Chapter 58: The Red City

Forward: Many thanks to proof-readers and editors from my Discord, with special thanks to master wu. Also, please check the end of the chapter for important news for this long delayed post.

Along the Coast of Southern Essos - Ciri & Daenerys - Several Weeks Ago

The journey to Astapor was a time of relief and relaxation for Ciri and Daenerys. Between the harsh trek through the Red Wastes, the intrigues in Qarth and the mystic scheme of the Warlocks, everyone in Dany's company deserved some peace. Slaver's Bay was a long distance: about a month of traveling even with the capable ships and crew Harito had. At the least it gave the two 'sisters' time to prepare themselves for what awaited them in Astapor.

The ones who really struggled the most on this trip were her Dothraki followers. The nomads had long feared and hated the sea, seeing the salt water as cursed since their prized horses couldn't even drink it. Yet their devotion to Daenerys helped them overcome their fear, especially her Bloodriders who felt if they could endure this journey then they'd surpass the other warriors of other Khals. It was a good thing Harito had prepared a decent stock of sea sickness tonics, though he and his crew grew a tad annoyed by the Dothraki's near constant complaints.

"Heh, even the horses handle the seas better than them!" The Prince of Blades laughed during the first few days after leaving Qarth.

Already the Qarth noble was proving his worth as an ally with just the ships and crew he provided. The vessels had the sturdiness of a warship yet the speed and maneuvering of a trade ship, allowing for quick travel and protection from pirates. Adding in the fact his handpicked crew were experienced in ship-to-ship battles, and no one doubted they could repel any pirates that were foolish enough to attack any ship bearing the Prince of Blades flag.

There had been some concern from Harito and his men about the dragons though. After all, three young fire breathing creatures were not the kind of company wanted on a ship. Yet Daenerys dedicated much of her time to keeping her 'children' in line. The three spent most of their day flying around the open waters, dive bombing to catch fish or roosting up the rigging. The constant hunting and exercise were undoubtedly going to help them bulk up by the time they reached Astapor, likely to the size of the average dog.

As for Ciri and Dany, the two were just as proactive. Daenrys continued to hone her sword fighting skills, with the ship proving to be a good step up on pass sessions. They had worked on fighting on unbalanced terrain, yet the arc and sway of the ship made it a more constant condition. Already the Targaryen was shaping into a budding duelist, though Ciri knew a real fight would be far more stressful when it inevitably happened. When the beautiful sunset of the afternoon came, they'd enjoy the company of Harito and Siranea in the main cabin. During this time, they'd be educated about the culture of Slaver's Bay, the politics in Astapor and the factions that ran the city.

"I'm sure you both have heard how Astapor is renowned for producing the best slave soldiers and laborers among the Slaver Cities." Siranea remarked, the alluring woman lounging closer against Harito while Ciri and Dany sat across from them in the Prince's cabin. "The Unsullied are quite the prized…'product'. Unwavering loyalty to whoever their master is, void of empathy and near suicidal discipline. The harsh training they are put through practically at birth ensures nothing short of a selfless soldier."

Learning the full details on how they were trained was disturbing for Ciri to hear as Harito explained. It was practically senseless torture to her, but it was clear the trainers of the Unsullied had refined their cruel methods to make effective soldiers. As morally questionable as it would be to buy them to serve Daenerys, they'd at least be given the choice to live as more than just mindless soldiers.

"Harito, as my military advisor, what are your opinions about the Unsullied if we were to recruit a sizable amount?" Daenerys questioned.

The Prince of Blades hummed in thought. "They are highly experienced when it comes to being light infantry and guards. After all, they don't have the usual…vices other men of war have. They don't loot, lust for women or ever infight. Yet for all their unyielding discipline they are lacking in tactical flexibility beyond an infantry role." He firmly stated. "Take a Westerosi bannerman. Many focus on certain roles, but if the situation demands they can shift. A shield bearer can join up and hold the line among pikemen, pick up a bow to volley with archers or mount up to be a scout. Yet the Unsullied are trained uniformly, never handling a bow or fighting beyond their chosen weapons."

"So does that mean they are not suitable for being the bulk of our army?" Dany pressed.

"To a degree yes, because all it will take is a varied army to best them," Harito explained. "But give me a few months and even quartermasters, and I'll expand their training to mend such flaws. Anyone who shows intelligence and talent will become a true elite among their brothers."

Siranea gave a hum of agreement, faintly smiling under her veil. "Still, it is wise we recruit others. Proper soldiers and mercenaries who have serious experience. Yet that concern can wait once we reach the city and get an idea on the current politics happening across The Bay."

A few days after that discussion, both Dany and Ciri felt it was time to open up about the Targaryen's ambitions in Westeros. Both knew it would be a tenuous matter with their two patrons, yet better to share it now than any later. They, alongside Jorah, met with the two Qarthian nobles for their usual evening meeting. However, Daenerys swiftly spoke first. "I have…begun to rethink my plans for Westeros and the Iron Throne."

There was a long pause from her two advisors, with Harito seeming confused while Siranea was quite calm with the news. Eventually the Prince of Blades spoke up. "I don't understand. You seemed so passionate about reclaiming your ancestral throne. You still have a right, a claim to it."

"It's not that simple, my dear." Siranea hummed, one hand gently brushing along his chest. "I can tell since your return from the House of the Warlocks, the fire in you has changed."

Her remark did little to ease the prince's questioning look. "I would prefer a clear answer, if that is allowed." He asked Daenerys.

For a moment Ciri shifted to speak in her 'sister's' defense yet Dany gave a short glance to her. "The warlocks showed me…visions. Possible futures of what I become and do." She took a deep breath. "What shook me was seeing King's Landing burning, streets full of corpses, ash raining from the sky and the Iron Throne it…" Just trying to describe it made her choke up. "Maybe it's deception, some ploy by Kai to make my will falter. Yet deep down I always felt the claims of our family wishing to reclaim the throne were…falsehoods."

A look at Jorah turned everyone's attention onto him as he sighed. "The Small Folk and much of the other nobility have little fondness for the Targaryens. Even if Robert Baratheon is dead and the land in civil war, our arrival with an army will likely unify all sides against us, no matter how noble your intentions."

With that shared, Daenrys nodded soberly. "Even if I succeeded in claiming, how successful would I be to follow up on my promises to Qarth? I would have to become a tyrant, something I don't wish to become." She let that sink in before speaking. "Yet that doesn't mean I will forego my promises. Not after the aid given and risks taken. If anything, what I suggest may aid Qarth far more directly and swiftly."

There was a moment of pause before Siranea spoke up with an excited tone. "You want to overthrow the Good Masters. While they trade with us, they along with the other rulers of the Slave Cities would like nothing more than to see Qarth under their control…or removed so they could dominate the trade from the Far East."

Danerys nodded. "Just overhearing the conversations in Qarth showed that tension. The Slave Cities are, from what I can tell full of greed and corruption, even worse than what your city suffers. All because of the Masters, who seem intent on squeezing as much gain as they can from those below them."

"Can very much agree on that." Harito remarked with a small scowl. "I had the misfortune in my youth of being captured during a raid while I was building my mercenary connections. My talents in fighting and training had me forced to work in the arenas between all the Slave Cities. Half a year I was in servitude until a ransom could be sorted…a benefit I had unlike countless others."

"So, you understand the foes we'll likely face if we go down this path?" Ciri asked, making the prince nod.

"Despite what the Good Masters claim, the people below them are far from pleased of late. All interests go towards expanding the slave market and their profit while public needs and merchants' struggle." Harito explained.

Siranea gave a hum of agreement. "For Astapor, the need to import is becoming constant as they don't have enough growth in agriculture and other trades to be as self-sustaining. Leading these merchant groups are the Mirza and Hanum, think patriarchs and matrons of affluent families. Then lastly you have the Savants who are talented crafters alongside the free citizens who do more skilled labor." She gave a soft sigh, blowing smoke from her pipe. "All of them though are beneath the Good Masters who, balancing on a needle as the Masters hold the city in their hands."

Daenrys had a thoughtful look hearing that. "And would you be able to get me to speak with these families discreetly? Obviously, attention will come to us considering it is Harito's ships, yet the Good Masters don't know our partnership yet." She glanced at Ciri and Jorah before looking to the Prince of Blades. "I have a plan in mind. Harito, could you distract the Good Masters for a time, pretending to be on a business visit for a special client? We'd need a week or two without them realizing I'm in the city."

The Prince of Blade paused in thought before he replied with a small smirk. "I can do so. The Good Masters love to put a lot of formality for someone like me. They'll need time anyway to get the Unsullied we wish to buy in order as well, even more so with me inspecting. Course, they may get quite moody when they realize it's you."

"Good. We want them in the dark as long as possible. Give us the element of surprise and keep them off guard." Ciri remarked. "If we can pull this off…it's definitely going to change things across the whole Bay."

Noon - Astapor - A Few Days After the Retaking of Harrenhal

When word spread that Astapor was in sight, Ciri and Dany hurried from their cabin to behold it. The city was renowned for its three most distinct features, the first being the aging harpy statue that was perched across the harbor gate. From what Ciri understood, the harpy was the image of another faded Empire of Ghis which had dominated Essos before Valyria rose to conquer it. Even though that was thousands of years back, the icons of that bygone era lingered.

Next were three stepped pyramids that were a district of their smallest was dedicated to the military and the harsh trainers of the Unsullied. The second tallest was for the merchant families and temples. While the last, which was said to tower at four hundred feet tall, was for the Good Masters. Even from the harbor, its many lush gardens stood out from the red colored bricks that made up the monument to the city's rulers.

Lastly was the looming yet crumbling wall and towers that stood to the city's east. In the past they were said to have been even more indomitable than the barrier that guarded Qarth. Yet after thousands of years of neglect, the city didn't even bother to build some form of gate to ward away intruders. It was a show of their confidence that none would dare invade Astapor and face the wrath of the Unsullied. In the eyes of both Ciri and Dany though, it was a show of the city's decay and corruption.

They would have to wait a few days for Harito to mingle with the Good Masters while Siranea arranged a meeting with one of the Merchant Families. It at least gave them time to get the dragons prepared for a secluded stay in the hold of the main ship. While it was clear they didn't like the confinement after being out at sea for so long, Daenerys' bond was able to have the creatures behave for now. Still, half of her handmaidens would be dutiful to tend to them alongside half of the Dothraki Blood Riders until she returned by nightfall.

By late morning on the third day after arriving at Astapor, Siranea returned to the main ship in one of her merchant disguises with a few robed individuals from the city carrying baskets of fabrics. "I do apologize for the wait, Khalessi. The eyes of the Good Masters are quite active at the moment, so I had to take more time making arrangements." She gestured to the robed individuals who had followed her; two men and two women. The worn tanned colored robes and head wraps were quite shrouding, designed to handle the arid climate quite well. "You will be helping us get around the city unnoticed. A good show of faith for our first patron here"

With that introduction, the four gave short bows to them, with Dany and Ciri doing so in respect. Jorah and Rakharo studied the four before the exiled knight realized. "We'll be taking their place to let us roam the city. They all seem to match our heights from what I can tell."

"Observant of you, Ser Jorah. This will be our way to roam the city, though we must be cautious. Savants may not be slaves, yet crossing the wrong people can easily end up in chains." Siranea explained before the baskets of fabrics were dropped to reveal extra robes. "Please get dressed, we must not keep our host waiting."

The four moved to their separate cabins to get changed, with Ciri keeping some of her duelist leathers on under her robe before stashing her sword inside the basket with some effort. She in turn helped Dany cover up her blue gown and Valyrian blade in the same manner. "Been a while since I've had to do a proper disguise." Ciri mused. "Though more in favor of hooded cloaks over headwraps."

"You'd likely stand out dressed that way." Dany softly laughed before they left their cabin, finding Jorah and Rakharo already waiting in disguise alongside the Lady of Whispers.

"Ugh…it is wrong we must sneak like this." Rakharo muttered, tugging slightly at his robe as he wasn't used to being so overly covered.

"Learning a little guile doesn't hurt." Jorah tried to assure the Dothraki. "After Qarth, not all enemies we face are going to be out in the open. To guard the Khalessi, we must be adaptable."

"Now, stay close. The streets of the Red City aren't always the safest unless under the shadow of the pyramids" Siranea warned as she led the group off the ship and into the city proper. Ciri and Dany followed close behind Siranea with Jorah and Rakharo both at their sides. Keeping hold of her basket of fabrics, Ciri was observant of her surroundings which were quite grim considering. Despite its darker aspects, Qarth truly seemed like a city of plenty. Yet here the divides of wealth were obvious. The buildings along the port varied between weathered wooden structures or red brick buildings. The buildings made of brick seemed to have slaves dedicated to patching them up with red mortar paste and bricks. The lack of proper materials, tools or skills was only keeping these structures together cheaply.

"Somehow this place is worse than slums of Novagrad…" Ciri muttered before the crack of a whip followed by a woman's cry drew her attention. A lineup of chained slaves was being marched along, with the taskmaster waving his whip over a woman with a child, likely her own huddling close. A fierce anger spiked through her seeing that, making her want to draw her hidden blade and do…something! Yet a look from Dany reminded her she had to keep calm, to ignore the terrible sights this city had. Though looking at the Targaryen, she could sense the hint of guilt in her eyes. Dany knew when she was married to Khal Drogo that her warlord husband had been enslaving many to fund their future war on Westeros. For all she knew, some of the people here could be because of her actions.

Eventually the group neared the second pyramid, where the dreary aspects of the port and its surrounding streets faded away. Around this pyramid the freemen and Savants lived alongside the common marketplaces that provided for them. The calm normalcy was quite an unsettling contrast to the cruelty just out of sight. Yet a passing look among the shops and stalls showed goods were quite limited in variety or in outright shortage, showing the issues Siranea had warned about.

"Nearly there." The Lady of Whispers led the way to the pyramid's base. The ground level was where the Savants and laborers lived in shared common houses. A glance inside showed they were orderly if simple spaces that didn't offer much for privacy beyond curtains and partisans. Ramps and stairways built into the pyramid led to the villas of the merchants, with those near the top more lavish and larger and the highest ones taking up a whole tier. Eventually the group stopped at one of the larger villas on this level of the pyramid. The gates guarded by a half a dozen Unsullied quickly opened as the stoic slave soldiers recognized Siranea.

Revealing the lush garden built on the edge of the pyramid, an elegant handmaiden approached the group before bowing low in respectful greeting. "Lady Siranea. Khaleesi Daenerys. Lady Vaera. Mirza Qaghs is eager to meet with you all." She gestured down a short path leading into the villa itself. Once inside, everyone could take off their hoods as they were led into a sitting room, the air thick with the scent of tea which helped clear out the grimy scents of the city streets from the senses. Instead of seats or a normal table, there were just silk sitting pillows surrounding a low set table. Three more Unsullied stood by at a separate wall, so still one could mistake them for armored manikins.

Sitting at the table was a bald headed and broad bodied man in fine deep blue robes. His full bearded face along with a gruff expression wasn't the expected look of one of the city's wealthier trade leaders. When he saw Ciri, there was a show of surprise in his steely gaze. While she knew Siranea had shared the 'story' of being Dany's secret half-sister, the man likely had his doubts until seeing her in person. Quickly his calm composure returned as he bowed his head to the group before gesturing to the cushions. "Ladies…please, sit. I am Mirza Qaghs ma Zaa, head of the plantations of Astapor. I wish our first meeting could be more formal instead of so secretive."

Dany, Ciri and Siranea sat across from him while Jorah and Rakharo remained standing. Daenerys bowed her head in respect to their host. "Considering the extravagant tidings we had in Qarth, this is more than enough Mirza Qaghs." Daenrys replied. "I must thank you for taking the risks of meeting with us in secret. From what I've heard of the Good Masters, they would not take kindly to a meeting like this."

Qaghs nodded as he finished pouring tea for everyone with Siranea being the first to take a cup. "I'm sure you've heard plenty of talk of the Master's drive for control, even of those not in bondage." He remarked before pausing, seeing the way Siranea sniffed and subtly sampled her tea. "That cautious, Lady Siranea? Tea is from my garden and prepared by me personally."

"Just my habits, good Mirza." The Lady of Whispers hummed before taking a proper sip before nodding. "An exceptional mix though. Your talent is divine."

Ciri sampled her tea, blinking in surprise as the quality was unlike anything she had. "It is wonderful. Forgive my surprise but…I never thought someone of your standing would take farming as a personal hobby."

Her remark drew a deep laugh from the man. "True! Most men of wealth in these lands, prefer to waste away in comfort and vice. Yet Mirza and Hanum have our familiar traditions compared to those of the Slavers. If you are to be the head of a merchant family, you must understand the trade involved. Studying harvest, worker management and so on but…ahh I forget myself."

"If anything, it gives a good insight about you, Mirza." Dany remarked. "Considering what we wish to do here in Astapor. I need capable people I can rely on."

Qaghs was silent in thought, studying her and then Ciri closely while drinking his tea. "And that is what makes me curious. What do you plan for my city? An ally…a resource for reclaiming your birthright across the Narrow Sea?" His question had some hint of inquisitiveness, though Ciri felt it was to draw a reaction from Daenerys.

Ciri knew that Siranea had shared Dany's intentions, yet Qaghs likely wanted to hear it from her directly. The young Targaryian met his gaze with steely calm. "What I want is to forge my own path from the legacy of the Iron Throne back in Westeros." She answered calmly. "My time with the Dothraki and in Qarth has made me realize there is more I can do Essos…to confront corruption and ruinous divides here so close to where Valyria once was."

There was a long silence from Qaghs, only ending when he gave a low hum. "Normally I'd call you a naive idealist…yet it is clear you have the spirit of ambition in you." His gaze looked to the Lady of Whispers. "Having the likes of Siranea and Harito supporting you is also promising."

"Then perhaps it is best we focus on what to do next." Ciri spoke up. "It's clear Astapor is crumbling, figuratively and literally. The Good Masters have no intention of improving anything or letting you and the other heads of the merchant families."

"That is true. Even though many within the families are willing to put forth the coin for proper rebuilding, the Masters are paranoid. Such a move can be seen as trying to extend our influence, circumvent their control. People who tried discretely…have a habit of disappearing and their estates coming under new ownership to those loyal to the Masters."

"Such threats can make even the most capable unable to act." Jorah mused before looking at Daenerys.

"Like what my father did in his madness." Dany finished, drawing somewhat of a surprised look from her protector, though he nodded in grim agreement. "Yet the Good Masters are not insane. They are avarice boundless who will take all they can from this city and the people in it. freeman and slave. Which is why I wish to help you in overthrowing them."

"Obviously." Qaghs scoffed in dry sarcasm. "Siranea has already told me that you plan to purchase possibly half of the Unsullied with Harito's help. I know how loyal and capable they can be, but even if the Good Masters are willing to sell that much, the remaining slave soldiers along with their mercenary guards will still be difficult to overcome."

"Which is why we need you and the other families' support." Dany stated. "After all, you must have…around twenty Unsullied I assume? Then of course your other guards spread between your villa, storehouses and fields. If the other major families have a comparable number, we'd have a thousand already within the city."

"Even more if the slaves are armed with even simple weapons." Ciri added, which did draw a hint of concern in the man's eyes. "Unless you're worried their fury extends to you." The judgmental tone Ciri showed drew further worry from her companions.

"I'd prefer to not be compared to the senseless cruelties of the Good Masters." Qaghs firmly stated. "Besides, are you willing to let hundreds of untrained and underequipped slaves rampage through this city? I'm sure Harito would agree that would be an unwise move."

For a moment Ciri wanted to argue, though knew the man was right. There had been discussions during the trip about using this tactic, which had been argued against for the same reasons. "My sister is a passionate soul because of her time in Westeros and the Free Cities. She doesn't fully understand the cultures here in the Bay." Daenerys calmly explained. "Yet understand, those enslaved under the Masters will be given freedom under my care. I will see this city remade into something greater through an open hand and cooperation, not a closed fist and cruelty."

The soothing passion Daenerys gave made even the doubting hint in Qaghs eyes fade slightly, humming in thought. "That is a challenge greater than anything else, Khaleesi." He plainly stated, avoiding being harsh but blunt. "Now, we do have much to discuss and sign over." With a nod, a servant came over with parchment and ink. "After all, we must make this official. My allies among the families need assurances."

Daenerys smiled and nodded before looking to Siranea, trusting the spy mistress to help in this process. For Ciri, she knew very well this was the boring part of politics. The paperwork. Really, this was something she knew her father enjoyed the most, knowing his guile for pacts and treaties. Hopefully Dany had the focus and patience for this part.

Hours Later into the Evening

Ciri sighed as she gazed over Astapor from the terrace, having stepped away a few hours ago. Dany had learned much in her time in Qarth, considering her dealings with the Thirteen who were a lot more stubborn to manage. Hopefully it would show the merchant families that she was capable and not some 'delicate' highborn woman. The bustle of the city below was shifting across its districts, as the people returned to their homes after their late work duties. As calm as it all seemed, she could only imagine the pain and hardship those enslaved were enduring, preparing for the next day ahead.

It was here that the thought of the daunting challenge of liberating this crumbling city and then building it up into something better came into her mind. Did she have time to help in all of this, when back in Westeros her destiny awaited? Geralt was out there looking for her, no doubt getting into all sorts of trouble. So many worries and doubts, making concern show on her face.

"You know, when you're deep in thought you have quite the intense glare." Jorah spoke up, snapping her out of her thoughts. "Quite intimidating really, even with one eye."

Laughing, Ciri turned to face him, leaning back onto the stone railing. "Enough to spook you? The man who charged into a chamber full of soul draining cultists?" His dubious stare made her chuckle. "Just a lot on my mind. Thinking about what we're about to do here…"

"It is quite a risk, but we have capable allies. The merchant families may have their own goals, but they need us just as much as we do." He replied before standing beside her.

Ciri nodded, mind now pondering on their future takeover. "Do you think the Unsullied will fight against the Good Masters when we…purchase them?"

"I don't doubt it. With the training they go through, they serve unquestioningly." Though he paused in thought before continuing. "Part of me believes that despite it all they have a buried hatred. Being torn from their families, mutilated and broken down. It takes only the right drive to crack that iron discipline."

"And you think Daenerys can do that?"

"I trust she can." Jorah's gaze focused on the Masters pyramid. "After all I've seen of her, surviving the funeral pyre, the dragons reborn and what happened in Qarth. She is capable of making the impossible happen..well…perhaps only outmatched by you."

Laughing slightly, she shrugged before focusing on the Master's pyramid. "I've been thinking about a way we can end this fight quickly. Obviously whatever resistance we face will yield if the Masters are captured."

"Which won't be simple since most will be staying within the pyramid." Jorah mused, though he quickly caught on. "Course, when you can simply teleport yourself to them, then it makes it quite easy."

"All I'd need to do is get a look inside and I can get both of us along with our Bloodriders past all their defenses. Then once we get the blade to the Master's throat, they'll surely call for a surrender to spare themselves."

"It would save a lot of time and lives and yet…we'd have to time it accordingly." The questioning look from her made him continue. "If we use your powers too quickly, it's going to look suspicious. What will Harito, Siranea or our other allies think when they hear talks of us going from one half of the city to the other? As cooperative as they have been, risking them learning about your powers would…complicate things."

Pausing in thought, Ciri nodded in understanding. "You're right. So often I just want to use my powers to solve problems just like that." For a moment her gaze was distant. "I keep thinking back to Qarth. How, if I had used my powers, I could have defeated the twins quicker or resisted Kai better."

"We all have our limits, even you. What matters is we give it our all when the time comes…and learn from whatever hardships we endure." He smiled faintly. "All of us have changed since facing the Undying, facing our fears and flaws."

That last mention did get Ciri thinking, though she also realized she didn't know what Jorah had faced within that cursed ruin. It had never crossed her mind to question whatever personal trial or fear. "If you don't mind me asking…what did you see in there?"

The question made Jorah visibly tense then relaxed before answering. "That the truth is I'm not as honorable or brave as I make myself seem."

Scoffing at that claim, Ciri shook her head. "I doubt many men do most of the suicidal things you've charged off into."

"It's not about actions, but choices. Choices I've made before serving Daenerys." He paused before continuing. "You know I'm in Essos because I'm in exile, though I never shared the reasons why."

"I can assume you've crossed a more powerful Lord on some matter. It's happened plenty of times where I've come from."

"Exile wasn't…my punishment. More of my escape." Jorah took a breath, finding it difficult to confess his past, even after knowing the hardships Ciri had faced on her own. "House Mormont isn't…a rich one. When I was married, my wife Lynesse...she had expectations of me. The ideal heroic lord, yet lacking the wealth she grew up with in Oldtown. I adored her…blindly. Taking on debt to please her. So dire it was that I…" He became silent, eyes looking away. "I dabbled into slavery by selling off poachers to make ends meet. The punishment for such a crime was death and instead of facing it honorably I ran."

For a long moment Ciri stared at him, trying to keep a steely face even though her eyes showed shock. "I can understand why you'd keep this to yourself." Though one question crossed her mind though. "So…what happened to your wife? Is she still in Westeros or…"

"Dead? No, she came with me to Lys, one of the more lavish Free Cities. Yet debts built up, leading to us under the gaze of one of the city's richest merchant princes."

Staring for a long moment, Ciri seemed to tense slightly in realization. "Wait Jorah, tell me you didn't-"

Even he realized the implication, balking slightly. "Gods no! Despite everything, I would have fought to my last to protect her." Yet one fist clenched as a scowl hinted at his face. "Just…he demanded her and she accepted it. He had wealth and comfort that I had no chance to provide as a sellsword. I could have resisted, likely been killed…but what was the point when the woman you gave everything for turns their back on you?"

Silent for a moment, Ciri huffed as he leaned to the balcony edge. "Forgive me for saying this, but your ex-wife was a bitch." She bluntly stated.

Her remark had the Northerner gawk before laughing out. "My mother and sisters all said the same thing. Guess it wasn't just Northerner gruffness speaking for them." Despite the humor, he gave a sigh. "Still, her behavior is no excuse for my actions. It's a mark of shame for me that I wish I could take it back, yet can't. If you think less of me, then I accept it as the price of honesty."

Eventually Ciri gave a faint smile before placing a firm hand on his shoulder. "And I welcome honesty. In truth I'm…guilty for doing terrible things too. I acted reckless which got a lot of innocent people killed and…I fell into a bad group; a gang called the Rats." She explained. "I owed them a lot, but they dragged me into a lot of bad habits, brought out the worst side in me. Had me murdered people for senseless reasons." Her gaze did go distant thinking back then, but also her time back in the House with those visions. She didn't want to share about her complicated relationship with Mistle or how the gang died just for being around her. "What matters is we both know what we did was wrong. That we feel guilt for our actions and are willing to do whatever it takes to make things right, despite how impossible it seems."

Jorah seemed to be at a loss for words before nodding, a steely look on his face. "Trying to free as many people as possible here in Astapor would be a good start. Course, we must rely on Daenerys to give us the allies we need to do so."

Ciri chuckled a bit, giving a shrug. "I have a feeling she'll manage just fine." She'd nod to the doorway back inside. "Enough worrying about the past. Let's see if our Khaleesi has finished with the negotiations."

As she walked back inside, Jorah lingered to watch her as the sway of her body had him ponder. Yet that desire was bitten back as the memory from the House struck him, enough to make him grit his teeth painfully. "No…I have to be better," He muttered to himself as he calmed down, soon following after Ciri to reunite with Daenerys.

Several Hours Later - The North - Eastern Region of the Gift - Jon - Hours before Dawn

Jon knew he needed to sleep, but had been restless the whole night. Ever since getting over the Wall with the Wildlings, his mind had countless thoughts going through it. Returning to the warmer lands beyond the Wall had almost been a shock for him, more so for the other Wildlings. They laughed at how it was too warm here, having stripped a few layers of furs and clothes to be more comfortable. So long as it kept everyone's moods bright and relaxed despite the mission they were on.

Staring up at the tent top, he felt Ygritte shift against him, cozy under the furs loosely covering them both. Seeing the peaceful look on her face made the conflict in his heart grow. He could leave now…get to Castle Black to stop this all. Yet could he risk losing her, be it the bonds they made over these harsh months by abandoning her or the chance she could die from a battle beyond his control? Geralt had always told him that love drives men to do mad things…and this seemed to be that kind of moment.

When he looked at the tent flap, Ghost was sitting there watching them. Always the dire wolf seemed to know whenever he was troubled, be there to give silent assurance to him. With a heavy sigh, he sat up before leaning over Ygritte. "Ygritte." He spoke into her ear, gently shaking her. "You need to get up."

With a small, annoyed groan, she opened one eye. She assumed by his quiet tone they weren't under attack, so she wasn't rushed. "Right now?" Yet seeing the serious look on his face, concern showed in her eyes." What is bothering you? You've been acting odd ever since the Wall."

Jon was silent for a long moment before he answered, deciding to be direct. "Because I have to make a choice. One that can make me lose you."

The pained look in his eyes had Ygritte become more aware. "You plan to leave. To go to Castle Black by yourself." For a moment anger seemed to flare in her gaze, yet Jon's expression didn't change. That made her hesitate, the reaction he hoped for. "Why? What happened to all the claims for…freedom. For you…for us!" She hissed the last words, barely keeping herself from yelling it. "Was it just a lie? Another trick just to backstab us all?!"

"No!" Jon growled, the glare in his eyes making the Wildling flinch. "Everything I've said, shared with you and the others is true. I want to be free; I want to enjoy life by my own choice, not by what others decide." He took a deep breath to calm himself, letting his emotions get the better of him. "Yet I don't want to earn that freedom if it means spilling the blood of my friends! The Night's Watch has good people in it…just like the Free Folk too. People I care and trust for." Clenching his hand, he kept his eyes locked with hers. "I don't want to risk the lives of anyone…on either side…not when there is another way."

"Another way? Unless the Crows plan to just…open the gate and put generations of-" Yet seeing the look in his eyes, a smirk and look of disbelief showed in her eyes before shaking her head. "Fuck! Jon you…are you insane? Do you think you can just convince both sides to just work together?"

"Maybe." He chuckled darkly before drawing out a long moment of silence. "Yet if it means you, Sam, Tormund and so many others I care for can be spared…I'd rather take that chance. The Watch and Free Folk have their differences, but the Dead and the White Walkers won't care. The more we all fight, the stronger they get. We'll just be adding more of the dead to their ranks." He let that hard truth sink in.

"Then why me? Why not convince Tormund? The tough bastard owes you his life a few times." She tried to argue in her struggling frustration, leaving out the fact she owed Jon the same way.

"Because Tormund is…gods he's too dense for what I have planned. You're stubborn as Hell, but have more sense than most I've met in my life." Jon sighed, clearly wishing he could include the warrior in on this. His gaze did drift to Ygritte's knife tucked beside her, before focusing back to her stern gaze. "Besides…I trust you, more than anyone else, Ygritte. If you believe me…then come with me. Keep your trust in me." He offered his hand for her to take, with her staring at it for a long moment.

"Jon…" She sighed, for a moment, seeming ready to reach for her knife before instead reaching out to take his offered hand. "...I swear you're too hopeful, Jon Snow." She'd then grasp his hand tightly before giving a small smile. "Yet I'll take a chance of hope over despair, if it's with you."

"That means more than you can imagine to me." He muttered, giving a thankful smile back. Jon pulled Ygritte up though she gave a cautionary nudge of her fist to his lower gut to drive a low grunt from him.

"But I swear. If this goes wrong, you'll wish you face all the Crow and Free Folk over me." She warned with a playful grin, quite the oddly intimate threat to give. "Now come on…let's go before I change my mind or the others notice." Stepping away, she'd move to grab her pack and whatever was necessary for the trip ahead.

"That is one way to encourage." Jon huffed before he went outside to check if the way was clear. Ghost was calm, a good sign that whoever was on watch wasn't paying any attention towards them. Resting a hand on Longclaw, he glanced at his direwolf who looked to him, a knowing look in those eyes. "Another leap of faith for us." He muttered before seeing Ygritte slipping out of the tent. Giving a short nod to her, a glance to the tall grass ahead gave Ghost silently move forward, the direwolf being their guide before the coming sunrise. One hand out, Ygritte took hold with a tight grip.

Gazes met; both knew that at this point…anything could happen to them. Going beyond this point, they'd be seen as traitors by both sides. This gambit of his had to work, for the sake of everyone on both sides of the Wall…along with him and Ygritte. Having their lives on the line made the impossible seem more likely. Then again, he had beaten the odds so far…what more did he have to lose now?

The darkness of the field closed around them both, only the narrow path Ghost left being their guide. A stray glance over his shoulder could just make out the distant orange and yellow hue of the sun beginning to rise. The new day was arriving…and they'd surely reach Castle Black by the next morning. Returning there after so many months away, the fate of his friends uncertain…and his best hope to make his plan work.

Notice: So, it's been about a year. If you haven't been on the Discord, I've been caught up with my job and been having a lot of personal matters jump up. Last year, I lost family, with my grandmother and my aunt's mother having passed away, who was like a grandparent to me. We also had to put down our last cat who had been struggling for years with health problems that had been stressful to manage. Lastly, as of February I have left my job and now focusing on finding new work. Oddly, the free time hasn't helped me focus on writing, much to my frustration. Financially I'm fine, yet things can become shaky in the coming months.

Yet I do stick to my promises and will continue to write. I do have to give a big shout out to my fans on Discord, along with every new reader that follows this crossover. All of you remind me of why I enjoy writing stories like this. There is so much to do, yet I am determined to see it through even if it may take years.

I have written content shifted to other chapters than originally planned. We'll be giving a proper return to the North with Winterfell, Castle Black along with a return of plenty of characters we haven't seen since the early days of season one. I hope for a return of steady content for you all. As always, share a review or send me a PM if you wish to join the Discord for news, chapter previews or to cheer me on.