A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 187

"They will refuse, even so," insisted Symon Stripeback. "They will say they want the dragons dead, the king restored."

"I pray that you are wrong." And fear that you are right. "Your gods are far away, Ser Grandfather," said the Widower. "I do not think they hear your prayers. And when the Yunkai'i send back the old woman to spit in your eye, what then?"

"Fire and blood, " said Barristan Selmy, softly, softly. For a long moment no one spoke. Then Strong Belwas slapped his belly and said, "Better than liver and onions," and Skahaz Shavepate stared through the eyes of his wolf's head mask and said, "You would break King Hizdahr's peace, old man?"

"I would shatter it." Once, long ago, a prince had named him Barristan the Bold. A part of that boy was in him still. "We have built a beacon atop the pyramid where once the Harpy stood. Dry wood soaked with oil, covered to keep the rain off. Should the hour come, and I pray that it does not, we will light that beacon. The flames will be your signal to pour out of our gates and attack. Every man of you will have a part to play, so every man must be in readiness at all times, day or night. We will destroy our foes or be destroyed ourselves." He raised a hand to signal to his waiting squires. "I have had some maps prepared to show the dispositions of our foes, their camps and siege lines and trebuchets. If we can break the slavers, their sellswords will abandon them. I know you will have concerns and questions. Voice them here. By the time we leave this table, all of us must be of a single mind, with a single purpose."

"Best send down for some food and drink, then," suggested Symon Stripeback. "This will take a while."

It took the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. The captains and commanders argued over the maps like fishwives over a bucket of crabs. Weak points and strong points, how to best employ their small company of archers, whether the elephants should be used to break the Yunkish lines or held in reserve, who should have the honor of leading the first advance, whether their horse cavalry was best deployed on the flanks or in the vanguard.

Ser Barristan let each man speak his mind. Tal Toraq thought that they should march on Yunkai once they had broken through the lines; the Yellow City would be almost undefended, so the Yunkai'i would have no choice but to lift the siege and follow. The Spotted Cat proposed to challenge the enemy to send forth a champion to face him in single combat. Strong Belwas liked that notion but insisted he should fight, not the Cat. Camarron of the Count put forth a scheme to seize the ships tied up along the riverfront and use the Skahazadhan to bring three hundred pit fighters around the Yunkish rear. Every man there agreed that the Unsul-lied were their best troops, but none agreed on how they should be deployed. The Widower wanted to use the eunuchs as an iron fist to smash through the heart of the Yunkish defenses. Marselen felt they would be better placed at either end of the main battle line, where they could beat back any attempt by the foe to turn their flanks. Symon Stripeback wanted them split into three and pided amongst the three companies of freed-men. His Free Brothers were brave and eager for the fight, he claimed, but without the Unsullied to stiffen them he feared his unblooded troops might not have the discipline to face battle-seasoned sell swords by themselves. Grey Worm said only that the Unsullied would obey, whatever might be asked of them. And when all that had been discussed, debated, and decided, Symon Stripeback raised one final point. "As a slave in Yunkai I helped my master bargain with the free companies and saw to the payment of their wages. I know sellswords, and I know that the Yunkai'i cannot pay them near enough to face dragonflame. So I ask you ... if the peace should fail and this battle should be joined, will the dragons come? Will they join the fight?"

They will come, Ser Barristan might have said. The noise will bring them, the shouts and screams, the scent of blood. That will draw them to the battlefield, just as the roar from Daznak' s Pit drew Drogon to the scarlet sands. But when they come, will they know one side from the other?

Somehow he did not think so. So he said only, "The dragons will do what the dragons will do. If they do come, it may be that just the shadow of their wings will be enough to dishearten the slavers and send them fleeing."

Then

he thanked them and dismissed them all.

Grey Worm lingered after the others had left. "These ones will be ready when the beacon fire is lit. But the Hand must surely know that when we attack, the Yunkai'i will kill the hostages."

"I will do all I can to prevent that, my friend. I have a ... notion. But pray excuse me. It is past time the Dornishmen heard that their prince is dead."

Grey Worm inclined his head. "This one obeys."

Ser Barristan took two of his new-made knights with him down into the dungeons. Grief and guilt had been known to drive good men into madness, and Archibald Yronwood and Gerris Drinkwater had both played roles in their friend's demise. But when they reached the cell, he told Tum and the Red Lamb to wait outside whilst he went in to tell the Dornish that the prince's agony was over.

Ser Archibald, the big bald one, had nothing to say. He sat on the edge of his pallet, staring down at his bandaged hands in their linen wrappings. Ser Gerris punched a wall. "I told him it was folly. I begged him to go home. Your bitch of a queen had no use for him, any man could see that. He crossed the world to offer her his love and fealty, and she laughed in his face."

"She never laughed," said Selmy. "If you knew her, you would know that."

"She spurned him. He offered her his heart, and she threw it back at him and went off to f**k her sellsword."

"You had best guard that tongue, ser." Ser Barristan did not like this Gerris Drinkwater, nor would he allow him to vilify Daenerys. "Prince Quentyn's death was his own doing, and yours."

"Ours? How are we at fault, ser? Quentyn was our friend, yes. A bit of a fool, you might say, but all dreamers are fools. But first and last he was our prince. We owed him our obedience."

Barristan Selmy could not dispute the truth of that. He had spent the best part of his own life obeying the commands of drunkards and madmen.

"He came too late."

"He offered her his heart," Ser Gerris said again. "She needed swords, not hearts."

"He would have given her the spears of Dorne as well."

"Would that he had." No one had wanted Daenerys to look with favor on the Dornish prince more than Barristan Selmy. "He came too late, though, and this folly ... buying sellswords, loosing two dragons on the city ... that was madness and worse than madness. That was treason."

"What he did he did for love of Queen Daenerys," Gerris

Drinkwater insisted. "To prove himself worthy of her hand."

The old knight had heard enough. "What Prince Quentyn did he did for Dorne. Do you take me for some doting grandfather? I have spent my life around kings and queens and princes. Sunspear means to take up arms against the Iron Throne. No, do not trouble to deny it. Doran Mar-tell is not a man to call his spears without hope of victory. Duty brought Prince Quentyn here. Duty, honor, thirst for glory ... never love. Quentyn was here for dragons, not Daenerys."

"You did not know him, ser. He - "

"He's dead, Drink." Yronwood rose to his feet. "Words won't fetch him back. Cletus and Will are dead too. So shut your bloody mouth before I stick my fist in it." The big knight turned to Selmy. "What do you mean to do with us?"

"Skahaz Shavepate wants you hanged. You slew four of his men. Four of the queen's men. Two were freedmen who had followed Her Grace since Astapor."

Yronwood did not seem surprised. "The beast men, aye. I only killed the one, the basilisk head. The sellswords did the others. Don't matter, though, I know that."

"We were protecting Quentyn," said Drinkwater. "We - "

"Be quiet, Drink. He knows." To Ser Barristan the big knight said,

"No need to come and talk if you meant to hang us. So it's not that, is it?"

"No." This one may not be as slow-witted as he seems. "I have more use for you alive than dead. Serve me, and afterward I will arrange a ship to take you back to Dorne and give you Prince Quentyn's bones to return to his lord father."

Ser Archibald grimaced. "Why is it always ships? Someone needs to take Quent home, though. What do you ask of us, ser?"

"Your swords."

"You have thousands of swords."

"The queen's freedmen are as yet unblooded. The sellswords I do not trust. Unsullied are brave soldiers ... but not warriors. Not knights. "

He paused. "What happened when you tried to take the dragons? Tell me."

The Dornishmen exchanged a look. Then Drinkwater said, "Quentyn told the Tattered Prince he could control them. It was in his blood, he said. He had Targaryen blood."

"Blood of the dragon."

"Yes. The sellswords were supposed to help us get the dragons chained up so we could get them to the docks."

"Rags arranged for a ship," said Yronwood. "A big one, in case we got both dragons. And Quent was going to ride one." He looked at his bandaged hands. "The moment we got in, though, you could see none of it was going to work. The dragons were too wild. The chains ... there were bits of broken chain everywhere, big chains, links the size of your head mixed in with all these cracked and splintered bones. And Quent, Seven save him, he looked like he was going to shit his smallclothes. Caggo and Meris weren't blind, they saw it too. Then one of the cross-bowmen let fly. Maybe they meant to kill the dragons all along and were only using us to get to them. You never know with Tatters. Any way you hack it off, it weren't clever. The quarrel just made the dragons angry, and they hadn't been in such a good mood to start with. Then ... then things got bad."

"And the Windblown blew away," said Ser Gerris. "Quent was screaming, covered in flames, and they were gone. Caggo, Pretty Meris, all but the dead one."

"Ah, what did you expect, Drink? A cat will kill a mouse, a pig will wallow in shit, and a sellsword will run off when he's needed most. Can't be blamed. Just the nature of the beast."

"He's not wrong," Ser Barristan said. "What did Prince Quentyn promise the Tattered Prince in return for all this help?"

He got no answer. Ser Gerris looked at Ser Archibald. Ser Archibald looked at his hands, the floor, the door.

"Pentos," said Ser Barristan. "He promised him Pentos. Say it. No words of yours can help or harm Prince Quentyn now."

"Aye," said Ser Archibald unhappily. "It was Pentos. They made marks on a paper, the two of them."

There is a chance here. "We still have Windblown in the dungeons. Those feigned deserters."

"I remember," said Yronwood. "Hungerford, Straw, that lot. Some of them weren't so bad for sellswords. Others, well, might be they could stand a bit of dying. What of them?"

"I mean to send them back to the Tattered Prince. And you with them. You will be two amongst thousands. Your presence in the Yunkish camps should pass unnoticed. I want you to deliver a message to the Tattered Prince. Tell him that I sent you, that I speak with the queen's voice. Tell him that we'll pay his price if he delivers us our hostages, unharmed and whole."

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