A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 30

He was walking beneath the shell of the Lord Commander's Tower, past the spot where Ygritte had died in his arms, when Ghost appeared beside him, his warm breath steaming in the cold. In the moonlight, his red eyes glowed like pools of fire. The taste of hot blood filled Jon's mouth, and he knew that Ghost had killed that night. No, he thought. I am a man, not a wolf. He rubbed his mouth with the back of a gloved hand and spat. Clydas still occupied the rooms beneath the rookery. At Jon's knock, he came shuffling, a taper in his hand, to open the door a crack. "Do I intrude?" asked Jon.

"Not at all." Clydas opened the door wider. "I was mulling wine. Will my lord take a cup?"

"With pleasure." His hands were stiff from cold. He pulled off his gloves and flexed his fingers.

Clydas returned to the hearth to stir the wine. He' s sixty if he' s a day. An old man. He only seemed young compared with Aemon. Short and round, he had the dim pink eyes of some nocturnal creature. A few white hairs clung to his scalp. When Clydas poured, Jon held the cup with both hands, sniffed the spices, swallowed. The warmth spread through his chest. He drank again, long and deep, to wash the taste of blood from his mouth.

"The queen's men are saying that the King-Beyond-the-Wall died craven. That he cried for mercy and denied he was a king."

"He did. Lightbringer was brighter than I'd ever seen it. As bright as the sun." Jon raised his cup. "To Stannis Baratheon and his magic sword."

The wine was bitter in his mouth.

"His Grace is not an easy man. Few are, who wear a crown. Many good men have been bad kings, Maester Aemon used to say, and some bad men have been good kings."

"He would know." Aemon Targaryen had seen nine kings upon the Iron Throne. He had been a king's son, a king's brother, a king's uncle. "I looked at that book Maester Aemon left me. The Jade Compendium. The pages that told of Azor Ahai. Lightbringer was his sword. Tempered with his wife's blood if Votar can be believed. Thereafter Lightbringer was never cold to the touch, but warm as Nissa Nissa had been warm. In battle the blade burned fiery hot. Once Azor Ahai fought a monster. When he thrust the sword through the belly of the beast, its blood began to boil. Smoke and steam poured from its mouth, its eyes melted and dribbled down its cheeks, and its body burst into flame."

Clydas blinked. "A sword that makes its own heat ..."

"... would be a fine thing on the Wall." Jon put aside his wine cup and drew on his black moleskin gloves. "A pity that the sword that Stannis wields is cold. I'll be curious to see how his Lightbringer behaves in battle. Thank you for the wine. Ghost, with me." Jon Snow raised the hood of his cloak and pulled at the door. The white wolf followed him back into the night.

The armory was dark and silent. Jon nodded to the guards before making his way past the silent racks of spears to his rooms. He hung his sword belt from a peg beside the door and his cloak from another. When he peeled off his gloves, his hands were stiff and cold. It took him a long while to get the candles lit. Ghost curled up on his rug and went to sleep, but Jon could not rest yet. The scarred pinewood table was covered with maps of the Wall and the lands beyond, a roster of rangers, and a letter from the Shadow Tower written in Ser Denys Mallister's flowing hand.

He read the letter from the Shadow Tower again, sharpened a quill, and unstoppered a pot of thick black ink. He wrote two letters, the first to Ser Denys, the second to Cotter Pyke. Both of them had been hounding him for more men. Halder and Toad he dispatched west to the Shadow Tower, Grenn and Pyp to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The ink would not flow properly, and all his words seemed curt and crude and clumsy, yet he persisted. When he finally put the quill down, the room was dim and chilly, and he could feel its walls closing in. Perched above the window, the Old Bear's raven peered down at him with shrewd black eyes. My last friend, Jon thought ruefully. And I had best outlive you, or you' ll eat my face as well. Ghost did not count. Ghost was closer than a friend. Ghost was part of him. Jon rose and climbed the steps to the narrow bed that had once been Donal Noye's. This is my lot, he realized as he undressed, from now until the end of my days.

Chapter Eleven

DAENERYS

What is it?" she cried, as Irri shook her gently by the shoulder. It was the black of night outside. Something is wrong, she knew at once. "Is it Daario? What's happened?" In her dream they had been man and wife, simple folk who lived a simple life in a tall stone house with a red door. In her dream he had been kissing her all over - her mouth, her neck, her br**sts.

"No, Khaleesi, " Irri murmured, "it is your eunuch Grey Worm and the bald men. Will you see them?"

"Yes." Her hair was disheveled and her bedclothes all atangle, Dany realized. "Help me dress. I'll have a cup of wine as well. To clear my head." To drown my dream. She could hear the soft sounds of sobs. "Who is that weeping?"

"Your slave Missandei." Jhiqui had a taper in her hand. "My servant. I have no slaves." Dany did not understand. "Why does she weep?"

"For him who was her brother," Irri told her.

The rest she had from Skahaz, Reznak, and Grey Worm, when they were ushered into her presence. Dany knew their tidings were bad before a word was spoken. One glance at the Shavepate's ugly face sufficed to tell her that. "The Sons of the Harpy?"

Skahaz nodded. His mouth was grim.

"How many dead?"

Reznak wrung his hands. "N-nine, Magnificence. Foul work it was, and wicked. A dreadful night, dreadful."

Nine. The word was a dagger in her heart. Every night the shadow war was waged anew beneath the stepped pyramids of Meereen. Every morn the sun rose upon fresh corpses, with harpies drawn in blood on the bricks beside them. Any freedman who became too prosperous or too outspoken was marked for death. Nine in one night, though ... That frightened her.

"Tell me."

Grey Worm answered. "Your servants were set upon as they walked the bricks of Meereen to keep Your Grace's peace. All were well armed, with spears and shields and short swords. Two by two they walked, and two by two they died. Your servants Black Fist and Cetherys were slain by cross-bow bolts in Mazdhan's Maze. Your servants Mossador and Duran were crushed by falling stones beneath the river wall. Your servants Eladon Goldenhair and Loyal Spear were poisoned at a wineshop where they were accustomed to stop each night upon their rounds."

Mossador. Dany made a fist. Missandei and her brothers had been taken from their home on Naath by raiders from the Basilisk Isles and sold into slavery in Astapor. Young as she was, Missandei had shown such a gift for tongues that the Good Masters had made a scribe of her. Mossador and Marselen had not been so fortunate. They had been gelded and made into Unsullied. "Have any of the murderers been captured?"

"Your servants have arrested the owner of the wineshop and his daughters. They plead their ignorance and beg for mercy."

They all plead ignorance and beg for mercy. "Give them to the Shavepate. Skahaz, keep each apart from the others and put them to the question."

"It will be done, Your Worship. Would you have me question them sweetly, or sharply?"

"Sweetly, to begin. Hear what tales they tell and what names they give you. It may be they had no part in this." She hesitated. "Nine, the noble Reznak said. Who else?"

"Three freedmen, murdered in their homes," the Shavepate said.

"A moneylender, a cobbler, and the harpist Rylona Rhee. They cut her fingers off before they killed her."

The queen flinched. Rylona Rhee had played the harp as sweetly as the Maiden. When she had been a slave in Yunkai, she had played for every highborn family in the city. In Meereen she had become a leader amongst the Yunkish freedmen, their voice in Dany's councils. "We have no captives but this wineseller?"

"None, this one grieves to confess. We beg your pardon."

Mercy, thought Dany. They will have the dragon' s mercy. "Skahaz, I have changed my mind. Question the man sharply."

"I could. Or I could question the daughters sharply whilst the father looks on. That will wring some names from him."

"Do as you think best, but bring me names." Her fury was a fire in her belly. "I will have no more Unsullied slaughtered. Grey Worm, pull your men back to their barracks. Henceforth let them guard my walls and gates and person. From this day, it shall be for Meereenese to keep the peace in Meereen. Skahaz, make me a new watch, made up in equal parts of shavepates and freedmen."

"As you command. How many men?"

"As many as you require."

Reznak mo Reznak gasped. "Magnificence, where is the coin to come from to pay wages for so many men?"

"From the pyramids. Call it a blood tax. I will have a hundred pieces of gold from every pyramid for each freedman that the Harpy's Sons have slain."

That brought a smile to the Shavepate's face. "It will be done," he said, "but Your Radiance should know that the Great Masters of Zhak and Merreq are making preparations to quit their pyramids and leave the city."

Daenerys was sick unto death of Zhak and Merreq; she was sick of all the Mereenese, great and small alike. "Let them go, but see that they take no more than the clothes upon their backs. Make certain that all their gold remains here with us. Their stores of food as well."

"Magnificence," murmured Reznak mo Reznak, "we cannot know that these great nobles mean to join your enemies. More like they are simply making for their estates in the hills."

"They will not mind us keeping their gold safe, then. There is nothing to buy in the hills."

"They are afraid for their children," Reznak said.

Yes, Daenerys thought, and so am I. "We must keep them safe as well. I will have two children from each of them. From the other pyramids as well. A boy and a girl."

"Hostages," said Skahaz, happily. "Pages and cupbearers. If the Great Masters make objection, explain to them that in Westeros it is a great honor for a child to be chosen to serve at court." She left the rest unspoken.

"Go and do as I've commanded. I have my dead to mourn."

When she returned to her rooms atop the pyramid, she found Missandei crying softly on her pallet, trying as best she could to muffle the sound of her sobs. "Come sleep with me," she told the little scribe. "Dawn will not come for hours yet."

"Your Grace is kind to this one." Missandei slipped under the sheets.

"He was a good brother."

Dany wrapped her arms about the girl. "Tell me of him."

"He taught me how to climb a tree when we were little. He could catch fish with his hands. Once I found him sleeping in our garden with a hundred butterflies crawling over him. He looked so beautiful that morning, this one ... I mean, I loved him."

"As he loved you." Dany stroked the girl's hair. "Say the word, my sweet, and I will send you from this awful place. I will find a ship somehow and send you home. To Naath."

"I would sooner stay with you. On Naath I'd be afraid. What if the slavers came again? I feel safe when I'm with you."

Safe. The word made Dany's eyes fill up with tears. "I want to keep you safe."

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