other wenches?" He leaned close. "Some say you have her tucked away for your own pleasure. It makes no matter to me, so long as she is not with child. I'
ll get my own sons on her. If you'
ve broken her to saddle, well ... we are
both men of the world, are we not?"
Jon had heard enough. "Ser Axell, if you are truly the Queen's Hand, I pity Her Grace."
Florent's face grew flushed with anger. "So it is true. You mean to keep her for yourself, I see it now. The bastard wants his father's seat."
The bastard refused his father' s seat. If the bastard had wanted Val, all he had to do was ask for her. "You must excuse me, ser," he said. "I need a breath of fresh air." It stinks in here. His head turned. "That was a horn."
Others had heard it too. The music and the laughter died at once. Dancers froze in place, listening. Even Ghost pricked up his ears. "Did you hear that?" Queen Selyse asked her knights.
"A warhorn, Your Grace," said Ser Narbert.
The queen's hand went fluttering to her throat. "Are we under attack?"
"No, Your Grace," said Ulmer of the Kingswood. "It's the watchers on the Wall, is all."
One blast, thought Jon Snow. Rangers returning. Then it came again. The sound seemed to fill the cellar. "Two blasts," said Mully.
Black brothers, northmen, free folk, Thenns, queen's men, all of them fell quiet, listening. Five heartbeats passed. Ten. Twenty. Then Owen the Oaf tittered, and Jon Snow could breathe again. "Two blasts," he announced. "Wildlings." Val.
Tormund Giantsbane had come at last.
The hall rang to Yunkish laughter, Yunkish songs, Yunkish prayers. Dancers danced; musicians played queer tunes with bells and squeaks and bladders; singers sang ancient love songs in the incomprehensible tongue of Old Ghis. Wine flowed - not the thin pale stuff of Slaver's Bay but rich sweet vintages from the Arbor and dreamwine from Qarth, flavored with strange spices. The Yunkai'i had come at King Hizdahr's invitation, to sign the peace and witness the rebirth of Meereen's far-famed fighting pits. Her noble husband had opened the Great Pyramid to fete them.
I hate this, thought Daenerys Targaryen. How did this happen, that I am drinking and smiling with men I' d sooner flay?
A dozen different sorts of meat and fish were served: camel, crocodile, singing squid, lacquered ducks and spiny grubs, with goat and ham and horse for those whose tastes were less exotic. Plus dog. No Ghiscari feast was complete without a course of dog. Hizdahr's cooks prepared dog four different ways. "Ghiscari will eat anything that swims or flies or crawls, but for man and dragon," Daario had warned her, "and I'd wager they'd eat dragon too if given half a chance." Meat alone does not make a meal, though, so there were fruits and grains and vegetables as well. The air was redolent with the scents of saffron, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and other costly spices.
Dany scarce touched a bite. This is peace, she told herself. This is what I wanted, what I worked for, this is why I married Hizdahr. So why does it taste so much like defeat?
"It is only for a little while more, my love," Hizdahr had assured her.
"The Yunkai'i will soon be gone, and their allies and hirelings with them. We shall have all we desired. Peace, food, trade. Our port is open once again, and ships are being permitted to come and go."
"They are permitting that, yes," she had replied, "but their warships remain. They can close their fingers around our throat again whenever they wish. They have opened a slave market within sight of my walls! "
"Outside our walls, sweet queen. That was a condition of the peace, that Yunkai would be free to trade in slaves as before, unmolested."
"In their own city. Not where I have to see it." The Wise Masters had established their slave pens and auction block just south of the Skahazadhan, where the wide brown river flowed into Slaver's Bay. "They are mocking me to my face, making a show of how powerless I am to stop them."
"Posing and posturing," said her noble husband. "A show, as you have said. Let them have their mummery. When they are gone, we will make a fruit market of what they leave behind."
"When they are gone," Dany repeated. "And when will they be gone? Riders have been seen beyond the Skahazadhan. Dothraki scouts, Rakharo says, with a khalasar behind them. They will have captives. Men, women, and children, gifts for the slavers." Dothraki did not buy or sell, but they gave gifts and received them. "That is why the Yunkai'i have thrown up this market. They will leave here with thousands of new slaves."
Hizdahr zo Loraq shrugged. "But they will leave. That is the important part, my love. Yunkai will trade in slaves, Meereen will not, this is what we have agreed. Endure this for a little while longer, and it shall pass."
So Daenerys sat silent through the meal, wrapped in a vermilion tokar and black thoughts, speaking only when spoken to, brooding on the men and women being bought and sold outside her walls, even as they feasted here within the city. Let her noble husband make the speeches and laugh at the feeble Yunkish japes. That was a king's right and a king's duty. Much of the talk about the table was of the matches to be fought upon the morrow. Barsena Blackhair was going to face a boar, his tusks against her dagger. Khrazz was fighting, as was the Spotted Cat. And in the day's final pairing, Goghor the Giant would go against Belaquo Bonebreaker. One would be dead before the sun went down. No queen has clean hands, Dany told herself. She thought of Doreah, of Quaro, of Eroeh ... of a little girl she had never met, whose name had been Hazzea. Better a few should die in the pit than thousands at the gates. This is the price of peace, I pay it willingly. If I look back, I am lost.
The Yunkish Supreme Commander, Yurkhaz zo Yunzak, might have been alive during Aegon's Conquest, to judge by his appearance. Bent-backed, wrinkled, and toothless, he was carried to the table by two strapping slaves. The other Yunkish lords were hardly more impressive. One was small and stunted, though the slave soldiers who attended him were grotesquely tall and thin. The third was young, fit, and dashing, but so drunk that Dany could scarce understand a word he said. How could I have been brought to this pass by creatures such as these?
The sellswords were a different matter. Each of the four free companies serving Yunkai had sent its commander. The Windblown were represented by the Pentoshi nobleman known as the Tattered Prince, the Long Lances by Gylo Rhegan, who looked more shoemaker than soldier and spoke in murmurs. Bloodbeard, from the Company of the Cat, made enough noise for him and a dozen more. A huge man with a great bush of beard and a prodigious appetite for wine and women, he bellowed, belched, farted like a thunderclap, and pinched every serving girl who came within his reach. From time to time he would pull one down into his lap to squeeze her br**sts and fondle her between the legs.
The Second Sons were represented too. If Daario were here, this meal would end in blood. No promised peace could ever have persuaded her captain to permit Brown Ben Plumm to stroll back into Meereen and leave alive. Dany had sworn that no harm would come to the seven envoys and commanders, though that had not been enough for the Yunkai'i. They had required hostages of her as well. To balance the three Yunkish nobles and four sellsword captains, Meereen sent seven of its own out to the siege camp: Hizdahr's sister, two of his cousins, Dany's bloodrider Jhogo, her admiral Groleo, the Unsullied captain Hero, and Daario Naharis.
"I will leave my girls with you," her captain had said, handing her his sword belt and its gilded wantons. "Keep them safe for me, beloved. We would not want them making bloody mischief amongst the Yunkai'i."
The Shavepate was absent as well. The first thing Hizdahr had done upon being crowned was to remove him from command of the Brazen Beasts, replacing him with his own cousin, the plump and pasty Marghaz zo Loraq. It is for the best. The Green Grace says there is blood between Loraq and Kandaq, and the Shavepate never made a secret of his disdain for my lord husband. And Daario ...
Daario had only grown wilder since her wedding. Her peace did not please him, her marriage pleased him less, and he had been furious at being deceived by the Dornishmen. When Prince Quentyn told them that the other Westerosi had come over to the Stormcrows at the command of the Tattered Prince, only the intercession of Grey Worm and his Unsullied prevented Daario from killing them all. The false deserters had been imprisoned safely in the bowels of the pyramid ... but Daario's rage continued to fester. He will be safer as a hostage. My captain was not made for peace. Dany could not risk his cutting down Brown Ben Plumm, making mock of Hizdahr before the court, provoking the Yunkai'i, or otherwise upsetting the agreement that she had given up so much to win. Daario was war and woe. Henceforth, she must keep him out of her bed, out of her heart, and out of her. If he did not betray her, he would master her. She did not know which of those she feared the most.
When the gluttony was done and all the half-eaten food had been cleared away - to be given to the poor who gathered below, at the queen's insistence - tall glass flutes were filled with a spiced liqueur from Qarth as dark as amber. Then began the entertainments.
A troupe of Yunkish castrati owned by Yurkhaz zo Yunzak sang them songs in the ancient tongue of the Old Empire, their voices high and sweet and impossibly pure. "Have you ever heard such singing, my love?"
Hizdahr asked her. "They have the voices of gods, do they not?"
"Yes," she said, "though I wonder if they might not have preferred to have the fruits of men."
All of the entertainers were slaves. That had been part of the peace, that slaveowners be allowed the right to bring their chattels into Meereen without fear of having them freed. In return the Yunkai'i had promised to respect the rights and liberties of the former slaves that Dany had freed. A fair bargain, Hizdahr said, but the taste it left in the queen's mouth was foul. She drank another cup of wine to wash it out.
"If it please you, Yurkhaz will be pleased to give us the singers, I do not doubt," her noble husband said. "A gift to seal our peace, an ornament to our court."
He will give us these castrati, Dany thought, and then he will march home and make some more. The world is full of boys.
The tumblers who came next failed to move her either, even when they formed a human pyramid nine levels high, with a naked little girl on top. Is that meant to represent my pyramid? the queen wondered. Is the girl on top meant to be me?
Afterward her lord husband led his guests onto the lower terrace, so the visitors from the Yellow City might behold Meereen by night. Wine cups in hand, the Yunkai'i wandered the garden in small groups, beneath lemon trees and night-blooming flowers, and Dany found herself face-to-face with Brown Ben Plumm.
He bowed low. "Worship. You look lovely. Well, you always did. None of them Yunkishmen are half so pretty. I thought I might bring a wedding gift for you, but the bidding went too high for old Brown Ben."
"I want no gifts from you."
"This one you might. The head of an old foe."
"Your own?" she said sweetly. "You betrayed me."
"Now that's a harsh way o' putting it, if you don't mind me saying." Brown Ben scratched at his speckled grey-and-white whiskers.