Tyrion had a fat black mushroom halfway to his mouth, but something in Illyrio's voice made him stop abruptly. "After you, my lord."
He pushed the dish toward his host.
"No, no." Magister Illyrio pushed the mushrooms back. For a heartbeat it seemed as if a mischievous boy was peering out from inside the cheese-monger's bloated flesh. "After you. I insist. Cook made them specially for you."
"Did she indeed?" He remembered the cook, the flour on her hands, heavy br**sts shot through with dark blue veins. "That was kind of her, but ... no." Tyrion eased the mushroom back into the lake of butter from which it had emerged.
"You are too suspicious." Illyrio smiled through his forked yellow beard. Oiled every morning to make it gleam like gold, Tyrion suspected.
"Are you craven? I had not heard that of you."
"In the Seven Kingdoms it is considered a grave breach of hospitality to poison your guest at supper."
"Here as well." Illyrio Mopatis reached for his wine cup. "Yet when a guest plainly wishes to end his own life, why, his host must oblige him, no?" He took a gulp. "Magister Ordello was poisoned by a mushroom not half a year ago. The pain is not so much, I am told. Some cramping in the gut, a sudden ache behind the eyes, and it is done. Better a mushroom than a sword through your neck, is it not so? Why die with the taste of blood in your mouth when it could be butter and garlic?"
The dwarf studied the dish before him. The smell of garlic and butter had his mouth watering. Some part of him wanted those mushrooms, even knowing what they were. He was not brave enough to take cold steel to his own belly, but a bite of mushroom would not be so hard. That frightened him more than he could say. "You mistake me," he heard himself say.
"Is it so? I wonder. If you would sooner drown in wine, say the word and it shall be done, and quickly. Drowning cup by cup wastes time and wine both."
"You mistake me," Tyrion said again, more loudly. The buttered mushrooms glistened in the lamplight, dark and inviting. "I have no wish to die, I promise you. I have ..." His voice trailed off into uncertainty. What do I have? A life to live? Work to do? Children to raise, lands to rule, a woman to love?
"You have nothing," finished Magister Illyrio, "but we can change that." He plucked a mushroom from the butter, and chewed it lustily.
"The mushrooms are not poisoned." Tyrion was irritated.
"No. Why should I wish you ill?" Magister Illyrio ate another. "We must show a little trust, you and I. Come, eat." He clapped his hands again.
"We have work to do. My little friend must keep his strength up."
The serving men brought out a heron stuffed with figs, veal cutlets blanched with almond milk, creamed herring, candied onions, foul-smelling cheeses, plates of snails and sweetbreads, and a black swan in her plumage. Tyrion refused the swan, which reminded him of a supper with his sister. He helped himself to heron and herring, though, and a few of the sweet onions. And the serving men filled his wine cup anew each time he emptied it.
"You drink a deal of wine for such a little man."
"Kinslaying is dry work. It gives a man a thirst."
The fat man's eyes glittered like the gemstones on his fingers.
"There are those in Westeros who would say that killing Lord Lannister was merely a good beginning."
"They had best not say it in my sister's hearing, or they will find themselves short a tongue." The dwarf tore a loaf of bread in half. "And you had best be careful what you say of my family, magister. Kinslayer or no, I am a lion still."
That seemed to amuse the lord of cheese no end. He slapped a meaty thigh and said, "You Westerosi are all the same. You sew some beast upon a scrap of silk, and suddenly you are all lions or dragons or eagles. I can take you to a real lion, my little friend. The prince keeps a pride in his menagerie. Would you like to share a cage with them?"
The lords of the Seven Kingdoms did make rather much of their sigils, Tyrion had to admit. "Very well," he conceded. "A Lannister is not a lion. Yet I am still my father's son, and Jaime and Cersei are mine to kill."
"How odd that you should mention your fair sister," said Illyrio, between snails. "The queen has offered a lordship to the man who brings her your head, no matter how humble his birth."
It was no more than Tyrion had expected. "If you mean to take her up on it, make her spread her legs for you as well. The best part of me for the best part of her, that's a fair trade."
"I would sooner have mine own weight in gold." The cheesemonger laughed so hard that Tyrion feared he was about to rupture. "All the gold in Casterly Rock, why not?"
"The gold I grant you," the dwarf said, relieved that he was not about to drown in a gout of half-digested eels and sweetmeats, "but the Rock is mine."
"Just so." The magister covered his mouth and belched a mighty belch. "Do you think King Stannis will give it to you? I am told he is a great one for the law. Your brother wears the white cloak, so you are heir by all the laws of Westeros."
"Stannis might well grant me Casterly Rock," said Tyrion, "but for the small matter of regicide and kinslaying. For those he would shorten me by a head, and I am short enough as I stand. But why would you think I mean to join Lord Stannis?"
"Why else would you go the Wall?"
"Stannis is at the Wall?" Tyrion rubbed at his nose. "What in seven bloody hells is Stannis doing at the Wall?"
"Shivering, I would think. It is warmer down in Dorne. Perhaps he should have sailed that way."
Tyrion was beginning to suspect that a certain freckled washerwoman knew more of the Common Speech than she pretended. "My niece Myrcella is in Dorne, as it happens. And I have half a mind to make her a queen."
Illyrio smiled as his serving men spooned out bowls of black cherries in sweet cream for them both. "What has this poor child done to you that you would wish her dead?"
"Even a kinslayer is not required to slay all his kin," said Tyrion, wounded. "Queen her, I said. Not kill her."
The cheesemonger spooned up cherries. "In Volantis they use a coin with a crown on one face and a death's-head on the other. Yet it is the same coin. To queen her is to kill her. Dorne might rise for Myrcella, but Dorne alone is not enough. If you are as clever as our friend insists, you know this."
Tyrion looked at the fat man with new interest. He is right on both counts. To queen her is to kill her. And I knew that. "Futile gestures are all that remain to me. This one would make my sister weep bitter tears, at least."
Magister Illyrio wiped sweet cream from his mouth with the back of a fat hand. "The road to Casterly Rock does not go through Dorne, my little friend. Nor does it run beneath the Wall. Yet there is such a road, I tell you."
"I am an attainted traitor, a regicide, and kinslayer." This talk of roads annoyed him. Does he think this is a game?
"What one king does, another may undo. In Pentos we have a prince, my friend. He presides at ball and feast and rides about the city in a palanquin of ivory and gold. Three heralds go before him with the golden scales of trade, the iron sword of war, and the silver scourge of justice. On the first day of each new year he must deflower the maid of the fields and the maid of the seas." Illyrio leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Yet should a crop fail or a war be lost, we cut his throat to appease the gods and choose a new prince from amongst the forty families."
"Remind me never to become the Prince of Pentos."
"Are your Seven Kingdoms so different? There is no peace in Westeros, no justice, no faith ... and soon enough, no food. When men are starving and sick of fear, they look for a savior."
"They may look, but if all they find is Stannis - "
"Not Stannis. Nor Myrcella." The yellow smile widened. "Another. Stronger than Tommen, gentler than Stannis, with a better claim than the girl Myrcella. A savior come from across the sea to bind up the wounds of bleeding Westeros."
"Fine words." Tyrion was unimpressed. "Words are wind. Who is this bloody savior?"
"A dragon." The cheesemonger saw the look on his face at that, and laughed. "A dragon with three heads."
She could hear the dead man coming up the steps. The slow, measured sound of footsteps went before him, echoing amongst the purple pillars of her hall. Daenerys Targaryen awaited him upon the ebon bench that she had made her throne. Her eyes were soft with sleep, her silver-gold hair all tousled.
"Your Grace," said Ser Barristan Selmy, the lord commander of her Queensguard, "there is no need for you to see this."
"He died for me." Dany clutched her lion pelt to her chest. Underneath, a sheer white linen tunic covered her to midthigh. She had been dreaming of a house with a red door when Missandei woke her. There had been no time to dress.
"Khaleesi, " whispered Irri, "you must not touch the dead man. It is bad luck to touch the dead."
"Unless you killed them yourself." Jhiqui was bigger-boned than Irri, with wide hips and heavy br**sts. "That is known."
"It is known," Irri agreed.
Dothraki were wise where horses were concerned, but could be utter fools about much else. They are only girls, besides. Her handmaids were of an age with her - women grown to look at them, with their black hair, copper skin, and almond-shaped eyes, but girls all the same. They had been given to her when she wed Khal Drogo. It was Drogo who had given her the pelt she wore, the head and hide of a hrakkar, the white lion of the Dothraki sea. It was too big for her and had a musty smell, but it made her feel as if her sun-and-stars was still near her.
Grey Worm appeared atop the steps first, a torch in hand. His bronze cap was crested with three spikes. Behind him followed four of his Unsullied, bearing the dead man on their shoulders. Their caps had only one spike each, and their faces showed so little they might have been cast of bronze as well. They laid the corpse down at her feet. Ser Barristan pulled back the bloodstained shroud. Grey Worm lowered the torch, so she might see. The dead man's face was smooth and hairless, though his cheeks had been slashed open ear to ear. He had been a tall man, blue-eyed and fair of face. Some child of Lys or Old Volantis, snatched off a ship by corsairs and sold into bondage in red Astapor. Though his eyes were open, it was his wounds that wept. There were more wounds than she could count.
"Your Grace," Ser Barristan said, "there was a harpy drawn on the bricks in the alley where he was found ..."
"... drawn in blood." Daenerys knew the way of it by now. The Sons of the Harpy did their butchery by night, and over each kill they left their mark. "Grey Worm, why was this man alone? Had he no partner?"
By her command, when the Unsullied walked the streets of Meereen by night they always walked in pairs.
"My queen," replied the captain, "your servant Stalwart Shield had no duty last night. He had gone to a ... a certain place ... to drink, and have companionship."