A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire 5) - Page 81

"Aye, and I've told you what. These ships are made of rope and pitch and canvas, of Qohorik pine and teak from Sothoros, old oak from Great Norvos, yew and ash and spruce. Wood, Your Grace. Wood burns. The dragons - "

"I will hear no more about my dragons. Leave me. Go pray to your Pentoshi gods for a storm to sink our foes."

"No sailor prays for storms, Your Grace."

"I am tired of hearing what you will not do. Go."

Ser Barristan remained. "Our stores are ample for the moment," he reminded her, "and Your Grace has planted beans and grapes and wheat. Your Dothraki have harried the slavers from the hills and struck the shackles from their slaves. They are planting too, and will be bringing their crops to Meereen to market. And you will have the friendship of Lhazar."

Daario won that for me, for all that it is worth. "The Lamb Men. Would that lambs had teeth."

"That would make the wolves more cautious, no doubt."

That made her laugh. "How fare your orphans, ser?"

The old knight smiled. "Well, Your Grace. It is good of you to ask."

The boys were his pride. "Four or five have the makings of knights. Perhaps as many as a dozen."

"One would be enough if he were as true as you." The day might come soon when she would have need of every knight. "Will they joust for me? I should like that." Viserys had told her stories of the tourneys he had witnessed in the Seven Kingdoms, but Dany had never seen a joust herself.

"They are not ready, Your Grace. When they are, they will be pleased to demonstrate their prowess."

"I hope that day comes quickly." She would have kissed her good knight on the cheek, but just then Missandei appeared beneath the arched doorway. "Missandei?"

"Your Grace. Skahaz awaits your pleasure."

"Send him up."

The Shavepate was accompanied by two of his Brazen Beasts. One wore a hawk mask, the other the likeness of a jackal. Only their eyes could be seen behind the brass. "Your Radiance, Hizdahr was seen to enter the pyramid of Zhak last evening. He did not depart until well after dark."

"How many pyramids has he visited?" asked Dany. "Eleven."

"And how long since the last murder?"

"Six-and-twenty days." The Shavepate's eyes brimmed with fury. It had been his notion to have the Brazen Beasts follow her betrothed and take note of all his actions.

"So far Hizdahr has made good on his promises."

"How? The Sons of the Harpy have put down their knives, but why?

Because the noble Hizdahr asked sweetly? He is one of them, I tell you. That's why they obey him. He may well be the Harpy."

"If there is a Harpy." Skahaz was convinced that somewhere in Meereen the Sons of the Harpy had a highborn overlord, a secret general commanding an army of shadows. Dany did not share his belief. The Brazen Beasts had taken dozens of the Harpy's Sons, and those who had survived their capture had yielded names when questioned sharply ... too many names, it seemed to her. It would have been pleasant to think that all the deaths were the work of a single enemy who might be caught and killed, but Dany suspected that the truth was otherwise. My enemies are legion.

"Hizdahr zo Loraq is a persuasive man with many friends. And he is wealthy. Perhaps he has bought this peace for us with gold, or convinced the other highborn that our marriage is in their best interests."

"If he is not the Harpy, he knows him. I can find the truth of that easy enough. Give me your leave to put Hizdahr to the question, and I will bring you a confession."

"No," she said. "I do not trust these confessions. You've brought me too many of them, all of them worthless."

"Your Radiance - "

"No, I said."

The Shavepate's scowl turned his ugly face even uglier. "A mistake. The Great Master Hizdahr plays Your Worship for a fool. Do you want a serpent in your bed?"

I want Daario in my bed, but I sent him away for the sake of you and yours. "You may continue to watch Hizdahr zo Loraq, but no harm is to come to him. Is that understood?"

"I am not deaf, Magnificence. I will obey." Skahaz drew a parchment scroll from his sleeve. "Your Worship should have a look at this. A list of all the Meereenese ships in the blockade, with their captains. Great Masters all."

Dany studied the scroll. All the ruling families of Meereen were named: Hazkar, Merreq, Quazzar, Zhak, Rhazdar, Ghazeen, Pahl, even Reznak and Loraq. "What am I to do with a list of names?"

"Every man on that list has kin within the city. Sons and brothers, wives and daughters, mothers and fathers. Let my Brazen Beasts seize them. Their lives will win you back those ships."

"If I send the Brazen Beasts into the pyramids, it will mean open war inside the city. I have to trust in Hizdahr. I have to hope for peace." Dany held the parchment above a candle and watched the names go up in flame, while Skahaz glowered at her.

Afterward, Ser Barristan told her that her brother Rhaegar would have been proud of her. Dany remembered the words Ser Jorah had spoken at Astapor: Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died.

When she descended to the purple marble hall, she found it almost empty. "Are there no petitioners today?" Dany asked Reznak mo Reznak.

"No one who craves justice or silver for a sheep?"

"No, Your Worship. The city is afraid."

"There is nothing to fear."

But there was much and more to fear as she learned that evening. As her young hostages Miklaz and Kezmya were laying out a simple supper of autumn greens and ginger soup for her, Irri came to tell her that Galazza Galare had returned, with three Blue Graces from the temple. "Grey Worm is come as well, Khaleesi. They beg words with you, most urgently."

"Bring them to my hall. And summon Reznak and Skahaz. Did the Green Grace say what this was about?"

"Astapor," said Irri.

Grey Worm began the tale. "He came out of the morning mists, a rider on a pale horse, dying. His mare was staggering as she approached the city gates, her sides pink with blood and lather, her eyes rolling with terror. Her rider called out, ' She is burning, she is burning, ' and fell from the saddle. This one was sent for, and gave orders that the rider be brought to the Blue Graces. When your servants carried him inside the gates, he cried out again, ' She is burning. ' Under his tokar he was a skeleton, all bones and fevered flesh."

One of the Blue Graces took up the tale from there. "The Unsullied brought this man to the temple, where we stripped him and bathed him in cool water. His clothes were soiled, and my sisters found half an arrow in his thigh. Though he had broken off the shaft, the head remained inside him, and the wound had mortified, filling him with poisons. He died within the hour, still crying out that she was burning."

" 'She is burning,' " Daenerys repeated. "Who is she?"

"Astapor, Your Radiance," said another of the Blue Graces. "He said it, once. He said ' Astapor is burning.' "

"It might have been his fever talking."

"Your Radiance speaks wisely," said Galazza Galare, "but Ezzara saw something else."

The Blue Grace called Ezzara folded her hands. "My queen," she murmured, "his fever was not brought on by the arrow. He had soiled himself, not once but many times. The stains reached to his knees, and there was dried blood amongst his excrement."

"His horse was bleeding, Grey Worm said."

"This thing is true, Your Grace," the eunuch confirmed. "The pale mare was bloody from his spur."

"That may be so, Your Radiance," said Ezzara, "but this blood was mingled with his stool. It stained his smallclothes."

"He was bleeding from the bowels," said Galazza Galare. "We cannot be certain," said Ezzara, "but it may be that Meereen has more to fear than the spears of the Yunkai'i."

"We must pray," said the Green Grace. "The gods sent this man to us. He comes as a harbinger. He comes as a sign."

"A sign of what?" asked Dany. "A sign of wroth and ruin."

She did not want to believe that. "He was one man. One sick man with an arrow in his leg. A horse brought him here, not a god."

A pale mare.

Dany rose abruptly. "I thank you for your counsel and for all that you did for this poor man."

The Green Grace kissed Dany's fingers before she took her leave.

"We shall pray for Astapor."

And for me. Oh, pray for me, my lady. If Astapor had fallen, nothing remained to prevent Yunkai from turning north.

She turned to Ser Barristan. "Send riders into the hills to find my bloodriders. Recall Brown Ben and the Second Sons as well."

"And the Stormcrows, Your Grace?"

Daario. "Yes. Yes."

Just three nights ago she had dreamed of Daario

lying dead beside the road, staring sightlessly into the sky as crows quarreled above his corpse. Other nights she tossed in her bed, imagining that he'd betrayed her, as he had once betrayed his fellow captains in the Stormcrows. He brought me their heads. What if he had taken his company back to Yunkai, to sell her for a pot of gold? He would not do that. Would he? "The Stormcrows too. Send riders after them at once."

The Second Sons were the first to return, eight days after the queen sent forth her summons. When Ser Barristan told her that her captain desired words with her, she thought for a moment that it was Daario, and her heart leapt. But the captain that he spoke of was Brown Ben Plumm. Brown Ben had a seamed and weathered face, skin the color of old teak, white hair, and wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Dany was so pleased to see his leathery brown face that she hugged him. His eyes crinkled in amusement. "I heard talk Your Grace was going to take a husband," he said, "but no one told me it was me." They laughed together as Reznak sputtered, but the laughter ceased when Brown Ben said, "We caught three Astapori. Your Worship had best hear what they say."

"Bring them."

Daenerys received them in the grandeur of her hall as tall candles burned amongst the marble pillars. When she saw that the Astapori were half-starved, she sent for food at once. These three were all that remained of a dozen who had set out together from the Red City: a bricklayer, a weaver, and a cobbler. "What befell the rest of your party?" the queen asked.

"Slain," said the cobbler. "Yunkai's sellswords roam the hills north of Astapor, hunting down those who flee the flames."

"Has the city fallen, then? Its walls were thick."

"This is so," said the bricklayer, a stoop-backed man with rheumy eyes, "but they were old and crumbling as well."

The weaver raised her head. "Every day we told each other that the dragon queen was coming back." The woman had thin lips and dull dead eyes, set in a pinched and narrow face. "Cleon had sent for you, it was said, and you were coming."

He sent for me, thought Dany. That much is true, at least. "Outside our walls, the Yunkai'i devoured our crops and slaughtered our herds," the cobbler went on. "Inside we starved. We ate cats and rats and leather. A horsehide was a feast. King Cutthroat and Queen Whore accused each other of feasting on the flesh of the slain. Men and women gathered in secret to draw lots and gorge upon the flesh of him who drew the black stone. The pyramid of Nakloz was despoiled and set aflame by those who claimed that Kraznys mo Nakloz was to blame for all our woes."

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