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TYRION

Somewhere off in the far distance, a dying man was screaming for his mother. “To horse!” a man was yelling in Ghiscari, in the next camp to the north of the Second Sons. “To horse! To horse!” High and shrill, his voice carried a long way in the morning air, far beyond his own encampment. Tyrion knew just enough Ghiscari to understand the words, but the fear in his voice would have been plain in any tongue. I know how he feels.

It was time to find his own horse, he knew. Time to don some dead boy’s armor, buckle on a sword and dagger, slip his dinted greathelm down over his head. Dawn had broken, and a sliver of the rising sun was visible behind the city’s walls and towers, blindingly bright. To the west the stars were fading, one by one. Trumpets were blowing along the Skahazadhan, warhorns answering from the walls of Meereen. A ship was sinking in the river mouth, afire. Dead men and dragons were moving through the sky, whilst warships crashed and clashed on Slaver’s Bay. Tyrion could not see them from here, but he could hear the sounds: the crash of hull against hull as ships slammed together, the deep-throated warhorns of the ironborn and queer high whistles of Qarth, the splintering of oars, the shouts and battle cries, the crash of axe on armor, sword on shield, all mingled with the shrieks of wounded men. Many of the ships were still far out in the bay, so the sounds they made seemed faint and far away, but he knew them all the same. The music of slaughter.

Three hundred yards from where he stood rose the Wicked Sister, her long arm swinging up with a clutch of corpses—chunk-THUMP—and there

they flew, naked and swollen, pale dead birds tumbling boneless through the air. The siege camps shimmered in a gaudy haze of rose and gold, but the famous stepped pyramids of Meereen hulked black against the glare. Something was moving atop one of them, he saw. A dragon, but which one? At this distance, it could as easily have been an eagle. A very big eagle.

After days spent hidden inside musty tents of the Second Sons, the outside air smelled fresh and clear. Though he could not see the bay from where he stood, the tang of salt told him it was near. Tyrion filled his lungs with it. A fine day for a battle. From the east the sound of drumming rolled across the parched plain. A column of mounted men flashed past the Harridan, flying the blue banners of the Windblown.

A younger man might have found it all exhilarating. A stupider man might have thought it grand and glorious, right up to the moment when some arse-ugly Yunkish slave soldier with rings in his nipples planted an axe between his eyes. Tyrion Lannister knew better. The gods did not fashion me to wield a sword, he thought, so why do they keep putting me in the midst of battles?

No one heard. No one answered. No one cared.

Tyrion found himself thinking back on his first battle. Shae had been the first to stir, woken by his father’s trumpets. The sweet strumpet who’d pleasured him for half the night had trembled naked in his arms, a frightened child. Or was all that a lie as well, a ploy she used to make me feel brave and brilliant? What a mummer she might have been. When Tyrion had shouted out for Podrick Payne to help him with his armor, he’d found the boy asleep and snoring. Not the quickest lad I’ve ever known, but a decent squire in the end. I hope he found a better man to serve.

It was queer, but Tyrion remembered the Green Fork much better than the Blackwater. It was my first. You never forget your first. He remembered the fog drifting off the river, wending through the reeds like pale white fingers. And the beauty of that sunrise, he remembered that as well: stars strewn across a purple sky, the grass glittering like glass with the morning dew, red splendor in the east. He remembered the touch of Shae’s fingers as she helped Pod with Tyrion’s mismatched armor. That bloody helm. Like a bucket with a spike. That spike had saved him, though, had won him his first victory, but Groat and Penny had never looked half as silly as he must have looked that day. Shae had called him “fearsome” when she saw him in his steel, mind you. How could I have been so blind, so deaf, so stupid? I should have known better than to do my thinking with my cock.

The Second Sons were saddling their horses. They went about it calmly, unhurriedly, efficiently; it was nothing they had not done a hundred times before. A few of them were passing a skin from hand to hand though whether it was wine or water he could not say. Bokkoko was kissing his lover shamelessly, kneading the boy’s buttocks with one huge hand, the other tangled in his hair. Behind them, Ser Garibald was brushing out the mane of his big gelding. Kem sat on a rock, gazing at the ground… remembering his dead brother, perhaps, or dreaming of that friend back in King’s Landing. Hammer and Nail moved from man to man, checking spears and swords, adjusting armor, putting an edge on any blade that needed it. Snatch chewed his sourleaf, making japes and scratching at his balls with his hook hand. Something about his manner reminded Tyrion of

Bronn. Ser Bronn of the Blackwater now, unless my sister’s killed him. That might not be quite so simple as she thinks. He wondered how many battles these Second Sons had fought. How many skirmishes, how many raids? How many cities have they stormed, how many brothers have they buried or left behind to rot? Compared to them, Tyrion was a green boy, still untested, though he had counted more years than half the company.

This would be his third battle. Seasoned and blooded, stamped and sealed, a proven warrior, that’s me. I’ve killed some men and wounded others, taken wounds myself and lived to tell of them. I’ve led charges, heard men scream my name, cut down bigger men and better, even had a few small tastes of glory… and wasn’t that a fine rich wine for heroes, and wouldn’t I like another taste? Yet with all he’d done and all he’d seen, the prospect of another battle made his blood run cold. He had traveled across half the world by way of palanquin, poleboat, and pig, sailed in slave ships and trading galleys, mounted whores and horses, all the time telling himself that he did not care whether he lived or died… only to find that he cared quite a lot after all.

The Stranger had mounted his pale mare and was riding toward them with his sword in hand, but Tyrion Lannister did not care to meet with him again. Not now. Not yet. Not this day. What a fraud you are, Imp. You let a hundred guardsmen rape your wife, shot your father through the belly with a quarrel, twisted a golden chain around your lover’s throat until her face turned black, yet somehow you still think that you deserve to live.

Penny was already in her armor when Tyrion slipped back inside the tent they shared. She had been strapping herself into wooden plate for years in service to her mummery; real plate and mail were not so different once you mastered all the clasps and buckles. And if the company steel was dinted here and rusted there, scratched and stained and discolored, no matter. It should still be good enough to stop a sword

The only piece she had not donned was her helm. When he entered, she looked up. “You’re not armored. What’s happening?”

“The usual things. Mud and blood and heroism, killing and dying. There’s one battle being fought out on the bay, another one beneath the city walls. Whichever way the Yunkish turn, they have a foe behind them. The closest fighting’s a good league off still, but we’ll be in it soon.” On one side or the other. The Second Sons were ripe for another change of masters, Tyrion was almost certain of that… though there was a great abyss between “certain” and “almost certain.” If I have misjudged my man, all of us are lost. “Put on your helm and make sure the clasps are closed. I took mine off once to keep from drowning, and it cost me a nose.” Tyrion picked at his scar.

“We need to get you into your armor first.”

“If you wish. The jerkin first. The boiled leather, with the iron studs. Ringmail over that, then the gorget.” He glanced about the tent. “Is there wine?”

“No.”

“We had half a flagon left from supper.”

“A quarter of a flagon, and you drank it.”

He sighed. “I would sell my sister for a cup of wine.”

“You would sell your sister for a cup of horse piss.” That was so unexpected that it made him laugh aloud. “Is my taste for horse piss so well-known or have you met my sister?”

“I only saw her that one time, when we jousted for the boy king. Groat thought she was beautiful.”

Groat was a stunted little lickspittle with a stupid name. “Only a fool rides into battle sober. Plumm will have some wine. What if he dies in the battle? It would be a crime to waste it.”

“Hold your tongue. I need to lace this jerkin up.”

Tyrion did try, but it seemed to him that the sounds of slaughter were growing louder, and his tongue would not be held. “Pudding Face wants to use the company to throw the ironmen back into the sea,” he heard himself telling Penny, as she dressed him. “What he should have done was send all his horse at the eunuchs, full charge, before they got ten feet from their gates. Send the Cats at them from the left, us and the Windblown from the right, rip apart their flanks from both ends. Man to man, the Unsullied are no better or worse than any other spearmen. It’s their discipline that makes them dangerous, but if they cannot form up into a spear wall…”

“Lift your arms,” said Penny. “There, that’s better. Maybe you should command the Yunkishmen.”

“They use slave soldiers, why not slave commanders? That would ruin the contest, though. This is just a cyvasse game to the Wise Masters. We’re the pieces.” Tyrion canted his head to one side, considering. “They have that in common with my lord father, these slavers.” “Your father? What do you mean?”

“I was just recalling my first battle. The Green Fork. We fought between a river and a road. When I saw my father’s host deploy, I remember thinking how beautiful it was. Like a flower opening its petals to the sun. A crimson rose with iron thorns. And my father, ah, he had never looked so resplendent. He wore crimson armor, with this huge greatcloak made of cloth-of-gold. A pair of golden lions on his shoulders, another on his helm. His stallion was magnificent. His lordship watched the whole battle from atop that horse and never got within a hundred yards of any foe. He never moved, never smiled, never broke a sweat, whilst thousands died below him. Picture me perched on a camp stool, gazing down upon a cyvasse board. We could almost be twins… if I had a horse, some crimson armor, and a greatcloak sewn from cloth-of-gold. He was taller too. I have more hair.”

Penny kissed him.

She moved so fast that he had no time to think. She darted in, quick as a bird, and pressed her lips to his. Just as quickly it was over. What was that for? he almost said, but he knew what it was for. Thank you, he might have said, but she might take that as leave to do it again. Child, I have no wish to hurt you, he could have tried, but Penny was no child, and his wishes

would not blunt the cut. For the first time for longer than he cared to think, Tyrion Lannister was at a loss for words.

She looks so young, he thought. A girl, that’s all she is. A girl, and almost pretty if you can forget that she’s a dwarf. Her hair was a warm brown, thick and curly, and her eyes were large and trusting. Too trusting.

“Do you hear that sound?” said Tyrion.

She listened. “What is it?” she said as she was strapping a pair of mismatched greaves onto his stunted legs.

“War. On either side of us and not a league away. That’s slaughter, Penny. That’s men stumbling through the mud with their entrails hanging out. That’s severed limbs and broken bones and pools of blood. You know how the worms come out after a hard rain? I hear they do the same after a big battle if enough blood soaks into the ground. That’s the Stranger coming, Penny. The Black Goat, the Pale Child, Him of Many Faces, call him what you will. That’s death.”

“You’re scaring me.

“Am I? Good. You should be scared. We have ironborn swarming ashore and Ser Barristan and his Unsullied pouring out the city gates, with us between them, fighting on the wrong bloody side. I am terrified myself.”

“You say that, but you still make japes.”

“Japes are one way to keep the fear away. Wine’s another.”

“You’re brave. Little people can be brave.”

My giant of Lannister, he heard. She is mocking me. He almost slapped her again. His head was pounding.

“I never meant to make you angry,” Penny said “Forgive me. I’m frightened, is all.” She touched his hand.

Tyrion wrenched away from her. “I’m frightened.” Those were the same words Shae had used. Her eyes were big as eggs, and I swallowed every bit of it. I knew what she was. I told Bronn to find a woman for me and he brought me Shae. His hands curled into fists, and Shae’s face swam before him, grinning. Then the chain was tightening about her throat, the golden hands digging deep into her flesh as her own hands fluttered against his face with all the force of butterflies. If he’d had a chain to hand… if he’d had a crossbow, a dagger, anything, he would have… he might have… he…

It was only then that Tyrion heard the shouts. He was lost in a black rage, drowning in a sea of memory, but the shouting brought the world back in a rush. He opened his hands, took a breath, turned away from Penny. “Something’s happening.” He went outside to discover what it was. Dragons.

The green beast was circling above the bay, banking and turning as longships and galleys clashed and burned below him, but it was the white dragon the sellswords were gawking at. Three hundred yards away the Wicked Sister swung her arm, chunk-THUMP, and six fresh corpses went

dancing through the sky. Up they rose, and up, and up. Then two burst into flame.

The dragon caught one burning body just as it began to fall, crunching it between his jaws as pale fires ran across his teeth. White wings cracked against the morning air, and the beast began to climb again. The second corpse caromed off an outstretched claw and plunged straight down, to land amongst some Yunkish horsemen. Some of them caught fire too. One horse reared up and threw his rider. The others ran, trying to outrace the flames and fanning them instead. Tyrion Lannister could almost taste the panic as it rippled out across the camps.

The sharp, familiar scent of urine filled the air. The dwarf glanced about and was relieved to see that it was Inkpots who had pissed himself, not him. “You had best go change your breeches,” Tyrion told him. “And whilst you are about it, turn your cloak.” The paymaster blanched but did not move.

He was still standing there, staring as the dragon snatched corpses from the air, when the messenger came pounding up. A bloody officer, Tyrion saw at once. He was clad in golden armor and mounted on a golden horse. Loudly he announced that he had come from the supreme commander of the Yunkai’i, the noble and puissant Gorzhak zo Eraz. “Lord Gorzhak sends his compliments to Captain Plumm and requests that he bring his company to the bay shore. Our ships are under attack.”

Your ships are sinking, burning, fleeing, thought Tyrion. Your ships are being taken, your men put to the sword. He was a Lannister of Casterly Rock, close by the Iron Islands; ironborn reavers were no strangers to their shores. Over the centuries they had burned Lannisport at least thrice and raided it two dozen times. Westermen knew what savagery the ironborn were capable of; these slavers were just learning.

“Captain’s not here just now,” Inkpots told the messenger. “He’s gone to see the Girl General.”

The rider pointed at the sun. “Lady Malazza’s command ended with the rising of the sun. Do as Lord Gorzhak instructs you.”

“Attack the squid ships, you mean? The ones out there in the water?” The paymaster frowned. “I don’t see how, myself, but when Brown Ben gets back I’ll tell him what your Gorzhak wants.”

“I gave you a command. You will act upon it now.”

“We take commands from our captain,” Inkpots said in his usual mild tone. “He’s not here. I told you.”

The messenger had lost his patience, Tyrion could see. “Battle is joined. Your commander should be with you.”

“Might be, but he’s not. The girl sent for him. He went.”

The messenger went purple. “You must carry out your order!”

Snatch spat a wad of well-chewed sourleaf out of the left side of his mouth. “Begging your pardon,” he told the Yunkish rider, “but we’re all horsemen here, same as m’lord. Now, a good trained warhorse, he’ll charge a wall o’

spears. Some will leap a fire ditch. But I never once seen any horse could run on water.”

“The ships are landing men,” screamed the Yunkish lordling. “They’ve blocked the mouth of the Skahazadhan with a fireship, and every moment you stand here talking another hundred swords come splashing through the shallows. Assemble your men and drive them back into the sea! At once! Gorzhak commands it!”

“Which one is Gorzhak?” asked Kem. “Is he the Rabbit?”

“Pudding Face,” said Inkpots. “The Rabbit’s not fool enough to send light horse against longships.”

The rider had heard enough. “I shall inform Gorzhak zo Eraz that you refuse to carry out his order,” he said stiffly. Then he wheeled his golden horse around and galloped back the way he’d come, chased by a gale of sellsword laughter.

Inkpots was the first to let his smile die. “Enough,” he said, suddenly solemn. “Back to it. Get those horses saddled, I want every man of you ready to ride when Ben gets back here with some proper orders. And put that cookfire out. You can break your fasts after the fighting’s done if you live that long.” His gaze fell on Tyrion. “What are you grinning at? You look a little fool in that armor, Halfman.”

“Better to look a fool than to be one,” the dwarf replied. “We are on the losing side.”

“The Halfman’s right,” said Jorah Mormont. “We do not want to be fighting for the slavers when Daenerys returns… and she will, make no mistake. Strike now and strike hard, and the queen will not forget it. Find her hostages and free them. And I will swear on the honor of my house and home that this was Brown Ben’s plan from the beginning.”

Out on the waters of Slaver’s Bay, another of the Qartheen galleys went up in a sudden whooosh of flame. Tyrion could hear elephants trumpeting to the east. The arms of the six sisters rose and fell, throwing corpses. Shield slammed against shield as two spear walls came together beneath the walls of Meereen. Dragons wheeled overhead, their shadows sweeping across the upturned faces of friend and foe alike.

Inkpots threw up his hands. “I keep the books. I guard our gold. I draw up our agreements, collect our wages, make certain that we have sufficient coin to buy provisions. I do not decide who we fight or when. That is for Brown Ben to say. Take it up with him when he returns.”

By the time Plumm and his companions came galloping back from the camp of the Girl General, the white dragon had flown back to its lair above Meereen. The green still prowled, soaring in wide circles above the city and the bay on great green wings.

Brown Ben Plumm wore plate and mail over boiled leather. The silk cloak flowing from his shoulders was his only concession to vanity: it rippled when he moved, the color changing from pale violet to deep purple. He swung down from his horse and gave her over to a groom, then told Snatch to summon his captains.

“Tell them to make haste,” added Kasporio the Cunning.

Tyrion was not even a serjeant, but their cyvasse games had made him a familiar sight in Brown Ben’s tent, and no one tried to stop him when he entered with the rest. Besides Kasporio and Inkpots, Uhlan and Bokkoko were amongst those summoned. The dwarf was surprised to see Ser Jorah Mormont there as well.

“We are commanded to defend the Wicked Sister,” Brown Ben informed them. The other men exchanged uneasy glances. No one seemed to want to speak until Ser Jorah asked, “On whose authority?”

“The girl’s. Ser Grandfather is making for the Harridan, but she’s afraid he’ll turn toward Wicked Sister next. The Ghost is already down. Marselen’s freedmen broke the Long Lances like a rotten stick and dragged it over with chains. The girl figures Selmy means to bring down all the trebuchets.”

“It’s what I’d do in his place,” Ser Jorah said. “Only I would have done it sooner.” “Why is the girl still giving orders?” Inkpots sounded baffled. “Dawn has come and gone. Can she not see the sun? She is behaving as if she were still the supreme commander.” “If you were her and knew that Pudding Face were about to assume command, you might keep giving orders too,” said Mormont.

“One is no better than the other,” Kasporio insisted.

“True,” said Tyrion, “but Malazza has the nicer teats.”

“Crossbows is how you hold the Wicked Sister,” Inkpots said. “Scorpions. Mangonels. That’s what’s needed. You do not use mounted men to defend a fixed position. Does the girl mean for us to dismount? If so, why not use her spears or slingers?”

Kem stuck his pale blond head inside the tent. “Sorry to disturb, m’lords, but another rider’s come. Says he has new orders from the supreme commander.”

Brown Ben glanced at Tyrion, then shrugged. “Send him in.”

“In here?” Kem asked, confused.

“Here is where I seem to be,” Plumm said, with a trace of irritation. “If he goes somewhere else, he will not find me.”

Out went Kem. When he returned, he held the tent flap open for a Yunkish nobleman in a cloak of yellow silk and matching pantaloons. The man’s oily black hair had been tortured, twisted, and lacquered to make it seem as if a hundred tiny roses were sprouting from his head. On his breastplate was a scene of such delightful depravity that Tyrion sensed a kindred spirit.

“The Unsullied are advancing toward the Harpy’s Daughter,” the messenger announced. “Bloodbeard and two Ghiscari legions stand against them. Whilst they hold the line, you are to sweep around behind the eunuchs and take them in the rear, sparing none. This by the command of the most noble and puissant Morghar zo Zherzyn, supreme commander of the Yunkai’i.”

“Morghar?” Kasporio frowned. “No, Gorzhak commands today.”

“Gorzhak zo Eraz lies slain, cut down by Pentoshi treachery. The turncloak who names himself the Prince of Tatters shall die screaming for this infamy, the noble Morghar swears.” Brown Ben scratched at his beard. “The Windblown have gone over, have they?” he said, in a tone of mild interest.

Tyrion chortled. “And we’ve traded Pudding Face for the Drunken Conquerer. It’s a wonder he was able to crawl out of the flagon long enough to give a halfway-sensible command.”

The Yunkishman glared at the dwarf. “Hold your tongue, you verminous little—” His retort withered. “This insolent dwarf is an escaped slave,” he declared, shocked. “He is the property of the noble Yezzan zo Qaggaz of hallowed memory.”

“You are mistaken. He is my brother-in-arms. A free man, and a Second Son. Yezzan’s slaves wear golden collars.” Brown Ben smiled his most amiable smile. “Golden collars, with little bells. Do you hear bells? I hear no bells.”

“Collars can be removed. I demand that the dwarf be surrended for punishment at once.” “That seems harsh. Jorah, what do you think?”

“This.” Mormont’s longsword was in his hand. As the rider turned, Ser Jorah thrust it through his throat. The point came out the back of the Yunkishman’s neck, red and wet. Blood bubbled from his lips and down his chin. The man took two wobbly steps and fell across the cyvasse board, scattering the wooden armies everywhere. He twitched a few more times, grasping the blade of Mormont’s sword with one hand as the other clawed feebly at the overturned table. Only then did the Yunkishman seem to realize he was dead. He lay facedown on the carpet in a welter of red blood and oily black roses. Ser Jorah wrenched his sword free of the dead man’s neck. Blood ran down its fullers.

The white cyvasse dragon ended up at Tyrion’s feet. He scooped it off the carpet and wiped it on his sleeve, but some of the Yunkish blood had collected in the fine grooves of the carving, so the pale wood seemed veined with red. “All hail our beloved queen, Daenerys.” Be she alive or be she dead. He tossed the bloody dragon in the air, caught it, grinned. “We have always been the queen’s men,” announced Brown Ben Plumm. “Rejoining the Yunkai’i was just a plot.”

“And what a clever ploy it was.” Tyrion gave the dead man a shove with his boot. “If that breastplate fits, I want it.”

MERCY

She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where.

The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils… or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her hells, hard on the scent of prey.

Half-light filled the room, grey and gloomy. Shivering, she sat up in bed and ran a hand across her scalp. Stubble bristled against her palm. I need to shave before Izembaro sees. Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped

and murdered. Her true name was Mercedene, but Mercy was all anyone ever called her…

Except in dreams. She took a breath to quiet the howling in her heart, trying to remember more of what she’d dreamt, but most of it had gone already. There had been blood in it, though, and a full moon overhead, and a tree that watched her as she ran.

She had fastened the shutters back so the morning sun might wake her. But there was no sun outside the window of Mercy’s little room, only a wall of shifting grey fog. The air had grown chilly… and a good thing, else she might have slept all day. It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.

Gooseprickles covered her legs. Her coverlet had twisted around her like a snake. She unwound it, threw the blanket to the bare plank floor and padded naked to the window. Braavos was lost in fog. She could see the green water of the little canal below, the cobbled stone street that ran beneath her building, two arches of the mossy bridge… but the far end of the bridge vanished in greyness, and of the buildings across the canal only a few vague lights remained. She heard a soft splash as a serpent boat emerged beneath the bridge’s central arch. “What hour?” Mercy called down to the man who stood by the snake’s uplifted tail, pushing her onward with his pole.

The waterman gazed up, searching for the voice. “Four, by the Titan’s roar.” His words echoed hollowly off the swirling green waters and the walls of unseen buildings.

She was not late, not yet, but she should not dawdle. Mercy was a happy soul and a hard worker, but seldom timely. That would not serve tonight. The envoy from Westeros was expected at the Gate this evening, and Izembaro would be in no mood to hear excuses, even if she served them up with a sweet smile.

She had filled her basin from the canal last night before she went to sleep, preferring the brackish water to the slimy green rainwater stewing in the cistern out back. Dipping a rough cloth, she washed herself head to heel, standing on one leg at a time to scrub her calloused feet. After that she found her razor. A bare scalp helped the wigs fit better, Izembaro claimed.

She shaved, donned her smallclothes, and slipped a shapeless brown wool dress down over her head. One of her stockings needed mending, she saw as she pulled it up. She would ask the Snapper for help; her own sewing was so wretched that the wardrobe mistress usually took pity on her. Else I could filtch a nicer pair from wardrobe. That was risky, though. Izembaro hated it when the mummers wore his costumes in the streets. Except for Wendeyne. Give Izembaro’s cock a little suck and a girl can wear any costume that she wants. Mercy was not so foolish as all that. Daena had warned her. “Girls who start down that road wind up on the Ship, where every man in the pit knows he can have any pretty thing he might see up on the stage, if his purse is plump enough.”

Her boots were lumps of old brown leather mottled with saltstains and cracked from long wear, her belt a length of hempen rope dyed blue. She knotted it about her waist, and hung a knife on her right hip and a coin pouch on her left. Last of all she threw her cloak across her shoulders. It

was a real mummer’s cloak, purple wool lined in red silk, with a hood to keep the rain off, and three secret pockets too. She’d hid some coins in one of those, an iron key in another, a blade in the last. A real blade, not a fruit knife like the one on her hip, but it did not belong to Mercy, no more than her other treasures did. The fruit knife belonged to Mercy. She was made for eating fruit, for smiling and joking, for working hard and doing as she was told.

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” she sang as she descended the wooden stair to the street. The handrail was splintery, the steps steep, and there were five flights, but that was why she’d gotten the room so cheap. That, and Mercy’s smile. She might be bald and skinny, but Mercy had a pretty smile, and a certain grace. Even Izembaro agreed that she was graceful. She was not far from the Gate as the crows flies, but for girls with feet instead of wings the way was longer. Braavos was a crooked city. The streets were crooked, the alleys were crookeder, and the canals were crookedest of all. Most days she preferred to go the long way, down the Ragman’s Road along the Outer Harbor, where she had the sea before her and the sky above, and a clear view across the Great Lagoon to the Arsenal and the piney slopes of Sellagoro’s Shield. Sailors would hail her as she passed the docks, calling down from the decks of tarry Ibbenese whalers and big-bellied Westerosi cogs. Mercy could not always understand their words, but she knew what they were saying. Sometimes she would smile back and tell them they could find her at the Gate if they had the coin.

The long way also took her across the Bridge of Eyes with its carved stone faces. From the top of its span, she could look through the arches and see all the city: the green copper domes of the Hall of Truth, the masts rising like a forest from the Purple Harbor, the tall towers of the mighty, the golden thunderbolt turning on its spire atop the Sealord’s Palace… even the Titan’s bronze shoulders, off across the dark green waters. But that was only when the sun was shining down on Braavos. If the fog was thick there was nothing to see but grey, so today Mercy chose the shorter route to save some wear on her poor cracked boots.

The mists seemed to part before her and close up again as she passed. The cobblestones were wet and slick under her feet. She heard a cat yowl plaintively. Braavos was a good city for cats, and they roamed everywhere, especially at night. In the fog all cats are grey, Mercy thought. In the fog all men are killers.

She had never seen a thicker fog than this one. On the larger canals, the watermen would be running their serpent boats into one another, unable to make out any more than dim lights from the buildings to either side of them.

Mercy passed an old man with a lantern walking the other way, and envied him his light. The street was so gloomy she could scarcely see where she was stepping. In the humbler parts of the city, the houses, shops, and warehouses crowded together, leaning on each other like drunken lovers, their upper stories so close that you could step from one balcony to the next. The streets below became dark tunnels where every footfall echoed. The small canals were even more hazardous, since many of the houses that lined them had privies jutting out over the water. Izembaro loved to give the Sealord’s speech from The Merchant’s Melancholy Daughter, about how “here the last Titan yet stands, astride the stony shoulders of his brothers,” but Mercy preferred the scene where the fat merchant shat on the Sealord’s head as he passed underneath in his gold-and-purple barge. Only in Braavos could something like that happen, it was said, and only in Braavos would Sealord and sailor alike howl with laughter to see it.

The Gate stood close by the edge of Drowned Town, between the Outer Harbor and the Purple Harbor. An old warehouse had burnt there and the ground was sinking a little more each year, so the land came cheap. Atop the flooded stone foundation of the warehouse, Izembaro raised his cavernous playhall. The Dome and the Blue Lantern might enjoy more fashionable environs, he told his mummers, but here between the harbors they would never lack for sailors and whores to fill their pit. The Ship was close by, still pulling handsome crowds to the quay where she had been moored for twenty years, he said, and the Gate would flourish too.

Time had proved him right. The Gate’s stage had developed a tilt as the building settled, their costumes were prone to mildew, and water snakes nested in the flooded cellar, but none of that troubled the mummers so long as the house was full.

The last bridge was made of rope and raw planks, and seemed to dissolve into nothingness, but that was only the fog. Mercy scampered across, her heels ringing on the wood. The fog opened before her like a tattered grey curtain to reveal the playhouse. Buttery yellow light spilled from the doors, and Mercy could hear voices from within. Beside the entrance, Big Brusco had painted over the title of the last show, and written The Bloody Hand in its place in huge red letters. He was painting a bloody hand beneath the words, for those who could not read. Mercy stopped to have a look. “That’s a nice hand,” she told him.

“Thumb’s crooked.” Brusco dabbed at it with his brush. “King o’ the Mummers been asking after you.”

“It was so dark I slept and slept.” When Izembaro had first dubbed himself the King of the Mummers, the company had taken a wicked pleasure in it, savoring the outrage of their rivals from the Dome and the Blue Lantern. Of late, though, Izembaro had begun to take his title too seriously. “He will only play kings now,” Marro said, rolling his eyes, “and if the play has no king in it, he would sooner not stage it at all.”

The Bloody Hand offered two kings, the fat one and the boy. Izembaro would play the fat one. It was not a large part, but he had a fine speech as he lay dying, and a splendid fight with a demonic boar before that. Phario Forel had written it, and he had the bloodiest quill of all of Braavos.

Mercy found the company assembled behind the stage, and slipped in between Daena and the Snapper at the back, hoping her late arrival would go unnoticed. Izembaro was telling everyone that he expected the Gate to be packed to the rafters this evening, despite the fog. “The King of Westeros is sending his envoy to do homage to the King of the Mummers tonight,” he told his troupe. “We will not disappoint our fellow monarch.”

“We?” said the Snapper, who did all the costumes for the mummers. “Is there more than one of him, now?”

“He’s fat enough to count for two,” whispered Bobono. Every mummer’s troupe had to have a dwarf. He was theirs. When he saw Mercy, he gave her a leer. “Oho,” he said, “there she is. Is the little girl all ready for her rape?” He smacked his lips.

The Snapper smacked him in the head. “Be quiet.”

The King of the Mummers ignored the brief commotion. He was still talking, telling the mummers how magnificent they must be. Besides the Westerosi envoy, there would be keyholders in the crowd this evening, and famous courtesans as well. He did not intend for them to leave with a poor opinion of the Gate. “It shall go ill for any man who fails me,” he promised, a threat he borrowed from the speech Prince Garin gives on the eve of battle in Wroth of the Dragonlords, Phario Forel’s first play.

By the time Izembaro finally finished speaking, less than an hour remained before the show, and the mummers were all frantic and fretful by turns. The Gate rang to the sound of Mercy’s name.

“Mercy,” her friend Daena implored, “Lady Stork has stepped on the hem of her gown again. Come help me sew it up.”

“Mercy,” the Stranger called, “bring the bloody paste, my horn is coming loose.”

“Mercy,” boomed Izembaro the Great himself, “what have you done with my crown, girl? I cannot make my entrance without my crown. How shall they know that I’m a king?”

“Mercy,” squeaked the dwarf Bobono, “Mercy, something’s amiss with my laces, my cock keeps flopping out.”

She fetched the sticky paste and fastened the Stranger’s left horn back onto his forehead. She found Izembaro’s crown in the privy where he always left it and helped him pin it to his wig, and then ran for needle and thread so the Snapper could sew the lace hem back onto the cloth-of-gold gown that the queen would wear in the wedding scene.

And Bobono’s cock was indeed flopping out. It was made to flop out, for the rape. What a hideous thing, Mercy thought as she knelt before the dwarf to fix him. The cock was a foot long and as thick as her arm, big enough to be seen from the highest balcony. The dyer had done a poor job with the leather, though; the thing was a mottled pink and white, with a bulbous head the color of a plum. Mercy pushed it back into Bobono’s breeches and laced him back up. “Mercy,” he sang as she tied him tight, “Mercy, Mercy, come to my room tonight and make a man of me.”

“I’ll make a eunuch of you if you keep unlacing yourself just so I’ll fiddle with your crotch.”

“We were meant to be together, Mercy,” Bobono insisted. “Look, we’re just the same height.”

“Only when I’m on my knees. Do you remember your first line?” It had only been a fortnight since the dwarf had lurched onto stage in his cups and opened The Anguish of the Archon with the grumpkin’s speech from The Merchant’s Lusty Lady. Izembaro would skin him alive if he made such a blunder again, and never mind how hard it was to find a good dwarf.

“What are we playing, Mercy?” Bobono asked innocently.

He is teasing me, Mercy thought. He’s not drunk tonight, he knows the show perfectly well. “We are doing Phario’s new Bloody Hand, in honor of the envoy from the Seven Kingdoms.”

“Now I recall.” Bobono lowered his voice to a sinister croak. “The seven-faced god has cheated me,” he said. “My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay, twisted into this rude shape you see before you.” With that, he grabbed at her chest, fumbling for a nipple. “You have no titties. How can I rape a girl with no titties?”

She caught his nose between her thumb and forefinger and twisted. “You’ll have no nose until you get your hands off me.”

“Owwwww,” the dwarf squealed, releasing her.

“I’ll grow titties in a year or two.” Mercy rose, to tower over the little man. “But you’ll never grow another nose. You think of that, before you touch me there.”

Bobono rubbed his tender nose. “There’s no need to get so shy. I’ll be raping you soon enough.”

“Not until the second act.”

“I always give Wendeyne’s titties a nice squeeze when I rape her in The Anguish of the Archon,” the dwarf complained. “She likes it, and the pit does too. You have to please the pit.”

That was one of Izembaro’s “wisdoms,” as he liked to call them. You have to please the pit. “I bet it would please the pit if I ripped off the dwarf’s cock and beat him about the head with it,” Mercy replied. “That’s something they won’t have seen before.” Always give them something they haven’t seen before was another of Izembaro’s “wisdoms,” and one that Bobono had no easy answer for. “There, you’re done,” Mercy announced. “Now see if you can keep in your breeches till it’s needed.”

Izembaro was calling for her again. Now he could not find his boar spear. Mercy found it for him, helped Big Brusco don his boar suit, checked the trick daggers just to make certain no one had replaced one with a real blade (someone had done that at the Dome once, and a mummer had died), and poured Lady Stork the little nip of wine she liked to have before each play.

When all the cries of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” finally died away, she stole a moment for a quick peek out into the house.

The pit was as full as ever she’d seen it, and they were enjoying themselves already, joking and jostling, eating and drinking. She saw a peddler selling chunks of cheese, ripping them off the wheel with his fingers whenever he found a buyer. A woman had a bag of wrinkled apples. Skins of wine were being passed from hand to hand, some girls were selling kisses, and one sailor was playing the sea pipes. The sad-eyed little man called Quill stood in the back, come to see what he could steal for one of his own plays. Cossomo the Conjurer had come as well, and on his arm was Yna, the one-eyed whore from the Happy Port, but Mercy could not know those two, and they would not know Mercy. Daena recognized some Gate regulars in the crowd, and pointed them out for her; the dyer Dellono with his pinched white face and mottled purple hands, Galeo the sausage-maker in his greasy leather apron, tall Tomarro with his pet rat on his shoulder. “Tomarro best not let Galeo see that rat,” Daena warned. “That’s the only meat he puts in them sausages, I hear.” Mercy covered her mouth and laughed.

The balconies were filling too. The first and third levels were for merchants and captains and other respectable folk. The bravos preferred the fourth and highest, where the seats were cheapest. It was a riot of bright color up there, while down below more somber shades held sway. The second balcony was cut up into private boxes where the mighty could comport themselves in comfort and privacy, safely apart from the vulgarity above and below. They had the best view of the stage, and servants to bring them food, wine, cushions, whatever they might desire. It was rare to find the second balcony more than half full at the Gate; such of the mighty who relished a night of mummery were more inclined to visit the Dome or the Blue Lantern, where the offerings were considered subtler and more poetic.

This night was different, though, no doubt on account of the Westerosi envoy. In one box sat three scions of Otharys, each accompanied by a famous courtesan; Prestayn sat alone, a man so ancient that you wondered how he ever reached his seat; Torone and Pranelis shared a box, as they shared an uncomfortable alliance; the Third Sword was hosting a half-dozen friends.

“I count five keyholders,” said Daena.

“Bessaro is so fat you ought to count him twice,” Mercy replied, giggling. Izembaro had a belly on him, but compared to Bessaro he was as lithe as a willow. The keyholder was so big he needed a special seat, thrice the size of a common chair.

“They’re all fat, them Reyaans,” Daena said. “Bellies as big as their ships. You should have seen the father. He made this one look small. One time he was summoned to the Hall of Truth to vote, but when he stepped onto his barge it sank.” She clutched Mercy by the elbow. “Look, the Sealord’s box.” The Sealord had never visited the Gate, but Izembaro named a box for him anyway, the largest and most opulent in the house. “That must be the Westerosi envoy. Have you ever seen such clothes on an old man? And look, he’s brought the Black Pearl!”

The envoy was slight and balding, with a funny grey wisp of a beard growing from his chin. His cloak was yellow velvet, and his breeches. His doublet was a blue so bright it almost made Mercy’s eyes water. Upon his breast a shield had been embroidered in yellow thread, and on the shield was a proud blue rooster picked out in lapis lazuli. One of his guards helped him to his seat, while two others stood behind him in the back of the box.

The woman with him could not have been more than a third his age. She was so lovely that the lamps seemed to burn brighter when she passed. She had dressed in a low-cut gown of pale yellow silk, startling against the light brown of her skin. Her black hair was bound up in a net of spun gold, and a jet-and-gold necklace brushed against the top of her full breasts. As they watched, she leaned close to the envoy and whispered something in his ear that made him laugh. “They should call her the Brown Pearl,” Mercy said to Daena. “She’s more brown than black.”

“The first Black Pearl was black as a pot of ink,” said Daena. “She was a pirate queen, fathered by a Sealord’s son on a princess from the Summer Isles. A dragon king from Westeros took her for his lover.”

“I would like to see a dragon,” Mercy said wistfully. “Why does the envoy have a chicken on his chest?”

Daena howled. “Mercy, don’t you know anything? It’s his siggle. In the Sunset Kingdoms all the lords have siggles. Some have flowers, some have fish, some have bears and elks and other things. See, the envoy’s guards are wearing lions.”

It was true. There were four guards; big, hard-looking men in ringmail, with heavy Westerosi longswords sheathed at their hips. Their crimson cloaks were bordered in whorls of gold, and golden lions with red garnet eyes clasped each cloak at the shoulder. When Mercy glanced at the faces beneath the gilded, lion-crested helm, her belly gave a quiver. The gods have given me a gift. Her fingers clutched hard at Daena’s arm. “That guard. The one on the end, behind the Black Pearl.”

“What of him? Do you know him?”

“No.” Mercy had been born and bred in Braavos, how could she know some Westerosi? She had to think a moment. “It’s only… well, he’s fair to look on, don’t you think?” He was, in a rough-hewn way, though his eyes were hard.

Daena shrugged. “He’s very old. Not so old as the other ones, but… he could be thirty. And Westerosi. They’re terrible savages, Mercy. Best stay well away from his sort.”

“Stay away?” Mercy giggled. She was a giggly sort of girl, was Mercy. “No. I’ve got to get closer.” She gave Daena a squeeze and said, “If the Snapper comes looking for me, tell her that I went off to read my lines again.” She only had a few, and most were just, “Oh, no, no, no,” and “Don’t, oh don’t, don’t touch me,” and “Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden,” but this was the first time Izembaro had given her any lines at all, so it was only to be expected that poor Mercy would want to get them right.

The envoy from the Seven Kingdoms had taken two of his guards into his box to stand behind him and the Black Pearl, but the other two had been posted just outside the door to make certain he was not disturbed. They were talking quietly in the Common Tongue of Westeros as she slipped up silently behind them in the darkened passage. That was not a language Mercy knew.

“Seven hells, this place is damp,” she heard her guard complain. “I’m chilled to the bones. Where are the bloody orange trees? I always heard there were orange trees in the Free Cities. Lemons and limes. Pomegranates. Hot peppers, warm nights, girls with bare bellies. Where are the bare-bellied girls, I ask you?”

“Down in Lys, and Myr, and Old Volantis,” the other guard replied. He was an older man, big-bellied and grizzled. “I went to Lys with Lord Tywin once, when he was Hand to Aerys. Braavos is north of King’s Landing, fool. Can’t you read a bloody map?”

“How long do you think we’ll be here?”

“Longer than you’d like,” the old man replied. “If he goes back without the gold the queen will have his head. Besides, I seen that wife of his. There’s steps in Casterly Rock she can’t go down for fear she’d get stuck, that’s how fat she is. Who’d go back to that, when he has his sooty queen?”

The handsome guardsman grinned. “Don’t suppose he’ll share her with us, afterward?”

“What, are you mad? You think he notices the likes of us? Bloody bugger don’t even get our names right half the time. Maybe it was different with Clegane.”

“Ser wasn’t one for mummer shows and fancy whores. When Ser wanted a woman he took one, but sometimes he’d let us have her, after. I wouldn’t mind having a taste of that Black Pearl. You think she’s pink between her legs?”

Mercy wanted to hear more, but there was no time. The Bloody Hand was about to start, and the Snapper would be looking for her to help with costumes. Izembaro might be the King of the Mummers, but the Snapper was the one that they all feared. Time enough for her pretty guardsman later.

The Bloody Hand opened in a lichyard.

When the dwarf appeared suddenly from behind a wooden tombstone, the crowd began to hiss and curse. Bobono waddled to the front of the stage and leered at them. “The seven-faced god has cheated me,” he began, snarling the words. “My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay… “

By then Marro had appeared behind him, gaunt and terrible in the Stranger’s long black robes. His face was black as well, his teeth red and shiny with blood, while ivory horns jutted upwards from his brow. Bobono could not see him, but the balconies could, and now the pit as well. The Gate grew deathly quiet. Marro moved forward silently.

So did Mercy. The costumes were all hung, and the Snapper was busy sewing Daena into her gown for the court scene, so Mercy’s absence should not be noted. Quiet as a shadow, she slipped around the back again, up to where the guardsmen stood outside the envoy’s box. Standing in a darkened alcove, still as stone, she had a good look at his face. She studied it carefully, to be sure. Am I too young for him? she wondered. Too plain? Too skinny? She hoped he wasn’t the sort of man who liked big breasts on a girl. Bobono had been right about her chest. It would be best if I could take him back to my place, have him all to myself. But will he come with me?

“You think it might be him?” the pretty one was saying.

“What, did the Others take your wits?”

“Why not? He’s a dwarf, ain’t he?”

“The Imp weren’t the only dwarf in the world.”

“Maybe not, but look here, everyone says how clever he was, true? So maybe he figures the last place his sister would ever look for him would be in some mummer show, making fun of himself. So he does just that, to tweak her nose.”

“Ah, you’re mad.”

“Well, maybe I’ll follow him after the mummery. Find out for myself.” The guardsman put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “If I’m right, I’ll be a ma lord, and if I’m wrong, well, bleed it, it’s just some dwarf.” He gave a bark of laughter.

On stage, Bobono was bargaining with Marro’s sinister Stranger. He had a big voice for such a little man, and he made it ring off the highest rafters now. “Give me the cup,” he told the Stranger, “for I shall drink deep. And if it tastes of gold and lion’s blood, so much the better. As I cannot be the hero, let me be the monster, and lesson them in fear in place of love.”

Mercy mouthed the last lines along with him. They were better lines than hers, and apt besides. He’ll want me or he won’t, she thought, so let the play begin. She said a silent prayer to the god of many faces, slipped out of her alcove, and flounced up to the guardsmen. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. “My lords,” she said, “do you speak Braavosi? Oh, please, tell me you do.”

The two guardsmen exchanged a look. “What’s this thing going on about?” the older one asked. “Who is she?”

“One of the mummers,” said the pretty one. He pushed his fair hair back off his brow and smiled at her. “Sorry, sweetling, we don’t speak your gibble-gabble.”

Fuss and feathers, Mercy thought, they only know the Common Tongue. That was no good. Give it up or go ahead. She could not give it up. She wanted him so bad. “I know your tongue, a little,” she lied, with Mercy’s sweetest smile. “You are lords of Westeros, my friend said.”

The old one laughed. “Lords? Aye, that’s us.”

Mercy looked down at her feet, so shy. “Izembaro said to please the lords,” she whispered. “If there is anything you want, anything at all… “

The two guardsmen exchanged a look. Then the handsome one reached out and touched her breast. “Anything?“

“You’re disgusting,” said the older man.

“Why? If this Izembaro wants to be hospitable, it would be rude to refuse.” He gave her nipple a tweak through the fabric of her dress, just the way the dwarf had done when she was fixing his cock for him. “Mummers are the next best thing to whores.”

“Might be, but this one is a child.”

“I am not,” lied Mercy. “I’m a maiden now.”

“Not for long,” said the comely one. “I’m Lord Rafford, sweetling, and I know just what I want. Hike up those skirts now, and lean back against that wall.”

“Not here,” Mercy said, brushing his hands away. “Not where the play is on. I might cry out, and Izembaro would be mad.”

“Where, then?”

“I know a place.”

The older guard was scowling. “What, you think can just scamper off? What if his knightliness comes looking for you?”

“Why would he? He’s got a show to watch. And he’s got his own whore, why shouldn’t I have mine? This won’t take long.”

No, she thought, it won’t. Mercy took him by the hand, led him through the back and down the steps and out into the foggy night. “You could be a mummer, if you wanted,” she told him, as he pressed her up against the wall of the playhouse.

“Me?” The guardsman snorted. “Not me, girl. All that bloody talking, I wouldn’t remember half of it.”

“It’s hard at first,” she admitted. “But after a time it comes easier. I could teach you to say a line. I could.”

He grabbed her wrist. “I’ll do the teaching. Time for your first lesson.” He pulled her hard against him and kissed her on the lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth. It was all wet and slimy, like an eel. Mercy licked it with her own tongue, then broke away from him, breathless. “Not here. Someone might see. My room’s not far, but hurry. I have to be back before the second act, or I’ll miss my rape.”

He grinned. “No fear o’ that, girl.” But he let her pull him after her. Hand in hand, they went racing through the fog, over bridges and through alleys and up five flights of splintery wooden stairs. The guardsman was panting by the time they burst through the door of her little room. Mercy lit a tallow candle, then danced around at him, giggling. “Oh, now you’re all

tired out. I forgot how old you were, m’lord. Do you want to take a little nap? Just lie down and close your eyes, and I’ll come back after the Imp’s done raping me.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” He pulled her roughly to him. “Get those rags off, and I’ll show you how old I am, girl.”

“Mercy,” she said. “My name is Mercy. Can you say it?”

“Mercy,” he said. “My name is Raff.”

“I know.” She slipped her hand between his legs, and felt how hard he was through the wool of his breeches.

“The laces,” he urged her. “Be a sweet girl and undo them.” Instead she slid her finger down along the inside of his thigh. He gave a grunt. “Damn, be careful there, you — “

Mercy gave a gasp and stepped away, her face confused and frightened. “You’re bleeding.”

“Wha — ” He looked down at himself. “Gods be good. What did you do to me, you little cunt?” The red stain spread across his thigh, soaking the heavy fabric.

“Nothing,” Mercy squeaked. “I never… oh, oh, there’s so much blood. Stop it, stop it, you’re scaring me.”

He shook his head, a dazed look on his face. When he pressed his hand to his thigh, blood squirted through his fingers. It was running down his leg, into his boot. He doesn’t look so comely now, she thought. He just looks white and frightened.

“A towel,” the guardsman gasped. “Bring me a towel, a rag, press down on it. Gods. I feel dizzy.” His leg was drenched with blood from the thigh down. When he tried to put his weight on it, his knee buckled and he fell. “Help me,” he pleaded, as the crotch of his breeches reddened. “Mother have mercy, girl. A healer… run and find a healer, quick now.”

“There’s one on the next canal, but he won’t come. You have to go to him. Can’t you walk?”

“Walk?” His fingers were slick with blood. “Are you blind, girl? I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t walk on this.”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know how you’ll get there, then.”

“You’ll need to carry me.”

See? thought Mercy. You know your line, and so do I.

“Think so?” asked Arya, sweetly.

Raff the Sweetling looked up sharply as the long thin blade came sliding from her sleeve. She slipped it through his throat beneath the chin, twisted, and ripped it back out sideways with a single smooth slash. A fine red rain followed, and in his eyes the light went out.

“Valar morghulis,” Arya whispered, but Raff was dead and did not hear. She sniffed. I should have helped him down the steps before I killed him. Now I’ll need to drag him all the way to the canal and roll him in. The eels would do the rest.

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” she sang sadly. A foolish, giddy girl she’d been, but good hearted. She would miss her, and she would miss Daena and the Snapper and the rest, even Izembaro and Bobono. This would make trouble for the Sealord and the envoy with the chicken on his chest, she did not doubt.

She would think about that later, though. Just now, there was no time. I had best run. Mercy still had some lines to say, her first lines and her last, and Izembaro would have her pretty little empty head if she were late for her own rape.

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