"We went over to the winning side, is all. Same as we done before. It weren't all me, neither. I put it to my men."
"So they betrayed me, is that what you are saying? Why? Did I mistreat the Second Sons? Did I cheat you on your pay?"
"Never that," said Brown Ben, "but it's not all about the coin, Your High-and-Mightiness. I learned that a long time back, at my first battle. Morning after the fight, I was rooting through the dead, looking for the odd bit o' plunder, as it were. Came upon this one corpse, some axeman had taken his whole arm off at the shoulder. He was covered with flies, all crusty with dried blood, might be why no one else had touched him, but under them he wore this studded jerkin, looked to be good leather. I figured it might fit me well enough, so I chased away the flies and cut it off him. The damn thing was heavier than it had any right to be, though. Under the lining, he'd sewn a fortune in coin. Gold, Your Worship, sweet yellow gold. Enough for any man to live like a lord for the rest o' his days. But what good did it do him? There he was with all his coin, lying in the blood and mud with his f**king arm cut off. And that's the lesson, see? Silver's sweet and gold's our mother, but once you're dead they're worth less than that last shit you take as you lie dying. I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords. My boys didn't care to die, that's all, and when I told them that you couldn't unleash them dragons against the Yunkishmen, well ..."
You saw me as defeated, Dany thought, and who am I to say that you were wrong? "I understand." She might have ended it there, but she was curious. "Enough gold to live like a lord, you said. What did you do with all that wealth?"
Brown Ben laughed. "Fool boy that I was, I told a man I took to be my friend, and he told our serjeant, and my brothers-in-arms come and relieved me o' that burden. Serjeant said I was too young, that I'd only waste it all on whores and such. He let me keep the jerkin, though." He spat.
"You don't never want to trust a sellsword, m'lady."
"I have learned that much. One day I must be sure to thank you for the lesson."
Brown Ben's eyes crinkled up. "No need. I know the sort o' thanks you have in mind." He bowed again and moved away.
Dany turned to gaze out over her city. Beyond her walls the yellow tents of the Yunkai'i stood in orderly rows beside the sea, protected by the ditches their slaves had dug for them. Two iron legions out of New Ghis, trained and armed in the same fashion as Unsullied, were encamped across the river to the north. Two more Ghiscari legions had made camp to the east, choking off the road to the Khyzai Pass. The horse lines and cookfires of the free companies lay to the south. By day thin plumes of smoke hung against the sky like ragged grey ribbons. By night distant fires could be seen. Hard by the bay was the abomination, the slave market at her door. She could not see it now, with the sun set, but she knew that it was there. That just made her angrier.
"Ser Barristan?" she said softly.
The white knight appeared at once. "Your Grace."
"How much did you hear?"
"Enough. He was not wrong. Never trust a sellsword."
Or a queen, thought Dany. "Is there some man in the Second Sons who might be persuaded to ... remove ... Brown Ben?"
"As Daario Naharis once removed the other captains of the
Stormcrows?" The old knight looked uncomfortable. "Perhaps. I would not know, Your Grace."
No, she thought, you are too honest and too honorable. "If not, the Yunkai'i employ three other companies."
"Rogues and cutthroats, scum of a hundred battlefields," Ser Barristan warned, "with captains full as treacherous as Plumm."
"I am only a young girl and know little of such things, but it seems to me that we want them to be treacherous. Once, you'll recall, I convinced the Second Sons and Stormcrows to join us."
"If Your Grace wishes a privy word with Gylo Rhegan or the Tattered Prince, I could bring them up to your apartments."
"This is not the time. Too many eyes, too many ears. Their absence would be noted even if you could separate them discreetly from the Yunkai'
i. We must find some quieter way of reaching out to them ... not tonight, but soon."
"As you command. Though I fear this is not a task for which I am well suited. In King's Landing work of this sort was left to Lord Littlefinger or the Spider. We old knights are simple men, only good for fighting." He patted his sword hilt.
"Our prisoners," suggested Dany. "The Westerosi who came over from the Windblown with the three Dornishmen. We still have them in cells, do we not? Use them."
"Free them, you mean? Is that wise? They were sent here to worm their way into your trust, so they might betray Your Grace at the first chance."
"Then they failed. I do not trust them. I will never trust them." If truth be told, Dany was forgetting how to trust. "We can still use them. One was a woman. Meris. Send her back, as a ... a gesture of my regard. If their captain is a clever man, he will understand."
"The woman is the worst of all."
"All the better." Dany considered a moment. "We should sound out the Long Lances too. And the Company of the Cat."
"Bloodbeard." Ser Barristan's frown deepened. "If it please Your Grace, we want no part of him. Your Grace is too young to remember the Ninepenny Kings, but this Bloodbeard is cut from the same savage cloth. There is no honor in him, only hunger ... for gold, for glory, for blood."
"You know more of such men than me, ser." If Bloodbeard might be truly the most dishonorable and greedy of the sellswords, he might be the easiest to sway, but she was loath to go against Ser Barristan's counsel in such matters. "Do as you think best. But do it soon. If Hizdahr's peace should break, I want to be ready. I do not trust the slavers."
I do not trust my
husband. "They will turn on us at the first sign of weakness."
"The Yunkai'i grow weaker as well. The bloody flux has taken hold amongst the Tolosi, it is said, and spread across the river to the third Ghiscari legion."
The pale mare. Daenerys sighed. Quaithe warned me of the pale mare' s coming. She told me of the Dornish prince as well, the sun' s son. She told me much and more, but all in riddles. "I cannot rely on plague to save me from my enemies. Set Pretty Meris free. At once."
"As you command. Though ... Your Grace, if I may be so bold, there is another road ..."
"The Dornish road?" Dany sighed. The three Dornishmen had been at the feast, as befit Prince Quentyn's rank, though Reznak had taken care to seat them as far as possible from her husband. Hizdahr did not seem to be of a jealous nature, but no man would be pleased by the presence of a rival suitor near his new bride. "The boy seems pleasant and well spoken, but ..."
"House Martell is ancient and noble, and has been a leal friend to House Targaryen for more than a century, Your Grace. I had the honor of serving with Prince Quentyn's great-uncle in your father's seven. Prince Lewyn was as valiant a brother-in-arms as any man could wish for. Quentyn Martell is of the same blood, if it please Your Grace."
"It would please me if he had turned up with these fifty thousand swords he speaks of. Instead he brings two knights and a parchment. Will a parchment shield my people from the Yunkai'i? If he had come with a fleet ..."
"Sunspear has never been a sea power, Your Grace."
"No." Dany knew enough of Westerosi history to know that. Nymeria had landed ten thousand ships upon Dorne's sandy shores, but when she wed her Dornish prince she had burned them all and turned her back upon the sea forever. "Dorne is too far away. To please this prince, I would need to abandon all my people. You should send him home."
"Dornishmen are notoriously stubborn, Your Grace. Prince
Quentyn's forebears fought your own for the better part of two hundred years. He will not go without you."
Then he will die here, Daenerys thought, unless there is more to him than I can see. "Is he still within?"
"Drinking with his knights."
"Bring him to me. It is time he met my children."
A flicker of doubt passed across the long, solemn face of Barristan Selmy. "As you command."
Her king was laughing with Yurkhaz zo Yunzak and the other Yunkish lords. Dany did not think that he would miss her, but just in case she instructed her handmaids to tell him that she was answering a call of nature, should he inquire after her.
Ser Barristan was waiting by the steps with the Dornish prince. Martell's square face was flushed and ruddy. Too much wine, the queen concluded, though he was doing his best to conceal that. Apart from the line of copper suns that ornamented his belt, the Dornishman was plainly dressed. They call him Frog, Dany recalled. She could see why. He was not a handsome man.
She smiled. "My prince. It is a long way down. Are you certain that you wish to do this?"
"If it would please Your Grace."
A pair of Unsullied went down the steps before them, bearing torches; behind came two Brazen Beasts, one masked as a fish, the other as a hawk. Even here in her own pyramid, on this happy night of peace and celebration, Ser Barristan insisted on keeping guards about her everywhere she went. The small company made the long descent in silence, stopping thrice to refresh themselves along the way. "The dragon has three heads,"
when they were on the final flight. "My marriage need not be the end of all your hopes. I know why you are here."
"For you," said Quentyn, all awkward gallantry. "No," said Dany.
"For fire and blood."
One of the elephants trumpeted at them from his stall. An answering roar from below made her flush with sudden heat. Prince Quentyn looked up in alarm. "The dragons know when she is near," Ser Barristan told him. Every child knows its mother, Dany thought. When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves ... "They call to me. Come."
She took Prince Quentyn by the hand and led him to the pit where two of her dragons were confined. "Remain outside," Dany told Ser Barristan, as the Unsullied were opening the huge iron doors. "Prince Quentyn will protect me." She drew the Dornish prince inside with her, to stand above the pit. The dragons craned their necks around, gazing at them with burning eyes. Viserion had shattered one chain and melted the others. He clung to the roof of the pit like some huge white bat, his claws dug deep into the burnt and crumbling bricks. Rhaegal, still chained, was gnawing on the carcass of a bull. The bones on the floor of the pit were deeper than the last time she had been down here, and the walls and floors were black and grey, more ash than brick. They would not hold much longer ... but behind them was only earth and stone. Can dragons tunnel through rock, like the firewyrms of old Valyria? She hoped not.
The Dornish prince had gone as white as milk. "I ... I had heard that there were three."
"Drogon is hunting." He did not need to hear the rest. "The white one is Viserion, the green is Rhaegal. I named them for my brothers." Her voice echoed off the scorched stone walls. It sounded small - a girl's voice, not the voice of a queen and conqueror, nor the glad voice of a new-made bride.