A Feast for Crows
|Author:||George R. R. Martin
Bantam Spectra, 2005
|Series:||A Song of Ice and Fire: Book 4|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||High Fantasy|
|Avg Member Rating:||
Few books have captivated the imagination and won the devotion and praise of readers and critics everywhere as has George R. R. Martin's monumental epic cycle of high fantasy. Now, in A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth book of his landmark series, as a kingdom torn asunder finds itself at last on the brink of peace... only to be launched on an even more terrifying course of destruction.
A Feast for Crows
It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears.... With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King's Landing. Robb Stark's demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist -- or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.
But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces -- some familiar, others only just appearing -- are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.
It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes... and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests -- but only a few are the survivors.
She could hear the dead man coming. The slow, measured tread of footsteps went before him up the steps, echoing amongst the pillars of the purple marble hall.
"Your Grace," said Ser Barristan Selmy, the Lord Commander of her Queensguard, "there is no need for you to suffer this."
"There is." Dany's voice was firm. "He died for me." She clutched her lion pelt more tightly. Underneath her sheer white linen sleeping tunic covered her only to mid-thigh. She had been dreaming when Missandei woke her, dreaming of a house with a red door, and there had been no time to dress.
"Khaleesi," said her handmaid Irri, "you must not touch the dead man. It is bad luck to touch the dead."
"Unless you have killed them yourself," said Jhiqui, her other handmaid. She was bigger-boned than Irri, with wide hips and heavy breasts. "That is known."
"It is known," Irri agreed.
Dany paid them no mind. Dothraki were wise where horses were concerned, but they could be utter fools about much else. They are only girls, besides. Her handmaids were of an age with her; women grown to look at them, with their black hair, copper skin, and almond-shaped eyes, but children all the same. Khal Drogo had given them to her, who was her sun-and-stars. Drogo had given her the pelt too, the head and hide of a hrakkar, the white lion of the Dothraki sea. It was too big for her and had a musty smell, but it made her feel as if Drogo were still near her.
Grey Worm appeared first, climbing the steps with torch in hand. His captain's cap was crested with three spikes. Behind him followed four of his Unsullied, bearing the dead man on their shoulders. Beneath their spiked bronze caps, their faces showed so little they might have been cast of bronze as well.
Daenerys Targaryen awaited them seated on the ebony bench that she had made her throne. Her eyes were soft with sleep, her silver-gold hair all tousled. I am the blood of the dragon, she reminded herself, and the dragon knows no fear. They laid the corpse down at her feet. Ser Barristan pulled back the blood-stained shroud. Grey Worm lowered the torch, so she might see.
The dead man could not have been older than twenty. His face was smooth and hairless, though his cheeks had been slashed open almost ear to ear. He had been a tall man, fair of face, with pale blue eyes. Some child of Lys or old Volantis, she thought, snatched off a ship by corsairs, and sold into bondage in red Astapor. Though his eyes were open, it was his wounds that wept. There were more than she could count. Dany had seen him before, though could not remember ever speaking to him.
"Your Grace," Ser Barristan said, "there was a harpy drawn on the bricks in the alley where he was found... "
"... drawn in his own blood." Daenerys knew the way of it by now. The Sons of the Harpy did their butchery by night, and over each kill they left their mark. "Grey Worm, why was this man alone? Had he no partner?" When the Unsullied walked the streets of Meereen by night, they always walked in pairs.
"Gracious queen," replied the Unsullied captain, "your servant Stalwart Shield had no duty last night. He had gone to a... a certain place... to drink, and have companionship."
"A certain place? What place? What do you mean?"
"A house of pleasure, Your Grace." Beneath the spiked bronze cap, Grey Worm's face might have been made of stone.
A brothel. Half of her freedmen were from Yunkai, where the Wise Masters had been famed for training bed slaves. The way of the seven sighs. Small wonder if brothels had sprouted up like mushrooms, all over Meereen. It is all they know. They are fighting to survive. Food grew more costly every day, whilst flesh grew cheaper. In the poorer districts between the stepped pyramids of Meereen's slaver nobility, there were brothels catering to every conceivable erotic taste, yet even so...
"I do not understand. He was a eunuch." All her Unsullied were eunuchs. "Why would a eunuch visit a brothel?"
"Even those who lack a man's parts may still have a man's heart," said Grey Worm. "This one has been told that your servant Stalwart Shield sometimes gave coin to the women of the brothels, to lay with him and hold him."
The blood of the dragon does not weep. "Stalwart Shield. That was his name?"
"If it please Your Grace."
"Yes. It is a fine name." The Good Masters of Astapor had not allowed their slave soldiers even names. Some of her Unsullied reclaimed their birth names after she had freed them; others chose new names for themselves. "Is it known how many attackers fell upon Stalwart Shield?"
"This one does not know. Many."
"Six or more, I would judge," Ser Barristan put in. "From the look of his wounds, they swarmed him from all sides. His short sword was not found, though his scabbard was empty. It may be that he wounded some of his attackers."
"Let us hope he did." Dany prayed that somewhere one of them was dying even now, clutching at his belly and writhing in pain. "Why did they cut open his cheeks like that?"
"Gracious queen," said Grey Worm, "his killers had forced the genitals of a goat down the throat of your servant Stalwart Shield. This one removed them before bringing him here."
They could not feed him own genitals, Dany thought. The Astapori left him none, neither root nor stem. "The Sons grow bolder," she observed. Until now, they had limited their attacks to unarmed freedmen, cutting them down in the streets or breaking into their homes under the cover of darkness to murder them in their beds. "This is the first of my soldiers they have slain."
"The first," Ser Barristan warned, "but not the last."
I am still at war, Dany realized, only now I am fighting shadows. The thought made her weary. She had hoped to have a respite from the killing, a little time to build and heal.
She shrugged off the pelt and knelt on the marble, beside the corpse. Jhiqui gave a gasp as Dany gently closed the dead man's eyes. "Stalwart Shield shall not be forgotten, I promise you. Have him washed and dressed for battle, and bury him with cap and shield and spears."
"It shall be as Your Grace commands," said Grey Worm.
"When your men go forth today, send them to the homes of healers, to ask after any man seeking treatment for a sword wound. They should search for the sword of Stalwart Shield as well, and inquire of the butchers and the herdsmen as to who might have been castrating goats of late." Meereen was full of goats, and pigs, and dogs, but it could not hurt to ask. "Henceforth, see that no man of mine walks alone after dark, whether has the duty or no."
"These ones shall obey."
Daenerys pushed her hair back. "Find these cowards for me," she said fiercely. "Find them, so that I might teach the Harpy's Sons what it means to wake the dragon."
"They will be found, Your Grace." Grey Worm saluted her. The other Unsullied closed the shroud once more, lifted the dead man up onto their shoulders, and bore him from the hall.
Ser Barristan Selmy remained behind. His hair was white, and there were crow's feet at the corners of his pale blue eyes. Yet his back was still unbent, and the years had not yet robbed him of his skill at arms. "Your Grace," he said, "I fear your eunuchs are ill-suited for the tasks you set them."
Dany settled on her bench and wrapped her pelt about her shoulders once again. "The Unsullied are my finest warriors."
"Soldiers, not warriors, if it please Your Grace. They were made for the battlefield, to stand shoulder to shoulder behind their shields, with their spears thrust out before them. Their training teaches them to obey, fearlessly, perfectly, without thought or hesitation... not to unravel secrets or ask questions."
"Would knights serve me any better?" Selmy was training knights for her, teaching the sons of slaves to fight with lance and longsword in the Westerosi fashion... but what good would lances do, against cowards who killed from the shadows?
"Not in this," the old man admitted. "And Your Grace has no knights, save me. It will be years before the boys are ready."
"Then who, if not Unsullied? Not Dothraki."
"No," said Ser Barristan, unhappily.
"No," Dany agreed. Her khalasar was small, made up largely of green boys and old men. And Dothraki fought from horseback, which would never serve in the streets and alleys of the city. "Besides, my riders are needed outside the city."
Beyond Meereen's walls of many-colored brick her rule was tenuous at best. Thousands of slaves still toiled on vast estates in the hills, growing grain and olives, herding sheep and goats, and mining salt and copper. For the moment Meereen's granaries and storehouses held ample supplies of grain, oil, olives, dried fruit, and salted meat, but the city was full of hungry mouths, and little food was coming in.
So Daenerys had dispatched Aggo, Jhogo, and Rakharo to win her the city's hinterlands, whilst Brown Ben Plumm took his Second Sons south to guard against Yunkish incursions. To her gallant Daario Naharis she entrusted the most crucial task of all. Beyond the eastern hills was a range of rounded sandstone mountains, the Khyzai Pass, and Lhazar. If Daario could convince the Lhazarene to reopen the overland trade routes, grains could be brought down the river or over the hills at need... but the Lamb Men had no reason to love Meereen. Daario will win them over, if any man could. The sellsword captain was as glib and charming as any man that Daenerys Targaryen had ever known.
"Perhaps when Daario returns, I can use his Stormcrows in the streets," she told Ser Barristan, "but until such time, I have only the Unsullied." She got to her feet. "You must excuse me, ser. The day's petitioners will be gathering at the gates. I must needs don my floppy ears and become their queen again. Summon Reznak and the Shavepate, I'll see them when I'm dressed."
"As Your Grace commands." Selmy bowed.
The Great Pyramid of Meereen shouldered eight hundred feet into the sky, from its immense brick base to the lofty apex where the queen kept her private chambers, surrounded by greenery and fragrant pools. A cool blue dawn was breaking over the city as Dany walked out onto the terrace. Sunlight blazed off the golden domes of the Temple of the Graces to the west, and etched deep shadows behind the stepped pyramids of the mighty. In some of those pyramids, the Sons of the Harpy are plotting new murders even now, she thought grimly.
Viserion sensed her disquiet. The white dragon lay coiled around a pear tree, his head resting on his tail as he soaked up the sunlight. When Dany passed his eyes came open, two pools of molten gold. His horns were gold as well, as were the scales that ran down his long serpentine neck, back, and great tail. "You're lazy," she told him, scratching under his jaw. His scales were hot to the touch, like armor left cooking too long in the sun. Dragons are fire made flesh. She had read that in one of the books Ser Jorah had given her as a wedding gift. "You should be hunting with your brothers. Have you been fighting Drogon again?" Her dragons had grown wilder of late. Rhaegal had snapped at Irri, and Viserion had set Reznak's tokar ablaze the last time the seneschal had called. I have left them too much to themselves, she chided herself, but where am I to find the time for them?
Viserion lashed his tail sideways, thumping the trunk of the tree so hard that a pear came tumbling down to land at Dany's feet. His wings unfolded, and he half-flew, half-hopped onto the parapet. He is growing, she thought, as she watched him flap thrice and launch himself into the sky, they are all growing. Soon they will be large enough to bear my weight. Then she would fly as Aegon and his sisters once had flown, until Meereen was so small beneath her that she could blot it out with her thumb.
She watched Viserion climb in widening circles, until at least he was lost to sight beyond muddy waters of the Skahazadhan. Only then did Dany go back inside the pyramid, where Irri and Jhiqui were waiting to brush the tangles from her hair and garb her as befit the Queen of Meereen, in a Ghiscari tokar.
The garment was clumsy thing, a long loose shapeless sheet that had to be wound around her hips and under an arm and over a shoulder, with its dangling fringes carefully layered and displayed. Wound too loose, it was like to fall off; wound too tight, it would tangle, trip, and bind. Even wound properly, the tokar required its wearer to hold it in place with the left hand, to keep it from slipping. Walking in a tokar demanded small, slow, mincing steps and exquisite balance, lest one tread upon those heavy trailing fringes. It was not a garment meant for those who had to labor in a field or in a brick pit. Ghiscari law had forbidden slaves and freedmen from donning tokars, and they were too costly for the freeborn poor. The Ghiscari tokar was a master's garment, a sign of wealth and power.
Dany had wanted to ban the tokar when she took Meereen, but her council had convinced her otherwise. "The Mother of Dragons must don the tokar or be forever hated," warned the Green Grace, Galazza Galare. "In the wools of Westeros or a gown of Myrish lace, Your Radiance shall forever remain a stranger amongst us, a grotesque outlander, a barbarian conquerer. Meereen's queen must be a lady of Old Ghis." Brown Ben Plumm, the captain of the Second Sons, had put it to her more succinctly. "Man wants to be the king of the rabbits, he better get a pair o' floppy ears."
The floppy ears she chose today were made of sheer white linen, with a fringe of golden tassels. With Jhiqui's help, she wound the tokar about herself correctly on her third attempt, whilst Irri fetched her crown, wrought in the shape of the three-headed dragon of her House. The dragon's coils were gold, the wings were shining silver, the three heads ivory, onyx, and green jade. Her neck neck and shoulders would be stiff and sore from the weight of it before the day was done, but a crown should never sit easy on a king's head. One of her royal forebears had said that, once. King Aegon. It was an Aegon. But which one? Five Aegons had ruled over Westeros, and there would have been sixth, if the Usurper's dogs had not murdered her brother Rhaegar's son at his mother's breast. If he had lived I might have married him, she thought. Aegon would have been closer to my age than Viserys.
It did no good to dream, though. Aegon and his sister had been murdered before she was even born, along with their lady mother, Elia of Dorne. Prince Rhaegar had perished even earlier, slain by the Usurper on the Trident, and Viserys had died sceaming in Vaes Dothrak, with a crown of molten gold upon his head. They will kill me too, if I allow it, she reminded herself. The knives that slew my Stalwart Shield were meant for me.
She had not forgotten the slave children the Great Masters had nailed up along the road from Yunkai. She would never forget them. There had been one hundred sixty-three, a child every mile, nailed to mileposts with one arm outstetched to point her way. After Meereen had fallen, Dany nailed up a like number of Great Masters. Swarms of flies had attended their slow dying, and the stench had lingered long in the plaza. Yet some days she feared that she had not gone nearly far enough. These Meereenese were a sly and stubborn people who resisted her at every turn. They had freed their slaves, yes... only to hire them back as servants at wages so meagre that most could scarce afford to eat. Freedmen too old or young to be of use had been cast into the streets, along with the infirm and the crippled. And still the Great Masters gathered atop their lofty pyramids to complain of how the dragon queen had filled their noble city with hordes of unwashed beggars, thieves, and whores.
To rule Meereen I must have Meereenese, she told herself, however much I may despise them. "I am ready," she told Irri.
Reznak mo Reznak and Skahaz mo Kandaq awaited her atop the wide marble steps. "Magnificence," declared Reznak, "you are so radiant today I fear to look on you." The seneschal wore a tokar of maroon silk with a golden fringe that did little to conceal his plump, soft body. A small, damp, obsequious man, Reznak smelled as if he bathed in perfume. Like all Meereenese, he spoke a bastard form of High Valyrian, much corrupted and flavored with a thick Ghiscari growl.
"You are kind to say so," Dany answered, in a purer form of the same tongue.
"My queen," growled Skahaz, of the shaven head. Ghiscari hair grew coarse and dense and wiry; it had long been the fashion for the men of the Slaver Cities to tease it into horns and spikes and wings. By shaving, Skahaz had put old Meereen behind him to accept the new. His Kandaq kin had done the same after his example. Others followed, though whether from fear, fashion, or ambition, Dany could not say; shavepates, they were called. Skahaz was the Shavepate... and the vilest of traitors to the Sons of the Harpy and their ilk. "We were told about the eunuch."
"His name was Stalwart Shield."
"More will die, unless the murderers are punished." Even with his clean-shaven scalp, Skahaz had an odious face; a beetled brow, small eyes with heavy bags beneath them, a much-broken nose dark with blackheads, oily skin that looked more yellow than the usual amber of Ghiscari. It was a blunt, brutal, angry face. She could only pray it was an honest one as well.
"How can I punish them when I do not know they are?" Dany demanded of him. "Tell me that, bold Skahaz."
"You have no lack of enemies, Your Grace. You can see their pyramids from your terrace. Zhak, Hazkar, Ghazeen, Merreq, Loraq,all the old slaving families. Pahl. Pahl, most of all. A house of women now. Bitter old women with a taste for blood. Women do not forget. Women do not forgive."
No, Dany thought, and the Usurper's dogs will learn that, when I return to Westeros. It was true that there was blood between her and the house of Pahl. Oznak zo Pahl had been Meereen's hero, until Strong Belwas slew him bloodily beneath the city walls. Oznak's father, commander of Meereen's city watch, had died defending the gates when Joso's Cock smashed them into splinters and the Unsullied came swarming through the breach. Oznak's uncle had been among the hundred sixty-three on the plaza. Dany turned back to Reznak. "How much gold have we offered for information concerning the Sons of the Harpy?"
"One hundred honors, if it please Your Radiance."
"One thousand honors would please us more. Make it so."
"Your Grace has not asked for my counsel," said Skahaz. "Blood must pay for blood. Take one man from each of the families I have named, and kill him. The next time one of yours is slain, take two and kill them both. There will not be a third murder."
Reznak squealed in distress. "Noooo... gentle queen, such savagery would bring down the ire of the gods upon us. We will find the murderers, I promise you, and when we do they will prove to be baseborn filth, you shall see." The seneschal mopped his head. He was as bald as Skahaz, though not from shaving. "Do not think me disloyal because I have not shaved my pate," he had assured her when she raised him up. "Should any hair be so insolent as to appear, my barber stands with razor ready."
For all his assurances, Dany liked him little and trusted him less. She had not forgotten the maegi Mirri Maz Duur, who had repaid her kindness with betrayal. "Skahaz," she said, "I thank you for your counsel. Reznak, see what one thousand honors may accomplish." Clutching her tokar, Daenerys swept past them and down the broad marble stair. She took one step at a time, lest she trip over her fringe and go tumbling headfirst into court.
Missandei announced her. The little scribe had a sweet, strong voice. "All kneel for Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles and Mother of Dragons," she cried, as Dany made her slow descent.
The hall had filled. Unsullied stood with their backs to the pillars, holding their shields and spears, the spikes on their caps jutting upward like a row of knives. The Meereenese had gathered beneath the eastern windows, in a throng of shaven pates and twisted horns and hands and spirals. Her freedmen stood well apart from their former masters. Until they stand together, Meereen will know no peace. "Arise." Dany settled onto her bench. The hall rose. That at least they do as one, she thought.
Reznak mo Reznak had a list, as always. And as always, protocol demanded that the queen begin with the Astapori envoy, a former slave who had taken to calling himself Lord Ghael, though no one seemed to know what he was lord of.
Lord Ghael had a mouth of brown and rotten teeth and the pointed yellow face of a weasel. He also had a gift. "Cleon the Great sends these slippers, as a token of his love for Daenerys Stormborn, the Mother of Dragons," he announced.
Dany nodded to Irri, who fetched the slippers for her and put them on her feet. They were made of gilded leather, and decorated with green freshwater pearls. Does the butcher king believe a pair of pretty slippers will win my hand? "King Cleon is most generous," she said. "You must thank him for me. These are lovely." Lovely, but made for a child. Dany had small feet, yet the slippers mashed her toes together.
"Great Cleon will be pleased to know they pleased you," said Ghael. "His Magnificence bids me say as well that he stands ready to defend the Mother of Dragons from all her foes." If he proposes that I marry Cleon again, I'll throw this slipper at his head, Dany thought, but for once the Astapori envoy made no mention of a marriage. Instead he said, "The time has come for Astapor and Meereen to end the savage reign of the Wise Masters of Yunkai, sworn foes to all those who live in freedom. Great Cleon bids me tell you that he and his new Unsullied will soon march."
His new Unsullied are a obscene jape. Dany kept her face still. "King Cleon would be wise to tend his own gardens, and let the Yunkai'i tend to theirs." It was not that she harbored any love for Yunkai. More and more she was coming to regret leaving the Yellow City untaken after defeating its army in the field. The Wise Masters had returned to slaving as soon as she'd moved on, and were busy raising levies, hiring sellswords, and making alliances against her. Cleon the self-styled Great was little better, however. The Butcher King had restored slavery to Astapor the instant he took power, the only change being that the former slaves were now the masters and the former masters were now the slaves. Daenerys did not wish to ally herself with him any more than she wished to wed him... but neither did she desire to see him fall. Once Cleon was defeated, there would be nothing to stop the Yunkai'i from turning their eyes north toward Meereen. "I am only a young girl and know little of the ways of war," Dany warned Lord Ghael, "but it is said that Astapor is starving. Let King Cleon feed his people before he leads them out to battle." She made a gesture of dismissal, and the envoy bowed and withdrew.
"Magnificence," prompted Reznak mo Reznak, "will you hear the noble Hizdahr zo Loraq?"
Again? Stifling a groan, Dany nodded, and Hizdahr strode forth confidently; a tall man, very slender, with flawless amber skin. When he bowed, the top of his head brushed the purple marble of the floor where Stalwart Shield had lain in death not long before. I need this man, Dany reminded herself. Hizdahr had many friends in Meereen, and more across the seas. He had visited Volantis, Lys, and Qarth, had kin in Tolos and Elyria, and was said to wield great influence in New Ghis, where the Yunkai'i were trying to stir up emnity against Dany and her rule.
And he is rich. Famously and fabulously rich... and like to grow richer, if I grant his petition. When Dany had closed the city's fighting pits, the value of pit shares had plummeted. Hizdahr zo Loraq had grabbed them up with both hands, and now owned most of the pits in Meereen.
Hizdahr had wings of hair that sprouted from his temples as if his head was about to take flight. His long face was made even longer by a beard of wiry red-black hair that he bound with rings of gold. His purple tokar was fringed with amethysts and pearls. "Your Radiance will know the reason I am here."
"Why," she said, "it must be because you have no other purpose but to plague me. How many times have I refused you?"
"Five times, Your Magnificence."
"And now six. I will not have the fighting pits reopened."
"If Your Majesty will hear my arguments... "
"I have. Five times. Have you brought new arguments?"
"Old arguments," Hizdahr admitted, "new words. Lovely words, and courteous, more apt to move a queen."
"It is your cause I find wanting, not your courtesies. I have heard your arguments so often I could plead your case myself. Shall I?" She leaned forward. "The fighting pits have been a part of Meereen since the city was founded. The combats are profoundly religious in nature, a blood sacrifice to the gods of Ghis. The mortal art of Ghis is not mere butchery, but a display of courage, skill, and strength most pleasing to gods. Victorious fighters are well fed, pampered, and acclaimed, and the heroic slain are honored and remembered. By reopening the pits I would show the people of Meereen that I respect their ways and customs. The pits are far-famed across the world. They draw trade to Meereen, and fill the city's coffers with coin from the far ends of the earth. All men share a taste for blood, a taste the pits may slake. In that way they make Meereen more tranquil. For criminals condemned to die upon the sands, the pits represent a judgment by battle, a last chance for a man to prove his innocence. " Dany tossed her head. "There. How have I done?"
"Your Radiance has stated the case much better than I could have hoped to do myself. I see that you are eloquent as well as beautiful. I am quite persuaded."
Dany had to laugh. "Very good... but I am not."
"Your Magnificence," whispered Reznak mo Reznak in her ear, "if I might remind you, it is customary for the city to claim one-tenth of all the profits from the fighting pits, after expenses, as a tax. That coin might be put to many noble uses."
"It might," the queen agreed, "though if we were to reopen the pits, we should take our tenth before expenses. I am only a young girl and know little of trade, but I dwelled with Illyrio Mopatis and Xaro Xhoan Daxos long enough to know that much. It makes no matter. You are quick and clever, Hizdahr, and if you could marshall armies as you marshall arguments, you could conquer the world... but my answer is still no. For the sixth time."
He bowed again, as deeply as before. His pearls and amethysts clattered softly against the marble floor. A very limber man was Hizdahr zo Loraq. "The queen has spoken."
He might almost be handsome, but for that silly hair, Dany decided. Reznak and the Green Grace had been urging her to take a Meereenese noble for her husband, to reconcile the city to her rule. If it came to that, Hizdahr zo Loraq might be worth a careful look. Sooner him than Skahaz. The Shavepate had offered to set aside his wife for her, but the notion made her shudder. Hizdahr at least knew how to smile, though when Dany tried to imagine what it would be like to share her bed with him, she almost laughed aloud.
"Magnificence," said Reznak, consulting his list, "the noble Grazdan zo Galare would address you. Will you hear him?"
"It would be my pleasure," said Dany, admiring the glimmer of the gold and the sheen of the green pearls on Cleon's slippers while doing her best to ignore the pinching in her toes. Grazdan, she had been forewarned, was a cousin of the Green Grace, whose support and counsel Dany had found invaluable. The priestess was a voice for peace, acceptance, and obedience to lawful authority.
I can give her cousin a respectful hearing, whatever he desires.
What he desired turned out to be gold. Dany had refused to compensate any of the Great Masters for the value of the slaves that she had freed, but the Meereenese kept devising other ways to try and squeeze coin from her. The noble Grazdan was one such. He had once owned a slave woman who was a very fine weaver, he told her; the fruits of her loom were greatly valued, not only in Meereen, but in New Ghis and Astapor and Qarth. When this woman had grown old, Grazdan had purchased half a dozen young girls and commandered the crone to instruct them in the secrets of her craft. The old woman was dead now. The young ones, freed, had opened a shop by the harbor wall to sell their weavings. Grazdan zo Galare asked that he be granted a portion of their earnings. "They owe their skill to me," he insisted. "I plucked them from the auction bloc and gave them to the loom."
Dany listened quietly, her face still. When he was done, she said, "What was the name of the old weaver?" "The slave?" Grazdan shifted his weight, frowning. "She was... Elza, it might have been. Or Ella. It was six years ago she died. I have owned so many slaves, Your Grace."
"Let us say Elza." Dany raised a hand. "Here is our ruling. From the girls, you shall have nothing. It was Elza who taught them weaving, not you. From you, the girls shall have a new loom, the finest coin can buy. That is for forgetting the name of the old woman. You may go."
Reznak would have summoned another fool in a tokar next, but the queen insisted that he call upon one of the freedmen instead. From that point on she went back and forth between the former masters and the former slaves. Many and more of the matters brought before her involved redress. Meereen had been sacked savagely after its fall. The stepped pyramids of the mighty had been spared the worst of the ravages, but the humbler parts of the city had been given over to an orgy of looting and killing as the city's slaves rose up and the starving hordes who had followed herfrom Yunkai and Astapor came pouring through the broken gates. Her Unsullied had finally restored order, but the sack had left a plague of problems in its wake, and no one was quite certain which laws still held true. And so they came to see the queen.
An old rich woman came, whose husband and sons had died defending the city walls. She had fled to her brother in fear. Afterward, when she returned, she found her house had been turned into a brothel. The whores had bedecked themselves in her jewels and clothes. She wanted her house back, and her jewels. "They can keep the clothes," she allowed. Dany granted her the jewels, but ruled the house was lost when she abandoned it.
A former slave came, to accuse a certain noble of the Zhak. The man had recently taken to wife a freedwoman who had been the noble's bedwarmer before the city fell. The noble had taken her maidenhood, used her for his pleasure, and gotten her with child. Her new husband wanted the noble gelded for the crime of rape, and he wanted a purse of gold as well, to pay him for raising the noble's bastard as his own. Dany granted him the gold, but not the gedling. "When he lay with her, your wife was his property, to do with as he would. By law, there was no rape." Her decision did not please him, she could see, but if she gelded every man who ever forced a bedslave, she would soon rule a city of eunuchs.
A boy came, younger than Dany, slight and scarred, dressed up in a frayed grey tokar trailing silver fringe. His voice broke when he told of how two of his father's household slaves had risen up the night the gate broke. One had slain his father, the other his elder brother. Both had raped his mother before killing her as well. The boy had escaped with no more than the scar upon his face, but one of the murderers was still living in his father's house, and the other had joined the queen's soldiers as one of the Mother's Men. He wanted them both hanged.
I am queen over a city built on dust and death. Dany had no choice but to deny him. She had declared a blanket pardon for all crimes committed during the sack. Nor would she punish slaves for rising up against their masters.
When she told him, the boy made as if to rush at her, but his feet tangled in his tokar before he had taken two steps, and he went sprawling headlong on the purple marble. Strong Belwas was on him at once. The huge brown eunuch yanked him up one-handed and shook him like a mastiff with a rat. "Enough, Belwas," Dany called. "Release him." To the boy she said, "Treasure that tokar, for it saved your life. Had you laid your hand on us in anger, you would have lost that hand. You are only a boy, so we will forget what happened here. You should do the same." But as he left the boy looked back over his shoulder, and when she saw his eyes Dany thought, The harpy has another son.
And so her day crept by, tedious and terrifying by turns. By midday Daenerys was feeling the weight of the crown upon her head, and the hardness of the bench beneath her. With so many still waiting on her pleasure, she did not stop to eat. Instead she dispatched Jhiqui to the kitchens for a platter of flatbread, olives, figs, and cheeses. She nibbled whilst she listened, and sipped from a cup of watered wine. The figs were fine, the olives even finer, but the wine left a tart metallic aftertaste in her mouth. The small, pale yellow grapes native to these regions produced a notably inferior vintage. We shall have no trade in wine, Dany realized as she sipped. Besides, the Great Masters had burned the best arbors along with the olive trees.
In the afternoon a famous shavepate sculptor came before her, seeking leave to replace the head of the great bronze harpy in the Plaza of Purification with one cast in Dany's image. She denied him with as much courtesy as she could muster, struggling not to shudder. A pike of unprecedented size had been caught in the Skahazadhan, and the fisherman who'd caught it wished to give it to the queen. She admired the fish extravagantly, presented the fisherman with a plump purse of silver, and sent the pike down to her kitchens. A young coppersmith had fashioned her a shining suit of burnished rings to wear to war. She accepted it with fulsome thanks; it was lovely to behold, and all that burnished copper would no doubt flash prettily in the sun, though if actual battled threatened she would sooner be clad in steel. Even a young girl who knew nothing of the ways of war knew that.
By that time the slippers the Butcher King had sent her had grown too uncomfortable. Dany slipped them off, and sat with one bare foot tucked beneath her and the other swinging back and forth. It was not a very regal pose, she knew, but she was tired of being regal. The crown had given her a headache, and her buttocks were threatening to go to sleep. "Ser Barristan," she called, "I know what quality a king needs most."
"Courage?" the old man said at once.
"No," she teased, "cheeks like iron. All I do is sit."
"Your Grace takes too much on herself. You should allow your councillors to shoulder more of your burdens."
"I have too many councillors. What I need is cushions." Dany turned to Reznak. "How many more?"
"Three and twenty, if it please Your Magnificence. With as many claims." The seneschal consulted some papers. "One calf and three goats. The rest will be sheep or lambs, no doubt."
"Three and twenty," Dany repeated, incredulous. "My dragons have developed a prodigious taste for mutton since we began to pay the shepherds for their kills. Have these claims been proven?"
Reznak bowed. "Magnificence, if a dragon descends from the sky and eats a man's sheep, how is he to prove it? Some men have brought burnt bones."
"Men make fires," Dany pointed out. "Men eat sheep. Burnt bones prove nothing. Brown Ben Plumm says there are still red wolves in the hills outside the city, and jackals and wild dogs. Must we pay good silver for every lamb that goes astray between Yunkai and the Skahazadhan?"
"No, Magificence." He bowed again, more deeply. "Shall I send these rascals away, or will you want them scourged?"
"Scourged?" Daenerys shifted on the bench. The ebony felt very hard beneath her. "No man should ever fear to come to me. Pay them." Some of the claims were false, she could not doubt it, but more were likely genuine. Her dragons had grown too large to feast on rats and cats and dogs, as once they'd done. The more they eat the larger they will grow, Ser Barristan had warned her, and the larger they grow, the more they'll need to eat. Drogon especially ranged far afield and Dany did not doubt that he could devour a sheep a day. "Pay them for the value of their animals," she told Reznak, "but henceforth any claimants must present themselves at the Temple of the Graces, and swear a holy oath before the gods of Ghis."
"It shall be done." Reznak turned to face the remaining petitioners. "Her Magnificence the Queen has consented to compensate each of you for the animals you have lost," he told them, in the Ghiscari tongue, the only tongue that most of them understood. "Present yourselves to my factors on the morrow, and you shall be paid in coin or kind, as you prefer."
The pronouncement was received in sullen silence. You would think they might be happier, Dany thought, annoyed. They have what they came for. Is there no way to please these people?
One man lingered behind as the rest were filing out; a squat man with a windburnt face, shabbily dressed. His hair was a cap of coarse red-black wire cropped about his ears, and in one hand he held a sad cloth sack. He stood with his head down, gazing at the marble floor as if he had quite forgotten where he was. And what does this one want? Dany wondered, frowning.
"All kneel for Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles and Mother of Dragons," cried Missandei in her high, sweet voice.
As Dany stood, her tokar began to slip. She caught it and tugged it back in place. "You with the sack," she called, "did you wish to speak with us? You may approach."
When he raised his head, his eyes were red and raw as open sores. Dany glimpsed Ser Barristan sliding closer, a white shadow at her side. The man approached in a stumbling shuffle, one step and then another, clutching his sack. Is he drunk, or ill? she wondered. There was dirt beneath his cracked yellow fingernails.
"What is it?" she demanded. "Do you have some grievance to lay before us, some petition? What would you have of us?"
His tongue flicked nervously over chapped, cracked lips. "I... I brought... "
"Bones?" she said, impatiently. "Burnt bones?"
He lifted the sack, and spilled its contents on the marble.
Bones they were, broken bones and blackened. The longer ones had been cracked open for their marrow.
"It were the green one," the man said, in a thick Ghscari growl. "He come down from the sky and... and... "
Rhaegal, Dany thought. No, no, oh no.
"Are you deaf, fool?" Reznak mo Reznak demanded of the man. "Did you not hear my pronouncement? See my factors on the morrow, and you shall be paid for your sheep."
"Reznak," Ser Barristan said, in a hoarse voice, "hold your tongue and open your eyes. Those are no sheep bones."
No, Dany thought, those are the bones of a child.
Copyright © 2005 by George R. R. Martin
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