GEORGE R. R. MARTIN
A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
The Merry Midwife stole into White Harbor on the evening tide, her patched sail rippling with every gust of wind.
She was an old cog, and even in her youth no one had ever called her pretty. Her figurehead showed a laughing woman holding an infant by one foot, but the woman’s cheeks and the babe’s bottom were both pocked by wormholes. Uncounted layers of drab brown paint covered her hull; her sails were grey and tattered. She was not a ship to draw a second glance, unless it was to wonder how she stayed afloat. The Merry Midwife was known in White Harbor too. For years she had plied a humble trade between there and Sisterton.
It was not the sort of arrival that Davos Seaworth had anticipated when he’d set sail with Salla and his fleet. All this had seemed simpler then. The ravens had not brought King Stannis the allegiance of White Harbor, so His Grace would send an envoy to treat with
Lord Manderly in person. As a show of strength, Davos would arrive aboard Salla’s galleas Valyrian, with the rest of the Lysene fleet behind her. Every hull was striped: black and yellow, pink and blue, green and white, purple and gold. The Lyseni loved bright hues, and Salladhor Saan was the most colorful of all. Salladhor the Splendid, Davos thought, but the storms wrote an end to all of that.
Instead he would smuggle himself into the city, as he might have done twenty years before. Until he knew how matters stood here, it was more prudent to play the common sailor, not the lord.
White Harbor’s walls of whitewashed stone rose before them, on the eastern shore where the White Knife plunged into the firth. Some of the city’s defenses had been strengthened since the last time Davos had been here, half a dozen years before. The jetty that divided the inner and outer harbors had been fortified with a long stone wall, thirty feet tall and almost a mile long, with towers every hundred yards. There was smoke rising from Seal Rock as well, where once there had been only ruins. That could be good or bad, depending on what side Lord Wyman chooses.
Davos had always been fond of this city, since first he’d come here as a cabin boy on Cobblecat. Though small compared to Oldtown and King’s Landing, it was clean and well-ordered, with wide straight cobbled streets that made it easy for a man to find his way. The houses were built of whitewashed stone, with steeply pitched roofs of dark grey slate. Roro Uhoris, the Cobblecat ‘s cranky old master, used to claim that he could tell one port from another just by the way they smelled. Cities were like women, he insisted; each one had its own unique scent. Oldtown was as flowery as a perfumed dowager. Lannisport was a milkmaid, fresh and earthy, with woodsmoke in her hair. King’s Landing reeked like some unwashed whore. But White Harbor’s scent was sharp and salty, and a little fishy too. “She smells the way a mermaid ought to smell,” Roro said. “She smells of the sea.”
She still does, thought Davos, but he could smell the peat smoke drifting off Seal Rock too. The sea stone dominated the approaches to the outer harbor, a massive grey-green upthrust looming fifty feet above the waters. Its top was crowned with a circle of weathered stones, a ringfort of the First Men that had stood desolate and abandoned for hundreds of years. It was not abandoned now. Davos could see scorpions and spitfires behind the standing stones, and crossbowmen peering between them. It must be cold up there, and wet.