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TYRION
The Selaesori Qhoran was seven days from Volantis when Penny finally emerged from her cabin, creeping up on deck like some timid woodland creature emerging from a long winter’s sleep.

It was dusk and the red priest had lit his nightfire in the great iron brazier amidships as the crew gathered round to pray. Moqorro’s voice was a bass drum that seemed to boom from somewhere deep within his massive torso. “We thank you for your sun that keeps us warm,” he prayed. “We thank you for your stars that watch over us as we sail this cold black sea.” A huge man, taller than Ser Jorah and wide enough to make two of him, the priest wore scarlet robes embroidered at sleeve and hem and collar with orange satin flames. His skin was black as pitch, his hair as white as snow; the flames tattooed across his cheeks and brow yellow and orange. His iron staff was as tall as he was and crowned with a dragon’s head; when he stamped its butt upon the deck, the dragon’s maw spat crackling green flame.

His guardsmen, five slave warriors of the Fiery Hand, led the responses. They chanted in the tongue of Old Volantis, but Tyrion had heard the prayers enough to grasp the essence. Light our fire and protect us from the dark, blah blah, light our way and keep us toasty warm, the night is dark and full of terrors, save us from the scary things, and blah blah blah some more.

He knew better than to voice such thoughts aloud. Tyrion Lannister had no use for any god, but on this ship it was wise to show a certain respect for red R’hllor. Jorah Mormont had removed Tyron’s chains and fetters once they were safely under way, and the dwarf did not wish to give him cause to clap them on again.

The Selaesori Qhoran was a wallowing tub of five hundred tons, with a deep hold, high castles fore and aft, and a single mast between. At her forecastle stood a grotesque figurehead, some worm-eaten wooden eminence with a constipated look and a scroll tucked up under one arm. Tyrion had never seen an uglier ship. Her crew was no prettier. Her captain, a mean-mouthed, flinty, kettle-bellied man with close-set, greedy eyes, was a bad cyvasse player and a worse loser. Under him served four mates, freedmen all, and fifty slaves bound to the ship, each with a crude version of the cog’s figurehead tattooed upon one cheek. No-Nose, the sailors liked to call Tyrion, no matter how many times he told them his name was Hugor Hill.

Three of the mates and more than three-quarters of the crew were fervent worshipers of the Lord of Light. Tyrion was less certain about the captain, who always emerged for the evening prayers but took no other part in them. But Moqorro was the true master of the Selaesori Qhoran, at least for this voyage.

“Lord of Light, bless your slave Moqorro, and light his way in the dark places of the world,” the red priest boomed. “And defend your righteous slave Benerro. Grant him courage. Grant him wisdom. Fill his heart with fire.”

That was when Tyrion noticed Penny, watching the mummery from the steep wooden stair that led down beneath the sterncastle. She stood on one of the lower steps, so only the top of her head was visible. Beneath her hood her eyes shone big and white in the light of the nightfire. She had her dog with her, the big grey hound she rode in the mock jousts.

“My lady,” Tyrion called softly. In truth, she was no lady, but he could not bring himself to mouth that silly name of hers, and he was not about to call her girl or dwarf.

She cringed back. “I … I did not see you.”

“Well, I am small.”

“I … I was unwell …” Her dog barked.

Sick with grief, you mean. “If I can be of help …”

“No.” And quick as that she was gone again, retreating back below to the cabin she shared with her dog and sow. Tyrion could not fault her. The crew of the Selaesori Qhoran had been pleased enough when he first came on board; a dwarf was good luck, after all. His head had been rubbed so often and so vigorously that it was a wonder he wasn’t bald. But Penny had met with a more mixed reaction. She might be a dwarf, but she was also a woman, and women were bad luck aboard ship. For every man who tried to rub her head, there were three who muttered maledictions under their breath when she went by.

And the sight of me can only be salt in her wound. They hacked off her brother’s head in the hope that it was mine, yet here I sit like some bloody gargoyle, offering empty consolations. If I were her, I’d want nothing more than to shove me into the sea.

He felt nothing but pity for the girl. She did not deserve the horror visited on her in Volantis, any more than her brother had. The last time he had seen her, just before they left port, her eyes had been raw from crying, two ghastly red holes in a wan, pale face. By the time they raised sail she had locked herself in her cabin with her dog and her pig, but at night they could hear her weeping. Only yesterday he had heard one of the mates say that they ought to throw her overboard before her tears could swamp the ship. Tyrion was not entirely sure he had been japing.

When the evening prayers had ended and the ship’s crew had once again dispersed, some to their watch and others to food and rum and hammocks, Moqorro remained beside his nightfire, as he did every night. The red priest rested by day but kept vigil through the dark hours, to tend his sacred flames so that the sun might return to them at dawn.

Tyrion squatted across from him and warmed his hands against the night’s chill. Moqorro took no notice of him for several moments. He was staring into the flickering flames, lost in some vision. Does he see days yet to come, as he claims? If so, that was a fearsome gift. After a time the priest raised his eyes to meet the dwarf’s. “Hugor Hill,” he said, inclining his head in a solemn nod. “Have you come to pray with me?”

“Someone told me that the night is dark and full of terrors. What do you see in those flames?”

“Dragons,” Moqorro said in the Common Tongue of Westeros. He spoke it very well, with hardly a trace of accent. No doubt that was one reason the high priest Benerro had chosen him to bring the faith of R’hllor to Daenerys Targaryen. “Dragons old and young, true and false, bright and dark. And you. A small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of all.”

“Snarling? An amiable fellow like me?” Tyrion was almost flattered. And no doubt that is just what he intends. Every fool loves to hear that he’s important. “Perhaps it was Penny you saw. We’re almost of a size.”

“No, my friend.”

My friend? When did that happen, I wonder? “Did you see how long it will take us to reach Meereen?”

“You are eager to behold the world’s deliverer?”

Yes and no. The world’s deliverer may snick off my head or give me to her dragons as a savory. “Not me,” said Tyrion. “For me, it is all about the olives. Though I fear I may grow old and die before I taste one. I could dog-paddle faster than we’re sailing. Tell me, was Selaesori Qhoran a triarch or a turtle?”

The red priest chuckled. “Neither. Qhoran is … not a ruler, but one who serves and counsels such, and helps conduct his business. You of Westeros might say steward or magister.”

King’s Hand? That amused him. “And selaesori?”

Moqorro touched his nose. “Imbued with a pleasant aroma. Fragrant, would you say? Flowery?”

“So Selaesori Qhoran means Stinky Steward, more or less?”

“Fragrant Steward, rather.”

Tyrion gave a crooked grin. “I believe I will stay with Stinky. But I do thank you for the lesson.”

“I am pleased to have enlightened you. Perhaps someday you will let me teach you the truth of R’hllor as well.”

“Someday.” When I am a head on a spike.

The quarters he shared with Ser Jorah were a cabin only by courtesy; the dank, dark, foul-smelling closet had barely enough space to hang a pair of sleeping hammocks, one above the other. He found Mormont stretched out in the lower one, swaying slowly with the motion of the ship. “The girl finally poked her nose abovedecks,” Tyrion told him. “One look at me and she scurried right back down below.”

“You’re not a pretty sight.”

“Not all of us can be as comely as you. The girl is lost. It would not surprise me if the poor creature wasn’t sneaking up to jump over the side and drown herself.”

“The poor creature’s name is Penny.”

“I know her name.” He hated her name. Her brother had gone by the name of Groat, though his true name had been Oppo. Groat and Penny. The smallest coins, worth the least, and what’s worse, they chose the names themselves. It left a bad taste in Tyrion’s mouth. “By any name, she needs a friend.”

Ser Jorah sat up in his hammock. “Befriend her, then. Marry her, for all I care.”

That left a bad taste in his mouth as well. “Like with like, is that your notion? Do you mean to find a she-bear for yourself, ser?”

“You were the one who insisted that we bring her.”

“I said we could not abandon her in Volantis. That does not mean I want to fuck her. She wants me dead, have you forgotten? I’m the last person she’s like to want as a friend.”

“You’re both dwarfs.”

“Yes, and so was her brother, who was killed because some drunken fools took him for me.”

“Feeling guilty, are you?”

“No.” Tyrion bristled. “I have sins enough to answer for; I’ll have no part of this one. I might have nurtured some ill will toward her and her brother for the part they played the night of Joffrey’s wedding, but I never wished them harm.”

“You are a harmless creature, to be sure. Innocent as a lamb.” Ser Jorah got to his feet. “The dwarf girl is your burden. Kiss her, kill her, or avoid her, as you like. It’s naught to me.” He shouldered past Tyrion and out of the cabin.

Twice exiled, and small wonder, Tyrion thought. I’d exile him too if I could. The man is cold, brooding, sullen, deaf to humor. And those are his good points. Ser Jorah spent most of his waking hours pacing the forecastle or leaning on the rail, gazing out to sea. Looking for his silver queen. Looking for Daenerys, willing the ship to sail faster. Well, I might do the same if Tysha waited in Meereen.

Could Slaver’s Bay be where whores went? It seemed unlikely. From what he’d read, the slaver cities were the place where whores were made. Mormont should have bought one for himself. A pretty slave girl might have done wonders to improve his temper … particularly one with silvery hair, like the whore who had been sitting on his cock back in Selhorys.

On the river Tyrion had to endure Griff, but there had at least been the mystery of the captain’s true identity to divert him and the more congenial companionship of the rest of the poleboat’s little company. On the cog, alas, everyone was just who they appeared to be, no one was particularly congenial, and only the red priest was interesting. Him, and maybe Penny. But the girl hates me, and she should.

Life aboard the Selaesori Qhoran was nothing if not tedious, Tyrion had found. The most exciting part of his day was pricking his toes and fingers with a knife. On the river there had been wonders to behold: giant turtles, ruined cities, stone men, naked septas. One never knew what might be lurking around the next bend. The days and nights at sea were all the same. Leaving Volantis, the cog had sailed within sight of land at first, so Tyrion could gaze at passing headlands, watch clouds of seabirds rise from stony cliffs and crumbling watchtowers, count bare brown islands as they slipped past. He saw many other ships as well: fishing boats, lumbering merchantmen, proud galleys with their oars lashing the waves into white foam. But once they struck out into deeper waters, there was only sea and sky, air and water. The water looked like water. The sky looked like sky. Sometimes there was a cloud. Too much blue.

And the nights were worse. Tyrion slept badly at the best of times, and this was far from that. Sleep meant dreams as like as not, and in his dreams the Sorrows waited, and a stony king with his father’s face. That left him with the beggar’s choice of climbing up into his hammock and listening to Jorah Mormont snore beneath him, or remaining abovedecks to contemplate the sea. On moonless nights the water was as black as maester’s ink, from horizon to horizon. Dark and deep and forbidding, beautiful in a chilly sort of way, but when he looked at it too long Tyrion found himself musing on how easy it would be to slip over the gunwale and drop down into that darkness. One very small splash, and the pathetic little tale that was his life would soon be done. But what if there is a hell and my father’s waiting for me?

The best part of each evening was supper. The food was not especially good, but it was plentiful, so that was where the dwarf went next. The galley where he took his meals was a cramped and uncomfortable space, with a ceiling so low that the taller passengers were always in danger of cracking their heads, a hazard the strapping slave soldiers of the Fiery Hand seemed particularly prone to. As much as Tyrion enjoyed sniggering at that, he had come to prefer taking his meals alone. Sitting at a crowded table with men who did not share a common language with you, listening to them talk and jape whilst understanding none of it, had quickly grown wearisome. Particularly since he always found himself wondering if the japes and laughter were directed at him.

The galley was also where the ship’s books were kept. Her captain being an especially bookish man, she carried three—a collection of nautical poetry that went from bad to worse, a well-thumbed tome about the erotic adventures of a young slave girl in a Lysene pillow house, and the fourth and final volume of The Life of the Triarch Belicho, a famous Volantene patriot whose unbroken succession of conquests and triumphs ended rather abruptly when he was eaten by giants. Tyrion had finished them all by their third day at sea. Then, for lack of any other books, he started reading them again. The slave girl’s story was the worst written but the most engrossing, and that was the one he took down this evening to see him through a supper of buttered beets, cold fish stew, and biscuits that could have been used to drive nails.

He was reading the girl’s account of the day she and her sister were taken by slavers when Penny entered the galley. “Oh,” she said, “I thought … I did not mean to disturb m’lord, I …”

“You are not disturbing me. You’re not going to try to kill me again, I hope.”

“No.” She looked away, her face reddening.

“In that case, I would welcome some company. There’s little enough aboard this ship.” Tyrion closed the book. “Come. Sit. Eat.” The girl had left most of her meals untouched outside her cabin door. By now she must be starving. “The stew is almost edible. The fish is fresh, at least.”

“No, I … I choked on a fish bone once, I can’t eat fish.”

“Have some wine, then.” He filled a cup and slid it toward her. “Compliments of our captain. Closer to piss than Arbor gold, if truth be told, but even piss tastes better than the black tar rum the sailors drink. It might help you sleep.”

The girl made no move to touch the cup. “Thank you, m’lord, but no.” She backed away. “I should not be bothering you.”

“Do you mean to spend your whole life running away?” Tyrion asked before she could slip back out the door.

That stopped her. Her cheeks turned a bright pink, and he was afraid she was about to start weeping again. Instead she thrust out her lip defiantly and said, “You’re running too.”

“I am,” he confessed, “but I am running to and you are running from, and there’s a world of difference there.”

“We would never have had to run at all but for you.”

It took some courage to say that to my face. “Are you speaking of King’s Landing or Volantis?”

“Both.” Tears glistened in her eyes. “Everything. Why couldn’t you just come joust with us, the way the king wanted? You wouldn’t have gotten hurt. What would that have cost m’lord, to climb up on our dog and ride a tilt to please the boy? It was just a bit of fun. They would have laughed at you, that’s all.”

“They would have laughed at me,” said Tyrion. I made them laugh at Joff instead. And wasn’t that a clever ploy?

“My brother says that is a good thing, making people laugh. A noble thing, and honorable. My br............
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