"The ships are sound, then?" she said, hoping. "Sound enough, Your Grace. They are old ships, aye, but most are well maintained. The hull of the Pureborn Princess is worm-eaten. I'd not want to take her beyond the sight of land. The Narraqqa could stand a new rudder and lines, and the Banded Lizard has some cracked oars, but they will serve. The rowers are slaves, but if we offer them an honest oarsman's wage, most will stay with us. Rowing's all they know. Those who leave can be replaced from my own crews. It is a long hard voyage to Westeros, but these ships are sound enough to get us there, I'd judge."
Reznak mo Reznak gave a piteous moan. "Then it is true. Your Worship means to abandon us." He wrung his hands. "The Yunkai'i will restore the Great Masters the instant you are gone, and we who have so faithfully served your cause will be put to the sword, our sweet wives and maiden daughters raped and enslaved."
"Not mine," grumbled Skahaz Shavepate. "I will kill them first, with mine own hand." He slapped his sword hilt.
Dany felt as if he had slapped her face instead. "If you fear what may follow when I leave, come with me to Westeros."
"Wherever the Mother of Dragons goes, the Mother's Men will go as well," announced Marselen, Missandei's remaining brother.
"How?" asked Symon Stripeback, named for the tangle of scars that ridged his back and shoulders, a reminder of the whippings he had suffered as a slave in Astapor. "Thirteen ships ... that's not enough. A hundred ships might not be enough."
"Wooden horses are no good," objected Rommo, the old jaqqa rhan.
"Dothraki will ride."
"These ones could march overland along the shore," suggested Grey Worm. "The ships could keep pace and resupply the column."
"That might serve until you reached the ruins of Bhorash," said the Shavepate. "Beyond that, your ships would need to turn south past Tolos and the Isle of Cedars and sail around Valyria, whilst the foot continued on to Mantarys by the old dragon road."
"The demon road, they call it now," said Mollono Yos Dob. The plump commander of the Stalwart Shields looked more like a scribe than a soldier, with his inky hands and heavy paunch, but he was as clever as they came. "Many and more of us would die."
"Those left behind in Meereen would envy them their easy deaths,"
moaned Reznak. "They will make slaves of us, or throw us in the pits. All will be as it was, or worse."
"Where is your courage?" Ser Barristan lashed out. "Her Grace freed you from your chains. It is for you to sharpen your swords and defend your own freedom when she leaves."
"Brave words, from one who means to sail into the sunset," Symon Stripeback snarled back. "Will you look back at our dying?"
"Your Grace - "
"Magnificence - "
"Your Worship - "
"Enough. " Dany slapped the table. "No one will be left to die. You are all my people." Her dreams of home and love had blinded her. "I will not abandon Meereen to the fate of Astapor. It grieves me to say so, but Westeros must wait."
Groleo was aghast. "We must accept these ships. If we refuse this gift ..."
Ser Barristan went to one knee before her. "My queen, your realm has need of you. You are not wanted here, but in Westeros men will flock to your banners by the thousands, great lords and noble knights. ' She is come, ' they will shout to one another, in glad voices. ' Prince Rhaegar's sister has come home at last. ' "
"If they love me so much, they will wait for me." Dany stood.
"Reznak, summon Xaro Xhoan Daxos."
She received the merchant prince alone, seated on her bench of polished ebony, on the cushions Ser Barristan had brought her. Four Qartheen sailors accompanied him, bearing a rolled tapestry upon their shoulders. "I have brought another gift for the queen of my heart," Xaro announced. "It has been in my family vaults since before the Doom that took Valyria."
The sailors unrolled the tapestry across the floor. It was old, dusty, faded ... and huge. Dany had to move to Xaro's side before the patterns became plain. "A map? It is beautiful." It covered half the floor. The seas were blue, the lands were green, the mountains black and brown. Cities were shown as stars in gold or silver thread. There is no Smoking Sea, she realized. Valyria is not yet an island.
"There you see Astapor, and Yunkai, and Meereen." Xaro pointed at three silver stars beside the blue of Slaver's Bay. "Westeros is ...
somewhere down there." His hand waved vaguely toward the far end of the hall. "You turned north when you should have continued south and west, across the Summer Sea, but with my gift you shall soon be back where you belong. Accept my galleys with a joyful heart, and bend your oars westward."
Would that I could. "My lord, I will gladly have those ships, but I cannot give you the promise that you ask." She took his hand. "Give me the galleys, and I swear that Qarth will have the friendship of Meereen until the stars go out. Let me trade with them, and you will have a good part of the profits."
Xaro's glad smile died upon his lips. "What are you saying? Are you telling me you will not go?"
"I cannot go."
Tears welled from his eyes, creeping down his nose, past emeralds, amethysts, and black diamonds. "I told the Thirteen that you would heed my wisdom. It grieves me to learn that I was wrong. Take these ships and sail away, or you will surely die screaming. You cannot know how many enemies you have made."
I know one stands before me now, weeping mummer' s tears. The realization made her sad.
"When I went to the Hall of a Thousand Thrones to beg the Pureborn for your life, I said that you were no more than a child," Xaro went on, "but Egon Emeros the Exquisite rose and said, 'She is a foolish child, mad and heedless and too dangerous to live.' When your dragons were small they were a wonder. Grown, they are death and devastation, a flaming sword above the world." He wiped away the tears. "I should have slain you in Qarth."
"I was a guest beneath your roof and ate of your meat and mead," she said. "In memory of all you did for me, I will forgive those words ... once ... but never presume to threaten me again."
"Xaro Xhoan Daxos does not threaten. He promises."
Her sadness turned to fury. "And I promise you that if you are not gone before the sun comes up, we will learn how well a liar's tears can quench dragonfire. Leave me, Xaro. Quickly. "
He went but left his world behind. Dany seated herself upon her bench again to gaze across the blue silk sea, toward distant Westeros. One day, she promised herself.
The next morning Xaro's galleas was gone, but the "gift" that he had brought her remained behind in Slaver's Bay. Long red streamers flew from the masts of the thirteen Qartheen galleys, writhing in the wind. And when Daenerys descended to hold court, a messenger from the ships awaited her. He spoke no word but laid at her feet a black satin pillow, upon which rested a single bloodstained glove.
"What is this?" Skahaz demanded. "A bloody glove ..." "... means war," said the queen.
Careful of the rats, my lord." Dolorous Edd led Jon down the steps, a lantern in one hand. "They make an awful squeal if you step on them. My mother used to make a similar sound when I was a boy. She must have had some rat in her, now that I think of it. Brown hair, beady little eyes, liked cheese. Might be she had a tail too, I never looked to see."
All of Castle Black was connected underground by a maze of tunnels that the brothers called the wormways. It was dark and gloomy underneath the earth, so the wormways were little used in summer, but when the winter winds began to blow and the snows began to fall, the tunnels became the quickest way to move about the castle. The stewards were making use of them already. Jon saw candles burning in several wall niches as they made their way along the tunnel, their footsteps echoing ahead of them. Bowen Marsh was waiting at a junction where four wormways met. With him he had Wick Whittlestick, tall and skinny as a spear. "These are the counts from three turns ago," Marsh told Jon, offering him a thick sheaf of papers, "for comparison with our present stores. Shall we start with the granaries?"
They moved through the grey gloom beneath the earth. Each storeroom had a solid oaken door closed with an iron padlock as big as a supper plate. "Is pilferage a problem?" Jon asked.
"Not as yet," said Bowen Marsh. "Once winter comes, though, your lordship might be wise to post guards down here."
Wick Whittlestick wore the keys on a ring about his neck. They all looked alike to Jon, yet somehow Wick found the right one for every door. Once inside, he would take a fist-sized chunk of chalk from his pouch and mark each cask and sack and barrel as he counted them while Marsh compared the new count to the old.
In the granaries were oats and wheat and barley, and barrels of coarse ground flour. In the root cellars strings of onions and garlic dangled from the rafters, and bags of carrots, parsnips, radishes, and white and yellow turnips filled the shelves. One storeroom held wheels of cheese so large it took two men to move them. In the next, casks of salt beef, salt pork, salt mutton, and salt cod were stacked ten feet high. Three hundred hams and three thousand long black sausages hung from ceiling beams below the smokehouse. In the spice locker they found peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon, mustard seeds, coriander, sage and clary sage and parsley, blocks of salt. Elsewhere were casks of apples and pears, dried peas, dried figs, bags of walnuts, bags of chestnuts, bags of almonds, planks of dry smoked salmon, clay jars packed with olives in oil and sealed with wax. One storeroom offered potted hare, haunch of deer in honey, pickled cabbage, pickled beets, pickled onions, pickled eggs, and pickled herring.
As they moved from one vault to another, the wormways seemed to grow colder. Before long Jon could see their breath frosting in the lantern light. "We're beneath the Wall."
"And soon inside it," said Marsh. "The meat won't spoil in the cold. For long storage, it's better than salting."
The next door was made of rusty iron. Behind it was a flight of wooden steps. Dolorous Edd led the way with his lantern. Up top they found a tunnel as long as Winterfell's great hall though no wider than the worm-ways. The walls were ice, bristling with iron hooks. From each hook hung a carcass: skinned deer and elk, sides of beef, huge sows swinging from the ceiling, headless sheep and goats, even horse and bear. Hoarfrost covered everything.
As they did their count, Jon peeled the glove off his left hand and touched the nearest haunch of venison. He could feel his fingers sticking, and when he pulled them back he lost a bit of skin. His fingertips were numb. What did you expect? There' s a mountain of ice above your head, more tons than even Bowen Marsh could count. Even so, the room felt colder than it should.
"It is worse than I feared, my lord," Marsh announced when he was done. He sounded gloomier than Dolorous Edd.
Jon had just been thinking that all the meat in the world surrounded them. You know nothing, Jon Snow. "How so? This seems a deal of food to me."