A/N: Chap 9 review responses are in my forums like normal. Just a reminder that I post every Saturday before noon CST. If I cannot post for some reason, I'll put a note on my profile page. For instance, it's likely that I will not be posting next week due to travel.
Thanks for reading.
Chapter Ten: The Unsullied
Taylor opened her eyes onto the wooden planks of her cabin's ceiling. She felt a hand resting gently on her stomach, and breath on her neck, and for a long moment imagined it was Yuki. The touch was too light to be Scapetti. She imagined sitting up and seeing her long-lost, deeply screwed up girlfriend sleeping happily beside her.
But Yuki was gone, sacrificing herself to shape an Entity and thus save the world. When she turned her head, instead of Yuki's perfect porcelain face, she found herself almost touching the rather pronounced nose of an unmasked Quaithe.
The hand was resting perilously close to her bladder.
She managed to roll quietly from the bed, only for her legs to fold under her like jelly. She hit so hard she almost leaked. Behind her, the wood boards of the bed creaked as Quaithe sat up. "Aeksiae, are you well?"
"I have a headache, a full bladder, and now my ass hurts. Other than that? Just fine."
The older Shadowbinder moved out of bed and with a firm hand helped Taylor regain her feet. She stepped to the cramped privy closet to relieve her bladder. She couldn't help but hold her head in her hands. The memories of the mental battle with the Warlocks were raw, almost as raw as that horrid day in New Zealand, during the second CUI offensive when Taylor lost a third of her people despite her best efforts.
She finished and stumbled out. Quaithe waited for her behind the desk chair she'd placed in the middle of the room. "Sit, Aeksiae."
Too tired to argue, even if she wanted to, Taylor sat. The Shadowbinder placed one wooden cask on the floor, and another that held two gallons of water beside it. "Oh," Taylor said, realizing what the woman intended. She tried not to moan in pleasure as Quaithe washed her hair. When done, the Shadowbinder dried it with a small towel before combing it out.
"We bought a day to let you recover," Quaithe explained. "But the Good Masters are expecting you this morning. Will you be strong enough?"
A knock at the door was followed shortly by Barristan. "Good," he said brusquely. "You're awake."
"Is that food?"
He placed a freshly baked meat pie in her hands. One bite revealed a rich chowder-like gravy filled with shellfish and vegetables. "You are my favorite knight in the world right now," she declared after the first bite.
The old man snorted before closing the door. "You frightened us. Are you well?"
"They frightened me," Taylor admitted. "I didn't know they could do that. I was just entering a meditation to try and purge some of the dark magic from those glamours when they struck. They had this strange candle that looked like it was made of obsidian, but it burned like phosphorus. They were all gathered around it in a small auditorium, forty or fifty of them. It was...very powerful."
"You describe a Valyrian glass candle," Quaithe said. "There are perhaps four hundred left in all the world. During the height of the Freehold, the Dragon Lords could speak to each other across vast distances, or see future events. It is said that Daenys The Dreamer foresaw the Doom of Valyria in such a candle, and convinced her father to move the Targaryens from Valyria to Westeros."
"Well, there's one less in the world," Taylor said. "I couldn't defeat them all. Every time I beat one, two more replaced them. So, I attacked the only weak spot they had-their focus. Good thing, too. They were about to win."
"Thank the gods they did not." Barristan turned to leave. "We'll be ready when you are."
Taylor continued munching her breakfast while Quaithe worked on her hair. As she did so, Taylor noticed dried blood runes on the walls. "Did they try again?"
"They tried," Quaithe admitted. "Without a glass candle to guide and power their minds, my protections were sufficient."
"Good. I'm glad you came with us, Quaithe."
"As am I, Aeksiae. On the night of your attack, I managed to make Jorah the Andel hold me."
Taylor couldn't help but laugh as she shared the other half of the meat pie with the woman.
She went all out that day. Of her vast selection of three formal dresses, she chose the golden silk gown cinched at the waist, with another jewel-encrusted vest with latches at the shoulders to hold a silky red cape. Quaithe artfully shaped her hair around her golden headpiece. In the corner, where the three dragons slept out of their cage, Taylor pulled on her bond with Temeraire. Saphira and Elliot both voiced their disappointment, but Taylor didn't want to risk all three if things went wrong. Temeraire was her best flyer. She mollified them by asking one of the ship's crew to bring them a charred fish to eat.
When she emerged onto the deck, she found her Ghiscari officer core in their full Iron Legion uniforms-mail over cotton tunics and heavily weighted, armored kilts of a different cut and length than their Qartheen counterparts. Barristan played the role of elder counselor, but Jorah found armor somewhere. It wasn't very good armor, it appeared, but it provided sufficient protection.
Quaithe emerged with the wooden chest containing their faux eggs. Barristan accepted the box. Looking over her party, Taylor nodded in satisfaction, centered herself in the Force and pulled on the power of it to hold off her physical and mental exhaustion. She started the procession through the dock with Temeraire draped languidly across her shoulders. Just in the four weeks of their voyage, her dragons had grown enough that she could no longer easily hold all three. Temeraire was the largest of them, and was now as large as a typical golden retriever, though a third the weight.
The Good Masters of the city watched in fascination as Taylor led her people across the Plaza of Pain to the Plaza of Pride where Kraznys mo Nakloz and a handful of other good masters waited under a covered platform. The plaza was filled to capacity with silent, black-armored soldiers. None of them even looked at her as she walked between their ranks. Each line was perfectly even as far as she could see. Each man stood with shield and spear at the ready, as if about to charge an enemy.
"Fly, Temeraire," she whispered. "Show these fools how magnificent you are."
The black dragon spread his wings. He caught the ever-present breeze with all of its red brick dust and launched into the air with a triumphant screech. He and his siblings had only been flying now for the past few days, and he wasn't very good at landing yet.
On the dais that held the Good Masters, Kraznys mo Nakloz leaned forward on his chair, staring at the dragon in open fascination and hungry desire. For a moment Taylor feared he would order the Unsullied to attack her party. She carried her lightsabers on the back of her dress behind the cape, but the dress was restrictive enough to make fighting a pain.
As they drew even, Taylor called Temeraire back to her arms. The dragon settled about her shoulders again, his golden eyes inches from her own as she regarded the slavers. At the bottom of the dais, the slave girl who so deftly translated for them stood in her slave tunic with her leather choker. Though not as dark skinned as the Summer Islanders Taylor had seen, she was darkly complected enough to make Taylor believe she came from a close region. She spoke first.
"My Master is pleased to see the wonder of a living dragon. He wishes to know why you have not offered this animal for the men, rather than eggs that have not hatched."
Having anticipated the question, Taylor was quick with her answer. "Tell your master that a dragon must bond with its master, or it shall become feral and a danger to all. My dragon Temeraire is bonded to me and will never follow another save my own kin. But by hatching eggs from Temeraire's own hutch, the newborn dragons will be his to command. That is the nature of the magic I performed on them."
The slave girl dutifully translated. Several of the Good Masters stepped to Kraznys' side to share their counsel, while the man himself stood staring hungrily at Temeraire. Though Taylor understood him easily enough, she waited for the girl's translation. "My master wishes to know how he can be sure these eggs are genuine."
"Allow my advisor to present the eggs to him and he shall have no more doubts. Dragon eggs are the most magical objects in all the world."
"My master will see your eggs."
Barristan stepped forward with the chest. He walked with a dignified step all the way to the dais. Kraznys stepped down from his chair, staring intently as the old knight lifted the lid.
Taylor knew the plan worked from the gleam in the man's face. The glamours that she and Quaite wove onto the stones made them glow with an inner light. The compulsion, though, seized onto the existing greed of whomever gazed upon them, and made that greed impossible to ignore.
The man started talking, the words spilling out of his mouth as he stared.
The slave girl seemed surprised, but only for a moment. "My master is well pleased with your offer. You shall have all the Unsullied, trained and untrained. You shall have carts and horses for food, and ships for transport. You must depart within two days. Is this acceptable to you?"
Taylor looked at Kraznys and spoke the Bastard Valyrian directly to him. "I would take this girl-child as well, Good Master. I find her skill in translating your words amusing, and I have need of one such as her."
The man's fascination with the eggs broke long enough to stare at her. "You speak my tongue?"
"Though I do not look it, I am Valyrian, Good Master. This is my mother tongue. But I do not deceive. I worked great magic to prepare those eggs for you. They will hatch in six months. But be warned, Kraznys mo Nakloz. Whoever is there when they hatch will command those dragons. Be cautious with whom you trust."
"Yes," he said, already being pulled by the compulsion. "Yes. Take the girl. I do not care."
One of the Good Masters walked down the dais and handed Taylor a whip. With that, the transaction was done. Kraznys grabbed the chest in his own hands and walked quickly from the plaza, followed more hesitantly by the other Good Masters.
"You know, I'm actually surprised that worked," Taylor muttered to Barristan.
The man stared at her, jaws gaping. Finally, he recovered himself. "Thank the gods you waited until afterward to share that, your grace."
Taylor smiled to the girl. "Come here."
Nervous about her sudden change in status, the girl came quickly. "What's your name?" Taylor asked.
"If it pleases you, Missandei, your grace."
"Missandei, I think we're going to have a lot of fun together." She lifted the whip and called out in Valyrian. "Unsullied, take one step forward!"
Thirteen thousand men and boys taking one step made a crash of boots that reverberated through the plaza.
"Unsullied! I am Rhaenys Targaryen, rightful Queen of Westeros. I have with me soldiers of New Ghis. These eleven men are my officers, and will speak with my voice. Do as they command." She turned to Rezhal. "Let's go find the rest of our purchases."
The Ghiscari grinned. "Right on it, Aeksiae."
"Yes, your grace?"
"As soon as we have our people away from this cesspit, I intend to get roaringly drunk. Make sure to have enough wine to join me."
The old knight bellowed laughter as they left the plaza.
True to the slaver's word, ten massive, three-masted hulks awaited in the harbor. Taylor didn't realize they belonged to the city, but she wasn't going to turn them away either. They managed to cram almost a thousand men into each hulk and set sail immediately. The remaining soldiers made camp outside the city walls.
Taylor dedicated the Saduleon to transporting horses and carts. Forty draft horses and twenty huge wagons. Even disassembled, they took up every square inch of the ship. The trip would take the rest of the day and into the night, Taylor knew.
She took the opportunity to bring Missandrae into her chamber on the ship. The girl viewed the Shadowbinder with a carefully hidden look of fear, but trembled when she saw the blood runes painted on the wall. When the three dragons rushed her, she collapsed to her knees with a cry of terror.
Taylor fought back a frown and a yawn. "Quaithe, can you help me out of this frippery before my dragons get their feelings hurt? This stuff is hot."
"Yes, Aeksiae." She helped Taylor first remove the cape, which she laid across her desk, then the jewel-studded cloth-of-gold vest. From there, Taylor was able to pull off the silken gown. She quickly changed back into her last clean set of culottes, her linen blouse and leather vest.
Once comfortable, she sank down into a lotus position right across from the terrified, kneeling slave. At her mental call, the three dragons let the poor girl alone. Temeraire claimed his spot across his shoulder, while the other two vied for her lap.
"Missandei, my dragons will not hurt you, I promise. Can you tell me how old you are?"
The girl bowed her head. "I am six and ten, Aeksiae."
"Good. Look up, please."
The girl looked up; her eyes were red with tears. "Missandei, this is Temeraire. He's strong and brave, and a jealous cad at times."
The dragon puffed himself up until she reached the last of her words, when he reached with his long tail and swatted her nose.
"Like I said," Taylor said with sniff. "This is Saphira. She's the calmest and most even-tempered of the three. She loves to be scratched behind her horns, like this." She demonstrated. "And this is Elliot. Of them all, Elliot is the most kind. He loves to be tickled." He made a writhing, mewling sound as she ticked him under his wings. "I have bonded with all three using my magic. They will not hurt you, because I have told them you are a friend. I won't ask you not to fear, only to believe me when I tell you they won't hurt you."
"I believe, Aeksiae."
"Good. Stand up for me?"
She did, and Taylor stood as well. "Missandei, do you know why I asked for you?"
"Because you were hilarious. You took every one of that dog's curses and turned it into perfect diplomatic language. How many languages do you speak?"
"Nine and ten, Aeksiae."
"Impressive," Quaithe said. "Especially at such an age."
The collar around Missandei's neck was made of a supple leather, with a hook that held up the front of her tunic. "Anything of mine would hang off her like a tent," Taylor said. "Do you have anything that might fit her?"
"I do," Quaithe said.
"Good." Taylor turned back to the girl. "Missandei, you are free. I do not keep slaves. I would very much like you to agree to join me, but if not I can give you enough money to return to your home, if you wish."
Missandei stared at her for the longest time, her eyes growing moist. "I...my home is no more, Aeksiae," she said in a thick voice. "I was taken as a child from Naath."
Quaithe found a lovely green dress. Taylor stepped behind the girl where a single metal pin secured the collar. She removed the pin, letting the collar drop. The tunic fell with it, but Quaithe got the girl changed quickly enough.
"Do you know numbers or writing?" Taylor asked.
"I do not, Aeksiae," the girl admitted.
"Then you'll be learning. I'll need a secretary, and I think you'll be perfect for the role. Every night we have supplies, one of us will be teaching you to read or write."
"I will be honored, Aeksiae," the girl said, clearly overcome.
A knock made the door shape. "Come in, Ser Barristan," Taylor called.
The old man entered with a tray of food. He saw the collar and the floor and nodded. "Good."
"Did you know she speaks nineteen languages?"
The old knight shook his head. "I did not. Quite impressive. How many languages do you speak, Your Grace?"
"Twenty-two, now," Taylor said. "But most of those aren't native to this world, so I can't really count them. More meat pies?"
"I took the liberty of buying several."
"Which is why you're still my favorite knight in the world. Missandei, this is Ser Barristan Selmy, former Kingsguard of the Seven Kingdoms, my personal savior, and a good friend. I trust this man with my life, and if I'm ever away or not available, follow his lead. Now, let's eat."
The girl looked panicked for a moment to be eating at the same table, until Quaithe took her hand. "Child, in the privacy of her quarters you will find your new queen quite unlike the Good Masters."
At Quaithe's gentle prodding, Missandei sat at the narrow table beside Quaithe herself, who took off her mask. Barristan sat next to Taylor. "Ser Jorah is on the lead hulk," the old knight reported. "He hoped he might calm down the elders of Tolos. I imagine the sight of ten thousand Unsullied crossing the bay may give them pause."
Taylor took a meat pie and broke it in half. She offered half to the startled Missandei, who accepted it hesitantly and nibbled on it as if someone might take it at any moment.
"Tell me about Tolos," she said.
"I have little to tell, I've neither been there nor heard much of it," the old knight confessed.
Taylor turned to look at the former slave. Taylor was younger when she triggered with her power, lost her father and was sentenced to life in an inescapable prison filled with the worst parahumans in the world. It was luck and power that helped her avoid that fate, just as it was Missandei's luck and skill that helped her escape her own.
The girl looked down, taking the pie to her lap under the table. "Missandei, can you tell us what you know of Tolos?"
"If it pleases, Aeksiae. It was a Valyrian city, but with many Ghiscari in it. They do not train slaves, but have many slaves there for their farms. They sell olives, garum and fine glass products. They have slingers celebrated throughout Slaver's Bay, and have many connections with the Slave Cities."
"Well done, child," Barristan said, loud enough Missandei jumped a little. "Concise, complete and with all the pertinent information we need. You have this one for what, your grace? A secretary?"
"As soon as we have her reading, writing and doing sums, you bet," Taylor said. "It takes an agile mind to be able to translate so smoothly. I can learn a new language in a day, but having another polyglot available with a mind like hers? I got a bargain."
Taylor sensed the girl's confusion and fear. She knew a lifetime of harsh conditioning wouldn't be overcome by a few kind words and half a meat pie. It was a start, though. "So, to Tolos. The ships belong to the Good Masters, so we can't keep them?"
"Not without risking war," Barristan said. "To do so would force us into a difficult position."
Ser Barristan removed one of the maps she purchased in New Ghis. "Marching overland to Volantis will take three months, at least," the old knight said. "By ship, a month. If we could obtain three or four more hulks and convince the current captains to stay with us, we could transport the entirety of your forces quickly around Old Valyria."
"Twenty gold pieces for each ship?" Taylor said.
It wasn't a word or sound; Taylor just felt from their newest member a thought that she feared to voice.
"Missandei, you know the Good Masters better than anyone here," Taylor said. "What's the best way, do you think, to convince the hulks to continue to serve us?"
The young woman looked up from her bowed head to Taylor. "If it pleases you, Aeksia, only the captains of the ships are Good Masters. All the rest of the crews are slaves."
"Huh," Taylor said. She turned to Barristan.
"Again, it risks war," the old knight said. "But having slaves revolt is nothing new in this area. Most escaped slaves try to make it to the Free Cities or Westeros-Braavos especially. There have been at least two revolts just that I heard of serving King Robert."
"Another thing to consider, Aeksiae," Quaithe said. "The compulsions on those eggs. Astapor will fall into chaos soon enough. The other cities may never know of the stolen hulks, not if Astapor is burning."
True enough. "Wait until the first three ships go back for the rest of our men, but as soon as they do, take the Good Masters out. I want those ships. And a few more, even if we have to take them. Might be a good negotiating point with Tolos, if they really want us gone. I want my men in fighting shape, and a march through any place called the Demon Road sounds unpleasant. And we need to make sure every one of the Unsullied know we're instituting the New Ghis policy-ten years service guarantees freedom, citizenship in Westeros, and full pay. To be determined after we take the kingdom."
She turned to Missandei. "I'm glad you're here. Let's get a pallet or hammock for you, you'll be joining Quaithe and I in this room tonight."
The girl bowed her head, and then began nibbling cautiously at her half-meat pie.