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THE DRAGONTAMER
The night crept past on slow black feet. The hour of the bat gave way to the hour of the eel, the hour of the eel to the hour of ghosts. The prince lay abed, staring at his ceiling, dreaming without sleeping, remembering, imagining, twisting beneath his linen coverlet, his mind feverish with thoughts of fire and blood.

Finally, despairing of rest, Quentyn Martell made his way to his solar, where he poured himself a cup of wine and drank it in the dark. The taste was sweet solace on his tongue, so he lit a candle and poured himself another. Wine will help me sleep, he told himself, but he knew that was a lie.

He stared at the candle for a long time, then put down his cup and held his palm above the flame. It took every bit of will he had to lower it until the fire touched his flesh, and when it did he snatched his hand back with a cry of pain.

“Quentyn, are you mad?”

No, just scared. I do not want to burn. “Gerris?”

“I heard you moving about.”

“I could not sleep.”

“Are burns a cure for that? Some warm milk and a lullaby might serve you well. Or better still, I could take you to the Temple of the Graces and find a girl for you.”

“A whore, you mean.”

“They call them Graces. They come in different colors. The red ones are the only ones who fuck.” Gerris seated himself across the table. “The septas back home should take up the custom, if you ask me. Have you noticed that old septas always look like prunes? That’s what a life of chastity will do to you.”

Quentyn glanced out at the terrace, where night’s shadows lay thick amongst the trees. He could hear the soft sound of falling water. “Is that rain? Your whores will be gone.”

“Not all of them. There are little snuggeries in the pleasure gardens, and they wait there every night until a man chooses them. Those who are not chosen must remain until the sun comes up, feeling lonely and neglected. We could console them.”

“They could console me, is what you mean.”

“That too.”

“That is not the sort of consolation I require.”

“I disagree. Daenerys Targaryen is not the only woman in the world. Do you want to die a man-maid?”

Quentyn did not want to die at all. I want to go back to Yronwood and kiss both of your sisters, marry Gwyneth Yronwood, watch her flower into beauty, have a child by her. I want to ride in tourneys, hawk and hunt, visit with my mother in Norvos, read some of those books my father sends me. I want Cletus and Will and Maester Kedry to be alive again. “Do you think Daenerys would be pleased to hear that I had bedded some whore?”

“She might be. Men may be fond of maidens, but women like a man who knows what he’s about in the bedchamber. It’s another sort of swordplay. Takes training to be good at it.”

The gibe stung. Quentyn had never felt so much a boy as when he’d stood before Daenerys Targaryen, pleading for her hand. The thought of bedding her terrified him almost as much as her dragons had. What if he could not please her? “Daenerys has a paramour,” he said defensively. “My father did not send me here to amuse the queen in the bedchamber. You know why we have come.”

“You cannot marry her. She has a husband.”

“She does not love Hizdahr zo Loraq.”

“What has love to do with marriage? A prince should know better. Your father married for love, it’s said. How much joy has he had of that?”

Little and less. Doran Martell and his Norvoshi wife had spent half their marriage apart and the other half arguing. It was the only rash thing his father had ever done, to hear some tell it, the only time he had followed his heart instead of his head, and he had lived to rue it. “Not all risks lead to ruin,” he insisted. “This is my duty. My destiny.” You are supposed to be my friend, Gerris. Why must you mock my hopes? I have doubts enough without your throwing oil on the fire of my fear. “This will be my grand adventure.”

“Men die on grand adventures.”

He was not wrong. That was in the stories too. The hero sets out with his friends and companions, faces dangers, comes home triumphant. Only some of his companions don’t return at all. The hero never dies, though. I must be the hero. “All I need is courage. Would you have Dorne remember me as a failure?”

“Dorne is not like to remember any of us for long.”

Quentyn sucked at the burned spot on his palm. “Dorne remembers Aegon and his sisters. Dragons are not so easily forgotten. They will remember Daenerys as well.”

“Not if she’s died.”

“She lives.” She must. “She is lost, but I can find her.” And when I do, she will look at me the way she looks at her sellsword. Once I have proven myself worthy of her.

“From dragonback?”

“I have been riding horses since I was six years old.”

“And you’ve been thrown a time or three.”

“That never stopped me from getting back into the saddle.”

“You’ve never been thrown off a thousand feet above the ground,” Gerris pointed out. “And horses seldom turn their riders into charred bones and ashes.”

I know the dangers. “I’ll hear no more of this. You have my leave to go. Find a ship and run home, Gerris.” The prince rose, blew the candle out, and crept back to his bed and its sweat-soaked linen sheets. I should have kissed one of the Drinkwater twins, or maybe both of them. I should have kissed them whilst I could. I should have gone to Norvos to see my mother and the place that gave her birth, so she would know that I had not forgotten her. He could hear the rain falling outside, drumming against the bricks.

By the time the hour of the wolf crept upon them, the rain was falling steadily, slashing down in a hard, cold torrent that would soon turn the brick streets of Meereen into rivers. The three Dornishmen broke their fast in the predawn chill—a simple meal of fruit and bread and cheese, washed down with goat milk. When Gerris made to pour himself a cup of wine, Quentyn stopped him. “No wine. There will be time enough for drink afterward.”

“One hopes,” said Gerris.

The big man looked out toward the terrace. “I knew it would rain,” he said in a gloomy tone. “My bones were aching last night. They always ache before it rains. The dragons won’t like this. Fire and water don’t mix, and that’s a fact. You get a good cookfire lit, blazing away nice, then it starts to piss down rain and next thing your wood is sodden and your flames are dead.”

Gerris chuckled. “Dragons are not made of wood, Arch.”

“Some are. That old King Aegon, the randy one, he built wooden dragons to conquer us. That ended bad, though.”

So may this, the prince thought. The follies and failures of Aegon the Unworthy did not concern him, but he was full of doubts and misgivings. The labored banter of his friends was only making his head ache. They do not understand. They may be Dornish, but I am Dorne. Years from now, when I am dead, this will be the song they sing of me. He rose abruptly. “It’s time.”

His friends got to their feet. Ser Archibald drained the last of his goat’s milk and wiped the milk mustache from his upper lip with the back of a big hand. “I’ll get our mummer’s garb.”

He returned with the bundle that they had collected from the Tattered Prince at their second meeting. Within were three long hooded cloaks made from myriad small squares of cloth sewn together, three cudgels, three shortswords, three masks of polished brass. A bull, a lion, and an ape.

Everything required to be a Brazen Beast.

“They may ask for a word,” the Tattered Prince had warned them when he handed over the bundle. “It’s dog.”

“You are certain of that?” Gerris had asked him.

“Certain enough to wager a life upon it.”

The prince did not mistake his meaning. “My life.”

“That would be the one.”

“How did you learn their word?”

“We chanced upon some Brazen Beasts and Meris asked them prettily. But a prince should know better than to pose such questions, Dornish. In Pentos, we have a saying. Never ask the baker what went into the pie. Just eat.”

Just eat. There was wisdom in that, Quentyn supposed.

“I’ll be the bull,” Arch announced.

Quentyn handed him the bull mask. “The lion for me.”

“Which makes a monkey out of me.” Gerris pressed the ape mask to his face. “How do they breathe in these things?”

“Just put it on.” The prince was in no mood for japes.

The bundle contained a whip as well—a nasty piece of old leather with a handle of brass and bone, stout enough to peel the hide off an ox. “What’s that for?” Arch asked.

“Daenerys used a whip to cow the black beast.” Quentyn coiled the whip and hung it from his belt. “Arch, bring your hammer as well. We may have need of it.”

It was no easy thing to enter the Great Pyramid of Meereen by night. The doors were closed and barred each day at sunset and remained closed until first light. Guards were posted at every entrance, and more guards patrolled the lowest terrace, where they could look down on the street. Formerly those guards had been Unsullied. Now they were Brazen Beasts. And that would make all the difference, Quentyn hoped.

The watch changed when the sun came up, but dawn was still half an hour off as the three Dornishmen made their way down the servants’ steps. The walls around them were made of bricks of half a hundred colors, but the shadows turned them all to grey until touched by the light of the torch that Gerris carried. They encountered no one on the long descent. The only sound was the scuff of their boots on the worn bricks beneath their feet.

The pyramid’s main gates fronted on Meereen’s central plaza, but the Dornishmen made their way to a side entrance opening on an alley. These were the gates that slaves had used in former days as they went about their masters’ business, where smallfolk and tradesmen came and went and made their deliveries.

The doors were solid bronze, closed with a heavy iron bar. Before them stood two Brazen Beasts, armed with cudgels, spears, and short swords. Torchlight glimmered off the polished brass of their masks—a rat and a fox. Quentyn gestured for the big man to stay back in the shadows. He and Gerris strode forward together.

“You come early,” the fox said.

Quentyn shrugged. “We can leave again, if you like. You’re welcome to stand our watch.” He sounded not at all Ghiscari, he knew; but half the Brazen Beasts were freed slaves, with all manner of native tongues, so his accent went unremarked.

“Bugger that,” the rat remarked.

“Give us the day’s word,” said the fox.

“Dog,” said the Dornishman.

The two Brazen Beasts exchanged a look. For three long heartbeats Quentyn was afraid that something had gone amiss, that somehow Pretty Meris and the Tattered Prince had gotten the word wrong. Then the fox grunted. “Dog, then,” he said. “The door is yours.” As they moved off, the prince began to breathe again.

They did not have long. The real relief would doubtless turn up shortly. “Arch,” he called, and the big man appeared, the torchlight shining off his bull’s mask. “The bar. Hurry.”

The iron bar was thick and heavy, but well oiled. Ser Archibald had no trouble lifting it. As he was standing it on end, Quentyn pulled the doors open and Gerris stepped through, waving the torch. “Bring it in now. Be quick about it.”

The butcher’s wagon was outside, waiting in the alley. The driver gave the mule a lick and rumbled through, iron-rimmed wheels clacking loudly over bricks. The quartered carcass of an ox filled the wagon bed, along with two dead sheep. Half a dozen men entered afoot. Five wore the cloaks and masks of Brazen Beasts, but Pretty Meris had not troubled to disguise herself. “Where is your lord?” he asked Meris.

“I have no lord,” she answered. “If you mean your fellow prince, he is near, with fifty men. Bring your dragon out, and he will see you safe away, as promised. Caggo commands here.”

Ser Archibald was giving the butcher’s wagon the sour eye. “Will that cart be big enough to hold a dragon?” he asked.

“Should. It’s held two oxen.” The Corpsekiller was garbed as a Brazen Beast, his seamed, scarred face hidden behind a cobra mask, but the familiar black arakh slung at his hip gave him away. “We were told these beasts are smaller than the queen’s monster.”

“The pit has slowed their growth.” Quentyn’s readings had suggested that the same thing had occurred in the Seven Kingdoms. None of the dragons bred and raised in the Dragonpit of King’s Landing had ever approached the size of Vhagar or Meraxes, much less that of the Black Dread, King Aegon’s monster. “Have you brought sufficient chains?”

“How many dragons do you have?” said Pretty Meris. “We have chains enough for ten, concealed beneath the meat.”

“Very good.” Quentyn felt light-headed. None of this seemed quite real. One moment it felt like a game, the next like some nightmare, like a bad dream where he found himself opening a dark door, knowing that horror and death waited on the other side, yet somehow powerless to stop himself. His palms were slick with sweat. He wiped them on his legs and said, “There will be more guards outside the pit.”

“We know,” said Gerris.

“We need to be ready for them.”

“We are,” said Arch.

There was a cramp in Quentyn’s belly. He felt a sudden need to move his bowels, but kn............
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