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DAENERYS
The stench of the camp was so appalling it was all that Dany could do not to gag.

Ser Barristan wrinkled up his nose, and said, “Your Grace should not be here, breathing these black humors.”

“I am the blood of the dragon,” Dany reminded him. “Have you ever seen a dragon with the flux?” Viserys had oft claimed that Targaryens were untroubled by the pestilences that afflicted common men, and so far as she could tell, it was true. She could remember being cold and hungry and afraid, but never sick.

“Even so,” the old knight said, “I would feel better if Your Grace would return to the city.” The many-colored brick walls of Meereen were half a mile back. “The bloody flux has been the bane of every army since the Dawn Age. Let us distribute the food, Your Grace.”

“On the morrow. I am here now. I want to see.” She put her heels into her silver. The others trotted after her. Jhogo rode before her, Aggo and Rakharo just behind, long Dothraki whips in hand to keep away the sick and dying. Ser Barristan was at her right, mounted on a dapple grey. To her left was Symon Stripeback of the Free Brothers and Marselen of the Mother’s Men. Three score soldiers followed close behind the captains, to protect the food wagons. Mounted men all, Dothraki and Brazen Beasts and freedmen, they were united only by their distaste for this duty.

The Astapori stumbled after them in a ghastly procession that grew longer with every yard they crossed. Some spoke tongues she did not understand. Others were beyond speaking. Many lifted their hands to Dany, or knelt as her silver went by. “Mother,” they called to her, in the dialects of Astapor, Lys, and Old Volantis, in guttural Dothraki and the liquid syllables of Qarth, even in the Common Tongue of Westeros. “Mother, please … mother, help my sister, she is sick … give me food for my little ones … please, my old father … help him … help her … help me …”

I have no more help to give, Dany thought, despairing. The Astapori had no place to go. Thousands remained outside Meereen’s thick walls—men and women and children, old men and little girls and newborn babes. Many were sick, most were starved, and all were doomed to die. Daenerys dare not open her gates to let them in. She had tried to do what she could for them. She had sent them healers, Blue Graces and spell-singers and barber-surgeons, but some of those had sickened as well, and none of their arts had slowed the galloping progression of the flux that had come on the pale mare. Separating the healthy from the sick had proved impractical as well. Her Stalwart Shields had tried, pulling husbands away from wives and children from their mothers, even as the Astapori wept and kicked and pelted them with stones. A few days later, the sick were dead and the healthy ones were sick. Dividing the one from the other had accomplished nothing.

Even feeding them had grown difficult. Every day she sent them what she could, but every day there were more of them and less food to give them. It was growing harder to find drivers willing to deliver the food as well. Too many of the men they had sent into the camp had been stricken by the flux themselves. Others had been attacked on the way back to the city. Yesterday a wagon had been overturned and two of her soldiers killed, so today the queen had determined that she would bring the food herself. Every one of her advisors had argued fervently against it, from Reznak and the Shavepate to Ser Barristan, but Daenerys would not be moved. “I will not turn away from them,” she said stubbornly. “A queen must know the sufferings of her people.”

Suffering was the only thing they did not lack. “There is scarcely a horse or mule left, though many rode from Astapor,” Marselen reported to her. “They’ve eaten every one, Your Grace, along with every rat and scavenger dog that they could catch. Now some have begun to eat their own dead.”

“Man must not eat the flesh of man,” said Aggo.

“It is known,” agreed Rahkaro. “They will be cursed.”

“They’re past cursing,” said Symon Stripeback.

Little children with swollen stomachs trailed after them, too weak or scared to beg. Gaunt men with sunken eyes squatted amidst sand and stones, shitting out their lives in stinking streams of brown and red. Many shat where they slept now, too feeble to crawl to the ditches she’d commanded them to dig. Two women fought over a charred bone. Nearby a boy of ten stood eating a rat. He ate one-handed, the other clutching a sharpened stick lest anyone try to wrest away his prize. Unburied dead lay everywhere. Dany saw one man sprawled in the dirt under a black cloak, but as she rode past his cloak dissolved into a thousand flies. Skeletal women sat upon the ground clutching dying infants. Their eyes followed her. Those who had the strength called out. “Mother … please, Mother … bless you, Mother …”

Bless me, Dany thought bitterly. Your city is gone to ash and bone, your people are dying all around you. I have no shelter for you, no medicine, no hope. Only stale bread and wormy meat, hard cheese, a little milk. Bless me, bless me.

What kind of mother has no milk to feed her children?

“Too many dead,” Aggo said. “They should be burned.”

“Who will burn them?” asked Ser Barristan. “The bloody flux is everywhere. A hundred die each night.”

“It is not good to touch the dead,” said Jhogo.

“This is known,” Aggo and Rakharo said, together.

“That may be so,” said Dany, “but this thing must be done, all the same.” She thought a moment. “The Unsullied have no fear of corpses. I shall speak to Grey Worm.”

“Your Grace,” said Ser Barristan, “the Unsullied are your best fighters. We dare not loose this plague amongst them. Let the Astapori bury their own dead.”

“They are too feeble,” said Symon Stripeback.

Dany said, “More food might make them stronger.”

Symon shook his head. “Food should not be wasted on the dying, Your Worship. We do not have enough to feed the living.”

He was not wrong, she knew, but that did not make the words any easier to hear. “This is far enough,” the queen decided. “We’ll feed them here.” She raised a hand. Behind her the wagons bumped to a halt, and her riders spread out around them, to keep the Astapori from rushing at the food. No sooner had they stopped than the press began to thicken around them, as more and more of the afflicted came limping and shambling toward the wagons. The riders cut them off. “Wait your turn,” they shouted. “No pushing. Back. Stay back. Bread for everyone. Wait your turn.”

Dany could only sit and watch. “Ser,” she said to Barristan Selmy, “is there no more we can do? You have provisions.”

“Provisions for Your Grace’s soldiers. We may well need to withstand a long siege. The Stormcrows and the Second Sons can harry the Yunkishmen, but they cannot hope to turn them. If Your Grace would allow me to assemble an army …”

“If there must be a battle, I would sooner fight it from behind the walls of Meereen. Let the Yunkai’i try and storm my battlements.” The queen surveyed the scene around her. “If we were to share our food equally …”

“… the Astapori would eat through their portion in days, and we would have that much less for the siege.”

Dany gazed across the camp, to the many-colored brick walls of Meereen. The air was thick with flies and cries. “The gods have sent this pestilence to humble me. So many dead … I will not have them eating corpses.” She beckoned Aggo closer. “Ride to the gates and bring me Grey Worm and fifty of his Unsullied.”

“Khaleesi. The blood of your blood obeys.” Aggo touched his horse with his heels and galloped off.

Ser Barristan watched with ill-concealed apprehension. “You should not linger here overlong, Your Grace. The Astapori are being fed, as you commanded. There’s no more we can do for the poor wretches. We should repair back to the city.”

“Go if you wish, ser. I will not detain you. I will not detain any of you.” Dany vaulted down from the horse. “I cannot heal them, but I can show them that their Mother cares.”

Jhogo sucked in his breath. “Khaleesi, no.” The bell in his braid rang softly as he dismounted. “You must not get any closer. Do not let them touch you! Do not!”

Dany walked right past him. There was an old man on the ground a few feet away, moaning and staring up at the grey belly of the clouds. She knelt beside him, wrinkling her nose at the smell, and pushed back his dirty grey hair to feel his brow. “His flesh is on fire. I need water to bathe him. Seawater will serve. Marselen, will you fetch some for me? I need oil as well, for the pyre. Who will help me burn the dead?”

By the time Aggo returned with Grey Worm and fifty of the Unsullied loping behind his horse, Dany had shamed all of them into helping her. Symon Stripeback and his men were pulling the living from the dead and stacking up the corpses, while Jhogo and Rakharo and their Dothraki helped those who could still walk toward the shore to bathe and wash their clothes. Aggo stared at them as if they had all gone mad, but Grey Worm knelt beside the queen and said, “This one would be of help.”

Before midday a dozen fires were burning. Columns of greasy black smoke rose up to stain a merciless blue sky. Dany’s riding clothes were stained and sooty as she stepped back from the pyres. “Worship,” Grey Worm said, “this one and his brothers beg your leave to bathe in the salt sea when our work here is done, that we might be purified according to the laws of our great goddess.”

The queen had not known that the eunuchs had a goddess of their own. “Who is this goddess? One of the gods of Ghis?”

Grey Worm looked troubled. “The goddess is called by many names. She is the Lady of Spears, the Bride of Battle, the Mother of Hosts, but her true name belongs only to these poor ones who have burned their manhoods upon her altar. We may not speak of her to others. This one begs your forgiveness.”

“As you wish. Yes, you may bathe if that is your desire. Thank you for your help.”

“These ones live to serve you.”

When Daenerys returned to her pyramid, sore of limb and sick of heart, she found Missandei reading some old scroll whilst Irri and Jhiqui argued about Rakharo. “You are too skinny for him,” Jhiqui was saying. “You are almost a boy. Rakharo does not bed with boys. This is known.” Irri bristled back. “It is known that you are almost a cow. Rakharo does not bed with cows.”

“Rakharo is blood of my blood. His life belongs to me, not you,” Dany told the two of them. Rakharo had grown almost half a foot during his time away from Meereen and returned with arms and legs thick with muscle and four bells in his hair. He towered over Aggo and Jhogo now, as her handmaids had both noticed. “Now be quiet. I need to bathe.” She had never felt more soiled. “Jhiqui, help me from these clothes, then take them away and burn them. Irri, tell Qezza to find me something light and cool to wear. The day was very hot.”

A cool wind was blowing on her terrace. Dany sighed with pleasure as she slipped into the waters of her pool. At her command, Missandei stripped off her clothes and climbed in after her. “This one heard the Astapori scratching at the walls last night,” the little scribe said as she was washing Dany’s back.

Irri and Jhiqui exchanged a look. “No one was scratching,” said Jhiqui. “Scratching … how could they scratch?”

“With their hands,” said Missandei. “The bricks are old and crumbling. They are trying to claw their way into the city.”

“This would take them many years,” said Irri. “The walls are very thick. This is known.”

“It is known,” agreed Jhiqui.

“I dream of them as well.” Dany took Missandei’s hand. “The camp is a good half-mile from the city, my sweetling. No one was scratching at the walls.”

“Your Grace knows best,” said Missandei. “Shall I wash your hair? It is almost time. Reznak mo Reznak and the Green Grace are coming to discuss—”

“—the wedding preparations.” Dany sat up with a splash. “I had almost forgotten.” Perhaps I wanted to forget. “And after them, I am to dine with Hizdahr.” She sighed. “Irri, bring the green tokar, the silk one fringed with Myrish lace.”

“That one is being repaired, Khaleesi. The lace was torn. The blue tokar has been cleaned.”

“Blue, then. They will be just as pleased.”

She was only half-wrong. The priestess and the seneschal were happy to see her garbed in a tokar, a proper Meereenese lady for once, but what they really wanted was to strip her bare. Daenerys heard them out, incredulous. When they were done, she said, “I have no wish to give offense, but I will not present myself naked to Hizdahr’s mother and sisters.”

“But,” said Reznak mo Reznak, blinking, “but you must, Your Worship. Before a marriage it is traditional for the women of the man’s house to examine the bride’s womb and, ah … her female parts. To ascertain that they are well formed and, ah …”............
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