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Dany broke her fast under the persimmon tree that grew in the terrace garden, watching her dragons chase each other about the apex of the Great Pyramid where the huge bronze harpy once stood. Meereen had a score of lesser pyramids, but none stood even half as tall. From here she could see the whole city: the narrow twisty alleys and wide brick streets, the temples and granaries, hovels and palaces, brothels and baths, gardens and fountains, the great red circles of the fighting pits. And beyond the walls was the pewter sea, the winding Skahazadhan, the dry brown hills, burnt orchards, and blackened fields. Up here in her garden Dany sometimes felt like a god, living atop the highest mountain in the world.  Do all gods feel so lonely? Some must, surely. Missandei had told her of the Lord of Harmony, worshiped by the Peaceful People of Naath; he was the only true god, her little scribe said, the god who always was and always would be, who made the moon and stars and earth, and all the creatures that dwelt upon them. Poor Lord of Harmony. Dany pitied him. It must be terrible to be alone for all time, attended by hordes of butterfly women you could make or unmake at a word. Westeros had seven gods at least, though Viserys had told her that some septons, said the seven were only aspects of a single god, seven facets of a single crystal. That was just confusing. The red priests believed in two gods, she had heard, but two who were eternally at war. Dany liked that even less. She would not want to be eternally at war.  Missandei served her duck eggs and dog sausage, and half a cup of sweetened wine mixed with the juice of a lime. The honey drew flies, but a scented candle drove them off. The flies were not so troublesome up here as they were in the rest of her city, she had found, something else she liked about the pyramid. “I must remember to do something about the flies,” Dany said. “Are there many flies on Naath, Missandei?”  “On Naath there are butterflies,” the scribe responded in the Common Tongue. “More wine?”  “No. I must hold court soon.” Dany had grown very fond of Missandei. The little scribe with the big golden eyes was wise beyond her years. She is brave as well. She had to be, to survive the life she’s lived. One day she hoped to see this fabled isle of Naath. Missandei said the Peaceful People made music instead of war. They did not kill, not even animals; they ate only fruit and never flesh. The butterfly spirits sacred to their Lord of Harmony protected their isle against those who would do them harm. Many conquerors had sailed on Naath to blood their swords, only to sicken and die. The butterflies do not help them when the slave ships come raiding, though. “I am going to take you home one day, Missandei,” Dany promised. If I had made the same promise to Jorah, would he still have sold me? “I swear it.”  “This one is content to stay with you, Your Grace. Naath will be there, always. You are good to this - to me.”  “And you to me.” Dany took the girl by the hand. “Come help me dress.”  Jhiqui helped Missandei bathe her while Irri was laying out her clothes. Today she wore a robe of purple samite and a silver sash, and on her head the three-headed dragon crown the Tourmaline Brotherhood had given her in Qarth. Her slippers were silver as well, with heels so high that she was always half afraid she was about to topple over. When she was dressed, Missandei brought her a polished silver glass so she could see how she looked. Dany stared at herself in silence. Is this the face of a conqueror? So far as she could tell, she still looked like a little girl.  No one was calling her Daenerys the Conqueror yet, but perhaps they would. Aegon the Conqueror had won Westeros with three dragons, but she had taken Meereen with sewer rats and a wooden cock, in less than a day. Poor Groleo. He still grieved for his ship, she knew. If a war galley could ram another ship, why not a gate? That had been her thought when she commanded the captains to drive their ships ashore. Their masts had become her battering rams, and swarms of freedmen had torn their hulls apart to build mantlets, turtles, catapults, and ladders. The sellwords had given each ram a bawdy name, and it had been the mainmast of Meraxes - formerly Joso’s Prank that had broken the eastern gate. Joso’s Cock, they called it. The fighting had raged bitter and bloody for most of a day and well into the night before the wood began to splinter and Meraxes’ iron figurehead, a laughing jester’s face, came crashing through.  Dany had wanted to lead the attack herself, but to a man her captains said that would be madness, and her captains never agreed on anything. Instead she remained in the rear, sitting atop her silver in a long shirt of mail. She heard the city fall from half a league away, though, when the defenders’ shouts of defiance changed to cries of fear. Her dragons had roared as one in that moment, filling the night with flame. The slaves are rising, she knew at once. My sewer rats have gnawed off their chains.  When the last resistance had been crushed by the Unsullied and the sack had run its course, Dany entered her city. The dead were heaped so high before the broken gate that it took her freedmen near an hour to make a path for her silver. Joso’s Cock and the great wooden turtle that had protected it, covered with horsehides, lay abandoned within. She rode past burned buildings and broken windows, through brick streets where the gutters were choked with the stiff and swollen dead. Cheering slaves lifted bloodstained hands to her as she went by, and called her “Mother.”  In the plaza before the Great Pyramid, the Meereenese huddled forlorn. The Great Masters had looked anything but great in the morning light. Stripped of their jewels and their fringed tokars, they were contemptible; a herd of old men with shriveled balls and spotted skin and young men with ridiculous hair. Their women were either soft and fleshy or as dry as old sticks, their face paint streaked by tears. “I want your leaders,” Dany told them. “Give them up, and the rest of you shall be spared.”  “How many?” one old woman had asked, sobbing. “How many must you have to spare us?”  “One hundred and sixty-three,” she answered.  She had them nailed to wooden posts around the plaza, each man pointing at the next. The anger was fierce and hot inside her when she gave the command; it made her feel like an avenging dragon. But later, when she passed the men dying on the posts, when she heard their moans and smelled their bowels and blood...  Dany put the glass aside, frowning. It was just. It was. I did it for the children.  Her audience chamber was on the level below, an echoing high ceilinged room with walls of purple marble. It was a chilly place for all its grandeur. There had been a throne there, a fantastic thing of carved and gilded wood in the shape of a savage harpy. She had taken one long look and commanded it be broken up for firewood. “I will not sit in the harpy’s lap,” she told them. Instead she sat upon a simple ebony bench. it served, though she had heard the Meereenese muttering that it did not befit a queen.  Her bloodriders were waiting for her. Silver bells tinkled in their oiled braids, and they wore the gold and jewels of dead men. Meereen had been rich beyond imagining. Even her sellswords seemed sated, at least for now. Across the room, Grey Worm wore the plain uniform of the Unsullied, his spiked bronze cap beneath one arm. These at least she could rely on, or so she hoped... and Brown Ben Plumm as well, solid Ben with his grey-white hair and weathered face, so beloved of her dragons. And Daario beside him, glittering in gold. Daario and Ben Plumm, Grey Worm, Irri, Jhiqui, Missandei... as she looked at them Dany found herself wondering which of them would betray her next.  The dragon has three heads. There are two men in the world who I can trust, if I can find them. I will not be alone then. We will be three against the world, like Aegon and his sisters.  “Was the night as quiet as it seemed?” Dany asked.  “It seems it was, Your Grace,” said Brown Ben Plumm.  She was pleased. Meereen had been sacked savagely, as new-fallen cities always were, but Dany was determined that should end now that the city was hers. She had decreed that murderers were to be hanged, that looters were to lose a hand, and rapists their manhood. Eight killers swung from the walls, and the Unsullied had filled a bushel basket with bloody hands and soft red worms, but Meereen was calm again. But for how long?  A fly buzzed her head. Dany waved it off, irritated, but it returned almost at once. “There are too many flies in this city.”  Ben Plumm gave a bark of laughter. “There were flies in my ale this morning. I swallowed one of them.”  “Flies are the dead man’s revenge.” Daario smiled, and stroked the center prong of his beard. “Corpses breed maggots, and maggots breed flies.”  “We will rid ourselves of the corpses, then. Starting with those in the plaza below. Grey Worm, will you see to it?”  “The queen commands, these ones obey.”  “Best bring sacks as well as shovels, Worm,” Brown Ben counseled. “Well past ripe, those ones. Falling off those poles in bits and pieces, and crawling with...”  “He knows. So do I.” Dany remembered the horror she had felt when she had seen the Plaza of Punishment in Astapor. I made a horror just as great, but surely they deserved it. Harsh justice is still justice.  “Your Grace,” said Missandei, “Ghiscari inter their honored dead in crypts below their manses. if you would boil the bones clean and return them to their kin, it would be a kindness.”  The widows will curse me all the same. “Let it be done.” Dany beckoned to Daario. “How many seek audience this morning?”  “Two have presented themselves to bask in your radiance.”  Daario had plundered himself a whole new wardrobe in Meereen, and to match it he had redyed his trident beard and curly hair a deep rich purple. It made his eyes look almost purple too, as if he were some lost Valyrian. “They arrived in the night on the Indigo Star, a trading galley out of Qarth.”  A slaver, you mean. Dany frowned. “Who are they?”  “The Star’s master and one who claims to speak for Astapor.”  “I will see the envoy first.”  He proved to be a pale ferret-faced man with ropes of pearls and spun gold hanging heavy about his neck. “Your Worship!” he cried. “My name is Ghael. I bring greetings to the Mother of Dragons from King Cleon of Astapor, Cleon the Great.”  Dany stiffened. “I left a council to rule Astapor. A healer, a scholar, and a priest.”  “Your Worship, those sly rogues betrayed your trust. It was revealed that they were scheming to restore the Good Masters to power and the people to chains. Great Cleon exposed their plots and hacked their heads off with a cleaver, and the grateful folk of Astapor have crowned him for his valor.”  “Noble Ghael,” said Missandei, in the dialect of Astapor, “is this the same Cleon once owned by Grazdan mo Ullhor?”  Her voice was guileless, yet the question plainly made the envoy anxious. “The same,” he admitted. “A great man.”  Missandei leaned close to Dany. “He was a butcher in Grazdan’s kitchen,” the girl whispered in her ear. “It was said he could slaughter a pig faster than any man in Astapor.”  I have given Astapor a butcher king. Dany felt ill, but she knew she must not let the envoy see it. “I will pray that King Cleon rules well and wisely. What would he have of me?”  Ghael rubbed his mouth. “Perhaps we should speak more privily, Your Grace?”  “I have no secrets from my captains and commanders.”  “As you wish. Great Cleon bids me declare his devotion to the Mother of Dragons. Your enemies are his enemies, he says, and chief among them are the Wise Masters of Yunkai. He proposes a pact between Astapor and Meereen, against the Yunkai’i.”  “I swore no harm would come to Yunkai if they released their slaves,” said Dany.  “These Yunkish dogs cannot be trusted, Your Worship. Even now they plot against you. New levies have been raised and can be seen drilling outside the city walls, warships are being built, envoys have been sent to New Ghis and Volantis in the west, to make alliances and hire sellswords. They have even dispatched riders to Vaes Dothrak to bring a khalasar down upon you. Great Cleon bid me tell you not to be afraid.  “Astapor remembers. Astapor will not forsake you. To prove his faith, Great Cleon offers to seal your alliance with a marriage.”  “A marriage? To me?”  Ghael smiled. His teeth were brown and rotten. “Great Cleon will give you many strong sons.”  Dany found herself bereft of words, but little Missandei came to her rescue. “Did his first wife give him sons?”  The envoy looked at her unhappily. “Great Cleon has three daughters by his first wife. Two of his newer wives are with child. But he means to put all of them aside if the Mother of Dragons will consent to wed him.”  “How noble of him,” said Dany. “I will consider all you’ve said, my lord.” She gave orders that Ghael be given chambers for the night, somewhere lower in the pyramid.  All my victories turn to dross in my hands, she thought. Whatever I do, all I make is death and horror. When word of what had befallen Astapor reached the streets, as it surely would, tens of thousands of newly freed Meereenese slaves would doubtless decide to follow her when she went west, for fear of what awaited them if they stayed... yet it might well be that worse would await them on the march. Even if she emptied every granary in the city and left Meereen to starve, how could she feed so many? The way before her was fraught with hardship, bloodshed, and danger. Ser Jorah had warned her of that. He’d warned her of so many things... he’d... No, I will not think of Jorah Mormont. Let him keep a little longer. “I shall see this trader captain,” she announced. Perhaps he would have some better tidings.  That proved to be a forlorn hope. The master of the Indigo Star was Qartheen, so he wept copiously when asked about Astapor. “The city bleeds. Dead men rot unburied in the streets, each pyramid is an armed camp, and the markets have neither food nor slaves for sale. And the poor children! King Cleaver’s thugs have seized every highborn boy in Astapor to make new Unsullied for the trade, though it will be years before they are trained.”  The thing that surprised Dany most was how unsurprised she was. She found herself remembering Eroeh, the Lhazarene girl she had once tried to protect, and what had happened to her. It will be the same in Meereen once I march, she thought. The slaves from the fighting pits, bred and trained to slaughter, were already proving themselves unruly and quarrelsome. They seemed to think they owned the city now, and every man and woman in it. Two of them had been among the eight she’d hanged. There is no more I can do, she told herself. “What do you want of me, Captain?”  “Slaves,” he said. “My holds are full to bursting with ivory, ambergris, zorse hides, and other fine goods. I would trade them here for slaves, to sell in Lys and Volantis.-”  “We have no slaves for sale,” said Dany.  “My queen?” Daario stepped forward. “The riverside is full of Meereenese, begging leave to be allowed to sell themselves to this Qartheen. They are thicker than the flies.”  Dany was shocked. “They want to be slaves?”  “The ones who come are well spoken and gently born, sweet queen. Such slaves are prized. In the Free Cities they will be tutors, scribes, bed slaves, even healers and priests. They will sleep in soft beds, eat rich foods, and dwell in manses. Here they have lost all, and live in fear and squalor.”  “I see.” Perhaps it was not so shocking, if these tales of Astapor were true. Dany thought a moment. “Any man who wishes to sell himself into slavery may do so. Or woman.” She raised a hand. “But they may not sell their children, nor a man his wife.”  “In Astapor the city took a tenth part of the price, each time a slave changed hands,” Missandei told her.  “We’ll do the same,” Dany decided. Wars were won with gold as much as swords. “A tenth part. In gold or silver coin, or ivory. Meereen has no need of saffron, cloves, or zorse hides.”  “It shall be done as you command, glorious queen,” said Daario. “My Stormcrows will collect your tenth.”  If the Stormcrows saw to the collections at least half the gold would somehow go astray, Dany knew. But the Second Sons were just as bad, and the Unsullied were as unlettered as they were incorruptible. “Records must be kept,” she said. “Seek among the freedmen for men who can read, write, and do sums.”  His business done, the captain of the Indigo Star bowed and took his leave. Dany shifted uncomfortably on the ebony bench. She dreaded what must come next, yet she knew she had put it off too long already. Yunkai and Astapor, threats of war, marriage proposals, the march west looming over all... I need my knights. I need their swords, and I need their counsel. Yet the thought of seeing Jorah Mormont again made her feel as if she’d swallowed a spoonful of flies; angry, agitated, sick. She could almost feel them buzzing round her belly. I am the blood of the dragon. I must be strong. I must have fire in my eyes when I face them, not tears. “Tell Belwas to bring my knights,” Dany commanded, before she could change her mind. “My good knights.”  Strong Belwas was puffing from the climb when he marched them through the doors, one meaty hand wrapped tight around each man’s arm. Ser Barristan walked with his head held high, but Ser Jorah stared at the marble floor as he approached. The one is proud, the other guilty. The old man had shaved off his white beard. He looked ten years younger without it. But her balding bear looked older than he had. They halted before the bench. Strong Belwas stepped back and stood with his arms crossed across his scarred chest. Ser Jorah cleared his throat. “Khaleesi.. .”  She had missed his voice so much, but she had to be stem. “Be quiet. I will tell you when to speak.” She stood. “When I sent you down into the sewers, part of me hoped I’d seen the last of you. It seemed a fitting end for liars, to drown in slavers’ filth. I thought the gods would deal with you, but instead you returned to me. My gallant knights of Westeros, an informer and a turncloak. My brother would have hanged you both.” Viserys, would have, anyway. She did not know what Rhaegar would have done. “I will admit you helped win me this city...”  Ser Jorah’s mouth tightened. “We won you this city. We sewer rats.”  “Be quiet,” she said again.. . though there was truth to what he said. While Joso’s Cock and the other rams were battering the city gates and her archers were firing flights of flaming arrows over the walls, Dany had sent two hundred men along the river under cover of darkness to fire the hulks in the harbor. But that was only to hide their true purpose. As the flaming ships drew the eyes of the defenders on the walls, a few half-mad swimmers found the sewer mouths and pried loose a rusted iron grating. Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, Strong Belwas, and twenty brave fools slipped beneath the brown water and up the brick tunnel, a mixed force of sellswords, Unsullied, and freedmen. Dany had told them to choose only men who had no families... and preferably no sens............
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