Her brother Viserys had once feasted the captains of the Golden Company, in hopes they might take up his cause. They ate his food and heard his pleas and laughed at him. Dany had only been a little girl, but she remembered. "I have sellswords too."
"Two companies. The Yunkai'i will send twenty against you if they must. And when they march, they will not march alone. Tolos and Mantarys have agreed to an alliance."
That was ill news, if true. Daenerys had sent missions to Tolos and Mantarys, hoping to find new friends to the west to balance the enmity of Yunkai to the south. Her envoys had not returned. "Meereen has made alliance with Lhazar."
That only made him chuckle. "The Dothraki horselords call the Lhazarene the Lamb Men. When you shear them, all they do is bleat. They are not a martial people."
Even a sheepish friend is better than none. "The Wise Masters should follow their example. I spared Yunkai before, but I will not make that mistake again. If they should dare attack me, this time I shall raze their Yellow City to the ground."
"And whilst you are razing Yunkai, my sweet, Meereen shall rise behind you. Do not close your eyes to your peril, Daenerys. Your eunuchs are fine soldiers, but they are too few to match the hosts that Yunkai will send against you, once Astapor has fallen."
"My freedman - " Dany started. "Bedslaves, barbers, and brickmakers win no battles."
He was wrong in that, she hoped. The freedmen had been a rabble once, but she had organized the men of fighting age into companies and commanded Grey Worm to make them into soldiers. Let him think what he will. "Have you forgotten? I have dragons. "
"Do you? In Qarth, you were seldom seen without a dragon on your shoulder ... yet now that shapely shoulder is as fair and bare as your sweet breast, I observe."
"My dragons have grown, my shoulders have not. They range far afield, hunting." Hazzea, forgive me. She wondered how much Xaro knew, what whispers he had heard. "Ask the Good Masters of Astapor about my dragons if you doubt them." I saw a slaver' s eyes melt and go running down his cheeks. "Tell me true, old friend, why did you seek me out if not to trade?"
"To bring a gift, for the queen of my heart."
"Say on." What trap is this, now? "The gift you begged of me in Qarth. Ships. There are thirteen galleys in the bay. Yours, if you will have them. I have brought you a fleet, to carry you home to Westeros."
A fleet. It was more than she could hope for, so of course it made her wary. In Qarth, Xaro had offered her thirty ships ... for a dragon. "And what price do you ask for these ships?"
"None. I no longer lust for dragons. I saw their work at Astapor on my way here, when my Silken Cloud put in for water. The ships are yours, sweet queen. Thirteen galleys, and men to pull the oars."
Thirteen. To be sure. Xaro was one of the Thirteen. No doubt he had convinced each of his fellow members to give up one ship. She knew the merchant prince too well to think that he would sacrifice thirteen of his own ships. "I must consider this. May I inspect these ships?"
"You have grown suspicious, Daenerys."
Always. "I have grown wise, Xaro."
"Inspect all you wish. When you are satisfied, swear to me that you shall return to Westeros forthwith, and the ships are yours. Swear by your dragons and your seven-faced god and the ashes of your fathers, and go. "
"And if I should decide to wait a year, or three?"
A mournful look crossed Xaro's face. "That would make me very sad, my sweet delight ... for young and strong as you now seem, you shall not live so long. Not here."
He offers the honeycomb with one hand and shows the whip with the other. "The Yunkai'i are not so fearsome as all that."
"Not all your enemies are in the Yellow City. Beware men with cold hearts and blue lips. You had not been gone from Qarth a fortnight when Pyat Pree set out with three of his fellow warlocks, to seek for you in Pentos."
Dany was more amused than afraid. "It is good I turned aside, then. Pentos is half a world from Meereen."
"This is so," he allowed, "yet soon or late word must reach them of the dragon queen of Slaver's Bay."
"Is that meant to frighten me? I lived in fear for fourteen years, my lord. I woke afraid each morning and went to sleep afraid each night ... but my fears were burned away the day I came forth from the fire. Only one thing frightens me now."
"And what is it that you fear, sweet queen?"
"I am only a foolish young girl." Dany rose on her toes and kissed his cheek. "But not so foolish as to tell you that. My men shall look at these ships. Then you shall have my answer."
"As you say." He touched her bare breast lightly, and whispered,
"Let me stay and help persuade you."
For a moment she was tempted. Perhaps the dancers had stirred her after all. I could close my eyes and pretend that he was Daario. A dream Daario would be safer than the real one. But she pushed the thought aside.
"No, my lord. I thank you, but no." Dany slipped from his arms. "Some other night, perhaps."
"Some other night." His mouth was sad, but his eyes seemed more relieved than disappointed.
If I were a dragon, I could fly to Westeros, she thought when he was gone. I would have no need of Xaro or his ships. Dany wondered how many men thirteen galleys could hold. It had taken three to carry her and her khalasar from Qarth to Astapor, but that was before she had acquired eight thousand Unsullied, a thousand sellswords, and a vast horde of freedmen. And the dragons, what am I to do with them? "Drogon," she whispered softly, "where are you?" For a moment she could almost see him sweeping across the sky, his black wings swallowing the stars.
She turned her back upon the night, to where Barristan Selmy stood silent in the shadows. "My brother once told me a Westerosi riddle. Who listens to everything yet hears nothing?"
"A knight of the Kingsguard." Selmy's voice was solemn. "You heard Xaro make his offer?"
"I did, Your Grace." The old knight took pains not to look at her bare breast as he spoke to her.
Ser Jorah would not turn his eyes away. He loved me as a woman, where Ser Barristan loves me only as his queen. Mormont had been an informer, reporting to her enemies in Westeros, yet he had given her good counsel too. "What do you think of it? Of him?"
"Of him, little and less. These ships, though ... Your Grace, with these ships we might be home before year's end."
Dany had never known a home. In Braavos, there had been a house with a red door, but that was all. "Beware of Qartheen bearing gifts, especially merchants of the Thirteen. There is some trap here. Perhaps these ships are rotten, or ..."
"If they were so unseaworthy, they could not have crossed the sea from Qarth," Ser Barristan pointed out, "but Your Grace was wise to insist upon inspection. I will take Admiral Groleo to the galleys at first light with his captains and two score of his sailors. We can crawl over every inch of those ships."
It was good counsel. "Yes, make it so." Westeros. Home. But if she left, what would happen to her city? Meereen was never your city, her brother's voice seemed to whisper. Your cities are across the sea. Your Seven Kingdoms, where your enemies await you. You were born to serve them blood and fire.
Ser Barristan cleared his throat and said, "This warlock that the merchant spoke of ..."
"Pyat Pree." She tried to recall his face, but all she could see were his lips. The wine of the warlocks had turned them blue.
Shade-of-the-evening, it was called. "If a warlock's spell could kill me, I would be dead by now. I left their palace all in ashes." Drogon saved me when they would have drained my life from me. Drogon burned them all.
"As you say, Your Grace. Still. I will be watchful."
She kissed him on the cheek. "I know you will. Come, walk me back down to the feast."
The next morning Dany woke as full of hope as she had been since first she came to Slaver's Bay. Daario would soon be at her side once more, and together they would sail for Westeros. For home. One of her young hostages brought her morning meal, a plump shy girl named Mezzara, whose father ruled the pyramid of Merreq, and Dany gave her a happy hug and thanked her with a kiss.
"Xaro Xhoan Daxos has offered me thirteen galleys," she told Irri and Jhiqui as they were dressing her for court.
"Thirteen is a bad number, Khaleesi, " murmured Jhiqui, in the Dothraki tongue. "It is known."
"It is known," Irri agreed. "Thirty would be better," Daenerys agreed. "Three hundred better still. But thirteen may suffice to carry us to Westeros."
The two Dothraki girls exchanged a look. "The poison water is accursed, Khaleesi, " said Irri. "Horses cannot drink it."
"I do not intend to drink it," Dany promised them.
Only four petitioners awaited her that morning. As ever, Lord Ghael was the first to present himself, looking even more wretched than usual.
"Your Radiance," he moaned, as he fell to the marble at her feet, "the armies of the Yunkai'i descend on Astapor. I beg you, come south with all your strength!"
"I warned your king that this war of his was folly," Dany reminded him. "He would not listen."
"Great Cleon sought only to strike down the vile slavers of Yunkai."
"Great Cleon is a slaver himself."
"I know that the Mother of Dragons will not abandon us in our hour of peril. Lend us your Unsullied to defend our walls."
And if I do, who will defend my walls? "Many of my freedmen were slaves in Astapor. Perhaps some will wish to help defend your king. That is their choice, as free men. I gave Astapor its freedom. It is up to you to defend it."
"We are all dead, then. You gave us death, not freedom." Ghael leapt to his feet and spat into her face.
Strong Belwas seized him by the shoulder and slammed him down onto the marble so hard that Dany heard Ghael's teeth crack. The Shavepate would have done worse, but she stopped him.
"Enough," she said, dabbing at her cheek with the end of her tokar.
"No one has ever died from spittle. Take him away."
They dragged him out feet first, leaving several broken teeth and a trail of blood behind. Dany would gladly have sent the rest of the petitioners away ... but she was still their queen, so she heard them out and did her best to give them justice.
Late that afternoon Admiral Groleo and Ser Barristan returned from their inspection of the galleys. Dany assembled her council to hear them. Grey Worm was there for the Unsullied, Skahaz mo Kandaq for the Brazen Beasts. In the absence of her bloodriders, a wizened jaqqa rhan called Rommo, squint-eyed and bowlegged, came to speak for her Dothraki. Her freedmen were represented by the captains of the three companies she had formed - Mollono Yos Dob of the Stalwart Shields, Symon Stripe-back of the Free Brothers, Marselen of the Mother's Men. Reznak mo Reznak hovered at the queen's elbow, and Strong Belwas stood behind her with his huge arms crossed. Dany would not lack for counsel.
Groleo had been a most unhappy man since they had broken up his ship to build the siege engines that won Meereen for her. Dany had tried to console him by naming him her lord admiral, but it was a hollow honor; the Meereenese fleet had sailed for Yunkai when Dany's host approached the city, so the old Pentoshi was an admiral without ships. Yet now he was smiling through his ragged salt-streaked beard in a way that the queen could scarce remember.