A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 91

After that, the dwarf girl was seen more frequently above deck. The next day Tyrion encountered her and her spotted sow amidships in midafternoon, when the air was warm and the sea calm. "Her name is Pretty," the girl told him, shyly.

Pretty the pig and Penny the girl, he thought. Someone has a deal to answer for. Penny gave Tyrion some acorns, and he let Pretty eat them from his hand. Do not think I don' t see what you are doing, girl, he thought, as the big sow snuffled and squealed.

Soon they began to take their meals together. Some nights it was just the two of them; at other meals they crowded in with Moqorro's guards. The fingers, Tyrion called them; they were men of the Fiery Hand, after all, and there were five of them. Penny laughed at that, a sweet sound, though not one that he heard often. Her wound was too fresh, her grief too deep. He soon had her calling the ship the Stinky Steward, though she got somewhat wroth with him whenever he called Pretty Bacon. To atone for that Tyrion made an attempt to teach her cyvasse, though he soon realized that was a lost cause. "No," he said, a dozen times, "the dragon flies, not the elephants."

That same night, she came right out and asked him if he would like to tilt with her. "No," he answered. Only later did it occur to him that perhaps tilt did not mean tilt. His answer would still have been no, but he might not have been so brusque.

Back in the cabin he shared with Jorah Mormont, Tyrion twisted in his hammock for hours, slipping in and out of sleep. His dreams were full of grey, stony hands reaching for him from out of the fog, and a stair that led up to his father.

Finally he gave it up and made his way up top for a breath of night air. The Selaesori Qhoran had furled her big striped sail for the night, and her decks were all but deserted. One of the mates was on the sterncastle, and amidships Moqorro sat by his brazier, where a few small flames still danced amongst the embers.

Only the brightest stars were visible, all to the west. A dull red glow lit the sky to the northeast, the color of a blood bruise. Tyrion had never seen a bigger moon. Monstrous, swollen, it looked as if it had swallowed the sun and woken with a fever. Its twin, floating on the sea beyond the ship, shimmered red with every wave. "What hour is this?" he asked Moqorro.

"That cannot be sunrise unless the east has moved. Why is the sky red?"

"The sky is always red above Valyria, Hugor Hill."

A cold chill went down his back. "Are we close?"

"Closer than the crew would like," Moqorro said in his deep voice.

"Do you know the stories, in your Sunset Kingdoms?"

"I know some sailors say that any man who lays eyes upon that coast is doomed." He did not believe such tales himself, no more than his uncle had. Gerion Lannister had set sail for Valyria when Tyrion was eighteen, intent on recovering the lost ancestral blade of House Lannister and any other treasures that might have survived the Doom. Tyrion had wanted desperately to go with them, but his lord father had dubbed the voyage a

"fool's quest," and forbidden him to take part.

And perhaps he was not so wrong. Almost a decade had passed since the Laughing Lion headed out from Lannisport, and Gerion had never returned. The men Lord Tywin sent to seek after him had traced his course as far as Volantis, where half his crew had deserted him and he had bought slaves to replace them. No free man would willingly sign aboard a ship whose captain spoke openly of his intent to sail into the Smoking Sea. "So those are fires of the Fourteen Flames we're seeing, reflected on the clouds?"

"Fourteen or fourteen thousand. What man dares count them? It is not wise for mortals to look too deeply at those fires, my friend. Those are the fires of god's own wrath, and no human flame can match them. We are small creatures, men."

"Some smaller than others." Valyria. It was written that on the day of Doom every hill for five hundred miles had split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire, blazes so hot and hungry that even the dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents had opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples, entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned to acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, red clouds rained down dragonglass and the black blood of demons, and to the north the ground splintered and collapsed and fell in on itself and an angry sea came rushing in. The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, its fabled empire vanished in a day, the Lands of the Long Summer scorched and drowned and blighted.

An empire built on blood and fire. The Valyrians reaped the seed they had sown. "Does our captain mean to test the curse?"

"Our captain would prefer to be fifty leagues farther out to sea, well away from that accursed shore, but I have commanded him to steer the shortest course. Others seek Daenerys too."

Griff, with his young prince. Could all that talk of the Golden Company sailing west have been a feint? Tyrion considered saying something, then thought better. It seemed to him that the prophecy that drove the red priests had room for just one hero. A second Targaryen would only serve to confuse them. "Have you seen these others in your fires?" he asked, warily.

"Only their shadows," Moqorro said. "One most of all. A tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood."

Chapter Thirty-three

BRAN

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. A pale sun rose and set and rose again. Red leaves whispered in the wind. Dark clouds filled the skies and turned to storms. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, and dead men with black hands and bright blue eyes shuffled round a cleft in the hillside but could not enter. Under the hill, the broken boy sat upon a weirwood throne, listening to whispers in the dark as ravens walked up and down his arms.

"You will never walk again," the three-eyed crow had promised,

"but you will fly." Sometimes the sound of song would drift up from someplace far below. The children of the forest, Old Nan would have called the singers, but those who sing the song of earth was their own name for themselves, in the True Tongue that no human man could speak. The ravens could speak it, though. Their small black eyes were full of secrets, and they would caw at him and peck his skin when they heard the songs. The moon was fat and full. Stars wheeled across a black sky. Rain fell and froze, and tree limbs snapped from the weight of the ice. Bran and Meera made up names for those who sang the song of earth: Ash and Leaf and Scales, Black Knife and Snowylocks and Coals. Their true names were too long for human tongues, said Leaf. Only she could speak the Common Tongue, so what the others thought of their new names Bran never learned. After the bone-grinding cold of the lands beyond the Wall, the caves were blessedly warm, and when the chill crept out of the rock the singers would light fires to drive it off again. Down here there was no wind, no snow, no ice, no dead things reaching out to grab you, only dreams and rushlight and the kisses of the ravens. And the whisperer in darkness. The last greenseer, the singers called him, but in Bran's dreams he was still a three-eyed crow. When Meera Reed had asked him his true name, he made a ghastly sound that might have been a chuckle. "I wore many names when I was quick, but even I once had a mother, and the name she gave me at her breast was Brynden."

"I have an uncle Brynden," Bran said. "He's my mother's uncle, really. Brynden Blackfish, he's called."

"Your uncle may have been named for me. Some are, still. Not so many as before. Men forget. Only the trees remember." His voice was so soft that Bran had to strain to hear.

"Most of him has gone into the tree," explained the singer Meera called Leaf. "He has lived beyond his mortal span, and yet he lingers. For us, for you, for the realms of men. Only a little strength remains in his flesh. He has a thousand eyes and one, but there is much to watch. One day you will know."

"What will I know?" Bran asked the Reeds afterward, when they came with torches burning brightly in their hand, to carry him back to a small chamber off the big cavern where the singers had made beds for them to sleep. "What do the trees remember?"

"The secrets of the old gods," said Jojen Reed. Food and fire and rest had helped restore him after the ordeals of their journey, but he seemed sadder now, sullen, with a weary, haunted look about the eyes. "Truths the First Men knew, forgotten now in Winterfell ... but not in the wet wild. We live closer to the green in our bogs and crannogs, and we remember. Earth and water, soil and stone, oaks and elms and willows, they were here before us all and will still remain when we are gone."

"So will you," said Meera. That made Bran sad. What if I don' t want to remain when you are gone? he almost asked, but he swallowed the words unspoken. He was almost a man grown, and he did not want Meera to think he was some weepy babe. "Maybe you could be greenseers too," he said instead.

"No, Bran." Now Meera sounded sad. "It is given to a few to drink of that green fountain whilst still in mortal flesh, to hear the whisperings of the leaves and see as the trees see, as the gods see," said Jojen. "Most are not so blessed. The gods gave me only greendreams. My task was to get you here. My part in this is done."

The moon was a black hole in the sky. Wolves howled in the wood, sniffing through the snowdrifts after dead things. A murder of ravens erupted from the hillside, screaming their sharp cries, black wings beating above a white world. A red sun rose and set and rose again, painting the snows in shades of rose and pink. Under the hill, Jojen brooded, Meera fretted, and Hodor wandered through dark tunnels with a sword in his right hand and a torch in his left. Or was it Bran wandering?

No one must ever know.

The great cavern that opened on the abyss was as black as pitch, black as tar, blacker than the feathers of a crow. Light entered as a trespasser, unwanted and unwelcome, and soon was gone again; cookfires, candles, and rushes burned for a little while, then guttered out again, their brief lives at an end.

The singers made Bran a throne of his own, like the one Lord Brynden sat, white weirwood flecked with red, dead branches woven through living roots. They placed it in the great cavern by the abyss, where the black air echoed to the sound of running water far below. Of soft grey moss they made his seat. Once he had been lowered into place, they covered him with warm furs.

There he sat, listening to the hoarse whispers of his teacher. "Never fear the darkness, Bran." The lord's words were accompanied by a faint rustling of wood and leaf, a slight twisting of his head. "The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother's milk. Darkness will make you strong."

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. Snowflakes drifted down soundlessly to cloak the soldier pines and sentinels in white. The drifts grew so deep that they covered the entrance to the caves, leaving a white wall that Summer had to dig through whenever he went outside to join his pack and hunt. Bran did not oft range with them in those days, but some nights he watched them from above.

Flying was even better than climbing.

Slipping into Summer's skin had become as easy for him as slipping on a pair of breeches once had been, before his back was broken. Changing his own skin for a raven's night-black feathers had been harder, but not as hard as he had feared, not with these ravens. "A wild stallion will buck and kick when a man tries to mount him, and try to bite the hand that slips the bit between his teeth," Lord Brynden said, "but a horse that has known one rider will accept another. Young or old, these birds have all been ridden. Choose one now, and fly."

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