But Quentyn thought of several reasons why not, so he had done his best to avoid the twins thereafter, and there had been no second kiss. More recently, the youngest of Lord Yronwood's daughters had taken to following him about the castle. Gwyneth was but twelve, a small, scrawny girl whose dark eyes and brown hair set her apart in that house of blue-eyed blondes. She was clever, though, as quick with words as with her hands, and fond of telling Quentyn that he had to wait for her to flower, so she could marry him.
That was before Prince Doran had summoned him to the Water Gardens. And now the most beautiful woman in the world was waiting in Meereen, and he meant to do his duty and claim her for his bride. She will not refuse me. She will honor the agreement. Daenerys Targaryen would need Dorne to win the Seven Kingdoms, and that meant that she would need him. It does not mean that she will love me, though. She may not even like me.
The street curved where the river met the sea, and there along the bend a number of animal sellers were clustered together, offering jeweled lizards, giant banded snakes, and agile little monkeys with striped tails and clever pink hands. "Perhaps your silver queen would like a monkey," said Gerris.
Quentyn had no idea what Daenerys Targaryen might like. He had promised his father that he would bring her back to Dorne, but more and more he wondered if he was equal to the task.
I never asked for this, he thought.
Across the wide blue expanse of the Rhoyne, he could see the Black Wall that had been raised by the Valyrians when Volantis was no more than an outpost of their empire: a great oval of fused stone two hundred feet high and so thick that six four-horse chariots could race around its top abreast, as they did each year to celebrate the founding of the city. Outlanders, foreigners, and freedmen were not allowed inside the Black Wall save at the invitation of those who dwelt within, scions of the Old Blood who could trace their ancestry back to Valyria itself.
The traffic was thicker here. They were near the western end of the Long Bridge, which linked the two halves of the city. Wayns and carts and hathay s crowded the streets, all of them coming from the bridge or making for it. Slaves were everywhere, as numerous as roaches, scurrying about their masters' business.
Not far from Fishermonger's Square and the Merchant's House, shouts erupted from a cross street, and a dozen Unsullied spearmen in ornate armor and tiger-skin cloaks appeared as if from nowhere, waving everyone aside so the triarch could pass through atop his elephant. The triarch's elephant was a grey-skinned behemoth clad in elaborate enameled armor that clattered softly as he moved, the castle on its back so tall that it scraped the top of the ornamental stone arch he was passing underneath. "The triarchs are considered so elevated that their feet are not allowed to touch the ground during their year of service," Quentyn informed his companion.
"They ride everywhere on elephants."
"Blocking up the streets and leaving heaps of dung for the likes of us to contend with," said Gerris. "Why Volantis needs three princes when Dorne makes do with one, I will never know."
"The triarchs are neither kings nor princes. Volantis is a freehold, like Valyria of old. All freeborn landholders share the rule. Even women are allowed to vote, provided they own land. The three triarchs are chosen from amongst those noble families who can prove unbroken descent from old Valyria, to serve until the first day of the new year. And you would know all this if you had troubled to read the book that Maester Kedry gave you."
"It had no pictures."
"There were maps."
"Maps do not count. If he had told me it was about tigers and elephants, I might have given it a try. It looked suspiciously like a history."
When their hathay reached the edge of the Fishermonger's Square, their elephant lifted her trunk and made a honking noise like some huge white goose, reluctant to plunge into the tangle of wayns, palanquins, and foot traffic ahead. Their driver prodded her with his heel and kept her moving.
The fishmongers were out in strength, crying the morning catch. Quentyn understood one word in two at best, but he did not need to know the words to know the fish. He saw cod and sailfish and sardines, barrels of mussels and clams. Eels hung along the front of one stall. Another displayed a gigantic turtle, strung up by its legs on iron chains, heavy as a horse. Crabs scrabbled inside casks of brine and seaweed. Several of the vendors were frying chunks of fish with onions and beets, or selling peppery fish stew out of small iron kettles.
In the center of the square, under the cracked and headless statue of a dead triarch, a crowd had begun to gather about some dwarfs putting on a show. The little men were done up in wooden armor, miniature knights preparing for a joust. Quentyn saw one mount a dog, as the other hopped onto a pig ... only to slide right off again, to a smattering of laughter.
"They look amusing," Gerris said. "Shall we stop and watch them fight? A laugh might serve you well, Quent. You look like an old man who has not moved his bowels in half a year."
I am eight-and-ten, six years younger than you, Quentyn thought. I am no old man. Instead he said, "I have no need for comic dwarfs. Unless they have a ship."
"A small one, I would think."
Four stories tall, the Merchant's House dominated the docks and wharves and storehouses that surrounded it. Here traders from Oldtown and King's Landing mingled with their counterparts from Braavos and Pentos and Myr, with hairy Ibbenese, pale-skinned voyagers from Qarth, coal-black Summer Islanders in feathered cloaks, even masked shadow-binders from Asshai by the Shadow.
The paving stones felt warm beneath his feet when Quentyn climbed down from the hathay, even through the leather of his boots. Outside the Merchant's House a trestle table had been set up in the shade and decorated with striped blue-and-white pennons that fluttered at every breath of air. Four hard-eyed sellswords lounged around the table, calling out to every passing man and boy. Windblown, Quentyn knew. The serjeants were looking for fresh meat to fill their ranks before they sailed for Slaver's Bay. And every man who signs with them is another sword for Yunkai, another blade meant to drink the blood of my bride-to-be.
One of the Windblown shouted at them. "I do not speak your tongue," Quentyn answered. Though he could read and write High Valyrian, he had little practice speaking it. And the Volantene apple had rolled a fair distance from the Valyrian tree.
"Westerosi?" the man answered, in the Common Tongue.
"Dornishmen. My master is a wineseller."
"Master? Fuck that. Are you a slave? Come with us and be your own master. Do you want to die abed? We'll teach you sword and spear. You'll ride to battle with the Tattered Prince and come home richer than a lord. Boys, girls, gold, whatever you want, if you're man enough to take it. We'
re the Windblown, and we f**k the goddess slaughter up her arse."
Two of the sellswords began to sing, bellowing out the words to some marching song. Quentyn understood enough to get the gist. We are the Windblown, they sang. Blow us east to Slaver' s Bay, we' ll kill the butcher king and f**k the dragon queen.
"If Cletus and Will were still with us, we could come back with the big man and kill the lot of them," said Gerris.
Cletus and Will are dead. "Pay them no mind," Quentyn said. The sellswords threw taunts at their backs as they pushed through the doors of the Merchant's House, mocking them as bloodless cravens and frightened girls.
The big man was waiting in their rooms on the second floor. Though the inn had come well recommended by the master of the Meadowlark, that did not mean Quentyn was willing to leave their goods and gold unguarded. Every port had thieves, rats, and whores, and Volantis had more than most.
"I was about to go out looking for you," Ser Archibald Yronwood said as he slid the bar back to admit them. It was his cousin Cletus who had started calling him the big man, but the name was well deserved. Arch was six-and-a-half-feet tall, broad of shoulder, huge of belly, with legs like tree trunks, hands the size of hams, and no neck to speak of. Some childhood malady had made all his hair fall out. His bald head reminded Quentyn of a smooth pink boulder. "So," he demanded, "what did the smuggler say? Do we have a boat?"
"A ship," corrected Quentyn. "Aye, he'll take us, but only as far as the nearest hell."
Gerris sat upon a sagging bed and pulled off his boots. "Dorne is sounding more attractive every moment."
The big man said, "I still say we would do better to ride the demon road. Might be it's not as perilous as men say. And if it is, that only means more glory for those who dare it. Who would dare molest us? Drink with his sword, me with my hammer, that's more than any demon could digest."
"And if Daenerys is dead before we reach her?" Quentyn said. "We must have a ship. Even if it is Adventure. "
Gerris laughed. "You must be more desperate for Daenerys than I knew if you'd endure that stench for months on end. After three days, I'd be begging them to murder me. No, my prince, I pray you, not Adventure. "
"Do you have a better way?" Quentyn asked him. "I do. It's just now come to me. It has its risks, and it is not what you would call honorable, I grant you ... but it will get you to your queen quicker than the demon road."
"Tell me," said Quentyn Martell.
Jon Snow read the letter over until the words began to blur and run together. I cannot sign this. I will not sign this.
He almost burned the parchment then and there. Instead he took a sip of ale, the dregs of the half cup that remained from his solitary supper the night before. I have to sign it. They chose me to be their lord commander. The Wall is mine, and the Watch as well. The Night' s Watch takes no part. It was a relief when Dolorous Edd Tollett opened the door to tell him that Gilly was without. Jon set Maester Aemon's letter aside. "I will see her." He dreaded this. "Find Sam for me. I will want to speak with him next."
"He'll be down with the books. My old septon used to say that books are dead men talking. Dead men should keep quiet, is what I say. No one wants to hear a dead man's yabber." Dolorous Edd went off muttering of worms and spiders.
When Gilly entered, she went at once to her knees. Jon came around the table and drew her to her feet. "You don't need to take a knee for me. That's just for kings." Though a wife and mother, Gilly still seemed half a child to him, a slender little thing wrapped up in one of Sam's old cloaks. The cloak was so big on her that she could have hidden several other girls beneath its folds. "The babes are well?" he asked her.
The wildling girl smiled timidly from under her cowl. "Yes, m'lord. I was scared I wouldn't have milk enough for both, but the more they suck, the more I have. They're strong."
"I have something hard to tell you." He almost said ask, but caught himself at the last instant.
"Is it Mance? Val begged the king to spare him. She said she'd let some kneeler marry her and never slit his throat if only Mance could live. That Lord o'Bones, he's to be spared. Craster always swore he'd kill him if he ever showed his face about the keep. Mance never did half the things he done."
All Mance ever did was lead an army down upon the realm he once swore to protect. "Mance said our words, Gilly. Then he turned his cloak, wed Dalla, and crowned himself King-Beyond-the-Wall. His life is in the king's hands now. It's not him we need to talk about. It's his son. Dalla's boy."