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TYRION
He woke alone, and found the litter halted.

A pile of crushed cushions remained to show where Illyrio had sprawled. The dwarf’s throat felt dry and raspy. He had dreamed … what had he dreamed? He did not remember.

Outside, voices were speaking in a tongue he did not know. Tyrion swung his legs through the curtains and hopped to the ground, to find Magister Illyrio standing by the horses with two riders looming over him. Both wore shirts of worn leather beneath cloaks of dark brown wool, but their swords were sheathed and the fat man did not look to be in danger.

“I need a piss,” the dwarf announced. He waddled off the road, undid his breeches, and relieved himself into a tangle of thorns. It took quite a long time.

“He pisses well, at least,” a voice observed.

Tyrion flicked the last drops off and tucked himself away. “Pissing is the least of my talents. You ought to see me shit.” He turned to Magister Illyrio. “Are these two known to you, magister? They look like outlaws. Should I find my axe?”

“Your axe?” exclaimed the larger of the riders, a brawny man with a shaggy beard and a shock of orange hair. “Did you hear that, Haldon? The little man wants to fight with us!”

His companion was older, clean-shaved, with a lined ascetic face. His hair had been pulled back and tied in a knot behind his head. “Small men oft feel a need to prove their courage with unseemly boasts,” he declared. “I doubt if he could kill a duck.”

Tyrion shrugged. “Fetch the duck.”

“If you insist.” The rider glanced at his companion.

The brawny man unsheathed a bastard sword. “I’m Duck, you mouthy little pisspot.”

Oh, gods be good. “I had a smaller duck in mind.”

The big man roared with laughter. “Did you hear, Haldon? He wants a smaller Duck!”

“I should gladly settle for a quieter one.” The man called Haldon studied Tyrion with cool grey eyes before turning back to Illyrio. “You have some chests for us?”

“And mules to carry them.”

“Mules are too slow. We have pack horses, we’ll shift the chests to them. Duck, attend to that.”

“Why is it always Duck who attends to things?” The big man slipped his sword back in its sheath. “What do you attend to, Haldon? Who is the knight here, you or me?” Yet he stomped off toward the baggage mules all the same.

“How fares our lad?” asked Illyrio as the chests were being secured. Tyrion counted six, oaken chests with iron hasps. Duck shifted them easily enough, hoisting them on one shoulder.

“He is as tall as Griff now. Three days ago he knocked Duck into a horse trough.”

“I wasn’t knocked. I fell in just to make him laugh.”

“Your ploy was a success,” said Haldon. “I laughed myself.”

“There is a gift for the boy in one of the chests. Some candied ginger. He was always fond of it.” Illyrio sounded oddly sad. “I thought I might continue on to Ghoyan Drohe with you. A farewell feast before you start downriver …”

“We have no time for feasts, my lord,” said Haldon. “Griff means to strike downriver the instant we are back. News has been coming upriver, none of it good. Dothraki have been seen north of Dagger Lake, outriders from old Motho’s khalasar, and Khal Zekko is not far behind him, moving through the Forest of Qohor.”

The fat man made a rude noise. “Zekko visits Qohor every three or four years. The Qohorik give him a sack of gold and he turns east again. As for Motho, his men are near as old as he is, and there are fewer every year. The threat is—”

“—Khal Pono,” Haldon finished. “Motho and Zekko flee from him, if the tales are true. The last reports had Pono near the headwaters of the Selhoru with a khalasar of thirty thousand. Griff does not want to risk being caught up in the crossing if Pono should decide to risk the Rhoyne.” Haldon glanced at Tyrion. “Does your dwarf ride as well as he pisses?”

“He rides,” Tyrion broke in, before the lord of cheese could answer for him, “though he rides best with a special saddle and a horse that he knows well. He talks as well.”

“So he does. I am Haldon, the healer in our little band of brothers. Some call me Halfmaester. My companion is Ser Duck.”

“Ser Rolly,” said the big man. “Rolly Duckfield. Any knight can make a knight, and Griff made me. And you, dwarf?”

Illyrio spoke up quickly. “Yollo, he is called.”

Yollo? Yollo sounds like something you might name a monkey. Worse, it was a Pentoshi name, and any fool could see that Tyrion was no Pentoshi. “In Pentos I am Yollo,” he said quickly, to make what amends he could, “but my mother named me Hugor Hill.”

“Are you a little king or a little bastard?” asked Haldon.

Tyrion realized he would do well to be careful around Haldon Halfmaester. “Every dwarf is a bastard in his father’s eyes.”

“No doubt. Well, Hugor Hill, answer me this. How did Serwyn of the Mirror Shield slay the dragon Urrax?”

“He approached behind his shield. Urrax saw only his own reflection until Serwyn had plunged his spear through his eye.”

Haldon was unimpressed. “Even Duck knows that tale. Can you tell me the name of the knight who tried the same ploy with Vhagar during the Dance of the Dragons?”

Tyrion grinned. “Ser Byron Swann. He was roasted for his trouble … only the dragon was Syrax, not Vhagar.”

“I fear that you’re mistaken. In The Dance of the Dragons, A True Telling, Maester Munkun writes—”

“—that it was Vhagar. Grand Maester Munkun errs. Ser Byron’s squire saw his master die, and wrote his daughter of the manner of it. His account says it was Syrax, Rhaenyra’s she-dragon, which makes more sense than Munken’s version. Swann was the son of a marcher lord, and Storm’s End was for Aegon. Vhagar was ridden by Prince Aemond, Aegon’s brother. Why should Swann want to slay her?”

Haldon pursed his lips. “Try not to tumble off the horse. If you do, best waddle back to Pentos. Our shy maid will not wait for man nor dwarf.”

“Shy maids are my favorite sort. Aside from wanton ones. Tell me, where do whores go?”

“Do I look like a man who frequents whores?”

Duck laughed derisively. “He don’t dare. Lemore would make him pray for pardon, the lad would want to come along, and Griff might cut his cock off and stuff it down his throat.”

“Well,” said Tyrion, “a maester does not need a cock.”

“Haldon’s only half a maester, though.”

“You seem to find the dwarf amusing, Duck,” said Haldon. “He can ride with you.” He wheeled his mount about.

It took another few moments for Duck to finish securing Illyrio’s chests to the three pack horses. By that time Haldon had vanished. Duck seemed unconcerned. He swung into the saddle, grabbed Tyrion by the collar, and hoisted the little man up in front of him. “Hold tight to the pommel and you’ll do fine. The mare’s got a nice sweet gait, and the dragon road’s smooth as a maiden’s arse.” Gathering the reins in his right hand and the leads in his left, Ser Rolly set off at a brisk trot.

“Good fortune,” Illyrio called after them. “Tell the boy I am sorry that I will not be with him for his wedding. I will rejoin you in Westeros. That I swear, by my sweet Serra’s hands.”

The last that Tyrion Lannister saw of Illyrio Mopatis, the magister was standing by his litter in his brocade robes, his massive shoulders slumped. As his figure dwindled in their dust, the lord of cheese looked almost small.

Duck caught up with Haldon Halfmaester a quarter mile on. Thereafter the riders continued side by side. Tyrion clung to the high pommel with his short legs splayed out awkwardly, knowing he could look forward to blisters, cramps, and saddle sores.

“I wonder what the pirates of Dagger Lake will make of our dwarf?” Haldon said as they rode on.

“Dwarf stew?” suggested Duck.

“Urho the Unwashed is the worst of them,” Haldon confided. “His stench alone is enough to kill a man.”

Tyrion shrugged. “Fortunately, I have no nose.”

Haldon gave him a thin smile. “If we should encounter the Lady Korra on Hag’s Teeth, you may soon be lacking other parts as well. Korra the Cruel, they call her. Her ship is crewed by beautiful young maids who geld every male they capture.”

“Terrifying. I may well piss my breeches.”

“Best not,” Duck warned darkly.

“As you say. If we encounter this Lady Korra, I will just slip into a skirt and say that I am Cersei, the famous bearded beauty of King’s Landing.”

This time Duck laughed, and Haldon said, “What a droll little fellow you are, Yollo. They say that the Shrouded Lord will grant a boon to any man who can make him laugh. Perhaps His Grey Grace will choose you to ornament his stony court.”

Duck glanced at his companion uneasily. “It’s not good to jape of that one, not when we’re so near the Rhoyne. He hears.”

“Wisdom from a duck,” said Haldon. “I beg your pardon, Yollo. You need not look so pale, I was only playing with you. The Prince of Sorrows does not bestow his grey kiss lightly.”

His grey kiss. The thought made his flesh crawl. Death had lost its terror for Tyrion Lannister, but greyscale was another matter. The Shrouded Lord is just a legend, he told himself, no more real than the ghost of Lann the Clever that some claim haunts Casterly Rock. Even so, he held his tongue.

The dwarf’s sudden silence went unnoticed, as Duck had begun to regale him with his own life story. His father had been an armorer at Bitterbridge, he said, so he had been born with the sound of steel ringing in his ears and had taken to swordplay at an early age. Such a large and likely lad drew the eye of old Lord Caswell, who offered him a place in his garrison, but the boy had wanted more. He watched Caswell’s weakling son named a page, a squire, and finally a knight. “A weedy pinch-faced sneak, he was, but the old lord had four daughters and only the one son, so no one was allowed to say a word against him. T’other squires hardly dared to lay a finger on him in the yard.”

“You were not so timid, though.” Tyrion could see where this tale was going easily enough.

“My father made a longsword for me to mark my sixteenth nameday,” said Duck, “but Lorent liked the look of it so much he took it for himself, and my bloody father never dared to tell him no. When I complained, Lorent told me to my face that my hand was made to hold a hammer, not a sword. So I went and got a hammer and beat him with it, till both his arms and half his ribs were broken. After that I had to leave the Reach, quick as it were. I made it across the water to the Golden Company. I did some smithing for a few years as a ’prentice, then Ser Harry Strickland took me on as squire. When Griff sent word downriver that he needed someone to help train his son to arms, Harry sent him me.”

“And Griff knighted you?”

“A year later.”

Haldon Halfmaester smiled a thin smile. “Tell our little friend how you came by your name, why don’t you?”

“A knight needs more than just the one name,” the big man insisted, “and, well, we were in a field when he dubbed me, and I looked up and saw these ducks, so … don’t laugh, now.”

Just after sunset, they left the road to rest in an overgrown yard beside an old stone well. Tyrion hopped down to work the cramps out of his calves whilst Duck and Haldon were watering the horses. Tough brown grass and weed trees sprouted from the gaps between the cobbles, and the mossy walls of what once might have been a huge stone manse. After the animals had been tended to, the riders shared a simple supper of salt pork and cold white beans, washed down with ale. Tyrion found the plain fare a pleasant change from all the rich food he had eaten with Illyrio. “Those chests we brought you,” he said as they were chewing. “Gold for the Golden Company, I thought at first, until I saw Ser Rol............
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