Part 21 – Jaqen and Biter and Rorge, oh my!
Joffrey (IV) – December 23.
The Traitor Stark's bully boys came while he broke his fast, such as it was: stale bread and a runny pease with a few glimmers of ham in it.
"Up, bastard!" the lead brute commanded as another wolf spawn rattled a simple looking skeleton key in the rusty, fiendishly complex lock to his cell door. He should know, having bitten down one day on a scrap of wire hidden in his morning slop – the Prince and House Lannister still had allies in the Red Keep, gods damn you Stark! – and so had spent countless frustrating hours trying to spring the thing. Joffrey recognized that tone, so he quickly obeyed, not wanting yet another lashing from the gaoler's heavy boots. He hardly noticed anymore how the filthy rushes stayed stuck to the vestiges of his royal hunting garments.
The metal bars swung open and a half dozen men poured through.
He stumbled backward, suddenly afraid.
"Strip," the man commanded.
"Hunh?" Joffrey replied, confused, back now against the rear of the dark, dank cell.
"Strip, you little shit!"
He wrapped his arms across his chest, clutching at his sleeves in response; in defense of whatever indignity was about to be visited upon him.
"Buckets," the brute snarled.
Two others stepped forward, raising something.
Water drenched the imprisoned prince. He drew a sharp, startled breath and inhaled a mouthful. "Wha?!" he spluttered.
Strong arms grabbed Joffrey, throwing him back against the rough stone. He blinked to clear the moisture from his eyes. He heard cloth tearing and felt several sharp stings. The last of his Baratheon greens tumbled to the floor.
"Grab his neck!" the gaoler thundered.
Arms smothered him again so hard he couldn't move. Then his eyes widened. Through the murk a smiling man stepped toting a brutal hand sized blade.
'Fear not, this will be over quickly,' the sweet voice sought to reassure him from the darkness.
His bowels voided, loose and runny like the pease.
"Shit!" those nearest him cursed. "Shit!" most of the others laughed. The happy madman with the knife merely bobbed his head up and down. The blade moved toward his neck, then kept rising. Joffrey clenched his eyes shut, cringing. Weight pressed against his temple for a moment. Something soft fell to his shoulder. He opened one lid; locks, his golden locks. He heaved a sigh of relief, the Stranger had not come for him.
The scum noted his reaction and laughed to their smallfolk hearts' content at the humbling of their better.
"You're taking boat today. T'captain says he won't take no passengers with vermin," the lead brute spate once he saw he held the prince's gaze again.
'You're the vermin, monster.'
'So true, my precious one.'
Soon enough they pulled on his neck, forcing his chin down. The shaving continued, the barber humming softly to himself some happy little ditty of a tune, stopping only to giggle a little each time he nicked Joffrey.
The blade finally stopped. A callused hand rubbed across his now short, but unevenly shorn scalp. "Raise his arms so I can get the few nubbins in his pits," the madman called out, then quickly leaned in to whisper viciously, "Piss on me when I get to your cock and scrote, I'll make y'a eunuch."
He trembled and jerked with each small cut down there, but held his bladder in.
The madman stepped back and viewed his work. "Not pretty," he declared.
"It'll do," the gaoler barked. "Here." A piece of silver few through the air to land in the rushes. The barber routed around in the filth with hand and knife until, "A-ha."
He cringed knowing what was coming, the rest dodged aside as another fusillade of water engulfed him. They laughed mockingly.
'I'll kill you all.'
'A Lannister always pays his debts.'
Something else flew through the air soon after the contents of the bucket. "New clothes, bastard." They landed strewn wildly across the disgusting cell. The door clanged shut loudly. "You're next old man," the brute shouted out to his only companion in this wing of the dungeon.
'Good,' thought Joffrey, the idea of the bloviating old fool losing his long, thick beard brought a smile to his face. So long as others suffered alongside him, his gloom lessened. The thought of the Wall scared him, but even there he knew one who would support him, help him, always. He hoped a gods forsaken place like the Wall would at least given him the chance to inflict misery on the weak and stupid. 'I will survive,' he promised.
"Move faster, old man!"
"Keep up, Pycelle," he snapped, happily joining in on the abuse. He refused to admit how terrified he was coming up out of the dungeon, to discover who might be purposefully waiting in the Outer Yard to witness his shame. Mocking others had always helped hide his own inadequacies.
The former Grand Maester moaned. "Coming, coming my Prince". The thirty some odd days had taken a toll on the former Lannister lickspittle to the Small Council; or perhaps the shaving of that snowy beard which had hung near to his belt (admittedly a belt yanked high over an ample, sagging gut) had broken the man, or what energy his spare frame still carried.
At least the fool still seemed dutiful enough; painfully more than dutiful enough, he almost looked forward to the voyage for the simple pleasure of having someone new to talk to. No more meandering, pointless monologues about how noble his father had first been as king or about Aerys long descent into madness and how hard his puissant grandfather had struggled as Hand to keep the dragon of state aloft or of Jaehaerys short reign after the disaster of Summerhall – "tut, tut," the fool always tutted after describing each horrible disaster he'd been witness to - or about the wise Aegon who'd banished his own bastard Uncle, the eldritch Blood Raven, to the Wall for the good of the Seven Kingdoms – "Did he accept his fate lying down? No my Prince, he did not. He rose to become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch before he disappeared. Mayhap there are some nuggets of wisdom to be taken from that one's life stream," he pontificated in that raspy, annoying age choked voice of his.
Joffrey reached the ground level, far ahead of lame Pycelle. He would step out, but one day he would step back and return to claim his place, not get swallowed up by the snow and trees beyond the Wall like that moldy one eyed Targaryen bastard. He would be a King. A Lion King, not the Stag of the House that rejected him. He hated his father for being seduced by that …
"Joffrey," that ice laden, evil voice called.
He staggered to a stop. 'What is he doing here?!' There in front of him, no longer wearing the cast his Uncle's attack had placed him in, 'Oh why couldn't you have killed him, Uncle Jaime?' he whined.
"There is honor, a nobility of sorts in serving the Night's Watch, no matter how high of low one's birth. "
'No thanks to you.'
"For thousands of years Black Brothers have protected the Realm."
'From snarks and grumkins, more like.'
"It is a hard duty taking no wife, holding no lands, fathering no children, winning no glory, and wearing no crowns," the traitor said with brutally obvious meaning. "And there is also danger, never forget that Joffrey. My brother Benjen serves as First Ranger, word has come to me that he left on a ranging near six months ago and has not yet returned."
'Maybe he froze to death or fall off the Wall from boredom.' The image of savage, ignorant, dirty wildlings scrapping out turnips from frozen patches of muck with stone tools did little to set his heart to tremoring.
"My natural son Jon Snow …"
'He's the true bastard!'
"… took his vows just last month. It would please me if on the Wall our two houses became brothers."
The traitor sighed heavily. "Though these are no doubt just words to you now. I hope that someday you remember them in a meaningful way. For you will become part of something far larger than any of us. 'the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men,'" he recited.
'I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.' Joffrey couldn't help smirking, he already knew the entire vow by heart, just one of a million things Pycelle had repeated over and over and over and over again to him down in the cells.
"Lord Hand," the old fool intoned stiffly, at last having made it to the top of the stairs.
"Maester Pycelle, a good journey to you. May the Old Gods watch over you. And you as well Joffrey."
Frustration, anger at last boiled over his self-restraint. "Piss on you Stark and piss on your Old Gods. When I … ouch!" he shrieked, pain erupting in his ear.
'Foolish child, patience. Did I teach you nothing?'
"Enough out of you, bastard. Treat your noble betters with respect," the lead brute snarled, fist raised again in dire warning.
"Peace, my Prince," Pycelle said gently.
The traitor stepped back into the shadows, waiving at the gaolers to see their precious burden through.
His father's damned new toy sellswords, their arrival was the omen that spelled his doom, he knew for certain, had formed a block around a rather large wagon. A gap existed in between the short, skirt wearing, ugly foreigners and in the middle of it stood someone even uglier, dressed in tatters more grey than black. "I'm Yoren, a sworn brother of the Watch, in case either of you forgot," he said through a thick, matted black beard." I'm to take you and the rest of the recruits I pulled from the jails and gutters of this shithole back to the Wall. Cross me or run and I'll be bringing your dead bodies to show to the Lord Commander. He's a Bear and'll eat just about anything. Now climb in the wagon, we've a boat to catch before high tide." His speech over, he turned his stooped back on them and waddled almost Imp like to the front where a teamster sat on the stoop holding the reins to four near dead nags.
Joffrey strode to the backside and came to a halt. The wain already had three passengers. One had no nose, only the hole in his face where it had been cut off, another was grossly fat with weeping sores on his cheek, the last looked almost normal, younger with a crooked nose and wry grin. All three were shaved near as bald as Joffrey and Pycelle. He gulped, suddenly very afraid to climb in with them.
The youngest of the three lifted a welcoming hand that set chains and manacles rattling. "Lovely boy," he called out in a friendly voice, "welcome."
The fat one opened his mouth and hissed like some immense white lizard. When Joffrey flinched back, startled, he opened his mouth wide showing sharply filed teeth and a stump of a tongue that he waggled at him. "Stop that," he whined.
"He just wants to be friends," said the one without a nose. Even seated Joffrey could see how thick and powerful he was, with huge hands, hairy hands. Why didn't the barber shave those? How had the barber dared get close enough to shave this one? He hoped the chains were thick, very thick.
"Ah, hello," Pycelle said sounding dubious. "Who do we have here?" he asked hesitantly.
"A man must ask forgiveness. A man does not choose his companions in the black cells," he proclaimed with dry amusement. "These two have no courtesy. You are called Pycelle and Joffrey, is that not so?"
"Yeeeeeessssss," the maester said slowly.
Joffrey just nodded his head, wondering how in Seven Hells the criminal knew his name. A chill ran through, perhaps Stark never intended for him to reach the Wall alive. For the first time in a long while he wished the Hound was with him.
"A man must be ashamed of the company he keeps, come climb in before they start beating you to do so. There is a step stool, is there not? We will not harm you, for now, is that not so my friends?" The one with the tortured mouth hissed again, but more out of disappointment than aggression.
"Gods be damned! Hurry now, or I'll tie you sorry lot to the back and have the wagon drag you down to the warf," the foul black brother hollered.
'When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Climb over and use whoever you must, my golden child.'
The mismatched pair of youth and age climbed aboard and sat as far from the vile trio as the benches built into the sides of the swain allowed. Slowly the one without a nose extended a thick, muscular arm as far as it would reach. Joffrey saw the sweat break out on his shaved pate, the chains almost creaked from the stress. The tips of his fingers came no closer than a yard. At last the ogre relaxed, lowering his trunk back to his side.
"This man's ill-bred companion in captivity is named Rorge," and he waved his hand in the direction of the noseless man. "and the other is Biter. Alas Biter cannot speak and Biter cannot write, yet his teeth are sharp, so a man calls him Biter and he smiles with approval. Are you not charmed by his name?"
"You are Lorathi," Pycelle asserted.
The young man shrugged. "Once of that Free City. Soon enough to be of the Wall. This man has the honor to be Jaqen H'ghar. Perhaps a boy might one day make a friend of a man," he suggested with evident irony. Biter hissed his amusement. Rorge's nose hole crinkled disgustingly as he smiled.
Joffrey shuddered. The ride to the docks was long and bumpy; the entire time he was prepared at any moment to leap into the arms of the nearest Roman should the chains on the black cell denizens ever prove to be less than inexorable.
All thirty or so of them had been kept in the hold until the shore was nothing more than a distant haze back dropped to the setting sun. Then they'd all been brought back up on deck to prove escape was impossible, given luke warm soup that was already thickening to the consistency of stone, and forced to listen to Yoren, who despite having more lice than anyone Joffrey had ever before seen in his twelve years, had most definitely not been required to shave his hair or beard. Thankfully Yoren wasn't one for making long speeches and Rorge, Biter, and Jaqen were also still manacled and chained together.
"The Watch needs good men, " Yoren told them, "but you lot will have to do. There's nowhere to run, so don't even think of it, else you're fish food. Don't steal from each other, you're brothers of a sort now."
Joffrey looked about the scabby youths he'd thrust himself among in order to avoid Pycelle. 'They're not my brothers,' he thought disgustedly. No one had told him where Tommen or Myrcella were. Frankly he didn't much care. Though the thought of his little brother and his cats at the Wall brought a certain vicious amusement to him from time to time.
"Hey lumphead,"the little guttersnipe with green hands said, nudging him. "You gonna finish that."
He looked down at his half finished bowl of soup. "You have it," he said with a smile, then threw it in the pushy lout's face.
"Heyyyyy," the orphan boy cried out in surprise.
"Never touch me again," he snarled, following up the projectile with a strong right punch to the face.
"Fight!" "Fight!" "Fight!" several started to promptly chant.
A left to the smaller boy's thin belly dropped the wretch to the deck, but then someone took out Joffrey's legs and he crumpled over too. He thought it might have been that baker boy or the one they called Tarber. He lashed out with an elbow, catching something. He heard a crunch. Hands grabbed him, lifted him, and shook him.
"If you must fight like brothers, then I'll see you punished like sailors," ugly Yoren screeched. "Cap'n, kindly get your cat-o-nine. Somebody strip him."
"Mercy, mercy," Pycelle pleaded.
For the second time that day willing hands clawed his clothes off.
"Look at him," brayed green hands. "I bet he's going to cry now. You want to cry Lumpyhead?"
"He's going to wet his pants," pie boy shouted.
'I won't cry,' he thought. 'I won't do that. I'm a Lannister of Casterly Rock, our sigil is the lion, lions don't cry.'
'You must be brave,' the sweet voice reassured him from that dark place.
Fire splashed across his back. A strange gargling sound rent the air. Mucus sprayed out his nose.
"Hahahahahahahahahaha! He pissed himself good, he did!"
The fire grew worse until he remembered nothing.
'Why did you wake up here?' she accused him.
He was in his bed, his soft, warm, comfortable bed. He gazed up dreamily at the canopy of myrish silk. His uncle, the Imp, had given it to him on his name day almost two years ago. He'd hardly given it a bother then, no doubt another pointless message from the vile half man who always had his head buried in either wine or a book. But around his most recent name day, right before that horrid, fateful trip to the North, the curves and come hither looks of the scantily glad sea nymphs frolicking in the foamy waves had started to arouse his … his hand crept lower beneath the blanket toward …
'Stop looking at that filth, you are not your father," his mother hissed at him. 'Take the throne and rule.' Seldom could he resist that insistent, demanding tone, so groaning with discomfort he slid out of the luxurious distraction to stand tall in his finest raiment.
'The perfect image of a king,' she purred approvingly. 'Now come with me,' she said sweetly, carefully taking his hand in her tawny clawed one. That she was no longer pierced with swords and bleeding gallons of crimson came as a relief to Joffrey, though the fact she was now a walking, talking lioness he did find a tad disturbing.
The doors and corridors of Maegor's Holdfast faded in and out, all grey or dull brown and mysteriously devoid of life. A sense of urgency started to build somewhere deep within him; someplace calling him, somewhere he was meant to be. He walked quicker. Stone and wood and torchlight shifted and bent faster. One moment a barrier would stand thick and solid, the next it would disappear at his regal command, all to speed his exit. 'So strong, so powerful, a true Lannister,' she cooed in his ear.
At guard by the Holdfast's entrance, his uncle Jaime stood proud in full martial splendor - golden armor, white cloak, and gleaming steel . 'Your Grace, a word if I may,' he said with sweet condescension while bowing respectfully.
'Tch, Tch, brother,' the beautiful lioness said, gently laying a claw across Jaime's lips. 'There are more traitors to condemn, more bones to add to the moat,' she chastised lightly.
'Mmmmmpherble,' his uncle grunted, no longer having lips upon his surprised face with which to talk.
The thick ironbound oak door faded away and his mother pulled him through, arms interlinked, on to the bridge out into the open. 'Your uncle means well, but he's not really fit to guide a great king like you, Joffrey,' she confided to him in a low voice. Then, 'oh look,' and she gestured with her free paw towards the body choked spikes below them. 'More traitors.'
He laughed spying both Lady Arryn and her dreadfully annoying, weak, weak son Robert splayed through with sharp iron. He drew a deep breath, seeing if he could catch the vibrant stench of blood, piss, and shit; the lovely smell of death. His nostrils quivered. A cold salt laden breeze filled his senses. He blinked. The Red Keep unexpectedly brightened; the grey haze that hovered at the edge of his senses disappeared. The world suddenly felt more real. A nervous sweat broke out on his back, causing his shirt to stick uncomfortably to his back. He hesitantly stepped off the bridge and back onto earth.
'Come,' a low, dry, dusty voice whispered from nowhere, from everywhere.
'Come, Joffrey, the Iron Throne awaits you, my lovely boy,' she prodded, a traceable hint of nerves in her voice.
Ravens cawed. He paused and slowly turned his head to look about.
'This way,' mother called, tugging him in the direction of the serpentine steps.
His gaze swept past the White Sword Tower and continued along the curtain wall until it fell upon the Rookery Tower. He disliked the place, too many memories of long, tedious lessons with the Grand Maester. Yet … yet.
'Why are you looking there, Joff? Only moldy old Pycelle lives there. He has nothing to offer you,' she snapped. Her paw pressed heavily into his arm, claws perforating his tunic, pricking his skin and causing drops of blood to swell up. He barely noticed. He looked to the sky.
An explosive whoosh filled the air and an enormous black bird burst out the raven entrance. Joffrey watched the dark wings flap with fascination.
'Go away, go away!' the lioness roared.
Searing pain abruptly crossed his back. His eyes blinked open, tears seeping from the corners. "Go away! Go away!" he shrieked.
"It will be alright, my prince. Just changing the bandages, mustn't let corruption set in from your ill treatment. No we mustn't," Pycelle soothed in his pandering voice full of false understanding.
Joffrey moaned pitifully. The lacerations were agony.
"Done. Can you sit up, my boy? I have a bit of milk of poppy for you."
He grunted, realizing he was lying face down on a thin blanket spread across the rough wood deck in some gloomy, cargo stuffed cabin or hold space of the ship. He pulled an arm and elbow beneath him and pushed up. A rim of some filthy cup touched his lips. He slurped greedily until the slender amount of opiate disappeared. Joffrey Waters whimpered once and lowered his head back into the nightmarish depths.
He walked slowly and carefully as the rough seas tilted the Merry Maester up and down, swayed it from side to side. He found he enjoyed the bad weather. The sailors scurried about too busy to pay him mind, so long as he stayed out of their way. His 'brothers' too busy puking up their damned guts down below add no interest in bullying him. Pycelle too scared to walk above on the dangerous deck could not console him, offering yet another set of feeble straws from which to construct a fantasy that would see him, and by selfish extension Pycelle, returned in triumph to King's Landing. The heaving ship provided Joffrey with relief from his immediate troubles, and thankfully his stomach proved naturally to be one of iron.
The deck shifted and he misstepped, landing hard, jarring his body. He barely grimaced. The pain from his whipping hardly bothered him now, not that he let on when Yoren was anywhere around. When he first fully awoke from the torture, the ugly, twisted, stooped wandering crow had yelled angrily at him about 'respecting' his 'brothers,' even if the sorry batch of them were murderers, rapists, thieves, and miserable no account orphans from Flea Bottom's gaping anus. Then the disgusting creature had accused him of malingering over no more than a scratch. He had let Pycelle defend the severity of his wounds, the lost lap dog was at least good for that. So he'd been able to avoid the interminable make work of cleaning and mending Yoren kept the 'recruits' busy with. Well, other than Pycelle who spent his time tending to the crews minor ailments, and of course the chained trio of demons: Jaqen, Biter, and Rorge.
When the weather turned fairer, he knew he would be forced to join the smallfolks in their chores. Rage filled him at the idea of it. 'Lumpyhead' they all called him. 'Pissboy.' 'Waters-waters.' And worse, much, much worse. 'They'll regret it,' he swore. Not a one of them would know to hold a sword any different than their cock. Recruits were trained in groups for months by some toothless master-at-arms before being allowed to say their vows, at least that was how Pycelle had described it. He'd find his revenge then. Accidents, deadly accidents, were not unknown when training with live steel. He was a Lannister, he knew how to wield a blade. First them, then the Stark bastard, and when he was free, yes, all the rest. 'Widowmaker they'll call me.'
A gull looking for a rest from the buffeting winds flapped thread bare wings to land on the spar or yard or boom of the mainmast, he didn't know the proper term; 'I'm not his uncle Stannis for gods' sake'. The bird sat near straight over his head. He looked warily at it, not wanting it to shit on him.
The bird stared back at him, from three eyes.
He blinked in surprise. No gull perched above, but a great three-eyed raven. The third eye was full of a terrible knowledge. He shivered as his soul shrunk and hid.
'Nooooooooo!' the lioness thundered upon spying the intruder.
A sheet supporting the sail ripped off, with the release of all the tension the cable snapped back and forth.
The raven spread its wings and sprung into the air. 'Follow,' the crow urged. And a simple, weather worn gull flew away into the cloudy, windswept sky.
Joffrey rushed to the rail and heaved out his guts. The oncoming wind caught the bilious filth and splattered much of it back across his face, hair, and chest.
'Banyan Day' the sailing oafs called it. No meat. No ships fire for cooking anything hot. Cheap bastards. No wonder his uncle, the Master of Ships, always wore a perpetually sour. 'I would too, having nothing but these fucking hard biscuits, tasteless jerkies, mealy vegetable cakes, and dried fruit to eat once every seven days.' He worried that the Wall would bring equally drab fare, though hot at least, surely, what with the perpetual snow and ice and cold. Sometimes death didn't look so bad in comparison.
'Noooooooo,' she moaned in a low undertone.
He barely twitched at her call, instead Joffrey took a draught from his cup, emptying the dregs. At least Yoren didn't let them stint on how much of this piss they called beer you could drink. It was only hard spirits the ship's parsimonious purser doled out in thimble fulls. Even so, his throat and bellied craved more of the weak brew. He listened a moment, gauging the amount of activity and movement below decks between him and the beer barrel. Satisfied, he crept out of the niche he'd found in the piled up cargo where he could safely hole up. He stepped around a corner.
"What you looking at pissboy," the ragged thief Gerren barked suspiciously, instinctively dropping his hand to the slender iron at his waist. Yoren had let the rogue keep his knife, which he took perverse joy in flashing at Joffrey whenever no one was watching. In fact, several of the hapless recruits still kept the weapons they'd brought with them: Praed and the worst forged sword ever, Cutjack and his mason's hammer, Koss and his bow.
"Yeah, piss off watering Waters," Lommy laughed from out of the small crowd of mice gathered about their lead rat.
"C'mon, we came to throw," Tarber complained to Hot Pie. "I'm feeling lucky. Give me the dice." Reluctantly the baker's orphan handed something over and Tarber quickly dropped them into his own cup and started rattling them around. The boys and Gerren spread out to give him room. Joffrey couldn't pass through without confronting the scum. Lust grew in his heart for solid steel, first to dazzle the knaves with his skill and then to dispatch them … painfully … in the throat, belly, and groin. Such a slaughter would build so strong a thirst in him that not even true beer, or the Arbor's finest, could quench. He licked his lips.
'Patience,' mother whispered with a whimper instead of a roar. She'd transformed back into herself over the last few days, but an aged copy of herself; a crone: greying, bent, almost shrunk in on herself, not at all attractive, utterly lacking the commanding presence of his memories.
"Alright," he muttered. Unfortunately the only other two ways around were to head above deck, which was forbidden at the moment as they crew was in the middle of reefing sails for the coming night, or to pass by the chained up murderers. He couldn't decide who was more terrible, the noseless one or the one with filed teeth.
'The Hound never scared you. Why should these?' she wheezed.
"Shut up," he complained. Joffrey headed back to his hidey-hole and sat down in the sepulcher like darkness, letting the slow roll of the ship loll him into a half-asleep trance. The creak of the ship's timbers, the clatter of the dice, the murmured curses or shouts of excitement from the players, that and his never ending visions of revenge and triumph filled his time slowly, so very, very slowly. Something fluttered in the darkness over him.
'Catspaws, rabble on the Cyvasse board, underlings. These are your only tools. Use them,' that ancient, dust choked voice commanded him from the shadows.
"I hate them," he whispered.
'Don't listen to him, my precious boy,' she begged so softly he barely heard her.
He ignored her. He found it easier and easier to do since the whipping. The new voice was intriguing with its brutal honesty and power. The three eyes shown an eerie florescent green in the black, like the kelp he sometimes saw at night glowing in the dark, dark sea.
'And they you. Hate is powerful. Manipulate it.'
"Hunh?" he muttered, feeling confused. The wind must have shifted for the ship was tacking. Mounds of cargo creaked loudly as they pressed in new directions against the thick, fibrous cable holding them in place. He rubbed his face, the lips were dry and cracked while his chin was wet with drool. Joffrey didn't remember falling asleep.
"Seven!" shrieked Lommy. "Pay up."
The bullies were still at dice, so he couldn't have dozed for long. He straightened his back against the oversized chest it rested against. His hand touched something on the ground. He rooted around for it. 'oh.' It was his mug. He licked his lips, realizing how parched he was. He debated a moment. For a change thirst won out over fear. He crawled out of the tiny alcove clasping the tankard, stood up, and turned away from the game; looking toward the alternate path.
"Boy," the least ugly of the three called out with a friendly voice. "A man could use another taste of the beer. A man has a thirst , wearing these heavy bracelets." The Lorathi lifted an empty mug, his iron shackles rattling. Some of the man's hair appeared to be growing back already, in the gloom it appeared black. "A boy could make a friend."
"I have no need of friends," Joffrey snapped.
"Lumpyhead," said the noseless one with cruel mirth.
In the distance a gull or other flying creature cawed.
"Then who is it a boy talks with when he is so alone?" the foreigner asked knowingly, though the smile never left his face while doing so.
Joffrey's eyes widened in surprise. A tingle went through him while something in the pit of his stomach twisted. "No one," he blurted.
'Flee, my precious boy.'
"A man in the black cells does not choose who he can talk with," he continued in his odd speech that was as crooked as his nose.
The bald one opened his mouth and hissed with his stunted tongue in agreement.
"If a boy were to return with beer, he might find others to talk to instead of 'no one,'" he suggested, waggling the tankard enticingly.
"Beer, pimple. Now!" the one called Rorge demanded menacingly.
Joffrey smirked and stepped forward to take the mug from Jaqen. The noseless one thrust out his cup. Joffrey paused, judging the distances, then edged over and snatched the empty vessel out of Rorge's grasp. "A boy has courage, Jaqen approves." He slid over again and repeated the process with Biter, who rewarded him with a pointy, razor sharp smile.
He walked quickly to the main space where his 'brothers' gathered and went over to the barrel finding Murch and Praed 'guarding' it. "Why so many mugs?" Murch demanded. Praed's lungs hacked hard to emphasize the question. The way the doddering old sellsword coughed and wheezed, Joffrey wouldn't have been surprised if he last took coin from the ever lung rattling Lord Rosby.
"For the prisoners, they can't come get any themselves," he said calmly, pointing the obvious out to the dolts.
Murch blinked in surprise.
"Them's …" cough, cough "them's bad …" gasp, wheeze "news, boy."
He simply shrugged in response, though he thought, 'I should hope.' He set four mugs down and filled two of them. Those two he picked up and turned back towards where he'd come.
"But there's three of'em." Murch said.
"Yes," Joffrey agreed, not even looking back at the louts.
Upon his return, Jaqen quickly announced, "A boy lacks sense."
The first mug went to Biter who smiled lustily and started slurping at his immediately.
Joffrey paused halfway between Rorge and the Lorathi. "I only had two hands," he stated without the least bit of sorrow. He bobbed the last mug like a pointer between the two chained men.
"Give me the beer, bastard," Rorge snarled.
Joffrey deliberately poured a bit of the weak piss on to the deck. "What did you call me?" he asked with malevolent glee.
The noseless man surged forward, his squat, thick body pushing with all its might. Tree trunk arms pulled the chains taut, causing the iron to clank and rattle. Large hands grasped out for his tormentor. For a split second Joffrey thought the mad beast would have him, but then it was obvious he was a half foot short. Screaming with fury, Rorge reeled back and flung himself again. The wood timbers to which the chains were bolted groaned from the pressure. Huge pale hands clutched for him, as blood dripped from his wrists where the stretched chains cut deeply into flesh.
Now Joffrey prudently stepped back, the exciting thrill of mastery shooting through his body. "And for you," he announced gaily, handing the last beer to Jaqen.
"A boy should take care with the game he plays," the Lorathi cautioned. "Even when you are playing with 'no one.'"
'When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die, whether it's the first move or the last,' he thought.
Again, off in the distance a tern or a cormorant or a petrel cawed in appreciation.