|Daenerys Targaryen (Artwork by Amoka)|
Naked dancers are performing a show in Daenerys’ court room. Many watch the arousing show, and Dany is not left untouched herself. Next to her sits Xaro Xhoan Daxos. The Qartheen merchant has come from the city to treat with her, bringing a fleet with him. Dany’s hopes are lifted, as his arrival promises the reopening of trade routes and a better fortune for Meereen. She also got word from Daario, who stroke an alliance with the Lhazareen and thereby secured food trade by land. The Shavepate has founded a new city watch, the Brazen Beasts, who wear beast masks to hide their identity since the Sons of the Harpy have set a bounty on Daenerys’ head and promised retribution against the families of everyone who served her.
When the dancers finish, Dany starts talking with Xaro. He overflows her with the usual compliments, again proposing marriage to her, which Daenerys declines. Xaro instead insists on reopening the slave trade. Dany declines this, pointing out that slavery is a gruesome fate and that no one would take it voluntarily. Xaro points out, however, that a friend of his approached him and pleaded to buy him as to escape Meereen, and engages in a philosophical argument of the need for slaves in order to create true culture and civilization. Dany is unable to really bring forth a good argument against this. When she comes to the subject of trade, Xaro asks her what she means to trade. Meereen has only three goods left, bad wines, salt and copper, none of which brings profit. The only thing Qarth would have been interested in are olives, but the slavers burned the trees when Dany approached.
Xaro then accuses Dany of ruining Meereen. He points out the despair in the streets, the dire situation and the prospect of being conquered and brought down. Dany tries to reinforce her position by pointing out that she secured her hinterland and that she has alliances with Astapor and the Lhazareen, which Xaro easily dismisses. The Astapori have lost the battle and will be under siege soon, and the Lhazareen are unwarlike and don’t fight. Meereen is alone, and Yunkai has gathered even more allies (some of which Dany hoped to get herself) and is hiring sellsword company after sellsword company. He doesn’t fear her dragons, seeming to know that Dany has no control over them.
He then tells her that he brought a gift with him: thirteen ships are laying anchor in the Meereen harbor, and they are hers to take and to leave for Westeros. If she does so, she shall leave unhindered and with all good wishes. If she doesn’t, she and Meereen will go down. Xaro threatens Dany that if she doesn’t leave, Qarth will throw its lot with Yunkai. Then he leaves to await her answer on the morrow. Dany confers with Barristan, who counsel her to accept and to leave Meereen better soon than later. Dany is not decided yet, however, and lets the ships be inspected by all her advisors. They come back with the news that while the ships aren’t state of the art, they are capable of carrying her to Westeros.
When the Unsullied and Barristan again make a case for taking the offer and leaving Meereen, using the ships for the freedmen and Dothraki and marching the Unsullied up the Demon Road, Reznak and the Shavepate weigh in and accuse her of leaving the city and all collaborators to the fate of Astapor, which is surely to go down. They accuse her of leaving them and the city behind to be ruined and turned into the same center for slavery again as it was before. Barristan’s talk of defending their freedom doesn’t convince them one second. Dany is swayed and calls for Xaro.
She tells Xaro that she can’t accept his offer, and that she means to stay in Meereen. Xaro then quits with all illusions, telling her that he should have killed her back in Qarth, and she will rue this decision. He leaves the ships with her nonetheless, leaving for Qarth immediately. Dany then holds court, where Lord Ghael pleads again to help Astapor, since it comes under siege now. Dany declines, telling him that the Astapori need to defend their freedom themselves to be worthy of it. Ghael replies that she didn’t bring freedom, but death, and spits in her face, for which he gets beaten to the ground. The next morning, all Qartheen ships are flying red streamers and an envoy from the ships brings her a bloodied glove as a token that signals a declaration of war by Qarth.
In this chapter, the events that have shown themselves in the last Dany-chapters come to fruition. Daenerys is caught up in a doom-loop, totally helpless. There is no chance of escape. She can’t hold Meereen, since the enemies are too strong, and she can’t leave it without dooming it to suffer the same fate as Astapor. Her decision to stay and to rule proofs to be a bad one as it can get and she is totally without any idea of what to do now. The city is still hostile, with a bounty on her head now, Yunkai has gathered at least two allies and with Qarth now a third enters the game. The enemy has a big fleet, Dany has nigh to nothing. Her army is only a fraction of the enemy’s size.
All she can offer in this situation is idle talk, empty phrases that only anger those they are directed it. The Astapori ambassador is right to spit her in the face when she gives him talk about defending your freedom yourself. Barristan directed the same empty talk at the Meereenese, but they threw it right back at him, threatening to rather kill their own families than to let them fall into enemy hands. The doom loop Dany is in is the same that the USA stare in the face in Iraq and Afghanistan: she came with the promise of liberty, got some locals to work together with her on the vision of new Meereen, while others fight her guerilla style, and when she leaves (which she has to at some point), all that worked together with her are dead meat, doomed to suffer horrible deaths, and next time nobody will work with her since she isn’t trustworthy. If she stays, however, the situation will worsen, and the resistance will grow, her casualty list become longer, and in the end she either falls or leaves hastily, leaving behind any man that helped her before (like the US in Vietnam 1975).
To end modern day analogies, Dany has fucked herself up pretty bad. She has no chance at all to escape it, and it’s all her fault. A series of bad decisions has lead her to this point, and although she made a lot of good tactical choices – opening the trade with the Lhazareen, securing the hinterland, trying to form alliances – it all doesn’t help, since the one strategic decision to rule Meereen and to create a new world here was flawed from the start, and nothing good can come from a flawed basis. We will watch the spiral of the death of hopes and ideals throughout the book, but Dany is done in this chapter. It just takes some time for her to realize it.
Two side notes in this chapter. First, we get a glimpse on the economic situation again, regarding the olive trade. In the distant past, Meereen thrived on agriculture of olives and olive oil, but the wars with the Free Cities and Valyria destroyed this basis, especially when dragons burned the trees and let only ashes and red, dry earth behind. The Green Grace told Dany that Meereen turned to slavery only because the dragons burned the olive trees and the economic foundation with them, which gives a darker theme to them and Valyria. Second, Xaro mentions to Dany that the Undying are a danger to her and plotting to bring down. In the whole book, however, there can be found no further reference to them. Was it just an empty threat by Xaro, to scare Dany, or are the Undying really dangerous?