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Across the still blue water came the slow steady beat of drums and the soft swish of oars from the galleys. The great cog groaned in their wake, the heavy lines stretched taut between. Balerion’s sails hung limp, drooping forlorn from the masts. Yet even so, as she stood upon the forecastle watching her dragons chase each other across a cloudless blue sky, Daenerys Targaryen was as happy as she could ever remember being.
Her Dothraki called the sea the poison water, distrusting any liquid that their horses could not drink. On the day the three ships had lifted anchor at Qarth, you would have thought they were sailing to hell instead of Pentos. Her brave young bloodriders had stared off at the dwindling coastline with huge white eyes, each of the three determined to show no fear before the other two, while her handmaids Irri and Jhiqui clutched the rail desperately and retched over the side at every little swell. The rest of Dany’s tiny khalasar remained below decks, preferring the company of their nervous horses to the terrifying landless world about the ships. When a sudden squall had enveloped them six days into the voyage, she heard them through the hatches; the horses kicking and screaming, the riders praying in thin quavery voices each time Balerion heaved or swayed.
No squall could frighten Dany, though. Daenerys Stormborn, she was called, for she had come howling into the world on distant Dragonstone as the greatest storm in the memory of Westeros howled outside, a storm so fierce that it ripped gargoyles from the castle walls and smashed her father’s fleet to kindling.
The narrow sea was often stormy, and Dany had crossed it half a hundred times as a girl, running from one Free City to the next half a step ahead of the Usurper’s hired knives. She loved the sea. She liked the sharp salty smell of the air, and the vastness of horizons bounded only by a vault of azure sky above. It made her feel small, but free as well. She liked the dolphins that sometimes swam along beside Balerion, slicing through the waves like silvery spears, and the flying fish they glimpsed now and again. She even liked the sailors, with all their songs and stories. Once on a voyage to Braavos, as she’d watched the crew wrestle down a great green sail in a rising gale, she had even thought how fine it would be to be a sailor. But when she told her brother, Viserys had twisted her hair until she cried. “You are blood of the dragon,” he had screamed at her. “A dragon, not some smelly fish.”
He was a fool about that, and so much else, Dany thought. If he had been wiser and more patient, it would be him sailing west to take the throne that was his by rights. Viserys had been stupid and vicious, she had come to realize, yet sometimes she missed him all the same. Not the cruel weak man he had become by the end, but the brother who had sometimes let her creep into his bed, the boy who told her tales of the Seven Kingdoms, and talked of how much better their lives would be once he claimed his crown.
The captain appeared at her elbow. “Would that this Balerion could soar as her namesake did, Your Grace,” he said in bastard Valyrian heavily flavored with accents of Pentos. “Then we should not need to row, nor tow, nor pray for wind.”
“Just so, Captain,” she answered with a smile, pleased to have won the man over. Captain Groleo was an old Pentoshi like his master, Illyrio Mopatis, and he had been nervous as a maiden about carrying three dragons on his ship. Half a hundred buckets of seawater still hung from the gunwales, in case of fires. At first Groleo had wanted the dragons caged and Dany had consented to put his fears at ease, but their misery was so palpable that she soon changed her mind and insisted they be freed.
Even Captain Groleo was glad of that, now. There had been one small fire, easily extinguished; against that, Balerion suddenly seemed to have far fewer rats than she’d had before, when she sailed under the name Saduleon. And her crew, once as fearful as they were curious, had begun to take a queer fierce pride in “their” dragons. Every man of them, from captain to cook’s boy, loved to watch the three fly… though none so much as Dany.
They are my children, she told herself, and if the maegi spoke truly, they are the only children I am ever like to have.
Viserion’s scales were the color of fresh cream, his horns, wing bones, and spinal crest a dark gold that flashed bright as metal in the sun. Rhaegal was made of the green of summer and the bronze of fall. They soared above the ships in wide circles, higher and higher, each trying to climb above the other.
Dragons always preferred to attack from above, Dany had learned. Should either get between the other and the sun, he would fold his wings and dive screaming, and they would tumble from the sky locked together in a tangled scaly ball, jaws snapping and tails lashing. The first time they had done it, she feared that they meant to kill each other, but it was only sport. No sooner would they splash into the sea than they would break apart and rise again, shrieking and hissing, the salt water steaming off them as their wings clawed at the air. Drogon was aloft as well, though not in sight; he would be miles ahead, or miles behind, hunting.
He was always hungry, her Drogon. Hungry and growing fast. Another year, or perhaps two, and he may be large enough to ride. Then I shall have no need of ships to cross the great salt sea.
But that time was not yet come. Rhaegal and Viserion were the size of small dogs, Drogon only a little larger, and any dog would have out-weighed them; they were all wings and neck and tail, lighter than they looked. And so Daenerys Targaryen must rely on wood and wind and canvas to bear her home.
The wood and the canvas had served her well enough so far, but the fickle wind had turned traitor. For six days and six nights they had been becalmed, and now a seventh day had come, and still no breath of air to fill their sails. Fortunately, two of the ships that Magister Illyrio had sent after her were trading galleys, with two hundred oars apiece and crews of strong-armed oarsmen to row them. But the great cog Balerion was a song of a different key; a ponderous broad-beamed sow of a ship with immense holds and huge sails, but helpless in a calm. Vhagar and Meraxes had let out lines to tow her, but it made for painfully slow going. All three ships were crowded, and heavily laden.
“I cannot see Drogon,” said Ser Jorah Mormont as he joined her on the forecastle. “Is he lost again?”
“We are the ones who are lost, ser. Drogon has no taste for this wet creeping, no more than I do.” Bolder than the other two, her black dragon had been the first to try his wings above the water, the first to flutter from ship to ship, the first to lose himself in a passing cloud… and the first to kill. The flying fish no sooner broke the surface of the water than they were enveloped in a lance of flame, snatched up, and swallowed. “How big will he grow?” Dany asked curiously. “Do you know?”
“In the Seven Kingdoms, there are tales of dragons who grew so huge that they could pluck giant krakens from the seas.”
Dany laughed. “That would be a wondrous sight to see.”
“It is only a tale, Khaleesi,” said her exile knight. “They talk of wise old dragons living a thousand years as well.”
“Well, how long does a dragon live?” She looked up as Viserion swooped low over the ship, his wings beating slowly and stirring the limp sails.
Ser Jorah shrugged. “A dragon’s natural span of days is many times as long as a man’s, or so the songs would have us believe… but the dragons the Seven Kingdoms knew best were those of House Targaryen. They were bred for war, and in war they died. It is no easy thing to slay a dragon, but it can be done.”
The squire Whitebeard, standing by the figurehead with one lean hand curled about his tall hardwood staff, turned toward them and said, “Balerion the Black Dread was two hundred years old when he died during the reign of Jaehaerys the Conciliator. He was so large he could swallow an aurochs whole. A dragon never stops growing, Your Grace, so long as he has food and freedom.” His name was Arstan, but Strong Belwas had named him Whitebeard for his pale whiskers, and most everyone called him that now. He was taller than Ser Jorah, though not so muscular; his eyes were a pale blue, his long beard as white as snow and as fine as silk.
“Freedom?” asked Dany, curious. “What do you mean?”
“In King’s Landing, your ancestors raised an immense domed castle for their dragons. The Dragonpit, it is called. It still stands atop the Hill of Rhaenys, though all in ruins now. That was where the royal dragons dwelt in days of yore, and a cavernous dwelling it was, with iron doors so wide that thirty knights could ride through them abreast. Yet even so, it was noted that none of the pit dragons ever reached the size of their ancestors. The maesters say it was because of the walls around them, and the great dome above their heads.”
“If walls could keep us small, peasants would all be tiny and kings as large as giants,” said Ser Jorah. “I’ve seen huge men born in hovels, and dwarfs who dwelt in castles.”
“Men are men,” Whitebeard replied. “Dragons are dragons.”
Ser Jorah snorted his disdain. “How profound.” The exile knight had no love for the old man, he’d made that plain from the first. “What do you know of dragons, anyway?”
“Little enough, that’s true. Yet I served for a time in King’s Landing in the days when King Aerys sat the Iron Throne, and walked beneath the dragonskulls that looked down from the walls of his throne room.”
“Viserys talked of those skulls,” said Dany. “The Usurper took them down and hid them away. He could not bear them looking down on him upon his stolen throne.” She beckoned Whitebeard closer. “Did you ever meet my royal father?” King Aerys II had died before his daughter was born.
“I had that great honor, Your Grace.”
“Did you find him good and gentle?”
Whitebeard did his best to hide his feelings, but they were there, plain on his face. “His Grace was… often pleasant.”
“Often?” Dany smiled. “But not always?”
“He could be very harsh to those he thought his enemies.”
“A wise man never makes an enemy of a king,” said Dany. “Did you know my brother Rhaegar as well?”
“It was said that no man ever knew Prince Rhaegar, truly. I had the privilege of seeing him in tourney, though, and often heard him play his harp with its silver strings.”
Ser Jorah snorted. “Along with a thousand others at some harvest feast. Next you’ll claim you squired for him.”
“I make no such claim, ser. Myles Mooton was Prince Rhaegar’s squire, and Richard Lonmouth after him. When they won their spurs, he knighted them himself, and they remained his close companions. Young Lord Connington was dear to the prince as well, but his oldest friend was Arthur Dayne.”
“The Sword of the Morning!” said Dany, delighted. “Viserys used to talk about his wondrous white blade. He said Ser Arthur was the only knight in the realm who was our brother’s peer.”
Whitebeard bowed his head. “It is not my place to question the words of Prince Viserys.”
“King,” Dany corrected. “He was a king, though he never reigned. Viserys, the Third of His Name. But what do you mean?” His answer had not been one that she’d expected. “Ser Jorah named Rhaegar the last dragon once. He had to have been a peerless warrior to be called that, surely?”
“Your Grace,” said Whitebeard, “the Prince of Dragonstone was a most puissant warrior, but…”
“Go on,” she urged. “You may speak freely to me.”
“As you command.” The old man leaned upon his hardwood staff, his brow furrowed. “A warrior without peer… those are fine words, Your Grace, but words win no battles.”
“Swords win battles,” Ser Jorah said bluntly. “And Prince Rhaegar knew how to use one.”
“He did, ser, but… I have seen a hundred tournaments and more wars than I would wish, and however strong or fast or skilled a knight may be, there are others who can match him. A man will win one tourney, and fall quickly in the next. A slick spot in the grass may mean defeat, or what you ate for supper the night before. A change in the wind may bring the gift of victory.” He glanced at Ser Jorah. “Or a lady’s favor knotted round an arm.”
Mormont’s face darkened. “Be careful what you say, old man.”
Arstan had seen Ser Jorah fight at Lannisport, Dany knew, in the tourney Mormont had won with a lady’s favor knotted round his arm. He had won the lady too; Lynesse of House Hightower, his second wife, highborn and beautiful… but she had ruined him, and abandoned him, and the memory of her was bitter to him now. “Be gentle, my knight.” She put a hand on Jorah’s arm. “Arstan had no wish to give offense, I’m certain.”
“As you say, Khaleesi.” Ser Jorah’s voice was grudging.
Dany turned back to the squire. “I know little of Rhaegar. Only the tales Viserys told, and he was a little boy when our brother died. What was he truly like?”
The old man considered a moment. “Able. That above all. Determined, deliberate, dutiful, single-minded. There is a tale told of him… but doubtless Ser Jorah knows it as well.”
“I would hear it from you.”
“As you wish,” said Whitebeard. “As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, ‘I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.’”
“And he was!” said Dany, delighted.
“He was indeed.” Whitebeard bowed. “My pardons, Your Grace. We speak of warriors, and I see that Strong Belwas has arisen. I must attend him.”
Dany glanced aft. The eunuch was climbing through the hold amidships, nimble for all his size. Belwas was squat but broad, a good fifteen stone of fat and muscle, his great brown gut crisscrossed by faded white scars. He wore baggy pants, a yellow silk bellyband, and an absurdly tiny leather vest dotted with iron studs. “Strong Belwas is hungry!” he roared at everyone and no one in particular. “Strong Belwas will eat now!” Turning, he spied Arstan on the forecastle. “Whitebeard! You will bring food for Strong Belwas!”
“You may go,” Dany told the squire. He bowed again, and moved off to tend the needs of the man he served.
Ser Jorah watched with a frown on his blunt honest face. Mormont was big and burly, strong of jaw and thick of shoulder. Not a handsome man by any means, but as true a friend as Dany had ever known. “You would be wise to take that old man’s words well salted,” he told her when Whitebeard was out of earshot.
“A queen must listen to all,” she reminded him. “The highborn and the low, the strong and the weak, the noble and the venal. One voice may speak you false, but in many there is always truth to be found.” She had read that in a book.
“Hear my voice then, Your Grace,” the exile said. “This Arstan Whitebeard is playing you false. He is too old to be a squire, and too well spoken to be serving that oaf of a eunuch.”
That does seem queer, Dany had to admit. Strong Belwas was an ex-slave, bred and trained in the fighting pits of Meereen. Magister Illyrio had sent him to guard her, or so Belwas claimed, and it was true that she needed guarding. The Usurper on his Iron Throne had offered land and lordship to any man who killed her. One attempt had been made already, with a cup of poisoned wine. The closer she came to Westeros, the more likely another attack became. Back in Qarth, the warlock Pyat Pree had sent a Sorrowful Man after her to avenge the Undying she’d burned in their House of Dust. Warlocks never forgot a wrong, it was said, and the Sorrowful Men never failed to kill. Most of the Dothraki would be against her as well. Khal Drogo’s kos led khalasars of their own now, and none of them would hesitate to attack her own little band on sight, to slay and slave her people and drag Dany herself back to Vaes Dothrak to take her proper place among the withered crones of the dosh khaleen. She hoped that Xaro Xhoan Daxos was not an enemy, but the Qartheen merchant had coveted her dragons. And there was Quaithe of the Shadow, that strange woman in the red lacquer mask with all her cryptic counsel. Was she an enemy too, or only a dangerous friend? Dany could not say.
Ser Jorah saved me from the poisoner, and Arstan Whitebeard from the manticore. Perhaps Strong Belwas will save me from the next. He was huge enough, with arms like small trees and a great curved arakh so sharp he might have shaved with it, in the unlikely event of hair sprouting on those smooth brown cheeks. Yet he was childlike as well. As a protector, he leaves much to be desired. Thankfully, I have Ser Jorah and my bloodriders. And my dragons, never forget. In time, the dragons would be her most formidable guardians, just as they had been for Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters three hundred years ago. Just now, though, they brought her more danger than protection. In all the world there were but three living dragons, and those were hers; they were a wonder, and a terror, and beyond price.
She was pondering her next words when she felt a cool breath on the back of her neck, and a loose strand of her silver-gold hair stirred against her brow. Above, the canvas creaked and moved, and suddenly a great cry went up from all over Balerion. “Wind!” the sailors shouted. “The wind returns, the wind!”
Dany looked up to where the great cog’s sails rippled and belled as the lines thrummed and tightened and sang the sweet song they had missed so for six long days. Captain Groleo rushed aft, shouting commands. The Pentoshi were scrambling up the masts, those that were not cheering. Even Strong Belwas let out a great bellow and did a little dance. “The gods are good!” Dany said. “You see, Jorah? We are on our way once more.”
“Yes,” he said, “but to what, my queen?”
All day the wind blew, steady from the east at first, and then in wild gusts. The sun set in a blaze of red. I am still half a world from Westeros, Dany reminded herself, but every hour brings me closer. She tried to imagine what it would feel like, when she first caught sight of the land she was born to rule. It will be as fair a shore as I have ever seen, I know it. How could it be otherwise?
But later that night, as Balerion plunged onward through the dark and Dany sat crosslegged on her bunk in the captain’s cabin, feeding her dragons—“Even upon the sea,” Groleo had said, so graciously, “queens take precedence over captains”—a sharp knock came upon the door.
Irri had been sleeping at the foot of her bunk (it was too narrow for three, and tonight was Jhiqui’s turn to share the soft featherbed with her khaleesi), but the handmaid roused at the knock and went to the door. Dany pulled up a coverlet and tucked it in under her arms. She was naked, and had not expected a caller at this hour. “Come,” she said when she saw Ser Jorah standing without, beneath a swaying lantern.
The exile knight ducked his head as he entered. “Your Grace. I am sorry to disturb your sleep.”
“I was not sleeping, ser. Come and watch.” She took a chunk of salt pork out of the bowl in her lap and held it up for her dragons to see. All three of them eyed it hungrily. Rhaegal spread green wings and stirred the air, and Viserion’s neck swayed back and forth like a long pale snake’s as he followed the movement of her hand. “Drogon,” Dany said softly, “dracarys.” And she tossed the pork in the air.
Drogon moved quicker than a striking cobra. Flame roared from his mouth, orange and scarlet and black, searing the meat before it began to fall. As his sharp black teeth snapped shut around it, Rhaegal’s head darted close, as if to steal the prize from his brother’s jaws, but Drogon swallowed and screamed, and the smaller green dragon could only hiss in frustration.
“Stop that, Rhaegal,” Dany said in annoyance, giving his head a swat. “You had the last one. I’ll have no greedy dragons.” She smiled at Ser Jorah. “I won’t need to char their meat over a brazier any longer.”
“So I see. Dracarys?”
All three dragons turned their heads at the sound of that word, and Viserion let loose with a blast of pale gold flame that made Ser Jorah take a hasty step backward. Dany giggled. “Be careful with that word, ser, or they’re like to singe your beard off. It means ‘dragonfire’ in High Valyrian. I wanted to choose a command that no one was like to utter by chance.”
Mormont nodded. “Your Grace,” he said, “I wonder if I might have a few private words?”
“Of course. Irri, leave us for a bit.” She put a hand on Jhiqui’s bare shoulder and shook the other handmaid awake. “You as well, sweetling. Ser Jorah needs to talk to me.”
“Yes, Khaleesi.” Jhiqui tumbled from the bunk, naked and yawning, her thick black hair tumbled about her head. She dressed quickly and left with Irri, closing the door behind them.
Dany gave the dragons the rest of the salt pork to squabble over, and patted the bed beside her. “Sit, good ser, and tell me what is troubling you.”
“Three things.” Ser Jorah sat. “Strong Belwas. This Arstan Whitebeard. And Illyrio Mopatis, who sent them.”
Again? Dany pulled the coverlet higher and tugged one end over her shoulder. “And why is that?”
“The warlocks in Qarth told you that you would be betrayed three times,” the exile knight reminded her, as Viserion and Rhaegal began to snap and claw at each other.
“Once for blood and once for gold and once for love.” Dany was not like to forget. “Mirri Maz Duur was the first.”
“Which means two traitors yet remain… and now these two appear. I find that troubling, yes. Never forget, Robert offered a lordship to the man who slays you.”
Dany leaned forward and yanked Viserion’s tail, to pull him off his green brother. Her blanket fell away from her chest as she moved. She grabbed it hastily and covered herself again. “The Usurper is dead,” she said.
“But his son rules in his place.” Ser Jorah lifted his gaze, and his dark eyes met her own. “A dutiful son pays his father’s debts. Even blood debts.”
“This boy Joffrey might want me dead… if he recalls that I’m alive. What has that to do with Belwas and Arstan Whitebeard? The old man does not even wear a sword. You’ve seen that.”
“Aye. And I have seen how deftly he handles that staff of his. Recall how he killed that manticore in Qarth? It might as easily have been your throat he crushed.”
“Might have been, but was not,” she pointed out. “It was a stinging manticore meant to slay me. He saved my life.”
“Khaleesi, has it occurred to you that Whitebeard and Belwas might have been in league with the assassin? It might all have been a ploy to win your trust.”
Her sudden laughter made Drogon hiss, and sent Viserion flapping to his perch above the porthole. “The ploy worked well.”
The exile knight did not return her smile. “These are Illyrio’s ships, Illyrio’s captains, Illyrio’s sailors… and Strong Belwas and Arstan are his men as well, not yours.”
“Magister Illyrio has protected me in the past. Strong Belwas says that he wept when he heard my brother was dead.”
“Yes,” said Mormont, “but did he weep for Viserys, or for the plans he had made with him?”
“His plans need not change. Magister Illyrio is a friend to House Targaryen, and wealthy…”
“He was not born wealthy. In the world as I have seen it, no man grows rich by kindness. The warlocks said the second treason would be for gold. What does Illyrio Mopatis love more than gold?”
“His skin.” Across the cabin Drogon stirred restlessly, steam rising from his snout. “Mirri Maz Duur betrayed me. I burned her for it.”
“Mirri Maz Duur was in your power. In Pentos, you shall be in Illyrio’s power. It is not the same. I know the magister as well as you. He is a devious man, and clever—”
“I need clever men about me if I am to win the Iron Throne.”
Ser Jorah snorted. “That wineseller who tried to poison you was a clever man as well. Clever men hatch ambitious schemes.”
Dany drew her legs up beneath the blanket. “You will protect me. You, and my bloodriders.”
“Four men? Khaleesi, you believe you know Illyrio Mopatis, very well. Yet you insist on surrounding yourself with men you do not know, like this puffed-up eunuch and the world’s oldest squire. Take a lesson from Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos.”
He means well, Dany reminded herself. He does all he does for love. “It seems to me that a queen who trusts no one is as foolish as a queen who trusts everyone. Every man I take into my service is a risk, I understand that, but how am I to win the Seven Kingdoms without such risks? Am I to conquer Westeros with one exile knight and three Dothraki bloodriders?”
His jaw set stubbornly. “Your path is dangerous, I will not deny that. But if you blindly trust in every liar and schemer who crosses it, you will end as your brothers did.”
His obstinacy made her angry. He treats me like some child. “Strong Belwas could not scheme his way to breakfast. And what lies has Arstan Whitebeard told me?”
“He is not what he pretends to be. He speaks to you more boldly than any squire would dare.”
“He spoke frankly at my command. He knew my brother.”
“A great many men knew your brother. Your Grace, in Westeros the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard sits on the small council, and serves the king with his wits as well as his steel. If I am the first of your Queensguard, I pray you, hear me out. I have a plan to put to you.”
“What plan? Tell me.”
“Illyrio Mopatis wants you back in Pentos, under his roof. Very well, go to him… but in your own time, and not alone. Let us see how loyal and obedient these new subjects of yours truly are. Command Groleo to change course for Slaver’s Bay.”
Dany was not certain she liked the sound of that at all. Everything she’d ever heard of the flesh marts in the great slave cities of Yunkai, Meereen, and Astapor was dire and frightening. “What is there for me in Slaver’s Bay?”
“An army,” said Ser Jorah. “If Strong Belwas is so much to your liking you can buy hundreds more like him out of the fighting pits of Meereen… but it is Astapor I’d set my sails for. In Astapor you can buy Unsullied.”
“The slaves in the spiked bronze hats?” Dany had seen Unsullied guards in the Free Cities, posted at the gates of magisters, archons, and dynasts. “Why should I want Unsullied? They don’t even ride horses, and most of them are fat.”
“The Unsullied you may have seen in Pentos and Myr were household guards. That’s soft service, and eunuchs tend to plumpness in any case. Food is the only vice allowed them. To judge all Unsullied by a few old household slaves is like judging all squires by Arstan Whitebeard, Your Grace. Do you know the tale of the Three Thousand of Qohor?”
“No.” The coverlet slipped off Dany’s shoulder, and she tugged it back into place.
“It was four hundred years ago or more, when the Dothraki first rode out of the east, sacking and burning every town and city in their path. The khal who led them was named Temmo. His khalasar was not so big as Drogo’s, but it was big enough. Fifty thousand, at the least. Half of them braided warriors with bells ringing in their hair.
“The Qohorik knew he was coming. They strengthened their walls, doubled the size of their own guard, and hired two free companies besides, the Bright Banners and the Second Sons. And almost as an afterthought, they sent a man to Astapor to buy three thousand Unsullied. It was a long march back to Qohor, however, and as they approached they saw the smoke and dust and heard the distant din of battle.
“By the time the Unsullied reached the city the sun had set. Crows and wolves were feasting beneath the walls on what remained of the Qohorik heavy horse. The Bright Banners and Second Sons had fled, as sellswords are wont to do in the face of hopeless odds. With dark falling, the Dothraki had retired to their own camps to drink and dance and feast, but none doubted that they would return on the morrow to smash the city gates, storm the walls, and rape, loot, and slave as they pleased.
“But when dawn broke and Temmo and his bloodriders led their khalasar out of camp, they found three thousand Unsullied drawn up before the gates with the Black Goat standard flying over their heads. So small a force could easily have been flanked, but you know Dothraki. These were men on foot, and men on foot are fit only to be ridden down.
“The Dothraki charged. The Unsullied locked their shields, lowered their spears, and stood firm. Against twenty thousand screamers with bells in their hair, they stood firm.
“Eighteen times the Dothraki charged, and broke themselves on those shields and spears like waves on a rocky shore. Thrice Temmo sent his archers wheeling past and arrows fell like rain upon the Three Thousand, but the Unsullied merely lifted their shields above their heads until the squall had passed. In the end only six hundred of them remained… but more than twelve thousand Dothraki lay dead upon that field, including Khal Temmo, his bloodriders, his kos, and all his sons. On the morning of the fourth day, the new khal led the survivors past the city gates in a stately procession. One by one, each man cut off his braid and threw it down before the feet of the Three Thousand.
“Since that day, the city guard of Qohor has been made up solely of Unsullied, every one of whom carries a tall spear from which hangs a braid of human hair.
“That is what you will find in Astapor, Your Grace. Put ashore there, and continue on to Pentos overland. It will take longer, yes… but when you break bread with Magister Illyrio, you will have a thousand swords behind you, not just four.”
There is wisdom in this, yes, Dany thought, but… “How am I to buy a thousand slave soldiers? All I have of value is the crown the Tourmaline Brotherhood gave me.”
“Dragons will be as great a wonder in Astapor as they were in Qarth. It may be that the slavers will shower you with gifts, as the Qartheen did. If not… these ships carry more than your Dothraki and their horses. They took on trade goods at Qarth, I’ve been through the holds and seen for myself. Bolts of silk and bales of tiger skin, amber and jade carvings, saffron, myrrh… slaves are cheap, Your Grace. Tiger skins are costly.”
“Those are Illyrio’s tiger skins,” she objected.
“And Illyrio is a friend to House Targaryen.”
“All the more reason not to steal his goods.”
“What use are wealthy friends if they will not put their wealth at your disposal, my queen? If Magister Illyrio would deny you, he is only Xaro Xhoan Daxos with four chins. And if he is sincere in his devotion to your cause, he will not begrudge you three shiploads of trade goods. What better use for his tiger skins than to buy you the beginnings of an army?”
That’s true. Dany felt a rising excitement. “There will be dangers on such a long march…”
“There are dangers at sea as well. Corsairs and pirates hunt the southern route, and north of Valyria the Smoking Sea is demon-haunted. The next storm could sink or scatter us, a kraken could pull us under… or we might find ourselves becalmed again, and die of thirst as we wait for the wind to rise. A march will have different dangers, my queen, but none greater.”
“What if Captain Groleo refuses to change course, though? And Arstan, Strong Belwas, what will they do?”
Ser Jorah stood. “Perhaps it’s time you found that out.”
“Yes,” she decided. “I’ll do it!” Dany threw back the coverlets and hopped from the bunk. “I’ll see the captain at once, command him to set course for Astapor.” She bent over her chest, threw open the lid, and seized the first garment to hand, a pair of loose sandsilk trousers. “Hand me my medallion belt,” she commanded Jorah as she pulled the sandsilk up over her hips. “And my vest—” she started to say, turning.
Ser Jorah slid his arms around her.
“Oh,” was all Dany had time to say as he pulled her close and pressed his lips down on hers. He smelled of sweat and salt and leather, and the iron studs on his jerkin dug into her naked breasts as he crushed her hard against him. One hand held her by the shoulder while the other slid down her spine to the small of her back, and her mouth opened for his tongue, though she never told it to. His beard is scratchy, she thought, but his mouth is sweet. The Dothraki wore no beards, only long mustaches, and only Khal Drogo had ever kissed her before. He should not be doing this. I am his queen, not his woman.
It was a long kiss, though how long Dany could not have said. When it ended, Ser Jorah let go of her, and she took a quick step backward. “You… you should not have…”
“I should not have waited so long,” he finished for her. “I should have kissed you in Qarth, in Vaes Tolorru. I should have kissed you in the red waste, every night and every day. You were made to be kissed, often and well.” His eyes were on her breasts.
Dany covered them with her hands, before her nipples could betray her. “I… that was not fitting. I am your queen.”
“My queen,” he said, “and the bravest, sweetest, and most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Daenerys—”
“Your Grace,” he conceded, “the dragon has three heads, remember? You have wondered at that, ever since you heard it from the warlocks in the House of Dust. Well, here’s your meaning: Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar, ridden by Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya. The three-headed dragon of House Targaryen — three dragons, and three riders.”
“Yes,” said Dany, “but my brothers are dead.”
“Rhaenys and Visenya were Aegon’s wives as well as his sisters. You have no brothers, but you can take husbands. And I tell you truly, Daenerys, there is no man in all the world who will ever be half so true to you as me.”
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