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TYRION
For a long while he did not stir, but lay unmoving upon the heap of old sacks that served him for a bed, listening to the wind in the lines, to the lapping of the river at the hull.

A full moon floated above the mast. It is following me downriver, watching me like some great eye. Despite the warmth of the musty skins that covered him, a shiver went through the little man. I need a cup of wine. A dozen cups of wine. But the moon would blink before that whoreson Griff let him quench his thirst. Instead he drank water, and was condemned to sleepless nights and days of sweats and shakes.

The dwarf sat up, cradling his head in his hands. Did I dream? All memory of it had fled. The nights had never been kind to Tyrion Lannister. He slept badly even on soft feather beds. On the Shy Maid, he made his bed atop the roof of the cabin, with a coil of hempen rope for a pillow. He liked it better up here than in the boat’s cramped hold. The air was fresher, and the river sounds were sweeter than Duck’s snoring. There was a price to be paid for such joys, though; the deck was hard, and he woke stiff and sore, his legs cramped and aching.

They were throbbing now, his calves gone hard as wood. He kneaded them with his fingers, trying to rub the ache away, but when he stood the pain was still enough to make him grimace. I need to bathe. His boy’s clothes stank, and so did he. The others bathed in the river, but thus far he had not joined them. Some of the turtles he’d seen in the shallows looked big enough to bite him in half. Bonesnappers, Duck called them. Besides, he did not want Lemore to see him naked.

A wooden ladder led down from the cabin roof. Tyrion pulled on his boots and descended to the afterdeck, where Griff sat wrapped in a wolfskin cloak beside an iron brazier. The sellsword kept the night watch by himself, rising as the rest of his band sought their beds and retiring when the sun came up.

Tyrion squatted across from him and warmed his hands over the coals. Across the water nightingales were singing. “Day soon,” he said to Griff.

“Not soon enough. We need to be under way.” If it had been up to Griff, the Shy Maid would continue downstream by night as well as day, but Yandry and Ysilla refused to risk their poleboat in the dark. The Upper Rhoyne was full of snags and sawyers, any one of which could rip out the Shy Maid’s hull. Griff did not want to hear it. What he wanted was Volantis.

The sellsword’s eyes were always moving, searching the night for … what? Pirates? Stone men? Slave-catchers? The river had perils, the dwarf knew, but Griff himself struck Tyrion as more dangerous than any of them. He reminded Tyrion of Bronn, though Bronn had a sellsword’s black humor and Griff had no humor at all.

“I would kill for a cup of wine,” muttered Tyrion.

Griff made no reply. You will die before you drink, his pale eyes seemed to say. Tyrion had drunk himself blind his first night on the Shy Maid. The next day he awoke with dragons fighting in his skull. Griff took one look at him retching over the side of the poleboat, and said, “You are done with drink.”

“Wine helps me sleep,” Tyrion had protested. Wine drowns my dreams, he might have said.

“Then stay awake,” Griff had replied, implacable.

To the east, the first pale light of day suffused the sky above the river. The waters of the Rhoyne slowly went from black to blue, to match the sellsword’s hair and beard. Griff got to his feet. “The others should wake soon. The deck is yours.” As the nightingales fell silent, the river larks took up their song. Egrets splashed amongst the reeds and left their tracks across the sandbars. The clouds in the sky were aglow: pink and purple, maroon and gold, pearl and saffron. One looked like a dragon. Once a man has seen a dragon in flight, let him stay at home and tend his garden in content, someone had written once, for this wide world has no greater wonder. Tyrion scratched at his scar and tried to recall the author’s name. Dragons had been much in his thoughts of late.

“Good morrow, Hugor.” Septa Lemore had emerged in her white robes, cinched at the waist with a woven belt of seven colors. Her hair flowed loose about her shoulders. “How did you sleep?”

“Fitfully, good lady. I dreamed of you again.” A waking dream. He could not sleep, so he had eased a hand between his legs and imagined the septa atop him, breasts bouncing.

“A wicked dream, no doubt. You are a wicked man. Will you pray with me and ask forgiveness for your sins?”

Only if we pray in the fashion of the Summer Isles. “No, but do give the Maiden a long, sweet kiss for me.”

Laughing, the septa walked to the prow of the boat. It was her custom to bathe in the river every morning. “Plainly, this boat was not named for you,” Tyrion called as she disrobed.

“The Mother and the Father made us in their image, Hugor. We should glory in our bodies, for they are the work of gods.”

The gods must have been drunk when they got to me. The dwarf watched Lemore slip into the water. The sight always made him hard. There was something wonderfully wicked about the thought of peeling the septa out of those chaste white robes and spreading her legs. Innocence despoiled, he thought … though Lemore was not near as innocent as she appeared. She had stretch marks on her belly that could only have come from childbirth.

Yandry and Ysilla had risen with the sun and were going about their business. Yandry stole a glance at Septa Lemore from time to time as he was checking the lines. His small dark wife, Ysilla, took no notice. She fed some wood chips to the brazier on the afterdeck, stirred the coals with a blackened blade, and began to knead the dough for the morning biscuits.

When Lemore climbed back onto the deck, Tyrion savored the sight of water trickling between her breasts, her smooth skin glowing golden in the morning light. She was past forty, more handsome than pretty, but still easy on the eye. Being randy is the next best thing to being drunk, he decided. It made him feel as if he was still alive. “Did you see the turtle, Hugor?” the septa asked him, wringing water from her hair. “The big ridgeback?”

The early morning was the best time for seeing turtles. During the day they would swim down deep, or hide in cuts along the banks, but when the sun was newly risen they came to the surface. Some liked to swim beside the boat. Tyrion had glimpsed a dozen different sorts: large turtles and small ones, flatbacks and red-ears, softshells and bonesnappers, brown turtles, green turtles, black turtles, clawed turtles and horned turtles, turtles whose ridged and patterned shells were covered with whorls of gold and jade and cream. Some were so large they could have borne a man upon their backs. Yandry swore the Rhoynar princes used to ride them across the river. He and his wife were Greenblood born, a pair of Dornish orphans come home to Mother Rhoyne.

“I missed the ridgeback.” I was watching the naked woman.

“I am sad for you.” Lemore slipped her robe over her head. “I know you only rise so early in hopes of seeing turtles.”

“I like to watch the sun come up as well.” It was like watching a maiden rising naked from her bath. Some might be prettier than others, but every one was full of promise. “The turtles have their charms, I will allow. Nothing delights me so much as the sight of a nice pair of shapely … shells.”

Septa Lemore laughed. Like everyone else aboard the Shy Maid, she had her secrets. She was welcome to them. I do not want to know her, I only want to fuck her. She knew it too. As she hung her septa’s crystal about her neck, to nestle in the cleft between her breasts, she teased him with a smile.

Yandry pulled up the anchor, slid one of the long poles off the cabin roof, and pushed them off. Two of the herons raised their heads to watch as the Shy Maid drifted away from the bank, out into the current. Slowly the boat began to move downstream. Yandry went to the tiller. Ysilla was turning the biscuits. She laid an iron pan atop the brazier and put the bacon in. Some days she cooked biscuits and bacon; some days bacon and biscuits. Once every fortnight there might be a fish, but not today.

When Ysilla turned her back, Tyrion snatched a biscuit off the brazier, darting away just in time to avoid a smack from her fearsome wooden spoon. They were best when eaten hot, dripping with honey and butter. The smell of the bacon cooking soon fetched Duck up from the hold. He sniffed over the brazier, received a swack from Ysilla’s spoon, and went back to have his morning piss off the stern.

Tyrion waddled over to join him. “Now here’s a sight to see,” he quipped as they were emptying their bladders, “a dwarf and a duck, making the mighty Rhoyne that much mightier.”

Yandry snorted in derision. “Mother Rhoyne has no need of your water, Yollo. She is the greatest river in the world.”

Tyrion shook off the last few drops. “Big enough to drown a dwarf, I grant you. The Mander is as broad, though. So is the Trident, near its mouth. The Blackwater runs deeper.”

“You do not know the river. Wait, and you will see.”

The bacon turned crisp, the biscuits golden brown. Young Griff stumbled up onto deck yawning. “Good morrow, all.” The lad was shorter than Duck, but his lanky build suggested that he had not yet come into his full growth. This beardless boy could have any maiden in the Seven Kingdoms, blue hair or no. Those eyes of his would melt them. Like his sire, Young Griff had blue eyes, but where the father’s eyes were pale, the son’s were dark. By lamplight they turned black, and in the light of dusk they seemed purple. His eyelashes were as long as any woman’s.

“I smell bacon,” the lad said, pulling on his boots.

“Good bacon,” said Ysilla. “Sit.”

She fed them on the afterdeck, pressing honeyed biscuits on Young Griff and hitting Duck’s hand with her spoon whenever he made a grab for more bacon. Tyrion pulled apart two biscuits, filled them with bacon, and carried one to Yandry at the tiller. Afterward he helped Duck to raise the Shy Maid’s big lateen sail. Yandry took them out into the center of the river, where the current was strongest. The Shy Maid was a sweet boat. Her draft was so shallow she could work her way up even the smallest of the river’s vassal streams, negotiating sandbars that would have stranded larger vessels, yet with her sail raised and a current under her, she could make good speed. That could mean life and death on the upper reaches of the Rhoyne, Yandry claimed. “There is no law above the Sorrows, not for a thousand years.”

“And no people, so far as I can see.” He’d glimpsed some ruins along the banks, piles of masonry overgrown by vines and moss and flowers, but no other signs of human habitation.

“You do not know the river, Yollo. A pirate boat may lurk up any stream, and escaped slaves oft hide amongst the ruins. The slave-catchers seldom come so far north.”

“Slave-catchers would be a welcome change from turtles.” Not being an escaped slave, Tyrion need not fear being caught. And no pirate was like to bother a poleboat moving downstream. The valuable goods came up the river from Volantis.

When the bacon was gone, Duck punched Young Griff in the shoulder. “Time to raise some bruises. Swords today, I think.”

“Swords?” Young Griff grinned. “Swords will be sweet.”

Tyrion helped him dress for the bout, in heavy breeches, padded doublet, and a dinted suit of old steel plate. Ser Rolly shrugged into his mail and boiled leather. Both set helms upon their heads and chose blunted longswords from the bundle in the weapons chest. They set to on the afterdeck, having at each other lustily whilst the rest of the morning company looked on.

When they fought with mace or blunted longaxe, Ser Rolly’s greater size and strength would quickly overwhelm his charge; with swords the contests were more even. Neither man had taken up a shield this morning, so it was a game of slash and parry, back and forth across the deck. The river rang to the sounds of their combat. Young Griff landed more blows, though Duck’s were harder. After a while, the bigger man began to tire. His cuts came a little slower, a little lower. Young Griff turned them all and launched a furious attack that forced Ser Rolly back. When they reached the stern, the lad tied up their blades and slammed a shoulder into Duck, and the big man went into the river.

He came up sputtering and cursing, bellowing for someone to fish him out before a ’snapper ate his privates. Tyrion tossed a line to him. “Ducks should swim better than that,” he said as he and Yandry were hauling the knight back aboard the Shy Maid.

Ser Rolly grabbed Tyrion by the collar. “Let us see how dwarfs swim,” he said, chucking him headlong into the Rhoyne.

The dwarf laughed last; he could paddle passably well, and did … until his legs began to cramp. Young Griff extended him a pole. “You are not the first to try and drown me,” he told Duck, as he was pouring river water from his boot. “My father threw me down a well the day I was born, but I was so ugly that the water witch who lived down there spat me back.” He pulled off the other boot, then did a cartwheel along the deck, spraying all of them.

Young Griff laughed. “Where did you learn that?”

“The mummers taught me,” he lied. “My mother loved me best of all her children because I was so small. She nursed me at her breast till I was seven. That made my brothers jealous, so they stuffed me in a sack and sold me to a mummer’s troupe. When I tried to run off the master mummer cut off half my nose, so I had no choice but to go with them and learn to be amusing.”

The truth was rather different. His uncle had taught him a bit of tumbling when he was six or seven. Tyrion had taken to it eagerly. For half a year he cartwheeled his merry way about Casterly Rock, bringing smiles to the faces of septons, squires, and servants alike. Even Cersei laughed to see him once or twice.

All that ended abruptly the day his father returned from a sojourn in King’s Landing. That night at supper Tyrion surprised his sire by walking the length of the high table on his hands. Lord Tywin was not pleased. “The gods made you a dwarf. Must you be a fool as well? You were born a lion, not a monkey.”

And you’re a corpse, Father, so I’ll caper as I please.

“You have a gift for making men smile,” Septa Lemore told Tyrion as he was drying off his toes. “You should thank the Father Above. He gives gifts to all his children.”

“He does,” he agreed pleasantly. And when I die, please let them bury with me a crossbow, so I can thank the Father Above for his gifts the same way I thanked the father below.

His clothing was still soaked from his involuntary swim, clinging to his arms and legs uncomfortably. Whilst Young Griff went off with Septa Lemore to be instructed in the mysteries of the Faith, Tyrion stripped off the wet clothes and donned dry ones. Duck had a good guffaw when he emerged on deck again. He could not blame him. Dressed as he was, he made a comic sight. His doublet was divided down the middle; the left side was purple velvet with bronze studs; the right, yellow wool embroidered in green floral patterns. His breeches were similarly split; the right leg was solid green, the left leg striped in red and white. One of Illyrio’s chests had been packed with a child’s clothing, musty but well made. Septa Lemore had slit each garment apart, then sewn them back together, joining half of this to half of that to fashion a crude motley. Griff had even insisted that Tyrion hel............
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