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 Their voices rose like cinders, swirling up into purple evening sky. “Lead us from the darkness, O my Lord. Fill our hearts with fire, so we may walk your shining path.”  The nightfire burned against the gathering dark, a great bright beast whose shifting orange light threw shadows twenty feet tall across the yard. All along the walls of Dragonstone the army of gargoyles and grotesques seemed to stir and shift.  Davos looked down from an arched window in the gallery above. He watched Melisandre lift her arms, as if to embrace the shivering flames. “R’hllor,” she sang in a voice loud and clear, “you are the light in our eyes, the fire in our hearts, the heat in our loins. Yours is the sun that warms our days, yours the stars that guard us in the dark of night.”  “Lord of Light, defend us. The night is dark and full of terrors.” Queen Selyse led the responses, her pinched face full of fervor. King Stannis stood beside her, jaw clenched hard, the points of his red-gold crown shimmering whenever he moved his head. He is with them, but not of them, Davos thought. Princess Shireen was between them, the mottled grey patches on her face and neck almost black in the firelight.  “Lord of Light, protect us,” the queen sang. The king did not respond with the others. He was staring into the flames. Davos wondered what he saw there. Another vision of the war to come? Or something closer to home?  “R’hllor who gave us breath, we thank you,” sang Melisandre. “R’hllor who gave us day, we thank you.”  “We thank you for the sun that warms us,” Queen Selyse and the other worshipers replied. “We thank you for the stars that watch us. We thank you for our hearths and for our torches, that keep the savage dark at bay.” There were fewer voices saying the responses than there had been the night before, it seemed to Davos; fewer faces flushed with orange light about the fire. But would there be fewer still on the morrow... or more?  The voice of Ser Axell Florent rang loud as a trumpet. He stood barrelchested and bandy-legged, the firelight washing his face like a monstrous orange tongue. Davos wondered if Ser Axell would thank him, after. The work they did tonight might well make him the King’s Hand, as he dreamed.  Melisandre cried, “We thank you for Stannis, by your grace our king. We thank you for the pure white fire of his goodness, for the red sword of justice in his hand, for the love he bears his leal people. Guide him and defend him, R’hllor, and grant him strength to smite his foes.”  “Grant him strength,” answered Queen Selyse, Ser Axell, Devan, and the rest. “Grant him courage. Grant him wisdom.”  When he was a boy, the septons had taught Davos to pray to the Crone for wisdom, to the Warrior for courage, to the Smith for strength. But it was the Mother he prayed to now, to keep his sweet son Devan safe from the red woman’s demon god.  “Lord Davos? We’d best be about it.” Ser Andrew touched his elbow gently. “My lord?”  The title still rang queer in his ears, yet Davos turned away from the window. “Aye. It’s time.” Stannis, Melisandre, and the queen’s men would be at their prayers an hour or more. The red priests lit their fires every day at sunset, to thank R’hllor for the day just ending, and beg him to send his sun back on the morrow to banish the gathering darkness. A smuggler must know the tides and when to seize them. That was all he was at the end of the day; Davos the smuggler. His maimed hand rose to his throat for his luck, and found nothing. He snatched it down and walked a bit more quickly.  His companions kept pace, matching their strides to his own. The Bastard of Nightsong had a pox-ravaged face and an air of tattered chivalry; Ser Gerald Gower was broad, bluff, and blond; Ser Andrew Estermont stood a head taller, with a spade-shaped beard and shaggy brown eyebrows. They were all good men in their own ways, Davos thought. And they will all be dead men soon, if this night’s work goes badly.  “Fire is a living thing,” the red woman told him, when he asked her to teach him how to see the future in the flames. “It is always moving, always changing... like a book whose letters dance and shift even as you try to read them. It takes years of training to see the shapes beyond the flames, and more years still to learn to tell the shapes of what will be from what may be or what was. Even then it comes hard, hard. You do not understand that, you men of the sunset lands.” Davos asked her then how it was that Ser Axell had learned the trick of it so quickly, but to that she only smiled enigmatically and said, “Any cat may stare into a fire and see red mice at play.” He had not lied to his king’s men, about that or any of it. “The red woman may see what we intend,” he warned them.  “We should start by killing her, then,” urged Lewys the Fishwife. “I know a place where we could waylay her, four of us with sharp swords...”  “You’d doom us all,” said Davos. “Maester Cressen tried to kill her, and she knew at once. From her flames, I’d guess. It seems to me that she is very quick to sense any threat to her own person, but surely she cannot see everything. If we ignore her, perhaps we might escape her notice.”  “There is no honor in hiding and sneaking,” objected Ser Triston of Tally Hill, who had been a Sunglass man before Lord Guncer went to Melisandre’s fires.  “Is it so honorable to burn?” Davos asked him. “You saw Lord Sunglass die. Is that what you want? I don’t need men of honor now. I need smugglers. Are you with me, or no?”  They were. Gods be good, they were.  Maester Pylos was leading Edric Storm through his sums when Davos pushed open the door. Ser Andrew was close behind him; the others had been left to guard the steps and cellar door. The maester broke off. “That will be enough for now, Edric.”  The boy was puzzled by the intrusion. “Lord Davos, Ser Andrew. We were doing sums.”  Ser Andrew smiled. “I hated sums when I was your age, coz.”  “I don’t mind them so much. I like history best, though it’s full of tales.”  “Edric,” said Maester Pylos, “run and get your cloak now. You’re to go with Lord Davos.”  “I am?” Edric got to his feet. “Where are we going?” His mouth set stubbornly. “I won’t go pray to the Lord of Light. I am a Warrior’s man, like my father.”  “We know,” Davos said. “Come, lad, we must not dawdle.”  Edric donned a thick hooded cloak of undyed wool. Maester Pylos helped him fasten it, and pulled the hood up to shadow his face. “Are you coming with us, Maester?” the boy asked.  “No.” Pylos touched the chain of many metals he wore about his neck. “My place is here on Dragonstone. Go with Lord Davos now, and do as he says. He is the King’s Hand, remember. What did I tell you about the King’s Hand?”  “The Hand speaks with the king’s voice.”  The young maester smiled. “That’s so. Go now.”  Davos had been uncertain of Pylos. Perhaps he resented him for taking old Cressen’s place. But now he could only admire the man’s courage. This could mean his life as well.  Outside the maester’s chambers, Ser Gerald Gower waited by the steps. Edric Storm looked at him curiously. As they made their descent he asked, “Where are we going, Lord Davos?”  “To the water. A ship awaits you.”  The boy stopped suddenly. “A ship?”  “One of Salladhor Saan’s. Salla is a good friend of mine.”  “I shall go with you, Cousin,” Ser Andrew assured him. “There’s nothing to be frightened of.”  “I am not frightened,” Edric said indignantly. “Only... is Shireen coming too?”  “No,” said Davos. “The princess must remain here with her father and mother.”  “I have to see her then,” Edric explained. “To say my farewells. Otherwise she’ll be sad.”  Not so sad as if she sees you burn. “There is no time,” Davos said. “I will tell the princess that you were thinking of her. And you can write her, when you get to where you’re going.”  The boy frowned. “Are you sure I must go? Why would my uncle send me from Dragonstone? Did I displease him? I never meant to.” He got that stubborn look again. “I want to see my uncle. I want to see King Stannis.”  Ser Andrew and Ser Gerald exchanged a look. “There’s no time for that, Cousin,” Ser Andrew said.  “I want to see him!” Edric insisted, louder.  “He does not want to see you.” Davos had to say something, to get the boy moving. “I am his Hand, I speak with his voice. Must I go to the king and tell him that you would not do as you were told? Do you know how angry that will make him? Have you ever seen your uncle angry?” He pulled off his glove and showed the boy the four fingers that Stannis had shortened. “I have.” It was all lies; there had been no anger in Stannis Baratheon when he cut the ends off his onion knight’s fingers, only an iron sense of justice. But Edric Storm had not been born then, and could not know that. And the threat had the desired effect. “He should not have done that,” the boy said, but he let Davos take him by the hand and draw him down the steps.  The Bastard of Nightsong joined them at the cellar door. They walked quickly, across a shadowed yard and down some steps, under the stone tail of a frozen dragon. Lewys the Fishwife and Omer Blackberry waited at the postern gate, two guards bound and trussed at their feet. “The boat?” Davos asked them.  “It’s there,” Lewys said. “Four oarsmen. The galley is anchored just past the point. Mad Prendos.”  Davos chuckled. A ship named after a madman. Yes, that’s fitting. Salla had a streak of the pirate’s black humor.  He went to one knee before Edric Storm. “I must leave you now,” he said. “There’s a boat waiting, to row you out to a galley. Then it’s off across the sea. You are Robert’s son so I know you will be brave, no matter what happens.”  “I will. Only...” The boy hesitated.  “Think of this as an adventure, my lord.” Davos tried to sound hale and cheerful. “It’s the start of your life’s great adventure. May the Warrior defend you.”  “And may the Father judge you justly, Lord Davos.” The boy went with his cousin Ser Andrew out the postern gate. The others followed, all but the Bastard of Nightsong. May the Father judge me justly, Davos thought ruefully. But it was the king&r............
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