"Your Grace does not love the noble Hizdahr. This one thinks you would sooner have another for your husband."
I must not think of Daario today. "A queen loves where she must, not where she will." Her appetite had left her. "Take this food away," she told Missandei. "It is time I bathed."
Afterward, as Jhiqui was patting Daenerys dry, Irri approached with her tokar. Dany envied the Dothraki maids their loose sandsilk trousers and painted vests. They would be much cooler than her in her tokar, with its heavy fringe of baby pearls. "Help me wind this round myself, please. I cannot manage all these pearls by myself."
She should be eager with anticipation for her wedding and the night that would follow, she knew. She remembered the night of her first wedding, when Khal Drogo had claimed her maidenhead beneath the stranger stars. She remembered how frightened she had been, and how excited. Would it be the same with Hizdahr? No. I am not the girl I was, and he is not my sun-and-stars.
Missandei reemerged from inside the pyramid. "Reznak and Skahaz beg the honor of escorting Your Grace to the Temple of the Graces. Reznak has ordered your palanquin made ready."
Meereenese seldom rode within their city walls. They preferred palanquins, litters, and sedan chairs, borne upon the shoulders of their slaves.
"Horses befoul the streets," one man of Zakh had told her, "slaves do not." Dany had freed the slaves, yet palanquins, litters, and sedan chairs still choked the streets as before, and none of them floated magically through the air.
"The day is too hot to be shut up in a palanquin," said Dany. "Have my silver saddled. I would not go to my lord husband upon the backs of bearers."
"Your Grace," said Missandei, "this one is so sorry, but you cannot ride in a tokar. "
The little scribe was right, as she so often was. The tokar was not a garment meant for horseback. Dany made a face. "As you say. Not the palanquin, though. I would suffocate behind those drapes. Have them ready a sedan chair." If she must wear her floppy ears, let all the rabbits see her. When Dany made her descent, Reznak and Skahaz dropped to their knees. "Your Worship shines so brightly, you will blind every man who dares to look upon you," said Reznak. The seneschal wore a tokar of maroon samite with golden fringes. "Hizdahr zo Loraq is most fortunate in you ... and you in him, if I may be so bold as to say. This match will save our city, you will see."
"So we pray. I want to plant my olive trees and see them fruit."
Does it matter that Hizdahr' s kisses do not please me? Peace will please me. Am I a queen or just a woman?
"The crowds will be thick as flies today." The Shavepate was clad in a pleated black skirt and a muscled breastplate, with a brazen helm shaped like a serpent's head beneath one arm.
"Should I be afraid of flies? Your Brazen Beasts will keep me safe from any harm."
It was always dusk inside the base of the Great Pyramid. Walls thirty feet thick muffled the tumult of the streets and kept the heat outside, so it was cool and dim within. Her escort was forming up inside the gates. Horses, mules, and donkeys were stabled in the western walls, elephants in the eastern. Dany had acquired three of those huge, queer beasts with her pyramid. They reminded her of hairless grey mammoths, though their tusks had been bobbed and gilded, and their eyes were sad.
She found Strong Belwas eating grapes, as Barristan Selmy watched a stableboy cinch the girth on his dapple grey. The three Dornishmen were with him, talking, but they broke off when the queen appeared. Their prince went to one knee. "Your Grace, I must entreat you. My father's strength is failing, but his devotion to your cause is as strong as ever. If my manner or my person have displeased you, that is my sorrow, but - "
"If you would please me, ser, be happy for me," Daenerys said.
"This is my wedding day. They will be dancing in the Yellow City, I do not doubt." She sighed. "Rise, my prince, and smile. One day I shall return to West-eros to claim my father's throne, and look to Dorne for help. But on this day the Yunkai'i have my city ringed in steel. I may die before I see my Seven Kingdoms. Hizdahr may die. Westeros may be swallowed by the waves." Dany kissed his cheek. "Come. It's time I wed."
Ser Barristan helped her up onto her sedan chair. Quentyn rejoined his fellow Dornishmen. Strong Belwas bellowed for the gates to be opened, and Daenerys Targaryen was carried forth into the sun. Selmy fell in beside her on his dapple grey.
"Tell me," Dany said, as the procession turned toward the Temple of the Graces, "if my father and my mother had been free to follow their own hearts, whom would they have wed?"
"It was long ago. Your Grace would not know them."
"You know, though. Tell me."
The old knight inclined his head. "The queen your mother was always mindful of her duty." He was handsome in his gold-and-silver armor, his white cloak streaming from his shoulders, but he sounded like a man in pain, as if every word were a stone he had to pass. "As a girl, though ...
she was once smitten with a young knight from the stormlands who wore her favor at a tourney and named her queen of love and beauty. A brief thing."
"What happened to this knight?"
"He put away his lance the day your lady mother wed your father. Afterward he became most pious, and was heard to say that only the Maiden could replace Queen Rhaella in his heart. His passion was impossible, of course. A landed knight is no fit consort for a princess of royal blood."
And Daario Naharis is only a sellsword, not fit to buckle on the golden spurs of even a landed knight. "And my father? Was there some woman he loved better than his queen?"
Ser Barristan shifted in the saddle. "Not ... not loved. Mayhaps wanted is a better word, but ... it was only kitchen gossip, the whispers of washer-women and stableboys ..."
"I want to know. I never knew my father. I want to know everything about him. The good and ... the rest."
"As you command." The white knight chose his words with care.
"Prince Aerys ... as a youth, he was taken with a certain lady of Casterly Rock, a cousin of Tywin Lannister. When she and Tywin wed, your father drank too much wine at the wedding feast and was heard to say that it was a great pity that the lord's right to the first night had been abolished. A drunken jape, no more, but Tywin Lannister was not a man to forget such words, or the ... the liberties your father took during the bedding." His face reddened. "I have said too much, Your Grace. I - "
"Gracious queen, well met! " Another procession had come up beside her own, and Hizdahr zo Loraq was smiling at her from his own sedan chair. My king. Dany wondered where Daario Naharis was, what he was doing. If this were a story, he would gallop up just as we reached the temple, to challenge Hizdahr for my hand.
Side by side the queen's procession and Hizdahr zo Loraq's made their slow way across Meereen, until finally the Temple of the Graces loomed up before them, its golden domes flashing in the sun. How beautiful, the queen tried to tell herself, but inside her was some foolish little girl who could not help but look about for Daario. If he loved you, he would come and carry you off at swordpoint, as Rhaegar carried off his northern girl, the girl in her insisted, but the queen knew that was folly. Even if her captain was mad enough to attempt it, the Brazen Beasts would cut him down before he got within a hundred yards of her.
Galazza Galare awaited them outside the temple doors, surrounded by her sisters in white and pink and red, blue and gold and purple. There are fewer than there were. Dany looked for Ezzara and did not see her. Has the bloody flux taken even her? Though the queen had let the Astapori starve outside her walls to keep the bloody flux from spreading, it was spreading nonetheless. Many had been stricken: freedmen, sellswords, Brazen Beasts, even Dothraki, though as yet none of the Unsullied had been touched. She prayed the worst was past.
The Graces brought forth an ivory chair and a golden bowl. Holding her tokar daintily so as not to tread upon its fringes, Daenerys Targaryen eased herself onto the chair's plush velvet seat, and Hizdahr zo Loraq went to his knees, unlaced her sandals, and washed her feet whilst fifty eunuchs sang and ten thousand eyes looked on. He has gentle hands, she mused, as warm fragrant oils ran between her toes. If he has a gentle heart as well, I may grow fond of him in time.
When her feet were clean, Hizdahr dried them with a soft towel, laced her sandals on again, and helped her stand. Hand in hand, they followed the Green Grace inside the temple, where the air was thick with incense and the gods of Ghis stood cloaked in shadows in their alcoves.
Four hours later, they emerged again as man and wife, bound together wrist and ankle with chains of yellow gold.
Queen Selyse descended upon Castle Black with her daughter and her daughter's fool, her serving girls and lady companions, and a retinue of knights, sworn swords, and men-at-arms fifty strong. Queen' s men all, Jon Snow knew. They may attend Selyse, but it is Melisandre they serve. The red priestess had warned him of their coming almost a day before the raven arrived from Eastwatch with the same message.
He met the queen's party by the stables, accompanied by Satin, Bowen Marsh, and half a dozen guards in long black cloaks. It would never do to come before this queen without a retinue of his own, if half of what they said of her was true. She might mistake him for a stableboy and hand him the reins of her horse.
The snows had finally moved off to the south and given them a respite. There was even a hint of warmth in the air as Jon Snow took a knee before this southron queen. "Your Grace. Castle Black welcomes you and yours."
Queen Selyse looked down at him. "My thanks. Please escort me to your lord commander."
"My brothers chose me for that honor. I am Jon Snow."
"You? They said you were young, but ..." Queen Selyse's face was pinched and pale. She wore a crown of red gold with points in the shape of flames, a twin to that worn by Stannis. "... you may rise, Lord Snow. This is my daughter, Shireen."
"Princess." Jon inclined his head. Shireen was a homely child, made even uglier by the greyscale that had left her neck and part of her cheek stiff and grey and cracked. "My brothers and I are at your service," he told the girl.
Shireen reddened. "Thank you, my lord."
"I believe you are acquainted with my kinsman, Ser Axell Florent?"
the queen went on.
"Only by raven." And report. The letters he'd received from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea had a deal to say of Axell Florent, very little of it good. "Ser Axell."
"Lord Snow." A stout man, Florent had short legs and a thick chest. Coarse hair covered his cheeks and jowls and poked from his ears and nostrils.
"My loyal knights," Queen Selyse went on. "Ser Narbert, Ser Benethon, Ser Brus, Ser Patrek, Ser Dorden, Ser Malegorn, Ser Lambert, Ser Perkin." Each worthy bowed in turn. She did not trouble to name her fool, but the cowbells on his antlered hat and the motley tattooed across his puffy cheeks made him hard to overlook. Patchface. Cotter Pyke's letters had made mention of him as well. Pyke claimed he was a simpleton. Then the queen beckoned to another curious member of her entourage: a tall gaunt stick of a man, his height accentuated by an outlandish three-tiered hat of purple felt. "And here we have the honorable Tycho Nestoris, an emissary of the Iron Bank of Braavos, come to treat with His Grace King Stannis."