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TYRION
Lot ninety-seven.” The auctioneer snapped his whip. “A pair of dwarfs, well trained for your amusement.”

The auction block had been thrown up where the broad brown Skahazadhan flowed into Slaver’s Bay. Tyrion Lannister could smell the salt in the air, mingled with the stink from the latrine ditches behind the slave pens. He did not mind the heat so much as he did the damp. The very air seemed to weigh him down, like a warm wet blanket across his head and shoulders.

“Dog and pig included in lot,” the auctioneer announced. “The dwarfs ride them. Delight the guests at your next feast or use them for a folly.”

The bidders sat on wooden benches sipping fruit drinks. A few were being fanned by slaves. Many wore tokars, that peculiar garment beloved by the old blood of Slaver’s Bay, as elegant as it was impractical. Others dressed more plainly—men in tunics and hooded cloaks, women in colored silks. Whores or priestesses, most like; this far east it was hard to tell the two apart.

Back behind the benches, trading japes and making mock of the proceedings, stood a clot of westerners. Sellswords, Tyrion knew. He spied longswords, dirks and daggers, a brace of throwing axes, mail beneath their cloaks. Their hair and beards and faces marked most for men of the Free Cities, but here and there were a few who might have been Westerosi. Are they buying? Or did they just turn up for the show?

“Who will open for this pair?”

“Three hundred,” bid a matron on an antique palanquin.

“Four,” called a monstrously fat Yunkishman from the litter where he sprawled like a leviathan. Covered all in yellow silk fringed with gold, he looked as large as four Illyrios. Tyrion pitied the slaves who had to carry him. At least we will be spared that duty. What joy to be a dwarf.

“And one,” said a crone in a violet tokar. The auctioneer gave her a sour look but did not disallow the bid.

The slave sailors off the Selaesori Qhoran, sold singly, had gone for prices ranging from five hundred to nine hundred pieces of silver. Seasoned seamen were a valuable commodity. None had put up any sort of fight when the slavers boarded their crippled cog. For them this was just a change of owner. The ship’s mates had been free men, but the widow of the waterfront had written them a binder, promising to stand their ransom in such a case as this. The three surviving fiery fingers had not been sold yet, but they were chattels of the Lord of Light and could count on being bought back by some red temple. The flames tattooed upon their faces were their binders.

Tyrion and Penny had no such reassurance.

“Four-fifty,” came the bid.

“Four-eighty.”

“Five hundred.”

Some bids were called out in High Valyrian, some in the mongrel tongue of Ghis. A few buyers signaled with a finger, the twist of a wrist, or the wave of a painted fan.

“I’m glad they are keeping us together,” Penny whispered.

The slave trader shot them a look. “No talk.”

Tyrion gave Penny’s shoulder a squeeze. Strands of hair, pale blond and black, clung to his brow, the rags of his tunic to his back. Some of that was sweat, some dried blood. He had not been so foolish as to fight the slavers, as Jorah Mormont had, but that did not mean he had escaped punishment. In his case it was his mouth that earned him lashes.

“Eight hundred.”

“And fifty.”

“And one.”

We’re worth as much as a sailor, Tyrion mused. Though perhaps it was Pretty Pig the buyers wanted. A well-trained pig is hard to find. They certainly were not bidding by the pound.

At nine hundred pieces of silver, the bidding began to slow. At nine hundred fifty-one (from the crone), it stopped. The auctioneer had the scent, though, and nothing would do but that the dwarfs give the crowd a taste of their show. Crunch and Pretty Pig were led up onto the platform. Without saddles or bridles, mounting them proved tricky. The moment the sow began to move Tyrion slid off her rump and landed on his own, provoking gales of laughter from the bidders.

“One thousand,” bid the grotesque fat man.

“And one.” The crone again.

Penny’s mouth was frozen in a rictus of a smile. Well trained for your amusement. Her father had a deal to answer for, in whatever small hell was reserved for dwarfs.

“Twelve hundred.” The leviathan in yellow. A slave beside him handed him a drink. Lemon, no doubt. The way those yellow eyes were fixed upon the block made Tyrion uncomfortable.

“Thirteen hundred.”

“And one.” The crone.

My father always said a Lannister was worth ten times as much as any common man.

At sixteen hundred the pace began to flag again, so the slave trader invited some of the buyers to come up for a closer look at the dwarfs. “The female’s young,” he promised. “You could breed the two of them, get good coin for the whelps.”

“Half his nose is gone,” complained the crone once she’d had a good close look. Her wrinkled face puckered with displeasure. Her flesh was maggot white; wrapped in the violet tokar, she looked like a prune gone to mold. “His eyes don’t match neither. An ill-favored thing.”

“My lady hasn’t seen my best part yet.” Tyrion grabbed his crotch, in case she missed his meaning.

The hag hissed in outrage, and Tyrion got a lick of the whip across his back, a stinging cut that drove him to his knees. The taste of blood filled his mouth. He grinned and spat.

“Two thousand,” called a new voice, back of the benches.

And what would a sellsword want with a dwarf? Tyrion pushed himself back to his feet to get a better look. The new bidder was an older man, white-haired yet tall and fit, with leathery brown skin and a close-cropped salt-and-pepper beard. Half-hidden under a faded purple cloak were a longsword and a brace of daggers.

“Twenty-five hundred.” A female voice this time; a girl, short, with a thick waist and heavy bosom, clad in ornate armor. Her sculpted black steel breastplate was inlaid in gold and showed a harpy rising with chains dangling from her claws. A pair of slave soldiers lifted her to shoulder height on a shield.

“Three thousand.” The brown-skinned man pushed through the crowd, his fellow sellswords shoving buyers aside to clear a path. Yes. Come closer. Tyrion knew how to deal with sellswords. He did not think for a moment that this man wanted him to frolic at feasts. He knows me. He means to take me back to Westeros and sell me to my sister. The dwarf rubbed his mouth to hide his smile. Cersei and the Seven Kingdoms were half a world away. Much and more could happen before he got there. I turned Bronn. Give me half a chance, might be I could turn this one too.

The crone and the girl on the shield gave up the chase at three thousand, but not the fat man in yellow. He weighed the sellswords with his yellow eyes, flicked his tongue across his yellow teeth, and said, “Five thousand silvers for the lot.”

The sellsword frowned, shrugged, turned away.

Seven hells. Tyrion was quite certain that he did not want to become the property of the immense Lord Yellowbelly. Just the sight of him sagging across his litter, a mountain of sallow flesh with piggy yellow eyes and breasts big as Pretty Pig pushing at the silk of his tokar was enough to make the dwarf’s skin crawl. And the smell wafting off him was palpable even on the block.

“If there are no further bids—”

“Seven thousand,” shouted Tyrion.

Laughter rippled across the benches. “The dwarf wants to buy himself,” the girl on the shield observed.

Tyrion gave her a lascivious grin. “A clever slave deserves a clever master, and you lot all look like fools.”

That provoked more laughter from the bidders, and a scowl from the auctioneer, who was fingering his whip indecisively as he tried to puzzle out whether this would work to his benefit.

“Five thousand is an insult!” Tyrion called out. “I joust, I sing, I say amusing things. I’ll fuck your wife and make her scream. Or your enemy’s wife if you prefer, what better way to shame him? I’m murder with a crossbow, and men three times my size quail and tremble when we meet across a cyvasse table. I have even been known to cook from time to time. I bid ten thousand silvers for myself! I’m good for it, I am, I am. My father told me I must always pay my debts.”

The sellsword in the purple cloak turned back. His eyes met Tyrion’s across the rows of other bidders, and he smiled. A warm smile, that, the dwarf reflected. Friendly. But my, those eyes are cold. Might be I don’t want him to buy us after all.

The yellow enormity was squirming in his litter, a look of annoyance on his huge pie face. He muttered something sour in Ghiscari that Tyrion did not understand, but the tone of it was plain enough. “Was that another bid?” The dwarf cocked his head. “I offer all the gold of Casterly Rock.”

He heard the whip before he felt it, a whistle in the air, thin and sharp. Tyrion grunted under the blow, but this time he managed to stay on his feet. His thoughts flashed back to the beginnings of his journey, when his most pressing problem had been deciding which wine to drink with his midmorning snails. See what comes of chasing dragons. A laugh burst from his lips, spattering the first row of buyers with blood and spit.

“You are sold,” the auctioneer announced. Then he hit him again, just because he could. This time Tyrion went down.

One of the guards yanked him back to his feet. Another prodded Penny down off the platform with the butt of his spear. The next piece of chattel was already being led up to take their place. A girl, fifteen or sixteen, not off the Selaesori Qhoran this time. Tyrion did not know her. The same age as Daenerys Targaryen, or near enough. The slaver soon had her naked. At least we were spared that humiliation.

Tyrion gazed across the Yunkish camp to the walls of Meereen. Those gates looked so close … and if the talk in the slave pens could be believed, Meereen remained a free city for the nonce. Within those crumbling walls, slavery and the slave trade were still forbidden. All he had to do was reach those gates and pass beyond, and he would be a free man again.

But that was hardly possible unless he abandoned Penny. She’d want to take the dog and the pig along.

“It won’t be so terrible, will it?” Penny whispered. “He paid so much for us. He’ll be kind, won’t he?”

So long as we amuse him. “We’re too valuable to mistreat,” he reassured her, with blood still trickling down his back from those last two lashes. When our show grows stale, however … and it does, it does grow stale …

Their master’s overseer was waiting to take charge of them, with a mule cart and two soldiers. He had a long narrow face and a chin beard bound about with golden wire, and his stiff red-black hair swept out from his temples to form a pair of taloned hands. “What darling little creatures you are,” he said. “You remind me of my own children … or would, if my little ones were not dead. I shall take good care of you. Tell me your names.”

“Penny.” Her voice was a whisper, small and scared.

Tyrion, of House Lannister, rightful lord of Casterly Rock, you sniveling worm. “Yollo.”

“Bold Yollo. Bright Penny. You are the property of the noble and valorous Yezzan zo Qaggaz, scholar and warrior, revered amongst the Wise Masters of Yunkai. Count yourselves fortunate, for Yezzan is a kindly and benevolent master. Think of him as you would your father.”

Gladly, thought Tyrion, but this time he held his tongue. They would have to perform for their new master soon enough, he did not doubt, and he could not take another lash.

“Your father loves his special treasures best of all, and he will cherish you,” the overseer was saying. “And me, think of me as you would the nurse who cared for you when you were small. Nurse is what all my children call me.”

“Lot ninety-nine,” the auctioneer called. “A warrior.”

The girl had sold quickly and was being bundled off to her new owner, clutching her clothing to small, pink-tipped breasts. Two slavers dragged Jorah Mormont onto the block to take her place. The knight was naked but for a breechclout, his back raw from the whip, his face so swollen as to be almost unrecognizable. Chains bound his wrists and ankles. A little taste of the meal he cooked for me, Tyrion thought, yet he found that he could take no pleasure from the big knight’s miseries.

Even in chains, Mormont looked dangerous, a hulking brute with big, thick arms and sloped shoulders. All that coarse dark hair on his chest made him look more beast than man. Both his eyes were blackened, two dark pits in that grotesquely swollen face. Upon one cheek he bore a brand: a demon’s mask.

When the slavers had swarmed aboard the Selaesori Qhoran, Ser Jorah had met them with longsword in hand, slaying three before they overwhelmed him. Their shipmates would gladly have killed him, but the captain forbade it; a fighter was always worth good silver. So Mormont had been chained to an oar, beaten within an inch of his life, starved, and branded.

“Big and strong, this one,” the auctioneer declared. “Plenty of piss in him. He’ll give a good show in the fighting pits. Who will start me out at three hundred?”

No one would.

Mormont paid no mind to the mongrel crowd; his eyes were fixed beyond the siege lines, on the distant city with its ancient walls of many-colored brick. Tyrion could read that look as easy as a book: so near and yet so distant. The poor wretch had returned too late. Daenerys Targaryen was wed, the guards on the pens had told them, laughing. She had taken a Meereenese slaver as her king, as wealthy as he was noble, and when the peace was signed and sealed the fighting pits of Meereen would open once again. Other slaves insisted that the guards were lying, that Daenerys Targaryen would never make peace with slavers. Mhysa, they called her. Someone told him that meant Mother. Soon the silver queen would come forth from her city, smash the Yunkai’i, and break their chains, they whispered to one another.

And then she’ll bake us all a lemon pie and kiss our widdle wounds and make them better, the dwarf thought. He had no faith in royal rescues. If need be, he would see to their deliverance himself. The mushrooms jammed into the toe of his boot should be sufficient for both him and Penny. Crunch and Pretty Pig would need to fend for themselves.

Nurse was still lecturing his master’s new prizes. “Do all you are told and nothing more, and you shall live like little lords, pampered and adored,” he promised. “Disobey … but you would never do that, would you? Not my sweetlings.” He reached down and pinched Penny on her cheek.

“Two hundred, then,” the auctioneer said. “A big brute like this, he’s worth three times as much. What a bodyguard he will make! No enemy will dare molest you!”

“Come, my little friends,” Nurse said, “I will show you to your new home. In Yunkai you will dwell in the golden pyramid of Qaggaz and dine off silver plates, but here we live simply, in the humble tents of soldiers.”

“Who will give me one hundred?” cried the auctioneer.

That drew a bid at last, though it was only fifty silvers. The bidder was a thin man in a leather apron.

“And one,” said the crone in the violet tokar.

One of the soldiers lifted Penny onto the back of the mule cart. “Who is the old woman?” the dwarf asked him.

“Zahrina,” the man said. “Cheap fighters, hers. Meat for heroes. Your friend dead soon.”

He was no friend to me. Yet Tyrion Lannister found himself turning to Nurse and saying, “You cannot let her have him.”

Nurse squinted at him. “What is this noise you make?”

Tyrion pointed. “That one is part of our show. The bear and the maiden fair. Jorah is the bear, Penny is the maiden, I am the brave knight who rescues her. I dance about and hit him in the balls. Very funny.”

The overseer squinted at the auction block. “Him?” The bidding for Jorah Mormont had reached two hundred silvers.

“And one,” said the crone in the violet tokar.

“Your bear. I see.” Nurse went scuttling off through the crowd, bent over the huge yellow Yunkishman in his litter, whispered in his ear. His master nodded, chins wobbling, then raised his fan. “Three hundred,” he called out in a wheezy voice.

The crone sniffed and turned away.

“Why did you do that?” Penny asked, in the Common Tongue.

A fair question, thought Tyrion. Why did I? “Your show was growing dull. Every mummer needs a dancing bear.”

She gave him a reproachful look, then retreated to the back of the cart and sat with her arms around Crunch, as if the dog was her last true friend in the world. Perhaps he is.

Nurse ret............
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