A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 31

Missandei was only a child. With her, she felt as if she could be a child too. "No one ever kept me safe when I was little. Well, Ser Willem did, but then he died, and Viserys ... I want to protect you but ... it is so hard. To be strong. I don't always know what I should do. I must know, though. I am all they have. I am the queen ... the ... the ..."

"... mother," whispered Missandei. "Mother to dragons." Dany shivered. "No. Mother to us all." Missandei hugged her tighter. "Your Grace should sleep. Dawn will be here soon, and court."

"We'll both sleep, and dream of sweeter days. Close your eyes."

When she did, Dany kissed her eyelids and made her giggle. Kisses came easier than sleep, however. Dany shut her eyes and tried to think of home, of Dragonstone and King's Landing and all the other places that Viserys had told her of, in a kinder land than this ... but her thoughts kept turning back to Slaver's Bay, like ships caught in some bitter wind. When Missandei was sound asleep, Dany slipped from her arms and stepped out into the predawn air to lean upon the cool brick parapet and gaze out across the city. A thousand roofs stretched out below her, painted in shades of ivory and silver by the moon.

Somewhere beneath those roofs, the Sons of the Harpy were gathered, plotting ways to kill her and all those who loved her and put her children back in chains. Somewhere down there a hungry child was crying for milk. Somewhere an old woman lay dying. Somewhere a man and a maid embraced, and fumbled at each other's clothes with eager hands. But up here there was only the sheen of moonlight on pyramids and pits, with no hint what lay beneath. Up here there was only her, alone.

She was the blood of the dragon. She could kill the Sons of the Harpy, and the sons of the sons, and the sons of the sons of the sons. But a dragon could not feed a hungry child nor help a dying woman's pain. And who would ever dare to love a dragon?

She found herself thinking of Daario Naharis once again, Daario with his gold tooth and trident beard, his strong hands resting on the hilts of his matched arakh and stiletto, hilts wrought of gold in the shape of naked women. The day he took his leave of her, as she was bidding him farewell, he had brushed the balls of his thumbs lightly across them, back and forth. I am jealous of a sword hilt, she had realized, of women made of gold. Sending him to the Lamb Men had been wise. She was a queen, and Daario Naharis was not the stuff of kings.

"It has been so long," she had said to Ser Barristan, just yesterday.

"What if Daario has betrayed me and gone over to my enemies?" Three treasons will you know. "What if he met another woman, some princess of the Lhazarene?"

The old knight neither liked nor trusted Daario, she knew. Even so, he had answered gallantly. "There is no woman more lovely than Your Grace. Only a blind man could believe otherwise, and Daario Naharis was not blind."

No, she thought. His eyes are a deep blue, almost purple, and his gold tooth gleams when he smiles for me.

Ser Barristan was sure he would return, though. Dany could only pray that he was right.

A bath will help soothe me. She padded barefoot through the grass to her terrace pool. The water felt cool on her skin, raising goosebumps. Little fish nibbled at her arms and legs. She closed her eyes and floated. A soft rustle made her open them again. She sat up with a soft splash.

"Missandei?" she called. "Irri? Jhiqui?"

"They sleep," came the answer.

A woman stood under the persimmon tree, clad in a hooded robe that brushed the grass. Beneath the hood, her face seemed hard and shiny. She is wearing a mask, Dany knew, a wooden mask finished in dark red lacquer.

"Quaithe? Am I dreaming?" She pinched her ear and winced at the pain.

"I dreamt of you on Balerion, when first we came to Astapor."

"You did not dream. Then or now."

"What are you doing here? How did you get past my guards?"

"I came another way. Your guards never saw me."

"If I call out, they will kill you."

"They will swear to you that I am not here."

"Are you here?"

"No. Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal."

"Reznak? Why should I fear him?" Dany rose from the pool. Water trickled down her legs, and gooseflesh covered her arms in the cool night air.

"If you have some warning for me, speak plainly. What do you want of me, Quaithe?"

Moonlight shone in the woman's eyes. "To show you the way."

"I remember the way. I go north to go south, east to go west, back to go forward. And to touch the light I have to pass beneath the shadow." She squeezed the water from her silvery hair. "I am half-sick of riddling. In Qarth I was a beggar, but here I am a queen. I command you - "

"Daenerys. Remember the Undying. Remember who you are."

"The blood of the dragon." But my dragons are roaring in the darkness. "I remember the Undying. Child of three, they called me. Three mounts they promised me, three fires, and three treasons. One for blood and one for gold and one for ..."

"Your Grace?" Missandei stood in the door of the queen's

bedchamber, a lantern in her hand. "Who are you talking to?"

Dany glanced back toward the persimmon tree. There was no woman there. No hooded robe, no lacquer mask, no Quaithe.

A shadow. A memory. No one. She was the blood of the dragon, but Ser Barristan had warned her that in that blood there was a taint. Could I be going mad? They had called her father mad, once. "I was praying," she told the Naathi girl. "It will be light soon. I had best eat something, before court."

"I will bring you food to break your fast."

Alone again, Dany went all the way around the pyramid in hopes of finding Quaithe, past the burned trees and scorched earth where her men had tried to capture Drogon. But the only sound was the wind in the fruit trees, and the only creatures in the gardens were a few pale moths. Missandei returned with a melon and a bowl of hard-cooked eggs, but Dany found she had no appetite. As the sky lightened and the stars faded one by one, Irri and Jhiqui helped her don a tokar of violet silk fringed in gold. When Reznak and Skahaz appeared, she found herself looking at them askance, mindful of the three treasons. Beware the perfumed seneschal. She sniffed suspiciously at Reznak mo Reznak. I could command the Shavepate to arrest him and put him to the question. Would that forestall the prophecy?

Or would some other betrayer take his place? Prophecies are treacherous, she reminded herself, and Reznak may be no more than he appears. In the purple hall, Dany found her ebon bench piled high about with satin pillows. The sight brought a wan smile to her lips. Ser Barristan' s work, she knew. The old knight was a good man, but sometimes very literal. It was only a jape, ser, she thought, but she sat on one of the pillows just the same.

Her sleepless night soon made itself felt. Before long she was fighting off a yawn as Reznak prattled about the craftsmen's guilds. The stonemasons were wroth with her, it seemed. The bricklayers as well. Certain former slaves were carving stone and laying bricks, stealing work from guild journeymen and masters alike. "The freedmen work too cheaply, Magnificence," Reznak said. "Some call themselves journeymen, or even masters, titles that belong by rights only to the craftsmen of the guilds. The masons and the bricklayers do respectfully petition Your Worship to uphold their ancient rights and customs."

"The freedmen work cheaply because they are hungry," Dany

pointed out. "If I forbid them to carve stone or lay bricks, the chandlers, the weavers, and the goldsmiths will soon be at my gates asking that they be excluded from those trades as well." She considered a moment. "Let it be written that henceforth only guild members shall be permitted to name themselves journeymen or masters ... provided the guilds open their rolls to any freedman who can demonstrate the requisite skills."

"So shall it be proclaimed," said Reznak. "Will it please Your Worship to hear the noble Hizdahr zo Loraq?"

Will he never admit defeat? "Let him step forth."

Hizdahr was not in a tokar today. Instead he wore a simple robe of grey and blue. He was shorn as well. He has shaved off his beard and cut his hair, she realized. The man had not gone shavepate, not quite, but at least those absurd wings of his were gone. "Your barber has served you well, Hizdahr. I hope you have come to show me his work and not to plague me further about the fighting pits."

He made a deep obeisance. "Your Grace, I fear I must."

Dany grimaced. Even her own people would give no rest about the matter. Reznak mo Reznak stressed the coin to be made through taxes. The Green Grace said that reopening the pits would please the gods. The Shavepate felt it would win her support against the Sons of the Harpy. "Let them fight," grunted Strong Belwas, who had once been a champion in the pits. Ser Barristan suggested a tourney instead; his orphans could ride at rings and fight a mêlée with blunted weapons, he said, a suggestion Dany knew was as hopeless as it was well-intentioned. It was blood the Meereenese yearned to see, not skill. Elsewise the fighting slaves would have worn armor. Only the little scribe Missandei seemed to share the queen's misgivings.

"I have refused you six times," Dany reminded Hizdahr. "Your Radiance has seven gods, so perhaps she will look upon my seventh plea with favor. Today I do not come alone. Will you hear my friends? There are seven of them as well."

He brought them forth one by one. "Here is Khrazz.

Here Barsena Blackhair, ever valiant. Here Camarron of the Count and Goghor the Giant. This is the Spotted Cat, this Fearless Ithoke. Last, Belaquo Bonebreaker. They have come to add their voices to mine own, and ask Your Grace to let our fighting pits reopen."

Dany knew his seven, by name if not by sight. All had been amongst the most famed of Meereen's fighting slaves ... and it had been the fighting slaves, freed from their shackles by her sewer rats, who led the uprising that won the city for her. She owed them a blood debt. "I will hear you," she allowed.

One by one, each of them asked her to let the fighting pits reopen.

"Why?" she demanded, when Ithoke had finished. "You are no longer slaves, doomed to die at a master's whim. I freed you. Why should you wish to end your lives upon the scarlet sands?"

"I train since three," said Goghor the Giant. "I kill since six. Mother of Dragons says I am free. Why not free to fight?"

"If it is fighting you want, fight for me. Swear your sword to the Mother's Men or the Free Brothers or the Stalwart Shields. Teach my other freedmen how to fight."

Goghor shook his head. "Before, I fight for master. You say, fight for you. I say, fight for me." The huge man thumped his chest with a fist as big as a ham. "For gold. For glory."

"Goghor speaks for us all." The Spotted Cat wore a leopard skin across one shoulder. "The last time I was sold, the price was three hundred thousand honors. When I was a slave, I slept on furs and ate red meat off the bone. Now that I'm free, I sleep on straw and eat salt fish, when I can get it."

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