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The Mystery Knight
( The Tales of Dunk and Egg - 3 )
George R. R. Martin
“People have been telling stories about warriors for as long as they have been telling stories. Since Homer first sang the wrath of Achilles and the ancient Sumerians set down their tales of Gilgamesh, warriors, soldiers, and fighters have fascinated us; they are a part of every culture, every literary tradition, every genre.All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity,and The Red Badge of Couragehave become part of our literary canon, taught in classrooms all around the country and the world. Our contributors make up an all-star lineup of award-winning and bestselling writers, representing a dozen different publishers and as many genres. We asked each of them for the same thing — a story about a warrior. Some chose to write in the genre they’re best known for. Some decided to try something different. You will find warriors of every shape, size, and color in these pages, warriors from every epoch of human history, from yesterday and today and tomorrow, and from worlds that never were. Some of the stories will make you sad, some will make you laugh, and many will keep you on the edge of your seat.”
Included are a long novella from the world of Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, a new tale of Lord John by Diana Gabaldon, and an epic of humanity at bay by David Weber. Also present are original tales by David Ball, Peter S. Beagle, Lawrence Block, Gardner Dozois, Joe Haldeman, Robin Hobb, Cecelia Holland, Joe R. Lansdale, David Morrell, Naomi Novik, James Rollins, Steven Saylor, Robert Silverberg, S.M. Stirling, Carrie Vaughn, Howard Waldrop, and Tad Williams.
GEORGE R. R. MARTIN
THE MYSTERY KNIGHT
A light summer rain was falling as Dunk and Egg took their leave of Stoney Sept.
Dunk rode his old war horse Thunder, with Egg beside him on the spirited young palfrey he’d named Rain, leading their mule Maester. On Maester’s back were bundled Dunk’s armor and Egg’s books, their bedrolls, tent, and clothing, several slabs of hard salt beef, half a flagon of mead, and two skins of water. Egg’s old straw hat, wide-brimmed and floppy, kept the rain off the mule’s head. The boy had cut holes for Maester’s ears. Egg’s new straw hat was on his own head. Except for the ear holes, the two hats looked much the same to Dunk.
As they neared the town gates, Egg reined up sharply. Up above the gateway, a traitor’s head had been impaled upon an iron spike. It was fresh from the look of it, the flesh more pink than green, but the carrion crows had already gone to work on it. The dead man’s lips and cheeks were torn and ragged; his eyes were two brown holes weeping slow red tears as raindrops mingled with the crusted blood. The dead man’s mouth sagged open, as if to harangue travelers passing through the gate below.
Dunk had seen such sights before. “Back in King’s Landing when I was a boy, I stole a head right off its spike once,” he told Egg. Actually it had been Ferret who scampered up the wall to snatch the head, after Rafe and Pudding said he’d never dare, but when the guards came running he’d tossed it down, and Dunk was the one who’d caught it. “Some rebel lord or robber knight, it was. Or maybe just a common murderer. A head’s a head. They all look the same after a few days on a spike.” Him and his three friends had used the head to terrorize the girls of Flea Bottom. They’d chase them through the alleys and make them give the head a kiss before they’d let them go. That head got kissed a lot, as he recalled. There wasn’t a girl in King’s Landing who could run as fast as Rafe. Egg was better off not hearing that part, though. Ferret, Rafe, and Pudding. Little monsters, those three, and me the worst of all. His friends and he had kept the head until the flesh turned black and began to slough away. That took the fun out of chasing girls, so one night they burst into a pot shop and tossed what was left into the kettle. “The crows always go for the eyes,” he told Egg. “Then the cheeks cave in, the flesh turns green….” He squinted. “Wait. I know that face.”
“You do, ser,” said Egg. “Three days ago. The hunchbacked septon we heard preaching against Lord Bloodraven.”
He remembered then. He was a holy man sworn to the Seven, even if he did preach treason. “His hands are scarlet with a brother’s blood, and the blood of his young nephews too,” the hunchback had declared to the crowd that had gathered in the market square. “A shadow came at his command to strangle brave Prince Valarr’s sons in their mother’s womb. Where is our Young Prince now? Where is his brother, sweet Matarys? Where has Good King Daeron gone, and fearless Baelor Breakspear? The grave has claimed them, every one, yet he endures, this pale bird with bloody beak who perches on King Aerys’s shoulder and caws into his ear. The mark of hell is on his face and in his empty eye, and he has brought us drought and pestilence and murder. Rise up, I say, and remember our true king across the water. Seven gods there are, and seven kingdoms, and the Black Dragon sired seven sons! Rise up, my lords and ladies. Rise up, you brave knights and sturdy yeomen, and cast down Bloodraven, that foul sorcerer, lest your children and your children’s children be cursed forever-more.”
Every word was treason. Even so, it was a shock to see him here, with holes where his eyes had been. “That’s him, aye,” Dunk said, “and another good reason to put this town behind us.” He gave Thunder a touch of the spur, and he and Egg rode through the gates of Stoney Sept, listening to the soft sound of the rain. How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? the riddle ran. A thousand eyes, and one. Some claimed the King’s Hand was a student of the dark arts who could change his face, put on the likeness of a one-eyed dog, even turn into a mist. Packs of gaunt gray wolves hunted down his foes, men said, and carrion crows spied for him and whispered secrets in his ear. Most of the tales were only tales, Dunk did not doubt, but no one could doubt that Bloodraven had informers everywhere.
He had seen the man once with his own two eyes, back in King’s Landing. White as bone were the skin and hair of Brynden Rivers, and his eye — he had only the one, the other having been lost to his half brother Bittersteel on the Redgrass Field — was red as blood. On cheek and neck he bore the winestain birthmark that had given him his name.
When the town was well behind them, Dunk cleared his throat and said, “Bad business, cutting off the heads of septon. All he did was talk. Words are wind.”
“Some words are wind, ser. Some are treason.” Egg was skinny as a stick, all ribs and elbows, but he did have a mouth.
“Now you sound a proper princeling.”
Egg took that for an insult, which it was. “He might have been a septon, but he was preaching lies, ser. The drought wasn’t Lord Bloodraven’s fault, nor the Great Spring Sickness either.”
“Might be that’s so, but if we start cutting off the heads of all the fools and liars, half the towns in the Seven Kingdoms will be empty.”
* * *
Six days later, the rain was just a memory.
Dunk had stripped off his tunic to enjoy the warmth of sunlight on his skin. When a little breeze came up, cool and fresh and fragrant as a maiden’s breath, he sighed. “Water,” he announced. “Smell it? The lake can’t be far now.”
“All I can smell is Maester, ser. He stinks.” Egg gave the mule’s lead a savage tug. Maester had stopped to crop at the grass beside the road, as he did from time to time.
“There’s an old inn by the lakeshore.” Dunk had stopped there once when he was squiring for the old man. “Ser Arlan said they brewed a fine brown ale. Might be we could have a taste while we waited for the ferry.” Egg gave him a hopeful look. “To wash the food down, ser?”
“What food would that be?”
“A slice off the roast?” the boy said. “A bit of duck, a bowl of stew? Whatever they have, ser.”
Their last hot meal had been three days ago. Since then, they had been living on windfalls and strips of old salt beef as har