Young Griff jerked to his feet and kicked over the board. Cyvasse pieces flew in all directions, bouncing and rolling across the deck of the Shy Maid. "Pick those up," the boy commanded.
He may well be a Targaryen after all. "If it please Your Grace."
Tyrion got down on his hands and knees and began to crawl about the deck, gathering up pieces.
It was close to dusk when Yandry and Ysilla returned to the Shy Maid. A porter trotted at their heels, pushing a wheelbarrow heaped high with provisions: salt and flour, fresh-churned butter, slabs of bacon wrapped in linen, sacks of oranges, apples, and pears. Yandry had a wine cask on one shoulder, while Ysilla had slung a pike over hers. The fish was as large as Tyrion.
When she saw the dwarf standing at the end of the gangplank, Ysilla stopped so suddenly that Yandry blundered into her, and the pike almost slid off her back into the river. Duck helped her rescue it. Ysilla glared at Tyrion and made a peculiar stabbing gesture with three of her fingers. A sign to ward off evil. "Let me help you with that fish," he said to Duck.
"No," Ysilla snapped. "Stay away. Touch no food besides the food you eat yourself."
The dwarf raised both hands. "As you command."
Yandry thumped the wine cask down onto the desk. "Where's Griff?" he demanded of Haldon.
"Then rouse him. We have tidings he'd best hear. The queen's name is on every tongue in Selhorys. They say she still sits in Meereen, sore beset. If the talk in the markets can be believed, Old Volantis will soon join the war against her."
Haldon pursed his lips. "The gossip of fishmongers is not to be relied on. Still, I suppose Griff will want to hear. You know how he is." The Halfmaester went below.
The girl never started for the west. No doubt she had good reasons. Between Meereen and Volantis lay five hundred leagues of deserts, mountains, swamps, and ruins, plus Mantarys with its sinister repute. A city of monsters, they say, but if she marches overland, where else is she to turn for food and water? The sea would be swifter, but if she does not have the ships ...
By the time Griff appeared on deck, the pike was spitting and sizzling over the brazier whilst Ysilla hovered over it with a lemon, squeezing. The sellsword wore his mail and wolfskin cloak, soft leather gloves, dark woolen breeches. If he was surprised to see Tyrion awake, he gave no sign beyond his customary scowl. He took Yandry back to the tiller, where they spoke in low voices, too quietly for the dwarf to hear.
Finally Griff beckoned to Haldon. "We need to know the truth of these rumors. Go ashore and learn what you can. Qavo will know, if you can find him. Try the Riverman and the Painted Turtle. You know his other places."
"Aye. I'll take the dwarf as well. Four ears hear more than two. And you know how Qavo is about his cyvasse. "
"As you wish. Be back before the sun comes up. If for any reason you're delayed, make your way to the Golden Company."
Spoken like a lord. Tyrion kept the thought to himself. Haldon donned a hooded cloak, and Tyrion shed his homemade motley for something drab and grey. Griff allowed them each a purse of silver from Illyrio's chests. "To loosen tongues."
Dusk was giving way to darkness as they made their way along the riverfront. Some of the ships they passed appeared deserted, their gangplanks drawn up. Others crawled with armed men who eyed them with suspicion. Under the town walls, parchment lanterns had been lit above the stalls, throwing pools of colored light upon the cobbled path. Tyrion watched as Haldon's face turned green, then red, then purple. Under the cacophony of foreign tongues, he heard queer music playing from somewhere up ahead, a thin high fluting accompanied by drums. A dog was barking too, behind them.
And the whores were out. River or sea, a port was a port, and wherever you found sailors, you'd find whores. Is that what my father meant? Is that where whores go, to the sea?
The whores of Lannisport and King's Landing were free women. Their sisters of Selhorys were slaves, their bondage indicated by the tears tattooed beneath their right eyes. Old as sin and twice as ugly, the lot of them. It was almost enough to put a man off whoring. Tyrion felt their eyes upon them as he waddled by, and heard them whispering to one another and giggling behind their hands. You would think they had never seen a dwarf before.
A squad of Volantene spearmen stood guard at the river gate. Torch-light gleamed off the steel claws that jutted from their gauntlets. Their helms were tiger's masks, the faces beneath marked by green stripes tattooed across both cheeks. The slave soldiers of Volantis were fiercely proud of their tiger stripes, Tyrion knew. Do they yearn for freedom? he wondered. What would they do if this child queen bestowed it on them?
What are they, if not tigers? What am I, if not a lion?
One of the tigers spied the dwarf and said something that made the others laugh. As they reached the gate, he pulled off his clawed gauntlet and the sweaty glove beneath, locked one arm around the dwarf's neck, and roughly rubbed his head. Tyrion was too startled to resist. It was all over in a heartbeat. "Was there some reason for that?" he demanded of the Halfmaester.
"He says that it is good luck to rub the head of a dwarf," Haldon said after an exchange with the guard in his own tongue.
Tyrion forced himself to smile at the man. "Tell him that it is even better luck to suck on a dwarf's cock."
"Best not. Tigers have been known to have sharp teeth."
A different guard motioned them through the gate, waving a torch at them impatiently. Haldon Halfmaester led the way into Selhorys proper, with Tyrion waddling warily at his heels.
A great square opened up before them. Even at this hour, it was crowded and noisy and ablaze with light. Lanterns swung from iron chains above the doors of inns and pleasure houses, but within the gates, they were made of colored glass, not parchment. To their right a nightfire burned outside a temple of red stone. A priest in scarlet robes stood on the temple balcony, haranguing the small crowd that had gathered around the flames. Elsewhere, travelers sat playing cyvasse in front of an inn, drunken soldiers wandered in and out of what was obviously a brothel, a woman beat a mule outside a stable. A two-wheeled cart went rumbling past them, pulled by a white dwarf elephant. This is another world, thought Tyrion, but not so different from the world I know.
The square was dominated by a white marble statue of a headless man in impossibly ornate armor, astride a warhorse similarly arrayed. "Who might that be?" wondered Tyrion.
"Triarch Horonno. A Volantene hero from the Century of Blood. He was returned as triarch every year for forty years, until he wearied of elections and declared himself triarch for life. The Volantenes were not amused. He was put to death soon after. Tied between two elephants and torn in half."
"His statue seems to lack a head."
"He was a tiger. When the elephants came to power, their followers went on a rampage, knocking the heads from the statues of those they blamed for all the wars and deaths." He shrugged. "That was another age. Come, we'd best hear what that priest is going on about. I swear I heard the name Daenerys."
Across the square they joined the growing throng outside the red temple. With the locals towering above him on every hand, the little man found it hard to see much beyond their arses. He could hear most every word the priest was saying, but that was not to say he understood them. "Do you understand what he is saying?" he asked Haldon in the Common Tongue.
"I would if I did not have a dwarf piping in my ear."
"I do not pipe. " Tyrion crossed his arms and looked behind him, studying the faces of the men and women who had stopped to listen. Everywhere he turned, he saw tattoos. Slaves. Four of every five of them are slaves.
"The priest is calling on the Volantenes to go to war," the Halfmaester told him, "but on the side of right, as soldiers of the Lord of Light, R'hllor who made the sun and stars and fights eternally against the darkness. Nyessos and Malaquo have turned away from the light, he says, their hearts darkened by the yellow harpies from the east. He says ..."
"Dragons. I understood that word. He said dragons. "
"Aye. The dragons have come to carry her to glory."
Haldon nodded. "Benerro has sent forth the word from Volantis. Her coming is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. From smoke and salt was she born to make the world anew. She is Azor Ahai returned ... and her triumph over darkness will bring a summer that will never end ... death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn ..."
"Do I have to be reborn in this same body?" asked Tyrion. The crowd was growing thicker. He could feel them pressing in around them.
"Who is Benerro?"
Haldon raised an eyebrow. "High Priest of the red temple in Volantis. Flame of Truth, Light of Wisdom, First Servant of the Lord of Light, Slave of R'hllor."
The only red priest Tyrion had ever known was Thoros of Myr, the portly, genial, wine-stained roisterer who had loitered about Robert's court swilling the king's finest vintages and setting his sword on fire for mêlées.
"Give me priests who are fat and corrupt and cynical," he told Haldon,
"the sort who like to sit on soft satin cushions, nibble sweetmeats, and diddle little boys. It's the ones who believe in gods who make the trouble."
"It may be that we can use this trouble to our advantage. I know where we may find answers." Haldon led them past the headless hero to where a big stone inn fronted on the square. The ridged shell of some immense turtle hung above its door, painted in garish colors. Inside a hundred dim red candles burned like distant stars. The air was fragrant with the smell of roasted meat and spices, and a slave girl with a turtle on one cheek was pouring pale green wine.
Haldon paused in the doorway. "There. Those two."
In the alcove two men sat over a carved stone cyvasse table, squinting at their pieces by the light of a red candle. One was gaunt and sallow, with thinning black hair and a blade of a nose. The other was wide of shoulder and round of belly, with corkscrew ringlets tumbling past his collar. Neither deigned to look up from their game until Haldon drew up a chair between them and said, "My dwarf plays better cyvasse than both of you combined."
The bigger man raised his eyes to gaze at the intruders in distaste and said something in the tongue of Old Volantis, too fast for Tyrion to hope to follow. The thinner one leaned back in his chair. "Is he for sale?" he asked in the Common Tongue of Westeros. "The triarch's grotesquerie is in need of a cyvasse-playing dwarf."
"Yollo is no slave."
"What a pity." The thin man shifted an onyx elephant.
Across the cyvasse table, the man behind the alabaster army pursed his lips in disapproval. He moved his heavy horse.
"A blunder," said Tyrion. He had as well play his part. "Just so,"
the thin man said. He answered with his own heavy horse. A flurry of quick moves followed, until finally the thin man smiled and said, "Death, my friend."
The big man glowered at the board, then rose and growled something in his own tongue. His opponent laughed. "Come now. The dwarf does not stink as bad as that." He beckoned Tyrion toward the empty chair. "Up with you, little man. Put your silver on the table, and we will see how well you play the game."