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VICTARION
The sea was black and the moon was silver as the Iron Fleet swept down on the prey.

They sighted her in the narrows between the Isle of Cedars and the rugged hills of the Astapori hinterlands, just as the black priest Moqorro had said they would. “Ghiscari,” Longwater Pyke shouted down from the crow’s nest. Victarion Greyjoy watched her sail grow larger from the forecastle. Soon he could make out her oars rising and falling, and the long white wake behind her shining in the moonlight, like a scar across the sea.

Not a true warship, Victarion realized. A trading galley, and a big one. She would make a fine prize. He signaled to his captains to give chase. They would board this ship and take her.

The captain of the galley had realized his peril by then. He changed course for the west, making for the Isle of Cedars, perhaps hoping to shelter in some hidden cove or run his pursuers onto the jagged rocks along the island’s northeast coast. His galley was heavy laden, though, and the ironborn had the wind. Grief and Iron Victory cut across the quarry’s course, whilst swift Sparrowhawk and agile Fingerdancer swept behind her. Even then the Ghiscari captain did not strike his banners. By the time Lamentation came alongside the prey, raking her larboard side and splintering her oars, both ships were so close to the haunted ruins of Ghozai that they could hear the monkeys chattering as the first dawn light washed over the city’s broken pyramids.

Their prize was named Ghiscari Dawn, the galley’s captain said when he was delivered to Victarion in chains. She was out of New Ghis and returning there by way of Yunkai after trading at Meereen. The man spoke no decent tongue but only a guttural Ghiscari, full of growls and hisses, as ugly a language as Victarion Greyjoy had ever heard. Moqorro translated the captain’s words into the Common Tongue of Westeros. The war for Meereen was won, the captain claimed; the dragon queen was dead, and a Ghiscari by the name of Hizdak ruled the city now.

Victarion had his tongue torn out for lying. Daenerys Targaryen was not dead, Moqorro assured him; his red god R’hllor had shown him the queen’s face in his sacred fires. The captain could not abide lies, so he had the Ghiscari captain bound hand and foot and thrown overboard, a sacrifice to the Drowned God. “Your red god will have his due,” he promised Moqorro, “but the seas are ruled by the Drowned God.”

“There are no gods but R’hllor and the Other, whose name may not be said.” The sorcerer priest was garbed in somber black, but for a hint of golden thread at collar, cuffs, and hem. There was no red cloth aboard the Iron Victory, but it was not meet that Moqorro go about in the salt-stained rags he had been wearing when the Vole fished him from the sea, so Victarion had commanded Tom Tidewood to sew new robes for him from whatever was at hand, and had even donated some of his own tunics to the purpose. Of black and gold those were, for the arms of House Greyjoy showed a golden kraken on a black field, and the banners and sails of their ships displayed the same. The crimson-and-scarlet robes of the red priests were alien to the ironborn, but Victarion had hoped his men might accept Moqorro more easily once clad in Greyjoy colors.

He hoped in vain. Clad in black from head to heel, with a mask of red-and-orange flames tattooed across his face, the priest appeared more sinister than ever. The crew shunned him when he walked the deck, and men would spit if his shadow chanced to fall upon them. Even the Vole, who had fished the red priest from the sea, had urged Victarion to give him to the Drowned God.

But Moqorro knew these strange shores in ways the ironborn did not, and secrets of the dragonkind as well. The Crow’s Eye keeps wizards, why shouldn’t I? His black sorcerer was more puissant than all of Euron’s three, even if you threw them in a pot and boiled them down to one. The Damphair might disapprove, but Aeron and his pieties were far away.

So Victarion closed his burned hand into a mighty fist, and said, “Ghiscari Dawn is no fit name for a ship of the Iron Fleet. For you, wizard, I shall rename her Red God’s Wroth.”

His wizard bowed his head. “As the captain says.” And the ships of the Iron Fleet numbered four-and-fifty once again.

The next day a sudden squall descended on them. Moqorro had predicted that as well. When the rains moved on, three ships were found to have vanished. Victarion had no way to know whether they had foundered, run aground, or been blown off course. “They know where we are going,” he told his crew. “If they are still afloat, we will meet again.” The iron captain had no time to wait for laggards. Not with his bride encircled by her enemies. The most beautiful woman in the world has urgent need of my axe.

Besides, Moqorro assured him that the three ships were not lost. Each night, the sorcerer priest would kindle a fire on the forecastle of the Iron Victory and stalk around the flames, chanting prayers. The firelight made his black skin shine like polished onyx, and sometimes Victarion could swear that the flames tattooed on his face were dancing too, twisting and bending, melting into one another, their colors changing with every turn of the priest’s head.

“The black priest is calling demons down on us,” one oarsman was heard to say. When that was reported to Victarion, he had the man scourged until his back was blood from shoulders to buttocks. So when Moqorro said, “Your lost lambs will return to the flock off the isle called Yaros,” the captain said, “Pray that they do, priest. Or you may be the next to taste the whip.”

The sea was blue and green and the sun blazing down from an empty blue sky when the Iron Fleet took its second prize, in the waters north and west of Astapor.

This time it was a Myrish cog named Dove, on her way to Yunkai by way of New Ghis with a cargo of carpets, sweet green wines, and Myrish lace. Her captain owned a Myrish eye that made far-off things look close—two glass lenses in a series of brass tubes, cunningly wrought so that each section slid into the next, until the eye was no longer than a dirk. Victarion claimed that treasure for himself. The cog he renamed Shrike. Her crew would be kept for ransom, the captain decreed. They were neither slaves nor slavers, but free Myrmen and seasoned sailors. Such men were worth good coin. Sailing out of Myr, the Dove brought them no fresh news of Meereen or Daenerys, only stale reports of Dothraki horsemen along the Rhoyne, the Golden Company upon the march, and others things Victarion already knew.

“What do you see?” the captain asked his black priest that night, as Moqorro stood before his nightfire. “What awaits us on the morrow? More rain?” It smelled like rain to him.

“Grey skies and strong winds,” Moqorro said. “No rain. Behind come the tigers. Ahead awaits your dragon.”

Your dragon. Victarion liked the sound of that. “Tell me something that I do not know, priest.”

“The captain commands, and I obey,” said Moqorro. The crew had taken to calling him the Black Flame, a name fastened on him by Steffar Stammerer, who could not say “Moqorro.” By any name, the priest had powers. “The coastline here runs west to east,” he told Victarion. “Where it turns north, you will come on two more hares. Swift ones, with many legs.”

And so it came to pass. This time the prey proved to be a pair of galleys, long and sleek and fast. Ralf the Limper was the first to sight them, but they soon outdistanced Woe and Forlorn Hope, so Victarion sent Iron Wing, Sparrowhawk, and Kraken’s Kiss to run them down. He had no swifter ships than those three. The pursuit lasted the best part of the day, but in the end both galleys were boarded and taken, after brief but brutal fights. They had been running empty, Victarion learned, making for New Ghis to load supplies and weapons for the Ghiscari legions encamped before Meereen … and to bring fresh legionaries to the war, to replace all the men who’d died. “Men slain in battle?” asked Victarion. The crews of the galleys denied it; the deaths were from a bloody flux. The pale mare, they called it. And like the captain of the Ghiscari Dawn, the captains of the galleys repeated the lie that Daenerys Targaryen was dead.

“Give her a kiss for me in whatever hell you find her,” Victarion said. He called for his axe and took their heads off there and then. Afterward he put their crews to death as well, saving only the slaves chained to the oars. He broke their chains himself and told them they were now free men and would have the privilege of rowing for the Iron Fleet, an honor that every boy in the Iron Islands dreamed of growing up. “The dragon queen frees slaves and so do I,” he proclaimed.

The galleys he renamed Ghost and Shade. “For I mean them to return and haunt these Yunkishmen,” he told the dusky woman that night after he had taken his pleasure of her. They were close now, and growing closer every day. “We will fall upon them like a thunderbolt,” he said, as he squeezed the woman’s breast. He wondered if this was how his brother Aeron felt when the Drowned God spoke to him. He could almost hear the god’s voice welling up from the depths of the sea. You shall serve me well, my captain, the waves seemed to say. It was for this I made you.

But he would feed the red god too, Moqorro’s fire god. The arm the priest had healed was hideous to look upon, pork crackling from elbow to fingertips. Sometimes when Victarion closed his hand the skin would split and smoke, yet the arm was stronger than it had ever been. “Two gods are with me now,” he told the dusky woman. “No foe can stand before two gods.” Then he rolled her on her back and took her once again.

When the cliffs of Yaros appeared off their larboard bows, he found his three lost ships waiting for him, just as Moqorro had promised. Victarion gave the priest a golden torque as a reward.

Now he had a choice to make: should he risk the straits, or take the Iron Fleet around the island? The memory of Fair Isle still rankled in the iron captain’s memory. Stannis Baratheon had descended on the Iron Fleet from both north and south whilst they were trapped in the channel bet............
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