"Salladhor the Beggar, that's what your king has made me,"
Salladhor Saan complained to Davos, as the remnants of his fleet limped across the Bite. "Salladhor the Smashed. Where are my ships? And my gold, where is all the gold that I was promised?" When Davos had tried to assure him that he would have his payment, Salla had erupted. "When, when? On the morrow, on the new moon, when the red comet comes again? He is promising me gold and gems, always promising, but this gold I have not seen. I have his word, he is saying, oh yes, his royal word, he writes it down. Can Salladhor Saan eat the king's word? Can he quench his thirst with parchments and waxy seals? Can he tumble promises into a feather bed and f**k them till they squeal?"
Davos had tried to persuade him to stay true. If Salla abandoned Stannis and his cause, he pointed out, he abandoned all hope of collecting the gold that was due him. A victorious King Tommen was not like to pay his defeated uncle's debts, after all. Salla's only hope was to remain loyal to Stannis Baratheon until he won the Iron Throne. Elsewise he would never see a groat of his money. He had to be patient.
Perhaps some lord with honey on his tongue might have swayed the Lysene pirate prince, but Davos was an onion knight, and his words had only provoked Salla to fresh outrage. "On Dragonstone I was patient," he said, "when the red woman burned wooden gods and screaming men. All the long way to the Wall I was patient. At Eastwatch I was patient ... and cold, so very cold. Bah, I say. Bah to your patience, and bah to your king. My men are hungry. They are wishing to f**k their wives again, to count their sons, to see the Stepstones and the pleasure gardens of Lys. Ice and storms and empty promises, these they are not wanting. This north is much too cold, and getting colder."
I knew the day would come, Davos told himself. I was fond of the old rogue, but never so great a fool as to trust him.
"Storms." Lord Godric said the word as fondly as another man might say his lover's name. "Storms were sacred on the Sisters before the Andals came. Our gods of old were the Lady of the Waves and the Lord of the Skies. They made storms every time they mated." He leaned forward.
"These kings never bother with the Sisters. Why should they? We are small and poor. And yet you're here. Delivered to me by the storms."
Delivered to you by a friend, Davos thought.
Lord Godric turned to his captain. "Leave this man with me. He was never here."
"No, m'lord. Never." The captain took his leave, his wet boots leaving damp footprints across the carpet. Beneath the floor the sea was rumbling and restless, pounding at the castle's feet. The outer door closed with a sound like distant thunder, and again the lightning came, as if in answer.
"My lord," said Davos, "if you would send me on to White Harbor, His Grace would count it as an act of friendship."
"I could send you to White Harbor," the lord allowed. "Or I could send you to some cold wet hell."
Sisterton is hell enough. Davos feared the worst. The Three Sisters were fickle bitches, loyal only to themselves. Supposedly they were sworn to the Arryns of the Vale, but the Eyrie's grasp upon the islands was tenuous at best.
"Sunderland would require me to hand you over if he knew of you."
Borrell did fealty for Sweetsister, as Longthorpe did for Longsister and Torrent for Littlesister; all were sworn to Triston Sunderland, the Lord of the Three Sisters. "He'd sell you to the queen for a pot of that Lannister gold. Poor man needs every dragon, with seven sons all determined to be knights." The lord picked up a wooden spoon and attacked his stew again.
"I used to curse the gods who gave me only daughters until I heard Triston bemoaning the cost of destriers. You would be surprised to know how many fish it takes to buy a decent suit of plate and mail."
I had seven sons as well, but four are burned and dead. "Lord Sunderland is sworn to the Eyrie,"
"By rights he should deliver me to Lady Arryn." He would stand a better chance with her than with the Lannisters, he judged. Though she had taken no part in the War of the Five Kings, Lysa Arryn was a daughter of Riverrun, and aunt to the Young Wolf.
"Lysa Arryn's dead," Lord Godric said, "murdered by some singer. Lord Littlefinger rules the Vale now. Where are the pirates?" When Davos did not answer, he rapped his spoon against the table. "The Lyseni. Torrent spied their sails from Littlesister, and before him the Flints from Widow's Watch. Orange sails, and green, and pink. Salladhor Saan. Where is he?"
"At sea." Salla would be sailing around the Fingers and down the narrow sea. He was returning to the Stepstones with what few ships remained him. Perhaps he would acquire a few more along the way, if he came upon some likely merchantmen. A little piracy to help the leagues go by. "His Grace has sent him south, to trouble the Lannisters and their friends." The lie was one he had rehearsed as he rowed toward Sisterton through the rain. Soon or late the world would learn that Salladhor Saan had abandoned Stannis Baratheon, leaving him without a fleet, but they would not hear it from the lips of Davos Seaworth.
Lord Godric stirred his stew. "Did that old pirate Saan make you swim to shore?"
"I came ashore in an open boat, my lord." Salla had waited until the beacon of the Night Lamp shone off the Valyrian's port bow before he put him off. Their friendship had been worth that much, at least. The Lyseni would gladly have taken him south with him, he avowed, but Davos had refused. Stannis needed Wyman Manderly, and had trusted Davos to win him. He would not betray that trust, he told Salla. "Bah," the pirate prince replied, "he will kill you with these honors, old friend. He will kill you."
"I have never had a King's Hand beneath my roof before," Lord Godric said. "Would Stannis ransom you, I wonder?"
Would he? Stannis had given Davos lands and titles and offices, but would he pay good gold to buy back his life? He has no gold. Else he' d still have Salla. "You will find His Grace at Castle Black if my lord would like to ask that of him."
Borrell grunted. "Is the Imp at Castle Black as well?"
"The Imp?" Davos did not understand the question. "He is at King's Landing, condemned to die for the murder of his nephew."
"The Wall is the last to learn, my father used to say. The dwarf's escaped. He twisted through the bars of his cell and tore his own father apart with his bare hands. A guardsman saw him flee, red from head to heel, as if he'd bathed in blood. The queen will make a lord of any man who kills him."
Davos struggled to believe what he was hearing. "You are telling me that Tywin Lannister is dead?"
"At his son's hand, aye." The lord took a drink of beer. "When there were kings on the Sisters, we did not suffer dwarfs to live. We cast them all into the sea, as an offering to the gods. The septons made us stop that. A pack of pious fools. Why would the gods give a man such a shape but to mark him as a monster?"
Lord Tywin dead. This changes all. "My lord, will you grant me leave to send a raven to the Wall? His Grace will want to know of Lord Tywin's death."
"He'll know. But not from me. Nor you, so long as you are here beneath my leaky roof. I'll not have it said that I gave Stannis aid and counsel. The Sunderlands dragged the Sisters into two of the Blackfyre Rebellions, and we all suffered grievously for that." Lord Godric waved his spoon toward a chair. "Sit. Before you fall, ser. My hall is cold and damp and dark, but not without some courtesy. We'll find dry clothes for you, but first you'll eat." He shouted, and a woman entered the hall. "We have a guest to feed. Bring beer and bread and sister's stew."
The beer was brown, the bread black, the stew a creamy white. She served it in a trencher hollowed out of a stale loaf. It was thick with leeks, carrots, barley, and turnips white and yellow, along with clams and chunks of cod and crabmeat, swimming in a stock of heavy cream and butter. It was the sort of stew that warmed a man right down to his bones, just the thing for a wet, cold night. Davos spooned it up gratefully.
"You have tasted sister's stew before?"
"I have, my lord." The same stew was served all over the Three Sisters, in every inn and tavern.
"This is better than what you've had before. Gella makes it. My daughter's daughter. Are you married, onion knight?"
"I am, my lord."
"A pity. Gella's not. Homely women make the best wives. There's three kinds of crabs in there. Red crabs and spider crabs and conquerors. I won't eat spider crab, except in sister's stew. Makes me feel half a cannibal." His lordship gestured at the banner hanging above the cold black hearth. A spider crab was embroidered there, white on a grey-green field.
"We heard tales that Stannis burned his Hand."
The Hand who went before me. Melisandre had given Alester Florent to her god on Dragonstone, to conjure up the wind that bore them north. Lord Florent had been strong and silent as the queen's men bound him to the post, as dignified as any half-naked man could hope to be, but as the flames licked up his legs he had begun to scream, and his screams had blown them all the way to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, if the red woman could be believed. Davos had misliked that wind. It had seemed to him to smell of burning flesh, and the sound of it was anguished as it played amongst the lines. It could as easily have been me. "I did not burn," he assured Lord Godric, "though Eastwatch almost froze me."
"The Wall will do that." The woman brought them a fresh loaf of bread, still hot from the oven. When Davos saw her hand, he stared. Lord Godric did not fail to make note of it. "Aye, she has the mark. Like all Borrells, for five thousand years. My daughter's daughter. Not the one who makes the stew." He tore the bread apart and offered half to Davos. "Eat. It's good."
It was, though any stale crust would have tasted just as fine to Davos; it meant he was a guest here, for this one night at least. The lords of the Three Sisters had a black repute, and none more so than Godric Borrell, Lord of Sweetsister, Shield of Sisterton, Master of Breakwater Castle, and Keeper of the Night Lamp ... but even robber lords and wreckers were bound by the ancient laws of hospitality. I will see the dawn, at least, Davos told himself. I have eaten of his bread and salt.
Though there were stranger spices than salt in this sister's stew. "Is it saffron that I'm tasting?" Saffron was worth more than gold. Davos had only tasted it once before, when King Robert had sent a half a fish to him at a feast on Dragonstone.
"Aye. From Qarth. There's pepper too." Lord Godric took a pinch between his thumb and forefinger and sprinkled his own trencher. "Cracked black pepper from Volantis, nothing finer. Take as much as you require if you're feeling peppery. I've got forty chests of it. Not to mention cloves and nutmeg, and a pound of saffron. Took it off a sloe-eyed maid." He laughed. He still had all his teeth, Davos saw, though most of them were yellow and one on the top was black and dead. "She was making for Braavos, but a gale swept her into the Bite and she smashed up against some of my rocks. So you see, you are not the only gift the storms have brought me. The sea's a treacherous cruel thing."
Not as treacherous as men, thought Davos. Lord Godric's forebears had been pirate kings until the Starks came down on them with fire and sword. These days the Sistermen left open piracy to Salladhor Saan and his ilk and confined themselves to wrecking. The beacons that burned along the shores of the Three Sisters were supposed to warn of shoals and reefs and rocks and lead the way to safety, but on stormy nights and foggy ones, some Sistermen would use false lights to draw unwary captains to their doom.