Through the gloom of night the dead men flew, raining down
upon the city streets. The riper corpses would fall to pieces in
the air, and burst when they came smashing down onto the
bricks, scattering worms and maggots and worse things.
Others would bounce against the sides of pyramids and
towers, leaving smears of blood and gore to mark the places
where they’d struck.
Huge as they were, the Yunkish trebuchets did not have the
range to throw their grisly burdens deep into the city. Most of
the dead were landing just inside the walls, or slamming off
barbicans, parapets, and defensive towers. With the six sisters
arrayed in a rough crescent around Meereen, every part of the
city was being struck, save only” “the river districts to the
north. No trebuchet could throw across the width of the
A small mercy, that, thought Barristan Selmy, as he rode into
the market square inside Meereen’s great western gate. When
Daenerys had taken the city, they had broken through that
same gate with the huge battering ram called Joso’s Cock,
made from the mast of a ship. The Great Masters and their
slave soldiers had met the attackers here, and the fighting had
raged through the surrounding streets for hours. By the time
the city finally fell, hundreds of dead and dying had littered
Now once again the market was a scene of carnage, though
these dead came riding the pale mare. By day Meereen’s brick
streets showed half a hundred hues, but night turned them
into patchworks of black and white and grey. Torchlight
shimmered in the puddles left by the recent rains, and painted
lines of fire on the helms and greaves and breastplates of the
Ser Barristan Selmy rode past them slowly. The old knight
wore the armor his queen had given him—a suit of white
enameled steel, inlaid and chased with gold. The cloak that
streamed from his shoulders was as white as winter snow, as
was the shield slung from his saddle. Beneath him was the
queen’s own mount, the silver mare Khal Drogo had given her
upon their wedding day. That was presumptous, he knew, but
if Daenerys herself could not be with them in their hour of
peril, Ser Barristan hoped the sight of her silver in the fray
might give heart to her warriors, reminding them of who and
what they fought for. Besides, the silver had been years in the
company of the queen’s dragons, and had grown accustomed
to the sight and scent of them. That was not something that
could be said for the horses of their foes.
With him rode three of his lads. Tumco Lho carried the
three-headed dragon banner of House Targaryen, red on
black. Larraq the Lash bore the white forked standard of the
Kingsguard: seven silver swords encircling a golden crown. To
the Red Lamb Selmy had given a great silver-banded
warhorn, to sound commands across the battlefield. His other
boys remained at the Great Pyramid. They would fight
another day, or not at all. Not every squire was meant to be a
It was the hour of the wolf. The longest, darkest hour of the
night. For many of the men who had assembled in the market
square, it would be the last night of their lives. Beneath the
towering brick facade of Meereen’s ancient Slave Exchange,
five thousand Unsullied were drawn up in ten long lines.
They stood as still as if they had been carved of stone, each
with his three spears, short sword, and shield. Torchlight
winked off the spikes of their bronze helmets, and bathed the
smooth-cheeked faces beneath. When a body came spinning
down amongst them, the eunuchs simply stepped aside,
taking just as many steps as were required, then closing ranks
again. They were all afoot, even their officers: Grey Worm first
and foremost, marked by the three spikes on his helm.”
The Stormcrows had assembled beneath the merchant’s
arcade fronting on the southern side of the square, where the
arches gave them some protection from the dead men. Jokin’s
archers were fitting strings to their bows as Ser Barristan rode
by. The Widower sat grim-faced astride a gaunt grey horse,
with his shield upon his arm and his spiked battle-axe in
hand. A fan of black feathers sprouted from one temple of his
iron halfhelm. The boy beside him” “was clutching the
company’s banner: a dozen ragged black streamers on a tall
staff, topped by a carved wooden crow.
The horselords had come as well. Aggo and Rakharo had
taken most of the queen’s small khalasar across the
Skahazadhan, but the old half-crippled jaqqa rhan Rommo
had scraped together twenty riders from those left behind.
Some were as old as he was, many marked by some old
wound or deformity. The rest were beardless boys, striplings
seeking their first bell and the right to braid their hair. They
milled about near the weathered bronze statue of the
Chainmaker, anxious to be off, dancing their horses aside
whenever a corpse came spinning down from above.
Not far from them, about the ghastly monument the Great
Masters called the Spire of Skulls, several hundred pit fighters
had gathered. Selmy saw the Spotted Cat amongst them.
Beside him stood Fearless Ithoke, and elsewhere Senerra SheSnake, Camarron of the Count, the Brindled Butcher, Togosh,
Marrigo, Orlos the Catamite. Even Goghor the Giant was
there, towering above the others like a man amongst boys.
Freedom means something to them after all, it would seem. The pit
fighters had more love for Hizdahr than they had ever shown
Daenerys, but Selmy was glad to have them all the same. Some
are even wearing armor, he observed. Perhaps his defeat of
Khrazz had taught them something.
Above, the gatehouse battlements were crowded with men
in patchwork cloaks and brazen masks: the Shavepate had
sent his Brazen Beasts onto the city walls, to free up the
Unsullied to take the field. Should the battle be lost, it would
be up to Skahaz and his men to hold Meereen against the
Yunkai’i … until such time as Queen Daenerys could return.
If indeed she ever does.
Across the city at other gates others forces had assembled.
Tal Toraq and his Stalwart Shields had gathered by the eastern
gate, sometimes called the hill gate or the Khyzai gate, since
travelers bound for Lhazar via the Khyzai Pass always left that
way. Marselen and the Mother’s Men had massed beside the
south gate, the Yellow Gate. The Free Brothers and Symon
Stripeback had drawn the north gate, fronting on the river.
They would have the easiest egress, with no foe before them
but a few ships. The Yunkishmen had placed two Ghiscari
legions to the north, but they were camped across the
Skahazadhan, with the whole width of the river between them
and the walls of Meereen.
The main Yunkish camp lay to the west, between the walls
of Meereen and the warm green waters of Slaver’s Bay. Two of
the trebuchets had risen there, one beside the river, the second
opposite Meereen’s main gates, defended by two dozen of
Yunkai’s Wise Masters, each with his own slave soldiers.
Between the great siege engines were the fortified
encampments of two Ghiscari legions. The Company of the
Cat had its camp between the city and the sea. The foe had
Tolosi slingers too, and somewhere out in the night were three
hundred Elyrian crossbowmen.
Too many foes, Ser Barristan brooded. Their numbers must
surely tell against us. This attack went against all of the old
knight’s instincts. Meereen’s walls were thick and strong.
Inside those walls, the defenders enjoyed every advantage. Yet
he had no choice but to lead his men into the teeth of the
Yunkish siege lines, against foes of vastly greater strength.
The White Bull would have called it folly. He would have
warned Barristan against trusting sellswords too. This is what
it has come to, my queen, Ser Barristan thought. Our fates hinge
upon a sellsword’s greed. Camarron, Goghor, and the Spotted Cat
for the pit fighters.” “You know our plan of attack,” the white knight
said, when the captains Your city, your people, our lives … the
Tattered Prince holds us all in his bloodstained hands.
Even if their best hope proved to be forlorn hope, Selmy
knew that he had no other choice. He might have held
Meereen for years against the Yunkai’i, but he could not hold
it for even a moon’s turn with the pale mare galloping through
A hush fell across the market square as the old knight and
his banner bearers rode toward the gatehouse. Selmy could
hear the murmur of countless voices, the sound of horses
blowing, whickering, and scraping iron-shod hooves over
crumbling brick, the faint clatter of sword and shield. All of it
seemed muffled and far away. It was not a silence, just a quiet,
the indrawn breath that comes before the shout. Torches
smoked and crackled, filling the darkness with shifting orange
Thousands turned as one to watch as the old knight wheeled
his horse around in the shadow of the great iron-banded
gates. Barristan Selmy could feel their eyes upon him. The
captains and commanders advanced to meet him. Jokin and
the Widower for the Stormcrows, ringmail clinking under
faded cloaks; Grey Worm, Sure Spear, and Dogkiller for the
Unsullied, in spiked bronze caps and quilted armor; Rommo
for the Dothraki; Camarron, Goghor, and the Spotted Cat for
the pit fighters.
“You know our plan of attack,” the white knight said when
the captains were gathered around him. “We will hit them first
with our horse, as oon as the gate is opened. Ride hard and
fast, straight at the slave soldiers. When the legions form up,
sweep around them. Take them from behind or from the flan,
but do not try their spears. Remember your objectives.”
“The trebuchet,” said the Widower. “The one the Yunkai’i call
Harridan. Take it, topple it, or burn it.”
Jokin nodded. “Feather as many of their nobles as we can.
And burn their tents, the big ones, the pavilions.”
“Kill many man,” said Rommo. “Take no slaves.”
Ser Barristan turned in the saddle. “Cat, Goghor, Camarron,
your men will follow afoot. You are known as fearsome
fighters. Frighten them. Scream and shout. By the time you
reach the Yunkish lines, our horsemen should have broken
through. Follow them into the breach, and do as much
slaughter as you can. Where you can, spare the slaves and cut
down their masters, the noblemen and officers. Fall back
before you are surrounded.”
Goghor smashed a fist against his chest. “Goghor not fall
Then Goghor die, the old knight thought, soon. But this was
not the time nor place for that argument. He let it pass, and
said, “These attacks should distract the Yunkai’i long ld rise or
fall, he knew. If the Yunkish commanders had any sense, they
would send their horse thundering down on the eunuchs
before they could form ranks, when they were most
vulnerable. His own cavalry would have to prevent that long
enough for the Unsullied to lock shields and raise their wall of
spears. “At the sound of my horn, Grey Worm will advance in
line and roll up the slavers and their soldiers. It may be that
one or more Ghiscari legions will march out to meet them,
shield to shield and spear to spear. That battle we shall surely
“This one hears,” said Grey Worm. “It shall be as you say.”
“Listen for my horn,” Ser Barristan told them. “If you hear
the retreat, fall back. Our walls stand behind us, packed with
Brazen Beasts. Our foes dare not come too close, or they will
find themselves in crossbow range. If you hear the horn sound
advance, advance at once. Make for my standard for the
queen’s.” He pointed at the banners in the hands of Tumco
Lho and Larraq.
The Widower’s horse sidled to his left. “And if your horn
falls silent, ser knight? If you and these green boys of yours
are cut down?”
It was a fair question. Ser Barristan meant to be the first
through the Yunkish lines. He might well be the first to die. It
often worked that way. “If I fall, command is yours. After you,
Jokin. Then Grey Worm.” Should all of us be killed, the day is
lost, he might have added, but they all knew that, surely, and
none of them would want to hear it said aloud. Never speak of
defeat before a battle, Lord Commander Hightower had told him
once, when the world was young, for the gods may be listening.
And if we come upon the captain?” asked the Widower.
Daario Naharis. “Give him a sword and follow him.” Though
Barristan Selmy had little love and less trust for the queen’s
paramour, he did not doubt his courage, nor his skill at arms.
And if he should die heroically in battle, so much the better.
“If there are no further questions, go back to your men and say
a prayer to whatever god you believe in. Dawn will be on us
“A red dawn,” said Jokin of the Stormcrows.
A dragon dawn, thought Ser Barristan.
He had done his own praying earlier, as his squires helped
him don his armor. His gods were far away across the sea in
Westeros, but if the septons told it true, the Seven watched
over their children wherever they might wander. Ser Barristan
had said a prayer to the Crone, beseeching her to grant him a
little of her wisdom, so that he might lead his men to victory.
To his old friend the Warrior he prayed for strength. He asked
the Mother for her mercy, should he fall. The Father he
entreated to watch over his lads, these half-trained squires
who were the closest things to sons that he would ever know.
Finally he had bowed his head to the Stranger. “You come for
all men in the end,” he had prayed, “but if it please you, spare
me and mine today, and gather up the spirits of our foes
Out beyond the city walls, the distant thump of a trebuchet
releasing could be heard. Dead men and body parts came
spinning down out of the night. One crashed amongst the pit
fighters, showering them with bits of bone and brain and
flesh. Another bounced off the Chainmaker’s weathered
bronze head and tumbled down his arm to land with a wet
splat at his feet. A swollen leg splashed in a puddle not three
yards from where Selmy sat waiting on his queen’s horse.
“The pale mare,” murmured Tumco Lho. His voice was
thick, his dark eyes shiny in his black face. Then he said
something in the tongue of the Basilisk Isles that might have
been a prayer.
He fears the pale mare more than he fears our foes, Ser Barristan
realized. His other lads were frightened too. Brave as they
might be, not one was blooded yet.
He wheeled his silver mare about. “Gather round me, men.”
When they edged their horses closer, he said, “I know what
you are feeling. I have felt the same myself, a hundred times.
Your breath is coming faster than it should. In your belly a
knot of fear coils like a cold black worm. You feel as though
you need to empty your bladder, maybe move your bowels.
Your mouth is dry as the sands of Dorne. What if you shame
yourself out there, you wonder? What if you forget all your
training? You yearn to be a hero, but deep down inside you
fear you might be craven.”
“Every boy feels the same way on the eve of battle. Aye, and
grown men as well. Those Stormcrows over there are feeling
the same thing. So are the Dothraki. There is no shame in fear,
unless you let it master you. We all taste terror in our time.”
“I am not afraid.” The Red Lamb’s voice was loud, almost to
the point of shouting. “Should I die, I will go before the Great
Shepherd of Lhazar, break his crook across my knee, and say
to him, ‘Why did you make your people lambs, when the
world is full of wolves?’ Then I will spit into his eye.”
Ser Barristan smiled. “Well said … but take care that you do
not seek death out there, or you will surely find it. The
Stranger comes for all of us, but we need not rush into his
“Whatever might befall us on the battlefield, remember, it
has happened before, and to better men than you. I am an old
man, an old knight, and I have seen more battles than most of
you have years. Nothing is more terrible upon this earth,
nothing more glorious, nothing more absurd. You may retch.
You will not be the first. You may drop your sword, your
shield, your lance. Others have done the same. Pick it up and
go on fighting. You may foul your breeches. I did, in my first
battle. No one will care. All battlefields smell of shit. You may
cry out for your mother, pray to gods you thought you had
forgotten, howl obscenities that you never dreamed could
pass your lips. All this has happened too.
“Some men die in every battle. More survive. East or west, in
every inn and wine sink, you will find greybeards endlessly
refighting the wars of their youth. They survived their battles.
So may you. This you can be certain of: the foe you see before
you is just another man, and like as not he is as frightened as
you. Hate him if you must, love him if you can, but lift your
sword and bring it down, then ride on. Above all else, keep
moving. We are too few to win the battle. We ride to make
chaos, to buy the Unsullied time enough to make their spear
“Ser?” Larraq pointed with the Kingsguard banner, even as a
wordless murmur went up from a thousand pairs of lips.
Far across the city, where the shadowed steps of Meereen’s
Great Pyramid shouldered eight hundred feet into a starless
sky, a fire had awoken where once the harpy stood. A yellow
spark at the apex of the pyramid, it glimmered and was gone
again, and for half a heartbeat Ser Barristan was afraid the
wind had blown it out. Then it returned, brighter, fiercer, the
flames swirling, now yellow, now red, now orange, reaching
up, clawing at the dark.
Away to the east, dawn was breaking behind the hills.
Another thousand voices were exclaiming now. Another
thousand men were looking, pointing, donning their helms,
reaching for their swords and axes. Ser Barristan heard the
rattle of chains. That was the portcullis coming up. Next
would come the groan of the gate’s huge iron hinges. It was
The Red Lamb handed him his winged helm. Barristan
Selmy slipped it down over his head, fastened it to his gorget,
pulled up his shield, slipped his arm inside the straps. The air
tasted strangely sweet. There was nothing like the prospect of
death to make a man feel alive. “May the Warrior protect us
all,” he told his lads. “Sound the attack.”
“May the Warrior protect us all… Sound the attack.”
“They are on our side!” The sellswords did not come to meet
his charge because they were already preoccupied with the
ironborn! “It’s like Baelor Breakspear and Prince Maekar, the
hammer and the anvil. We have them! We have them!”