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The pile of parchments was formidably high. Tyrion looked at it and sighed. “I had understood you were a band of brothers. Is this the love a brother bears a brother? Where is the trust? The friendship, the fond regard, the deep affection that only men who have fought and bled together can ever know?”

“All in time,” said Brown Ben Plumm.

“After you sign,” said Inkpots, sharpening a quill.

Kasporio the Cunning touched his sword hilt. “If you would like to start the bleeding now, I will happ’ly oblige you.”

“How kind of you to offer,” said Tyrion. “I think not.”

Inkpots placed the parchments before Tyrion and handed him the quill. “Here is your ink. From Old Volantis, this. ’Twill last as long as proper maester’s black. All you need do is sign and pass the notes to me. I’ll do the rest.”

Tyrion gave him a crooked grin. “Might I read them first?”

“If you like. They are all the same, by and large. Except for the ones at the bottom, but we’ll get to those in due course.”

Oh, I am sure we will. For most men, there was no cost to joining a company, but he was not most men. He dipped the quill into the inkpot, leaned over the first parchment, paused, looked up. “Would you prefer me to sign Yollo or Hugor Hill?”

Brown Ben crinkled up his eyes. “Would you prefer to be returned to Yezzan’s heirs or just beheaded?”

The dwarf laughed and signed the parchment, Tyrion of House Lannister. As he passed it left to Inkpots, he riffled through the pile underneath. “There are … what, fifty? Sixty? I’d thought there were five hundred Second Sons.”

“Five hundred thirteen at present,” Inkpots said. “When you sign our book, we will be five hundred fourteen.”

“So only one in ten receives a note? That hardly seems fair. I thought you were all share-and-share-alike in the free companies.” He signed another sheet.

Brown Ben chuckled. “Oh, all share. But not alike. The Second Sons are not unlike a family …”

“… and every family has its drooling cousins.” Tyrion signed another note. The parchment crinkled crisply as he slid it toward the paymaster. “There are cells down in the bowels of Casterly Rock where my lord father kept the worst of ours.” He dipped his quill in the inkpot. Tyrion of House Lannister, he scratched out, promising to pay the bearer of the note one hundred golden dragons. Every stroke of the quill leaves me a little poorer … or would, if I were not a beggar to begin with. One day he might rue these signatures. But not this day. He blew on the wet ink, slid the parchment to the paymaster, and signed the one beneath. And again. And again. And again. “This wounds me deeply, I will have you know,” he told them between signatures. “In Westeros, the word of a Lannister is considered good as gold.”

Inkpots shrugged. “This is not Westeros. On this side of the narrow sea, we put our promises on paper.” As each sheet was passed to him, he scattered fine sand across the signature to drink up excess ink, shook it off, and set the note aside. “Debts written on the wind tend to be … forgotten, shall we say?”

“Not by us.” Tyrion signed another sheet. And another. He had found a rhythm now. “A Lannister always pays his debts.”

Plumm chuckled. “Aye, but a sellsword’s word is worthless.”

Well, yours is, thought Tyrion, and thank the gods for that. “True, but I will not be a sellsword until I’ve signed your book.”

“Soon enough,” said Brown Ben. “After the notes.”

“I am dancing as fast as I can.” He wanted to laugh, but that would have ruined the game. Plumm was enjoying this, and Tyrion had no intention of spoiling his fun. Let him go on thinking that he’s bent me over and fucked me up the arse, and I’ll go on buying steel swords with parchment dragons. If ever he went back to Westeros to claim his birthright, he would have all the gold of Casterly Rock to make good on his promises. If not, well, he’d be dead, and his new brothers could wipe their arses with these parchments. Perhaps some might turn up in King’s Landing with their scraps in hand, hoping to convince his sweet sister to make good on them. And would that I could be a roach in the rushes to witness that.

The writing on the parchments changed about halfway down the pile. The hundred-dragon notes were all for serjeants. Below them the amounts suddenly grew larger. Now Tyrion was promising to pay the bearer one thousand golden dragons. He shook his head, laughed, signed. And again. And again. “So,” he said as he was scrawling, “what will be my duties with the company?”

“You are too ugly to be Bokkoko’s butt boy,” said Kasporio, “but you might do as arrow fodder.”

“Better than you know,” said Tyrion, refusing to rise to the bait. “A small man with a big shield will drive the archers mad. A wiser man than you once told me that.”

“You will work with Inkpots,” said Brown Ben Plumm.

“You will work for Inkpots,” said Inkpots. “Keeping books, counting coin, writing contracts and letters.”

“Gladly,” said Tyrion. “I love books.”

“What else would you do?” sneered Kasporio. “Look at you. You are not fit to fight.”

“I once had charge of all the drains in Casterly Rock,” Tyrion said mildly. “Some of them had been stopped up for years, but I soon had them draining merrily away.” He dipped the quill in the ink again. Another dozen notes, and he would be done. “Perhaps I could supervise your camp followers. We can’t have the men stopped up, now can we?”

That jape did not please Brown Ben. “Stay away from the whores,” he warned. “Most o’ them are poxy, and they talk. You’re not the first escaped slave to join the company, but that don’t mean we need to shout your presence. I won’t have you parading about where you might be seen. Stay inside as much as you can, and shit into your bucket. Too many eyes at the latrines. And never go beyond our camp without my leave. We can dress you up in squire’s steel, pretend you’re Jorah’s butt boy, but there’s some will see right through that. Once Meereen is taken and we’re away to Westeros, you can prance about all you like in gold and crimson. Till then, though …”

“… I shall live beneath a rock and never make a sound. You have my word on that.” Tyrion of House Lannister, he signed once more, with a flourish. That was the last parchment. Three notes remained, different from the rest. Two were written on fine vellum and made out by name. For Kasporio the Cunning, ten thousand dragons. The same for Inkpots, whose true name appeared to be Tybero Istarion. “Tybero?” said Tyrion. “That sounds almost Lannister. Are you some long-lost cousin?”

“Perhaps. I always pay my debts as well. It is expected of a paymaster. Sign.”

He signed.

Brown Ben’s note was the last. That one had been inscribed upon a sheepskin scroll. One hundred thousand golden dragons, fifty hides of fertile land, a castle, and a lordship. Well and well. This Plumm does not come cheaply. Tyrion plucked at his scar and wondered if he ought to make a show of indignation. When you bugger a man you expect a squeal or two. He could curse and swear and rant of robbery, refuse to sign for a time, then give in reluctantly, protesting all the while. But he was sick of mummery, so instead he grimaced, signed, and handed the scroll back to Brown Ben. “Your cock is as big as in the stories,” he said. “Consider me well and truly fucked, Lord Plumm.”

Brown Ben blew on his signature. “My pleasure, Imp. And now, we make you one o’ us. Inkpots, fetch the book.”

The book was leather-bound with iron hinges, and large enough to eat your supper off. Inside its heavy wooden boards were names and dates going back more than a century. “The Second Sons are amongst the oldest of the free companies,” Inkpots said as he was turning pages. “This is the fourth book. The names of every man to serve with us are written here. When they joined, where they fought, how long they served, the manner of their deaths—all in the book. You will find famous names in here, some from your Seven Kingdoms. Aegor Rivers served a year with us, before he left to found the Golden Company. Bittersteel, you call him. The Bright Prince, Aerion Targaryen, he was a Second Son. And Rodrik Stark, the Wandering Wolf, him as well. No, not that ink. Here, use this.” He unstoppered a new pot and set it down.

Tyrion cocked his head. “Red ink?”

“A tradition of the company,” Inkpots explained. “There was a time when each new man wrote his name in his own blood, but as it happens, blood makes piss-poor ink.”

“Lannisters love tradition. Lend me your knife.”

Inkpots raised an eyebrow, shrugged, slipped his dagger from its sheath, and handed it across hiltfirst. It still hurts, Halfmaester, thank you very much, thought Tyrion, as he pricked the ball of his thumb. He squeezed a fat drop of blood into the inkpot, traded the dagger for a fresh quill, and scrawled, Tyrion of House Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, in a big bold hand, just below Jorah Mormont’s far more modest signature.

And it’s done. The dwarf rocked back on the camp stool. “Is that all that you require of me? Don’t I need to swear an oath? Kill a baby? Suck the captain’s cock?”

“Suck whatever you like.” Inkpots turned the book around and dusted the page with a bit of fine sand. “For most of us, the signature suffices, but I would hate to disappoint a new brother-in-arms. Welcome to the Second Sons, Lord Tyrion.”

Lord Tyrion. The dwarf liked the sound of that. The Second Sons might not enjoy the shining reputation of the Golden Company, but they had won some famous victories over the centuries. “Have other lords served with the company?”

“Landless lords,” said Brown Ben. “Like you, Imp.”

Tyrion hopped down from the stool. “My previous brother was entirely unsatisfactory. I hope for more from my new ones. Now how do I go about securing arms and armor?”

“Will you want a pig to ride as well?” asked Kasporio.

“Why, I did not know your wife was in the company,” said Tyrion. “That’s kind of you to offer her, but I would prefer a horse.”

The bravo reddened, but Inkpots laughed aloud and Brown Ben went so far as to chuckle. “Inkpots, show him to the wagons. He can have his pick from the company steel. The girl too. Put a helm on her, a bit o’ mail, might be some will take her for a boy.”

“Lord Tyrion, with me.” Inkpots held the tent flap to let him waddle through. “I will have Snatch take you to the wagons. Get your woman and meet him by the cook tent.”

“She is not my woman. Perhaps you should get her. All she does of late is sleep and glare at me.”

“You need to beat her harder and fuck her more often,” the paymaster offered helpfully. “Bring her, leave her, do what you will. Snatch will not care. Come find me when you have your armor, and I will start you on the ledgers.”

“As you wish.”

Tyrion found Penny asleep in a corner of their tent, curled up on a thin straw pallet beneath a heap of soiled bedclothes. When he touched her with the toe of his boot, she rolled over, blinked at him, and yawned. “Hugor? What is it?”

“Talking again, are we?” It was better than her usual sullen silence. All over an abandoned dog and pig. I saved the two of us from slavery, you would think some gratitude might be in order. “If you sleep any longer, you’re like to miss the war.”

“I’m sad.” She yawned again. “And tired. So tired.”

Tired or sick? Tyrion knelt beside her pallet. “You look pale.” He felt her brow. Is it hot in here, or does she have a touch of fever? He dared not ask that question aloud. Even hard men like the Second Sons were terrified of mounting the pale mare. If they thought Penny was sick, they would drive her off without a moment’s hesitation. They might even return us to Yezzan’s heirs, notes or no notes. “I have signed their book. The old way, in blood. I am now a Second Son.”

Penny sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “What about me? Can I sign too?”

“I think not. Some free companies have been known to take women, but … well, they are not Second Daughters, after all.”

“We,” she said. “If you’re one of them, you should say we, not they. Has anyone seen Pretty Pig? Inkpots said he’d ask after her. Or Crunch, has there been word of Crunch?”

Only if you trust Kasporio. Plumm’s not-so-cunning second-in-command claimed that three Yunkish slave-catchers were prowling through the camps, asking after a pair of escaped dwarfs. One of them was carrying a tall spear with a dog’s head impaled upon its point, the way that Kaspo told it. Such tidings were not like to get Penny out of bed, however. “No word as yet,” he lied. “Come. We need to find some armor for you.”

She gave him a wary look. “Armor? Why?”

“Something my old master-at-arms told me. ‘Never go to battle naked, lad,’ he said. I take him at his word. Besides, now that I’m a sellsword, I really ought to have a sword to sell.” She still showed no signs of moving. Tyrion seized her by the wrist, pulled her to her feet, and threw a fistful of clothing into her face. “Dress. Wear the cloak with the hood and keep your head down. We’re supposed to be a pair of likely lads, just in case the slave-catchers are watching.”

Snatch was waiting by the cook tent chewing sourleaf when the two dwarfs turned up, cloaked and hooded. “I hear the two o’ you are going to fight for us,” the serjeant said. “That should have them pissing in Meereen. Either o’ you ever killed a man?”

“I have,” said Tyrion. “I swat them down like flies.”

“What with?”

“An axe, a dagger, a choice remark. Though I’m deadliest with my crossbow.”

Snatch scratched at his stubble with the point of his hook. “Nasty thing, a crossbow. How many men you kill with that?”

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