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TYRION
The Shy Maid moved through the fog like a blind man groping his way down an unfamiliar hall.

Septa Lemore was praying. The mists muffled the sound of her voice, making it seem small and hushed. Griff paced the deck, mail clinking softly beneath his wolfskin cloak. From time to time he touched his sword, as if to make certain that it still hung at his side. Rolly Duckfield was pushing at the starboard pole, Yandry at the larboard. Ysilla had the tiller.

“I do not like this place,” Haldon Halfmaester muttered.

“Frightened of a little fog?” mocked Tyrion, though in truth there was quite a lot of fog. At the prow of the Shy Maid, Young Griff stood with the third pole, to push them away from hazards as they loomed up through the mists. The lanterns had been lit fore and aft, but the fog was so thick that all the dwarf could see from amidships was a light floating out ahead of him and another following behind. His own task was to tend the brazier and make certain that the fire did not go out.

“This is no common fog, Hugor Hill,” Ysilla insisted. “It stinks of sorcery, as you would know if you had a nose to smell it. Many a voyager has been lost here, poleboats and pirates and great river galleys too. They wander forlorn through the mists, searching for a sun they cannot find until madness or hunger claim their lives. There are restless spirits in the air here and tormented souls below the water.”

“There’s one now,” said Tyrion. Off to starboard a hand large enough to crush the boat was reaching up from the murky depths. Only the tops of two fingers broke the river’s surface, but as the Shy Maid eased on past he could see the rest of the hand rippling below the water and a pale face looking up. Though his tone was light, he was uneasy. This was a bad place, rank with despair and death. Ysilla is not wrong. This fog is not natural. Something foul grew in the waters here, and festered in the air. Small wonder the stone men go mad.

“You should not make mock,” warned Ysilla. “The whispering dead hate the warm and quick and ever seek for more damned souls to join them.”

“I doubt they have a shroud my size.” The dwarf stirred the coals with a poker.

“Hatred does not stir the stone men half so much as hunger.” Haldon Halfmaester had wrapped a yellow scarf around his mouth and nose, muffling his voice. “Nothing any sane man would want to eat grows in these fogs. Thrice each year the triarchs of Volantis send a galley upriver with provisions, but the mercy ships are oft late and sometimes bring more mouths than food.”

Young Griff said, “There must be fish in the river.”

“I would not eat any fish taken from these waters,” said Ysilla. “I would not.”

“We’d do well not to breathe the fog either,” said Haldon. “Garin’s Curse is all about us.”

The only way not to breathe the fog is not to breathe. “Garin’s Curse is only greyscale,” said Tyrion. The curse was oft seen in children, especially in damp, cold climes. The afflicted flesh stiffened, calcified, and cracked, though the dwarf had read that greyscale’s progress could be stayed by limes, mustard poultices, and scalding-hot baths (the maesters said) or by prayer, sacrifice, and fasting (the septons insisted). Then the disease passed, leaving its young victims disfigured but alive. Maesters and septons alike agreed that children marked by greyscale could never be touched by the rarer mortal form of the affliction, nor by its terrible swift cousin, the grey plague. “Damp is said to be the culprit,” he said. “Foul humors in the air. Not curses.”

“The conquerors did not believe either, Hugor Hill,” said Ysilla. “The men of Volantis and Valyria hung Garin in a golden cage and made mock as he called upon his Mother to destroy them. But in the night the waters rose and drowned them, and from that day to this they have not rested. They are down there still beneath the water, they who were once the lords of fire. Their cold breath rises from the murk to make these fogs, and their flesh has turned as stony as their hearts.”

The stump of Tyrion’s nose was itching fiercely. He gave it a scratch. The old woman may be right. This place is no good. I feel as if I am back in the privy again, watching my father die. He would go mad as well if he had to spend his days in this grey soup whilst his flesh and bones turned to stone.

Young Griff did not seem to share his misgivings. “Let them try and trouble us, we’ll show them what we’re made of.”

“We are made of blood and bone, in the image of the Father and the Mother,” said Septa Lemore. “Make no vainglorious boasts, I beg you. Pride is a grievous sin. The stone men were proud as well, and the Shrouded Lord was proudest of them all.”

The heat from the glowing coals brought a flush to Tyrion’s face. “Is there a Shrouded Lord? Or is he just some tale?”

“The Shrouded Lord has ruled these mists since Garin’s day,” said Yandry. “Some say that he himself is Garin, risen from his watery grave.”

“The dead do not rise,” insisted Haldon Halfmaester, “and no man lives a thousand years. Yes, there is a Shrouded Lord. There have been a score of them. When one dies another takes his place. This one is a corsair from the Basilisk Islands who believed the Rhoyne would offer richer pickings than the Summer Sea.”

“Aye, I’ve heard that too,” said Duck, “but there’s another tale I like better. The one that says he’s not like t’other stone men, that he started as a statue till a grey woman came out of the fog and kissed him with lips as cold as ice.”

“Enough,” said Griff. “Be quiet, all of you.”

Septa Lemore sucked in her breath. “What was that?”

“Where?” Tyrion saw nothing but the fog.

“Something moved. I saw the water rippling.”

“A turtle,” the prince announced cheerfully. “A big ’snapper, that’s all it was.” He thrust his pole out ahead of them and pushed them away from a towering green obelisk.

The fog clung to them, damp and chilly. A sunken temple loomed up out of the greyness as Yandry and Duck leaned upon their poles and paced slowly from prow to stern, pushing. They passed a marble stair that spiraled up from the mud and ended jaggedly in air. Beyond, half-seen, were other shapes: shattered spires, headless statues, trees with roots bigger than their boat.

“This was the most beautiful city on the river, and the richest,” said Yandry. “Chroyane, the festival city.”

Too rich, thought Tyrion, too beautiful. It is never wise to tempt the dragons. The drowned city was all around them. A half-seen shape flapped by overhead, pale leathery wings beating at the fog. The dwarf craned his head around to get a better look, but the thing was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.

Not long after, another light floated into view. “Boat,” a voice called across the water, faintly. “Who are you?”

“Shy Maid,” Yandry shouted back.

“Kingfisher. Up or down?”

“Down. Hides and honey, ale and tallow.”

“Up. Knives and needles, lace and linen, spice wine.”

“What word from old Volantis?” Yandry called.

“War,” the word came back.

“Where?” Griff shouted. “When?”

“When the year turns,” came the answer, “Nyessos and Malaquo go hand in hand, and the elephants show stripes.” The voice faded as the other boat moved away from them. They watched its light dwindle and disappear.

“Is it wise to shout through the fog at boats we cannot see?” asked Tyrion. “What if they were pirates?” They had been fortunate where the pirates were concerned, slipping down Dagger Lake by night, unseen and unmolested. Once Duck had caught a glimpse of a hull that he insisted belonged to Urho the Unwashed. The Shy Maid had been upwind, however, and Urho—if Urho it had been—had shown no interest in them.

“The pirates will not sail into the Sorrows,” said Yandry.

“Elephants with stripes?” Griff muttered. “What is that about? Nyessos and Malaquo? Illyrio has paid Triarch Nyessos enough to own him eight times over.”

“In gold or cheese?” quipped Tyrion.

Griff rounded on him. “Unless you can cut this fog with your next witticism, keep it to yourself.”

Yes, Father, the dwarf almost said. I’ll be quiet. Thank you. He did not know these Volantenes, yet it seemed to him that elephants and tigers might have good reason to make common cause when faced with dragons. Might be the cheesemonger has misjudged the situation. You can buy a man with gold, but only blood and steel will keep him true.

The little man stirred the coals again and blew on them to make them burn brighter. I hate this. I hate this fog, I hate this place, and I am less than fond of Griff. Tyrion still had the poison mushrooms he had plucked from the grounds of Illyrio’s manse, and there were days when he was sore tempted to slip them into Griff’s supper. The trouble was, Griff scarce seemed to eat.

Duck and Yandry pushed against the poles. Ysilla turned the tiller. Young Griff pushed the Shy Maid away from a broken tower whose windows stared down like blind black eyes. Overhead her sail hung limp and heavy. The water deepened under her hull, until their poles could not touch bottom, but still the current pushed them downstream, until …

All Tyrion could see was something massive rising from the river, humped and ominous. He took it for a hill looming above a wooded island, or some colossal rock overgrown with moss and ferns and hidden by the fog. As the Shy Maid drew nearer, though, the shape of it came clearer. A wooden keep could be seen beside the water, rotted and overgrown. Slender spires took form above it, some of them snapped off like broken spears. Roofless towers appeared and disappeared, thrusting blindly upward. Halls and galleries drifted past: graceful buttresses, delicate arches, fluted columns, terraces and bowers.

All ruined, all desolate, all fallen.

The grey moss grew thickly here, covering the fallen stones in great mounds and bearding all the towers. Black vines crept in and out of windows, through doors and over archways, up the sides of high stone walls. The fog concealed three-quarters of the palace, but what they glimpsed was more than enough for Tyrion to know that this island fastness had been ten times the size of the Red Keep once and a hundred times more beautiful. He knew where he was. “The Palace of Love,” he said softly.

“That was the Rhoynar name,” said Haldon Halfmaester, “but for a thousand years this has been the Palace of Sorrow.”

The ruin was sad enough, but knowing what it had been made it even sadder. There was laughter here once, Tyrion thought. There were gardens bright with flowers and fountains sparkling golden in the sun. These steps once rang to the sound of lovers’ footsteps, and beneath that broken dome marriages beyond count were sealed with a kiss. His thoughts turned to Tysha, who had so briefly been his lady wife. It was Jaime, he thought, despairing. He was my own blood, my big strong brother. When I was small he brought me toys, barrel hoops and blocks and a carved wooden lion. He gave me my first pony and taught me how to ride him. When he said that he had bought you for me, I never doubted him. Why would I? He was Jaime, and you were just some girl who’d played a part. I had feared it from the start, from the moment you first smiled at me and let me touch your hand. My own father could not love me. Why would you if not for gold?

Through the long grey fingers of the fog, he heard again the deep shuddering thrum of a bowstring snapping taut, the grunt Lord Tywin made as the quarrel took him beneath the belly, the slap of cheeks on stone as he sat back down to die. “Wherever whores go,” he said. And where is that? Tyrion wanted to ask him. Where did Tysha go, Father? “How much more of this fog must we endure?”

“Another hour should see us clear of the Sorrows,” said Haldon Halfmaester. “From there on, this should be a pleasure cruise. There’s a village around every bend along the lower Rhoyne. Orchards and vineyards and fields of grain ripening in the sun, fisherfolk on the water, hot baths and sweet wines. Selhorys, Valysar, and Volon Therys are walled towns so large they would be cities in the Seven Kingdoms. I believe I’ll—”

“Light ahead,” warned Young Griff.

Tyrion saw it too. Kingfisher, or another poleboat, he told himself, but somehow he knew that was not right. His nose itched. He scratched at it savagely. The light grew brighter as the Shy Maid approached it. A soft star in the distance, it glimmered faintly through the fog, beckoning them on. Shortly it became two lights, then three: a ragged row of beacons rising from the water.

“The Bridge of Dream,” Griff named it. “There will be stone men on the span. Some may start to wail at our approach, but they are not like to molest us. Most stone men are feeble creatures, clumsy, lumbering, witless. Near the end they all go mad, but that is when they are most dangerous. If need be, fend them off with the torches. On no account let them touch you.”

“They may not even see us,” said Haldon Halfmaester. “The fog will hide us from them ............
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