

The gibe stung. Quentyn had never felt so much a boy as when he'd stood before Daenerys Targaryen, pleading for her hand. The thought of bedding her terrified him almost as much as her dragons had. What if he could not please her? "Daenerys has a paramour," he said defensively.

"My father did not send me here to amuse the queen in the bedchamber. You know why we have come."

"You cannot marry her. She has a husband."

"She does not love Hizdahr zo Loraq."

"What has love to do with marriage? A prince should know better. Your father married for love, it's said. How much joy has he had of that?"

Little and less. Doran Martell and his Norvoshi wife had spent half their marriage apart and the other half arguing. It was the only rash thing his father had ever done, to hear some tell it, the only time he had followed his heart instead of his head, and he had lived to rue it. "Not all risks lead to ruin," he insisted. "This is my duty. My destiny." You are supposed to be my friend, Gerris. Why must you mock my hopes? I have doubts enough without your throwing oil on the fire of my fear. "This will be my grand adventure."

"Men die on grand adventures."

He was not wrong. That was in the stories too. The hero sets out with his friends and companions, faces dangers, comes home triumphant. Only some of his companions don't return at all. The hero never dies, though. I must be the hero. "All I need is courage. Would you have Dorne remember me as a failure?"

"Dorne is not like to remember any of us for long."

Quentyn sucked at the burned spot on his palm. "Dorne remembers Aegon and his sisters. Dragons are not so easily forgotten. They will remember Daenerys as well."

"Not if she's died."

"She lives." She must. "She is lost, but I can find her." And when I do, she will look at me the way she looks at her sellsword. Once I have proven myself worthy of her.

"From dragonback?"

"I have been riding horses since I was six years old."

"And you've been thrown a time or three."

"That never stopped me from getting back into the saddle."

"You've never been thrown off a thousand feet above the ground,"

Gerris pointed out. "And horses seldom turn their riders into charred bones and ashes."

I know the dangers. "I'll hear no more of this. You have my leave to go. Find a ship and run home, Gerris." The prince rose, blew the candle out, and crept back to his bed and its sweat-soaked linen sheets. I should have kissed one of the Drinkwater twins, or maybe both of them. I should have kissed them whilst I could. I should have gone to Norvos to see my mother and the place that gave her birth, so she would know that I had not forgotten her. He could hear the rain falling outside, drumming against the bricks. By the time the hour of the wolf crept upon them, the rain was falling steadily, slashing down in a hard, cold torrent that would soon turn the brick streets of Meereen into rivers. The three Dornishmen broke their fast in the predawn chill - a simple meal of fruit and bread and cheese, washed down with goat milk. When Gerris made to pour himself a cup of wine, Quentyn stopped him. "No wine. There will be time enough for drink afterward."

"One hopes," said Gerris.

The big man looked out toward the terrace. "I knew it would rain,"

he said in a gloomy tone. "My bones were aching last night. They always ache before it rains. The dragons won't like this. Fire and water don't mix, and that's a fact. You get a good cookfire lit, blazing away nice, then it starts to piss down rain and next thing your wood is sodden and your flames are dead."

Gerris chuckled. "Dragons are not made of wood, Arch."

"Some are. That old King Aegon, the randy one, he built wooden dragons to conquer us. That ended bad, though."

So may this, the prince thought. The follies and failures of Aegon the Unworthy did not concern him, but he was full of doubts and misgivings. The labored banter of his friends was only making his head ache. They do not understand. They may be Dornish, but I am Dorne. Years from now, when I am dead, this will be the song they sing of me. He rose abruptly. "It'

s time."

His friends got to their feet. Ser Archibald drained the last of his goat'

s milk and wiped the milk mustache from his upper lip with the back of a big hand. "I'll get our mummer's garb."

He returned with the bundle that they had collected from the Tattered Prince at their second meeting. Within were three long hooded cloaks made from myriad small squares of cloth sewn together, three cudgels, three shortswords, three masks of polished brass. A bull, a lion, and an ape. Everything required to be a Brazen Beast. "They may ask for a word," the Tattered Prince had warned them when he handed over the bundle. "It's dog. "

"You are certain of that?" Gerris had asked him. "Certain enough to wager a life upon it."

The prince did not mistake his meaning. "My life."

"That would be the one."

"How did you learn their word?"

"We chanced upon some Brazen Beasts and Meris asked them

prettily. But a prince should know better than to pose such questions, Dornish. In Pentos, we have a saying. Never ask the baker what went into the pie. Just eat."

Just eat. There was wisdom in that, Quentyn supposed. "I'll be the bull," Arch announced.

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