A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 181

Quentyn handed him the bull mask. "The lion for me."

"Which makes a monkey out of me." Gerris pressed the ape mask to his face. "How do they breathe in these things?"

"Just put it on." The prince was in no mood for japes.

The bundle contained a whip as well - a nasty piece of old leather with a handle of brass and bone, stout enough to peel the hide off an ox.

"What's that for?" Arch asked.

"Daenerys used a whip to cow the black beast." Quentyn coiled the whip and hung it from his belt. "Arch, bring your hammer as well. We may have need of it."

It was no easy thing to enter the Great Pyramid of Meereen by night. The doors were closed and barred each day at sunset and remained closed until first light. Guards were posted at every entrance, and more guards patrolled the lowest terrace, where they could look down on the street. Formerly those guards had been Unsullied. Now they were Brazen Beasts. And that would make all the difference, Quentyn hoped.

The watch changed when the sun came up, but dawn was still half an hour off as the three Dornishmen made their way down the servants' steps. The walls around them were made of bricks of half a hundred colors, but the shadows turned them all to grey until touched by the light of the torch that Gerris carried. They encountered no one on the long descent. The only sound was the scuff of their boots on the worn bricks beneath their feet. The pyramid'

s main gates fronted on Meereen'

s central plaza, but the

Dornishmen made their way to a side entrance opening on an alley. These were the gates that slaves had used in former days as they went about their masters'

business, where smallfolk and tradesmen came and went and made their deliveries.

The doors were solid bronze, closed with a heavy iron bar. Before them stood two Brazen Beasts, armed with cudgels, spears, and short swords. Torchlight glimmered off the polished brass of their masks - a rat and a fox. Quentyn gestured for the big man to stay back in the shadows. He and Gerris strode forward together.

"You come early," the fox said.

Quentyn shrugged. "We can leave again, if you like. You're welcome to stand our watch." He sounded not at all Ghiscari, he knew; but half the Brazen Beasts were freed slaves, with all manner of native tongues, so his accent went unremarked.

"Bugger that," the rat remarked. "Give us the day's word," said the fox. "Dog," said the Dornishman.

The two Brazen Beasts exchanged a look. For three long heartbeats Quentyn was afraid that something had gone amiss, that somehow Pretty Meris and the Tattered Prince had gotten the word wrong. Then the fox grunted. "Dog, then," he said. "The door is yours." As they moved off, the prince began to breathe again.

They did not have long. The real relief would doubtless turn up shortly. "Arch," he called, and the big man appeared, the torchlight shining off his bull's mask. "The bar. Hurry."

The iron bar was thick and heavy, but well oiled. Ser Archibald had no trouble lifting it. As he was standing it on end, Quentyn pulled the doors open and Gerris stepped through, waving the torch. "Bring it in now. Be quick about it."

The butcher's wagon was outside, waiting in the alley. The driver gave the mule a lick and rumbled through, iron-rimmed wheels clack ing loudly over bricks. The quartered carcass of an ox filled the wagon bed, along with two dead sheep. Half a dozen men entered afoot. Five wore the cloaks and masks of Brazen Beasts, but Pretty Meris had not troubled to disguise herself. "Where is your lord?" he asked Meris.

"I have no lord, " she answered. "If you mean your fellow prince, he is near, with fifty men. Bring your dragon out, and he will see you safe away, as promised. Caggo commands here."

Ser Archibald was giving the butcher's wagon the sour eye. "Will that cart be big enough to hold a dragon?" he asked.

"Should. It's held two oxen." The Corpsekiller was garbed as a Brazen Beast, his seamed, scarred face hidden behind a cobra mask, but the familiar black arakh slung at his hip gave him away. "We were told these beasts are smaller than the queen's monster."

"The pit has slowed their growth." Quentyn's readings had

suggested that the same thing had occurred in the Seven Kingdoms. None of the dragons bred and raised in the Dragonpit of King's Landing had ever approached the size of Vhagar or Meraxes, much less that of the Black Dread, King Aegon's monster. "Have you brought sufficient chains?"

"How many dragons do you have?" said Pretty Meris. "We have chains enough for ten, concealed beneath the meat."

"Very good." Quentyn felt light-headed. None of this seemed quite real. One moment it felt like a game, the next like some nightmare, like a bad dream where he found himself opening a dark door, knowing that horror and death waited on the other side, yet somehow powerless to stop himself. His palms were slick with sweat. He wiped them on his legs and said,

"There will be more guards outside the pit."

"We know," said Gerris. "We need to be ready for them."

"We are," said Arch.

There was a cramp in Quentyn's belly. He felt a sudden need to move his bowels, but knew he dare not beg off now. "This way, then." He had seldom felt more like a boy. Yet they followed; Gerris and the big man, Meris and Caggo and the other Windblown. Two of the sellswords had produced crossbows from some hiding place within the wagon. Beyond the stables, the ground level of the Great Pyramid became a labyrinth, but Quentyn Martell had been through here with the queen, and he remembered the way. Under three huge brick arches they went, then down a steep stone ramp into the depths, through the dungeons and torture chambers and past a pair of deep stone cisterns. Their footsteps echoed hollowly off the walls, the butcher's cart rumbling behind them. The big man snatched a torch down from a wall sconce to lead the way.

At last a pair of heavy iron doors rose before them, rust-eaten and forbidding, closed with a length of chain whose every link was as thick around as a man's arm. The size and thickness of those doors was enough to make Quentyn Martell question the wisdom of this course. Even worse, both doors were plainly dinted by something inside trying to get out. The thick iron was cracked and splitting in three places, and the upper corner of the left-hand door looked partly melted.

Four Brazen Beasts stood guarding the door. Three held long spears; the fourth, the serjeant, was armed with short sword and dagger. His mask was wrought in the shape of a basilisk's head. The other three were masked as insects.

Locusts, Quentyn realized. "Dog," he said.

The serjeant stiffened.

That was all it took for Quentyn Martell to realize that something had gone awry. "Take them," he croaked, even as the basilisk's hand darted for his shortsword.

He was quick, that serjeant. The big man was quicker. He flung the torch at the nearest locust, reached back, and unslung his warhammer. The basilisk's blade had scarce slipped from its leather sheath when the hammer's spike slammed into his temple, crunching through the thin brass of his mask and the flesh and bone beneath. The serjeant staggered sideways half a step before his knees folded under him and he sank down to the floor, his whole body shaking grotesquely.

Quentyn stared transfixed, his belly roiling. His own blade was still in its sheath. He had not so much as reached for it. His eyes were locked on the serjeant dying before him, jerking. The fallen torch was on the floor, guttering, making every shadow leap and twist in a monstrous mockery of the dead man's shaking. The prince never saw the locust's spear coming toward him until Gerris slammed into him, knocking him aside. The spearpoint grazed the cheek of the lion's head he wore. Even then the blow was so violent it almost tore the mask off. It would have gone right through my throat, the prince thought, dazed.

Gerris cursed as the locusts closed around him. Quentyn heard the sound of running feet. Then the sellswords came rushing from the shadows. One of the guards glanced at them just long enough for Gerris to get inside his spear. He drove the point of his sword under the brass mask and up through the wearer's throat, even as the second locust sprouted a cross-bow bolt from his chest.

The last locust dropped his spear. "Yield. I yield."

"No. You die." Caggo took the man's head off with one swipe of his arakh, the Valyrian steel shearing through flesh and bone and gristle as if they were so much suet. "Too much noise," he complained. "Any man with ears will have heard."

"Dog," Quentyn said. "The day's word was supposed to be dog. Why wouldn't they let us pass? We were told ..."

"You were told your scheme was madness, have you forgotten?"

said Pretty Meris. "Do what you came to do."

The dragons, Prince Quentyn thought. Yes. We came for the dragons. He felt as though he might be sick. What am I doing here? Father, why?

Four men dead in as many heartbeats, and for what? "Fire and blood," he whispered, "blood and fire." The blood was pooling at his feet, soaking into the brick floor. The fire was beyond those doors. "The chains ... we have no key ..."

Arch said, "I have the key." He swung his warhammer hard and fast. Sparks flew when the hammmerhead struck the lock. And then again, again, again. On his fifth swing the lock shattered, and the chains fell away in a rattling clatter so loud Quentyn was certain half the pyramid must have heard them. "Bring the cart." The dragons would be more docile once fed. Let them gorge themselves on charred mutton.

Archibald Yronwood grasped the iron doors and pulled them apart. Their rusted hinges let out a pair of screams, for all those who might have slept through the breaking of the lock. A wash of sudden heat assaulted them, heavy with the odors of ash, brimstone, and burnt meat.

It was black beyond the doors, a sullen stygian darkness that seemed alive and threatening, hungry. Quentyn could sense that there was something in that darkness, coiled and waiting. Warrior, grant me courage, he prayed. He did not want to do this, but he saw no other way. Why else would Daenerys have shown me the dragons? She wants me to prove myself to her. Gerris handed him a torch. He stepped through the doors.

The green one is Rhaegal, the white Viserion, he reminded himself. Use their names, command them, speak to them calmly but sternly. Master them, as Daenerys mastered Drogon in the pit. The girl had been alone, clad in wisps of silk, but fearless. I must not be afraid. She did it, so can I. The main thing was to show no fear. Animals can smell fear, and dragons ...

What did he know of dragons? What does any man know of dragons? They have been gone from the world for more than a century. The lip of the pit was just ahead. Quentyn edged forward slowly, moving the torch from side to side. Walls and floor and ceiling drank the light. Scorched, he realized. Bricks burned black, crumbling into ash. The air grew warmer with every step he took. He began to sweat. Two eyes rose up before him.

Bronze, they were, brighter than polished shields, glowing with their own heat, burning behind a veil of smoke rising from the dragon's nostrils. The light of Quentyn's torch washed over scales of dark green, the green of moss in the deep woods at dusk, just before the last light fades. Then the dragon opened its mouth, and light and heat washed over them. Behind a fence of sharp black teeth he glimpsed the furnace glow, the shimmer of a sleeping fire a hundred times brighter than his torch. The dragon's head was larger than a horse's, and the neck stretched on and on, uncoiling like some great green serpent as the head rose, until those two glowing bronze eyes were staring down at him.

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