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DAENERYS
Meereen was as large as Astapor and Yunkai combined. Like her sister cities she was built of brick, but where Astapor had been red and Yunkai yellow, Meereen was made with bricks of many colors. Her walls were higher than Yunkai’s and in better repair, studded with bastions and anchored by great defensive towers at every angle. Behind them, huge against the sky, could be seen the top of the Great Pyramid, a monstrous thing eight hundred feet tall with a towering bronze harpy at its top.  “The harpy is a craven thing,” Daario Naharis said when he saw it. “She has a woman’s heart and a chicken’s legs. Small wonder her sons hide behind their walls.”  But the hero did not hide. He rode out the city gates, armored in scales of copper and jet and mounted upon a white charger whose striped pink-and-white barding matched the silk cloak flowing from the hero’s shoulders. The lance he bore was fourteen feet long, swirled in pink and white, and his hair was shaped and teased and lacquered into two great curling ram’s horns. Back and forth he rode beneath the walls of multicolored bricks, challenging the besiegers to send a champion forth to meet him in single combat.  Her bloodriders were in such a fever to go meet him that they almost came to blows. “Blood of my blood,” Dany told them, “your place is here by me. This man is a buzzing fly, no more. Ignore him, he will soon be gone.” Aggo, Jhogo, and Rakharo were brave warriors, but they were young, and too valuable to risk. They kept her khalasar together, and were her best scouts too.  “That was wisely done,” Ser Jorah said as they watched from the front of her pavilion. “Let the fool ride back and forth and shout until his horse goes lame. He does us no harm.”  “He does,” Arstan Whitebeard insisted. “Wars are not won with swords and spears alone, ser. Two hosts of equal strength may come together, but one will break and run whilst the other stands. This hero builds courage in the hearts of his own men and plants the seeds of doubt in ours.”  Ser Jorah snorted. “And if our champion were to lose, what sort of seed would that plant?”  “A man who fears battle wins no victories, ser.”  “We’re not speaking of battle. Meereen’s gates will not open if that fool falls. Why risk a life for naught?”  “For honor, I would say.”  “I have heard enough.” Dany did not need their squabbling on top of all the other troubles that plagued her. Meereen posed dangers far more serious than one pink-and-white hero shouting insults, and she could not let herself be distracted. Her host numbered more than eighty thousand after Yunkai, but fewer than a quarter of them were soldiers. The rest... well, Ser Jorah called them mouths with feet, and soon they would be starving.  The Great Masters of Meereen had withdrawn before Dany’s advance, harvesting all they could and burning what they could not harvest. Scorched fields and poisoned wells had greeted her at every hand. Worst of all, they had nailed a slave child up on every milepost along the coast road from Yunkai, nailed them up still living with their entrails hanging out and one arm always outstretched to point the way to Meereen. Leading her van, Daario had given orders for the children to be taken down before Dany had to see them, but she had countermanded him as soon as she was told. “I will see them,” she said. “I will see every one, and count them, and look upon their faces. And I will remember.”  By the time they came to Meereen sitting on the salt coast beside her river, the count stood at one hundred and sixty-three. I will have this city, Dany pledged to herself once more.  The pink-and-white hero taunted the besiegers for an hour, mocking their manhood, mothers, wives, and gods. Meereen’s defenders cheered him on from the city walls. “His name is Oznak zo Pahl,” Brown Ben Plumm told her when he arrived for the war council. He was the new commander of the Second Sons, chosen by a vote of his fellow sellswords. “I was bodyguard to his uncle once, before I joined the Second Sons. The Great Masters, what a ripe lot o’ maggots. The women weren’t so bad, though it was worth your life to look at the wrong one the wrong way. I knew a man, Scarb, this Oznak cut his liver out. Claimed to be defending a lady’s honor, he did, said Scarb had raped her with his eyes. How do you rape a wench with eyes, I ask you? But his uncle is the richest man in Meereen and his father commands the city guard, so I had to run like a rat before he killed me too.”  They watched Oznak zo Pahl dismount his white charger, undo his robes, pull out his manhood, and direct a stream of urine in the general direction of the olive grove where Dany’s gold pavilion stood among the burnt trees. He was still pissing when Daario Naharis rode up, arakh in hand. “Shall I cut that off for you and stuff it down his mouth, Your Grace?” His tooth shone gold amidst the blue of his forked beard.  “It’s his city I want, not his meager manhood.” She was growing angry, however. If I ignore this any longer, my own people will think me weak. Yet who could she send? She needed Daario as much as she did her bloodriders. Without the flamboyant Tyroshi, she had no hold on the Stormcrows, many of whom had been followers of Prendahl na Ghezn and Sallor the Bald.  High on the walls of Meereen, the jeers had grown louder, and now hundreds of the defenders were taking their lead from the hero and pissing down through the ramparts to show their contempt for the besiegers. They are pissing on slaves, to show how little they fear us, she thought. They would never dare such a thing if it were a Dothraki khalasar outside their gates.  “This challenge must be met,” Arstan said again.  “It will be.” Dany said, as the hero tucked his penis away again. “Tell Strong Belwas I have need of him.”  They found the huge brown eunuch sitting in the shade of her pavilion, eating a sausage. He finished it in three bites, wiped his greasy hands clean on his trousers, and sent Arstan Whitebeard to fetch him his steel. The aged squire honed Belwas’s arakh every evening and rubbed it down with bright red oil.  When Whitebeard brought the sword, Strong Belwas squinted down the edge, grunted, slid the blade back into its leather sheath, and tied the swordbelt about his vast waist. Arstan had brought his shield as well: a round steel disk no larger than a pie plate, which the eunuch grasped with his offhand rather than strapping to his forearm in the manner of Westeros. “Find liver and onions, Whitebeard,” Belwas said. “Not for now, for after. Killing makes Strong Belwas hungry.” He did not wait for a reply, but lumbered from the olive grove toward Oznak zo Pahl.  “Why that one, Khaleesi?” Rakharo demanded of her. “He is fat and stupid.”  “Strong Belwas was a slave here in the fighting pits. If this highborn Oznak should fall to such the Great Masters will be shamed, while if he wins... well, it is a poor victory for one so noble, one that Meereen can take no pride in.” And unlike Ser Jorah, Daario, Brown Ben, and her three bloodriders, the eunuch did not lead troops, plan battles, or give her counsel. He does nothing but eat and boast and bellow at Arstan. Belwas was the man she could most easily spare. And it was time she learned what sort of protector Magister Illyrio had sent her.  A thrum of excitement went through the siege lines when Belwas was seen plodding toward the city, and from the walls and towers of Meereen came shouts and jeers. Oznak zo Pahl mounted up again, and waited, his striped lance held upright. The charger tossed his head impatiently and pawed the sandy earth. As massive as he was, the eunuch looked small beside the hero on his horse.  “A chivalrous man would dismount,” said Arstan.  Oznak zo Pahl lowered his lance and charged.  Belwas stopped with legs spread wide. In one hand was his small round shield, in the other the curved arakh that Arstan tended with such care. His great brown stomach and sagging chest were bare above the yellow silk sash knotted about his waist, and he wore no armor but his studded leather vest, so absurdly small that it did not even cover his nipples. “We should have given him chainmail,” Dany said, suddenly anxious.  “Mail would only slow him,” said Ser Jorah. “They wear no armor in the fighting pits. It’s blood the crowds come to see.”  Dust flew from the hooves of the white charger. Oznak thundered toward Strong Belwas, his striped cloak streaming from his shoulders. The whole city of Meereen seemed to be screaming him on. The besiegers’ cheers seemed few and thin by comparison; her Unsullied stood in silent ranks, watching with stone faces. Belwas might have been made of stone as well. He stood in the horse’s path, his vest stretched tight across his broad back. Oznak’s lance was leveled at the center of his chest. its bright steel point winked in the sunlight. He’s going to be impaled, she thought... as the eunuch spun sideways. And quick as the blink of an eye the horseman was beyond him, wheeling, raising the lance. Belwas made no move to strike at him. The Meereenese on the walls screamed even louder. “What is he doing?” Dany demanded.  “Giving the mob a show,” Ser Jorah said.  Oznak brought the horse around Belwas in a wide circle, then dug in with his spurs and charged again. Again Belwas waited, then spun and knocked the point of the lance aside. She could hear the eunuch’s booming laughter echoing across the plain as the hero went past him. “The lance is too long,” Ser Jorah said. “All Belwas needs do is avoid the point. Instead of trying to spit him so prettily, the fool should ride right over him.”  Oznak zo Pahl charged a third time, and now Dany could see plainly that he was riding past Belwas, the way a Westerosi knight might ride at an opponent in a tilt, rather than at him, like a Dothraki riding down a foe. The flat level ground allowed the charger to get up a good speed, but it also made it easy for the eunuch to dodge the cumbersome fourteen-foot lance.  Meereen’s pink-and-white hero tried to anticipate this time, and swung his lance sideways at the last second to catch Strong Belwas when he dodged. But the eunuch had anticipated too, and this time he dropped down instead of spinning sideways. The lance passed harmlessly over his head. And suddenly Belwas was rolling, and bringing the razor-sharp arakh around in a silver arc. They heard the charger scream as the blade bit into his legs, and then the horse was falling, the hero tumbling from the saddle.  A sudden silence swept along the brick parapets of Meereen. Now it was Dany’s people who were screaming and cheering.  Oznak leapt clear of his horse and managed to draw his sword before Strong Belwas was on him. Steel sang against steel, too fast and furious for Dany to follow the blows. It could not have been a dozen heartbeats before Belwas’s chest was awash in blood from a slice below his breasts, and Oznak zo Pahl had an arakh planted right between his ram’s horns. The eunuch wrenched the blade loose and parted the hero’s head from his body with three savage blows to the neck. He held it up high for the Meereenese to see, then flung it toward the city gates and let it bounce and roll across the sand.  “So much for the hero of Meereen,” said Daario, laughing.  “A victory without meaning,” Ser Jorah cautioned. “We will not win Meereen by killing its defenders one at a time.”  “No,” Dany agreed, “but I’m pleased we killed this one.”  The defenders on the walls began firing their crossbows at Belwas, but the bolts fell short or skittered harmlessly along the ground. The eunuch turned his back on the steel-tipped rain, lowered his trousers, squatted, and shat in the direction of the city. He wiped himself with Oznak’s striped cloak, and paused long enough to loot the hero’s corpse and put the dying horse out of his agony before trudging back to the olive grove.  The besiegers gave him a raucous welcome as soon as he reached the camp. Her Dothraki hooted and screamed, and the Unsullied sent up a great clangor by banging their spears against their shields. “Well done,” Ser Jorah told him, and Brown Ben tossed the eunuch a ripe plum and said, “A sweet fruit for a sweet fight.” Even her Dothraki handmaids had words of praise. “We would braid your hair and hang a bell in it, Strong Belwas,” said Jhiqui, “but you have no hair to braid.”  “Strong Belwas needs no tinkly bells.” The eunuch ate Brown Ben’s plum in four big bites and tossed aside the stone. “Strong Belwas needs liver and onions.”  “You shall have it,” said Dany. “Strong Belwas is hurt.” His stomach was red with the blood sheeting down from the meaty gash beneath his breasts.  “It is nothing. I let each man cut me once, before I kill him.” He slapped his bloody belly. “Count the cuts and you will know how many Strong Belwas has slain.”  But Dany had lost Khal Drogo to a similar wound, and she was not willing to let it go untreated. She sent Missandei to find a certain Yunkish freedman renowned for his skill in the healing arts. Belwas howled and complained, but Dany scolded him and called him a big bald baby until he let the healer stanch the wound ‘with vinegar, sew it shut, and bind his chest with strips of linen soaked in fire wine. Only then did she lead her captains and commanders inside her pavilion for their council.  “I must have this city,” she told them, sitting cross-legged on a pile of cushions, her dragons all about her. Irri and Jhiqui poured wine. “Her granaries are full to bursting. There are figs and dates and olives growing on the terraces of her pyramids, and casks of salt fish and smoked meat buried in her cellars.”  “And fat chests of gold, silver, and gemstones as well,” Daario reminded them. “Let us not forget the gemstones.”  “I’ve had a look at the landward walls, and I see no point of weakness,” said Ser Jorah Mormont. “Given time, we might be able to mine beneath a tower and make a breach, but what do we eat while we’re digging? Our stores are all but exhausted.”  “No weakness in the landward walls?” said Dany. Meereen stood on a jut of sand and stone where the slow brown Skahazadhan flowed into Slaver’s Bay. The city’s north wall ran along the riverbank, its west along the bay shore. “Does that mean we might attack from the river or the sea?”  “With three ships? We’ll want to have Captain Groleo take a good look at the wall along the river, but unless it’s crumbling that’s just a wetter way to die.”  “What if we were to build siege towers? My brother Viserys told tales of such, I know they can be made.”  “From wood, Your Grace,” Ser Jorah said. “The slavers have burnt every tree within twenty leagues of here. Without wood, we have no trebuchets to smash the walls, no ladders to go over them, no siege towers, no turtles, and no rams. We can storm the gates with axes, to be sure, but...”  “Did you see them bronze heads above the gates?” asked Brown Ben Plumm. “Rows of harpy heads with open mouths? The Meereenese can squirt boiling oil out them mouths, and cook your axemen where they stand.”  Daario Naharis gave Grey Worm a smile. “Perhaps the Unsullied should wield the axes. Boiling oil feels like no more than a warm bath to you, I have heard.”  “This is false.” Grey Worm did not return the smile. “These ones do not feel burns as men do, yet such oil blinds and kills. The Unsullied do not fear to die, though. Give these ones rams, and we will batter down these gates or die in the attempt.”  “You would die,” said Brown Ben. At Yunkai, when he took command of the Second Sons, he claimed to be the veteran of a hundred battles. “Though I will not say I fought bravely in all of them. There are old sellswords and bold sellswords, but no old bold sellswords.” She saw that it was true.  Dany sighed. “I will not throw away Unsullied lives, Grey Worm. Perhaps we can starve the city out.”  Ser Jorah looked unhappy. “We’ll starve long before they do, Your Grace. There’s no food here, nor fodder for our mules and horses. I do not like this river water either. Meereen shits into the Skahazadhan but draws its drinking water from deep wells. Already we’ve had reports of sickness in the camps, fever and brownleg and three cases of the bloody flux. There will be more if we remain. The slaves are weak from the march.”  “Freedmen,” Dany corrected. “They are slaves no longer.”  “Slave or free, they are hungry and they’ll soon be sick. The city is better provisioned than we are, and can be resupplied by water. Your three ships are not enough to deny them access to both the river and the sea.”  “Then what do you advise, Ser Jorah?”  “You will not like it.”  “I would hear it all the same.”  “As you wish. I say, let this city be. You cannot free every slave in the world, Khaleesi. Your war is in Westeros.”  “I have not forgotten Westeros.” Dany dreamt of it some nights, this fabled land that she had never seen. “If I let Meereen’s old brick walls defeat me so easily, though, how will I ever take the great stone castles of Westeros?”  “As Aegon did,” Ser Jorah said, “with fire. By the time we reach the Seven Kingdoms, your dragons will be grown. And we will have siege towers and trebuchets as well, all the things we lack here... but the way across the Lands of the Long Summer is long and grueling, and there are dangers we cannot know. You stopped at Astapor to buy an army, not to start a war. Save your spears and swords for the Seven Kingdoms, my queen. Leave Meereen to the Meereenese and march west for Pentos.”  “Defeated?” said Dany, bristling.  “When cowards hide behind great walls, it is they who are defeated, Khaleesi,” Ko Jhogo said. Her other bloodriders concurred. “Blood of my blood,” said Rakharo, “when cowards hide and burn the food and fodder, great khals must seek for braver foes. This is known.”  “It is known,” Jhiqui agreed, as she poured.  “Not to me.” Dany set great store by Ser Jorah’s counsel, but to leave Meereen untouched was more than she could stomach. She could not forget the children on their posts, the birds tearing at their entrails, their skinny arms pointing up the coast road. “Ser Jorah, you say we have no food left. If I march west, how can I feed my freedmen?”  “You can’t. I am sorry, Khaleesi. They must feed themselves or starve. Many and more will die along the march, yes. That will be hard, but there is no way to save them. We need to put this scorched earth well behind us.”  Dany had left a trail of corpses behind her when she crossed the red waste. It was a sight she never meant to see again. “No,” she said. “I will not march my people off to die.” My children. “There must be some way into this city.”  “I know a way.” Brown Ben Plumm stroked his speckled grey-andwhite beard. “Sewers.”  “Sewers? What do you mean?”  “Great brick sewers empty into the Skahazadhan, carrying the city’s wastes. They might be............
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