A/N: Alternate Timeline, starting somewhere near the end of A Storm of Swords. This will be a long, plotty multi-chaptered fic coming your way. The surprise at the end will be explained next chapter!
The morning after her forces had taken the city of Meereen, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen broke her fast in the garden atop the Great Pyramid, now devoid of its gauche bronze harpy statue. Her servant girl Missandei brought her duck eggs and dog sausage and a half cup of sweet wine cut with the juice of a lime, and Dany watched with interest as her dragons swooped and dove amidst the terrace garden and pool, appearing in mid-air as flashes of green, white and black. Right now they played, but she knew not all of their activities were playful. They hunt now, often, she reminded herself. Mostly on sheep and small domestic animals, but the frequency was becoming more common. Soon they will be larger and wilder, and I may not be able to control them any longer.
She dismissed the thought as Jhiqui and Irri prepared her to hold court that morning, bathing her and drying her hair and curling it carefully until the length of it fell down her back in soft silver-gold ringlets, and dressing her in a purple samite robe with a silver sash. On her head she wore the crown that the Tourmaline Brotherhood of Qarth had given her, gold and silver wrought with a three-headed dragon, the heads made of jade, ivory and onyx.
She was dressed to look every bit the Queen she should be, but Dany didn't feel it. She felt like a foolish young girl caught between her two adored father figures—one of them Ser Grandfather, perhaps, as Daario was fond of calling him, without even knowing he'd been a Westerosi knight—who had betrayed her. She knew she would have to deal with Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan at some point in the day, but she wanted to delay it as long as possible, as childish as it was.
Dany descended to a lower level of the pyramid, to her audience chamber—the walls made of purple marble, with ceilings high enough to create echoes—and took her seat at her ebony bench, to receive those who would seek audience with the new ruler of their city. "Two have brought themselves to bask in your presence, my Radiance," Daario informed her. The sellsword captain had taken his fill of looted treasures from Meereen after the battle, from some of the deposed Great Masters themselves, and gold jewelry hung from his neck and arms and adorned his wrists and fingers. He glittered.
...Three treasons will you know, the Undying had told her; once for blood and once for gold and once for love...
She was to be betrayed two more times. She'd thought Ser Jorah to be the second one, but he'd not betrayed her for gold, he'd admitted that much. Varys said I might go home. He should have been more patient. He'd done it for a pardon, to return to Westeros, even though Dany knew she would have brought him there eventually.
…Eventually. Meanwhile, by taking over the city of Meereen—with an entire new host of problems, moreso than Astapor and Yunkai, combined—she'd most likely ensconced them here.
Dany nodded at Daario, and prepared to receive the first of her two petitioners. "See them in."
The first was someone from Astapor, by way of a slaver ship out of Qarth, called Ghael; a small, pale, weasely-faced man wearing ropes of jewelry around his neck. "Great Mother of Dragons, I bring you greetings, from King Cleon of Astapor."
"…King Cleon." Dany's voice lilted with concern as her stomach dropped. "I left a council in charge of Astapor's rule."
"They betrayed you, your Magnificence," Ghael replied. "They schemed to restore the Good Masters to power, and Cleon the Great—a former slave himself, of Grazdan mo Ullhor—rose to bring them down and rule fairly as you wished."
Missandei leaned down over her shoulder and spoke into her ear that Cleon had been a butcher in Grazdan's kitchens. Dany stiffened and tried not to let her inward grimace show on her face. "May Cleon be a fair and just ruler," she intoned to the envoy neutrally. "What would he have of me?"
"He wishes to warn you against the plots of the Yunkai'i, your Worship. Even now they raise new levies and build warships, and have sent envoys to Volantis and New Ghis, to make alliances and recruit sellswords. There is even talk of them having dispatched riders to Vaes Dothrak, to bring a khalasar down upon you."
Dany frowned. She'd not meant to make enemies of the Yunkai'i; she'd told them that they would be spared if they freed every slave within their city walls. Ghael saw the look upon her face, and smiled benevolently. "Great Cleon bid me tell you not to be afraid, that he declares his devotion to the Mother of Dragons. Astapor has not forgotten you, and he would see an alliance made between our two great cities. If you will consent to wed him—"
"—Marriage?" Dany interrupted, but the envoy continued.
"—he will promise you protection, and he will give you many strong sons—"
Missandei spoke up. "Did he give his first wife sons?"
Ghael visibly flinched at the question. "…No. Only daughters. But his two newest wives are with child, and he has said he is willing to put all of them aside, if the Mother of Dragons would take him as a husband."
"How noble of him." Daenerys pursed her lips, even as her expression remained forcibly neutral. Nevermind that she would not bear a living child again, not to anyone, regardless of the reputed potency of his loins. She gave orders that the envoy be given a place to stay for the night in a lower section of the pyramid, and bowed her head after his leave as she ruminated on his words.
What happened in Astapor might very well happen here as well, when I leave to march on Westeros, she thought dejectedly. Tens of thousands of freed slaves would no doubt want to follow her, but even if she emptied every granary of rice and wheat in the city and left the remaining Meereenese to starve, she would still not be able to feed everyone. It would be a death march.
The news from the Qartheen captain of the trading galley was no better. Astapor was burning; dead men rotted in the streets, each pyramid had become an armed camp, and there were no slaves for sale in the markets but no food, either. King Cleon's thugs had taken every highborn boy in Astapor to make new Unsullied, although it would take years to train them.
Dany was surprisingly unsurprised. Every victory turns to dross, in my hands. She'd hoped to think of herself as Aegon the Conqueror reborn, perhaps even to do Rhaegar's name justice—but it seemed instead that she was trailing disaster and death in her wake, everywhere she went.
"Give me slaves," the captain entreated when she asked him what he would want of her. "The holds of my ship are loaded with ivory, ambergris, zorse hides and other fine goods. I would trade them for slaves, to bring back to Qarth."
"There are no slaves here for sale," she bristled, but Daario suddenly stepped forward.
"My queen, the riverside is full of Meereenese begging to be sold to the Qartheen," he stated, and she looked at him with faint shock. "They are thicker than the flies."
"…I don't understand," Dany replied, her silver-blonde brows knitting. "They want to be slaves?"
"Highborn and well-spoken slaves are treated well in the city of Qarth, sweet queen. Those who would go to the Free Cities in servitude would become tutors, healers, bed-warmers, even scribes and priests. They will sleep in soft beds and eat rich foods…a much better fate than that they would find here, where they have lost much and live in squalor."
Dany was silenced for a moment. She thought it strange that Daario would propose this now, when on the march with her army toward Yunkai and Meereen he'd disavowed slavery entirely and without question. One cannot make love to a slave, he'd purred to her, and she'd felt him a kindred spirit for having said it, for having echoed Doreah's words long ago said to her in the Great Grass Sea that had given her the courage to take command of Khal Drogo in their marriage bed. Now it seemed he was more a proponent of it than she'd realized.
"…I see," she said, hesitantly. "If that is true, then…any man who wishes to sell himself into slavery, may do so. Or woman." Her voice became firm once more. "But no one may sell a child, nor a man his wife."
Missandei noted that the city of Astapor had taken a tenth of the price each time a slave changed hands, and Dany ordered it to be so in Meereen as well. "It shall be done, glorious queen," Daario trilled. "My Stormcrows will collect your tenth."
Then my tenth will be more like a twentieth, Dany thought. She did not trust the Stormcrows, but the Second Sons were no better and the Unsullied were unlettered as they were unspoiled. "Records must be kept. Find some freedmen who can read and write and do sums."
The captain of the Indigo Star was bid to leave, and Dany paused in the lull after her petitioners. She had dreaded what must come next, but it was past time that she dealt with her knights, Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan, the informer and the turncloak, respectively. Her stomach fluttered anxiously and her head ached. I need their swords, and I need their counsel. But she felt sick to think of confronting them, especially Jorah. Barristan had lied about his name and his rank and had supported the Usurper's reign for a time, but he had also protected her, both in Qarth from the Sorrowful Man's manticore, and from the Titan's Bastard outside of Meereen.
Jorah Mormont had done a much, much worse betrayal…an insidious one, and right under her nose.
"Bring me my knights," she commanded Strong Belwas, and the giant eunuch plodded off to retrieve them. As she awaited his return, Grey Worm came through the doors of the audience chamber, having ascended the steps with two people following behind him.
"This one brings two more petitioners to seek Your Grace's audience," Grey Worm intoned, removing his two-horned helmet in her presence and standing aside to let the two figures enter—a fair-skinned woman with hair the color of honey, and a hooded man in a dark cloak. "From Volantis, by way of Tolor, the one…and the other from Westeros."
Daario stepped forward to intercept them, one hand caressing the gold hilt of his arakh. "The queen is done with her requests for the day," he said, and it was more of a growl. "Send them ba—"
"—I will see them," Dany interrupted, frowning lightly at Daario's impertinence and straining to look around him. Westeros? "Bring them forward."
The young woman and the hooded man approached the dais cautiously, the man standing graciously aside and bowing his head to allow her to walk ahead of him. Missandei spoke as they approached, her soft girlish tone ringing echoes in the marble hall: "You are now in the presence of Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Dothraki of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles, Queen of Meereen and rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros…and Mother of Dragons."
The young woman with the honey-toned hair stepped forward cautiously. She was very comely, slender with a heart-shaped face, and bright green eyes. She looks to be only a couple of namedays older than myself. Daenerys beckoned her with gentleness in her voice. "Speak."
The girl's voice shook. "My—your Grace, my name is Nyessa Staegone."
"Staegone is a very powerful family name," Missandei noted primly, by Dany's side. "Belicho Staegone is a top candidate for Triarch, of Volantis." She addressed the girl once more, her voice clear and unafraid; Dany relished Missandei's shrewd unveiling of the truth at times such as this. "Belonging to the party of the Tiger, if this one is not mistaken."
"My father," Nyessa confirmed, glancing at the young scribe before bringing her gaze back to the Queen. "And yes, of the Tiger."
"…And for what reason, then, does the daughter of a prominent candidate for Triarch of Volantis seek out one of her people's greatest enemies?" Dany cocked her head, her calm voice curious. "My advisors tell me there has not been a Tiger-heavy Triarch in nearly three hundred years, but the city is thirsty for war against us, and the warriors of your father's party will most likely prevail."
The girl fell to her knees before the dais. "Your Grace…I seek shelter from my father and his henchmen." Her eyes watered and her lips trembled. "He would have me beaten and humiliated, and then turned over to marry the son of one of his political allies."
At the mention of violence, Dany sat forward although her voice retained its smoothness. "And is it so terrible, to wed one of your father's choosing?"
"It would not be so, if I did not love another with my whole heart," Nyessa reasoned, and Dany's eyes changed at her words. "He was a slave in my family's household, and we were to run away to be together…but my father discovered our secret before we could do so."
Dany found she was almost afraid to ask. "…And the slave that you loved?"
The tears tracked freely down the girl's cheeks. "My father had him disemboweled and left to die, amidst the crows." She shook her head firmly. "I cannot go back. I no longer wish to live in a land that would condone slavery. Great Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Shackles—I throw myself on your mercy. Let me serve you."
She was touched by the girl's story, and particularly at the doomed love affair between a highborn girl and a slave, but Daenerys was still hesitant. "To keep the daughter of a Triarch as a servant would bring down even more Volantene wrath upon myself and my people. I am afraid that I cannot ta—"
"—All men must serve," a voice spoke up behind the girl, with a Westerosi inflection strangely similar to Jorah Mormont's although even more clipped and brusque, and it stopped her cold. The man in the dark cloak was removing his hood as he stepped forward, baring a head of unruly auburn curls, his face framed with several weeks' worth of red whiskers. Dany was immediately struck by his eyes. Blue, so blue, like the Summer Sea. "I believe those words apply to the fairer sex, as well."
"Wait your turn, foreigner," Daario insisted, his hand on his arakh's hilt, but Dany stayed him with a hand.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Someone who has also sought you out, but for a loftier purpose." His lips pursed.
Any further words he might have said were interrupted by the return of Strong Belwas bursting through the doors of the audience chamber. The eunuch's loud, plodding steps echoed across marble, as he dragged two men along with him by the arms. "Have brought knights, Little Queen." He pushed them both forward, and Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy caught themselves before they fell.
The young man in the dark cloak turned to regard them, his reddish-brown brows knitting into a frown. "I know you," he said softly to Mormont, as though he were wracking his memory trying to remember; Jorah audibly sucked in his breath.
"…That's Robb Stark," the knight whispered, almost disbelievingly, and turned to look at Dany. "Son of Eddard, and Heir to Winterfell."
"Not just Heir to Winterfell," Barristan countered beside him with a definitive nod, also gazing at the boy. "The word is, that boy had been crowned King in the North, after his father's death and before I left Westeros."
Dany looked from her knights and back again at the auburn-haired stranger, her widened violet eyes disbelieving. "…King in the North?"
"…Aye." Robb nodded, turning back to face her. His voice strengthened. "And I've come to seek alliance with the Dragon Queen…to reclaim both your throne, and mine."