"Walk," Dany commanded herself. "Follow the stream and it will take you to the Skahazadhan. That's where Daario will find you." But it took all her strength just to get back to her feet, and when she did all she could do was stand there, fevered and bleeding. She raised her eyes to the empty blue sky, squinting at the sun. Half the morning gone already, she realized, dismayed. She made herself take a step, and then another, and then she was walking once again, following the little stream.
The day grew warmer, and the sun beat down upon her head and the burnt remnants of her hair. Water splashed against the soles of her feet. She was walking in the stream. How long had she been doing that? The soft brown mud felt good between her toes and helped to soothe her blisters. In the stream or out of it, I must keep walking. Water flows downhill. The stream will take me to the river, and the river will take me home. Except it wouldn't, not truly.
Meereen was not her home, and never would be. It was a city of strange men with strange gods and stranger hair, of slavers wrapped in fringed tokar s, where grace was earned through whoring, butchery was art, and dog was a delicacy. Meereen would always be the Harpy's city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy.
Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you.
The voice was no more than a whisper, yet somehow Dany felt that he was walking just behind her. My bear, she thought, my old sweet bear, who loved me and betrayed me. She had missed him so. She wanted to see his ugly face, to wrap her arms around him and press herself against his chest, but she knew that if she turned around Ser Jorah would be gone. "I am dreaming," she said. "A waking dream, a walking dream. I am alone and lost."
Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Ser Jorah, as softly as the wind. Alone, because you sent me from your side.
"You betrayed me. You informed on me, for gold."
For home. Home was all I ever wanted. "And me. You wanted me."
Dany had seen it in his eyes.
I did, the grass whispered, sadly. "You kissed me. I never said you could, but you did. You sold me to my enemies, but you meant it when you kissed me."
I gave you good counsel. Save your spears and swords for the Seven Kingdoms, I told you. Leave Meereen to the Meereenese and go west, I said. You would not listen.
"I had to take Meereen or see my children starve along the march."
Dany could still see the trail of corpses she had left behind her crossing the Red Waste. It was not a sight she wished to see again. "I had to take Meereen to feed my people."
You took Meereen, he told her, yet still you lingered. "To be a queen."
You are a queen, her bear said. In Westeros. "It is such a long way,"
she complained. "I was tired, Jorah. I was weary of war. I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl."
No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
"Fire and Blood," Daenerys told the swaying grass.
A stone turned under her foot. She stumbled to one knee and cried out in pain, hoping against hope that her bear would gather her up and help her to her feet. When she turned her head to look for him, all she saw was trickling brown water ... and the grass, still moving slightly. The wind, she told herself, the wind shakes the stalks and makes them sway. Only no wind was blowing. The sun was overhead, the world still and hot. Midges swarmed in the air, and a dragonfly floated over the stream, darting here and there. And the grass was moving when it had no cause to move. She fumbled in the water, found a stone the size of her fist, pulled it from the mud. It was a poor weapon but better than an empty hand. From the corner of her eye Dany saw the grass move again, off to her right. The grass swayed and bowed low, as if before a king, but no king appeared to her. The world was green and empty. The world was green and silent. The world was yellow, dying. I should get up, she told herself. I have to walk. I have to follow the stream.
Through the grass came a soft silvery tinkling.
Bells, Dany thought, smiling, remembering Khal Drogo, her sunand-stars, and the bells he braided into his hair. When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves, when my womb quickens again and I bear a living child, Khal Drogo will return to me.
But none of those things had happened. Bells, Dany thought again. Her bloodriders had found her. "Aggo,"
Might Daario have come with them?
The green sea opened. A rider appeared. His braid was black and shiny, his skin as dark as burnished copper, his eyes the shape of bitter almonds. Bells sang in his hair. He wore a medallion belt and painted vest, with an arakh on one hip and a whip on the other. A hunting bow and a quiver of arrows were slung from his saddle.
One rider, and alone. A scout. He was one who rode before the khalasar to find the game and the good green grass, and sniff out foes wherever they might hide. If he found her there, he would kill her, rape her, or enslave her. At best, he would send her back to the crones of the dosh khaleen, where good khaleesi were supposed to go when their khals had died.
He did not see her, though. The grass concealed her, and he was looking elsewhere. Dany followed his eyes, and there the shadow flew, with wings spread wide. The dragon was a mile off, and yet the scout stood frozen until his stallion began to whicker in fear. Then he woke as if from a dream, wheeled his mount about, and raced off through the tall grass at a gallop.
Dany watched him go. When the sound of his hooves had faded away to silence, she began to shout. She called until her voice was hoarse ... and Drogon came, snorting plumes of smoke. The grass bowed down before him. Dany leapt onto his back. She stank of blood and sweat and fear, but none of that mattered. "To go forward I must go back," she said. Her bare legs tightened around the dragon's neck. She kicked him, and Drogon threw himself into the sky. Her whip was gone, so she used her hands and feet and turned him north by east, the way the scout had gone. Drogon went willingly enough; perhaps he smelled the rider's fear.
In a dozen heartbeats they were past the Dothraki, as he galloped far below. To the right and left, Dany glimpsed places where the grass was burned and ashen. Drogon has come this way before, she realized. Like a chain of grey islands, the marks of his hunting dotted the green grass sea. A vast herd of horses appeared below them. There were riders too, a score or more, but they turned and fled at the first sight of the dragon. The horses broke and ran when the shadow fell upon them, racing through the grass until their sides were white with foam, tearing the ground with their hooves ... but as swift as they were, they could not fly. Soon one horse began to lag behind the others. The dragon descended on him, roaring, and all at once the poor beast was aflame, yet somehow he kept on running, screaming with every step, until Drogon landed on him and broke his back. Dany clutched the dragon's neck with all her strength to keep from sliding off.
The carcass was too heavy for him to bear back to his lair, so Drogon consumed his kill there, tearing at the charred flesh as the grasses burned around them, the air thick with drifting smoke and the smell of burnt horsehair. Dany, starved, slid off his back and ate with him, ripping chunks of smoking meat from the dead horse with bare, burned hands. In Meereen I was a queen in silk, nibbling on stuffed dates and honeyed lamb, she remembered. What would my noble husband think if he could see me now?
Hizdahr would be horrified, no doubt. But Daario ...
Daario would laugh, carve off a hunk of horsemeat with his arakh, and squat down to eat beside her.
As the western sky turned the color of a blood bruise, she heard the sound of approaching horses. Dany rose, wiped her hands on her ragged undertunic, and went to stand beside her dragon.
That was how Khal Jhaqo found her, when half a hundred mounted warriors emerged from the drifting smoke.
I am no traitor," the Knight of Griffin's Roost declared. "I am King Tommen's man, and yours."
A steady drip-drip-drip punctuated his words, as snowmelt ran off his cloak to puddle on the floor. The snow had been falling on King's Landing most of the night; outside the drifts were ankle deep. Ser Kevan Lannister pulled his cloak about himself more closely. "So you say, ser. Words are wind."
"Then let me prove the truth of them with my sword." The light of the torches made a fiery blaze of Ronnet Connington's long red hair and beard. "Send me against my uncle, and I will bring you back his head, and the head of this false dragon too."
Lannister spearmen in crimson cloaks and lion-crested halfhelms stood along the west wall of the throne room. Tyrell guards in green cloaks faced them from the opposite wall. The chill in the throne room was palpable. Though neither Queen Cersei nor Queen Margaery was amongst them, their presence could be felt poisoning the air, like ghosts at a feast. Behind the table where the five members of the king's small council were seated, the Iron Throne crouched like some great black beast, its barbs and claws and blades half-shrouded in shadow. Kevan Lannister could feel it at his back, an itch between the shoulder blades. It was easy to imagine old King Aerys perched up there, bleeding from some fresh cut, glowering down. But today the throne was empty. He had seen no reason for Tommen to join them. Kinder to let the boy remain with his mother. The Seven only knew how long mother and son might have together before Cersei's trial ... and possibly her execution.
Mace Tyrell was speaking. "We shall deal with your uncle and his feigned boy in due time." The new King's Hand was seated on an oaken throne carved in the shape of a hand, an absurd vanity his lordship had produced the day Ser Kevan agreed to grant him the office he coveted.
"You will bide here until we are ready to march. Then you shall have the chance to prove your loyalty."
Ser Kevan took no issue with that. "Escort Ser Ronnet back to his chambers," he said. And see that he remains there went unspoken. However loud his protestations, the Knight of Griffin's Roost remained suspect. Supposedly the sellswords who had landed in the south were being led by one of his own blood.
As the echoes of Connington's footsteps faded away, Grand Maester Pycelle gave a ponderous shake of his head. "His uncle once stood just where the boy was standing now and told King Aerys how he would deliver him the head of Robert Baratheon."
That is how it is when a man grows as old as Pycelle. Everything you see or hear reminds you of something you saw or heard when you were young. "How many men-at-arms accompanied Ser Ronnet to the city?" Ser Kevan asked.
"Twenty," said Lord Randyll Tarly, "and most of them Gregor Clegane's old lot. Your nephew Jaime gave them to Connington. To rid himself of them, I'd wager. They had not been in Maidenpool a day before one killed a man and another was accused of rape. I had to hang the one and geld the other. If it were up to me, I would send them all to the Night's Watch, and Connington with them. The Wall is where such scum belong."