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Warriors

Warriors

Warriors/11

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  It had been only a few years since Dunk had squired for old Ser Arlan. He had not forgotten how. He cinched the buckles on Ser Glendon’s ill-fitting armor, fastened his helm to his gorget, helped him mount, and handed him his shield. Earlier contests had left deep gouges in the wood, but the blazing fireball could still be seen. He looks as young as Egg, Dunk thought. A frightened boy, and grim. His sorrel mare was unbarded, and skittish as well. He should have stayed with his own mount. The sorrel may be better bred and swifter, but a rider rides best on a horse that he knows well, and this one is a stranger to him.

  “I’ll need a lance,” Ser Glendon said. “A war lance.”

  Dunk went to the racks. War lances were shorter and heavier than the tourney lances that had been used in all the earlier tilts; eight feet of solid ash ending in an iron point. Dunk chose one and pulled it out, running his hand along its lenth to make sure it had no cracks.

  At the far end of the lists, one of Daemon’s squires was offering him a matching lance. He was a fiddler no more. In place of swords and fiddles, the trapping of his warhorse now displayed the three-headed dragon of House Blackfyre, black on a field of red. The prince had washed the black dye from his hair as well, so it flowed down to his collar in a cascade of silver and gold that glimmered like beaten metal in the torchlight. Egg would have hair like that if he ever let it grow, Dunk realized. He found it hard to picture him that way, but one day he knew he must, if the two of them should live so long.

  The herald climbed his platform once again. “Ser Glendon the Bastard stands accused of theft and murder,” he proclaimed, “and now comes forth to prove his innocence at the hazard of his body. Daemon of House Blackfyre, the Second of His Name, rightborn King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, comes forth to prove the truth of the accusations against the bastard Glendon.”

  And all at once the years fell away, and Dunk was back was at Ashford Meadow once again, listening to Baelor Breakspear just before they went forth to battle for his life. He slipped the war lance back in place, plucked a tourney lance from the next rack; twelve feet long, slender, elegant. “Use this,” he told Ser Glendon. “It’s what we used at Ashford, at the Trial of Seven.”

  “The Fiddler chose a war lance. He means to kill me.”

  “First he has to strike you. If your aim is true, his point will never touch you.” “I don’t know.” “I do.”

  Ser Glendon snatched the lance from him, wheeled about, and trotted toward the lists. “Seven save us both, then.”

  Somewhere in the east, lightning cracked across a pale pink sky. Daemon raked his stallion’s side with golden spurs, and leapt forward like a thunderclap, lowering his war lance with its deadly iron point. Ser Glendon raised his shield and raced to meet him, swinging his own longer lance across his mare’s head to bear upon the young pretender’s chest. Mud sprayed back from their horses’ hooves, and the torches seemed to burn the brighter as the two knights went pounding past.

  Dunk closed his eyes. He heard a crack, a shout, a thump.

  “No,” he heard Lord Peake cry out in anguish. “Noooooo.” For half a heartbeat, Dunk almost felt sorry for him. He opened his eyes again. Riderless, the big black stallion was slowing to a trot. Dunk jumped out and grabbed him by the reins. At the far end of the lists, Ser Glendon Ball wheeled his mare and raised his splintered lance. Men rushed onto the field to where the Fiddler lay unmoving, facedown in a puddle. When they helped him to his feet, he was mud from head to heel.

  “The Brown Dragon!” someone shouted. Laughter rippled through the yard as the dawn washed over Whitewalls.

  It was only a few heartbeats later, as Dunk and Ser Kyle were helping Glendon Ball off his horse, that the first trumpet blew, and the sentries on the walls raised the alarum. An army had appeared outside the castle, rising from the morning mists. “Egg wasn’t lying after all,” Dunk told Ser Kyle, astonished.

  * * *

  From Maidenpool had come Lord Mooton, from Raventree Lord Blackwood, from Duskendale Lord Darklyn. The royal demenses about King’s Landing sent forth Hayfords, Rosbys, Stokeworths, Masseys, and the king’s own sworn swords, led by three knights of the Kingsguard and stiffened by three hundred Raven’s Teeth with tall white weirwood bows. Mad Danelle Lothston herself rode forth in strength from her haunted towers at Harrenhal, clad in black armor that fit her like an iron glove, her long red hair streaming.

  The light of the rising sun glittered off the points of five hundred lances and ten times as many spears. The night’s grey banners were reborn in half a hundred gaudy colors. And above them all flew two regal dragons on night-black fields: the great three-headed beast of King Aerys I Targaryen, red as fire, and a white winged fury breathing scarlet flame.

  Not Maekar after all, Dunk knew, when he saw those banners. The banners of the Prince of Summerhall showed four three-headed dragons, two and two, the arms of the fourth-born son of the late King Daeron II Targaryen. A single white dragon announced the presence of the King’s Hand, Lord Brynden Rivers.

  Bloodraven himself had come to Whitewalls.

  The First Blackfyre Rebellion had perished on the Redgrass Field in blood and glory. The Second Blackfyre Rebellion ended with a whimper. “They cannot cow us,” Young Daemon proclaimed from the castle battlements after he had seen the ring of iron that encircled them, “for our cause is just. We’ll slash through them and ride hell-bent for King’s Landing! Sound the trumpets!”

  Instead, knights and lords and men-at-arms muttered quietly to one another, and a few began to slink away, making for the stables or a postern gate or some hidey-hole they hoped might keep them safe. And when Daemon drew his sword and raised it above his head, every man of them could see it was not Blackfyre. “We’ll make another Redgrass Field today,” the pretender promised.

  “Piss on that, fiddle boy,” a grizzled squire shouted back at him. “I’d sooner live.”

  In the end, the second Daemon Blackfyre rode forth alone, reined up before the royal host, and challenged Lord Bloodraven to single combat. “I will fight you, or the coward Aerys, or any champion you care to name.” Instead, Lord Bloodraven’s men surrounded him, pulled him off his horse, and clasped him into golden fetters. The banner he had carried was planted in the muddy ground and set afire. It burned for a long time, sending up a twisted plume of smoke that could be seen for leagues around.

  The only blood that was shed that day came when a man in service to Lord Vrvwel began to boast that he had been one of Bloodraven’s eyes and would soon be well rewarded. “By the time the moon turns, I’ll be fucking whores and drinking Dornish red,” he was purported to have said, just before one of Lord Costayne’s knights slit his throat. “Drink that,” he said as Vrvwel’s man drowned in his own blood. “It’s not Dornish, but it’s red.”

  Elsewise it was a sullen, silent column that trudged through the gates of Whitewalls to toss their weapons into a glittering pile before being bound and led away to await Lord Bloodraven’s judgment. Dunk emerged with the rest of them, together with Ser Kyle the Cat and Glendon Ball. They had looked for Ser Maynard to join them, but Plumm had melted away sometime during the night.

  It was late that afternoon before Ser Roland Crakehall of the Kingsguard found Dunk among the other prisoners. “Ser Duncan. Where in seven hells have you been hiding? Lord Rivers has been asking for you for hours. Come with me, if you please.”

  Dunk fell in beside him. Crakehall’s long cloak flapped behind him with every gust of wind, as white as moonlight on snow. The sight of it made him think back on the words the Fiddler had spoken, up on the roof. I dreamed that you were all in white from head to heel, with a long pale cloak flowing from those broad shoulders. Dunk snorted. Aye, and you dreamed of dragons hatching from stone eggs. One is likely as t’other.

  The Hand’s pavilion was half a mile from the castle, in the shade of a spreading elm tree. A dozen cows were cropping at the grass nearby. Kings rise an
d fall, Dunk thought, and cows and smallfolk go about their business. It was something the old man used to say. “What will become of all of them?” he asked Ser Roland as they passed a group of captives sitting on the grass.

  “They’ll be marched back to King’s Landing for trial. The knights and men-at-arms should get off light enough. They were only following their liege lords.”

  “And the lords?”

  “Some will be pardoned, so long as they tell the truth of what they know and give up a son or daughter to vouchsafe their future loyalty. It will go harder for those who took pardons after the Redgrass Field. They’ll be imprisoned or attainted. The worst will lose their heads.”

  Bloodraven had made a start on that already, Dunk saw when they came up on his pavilion. Flanking the entrance, the severed heads of Gormon Peake and Black Torn Heddle had been impaled on spears, with their shields displayed beneath them. Three castles, black on orange. The man who slew Roger of Pennytree.

  Even in death, Lord Gormon’s eyes were hard and flinty. Dunk closed them with his fingers. “What did you do that for?” asked one of the guardsmen. “The crows’ll have them soon enough.”

  “I owed him that much.” If Roger had not died that day, the old man would never have looked twice at Dunk when he saw him chasing that pig through the alleys of King’s Landing. Some old dead king gave a sword to one son instead of another, that was the start of it. And now I’m standing here, and poor Roger’s in his grave.

  “The Hand awaits,” commanded Roland Crakehall.

  Dunk stepped past him, into the presence of Lord Brynden Rivers, bastard, sorcerer, and Hand of the King.

  Egg stood before him, freshly bathed and garbed in princely raiment, as would befit a nephew of the king. Nearby, Lord Frey was seated in a camp chair with a cup of wine to hand and his hideous little heir squirming in his lap. Lord Butterwell was there as well…on his knees, pale-faced and shaking.

  “Treason is no less vile because the traitor proves a craven,” Lord Rivers was saying. “I have heard your bleatings, Lord Ambrose, and I believe one word in ten. On that account I will allow you to retain a tenth part of your fortune. You may keep your wife as well. I wish you joy of her.”

  “And Whitewalls?” asked Butterwell with quavering voice.

  “Forfeit to the Iron Throne. I mean to pull it down stone by stone and sow the ground that it stands upon with salt. In twenty years, no one will remember it existed. Old fools and young malcontents still make pilgrimages to the Redgrass Field to plant flowers on the spot where Daemon Blackfyre fell. I will not suffer Whitewalls to become another monument to the Black Dragon.” He waved a pale hand. “Now scurry away, roach.”

  “The Hand is kind.” Butterwell stumbled off, so blind with grief that he did not even seem to recognize Dunk as he passed.

  “You have my leave to go as well, Lord Frey,” Rivers commanded. “We will speak again later.” “As my lord commands.” Frey led his son from the pavilion. Only then did the King’s Hand turn to Dunk.

  He was older than Dunk remembered him, with a lined hard face, but his skin was still as pale as bone, and his cheek and neck still bore the ugly winestain birthmark that some people thought looked like a raven. His boots were black, his tunic scarlet. Over it he wore a cloak the color of smoke, fastened with a brooch in the shape of an iron hand. His hair fell to his shoulders, long and white and straight, brushed forward so as to conceal his missing eye, the one that Bittersteel had plucked from him on the Redgrass Field. The eye that remained was very red. How many eyes has Bloodraven? A thousand eyes, and one.

  “No doubt Prince Maekar had some good reason for allowing his son to squire for a hedge knight,” he said, “though I cannot imagine it included delivering him to a castle full of traitors plotting rebellion. How is that I come to find my cousin in this nest of adders, ser? Lord Butterbutt would have me believe that Prince Maekar sent you here, to sniff out this rebellion in the guise of a mystery knight. Is that the truth of it?”

  Dunk went to one knee. “No, m’lord. I mean, yes, mlord. That’s what Egg told him. Aegon, I mean. Prince Aegon. So that part’s true. It isn’t what you’d call the true truth, though.”

  “I see. So the two of you learned of this conspiracy against the crown and decided you would thwart it by yourselves, is that the way of it?”

  “That’s not it either. We just sort of…blundered into it, I suppose you’d say.”

  Egg crossed his arms. “And Ser Duncan and I had matters well in hand before you turned up with your army.”

  “We had some help, mlord,” Dunk added. “Hedge knights.”

  “Aye, m’lord. Ser Kyle the Cat, and Maynard Plumm. And Ser Glendon Ball. It was him unhorsed the Fidd…the pretender.”

  “Yes, I’ve heard that tale from half a hundred lips already. The Bastard of the Pussywillows. Born of a whore and a traitor.”

  “Born of heroes,” Egg insisted. “If he’s amongst the captives, I want him found and released. And rewarded.”

  “And who are you to tell the King’s Hand what to do?” Egg did not flinch. “You know who I am, cousin.”

  “Your squire is insolent, ser,” Lord Rivers said to Dunk. “You ought to beat that out of him.”

  “I’ve tried, m’lord. He’s a prince, though.”

  “What he is,” said Bloodraven, “is a dragon. Rise, ser.”

  Dunk rose.

  “There have always been Targaryens who dreamed of things to come, since long before the Conquest,” Bloodraven said, “so we should not be surprised if from time to time a Blackfyre displays the gift as well. Daemon dreamed that a dragon would be born at Whitewalls, and it was. The fool just got the color wrong.”

  Dunk looked at Egg. The ring, he saw. His father’s ring. It’s on his finger, not stuffed up inside his boot.

  “I have half a mind to take you back to King’s Landing with us,” Lord Rivers said to Egg, “and keep you at court as my…guest.”

  “My father would not take kindly to that.”

  “I suppose not. Prince Maekar has a…prickly…nature. Perhaps I should send you back to Summerhall.”

  “My place is with Ser Duncan. I’m his squire.” “Seven save you both. As you wish. You’re free to go.”

  “We will,” said Egg, “but first we need some gold. Ser Duncan needs to pay the Snail his ransom.”

  Bloodraven laughed. “What happened to the modest boy I once met at King’s Landing? As you say, my prince. I will instruct my paymaster to give you as much gold as you wish. Within reason.”

  “Only as a loan,” insisted Dunk. “I’ll pay it back.” “When you learn to joust, no doubt.” Lord Rivers flicked them away with his fingers, unrolled a parchment, and began to tick off names with a quill.

  He is marking down the men to die, Dunk realized. “My lord,” he said, “we saw the heads outside. Is that…will the Fiddler…Daemon…will you have his head as well?”

  Lord Bloodraven looked up from his parchment. “That is for King Aerys to decide…but Daemon has four younger brothers, and sisters as well. Should I be so foolish as to remove his pretty head, his mother will mourn, his friends will curse me for a kinslayer, and Bittersteel will crown his brother Haegon. Dead, young Daemon is a hero. Alive, he is an obstacle in my half brother’s path. He can hardly make a third Blackfyre king whilst the second remains so inconveniently alive. Besides, such a noble captive will be an ornament to our court, and a living testament to the mercy and benevolence of His Grace King Aerys.”

  “I have a question too,” said Egg.

  “I begin to understand why your father was so willing to be rid of you. What more would you have of me, cousin?”

  “Who took the dragon’s egg? There were guards at the door, and more guards on the steps, no way anyone could have gotten into Lord Butterwell’s bedchamber unobserved.”

  Lord Rivers smiled. “Were I to guess, I’d say someone climbed up inside the privy shaft.”

  “The privy shaft was too sma
ll to climb.”

  “For a man. A child could do it.”

  “Or a dwarf,” Dunk blurted. A thousand eyes, and one. Why shouldn’t some of them belong to a troupe of comic dwarfs?

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  George R. R. Martin, Warriors

  (Series: The Tales of Dunk and Egg # 3)

 

 


 

 
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