"Remind me to vote for someone else." Tyrion licked grease from his fingers. Below, the crowd was flinging coins at the jugglers. "Do all these would-be triarchs provide mummer shows?"
"They do whatever they think will win them votes," said Mormont.
"Food, drink, spectacle ... Alios has sent a hundred pretty slave girls out into the streets to lie with voters."
"I'm for him," Tyrion decided. "Bring me a slave girl."
"They're for freeborn Volantenes with enough property to vote. Precious few voters west of the river."
"And this goes on for ten days?" Tyrion laughed. "I might enjoy that, though three kings is two too many. I am trying to imagine ruling the Seven Kingdoms with my sweet sister and brave brother beside me. One of us would kill the other two inside a year. I am surprised these triarchs don't do the same."
"A few have tried. Might be the Volantenes are the clever ones and us Westerosi the fools. Volantis has known her share of follies, but she's never suffered a boy triarch. Whenever a madman's been elected, his colleagues restrain him until his year has run its course. Think of the dead who might still live if Mad Aerys only had two fellow kings to share the rule."
Instead he had my father, Tyrion thought. "Some in the Free Cities think that we're all savages on our side of the narrow sea," the knight went on. "The ones who don't think that we're children, crying out for a father'
s strong hand."
"Or a mother's?" Cersei will love that. Especially when he presents her with my head. "You seem to know this city well."
"I spent the best part of a year here." The knight sloshed the dregs at the bottom of his tankard. "When Stark drove me into exile, I fled to Lys with my second wife. Braavos would have suited me better, but Lynesse wanted someplace warm. Instead of serving the Braavosi I fought them on the Rhoyne, but for every silver I earned my wife spent ten. By the time I got back to Lys, she had taken a lover, who told me cheerfully that I would be enslaved for debt unless I gave her up and left the city. That was how I came to Volantis ... one step ahead of slavery, owning nothing but my sword and the clothes upon my back."
"And now you want to run home."
The knight drained the last of his ale. "On the morrow I'll find us a ship. The bed is mine. You can have whatever piece of floor your chains will let you reach. Sleep if you can. If not, count your crimes. That should see you through till the morning."
You have your crimes to answer for, Jorah Mormont, the dwarf thought, but it seemed wiser to keep that thought to himself. Ser Jorah hung his sword belt on a bedpost, kicked off his boots, pulled his chain mail over his head, and stripped out of his wool and leather and sweat-stained undertunic to reveal a scarred, brawny torso covered with dark hair. If I could skin him, I could sell that pelt for a fur cloak, Tyrion thought as Mormont tumbled into the slightly smelly comfort of his sagging feather bed.
In no time at all the knight was snoring, leaving his prize alone with his chains. With both windows open wide, the light of the waning moon spilled across the bedchamber. Sounds drifted up from the square below: snatches of drunken song, the yowling of a cat in heat, the far-off ring of steel on steel. Someone' s about to die, thought Tyrion. His wrist was throbbing where he'
d torn the skin, and his fetters made
it impossible for him to sit, let alone stretch out. The best he could do was twist sideways to lean against the wall, and before long he began to lose all feeling in his hands. When he moved to relieve the strain, sensation came flooding back as pain. He had to grind his teeth to keep from screaming. He wondered how much his father had hurt when the quarrel punched through his groin, what Shae had felt as he twisted the chain around her lying throat, what Tysha had been feeling as they raped her. His sufferings were nothing compared to their own, but that did not make him hurt any less. Just make it stop.
Ser Jorah had rolled onto one side, so all that Tyrion could see of him was a broad, hairy, muscular back. Even if I could slip these chains, I'
to climb over him to reach his sword belt. Perhaps if I could ease the dagger loose ... Or else he could try for the key, unlock the door, creep down the stairs and through the common room ... and go where? I have no friends, no coin, I do not even speak the local tongue.
Exhaustion finally overwhelmed his pains, and Tyrion drifted off into a fitful sleep. But every time another cramp took root inside his calf and twisted, the dwarf would cry out in his sleep, trembling in his chains. He woke with every muscle aching, to find morning streaming through the windows bright and golden as the lion of Lannister. Below he could hear the cries of fishmongers and the rumble of iron-rimmed wheels on cobblestones. Jorah Mormont was standing over him. "If I take you off the ring, will you do as you're told?"
"Will it involve dancing? I might find dancing difficult. I cannot feel my legs. They may have fallen off. Elsewise, I am your creature. On my honor as a Lannister."
"The Lannisters have no honor." Ser Jorah loosed his chains anyway. Tyrion took two wobbly steps and fell. The blood rushing back into his hands brought tears to his eyes. He bit his lip and said, "Wherever we'
re going, you will need to roll me there."
Instead the big knight carried him, hoisting him by the chain between his wrists.
The common room of the Merchant's House was a dim labyrinth of alcoves and grottoes built around a central courtyard where a trellis of flowering vines threw intricate patterns across the flagstone floor and green and purple moss grew between the stones. Slave girls scurried through light and shadow, bearing flagons of ale and wine and some iced green drink that smelled of mint. One table in twenty was occupied at this hour of the morning.
One of those was occupied by a dwarf. Clean-shaved and
pink-cheeked, with a mop of chestnut hair, a heavy brow, and a squashed nose, he perched on a high stool with a wooden spoon in hand, contemplating a bowl of purplish gruel with red-rimmed eyes. Ugly little bastard, Tyrion thought.
The other dwarf felt his stare. When he raised his head and saw Tyrion, the spoon slipped from his hand.
"He saw me," Tyrion warned Mormont. "What of it?"
"He knows me. Who I am."
"Should I stuff you in a sack, so no one will see you?" The knight touched the hilt of his longsword. "If he means to try and take you, he is welcome to try."
Welcome to die, you mean, thought Tyrion. What threat could he pose to a big man like you? He is only a dwarf.
Ser Jorah claimed a table in a quiet corner and ordered food and drink. They broke their fast with warm soft flatbread, pink fish roe, honey sausage, and fried locusts, washed down with a bittersweet black ale. Tyrion ate like a man half-starved. "You have a healthy appetite this morning," the knight observed.
"I've heard the food in hell is wretched." Tyrion glanced at the door, where a man had just come in: tall and stooped, his pointed beard dyed a splotchy purple. Some Tyroshi trader. A gust of sound came with him from outside; the cries of gulls, a woman's laughter, the voices of the fishmongers. For half a heartbeat he thought he glimpsed Illyrio Mopatis, but it was only one of those white dwarf elephants passing the front door. Mormont spread some fish roe across a slice of flatbread and took a bite. "Are you expecting someone?"
Tyrion shrugged. "You never know who the wind might blow in. My one true love, my father's ghost, a duck." He popped a locust into his mouth and crunched it. "Not bad. For a bug."
"Last night the talk here was all of Westeros. Some exiled lord has hired the Golden Company to win back his lands for him. Half the captains in Volantis are racing upriver to Volon Therys to offer him their ships."
Tyrion had just swallowed another locust. He almost choked on it. Is he mocking me? How much could he know of Griff and Aegon? "Bugger,"
he said. "I meant to hire the Golden Company myself, to win me Casterly Rock." Could this be some ploy of Griff' s, false reports deliberately spread?
Unless ... Could the pretty princeling have swallowed the bait? Turned them west instead of east, abandoning his hopes of wedding Queen Daenerys? Abandoning the dragons ... would Griff allow that? "I'll gladly hire you as well, ser. My father's seat is mine by rights. Swear me your sword, and once I win it back I'll drown you in gold."
"I saw a man drowned in gold once. It was not a pretty sight. If you ever get my sword, it will be through your bowels."
"A sure cure for constipation," said Tyrion. "Just ask my father."
He reached for his tankard and took a slow swallow, to help conceal whatever might be showing on his face. It had to be a stratagem, designed to lull Volantene suspicions. Get the men aboard with this false pretext and seize the ships when the fleet is out to sea. Is that Griff' s plan? It might work. The Golden Company was ten thousand strong, seasoned and disciplined. None of them seamen, though. Griff will need to keep a sword at every throat, and should they come on Slaver' s Bay and need to fight ...
The serving girl returned. "The widow will see you next, noble ser. Have you brought a gift for her?"
"Yes. Thank you." Ser Jorah slipped a coin into the girl's palm and sent her on her way.
Tyrion frowned. "Whose widow is this?"
"The widow of the waterfront. East of the Rhoyne they still call her Vogarro's whore, though never to her face."
The dwarf was not enlightened. "And Vogarro was ... ?"
"An elephant, seven times a triarch, very rich, a power on the docks. Whilst other men built the ships and sailed them, he built piers and storehouses, brokered cargoes, changed money, insured shipowners against the hazards of the sea. He dealt in slaves as well. When he grew besotted with one of them, a bedslave trained at Yunkai in the way of seven sighs, it was a great scandal ... and a greater scandal when he freed her and took her for his wife. After he died, she carried on his ventures. No freedman may dwell within the Black Wall, so she was compelled to sell Vogarro's manse. She took up residence at the Merchant's House. That was thirty-two years ago, and she remains here to this day. That's her behind you, back by the courtyard, holding court at her customary table. No, don't look. There's someone with her now. When he's done, it will be our turn."
"And this old harridan will help you how?"
Ser Jorah stood. "Watch and see. He's leaving."
Tyrion hopped down off his chair with a rattle of iron. This should be enlightening.
There was something vulpine about the way the woman sat in her corner by the courtyard, something reptilian about her eyes. Her white hair was so thin that the pink of her scalp showed through. Under one eye she still bore faint scars where a knife had cut away her tears. The remnants of her morning meal littered the table - sardine heads, olive pits, chunks of flatbread. Tyrion did not fail to note how well chosen her "customary table"
was; solid stone at her back, a leafy alcove to one side for entrances and exits, a perfect view of the inn's front door, yet so steeped in shadow that she herself was nigh invisible.
The sight of him made the old woman smile. "A dwarf," she purred, in a voice as sinister as it was soft. She spoke the Common Tongue with only a trace of accent. "Volantis has been overrun with dwarfs of late, it seems. Does this one do tricks?"