Not for the first time, Selmy wondered at the strange fates that had brought him here. He was a knight of Westeros, a man of the stormlands and the Dornish marches; his place was in the Seven Kingdoms, not here upon the sweltering shores of Slaver's Bay. I came to bring Daenerys home. Yet he had lost her, just as he had lost her father and her brother. Even Robert. I failed him too.
Perhaps Hizdahr was wiser than he knew. Ten years ago I would have sensed what Daenerys meant to do. Ten years ago I would have been quick enough to stop her. Instead he had stood befuddled as she leapt into the pit, shouting her name, then running uselessly after her across the scarlet sands. I am become old and slow. Small wonder Naharis mocked him as Ser Grandfather. Would Daario have moved more quickly if he had been beside the queen that day? Selmy thought he knew the answer to that, though it was not one he liked.
He had dreamed of it again last night: Belwas on his knees retching up bile and blood, Hizdahr urging on the dragonslayers, men and women fleeing in terror, fighting on the steps, climbing over one another, screaming and shouting. And Daenerys ...
Her hair was aflame. She had the whip in her hand and she was shouting, then she was on the dragon' s back, flying. The sand that Drogon stirred as he took wing had stung Ser Barristan's eyes, but through a veil of tears he had watched the beast fly from the pit, his great black wings slapping at the shoulders of the bronze warriors at the gates. The rest he learned later. Beyond the gates had been a solid press of people. Maddened by the smell of dragon, horses below reared in terror, lashing out with iron-shod hooves. Food stalls and palanquins alike were overturned, men knocked down and trampled. Spears were thrown, cross-bows were fired. Some struck home. The dragon twisted violently in the air, wounds smoking, the girl clinging to his back. Then he loosed the fire.
It had taken the rest of the day and most of the night for the Brazen Beasts to gather up the corpses. The final count was two hundred fourteen slain, three times as many burned or wounded. Drogon was gone from the city by then, last seen high over the Skahazadhan, flying north. Of Daenerys Targaryen, no trace had been found. Some swore they saw her fall. Others insisted that the dragon had carried her off to devour her. They are wrong. Ser Barristan knew no more of dragons than the tales every child hears, but he knew Targaryens. Daenerys had been riding that dragon, as Aegon had once ridden Balerion of old.
"She might be flying home," he told himself, aloud. "No,"
murmured a soft voice behind him. "She would not do that, ser. She would not go home without us."
Ser Barristan turned. "Missandei. Child. How long have you been standing there?"
"Not long. This one is sorry if she has disturbed you." She hesitated.
"Skahaz mo Kandaq wishes words with you."
"The Shavepate? You spoke with him?" That was rash, rash. The enmity ran deep between Shakaz and the king, and the girl was clever enough to know that. Skahaz had been outspoken in his opposition to the queen's marriage, a fact Hizdahr had not forgotten. "Is he here? In the pyramid?"
"When he wishes. He comes and goes, ser."
Yes. He would. "Who told you he wants words with me?"
"A Brazen Beast. He wore an owl mask."
He wore an owl mask when he spoke to you. By now he could be a jackal, a tiger, a sloth. Ser Barristan had hated the masks from the start and never more than now. Honest men should never need to hide their faces. And the Shavepate ...
What could he be thinking? After Hizdahr had given command of the Brazen Beasts to his cousin Marghaz zo Loraq, Skahaz had been named Warden of the River, with charge of all the ferries, dredges, and irrigation ditches along the Skahazadhan for fifty leagues, but the Shavepate had refused that ancient and honorable office, as Hizdahr called it, preferring to retire to the modest pyramid of Kandaq. Without the queen to protect him, he takes a great risk coming here. And if Ser Barristan were seen speaking with him, suspicion might fall on the knight as well.
He did not like the taste of this. It smelled of deceit, of whispers and lies and plots hatched in the dark, all the things he'd hoped to leave behind with the Spider and Lord Littlefinger and their ilk. Barristan Selmy was not a bookish man, but he had often glanced through the pages of the White Book, where the deeds of his predecessors had been recorded. Some had been heroes, some weaklings, knaves, or cravens. Most were only men - quicker and stronger than most, more skilled with sword and shield, but still prey to pride, ambition, lust, love, anger, jealousy, greed for gold, hunger for power, and all the other failings that afflicted lesser mortals. The best of them overcame their flaws, did their duty, and died with their swords in their hands. The worst ...
The worst were those who played the game of thrones. "Can you find this owl again?" he asked Missandei.
"This one can try, ser."
"Tell him I will speak with ... with our friend ... after dark, by the stables." The pyramid's main doors were closed and barred at sunset. The stables would be quiet at that hour. "Make certain it is the same owl." It would not serve to have the wrong Brazen Beast hear of this.
"This one understands." Missandei turned as if to go, then paused a moment and said, "It is said that the Yunkai'i have ringed the city all about with scorpions, to loose iron bolts into the sky should Drogon return."
Ser Barristan had heard that too. "It is no simple thing to slay a dragon in the sky. In Westeros, many tried to bring down Aegon and his sisters. None succeeded."
Missandei nodded. It was hard to tell if she was reassured. "Do you think that they will find her, ser? The grasslands are so vast, and dragons leave no tracks across the sky."
"Aggo and Rakharo are blood of her blood ... and who knows the Doth raki sea better than Dothraki?" He squeezed her shoulder. "They will find her if she can be found." If she still lives. There were other khals who prowled the grass, horselords with khalasar s whose riders numbered in the tens of thousands. But the girl did not need to hear that. "You love her well, I know. I swear, I shall keep her safe."
The words seemed to give the girl some comfort. Words are wind, though, Ser Barristan thought. How can I protect the queen when I am not with her?
Barristan Selmy had known many kings. He had been born during the troubled reign of Aegon the Unlikely, beloved by the common folk, had received his knighthood at his hands. Aegon's son Jaehaerys had bestowed the white cloak on him when he was three-and-twenty, after he slew Maelys the Monstrous during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. In that same cloak he had stood beside the Iron Throne as madness consumed Jaehaerys's son Aerys. Stood, and saw, and heard, and yet did nothing. But no. That was not fair. He did his duty. Some nights, Ser Barristan wondered if he had not done that duty too well. He had sworn his vows before the eyes of gods and men, he could not in honor go against them ...
but the keeping of those vows had grown hard in the last years of King Aerys's reign. He had seen things that it pained him to recall, and more than once he wondered how much of the blood was on his own hands. If he had not gone into Duskendale to rescue Aerys from Lord Darklyn's dungeons, the king might well have died there as Tywin Lannister sacked the town. Then Prince Rhaegar would have ascended the Iron Throne, mayhaps to heal the realm. Duskendale had been his finest hour, yet the memory tasted bitter on his tongue.
It was his failures that haunted him at night, though. Jaehaerys, Aerys, Robert. Three dead kings. Rhaegar, who would have been a finer king than any of them. Princess Elia and the children. Aegon just a babe, Rhaenys with her kitten. Dead, every one, yet he still lived, who had sworn to protect them. And now Daenerys, his bright shining child queen. She is not dead. I will not believe it.
Afternoon brought Ser Barristan a brief respite from his doubts. He spent it in the training hall on the pyramid's third level, working with his boys, teaching them the art of sword and shield, horse and lance ... and chivalry, the code that made a knight more than any pit fighter. Daenerys would need protectors her own age about her after he was gone, and Ser Barristan was determined to give her such.
The lads he was instructing ranged in age from eight to twenty. He had started with more than sixty of them, but the training had proved too rigorous for many. Less than half that number now remained, but some showed great promise. With no king to guard, I will have more time to train them now, he realized as he walked from pair to pair, watching them go at one another with blunted swords and spears with rounded heads. Brave boys. Baseborn, aye, but some will make good knights, and they love the queen. If not for her, all of them would have ended in the pits. King Hizdahr has his pit fighters, but Daenerys will have knights.
"Keep your shield up," he called. "Show me your strokes. Together now. Low, high, low, low, high, low ..."
Selmy took his simple supper out onto the queen's terrace that night and ate it as the sun went down. Through the purple twilight he watched fires waken one by one in the great stepped pyramids, as the many-colored bricks of Meereen faded to grey and then to black. Shadows gathered in the streets and alleys below, making pools and rivers. In the dusk, the city seemed a tranquil place, even beautiful. That is pestilence, not peace, the old knight told himself with his last sip of wine.
He did not wish to be conspicuous, so when he was finished with his supper he changed out of his court clothes, trading the white cloak of the Queensguard for a hooded brown traveler's cloak such as any common man might wear. He kept his sword and dagger. This could still be some trap. He had little trust in Hizdahr and less in Reznak mo Reznak. The perfumed seneschal could well be part of this, trying to lure him into a secret meeting so he could sweep up him and Skahaz both and charge them with conspiring against the king. If the Shavepate speaks treason, he will leave me no choice but to arrest him. Hizdahr is my queen' s consort, however little I may like it. My duty is to him, not Skahaz.
Or was it?
The first duty of the Kingsguard was to defend the king from harm or threat. The white knights were sworn to obey the king's commands as well, to keep his secrets, counsel him when counsel was requested and keep silent when it was not, serve his pleasure and defend his name and honor. Strictly speaking, it was purely the king's choice whether or not to extend Kingsguard protection to others, even those of royal blood. Some kings thought it right and proper to dispatch Kingsguard to serve and defend their wives and children, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins of greater and lesser degree, and occasionally even their lovers, mistresses, and bastards. But others preferred to use household knights and men-at-arms for those purposes, whilst keeping their seven as their own personal guard, never far from their sides.
If the queen had commanded me to protect Hizdahr, I would have had no choice but to obey. But Daenerys Targaryen had never established a proper Queensguard even for herself nor issued any commands in respect to her consort. The world was simpler when I had a lord commander to decide such matters, Selmy reflected. Now I am the lord commander, and it is hard to know which path is right.
When at last he came to the bottom of the last flight of steps, he found himself all but alone amongst the torchlit corridors inside the pyramid's massive brick walls. The great gates were closed and barred, as he had anticipated. Four Brazen Beasts stood guard outside those doors, four more within. It was those that the old knight encountered - big men, masked as boar, bear, vole, and manticore.