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A Dragon in Chains
Two weeks later…
"Come on," Daenerys said. "We are going to dinner."
"Do we really have to, my lady?" Myriah Uller asked. "All those men leering at us…"
"Yes," the Princess said coolly. "Absolutely."
But Myriah was far from the only one to feel this way. Daenerys remembered all too well her first impression of Dornish women, all those years ago: that they were all lewd, dressed to reveal and not conceal. The very concept of a woman getting as many lovers as any men without being frowned upon had been shocking to her, yet it was something normal for Dornish women. Until she went there, she hadn't known what a bold tongue tasted like… And now these same women felt embarrassed by the very thought of going to dine with the commanders of the Golden Company. These men were loose and impudent enough to scare even them. And Daenerys felt anything but calm sitting at Aegor's table… She was just waiting for the strike to fall.
But she could not give up, as much as she wanted to stay in the relative safety of her assigned chambers. That would mean to let it show that she was afraid. That would mean to encourage Aegor and discourage her own entourage. And she would certainly not let anyone who was not genuinely ill to stay behind. They needed to keep a brave façade, otherwise they'd break inside.
The rooms they had been given were actually quite comfortable – five bedchambers with a solar and a bath with two tubs. Daenerys had taken Ryon to sleep in her room and the other women had taken the rest of the bedchambers. They had been assigned two maids but they usually preferred helping each other. Still, they took great care to treat the women as good as they could – they might need their good will soon. The Tyroshi who were used only to rough male order seemed genuinely puzzled and flattered by the Dornish ladies' attitude.
"Get ready," Daenerys said. "I must finish the letter to my lord husband."
Ryon scowled. "But Lady Mother," he said. "Why are you writing to him at all? The traitor will read the letter before you send it."
She looked at him and smiled. At his ten years, he still had much to learn. "He surely will," she agreed.
"Because," Daenerys said, "sometimes the real message is not what is writ in ink but air."
He blinked and shook his head confused. Lady Delonne asked, "You mean, you can use invisible ink?"
"No," Daenerys denied.
Everyone was looking at her, very interested. She huffed. "You are asking too many questions. Get ready and let me think."
From her window, she had seen a laundress coming and going a few times. She needed to know how often the woman came and how long she stayed, as well as a few other details. They needed to act now, while Aegor was still unaware just how much of an upper hand he had.
A week later…
Anxious and trying not to show it, Daenerys knocked at the door and entered the bedchamber. In the oval looking glass over the dressing table she saw her own concerned face… and a face she did not recognize.
The woman sitting in front of the dressing table slowly turned back and looked Daenerys in the eye. "Well?" she asked softly, scared as always that they'd be overheard, although a few of their jewels had bought the assistance of the two maids. "What do you think? What do I look like?"
The Princess gave a careful inspection before answering. Then, despite her concern, a genuine smile lit her face. "I think," she started slowly but paused and took a deep breath. "I really think the world lost a great performer the day you were born into the wrong family, my dear. You absolutely look the part."
The young woman was really changed. Her long dark hair had lost its brilliance and hung in two greasy braids, tied with dirty ribbons. Her perfect ivory skin was now olive, as if she had spent her entire life in the sun. Her huge indigo eyes now looked round and dark, taking the shade of the dark bodice, her nose thickened with clay and mix of paint and powder. She had no cheekbones to speak of. Her lips were thin and pale. Her skirt was well padded to hide her slender frame. She did not move with her usual ease but heavily, her right shoulder sticking forward, her head bent down.
But she shook her head. "I cannot get rid of the feeling that I've overlooked something," she said and Daenerys grew cold. They couldn't afford any mistakes. She looked at her from head to toes, found nothing.
"Who is this?" Ryon asked behind his mother's back. Although initiated into the plan, he simply had trouble recognizing the beautiful lady in this pitiful creature.
She winked at him and he laughed. "No way you won't have them all fooled," he said admiringly.
"My lady," Myriah spoke urgently from the window where she stood to make sure that the men in the yard hadn't noticed how long the laundress had stayed inside this evening. "Hurry up!"
A few last hugs and a whispered promise to see each other at Sunspear later, the young woman left the chambers and stole up to the servants' quarters – a path that had been dutifully studied in advance. There, she smiled soothingly at the real laundress who would stay hidden until the next day and then leave when the guards changed so no one would take notice that they hadn't seen her coming in.
Taking the two heavy baskets of laundry, she drew a deep breath to calm down her frantic heartbeat and went out into the sun, determined to get the better of their captors. Don't run, don't run, she said to herself as she was making the greatest effort to emulate the heavy steps of the laundress.
A few minutes later…
"Are the rest of your ladies ready with their letters as well?" Aegor asked as soon as Daenerys took her seat at the dais.
"There are a few of them left," Daenerys said. "Frankly, I don't see any use of that. In my letters to my lord husband I give him news about all of us."
He gave her a grim look. She was playing him somehow. He had every letter of hers inspected for all substances that could possibly be used as invisible ink. They had never found anything. Last time, he even had her write in front of his very eyes – and even then, she had somehow deceived him. He felt it within his bones.
"I think their husbands and fathers will be relieved to hear from them in person," he said.
"These lords will be much more relieved if they could see them in person," Ryon cut in and Bittersteel gave him a dark look. He didn't appreciate being interrupted by whelps and this one looked too much like the thrice cursed Baelor for his liking. Had he been his, he would have taught him manners pretty soon but what could one expect from Dornish?
"Why are you in such a hurry to leave us, my prince?" he asked in mocking courtesy. "What is it here that you don't like?"
"The company," the boy said without hesitation, loudly and passionately. "I don't like the company of bastards and traitors to the realm."
His words echoed through the hall. Everyone stared. Bittersteel blinked. Up to this moment, the whelp hadn't been this daring. Didn't he realize that he was at the mercy of his enemy? Daenerys tugged at her son's sleeve but she couldn't hide a slight smile of pride that made Bittersteel even angrier.
They started eating, with everyone's eyes on the boy waiting to see what he'd do next.
A sudden commotion at the door brought Aegor's attention there. Two men entered flanking a slovenly hag of a woman and headed straight for him. He looked from one to the other as they saluted him. "Why have you brought her here?" he asked, disgusted.
"She was trying to escape, my lord," one of the men explained. "We caught her at the last moment. She was pretending to be the laundress… but she isn't."
Now, Aegor gave the pitiful creature a more careful look. When one knew what to look for, there was not much use of make-up. "Lady Allyrion," he said slowly. "Trying to escape."
His eyes went to Daenerys. "Ah sister," he dragged. "Is this the way you repay me for my hospitality?"
She raised her chin. "Did you really expect we'd just sit here and let you do with us whatever you liked?"
He squinted at her. "But why her?" he wondered aloud. "Why not you? It makes no sense..."
Suddenly, he spun around and grabbed the runaway by the shoulders. "Who are you?" he asked, their faces close enough to kiss.
"Let go off me," she hissed.
"Who are you?" he asked again and shook her.
"Let her go!" Ryon yelled, jumped from his seat, ran straight for Bittersteel and bumped into him.
Caugt unaware by the sudden attack, Aegor staggered backwards but regained his balance. Then, he changed his mind, sat in his seat and looked at the hall.
"Anyone who's been at Westeros for the last ten years, come forward!" he barked and a dozen men came near, staring at the woman. Then, one of them gasped.
"She! Maekar's daughter here! Gods almighty!"
For a moment, Aegor's mind went blank. He just couldn't absorb what he was hearing. After all those years of bad fortune, could they really be this lucky?"
"What did you say?" he turned to the man. "Say it again!"
"This one… is Maekar's daughter," the knight said. "Daella Targaryen. Lady Baratheon."
"Do you know her?"
"Swear that it's her."
"I swear it."
Aegor's face was lit by sudden, savage joy but it was the fact that it did not reach his mouth that scared his captives most.
"So," he said, looking at the woman, "what do you say to this?"
For a moment, she said nothing. And then, her face suddenly changed in expression of rage and haughtiness. "Rise, Ser Aegor," she snapped. "As low as I have sunken, I still cannot abide Aegor Bittersteel sitting in my presence while I am unseated!"
The silence in the hall was now absolute. Bittersteel shook his head, his face now revealing amazement. "So, it is true," he said. "You truly are his daughter."
He stood up and gave her a mocking bow. "I am afraid I cannot offer you a seat just yet, my lady," he said. "Our chairs are too clean for your current attire."
Now, he looked at her with genuine curiosity, raised a hand and slid a finger across her cheek. She gave him a look as if he was something dirty under her shoes.
"Take your hand off my brother's betrothed!" Ryon Martell yelled.
Bittersteel looked at the tip of his finger and shook his head bemused. "It's truly a miracle what women can achieve with those," he murmured. "I am curious to see what you really look like under all this paint. Should I send for someone to wash you, my lady? Or can you do it alone?"
Again, she glared at him. "I'll manage," she said dryly.
"As soon as you do, come back here. And my lady… no women's tricks this time."
She didn't deign to answer and left, her head held high, with the utmost dignity she could muster with those cushions hampering her movements.
Daenerys looked down at her plate, feeling all too well Aegor's derisive eyes on her. Ryon gritted his teeth.
It was the change in Haegon's expression that alerted him to Daella's return. The young man was staring wide-eyed, speechless. She was approaching the dais in measured steps, her face cast in cold disdain at her surroundings. But she was beautiful and that somehow made up for her attitude. Her skin was flawless, her facial features the most delicate ever seen in a woman. Her dark hair, dried in front of the fireplace, tumbled on her shoulders in radiant waves and her indigo eyes, under the high arches of the eyebrows, through her thick eyelashes, were like a magnet keeping everyone's attention on hers.
"My lady," Haegon murmured and stood up to greet her.
Bittersteel looked as amused as he could which was not much. "I must admit that you had me absolutely fooled," he told Daenerys and sipped at his wine. "I did imagine that she'd look good, with her mother a famous Velaryon beauty and her father not looking that bad either if one could overlook the scars. That's what I expected to see, not the plain old thing she had transformed into with a little paint twice over."
"Daella will be flattered that you think so highly of her, I am sure," Daenerys said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. What had happened to their clever plan! How were they going to escape now?
When Daella and Haegon reached the dais, Bittersteel stood up. "Have a seat, my lady," he said, gesturing at the chair he had had brought in for her. "I am afraid it isn't as comfortable as you are used to in the palaces your family stole along with the throne and the crown but it is something. I believe you'd find our food rather good."
The Princess looked at him coldly. What a change from that mice-like Lady Allyrion, he thought. "The throne, Ser, and the palaces, and the crown have always been ours. As to the food, the bad company makes everything taste bitter. Do you have anything else to tell me?" she asked as she took her seat.
He would have smiled if he could. "I have many plans about you, my lady," he assured her. "And with time, you'll hear about most of them."