There was a chilling rain that assaulted Braavos without pause for six days. The droplets were fat, heavy assaults on the head and shoulders; when they fell in greater frequency, they blended into a sheet of water that struck in waves, slapping repeatedly against the body like the invisible hand of an angry god.
On the seventh day, No One was summoned by the kindly man.
Today he wore his usual face—whether it was his true one, No One did not know. He looked just as ancient as always, unpleasant with crystal blue eyes that seemed too pale to belong to a living mortal.
“Valar morghulis,” the kindly man said. It was the only proper, formal and friendly greeting in Braavos.
“Valar dohaeris,” No One replied. The response was automatic; the completing half of an ancient coin. She continued, the bastard High Valyrian that poured from her lips fluid and familiar. She was not sure if she missed the common tongue of Westeros anymore; she wasn’t sure of anything she was supposed to have forgotten. “A girl was summoned.”
“A girl was,” the kindly man agreed. “A man must be given the gift.”
No One waited. The kindly man had a habit of long pauses.
He continued, “A girl will give the gift to a very unique target of high importance; a well-guarded target; a beloved one.”
A target of high importance? No One had yet to be given anyone of high standing.
The rush of the ocean filled No One’s ears. The Sealord? Ferrego Antaryon was a beloved Sealord, as all Sealords were, with a renowned laugh and no small love for animals, and for his people. He was a sickly man now, time finally clawing at his health at the ripe age of four and sixty, with his greatest feats of smart investing, mercantile pursuits and political dealings decades behind him. Some claimed it was only a terrible cough, others said it was sweetrot, and others still argued it was his bones, or a curse carried over by the animals he imported from wild lands to the east and the far, unwelcoming south.
How could she kill the Sealord?
“I know this man,” No One argued. “I cannot give him the gift.”
What had the Sealord done, if anything at all? ‘Sometimes,’ No One thought, reminding herself, ‘all a man has to do is live, and another man will want to have his throat cut to take the air he breathed.’ This would not be the first time No One was tasked with giving the gift to an innocent with cruel associates.
“All in the Known World, with any knowledge or skill of importance, knows the name of the Sealord,” the kindly man replied. “The gift must still be given. A name is not all there is.”
‘A name is the beginning, and sometimes the end,’ No One thought. There had been a time where she was incapable of telling convincing lies; a time when she could not ignore—never forget—her true name. It had been the title to the novel of her life, the chapters laboriously written about her anger, so long-burning and all-consuming. Shedding her name for these five years had shed her of some of her anger, and left... a creature that was close to hollow. ‘An open door or a falling sword—or nothing; a strange clutter of letters; if it’s taken away.’
No One could feel the incoming stutter of her words before she could even begin to ask her question, and took a deeper breath. The kindly man noticed.
“How will a girl give the Sealord the gift?”
“The Sealord maintains an impressive menagerie within the grounds of his palace,” the kindly man said. He did not smile, but there was a glint in his unnatural blue eyes that made No One’s stomach roil. He continued, “Animals are dangerous to keep.”
How many times had No One skinchanged into animals in order to perform her duties? She’d used hounds as methods of attack and distraction; cats and birds for scouts; and rats for light stealing. To poison a bravo who spent four years of winnings on a night with the Poetess, she’d skinchanged into the tiniest little swallow and had the bird drop a tainted bit of bread into his wineglass.
Discovering a skinchanger was hard, unless they stood before you and let their eyes pale; unless they trusted you to be near their vulnerable human body.
No One preferred one of the empty, flooded towers in Drowned Town for scouting. She’d nestle in rooftops around the city, beneath the shadow of the sweetwater river, if she needed to be closer. For killing, she’d get as close as she could, rats in her pants pockets, a hound at her heels and an osprey or gull overhead should she need it. The rats were chosen—the other animals would simply get attached, and there were ospreys and gulls in every block of sky at every time of day.
Of course the Faceless Men would catch on.
“A girl will give the Sealord the gift,” No One agreed. “Valar dohaeris.”
The Sealord’s palace, northeast of most of the city, a stone’s throw and a stout wall away from the Moon Pool and the sweetwater river’s end, was as unique as the Titan of Braavos. Made without Valyrian magic, like the black walls of Volantis or the Valyrian roads scattered about the world, the Sealord’s palace was a procession of stone towers capped in silver domes and golden spires, with windows of colored glass sealed neatly with dyed tar. A golden thunderbolt, the personal symbol of the Sealord, lived as the tallest golden spire. Gears, rope and chain concealed in green-grey stone made in slowly spin on its base; one full circle every hundred and twenty seconds.
Built upon a generous peninsula, much of the palace was open space capped with impressive lengths of glass supported by a large, graceful steel frame. These open spaces, coated in carefully managed grass and set with natural springs surrounded in stone, served as the living quarters for the Sealord’s animals. His menagerie was an impressive feat of engineering, wealth, negotiation and care. Towering, spotted creatures from Yi Ti were not brought west to Braavos for just anyone, or for just any price. The red-eyed goats from the deep recesses of the Bone Mountains fetched a monumental price, and the pouch-tigers that ruled the forests past them required great courage and incentive to acquire.
Close to the Uncloaking of Uthero—a celebration named for the late Sealord Utheros Zalyne, who with bankers and messengers made the Secret City a secret no longer centuries ago—the Sealord opened the doors of his palace to visitors every day, inviting them to view his menagerie. This was how No One gained access to the Sealord’s home, wearing the young, comely face of a false banker’s son.
As No One watched the toddler son of one of the city’s keyholders feed a towering, spotted creature with boney nubs on its forehead, she felt conflicted. There was a sense of awe in her—for so long, all she had ever bore witness to were horses and dogs, then came direwolves and spitting snakes—but also a sense of helplessness; these creatures were trapped, and seeing their gilded glass and stone cages, lined with grass and flowing with freshwater, made her feel trapped as well. Her cage was of a different kind, cloaked in white and black, laced with poison and blood and coated in unceasing faint anxiety. Yet when she looked into the eyes of one of the Sealord’s two pouch-tigers, its jowls coated in the blood of an animal it was not offered the opportunity to kill, she saw a kindred spirit.
They ate the wrong feasts and lived in the corrals of powerful men.
‘At least they’ve never hurt you,’ No One thought. The keyholder’s son began to wail when the long-necked creature pulled away, satisfied. No One imagined a tiny cub ripped from its home, carted away from a rich forest to live in dreary Braavos. She thought of a tiny cub running amok in a dense city, all alone; forced from the icy forests of her home country to the hot and sticky south. Maybe No One was wrong. ‘You don’t even remember any of that, do you?’
Most animals were dumber than men. Nymeria wasn’t, and perhaps neither was this pouch-tiger.
No One fought the urge to close her eyes and seek out a bond. She didn’t want to know. It didn’t matter. She turned and walked away.
The pouch-tiger wouldn’t be a good instrument of murder anyway.
For days No One observed the Sealord’s palace from the view provided by the menagerie roads and the courtyard he filled with treats for his guests; spun-sugar seahorses were two tables from long, buttered crab legs and pickled eel, and there was a whole table dedicated to seven different kinds of oyster, and fourteen different sauces.
No One wondered what it said about her, that she could slurp soft crabmeat as she plotted the death of her Sealord. Then she remembered that it didn’t matter. The Sealord would be given the gift, as willed by Him of Many Faces.
Or was it a man with an obscene amount of wealth—or perhaps a dead family member or three in compensation?
“—may follow in Ferrego’s footsteps and buy myself a hound from the Far East,” a man said a few steps to No One’s left. One of the gulls overhead saw him pulling apart a spun-sugar seahorse, starting with its wispy blue and green head. He was young-looking, perhaps thirty. “It’s a handsome creature, and so well-behaved! There’s nothing like them in the Free Cities.”
“It’ll cost you,” a miserly man warned. No One could imagine his coffers cringing at the thought of the dog’s price. “Purchase, transport and gratuities will run you tens of thousands of honors—and that’s before the currency exchange, which is in their favor, mind you.”
“Let’s see how the pup behaves when the Sealord brings it out today. I’m sure it’d be worth the price.”
No One cleaned out another crab leg in part to look preoccupied while she eavesdropped, and in part for her own pleasure. She’d discovered a taste for seafood ever since she’d left—
She caught herself. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t supposed to matter anymore.
This puppy from Yi Ti? It mattered.
No One returned to the House of Black and White after her day at the Sealord’s palace, shedding her false face as she passed through the towering doors.
The kindly man was waiting for her in the Hall of Faces, near the steps. He followed her to the stone mantel where her false face was kept.
“How fares a girl’s mission?”
“The Sealord owns a puppy now, from the Far East. It’s teeth are already sharp, and it’s obedient. Once the Uncloaking of Uthero celebrations are complete, the Sealord will—”
”Why will the Sealord be given the gift after the ten day celebration?”
No One could feel ice form in her throat before melting just as quickly; her anxiety was quelled by her steadfast belief. She could not be so terrible as to ruin Braavos’s greatest celebration.
“Should the Sealord die before or during the celebrations, all festivities would be ruined and cease.”
The kindly man did not show anger, nor disappointment, in the five years Arya had been observing all his faces. “Does Death wait for a party to complete itself?”
“Follow in His footsteps then. At the earliest opportunity, you will do your duty.”
No One could feel something like shame begin as a seed in the pit of her chest. She was honorbound to serve her God, but this did not feel like service. It had not felt like service in years. Had it ever, in truth? Or had she been desperate for a way to avenge her—
She nodded. “Valar dohaeris.”