"A day at least. It may be longer." Davos had found that lords liked to keep you waiting. They did it to make you anxious, he suspected, and to demonstrate their power.
"The Midwife will linger here three days. No longer. They will look for me back in Sisterton."
"If things go well, I could be back by the morrow."
"And if these things go badly?"
I may not be back at all. "You need not wait for me."
A pair of customs men were clambering aboard as he went down the gangplank, but neither gave him so much as a glance. They were there to see the captain and inspect the hold; common seamen did not concern them, and few men looked as common as Davos. He was of middling height, his shrewd peasant's face weathered by wind and sun, his grizzled beard and brown hair well salted with grey. His garb was plain as well: old boots, brown breeches and blue tunic, a woolen mantle of undyed wool, fastened with a wooden clasp. He wore a pair of salt-stained leather gloves to hide the stubby fingers of the hand that Stannis had shortened, so many years ago. Davos hardly looked a lord, much less a King's Hand. That was all to the good until he knew how matters stood here.
He made his way along the wharf and through the fish market. The Brave Magister was taking on some mead. The casks stood four high along the pier. Behind one stack he glimpsed three sailors throwing dice. Farther on the fishwives were crying the day's catch, and a boy was beating time on a drum as a shabby old bear danced in a circle for a ring of river runners. Two spearmen had been posted at the Seal Gate, with the badge of House Manderly upon their br**sts, but they were too intent on flirting with a dockside whore to pay Davos any mind. The gate was open, the portcullis raised. He joined the traffic passing through.
Inside was a cobbled square with a fountain at its center. A stone merman rose from its waters, twenty feet tall from tail to crown. His curly beard was green and white with lichen, and one of the prongs of his trident had broken off before Davos had been born, yet somehow he still managed to impress. Old Fishfoot was what the locals called him. The square was named for some dead lord, but no one ever called it anything but Fishfoot Yard.
The Yard was teeming this afternoon. A woman was washing her small-clothes in Fishfoot's fountain and hanging them off his trident to dry. Beneath the arches of the peddler's colonnade the scribes and money changers had set up for business, along with a hedge wizard, an herb woman, and a very bad juggler. A man was selling apples from a barrow, and a woman was offering herring with chopped onions. Chickens and children were everywhere underfoot. The huge oak-and-iron doors of the Old Mint had always been closed when Davos had been in Fishfoot Yard before, but today they stood open. Inside he glimpsed hundreds of women, children, and old men, huddled on the floor on piles of furs. Some had little cookfires going.
Davos stopped beneath the colonnade and traded a halfpenny for an apple. "Are people living in the Old Mint?" he asked the apple seller.
"Them as have no other place to live. Smallfolk from up the White Knife, most o' them. Hornwood's people too. With that Bastard o' Bolton running loose, they all want to be inside the walls. I don't know what his lordship means to do with all o' them. Most turned up with no more'n the rags on their backs."
Davos felt a pang of guilt. They came here for refuge, to a city untouched by the fighting, and here I turn up to drag them back into the war. He took a bite of the apple and felt guilty about that as well. "How do they eat?"
The apple seller shrugged. "Some beg. Some steal. Lots o' young girls taking up the trade, the way girls always do when it's all they got to sell. Any boy stands five feet tall can find a place in his lordship's barracks, long as he can hold a spear."
He' s raising men, then. That might be good ... or bad, depending. The apple was dry and mealy, but Davos made himself take another bite.
"Does Lord Wyman mean to join the Bastard?"
"Well," said the apple seller, "the next time his lordship comes down here hunkering for an apple, I'll be sure and ask him."
"I heard his daughter was to wed some Frey."
"His granddaughter. I heard that too, but his lordship forgot t' invite me to the wedding. Here, you going to finish that? I'll take the rest back. Them seeds is good."
Davos tossed him back the core. A bad apple, but it was worth half a penny to learn that Manderly is raising men. He made his way around Old Fishfoot, past where a young girl was selling cups of fresh milk from her nanny goat. He was remembering more of the city now that he was here. Down past where Old Fishfoot's trident pointed was an alley where they sold fried cod, crisp and golden brown outside and flaky white within. Over there was a brothel, cleaner than most, where a sailor could enjoy a woman without fear of being robbed or killed. Off the other way, in one of those houses that clung to the walls of the Wolf's Den like barnacles to an old hull, there used to be a brewhouse where they made a black beer so thick and tasty that a cask of it could fetch as much as Arbor gold in Braavos and the Port of Ibben, provided the locals left the brewer any to sell. It was wine he wanted, though - sour, dark, and dismal. He strolled across the yard and down a flight of steps, to a winesink called the Lazy Eel, underneath a warehouse full of sheepskins. Back in his smuggling days, the Eel had been renowned for offering the oldest whores and vilest wine in White Harbor, along with meat pies full of lard and gristle that were inedible on their best days and poisonous on their worst. With fare like that, most locals shunned the place, leaving it for sailors who did not know any better. You never saw a city guardsman down in the Lazy Eel, or a customs officer. Some things never change. Inside the Eel, time stood still. The barrel-vaulted ceiling was stained black with soot, the floor was hard-packed earth, the air smelled of smoke and spoiled meat and stale vomit. The fat tallow candles on the tables gave off more smoke than light, and the wine that Davos ordered looked more brown than red in the gloom. Four whores were seated near the door, drinking. One gave him a hopeful smile as he entered. When Davos shook his head, the woman said something that made her companions laugh. After that none of them paid him any mind. Aside from the whores and the proprietor, Davos had the Eel to himself. The cellar was large, full of nooks and shadowed alcoves where a man could be alone. He took his wine to one of them and sat with his back to a wall to wait.
Before long, he found himself staring at the hearth. The red woman could see the future in the fire, but all that Davos Seaworth ever saw were the shadows of the past: the burning ships, the fiery chain, the green shadows flashing across the belly of the clouds, the Red Keep brooding over all. Davos was a simple man, raised up by chance and war and Stannis. He did not understand why the gods would take four lads as young and strong as his sons, yet spare their weary father. Some nights he thought he had been left to rescue Edric Storm ... but by now King Robert's bastard boy was safe in the Stepstones, yet Davos still remained. Do the gods have some other task for me? he wondered. If so, White Harbor may be some part of it. He tried the wine, then poured half his cup onto the floor beside his foot. As dusk fell outside, the benches at the Eel began to fill with sailors. Davos called to the proprietor for another cup. When he brought it, he brought him a candle too. "You want food?" the man asked.
"We got meat pies."
"What kind of meat is in them?"
"The usual kind. It's good."
The whores laughed. "It's grey, he means," one said. "Shut your bloody yap. You eat them."
"I eat all kinds o' shit. Don't mean I like it."
Davos blew the candle out as soon as the proprietor moved off, and sat back in the shadows. Seamen were the worst gossips in the world when the wine was flowing, even wine as cheap as this. All he need do was listen. Most of what he heard he'd learned in Sisterton, from Lord Godric or the denizens of the Belly of the Whale. Tywin Lannister was dead, butchered by his dwarf son; his corpse had stunk so badly that no one had been able to enter the Great Sept of Baelor for days afterward; the Lady of the Eyrie had been murdered by a singer; Littlefinger ruled the Vale now, but Bronze Yohn Royce had sworn to bring him down; Balon Greyjoy had died as well, and his brothers were fighting for the Seastone Chair; Sandor Clegane had turned outlaw and was plundering and killing in the lands along the Trident; Myr and Lys and Tyrosh were embroiled in another war; a slave revolt was raging in the east.
Other tidings were of greater interest. Robett Glover was in the city and had been trying to raise men, with little success. Lord Manderly had turned a deaf ear to his pleas. White Harbor was weary of war, he was reported to have said. That was bad. The Ryswells and the Dustins had surprised the ironmen on the Fever River and put their longships to the torch. That was worse. And now the Bastard of Bolton was riding south with Hother Umber to join them for an attack on Moat Cailin. "The Whoresbane his own self," claimed a riverman who'd just brought a load of hides and timber down the White Knife, "with three hundred spear-men and a hundred archers. Some Hornwood men have joined them, and Cerwyns too."
That was worst of all.
"Lord Wyman best send some men to fight if he knows what's good for him," said the old fellow at the end of the table. "Lord Roose, he's the Warden now. White Harbor's honor bound to answer his summons."
"What did any Bolton ever know o' honor?" said the Eel's
proprietor as he filled their cups with more brown wine.
"Lord Wyman won't go no place. He's too bloody fat."
"I heard how he was ailing. All he does is sleep and weep, they say. He's too sick to get out o' his bed most days."
"Too fat, you mean."
"Fat or thin's got naught to do with it," said the Eel's proprietor.
"The lions got his son."
No one spoke of King Stannis. No one even seemed to know that His Grace had come north to help defend the Wall. Wildlings and wights and giants had been all the talk at Eastwatch, but here no one seemed to be giving them so much as a thought.
Davos leaned into the firelight. "I thought the Freys killed his son. That's what we heard in Sisterton."
"They killed Ser Wendel," said the proprietor. "His bones are resting in the Snowy Sept with candles all around them, if you want to have a look. Ser Wylis, though, he's still a captive."
Worse and worse. He had known that Lord Wyman had two sons, but he'd thought that both of them were dead. If the Iron Throne has a hostage ... Davos had fathered seven sons himself, and lost four on the Blackwater. He knew he would do whatever gods or men required of him to protect the other three. Steffon and Stannis were thousands of leagues from the fighting and safe from harm, but Devan was at Castle Black, a squire to the king. The king whose cause may rise or fall with White Harbor. His fellow drinkers were talking about dragons now. "You're bloody mad," said an oarsman off Storm Dancer. "The Beggar King's been dead for years. Some Dothraki horselord cut his head off."
"So they tell us," said the old fellow. "Might be they're lying, though. He died half a world away, if he died at all. Who's to say? If a king wanted me dead, might be I'd oblige him and pretend to be a corpse. None of us has ever seen his body."