A Feast for Crows


By George R. R. Martin

Random House

George R. R. Martin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 055358202X


Chapter One

Daenerys

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.

Continues...


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