The Noble Lady was a tub of a ship, as fat and wallowing as
the noble ladies of the green lands.
Her holds were huge, and Victarion packed them with
armed men. With her would sail the other, lesser prizes that
the Iron Fleet had taken on its long voyage to Slaver’s Bay, a
lubberly assortment of cogs, great cogs, carracks, and trading
galleys salted here and there with fishing boats. It was a fleet
both fat and feeble, promising much in the way of wool and
wines and other trade goods and little in the way of danger.
Victarion gave the command of it to Wulf One-Ear.
“The slavers may shiver when they spy your sails rising
from the sea,” he told him. “but once they see you plain they
will laugh at their fears. Traders and fishers, that’s all you are.
Any man can see that. Let them get close as they like, but keep
your men hidden belowdecks until you are ready. Then close,
and board them. Free the slaves and feed the slavers to the
sea, but take the ships. We will have need of every hull to
carry us back home.”
“Home,” Wulf grinned. “The men’ll like the sound o’ that,
Lord Captain. The ships first –then we break these
The Iron Victory was lashed alongside the Noble Lady, the
two ships bound tight with chains and grappling hooks, a
ladder stretched between them. The great cog was much
larger than the warship and sat higher in the water. All along
the gunwales the faces of the Ironborn peered down, watching
as Victarion clapped Wulf One-Ear on the shoulder and sent
him clambering up the ladder. The sea was smooth and still,
the sky bright with stars. Wulf ordered the ladder drawn up,
the chains cast off. The warship and the cog parted ways. In
the distance the rest of Victarion’s famed fleet was raising sail.
A ragged cheer went up from the crew of the Iron Victory, and
was answered in kind by the men of the Noble Lady.
Victarion had given Wulf his best fighters. He envied them.
They would be the first to strike a blow, the first to see that
look of fear in the foemen’s eyes. As he stood at the prow of
the Iron Victory watching One-Ear’s merchant ships vanish
one by one into the west, the faces of the first foes he’d ever
slain came back to Victarion Greyjoy. He thought of his first
ship, of his first woman. A restlessness was in him, a hunger
for the dawn and the things this day would bring.Death or
glory, I will drink my fill of both today. The Seastone Chair
should’ve been his when Balon died, but his brother Euron
had stolen it from him, just as he had stolen his wife many
years before. He stole her and he soiled her, but he left it for
me to slay her.
All that was done and gone now, though. Victarion would
have his due at last. I have the horn, and soon I will have the
woman. A woman lovelier than the wife he made me kill.
“Captain.” The voice belonged to Longwater Pyke. “The
oarsmen await your pleasure.”
Three of them, and strong ones. “Send them to my cabin. I’ll
want the priest as well.”
The oarsmen were all big. One was a boy, one a brute, one a
bastard’s bastard. The Boy had been rowing for less than a
year, the Brute for twenty. They had names, but Victarion did
not know them. One had come from Lamentation, one from
Sparrow Hawk, one from Spider Kiss. He could not be
expected to know the names of every thrall who had ever
pulled an oar in the Iron Fleet.
“Show them the horn,” he commanded, when the three had
been ushered into his cabin.
Moqorro brought it forth, and the dusky woman lifted up a
lantern to give them all a look. In the shifting lantern light the
hell-horn seemed to writhe and turn in the priest’s hands like
a serpent fighting to escape. Moqorro was a man of monstrous
size –big-bellied, broad-shouldered, towering –but even in his
grasp the horn looked huge.
“My brother found this thing on Valyria,” Victarion told the
thralls. “Think how big the dragon must’ve been to bear two of
these upon his head. Bigger than Vhagar or Meraxes, bigger
than Balerion the Black Dread.” He took the horn from
Moqorro and ran his palm along its curves. “At the Kingsmoot
on Old Wyk one of Euron’s mutes blew upon this horn. Some
of you will remember. It was not a sound that any man who
heard it will ever forget.”
“They say he died,” the Boy said, “him who blew the horn.”
“Aye. The horn was smoking after. The mute had blisters on
his lips, and the bird inked across his chest was bleeding. He
died the next day. When they cut him open his lungs were
“The horn is cursed,” said the Bastard’s Bastard.
“A dragon’s horn from Valyria,” said Victarion. “Aye, it’s
cursed. I never said it wasn’t.” He brushed his hand across one
of the red gold bands and the ancient glyph seemed to sing be
neath his fingertips. For half a heartbeat he wanted nothing so
much as to sound the horn himself. Euron was a fool to give me
this, it is a precious thing, and powerful. With this I’ll win the
Seastone Chair, and then the Iron Throne. With this I’ll win the
world. “Claggorn blew the horn thrice and died for it. He was
as big as any of you, and strong as me. So strong that he could
twist a man’s head right off his shoulders with only his bare
hands, and yet the horn killed him.”
“It will kill us too, then,” said the Boy.
Victarion did not oft forgive a thrall for talking out of turn,
but the Boy was young, no more than twenty, and soon to die
besides. He let it pass. “The mute sounded the horn three
times. You three will sound it only once. Might be you’ll die,
might be you won’t. All men die. The Iron Fleet is sailing into
battle. Many on this very ship will be dead before the sun goes
down –stabbed or slashed, gutted, drowned, burned alive –
only the Gods know which of us will still be here come the
morrow. Sound the horn and live and I’ll make free men of
you, one or two or all three. I’ll give you wives, a bit of land, a
ship to sail, thralls of your own. Men will know your names.”
“Even you, Lord Captain?” asked the Bastard’s Bastard.
“I’ll do it then.”
“And me,” said the Boy.
The Brute crossed his arms and nodded. If it made the three
feel braver to believe they had a choice, let them cling to that.
Victarion cared little what they believed, they were only
“You will sail with me on Iron Victory,” he told them, “but
you will not join the battle. Boy, you’re the youngest –you’ll
sound the horn first. When the time comes you will blow it
long and loud. They say you are strong. Blow the horn until
you are too weak to stand, until the last bit of breath has been
squeezed from you, until your lungs are burning. Let the
freedmen hear you in Meereen, the slavers in Yunkai, the
ghosts in Astapor. Let the monkeys shit themselves at the
sound when it rolls across the Isle of Cedars. Then pass the
horn along to the next man. Do you hear me? Do you know
what to do?”
The Boy and the Bastard’s Bastard tugged their forelocks;
the Brute might’ve done the same, but he was bald. “You may
touch the horn. Then go.”
They left him one by one. The three thralls, and then
Moqorro. Victarion would not let him take the hell-horn.
“I will keep it here with me, until it is needed.”
“As you command. Would you have me bleed you?”
Victarion seized the dusky woman by the wrist and pulled
her to him. “She will do it. Go pray to your red god. Light
your fire, and tell me what you see.”
Moqorro’s dark eyes seemed to shine. “I see dragons.”