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Warriors

Warriors

Warriors/5


  The next thing he knew, he was climbing a tower stair with the bride squirming in his arms. How he kept his feet was beyond him. The girl would not be still, and the men were all around them, making ribald japes about flouring her up and kneading her well whilst they pulled off her clothes. The dwarfs joined in as well. They swarmed around Dunk’s legs, shouting and laughing and smacking at his calves with their bladders. It was all he could do not to trip over them.

  Dunk had no notion where Lord Butterwell’s bedchamber was to be found, but the other men pushed and prodded him until he got there, by which time the bride was red-faced, giggling, and nearly naked, save for the stocking on her left leg, which had somehow survived the climb. Dunk was crimson too, and not from exertion. His arousal would have been obvious if anyone had been looking, but fortunately all eyes were the bride. Lady Butterwell looked nothing like Tanselle, but having the one squirming half-naked in his arms had started Dunk thinking about the other. Tanselle Too-Tall, that was her name, but she was not too tall for me. He wondered if he would ever find her again. There had been some nights when he thought he must have dreamed her. No, lunk, you only dreamed she liked you.

  Lord Butterwell’s bedchamber was large and lavish, once he found it. Myrish carpets covered the floors, a hundred scented candles burned in nooks and crannies, and a suit of plate inlaid with gold and gems stood beside the door. It even had its own privy set into a small stone alcove in the outer wall.

  When Dunk finally plopped the bride onto her marriage bed, a dwarf leapt in beside her and seized one of her breasts for a bit of a fondle. The girl let out a squeal, the men roared with laughter, and Dunk seized the dwarf by his collar and hauled him kicking off m’lady. He was carrying the little man across the room to chuck him out the door when he saw the dragon’s egg.

  Lord Butterwell had placed it on a black velvet cushion atop a marble plinth. It was much bigger than a hen’s egg, though not so big as he’d imagined. Fine red scales covered its surface, shining bright as jewels by the light of lamps and candles. Dunk dropped the dwarf and picked up the egg, just to feel it for a moment. It was heavier than he’d expected. You could smash a man’s head with this, and never crack the shell. The scales were smooth beneath his fingers, and the deep, rich red seemed to shimmer as he turned the egg in his hands. Blood and flame, he thought, but there were gold flecks in it as well, and whorls of midnight black.

  “Here, you! What do you think you’re doing, ser?” A knight he did not know was glaring at him, a big man with a coal-black beard and boils, but it was the voice that made him blink; a deep voice, thick with anger. It was him, the man with Peake, Dunk realized, as the man said, “Put that down. I’ll thank you to keep your greasy fingers off His Lordship’s treasures, or by the Seven, you shall wish you had.”

  The other knight was not near so drunk as Dunk, so it seemed wise to do as he said. He put the egg back on its pillow, very carefully, and wiped his fingers on his sleeve. “I meant no harm, ser.” Dunk the lunk, thick as a castle wall. Then he shoved past the man with the black beard and out the door.

  There were noises in the stairwell, glad shouts and girlish laughter. The women were bringing Lord Butterwell to his bride. Dunk had no wish to encounter them, so he went up instead of down, and found himself on the tower roof beneath the stars, with the pale castle glimmering in the moonlight all around him.

  He was feeling dizzy from the wine, so he leaned against a parapet. Am I going to be sick? Why did he go and touch the dragon’s egg? He remembered Tanselle’s puppet show, and the wooden dragon that had started all the trouble there at Ashford. The memory made Dunk feel guilty, as it always did. Three good men dead, to save a hedge knights foot. It made no sense, and never had. Take a lesson from that, lunk. It is not for the likes of you to mess about with dragons or their eggs.

  “It almost looks as if it’s made of snow.”

  Dunk turned. John the Fiddler stood behind him, smiling in his silk and cloth-of-gold. “What’s made of snow?”

  “The castle. All that white stone in the moonlight. Have you ever been north of the Neck, Ser Duncan? I’m told it snows there even in the summer. Have you ever seen the Wall?”

  “No, m’lord.” Why is he going on about the Wall? “That’s where we were going, Egg and me. Up north, to Winterfell.”

  “Would that I could join you. You could show me the way.”

  “The way?” Dunk frowned. “It’s right up the kingsroad. If you stay to the road and keep going north, you can’t miss it.”

  The Fiddler laughed. “I suppose not…though you might be surprised at what some men can miss.” He went to the parapet and looked out across the castle. “They say those northmen are a savage folk, and their woods are full of wolves.”

  “M’lord? Why did you come up here?”

  “Alyn was seeking for me, and I did not care to be found. He grows tiresome when he drinks, does Alyn. I saw you slip away from that bedchamber of horrors, and slipped out after you. I’ve had too much wine, I grant you, but not enough to face a naked Butterwell.” He gave Dunk an enigmatic smile. “I dreamed of you, Ser Duncan. Before I even met you. When I saw you on the road, I knew your face at once. It was as if we were old friends.”

  Dunk had the strangest feeling then, as if he had lived this all before. I dreamed of you, he said. My dreams are not like yours, Ser Duncan. Mine are true. “You dreamed of me?” he said, in a voice made thick by wine. “What sort of dream?”

  “Why,” the Fiddler said, “I dreamed that you were all in white from head to heel, with a long pale cloak flowing from those broad shoulders. You were a White Sword, ser, a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard, the greatest knight in all the Seven Kingdoms, and you lived for no other purpose but to guard and serve and please your king.” He put a hand on Dunk’s shoulder. “You have dreamed the same dream, I know you have.”

  He had, it was true. The first time the old man let me hold his sword. “Every boy dreams of serving in the Kingsguard.”

  “Only seven boys grow up to wear the white cloak, though. Would it please you to be one of them?”

  “Me?” Dunk shrugged away the lordling’s hand, which had begun to knead his shoulder. “It might. Or not.” The knights of the Kingsguard served for life, and swore to take no wife and hold no lands. I might find Tanselle again someday. Why shouldn’t I have a wife, and sons? “It makes no matter what I dream. Only a king can make a Kingsguard knight.”

  “I suppose that means I’ll have to take the throne, then. I would much rather be teaching you to fiddle.”

  “You’re drunk.” And the crow once called the raven black.

  “Wonderfully drunk. Wine makes all things possible, Ser Duncan. You’d look a god in white, I think, but if the color does not suit you, perhaps you would prefer to be a lord?”

  Dunk laughed in his face. “No, I’d sooner sprout big blue wings and fly. One’s as likely as t’other.”

  “Now you mock me. A true knight would never mock his king.” The Fiddler sounded hurt. “I hope you will put more faith in what I tell you when you see the dragon hatch.”

  “A dragon will hatch? A living dragon? What, here?”

  “I dreamed it. This pale white castle, you, a dragon bursting from an egg, I dreamed it all, just as I once dreamed of my brothers lying dead. They were twelve and I was only seven, so they laughed at me, and died. I am two-and-twenty now, and I trust my dreams.”

  Dunk was remembering another tourney, remembering how he had walked through the soft spring rains with another princeling. I dreamed of you and a dead dragon, Egg’s brother Daeron said to him. A great beast, huge, with wings so large, they could cover this meadow. It had fallen on top of you, but you were alive and the dragon was dead. And so he was, poor Baelor. Dreams were a treacherous ground on which to build. “As you say, m’lord,” he told the Fiddler. “Pray excuse me.”

  “Where are you going, ser?”

  “To my bed, to sleep. I’m drunk as a dog.

 
“Be my dog, ser. The night’s alive with promise. We can howl together, and wake the very gods.”

  “What do you want of me?”

  “Your sword. I would make you mine own man, and raise you high. My dreams do not lie, Ser Duncan. You will have that white cloak, and I must have the dragon’s egg. I must, my dreams have made that plain. Perhaps the egg will hatch, or else—”

  Behind them, the door banged open violently. “There he is, my lord.” A pair of men-at-arms stepped onto the roof. Lord Gormon Peake was just behind them.

  “Gormy,” the Fiddler drawled. “Why, what are you doing in my bedchamber, my lord?”

  “It is a roof, ser, and you have had too much wine.” Lord Gormon made a sharp gesture, and the guards moved forward. “Allow us to help you to that bed. You are jousting on the morrow, pray recall. Kirby Pimm can prove a dangerous foe.”

  “I had hoped to joust with good Ser Duncan here.”

  Peake gave Dunk an unsympathetic look. “Later, perhaps. For your first tilt, you have drawn Ser Kirby Pimm.”

  “Then Pimm must fall! So must they all! The mystery knight prevails against all challengers, and wonder dances in his wake.” A guardsman took the Fiddler by the arm. “Ser Duncan, it seems that we must part,” he called as they helped him down the steps.

  Only Lord Gormon remained upon the roof with Dunk. “Hedge knight,” he growled, “did your mother never teach you not to reach your hand into the dragon’s mouth?”

  “I never knew any mother, m’lord.”

  “That would explain it. What did he promise you?”

  “A lordship. A white cloak. Big blue wings.”

  “Here’s my promise: three feet of cold steel through your belly if you speak a word of what just happened.”

  Dunk shook his head to clear his wits. It did not seem to help. He bent double at the waist, and retched.

  Some of the vomit spattered Peake’s boots. The lord cursed. “Hedge knights,” he exclaimed in disgust. “You have no place here. No true knight would be so discourteous as to turn up uninvited, but you creatures of the hedge—”

  “We are wanted nowhere and turn up everywhere, m’lord.” The wine had made Dunk bold, else he would have held his tongue. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

  “Try and remember what I told you, ser. It will go ill for you if you do not.” Lord Peake shook the vomit off his boot. Then he was gone. Dunk leaned against the parapet again. He wondered who was madder, Lord Gormon or the Fiddler.

  By the time he found his way back to the hall, only Maynard Plumm remained of his companions. “Was there any flour on her teats when you got the smallclothes off her?” he wanted to know.

  Dunk shook his head, poured himself another cup of wine, tasted it, and decided that he had drunk enough.

  * * *

  Butterwell’s stewards had found rooms in the keep for the lords and ladies, and beds in the barracks for their retinues. The rest of the guests had their choice between a straw pallet in the cellar, or a spot of ground beneath the western walls to raise their pavilions. The modest sailcloth tent Dunk had acquired in Stoney Sept was no pavilion, but it kept the rain and sun off. Some of his neighbors were still awake, the silken walls of their pavilions glowing like colored lanterns in the night. Laughter came from inside a blue pavilion covered with sunflowers, and the sounds of love from one striped in white and purple. Egg had set up their own tent a bit apart from the others. Maester and the two horses were hobbled nearby, and Dunk’s arms and armor had been neatly stacked against the castle walls. When he crept into the tent, he found his squire sitting cross-legged by a candle, his head shining as he peered over a book.

  “Reading books by candlelight will make you blind.” Reading remained a mystery to Dunk, though the lad had tried to teach him.

  “I need the candlelight to see the words, ser.”

  “Do you want a clout in the ear? What book is that?” Dunk saw bright colors on the page, little painted shields hiding in amongst the letters.

  “A roll of arms, ser.”

  “Looking for the Fiddler? You won’t find him. They don’t put hedge knights in those rolls, just lords and champions.”

  “I wasn’t looking for him. I saw some other sigils in the yard….Lord Sunderland is here, ser. He bears the heads of three pale ladies, on undy green and blue.”

  “A Sisterman? Truly?” The Three Sisters were islands in the Bite. Dunk had heard septon say that the isles were sinks of sin and avarice. Sisterton was the most notorious smuggler’s den in all of Westeros. “He’s come a long way. He must be kin to Butterwell’s new bride.”

  “He isn’t, ser.”

  “Then he’s here for the feast. They eat fish on the Three Sisters, don’t they? A man gets sick of fish. Did you get enough to eat? I brought you half a capon and some cheese.” Dunk rummaged in the pocket of his cloak.

  “They fed us ribs, ser.” Egg’s nose was deep in the book. “Lord Sunderland fought for the Black Dragon, ser.”

  “Like old Ser Eustace? He wasn’t so bad, was he?” “No, ser,” Egg said, “but—

  “I saw the dragon’s egg.” Dunk squirrled the food away with their hard-bread and salt beef. “It was red, mostly. Does Lord Bloodraven own a dragon’s egg as well?”

  Egg lowered his book. “Why would he? He’s baseborn.”

  “Bastard born, not baseborn.” Bloodraven had been born on the wrong side of the blanket, but he was noble on both sides. Dunk was about to tell Egg about the men he’d overhead when he noticed his face. “What happened to your lip?”

  “A fight, ser.”

  “Let me see it.”

  “It only bled a little. I dabbed some wine on it.”

  “Who were you fighting?”

  “Some other squires. They said—”

  “Never mind what they said. What did I tell you?”

  “To hold my tongue and make no trouble.” The boy touched his broken lip. “They called my father a kinslayer, though.”

  He is, lad, though I do not think he meant it. Dunk had told Egg half a hundred times not to take such words to heart. You know the truth. Let that be enough. They had heard such talk before, in wine sinks and low taverns, and around campfires in the woods. The whole realm knew how Prince Maekar’s mace had felled his brother Baelor Breakspear at Ashford Meadow. Talk of plots was only to be expected. “If they knew Prince Maekar was your father, they would never have said such things.” Behind your back, yes, but never to your face. “And what did you tell these other squires, instead of holding your tongue?”

  Egg looked abashed. “That Prince Baelor’s death was just a mishap. Only when I said Prince Maekar loved his brother Baelor, Ser Addam’s squire said he loved him to death, and Ser Mallor’s squire said he meant to love his brother Aerys the same way. That was when I hit him. I hit him good.”

  “I ought to hit you good. A fat ear to go with that fat lip. Your father would do the same if he were here. Do you think Prince Maekar needs a little boy to defend him? What did he tell you when he sent you off with me?”

  “To serve you faithfully as your squire, and not flinch from any task or hardship.” “And what else?”

  “To obey the king’s laws, the rules of chivalry, and you.” “And what else?”

  “To keep my hair shaved or dyed,” the boy said with obvious reluctance, “ and tell no man my true name.”

  Dunk nodded. “How much wine had this boy drunk?” “He was drinking barley beer.”

  “You see? The barley beer was talking. Words are wind, Egg. Just let them blow on past you.”

  “Some words are wind.” The boy was nothing if not stubborn. “Some words are treason. This is a traitor’s tourney, ser.”

  “What, all of them?” Dunk shook his head. “If it was true, that was a long time ago. The Black Dragon’s dead, and those who fought with him are fled or pardoned. And it’s not true. Lord Butterwell’s sons fought on both sides.”

  “That makes him half a traitor,
ser.”

  “Sixteen years ago.” Dunk’s mellow winey haze was gone. He felt angry, and near sober. “Lord Butterwell’s steward is the master of the games, a man named Cosgrove. Find him and enter my name for the lists. No, wait…hold back my name.” With so many lords on hand, one of them might recall Ser Duncan the Tall from Ashford Meadow. “Enter me as the Gallows Knight.” The smallfolk loved it when a Mystery Knight appeared at a tourney.

  Egg fingered his fat lip. “The Gallows Knight, ser?”

  “For the shield.”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Go do as I said. You have read enough for one night.” Dunk pinched the candle out between his thumb and forefinger.

  * * *

  The sun rose hot and hard, implacable.

  Waves of heat rose shimmering off the white stones of the castle. The air smelled of baked earth and torn grass, and no breath of wind stirred the banners that drooped atop the keep and gatehouse, green and white and yellow. Thunder was restless, in a way that Dunk had seldom seen before. The stallion tossed his head from side to side as Egg was tightening his saddle cinch. He even bared his big square teeth at the boy. It is so hot, Dunk thought, too hot for man or mount. A war horse does not have a placid disposition even at the best of times. The Mother herself would be foul-tempered in this heat.

  In the center of the yard, the jousters began another run. Ser Harbert rode a golden courser barded in black and decorated with the red and white serpents of House Paege, Ser Franklyn a sorrel whose gray silk trapper bore the twin towers of Frey. When they came together, the red and white lance cracked clean in two and the blue one exploded into splinters, but neither man lost his seat. A cheer went up from the viewing stand and the guardsmen on the castle walls, but it was short and thin and hollow.