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The healer entered the tent murmuring pleasantries, but one sniff of the foul air and a glance at Yezzan zo Qaggaz put an end to that. “The pale mare,” the man told Sweets.

What a surprise, Tyrion thought. Who could have guessed? Aside from any man with a nose and me with half of one. Yezzan was burning with fever, squirming fitfully in a pool of his own excrement. His shit had turned to brown slime streaked with blood … and it fell to Yollo and Penny to wipe his yellow bottom clean. Even with assistance, their master could not lift his own weight; it took all his failing strength to roll onto one side.

“My arts will not avail here,” the healer announced. “The noble Yezzan’s life is in the hands of the gods. Keep him cool if you can. Some say that helps. Bring him water.” Those afflicted by the pale mare were always thirsty, drinking gallons between their shits. “Clean fresh water, as much as he will drink.”

“Not river water,” said Sweets.

“By no means.” And with that, the healer fled.

We need to flee as well, thought Tyrion. He was a slave in a golden collar, with little bells that tinkled cheerfully with every step he took. One of Yezzan’s special treasures. An honor indistinguishable from a death warrant. Yezzan zo Qaggaz liked to keep his darlings close, so it had fallen to Yollo and Penny and Sweets and his other treasures to attend him when he grew sick.

Poor old Yezzan. The lord of suet was not so bad as masters went. Sweets had been right about that. Serving at his nightly banquets, Tyrion had soon learned that Yezzan stood foremost amongst those Yunkish lords who favored honoring the peace with Meereen. Most of the others were only biding their time, waiting for the armies of Volantis to arrive. A few wanted to assault the city immediately, lest the Volantenes rob them of their glory and the best part of the plunder. Yezzan would have no part of that. Nor would he consent to returning Meereen’s hostages by way of trebuchet, as the sellsword Bloodbeard had proposed.

But much and more can change in two days. Two days ago Nurse had been hale and healthy. Two days ago Yezzan had not heard the pale mare’s ghostly hoofbeats. Two days ago the fleets of Old Volantis had been two days farther off. And now …

“Is Yezzan going to die?” Penny asked, in that please-say-it-is-not-so voice of hers.

“We are all going to die.”

“Of the flux, I meant.”

Sweets gave them both a desperate look. “Yezzan must not die.” The hermaphrodite stroked the brow of their gargantuan master, pushing back his sweat-damp hair. The Yunkishman moaned, and another flood of brown water gushed down his legs. His bedding was stained and stinking, but they had no way to move him.

“Some masters free their slaves when they die,” said Penny.

Sweets tittered. It was a ghastly sound. “Only favorites. They free them from the woes of the world, to accompany their beloved master to the grave and serve him in the afterlife.”

Sweets should know. His will be the first throat slit.

The goat boy spoke up. “The silver queen—”

“—is dead,” insisted Sweets. “Forget her! The dragon took her across the river. She’s drowned in that Dothraki sea.”

“You can’t drown in grass,” the goat boy said.

“If we were free,” said Penny, “we could find the queen. Or go search for her, at least.”

You on your dog and me on my sow, chasing a dragon across the Dothraki sea. Tyrion scratched his scar to keep from laughing. “This particular dragon has already evinced a fondness for roast pork. And roast dwarf is twice as tasty.”

“It was just a wish,” said Penny wistfully. “We could sail away. There are ships again, now that the war is over.”

Is it? Tyrion was inclined to doubt that. Parchments had been signed, but wars were not fought on parchments.

“We could sail to Qarth,” Penny went on. “The streets are paved with jade there, my brother always said. The city walls are one of the wonders of the world. When we perform in Qarth, gold and silver will rain down on us, you’ll see.”

“Some of those ships out on the bay are Qartheen,” Tyrion reminded her. “Lomas Longstrider saw the walls of Qarth. His books suffice for me. I have gone as far east as I intend to go.”

Sweets dabbed at Yezzan’s fevered face with a damp cloth. “Yezzan must live. Or we all die with him. The pale mare does not carry off every rider. The master will recover.”

That was a bald-faced lie. It would be a wonder if Yezzan lived another day. The lord of suet was already dying from whatever hideous disease he had brought back from Sothoryos, it seemed to Tyrion. This would just hasten his end. A mercy, really. But not the sort the dwarf craved for himself. “The healer said he needs fresh water. We will see to that.”

“That is good of you.” Sweets sounded numb. It was more than just fear of having her throat cut; alone amongst Yezzan’s treasures, she actually seemed fond of their immense master.

“Penny, come with me.” Tyrion opened the tent flap and ushered her out into the heat of a Meereenese morning. The air was muggy and oppressive, yet still a welcome relief from the miasma of sweat, shit, and sickness that filled the inside of Yezzan’s palatial pavilion.

“Water will help the master,” Penny said. “That’s what the healer said, it must be so. Sweet fresh water.”

“Sweet fresh water didn’t help Nurse.” Poor old Nurse. Yezzan’s soldiers had tossed him onto the corpse wagon last night at dusk, another victim of the pale mare. When men are dying every hour, no one looks too hard at one more dead man, especially one as well despised as Nurse. Yezzan’s other slaves had refused to go near the overseer once the cramps began, so it was left to Tyrion to keep him warm and bring him drinks. Watered wine and lemonsweet and some nice hot dogtail soup, with slivers of mushroom in the broth. Drink it down, Nursey, that shitwater squirting from your arse needs to be replaced. The last word Nurse ever said was, “No.” The last words he ever heard were, “A Lannister always pays his debts.”

Tyrion had kept the truth of that from Penny, but she needed to understand how things stood with their master. “If Yezzan lives to see the sunrise, I’ll be stunned.”

She clutched his arm. “What will happen to us?”

“He has heirs. Nephews.” Four such had come with Yezzan from Yunkai to command his slave soldiers. One was dead, slain by Targaryen sellswords during a sortie. The other three would divide the yellow enormity’s slaves amongst them, like as not. Whether any of the nephews shared Yezzan’s fondness for cripples, freaks, and grotesques was far less certain. “One of them may inherit us. Or we could end up back on the auction block.”

“No.” Her eyes got big. “Not that. Please.”

“It is not a prospect I relish either.”

A few yards away, six of Yezzan’s slave soldiers were squatting in the dust, throwing the bones and passing a wineskin from hand to hand. One was the serjeant called Scar, a black-tempered brute with a head as smooth as stone and the shoulders of an ox. Clever as an ox too, Tyrion recalled.

He waddled toward them. “Scar,” he barked out, “the noble Yezzan has need of fresh, clean water. Take two men and bring back as many pails as you can carry. And be quick about it.”

The soldiers broke off their game. Scar rose to his feet, brow beetling. “What did you say, dwarf? Who do you think you are?”

“You know who I am. Yollo. One of our lord’s treasures. Now do as I told you.”

The soldiers laughed. “Go on, Scar,” one mocked, “and be quick about it. Yezzan’s monkey gave you a command.”

“You do not tell soldiers what to do,” Scar said.

“Soldiers?” Tyrion affected puzzlement. “Slaves, is what I see. You wear a collar round your neck the same as me.”

The savage backhand blow Scar dealt him knocked him to the ground and broke his lip. “Yezzan’s collar. Not yours.”

Tyrion wiped the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand. When he tried to rise, one leg went out from under him, and he stumbled back onto his knees. He needed Penny’s help to regain his feet. “Sweets said the master must have water,” he said in his best whine.

“Sweets can go fuck himself. He’s made for it. We don’t take commands from that freak neither.”

No, thought Tyrion. Even amongst slaves there were lords and peasants, as he had been quick to learn. The hermaphrodite had long been their master’s special pet, indulged and favored, and the noble Yezzan’s other slaves hated him for it.

The soldiers were accustomed to taking their commands from their masters and their overseer. But Nurse was dead and Yezzan too sick to name a successor. As for the three nephews, those brave free men had remembered urgent business elsewhere at the first sound of the pale mare’s hooves.

“The w-water,” said Tyrion, cringing. “Not river water, the healer said. Clean, fresh well water.”

Scar grunted. “You go for it. And be quick about it.”

“Us?” Tyrion exchanged a hopeless glance with Penny. “Water’s heavy. We’re not so strong as you. Can we … can we take the mule cart?”

“Take your legs.”

“We’ll need to make a dozen trips.”

“Make a hundred trips. It’s no shit to me.”

“Just the two of us … we won’t be able to carry all the water that the master needs.”

“Take your bear,” suggested Scar. “Fetching water is about all that one is good for.”

Tyrion backed away. “As you say, master.”

Scar grinned. Master. Oh, he liked that. “Morgo, bring the keys. You fill the pails and come right back, dwarf. You know what happens to slaves who try to escape.”

“Bring the pails,” Tyrion told Penny. He went off with the man Morgo to fetch Ser Jorah Mormont from his cage.

The knight had not adapted well to bondage. When called upon to play the bear and carry off the maiden fair, he had been sullen and uncooperative, shuffling lifelessly through his paces when he deigned to take part in their mummery at all. Though he had not attempted escape, nor offered violence to his captors, he would ignore their commands oft as not or reply with muttered curses. None of this had amused Nurse, who made his displeasure clear by confining Mormont in an iron cage and having him beaten every evening as the sun sank into Slaver’s Bay. The knight absorbed the beatings silently; the only sounds were the muttered curses of the slaves who beat him and the dull thuds of their clubs pounding against Ser Jorah’s bruised and battered flesh.

The man is a shell, Tyrion thought, the first time he saw the big knight beaten. I should have held my tongue and let Zahrina have him. It might have been a kinder fate than this.

Mormont emerged from the cramped confines of the cage bent and squinting, with both eyes blackened and his back crusty with dried blood. His face was so bruised and swollen that he hardly looked human. He was naked except for a breechclout, a filthy bit of yellow rag. “You’re to help them carry water,” Morgo told him.

Ser Jorah’s only reply was a sullen stare. Some men would sooner die free than live a slave, I suppose. Tyrion was not stricken with that affliction himself, thankfully, but if Mormont murdered Morgo, the other slaves might not draw that distinction. “Come,” he said, before the knight did something brave and stupid. He waddled off and hoped Mormont would follow.

The gods were good for once. Mormont followed.

Two pails for Penny, two for Tyrion, and four for Ser Jorah, two in either hand. The nearest well was south and west of the Harridan, so they set off in that direction, the bells on their collars ringing merrily with every step. No one paid them any mind. They were just slaves fetching water for their master. Wearing a collar conferred certain advantages, particularly a gilded collar inscribed with the name of Yezzan zo Qaggaz. The chime of those little bells proclaimed their value to anyone with ears. A slave was only as important as his master; Yezzan was the richest man in the Yellow City and had brought six hundred slave soldiers to the war, even if he did look like a monstrous yellow slug and smell of piss. Their collars gave them leave to go anywhere they might wish within the camp.

Until Yezzan dies.

The Clanker Lords had their slave soldiers drilling in the nearest field. The clatter of the chains that bound them made a harsh metallic music as they marched across the sand in lockstep and formed up with their long spears. Elsewhere teams of slaves were raising ramps of stone and sand beneath their mangonels and scorpions, angling them upward at the sky, the better to defend the camp should the black dragon return. It made the dwarf smile to see them sweating and cursing as they wrestled the heavy machines onto the inclines. Crossbows were much in evidence as well. Every other man seemed to be clutching one, with a quiverfull of bolts hanging from his hip.

If anyone had thought to ask him, Tyrion could have told them not to bother. Unless one of those long iron scorpion bolts chanced to find an eye, the queen’s pet monster was not like to be brought down by such toys. Dragons are not so easy to kill as that. Tickle him with these and you’ll only make him angry.

The eyes were where a dragon was most vulnerable. The eyes, and the brain behind them. Not the underbelly, as certain old tales would have it. The scales there were just as tough as those along a dragon’s back and flanks. And not down the gullet either. That was madness. These would-be dragonslayers might as well try to quench a fire with a spear thrust. “Death comes out of the dragon’s mouth,” Septon Barth had written in his Unnatural History, “but death does not go in that way.”

Farther on, two legions from New Ghis were facing off shield wall to shield wall whilst serjeants in iron halfhelms with horsehair crests screamed commands in their own incomprehensible dialect. To the naked eye the Ghiscari looked more formidable than the Yunkish slave soldiers, but Tyrion nursed doubts. The legionaries might be armed and organized in the same manner as Unsullied … but the eunuchs knew no other life, whereas the Ghiscari were free citizens who served for three-year terms.

The line at the well stretched back a quarter mile.

There were only a handful of wells within a day’s march of Meereen, so the wait was always long. Most of the Yunkish host drew their drinking water from the Skahazadhan, which Tyrion had known was a very bad idea even before the healer’s warning. The clever ones took care to stay upstream of the latrines, but they were still downstream of the city.

The fact that there were any good wells at all within a day’s march of the city only went to prove that Daenerys Targaryen was still an innocent where siegecraft was concerned. She should have poisoned every well. Then all the Yunkishmen would be drinking from the river. See how long their siege lasts then. That was what his lord father would have done, Tyrion did not doubt.

Every time they shuffled forward another place, the bells on their collars tinkled brightly. Such a happy sound, it makes me want to scoop out someone’s eyeballs with a spoon. By now Griff and Duck and Haldon Halfmaester should be in Westeros with their young prince. I should be with them … but no, I had to have a whore. Kinslaying was not enough, I needed cunt and wine to seal my ruin, and here I am on the wrong side of the world, wearing a slave collar with little golden bells to announce my coming. If I dance just right, maybe I can ring “The Rains of Castamere.”

There was no better place to hear the latest news and rumors than around the well. “I know what I saw,” an old slave in a rusted iron collar was saying, as Tyrion and Penny shuffled along in the queue, “and I saw that dragon ripping off arms and legs, tearing men in half, burning them down to ash and bones. People started running, trying to get out of that pit, but I come to see a show, and by all the gods of Ghis, I saw one. I was up in the purple, so I didn’t think the dragon was like to trouble me.”

“The queen climbed onto the dragon’s back and flew away,” insisted a tall brown woman.

“She tried,” said the old man, “but she couldn’t hold on. The crossbows wounded the dragon, and the queen was struck right between her sweet pink teats, I hear. That was when she fell. She died in the gutter, crushed beneath a wagon’s wheels. I know a girl who knows a man who saw her die.”

In this company, silence was the better part of wisdom, but Tyrion could not help himself. “No corpse was found,” he said.

The old man frowned. “What would you know about it?”

“They were there,” said the brown woman. “It’s them, the jousting dwarfs, the ones who tilted for the queen.”

The old man squinted down as if seeing him and Penny for the first time. “You’re the ones who rode the pigs.”

Our notoriety precedes us. Tyrion sketched a courtly bow, and refrained from pointing out that one of the pigs was really a dog. “The sow I ride is actually my sister. We have the same nose, could you tell? A wizard cast a spell on her, but if you give her a big wet kiss, she will turn into a beautiful woman. The pity is, once you get to know her, you’ll want to kiss her again to turn her back.”

Laughter erupted all around them. Even the old man joined in. “You saw her, then,” said the redheaded boy behind them. “You saw the queen. Is she as beautiful as they say?”

I saw a slender girl with silvery hair wrapped in a tokar, he might have told them. Her face was veiled, and I never got close enough for a good look. I was riding on a pig. Daenerys Targaryen had been seated in the owner’s box beside her Ghiscari king, but Tyrion’s eyes had been drawn to the knight in the white-and-gold armor behind her. Though his features were concealed, the dwarf would have known Barristan Selmy anywhere. Illyrio was right about that much, at least, he remembered thinking. Will Selmy know me, though? And what will he do if he does?

He had almost revealed himself then and there, but something stopped him—caution, cowardice, instinct, call it what you will. He could not imagine Barristan the Bold greeting him with anything but hostility. Selmy had never approved of Jaime’s presence in his precious Kingsguard. Before the rebellion, the old knight thought him too young and untried; afterward, he had been known to say that the Kingslayer should exchange that white cloak ............
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