Ser Archibald grimaced. "Rags and Tatters is more like to give the two of us to Pretty Meris. He won't do it."
"Why not? The task is simple enough." Compared to stealing dragons. "I once brought the queen's father out of Duskendale."
"That was Westeros," said Gerris Drinkwater. "This is Meereen."
"Arch cannot even hold a sword with those hands."
"He ought not need to. You will have the sellswords with you, unless I mistake my man."
Gerris Drinkwater pushed back his mop of sun-streaked hair. "Might we have some time to discuss this amongst ourselves?"
"No," said Selmy. "I'll do it," offered Ser Archibald, "just so long as there's no bloody boats involved. Drink will do it too." He grinned.
"He don't know it yet, but he will."
And that was done.
The simple part, at least, thought Barristan Selmy, as he made the long climb back to the summit of the pyramid. The hard part he'd left in Dornish hands. His grandfather would have been aghast. The Dornishmen were knights, at least in name, though only Yronwood impressed him as having the true steel. Drinkwater had a pretty face, a glib tongue, and a fine head of hair.
By the time the old knight returned to the queen's rooms atop the pyramid, Prince Quentyn's corpse had been removed. Six of the young cup-bearers were playing some child's game as he entered, sitting in a circle on the floor as they took turns spinning a dagger. When it wobbled to a stop they cut a lock of hair off whichever of them the blade was pointing at. Ser Barristan had played a similar game with his cousins when he was just a boy at Harvest Hall ... though in Westeros, as he recalled, kissing had been involved as well. "Bhakaz," he called. "A cup of wine, if you would be so good. Grazhar, Azzak, the door is yours. I am expecting the Green Grace. Show her in at once when she arrives. Elsewise, I do not wish to be disturbed."
Azzak scrambled to his feet. "As you command, Lord Hand."
Ser Barristan went out onto the terrace. The rain had stopped, though a wall of slate-grey clouds hid the setting sun as it made its descent into Slaver's Bay. A few wisps of smoke still rose from the blackened stones of Hazdar, twisted like ribbons by the wind. Far off to the east, beyond the city walls, he saw pale wings moving above a distant line of hills. Viserion. Hunting, mayhaps, or flying just to fly. He wondered where Rhaegal was. Thus far the green dragon had shown himself to be more dangerous than the white.
When Bhakaz brought his wine, the old knight took one long swallow and sent the boy for water. A few cups of wine might be just the thing to help him sleep, but he would need his wits about him when Galazza Galare returned from treating with the foe. So he drank his wine well watered, as the world grew dark around him. He was very tired, and full of doubts. The Dornishmen, Hizdahr, Reznak, the attack ... was he doing the right things?
Was he doing what Daenerys would have wanted? I was not made for this. Other Kingsguard had served as Hand before him. Not many, but a few. He had read of them in the White Book. Now he found himself wondering whether they had felt as lost and confused as he did.
"Lord Hand." Grazhar stood in the door, a taper in his hand. "The Green Grace has come. You asked to be told."
"Show her in. And light some candles."
Galazza Galare was attended by four Pink Graces. An aura of wisdom and dignity seemed to surround her that Ser Barristan could not help but admire. This is a strong woman, and she has been a faithful friend to Daenerys. "Lord Hand," she said, her face hidden behind shimmering green veils. "May I sit? These bones are old and weary."
"Grazhar, a chair for the Green Grace." The Pink Graces arrayed themselves behind her, with eyes lowered and hands clasped before them.
"May I offer you refreshment?" asked Ser Barristan.
"That would be most welcome, Ser Barristan. My throat is dry from talking. A juice, perhaps?"
"As you wish." He beckoned to Kezmya and had her fetch the priestess a goblet of lemon juice, sweetened with honey. To drink it, the priestess had to remove her veil, and Selmy was reminded of just how old she was. Twenty years my elder, or more. "If the queen were here, I know she would join me in thanking you for all that you have done for us."
"Her Magnificence has always been most gracious." Galazza Galare finished her drink and fastened up her veil again. "Have there been any further tidings of our sweet queen?"
"None as yet."
"I shall pray for her. And what of King Hizdahr, if I may be so bold?
Might I be permitted to see His Radiance?"
"Soon, I hope. He is unharmed, I promise you."
"I am pleased to hear that. The Wise Masters of Yunkai asked after him. You will not be surprised to hear that they wish the noble Hizdahr to be restored at once to his rightful place."
"He shall be, if it can be proved that he did not try to kill our queen. Until such time, Meereen will be ruled by a council of the loyal and just. There is a place for you on that council. I know that you have much to teach us all, Your Benevolence. We need your wisdom."
"I fear you flatter me with empty courtesies, Lord Hand," the Green Grace said. "If you truly think me wise, heed me now. Release the noble Hizdahr and restore him to his throne."
"Only the queen can do that."
Beneath her veils, the Green Grace sighed. "The peace that we worked so hard to forge flutters like a leaf in an autumn wind. These are dire days. Death stalks our streets, riding the pale mare from thrice-cursed Astapor. Dragons haunt the skies, feasting on the flesh of children. Hundreds are taking ship, sailing for Yunkai, for Tolos, for Qarth, for any refuge that will have them. The pyramid of Hazkar has collapsed into a smoking ruin, and many of that ancient line lie dead beneath its blackened stones. The pyramids of Uhlez and Yherizan have become the lairs of monsters, their masters homeless beggars. My people have lost all hope and turned against the gods themselves, giving over their nights to drunkenness and fornication."
"And murder. The Sons of the Harpy slew thirty in the night."
"I grieve to hear this. All the more reason to free the noble Hizdahr zo Loraq, who stopped such killings once."
And how did he accomplish that, unless he is himself the Harpy?
"Her Grace gave her hand to Hizdahr zo Loraq, made him her king and consort, restored the mortal art as he beseeched her. In return he gave her poisoned locusts."
"In return he gave her peace. Do not cast it away, ser, I beg you. Peace is the pearl beyond price. Hizdahr is of Loraq. Never would he soil his hands with poison. He is innocent."
"How can you be certain?" Unless you know the poisoner. "The gods of Ghis have told me."
"My gods are the Seven, and the Seven have been silent on this matter. Your Wisdom, did you present my offer?"
"To all the lords and captains of Yunkai, as you commanded me ...
yet I fear you will not like their answer."
"They did. No amount of gold will buy your people back, I was told. Only the blood of dragons may set them free again."
It was the answer Ser Barristan had expected, if not the one that he had hoped for. His mouth tightened.
"I know these were not the words you wished to hear," said Galazza Galare. "Yet for myself, I understand. These dragons are fell beasts. Yunkai fears them ... and with good cause, you cannot deny. Our histories speak of the dragonlords of dread Valyria and the devastation that they wrought upon the peoples of Old Ghis. Even your own young queen, fair Daenerys who called herself the Mother of Dragons ... we saw her burning, that day in the pit ... even she was not safe from the dragon's wroth."
"Her Grace is not ... she ..."
"... is dead. May the gods grant her sweet sleep." Tears glistened behind her veils. "Let her dragons die as well."
Selmy was groping for an answer when he heard the sound of heavy footsteps. The door burst inward, and Skahaz mo Kandaq stormed in with four Brazen Beasts behind him. When Grazhar tried to block his path, he slammed the boy aside.
Ser Barristan was on his feet at once. "What is it?"
"The trebuchets," the Shavepate growled. "All six."
Galazza Galare rose. "Thus does Yunkai make reply to your offers, ser. I warned you that you would not like their answer."
They choose war, then. So be it. Ser Barristan felt oddly relieved. War he understood. "If they think they will break Meereen by throwing stones - "
"Not stones." The old woman's voice was full of grief, of fear.
The hill was a stony island in a sea of green.
It took Dany half the morning to climb down. By the time she reached the bottom she was winded. Her muscles ached, and she felt as if she had the beginnings of a fever. The rocks had scraped her hands raw. They are better than they were, though, she decided as she picked at a broken blister. Her skin was pink and tender, and a pale milky fluid was leaking from her cracked palms, but her burns were healing.
The hill loomed larger down here. Dany had taken to calling it Drag-onstone, after the ancient citadel where she'd been born. She had no memories of that Dragonstone, but she would not soon forget this one. Scrub grass and thorny bushes covered its lower slopes; higher up a jagged tangle of bare rock thrust steep and sudden into the sky. There, amidst broken boulders, razor-sharp ridges, and needle spires, Drogon made his lair inside a shallow cave. He had dwelt there for some time, Dany had realized when she first saw the hill. The air smelled of ash, every rock and tree in sight was scorched and blackened, the ground strewn with burned and broken bones, yet it had been home to him.
Dany knew the lure of home.
Two days ago, climbing on a spire of rock, she had spied water to the south, a slender thread that glittered briefly as the sun was going down. A stream, Dany decided. Small, but it would lead her to a larger stream, and that stream would flow into some little river, and all the rivers in this part of the world were vassals of the Skahazadhan. Once she found the Skahazadhan she need only follow it downstream to Slaver's Bay. She would sooner have returned to Meereen on dragon's wings, to be sure. But that was a desire Drogon did not seem to share.
The dragonlords of old Valyria had controlled their mounts with binding spells and sorcerous horns. Daenerys made do with a word and a whip. Mounted on the dragon's back, she oft felt as if she were learning to ride all over again. When she whipped her silver mare on her right flank the mare went left, for a horse's first instinct is to flee from danger. When she laid the whip across Drogon's right side he veered right, for a dragon's first instinct is always to attack. Sometimes it did not seem to matter where she struck him, though; sometimes he went where he would and took her with him. Neither whip nor words could turn Drogon if he did not wish to be turned. The whip annoyed him more than it hurt him, she had come to see; his scales had grown harder than horn.
And no matter how far the dragon flew each day, come nightfall some instinct drew him home to Dragonstone. His home, not mine. Her home was back in Meereen, with her husband and her lover. That was where she belonged, surely.