You did, at least. "I won't hold that against you."
Young Griff's greeting was less effusive. The princeling was in a sullen mood, angry that he had been forced to remain on the Shy Maid instead of going ashore with Yandry and Ysilla. "We only want to keep you safe," Lemore told him. "These are unsettled times."
Haldon Halfmaester explained. "On the way down from the Sorrows to Selhorys, we thrice glimpsed riders moving south along the river's eastern shore. Dothraki. Once they were so close we could hear the bells tinkling in their braids, and sometimes at night their fires could be seen beyond the eastern hills. We passed warships as well, Volantene river galleys crammed with slave soldiers. The triarchs fear an attack upon Selhorys, plainly."
Tyrion understood that quick enough. Alone amongst the major river towns, Selhorys stood upon the eastern bank of the Rhoyne, making it much more vulnerable to the horselords than its sister towns across the river. Even so, it is a small prize. If I were khal, I would feint at Selhorys, let the Volantenes rush to defend it, then swing south and ride hard for Volantis itself.
"I know how to use a sword," Young Griff was insisting.
"Even the bravest of your forebears kept his Kingsguard close about him in times of peril." Lemore had changed out of her septa's robes into garb more befitting the wife or daughter of a prosperous merchant. Tyrion watched her closely. He had sniffed out the truth beneath the dyed blue hair of Griff and Young Griff easily enough, and Yandry and Ysilla seemed to be no more than they claimed to be, whilst Duck was somewhat less. Lemore, though ... Who is she, really? Why is she here? Not for gold, I' d judge. What is this prince to her? Was she ever a true septa?
Haldon took note of her change of garb as well. "What are we to make of this sudden loss of faith? I preferred you in your septa's robes, Lemore."
"I preferred her naked," said Tyrion.
Lemore gave him a reproachful look. "That is because you have a wicked soul. Septa's robes scream of Westeros and might draw unwelcome eyes onto us." She turned back to Prince Aegon. "You are not the only one who must needs hide."
The lad did not seem appeased. The perfect prince but still half a boy for all that, with little and less experience of the world and all its woes.
"Prince Aegon," said Tyrion, "since we're both stuck aboard this boat, perhaps you will honor me with a game of cyvasse to while away the hours?"
The prince gave him a wary look. "I am sick of cyvasse. "
"Sick of losing to a dwarf, you mean?"
That pricked the lad's pride, just as Tyrion had known it would. "Go fetch the board and pieces. This time I mean to smash you."
They played on deck, sitting cross-legged behind the cabin. Young Griff arrayed his army for attack, with dragon, elephants, and heavy horse up front. A young man' s formation, as bold as it is foolish. He risks all for the quick kill. He let the prince have first move. Haldon stood behind them, watching the play.
When the prince reached for his dragon, Tyrion cleared his throat. "I would not do that if I were you. It is a mistake to bring your dragon out too soon." He smiled innocently. "Your father knew the dangers of being over-bold."
"Did you know my true father?"
"Well, I saw him twice or thrice, but I was only ten when Robert killed him, and mine own sire had me hidden underneath a rock. No, I cannot claim I knew Prince Rhaegar. Not as your false father did. Lord Connington was the prince's dearest friend, was he not?"
Young Griff pushed a lock of blue hair out of his eyes. "They were squires together at King's Landing."
"A true friend, our Lord Connington. He must be, to remain so fiercely loyal to the grandson of the king who took his lands and titles and sent him into exile. A pity about that. Elsewise Prince Rhaegar's friend might have been on hand when my father sacked King's Landing, to save Prince Rhaegar's precious little son from getting his royal brains dashed out against a wall."
The lad flushed. "That was not me. I told you. That was some tanner's son from Pisswater Bend whose mother died birthing him. His father sold him to Lord Varys for a jug of Arbor gold. He had other sons but had never tasted Arbor gold. Varys gave the Pisswater boy to my lady mother and carried me away."
"Aye." Tyrion moved his elephants. "And when the pisswater prince was safely dead, the eunuch smuggled you across the narrow sea to his fat friend the cheesemonger, who hid you on a poleboat and found an exile lord willing to call himself your father. It does make for a splendid story, and the singers will make much of your escape once you take the Iron Throne ... assuming that our fair Daenerys takes you for her consort."
"She will. She must."
"Must? " Tyrion made a tsk ing sound. "That is not a word queens like to hear. You are her perfect prince, agreed, bright and bold and comely as any maid could wish. Daenerys Targaryen is no maid, however. She is the widow of a Dothraki khal, a mother of dragons and sacker of cities, Aegon the Conqueror with teats. She may not prove as willing as you wish."
"She'll be willing." Prince Aegon sounded shocked. It was plain that he had never before considered the possibility that his bride-to-be might refuse him. "You don't know her." He picked up his heavy horse and put it down with a thump.
The dwarf shrugged. "I know that she spent her childhood in exile, impoverished, living on dreams and schemes, running from one city to the next, always fearful, never safe, friendless but for a brother who was by all accounts half-mad ... a brother who sold her maidenhood to the Dothraki for the promise of an army. I know that somewhere out upon the grass her dragons hatched, and so did she. I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride? I know she is strong. How not? The Dothraki despise weakness. If Daenerys had been weak, she would have perished with Viserys. I know she is fierce. Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen are proof enough of that. She has crossed the grasslands and the red waste, survived assassins and conspiracies and fell sorceries, grieved for a brother and a husband and a son, trod the cities of the slavers to dust beneath her dainty sandaled feet. Now, how do you suppose this queen will react when you turn up with your begging bowl in hand and say, 'Good morrow to you, Auntie. I am your nephew, Aegon, returned from the dead. I've been hiding on a poleboat all my life, but now I've washed the blue dye from my hair and I'd like a dragon, please ... and oh, did I mention, my claim to the Iron Throne is stronger than your own?' "
Aegon's mouth twisted in fury. "I will not come to my aunt a beggar. I will come to her a kinsman, with an army."
"A small army." There, that' s made him good and angry. The dwarf could not help but think of Joffrey. I have a gift for angering princes.
"Queen Daenerys has a large one, and no thanks to you." Tyrion moved his crossbows.
"Say what you want. She will be my bride, Lord Connington will see to it. I trust him as much as if he were my own blood."
"Perhaps you should be the fool instead of me. Trust no one, my prince. Not your chainless maester, not your false father, not the gallant Duck nor the lovely Lemore nor these other fine friends who grew you from a bean. Above all, trust not the cheesemonger, nor the Spider, nor this little dragon queen you mean to marry. All that mistrust will sour your stomach and keep you awake by night, 'tis true, but better that than the long sleep that does not end." The dwarf pushed his black dragon across a range of mountains. "But what do I know? Your false father is a great lord, and I am just some twisted little monkey man. Still, I'd do things differently."
That got the boy's attention. "How differently?"
"If I were you? I would go west instead of east. Land in Dorne and raise my banners. The Seven Kingdoms will never be more ripe for conquest than they are right now. A boy king sits the Iron Throne. The north is in chaos, the riverlands a devastation, a rebel holds Storm's End and Dragonstone. When winter comes, the realm will starve. And who remains to deal with all of this, who rules the little king who rules the Seven Kingdoms? Why, my own sweet sister. There is no one else. My brother, Jaime, thirsts for battle, not for power. He's run from every chance he's had to rule. My uncle Kevan would make a passably good regent if someone pressed the duty on him, but he will never reach for it. The gods shaped him to be a follower, not a leader." Well, the gods and my lord father. "Mace Tyrell would grasp the sceptre gladly, but mine own kin are not like to step aside and give it to him. And everyone hates Stannis. Who does that leave?
Why, only Cersei.
"Westeros is torn and bleeding, and I do not doubt that even now my sweet sister is binding up the wounds ... with salt. Cersei is as gentle as King Maegor, as selfless as Aegon the Unworthy, as wise as Mad Aerys. She never forgets a slight, real or imagined. She takes caution for cowardice and dissent for defiance. And she is greedy. Greedy for power, for honor, for love. Tommen's rule is bolstered by all of the alliances that my lord father built so carefully, but soon enough she will destroy them, every one. Land and raise your banners, and men will flock to your cause. Lords great and small, and smallfolk too. But do not wait too long, my prince. The moment will not last. The tide that lifts you now will soon recede. Be certain you reach Westeros before my sister falls and someone more competent takes her place."
"But," Prince Aegon said, "without Daenerys and her dragons, how could we hope to win?"
"You do not need to win," Tyrion told him. "All you need to do is raise your banners, rally your supporters, and hold, until Daenerys arrives to join her strength to yours."
"You said she might not have me."
"Perhaps I overstated. She may take pity on you when you come begging for her hand." The dwarf shrugged. "Do you want to wager your throne upon a woman's whim? Go to Westeros, though ... ah, then you are a rebel, not a beggar. Bold, reckless, a true scion of House Targaryen, walking in the footsteps of Aegon the Conqueror. A dragon.
"I told you, I know our little queen. Let her hear that her brother Rhaegar's murdered son is still alive, that this brave boy has raised the dragon standard of her forebears in Westeros once more, that he is fighting a desperate war to avenge his father and reclaim the Iron Throne for House Targaryen, hard-pressed on every side ... and she will fly to your side as fast as wind and water can carry her. You are the last of her line, and this Mother of Dragons, this Breaker of Chains, is above all a rescuer. The girl who drowned the slaver cities in blood rather than leave strangers to their chains can scarcely abandon her own brother's son in his hour of peril. And when she reaches Westeros, and meets you for the first time, you will meet as equals, man and woman, not queen and supplicant. How can she help but love you then, I ask you?" Smiling, he seized his dragon, flew it across the board. "I hope Your Grace will pardon me. Your king is trapped. Death in four."
The prince stared at the playing board. "My dragon - "
" - is too far away to save you. You should have moved her to the center of the battle."
"But you said - "
"I lied. Trust no one. And keep your dragon close."