Green, the prince thought, his scales are green. "Rhaegal," he said. His voice caught in his throat, and what came out was a broken croak. Frog, he thought, I am turning into Frog again. "The food," he croaked, remembering. "Bring the food."
The big man heard him. Arch wrestled one of the sheep off the wagon by two legs, then spun and flung it into the pit.
Rhaegal took it in the air. His head snapped round, and from between his jaws a lance of flame erupted, a swirling storm of orange-and-yellow fire shot through with veins of green. The sheep was burning before it began to fall. Before the smoking carcass could strike the bricks, the drag-on's teeth closed round it. A nimbus of flames still flickered about the body. The air stank of burning wool and brimstone. Dragonstink.
"I thought there were two," the big man said.
Viserion. Yes. Where is Viserion? The prince lowered his torch to throw some light into the gloom below. He could see the green dragon ripping at the smoking carcass of the sheep, his long tail lashing from side to side as he ate. A thick iron collar was visible about his neck, with three feet of broken chain dangling from it. Shattered links were strewn across the floor of the pit amongst the blackened bones - twists of metal, partly melted. Rhaegal was chained to the wall and floor the last time I was here, the prince recalled, but Viserion hung from the ceiling. Quentyn stepped back, lifted the torch, craned his head back.
For a moment he saw only the blackened arches of the bricks above, scorched by dragonflame. A trickle of ash caught his eye, betraying movement. Something pale, half-hidden, stirring. He' s made himself a cave, the prince realized. A burrow in the brick. The foundations of the Great Pyramid of Meereen were massive and thick to support the weight of the huge structure overhead; even the interior walls were three times thicker than any castle's curtain walls. But Viserion had dug himself a hole in them with flame and claw, a hole big enough to sleep in.
And we' ve just woken him. He could see what looked like some huge white serpent uncoiling inside the wall, up where it curved to become the ceiling. More ash went drifting downward, and a bit of crumbling brick fell away. The serpent resolved itself into a neck and tail, and then the dragon's long horned head appeared, his eyes glowing in the dark like golden coals. His wings rattled, stretching.
All of Quentyn's plans had fled his head. He could hear Caggo Corpse-killer shouting to his sellswords. The chains, he is sending for the chains, the Dornish prince thought. The plan had been to feed the beasts and chain them in their torpor, just as the queen had done. One dragon, or preferably both.
"More meat," Quentyn said. Once the beasts were fed they will become sluggish. He had seen it work with snakes in Dorne, but here, with these monsters ... "Bring ... bring ..."
Viserion launched himself from the ceiling, pale leather wings unfolding, spreading wide. The broken chain dangling from his neck swung wildly. His flame lit the pit, pale gold shot through with red and orange, and the stale air exploded in a cloud of hot ash and sulfur as the white wings beat and beat again.
A hand seized Quentyn by the shoulder. The torch spun from his grip to bounce across the floor, then tumbled into the pit, still burning. He found himself face-to-face with a brass ape. Gerris. "Quent, this will not work. They are too wild, they ..."
The dragon came down between the Dornishmen and the door with a roar that would have sent a hundred lions running. His head moved side to side as he inspected the intruders - Dornishmen, Windblown, Caggo. Last and longest the beast stared at Pretty Meris, sniffing. The woman, Quentyn realized. He knows that she is female. He is looking for Daenerys. He wants his mother and does not understand why she' s not here. Quentyn wrenched free of Gerris's grip. "Viserion," he called. The white one is Viserion. For half a heartbeat he was afraid he'
d gotten it wrong.
"Viserion," he called again, fumbling for the whip hanging from his belt. She cowed the black one with a whip. I need to do the same. The dragon knew his name. His head turned, and his gaze lingered on the Dornish prince for three long heartbeats. Pale fires burned behind the shining black daggers of his teeth. His eyes were lakes of molten gold, and smoke rose from his nostrils.
"Down," Quentyn said. Then he coughed, and coughed again. The air was thick with smoke and the sulfur stench was choking. Viserion lost interest. The dragon turned back toward the Windblown and lurched toward the door. Perhaps he could smell the blood of the dead guards or the meat in the butcher's wagon. Or perhaps he had only now seen that the way was open.
Quentyn heard the sellswords shouting. Caggo was calling for the chains, and Pretty Meris was screaming at someone to step aside. The dragon moved awkwardly on the ground, like a man scrabbling on his knees and elbows, but quicker than the Dornish prince would have believed. When the Windblown were too late to get out of his way, Viserion let loose with another roar. Quentyn heard the rattle of chains, the deep thrum of a crossbow.
"No," he screamed, "no, don't, don' t, " but it was too late. The fool was all that he had time to think as the quarrel caromed off Viserion's neck to vanish in the gloom. A line of fire gleamed in its wake - dragon's blood, glowing gold and red.
The crossbowman was fumbling for another quarrel as the dragon's teeth closed around his neck. The man wore the mask of a Brazen Beast, the fearsome likeness of a tiger. As he dropped his weapon to try and pry apart Viserion'
s jaws, flame gouted from the tiger'
s mouth. The man'
s eyes burst
with soft popping sounds, and the brass around them began to run. The dragon tore off a hunk of flesh, most of the sellsword's neck, then gulped it down as the burning corpse collapsed to the floor.
The other Windblown were pulling back. This was more than even Pretty Meris had the stomach for. Viserion's horned head moved back and forth between them and his prey, but after a moment he forgot the sellswords and bent his neck to tear another mouthful from the dead man. A lower leg this time.
Quentyn let his whip uncoil. "Viserion," he called, louder this time. He could do this, he would do this, his father had sent him to the far ends of the earth for this, he would not fail him. "VISERION! " He snapped the whip in the air with a crack that echoed off the blackened walls. The pale head rose. The great gold eyes narrowed. Wisps of smoke spiraled upward from the dragon's nostrils.
"Down," the prince commanded. You must not let him smell your fear. "Down, down, down. " He brought the whip around and laid a lash across the dragon's face. Viserion hiss ed.
And then a hot wind buffeted him and he heard the sound of leathern wings and the air was full of ash and cinders and a monstrous roar went echoing off the scorched and blackened bricks and he could hear his friends shouting wildly. Gerris was calling out his name, over and over, and the big man was bellowing, "Behind you, behind you, behind you! "
Quentyn turned and threw his left arm across his face to shield his eyes from the furnace wind. Rhaegal, he reminded himself, the green one is Rhaegal.
When he raised his whip, he saw that the lash was burning. His hand as well. All of him, all of him was burning.
Oh, he thought. Then he began to scream.
Let them die," said Queen Selyse.
It was the answer that Jon Snow had expected. This queen never fails to disappoint. Somehow that did not soften the blow. "Your Grace," he persisted stubbornly, "they are starving at Hardhome by the thousands. Many are women - "
" - and children, yes. Very sad." The queen pulled her daughter closer to her and kissed her cheek. The cheek unmarred by greyscale, Jon did not fail to note. "We are sorry for the little ones, of course, but we must be sensible. We have no food for them, and they are too young to help the king my husband in his wars. Better that they be reborn into the light."
That was just a softer way of saying let them die. The chamber was crowded. Princess Shireen stood beside her mother'
s seat, with Patchface cross-legged at her feet. Behind the queen loomed Ser Axell Florent. Melisandre of Asshai stood closer to the fire, the ruby at her throat pulsing with every breath she took. The red woman too had her attendants - the squire Devan Seaworth and two of the guardsmen the king had left her.
s protectors stood along the walls, shining knights all in a row: Ser Malegorn, Ser Benethon, Ser Narbert, Ser Patrek, Ser Dorden, Ser Brus. With so many bloodthirsty wildlings infesting Castle Black, Selyse kept her sworn shields about her night and day. Tormund Giants-bane had roared to hear it. "Afraid of being carried off, is she? I hope you never said how big me member is, Jon Snow, that'd frighten any woman. I always wanted me one with a mustache." Then he laughed and laughed. He would not be laughing now.
Jon had wasted enough time here. "I'm sorry to have troubled Your Grace. The Night's Watch will attend to this matter."
The queen's nostrils flared. "You still mean to ride to Hardhome. I see it on your face. Let them die, I said, yet you will persist in this mad folly. Do not deny it."
"I must do as I think best. With respect, Your Grace, the Wall is mine, and so is this decision."
"It is," Selyse allowed, "and you will answer for it when the king returns. And for other decisions you have made, I fear. But I see that you are deaf to sense. Do what you must."
Up spoke Ser Malegorn. "Lord Snow, who will lead this ranging?"
"Are you offering yourself, ser?"
"Do I look so foolish?"
Patchface jumped up. "I will lead it!" His bells rang merrily. "We will march into the sea and out again. Under the waves we will ride seahorses, and mermaids will blow seashells to announce our coming, oh, oh, oh."
They all laughed. Even Queen Selyse allowed herself a thin smile. Jon was less amused. "I will not ask my men to do what I would not do myself. I mean to lead the ranging."
"How bold of you," said the queen. "We approve. Afterward some bard will make a stirring song about you, no doubt, and we shall have a more prudent lord commander." She took a sip of wine. "Let us speak of other matters. Axell, bring in the wildling king, if you would be so good."
"At once, Your Grace." Ser Axell went through a door and returned a moment later with Gerrick Kingsblood. "Gerrick of House Redbeard," he announced, "King of the Wildlings."
Gerrick Kingsblood was a tall man, long of leg and broad of shoulder. The queen had dressed him in some of the king's old clothes, it appeared. Scrubbed and groomed, clad in green velvets and an ermine half-cape, with his long red hair freshly washed and his fiery beard shaped and trimmed, the wildling looked every inch a southron lord. He could walk into the throne room at King' s Landing, and no one would blink an eye, Jon thought.
"Gerrick is the true and rightful king of the wildlings," the queen said, "descended in an unbroken male line from their great king Raymun Red-beard, whereas the usurper Mance Rayder was born of some common woman and fathered by one of your black brothers."
No, Jon might have said, Gerrick is descended from a younger brother of Raymun Redbeard. To the free folk that counted about as much as being descended from Raymun Redbeard'