For the first time all day, Selmy felt certain. This is what I was made for, he thought. The dance, the sweet steel song, a sword in my hand and a foe before me. (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Artwork by Amoka
The war that Daenerys had tried to hard to avoid was coming to Meereen. Her flight from Daznak’s Pit would be the ostensible first blow for the war between Meereen and Yunkai. Indeed her departure atop Drogon will be the last I’ll write about Daenerys’ actions for a while. In previous installments I hope I’ve shown in previous installations that war was unavoidable due to both the political situation within and without Meereen as well as the struggle between war and peace within Daenerys herself. Needless to say, the last chapters from A Dance with Dragons rapidly advance the plot and the characters within the Meereenese Knot towards war.
This essay will use material from A Dance with Dragons to illuminate events within and without Meereen that propelled the city to war. I’ll write at length about the Skahaz/Barristan conspiracy within Meereen, the Yunkish dithering on the eve of war, the last leg of the Iron Fleet’s journey to the shores of Meereen
However, in part 5 (the next part of this series), I’ll be using material from the sample chapters of The Winds of Winter. In this, I’ll re-visit and revise the factions on the eve of war, the battle plans of Barristan, Victarion and the Great Masters of Yunkai, and I’ll conclude just moments prior to the battle itself. In part 5, I’ll use the sample chapters to write on the battle itself, analyze the tactics and strategies involved and do some lengthy speculation on what George RR Martin has yet to reveal on the battle and predict the outcomes of the battle, who will lie dead in the field and what this will mean for the various interweaving plotlines of the Meereenese Knot.
Hizdahr and His Discontents
The important throne, thought Ser Barristan. No dragon chair can replace a dragon no matter how elaborately it’s carved. (ADWD, The Discarded Knight)
Artwork by monkey19934
When Daenerys made her untimely departure from Meereen amidst fire and blood, she left ashes and an unstable political and military situation in her wake. Hizdahr zo Loraq had survived the encounter with Drogon. As he was now the King of Meereen, Hizdahr wielded power unburdened by the machinations of Dany. In his first actions as king, Hizdahr made it clear that his reign in Meereen would be a departure from the rule of Daenerys. He appointed (or attempt to appoint) key cronies into positions of power in Meereen. But he maintained Dany’s policies in one key way in Meereen. He wanted peace between Meereen and Yunkai. Following the bloody departure of Daenerys, the hostages that the Yunkish had taken to guarantee the safe passage of their commanders during the fighting pit debacle remained in Yunkai’s custody, and Hizdahr tried to receive a delegation of the Yunkai’i in Meereen in order to keep the peace.
“His Worship is to receive a delegation from the Yunkai’i, to discuss the withdrawal of their armies. They may ask for … ah … recompense for those who lost their lives to the dragon’s wroth. A delicate situation.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
But though Hizdahr attempted to keep Dany’s peace policies in place, his rule had its discontents. Ser Barristan had been Dany’s chief protector as her Queensguard. But more than being a protector, Barristan had been a counselor and consistent voice for Daenerys to depart Meereen for Westeros. Following the bloody departure of Daenerys and the full ascension of Hizdahr to the purple, Barristan’s role in the new court was considerably diminished from his old role. For starters, he was removed from his position as Lord Commander of the Queensguard. The replacements that Hizdahr selected were not up to Barristan’s standards.
“Might I know which men His Grace has chosen to protect him?”
Reznak mo Reznak smiled his slimy smile. “Fearsome fighters, who love His Worship well. Goghor the Giant. Khrazz. The Spotted Cat. Belaquo Bonebreaker. Heroes all.”
Pit fighters all. Ser Barristan was unsurprised. (ADWD, The Queensguard)
But Hizdahr did show one iota of intelligence during his housecleaning. He elected to have Barristan stay on as the commander of the disparate elements which comprised the Meereenese military. But even though Barristan had the command, he lacked any unity of command. Under his command he had shavepates, unsullied, Dothraki, sellswords, former pit fighters and freedmen. Each contingent had separate interests, and each had shown an ability to act independently of orders. This was a significant problem for Barristan, and it would have its consequences.
Skahaz mo Kandaq was another malcontent to Hizdahr’s rule. The Shavepate had been forced from power by Hizdahr following the marriage between Daenerys and Hizdahr on account of his anti-Great Master inclinations and brutalities he had inflicted on the Meereenese during Dany’s rule.
The Unsullied wanted no part with King Hizdahr either. When Hizdahr attempted to place the Unsullied under the command of one of his cousins, Grey Worm and the Unsullied balked.
When His Grace had tried to put them under the command of a cousin, as he had the Brazen Beasts, Grey Worm had informed the king that they were free men who took commands only from their mother. (ADWD, The Queensguard)
And there was the ongoing issue of the Dornish in Meereen. Previously, Quentyn’s offer of marriage had been spurned by Daenerys. Despite this, Quentyn and his companions were still in Meereen. Their presence would be a source of contention for Hizdahr. But they would also be a thorn in the side of Barristan as well.
Wheels Within Wheels in Meereen
“The crown he wears is proof enough. The throne he sits. Open your eyes, old man. That is all he needed from Daenerys, all he ever wanted. Once he had it, why share the rule?” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
Artwork by Alexandre Dainche
In his reduced state, Barristan Selmy could only observe some of the events of the court and ready his armies for what he perceived as the inevitable confrontation with Yunkai. But again, with a disunity of command, Barristan faced daunting odds when war came to Meereen. Fortunately, an ugly man and his underhanded ways would intervene on Barristan’s behalf.
Skahaz mo Kandaq had been a voice for harshness in Dany’s council. His advocacy for murder of the Great Masters and an enhanced torture program under Dany’s rule earned him the ire of many Meereenese. But more than simply being a voice for violence, Skahaz was the Shavepate.If you’ll recall from part 1, the shavepates were Meereenese who shaved their hair in defiance of the Meereenese custom of fashioning their hair into wild shapes. But Skahaz was the ultimate Shavepate in that he took his hair down to mere stubble on his head and shaved his face clean. He broke completely from custom, and this made him a hated figure among the Great Masters.
But though Hizdahr zo Loraq had removed Skahaz from his position within the court, the Shavepate retained power through the army of Shavepates and freedmen that he commanded in all but name. But more than simply commanding the shavepates, Skahaz worked as a power-broker behind the scenes of Meereenese politics. In this, I strongly concur with the Meereenese Blot that Skahaz was the poisoner of the locusts. Unable to bring about his draconian policies through semi-peaceful means, I believe that Skahaz utilized the Brazen Beasts that guarded Daenerys in an attempt to poison her and jump-start the war within and without Meereen. I won’t say more than that for purposes of this essay, but the evidence strongly points to Skahaz (as opposed to someone else we’ll talk about in a moment) being the poisoner of the locusts.
Skahaz was discontented to remain in the shadows. He wanted his old power back. In that vein, he reached out to Barristan shortly after his dismissal from the Hizdahr’s Kingsguard. Skahaz’s appeal was simple:Hizdahr attempted to poison Daenerys, and it was Barristan’s responsibility to remove Hizdahr from power.
“The Sons had stopped their killing. Hizdahr’s peace—”
“—is a sham. Not at first, no. The Yunkai’i were afraid of our queen, of her Unsullied, of her dragons. This land has known dragons before. Yurkhaz zo Yunzak had read his histories, he knew. Hizdahr as well. Why not a peace? Daenerys wanted it, they could see that. Wanted it too much. She should have marched to Astapor.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
In this, the Shavepate implicated Hizdahr zo Loraq in the attempted poisoning of Daenerys. Skahaz appealed to both Barristan’s duty to his queen as well as his dislike of Hizdahr. It was a clever move on Skahaz’s part (especially as the likely poisoner himself). But Barristan wasn’t prepared to move on Hizdahr without evidence. Fortunately, Skahaz had evidence.
“I have the poisoner.”
“Hizdahr’s confectioner. His name would mean nothing to you. The man was just a cats paw.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
Again, I strongly encourage you to read the Meereenese Blot’s piece on this, but evidence received through torture is suspect. It’s a truism, but people will say anything to stop the pain. And Barristan was skeptical. And then Skahaz increased the pressure on Ser Grandfather.
The pit changed all. Daenerys gone, Yurkhaz dead. In place of one old lion, a pack of jackals. Bloodbeard … that one has no taste for peace. And there is more. Worse. Volantis has launched its fleet against us.”
“Volantis.” Selmy’s sword hand tingled. We made a peace with Yunkai. Not with Volantis. “You are certain?”
“Certain. The Wise Masters know. So do their friends. The Harpy, Reznak, Hizdahr. This king will open the city gates to the Volantenes when they arrive. All those Daenerys freed will be enslaved again. Even some who were never slaves will be fitted for chains. You may end your days in a fighting pit, old man. Khrazz will eat your heart.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
The Volantenes were indeed coming to Meereen, but would the Meereenese open their gates to them? Or was Skahaz blowing smoke? I think that Skahaz used a fact (the oncoming Volantenes) and Barristan’s existing suspicion of Hizdahr to falsely accuse Hizdahr of conspiracy. I doubt that the Meereenese would open their gates to the Volantenes. They hadn’t done so with the Yunkai’i. Why do it with a city-state coming with the sole purpose to sack the city? The Great Masters & the Sons of the Harpy would likely suffer the consequences of a Volantene/Yunkish sack. Skahaz was blowing smoke.
To his credit, Barristan didn’t jump into action. He wanted evidence first, and he wanted no harm to come to Hizdahr. Reluctantly, Skahaz agreed, and the march to war quickened.
Yunkai Continues Hedging
“We are all like to be feeding worms by the time this battle is done. The Yunkai’i have lost this war, though it may take them some time to know it. Meereen has an army of Unsullied infantry, the finest in the world. And Meereen has dragons. Three of them, once the queen returns. She will. She must. Our side consists of two score Yunkish lordlings, each with his own half-trained monkey men. Slaves on stilts, slaves in chains … they may have troops of blind men and palsied children too, I would not put it past them.” (ADWD, Tyrion XII)
Artwork by Jamga
Meanwhile in the Yunkish camps, the Yunkai’i were recovering from events at Daznak’s Pit. Their losses in Meereen hadn’t been particularly high in terms of body-count, but the ones who died had a profound impact on Yunkai’s leadership. The foremost among the dead was Yezzan zo Qaggaz, the supreme commander of the Slaver Confederation. Without his leadership, the command structure of the Yunkai’i fell into a sort of war council consisting of Yunkish Wise Masters and Sellsword Captains who named themselves the “Council of Masters.”
“Yurkhaz zo Yunzak was your supreme commander,” he said. “Which of you speaks for Yunkai now?”
“All of us,” said the rabbit. “The council of masters.” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
As for a commander, the Yunkai’i elected to adopt a practice that the Romans, to their chagrin, found to be foolish.
“The Wise Masters are rotating the supreme command amongst themselves.” (ADWD, The Spurned Suitor)
I’ll talk more at length about why the Yunkish set themselves up for failure in part 5, but suffice to say, Yunkai’s command structure was a bit of a mess. We’re only given a brief snapshot of what occurred in this war council, but it gives us a small insider glimpse of the Yunkish after the debacle in Meereen.
Tyrion had soon learned that Yezzan stood foremost amongst those Yunkish lords who favored honoring the peace with Meereen. Most of the others were only biding their time, waiting for the armies of Volantis to arrive. A few wanted to assault the city immediately, lest the Volantenes rob them of their glory and the best part of the plunder. Yezzan would have no part of that. Nor would he consent to returning Meereen’s hostages by way of trebuchet, as the sellsword Bloodbeard had proposed. (ADWD, Tyrion XI)
From this, it would seem that the Yunkish were still trying to hedge their bets in Meereen. While most of the council seemed intent on war and waiting for Volantis, Yezzan and some of the other Yunkish lords prevailed over them to honor the peace. This is not to say that the Yunkai’i were preparing to withdraw from their siege lines. Far from it. The Yunkai’i were strengthening their positions in the expectation that Drogon and Daenerys would return to bring war to the Yunkish.
The Clanker Lords had their slave soldiers drilling in the nearest field. The clatter of the chains that bound them made a harsh metallic music as they marched across the sand in lockstep and formed up with their long spears. Elsewhere teams of slaves were raising ramps of stone and sand beneath their mangonels and scorpions, angling them upward at the sky, the better to defend the camp should the black dragon return. (ADWD, Tyrion XI)
But there remained a serious problem for the Yunkai’i, the Pale Mare had not stopped galloping through the Yunkish camps. Each of the 3 Slaver Confederation Camps were now infected with the plague. Likely, thousands had died by plague among the Yunkai’i. Moreover, plague ensured that the disparate camps remained disparate and more importantly disunited. In the event that actual battle broke out, it would take a longer time to form ranks to confront the Meereenese.
The Fickleness of Sellswords
“The Second Sons are on the losing side. They need to turn their cloaks again and do it now.” (ADWD, Tyrion XII)
Artwork by Patrick McEvoy and Fantasy Flight Games
And as the army was a mix of different cultures — Yunkish, Ghiscari, sellswords — as well as having disunited interests, the Yunkai’i were in a sorry state. This caused dissension within the ranks of the army, especially among the sellswords. Two companies in particular were now thinking that the prospect of victory on the field or the prospect of plundering Meereen was slipping away.
The Windblown and its commander, the Tattered Prince, already had their doubts that Yunkai would prevail against Meereen after watching Yunkai’s sorry conduct during the Battle of Astapor. Previously, they had sent some of their own into Meereen as defectors in order to keep all roads open. Though this plan had been foiled by Quentyn and his companions, the Tattered Prince was mulling his options. Increasingly, it seemed as though the winning option didn’t lie with Yunkai.
And of all sellsword companies, the Second Sons were also considering another defection, this one back to Daenerys. The initial defection of the Second Sons to Yunkai had been one of the linchpins for Dany’s decision to seek peaceful options with the Yunkai’i. Brown Ben Plumm had been Dany’s stalwart ally and friend, doing his part for Dany’s war efforts. His defection to the Yunkai’i was a blow to Dany and Meereen.
However, as A Dance with Dragons closes, the Second Sons were considering going back to Dany’s side. Why? Part of the reason came down to Tyrion Lannister and the promise of gold. When Yezzan came down with the bloody flux, Tyrion, Jorah Mormont and Penny made their escape attempt. Tyrion led the party to the camp of the Second Sons. There, he propositioned Brown Ben Plumm to re-defect back to Dany with golden promises.
One hundred thousand golden dragons, fifty hides of fertile land, a castle, and a lordship. Well and well. This Plumm does not come cheaply. (ADWD, Tyrion XII)
In this, Tyrion was following a familiar practice in purchasing the loyalty of those who would kill on his behalf. The promises to Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons were pricy, but they were ones that Tyrion Lannister could make, especially since he didn’t have the ability to make good on them, at least not yet.
But more importantly, Yunkai’s sad state of affairs following Daznak’s Pit . The Yunkish seemed unfit to conduct warfare against Meereen, the Unsullied and the other Sellsword companies. And Brown Ben Plumm was not one to throw his lot in with the winning side.
“There are old sellswords and bold sellswords but there are no old, bold sellswords.” (ASOS, Daenerys V)
The Yunkai’i might have seemed strong from the outside looking in, but Brown Ben seemed to have come to the conclusion that their strength was farcical, and that he would not survive the battle to come if he found himself on the losing side, the Yunkish side.
But I think the most important reason why Brown Ben Plumm was considering re-defection was the dragons themselves. If you’ll recall from part 3, Brown Ben Plumm defected from Daenerys on account of her unwillingness to use the dragons to combat the Yunkai’i.
“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)
To him, the dragons were the ultimate weapons that Dany had — the one that would win any battle. As she was unwilling to use the dragons, Brown Ben saw no chance for victory. However, when Drogon made his grand re-appearance, killed a lot of people in Daznak’s pit and then flew away with Daenerys on his back, I think that Plumm’s initial reason for defection vanished. Dany was actually using her dragons, albeit indirectly for the moment.
More than his reason for defection simply vanishing, Dany had promised Brown Ben Plumm that she would repay him for his treachery. Atop a dragon — the same dragon that Brown Ben wanted to unleash on the Yunkai’i — Plumm would likely meet a fiery end, well before the time he truly grew old. He would prefer to remain an old, sellsword over a bold one, and the best way to accomplish this would be to turn to the winning side, the dragon side.
The Reavers Approach
“What do you see?” the captain asked his black priest that night, as Moqorro stood before his nightfire. “What awaits us on the morrow? More rain?” It smelled like rain to him.
“Grey skies and strong winds,” Moqorro said. “No rain. Behind come the tigers. Ahead awaits your dragon.”
Your dragon. Victarion liked the sound of that. (ADWD, Victarion)
Artwork by Federico Bardo
So much of Victarion’s arc in A Dance with Dragons seems a travelogue interrupted briefly by brief bits of action and dialogue, but you can’t deny its entertainment value. Victarion’s arc doesn’t have the dense plotting of Tyrion, Dany, Barristan or even Quentyn, but it’s a lot of fun to read. And so, we find Victarion on the high seas again making the last leg of the journey to Meereen. But Victarion was now more than a simple Ironborn Admiral and adherent to the Faith of Drowned God. No, he was now a simple Ironborn Admiral, adherent to the Faith of the Drowned God and the Red God with a powerful red priest at his side.
In Victarion’s final chapter in A Dance with Dragons, the Iron Fleet makes the last leg of its journey towards the Meereenese shores, but a new fire burns in Victarion’s heart. Guided by Moqorro, the Iron Fleet captures more galleys and merchant vessels in Slaver’s Bay. But two of the captains of the vessels that the Ironborn captured had some disturbing news for Victarion.
The war for Meereen was won, the captain claimed; the dragon queen was dead, and a Ghiscari by the name of Hizdak ruled the city now. (ADWD, Victarion)
Victarion’s response for the first captain was to cut out his tongue for lying and then throw him overboard bound in chains. The second set of captains he captured who repeated the lie met the business end of Victarion’s great ax. He also had the Ghiscari crewmembers put to death as well, but for the slaves who rowed the Ghiscari galleys, the new Victarion attempted to emulate his future consort in a uniquely Ironborn way.
He broke their chains himself and told them they were now free men and would have the privilege of rowing for the Iron Fleet, an honor that every boy in the Iron Islands dreamed of growing up. “The dragon queen frees slaves and so do I,” he proclaimed. (ADWD, Victarion)
More ships were seized by the Iron Fleet. By the time the Iron Fleet approached the waters off Yunkai, the fleet numbered 60 ships. 45 of those ships were from the Iron Fleet, 15 were stolen civilian ships.
But Victarion and the Iron Fleet’s journey was now taking them into more dangerous waters. Though he had been able to take ship after ship in Slaver’s Bay, the voyage to Meereen was taking them closer to enemy territory. Victarion could have swung wide to the west to avoid alerting the Yunkai’i to his approach. However, Victarion chose another path.
Now he had a choice to make: should he risk the straits, or take the Iron Fleet around the island? The memory of Fair Isle still rankled in the iron captain’s memory. Stannis Baratheon had descended on the Iron Fleet from both north and south whilst they were trapped in the channel between the island and the mainland, dealing Victarion his most crushing defeat. But sailing around Yaros would cost him precious days. With Yunkai so near, shipping in the straits was like to be heavy, but he did not expect to encounter Yunkish warships until they were closer to Meereen.
What would the Crow’s Eye do? He brooded on that for a time, then signaled to his captains. “We sail the straits.” (ADWD, Victarion)
This was an incredibly risky, if not completely foolhardy course of action. To give you an idea, here’s a map I’ve drawn some overlays over.
Original Map by Jeffrey L. Ward / Bantam and or Random House, Inc.
Instead of learning the lesson of Fair Isle, Victarion made for the straits between Yaros and Yunkai. If you’ll recall, Stannis Baratheon trapped Victarion in the strait between the Westerlands and Fair Isle and crushed his numerically superior fleet. In Slaver’s Bay, Victarion’s fleet was not even numerically superior. More importantly, his plan called for a surprise blitzkrieg to take the Yunkai’i unawares. By opting for the straits, Victarion needlessly endangered his fleet and his plan. If the Yunkai’i had warships in and around the straits, they could trap Victarion and destroy the fleet. If word of black sails reached the Yunkai’i in and around Meereen, there would be no surprise. The Yunkai’i would be ready and waiting for Victarion’s approach.
Fortunately for Victarion (and as far as we know from ADWD and the sample chapters from TWOW), he got incredibly lucky. The Yunkai’i were not waiting for him in the strait and no word reached the Yunkish lines of approaching reavers.
In the last few paragraphs of Victarion’s final chapter from A Dance with Dragons, Victarion and Moqorro confer over the great horn that Euron had given him. Moqorro translated the glyphs written up and down the dragon horn.
That much Victarion had known. “What do they say?”
“Much and more.” The black priest pointed to one golden band. “Here the horn is named. ‘I am Dragonbinder.’
“Here it says, ‘No mortal man shall sound me and live.’
“Here. ‘Blood for fire, fire for blood.’ (ADWD, Victarion)
Victarion related that the man who sounded the horn at the kingsmoot had died horrifically, and Moqorro advised Victarion not to sound the horn himself lest he die. But the horn needed to be sounded to come to horn’s master, whoever that master might be.
The Fall of Hizdahr zo Loraq
“You would break King Hizdahr’s peace, old man?”
“I would shatter it.” (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
Artwork by Urukki Saki
Back inside Meereen, things were growing desperate. King Hizdahr’s peace overtures to the Yunkai’i would meet a cool reception. All the while, the Barristan/Skahaz plot advanced. The drive to war would advance from a march to a gallop. Through it all, there were voices for peace, but these voices would become softer and then silent.
In Barristan’s next chapter (The Discarded Knight), we find Meereen on edge. King Hizdahr invited the Yunkai’i to make recompense for the deaths at Daznak’s Pit. Hizdahr expected that he would be able to pay any indemnities with gold, gems and jewelry. Unfortunately, the Yunkai’i that showed up had a very different recompense in mind.
Yunkai’s delegation to Meereen consisted of a mix of Yunkish lords, slaves and the Bloodbeard, the sellsword captain, but it had some key personnel missing.
Three Wise Masters led the procession from the Yellow City, each with his own armed retinue. One slaver wore a tokar of maroon silk fringed with gold, one a striped tokar of teal and orange, the third an ornate breastplate inlaid with erotic scenes done in jet and jade and mother-of-pearl. The sellsword captain Bloodbeard accompanied them with a leathern sack slung across one massive shoulder and a look of mirth and murder on his face.
No Tattered Prince, Selmy noted. No Brown Ben Plumm.
Brown Ben Plumm was likely missing from this war council on account of his newly-bought alliance with Tyrion. The Tattered Prince wasn’t present for reasons that will be discussed later. As Hizdahr’s seneschal, Reznak began to address the Yunkish delegation, he was interrupted by Bloodbeard who pulled a severed head from one of the leather bags and threw it at the feet of Hizdahr.
“Blood pays for blood, a life for a life.” (ADWD, The Discarded Knight)
Artwork by Patrick McEvoy and Fantasy Flight Games
The head belonged to Admiral Groleo, Dany’s chief naval commander. It seemed a symbol of Yunkai’s desire to re-ignite the war, but there may have been other factors at play. First, Bloodbeard openly declared that the peace was still intact, and as a gesture of peace, he returned 3 unharmed hostages.
“Our peace has not been breached. Blood pays for blood, a life for a life. To show our good faith, we return three of your hostages.” (ADWD, The Discarded Knight)
Secondly, the Yunkai’i were following a pattern that would be familiar to those in the throne room familiar with the concept of blood debt. By taking blood for blood, the Yunkai’i were (brutally) keeping their reputation intact. They couldn’t simply let the death of their supreme commander go unpunished. They had to repay the debt so as not to appear weak before the sellswords, Ghiscari and approaching Volantenes lest this weakness allows others in the Confederation to cast them off, kill them and potentially turn their armies for Yunkai.
Finally, Barristan himself was unsure of why the Yunkai’i chose to kill Groleo over more valuable hostages.
Groleo had a wife back in Pentos. Children, grandchildren. Why him, of all the hostages? Jhogo, Hero, and Daario Naharis all commanded fighting men, but Groleo had been an admiral without a fleet. Did they draw straws, or did they think Groleo the least valuable to us, the least likely to provoke reprisal? the knight asked himself … but it was easier to pose that question than to answer it. I have no skill at unraveling such knots. (ADWD, The Discarded Knight)
However, when the rest of Yunkai’s terms were brought forward, it made it unclear what the Yunkai’i were really doing here. When asked about when the other 3 hostages would be returned to Meereen, Bloodbeard’s reply (and I think he was speaking for everyone present from the Yunkish delegation) makes it entirely unclear whether the Yunkai’i wanted peace at all.
Reznak mo Reznak cleared his throat noisily. “Meaning no offense, yet it seems to me that Her Worship Queen Daenerys gave you … ah … seven hostages. The other three …”
“The others shall remain our guests,” announced the Yunkish lord in the breastplate, “until the dragons have been destroyed.”(ADWD, The Discarded Knight)
This would be a steep price to pay — perhaps too steep a price. In this, Barristan came to the conclusion that Bloodbeard wanted war and his plunder from the city, and he was intentionally provoking Meereen to war. And with the passing of Yurkhaz zo Yunzak and Yezzan zo Qaggaz, Yunkai’s appetite for peace seemed to be dissipating fast. Yunkai finally seemed on a war footing. And Hizdahr’s response to this aggressive demand was to… consult with his council.
For Barristan and others, this was a sign of weakness, but it also could have been a sign of Hizdahr’s complicity with the Yunkai’i. And so, in Barristan’s next chapter (The Kingbreaker), Skahaz and Barristan make their final preparations for their coup.
Between The Queen’s Hand and The Kingbreaker, Barristan had interrogated the alleged poisoner and became convinced of Hizdahr’s guilt. And so, we find Skahaz and Barristan putting the last touches on their plan. But though Barristan believed in removing Hizdahr from power, he was adamant that the peace between Meereen and Yunkai had to be maintained on Meereen’s end.
“There is a peace, signed and sealed by Her Grace the queen. We will not be the first to break it. Once we have taken Hizdahr, we will form a council to rule in his place and demand that the Yunkai’i return our hostages and withdraw their armies. Should they refuse, then and only then will we inform them that the peace is broken, and go forth to give them battle.” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
The plan for Hizdahr’s removal was simple: the Brazen Beasts under Skahaz’s command would arrest most of Hizdahr’s new council and guards while Barristan himself would arrest Hizdahr himself.
Interestingly, both Skahaz and Barristan anticipated reprisals from the dormant Sons of the Harpy or Yunkai. And they returned to the topic of the child hostages that Dany had taken several months prior. Skahaz’s solution was in keeping with his brutal personality and lack of honor.
“If the slavers kill one of ours, we kill one of theirs.”
For a moment Ser Barristan did not know whom he meant. Then it came to him. “The queen’s cupbearers?”
“Hostages,” insisted Skahaz mo Kandaq. “Grazdar and Qezza are the blood of the Green Grace. Mezzara is of Merreq, Kezmya is Pahl, Azzak Ghazeen. Bhakaz is Loraq, Hizdahr’s own kin. All are sons and daughters of the pyramids. Zhak, Quazzar, Uhlez, Hazkar, Dhazak, Yherizan, all children of Great Masters.”
“Children of the Harpy. Only blood can pay for blood.” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Barristan refused. He was a man of honor and would not kill child hostages.
“I will not suffer the murder of children. Accept that, or I’ll have no part of this.”
Skahaz chuckled. “You are a stubborn old man. Your sweet-faced boys will only grow up to be Sons of the Harpy. Kill them now or kill them then.”
“You kill men for the wrongs they have done, not the wrongs that they may do someday.”(ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
With terms finally agreed on between Barristan and Skahaz, the conspiracy moved from word to deed. Skahaz, Barristan and the shavepates moved on Hizdahr. They moved through the Great Pyramid together until they came to a pre-designated point where Skahaz and his shavepates separated from Barristan. The shavepates would take out Hizdahr’s council and pit fighter guards. Barristan went for the king himself.
At Hizdahr’s chambers, he found the king guarded by two former pit fighters and accompanied by a woman. Though Barristan exchanged a few preliminary pleasantries with Hizdahr when he was awoken, he came to the point quickly.
“ ‘Your Radiance’ would serve. What brings you to me at this hour, ser? Some trouble in the city?”
“The city is tranquil.”
“Is it so?” Hizdahr looked confused. “Why have you come?”
“To ask a question. Magnificence, are you the Harpy?” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Hizdahr was outraged, confused or acted guiltily depending on how you interpret the text. But when he started fingering other suspects, it proved to Barristan that he was both the Harpy and the poisoner. Hizdahr called for his guard, Khrazz, but Barristan in a (extraordinarily amazing) duel, killed him. And then Barristan took Hizdahr into custody.
But something was wrong when Barristan emerged with Hizdahr in custody.
The Dragons are Unleashed
“The dragons won’t care about your blood, except maybe how it tastes. You cannot tame a dragon with a history lesson. They’re monsters, not maesters.” (ADWD, The Spurned Suitor)
Artwork by Marc Fishman
Quentyn Martell’s journey to Meereen and his subsequent rejection by Daenerys had injured the boy’s self-esteem. But Quentyn would not return to Dorne without his prize. If he couldn’t marry Daenerys Targaryen, he would return to Dorne with something of value to Doran Martell, his father.
Quentyn’s arc is one that I’ve warmed to considerably since my first read of A Dance with Dragons. Unfortunately, he has been relegated to footnote status in these essays. I strongly encourage readers here to head over to the Meereenese Blot to read Adam Feldman’s essay on Quentyn. But at the end of A Dance with Dragons, Quentyn makes a massive impact on the story.
Without Dany, Quentyn came to believe that the best gift that he could bring back to Dorne would be a dragon. Whether he came to this conclusion through grief or desperation, he wanted to return to Dorne as a dragon rider. As such, he decided that the best course of action would be to try to steal a dragon. In this, he fatefully decided to enlist the Windblown.
Unbeknownst to everyone in Yunkai and Meereen, the Tattered Prince had slipped into the city of Meereen. He had witnessed the events of Daznak’s Pit, and he was still keeping all roads open. Quentyn propositioned the Tattered Prince to help him get to the dragons. But the Tattered Prince seemed unwilling to deal with Quentyn at first on account of him and his companions turning cloak and ratting his men out to Daenerys. However, after more bartering and Quentyn’s revelation that he wanted to steal a dragon, the Tattered Prince came to a fair price for the services of the Windblown.
The Tattered Prince only leaned back on his stool and said, “Double does not pay for dragons, princeling. Even a frog should know that much.
Dragons come dear. And men who pay in promises should have at least the sense to promise more.”
“If you want me to triple—”
“What I want,” said the Tattered Prince, “is Pentos.” (ADWD, The Spurned Suitor)
And so, Quentyn, his companions and the Windblown started their own conspiracy to steal a dragon. The Windblown would take the masks of Brazen Beasts and infiltrate the dragon pit for Quentyn to try to seize a dragon. But of course as this is A Song of Ice and Fire, the plan went awry fairly shortly after it started. The Brazen Beasts in the dragon pit were Skahaz’s men, and they were likely in on the coup against Hizdahr (on account of them not recognizing the password “Dog”). So, when they arrived near the pit, they were found out. What resulted was a slaughter.
That was all it took for Quentyn Martell to realize that something had gone awry. “Take them,” he croaked, even as the basilisk’s hand darted for his shortsword.
He was quick, that serjeant. The big man was quicker. He flung the torch at the nearest locust, reached back, and unslung his warhammer. The basilisk’s blade had scarce slipped from its leather sheath when the hammer’s spike slammed into his temple, crunching through the thin brass of his mask and the flesh and bone beneath. The serjeant staggered sideways half a step before his knees folded under him and he sank down to the floor, his whole body shaking grotesquely. (ADWD, The Dragontamer)
With the guards violently dispatched, Quentyn & company entered the dragon pit. Archibald Yronwood struck the chains from the dragons, and Quentyn attempted to tame them.
Use their names, command them, speak to them calmly but sternly. Master them, as Daenerys mastered Drogon in the pit. The girl had been alone, clad in wisps of silk, but fearless. I must not be afraid. She did it, so can I. The main thing was to show no fear. Animals can smell fear, and dragons … What did he know of dragons? What does any man know of dragons? They have been gone from the world for more than a century. (ADWD, The Dragontamer)
But as Quentyn’s arc in A Dance with Dragons was a tragic one, so would he meet a tragic, horrific fate. The Windblown fired a crossbow bolt and enraged the dragons. Unburdened by the chains, the dragons maneuvered on Quentyn. And then they unleashed fire on Quentyn.
The Pearl Beyond Price is Discarded
“Her Grace gave her hand to Hizdahr zo Loraq, made him her king and consort, restored the mortal art as he beseeched her. In return he gave her poisoned locusts.”
“In return he gave her peace. Do not cast it away, ser, I beg you. Peace is the pearl beyond price.” (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
Artwork by Marc Fishman
The last pages of A Dance with Dragons gives us a grim picture of events in Meereen. Hizdahr was in prison, dragons were free and raging across Meereen and the war that so many had worked to avoid was at hand.
Barristan’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons is one of the more poignant chapters of the entire series. Quentyn Martell was dead along with any hope for an alliance between Daenerys and the Martells. Barristan Selmy became the Hand of the Queen. A new council was put in place to replace Hizdahr’s council of cronies. And Meereen was burning.
The rain had drowned the worst of the fires, but wisps of smoke still rose from the smoldering ruin that had been the pyramid of Hazkar, and the great black pyramid of Yherizan where Rhaegal had made his lair hulked in the gloom like a fat woman bedecked with glowing orange jewels. (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
But more than burning from dragon fire, the Sons of the Harpy had returned in force.
The Sons of the Harpy had resumed their shadow war two days ago. Three murders the first night, nine the second. But to go from nine to nine-and-twenty in a single night …
For Skahaz though, things couldn’t be better. He had gotten everything he wanted. And now he had his power back, and he was wielding it.
“All the gates are closed and barred, as you commanded. We are hunting down any sellswords or Yunkai’i left inside the city and expelling or arresting those we catch. Most seem to have gone to ground. Inside the pyramids, beyond a doubt.”
That the Sons of the Harpy would immediately start killing again in Meereen is evidence that the Sons and the Great Masters were truly interested in peace, provided it included Hizdahr zo Loraq on the throne. But with Yunkai and Meereen on a collision course for war, a resurgent Sons of the Harpy was cause for misery in Meereen. Daenerys had been unwilling to march from Meereen to Astapor to save the city, because she believed that the Sons of the Harpy would close the gates and bar them behind her. When (not if) Meereen and Yunkai went to war, how much more would they try to bar the gates to any pro-Daenerys army that attempted to sally forth from the gates of Meereen?
With these ill-tidings, Barristan did his best to remedy the nightmarish situation he had on his hands. He attempted to keep the dragons from eating people by placing sheep in Daznak’s pit. So far, it had been somewhat successful.
The only Meereenese the dragons had slain since Harghaz the Hero had been the slavers foolish enough to object when Rhaegal attempted to make his lair atop the pyramid of Hazkar.
And he had sent the Green Grace to the Yunkish Camp to arrange the release of the last 3 hostages that Yunkai held. But Barristan and Skahaz both had doubts that this would work. In this, Barristan prepared for war.
Unsullied were deployed to the walls and gates of Meereen, and Barristan sought the services of the Windblown. After questioning Ser Archibald Yronwood and Ser Gerris Drinkwater, Barristan came to his own conclusion (that was confirmed by the Dornishmen) that the Tattered Prince had been offered Pentos in exchange for the services of the Windblown. Barristan decided to use the Dornishmen to advance his own plot within the Yunkish camp.
“I mean to send them back to the Tattered Prince. And you with them. You will be two amongst thousands. Your presence in the Yunkish camps should pass unnoticed. I want you to deliver a message to the Tattered Prince. Tell him that I sent you, that I speak with the queen’s voice. Tell him that we’ll pay his price if he delivers us our hostages, unharmed and whole.”
Finally, just before the outbreak of war between Yunkai and Meereen, the Green Grace arrived back at the Great Pyramid with grim tidings. The Yunkish would not release the hostages, only the blood and death of the dragons would bring peace. For her part, the Galazza Galare shared the view of the Yunkai’i.
“Yet for myself, I understand. These dragons are fell beasts. Yunkai fears them … and with good cause, you cannot deny. Our histories speak of the dragonlords of dread Valyria and the devastation that they wrought upon the peoples of Old Ghis.”
But even before Barristan could form a response to the Green Grace’s advice, war erupted.
“The trebuchets,” the Shavepate growled. “All six.”
Galazza Galare rose. “Thus does Yunkai make reply to your offers, ser. I warned you that you would not like their answer.”
They choose war, then. So be it. Ser Barristan felt oddly relieved. War he understood. “If they think they will break Meereen by throwing stones—”“Not stones.” The old woman’s voice was full of grief, of fear. “Corpses.”
And so war finally came to Meereen. The sweet steel song that Barristan found so beautiful flashed brightly, and this war would be bright not only from the glint of iron but with dragon fire.
Thanks for reading! Next up, The Burning Pyramid taken entirely from the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter.