"Only his tokar was burned," said Dany scornfully. "Be that as it may, they do not trust you. The men of New Ghis feel the same. Words are wind, as you yourself have so oft said. No words of yours will secure this peace for Meereen. Your foes require deeds. They would see us wed, and they would see me crowned as king, to rule beside you."
Dany filled his wine cup again, wanting nothing so much as to pour the flagon over his head and drown his complacent smile. "Marriage or carnage. A wedding or a war. Are those my choices?"
"I see only one choice, Your Radiance. Let us say our vows before the gods of Ghis and make a new Meereen together."
The queen was framing her response when she heard a step behind her. The food, she thought. Her cooks had promised her to serve the noble Hizdahr's favorite meal, dog in honey, stuffed with prunes and peppers. But when she turned to look, it was Ser Barristan standing there, freshly bathed and clad in white, his longsword at his side. "Your Grace," he said, bowing,
"I am sorry to disturb you, but I thought that you would want to know at once. The Stormcrows have returned to the city, with word of the foe. The Yunkishmen are on the march, just as we had feared."
A flicker of annoyance crossed the noble face of Hizdahr zo Loraq.
"The queen is at her supper. These sellswords can wait."
Ser Barristan ignored him. "I asked Lord Daario to make his report to me, as Your Grace had commanded. He laughed and said that he would write it out in his own blood if Your Grace would send your little scribe to show him how to make the letters."
"Blood?" said Dany, horrified. "Is that a jape? No. No, don't tell me, I must see him for myself." She was a young girl, and alone, and young girls can change their minds. "Convene my captains and commanders. Hizdahr, I know you will forgive me."
"Meereen must come first." Hizdahr smiled genially. "We will have other nights. A thousand nights."
"Ser Barristan will show you out." Dany hurried off, calling for her handmaids. She would not welcome her captain home in a tokar. In the end she tried a dozen gowns before she found one she liked, but she refused the crown that Jhiqui offered her.
As Daario Naharis took a knee before her, Dany's heart gave a lurch. His hair was matted with dried blood, and on his temple a deep cut glistened red and raw. His right sleeve was bloody almost to the elbow. "You're hurt," she gasped.
"This?" Daario touched his temple. "A crossbowman tried to put a quarrel through my eye, but I outrode it. I was hurrying home to my queen, to bask in the warmth of her smile." He shook his sleeve, spattering red droplets. "This blood is not mine. One of my serjeants said we should go over to the Yunkai'i, so I reached down his throat and pulled his heart out. I meant to bring it to you as a gift for my silver queen, but four of the Cats cut me off and came snarling and spitting after me. One almost caught me, so I threw the heart into his face."
"Very gallant," said Ser Barristan, in a tone that suggested it was anything but, "but do you have tidings for Her Grace?"
"Hard tidings, Ser Grandfather. Astapor is gone, and the slavers are coming north in strength."
"This is old news, and stale," growled the Shavepate. "Your mother said the same of your father's kisses," Daario replied. "Sweet queen, I would have been here sooner, but the hills are aswarm with Yunkish sellswords. Four free companies. Your Stormcrows had to cut their way through all of them. There is more, and worse. The Yunkai'i are marching their host up the coast road, joined by four legions out of New Ghis. They have elephants, a hundred, armored and towered. Tolosi slingers too, and a corps of Qartheen camelry. Two more Ghiscari legions took ship at Astapor. If our captives told it true, they will be landed beyond the Skahazadhan to cut us off from the Dothraki sea."
As he told his tale, from time to time a drop of bright red blood would patter against the marble floor, and Dany would wince. "How many men were killed?" she asked when he was done.
"Of ours? I did not stop to count. We gained more than we lost, though."
"More brave men drawn to your noble cause. My queen will like them. One is an axeman from the Basilisk Isles, a brute, bigger than Belwas. You should see him. Some Westerosi too, a score or more. Deserters from the Windblown, unhappy with the Yunkai'i. They'll make good Stormcrows."
"If you say." Dany would not quibble. Meereen might soon have need of every sword.
Ser Barristan frowned at Daario. "Captain, you made mention of four free companies. We know of only three. The Windblown, the Long Lances, and the Company of the Cat."
"Ser Grandfather knows how to count. The Second Sons have gone over to the Yunkai'i." Daario turned his head and spat. "That's for Brown Ben Plumm. When next I see his ugly face I will open him from throat to groin and rip out his black heart."
Dany tried to speak and found no words. She remembered Ben's face the last time she had seen it. It was a warm face, a face I trusted. Dark skin and white hair, the broken nose, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Even the dragons had been fond of old Brown Ben, who liked to boast that he had a drop of dragon blood himself. Three treasons will you know. Once for gold and once for blood and once for love. Was Plumm the third treason, or the second? And what did that make Ser Jorah, her gruff old bear? Would she never have a friend that she could trust? What good are prophecies if you cannot make sense of them? If I marry Hizdahr before the sun comes up, will all these armies melt away like morning dew and let me rule in peace?
Daario's announcement had sparked an uproar. Reznak was wailing, the Shavepate was muttering darkly, her bloodriders were swearing vengeance. Strong Belwas thumped his scarred belly with his fist and swore to eat Brown Ben's heart with plums and onions. "Please," Dany said, but only Missandei seemed to hear. The queen got to her feet. "Be quiet! I have heard enough."
"Your Grace." Ser Barristan went to one knee. "We are yours to command. What would you have us do?"
"Continue as we planned. Gather food, as much as you can." If I look back I am lost. "We must close the gates and put every fighting man upon the walls. No one enters, no one leaves."
The hall was quiet for a moment. The men looked at one another. Then Reznak said, "What of the Astapori?"
She wanted to scream, to gnash her teeth and tear her clothes and beat upon the floor. Instead she said, "Close the gates. Will you make me say it thrice?" They were her children, but she could not help them now. "Leave me. Daario, remain. That cut should be washed, and I have more questions for you."
The others bowed and went. Dany took Daario Naharis up the steps to her bedchamber, where Irri washed his cut with vinegar and Jhiqui wrapped it in white linen. When that was done she sent her handmaids off as well.
"Your clothes are stained with blood," she told Daario. "Take them off."
"Only if you do the same." He kissed her.
His hair smelled of blood and smoke and horse, and his mouth was hard and hot on hers. Dany trembled in his arms. When they broke apart, she said, "I thought you would be the one to betray me. Once for blood and once for gold and once for love, the warlocks said. I thought ... I never thought Brown Ben. Even my dragons seemed to trust him." She clutched her captain by the shoulders. "Promise me that you will never turn against me. I could not bear that. Promise me."
"Never, my love."
She believed him. "I swore that I should wed Hizdahr zo Loraq if he gave me ninety days of peace, but now ... I wanted you from the first time that I saw you, but you were a sellsword, fickle, treacherous. You boasted that you'd had a hundred women."
"A hundred?" Daario chuckled through his purple beard. "I lied, sweet queen. It was a thousand. But never once a dragon."
She raised her lips to his. "What are you waiting for?"
THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL
The hearth was caked with cold black ash, the room unheated but for candles. Every time a door opened their flames would sway and shiver. The bride was shivering too. They had dressed her in white lambs-wool trimmed with lace. Her sleeves and bodice were sewn with freshwater pearls, and on her feet were white doeskin slippers - pretty, but not warm. Her face was pale, bloodless.
A face carved of ice, Theon Greyjoy thought as he draped a fur-trimmed cloak about her shoulders. A corpse buried in the snow. "My lady. It is time." Beyond the door, the music called them, lute and pipes and drum.
The bride raised her eyes. Brown eyes, shining in the candlelight. "I will be a good wife to him, and t-true. I ... I will please him and give him sons. I will be a better wife than the real Arya could have been, he'll see."
Talk like that will get you killed, or worse. That lesson he had learned as Reek. "You are the real Arya, my lady. Arya of House Stark, Lord Eddard's daughter, heir to Winterfell." Her name, she had to know her name. "Arya Underfoot. Your sister used to call you Arya Horseface."
"It was me made up that name. Her face was long and horsey. Mine isn't. I was pretty." Tears spilled from her eyes at last. "I was never beautiful like Sansa, but they all said I was pretty. Does Lord Ramsay think I am pretty?"
"Yes," he lied. "He's told me so."
"He knows who I am, though. Who I really am. I see it when he looks at me. He looks so angry, even when he smiles, but it's not my fault. They say he likes to hurt people."
"My lady should not listen to such ... lies."
"They say that he hurt you. Your hands, and ..."
His mouth was dry. "I ... I deserved it. I made him angry. You must not make him angry. Lord Ramsay is a ... a sweet man, and kindly. Please him, and he will be good to you. Be a good wife."
"Help me." She clutched at him. "Please. I used to watch you in the yard, playing with your swords. You were so handsome." She squeezed his arm. "If we ran away, I could be your wife, or your ... your whore ...
whatever you wanted. You could be my man."
Theon wrenched his arm away from her. "I'm no ... I'm no one'
s man." A man would help her. "Just ... just be Arya, be his wife. Please him, or ... just please him, and stop this talk about being someone else."
Jeyne, her name is Jeyne, it rhymes with pain. The music was growing more insistent. "It is time. Wipe those tears from your eyes." Brown eyes. They should be grey. Someone will see. Someone will remember. "Good. Now smile."
The girl tried. Her lips, trembling, twitched up and froze, and he could see her teeth. Pretty white teeth, he thought, but if she angers him, they will not be pretty long. When he pushed the door open, three of the four candles fluttered out. He led the bride into the mist, where the wedding guests were waiting.
"Why me?" he had asked when Lady Dustin told him he must give the bride away.
"Her father is dead and all her brothers. Her mother perished at the Twins. Her uncles are lost or dead or captive."
"She has a brother still." She has three brothers still, he might have said. "Jon Snow is with the Night's Watch."