“And the losers? What shall they receive?”
“Their names shall be graven on the Gates of Fate amongst the other valiant fallen.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)
Events inside and outside of Meereen were quickly coming to a head. Within the walls, Dany’s peace overture through a marriage offer to Hizdahr zo Loraq would meet with surprising success while Yunkai’s armies finally linked-up with its navy and began to encircle the beleaguered city. Peace hung on an extremely unstable balance. But while Dany may have been keen on peace, there were factors both internal within her and external which would force the hand of war.
This will be the last part devoid of spoilers from The Winds of Winter. So, if you’re avoiding spoilers, you’ll be good to go here. In this section, I’ll talk about the voyage of the Iron Fleet, the unstable peace in Meereen, Yunkai’s siege lines (as well as the introduction of Tyrion Lannister in Meereen) and then finally close out with the return of Drogon and the first shatterings of the peace in Meereen.
The First Days of Peace in Meereen
“I have to trust in Hizdahr. I have to hope for peace.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
Image courtesy of Enife
In the chapters following Dany’s deal with Hizdahr, (Dany V-VIII), we find the city of Meereen living under an uneasy peace. But while the peace was uneasy, it was still peace. This is both a testament to Dany’s restrained, moderate rule as well as well, to the ability of the Sons of the Harpy to give peace a chance. But even while the internal situation within Meereen would stabilize, the Yunkai’i and their allies would finally arrived in force outside of Meereen’s famous walls.
Within Meereen, Hizdahr was busy. Immediately following Dany’s proposal, Hizdahr went to work on behalf of peace. According to Skahaz, Hizdahr visited 11 of the great pyramids of Meereen and engaged in hours-long talks with the various noble families therein in hopes of keeping the internal peace of Meereen.
Skahaz believed that this was evidence of Hizdahr’s involvement with the Sons of the Harpy. To Skahaz, the evidence was plain.
“How? The Sons of the Harpy have put down their knives, but why? Because the noble Hizdahr asked sweetly? He is one of them, I tell you. That’s why they obey him. He may well be the Harpy.”. (ADWD, Daenerys V)
But Daenerys was skeptical of Hizdahr’s involvement. To her, Hizdahr’s actions seemed in keeping with the promise he made to her to provide a peace for the city. And Dany, being the closet realist that she was, didn’t dismiss the notion that Hizdahr used under-handed means to achieve peace.
“Hizdahr zo Loraq is a persuasive man with many friends. And he is wealthy. Perhaps he has bought this peace for us with gold, or convinced the other highborn that our marriage is in their best interests.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
But whether Skahaz or Dany was right, the truth was plain enough. By Dany V, Meereen had gone 26 days without a single murder by the Sons of the Harpy. Why? I think there were 3 reasons.
- The Great Masters of Meereen and the Sons of the Harpy realized that they couldn’t win militarily against Dany – Insurgency has the advantage against a hegemonic military power in that the insurgents are often able to cause chaos for the existing political structure, it’s often unable to win outright against a larger military force. And in historical cases where the insurgents won, such as Mao in China and Lenin in Russia, the insurgency gained a groundswell of popular support and transitioned to conventional warfare against the Russian and Chinese governments. For the Sons of the Harpy, they were almost entirely comprised of members of the nobility. Dany’s liberation of the slave population of Meereen ensured that a significant portion of Meereen’s population (The Freedmen) would remain steadfastly loyal to Daenerys.
- The Great Masters stood to lose a lot more if Yunkai and Meereen went to war – When Victarion visited Volantis, the city was drunk with the thought of the wealth and slaves that the war against Meereen would bring to the city. Yunkai was likely of a similar mind. If the Yunkish and her allies fought and won against Meereen, the people most likely to be negatively impacted would be the Great Masters. They would certainly lose their status in society, their wealth, their freedom and likely their lives as well. Daenerys and her army of Unsullied, Freedmen, Dothraki and sellswords stood between the Great Masters and ruin. Furthermore, if Dany could achieve peace within the city, it was possible that there wouldn’t be a need for war at all.
- Most importantly, Daenerys was willing to meet the Great Masters halfway – Compromise is the mortar for any negotiation. Dany was willing to re-open the fighting pits in Meereen (more on that in a bit). Moreover, Dany’s peaceful overtures to the Great Masters provided reason for them to attempt peace. She had chained two of her dragons in the city, and she had spared the child-hostages in Meereen. And Dany was willing to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq. As stated in part 2, Hizdahr was both personally and politically moderate in Meereen. He represented the halfway point between Dany’s anti-slavery stance and the Great Masters’ pro-slavery one. Any children born from the marriage would bear children who had both Ghiscari and Targaryen traits. And though they wouldn’t get their precious slave trade restored in Meereen, Dany was willing to compromise on enough factors to make peace preferable to continued violent struggle.
The Voyage of the Iron Fleet
Fifty-four, Victarion thought sourly when they woke him, and she sails alone. Silently he cursed the Storm God for his malice, his rage, a black stone in his belly. Where are my ships? (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
Image courtesy of Hengest
While Daenerys took her first steps towards peace in Meereen, Victarion and the Iron Fleet were en-route to make war. But all the while since the Shield Islands, Victarion had been suffering from the wound he received during the battle. His hand was not healing. By all accounts, it was growing worse, and this would have a significant impact.
Victarion’s initial plan was simple: he would take 93 ships to Meereen, retrieve Daenerys for himself and then hustle back to Westeros. In order to achieve this, he divided his 93 ships into 3 squadrons that had 3 separate separate missions as follows:
- Squadron 1 would be led by Red Ralf Stonehouse. They consisted of the lightest ships in the Iron Fleet. Their purpose was to sail along the northern coast of Sothoryos and raid for supplies along the coast.
- Squadron 2 was led by Ralf the Limper. They had the largest, heaviest ships. Their missions was to sell all the captives taken in the Shield Islands into slavery at the city of Lys in order to gather coin for the mission to Meereen and the overall conquest of Westeros by the Ironborn.
- Squadron 3 was led by Victarion himself. Their mission was simply to take on supplies at Volantis and then head further south around Valyria to seize merchant vessels for the movement to Meereen.
After each squadron completed their individual mission, the squadrons would link-up at the Isle of Cedars, an island separating the northern section of the Gulf of Grief and the southern portion of Slaver’s Bay where the entire fleet would then sail towards Meereen. To get a better idea of what this sort-of looked like, I’ve created a map so you can see the full journey.
Note: I tried drawing the journeys of all the Ironborn squadrons, but it became a jumbled mess. So, I opted only to include one of the fleet’s journeys in the map to the Isle of Cedars. For the moment, just imagine that the fleets swung south around Valyria after completing their missions before heading up the Gulf of Grief to the Isle of Cedars.
It was a simple plan and a good one too, but no good plan survives first contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy would be the weather.
The initial leg of the journey had been the easy part. 93 ships departed of the Iron Fleet departed the Shield Islands to the Stepstones where they picked up re-supply. When they departed the Stepstones, the Iron Fleet seized a merchant vessel by the name of the Noble Lady and they seized 5 more ships near the Stepstones. This initial piracy began a program that would continue on their long voyage. But problems arose along the way.
Twenty-two of Victarion’s own had straggled in, by threes and fours, sometimes alone; fourteen of Ralf the Limper’s; only nine of those that had sailed with Red Ralf Stonehouse. Red Ralf himself was amongst the missing. To their number the fleet had added nine new prizes taken on the seas, so the sum was fifty-four … but the captured ships were cogs and fishing boats, merchantmen and slavers, not warships. In battle, they would be poor substitutes for the lost ships of the Iron Fleet. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
And what had happened to the fleets along the way? Ralf the Limper had an answer for Victarion.
“Storms,” Ralf the Limper had muttered when he came crawling to Victarion. “Three big storms, and foul winds between. Red winds out of Valyria that smelled of ash and brimstone, and black winds that drove us toward that blighted shore.” (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
Victarion replenished some of his ships with those that the Iron Fleet captured, but in the end, the final count of ships that Victarion had was 54. I’d estimate that Victarion had something like 3600-4000 Iron Island Raiders aboard all the ships (Estimate taken from historical fact that 1 Viking longship held between 80 and 90 raiders – Victarion had 45 longships that survived the journey across the Narrow Sea.)
But where were the remaining ships of the Iron Fleet? Had they all sank or scattered in the storms? Or was there another storm that Victarion didn’t anticipate that was taking his ships? Much, much more on this in part 5.
Prior to journeying into Slaver’s Bay, the Iron Fleet made a stop at Volantis. If you’ll recall from part 1, Yunkai had been attempting to enlist Volantis in its war against Meereen. In Volantis, Victarion observed troubling events in the city.
In Volantis he had seen the galleys taking on provisions. The whole city had seemed drunk. Sailors and soldiers and tinkers had been observed dancing in the streets with nobles and fat merchants, and in every inn and winesink cups were being raised to the new triarchs. All the talk had been of the gold and gems and slaves that would flood into Volantis once the dragon queen was dead. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
Volantis had finally decided to ally with Yunkai and join the war against Daenerys in Meereen, and they would bring their fleet to bear on Meereen. This fleet would greatly outnumber Victarion’s 54 ships.
They will be sweeping north toward Meereen and Yunkai, great dromonds of war teeming with slave soldiers. If the Storm God spared them, by now they could be in the Gulf of Grief. Three hundred ships, perhaps as many as five hundred. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
When the Volantene Fleet sets sail, they will outnumber Victarion and the Iron Fleet many times over. Victarion couldn’t dawdle any longer. He had to rush into the Slaver’s Bay before the Volantene Fleet joined Yunkai’s blockade of Meereen. And he needed to move all the more quickly so that the Iron Fleet wouldn’t be trapped by the on-coming Volantene Fleet.
“Four-and-fifty ships is too few,” he told the dusky woman, “but I can wait no longer. The only way”—He grunted as she peeled the bandage off, tearing a crust of scab as well. The flesh beneath was green and black where the sword had sliced him.—“the only way to do this is to take the slavers unawares, as once I did at Lannisport. Sweep in from the sea and smash them, then take the girl and race for home before the Volantenes descend upon us.” (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
It would be an incredibly risky move for the Iron Fleet to try this approach. For one, it would mean beating the Volantenes into Slaver’s Bay. And not only would the Iron Fleet have to sail first into Slaver’s Bay, but they would need to then attack the siege lines outside of Meereen, break them and then drag Daenerys out of a gated city. Oh, and they would also need to do all this before the Volantenes sailed in behind the Iron Fleet and trapped them in the waters outside of Meereen.
But for the Lord Admiral of the Iron Fleet, things were growing even more dire for him personally. The wound that he had taken on the Shield Islands was not healing. In fact, it was growing worse. Victarion had a personal maester who attended his wound, but he had been unable to heal the wound. Fortunately for Victarion, fate would strike in the form of a red priest.
While Victarion stewed over his options and his wounded hand, word reached Victarion that a red priest named Moqorro had been found drifting in the water. When brought aboard Victarion’s ship, the first impulse of the Ironborn had been to throw him back over the side of the ship as a sacrifice to the Drowned God. But Moqorro had something that would keep himself alive. He told Victarion that he would Victarion would die unless Moqorro was given leave to heal the hand. Moreover, Moqorro had seen something else.
“I have seen you in the nightfires, Victarion Greyjoy. You come striding through the flames stern and fierce, your great axe dripping blood, blind to the tentacles that grasp you at wrist and neck and ankle, the black strings that make you dance.” (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
Victarion made a fateful decision. He let the red priest have a hand at healing him. How ADWD describes what happens next is spooky.
The iron captain was not seen again that day, but as the hours passed the crew of his Iron Victory reported hearing the sound of wild laughter coming from the captain’s cabin, laughter deep and dark and mad, and when Longwater Pyke and Wulfe One-Eye tried the cabin door they found it barred. Later singing was heard, a strange high wailing song in a tongue the maester said was High Valyrian. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
But Victarion emerged, naked at the waist with his hand smoking, but alive. And he had a new fire that burned within him, one that would take him and his fleet to Meereen.
Yunkai Arrives Outside of Meereen
But while Dany’s compromises within Meereen were starting to pay off, the Yunkish army finally arrived outside of Meereen. Previously, the Yunkai’i and her allies had blockaded Meereen both from Slaver’s Bay and in a daring feat, raced a smaller blockade force east on Skahazadhan River to seal the city off from any trade to the east. This shaping operation by the Yunkai’i was the first step in besieging Meereen. But the Yunkish army’s movement would be much slower mostly on account of its size, but I think it was also an intentionally slow march on Yunkai’s part.
First, let’s take a brief look at what the Yunkai’i did following Astapor’s fall. Recall that after Astapor was brutally sacked by Yunkai, the allied armies of Yunkai, New Ghis, Qarth, sellsword companies and other slaver cities turned north to Meereen. They also drove refugees away from the city of Yunkai itself and towards the city of Meereen. Afterwards, the Yunkai’i began a very slow march north to Meereen. Why?
I think the answer is two-fold. First, the logistics requirement for the march to Meereen were immense. If you consider that Yunkai had about 20,000 soldiers under its banner, it needed a vast suppy trains to move through harsh terrain made all the harsher by the fact that the Great Masters of Meereen had practiced a scorched-earth policy back in A Storm of Swords.
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. (ASOS, Daenerys V)
So without any supplies to forage from the surrounding land, Yunkai needed to rely on re-supply from Yunkai and likely New Ghis & Volantis.
Secondly, the sack of Astapor had created a great number of refugees. Many of these refugees were starving and plague-ridden. In a plan that would make the likes of Tywin Lannister smile in his grave, the Yunkish wanted to push these plague-ridden refugees towards Meereen.
“The Yunkai’i don’t want them near their Yellow City. We’ve been commanded to hunt them down and turn them, drive them back to Astapor or north to Meereen. If the dragon queen wants to take them in, she’s welcome to them. Half of them have the bloody flux, and even the healthy ones are mouths to feed.” (ADWD, The Windblown)
Though this plan ostensibly kept the bloody flux from the city of Yunkai itself, the second-order effect of this was to bring the plague to Meereen. If the city of Meereen could be weakened by plague, it would be easier to take. However, there is a certain boneheadedness about this part of Yunkai’s plan. The Yunkai were also going to march on Meereen eventually. Outside of Meereen, the 20,000 soldiers under the Yunkish banner would likely become plague-infested as well, especially as besieging armies were forced to maintain close quarters.
But much like Dany, the Yunkai’i had internal issues of their own. Though Yunkai had won the battle at Astapor, it had done so in such a poor fashion that at least one of the sellsword companies was considering defection to Daenerys. The Windblown had been crucial in winning the battle of Astapor for Yunkai, but the Tattered Prince, commander of the Windblown, doubted Yunkai’s ability to ultimately triumph over Daenerys Targaryen. And so the Tattered Prince hedged his bet. He had men of Westerosi origin under his command detach from the main company and ordered them to defect to Daenerys. But while there was a element of deception in the Tattered Prince’s plan (these defectors weren’t truly turncloaks), the Tattered Prince wanted to keep his options open.
“Are we spies? Assassins? Envoys? Are you thinking to change sides?”
Caggo scowled. “That is for the prince to decide, Hungerford. Your part is to do as you are told.”
“Always.” Hungerford raised his two-fingered hand. “Let us be frank,” said Denzo D’han, the warrior bard. “The Yunkai’i do not inspire confidence. Whatever the outcome of this war, the Wind-blown should share in the spoils of victory. Our prince is wise to keep all roads open.” (ADWD, The Windblown)
But even while the Windblown considered betrayal against Yunkai, the army lumbered north to Meereen. And the ranks of the army were bolstered by more soldiers. Brown Ben Plumm’s Second Sons added another sellsword company to their ranks. And 2 more legions from New Ghis brought more soldiers into their ranks. Finally, when Volantis finally agreed to join in the war against Meereen, it bolstered Yunkai’s chances at winning in Meereen even further. However, it would take time for the Volantene Fleet to set sail from Volantis. But when the Volantene ships would join in the blockade, the Yunkai’i would shift from having numerical superiority on land and sea to having numerical supremacy.
And finally, after the long march from Astapor, the combined armies of Yunkai, New Ghis, Qarth, and the sellswords finally caught sight of the great walls of Meereen.
Encircling the City, Setting Siege Lines, Building Trebuchets and Then…
The Yunkish encampment was not one camp but a hundred camps raised up cheek by jowl in a crescent around the walls of Meereen, a city of silk and canvas with its own avenues and alleys, taverns and trollops, good districts and bad. (ADWD, Tyrion X)
With the sea and river blockaded already, the Yunkai’i began to set their siege lines around Meereen.
Her foes were all about her. There were never less than a dozen ships drawn up on the shore. Some days there were as many as a hundred, when the soldiers were disembarking. (ADWD, Daenerys VII)
As Yunkai marched south to north, its armies set their headquarters south of the city in two camps — one directly south of the city and the other to Meereen’s southwest. But in order to completely surround Meereen, it had to send a contingent of its army across Slaver’s Bay to cut the city off from the north. So, they used the blockading ships in the bay to ferry two legions from New Ghis across the waters.
And then the Yunkai’i started bringing in lumber transported by sea. The wood had several purposes. First, it was used in constructing the Yunkish Camp.
Between the siege lines and the bay, tents had sprouted up like yellow mushrooms. Some were small and mean, no more than a flap of old stained canvas to keep off the rain and sun, but beside them stood barracks tents large enough to sleep a hundred men and silken pavilions as big as palaces with harpies gleaming atop their roof poles. (ADWD, Tyrion X)
But the most important purpose in transporting wood north to Meereen was to build siege weapons.
The Yunkai’i were even bringing in wood by sea. Behind their ditches, they were building catapults, scorpions, tall trebuchets. On still nights she could hear the hammers ringing through the warm, dry air. (ADWD, Daenerys VII)
Chief among these siege weapons were 6 massive trebuchets named: Dragonbreaker, Harridan, Harpy’s Daughter, Wicked Sister, Ghost of Astapor and Mazdhan’s Fist. According to Tyrion, these trebuchets were 40 feet tall. As Tyrion was in the south camp, I think that all of the trebuchets were based there.
Anyways, here’s a map I drew up of the Yunkish siege lines.
Map definitely not to scale, but this should give you an idea of how the Yunki’i surrounded Meereen.
Original Map courtesy of Fantastic Maps
And now would be a good a time as any to mention that Tyrion Lannister also arrived in Meereen. Tyrion’s journey from Westeros to Meereen had been a long, slow one — too long to do it justice in this post. Born the second son of Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Tyrion forsook his legacy when he murdered his father in King’s Landing and then fled the capital of Westeros for Daenerys. Unfortunately, his journey to Meereen had been cut short when the ship he sailed was boarded by slavers. Tyrion was taken as a slaver and sold to Yezzen zo Qaggaz. But Tyrion was not content to remain a slave. He had plans to meet Daenerys Targaryen, and a slave collar would not suit him.
But despite the fact that Yunkai had a clear numerical advantage over Meereen, the armies assembled outside of the city of Meereen didn’t seem intent on storming the walls.
No siege towers, though. No battering rams. They would not try to take Meereen by storm. They would wait behind their siege lines, flinging stones at her until famine and disease had brought her people to their knees. (ADWD, Daenerys VII)
Dany was correct in her assessment of Yunkai’s plans here. As Dany herself correctly realized, the walls of Meereen were strong and would provide a major force multiplier for Dany. So, even if the Yunkai’i outnumbered Daenerys 2 to 1 or even 5 to 1, any frontal assault against the city would likely result in a defeat for the attackers.
But there were problems with Yunkai staying put. As stated above, the loyalty of some of Yunkai’s sellswords was variable. Their priorities were to first fight on the winning side and second, make money in the process. However, the longer the Yunkai’i camped around Meereen, the more vulnerable these sellsword companies would become to overtures from Daenerys.
But the larger problem was the proximity that the Yunkai’i had to the Astapori refugees. The Yunkish plan to drive the refugees north to Meereen had worked, but now with the Yunkai’i also at Meereen, the plague was likely to spread within their own camps. And spread, it did. It didn’t take long for the bloody flux to start galloping through the southern Yunkish Camps. Eventually, it made its way across the Skahazadhan to the legions of New Ghis holding the northern siege line against Meereen.
“The Yunkai’i grow weaker as well. The bloody flux has taken hold amongst the Tolosi, it is said, and spread across the river to the third Ghiscari legion.” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
Faced with fickle sellswords and plague within their camps, the Yunkai’i began to consider options other than war against Meereen.
90+ Days of Peace In Meereen
“No words of yours will secure this peace for Meereen. Your foes require deeds. They would see us wed, and they would see me crowned as king, to rule beside you.” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
Image courtesy of apoq’s tumblr
The Yunkish encirclement of Meereen put the issue of internal Meereenese stability to the forefront for Daenerys and her band of followers. Concurrently, it likely influenced the Great Masters to refrain from violence as well. While Meereen was in a good position to defend itself militarily, it couldn’t withstand a long siege or the bloody flux outside of its walls.
But the peace in Meereen was predicating upon two terms, both contingent upon each other. The first term of the agreement was that Hizdahr zo Loraq was supposed to keep the peace in Meereen for 90 days. If he was able to keep the peace in Meereen, Dany would wed him on the 91st day of peace. Given the dire situation in and around Meereen, this was a good deal for Dany and her followers. Moreover, Hizdahr believed that a marriage between him and Daenerys would avert war with Yunkai.
“Yunkai will give us peace, but for a price. The disruption of the slave trade has caused great injury throughout the civilized world. Yunkai and her allies will require an indemnity of us, to be paid in gold and gem-stones.” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
More than simply giving money to the Yunkish, Hizdahr thought that re-opening the fighting pits in Meereen would be a good peace overture to the Yunkai’i. Of course, Hizdahr had political, personal and economic stakes as well. In political terms, re-opening the fighting pits would demonstrate that Daenerys was willing to compromise on behalf of peace. As peace seemed to be something that Hizdahr wanted, this was a good olive branch for the Great Masters. But this is not to discount Hizdahr’s economic and personal interests either. Re-opening the fighting pits would provide a revenue stream for the Loraqs. Additionally, Hizdahr was a fighting pit aficionado.
Fortunately for Hizdahr, Daenerys was willing to abandon her previous staunch opposition to re-opening the fighting pits. In the end, she resigned herself to the fa
A queen must listen to her people, Dany reminded herself. “After the wedding Hizdahr will be king. Let him reopen the fighting pits if he wishes. I want no part of it.” Let the blood be on his hands, not mine. (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
But there was a fly in the ointment: Daario Naharis. In the 90 days of peace, Daario had gone from being the fantasy lover of Dany to her actual lover. More than being her lover, he became a voice for violence. Daario counseled Dany to act in bad faith towards the Meereenese.
Get the heads of all the noble houses out of their pyramids on some pretext, Daario had said. The dragon’s words are fire and blood. (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
And while peace had an appeal for Dany, fire and blood seemed to have a much stronger one at points. Fortunately for the peace in Meereen, Dany refused Daario’s idea of a Meereenese Red Wedding. But Dany was also allowing her sellsword commander to act recklessly in ways outside of her chambers. It’s a few throwaway lines from ADWD, but I find them a fascinating one. After the final coupling between Daario and Daenerys before their wedding, Dany says,
“Where are you going?” Dany asked him. “I forbid you to make a sortie today.” (ADWD, Daenerys VII)
Let’s pause for a second. Why the hell were Daario and the Stormcrows making sorties? Dany’s aim was to wed Hizdahr so as to maintain internal peace in Meereen as well as external peace with Yunkai. And yet, the Stormcrows were attacking the Yunkai’i. What’s worse is that after Dany forbids Daario from making a sortie, Daario shrugs her off, and Dany resigns herself to the fact that Daario is going to attack Yunkai with or without her permission.
He is going to make a sortie, Dany realized, and if he takes Ben Plumm’s head, he’ll walk into the wedding feast and throw it at my feet. Seven save me. Why couldn’t he be better born? (ADWD, Daenerys VII)
Regardless of Daario’s provocations, Hizdahr had kept his word. 89 days of peace had ensued. And yet at the last hour, a new fly in ointment appeared: Quentyn Martell and a Dornish marriage proposal. Quentyn and his companions had journeyed far from Dorne. They had gained passage to Meereen by joining with the Windblown, a sellsword company contracted to Yunkai. They had gained access to Meereen by turning cloak at the request of the Tattered Prince, defecting to Daario while he was out on patrol and then bribing Daario to gain an audience with Daenerys.
All of this was done to gain access to Daenerys and propose a marriage alliance between Dorne and Daenerys Targaryen. Long before the events of the story, Doran Martell had made a marriage pact to have his daughter Arianne marry Viserys Targaryen with the Sealord of Braavos as witness to the pact. However, with Viserys’ death, Doran Martell turned to his son Quentyn to fulfill the marriage part of the alliance.
But Quentyn had arrived far too late. Dany was promised to Hizdahr. But even if Dany were unable to marry Quentyn, she still wanted his swords for when she came back to Westeros.
In the end though, Dany had made her decision. Meereen had been peaceful for 90 days. She would wed Hizdahr for the promised peace in Meereen and the hope for peace with Yunkai. On the day Hizdahr and Daenerys married, Dany shook off her Targaryen identity, donned the floppy ears of Meereen, dressed in a toqar and stepped into the Temple of the Graces with Hizdahr. When she emerged from the temple wed to Hizdahr, a new era of peace dawned in Meereen.
A Bitter Peace with Yunkai
This is peace, she told herself. This is what I wanted, what I worked for, this is why I married Hizdahr. So why does it taste so much like defeat? (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
In Dany’s next chapter, we find her and Hizdahr at the Great Temple of Meereen feasting the Yunkai’i. A peace treaty had been signed between Yunkai and Meereen. Hizdahr had made good on all of his attempts. Peace was at hand at last.
But this peace was bitter for Daenerys. She had sacrificed much for this peace. The fighting pits would re-open in Meereen. Yunkai would be officially permitted to slave again. But it was more than ideals that Daenerys sacrificed. The Yunkish wanted guarantees that the people they sent into Yunkai would be unharmed. They wanted some of Dany’s trusted lieutenants to serve as hostages while the Yunkai’i remained in the city of Meereen.
To balance the three Yunkish nobles and four sellsword captains, Meereen sent seven of its own out to the siege camp: Hizdahr’s sister, two of his cousins, Dany’s bloodrider Jhogo, her admiral Groleo, the Unsullied captain Hero, and Daario Naharis. (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
Yunkai, though, also made concessions. For starters, it allowed ships passage to Meereen’s ports. That said, the Yunkish navy remained in place as did its army. But whether Yunkai truly wanted peace is up for some debate. In some ways, it seems that the Yunkish wanted peace. They came to the pyramid and signed the agreement. However, certain actions by the Yunkai’i seem unnecessarily provocative.
A slave market was established on the bank of the Skahazadhan, and some of Dany’s scouts reported a Dothraki khalasar coming from the north. The Yunkai’i had agreed that Meereen would be slave free, but a slave market in the sight of Dany’s walls coupled with a likely invitation to a Dothraki khalasar to purchase slaves seemed an unnecessary provocation.
There’s an additional factor here that hasn’t been explored. Yunkai’s armies and its navy was still in place in and around Meereen and weren’t making preparations to depart from around the city. Why? Well, I think the answer is that the Yunkai’i were hedging their bets. Recall that when Victarion sailed from Westeros to Essos, he made a pit stop at Volantis where he witnessed ships being prepared for war against Daenerys and Meereen. The Yunkai’i had sent envoys to Volantis, and apparently the Volantenes decided on war. And so, 400 ships packed with soldiers set sail from Volantis to Meereen. But at the same time, the information flow between Yunkai and Volantis was such that it would have been impossible for the Volantenes to hear about the peace accords with Daenerys. In this, I half-disagree with the Meereenese Blot on whether the peace with Yunkai was real.
Sure, Yunkai could start slave trading again, but it would need capital to start the process. A sacked city of Meereen would provide that capital. Besides, Yunkai had debts to pay to its sellsword companies. Now, it’s possible that the Yunkai’i hadn’t been able to send word to the Volantenes of the new agreement. But it also doesn’t seem like they made the effort either. I think this is evidence that the Yunkai’i still had some interest in war. But I think it could be better said that Yunkai was hedging its bets, seeing which way would bring the most profit and then acting to achieve the greatest profit margin.
Hizdahr, though re-assured Dany that this was all temporary, that Yunkai’s intentions were peaceful. And the peace was no sham.
“But they will leave. That is the important part, my love. Yunkai will trade in slaves, Meereen will not, this is what we have agreed. Endure this for a little while longer, and it shall pass.” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
But Hizdahr had also been making political moves within the city’s political structure. Skahaz mo Kandaq, the stalwart political enemy of Hizdahr, was removed from his post. In Skahaz’s place, he placed his own men in positions of power.
“The king desires his own men about him when he holds court.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
And Hizdahr would make more political moves as the situation in Meereen unfolded.
While the feast rolled on, Dany chanced upon someone she loathed: Brown Ben Plumm. If you’ll recall from part 2, Brown Ben had turned cloak on Dany as the Yunkai’i advanced north. When Dany confronted Brown Ben with the accusation of treason, he gave a pretty compelling reason why he turned cloak.
“I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords. My boys didn’t care to die, that’s all, and when I told them that you couldn’t unleash them dragons against the Yunkishmen, well …” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
But treason to the dragon would never go unpunished. So, Daenerys began to formulate a plot against Brown Ben Plumm by having captured members of the Windblown freed on the condition that they murder Brown Ben Plumm.
In Meereen though, there remained one final step for peace to come about: the grand re-opening of the fighting pits of Meereen.
The Gates of Fate
“All men must die,” said Hizdahr, “but not all can die in glory, with the cheers of the city ringing in their ears.” (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
Drogon by Marc Simonetti
The peace both within and without Meereen was fragile. It balanced on the ability of Dany, the Great Masters and the Yunkai’i to keep faith with the conditions they had set forth. But sometimes, fate sweeps all the progress man makes aside.
The day after the great peace banquet in Meereen, Daenerys, her husband and the assembled nobles of Meereen and Yunkai made the slow march to Daznak’s Pit, the largest and greatest fighting pit of Meereen. Dany had done almost every thing required for her for peace. But the last step in this peace was to re-open of the fighting pits of Meereen. To make it all the more apparent that Dany was a changed woman, Hizdahr required her to attend the spectacle.
And then something queer happened along the way. Hizdahr zo Loraq offered Daenerys some locusts rolled in spice and honey. Hizdahr himself didn’t partake, but he wanted to ensure that his queen was well-fed. But Strong Belwas got to the food before Dany ever could. And Dany refused the locusts all the same. I’ll have a bit more to say about the locusts in part 4.
When the procession picked back up and arrived within the gates of fate, Hizdahr addressed the thousands gathered in the stadium.
“Great Masters! My queen has come this day, to show her love for you, her people. By her grace and with her leave, I give you now your mortal art. Meereen! Let Queen Daenerys hear your love!” (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
But the bitterness of the peace that blood had bought roiled within Dany.
I am not your mother, she might have shouted, back, I am the mother of your slaves, of every boy who ever died upon these sands whilst you gorged on honeyed locusts. (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
And the games commenced. Champions fought each other in the sands, a certain dwarf of blonde hair coupled with another dwarf did a mock joust. And the blood flowed until a shadow appeared.
Dany had done what she could for peace in Meereen, but she couldn’t stop a force of nature from intervening. Two of Dany’s dragons had been chained up, but Drogon, the black dread eluded capture. The shadow that appeared over Daznak’s pit was none other than Drogon himself. And when the dragon returned, he brought fire and blood with him.
Chaos ensued within the pit as Drogon began eating people. Hizdahr ordered the dragon killed, but the men who rushed forward met a hot end. Finally, Daenerys vaulted from her perch and rushed towards Drogon, ordering him to get down. She dodged his flames and finally jumped onto Drogon’s back. The dragon took flight, leaving Daznak’s pit in flames.
But that was not all that was left in tatters with Drogon’s departure. The peace that Dany had worked so hard to achieve met a fiery end on the sands of Daznak’s Pit. And though Hizdahr, Barristan and others survived, the peace would die.
Thanks for reading! I’ll have two more parts for this series coming up soon. Again, parts 4 and 5 will be heavy on TWOW spoilers.
Next up: A Sweet Steel Song