Finding two bodies was the easiest part. Battered by rubble, bleeding from a dozen wounds, she and Jaime clawed their way from the ruins and somehow outside the walls. How he knew this secret route, Cersei didn’t ask. It didn’t matter.
The hard part was dragging the bodies inside, peeling their scorched clothing away, dressing the corpses in their own discarded finery. Jaime had to lop off the hand from the male body, a job made easier because the arm was charred to a crisp to begin with. Black soot from the body drifted down to the rockfall as he worked the filthy jerkin off the stiffening torso. The opposite of snowfall. The woman’s body was more pliant, and her chemise was a close enough match; Cersei finished exchanging her ornate overdress for the dead woman’s filthy kirtle before Jaime had even finished unlacing his own doublet.
She pushed his hand aside impatiently. “I’ll do it.”
He went still, mouth slack for a moment as he stared at her. She didn’t know why, and didn’t have time to stop pulling at the laces and yanking the doublet from his shoulders. Somebody could come upon them at any second. The bloody dragon could swoop down again, raining more fire and devastation and generally causing Cersei even more trouble with her escape.
Jaime took his stripped-off doublet in hand and stepped on one cuff, yanking sharply to tear the sleeve off. It wasn’t ideal, but it would disguise the fact that the garment hadn’t burned along with the arm. It also made it easier to wrest the thing onto the corpse at last, though it still took both of them. Three hands weren’t much better than two.
Finally they dragged the bodies next to the rockfall and tumbled the pile over the unfortunate lost souls, crushing their already-unrecognizable heads with the largest fallen rocks they could lift before scooping more scree over them to hide them almost completely.
Cersei surveyed their handiwork as Jaime finished adjusting his ill-fitting stolen clothes. “We’re lucky they’re both as burned as they are. It might not make much sense, burned then buried. But at least they’re unrecognizable.”
“Let’s hope so.” He sighed and unbuckled the straps that held his golden hand in place, then buried it near the bodies. “This will be recognizable enough.”
Cersei’s gorge rose as always at the glimpse of his mutilated stump. Even covered with a close-fitting leather cap, it was monstrous, an abomination. He left the covering in place, to her vast relief. With his sleeve rolled back down and knotted, it was less horrifying.
They’d done their best. It would have to do.
Hand in hand, they ventured back out into the harsh sunlight, hearing the screams and the dragon’s roar as they picked their way across the rocks, around the dead and dying, along the steep shoreline.
“If we can get to the Kingswood,” Jaime explained, “we can make our way south to the Boneway. Stay off the roads until the pass. Find horses somewhere between here and Dorne.”
She nodded, and tried to keep up, and eventually let his words roll over her and slide away. Behind them, the dragon screamed and King’s Landing dwindled, the Red Keep crumbled, and nothing would ever matter again.
Sunspear was magnificent and strange. Cersei only wished she could see it up close, instead of being relegated to a furtive peek from the ship’s deck. With the setting sun behind it, she could hardly make out the features of the stronghold, but the outline was sharp, the gilt spires brilliant in the dying light. Swathed in a unassuming dull green scarf that concealed her head to toe, Cersei sweltered through only a minute or so of “fresh” air before reluctantly returning to the measly cabin she and Jaime had shared since they bought passage from Wyl.
“How do they bear it?” She shut the hatch firmly, unwinding the wrap with relief. “It’s too hot to live out there, and it’s stifling I here. And this is cold for Dorne, the sailors say.”
“It’s certainly pleasant compared to the last time I was here.” He kept staring out the porthole, as distant and cool as he had been since they’d escaped the Red Keep. It had been weeks since he’d looked her in the eye, much less touched her except as demanded by the confines of the tiny berth.
Cersei endeavored to fold the long, wide scarf. “You haven’t even gone outside.”
“I’ll go out later, after it’s full dark. I’m known here.” Jaime held up his truncated arm. “And it’s hard to hide this.”
“You need a new hand. When we get to Volantis, we can have a new one made.”
He didn’t answer, just toyed with the flap of fabric pinned over the stump.
Giving up on the scarf, she tossed it to the bunk and sat down, facing him but still not drawing his gaze. She drew her legs up under her, careless of her filthy shoes on the rough woolen blanket. “Something lighter, perhaps, this time. Surely Essos has some sort of hardwood that might do. And artisans who could carve you something more graceful.” She sighed, not enjoying the path her thoughts were taking. “Oh…ivory might be suitable. Is it costly there, ivory?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never been to Essos. I’m sure you’ll find out.”
“With what little coin we have left, I suppose the ivory hand must wait. And new gowns. Although this one is disintegrating, so I’ll need something new soon. Perhaps in Lys?”
Jaime sighed deeply again, closing his eyes for a moment then opening them and finally looking at her. Really looking. Now that he was, she wished he’d kept staring out to sea. She knew his eyes like she knew her own, but she couldn’t read what was behind them now and her body went cold at the still blankness there.
“What?” she demanded.
“This is where I leave you. Whatever you purchase in Lys or Volantis will be your own affair.” His face didn’t change as he stood and began to gather his few possessions. Only now did she realize he was already wearing his jerkin and belt along with his boots.
“You can’t mean this.” Was that her voice, that weak, strained, halting noise? There were only the two of them here, so it must be. “You came back. Jaime. You came back for me. For us. We were the only thing that mattered.”
“I came to get you out of harm’s way. I’ve done that.” He pulled his sword across the bed, his ridiculous sword with its scabbard wrapped in rags as though that could mask its value, and maneuvered it into place in the loop on his belt. “You’ll come to less harm traveling alone from this point on. Anybody who might be looking would be looking for both of us together, not a woman traveling alone.”
“You’ll come to Volantis some other way, then.” She said it, knowing that wasn’t going to happen. The world seemed to tilt and blur around her. This couldn’t be happening. Not again.
“No.” He peered out into the gathering dusk, then turned toward the hatch as if to open it. With his fingers on the handle, he turned to her one last time. “I’ve left most of the gold for you, and a good dagger. You might consider stopping in Lys, not going on to Volantis at all. It’s less predictable. The Lyseni are fair so you’ll blend in, the climate is mild, and the place runs on money not bloodlines. After a time I can treat with the Iron Bank to send you funds, and you can buy all the safety you’ll ever need.”
That was a lie. Money could never keep her safe. Even with the Targaryen whore dead, if the ravens were to be believed, Cersei would always be a target. Deposed monarchs never lived long, did they? If the roles were reversed—if Greyjoy had lived up to his boasting, if she’d held the Red Keep and won the battle—she would have lopped off every Stark head before nightfall. If they’d tried to run, she’d have hunted them to the four corners of the world. If they were smart, they’d do the same to her and Jaime. And that boy, the weird little freak who should have died in that fall, would know exactly where to look for her if the rumors were true.
If, if, if. Too many ifs. And night was falling fast.
She clutched at the blanket, finding the scarf instead. Knotting her fist into it to the point of pain helped clear her mind. What she wouldn’t give for a dram of wine. “What you said when the rocks fell…”
He tapped his fingers on the hatch, moving his free arm awkwardly in some gesture that no longer existed for him. “I thought we were dead. I didn’t want you to die thinking…you were alone.” He glanced at her face again and shrugged. “But we lived.”
“And what of this child?” She pressed a hand to her belly and stared him down.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Cersei, you and I have had three children. I watched you carry them and watched you birth them. Do you honestly believe I haven’t paid attention to the passage of time since you announced this?” He dropped his hand from the door and faced her head-on. “I lied too, did you know? I truly did believe you. I came back in part because of that, because I felt a duty to the child, if not to you. And when I arrived, although it had been months, your belly was still flat. There was never a baby. I was a fool to think there was, to think that you wouldn’t lie to me as you had about everything else. You sent a sellsword to kill me and our brother, and still I came back. I got you out of the keep, I brought you here…and now I’m through with you. You won’t see me again. Do you understand?”
Heat rose in her face, clouding her vision, thrumming in her ears. She turned her head slowly to the glass. The cabin was dark, and outside she could see a pair of bright stars glimmering against the deep blue sky. After half a dozen heartbeats she heard the hinges creak, the scuff of boots against planks, then the sharp click as the hatch swung closed.
If Dorne had been too hot for Cersei’s taste, Volantis was a feverish nightmare. Sweat pooled beneath her breasts, under her thighs against the leather seat of the hathay, in her boots, in her eyes. Her skin was already burning pink in the sun, everywhere the scarf left uncovered. The canopy over the small vehicle helped, but she couldn’t afford to keep riding around indefinitely.
Jaime had been right, Lys was more to her taste. As soon as possible, she would make her way back there. At the moment, she had more pressing priorities.
Leaning forward, she called out to the slave who rode the disappointingly small white elephant that pulled the hathay. It was a dwarf, he’d explained. She couldn’t get away from them, it seemed. Its tusks were cropped short. Useless. “Take me back to the marketplace by the Merchant’s House.”
Was he still a slave? His face bore a wheel-shaped tattoo, but he wore no collar. It didn’t make much difference to her, as long as he understood the Common Tongue and didn’t attempt to overcharge her. She’d grilled the wench at the inn to learn the going rates before venturing forth.
The slave-or-not drove to the right, but missed the intended turn when a larger creature cut off the route. Cersei gazed up in astonishment as the full-sized elephant loomed up beside them for an impossibly long time.
Now this…this, at last, was an elephant. Dark gray under a gauze of dust, skin rougher than leather, a smell of grass and hay and dirt and musk that briefly crowded out the permeating reek of Volantis. When the creature flapped its ears, she felt the breeze. Its trunk, massive and impossibly muscular, swung from side to side as it lumbered past, the bizarrely prehensile tip questing in the air as if sensing the way. Its feet made the ground tremble; she could feel it even through the wheels of the hathay. And the tusks…magnificent. Made for war. If she’d had enough of these creatures at her disposal, surely she’d still be in King’s Landing. Somehow.
The elephant outpaced them, then slowed, shifted its tail, and began to drop massive clumps of steaming dung. They fell mere feet from the hathay, flinging bits of feces wide on impact. Cursing, Cersei’s driver veered left, but not before the smell assaulted Cersei’s senses. It was so strong her eyes watered, and she gagged against the stench. Then they were past it, in the clear, and around another corner.
It wasn’t what she’d expected or hoped for. None of this was. Nothing was. Someday, when she had time and money to plan, she would decide who should pay for that disappointment and find a way to exact that price. Lannisters paid their debts, yes, but they also collected.
Cersei dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her scarf, then draped it to shield her lower face again. The fabric’s edge was threadbare. She would replace it in the market with something light and airy, silken and satisfying and beautiful. She would purchase some scent as well, and a flagon of sweet Volantene wine.
Then she would return to the inn and inquire about the fastest ship back to Lys.