"Why would you want to help me? For the crown?"
"A crown would suit me well, I will not deny that. It is more than that, however. Is it so strange that I would want to protect my own people, as you protect your freedmen? Meereen cannot endure another war, Your Radiance."
That was a good answer, and an honest one. "I have never wanted war. I defeated the Yunkai'i once and spared their city when I might have sacked it. I refused to join King Cleon when he marched against them. Even now, with Astapor besieged, I stay my hand. And Qarth ... I have never done the Qartheen any harm ..."
"Not by intent, no, but Qarth is a city of merchants, and they love the clink of silver coins, the gleam of yellow gold. When you smashed the slave trade, the blow was felt from Westeros to Asshai. Qarth depends upon its slaves. So too Tolos, New Ghis, Lys, Tyrosh, Volantis ... the list is long, my queen."
"Let them come. In me they shall find a sterner foe than Cleon. I would sooner perish fighting than return my children to bondage."
"There may be another choice. The Yunkai'i can be persuaded to allow all your freedmen to remain free, I believe, if Your Worship will agree that the Yellow City may trade and train slaves unmolested from this day forth. No more blood need flow."
"Save for the blood of those slaves that the Yunkai'i will trade and train, " Dany said, but she recognized the truth in his words even so. It may be that is the best end we can hope for. "You have not said you love me."
"I will, if it would please Your Radiance."
"That is not the answer of a man in love."
"What is love? Desire? No man with all his parts could ever look on you and not desire you, Daenerys. That is not why I would marry you, however. Before you came Meereen was dying. Our rulers were old men with withered cocks and crones whose puckered cunts were dry as dust. They sat atop their pyramids sipping apricot wine and talking of the glories of the Old Empire whilst the centuries slipped by and the very bricks of the city crumbled all around them. Custom and caution had an iron grip upon us till you awakened us with fire and blood. A new time has come, and new things are possible. Marry me."
He is not hard to look at, Dany told herself, and he has a king' s tongue. "Kiss me," she commanded.
He took her hand again, and kissed her fingers. "Not that way. Kiss me as if I were your wife."
Hizdahr took her by the shoulders as tenderly as if she were a baby bird. Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to hers. His kiss was light and dry and quick. Dany felt no stirrings.
"Shall I ... kiss you again?" he asked when it was over. "No." On her terrace, in her bathing pool, the little fish would nibble at her legs as she soaked. Even they kissed with more fervor than Hizdahr zo Loraq. "I do not love you."
Hizdahr shrugged. "That may come, in time. It has been known to happen that way."
Not with us, she thought. Not whilst Daario is so close. It' s him I want, not you. "One day I will want to return to Westeros, to claim the Seven Kingdoms that were my father's."
"One day all men must die, but it serves no good to dwell on death. I prefer to take each day as it comes."
Dany folded her hands together. "Words are wind, even words like love and peace. I put more trust in deeds. In my Seven Kingdoms, knights go on quests to prove themselves worthy of the maiden that they love. They seek for magic swords, for chests of gold, for crowns stolen from a dragon's hoard."
Hizdahr arched an eyebrow. "The only dragons that I know are yours, and magic swords are even scarcer. I will gladly bring you rings and crowns and chests of gold if that is your desire."
"Peace is my desire. You say that you can help me end the nightly slaughter in my streets. I say do it. Put an end to this shadow war, my lord. That is your quest. Give me ninety days and ninety nights without a murder, and I will know that you are worthy of a throne. Can you do that?"
Hizdahr looked thoughtful. "Ninety days and ninety nights without a corpse, and on the ninety-first we wed?"
"Perhaps," said Dany, with a coy look. "Though young girls have been known to be fickle. I may still want a magic sword."
Hizdahr laughed. "Then you shall have that too, Radiance. Your wish is my command. Best tell your seneschal to begin making preparations for our wedding."
"Nothing would please the noble Reznak more." If Meereen knew that a wedding was in the offing, that alone might buy her a few nights'
respite, even if Hizdahr's efforts came to naught. The Shavepate will not be happy with me, but Reznak mo Reznak will dance for joy. Dany did not know which of those concerned her more. She needed Skahaz and the Brazen Beasts, and she had come to mistrust all of Reznak's counsel. Beware the perfumed seneschal. Has Reznak made common cause with Hizdahr and the Green Grace and set some trap to snare me?
No sooner had Hizdahr zo Loraq taken his leave of her than Ser Barristan appeared behind her in his long white cloak. Years of service in the Kingsguard had taught the white knight how to remain unobtrusive when she was entertaining, but he was never far. He knows, she saw at once, and he disapproves. The lines around his mouth had deepened. "So," she said to him, "it seems that I may wed again. Are you happy for me, ser?"
"If that is your command, Your Grace."
"Hizdahr is not the husband you would have chosen for me."
"It is not my place to choose your husband."
"It is not," she agreed, "but it is important to me that you should understand. My people are bleeding. Dying. A queen belongs not to herself, but to the realm. Marriage or carnage, those are my choices. A wedding or a war."
"Your Grace, may I speak frankly?"
"There is a third choice."
He nodded. "I am sworn to serve Your Grace, and to keep you safe from harm wherever you may go. My place is by your side, whether here or in King's Landing ... but your place is back in Westeros, upon the Iron Throne that was your father's. The Seven Kingdoms will never accept Hizdahr zo Loraq as king."
"No more than Meereen will accept Daenerys Targaryen as queen. The Green Grace has the right of that. I need a king beside me, a king of old Ghiscari blood. Elsewise they will always see me as the uncouth barbarian who smashed through their gates, impaled their kin on spikes, and stole their wealth."
"In Westeros you will be the lost child who returns to gladden her father's heart. Your people will cheer when you ride by, and all good men will love you."
"Westeros is far away."
"Lingering here will never bring it any closer. The sooner we take our leave of this place - "
"I know. I do. " Dany did not know how to make him see. She wanted Westeros as much as he did, but first she must heal Meereen.
"Ninety days is a long time. Hizdahr may fail. And if he does, the trying buys me time. Time to make alliances, to strengthen my defenses, to - "
"And if he does not fail? What will Your Grace do then?"
"Her duty." The word felt cold upon her tongue. "You saw my brother Rhaegar wed. Tell me, did he wed for love or duty?"
The old knight hesitated. "Princess Elia was a good woman, Your Grace. She was kind and clever, with a gentle heart and a sweet wit. I know the prince was very fond of her."
Fond, thought Dany. The word spoke volumes. I could become fond of Hizdahr zo Loraq, in time. Perhaps.
Ser Barristan went on. "I saw your father and your mother wed as well. Forgive me, but there was no fondness there, and the realm paid dearly for that, my queen."
"Why did they wed if they did not love each other?"
"Your grandsire commanded it. A woods witch had told him that the prince was promised would be born of their line."
"A woods witch?" Dany was astonished. "She came to court with Jenny of Oldstones. A stunted thing, grotesque to look upon. A dwarf, most people said, though dear to Lady Jenny, who always claimed that she was one of the children of the forest."
"What became of her?"
"Summerhall." The word was fraught with doom.
Dany sighed. "Leave me now. I am very weary."
"As you command." Ser Barristan bowed and turned to go. But at the door, he stopped. "Forgive me. Your Grace has a visitor. Shall I tell him to return upon the morrow?"
"Who is it?"
"Naharis. The Stormcrows have returned to the city."
Daario. Her heart gave a flutter in her chest. "How long has ...
when did he ... ?" She could not seem to get the words out. Ser Barristan seemed to understand. "Your Grace was with the priestess when he arrived. I knew you would not want to be disturbed. The captain's news can wait until the morrow."
"No." How could I ever hope to sleep, knowing that my captain so close? "Send him up at once. And ... I will have no more need of you this evening. I shall be safe with Daario. Oh, and send Irri and Jhiqui, if you would be so good. And Missandei." I need to change, to make myself beautiful.
She said as much to her handmaids when they came. "What does Your Grace wish to wear?" asked Missandei.
Starlight and seafoam, Dany thought, a wisp of silk that leaves my left breast bare for Daario' s delight. Oh, and flowers for my hair. When first they met, the captain brought her flowers every day, all the way from Yunkai to Meereen. "Bring the grey linen gown with the pearls on the bodice. Oh, and my white lion's pelt." She always felt safer wrapped in Drogo's lionskin.
Daenerys received the captain on her terrace, seated on a carved stone bench beneath a pear tree. A half-moon floated in the sky above the city, attended by a thousand stars. Daario Naharis entered swaggering. He swaggers even when he is standing still. The captain wore striped pantaloons tucked into high boots of purple leather, a white silk shirt, a vest of golden rings. His trident beard was purple, his flamboyant mustachios gold, his long curls equal parts of both. On one hip he wore a stiletto, on the other a Dothraki arakh. "Bright queen," he said, "you have grown more beautiful in my absence. How is this thing possible?"
The queen was accustomed to such praise, yet somehow the
compliment meant more coming from Daario than from the likes of Reznak, Xaro, or Hizdahr. "Captain. They tell us you did us good service in Lhazar." I have missed you so much.
"Your captain lives to serve his cruel queen."
Moonlight glimmered in his eyes. "He raced ahead of all his men to see her face the sooner, only to be left languishing whilst she ate lamb and figs with some dried-up old woman."
They never told me you were here, Dany thought, or I might have played the fool and sent for you at once. "I was supping with the Green Grace." It seemed best not to mention Hizdahr. "I had urgent need of her wise counsel."
"I have only one urgent need: Daenerys."
"Shall I send for food? You must be hungry."
"I have not eaten in two days, but now that I am here, it is enough for me to feast upon your beauty."
"My beauty will not fill up your belly." She plucked down a pear and tossed it at him. "Eat this."