A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 48

"Enough, " said Griff. "Be quiet, all of you."

Septa Lemore sucked in her breath. "What was that? "

"Where?" Tyrion saw nothing but the fog. "Something moved. I saw the water rippling."

"A turtle," the prince announced cheerfully. "A big 'snapper, that's all it was." He thrust his pole out ahead of them and pushed them away from a towering green obelisk.

The fog clung to them, damp and chilly. A sunken temple loomed up out of the greyness as Yandry and Duck leaned upon their poles and paced slowly from prow to stern, pushing. They passed a marble stair that spiraled up from the mud and ended jaggedly in air. Beyond, half-seen, were other shapes: shattered spires, headless statues, trees with roots bigger than their boat.

"This was the most beautiful city on the river, and the richest," said Yandry. "Chroyane, the festival city."

Too rich, thought Tyrion, too beautiful. It is never wise to tempt the dragons. The drowned city was all around them. A half-seen shape flapped by overhead, pale leathery wings beating at the fog. The dwarf craned his head around to get a better look, but the thing was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.

Not long after, another light floated into view. "Boat," a voice called across the water, faintly. "Who are you?"

"Shy Maid, " Yandry shouted back. "Kingfisher. Up or down?"

"Down. Hides and honey, ale and tallow."

"Up. Knives and needles, lace and linen, spice wine."

"What word from old Volantis?" Yandry called. "War," the word came back. "Where?" Griff shouted. "When?"

"When the year turns," came the answer, "Nyessos and Malaquo go hand in hand, and the elephants show stripes." The voice faded as the other boat moved away from them. They watched its light dwindle and disappear.

"Is it wise to shout through the fog at boats we cannot see?" asked Tyrion. "What if they were pirates?" They had been fortunate where the pirates were concerned, slipping down Dagger Lake by night, unseen and unmolested. Once Duck had caught a glimpse of a hull that he insisted belonged to Urho the Unwashed. The Shy Maid had been upwind, however, and Urho - if Urho it had been - had shown no interest in them.

"The pirates will not sail into the Sorrows," said Yandry.

"Elephants with stripes?" Griff muttered. "What is that about? Nyessos and Malaquo? Illyrio has paid Triarch Nyessos enough to own him eight times over."

"In gold or cheese?" quipped Tyrion.

Griff rounded on him. "Unless you can cut this fog with your next witticism, keep it to yourself."

Yes, Father, the dwarf almost said. I' ll be quiet. Thank you. He did not know these Volantenes, yet it seemed to him that elephants and tigers might have good reason to make common cause when faced with dragons. Might be the cheesemonger has misjudged the situation. You can buy a man with gold, but only blood and steel will keep him true. The little man stirred the coals again and blew on them to make them burn brighter. I hate this. I hate this fog, I hate this place, and I am less than fond of Griff. Tyrion still had the poison mushrooms he had plucked from the grounds of Illyrio's manse, and there were days when he was sore tempted to slip them into Griff's supper. The trouble was, Griff scarce seemed to eat.

Duck and Yandry pushed against the poles. Ysilla turned the tiller. Young Griff pushed the Shy Maid away from a broken tower whose windows stared down like blind black eyes. Overhead her sail hung limp and heavy. The water deepened under her hull, until their poles could not touch bottom, but still the current pushed them downstream, until ...

All Tyrion could see was something massive rising from the river, humped and ominous. He took it for a hill looming above a wooded island, or some colossal rock overgrown with moss and ferns and hidden by the fog. As the Shy Maid drew nearer, though, the shape of it came clearer. A wooden keep could be seen beside the water, rotted and overgrown. Slender spires took form above it, some of them snapped off like broken spears. Roofless towers appeared and disappeared, thrusting blindly upward. Halls and galleries drifted past: graceful buttresses, delicate arches, fluted columns, terraces and bowers.

All ruined, all desolate, all fallen.

The grey moss grew thickly here, covering the fallen stones in great mounds and bearding all the towers. Black vines crept in and out of windows, through doors and over archways, up the sides of high stone walls. The fog concealed three-quarters of the palace, but what they glimpsed was more than enough for Tyrion to know that this island fastness had been ten times the size of the Red Keep once and a hundred times more beautiful. He knew where he was. "The Palace of Love," he said softly.

"That was the Rhoynar name," said Haldon Halfmaester, "but for a thousand years this has been the Palace of Sorrow."

The ruin was sad enough, but knowing what it had been made it even sadder. There was laughter here once, Tyrion thought. There were gardens bright with flowers and fountains sparkling golden in the sun. These steps once rang to the sound of lovers' footsteps, and beneath that broken dome marriages beyond count were sealed with a kiss. His thoughts turned to Tysha, who had so briefly been his lady wife. It was Jaime, he thought, despairing. He was my own blood, my big strong brother. When I was small he brought me toys, barrel hoops and blocks and a carved wooden lion. He gave me my first pony and taught me how to ride him. When he said that he had bought you for me, I never doubted him. Why would I? He was Jaime, and you were just some girl who' d played a part. I had feared it from the start, from the moment you first smiled at me and let me touch your hand. My own father could not love me. Why would you if not for gold?

Through the long grey fingers of the fog, he heard again the deep shuddering thrum of a bowstring snapping taut, the grunt Lord Tywin made as the quarrel took him beneath the belly, the slap of cheeks on stone as he sat back down to die. "Wherever whores go," he said. And where is that?

Tyrion wanted to ask him. Where did Tysha go, Father? "How much more of this fog must we endure?"

"Another hour should see us clear of the Sorrows," said Haldon Half-maester. "From there on, this should be a pleasure cruise. There's a village around every bend along the lower Rhoyne. Orchards and vineyards and fields of grain ripening in the sun, fisherfolk on the water, hot baths and sweet wines. Selhorys, Valysar, and Volon Therys are walled towns so large they would be cities in the Seven Kingdoms. I believe I'll - "

"Light ahead," warned Young Griff.

Tyrion saw it too. Kingfisher, or another poleboat, he told himself, but somehow he knew that was not right. His nose itched. He scratched at it savagely. The light grew brighter as the Shy Maid approached it. A soft star in the distance, it glimmered faintly through the fog, beckoning them on. Shortly it became two lights, then three: a ragged row of beacons rising from the water.

"The Bridge of Dream," Griff named it. "There will be stone men on the span. Some may start to wail at our approach, but they are not like to molest us. Most stone men are feeble creatures, clumsy, lumbering, witless. Near the end they all go mad, but that is when they are most dangerous. If need be, fend them off with the torches. On no account let them touch you."

"They may not even see us," said Haldon Halfmaester. "The fog will hide us from them until we are almost at the bridge, and then we will be past before they know that we are here."

Stone eyes are blind eyes, thought Tyrion. The mortal form of greyscale began in the extremities, he knew: a tingling in a fingertip, a toenail turning black, a loss of feeling. As the numbness crept into the hand, or stole past the foot and up the leg, the flesh stiffened and grew cold and the victim's skin took on a greyish hue, resembling stone. He had heard it said that there were three good cures for greyscale: axe and sword and cleaver. Hacking off afflicted parts did sometimes stop the spread of the disease, Tyrion knew, but not always. Many a man had sacrificed one arm or foot, only to find the other going grey. Once that happened, hope was gone. Blindness was common when the stone reached the face. In the final stages the curse turned inward, to muscles, bones, and inner organs. Ahead of them, the bridge grew larger. The Bridge of Dream, Griff called it, but this dream was smashed and broken. Pale stone arches marched off into the fog, reaching from the Palace of Sorrow to the river's western bank. Half of them had collapsed, pulled down by the weight of the grey moss that draped them and the thick black vines that snaked upward from the water. The broad wooden span of the bridge had rotted through, but some of the lamps that lined the way were still aglow. As the Shy Maid drew closer, Tyrion could see the shapes of stone men moving in the light, shuffling aimlessly around the lamps like slow grey moths. Some were naked, others clad in shrouds.

Griff drew his longsword. "Yollo, light the torches. Lad, take Lemore back to her cabin and stay with her."

Young Griff gave his father a stubborn look. "Lemore knows where her cabin is. I want to stay."

"We are sworn to protect you," Lemore said softly. "I don't need to be protected. I can use a sword as well as Duck. I'm half a knight."

"And half a boy," said Griff. "Do as you are told. Now."

The youth cursed under his breath and flung his pole down onto the deck. The sound echoed queerly in the fog, and for a moment it was as if poles were falling around them. "Why should I run and hide? Haldon is staying, and Ysilla. Even Hugor."

"Aye," said Tyrion, "but I'm small enough to hide behind a duck."

He thrust half a dozen torches into the brazier's glowing coals and watched the oiled rags flare up. Don' t stare at the fire, he told himself. The flames would leave him night blind.

"You're a dwarf, " Young Griff said scornfully. "My secret is revealed," Tyrion agreed. "Aye, I'm less than half of Haldon, and no one gives a mummer's fart whether I live or die." Least of all me. "You, though ... you are everything."

"Dwarf," said Griff, "I warned you - "

A wail came shivering through the fog, faint and high.

Lemore whirled, trembling. "Seven save us all."

The broken bridge was a bare five yards ahead. Around its piers, the water rippled white as the foam from a madman's mouth. Forty feet above, the stone men moaned and muttered beneath a flickering lamp. Most took no more notice of the Shy Maid than of a drifting log. Tyrion clutched his torch tighter and found that he was holding his breath. And then they were beneath the bridge, white walls heavy with curtains of grey fungus looming to either side, water foaming angrily around them. For a moment it looked as though they might crash into the right-hand pier, but Duck raised his pole and shoved off, back into the center of the channel, and a few heartbeats later they were clear.

Tyrion had no sooner exhaled than Young Griff grabbed hold of his arm. "What do you mean? I am everything? What did you mean by that?

Why am I everything?"

"Why," said Tyrion, "if the stone men had taken Yandry or Griff or our lovely Lemore, we would have grieved for them and gone on. Lose you, and this whole enterprise is undone, and all those years of feverish plotting by the cheesemonger and the eunuch will have been for naught ... isn't that so?"

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